Apache Protectors, Book 4
HERITAGE OR HEARTBREAK?
Apache tribal counsel member Clyne Cosen needs the FBI's protection. But having Agent Cassidy Walker as his personal bodyguard presents its own dangers. His involvement in the custody battle for Cassidy's adopted Apache daughter muddled the lines between personal and professional. Now he has feelings for a woman who was not native born.
Cassidy will do her job at any cost. But being so close to Clyne means the FBI agent sees him as more than just the man who could take her daughter—he might also steal her heart. Duty. Desire. Which path will Cassidy take…or will a bullet make that decision for her?
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"... There's intrigue, suspense and a flaring hot romance. Additionally, the consistency of this series is noteworthy."
Susannah Balch, RT Book Reviews
If Cassidy Walker had known what would happen that Monday morning, she most certainly would not have worn her new suit. As an FBI field agent, Cassidy had drawn the short stick on assignments today or perhaps this was her boss’s idea of humor. He knew there was no love lost between her and tribal councilor, Clyne Cosen. Yet here she was watching his back.
Did her boss think it was funny assigning her to Cosen’s protection or was this still payback for her bust in January? Was it her fault he was skiing in Vail when she and Luke had found both the precursor and the second meth lab? He'd gone back to the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force to report his agents had made the bust, but he hadn't been there.
Another feather in Cassidy’s cap.
She glanced over at her supervisor, Donald Tully. Because of his dark glasses, she could not see his eyes. But his smirk was clear enough. The man could hold a grudge.
Cassidy adjusted her polarized lenses against the Arizona sun. From her place behind the speaker, she scanned her sector for any sign of threat. Her assignment was to protect the speaker from harm. This was not her usual duty, but today the stage was filled with a mix of state and national officials and that meant all hands on deck.
Outdoor venues were the most dangerous, but the Apache tribal leaders had insisted on staging the rally here in Tucson’s downtown river park.
As the next speaker took the podium she tried hard to ignore his rich melodious voice and the fine figure he cut in that suit jacket. The long braid down his back had been dressed with leather cords and silver beads. His elegant, brown hands rested casually on either side of the podium. He had no speech. Clyne Cosen, tribal councilman for the Black Mountain Apache, didn’t need one.
She gritted her teeth as she forced her gaze to shift restlessly from one person to the next, looking for anyone lifting something other than a cell phone. Judging from the wide-eyed stares from most of the women in the crowd and the way they were using up their digital storage snapping photos of the handsome tribal leader, it seemed she was not the only one who admired the physical presence of this particular speaker.
Cassidy glanced at the cheery arrangement of sunflowers just before her feet and resisted the urge to kick them off the stage. She had a personal grudge with this speaker and was struggling to maintain her focus.
The next up would be Griffin Lipmann, the president of Obella Chemicals. The Bureau had already suited Lipmann in body armor as this latest spill had made him public enemy number one in the minds of many. He was the main reason the Bureau had lobbied to hold this rally indoors. Of course Clyne Cosen and his band of Apache activists wanted to be right beside the river that was now an unnatural shade of yellow.
Cosen knew the power of the television cameras and social media. Until he finished speaking, he was her damned assignment and the way he was going on and on, it didn’t look like he’d be stopping anytime soon.
She tried to set aside her personal issues with him and do her job. But her teeth kept gnashing and her hands kept balling into fists. Soon she’d be meeting Clyne in a personal capacity, him and all his brothers. Damn that Indian Child Welfare Act. It had left her with no options, no more appeals. Nothing but the judge’s final ruling. For the first time in her life she considered breaking the law and running for Mexico.
She glanced back to Clyne Cosen who now motioned toward the ruined water. She knew he had spotted her before he took his place because his usually sure step had faltered and his generous smile had slipped. Did it make him nervous to have her behind him, watching his back? She hoped so.
Her gaze shifted again, from one face to the next. Watching the expressions, keeping track of their hands. The sunlight poured down on them. It was only a little past ten in the morning but the temperature was already climbing toward eighty. March in Arizona, her first one and hopefully her last. She’d planned to take the first assignment out of here, Washington hopefully or New York. She’d certainly earned a promotion after her last case. But now, if her daughter would be here she might… If they won, would she even be allowed to see her?
Cassidy jerked her attention back to her assignment. How she hated the outdoor venues. There were just an endless number of places to secure.
A woman wearing a cropped T-shirt reached in her purse. Cassidy leaned forward for a better look as Clyne lifted his voice, decrying the carelessness with which Obella Chemicals had released the toxic mix into their water. The woman lifted a silver cylinder from her bag and for one heart-stopping moment Cassidy thought it was the barrel of a gun. She reached under her blazer, gripping her pistol as the woman fumbled with a white cord. She plugged the cord into her cell phone and the other end into the cylinder. A charger, Cassidy realized and relaxed.
That was when the three-foot-tall vase of sunflowers beside the podium exploded.
“Shots!” she shouted, and took down her assignment, diving on Clyne’s back as other agents moved before the line of dignitaries on the stage, making a human shield.
Griffin Lipmann, the representative from Obella Chemicals, hit the stage unassisted. His personal security force sprang before him an instant later, hustling him off the stage.
Her weight pitched Clyne forward, but he kept his balance, spinning toward her and then hitting the second flower arrangement before toppling backward onto the stage with her sprawled on top of him. She pushed off his torso and drew her weapon.
He tried to sit up.
She pressed a hand into his chest.
“Down!” she ordered, ignoring the firm body beneath her as she lifted her weapon and rolled to a kneeling position.
Two more agents stepped before them. Below the stage the audience members screamed and many turned to run.
“What’s happening?” Clyne asked.
She didn’t know. It could have been a shooter or some kid with a slingshot.
“Up,” she snapped. “That way.”
Cassidy followed the plan, tugging Clyne up and guiding him off the back of the stage, pushing him before her. He was two steps down the staircase and she had reached the top step when something struck her in the back. It felt like someone hit her with a Louisville Slugger right below her left shoulder blade. The impact was so strong that it pitched her forward onto Clyne Cosen’s back. He staggered. Then grabbed both her forearms and kept running, making for the cover of the side entrance of the waterfront hotel. Cassidy tried and failed to draw a breath. The blow had knocked the wind right out of her and all she could manage was a wheezing sound.
He carried her along like a monkey on his back, never slowing as he stretched his long legs into a full-out run that made the wind whistle in her ears. Those Apache moccasins he wore were tearing up the ground faster than any cross trainers she’d ever owned. Local law enforcement held open the door. Cassidy glanced backward as they charged into the corridor.
The crowd erupted into chaos as men and women scrambled to clear the riverfront park that had turned into a shooting gallery. A bullet struck the building beside the exit and a chunk of concrete flew into the air. The officer holding the door moved to cover as Clyne grasped the closing door and hurtled inside.
Cassidy peered over his shoulder as the striped wallpaper and heavily Painted Desert scenes flashed past. She wanted to tell him to put her down or to make for the safe room. But she still hadn’t succeeded in drawing a breath and now feared she was going to faint.
Finally he slowed, moving to the wall and swinging her around as if she were a dance partner instead of a rag doll. He made her feel small by comparison. Clyne Cosen had to be six-four in his flat footwear.
He lowered her to the ground in an alcove beside one of the restrooms. She slumped against the wall. Only then did she regain her breath. It came in a tortured gasp. Her eyes watered but she could see he’d gone pale.
Dignitaries and FBI agents rushed past them toward the rendezvous point. Cassidy still gripped her pistol.
“I think I’m hit,” she said.
Clyne pulled off her blazer sticking his finger through a hole in the back as he did so.
“Damn, that was Armani,” she said.
“The shooter?” he asked.
She shook her head. Clearly Councilor Cosen did not know fashion. He dropped the blazer in her lap and she stroked the gray pinstripe like a sick cat. Then she holstered her weapon.
He expertly unclipped her shoulder holster and she grasped his wrist.
“Don’t touch the gun,” she said.
He met her scowl for scowl.
“Fine. You do it.” He lifted his hands as if he was surrendering to her custody.
She did and the motion made her wince, but she managed to slip out of her holster and draw it down into her lap. When she finished she was trembling and sweat glistened on her skin.
Cosen tugged her blouse from the waistband of her slacks. A moment later she heard a rending sound as he tore her pristine white blouse straight down the center of her back. Then he leaned her forward to drag her blouse down off both shoulders so they puddled at her wrists. She now sat in only her slacks, practical shoes, body armor and her turquoise lace bra.
She flushed the color of ripe strawberries, a hazard of those with fair skin and felt her face heat as his eyebrows lifted. He hesitated only a moment and muttered something that sounded like “none of the guys in my unit wore lace.”
She felt the pressure of his hand on her back.
“Perforation,” he said, pressing on the sore place on her back. “Got you here.”
She bit her lip to keep from whimpering. More people ran past in the corridor but she could see only trousers and dark shoes.
“Get me up,” she said.
He ignored her, splaying a hand over her chest and pitching her forward like a ventriloquist’s dummy. A moment later his other hand slipped under her vest at the back, rooting around.
“Vest is distorted right over your heart,” he said. He released a long breath. “Didn’t penetrate,” he said. His hand stroked her back, skimming over her bra and out from beneath her vest. “No blood. Your vest caught it.”
He eased her back until she leaned against the wall. He was propped on one knee as he looked down at her, his eyes were the color of polished mahogany.
“Still need a hospital,” he said.
She flapped her arms, now decorated with what was left of her Ann Taylor white blouse. He’d torn the collar right off the back as if he were tearing tissue paper.
She tried for a full breath and didn’t make it.
“Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?” he asked.
How did he know that?
But then she remembered. Clyne Cosen was a former US marine. His jacket didn’t mention that he had taken lead.
His smile held and she felt herself drawn in. Three words from his character profile bounced around in her head like a Ping-Pong ball dropped on concrete.
“Took one here and here.” He pointed to his stomach and ribs. Making them part of an elite club, she supposed. The two of them. Only she was the one struggling with her breathing.
“A vest saved my life once before.”
She didn’t understand. He hadn’t been hit. She’d kept him from that, protecting him like she was in the secret service and he was the president.
“Before?” she asked.
He pressed his open palm over her middle, his fingers splayed over her abdomen and she swore she could feel his touch even through the body armor. He met her stare.
“Agent Walker, you just saved my life.”