Contributors: Kate Rudolph
Series: Guarded by the Shifter #3, Guarded by the Shifter Audiobooks #3
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Release Date: 1/11/2022
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He's too much trouble.
When Vi picks Leland Rowe up after he's spent a night in a jail cell, she knows he's trouble. He's the last man she wants as a bodyguard. But her coven leader insists. Their coven needs protection and Rowe is the man for the job. One thing's certain, she won't fall for the infuriating shifter. He's riding the edge of danger and dancing with a death wish. He can't be her mate.
She's a brazen witch.
Rowe's wolf stands at attention the second he sees Vi, and that's not the only thing standing. She makes him feel things he's never felt before, and though she riles him up, he wants to leave his mark on her. Forever. He's seen two of his packmates meet their mates. Is it his turn?
He'll never have a chance to find out if he can't keep her safe from a rival coven. Rowe is no match against magic, but he'll find a way to do the job. No matter the cost. He's finally found someone worth living for, but he'll have to risk it all to keep her.
Step into the Guarded by the Shifter world where a team of ex-military bodyguards are werewolves and fated mates are just one job away.
Also in this series:
"Are you doing alright?" Owen asked it with the kind of caring grin that made Leland Rowe want to groan and sink to the floor.
Considering the floor was covered in shattered bar glasses and vomit, standing was the better option. He hated working weddings. At least this one was over and the bride and groom were on their way to Hawaii for a honeymoon far away from their crazy families.
He wished he could join them.
"I'm fine," Rowe said, brushing a bit of ice off one shoulder. He'd dodged most of the epic beer spill, but the stench invaded his senses.
Owen hummed and Rowe braced himself for whatever his teammate and fellow werewolf—packmate? that still felt weird to think—was going to say to him next. The man was too damn optimistic and caring for anyone's good. How had he survived the Army without having all that optimism stripped from him?
"Stasia's picking up dinner. Want to join us? We always have plenty." He patted his jacket and reached inside a pocket to pull out his phone. "I'll update Gibson about the job."
"Thanks for the invite, but I think I'm just going to head home. Enjoy dinner." Rowe had spent the last four days with Owen, and there was a slight, slight chance he would murder the man if he had to spend another few hours with him.
Owen shrugged. "Okay, I'll see you later."
Rowe didn't know whether or not to be offended that Owen didn't try and argue him out of leaving. He probably needed to get his head checked. One more fucked up thing about his fucked up existence.
He got out of the building as fast as possible, grateful to no longer be breathing in the disgusting stench of vomit. The sidewalk was slightly less crowded than usual. The work crowd hadn't let out yet, but Rowe walked fast anyway. They'd be coming soon and he wanted to beat them to the train.
He'd only walked for a few minutes when his phone rang. And he would have ignored anyone except for the man calling.
"Hello, major." He was so close to the subway. He only hoped he wasn't about to be sent on another vomit encrusted job.
"Owen let me know the job is finished up," said Jericho Gibson, Rowe's boss and the man in charge of their weird little band of werewolves.
"Yeah, we're all good." He tried to keep his voice neutral. He just wanted this day to be over with.
"Are you doing okay?" Gibson sounded concerned.
Fuck. Rowe took a deep breath, and that was a mistake. The streets of New York didn't exactly smell pleasant. But he worked through it. He'd smelled much worse. "I'm fine. Looking forward to a good night's sleep." That sounded good, right?
"No nightmares?" the major prodded.
"Not for a while now. I'll let you know if that changes." Not that he wanted anyone digging around in his head, but assurances like that were the quickest way to get Gibson off his back.
"Be sure that you do. Rest well. And keep out of trouble." He hung up and Rowe was left glaring at his phone.
What was everyone's problem? Rowe did his job. He showed up to every assignment and no one had any complaints about his work. What did it matter if he went out in his free time? He couldn't even get drunk.
What havoc could he cause?
He shoved his phone in his pocket, tempted to turn it off. But emergencies happened when he did that, and he wasn't about to tempt fate.
Fate had fucked him over enough, thank you very much.
The train came and he stepped on, glaring at a passenger who shoved his way past him.
The miasma of scents and bodies all pushed together made Rowe's inner wolf want to growl. He hated being caged, and there was no worse place in New York than underground on the subway. It was crowded, tight, and it smelled.
He was made for the forest.
Rowe took shallow breaths and told his wolf to shut his trap. He was a normal man and he could ride the normal fucking subway without a fucking panic attack.
But when he got to his stop, he was the asshole shoving his way off the train as fast as he could and speed walking up the stairs to the street. He needed fresh air and space, or the best approximation of it he could get.
Why the fuck did he live in New York?
Gibson wanted him to rest. The team expected him to fuck up. Rowe knew that he should go back to his shoebox of an apartment and stay there until it was time to go back to work. That would maybe reassure his people that he wasn’t about to go off the deep end.
He considered it, he really did. He wanted to be a team player, whatever that meant. He didn’t want his friends to worry about him.
But if he locked himself inside that night, he would go crazy. Simple as that.
So instead of heading up to his apartment, he took a turn at the entrance to his building and went to the garage he paid two arms and half a leg for. His motorcycle was sitting right where he left it, shiny and red and ready to rumble. It was an indulgence, and a stupid one at that. If he was still a normal human…
But he had left humanity behind a while ago.
Now he could ride his bike all he wanted.
It wasn’t that werewolves were impervious to harm. Cuts still bled. Bruises still hurt. But they healed fast. Except from silver, and that wouldn’t be an issue on the bike.
He climbed on and listened as the engine purred.
Oh yes, this was exactly what he needed.
Rowe roared out of the parking garage and down to the crowded New York streets. He didn’t know how people with cars did it. He scowled every time he got stuck behind someone and was tempted to ram into them.
Insurance premiums were already a bitch and he wasn’t going to take on any more.
He slipped between cars and let out a triumphant laugh as angry drivers honked at him. This was almost as good as running in his other skin. But he wasn’t crazy enough to do that in the city. At least not during rush hour.
The highway was just as crowded as the surface streets, but Rowe managed to slip between cars and ride the shoulder with ease. He knew it was illegal, but he didn’t care.
At least not until flashing lights behind him warned of trouble.
Instead of doing the sane thing and pulling over, Rowe sped up. He could already hear Gibson screaming at him, but he didn’t care. Consequences were for tomorrow.
Rowe took an exit and swerved at random. He’d traveled past several streets before he realized the cop wasn’t behind him.
Huh. That had actually worked?
He kept going, the roads a little emptier now. It took a minute to orient himself, but he realized he was near one of his favorite bars.
That was fate if he’d ever heard it.
Rowe parked the bike and went inside with a bit more swagger than was necessary. The place smelled like spilled beer and regret, and it was a sign he should turn around and go home. He couldn’t get drunk. That was something his wolfishness had robbed from him.
Some might have said that Rowe used to like his drinks a bit too much. Still, he would have rather chosen to quit on his own terms.
Not that he’d actually quit. He still wasted his money, it was just even more of a waste than before.
“If Matty sees you, he’s going to blow a gasket.” Selma, his favorite bartender, grinned at him as she poured out two shots and slid them towards a couple of patrons. She wore a tight, cropped t-shirt and had pink streaks in her hair. Rowe had tried to take her home more than once and failed every time.
At least she still liked him.
“Matty can step in glass for all I care,” he said with a scowl. He and the bouncer didn’t get along, and their last disagreement had almost led to blows. Matty was seven feet tall and broader than a linebacker. Rowe wasn’t sure that werewolf superpowers would be enough to handle him.
Selma laughed. “You wouldn’t say that if he was on shift tonight.”
He grinned back. “No, I would not.”
“You know it.” He pulled out his wallet and placed a few bills on the bar. A minute later, she handed him his scotch and soda.
Rowe let her get back to work as he sipped his drink. It was still early and far from busy. The bar could get crowded and stifling on weekend nights, but on a weeknight, he wasn’t so sure. This wasn’t a place where people who wore fancy suits came for a drink after work. His wasn’t the only motorcycle in the parking lot.
There was a woman in tight jeans and a tank top shooting darts in the back. Rowe watched the way her body moved for several moments before picking up his drink and heading her way. Maybe this night wouldn’t be a total waste.
She hit near the bullseye, and Rowe made an appreciative sound. She glanced over at him and grinned. Then she winked and threw another dart, this one hitting true.
“Think you can do better?” she asked after retrieving the darts from the board.
Rowe held up his hands. “I know a professional when I see one.”
The woman laughed. “Would you believe me if I told you this was my first time trying?”
“Absolutely not. I know a swindle when I see one, too.” He leaned back against a high top table and sipped his drink. “I think you want to take advantage of me.”
Her eyes flicked up and down, taking him in. Then she rolled the darts in her fingers. “Come on, no bet. Just a test of skills.”
Rowe couldn’t resist. He held out his hand. “Don’t make me regret this.” He threw a dart and was happy when it hit the board.
“There you go!” The woman clapped a hand over his shoulder. “Here, try it this way.” She demonstrated with her own arm before guiding him through the motion.
Oh yes, this night was looking up.
Rowe groaned. He recognized that shout. He could just ignore Matty. There was no need for violence.
Rowe threw a dart and it bounced off the board and hit the ground.
“Look at me.” Anger suffused Matty’s words.
Rowe didn’t look. He wasn’t going to. This didn’t need to go south.
“Come on, babe. You need to talk to me. You don’t understand—”
Babe? Oh shit. Matty wasn’t talking to him.
And his dart partner wasn’t thrilled. “I understand perfectly,” she said, and Rowe couldn’t ignore Matty anymore. He looked between the woman and the bouncer and awareness sizzled in his veins.
Violence hung in the air, and Rowe had to resist. He wasn’t going to get into trouble tonight.
Then Matty reached out and clamped a strong hand around the woman’s arm. “Come on,” he said, trying to tug her away. “One drink.”
The woman struggled, but Matty was strong and she couldn’t break free. “Let me go. Things are over between us.”
“Please, babe.” Matty was sounding more desperate by the second.
This wasn’t going to go well.
The woman tore her arm away and stumbled back. Matty jerked forward to grab her, and that was when Rowe stepped forward.
“You heard her, Matty. Step away.” He tried to keep his tone even. He didn’t want to fight. This could end peacefully.
Then Matty glared and pulled his fist back.
Fuck. This was going to hurt.