Griffin's Treasure [Department 57]
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by Lynne Connolly
Category: Erotica/Paranormal Erotica/Romance
Description: Previous book: Jewel of the Dragon
International soccer star Josh Friedland has a secret. He's a griffin shapeshifter, and a covert operative for Department 57. Josh's brother Laurie is missing, and Josh is sure businessman George Skeffington is involved. So he definitely can't trust Skeffington's stepdaughter, Chana Rafiz, even though he wants her with every fiber of his being.
When her controlling stepfather asks Chana to look after his guest, she suspects another trick to keep her by his side; only she finds that Josh is the man she's been waiting for all her life. Long, hot Californian nights see their bodies twined in more inventive positions than Chana even knew existed, but when she finally discovers his secret, she uncovers another. One about herself that'd been kept from her her whole life.
Together, Josh and Chana have to face dangers only Department 57 can help them with, but they plunge the whole Department into peril. If the Department is to endure, and Laurie is to be found, Josh and Chana must defeat the longest odds to succeed in their mission.
Publisher's Note: This book is a re-edited, revised version of the one previously released by another publisher.
eBook Publisher: Loose Id, LLC, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: May 2011
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [321 KB]
Reading time: 204-286 min.
A car waited for Josh about a mile before they reached the Skeffington estate. Josh grinned when he saw it. Perfect. A yellow Porsche 911, a real footballer's car. Due to several TV programs and press speculation, European footballers remained firmly entrenched in the public's mind as handsome, rich, and thick as pig shit. They had no taste, or so the media said. Many had fun playing up to this image, and Josh and Laurie proved no exception. Flashy sports cars fit beautifully with this image. Better than the black Ferrari Josh had originally ordered from the rental company.
He faced Cristos with a grin and shook his hand in farewell. "Can I give you a lift somewhere?"
Cristos shuddered dramatically. "Not in that thing. I'll stick with the Rolls."
Josh chuckled and stopped to thank the driver and the agent, who had transferred his luggage from the Rolls to the Porsche. It wasn't likely he'd see either of them again, but he never ignored people.
He stopped the chauffeur when he would have closed the trunk, and winked. "I'm about to turn into the public figure now, if you want to watch."
Behind him, Cristos chuckled. "It's worth seeing, boys."
Out of Josh's hand luggage came a black mesh T-shirt: outrageously sexy, absolutely the wrong thing to go visiting in. He stripped off his plain shirt and donned the mesh number. Over it went an open shirt with his club insignia on the back. He exchanged his plain pants for a pair of artfully ragged jeans and a large, studded belt. Cowboy boots and a pair of very dark sunglasses completed the ensemble. To finish, he dipped his fingertips into a tiny pot of gel and slicked his hair back, pulling a lock forward to curl over his forehead. He'd done it so many times he didn't need a mirror.
Throwing his head back and picking up a cowboy hat with a studded band, he grinned. "There you go, boys. Does this say 'look at me' hard enough?"
The chauffeur crowed with laughter. "Do you do this all the time?
His grin broadened. "Oh yeah. The public expect it. And this time, I'm on a job for Cristos, so it's a disguise too." He closed the trunk and headed for the driver's side but paused to look over his shoulder. "Oh, and I almost forgot. It's fun."
Josh climbed in and started the engine, listening to the powerful purr for a moment before setting it into action. The Porsche might be gaudy and flashy, but it drove like a dream. Smooth, responsive. Even on these straight, boring roads, it couldn't help but perform for Josh. A mile proved nowhere near far enough to enjoy this sleek, efficient machine, and mentally Josh put aside an hour for himself, if he could spare it. Just him and the Porsche.
Not for a moment did he forget his mission: to rescue his brother. Above anything else, he had to secure Laurie's safety. He wouldn't want to go on if Laurie had gone.
And these scientists posed a serious problem. With new developments in science, their tortures had grown more refined but just as brutal as they ever were. To them, he and his kind were just creatures, subjects to be studied and discarded when all knowledge had been wrung out of them. Left to his own devices, Josh would probably have chosen to destroy the labs and the people who called themselves scientists, but he'd agreed to live a reasonably civilized life.
Sometimes he found it easier just to give in and be a griffin.
A pair of black wrought iron gates heralded the entrance to the Skeffington estate. Nothing else, no sign, not even a brass plaque, just a box at the door with a button he was forced to get out of the door to push, so the camera trained on him from above could get a good look at him.
He pressed the button, lifted his head, and grinned at the unseen watchers. It did the trick. There was something good about having one's face all over the Internet after all.
The black gates swung silently open to allow him in. He got back in the car and revved the engine, just to prove he could. The gates spooked him. He'd never liked being shut in, even if he knew he could escape whenever he wanted to.
The drive led straight to a long, low house, rather like the first floor or two of an English country house, but with an eerie singularity of design. The house couldn't be much older than ten years, though it probably contained some choice antiques.
Good luck to them. Josh had lived long enough to know the transitory nature of possessions, and he didn't belong to the aristocracy, which jealously guarded the booty it had gathered over the centuries.
Josh couldn't altogether rid himself of the simmering rage that he knew put golden sparks around him, invisible to most people, except for a certain electric aura it gave him and others of his kind. The owner of this place might be torturing his brother now, if Cristos's intel proved correct. If true, Skeffington would suffer. Josh took a minute to calm his raging spirit.
He pulled up outside the main door to the building, judging by its size, and got out the car. He left the keys in the ignition. Gauche to do anything else. Strange how manners and customs changed over time. Fifty years ago he would have tossed the keys to the man who would stand waiting for him, but now everything ran on more silent, more invisible lines.
The great double doors of what looked like oak stood open, the gloom inside emphasized by the bright spring sunshine. Without pausing, Josh strolled inside.
He recognized the momentary gloom as one designed to temporarily blind the visitor by the transition from light into dark, but his eyes adjusted more easily than the average mortal's. A small, dark lobby led to a gateway of light, an opening into a hall of dazzling white marble, lit by an overhead skylight. A stairway swept around two sides of the hall, the black iron banisters an echo of the gates at the end of the drive, some of the motifs the same. All carefully designed. Too carefully for his liking.
Josh allowed his eyes to adjust to the brightness and saw his host, standing just in front of the staircase. A woman stood by his side. Josh smiled and strolled forward, allowing himself plenty of time to study his hosts.
Despite the warmth of the day, Skeffington wore a dark business suit, shirt, and tie. His tie was, however, a little loose at his neck, and he'd shoved his hands in his pockets, pulling them out as Josh approached and holding them up in a gesture of open friendliness. A calculated gesture of open friendliness. Skeffington appeared scrawny, as though he'd shrunk inside the suit, his skin loose on his throat, the skin on his hands spotted with age. For all that, he seemed fit, like a lizard in the desert, comfortable in his environment.
The woman looked very much Skeffington's junior in age. A brunette, smooth hair carefully swept back into a chignon, probably sprayed to within an inch of its life, makeup steadily applied with a sparing hand. Honey-colored skin invited a taste, despite the flawless finish. She wore a suit, a loose skirt of linen with a jacket, both in a shade Josh immediately labeled as beige. Tasteful, neutral in every sense of the word. She even wore tights or perhaps stockings. Josh's groin stirred very slightly at the thought. He'd always liked a woman in stockings, garter belt, and nothing else, and he hadn't seen one for a while. Why this carefully polished brunette Barbie should make him think that way, he couldn't imagine. Only now did he realize it must be nearly a year since he'd taken a woman to bed. Before that, perhaps six months. Football groupies didn't do it for him.
The woman met his eyes straight on, but he couldn't see any emotion in their dark brown depths. Despite that, he thought them nice eyes. Perhaps Skeffington chose his women for their eyes. Or their skin. She had soft, silky, well-cared-for skin. Almost as though someone had put her into a car wash and buffed her until she gleamed. It took a lot of money to get that look and to get a beige outfit quite so featureless and so tasteful.
As he watched, the tip of her tongue came out and swept over her lower lip, the first sign of humanity Josh had seen in her in his endless approach across the far-too-large hall. His abdomen tightened a little more. Did she do that on purpose? Cynically, Josh guessed she did. A polished princess like her wouldn't do anything accidentally. Well, if she expected a little fun on the side while her aged boyfriend attended to his business affairs, she'd have to think again. No way would he get involved personally. No way on earth.
Josh pasted an easy smile on his face, warming it with the startled look his host cast his way when he noticed the mesh top. Always worth a flash or two of nipple to see that look, and this outfit rarely failed to provoke at least one look of disdain.
Doubled. Her gaze swept comprehensively over him, and when her attention once more went to his face, he saw her scorn. Good. They were less likely to think he held any danger at all, when in fact he formed the spearhead for two very dangerous men, Cristos and Ted Maxwell. And he could outdo both of them for sheer menace.
"Hi," he said. "I'm Josh Friedland. You have a nice place here."
"I'm glad you found it," George Skeffington said. "We could have picked you up at the airport, no trouble."
"I like to drive myself. It lets me orient-ori--get used to where I am." He deliberately stumbled on the big word. There was no harm in giving them more evidence to think of him as stupid and harmless. Although, if Cristos was right, Skeffington would know Josh as far from harmless.
George Skeffington took his hand in a cold, too-firm grip, as though proving something to himself. "I'm glad we have the opportunity to get to know you better. You're one of the stars of the team, and I want to get to know you all in time."
"Why? Why would he want to know us?"
"I don't know either." The words, spoken straight into his mind were feminine and abruptly cut off. He turned in time to see a look of pure shock in the eyes of the young woman.
A psychic, maybe a sensitive. He'd have to guard his thoughts more carefully. But if she turned out a natural, untrained psychic, she might not be aware that he could communicate, that he'd "heard" her.
He kept the easy smile on his face as Skeffington, oblivious to the telepathic exchange, spoke. "I'm afraid I have a few business interests that will prevent me spending all the time I'd like to with you, so Kanchana has offered to help. This is Kanchana, my stepdaughter."
His stepdaughter? To Josh's dismay, his cock stirred at the thought that she was available. Wife or girlfriend of Skeffington would have put her out of the picture--a spy, a honeytrap--but surely Skeffington wouldn't put his stepdaughter, the woman Cristos had told him about, in the same position?
Or would he? Josh didn't know George at all, and the more reading he did in the media, the less he felt he knew him. An entrepreneur, starting with his own small store and working up to buy company after company, George Skeffington started as an "onwards and upwards" man, but he hadn't started his life dirt-poor. He hadn't suffered any kind of tragedy that anyone could discover. Josh suspected plain and simple greed had driven the development of the Skeffington empire, but he wouldn't make any judgments. Not yet. Not until he knew more.
Perhaps his stepdaughter would prove his weak spot. Maybe Josh's attraction to her could help him with his mission.
Kanchana nodded and smiled. "Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise." He gripped her hand and found it warm, unlike Skeffington's. "I don't think I need to keep you very busy. I've hired a car, and I don't know this area very well, so I want to explore."
George's smile broadened. "Kanchana knows the area very well. She can show you any number of places."
"San Francisco is very beautiful." Actually, he knew the area a little better than he let on. He'd visited once during World War Two, on a mission for the government, when he'd had little time to explore. Later, about twenty years later to be more precise, he'd visited at the height of the hippie movement. He doubted those visits counted for much, these days. Progress changed the look and feel of cities too quickly.
"It is beautiful," George said. "That's why I settled here." The slight Texas twang in his speech told of the origins Josh had read about. Probably purposely, reminding colleagues he was a cowboy at heart, although Josh deeply doubted Skeffington had ever stood within shouting distance of a cow, unless it was dead and on a plate.
"I'm looking forward to the visit."
"How is your knee?"
"For every day, it's great, just that the pressures on the field might be too much. Not to mention the tackles and professional fouls."
"Professional fouls?" Chana sounded startled, concerned even. Josh warmed to her.
"When a player on another team knows you have a weakness, he focuses on it. If I went back this season, my knee would take a pounding it might not bear."
He grinned. "Don't tell me your American footballers don't have the same thing."
She studied him, her head slightly tilted to one side. However much she tried to present herself as Barbie perfect, inside a human being was struggling to escape. He didn't need to enter her head to tell that; he could see it in the depths of her dark eyes. A humanity that drew him, unwilling though he felt about that. ""I'm sure they do. One of my stepbrothers was a pro, and the other is a coach, but I tend to tune out when they talk about it."
Four brothers--she had four big stepbrothers to look after her. A princess indeed. But her accent sounded light and pleasing, and she smelled good.
Josh stopped himself right there. Attraction was fine; personal involvement was not. He'd entered the house with his senses wide open, taking the risk in order that Laurie could contact him, if he was anywhere near, if even slightly sentient, but when she had touched his mind, he'd shut right down. He couldn't afford to read her as he'd planned, in case she did have some training, some idea of what she could do. Then she'd read him back.
He watched Kanchana, let his gaze linger on her breasts. He wanted to see the reactions to a definite leer. He could base his behavior on that, use their vulnerabilities against them.
She lifted her chin and stared back, but her gaze didn't hold an invitation. When he glanced back at George, he saw nothing except a faint warmth. He found it so frustrating not to be able to probe gently at his mind, to see what was happening on the surface. Any lower and most people noticed the intrusion, right down to a definite breach of the barrier everyone had, separating their consciousness from everyone else's, which hurt like a bitch, if done against the owner's will.
George didn't seem to care if Josh ogled his stepdaughter's breasts or not. Since Josh wore the jovial, none-too-bright, high-living footballer persona, that meant that either George trusted his stepdaughter enough to make her own decisions, or he didn't care. Or he wanted it to happen. In that case, he was no better than a pimp.
George stepped aside. "I have a few things to see to, so I hope you'll excuse me. Kanchana will show you to your room and make sure you're comfortable. I look forward to seeing you at dinner. We dine at eight."
Things grew more pimp-y by the second, but Kanchana had the pampered princess look. Did George want to shelter her from the nasty world outside the estate gates?
In that case, he shouldn't have invited the big bad wolf to step inside. Or rather, the big, bad griffin, who could prove a lot worse.