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Max parked his yellow Lambo in the garage of the Wild Ride Nightclub. He popped a mint into his mouth and exhaled the cold aroma slowly, savoring the bite. It was two o’ clock in the morning and the night had just started.
Chuckling at the memory of his last heated encounter, he looked at his reflection in the rearview mirror and smiled. The brunette had left a small hickey on his throat, and the skin on his back still tingled from the woman’s long nails’ attention. Her screams of pleasure had almost given them away as he slammed into her in the dark back corridor of True, one of the many clubs that were his hunting ground in Seattle. His dragon had growled the entire time, enhancing his pleasure.
Life was truly wonderful for a billionaire alpha shifter.
His cellphone rang. He checked the caller ID with a frown. It was from his penthouse’s doorman.
“Hugo, what’s the matter?” Max asked, leaning against the black leather seat. Boy, that woman had scratched her way through his back well and good, and the pain had only excited him more. He grew hard at the mere thought of her long, black nails curved in a come-hither gesture—
His doorman’s voice interrupted his pleasant wandering. “Mr. Prize, I apologize for calling you this late at night—”
“Mr. Prize, you should come back home,” the man said in a rush.
“I’m kind of busy right now.” Or he would be soon. Max had every intention to make his statement a certainty the moment he entered True.
In fact, he remembered two blondes in their late twenties frequenting the club for the last two or three months, and forever giving him not-so-subtle glances from the opposite end of the bar. Tonight, early morning, whatever, he had in mind to take them both back to one of the hotels he owned in the city for some fun. His dragon paced in his mind, anticipating the celebratory flight Max always indulged in after a night of pleasure. It was a good thing he lived in Seattle where an almost perennial blanket of clouds hid his dragon from mortal eyes.
“I apologize again, sir, but a situation has arisen that needs your immediate attention.” Hugo’s voice was somehow covered by what sounded like a wail of some sort.
“What’s happening?” Max’s thoughts went immediately to the most probable scenario. A woman had found her way to his penthouse and was now threatening the doorman to make a scene if Max didn’t show up.
“You’ve received a package…” The man’s voiced trailed at the end, drowned by the most infernal ruckus Max had ever heard.
“What in the name of all that’s holy is in there?” Had Hugo brought a feral cat to work?
“The package’s content I’m afraid,” Hugo said. “Please, Mr. Prize, hurry. I’ve already taken the liberty to call Mr. Wilson, and Jack Bosch is here with me.”
Max’s frown deepened as he swore in several languages. If Hugo had called Wilson Saints, Max’s best friend and PR, whatever the situation was at his penthouse, it needed professional handling.
With a last, disappointed look at the club’s elevators, Max turned on the engine of his sports car, shifted into reverse and let the Lambo’s roar fill the silent garage.
Nothing spoiled Max’s fun like having to drive back to his penthouse when the schedule for the night would’ve involved a threesome with a duo of blondes who had been eye-fucking him forever.
“This better be a life-and-death kind of situation,” Max barked at Hugo as soon as he exited his private elevator and found the doorman looking expectantly at him from the center of his foyer.
Jack, Max’s security detail, stood behind Hugo, his eyes cutting down to the floor before looking back at his employer.
“I’m not sure about life-and-death, but I’ll let you be the judge of that,” Hugo said, his hands wrenching the hem of his black and silver uniform jacket.
The man stepped aside, and for a moment, Max wasn’t sure what he was looking at. “I have no times for games—” he started saying before he followed Jack’s lowering gaze and found himself staring at a plastic contraption—like one of those carriers for kids, not that he had ever seen one up close—sitting at his security detail’s feet. A flannel blanket in a shade of pink that hurt the eye covered the content beneath.
“What is that?” Max’s frustration only grew when neither his doorman or Jack deigned him with an answer. His dragon, who had paced like a rabid animal until a moment ago, stilled all of a sudden. A strange and yet familiar scent hit his nostrils, raising the hair on his arms. “What the fuck is in there?” he growled.
Jack stepped forward, assuming a defensive pose as if Max were a threat against whatever was in that carrier.
“Move, or I’ll make you.” Max walked the gap between him and his soon-to-be-ex security detail.
Then something moved inside the hideous plastic box, the blanket fell to the side and the smallest hand Max had ever seen popped out from the gray edge. He tilted his head, wondering if he was hallucinating when a loud sound reduced the quiet of his penthouse into a bedlam.
“Do something!” Max jumped back several steps and pointed at the wailing thing as the blanket slid to the the ground, revealing that the little hand was attached to a little arm, and up still there were a miniature neck and an equally small face. A face that was becoming increasingly redder as the little monster screamed her lungs away.
“Take it away!” Max yelled, competing with the banshee, and failing to be heard over the horrendous cacophony. “Take it away, right now!” He pointed at the floor and then at the elevator to make his order crystal clear.
Jack gave him a shocked look, while Hugo shook his head, eyes bright and lower lip trembling as if Max had just said something horrible.
Before such a blatant display of betrayal, Max stomped toward the carrier, only to find both his now ex-employees erecting a wall before the pint-sized monster.
“Move—” Max’d had enough.
The elevator’s door opened, and the monster stopped crying. In that blessed moment of silence that followed, a voice resonated inside the foyer.
“The baby girl stays,” Wilson, his PR and best friend—soon to be ex on both counts—said, strolling out of the elevator and into the foyer. Dressed in a pinstripe, charcoal gray Armani suit, he stopped in front of Max and pushed his frameless glasses further up the bridge of his nose.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Max opened his hand to the side, pointing at the thing ruining the polished beauty of his Italian marble tiles. “That—” He couldn’t even say the word baby. “That isn’t going to stay in this apartment a moment longer. I have no idea how it arrived here—” He turned to Hugo. “How that happened?”
“A private courier came with a huge pack; he said it was a special delivery for you and left. I ran after him but then I heard a strange noise coming from the carboard box—” Hugo said. “I thought it was some pet, but when I lifted the lid, there was this beautiful baby inside.”
“And you thought that bringing it up to my penthouse was a good idea how?” Max’s voice rumbled throughout the high-ceilinged room, triggering the baby’s wailing again.
“Please, don’t scream,” Hugo said. “You’re scaring her.”
“Now I’m the bad one here. Unbelievable—” Max could only keep his temper in check for so long before he would let his dragon out. Although, confusedly enough, his usually fiery beast wasn’t clawing at his mental cage as expected of him. He clenched and unclenched his fists before speaking again, and this time, he lowered his voice to a more civilized tone. “Why didn’t you do the right thing and call the police?”
“I told him not to,” Jack interceded, but immediately lowered his eyes.
There must be a raging and very contagious flu in the air that rendered mad all the people in his employment. There was no other explanation for the series of idiotic responses Max was receiving.
“And why would you tell him not to call the police?” Max maintained his calm and enunciated word by word as if he were talking to a bunch of five years old.
“Because of the gift tag we found in the box,” Jack answered, this time raising his eyes long enough to cut a fleeting glance toward the cardboard box.
Hugo scurried to the corner, and after rummaging inside the pack, he retrieved one of those fancy tags usually attached to Christmas gifts. He handed the tag to Max, making sure their hands wouldn’t brush in the exchange, and stepped back right away.
Max eyed the ornate piece that was laser cut and of good quality. Shaped like a flying dragon, it looked like a custom job, and it said: A Gift for the Alpha.
“We called Mr. Saints as soon as we read the tag because we didn’t know what to do,” Jack finished.
“And you did the right thing,” Wilson said. “What were you going to say to the mortal police when they asked you why a baby ended up at your doorstep with a note mentioning an alpha?”
“They could have called Seattle Shifter PD.” Max brought his hand to his jaw, his fingers caressing the dark stubble. He shaved twice a day, but never managed to completely remove his five o’ clock shadow.
“The baby might not be a supernatural.” Wilson gave Max a pointed look.
Supernaturals—or paranormals as the Europeans liked to be called because they thought it was more politically correct—lived among the mortals without humans being the wiser. A secret organization called the Immortal Council had controllers everywhere, making sure the existence of the supers was kept hidden. There was a strong movement brewing against the Immortal Council’s strict laws, but the times weren’t right to come out, yet.
The red haze slowly dissipated from Max’s vision. “Okay, I can see the merit in not involving the official authorities. What I don’t see is why this baby should remain here.” He had said the repugnant word and survived unscathed.
“Because we need to find her mother first, and in doing so, we need to keep a very low profile.” Wilson answered him in the same patronizing tone Max had used a moment earlier. “Remember Mrs. Catalani, the disgruntled ex-employee that is suing you?”
Max raised his brow and didn’t deign Wilson of an answer.
“Imagine if the tabloids catch even the mere whiff of this—” Wilson pointed his chin at the baby, who had thankfully stopped crying. “Your image will be compromised beyond repair and we’ll never find a sympathetic jury ever again. Louise Dortmund will use this baby to hammer the last nail to your coffin.”
Max’s blood ran cold at the mention of the she-dragon, Louise Dortmund, his ex-friend and currently the lawyer defending Mrs. Catalani’s interests. Louise had been out for blood, his, for the longest time, and would use anything at her disposition to make Max pay for having refused her so many years ago. The woman could hold a grudge like no other.
Wilson shrugged. “Do you like your lifestyle?”
This time, Max didn’t bother raising his eyebrow, but gave his friend the bird.
“I guess the answer is yes, so pay attention to what I’m going to say next.” Wilson waited for Max to acknowledge him before adding, “We need to find a nanny, someone we can trust to keep her mouth shut—”
“A nanny?” Max couldn’t help but threw up a bit in his mouth at the mere thought. “In my penthouse?”
“Yes, in your penthouse.”
“With the baby?”
“Of course with the baby.” Wilson opened his hands to the side in frustration. “What are we playing, Clue?”
“This is a bachelor den, not a nursery!” Max’s ire burned rapidly, and it would reach the explosive stage soon.
The baby wailed once again. Hugo and Jack sent Max reproachful glances, and Wilson stared at him with censure.
“Do something to make it stop,” Max said.
“You could start lowering your voice,” Wilson bit back.
And that was the reason women weren’t allowed in his penthouse; they instigated violence in otherwise reasonable men…