His Feverish Embrace by Celia Kyle

Chapter One





Dark chocolate coffee and hot cayenne pepper burned down Thrett Lacerta’s throat as he lowered his to-go cup and stared up at his latest assignment. Benningford Preparatory Academy was the most exclusive—and secret—shifter school in Los Angeles. Dressed in a sharp button-down rolled up past his thick forearms and a pair of unassuming slacks, Thrett probably looked like a lot of the teachers at a place like this. At least setting up a security system for a prep school meant nobody would ask if he was a new adjunct instructor.

The distinctive sound of jogging footsteps reached him, and he glanced over toward the high chain fence surrounding the perimeter of the property to find two of his colleagues from Wildridge Security slowing their pace to a brisk walk. Elektra Mico and her newfound mate Grizz Magna were scoping out the perimeter of the school and looking for anything that could help him make the school premises more secure. Not wanting to draw attention, they were dressed in workout gear and looked like a well-to-do young couple out for a run. Thrett gave them a single nod of acknowledgment and then strode up the paved walkway toward the school’s ornate entrance, smiling broadly at a pretty woman as their paths crossed. The poor thing nearly tripped over her own feet, but Thrett kept moving. He had a job to do.

Two bunnies darted in front of him, chasing after one another across school grounds. Nearby, a couple of sets of anxious-looking parents dropped off their kids at the curb. And on the rooftop, an austere condor watched over the start of the early Thursday morning with a protective eye—probably a teacher. Thrett didn’t fail to notice that the condor shifter periodically cast a furtive glance up and down the street, too.

Wildridge Security hadn’t sent him in to update the school’s security systems just because their most high-profile client, Stark Bradford, was overly protective of his son. While true, Stark’s concerns weren’t completely unfounded. In fact, the school had reported a credible threat in the form of a black van that had been spotted prowling around the neighborhood recently. Thrett’s job was to figure out how vulnerable the school was in light of that potential danger and update the school’s systems accordingly.

And Stark Bradford had movie-star money, which meant no expense would be spared. Thrett could really spread his wings and make this place so secure even a gnat wouldn’t be able to penetrate it unless invited inside.

Thrett exchanged a solemn nod with the condor when they made eye contact, predator-to-predator, protector-to-protector. Then he spared a moment to take in his immediate surroundings and put himself in the shoes of someone who wanted to break into this place. Holding his coffee close enough to his lips that he could smell the spice and feel a tingle in his nose, his gaze panned the area.

The short driveway onto the property was protected by an automatic wrought-iron gate. It appeared that during morning drop-off—and presumably afternoon pick-up—the gate remained open. Easy enough for someone on foot to sneak in when no one was looking. He also knew the closing mechanism of that model and a determined interloper would have no problem disabling it from the outside.

Of course, that was far from the only weakness he could see. The chain fencing would be simple for anyone over ten and under sixty to climb. Its main benefit was keeping kids from running into the street and deterring opportunistic or inexperienced trespassers.

The condor shifter was perched above the only outdoor security camera he could see. It was tucked into a corner—probably to stay inconspicuous—but it left a dozen blind spots. Thrett didn’t see any external lights either, save for the one above the main entrance. Almost the entire property would be shrouded in darkness every night. No wonder a van was casing the place. Probably just some burglars trying to figure out if this place was too good to be true.

Most of what he saw would be easily fixed, but he suspected he’d find more lapses in security inside the school itself, which would only extend his time working this assignment. Not ideal, but he’d manage. It wasn’t as if he hated kids. He just…preferred spaces that didn’t include them.

Totally different.

“Thrett?”

He stopped before entering the building and turned to find a face he recognized. A pretty young woman—Jade, if he remembered correctly—stopped so suddenly to stare at him that the line of kids in identical uniforms behind her bumped into each other before realizing their teacher had put on the brakes. Her brown eyes widened and stars fairly sparkled in them. She obviously remembered their single night together. He sighed heavily. They always did.