It was supposed to be an easy mission. But nobody told her that.
Ian and Braden Thomas return to the U.S. to extract Katie Buchanan, the sister of the teammate who betrayed them. She could very well be the key to taking down the man responsible for turning Ian and Braden into unstable cat shifters. Unfortunately, they're not the only ones after Katie.
Katie has no intention of going quietly or of offering her trust on a silver platter. She's got troubles of her own that don't include two pain-in-the-ass men who claim her dead brother sent them. She's too busy trying to stay one step ahead of Ricardo de la Cruz, the brother of a man she killed.
As the bodies pile up, Ian and Braden are only sure of one thing: Katie makes them crazy. Something about her calls to their inner predator. They both want her, but she's made a practice of making bad decisions and trusting the wrong men. And by the time she realizes that she can trust these two warriors, it might just be too late.
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June 30, 2009
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Excerpt from Into the Lair by Maya Banks
Katie huddled under the steaming hot spray of the shower and let it pelt her skin until it was pink and raw. Even after she'd lathered her hair twice and soaped her body repeatedly, she stood still as the water cascaded over her.
She didn't want to move. Ever.
But she had a strong suspicion if she didn't get out soon, one of them would come haul her out.
With a regretful sigh, she turned off the water and stepped out, reaching for a towel. She dried briskly, taking care around the more tender parts. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she grimaced. Then she pulled the towel away and let her gaze trail down her body.
Her shoulders slid downward, and her eyes crossed with fatigue. She was starting to have some serious fantasies involving a pillow and a bed. Blankets were completely optional.
An irritated sigh escaped when she realized she'd neglected to bring clothes into the bathroom with her. And there was no way she was putting the nasty stuff she'd taken off back on.
She wrapped the towel around her and kept her arms pressed against the fabric so it had no chance of slipping down. Then she stuck her head out the door before exiting.
Braden was lying on the bed, eyes closed, and Ian was perched on the edge of the mattress, his expression brooding. Ian looked up at her, his eyes shuttered.
"I, uhm, just need to get some clothes," she said in a low voice.
Ian stood. "Not yet."
He walked toward her, and she blinked in surprise. His hand cupped her elbow, his touch gentle as he urged her toward the bed.
"You can keep the towel wrapped around you for now," he said gruffly. "I need to tend to that cut on your foot, and then I'll take a look at your arm."
Braden opened his eyes and rolled to the edge of the bed before putting his feet down with a thud. He rubbed his face in a tired gesture then rose to stand beside her.
"Get the kit," Ian told Braden.
Ian urged her down, and she sat awkwardly, keeping her gaze on her knees, bared just below the edge of the towel.
"Lay back and let me see your foot," Ian directed.
She eyed him for a moment but did as he said. Her head bounced softly on the mattress as she settled down, and she focused on the ceiling.
Gentle hands covered the top of her foot and tilted it back as he examined the instep. His fingers were firm and warm against her skin.
Braden leaned over and took her arm, lifting as he examined the bruising and swelling.
How long had it been since she'd simply enjoyed the touch of another? Close proximity, the feeling of not being so terribly alone?
It was overwhelming and yet so deeply pleasurable that she couldn't ask them to stop. She didn't want them to stop.
These were concerned touches. Caring and light. There was no desperate mark of possession, no shouted words, no deep-seated insecurity.
She shivered even as she craved more.
Ian felt her tremble beneath his fingers. He saw raw vulnerability behind a flash of sudden tears, and it tore at his gut. Here was a woman unused to any sort of tenderness. She expected the worst, and it seemed she usually got it.
What the hell kind of life had she led, and why had Gabe left her to fend for herself?
Trying not to let himself be too affected, he put antiseptic on her cut and quickly bandaged it. Braden was carefully manipulating her arm, but other than a few winces, she didn't seem too bothered by it.
He thrust the small bottle at Braden along with fresh bandages. "For her hand."
Braden took the stuff from him and settled next to Katie, his hip close to her shoulder. Her fingers shook against Braden's as he carefully pried them apart.
Ian eased down on her other side. "I need to look at your ribs, Katie," he said in a low, soothing voice.
Color flooded into her cheeks, and her eyes flickered away, her gaze focusing on the wall.
Braden touched her cheek, running a finger down her delicate jawline. "Don't be afraid," he said quietly. "We just want to make sure you're okay. I swear to you we won't hurt you."
She closed her eyes and slowly nodded.
Ian arranged the towel so that it hung loosely over her waist. He couldn't cover her breasts and her pelvis and felt she'd probably be the least embarrassed to have them staring at her breasts.
Bruises were scattered along her ribcage, some the size of a fist, others smaller, purple fingerprints against pale skin. When he saw the dark smudges close to her nipples, his jaw tightened in rage.
"Did they rape you?" he demanded bluntly.
Braden yanked his startled gaze to his brother, and his brows drew together in admonishment.
Katie's eyes flew open, and she too stared at Ian in shock.
"N-no," she stammered.
"Did he try?" Ian pressed, not sure why it was so important that he know the depths of Ricardo de la Cruz's depravity.
A dark flush stained her cheeks, and her eyes glittered with anger.
"I doubt he'll be able to use that part of his anatomy for a long while," she said darkly.
A grin flirted with the edges of Braden's mouth. Ian relaxed, unaware of just how tense he'd been until some of the edginess left him.
"Okay, so what exactly did he do?" Ian asked as he tended to a cut just below her left breast.
She let out a sigh. "Does it matter? I have no plans to get caught by him again. I wouldn't have this time if you two hadn't slowed me down."
Braden winced. "We were only trying to help."
She turned to look at Braden for a long while. "I'd like to believe that. Really, I would. But I still don't know why you're here. You say Gabe sent you. Why? You hint that someone else is after me, but I've spent all my time running from Ricardo."
Ian absorbed that latest piece of information. He and Braden exchanged glances, and then Braden cleared his throat.
"Why don't you get dressed, Katie. Then we can have that conversation we talked about."
Ian raised one eyebrow in question.
"We worked out a trade," Braden explained. "While you were...sleeping. She gives us information, and we give her the same."
Katie wrapped the towel around her body and struggled to sit up. Ian put his hand behind her neck and helped her forward. His fingers lingered at her nape, drawn to the softness of her skin. Tiny little goose bumps prickled and raced across her flesh, and her muscles quivered beneath his palm.
She wasn't immune to him any more than he was immune to her.
Unsure what to do with that realization, he pulled his hand away and let her get up from the bed. For a brief moment, she hesitated and looked back at him, her eyes wide with equal parts confusion and uncertainty.
Then she clutched the ends of the towel tighter around her and grabbed her bag before heading to the bathroom.
"I get the distinct impression that we're not going to like what we hear," Braden murmured. "What could she possibly have done to make a man treat her like he has?"
"Sometimes a woman doesn't have to do anything," Ian said with a growl. "Maybe he just couldn't take no for an answer. Whatever the case, we need to get her the hell out of the country."
"So we can use her," Braden said in a low, dissatisfied voice.
"Do you see another way?" Ian kept his voice as low as Braden's. "Hell, Braden, I don't like it either. She's obviously had a shitty time, and God knows why Gabe left her alone, but do you really want to stay like this for the rest of your life? Half man, half wild animal with no control, no choice?"
He cupped his hand to the back of his head and rubbed up and down to the base of his neck in agitation.
"At least we'll keep her safe. Hell, when was the last time you think she ate? Did you see how slim she is? She had, what, two hundred dollars on her? Yeah, we need her to draw out Esteban, but that doesn't mean we're going to throw her under the bus."
Braden stared back at him, brief uncertainty flashing in his eyes before his lips drew together in a fine line. "No, I don't want to be this way forever. But maybe...maybe we need to be realistic. There might not be a way to fix this, Ian."