Andie lay close to the ground so she would blend in with the landscape should anyone be watching. She’d found an outcropping of rock that gave her an unobstructed view of the area she’d been assigned to patrol. The darkness was just barely illuminated by the tiny sliver of moon in the sky. While everything was painted in greys, she could see every detail of the gorgeous land surrounding her, thanks to her cougar’s excellent vision.
If Andie could, she’d smile. Patrol was about as mind-numbingly boring as it got, but she relished the sense of freedom afforded from being completely by herself in the woods. While she’d become used to the slightly claustrophobic sensation of living in a dare, Andie took advantage of the opportunities her role created to get out alone in the wild as frequently as possible. Well, mostly alone. She wasn’t the only sentry out here.
The rock where she lay jutted out from the side of the mountain, keeping her just above the tree line. She was in her cougar form and employed all the senses that came with it. Keen eyesight, smell, and hearing were all highly attuned to her surroundings. Based on her exploration of this spot, no other sentries had discovered it yet. She made a mental note to mention that fact to A.J. when she got back. This should’ve been found by at least one of the cougars familiar with the local area.
Thinking of A.J., her mind wandered back to the previous night. Andie had spent it with him and his fellow men going over the different methods she’d employed to get into the compound. She’d pointed out the few subtle changes they could make to tighten security for individual assailants. It wasn’t a lot, mostly tiny things. Very few shifters of any type had her particular skills to slip in and out of places unnoticed. Stealth was one of the areas her petite size aided.
A slight, telltale rustle in the bushes below alerted her to the passing of the mobile patrolman. Another mental note for A.J.—a few of Keller’s patrollers were too loud, too obvious. Cougars were naturally stealthy animals. These guys were good, but they could be better.
She’d been positioned here for hours, and man was she going to sleep well when she was relieved of duty. After the long run her first morning and then the strategy download, followed by the sparring, and then her review of Keller perimeter security measures last night, she was running on fumes. She knew that was the idea, part of her test for the dare, but she’d done this kind of duty before, so she wouldn’t falter or let them down.
Only the tiniest scraping sound of rock moving against rock warned her of the other cougar’s presence. She had absolutely no doubt who it was. A.J. He’d climbed the rock just above her and was probably planning to pounce.
Damn. That was the second time he’d managed to sneak up on her in as many days. Andie started feeling a little less smug. Maybe she’d spent too much time in the office lately strategizing, and not enough in the field practicing. Maybe she was slipping. At least this time she knew of his presence before he revealed himself. But how long had he been up there?
Andie turned her head and looked straight up into a pair of dark golden eyes. He pulled his lips back in a cougar’s imitation of a grin and deftly dropped down about fifteen feet to land on padded paws on the rock beside her without even a whisper of a sound.
Well, that explains a little bit. Dang man’s even more silent than I am.
A.J. lay down beside her and looked out over the view. Andie watched him from the corner of her eye. In cat form, he dwarfed her. He was a massive cougar, one of the largest she’d encountered. She was a little surprised that Keller would keep such an obvious Alpha-type in his immediate close circle. Then again, all of Jaxon’s Protectors and Commanders were intimidating Alpha-types, so the man clearly had a great deal of self-confidence.
Lying here beside A.J., Andie could feel the heat coming off his big body, even in the chill of the night air and through their heavy fur coats. Winter was closing in fast, and these mountains would be covered by snow soon. She resisted the insane urge to lean into him, absorb his warmth and this strength, and purr.
At the slight rustle in the underbrush below, once again signaling the passing mobile guard, A.J. gave a low chuff. Irritation, Andie knew immediately. After the sentry passed, A.J. looked over and caught her watching him. He tipped his chin out toward the view, telling her to stay vigilant, so she turned her total attention back to her job. Or tried to at least. If he wanted to keep tabs on her, that was his problem.
He stayed there with her for over an hour. At first, she was completely conscious of him beside her. But then she got used to him, and his presence became almost soothing—maybe comfortable was a better word for it—as if they’d been doing sentry duty together for ages. He didn’t distract her from her job. With a small shock of surprise, Andie realized that she liked having him there. Strange, given how much she enjoyed the alone time that watch shifts granted her and how agitated she often felt when he was around. But no less true.