Thursday, April 28, 2016
He prowled around the cabin twice, drawing ever closer. He found no wolf-sign in evidence. Warner Hancock wasn’t about to announce his presence until he was ready. Would the current crop of Hancocks even know his scent? Doubtful. They wouldn’t see much threat in an aged Alpha, his child bride and an infant. Only a Ghan would hear a challenge in a newborn’s cry.
A thin curl of smoke ghosted out of the chimney. From within he heard the chime of a girl’s laugh.
The front door, when he gingerly tested it, was locked. The back door off the kitchen was not.
One of his targets, the infant’s mother, was standing at the sink. Her laughter cut off on a squeak when Sergei threw open the kitchen door and stepped into the cabin. Her eyes grew wide and her mouth formed a perfect O. Soapy water dripped from her fingers. She stared at him in shock for only a moment, then grabbed a saucepan that still smelled of beef gravy and swung it at his head.
A poor weapon, poorly handled. The girl was no fighter. The saucepan missed his chin by a wide margin. He caught her arm easily and squeezed until she dropped the pan. She struck out with her free hand, fingers aimed at his eyes. He caught that arm as well. She snarled and snapped at air with her human teeth and kicked his legs. She might as well have been striking at a redwood.
From the little room just off the kitchen he heard a baby cry.
And a roar. Warner Hancock charged out of the bedroom and launched himself at Sergei. He’d grown too old to shift; he was forced to defend his family in his human form. Sergei shoved the girl away and grabbed him by the neck. A simple thrust through the open doorway sent him tumbling into the back yard. One threat disposed of.
He turned toward the other and was hit by wiry muscle and leaping fur. The girl had gone wolf. He caught her by the scruff of the neck, like a cub, and tossed her outside after her husband. Then he shut and bolted the door.
The infant continued to wail. He followed the sound into the little bedroom.
# # #
Ilsa hit the ground, rolled, scrambled upright and threw herself at the door. She clawed at it frantically while Warner first tried the latch, then slammed his shoulder and then his foot against it. Neither helped. “The axe,” he panted. “Where the hell’d I leave the axe?”
She forced herself still, nose working and ears pricked. Her own panic, more than the reek of tiger musk, nearly choked her.
She couldn’t hear her baby any more.
Both doors were locked. The axe would take too long. She had to get in there now.
The window. She’d been cooking. She’d left the kitchen window open.
She dashed around the corner of the cabin and leaped for the window. Her paws scrabbled at the sill before they found purchase. Ilsa hoisted herself up and shoved her wolf body through the opening. She landed with her paws in the sink, slipped, and tumbled onto the rough wood floor. The impact jolted her back into her human form. Warner was right behind her, levering his aged body over the sill.
Ilsa didn’t wait for him. She dashed into the silent bedroom and skidded to a halt.
Sergei stood beside the bed with Anitra cradled in his arms, crooning a lullaby in Russian. The infant sighed and snuggled more firmly into his huge arms.
“So tiny,” he said. He did not even look at Ilsa. “I have not held baby in long, long time. Such a little bit, to cause so much trouble.”
Shaking, Ilsa took a step forward. She held out her arms to him, silent, pleading. He handed the baby to her. She all but snatched Anitra from him. The baby squirmed and growled a little, but didn’t wake.
Warner charged in with the axe raised. He stared with mouth agape at the tableau.
“You must leave here,” Sergei said. “Is not safe.”
“No shit,” Warner snarled. “Where the hell’d Damien dredge you up?”
“Not Hancock. Zhere Ghan. The tiger lord has plans, and you are in his way. You need to go.”
“Go where? We go into town and the wolves’ll get us, just as soon as they figure out who we are.”
Sergei looked at the wall above their heads. “West of here, on other side of mountain, is farm owned by lion and wife. They will shield you. They owe me favor.”
Ilsa eyed him doubtfully. “Lions?”
“With no love for either Hancock or Ghan. His wife is young and looking to start family. She will welcome chance to practice.” He smiled down at her and her baby. “Husband does as she tells him. He is well-trained American male.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Warner said with a snort. He lowered the axe. “West of here, over the mountain? There’s nothing that way except—”
“Armed turkeys. You will be careful, yes?”
“So Abram Turkle’s still around? Why didn’t you say so?” Warner cackled. “That old son of a buzzard. Maybe we can strike a deal. I wouldn’t mind having him at my back. At least he and his clan can shoot straight.”
“Is best you go now, before others come. I will show you trail.”
# # #
The two wolves gathered up their belongings—mostly things for the baby—and set out along the path Sergei pointed out. He gave them a long head start, then followed at a discrete distance. Warner must have known this mountain once, because he never once wavered from the trail. They crested the mountain and found the farm with no trouble. Sergei watched from concealment as the lion and his tiger wife opened the door. The wife had Ilsa and her infant inside before the lion could even get his rifle up. He held a brief and bemused conversation with Warner before the elder wolf was also ushered in. Only then did Sergei turn back.
His arms still felt the slight weight of the baby. So little, so helpless. Undeserving of death.
A grown tiger, on the other hand, one who would order such an atrocity—that was another matter entirely.
With purposeful strides he retraced his steps across the mountain, aimed for the Ghan compound.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
Now the fine turning of editing begins, readers and fans! I’m working on polishing Tim and Susan’s story with help from my editor. The content round of edits are hard from the view of “What do you mean change my wonderful story?” They really make the story stronger, richer, and fuller. So I’m diving in! Have a great weekend everyone!
Thursday, April 21, 2016
(Taking a break today. The serial story will continue next week.)
“We’re almost there,” Whit said. “Keep your eyes closed. No peeking.”
“I’m not peeking,” Penelope lied. Not that she could see a thing with his hand clamped over her eyes. “Is this a good surprise or a bad surprise?”
“It’s the best. Oops. Stop right here.” He kept his palm over her face. She heard the scrape of a chair being pulled back and guessed he’d brought her to one of Haven’s intimate private cubbies . “I suppose you’d better look now. If you fall on your ass, you’ll kick mine.”
“Damn right I will.” Penelope opened her eyes, which immediately widened when she saw what awaited her.
Sitting on the table before her was a banana split, in all its sweet, chocolate and caramel, calorie-laden goodness. The two mounds of vanilla ice cream had been carefully sculpted to resemble giant boobs. The cherries that topped the mounds wore nipple clamps.
“Happy opening night,” Whit said. He handed her a spoon. “Happy successful opening night. Dig in.”
Penelope seated herself at the table and accepted the spoon. “This is not at all what I was expecting to wrap my lips around after a long night at work. This is better.” She scooped up banana and ice cream and thrust it into her mouth, then shut her eyes to savor the sugar meltdown on her tongue. “Whole worlds of better. Did you make this?”
“Not on my best day. I’m better with fruit. Rupert outdid himself. From my specifications, of course.”
She inspected one of the clamps with a tentative finger. “Are these … pretzels?”
“They are indeed. When the salt hits the sugar—”
But Penelope had already snapped off the end of a “clamp” and dipped it into a vanilla boob to see for herself. She moaned. “Absolute heaven. You naughty boy. How did you ever come up with this?”
Whit took a seat. “I wish I could lie and tell you it was all my idea. Alas, no. While traveling this marvelous country of yours, I made an extended stop in New Jersey. I fell in with a flock of seagulls with, shall we say, sophisticated tastes. One of their number ran an ice cream and candy shop on the boardwalk. He had quite the sense of humor.”
“And quite the dirty mind, I see.”
“Not in the shop, of course. The Jersey Shore is far too family-oriented. He had a side business on the internet. He was always in demand for the better birthday parties.”
“I’ll just bet.” Having demolished the pretzel clamps, Penelope attacked the banana portion. “I can’t believe you talked Rupert into this. I had him pegged as vanilla.”
“Shows what you know. A little gingerbread and powdered sugar and he turns into a wild man.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Did this gull friend of yours have any other goodies?”
“He managed to make a flogger with a chocolate handle and tails made from salt water taffy.” Whit made a face. “I suppose that’s all the taffy’s good for. I don’t imagine anyone actually eats it.”
“Not that I’ve ever heard of.” Penelope lapped whipped cream off her spoon. “I like the idea, though. If we could make the tails out of caramel … ”
“And stud the handle with chopped-up nuts … ”
“With a peanut-butter center … ”
“Oh Gawd.” Whit fanned himself with his hand. “If Rupert can create something like that, I’ll marry him.”
“Get in line. We may have to consider adding a dessert cart. Let’s see how shakedown week pans out.”
At that moment Rupert himself appeared. He kept his hands behind his back. “Sir. Mistress. Was dessert to your liking?”
“Very much so, Rupert, thank you. You’re talented in ways I never expected. Keep up the good work.”
Rupert blushed. “Thank you, Mistress.” He brought out the plate he’d been concealing. “Your dessert, Sir. As specified.”
Penelope hadn’t thought her eyes could get any wider. Whit’s banana split was mostly banana, planted upright in a sea of fudge, with a head of cream at its tip and two small scoops of ice cream at its base. It looked exactly like a—
Whit accepted the plate with a beaming smile. “Perfect. Thank you, Rupert.” Rupert flushed a darker red and hastily withdrew.
Penelope stared in fascination at Whit’s dessert. Her mouth watered. “Want to switch?”
“Sweetie, I’ll never switch. But if you’re a good girl, I’ll let you lick the spoon.”
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Short post today because I feel horrible. Sorry, next week's will be longer.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The door to his master’s quarters cracked open. Jarod lost interest in getting through the wall of magic so he could get to his master’s side, focusing instead on who was entering without permission. Whoever it was should have at least knocked.
He silently slunk into a deep shadow within easy lunging distance of the door as it slowly opened wider. Behind him, he sensed stillness from his master and panic from his mistress. She clearly did not understand what the real threat was, but the master did, he was glad to note. A flurry of movement was preceded by the magic barrier being dropped. The door stopped moving, not quite open far enough for whoever was behind it to get into the room.
“What is it, Albie?” The master strode over to the fire and settled into the chair beside it. Jarod didn’t move, though. That man, Albie, had not asked permission to enter the master’s den. Jarod’s instincts, both the knight’s and the beast’s, were screaming that that was suspicious behaviour.
“You, ah, your dinner is getting cold, my lord,” the old man stuttered. “I was worried that something had happened when you didn’t come down to eat.” The old man sounded nervous now that he was caught. Jarod didn’t buy the act, though. This Albie hadn’t been acting nervous a moment ago.
“And you didn’t think to ask through the door, why?”
“I’m sorry if I over stepped myself, my lord.” The door opened a little further and the old man stepped through, again without being bidden to do so, his eyes moving rapidly around the room before stopping on the mistress. The mistress belonged to him and his master. This dishonest person had no right to look at her so disrespectfully. Jarod growled softly, deeply offended.
Everyone froze, then. The intruder’s fake posture of contrition fell away.
“Look down and to your right, Albie,” the master said, calmly. The old man did so. The scent of genuine terror filled the room when he saw the giant cat crouching five meters away. “I suspect my new pet dislikes your entering my chambers without permission more than I do,” the master continued, his deep voice becoming more foreboding with every word.
Saturday, April 16, 2016
I love the cover of my latest book from Sirenbookstrand: Together Again. First book in the Pacific Cay Trilogy. Three couples find their second chance at love in the northern California coastal town of Pacific Cay. Here's the cover blurb:
Tim Smith wants a second chance with his first love, Susan Nealson. Convincing Susan he’s worth a second chance isn’t going to be easy. Given his on-again-off-again ex-boyfriend past with her, he isn’t sure how to proceed due to the apology he believes he owes her, and his divorce.
When Susan agrees to be a mutual friend’s maid of honor, Tim might have the incentive he’s looking for. Susan isn’t anticipating being paired up with the dateless best man, Tim--her ex-boyfriend. She wouldn’t turn down a chance to revisit their past sexual chemistry. Beyond that, she’s unsure taking a risk on Tim is in her best interest.
Giving first loves a second chance requires letting go of the past and embracing what today offers. When their chemistry ignites more than sex, can they move past their botched history and embrace their second chance at love? Or will they remain stuck in the past trying to correct it?
I'm waiting for edits to roll in so I can get Tim and Susan's story to you. Projected release date is May 17th.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Today I went back and found the sign above stuck to the door. I'm taking that as a good sign, even though she'd stuck it to said door with a really sharp athame.
That's her way.
The soon, I'm hoping, refers to the fact that I'm about two weeks from the end of my semester at school. So long math and let me at the creative classes I've longed to take! Mz. Muse found the math portion of my schooling a personal assault to her sanity...I can't disagree.
Here's to seeing y'all on the flip side of this semester. Have a wonderful weekend!
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Stefanya lay in the quiet peace before dawn, drowsing and only semi-awake, curled in Yuri’s arms. His soft breathing stirred her hair. She sighed into the pillow. She cherished these moments, because there were so few of them. Quiet moments in the dark, awash in the forgetfulness brought on by Yuri’s passionate loving. For a handful of seconds, the world and its tensions simply didn’t exist.
As if to mock her, the phone on the nightstand buzzed.
Stefanya’s fingers hooked into talons. Only one caller used this phone. Her quiet moment was over. Careful not to disturb Yuri’s sleep, she reached for the phone. “Yes.”
Her employer’s electronically-filtered voice spoke to her. She listened.
# # #
An hour later she called her team together. This time they met at the diner, where the clatter of plates and chatter of customers would mask their words. No one asked what was up. They knew their leader and could read her eyes and energy. No longer seven individuals, they came together, focused on the mission.
“It’s time,” Stefanya said over the lip of her coffee mug, in a voice that didn’t carry beyond the table. “We move tonight. Can you disable the security systems, Alec?”
“On the Hancock and Ghan buildings, yes. Everything’s in place. The Fledermaus house, I don’t know. I couldn’t get in. I couldn’t even get near it.” He turned to Castor. “How about you?”
“I got right up to the ranch house before the bats chased me off. No signs of electronic security that I could see. Remember, it’s bats. Maybe Fleddy doesn’t have an outside security system. Maybe the hands just squeak and see if anything funny bounces back.”
“They saw you?” Stefanya asked.
“Relax, boss. They think I’m a coyote. A real one, not a shifter. I know how to fake the body language and I hang out around the garbage cans. Nobody’s taken a shot at me yet. As far as indoors, no idea. I got a peek inside the kitchen once. It looked like a kitchen. Best I could do. Whoever goes in will be going in blind.”
Which meant they might not be coming out again. Stefanya raised that possibility. Nobody voiced any objections. They knew the risks. They were professionals.
“Not a problem,” Cloyd said. His teeth gnashed through his fried eggs. “I’ll take the bat. What’s life without a bit of risk?”
“Keep an eye out for a way downstairs. A panic room. A fortified cellar or something,” Castor advised. “Bats like to go underground. Don’t forget to watch out for the vampires. They go right for the eyes.”
“So do I.”
“Enough,” Stefanya said. “Cloyd, you’re not going to the ranch. And no one is to kill anybody. Our employer was quite specific in who was to attack where, and what they’re to say once the target’s secured.”
“Say?” Cloyd sputtered egg.
Fastidious Irwin brushed off his sleeve and edged his chair away from the sheep. “We’re just supposed to talk to them? Bloody hell. If that’s all he wanted, he could have sent emails. Save us the trouble and himself a wad of cash.”
“This is how he wants it to go down. It’s not our place to ask questions.” She handed out the assignments, and read them their brief scripts. “No one dies,” she emphasized. “Not yet. I assume that will come later.”
“Damn well better,” Cloyd muttered, and assaulted another egg, this time with gusto. It was clear he was happy with his target. Those who would also be on the move tonight showed no emotion one way or the other. This was a job, nothing more.
Alec had visibly relaxed. He had the easiest job, disabling security. He didn’t even need to be on-site. “Once the Ghan and Hancock systems go down, I can fly to the ranch. If I keep the bats busy—”
“You’re needed at communications,” Stefanya said. “If the bats need to be dealt with, I’ll handle it. Is everyone clear on their instructions?” She looked around the table. No one had any questions. “All right. We’ll meet at the inn at sundown. I expect you all to be at the top of your game.”
“Can’t wait.” Cloyd giggled. Irwin edged a little further way.
They stayed at their table through a second cup of coffee, chatting and laughing like regular patrons. Like they were no different from anyone else in the diner. Stefanya picked up the check, and left a generous tip.
# # #
Once he’d dispatched his instructions to his team of international killers, the man on the other end of the line dialed a second number. Time to put his final player on the board. For this call he didn’t bother with the electronic filter. They knew each other’s voices, and each other’s hates.
The other picked up on the third ring. “This better not be another tease.”
“No tease. He’s here, and he won’t be leaving any time soon.” He gave coordinates. “Wait twenty-four hours and then move in. They’ll be much too busy to notice you. When you’re finished with your tasks, you may … indulge yourself. Make sure he dies slowly and painfully.”
The other chuckled. “It will be my pleasure.” The phone clicked off.
And that was that. By this time tomorrow Talbot’s Peak would be at war. The man laughed softly to himself. It was going to be glorious.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
“This was not how I expected to spend the evening.” Morgan shook his head, dumbfounded by the sight of the large, strangely colored beast pacing the boundary of the wards Meghan had barely gotten finished before Black finished his first change.
“He is a magnificent specimen, though,” the healer said approvingly.
That he was, Morgan silently agreed. Black was now a tiger. He was at least ten feet long and weighting around 600 pounds. Whereas tigers usually have an orange base coat, white ventral areas, and vertical black stripes, Black had sort of swirling thick black and dark gray stripes that almost completely obscured the classic tiger base coat.
“His markings look like they match the heavy patterns of scars and tattoos on his human body,” Morgan said a long moment later.
“Yes, black for the scarring and gray for the tattoos,” Meg agreed. “Not entirely unexpected for a Knight of Nicodemus, really. Every mark on them, including healing battle wounds are a religious experience for them.”
“Where did his piercings go?” Morgan asked suddenly. He glanced away from the prowling cat to see a befuddled look on Meg’s face.
“No idea,” she said as she got on her hands and knees, obviously trying to peer at the beast’s underside. The tiger spun and crouched, staring back at her, and oddly intense look on his face. Morgan froze, but Meg didn’t seem to notice the tiger’s heavy regard. She shuffled to one side and then the other, trying to get a better look while the beast watched her, not moving anything but his head. “I wonder if the steel used was magically significant somehow,” she murmured.
“Perhaps you should move away from the wards,” Morgan murmured softly, allowing none of his anxiety to show in his voice.
Meg looked up and froze, her nose inches away from the tiger’s with nothing separating them but a slight shiver of wavering light from wards hastily scribble on the floor.
Mistress, a voice said in the back of his mind. He wanted to ignore it, sensing that the female would be tasty. His stomach clenched in hunger and he could smell blood. The food I didn’t finish earlier, the voice said. Master and mistress are not food. They provide food. He sniffed disdainfully. He could provide his own food. Might as well go eat what is already available, the voice urged. The voice had a point. He spun away from the female and pounced on the small pile of cool, bloody meat. The female squeaked when he moved. He chuffed, amused. The male hadn’t squeaked, though. Master is made of sterner stuff, the voice agreed.
“What happens when he finishes with the food?” He looked back at the two hiding behind the wall of magic. It had been the female that spoke. Making my Mistress nervous. He didn’t like that he was making her nervous, though he wasn’t sure why. That wall of magic annoyed him. It was good that it was there. Would have attacked the master and mistress while the pain of the change was upun me.
That voice. It was his voice, he realized. He paused his eating for a long moment. He didn’t look like the two behind the magic. I did before the change, the voice said. Yes, that felt right. The voice was his when he looked like them. It was… another mind, one foreign to how he looked now. Maybe it would be a good idea to listen to that voice. It probably had information that made more sense to his—their—other form. He eyed the hateful light as he finished his meal. It was rising from wiggly lines on the floor, merging with more wiggly lines on the walls around the nest—bed, his bed. Not theirs. Yes, his bed. He could smell were he’d lain on it. He’d lain on the other nest, the big one not behind the magic light, but his was not the only scent there. The mistress had warded our bed to keep us safe but they got trapped behind it when the change started too soon.
He got up and began pacing along the light again, calm this time since he wasn’t trying to get to food. If this was his master and mistress, then they should be hiding behind him for protection, not behind this hateful wall. He needed to figure out how to get them out. There, the voice prodded. See how the light dims a little in the corner where the runes on the wall meet the runes on the floor? He slinked closer to the dim spot the voice pointed out. The man and woman shuffled around, growing agitated, but he ignored them. He poked a claw at the point where the wiggly lines didn’t quite meet. It stung a bit, but nowhere near as badly as it had hurt when he had slammed his body into the light the one and only time he’d tried pouncing on the man. He nudged his claw into the dim corner again.
“He’s got metal claws,” the master said, sounding both stricken and awed.
“Answers the question of where his piercing went and if the steel they were made of was magically significant,” the mistress said back.
“Can he break the wards doing that?”
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Zhere Ghan took the news of his impending assassination well. “So the Seven are gunning for me, eh? Well. Someone thinks an awful lot, to spend so much and dispatch so many just to end my life. The Seven. When you care enough to send the very best. Not there,” he snapped at the gangly man in Apex Greenhouse coveralls. “By the window. They do best in sunlight. Don’t you know anything?”
Sergei watched the man silently heft the small potted tree and move it over to join the small forest growing beside the broad windows of Ghan’s office. He well understood Ghan’s desire for thick natural cover. However, the king tiger’s office was not the place for it. All the greenery would provide cover for an assailant as well. And with the Seven here, gunning for Ghan …
The delivery man arranged the tree with the others. “There y’go, mate,” he murmured to it. Sergei’s ears pricked at the accent. Australian? Not that Talbot’s Peak didn’t host a myriad of out-of-staters. He himself was living proof of that. But the Seven were an international team. He took a careful sniff and found a contradiction, a crocodile with only a thin trace of meat in his scent. Word of someone that odd would have circulated in this gossip-happy town. Perhaps he was a recent arrival? As recent as Stefanya?
Given their profession, the makeup of the Seven changed constantly. Stefanya he knew of, and that Yuri was still with her. Who were the others? He hadn’t even bothered to find out.
“I’m sorry, am I boring you?”
Ghan’s heavy sarcasm jerked Sergei’s attention away from the crocodile. “I was considering strategy,” Sergei said. “Means of defense. The Seven will not strike directly, like wolf. Stefanya is cunning. She—”
Ghan waved that away. “My guards will see to it. It’s not as if anyone can get at me, not here in the house. On to more important matters.” He strolled to the window to inspect the new arrangement. The crocodile froze instinctively. “Much better. Where are the orchids? I paid for orchids.”
“In the truck, sir. Be right back.” The delivery man sidled past him and darted out of the office. Sergei watched him thoughtfully. Ghan paid no attention.
“My agents tell me,” Ghan said, nudging a potted tree closer to the window, “that the elder Hancock’s mate has given birth.” He shot a razored look at Sergei. “Surely you remember her. I ordered you to kill her and the pup several weeks ago.”
Sergei shrugged, not as carelessly as he’d wanted to. “Is not so important. Threat of the Seven outweighs threat from baby wolf.”
“Not if the wolf is allowed to grow up. I thought I’d explained this to you. That pup is a Hancock of the old Alpha’s bloodline. That’s all wolves understand. I’ve already got my hooks in the legal heir, through my daughter Rakshasi. I want Damien Hancock to die knowing everything he’s built will pass into my hands without a shot being fired. That alone should destroy him. I don’t want another heir muddying the waters. That bitch and her whelp are going to die, and you’re going to do it.”
Ghan stiffened. “I’m not familiar with that word,” he said silkily. “Explain to me what it means.”
“Will be no point in killing pup if Seven kills you first. You should be taking precautions. Not threatening babies.”
“And there’s your problem,” Ghan said, “one of your many faults. You’re too short-sighted, Sergei. You’d think one could see further from a height as great as yours. You keep missing the bigger picture. It’s why you’re here, and why she died. I don’t understand why I need to keep reminding you of that.”
Sergei’s face remained a mask. Behind it, his guts were churning. He understood, all right. Zhere Ghan liked to play with his victims. Her death was a knife he enjoyed plunging into Sergei’s heart and twisting, twisting, twisting.
He shut his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. Genevieve’s features filled his mind. His love for her filled his soul. Another knife for Ghan to twist in his pursuit of his bigger picture.
But some things were even bigger than Ghan’s stupid pictures. More powerful than power. Zhere Ghan couldn’t see it. That was his major fault.
His eyes opened, to fix in an icy stare on Ghan. “Pup is not important,” he said.
Ghan was occupied with examining a flaw on the leaf of one of his trees. Without even looking around he said, “And what about Genevieve Bordeaux? An exotic dancer in a backwater nightclub. Not even a tiger. How important is she, in the grand scheme of things? Not very, I’m thinking. Although she may matter to some.” He glanced up at Sergei, smiling. “How would you measure the worth of her life, old friend? Against, say, the lives of some wolf bitch and her whelp?”
His growl ripped out of him before he could stop it. Too late, he cut it off. It had already betrayed his one weakness to Zhere Ghan, who had no mercy.
He could kill Ghan, here and now. Wipe that smug grin and those cruel eyes out of existence. He knew a dozen ways to do it. Ghan was strong, but not in Sergei’s league.
And yet he didn’t move. The blood debt, Sergei’s failure, stood between them like a wall.
“I’ll tell you what,” Ghan purred. “Kill Warner Hancock, his bitch and his spawn. Do that and I’ll consider your debt repaid. No strings. All free and clear. I won’t even bother with the dancer. What was her name again?”
Genevieve. He could see her face plainly. How it would twist in revulsion if he completed his mission. How it would appear in death, all light gone from her golden eyes. He felt Ghan’s blade go deep, twisting as it sank.
He ground his teeth and clenched his fists. And nodded.
The delivery man returned, with a second coveralled man in tow. This one was younger, more compact, with huge eyes behind owlishly-large glasses. Both carried pots of orchids. “On the desk,” Ghan ordered. He examined the flowers, then grunted, satisfied. “Excellent.” His dismissal included Sergei. “That will be all.”
The greenhouse workers hurried out. With a more ponderous, leaden tread, Sergei followed.
They parted in the courtyard, the Apex Greenhouse men hastily clambering into their truck. Sergei paid no more heed to them. He didn’t even watch the truck escape through the gates. He stood like a marble statue before the manor door and stared blindly in the direction of Talbot’s Peak. What would she say when she learned he’d bought her life with the murder of a helpless infant? He didn’t even need to speculate. He already knew.
His heart was cold within him. Cold and broken.
# # #
The truck sped down the drive to the main road. Alec couldn’t stop shivering, or saying shit. “Oh shit. Oh shit. They know. They know we’re here and we’re after Ghan. How did they find out? I thought we were—shitshitshit. Was that big monster Sergei?"
“Don’t worry about it,” Irwin said. “It won’t be us going in there, so who gives a fart? You get what you needed?”
Alec settled a little, back on firmer ground. “Easy peasy. He’s got an older system. I send the right signal at the right time and the whole thing goes down, just like with the Hancocks. Oh shit. You don’t think she’ll send Yuri, do you? He’s good, but Sergei—shit.”
“Stefanya knows what she’s about. Long as it’s not us.” Irwin grinned. Alec sort of smiled back. “I keep telling you, mate. No worries.”
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
“What time is it?”
Morgan dragged his gaze away from his new pet to see that the healer was stirring. She’d passed out in his favorite chair after healing and Changing Black, barly managing to pull her clothing back on before exhaustion claimed her.
“It’s almost dusk,” he replied absently as Black nuzzled his hand, demanding that he resume scratching his chin. He smiled and did so, surprized but pleased when his new pet began purring raggedly. “He’s a cat!”
“So it would seem,” Megan agreed. She yawned and stretch before climbing out of the chair. He watched as she shuffled over to Black’s bed—not that he would be using it much—and pulled a piece of chalk out of her waist satchel. Black stopped purring, causing him to look back at his pet. The new shifter’s eyes were locked intently on the healer. Not threateningly, but not idly, either. She was drawing glyphs in a long line on the wall above the bed.
“What are you going, Meg?” he asked cautiously.
“Warding this section of your apartment. The moon with rise shortly and Sir Jarod will be forced to begin his first change. There’s not enough time to remove him to the dungeon—”
Anger flashed in Morgan’s eyes. “He’s not going to caged like an animal.”
Megan huffed and tossed an exasperated glance over her shoulder as she worked. “He is an animal now, my lord. Or, he will be in a few minutes. The first several weeks will be very difficult. He won’t retain any of his humanity when the moon is up and will be operating on pure animal instinct. I’m providing a safe place for him to be during those times.”
“How will that work?” Morgan started to move closer to see what she was doing now that she was working her way down the wall. Black started struggling, so he stopped.
“You should unbind him. Being in a forced position like that could kill him once his first change begins. We know he’s a cat but not what kind or how large he’ll be.”
Morgan looked uncertainly at Black, who was not acting like a he had any control at the moment. “Are you sure that’s safe?”
“Yeah, just don’t get between him and that meat you have on your night stand,” she said distractedly as she finished drawing on the wall and began on the floor. “Set the platter in the middle of the floor and unbind his feet before doing his arms.”
Morgan hesitated another moment, but did as she suggested. She didn’t seem at all concerned about letting Black lose and she would be the one to know if it was safe. Black, clearly having understood he was both being freed and fed, held perfectly still until the last binding was removed before pouncing on the large pile of meat.
“Your right,” Morgan murmured, shocked at the ferocity the formerly urbane knight was tearing through the food. “He’s not showing any traits of a man.”
“He’s not a man anymore. Strictly speaking, anyway. In time, he’ll be able to mimic a pure darlikling again, but he won’t ever be one again.” She paused her work to watch her patient thoughtfully. Then, which a shrug, she continued her warding. “He seems to be integrating with his beast very well, which is a good sign, but be warned. Once the moon starts to rise, he’ll become crazed. The first few changes will be excruciating for him ans his darkling magic and his new shifter magic fight for control.”
Sudenly, Black stopped eating. He froze for an instant and then his back arched sharply. A blood curdling scream ripped from his throat.
“Damn! The moon is already cresting and I’m not finished!” Meg shouted. “Quick, get him to the warded area!” She was scribbling as fast as she could, but by the look on her face, Morgan knew she didn’t think it would be in time.