Authors: Terry Bolryder
© 2015 by Terry Bolryder
All rights reserved.
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Cover Design by Melody Simmons of eBookindiecovers
arter Cunningham pulled
the unmarked police cruiser over to the sidewalk and put the car in park, making sure to turn off the headlights so as to not alert anyone around of the fact that two of the city’s best cops were on their street.
He looked across the way to see the silhouette of an old, dilapidated-looking house that was reminiscent of something from a creepy horror movie.
This was it.
“Are you sure about this?” Amy, Carter’s partner, asked.
“As sure as I’m ever going to be,” Carter responded, opening his door and getting out of the car.
It had only been a few weeks since Carter’s old partner had retired and Amy had been brought in to replace him, and already, it was very apparent she had the right stuff. Capable, motivated, hard working, and a sharp intuition that had helped them solve several cases that might have otherwise led to dead ends.
All in all, it was clear she was the ideal partner.
Except for her distracting, killer curves and gorgeous hair.
Carter shook his head and did a quick two-second sweep of his gear.
Gun? Loaded. Phone? On silent. Cuffs? At the ready.
Once he was done, he headed across the street, and Amy followed close behind him. It was just barely past midnight, and the streets and houses out here in the city’s boondocks would be relatively quiet. A hundred years ago, this had been the heart of the city, back when it had been little more than a long stretch of houses and local businesses.
Now all that remained were old, rotting buildings and a handful of cleared lots.
Carter wondered what this area would look like in another hundred years.
As they reached the sidewalk, the house came into better view, and he could make out layers of old, green paint that had dried and peeled off, leaving the outside of the house looking leprous and decayed. Any broken windows were boarded up, and behind the dusty, dirt-covered sheets of glass, Carter felt like something was watching them.
The perfect place to catch a murderer.
“Let’s go in from the back. If someone’s inside and they make a run for it, we’ll have an easier time catching them on the street than back there in that mess,” he said, pointing to the old sheds and shacks that lined the backyards of the houses in this neighborhood.
“I’ll take point,” Amy said, taking a few extra paces to come in front of Carter.
Carter was about to insist he do it, but it hadn’t taken him long to figure out Amy wasn’t one who took being treated differently because she was a girl favorably. She wanted to be given the same respect and responsibilities as anyone else, regardless of her gender.
And in spite of his own shifter ideas about men taking care of women and being the ones who did the protecting (and the pleasing) in a relationship, Carter respected Amy’s independence.
The two of them made their way quietly past the front of the house, stepping over a small wooden gate that sagged on its hinges, and to the back door. There was no screen, just an old, wooden door that was bleached and splintered from exposure to the sun.
Without hesitation, Amy rapped on the wood.
“Police, open up!” she said confidently, as Carter had seen her do dozens of times in the past few weeks.
There was no answer, just the settling of the eerie silence that permeated the neighborhood like a thick, mold-ridden blanket.
Amy knocked again, but there was no answer, no motion inside the house, nothing.
Time to go in.
Carter had already obtained warrants to search three locations in the city in connection with a string of murders that had all taken place in a week. Based on the ways they had been committed, Carter heavily suspected it involved a shifter, since two of the victims had been shifters themselves. Of the three locations, this one had stood out to him. Just a hunch, but Carter knew very well he should always trust his hunches.
Something about being a tiger and a predator gave him an extra intuition, which had proved very valuable as a defender of the peace in this city that always seemed just on the edge of chaos.
Amy put her hand on the doorknob and looked to Carter for the go-ahead. He gave her a quick nod, and she tested the door.
Surprisingly, it was unlocked.
Without hesitation, Amy opened the door slowly and crept inside.
The house had no lights on, so all that illuminated the interior was the weak light from the dim streetlamp down the street that filtered in through the dirt-covered windows.
Carter imagined it would be pitch-black for any human. But as a tiger, his night vision was extremely good, so he could make out all the little details inside the house with incredible clarity.
It just so happened that Amy was a shifter as well, to Carter’s initial surprise when they first met. A wolf, to be exact. Which probably explained why her physical test scores were in the upper percentiles, but she still had a perfect, generous, curvy figure that gave his mind all the wrong ideas.
But success in the workplace rested on the professionalism and courtesy of the personnel, so Carter kept it all to himself and just dealt with the fact that his partner was hot as hell and tried to focus on treating her like he would any other partner.
Carter reached for a light switch and turned it on, giving a better view of the kitchen they were in with a dim glow from a solitary bulb that hung by a wire from the ceiling.
The room reeked of unwashed dishes, aging cabinets, and rusted pipes. At the end of the room, which was probably only ten feet long or so, was a doorway that looked like it led into the main living room.
Amy had already unsheathed her pistol and kept it at the ready, pointing it at the ground as she made her way into the attached room. Carter followed closely behind, drawing his gun as well, but not planning on using it.
He could use deadly force if needed. But a gun wasn’t necessary.
Being a tiger was all the deadly force Carter needed.
Granted, Amy didn’t know that, so he had to play the part of a regular human cop. Cat shifters, including tigers, had the unique trait of only being detected by other cats, making them virtually unnoticed by wolves and bears and other shifter kinds. Which was always an advantage in this job, since any shifter they came across would peg him as a human and subsequently fall into the trap of underestimating how much of a threat he posed.
Carter had yet to tell Amy, since it was a secret he kept very close and that only he and his two brothers (and his younger brother’s recently mated wife) knew about.
And though Carter knew he could trust Amy with his life, he wasn’t sure how she would handle the news that he was an incredibly rare creature that had been bred for violence and was now her partner.
So in the meantime, he just kept any knowledge of shifter dealings to himself. Just like he always had before.
And Amy had done so as well, assuming he was just another human cop that had no clue about the existence of the vast and secret world of shapeshifting humans.
They entered the living room, and Amy clicked on the light there as well, revealing several dusty, worn-looking couches and a small TV on a stand, but nothing else of note in the room.
Except for the dead body.
Carter smelled it before he saw it, the scent of fresh blood only barely beginning to dry. A corpse that had only just gone cold.
And wolf. The scent of wolf everywhere.
Amy rushed over to where the corpse lay bloodied and motionless, checking for a pulse with her free hand.
“He’s dead. Probably killed in the last hour or so, I’d say.”
Carter already knew that, though.
He walked over to get a better look. The man had clearly been attacked by something with claws. If this hadn’t been Carter’s birthright—bloodshed and death—then he might have felt squeamish. But instead, all he felt was resolve and rage.
“What do you think? Victim or possible collaborator?” Amy queried as she stood and pulled out her phone to call for backup.
“Based on the nature of the killings, I’d say both. This guy probably helped our killer. Trusted him and fed him the info he needed, right up until he became a vic himself.”
“So the killer’s gone, then. Looks like we just missed them,” Amy said with a hint of disappointment.
“I wouldn’t call it in just yet,” Carter said as he surveyed the room again, noticing the stairs at the end that led to the second floor. The stench of death was still heavy in the air, but beneath that was the scent of the killer. The same scent he’d picked up at each of the crime scenes. A scent that was faint but seemed a little too strong for him to believe they were gone just yet.
“What do you mean? Of course he’s gone. Nobody would stick around a crime scene, waiting to get caught.”
“That is unless they were
us to find them,” Carter said, instinctively turning off the safety on his pistol.
Carter could smell a freshly cooked steak from three blocks away in the middle of the city; his senses were that good. And something about this just didn’t smell right.
His tiger was on full alert as he approached the stairs and looked up them. At the end was a darkened hall, and Carter guessed probably three or so rooms up there.
But his instincts told him they weren’t up there.
Maybe there was a basement?
“Let’s do a full sweep of the place, then call for CSI to come down here and look for prints.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Amy said resolutely, never one to leave stones unturned in the search of a criminal.
As Carter walked back into the center of the living room, he picked up on the scent, stronger again. Maybe it was just the furniture, though. If he used it a lot, it might have lingered.
“I’ll take upstairs,” Amy said, flashing a grin at Carter. Sometimes he could swear she was watching him when he wasn’t looking. But it was better to not think about it.
“I’ll go around the back and look for a cellar or a basement,” Carter said, glad he was fairly confident she wouldn’t find anything on the second floor.
Whether she was a shifter or not, they were dealing with a hardened killer, and Carter would never intentionally put her in harm’s way.
As Amy headed for the stairs and Carter walked back toward the kitchen, he heard the sound of wood tearing and a door being ripped open. He whirled around to see the door of what Carter had assumed was a coat closet being flung open and a shaggy, brown-haired man coming from it, flying at his partner at full speed.
With perfect training and wolf-like reflexes, Amy turned to face her attacker, which was on her in a fraction of a second. She grabbed the man’s arm and, using his own forward momentum against him, flung him over her back and onto the ground, hard.
The floorboards beneath them cracked, and the house almost shook upon the impact. But the killer wasn’t done. As if fueled by an unending rage, he flipped over and stood up again, snarling and charging at Amy. Carter raised his pistol to fire, but before he could take a shot, Amy aimed her weapon and popped two rounds into the man’s chest, the sound filling the house and resonating off the wooden walls.
With a groan, the man slumped onto the ground in front of Amy. For a second, she kept her weapon trained on him in case he decided to not stay dead.
“Whew, close one,” Amy said with a sigh of relief.
“Nice shot,” Carter complimented.
As Carter walked over to his partner to get a closer look at the killer, she holstered her firearm and leaned down over the man who they had been chasing the past few days. Already, this one person was responsible for ending the lives of four people, possibly more. And though Carter wished the man had lived to stand trial and pay for his crimes properly, the animal inside him was a tiny bit pleased he’d met a violent end. An end that seemed only fitting for such an evil person.
That was until he could hear breathing.
Not his or his partner’s breathing, though. Someone else’s.
Out of nowhere, the bloodied, mortally wounded man leapt from the ground and up at his partner. Amy, who had just put two bullets through the man’s heart, was caught off guard and thrown off balance by the larger, rage-driven man.
Carter didn’t think, just acted. He dropped his gun and rushed toward them, clearing the fifteen or so feet between him and his partner in less time than it took to take a single step for some people.
Before the killer even had a chance to lay a hand on Amy, Carter was there. With surgical precision, he grabbed the man’s neck and arm as it reached to claw at Amy and tore him away from her. Using his powerful, honed body, he threw the man into the wall like he weighed nothing.
With a loud crack, the man slammed into the sheetrock with such force the entire house shook, and for a moment, Carter feared it would topple on them.
The man gave out a huff, still bleeding profusely from his chest, but not dead yet, and charged at Carter with one last snarl. But before he could even get onto his feet fully, Carter pulled back his arm and punched the man in the face, hard and swift. The man’s head whipped to the side and his body keeled to the ground, pushed past its limits.
Finally, he was done.
Carter had seen instances like this before, where shifter strength and adrenaline had allowed people to do incredible things, even when wounded or dying, but this had been something else entirely.
This was one for the record books, though.
Carter turned and came over to his partner, who was a little dazed but unharmed, thankfully.
“Nice one. Thanks for that,” Amy said with a grin as Carter helped her to her feet and she dusted off her jacket and pants.
Carter was just glad she was okay as he looked over her. Her dark eyes glittered in the darkness, her expression mostly calm. Somehow, nothing made his heart pound like someone threatening his partner.
And it was just because she was his partner, right? It couldn’t be anything else.
“Let’s get this over with,” he said, hearing sirens pull up outside. “So we can get back to the precinct and start filing our report.”