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Authors: Shelly Laurenston

Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal, #General

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BOOK: Big Bad Beast
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Dee sat in the cage, her elbows resting on her knees, her chin resting on her fists. She sat in the cage and waited while the She-tiger in the cage next to her paced back and forth like she was about to be dragged off to the Bronx Zoo tiger display.
“How can you just sit there like that?” Malone finally demanded.
“What do you expect me to do? Pace around like an idiot?”
“I expect you to do
something
.”
“Don’t see the purpose of gettin’ all upset.”
“When do you ever?”
“That was always your problem, Malone. All emotion, no sense.”
Malone faced her, gripping the bars with her still-bloody knuckles. “At least I give a shit. At least I care about those people they found.”
“That’s real Yankee of ya, Malone. But your big emotions don’t really help nothin’, do they?”
“Cold as your precious daddy, I see.”
That
had Dee up off the bench she’d been sitting on, across the cage, her arm through the bars, and her hand wrapping around the back of Malone’s head. She jerked her forward, slamming her forehead into the titanium metal they used for these cages since they were built specifically for shifters.
Malone’s fist came through the bars, punching Dee in the eye.
Fangs bared, the two females held on, trying to drag each other through the bars.

Dee-Ann!

Dee stumbled back, the pair releasing each other at the bellow.
Trying to see through her already swelling eye, she blinked in surprise.
Van Holtz . . . er . . . Ric, stood outside the bars, absolutely seething. He was in his black sweats, black Van sneakers, and black T-shirt, but the scent of his busy kitchen still lingered all around him. The predator cops sitting at their desks lifted their heads and tested the air, probably trying to figure out why they were suddenly so hungry.
“Get out here,” Ric ordered and Dee walked forward. She reached through the bars and fussed with the lock that held her for a bit. It opened easy enough, and she heard Malone gasp in surprise behind her. Poor felines. They just didn’t have the same way with locks as wolves and foxes.
“Why didn’t you do that before?” Malone wanted to know.
“Because knowing I can do it is just as good as doing it. Just like
knowing
that I can cut your throat while you sleep—”
Ric placed a hand over Dee’s mouth and pulled her down the hall. “Bathroom?” he asked Desiree, who was unlocking Malone’s cage.
“At the end of the hallway.”
They found the room and Ric pushed her in.
“What is wrong with you?” he demanded.
And all Dee could do was shrug and admit, “She irritates me.”
Ric opened the first aid kit tacked to the wall and took out some gauze and antibiotic cream. He wet the gauze and began wiping the blood off Dee’s face and her knuckles. Once the blood was gone, however, he still had bruises and cuts to deal with.
“She irritates you? She irritates everyone.”
Dee gazed at him through the one eye that wasn’t swollen shut. “You know Malone?”
“I hired Malone. She plays on the Carnivores.”
“What the hell did you do that for?”
“Have you seen the way that woman plays?”
“I don’t care how she plays, supermodel. She’s with KZS. Did you know that, too?”
He gazed into her eyes and answered with utter honesty, “Of course, I knew.”
Dee shoved him aside. “You’re working with
them
now?”
“They’re not our enemy, Dee-Ann.”
“Like hell they’re not. Maybe you don’t remember when they tried to move on wolf territory, but I sure do.”
Ric scratched his forehead. “You mean in 1832?”
“Yeah.”
“Wow. Smiths really don’t let a grudge go, do they?”
“Not unless we’re contractually obligated to like we were with y’all.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. But we don’t have time for this, Dee.”
“What does that mean?”
“Come on.”
Dee waited while Ric threw out the bloody gauze, slathered some ointment on the worst of her cuts, washed his hands, and took Dee to the main office on the floor: a glass room with a door and a view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the window behind the desk. Sitting at the desk was a black bear sow. Desiree stood next to the desk and Malone sat in a chair beside another feline. A lynx, who seemed way overdressed for this meeting.
“There you are,” the lynx complained, pointing at her watch. “Have date. Not missing. Let’s move this along, people.”
Ric closed the door and, always the gentleman, began introducing everyone to Dee. “You know Detective MacDermott, and this is her boss Lynsey Gentry. She runs this division of the NYPD. And you know Marcella Malone, and this is her boss, Nina Bugliosi. She’s Cella’s supervisor, but speaks for KZS as I speak for the Group.”
Dee gazed at him.
Cella? He’s calling her Cella now?
“Sit, you two. Sit.” The sow motioned them down and began. “I’ll keep this short because I don’t see a point in making it long-winded. Here’s the deal. These fight rings have popped up all over the city and they’re multiplying. Now, I won’t get into the concern over protecting who we are from the full-humans who know nothing about us. That’s a given, I think. The more important issue is that we can no longer ignore what’s happening to the hybrids in this city and the other boroughs, nor can we continue to try and strike at these small dogfights that we’ve been stumbling across. It’s not effective. So after talking to Niles Van Holtz, who runs the entire Group from East Coast to the West, and Victoria Löwe who represents Katzenhaft Security in the States, we’ve all decided to join forces.”
“Which means what, exactly?” Malone asked.
“That means we’re putting a small team of our best people on this to get to the heart of where it’s all stemming from. I want to know who’s the money behind this. Once we find the money, we can take it from there. But we’ve got to find the money.”
“And who’s gonna be on this team?” Although Dee already had a bad feeling she knew the answer.
“Desiree will take lead. She represents NYPD and can keep the full-human precincts off you, something she did earlier tonight after the residents of that neighborhood complained, so you should thank her. I don’t know what we could have done if anyone else had found you in that warehouse with all those bodies.”
Together, Malone and Dee looked over at Desiree and sneered, “Thank you.”
Desiree laughed and Gentry continued. “To represent KZS, we’ll have Miss Malone and for the Group, Miss Smith.”
Canine and feline scowled at each other across the room. Then Malone roared and Dee barked multiple times, lips pulled back over fangs.
The lynx snapped her fingers in Malone’s face. “Date!” she bellowed. “Was I not clear I have a date? I don’t have time for this bullshit.” She pointed at Dee-Ann. “From you either. So let’s cut to the chase rather than wait for the bear to make her slow,
plodding
way to it. We’ve already looked at your records, ladies. All three of you are former Marines, and both Smith and Malone have Unit training. So you’re going to get over whatever bullshit issues you have and fix this problem before I get really fucking cranky.” She stood, smoothing down her mini-dress. “Is that it?”
“Well—” the sow began.
“Good. See ya!” Then she was out the door and gone.
Dee turned to Ric, waiting for him to say something. He did.
“So . . . are you hungry?”
C
HAPTER
3
 
R
ic paid the cabbie and stood, Dee-Ann glaring at him from the front stoop of his family’s restaurant.
“What did you want me to do?” he asked.
“Tell them no.”
He shrugged. “I like the idea. Besides, we should all be working together to stop this—don’t walk away from me, Dee-Ann.”
His stern warning ignored, Dee kept walking, but Ric caught up with her and pulled her into the alley between the restaurant and the deli next door.
“Don’t you find it curious,” he asked, standing in front of her, “that felines who are so into pure bloodlines they could be British royalty are suddenly concerning themselves with hybrids?”
Folding her arms over her chest, Dee did that thing he hated where she looked right past him. Then again she only did that when he was right about something and it pissed her off.
“If you’re really adamant about not working on this, I can put someone else on it.” He tried to think of the one person who’d really set Dee off and he realized that one person was waiting for him right inside one of the private dining rooms. “I’ll give it to Blayne.”
Ric took a step away, but Dee’s hand shot out and caught hold of his arm. “Pardon?”
“I said I’ll put Blayne on it since you don’t want to—”
“Teacup? You’re going to put Teacup on
this
?”
“She’s a great ambassador for the Group, gets along well with felines
and
bears, and she already knows Dez MacDermot.”
“She
babysits
for Desiree.”
“She’s also taken on bigger responsibilities with the Group and that’s worked out just fine.”
“With the hybrid pups and cubs. It’s not like she’s ever been in the field.”
“But she handled herself just fine in Ursus County.” Ric still had a hard time believing that his goofy, loveable wolfdog buddy was the same She-predator he’d seen decimate a gang of full-human males trying to kill them. And she’d done it with nothing more than a couple of blades in her hands and sheer willpower. Then again, Blayne’s knife skills only made a real appearance when she was backed into a corner with no way out. Of course . . . he didn’t have to mention he knew that to Dee.
“Ursus—” The She-wolf gritted pearly white fangs and snarled at him like he was trying to take her favorite chew toy. “The only reason she lived through Ursus County was ’cause of me. The only reason she has a job with the Group is ’cause of me. The only reason she breathes my precious, precious air is ’cause of me!”
It was true. The one person who could really set Dee-Ann Smith off was and perhaps always would be Blayne Thorpe.
“I understand that, but—”
Dee’s head dipped low, bright gold eyes looking up at him through dark brown lashes. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Not if you’re just going to use this as an opportunity to beat up on Cella.”
If it was possible, Dee-Ann’s expression turned even angrier. “That’s true. I wouldn’t want to hurt your girlfriend.”
Ric blinked. “My what?”
“Forget it.” She stepped around him, ready to leave, but Ric caught hold of her wrist, keeping her in place.
“I promised you food.”
“I don’t need you feeding me, Van Holtz. I’m not some charity case.”
“I never said you were. And what happened to Ric? It sounded so nice when you called me Ric. And you have to eat, Dee-Ann.” He gripped one of the loops of her jeans, tugging at it.
“Hands!”
“One good tug and these will come off. You’re too skinny.”
“When did you become my mother?”
“See? Even your mother is concerned.”
“No, she’s not.”
He led her to the back door. “Come on. You have to eat, otherwise I’ll be up all night worrying you’ve passed out somewhere. Unable to take another step due to lack of nutrition.”
Ric had his hand on the doorknob, giving Dee a wink over his shoulder. But the door swung open from the inside, shoving him back and right into the She-wolf. He slammed into her, his body pushing hers into the wall behind them.
“Sorry, boss,” one of his crew said, tossing a bag of trash into the Dumpster. “Didn’t see you there.”
Ric didn’t reply. He was too busy being seriously aware of the woman he had pressed against the wall.
“You planning to get off me anytime soon, supermodel?” she asked.
“Or we can stay this way forever. That’s an option.” One he was more than willing to explore.
“Good Lord!” Dee pushed him back and walked toward the alley door. “If Cella’s not your girlfriend, we need to get you one.”
“Cella’s not my girlfriend. She works for me. It would be inappropriate.”
Dee-Ann stopped in the open doorway and faced him. “So do I, but that hasn’t stopped you from demanding I get naked every other day.”
“True, but I don’t sign your checks.”
“Which means what exactly?”
“I don’t know, but if you give me some time I’m sure I can come up with something completely logical that could be argued in front of the Supreme Court.”
“Ya know . . . I bet you could.”
Dee didn’t know why she should suddenly care if Ric was going out with Malone or not, but she’d admit to herself that she kind of did care. Maybe she was just feeling moody. Maybe a little homesick. Whatever. She’d get over it.
She stood outside the kitchen while Ric went back in and got their food. It seemed to take longer than she thought it would, which meant that he was cooking it himself. But when he finally came out, he smiled at her—back to his happy-go-lucky, goofball self because he’d cooked something up in a pan—and motioned down the hall toward the private dining rooms. Figuring he probably wanted to discuss next steps before she had to deal with Malone on a daily basis, Dee started walking. One of the waiters slipped past her carrying a big tray piled with more food.
“Here,” Ric said, when the waiter stopped at one of the rooms.
That seemed like a lot of food for the pair of them, but maybe he was hungrier than she realized.
Once at the door, Ric reached around her with his free hand and pushed it open. The waiter went in and Dee followed, but she froze at the doorway and snarled, glaring back at Van Holtz.
“What?” he asked, trying to look innocent.
“I really should have killed you when I had the chance, supermodel.”
“And where would the fun be in that?” He pushed her into the room before she could make a break for it, and that’s when she was noticed.
“Deeeeeeee-Annnnnnnnnnnnnnn!” she heard seconds before a crazed wolfdog female wrapped herself around Dee and held on, hugging her tight.
“You’ve been missed,” Van Holtz whispered in her ear before he walked into the room, grinning at the table filled with a small group of people she tolerated but didn’t necessarily want to spend much time with.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” the wolfdog said, arms tightening so that Dee’s air was almost cut off.
“Get off me, Blayne.”
“You’re staying, aren’t you?”
“Get off me, Blayne.”
“You have to stay so we can eat and talk. It’s been ages!” She rested her head against Dee’s shoulder. “I’ve missed you so much.”
That’s when Dee reached for her bowie knife, but Ric caught her hand before she could clear the sheath and held it behind her back.
“Why don’t we all sit down and eat before the food gets cold?” he offered.
“Okay!” The wolfdog released her death grip on Dee’s neck and skated back to the table—why she was wearing roller skates in the middle of a restaurant, Dee didn’t want to even hazard a guess—unaware as always how close to death she came every time she insisted on the touching.
“Put it away,” Van Holtz whispered in Dee’s ear, “or I’m taking the whole hand.”
With a grunt, Dee shoved the knife back. “There, supermodel. Happy?”
“Thrilled.” He released her, but not before she felt his fingers slide across her forearm. “You have the smoothest skin,” he murmured, looking down at her arm.
“Yeah. It’s the scar tissue from all those knife fights. After a few years, it heals up real soft.”
Ric got Dee-Ann seated at one end of the table and Blayne Thorpe at the other—not easy when Blayne kept insisting on wanting to hug Dee again. It was like she had a death wish. Then he and one of his runners went about taking care of the rest of his guests.
Lachlan “Lock” MacRyrie, Ric’s best friend since they were both ten years old, was still laughing when Dee sat down kitty-corner from him. Whether he was laughing at Blayne’s attempt to show Dee affection, Dee’s reaction to that affection, or Ric’s constant attempts to keep Dee from wiping Blayne from the face of the earth, Ric didn’t know. It was hard sometimes to believe that this nearly seven-foot-tall grizzly taking up a lot of space in the good-sized private dining room had once been the same medium-sized kid who’d run face first into Ric’s locker on a dare. A dare that had been issued by Ric. He’d felt bad about it, too, when Lock had knocked himself out cold.
Ric placed a full-sized platter in front of the grizzly. “Salmon and my perfect honey glaze for you.”
Lock stared at the fresh, ten-pound wild salmon in front of him. “Did you put in enough honey this time?”
Snarling, Ric pulled the plastic honey bear out of his pocket and chucked it at his friend’s big grizzly bear head. “Philistine,” he snarled.
Turning away before he could watch the brute desecrate his perfectly prepared food with all that honey, Ric leaned in and kissed Lock’s mate and Blayne’s best friend, Gwen, on the cheek before placing a plate of food in front of her. “Wild boar stew for you.”
“Yum. Smells fantastic.”
Next came the simple New York steak with sautéed green beans for Blayne since she could be a little finicky about her food.
“To drink?” he asked the table.
“Wine?” Gwen asked.
“Excellent choice.” He’d introduced the Philly feline to the higher-end wines in the last few months and it had turned out she had a wonderful palate.
Her grizzly bear mate, however . . .
“Mil—” the bear began but Ric held his hand up, cutting his friend off.
“Can’t you at least
try
some wine?” Ric nearly begged. “I have a splendid nineteen thirty-two—”
“I want milk. Cold. A vat please.”
Shaking his head, disgusted, Ric turned his attention to Blayne. “And you, Miss Thorpe?”
“Nothing with caffeine or sugar!” she crowed. “Or I’ll never get to sleep tonight! Woo-hoo!” When they only stared at her, Blayne’s shoulders slumped and she calmly stated, “Diet Coke please.”
Ric turned to Dee-Ann, who seemed to still be seething. “Dee?”
“Water.”
“Sparkling or flat?”
The confused expression on her face was priceless when she snapped, “Tap.”
“Flat it is.” As if he’d ever give her regular, everyday tap water. He nearly shuddered at the thought.
Ric gave the runner their drink orders and suggested he bring more bread now rather than later because Lock was gnawing his hand off in hunger. He caught hold of the door and opened it, the runner shooting out and leaving Bo “The Marauder” Novikov standing there. Novikov was a godsend to Ric’s hockey team and Blayne’s mate, but he was such an irritating asshole that Ric couldn’t help slamming the door in the polar bear–lion’s face.
A roar shook the door and walls, and Blayne jumped out of her seat and across the room to snatch the door open. “Do not”—she ordered—“rip those hinges off!” She took Novikov’s hand. “Just come in and be
nice
.” She glared at Ric. “You too, Ulrich.”
“Me?” Ric placed his hand against his chest. “What did
I
do?”
Fresh from his daily—and brutal—training, Novikov tossed the bag with his hockey equipment to the floor. He glanced around and asked, “Is there food for me?”
“Are you paying this time?” Ric asked, which got him a slap on the arm from Blayne. “Ow!”
The runner returned with their drinks and Ric had Novikov give him his order since Ric didn’t deem him worthy of his brilliant expertise in guessing—always correctly—what his friends were in need of at the moment.
The seven-foot-one hybrid dropped his nearly four-hundred-pound weight into one of the restaurant’s best chairs with no regard for the furniture and looked around the table, his blue eyes stopping on Dee-Ann. “What’s she doing here?” he asked Blayne.
“I invited her,” Ric told him, sitting in the seat across from Lock and kitty-corner from Dee. “Although I don’t remember seeing your name on the e-mail I sent out.”
BOOK: Big Bad Beast
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