Read Big Bad Beast Online

Authors: Shelly Laurenston

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

Big Bad Beast (6 page)

BOOK: Big Bad Beast
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Ric rested his elbows on the counter and his chin on his raised fists. “No, which is going to irritate him.”
“But don’t you have to give him what he wants when he asks for it? Isn’t that Pack rules or something?”
“Not unless you no longer want to have a Pack.” Although Blayne was half wolf, her father hadn’t been part of the Pack since she’d been born. The Magnus Pack Alphas—like most wolf Packs at the time and some still today—refused to let him stay if he insisted on keeping Blayne. So she had little experience with Pack law. She did, however, have a great father. Moody, a tad terse, but he loved his daughter. Ric briefly wondered what that was like—to know your father loved you. “Due to the opposable-thumb flaw all shifters have, you take a huge risk that they might leave the Pack if you attempt to abscond with their money.”
“Aaaah. I forgot about the opposable-thumb flaw.” She held up her hands, wiggled her thumbs. “Damn these thumbs. Damn them!”
Ric laughed, so glad now that he’d had sink problems. Blayne always had a way of getting his mind off . . . well, pretty much everything.
“So here’s my plan,” she said, pouring herself more orange juice. “July Fourth is coming up and I’m thinking about getting Bo to throw a party for all my friends. Doesn’t that sound great?”
“Why would you do that to us, Blayne?” Ric asked honestly. “You know we love you and you abuse that by trying to force us to spend time with that cretin.”
“He is
not
a cretin. He’s misunderstood!”
“I’m surprised his knuckles aren’t dragging on the ground and that he can create whole sentences with subject-verb agreement.”
She shook her finger in his face. “I
will
make you and Lock and Bo get along. Nothing will stop me from making you three the best of friends!”
“You mean besides my and Lock’s moral outrage on Novikov’s existence on this very planet? Allowed to breathe our precious air?”
Blayne’s lips twisted briefly before she asked, “Can’t you just say you find him annoying?”
“I find Lock’s insistence I don’t put enough honey in my honey glaze annoying. I find Novikov offensive and barbaric.”
Blayne let out a big sigh. “Yeah . . . so does everyone.”
“But everyone loves you,” he reminded her.
“Of course, they do. I’m Blayne.” She grinned. “They can’t fight my charm.”
At that point, they both started laughing and it took them forever to stop.
They had each other in a headlock when the front desk admin, Charlene, walked into the cafeteria. “Dee-Ann!”
“What?”
“Detective MacDermot’s here. And you know there’s no interspecies fighting allowed on Group territory.”
Dee and Malone immediately separated and Dee said, “We weren’t fightin’. Right, Malone?”
“Right. We were . . . training.”
Charlene folded her arms over her chest. “Training? Really?”
“I’m hearin’ tone,” Dee warned. She motioned to the door with a tilt of her head and headed out of the cafeteria. “Where’s MacDermot?”
“Waiting out front for you—and you did hear tone,” Charlene called after her.
Dee was passing one of the training rooms when Malone caught the sleeve of her denim jacket. “You’re gettin’ them kinda young, Smith.” Malone motioned to the young hybrids getting trained in hand-to-hand combat.
“Those are kids we’ve been finding around town.”
“Shouldn’t you take them to social services or something?”
“They’re hybrids.”
“All of them?”
“Yep.”
“Were they all used for fighting?”
“Just a couple. Like that girl sitting in the corner, glaring at us through the glass?”
“Yeah.”
“That’s Hannah.”
Malone glanced at Dee. “You brought her back? ’Cause she looks a little . . .”
“Dead inside?”
“Yeah.”
“Didn’t have much choice. Couldn’t handle the whining.”
“She whines?”
“Not her, but a teacup poodle.”
“Canines have teacup poodle shifters now?”
Dee was about to answer, then realized it was a stupid conversation, and instead just walked away. She went out the front doors and immediately smiled. “Who is that handsome cat?” she asked, reaching down to pick up the young cub who’d charged into her legs.
She tossed Marcus Llewellyn high in the air, loving the laughter she got from him.
“Not too high,” Desiree squeaked. “As we’ve found out a few times, too high and he’ll hook himself to overhangs.”
“Are you still bringing that up?” Mace Llewellyn demanded, coming around the couple’s car to give Dee-Ann a hug and kiss.
She still remembered the day the cat rolled into Smithtown, with Dee’s cousin Bobby Ray, acting like he owned the joint. Although he had the protection of Bobby Ray, Mace didn’t really need it. He’d grown on them all and was like family. Hell, Sissy Mae, Bobby Ray’s baby sister—and the single living reason Dee-Ann got into so much trouble when she was growing up in Smithtown—was godmother to Marcus.
“Mace, this is Marcella Malone.”
He shook Malone’s hand. “Bare Knuckles. I heard you’re with the Carnivores now with Novikov.” Mace gave a little laugh. “Didn’t you get into a fistfight with him after a game?”
Malone scowled. “That fucker pitched me into and
through
the glass in front of the penalty box during the game. So afterward I hit him in the nuts with my stick and spit in his face. And he threw his fox goalie at me! Skates first. Hit me right in the head. I was out for like twenty minutes and you can still see the scar from where the goalie’s skate split my head open.” She shrugged and added casually, “But we get along now.”
“Let’s go,” Dee said, exhausted just from hearing that stupid story.
She handed Marcus back to Mace. He took his son, but leaned down and whispered into her ear, “I don’t actually have to tell you that you’d better watch out for my wife, do I? Or how much I’ll hurt you if anything happens to her?”
“Mace Llewellyn, are you tryin’ to sweet-talk me? Right here with your wife staring at us?”
“Stop threatening people, Mace,” Desiree told him, well aware of the Smith female “code” when it came to their friends’ mates. Besides, Desiree knew her husband well.
“He’s just watching out for you, Desiree.” Dee patted Mace’s arm. “Bless his heart.”
Mace growled. “I know that’s not a compliment, Dee-Ann.”
Although he’d managed for an entire hour not to let one puck get by him, it was the one that did finally get past him that had Novikov screaming about what an idiot he was and how he would never amount to anything if he didn’t play like he had some “purpose.”
Ric, used to it by now, let the oversized hybrid rant like they were playing for the world playoffs rather than merely getting in some early ice time before the rest of the team came in. But when he saw Lock speeding across the ice, Ric scrambled to get between the two. He barely managed, Lock reaching over Ric’s head to shove Novikov and Novikov reaching over Ric’s head to shove the grizzly back.
“Can we not do this?” Ric demanded. “There are kids watching!”
“They have to learn sometime,” Novikov spat out. “Either they’re winners or they’re losers! There is no second place except for loser grizzlies!”
Lock roared, his grizzly hump growing under his practice uniform.
“Cut it out!” Ric ordered, expecting them to actually obey. Not only because as team owner he could fire them both—something he’d most likely never do—but because he was also team captain. That meant something!
“Novikov, run drills.” As it was something that the man did obsessively anyway, Ric knew it would be done without question. And, with a little snarl, the Marauder skated off to run his precious drills.
“Why do you put up with him?” Lock demanded once Novikov was at the other end of the ice.
“Because he’s one of the best players of all time, because we win, because—”
“Blayne would hysterically sob if you traded his ass?”
Ric couldn’t lie to his best friend of twenty years. “Yes.”
“Your weakness sickens me.”
“I know. But if Blayne Thorpe was miserable, she’d cry about it to Gwenie, who’d complain about it to you, and then
you’d
make me hire Novikov back anyway.”
Lock’s grizzly hump quickly deflated. “You’re right.”
“I know. But we can be weak together. Besides, even that Neanderthal can’t ignore the pitiful tears of a wolfdog.”
“True.”
Ric patted Lock’s shoulder. “Do me a favor. Go run some drills with him until the team gets here. Keep him busy and out of my hair.”
“Yeah. Sure.”
Lock put on his helmet and gazed down the length of the ice as if Ric had just asked him to face an entire army of samurais completely alone.
While his friend skated into battle, Ric left the rink and went into the team’s locker room.
“Hey, Bert,” he said to the black bear tying up his skates, and the only other player there.
“Hey.”
Ric walked past him and to Novikov’s locker. He played with the new lock the hybrid had just purchased, opening this one as easily as he’d opened the others. Once inside his locker, Ric proceeded to move around all his meticulously laid out items, including shampoo, soap, razor, bandages. He took his time, enjoying what he was doing as much as he enjoyed making a really good crème brûlée. Once he felt he’d done enough, he closed up and engaged the lock.
Bert watched him until he was finished, then remarked, “You’ve got kind of a mean streak, Van Holtz.”
“Only a little one.”
“True.” Bert got to his feet. “You could have pissed in his locker instead and we both know he would have spent hours cleaning it up.”
“Don’t tempt, Bert. Don’t tempt.”
Van buried his face in his hands and sighed—loudly.
He’d come to loathe these meetings with the Board, the representatives of every major Pack, Pride, and Clan, as well as some reps for the non-social breeds. The meetings were long and tedious but he wasn’t ready to step down from his position for no other reason than he didn’t trust any of these people to do what had to be done. The grizzly and black bears with their philosophical debates. The polars with their inability to take anything seriously. The lions with their blatant boredom. The tigers and leopards with their constant plotting. The foxes with their sticky fingers and the wild dogs with their patience-rendering goofiness. And then there were the wolves. His own kind. Even the damn boardroom table was merely another area for them to fight over territory. He’d become so fed up with the constant snarling and snapping that he’d actually outlawed it during meetings. It was the only way to get through these things in a somewhat timely manner.
“Is there anything else?” he asked over the current argument. And what were they all arguing about? Where to hold the next Board meeting. The Magnus Pack was down for Arizona so they could attend a thousand-mile ride with a bunch of other lowlife bikers. The Löwes wanted to meet in Germany, probably for the multi-band rock concert that happened every year. The Llewellyns wanted to go to the French Riviera, and several of the grizzlies, polars, and a couple of tigers wanted to go to Siberia—because that would be fun.
“Yeah,” Anne Hutton, a middle-aged tigress from Boston who made most of her money by laundering gangster cash, said. “What’s going on with all that half-breed shit in New York? And why are we giving so much money to the Group?
Your
Group?”
“It’s hybrid, you fucking idiot,” said the always delicate Alpha Female of the Magnus Pack, Sara Morrighan. She reminded Van of a dog that had been kept in a cage twenty-four-seven for the first half of its life until someone had let it out in the backyard to go completely wild. “Half-breed is rude.”
“Shut up, Fido, no one’s talking to you,” Hutton shot back.
“Don’t you have a hairball to cough up?”
“All right,” Van cut in. “That’s enough.” He held his hand out and his assistant placed the file he’d brought with him. “And why we’re putting so much money toward this situation is simple.” He pulled out the stack of photos and tossed them across the glossy table. Some glanced, but quickly looked away. Others leaned forward to take a longer look. Some didn’t look at all.
“There are so many,” Morrighan whispered.
“Too many.” Van gestured to the photos. “And we can’t let this go on.”
Slinging her arm over the back of her chair, Hutton said what Ric was sure many of the others were thinking. “They’re mutts. Are we really going to go through all this effort for mutts?”
Van saw Morrighan’s left eye twitch the tiniest bit. The only sign she’d show just before she went completely postal and attempted to kill everyone in the room. Holding his hand up to stop her, he said, “They start with them, but they’ll end with us. We protect all of us. You. Them. All of us.” He grabbed one of the pictures: a lovely shot of a young female dog-tiger hybrid torn in half with her insides spread out across the dirt floor she’d died on. “This is Trisha Barnes. She worked full-time as a waitress in a diner and went to nursing school in the evening. One night she was snatched off the street and used as a bait dog for the screaming entertainment of a myriad of scumbags.” He picked up another photo. He knew the victim in each one. Had studied the information about each, knew how they’d died, how they’d suffered. And he’d done all that just for this reason. For what was happening right here—at this moment. “This is Michael Franks. A mechanic. Had a wife and four pups. His injuries were so bad, we were forced to put him down on-site.” And another picture. “And this is—”
BOOK: Big Bad Beast
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