Authors: A. L. Kessler
Tags: #vampires, #werewolves, #shifters, #Magic, #demons, #dark fantasy
Her confusion didn’t help push through the drowsiness. She rubbed her eyes, trying to focus. “What?” She sat up and her body protested a little. The muscles in her back tightened and her bones seemed to creak as she recalled losing a fight against Lucius. “Where are we?” She sniffed the air and then she glared at him. “Mae’s?” The name trickled out of her lips as a growl. As her heart pounded against her chest, she couldn’t fathom why he would have brought them here.
He gave a subtle nod and then his eyes shot to the door. “Lucius is coming. Go.” He moved away from the couch, giving her room to stand up.
She stretched her stiff body; to her surprise everything seemed to be in working order and energy coursed through her. “How long have I been unconscious?” She could sense his panic, but she couldn’t rush off without knowing the entire situation.
“Almost twenty four hours, the sun’s not up yet.”
“I need food.” Her stomach rumbled as it always did after shifting.
“Go, please.” Josh shoved her towards the back of the house.
“What about you?”
“I’ll find you. Promise.”
She knew he would keep his promise to her. He always did. Lucius’ power crashed over her and sent tingles down her spine. She gave him a quick hug before running out the back door.
A familiar rumble started in her body, a beast feeding off of her panic and wanting out. She could taste freedom, they both could. She slinked into the shadows of an alley, pulling on the panic and feeding it inwards, stroking and coaxing the beast to come out. Snapping, wet sounds filled the night and fur covered her human skin as her body bowed to all fours, her hands and feet turning to powerful paws with claws. There would be no more master. Tonight she would have her freedom.
Jaxon tapped his fingers against the table. He agreed to meet his client here and see what they had to offer. The little bell on the cafe door rang as a towering man walked in and caused the attending waitress to look up.
“Welcome, take a seat and I’ll be with ya in a moment...” The words died in her throat when the man pegged her with a stare and then moved to Jax’s table.
Jax stood and extended his hand to the man. “You must be Quinn.” The moment the other man’s hand met his, energy shot up Jax’s arm and through him, letting him know that his client was also a shifter.
“I am.” The man sat across from Jax. “I’ve heard good things about you, Jaxon, they say you are the best tracker in the states.”
Jax sat back down and shrugged one shoulder. “High praise. What can I do for you?”
“My daughter’s been kidnapped and I want her home.” Quinn crossed his arms and met Jax’s eyes. “She was taken from our clan’s territory by a vampire.”
Jax leaned back and watched the man. Quinn’s breathing never hitched, his pulse didn’t stutter, and no nervous tick showed, all the usual signs of lying were absent. “What clan do you belong to?”
“The Black Moon Clan.”
A ping of realization went through Jax. The stories of the Black Moon Clan were told even in Europe. The last panther clan in North America, rumor said they had gone insane. He raised his brows. “Interesting. Do you have any leads on where she might be? You said she was taken by a vampire.”
“She was, one named Josh. He lived at the edge of our territory for a while, but disappeared with her. My sons have caught her scent outside of Lucius’ territory, but that’s as much as we know. We hope to move in, but we need to know what the situation is.”
“And that’s where I come in? Locate her and what? Bring her back here?”
Quinn shook his head. “I’ll have my sons in the territory after you go in. You get Kassity to them, and they’ll handle it from there.”
“I want half the money up front. I’ve got friends in Lucius’ territory, but it’s going to be a bitch to get in there.”
“Name your price.” Quinn said as a grin appeared on his face.
“Two million,” Jax steepled his fingers as he waited for a reaction from Quinn.
The other main just raised a brow. “Steep price. A half a mil should be plenty.”
“You are sending me into vampire territory during a war. One point five mil.” Jax lowered his hands and met Quinn’s gaze. “As a rogue I’ll draw suspicion and my chances of being killed on sight are high.”
Quinn snarled, his eyes flashing to yellow. “A million and no more.”
Jax kept his face blank as he considered the price. A million would be enough to allow him a nice lifestyle, assuming he didn’t die the moment he stepped into Lucius territory. “Deal.”
Quinn stood. “I’ll have one of my boys drop the money off to you tomorrow night.” The man left without another word and Jax leaned back in his chair. After a few minutes of planning he pulled out his phone to call one of his contacts in Lucius’ territory. “Kaden, how nice of you to actually answer the phone. I need to know what’s going on in the territory.”
One paw in front of the other. Forcing herself to concentrate so she could stay in control, she couldn’t let the panther take over. Her tail flickered back and forth as she paced the cold cage. Each path taking her closer to the solid bars cast in silver. The box closed her in, teasing her delicate skin, singeing it as her fur brushed against the metal. The beast pushed against her and thoughts of blood filled her mind as images of flesh.
Kass’ eyes fluttered open and she cringed as the soreness of a forced shift settled over her body. She had managed to be free for a week, but she ran that entire time. Then he caught up to her. She growled as the memories flooded her mind. Her body remembered the power that pulsed through her and the pain of a forced shift when Lucius found her.
She sat up slowly, bracing her arms under her to insure she’d stay vertical. Her heart echoed through her head, making her head pound. Her stomach churned as her bedroom spun and her body shook. She let out a curse as she lay back down, feeling the cold concrete against her cheek.
Bastard didn’t even have the decency to put me in my own bed.
“That’s because you don’t deserve such a luxury right now.” His voice slid through her body like silk and sent a chill through her. Brushing against the beast inside her, making it stir. Recognizing him as master.
She threw an arm over her eyes and huffed. “How did you find me?”
“It wasn’t hard, Kassity. You ran from Mae’s house. I simply had another shifter track you from there. You know better than to run from me.”
She swore she felt the burn of a silver collar around her neck as the panic of being punished ran through her. Her body cramped at remembering sitting at his feet in front of other vampires, trapped in her animal form. She moved her arm and nailed him with a cold look. “Where’s Josh?”
“He’s a vampire, of course he’s dead. Where is he? You normally make him clean up my messes.” She paused and rolled over to give Lucius her full attention. When he didn’t answer her, a sinking feeling claimed her stomach. “You killed him. You truly killed him?” The anger fed the already stirring beast and Kass called on the instinct of her beast. She still retained some control. Her jaw locked as her hands formed into claws that she used to swipe at him.
He moved too fast for her human eyes to follow, snatching her wrist and using the momentum to twist her arm behind her back and shove her to her knees. “He served out his purpose and I could not have him ruining my plans.”
Her dyed red hair fell in waves and spilled over her naked breasts as she held her head down. She forced her breathing to even out and her muscles to relax. She knew her beast would take over if she did not control her anger and then he’d have full control. Tears started to form in her eyes, grief swiftly overtaking the anger.
“You didn’t have to kill him.” Josh acted as a buffer between her and Lucius and kept her in Lucius’ good graces. He had rescued her from her family and did everything he could to keep Kass safe. Her chest tightened when she imagined never seeing him again.
“He wasn’t really your family Kass, he adopted you to save you.” Lucius pulled her up and tucked her hair behind her ear. He placed his hands on her bare shoulders. “Now you have nothing left. You have no choice but to stay here.”
The power in his voice left a cold trail in her head and through her veins, her body relaxing at his touch. Her eyes fluttered shut. “I had no choice to begin with.” She tried to fight the helpless feeling that started to spread. Something in her mind seemed to click into place, but she couldn’t place the sensation.
“That is true, but remember why you and Josh came to me. To be safe, to live.”
“To get away from my family.” She swallowed and pulled away. The moment his hands left her, the anger started raging through her again. Her body hummed and tingled with the desire to change, but she felt a block. Snarling, she realized he’d placed that block. She spun, giving the vampire her back. “So you killed Josh, now what?” Clenching her fists she tried to coax the beast in her to calm down, but the block between them seemed to prevent it.
“We continue with the plan.”
“I don’t like the plan.” She placed her hand against the concrete gray wall, her fingers tracing claw marks she’d left while in panther form. The room acted as her prison, with no windows for escape and a mattress on the floor that she called a bed.
“It doesn’t matter what you like.” His voice held a harsh edge. “The human society thinks you are dead, their government believes that the panther-lycan strand is almost extinct. It’s the perfect cover.”
Kass closed her eyes and leaned her head against the wall. “I don’t want to kill any more.”
“Then I will simply continue to force your hand as I have been.” He laughed and his energy crackled in the air, striking against her skin, calling to her panther. She groaned as the aches in her body became more pronounced, and the pressure she felt before grew stronger, pushing her to the brink. She could have sworn that she felt fur brush the inside of her body as her panther tried to shove past the block.
An inhuman growl trickled out of her throat. “You left me in a cage last night, wasn’t that enough?”
“I will stop forcing your change if you learn to accept what you are.”
“And what is that?”
He traced a finger down her neck. “A weapon, my killer.” His finger continued down her back and her body arched to meet his touch. “The moment you accept that is the moment your life becomes easier.” He wrapped his hand in her hair, using it to yank her head back. “Now let that beautiful cat of yours out.”
Just like that the block disappeared. Her bones snapped and moved under her skin, breaking and mending themselves into a new shape. Her skin melted and molded against the new frame and fur poured over her. She glared at her master with a hatred that both forms and minds could understand. The only difference being her panther had come to terms with his ownership. She crouched down and belly crawled towards him.
“Good kitty. Tonight, you hunt.”
Jaxon walked into the foyer, the black and white motif reminding him of a Noir film. His client, a vampire, sat in a throne in front of the fireplace. The pale, slender hand of the vampire curved over the arm of the chair while his black eyes met Jaxon’s gaze. To the right of the vampire a human knelt in silence, her long white hair cascading over her shoulders and her eyes covered by a strip of black fabric. Jaxon chuckled at the fact that she matched the decor.
“You are the mercenary that I sent for?” The vampire raised a brow and then shook his head. “I was promised a tracker, I don’t even sense an animal in you.”
Jaxon smirked and crossed his arms. “Because I’m strong enough to hide my beast and with the type of lycanthrope I am, it’s best to hide.” He had been lucky that his contact in Lucius’ territory pulled through and knew about a job. It made it easy to get in.
“What are you?”
Lucius let out a booming laugh. “Panther? Where are you from?”
Jaxon thought for a moment, debating on what story to give him. The vampire would be able to tell if he lied, best to go with as much truth as possible. “I’m a rogue, my clan was killed off overseas and I came here as a mercenary.”
“And who contacted you about the job I have for you?” Lucius leaned forward.
“A demon name Kaden. Says you lost something.” Jaxon raised a brow as the human at Lucius’ side flinched at the words.
Lucius’ placed a hand on the woman’s head and she stilled. “It’s a stone. My human was forced to send it away by another vampire and I need it back. She cannot speak of it without...issues, so I have nothing to go off of. But I can tell you this, there will be problems if it shows up in the supernatural world.”
“And if it shows up in the human world?” Jax asked, raising a brow. Must be a hell of a stone.
“Then may the gods have mercy on that human’s soul because every creature will be out to get it. If it’s an innocent human we’ll worry about it when we cross that bridge. If not, just take the stone.”
Jaxon’s eyes slid to the human next to Lucius. “Alright.” He couldn’t have asked for things to work out better. “I thought I smelled a female panther when I entered the room. I didn’t think the local clan played nice.”
“There are no female cats here, and even if there were it would be none of your concern.” He stood and his human mirrored him instantly. “You are dismissed.”
Jaxon turned on his heel and walked out. Something bothered him about this territory and the feeling continued to eat at him as he made his way out of the mansion. He would start both jobs tomorrow. With tonight being the full moon he had other plans.
Kass crouched as she stalked towards her victim; her massive paws silent as she moved across the pavement. Her black fur blended with the darkness, keeping her hidden in the alley. She sniffed the air as she snuck closer to the human and studied him. He texted with one hand and loosened his tie with the other. In a swift motion he removed his jacket and draped it over his arm and then went back to his phone, pausing only to take his keys out and unlock the last vehicle on the dark street.
Lights reflecting off the damp asphalt cast shadows, allowing Kass to remain hidden. When the man turned his back towards her, she took advantage of the weakness. With a powerful lunge she propelled her massive body forward, her feet left the ground and she landed on the man. Taking her victim down, she clamped her jaw around his throat before he could scream. She tore at his skin, letting the blood rush down her throat and over her teeth as she jerked her head to the side. The neck snapped with a sickening sound that pleased her beast. With the weight of her paws holding the body to the ground, she tore into the human and enjoyed her kill. The bits of meat soothed the hunger in her body and calmed her beast and she lost herself in the taste of blood and flesh as it satisfied the instinct to hunt.