Authors: A. L. Kessler
Tags: #vampires, #werewolves, #shifters, #Magic, #demons, #dark fantasy
A wave of nausea forced Kass’ eyes open and the light above her made the pounding in her head worse, seeming to echo inside her body. She put a hand to her head and breathed deep to try and stop the rolling waves in her stomach. When it didn’t work she rushed to her feet and stumbled over the cold gray floor into the white bathroom. The cool tile felt good against her skin as she fell in front of the toilet. She bowed her head just in time for her stomach to empty its contents. Kass closed her eyes and leaned her head against the freezing porcelain, taking deep breaths. She tried to recall the night before, but her memory would only pull up flashes of bloody flesh.
She opened her eyes and saw the mass of red and stringy peach colored globs in the bowl, causing her stomach to lurch again. Another kill. She had lost count of how many times she had murdered for Lucius, but the guilt in her never seemed to go away like he promised. Kass groaned as she felt the beast push inside her. The feelings stronger than the night before, making her double over in an effort to keep it from taking over. After fighting for control her vomiting turned to painful dry heaves and she wrapped her arms around her stomach while the pain spiked through her.
The pounding of her heart still echoed in her head as she pulled herself together and rose from the floor. Shakes wracked her body as the world turned blurry when she made her way back out of the room. Food and rest would shake the after effects of the rough night off, but she felt that if her body rejected the unnatural food it would reject real food right now. A new scent filled her nose and a figure moved out of the corner of her eyes, causing Kass to pause. She took a deep breath, identifying the smell of fast food burgers. Her stomach rumbled a little. “Vision is dodgy, had a rough shift last night.”
Kass looked up and saw just a vague outline that belonged to the familiar voice. “Mae? Josh’s Mae?” Anger tried to push through her exhaustion as she leaned against the wall and used it to slide down to the floor. She laid her head on her knees and waited for her vision to clear.
“Not anymore.” The regret rang clear in Mae’s voice as she squatted in front of Kass.
Kass paused as she realized the faint smell of blood and death now surrounded the once human woman. “Lucius changed you.” She clenched her fists, not wanting to deal with another bloodsucker.
“Right before he killed Josh.”
Grief swept through Kass, her blood ran cold and her breath caught at the confirmation of the news. A snarl escaped her lips. “You got him killed.” Her heart dropped as different scenarios passed through her mind on how Josh died at Lucius’ hand, how Mae led him to his death.
Mae sighed, “I didn’t plan on getting him killed.”
She heard the bag crinkle and let out an audible groan.
“I know you need to eat after you shift, so I brought you food.” Mae put the bag next to Kass’ hand so that it brushed against her arm.
Kass glanced at the bag, her vision able to make out the brown bag and the shapes of blurry letters now. “I killed again.”
Kass snorted and dug in the bag for a burger. “No, but my stomach does.” She unwrapped the paper from the sandwich and bit in. Hoping that the food stayed where it was supposed to, she let the first bite settle for a moment. “It’s only a matter of time.”
“Someone else comes after me.” Kass leaned her head back against the wall. “Maybe they’ll shoot me on sight this time.”
Mae leaned back on her hands. “I don’t think Lucius would allow that. He’s too smart to let someone kill his prized cat.” Bitterness filled Mae’s voice.
Kass took another bite. “I’m tired of killing. How long until I lose my usefulness and he just kills me like he did Josh?” She rolled her shoulders, trying to ease the tension out of them.
“How long has it been like this?”
As her vision started to clear up, Kass studied the woman in front her, the light reflecting off the brown hair and the black eyes that marked her as a vampire. Her complexion still held the slight tan from the summer’s sun and her movements were still human slow; all signs of being a new vampire. “You mean how long have I been killing for him?”
When Mae nodded, Kass shrugged. “Josh and I joined up with Lucius five years ago. Back then I had supreme control over my cat, but there is some ability that Lucius has that calls to her. Eventually he broke down my control and she recognized him as her master. That lovely moment was two years ago. My first kill was a political candidate.”
“Two years ago?” Mae frowned. “I remember that kill, the man’s neck was snapped, teeth marks were found, but he wasn’t eaten.”
Kass shrugged again. “She gets more vicious. She likes the tastes of human blood now.”
“Can you gain control again?” She asked, sitting up straight and crossing her arms.
“Eventually, if I can convince the beast that I am truly her master, or get Lucius to give me control back.” Kass leaned against the wall.
“Eat up and get some rest.” Mae left in a rush, leaving Kass sitting there staring at an empty spot in the room. She finished the burger, waiting for her stomach to settle.
Jax looked up at the clear blue sky, the crisp mountain air calling to his panther. When he was running through the forest the night before he had scented another panther. The scent had grown faint since then, but he knew it was female and probably the one he was looking for. Under the guise of collecting information about the location of the stone he decided to take a walk around the property and attempt to pinpoint the source of the scent.
The trees broke up the trail of the scent. He wandered around them, through a river, up to the mansion, down the long driveway, back up to the house, and back into the forest. He reached for the door. Before he could open it the wind brought a fresh wave of the smell to him. She was certainly female and a panther. He raced to find the source, finding a woman standing next to a tree.
He watched her for a moment while she hesitated at the tree line. Her red hair tumbled halfway down her back and was obviously dyed, but he didn’t care. From there her slender waist gave way to lusciously curved hips that led to skinny, yet toned, legs. Athletic and sexy as hell. The panther he sought had blonde hair and blue eyes, but same body shape. He wouldn’t know if it was her until she turned around. Holding his breath he watched her. He studied how her entire body seemed tense and something inside him stirred. His panther. After years of working on control the beast acted as if it had a mind of its own. Rubbing his chest he sighed and took a step towards the woman.
Giving in to the want inside himself he ran towards the woman while his beast growled with delight.
Kass ran her hand against one of the evergreen trees that dominated Lucius’ mountainside property. Snow still dusted the peaks above the tree line, forming a nice white cap. The sounds of wild life running about the land graced her ears and called to her panther, but she was forbidden from shifting. Some type of metaphysical block had been placed so she could feel her panther but not call it to the surface herself. Her beast even leaned against it, fought against it, but nothing worked. She cursed Lucius and took a deep breath. Cold mountain air cleared her lungs, easing her anger as the crisp smell of spring leaves and another panther filled her senses. Her heart skipped a beat. Impossible. With another breath she knew there was no mistaking the scent.
Footsteps echoing behind her, she spun in time to see a blur fly towards her and knock her to the ground. Air rushed from her lungs, but she managed to recover and rolled. Pinning the stranger to the ground with a hand to his throat, she met his gaze, sky blue eyes set in a soft face. The almost-too-delicate-for-a-male jaw line was sun kissed, and that amazing tan continued to the chiseled line of his abs and the delicious view disappeared into a pair of faded blue jeans. Kass licked her lips as the idea of tracing her tongue up his chest crossed her mind.
“Hey princess, eyes are up here.” He grumbled, putting an arm between them and pushing her off.
She didn’t fight him as she backed off and raised her eyes to meet his again. Now his shaggy light brown hair, a tad too dark to call blond, shadowed them, making the blue look darker. The panther in her urged Kass to nuzzle the stranger in front of her as they recognized the scent. “You’re a panther.”
“Just like you.” He nodded giving her a slow, sexy grin that showed just a hint of teeth with enough attitude to make a woman melt. “Do you pin every cat you meet to the ground?”
She snorted and looked away, toying with a strand of her hair. “Only the ones who pounce me first.”
He sat up and leaned in close to her. “I was just excited to see a female cat. Lucius said that there were none.”
Her cat tried to rush to the surface and caused Kass to stiffen as it hit the block in her. “He apparently had no intentions of us meeting, because he never mentioned you either.”
“I’m Jaxon.” He leaned in and nuzzled her neck in a classic greeting. She sighed against him, taking in his scent and missing the type of contact he offered.
She returned the greeting, rubbing against him. “Kassity.” The longer she touched him the more her beast hesitated against the block in her; calming and edging back to wherever it hid inside her.
“My beast rises to your touch.” He whispered with his lips against her cheek.
Heat tinted her face red. “And yours calms mine.” Panic crept up on her as she struggled to breathe, his scent overwhelming her. She scooted away from him, the wet grass soaking through her pants. He crawled towards her, the muscles in his arms moving like liquid grace. He peered up at her through his shaggy hair.
She expected to see confusion in his eyes, but they were narrow and calculating how to get what he wanted. Her. She froze when she felt her beast collide with the block inside her, knowing that it was Jax’s beast that called to her. Clenching her fists, she fought against the instinct to call to him and answer his cry of need. As she closed her eyes, she tried to find her fading connection with the cat inside her, tried to control and channel it. The desire to run in fear of the male overcame the beast and tried to force its way out.
Kass’ jaw tightened as he moved closer. He straddled her legs and kissed her. Parting her lips with his tongue caused her cat to hesitate. Her body tightened in all the right places as she melted into the kiss and allowed him access to her mouth. She pulled her legs under her to get closer to him. He moved so he knelt in front of her and cradled her face with his big hands. Her beast settled against the block, content with the connection.
The tingling of happiness broke when their lips were ripped apart. Kass opened her eyes just in time to see Lucius throw Jaxon a few yards away. Kass swallowed and backed away from the vampire while Jaxon let out an inhuman snarl, but remained where he was.
Lucius glared at him. “Stand down cat, she isn’t yours.”
“That’s not your choice.” Jaxon stood. “If our beasts-“
“Your beasts will not be meeting again.” Lucius spun to Kass. “Room. Now.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but when she met the narrow pure black eyes of Lucius she thought better. She stole one last look at the male panther before running back to the mansion.
Jax admired Kass as she ran back to the mansion. Her red hair sparkled in the rising moon, her slim body made quick work of the distance and her ass looked amazing in the wet jeans she had been wearing. He recalled her blue eyes and how their kiss had stirred things deep inside him and called to his beast. He reminded himself that she was his target. “A little over protective, are we?” He asked Lucius, without turning to the vampire.
“She’s a special case and the knowledge that she is here can put her in danger.” Lucius crossed his arms. “You are not to be near her, you are not to touch her and if I find out otherwise, I will kill you.”
Something in Jax stirred. He couldn’t tell if it was his beast or his human side that was bothered by Lucius’ words. “Is she from the local clan?”
“They killed all their females.”
Jax started to argue, but thought better of it. “Probably a good thing she’s not part of them then.” Though he had to wonder what lies Lucius told to keep Kass under his command. “I have made no progress with the stone, it seems that it hasn’t reached its destination yet.”
Lucius gave a bob of his head as he looked back at his manor. “I feel that Tegan will know when it arrives. I am hoping that the damage done to her will recede and she’ll be...back to normal.”
“Is she connected to the stone metaphysically?” With the sharp look Lucius shot at Jax for the question, Jax held up his hands. “I don’t need to know what it is, I just if there is a connection in order to be handled differently.”
Lucius sighed. “No, not unless whoever forced her to send it away wove a connection, but they are constantly in her mind as well. I can sense it.”
“To get into the mind of a vampire’s human requires power, lots of power.” Jax ran a hand through his hair. “I didn’t sign up to go against a vampire.”
“No, you were hired to find the stone. I’ll worry about the vampire if he comes into play. Those are politics you don’t want to get mixed into if you can help it.”
“Ain’t that the truth, sometimes you guys can be worse than shifters.”
Lucius chuckled. “Yes, we can be. Now get out of here. And stay away from Kassity.” He disappeared.
“Damn vampires.” Jax grumbled and headed further into the woods. Something about Kassity called out to him, but since she was his other target he couldn’t get distracted by her. She belonged back with her family and not with the vampire. There was a healthy sum of money on the line and he couldn’t believe the rumors about the clan. No insanity showed when he met with them and lycanthropes were affected by the war, which could account for such a low number of panthers. “This is all crazy, why do I take jobs like this?”
Kass lay on her bed, closing her eyes as she could sense her beast curled up and growling. The low rumble echoed through her when she thought about the male panther. Both she and her beast wanted to go in search of him; her eyes flickered to the door when it opened and Lucius entered.