~ DEDICATION ~
Thank you all for your patience.
Copyright © April 2015, Kassanna
Cover art by Dreams2Media Copyright © April 2015
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Ari Kuhne stared at the dark structure, sure the information he’d received was wrong.
Under the evening sky, the place gave off an eerie vibe. Large holes marred the shingled roof and paint peeled off in long strips off the wall, exposing the multiple shades of color the building had been painted over the years. In contrast, a shiny new chain link fence surrounded the perimeter of the building and heavy-duty trucks, no more than a year or two old, were parked, half-hidden, on the side of the building.
All was definitely
what it seemed.
He glanced over at Trace. His brother wore a look of annoyance and stoic resignation. His lips pressed together in a grim line and his arms crossed over his chest. A tiger shifter, his brother had mated and at the very least, should be relaxed; instead, he was as surly as ever.
Ari leaned on the handlebars of his bike and shifted his gaze back to the dilapidated warehouse. A light breeze weaved its way through the weeds spouting from the pothole-riddled asphalt road leading up the property.
His oldest sibling, El, must have bumped his head while fucking his mate, Nae, and gotten his assignments crossed. Things were off, but there was no way in hell that derelict edifice was secure enough to hold the papers they were supposed to acquire. El wasn’t the only one who lost his mind. What company in their right mind would put sensitive files here?
“I’ll flip you to see who goes in.” Ari turned to face Trace.
Trace slowly turned and shook his head. He lifted his arm and stabbed the air in the direction of the structure.
“Cut the shit. I know you can talk. The quicker we get in, grab the papers and get the hell out, the quicker we can go home.” Ari exhaled.
The only reason they were there in the first place was because El had taken on extra projects to rebuild Trott’s Bar and replace the missing funds from the debacle during Trace’s mating, after El’s crazy-ass brother, Ellory, set fire to it. When the smoke cleared and everyone was accounted for, they discovered Zima had embezzled almost two million dollars from the Pride accounts and disappeared.
Ari sucked in a deep breath. When he got home, he would hunt Zima down like the fucking twat-waffle she was, and then give El the coordinates to find her. This hands-on shit was for the birds.
Softly he chuckled at the pun. Being a bird, his sister, La, would’ve called it a lame joke. He closed his eyes and wished he was home.
Give him a dark room and a few computer screens any day…
He lifted his lids and gazed at his brother.
Trace continued to stare at him. He combed his fingers through his hair before cocking a thick brow.
“I’m the information guy, a techie. You’re the brooding tiger who likes to tear into shit. Go on, big boy, wreak havoc, maim…kill. Go get the shit and let’s roll the hell up out of here.” Ari raised his hands with palm side up.
Trace vehemently shook his head and waved a finger between the building and Ari.
“I’m supposed to be support, Trace, and you’re the lead on this… Come on, I’m your little brother. Don’t make me call El on you. I’m the brains and you’re the brawn.” Ari pulled his cell from the pocket on his vest.
The tiger shrugged nonchalantly.
“I hate you right now,” Ari grumbled. “If something was to happen to me, Dad—otherwise known as Gunter—will gut you.”
Trace waved his digit in a circle near his head.
Ari swung a leg over the body of his bike, and stood. “You just hate that I’m the favorite.”
His brother pulled out his phone and tapped on the screen, stabbing it hard before putting the cell away.
Ari’s phone dinged and he checked the message. He snorted at what Trace wrote.
You’re an asshole. No matter, you’re fast, a fucking cheetah, for Goddess’s sake. Shift, get in, get the docs, and get the fuck out. I got your back. AND Ursala is Gunter’s and El’s favorite. Don’t get it twisted, dumb ass.
“You know, you could have just said that.” Ari put the phone in his jeans pocket before slipping the top button free. He shoved the pants down his legs.
“Shut up, I’m moving.” He kicked off the jeans and shrugged his vest off before yanking his T-shirt over his head. “I don’t like this ‘new and improved’ mated you.”
Trace rose from his motorcycle and twisted around to root through his saddlebags. He pulled pieces of his rifle from its depths, and quickly assembled the parts into a formidable weapon. Ari picked up his clothes and tossed them across the seat of his bike. He embraced his beast, allowing the cheetah free that constantly paced through his mind.
Ari dropped to his hands and knees, and tossed his head back as his spine realigned. Fur spouted, replacing hair, and his freckles became large black spots on his skin. His nose spread and his lips thinned to form his muzzle. Taut muscle formed along his body, giving him a sleek, sculpted body. He stretched and yawned.
Trace stomped up to him and nudged his back leg, rumbling low.
Silently, he twisted around and bared his fangs before sprinting for the fence. He searched for an opening.
Goddess, why couldn’t cats have thumbs, he could have cut his way in
Slowly he trotted along the fence perimeter until he came to a rusty trio of old metal trashcans. Ari jumped on one and used the other to leapfrog over the six-foot fence. Seriously, whoever planned the place should have been fired. From a security standpoint, the chain link should have been twice as high. He landed with a thump on a patch of dry grass and slinked toward the shadowed entrance. The door eased open and a sliver of light bisected the ground in front of him. He snapped his head up.
A damned sexy naked woman stood in the doorway, clutching a metal cylinder to her chest. Her skin was the color of mahogany, and her dark locks were streaked with white and shaved off on the sides. Ample breasts and wide hips made him tilt his head in appreciation of her feminine form. She stared down at him through honey-colored eyes and her bow-shaped lips formed a perfect “O”.
Yeah, he was surprised, too. Ari lifted his head and took a quick whiff of her scent. It wasn’t a common odor, but there was a hint of sweetness to her aroma.
In the background, he could hear stomping and yelling. Guessing by the thunderous sound, it was more than one or two guards. She released the cylinder. It dropped from her hands, only to be jerked back by the straps attached to it. He shook his head quickly to clear his mind. For a moment he waffled on whether he wanted to finish the mission. Her body was a damn distraction and he wanted to get closer.
She slung the band over her head and across her shoulder. It hugged her torso, making her skin crinkle around the strap. He inched forward and she flashed her fangs at him; a reminder she was off-limits. She slipped to the side and the door swung closed behind her, plunging them into darkness. His vision adjusted to the dark and he watched in fascination as she dropped and shifted into…something furry. Squat to the ground, the only distinguishable marks on her body were the tufts of white around her head and down her body.
What the hell?
The door was flung wide. Light flooded the area and men poured out into the yard as she scuttled deeper into the shadows. He had the undeniable urge to follow her and took a few steps in her direction.
Guards focused on him and he had to do a double take. Some of them lifted their weapons. Shit, focusing on her was about to get him killed. Briefly he glanced in the direction the woman…
…had gone. Dust kicked up near his paw. The whine of the bullets being fired at him made his ears twitch. There was no time to evaluate the situation.
Ari backpedaled a few steps before he swiveled on his paws and sprinted into the darkness. He would bet his hide the damn animal—whatever she was—got to the papers before he did.
Bursts of light from the gunfire illuminated the building’s sides.
His muscles burned as he reached his top speed, heading back to the fence and zigzagging to dodge bullets. In the distance, near where he had come in, he saw a brief succession of bright flashes. Trace returned fire and was laying down cover so he could get back. He sprinted for the fence and leaped. His claws caught in the diamond-shaped holes and he scrambled up. It wasn’t a tree, but he was going to climb this motherfucker or his name wasn’t Aristotle.
He landed on the other side and took off toward his brother. It was imperative he talked to El right away. Apparently, other parties wanted the documents, too.
Bane Uduru shoved the two metal pieces of the padlock together and yanked on the locker handle. She glanced around the train station. The smooth wooden benches were empty and the clerk that stood behind the lone service window shuffled papers. Frankly, Bane couldn’t figure where all the paperwork came from, since the station was empty.
She jerked on the locked handle again. The small bank of lockers shook, and the steel shrieked. The metal door didn’t give. Satisfied, she walked away from the cabinets. All that was left was to give her buyer, Colonel Malachai, a call and let him know where his people could pick up the files.
She stepped through the glass double doors and into the breezeway. A chalkboard placard, placed at the edge of the sidewalk, had the different train arrivals and departures scrawled out in spidery handwriting.
She was lucky to find the out-of-the-way station a couple years ago. It served three counties, but whenever she visited, the place was always empty. That fact alone made it the perfect spot to drop off information she had been commissioned to “liberate.”
Bane trotted down the passageway into the parking lot. She’d completed her task, but she decided she wouldn’t make the call until she was at least a hundred miles away. The Colonel paid damned good, but she didn’t trust him as far as she could spit. No amount of money could make that niggle at the back of her mind go away every time she talked to him. That visceral warning was what kept her alive.
Once she collected the half mil he owed her, she would take a vacation. Europe was calling her name and a romp through a few countries would definitely take the edge off. Or maybe an island somewhere; the peaceful waves always helped her relax.
This was a sweet job, and she obviously had a talent for the work. Humans were easy marks; their arrogance made them think they were untouchable. They thought they were at the top of the food chain. Ha—if only they knew.
What should have been an easy grab-and-go turned into a cluster fuck. Getting past the guards was a cakewalk, and the intel Malachai provided was on point. It was getting out with the documents that she had a problem with. It wasn’t like she relied solely on the information she had; she’d made a point of watching the place for a few days to get a feel for it. When she rushed out the exit, for a moment she was sure the cheetah was part of some patrol she’d missed. The cat didn’t attack or try to stop her; he didn’t do anything but watch her. He seemed as shocked to see her as she was to see him. In the end, he was the distraction she needed to get away.
Problem was, the cat had gotten a good look at her. Only a handful of close acquaintances knew what she looked like. A thief, her working name was Blaireau and for the last few years, that was all anybody knew about her…until last night.
Bane patted her pockets and groaned. No more honey sticks. She always rewarded herself with a bit of honey for a job well done. Maybe the getaway wasn’t as clean as she liked—but hey, she lived to steal another day.
Her neon pink and yellow crotch rocket glistened in the sun’s rays. Leaning against her bike, she checked her jeans again, hoping maybe she missed a stick. Nope, she was completely out. She would have to find a farmers’ market or a roadside fruit stand. They usually carried the thin tubes that had different favors of honey in them. All she had to do was chew off the end and suck down the sugary liquid—mmmm, pure nirvana.
She frowned. Maybe this was the Goddess’s way of telling her she’d screwed up. She had gotten careless and almost got caught.
Bane grabbed the helmet from the back of her bike and climbed on. Her priority now was to find a town with a bar far enough away from the drop-off, and make the call. Once she confirmed the money was in her bank account, she would give Malachai the information he needed to get to the train station.
Bane sighed. Using the station would be out of the question for a few years; she would have to find a new drop point. No matter—after this assignment was over, she would be set for a few months and free to sip honey whiskey while smoking Cuban cigars.
With the push of a button, her cycle roared to life and she guided it out of the lot. Melding into traffic she sped pass the cars and trucks, slipping between vehicles. Adrenaline coursed through her. She leaned forward and her hand twisted the throttle forward, gaining speed.
Bane stopped at a red light. Briefly, the image of the cheetah flitted through her mind. When she left him at the storage facility, he had his own set of problems.
She blinked quickly. Not once had she ever felt sorry for another animal, man or beast, so why all of a sudden did she feel guilty for leaving the cheetah?