To my mother, Trena Davis.
You are living proof that there is at least one angel walking the earth, who was put here to touch lives, fill them with joy and laughter, and make the world a happier place to be. God knows where I would be without your unconditional love and support, and I thank Him every day for blessing me with a mother as wonderful as you.
I love you.
Special thanks to:
My family, especially my children and my parents, for their unwavering support through an extremely difficult year. We made it, and we’re all stronger for it. I love you.
The Foxes—Tracy Garrett, Suzanne Ferrell, Addison Fox, Jane Graves, Julie Benson, Lorraine Heath, Sandy Blair, Alice Burton, and Kay Thomas. I don’t know what I’d do without you, and I’m not about to find out! Bring on the wine!
My agent, Roberta Brown—my cheerleader, friend, and rock. I can’t wait to see what fun surprises tomorrow brings for us.
My editor, Tracy Bernstein, for supporting and encouraging me when my personal life got really tough. You’re a diamond who allows your authors to shine, and I’m grateful for you.
My publicist, Erin Galloway, for your infectious enthusiasm and all the hard work you do.
Jaxon Law crouched behind a Dumpster at the rear of the old brick building, wishing he’d worn gloves to protect his hands. And not just because of the stinking garbage overflowing from the top to litter the pavement around him.
Gloves would have shielded him from the stain of the past, in the most literal sense. If he could stand wearing them, but he couldn’t. They were too hot, made his hands sweat.
Too bad, because there was a time and place to utilize his RetroCog gift and this wasn’t it. None of the Alpha Pack team, including himself, could afford a single distraction tonight. Something wasn’t right. A strange heaviness weighted the air, the sky an eerie yellow-green at midnight. A warning of wickedness. Of evil.
“We’ve got no business being here,” he muttered, eyes fixed on the building.
Beside him, Zander Cole gave a quiet huff in the darkness. “Tell that to Terry. He thinks we’re indestructible fucking superheroes—or at least he’s convinced he is.”
His best friend paused and Jaxon glanced over to see those strange onyx eyes glittering, body tense. “Got any vibes?”
“I’m just a Healer, man, remember? The only woo-woo shit I’m getting is the common sense let’s get the fuck out of here kind.”
Zan was much more than “just a Healer,” but now wasn’t the time to argue the point. Every instinct Jax possessed, both human and wolf, was screaming at him to turn and run. Fast and far, no stopping until he’d put this godforsaken place—and the reality of what he’d become—far behind him. He wouldn’t, of course. Like his Pack brothers, he simply wasn’t made to do anything but stand and fight. Protect the unsuspecting world of humans from horrors they never dreamed could possibly exist.
Even at the cost of his own death, if necessary. But all his life he’d been protecting those who couldn’t defend themselves, so the prospect of dying didn’t bother him too much and it wasn’t what urged him to flee now. It was the inescapable fact that he’d graduated from battling human monsters to real ones, and the team rarely knew what type of slavering beast lurked behind door number three. It was the awful anticipation, and then the sinking in his gut when they encountered yet another deadly creature they had no idea how to defeat.
Sort of like playing Russian roulette with a loaded pistol.
Bullets, knives, and bombs were pretty straightforward—a soldier knows what to expect and who’s wielding them. Fangs, claws, and flesh-eating venom? Not so much. Those types of weapons sorta got left out of the manual.
But over the past five years, they’d learned, and fast. Do or die.
Ryon Hunter, the team’s Telepath and Channeler, pushed the order into their heads. Terry says go!
They converged on the building from all sides—Jax, Zan, Ryon, Terry, Aric, Micah, Jonas, Ari, and Phoenix, or Nix, as they called him. Soon they’d learn whether their source was accurate. If so, a human family was being held captive by a coven of vampires, used as food and slave labor. They were probably terrified out of their wits, running out of hope that help would arrive in time.
Sidling up to the wall, Jax wrapped a towel around his fist to muffle the sound of the window breaking. He cleared the jagged edges; then he and Zan entered through it, letting their eyes adjust to the gloom. They didn’t need flashlights—their animal halves saw perfectly well in the dark.
They listened, but there was no sound. The storage room they were standing in was dirty, piled with boxes and other junk. From the stale smell, nobody had used this place in a long while. The bad feeling between his shoulder blades increased.
“This isn’t right,” he whispered to Zan. “I don’t think there’s anyone here.”
“Let’s keep looking.”
He wanted to run. But if there was any chance innocent lives could be saved, they had to check every inch.
A few minutes later, the team met in the large, open area of the building. None of them had found a trace of anyone, living or otherwise. And in their business, “otherwise” didn’t necessarily mean dead—but perhaps worse than dead.
“There’s not a single fucking soul here,” Terry snapped. Their boss was pissed. “What a goddamned waste of time.”
“We need to leave,” Jax said, glancing around. “I’ve got a bad vibe.”
The boss snorted. “Yeah? Right, like there’s—”
A crack sounded and Terry made a soft noise, dark wetness blooming on his chest. His eyes widened in surprise, and then he crumpled to the dirty floor.
“Get down!” Jax yelled.
He and his friends dove for cover, but there was precious little to be found. Jax crawled toward a pile of palettes, but a searing pain in his back drove him to his stomach. The burn spread outward, encompassing his torso, his limbs. The heat fried his muscles, and then seemed to numb his entire body.
Silver. Oh, God.
“Silver! They’re using . . .” He tried to shout the warning, but as he rolled to his back, the words died in his throat. There was movement in the rafters of the building. Dozens of dark shapes taking flight.
The things swooped down, and he saw huge creatures. Leathery and black, with gaping jaws full of jagged teeth. Not demons or vampires. Not ghouls. Nothing he’d ever seen in the five years since they’d been dropped headfirst into Psycholand.
He tried to scramble backward, to shift into his wolf, but could do nothing but watch in horror as the things converged on his teammates. His best friends and brothers. Teeth ripped into flesh, the screams of the dying tearing out his heart.
A thud shook the floor and one of the beasts galloped to him on all fours, yellow eyes gleaming with malice, saliva dripping from its maw in a sticky stream to the floor. Jax’s pulse pounded in his throat, and terror froze him to the bone.
Then the beast grabbed his right leg in its huge mouth and clamped down, crushing bone and muscle. Jax’s scream joined his brothers’ as the thing shook him like a dog with a bone. He had to do something. Anything. He concentrated on his right hand. Just that. Sweat poured down his face as his fingernails shifted into claws.
Surging forward, he slit the beast’s throat. It fell backward, clutching its gullet in a futile attempt to stop the flow. And then fell dead, twitching.
All around him, his comrades were fighting a losing battle. Some of the beasts were dead, but not nearly enough of them. He had to help. Had to get to them.
Across the space, near the opposite wall, Aric sent balls of fire at the remaining beasts, helping to turn the tide, Jax hoped. But the fire was spreading, the boxes and palettes going up like the dry tinder they were.
First the beasts. Kill them, get his team out.
One of them had Zan pinned, ready to tear into his throat. Jax launched himself the few feet to them and barreled into the thing, taking him to the floor. This one met the same end as his first one, and Jax felt a small satisfaction.
“The others,” Zan croaked, coughing.
They looked around, and saw the remaining creatures were dead. Some must’ve flown, frightened off by the fire. Others had been dispatched by their friends.
Somehow, he and Zan dragged their teammates, one by one, from the hungry flames. Some weren’t moving. When Zan tried to use his healing powers to work on his mangled leg, Jax stopped him.
“I’ll be okay. Get the worst ones.”
Zan’s mouth tightened into a grim line, but he nodded and moved off. And proceeded to almost kill himself by doing the impossible.
He couldn’t save them all.
Jax drifted, wishing he were in Beryl’s arms. That all of this was over, or had never happened at all. He imagined being buried between her thighs, giving them what they both wanted. He could almost hear her laughter.
After a few moments, he realized the sound was real, not his imagination. He opened his eyes to see Beryl standing over him, a wicked smile on her lovely face. Except the cruelty transformed her face into something ugly, mocking.
“Beryl? My team, how are they?”
She laughed again. “Dead. How else?”
“What?” He stared at her, uncomprehending.
Crouching next to him, she ran a bloodred nail down his cheek. “Haven’t you figured it out? Terry’s contact was actually working for me.”
She wouldn’t have. The Beryl he knew was loving, fun. Insatiable.
He’d thought . . .
“Why? Why did you do this?” Agony lanced his chest. The pain of betrayal and loss.
“Don’t you wish you knew? Someone really important has big plans, and that’s all you need to know. Thanks for the good times, lover.”
Agony became rage. Sitting up, he ignored the pain, pushed to his feet. Grabbed the front of her blouse and shook her. “Who are you working for? Tell me!”
“Fuck you,” she spat.
A red haze came down, obliterating all reason. Limping, half-dragging his injured leg, he pulled her toward the burning building. She’d murdered his team. The men he loved like brothers.
“Burn in hell, whore.”
With the last of his strength, he threw the traitorous bitch into the fire. Fell to his knees.
Her scream of outrage, promising vengeance, and the moans of his dying teammates chased him into the darkness.
Six months later . . .
Kira Locke had thirty seconds to lift the samples and get the hell out. Every second counted.
And then, technically, she’d be a thief. A criminal. The police wouldn’t know quite what to do with the items she’d stolen should she be caught, any more than she knew what to do with them if she wasn’t. Her brilliant plan had included getting them out of here, not where to go afterward. Or who to give them to. Who did she dare to trust when she offered little more than some dead tissue and a couple of wild accusations? Who would believe her?
A metallic scraping noise from somewhere down the hallway caused her to jump, her hands trembling so hard she nearly dropped the precious containers. Scratch that thirty seconds. Shit. Quickly, she checked the lids once more to make sure the formaldehyde didn’t leak out, and then slipped the small film-sized canisters into her purse.
There. Let’s see what Dr. Jekyll and the ghouls are up to.
The scraping sound came again, louder this time. Closer. The steady, heavy tread of boot heels on concrete, the systematic opening and closing of screeching metal doors announced that one of the night guards was making his rounds. Checking all of the labs and other rooms in this restricted area of her place of employment that she had no clearance to breach.
Make that former place of employment, if she got caught.
The footsteps came nearer, another door squealed open, and she silently cursed the bad luck that A.J. had called in sick tonight. The young guard would’ve covered for her, considering that he harbored the same suspicions Kira did about something being hidden in this place. Something terrible. Then again, it was probably good that her friend hadn’t known what she’d planned to do tonight because now he couldn’t be accused of helping her.
Heart in her throat, she considered her options—find a spot to hide and hope the guard moved on, or stroll nonchalantly from the room and try to fool him into thinking she had every right to be here. Play it cool, and then get lost.
A sinking feeling in her gut told her the second choice was out of the question, and that the cops were the least of her worries. Glancing around the lab, she zeroed in on the long worktable built on a solid base, the only object large enough to shield her from view. After switching off the light, she skirted the edge, moved to put the table between herself and the door, and crouched. Just in time.
The door swung open, the light flipping on again. The guard paused and she could picture him eyeing the area, trying to decide if anything appeared out of place. His boots scraped the floor as he moved inside a bit farther, and she huddled like a frightened rabbit in a hole, certain that any moment he’d decide to step around the table. Catch her there and call her boss, Dr. Gene Bowman. And if the pompous prick knew she was snooping, what was in her possession, and what she suspected . . .
Go away, please. Please. Her pulse hammered at the hollow of her throat and she was certain he could sense her fear. Smell it, sour and thick in the dank air.
Gradually, his steps retreated after he flipped the lights off again, and closed the door. Only when his tread faded down the corridor did she slump in relief, dragging a hand through her hair. Taking a few deep breaths, she stood, the temporary reprieve at an end. She still had to get out of the damned building unseen, though at almost midnight with nothing but a skeleton crew, the odds were slightly better.
Right. Keep telling yourself that.
Clutching her purse straps in a death grip, she eased toward the door. Turned the knob and slowly inched the weighty metal door open. A bit at a time, just enough to slip out and close it again. Her patience was rewarded with the tiniest squeak of hinges, but even that small noise sounded like a trumpet blast to her ears.
The corridor was clear. Of course it couldn’t be dimly lit with lots of inky shadows to hide in, like in the movies. The tunnel-like space was as brightly lit as a football field at halftime, and if the guard came back, she was toast. At least the lack of cover meant no one could sneak up on her, either.
Walking fast, she forced herself not to break into a run. Just a few more yards and—
She froze, heart thundering, eyes wide. “Jesus Christ,” she whispered.
Straining her ears, she listened. Nothing. The faint wail of despair might’ve been her imagination—the product of nerves and too little sleep. For a crazy second, she felt compelled to turn around and search for the source. To find out once and for all whether the spirit that constantly begged for help at all hours of the day and night was real, or if she was out of her mind.