Authors: A. L. Kessler
Tags: #vampires, #werewolves, #shifters, #Magic, #demons, #dark fantasy
Mae frowned and shook her head. “I didn’t always kill my targets, some of them I just found and gathered information on. I didn’t have an assignment to kill you. I was just supposed to locate the creature that was eating high class members of society.”
“And what do you think your friend would have done with that information? Put another silver bullet in me, and let me tell you how pleasant that is.” Kass snapped and put the broom away. While in the back room she grabbed her coat and bag, reminding herself that to go against Mae meant going up against Lucius. She growled as she spotted the trash by the back door.
“I’m going to take the trash out.” Without waiting for an answer she gathered the three bags and pushed through the door. The door clicked shut and a soft growl echoed through the alley as a hand curled around Kass’ wrist. She let the bags clatter to the ground as she turned her head to face her assailant.
ax jumped and raised a brow when Kass ripped her arm away from him and swiveled, one foot in front of the other, fists up for a fight. He held his hands up. “I didn’t mean to startle you, I just wanted to see you before you went back to the mansion.”
“Go away.” She glared at him and picked the trash back up to throw it out. He went to help her, but she pushed him away. She didn’t want him closer right now; not with the way her beast responded. “Don’t need your help, I need you to go so that I don’t get in trouble.”
She saw the way his face fell when he sighed. “Okay, fine.” He muttered and headed down the alley. She relaxed when he disappeared around the corner and then she walked to the opposite end where the dumpsters were. Grumbling, she threw the bags in the dumpster. A gust of wind caught her hair, bringing the familiar scent of Jax for an instant, but then a stronger scent made her freeze, another male she recognized.
No, no, what is he doing here.
Her beast stirred in panic, both halves of her knowing that the only way she would survive an attack would be if she could shift.
A large panther came from behind the dumpster, crouched low as he stalked her. Kass shuffled backwards, keeping her eyes on the cat in front of her. She tried to coax her panther out, but she didn’t have the control to bring her beast over the edge and out. Her heart thudded against her chest as she realized she needed to shift and break the barrier placed on her.
He pounced, taking her to the ground. Claws tore into her flesh as she screamed and tried to get her knees between them. She struggled, shifting one up, then the next and she pushed at him, calling on the strength of her beast and forcing the male off her and into the middle of the alleyway.
She ignored the blood dripping down her shoulders, the pain helped feed her beast as she worked on drawing it out. “I don’t know what you’re doing here Garret, but you need to leave.”
Her half brother’s tail flickered as he growled. He crouched again, not hindered by how she threw him away. He stalked from side to side, keeping her trapped where she was.
Panic sliced through her as he bared his teeth.
Come on stupid cat, shift.
Her panther gave her a wave of pain as it tried to obey her but it did nothing except cause her to stumble.
Garret rushed her and slammed her into the wall before he locked his jaw around her leg. He yanked her to the ground and tried to drag her down the alley.
The new pain and the scent of more blood caused Kass’ panther to try harder to escape. A strangled cry left her throat and she kicked at Garret’s head. With each blow, his teeth tore down her leg.
“What the hell!” Mae’s voice boomed through the alley, causing the struggling pair to freeze.
Garret roared at the vampire, letting go of Kass’ leg. She pulled herself up, using the wall to help support her. Her vision blurred and spots danced, distorting the images in front of her.
I will not pass out, I will not pass out.
She tried to focus her gaze on Garret. His hind legs tensed and his tail twitched.
“Mae, run!” Kass snapped a moment before Garret pounced, but the vampire was prepared. The glimmer of silver caught Kass’ attention, the large panther roared as it pierced his flesh. Landing on his feet, blood dripping from his stomach Garret turned blazing eyes towards Kass. She slid down the wall, unable to hold herself up with the injured leg. She expected Garret to attack her again, but the wounded beast ran out of the alley.
Kass looked at Mae. “Took you long enough.” She groaned, a wave of nausea hitting her as she shifted her weight.
“I didn’t hear you scream until he bit you.” She walked over, pausing at all the blood. “How hurt are you?”
Kass looked over the bite, her vision disappearing for a moment. “Royally fucked, I’ll be lucky to be conscious by the time we get home.” She leaned her head against the wall and then flinched when she hit a bruise.
“Lucius is going to love this.” She mumbled.
Kass shook her head, regretting it as her world went dark.
“Kass?” Mae’s voice sounded far away. “Come back to me.”
Her eyes fluttered open. “Don’t let Lucius see me. Can’t afford his anger.” She mumbled out. “Panther, panther, not supposed to be any other ones here.”
“That’s it, keep telling me.” Mae picked Kass up and started back into the club. “Why aren’t there supposed to be other panthers here?”
Blackness ate at the corner over her vision, blurring the bar and threatening to claim her again. “Rare, my clan is the only one in the states. I don’t know where Jax came from.” She hissed as Mae laid her down. “Need to shift, need to sleep, heal.”
“I don’t think it’s safe to sleep with the way you’re acting.” Mae went silent.
Closing her eyes, Kass took in the silence and cursed Mae’s gap in shifter knowledge. As a panther, Kass knew she could handle much more damage. Her eyes shot open and she tried to sit up as the air shifted and Lucius’ power filled the room. “Damn it,Mae,” she snapped.
Lucius knelt by her, putting a hand on her chest to keep her down. “I leave you and you get torn up.”
“Wouldn’t have happened if I could shift.” Kass grumbled, her panther calm and sleeping now. “Could have kicked his ass.” The darkness threaded through her vision, starting in lines and then bleeding out. Lucius voice sounded miles away in the darkness.
“He shouldn’t have been near her.”
Jax crossed her mind as she gave into the bleak abyss that called to her.
Lucius is right, he shouldn’t have been near me....
Jaxon leaned back in the ugly upholstered chair, bored by the lack of people in the hotel lobby this time of night. With no innocent humans standing by he could understand why his client wanted to meet here. He crossed his arms and closed his eyes as his mind drifted back to Kass. Her red hair glinting in the moonlight, her blue eyes holding unyielding rage, and the slender curves of her body against his when he pressed her up against the wall. His body and his panther stirred as the memory caused him to take a sharp intake of air.
Someone cleared their throat and Jax opened one eye.
“You located her,” the male in front of him stated. He towered over Jax, dark auburn hair hung in front of his green eyes and his over muscled arms bulged as he crossed them. “What you failed to mention was that she was protected by vampires.”
Jax shifted in his seat. Lucius had been an unforeseen obstacle in the plain, but he hadn’t told his clients about the vampire yet. “He was a surprise to me. You said she was taken by vampires, not that she was under the protection of the territory ruler.”
“Lucius owns her, beast, body and soul. She doesn’t realize it, but she can walk away from him and come back to us. We can protect her.” He smirked. “Garrett went to go talk to her tonight, after you left her at the bar.”
Jax raised a brow. “I thought I smelt another panther following me. She’s not interested in leaving Lucius, I can tell you that now.” His panther paced beneath the surface, threatened by the other male and uneasy about the idea of Kassity returning to them. “You said that even though he owns her, she can walk away?”
No change in breathing, no change in his body at all, and he kept eye contact.
“And you can protect her?” Jax asked, leaning forward in his chair.
The man nodded. “We are capable of it.”
Jax noted the wording but shrugged it off. “Then why is she with Lucius?”
“The other vampire must have taken her there. He tricked her into staying with them and now that he’s dead she can leave. We told you that.”
Jax’s panther growled as the man mentioned another male in Kass’ life. “Who killed the male?”
“Lucius.” He shrugged. “Kass would be able to find a proper mate if she returned home.”
Jax’s heart skipped a beat. A proper mate, him, his panther. He tried to hide the smile the crossed his face. “It’ll be easier for me to get her than any of you guys. I’m already established in the territory.”
“Good, I’ll let Sarah know that you’ll bring Kass in.”
Sarah, another female panther. Jax crinkled his nose. “I thought it was your father looking for Kass, not your mother.”
“Sarah is our sister, our mother was killed over twenty years ago. She is going by my father’s orders, he has other things to worry about back home. Our clan is affected by the war as well, you know.”
“I didn’t, I don’t have a clan so really the war doesn’t bother me. No one I love is involved with it.” But there was a voice in his mind that whispered Kass was involved, working for Lucius as his killer.
The male in front of him laughed. “Once we get this sorted, maybe you can join our clan, we need people who aren’t blood. Variety is good.”
“If Kass is there and safe, that might not be a bad idea.” Jax mumbled, looking away from the male, watching as a human approached the check in desk. “I will try to get her away from the vampires before the next full moon. We will have to teach her control again though, Lucius stripped her of it.”
The male rubbed his chin. “Interesting.” He held his hand out. “It was good to meet with you Jaxon, I look forward to getting my sister back safe. Family is all we have.”
Jax shook the bigger man’s hand and nodded. “I’ll see what I can do for you.” As he watched his client leave the lobby Jax couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that caused his stomach to clench and his panther to pace.
Running, always running. Trees rushed passed her as her paws moved silently across the forest ground. Her paws pressed into the soft dirt, leaving prints that would be easy to track, but she needed to try and escape. She could hear the snarls and growls of the others behind her, seeking to punish her. The taste of blood from the last deer coated her tongue, soothing the starvation pains in her stomach and calming her anger, putting even her human-self at ease. Her two brothers hunted her to return her to their father so she could receive punishment for eating the last meal available on the property. She snarled as one blindsided her, slamming her into a tree.
Kass opened her eyes to see Lucius’ black ones staring back at her.
“Stay with me, kitty, you’re hurt bad this time.”
She raised a hand to her head with a groan. “I’ll heal, let me shift, please?”
“Not right now, your panther is too angry.” He pulled tight on the bandage around her leg, adding to the pressure on the wounds there. “Had to send Mae back to the mansion because she wanted to feed from you. What the fuck were you thinking, fighting that panther?” The pain grounded her a bit, letting her focus.
Kass leaned her head to the side as the room spun. She took a few deep breaths as her stomach threatened to empty itself. “Didn’t know he was out there.” Her vision started fading again. “No, no, no.” She grumbled as the blackness pulled her down.
Human form now, a silver collar around her neck, the pain threaded through her muscles and bones as her father tortured her. He tried to call her beast, knowing that it would not come while she was wearing that collar. “Feel it, Kassity?” The way he said her name made her sick, drawing it out as if it was foreign. “She wants out to kill me, for the pain that you’re in.”
She raised her eyes, her jaw clenched as her muscles seized, trying to shift. “Can’t say I blame her.” She wouldn’t beg, she never begged him. She endured anything that he threw at her. Her head whipped to the side as the door clicked open and her brothers stalked in, all in panther form. She tugged against the wall, panic climbing through her as she saw the look of malice in their eyes.
“Kass, Kassity, keep talking.” The way Lucius said her name reminded her of her father.
She blinked up at him. “Hit my head pretty hard, it’s healing though, pain is fading.”
“That’s good, tell me what happened, which brother was it?” He tore the rest of her shirt away so he could examine the already healing claw marks there.
She frowned. “How’d you know that it was one of my brothers?”
“Who else would attack you? It wasn’t Jax, it’s not his scent.” He traced a hand over the wounds, causing a whimper to come out of her mouth. “No new scars, you’re lucky, he cut you deep. Now, which one?”
“Garret.” She whispered, her eyes shutting of their own accord.
The soft singing brought her back from the pain, the brush of a cold hand smoothed her sweat soaked hair away from her eyes. She looked up and met Sarah’s brown eyes. When had she come back from school? Kass tried to sit up, but Sarah held her down.
“You’re hurt again. Picking fights at the clubs?”
Kass knew this argument and knew how her brothers lied to her sister. “Yeah, you know me, taking on guys twice my size.” She whispered and a pain formed in her chest as she lied to her sister. Never taking a panther form allowed Sarah the freedom Kass wanted. Needed.
“Well, you’ve got your big sister here now. No more fighting.” Sarah’s smiled, “Mother would never approve of you fighting.”
But their mothers weren’t the same. Kass rolled over, keeping her head in Sarah’s lap. “Some days I don’t have a choice.” She whispered, closing her eyes.
Kass jumped when freezing cold water flooded over her. She landed in a crouch, her eyes searching the empty room for her attacker.