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The Awakening: Britton
By Abby Niles, Nina Bruhns, Robin Haseltine
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Abby Niles
All rights reserved.
Carnal Ridge, North Carolina
"I would lick that man up one side and down the other."
Detective Val Calhoun tightened her grip on the pen and prayed for patience with her coworker. Not that these types of comments were anything new. If it wasn't Raquel making some sort of off-color remark about the supposed living god who frequented SPAC — the Shifter Protection and Concealment side of the Carnal Ridge police station — it was Nancy, or Jean, or Tammy ...
Women really could be just as bad as men.
"I'd pay good money to see that man out of uniform," Raquel continued. "I bet his abs are to die for." She snapped her fingers. "What are the chances we could get a calendar made for charity? One with him as January through December. I'd bet we'd make a killing at it."
No doubt they would. It wasn't just the women at the PD who had fallen under Officer Britton Townsend's spell, it was the entire Carnal Ridge female population. It was sickening to watch.
Either way, Raquel's comments meant only one thing. He'd walked into the department and ogle-the-hottie time had commenced. Val would just have to suffer through it until he left.
"January would be nothing but snow and him in a scarf ... Oh! And the summer! Girl, we'd get him under an outside shower on a sandy beach, water running down his body, hair slicked to his head." Raquel fanned herself. "Is it getting hot in here?"
"Just for you." And every other female ...
Raquel shot a perturbed look at Val. "There is something seriously wrong with you."
"Why? Because I don't share in the let's-lust-after-Officer-Townsend fun time?"
Raquel's plump lips pursed. "Mmm-hmm. You keep telling yourself that."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
But she'd already lost Raquel's attention as the half-shifter stared off to the other side of the department again and made an appreciative whew noise. "Damn. I'd like thirty minutes alone with that man."
"You can do better than him," Val muttered. She finished writing her notes, closed the file, then tossed it onto the growing stack sitting on the corner of her desk, refusing to glance in the direction that had Raquel so riveted.
"Oh, definitely. He's not the introduce-to-my-daddy type. He's the give-me a-rockin'-good-time-in-bed type." She sighed. "Those eyes. Have you seen anything like them?"
Unfortunately, no. Britton's dark looks, cocky attitude, and electric blue eyes were what made all the women's knees turn to mush. That, and his tight ass. The ultimate bad-boy persona. With the leather jacket to boot. And he played it up. With every woman he came into contact with.
Except her. Thank the Dea.
"It's like that gaze strips you naked every time he looks at you," Raquel said as she tucked a strand of auburn hair behind her ear and bit her lower lip.
Val made a blecking sound, and went to work on the next file that needed her attention.
"You look ravishing today, Raquel," a deep masculine voice purred. Val could just picture the tilted smirk on his face that made the women's ovaries scream.
Brit to the ones completely gaga over the blue-eyed devil.
Thankfully Val had been cured of such an idiotic notion long ago.
A giggle came from Raquel. A. Giggle. Val had to keep from snorting.
"You're looking mighty fine today too, Brit."
The desk wobbled, causing Val's pen to scribble a line across the paper. She ground her teeth, but didn't bother looking up. "Get off my desk, Townsend."
"You really could take some wardrobe lessons from Raquel here, Princess."
Taking a deep breath, she lifted her head, hating that her heart had the same reaction as every other woman he encountered — it fluttered. Every damn time she had the misfortune of crossing his path.
Pushing away the sensation, she met and held those mesmerizing ice-blue eyes made all the brighter by his olive complexion and jet-black hair and brows. His eyelashes were way too long for a man and only magnified the color of the irises.
All those good looks wasted on a douche bag.
She lifted her brow, going for bored as she tried not to notice how well he filled out his uniform.
"You're the last person I dress to impress, Townsend."
"Obviously. But one would think you'd put in a little more effort for some of the other men."
His put-down, as always, was her cure. Reminded her what a deplorable jerk he could be. Thank the Dea for that, or she'd be like all of the other vagis in this place — wet and throbbing.
Leaning her elbows on her desk, she cocked her head. "Think what you want, but I'm the one sitting behind this desk. Not you."
Her comment had the intended effect. Anger tightened his normally smirky lips as his jaw clenched.
She suppressed a smile. You want a fight. I'll give you a fight.
"At least we know you didn't sleep your way to the top."
"Nope. Just took the job from an incompetent jerk."
Raquel gave a little squeak of horror. "Jeez, Val."
Go figure. He was the biggest dick of the century, and all Raquel could see was Val being mean to the hottie.
She shrugged. "The truth hurts."
And she wouldn't lie. She got great satisfaction from watching Britton shake with fury. Which he was. Quivering with it. She fought another smile. And in three ... two ... one ...
Britton spun and stalked out of the department.
"Why do you do that?" There was no mistaking the frustration in her coworker's voice. "He's so pretty to look at, and you always chase him off."
"He started it."
"Did you ever think maybe there's a reason for that? Most of us here are just waiting for the two of you to explode in a fit of lust."
Shocked, Val spun on Raquel. "Have you lost your mind? Britton Townsend is the last man on this planet I would invite into my bed, and I'm pretty sure he feels the exact same way about me."
"Whatever you say. I just know that watching you two go at it has become everyone's favorite show." She leaned closer. "We have a pool going, you know?"
"What the — A pool?" Val gave a short, sarcastic snort and shook her head. "You guys need to get a life. Seriously. Betting on when Britton and I will hook up is a complete waste of money. Because it's never going to happen."
"Oh, it's going to happen. That much passion can't be contained."
"Passion? It's called loathing, Raquel."
"Sure it is. Anyway, I've given you a month. Just hold out that long, okay? An extra four hundred bucks would buy that gorgeous Coach clutch I've been drooling over."
Without waiting for a reply, Raquel sauntered off. Val stared after her. Four hundred dollars? She worked with a bunch of crazies. As if she and Britton would ever hook up. She couldn't stand the pompous ass. Yeah ... so there was a little jolt of attraction. No matter what Britton thought, she was a red-blooded woman and he was hot. But that was as far as it went. His foul mouth ensured that.
She glanced over to see Detective Roy Brastic hastening toward her. His handsome face was set in a pensive, pinched look that immediately set off warning bells. She straightened. "What's up?"
When he stopped at her desk, he leaned down and whispered, "Elder Harwood and Councilman Seeder are here. They want you to meet them in the conference room."
What would cause the elder and his second in command to come to her? She was usually summoned to come to them. Normally, members of the High Council steered clear of SPAC, not wanting to draw attention to their secret division inside the homicide unit at Carnal Ridge PD. The human detectives didn't have a clue they were working side-by-side with several shifters, and everyone wanted to keep it that way.
Roy gave her a concerned glance that reflected how she felt. "Something's up. Something bad."
Yeah, it was.
Inhaling, Val pushed to her feet and made her way to the conference room where they usually spread out evidence on complex cases.
What could've pushed the councilmen to come all the way down here? Things had been pretty quiet. Shifter crime had stayed shifter business and hadn't collided with the human world.
Almost four years ago, Elder Harwood had flown up to Jersey and offered her the head position here in Carnal Ridge to replace Britton. Since then, she'd dedicated her life to covering up any shifter involvement in human cases. She then arrested the perps to face the High Council's judgment, which was based on rigid laws created thousands of years ago to ensure that their existence would never become known to humans.
To say the least, her curiosity was piqued at the two councilmen's sudden appearance.
After she walked in and closed the door behind her, she turned to find Councilman Seeder pacing the room, his hands clasped behind his back. Her tension spiked. Being the second in command, Seeder was typically the calmer of the two. On the other hand, Elder Harwood, who always had an air of authority about him, sat in a chair with his elbow resting on the table, his mouth cupped in his palm, staring at the wall — as though his world were imploding around him.
Since Harwood controlled the shifter world, nothing she was about to hear could be good. "Councilmen, you wished to see me?"
The elder gave a start before glancing up at her. "Calhoun. Yes." He waved his hands toward the glass windows. "Get the shades, would you?"
The ominous feeling inside growing, she swallowed. After she went to the window, she met Roy's concerned gaze as she twisted the blinds closed. Taking a steadying breath, she turned. "What can I do for you?"
"There's been an event —"
"An event!" Seeder burst out, his lanky frame shaking. "This is not an event. This is a catastrophe!"
"David," Harwood said between clenched teeth. "You need to calm down."
"Calm down? I told you this would happen. The entire council told you. But you didn't listen. You caused this, and now we are all in jeopardy because of it."
"I have a position to uphold."
"You have a species to protect, which you are failing miserably at."
As fascinating as it was to watch two councilmen going at it — they never showed friction in public — she wasn't getting any closer to the reason they were here. "What happened?"
Seeder exhaled harshly before yanking out a chair and slumping in it. "World Shifters has been breached. Samantha Mills's son has been taken."
"Holy. Shit." Not a very professional response, but in all her years in law enforcement, nothing had ever shocked her more. World Shifters was a living facility for the children who suffered from the shifter mutation — a genetic defect within the shifting genes. Typically shifters did not shift for the first time until their eighteenth birthday, which gave the human side time to establish dominance over the animal side. With the mutation, the beast could control the shift from the second the baby wailed its way into life. The result was a child capable of shifting at any moment into an animal that couldn't be controlled. Temper tantrums could be deadly. "When?"
"A little over an hour ago. They set off small explosives as decoys. Enough to cause some chaos within the compound. Then they got into Charlie's dorm and blew out the wall so they could escape. It was over within minutes."
She pulled out a chair and sat. "Who took responsibility?"
"No one yet. But this arrived about twenty minutes ago." Harwood slid over a yellow package. After retrieving her gloves from her pocket and slipping them on, she took out the note.
The council has until 4:00 p.m. Sunday to release Samantha Mills and revise the current laws on mutated shifters. If you do not comply with these demands, we will make shifters known to the human world by introducing it to Charlie.
Having a hard time believing what she was reading, she reread the missive. The Samantha Mills conviction had been a sore spot within the shifter community for the last six months. After the mother had been arrested for hiding her mutated child instead of registering him with the council — as strictly required by shifter law — everyone knew she would suffer some kind of consequences for her decision. She had put both the shifter and human communities at risk — but life in prison? Life? All because she hadn't wanted to be separated from her child and only allowed to see him once a year on his birthday? The council's verdict had been a turning point in a lot of younger shifters' and half-shifters' attitudes toward the council, churning up waves of frustration and anger at its perceived heartlessness. Protests had run rampant, but they had all been peaceful, held within shifter law. This ... this kidnapping and extortion was unimaginable, and put everyone at risk — in a far worse way than Samantha ever had.
At least the perpetrators were giving the High Council a week to comply with their demands.
The time frame showed they understood that revising the laws couldn't happen overnight. It wouldn't happen overnight. For the kidnappers to get what they wanted, the High Council would have to exhaust all other options first.
Which meant these people knew she would be coming for them.
"There's more," Seeder warned.
The elder slid an iPad across the table. "A reminder about what's at stake — as if we needed one."
A video was already loaded. She touched the play button in the middle of the screen. A little four-year-old towheaded boy was sitting off by himself on the leaf-covered ground. Trees surrounded him. There was no sound from anyone other than the little boy asking if he could see his mommy now, saying over and over that he missed her, and that Gina said his mommy wouldn't be able to visit him for a very long time.
At the sorrow in the child's voice, she clenched her teeth against the anger — and guilt — that swelled inside her. From the get-go, she'd hated this case. Hated her part in it. But her job was to uphold shifter law, and Samantha Mills had broken it.
On the video the child's body began to shake, and a split second later, his clothes shredded around an emerging wolf twice the size of the boy. The animal bared its teeth, growling, then leaped off-screen. A scream came from the background, snarling, gnashing. More screams.
"Can't get him to change ... Tranquilize him ...," a voice called.
The video ended.
Val laid the iPad on the table and rubbed her forehead. Unfortunately, tranquilizing children when their beast became aggressive was the only way to stop that kind of situation from escalating to something far worse — to keep the victim, or the child, from being killed.
She was trying to find words, but was having a hell of a time coming up with anything. If humans saw an event like the one depicted in the video, they would never believe shifters were safe to live among — which had a ring of truth to it. Normal shifters were as safe as any human. Mutated shifters, especially children with no control over their beast, were potentially very dangerous.
Children like Charlie. The bastards had played this smart by picking an innocent child who would easily capture hearts with his sweet smile, but who could then shift into a raging, snarling animal without warning.
On top of that, the fact that the boy was a flipping wolf instead of another, less savage, animal would feed into every werewolf horror movie humans had ever seen and cause mass pandemonium. A witch hunt would ensue. And when the humans started to realize that there was no way to identify a half shifter, especially because the females were beastless, the panic, accusations, and reprisals would only get worse.
"So what's the plan?" she finally asked.
"For you to find and arrest whoever did this," Harwood said.
Yeah, she'd already figured that.
Seeder pressed his lips tight and shook his head.
"I take it you don't agree with that order, Councilman Seeder?" Val asked.
"The entire shifter community knows it is time for reform when it comes to mutant law. Elder Harwood is the only fool who can't see it, but he holds all the power."
True. Nothing could be changed without Harwood's signature. Taking mutant children from their parents because they refused to acknowledge how dangerous their children really were was just one of many archaic laws the council refused to alter. Val personally thought it was time for a clean sweep of the entire council, but it didn't work like that. High Council positions had been passed down from the founding fathers to their firstborn children, and down through the generations. When Harwood died, his daughter would become the newest member. However, the elder title would pass on to the next oldest shifter — Councilman Seeder. A few months ago, this wouldn't have brought any change within their community, but the councilman's sudden change in opinion surprised her.
Excerpted from The Awakening: Britton by Abby Niles, Nina Bruhns, Robin Haseltine. Copyright © 2013 Abby Niles. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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