Livy Kowalski has no time for idiots. When you shapeshift into a honey badger, getting through life’s irritants is a finely honed skill. Until she gets stuck housing her nutso cousin and dealing with her dad’s untimely and unexplained demise.
That’s where Vic Barinov comes in—or his house does. Vic can’t step outside without coming back to find Livy devouring his honey stash and getting the TV remote sticky. It gets his animal instincts all riled up. But he’ll have to woo her at high speed: all hell is breaking loose, and Livy is leading the charge…
Praise for Shelly Laurenston and The Pride series
“Hot and humorous.” USAToday.com
“Incredibly funny…full of sarcasm, uppity shape shifters, and lots of smexy time in between kicking arse, Bite Me introduces a new breed of shapeshifters whose antics will leave you wide-eyed and rolling on the ground.” SmexyBooks
“Hilarious, sexy fun. The dialogue is smart and funny, and at times outrageously shocking.” –Heroes & Heartbreakers
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The Pride Series
By Shelly Laurenston
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Shelly Laurenston
All rights reserved.
Livy Kowalski blew out a breath when the battling females landed hard on top of the casket.
Livy's father was in that casket. And it was her father's sister and Livy's mother busy fighting on top of it.
Her cousin Jake leaned in and whispered, "Like watching a somber and ancient grieving ceremony with the Windsor family, isn't it?"
Thank God Jake was here. She didn't know if she could have faced this nightmare without him.
No. Not the death of her father, but dealing with her family. Then again, this was how they mourned. Although why they all seemed so surprised by her father's death, Livy didn't know. Damon Kowalski was not exactly known for his quiet, even-tempered ways. He was a thief, a liar, a brawler, an instigator, and a drinker. Not just a drinker, but a honey badger drinker. Her father drank liquor spiked with different snake poisons. Poisons that would kill most humans unless they were treated immediately with antivenin—and sometimes not even then—but for HBs they merely caused a ridiculous high and intense hunger.
Most of Livy's kind just kept their venom intake to the rattler family, but her father had actually tried the more odious poison-spiked beers and tequila, like Black Mamba or the Puff Adder.
And, sadly, her father hadn't been right since the first time he drank that swill, going from a verbose, sometimes annoying thief to a downright bastard of a human being.
It had become so bad that, eventually, even Livy's mother refused to put up with him. She'd thrown him out of their Washington State home and eventually divorced him, but the connection between her parents had always been ... ridiculous. Because no matter how much they argued, no matter how many times they threw things at each other, or threatened each other with the murder of whomever they might be dating at the moment, there were two things the pair did well together—sex and stealing.
Livy's parents made a great team when it came to stealing, and money was king to the honey badger shifter. Because money allowed them to pursue their off-putting lifestyle without worries as well as purchase extremely robust and necessary health insurance—plastic surgery for scarring could be costly these days.
And, it turned out, money also allowed for even more robust life insurance that Livy's aunt didn't think Livy's mother had a right to, considering her parents had been divorced since Livy was fifteen. Sadly, Livy's mother didn't agree with that logic since she'd been the one paying the premiums on that insurance for the last twenty years, always guessing that she'd easily outlive Damon Kowalski. Even if that meant killing him herself.
Even worse, this particular issue came to a head at Damon's graveside. Not appropriate for most people during a funeral, but honey badgers ... well, "appropriate" was relative when it came to Livy's kind.
Livy looked around at the rest of her relatives, wondering if some of her uncles or cousins would break her mother and aunt apart—but they were too busy watching ... and drinking ... and bickering among themselves.
"So you're still hanging around with her, huh?"
Livy glanced over her shoulder at "her."
Toni Jean-Louis Parker, in her mourning best, gave Livy a little wave and an encouraging smile. That smile said, "You can get through this!" Livy hoped her friend was right.
But Toni wasn't here for Livy on her own. There was also Toni's parents, Jackie and Paul. Sadly, Toni's brother Cooper and Toni's sister Cherise were on tour in Europe. They were brilliant musicians who got a lot of money to perform for sold-out audiences. Their sixteen-year-old sister Oriana was training—and soon to perform—with the Royal Ballet in England. Twelve-year-old Kyle was studying art in Italy. Tenyearold Troy was getting his master's in math ... or science ... one of those. Livy never really knew or cared. Eight-year-old Freddy was getting his bachelor's in theoretical physics and, in his off time, creating video games that were seriously fun. The youngest brother, six-year-old Dennis, was studying architecture; and the three-year-old twins, Zia and Zoe, were busy learning the many dialects of most of the world's major languages while terrorizing their nanny by just being themselves.
Oh. And there was nineteen-year-old Delilah, but no one really talked about her much. She was currently running a cult in Upstate New York that saw her as their messiah. She and her cult were also making the federal government kind of nervous, but the family liked to pretend that wasn't happening.
And no, Livy wasn't a blood relative of the Jean-Louis Parkers. They were jackals, after all. In the wild, their kind were enemies. Then again, HBs were enemies to ... well ... everyone. Lions. Hyenas. Leopards. Beekeepers. Beekeepers really hated their kind, but only because one didn't find grizzly bears on the African plains. Yet the fact that Livy wasn't blood had never mattered to the Jean-Louis Parkers. As far as they were concerned, she was family, which was why Toni had left her job in Manhattan and come with Livy to watch Livy's mother deck her ex-husband's younger sister while scuffing up the steel casket of her ex-husband.
Jake looked Livy over. "Where is it?"
"Your camera. I don't think I've ever seen you without it."
Livy shrugged. "Seemed wrong to bring my camera to my father's funeral," she lied.
"You brought it to our great-aunt's funeral in Poland. Won awards for the pictures you took, if I remember correctly."
"I think the novelty of it won that award. You don't see a lot of knife fights break out at the funerals of hundred-and-eight-year-old women."
Jake glanced back at Toni again. "I have to admit, she's gotten really cute."
"She's got a mate now."
"Really? Too bad."
"Mates complicate things."
Livy shrugged. "Never did for my parents."
"Now, now ..." He motioned to Livy's mother and their aunt busy slapping each other like they were on an old episode of Dynasty. "Clearly your mom is going through her own form of mourning over her mate."
Vic Barinov waited with his back to the wall. And while he waited, he thought about food. He was hungry.
Thankfully, he knew of at least two good steakhouses in this Albanian city. One catered to all shifters and the other specifically to bears. There were a lot of bears in Eastern Europe, some of the biggest in Ukraine and Siberia.
Unfortunately, Vic wouldn't be able to have something to eat until he got this done. And he'd already been standing by this wall for the last three hours. But Vic had lots of patience. He could lie in wait for days, if necessary. Yet that sort of thing hadn't been necessary since he'd stopped working for the U.S. government. He'd left suddenly, fed up with all the politics, but at the time, he wasn't sure what he'd do with the rest of his life to ensure he could pay his bills, especially his food bill, which could be quite substantial.
Freelance work, however, had worked out better than he could have hoped. And being a crossbreed—grizzly bear and Siberian tiger—had, for once, been to his benefit. Plus his ability not only to speak eight different languages, including Russian, Polish, German, and Albanian, but to know and understand the culture of most of these nations, kept the money rolling in, and for the first time in a long time, Vic was beginning to feel his life had some stability. It was nice.
Ears twitching, Vic heard the sound of heavy panting. He lifted his head, sniffed the air. Scented the full-human running down the street toward him.
Vic waited until the panting was right beside him, then ...
Reaching out, Vic caught hold of his target's neck and yanked him into the alley.
Feet still running, arms still pumping, his target hadn't even realized he was no longer touching the ground.
Vic held him like that until the local police charged past. Once he was sure they were gone, he lowered his target to the ground but kept hold of the man's neck. By now, the target had realized he was no longer running from the police. He briefly seemed relieved by that, until he was forced to drop his head back in order to see Vic's face.
"Oh ... Victor. Hello."
"There are people looking for you, Bohdan."
"Don't hand me over to them, Victor," Bohdan begged while trying to twist out of Vic's grasp. "You know what they'll do to me."
"I don't know anything. Except that people are looking for you."
Vic pushed away from the wall, Bohdan still in his hand.
"Wait! Wait! I have information. Information you'll want."
"I don't need any information."
"What about Whitlan?"
Vic stopped moving, eyes narrowing on Bohdan's desperate face. "Lying to me won't help you, little man," Vic growled in Russian.
"I'm not lying."
Bohdan pointed at Vic's hand, which was still around Bohdan's neck. "Little tight."
"And it can get much tighter. Don't make me show you how much."
Bohdan's eyes widened in panic, which was kind of sad, because Vic really wasn't putting any effort into what he was doing. If he did, he could pulverize the bones in Bohdan's neck. These full-humans ... so breakable.
"Talk, little man."
"Packages sent in and out of country from Whitlan."
Vic frowned. "How do you know they were from Whitlan? They could have been from anybody."
"I saw him. I saw Frankie Whitlan."
Now Vic smirked. "You? You saw Frankie Whitlan? A man no one has seen in more than two years?"
"No one has seen him in America, maybe. But he is friend to many in Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria ..."
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"No. But I was in warehouse that day. Big boxes he sent out. He wanted to make sure everything perfect. He sent them on boat."
"All over. But I know that at least one went to Miami."
"And who helped him ship these boxes?"
Now Bohdan smirked. "I like my throat without big slash across it, Victor Barinov."
That was fair enough. Most likely Whitlan had gotten himself involved with mobsters who'd tear someone like Bohdan apart for no other reason than they were bored.
Vic opened his hand and Bohdan dropped to the ground, landing on his knees with a grunt.
"You won't regret this, Victor Barinov," Bohdan said, grinning widely and rubbing his throat. "I knew I could help!"
Vic stepped over Bohdan and walked out of the alley. He stopped at the curb, pulling his phone out of his pocket. While he speed-dialed a number, he saw a few of the local police running back toward the alley, still searching for Bohdan.
Vic pointed into the alley and the officers nodded their thanks before charging in and taking Bohdan down. It was a loss of some easy cash for Vic, but the information he'd received about Whitlan was much more important.
"Yeah?" he heard on the other end of the phone. Dee-Ann Smith of the Smith Pack was not what one would call a chatty She-wolf. Or friendly.
"I've got information," he said cryptically, not willing to put too much detail out over the air. But he didn't need to say Whitlan's name to Dee-Ann. Frankie Whitlan was the most wanted full-human in shifter history. All three major organizations were trying to track him down and execute him for participating in and running expeditions to hunt shifters. But the man had the uncanny ability to disappear. Or he had some very powerful people protecting him. Whatever it was, the Group—the American shifter protection agency; Katzenhaus Securities—the feline protection organization—also called KZS; and the Bear Preservation Council—the worldwide bear protection organization—also called BPC, simply could not track the man down. All they needed was a location so they could send in either Dee-Ann Smith or KZS's sharpshooter Cella Malone to take him out. But after several years, they'd been unable to lock on the guy.
"When can you get back here?" she asked.
"I'll get the first plane out."
The call disconnected and Vic continued moving down the Albanian street toward his rental car.
"Where are we going?" a voice said behind Vic.
"Back to the States."
Vic stopped walking, faced the shifter behind him. Shen Li smiled at Vic around the short bamboo stalk he had in his mouth.
"I don't need you to come with me."
"Were you planning on leaving me in Albania?"
Shen, a giant panda born and raised in San Francisco, had a specific set of skills that Vic used for some jobs. They were longtime colleagues who'd worked for the government together. Now that both were doing freelance work, Vic brought Shen in as needed. But Vic didn't think Shen was needed for this.
"You can get back on your own, can't you?"
"Don't speak Albanian. You do."
"Oh. Right. Okay. Well then, sure. You can come with me."
The pair started off again in silence, except for the seemingly never-ending sound of Shen chewing on his bamboo stalks.
"So what's our next job?" Shen asked and Vic stopped again.
He faced Shen. "You do understand we're not partners, right?"
"It's easier for me to work alone and call you in when I need you."
Shen chewed and chewed while his dark brown eyes gazed at Vic.
And this was the problem with being a hybrid. Vic's bear side had no issue with the staring and the silence and the bamboo-munching. The feline side of him, however ... wanted to tear Shen's face off. Just for that damn munching sound alone.
Working extremely hard, Vic reined in his feline tendencies and suggested, "Why don't we talk about this at another time? We need to get our stuff from the hotel and find the first plane out of here."
"Okie-dokie!" Shen walked off, and in an attempt to get control, Vic shook his head a bit, the feline snarl out of the back of his throat before he could stop it. The few full-humans walking by quickly gave him a wide berth ... and he couldn't remotely blame them for it.
Calm and controlled again, Vic followed Shen to the rental car and, eventually, back to the States.
"How's it going?" Toni asked as she handed Livy a dark German beer.
Livy had insisted Toni's parents not attend the after-funeral get-together at her parents' house. The Jean-Louis Parkers were such nice people, it wouldn't be fair. But nothing would deter Antonella. She was determined to be part of the entire, horrifying ride.
Livy took the cap off her beer with her hand, yawned, took a drink, shrugged. "Fine."
"That bad, huh?"
"It could be worse."
"You're at your father's funeral—"
"I'm sure he was killed for a very good reason."
"—your mother is fighting with his entire family over money—"
"In her mind, the fact that she didn't kill him herself means she earned that money."
"—someone unleashed poisonous snakes in the backyard—"
"For the kids to have something to play with."
"—and your father's mistress just showed up."
Livy turned and watched the tall Serbian supermodel strut through the hallway toward Livy's mother. She wore all black, including a black fur stole, and black six-inch Louboutin shoes. Livy's mother spotted her instantly, and without saying a word, she was suddenly surrounded by her sisters and female cousins.
"Cool," Livy muttered. "Fight."
"You can't let your mother fight her."
"She probably won't. But my aunt Teddy will definitely take her on. Because I'm pretty sure before she started dating my dad, that model was dating one of Teddy's sons. And you know how Teddy is about"—Livy dropped her voice and put on her best Polish accent—" 'my beautiful, beautiful boys. They are from God, no?' "
Toni shook her head. "I swear, your entire family is like an episode of Dallas."
"I was thinking more like Dynasty, but without the shoulder pads. My people do not need shoulder pads."
Livy watched her mother—birth name Chuntao Yang; American name she'd chosen when she was nine and just moved to the States, Joan—stand her ground as the last woman Livy's father had been sleeping with walked up to her.
Toni rubbed her nose and stated very quietly, "She's fullhuman."
"That was his kink."
"I mean, Livy, she's full-human."
Livy shrugged, watching as her mother leaned in and whispered something to the woman. "Then I suggest we not let her in the backyard."
Whatever her mother said, it must have been a doozy, because the woman leaned back, then hauled off and slapped Joan across the face, snapping the She-badger's head to one side.
Excerpted from Bite Me by Shelly Laurenston. Copyright © 2014 Shelly Laurenston. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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