Believed dead by his Pack mates, Micah Chase, a wolf shifter and Dreamwalker, was held captive for months, subject to tortures that left him physically scarred and emotionally unsettled.
Now under the care of the Alpha Pack’s doctors, he’s been prescribed an experimental healing drug, but he still can’t shake the nightmares. Even more damning is that Micah’s problems pose a danger to his team, and if he doesn’t get himself under control, they’ll all suffer a terrible fate.
There is a key to his salvation. Jacee is a beautiful coyote shifter, and though her kind is hated, she’s falling in love with a man whose very future is in her hands. Together they’ll face his personal demons as well as a deadly enemy—and for both of them desire has never come with such risk.
*Dark Faerie Tales
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Every night, Micah Chase battled the monsters in his dreams.
The ones responsible for his captivity and torture. The ones who did terrible things to him—forced him to do things—that made him wish he was dead. And each day, he awoke to the increasing reality that the nightmares about his hellish time in captivity weren’t simply products of a tormented and cracked mind.
They were memories.
Worms, churning up the rot in his soul, filling him with self-loathing. Hatred. Yeah, he’d liked it much better back when he couldn’t remember a fucking thing.
Pushing himself out of bed, he walked into the bathroom, feeling far older than his twenty-nine years. The Alpha Pack had been called out yesterday to eliminate a nest of goblins—how the holy fucking hell had those little bastards gotten through the portal from the Unseelie realm, anyways?—and his body was covered in scratches and bruises from their nasty little claws and teeth. He should’ve healed by now.
That he hadn’t was cause for yet another worry in a very long list of them.
In the bathroom, he studied his ruined face in the mirror. He’d taken his good looks for granted once. Before he had been tortured like a lab rat, made to scream in agony and beg for death. The dark eyes that stared back were dull, hollow with pain and mental exhaustion. Dark brown hair, once shiny and full, hung to his shoulders, limp and lifeless as his gaze. But it was the sight of his face that hurt most of all.
The left side was perfect. A reminder of how truly naive he’d once been to the evil in the world, to what one being was capable of doing to another. The left side, however, was a mess of scars, like melted candle wax had been poured from his forehead to run down over his brow, then down his cheek and neck. In reality it had been molten silver, splashed onto his face as he’d been held down, screaming.
“You’ll do what you’re told next time, dirty wolf! Isn’t that right?”
“No! Stop, please!”
“He still hasn’t learned.” Eyes burning with manic light, Dr. Bowman flicked a hand at an assistant. “Again.”
Shaking his head to clear the horrid scene from his brain, Micah gripped the sink and thought bitterly how books and movies didn’t always get it right. While he’d healed, his wolf shifter’s DNA hadn’t been able to rid him of the terrible scars.
But maybe it was fitting that the outside matched the inside.
Ignoring the throbbing in his head, he turned on the water in the shower and let it get hot before stepping into the stall. For a few minutes he stood and enjoyed the spray beating down, soothing his tired, abused muscles. It did little to ease the pain in his head, however. In fact, the throb ramped up to a sharp stab behind his left eye that left him breathless, and warmth gushed from his nose.
He swiped his hand underneath his nose, then stared at the blood. There was more this time, the bleeding heavier. It would stop, though. Always did.
Tilting his head back, he let the spray wash the blood away until the flow ceased. Then he finished his shower and stepped out, toweling off. In the bedroom, he dressed in jeans and a plain black T-shirt, then pulled on his black boots, sliding his big knife into the right one. Typically he went light on weapons when he and the guys weren’t out on a call. But he couldn’t always shift into his wolf, especially in public, and it never hurt to be prepared.
As he straightened, his gaze found the small pill bottle resting on the dresser. He hated being dependent on that shit, so leaving it behind should be easy. Right? Yet the very thought of being in town, out in the field, or even across the compound, and not having it when the demons closed in? God, the idea made his hands shake and his heart race. Made him sweat.
Taking myst was like wrapping himself in a soft, warm blanket, chasing away the cold. The darkness. The stuff cocooned him in a layer of I-don’t-give-a-fuck, at least for a few blessed hours. Sweet relief.
Hating himself, he snatched the bottle with a curse and opened the lid, downed a couple pills, dry-swallowing them. Then he shoved the container into his front jeans pocket. Sucking in a deep breath, he let it out slowly and waited. Gradually, the medicine took effect and he felt the turmoil in his mind ease. His muscles relaxed, tension bleeding away.
There would be a price, though. Always was.
Leaving his quarters, he walked into the hallway and shut the door behind him. Everyone was probably at breakfast by now. The thought of eating made his stomach twist, but he didn’t want to be alone. Besides, acting normal, sticking to his routine, kept his buddies and his sister, Rowan, off his back. Mostly.
Fake it till you make it.
His boots shuffled on the carpeted floor as he made his way to his destination. Outside the dining room, he paused. The aromas of pancakes, bacon, and syrup simultaneously made his stomach rumble and stirred a flutter of nausea that rose in his throat. He was so hungry, he could have eaten a half-cooked goblin, but the side effects of the medicine prevented him from consuming much without getting sick. Another misery to add to the growing list.
“You gonna go eat or just stand there sniffing the air?”
Turning, he managed a grin for Nick Westfall, the Alpha Pack’s commander, and tried to ignore how the expression pulled strangely at the ruined side of his face. His boss was with his new mate, Calla Shaw, and the vampire princess was glowing. Nick appeared as proud and happy as any man would, being the reason for that glow—and the baby in her belly, which was several weeks along. Lucky bastard.
“Good morning,” Micah said, nodding to them both. “Princess, you look more beautiful every time I see you. How’re you feeling?”
“Thank you.” She smiled as her mate tugged her into his side possessively. “Other than some morning sickness when I first wake up, I’m doing well.”
“I’m glad to hear it. After you?” Stepping aside, he gestured for Nick and Calla to enter the dining room first. His attempt to avoid further conversation wasn’t as subtle as he’d thought, and Nick kissed his mate on the lips, hanging back.
“Go on ahead, sweetheart. I’ll be right there.”
“Okay.” She threw Micah a look of sympathy before proceeding inside.
Once she was gone, Micah tried to head Nick off. “I’m fine, so there’s no need to start in on me again. Really.”
“Is that so?” Nick’s sharp blue gaze pierced him like an ice pick. “I suppose that’s why your eyes are bloodshot and have circles under them so dark—it looks like you haven’t slept in a month. Or why your hands are shaking.”
Suddenly self-conscious, he looked away, fisting his hands to still them. “I’m okay, Nick. Just a little tired. The meds are helping.”
“From where I’m standing, I have to disagree.” The other man’s frown deepened. “But I realize now isn’t the time or place to get into a discussion. I want to talk to you after breakfast, in my office.”
Fucking fantastic. The commander was just concerned. Logically, Micah knew that, but it still sucked to be singled out and pinned down. Unreasonable anger churned in his gut, but he managed to nod. “Sure.”
Appearing satisfied with Micah’s answer, the commander left him. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, Micah walked into the dining room and cast about for a good place to sit. For damn sure not with his boss. He didn’t want to give the Seer more opportunity than necessary to poke around in his biz.
At one table, he spotted Noah Brooks, Sanctuary’s head nurse, sitting with Phoenix Monroe, one of Micah’s Pack bros. Noah was a smaller guy, slim, with short, messy blond hair and big blue eyes that he currently had trained on the tall, lithe man who would be his Bondmate—if only the dumbass would cooperate. But Nix refused to meet his mate halfway, had made it pretty clear to his teammates how uncomfortable he felt having a male for a mate, and it was obviously killing poor Noah and driving a wedge between the two. It took the anger already boiling in Micah’s blood and amplified it a few notches.
If I had someone who looks at me the way Noah looks at Nix? I’d jump for joy. Who cares if he’s a dude?
Self-consciously Micah touched his face. Yeah, like that would ever happen now.
Also sitting at the table were his sister and her mate, Aric Savage. As much as he wanted to sit down and find out what the hell was going on with Nix lately, he wanted to get grilled by Rowan even less. But it was too late. She’d already spotted him and was smiling, waving him over. With a sigh, he resigned himself to enduring the nosy woman’s scrutiny.
Taking a seat, he nodded a greeting to the group in general. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Morning,” Rowan said brightly, eyeing him. She was annoyingly fresh-faced and alert this morning, long dark brown hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yep,” he lied, reaching for the pancakes. “Like a baby on tranquilizers.”
“That’s funny, ’cause you sure don’t look like you did. In fact, you look terrible.”
He snapped before he thought to filter his mouth. “Why’d you ask the question when you already knew the answer? Or do you just enjoy giving me shit?”
Rowan frowned. “Jesus, Micah, ease up.”
Across from him, Aric shifted in his seat, a low growl of warning rumbling from his chest. No doubt Micah had pissed off the man, and the wolf within, something fierce. Inside Micah, his brown wolf stirred and growled right back, unwilling to back down.
The redhead’s voice was low and even as he spoke. “Your sister is just worried about you, like all of us are. No need to bite her head off.”
The men glared at each other and the moment stretched taut. But when he saw Rowan exchange a tense glance with Nix, and Noah’s eyes widen with trepidation, his anger popped like a soap bubble. The sun was barely up and he was already ruining people’s day.
“I’m sorry.” Guilt snaked through Micah. Remorse. He tried to soften his tone as he met his sister’s concerned gaze. “I just get tired of everybody analyzing my every move, that’s all. I’m fine.”
She didn’t believe him any more than he believed himself, but she wasn’t going to push the issue in front of their friends. He didn’t know if that made him feel better or not, especially when he caught Noah and Nix exchanging worried looks of their own.
Nope, he still felt like crap.
He got busy filling his plate, knowing he wouldn’t be able to eat half of it. Too late, he realized he should’ve taken less so the leftover amount wouldn’t be as noticeable. Still, he ate what he could, chewing slowly, willing the food to settle. The bacon, tasty as it was, sat like a greasy rock in his stomach, and he gave up on it after one piece.
Hoping to lighten the mood at the table, he addressed Noah. “So, how are things going over at Sanctuary?”
His question had the desired result, the nurse’s face breaking out in a big smile. Aside from Phoenix, the younger man’s job at the new building in the Pack’s compound helping to heal and rehabilitate injured and sick paranormal beings was his favorite subject.
“It’s going pretty good,” Noah said with enthusiasm. “The recreation room on the top floor is done, and it looks awesome. We had a big-screen TV installed, and some big comfy chairs, books, magazines, and a couple of game tables, too. There’s also a juice bar, and some light workout equipment in another area.”
Noah was so animated, Micah couldn’t help but smile. “Wow. Sounds like you’ve all put in a lot of thought and work into the place.”
“We have. The new recreation area was needed for our patients who’ve healed enough that they need more to occupy themselves outside their rooms. It’s been a hit so far.”
“I’ll bet. Speaking of healing, how’s that tiger shifter who came in not long ago? What’s his name? He was pretty bad off.”
Noah’s expression sobered. “Leonidis. He’s still in rough shape. His family is taking turns staying at Sanctuary to be near him. He may make it, but we’re not sure yet about a full recovery.”
“Damn.” Micah shook his head. “I could never be a doctor or nurse. I admire what you guys are doing over there, putting broken guys like me back together.”
“You’re not broken,” Noah said softly.
Uh-oh. Here came the unwanted sympathy.
“Nah, you’re just cracked,” Nix put in, breaking the awkward moment before it could fully form.
Micah chuckled, and the others visibly relaxed, appearing relieved. Christ, did they really think he was that freaking fragile? “Cracked and superglued so tight I’m a damn work of art. Right, Noah?”
The nurse shook his head, but his lips were turned up in a small smile edged with concern. “Right.”
Quickly Micah took two last bites of his pancakes. Then, pushing his plate away, he stood, pasting on a cheerful grin. “Well, this has been fun. Gotta go check on my bike, so I’ll see you guys later.”
The others issued a round of good-byes, but Aric watched him with a narrow-eyed stare. Nothing got past the redheaded wolf, but he didn’t challenge Micah’s excuse as he turned to leave. As he started toward the exit, Micah saw that Nick was still finishing up breakfast and talking with his mate, so maybe he’d get some time to himself before the meeting with the commander.
On the heels of that thought, a loud tone pulsed through the air, startling everyone into silence. Micah halted briefly, his current troubles blown away like so much dust, for the time being. The alarm meant only one thing—the Alpha Pack had to take to the air, fast. No time for a team briefing. Nick would receive a call from his boss, General Jarrod Grant, stating the emergency situation that needed to be handled and the location. The commander had already risen from his seat and was on the move, putting his cell phone to his ear.
Micah, for one, couldn’t wait for the fight. Adrenaline coursed through his blood like fire.
He took off after Nick, his Pack brothers following suit. There was no time to dash back to their quarters. They ran outside, across the driveway, straight for the huge hangar that housed their land vehicles and aircraft to find their standby pilots already firing up two of the Hueys. Aric would pilot the third.
Some of the team armed themselves with weapons from the secure storage unit in the hangar, but aside from his knife, Micah didn’t bother. Honestly, his wolf was much stronger than his human half in a fight. And unlike most of the others, his particular Psy gift as a Dreamwalker wouldn’t help anyone much in battle—unless all the combatants suddenly fell asleep.
Not damn likely. Snorting to himself, he climbed onto Aric’s copter. If the man was flying, he couldn’t give Micah shit. Of course there was his sister to deal with, along with Sorcerer/Necromancer/black panther Kalen Black, Channeler/gray wolf Ryon Hunter, Hammer—aka former FBI agent John Ryder—and a watchful Nick.
The commander pulled out his cell phone, answering an incoming call with a greeting loud enough to be heard over the engine and whirling blades. “Jarrod, what’s going on?” After a brief conversation, he ended the call and keyed the handheld radio that would send his voice through their headsets.
“Got a bad situation fifty miles north, a panicked family under siege by what they described to the dispatcher at the sheriff’s office as large beasts with wings.” He let that sink in as the copter lifted into the air through the portal in the hangar’s roof, and several of the team cursed.
Micah almost choked. “Demons?”
“Demons are my best guess,” Nick confirmed for the benefit of those listening on units in the other helicopters. “We haven’t fought anything this lethal in a while. They’re going to make the goblins look like poodles. You guys ready?”
A chorus of Fuck yeah and We got this chimed in through the headsets, and Micah grinned in spite of the sliver of fear that send shards of ice sliding into his blood. Some things never changed. The Pack never backed down from an enemy. Never.
“Watch the fangs and claws,” Nick went on. “Their venom can be deadly, even for shifters. Go for the kill, fast. Don’t listen to anything they might say, or engage in a verbal confrontation. Let the bastards get into your head, and you’re fucked. They love to take slaves to the Underworld almost as much as they love to kill—which is probably why the family they’re trying to get to isn’t dead yet. They’re toying with the poor people, but they won’t wait much longer.”
Micah shuddered. Of all the horrors never to experience, aside from his own kidnapping and torture, being taken to the Underworld and subjected to whims of demons were right among the top five. According to legend, the demons answered to Hades. Was that even true? Another item to add to the list.
Let’s not find out.
Across from Micah, Kalen and John were talking. Glancing next to him at Rowan, he was disconcerted to find her observing him worriedly. Shaking his head to stave off any questions or lectures, he looked across to Ryon to find the man staring at him. Or, not at Micah, exactly. More like, glancing around him.
“Man, what are you looking at?” he growled.
The other man stilled for a few moments, eyes glazing over, which was creepy as hell. Then he met Micah’s gaze and simply said, “Later.”
“I’ll talk to you about it later.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” A suspicion struck him. “You seein’ dead people again? Around me?”
Ryon’s grim silence was answer enough.
“Who are they?” Rowan demanded, startled.
“Seriously, fuck that shit. Tell ’em to buzz off.”
Ryon just sighed and turned his gaze out the open side of the Huey. “Doesn’t work that way. Wish it did.” He refused to say more, and silence descended between the three of them.
“Go on, fly away,” Micah hissed to the spirits or whatever was hovering near him. Of course, he couldn’t sense them, but that didn’t mean it bothered him any less. Ryon knew they were there, and that was good enough evidence for him. What the fuck did they want?
Ryon gave a negative shake of his head to indicate that hadn’t worked to send away the spirits, and went back to watching the forest whiz past below them.
Well, Micah’s friend didn’t seem too concerned, so apparently there was no immediate danger. Putting it out of his mind for now, he closed his eyes and mentally prepared himself for the coming battle.
Demons were big bastards. Shut out their voices. Get underneath them. Avoid sharp objects. Go for a quick kill, head and heart. Easy. Like taking a Sunday stroll.
Okay, maybe not that simple. But Micah couldn’t deny he was looking forward to the fight. Anticipation began to pump through him the closer they got to their destination, and by the time the Hueys landed in a meadow surrounded by mountains, his mind was totally focused on the job.
As soon as they were clear to move around, his sister and John bailed from the helicopter without looking back. With their particular Psy gifts—Rowan was a Dreamwalker and Hammer a Tracer—they would fight better in human form, with weapons, like when they had been in law enforcement. Kalen’s panther was lethal, but his skills as a Sorcerer were essential in a battle against such a formidable enemy, so he remained dressed in his dark jeans and long leather duster. Micah, Nick, and Aric shed their clothes quickly and shifted into their wolf forms.
Nick, a large white wolf, led them about a hundred yards from the helicopters. Jaxon Law, RetroCog/Timebender/gray wolf and the Pack’s second in command, strode quickly to the head of the group in human form to stand with Nick and John. Jax was an imposing figure, tall and muscular with short black hair and a neat goatee. He was a son of a bitch in a fight, too, no matter what form he chose.
“Listen up,” Jax called out. Then he pointed over the meadow to the north. “The homestead is just over the rise, about a mile and a half away. Unless the demons are stone deaf, they heard the copters, which means we need to strike fast. Hopefully the noise distracted them and bought the family some time, but that and landing closer meant sacrificing the element of surprise. Hit those fuckers fast and hard! Let’s go!”
Handing the enemy advance warning of your arrival? Not optimal. But sometimes there was no help for it, and you did what you had to do. They took off, their pace quickly eating up the distance. About a half mile from the place, the team’s human sniper, A. J. Stone, set up on a ridge. It was always damned comforting to know A.J. was out there, ready to pick off the enemy sneaking up behind them.
As they raced down the slope, a large, sprawling log cabin came into view. Nestled in the hills, surrounded by trees with the mountains rising majestically around it, the scene should’ve been breathtaking.
But to the terrified family inside, their haven had become a nightmare. Their screams could be heard clearly through the broken windows and bashed-in front door, even if Micah hadn’t possessed a wolf shifter’s enhanced hearing.
Pouring on the speed, Nick cleared the threshold of the front door ahead of them, Micah right behind him. The sight that greeted them should’ve terrified him, but there was no time to be afraid.
The demon standing in the living room splintering the sofa like a matchstick whirled to face them, a grin full of yellowed teeth spreading across its broad gray face. It took up the whole space at nearly seven feet tall, leathery wings spanning some twenty feet wide. Long, razor-sharp claws tipped the big, almost-humanlike hands and feet, and its chest was broad.
“Greetings, fools,” it said pleasantly. Then it tossed the sofa aside and launched itself at Nick. The fight was on.
More demons materialized seemingly from nowhere, and the team had all they could handle.
“Micah, look out!”
John’s shout came just in time to keep Micah from losing his head. Turning, he ducked, avoiding the demon’s claws but losing a tuft of fur in the process. Shit, that was close!
Snarling, Micah rushed the creature, going straight for the throat. The demon wasn’t going down so easily, however. Though it stumbled backward, it managed to grab him and fling his body across the room and into the wall. He hit hard enough to crack the plaster, which rained on him as he fell to the floor. Stunned for a moment, he shook himself off and went in for round two.
On this second charge, he changed tactics. The demon was prepared for him to jump again and go for the throat. Instead, he hurtled himself at the creature’s legs. In a flash, he sank his fangs into the vulnerable thigh muscle—and ripped out the demon’s hamstring. Screeching in pain, the bastard fell hard, writhing.
Got you now, fucker. Micah swiftly tore out its throat, and as the demon gurgled helplessly, Micah shifted into his half-man, half-wolf form. Then he used his own sharp claws like knives, plunging them into the creature’s chest and ripping out its black heart. The beast died, eyes glazing, surprise still etched on its ugly mug.
He didn’t get to savor his victory. A hard blow took him in the side, and he rolled a few feet. A new demon attacked, and he used the hamstringing method again, with success. Dispatched the enemy. And again, on another. The Pack was winning the battle, and hopefully they’d find the family—who’d stopped screaming—alive, safe, and barricaded in the basement.
Just as he finished taking the heart of another demon beneath him, Rowan screamed from somewhere behind him. “Micah!”
Still in half-form, he turned—
“Ungh.” Blinking, breath stolen away, it took him a couple of heartbeats to register the demon towering over him, smirking in triumph.
The claws of one of the beast’s hands were buried in Micah’s chest. The strange, cold burn of the venom was spreading through his limbs, his lungs, making it hard to breathe. He tried to lift his arm, to swipe his claws at the creature, but couldn’t. The demon laughed and dug the talons deeper.
A loud bang sounded. And the demon fell away in a shower of blood, brain matter, and bone. The claws were torn from Micah’s chest, and he sank to his knees, gasping. Unable to retain his shift, he returned to human form and stared at the blood gushing from the grisly wound to stream down his abdomen.
“Shit,” he wheezed.
The instant he toppled to the floor, hands were on him. The noise of the waning battle faded into the background. Suddenly he was on his back with Zander Cole, the Pack’s Healer, beside him dressed in fatigues and a dark T-shirt. Tucking his gun into his waist band, Zan placed a hand over the bleeding wound.
“Steady,” he said in a quiet, soothing voice. “We’ll get you fixed up in no time.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Micah’s next breath was strangled in his chest, as though a fist was crushing the life out of him. “Hurry.”
Zan closed his eyes and stilled. Micah was in too much pain to look down and watch what he was doing, but a warm glow began to seep into his chest. Gentle waves lapped at the agony, wearing it away gradually. His breath came easier, and he began to relax. Thank God for the Healer, or he might not have survived the trip back to the compound.
“I want you to stay still, okay?” Zan was frowning slightly, trying not to show his worry.
“Why? I feel a lot better.”
“I’d just rather you take it easy until we get you back and let the doctors examine you.”
Nick crouched at Micah’s side, back in human form, a borrowed coat wrapped around him. “House is secure. Family is safe. Kalen is wiping the demons from their memories and replacing them with poachers who broke in, looking for money and weapons.”
“Would poachers do that?”
“It was the best he could do in a pinch,” Nick said wryly. “Sheriff Deveraux is here, too. We’re letting them take over the scene.”
Sheriff Jesse Deveraux was a big, mean-tempered asshole. And a good ally to the Pack. He was one of the few humans outside the compound to know about the paranormal world and the Alpha Pack’s role in it. Grumpy or not, he was also an honest man, and a good guy to have on your side.
“So, basically, we were never here,” Micah said.
“You got it.” The commander eyed him, then glanced at Zan. A look passed between him and the Healer before he addressed Micah again. “You going to be okay?”
“Yeah.” He wasn’t sure that was totally true, but that’s what he was going with. Clearly neither of the men was convinced.
Nick patted his shoulder. “You’ll do as Zan says. Like I told you, a demon’s venom is nothing to fuck with. Zan healed the worst of the wound, but you’re going to feel like shit for a couple of days. Stay put while I send somebody for a stretcher.”
Micah opened his mouth to protest, but a glare from the boss cut it short. “Fine.”
With a sigh, he closed his eyes and drifted, ignoring the activity around him. Jeez, he was tired. Someone covered him with a blanket. Rowan stroked his hair and whispered, “I love you, you jerk,” which made him smile as he murmured the sentiment to his sister in return.
A few minutes later, he heard Nick, Zan, and Rowan talking some distance away and realized they were discussing him. He probably should’ve alerted them to the fact that he was awake.
Nah, screw that. He wanted to know what they were so uptight about that they weren’t saying to his face.
“What is it?” Rowan asked, voice quiet.
Zan answered. “I’m concerned about some anomalies I detected while I was healing your brother.”
“Anomalies? What do you mean? Like tumors or something?” Alarm tinged her questions.
“Not like a disease, but more of a sense that something isn’t right inside his body. The healing was more difficult than it should’ve been and—”
“But Nick said that demon venom is deadly, so of course something wasn’t right. Besides, it wasn’t so long ago that your healing abilities weren’t up to speed. Maybe you’re still having some trouble.”
Zan didn’t seem to take offense to that suggestion, but he was insistent. “I assure you, my healing is right on target again. The cells in Micah’s body weren’t knitting as quickly as they should have been, even after a demon attack. They needed a lot of coaxing to re-form, more than usual for one of us. I just think it bears watching, that’s all.”
“All right.” She sighed, her tension palpable. “Thanks, my friend. I appreciate it.”
“Don’t thank me. I want to see him well as much as anyone.”
Humiliation crept through Micah. He loved them for caring, but hated being a burden. Hated lying flat on his back when he was supposed to be stronger than his problems. A protector. But at the moment, it didn’t matter that he loathed his situation, because his body was doing its job. Shutting down, forcing him to rest whether he wanted to or not.
Exhaustion claimed him. And in seeped the nightmares.
“Bring him this way.”
Micah stumbled along the dim corridor, held between the two big guards. Fear clogged this throat. He knew where they were going. What they were going to do to him this time?
He’d resisted so far. Each time, the doctor upped the stakes. Pushed his mind and body further. Withheld food and water. Tortured him nearly beyond endurance, What more could they do to him? Nothing but kill him. That would be a blessed relief.
In the dark chamber, there were two shifters waiting. Unkempt hair hung over their round, frightened eyes, and their bodies were unwashed. One was chained on a concrete slab over a drain. The other, bolted to the stone wall, faced his companion, spread-eagle.
This was a new game their captors were playing. A chill of trepidation raced along his spine as he watched Dr. Bowman stride forward, a small smile on his face.
“Ah, Micah. Welcome. Let me introduce you to Parker and Tyler. Parker is there,” Dr. Bowman said, pointing to the shifter positioned over the drain.
Dread grew in Micah’s chest, settling like a lead weight. Whatever game Bowman was playing, it didn’t bode well for any of them. Especially when the doc and his goons had always referred to their captives by number—until now. He had a terrible suspicion that Bowman had moved on to the next stage of his plan to turn him into a killing machine, someone who wouldn’t let personal details like names interfere with his objective.
He had no idea at the time how right he was.
“Micah,” Bowman went on pleasantly, “it’s time for you to earn your keep. Your strength will make you one of my top enforcers. You’re going to teach Parker his place in the hierarchy among shifters.”
“Teach him, how?” Micah asked cautiously.
“Starting with this.”
With a flick of Dr. Bowman’s hand, a guard stepped forward, holding a bullwhip. The guard presented it to Micah, who stood staring at it as though it was a venomous snake.
“You . . . you want me to whip him with that?”
“Yes, and you will.”
Glaring at the doctor in hatred, he spat, “What makes you think for one second I’ll do what you say?”
Another guard stepped from the shadows, dragging a slender woman with long, thin blond hair. No, not a woman. The female shifter was barely more than a girl, perhaps not even twenty years old. She cried out piteously as the guard slapped her hand onto a wooden block and grabbed an ax.
“You comply, or she loses body parts. One by one.” Bowman smiled.
Bile burned Micah’s throat, and black rage consumed his heart. But he grabbed the whip and let the coils unfurl.
And he turned to Parker, regret tearing at his soul.
“Jacee, where’s my fuckin’ beer? Did ya have ta grow the damn hops first?”
Jacee Buchanan groaned, dodging patrons while balancing her tray of drinks, and resisted the urge to dump the whole thing right on top of Clyde’s stupid head. She hated the exaggerated way he drew out the pronunciation of her name—Jaay-CEEE—making it more singsong-y the drunker he got.
“I’m coming, you shithead!”
Clyde and his friends hooted as she made her way over. If he and his buddies hadn’t been regulars, she could have gotten in trouble with her boss for talking to a customer like that, but the fact was they ate up the attention. It was a weird sort of ritual they had going, and it worked for them. Yeah, they were annoying, but harmless. And they tipped well.
As she handed out the drinks, Clyde attempted, as always, to pull her into his ample lap. Like always, she laughingly avoided his advances while pretending to be the tiniest bit flattered, a fine art all bartenders and servers had to master or else they wouldn’t get far in that job.
“Shorthanded again tonight, honey?” Clyde asked loudly, above the blaring country music.
“Yep. Had another server call in sick. You know how it goes.”
As a bartender—or mixologist, as some of the fancier city types preferred to be called these days—that’s really where she wanted to be. Behind the bar, creating drinks. More and more often, it seemed she got stuck pulling double duty, both mixing and serving. She had nothing against hard work. Hell, she’d been working all her life, never had it easy. But doing the jobs of two people sucked.
“Just tell the boss you’re done for the night and hang out with us.”
She winked. “You know it doesn’t work like that. Jack would have my hide.”
Same old. Every time they came in. But they were a friendly bunch, so she let it ride. After passing out their drinks, she tucked the round tray under her arm and started back toward the bar. Just as she did, a group that never failed to attract a ton of attention came through the entrance of the Cross-eyed Grizzly.
The men were from that top secret compound in the Shoshone National Forest all the locals believed to be a plain old research facility. Jacee knew better. These men were, in fact, a black ops team of wolf shifters—and one panther—whose job it was to protect civilians from all sorts of paranormal predators. With any luck, humans would never find out about the evil things that went bump in the night.
Jacee knew about the Alpha Pack for a couple of good reasons. One, she wasn’t human. And two, Jax Law was a former lover of hers. She kept her eyes and ears open, and it paid off. Selene, Zander’s mate, was the only one of the Pack who had a clue that Jacee was a coyote shifter—even Jax didn’t know—and that’s the way Jacee wanted to keep it.
A few months ago, when Selene had first arrived in town, she’d somehow made Jacee as a coyote right off the bat and had kept her secret in exchange for information. Whatever the she-wolf’s problem had been, it had obviously worked out. She seemed happy, holding her mate’s hand as they walked with the group to a large table in one corner.
For one fleeting moment, Jacee envied them. They were a pack and they had one another, whereas Jacee had nobody. Loneliness swelled in her breast for her long-dead family, but she ruthlessly squashed it before it could drown her. There was no sense in going down that road again. She was alone. No changing that fact.
She was just glad Jax and his mate, Kira, weren’t here tonight. Not that she’d been in love with the wolf, but it still hurt to see the happiness on their faces.
Just as she started to turn away, one of the team caught her eye. He was here again. The tall, leanly muscled man with the scarred face and shoulder-length dark brown hair. He didn’t show up with them often, but when he did, she found it difficult to take her eyes off him. There was just something arresting about him that stopped her in her tracks every time. Made her pulse race. Her palms sweat.
He’d been beautiful, once. Like he could’ve graced magazine covers if he’d wanted. But to her, he was still gorgeous despite the ruined left side of his face. What drew her the most, though, was the deep well of sadness in his big brown eyes. She wondered what pain ate at his insides.
And she wondered if that was what drove him to reach into his pocket now and then and pop the pills when he thought nobody was looking.
Could a wolf shifter become an addict? Was that possible?
Snapping out of her musings, Jacee approached the table. As she did, it occurred to her that she’d never actually waited on their group when he’d been with them before. Last time he’d come in, she’d been behind the bar. She gladly took the opportunity to study him close up as she went around and took their orders, and found he was even more striking than from a distance. His injury only added to the mystery of the man and wolf. In her world, battle scars were honorable. They added rather than detracted from his powerful aura.
Finally, it was his turn. Jacee stopped next to him, leaned over slightly and smiled down at him as he looked up and met her gaze—and the room tilted under her boots.
The man smelled absolutely amazing. Like fresh pine, rain, and man, all rolled into one tantalizing scent that awakened her coyote with a little growl and shot a bolt of arousal from her brain to her toes. And every sensitive place in between. What the hell?
“Wh-what would you like to drink?” she stammered. His eyes had widened as he stared back, and the unmistakable scent of arousal wafting from him told her that she wasn’t alone in whatever was happening between them.
“Crown and Coke, please.” His voice was low and smoky, sending shivers along her spine. That chocolate gaze raked her from head to toe and back up again. From the heat there, he liked what he saw as well.
“Coming right up.” Turning, she nearly tripped in her haste to put some distance between herself and the alluring wolf.
“Damn, Micah,” one of the guys ribbed, “what’d you say to Jacee?”
Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the handsome wolf smile a little, shaking his head. Micah. God, what a great name. Hurrying, she filled their drink orders and loaded up her tray. As quickly as possible without spilling a drop, she returned to their table and handed out the drinks, trying not to act as though she was watching Micah.
Hell, who was she kidding? She was watching, and so was he, and they were both doing a lousy job of pretending otherwise.
“Can I get you guys anything else?” She half expected the stupid comments a lot of the other patrons made, but from this group it was refreshingly absent most of the time. Aside from some harmless flirting, they didn’t bother her much. Maybe that had to do as much with her former fling with Jax as anything, but she was glad.
She also noticed that Micah refrained from making any of the usual tasteless jokes. For some reason, she would’ve felt really let down if he had. To her relief, he simply looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m good for now. Thanks.”
Forcing her mind back to her job, she filled more orders. A commotion at the door caught her attention, and she frowned as she spotted a foursome she’d hoped would never dirty the place again. Especially since Jack had thrown them out last time the ringleader of the sorry band of bikers had tried to push her into joining him out back for a little “fun.”
Looking around for her coworker, she saw Julie was busy on the other side of the room. Damn. With a sigh, she resigned herself to several hours of putting up with the jerk. Too bad his good looks were wasted on his shitty personality. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he was a jackass shifter.
“Hey, Grant,” she said, striving not to sound as if she’d like to let her coyote rip his face off. “What are you guys drinking tonight?”
Leaning back in his chair, the biker crossed his arms over his chest and gave her a cocky grin. “Can’t I just have you, honey? You’d taste better on my tongue than any beer.”
“Beer it is,” she said brightly, ignoring his pass. “What about you all?”
After she filled their orders, the men settled down for a while. She was able to watch Micah, hopefully without him realizing it, and take care of her other customers, too. Unfortunately, as the first hour passed after their arrival, Grant and his buddies became drunk. And when Grant got wasted, he got sort of belligerent. He and his group weren’t fun and harmless like Clyde and his friends.
“Come on, baby,” Grant crooned, grabbing her wrist when she was making another trip to the bar. “Sit on Papa’s lap and tell him all your troubles.”
Jesus. “Let go, asshole.” She was getting tired, and her charm was wearing off. From the corner of her eye, she spotted Jack scowling toward them, but she knew her boss was eyeing Grant and not angry with her.
Wresting free of Grant, she continued on her way.
Jacee hefted another tray of drinks on her shoulder and headed back across the room for a table on the other side of Grant’s. As she walked past him, her foot caught on something, and she had a split second to register that Grant had stuck his boot out in her path. She’d been moving at a fast clip, and there was no catching herself.
With a cry, she went down hard, the crash of glasses and bottles loud in her ears. Shards went everywhere, and liquid splattered over the floor, her shirt, face, and arms. For a second she remained there, stunned. The cheerful noise in the room died, and then Jack started toward them. She was pushing herself up to give Grant a piece of her mind when an ominous growl reached her ears.
As someone helped her stand, she saw Micah crossing the room, long legs eating up the distance with quick strides. The expression on his face was murderous, and right then she was glad she wasn’t Grant.
Micah reached the biker before Jack could, and grabbed the laughing man by his leather vest, spinning him around. The amusement died on his face immediately.
“Hey, what the fuck? I was just havin’ some fun—”
Excerpted from "Chase the Darkness"
Copyright © 2015 J.D. Tyler.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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