“Hot and humorous.” —USAToday.com
Petite, kind, brilliant, and young, Stevie is nothing like the usual women bodyguard Shen Li is interested in. Even more surprising, the youngest of the lethal, ball-busting, and beautiful MacKilligan sisters is terrified of bears. But she’s not terrified of pandas. She loves pandas.
Which means that whether Shen wants her to or not, she simply won’t stop cuddling him. He isn’t some stuffed Giant Panda, ya know! He is a Giant Panda shifter. He deserves respect and personal space. Something that little hybrid is completely ignoring.
But Stevie has a way of finding trouble. Like going undercover to take down a scientist experimenting on other shifters. For what, Shen doesn’t want to know, but they’d better find out. And fast. Stevie might be the least violent of the honey badger sisters, but she’s the most dangerous to Shen’s peace of mind. Because she has absolutely no idea how much trouble they’re in . . . or just how damn adorable she is.
About the Author
Shelly Laurenston is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Pride, Call of Crows, and The Honey Badger Chronicles, as well as winner of the RT Book Reviews Readers' Choice Award for her 2016 novel, The Undoing. When she’s not writing about sexy wolf, honey badger, lion, and other fang-filled predators, she's writing about sexy dragons as G.A. Aiken, the acclaimed and bestselling author of the Dragon Kin series. Originally from Long Island, she now lives on the West Coast and spends most of her time writing and making sure her rescued Pit bull doesn’t love everyone into a coma. Please visit her online at www.ShellyLaurenston.com.
Read an Excerpt
Thirteen years later ...
Doreen thought she was dreaming. Thought it was all imaginary. Something sad and twisted in her subconscious. But when she turned over ...
The small but powerfully built woman was straddling her elderly husband, her knees pinning his arms to the bed, a pillow over his face. Her husband, Peter MacKilligan, was struggling with all his might to dislodge the woman who was on top of him. But nothing he did worked.
Her husband was old. Nearly eighty-five. But his body didn't show his true age. He looked like he was still in his fifties. He was strong. Still boxed, lifted weights, swam every day in their indoor pool. He'd always told her it was genetic. "The men in my family are all like that," he'd say.
And yet ... he couldn't get this woman off him.
Doreen turned and reached for her cell phone, but that's when the woman spoke.
"I wouldn't if I were you," she said. She had an accent. Sounded like her husband's half-siblings from Scotland.
Doreen looked at the woman over her shoulder. She was still on top of Pete. Still pinning him to the bed. Still smothering him with a pillow.
"Here's the thing, luv," the woman calmly explained in the midst of killing a man. She even had a smile. A large, bright smile. "You can call for help. Use your phone. Or just scream for one of Pete's boys. And help will come. I'll run, of course. They won't catch me. I'm fast, ya see. I'll be gone and you'll have stopped this. How proud you'll be. But then ... one night ... when everyone's forgotten about you, I'll be back."
Pete's struggles slowed and, after a little longer, stopped.
Leaning back, the woman pulled away the pillow and pressed two fingers to Pete's throat. Satisfied, she slipped off him and came around their bed, sitting down next to Doreen.
Brushing her hands against each other, as if she was dusting off flour after making bread, she continued, "And when I come back, I'll peel that pretty face right from your skull. Wouldn't like that, now would ya?
"Of course not," she said, patting Doreen's knee through the bed sheet. "I'm sure you wouldn't like that at all. My Great-Uncle Pete always had an eye for the beautiful ladies. What are you? Wife number six?" She shook her head. "I never get it. You marry once, I understand. You marry twice ... sure. First one could have easily been a mistake. But after that ... you're just an idiot."
She crossed her legs, picked some lint off her jeans.
"Now," she went on, "like I said, you could scream and cry and call for help. Or, you can wisely keep your mouth shut. Wait until I'm long gone and call for one of Pete's boys. They'll think he died natural. Let them. They won't want an autopsy. MacKilligans don't like that sort of thing." She sighed, sounding disappointed. "That's why I had to do it this way, you see. I would have much preferred to put a leather strap around his throat and wring the life from him. It would have taken ages, too, but there's honor in that — for both of us. Because for our kind ... it takes a lot to kill us. But I guess you don't know much about that, huh?" She sniffed the air. "Yeah, full-human ... so you don't know about any of that. But you can count yourself lucky. You'll get a nice bit of cash from the estate and can go on and live your life as long as the Almighty allows. Won't that be nice? Rather than waking up again ... and finding me standing over you?"
Doreen forced herself to nod.
"That's a good lass." Again, she patted her knee and Doreen fought the urge to recoil. To run screaming from the room, the building ... the state.
The woman stood, stretched her back. The sound of bones cracking had Doreen cringing.
She watched the woman walk across the room to the open window she'd probably come through.
"Now don't forget," she added before slipping back out as soundlessly as she'd slipped in. "Lots of tears for his sons, and lots of 'He can't be dead. He can't be dead.' That'll impress the family. And they deserve that, don't you think?"
Then with that disturbing grin still on her face, she was out the window and out of Doreen's life.
Shaking with a fear she'd never known, Doreen slipped deep into the covers next to her dead husband and waited until the alarm clock went off. Then she got up, went to one of her stepson's rooms, and, while the family gathered, rushing around to call the doctor they had on payroll and the lawyer who kept them all out of prison, she sobbed and sobbed and kept repeating, "He can't be dead. He can't be dead."
* * *
When he went to bed late that night, he thought she'd be there to complain about his long hours working, but then he remembered ... he didn't have a wife like everyone else. He had Irene Conridge. The genius.
Niles Van Holtz — "Van" to his friends and Pack but "Holtz" to his mate — found his full-human wife still doing her own work in her very messy office. Her gaze fixed on her computer screen, her fingers flying over the keyboard, desperately trying to keep up with her even faster brain.
He didn't wait for her to notice him. She never would. Instead, he leaned down and kissed her neck.
"I'll be right with you," she said, still working. "Go have lunch and I'll meet you downstairs."
"It's three in the morning."
Her hands froze on the keyboard. "Oh. All right."
Van sat down on the floor, his back resting against her desk. "Did you eat at all today?"
"I had breakfast." When he continued to stare at her, she added, "A very large breakfast. Is there a reason you're here?"
Van rested his arms on his raised knees. "They found three more."
Irene dropped back into her seat, her lips slightly parted. It took a lot to stun her, but here they were.
"The same other issues?"
"Yes. Hybrids in the process of shifting into or out of their human forms when killed, but, for whatever reason, none turned completely back to human, which they should have when they died. We all shift back to human after we die."
Irene shook her head. "Fascinating. He's really advanced his work."
"You know, we don't know it's him."
"It's him," she snapped. "Trust me, it's him."
"Because you don't like him?"
"I don't like most people, but he's the only one with the science to come up with this."
"That's because he's been working on ways to change DNA to get rid of the most deadly diseases. Like cancer and diabetes."
"I wish you would just admit that you don't believe it's him because he's one of you. A fellow shifter."
"You're right, I have a very hard time believing any shifter would do this to another."
"Because you refuse to believe some shifters are more human than others. He's also a scientist and I know my own kind. We can rationalize almost anything as long as it doesn't touch our work. We can give you very logical reasons why we're doing it — even when we know it's wrong. Trust me when I say, he is no different. At the very least," she added, "we need to investigate him thoroughly."
"My people have already started but it would be great if we could get someone on the inside."
"I already told you that I'm out ... he loathes me."
"Do you have any idea how many times you've made that statement to me about so many people?"
"I could calculate it, but I'm sure the final tally would be quite large." She raised one finger. "There is one option that — "
"No," he said firmly. "We're not going to discuss this again. Those three are too unstable."
"First, it amuses me that you think you can force edicts on me like 'We're not discussing this again.' Of course we're discussing this again, and we'll discuss it as often as I like."
And that's why he adored his wife. She never took any of his shit.
"Second, I'm not talking about all three of them. She has connections to him that we can use to our benefit."
"But doesn't she loathe you too?"
"Oh, yes. Absolutely. I doubt she'll ever forgive me for what I did. But the difference is I have an in with this one."
"Is that what you call a seventeen-year-old boy?"
Irene smiled. "He's better than nothing."CHAPTER 2
Three days later ...
Shen Li opened the cabinet door over the refrigerator, and that's where he found her. Panting and sweating, her legs pulled tight into her chest, her eyes wide and bright gold.
Her eyes were normally blue, so he sensed that gold wasn't a good thing at the moment.
She was also naked. Very, very naked. Why the hell was she naked?
"I'm fine," she said before he could speak. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine."
"You want me to close the door?" he asked.
She shut her eyes, turned her head toward the corner, and nodded. Desperately.
Shen closed the door and faced the room. He knew immediately what the problem was.
It was the bears.
A roomful of them.
That would scare most normal people, but Stevie MacKilligan was not a normal person. Not even by his standards. And his standards were pretty liberal, being that he wasn't really normal either.
How could he be when he could shift into a giant panda? An ability built into his DNA, like his mother's brown eyes and his father's weird knuckles.
But even by shifter standards, Stevie was not normal.
Cute. Interesting. But definitely not normal.
Which was why Shen knew she'd stay trapped in that cupboard until the end of time if he didn't help.
"All right," he said to the bears. "You guys need to go."
They glanced at him ... then went right back to eating the baked goods that Stevie's eldest sister Charlie had put out before she'd left the house. He'd heard her heading downstairs before the sun was up just so she could bake, meaning only one thing — she was stressed out.
And when Charlie baked, the bears showed up to feed. A situation that didn't bother Charlie but freaked out poor Stevie.
The bears continued to ignore Shen, but he wasn't surprised by that. He was dealing with a room filled with grizzlies, polars, and black bears. Bear breeds that didn't really consider pandas one of their own. Pandas just weren't terrifying enough because pandas didn't let the little things bother them. They didn't explode in a violent rage when someone startled them. And panda mothers never ripped off someone's head because he was too close to their children. Nor did panda fathers go on hunger-fueled rampages because a meal or two had been missed.
They were pandas. They just rolled along through life. Happy to be happy.
And, like his brethren, it took a lot to push Shen to actually unleash his anger. He'd always had a very high tolerance for bullshit.
Still, he knew that Stevie didn't have that tolerance. High or otherwise. Although he'd never actually seen it in action, Stevie's two sisters seemed to have a deep-seated fear of their baby sister "snapping her bolt" as it was called. Apparently it went beyond mere wild-animal rage and into something else altogether.
Not in the mood to deal with whatever cleanup that sort of thing entailed, Shen decided to end this before it became nasty.
He walked out of the kitchen, through the dining room, and straight into the living room. He grabbed the duffel bag he kept behind the chaise lounge, returned to the kitchen, dropped the bag on the floor, and pulled out his favorite weapon. He leaned against the refrigerator and began his assault.
First, he unleashed his fangs and used one to strip off the leaves, which he'd eat later. He then used his back teeth to crack down on the green bamboo shoot, breaking off a piece that he could then chew. Then he did it all over again. And again. And again.
The sound radiated across the room until he saw that every eye in the place was locked on him. Bears — especially grizzlies — hated what they called "weird sounds." And they found the constant chewing of bamboo by giant pandas among the most irritating. Mostly because it rarely stopped.
It took three minutes, but when they saw him go in for another bamboo stalk, they all picked up what was left of their treats, their cups of coffee, and walked out the back door.
Grinning, Shen tossed the bamboo back in his duffel bag and reached up to knock on the cabinet door.
"You can come out now. They're all gone."
He opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a bottle of water. But just as he started to take a drink, he realized that Stevie still hadn't come out.
Frowning, he used his free hand and opened the cabinet door again. Stevie was still curled tight into the corner, her hands dug into her hair, her thin naked body tense and shivering.
"Stevie? You o —"
She came at him then. Exploding from the cabinet, the top half of her body leaning out, extremely large fangs coming toward his face.
Shen jerked back and felt the enamel of her fangs brush against his lips before snapping closed on nothing but air.
Then she roared. Loudly. The windows in the house rattled before she disappeared back into the cabinet, slamming the door after her.
"Well ... that wasn't normal," Shen said to no one.
* * *
Charlie MacKilligan began to rub her temples and glanced up at the gorgeous man who stood beside her. A migraine was starting to settle behind her eyes and that was never a good thing. It made her tense and she tended to say things she couldn't take back when she was tense.
But she knew what was going on here. They were building up to something. Attempting to lull her into a false sense of security with mindless chatter before they made their move.
Her father often did the same thing so she was used to it. Of course the fact that her worthless father often tried this same technique on her made Charlie angry and distrustful of the people who'd pledged to protect her and her sisters.
Apparently, the shifter world had decided that hybrids were worth their time to protect. This was the first Charlie had ever heard that. Most purebreds didn't know what to do with her and Stevie. Not only were they the combined DNA of two different species, they were the fucked-up offspring of Freddy MacKilligan, which everyone found way more offensive than the intermingling of different species.
It wasn't fair, really. That they'd been hit twice like that. By their mothers' poor choices in men and their father's ... uselessness.
Big fingers gently stroked Charlie's cheek and she smiled up at Berg Dunn. Her big grizzly bear. Literally. He could shift into a grizzly bear. The morning after her cousin's wedding a few weeks ago, she'd woken up to find herself sleeping on top of his back, bear fur tickling her nose. He'd shifted in the night and it was shockingly weird to realize that her head was resting on his grizzly hump like it was a hard pillow. Then, as she was sitting up, trying to shake herself awake, she'd watched a big bear butt walk past the open bedroom door; followed a few seconds later by another bear. Those were Berg's triplet brother and sister lumbering by. They'd also shifted that morning and were wandering around their house in their bear forms. Apparently something they did whenever the mood struck them. Something Charlie couldn't do because, unlike her sisters, she couldn't shift. Something else she blamed on her father.
"Headache?" Berg softly asked.
She didn't bother to lie to him. She'd never believed in suffering in silence if she didn't have to. "Yeah, but it'll be fine."
The once they get out of here was implied.
Charlie glanced over at her younger sister to see how she was holding up. As usual, Max was on her phone. She lived on that thing, making Charlie wonder if her sister had an entire other life that she was unaware of. Then again ... she probably didn't want to know one way or another.
Max stopped texting long enough to scratch the right side of her face, where she had those fresh scratches going from her eye down her cheek.
"What happened to your face?" she softly asked because she was too bored not to.
"Nothin'," Max lied.
"You messing with that cat again? Leave the cat alone."
Max lowered her phone. "I want her off our property. She's spraying everything. It's driving me nuts. Besides ..." she suddenly added, "I can take her."
"Dude. She's a cat that brazenly lives in a neighborhood filled with bears. That's not brave. That's crazy. She's a crazy cat and she'll tear your eyes out. So stop it!"
Max started to reply — because she could just never let things go — but the sound of someone clearing his throat distracted her.
Charlie looked across the giant desk she and her sister were sitting in front of. The wolf male on the other side raised one eyebrow. "Do you mind?" he asked.
"Well —" Max began, but Charlie put her hand on her sister's forearm to stop her.
"Of course," Charlie said nicely. "Please. Go on."
Excerpted from "In A Badger Way"
Copyright © 2019 Shelly Laurenston.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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