Leopard’s Daughter is a markedly original crime novel with elements of the occult. In a world where vampires and werewolves exist, but are extremely rare, Bobby Sandar, his wife, Olivia, and their two oldest children are were-leopards. Bobby and Olivia are Secret Service agents. Following Bobby’s death, Olivia feels the need for a fresh start. She takes a job as a detective in the sheriff’s department of a rural western county. Olivia’s first assignment is to go undercover as an exotic dancer in a nightclub run by gangsters. She has to battle mobbed-up criminals, a terrorist leader who is aware of Olivia’s history and abilities, and human traffickers to save her family and herself.
|Publisher:||Azure Spider Publications|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.89(d)|
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Two years later
"Concentrate, Tammy," Olivia said to her fourteen-year-old daughter, Tamara. Both were naked and in the basement of their home. "Focus on a particular task. Something trivial is good enough. That'll make it easier to change."
Tammy, slender and about five inches taller than her mother, was stationary for a couple of seconds. She had an intense look on her face. There was a whump sound. Where Tammy had been was a black leopard. Olivia, with far less effort than her daughter, changed into a spotted leopard. The black leopard snarled, went over to the side of the room, picked up a ball in her mouth, and brought it to her mother. The spotted leopard took the ball in her own mouth, leaped up onto a table, placed the ball there, jumped down, and changed.
"Now you change," Olivia said.
The black leopard changed. Tammy hunched over with her hands on her knees, breathing heavily. After a short while, she straightened up and said, "You're breathing normally. How come you're not as out of breath as I am?"
"The more you change, the more you'll get the hang of it and be able to do it with less effort. You'll build up stamina. You're getting close. I can see you're having an easier and easier time of it, especially compared to when you started changing."
"At first I thought it'd be so cool that I could turn into a leopard," Tammy said, a bitter look on her face. "Now it really bites. You won't let me do it anywhere except in the house. It's almost better not to have this power than to have it and not be allowed to use it."
"It's for your own safety, honey," her mother said as she put an arm around her daughter. "When the time comes, and it'll come sooner than you expect, you'll be able to ... do what makes you unique."
"I know, I know." Tammy threw up her arms in disgust. "It's just so ... I don't know, my life really sucks the way it is now. I barely have any friends, and the ones I have are all dorks and nerds. None of the cool kids want to hang with me."
"I'm aware of your difficulties," Olivia said as she handed a robe to Tammy and put her own robe on. "Your brother's problems are as bad as yours. I'm going to have to do something about it before it's too late."
"I'll let you know when I have a definite plan."
* * *
Tammy came out of her social studies class and went to her locker. She placed her history text in the locker and was reaching for her algebra book when she sensed a presence behind her. Hands came around, cupped her breasts, and started to squeeze.
People started laughing and she heard a girl's voice say, "Way to cop a feel from the ice princess, Pete."
Tammy turned her head and saw it was Peter Smith–an asshole if there ever was one–holding onto her. She was about to knock his teeth out–literally–when she recalled her mother's words. Don't show how strong you are, or what you're capable of, unless there's absolutely no alternative.
Gritting her teeth, Tammy struggled, pretending she couldn't get away, and yelled, "Let go of me, you bastard!"
"Keep your voice down, bitch," Smith snarled.
"Help! Help!" Tammy screamed as loud as she could.
A teacher came out of a classroom, put his hands on his hips, and, in a commanding voice, said, "What's going on here?"
"This son of a bitch grabbed my boobs!" Tammy yelled, pointing at Smith.
"Just having a little fun," Smith said. He let go of Tammy and backed away. "We took Sandar by surprise is all. I barely touched her."
"That's all it was," one of the girls said. "Tammy freaked out over nothing just like she usually does. That's why nobody likes her."
"I want both of you to go the vice principal's office right after school," the teacher said. "He'll straighten this out. And Miss Sandar, watch your language."
Tammy straightened her clothing as the group of kids walked away, laughing. She entertained a brief fantasy of breaking both of Smith's arms, and thought, If I catch him alone some night when nobody else is around, maybe I'll do that.
* * *
Bases loaded, two outs, last of the sixth inning, down by three runs. Please be a ball, Tyler Sandar thought. He tugged at his helmet, tapped the plate with his bat, took a practice swing, and glared at the pitcher as he awaited the three-two pitch. At least if I walk and we lose, it won't be completely my fault.
The pitch was right down the middle. Tyler swung and missed. Game over.
"Sandar's worthless," he heard a voice say as the teams lined up to shake hands.
"That's right," another voice said. "He can't hit for shit, and his error let in two runs. Too bad the coach has to play everybody."
If they only knew, Tyler thought, his face red with humiliation. I could've easily hit that pitch for a game-winning homer, but Mom would've had a fit. At least Tammy can change form. I can't even do that. For all I know, I'll never be able to do it.
* * *
Olivia stood at the door of Ted Bilson's office. He waved her in and pointed to a chair in front of his desk.
She sat without speaking for a minute or so before saying, "I'm leaving the service, Ted."
"Crap!" Bilson said. He took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair. "I've been dreading this since Bobby died. I was afraid you'd feel that way. Is there anything I can do to make you stay? How about a few weeks off to think it over?"
"I've been thinking of nothing else. My mind is made up."
"Is it just Bobby's death that's making you want to quit?"
"That's part of it, but mostly it's the kids. They're having problems."
"Tamara is a were-leopard. Did you know that?"
"No, but I figured it was likely."
"Tyler will probably become one soon. He's much stronger than someone his age should be. I've instructed them not to show their abilities. They're complying, but it's really taking a toll on their lives. I need to show them how to be a leopard."
"You can't do that here?"
"Not easily," Olivia said with an intensity that surprised Bilson. "I really learned about my leopard abilities when Bobby brought me out to the more wide open spaces. We could go into the forest and be leopards. It was exhilarating! There's nothing like that close to DC. At least not within walking distance. If the kids have an opportunity to let loose, I think they'll be better able to deal with their frustrations."
"You have to make a living," Bilson pointed out, hoping that would deter her from quitting. "Will you be going back to nursing?"
"If that's the only job I can get, I will, but I'd prefer a job where I'd have a little more leeway in my schedule. I need your help."
"Whatever I can do. I owe you that much."
Olivia leaned over and put a printout on his desk. "I saw this ad in the Post. This sheriff's department out west is looking for experienced female law enforcement officers. The county seat is fairly isolated and surrounded by forested areas. The weather is mild. It's not that far from where Bobby and I lived before we joined the federal government. Didi would be happy because she'd be much nearer to her grandkids."
"What do you want me to do? Write a recommendation?"
"I think they're looking for someone to go undercover. I'd like you to call the sheriff. Her name is Katherine Mullins. Extol my virtues, but don't say anything about my, ah, special abilities. If they decide to hire me, I'd want assurance it's a permanent position. I'm not looking to be a hired gun who travels around the country. I want to move my family there and stay."
"I'll take care of it," Bilson said, as he came around his desk. Olivia rose and they shook hands. They both teared up and the shake became a hug.
"Should you ever want to come back, your job will be waiting." Bilson wiped his eyes.CHAPTER 2
"Katherine Mullins," the voice said upon answering the phone.
"Am I speaking with the sheriff of Kanstan County?"
"You are. Who might you be?"
"Ted Bilson. I'm with the Secret Service and I head a squad of the President's protection detail."
"The Secret Service!" Mullins exclaimed. "Is the President planning on visiting Kanstan County? If that's the case, why are you calling my personal cell and not the department office?"
"This call has nothing to do with the President. I'm calling because of the advertisement asking for an experienced female law enforcement officer. This is the number listed."
"Okay," Mullins said. She chuckled. "Again, why are you calling? You don't meet the job requirements."
Bilson laughed and said, "I'm calling on behalf of one of my female agents who wants to leave the service for personal reasons. I'm not sure what your needs are, but this agent would be ideal for anything you have in mind."
"Are you really with the Secret Service?"
"Yes," Bilson asserted. "I'd be suspicious too in your position. Look up the number of the Secret Service. Call and ask for me, Ted Bilson. B-I-L-S-O-N. I've alerted them that I might get a personal call. They'll connect you."
Bilson hung up and went back to rescheduling his agents in anticipation of Olivia leaving. It was frustrating because none of them had her abilities. He was grateful for the interruption when his phone rang ten minutes later.
"This is Sheriff Mullins," the voice said. "I was ninety percent sure you were pulling my leg. Tell me about this agent. I hope this isn't just a ploy where you're looking to dump an incompetent by praising her to the hilt."
"I'm definitely not trying to dump her. If she ever changes her mind and wants to return to the Secret Service, I'd take her back in a heartbeat. Her name is Olivia Sandar, but she plans to change back to her maiden name, so she'll be known as Olivia Brenman."
"Is she having marital difficulties? Is that why she's leaving the service? That could be a problem for us."
"She's not having marital problems. Her husband was also a Secret Service agent. He was killed during that attempt on the President's life in West Virginia two years ago."
"So why wouldn't she want to keep his name?" Mullins asked. "I need to know. I put up with enough crap being a female sheriff as it is. I don't want to have something come back and bite me in the ass later on. Why is she leaving?"
"The loss of her husband is still very painful for her. In order to get over it she feels she needs to get a fresh start elsewhere. I really hate to see her go. I tried hard to talk her into staying."
"I still don't see why she wouldn't want to keep his name. I'll be blunt. I can't afford a screw-up. Did you have a romantic involvement with her? Is that the real reason she's leaving?"
"Trust me, there's nothing between us that's not professionally appropriate," Bilson said, and chuckled once more. "Not that a tryst with her wouldn't be enjoyable."
"So again. Why the name change?"
"She and her husband were with the service for five years. Previously they worked for the federal government in a more, ah, clandestine roll. I can't be more specific than that."
"No, but that's all I can say about her former job. What I can say is that both she and her husband were very effective. They pissed off a number of people who are not friendly to the United States. People who would love to get revenge. The name 'Sandar' is not common. It was thought that she and her kids would be safer using a different name."
"I like the fact that she's had clandestine experience. You say she has kids? How old is she?"
"Are you still there, Sheriff?" Bilson asked after twenty seconds of silence.
"I'm still here. I was beginning to get interested, but now I'm not sure. I know about age discrimination and all that crap, but I'm afraid she's a little too old."
"Both she and I have figured out you want someone to go undercover. She doesn't look her age. I can state categorically that she'll be better than anyone else you could possibly get. But don't take my word for it. Talk to her yourself. Do you have Skype capabilities?"
* * *
Mullins studied the woman on her computer terminal screen. Bilson was correct. She looked closer to thirty than her actual age. She also looked fragile, and Mullins wondered if she'd be able to stand up to the physical rigors of the undercover assignment. On the other hand, the Secret Service did not recruit wimps. Neither did the CIA, or whatever it was. She was undoubtedly much tougher than she appeared. That'd be an undercover advantage.
"I've spoken to Ted Bilson," Mullins said. "He speaks very highly of you, and you were correct about the assignment I have in mind. Undercover. He said you carried out some clandestine missions for the federal government prior to joining the Secret Service."
"I have," Olivia confirmed.
"What can you tell me about them?"
"Nothing. They were confidential."
"Come on. There must be something you can tell me. Something general."
"Hmmm." Olivia hesitated. "Okay, usually I was part of a team carrying out missions against terrorists, generally outside the United States."
"Can you at least mention what one of the missions involved."
"Do you think I'm a terrorist or a follower or something?" Mullins asked. She bristled. "I'm not asking you to tell me anything the terrorists wouldn't know anyway. I just want to have some idea of what your experience is."
"You know it was a Navy SEAL team that took out Bin Laden, don't you?"
"Of course. Why, were you part of that operation?"
"No. Can you name anyone who was on that assignment? More to the point, do you recall seeing any such name in publication?"
"One of them wrote a book," Mullins pointed out.
"Yeah, but he used a pseudonym, although people now know who he really is."
"I think I see where you're going with this."
"Right," Olivia said. "The bad guys–and these assholes are really bad–would like to get revenge on the specific individuals involved or their families. They readily kill their own people if they have even the faintest suspicion that any of them might be leaning toward the West. They have absolutely no scruples. It's not that I think that you're a sympathizer or even that you have loose lips, but anybody can be made to talk under suitable torture. You can't tell what you don't know. I'm protecting the people who were involved in those missions, and also the families of those people. I will tell you that some of the missions were joint ventures with agents of other countries, including Mossad."
"Mossad? Really! I have to admit, I'm impressed. Are the Mossad people as skilled as they're portrayed?"
"Nobody can be that good," Olivia responded, and leaned back grinning widely. "They are effective, though."
"What about your time with the Secret Service? I think of agents of the Secret Service as being big and tough. Even the women. No disrespect, but you're not very big. I can't say how tough you are."
"I'm 5'3" and weigh 112 pounds. I'm a lot stronger than I look. If you and I were to arm-wrestle, you'd lose. My diminutive size is an advantage in undercover operations since people tend to underestimate me. When I took my present job I was immediately put on the presidential protection detail. That's very unusual. I'm sorry, but confidentiality prohibits me from giving you any details beyond the bare fact."
"I'm 5'11" and 160. I'll take you up on that arm-wrestling challenge when we meet. Bilson told me your husband was killed on that attempt on the President's life in West Virginia two years ago. Can you tell me if you were there?"
"I suppose I can tell you something about that," Olivia said after a brief pause. "Yes, I was there. The perps were all killed, and I was instrumental in that. But I'm not sure you should take it as a sign of my abilities. The President's chief of staff was unhappy to say the least. He wanted one or two of the bad guys captured alive."
"Remind me never to piss you off," Mullins said with a smile. "Were you reprimanded for not capturing any of the doers?"
"No. The President felt my actions were justified. Besides, it wasn't rocket science to find out which paramilitary group those asshats were part of."
"I think I'm about ready to offer you the job. When can we meet in person?"
"My family and I can fly out within a week. I have a lot of vacation time coming. My kids will be finished with the school year. I want to find a place to live and to get my kids enrolled in school. I'm aware it won't start for a couple of months, but I want them to get acclimated to their new living environment before they start classes. After they're settled, I'll fly back and close things up here."
"Bilson told me you plan to change your name from Sandar to Brenman. Will that be a problem if you plan to enroll your kids in school?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Leopard's Daughter"
Copyright © 2018 Stephen J. Tillman.
Excerpted by permission of Azure Spider Publications LLC.
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