Shifter's Claim Part IV
The Shadow Shifters
By A.C. Arthur
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2014 A.C. Arthur
All rights reserved.
Agent Dorian Wilson was nowhere to be found. Nivea had gone to his apartment once more, she'd waited hours for him to leave, but he hadn't. Sure, because of Bas's call she'd been an hour late getting to his apartment near the D.C. and northern Virginia border, but he wasn't due into work for another forty-five minutes, so she'd thought she still had time. Now, at almost ten o'clock in the morning, she knew something was wrong. A search of the parking garage where he held a monthly pass, proved her point. Wilson's car wasn't there.
Cursing to herself as she drove out onto the street once more, she reached for her cell phone, which was based on the dashboard and pressed for a stored number to be dialed. Before the number could be connected and she could speak through her Bluetooth, reporting her location and current situation to the guards at Havenway, she received an incoming text that read:
Search complete. IP location: 909 ½ 29th Street NW.
With the call back to base completely disregarded, Nivea punched the address into her GPS and drove with every intention of finding out who was holding Malik Drake hostage and threatening the shifters at the same time.
Forty minutes later she parked her car directly in front of a brownstone that displayed the same address as the one in her phone. Grabbing her phone off the dash, sticking it in her back pocket, and checking the weapon under her right pants leg, she climbed out of the car and headed up the steps. Three presses to the doorbell but there was no answer. Two sturdy knocks and even an attempted yell through the door that she was with the utility company, and still no answer, but there was a scent.
Closing her eyes, Nivea pressed her forehead to the door and took a deep inhale. Cars drove by on the street behind her, somewhere in the distance a dog barked, and above the sun shone like a beacon. Nivea, however, remained perfectly still as she focused totally on the scent tickling her nose.
It was a human, a bleeding human and it was coming from inside this house. She didn't think beyond that, couldn't really, as her adrenaline kicked immediately into action. Pulling a pin from her ponytail she went to work on the lock, disengaging it about ten seconds after she'd first touched it. The knob turned at her command and in the next instant Nivea was inside the house. The scent instantly intensified and she stopped only long enough to pull her gun from its holster before fully moving in. Letting her senses guide her, Nivea moved through what looked like a very well-to-do person's house with its crystal-and-gold chandelier gleaming from above, plush carpets, and lavish furniture. She ignored all that in pursuit of the aroma, passing the living and dining rooms, coming to a pause at a door. With no one there to stop her, Nivea opened that door and hurried down the steps only to be welcomed by the ring of gunshots.
Ducking quickly behind an old armoire she extended her arm and returned the fire, seeing two men standing in front of a third man tied to a chair — the bleeding human.
A hail of bullets rained down at that moment and Nivea didn't dare peek out from behind the armoire again. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest as she finally cursed herself for not making the call to Havenway, for not asking for backup before entering this damned house. Now she was trapped with dismal chances of getting herself, let alone the bleeding human out of here alive.
"Here kitty, kitty, kitty," a male voice taunted when the shooting subsided. "Come out and play with us."
Dammit, a rogue.
Why hadn't she smelled them first? Why had she only scented the human? It didn't matter now, they weren't shooting so now was her chance. With her back to the armoire she gripped her gun and got low, coming around the side aiming and shooting the one rogue right in the balls. The other received a shot between his eyes and another squarely in the center of his chest. But those shots hadn't come from her. Whirling around she saw immediately who had fired.
"What the hell are you doing here?" she asked.
"Saving your simple ass," was Eli Preston's quick retort.
"Wait a goddamned —" Nivea had started, only to be cut off by Eli and that cocky-ass swagger of his walking right past her as if he had heard all he wanted to hear.
"Save it," he told her as he continued to move across the room. "Let's get him out of here before the owners of this house are notified we're here by the alarm you set off when you broke in."
There hadn't been an alarm. Had there? Nivea stood, holding her gun down as she walked over to where Eli was. He clicked the safety on his gun, tucking it into his back waistband and pulling a knife from his front pocket. Kneeling down, he went to work on the ropes binding the human. The very bloody and unconscious, but still alive, human that Nivea was almost positive was Malik Drake. Next, and as if she weren't even standing there, Eli lifted the man over his shoulder and headed for the back door.
"Text your boyfriend Bas that we're taking his human to George Washington Hospital and don't forget to tell him he owes me one for saving your ass."
Gritting her teeth, Nivea had no choice but to follow him out. If she had triggered an alarm, the company had no doubt already contacted the police and the owners. They had to move fast. Faster than it would take for her to cuss Eli Preston out for following her and then to begrudgingly thank him for, yes, saving her ass.
* * *
Bas covered her body with his to shield her from any more of the fighting. Even though he'd taken out the two cats on his side, Palermo had shifted before she got off her shot and could possibly get up again. Or not. He had no idea where the cat had been shot, or if the bullet had hit the animal at all. And right at this moment it didn't matter. What mattered was getting Priya to safety. Palermo's words, his threats to do to Priya what he had done to Mariah, still echoed in Bas's head, spurring on a rage that ran so deep he'd come to believe it was an intricate part of the man and the cat.
He'd been outnumbered just as he was that night in the Gungi and at one point they'd had Priya surrounded. She could be dead right at this moment. The thought roared through his mind like a hurricane and his cat bared its teeth, yelling into the night once again. Then there was movement and he looked down into her face, saw that she was breathing rapidly, her eyes so wide they'd completely bulge out any minute now.
In the next moments Bas shifted, returning to his human form. He moved off of her but stayed close, helping her into a sitting position.
"Are you okay?" he asked, raking his eyes over every part of Priya's body to be sure she wasn't hurt in any way.
"F — fine," she mumbled, brushing off the front of her dress and standing up. "I'm okay but you need to get dressed."
She was right. It was night but the altercation had been noisy. As Bas stood and looked around for his clothes he noticed the carcasses of the two cats he'd taken out and the one that Priya had shot. Looking back to where she'd been lying, he retrieved his gun and moved closer to the lead cat. It wasn't moving.
"Grab my phone," Bas instructed Priya while he went back into the truck to pull out the duffle bag stored in the trunk for occasions just as this. After pulling on jeans and a T-shirt, he circled back around to find his shoes.
It was then that he heard the other vehicles approaching and instantly went on alert once again. The scene was a mess, a questionable mess for any human. Bas was just about to run for his shoes and to get Priya when his heart stopped completely. Later tonight, he would think of how everything from that second on moved in slow motion, how his heart that had once beat rhythmically in his chest had stuttered to a slow, staggered beat, and how everything he'd ever worked for, every goal he'd reached, every moment he'd hated the collapse of his parents' marriage and the disappointment of the two most important people in his life, all paled in comparison to watching that damned cat rise from the ground, shift into human form, and reach out to grab Priya as she stood with her back to it.
"Nooo!" he yelled, charging forward.
Palermo turned at the sound of Bas's voice, his bloody arm around Priya's neck, a gun at her temple.
Bas's feet skidded to a stop as glinting eyes stared back at him, mouth twisted in an angry smirk.
"Like I said before, you got my stash and I got your mate, now we're even!" he taunted Bas.
"Let. Her. Go," Bas said, sounding like a man in complete control of his emotions. In all actuality his cat was ready to burst free once more, killing the only action on its agenda.
"Not a fuckin' chance! You can kiss her sweet ass good-bye unless you're ready to make an exchange."
"Bas," Priya yelled.
The sound of her voice, the fear in her eyes, the stench of dead cats on the humid night's air, had Bas seeing red. Rage and every other dark emotion he'd kept stored inside him came rushing to the surface. He took one step, and then another, and when the man's eyes glittered once more, his arm lifting higher as he aimed that gun at Priya's temple, Bas fell to the ground, grabbing the gun from the back waistband of the jeans he'd just slipped on. He aimed and fired.
Priya screamed just as light flooded the area while Bas's heart beat so frantically he thought it might rip right through his chest. He stood, quickly moving to where he'd last seen her being held at gunpoint. She'd fallen down on her knees while Palermo had fallen flat on his back. Bas pulled her into his arms. He sat with his knees on the dirt road with Priya cradled tightly in his arms, rocking her as she wept.
* * *
An hour later there was a flurry of activity at Perryville Resorts. News about some type of altercation just outside the resort had spread like wildfire and the guests were understandably nervous. The media had set up like they planned to tailgate in the parking lot and the staff answered inquiries from guests as calmly as they possibly could. Two police cars were parked at the front entrance as officers waited to speak to anyone who might have possibly been witness to what happened.
Upstairs, on the second floor in the largest conference room at the far west end, a room full of shifters sat pondering what their next move would be.
"Three rogues, and one of them, the one Bas capped right between the eyes, was Palermo Greer," Syfon reported, his face a mask of pure rage and fury. The shifter's broad shoulders were still bunched as if he were ready to shift and kill at any moment. At his side a Glock was holstered, beneath his right pants leg was another gun, and beneath the left was a knife that would cut through flesh as cleanly and quickly as if it were butter.
He continued speaking with Jacques's permission. "Greer arrived in the States a couple months back, immediately hooking up with our favorite group of rogues — Sabar and company. My cousin out in Seattle says they also have pictures of Greer with some human military men.
"Then he showed up on the East Coast the night of that explosion. Next thing we know he's out here setting up headquarters for that wannabe Darel Charles. We have no idea where that headquarters is exactly or how many they had in their employ already," Syfon finished.
"I had Syfon search Kaz's room the minute we returned. Everything's gone. Just like we thought, they had someone on the inside feeding them information. He must have informed them Bas was going out," Jacques added and the reaction was like dropping a match into a glass of gasoline.
"How did he manage to pull off driving the FL?" one shifter asked. "He never drives him."
Jacques spoke up for himself. "I was not aware that the FL was going out and so was indisposed. Syfon says he was never notified either."
"I got a text from Kaz about two hours ago saying he had some things to take care of in town," Paolo volunteered. "So Kaz was working with the rogues all along, that rat bastard."
Shifters all around the room cursed and argued and praised Bas for killing the traitors — at least three of them since Kaz had clearly gotten away. Bas wasn't feeling terribly upset over the loss. Since the plan to either get rid of him or get their drugs back hadn't worked, Bas was almost certain Kaz's role as an informant had sealed the shifter's fate. What he was still concerned by was the fact that the rogue running the show in his area was one of the same fucking killers that he'd crossed fourteen years ago. That, in Bas's mind, was no coincidence.
Still, with all this going on around him, with the urge to shift and hunt riding dangerously close to the surface of all his men, Bas only listened with half an ear. His attention in this room was limited to his physical presence. His mind was elsewhere, his emotions sifting through a dark funnel cloud as realization finally began to set in. Upstairs in his suite, in the bed he'd slept in alone for as long as it had been there, was a woman who had only been trying to save her brother. The fact that her agenda had punctured a gaping hole into his world was just one of those things that happened, something called fate, Bas figured glumly. That fate should be such a cruel bastard was another story entirely.
He'd left Priya in Jewel's care because he had duties to attend to, priorities in his life that did not include her — had never even anticipated a "her" was more like it. He probably should have said something to her, consoled her in some way, but he hadn't. After putting a bullet between the eyes of the man who'd tried to orchestrate the killing of an innocent human, it had been all Bas could do to hold her in his arms, to relish in the fact that she was very much alive. Priya had crumpled instantly to the ground, moving so fast that Bas thought for a split second that he may have hit her instead. He'd fallen to the ground beside her and she'd sunk instantly into his arms.
She'd cried then, like Bas had never heard a person cry before. The sound had torn through his skull like a knife, ripping through the memories and the pain he'd stored there. From the moment he'd met her Priya had been strong, courageous, tenacious. She hadn't cowered when he'd caught her trying to break into Rome's room or when she'd shown up in Nogales. Each time he'd confronted her about the story or why she was here, she'd stood up to him, squaring her shoulders and answering him in that sarcastic way of hers. In the wake of a very real threat against her brother's life, she'd decided to be the one to save him, was determined to do so. Never in all his life had Bas seen that type of selfless courage. Now, tonight, she'd cried in his arms like a baby.
Minutes later Jacques and the rest of the team had arrived. Unaware that Bas was leaving the resort, when Jacques had found his leader missing he'd instantly tracked the SUV through its GPS. He'd tried Bas's cell but had initially received no answer, because Bas had given it to Priya. They were in their own vehicles on their way to the location when Jacques received the call from Bas's phone and heard the commotion on the other end. Priya had only been able to push the CALL button while being watched by those cats before being grabbed by Palermo.
Once the team had arrived and secured the scene, Bas had lifted Priya and put her into the back of his SUV. He'd held her on his lap the entire ride back to the resort then carried her into his room and laid her down. She hadn't spoken a word in all that time, which for Priya was monumental. It also told Bas that she'd seen too much and experienced far more tonight than he'd ever wish on anyone.
Guilt was gripping him so tightly, holding him hostage when he should have been actively participating in the discussion going on around him. His chest was tight, his brow furrowed — he could tell because his head was beginning to pound — fingers clenching and unclenching as he tried to figure out what the next step should be. How could he make this up to her? How could he prevent it from ever happening again? And why hadn't he sent her away before now, before it was too late? (Continues...)
Excerpted from Shifter's Claim Part IV by A.C. Arthur. Copyright © 2014 A.C. Arthur. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.