End Street Book 5: The Case of the Purple Pearl by Amber Kell and RJ Scott
Buylinks here when available: http://rjscottauthor.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-case-of-purple-pearl-end-street-5.html
Blurb: After failing in a quest to win the Fae Queen’s approval, Halstein is locked in a world of stone. Forced to remain a gargoyle he spends his days on Sam’s desk pining for his lost love.
Prince Idris’s lover went missing and was presumed dead. Alone, Idris lives a life away from court, starved of energy but unwilling to sleep in the room he once shared with his beloved.
Can Sam and Bob save these fated lovers before it’s too late? And will Bob’s ultimate sacrifice be enough to free Hal from his prison?
Volume 1 – Books 1 & 2
Volume 2 – Books 3 & 4
“What are you doing?”
Sam sighed. This was the fifth time today their visiting gargoyle had asked him that. Three weeks had passed since it had decided to stay at the house and wait for Sam to find it a master. And those three weeks had lasted a very long time.
“Taxes,” Sam muttered. The same answer he’d given every single time he’d been asked.
“I don’t like math,” the little gargoyle said. He waddled across Sam’s desk, leaving small muddy footprints on a neatly filled-in form. Sam couldn’t even muster the energy to get angry.
“Are you going to tell me your name yet?” Sam asked. He placed his pen on the desk and leaned back with a stretch, eying the small gargoyle against the hulking monstrosity that sat immobile on the corner of his desk. They were so dissimilar, in size and expression.
“You know I can only tell my master.”
“I can’t keep calling you the little gargoyle. I’m going to have to give you a name.”
The little gargoyle turned in a circle to face Sam, then squatted into a pose with his mouth open in a snarl. It looked pretty mean, and Sam edged back.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
The gargoyle’s expression changed back to the one he usually had; that of a dopey baby.
“Nothing, I was just giving you my fierce face so you can give me the right name. I’m not having you calling me Sunshine or Cutie. I want something strong like Zephariel Angel of Vengeance.”
Sam couldn’t help the snort of laughter, then immediately felt guilty when the gargoyle’s expression fell. “Sorry,” he apologized. “It’s just, uhm, that name is taken. How about Leo, like a lion, a brave, strong lion.”
The gargoyle tilted his head in contemplation, then nodded. “Leo, I like Leo. I’m done with you now. You already have a gargoyle. I’m going to find my true master.”
That decided, he jumped down off the desk and waddled over to the door, sidestepping awkwardly when Smudge slunk in with intent in every step. In a leap, Smudge was up on the desk, sitting right on the tax forms and staring straight into Sam’s face.
“What are you doing?” Smudge asked telepathically.
“Taxes,” Sam answered. He didn’t add a sigh this time.
“You should be tracking down what kind of other your uncle’s pet gargoyle is.”
Leo, the newly named visiting gargoyle, had declared that the old paperweight on Sam’s desk that looked like a gargoyle, walked like a gargoyle, and was stone like a gargoyle, wasn’t actually a gargoyle at all, but other.
“Where do you suggest I start? And why can’t you tell what it is, oh powerful familiar.” Sam couldn’t help the sarcasm. Smudge was capable of putting souls back in bodies and using heavy magic, but he couldn’t track down what kind of paranormal had been transformed into an ancient crumbling gargoyle paperweight?
“I’ll forget you said that,” Smudge said condescendingly. “I’ve been busy.”
“With what?” Sam asked. Privately he thought Smudge spent too much time cleaning himself with his paws up in the air and his tongue—
“I can hear you,” Smudge warned. “And who else do you think can keep your attic spider infestation at bay?”
Sam shuddered. He didn’t like small spiders at best, let alone the giant ones Smudge had suggested lived only a few floors up. “Good work,” Sam praised. “And as to our paperweight friend here—” Sam tapped the solid stone thing on the head with a stapler. “—I’ve put out a request to everyone I know as to who may be missing someone. I used the ParaGoogle to see if anyone knows anything. Not sure what else I can do at this stage.”
Smudge gave a feline version of a huff, deliberately washed himself on the desk for a good five minutes, then disappeared out of the room. Sam shook off the fur that had fallen on his paperwork. This needed to be done and, unless he finished it soon, he’d have the authorities fining him all over the place.
A knock on his office door jerked Sam from his sad contemplation of the bills he had to pay. Although he’d earned some money recently and he owned the building where he worked and lived, the flow of money going out far exceeded the money rushing into his pockets.
Taxes were a bitch.
Competition to win $15 Amazon/Are giftcard, and 2 further prizes of RJ Scott e-books – closes 6th December at 00:01 GMT (London)
RJ Scott has been writing since age six, when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies. She was told to write a story and two sides of paper about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born.
As an avid reader herself, she can be found reading anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror. However, her first real true love will always be the world of romance where she takes cowboys, bodyguards, firemen and billionaires (to name a few) and writes dramatic and romantic stories of love and passion between these men.
With over seventy titles to her name and counting, she is the author of the award winning book, The Christmas Throwaway. She is also known for the Texas series charting the lives of Riley and Jack, and the Sanctuary series following the work of the Sanctuary Foundation and the people it protects.
Her goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, that hint of a happily ever after.
www.tumblr.com/blog/rjscott (some NSFW (not safe for work) photos)
About Amber Kell:
Amber Kell is one of those quiet people they always tell you to watch out for. She lives in Dallas with her husband, two sons, and one extremely stupid dog.
Book 1 – The Psychic’s Tale by Chris Quinton
Four hundred years ago in rural England, a mob burned two men to death, but not before one of them, Jonathan Curtess, hurled a dreadful curse at the mob’s leader, Sir Belvedere Fitzwarren. The curse has followed the family through the centuries, bringing grief and loss to each generation.
Mark Renfrew is a closeted psychic and openly gay. When his grandmother discovers a family link to a 17th century feud and a still-potent curse, she insists he investigates and do his best to end it. When he travels to the village of Steeple Westford, he meets and falls for Jack Faulkner, an archaeologist. He also meets the Fitzwarrens, who are facing yet another tragedy.
Then Mark learns that the man who cursed them had twisted the knife by leaving three cryptic conditions that would lift the curse, and he knows he has to try to break the curse his ancestor had set.
Book 2 – The Soldier’s Tale by RJ Scott
Corporal Daniel Francis has returned to his childhood home in England to heal; the only one of his unit that survived a roadside bomb. His reasons for skipping medication are based on a stubborn refusal to become an addict, and he is overwhelmed with survivor’s guilt.
Doctor Sean Lester has joined his father’s surgery and when he is held at knife point by a patient high on drugs it is Daniel that leaps to his rescue-much to his horror.
When Sean nearly runs Daniel down in the dark he finds a man who needs help, and resolves to be the person to show Daniel that it is possible to live through guilt and find happiness.
Set against the backdrop of the Fitzwarren family curse, The Soldiers Tale is a story of one man’s fight to find his place in a new world outside of the Army.
Will Daniel and Sean fill the second of three cryptic conditions that can lift the curse?
Book 3 – The Lord’s Tale by Sue Brown
Phil Fitzwarren is surrounded by death and tragedy as a result of the curse imposed on his family by Jonathan Curtess. The estate is riddled with debt, his parents and brother killed and his young nephew and much-wanted heir to what is left of the Fitzwarren estate fights for his life after being born prematurely.
Phil also has to admit that as his friends and family pair off and marry, he is lonely, and maybe a little jealous. He takes his anger and frustration out on the climbing wall, only to be picked up by a gorgeous guy when he freezes twenty feet up.
Lee Curtis is a force of nature, inserting himself into Phil’s life before Phil has time to breathe. But there is the third part of the curse to break, “when the one who seeks in danger is sworn to the landless lord”. Phil realises that Lee is the final piece of the puzzle and the curse which has plagued his family for centuries may finally be broken.
NOEL MUROHY made that choking noise that Dan associated with really good sex—when you want to speak, but all your brain functions are totally scrambled.
Dan Young looked up from his e-reader to see Noel staring at the screen of the laptop. “Are you all right, babe?” Dan asked, concerned at the glassy-eyed expression on his husband’s face. He’d been reading while Noel scrolled yet again through the listings on one of the realtors’ sites.
“This is it. The one. This is the fucking one.”
To Dan’s consternation Noel slammed his hand on the table, making the laptop leap into the air.
“Noel, babe, what’s going on?” Dan rolled off the sofa. “You’re scaring the shit outta me.”
Noel pointed to the screen. “I’ve found the house we’re going to buy. This is it. Our Forever Home.” As usual, his voice rose an octave in his excitement.
Dan didn’t rush over to the laptop. There had been other forever homes. At least six in Maine, if he remembered correctly, and a couple out of state. Noel had been just as enthusiastic about each one, although they hadn’t provoked the choked sex noise. Still, Dan wasn’t going to go into raptures about yet more bricks and mortar. Location, location, location. That’s what everyone kept telling them. If they were going to find their forever home, it wasn’t enough that the place was big or it was in a gated community. The next house had to be everything they had been looking for all wrapped up in one neat package. Their forever home, because they both hated moving, and the next time was going to be the last time as far as they were concerned.
Dan dropped his chin onto Noel’s shoulder. “Show me the fucking one. Let me see what’s got you all worked up.”
Noel pointed again, and there it was. Barnacles Cottage, three bedrooms, with an attic or a garage that Noel could use as his studio. Painted a deep blue, the cottage seemed to blend in with its surroundings. Ocean-fronted in a thriving rural community, and a place that was within their price range. Even to Dan, it seemed perfect and close enough to Portland that Dan could still travel to work.
“Thank you, Granddad,” Dan murmured.
Noel reached back and stroked Dan’s head. The only reason they could afford a place like Barnacles Cottage at their age was the sizeable inheritance from Dan’s grandfather, who had died earlier in the year. Otherwise, they lived on Dan’s just about okay salary and Noel’s bar money. Once in a while Noel sold a picture, and then they really celebrated.
“It has a pool,” Noel said, as he read the details.
They shouted it out simultaneously, and Noel started giggling as Dan blushed.
“Look at you. Your mind slipped straight into the gutter. I’m so proud.” Noel said.
Dan gave Noel a shove. “I was innocent before I met you.”
Noel gave a derisive snort. “Sure you were. And where did I meet you?”
“I told you. It was an accident.”
“You mean you just happened to be passing by the pole in the strip club and your clothes fell off?”
“With a little help from you,” Dan agreed, burying his burning face in the back of Noel’s neck.
The truth was not far from that. He had been innocent, and starving, and desperate to supplement his student income. His friend had mentioned that they were looking for dancers at a local club. Still new to the city and unaware of the nature of Hot Wired, he’d visited the club during the day. The club had been dark and empty. The only person in sight had been the barman, a gorgeous man, probably a couple of years older than him, with black, wavy hair, dark eyes, and a filthy mind. Once he had stopped laughing at Dan’s youthful innocence, Noel initiated him into what exactly he’d be doing. Noel had laughed even harder as Dan’s face heated up. But needs must, and Dan was sick of being hungry. Once he’d gotten past the shame and embarrassment of taking his clothes off and wriggling around a pole, Dan discovered he enjoyed his new life, and he enjoyed the barman even more.
Noel was an artist. Every second he wasn’t serving overpriced drinks, he was painting huge canvases with the verve and passion he brought to everything, especially initiating Dan into the art of making love. Dan had been as innocent about that as everything else. Eight years on, the passion hadn’t decreased. Noel loved his young lover, and Dan returned it tenfold. That didn’t mean they wouldn’t look at hot pool boys, though.
Still buried in Noel’s neck, Dan closed his eyes, his eyelashes teasing the sensitive skin below Noel’s hairline.
“You’re doing that deliberately,” Noel murmured.
Dan smiled, pressing a kiss into Noel’s skin. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I like touching you.”
“Hmmm.” Noel leaned back against Dan. “So are we going to buy Barnacles Cottage?”
“It’s probably already gone,” Dan said, practical as ever.
“Then it’s gone. But there’s no harm in checking, is there?”
Dan straightened up and took another look at the cottage. It was amazing, and it seemed to have everything they were looking for. “Give them a call, babe. Don’t get too excited, yeah?”
Noel had been devastated at the loss of some of the other potential buys.
“Yeah, yeah,” Noel said, sounding distracted.
Dan sighed as he sat back down on the sofa and picked up his e-reader. It was like talking to a brick wall sometimes. He’d be there to pick up the pieces when the sale fell through.
Sheriff Milo Clarke has met his mate, Eli Watkins, and now they’re conducting a long distance relationship while Eli runs the Cavalry, the security firm protecting Joe and Cal at the Sapphire Ranch from the hunters.
The long distance loving is hard on all three of them, Eli, Clarke and Clarke’s wolf, who is becoming more restless as Clarke refuses to shift. When Clarke going to give into the other side of him and how will Clarke and Eli resolve the distance between their lives?
Sheriff Milo Clarke leaned against the kitchen cabinets as he watched Eli Watkins and his team, the Calvary, remove the remains of Randy Streerson from the kitchen of Sapphire Ranch. He’d offered to help and been told firmly to stay the hell out of their way as they committed a felony.
Staying to one side was a damned sensible move. What used to be Randy Streerson, the head of a group of hunters that pursued and killed shifters, now covered the kitchen walls, floor, and dripped from the ceiling after young shifter Callum Pope shot him with one of the hunter’s bullets.
Cal was a distant shifter relative of Milo’s. His father had been related to Milo’s mother. Cal’s father and two elder brothers had been killed by a band of hunters led by the Streerson family. The pack had splintered in an effort to survive, and Cal had turned up on Sapphire Ranch after running hundreds of miles to get away from the hunters, only to discover the owner of the ranch was his mate. A lot had happened in a few days.
Eli’s men took away what remained of the body and now they scrubbed the kitchen, surprisingly efficient. Milo didn’t have to be a cop to know this wasn’t the first time the Cavalry had cleaned away evidence that a murder had taken place.
He was stuck between duty and likely survival. On one hand he’d witnessed the struggle between Cal and Streerson for control of the gun before Cal had pulled the trigger. On the other…
How the hell would he explain to his deputies what had just taken place? They would want to know where he’d been hiding for the past few days, why he’d been lying to them, who the victim—who was no fucking victim—was, and what the hell was a shifter?
He was a shifter. At least a half-shifter. His mother had been a werewolf and Milo could change, he just chose not to. Instead he lived among the humans as a sheriff and hadn’t given in to that side of him for over five years except for one glorious moment a few days ago. Milo tried not to think about it even as his wolf grumbled inside.
Milo watched the team—at least he watched Eli. His whole attention was focused on the dark-haired man. Just watching him made his mouth dry and his dick hard. From the second Milo had shifted to prove the existence of werewolves to Eli and his assistant Ross, he’d realized that Eli was his mate.
Unable to resist, he’d trotted up to Eli and laid his head on his lap. Tentatively Eli had stroked his head, and Milo leaned into the caress, wanting Eli to touch him more. Eli filled his wolf senses. He smelled woodsy with a touch of citrus. He smelled good.
“Good doggy,” Eli had murmured.
Doggy? Milo gave a low growl at the insult, grinning in wolfy satisfaction as Eli snatched his hand back. He wouldn’t have hurt him—much.
And Eli had seemed equally drawn to him, finding it hard to take his eyes off Milo, even as they’d talked strategy with Joe, Cal’s mate and the owner of Sapphire Ranch.
But they hadn’t gone near each other, hadn’t touched each other at all beyond that one brief contact. Milo had been relieved because they had needed to focus their minds, not their dicks, to defeat the hunters. Relieved—and frustrated beyond belief to have his mate so close and not be able to touch him.
There was another issue. They hadn’t connected telepathically. Milo had thought that happened immediately. But he was only a half-shifter, with limited shifter abilities in his human form, and Eli was a human. What would happen if they didn’t connect? Could they walk away from each other? It would make life so much simpler.
Milo caught Eli frowning at him, and he looked away, feeling guilty. Eli didn’t need to know. They hadn’t connected. He need never know. Milo’s wolf howled inside him at the thought of walking away from his mate, and for once Milo didn’t try to hush him. The thought hurt his human side just as much. But Milo had spent his whole life hiding his true nature, and now, through no fault of his own, everything he’d worked to hide was liable to be exposed. Among humans he hid the fact he was half-shifter. Around shifters he tried hard to fit in, even though his human side affected his wolf senses. And with both communities he hid the fact he was gay.
Milo had spent his whole life in hiding and with one phone call Joe had exposed him to humans—both as shifter and as gay. He wasn’t fucking ready for it. And didn’t that suck?
A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.
A note to the Editor
I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.
You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.
So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.
I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.
Available for pre-order at Samhain now.
Twenty years ago the UK’s water supply was contaminated with an experimental pathogen, Lycanaeris, causing widespread panic across the nation. Terrorism was suspected but never proven, and when nothing happened–no epidemic, no unexplained illnesses–the whole episode was written off as an elaborate hoax. But Lycanaeris was selective. Only those of a certain age, and with a specific gene in their DNA were infected. Time would reveal the pathogen’s true nature, when those susceptible grew up Altered.
Daniel is one of thousands forced to hide his altered status by living a quiet life. He’s not like the others, though. Daniel can’t help looking so distinctive or being able to see every altered for what they really are. To those abducting altereds, that skill makes him valuable.
For Jordan, shifting from human to wolf means living under the radar to avoid unwanted attention. Meeting Daniel complicates matters. Daniel’s existence is a threat to Jordan and his friends, but Jordan can’t seem to shake the strange connection between them. When danger threatens, there’s little time for Daniel and Jordan to work out their feelings before lives are at stake.
January 1995 – Cerlika Pharmaceuticals, Reading
The research department, three floors below ground, lay quiet and deserted at eleven forty-five on a Friday night. Except for one lone scientist, typing furiously and checking over his shoulder every few minutes. He pressed the Return key on his computer, and slumped back in his chair.
It was done.
The cursor blinked back at him, the rest of the screen, empty. He’d deleted all of it—every last piece of information relating to Lycanaeris had been erased forever. He should have done it after the very first batch, as soon as he realised what they were trying to do—what they’d already done.
At least they hadn’t started clinical trials yet, and with all the information gone, they wouldn’t be able to now. All that remained were the vials, and he’d take care of them soon enough.
He turned off his monitor and walked over to the bank of fridges along the back wall, housing vials and vials of samples under test. He opened the door to the third fridge and carefully took out the small rectangular container, placing it on the bench. It held ten vials—enough to infect half the population if administered correctly.
He never heard the door open behind him, didn’t register he’d been shot until the pain hit, and red began to spread across the front of his lab coat. He slumped to the floor, the voice of his attacker sounding loud in the silence of the room.
“I have the vials, everything else is gone.”
The answering voice on the other end of the phone came through faint but audible. “The vials are all we need. Do you have them all?”
“Is everyone ready to go?”
“Yes, it’ll be in the water supplies by noon tomorrow.”
“Good. Destroy the lab. And Kestle?”
“Make sure you stock up on bottled water.”
London, January 2015
“Twenty years ago this week, the majority of the UK’s water supply was contaminated by the experimental pathogen, Lycanaeris, resulting in nationwide panic and an almost crippling water shortage. Cerlika Pharmaceuticals, the company behind Lycanaeris, denied any involvement, claiming terrorists stole the pathogen from its Reading laboratory before then setting the facility on fire and killing one of Cerlika’s lead chemists.”
Daniel frowned at the TV as he walked into the living room, while doing up the last of the buttons on his shirt. “What the hell are you watching this rubbish for?” He wandered over to the sofa and sat down on the arm where Matt had his feet propped up. “And get your smelly socks off the cushions.”
“I’m watching because it’s interesting,” Matt said, leaning forward a little and sniffing. “And fuck you, my feet don’t smell.” He turned the volume up.
“Cerlika claimed the pathogen was essentially a new strain of the flu virus, but further details were never released to the general public. The UK’s hospitals and doctors’ surgeries braced themselves for an influx of patients, but after months of waiting, the government claimed the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. By this time, Cerlika Pharmaceuticals no longer existed—having closed its doors under a cloud of suspicion and secrecy and selling off its assets to the highest bidder. The head of Cerlika, John Talson, and his top scientist, Kyle Chambers, disappeared around the same time, so neither was available for questioning. The actual effects of the Lycanaeris pathogen didn’t begin to surface until—”
“God, turn it off.” Daniel snatched the TV remote and pressed the power button before Matt could grab it back. “I don’t know why you insist on watching that shit. It’s not like we don’t know what happened. We were there.”
“Yeah, but we were, like, six years old.”
“I was five, actually.”
Matt sat up and stretched, his muscles flexing and his back cracking as he raised his arms above his head. He was still wearing only his jeans, and they were supposed to be going out in ten minutes. “Don’t you ever wonder what really happened? Why it affected some people and not others?”
Not really. I guess people react differently to viruses. Anyway, Cerlika dissolved almost straight after it happened, and the fire conveniently destroyed any evidence. Obviously they were in it up to their eyes. And the fact that no one was investigated should tell you they had friends in high places. Face it, you’re never going to know the truth, so why bother?” Daniel checked his watch and frowned. “Hurry up and get dressed, or we’re gonna be late.”
Matt’s timekeeping pissed Daniel off no end sometimes. He was one of Daniel’s best friends, they’d known each other since primary school, and he’d always been the last to get ready for anything.
Matt stood, grabbed a dark blue T-shirt from the back of the chair, and tugged it on. “There, I’m ready.” He ran his fingers through his hair a couple of times, bent to pull on his shoes, and ushered Daniel toward the door. “We’re only meeting up for a drink, it’s not like the others’ll be on time either.” Matt paused and glanced back down the hall toward the bedrooms. “Is Ash coming out?”
“No. I asked earlier, and he mumbled something about being busy with wizards and guilds, and was surprised I had the energy after such an exciting day at the library.”
“Yes, the two of you must be exhausted after a day shelving books.” Matt laughed, and avoided Daniel’s attempt to hit him.
“Hey, I only got a job there because I thought it seemed like the last place anyone would think to look. Anyway, we don’t spend the whole day putting books back, and I actually enjoy my job.”
Matt raised an eyebrow, and Daniel glared at him.
“I do. And so does Ash, for that matter, despite what he says. You don’t have to be old to work in a library, so piss off.”
“Okay, no need to get so defensive.” Matt grinned at him before leading the way to the front door, not bothering to put on his jacket. The cold January evening had little effect on him, and Daniel sighed as he tugged on Matt’s shoulder, forcing him to stop. “Matt.”
He grabbed Matt’s coat off the peg and handed it to him.
Ten years of hiding, and Matt still sometimes forgot.
They walked down to the end of their street, and Daniel shivered as they passed the last house and the wind picked up. The buildings in this part of London weren’t huge or overly expensive, but they were mainly well-kept, and the streetlights gave them an old town charm that they didn’t have in the day.
Neighbours were friendly in that they said hello in the mornings, but tended to mind their own business most of the time. Daniel felt as safe here as he probably would anywhere, and they had everything they needed within walking distance or a few stops on the Tube.
The bar they were meeting at tonight was roughly a twenty-minute walk away, maybe fifteen at the pace Matt walked. At six feet tall, Daniel stood an inch shorter than Matt, but he always seemed to struggle to keep up, even though Matt insisted he was walking normally.
As they left the residential area behind, bars and restaurants lined the streets, always busy with a steady hum of people. It had been one of the deciding factors in coming to London in the first place—too many people for them to stand out in the crowd.
“Anything?” Daniel asked, watching Matt out of the corner of his eye.
“A couple, two streets over, and six just up ahead.” Matt flexed his fingers as he spoke, glancing around them.
As they rounded the corner and the bar came into view, Daniel noticed the man on the door. Matt tensed beside him.
The guy was new.
He eyed Daniel curiously, but Daniel didn’t falter, well practiced at tamping down any reaction. The guy was probably looking at his hair anyway. It used to be a nondescript light brown. An okay colour, but nothing that turned heads. The day after the pathogen changed him on the inside, Daniel’s hair turned a shocking silver blond.
Hard to forget.
He’d tried dying it, had gone through the whole range of available dyes and colours, but nothing would take. That had been one of the many reasons his family had to move.
At least his eyes hadn’t changed, though. They were the same blue they’d always been. In fact, apart from his hair and a slight increase in his ability to heal, there was only one other notable difference. Some might call him lucky, but Daniel knew he was anything but.
He carried on walking next to Matt, heart rate steady, and breaths coming slow and even as they neared the pub.
“How late are we?” he asked, pausing in front of the door. But what he meant was “How many are there?” They’d developed simple yet subtle codes over the years. Easy to remember, hopefully impossible to detect, and essential in keeping Daniel’s ability a secret. Forewarned was forearmed.
Matt made a show of looking at his watch. “Only about five minutes, they’re all probably waiting inside.” Five, inside the bar.
With the one on the door, that made six. Not loads, but more than they’d been expecting for a Thursday night. They’d only wanted a quiet drink with friends. Daniel would have to be a little more on his guard than usual, but no big deal.
“Shall we?” Matt gestured toward the door and Daniel nodded. Matt made sure to stand between Daniel and the bouncer, acknowledging the guy with a quick nod before going inside.
The bar lined the back wall of the large room, with tables around the edges and a big open space in the middle. The décor was too modern in Daniel’s opinion—he preferred the old fashioned pub round the corner from their house—but Matt liked it.
Daniel glanced around, looking for their friends and seeing if he could spot the others Matt had sensed. Knowing where they were, and where the exits were, helped him feel more in control of the situation. Just in case.
He scanned the bar, his gaze sliding quickly past the various faces, not daring to linger. Two men sat at a table in the corner, perched on high stools, both with their backs to the wall, giving them a clear view of the room.
Daniel ignored them, showing not a flicker of recognition for what they were. Two more were at the bar—a man and a woman this time, standing closer than friends would, with their fingers loosely entwined, and he searched for the fifth one, all the while following Matt to the far end of the bar where their friends waited.
Daniel was about to give up, before it could become obvious he was looking, when the hairs on the back of his neck tingled—a sensation he hadn’t felt in a long time—making him shiver. He wanted to turn around, desperate to see what or who had caused him to react that way, but years of forcing himself to hide what he was kept Daniel firmly in place.
“Hey, Dan? You okay?” Matt nudged him gently with his elbow.
They’d reached their friends—two guys Matt worked with. Daniel smiled at them while Matt’s gaze slid down to Daniel’s chest.
Shit. His heart rate must have spiked. Daniel hoped the bar was loud enough to cover it, because altereds, or shifters as the newspapers called them, had exceptional hearing and everyone was suspicious these days. The last thing they needed was to draw any curious glances.
They ordered their drinks. Only after chatting for at least five minutes did Daniel allow himself to turn around, rest his back against the bar, and have another scan around the room.
He sipped at his pint, nodding along with the conversation while stealing glances at those around him. The tingly feeling hadn’t come back, but Daniel still felt off-kilter.
The two men at the corner table sat there, drinking bottled beer and appearing deep in conversation. Daniel didn’t think for one second they weren’t aware of everything going on around them.
He laughed at the joke Matt was in the middle of telling, chipping in for a bit and teasing him, and then he felt it again, creeping up the back of his spine like icy fingers. Daniel stayed perfectly still, suppressing his body’s natural reaction, and carefully turned to place his empty pint glass on the bar.
He let his gaze wander along to the end of the bar, past the couple he’d spotted earlier, and—
He sucked in a sharp breath before he could stop himself. Usually he got a flash of images, depending on how much they’d been altered—claws, teeth, and fur if they changed fully, but never anything like this. One minute Daniel was looking at a tall dark-haired, really hot man, and in the blink of an eye he’d changed into a huge black wolf, fangs bared in a snarl—clearer than anything he’d seen before.
The image vanished almost as soon as it appeared, and the noise from the bar suddenly jarred Daniel back to his senses.
He could be in serious trouble. His gasp had almost certainly been audible to altered senses, and his heart had begun to race before he’d managed to get himself under control. The whole thing lasted no more than a few seconds at most, but long enough for every altered in the room to notice if they were paying attention.
Matt stiffened next to him. A quick squeeze on Daniel’s arm let him know Matt had heard.
God, he hadn’t been that sloppy in years. Daniel had to fight the urge to run out of the bar. The need to get away was almost too much to contain, but if any of the five had noticed him, running would only add to their suspicions.
Daniel didn’t dare look at any of the altereds again, his fear of discovery barely concealed as it was. But then Matt moved in close beside him, ordered them both another pint, and quickly shook his head.
None of the others had reacted.
“You sure?” he asked, pointing at Matt’s new pint. Are you sure they didn’t notice anything?
He wanted to ask Matt what he meant by that, but with so many shifters around that was out of the question.
Matt tapped at his pint. “Last one, then we’ll make our excuses and go. I’m not feeling it tonight.”
“Yeah, okay.” Daniel took a big swallow of his beer and relaxed back against the bar again as though he hadn’t just put his life—and possibly Matt’s by association—in danger.
Half an hour later, Daniel was zipping up his jacket as he stepped out of the bar into the freezing night air. He hated winter—cold and dark when he got up in the morning and the same when he arrived home at night.
“Bollocks. I left my coat inside.”
“Again?” Daniel sighed. “I’ll wait here while you go and get it.” Matt hesitated, clearly reluctant to leave Daniel on his own, but Daniel shooed him back inside. It’d take Matt all of two minutes, and the bouncer was right there. Nothing was going to happen. “Hurry up, I’m getting cold.”
“Okay, but….” He held up two fingers and shot a quick glance down the street. Two shifters.
“I’ll stay right here.” Daniel nodded toward the bouncer. He might be a shifter too, but as long as he thought Daniel was harmless, he’d provide protection.
The door opened seconds after Matt had gone through it. Daniel had the words “What now?” on the tip of his tongue, convinced it was Matt coming back out, but one of the bar staff poked his head out instead, and the sounds of fighting filtered out into the street.
“You better get in here.” The barman looked pissed off—and wet.
The bouncer rushed inside after him, leaving Daniel on his own.
He glanced up and down the street, rubbing his hands together to keep warm and subtly trying to see if the two shifters Matt had sensed were anywhere near him. The whole thing felt off. The pub had seen better days, and the clientele could be on the rough side, so occasionally fights broke out. But this early on a Thursday night? Surely no one was drunk enough for that yet?
And what was taking Matt so long?
Daniel stepped toward the door, figuring he’d rather take his chances inside than out here on his own, but a heavy hand landed on his shoulder before he had chance to open it.
“You’re coming with us.”
Daniel didn’t hesitate. The grip was too strong to be human, and he was sure claws were pressing through his jacket and into his skin. He grabbed hold of his attacker’s wrist and pulled, twisting his body at the same time and catching them off guard. He hadn’t trained in years, but the muscle memory was still there.
The guy stumbled, cursing as he slammed into the wall behind Daniel. “What the fuck?”
He might not have enhanced speed and strength, but Daniel had studied tae kwon do for eight years before his family had to move. He could take care of himself.
Well, in a fair fight, anyway.
The punch that landed as Daniel tried to open the door to the bar was anything but. It caught him squarely on the jaw, knocking his head to the side and sending him flailing backwards to land on his arse on the cold concrete.
“He’s just a bloody seer, Jason. What the hell is wrong with you?”
Daniel struggled to his feet in time to see a bloke built like a rugby player, pulling another one—Jason—roughly to his feet. They both turned around, and before Daniel had got fully upright, they had him pinned to the wall in the alleyway next to the bar.
His head spun from being moved so quickly, but they didn’t give him chance to get his bearings. The next punch hit him in the ribs, followed by sharp claws raking down his side and tearing through his jacket and T-shirt. Daniel collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath.
He fingered at the rips in his clothing, and winced. Sore but not bloody.
“What are you doing here?” one of the men growled out. He kicked Daniel hard, his boot connecting with Daniel’s already tender side and making Daniel retch.
“Having… a fucking… drink,” Daniel spat out, clutching at his bruised ribs.
“Funny.” The rugby player—prop forward if Daniel was picking positions—pulled Daniel up and pressed him hard against the wall, his large hand wrapped loosely around Daniel’s throat.
“Look….” Daniel stalled, the pain in his side making it difficult to think clearly. He hadn’t been recognised once since they’d come to London, and he was pissed off with himself for being so careless. The guy tightened his grip, and Daniel struggled to get the words out. “I don’t work for anyone. I’m not looking for anyone. I’m just here with my mates, for a drink.”
Jason—the guy not preoccupied with slowly suffocating Daniel—stiffened, and his head whipped round to look back down the alley toward the road. “We’ve got company.” He sniffed the air and growled, turning back to glare at Daniel with his fangs fully extended. “Shifter,” he muttered, the words slightly distorted by his lengthened teeth. “Smells like him.”
As the pressure disappeared from around his throat, Daniel gasped for air and slumped back against the wall.
“Hey!” Matt’s voice echoed off the sides of the alleyway. “What the hell is going on?” He snarled, low and threatening, and the next moment he was there, standing between Daniel and the other two shifters.
Matt was hunched over, claws out.
“I believe I asked you a fucking question.” His back and shoulders rippled with tension. Matt was generally easy-going, loud, and friendly—until you pissed him off enough to make him shift.
The other two shifters had claws and fangs, more than enough to tear Matt apart between them, but he held his ground.
Rugby Guy laughed, and Daniel tensed. “What d’you think you’re gonna do?” He gestured to Matt and then to himself and his friend. “You can’t take us. And why the hell are you with him, anyway?” He sneered as he nodded at Daniel. “Do you know what he is?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“The facilities still exist. They were never fucking shut down, and they use people like him to pick us out of a crowd. And yet you still protect him?” Rugby Guy scoffed.
Matt flexed his hands, claws ready. Shit. The last thing they needed was a fight when the odds were so obviously not in their favour. Daniel reached out to place his hand in the small of Matt’s back.
As soon as Daniel touched him, Matt shuddered and took a deep breath, his shoulders relaxing as he slowly let it out… and said, “With my life.”