The Altered 3 (Lycanaeris) by Annabelle Jacobs
Matt is a single shifter living in a house full of couples. It’s not that he begrudges his friends their happiness—especially after everything they’ve been through—but he wants someone for himself. He wants a mate. Living out in the Cornish countryside there seems little chance of him finding one.
Thomas’s life has recently been changed for ever. Newly altered, he finds himself in danger as his mother, a prominent politician, works to put a stop to the mistreatment of altereds and bring those responsible to justice.
To keep him safe, Thomas is sent to Cornwall where Matt and his friends offer him refuge until he can return to his home in London. Despite the circumstances surrounding his arrival, Thomas and Matt bond in a way neither of them were expecting. They struggle to come to terms with what this might mean for their future once the threat is eliminated.
The cool breeze of early morning ruffled the curtains, and Matt squinted against the bright sunlight. It looked as though they were in for another beautiful day—this summer had been one of the hottest they’d had in a while.
He sighed and stretched his arms above his head, content to lie in bed and enjoy the rare quiet of the farmhouse. The barn conversions were nearly complete, and in another couple of weeks, there would be three fully soundproofed, open-plan apartments ready for people to move in to.
The work had gone surprisingly quickly, and Matt would be glad of finally getting a little space again, but he’d be lying if he said he was looking forward to it.
“Fuck.” He ran a hand over his eyes, indulging the feeling of longing for just a second before pushing the covers aside and sitting up.
It made perfect sense that the three couples should take the new apartments. The farmhouse wasn’t soundproofed yet, and everyone had had enough of listening to one another’s bedroom activities. It had been Matt’s suggestion in the first place, and he didn’t mind staying where he was. It was just… he closed his eyes and let out a ragged breath as the sounds of lazy kisses and soft morning greetings now echoed down the hall. He was jealous.
Jordan and Daniel, Keira and Charlie, and now Sam and Ash. They were all so happy. Matt was glad they had each other, but he desperately wished he had someone too.
“Come on, Matt. Get a grip.” The words came out barely more than a whisper. The last thing he wanted was for any of the others to hear him. He rubbed at his chest with the heel of his hand, massaging the constant ache deep inside. It had worsened over the past few weeks, and he couldn’t put his finger on why that was, but he wanted it to stop.
God, what was wrong with him this morning? He stood and shook himself before walking over to the window and drawing the curtains wide, until all he could see was blue sky and green fields. They were so lucky to live here, surrounded by this rugged beauty, and he needed to remember that and stop feeling so fucking sorry for himself.
He was safe; his friends were safe. What more did he need?
By the time he’d showered and dressed, the others were starting to stir. Matt bumped into a sleepy-looking Daniel on his way down the stairs, and couldn’t help but smile as Daniel grumbled out a “Morning,” yawning halfway through.
He shoved Daniel’s shoulder hard enough to make him stumble, and laughed at the look of outrage on Daniel’s face.
“Fuck off.” Daniel narrowed his eyes and took in Matt from head to toe. “Why are you up so early?”
Matt glanced at his watch—seven forty-five. It wasn’t that early. “Um… shouldn’t you be gone by now?”
Daniel frowned. “What time is it?”
Matt told him and watched in amusement as realisation slowly dawned.
“Shit, I am so late. Jordan must have turned off the alarm when he left this morning, I’m going to bloody kill him!” Daniel pushed past him towards the bathroom, cursing under his breath about inconsiderate boyfriends.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” Matt shouted over his shoulder as he headed downstairs.
The slam of the bathroom door was the only reply.
Keira and Charlie were already seated at the table when Matt entered the kitchen.
“Morning.” He walked over and flicked the kettle on, then opened the cupboard above to get two mugs out. “Are you two working today?” He turned to face them, leaning back against the counter.
Keira set her mug down on the table, and stood. “Yeah, our first group is at nine.” She held her hand out to Charlie and tugged him up. “We’d better go and get ready. See you later.”
“Have fun.” Matt smiled as they left still holding hands.
They’d been lucky as far as jobs went. As soon as the tourist season had begun in the middle of May, the job market had picked up considerably. Ash managed to get a job at a surf shop in Penzance, and both Keira and Charlie worked for one of the local surf schools. It helped that the guy who ran it was an altered, and after a few tense meetings, he’d agreed to give them a crash course in surfing and then taken them on. Most of the lessons were booked online. All Keira and Charlie had to do was turn up and spend the day on the beach helping people learn how to surf. It sounded like the perfect job to Matt.
The same guy also helped Jordan get a job as a lifeguard on Sennen Beach. They might only be temporary staff for the summer, but it wasn’t as though they needed the money. Between them, they had more than enough after the sale of Jordan’s house and the gym.
Everyone had been glad to finally have something to do other than fixing up the farm. Well, everyone apart from Sam. He might be spending more time as a human than a wolf these days, but he had no desire to mix with anyone other than their small group.
Matt was just finishing off the teas when Daniel thundered down the stairs, fully dressed but still towelling his hair. “Here.” He handed one of the mugs to Daniel and then popped a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster.
“Thanks.” Daniel sat down, gratefully cradling his tea in his hands. “What are you up to today?” He eyed Matt over the top of the mug, his gaze intent.
If anyone suspected Matt felt lonely sometimes, it would be Daniel. They knew each other far too well for Matt to hide it. He wasn’t exactly trying to either, but it served no purpose to bring it up and whine about it. There was plenty of time for him to meet someone. It had never bothered him before, and he was getting a little pissed off with it becoming an issue now.
“Well?” Daniel raised an eyebrow as he took a sip. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, sorry. Just tired, I guess.” As if on cue, Matt yawned widely, his jaw cracking and making Daniel wince. “I’ve got a couple of projects to work on first, and then I might help Sam this afternoon if I finish early enough.”
The toaster popped up, ending their conversation as Matt spread butter on the toast and they both began to eat. Five minutes later Daniel was pulling on his shoes and hurrying out the door for his shift at the beach cafe. Matt took his tea down the hallway to his office. Writing software wasn’t the most glamorous of jobs, but it paid well, and he could easily work from home. Once again he marvelled at the way everything had worked out so well for them.
He kept waiting for something to ruin it.
Turned out he didn’t have to wait all that long in the end.
Matt came out of his makeshift office, formerly known as the dining room, in search of food, and he stopped in his tracks. He needed to be able to concentrate when working from home, so the office was the only room in the farmhouse that had any kind of soundproofing. That would explain why he hadn’t heard Daniel come back, but his scent lingered in the hallway, far too recent for someone who should still be at work.
“Daniel?” Matt strained to hear anything, but the farmhouse seemed quiet. His senses were a little overwhelmed after being effectively dampened for the last three hours, but after thirty seconds or so, he heard the tread of footsteps outside and a car approaching.
Jordan’s black Volkswagen T5 pulled up onto the gravel drive at the same time as Matt opened the kitchen door. Daniel walked over to meet Jordan as he got out of the van, holding his phone out for Jordan to see. Whatever was on there had Jordan tensing up immediately.
“What’s wrong?” Matt called out, making Daniel jump, but Jordan didn’t even flinch, already fully aware of his presence. Matt walked over to them and looked pointedly at Daniel.
Daniel motioned for Jordan to give him his phone back and handed it straight over to Matt. “I got an email from Shaw.”
It took Matt a good few seconds to recognise the name. And when he did, his chest tightened at the memories it invoked. It wasn’t that anyone had forgotten what happened at the facility, but it wasn’t exactly a popular topic of conversation. Michael Shaw, along with Ash and a Dr David Adams, had been injected with the serum by Chambers and he’d ended up a partial altered. Whatever he had to say, Matt doubted it would be anything good. With a resigned sigh, he glanced down and started reading.
Altered experiments are still happening. Check the news reports for more info. Need proof of who’s involved before seeking help to shut them down. We’re working on getting it, but have someone important we need to keep safe and out of sight in the meantime. Our best option is to send them to you. Will contact you at 6pm tonight.
The email was short and to the point. Matt felt oddly pleased Shaw hadn’t bothered with pleasantries. They weren’t friends, and he was glad no one pretended otherwise. He read it again to make sure he hadn’t missed anything, and handed the phone back to Daniel.
“So.” Matt glanced up at the sky, knowing their peaceful existence was about to change. But he asked the question anyway. “Are we going to take them?”
Jordan sighed and slipped an arm around Daniel’s waist. “I don’t think it was a request.” He nudged Daniel back towards the house, and Matt followed them. “And I’m not sure it’s something we can ignore any longer, are you?”
Matt hated that Jordan was right. He hated the stirrings of guilt even more, and struggled to push them back down. “Fuck.” He scrubbed at his eyes, suddenly feeling tired.
They’d pretty much cut themselves off from everything when they left London. The fire at the facility had made the news but was reported as a laboratory accident. As far as Matt was aware, the facility’s true purpose had never been disclosed to the public.
He turned on the TV and flicked through to a news channel. Sure enough, the big bold headlines scrolled along the bottom of the screen, echoing the email sent by Shaw.
Leading government official demands new enquiry into GFACs.
Daniel brushed past him and sat down on the sofa, eyes glued to the television. Matt took the spot next to him. They waited for the local news to finish, and then the picture changed to a reporter standing outside the Houses of Parliament.
“Earlier today the Minister of State for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, and Victims, Teresa Knight, stood up in front of her fellow MPs and demanded the files on the Government Facilities for Altered Children, or GFACs, be reopened,” the reporter began. “Ms Knight stated she had reason to believe the facilities’ data and records had not been destroyed as previously reported, and that the program to create super soldiers had been resurrected, funded by the private sector. She claimed that altereds had been unfairly treated and cast out by society when they were no more of a danger than anyone else who possesses the skills to defend themselves. She also claimed that her son had been targeted as a means to keep her quiet, and went on to say that one facility had already been burned down, but two more remained, and certain government officials were well aware of this fact. Ms Knight refused to name names when asked who was involved. Some of her fellow MPs dismissed her claims as ridiculous propaganda and rumour-mongering.”
Matt let out a low whistle. “Jesus Christ.”
The news reporter went on to talk about Ms Knight’s missing son, Thomas, who had been abducted a few days earlier, but had since been found by the police and was currently being held somewhere safe.
“I bet by somewhere safe they mean he’s locked up tight and under armed guard. I imagine that if he was taken once, they’ll probably try again, especially since she’s talking to the press.”
“I agree.” Daniel scooted forwards and plucked the remote control out of Matt’s hand. He lowered the volume and set it back on the coffee table. “And two more facilities? Fucking hell.” His voice came out higher than normal, and Matt frowned at the sudden increase in his heart rate. “Do you think Chambers kept them up to date with his research? Would he have had time before we shut him down?”
Daniel always kept calm. Years of smothering his body’s reactions had taught him that, but Matt felt the distinct edge of panic seeping out of him.
“Hey, Dan.” He reached out without thinking and put his arm around Daniel’s shoulders. Jordan’s low growl made him startle, but Matt didn’t remove his arm. He was used to Jordan’s possessiveness and ignored it like he usually did. “Shaw said he’d call later, yeah? We can ask him about it then.”
“I thought we’d put a stop to their experiments when we burned that place to the ground.” Daniel rested his elbows on his knees and covered his face with his hands. He let out a loud sigh. “How bloody naive. We’ve been living an easy life down here in Cornwall while they’re still torturing people and carrying out tests. Christ, I feel—”
“Daniel.” Jordan’s voice cracked like a whip, and Daniel’s hands fell away from his face as he glared back at him. “We left London to start a new life because the one we had was ruined by those people. Who knows how many are involved in this? We number six shifters and a seer—no match for a large corporate organisation and possibly government officials too.” He walked around the sofa and crouched down in front of Daniel, taking his hands in his. “I know how you feel, but there was nothing we could do.”
Matt thought about the news report and what Shaw had implied in his email. “But there might be now, though, right?”
Daniel nodded. “I think so. Whoever it is they need to get out of London, we should do what we can to make it happen.”
Jordan stood and pulled Daniel up with him. “We need to make sure everyone’s home by six tonight, so we can all hear what Shaw has to say.”
Matt sighed but stood up too, pulling his own phone from his pocket. “I’ll call Ash, and then go tell Sam. You two go and see Keira and Charlie.” He dialled Ash’s number as Jordan and Daniel left for the beach.
“Hey, Matt. What’s up? And make it quick. I have customers.”
Matt cringed as Ash’s cheerful voice greeted him. This was going to suck. “You need to be home by six tonight.”
“No problem, I’m finishing at five anyway. Why, though?”
Matt hated having to tell this to Ash, of all people. Ash’s whole life had changed thanks to Chambers and his experiments. “There’s two more facilities. And Shaw needs our help.”
The line went so quiet, Matt thought Ash had hung up, but then he heard the ragged inhale and a whispered “Fuck.”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll be there.”
He did hang up then, and Matt sighed as he put his phone away. Telling Sam would be just as unpleasant. Matt hoped he wouldn’t blame the messenger.