Midnight Shift

Extended Sample

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Midnight Shifters, Book 1

Renee George

Published 2016 by Book Boutiques.

ISBN: 978-1-62517-996-8

Copyright © 2016, Renee George.

All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

His mouth tasted of smoke, not from cigarettes, though she wouldn’t have minded, but this was more woodsy, natural and earthy, reminiscent of burned hickory. At the Millstone Bar, Benoica Dilian—who preferred Benie—had spotted the gorgeous creature right away. He’d been a bold brunette and beautifully built with his long torso, wide shoulders, and sculpted muscles. He’d known all the right things to say, and she knew in bed he would have all the right moves.

She’d taken him to a quiet, out of the way motel. The kind that rented by the hour. The walls were beige with a few dark stains, the curtains a large flower print with one side held closed with safety pins, and the bedspread was a hot paisley mess. Benie wrinkled her nose at the mustiness, but places like these didn’t smell like potpourri. She cast a worried glance at the decor before promptly turning off all the lights.

“I like it dark,” she told her pick-up. “It’s more mysterious and sexy, don’t you think?”

He took her in his arms, and when his tongue swiped across her lips, the heat of his mouth made her knees tremble. “I want to see you,” he said. “Let me turn on the lights.”

“No,” she whispered. “Don’t.”

“But you’re so beautiful, and I’m so beautiful. It’s a shame to waste us in the dark.”

Benie grabbed the front of his jeans and squeezed. “We seem to be doing okay.”

“Yes, we sure are,” he agreed.

If she was right about the man, he would make his move soon. She breathed in his scent, the aroma arousing her even more. Yeah. She was right about him. “God, you smell good. What are you wearing?”

“It’s all natural, darling.”

“Good genes?”

“You have no idea.” He kissed her neck, his hot breath causing goose bumps to rise on her skin. “More talk or more action?”

She ground her hips against him. “More action. Definitely.”

He didn’t need additional urging as he lifted her shirt and cupped her breasts.

When his deft tongue twirled her nipple, she almost forgot her purpose. Almost. “Shit, yeah,” she told him, reaching into her back pocket. “God, that feels so good.”

He lifted his head, drawing himself up the length of her body. “Tell me you want to fuck me.”

“I want to fuck you.” She mentally added: up.

“How bad do you want it?”

She wanted him to stop talking and get to gettin'. Make his move already before she decided she didn’t care about having proof. Then it happened. The bite. All the evidence she needed. “Son of a bitch!” Damn, it hurt. Reflexively, she bashed his face with her forearm and yanked a two-inch push dagger from her back pocket. She pressed it into the side of his neck, then reached over and flipped on the bedside lamp.

The blond stared dumbstruck at her. “What the fuck are you?”

She looked at her arms. Her skin had shifted to beige and flowers as she blended into the background where she wasn’t clothed. It had been why she’d turned the lights off in the first place. “You don’t get to judge me, asshole. I’m not the one eating women…and not in a fucking good way.” The man was an other worlder who fed on aroused women, and she’d felt his powers of seduction firsthand. Her bits still pulsed! But off-the-charts arousal wouldn’t stop her from doing her job. “You are guilty of murdering five women in the past two months, and who knows how many countless more women during your existence.”

He chuckled, but then winced when she pushed the tip of the blade into his neck.

“Me biting you doesn’t prove a thing, sweetheart.” He smiled a dazzling smile and put his wrists up. “Go ahead and take me in. A warden tribunal will clear me.”

The wardens were a group of OWs who policed themselves, albeit badly, as evidenced by this slimy bastard. They only took action if the perpetrator’s actions threatened to expose them to the human world. Benie shook her head, not liking that he thought she was an OW lackey. “I’m not a warden.” She sunk the blade into his neck and destroyed his main artery with a quick twist. “I’m an executioner.”

She jerked out the dagger.

His eyes widened with surprise as his fingers clawed at the spurting wound. The black ooze of his blood and the pungent, musky scent he released as he struggled to cling to life confirmed he was Leiol—a species mythology and fiction called incubi, but was actually only a hominoid evolution that survived on human flesh. The sex pheromones they excreted made their quests for food more like fishing than hunting. They dangled the bait and reeled the humans in when they jumped on the line.

Knowing he fed on humans like catfish didn’t make killing him easier, but she had little regret. If she hadn’t taken his life, he would’ve continued preying on innocents. That was something Benie couldn’t allow.

As incubus’s eyes turned milky, he let out a final, shuddering breath. Benie dropped him to the floor, and his body landed with a dull thud.

She walked to the wall mirror positioned above an oak-colored laminated bureau. Her skin shifted again to fit her surroundings—the floor, the walls, even the television stand. As her heartbeat slowed, her skin returned to flesh tones and freckles, her hair changed back to auburn, and the bite mark flared an angry red around the broken skin where his teeth had penetrated.

Benie had allowed the guy to attack her first. It was the first rule of hunting her parents had instilled as part of her training. Make sure your target isn’t human. Her fingers trailed underneath the bruised flesh. She’d heal. She always did.

Her parents had never discussed how they’d come to adopt her, but she knew they’d saved her from a fate worse than being a slayer.

Benie rubbed her face then straightened her clothes. She had bigger problems to worry about. Lately, her body’s camouflage mechanism had been faulty, and she found it harder and harder to control. Which made hunting more difficult. She’d been raised to hate the other worlders, OWs, the ones mythology called supernatural or paranormal or sometimes even gods. Who were, in fact, no more than branches of the same evolutionary tree as humans. Some lived for super long periods of time, centuries even, which lent to their appearance of immortality. But as a slayer, Benie had learned a long time ago that all monsters could be killed.

She dialed a number into her phone, and when the call went straight to voicemail, she said, “Clean up. Lincoln Ave and Fourth Street. Domino Motel. Room six.” She didn’t know who would come, because she never stuck around long enough to find out. Another rule her parents had taught her. Cleaners liked their anonymity as much as hunters. However, she did know that the body and all evidence of the Leiol’s death would be taken care of efficiently. No muss. No fuss.

She put her cell away then took a syringe from her purse and drew a sample of blood from the dead thing at her feet. Next, she used a hook that looked like a crotchet tool to jab up through his nose and into his brain. She pulled some of his gray matter out and put it in a small plastic specimen container with a flip-top cap. If she’d had time, she’d have sliced into the head, cracked the skull open and tried to retrieve an unbroken section, but she had someplace to be. Ian would have to make do with what she could quickly salvage.

Her heart fluttered, and her skin shifted for an instant as she thought about Ian Arent. Ian had a double doctorate in chemical and molecular biology with an emphasis in molecular genetics—in other words, he was a freaking genius. For the last two years, his main experiments had all centered on Benie. But the last two months, he’d centered all of his focus on figuring out why she kept glitching. He’d even made her an appointment with a shrink. She looked at her watch. The doc had said he’d see her tonight, but she had gotten a last minute tip on the incubus and hadn’t given the appointment another thought…until now. If she hurried she could make it.

Benie’s new lack of control meant she could barely go out into public anymore, since any heightened emotion triggered her chameleon condition. According to Ian, the psychiatrist was a professor at the university, and he specialized in behavioral psychology.

She seriously doubted he could help with her problems, but she wouldn’t break her word to Ian. Even if lately she’d felt more like his lab rat than his best friend—what with all the pokes, prods, skin samples, blood samples, and hair samples. She worried Ian might stop thinking of her as a person—maybe want her brains on a slide. While the OWs hadn’t been able to take Benie out over the years, losing Ian as a friend would end her like no other battle.

She’d grown up with him in a small town down in southern Missouri. He was younger by two years, but more intelligent by a millennium. Now that her parents were dead, he was the one and only person on earth she trusted completely. It’s why she’d agreed to let him be her own personal Dr. Frankenstein. Unfortunately, Ian’s work had become an ugly necessity. He had been offered several great jobs after he got his doctorate, but he decided to take a teaching job at the local university so he could focus on research—in other words, her.

Her abilities made it possible to get the upper hand on the baddies when stealth was required. Her father had called her abnormality a gift—fate intervening and evening the odds against the other worlders. She thought it was more like a curse—fate’s way of screwing her out of a normal life.

Bitterly, Benie left to go be head-shrunk.

* * * *

Ian Arent, Ph.D. put his isolation-gown-covered elbows on the counter in his small lab. He’d designed the clean room soon after he had moved into the very large loft-turned-apartment he shared with Benie. Clean meaning that the room was set up for sterile work. The floor was ESD vinyl, and the walls and ceilings were made of thermoplastic sheeting. The air flow and air conditioner were filtered, and thanks to a privately funded grant, he had most of the equipment he needed for his study: a gel electrophoresis chamber, DNA analyzer, a freezer that dropped to-80 degrees, several computers, and many more “bells and whistles,” as Benie called them.

He smiled at the thought of her, and then frowned. She had changed recently and not in her normal way. Ian had always been attracted to Benie, but lately the draw had become intense. There were moments when he’d had to fight the overwhelming urge to confess his growing desires. He didn’t have time for nonsense. Benie had fought a Jekyll a few weeks before, and now there were major changes in her blood cells and in her perspiration’s chemical makeup.

The Jekyll, an OW who appeared to be a mild mannered, even timid, human but turned into a violent and raging monster when strong emotions were triggered, had killed three men outside a library in the Meadow district. After dealing with creature, Benie had ended up with a broken wrist and deep scratches across her back and upper arms—the Jekyll, of course, ended up dead. Ian had seen her in much worse shape after a hunt, but this time had been different, and the changes in her body chemistry supported his concern.

A sharp pang of regret lanced Ian as he thought of Benie. He’d always loved her, more than he’d ever let on during their years together. She didn’t do relationships, and Ian refused to be another disposable lover. He knew Benie loved him back, even if it wasn’t in the way he wanted. He was the most important person in her world since her parents died—he knew this fact with absolute certainty—and he already risked so much with his new research.

If Benie discovered his current experiment, she might never forgive him. But if he wanted to find out what was going on with her mutating genetics, the tests were the only way he could do it swiftly with any conclusive result.

His study would’ve been much easier if Benie was more open-minded about the OWs. She had a lot of prejudices—some of them not unfounded—but when it came to other world stuff, she was determined to see them as evil—even if she was one herself.

Not that he’d say that to her. Ever.

He made that mistake once when they were young, and she didn’t talk to him for over a month. It had been pure torture being away from her, but nothing like when the authority had put her away after her parents’ suspicious death. They’d blamed Benie. She could have ended up in prison, but her lawyer had convinced her to plea mental incapacity with special circumstances. The jury took one look at the ashen training equipment that had been found in the Dilian’s basement, and didn’t need any more convincing that Benie had been tortured by them. It had landed her in a locked floor at the mental hospital for four years, until she’d turned eighteen.

He wished her adoptive parents hadn’t raised her to hate and be suspicious of all other worlders. She’d grown up with humans and identified as human, but her abilities and her DNA made it impossible to deny that she was definitely something else. Every new blood sample and slide she gave him, he hoped he would finally find the one that would open Pandora’s Box, or in this case, Benie’s family tree. So far, there hadn’t been even a close match—a testament to her uniqueness in this world.

Ian walked to bio-fridge and pulled a vial of clear, yellow liquid out. He rolled the glass cylinder between his palms to warm the serum. Next, he drew it into a syringe. He undid the front of his jeans, pushed the back down to expose his hip, wiped the area with an alcohol wipe and injected the large muscle. He winced. The thick concoction burned when it went into his body. He withdrew the needle and sighed.

No. He couldn’t see any situation where Benie would be okay with this particular human trial.

* * * *

The shrink’s office smelled like a mix of orange spice and dust, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Benie stared at the compact man in the brown suit and bow tie who sat across from her, looking down at his pad and paper, scribbling notes. His hair was short and his forehead stretched to the top of his dome. She pondered whether his hair had retreated to the back of his head or whether it had merely migrated to his eyebrows. They were bold and bushy.

He wore spectacles, the old-fashioned kind, hiding bulging eyes, and Benie couldn’t help but wonder if he’d ever heard of Lasik. Nah, the doctor probably liked the effect of the round spectacles—made him appear more competent somehow. Or maybe he didn’t care what anybody thought.

Psychiatrists and psychologists were a real bone of contention for Benie, who had her own motives for not trusting the head-shrinking profession. The only reason she gave Dr. Myron Gray a try was because Ian said he worked wonders with involuntary behavioral responses, and he believed Gray could work miracles for her…or some such gibberish.

The doctor still hadn’t stopped writing in his little yellow notepad. Benie began to think he was solving world hunger or curing cancer, because she’d only been in his office for five minutes and surely that wasn’t enough time to write a book. She rubbed her hands together, trying to avoid putting her fingers in her mouth. She’d already shredded most of her nails to the nubs and didn’t want to suffer the humiliation of having the doctor read some deep psychosis in a nail-biting habit.

“Let me see if I understand your concerns. Recently, you have experienced difficulties maintaining yourself in stressful conditions. Is that it?”

“Exactly!” Her hand-wringing worsened as she fought the urge to nibble her nails. “I can’t take it, Doctor. One minute I’m green, the next blue, brown, silver, purple, then I’m back to my old self again. It drives me nuts!” She hadn’t meant for her worries to come out that way. She sounded crazy, even to her own ears.

“Green, then blue. Interesting.” He jotted on the pad.

“I’m talking metaphorically, of course.” Damn it, her right index finger cuticle had found its way between her teeth.

“Metaphorically. Interesting.” More jotting commenced.

“I mean I don’t really turn blue or green, or any other color for that matter. I’m just…well, you know.”

“Yes, interesting.”

He kept scribbling, and Benie’s nerves started to fray. Besides, she worried the notes he took might equal a one-way ticket to the looney bin. She wouldn’t go through that again. After her parents had died, she’d been locked up for four years, until she was eighteen. Ian—sixteen-years-old, emancipated, and fresh out of college with his masters—had been waiting when they let her out. He’d rented them a place to live, and in effect, he’d rescued her. Because of her experience, though, she thought most shrinks were witch doctors practicing voodoo science, and she’d only agreed to go to Dr. Gray after Ian accused her of “not trusting him.” A totally unfair play on his part.

Now, she stood up. “You know, Doctor. I don’t think this will work out. I’m fine.” Slowly, she worked her way over to her coat and purse. “I mean, of course, I’m fine.”

She tried a casual lazy smile to let him know she truly was all right, but Benie wasn’t sure if she knew exactly how to pull off casual lazy. She hoped it didn’t look maniacal. “Just fine.” Her scarf went on first, and then the coat. “I don’t need therapy. I don’t know what I was thinking! I must be crazy.” Why couldn’t she stop talking? She grabbed her purse and put a hand on the doorknob. “I didn’t mean that. I’m not crazy…”

He narrowed his gaze on her hands.

Good God! They’d turned bright green. She knew she shouldn’t have worn the neon green coat, but it was her favorite—all fluffy and fuzzy. Quickly, Benie shoved her hands that now looked like matching mittens into her pockets.

Dr. Gray didn’t appear ruffled in any way. He calmly put down his pad and paper and said, “Sit down, Benoica. I think I can help you.”

Her voice went two octaves higher. “You can?”

“Yes. Changing colors, though not a voluntary behavior, is still behavior. Once we get down to the root cause, or the why, then it’s a matter of training your body to exhibit an alternative behavior.”

He wasn’t freaking out. Why wasn’t he freaking out? Ian, of course. He wouldn’t have set her up with a doctor who couldn’t handle weird. And she was Weird with a capital W. She wondered if he knew about the OWs as well, but first she wanted to find out if he could actually help with her problem. “So, you don’t think I’m crazy?”

“No, Benoica.” He smiled, and it was a wonderful smile with shiny little white teeth. “I don’t think you’re crazy.”

What a beautiful little man…”Call me Benie.” She took off her coat. “Everyone calls me Benie.”

Two hours of therapy later, she walked into her apartment with a bounce in her step. “Hey, Ian! I’m home!” Benie’s voice almost echoed off the back walls of the large space. She loved the way it sounded.

“Hey Ian! Ian, Ian. Echo! Echo, echo.” She felt good, better than she had in a long time. Dr. Gray had actually given her some hope.

“Benie! Quit being such a nerd,” Ian yelled from his office in the back.

Throwing her scarf on the floor, she snorted, “You’re one to talk.”

“And pick up your scarf, you slob!”

“Don’t you start with me!” She swore he had ESP, or OCD, or PMS. No wait, the last one was her. Well, one of those initial thingies.

Feeling frisky and oddly carefree, she headed back to his office. “So what’s new, Einstein?”

His back was to her while he hovered over his laptop pecking in numbers at a mile a minute. “That’s Mister Einstein to you.”

His dark brown hair was mussed and greasy. He’d been holed up for two days at his desk. She didn’t think he’d even slept much more than a few catnaps. He swiveled his tall and naturally wiry body around in his chair.

Ian wore his favorite flannel pajama pants and a holey brown T-shirt that said “98% Chimp” with a picture of a double helix.

Benie smiled. “You’re a mess, Ian.”

“This is the latest in geek-chic, baby.” He grinned. The dark bluish-black circles under his true-blue eyes made him look much older than his sweet young twenty-two. “How was Dr. Gray?”

She sat down in a ratty old recliner. The blue flowery fabric felt like burlap, but Ian insisted that he couldn’t live without it. “It went great. The doc is awesome. Thanks for recommending him.”

“No problem.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I told you that you’d like him.”

“He didn’t even freak out when my hands turned fluffy green.”

He smiled again. God! Even looking tattered, he could raise a shiver of lust in Benie. She loved him, but she wasn’t in love with him, she told herself. He was more like a brother.

A brother she’d like to bang. Ack!

She shook the uncomfortable thought from her head. Ian seemed almost asexual at times, even if he wanted her like that, how would she know? The dude didn’t date.

Ian chuckled. “I told you before, you should wear clothing that’s more neutral, closer to skin tones.”

“Hey! I love that coat.”

“Don’t get your panties in a wad. I’m just saying.”

“Yeah, yeah. What did you tell him about me anyways? I’d figured he’d call 911 on me, but he was cool about the whole deal.”

“I didn’t tell him anything.” He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “I told you he specialized in all sorts of…unique…behavior.”

“It’s okay, you can say strange. I know I’m strange.”

“It’s not that, Benie.” He scratched his head.

“Wait. What are you not telling me?”

“Gray is half dagar.”

“What?” Benie’s skin started shifting into blue with ugly yellow flowers. “You sent me to an other worlder?” She silently cursed, wishing that whoever or whatever had given her the gift to fight OWs would have given her some kind of way to recognize them instantly. The ones who could pass for regular people, well, they looked like regular people.

Ian slid back in his chair. “Only half other. His father was human.”

“Oh, then that makes it half better.”

“Just listen.” He stood and walked to Benie, placing an arm around her shoulders. “That’s how I knew he could help you out. He had some stuff to overcome in his life as well. I think that’s why he became a behavioral psychologist. I’ve known him for years. I took one of his classes during my undergrad work. He’s a good guy and a great teacher,” he said with conviction.

If Benie had a pet peeve about Ian, it was his defense of the others. She supposed it was the scientist in him trying to understand the impossible. Benie had to admit that he’d developed useful contacts over the past decade. She’d even developed an informant-type relationship with a few, which is how she’d found the incubus so quick.

Taking a deep breath, she counted back from ten. The yellow flowers were all but gone, and the blue faded. Dr. Gray had been kind, but sheesh. She’d been raised to hunt and slay most monsters, and now she was supposed to let one head-shrink her?

“I’ll give him a chance. But if he even looks at me funny, I’m taking his head off and cutting his heart out for good measure.”

“Agreed.” Ian grinned. “I’d better call him and give him a warning.”

Mortified, she watched her skin shift to the color of the nearby mahogany wood paneling. “Don’t you dare say anything!”

“I’m kidding, Benie. Mellow out before you completely disappear.”

She laughed. Then Ian hugged her good and long. Her lower body clenched. His embrace was even more potent than that of the incubus. She often wondered if her attraction to Ian was more about his pure acceptance of her flaws than any real chemistry between them. Then his hand trailed her back and her knees weakened, and Benie knew it was full-on attraction.

She sighed and placed her forehead against his chest. “You smell, Ian. Get thee to the tub.” She pushed him away and swatted his butt as he walked past her. “And put on clean clothes before those pants are walking themselves.”

“Nag, nag, nag,” he said on his way to the bathroom.

Benie would have smiled, if she could’ve mustered one. It sucked lusting after Ian. It wasn’t fair to him or to her.

The shower turned on, and Benie heard Ian humming the Big Bang Theory song. Geek.

Exhausted from the physical altercation and the psychological detox, she decided to take a nap. Just for a few minutes. So, she dragged her tired ass to her room and fell face-first onto the bed.

Chapter 2

The persistent loud knocking woke Benie up. She groaned as she rolled over and wiped the drool from her mouth. Shit. How long had she been out?

“Hey, lazy bones! Pizza’s here!” Ian’s sweet promise of sustenance had her up and stumbling into the living room.

She arrived in time to see him at the front door, hair wet and wrapped only in a towel. Obviously, she hadn’t been asleep for very long if he’d just gotten out of the shower. Experience had taught them to never open the door to someone she didn’t know. Granted, she wasn’t a child anymore, but years of conditioning made stranger-danger very real in her world. “Wait a minute,” she said.

Ian looked over his shoulder at her, his gaze twinkling, ready to tease her about worrying too much. “I checked. He’s wearing the uniform and a puzzled expression. It’s definitely the pizza guy,” he said as he unlocked the door.

Then he flew across the room, courtesy of a deliveryman who didn’t have any fucking pizza, even though he wore the familiar red and blue shirt and shorts. For a split second, Benie saw the man’s eyes. They were a clear, golden-amber. He also had a spiral tattoo on his neck. He was a fucking tracker! The worst pieces of other world scum. They were basically mercenaries for hire, and almost nothing was off limits.

She watched the split second it took for his face to broaden and his nose to lengthen. Hair sprouted and fell along his exposed skin as his whole body shifted into something that was more wolf than human. Which answered the question as to what kind of OW the tracker was.

“Shifter!” Benie yelled. She crossed the living room, getting between the werewolf and Ian. She kicked out the asshole’s left knee, and it roared with rage.

It wasn’t the first time she’d come up against a rogue shifter. One had surfaced a few years back and demolished a dry cleaner’s, killing the owner and his wife. Very messy business. They were strong, powerful, and relentless, and their razor sharp claws could rip through a human chest without any difficulty.

The beast barreled toward Benie, arms wide and head tucked. She side stepped the attack and sent him sprawling across the floor…near Ian!

“Watch out,” Benie shouted.

The shifter howled in triumph as he slashed Ian across the right thigh.

A cry of pain tore from her best friend’s throat.

“Ian!”

He bled badly. Benie’s heart thundered in her chest as terror ripped through her body. Adrenaline flooded her system, and she screamed a battle cry she’d never heard from her own lips. She leapt into the air, alighting with her legs wrapped around the upper body of the shifter. She landed a straight fist to the demon’s throat.

The monster tried to shake her off, but Benie punched him again. He howled as he turned in a quick circle. She scrambled up, wrapping her legs around his neck. Benie squeezed tight as she threw the rest of her body back, hard toward the floor. The shifter lost his balance, and they both crashed downward.

“Benie!” Ian shouted.

She looked up in time to see Ian slide one of her Bowie knives across the floor. The bleeding on his thigh had slowed, but he looked pale.

Her heart skipped a beat as she realized she could well lose Ian if she didn’t kill the tracker.

The knife slid past her.

Her attacker stood up with Benie still wrapped around his neck and threw her against the wall, slamming her into the drywall and leaving a torso-sized dent. She slid to the floor and touched her neck where he’d ripped into her skin. When she looked at her hand it was coated in her own blood, which royally pissed her off. She popped to her feet, fury burning away her fear for Ian…until he started moving toward the fight.

She took a defensive posture against the werewolf to draw the creature’s attention. “Get out of here, Ian!” she shouted. He might be a whiz with DNA, but he hadn’t been trained as a fighter.

Of course, he didn’t listen.

Stupid head.

Instead, Ian grabbed a lamp from the nearest end table and clocked the shifter in the head. It wasn’t a hard enough blow to do anything more than piss the hairy beast off. Its amber eyes widened then narrowed in rage. It slashed at Ian in a flash of unnatural quickness, striking him across the chest.

Ian went down, his chest bloody. Benie ran to him, cursing his idiocy, as she pushed him away from the shifter’s next blow. Luckily, Ian had enough presence of mind to get behind the couch for cover.

Rage built inside Benie, an ugly, malignant tumor of utter wrath. It was one thing to come at her. She was used to it. A lifetime of fighting rogue other worlders would do that to a girl, but the beast had hurt Ian, and Benie would make it pay.

The shifter snarled in her direction.

“You don’t want to mess with me, dog.”

The shifter reared back then charged. She sidestepped the enraged monster and swung her leg around in a sweeping kick, using its own momentum to drive it into the floor. It landed with an oofing sound.

Benie didn’t miss a beat. She’d learned a long time ago that she who hesitates dies. She smashed the heel of her foot against the back of its head then proceeded to kick the shit out of the spot until she felt his skull cave. She spotted the blade Ian had tried to pass her near his torso, and in one swoop, she grabbed it and plunged the sharp blade into the base of its thick, furred neck.

The werewolf went limp, but she didn’t stop until she’d almost severed his head from his body. During her rage, it had shifted back to his human-passing form. She kicked him again for good measure. He was dead. Good riddance, Fucker.

“Benie.”

She looked over and saw that Ian had moved to the front part of the couch. He had blood on him, but not as much as she expected, but his hands splayed across his chest were covered in a deep red.

Benie dropped the knife and ran to him.

“I’m all right,” he said, trying to reassure her.

She wouldn’t take his word for it. Instead, she began checking him over. The claw marks weren’t as deep as she’d originally thought. Even the ones on his thighs were little more than surface scratches. How was that possible?

“Oh, man. I thought he got you bad, Ian.” She was positive the shifter had hurt him much worse.

“Me too.” He chuckled, but not like he thought it was funny.

If seeing her best friend being shredded by a rogue shifter hadn’t freaked out Benie enough—his miraculously quick recovery put her squarely into the what-the-fuck zone.

“You shouldn’t be okay.”

“Maybe because your blood touched the scratches when you pushed me away,” he hypothesized.

“That’s stupid.” Benie looked down at her palm. Her blood was mostly gone from where she’d wiped her hand on her jeans during the fight, but it had been covered when she’d touched her neck wound. Was Ian right?

Ian raised a brow. “It makes the most sense right now. Look, I’ll take some skin scraping of the wounds and check them out.”

“Always the scientist.”

Ian’s smile softened her ire. “Your blood intermingled with mine, Benie. Your hand was covered with it. You know one of my theories is that your blood has healing properties.” She opened her mouth, and he raised his hands in surrender. “It’s all I got right now. A theory. Nothing concrete.”

She sat next to him and took his hand in hers. “You seriously think my whacked-out genes healed you?”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

Benie stared at Ian for a moment as the adrenaline of the fight and worry for Ian’s safety waned…and something else began to take over. Like the fact that he was naked, and how it suddenly mattered. A shiver of lust pulsed along her skin as she took in every naked delicious inch of him. She let go of his hand and traced the scratches on his chest with the tip of her index finger. She was grateful he was alive—and healing, and hell, if her blood could do that then maybe her freak-show abilities weren’t so bad.

But that wasn’t even her main concern.

Benie found herself fighting the unnerving impulse to throw him down and lick the blood from him, which should have been ewww, but at the moment sounded so delicious.

Through gritted teeth, she asked him, “Are you certain you’re okay?”

“The scratches burn a little, but I’ll live.” He diverted his gaze to Benie, and his eyes softened. “You’re glowing.”

“I…” She couldn’t think. It was like all her hormones had abruptly kicked up about fifty notches. She pressed her palm against the center of his chest.

“What are you doing?” He didn’t try to move away.

She tilted her head sideways, watching Ian. The unexpected hunger clawed at Benie—a strange insatiable impulse that demanded satisfaction. It wanted her to either eat or fuck, and since Ian looked like dinner and dessert, she chose the latter.

“Wait. This isn’t you, Benie.” He worried his lower lip. “The OW who bit you today, I think this might be—”

“Stop talking,” she said, cutting him off. His words meant nothing to her lust addled brain—less than nothing. She straddled him and kissed him hard on the mouth to prevent any more protest.

After a momentary stillness, he responded, his lips and tongue moving with hers. His body melded to the shape of her own, his hard erection pressing against her abdomen. As the kiss became more aggressive, Ian stopped and pushed her slightly away from him and stood up. “Benie.”

To her shame, she found herself getting up and placing her hand on his chest. “I…” Her breath was heavy as she tried to formulate her need into coherent words. It took all her willpower not to throw him down and take him. Mine, a voice cried in her head. “I don’t want to hurt you, Ian, but it’s this or…”

He must have seen something in her eyes or heard the desperation in her voice, because he placed a finger over her lips, and then replaced it briefly with his mouth. “Whatever you need, Benie.”

She needed it to be mind-numbing, balls to wall, no messing around sex. Otherwise, her other instinct—the one that wanted to hurt Ian—might take over. “Fuck me, Ian. Don’t hold back.” She couldn’t believe the words falling past her lips, but the passion she saw in his responding gaze made her not care.

Ian shoved Benie against the wall, his lips moving with hers, only parting long enough to strip her shirt over her head and press his chest to her bare flesh. He cupped her breasts as his mouth went from her lips, to her neck, kissing and licking over her skin.

This was an aggressive Ian, an almost feral Ian, and Benie didn’t only need more, she wanted more.

“Your shoulder,” Ian said, tracing the bite mark from her incubus kill. It had mostly healed. The puffy flesh was much like Ian’s healing wounds. Maybe she had healed him somehow.

“Don’t stop,” she said, her voice thick.

“I’m not planning to stop.” He took her hand and led her to his bedroom. She watched the way his lean muscles moved when he walked. He was tall with a thin frame, but had she noticed how little body fat he had before? Somehow, with his messy wet hair, the drying blood on his skin, and his aggressive expression, it made him seem hyper-masculine, almost caveman-like. The look of possession in his eyes when he stared back at Benie added to his virility.

She began to think she wasn’t the only one with a lust that needed satisfying. His body was devoid of hair except for a pleasure trail leading to the short curly brown patch framing his erect cock.

Benie licked her lips, eager to taste him, to have his rigid length in her mouth. He leaned over to kiss her again, but she pushed him down to the bed. “Not yet,” she said, moving so that her face was in line with his groin, hoping this wasn’t a huge man-eating mistake. But she might not get another opportunity once this, whatever this was, was over. “I want to suck you.”

Placing her hands on the outside of his thighs, she twirled her tongue over the thick tip. Every caress of her mouth brought new noises from his throat, some whimpering, some primal, but each one charging Benie’s lust. Sucking and licking, she admired the firm, smooth shaft that slipped like silk between her lips.

She cupped the loose sacs of his testicles, drawing him deeper into her mouth, rolling her tongue across the distended veins, swallowing hard when the bulbous head hit the back of her throat.

Ian trembled. “I’m won’t last if you keep doing that.” He gripped her head, forcing her to look up at him. “I want this to last.”

Her body tightened as Ian flipped her over and crawled between her legs and kissed up her thighs. She shivered, gooseflesh rippling her skin, as he tenderly parted her folds with his lips. He stroked his tongue, first into her wet heat, and then, unhurried, dragged it up to her clit. He sucked in the engorged nub, teasing the pulsating core with licks and flicks that made her pant with pleasure. Her hips raised against his face as he drove her to the brink of orgasm, but she held on. Like Ian, she wanted this experience to last.

Grabbing his hair, she yanked his head up. “Get up here. I want you fucking in me now.”

Ian growled, and the sound startled Benie. Her body sizzled with pleasure when he kissed the crease of her thigh, then moved to her belly, and up the length of her body. He explored her breasts, laving and sucking, giving each one careful and individual attention until both nipples were tautly erect.

Her eyes widened as heat poured through her, creating a persistent throbbing between her legs. “Goddamn, Ian. You’re good at this.”

His lip curled in a smirk. “You think I’m a nun?”

Well, no. Yes. Maybe. She didn’t want to even think about where he learned his tricks. The idea of him fucking someone else jabbed her guts with an ugly sharpness that Benie didn’t like. “’Nuff talking.”

His fingers slid into her slick heat as he conquered her mouth with a kiss that could slay any beast. He thrust his tongue past her parted lips with the same expertise he used to penetrate her sex, and with a savage passion drew her tightly against his body as he worked himself in and out of her.

A familiar tingle, along with pressure, mounted in her groin. She was going to come, and she wanted him in her when she did. “In me. God. Fuck,” she urged, yanking his hair to emphasize her demand.

Ian’s mouth crushed her own as he removed his fingers, positioned himself between her thighs, and slid his cock inside her in one smooth stroke. The breath whooshed from her body as he buried himself deep.

“Oh, damn. Hard,” she begged.

Those few words were all the encouragement he needed. Ian leaned back, pushing her thighs up, and he began thrusting in earnest. She arched to take the long length deep inside her. She raked her nails down his back until they rested on his ass. Digging in, she urged him on.

Unexpectedly, the mind-blowing orgasm hit her like an out-of-control freight train with her tied to the track. Her upper body bowed at the jolting pleasure vibrating from her groin to the rest of her body. She cried out in one long blissful moan.

Her climax triggered Ian’s. His head flew back as he quickened his thrusts until a roar of final ecstasy poured from his mouth.

He collapsed on top of her.

The powerful hunger went away as if someone had flicked the off switch, but her passion for Ian persisted.

Benie fought to stave off crying for joy. She’d never climaxed so deep or hard with anyone…ever, and it triggered something inside, reaching down into the dusty recesses of her soul. She didn’t understand why her lust and hunger had been so swift and fervent, but she was glad it had finally forced her to take what she’d wanted for so many years. Though, knowing how glorious sex between them could be, she wanted to rage against all the wasted time she and Ian could have spent together.

Ian wrapped his long arms around her waist and pulled her close. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” she told him. “You?”

“Yeah.” He didn’t sound convinced. She didn’t ask why. Instead, Benie waited until she could hear his soft snoring. Then, and only then, did she close her eyes.

When she woke a couple hours later, Ian lay curled on his side. Sometime while she’d napped, he’d showered again and dressed. He wore a blue T-shirt that brought out his eyes and some black boxer briefs that hugged his lean hips. And he was staring at her. She could tell he’d been overthinking things, as usual. Running scenario after scenario in his mind, weighing the pros and cons, like he often did.

“This was a mistake,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”

His words devastated her. Something beautiful had happened between them, beautiful and powerful, and Ian thought it was a mistake? Fine. She couldn’t force the guy to…to want her. “You’re probably right.”

Ian thinned his mouth in a fine line. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

Again, he was a total stupid head. “Absolutely.”

“I don’t want this to change what we are and who we are to each other. You know?”

Benie sighed heavily. Of course he didn’t want anything to change. She was work for him. Mixing work with pleasure could throw off the research. Make it impure somehow. She knew exactly what he thought.

“Ian, sweet Ian.” She patted his face. “We have a dead body in living room. We need to get rid of it before it begins to stink.”

She didn’t want to think about Ian rationalizing away one of the best experiences of her life. Better to focus on a task she could actually do something about.

Ian pursed his lips and squished them to the right. Something he did when he had news.

“What is it?”

Ian ran his fingers through his hair, his curly bangs falling over his eyes. “I’ve taken the shifter to my lab and put him in the fridge. I’ve never had a whole specimen to study. I’m interested to see if his organs will reveal any new information.”

Benie grimaced. “You are all business sometimes.” Was that what his expression had been about? Or was there something else he wasn’t telling her?

Before she could ask, Ian changed the subject. “Why do you think he came here? Usually these kinds of hominoids are doing their level best to stay away from you. Why did this one seek you out?”

She shrugged. “He wanted to play offense instead of defense.”

Ian raised a questioning brow at her.

Benie scratched her head. “Look. He had a tracker tattoo, which means someone hired him to come after me. I should have known my luck would run out sometime. I probably killed a rogue who meant something to someone important. Someone with enough money to hire a tracker. Those fuckers aren’t cheap.” She smiled. “Not like I am.”

Ian grimaced. “But not easy.” He smiled then shook his head. “There’s probably a dead pizza delivery guy somewhere close. Finding him might be a good idea.”

“I’ll take care of it,” she said.

He did the lip-twisty thing again.

Benie sighed. “What else?”

Ian held out a small, rectangular box. “In here are samples from a friend of mine, a marine biologist.”

Okay. So they were done talking about poor dead pizza dudes, unruly asshole shifters, and their fucking awesome sexual mistake. Leave it to Ian to move into science-land so easily, while she sat here with a body still aching for his touch and a heart bruised by his callous words.

“What kind of samples?” she asked.

“Well…” He opened the package and pulled out a case. It contained a variety of microscope slides. “These have various chromatophores from different fish and amphibians.”

He pulled out a stack of the slides. “For example, there are melanophores, erythrophores, xanthophores, leucophores and iridiophores. Each one causes particular animals to change colors to camouflage themselves against predators. I wanted to compare them with the pigment properties in your skin cells and see what they have in common and what they don’t. I’ve even got a few plant samples of chloroplasts. Very cool stuff.”

“You think I might have these chromato-whatsits in my skin?”

“Couldn’t hurt to have a look.” He was barely paying attention to her now, his complete focus on this new project.

“Well, I’d love to stay and play, but I need my beauty sleep.” She didn’t want to leave, much preferring to have an encore of their earlier performance in the bedroom. Like that would happen. It was better to ignore her disappointment and concentrate on the job. “I’ll call around in the morning and see what I can find out about our shifter friend. Maybe one of my informants will know something.”

She categorically wanted answers, and she wanted them yesterday. Also, she couldn’t stop thinking about Ian’s inexplicable healed wounds. She wanted to believe her blood was that awesome, but Ian’s explanation didn’t sit right with her. It was too easy. And now that she thought about it, they’d never had a conversation about her healing abilities and whether it might transfer to humans. Then again, she couldn’t claim to have listened to all of Ian’s scientific mumbo jumbo.

The only thing keeping her from completely freaking out was the fact that he didn’t seem that concerned. Could it be possible? Just because she’d never heard of it happening, didn’t mean the possibility didn’t exist.

Ian’s expression betrayed his disappointment. “You don’t want to look at the slides?”

Benie snorted. “I’ll leave the science to the scientist. Besides, once you start, you won’t notice whether I’m here or not.” She suppressed a sigh. It would have been funny, if it hadn’t been entirely true.

“Don’t be like that.” He leaned forward and held out a piece of paper with some writing on it. “Here.”

Benie registered the name written down. Trace Calder. There was also a phone number. “Who is this, and why should I care?”

Ian shrugged again. “I called a guy who knows a guy. He says if you need the inside scoop on the OWs, that’s the dude you want.”

“What makes him an expert?”

“Besides being one of them, and before you argue, hear me out, he’s a mediator between the species. The guy always stays neutral, and I’m telling you this so you don’t think I’m trying to trick you, he’s an HP.”

She could feel her ears warming with anger. Human-passer. Her skin began to shift to the chocolate brown of Ian’s bed, reminding Benie she was still in his bed. Even her hair darkened in color.

“Damn it, Benie. You have to trust me about this guy. He’s solid, and he can help us.”

“Fine. I’ll check him out.” She sat up. “I’m off to my bed so we can both get some sleep.”

He gave her a crooked smile, causing a clenching between her thighs.

If he kept it up, she would forget what she was doing, forget they were only friends. “I’m serious. You look flat worn-out.”

“I’ve got a mom, you know.”

“Gross, dude.” Benie punched his arm. “I’m naked for fuck-sake.”

“Then quit treating me like a baby.”

When she looked at him, she remembered what it was like to be in his arms, to have him hold her, kiss her, come inside her. She’d give anything if he looked at her like a lover. But Ian was good at keeping his distance. “Hush and get to bed, Mr. Einstein. Tomorrow’s a big day. I have a monster to meet, and you have shit to examine, dissect, and all that good, geeky stuff.”

Ian rolled onto his back, but kept his gaze on Benie. “Oh, Mother, you never let me play outside with the other kids.”

“Sarcasm, I don’t need.” And mother to Ian, she didn’t want to be. She rolled off the bed and crossed her arms over her breasts. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Impulsively, and despite their prior conversation, Benie leaned down and kissed him, long and lingering.

Ian blew out a slow breath. “Mom never kissed me like that.”

She threw a pillow at him. “Goodnight, Ian.”

“Goodnight, Benie.”

*

After Benie left, Ian relaxed with a sigh. He’d probably screwed up the best thing in his life. She’d been bitten by a Leiol, and he reasoned if she’d adopted the Jekyll’s berserking behavior, then her lust had been a side effect of the incubus.

Not because she truly wanted him.

That hurt him the most. He couldn’t stand the idea of losing Benie. He was in love with her, and she didn’t return those feeling. But damn if being with her hadn’t been worth it. Benie was worth it. Though after what he’d seen under the microscope tonight, she might end up hating him. Not for the sex, but because of the slide sample he’d taken from the shifter’s blood. If Ian was right about why his wounds had healed, Benie wouldn’t like the result.

He scratched at his left shoulder. It had been itching since he and Benie had made love. The tingling started shortly after he’d orgasmed—which had nothing to do with being clawed by the shifter. Or had it? The skin irritation had been part of the reason he hadn’t been able to sleep. It still itched like a dermatological histamine reaction. Maybe he’d rubbed up against something while they were having sex, but he’d never had an allergic reaction to anything in the apartment before. Putting down the slides, he headed to the bathroom to check it out.

Chapter 3

Benie had called Trace Calder at five in the morning, and he’d agreed to meet with her at his house in the Green Hills sub-division for dinner. During the day, she’d asked around with her own contacts beforehand, and they all agreed—Calder was supposedly the foremost expert in OW crap. She hoped he’d live up to the hype.

She knocked at the front door of his blue split-level ranch with white trim and pictured the perfect family with two-point-five kids, a wife in a blousy apron, and a husband who wore sensible shoes around the house.

The door is unlocked. Come in, a deep clear voice said in her head.

Benie nearly peed her pants and fell off the porch. And Ian accused her of not being able to answer the door like a normal person! She’d been told that Calder was a telepath and clairvoyant, but hearing and experiencing it were two different things—very unsettling.

She opened the door and peeked inside. The guy wasn’t in the living room. “Mr. Calder?”

“I’m in the kitchen,” he answered, this time out loud.

She could smell garlic, rosemary, and a touch of basil wafting down the hallway. He stood in the kitchen wearing a pair of fitted jeans that hugged a very cute butt and a black T-shirt that looked like it had been painted on his muscular back. He looked tasty, for lack of a better word—not what she’d been expecting. She’d sort of thought he’d look like a gnome—like Dr. Gray.

“What are you fixing?” she asked suspiciously.

He turned around, and she could see he wore a half-apron that said, “Dinner Served Hot.”

Yes, it is, Benie thought before she could stop herself.

He smiled. It made his light-brown eyes sparkle, and everything went squishy inside her…which made her grumpy.

She didn’t want to be having squishy feelings for an OW, especially after what had happened between her and Ian. And what will never happen again, she reminded herself.

“Are you hungry?” Calder asked, carrying a large pan of sauced spaghetti to the table.

The question itself made Benie’s stomach growl. Not very dignified or bad ass. Traitorous belly.

Trace Calder smiled, and she heard his laughter in her head. She pointed to him, and then to her temple. “You stay out of here.”

“Food will be ready in a moment, Benoica.” He gestured for her to sit at the table.

People rarely called her Benoica, and she liked the way it sounded when Calder said it, unforced and natural, which she found unsettling. “It’s Benie,” she insisted.

“All right, Benie.”

Even the way he said, “Benie,” was sexy as hell. She narrowed her gaze, trying to ignore her attraction to him, and tersely said, “I agreed to dinner, so I’ll eat. But it doesn’t mean I have to like the company.”

Calder snorted, but he didn’t respond. Instead, he set a pretty table with pasta, antipasto, marinara sauce, and garlic bread. He also grilled asparagus, which she didn’t eat. Ever. It was bad enough that her skin turned funny colors. She didn’t need her urine to do the same thing.

“No meatballs?”

“I’m a vegetarian.” He took off the apron and joined Benie at the table.

She rolled her eyes. “Of course you are.” Great, he was one of those HPs. The kind who liked to pretend he was better than the rest of them because he didn’t eat meat aka humans.

“Not all of who you call other worlders eat humans. As a matter of fact, only a very small percentage enjoy that particular meal, but I’m pretty sure you know that already. It would be easy to see the world in black and white, but it doesn’t usually work out that way, Benie.”

She gave him her hardest, most ferocious scowl. “I understand that you can peek in my head anytime you want, but I’d appreciate it if you’d stay the hell out.”

“Funny, I could have sworn you were human.”

The statement was so casual that it took Benie a second to realize what he’d said. “I am human!”

He raised a well-groomed eyebrow. “Half?”

“How would you know?”

“Well, for one thing, your hands, your face, and your hair have all but disappeared. I know a few other species that can camouflage themselves like that. Of course, they aren’t nearly as attractive as you are.”

Benie didn’t know whether to run away mortified or be flattered. The first thing she did was shut her gaping mouth, closed her eyes, and started the breathing exercise that Dr. Gray had taught her during their session.

“I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I’m not upset.” More breathing, Benie, deeper, deeper, now exhale. She knew she wasn’t completely human, but she didn’t need some sanctimonious OW prick pointing out her deficiencies. “Shut the hell up.”

“It was my mistake. And look, your color is returning to normal. You know, I can usually tell why someone has come to see me, but your thoughts have been very distracted since you got here. Why don’t we get down to business? It may help you to relax.”

“Good idea.” Benie was glad he hadn’t made any comments about her “cute butt, nice back” thoughts from earlier. He smiled again. Damn it, she needed to focus!

Trace Calder sat down to his own plate and twirled his pasta between his fork and a large spoon. “So, Ms. Dilian. What can I do for you?

“Well, Mr. Calder.” Benie could be formal too. “Can you tell me why a tracker would risk exposing itself by coming to a well-populated apartment complex to attack someone?” She thought about the beast’s bloody corpse and its head she’d nearly severed.

Calder winced. “I’m not sure.” He pushed his plate forward. “I’ve lost my appetite.”

“I told you to stay out of my head.” She took a hunk of bread. “I can’t believe you’re squeamish. I thought you were an expert.”

“I’m an expert in languages, Ms. Dilian. I can fluently speak 5874 of the 6900 known human languages, and sixty-seven other hominid languages.”

“Only sixty-seven?” Benie tried not to look impressed.

“Yes.” He shook his head. “Tracker’s aren’t stupid. I’ve never heard of them attacking someone where they might get caught.”

“So, you’re clueless, huh?”

“No, I have some ideas…”

The wheels were working in his head, spinning round and round, formulating possibilities. And while Benie wasn’t psychic like Trace Calder, she could tell he held back—not telling her everything. Of course, she hadn’t told him everything either. Like that fact that she came from a long line of hunters, and this was the first time she’d been the huntee.

Trace raised an eyebrow.

“Shit.”

“It’s all right. I wondered which category you would fall in.”

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

“I get two kinds of clients, Ms. Dilian.”

“And the two types would be?”

“Rich or desperate.”

Benie didn’t like the implication. Cute ass or no cute ass, Trace Calder was way out of line. “I think that’s my cue to leave. This has obviously been a colossal waste of my time…and yours.”

Calder grinned, the tiny lines around his eyes crinkling, making him more attractive, if possible. “Maybe. Then again, maybe not. I know someone who might be able to help.”

Benie stood up. “Someone or something?”

“Just because they’re not human doesn’t make them monsters, Benie.” He stood in front of her. This close, he towered over Benie by at least six inches. His amber eyes reflected sadness and past pain. “I’ve seen monsters. Real monsters. And most of us—the people you call beasts—don’t fall into that category.”

Impulsively, almost involuntarily, Benie placed her hand on his cheek. His skin was warm, and for an odd instant, her only thought was to comfort Trace and take away his sorrow.

Calder dipped his head, and his lips brushed against hers. Benie felt a sizzle all the way to her toes. His mouth was hot and giving as he moved forward, the tip of his tongue gliding across the edge of her lower lip. A strange sensation—a pure sexual energy—took hold of Benie, much as it had earlier when she’d slept with Ian. Thinking of him brought on a slight stab of guilt. But he’d rejected her. Made it clear there was nothing between them but friendship. And here was Trace, this sexy man, holding her in his arms. Benie could feel his desire wrap her skin like a warm blanket and she wanted more.

She closed her eyes, moaned into his mouth, and enjoyed the way her body react to him instinctually—her breasts tightening, nipples growing hard, and her lower bits slicking with heat. The heady scent of rosewood filled her with a sense of calmness and well-being.

Safe. Happy. Horny.

His large hand slipped from her shoulder, down her arm, then dropped to her waist. Gentle and unhurried, he slid his fingers under her shirt, until his thumb brushed against her breast.

She fumbled with his belt, unhooked the button on his jeans, and then slid her hand down over his bulging cock.

Trace moaned. He reached between her legs and rubbed the seam of her jeans. A breathtaking jolt of passion ripped through Benie as she fought to keep her knees from buckling. Everything about Trace’s touch felt right, familiar, necessary. Her body wouldn’t wait for the clothes to come off. Instead, she shoved him to the floor and straddled him.

She rubbed her jeans-clad sex over his straining erection, grinding out her pleasure.

Trace slid his arms around her, deepening his kiss, exploring every inch of her mouth with his tongue. He flipped her onto her back, thrusting between her legs, fucking her in earnest, even without penetration.

A low groan started in Benie’s chest and came out of her mouth as a wail when a powerful orgasm shattered inside her bucking body. Mine, a voice cried in her head.

“Yes,” she said, panting through the waves of ecstasy.

Trace roared as his own orgasm took him, his chest and abdomen jerking forward, shuddering above her. He collapsed beside her on the hardwood floor.

She rolled toward him. This stranger who she’d just dry-humped stupid. This stranger who made her feel so calm and at peace.

Calder stared at her with the same wonder and awe.

His voice was soft and low when he pulled her close. “Your hair and face have all but blended in with my house, Benie. It’s amazing. But your eyes, they are still a lovely shade of pale green. Beautiful.”

Her chest tightened when she thought of what she’d done. She didn’t understand the powerful urge that pushed her over the edge, but she knew the catalyst. “Why did you kiss me?”

“I’ve never met anyone like you.”

Benie tensed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know how to explain it.” He shook his head. “You move me.”

She’d moved him all right—from the table to the floor.

Trace laughed. “Not that kind of moving. Emotionally, spiritually maybe. There is something about you. You’re…different.”

Great. Ian had rejected her after their encounter, and now Calder thought of her as some kind of weirdo. She pushed her way out of his arms. “Sixty-seven hominid languages and you’ve never met any freaks? I doubt that.”

“I don’t think you’re a freak.”

“Yeah, right. And monsters are people too.”

“Most of them,” he agreed. “But that’s not what I mean. You’re special.”

Benie flushed, her index fingernail instantly going between her teeth. “That’s me. Special all over.”

“I’d like to find out.” The corner of his mouth tugged into a crooked grin.

Benie snorted. She bet he would, and God, she hated herself for thinking it, but she’d like for him to find out too.

“Look, your normal color is returning.”

She gazed at her hands. They were shifting back to sun-kissed and freckled. “None of this messes with your head?” She shook her own, remembering he was an other worlder. Of course, he was used to crazy.

“Is that how you see yourself? As crazy?”

Benie shrugged. “I’ve got a shrink.” She relaxed. He had that effect on her, and now that her brain wasn’t sex addled, she didn’t like it. Not one little bit.

Trace reached for her.

“Don’t.” She got up and moved to the front window, putting space between them.

Trace stepped toward her. “It’s okay.” Suddenly, his facial expression and body language changed to alert, defensive. “Move away from the window,” he shouted.

Glass shattered around Benie as she lunged sideways to avoid the body flying past her into the house. “What the fuck!”

“It’s a polandrial,” Trace said, crouching, his legs a little more than shoulders’ width apart. “Watch his spikes. They’re deadly poisonous.”

Benie took up a similar stance. She’d never seen this kind of OW before. His skin was mottled gray with quills poking out of his face and neck. She did, however, recognized the swirling tattoo on his upper arm at the base of the quills. Another fucking tracker! The beast ignored Trace, focusing his cold eyes on her. The quills lifted, jutting outward like a porcupine in attack mode.

“Holy shit.” She let out a long breath. Head blows were out of the question. “Do you have a gun?”

“No. I don’t like guns.”

“Brilliant,” Benie muttered. Trace Calder wasn’t only a card-carrying, tofu-loving, telepathic OW—he was a goddamn pacifist.

A spike shot out of the hissing creature’s neck. Benie barely ducked in time for it to miss her head and bury itself into the wall. She yanked her knife from the sheath under her arm and held it out toward spiky jerkface.

Trace jumped forward into a tuck and roll, came up near the monster’s position, and kicked the back of the attacker’s knee.

Howling, it dropped down to the floor on all fours. Benie seized the opportunity, throwing the knife end on end at its big, ugly head.

It ducked. Lightning quick. The knife buried itself into the wall.

“Fuck’n A.” She ran across the living room to the hallway as spikes from the beastly OW marked her trail like a spray of bullets from a machine gun. “Does this thing ever run out of ammo?” she yelled as she ducked into the guest bathroom. Partly because she wanted to know, and partly because she wanted to know if Trace was all right.

“I have no idea,” he shouted back, his voice coming from farther away than the living room.

“Not comforting.” But she was pleased he wasn’t out there all by himself like a sitting duck. “How do we kill it?”

“It can hear you,” came the polandrial’s inhuman voice.

“Son of a bitch.” Benie scanned the small bathroom for anything she could use as a weapon. There wasn’t much. A pump dispenser of soap, a hand towel on a ring, and a large mirror. No medicine cabinet, but there was a plastic shower curtain on a spring-loaded rod.

The rod. It would have to do. She yanked the curtain down, rod and all. It fell apart when it hit the tiled floor. “Excellent,” she whispered, picking one pole up in each hand.

“Come out, come out, girl. Wherever you are,” the beast beckoned.

Great, it wanted to play hide and seek.

Benie heard its heavy footsteps coming up the hallway. She looked in the mirror. Her skin had changed to match the small surroundings. She needed to strip to nothing and fast. Setting the poles on the sink, she yanked off her shirt and bra, kicked out of her shoes, and shoved her pants and underwear to the floor.

The creature’s heavy breathing grew closer with every step. Benie crouched inside the doorjamb and waited—surprise her only hope.

The polandrial charged in, spraying spikes in all directions. Luckily, they hit above her head.

“Where are you?” the creature snarled. He lifted his snout and sniffed the air. “I know you’re in here. I can smell your cunt.”

Benie’s eyes widened. That was fucking rude for…anyone! Man or beast. She would rip out its tongue for that remark.

When it turned its back, Benie grabbed the plastic curtain from the floor and threw it over the asshole’s head. It thrashed around, but before it could knock the curtain off, she tackled him into the tub. She dropped an elbow down hard on its shoulder, making the beast cry out in pain.

Good. It felt good to hurt it. An overwhelming urge to kill the tracker coursed through her. She literally saw red. Screaming out a battle cry, she went into a berserk-rage, wildly punching, kneeing, kicking out, and making as much physical contact as she could with the monster. She wanted it dead, but she wanted it to suffer first. Benie couldn’t think. It was as if her brain had shut off and only the animal part of her existed. Her hatred fueled her rage with pure adrenaline and instinct.

Unfortunately, the spiked tracker managed to remove the curtain from his head and three darts pierce her forearm. The effect staggered her. A sheer burning pain where the quills had hit traveled up her arm like all her veins were fuses and someone had lit a match.

The monster threw her off, and Benie’s backside hit the vanity doors. She rolled onto the tile floor. Even though she’d been hit in the right arm, her left started aching as the pain reached her chest. Her heart.

A guttural laugh cut through the fog building in her mind. “The prize is mine,” the tracker declared, leaping from the tub.

She braced herself for death. So, when its decapitated head went rolling past her body and out the bathroom door, she couldn’t have been more surprised.

Trace stood over her, looking magnificently warrior-ish with a bloody sword in hand. “I’m not a pacifist.”

“Good…to…know,” Benie managed, right before pain and darkness swallowed her whole.

End of Extended Sample

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