Dwayne combed his dirty fingers through his greasy hair as he watched Natalie and Penn laugh. He loved the way the flames cast their beautiful features in shades of red and yellow, reminding him of a painting he had on his wall.
Dwayne pulled his ruffled shirt down, tucked it into his pants and pulled it out again. The shirt was uncomfortable, and he silently cursed his servant for not ironing his clothing the way he specified. He would have another talk with her when he got home.
Twigs snapped behind him and he flinched, moving deeper into the shadows of the forest. He pushed leaves to one side and smiled. Penn had her back to him as she picked food off the plate.
Dwayne adjusted his crotch, thinking about Penn and Natalie in his company like before, remembering a time when all they had was each other. It was a dark time for them, but he escaped, too. And he had forgiven them for leaving him to die.
Voices traveled closer to his hiding spot and Dwayne stopped breathing. His nictitating eyelid moved when he blinked. His forked tongue tasted the air; leopards. He resisted the urge to hiss and give away his location.
No. He needed to wait. Wait until the girls were alone before doing what he wanted. And this time, nobody would escape.
I wiped my face with my right hand and scratched my beard. My fingers caught in the caked blood; I needed to shower.
Glancing at the fading bruises, it relieved me the cuts were healing, leaving behind dried blood on my now smooth skin.
I glanced at my swollen eyes; visions of the carnage flashed before me; blood, torn flesh, and body parts. Then memories echoed with moans from those hurt, followed by screaming and shrieking. It would haunt me forever.
Jude entered the bathroom, giving me the same expression I gave him; a ‘what the fuck did we just go through?’ look.
I couldn’t recall the fight with Shannon being this gruesome. But it was Shannon’s offspring who had caused the fight today; which was bad enough.
Shannon reminded me of a mad scientist. He mixed various DNA of a human and an animal to create hybrids. They started off as his children, until he locked them up in cages like animals. All because he wanted soldiers instead.
I shook my head, grateful Shannon was no more, but the son he created followed in his footsteps.
“How are you holding up?” Jude asked, his tone gentle, throwing his towel over his naked shoulder.
“I’ll get through it,” I said and tried to smile, but I wasn’t fooling him. “How’s Lee?”
“He’s with Sebastian at the Leap. The leopards who followed Dwayne returned and they’re busy devising a plan to get the sisters back.”
Dwayne had kidnapped Natalie and Penn. His sisters.
It amazed me, especially since all the were-leopards were there, and us. But Dwayne had an army of hybrid Komodo dragons on his side; able to command them to do as he pleased.
We didn’t have a chance to shift into our beasts. When the first were-leopard went down, shriveled into a husk and died, I realized it would be a tough fight; their venomous bites killed us quickly. We didn’t have a fighting chance.
We couldn’t leave the sisters with the madman. It wasn’t in my DNA not to help. But the thought of going through another battle left me on edge. I’d experienced enough death and destruction to last me ten life times. Yet, I had to help Lee get Natalie and Penn back.
When I didn’t answer, Jude added, “All the shifters are banding together.” His tone was gentler. “They say Dwayne took the girls to the lab where Shannon had created them and his army. We’re leaving tonight,” he said with hard lines etched into his face.
Jude and I had been through a lot together. This was one fight I didn’t want him to go on without me.
We moved to Sterling Meadow round about the same time. He had no tiger clan to join, so he joined me and my lions with Troy’s permission. Then we started working for Léon in his warehouse and have been friends since then. Plus, we’re always with Kai and Lee, so their leopards always include us in their meetings and parties.
It wasn’t just the shifters, but the vampires under Léon’s rule, too. Everybody joined forces to keep our town safe from danger. Léon was one of the nicest vampires to work for, and one of the best supernaturals who wouldn’t hesitate to help. He did whatever it took to ensure we were all safe.
And because of my relationship with Léon, I had a brother in Jude, Lee, and Kai. The four of us worked together, lived together, and protected each other. I couldn't let Lee down. I had to help him get Natalie back; even if it cost me my sanity.
“You don’t have to do this—”
“No, I’ll go. We all do,” I said, turning around. “Everyone would help me if I was in Lee’s shoes.”
“Yes,” he shrugged. “But he didn’t wake up in a pool of his mother’s blood. You did. You have triggers.”
I shook my head, expelling the memory of the slaughter I found myself in when I was ten years old. My village destroyed, all my people butchered. My head almost split in two, yet I survived with my mother’s corpse, protecting me from the blows meant for me.
“I have to help.”
Jude grabbed my shoulder and squeezed. “You can join me in the back. We’ll be protecting the first wave.” He smiled sadly. “Then, once they’re through, we’ll hold back for any Komodo dragons trying to escape. We’re better prepared this time.” He smiled sinisterly, and it brought a smile to my face. When Jude behaved like this, he had something up his sleeve; and whatever it was, would kill the dragons before they reached us.
“You should shower, too.” Jude hung his towel up and stepped into the open shower. “Get that muck off your skin.”
End of sample
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