Dark Protector

Excerpt

Chapter One

      Gideon scanned their surroundings as he got out of his matte black Cadillac Escalade. They spared no expense keeping everyone safe blacking out the SUV windows and making the entire thing bullet and fireproof. He glanced at the windshield and motioned to Elora to get out. Caution a living, breathing thing inside of him. She flipped him off before she pushed the door open and stepped out. He had made her sit in there until he was confident that it wasn’t a trap. Pain in the ass that she was, she yelled at him. She was pissed. Said she didn’t come along for him to act all macho and protective over her. She was his partner and a sentinel enforcer, not a woman he had to fucking babysit. His boss, Greyson, fucking hated him. Otherwise, he would’ve sent her with Alexander.

     Elora slammed the passenger door as he spat on the ground and did another quick sweep. The dark goggles their kind had to wear to protect his eyes from the sun didn’t inhibit his vision in the least. Nothing stirred. Today’s heat was in the triple digits and not even a whisper of a breeze. He didn’t like this. It was too quiet. His contact told him this was one of the hottest drug dens in the city. So, where the fuck was everyone?

     He looked at Elora making sure she didn’t wander off to investigate some shit on her own. The last time they were partnered together she went her own direction, and he nearly shit a brick. On their debriefing with Greyson, Gideon refused to be partnered with her again. Greyson was livid and threatened to keep her by his side whenever they patrolled if she pulled a stunt like that again. She glared at Gideon, called him a snitch and stuck her tongue out at him. She was well and truly pissed at him, but it was a small price to pay for her cooperation.

     Still, Gideon was happy she came back into his friend’s life. They complimented each other. Greyson was shut down before Elora walked back into his life after disappearing for fifteen years. Some pretty fucked up shit drove her away from Devil Falls, and some pretty fucked up shit drove her back.

     Greyson and Elora were always attracted to each other, but since she was set to mate Gabriel, they’d never been able to act on that attraction. When she came back, they were both free too and they did. Turns out they were kindred mates, which was an anomaly sups only dreamed of finding. Like most people who were in love, their relationship was far from perfect, but they were loyal to each other, committed, and faithful. They were completely and utterly crazy about each other. They were a good example of what a bonded couple could be. Not perfect, but committed to making it work.

     “Are you sure this is the place?” Elora looked around at the dump surrounding the address. “I’ve never seen tweakers so quiet.”

     He nodded once and scanned the trashed, vacant property again. “This is the address.”

     She whistled low. “What a shit hole,” she muttered, hands on her hips.

     Discarded tires were stacked against an oak tree in the middle of the yard. An old fashioned tire swing hung low from one of the trees bare branches. A beat up, broken down washer, dryer, stove, and a fridge were scattered all through the yard and pushed up against the crumbling reddish-orange brick wall of the house. There were crumbling black roof tiles pulled high under a rain gutter like a small mountain. Big rocks lined the dirt walkway leading to the nonexistent front door. Weeds were everywhere and knee high.

     A warning sensation crawled up Gideon’s spine, raising the fine hairs on the back of his neck. Something was wrong. Stepping closer to Elora, he pulled one of his .50cal Desert Eagle,  from his black shoulder holster, feeling the comfort of the black stainless steel in his grip. Keeping his finger by the trigger, he caught the glint off the silver slide as he raised it out in front of him. “El.” His voice gritted out hard as steel.

     “I know,” she whispered. “I feel it too.” Drawing her own weapon, a HK USP match 9x19 millimeter, all black handgun from the holster at her waist. She wrapped both hands around the grip. The muzzle pointed out in front of her as she stepped up to his side.

     He couldn’t help but smile, the woman wasn’t afraid of anything. Her guts and determination was one of the things he admired about her. “Let me go first.”

     Elora rolled her eyes. Irritation spiked, but he pushed it down as he looked back at her from over his shoulder. “Greyson trusts me to have your back as your partner, but he also trusts me to protect his mate. I’m not trying to keep you away from going in there or even shooting someone if you have to. I’m just asking for you to let me go first. If they shoot me than you can rush in, guns blazing and kick their ass.” He held his breath not knowing what else he’d try if that didn’t work. He supposed he could always just make a run for it. Her lips twitched and he knew he’d won, this round anyway.

     “Guns blazing?” She raised a dark perfectly sculptured brow, which was another thing about her that was a contradiction. For such a kick ass-ass kicker, she was very high maintenance. Her eyes were all done up with black and smudge to make them look smoky, that along with incredibly long lashes tripped up vamps into thinking she was easy prey. Even her hair was pinned up in what she called a French twist. Perfectly feminine even in all the black combat gear.

     He shrugged. “What do you want? I’m old.”

     “Fine,” she huffed. “But don’t expect me to be doing it all the time. I was at Sanctum for fifty years, Gideon. Long before my growly, protective mate stepped into the picture or did you forget?”

     He wished he could forget, about Sanctum anyway. Enforcers were the street team warriors who hunted down the renegades that plagued this world, mostly vampyers.

     Vampyers were the worst of the renegades and they had no regard for life, innocence, or peace. They fed on the destruction of others and thrived on chaos and fear. All of them had a god complex and were mostly loners up till recently. Greyson’s brother, Micah, changed all that.

Micah was able to go undetected for years right under the nose of his family and the warriors at Sanctum.  He began organizing other vampyers and accomplished what no other one had before, uniting them in their cause and thirst for chaos and destruction. He was after more than the typical vampyer. None of them knew what that was, and everyone was tense at the ominous feeling that had settled over them from the minute Micah came to power.

     “Remember last week with Alex?” Gideon broke through the silence. Elora and Alex had been chasing some black-market necromancers when she twisted her ankle, rolled down a hill, and crashed into a brick wall. She busted two ribs, fractured her wrist, and got a concussion. Good thing she had a hard head or it could’ve been worse. Greyson came un-fucking-glued.

     “Damn it. Why did you have to mention that?” she huffed. “Don't think you’re going to be able to use that story again. You get once.”

Turning back to face the drug house, he smirked because he would use it again and she would cave again. Despite her tough exterior, she was a softie. She didn’t want anyone getting in trouble with her mate over something she did.

     “Do you smell that?” She turned her head towards a particularly noxious odor, trying to pinpoint its origin.

     He sniffed the air and nodded. “Yes.”

     “What the hell is it?” She had her nose pinched tight, forcing a nasal sound from her voice as she spoke.

     Frowning, he shook his head. “Whatever it is, it isn’t good.”

     The closer they got to the house, the stronger the smell. It was like rotting meat, decaying animals, and rotting garbage all mixed together.           “Fuck. Smells like something dead.” They stopped in front of the entrance to the house. He’d thought there was no door but he was wrong. The door hung by a hinge, like someone or something broke it down to get in or out. He reached up and fingered the rusty hinge and took a deep breath. The familiar scent hit him immediately, metallic and sickly sweet. Blood. And it made his gut clench with hunger as the beast inside stirred.

Coming up to stand beside him, Elora took a deep breath. “Oh, shit. I don't like this.”

     “You and me both,” he muttered, raising his weapon. He hated drug dens like this. You could never be sure what was lurking or who was crouched waiting to pop out, completely out of it, their mind poisoned by whatever drug they were on. He was no saint and spent more than his fair share of time chasing the dragon when he was younger. The loss of his father and brother, coupled with the struggle of controlling the affliction, all pushed him to escape anyway he could. The opium dens of the past weren’t anything like the drug dens of modern times. Today drug dens were run down abandoned houses filled with trash, excrement and other bodily fluids. Addicts with ripped dirty clothing who rarely bathed reclined on dirt covered cement floors. There were no luxuries or anything for them to do but lay around on the ground getting high. It was a way of life that put the addict in jeopardy in more ways than what was at the end of that needle or the end of the straw chasing the smoke.

     The opium dens of the past weren’t like this. Not all of them were high class with stable reclining beds and silk pillows, but there wasn’t trash and who the fuck knew what else lying everywhere. These places were disgusting and needed to be condemned. If he was human, he’d be afraid of coming in here and getting some sort of disease.

     He glanced at her over his shoulder. “Don’t touch anything.”

     “Duh,” she muttered.

     He had the urge to roll his eyes but ignored it and focused in front of him. Closing his nasal passage, he stepped over the threshold. The warped wood bowed under his heavy step. The pungent, rotten stench was nearly overwhelming him, crippling his other senses. Turning his head, he pressed his face into his bicep. Elora coughed and choked from behind him. The wretched stench of ammonia from urine was so strong it was making his fucking eyes water behind his thick goggles.

     Pulling a mask out of his pocket, he handed it to her. “Put that over your mouth. It won’t take the smell away entirely, but it will block enough of it out for you to be able to concentrate.”

     “What the fuck is that?” Elora coughed again.

     “Death,” he grumbled turning back around. The choking stench got worse as they made their way deeper into the house through the living room. He breathed shallowly through his mouth, the ground crunching beneath his feet as he narrowed his focus. With his sense of smell shut down, he needed the rest of his sense even more.

     Condom wrappers, broken needles, empty beer cans, and old takeout containers littered the floor. He’d never been happier about the heavy duty, black tactical boots he always wore out on these information retrieval missions. Numerous holes of different shapes and sizes stretched along the drywall and exposed wires hung out of electrical sockets. Cobwebs and dirt were probably the only things keeping this house up. An old couch, complete with rips and dark stains was in the left-hand corner of the room. The battered coffee table in front of it covered with metal spoons, broken lighters, straws and several discarded needles.

     Gideon stopped in front of the table. He reached down, grasped one of the syringes and brought it up to his nose. Odorless. He sniffed again, nothing. There was only one drug he knew that was black with no scent. Z. His bad feeling notched up a hundred degrees.

     “What is it?” Elora questioned, keeping her back to him as she watched the front door.

     “Z.” He chucked it at the ground. This fucking drug was running rampant in the city, getting everyone addicted after their first hit. People who were strung out littered down town and dark alleys by the dozen. Even more people went missing. Human law enforcement was looking at the sup community, and with racial prejudice at an all-time high, that wasn’t a good thing.  The end of segregation was nearly eighty years ago but their fight for equality seemed never ending. They just walked around with a longer leash. He much preferred the days when they hid what they were.

     “How can you be so sure?”

     “I’ve seen it before, most of the cases of users of Z that I’ve come across are on the street but it all pretty much looks like this.”

     An ear-splitting, spine-tingling wail nearly shattered their super sensitive eardrums. Elora winced hunching her shoulders inward as she spun toward him, gun pointed toward the kitchen. “Gideon.” She stepped closer but didn’t say anything else. Something finally managed to rattle Elora, he’d tease her about it if the situation wasn’t so intense.

     “That’s a scream of extreme agony.” He kept his voice low as he took slow, calculated steps down the hallway. “Might be torture.”

     “I hate these fucking goggles,” she cursed, following behind him. “I can’t see shit.”

     “Not much to see but dust and trash,” he rumbled.

     “Are your super-senses picking up anything?” she asked.

     “No. All this shit is camouflaging any other scent.” He kicked a tin can into the kitchen and waited to see if anything or anyone came scurrying out. Nothing.

     Another wail pierced the air, Elora tensed beside him. “Sounds female.” He nodded in agreement. “Can you hear anything else?”

     “Maybe.” One downside to having supersensitive hearing was the inability to zero in on a particular noise if there was a louder noise going off, like now. The screaming cut off and he tilted his head focusing his hearing on picking up on anything. There, a rattling, choking sound. It was faint but it was active. “I hear something that sounds like metal, chains maybe.” There was some sputtering or choking and then a huge coughing fit.         “Vomiting.” His face twisted in disgust. “And it’s coming from the basement.”

     “Oh shit,” she whispered.

     Stopping, he turned his head to look at her. “What?”

     “I...I..” Her words trailed off and color tinged her cheeks. Embarrassed? Why?

     “What?”

     “I fucking hate vomit.” Elora’s face scrunched as the reddening of her face deepened. “Like really hate it.”

     He was confused. “Everyone dislikes vomit.”

     “Almost everyone,” she gasped. “There are lots of strange fetishes out there.”

     He grunted. “What’s wrong?”

     She pressed her hand to her forehead, closed her eyes and blew out a deep breath. “It makes me sick,” she admitted in a small voice. “I’ll be okay. I just need to mentally prepare myself before we go down there.”

     Turning, he headed through the kitchen. The windows were all boarded up and covered in cobwebs. Dishes complete with maggots, rotten food and growing mold were piled on the counters and on the stove. Cockroaches scurried across the floor, plates, and even up the walls as they made their way into cracks in the walls or under the fridge. Spiders were in every corner of the ceiling. He didn’t bother telling her not to worry about her queasiness because she wasn’t going down there. She’d fight and argue with him right now but if he waited until they got there, with her struggling to keep her stomach settled she wouldn’t fight him. It was an underhanded trick, but with Elora he had to use all the tricks he had to get her to do what he wanted when they were out on patrol.

     Reddish brown handprints littered the walls once they entered the hallway leading to the basement door. Leaning forward, he sniffed, and he felt the familiar stirring in his stomach. Blood. He looked up the hallway to the door not far away. The handprints were concentrated all over it and all around it.  His ‘oh shit’ meter had the hairs on the back of his neck raising again.

     Clank, clank, click, clank. The sound of a tin can skidding across the floor as Elora kicked some deeper garbage out of the way so she wouldn’t have to wade ankle deep in the shit. “How can they live like this?”

     “It’s the drug. When they aren’t high, they’re not thinking about anything but how to get their next fix. When high, they don’t have the motivation to clean, they just trip out, feel good, drink, have sex, shit like that. For Z, I’m told by multiple sources that the high it gives you rivals the best drugs known to man. That kind of high gets you hooked, like that.” He snapped his fingers and stopped in front of the bloody door.  He grabbed the doorknob, but it wouldn’t turned. “Some drugs are worse than others, like heroin. Users become tolerant and they need more of it so they can reach the high they did before. They do anything to get it, especially with painful withdrawals that make the user sicker than a dog.”

     “What’s the draw?”

     He shrugged. “Escapism. To feel something, anything but the pain inside.”

     “Sounds like you’re speaking from experience.” She stared at him head on like she always did when she discovered something about his past and sympathy pooled in her green eyes.

     “Centuries ago, I chased the dragon.” He clenched his jaw. Those days were better left buried where they belonged. “I did anything for that next high. Things I’m not proud of. Things that still haunt me.”

     “Turns you into another person.”

     “Yup.” That was all he was going to tell her about that time of his life. Twisting the knob again, he jerked but nothing happened. Fuck, they didn’t have time for this. Rearing back, he braced himself and rammed his shoulder into the sturdy door. It crashed inward, wood splitting and broken pieces flying everywhere. Surprised, he stopped short just past the splintered chunks of wood. In front of him was a roof to ceiling steel. The lock on the door connecting it to the steel beam on the side looked like a regular lock but it wasn’t.

     “Why would they have a door like this here?” Elora asked stepping around him.

     “To keep whatever is downstairs, down there.” He cursed, running his hand through his hair and turned away. What the fuck am I gonna do? He looked over his shoulder at Elora who was still studying the door. He needed to get down there while keeping her up here. How the hell am I going to do that?

     “They had a steel door installed in this shithole to keep whatever is downstairs-downstairs, but they are going to lock it with a lock that that?” 

     She looked at him questioningly. “What the hell is that going to do?”

     “It might not look like much but it’s a strong lock.”

     She pointed at the lock. “That’s special?”

     He nodded walking past her. “It’s a warded lock.” He pulled a lockpick out of his pocket. “It was first used in Ancient Rome. They’re highly effective and impossible to break if you aren’t an expert at picking them.”

     She smiled. “Let me guess, you’re an expert at picking them.”

     He held up the lockpick and grinned. “And I know the containment chant that keeps these closed too. How do you think I made such a wealthy life in Ancient Rome?”

     Laughing, she batted her eyelashes. “My hero.”

In the years after his father died and his brother disappeared, he was too angry and too focused on revenge to do anything remotely productive. As a thief, he was excellent at getting anything, and he meant anything, he wanted. People paid extremely well for documents to help them up the political ladder and for other people’s secrets. He lived in Rome for a long time and enjoyed it but  the culture became depraved and sadistic. It spelled the end of his time in the capital and ironically the end of the empire not shortly after. Taking pleasure in torture, pain, and murder was exactly what vampyers did. Humans could be just as bad if not worse, at times, then the very monsters they fought against.

     A bolt sounded as the lock opened, and the heavy steel door swung inward. The sweet metallic scent of blood hit his senses full force and nearly knocked him to his knees. Sharp pain, like a thousand needles stabbing into his gums, shot through his jaw as the tips of his sharp fangs pressed against the tough skin. His gut cramped, he pressed his hand to his stomach and tried to regain his control.

     “Hey.” Elora laid her hand on his forearm but before she could say anything else a loud roar shook the walls.

     “Fuck!” A creature came rushing at them from out of the darkness. Gideon barely had time to brace himself before it barreled into him. The jaws chomped repeatedly, and so loudly he was surprised the thing had teeth still in its mouth, but it did have teeth. It’s breath rank with the stench of the decaying human flesh.

     The creature pushed forward continuing to chomp and Gideon could see the sharp clawing teeth getting perilously close to his face. Growling, the creature was slobbering and foaming at the mouth. Bright red, bloodshot eyes stared down at him and fingernails a couple inches too long pressed into his shoulders. He tried to wrap his left hand around the things neck but the flesh just fell off into his hand. Same with the flesh on the shoulders he tried to get a grip on. Fuck! He had to do something before he lost the upper hand.

      “Shit!” Pushing his hand through the rotting flesh of the neck, he closed his hand around the thick bone of its spinal cord. Using all of his strength he swung his body to the left and slammed it into the wall as hard as he could. While the creature was dazed, he shifted his weight and slammed it into the concrete so hard it left a small crater. Holding it down by the chest, Gideon reached for the gladius knife strapped to his thigh, but he wasn’t quick enough.

     A smaller black boot slammed down in the middle of the creature’s forehead. A round of shots rang out. The snarling ceased and it fell backwards, the top of the head nearly obliterated. “Fucker,” she hissed kicking it in the head.

     Brains and other tissue flung at Gideon. He growled looking at her as he got to his feet. “Are you okay?” She stared down at the thing not answering him. “Elora.” Nothing. “El.” He grabbed her arm, turning her head she looked at him.

     “Yeah?” she panted.

     “Are you okay?” He pulled her around the body taking a moment to study it now that his life wasn’t in mortal danger. He had no idea what that fucking thing had, but getting bit was the last thing he wanted. The throat was jagged with pieces of flesh missing and not because he ripped it out. Mottled gray and black skin, at least in the places where the flesh wasn’t missing to the bone. Then there were the bright red eyes, which was something only Thasophilians had but this was not one of his kind. Dammit, if this got out racial prejudice would only increase. As bad as things were now, some sups were taking up the counter position of those who hated them and were hating humans just as much. Having rallies, giving hate speeches. Last week Gabriel had shut down some hate radio that had just started up. Something like this was the last thing they need.

     “Yeah.” She nodded quickly. “You? What the fuck is that thing?” she asked not waiting for him to answer her.

     Shaking his head, he nudged the creature’s hand. “I have no fucking idea but whatever it is, we just stumbled onto some serious shit. Shit someone’s wanting to keep hidden.” He glanced around. Whoever had been here was likely to come back. “We have to get out of here.”

Another high pitched scream split the air followed by more growling and snarling. Nothing would’ve been able to survive down in the basement with that thing. Unless it was one. Snarling died down to moaning. When they first entered he’d been certain this was some kind of torture. He was wrong. This was some kind of experiment. He’d spent more than his fair share of time being experimented on in a top secret military facility. It was why he was more enhanced then others of his kind.

     “We have to see what’s down there,” Elora protested grabbing his arm. “We were sent here to investigate, let’s investigate.”

     “We don’t know what the hell is down there El.” He stared hard in her eyes. “It could be anything and when I say anything I mean anything. Body parts, people half alive, children, babies.” She balked at that. “Can you handle whatever we may come in contact with down there?”

     She swallowed hard, slightly paler, but nodded. “Yes,” she said, voice shaky. “It’s my job.”

     Brass balls. He sighed loudly. “Fine, on one condition.”

     She narrowed her eyes. “What?”

     “You wait up here.”

     “What?” Her hoarse whisper was harsh. “If you think I'm letting you go down there by yourself then you're crazier than I thought.”

     He smiled. She gasped knowing he had something planned and he did. “Why don’t I call Grey and see what he thinks about this?” He reached for his cell.

     She slapped his arm. “You wouldn’t.”

     “Wait up here for me.”

     “Fine,” she huffed, “But listen to me for a second. You have no fucking idea what's going on down there. It could be anything. Maybe no one is upstairs because they're all down there waiting for some He-Man, cowboy, alpha male to go rushing down there all Rambo and shit.”

He arched a brow, completely confused by her description. “He-Man? Rambo?”

     “You know what I mean.” She rolled her eyes. “Shit, maybe you don’t. I’m talking about rushing in there like you’re all invincible and shit. That isn’t smart and could get you killed and where would that leave me? Unprotected, that’s where.”

     Damn it. Elora sure knew how to pull that protective instinct string of his when she wanted. He hated to admit but she was right. Still, there was no way in hell he was letting her go down there. “I agree, but we can’t do anything about that.”

     “And why not?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Don’t you trust me watch your back?”

     Gideon studied her for a minute, and her shoulders dropped at his silence. He couldn’t lie to her because he did trust her. “I know you’re a warrior and you’re very good at it. I do trust you as my partner and friend, to watch my back. More so than anyone else I’ve teamed with and that is precisely why I need you up here.”

     She frowned. “I don’t see how that says you’ll trust me.”

     “If anything gets through me, you’ll be up here to stop them.”

     Groaning, she fisted her hands on her hips. “Fine, but if I hear so much as a peep, I’ll be down there faster than Flash.”

     He frowned. “Flash?”

     “You know super-fast, super hero.” She rolled her eyes. “Damn, don’t you watch television at all?” He shook his head. “We are definitely having a movie night as soon as we get the hell out of here.” She turned her back on him to watch behind them. “Hurry up and be careful.” Taking a deep breath, he kept his trusted Desert Eagle pointed in front of him, kept his hearing focused and descended the dark staircase. He hoped nothing got through him and to her before he could stop it. Greyson would have his ass if she got so much of a scratch on her.

     A faint golden light flickered at the bottom of the stairs. Another scream pierced the air, this one full of such agony the hair on his arms and across the back of his neck stood up. He was wrong. Someone wasn’t dying down here. Someone was dead down here and he had a feeling it was their screams they were hearing.

     He tightened his control and took a deep breath when he reached the bottom of the stairs. The sour stench of sweat, BO, and rotting human flesh hit Gideon’s sensitive senses like a fucking mac truck. His stomach flopped, and the anti-nausea glands secreted their natural medication into his mouth filling the back of his throat with a tangy sour taste. Shit like this didn’t usually bother him, but this was just fucking foul.

The sour acidic smell of vomit mixed with the copper penny scent of blood drew the monster in him up. The creepy, crawly sensation of death over his skin always stirred him. Blood, violence, suffering and pain was too good for it to pass up. The demon locked inside devoured everything depraved like a fucking buffet.

     He growled, blowing out a deep breath when he reached the bottom of the stairs. Shutting down his emotions. He had to do something to get himself under control. Looking behind him to the top of the stairs where Elora still stood, he let his fangs slip free. Her back was to him so she wouldn’t see what he was about to do. He hated doing this, but it was a small price to pay if it was going to help him hold the leash on the damn thing inside him.

     Turning his face to his bicep, he pulled his short black sleeve up and sunk his fangs deep into the muscle. He wanted to gag at the taste of his own blood filling his mouth, but he held it back as he choked the thick, sticky fluid down. His kind didn’t feed on their own blood but when he was feeling this out of control, with no other options, he had little choice.

     Pressing his eyes closed tightly, he focused his thoughts on the image of her big green eyes, sexy full mouth, and bronze skin that spoke of heritage as much as it did of being in the outdoors. She’s a Limikkin, a spiritual people who had deep relationships with nature. Much like shifters, but instead of shifting into their spirit animal, they shifted from tattoos they wore on their skin. She was a brilliant scientist and Greyson’s baby sister. Beautiful-inside and out, intelligent, strong willed to a fault and compassionate in a way that made him want to protect her. She was also totally off limits. Thoughts of her calmed him the way they always did, and he felt he asserted a little more dominance over the beast inside.

Releasing the breath he’d been holding, he turned to the left just as the growling resumed.  Desperation and hunger were familiar sounds to him, and that was exactly what this sounded like. The growling sounded rabid. He wondered if whatever these creatures were, if they were demons like the darkness constantly swirling inside him.

     Pulling out his Maglite, he crossed it over the arm holding his weapon out in front of him. Holy hell, what the fuck happened down here? The basement was worse than the upper level. There was trash and broken needles just like the floor above. The scent of urine, vomit, and feces mixing with the pungent odor of garbage and blood permiated everywhere. The further he walked and looked around, the more he noticed the deep grooves across the brick and concrete. Something had massive, sharp claws. He saw the blood splatters on the wall and the ground. Noticed the gnawed body parts where flesh was hanging off the bone piled in the corners. This wasn’t just a room for experimentation. This was a damn nest.

     The overwhelming scent was human just as his informant told him, but preternatural beings had been too. Other species had been here as well, but he couldn’t distinguish them enough to decipher what particular species they were. He knew who was behind this, Micah.

Finally, his gaze landed on the woman he came down here to find. She sat on a dirty, bloody mattress with her wrists restrained by black metal cuffs with a thick chain connecting to the steel wall behind her. This was perfect for observational purposes because there was no real danger as long as you didn’t get too close.

     “Holy fuck,” he muttered keeping the light trained on her and took a cautious step forward. The female’s dark hair was a tangled, bloody mess fanning out around her head like a halo. She was completely naked, her pale skin covered with a mixture of yellow, purple, and black bruises from head to toe.

     The deep, rabid snarling sound came from where she had her head buried in her bicep. Her head shook back and forth as the snarling turned to growling. He cleared his throat to get her attention. It worked. She stilled a second before her head whipped in his direction. Blood dripped down her chin and something was in her mouth, clenched between her teeth. His gaze shot to the giant hole in her arm. She’d ripped a chunk out of her own flesh. He looked back to her, blood red eyes fixed right on him.

     This reminded him of the case Greyson told him about. Greyson’s old lover Marcella and Alicia, a young woman he was trying to get off drugs and off the streets were both found dead. They wound up at the morgue where Xi was the ME on staff. Xi said both women were dead, she knew because she removed their internal organs, but later they came back to life. Later it was discovered that both deceased women had been addicted to Z. Gideon was skeptical when he’d heard the story but now, standing in front of an obviously dead woman who was staring back at him with red eyes, he was a believer.

     “Elora!” His voice boomed over his shoulder.

     “Yeah?” Elora’s voice echoed back.

     He watched the woman as she turned back to tearing chunks out of her arm. “You better come down here!”

     Heavy thudding hit the stairs, followed by the crushing of broken glass. “What the…” Elora reached him, her words freezing in her throat. “Oh shit.”

     “Is this what you saw before?” he growled.

     “Not exactly,” she whispered stepping closer to the bed, “but pretty damn close.” The woman caught sight of Elora and lunged for her. The chain held her back, she hissed loudly, eyes glowing brightly in the dark. She hissed again,  still fighting against the shackles.

     Gideon grabbed her arm and yanked her back beside him. “Stay back,” he snapped.

     She stared at the woman, ignoring his anger. “Remember those cases on the news, bath salts and the crazy shit that happened with it?”

     “Yeah.”

     “And have you seen the outbreak with flakka in Florida recently?”

     “What are you getting at El?” Gideon was losing his patience.

     “This reminds me of both drugs.” She looked at him. “Vice has said that first there was bath salts and now flakka. Do you know what flakka is?” He shook his head. “Flakka is a chemical found in bath salts. When they stopped selling bath salts because of what happened with that dude eating that man’s face, there was still a demand for the drug. Extracting the chemical from bath salts is where you get flakka.”

     He nodded. “Fascinating chemistry lesson El, but what is your point?”

     She glared at him. “My point is, what if some kind of process of breaking down this chemical is where they are getting Z?”

     “I’d buy that,” he muttered, “but what about the reanimation?”

     “Some kind of magic.”

     “Necromancy has been outlawed for centuries.” Everyone knew that. The council banned anyone practicing it, sentenced them to life in the Solitario, a supermax prison for preternatural beings. It was in another realm only accessible by magic and the barren wasteland of a desert where it was located made the prison look like Disneyland.

     She looked back at the woman. “Right, but look at Haiti. There are stories of voodoo and zombies there for centuries. Even today, and rumors in New Orleans too.”

     He couldn’t very well argue with that because it was true. “There’s only one way to find out.”

     She nodded. “Take her with us and see what Xi can find.”

     “You’re joking right?” He couldn’t believe she was actually suggesting this. Grey warned him she was crazy, but he didn’t say she was freaking insane. Not to mention he didn’t want this… thing anywhere close to Xi.

     Elora bent down to pick up a blanket. “I’ll do it then.”

     Swearing under his breath, he shook his head and holstered his gun. “Shit,” he muttered yanking the blanket from her, “let me do this. Greyson will gut me if anything happens to you.”

     She smiled at him. “Thank you.”

     His friend owed him big time for bringing his hard headed, fearless, and completely stubborn mate with him. No wonder she drove the man insane.

*****

     “Are you fucking insane?” Greyson thundered, towering over his mate. “What the hell were you thinking bringing that thing back here?”

     Elora’s hands shot to her hips. “I was thinking of finding out anything that might be helpful in finding out who is making fucking drug.” She pointed to Xi. “That woman is brilliant, and I’m betting she’ll have all kinds of tests run that will tell us something about whatever the hell this is. We’re losing here Grey. We need something.”

     Ximena laughed, but coughed to quickly cover it up. She knew Elora was crazy about her brother, but she didn’t know how the hell the woman put up with his overbearing ass. He wasn’t even as overprotective of her as he was of Elora, and he drove her crazy all the time. She kind of felt sorry for her brother because it couldn’t be easy to be in love with a woman who was one of the best sentinel enforcers Sanctum had.

     “Don’t be insane El,” he roared.

     “Don’t you yell at me Greyson Black!” she snapped poking him hard in the chest. “Just because you’re my mate doesn’t give you the right to boss me around or yell at me.”

     True to form, her brother snapped right back with some bullshit of his own. Ximena rolled her eyes and blocked them out. They could go on like this for hours before making out in a very vocal, very gross way. Usually, it ended with them agreeing to disagree and moving on. It had to because her brother’s overprotective, alpha male behavior would always lead to an argument of some kind. Honestly, who could blame her? She was a badass who kicked ass. Why should she listen to some bullshit derived from the male ego?

     Blowing out a breath, her gaze wandered over to the enormous man leaning against the brick wall to her right. He looked amused which wasn’t an emotion he showed often. Usually, his face was blank and he just sort of nodded. Watching Greyson and Elora, he looked completely entertained as her brother tried to get his petite, fiery mate under control.

     Damn, he looks so good. His dark hair was tousled. She watched him a lot over the last year and wished for the millionth time that he was interested in her the way she was interested in him. Whenever the sexy giant was in the room, her attention was always drawn to him. Her gaze traced over his huge biceps that bulged from having his arms crossed over his massive chest. Incredibly broad shoulders stretched the seams of the black t-shirt and she wondered how the t-shirt didn’t come apart at the seams over all that delicious muscle.

     Biting her lip, her gaze trailed down the rest of his sexy ass body. His waist was trim, and she just knew that he had those sexy indentations along his hips leading to what she knew had to be a very large cock. Damn she wanted to see it so bad. Did that make her disgusting? Oh well, she didn’t care. One long leg was crossed over the other at the ankle, making the denim of his jeans stretch over his thick muscled thighs. She’d never seen a hotter man in her entire life. Sometimes just looking at him made her hotter than hell.

     Her gaze trailed back up to his abdomen and wished he didn’t have a shirt on. He had the best abs she’d ever seen. A cut, incredibly defined ten pack, each muscle rippling every time he moved. She’d seen those abs a few weeks ago when she wandered down to the gym. He was there sparing with her brother, every single inch of his delicious, muscular torso on display for her. Dirty thoughts flickered through her mind. Thoughts of her against the wall with her arms around his shoulders and legs wrapped around his waist. Her on her hands and knees, him plowing into her from behind. Images of her riding him hard and fast filled her head. She desperately wanted to explore his large body with her tongue.

     Nothing more than wishful thinking. She was nothing more than a pain in the ass to Gideon. This was an opportunity to be seen as something else. Someone her brother had tasked him with watching over. Greyson was super paranoid and totally overprotective and because if that she looked like nothing more than the baby sister who still needed protecting from her big brother. What man would find that attractive? Especially a man like Gideon. The whole thing was totally unfair and made her pissed at her brother all over again. Asshole.

     Gideon affected her from the moment she saw laid eyes on him years ago but her obsession with the big man started last year when he became her bodyguard. At first, she detested seeing him because he was always all scowls and growly whenever she was around. She swore the man never smiled. After a while when they were stuck together, she saw glimpses beneath the grumpy façade. Yeah, she had a hard time getting him off her mind.

     His face was too hard and serious for him to be described as handsome, but there sure was something compelling about all those hard angles and sharp edges. His eyes captured her attention the most. They glowed a beautiful amber like most Thasophilians but from time to time she noticed a little more red in them than in others. His kind were blood drinkers but there were a lot of misconceptions about that. They may drink blood, but because of the conveniences of modern day, many of them drank from blood bags. Those who fed from humans used donors and for a price, they offered their services willingly. There was a special service for this, and they were accompanied by security from the company to ensure nothing went wrong.

     Some Thasophilians like to have sex when they fed, and some donors didn’t mind providing that service as well. She wondered if Gideon fucked while he fed. Her stomach dropped and she pressed her eyes closed. No. I don’t want to think about that, but it was too late. The image was already drilled into her head. Gideon fucking a woman against a wall in some dark alley while he fed from her. For a price of course. They also ate regular food just like other races but needed blood to sustain their body on a cellular level. Most were just ordinary people trying to survive, like everyone else.

     She opened her eyes and looked back at Elora. She was Thasophilian too. Aside from needing blood to survive. Elora had such resentment for being born what she was, Ximena didn’t understand. Her brothers mate was one of the strongest women she’d ever met, both physically and mentally. She was so beautiful and had Greyson wrapped around her little finger and he didn’t give a shit about her drinking blood. They could even get drunk and a lot did, also like everyone else. There were a few bad ones that had gone on killing sprees in the past, draining their victims dry but that was pretty rare.

     Elora had a hard time with what she was, the whole drinking blood, having to have it in order to survive made her feel like a monster. Greyson and all the friends she made and reconnected with over this last year, made her realize that she wasn’t a monster. Drinking blood was something she had to do, not what she was. Eventually, after many tears and many arguments, Elora made peace with that.

     Through her brother’s patience, love and support, Elora found it in her heart to trust again. The relationship she was in before him was a joke. Her ex, Gabriel, wasn’t a bad person he just sucked at relationships and crushed Elora because of it. Well, not really crushed but crushed her trust in men and their ability to commit. Elora had only fed from Grey, not wanting to feed from anyone else because she didn’t think it was right. Needless to say, neither did Greyson. It was cool though because Grey’s blood enhanced her senses and her strength.

     Ximena bit her lip and tried not to look at Gideon as she remember what Elora told her about feeding on Greyson. Having fed from partners in the past, Elora didn’t think it was going to be any big deal feeding from Grey but it was dynamite. Like a match to gasoline, especially during sex. Gag, but it did make her wonder about the big man to her left. It wasn’t the first time she thought about Gideon feeding from her, but it was the first time she was getting turned on in front of others. Shit. She pressed her thighs together and started reciting the periodic table in her head. She needed to cool off before things in here got really uncomfortable.

     Her gaze drifted back to Gideon, and she froze. He was looking right at her. Those blazing amber eyes glowing brightly. Warmth washed through her and settled between her thighs and just like that, she was turned on again. Double shit.

     “Ximena.” Grey snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Xi? Hello?”

     She straightened and glanced at Elora who was smirking. Damn, when had they stopped arguing? Did they see her drooling over Gideon?

     “Yes,” she squeaked and cleared her throat. “What?”

     “Did you hear anything I said?” He frowned at her, two deep crease lines formed between his eyes.

     “No.” She cleared her throat again. “My mind was on something else.”

     “What kind of tests do you need to run?”

     He couldn’t have asked her that at a better time. It would definitely get her mind on something other than Gideon. It was also pretty neat that someone besides her was interested in the scientific side of things for once. “Well, a full forensic pathology panel right off the bat. She’s not dead, which is unusual for that kind of report, but her tissue is dead at the muscular system level.” She looked through the thick window where the woman was thrashing against her restraints on the bed. “Looks like any kind of neurological function other than basic, primal functions have ceased and we can see that because even though she seems to be very much alive, she’s eating herself. Or drinking her own blood, I can’t be sure. Even though there is blood flowing from the wound, I won’t know if there is any kind of thickening or clotting until I draw some blood. She doesn’t feel pain, only hunger that much is obvious just looking at her. There’s no expression on her face. Just emptiness. Her hypothalamus is completely functioning even if the parietal lobe isn’t.”

     “What the hell does that mean?” Elora asked stepping up beside her.

     “Sorry. It’s the part of the brain that controls hunger, and the other integrates pain. The hunger part of the brain is overstimulated, while the pain center seems to completely inactive.” She shrugged folding her arms over her chest. “Her body isn’t alive, but her motor functions are firing like she is. I think it’s safe to say that this is just like Alicia. Of course, we can’t be sure without tests.”

     “What tests?” Gideon rumbled from behind her. She shivered but tried not to make it look noticeable. Damn, that deep voice is so delicious. She was hoping to avoid this kind of question. “I need to draw her blood,” she muttered reaching into her pocket and pulled out some latex gloves.           “She’s ripped her arm open so it shouldn’t be that hard to get some blood. Maybe a tissue sample.”

     “Are you kidding?” Elora gasped. “She’s thrashing like a maniac. You can’t get close to her. It’s too risky.”

     She stared at Elora with her mouth agape. Elora was the one person she expected to understand and have her back on this. “She’s handcuffed. How much of a threat can she pose?”

     “Enough,” Gideon said in a low voice.

     “Gideon and Elora are right, there’s no way you’re going in there.” Greyson’s voice held a tone of finality.

     “Elora?” Elora sputtered. “Don’t use me as an example. I was just asking how she planned on getting close. Not pulling some macho, me man, you woman, you too weak, bullshit on her.”

     “That’s not what I’m doing.” Grey#on narrowed his eyes at his mate. “I’m simply stating the obvious here.”

     “I can be in and out in five minutes. Without even getting close to her.” Ximena said walking over to her work bench to grab some vials.

     “No.” Gideon’s voice was harsh and firm.

     She froze and turned her head to look at him, along with the other two in the room. “Excuse me?”

     “You’re not going in there,” he said again.

     Turning to fully face him, she narrowed her eyes. “You don’t get to tell me what to do Gideon.”

     “It’s not safe,” he growled.

     “I agree.” Greyson chimed it.

     She turned her glare on her brother. “You can’t be serious.” He only shrugged, not bothered in the least by her anger. “Are you kidding me? Greyson this is my job.”

     “Find another way to get the samples you need. Gideon’s right, you’re not going in there.”

     “You’re not the boss of me Grey. I’ll go in there if I damn well feel like it.” Damn alpha males were pissing her off. “This is my lab. I call the shots here.”

     “That I built for you,” he snapped back.

     “I’m doing it.” She snapped her gloves on.

     “Not while she's alive.”

     “What do you suggest we do Grey?” Her next question was abruptly cut off by the loud sound of gunfire.

     All three of them looked through the glass. The woman, who was thrashing moments ago was now lying still in the bed with a large hole in her forehead.

     Gideon came walking out of the side door holstering his gun below his armpit. His amber gaze raised to lock with hers. “No point arguing anymore.”

     Greyson patted his second in command on the back. “Good thinking,” he said nodding his approval.

     Her mouth fell open in disbelief. “I can’t believe you shot her!”

     “You needed to take some blood for tests. It wasn’t safe.” He motioned to the woman’s now still form. “Now it is.” The way he said it, so matter of fact and logical, pissed her off.

     Elora snorted out a laugh but wiped all trace of humor from her face at the glare Ximena shot her way. “Sorry.”

     “It would’ve been perfectly safe,” she huffed, looking at her brother who’d moved onto sweet talking his mate. No help there. “You can’t do shit like that Gideon,” she snapped, “I needed fresh samples.”

     “Brain function ceased barely a minute ago. It won’t have any effect on any sample you need to take.” He stepped closer to her and leaned down so he could look her in the eye. “I will keep you safe, even if I have to keep you safe from yourself.”

     She wanted to stop her foot and scream but she figured that wouldn’t go over well either. “What exactly is keep me safe from myself supposed to me?” She glared at him. “Like I can’t take care of myself?” Okay, with not fighting skills what so ever, she really couldn’t but she wasn’t ready to give up on this yet. She felt like arguing.

     “You needed samples, go take them.” Her damn brother acted as though everything that happened in the last five minutes didn’t happen. She considered arguing with him, but she knew it would be useless. He wouldn’t argue with her now that he got what he wanted.

     “Whatever,” she muttered. “Elora can you help me.” Incredibly her brother stiffened. “Are you fucking kidding me, Grey? The woman is a corpse and you’re still balking at your mate going in there?”

     “She was dead before,” he growled.

     “Yes, but now the brain is dead and no matter how little it was functioning before, it was still functioning.” She waved her hand at the glass.         “Now, it’s not.” She turned brushing past Gideon to get inside the containment room and trying to ignore the heat of his body at the same time.

     Ximena didn’t know why his overprotective shit got to her so easy. Since birth she was surrounded by dominant, overprotective, alpha males. She should be used to them. Most of the time she was. With Gideon things were different for some reason. Maybe she just didn’t like the idea of him seeing her as weak. In any case, her body’s response to him was pissing her off too. One minute she was fuming over his behavior, and the next she wanted to rip off his clothes and lick every single inch of him. It didn’t make any sense. Even now she just wanted to go over and climb his big body like a freaking tree.

     Attraction, sexual chemistry, emotions only served to make her more frustrated around him. It’s why she loved science. There were formulas, the scientific method, everything added up and came to a logical conclusion you could understand. Gideon was just a distraction she didn’t need. Science was what she needed. It was what she could predict and understand.

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© 2018 by M.A Gonzales. Supported by Melinda Gonzales.