Christopher hadn’t been with Rembrandt’s group long. With their combined efforts there were fewer and fewer monsters to fight. His mate had died a long time ago, so he volunteered to go with Skylar to look for some “newbies”. When they arrived at the warehouse the new ones were acting very strange.
Kate had been scouting out the building when a large crate just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Curiosity had her standing in the shadows when she saw two warriors come up the stairs and approach the crate. When they became aware of her presence, the man shifted into the largest cat she’d ever seen and pinned her to the floor with his large paws.
Kate was more than any of them had bargained for, and Chris soon discovered that Kate was his true mate, that the other woman never was. And when they fought together they were downright scary.
With their enemies Ward and Nolan dead, there was no one left to keep Benton, the huge monster they’d created, in line. Benton had lost his mind a long time ago, but one thought remained constant…he wanted Rembrandt dead….
Of a mystery Paperback is Kim Kushibab
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Christopher sat on the cold concrete and leaned his back against the hard wall behind him. His body temperature had finally leveled out, but not enough that he could go without some sort of fan or other form of cooling agent to keep himself from roasting all the time. He looked over at the woman who sat next to him. She was covered in as much blood and gore as he was. The battle, like most of them, had not been a pretty thing. And they seemed to be getting worse all the time. Usually he would simply do his job and then go back to his room. He was spending a great deal more time out and about with the rest of the people in the house, but for the most part, he loved being alone. But Chris really enjoyed talking to Vicki…he thought she was a hoot. “The next time the alarm goes off, I’m going to hunt it down and tear it apart.” Chris said nothing as Vicki sat there with her eyes closed and continued. “I swear to you, as soon as this crap is done, I’m out of here and finding a nice warm beach to lay on for about ten years. I’m going to eat ice cream for every meal, and wear a dress with high heels when I fucking want to. Which I might add, I have never wanted to before now; but that’s not the point, is it?” “Do you think it will?” She asked him what he meant without looking in his direction. “End. Do you think this will ever end? Because I have to tell you, it doesn’t feel like it on most days.” Of late he’d been feeling like it was the same shit every day. Get up, fight, shower, eat, and then go to bed, only to have to do it all over again the next day. He knew that there were fewer and fewer of the monsters, but they were no less vicious in their pursuit of trying to kill more people. And that was another thing. There were fewer and fewer humans around as well. “Hector wants us to find some newbies if we can.” Chris looked up at Skylar when she spoke, and wondered not for the first time if any part of her body wasn’t tatted up. He was pretty inked up himself, but most of his had been there before any of this had gone down. Skylar even had them on her face and neck. But for some reason, he still thought she was beautiful. “There is a new project going on across the way. Who wants to go with me?” “I will.” Chris stood and helped Vicki up as he turned to Skylar to ask her how they were going. Her wings spread out and he backed from her. “I’d rather take a car if it’s all the same to you. Nothing against your flying ability, but I would rather just drive.” “And how would that be fun for me?” He nodded and found himself wrapped up in her arms and soaring dizzily into the deep blue of the sky. “Are you getting along any better, Chris? You seem to be less inclined to stay in your room. I’m glad for that. It’s fun having you around more.” He wanted to ask her why she cared, but they were currently several hundred feet in the air if he were to piss her off. Which, he supposed, he’d managed to do more often
than he liked to think about. But right now, she would more than likely drop him on his head. “I don’t really mind being here. But….” He couldn’t put into words how much he hated what he was doing. He was pretty sure that she got it, but he didn’t know how to convey it to her. “I was famous once. An entertainer, as you know. Women would throw themselves at me. Panties, bras, sometimes even money. Men too, but that wasn’t going to happen. And now look. Not only am I pretty much just a normal person, no one cares much that I was once considered the most sought after male in the world.” “Whine much?” He only winced at her words, still not comfortable enough with the rest of them to be his usual self. His old self would have flashed her his smile, winked at her, and told her that was what made him so irresistible. “Nate and I had a conversation about you the other day. He thinks you’re a blowhard. Whatever did you do to him to make him hate you so much?” “Breathed? I don’t know. Now there is a whiny person. He’s not coming out of his room for anything, is he?” Before he could ask her what the two of them had talked about—or actually argued about—they were landing. Chris looked at the malefactors and wondered why someone would do this to humans. He’d heard the stories, but he knew that there had to be something more than that. When they entered the building where a small group of them were, Chris thought that they’d made a mistake about them being here. But then he saw the groups as they walked around like…. Chris turned to Skylar when it occurred to him what he was seeing. “Have you ever played one of those first person shooter games?” Skylar said that she had played on her phone a few times, but not lately. “Yeah, no cell service. But when you’re playing and have to leave the game—I don’t know, to take a piss or something—when you return, your guy will be walking straight into a wall, his feet still moving as the monsters or whatever are clawing at him or blowing him to bits with their guns. That’s what they look like, a game version of sleep walking.” They stood watching the dozen or so of the monsters do just that…walk into a wall and continue moving their feet toward some unknown place, but staying where they were. One of the men, walking around rather into things, had a large gash in his head where his head kept hitting the fire alarm signage just where his head was. Over and over the guy would do this until he was dead, Chris supposed. Chris moved toward them just as a creature moved from between two of the pillars holding up the other floors. Neither he nor Skylar moved as the thing, just as clumsy and stupid as the malefactors, moved about the room. Chris thought he might have been an adherent at one time, but now he’d lost some of his color and he was no longer in charge. As he knocked a desk over and then tripped several times when he tried to stand and keep moving, neither Chris nor Skylar moved to help him. As soon as he got to whatever he’d been working his way toward, he stopped and turned, almost as if he were a solider on a march and he was at the end of his area. “Why didn’t he trip into the desk before? I mean, it’s obvious that he’s been doing this same thing for a while. Why hadn’t he tripped up before?”
Chris started to tell Skylar that he didn’t know when it occurred to him. “He’s making a circle. See? Judging by the footsteps that he’s made in the dirt on the floor, the circle’s getting smaller with each of his trips around the room. It looks like he started out on the perimeter, then tightened his circle an inch or so with each pass—or I guess square, because of the room—more each time.” They both watched him and the people in the room as a second thing occurred to Chris. “Do you hear that? That small hum, like there is power somewhere?” As they spread out, looking for the power grid like those they’d been destroying every time they heard one, Chris moved to the second floor and paused. He’d learned a great deal over the last couple of weeks working with these people, and one of the things was always to be thinking outside the box. But the one in front of him, as big as a nice sized SUV, had him pausing and wondering what sort of shit was about to go down now. The box was addressed to him and Skylar. Skylar came up behind him and asked him what he was doing. “I don’t have a clue, but all I can think about is that movie that had the big lamp leg in it. Remember that movie?” “Yeah. Christ, I love that movie. We should see if we can find it somewhere while we’re out. I bet Remy hasn’t ever seen it.” Chris said nothing. Remy was one scary mother fucker, and the man seemed to exude strength all over his body. To think of him watching that movie, eating his beloved popcorn, was just too weird. “What should we do?” The handwriting was old world, the script on it something that he’d seen Remy use when he had to make notes on something. The man would take an hour to write out something that Chris would have just scribbled on a piece of paper. Remy told him that to do something right was to take your time with it. You never knew who was going to look at it. Chris supposed Remy was right, but there were times when he just wanted to take the paper from him and write the note himself. This looked like it might be from Bob, another old world guy. “You think this is part of the gifts that Bob said would come to us when we needed them?” Again, Chris had no answers and said that to Skylar. “Well, do we open it? Leave it for another day or what? I’m not all that keen on getting my ass kicked by whatever is in that thing, are you?” The big dragon had left them a letter a while back. Well, not them, but Leo and Jamey. It had said that when they needed it, something would appear. But this thing wasn’t addressed to his workmates, but to him and Skylar. He glanced at Skylar when she asked him again if they should open it. “I don’t fucking know. You’re in charge.” That got him a hard knock to his head that hurt like hell. “I’m all for having enough shit going on. If we open that, and I’m not saying that we should, what’s to say that it’s not filled with some more of these things that plan to eat our faces off?” “You are no longer allowed to come with me on these things. You are one freaked out cat.” He felt the cat stir along his skin and Skylar smiled at him. “What if there is a gorgeous young woman in there that will satisfy your every desire and then some?”
Chris felt his heart twist up. He wasn’t going to find his other half. He’d done that already, and she was now dead. Thanks to him. But before he said something that would get him knocked on his ass this time, he moved toward the huge crate. Whatever was in that thing couldn’t be as bad as losing your mate. There was a note attached to the top of it, and he knew immediately that it was indeed from Bob the dragon. The handwriting couldn’t have been from anyone but him. Not that he could read the script there, but he knew it was from him. Pulling one of the bright orange straps off the top of the box, he handed the note to Skylar and put his sword back on his body. Things had gotten shit weird when he’d gotten here. He’d had tats before, but nothing like he’d gotten the day after arriving. He and Remy had been in the sublevels of the compound, sparring. And when Remy had—he wanted to think it was innocent on his part, but he wasn’t sure—but when Remy had put out his hand to help him stand up after being knocked on his ass, the most incredible pain had taken him to the floor again. That was when he discovered the sword at his back and the guns, big ones, on different parts of his body. The lid, like the crate, was made of wood. And when it slid off the opening, he moved back while the dust settled around them. It occurred to him, too late, he realized now, that he more than likely should have thought this through a little better. “Nothing?” He wasn’t sure and told Skylar to stay back while he checked. “In the event you didn’t notice, I’m as strong as you are. And I can fly out of the way if the thing really does try and eat our faces off.” “Yeah, I noticed all that. But if this shit is going to kill one of us, I’d rather it was me so you can go back and warn the others. I really don’t care to have to explain to Remy that I let you fucking get your ass handed to you.” She took a step back and told him she was sorry. Chris turned to look at the crate again, thinking he needed to get a grip on his temper. “So am I. But please, just stay back out of the way in case there is something in here that has bloodletting on his mind.” Moving closer to the crate, he looked inside. It was dark, which he supposed he should have counted on. But that was all he could see. Just an inky blackness that suddenly made him think of his heart. As he peered harder inside, his cat, never very friendly to him anyway, snarled at him. “Do you suppose he knows something that you don’t?” Very possible, and he told Skylar that. “I see. And do you normally ignore him when he might be trying to tell you something? Or do you feel, like most men, that you know more than your counterpart?” It was right on the tip of his tongue to tell her to fuck off. He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that not only would it piss her off more than she seemed to be right now, but that it would also get him in trouble with Remy. The man was very protective of his mate. Just as he was thinking fuck it and started to tell her off, a sound…a low keening sound…came from the depths of the darkness of the crate. ~~~ Kate watched the couple as they stood by the crate. It had arrived…well, arrived might have been the wrong term for how it had gotten there, but it had appeared
sometime in the last twenty minutes. The thing, like the people downstairs, had just sort of come into the building like it had every right to be there. She’d been hanging out, sort of living here, for a month now when she couldn’t get back to her place before it was too dark out. It was quiet, and the things on the lower levels never ventured up here when they came around. But today this crate had arrived, and then the creatures below, almost at the same time. The sound that had emitted from the box had been there before too. Kate had even gone close enough to the crate to see if someone, a person, was inside, but all she heard was rumblings and an occasional bump on the wall. She had wondered what it was, but not enough to open it and see. The man opening the box made her want to hide deeper in the shadows, just on the off chance that it wasn’t going to be a nice wedding gift for the two of them, and instead something that would most assuredly kill all of them. Kate moved back further when she saw the man stiffen. Then the sides of the crate fell away. “What the fuck?” Kate moved out of the shadows again—not close enough that she thought they could see her just yet, but she, too, was curious about the contents of the box—when the woman yelled and stepped back. What she wasn’t prepared for was the man shifting into a big black cat. He seemed to know she was there even before Kate could think that the cat might come at her. As she turned to run, the cat, bigger than any that Kate had seen in the zoos when they had existed, came after her. Kate knew about paranormals and other shifters being big, but this cat was much larger than even them. She knew in that moment that he was a different kind of shifter, and she didn’t want him close enough to touch her. But by then, it was too late. When she was pinned to the floor, his big body over hers, she was terrified that he was going to hurt her. He couldn’t kill her, she knew, but pain was pain. She looked up when a shadow moved over her face. The woman was there, and she looked amused for some reason. When she knelt beside her, Kate saw that like the man, she was tatted well beyond what she thought of as a social norm. “I’m Skylar. This lug on you is Chris. And you would be?” Kate said nothing. “Ah, the strong silent type. Okay, I get it. But he’s not going to let you up until we get some answers or whatever is in that box comes out and tears us a new ass. But hey, it’s completely fine with me.” Kate could have gladly gotten up and murdered her. But Skylar only stared at her as she stood over her. The man, the cat really, growled low and Kate looked at him. Even as a cat, he had the most incredible eyes. They weren’t the dark color that she’d seen on cats. Shifters usually had the same color of eyes as their other bodies did. Browns usually, an occasional green or blue if the shifter had been turned. But Chris had blue eyes. Just as blue as the oceans she’d seen over her lifetime. And as she watched them, Kate was sure that she could see large animals, some of them as ancient as she was, moving in them. With a shake of her head, she tried to think how to get out of this mess. “We have movement.”
Kate was suddenly free. The cat, Chris, had moved off her, but not away. He was close enough that she could touch him, his dark fur touching her arm that he was closest to. Her fingers burned to run all over him for some reason. But when the noise started again, she looked over at the crate as the couple was doing. A bundle of cloth inside the crate moved. She supposed it might have been moving all along, but since she’d been on the floor, the building’s walls below them could have caved in and she’d not know it. Well, she would, but that wasn’t the point right now. When it moved again, the cloth falling away, the first thing she thought of was that it was a tiny paw. The second was that whatever it was, it wasn’t alone in the blanket that fell open. Then it occurred to her what it was. Well, what they were. Puppies. There were about ten or so of them, and they came bouncing out of the cloth on the floor and toward them like they’d been ordered to do so. As soon as they were near her, Kate couldn’t help it…she pulled one of the little creatures to her face and it licked her. “Chris, I’d very much like for you to be a man again.” Kate wondered at the tense sound of Skylar’s voice, but was too excited to have the wiggly puppies coming to sit all over her legs. She could see now there were eleven of them. Eleven roly poly little balls of fur. “Remy is coming. He said to stand down until he and the others get here.” Stand down? They were puppies for heavens sakes. But when one of them went to stand by Skylar, she moved away from it like the thing was going to tear at her leg. Kate wondered if the woman had ever had a dog in her life. Laughing, she called the pup back to her and loved on him to sooth his hurt feelings. “Why would they be in such a big box?” They both looked at her as she stood up. “The box came this morning and I wondered about it, but as it wasn’t addressed to me, I didn’t bother opening it.” “Who are you?” Kate wasn’t going to answer that. She of all people knew enough about magic, and there was little doubt in her head that these two were covered in it, and that names were kept close. “I’d really like for you to tell me what the hell you have to do with all this.” “I had nothing to do with them. Are you afraid of them? Because I’m pretty sure that you can pretty much squash them if they look vicious to you or something.” Kate reached down and picked up the one currently sitting on her foot. “They do look like they might rip your throat out, don’t they? Do you suppose they have something more than just their milk teeth? Perhaps they have five inch long incisors that will tear at you too. I know, you’re afraid of their claws. Let me see…oh yeah, I can see how these little things could tear into your flesh while they chew at your throat.” “I don’t like you very much.” Kate shrugged at Skylar, not really carrying if she did or didn’t. There were a lot of people that didn’t like her, and right now, having this woman not liking her might be a blessing. Kate put the dog down and headed for the stairs. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”
“Home.” She didn’t stop as she made her way down the stairs. They’d try to follow her, but she doubted very much they’d be able to for long. Kate had powers of her own, and she wasn’t the kind of person that many would fuck with. As soon as she was on the lower level of the building, she paused when she looked at the creatures. She heard rather than saw the big cat come up behind her. He didn’t move to knock her down, but watched her as she kept an eye on the creatures. “There is something wrong with them. They’re not like the others, are they?” He said nothing, but moved to stand closer to her. Kate moved away and he stayed where he was. “I don’t mean the fact that they’ve been changed into something, but there is something else here. Like they’ve had their brains sucked out for the most part and they aren’t able to function. Just look at them. Someone has hurt them other than just being the creatures they were.” The man that was walking into the wall fell over. His head had a large hole in it, and a part of his brain was still hanging on the sign that had at one time proclaimed there was a fire extinguisher below it. It had long ago been taken by someone, she guessed. Moving to the door, avoiding the creatures, she was just going out the door when a huge man landed in front of her. Remy, she’d bet, and she started to back up enough so that he’d not touch her. But she fell backward, the cat behind her getting caught up in her feet, and she went down. And for the second time that day, he landed on top of her. “Get off me, you moron.” The cat didn’t move, but Remy laughed down at them both. “You think this is funny? I don’t. Call off your animal and let me go. I have places to be.” The movement out of the corner of her eye startled her. Just as the big bird—or whatever the fuck it was…the thing—came swooping down, she reached her hand up and grabbed Remy by the leg. Pulling it out from under him, Kate lifted her other hand and blasted the creature just as it put out his claws to no doubt grab up and kill someone. More than likely her. No one moved as the big bird like thing screamed in pain as it died. His feathers, if that was what they were, burned brightly, the gaping hole in his chest bled badly, and she knew from experience that it wouldn’t last that much longer. Kate looked at Remy when the big cat finally moved off her. “You know what that is?” She told him she’d seen them around as she stood up. “And you have some sort of power that makes it so you can kill them. What are you? Who are you?” “There’ll be one more. They travel in pairs.” The sky darkened over her head and they all looked up when she did. “That’s his mate, I think. The male attacks first. Not sure why…he’s the weaker of the two. Then the female will come in and take whatever is left after he…he kills his prey. Usually humans. They don’t touch the other creatures.” “Malefactors.” She asked him what that was. “The creatures. The ones that are walking around now. These are a little…I’d say slower, but I’m not sure that’s all it is. What do you know about them?”
Skylar spoke before Kate could. “She said she knows nothing. But they’re being drained again. And here, this is what Bob sent us.” The little puppies were now in a box that Skylar handed to Remy. They scrambled out and were all over him when Kate decided that she’d had enough cuteness for one day, but before she could move to take off, the big cat stood in front of her. “I don’t want to have to hurt you.” The cat yawned and Remy laughed behind her. Kate turned to him then. “Tell him to leave me alone. I saved your ass. I don’t owe you anything.” “No. You do not, and I thank you for saving me. But for some reason I have a feeling you saved your own butt and not mine. Is that true?” Kate said nothing, but felt her fear of this man double when he stood up. Even having a puppy in his arms did not lessen how much she was afraid of him, nor lessen the fact that she knew that he’d try to kill her and never put the little dog down. “I’d very much like for you to say you’ll come back to the compound with us. I have many questions for you.” “No.” He nodded, and before she could guess what the hell was going to happen next, she felt powerful arms around her and she was soaring up in the sky. Mother fuck, Skylar had her, and she wasn’t going to be happy when she figured out what Kate was. “I won’t stay there. Wherever there is.” “Maybe, but now that I have your scent, you won’t be hard to find again.” Kate didn’t tell her that it wasn’t going to work either, but held on as they made their way across the city. It was different seeing this city with someone carrying you. The only time that Kate had this view was when she was flying herself. As soon as they landed, Remy and the box of puppies did as well. There were children in the yard, and as soon as the little dogs tumbled out of their temporary home, the children—about a dozen of them—came running. Kids and puppies went together like they were meant to be. As soon as she was let go, Remy took to the sky again to no doubt get Chris. Kate looked at Skylar. “I won’t stay.” Skylar nodded and turned to the building. Kate stood where she was, not really feeling the need to chase after the woman and tell her again that she wasn’t going to stay. Things were…they weren’t out of her hands. She would give them what information they might want about the bird things, but that was all. Nothing else was any of their business.