Authors: Dean Murray
Adri Paige still feels like she and Alec Graves are meant to be together, but that requires she get past what happened in Minnesota. Alec's actions cost her the most important people in her life, and that's something she couldn't forget even if she wanted to.
If it was just up to Adri she would stay isolated and nurse her wounds, but the Coun'hij are marshaling their forces for another blow against the Resistance, and without her help more of her friends will die.
Alec Graves finally has the power to overthrow the tyrants who've been oppressing the North American shape shifters for hundreds of years, but all it will take is a single misstep to destroy everything he's been working towards—including what's left of his relationship with Adri.
His father's reach extends further than anyone in the Resistance realizes and this time Kaleb is targeting Alec and Adri directly.
Copyright 2014 by Dean Murray
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Three miles off of the Strip
Las Vegas, Nevada
Kaleb hated Las
Vegas—had for decades—and his current surroundings
weren't doing anything to put him at ease. The strip club his contact
had chosen for the meet was the kind of exclusive place that had a
cover charge measured in hundred-dollar bills.
That was good
because it meant that there wouldn't be many people around to
eavesdrop, but the club was also the perfect metaphor for the city.
Needlessly ostentatious, and completely without purpose other than to
separate fools from their money.
If it had been
up to him, he never would have set foot inside the city boundaries
again, but he was depressingly certain that he would end up paying
the City of Sin countless additional visits over the next century.
Being the leader of one of the two biggest shape shifter packs in
North America and the de facto head of the Coun'hij—the ruling
body that kept all of the wolves from going their separate ways—meant
that he had an incredible amount of power, but he wasn't as free to
do whatever he wanted as he would have liked the rest of the world to
When it came to
the man he'd flown more than a hundred miles to see, that was even
more the case than normal. As evidenced by the fact that Kaleb's
contact was late—again.
Kaleb looked at
his watch—a six-thousand-dollar Rolex—for the third time
in as many minutes and told himself that he would leave if his
contact didn't walk through the doors within the next four minutes.
There were appearances to maintain, after all. When you got right
down to it, an uncomfortable amount of Kaleb's power rested on
nothing more than appearances—especially after his son had made
off with billions of dollars' worth of liquid assets.
wasn't poor—not even close—but losing that much money had
put him in a definite liquidity bind. His people, Donovan especially,
were in the process of selling off some of the hard assets that the
Graves line had acquired over the centuries, but it was one more
symptom of the state of affairs since Alec and his friends had
Kaleb was low
on funds, low on able bodies to throw into the war he'd started on
the US-Mexican border, and suddenly being hounded by more
enemies—both within the Coun'hij and without—than he'd
had to deal with in more than a decade.
Less than three
seconds before Kaleb was going to stand up and walk out of the club,
Puppeteer walked through the door followed by two skinny,
malnourished men in their fifties.
the matter, Graves? Is this not your kind of place? I've heard
nothing but good things about the performers here…"
There were a
lot of other things that Kaleb would have liked to add, but he wasn't
fooled by the feeble appearance of Puppeteer's bodyguards. It was
standard practice for the members of the Coun'hij to conduct meetings
via electronic means, but Puppeteer generally insisted on
face-to-face meets. He also ignored the tradition of not bringing
guards to the meetings. Kaleb had never bothered airing his
dissatisfaction with that particular habit. The rule was in place for
a good reason—so that they wouldn't have leaks getting back to
the rebellion—but Puppeteer's guards weren't going to leak
anything because despite their appearances they weren't men.
Kaleb was aware
that some of the members of the Coun'hij were considering bringing
bodyguards of their own to these kinds of meets, but not him. It
wouldn't have done any good. No two of his people could have possibly
come out on top in a fight against the seven-foot-tall towers of bone
and muscle that the werewolves would become at a single silent
command from Puppeteer.
Worthingfield probably could have taken one werewolf by himself, but
that still would have left the problem of the second werewolf.
Besides, Brandon was the last person Kaleb wanted close to the other
members of the Coun'hij. Brandon was best kept as far as possible
away from the real power in their world.
work indefinitely, but Brandon was still young enough that Kaleb had
mostly been able to keep him distracted with the trappings of power.
Eventually Brandon would wise up, but that was a problem for another
Kaleb spared a
moment to once again run through his future plans for Puppeteer. The
other man was incredibly slippery when it came to staying off of the
grid for a man approaching two hundred. Some of the other members of
the inner circle showed up on video feeds throughout the country as
often as every week or two, but not Puppeteer.
Each and every
time Kaleb met with Puppeteer he risked his own life, but Kaleb was
capable of being patient and running risks. Bringing guards—even
guards who stayed out of sight—would just result in Puppeteer
bringing along more of his enslaved werewolves, or something even
worse. No, the answer was to come to each meeting completely
vulnerable right up until the day when Kaleb decided it was time to
kill Puppeteer. When that day arrived, Kaleb would have Brandon and a
dozen other hybrids waiting to ambush Puppeteer.
fight would be quick, bloody, and solve one of Kaleb's problems at
the same time it spawned a dozen more. His life sometimes felt like
nothing more than an extended balancing act, one with stakes that
most of the rest of the world couldn't even begin to understand.
The series of
thoughts running through Kaleb's mind had taken only seconds, but he
never broke eye contact with Puppeteer during that time. Dominance
was about more than just who could beat the other person to a pulp.
It was a lesson that some hybrids never learned, but it was one of
the things that had allowed Kaleb to rise to the pinnacle of power
inside of the Coun'hij in record time once he finally decided to
throw his lot in with them rather than continuing to fight the
gamely refused to drop his eyes, but Kaleb could sense that the other
man was beginning to grow nervous. Someone like Puppeteer was nearly
always the most dangerous person in any given room. He was used to
having everyone around him cower in some way or another as they
acknowledged that fact. It did more than just make him uneasy when
someone refused to back down, it made him worry that he was
overlooking something—something important.
would decide that Kaleb was bluffing, that Kaleb was one of those
rare hybrids who were able to lie with their scent and pulse as well
as just with their voice, but Puppeteer apparently wasn't quite to
that point yet—not today.
Puppeteer's eyes go the tiniest bit distant as the other man checked
to make sure that both of his bodyguards were still there and still
under his control. It was a reflexive action, one that Puppeteer did
hundreds of times per day. Given that he'd compelled two of the most
dangerous creatures on earth to wait on him hand and foot, it was an
understandable habit to develop, but Kaleb wasn't in the mood to be
Kaleb took a
single step forward as though planning on rushing Puppeteer, but then
adjusted his course at the last instant to take him out around
Puppeteer and his minions. Puppeteer redeployed his bodyguards, tiny
old bodies that looked like they were only weeks away from death, so
that they were positioned to make sure that Kaleb wouldn't be able to
get his hands on Puppeteer. It was exactly the reaction Kaleb had
been hoping for.
him get almost to the door before sending out a flare of power. The
energy danced across Kaleb's arms like a thousand tiny insects,
demanding that he turn around and address Puppeteer, but as powerful
as Puppeteer was, he wasn't powerful enough to compel Kaleb with
nothing more than a display of strength. A fact that doubtlessly
frustrated Puppeteer to no end.
you going, Graves?"
leaving. You are the one who called me here. This meeting was your
idea—your demand, really. I have better things to do than stand
here and exchange glares with you. The next time you feel like taking
in some girls, do me a favor and don't call me to accompany you. I
have much better things to be doing."
exchange had taken place in a tone that was only barely into what
would be the audible range for humans. The two beasts behind
Puppeteer probably heard everything that had been said, but the club
employee, a distinguished-looking man in a suit, didn't seem to have
heard any of it.
Then again, he
didn't have to have heard any of it to know that Kaleb and Puppeteer
were only heartbeats away from attacking each other. The body
language between the four patrons had been strong enough that nothing
else was necessary for someone who made his living at a place like
this. The strip club might be a high-class kind of joint, but any
time you mixed alcohol and beautiful women of the sort who took their
clothes off for a living, you were asking for violence.
have drinks brought out to you two gentlemen? Amber is just about to
start her set—you're not going to want to miss her…"
look away from Puppeteer. He'd already taken the measure of the club
employee. The man was fit, but he was used to dealing with the club's
clientele when they arrived—generally sober and compliant. He
wasn't the kind of man to throw himself into a fight—not even a
fight where he got the first hit against someone with their back
turned to him. He would call in the club's bouncers and then steer
clear of the resulting mayhem.
It was still a
risk. Even normally mild-mannered men could react unexpectedly if
pushed far enough, but Kaleb had run—and would run—much
worse risks before reaching his end game. He left his back to the
employee and waited for Puppeteer to break.
It took several
seconds, but Puppeteer finally took advantage of the distraction and
broke eye contact to address the human.
would be good, but there's no need to have it brought out—we'll
go on inside to the main area. I have news to share with my friend
have any desire to go inside to the flashing lights and loud music,
but he nodded. "As long as you're actually ready to talk."
Less than a
minute later the two of them were seated at a table with the two
werewolves seated a short distance away. Under other circumstances
Kaleb probably would have faced the stage just so as not to stand
out, but not this time. There was no need, not with how out of place
the two werewolves looked—even in human form. They never looked
at the stage once, instead looking at Puppeteer and Kaleb with
unsettling, unblinking eyes. Besides, Kaleb was willing to
occasionally turn his back to unarmed humans, but he wasn't in the
habit of doing the same kind of thing to werewolves.