Authors: Karin Shah
Table of Contents
The Chimera Chronicles Book 2
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
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Macedon, New York, 14502
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To my mom,
Suzanne Jones Unell,
Much thanks to my stellar beta readers, Stephanie Bolen, Kathy Boswell, and Sarah Ha, to my family, my wonderful friends at COFW, and thanks times infinity to my editor Debby Gilbert whose friendship and patience has lifted me up, both in good times and in bad.
Several thunderous bangs rattled Ethan Wade’s fly-specked storm door.
Teeth bared, he pried his fingernails from his palms.
How’d they track me down out here in God’s country?
He gritted his teeth against the urge to growl, then stalked to the door and yanked the lace curtain from the window. On the other side, Jaden hunched his broad shoulders, and shifted his considerable bulk on the wide concrete front stoop.
Rain hammered the flimsy roof sheltering the door. Several dark shapes crowded behind his longtime friend.
“This crazy asshole had better be worth the trip,” an unfamiliar voice whispered on the other side of the door.
The word echoed through his skull. He wasn’t, was he?
“Ethan? Come on, Cy. We know you’re in there. We can see the light.” Jaden pounded the door again. The lightweight aluminum storm door jangled. Its hinges couldn’t take much more.
“Cy?” said that unfamiliar voice.
“Sh, short for Cyborg. You know, ‘better, stronger, faster.’”
That was Dan. Were they all out there?
“Dude, that’s the
man,” Derek corrected.
“Same difference. You wouldn’t want to fight either of ‘em.”
Ethan smothered a groan and threw the metal inside door open, catching it with his hand before the doorknob could smash into the already dented drywall of the fifties-era rental house.
The hinges of the storm door screamed repeatedly as Jaden, the rest of Ethan’s old crew, and a unfamiliar red-haired kid tramped in out of the night, shedding drops of water on the worn linoleum along with their raingear. The scent of the wet summer evening—a tangle of sweet and pungent weeds, damp earth, and musty rot—entered with them.
Jaden mopped his wet scalp with a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt. “For a minute there, I thought you weren’t going let us in.”
Ethan shrugged. “How could I leave you out in the rain when you came all this way?” Very easily, if he was smart, but the truth of the matter was, if he died tomorrow, these men would be the only mourners at his funeral. And,
, he missed them. For one fleeting moment in his miserable life he’d been valued. He’d belonged.
Joe muscled to the forefront, hefting a case of beer, brown glass bottles clinking inside. “Where should I put this?”
Ethan hesitated, torn.
Was he going to let them stay long enough to drink? They’d come a long way, and he’d known Jaden and Joe since foster care.
Shit. If it’d been anyone else
. . . He jerked his head at the round laminate table behind him to the right. “I’ll get the opener.”
He moved further into the kitchen and the other men followed, swinging the rickety, mismatched chairs back from the table and settling onto them. Mainly former Navy Seals, most of the crew didn’t fit the chairs any better than Ethan did. Spindles and joints protested with ominous creaks and pops before everyone seemed comfortable.
Chairs stuffed full, Ethan rested back in the ‘L’ of the counter between the stove and sink and tossed Joe the bottle opener. The other man started cracking the frosty beers open and passing them around. The bitter, tangy smell of hops filled the compact kitchen.
Jaden studied a glass jar half-filled with coins, his large hand almost swallowing the container. He set it back down with a click and swiped a magazine off the scratched, white counter. “So this is what you’ve been doing, huh?” Eyebrows merging with his nonexistent hairline, he flashed the cover at Ethan and slapped the periodical on the table, tapping his thick pointer finger twice on Ethan’s name. “Writing?”
Jaden’s dismissive tone raised Ethan’s hackles, and he clenched his teeth to snag a growl before it could escape.
Maybe his friend sensed he was treading on thin ice because he took a swig of his beer, sucked his teeth, and continued. “Actually, we’re working on a wreck in Lake Ontario. No treasure. Just a documentary crew for TV, but we’re almost finished.”
Ethan nodded and chugged three swallows of the dark beer.
Damn, that tasted sweet
. How long had it been since he’d had a beer?
Joe leaned forward and dangled his sweating bottle between blue-jeaned knees, letting it swing from his long fingers. A lock of dirt brown hair shadowed his hazel eyes. He glanced at the other men and back at Ethan. “That’s why we’re here. We need you, man.”
Ethan folded his arms. “Who’s we?” With a wave of his bottle, he saluted the rangy blond who sat furthest away, his booted feet propped on the crossbar of the carrot-top’s chair. “Dan? That’s not what he said the day I left.”
A muscle spasmed in Dan’s jaw and his chest puffed up. He seemed to want to stand, but instead glanced around the cramped kitchen as if cataloging the chipped and yellowed cupboards with their hangdog sagging bottoms, their screws pulling out as if tired of containing things. He took a long pull on his beer. “I was wrong, man.”
“Yeah.” But Ethan wasn’t so sure.
He’d been teetering on the edge of control before that day. Even at rest he could feel that curl of something inside him, something not quite human. Something anger might awaken. Still, the wound pulsed.
He nodded at the lanky, dark-haired man whose arm rested on the battered top of Joe’s chair. “What about you, Derek? You want me back, too?”
Derek planted his bottle on the table and leaned forward, rubbing his stubbled jaw, his blue-green eyes startling against his Asian features. “I thought you were gonna kill Laird that day. I mean, I hated the asshole, too, but you don’t kill the money man.”
There was no arguing with that and Ethan only nodded slowly, pressing his empty hand against his sternum where the feeling of something other dwelled. “And who’s this kid? Why would he want to work with a ‘crazy asshole’ like me?”
The kid’s mouth dropped open, fishlike. The other men exchanged a look.
The corner of Ethan’s mouth quirked. “I’m crazy, not deaf.”
Jaden shook his shaved head and lifted a wide palm. The peacemaker as always. “His name’s Bill. And you’re not crazy, either. You’ve got a temper, so do I. Look, we’re treasure hunters not filmmakers or writers.” He nodded toward the magazine on the table.
Ethan sighed through his teeth. For his crew, the incident that had driven him into exile was in the past, but he lived with the memory every day.
Maybe Jaden could forget the sight of Laird’s swollen, purple face, the sound of the older man gasping for air, but Ethan sure as hell couldn’t. He was just too fucking dangerous to be around people. If he had any conscience at all, he’d sign himself in at WCA or Lakeshore, but the idea of being caged shredded some visceral part of him he recognized as the last sinew of his sanity. Something told him if he crossed that line, he wouldn’t be just dangerous—he’d be deadly.
He drained his beer and set the bottle beside the sink. “I’m sorry you’ve come all this way, but I can’t come back. I just . . . can’t.” The words sounded weak, inadequate. Hell, they were the only friends he’d ever had. The only people not to take one look at his size and strength and label him a thug. He owed them more, but what could he say?
There’s a monster inside me?
They’d commit him.
A chair screeched as the red-haired kid jumped to his feet, face blotchy behind a hardcore screen of freckles.
The kid’s quick movement fed the creature inside Ethan, giving it a surge of power. His cheeks and gums ached and his fingertips panged as if something sharp lurked beneath his skin.
The kid’s hands knotted into ruddy fists at his sides. “I been listening to stories about you ever since I joined the crew,” he said, his accent surprisingly English. London-born maybe? His jaw jutted out, a bulldog about to sink his teeth into something. “Hell, I read about you in books. These guys are your friends. They need you. How can you just tell ‘em to piss off like this?”
Ethan focused on his breathing, fighting to contain the surging violence inside him. He had to get them out of here fast. “I said I wasn’t deaf. I never denied I was an asshole.”
“You got that right.” Dan was on his feet, muddy boots fixed shoulder-width apart, brown eyes hard with anger. “We lost everything because of you. Janice left me. Diving for the filmmakers pays shit. I got so many debts I can’t even pay child-support.” He shook, as if his body couldn’t contain his fury, then, with a wordless snarl of frustration, he launched himself at Ethan, fists swinging, but Joe and Jaden grabbed him, one on each arm, dragging him back.
The thing in Ethan’s chest almost cried with joy. It was all he could do not to throw his head back and let fly the wild roar building in his throat.
He took a step toward Dan, hungry to tear out the heart he could hear battering the blond’s ribcage.
“Don’t be stupid, man! He’ll take you apart.” Jaden practically hissed the words in Dan’s ear, but Ethan heard them loud and clear.
They arced through him like an electrical discharge, jolting him back to himself. He took a deep breath. His hair pricked his palm as he ran his hand over his face and head.
What the fuck had he been about to do?
The house had cleared out so quickly after that, only the empty beer bottles proved his crew had ever been there.
Ethan stood in the tiny kitchen for a long time, turning the episode over and over in his head. In that moment of challenge, he’d wanted—no—relished the idea of killing his friend. His friend, God damn it.
He’d hoped the urges would have passed after being out so long in the sticks, but seclusion had only masked the impulses.
Shit. No more thinking
. He wandered into the modest family room to watch TV, lugging the rest of the case of beer with him.
When it was finally late enough to go to sleep, he clicked off the news, but he couldn’t find the will to haul his ass off to bed. He sat in the total darkness for a stretch, mind numb, staring at nothing, unaware of the passage of time.
A crash in the back of the house shattered Ethan’s beer-fueled haze, snapping him stone cold sober.
Someone had the balls to break into his house?
The rage he’d tamped down earlier ignited in a flash-fire inferno. Fury swelled like a cresting wave and consumed him, leaving only one thought.
He lunged toward the sound, maddened by the need to rend flesh and crunch bones.
A brilliant flash of light seared his retinas, almost blinding him. All he could see past the after-burn were two dark shadows.
He vaulted toward them, his hands outstretched to rip into the bastards and—passed through the shapes as if they were true shadows.
He belly-flopped onto the carpet.
What the fuck?
Sure he was drunk, but how could he miss? He never missed.
The afterimages clouding his vision had faded. Now he could clearly see the two men in the crappy light filtering through the sheers covering the family room windows.
Dan and the redhead.
His fury spiked higher still at the betrayal, and he growled. The feral animal nature of the sound startled him, but neither of the other men reacted at all.
Springing back to his feet, he charged at the intruders, his movements sure and swift in the familiar space, but he shot through the other men with no more force than a phantom and caught himself before he could ram into the threadbare sofa.
“Damn. It’s cold in ‘ere,” whispered the redhead.
What was his name? Bill?
“Shh.” Dan raised his hand. “Do you want Ethan to hear us? I can’t believe he didn’t hear you breaking that window. Man, this is totally FUBAR. How did I let you talk me into this?”
Some of Ethan’s rage gave way to confusion.
They didn’t see him.
How the hell couldn’t they see him? He stood in the middle of room, all six foot five, two-hundred pounds of him. It wasn’t that dark.
He batted a hand in Dan’s direction. It passed through the ex-seal as if the man were no more substantial than fog, or
A shock sliced through his heart. He couldn’t catch his breath. He hadn’t felt such panic since the time he’d realized his oxygen gauge was busted under several cubic tons of seawater. His drunken mind fumbled through possibilities and came up with the most ridiculous, but obvious, explanation it could. An explanation based on something he’d never believed in, but seemed to define the situation.
Somehow, in the time between when his friends had left and Dan and the redhead had broken in . . . he’d died.
He was a ghost.