Authors: Buffi BeCraft
“Oh, you are a ripe one,” murmured the incubus. He licked his lips. “I can see why they waited.”
“Fuck you.” Jill broke the rule and plunged the hunting knife forward, hoping its organs were similar to a human's. Her shoulder burned hot and she twisted out of the way of its grasping hands. Her ankle warmed and she kicked out, the heavy boot meeting its knee with a satisfying crunch and a screech of pain. Jill swung away as the incubus turned to mist again.
“You know what they are, don’t you pretty?” Its voice warbled in the air, silkily. Evil. “What they want? The same we all want.” Laughter fouled her ears. Denial churned in her stomach.
It appeared at her right, clawing and tearing at Merc. Uncas immediately joined the fray. Teeth and claws ripping and tearing the coat to shreds. Merc went flying, hitting a shelf, scattering packages of makeup. The incubus tore Uncas away and disappeared.
Jill’s nerves were on hyper when she felt the hot breath behind her. Thin arms wrapped around her like bands. She bucked and dropped, slipping down, stabbing the knife behind her, meeting flesh. She twisted and jerked the knife free. Fury filling the black holes of its eyes, the incubus hissed. Grabbing at her. Tumbling her backward. Frantically, Jill thrust up, barely hearing the snarl of the dogs.
The knife rammed into the incubus’s torso to the hilt and flesh. Jill twisted, rammed and did as much damage as she could. It screeched and thrashed, snapping at the dogs’ lunges at its shoulders and face. Blood smeared over her face. The spicy scent of the incubus turned sour as it gurgled and jerked, laying heavy and still on her body.
Jill shoved, pushing the body off of her. She sucked in a breath, looking at the dogs. Uncas stood over them, his lips pulled back in a fierce snarl. He darted forward, jaws closing on the incubus’s neck, savagely tearing several hunks free, dropping the foul smelling meat on the floor. Finally, satisfied, the wolf padded to Jill, sniffing her over before going to their companion.
Merc shivered. Numb worry pulled her to her feet as the pit bull slowly sank down. His blood dripped and pooled on the floor. Crawling over, Jill’s hands hovered over Merc’s shredded side. Oh God. Her throat ached. Tears pooled in her eyes.
Before the supernaturals had taken over, she’d never been much of an ‘animal person.’ She’d actually been one of those assholes that made comments about people sporting a layer of pet hair on their clothes.
Merc whimpered, rolling his eyes at both her and Uncas. The fine texture of his pristine white fur was spiked with garish red. What would she do?
Her shoulder warmed and she glanced at Uncas.
Jill blinked and scanned the entrance to the drug store. She should probably vacate the premises before more of the same creatures came for them…her.
She could accept her usual lapses, and she admitted that the incubus ’s words had done their work well, undermining her faith in her canine companions.
Uncas nosed her again.
Jill sighed, laying a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah. I know. I do trust you guys.” She set her other hand on a piece of Merc’s undamaged skin, hard to do because so much of him was a shredded mess.
Pit bulls were bred to be fierce, tough fighters, but their poor skin was so unprotected. She leaned down, knowingly, feeling the life slowly drain from the dog and stroked a patch of neck.
Tears, hot and heavy, slid down her cheek. “Please don’t go, Merc. Don’t leave us.” Her shoulder burned hot while her ankle tingled, the comforting feeling weak. Defiance slid through her grief. She
leave one of her boys here to die.
She met Uncas’s dark gaze. “Keep watch. I’ll find something to carry him to a better defensible position. One without icky dead monsters.” She stood, settling her hand on the weak pit bull’s head. “Do you hear me, Merc? Hang on. Don’t you dare die on me.”
She turned and started down the aisles, hoping to find a blanket, sleeping bag, hell—something reasonable to haul a sixty-plus pound dog to a safer place.
Going through the 'Employees Only' door to the storage area, she found a freight cart. Pushing it back to the front of the store, she froze at the sight of a large dusky skinned man leaning over a pale, obviously injured one. There was no sign of the dogs.
Both were completely naked.
Jill’s brain shuttered through everything in fast forward. Her heart and breath stalled in her body. The darker skinned man raised his head, turning to face her. His shoulder length brown hair fell away from his face, revealing a sharp-nosed man with intense eyes. The pale, injured man studied her with golden eyes. She swallowed, going over every detail of meeting her ‘dogs’, every fight against the monsters, every time they made camp. Her emotions swung from betrayal to anger, and then to grief. She settled on sheer confusion.
“Was he right?” she whispered.
“Do you trust me?” The dark haired man laid a hand on his companion when he would have moved. Pain made the injured man’s complexion pasty.
In her mind, Jill refused to name them. She wanted to run. Toward them or away, she didn’t know which. The shoulder mark remained hot while the ankle mark was fading to an itch.
“You have to decide, Jill,” he insisted. “Do you trust us or not?”
“Will he live?” God, she had to hold herself still not to go to them. “What do I call you?” Her voice grated over unacknowledged tears.
The darker skinned man, reminiscent of someone with Latin or Indian mixed heritage, smiled. A dimple pulled at his cheek, making the slash of his eyebrows a bit less harsh. “Merc’s life is entirely in your hands. As is our future.” He carefully drew Merc’s arm around his own shoulder and stood up, still calmly talking, as if to a skittish animal. The mild hysteria and leftover lust from the incubus combined with the two perfect specimens of maleness probably put her in that category.
“Shapeshifters and werewolves can take a lot of damage and come back from it to a certain point—if they have the will to live.” He started for the back of the store. Numbly, she followed, leaving the cart and grabbing her backpack.
The incubus’s corpse could rot for the scavengers for all she cared. She tried to process what he said, then blurted out the next thing that popped into her head.
“You bit me. Both of you did.” Obviously, she wasn’t going to turn into one of them. Too much time had passed for that myth to be true. “Why is Merc’s bite fading?”
Uncas nodded; shouldering his way past the 'Employees Only' door.
Jill locked it behind them. She pointed to the right. “There’s an office with a couch in there.”
It was a large futon couch. He settled Merc down on the lumpy piece of furniture. For his part, Merc didn’t look so good, but he was alert, silent and following the conversation.
She stopped Uncas before he left the room. “You didn’t answer.”
He sighed, his wide shoulders dropping with the emotion. Bending his head, he laid a hand on the heavy door. “Both our species mark prospective mates with a bite to warn off others. It creates a connection. As a general rule, we don’t share.”
She narrowed her eyes. “But I found him first. You bit me later.”
“Yeah,” Uncas agreed without emotion. “I have to secure the building.” With that he left the room.
Jill turned to face Merc. She found herself standing in front of him, and then carefully sitting on the edge of the futon to check his wounds. They appeared barely healed on the outside. Tentatively, she touched his jaw.
Merc was a thick-bodied man with a fine buzz cut of hair, much like that in his dog form.
“What am I going to do with you?” she asked, more to herself.
“It’s okay,” Merc said, surprising her. She hadn’t expected an answer. He covered her hand with his large one. He had a deep, even voice. “I didn’t expect you to pick me. Werewolves are stronger.”
“Then why bite me?”
He patted her hand and closed his eyes, opening the golden orbs when her panic spiked. “Safer for you to be marked. We lost the war, but we kept that.”
Her brow furrowed, trying to understand, trying to make the logic jump that they were either avoiding telling her or Merc was just too far gone to convey. “Okay. I get it. You both marked me for this mate thing to keep me safe. Why? Why me? Why stay together if you don’t share?”
Merc patted her hand again. A ghost of a smile twitched his lips. God even injured, he was handsome in a blunt military way. Put him in a uniform and the women would go nuts. “Because canines are pack animals.”
She felt so stupid. “But
Why not with your own kind? Surely there are other were-pit bulls or were-wolves for you guys to join? Why?”
Merc jerked, the snort made him gasp. For a moment she thought he was going into convulsions then realized he was stifling some painful laughter. “Stop that,” she snapped.
He smiled then, transforming his strong caveman features into a really sexy, and pale, man. Then the happy light went out, replaced by sadness and pain. “We lost, Jill. The guardians really tried. We held the dark legion back for eons. But…we lost. Humans were collateral damage.”
He focused on the door right before Uncas came back in then patted her hand again. His eyes tracked the werewolf, but he patted her hand. “It’s okay. I conceded from the first.”
“No. I do not give you that right,” Uncas barked the sentence like a drill sergeant. His jaw hardened as he dropped a load of blankets, towels, and sheets on the floor. “You will not give up on your own.” He laid a hand on Jill’s shoulder, forcing her to meet his gaze. The look there was pure demand. “It’s your choice, Jill. You decide our fate.”
She was appalled. “You want me to pick between you? Just like that?” Pulling away from them, she stood and crossed her arms over her chest, then pointed at Merc. “That’s not fair. Look at him. He’s hurt and all ready to do the ‘step aside’ thing for you. And you want me to choose?” Fury enveloped her. She’d travelled for
with them. Everyone doing a job in their little pack. Everyone looking out for everyone else.
“Fuck you, Uncas.” Her eyes burned as she twisted to face Merc. Her voice caught, thick with tears. “Fuck you too. Why do I have to pick ‘one or the other’? We all have choices. Why can’t we work together?”
“It’s not how we normally do things,” Uncas answered, swinging her wrath back to him.
“And what about this whole thing is normal?” Her voice rose. She knew better, but she couldn’t help it. Damn it, she didn’t want to lose either one of them. Dogs or men, she
both Uncas and Merc. “Six months ago, I got up every day at five-fucking-thirty to do my face, hair. I wore stilettos and a killer dress to work to impress money-hungry self-centered assholes.
“That was normal. I ordered a coffee that took nearly five minutes to say, because hell—it was normal. I had a mortgage that I could barely afford and a car payment I certainly couldn’t—because it was normal!” She took a breath, realizing that in her rant that she’d started poking Uncas in one nicely formed shoulder.
Fisting her hands, she stomped to the other side of the room, cursing the lingering lust from the incubus. Damn, she had to put some clothes on these men. And how sick was it that she wanted to jump poor Merc while he could barely move?
“Today, it’s normal for pixies to swarm you like killer bees. It’s normal for zombies to stalk you. It’s normal for…” She shook her head and looked at them both, feeling emotionally devastated. “I don’t want your version of normal.”
“Say it,” Uncas’s words startled her from her rant. “Think carefully, and say exactly what you want, Jill.”
She looked from one to the other. Frankly, Merc looked a lot less injured than he had before. Uncas looked dangerous and volatile. She licked her lips, noticing that both of their eyes fixated and dilated at the movement. Both of them stilled while blood rushed south in her body, drawing her eyes to some very well-developed male anatomy. Could she do this?