Authors: Susan Bliler
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Werewolves & Shifters
Copyright © 2013 by Susan A. Bliler
Cover fonts, spine, and back cover done by:
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
As always thanks to my Beta, Cindy.
I couldn’t do this without you.
Thanks for believing in me
when no one else did.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidences are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Susan Bliler.
“All men should keep their word
ings most of all.”
I love you
, my King.
Thank you for keeping your word.
“Tell me, again, why we’re doing this?” Stoney Lydon eyed StoneCrow’s Chief of Surgery, Jenny Houlton, over the chart she’d just printed.
Jenny didn’t look up from her own printed form. “One, I need to know if there’s anything to this
theory; two, now that StoneCrow Estates is finally a reality, we need to know if we can truly trust Lilly; and three, Monroe needs a Chief of Security. Who better than the only person he seems to respect?”
“King Mulholland,” Jenny confirmed with a nod.
“So, you’ve taken the information you’ve discovered and are twisting it to best suit your needs so that you can manipulate the Walkers here at StoneCrow? Am I getting this right?”
Ignoring the jab from her blonde, spiky haired, nurse, Jenny rubbed at the bundle of nerves centered at the back of her neck. She hadn’t slept in a few days, and her appetite was non-existent. Something had happened that had the newly appointed Chief of Surgery running test after test in an attempt to pinpoint the source of her sudden…ailment.
It had all started three days prior when Monroe had summoned Jenny and her small medical team to the estate’s confinement area, which Jenny referred to as the black hole. The cells and interrogation room were nestled in a bunker beneath the estate’s large barn. To the eye that didn’t know any better, there’d be no telling that the structure was anything but what it appeared to be.
Monroe had sent t
he freshly arrived Skin Walker Sentries to the black hole to familiarize them with the facility. The secret area was also home to the estate’s high-tech security and surveillance rooms, and would be off-limits and virtually non-existent to any human staff that would eventually be hired.
The Sentries had shuffled through the black hole, learning about the equipment, cells, and eventual staffing needs to properly secure and
maintain the estate. Set up in one of the interrogation rooms, Jenny’s team was to take blood samples from each Walker for entry into the Skin Walker registry that Monroe was forming in hopes of tracking lineage and pinpointing a source. The mandatory blood work and testing would be required of all Walkers and human employees. Human blood work would be used to ensure the new hires were drug free.
On the day the Sentries had come through for their inoculations and blood draw, Jenny had taken a break just before lunch. She’d left her nurse, Stoney, in charge and had exited the interrogation room that they’d set-up as a makeshift medical lab. Wanting to ensure Stoney was
capable; Jenny had watched the young Walker from the opposite side of the one-way glass.
Stoney prompted of the Walker Sentry that was next in line.
The deep timber of the Sentry’s voice had Jenny lifting her gaze from Stoney’s preparations. The Sentry that entered was breathtaking. Tall--as all Walker men were--the man was thickly corded with muscle that showed even beneath his long sleeve thermal shirt and red flannel shirt that lay, unbuttoned, overtop with the sleeves rolled up to reveal strong forearms. Long blonde hair hung just past the sentry’s shoulders. Not a fan of long hair on men, Jenny was surprised to discover that, on him, she found it highly attractive. He reminded her of the mythical Norse god, Thor.
He entered the interrogation room and began stripping off his flannel shirt. Jenny could only watch in envy a
s the blue-eyed deity pushed his sleeve up further and extended an arm for Stoney to prick.
Inching closer to the glass, Jenny’s breath fogged the partition and had her jerking back in embarrassment.
Thank God for one-way glass.
She would have been mortified for the Sentry to have seen her drooling over him. As if drawn by her thoughts, Bishop lifted his gaze to stare at what would be his own reflection. When his eyes locked on the location where Jenny was staring, a pain seared her belly and dropped her to her knees. She gasped and clutched her abdomen with trembling fingers.
She drew in a deep breath and attempted to stand, only to be seized by the sharp pain. On her hands and knees, she debated yelling for Stoney. A fine layer of sweat dotted her nose, forehead, and upper lip. “Shit,” she hissed.
Snaking out a shaking hand, she slapped the door closed, knowing that any one of the
Walkers in the hall would scent her pain any minute. When the door slammed closed, she curled into a tight ball, focusing on simply controlling her breathing until the sudden affliction could pass. Straining, her ears picked up alarm in the other room.
“Mr. Arkinson? Are you alright? JENNY!”
Jenny crawled to the door to lean against it. She’d be coming to no one’s rescue in this state.
“What is it?”
she demanded a little too harshly through the mystic, or mist for short. It was a means of telepathic communication that Skin Walkers shared.
“One of the Sentries has fallen ill!”
“Christ, Stoney, you’re a nurse,”
she snapped back impatiently,
“feed him a cookie!”
She severed the connection feeling a little guilty at her harsh treatment of the young nurse, but she was in desperate need of aid herself, and didn’t have time to go rushing to help one of the big bad Sentries that she assumed had gone woozy at the sight of the needle.
Lifting a hand, she watched it tremble before she squeezed it into a tight fist and
then released it. She performed the gesture several times in an effort to still the tremors that coursed through her limbs.
After long agonizing moments, Jenny got to her feet and steadied herself with the wall. She needed to get back to the infirmary to draw her own blood and run some tests. Something was definitely wrong.
That day had been the beginning of a startling revelation that had Jenny willing to deceive the merciless CEO of StoneCrow, Monroe StoneCrow, and enlist the help of her
unwitting nurse, Stoney, in the deed. Shame seared Jenny at the thought, but with her own future hanging in the balance, she had no choice but to forge on in the name of science…at least that’s what she told herself at night to help her sleep.
Truth was she’d been afflicted three days ago by the Skin Walker Sentry, Bishop Arkinson.
She’d tested her own blood and was stumped until Stoney had returned to the infirmary and informed her of the puzzling ailments that had affected the Sentry she’d been attempting to draw blood from. It was Bishop, and the symptoms Stoney described mirrored Jenny’s own. That’s when Jenny knew something wasn’t right. She’d heard of the Skin Walker affliction. Mother natures way of ensuring a Walker doesn’t overlook his mate, but Jenny wasn’t friends with anyone who’d experienced it personally, and up until her recent hire at StoneCrow Estates, she’d never had the opportunity to even get her hands on Walker samples—other than her own.
Bishop had regained his composure, Stoney had been able to draw a sample from Bishop and Jenny quickly nabbed it from the Nurse’s phlebotomy tray assuring Stoney that she’d “test the sample herself”. She couldn’t have disease running rampant on the newly established estate.
Alone, her and Bishop’s samples were unremarkable. It was only when she’d crossed the samples that she’d received startling results. Somehow, Bishop Arkinson was her match, or she was his. It was
a shocking discovery. She’d sent Stoney out to draw more samples from Bishop and had received shocking results through nights of research and testing. When she’d combined her sample with Bishop’s she was horrified at first when it appeared her cells were being attacked by his. Upon further inspection, she realized it wasn’t an attack at all. They were commingling. Her cells were being strengthened with Bishop's own. She could only assume it was a familial tie, but after hours of genetic testing with negative results she was convinced that it was some form of mating.
Luckily, CEO StoneCrow had ordered all Walkers under his employ to submit blood work, and unbeknownst to the Dominant Skin Walker, Jenny was using those samples in an attempt to find a similar pair of so afflicted Skin Walkers.
She’d placed herself under a self-imposed quarantine of sorts. Not locked away from society, just staying the hell away from Bishop Arkinson, and it was proving difficult. She’d casually obtained his schedule from Lilly, the CEO’s personal assistant, under the guise of needing to schedule medical appointments for the Walker. Truth was she wanted to know where he’d be and
he’d be there so she could avoid him. They’d both been physically affected and she was going to avoid him until she got things figured out.
Unfortunately for her, that’s where Lilly came in. The CEO’s personal assistant was a good friend of Jenny’s, but her blood work was proving to be a match to an unknown Walker named King Mulholland. Jenny had confronted Monroe about disposing of King’s blood sample since he wasn’t a resident of StoneCrow Estates. Truly, she’d been fishing for information, and she’d gotten it. Monroe had informed her that King Mulholland, a good friend of his, was a prospect for the Chief of Security position and that Monroe hoped King would take up the position at StoneCrow sometime in the future. Jenny couldn’t wait. She needed King at StoneCrow.
For one solid week she’d made daily appearances at Monroe’s office to demand he get a more stringent security detail for the estate. He’d blown her off completely until she’d finally lost it and gone into a hysterical fit about what could happen if the medical facility was breached and their records and samples went public. It had done the trick.
King was coming to StoneCrow, and Jenny’d get her answers…sadly, at King and Lilly’s expense. Unable to sleep since her odd encounter with Bishop, Jenny had poured herself into her work and had concocted an inoculation that she was hopeful would counteract the so-called affliction that had affected her upon her encounter with Bishop. Now,
she just needed test subjects. Test subjects that weren’t compromised. She already knew there was a connection between herself and Bishop, and she was going to steer clear of him until she figured out what exactly their reactions to each other meant.
“GET UP!” Master Chief, King Mulholland
, bellowed to his platoon. His steely, green, eyes darted among the ranks, seeking out any faltering soldier.
Humans are pathetic!
He’d thought so more and more often lately.
His eyes snagged on Jericha as her arms trembled in their feeble attempt to hold her body in the raised push-up position.
He stomped toward her, unclasping his hands from where they’d rested behind his back as his black military boots stopped just in front of her. It was hot even at night in North Carolina and the bright lights that flooded the yard attracted bugs by the swarm. He hated night training, but his day wasn’t done.
The female has no place in battle!” He bellowed overhead, his eyes roving the uniform lines of recruits. “Women were created to breed! Men were created to fight.”
Jericha locked her arms and moaned at the effort.
King walked slowly down the line, knowing the arms of the recruits were straining. “L.T.,” he barked without turning to his second-in-command.
“Sir!” The voice came from somewhere behind him.
“Shall I give them the bad news?”
Aye, Master Chief!”
Stopping to eye the recruits
, he knew that most of them hated him already. His announcement would solidify the ranks. “I always get one quitter on the first day. Lets me know I’m doing my job.” The recruits didn’t have to speak, he scented their heightened fear. “L.T.!”
King stopped walking to squat at the head of
another female recruit. He dipped his head to stare at her. “Today, I want two quitters,” he announced loudly before slowly rising. He braced his legs and folded his arms behind his back to stand at attention. “This day won’t end without my two quitters.” He dropped his head to look down at the female recruit at his feet, “I’m hoping they’ll be female.”
Women were the exception to King’s disgust of human kind. Women were his weakness and as such, it was growing more and more difficult for him to retain his fierce reputation as Maste
r Chief of the Navy’s elite Special Warfare trainees. Over the years, it’d gone from the complete exclusion of women to first one, then two. Now, one quarter of his platoon was comprised of female trainees, and it was getting difficult to be the cruel bastard he needed to be where they were concerned, but he had to be. Females that couldn’t take the training truly had no place in battle, and the ones that lasted had to be harder than even the men. He hated being hard on the women, but they needed it to survive.
His eyes raked over the now shaking forms. “TWO!” he bellowed and the ranks dropped in unison to hold themselves
inches above the ground in the half push-up. He scanned the women, knowing that one would drop out at any second. Soft, warm, bodies with flared hips, perfectly rounded asses, full breasts, and lips that never ceased to draw his attention. To his kind, women were to be protected…coveted. Why human males permitted their females into battle he’d never understand.
At his feet, the woman
growled as she tried to hold form.
Breaking formation is a sign of weakness.” He knelt in front of the woman and a pang of regret seared him as he scented her determination, her fear, her anger, and her tears. “There is no place for weakness in my command! Weakness is not about you!” He looked down at the woman, hoping she understood his message. “It is about your TEAM-MATE!
weakness will get your team-mate killed.”
The woman’s arms shook and finally gave out as she dropped to the ground with
an anguished grunt. She didn’t get up right away; instead, she rested her forehead against the concrete as she sucked back a sob that tore free.
He’d worked them long and hard, but war would be longer and
exponentially more difficult. They had to be ready. If they died out there it would be from a lack of training, but not his recruits. He’d teach them all they’d need to survive and weed out the ones who weren’t cut out for this life…
The woman slowly got to her feet and King rose with her, his eyes dipping to the
name-flash on her chest. “L.T.!”
Like a true warrior, the woman stood at attention, tears streaming down her face as she waited to be dismissed.
“Chief?” His second-in-command approached to stand at attention by his side.
Get Ms. Bellvue an escort,” King’s eyes were pinned to the woman’s features as he drank in the acrid scent of her self-loathing coated in the sweet scent of her sweat. “Get her cleared by medical, get her fed, get her rested, then get her home.” His brows speared down and his voice rose to address the rest of the platoon. “She’s elected to save a soldier’s life today by not putting him in jeopardy. ON YOUR FEET!”
The regiment rose in unison and snapped to attention so uniformly that there was a distinct sound to the action.
AYE AYE, MASTER CHIEF!” They responded.
GRATITUDE TO RECRUIT BELLVUE FOR SPARING YOUR LIVES!”
BUT UNBOWED!” The platoon barked their mantra as one.
He turned from the woman and listened as his L.T. made arrangements with one of his men to have the woman removed.
“I NEED ONE MORE,” King bellowed calmly, his eyes scanning for his next victim. He wasn’t surprised to see that his challenge had lit a fire among the ranks of women. They’d steeled themselves, prepared for the worst, and part of him wasn’t so sure now that his next drop-out wouldn’t be a male.
” King turned toward the rank of officers standing in line with his L.T.
“Aye, Master Chief,” the man rushed forward.
“Get them running. Don’t come back until you have my second quitter.”
“Aye aye, Master Chief.” Cruise turned to the platoon to command, “PLATOON, ON ME. FALL IN!”
The cadence of their feet as they jogged away was as familiar to King as the beating of his own heart. When the crew was no longer in sight, he exhaled his breath on a growl as he plowed a strong hand into his shorn, black, hair.
“Bad day, Master Chief?”
He turned to eye his second-in-command. “That obvious, Kenrick?”
“Is it the women?”
King dropped his head back and pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered sarcastically, “That obvious, Kenrick?”
“I feel your pain, Master Chief. No woman of mine would ever set foot on a battlefield.”
King dropped his hand and smirked, “Then we have that in common.”
rubbed at the back of his neck, “Seems our crews are getting worse and worse.”
“There are no bad crews,” King snapped, “only bad leaders.”
“MASTER CHIEF!” A shout came from his office across the yard. “CALL, SIR.”
He nodded at his second
in dismissal and made his way to the steel barracks that comprised his office. Striding inside, his assistant exited.
What!” was how he answered when he picked up the phone on his desk.
“King Mulholland. Good to hear your voice
, old friend.”
The blood in King’s veins turned to ice.
“I’m calling to see if you’re sick of playing soldier. You ready to fight in a real war?”
He’d been dreading this day. Even as the most lethal and efficient killer on the face of the earth, he still prayed Monroe StoneCrow would never call to cash in on the “debt” King owed. “War?” He disguised his trepidation. “What do you need, Crow?”
“I’ve sent the coordinates to your e-mail.” Four more words and then the line went dead. “Time to come home.”
King hung up the phone and let his head fall back on his shoulders as he eyed the ceiling of his office. He knew from past experience that there were two places a Walker didn’t want to be, in his enemy’s sights, and in Monroe StoneCrow’s debt. Now, he’d most likely be in both and all because one day, too many years ago to count, Monroe StoneCrow had saved King’s life.
Grateful at the time, King had assumed it was simply one soldier saving another. He’d been wrong.
Monroe StoneCrow had confronted him with the revelation that he’d known about King’s true identity. King had been making plans to kill Monroe and dispose of the body when Monroe had not only stated, but proved that he too was of King’s kind. A Skin Walker.
As a child, King didn’t know what was wrong with him, just that he was
. It wasn’t until his adolescence that he’d discovered his ability to shift. As an orphan he’d been passed from foster home to foster home. When he was confident enough in his abilities and was able to control his shifts, he joined the Marines as soon as it was legally permissible. It was where he’d met Monroe and where he’d learned the true potential of his abilities.
Unlike King, Monroe had been raised by his parents, his
parents. With knowledge that had been passed down, Monroe taught King all that he knew about their kind.
existed in five differing stages; each more skilled and powerful than the next. Like their ancestors, all Walkers had the ability to shape-shift, but in varying degrees.
Stage one typically referred to the extremely young Walkers, those not yet versed in their heritage and abilities. Stage two Walkers were slightly more advanced, and were able to shift to the form of one animal, but only for a limited amount of time, while stage three Walkers could shift freely to a few animal forms.
Stage four Walkers, like Monroe and King, were much more advanced. They possessed the ability to shift to any form of animal for any length of time. Many believed that Stage four Walkers were psychic; however, it was simply their keen sense of smell that allowed them to detect other’s emotions.
Finally, there were Indigenous Walke
rs. These Walkers were descendants of the most ancient Walkers, purportedly Anasazi. They too could shift to any animal form for any length of time and possessed the keenest senses of all Walkers; however, unlike the others, it was rumored that Indigenous Walkers possessed the ability to control the elements.
Walkers were few in numbers, so far as both King and Monroe knew, and all while they’d been stationed together Monroe had only ever talked about building a community for his kind
, seeking them out, hunting them down. Apparently, that day had finally come.