Authors: Dean J. Anderson
Tags: #Fantasy, #Adult
DEAN J ANDERSON
Unnaturals tried to kill Mason Douglas and his family.
He became The Butcher, a cold relentless Hunter with a vendetta that took him across the world.
And now, on his return home to Australia - to mend his heart, soul and family - his destiny collides with a millennia-old struggle between strange Gods. Their prize is Earth. Their warriors are warring races of Unnaturals: the Bloodells and the Darkells.
As an unlikely alliance forms between Natural and Unnatural - between the Douglas clan and the Darkells - Mason's family grows in unexpected waysâ¦ not all of whom are human.
Sparks fly, lust inspires, and love ignores all the boundaries as the very definition of family changes.
Prepare to push your boundaries.
Without their unwavering support and understanding this novel would not exist.
For my wife and son, Elaine and Thomas, for keeping me sane and grounded.
To my other family, the Bundy Writers Club, especially Enid and Sanders.
Without them I would have never had the courage to do this.
Fear tainted the air.
Mason didn't care. He ignored the stares of the Londoners giving him a wide berth in the street. The girl, nothing more than a shadow to the people passing him by, was all he wanted. The lights of a passing bus made her shy away, back into the darkness of a closed doorway.
`Mason?' Max's voice came as a whisper in his tiny earpiece. `You're drawing attention. Move.'
He didn't reply. He knew Max was across the street, ready and armed.
`Hell, Mason. Try to control it...'
Mason moved. The girl had disappeared into the doorway and he followed. Steps led downwards, out of the cold rain and into the abandoned Underground. Traffic noise faded. The dusty platform showed no signs of her passing. He dropped onto the tracks, moving down the tunnel.
He stopped. Stood motionless in the darkness. Listening, slowing his heartbeat and sharpening his hearing.
There. A whisper of a heartbeat that wasn't his.
`Mason!' The word boomed in his ear and he ripped out the earpiece, crushing it under a heel. No distractions this time.
A whisper from the darkness. `You're good.'
`You're not bad yourself,' he said, moving towards her, one step at a time. She moved and he focused, seeing her clearly. Long dark hair rustled as she brushed wayward strands off a pale face. She looked almost familiar.
`So,' she said, cautious. `You know what you're getting yourself into here?'
`Uh-huh.' He took a slow breath, pushing down the urge building inside.
Her fingers touched the scars on his neck, trailing down to his chest. `You're no stranger to pain.'
`No,' he whispered.
`No one normal does this.' He touched her hair, inhaling her sweet scent. He could barely taste the taint buried deep in the pheromones she gave off.
`No,' she agreed, unbuttoning his shirt. `Oh my.'
The cool of her hands on his chest caught his breath. He controlled a tremor as she traced a finger across the huge flame-shaped scar on his chest. `Where did you get this?'
`Back home in Australia.' He remembered Australia. The blood. The pain. The darkness rose up in him. `A car bomb at my parents' funeral.'
She pressed against him. Her scent changed to equal parts hunger and fear. `Fuck!'
It didn't matter. He had her.
Mason grabbed her around the neck as she bit into his chest. Her nails tore at flesh that was now rock hard. He ripped her away and held her at arm's length, her feet flailing in mid-air.
`Where have they gone?'
`Butcher! Screw you!' she spat back at him.
Razor sharp nails raked uselessly against his face. He squeezed her tighter.
`Where have the Bloodells clans gone into hiding? Tell me!' He shook her hard. Her foot lashed out, missing his face. He hurled her against the brick wall and was on her before she could recover.
`Just kill me, you fucking animal,' she hissed, writhing under his weight. Mason held her wrists tightly in his hands, leaning in close.
`Maybe.' He looked down at her. They all deserved to die. But there was something about this one. A leg lashed his back. `Stop it,' he growled, pressing down harder, cracking a rib.
`Bastard,' she snarled. `Why should I tell you anything? You'll kill me anyway.' Pheromones swirled thick around him, trying to distract him.
`Enough of that.' He pressed down and heard two more ribs crack.
`Okay!' she howled. `What was left of the Bloodells fled the Americas. You hunted most of them down. Guess it took them a while to understand how big a freak you are.'
`I didn't choose this. You chose to accept their sickness, all for the thrill and glimpse of what it would be like to be one of them. You chose to be a hybrid.'
`Not everyone had a choice.' She held his eyes, letting him see into her. Mason relaxed. He could see no lie in her.
`Very well. You're not a willing follower.' He moved so she could breathe easier. `Tell me more about the Bloodells.'
`Why? You're just going to kill me.'
`Bloodells killed my mother and father and tried to kill my wife and son.' He watched her closely. She reminded him of someone. `But you're the first unwilling hybrid I've met. Maybe you're not one of them.'
`No, I'm just something they feed from and fuck when they want. I don't know anything, other than they took everything they had, like they weren't coming back soon.' She went still. `Is he with you?' she asked, nodding towards the third heartbeat that had entered their space.
`Uh-huh.' He sighed and stood up. `What's your name?'
She scrambled to her feet. `Reagan,' she muttered, looking at her clothes. Max flicked on his torch. `Hey, easy with that!'
Mason studied her in the bright spotlight. Her eyes were half-closed as she clutched protectively at her torn, blood-smeared blouse. Almost human, he thought, and nodded, agreeing with himself.
`Not that one, Max. Use the other.'
`Other what?' Reagan squinted into the light.
Max shot her with the tranquiliser gun. Twice.
Mason sat in the quiet of the saloon car. Lights and rain washed over it as they raced through the night. The hybrid slumped beside him, leg bumping against his, warming where it touched. He let it stay.
`We could have put her in the boot,' Max said, looking up from his tablet. `Blood on the leather seats never looks good.'
`She's fine,' Mason murmured, rolling the wedding ring on his finger.
`We can fly to the US tonight and set up a command centre in our Washington offices.'
`No.' Mason looked out and up into the night. A tear formed at the faded memory of a place far away. Scents and faces blossomed in his mind's eye.
`I'm going home.' Goosebumps covered his skin. `Tonight.'
`Does she know you're coming? I mean, you haven't spoken of this â to me.'
`Ruth knows.' Mason glanced at the hybrid beside him. `Look after this one, Max. She's not a willing hybrid, more a victim. Remember, her name is Reagan.'
`Done. Does Sir Robert know you're leaving for a break?'
`I'm not coming back to this, Max.' He swallowed an anger he knew Max didn't deserve. `And Sir Robert will do as he is instructed.'
Mason closed his eyes, shutting out Max's tight face. He had made Max remember that he was someone to be frightened of. Damn.
`I've set up offices in Sydney for you, if you want to come.'
Mason opened his eyes to find Max watching him excitedly.
`Yes, serious,' Mason said, relieved. `Might even show you how to surf.'
`Surf?' The hybrid slurred, trying to sit up. `Hey!' she squawked, struggling against her bonds. `Bastards.'
`Night-night.' Max darted her again.
Mason lifted her head, brushing strands of hair off her face. He caught the look Max gave him. `She reminds me of Ruth.' He rested her head on the headrest.
`Oh,' Max said, colour touching his face.
`Relax. She's staying here with the Fund. I want her trained andâ¦cared for. She might be useful to the Fund. Get her settled and come over.'
`We're nearly here,' Mason watched the lights of his private airstrip grow brighter. He needed to say it before he left. They had done so much together. `Max, you know why I have to stop now.'
`But they're still out there.'
`Maybe so, but,' Mason took a deep breath as they came to a stop beside his jet, `we're not much better than them now. We have to stop. I have stopped.' The car slowed and he stepped out into the night without looking back.
Max didn't get out. He watched the jet take off, feeling odd as the lights disappeared in the sky.
`So he finally did it.'
Max started as the comms screen lit up. `You knew? How come I wasn't briefed about this?' He could feel his ears burn as Sir Robert stared back at him.
`Maxwell, you were part of the problem. Mason hunted and you enabled. It had to end like this for Mason to survive as a person, otherwiseâ¦'
`But the Bloodells are still a threat, Grandfather. They willâ¦' Max shut his mouth as Sir Robert held his hand up.
`The sanity of our heir is of more importance. If Mason had finally lost control I would have been forced to act.'
Max swallowed and sank back into his seat. `You would have done that? Acted against Mason?'
`You know him better than any of us in the Fund. What would happen if he was Mason no more but just the thing he calls Butcher? Tell me, Max â how would you control Butcher without killing him?'
Max was silent for a moment as hundreds of scenarios and strategies flashed though his mind. None of them worked.
`I see you understand now,' Sir Robert said. `Who else is with you?' he added as the hybrid stirred.
`A hybrid Mason wants us to help,' Max said, rubbing his face. `She's an Unwilling, Mason said. Wants us to shelter and train her within the Fund. `
an interest in an Unnatural? So, Mason has begun to heal.'
`It was strange tonight. His abilities have increased, but with her,' Max nodded at the hybrid, `he showed restraint. Even said she reminded him of Ruth.'
`She?' Sir Robert pursed his lips. `He saw this hybrid as a woman not an Unnatural then?'
`Yes. He has never done that before. He said her name was Reagan.'
`Well then, let us hope Ruth's plan to bring him home works. The thought of it has obviously already had an effect on Mason.'
`Do you think she can do it â pull the family back together? It's been a year since she left with Wilson.' Max tapped the divider window and the saloon car moved off.
`You didn't spend a lot of time with him before all this. Mason has always been intense, even more so with his family. If Ruth and Mason can reconnect again, then the Douglas family will have a chance. That's why you're going to Australia, my boy. To make sure that they do, and I've made sure the Sydney office has everything you will need.'
`When you say everythingâ?'
`Weapons, air support and security staff to handle any possible threat.'
`Does Mason know?'
`Maybe, but it doesn't matter. Where the Douglas Family goes, the Fund is there, ready.' Sir Robert leaned closer to the screen, his eyes filling it. `Do whatever it takes â just keep them safe.'
`Yes, sir,' Max said, watching Sir Robert fade from the comms screen. `Whatever it takes.'
Mason stood with his eyes closed. Around him the forest sang its chorus to the morning sun. A cool breeze carried scents he had missed for so long. He leaned against the balcony railing, arms outstretched as the sunrise warmed him. This was home.
He heard the shower stop running. Ruth was coming. From downstairs came the sound of Wilson returning from his surf. Mason could hear the sand squeak on the tiles and the thud of a surfboard being placed in its rack.