Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, writer, and possessed by cats

Tag: Nocturnal Haunts

When a book becomes a series — Nocturnal Lives

Yesterday, I started a series of posts on how I wound up writing four different series at once. It wasn’t something I did by plan. It just happened. You see, my muse is an evil creature who likes to torment me by enticing me with one book and then, as that book nears its end, letting me know that it really is just the beginning. The first time it happened, I figured it was a fluke. Boy was I wrong.

The first time it happened was with Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1). That book was born out of the desire to write a police procedural/mystery but with a supernatural element to it. Unlike so many urban fantasies and paranormal romances, the existence of shapeshifters was not known to the public-at-large. The main character, Mackenzie Santos, thought they were nothing more than things of bad Hollywood movies. Even after she is attacked one night and “died”, only to wake up in the morgue several hours later — almost scaring the poor morgue attendant to death in the process — she didn’t think she was anything more than lucky. Then, when she started waking in locations different from where she went to sleep, and without any clothes on, she wondered if she was losing her mind. Even when she realizes that she is turning furry and there are others like her, she’s not completely sure it isn’t all some madness induce nightmare.

But through it all, she has a duty to perform. A serial killer is hunting on the streets of Dallas and it’s her job to find him before he can kill again. When that serial killer turns out to be another shapeshifter, well, life just go real.

When I first finished Origins, indie publishing hadn’t really taken off. So I went the way so many authors have over the years. I sent it off to agents and publishers. There were the usual rejections. They hurt. No one likes hearing their baby isn’t beloved by all. But there were others who were interested. However, they always had something they wanted done to the book, something I wasn’t willing to do. One wanted more sex. Even then, this particular editor felt that if you had a shapeshifter, sex had to play a prominent role in the book, whether it progressed the plot or not. It didn’t matter that Mac had more than enough on her plate just trying to come to terms with what she had become. The last thing she needed just then was to get involved with someone. Another editor wanted me to completely rewrite the book, going from third person limited to first person point of view. Everything else was just fine. All I had to do was make that one “minor” change. Not only no but hell no because there was no guarantee of a contract after making such a drastic change.

Long story short, I brought Origins out with a small press and later, when the rights reverted back to me, I re-released it. Not once have I regretted those decisions.

However, once Origins was finished and I started trying to shop it around, I realized that Mac’s story was far from over. All I had done woith Origins was bring her to the point where she was beginning to accept what she was. But there were a number of questions raised in it that still needed to be explored and answered. That’s how Nocturnal Serenade (Nocturnal Lives Book 2) was born.

Yes, it was still a police procedural. There were still crimes to be investigated and solved. But also introduced Mac’s mother and grandmother, both of whom have a great deal to explain — like why they never told Mac she came from a long line of shapeshifters. This book also gave more of an insight into pride dynamics. In other words, Mac’s world was expanding and that, in and of itself, needed to be told.

Along about this same time, I wrote a novella using Mac and company. While their shifter natures were mentioned and they were able to use some of their enhanced senses, the focus of the story was the crime and solving it. I wanted to see if I could write a police procedural without relying on Mac changing into a jaguar to take down the bad guy. Nocturnal Haunts (Nocturnal Lives) was that novella. It may, at some point in the future, be expanded into a full novel but I’m not sure.

Mac wasn’t done, not by a long shot. One of the main points Mac made in both Origins and Serenade was that their kind had to be more careful now than ever before. In this day and age of smartphones and Youtube and security cameras everywhere, one slip was all it would take for their secret to get out. Add to that the advances in forensics and, sooner rather than later, someone would realize shifters existed. That meant they had to be prepared. Would they allow themselves to become the victims of a modern day witch hunt or would they start preparing the way for them to reveal themselves under their own terms and in such a way a panic didn’t result?

Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives Book 3) begins to answer those questions. What neither she nor those closest to her know is that a group of shifters has already started making those inroads. Unfortunately, there is another group with another goal in mind. When their kind goes public, they want it to be in such a way that shifters become the predominate species. That puts the two groups on a crash course and Mac finds herself smack in the middle.

As with the other books in the series, there is a crime to solve. Only this one hits closer to home than ever. At a time when Mac should be celebrating one of the happiest times of her life, she returns home from a well-deserved vacation to discover that her partner and best friend has been abducted. Worse, Pat is only one of several, most of whom Mac knows, who have gone missing while she was gone. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then discovers that her own squad had been ordered not to tell her what happened. Needless to say, Mac is not happy and she is soon digging into what happened.

By the end of the book, she knows more about the two sides than she ever wanted. She also has to make a choice, one that will impact not only herself but those closest to her. She can choose to do what she has advocated all along, that the shifters find a way to ease their way into the public eye or she can sit back and go along with the powers that be. The former is, in her mind, not only the right thing to do but the smart thing. However, it also is a step that doesn’t just toe the line of shifter law but steps over it. But the other would seal the death warrants on an untold number of both shifters and normals. That’s something she can’t do.

Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4) is the latest book in the series. It continues the conflict set up in Interlude. Choices are made and there can be no going back. Even as she knows she is doing the only thing she can and still live with herself, Mac wishes things could go back to the way they were before that fateful night of her birthday celebration when she’d been attacked. A nice murder without any sort of supernatural element to it would be great. That’s especially true when it comes to the politics of the job. Screw up there and she could get fired. But screw up shifter politics and she could die.

If Interlude hit close to home, Challenge walks through the door and sets up house. Even as Mac and the others wait to see if Pat and the others who had been kidnapped will survive the injuries inflicted on them by their captors, Mac is faced with trying to keep her family safe. That includes her younger brother and sister. Like their mother, they have not shifted and they don’t really understand the danger they all face. Thinking she knows better than her older sister, mother and grandmother, Abby leaves the safe house and falls into the hands of the enemy. Let’s just say a pissed off big sister who also happens to shift into a jaguar isn’t someone to mess with.

There will be at least one more book in the series. The plot is already talking to me. It is my hope to have it out by the end of the year but it may be the first quarter of next year. In the meantime, the other books are available in digital format from Amazon, with no additional drm added, and can be ordered in print format from most booksellers (note: the last two titles will be available later this month in print format).

Snippet 4

(I know it’s not Friday, but my brain is mush this morning. So, instead of not blogging, I’m going to post the next snippet. This will probably be either the next to the last or the last snippet since Nocturnal Interlude will be coming out today or tomorrow, depending on whether the conversion process borks or not.)

***

Chapter Four

“Listen up,” Mac said the moment she stepped into the squad room.

Instantly all conversations stopped and all eyes were on her. Good. She wasn’t in the mood to put up with any more foolishness. She’d had enough of that to last the rest of her life. Now she studied at her detectives and the uniformed officers assigned to her command. As she did, she saw the looks of concern and disbelief and even anger reflected in some of their faces. She could understand the first two but not the third – until she glanced to the door leading to the break room and saw Sears standing there.

“I know you have questions and I’ll do my best to answer them. However, I have one question for you. Why didn’t a single one of you pick up the phone and call to tell me my partner had disappeared?” Voice hard, she looked each of them in the eye before letting her gaze rest on Sears.

For a moment, no one said anything. They didn’t have to, not when their eyes went from her to Sears and stayed there. Not when she heard a couple of them curse angrily. Then Timothy Nguyen, one of the newest members of the squad and Sears’ partner, got to his feet and moved forward.

“LT – or should I call you captain?” He nodded to her MCCUUs.

“When I’m in uniform, Captain or Cap is fine. Otherwise, it’s LT. If you want, you can simply call me Santos. The only thing that’s changed is the uniform I’m currently wearing.” She didn’t like it, but she did have an image she had to live up to as long as she was working with Flynn and the others.

“Cap, what do you mean you weren’t notified?” Nguyen’s voice was as cold as her own had been when she’d asked Sears why no one had notified her.

“I’m saying exactly that, detective. I didn’t know what happened until I arrived home this morning and then I didn’t hear it from any of you. I learned about it when I was informed that I’d been reactivated and put on detached duty to Homeland Security. Now answer my question. Why did none of you let me know what was happening?”

“We were told you had been contacted, ma’am, but that you were having difficulties getting a flight back home,” Norwood said, his voice tight. The way he glanced at Sears confirmed Mac’s suspicions.

“All right.” Much as she wanted to have it out with the woman she’d thought was her friend, she didn’t have time to. “I will deal with this matter but after we discover what happened to Pat and the others who have disappeared.”

“Others?” Detective Banner repeated.

Before answering, Mac took another look around the bullpen. No wonder it seemed more crowded than usual. Not only was the day shift present but so was most of the night shift. Word of her return and more had obviously spread quickly.

“Yes, others. We know of six who have disappeared, including Pat. But this isn’t an isolated case. It’s happened at least four other times in other cities around the country. Each time, between six and ten people have disappeared never to be found again. Many of them have ties to law enforcement. . . .”

Mac briefed her squad on what she could, promising more information as she got it. She also informed them that she would not tolerate any dissension in the squad until after the case was closed. Then they’d have to trust her to deal with the person or persons responsible for keeping her in the dark. She could tell most of the squad, those who had been with her the longest, didn’t like it and she understood. Hell, she wanted to deal with it right now but she couldn’t. She had to stay focused on finding out what happened to Pat and the others.

And she prayed to God none of them were harmed because then she wouldn’t be responsible for what happened to Sears.

“Ma’am, I’ve got to ask. What’s with the MCCUUs?” Norwood said as her briefing wound down.

“As I said, I’ve been put on active duty until we figure out what’s going on. Because of the fact this has happened in other cities before Dallas and that law enforcement personnel or their families have been involved, Homeland is worried we are looking at domestic terrorism of some sort, possibly from one of the drug cartels. I’m still your lieutenant but I’m also a Marine Corps captain and that persona is now the official liaison between DPD and DHS.

“What that means is that I will be directing the investigation but reporting to both Captain King and to Homeland. Now, I am only going to say this once. If there is anyone here who has a problem with this to the extent that it will affect your work investigating what happened to my partner, then I’ll approve your transfer, effective immediately.” She paused, waiting as everyone looked to where Sears stood. Mac was a little surprised when she simply shook her head. Well, she’d be keeping a close eye on the woman until this was cleared up.

“Now, hit the streets. Work your CIs and see what you can find out. I’m going to check out Pat’s apartment as well as where the other victims were taken from. Unless you are following a hot lead, I want you back here at five for a briefing.” It wasn’t long, but it would give them a chance to get started. “Norwood, my office.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Santos?” Nguyen still stood looking between her and his partner and back again.

“Tim.” Her voice was soft and she moved to stand next to him and put a hand on his arm. “I know you weren’t responsible for not contacting me. I will deal with your partner later. But right now, I need you out on the streets and working. If you can’t work with her, let me know and I’ll find a uniform to go with you. Otherwise, what did or did not happen regarding contacting me is off-limits. We have to focus on finding the missing.”

“Understood, ma’am, and you can count on me.” The unspoken implication being he wasn’t sure she could count on his partner.

“Get to work and let me know if you find anything.” She didn’t wait for him to reply. Instead, she turned and walked to where Norwood waited for her at the door to her office.

“Norwood,” she began as she closed the door to give them some privacy. “I know you are part of my cousin’s unit. You will shortly receive word that I have been added to that unit. So you and I are going to be working closely together on this. The first thing you need to know is that, unless I have completely misread things, Sears has been working for IAB. I don’t know for how long but I plan to find out. The second is that we should be receiving some files from IAB in a few minutes. They’ll be from a Detective Deeks. He was supposedly looking into what happened to Pat. I want you to take possession of the files, review them and then compare what’s in them with the information we will be getting about the disappearances from the other cities.”

“Understood, ma’am.”

“If anything jumps out at you, let me know. I’ll be in the field.”

“Ma’am, not alone. Your cousin would have my head and other parts of my anatomy that I’m very fond of if anything happened to you.”

Mac couldn’t help smiling because she could picture Mateo telling the younger man exactly what would happen if Mac was hurt. “I won’t be alone,” she assured him. “But where I’m going, I need someone specific to go with me.”

“Keep in touch then, ma’am. You scare me, that’s the truth, but your cousin scares me more.”

“I’ll be good,” she promised. “Now get out there and wait for the files from IAB. If they don’t get here in the next–” She checked her watch – “hour, contact Captain King and him them know.”

“Understood.”

“And let me know if there are problems in the bullpen, even if I’m in the field. It’s obvious I’m not the only one Sears fooled.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mac sent him off and reached for her phone. Time to get to work. But before she could, she needed to get out of the MCCUUs and into something else. For this first stop, she didn’t want her quarry knowing she was working with the government.

 *   *   *

“Are you sure about this?” Jackson asked as Mac parked her car in front of the three story brick office building.

“I am.” She slide the transmission into park and switched off the engine. Then she turned in her seat to look at him. “The first thing we have to do is confirm that Ferguson really is one of the missing. The best way to do that is to confront Branson. You’re here as our pride’s second to his pack’s second. I’m the muscle.” She smiled to see the automatic protest that formed on his lips only to die away as quick as it formed. She knew he was male enough, in both forms, not to like being the one to act as protector. “If he is missing, I need a feel for Branson to help determine if his disappearance really is involved with what’s happened to Pat or if it is some sort of pack politics.”

“All right.” He looked at the building and she could see him preparing for what was about to come. “I’ll follow your lead.”

“Sweetheart, I’m going to do whatever is necessary to find out people.”

“I know, babe, and I will be right there helping you.” Anger laced his voice and she nodded in satisfaction. Good. He’d made the mental shift from banker to predator.

Satisfied, Mac gave his hand a quick squeeze before climbing out of the car. As she did, she reached for her cellphone and activated the record function. Then she dropped it back into her jacket pocket. She wanted a record of what Branson said. Now, if only luck was with them and the man was actually in his office.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here,” Jacob Branson, second to pack leader Connor Ferguson, said as the door to his office closed behind Mac and Jackson a few minutes later.

Mac fought the urge to step between Jackson and the three weres at the opposite end of the office. She’d know Branson hadn’t been alone even before they’d been shown into his office. She’d scented the other two weres. Whether they were there trying to figure out what had happened to their pack leader or they were discussing what to do now that he was gone and Branson could take over the pack, she didn’t know. Frankly, she didn’t care as long as they had nothing to do with what happened to Pat and the others.

Standing a step behind and on either side of Branson were a man and woman. Mac recognized them from when the pack and pride had appeared before the Conclave. Sizing them up, she felt confident she could handle the two of them. Branson was a different matter. If it were just the two of them, she’d feel better about her chances. But with his two companions, she knew if it came to blows, her first duty was to get Jackson out of there. He’d be able to hold his own if shifted, but fighting in human form was not his forte.

“Three of our own are missing. From what we’ve heard, so is your pack leader and at least one other member of your pack,” Jackson began.

The man standing to Branson’s left inhaled quickly at Jackson’s words. That was enough for Mac to know their information had been right. Now all they had to do was get Branson to cooperate and share information. Of course, parting the Nile might be easier.

For a moment, Branson didn’t say anything. In fact, other than the quick look of warning he shot at the man to his left, there was nothing to betray that he’d even heard what Jackson said. Then he stepped forward, closing the distance between them. That was Mac’s cue to move. She stepped around Jackson, putting herself between him and the were.

“Santos,” Branson sneered. “As I said, you’ve got your nerve coming here.”

“I take it by your oh-so-cordial greeting that our information is correct.” She matched him sneer for sneer.

“As if you didn’t know. Your people took them,” the taller of the two weres flanking Branson said.

“If we had, we wouldn’t be here.” Jackson moved to Mac’s side, motioning with a nod of his head for her to step back. “What’s happened to our people, yours and mine, has happened to at least four other packs and prides across the country. Those are the ones we know about. Our people disappear and are never found, not even their bodies. I don’t plan on letting that happen this time.”

“You don’t plan on letting it happen?” Branson gave a bark of laughter. “You can do nothing. You are only that bastard King’s second. If your kind were going to do anything, he’d be here.”

“You still haven’t learned anything, have you, Branson?” Mac let just a hint of contempt creep into her voice. She was bad cop to Jackson’s good cop. “Our pride leader isn’t here because people would wonder why he wasn’t personally supervising the investigation into the disappearance of one of his detectives and a member of the District Attorney’s Office. But if you want to confirm he knows we’re here and that he did, in fact, give us instructions to come, take my cellphone and call him.”

Branson just looked at her. She knew he was weighing his options. For the first time since arriving, she scented the fear and worry of his two companions. It had been there all along but she’d been so focused on watching for Branson’s reactions that she’d missed it. That was the final confirmation she needed to know Ferguson and the others were also missing. But it also meant they had to tread carefully or there might be real trouble before she managed to get Jackson out of the office.

“All right.” Branson turned and motioned for the two lycans to move back to where they’d been sitting when Mac and Jackson arrived. Then he returned to his chair behind his desk. “Our pack leader and two others are missing. One, Claire Hughes, is a member of the pack. The other, a Jay Hanks, was here visiting from another pack. They went missing over the last two days. We’ve been waiting for some contact from them or from whoever took them but there’s been nothing.”

“It’s been the same with our people,” Jackson said as Mac made a mental note to expand their search. If Branson had told them the truth, there was one more lycan missing than they’d known about.

“You said this has happened before.” It wasn’t so much of a question as it was a prompt for Jackson to continue.

Mac closely watched the lycans as Jackson told Branson about the other cases they knew about. As he did, there could be no mistaking Branson’s surprise, a surprise quickly replaced by anger. At least that was something she could understand since she felt the same way.

“Then why in hell hasn’t the Conclave given warnings about this?” the man demanded as he pushed to his feet and began to pace.

“That I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” Jackson replied honestly. “Now, will you work with us to find out what’s happened to our people or are you going to be an obstacle?” Now his voice turned as hard as Mac had ever heard it.

“Well, well, well, the pure has some fight in him after all,” Branson chuckled.

“You have no idea,” Jackson said with a sneer. “Now answer my question before I decide to do as Mac suggested and call her grandmother.”

Mac almost laughed as Branson blanched at the mere mention of her grandmother. He clearly hadn’t forgotten his one meeting with Ellen. Good. Maybe that was something she could play on now.

“I’ve been wanting to work with her again, Jackson. Perhaps I should go ahead and call her.” She made a production out of reaching into her pocket and producing her cellphone.

“No need.” Branson sounded like a sulky boy. “What do you want?”

“I want to know everything you and your people know about what happened. I also know you aren’t just sitting here doing nothing – at least not unless you’re planning on taking over pack leadership.” Jackson spoke almost casually but Mac noticed how he shifted slightly so he could see all three lycans in case one of them decided to attack.

“As long as you share your information, Caine.”

“Agreed.”

“Then sit and let’s see if we can figure this out.” Branson motioned to the two chairs before his desk. Then he reached for his phone and instructed his secretary to cancel the rest of his appointments for the day.

*   *   *

There was a slight change in air pressure in the small room and Pat lifted her head. She’d quickly learned that meant the door had opened. Waiting, heart beating faster, she listened. Not being able to see who, or what, was approaching made everything so much worse. Fear spiked and she swallowed hard. Why wouldn’t they say something, anything?

Why wouldn’t they tell her why they’d taken her?

She started nervously as a hand cupped her right cheek. Before she could jerk away, fingers twined in her hair and held her head still. The hand against her cheek moved and she felt it checking the band around her waist. Then the hands were gone and she sensed rather than heard the man step back.

“Are you listening?” the same rough voice she’d heard when she’d first regained consciousness asked.

A nod. Then, when he didn’t say anything, she licked her lips and spoke. “Yes.”

“I’m only going to say this once. I am going to free you from chair. If you do anything to try to escape or to piss me off, I will strap you back in it and leave you here. You will die slowly and painfully from dehydration. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

He didn’t say anything else. A moment later, she felt him working at the chains securing her arms behind the chair. When her left arm was free, it flopped forward, numb from being in one position for so long. Before she could react, he’d grabbed that wrist and brought it up behind her head. By the time he was done, he had her wrists secured to the collar she wore. She ground her teeth in frustration. This was even worse.

“You are doing very well. Keep it up and you’ll live a little longer.”

Then he was at her feet, freeing them from the chair. Again, he worked quickly and she guessed he was linking a chain between the bands about her ankles. A quick tug confirmed it. She could pull her feet maybe ten inches apart but that was all. Even if she could see where she was going, she wouldn’t get far. Not secured like that.

Finally, the strap around her waist was removed and then the chain running from her collar to the chair. When the man pulled her to her feet, she groaned softly. She’d been in the same position for so long, her muscles screamed in protest at the sudden movement. Then he was leading her away from the chair, to where, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“You’ve done very well so far,” the man purred later as he returned her to the chair and once more secured her to it. “As a reward, I’m going to remove your blindfold. I think it’s time you start learning what is going on.”

When he’d taken her to the bathroom, Pat had been just as surprised as she had been the first time he’d done it. But now, hearing he was going to remove her blindfold, her fear spiked. That wasn’t good. Not good at all. No kidnapper with the slightest sense of self-preservation would let his victim see his face. Of course, maybe he was wearing a mask. Then she’d not be able to identify him.

And maybe she’d be able to slip out of her chains and find a way out before being caught.

Fingers fumbled at the back of her head and light suddenly blinded her. Blinking, her eyes watering, Pat looked down at her lap. If the man wasn’t masked, she didn’t want to see his face. She needed to be able to hope that she’d manage to get out of there alive somehow.

Then her head was jerked up, her scalp screaming in pain. She couldn’t hold back her gasp at the sight before her. Connor Ferguson stood across the room. His ankles were chained to bolts in the concrete floor and his arms were chained over his head in a spread-eagle. There was a metal collar around his throat. A chain ran from it to the ceiling. It was pulled tight and Pat knew if the pack leader attempted to shift, he’d hang himself.

But he wasn’t the only one there. Secured in an identical manner across from Ferguson was Zee. The coyote shifter and Assistant DA looked from Ferguson to where Pat sat, his eyes widening in a shock Pat felt. Then the pain in her scalp eased as the hand holding her head up let go.

“Very good, little cougar,” the man’s voice purred in her ear. “I see you recognize the lycan and the coyote. They aren’t our only guests. We’ll let you see the others later, after we play a game.”

“What do you want?” Fury and frustration filled her as she once more struggled against her bonds.

“Oh, it’s very simple as you will see in a few minutes.”

As he spoke, the door opened and another man entered, pushing a cart in front of him. He looked at their prisoners and smiled. After positioning the cart between Ferguson and Zee, he whipped off the cloth covering the cart’s contents with a flourish. Pat’s eyes grew wide and her stomach rolled to see the various surgical instruments and other, more frightening implements that glistened in the light.

“No!”

***

Nocturnal Interlude is the third book in the Nocturnal Lives series.

 nocturnaloriginscoveralternatenewNocturnal Origins (Book 1)

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

nocturnal SerenadealternatenewNocturnal Serenade (Book 2)

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Haunts (novella)

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

(As always, the snippet is from the pre-final edited version and all copyright protections and restrictions apply.)

If it’s Friday, it’s snippet day

nocturnal interludenewWell, I’ve made it a week with a blog of some sort up each day. Considering how sick I’ve been most of the week, that’s doing pretty good. I promise not to do as many reposts/snippets next week. Well, I promise to try to not do as many 😉

I did get one piece of news this week. Nocturnal Interlude will be available next week in digital format with the print version available in the next two weeks or so. When the print version comes out, it will be joining a new print edition of Nocturnal Origins and the first print edition of Nocturnal Serenade. As soon as they are available, I’ll be posting links here and on Facebook.

So, to prepare for its release, here’s the next snippet from Nocturnal Interlude. (FYI, the snippets are from the pre-final edit version. So you may find a few misspelled words, etc.)

(Edited to add: Thanks to Cedar Sanderson for the wonderful review of Nocturnal Origins. You can find her review here. Thanks again, Cedar!)

***

Chapter Three

The elevator doors slid shut and the car started up with a slight lurch. At it did, Mac studied her reflection in the mirror lining the back wall of the car. She felt like a kid playing dress up for Halloween. When she’d agreed to join Flynn’s team, she hadn’t really thought about all it meant. Nothing really mattered beyond having the authority and resources she needed to find her partner and the others. She hadn’t even bothered reading the different papers he’d handed her, relying on her mother to tell her if there was anything wrong with them. Instead of doing that, Elizabeth had assured her everything was in order. So she’d scrawled her signature at the bottom of the different pages and handed them back to Flynn.

And suddenly found herself attached to the federal government. If anyone were to search her records, they’d discover nothing out of the ordinary. The reactivation clause of her resignation allowed the Corps to call her back to active duty. Now she was on detached duty to Homeland Security, specifically to act as liaison between the Homeland investigators and DPD. What the search wouldn’t show was her true assignment. At least she hoped it wouldn’t.

Mateo disappeared then into one of the bedrooms. When he returned, he carried a combat utility uniform and boots for her, complete with rank markings and a name tape. That’s when she learned she was once more a member of the USMC, at least on paper. The only problem was that it had been a long time since she’d been in the Reserves. She’d joined when she’d been in college, another attempt to goad her mother. She’d stayed in during college and the first few years after she’d graduated from the police academy. Then she’d resigned from the Reserves to focus on being a cop. Not that it seemed to bother Flynn any. He told her that everything was official and she was now a captain with all the pay and privileges that entailed.

As soon as she’d changed, she and Mateo had left the warehouse, four members of Mateo’s squad acting as their escort. She might feel like she was playing dress-up after so long but at least she was finally getting to do something. Hopefully, it wasn’t too late to find Pat and the others.

When she pushed open the glass doors leading into her squad room, Mac nodded. The sights and sounds – and even smells – she’d come to associate with work surrounded her. A quick headcount was all she needed to know three of her team weren’t present. Her heart skipped a beat until she saw the entry on the assignment board showing that two of the three were in court that day. That meant only Pat was missing.

“Ma’am?”

The sound of Detective Nathan Norwood’s chair sliding across the floor as he quickly climbed to his feet cut through the other sounds of the bullpen. Mac fought back her laugh as he all but braced to attention. He was one of the newest member of the squad and had come to them from the Marines. What Mac didn’t know until that morning was that he was still a part of her cousin’s unit and assigned to be a part of Mac’s squad just in case more trouble like that with Novacek happened. Trouble like what they now faced.

“Take it down a notch, Nate.” She motioned for him to be seated, not comfortable with his reaction.

“What the hell?” Detective Jennifer Sears paused in the doorway from the break room and stared at Mac in surprise. “LT?”

“Briefing in five,” Mac said as she moved across the bullpen in the direction of her office. “Sears, my office.”

A few moments later, Mac closed the door behind Sears and motioned for her to be seated. As she took her place behind her desk, Mac reached for the stack of mail that had collected during her absence. She had absolutely no interest in it, at least not if it didn’t hold some clue about where Pat and the others were, but looking through it gave Sears time to figure out which question she wanted to ask first.

“Mac, what’s going on?”

Well, that wasn’t quite as specific as she’d expected. Of course, Mac wasn’t sure she’d know what to ask if their roles were reversed.

“I’ll explain everything in the briefing, Jen, but the short version is that I’ve been recalled to active duty and will be liaising between DPD and Homeland.”

“Recalled? You’ve never been in the military.”

“I’ve been in the Reserves, Jen. It’s been awhile though. What I didn’t realize was there’s an obscure provision that allowed them to recall me in certain emergencies.”

For a moment, Sears said nothing. Mac could see her mental wheels turning. It wasn’t hard to guess her friend was thinking all the way back to their time in the Academy, trying to remember if there had ever been a time when Mac had talked about the military. That was why she’d wanted to talk to Sears alone. If she could somehow convince her friend this wasn’t an act, she’d be able to convince anyone.

She hoped.

“Mac, I swear I’ve never heard you talk about being in the Marines. At least I don’t remember you talking about it.” Sears shook her head, her head brushing her shoulders as she did. “So what’s going on?”

“Let me ask you this in return, Jen. Where’s Pat?”

The moment the question was out, Mac realized just how angry – and worried – she was. The fact no one had contacted her about what happened had bothered her from the moment she learned Pat was missing. At first, she’d assumed either King or perhaps her grandmother had said not to tell her. But both Ellen and Jackson, who had talked with King, assured her that wasn’t the case. That meant her own squad, including the woman not seated before her, someone Mac thought of as one of her best friends, had kept the news from her.

But why?

Now, seeing how Sears paled, Mac knew she was right to be worried.

“God, Mac, how long have you known?”

“That she’s missing?”

Sears nodded, her expression worried.

“Not long. I found out as soon as I got in.” She paused, her expression serious. “And I’d like to know why no one tried to contact me. Not only did Lt. Travis have my number and the number of the hotel where I was staying but so did you.”

Sears’ expression was miserable as she looked anywhere but at Mac.

“So, why the hell didn’t you contact me as soon as you realized something had happened to Pat?” Now Mac didn’t try to keep the bite from her voice. She’d thought the problems between Sears and Pat were behind them. Either she’d been mistaken or there was even more to what was going on than they anticipated. Neither possibility was good.

“I wanted to, Mac, but was told not to.”

Mac’s hands fisted under her desk, out of sight of her friend. But she knew Sears wouldn’t miss the flash of anger in her eyes and she didn’t care. If someone had actually issued orders not to contact her, they might be involved in what happened. “Who?”

“Mac, this is one boat you don’t want to rock. Trust me on this.”

“Damn it, Jenny, Pat’s my partner and my friend.” She got to her feet and moved around her desk so she stared down at the woman. “She’s a cop, one of us. We don’t turn our backs on our own. So answer my question. Who told you not to contact me?”

“Deeks from IAB.”

Mac felt her upper lip curl back. It took all her self-control not to throw something – or hit something. She’d been prepared for just about anything but this. The fact that IAB had already been nosing around the investigation – worse, that it was interfering in the investigation. What else could Deeks’ action in telling Sears not to contact her be called? – was just about the worst thing that could happen. Deeks being in charge of the investigation made it even worse. Mac didn’t know him but she knew his reputation. He didn’t care if he tarnished the reputation of good, honest cops as long as he managed to further his career. Well, he was about to find out what a very big mistake he’d made by trying to keep her in the dark.

“I never thought you’d let some IAB rat tell you to keep me, your friend and your supervisor, in the dark, especially when the life of one of our own is probably on the line.” Mac shook her head when Sears opened her mouth to say something. The last thing she wanted just then were excuses. “Run the morning briefing. I have work to do.”

Furious, ignoring the worried looks of the other detectives assigned to the squad, she left her office and stalked across the bullpen. Just then, she didn’t trust herself to stay in the same room with Sears. Worse, after today she didn’t know if their friendship could ever recover. By doing as Deeks said, Sears had left Mac wondering if she’d been working with the IAB detective before now and, if so, for how long.

And, more importantly, why?

Damn it, things just kept getting worse and worse.

“It’s me. I’m on my way to the captain’s office. Are you there yet?” she said over her cellphone as she waited for the elevator. “All right. Make sure he’s sent for Sergeant Deeks as well as the CO for IAB. Deeks, at least, may be involved.”

 ***

Pat waited until the sound of the door closing filled the room. Then she drew a deep breath, held it and then let it go. She had to think but it was hard when her head pounded so badly. The rancid taste in her mouth from being sick didn’t help either. At least her captor – no, she corrected, captors – had removed the ring gag. The fact she hadn’t been re-gagged lent credence to the claim no one would hear her. She assumed the first man meant no one outside wherever she was being held because she could hear the cries and curses of others. Muffled, yes, but enough to let her know she wasn’t the only one being held.

At least her stomach no longer pitched like a small boat in a hurricane. Better, she could think more clearly. Of course, that wasn’t saying much nor did it really help – yet.  She still had no idea where she was, how long she’d been there or what her captors wanted. All she knew for certain was that at least one of the men who had come into the room at different times was a shapeshifter, a were unless she missed her guess.

God, what was going on?

She pulled at the chain securing her hands behind the chair. Nothing. Her arms were pulled tight and it felt like the chain might be anchored to the chair somehow. It was definitely secured to the collar around her neck. Nothing happened when she tried to move her feet. It felt like her ankles were welded to the chair. Between the way her arms were twisted painfully behind her and the way her torso was secured, not to mention the collar around her neck, she couldn’t shift without seriously injuring herself – or worse.

Think. She had to think. She had to try to figure out what happened. That might give her a clue about how to get free.

She’d stayed late finishing up some reports. The weekend was almost there and she didn’t want anything interfering with her plans to spend some much needed time with Mike. So, much as she hated paperwork, she’d slogged through it, knowing it was one less thing to worry about the next day. Finally, feeling a sense of accomplishment, she’d left the station, looking forward to relaxing.

Half an hour later, she’d parked in her assigned space and hurried across the lot toward the entrance to her apartment building. Her keys were in her right hand and her purse slung over her left shoulder. That left her left hand free to go for her gun if necessary. That was habit now, something she’d developed during her undercover days with the Narcotics Division.

She’d just started to slide the key into the lock when she heard something behind her. Before she could turn, there’d been pain. One distant part of her brain recognized it as what it felt like to be hit by a Taser. She’d had that unfortunate experience while in the Academy as part of her training and she’d have been more than happy never to experience it again. Then, as she fell, hands caught her and she felt herself being dragged back toward the parking lot. But she couldn’t do anything, couldn’t say anything. A few moments later, there’d been a prick in her neck and all went dark.

Not that things were any different now. Things were still dark. The blindfold made it worse. Every noise seemed amplified. Not being able to see her surroundings played on her. She knew that was what her captors wanted. The fear and uncertainty would help break down her resistance. It would make her more willing to do what they said. At least that’s what she planned to let them think. She could hold out – she would hold out. She had to. Mike would know she was missing and he’d have the entirety of the DPD looking for her. Add in the members of the pride and she had to believe they’d find her soon.

God, please let them find her soon.

***

Five minutes later, Mac was shown into the office of Captain Michael King by King’s administrative assistant. Without a word, she stepped briskly across the thick carpet before coming to a stop before General Flynn and her cousin and braced to attention. The only thing that kept her from saluting was the fact she wasn’t wearing her cover. Instead, she waited until the general nodded and put her at her ease. Then she turned her attention to King, praying they’d at least had a chance to warn him what had happened where she was concerned.

The moment she saw her captain, her pride leader, her jaw. She could see the fear and worry reflected in his eyes and in the lines etched in his face. She prayed that didn’t mean he had news about Pat, bad news. Before she could ask, a sharp knock sounded at the door. King nodded and motioned for them to take their places. Then, as he called out for the newcomer to enter, his expression changed and gone was all the fear Mac had seen just a moment ago. No one who didn’t know him very well would be able to guess just how worried he was.

“You wanted to see us, Captain King?”

Mac turned her attention to the small woman who entered the office first. Dressed in what could only be called a red power suit with high heels that ought to be impossible to walk in, Captain Julia Wysocki stepped closer to the desk. As she did, her gaze slid over Mateo and then General Flynn. When she came to Mac, one auburn eyebrow arched in question. As it did, Mac knew the IAB commander was trying to bring up everything she knew about Mac to try to make the scene before her match with what she remembered.

A few steps behind Wysocki was the man Mac wanted a few minutes alone with. Detective Christopher Deeks looked more like a stereotypical used car salesman than a detective with his expensive suit and shoes that probably cost more than Mac made in a year, his slicked back streaked blond hair and expensive sunglasses perched on his nose. How Wysocki put up with his obvious disrespect, Mac would never understand. If one of her detectives dared show up for a meeting with her, much less with the captain, with such an insolent attitude and wearing sunglasses, she’d boot them out of the squad so fast they wouldn’t know what happened.

Still, she might be able to use that attitude to her advantage. At least she hoped so.

“I appreciate you and your detective –“ King’s opinion of Deeks was clear as he drawled out the word – “and I hope we can handle this matter without having to call in the Chief of Detectives.”

“I’m not sure I like the implication, Captain King, nor do I understand why these others are here.” Now it was Wysocki’s turn to draw herself up to her full height of maybe five feet five inches. Mac didn’t blame her for being a bit defensive. King had already thrown down the gauntlet without telling her why.

“They are here because we have a serious situation on our hands and the Chief of D’s as well as the Chief Culver have asked me to cooperate with them. However, I’m having an extremely difficult time doing so because of the actions of your Sergeant Deeks.” Now there was no mistaking the derision in King’s voice as he nodded to where Deeks leaned against the wall near the door.

“I—” Deeks began, pushing away from the wall only to fall silent when his captain cut him off with a simple look.

“Perhaps you’d best explain,” Wysocki said, crossing her arms under her breasts.

“Sir?” Mac knew it was her turn and she prayed King took the hint. When he nodded for her to proceed, she relaxed a little. The sooner they hit Deeks with the fact they knew he’d told her squad not to inform her or to talk to anyone else for that matter about Pat’s disappearance, the better. But she had one thing to do first.

She moved quickly across the office to where Deeks had resumed his position against the wall. Before he could react, she reached out and pulled the sunglasses from his face. As she did, she simply shook her head when he reached up to grab the glasses back from her. “Detective, I don’t know how your captain runs things but it borders on insubordination to stand here in Captain King’s office with these on. You’re a cop, not an actor hiding from the press.” With that, she returned to where she’d been standing before King’s desk.

“Captain Wysocki,” she continued as she placed Deeks’ glasses on the corner of King’s desk, “perhaps you would be so kind as to answer a question for me. Why did Detective Deeks tell the members of my squad not to inform me that my partner had disappeared?”

Wysocki was good but she wasn’t good enough to stop the quick flash of surprise from flickering across her expression. Nor could she stop herself from glancing at her detective before returning her attention to Mac.

“I assure you, Lieutenant Santos, that you must be mistaken. I gave no such orders and know of no reason for Detective Deeks to do so.”

Mac was inclined to believe her, but she wasn’t ready to fully accept the proposition that Wysocki had been unaware of Deeks’ actions just yet.

“Captain Wysocki, the lieutenant filling in for me, as well as others in my squad, had my cellphone number and the name and number of the hotel where I was staying while on vacation. Yet none of them contacted me to let me know that my partner has been missing for what is now almost three days. I didn’t find out until I returned home this morning. Believe me, it didn’t take long to discover that your detective –” A nod in Deeks’ direction –“had told my people not to contact me. I can only assume he issued the same orders to Lieutenant Travis. So, I repeat. Why did he tell them to keep me out of the loop?”

“That’s a question I’d like an answer to as well,” General Flynn said as he pulled himself up to his full height. Gone was the relaxed bearing. In its place was a man who commanded respect and heaven help anyone who failed to give it.

“This is bullshit, Captain!” Deeks pushed away from the wall and stalked across the office, all righteous indignation.

“Do I need to send for each of my detectives, every member of the support staff as well as the uniforms assigned to the squad and parade them in here one after the other to confirm what I just said?” Mac heard the disgust in her voice and didn’t care. Every moment they stood there debating the issue was a moment longer Pat and the others were in danger.

“Or do we simply take your detective into custody as a person of interest in an investigation into domestic terrorism and question him ourselves?” Flynn asked.

Even though Flynn’s tone was no more provocative than had he been discussing the weather, Deeks paled. More importantly, at least as far as Mac was concerned, Wysocki looked as if she finally realized just how serious the situation was. Mac could see she wanted answers but she also wasn’t asking any of the questions they all wanted answered. Instead, she turned to face Deeks, her expression hard.

“Answer them, detective. Did you tell the lieutenant’s squad not to inform her of Sergeant Collins’ disappearance?” Wysocki ordered.

Deeks didn’t respond right away. Watching, waiting, Mac kept her attention focused on the man’s face. As she did, she was glad she’d removed his sunglasses. Now she could see the way he looked almost frantically around the office. Whether it was for something he could use as a weapon or for something that might trigger his brain into giving him some sort of an excuse or misdirection, she didn’t know. All she knew for sure was that she wasn’t letting him out of the office until he’d answered her questions.

At least one of her concerns had already been answered. He wasn’t one of them. He was no more a shapeshifter than she was a beauty queen. But that didn’t mean he was unaware of their existence and actively working against them.

“Your captain asked you a question,” King prompted.

“I did tell them not to inform Santos about what happened and I’d do it again. Not only does Collins’ so-called disappearance fall under IAB’s jurisdiction, but I know her reputation all too well.” He nodded in Mac’s direction, a sneer on his lips. “My sources warned me about her. They told me if she knew what was going on, she’d do exactly this – interfere with my investigation.”

“And the basis of your investigation?” King all but ground out the words and Mac looked at him in concern. He couldn’t lose control now and give the IAB rats a reason to keep control of the investigation.

“And what source warned you about me?” Mac stepped between King and Deeks, forcing the IAB  detective to focus on her and not her captain.

“Collins is dirty. No cop works as long as she did undercover in Narco without it happening. Besides, there’s been no ransom demand. She’s taken a hike and I plan to find out why. As for my source, you’re such a hotshot detective, figure it out for yourself.”

Mac’s anger almost boiled over. The pain in the heels of her palms told her she’d been clinching her fists so tightly her nails were close to breaking the skin. Well, that was better than smashing a fist into Deeks’ face. Not as satisfying, but it would keep him from pressing charges against her, effectively keeping her from investigating what happened.

“Your detective is a fool, Captain Wysocki.” Derision fairly dripped from General Flynn’s words. “Sergeant Collis is no more dirty than any of the other dozen cops and at least that many other people associated in one way or another with law enforcement that have disappeared over the last four months.”

“What?”

Mac fought the urge to laugh. Wysocki looked like she’d just been hit by a two-by-four. Then the IAB captain shook herself, literally shook herself, before turning her attention to the general.

“Perhaps you’d be kind enough to introduce yourself and explain why you’re here, sir. Then maybe you’d tell me about these disappearances you mentioned. I assure you, if that many members of the force had gone missing, I’d have heard about it.”

Oh, she was angry and Mac really couldn’t blame her. She’d probably have been unhappy about being summoned to King’s office and being told to bring one of her detectives with her. Then to walk in and find not only King waiting for them but Mac and the others, well, Wysocki had to have been off-balance. She’d hidden it well, but Mac knew she’d been blindsided and now she couldn’t blame the woman for trying to regroup and figure out what was going on.

“Curtis Flynn, Homeland Security, and my aide, Captain Mateo Santos. I believe you already recognize Captain Mackenzie Santos.” He nodded to Mac and only the sparkle in his eyes betrayed the fact he was enjoying this.

“I recognize her as Lieutenant Santos from Homicide and I don’t remember hearing that she’d been in the Corps.” And, judging from the tone of her voice, Mac had a feeling Wysocki would be pulling her record just as soon as she left King’s office.

“I was in the Reserves,” Mac supplied. “As for why we’re here today, I found out what happened to my partner when General Flynn told me earlier this morning, the same time he informed me I’d been reactivated.”

“And what does the Sergeant Collins’ disappearance have to do with the Marine Corps?”

“No one said it has anything to do with the Corps, Captain Wysocki.” There could be no mistaking the derision in Flynn’s voice now. “What it has to do with is Homeland Security. Both of the captains are currently detached to work with Homeland investigating what we feel is a possible case of domestic terrorism. What I want to know now is if your detective is just a fool or if he happens to be involved in what’s been going on.”

The moment the general mentioned Homeland Security, Deeks stood a little straighter. Mac didn’t need to call on her enhanced senses as a shapeshifter to smell his fear. But that didn’t mean he was involved. It simply meant he knew what they could do to get him to answer their questions. Good. His fear might work to their benefit.

But first they had to get through Wysocki.

“And you still haven’t identified the missing officers. I hate to doubt your claims, sir, but I guarantee I’d know if any other officers were missing.” Wysocki’s voice had a bite to it now and Mac almost sympathized. After all, Wysocki had been effectively backed into a corner.

“And I never said they were all from here,” Flynn replied. “There have been similar cases in Chicago, New York City, Atlanta and Wichita. And those are the ones we know about. Cops, prosecutors and even judges have gone missing along with civilians. It’s always in groups of six to ten. None of the missing have been found and there’s never been a demand made to insure their release. It’s enough to get the interest of my department at Homeland. So, we are taking over this investigation.”

He turned his attention to King. “Captain King, do you have any objections to your people working with mine on this?”

“Not at all, General. Any help you can give us to find not only my detective but the others who have gone missing would be appreciated.”

“Captain Wysocki, you can’t—“

Deeks moved forward, hands outstretched. A trickle of sweat ran down his right cheek. There could be no mistaking the fact that the last thing he wanted was for someone else to take over the investigation. But why?

“Captain Wyscoki, I expect all information gathered by your detective – and I use that term loosely – to be turned over to Captain Santos immediately,” General Flynn continued. “Santos, I leave it to you to work out the details of the investigation with Captain King.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. I expect your report by end of day.”

Flynn gave her a nod and fell silent. For several moments, no one said anything. Then, realizing the ball was back in her court, Mac drew a deep breath. She didn’t like what she was about to do but it had to be done. Steeling herself, she looked at Wysocki, her expression hard.

“Captain, I have another question for you. How long have you had someone in my squad?”

King sat up, almost coming out of his chair. “What?”

“I have reason to believe she has someone in my squad and I want to know how long it’s been going on,” Mac said coldly. “And don’t bother denying it. I have a pretty good idea who it is. I just want to know how long it’s been going on and why.” Even as she said it, her stomach lurched, especially when Wysocki wasn’t quick to deny it.

“Captain Wysocki.”

King’s voice wasn’t much more than a growl and Mac looked at him quickly. Damn it! She should have thought before saying anything. The last thing she needed to do was add to her captain’s stress level. She’d seen the worry and fear reflected in his eyes the moment she entered his office. She’d also seen his fury when he’d learned how her squad had been ordered not to contact her about Pat’s disappearance. Now she’d added to it and it really was something that could have waited. But she’d been so angry – no, not just angry. She’d been sick to her stomach to think that someone she’d worked with, trusted to go through a door with her and to have her back, someone she’d counted as a friend, might have been working against her all this time – that she hadn’t thought.

“Captain King, I swear to you I don’t know what – ”

King waved for her to be silent, his expression brooking no disobedience. “You have an investigation to run, Santos. I already have the Chief’s approval of your appointment as the official liaison between the DPD and DHS. You will report directly to me, as per usual. Also, we have now put a full lock on media coverage. Anyone contacts you, you are to let me know. No statements are to be released about the investigation. This is your investigation now, Santos, and the entire resources of the DPD are at your disposal. Find our detective and the others who have gone missing. Lock it down quickly.” His eyes flashed and she nodded. “I assume you have no problems with any of this, General?”

“None at all, Captain King. I appreciate your cooperation and understanding of why I co-opted your lieutenant.” Flynn seemed to relax then and he took a seat in one of the leather chairs before King’s desk. “Now, I suggest we let Captain Santos get to work. Santos, I leave it up to you to determine the best persona to use for this investigation. Report to me by end of day on your progress.”

“Yes, sir.” She recognized the dismissal and braced to attention and then looked to her captain, her pride leader. Much as she wanted to get to work finding out what happened to Pat and the others, she did need to know the answer to her question to Wysocki. “Captain King?”

“I believe General Flynn and I have more than a few questions for Captain Wysocki and her detective. You can leave it to us now. You have more important things to be worried about.”

The implied Leave it to us to find out what’s going on was clear.

“Yes, sir.” She started to leave but stopped, her eyes pinning Deeks where he stood near the door, looking like he’d give just about anything to disappear. “I expect your files and notes in my office within the hour.” With that, she nodded to King and Flynn and left the office. It was time to get to work.

***

Nocturnal Interlude is the third book in the Nocturnal Lives series.

 nocturnaloriginscoveralternatenewNocturnal Origins (Book 1)

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

nocturnal SerenadealternatenewNocturnal Serenade (Book 2)

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Haunts (novella)

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon

It’s Monday and my brain is missing so here’s another snippet

It’s cold outside — at least for Texas — and I’m exhausted. Even though I slept all night, I don’t feel like it. I spent the night dreaming the next project. Unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to start writing it. Until I turn in the final copy of Nocturnal Interlude, I don’t want to start working on anything else that might cause me to loose the voice for the book. The result is that I have a cast of characters that isn’t only loud but is engaging in the most outrageous activities in order to grab my attention.

Welcome to the life of a writer.

nocturnal interludenewWhat this means is my brain is missing this morning. If I believed in zombies, I’d swear one came and had a midnight snack last night. The result is that I can’t seem to wrap my head around anything yet. Maybe after I’ve had some more coffee, the body and brain will wake up. If it does, I’ll return and do a real post. Until then, here’s another snippet from Nocturnal Interlude.

***

Chapter Two

He took a sip of coffee and nodded in satisfaction. So far, everything had gone according to plan. The large monitor before him was split into six segments, each showing a live feed from different rooms below him. The occupants of the rooms were quiet now, all but one still unconscious. But that would soon change.

And then the fun would begin.

He adjusted the video feed so he could focus on what was happening in one room. In the center of the room was a single chair. Its legs were bolted to the floor. The light from the single fixture above the chair showed the room’s occupant beginning to regain consciousness. He reached out and typed in a command on his keyboard. Then he waited, knowing what should happened but wanting to make sure nothing went wrong.

A few moments later, the door to the room opened and his partner entered. He moved to the chair and carefully checked the chains and straps securing the woman. A wide leather strap ran around her waist, securing her to the back of the chair. A leather collar was locked around her throat, a short chain running from the collar to a D-ring near the top of the chair. Both it and the leather strap would keep her from leaning forward.

Her arms were twisted behind the chair. Wide leather bands circled her wrists and were locked together. A second chain, heavier than the one securing her collar to the chair, ran from her wrists to her collar, lifting her arms into what would be a very painful position once she regained her senses. Similar bands wrapped around her ankles but these bands were locked to the front chair legs – right to right and left to left. The woman could move, but not much and certainly not enough to shift without seriously injuring herself.

Taking another sip of coffee, the man watched as his associate carefully untied the cord securing the prisoner’s hood in place. The hood was rolled up just enough for him to remove her gag. Then he sat back on his heels and waited. As he did, Jarod Hanks smiled slightly, glad he wasn’t in the room just then.

It didn’t take long. Just as the others of her kind had at the beginning of the last job, the woman shook her head slightly as consciousness returned. Then she moaned and, before she could even begin to ask where she was and what had happened, her stomach protested the drugs they’d pumped into her. For the next ten minutes, she wretched and fought against her bonds, her body doing its best to get rid of the toxins. When she was finally finished, the man set down the pan he’d been holding for her to vomit into and pressed a bottle of water to her lips, waiting as she took a few tentative sips.

Hanks watched as his partner slipped the ring gag into the woman’s mouth before she could react. They’d learned after the first mission when they’d lost all their targets that this bout of sickness would not be the only one. Neither he nor those he worked with wanted a repeat of that failure. So now they carefully regulated the drugs, making sure to give time between when each of the prisoners would first regain consciousness. That gave them time to make sure none were lost – at least not too soon.

By the time his partner climbed to his feet, the woman had started fighting. Grunts and groans, about the only sounds she could make with the ring gag in place, filled the room. Hanks smiled as she tried to pull free from her bonds. Then he glanced at his watch, timing it. Almost two minutes to the second from when she started struggling, she stopped. Even though she was still dressed – something that might change before long – he could see the muscles of her abdomen ripple as the next wave of nausea hit.

Without a word, his partner reached for the pan and held it as she once again began to wretch. When she finished, he set the pan in her lap. She started and the pan began to slip. Before it could fall, he reached out and steadied it.

Good. They were just about ready for the next phase to begin.

“Nod if you understand me.” The man’s voice was soft, harsh. He waited until she did as he instructed. “I’m going to remove your hood. If your eyes are closed and stay closed, I will leave the pan in your lap for when you get sick again. However, if they aren’t closed or if you try to look at my face after I remove the hood, I will replace your gag and you can suffocate on your own vomit. Nod if you understand.”

Another nod, this one quicker than the previous one.

“Good. Close your eyes.”

Hanks leaned forward a bit and carefully watched the monitor. At the first sign the prisoner failed to follow orders, he’d let his partner know. Part of him hoped she did. It was always so much fun breaking the first one. But they had plans for this particular prisoner. She was much more useful – and valuable – to them alive than dead.

Well, he had to give it to her. She was smart. He could see the conflicting emotions rippling across her expression as the hood was peeled back. But she kept her word. Her eyes remained closed until they were covered by the padded blindfold that would prevent her from seeing anything. That meant she wasn’t going to test them, at least not yet. It also meant she was strong enough mentally to keep her natural instinct to look and see not only who her captor was but where she was being held under control.

“Very good.” The man lightly ran a hand over her short blonde hair before patting her cheek. Then he laughed as she jerked her head as far away from his touch as she could. “If you sit very still, the pan will stay right where it is. Move too much and, well, you can guess the rest.” He stood and moved slowly toward the door, pausing before making his exit. “Oh, if you want to try to scream, go ahead. Believe me, no one will hear you.”

No one but the other prisoners once they regained consciousness. But she didn’t need to know that, at least not yet.

Hanks watched as his partner left the room, locking the door behind him. Then he stood. It was time to deal with the next prisoner. The next few hours wouldn’t necessarily be pleasant, for any of them, but it would give him an idea of just what he was dealing with this time.

 ***

 “Tell me what the hell is going on, Mateo, or I’m out of here.”

Mac’s hands fisted at her side as she stood nose to nose with her cousin in the middle of what looked like an abandoned warehouse. At least that’s what it looked like at first glance. But she knew better. The concrete floor was almost pristine. No dust or grime covered it. When she sniffed the air, none of the mustiness she’d long ago learned to associate with abandoned buildings – much less other, less inviting smells – filled the air. No cobwebs glistened in the light filtering down from the windows high in the walls surrounding them, no broken windows to let in the elements.

This most definitely was not an abandoned warehouse.

“Mac—“

“Damn it.” Before she realized what she was about to do, she’d shoved him away from her. As he staggered back two steps, she watched the anger cross his expression. Well, too damned bad. She’d been arrested, cuffed and detained. Then she’d learned her partner and friend, as well as two people who reminded her of her younger siblings, had been kidnapped – or worse. And he wanted her to wait for an explanation? To hell with him. And to hell with everyone else.

“That’s enough, Mackenzie!”

The woman’s voice rang out from the far end of the warehouse. Mac’s head swung in her direction, her anger and frustration forgotten. Just the sight of her grandmother reassured her. She’d learned several months earlier that there was much more to her grandmother than she’d ever guessed. Ellen Santos, her beloved grandmother and the rock she’d needed when she was growing up, was actually Elena Alexandra Ramirez–Saenz Graham Santos, descendant of Arturo Ramirez and Anna Saenz. That meant the blood of two of the most powerful shapeshifter lines ran through her and Ellen possessed the power to prove it. Added to that was a wisdom Mac had come to rely on as she learned to navigate her way through this new life of hers.

“Mac, I promise I’ll tell you everything I know.” Mateo held his hands up in an attempt to placate her as she swung back to face him. “But let’s get somewhere a bit more secure first.”

For a moment, Mac considered arguing. Then she blew out a breath and nodded. She couldn’t let her emotions rule her, not until she knew exactly what was going on. Besides, even though she’d seen her grandmother, she hadn’t seen her mother yet and, until she had, she wouldn’t believe Elizabeth Santos Wheeler was safe.

Without a word, Mac turned on her heel and moved toward her grandmother. Before she had taken two steps, Jackson was at her side. She reached for his hand. Together they were stronger than apart. Besides, he’d keep her from doing anything foolish. Well, to be accurate, he’d try to keep her from doing it.

Mateo trotted ahead of them. He paused at a door near the far end of the warehouse. Mac watched as he punched a code into the keypad next to the door. Then he placed his palm against a recessed plate she hadn’t noticed. There was a hum, so soft she doubted she’d have heard it if she’d still been a normal, followed by a click. Without a word, Mateo opened the door and motioned them inside.

“Mackenzie, sit down. You too, Jackson,” Ellen said a short time later as they entered what looked like a well-appointed apartment deep below the warehouse.

At almost the same moment, Elizabeth appeared from another room. Her relief to see her daughter all but radiated from her. She quickly crossed the room and folded Mac into a tight embrace. Mac’s arms went around her, returning her hug. There had been too few of them growing up and that made the ones they shared now all the more special.

“Are you all right?” Elizabeth asked as they were seated around the table in the kitchen area of the apartment.

“Mad and worried,” Mac answered honestly. She nodded in appreciation as her grandmother placed mugs of steaming coffee in front of first her and then Jackson. “And about to cause some serious mayhem if someone doesn’t tell me what the hell is going on.”

“We’ll tell you everything soon, I promise,” Ellen said as she sat opposite them at the table. “But we aren’t all here yet.” Now she turned to Mateo and Mac almost winced in sympathy. She knew the expression their grandmother wore and it wasn’t a happy one. “Until then, you can explain to me, Mateo Antonio Santos, why your cousin was arrested at the airport.”

It was all Mac could do not to laugh as Mateo looked anywhere but at their grandmother. She understood. That look and that tone of voice could transport both of them back to their childhood and all the times Ellen had caught them doing something they shouldn’t have been. Even now that they were adults, a lifetime of habit had both of them looking anywhere but at the woman.

“That is something I’m trying to find out, Gran. I promise,” he said.

When he looked at Mac for confirmation, she smiled slightly. If the situation wasn’t so serious, she’d let him sweat a bit more. But none of them had the time for that sort of foolishness just then.

“Gran, he left Sergeant Lee to find out and I have no doubts we’ll know soon enough,” Mac said, her finger sliding around the rim of her mug. One thing for certain, she wouldn’t want to try to hold out against the sergeant. She had a feeling he would do whatever it took to get the information Mateo had asked for – not that she blamed him one bit. After all, she wanted to know why the agents had disobeyed orders just as much as her cousin did, if not more. “And, before you ask, the feds didn’t say anything to me about what’s going on. They simply met Jackson and me at the gate, asked if I was Lt. Mackenzie Santos and then took me into custody. No explanation, no reading of my rights, nothing.”

She leaned back and looked at her left hand where it rested on the table, her fingers twined with Jackson’s. Despite the fear she felt for Pat others, she was relieved to know Jackson was safe. So were her mother and grandmother and her younger brother and sister would soon be joining them. Once they had, once she was sure no one could get to those she cared for, she’d be able to concentrate fully on finding out what happened and why.

Then she could deal with whoever was responsible and heaven help them if they’d done anything to hurt her friends.

“Who are we waiting for?” The answer to that would give her a better idea about what they were facing. At least she hoped it would.

“My boss,” Mateo said.

Mac waited, fully expecting him to name others. When he didn’t, she frowned. There was one name conspicuously absent and, from the way she felt Jackson tense at her side, her mate knew it as well. This was not good. Not good at all.

“Why isn’t Mike coming?” Her captain and pride leader should be there. Every instinct screamed it. Even though Jackson said he’d spoken with King, now Mac wondered if that wasn’t the case. “Has he –” She couldn’t finish her question.

“No, Mac, he hasn’t been taken. But he has to stay where he can be seen. After all, one of his detectives has gone missing. You are out of town, at least that’s what the rest of DPD thinks, so he has to be there overseeing the investigation.” Before she could protest, Mateo held up a hand. “He’s safe. I promise. Besides, Jackson did speak with him. Remember?”

Mac glanced at her mate and he shrugged slightly. “I basically forced Mateo’s hand. He either had to let me talk to Mike or he’d have to take me into custody to prevent me from doing whatever it took to free you from the feds.”

Well, there was nothing to say about that, not when Mac knew she’d have done the same thing had their positions been reversed. But that didn’t tell her anything else about what happened to Pat and the others.

“I need to go in.” She pushed back her chair and climbed to her feet. Duty to the force and duty to her partner were all that mattered just then.

“Not yet, Mackenzie.” Ellen waited until she reluctantly sat. “We’re all worried about Pat and the others. You know that.” Another pause until Mac nodded. “But you can no more run off half-cocked than the rest of us can. There is too much at stake.”

Much as she hated to admit it, Ellen was right. Still, she had to be sure. “Have there been any normals associated with us who have disappeared? Or any associated with law enforcement?”

It was Mateo who answered. “Not that we’ve discovered and we have been looking into it.” His cellphone buzzed and he quickly answered it. A moment later, he ended the call and slid the phone back into the pocket at his right thigh. “All right, Mac, my boss is here. Once he joins us, we’ll be able to get down to business.”

“One question first. No offense, but I understand why Gran’s here. I even understand why Jackson and I are here. But why are you here, Mom?”

“Because we may need her legal advice,” Ellen said before Elizabeth could answer. “Also because she’s just as hard-headed as you are, child, and she refused to be left out of the discussion.”

Mac looked from her mother to her grandmother and felt her first smile in hours touch her lips. Ellen calling Elizabeth stubborn was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. There was absolutely no one who could be more stubborn than Ellen, especially if she thought a member of the family might be in danger.

“Right,” Mac drawled.  Still, she was glad to have Elizabeth there. Her mother might see or hear something the others missed.

Before anything else could be said, the door opened and a stocky man in a dark suit stepped inside. As he did, Mateo quickly stood and, even if he didn’t salute, there was no mistaking the way he braced to attention. Interesting, unlike Mateo who oozed Marine, this man who stood not much taller than Mac looked more like an accountant than a soldier. But there was something in his pale blue eyes that betrayed him. They quickly took in every detail of the room. Mac had a feeling that he could recite what each of them wore, probably down to their underwear.

But who was he and what did he want with her?

“Sir, you know my grandmother and aunt,” Mateo said as the man joined them. “This is Jackson Caine, second for the local pride, and Lt. Mackenzie Santos, my cousin. Mac, Jackson, this is General Curtis Flynn.”

“General.” Mac stood and shook his hand. “Retired?”

“Very good, Lieutenant Santos.” He nodded in approval.

“And, unless I miss my guess, coyote.” She’d caught the scent as he entered the room, the same underlying tones she’d come to associate with one of the local pures who also worked in the District Attorney’s Office. God, was Zee one of those missing?

“You told me she was good, Mateo.” Now Flynn grinned and motioned for everyone to return to their seats. “And yes, Mac – may I call you Mac? – I’m retired and a coyote. But more importantly, I head a special department of the government that is in charge of making sure our kind doesn’t come to the notice of the normals before we’re ready. In return for protecting our kind, the government sometimes asks us to do special missions for it, missions most normals wouldn’t be able to do. Depending on your answers to a few questions, Mac, I’ll either be reading you into the full history of our program or just into what’s going on now and what we’d like you to help us with.”

Mac leaned back and studied Flynn, not sure she liked what he said. No, she knew she didn’t like it and she didn’t like it on a number of different levels, not the least of which was it seemed obvious there was a split in their kind about working with the government and the normals. The Conclave had made it clear they were to do everything possible to avoid coming to the attention of anyone, no matter who or what they were. That had to include the government. She’d known since that almost fatal encounter with Novacek that her grandmother and cousin had some sort of relationship with the government, one that defied the Conclave. She just hadn’t thought that defiance ran as deep as it did.

Now she had to decide if she was going to follow her grandmother’s lead or obey shifter law and report them to the Conclave. Damn but life had been so much simpler before she’d started turning furry.

Scrubbing her hands over her face, she tried to think. This sort of politics wasn’t something she enjoyed or wanted to be dealing with right now. Not when she needed to be out on the street looking for clues and interviewing witnesses. Not when her partner and friends could, even now, be suffering or dying.

But what choice did she have?

“We don’t have time for power games or games of any sort,” she said, looking first to Flynn and then her grandmother. “Our people are missing, members of my pride are missing, and it’s my job to find them and bring them back. You can help me do that or you can get out of my way. I couldn’t care less about the politics of the situation.”

For a moment, no one said anything and then Flynn smiled and shook his head. Without a word, he reached into his pocket and produced a ten dollar bill that he slapped into Ellen’s outstretched hand. “Your grandmother told me you’d feel that way but I had to be sure. All right, here’s what you need to know . . . .”

For the next hour, Mac listened in growing disbelief as Flynn, her grandmother and, on occasion, Mateo spoke. The only thing that kept her from thinking she’d finally lost her mind was the fact that Jackson looked as stunned as she felt. A small group of pures, many of whom were from her family line, had been working with the government for more than a hundred years. It started with specialized military units, often used for infiltration purposes. After all, it was easier for a coyote or fox or some other “native” creature to pass through enemy lines than a human. Later, the units were rolled over into first the OSS and then the NSA and now were “officially” part of Homeland Security, at least on paper. The reality was that they were as off the books as possible and answered directly to the President.

“The Conclave?”

And wasn’t that the twenty four thousand dollar question?

“They don’t know,” Ellen answered. “To be honest, they don’t want to know. Most of those on the Conclave, including Cassandra, still refuse to believe we have anything to fear when it comes to discovery. They’re wrong.”

“And why are you telling me all this?”

“Mac, if this is as bad as we think it is, we need you with us.” Flynn got to his feet and paced the length of the room before turning back. “I found out earlier today that this isn’t the first time our people, pure and were, have gone missing. It’s at least the fourth time. It’s always been in groups of six to ten. The missing are never found. No bodies, no trace, nothing.”

Fear closed her throat for a moment and Mac fought for control. “Why are we just now finding out about this?”

“Because the Conclave never passed on the warning that this was happening.” Ellen’s anger was almost palpable.

“You’re sure?” Mac knew the answer before Ellen nodded. “General, I’m a cop. I don’t have the training of Mateo and his unit. What is it you think I can do?”

“Everything they do. You may not have all the military training but you are a Marine.” He held up a hand to keep her from interrupting. “Mac, I know you are no longer in the Reserves but you were. Besides, once a Marine, always a Marine. Beyond that, you have the street training and you have the instincts. You are also an investigator. You bring a new set of skills we need for the unit.”

“And my job with DPD?”

“Right now, we need you with the weight of DHS behind you. We’ll figure out the best cover for that, probably that you are on loan to us as a liaison while we investigate what’s happened. We’re going to label it as suspected domestic terrorism, possibly drug related.”

Mac considered what he said. With the authority of DHS behind her, she’d be able to bend the rules and no one could say anything about it. That was a plus because she had a feeling she wasn’t going to have time to worry about some of the legal niceties that usually hindered an investigation. The cover story even worked, at least as long as no one started looking too closely. But she couldn’t make that decision without discussing it with Jackson. She wished King were there so she could talk to him about it as well. But he wasn’t so she’d discuss it with her mate, the pride leader’s second.

“Give us a minute.” She got to her feet and waited for Jackson to follow suit. Without a word, she led him through a door at the far end of the room, not surprised to find a bedroom beyond. “Well?” she asked as she dropped onto the edge of the mattress.

“God, Mac, I don’t know.” He joined her on the bed and reached for her hand. “I was raised to respect the Conclave and follow their laws. But I’ll be honest. I’ve been questioning the wisdom of that since you joined us and pointed out how close we’ve come to being discovered. I know Mike warned them about what happened with the lab tech. If your grandmother hadn’t called her contact – who I’m guessing is Flynn – who knows what would have happened. I also know Mike’s onboard with working with Mateo and his people. I don’t think he knows how deep or how far back this runs, but the only reason he hasn’t withdrawn our support of the Conclave already is because your grandmother told him to wait.”

“I don’t see that we have any choice, Jackson.” She lifted their hands and smiled at the gold band on the ring finger of her left hand. “This isn’t how I expected our return home to be.”

“Me neither.” He pressed his forehead against hers and then angled his head to brush his lips against hers. Then he stood and pulled her up at his side. “I don’t think any of us have any other option right now.”

She nodded and, still holding his hand, returned to the main room.

“All right, General, I’m in. What now?”

“Now you sign a few papers your mother has already vetted for you, I’ll swear you in and we get you briefed.” He stood and, smiling, moved across the room to shake her hand. “Welcome to the team, Mac.”

***

Nocturnal Interlude is the third book in the Nocturnal Lives series.

 nocturnaloriginscoveralternatenewNocturnal Origins (Book 1)

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

nocturnal SerenadealternatenewNocturnal Serenade (Book 2)

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Haunts (novella)

Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon

Friday Snippet

nocturnal interludenewIt’s a New Year and I’m finally giving in to the pushing and prodding from some close friends — quit laughing, Sarah and Cedar — and will now be blogging on a regular schedule. So, to start things off, I’ll begin with some a snippet. Every Friday I will post a snippet. For the next month or so, the snippets will be from Nocturnal Interlude. Interlude will be the third full length novel in the Nocturnal Lives series (urban fantasy/police procedural). The first two books, Nocturnal Origins and Nocturnal Serenade, as well as the novella, Nocturnal Haunts, are currently available through Amazon and will soon be returning to other outlets.

So, without further ado, here’s the snippet:

Chapter One

“Someone had better tell me what the hell is going on!”

Mackenzie Santos slammed her fist down on the table with a satisfying thud. The only thing that kept her from flipping it over was the fact it was bolted to the floor. Angry as she was, even that might not be enough to hold it into place if she didn’t start getting some answers soon. At least the two men sitting opposite her looked no happier about the situation than was she. Well, too freaking bad. They were the ones who had taken her into custody and then refused to tell her why.

Breathing deeply, Mac leaned back and struggled for calm. This wasn’t the first time she’d been in an interrogation room. Far from it, in fact. But it was the first time she’d been in this position. Each time before, she’d been the one reading a suspect his rights and starting the questioning aimed at eventually getting a conviction. Now she sat on the other side of the table, so to speak, from two dark suited men with regulation haircuts that simply screamed “Fed”.

Not that they’d asked her anything. In fact, from the moment she and Jackson Caine had stepped off the jet way into the terminal at DFW Airport, they’d spoken probably fewer than a dozen words. They’d asked if she was Lt. Mackenzie Santos and then told her she needed to come with them. Before she could react, she’d been cuffed, searched and escorted outside to a waiting black SUV, another indication that they were feds. A moment later, they were speeding out of the airport and toward downtown Dallas and the federal building.

When she had demanded an explanation for her arrest, they’d said nothing. They hadn’t even looked at her. If she hadn’t used exactly the same tactic on who knew how many suspects over the last eleven years, she might have been worried. instead, her temper began a slow boil. It was obvious something had happened and she was in the middle of it – whatever “it” might be.

Damn it, this was why she never took vacations. Things always happened while she was gone and, apparently, this time the world had taken a sharp left turn into a nightmare she didn’t understand yet.

At least she was no longer cuffed.

A quick glance around the room provided no clues either. It was a standard interrogation room with white walls, battered table, equally battered chairs and a scuffed floor. The overhead light was recessed into the ceiling so a suspect wouldn’t be able to get to it easily to use either as a weapon or as a means to harm himself. The plastic bubble in the far corner housed one of the two cameras monitoring the room. The second camera was located directly opposite the door so it could capture images of anyone coming or going. What was different about the room was that there was no observation window for witnesses or other investigators to use to monitor an interrogation. Maybe the feds had gone to video monitoring now. Either that or they didn’t want a record of what happened and that was not something Mac wanted to think about.

Mac closed her eyes and counted slowly to ten. As she did, she let her senses expand. She didn’t dare shift, not in the middle of the federal building, but she could ease her control on her jaguar enough to enhance her hearing. Mutt and Jeff, the two men sitting across from her, were obviously nothing more than babysitters. They’d been tasked with bringing her in. She wouldn’t be surprised at all to discover they didn’t know why they’d brought her there.

That meant someone was watching, sizing her up before they came in to talk to her. While that didn’t give them an advantage, the fact she had absolutely no idea why she was there did. So did the fact Mutt – or maybe it had been Jeff – had taken her cellphone and tablet PC when they’d taken her into custody, leaving her no way to check in with her captain or even to scan the latest headlines for some clue about what was going on.

The only saving grace was they hadn’t pulled Jackson in. At least she didn’t think they had. That meant he’d been on the phone just as soon as they were out of earshot, calling first her captain – and their pride leader – and then anyone else he could think of. Hopefully, that also included an attorney because she sure as hell wasn’t going to talk without having someone there looking out for her best interests.

She heard the steps outside the door before her companions did. They weren’t the sounds of dress shoes like Mutt and Jeff wore. She’d have expected that. No, the sounds she heard were definitely made by boots, combat boots unless she missed her guess. And that most definitely wasn’t what she’d expected.

Mac’s heart beat faster as her mind leapt to the one conclusion she’d done her best to ignore. Had her secret been discovered? Why else would she have been taken into custody and yet not been read her rights or given her phone call? Fear spiked and only years of training kept her expression from betraying her.

Even as her fear spiked, she told herself she had to be wrong. They hadn’t taken Jackson into custody. If they knew about her, they’d have known about him. So she was overreacting. That’s all. There was another explanation for what was going on. She just had to keep her head and be patient.

Of course, that was much easier said than done.

Forcing herself to relax, Mac waited. The sounds of boots against slapping against the tile floor came ever nearer and yet her “escorts” gave no indication they heard. That was fine with her. She wanted to see their reactions to the newcomers. That would tell her a great deal about what was going on. But it was hard to just sit there. Her jaguar, already nervous and angry at being detained like a common criminal, pushed against her control. It wanted to fight, to make the men pay for chaining them and separating them from their mate. Cameras and technology didn’t matter to the jaguar and, if Mac were honest with herself, if she didn’t find out why she’d been detained and soon, they wouldn’t matter much to her either.

Damn it, what was going on?

Through half-closed eyes, Mac watched as the door knob turned. A split second later, the door flew open with a bang. Chairs slid across the floor as Mutt and Jeff shoved away from the table and surged to their feet, their hands reaching for the guns they’d locked away before entering the room. Then Mutt lifted his right arm to his mouth, urgently speaking into the mic located at his cuff. From the almost panicked look on his face and the way he reached up with his left hand to tap at earbud in his left ear, Mac guessed he either wasn’t getting any response or at least not getting the one he wanted.

Well too freaking bad.

Slowly, almost casually, Mac sat up. As she did, her eyes never left the figure that seemed to almost fill the doorway. The newcomer most definitely was not a Fed, at least not the same flavor of Fed her babysitters were. He wore the woodland patterned Marine Corps’ combat utility uniform . His pants legs were expertly bloused over the tops of his tan combat boots. If looks could have killed, Mutt and Jeff would have been nothing more than two piles of smoldering ash.

Instead, they were reacting, and badly, to a situation they obviously didn’t understand. While Mutt continued to try to contact someone, anyone, for orders, Jeff quickly moved around the table to stand behind Mac’s chair. His hands rested on her shoulders, his fingers digging painfully into the skin as he exerted pressure he didn’t need to in order to keep her seated. But it also put him in position to use her as a shield if necessary – and if she let him.

Mac considered her options. For the moment, until she knew what was going on, she’d sit there. She’d let the Fed she’d dubbed Jeff think he held the upper hand. But as soon as she saw a chance to get out of there, she’d show him just how foolish he’d been to put himself between her and the wall. It was a rookie mistake and she looked forward to teaching him the error of his ways.

Hopefully, the lesson would be a painful one – for him.

“Who the hell are you?” Mutt demanded as he drew himself up to his full height.

Mac couldn’t quite hold back her smile then. The Fed might be taller than the newcomer but she had no doubts who would prevail if push should come to shove. Things might just be getting interesting after all.

“ID!” the newcomer snapped.

As he did, another man, similarly dressed, entered the room. Standing next to the first man, he extended a hand and waited.

“Halsey?” Jeff’s fingers dug even more painfully into Mac’s shoulders as he looked to his partner.

“I don’t have to identify myself to you, but you sure as hell better tell me who you are and what you’re doing in our interrogation room!” The blond tried to stare down the two men only to have them look past him to where Mac sat.

“Lieutenant, are you all right?”

“Yes, sir.” She didn’t know what game they were playing – yet – but she had a feeling she needed to play along. “Or I will be as soon as this gentleman quits trying to dig holes in my shoulders.” A jerk of her head in Jeff’s direction.

“I would have thought you could deal with that, LT.”

There was a glint in Captain Mateo Santos’ eyes as he spoke. Mac grinned slightly and dug her heels in against the battered tile. A moment later, her chair slid back, forcing Jeff against the wall. As the chair came to a halt, she pushed up with all her strength, angling her head at the last moment so her shoulder instead of the crown of her skull, connected with the Fed’s chin. He gave a cry of pain and she felt a satisfying jar as his jaw snapped shut. If he bit down on his tongue, too bad. Then she was on her feet and away from the table, her back to the side wall and her eyes watching everyone as she waited for the next act to play out.

She saw Mutt’s muscles tense as he prepared to rush her cousin. At the same time, Jeff pushed to his feet. With a bellow, he leapt in her direction. Before she could react, the man who’d entered just after Mateo was there. He caught the Fed mid-air and body slammed him to the floor. Shaking her head, wonder and disbelief filling her, Mac watched as he then flipped the agent over and secured his wrists behind him with a pair of flex cuffs. Then her attention snapped back to Mateo who had one hand around Mutt’s – no, Halsey’s – throat and was lifting him so his toes barely touched the floor.

“I asked for your identification.” Mateo’s voice was calm but anger flashed in his dark eyes as the man’s hands dropped from where they’d been clawing at Mateo’s wrist to pat his pockets in search of his ID. A moment later, Mateo released him. Even as Halsey dropped to his knees, gasping for breath, Mateo’s companion was there to secure him just as he had the other agent.

“Captain, don’t get me wrong. It’s very good to see you, but would you mind telling me what’s going on?”

And if we’re going to have to fight our way out of here?

“In a moment, LT.” If he was trying to reassure her, he was doing a damned poor job of it. His expression was hard and his eyes dark with anger as he tossed the Agent Halsey’s ID onto the table. Then he nodded to his companion to lift the agent to his feet. “All right, Halsey. I’m going to say this only once, so you’d better pay close attention. Nod if you understand.”

Halsey nodded but he wasn’t happy about it. Not that Mac really blamed him. He had to be scared to death. At least he ought to be if he had a grain of common sense. Two armed men in combat utility uniforms had just made their way into a secure federal building, through several checkpoints and had just taken him and his partner down. Now they were the ones cuffed like common criminals and none of their fellow agents had come to even see what the disturbance was. If she happened to be in their shoes, she’d have been doing everything she could to get free and then to see what had been done to her fellow cops.

“My name is Captain Mateo Santos, USMC on detached duty to the Department of Homeland Security.” Now he produced his own ID and shoved it in Halsey’s face. “You and your partner violated orders when you took the lieutenant into custody. You were to simply meet her and her companion at the airport and escort them back here where we were to meet them.” Before Halsey could protest, Mateo held up a hand, effectively silencing him. “Don’t bother trying to deny it. I’ve seen your orders. Now, if you want to have a chance at all of saving your jobs, you will tell me why you took the lieutenant into custody, confiscated her cellphone and tablet PC and denied her her civil right to call an attorney.”

“They also confiscated my off-duty piece, sir.” And that had been the most insulting of all. No cop ever willingly gave up her weapon. The fact that she’d been arrested, cuffed and disarmed rankled more than she wanted to admit.

“LT, did they say anything about why they took you into custody?”

“No, sir. Not a word.”

He nodded, frowning. “Halsey, I’m waiting.”

“Go to hell.” He tugged ineffectually against the flex cuffs securing his wrists behind his back. “We don’t have to explain anything to you. In fact, I’ll have your ass as well as hers up on charges just as soon as we’re out of here.”

Mateo actually laughed. Then he reached down and grabbed Halsey by the collar, hoisting him to his feet. “You can try it.” With his left foot, he hooked the chair Halsey had occupied earlier, turning it around so he could shove the agent onto it. “Ask yourself why no one has come to help you and your partner. Or why no one answered your call requesting backup. They know you screwed up and that screw up may cost hundreds, maybe thousands, of people their lives. If that happens, I promise this will be one of the last days of freedom you and your partner will every enjoy.”

Mac stared at her cousin in disbelief. Surely that was all just some sort of cover story. She was a cop. None of her cases were such that they involved more than a few people. What he was talking about was on the magnitude of a terrorist attack or –

God, the or scared the hell out of her. Was it possible their kind had finally been discovered? No, that couldn’t be the case. If it was, Mateo wouldn’t be there. He’d be doing everything he could to protect the others. Her life, one single life, wouldn’t be worth risking so many others. So it had to be something else. But what?

“Captain?” If her voice shook a little, she didn’t care. She needed to know what was going on.

“Let’s get you out of here, LT. Unless you’d like a few minutes alone with these two gentlemen.”

As tempting as it was to take him up on his offer, she shook her head. She wanted as far from there as possible, as quickly as possible. Then she wanted to know exactly why the feds were supposed to meet her at the airport and why these two had disobeyed orders.

“Sir, we do need to know why they detained Lt. Santos,” the other man said softly.

“I believe you can get that information from them, Sergeant Lee. Once you have, turn them over to their supervisor for appropriate disciplinary action. Then report in.”

“Understood, sir.” The look he gave Halsey and his partner sent chills down Mac’s spine. “Don’t worry, ma’am, I’ll find out what went wrong.”

Mac nodded, not trusting herself to speak. As she turned back to Mateo, a man with greying hair appeared in the doorway. Without a word, he handed Mateo Mac’s cellphone, tablet PC and off-duty weapon. Then he looked at the two agents, both now sitting before the table. His expression hardened and he stepped inside.

“Halsey, Ferrer, you will answer their questions and tell them anything and everything they want to know. I’ve already authorized them to go through your electronics as well as your desks and lockers. When they are done with you, we’re going to have a chat of our own.”

“Thank you, Special Agent Ramirez. My sergeant is going to stay and ask them a few questions.”

“I’ll make sure the office knows to give him any information he needs, Captain.” He turned to look at Mac and she smiled slightly. She’d worked with Ramirez on several cases before and knew him to be one of the few feds who worked well with local law enforcement. “Lieutenant, my apologies for the actions of my agents. I assure you, they will be disciplined.”

She nodded. Much as she didn’t like it, this wasn’t her game to play. All she hoped was that someone filled her in on the rules soon, before it was too late.

“Let’s roll, LT. There’s a lot to do and not much time to do it in,” Mateo said as he handed her first her gun and then the rest of her things.

He waited as she slid the gun into her waistband at the small of her back and then he left the interrogation room. With one last look at the two agents, she nodded to the sergeant and then to Ramirez before hurrying after her cousin.

 ***

 “Thank God, you’re all right.”

Jackson’s arms went about Mac the moment she climbed into the rear of the black van. For a moment, she let herself just enjoy the comfort of her mate’s embrace. She’d never forget the worry she’d seen in his eyes as she’d been led off by the feds or the anger. She knew without asking that it had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done not to go after them and force the men to release her. If their roles had been reversed, she wasn’t sure she’d have been able to exercise as much self-control as had he.

“Are you okay?”

She lightly touched his cheek, her eyes searching his. Even though Halsey and his partner hadn’t done anything to him, she’d been afraid another team of agents had taken Jackson away. The thought of anything happening to him, especially if it was because of her, made her blood run cold.

“I’m fine now that we’ve got you back.” He kissed her and then helped her into the seat directly behind the driver’s seat. A moment later, he was seated next to her.

“Mateo, what’s going on?”

Her cousin had taken his place in the front passenger seat and, before answering, he told the driver to get them out of there. “Mac, I promise I’ll answer all your questions, but let’s get well away from here first.”

“Damn it, Mateo!” She bit down on her anger. It was reaction to everything that had happened. She knew it. But that didn’t make his refusal to explain any easier to take. “I think I deserve to know what’s happening.”

“Mac.” Jackson reached out and turned her face so she looked at him. “He’s right. I only know the bare minimum and it’s enough to worry me – a lot. We’re on our way to a meeting where everything will be explained.”

“Jackson, I trust you. You know that.” She waited until he nodded. “But you’re asking too much.”

“Mac, I talked to Mike. He’s asked that we do as Mateo and his people say. Mike promised we’ll understand.”

Mac leaned back and scrubbed her hands over her face. Maybe this was just a nightmare and she’d awaken soon. Then she’d be back in Hawaii and everything would be all right. But that wasn’t how her luck ran. No, this was all too real and she was getting a very bad feeling.

“Fine. Just tell me this: is my family all right?”

“They are. Your grandmother and mother are waiting for you. The twins are on their way back from Austin with a couple of my men,” Mateo answered. “And, before you ask, Jackson’s family is safe as well. I promise.”

Mac didn’t know whether to be relieved or not. On a primitive level, relief won out. She’d come to understand over the last few months just how important family really was. But then the implications of what Mateo said hit her. Why would he, or at least someone he worked with, have already taken steps to insure that her family and her mate’s were all right? Had someone specifically targeted them or was the threat more widespread? And why had the feds taken her into custody?

Without a word, she opened the cover on her tablet PC. Before she could turn it on, Mateo reached out and snatched it from her hands. Eyes flashing, jaw clinching, she stared at him in disbelief. What in the hell was going on?

“Mac, you can’t use the tablet or your cell phone or anything else with GPS capability until we scrub them,” he said, his expression serious.

Okay, now she was starting to get scared. Worse, it was fueling her anger and that was making it more and more difficult to maintain control. It wouldn’t take much more for her to shift. She didn’t know about her cousin, but she didn’t particularly want an angry jaguar loose in a moving van. So someone had better start telling her something before that happened.

“Mac, he’s right.” Jackson’s spoke softly but she heard how worried he was. “Our families are safe but not all of our friends are. Someone has been moving against them for the last few days. We don’t know who and we don’t know why. All we know for sure is that at least half a dozen of our people are missing.”

For a moment, Mac stared at him, not sure she’d heard right. But one look at him was enough to convince her he spoke the truth, at least the truth as he knew it. After what happened at the airport, she wasn’t sure any of them knew the whole truth. Still, people they knew, maybe even people they loved, were missing.

“Who?” she asked even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“Pat’s one of them. Amy and Steve are also missing.”

If they hadn’t been in the van, Mac would have been on her feet and pacing. Three members of her pride were missing. Three people she cared about. She could almost understand why Pat might have been taken. She was a cop and a damned good one. If she’d been the only one taken, Mac would have assumed one of Pat’s cases from her days in Narcotics had come back to bite her. Pat was also the pride leader’s mate. And both were very good reasons why someone might take her.

But why take Amy and Steve? They were barely adults. College students. They had no real standing in the pride except as beloved members. They certainly couldn’t be involved with anything criminal. And there were others missing as well. God, this was a nightmare.

“Are they all from the pride?”

“No. There’s at least one lone pure missing as well as two members of the local pack,” Mateo answered.

“How long? How long since the first one went missing and has there been any sort of demand made?” She had to think like a cop. Ask the questions, eliminate the motives and zero in on the suspects.

What she couldn’t do was think about what the suspects might be doing to the people she cared about in the meantime.

“Two days and no demands, no contact of any sort.” Mateo sounded as grim as she felt.

“Mike? Is he all right?”

The thought of her captain, her pride leader, and the anguish he must be feeling just then kicked her worry up another notch. Because he was also Pat’s commanding officer, just as he was Mac’s, he and Pat couldn’t go public with their relationship. The fact that she was missing had to be killing him and it would be made all the worse because he wouldn’t be able to let his fear show. Add in the worry he had to be feeling about the others and Mac had no doubt King was wishing he’d soon wake up from this nightmare.

“He’s angry and scared,” Jackson replied. “But he’s coping so far. At least he says he is.”

“Mateo, I have a feeling there’s a lot more to this than you’ve said.” She waited until he reluctantly nodded. “Than you’d better accept the fact that I am in this until we find out what’s happened and we catch the ones responsible. Try to shut me out and I promise you won’t like the consequences.”

Damn it all to Hell and back again. This is what she got for going on vacation.

***

 

A new book, a new cover and more

Nocturnal Serenade, book 2 in the Nocturnal Lives series, is now available. You can find it on Amazon or through Naked Reader Press. It should soon be available through Barnes & Noble as well as Smashwords and other outlets. The first book, Nocturnal Serenade, is currently available through Amazon. It will return to other outlets in the near future.

Here’s a quick blurb about Nocturnal Serenade:

Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

To go with the release of Nocturnal Serenade, I have a great new cover for Nocturnal Origins. I liked the original cover — and you can still find it on the hard copy version of the book — but I think the new cover is more accurate to the novel. Many thanks to Sarah A. Hoyt for the design of both covers.

Next month, my short story Nocturnal Haunts will also be coming out from Naked Reader Press. It will be available for individual purchase as well as being included in the anthology Sisters in Blood (Kate Paulk, Sarah A. Hoyt and myself). As soon as I have a publication date, I’ll post it.

So, I guess that’s about it for now. Back to the keyboard to write some more.

Later!

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