As I continue the final edits on Risen from Ashes, I have other projects on the drawing board. Some are already plotted out. One or two are even in the very rough draft phase. But one hit me without warning several months ago and turned into a short story. Which will act as a bridge to a new series set in the same universe as the first set of books. Specifically, the Nocturnal Lives series.
To say this series has a special place in my heart is putting it mildly. As the series drew to a close, I knew the characters wouldn’t let me leave them behind. What I didn’t know was where the characters wanted to go. I’m still not quite sure. I have a feeling I won’t until I sit down and really give the new series some thought. But, until then, here’s an excerpt from the short story. It is a draft. So there may be grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. It also isn’t the final version of the short story. I’ll post several more excerpts over the course of the next week or two. Then I’ll leave it up for a week or so before pulling it down. I have to do this to satisfy Amazon’s terms of service (and any other store I decide to put it in).
Once upon a time. . . .
Those words used to signal the beginning of a child’s fairy tale. You know the stories I’m talking about. Stories of good and evil, where good always wins in the end. Okay, there’s usually some “lesson” our parents wanted us to remember that’s driven home along the way. But even as kids, we knew those stories weren’t true and the monsters didn’t really exist.
How I long for those days of innocence. You see, I learned the hard way that monsters really do exist. They live among us. They might be your co-worker or your next door neighbor. They might even be your child’s favorite teacher.
I know because I’m one of them.
Don’t get me wrong. Monsters have always existed. They are the murders and other predators who prey on those weaker than themselves. Our newspapers and media broadcasts are filled with stories about them. Those are the monsters I signed up to fight when I joined the Dallas Police Department more than a decade ago. I was one of the good guys and damned proud of it.
Now, through a twist of genetics and what some might call really bad luck, I’m one of those creatures people think of when things go bump in the dark of night. But I’m still a cop and it is still my sworn duty to protect the people of Dallas from monsters, human and arcane.
My name is Mackenzie Santos and I am a shapeshifter.
The day started like too many. Dispatch called, asking me to respond to a crime scene. Less than an hour later, I knew why. The main room of the abandoned warehouse not far from downtown looked like something out of a horror movie. Blood coated the walls. Bits and pieces of skin and hair and other things best left unsaid mixed with the blood on the floor. The stink of death hung heavily in the air. That was enough to send seasoned cops outside to toss their cookies, as my young brother and sister would say. But it what wasn’t there that bothered me.
Despite all the blood and gore, enough to convince everyone there that more than one person had met her death in the room, there were no bodies. What sort of sick monster did that?
It was my job to find out.
“What have you got?” I asked as the uniformed officer standing guard at the main entrance.
Patrol Sergeant Jael Lindsay swallowed hard once. Then she motioned for another uniform, one who looked much too young, to take her place. Then she led me a few feet away. As she did, I frowned. I trained under Jael after graduating from the Academy and could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen her look this grim. That did not bode well and I steeled myself for what she had to say.
“Benson and I were on patrol when Dispatch ordered us here to investigate a suspicious activity call. When we got here, we found the door unlocked and opened approximately a foot. After checking the perimeter, we made entry and found this. I called it in and asked them to have you respond.”
I blinked once, processing what she said and didn’t say. The fact she’d requested me meant she was feared a shifter might be involved. Looking around, I didn’t blame her. This was a kill zone, one of the worst I’d ever seen.
I lifted my chin and closed my eyes. Mouth slightly open, I inhaled, almost gagging as the smells of death washed over me. My jaguar hacked once and then pushed forward in my awareness, lending me her enhanced sense of smell. She growled and I fought not to echo it as she caught the scents of humans and shifters. The only problem was I couldn’t tell who had been predator and who had been prey. There were too many other smells in the warehouse and too much time had elapsed since the killings.
And I so wasn’t getting down on my hands and knees to sniff the blood pools. We’d leave it to science to make the identifications—and classifications.
I opened my eyes and nodded once. Jael’s mouth grew, if possible, tighter. She understood and liked it any more than I did.
I led her further away from the others working to gather evidence and document the scene.
“You were right to send for me.” I glanced around again. “Bodies?”
Jael shook her head.
“Keep things in hand here. I’m going to do a walkthrough.” And hopefully I’d know more once I had.
It took time. I hit every floor of the warehouse, opened every door and checked every room. I talked with the detectives on-scene as well as the uniforms. I made sure the evidence techs knew to put a rush on their tests. We needed to know who the blood belonged to. It might be the only way we learned the identities of our victims.
God help me, I prayed the blood belonged to shifters. If it came out one of our kind had gone on a killing spree, our lives very well could be forfeit. We’d worked hard in the three years since revealing our existence to the public to prove we weren’t monsters. There were still those who’d prefer to shoot us like rabid animals than let us live. In short, this was a clusterfuck waiting to happen and it was up to me and the detectives under my command to prove the monster responsible didn’t turn furry.
“Orders?” Lt. Pat Collins asked as I returned to the ground floor.
“We’re not going to be able to keep this out of the news. But I don’t want any of our people saying anything where the media can get hold it. I scented shifter and normals but I can’t tell who did what to whom.”
“I’ll make sure everyone knows.”
I motioned for her to follow me outside. Once standing in the morning sun, I inhaled blew out a breath, wishing it was that easy to get rid of the memory of the smells inside.
“I’m activating the taskforce.” I leaned against the side of my SUV. As far as the public was concerned, the taskforce was formed after our kind went public. In reality, it had existed for years on a federal level. I was in charge of the Texas branch of the taskforce. “We need to solve this and quickly, before it blows up in our faces.”
“Agreed.” She glanced over her shoulder as one of the techs called to her from the doorway. “Go get things rolling. I’ll brief you as soon as I know anything.”
I watched as she crossed to where the tech waited. Then I slid into the SUV. Tempting as it was to find a hole to hide in until this blew over, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I had a responsibility as a cop to solve the crime, whatever it might be. I had a responsibility to the local shifters as one of their alphas to make sure they weren’t unjustly accused of murder. All I could do was pray the two goals didn’t conflict.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled into my slot in the parking garage across the street from newly opened Dallas Justice Center. That’s when I made a rookie mistake. I let my worry over what I’d seen and scented at the scene take me out of the moment.
Still considering what little I’d learned, I climbed out of the SUV. As I reached back inside for my backpack, I heard a footstep behind me. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Instinct had me turn, one hand going for my gun. I paused, brows knitting in confusion.
“It’s time to play, Santos.”
The man smiled as he reached forward with his left hand. With his right, he clamped down on my arm, preventing me from finishing the grab for my gun. A split-second later, my system lit up like a million Christmas trees on Christmas morning. My knees locked and then buckled. I fell, my head bouncing off the concrete.
“Don’t worry, Santos. I’m not going to hurt you—yet. We need to make sure the scene is properly set so the world sees you for what you really are.” The man knelt next to me. As he did, light from overhead glinted off something he held in his hand. There was a prick in my neck. Liquid fire spread out from the injection site. Then everything went dark.