Nocturnal Challenge – Snippet 2

Attraktives Prchen ber den Dchern von Tokyo(This snippet is from my upcoming novel, Nocturnal Challenge. This is the fourth book, and the fifth entry, in the Nocturnal Lives series. This snippet is not the final edited version of what will appear in the novel. that means there very well will be changes between now and final publication. This work is copyright 2015 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing.)

Click here for Snippet 1.

***

“Hello, Mackenzie. I think it’s time we talk.”

Time stopped and the world narrowed to the slim blonde with the icy blue eyes standing just a few feet away. After more than ten years on the job with the Dallas Police Department, most of them as a murder cop, Lt. Mackenzie Santos had seen just about everything. She knew the depravity man could do to his fellow man. She knew the lengths a mother would go to protect her child. After the last six months, she even knew monsters really did exist outside the bad B-movies from Hollywood. But this was her worst nightmare come to life.

Instinct kicked in. She shifted position slightly so her injured shoulder was away from the woman. The fingers of her left hand closed around the grip of the Sig Sauer nestled at the small of her back. If she could have easily freed her right arm from the immobilizer securing that arm against her side and across her abdomen, she would have. Instead, she cast a quick look right and then left. There were too many people around, civilian and cop alike. Too many people who could get hurt and too many who could overhear something that could turn the world on its ear and result in a panic that would make the Salem witch hunt look tame by comparison. But she wasn’t alone. She had to remember that. Standing on either side of her were two people who would willingly die to protect her and her secret, whether she wanted them to or not.

“Cassandra.” It wasn’t much but it was better than the string of curses she wanted to let loose.

This had to be a bad dream. There was no other explanation for why Cassandra Wilkinson would be standing just a few feet away. If the blonde had business in town, Mac would have known about it. Her position as the local pride leader’s enforcer insured that. So the fact the Speaker of the Council, and the woman Mac believed responsible for so much of the trouble her pride had suffered recently, now stood before her was most definitely not a good thing.

Worse, Mac had no doubt that when Cassandra said it was time for them to talk, she’d meant talk alone, far away from prying eyes and curious ears. More than that, it would be far from anyone who might be able to help should Cassandra decide she didn’t like what Mac had to say. So not only “no” but “hell no”, not that she could come right out and tell Cassandra that. Knowing what she did about the Speaker and suspecting even more, Mac wasn’t about to go anywhere with the woman and especially not while injured.

She had to be very careful about what she said and did. They stood on the sidewalk outside the Dallas Justice Center where, only a few minutes earlier, Mac had finished giving her report to the Chief of Detectives and the District Attorney about the kidnapping and assault on her partner as well as an assistant district attorney and several others. Needless to say, it had been a partial report. She could no more tell the Chief of Ds and the DA the entire truth about what had happened than she could fly. If she did, they might think she had finally cracked under the pressure of the job. Worse, they might believe her and lock her up as a danger to society before going on hunt down all those like her.

Not that she would blame them if they did. Six months ago, she would have done the same thing. But that was before she discovered she turned furry on nights of the full moon and pretty much any other time she wanted. Now she had to make sure that secret didn’t come out, not only for her sake but for the sake of all those like her, at least not until the time was right. She would not be responsible for a modern version of the Boston witch hunts.

Unfortunately, she no longer believed Cassandra shared that concern. Even though they had met only a few times, Mac had never completely trusted the woman who was charged with enforcing shapeshifter law and making sure their existence was not discovered by the normals. Now, after the events of the last several weeks, she wasn’t sure Cassandra had ever really cared if their secret came out. Because of that, she had to be cautious about what she said and did next.

Most of all, she prayed she and her companions made it away from there alive so they could warn the others.

“LT?” Detective Nate Norwood, her temporary partner and a coyote shifter, asked in concern.

Instead of answering, Mac lifted her head slightly. As she did, she eased her hold on her jaguar. The jungle cat, so much a part of her now, pushed against her control, fighting for release. A growl sounded deep in Mac’s throat as the jaguar let her displeasure be known. She did not like Cassandra intruding on their territory. More than that, she did not appreciate the woman trying to tell them—them! – what to do. Well, that made two of them but there was little Mac could do about it, at least for the moment.

Caution won out over pride, training over ego. Mac sniffed the air and then relaxed slightly. All the smells she had come to associate with downtown were there: the cars, the exhaust, so many people pressing against one another as they made their way to their destinations. Hot dogs and condiments from the vendor at the corner. Coffee, rich and enticing, as someone walked past with a tall to-go cup. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But beneath all that were the scents she sought, the scents of shapeshifters. One was Cassandra. There could be no mistaking the dry grass scent Mac had come to associate with the woman. It reminded her of how a hayfield smelled several days after it had been cut. The second scent was the deeper, musky scent of Norwood. So far, so good.

Another sniff and Mac allowed herself to relax a little as she scented no other shapeshifters in the area. Cassandra had either come on her own or whomever she had brought with her was far enough away that Mac’s heightened senses couldn’t pick them up. That was fine by her. That meant they were too far away to interfere if a hasty retreat was called for. Maybe this little encounter would end peacefully after all.

At least she hoped so.

But she still needed to figure out how to respond to the woman who had led the Council for the last decade, without giving enough offense that Cassandra could legitimately take action against her. Damn but dealing with the politics of her new people was even more complicated, and certainly more fatal if you made a misstep, than dealing with the politics of the police department and justice system.

“Come. Walk with me, Mackenzie,” Cassandra said firmly.

The power behind those simple words washed over Mac and, for one brief moment, she felt the urge to step away from Jael and Norwood. Intellectually, she knew what was happening. Cassandra was trying to force her to do as she said by sheer will. It was something Mac had seen – and felt – her grandmother, as well as her own pride leader, do. Alphas had the ability to roll those who were weaker, leaving them no choice but to do as they were bid. Those times, Mac had responded instantly, not only because they were alphas but because she respected them enough not to even consider disobeying. But this was different.

Very different.

Even as Sergeant Jael Lindsay, her mentor and former training officer, reached out to stop her, Mac gave a quick shake of her head. Her jaguar pushed once more against her control, furious that the Speaker had tried to intimidate them – THEM – into obeying. Her jaguar wasn’t just furious, she was contemptuous. The Speaker had not earned their obedience, much less their respect, and she certainly did not deserve it. This was their territory and Cassandra was there uninvited. More important than that, she was the enemy.

Drawing strength from her jaguar, Mac glanced at Norwood to see if he had reacted to Cassandra’s order. Relief washed over her to see him still standing at her side, his hand near the gun under his jacket. Then, seeing the concern reflected in the younger man’s eyes, she gave him a quick wink. She might be battered and bruised, but she was still in control. He didn’t have to worry.

Yet.

Hoping she wasn’t about to make a bad situation worse, Mac took a single step forward. As she did, she fixed a slight smile on her lips. If anyone should happen to look their way, she didn’t want them thinking there was a problem. The last thing she needed was some well-intentioned soul interfering. She had a feeling things would go south in a hurry if that were to happen.

“Cassandra.” She fought the urge to grin as the blonde’s blue eyes flashed. Maybe it had finally dawned on her that Mac wasn’t going to blindly obey her. “It is always a pleasure to see you.” A lie but hopefully Cassandra would think it one of those little social lies almost everyone tells at some point in their lives. “Are you here to see Michael?”

Of course she wasn’t. The answer was written on Cassandra’s face from the way she clenched her teeth to the angry flush that rose on her cheeks. Then the anger disappeared almost as quickly as it had come. Mac had to give it to her. The woman knew how to roll with the punches. Hopefully that meant she also realized how precarious their position happened to be. Cops and civilians alike moved past them as they came and went from the Justice Center. Surely the blonde wouldn’t risk doing or saying something that might reveal their secret.

“As I said, Mackenzie, it is time the two of us talked. Join me for a coffee.”

Once again her power rolled over Mac. Prepared for it this time, Mac didn’t falter. Nor did she miss the surprise and something else, uncertainty perhaps, that crossed Cassandra’s expression. Not that Mac had time to think about it or about what her failure to comply with the Speaker’s order might mean. Instead, she needed to find out why the blonde had shown up without warning. But she’d be damned if she went anywhere with the woman, much less alone.

“I’m sorry, Cassandra, but I am on my way to a crime scene.” A lie but what other choice did she have? All she could do was pray she played the next bit right. “I’m sure if you contact Michael, he’d be glad to arrange for a time and place where we can meet without fear of interruption.”

At least that latter was technically true. As Speaker, Cassandra had the right to talk to any member of a pack, pride or pard that had sworn allegiance to the Council. Tradition, however, held that the Council, or its representative, would first approach the local alpha and ask permission to meet with whomever they wished to speak with. Mac hoped Cassandra would assume she was falling back on tradition because she was so new to her shifter abilities and still learning the ins and outs of shifter society. If she didn’t, they were all in trouble.

God, don’t let her push this any further.

“Mackenzie.” There could be no mistaking the warning, or the anger, in the blonde’s voice. “We will speak now.”

“I mean no disrespect, Cassandra, and I will be glad to speak with you. All I ask is that you talk with Michael first. I’m sure he will approve of our meeting. Besides, as I told you, I am on my way to a crime scene.”

Mac waited, wondering how the Speaker would react. She sensed Cassandra’s cheetah pushing against the blonde’s control. At the same time, Mac’s jaguar coiled beneath the surface, ready to spring and force a shift should Cassandra attack. Pushing the jungle cat down, Mac once again reached to the small of her back and the Sig Sauer nestled there. As she did, she gave a slight nod. She trusted Norwood to look after himself. She would make sure nothing happened to Jael

“Very well, Mackenzie. But this isn’t over. We will speak and soon.” The blonde’s words were clipped, her tone leaving no doubt about how she felt. When her eyes locked with Mac’s, Mac refused to look away. She would not show fear or submission to this woman or to her cheetah. Even so, she prayed she was making the right decision.

“I look forward to it.”

Mac inclined her head. As she did, Cassandra turned and strode off, the high heels of her designer boots clicking loudly against the sidewalk. Anger radiated off of her as she pushed her way past several women coming down the street. A few moments later, a dark sedan’s security system disengaged with a beep. With Norwood and Jael flanking her, Mac watched as Cassandra climbed in behind the steering wheel. The engine roared to life and the sedan pulled into traffic with a screech of tires that could have earned her a traffic ticket.

Mac looked on as the sedan turned at the corner and disappear from sight. Only then did she release her grip on her gun. Her heart rate slowed and her breathing returned to normal. But her mind raced. One thing was certain. They couldn’t stand there, waiting to see what happened next. She needed to let King know Cassandra was in town and she needed to warn those at the safe house. Like it or not, the battle – maybe even the war – had just come to them.

“LT?” Jael spoke softly, her concern obvious.

“Get in the SUV, both of you.” Mac glanced up and then down the street to make sure Cassandra had not circled back. “Nate, I want you to drive around for a few minutes. Let’s make sure we haven’t picked up a tail. Once you’re confident we’re in the clear, I want you to drop Jael and me back at the office.”

“No way, LT,” he said firmly. “I’m taking you straight to the safe house.” He spoke softly enough that he wouldn’t be overheard but there could be no mistaking his conviction.

“Nate, think for a moment. The SUV was unattended while we were inside making our report. That means Cassandra, or one of her people, could have tagged it. There’s no way we’re going anywhere near the safe house until we know it’s clean. That’s your job. Come back with either this one after it’s been swept or with a new vehicle. Then I will gladly let you take me to the others. Until then, we’re going to play this smart and not run the risk of leading that bitch back to our people.”

For a moment it looked like he would argue. Then he nodded. “You don’t let her out of your sight, Sarge,” he told Jael.

“Don’t worry. I won’t leave her side.” With that, Mac’s former training officer motioned for them all to climb into the SUV. “I take it we’re going to see the captain.”

“If at all possible. He needs to know what happened.” Mac slid into the front passenger seat and leaned back, carefully shifting positions until she found one that didn’t hurt her injured shoulder.

“Are you sure that’s the best course of action?” Jael asked as she slid into the backseat.

Mac started to answer and then stopped. She recognized Jael’s tone of voice. It was the same tone the woman had used when they were partnered together a lifetime ago. Mac had quickly learned it meant she needed to think about what she had said or had done. In almost every situation, Jael had been right. Could she be so now?

“Drive. I need to think for a minute,” she said as Norwood started the engine.

Trusting her companions to make sure they weren’t being followed, Mac leaned her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. She had no doubt that she needed to let King know what had just happened. But was it wise to go back to the office to do so? There was always the chance they would be overheard there. Damn, life had been so much less complicated before she started turning furry.

Unfortunately, this was something she needed to tell him face-to-face. Jael was right, though. Doing it at the office would not work. There were too many distractions there and too great a risk they might be overheard. With a sigh, she reached for her cellphone.

“King,” her pride leader and commanding officer said a few moments later.

“It’s Santos, sir.” Might as well play it safe in case he was not alone. “Something’s come up on one of my current cases that I need to brief you on.” Hopefully, he would understand what she was not saying.

“Lieutenant, I assume you’ve finished briefing the Chief of Ds and are on your way home now. I’d hate to find out you are working when you are supposed to be on medical leave.”

It wasn’t quite a question and it was enough to let her know that he wasn’t alone. Thank goodness she hadn’t said what was on her mind.

“That’s correct, sir. You made it quite clear that I need to do as the doctors say or you won’t let me return to duty any time soon.” She did her best to put a hint of pained humor in her voice.

“Good.” No one overhearing King could doubt his satisfaction that she was following orders. “I assume you want to give your report in person, Lieutenant.”

“I think it would be best, sir. This is information that was passed on to me while I was at the Justice Center.”

“Very well, I have a few things to take care of here. I will swing by your place on my way home tonight. Until then, get some rest. I need you back at your desk and on the streets as soon as possible.”

“Understood, sir, and thank you.” She ended the call, knowing he would be at the safe house as soon as possible without raising suspicions.  “All right, Nate. Let’s go switch out vehicles. I want this one checked before it goes anywhere near our people.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He turned right and checked the rearview mirror. “So far, no sign of a tail.”

“Keep an eye out but go on and head to the garage.” Or wherever he needed to go in order to pick up another SUV.

Satisfied, Mac turned her thoughts back to the encounter with Cassandra. The encounter had been enlightening on several levels. First, the Speaker had been rattled, something Mac figured didn’t happen very often. If they were lucky, it would make the Speaker careless. Mac hoped so because they needed more than a little luck right now. Too much hung in the balance for them to make any mistakes.

Second, Cassandra had come alone. Mac had no doubt about it after seeing her drive off. She knew enough about the blonde to realize Cassandra would not be driving if she had brought another of their kind with her. Could it be that she did not have anyone she trusted enough to take Yazhari’s place? God, she hoped so. The longer Cassandra was deprived of someone to carry out her dirty work, the better it would be for their side.

Finally, it was obvious Cassandra had not told King of her arrival in town. Not that it surprised Mac. Still, it was a breach of protocol on the Speaker’s part and, as far as Mac was concerned, a sign of how worried Cassandra was about what the local pride might know.

“When did life get so complicated?” She hadn’t meant to say it aloud.

“About the time you followed your family’s tradition and started turning furry.”

Jael actually chuckled and Mac shook her head, a smile playing at her lips. Jael was right. Before then, the worst thing Mac had to deal with were drive-by shootings, drug deals gone bad and the occasional jealous husband or wife killing their partner or lover. Now she had to deal with all that and do everything she could to keep the world-at-large from discovering that shapeshifters really did exist and weren’t just something out of bad Hollywood movies.

Some days, it just didn’t pay to get out of bed.

About the author

Writer, proud military mom and possessed by two crazy cats and one put-upon dog. Writes under the names of Amanda S. Green, Sam Schall and Ellie Ferguson.

Comments

    1. I’d have to go through my backup drive — I’m in the process of migrating from one laptop to another. It is an image I found on Dollarphoto.

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