Military Man stepped to block Abel, while Tattoo Guy motioned for Kim to go. “Want us to teach him some manners?” Tattoo Guy asked her.

“No, leave him alone,” Kim said. “He’s just a dickhead.”


Tattoo Guy shrugged as if he didn’t care one way or another. Abel beat a retreat into the building, and Kim started for her car, which was only a few feet away. The two of them fell into step beside her.

“When Shifters don’t wear Collars,” Tattoo Guy said, “assholes like that will be wetting themselves to be nice to us.”

Sure. Kim quickened her pace, but she reached the car without incident. The two men didn’t try to grab her or drag her off; in fact, they acted more as though they were protecting her. Whose side were they on? Military Man opened her car door for her, shutting it again once she was settled. “Drive carefully, now.”

“Right,” Kim said as she started up.

“Hey, no one messes with our females,” Military Man said. “You’re Liam’s now.”

She wasn’t sure whether to be reassured or irritated. “Thank you, gentlemen,” she said. “I appreciate your help.”

She firmly rolled up the windows and backed out of her parking space. The two followed her to Shiftertown on their motorcycles, keeping pace with her, again, protectively.

Kim was halfway to Shiftertown when Tattoo Guy’s words struck her. When Shifters don’t wear Collars. What the hell did that mean? He’d said the words as though it was a real time to come, not wishful thinking.

Kim gripped the steering wheel and kept driving. She’d have to ask Liam whether the man was simply blowing off steam—if Liam would ever answer his damn phone.

-- Advertisement --

Chapter Twenty

Liam walked around the next block of derelict and empty buildings. The brick walls were battered and worn, and rotted boards covered broken-out windows.

A place like this might attract a curious kid who’d decided to head out on his own. Liam remembered how he, Sean, and Kenny had liked to explore the ruins of castles—Ireland was full of them—crumbling stones barely held together of some long-forgotten keep. Did they care that it was dangerous, that they could get trapped, buried, crushed by unexpected rock fall?

Not really. They were Shifters. Tough, dangerous, bold.

“Bloody stupid,” Liam said under his breath. No wonder their mum had raised hell with them.

He turned a corner between buildings and heard Michael crying.

The sound came from the warehouse beside him, the wide door covered with planks of old wood. Liam kicked apart the wood, mildewed and rotted, and it broke easily.

The warehouse inside was dim, the concrete floor pitted and covered with dust. A metal door made of new, shining, solid steel, gleamed in the wall to his right. Its handle was wrapped in chains and padlocked. Banging came from behind it, along with two voices—Michael’s high-pitched wail and the shouts of a man he didn’t recognize.

Liam’s nostrils widened as he took the scent of the air. Nothing but terror from Michael and the man behind this door, overlaid by the decay of the building. Even if this was a trick to trap Liam for some reason, it was certain that the prisoners hadn’t padlocked themselves into the room from the outside.

Liam wrapped the hem of his shirt around the padlock, let his hand shift to strong Shifter claws, and broke the lock. He swung the door open, backing up quickly when a wave of fetid air poured from the tiny room beyond.

A man rushed out and collapsed on the floor outside his makeshift cell, breathing hard. His hair was tangled and matted, and his clothes were rank. A Lupine, by his eyes and smell, but Liam didn’t know him. Michael rushed out behind him, his hands manacled, and Liam gathered the boy up in his arms. Michael clung to him, soaking up all the comfort he could.

“How did you get locked in there?” he asked Michael.

“The bad man brought me.”

“What bad man, sweetie?”

“A Feline captured me.” The man on the floor glared up at him with bloodshot eyes. “Like you.”

“Which Feline? Fergus?”

“No. That wasn’t his name.” The stranger pushed himself to his feet, screwing up his eyes against even the dim light. “Oh, yeah, Brian. That was it.”

Liam’s blood froze. “Brian.”

“That’s what he said. Then this morning, some other Feline opens up the door and throws this little guy in with me. I’m glad you came when you did. I was getting hungry, and the Feline said I wasn’t allowed to eat.”

The Shifter’s gaze moved to Michael. The boy wasn’t timid, but when those bloodshot Lupine eyes landed on him, he backed away fast until he crouched into a dusty corner. “Something’s wrong with him, Liam,” Michael whimpered.

The Lupine moved out into the light, and Liam saw clearly that instead of a Collar, a line of blood-blackened bare skin ran around his neck. His Collar had been removed.

“Michael,” Liam said. “Run!”

Eyes round with terror, the boy scuttled away. Liam grabbed the Lupine by the shoulder, spinning him around. The Lupine snarled and leapt, and Liam met the attack.

The two fell to the ground, Liam’s hands becoming claws. They fought, Liam trying to sever the feral’s spine. The feral reared up and brought down a most unlikely weapon—a hypodermic needle. Before Liam could roll aside, the feral plunged the needle into his shoulder.

Liam fought a few more seconds, and then his muscles went slack and he couldn’t move at all. He didn’t black out, but he prayed hard in the next hours for unconsciousness to come.

At first glance Shiftertown seemed to be in chaos. Shifters roamed everywhere in parties of two and three, calling Michael’s name. Shifters on motorcycles and in ratty cars cruised the streets both inside and on the outskirts of Shiftertown, moving slowly and peering into the shadows of every building.

When Kim entered the Morrissey house, she realized that the searching had been organized in almost military fashion. Dylan stood alone in the kitchen, a map of Shiftertown and its environs spread across the table. A careful grid had been drawn on the map. Dylan’s cell phone was at his ear, and he marked off squares in the grid as he talked to the person on the other end.

Dylan spotted Kim. “Kim’s here,” he said into the phone. “And Nate and Spike. Come back to the house and pick up Kim. Nate and Spike will make up another team.”

Nate and Spike? Tattoo Guy and Military Man were dismounting their motorcycles at the front curb. Kim briefly wondered which was which.

Dylan hung up his phone, came to Kim, and enfolded her in his arms. Shifter greeting. They’re tense; I bet they need a lot of reassurance right now.

Kim returned the hug, squeezing Dylan hard before releasing him. “Were you talking to Liam? Where is he?”

Dylan shook his head. “Sean. Liam hasn’t checked in.”

“He doesn’t answer his cell phone, either.”

“Cell phone service isn’t the most reliable around here. He’ll find a way to call when he has something to report. Sean’s on his way.”

“I want to help.”

“You will.” Dylan turned back to his map. “I want you and Sean to make up a team. Sean’s the strongest, next to Liam, and I don’t want to worry about you on top of everything else.”

“Liam told me what happened,” she said in a low voice. “About you and him, and the fight.”

Dylan turned from the map again. He didn’t look conquered. He was as tall and formidable as ever, only the touch of gray at his temples betraying that he was older than his sons. He radiated strength, competence, and decisiveness—everything you’d want in a general.

“It’s irrelevant right now,” Dylan said.

Meaning they’d talk about it once Michael was found. “I just wondered what was going to happen.”

“That’s up to Liam.” Dylan looked past her, and she realized that Nate and Spike were approaching the front door.

Kim shut up, and Dylan invited the two inside. The hostility they’d exhibited to Dylan in San Antonio was absent as the three bent over the map. Nate turned out to be the military guy, and the shaved-headed, tattooed man was Spike.

The two Shifters left with their orders, and Dylan took another phone call. Sean approached through the backyard, and Kim went out to meet him.

“Where’s Connor?” she asked.

“Searching with Glory and Ellison. Dad’s putting you with me.”

Sean looked grim, flat black sunglasses hiding his eyes, his sword hilt protruding over his shoulder. Kim knew without being told that his greatest fear was that he’d have to use the sword on Michael when and if they found him.

“Have you heard from Liam?” she asked him.


“That doesn’t worry you?”

“It does. But Liam’s one of the strongest in the clan, and if he’s out of communication, it’s for a good reason.”

His words made sense, and so had Dylan’s. But Kim shivered, some feeling in her gut bothering her. “We should find him.”

“We should find Michael.”

Kim nodded. Michael’s mother must be going through hell. Kim remembered how her own mother had sobbed uncontrollably when she’d been told that Mark was dead. Mark had lingered in the hospital all night, giving them hope he’d survive, but in the end, he hadn’t. Michael’s mother must be living through that same hell of hope.

Kim nodded. Find Michael. That was top priority.

“It’s easy,” the feral Shifter said. “Go with it.”

Liam gritted his teeth against profound pain. “Easy for who? Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“I was called Justin.”

“Yeah? What are you called now?”

“Human names have no meaning for us anymore.”

“Oh, for the gods’ sake.” Liam lay flat on his back on the cement floor, his limbs on fire. He felt the beast in him snarling and raging, but his body hurt so much it could snarl and rage all it wanted to. Lying still was a good thing.

Heat pressed on the warehouse, and Liam felt the tingle of an approaching storm. He sensed clouds building, the electricity that fused the air miles away.

“Where is the boy?” Liam asked

“Still here.” The Lupine smiled. “I’m saving him for you, like I was told.”

Liam then sensed Michael in the alley outside. The Lupine must have chased after him and tethered him. Liam tasted the boy’s fear on the wind, arousing both Liam’s protective nature and his innate instinct that the male offspring of another male had to be eliminated. The two feelings warred in him, escalating his confusion.

“And why haven’t you rid yourself of me as I lay here helpless?” Liam asked.

“I know my place in the hierarchy. You will lead us to greatness.”

“You’ve lost it, mate.”

“You’re the leader. I smell it on you. You defeated the only one greater than you, and now no Shifter can best you. I’m weak, but you will make me strong.”

“Shite.” Liam’s neck felt like fire and at the same time, strangely light. Justin peeling away Liam’s Collar had been the worst agony Liam had ever felt in his life. He’d screamed as the metal had unfused from his skin, his mind clouding with nothing but pain. When the fog cleared he’d found himself flat on his back, unable to move.

“The pain will go away,” Justin said. “And then you’ll be free.”


“Shifters are strong, my master. Stronger than any human will ever be. Why should we be slaves to them? When they put Collars on us, they only made us stronger.”

Liam felt weak as a flea. “How did you figure that?”

“You feel it, don’t you? The instincts you suppressed for so long, the strength you lost when the Collar was put on you. I bet at first you didn’t have the strength to make it through a day without vomiting. We’ve learned how to live even with the oppression of the Collars. So when they come off, the instincts pour back, your strength comes back—twenty years worth of it in one go.”

-- Advertisement --