Feral Heat: Shifters Unbound Novella (8 page)

BOOK: Feral Heat: Shifters Unbound Novella
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Deni caught a whiff of a strange scent when they approached the workshop’s door, one that had her hackles rising. The wolf in her was growling, and she felt the bite of nausea that was a prelude to her losing herself. She clutched Jace’s arm, and he stepped away from Sean to her.

“What is it, sweetheart?”

“There’s someone . . .”

“I know,” Jace said. “I smell it.”

It was an acrid odor, one ripe with ancestral memory. Sean said, “No worries. That will be the father-in-law,” and he ushered them inside.

Chapter Eight

Jace stepped into the room and faced a strange apparition. A tall man, so tall he looked stretched, turned toward them, a metallic whisper sounding as he moved. He was dressed in chain mail, which was covered with a cloak so black it was like an opening into darkness. The man’s hair, in contrast, was pale white, and fell in dozens of braids past his waist, but the effect wasn’t effeminate, nor was he elderly. The man’s face was sharp, his dark eyes rivaling his cloak for the deepest hue of black. He wore a broadsword on his back, one larger than the Sword of the Guardian, its hilt sticking up above his head.

Deni was still growling, and Jace’s snarls filled his throat. An ancient enemy stood before them, and though Jace had seen this man before on other trips to Austin, the shock of him being here made his wildcat a little crazy.

“You remember Fionn,” Sean was saying. He eyed Jace warily, as though ready to stop Jace’s attack. “My mate’s true father.”

Andrea Morrissey, Sean’s mate, appeared on the other side of the Fae, flanking him in a protective move. Andrea’s dark head was up, her gray eyes daring Jace and Deni to do anything against Fionn.

Andrea was half Fae, half Shifter. Fionn, Jace had been told, had come to the human world forty or so years ago, seeking refuge during some unknown Fae war. He’d met and fallen in love with a Shifter woman, a Lupine, who’d then borne Andrea. For complicated Fae reasons, he hadn’t been able to stay, and Andrea had been raised by her mother and a Shifter stepfather. Andrea had had it tough as a half Fae growing up among Shifters and hadn’t met her true father until a few years ago. Now Andrea was mate to the Guardian, and no one hassled her about her origins. Not to her face, anyway, and never within Sean’s hearing.

Fionn had proved himself to be on the Shifters’ side in many cases, but the sight of a Fae still made Jace want to shift, fight, and kill. The Fae had created the first Shifters many centuries ago, breeding them to be fighting slaves. The Shifters had finally broken away from their Fae captors, staying in the human world while the Fae retreated permanently to Faerie. The Shifter-Fae war had ended seven hundred years ago, but still Shifters had a tough time even looking at a Fae.

Jace cleared his throat. “I assume you came to help with the Collars?”

Fionn curled his lip—Fae were always prone to sneering. “No, I came for a barbeque. Haven’t got my fill of Texas ribs.” He turned his disdainful dark eyes to Sean. “Why you think I can help, I don’t know. I’m a warrior, not a magician. I don’t know anything about the Fae magic in these Collars.”

Andrea put her hand on Fionn’s arm. Fionn softened as he turned to his daughter—the only person Jace had ever seen Fionn be nice to. “But you might have some insight into their construction,” Andrea said. “It’s Fae technology as well as Fae magic.”

Fionn patted her hand. “We’ve had this discussion before. I don’t know anything about what Fae did with Shifters. Shifters were out of Faerie, never to return, before I was born. I can see where Shifters would have been useful in battle, but I for one wouldn’t want to put up with them between wars. I’d have to cage them up to keep them from killing me, and they’d cost a fortune to feed.”

Deni made a growling noise in her throat. “Good thing we won the Shifter-Fae war, then.” she said.

“Yes, good thing,” Fionn answered. “Saved me a lot of bother.”

Andrea shot Fionn a frown. “Sorry, my father enjoys baiting Shifters. He thinks it’s
fun
.”

“I may be looking for amusement in the situation, but I also speak the truth,” Fionn said.

From what Jace understood, Fionn was a formidable warrior in his world, leading the armies of his clan in victory over other Fae, and possessing a lot of power. Other Fae had learned not to mess with him. Jace noted that Fionn kept his eye on everything in the room, including all the exits, the high windows, and anything that could become a weapon. He might be here to help, but he couldn’t stop being a fighter by instinct.

Dylan opened a locked cabinet and removed a silver and black chain. Jace recoiled inside, and he felt Deni move closer to him. Even Sean shivered. This was a true Collar, and Dylan carried it to Fionn.

“We’re looking for the third element,” Dylan said. “Fae magic, computer chips, and something else.”

Fionn took the Collar gingerly between his fingers, held it up to his eye level, and scanned it. The small circle of the Celtic cross glittered in the harsh light of bare bulbs.

“Interesting.” Fionn ran a fingertip down the links. “Silver and black silver, which is a Fae metal. No iron.” If it had contained iron, Fionn couldn’t have held it—iron made Fae sick, could even kill them if they had too much contact with it. Fionn looked the Collar over again, frowning. “Sorry, I don’t know. My experience with metals is confined to swords and other bladed weapons. Not jewelry.”

“Well,” Sean said, letting out a disappointed sigh as Dylan took the Collar back, “let’s see what we can do tonight.”

He unsheathed the Sword of the Guardian again and laid it on the table. Jace thought Fionn would walk out, back to the circle of trees that took him to Faerie, but Fionn settled himself against the wall near Andrea and folded his arms, ready to watch.

“You did that before,” Jace said to Sean, sitting on a stool and trying to stem his nervousness. “Took out the sword before we started. Why?”

Sean shrugged. “I thought the magic in it might help figure out the magic in the Collars. Magic vibrations or something. The sword has done some interesting things.” He glanced at Andrea, who nodded. The two together had performed amazing bouts of healing, when both of them had been touching the sword.

“Ready?” Sean asked Jace.

“No. But let’s do this.”

Dylan held the knife Liam had used, plus an electric probe, while Sean stuck with the soldering iron. Jace balled his fists, setting his teeth against the coming pain.

A soothing coolness cut through the heat in his body, originating at a point on his wrist. Opening eyes he hadn’t realized he’d closed, Jace saw Deni’s hand, tanned from Texas sun, resting on his forearm. She looked at him, giving him a little nod and smile, her gray eyes warm. An answering warmth stirred in Jace’s heart, wrapping around his nerves and breaking through his fear of the pain.

“Hurry up, Sean,” Jace said without taking his gaze from Deni. “Other things I want to do tonight.”

“You got it, lad.” Sean brought the soldering iron closer as Dylan touched the electric probe to Jace’s Collar.

A vibrating buzz went around the chain, and then Jace felt the nick of the knife. The iron heated the silver, and the second link Liam had already loosened came free. Dylan quickly lifted a third, then a fourth.

The pain was there, but not as intense as last time. That is, until Dylan tried to loosen a fifth link. The Collar snapped back a huge arc that jolted Dylan backward and shocked hot pain into Jace. Deni jumped as well, caught in the current, but she didn’t let go of Jace.

Jace tried to clench his teeth over his yell, to keep quiet, but his body had taken over. Darkness clamped his brain, and through it he saw the Collar, a white band around his neck, every nerve outlined with fire.

His yell turned to a scream. The Collar didn’t want to let go of him. It clung tighter to Jace’s neck, the link Dylan had just pulled off fusing again to his skin.

Jace fell from the stool to the floor, landing on his knees, brutal pain the only thing in his world. Every nerve was crackling, cold washing through him followed by heat so powerful he burned from the inside out. He started to shift, but every bit of fur emerging from his skin hurt, doubling his agony.

“Jace.” Deni’s voice cut through the fog. Her touch fell like cool water on his burning skin. “Hold on.”

Jace heard other voices, too faint and faraway to bother with. “Shit.” “Andrea, can you help him, lass?” “Have you killed him?” came Fionn’s disdain. “Well done, Shifters.”

The only important words were breathed in Deni’s voice. “I’m here, Jace. Hang on.”

Jace clung to her voice, needing its warm cadence. His brain couldn’t form the syllables of her name, but it didn’t matter. He knew her touch, her warmth as she put her arms around him, on her knees too. He knew her scent, the low sweetness of her voice, the soft gray of her eyes, which went a lighter gray when he made love to her. Jace took a long breath, taking in the goodness of her.

The hurting eased the slightest bit. Underneath the pain, the tightness in Jace’s chest radiated a different kind of tingling—it still hurt, but without the brutal sharpness of the Collar.

Jace held his breath, wondering if the second pressure was what he thought it was. Through pain came amazing happiness and at the same time dismay.
Not now. Not here. Wrong time. Wrong place.

“Jace.” The word cut through his agony.

Deni.
She was Deni, lithe, beautiful. And a
Lupine
, for crying out loud. Their kids wouldn’t know whether to bark or meow.

“Help me,” he croaked.

Deni’s warmth covered him, her breasts soft against his burning chest. “Hold on to me.”

She had both his hands between hers, her head on his shoulder. The Collar kept sparking, biting into her as well. She took up the dregs of the pain, jumping a little as the sparks bit deep.

Another female hand touched Jace, this one inflicting a new kind of pain. His nerves balled into one place of fire, Jace shouting with it, then slowly, it eased.

Jace drew a long breath and opened his eyes.

He found himself flat on his back in the middle of a circle of faces—Andrea, Sean, Dylan, Fionn, Deni. Andrea had one hand on the blade of the Sword of the Guardian, which was humming. Fionn’s long, thin braids brushed Jace’s legs, Fionn’s concern mixed with curiosity and fascination.

Deni raised her head and touched Jace’s face, her little bracelet making a faint jingling noise. She exhaled in relief.

“Sorry, Jace,” Sean said, his voice rumbling with sympathy. “You all right, lad?”

Jace opened his mouth to say he’d live, but nothing came out. He dropped his head back in exhaustion.

“Leave him be,” Deni said, suddenly brisk. “Sean, hand me that blanket. You all have tortured him enough tonight.”

Sweet of her to take care of him. Jace didn’t move—mostly because he couldn’t—and let himself enjoy Deni draping a thick blanket over him and lifting his head in her competent hand to slide a cushion underneath it.

She started to get her feet again, but Jace grabbed her hand.
No. Stay.

Deni caught his gaze, her own filled with pain and worry. She gave him a nod and sank down beside him, folding her lovely legs under her.

“We need to find the link,” Dylan said. “No use half killing him trying to pull any more off tonight.”

“Agreed,” Sean said, sounding relieved.

“If you pull it off all at once, he goes feral?” Fionn asked, sounding interested. The lilting accent in his voice, different from any Jace had ever heard, made him start to growl.

“Aye, that’s what happens,” Sean said. “Have seen it myself. If the Shifter is too far gone, he can’t come back. Best you can do is kill the poor bugger.”

Jace growled again. Deni held him tighter and kissed his lower lip. “I won’t let them,” she said.

Jace remained still. He didn’t trust himself not to attack everyone in the room if he moved, with the exception of Deni. He might even go for Andrea, but only after he smacked down the Fae who stank up the place.

“Jace needs to rest,” Deni said. “Leave him be.”

“I know,” Sean said, putting a hand on Jace’s shoulder. He quickly took it away as Jace’s growl turned to a snarl. “You take as long as you need, lad. We won’t start again until you’re ready.”

“No, you’ll find yourselves another victim,” Deni said sharply. She sat up, but kept herself between Jace and the others.

“Not victim,” Sean said. “Volunteer.”

“I know what I said.” Deni glared at them, Lupine defiance in the face of powerful Felines. What a sweetheart. “Leave him alone and figure out your problem with someone else. Like me, for instance. I’m already half crazy, so I might not notice the difference.”

“No!” Jace came up off the floor to fold himself protectively around Deni. “No.” He still had to think about how to form words. “Won’t let you. Too much pain.”

Deni gave him a startled look, then a stubborn one. “Well, I won’t let them put
you
in too much pain either.” She switched her anger back to Sean and Dylan. “He’s not expendable.”

Both Sean and Dylan took a step away, as though sensing something had changed about Deni, and about Jace. Andrea unfolded to her feet and turned to the sink to run some water. The Sword of the Guardian had cut her hand. Brave woman, saying nothing.

“Interesting how the female defends the male,” Fionn said. “Fae women, on the other hand, can turn on their men in a heartbeat, running them through and joining their enemies if they find it expedient. Shifter females, I note, will stick with their mates even when the mate is defeated. She’ll die for him.”

“Isn’t that what attracted you to my mother?” Andrea asked from the sink.

Fionn went silent a moment, and when he spoke again, the arrogance had gone from his voice and a sad note entered it. “Yes. One of the many things.”

“Jace and Deni aren’t mated,” Sean said. He slid the Sword of the Guardian back into its scabbard and moved to Andrea as though drawn to her.

Fionn’s arrogance returned. “And I’m constantly amazed at how dense Shifters are about their own kind.”

“That’s enough, Father,” Andrea said firmly.

Jace pulled Deni back to him. He didn’t care anymore about the Collars, about freeing Shifters, about helping Liam. He wanted Deni—wanted to bury himself in her and not come out. Whether she felt the same about him, Jace didn’t know, but he would find out. If she didn’t care about him, if he’d simply been a way for her to defuse pressure, he’d let her go.

The thought of letting Deni go made his feral side want to burst out again. Jace kissed her shoulder, drawing in her scent until it calmed him a bit.

BOOK: Feral Heat: Shifters Unbound Novella
4.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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