Kieran Smith hissed as the needle was pulled out of his arm.
“Don’t be a baby,” Dean Westbridge taunted without sympathy. He slapped a Band-Aid onto Kieran’s wound with a smirk.
He growled at Dean, but his heart wasn’t really in the threat. Six weeks after Kieran had found out that there might be something wrong with him, there were still no answers. He needed Dean in order to figure this shit out. The doctor who had tortured and experimented on him for ten years let it out that he’d added unknown concoctions to Kieran’s DNA. Sure, Kieran had realized that he was stronger and faster than other Walkers, but he’d attributed it to his advanced agent training. Now, it turned out that he was an even bigger freak than he’d first thought.
“How’re you feeling? Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary?” Dean questioned.
Kieran wished he could say for sure. Being a Day Walker already made him different from other paranormals since there were very few of his kind. There weren’t many others he knew to compare himself to. The Walkers that he did know didn’t exactly like to talk about their abilities. In response to Dean’s question, he shrugged.
Dean sighed. “I need you to tell me what’s going on.”
“I realize that,” Kieran said. “I don’t know the answer.”
The human agent walked across the room to set the vials of blood he’d taken from Kieran and placed them in a bag. Kieran wouldn’t consider Dean a friend but pretty close. Dean had been the partner of Dakota, Kieran’s lover, for many years, so that connection held them together. Kieran made an attempt to get along with Dean for Dakota’s sake.
“How’re things going with Dakota?” Dean asked from the other side of the room.
Kieran stiffened. He couldn’t help his reaction. “Why?”
“Jeez, Kieran,” Dean complained. “I didn’t mean anything by the question. I just wanted to make sure the two of you are okay. There’s been a lot going on. You two moved into the new suite, right?”
“Sorry,” Kieran muttered. It hadn’t been an easy month and a half since they’d taken down the group responsible for the death, torture and kidnapping of both Walkers and shifters. Finding out that the same organization they worked for had high-powered agents involved had thrown them off their game. Trust, something that was hard for Kieran at normal time, was now nonexistent. Only his promise to Dakota had him coming to see Dean every week. If it wasn’t for his lover’s concern, Kieran would be staying far away from anyone who wasn’t part of his inner circle.
“The new place is bigger, so Dakota likes it. I enjoy staying at the hotel to remain close to Alex. I guess it’s just weird buying a suite with Dakota. Like I’m waiting for her to get tired of my bullshit and take off.” His honesty surprised him. Kieran never talked about his feelings. Especially not with someone like Dean, who he didn’t know all that well. He moaned. “Forget I said anything, please.”
“Look, man,” Dean said, “Dakota loves you. If you want to talk to me, I’m more than happy to listen. I want to help figure out what’s going on for the both of you. Just give me time.”
In response to Dean’s words, Kieran nodded. It wasn’t easy for him to rely on anyone except himself. He still held himself back from Remy, his wolf shifter partner, who he’d worked with since joining the Organization. He yanked down the sleeve of his black sweater before standing. He appreciated Dean letting him come down to his lab instead of him having to go into the medical wing. Kieran’s past with medical experiments was only one of the many issues that he had to try to deal with. If he hadn’t had the control of someone much older than he actually was, Kieran could have ended up being a danger to those around him.
Everyone around him was aware of the very thin line that Kieran walked.
Even his partner and lover knew that at any time, Kieran could fall off the straight and narrow. They loved him, anyway.
If it wasn’t for the support of the small collection of friends, his family now, Kieran probably would have gone to the dark side years ago. But, luckily for the world, Kieran had motivation to remain sane and honest.
“Okay,” Dean announced, drawing Kieran from his thoughts. “I’ll send these off and see if there’ve been any changes.”
“Thanks.” Kieran shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark-washed jeans before strolling toward the door.
Kieran paused, although he didn’t turn.
“You’re going to be okay. I’m going to make certain.”
Without another word, Kieran left Dean’s lab. He wasn’t on shift tonight and he hated having time off. Now, he’d spend the evening thinking about Dean and his damn tests. Dean couldn’t and shouldn’t make promises that might be impossible to keep. Kieran needed a distraction. One of his favorite activities was messing with the other agents around, but, since he’d seen his boss’s vehicle outside earlier, he knew better.
Caspar might give him more leeway than anyone else, but Kieran knew when not to press his luck. Having to deal with the higher-ups of the Organization as well as the Shifter Coalition running their own investigation was leading to Caspar being in a very bad mood. While Kieran might have liked to have taken his boss’s mind off everything going on and provide some entertainment, he’d promised Dakota that he’d behave.
He was just about to reach the elevator when his cell rang. Kieran pulled the black device from his pocket and read the screen. Lettie, his former co-worker from his previous post, was calling. He still spoke to her when she decided he needed to know something, so she wouldn’t be calling for no reason.
“What’s up?” he asked in greeting.
“Your girl just called in for backup,” Lettie said. “I don’t like what I’m hearing.”
Kieran stiffened. Lettie was the best fucking hacker in the world. He didn’t know why she continued to monitor them even when she’d been assigned to a different office, but he was grateful. “Where is she?” he demanded.
“3412 North Washington, behind a closed electronic store. The original call was for a reported sighting of a wild animal. Wolf maybe,” Lettie answered.
“And?” Kieran pressed. Dakota could handle a wolf shifter with no problem. A jaguar shifter, she was powerful, fast and smart. She was also highly trained.
“Neighbors are calling in more animal sounds and when Dakota radioed for backup, she was cut off,” Lettie explained.
He didn’t need to hear any more. Kieran went to the stairwell exit instead of waiting for the elevator. He ran down the steps two at a time. “Got it.” He hung up, needing to concentrate on getting to his lover. There were times when he hated what she did for a living. But, unlike him, Dakota wouldn’t ever be able to leave the Organization.
Centuries ago, a small group of Walkers, shifters and humans had decided to form an agency that would work in the shadows to keep the innocent and unaware humans from discovering the paranormal world. The entire Organization was staffed from the bloodlines of the original group. Because Dakota had been born the first child of a family involved, she’d been commissioned to service. She hadn’t been given a choice. From a young age, she’d been aware that she wouldn’t be raised or loved by her family. She only had one purpose—to become an agent.
As far as Kieran knew, he was the only active agent who didn’t stem from the original families. Caspar had brought him in after Kieran had been rescued. Kieran often wondered why Caspar had enfolded him into the world of the Organization, but it didn’t really matter. Kieran was an agent and he could make a choice to leave if he wanted. He wouldn’t, though. There was no way he’d leave his partner or lover behind. He was in for life, because Dakota and Remy were. There was no retirement for Organization agents. They either died in the line of service or were employed until their usefulness ran out.
He slammed through the last barrier opening up into the underground parking lot then raced through the night toward his bike, intent on getting to Dakota. As was his habit, he’d parked his Harley down the street instead of in front of the building that housed their offices.
Kieran didn’t bother with a helmet. He merely got his bike started and roared off. The area that Dakota had called from was across town. As she’d called for backup, another agent should be closer than him, but he didn’t trust anyone else to have her back. She worked with a bear shifter and human, but Kieran was a Walker. The abilities and power that he offered was unmatched by any other agent. He was the only Walker in the Las Vegas division.
Swerving in and out of traffic, Kieran sped toward Dakota.
It was a good thing that he didn’t have to be worried about being killed in an accident with the chances he took. The heavy Vegas traffic was always a hardship to get through, but at nine at night on a Friday, it was damn near impossible. This was the exact reason he rode his bike. He was able to fit through spaces and, yes, he might have used a couple of sidewalks, as well.
Flashing lights, chaos and screaming greeted him when he pulled into the parking lot of a boarded-up bar. He skidded his motorcycle to a stop, ignoring the human police officers trying to wave him away. It was obvious to Kieran that the humans would be no help in this situation.
“Sir! Get back on your bike and leave the area!” a young, freckled faced officer ordered.
Kieran had the urge to flash his fangs at the damn kid. Hell, he couldn’t be older than twenty-one. This little twerp was absolutely no competition to Kieran. He resisted scaring the crap out of the officer. “I’m with her.” He pointed toward Dakota.
“Oh, sure,” the officer replied, paling a little.
Kieran held back a smirk. The young policeman no doubt thought he was some sort of shifter. But while the shifters of the world had come out to the public several years ago, letting their existence be known, Walkers were still kept secret. There was enough drama with humans knowing about shifters. Vampires, or whatever they wanted to name his species, would have the humans in a massive panic.
He stalked with care toward where Dakota was crouched peering in a hole inside the bar. Her two partners, Gabe and Dare, stood at her back, watching the crowds. While Dakota’s attention was on whatever was happening inside, they had her six. Kieran approved.
“What’s going on?” he asked, joining them.
“We think there’s an injured shifter inside,” Dare told him. “And a wolf and coyote shifter won’t let us get close enough to get a good look, though.”
Fuck, an injured shifter can cause a lot of damage if they panic.
“It’s okay,” Dakota was murmuring. “I know you’re scared, but we’re not here to hurt you.”
She’d used that tone with him when Kieran was coming out of a nightmare or an episode of his past. He’d always found it comforting. Kieran hoped whoever she was speaking to picked up the honesty in her tone.
Kieran dropped to his knees behind her. “What do you need?” he whispered. He needed to stay out sight for now. If the shifters saw him, they’d pick up on his power and things could get a lot worse.
Dakota turned her head. “You’re supposed to be off tonight.”
He shrugged. There was no reason for her to be aware that Lettie monitored her calls when she was on duty. “I was in the neighborhood.”
She scoffed. “I bet. We’ll discuss this later. I sent the other agents to see if there was any other way inside. I don’t want to force our way in if we can help it.”
Yeah, the possible bloodshed involved wasn’t good. Especially with humans close by.
“Just three inside?” he asked.
“That’s all I can smell.” She leaned back. “It’s weird—they’re really young. And how often do you see three different species together?”
“They’ve all shifted?”
“They are now. When we got here, just the bobcat and wolf were, but now the coyote has, as well. That’s probably how they feel the safest.”
“Sorry, Dakota.” Two agents came from around the side of the building. “It’s boarded up good. There’s no way to get inside without ripping off some of the wood.”
She shook her head. “That’d make too much noise. Send them into a panic.”
“What do you want to do?” Kieran inquired. He could already tell that she was coming up with a plan.
“I can shift and go in.”
“No.” There was no question. He was not going to allow her to put herself in danger that way.
“K,” she murmured. “We have to do this quick. There’s no telling when a damn news crew will show up. I don’t want these kids to be on camera. We need to get them out of here.”
He glanced around and knew she was right. For the last several months, it had seemed that someone was tipping off reporters to every incident that they were investigating. That wasn’t good when their Organization was meant to work in secret. Luckily, the news had associated them with the Shifter Coalition instead of realizing they were something much more dangerous. Already, a ton of people stood at the taped-off area where the local PD was holding them back. Numerous cell phones were being pointed at them as the humans took pictures and videos. He growled, still hating technology. When he’d first started working for the Organization, things had been so much simpler. He’d not had to worry about someone catching him and exposing his secrets. Now, the lives of the agents were put in jeopardy every time someone showed up to get their fifteen minutes of fame.
“I can go around the back and just punch my way inside,” he said. “No one will even see me.” Kieran would rather put himself in danger than her. What he was couldn’t get out. The world was still stressing over the existence of shifters. If humans learned of vampire-type creatures, there’d be no peace for the paranormal community.
“Can’t,” Dakota said. “Caspar would kick both our asses if someone captured that.”
He grunted. Like he gave a damn about what Caspar thought if it meant keeping Dakota safe. The more screen time she received, the less chance she’d be able to do her job. Dakota actually loved being with the Organization and protecting innocents while Kieran just didn’t like to be bored. He found the excitement and danger worth the time he put in for work. Kieran wasn’t a good person. He’d come to terms with his faults a long time ago. Dakota made him want to be a better man, but Kieran wasn’t even sure that was possible.
“I’ll shift. In my jaguar form, they should be more willing to follow me. I’m more dominant and their instincts will be to cower. I can handle this.”
“Or they’ll attack as soon as you get inside,” he argued. “It’ll be three against one.”
“They’re only kids, K.”
God damn it, he didn’t want her going in there alone, where he couldn’t see or help. He also wasn’t happy about her having to reveal her animal side in front of the public. “You.” He pointed at one of the agents. “You got an SUV?”
“Back it up to right here,” Kieran ordered. “As close as you can get.”
“Right away!” The male agent, human, hurried off.
“What are you doing?” Dakota gripped his wrist, frowning.
“You can transform inside. I don’t want anyone seeing you. I’ll open the back and you can jump from the vehicle to the building. If someone has the right angle, they might catch you, but it’s the best we can do.”
She nodded. “Good idea.” Her features, which had been drawn and tight, softened. When she looked at him like that, Kieran felt like a king. Deep down, he knew eventually she’d stop when he disappointed her. For now, it was enough that she still believed in him.
“I’m staying right by the opening. I swear that if you get hurt, I will not be happy.”
“I know.” She lifted her hand to cup his cheek. “But remember that they’re just scared kids.”
He loved her. God, just looking at her concern-filled eyes, he lost his breath. After having had to live her entire life on her own, knowing she had no control about her future, Dakota was still the kindest person he’d ever met. The shifters inside were a threat. Dakota could choose to use force and capture them. Instead, she was revealing herself in order to help them.
She impressed the hell out of him.
It was probably his instincts, as well as past events of his life, which led him to want to use force to end the situation. Not that the kids inside would be harmed, but it’d take less time to force his way in and capture them. That made him feel shitty. Another reminder that he was truly a monster. He’d killed and he’d have to live with that. Sure, he’d only eliminated paranormals who had broken the law and hurt others, but he was tainted. Dakota lived her life for others. It was a small wonder what the hell she was doing with him.
“Be careful,” he demanded.
“I always am.” She rocked forward to press her lips against his.
Kieran grabbed the back of her head, forcing the quick peck she’d meant into a deep, meaningful kiss. Dakota opened for his probing tongue and her unique flavor burst onto his. He’d claim and mark her in any way that he could.
“The vehicle is coming,” Dare said in obvious amusement. “Unless you want to go ahead and undress her here in front of everyone.”
Kieran pulled away so he could glare at Dakota’s partner. If humans hadn’t been around, he would have flashed some fang.
Dare laughed. Kieran liked it better when everyone was terrified of him.
Dakota patted his knee before she stood. He followed suit. As Dakota moved off to the side, Kieran directed the agent in backing up. When the SUV was where he wanted it, Kieran opened the back door for Dakota.
“We’re going to discuss you pushing into my call later,” she warned him.
“Sure.” Kieran would do it again. They both knew that.
“I mean it,” she said. “You need a night off.”
No, he didn’t. Kieran needed to stay busy. The unease and twitchiness he’d always felt was stronger than ever. It was as though he could sense something big was going to happen. And when things happened to Kieran, they were always bad. He hoped all hell wasn’t going to break out that night. Kieran was tired—exhausted, really. He could fight but hoped he wouldn’t have to. “If I hear anything going wrong, I’ll get inside.”
With a roll of her eyes, Dakota climbed into the back seat. He slammed the door closed before motioning the other agents where he wanted them. He’d be the one closest to the opening. He wasn’t kidding. If he thought she was in danger, he wouldn’t care what he had to do to get to Dakota.
Inside the dark vehicle, Dakota was pulling off her shirt. Kieran walked to the back so he’d be able to open the hatch when she was ready.
As he waited, he looked around with a fierce look. A couple of the humans gawking started to shuffle where they stood. He was intimidating and he knew it. Kieran dared anyone to come close.