Mackenzie mckade, p.1
Mackenzie McKade, page 1
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Copyright © 2008 by Mackenzie McKade
Edited by Angela James
Cover by Scott Carpenter
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: January 2008
For my readers who support me and who have given me so much in return with their emails and letters. To my critique buddies, especially Sharis Mayer, who stepped up and helped me during my time of need. Thank you.
For the umpteenth time Tammy Ryan’s long blonde hair fell before her eyes. “Where’s a hair tie when I need it?” She tucked the errant lock behind her ear, before continuing to flip through the stack of papers verifying page numbers. “Un…deux…trois…” She counted in French. Everyone had a fantasy. Her dream was to visit Paris someday. Everything about the city on the Seine was seductive—including the men. The thought put a short-lived smile on her face as she raised her gaze and looked around. This place was a far cry from her dreams. The grind of the printer spitting out the rest of the packet was the only sound in the large room. It was a cubicle maze. One of fifty people, she spent her days trying to find a way out of the humdrum routine that had become her life since she’d left Boise, Idaho.
No family to hold her there, Tammy had come to Phoenix three months after her father’s death. She’d never known her mother, because the woman had skipped town shortly after Tammy’s birth. She sucked in a breath, then released it slowly. Damn. She missed her father.
The heavy smell of ink rose overroding the various scents of the day, except for the stale cup of black coffee and half-eaten tuna sandwich she had placed in the trash can at her feet.
“Aie!.” Tammy squirmed in her chair, trying to relieve the tingling in her right leg. It was a wonder every extremity wasn’t numb. What did she expect, sitting too long behind a desk?
A sudden clunk, the printer halted signaling the last of her job was finished. “It’s about time.” She set the pages she was reviewing down on the desk before her. The carpet muffled any sound as she slid the chair from beneath her desk and rose. Lucky for her the printer was only three cubicles down, just enough time to work the feeling back into her leg.
It was almost midnight. The two-story building was empty, except for the security guard. George was seventy-two, past retirement, but held on for the sake of benefits. Around nine he had checked in on her, but if she knew him, he was probably slumped over his desk fast asleep. Not much happened on a Monday night. Hell, who was she kidding? Not much happened in the life of an underwriter. Long hours meant no social life. It was the nature of the beast. She wasn’t really complaining.
The hell she wasn’t.
Tammy worked twenty-four/seven, ate dinner at her desk, and couldn’t remember the last time she’d left work when the sun was still up. Each night when she finally made it home, her apartment was empty. But what was worse—her bed was cold. If she ever did take a day off, she spent it alone.
Last week she had sworn things would change. She hadn’t planned on working late tonight. A trip to Home Depot to pick out a Christmas tree had been on her schedule. Yet the Emerson’s mortgage papers had to be on her boss’s desk first thing tomorrow morning. Just her luck to have inherited the most screwed-up deal in all of Arizona—or at least Phoenix.
A drawn-out yawn confirmed the late hour. Even her steps took on a lethargic pace as she stepped into the printer room. The copies were still warm when she picked them up and thumbed through the pages. “All here.” A breath of relief met the final page.
A new bounce rose in her step as she headed back to retrieve the rest of the packet. Carefully, she added the remaining pages to the stack and headed for mahogany row. Where her desk was made of cold steel, her boss’s was the richest of wood, dark and expensive. Usually off-limits, he had left the door unlocked for her. Now all she had to do was deliver the mortgage papers and she was out of there. Tammy set the package square in the middle of the desk and turned quickly to leave. As she pulled the door closed, she listened for the click to ensure it locked, and then padded back to her cubicle.
Without delay, she swiped her mouse over the pad and shut down her computer. Her purse was already on her desk, it had been sitting there since five o’clock when Mr. Cox informed her that her night wasn’t over. She grabbed the bag, swung it over her shoulder, and headed for the elevator. Stopping before the shiny gray doors, she hesitated, pressing the button only a second, wondering whether she should turn off the lights
“Nah…” That would leave her in total darkness. The guard could take care of it. Besides, she was tired and for some odd reason the skin on her arms was prickling. Even the moan of the elevator opening put her on edge. Call it intuition or just plain silliness, but something didn’t feel right tonight. Maybe she was just worrying about the quality of her work so late at night. One page out of order and she’d hear about it tomorrow. Should she go back and re-count the pages?
No. No. No. Tammy stepped inside and pushed the lobby button and the doors closed. She was through for the night. A sudden jerk had her grasping the rail. When the elevator pulled to a halt and opened, she stepped out. George was just where she knew he’d be, slumped over his desk and fast asleep. She smiled, moving quietly not to disturb him. The glass door was heavy as she pushed it open and stepped outside into the cool air. The door swung shut, automatically locking as an iridescent glow surrounding the full moon caught her attention. She’d never seen anything like it. Eerie, yet beautiful.
From out of nowhere something struck her, hard. With the speed and impact of a semi-truck, the thrust ripped her off her feet and sent her flying through the air. Street lights and the surrounding buildings were a blur distorted by the force.
When she hit the ground, her vision darkened. Teeth scraped teeth, jarring to make that skin-crawling, grinding sound. Stars burst behind her eyelids. She couldn’t breathe. Every place on her body ached as she lay face down on the cold sidewalk.
Tammy didn’t have time to think—to move—before her assailant pinned her with his weight. He was big, covering her tall frame with ease. The pressure of his fingertips against her back felt more like nails digging into her flesh.
Raw fear rose quickly, tearing through her like a cyclone. Legs kicking wildly, she attempted to roll over—face her attacker—but she was helpless in her current position.
Terrified, a scream crawled up her throat only to be snuffed out as something sharp clamped around her waist. Intense pain blinded her. She couldn’t find her voice. Desperately she swung balled fists behind her, connecting with a furry mass and hard bone. A pang exploded in her hand, but that didn’t stop her. Tammy fought with everything she had.
In retaliation her assailant raised her into the air, shaking her as if she were a rag doll. It didn’t matter that she weighed one-t
Air stripped from her lungs. She went rigid. Tammy had never felt such excruciating pain as he shook her unmercifully. The result was a million sharp knives thrusting into her waist and ribcage.
Frantically, she continued to pummel whatever had her in its grip. Like a rush of fire ants, a scream burned up her throat. But when it released, the strangled sound came out a weak cry, almost a sob.
Before rational thought returned, her assailant began to move. Each step pushed the blades deeper into her sides. Held in what only could be described as a demon’s embrace, the glow of Christmas and street lights were ribbons of color blending together as he increased his pace. Fast and furiously, he headed toward a building that would hide them away from the traffic. If he succeeded, Tammy would have no chance of being rescued.
Her lips parted again on a scream. But still nothing emerged except a gurgle. The taste of blood filled her mouth.
Between patches of scenery and the haunting moonlight, she glimpsed the sidewalk and thought she saw paws, sharp black claws, and fur-covered legs.
Was she hallucinating? Her attacker couldn’t possibly be a dog.
Tammy tried to rationalize what was happening to her. Costume? It was two weeks before Christmas, not October. Halloween was over. Still it had to be a costume.
Even as she pushed the irrational thought from her mind an odd scent touched her nose. Wild and musky, the aroma was almost pungent.
Tammy wasn’t a little woman, five-nine and curvy, which meant she had meat on her bones. A Saint Bernard, even a Great Dane wasn’t large enough to grip her waist with its mouth. Oh God. She’d heard of wild animals coming down from the high country when there wasn’t enough food for them. Could it be a mountain lion or a wolf? Whatever carried her behind the four story building they approached did so as if she weighed nothing.
Again, the sharp sensation of a steel trap tightening around her mid-section made her scream. But her cry was suffocated, lost somewhere between her diaphragm and her quivering lips.
Tremors rippled through her, shaking her until her vision blurred. Like a hot slice of steel the burn was penetrating. The agony that followed felt as if her belly was being ripped apart.
She was going to die tonight and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
With a jolt, her assailant came to an abrupt stop. She tumbled from its jaws. The sudden release sent another wave of pain through her body as she collapsed in a fetal position on the asphalt parking lot. The scent of oil rose up to meet her.
Tammy tried to rise, but it hurt too much to move. A trembling hand placed below her breasts confirmed what she already knew. There was no way she was going to make it out of this alive. Whatever had attacked her had nearly torn her stomach wide open. Her hands were wet. Bloody.
Scuffles, grunts and cries of what sounded like a fight came from beside her. Odd animalistic noises ripped through the night like they belonged in the jungle instead of the streets of Phoenix, Arizona.
Through a haze she glanced toward the scuffling and her mind froze. The shadow of a man flew through the air—not leaped or jumped—but flew, crashing into the largest wolf Tammy had ever seen. The wolf’s eyes glowed red; his jaws wrenched wide, his teeth dripped with saliva as he growled and then he lunged.
On impact the two creatures molded together, hitting the ground to skid across the unforgiving asphalt. Twisting and turning, the man pushed from the wolf just as its razor sharp teeth snapped the air, missing him.
An acute ache radiated through Tammy’s abdomen. She shook, closing her eyes, trying to bear the agony as she heard bones snapping—breaking.
Whimpers and growls and a passing car funneled through her head. A bang—something fell making a tinny noise. She opened her eyes to see a trash can rolling across the parking lot.
In an exhibit of strength, the man raised the wolf and tossed him through the air to collide against the building. The animal released a sickening cry as it fell to the ground. The metallic scent of blood filled the air.
Hers—theirs? God, she couldn’t think right.
The throb in Tammy’s chest and abdomen was becoming unbearable. She struggled to remain conscious. Her eyelids felt heavy as she fought to keep them open. She was so tired. Cold.
For a moment silence reigned. Man and beast faced each other. Their chests rose and fell rapidly.
Tammy fought for another breath. A gasp. Wheeze. Another gasp. Her blood felt thick, sluggish, as if it were forced through her veins. Yet she knew it was flowing freely as she looked down at the red soaking her shirt. She held her shaky palms to her mid-section and prayed for help before it was too late.
A dangerous hiss similar to the sound of a semi’s airbrakes pushed from between the man’s lips. The wolf returned a series of threatening growls before he jumped to his feet and attacked.
The fight began anew.
The heavy breathing and grunts that had rung in Tammy’s ears were beginning to grow dim. Sounds were muffled, almost gone now. Even the pain was lessening as her eyelids slid closed. A quiet roar rumbled in her head, building to a crescendo before the last note of life was sung—her life.
She was dying.
“My pet, do you want to live?” A French accent broke through the haze her mind had become.
Tammy tried to lift her eyelids, but they refused to open. Her mouth slightly parted, but no words emerged.
She didn’t want to die.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” His laughter was a gentle caress, as he took her limp body into his arms. If she had wanted to fight him she couldn’t have—no energy remained.
Pain lanced her neck, and then it was gone with everything else.
“He has arrived.” A female voice caressed Marcellus Donne’s ears as he glanced over his shoulder. Dressed in tight leather pants and a matching halter top, Sasha swayed seductively toward him. The woman was petite, tiny but with full breasts which would usually set his body on fire, but not tonight.
Close behind her was Deirdre, so different from the other woman. Tall and slender, the white gown and turban she wore was a stark contrast to her dark skin. She reached out to him, her touch warm beneath his shirt as she stroked his arm.
Sashas’s lashes lowered as she took his other arm. Her gaze swept over him like a caress. “Do you have time to play, Master?” The tips of her fangs pressed into her bottom lip as it curved into a smile.
Marcellus looked at both women, and then stared into the flickering flames of the hearth. “Not tonight, my loves.” Truth was, he dreaded speaking to the leader of the lycanthropes. Their already stressed relationship hinged on Roark Lanier’s reaction to the death of his friend and pack-mate.
Regret? Yes. Yet Marcellus wouldn’t allow the lycanthrope to see his sorrow. The events of the night had been inevitable. Grady had attacked a human. When Marcellus tried to intervene, the werewolf turned on him. Rationalizing with Grady had not been a choice. Death had shown in the wolf’s eyes.
Marcellus inhaled the smoky scent of mesquite and listened to the pop and sizzle of the wood.
Concern pulled at Deirdre’s forehead. “Let us ease your mind.” She leaned into him, pressing her lips to his cheek.
If only it were that easy. “Thank you, but I am fine.” He forced the tension from his body, replacing it with a smile he didn’t feel. There was more than the wolf’s death that bothered him. Something silent and indescribable slinked beneath his skin. The sensation continued to nag him without mercy and that alone perplexed him. The attraction he experienced when he laid eyes upon the battered woman had been irresistible. When her blood had flowed through his veins, he had felt a bond develop that had never happened between him and another soul. His composure slipped—something that had rarely occurred. He had distanced himself from her, left her in the care of several of his people. But the truth was he wanted the woman.
In short, she was stunning—and deadly, as his men discovered when they had attempted to satisfy her needs. She had attacked and now they lay beneath the earth recuperating.
Sasha frowned. Her eyes narrowed as she pushed her brunette hair from her face. “She must be destroyed.” Words said with a certainty he should have felt but didn’t share.
For some reason the woman he had saved from dying made him feel alive again. Something he hadn’t felt in centuries. A gust of air squeezed from his lungs, when he finally yielded. “I know.” The idea of her death shouldn’t have brought him distress, but his stomach knotted just the same.
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