Unnaturals, page 1
DEAN J ANDERSON
Unnaturals tried to kill Mason Douglas and his family.
He became The Butcher, a cold relentless Hunter with a vendetta that took him across the world.
And now, on his return home to Australia - to mend his heart, soul and family - his destiny collides with a millennia-old struggle between strange Gods. Their prize is Earth. Their warriors are warring races of Unnaturals: the Bloodells and the Darkells.
As an unlikely alliance forms between Natural and Unnatural - between the Douglas clan and the Darkells - Mason's family grows in unexpected ways… not all of whom are human.
Sparks fly, lust inspires, and love ignores all the boundaries as the very definition of family changes.
Prepare to push your boundaries.
Without their unwavering support and understanding this novel would not exist.
For my wife and son, Elaine and Thomas, for keeping me sane and grounded.
To my other family, the Bundy Writers Club, especially Enid and Sanders.
Without them I would have never had the courage to do this.
Fear tainted the air.
Mason didn't care. He ignored the stares of the Londoners giving him a wide berth in the street. The girl, nothing more than a shadow to the people passing him by, was all he wanted. The lights of a passing bus made her shy away, back into the darkness of a closed doorway.
`Mason?' Max's voice came as a whisper in his tiny earpiece. `You're drawing attention. Move.'
He didn't reply. He knew Max was across the street, ready and armed.
`Hell, Mason. Try to control it...'
Mason moved. The girl had disappeared into the doorway and he followed. Steps led downwards, out of the cold rain and into the abandoned Underground. Traffic noise faded. The dusty platform showed no signs of her passing. He dropped onto the tracks, moving down the tunnel.
He stopped. Stood motionless in the darkness. Listening, slowing his heartbeat and sharpening his hearing.
There. A whisper of a heartbeat that wasn't his.
`Mason!' The word boomed in his ear and he ripped out the earpiece, crushing it under a heel. No distractions this time.
A whisper from the darkness. `You're good.'
`You're not bad yourself,' he said, moving towards her, one step at a time. She moved and he focused, seeing her clearly. Long dark hair rustled as she brushed wayward strands off a pale face. She looked almost familiar.
`So,' she said, cautious. `You know what you're getting yourself into here?'
`Uh-huh.' He took a slow breath, pushing down the urge building inside.
Her fingers touched the scars on his neck, trailing down to his chest. `You're no stranger to pain.'
`No,' he whispered.
`No one normal does this.' He touched her hair, inhaling her sweet scent. He could barely taste the taint buried deep in the pheromones she gave off.
`No,' she agreed, unbuttoning his shirt. `Oh my.'
The cool of her hands on his chest caught his breath. He controlled a tremor as she traced a finger across the huge flame-shaped scar on his chest. `Where did you get this?'
`Back home in Australia.' He remembered Australia. The blood. The pain. The darkness rose up in him. `A car bomb at my parents' funeral.'
She pressed against him. Her scent changed to equal parts hunger and fear. `Fuck!'
It didn't matter. He had her.
Mason grabbed her around the neck as she bit into his chest. Her nails tore at flesh that was now rock hard. He ripped her away and held her at arm's length, her feet flailing in mid-air.
`Where have they gone?'
`Butcher! Screw you!' she spat back at him.
Razor sharp nails raked uselessly against his face. He squeezed her tighter.
`Where have the Bloodells clans gone into hiding? Tell me!' He shook her hard. Her foot lashed out, missing his face. He hurled her against the brick wall and was on her before she could recover.
`Just kill me, you fucking animal,' she hissed, writhing under his weight. Mason held her wrists tightly in his hands, leaning in close.
`Maybe.' He looked down at her. They all deserved to die. But there was something about this one. A leg lashed his back. `Stop it,' he growled, pressing down harder, cracking a rib.
`Bastard,' she snarled. `Why should I tell you anything? You'll kill me anyway.' Pheromones swirled thick around him, trying to distract him.
`Enough of that.' He pressed down and heard two more ribs crack.
`Okay!' she howled. `What was left of the Bloodells fled the Americas. You hunted most of them down. Guess it took them a while to understand how big a freak you are.'
`I didn't choose this. You chose to accept their sickness, all for the thrill and glimpse of what it would be like to be one of them. You chose to be a hybrid.'
`Not everyone had a choice.' She held his eyes, letting him see into her. Mason relaxed. He could see no lie in her.
`Very well. You're not a willing follower.' He moved so she could breathe easier. `Tell me more about the Bloodells.'
`Why? You're just going to kill me.'
`Bloodells killed my mother and father and tried to kill my wife and son.' He watched her closely. She reminded him of someone. `But you're the first unwilling hybrid I've met. Maybe you're not one of them.'
`No, I'm just something they feed from and fuck when they want. I don't know anything, other than they took everything they had, like they weren't coming back soon.' She went still. `Is he with you?' she asked, nodding towards the third heartbeat that had entered their space.
`Uh-huh.' He sighed and stood up. `What's your name?'
She scrambled to her feet. `Reagan,' she muttered, looking at her clothes. Max flicked on his torch. `Hey, easy with that!'
Mason studied her in the bright spotlight. Her eyes were half-closed as she clutched protectively at her torn, blood-smeared blouse. Almost human, he thought, and nodded, agreeing with himself.
`Not that one, Max. Use the other.'
`Other what?' Reagan squinted into the light.
Max shot her with the tranquiliser gun. Twice.
Mason sat in the quiet of the saloon car. Lights and rain washed over it as they raced through the night. The hybrid slumped beside him, leg bumping against his, warming where it touched. He let it stay.
`We could have put her in the boot,' Max said, looking up from his tablet. `Blood on the leather seats never looks good.'
`She's fine,' Mason murmured, rolling the wedding ring on his finger.
`We can fly to the US tonight and set up a command centre in our Washington offices.'
`No.' Mason looked out and up into the night. A tear formed at the faded memory of a place far away. Scents and faces blossomed in his mind's eye.
`I'm going home.' Goosebumps covered his skin. `Tonight.'
`Does she know you're coming? I mean, you haven't spoken of this — to me.'
`Ruth knows.' Mason glanced at the hybrid beside him. `Look after this one, Max. She's not a willing hybrid, more a victim. Remember, her name is Reagan.'
`Done. Does Sir Robert know you're leaving for a break?'
`I'm not coming back to this, Max.' He swallowed an anger he knew Max didn't deserve. `And Sir Robert will do as he is instructed.'
Mason closed his eyes, shutting out Max's tight face. He had made Max remember that he was someone to be frightened of. Damn.
`I've set up offices in Sydney for you, if you want to come.'
`Yes, serious,' Mason said, relieved. `Might even show you how to surf.'
`Surf?' The hybrid slurred, trying to sit up. `Hey!' she squawked, struggling against her bonds. `Bastards.'
`Night-night.' Max darted her again.
Mason lifted her head, brushing strands of hair off her face. He caught the look Max gave him. `She reminds me of Ruth.' He rested her head on the headrest.
`Oh,' Max said, colour touching his face.
`Relax. She's staying here with the Fund. I want her trained and…cared for. She might be useful to the Fund. Get her settled and come over.'
`We're nearly here,' Mason watched the lights of his private airstrip grow brighter. He needed to say it before he left. They had done so much together. `Max, you know why I have to stop now.'
`But they're still out there.'
`Maybe so, but,' Mason took a deep breath as they came to a stop beside his jet, `we're not much better than them now. We have to stop. I have stopped.' The car slowed and he stepped out into the night without looking back.
Max didn't get out. He watched the jet take off, feeling odd as the lights disappeared in the sky.
`So he finally did it.'
Max started as the comms screen lit up. `You knew? How come I wasn't briefed about this?' He could feel his ears burn as Sir Robert stared back at him.
`Maxwell, you were part of the problem. Mason hunted and you enabled. It had to end like this for Mason to survive as a person, otherwise…'
`But the Bloodells are still a threat, Grandfather. They will…' Max shut his mouth as Sir Robert held his hand up.
`The sanity of our heir is of more importance. If Mason had finally lost control I would have been forced to act.'
Max swallowed and sank back into his seat. `You would have done that? Acted against Mason?'
`You know him better than any of us in the Fund. What would happen if he was Mason no more but just the thing he calls Butcher? Tell me, Max — how would you control Butcher without killing him?'
Max was silent for a moment as hundreds of scenarios and strategies flashed though his mind. None of them worked.
`I see you understand now,' Sir Robert said. `Who else is with you?' he added as the hybrid stirred.
`A hybrid Mason wants us to help,' Max said, rubbing his face. `She's an Unwilling, Mason said. Wants us to shelter and train her within the Fund. `
`Compassion and an interest in an Unnatural? So, Mason has begun to heal.'
`It was strange tonight. His abilities have increased, but with her,' Max nodded at the hybrid, `he showed restraint. Even said she reminded him of Ruth.'
`She?' Sir Robert pursed his lips. `He saw this hybrid as a woman not an Unnatural then?'
`Yes. He has never done that before. He said her name was Reagan.'
`Well then, let us hope Ruth's plan to bring him home works. The thought of it has obviously already had an effect on Mason.'
`Do you think she can do it — pull the family back together? It's been a year since she left with Wilson.' Max tapped the divider window and the saloon car moved off.
`You didn't spend a lot of time with him before all this. Mason has always been intense, even more so with his family. If Ruth and Mason can reconnect again, then the Douglas family will have a chance. That's why you're going to Australia, my boy. To make sure that they do, and I've made sure the Sydney office has everything you will need.'
`When you say everything—?'
`Weapons, air support and security staff to handle any possible threat.'
`Does Mason know?'
`Maybe, but it doesn't matter. Where the Douglas Family goes, the Fund is there, ready.' Sir Robert leaned closer to the screen, his eyes filling it. `Do whatever it takes — just keep them safe.'
`Yes, sir,' Max said, watching Sir Robert fade from the comms screen. `Whatever it takes.'
Mason stood with his eyes closed. Around him the forest sang its chorus to the morning sun. A cool breeze carried scents he had missed for so long. He leaned against the balcony railing, arms outstretched as the sunrise warmed him. This was home.
He heard the shower stop running. Ruth was coming. From downstairs came the sound of Wilson returning from his surf. Mason could hear the sand squeak on the tiles and the thud of a surfboard being placed in its rack.
Ruth's scent reached him first. Her wet body pressed against his back. `Hey. You okay?'
`Like you would not believe,' he said, enjoying having her against him. `You okay? It was…intense.'
`Make-up sex is the best.' Ruth hugged him tight. `I'm not delicate anymore, Mason. I wanted you.' She slipped a hand down and cupped him, nails pinching slightly. `And if I wasn't so hungry now, we could christen the new balcony.'
`Careful, Mrs Douglas,' Mason said, smiling as he turned around. `Your actions say otherwise.'
He brushed wet strands of dark hair away from her blue eyes, wanting to love her again.
Ruth's grip tightened and hard nipples pressed against him.
`I want you so much,' she said, letting him go and stepping back. `But I'm starving and Wil won't wait any longer to see you.'
`Have you two got clothes on yet?' Wil shouted from downstairs.
`See?' Ruth said, waving her hand at him. Mason smiled and walked inside after her. `Here.'
Mason caught the shorts tossed at him and Ruth tied a sarong around her waist.
`Brekkie on the balcony, Wilson!' Ruth hollered, and Mason found himself grinning. This was just like it had been before. Ruth pushed him and Mason wandered on to the big balcony.
Mason turned, his smile fading a fraction. A tall, tanned young man stood before him. The scars on his chest and shoulder said he was Wilson.
`Hey Wil.' Mason blinked, surprised at how tall his son had grown. His boy had become a young man. `Holy crap, come here.' Mason took Wilson in his arms. A tremor went through Wilson and Mason hugged him tighter.
`Easy,' Wilson said, slowly breaking off the hug. `Don't want a cracked rib, do we now?'
`No.' Mason tried to not sniffle; everything felt so intense.
`How's Mum? I mean,' Wilson said, looking past him with worry on his face. `She's been different since…you came back, and last night…' His face went red.
`She's fine,' Mason said with a small nod. `But I know what you mean. She's a lot stronger but still her.'
Mason stood watching Wilson shuffle, uncomfortable with the subject. Damn, the boy had grown.
`Sit down, you two.' Ruth appeared beside them with a platter of sliced fruit.
`Jeez, Mum,' Wilson moaned as Mason sat at the table with him. `I gotta be more specific about the clothes thing again, do I? The sarong is supposed to cover all of you, not just the bottom half.' He waved at her bare top. `I thought we'd worked it out about you not wearing clothes around the house?'
`You're the only one who complains,' Ruth said with a smile, glancing at Mason. `It never worried you before.'
`Yeah, well.' Wilson's ears coloured.
`It doesn't worry Sally when she stays here.' Ruth smiled.
`Sally?' Mason nearly choked on his slice of rockmelon. `The girl you met last time we were on the island?'
Mason understood then as he watched Wilson. `Sally stays here? You mean you're—'
`Dating for over a year now,' Ruth said. She nibbled on her watermelon. `She's been a big part of our life here. She came to see Wilson after we got back, even stayed in the hospital here when Wilson had surgery. I like her and she's part of the family. That's why Wilson is staying with her on the island for the next few weeks.'
`Family. Island?' Mason's head ached for a moment. Everything was moving so fast. He'd missed so much. `She knows about—?'
`No.' Wilson looked him in the ey
`Ready?' Mason felt his mouth move. They had accepted him back without hesitation. Butcher didn't exist here.
`Mason.' Ruth took his hands. `We want to be a family again. We want you back, here with us.'
`We do.' Wilson's hand joined his mother's. `No matter what's happened, you're still my dad.'
`I… I'm not good at this.'
`We know. That's why you need us and…we need you. So, you up for two weeks on Wreck Island then? After all, it is your birthday.' Ruth stood up and Mason felt his heartbeat increase as he looked at her. He loved the island. It was their special place. He'd met her there.
`We leave today?'
`Yep. We've got our own villa and Wil is staying with Sally and her mum.'
Wilson stood up. `The morning ferry leaves in two hours and I need to let Sal know if we're coming over.' Mason could not miss the excitement in his voice.
`Sounds like a plan. A good one.' Mason sat back in his chair, relieved.
`Right, I'll call Sal and let her know. Good to have you back, Dad.' Wilson disappeared down the stairs.
`I've missed so much,' Mason muttered as Ruth hugged him.
`Yes, but now you're here.' Her sarong fell away and she sat on the table in front of him. A leg flicked over his head and she pulled him towards her. `I've already sent clothes over to the island and we've got two hours to kill. Take your pants off.'
Wilson pressed redial on his mobile. Sally was the only one he called. Sounds he didn't need to hear wafted down from the balcony.
`Christ,' he muttered, walking outside onto the lawn, away from the house.
`Hey. You've reached Sally, please leave a message.' Her voice always made him smile.
`It's me, Sal. We're coming over this morning. Dad's coming with us and it's all cool.' Wilson paused, thinking about her. `Sal, it means a lot that that you're doing this, being here now. See you soon.' He stared at the touch screen for a moment, and then looked up. Alert. The trees had fallen silent.
`You're shitting me!' he cursed, dropping the phone onto a garden seat. `You really aren't all that smart, are you? Coming here.' Wilson grabbed the small crowbar he'd left outside after training.