War: Chapter 1

He shuffled a few papers together in a pile on his desk and then set them aside before grabbing a different stack.  Rather than invest Mr. Ishi’s money directly into the center, he’d set up an investment fund.  From that, he funded several types of scholarships and grants.  Security deposits for kids getting their first apartments, emergency car repairs, clothes for seeking employment, and other needs.  It was rapidly becoming one of his favorite parts of the job.

Actually deciphering the applications, however…  Ted rubbed his eyes and winced.  Maybe he should have listened to Monica about having them be only online, but not all the kids had access to computers.  He’d set up a small computer lab there at the center, but perhaps he should consider expanding it.  Ted exhaled, then set the applications in a folder.  Magda and her crew would be arriving sometime today.  Perhaps he could convince Daniel and Ash to help.

There was a light rapping at the door.  “Come in.”  Ted looked up, expecting to see Margaret.  Then his face broke into a wide smile.  “Rebecca.  I wasn’t expecting you until next week.”  He stood up.

His ex-wife returned the smile.  “Plans changed at the last minute.  I hope you don’t mind me just dropping in.”  She shrugged, then looked around.  “Last time I saw this building it looked like setting it on fire would be doing it a favor.”

“We’ve put a lot of work in over the past couple years.”  He walked around the desk.  “Let me show you around.”

“Just show me to whatever room is emitting that heavenly smell.”  She nodded as they stepped into the hallway.

Ted laughed.  “Sister Margaret teaches a cooking class.  I believe this week is brownies.”  He gestured for her to follow him.  “And since she is a nun I suppose heavenly is accurate enough.”

Rebecca smiled warmly as he introduced her to the class.  He referred to her as an old friend rather than explaining to everyone that she was his ex-wife.  And it was true enough.  They’d been friends once, and after putting their disaster of a marriage behind them they’d managed to become friends again.  The kids let her taste the brownies, and she praised them all.

After the kids filed out, he turned toward her.  “So what does bring you to town?”

“I realized I’m still paying rent on that storage unit on Fifteenth.  Since I don’t recall what is in it, I thought I should check with you before heading over.”  Rebecca shrugged.

“I remember it being a lot of boxes that we never unpacked after we moved from Oregon, but beyond…”  He frowned, then waved a hand.  “That might be where all those linens are.”

“Oh, the ones we collected in Europe?”  She started nodding.  “I think you’re right.”  She gave him a hesitant look.  “Dibs?”

“All but the French ones?”  He raised an eyebrow.  Magda was going to be staying with them, after all.




Truth and Shadows

She took a deep breath, then checked her tape recorder again and did another mic check.  Everything was still in working order.  And just in case it wasn’t, she still had her notebook.  Though the guards had insisted she use a felt tipped pin instead of anything that could be used as a weapon.  That made her even more nervous.  What the hell was she doing here?

The job advertisement was something she would have passed by, had she not still been flying a little high from her little adventure under the pier.  She’d almost called him up when she realized she’d forgotten to give him back his handcuffs.  They’d been sitting on her desk when she’d fired off the resume.

Diana Valerio, intrepid girl reporter.  Ace reporter.  Oh god, there were footsteps coming down the hall.  She set the pen back down and pasted a friendly smile on her face.  Somehow, she managed to keep it on as the guards set about securing the prisoner to the other chair.  Unlike hers, it had been bolted to the floor.  The man they were shackling to it looked every inch the stereotype of a scary black man.  He was well over six feet in height, with pounds of prison muscle packed onto this frame.  A scar ran down the left side of his face, from hairline to jaw, and she was surprised to see he still had the eye.  She could see tattoos visible on his neck as well as on his clean-shaven head, and from the looks of things his nose had been broken several times.

His hands were secured behind his back with heavy duty manacles, and his ankles were also fastened to the chair.  The guards didn’t stop there.  They also put leather straps on his legs and chest to keep him firmly fastened in place.  She found herself hoping he didn’t get an itchy nose.  Then she found herself hoping the restraints weren’t actually necessary.

As soon as the guards left the room, she took a deep breath.  “Mr. Viteri, thank you for agreeing to my request for an interview.”

“Ma’am.”  He inclined his head in her direction.  He shrugged.  “Guy in the cell next to me owes me ten cigarettes.”  His voice was surprisingly soft and pleasant, with a bit of a drawl.

“Um…”  She tilted her head.  “May I ask why?”

“Told him I was going to be talking to a woman named Diana today.  He bet me you’d be more Amanda Waller than Wonder Woman.”

“I hope he pays up.”  She smiled.  “Is that why you agreed to an interview?”  Her new boss hadn’t expected her to actually get the interview.  The man before her had turned away dozens already.  Given the man’s predilections, she was fairly confident her looks weren’t why he

“Forty requests this month.  But yours started with a please and ended with a thank you.”  He shrugged again.  “I am a southern boy, ma’am.  Good manners go a long way.”

“I will keep that in mind.”  She nodded.

“You also pointed out that you hadn’t read the books already written about my case.  Just the trial notes.  Said you wanted to get my side of the story without risking their influencing your views.”  He smiled.  “That’s the part that got you the interview, ma’am.  Reporters should have an open mind.”

“Thank you, Mr. Viteri.”  She took a deep breath.  “Would you like to start?”

“I’ve got some time.”  He winked at her.

“Alright then…”  This time the smile was genuinely friendly.  She’d been worried he was going to be hostile or confrontational.  This might go well.  “Shall we start in high school?”

“Rather not.”  He shook his head.  “High school set the scene, but it isn’t really where things got started.”

“Your lawyer cited bullying…”

“Ma’am, I think the fact that I’m in here kinda suggests he wasn’t a great lawyer.”

“Fair point.  So set the scene for me.”  The tape recorder was running, but she picked up the pen anyway.

“I was bullied in high school.  Skinny, broke, nerdy, black, and gay.”  He nodded.  “Pretty much the absolute lowest you could get in Bailey.  I skipped a few grades on account of the nerdy, or things might have been different.”  He glanced down at himself.  “I was kind of a late bloomer.”

“I see.”

“Thing is, that’s a common story.  You can walk down the street and run into a dozen people with the same one.  High school had good parts and…”  He looked up at her.  “It bother you if I cuss?”

“I want your words, Mr. Viteri.”

“High school had good parts and shit parts, and on the whole, it didn’t bother me too much.  But like I said, it sets the scene.  I got bullied particularly hard by a bunch at the top.  You know the names.”

She looked down at her notes.  “Timothy Bradford, Elliot Mercer, Arlo Velin…”  She looked back up at him.  “Paden and Tobias Grady.”  She didn’t miss the slight flicker across his eyes at the last name.

“High school is the time in your life when you’re still figuring out who and what you are.  Where you start making your first real decisions.  But it doesn’t define you.  That part comes a little bit later.  So, uh…”  He chuckled a little.

“Mr Viteri?”  She raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry, it’s just…”  He took a deep breath.  “You asked where my story starts and uh…”  He shrugged, making the shackles rattle a little.  “Hope you’ll forgive me for not being able to resist, but uh…”  He smiled.  “It really did begin on a dark and stormy night…”


Archeology 101: Chapter 12 – The End

Abigail kept her hands under Khait’s shoulders, carrying him by his armpits while Bridget got his legs.  Together they lifted him onto her bed and laid him down.  “Alright.”  Bridget took a few deep breaths.  “Alright.” She swallowed.  “Alright.”

“Is it?”  Abigail stared down at Khait.

“He’s breathing, so…”  Bridget put her hand on his forehead as if to check his temperature.  “Maybe we should call an ambulance.”

“And tell them…”  Abigail sat down on the side of the bed.  “What would we tell them?  We don’t even…”  She hung her head.  “He got food poisoning from bad Italians?”

Bridget barked a laugh, then put her hands over her mouth.  “Abby.”

“Yeah?”  Abigail took Khait’s hand.

“I’m not sure, but uh…”  She exhaled.  “I think I strangled a man.”

“Either that or you beat him to death, because he didn’t move a hell of a lot while I was cutting off…”  Abigail trailed off.  “Bridget I cut off a man’s finger.”  Her eyes widened.  “Oh, god, Bridget, your hand.”

“Yeah it’s…”  Bridget looked down at the blisters on her hand.  “Okay, adrenaline is starting to wear off and I think I might need some ice and some vodka and some dilaudid and some prozac.”  She swallowed.  “Maybe not in that order.”

“I have ice and vodka.”  Abigail stood.

“Okay.  Let’s start with those.”  Bridget started toward the kitchen.

She got halfway down the hall when a horrible thought struck her.  “Bridget, do any of those guys know where you live?”

“Well they…”  Bridget gave her a horrified look.  “They knew who I was and tracked me down in…”  Her voice became small and hopeful.  “In Rome, and we aren’t in Rome right now so maybe they can’t find us here?”

“We will have some time at…”  Abigail made a growling sound, then went back to her closet.

“Abbey, what are you doing?”  Bridget followed.

“I am…”  Abigail yanked the box off the top shelf and typed in the combination.  Then she picked up the handgun and started looking it over.  She caught Bridget staring, and raised an eyebrow.  “Come on, sugar.  You aren’t the only one whose daddy was a soldier.”

“I’ve got a 45 and a shotgun.”  Bridget nodded.  Then she tilted her head.  “Maybe we should skip the vodka.”

“But not the ice.”  Abigail gave the hand a pointed look.

“No.”  Bridget turned for the kitchen again.  “Definitely not the ice.”


Archeology: Chapter 11

He stared at the man wearing the ring, then turned toward Bridget.  “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.”  Her eyes were tight enough that he knew she wasn’t completely honest, and when his eyes went toward her hand he noticed bruises and cuts.  Bridget shook her head.  “I’m sorry, Khait.  I tried to —”

Lothar started laughing.  “Wow.”  He smirked at Khait.  “She actually thinks you care.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Guess burying you in the desert didn’t rob you of your charm.”

“I told you, Lothar…”  Khait smiled.  “It’s just not going to work out.”  He narrowed his eyes.  “You’re not my type.”  He glanced at Abigail and gave her what he hoped was a comforting smile.  “This is why you shouldn’t date werewolves.”  She returned the smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes.  “They get clingy, start humping your leg, and —”

“You weren’t kidding.”  The man wearing the ring rubbed his face.  “He really doesn’t know how to shut up.”  He shook his head.  “You’ll not speak again without permission.”

Khait glared at him, but the ring’s power forced him to silence.  “Leave him alone.”  Abigail turned to glare at the man.  Dammit.  He needed some way to get her and Bridget out of here.


Archeology 101: Chapter 10

He lay on the sand, watching the sun set over the ocean.  Abigail’s head rested on his chest.  Khait curled an arm around her shoulder.  She snuggled into him, the stuffed cat in her arms.  It was the only one of the prizes she’d kept.  The rest she’d given away to children as they explored the pier.  “Did they have anything like that in ancient Egypt?”

“Surprisingly yes.”  When she gave him a disbelieving look, he shrugged.  “Games and the like, on market days.  A few small rides.  Like the spinning swings.”

“Okay.  Tell me the truth.”  She raised her head to rest on her hand as she stared at him.  “Did aliens build the pyramids?”

“No.”  He shook his head.

“Dragons did it.”

“Actually, no.”  He shrugged.  “They were simply tombs for particularly arrogant Pharaohs.”

“That is…”  She sighed.  “So boring.”

“They made excellent decoys though.  People focused on the big things, and never went looking for the little ones.”

“Clever.”  Abigail put her head back on his shoulder.  “I’m still not putting out on the first date.”  Khait went still.  She raised her head again.  “Khait?”

“I…”  He gave an embarrassed laugh.  Then, in the second most out of character thing he’d done tonight, he decided to simply be honest.  “I’ve been having such a good time I completely forgot to seduce you.”

“That is simultaneously the sweetest…”  She leaned over to plant a light kiss on his lips.  She tasted of cotton candy and beer.  “And most disappointing thing a man has ever said to me.”

“So…”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Does that mean you’ll —”  A shadow fell over them.  “You are blocking our light.”

“Move.”  One of the four men waved at him.  “This is our spot.”

“Didn’t see your name on it.”  Abigail lay her head back on Khait’s shoulder.

“We said, move.”  One of the other men drew himself to his full and not inconsiderable height.

“Remember that cop at the airport?”  Abigail put her hand on Khait’s stomach.

“That one…”  Khait waved a hand, and a wet spot appeared on the front of the first man’s pants.  The man went wide-eyed.  “Or that one?”  The second man suddenly leaped into the air as smoke began pouring out of his pants.  He made a frantic screaming sound as he ran toward the water.

“The first one.”  Abigail snuggled into him.

“Right.”  Khait looked up at the now staring men and let his eyes go red and glowing.  “Bugger off.”

His arms went around Abigail to pull her in closer as the men fled.


Archeology 101: Chapter 9

She stood in the doorway, a cup of coffee in her hand.  Khait had shifted Bridget back to Rome before returning.  Then he’d more or less fallen face down on the bed and gone unconscious.  Asleep, he looked peaceful and innocent.  And delicious.  It was tempting to pounce, but considering what he’d said last night she was worried it wasn’t safe.

Abigail exhaled, and went into the living room.  She turned on her laptop and started working on her thesis notes.  It was a few hours before she sensed someone else in the room, and looked up to see Khait in the doorway, watching her.  He gave her an abashed sort of smile when he realized she was looking at him.  “You chew your lip when you type.  It is adorable.”

“Thanks.”  She hesitated a moment, then set the laptop down.  “We need to talk about last night.”

“Bridget summoned —”

“Okay.”  She held up her hand.  “We’ll talk about the you growing wings and killing people thing later, but just so we are clear…”  Abigail shrugged.  “Couple asshole serial killer rapist types end up fish food, I’m absolutely okay with that.  Doesn’t even register on the scale of bad to me.”

“Then…”  He walked into the room, and sat down on the floor in front of her.  “What is it you wish to speak of?”

“Uh…”  She shifted her weight a little.  “I kind of beat the hell out of you a little.”

“Oh, yes…”  He licked his lips.  “You enjoyed that.”

“Yes.  I did.  But uh…”  Abigail sighed.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have taken it that far.  It wasn’t —”


“I mean, I slapped —”


“And then I grabbed a belt and —”

“Abigail.”  He raised his voice a little.  When she stared at him, he started laughing.  “Abigail, I am an incubus.”

“Yes.  You’re into sex, I get that.”  She shook her head.  “But —”

“Abigail, my sweet darling…”  He laughed again.  “I do not think you quite do.  It is not the pleasure of the body, but the pleasure of the mind.  Your mind, in this specific case.”

“Uh…”  Abigail leaned back.  “You mean…”  She tilted her head.  “You mean if I’m enjoying myself so are you?”

“Precisely.”  He went to his knees in front of her.  “And the more you enjoy yourself…”  His finger trailed up her thigh.  “The more satisfying I find the experience.”

“Oh…”  She stared at him.  “Oh my god.”  He kissed the side of her leg.  “Oh my god, and you instinctively know what to do to…”  She exhaled.  “You are so damn dangerous.”

“Yes.”  He grinned, then it changed slightly.  He kissed her leg again, this time gently, before withdrawing a little.  “You are my hostess, Abigail.  It is not my intention to harm you in any way.”

“I…”  She nodded, then smiled at him.  “I know.”

“And right now, you should be working on your thesis.”  He stood.  “I will make you more coffee.”

“And —”

“Ham and egg with cheddar on a toasted croissant.”  He called back over his shoulder as he entered the kitchen.  “And a bag of jelly beans, heavy on the strawberry flavor, none of the black licorice.”

“Oh yeah.”  She grinned as she grabbed her laptop again.  “He’s dangerous.”


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 19 – The End

Yalathanil lay back on the bed, Greg half atop him.  The dark brown locks of Greg’s hair tickled Yalathanil’s chest, and he smiled at the sensation.  “Are you asleep?”

“Yes.”  Greg’s voice answered him.

“I want to defy the rules.  To stay.”  Yalathanil took a deep breath.

“That would leave your people ruled by Saelethil, and uh…”  Greg rolled to lay next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.  “Pretty sure that won’t work out well for humans in general.”

“I know.”  Yalathanil sighed.  “I wish I could show you my kingdom.  The world beneath the waves, shielded from…”  He rested his cheek on Greg’s head.  “To show you the beauty of my world as you showed me the beauty of yours.”

“Twix bars and farmer’s markets.”  Greg ran a hand over his chest.  “I hadn’t even begun showing you the marvels of the surface.”  He gave a small laugh.  “I haven’t even gotten you drunk yet.”  The laughter died on his lips.  “I won’t forget you, Yala.”

“Perhaps…”  Yalathanil closed his eyes.  “There will come a time when my people can reach up to yours.  When that happens…”  He held Greg close.  “I will remember you.”


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 18

Greg smiled when he saw Adele standing behind her father.  “They are alright.”

“She told you they were.”  Yala sat down next to him, and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Seeing is a bit different.”  Greg exhaled, then shifted to put an arm around Yala.  He glanced at the door to the other room.  “I mean, I believed her, I just…”  He took a deep breath.  “It’s been a long day.”

“Tell me again what Jim said.”  Yala brushed Greg’s hair off his shoulder.

“That you have to claim your throne no matter the cost.”  He couldn’t quite look at Yala when he said the words.  Yala claiming a throne would mean an end to something that had started to become very precious to him.  “That if you don’t…”

“If I do not…”  Yala lifted his head.  “Saelethil will.”  His fists clenched.  “Jim just left you there.”  He stood.  “Just…”  He growled.  “Left you in Xue’s hands.  With men willing to torture you and watch you die.”

“He said he didn’t have a choice.”  Greg started to stand.

Yala grabbed him, pulled him into an embrace, and kissed him.  Greg moved his hand to the back of Yala’s neck as he returned the kiss, savoring it.  He doubted they were going to have much more time together, and from the tension in Yala’s grip he knew it too.  Yala’s fingers went through his hair, and he made another soft growling sound.  “I won’t abandon you.”

“You have to go back, Yala.”  He touched his forehead to Yala’s.

“Not until I know you are safe.”  Yala caressed his cheek.  “And it will not be forever.  You have a boat, you said.”  He swallowed.  “We can visit.”

“That would break the laws of your people.”  They turned to see Mbaba standing there, holding a tray of food.  Her voice was gentle, and her eyes sympathetic.  She gave a small shake of her head.  “I know what you feel for him, Yalathanil.  I have felt it before.  It is how your father came to exist.”  She glanced at Greg, and gave him the smallest of nods before looking back at Yalathanil.  “He is human.  You are not.”

“It doesn’t…”  Yalathanil started shaking his head.

“Greg…”  Her eyes went to him again.  “Ask him how old he is.”

“Why is that…”  He trailed off as he stared at her, then he turned toward Yala.  “I —”

“I don’t know.”  Yala exhaled, his eyes half-closed.  “I do not understand how you mark the passing of time.”

“Yalathanil was born over four hundred years ago.”  Mbaba set the tray down.  “It will be nearly two thousand more before he needs to fear the passage of time.”  She took a deep breath.  “Despite such longevity, his people are few.  They withdrew from the surface because the alternative was their utter destruction, as befell the other shepherds.”  She leaned on the table, then give a small shake of her head.  Her eyes closed for a moment, then reopened.  “Treasure the next few days.”  She smiled, then reached up to brush a little of Greg’s hair back from his face.  “And then say your farewells.”


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 17

He could hear the groan of the metal through the water as the cage was ripped nearly in half.  Silt swirled up around them, making it impossible to see what was at the cage.  Greg felt Yala’s arms around him tighten, then he felt the other man shift into his fully aquatic form.  A kick of the powerful tail, and they were rocketing through the water away from the cage.  He wrapped his arms around Yala and hung on for dear life.

They came up together some distance from shore, with Yala shifting into the amphibious form as he surfaced.  “What…”  Greg glanced at him, and saw Yala giving a huge smile.  Xue’s ship was being dragged out in the other direction at a rapid speed.  “Yala?”

“She came.”  Yala laughed.  “She came.”


“Are you alright, Greg?”  Yala touched his cheek.

“I’m freezing, but yeah.”  Greg nodded.

“Yes.”  Yala frowned.  “Humans should be warmer than you are now.”  He shifted his grip on Greg and then began pulling him back toward the shore.

“How about you?”  Greg adjusted his position so he could kick with his own legs, as much to get his blood flowing again as to help Yala propel them.  “Are you alright?”

“I am tired.”  Yala nodded.  “I need to sleep, but then…”  He glanced at Greg.  “I will be fine.”

“Right.”  Greg exhaled.  “Let’s find a safe place to hole up and contact the girls.”


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 16

He managed to get a deep breath before the cage took them beneath the water.  The heavy metal sank quickly, and to his dismay the area they were in was proving to be rather deep.  Yala was still in his amphibious form, and he gave Greg a worried look before trying to bend the bars.  They gave, maybe a half centimeter.  Greg swam over, trying to put what strength he had into helping Yala.  Yala struck the bars in frustration before trying again.

The pressure was starting to make him lightheaded.  The cage hit the bottom, then slid to go just a bit deeper.  He felt his vision starting to go gray as he struggled to hold his breath just a little longer.  Then he felt Yala grab him and pull him close.  The merman’s mouth came down on his, sealing their lips together.  Then he felt Yala force air into his lungs.  Greg nodded when Yala pulled away, then went back to trying to bend the bars.  They managed another couple centimeters, but it was clear that Yala was still weakened from healing him.

Greg caught Yala’s arm, then felt Yala’s mouth on his again, giving precious air.  He tried to push Yala away, but the other man held him tightly.  As long as Yala was focusing his efforts on keeping Greg alive, he wasn’t going to recover enough strength to get free before Xue’s men hauled the cage up.  Greg tried shaking his head, only for Yala to simply grab a handful of his hair and hold him in place almost effortlessly.  The mouth on his became a kiss before going back to providing air.

His own arms went around Yala.  They’d just have to hope the girls could distract them long enough for Yala to recover.


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 15

Xue paced back and forth on the warehouse dock, looking out over the expanse of water.  Sael was one of the merfolk.  He’d attempted to give orders that the man be taken into custody, only to find said orders immediately countermanded.  The Cabal was sending a representative to look into the matter here.  And somehow, his guards had let one of the prisoners escape.  Everything was falling apart.

He glanced at the large iron cage.  His other captive sat inside, leaning against the bars.  Greg’s skin was pale, and his breathing labored, but he’d been assured that it could still take the man a couple days to die.  The setup was simple.  To heal Greg, the creature would have to enter the cage.  Then both could simply be taken back to the facility and secured.

The guards had tranquilizer guns in addition to their normal firearms.  A small part of him regretted ordering the girls to be killed.  He had rather liked them, before they’d betrayed him.  “People will investigate.”

The sound of Greg’s voice made him turn.  “I’m sure they will.”  He stared down at the younger man.

“Adele’s father…”  Greg swallowed before looking up at him.  “He’s a congressman.  He already knows.”

Adele’s father was a complication, but fortunately…  “My men are even now planting evidence.”  Xue smirked.  “Evidence that will show you lured the girls here with a story and killed them, along with a police officer and several others.”  He crouched down to look Greg in the eye.  “Even if you manage to escape again, all that will happen is you get taken to prison.”  He noted Greg’s glare.  “Where I’ll simply retrieve you, and well…”  He stood again.  “There will be consequences.”

Keeping Greg as a prisoner was simply pragmatic.  He’d bonded with the creature, somehow managing to communicate with it despite observation.  As he’d killed a few of the guards, the others were quite willing to help ‘convince’ him to cooperate.  Xue had already arranged an extra shock collar.

“Sir.”  One of the handlers drew his attention back to the present.  He looked over to see the man indicating a boat approaching.  “That looks like the boat from the garage.”

“Good.”  Xue smiled.  “Be ready.”


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 13

“I would feel much, much better if we had more guns.”  Adele looked down at the meager offerings.

“Or even just more bullets.”  Natalya sighed.  “Alright, we’ve got the 45 Greg took from the bad guys, and we’ve got Phil’s puny little backup ankle gun and…”  She looked up at Yala and Greg.  “You guys couldn’t have retrieved his sidearm while you were kidnapping him?”

“Bullets are the things that the gun spits out?”  Yala glanced at Greg.

“Yep.”  Greg nodded.

“Also known as ammunition.”  Phil shrugged.  Then he tilted his head at Natalya.  “Puny?”

She held the gun up with the tip of two fingers.  “Puny.”

“You ever tried strapping a bigger gun to your ankle and walked all day?”  He raised an eyebrow at her.

“Honey, I wear high heels.  Don’t even go there.”  She folded her arms.

Phil started to open his mouth, and Greg reached over to put a hand over it.  “Don’t.”  Greg shook his head.  “Just smile and nod.”

“Better if we had more strong outer layers.”  Yala picked up Phil’s bulletproof vest.

“Armor.”  Greg provided the word quietly.

“Armor.  They will not shoot at me, but the rest of you are in harm’s way.”  Yala exhaled.

“Yeah, killing you is pretty much the exact opposite of what they want to do.”  Phil looked down at the crude sketch he’d made of the area.  “We have the element of surprise at least.”

“How do you figure that?”  Natalya stared at him.

“He threw a bed at me.”  Phil gestured at Yala.  “That was definitely a…”  He blinked when the light came on in the small garage they were using for cover.  “Surprise.”

Natalya turned to see a startled looking young man staring at them.  “Uh, hi.”

“Hi…”  He looked at the others, then back at her.  “What are you doing in my shop?”

“Natalya Petrov.”  She held out her hand as she took a step forward, smiling at him.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Uh…”  He accepted her handshake.  “Jim.  That, uh…”  He gave a small head shake.  “Doesn’t answer my question.”  He glanced at them again.  “I’m calling the police.”

“I am the police.”  Phil shrugged.  When Jim looked over at him, Phil held up his badge.  “See?  Come in here.”

“Uh…”  The ginger-haired, freckled young man stepped all the way in.  “Okay.  Officer.  Uh…”  He glanced at the table, then his eyes widened at the sight of the rough map.  “Oh, is this a sting?”

She glanced over her shoulder to see both Greg and Phil nod, Adel shrug, and Yala give her a confused look.  “Yes, it’s a sting.  We need you to be quiet, okay?”

“It’s the Penskies, isn’t it?”  Jim started grinning.  “I knew they were up to —”

“Jim, do you have a vehicle?”  Greg’s head came up.

“Yeah, I got uh…”  He gestured.  “My bikes.”  He brightened a little before pointing to the door into the work area proper.  “Oh, and the jeep, but it’s hitched up to my boat.”

“You have a boat?”  Yala straightened.


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 12

“What is that smell?”  Yala sniffed the air, tilting his head from side to side.  “It smells like that twix creature.”

“Twix creature?”  Phil glanced at Natalya.

“Long story…”  She glanced at Phil before turning toward Yalathanil.  “That’s called fudge.”

“Two at eight o-clock.”  Greg shielded his eyes before indicating a store front.  “They are offering samples.”

“Don’t look.”  Phil caught her hand as she started to turn.  “If you look they’ll know we’ve made them.”  He smiled at her, his face calm despite the concern in his eyes.  He grinned at her as though they were on holiday.  “I’ve got another at five.  You were military?”

“Navy.”  Greg nodded.  “You?”

“Air force.”  Phil exhaled.  “Navy probably prepared you a little better for this.”

“No.”  Greg shook his head.  “No, it did not.”

When Phil tried to release her hand, she tightened her grip.  One of the men whose reflection she caught in the glass was the man who’d constantly stared at her ass.  “They are Xue’s people.  At least one of them.”  She swallowed.

“And they are trying to get between us and the water.”  Adele was paler than usual, though she tried to keep a friendly smile on her face as she and Yala helped themselves to fudge samples.  She also accepted a bit of fish for the kitten, who nibbled at it eagerly.

“I’ve got my badge.”  Phil exhaled.  “If they cause a problem, that should be enough to handle things.”  He shrugged.  “Unless, you know, anybody runs the badge and learns I’m a hostage.”

“I do not think I like mint.”  Yala frowned at the fudge in his hand.

“Oh, I’ll take it.”  Greg immediately held out his own hand, and Yala handed him the slice of fudge.  “Phil, they are cutting off the road but we could go through the alley, circle around.”

“If I were them, that’s what I’d want you to do.  We’d be isolated, outside of public view.”  Phil kept moving forward.

“Not sure I trust the short-fringe…”  Yala nodded.  “But he is right.  Stay in the group, the predators go after loners.”

“Swim in a school.”  Greg sighed.  “And now I feel like a bait-fish.”

“Am I the short-fringe?”  Phil glanced at her.

“You’re the first friendly person with short hair he’s encountered.”  Natalya nodded.  “Don’t take it personally.”

“We’ve just been telling everyone he’s Dutch.  From Amsterdam.”  Adele patted Yala’s arm, then shifted her grip on the kitten.

“Might not work here.  Holland settled quite a few places in this area.”  Phil waved a hand.  “See how many places have windmill decorations?”

“What is Holland?”  Yala raised an eyebrow at Phil.

“The country the Dutch are from.”  Phil blinked.

“Dutch are from Amsterdam.”  Yala glared at him.

“Amsterdam is a city.”  Phil shook his head.  “Holland is the country.”

“What is the country?”  Yala glanced at Greg.

“Wait…”  Greg tilted his head.  “I thought the Dutch were from Deutschland.”

“From…”  Phil stopped walking forward.  “Germans are from Deutschland.”

“That does not make any sense at all.”  Yala kept moving.

“You know…”  Adele followed, Greg a pace behind her.  “He does kind of have a point there.”

“Somewhere a geography teacher is crying herself to sleep and has no idea why.”  Natalya squeezed Phil’s hand as they started walking again.


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 11

“We are really sorry about this.”  Adele glanced over at Phil.

“You’ve mentioned that.”  He glanced down at where his wrists were still cuffed together, though they’d put a little wrapping to make sure the cuffs didn’t hurt him.  It hadn’t taken him long to figure out they weren’t actually going to threaten him or harm him, but he was still being fairly cooperative.  “If you are telling the truth about being held in this lab, then you need —”

“Phil, I appreciate that you are trying to help and after we’ve all escaped we will happily cooperate.”  Adele patted his shoulder.

“You do understand it doesn’t work that way, right?”  He raised an eyebrow.  “You are guilty of kidnapping, and the longer you keep me prisoner the less chance you have of not going to prison over it?”

“Phil, if we let you go, Xue’s folks are going to try to kill you to shut you up because they don’t know what you saw or what we told you.”  Greg shook his head.  He was driving, and Yala had claimed the passenger seat.  He hadn’t wanted to sit next to Phil, as Phil had short hair.

“I’m a cop, and I’ll be surrounded by other cops.”  Phil sighed.  “Look I appreciate the concern and it is legitimate, which will go in your favor, but like I said, the longer you keep me prisoner —”

“You’ve got a really nice car.”  Natalya patted the windowsill.  “Did you rebuild this yourself?”

“Changing the subject won’t help either.”  Phil leaned his head back on the neck rest.

“Phil…”  Greg put the blinker on before changing lanes.  “You are handcuffed between two beautiful women, and you’re going to stay that way probably for another day or two, so uh…”  He shrugged.  “Just relax and enjoy it.”


Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 10

Adele stood under the shower.  Stood.  No shower chair.  She could hear the kitten batting around the wrapper from the soap.  They did need to get an early start, or she’d have suggested they all spend some time at the hotel’s pool.  Then again, Yala and a pool might not be a good idea.  He could inadvertently switch forms, and they had no idea how he’d react to various pool chemicals.  Did he switch when he got wet?  Assuming Greg reminded him to shower, they’d know soon enough.

Reluctantly, she got out of the shower and pulled her clothes on.  Natalya was still sprawled on the bed, and Octopus climbed up and made herself comfortable on Natalya’s back.  Adele shook her head and headed out to grab them all some breakfast.

Halfway down the corridor she noted a familiar face.  One of the handlers was talking to the desk clerk.  Immediately she turned around and headed back.  “Nat?”  She rushed over and shook her friend awake.  “Nat, they are here.”