“Your turn, Kevin!” Stu yelled, rubbing his fist, his knuckles red from having just pounded the shit out of Jordan Lowe’s nose and jaw. “Go for the nose. Come on, Kev, nail the fucker!”
Kevin Whalton cringed; Stu’s shouts were making him even more nervous than he already was. He glanced around the darkened alley, half-hoping there’d be someone else in the shadows behind the locked-up laundromat. Nobody.
“Fucking hell, Kevin. Now.”
He jumped, scared as a rabbit, but he did what his friend demanded. He tightened his fingers into a fist, lashed out, and watched as his knuckles smashed into their victim’s nose.
No—not a victim. He had to remember that. Had to remember who was the dangerous one here. Because if everything Wes and Stu had told him was true, Jordan Lowe could never be a victim.
With a snap, Jordan’s head slammed back, making a sick crunching sound as it impacted the brick wall. He howled—literally howled. A low, pained keening that bounced off the wall and filled the dark space around them.
Kevin glanced back at Stu, who was miming punching movements and shouting, “Hell, yeah! That’s the way! Get in another—come on, man, show the freak what you’ve got.”
Wes stood a couple of yards from Jordan, his mouth pulled into a tight smile. “You fucked with the wrong people, puppy dog. We know what you are, and we are so going to take you down.” He swiveled his head to look at Kevin. “Another. Get in another.”
Kevin hesitated, a little sick to his stomach. Less than an hour before, they’d all been having drinks at a bar a few blocks down. Everything had seemed perfectly normal then. Hell, Wes and Stu actually knew Jordan pretty well; they’d been hanging with him for weeks. But tonight they’d pulled Kevin aside to tell him that they didn’t trust Jordan. That they were certain he was a mole. And that Kevin was going to want to see the shit that went down.
Then they’d put something in the guy’s drink. And when Kevin had asked Stu why, Stu had just grinned and said that if they didn’t dose his drink, Jordan would be able to rip all their fucking heads off.
At the time, Kevin had believed it, because why the hell would Stu lie about what Jordan was? About what he could do?
Now, though . . .
Well, now Jordan looked whipped. Like he couldn’t beat up a six-year-old girl, much less three college sophomores.
“Goddammit, Kevin. Are you a fucking pussy or what? Hit the mongrel bastard! Hit him!”
“Do it!” Wes added, and their voices bolstered him. Made his muscles tighten and his pulse quicken. “Goddammit, do it now—do it and I swear to God the unholy fuckwad will show you that everything we’ve told you is true!”
That did it. Kevin lashed out, his right fist connecting hard with Jordan’s temple even as his left jabbed into the kid’s gut. Jordan went down, doubling over as he clutched at his stomach. Then he looked up, and Kevin stumbled backward.
Holy fuck—Jordan’s eyes were yellow.
Yellow and wild and full of hate and anger.
Kevin shivered, not sure what he was seeing. Not sure what to believe. He’d gotten in with Wes and Stu and the rest of them because they’d told him what was out there—and that they needed his help to stop it. To stop them. But until tonight it had all been theory and conjecture and folks making speeches about what they knew and what they believed. Until tonight Kevin had never actually seen one of them. Hell, he hadn’t even been sure if he believed in monsters or if he just wanted to get on Wes and Stu’s good side.
But he believed now. Fuck, yeah, he did.
“Don’t fight it, pup,” Wes said, giving Jordan a kick. “We wanna see. Don’t we Stu? Don’t we Kevin?”
“Shit, yeah,” Stu said, bouncing like a boxer itching for a fight. He pulled out a knife, the blade glinting in the dim light from the alley’s streetlamps. “Scared, fucker? It’s pure silver. That’s gonna hurt.” He lunged forward, the blade aimed at Jordan’s stomach, but at the last second, Jordan thrust his arm up, moving fast considering how battered he was, and knocked the knife to the ground.
Quicker than Kevin could see, Jordan had Stu pinned on the ground. “Think you’re clever?” he rasped, his body bent over Stu’s. “How clever will you be when I rip your head off with my goddamned teeth?”
Jordan’s skin started to ripple, and Kevin could see his bones shifting beneath his skin. A loud roaring filled Kevin’s head, and his knees started to give out—fuckin’ A, he was about to faint.
Wes’s voice pulled him back, and he blinked, groggy.
“Get Stu’s knife, man! Now!” As Wes spoke, he was lunging toward Jordan with his own knife out. Kevin couldn’t move; he couldn’t do anything but stare at the creature in front of him. Holy shit; they’d told him what would happen, what the kid was. But telling and seeing were two different things. And seeing was fucking terrifying.
“Now, goddammit, or Stu’s dead!”
Jordan was clutching Stu’s head in his hand, and he slammed it against the asphalt with a sickening thud. The noise spurred Kevin to action, and he darted sideways for Stu’s lost knife, then rushed forward, leading with the point of the blade. He felt the resistance as the tip hit Jordan’s skin, then the give as it slid into the muscle, the full force of Kevin’s weight pushing it right to the hilt, right to the bone.
On the other side of the creature, Wes was jabbing, too, his mouth moving, his words a mishmash of unintelligible curses with only a few words like silver and fucking and werewolf coming out clear.
Another roar echoed—only this one wasn’t inside of Kevin’s head. It was coming from Jordan, who’d reared back, arms flailing as he knocked aside their knives and climbed to his feet. Kevin braced himself, certain he would need to do battle with this, this thing. But then Jordan turned and loped off down the alley, leaving Stu curled up in a ball and moaning on the pavement.
“Catch him!” Wes cried, pulling out a gun and firing it so close to Kevin’s head that for a moment he thought he was deaf. He wasn’t, though, and Wes’s shouts pushed through the cotton that now seemed to fill his ears.
“Goddammit, I missed the fucker! Catch him! Run! Shit, we have to catch him. If he gets away, we’re dead. We’re totally fucking dead.”
He was dead.
No other possible outcome. No other way for this to end.
He’d been stupid. Lazy and reckless, and somehow they’d found him out.
And now he was dead, or he would be soon enough.
Except he couldn’t die—not like this. Not without letting someone know how bad it was. How close they were. And how dangerous.
His legs pumped as he moved down the alley, the weakness unfamiliar after so many years of pure, glorious strength. He’d known about the dangers of silver, of course. What werewolf didn’t? But he’d been arrogant and foolish enough to believe they’d never get him with it. To believe they’d never find out about him. That he’d be smart. That he’d be safe.
He’d been an idiot, and soon he’d be a dead one.
Not once in his wildest dreams had he imagined that they would lace his drink with colloidal silver. But they had, and he’d drunk it down, and it had ripped his advantage away from him right then and there, weakening his muscles and making his mind fuzzy and confused.
Once he figured out what they had done to him, he managed to get away, pushing through the thick Friday night crowd to the kitchen, then out the back door through the alley. He’d run aimlessly in the dark, just wanting to put distance between him and his tormentors. He’d thought he’d lost them, had even leaned against a Dumpster to take a deep, self-satisfied breath.
And then they’d arrived with their taunts and their jeers and, most dangerous of all, their knives forged of silver.
He’d fought, but he’d been weak. Extraordinarily weak. That he’d managed to get away at all was a miracle. That they were following was a curse.
Right now he had only one thing to be thankful for—that Wes’s silver bullet had only nicked his heart. If it had pierced it, he’d already be dead, and all his warnings would be lost.
They still might be if he didn’t hurry. But he was weak. So damn weak.
He heard the footsteps pounding behind him and realized that he’d slowed his pace. Go. He had to get somewhere safe. Had to find a shadower.
For three months, he’d been deep undercover, trying to find out what the humans were up to. About four weeks ago, he’d managed to wrangle an introduction to Wes, and that had gotten him closer, because the frat boy human was poised to go far within the organization.
Jordan had spent this last month watching and learning and trying to get closer. Close enough to gain trust, to learn what they were up to. The humans who wanted him—and all the shadowers—dead and gone. If he couldn’t tell someone, then all that time would be for nothing, and he couldn’t let it be for nothing. Because then . . . because then . . .
His head was fuzzy, his thoughts crashing into each other. The silver.
Had to hurry. Had to move.
With concentration like he’d never known before, Jordan forced his heart to beat harder, his blood to surge stronger. Forced his legs to go.
Something fast whipped by him, brushing his sleeve, and when he realized that one of his tormentors had thrown a knife, a new burst of fear fueled his speed. He didn’t know why they hadn’t used the gun—wait, yes he did. There were people, and a gunshot would draw attention.
He peered around him and realized that although he was still racing down the alley that ran parallel to the Northridge street, there were people up ahead. They were mingling at the intersection of the alley and the sidewalk of a perpendicular street. The sound of laughter coupled with the scent of alcohol wafted toward him, and Jordan almost cried out in joy. Without even trying, he’d stumbled upon another bar, upon people. Dear God, he needed people.
To his left, a door burst open, a yawing metal mouth against a pockmarked face of brick. The stench of fried food and flowing alcohol wafted out. He’d found the back door to the bar where all the people were gathered.
His forehead creased in concentration as he tried to figure out what to do. Thinking was so hard, and his thoughts were all jumbled. Go in. Go in and get lost in the crowd. Yes. Yes, that was what he should do.
He shifted, then stumbled toward the door, pushing inside past a couple who were emerging, a tangle of arms and legs and lips. He sniffed—human. He pushed off the wave of disappointment. The odds that he’d randomly find a shadower bar had been thin. But this would do. He just needed bodies. Just needed to hide.
Hallway. Dark. Flooded with the scent of sweat and lust. To his left and right were restrooms. Ahead, flashing lights and pounding music. He headed into the light, his hand steadying him against the wall. Other humans passed him, coming from the direction he was heading. Their eyes cut to him, then cut away, their faces twisted with fear and repulsion.
He was changing.
His own pain, his own fear—it was pushing the change even as the silver kept the wolf from fully bursting free. His bones were bulging, his face deforming. The humans would be no help to him—he could tell that much from the terror on their faces.
He needed to think, dammit, but his head was too full of cotton. Had to find a shadower. Had to do it soon.
They were coming. Of that he was certain. They’d find him, and they’d kill him.
He’d always thought that despair would be a cold, frenetic thing, but now he knew that it was warm and languid. A quiet acceptance. A slow descent into the thick sludge of acquiescence.
Just before the hallway opened onto the main dance floor, another hall intersected, veering off to the left. He turned, ignoring the sign that said the area was for employees only. It was quieter here, and he realized he could think better now that he wasn’t walking straight into those damned pulsing lights. Ahead, he heard voices. If he could get to them, just get to them, then maybe—
His knees buckled, and he grabbed at the wall for balance. But the walls were spinning, the silver in his blood working its way into his brain. He closed his eyes and sagged to the ground, hoping to stop the horrible, gut-wrenching rocking.
Bile rose in his throat, and he sucked in air through his nose, but the nausea kept building.
“Hey—hey, mister? You okay?”
Slowly, he peeled open his eyes and looked up at the three women staring down at him. No, not three. Just one, but she was blurry around the edges, coming in and out of focus. He sniffed. Another human.
“I’m—” He didn’t finish the sentence. For that matter, he wasn’t sure the words had even left his lips. But the girl had knelt down, her face full of concern. And when she did, he saw the mark on the wall behind her. An elaborate S painted in gold and bisected by a silver arrow.
They were here!
“I’m going to call nine-one-one,” the girl said, pulling out a cell phone.
“No.” He croaked out the word, then thrust out his hand to grab hers. “Don’t.”
Her eyes went wide, and he followed her gaze. The bones of his hand were elongating, pushing against his skin. And thick tufts of fur were sprouting.
“Go,” he snarled. “Get the hell out of here.”
She didn’t argue, just took a step back, then turned and ran down the hall, back toward the noise and the lights.
He threw himself against the wall, fingers scraping for the notch that had to be there. Please, please let it be there. He had to get in—had to get safe—before his human tormentors found him. Surely they were in the club now. Surely they were tracking him. Surely they’d meet the woman and she’d point, horrified, down the hallway. And then they’d come with their guns and their knives and they’d—
His fingernails found the crevice between the wall panels. A subtle click, and then one of the panels swung open. He fell into the dark space, kicking the hidden doorway shut behind him.
But he could go no farther. He’d reached safety, and in doing so had sapped his meager supply of strength.
In front of him, a beautiful pale face loomed. Vampire. He could smell the blood along with the revulsion. There was no love between the weren and the vamps, but they would unite against their enemies. They had to, Jordan thought. Because if they didn’t they would all surely die.
With effort, he opened his mouth, lips parting just enough to make a sound. He saw the vampire’s eyes narrow, long lashes dark against ivory cheekbones.
He tried to force the word out, but it wouldn’t come. How could it when there could be no help now?
“You shouldn’t be here. This isn’t a place for you.”
He tried again to form words, but he was too far gone, his life slipping away. No. No, no, no.
Conjuring strength he didn’t know he possessed, he struggled to force out three little words. Three words that he hoped would save them all.
“Get,” he said, then sucked in a breath and tried again. “Get the percipient.”
And then, with a gasp, Jordan Lowe laid back his head, and died.
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Excerpted from When Temptation Burns by J. K. Beck. Copyright © 2012 by J.K. Beck. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.