Deadly Shades of Gold
Series: Altered States , Book 2.0
By: Laura Harner | Other books by Laura Harner
T.A. Webb | Other books by T.A. Webb
Published By: Hot Corner Press
Published: Feb 21, 2013
ISBN # 9781937252311
By: Laura Harner | Other books by Laura Harner
T.A. Webb | Other books by T.A. Webb
Published By: Hot Corner Press
Published: Feb 21, 2013
ISBN # 9781937252311
Word Count: 40,000
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi), Mobipocket (.prc), Adobe Acrobat
Deadly Shades of Gold (Altered States) by Laura Harner, T.A. Webb - Romance>Vampires“Wolf or vamp? Decide. It has to be now.”
Those were the last words Sam Garrett ever heard—as a human. Now on the para side of normal, the NOPD slammed the proverbial door on his career.
Travis Boudreaux knows exactly how his former partner feels—but when some doors close, the golden window of opportunity opens. Crimes against supernaturals require a new and different approach, and once the Feds show up, the Odd Squad isn’t the only law enforcement game in town.
After a revenge-seeking vampire creates deadly havoc, the new agent-in-charge is on a recruiting mission—and he’s more than ready to fight fire with fire. What do you get when you mix old friends, new enemies, and a license to kill?
Warning: This is an erotic urban fantasy. In this series the vampires don’t sparkle, werewolves kill, and the men sometimes have sex. With each other.
Reader Rating: 4.6 (8 Ratings)
Sam should have been watching. Goddammit—he knew better, but he’d been too busy trying to frame the perfect opening sentence so Travis would listen to him. Something eloquent and wise and so very un-Sam-like. He didn’t even feel the first attack.
Slowing slightly, he’d stepped into the shadows three doors down from Travis’s home. There was a whoosh of wind, the feeling of something brushing him, then a cold, wet feeling against his neck.
He wasn’t sure if the noise he made was out loud or just in his head…and how the fuck did he land on his back on the ground? When a beautiful woman’s face appeared over him, he wondered, just for a moment, if she might be an angel. Until he saw the teeth.
“Ah, mon cher, such a pretty boy. Nothing personal, oui?” she crooned, then leaned down to lick at his neck. He was already light-headed, and the coldness that was on his neck suddenly became a razor sharp pain. He looked at his hand, which had been at his neck a moment earlier and saw it covered with blood.
Ah hell. I will never get to tell Trav I’m sorry.
He heard a howl, like the devil’s own hounds, and thought maybe they were coming for him, too. A stark black blur crossed his field of vision and suddenly the soft lovely voice of the vamp was screaming and horrible tearing sounds came from mere feet away.
He closed his eyes, just for a moment, and when he opened them again, familiar faces were looking down at him.
Danny. What a fine partner and a really good friend. He trusted him like no one else and wished he could take back the rough words they’d had this morning. He tried to smile to let him know he was sorry.
Russ. Well, he wasn’t exactly a friend, but he could have been. Missed hitting the sheets with that one…he must have been a very bad boy in another life. Ah, the random thought crossed his now-fuzzy mind that the blur of black who pulled that bitch off his neck must have been Jet. He tried to wink, but was really too tired.
And besides, he needed to try, one last time, to tell his friend how he felt before he was gone. He was under no illusions, he could feel the cold settling in his bones and the slow draining of his life through the hole in his neck.
The hole that Travis was frantically trying to hold together with his hands. He saw the struggle in his friend’s eyes. The blood must be calling to him and yet he was practically wrist deep in Sam’s essence, his concern winning out over hunger. He tried to communicate the regret he felt for the lost two years, laying his own hand on top of Trav’s one last time. He hoped it was a smile on his face—he needed Trav to understand. Please, forgive me.
As he closed his eyes for what he was sure would be the last time, he heard Danny’s voice cut through the night.
“Wolf or vamp? Decide. It has to be now.”
All Sam knew was pain. And the dark…he knew the dark. He never considered that darkness had a smell before, but he could smell it, taste it, feel it on his skin now. He tried to swallow, but his throat was so dry it hurt. He ran a sandpaper tongue around his mouth and froze at an unfamiliar sharpness, but before he could process the physical change, there was the sound of loud voices from somewhere nearby. An argument over…him?
“I don’t care what the fuck you think. We did what we had to do!” That was Russ’s voice.
“I’m telling you, he’s not going to be happy. You need to let me talk to him. I can—” A calm, relatively reasoned response from Trav? What the fuck was he doing here? For that matter, where was here? The argument heated up.
“Can what, Boudreaux? Tell him how to fucking hide? How to give up on life because things didn’t turn out the way he planned?” Jet’s voice was heavy with sarcasm.
Sam tried to sit up, but realized he was restrained, tied to the fucking bed like some kind of…crazy person or monster. What was going on? What was so wrong that they put him in the dark and left him alone? He struggled to remember while the argument raged in some other part of wherever-the-hell he was.
“Not all of us can be so lucky as to have their maker explain the bare necessities,” Trav said. His voice took on that strident tone, the one that warned everyone to watch out. “Try sitting up at your own damn wake and see how well you function, you overgrown hairball. Now, instead of giving me shit about my life choices, how about we focus on the more important issue at hand, huh?”
“Excellent point. Jet, enough.” The command in Russ’s voice made Sam stop struggling against the straps holding him in place. “Travis, I think it might be best if you talk to Sam first. He was obviously in front of your house; he must have been coming to see you. The truth might not be as much of a shock if it comes from you. But you should try to wake him soon; we didn’t tie him with anything stronger than rope. We don’t want to freak him out any more than necessary.”
In front of Trav’s house? Why would he have been there? He needed to stop and think. He let his mind settle, and tried to remember. The last thing he could recall was deciding to tell his friend how sorry he was for being such a giant dick to him after Trav tried to attack him in a fit of bloodlust. He’d gone there to apologize. Then…something. He was on the ground, looking up and some woman was hurting him and then Travis was there, then the pain, the blood, and his friends arguing over how to save him.
Was that why he was tied and left alone in some back room? What was he now? Vampire? Werewolf? His heart began to pound, and he tried to reach out with his senses to find out. The dark had texture and depth to his eyes, and he knew he could hear more than he used to be able to. And what was that smell? His head jerked to what he now realized was an open window, and a warm and tangy scent caught his nose. He could hear something thrashing around not far away, and it must have caught its leg, because the coppery, hot musk of blood began to fill the room, and his mouth began to water.
Everything else faded away except the odor of blood and the need to feed. Sam was barely aware of licking his elongated canines and his body began to change. First, the long muscles of his arms and legs began to strengthen and twist, and his chest began to expand. The ropes holding him in place began to strain and then broke, and his body lengthened. He rolled off the bed onto the floor, hitting it on what he thought were his hands and knees but were in fact four huge paws.
He blinked at his reflection in the window. Well, now I know I’m werewolf and not vamp.
He should be freaked out, or grateful for being alive, and some part of him was, he supposed. But then another waft of bloody hare hit his senses and with a mighty leap, he crashed through the partially opened window to give chase to the injured animal. The noise of his escape alerted his friends, he tracked with a part of his consciousness, and he heard them throw open the door to his room and shout for him. But he needed to feed. And his prey was trying to escape.
God, it felt good to stretch his limbs and run. The night was dark and almost moonless, but with his wolf’s vision, his path was clear. For the first time he saw how the undergrowth teemed with life. How the first hints of spring were escaping from under the bark of the trees. How scents had taste, and now, how intoxicating the aroma of blood was to his wolf.
Sam spotted his prey, frantically trying to escape under a fallen log. Throwing his head back and issuing a growl of triumph, Sam leapt and grabbed the big hare and snapped its neck before ripping out its throat. Reveling in the kill, Sam tore the hare to pieces and swallowed every tasty morsel. Hunger finally sated, Sam threw back his head and howled his pleasure into the night. The answering calls of his brother wolves prickled at his consciousness as he licked his bloody maw and tasted…life. And death.
The leather soles of Sam’s shoes slapped against the linoleum as he paced the hallway outside the hearing room. He’d never been particularly good at waiting. In the three months since his…accident, it felt as if he’d done nothing but wait. One way or the other, it all ended today.
“Detective Sam Garrett?” The grandmotherly face of Stella Walker peered through a small opening in the door. As secretary to the chief of police, she’d seen Sam before and knew who he was, but he nodded as if it had been a real question.
“They’re ready for you now, honey. Good luck.” She stepped back and held the door open.
Unable to summon enough spit to speak, Sam nodded once more and followed Stella inside. With her back slightly hunched, Stella scooted to the front of the room to take her seat at the table normally used by the prosecutor during the daylight grand jury hearings. The night sessions were reserved for Paranormal Fitness Exams or other hearings involving non-humans.
Sam remained standing near the side of the room, unsure of the protocol. Swallowing hard, he looked around at the rows of dark oak benches, the empty jury box, and the judge’s bench at the front of the room. Like he was some goddamn criminal instead of a fucking cop.
It was a damned shame he was fighting for his job, but the New Orleans Police Department had a policy prohibiting known vampires and wereanimals of any sort from serving in law enforcement positions. They worried more about an officer losing control in the presence of blood than they worried about fairness, as far as Sam was concerned. Officers attacked in the line of duty and changed as a result of their injuries received a lifetime annuity and mandatory retirement. Somehow the policy seemed fair to Sam when it happened to his former partner, Detective Travis Boudreaux. Of course, back then vampires and werewolves were a novelty, something the world had just discovered were real. Two years later—a lot had changed.
The room was more crowded than he’d expected; then again, he’d really had no idea of what the proper protocol was for these secret hearings. Of course, Russ Evans, the local Alpha werewolf, and his Beta, Jet Gorman, sat on the first bench behind the prosecution table—since he’d ridden in the Jeep with them, their presence tonight wasn’t a surprise. Trav was in the row behind them, probably called as a witness, too.
Sitting at a table in the front of the room next to the chief of police was Detective Danny Burkette, the lead investigator on the Odd Squad. His team had a higher-than-average number of officers placed on the Permanently Disqualified list thanks to the risk of contamination from a super during the course of an arrest or capture. Danny wasn’t meeting Sam’s gaze despite their long history as friends and occasional lovers. That didn’t bode well. As if there was really any doubt as to the outcome of the hearing.
The voice was little more than a whisper in his mind, and Sam’s gaze immediately went back to the two werewolves in the front row. It wasn’t them. In fact, neither man was looking at him as they both examined something in Russ’s big hands. What was it—his tablet computer? Sam’s career was about to come to an ignominious end and they were checking fucking email?
He blinked as if somehow clearing his vision might clear the voice in his head—the one that impossibly sounded like Trav—but since werewolves and newbie vampires couldn’t mind meld… He shook his head. Maybe he was crazy and they were right to kick him off the force.
“Thank you for joining us, Detective Garrett. Please, raise your right hand.” As he rose, the stern-faced judge quickly administered the oath herself, then invited him forward to sit.
“This is a small hearing, the panel made up of your peers and myself, as the Paranormal Administrative Court judge for Orleans Parish. I believe you know these three members of the panel, the Chief of Police, Detective Burkette, and Mrs. Stella Walker? They represent the three career classifications of the New Orleans Police Department.”
Sam nodded, and then with a glance at the stenographer repeated his answer for the record. He fought the numbness that was working its way up from his suddenly leaden feet. He shuffled to the front row on the opposite side of the center aisle from his friends and sat heavily. There would be no comfort from the pack today.
“We have heard the sworn testimony of the witnesses to your attack, and have a few questions for you.” She shuffled a stack of papers. “Were you acting in the interest of the public the night you were attacked by a vampire?”
“What?” Sam widened his eyes at the question. What the fuck was this about? All police officers were considered acting in the public interest. It was why they could remain armed when not on duty. “I’m afraid I don’t understand the question.”
“It’s a simple yes or no question, Detective. Were you officially on duty when you were attacked?”
“Not on duty, no. I was armed, and since I live in the Quarter, I always keep an eye on what’s happening.”
“Yet you failed to notice that both a vampire and a werewolf were following you?”
“I—uh, excuse me. Are you suggesting that I was doing something wrong?”
The judge shook her head once, more in dismissal of his question than in answer. “Detective Garrett, I have your medical report. I have the statements from the witnesses present both during and directly following the attack. In the time since the night of the attack, have you either shifted shape or consumed blood?”
Something wasn’t right—this was not at all what he’d been led to expect. Sure, there were officers deliberately abusing the system, but he’d been following the rules and he’d give his left nut to stay on the job instead of taking an early out. He looked to Danny and for a long moment—their gazes locked on each other—and he could swear regret twisted his friend’s mouth just before Danny lowered his eyes to examine the table.
Sam’s pulse raced erratically, and for a moment he seriously wondered if he was going to be able to hold it all together. His sharpened senses were flooded with the smell of perspiration and fear, and it tasted enough like prey that saliva pooled in his mouth as he ran his tongue over the sharp points of his teeth. Russ growled, the rumble so quiet Sam knew only the supers in the room heard the sound. Or maybe the growl was only in his head. Whatever. It was enough to pull him back from the edge of showing the old bitch exactly what changes he’d experienced since the attack.
Sam cleared his throat. “I have been infected with the lycanthropy virus. It was the only way to save my life after an unprovoked vampire attack left me bleeding out on the sidewalk.” His voice was flat, devoid of any hint of the emotions swirling within him.
“And you are now living with the very…werewolves…who infected you. I see.” She turned slightly to focus on the other panel members. “It’s time to render our decision. As the district judge, it is customary that I review the instructions with you before you offer your verdict.”
Verdict? What the fuck?
“The guidelines have been clearly laid out in the NOPD Standards of Conduct, and the police union has accepted these rules. Detective Garrett waived his right for representation and signed a release agreeing to abide by our decision.”
Harsh breaths filled the room, and Sam realized he wasn’t the only one nervous about the outcome.
“Question one, as to whether Detective Garrett may remain on duty. The rule states an infection with lycanthropy or any variation of virus that causes shifting or any form of vampirism is a disqualifying factor for service with the New Orleans Police Department. How do you find?”
There was no real choice for any member of the panel. Without looking in his direction, they all mumbled their responses, formally ending Sam’s career.
“Question two. The new guidelines state that an officer may only receive compensation for an unwilling conversion contracted while engaged in a law enforcement activity as assigned by an authorized supervisor. How do you find?”
The chief sighed. Stella’s gaze darted toward her boss. Danny leaned forward. “I want to state this again for the record. Detective Garrett was actively involved in an investigation with the Paranormal Criminal Investigations Unit. I have every reason to believe the attack was in retribution for discoveries made in the course of working that case. My finding is the attack was precipitated as a direct result of a lawfully ordered assignment.” Danny sat back, breathing hard as the flush crawled up his neck. No doubt about it, the man was pissed.
The chief nodded slowly. “I am inclined to agree.”
“Oh, me too,” Stella added quickly.
“Very well,” the judge said. Looking down at the stack of papers in front of her, she read off the next question. “Question three. Does the evidence clearly link the species or nature of the attacker to the species or nature of the conversion of the officer? If yes, is there any indication of a personal relationship either before or after the incident between the attacker and the victim?”
The judge held up her hand as Danny started to speak. “Off the record,” she tossed at the stenographer. “Detective Burkette, I understand where your sympathies lie. Chief? I suggest the next time you are asked to supply an impartial board that you consider your choices more carefully.” She looked at Stella, then pressed her lips tightly together as if holding in some scathing remark. “Back on record, please.” She paused. “I am making a summary judgment on behalf of the City of New Orleans and the NOPD.
“Detective Garrett, I am sorry for what has happened, assuming it wasn’t your intention to become a werewolf. However, the law is clear on the matter. You were attacked by a vampire. Even allowing Detective Burkette’s generous definition of ‘officially on duty’, you are not, in fact, a vampire. That, in and of itself, is disqualifying in the matter of compensation. Add to that your subsequent living arrangements, I find you do not meet the disability criteria. Your employment with the New Orleans Police Department is officially terminated. I thank you all for your time.” The judge stood, sweeping her robes around her legs and was gone through the door to her chambers before anyone in the room fully processed the situation.
The ride back to the compound was tense, to say the least. Sam glared out the window of Russ’s SUV, barely containing the anger that throbbed against his temples and threatened to snap the tight grip he held on his self-control. All the weeks he’d been working with Russ and Jet to contain the beast that lurked right under his skin hadn’t been in vain. He’d kept his cool, breathed deep and walked out of the police station with his head held high. Pissed off for sure, ready to spill some blood, but totally in command of himself.
“So it’s blood you’re wanting tonight?” Russ’s deep voice shook him out of his dark thoughts, and he met the man’s eyes in the rearview mirror. Jet’s answering chuckle, amusingly evil, almost, almost brought him all the way back to normal. He nodded slowly.
“I need to hunt tonight. Run, bring something down and let the beast free. If I can’t fuck somebody to get it out of my system, that’s the next best thing, right?” He leaned his head back against the headrest and felt the heat in the vehicle rise. Images of sex and blood played around in his head, and he started to tell Jet to cool it with the mental theater he was projecting. Sam was worked up enough, but decided to let it go rather than start an argument.
Closing his eyes against the pressures of the day—the fucked-up verdict, his career down the crapper, no disability pay—Sam tried to block out the two overbearing wolves pushing and bossing and…it was just all too much. Starting his own internal movie, Sam envisioned the trees along the west bank, the hanging Spanish moss creating shadows in black and gray. The remembered smell of fresh water made his mouth long for the coolness of the Mississippi that would always taste like home to a part of him. The woods would crackle with insects and smaller animals darting through the underbrush, trying to escape the predators out for the night. Trying to escape him.
After nearly an hour of focused concentration, his wolf calmed, appeased with the promise of being let out to play, Sam’s blood cooled a couple of degrees and he breathed deeply and let his head drop back against the seatback. Almost immediately, he felt the light touches of power, the almost-imperceptible whisper of other minds alongside his own.
Soon, pup. We’ll all run and hunt later, so be patient, little wolf.
If Russ thought the light touch of his power was calming him, he was fucking mistaken.
“Stay the fuck out of my head,” he growled and then surrounded his thoughts with the mental shields both the Alpha and his second-in-command had shown him how to erect. The fragile peace he had managed to build in the past hour was obliterated in the flame of the invasion of other minds in his own. Had Sam known the price staying warm-blooded would exact, he might wish to be like Travis. Cold, but left the fuck alone.
Even with his eyes closed, he felt the glare from the big red-haired man in the front. “I’m your Alpha, and don’t forget it, little one. You are still in your training period and I have the right to check in on the welfare of any member of my pack—”
“But that’s just it, isn’t it, Alpha?” Sam barely held back the contempt from his voice. It felt good to direct it at someone, something. He felt claws straining to break free against the leather of the armrest and ratcheted his anger back. “I’m not pack yet, am I? And as you damn well know, I don’t want to be. I just want to go back home and figure out my life.”
The smack of the Beta’s power reached right through his carefully erected shields. A little lower voltage than usual, maybe, but it still sent streamers of red-hot fire through his head. “You might not like it, but you damned well better learn to keep a civil tongue in your head, boy.” Jet’s voice in his head gave him something to focus on. He reinforced those paper-thin walls again, but still felt—what the fuck—not Russ, not Jet, in fact, not a wolf at all. If he didn’t know better…Sam let the thought go before he forgot his point.
“Fuck you both, I’m not anybody’s boy. You might like to play your big bad wolf games, but I’m not one of you and I don’t think I ever will be. The time I’m willing to spend out in West Bumfuck is about at an end. You can tell yourself all the stories you want, but you fucking can’t stop me when I decide it’s time to go. Now, shut up and get me back to the Black Forest so this Big Bad Wolf can go hunt Little Red Riding Hood.”
Russ reached across and put a hand on Jet’s shoulder to keep him in his seat. Sam didn’t care. The past three months had been one nightmare after another, humiliation heaped on failure and anger and hurt. He just couldn’t care anymore. Some days, he thought maybe it would have been better if he’d just bled out there on that cool dark night in front of Travis’s home. At least he wouldn’t have to put up with the Grimm brothers.
He closed his eyes again and tried to focus on that elusive wisp of something that wasn’t wolf in his head. Like the voice he’d heard in the hearing room…but that was impossible. He was tired and needed to hunt. And then he needed to get the fuck away and back to where he could think. Alone. Without some asshole wolf or another invading his privacy.
Travis opened the door to his home and invited Danny upstairs. Both men were somber, and Trav felt more than a little guilty that he’d survived the Fitness Hearing, as it was known then, with his pension intact, if not his shield. How things had changed in the past two years, he thought sourly, and damned well not for the better. Here he was, for all accounts immortal and he’d been granted his retirement pay in perpetuity even though he’d already been financially secure. And a good cop like Sam who actually needed the damned money got a royal screwing.
Bureaucracy at its best, he supposed.
“You know where the fridge is—grab yourself a beer. I need to get out of this monkey suit and into some jeans. I’ll fix my dinner in a minute.” Travis kept walking, shedding his tie and shirt as he went. He heard Danny fumbling around the kitchen, smelled the po’ boy he’d brought for his dinner. Chuckling, he shook his head. The detective was nothing if not predictable.
The room around him disappeared and he had a sudden glimpse of fangs tearing into flesh, the rich coppery blood flowing over his tongue. He licked his fangs and his cock hardened as the dual images of blood and sex flitted across his inner eye. It wasn’t his kind of feeding, but blood was blood and its erotic allure made his whole body sing with anticipation.
Then it was gone. He blinked and everything was normal again. He could have sworn he was in the woods there for a minute. Almost smelled the magnolias and dogwoods blooming out in the early spring.
When he turned toward the door Danny stood watching him.
“You okay, man? I called and you didn’t answer. Want me to warm a bag of A-negative in your Normalizer? We can sit and maybe watch the end of whatever bad movie’s on TV?”
“Yeah, let me finish changing. Be right there,” he said, waving Danny off. “I’ll throw something in the Easy-Bake Oven—you just go ahead and eat.”
Danny turned and went back to the den, his laugh trailing behind him. “Easy-Bake Oven. Whodathunk a vamp could make a joke?”
“Fuck you too, Detective.” He couldn’t quite shake the feeling he was missing something. Something important.
Reader Reviews (2)
Submitted By: fergie12 on Jan 25, 2014Great series. Love the Harners!
Submitted By: enjoy on Jan 9, 2014I'm a fan of this series - fast,easy reads with happy endings and good set-ups for the next book in the series.