Wylie’s fingers itched to turn into claws. He was ready to maul someone for a cigarette. His first burglary was off to a shit start, and given how their luck was going, they’d all be dead or in prison before the night was out.
They were a small crew—four in total—but the van felt filled to the brim with potential disaster. Wylie was in the back with his boyfriend, Beck, while the other two guys sat up front. Wylie was hunched on top of the wheel well, which gave him a clear view of the windshield and the gate blocking their way. His head brushed the roof and his back was cold against the wall, but he refused to move unless absolutely necessary. Every scrape of his sneakers on the grit covered metal floor made his teeth buzz and body tense.
What the fuck was taking so long? He wanted out of this damn tin can. Hell, he just wanted out: out of this night, out of this initiation, out of this stupid ass plan. The only thing keeping him from snapping was the cloak of darkness in the back. It was easier to keep it together when no one could see how close he was to losing his shit.
“Damn it. No,” Adam hissed from the passenger-side seat in front of Wylie. The teen clattered away on his mini keyboard while glaring at the small, burning screen in front of him. The self-proclaimed hacker was so short his head barely cleared the back of the seat, and the caustic, nervous tune he was humming did nothing to disguise his growing panic.
Wylie took a calming breath and tried to block out the electric scent of fear filling the confined space. The little tech-wiz was taking too long. Adam reeked of anxiety and showed no sign he was even close to breaking through the security system. For all they knew, the kid had turned chickenshit and was hoping to wait out the clock.
Ten minutes. Wylie’s eyes darted to the display on the dashboard when it flashed. Twelve minutes. The air grew heated the longer each second ticked and nothing changed. Wylie could smell the lingering scents of oil and stale blood beneath the annoying, fang twitching flood of testosterone in the enclosed space. Diego was flipping. Their asshole leader for the night hadn’t said a word since they parked, but Wylie’s nose revealed the rage building in the silent gangster.
This was a bad idea. A monumentally dumb fuck idea. He seriously should have taken that last smoke before they left.
“Is this happening?” Beck asked. A warm hand grasped his arm, and Wylie held still when his boyfriend pressed his chest up against his shoulder. Hair tickled his nose when Beck leaned across his chest and peered at the clock on the dash. “Shit, our timetable is going out the fucking window.”
Beck turned toward him but failed to find Wylie in the absolute black of the back of the van. The darkness didn’t stop Wylie’s supernatural vision. His pupils expanded, and shapes and colors began to appear out of the darkness. He focused on Beck and his gaze traced his boyfriend’s familiar, handsome features and slipped down to the smooth line of his throat.
This was a mistake. Beck was too idealistic, too sweet for this gang bullshit. He had never spent a day out on his own and didn’t know shit about the real world.
Wylie bent forward and brushed his lips to Beck’s ear. “We can still back out. No one needs to know we came out here.”
Beck shuddered, but it was only from the heat of Wylie’s breath on his skin. He turned his head and their noses bumped. It was surreal, and Wylie felt half a predator as he watched Beck’s useless human eyes blink in the dark. Beck fumbled and his palm found Wylie’s neck and moved up to his face. He rubbed along the peach fuzz of Wylie’s crew cut and inched forward, their mouths pressing close so they wouldn’t be overheard.
“Don’t be dumb, baby.” Beck’s lips teased over Wylie’s, and his fingers tugged at the strands of his blond hair. “This is our ticket out of all the bullshit. Once we make this score, we’re in and everything is going to change.”
“B, getting into the gang is only going to lead to more…” Wylie trailed off when an angry growl tore from the driver’s seat.
“Come on, you little fuck. Hurry up!” Diego slammed his fist on the dashboard, and everyone jumped.
Adam’s incessant humming silenced with his yelp, as did the keyboard clicking. He tried to steady his shaking hands beneath his armpits. Adam’s voice was timid and faint once he finally spoke. “I’m almost—”
“I thought you were a genius? This was going to take five minutes, tops,” Diego snarled accusingly. The seat squeaked when Diego turned and towered over Adam’s diminutive form. “Hurry the fuck up, you little shit! Or I’m dumping you in a dark alley full of flesh-eating freaks like the guy in the back. Crack the gate!”
Wylie gritted his teeth. He wasn’t a freak, and he sure as fuck wasn’t a cannibal.
“It’s not the same system Roth gave me the plans for,” Adam whispered from where he was cowering. “There’s another element I’ve never seen before. I’ve almost hacked it.” His narrow shoulders scrunched as he bent over his small computer and avoided Diego’s glare. His lips pursed tight, Adam ducked beneath his mouse brown hair and refocused on the screen.
“Hey, freak, you paying attention back there?” Diego threw his heavily tattooed arm over the seat and turned his aggressive stare to the back of the van.
“Yeah,” Wylie said through gritted teeth.
Diego’s hard, black eyes tried to find him in the dark. The gangster was as mean as a junkyard dog and twice as foul. Wylie might have been the only one in the crew who could transform, but Diego was all human and still managed to be as despicable as it got. Everything about the situation was setting Wylie on edge. It started all the way back when Diego showed up half an hour late to the heist and labeled him a freak. After an hour trapped in a van with the bad-tempered asshole, he was ready to smash the gangster’s face in.
Diego’s expression was brutal as he glanced at Adam a moment, then to the back of the van. “You’re going to break us through the gate if the kid fucks this up, freak. You might also need to beat the shit out of the little bitch if it turns out he’s screwing us over.”
“Yeah, none of that’s happening,” Wylie said with far less emotion than he felt. “Unless the alarms are down, we’re not leaving this van. We signed up for a robbery, not a fucking suicide mission.”
“You little shit!” Diego’s tanned features flushed red, and his chest puffed like a jacked up frog about to explode. His hand gripped the top of the dividing seat and the vinyl creaked in his powerful grip.
Wylie silently unwound from Beck and nudged him to the other side of his muscular form. He didn’t trust Diego not to lose his shit and start punching. Being saddled with three nervous, untested teenagers for a gang initiation probably wasn’t Diego’s high point of the night, either. It didn’t mean Wylie was about to throw his life away over the gangster’s explosive temper. He’d rather fuck it up in the driveway before they committed a crime, than have it turn to shit when they were balls deep in the mansion.
“Listen here, you fucking freakshow.” Diego stabbed a finger in Wylie’s direction, but had enough self-control to stop there. He wasn’t angry enough to reach into the dark and risk losing an arm. “If you don’t want to end up dead tonight, you do as I fucking say. That goes for all of you. This isn’t some pussy high school playtime, and I’m not going back to prison over you dumb fuck kids. If any of you—”
There was a loud rattle of metal, and Diego whirled in his seat to peer through the windshield. Adam beamed when the wrought iron gate blocking the driveway shuddered and glided open on motorized tracks.
“Halle-fucking-lujah,” Diego growled in relief and jammed the key forward in the ignition. The van sputtered, then roared to life. Diego showed thin restraint as he put the vehicle in gear, hit the gas, and they sped through the gate opening.
Wylie took a steadying breath as his gut clenched. There was no backing out. Whatever happened, they were in it now.
“We’re in,” Beck gasped in excitement. He fell against Wylie’s chest and peered ahead through the windshield. The sprawling mansion came into view, and Beck’s breath heated his cheek when he sought out his mouth. If Wylie’s response was more tepid than usual, Beck didn’t mention it.
“This is it, baby. This is our fucking future,” Beck whispered between quick, hungry kisses. “We’re finally going to be free.”
Wylie quickly sealed their lips together to silence Beck’s optimistic words. Running with Roth’s gang wasn’t going to be freedom the way his idealistic boyfriend envisioned. It was just another bunch of fucked up, hypocritical adults who used kids while calling it family. Doing illegal shit didn’t make it any better than all the other bullshit families Wylie had been through. It would be money, though, serious money that could buy him the future his fucked up arms stole.
Beck’s hand drifted down, and Wylie jolted when fingers fumbled for his zipper. “B,” he groaned, trying to keep from responding. He pulled Beck’s arm up and shot his boyfriend a smoldering look he couldn’t see in the dark. “Quit being a pervy kink. Focus.”
Beck rolled his eyes, and with a wicked grin, threw himself into Wylie’s lap. He wrapped around his boyfriend’s muscular form and kissed roughly up Wylie’s neck and jaw. “Don’t be that way, baby. We’re going to finally fuck tonight. We’re going to ace this shit, and you’re going to come over to my place and fuck me with your studly arms out.”
Beck rocked his hips against him seductively, and Wylie growled when his erection ground against his. Damn it, his dick dragged him into all kinds of trouble when it involved a tight piece of ass like Beck.
“B, you gotta take this seriously.” Wylie peeked an eye to the front of the van as Beck’s lips slid a hot path along his throat. “You know my arms are dangerous. With one wrong move, my scales could slice the flesh from your bones.”
“I don’t care. Your arms are crazy hot, and we’re totally doing it,” Beck whispered breathlessly. “Tomorrow morning, I’m telling my parents to go fuck themselves. No more evangelical school, no more sick fuck Reverend Clark, and no more pretending I hate dick. You’re going to move out of that shitty detention house where they treat you like a monster, and life is going to be fucking perfect.” Beck’s lips found Wylie’s in the dark and crushed him in a desperate kiss.
Beck was fucked up, and Wylie wasn’t complaining. He wrapped his arms tight around Beck’s narrow hips, squeezed his ass hard, and pulled him up into a deep kiss. Sneakers scraped the metal floor when Beck straddled his thighs, and his palms slid hot paths over Wylie’s chest and back.
“Damn it, Wy, you get me so fucking hot.” Beck shifted his hips, groaning into Wylie’s open mouth when his dick ground against his hard abs. “Tell me you want me…”
“B.” Wylie broke from the kiss and grabbed the hand trying to get under his sweatshirt and into his pants. He pulled Beck tight against him and pressed his mouth to his ear. “Promise me you’ll watch your back tonight. If you get even a whiff of the cops, you run.”
Beck stilled, glanced toward the front of the van, and turned back to whisper against Wylie’s cheek. “Dude, I’m the freaking lookout. I can’t run.”
He was so fucking naive. “B, you don’t owe these crazy fucks any—” Wylie fell silent as the darkness flashed and light dazzled his night vision. He hissed and covered his face with his arms. “Shit.”
Wylie stayed hunched until the blinding pain throbbing behind his eyes began to fade. An outdoor lamp illuminated the driveway where the van rolled to a stop in front of a large, multi-car garage. Diego cut the engine and silence descended. Wylie squinted up to the front once his eyes adjusted, and met Diego’s dark glare.
Wylie bristled and pushed back from Beck. He didn’t like Diego, he didn’t trust him, and he sure as fuck didn’t want his eyes on him when he was sucking face with his boyfriend.
Diego didn’t say anything as he watched Beck try to arrange his shirt to hide his obvious hard on. Beck was wearing skinny, black skater jeans that left nothing to the imagination as he tried to pull his already too tight shirt down his front. It merely lifted the fabric up his back, revealing the top of his ass where his jeans hung low on his hips. The gangster’s dark stare drifted down Beck’s body in a way that had Wylie growling in warning. Diego shrugged and pulled a packet from his pocket and jammed a piece of gum into his mouth. Wylie gritted his teeth when he realized it was nicotine gum. The fucker.
“Alright, kiddies,” Diego drawled. His gaze moved from Adam’s pale, anxious face, to Beck’s excited smile, to Wylie’s defensive glare. “Remember, the owner flew south to some fucking island, and we’re the professionals called in to check on a busted pipe. Easy.”
Wylie pursed his lips. They didn’t have a toolbox or even a sign on the side of the rusted-out van painted in matte black finish. They looked like three wannabe thug teenagers and a career criminal, not plumbers.
Diego didn’t seem concerned about the logistics of his plan as he pointed his finger at Beck. “B, you’re on lookout. I want you at the door with your ear on the scanner for signs of the cops. No matter what we’re lugging, you don’t leave that post until it’s time to go. As for you, you stupid shit.” He grabbed Adam roughly by the head and shoved him toward the door. “Get your scrawny ass out. We need someone to tag the stuff worth grabbing. Don’t fuck it up.”
Adam scrambled to keep his computer from falling while wrenching away from Diego’s touch. He didn’t dare look up as he shouldered the door open and slid down the seat until his sneakers reached the pavement.
Diego’s dark eyes burned with hostility when he turned to Wylie, who hadn’t moved yet. “Freakshow, you’re with me. Alright, you stupid fucks, let’s rob this shit.”
The night air outside was cooler than when they left the city, and held the distinct bite of autumn. Wylie lingered at the open back of the van to get used to the smells and sounds of the area. They had parked in a spot sheltered from view, where large willow trees and gardens of sculpted bushes blocked them from being seen by anyone on the road. Lights were on outside the mansion, and the trees cast long, black shadows in all directions.
Diego didn’t want them wearing masks, said it would ruin the illusion of being plumbers, but Wylie wasn’t sweating it. Adam had taken the surveillance system down before he cracked the gate, and the kid was confident it worked. And really, it wasn’t like anyone actually cared they were there.
Wylie’s pale blue eyes narrowed as he peered at the surrounding manors and mansions on the other side of the gate. The neighborhood was unnaturally silent compared to the city, but that was the rich for you. They went to bed on time, didn’t look out windows, didn’t think anything could touch them. They were the kind of people who kept all the lights on and thought that was enough to keep thieves away.
Wylie scoffed under his breath. When you had enough money to keep the monsters out, anyone could be dumb enough to sleep at night.
Wylie braced himself as he headed to the front of the van where the others had gathered. This was money, real money. A future. He was an eighteen-year-old freak who was never going to have a shot at a job with his fucked up arms. He needed to get this initiation right and prove to Roth he was useful, even if it meant stealing and thuggin for a living. Shit, he had to be good for something.
“How’s it look?” Beck asked as he came up beside him.
“It’s all quiet.” Wylie’s gaze drifted to his boyfriend and the excited flush to his cheeks. He gripped Beck’s shoulder and leaned down to whisper. “Don’t forget what I said. If things go wrong, you run.”
Beck’s smile was guarded when he pulled away. Wylie could tell from the sparkle in his eyes that he was loving every moment of the heist so far. Beck wasn’t fearless, but he got off on adrenaline, and it made him reckless. Wylie had his own ass to worry about, though, and he took a slow breath as he eyed the door he was there to break through.
There was only one entrance on this side of the mansion, a small, black door in the side of the wall, like an afterthought for servants who ended up on the wrong end of the building. The place was weird looking compared to any house Wylie had been in before. The downstairs looked like it was buried underground, the wall either built into the side of a mountain or someone had dumped dirt over it once the building was complete. A hill reached up on both sides of the flat, white expanse, and above was a glittering, beautiful house that looked like it sprouted organically from the gardens around it.
Wylie hesitated when he saw Adam hovering in front of the door, the kid hunched over a keypad to the right.
“Let’s go,” Diego hissed. He grabbed the black gate protecting the door after the keypad flashed and dimmed. Adam took a shaking step back when Diego swung the gate open wide. “Freak, we’re losing minutes,” Diego called impatiently. The gangster was too loud. Wylie looked around, but the yard they were in was so large, it could have been the size of a mall. No one was going to hear them out there.
“You can do this, yeah?” Beck took Wylie’s black sweatshirt when he shrugged out of it. “I mean, it’s just a door. You can cut that.”
Wylie smiled grimly. “Yeah. Easy.” Out of all the uncertainties the night presented, his abilities didn’t factor in.
Wylie raised his muscular arms and focused on his hands. As he concentrated, the pale pigment began to darken and his skin hardened. Starting at his fingers, black scales erupted from his flesh in a bloodless rush and moved up his forearms. Wylie hissed sharply and took a step from Beck, who was edging over to watch. His scales grew longer and pointed out from his arms at jagged angles. They were beautiful, like a dark, ruffled bird, but each oil slick blade had a razor-sharp edge. If not careful, his scales would ruthlessly slice through whatever they touched, be it metal or flesh.
Wylie had no clue what the hell he was. A paranormal, definitely. A shifter, probably, but his demon arms didn’t look like any animal out there. Most days he felt like a monster, but tonight he might actually be useful.
Wylie held his arms up over his head and let Beck tie his sweatshirt around his waist so it wouldn’t get shredded. “For good luck,” Beck whispered and leaned close to peck a kiss to his lips. Wylie had no defense against the wicked hand that suddenly reached between them and cupped his dick. “In less than an hour, I’m going to be deep throating this huge cock of yours while we’re surrounded by a pile of money. This is the ultimate score, baby. Everything changes tonight.”
Wylie didn’t argue as Beck’s lips heated along his cheek and he squeezed him through his jeans, his breath stuck in his chest. He was too aware of how easily his scales could slice Beck’s flesh to be able to enjoy the moment. Yeah, there was no way they’d be fucking with his arms out. No matter how sexy Beck looked when he grinned up at him like that.
“Freak!” Diego snapped, his patience running out as Beck continued to press kisses to Wylie’s tense jaw.
“I’ll be right back,” Wylie said once Beck stepped away, his eyes sliding down his boyfriend’s tight form flushed with arousal. “Try not to start without me,” Wylie added, only half teasing when Beck reached down to adjust his pants that were caught too tight around his erection. It didn’t seem to matter what the fuck they were doing, Beck was always ready to get off whenever they were together.
“All the more reason to hurry.” Beck’s smirk was shameless as Wylie turned away.
Adam gasped and threw himself back when Wylie stalked toward him. His eyes were wide as he stared at Wylie’s jagged scaled arms like he was a bloodthirsty demon there to murder him. “I got… I got the…” Adam flustered. Wylie stepped right past him, his gaze glued on Diego, whose expression was twisted with undisguised malice.
“Hustle the fuck up, freakshow.” Diego pointed to the door just in case he was too retarded to figure out why he was there. Wylie’s nostrils flared as he watched Diego chew his gum. The no smoking policy was total bullshit. If they could grab DNA off a cigarette, the cops could do the same for a piece of gum.
“Alarm dead?” Wylie grunted as he looked at the back door. The keypad no longer glowed with light, and the protective grate was pushed to the side to keep it from locking. Even at a distance, he could feel a strange sensation, like cold electricity was lingering in the metal of the grate.
“Of course it’s fucking dead,” Diego snapped. “Open the shit up and shut your freak mouth.”
Wylie ran his tongue along the edge of his teeth, his fangs itching to bite the aggressive fucker on the face. Money, he reminded himself. He needed the fucking money more than he needed stupid drama.
The door was black walnut with a gleaming finish varnished to perfection. It was misleading, made to look like every other pretty door on the rich houses in the area. The difference was that on this house, the wood was hiding a solid steel security door beneath.
Wylie drew a long, black talon down between the seam of the door and reinforced metal molding. He found the bolts, four in all, and scratched the surface to mark their placement. “Stand back.” He shot a glare over his shoulder when he found Diego hovering. “Unless you’re looking to eat metal.”
Diego grunted defiantly, but moved a few steps away. Wylie didn’t care if the guy ended up with an elbow in the face just so long as he had enough space to work. He ran his palm along where the door met the molding over the alignment of bolts, and braced his other hand to help muffle what he was about to do.
His first slam was experimental to give him an idea of what kind of force he needed. The door yielded beneath his palm, and the solid bolts were a soft bulge in the covering wood. Wylie abruptly clawed down the surface and scraped the glued on wood away to get a better look.
“Seriously?” Wylie muttered when he saw how close together the bolts were. Too easy. The pieces of metal couldn’t be more than three inches into the reinforced molding.
Wylie sank claws into the door with his braced hand, pulled his right back, and punched forward with an open palm. The metal buckled from the blow, and there was a shearing sound under the loud slam. Wylie kept pushing forward, and the door bent and warped from the molding around his hand. With a final slam, the mechanism holding the bolts tore through the other side of the door and clattered to the floor.
“Fuck, yeah.” A smug smile split Wylie’s face, and he turned the broken handle to loud protests from the metal, wrenching forward. Wylie pushed the door open wide with a flourish and waved the scowling Diego in. His gaze fell to Adam, whose chest was heaving and face pale as he stared at Wylie’s impossibly strong arms.
“Hurry the fuck up, you little bitch,” Diego snapped when he saw Adam frozen in fear. Adam jolted, and his eyes flew to Wylie’s face. Without a word, he scurried past and darted inside the dark room after Diego.
Wylie shook his head, his expression grim. He had only met Adam once before, and he reeked of so much fear it was hard to understand what the hell he was doing running with Roth. Maybe Adam was one of those types who didn’t want to be afraid anymore. Wylie sure as fuck didn’t have that problem. He stopped being afraid once he realized no matter how many foster families treated him like shit, he could still survive on his own. Even if he didn’t get into the gang tonight, Wylie knew he’d be fine.
“Baby, you got this,” Beck said excitedly as he stepped up beside Wylie, careful to avoid his scales. “Fuck college; you could be robbing banks! You’re made for this.”
Wylie pasted on a smile he didn’t feel. “Yeah, sure.” His boyfriend wanted him to be a career criminal. Great.
Lights flickered on inside, and Wylie eyed the gaping door where the other two had disappeared. Adam’s fear scent made the hair stand up on the back of his neck, and Wylie suppressed an annoyed sigh. None of this felt right. Adam was too waif-limbed to carry shit and too skittish to trust not to bolt if things got tough. Beck was at least a sweet talker. If some nosy biddy stuck her head over the fence, Beck could come up with a lie and a smile on his pretty face in a second flat.
It didn’t matter, not really. Beck shouldn’t have been there. Neither teen had the judgment or nerves suited to rob the place, and Wylie was left wondering once again why they brought four guys for this job.
He was in it now. Breaking and entering, trespassing, burglary, and damage to private property. Shit, Beck might have a point about this being a career.
Wylie squared his shoulders and stalked toward the door. “Watch your ass, B.”
“Yours and mine both, babe,” Beck replied with a wink as he whirled and sauntered back to the van.
Wylie paused as he stepped inside. He was expecting a great room, something relaxed with a television and couch. What he found was a space clinical and cold in both style and temperature, one with a purpose he couldn’t quite place. The floor was a hard tile, and the walls stripped of any personal touches or embellishments. It was a flat, white room all around, and Wylie’s ice blue eyes narrowed on the strange, bulky machinery made of glittering chrome and sleek plastic. The advanced looking equipment dotted the large space in an obvious grid pattern.
It could have been storage or even a weird art installation. Whatever it was, he didn’t like it.
“Start tagging anything that looks worthwhile,” Diego ordered Adam, who was trembling where he stood.
The air was stale and void of natural scents, which only made Adam’s fear scent all the more intense. Wylie’s gaze darted to the wall of electronics, paused on a dividing curtain of plastic to the right, and landed on Adam’s diminutive form and hunched shoulders. Wylie didn’t know shit about tech outside of email and phone calls, but there was a lot of big equipment. If he judged by Adam’s expression, none of this was the run of the mill stuff you’d find in just any rich fuck’s house.
“This is military grade,” Adam whispered as he hovered next to a metal contraption that looked heavy enough to crush him. The machine he was fiddling with flickered and buzzed, and a thin light glowed between metal plates, producing a laser. Wylie’s scales puffed up as a chill zapped down his spine. The sooner they got out of there, the better.
“The door!” Diego snarled to Adam and pointed to a large, open doorway that led to the rest of the downstairs. “We’ve got one more keypad to get through to get into the upstairs house.”
“R-Right!” Adam flinched at Diego’s aggressive tone and nodded rapidly. Clutching his laptop to his chest, he quickly scurried in the direction of the hall.
“I thought you said the security was all down?” Wylie asked suspiciously.
“Subsystems. Simple shit,” Diego grunted. “Come on, freak. The safe is upstairs.”
Wylie followed after Diego’s retreating back with his lips pursed tight. No one had mentioned anything about keypads and internal locks. Had Adam been briefed on things the rest of them hadn’t?
Wylie wasn’t sure if he had good reason to feel paranoid or if the downstairs was just creeping him out. The place felt like an underground laboratory, and it got worse as he followed Diego down the unadorned hallway tiled in white.
Lights connected to motion sensors clicked on as they passed. On either side of the hallway were floor to ceiling windows that looked into large rooms. Inside were desks and more equipment, the spaces filled with the shiny, chrome stuff. But the instruments didn’t look like displays here; they were being used for something. Well, had been used, at least.
Everything was covered in plastic drop cloths to keep dust from getting into whatever was hidden underneath. Wylie wasn’t particularly interested in learning just what was under the plastic. What he could see was creepy enough, from empty vats and cages large enough to fit people, to examination rooms that looked both high tech and intimidating. Through one set of windows was a room that looked so dungeon like, Wylie stopped to peer silently for a long minute.
There were metal restraints, a metal cage that fit across an entire wall, and a metal grid on every surface. On the back wall was a large image of the inside of a human mouth. Except it wasn’t a human mouth, not a proper one. There were two rows of razor-sharp teeth belonging to a fully infected werewolf.
“Shit.” Wylie’s scales ruffled, and he blinked rapidly as a strange wave of dizziness hit him. He turned from the image of the werewolf and forged ahead. He didn’t look into the rooms after that. He didn’t want to see any of it, didn’t want to know. The stuff looked like it was sitting there, untouched for years, and that was consolation enough.
“Figure out what’s important, and we’ll be down to move what you can’t lift.” Up ahead, Diego shoved Adam back the way they just came. “Don’t fuck it up.”
Wylie could see the fear in Adam’s eyes as the teen came his way. Adam stayed close to the side of the hall to avoid getting too close as he passed by him, his only acknowledgment that he was there. Wylie shook his head grimly and forged forward.
Too young. They were all too fucking young for this shit.
“Stairs,” Diego grunted and pulled open the door he was standing next to. Wylie saw the dead keypad on the wall and the metal grate that was once blocking the door now hooked to the side. It looked just like the metal used for the werewolf cage.
“What is this place?” Wylie asked as he entered the stairwell made of concrete steps that led up.
“None of your fucking business,” Diego snapped. “Less talking, more paying the fuck attention, freakshow.”
Wylie gritted his teeth and stomped up the stairs after Diego. He slowed once they reached the upstairs door and waited for Diego to open it, the gangster taking care to push another black metal grate aside before stepping through.
Wylie held his breath when he stepped out into the upstairs mansion. The lights were dim, but his eyes caught every detail as he looked around. Everything was different compared to the sterile lab area they left downstairs, and it felt like he was stepping out into another world.
The stairway door was tucked in a corner that opened out into a hallway, and directly to his left was a large, gleaming kitchen with expansive counter tops and state of the art equipment. Wylie fleetingly remembered what he last ate that day. It had been a bag of potato chips Beck grabbed him from his house. Before then, a piece of bread smeared with butter and nothing else. Wylie had never seen a kitchen so large before, and he had to force his feet from wandering in search for food. He was sure whatever was in the giant, stainless steel fridge was of a better caliber than anything that was back at his detention house.
Wylie followed Diego down the unfamiliar hall, his gaze darting to every shadowed room and new luxury. At the corner, he found a giant family room with a television big enough to hide inside. He passed a decadent dining room, the walls dripping in luscious drapes, the space filled with gleaming wooden furniture carved with elegant curves and whorls. Chandeliers dazzled above their heads in the low lighting, glowing with a faint magic that turned the crystals into prisms lit from within.
Diego didn’t seem interested in any of the opulence as he stalked through the long maze of hallways with complete confidence. It made Wylie wonder if the gang had gotten the house plans in advance, or if maybe Diego had been there before. It was hard to believe someone as coarse and crude as Diego had convinced a maid to let him see the place, but the gangster moved like he knew exactly where he was going, and didn’t bother to turn on the lights even in the dark hallways. Wylie admitted a mild appreciation that Diego wasn’t bumbling around like an idiot. He could put up with the asshole just so long as he didn’t get them thrown into jail.
The hallway suddenly branched out in four directions, and Wylie stopped short, his mouth agape as he turned and took it all in.
On one side was a curved music room with no doorways to block the sight of the ornate instruments. Gilded and ancient looking, each musical instrument was meticulously preserved and cared for, arranged to be seen more than played. Behind the wall where a harp arched like a giant platinum swan, floor to ceiling windows looked out onto the courtyard. Through the glass was a tall gate blocking the courtyard in, one that ran above like a cage so that nothing human sized could get out.
Wylie turned slowly, barely seeing the dual sweeping staircases that led to the second floor of the grand foyer. He zeroed in on the dark door on the other side of the foyer as his stomach bubbled with nerves. He had severely underestimated the security. The little door downstairs with the wimpy bolts he punched through was nothing compared to the mammoth door and extensive security that encased the front entrance of the mansion. Even from the distance, he could see electricity arcing from the metal door to a switch connected to a generator below.
Wylie started putting it all together: the lack of windows, the metal gates on every door, around the courtyard and the lawn, and now the only other door he’d found literally made out of anti-paranormal technology. The mansion hadn’t just been designed to cage werewolves downstairs; it was made to keep them out of the building.
It was a level of wealth he couldn’t fathom, and Wylie looked around the foyer like a starstruck tourist. What it would cost to power the gate, the doors, the fences… It was the kind of thing only cities could afford, yet here it was in a house built for one family.
Wylie tilted his head back and peered at the ceiling that arched above with geometric patterns carved in relief on the white surface. The marble tile below reflected the shapes in its sleek, shiny surface. All around him from the walls, to the statues, to the paintings, and lighting spoke of a luxury he had only ever glimpsed in the pages of magazines or flashes on television. He had thought it had to be an illusion, just media magic—or even plain old magic—but somehow there were people who actually lived like this.
“Freak!” Diego snapped his fingers sharply. “Pay the fuck attention!”
Wylie blinked and lowered his gaze, his expression impassive as he stared back at Diego’s scowling face. If the fucker whistled at him like a dog, Wylie wasn’t sure just what he’d do, but he doubted anyone would blame him.
Wylie turned his feet in Diego’s direction and returned to the path, this time with his senses expanded to take everything in. Diego’s voice was a low, angry rant far ahead of him. “…saddled with a bunch of snot-nosed, piss for brains, fucktard kids.” Wylie tuned it out, more interested in the many extravagances and flashes of treasure found everywhere he looked. In the study, a grandfather clock ticked from its tall, cherry wood case. It had a mother of pearl face that gleamed in the luminous tint of magic from the pillar lamps. Everything in the mansion felt larger than life, created to impress instead of just exist.
Warning prickled through him as he passed the study, and Wylie stopped short. He tilted his head, and his scales ruffled and nostrils flared as he attempted to sense it out. Wylie breathed in deep and turned his head when he caught the scent of flowers. Down a connecting hall was a sleek, mahogany table with a vase sitting in the center. Wylie’s scales ruffled again, and without a word, he turned to investigate.
They were daffodils mixed with small, white daisies in a classic vase. The flowers were fresh, free of droopage or spots of brown on the perfect petals, and Wylie’s stomach churned with the realization.
Diego glanced behind him and snarled when he discovered Wylie wasn’t following. When he caught sight of him, he stomped over to where Wylie was glaring at the flowers. “What the fuck are you doing?” Diego demanded.
“Fresh flowers,” Wylie said through clenched teeth. He rolled his eyes when Diego inhaled, moments from flipping out at him for wasting time. “They’re not even wilted,” Wylie stressed as he plucked one of the petals free with his dark claws. “Who the hell puts flowers out in an empty house?”
Diego’s eyes narrowed, and he stepped forward to briefly sniff the flowers to see if they were real. He straightened, and with a shrug, waved to the elegant hallways. “Look at this fucking place. Do you really think someone this rich does normal shit? Maybe the fucking maid puts them out to look nice in case they get robbed. Stop thinking and hurry the fuck up.”
“This is totally fucked,” Wylie muttered under his breath as Diego stalk back to the main hall.
The downstairs was full of military tech and werewolf cages, the outside gate had a code they barely got through, and the place was designed to withstand a siege of howlers. Who the fuck knew what else they might have missed? It was the middle of the night and whoever might be there—maid, butler, guest—could be in bed in one of the many rooms in the giant mansion. Wylie had no issue with stealing shit from someone who had more than enough, but he drew the line at terrorizing people.
“Psst!” Diego turned and waved his hand in an exaggerated motion to get him the fuck over there.
“Damn it. Fucking damn it,” Wylie growled under his breath and forced his reluctant feet forward. His scales were twitching so much, it felt like a bug was digging beneath his skin as he followed after Diego.
For all he knew, the fucking rich put flowers out every damn day even when no one was home. Rich people were fucking crazy. Money lifted them beyond reality the same way drugs did for a strung out crackwhore. Whoever lived there had rooms for their stuff, not for people. It’s not like he had found any photos in the giant place or anything. Who the hell was he to say what went on in the minds of the ultra-rich?
Wylie kept close this time as Diego led them surefooted down a branching corridor. He wanted this heist over with already so he could get the fuck out. They followed around a curved wall and passed an elaborate gym with equipment that looked too expensive to belong in anyone’s house. There was nothing normal about the mansion, and Wylie felt more and more out of place when they passed a library inside a study large enough to be a house all by itself.
The wealth was no longer impressive. Every new thing just reminded him of the anti-paranormal tech on the doors and windows. He might not know what his demon arms were, but Wylie was well aware they marked him as a paranormal. This was not a place he was supposed to be.
Wylie’s unease grew with every tap of prison tattooed fingers to the doors as they passed. Diego finally stopped at a dark wooden door where dim light greeted through a narrow gap.
“The office,” Diego announced when Wylie met him at the doorway. “There are jewels and bonds in here, plus some cash.” He pulled a black rectangle from inside his leather coat and unfolded it into a large canvas duffel bag. “The safe is on the far wall past the windows and desk. A bunch of books open up like a door.”
Diego glared into Wylie’s eyes as he placed the strap of the bag into his smooth palm, careful to avoid his talons. “Empty the shit and meet me down the hall. The clock is running down, so don’t fuck around. Don’t touch anything that’s not in that safe, and don’t run off. Just empty it and meet me five doors that way, left side.”
Wylie nodded and tried not to wonder what Diego was going for alone. If the asshole was stealing shit without Roth knowing, he sure as hell didn’t want to be the guy to snitch. Wylie knew why he was there: to follow orders so he could get in with Roth. If Diego wanted to screw himself with the boss, that was his death wish.
Wylie kept his mouth shut and waited for Diego to disappear down the hall before he pushed the office door open. He paused on the threshold and his gaze darted around the lush, sophisticated study. The room brimmed with expensive sculptures and artwork from all over the world. A single table lamp shone a warm glow from a solid wood desk in the middle of the room. It illuminated the warm brown tones of leather furniture and deep red walls. Wylie glared at his ratty sneakers, half afraid to step on the rich oriental rug and dirty it.
The room could have been two with the way bookcases dominated the far side of the space. The wealth was overwhelming, and all Wylie could think about were the shitholes he spent most of his time in. Each room of the mansion felt like new worlds, and this one was no different. Wylie pursed his lips and slipped through the door, careful to tread as lightly as possible on the rug.
Wylie grew tense with each wrong step. He didn’t belong here. He had spent years in foster care, living in houses where he wasn’t welcome, borrowing what was lent and rarely given. This time he was in a house to steal, not borrow. No one had invited him in; he had broken through the door. It shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. As much as he tried to brush it off, Wylie’s chest was tight as he walked the length of the room.
Scents tickled at his nose, and Wylie did his best to ignore the signs of recent life around him. The stale scent of human flesh was on the air. An older male… cigar smoker… “The butler,” Wylie whispered and took brisk steps to the bookcase on the far wall. Whoever left those flowers probably checked the rooms during the day to dust or some shit. He wasn’t sure exactly what it took to keep a mansion this size clean, but staff probably came by daily.
The false wall of books was easy to find. The hinges hadn’t been hidden, and although the books were real, they were placed as if in afterthought over the swinging door. Wylie’s pierced eyebrow raised at the ridiculousness of it all. The house screamed money, and anyone looking would know the place was full of cash. The owner must have really thought no one would ever get through the door.
Wylie clicked a claw into the wooden groove and nudged the false door open. The bookcase swung wide, and he eyed the matte black safe critically. It was more a vault than what he expected to find. Encased in cement, the safe was almost as tall as him. In the center was a dial waiting for a combination, and beneath that, a handle. Wylie considered the metal contraption in silence for long moments.
The downstairs door had taught him a lot for his first break in, and he didn’t bother trying to finesse this time. He punched his scaled fist into the safe door and ground his knuckles in hard until the metal ripped. He slammed his other hand down just as hard and slipped his claws between the jagged edges of torn metal. Wylie gripped tight and grinned as he curled and bent the thick, heavy door down. Even though it was made of steel, the door twisted like a thin tin cover of spam beneath his palms.
Shit, he really was made for this.
The darkness within the vault hid nothing from Wylie’s night vision. He couldn’t say what bonds were exactly, but he guessed the large, colorful pieces of paper kept in neat piles on the top shelf were them. There were flat boxes on the shelf beneath he figured must be the jewelry Diego mentioned. All the other shelves held cash separated into bundles and kept in tidy piles. It was the most money he’d ever seen in his life, and Wylie didn’t have to count it to know it was an absolute fortune.
Wylie wrenched the door with a final motion until the opening was as low as his knees, then he reached in to sweep the lowest shelf into the duffel. The scales on his wrist caught and tore right through a metal shelf and shredded half a bundle of cash.
“Fuck!” Wylie froze as ripped twenty-dollar bills fluttered down to his sneakers. Any sudden movement could end with all the money shredded. On the best of days, his palms were the only safe part of his hands when his scales were out. When he was shaking, his demon arms became even more of a hazard—not that he would admit to the adrenaline coursing through him.
Wylie took a steadying breath and glared down at his hands. His scales ruffled but refused to retract. “Come on, you fuckers,” he demanded in a harsh whisper. Everything about his arms pissed him off, including how temperamental they were. He was pretty sure the demonic things hated him back just as much, seeing as they made his life hell. “The claws, then,” Wylie pleaded and wiggled his fingers. “I need a damn hand!” His scales refused to relent, and Wylie growled in frustration. He peered into the paper treasure pile waiting in the safe as his mind raced.
Fear was starting to itch up his spine. Wylie couldn’t actually remember the last time he had let his arms out this long. Usually it was short stuff, quick moments where he would break something that needed breaking, or threaten someone who was giving him shit. He always shifted back right after, afraid of what might happen. His demon arms never felt like they were a part of him, but more that someone else was in there, controlling the terrifying things…
Wylie grimaced as darkness throbbed for a moment behind his eyes. He didn’t have time for this. There was no fucking time.
“Fuck it.” Wylie gave up on his hands, and his eyes lit on a thick, hardcover encyclopedia on the bookcase shelves. It didn’t matter if his claws shredded the book just so long as they didn’t touch the money. Wylie pulled the encyclopedia down and used a sweeping motion to clear half of the first shelf into the duffel bag. “Yes. Fucking winning,” he cheered triumphantly.
He held the bag gingerly by the strap with his knee raised to brace the bottom. With the book, Wylie knocked the rest of the contents from the shelf into the waiting bag. Things went faster after that, and it was difficult to truly understand the stacks of money sailing past him.
Seriously, rich people were fucking crazy. Who needed this much cash at home? If they put their money in a bank, no one would be walking into their house to steal their shit. But then, what the fuck did he know? Wylie snorted under his breath as one of the flat boxes knocked open and a glittering necklace tumbled out, only to be covered by a half dozen bundles of cash. Maybe the thousands flipping past his view were the same as spare change in the couch for normal people? Giant mansions, giant tech, giant amounts of dough: the rich were too fucking large to comprehend.
It was a good thing Beck was stuck playing lookout; he would have been writhing in the vault like it was an orgy. Beck had big dreams he was looking to buy if he could only get enough cash. Wylie tried to understand it, but he stopped dreaming a long time ago. There was no point. Freaks didn’t get to reach their dreams. No, they were stuck doing the grunt work behind the scenes while ambitious crooks like Roth were safe at home making a fortune.
The seams of the bag were stretching by the time the safe was empty. Wylie tossed the now shredded hardcover book aside and flexed his shoulders to coax his scales further up his arms. His demon arms had weird limitations he didn’t fully understand. His muscles and bones changed to beyond human, but only where the scales reached. It didn’t matter how killer his arms were if he couldn’t lug the weight of a bag full of twenties.
Wylie held still as his biceps bulged and more scales erupted through his flesh. The edges of his tank top shredded from the sharp scales. Sight, sound, and scent flooded him all at once when Wylie’s senses responded to the transformation, and a vibrant rush of information greeted him with his next breath.
Yeah, there had been a man in the office recently. Very recent. Wylie could smell the molecules of sweat in the air. He carried the bag one handed and wandered to a stand of glittering liquor bottles where a discarded glass of brandy rested. He sniffed and picked up the sour hint of clinging saliva and bacteria off the rim. If it was the butler, he sure as fuck wasn’t afraid to leave his booze stealing ways out for all to see…
Wylie didn’t need his scales to twitch this time as his heart pounded with understanding. He smelled someone.
He had slammed through that downstairs door, and the sound of shearing metal when he tore through the safe wasn’t fucking quiet. Fuck. They could have already called the cops. Wylie grimaced as a snarl tore from his throat. Fucking whore, the cops could already be on their way! What if they missed something? There had been codes on the inside—what if Adam missed something? The cops could be sneaking up the driveway even now!
Wylie didn’t bother to count the doors as he booked it from the office and dashed into the hall. He followed Diego’s scent down the hallway while he swallowed down his anxiety. There was no watch his scales wouldn’t destroy, but he knew they couldn’t have been in the house for more than ten minutes. Wylie winced when he thought about how long it took to get through the downstairs with all the weird labs. Shit, it might have been fifteen. Even twenty minutes—the hallways were so damn long in the place. Fuck, they needed to fucking fly.
“Diego!” Wylie palmed the door handle to the room the gangster had disappeared into and used his knee to push it open. He stopped short with a sharp inhale when scent and sight revealed an absolute shit storm.