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.
In the dark room, each object glowed with a sharp halo to Wylie’s shocked eyes. Someone had outlined reality in a bright, vibrating light, making the open wall safe and the paper waterfall spread across the hardwood floor buzz at the edges. Even brighter were the forms of the man crumpled at the foot of the bed and Diego standing over him with a gun in his outstretched hand. Wylie’s senses strained as he tried to comprehend what his eyes were telling him. The world pulsed, and he realized blearily it had the same beat as his own heart.
It wasn’t the scent of fear, but the small whimper of pain from the homeowner on the floor that snapped Wylie back to reality.
“Don’t fucking do it, man.” Wylie stepped into the room, his eyes jumping from the gun, to the stranger on the floor tangled in blankets. What were once immaculate, silk pajamas were now stained in blood from the guy’s head wound. “Just stop.”
Diego barely glanced Wylie’s way, his glare fixed down at the homeowner. He waved Wylie off with his free hand and widened his stance to brace for the gun’s recoil. “I’ll meet you downstairs. Help the twerp with the—” Diego fell silent when Wylie defiantly threw the duffel bag full of money on the floor. Red colored his features, and he lifted the gun and pointed it at Wylie’s chest. “Pick it the fuck up, and get the fuck downstairs, freak!”
“Why? So you can shoot this guy?” Righteous anger heated through Wylie and clenched in his chest. The Glock didn’t waver in Diego’s hand, and Wylie stood taller in defiance. “We’re here to rob, not murder. Do you think Roth is going to pat you on the back for killing some rich slob in his fucking bed? No, he’s going to waste you for fucking things up. Think, for fuck sake!”
Doubt crept into Diego’s dark eyes. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“We’ve got the money.” Wylie waved at the duffel bag and the cash spread out on the floor. “I cleared out the fucking safe, and the little shit downstairs is rolling in enough tech to give him a woody. Walk the fuck away, man. We have everything we came for.”
“I can’t!” Sweat spilled down Diego’s forehead as he shifted from one foot to the other. He gripped the gun with two hands and pointed it back at the man on the floor.
“Just…” Wylie held his breath, and his gaze slid down to where the gun was pointing. Once he found the homeowner’s face, it was impossible to turn away. The older man’s eyes were open and glazed with pain and confusion. The head wound had split the paper-thin skin of his forehead, and blood the color of night streamed down his face unchecked. Wylie’s stomach churned and twisted as he got a fresh whiff of copper scented blood.
“Don’t do it,” Wylie whispered, his voice strangely hoarse.
“The rich fuck saw my face!” Diego shouted, as if yelling could justify what he was about to do. “I’m not going back to prison. I am fucking done with prison!”
Wylie’s eyes locked with the homeowner’s as fear trickled past his strong defenses. Diego was going to waste this guy. It didn’t matter what the fuck he said or what amount of money was at hand. Diego was more afraid of prison than of taking a life, and he was going to kill this guy. Wylie hadn’t realized he had something left to be afraid of, but apparently seeing an innocent man get shot to death was it.
Something dark shifted inside him, and Wylie nearly stumbled sideways as the room tilted a moment. Grasping his head, his eyes fixed on the gun and where Diego was standing. He couldn’t let this happen. He had to stop it.
“Listen to me, really closely here.” Wylie took a tentative step as he scrambled to think of something that would convince Diego to stop. He was a full seven feet away from the gangster. It wasn’t near enough to do a flying leap faster than a bullet, but if he could inch a bit closer…
“What?” Diego grunted. His dark eyes were full of warning when he glanced his way, and Wylie froze.
“Okay. Uh, let’s say he manages to describe you even though the lighting is total shit in here.” Wylie forged on, grasping for anything to distract Diego from pulling the trigger. “The guy’s got an egg on the side of his head the size of my fist. He’s fucking ancient, and he’s injured.”
Sweat trickled down Wylie’s neck as he stared at Diego’s tense face and waited for him to look away. Wylie slid his right foot closer. “Let’s say he doesn’t have brain damage or memory loss from that lump, and he can describe you.” Wylie stole another step closer while Diego growled. “What’s he going to say?” he pressed. “It’s just a face. There are a fucking million people who look like you. You’re not pretty, you’re not ugly or scarred. It’s just a damn face, man. There’s no way he’s going to be able to identify you with all that blood in his eyes.”
“I’m not going back!” Diego snapped his gaze back to Wylie, and the gun lifted a moment only to return back to its original target. “You don’t understand what it’s like in there, freak, what they fucking do to you! Arms like yours, they might leave you the fuck alone. But me? You think they care if I’m pretty or not? You think they care if I run with anyone?” Fear and rage battled on Diego’s features as he relived something in his mind. His body shook, and the red flushing his face and neck spread down his chest.
Wylie held his arms out in a pacifying gesture, terrified Diego was going to snap then and there. “Stop. Chill the fuck out.” There was a noise, and Wylie turned his head toward the door, his eyes squinting to peer into the darkness on the other side of the gap. From far away, he picked up the sounds of Adam’s thin voice calling from down the hall. Wylie tried to do the math of how long he’d been in the bedroom. Had the cops hit the scanner? Did Beck send Adam up to get them out?
It was possible. Fuck, the cops could already be there.
Wylie turned back, his frustration growing with every second of the fucked up situation. “Listen, if this all goes to shit, you’re either in it for robbery, which is a fucking cakewalk, or it’s murder. Think!” Wylie stressed, desperation creeping into his voice. “They will never let you out if you kill this guy. You fucking hear me? They will lock you away with the animals forever!”
“Shit… Shit!” Diego hissed. The gun rattled in his grip as his hands shook. “You don’t get it, freak. You can’t… Shit!”
“Just walk away, man. We gotta go!” Wylie held his breath, waiting, certain he had gotten through. Surely Diego would stop and leave. It was the only answer. But what followed was just as illogical as the gangster’s assumption their piece of shit van would be inconspicuous when parked in front of a luxury mansion.
Diego’s hands steadied, and he pointed the gun back down at the man groaning on the floor. “I have priors. It’s not robbery; it’s fucking armed robbery.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Wylie insisted. “The cops are on their way! We’ve been here too long.”
Diego shook his head and snarled. “Freak, you’re too fucking stupid to understand. If I let this guy live and then end up back in jail for armed robbery…” Diego shook his head again, and his eyes narrowed with determination. “Sometimes you have to do shit. Sometimes you gotta make sure your rep is set.”
Wylie’s heart raced as Adam’s footsteps came closer and Diego pulled back the hammer on the gun. There was no time. Danger was coming for him at all sides, and it was impossible to keep any semblance of calm anymore.
“This isn’t just about you, you selfish fuck!” Wylie shouted.
“What, I’m supposed to give a fuck about the rich asshole who wasn’t supposed to be here!” Diego hollered back, his face red.
“No, the lookout, you dick! The fucking nerd! Me!” Wylie pointed accusingly at Diego. “You’re setting us all up for life if you—!”
The door creaked as Adam pushed it open, and Wylie felt the trigger squeeze. His muscles screamed in protest as Wylie lunged with all his strength and knocked into Diego’s solid form. Noise and light exploded all around him as Wylie careened forward. His hypersensitive senses reeled and his sight blacked out the same moment a ringing overwhelmed his ears. Wylie felt more than saw Diego crumple and collapse beneath him.
Another shot jerked through his body. Wylie gasped as red throbbed behind his eyes.
Wylie jolted and scrambled to wrestle the gun from Diego before they all ended up dead. He clawed around Diego’s forearms in desperation, and the scent of blood filled his nostrils. His palm found the gun. The barrel was burning hot from firing, but his demon arms felt no pain as he wrenched the weapon from Diego’s grip.
“Fuck.” The maddening scent of blood was all around him, and the room twisted in dark tendrils. Wylie patted mindlessly at his chest, but if he was shot, he couldn’t feel it.
Time. They were out of time.
Wylie lurched to his feet and hauled Diego up after him. Diego howled, and Wylie blinked rapidly to clear the fuzzy, dark dot from his vision enough to see the damage. Diego’s flesh oozed blood where inhuman claws and razor-sharp scales had sliced and scraped. He squinted as he tried to decipher if it was bone or fabric peeking through Diego’s bloodied jacket. Wylie’s knees threatened to give, but when he looked down, they were free of any telltale blood or holes.
A small whimper broke his dazed inspection, and Wylie turned to the door. Adam’s eyes were wide and unblinking as he stared at the homeowner huddled on the floor. The kid smelled of piss and fear, and Wylie clenched his jaw and took a steadying breath.
He didn’t need to look. He could scent the blood pooling on the floor behind him. Now that the ringing in his ears had faded, he could hear the man’s shattered gasps for air.
“Get to the van, kid,” Wylie gritted out. He adjusted his grip on Diego and earned a fresh scream of pain.
Adam’s slim form was shaking so much, he had to grip his arms to his chest to keep them from flailing. Tears streamed down his small face, and with an effort, he turned from the view of the dying man. He looked green, and Wylie really hoped he wasn’t going to hurl.
“What about… W-What about the stuff?” Adam forced out between chattering teeth.
“Now!” Wylie yelled. “Get the fuck out!”
Adam swiftly backpedaled away when Wylie stormed toward the door. Diego screamed as his blood sprayed up Wylie’s shoulder and splattered hot on his face. Growling loudly, Wylie dragged him through the open door and into the hallway. Diego had no escape from the clawed hand gripping his arm and slicing deep into the muscle of his bicep.
Wylie ignored Diego’s thrashing struggles. He was too furious to even look at the gangster for fear he might do something he’d regret. Wylie was steady as he followed their scent trail through the mansion, passing the office and study in silence. He strode down the corridor and took the turn that opened out to the main hall, then snarled when the scent of flowers reached his nose again.
“Damn it! Fucking damn this entire night,” Wylie muttered. He was smarter than this. He was fucking better than this.
Wylie didn’t waste time on caution as he rushed toward the stairway hidden by the kitchen. The cops weren’t there yet. Yet. After two gunshots and a guy bleeding out in the bedroom, he didn’t have to guess how the night was going to end.
Wylie paused at the top of the concrete staircase and snarled down at Diego, who had stopped trying to keep up. The gangster’s legs had given out. His sweaty face was pale from blood loss, and his dark eyes were glassy as they failed to focus on his surroundings.
“You selfish ass.” Wylie gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to leave the gangster behind, locked in one of the rooms, or better yet, the cage downstairs. If he thought for a moment Diego wouldn’t sell them out, he would have gladly left him there to be picked up by the cops.
Diego’s cries of pain renewed when Wylie readjusted his grip and tucked the gangster’s slumped form under one of his jagged, monstrous arms. They descended the eerily lit stairwell at a quick pace, each step wrenching blood and weak protests from Diego’s flailing form. Wylie caught a glimpse of his savage smile in the reflection of the small window as he grabbed the door handle, and was momentarily stunned by how sharp his fangs had grown.
The downstairs was less creepy now that adrenaline was coursing through his veins. Diego’s boot caught on a narrow, spindly table by the door they exited, and a crystal bowl careened to the floor. Broken glass and small decorative rocks scattered in a spray at their feet. Wylie’s eyes narrowed and his fangs flashed. He wrenched Diego hard against his side and pulled him down the long hallway flanked by giant windows. Lights flickered on in response to their presence, and Diego’s boots thumped with each step.
Adam scurried behind them, deftly avoiding the blood on the floor. In his arms he clutched a small laptop while he bit at the fingernails of his left hand intently. He was silent, his eyes glued on the way Diego’s clothes and flesh were shredding in Wylie’s merciless hold and turning crimson.
Wylie rushed through the underground corridors and pushed through a door. He snarled when the lights of the strange, white room he first entered hit his eyes. He raised his free arm up to shade his vision and plowed toward the splintered side door.
Beck was waiting at the outer door, his anxious expression revealing he heard the gunshots. He didn’t say a word as he took in the way Wylie was holding both a gun and Diego, who was now unconscious and streaming blood on the sterile floor. Wylie felt a fresh wave of anger as fear slipped into Beck’s dark blue eyes and grew as he stared at Diego’s bleeding form.
The stupid fuck hadn’t run when he heard the gunshots. For all Beck knew, there had been a security guard inside shooting them down. The stupid kid just stood there waiting to be killed.
“You’re in the way,” Wylie snapped, and the scales on his arms ruffled up to prove the point. Beck’s eyes went wide, and he quickly backpedaled away. Wylie shook his head in frustration and made his way out into the night. He headed straight for the van while his ears strained for the telltale screams of sirens.
“What happened? Wylie, what the fuck?” Beck ran up beside him and tried to keep pace with his large strides.
Wylie grunted. Beck looked so young, like the naive high school student he was. His brown hair was dyed with stylish, red streaks, and he had worn his overpriced sneakers to his first heist. His pretty face and fast tongue had gotten Beck out of every petty crime he jumped into, but that was over. Given his pallor and the haunted look in his eyes, Beck was realizing he was an accomplice to murder.
“You’re driving, B. Adam, get in the van and make sure you keep those cameras down until we’re gone.” Wylie pointed to the front of the vehicle and ignored the hurt look on Beck’s face at the dismissal. Fuck, because B thought there was time to have his feelings hurt when there was a man dying in the house they just robbed. Wylie growled under his breath and quickened his pace.
Resolve hardened in Wylie when he got to the back of the van. Adam had gathered up a pathetic pile of electronics while they’d been robbing the place. The kid was useless unless he had a computer in hand. What the hell would happen if Adam ended up in prison? Diego had killed out of fear of going back, and he was a grown man with actual muscle. Adam was so small and weak that he’d probably be dead in days.
Was it worth it? Had any of this fucking gang bullshit been worth it? Fuck!
Wylie heaved Diego’s unconscious body into the back of the van on top of the pile of electronics. He resisted the urge to spit on him. They could have avoided all of this if Diego hadn’t lost his shit. Diego could have used his fucking brain the second they noticed the flowers. Fuck, no, he knew better. Wylie could have chosen to not get in the van when Diego showed up late…
Wylie went to shut the door and stopped short. He snaked a hand forward and snatched the cell phone half hanging from Diego’s pocket and slipped it carefully into his jeans. He slammed the doors shut with his knee and started walking.
“What, are you getting—? Wylie!” Beck gaped at Wylie’s back a moment, then took off after him as he headed back to the house. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“I’m making sure that guy doesn’t fucking die!” Wylie whirled and jerked away when Beck reached for him, oblivious to his deadly scales. “Arms,” Wylie stressed when hurt again flashed in his boyfriend’s eyes. Beck bit his lower lip, and Wylie sighed and spoke more gently. “Get them the hell out of here, B. Diego’s going to need a hospital. I fucked him up bad getting the gun from him.”
“Don’t!” Beck pleaded when Wylie went to turn away. “Come with us. Baby, fuck, don’t do this!” Tears glowed in Beck’s eyes as he gripped his hands into fists to keep from reaching out. “No one will know it was us. No one will fucking know, and we can just… just…” Beck trailed off, unable to continue when he saw the resolve on Wylie’s face.
Naive. Beck was so fucking naive. Rich people didn’t get murdered in their homes with no one caught for the crime, not when it was a paranormal who broke through the back door. The police would never stop looking for them.
“Hurry up, B. That asshole is going to need you to save him after his huge fuck up.” Wylie smiled grimly and leaned down to press a swift kiss to Beck’s cheek. He paused to breathe in Beck’s unique scent under the stench of Diego’s blood. What Wylie once found comforting in his boyfriend now felt like a liability.
It felt like goodbye.
Wylie pulled back and tried to keep his emotions from his face. “Don’t let Diego pin this on you with Roth, okay? I know that crazy fuck, and he’ll blame us before ever owning up to his shit. I gotta go call an ambulance, but I want you safe and out of here first.”
Beck’s arms hung at his sides in defeat. “Shit… Shit, you’re such a fucking idiot.” Beck’s eyes continued to plead with Wylie even as he took hesitant steps backward. His gaze never left Wylie’s until he reached the driver’s door to the van.
The blood cooling on Wylie’s t-shirt from the night air was itchy, but he refused to move. He waited until Beck had climbed inside the van and the engine roared to life. The headlights flared, and Wylie growled and covered his eyes. Beck’s voice was rough with emotion when he snapped something at the hysterical Adam, put the van in gear, and turned sharply in the driveway. Wylie lowered his arm and waited until the van crossed through the open gate and pulled onto the road.
Wylie sighed heavily and turned back to the broken door. Shards of wood his claws had raked free littered the ground, red with Diego’s blood. He squinted when he noticed a small, white wad of chewing gum. It had been dragged by Diego’s shoe until it found its way onto the pavement. Wylie leaned down and speared it with a long talon, glaring at the little piece of nicotine laced gum for countless moments.
Beck was right: he was as fucking stupid as they came.
Wylie stepped back into the mansion and twisted the ruined door behind him, wedging it until the metal bent and stuck shut. He grimaced when he slipped on the tile floor and found the overly bright room splattered in Diego’s blood. The scent and sight of the scarlet carnage had him sneering while his stomach churned. Wylie stalked forward and slammed through the doorway that led to the long corridor and automatic lights. Nothing felt untouched by the violence they had brought with them, each step streaked with blood and reeking of fear sweat.
Dread clawed at his mind as Wylie rushed to the stairwell, his heart racing in his throat. He didn’t want to face what was waiting upstairs in the master bedroom. The blood had been intense, a fucking puddle compared to what dribbled out of Diego. While Wylie’s scales could shred flesh, that gun did exactly what it was designed to do. That old guy was going to die.
He paused outside the open stairwell door and scowled at the broken table and shattered crystal bowl. It felt disrespectful on top of everything else to have Diego break the homeowner’s stuff after putting a bullet in him. Wylie took the concrete steps in large leaps and bounded around the corner, hot on his goal. He jogged down the upstairs hallway, his steps muffled by a long runner carpet. When he passed the grand foyer, Wylie stopped short and bit back a gasp.
Strewn lengthwise along the hall was the homeowner. He had crawled to get there and was collapsed in a puddle of his own blood. Wylie swallowed hard. A gory trail was smeared in thick crimson across the floor, but in the dim lighting, he could see the man’s chest heave with every struggling breath.
Alive. Thank fuck, he was alive.
Wylie tried to take a steadying breath and gagged on the overwhelming scent of blood. “Shit.” He grasped his forehead as a wave of dizziness hit him, and stepped forward to where the homeowner was fighting to get up. “Stop moving. You’re going to bleed out even more.”
Relief unclenched in his chest when he saw the determination in the old guy. He was a fighter, and he wasn’t dead yet. Wylie knelt down and reached to turn the homeowner to find the wound. He flinched back when the man cried out and wrenched away.
“Chill. I’m not here to hurt you. My palms don’t cut like my scales do so…” Wylie trailed off when he noticed he still was holding Diego’s gun. “Fuck,” he growled in exasperation. “I’m not going to shoot you either. I just didn’t want to leave it with that trigger-happy fuck. Hold on.”
Wylie jumped up and his eyes lit on the nearest closed door. Inside, he found a square table pushed to the side where he left the gun. He made sure to close the door tight when he returned to the hallway. The gun might have been mangled by his claws, but Wylie had seen enough thrillers to be paranoid. He wasn’t dumb enough to leave the damn thing lying around where someone could shoot him with it.
The cell phone was in his sweatshirt pocket. Wylie glared down at the man, then at his jagged edged, scaled arms. The incident with the safe was hot in his mind. How long had his demon arms been out now? Half an hour? More? Wylie didn’t like to transform in front of anyone, but there was no way his claws could work a touch screen. If he couldn’t get a call out, this guy was as good as dead.
Wylie took a slow breath, then another as he focused on his scales and attempted to pull them back in. “Please… Listen this one fucking time,” he whispered desperately. Wylie pursed his lips, fighting down his rising panic. After a breathless moment, he felt something change and his long, razor-sharp scales ruffled and absorbed back into his flesh. “Thank fuck.” He rubbed a pale hand along his blood streaked forearm to make sure they were completely normal. He had no idea where the scales went; it was a magic he didn’t understand. His arms ruined his life so completely that he rarely dwelled on where the monster inside him lived.
With eyes fixed on the man gasping on the floor, Wylie fished Diego’s cell from his pocket and dialed 911. As the phone rang, Wylie sank to his knees beside the homeowner and sought out the source of all the blood. “Don’t—damn it,” Wylie muttered. It didn’t matter how careful he turned him over, blood gushed in a fresh wave down the man’s nightshirt. It was bad, seriously bad.
Wylie untied the sweatshirt from around his waist and wadded it up, then pressed it firmly to what he could only guess was the wound beneath the crimson soaked pajama shirt. Wylie’s nose wrinkled as his hand grew slick with blood. He glanced at the man’s face, but there was no fight left in him. Either the old guy was too exhausted from blood loss, or he figured out he was helping. The homeowner tried to clutch the material to his chest to stop the flow of blood, but his hands were shaking too much, lacking any strength.
There was a click in Wylie’s ear followed by the buzz of background activity. “911. What’s your emergency?” a woman’s voice drawled from the phone.
“There’s a guy with a gunshot wound. It’s in his chest.” Wylie lifted the wad of sweatshirt to see, only to squish it back down. Blood pooled in the fabric between his tense fingers. “Shit. He’s, uh, he’s bleeding out and I don’t know what to do.”
Wylie hoped his voice sounded more stable than he felt, because he was freaking out. He wasn’t sure where the hell it had been hiding his entire life, but apparently there was still a lot of fear left in him. Now that Beck was safe, and he was alone with a wound that led straight to the morgue, Wylie had found a shit ton of terror.
“Where are you?” The operator sounded bored, like it was a simple walk in the park. It would have pissed him off, but Wylie was too busy trying to remember where he was.
He was robbing a house and didn’t even know the address? Fail. Total fail.
“Shit, dude, what’s your address?” Wylie peered down with eyebrows furrowed, waiting for an answer. The silence dragged on so long, he started to wonder if the old guy could even talk.
“Woodcrest… 135 Woodcrest Ave.,” the homeowner choked out as blood trickled from between his lips. He coughed and immediately sucked in a gasp of air.
“You get that?” Wylie demanded, unable to tear his eyes from the scarlet fluid splattered on the man’s chin. He knew internal bleeding was bad. Like, death bad. Maybe the guy bit his tongue when Diego cracked him on the head… Wylie wrenched his gaze away and turned to talk into the phone, hoping to muffle his voice. “Listen, you need to get someone down here now. This guy isn’t going to hold out much longer.”
“An ambulance has been dispatched. Are the two of you in a safe location?”
“Yeah, yeah, we’re fine,” Wylie snapped, wanting to avoid any questions about gunmen or how everything went down. “The guy is losing all his blood. Is there anything I can do to, I dunno, keep the blood in him? He’s soaking through my sweatshirt.”
“Right, of course.” There was a clicking of a keyboard and a long pause before the operator continued. “Has pressure been applied to the wound?”
“Uh, yeah, I’m doing that right now.” Wylie turned back with a confused scowl. “It’s not doing much. I think the bullet might have gone through him. Should I turn him over to cover that one too?”
“It’s best to keep the pressure. Is there a magic user with you, someone who might be able to enhance the bandages you’re using? Even the most rudimentary healer kits have something to slow bleeding. Look for a vial labeled ‘gloo.’”
“I don’t…” Wylie’s eyebrows twisted as he looked around the opulent hallway. The place was huge and he hadn’t seen a bathroom yet. There might be something down in the basement, but that would mean trying to explore all the labs… “I have no fucking clue. This isn’t a hospital; it’s someone’s home. If I leave this guy to look, I’m worried he’ll be dead by the time I get back.”
“Hmm, no healer kit.” The voice tsked in disdain in his ear. “Is he moving normally, or is there signs that his spine might be injured?”
Wylie smiled grimly as he considered how far the old guy had crawled. “His spine’s fine.”
“If it’s safe to move the victim, you want to elevate the wound to slow the bleeding—oh, but that’s for limbs. But make sure you keep pressure on the wound at all times. If you have a healer kit… Oh, ignore that.” Silence descended as the operator clicked through web pages. “Here. It says to ensure his airway isn’t blocked. Is he breathing?”
“Of course he’s…” Wylie shook his head with a frustrated growl, thumbed the phone off, and tossed it down the hall. “Fucking morons. It’s like they don’t know where their ass is without magic. Privileged fucks.” He glanced down and met the homeowner’s confused gaze. “Sorry, dude. I’m not listening to her read to me until the cops show up.”
“Is he breathing?” Wylie muttered to himself as he refocused his efforts to stop the blood pouring from the man’s chest. “Don’t you think I would have started with he’s not breathing if the guy wasn’t fucking breathing? Shit, you better keep breathing, man.”
In defiance, the homeowner’s breath grew stuttered and full of gasps as each minute ticked by. Tension built in Wylie until his eyes squeezed shut and he found himself praying to whoever might be listening to not let this guy die. He didn’t know a thing about the homeowner. Well, except he was rich, kept way too much tech and money in his house, and might like daffodils. Now it was like the old guy was the most important person in the world. He must be, because Wylie knew exactly what he was doing by staying.
It was jail time. Juvie, if he were lucky. If the guy died—fuck, he picked up the gun, didn’t he? Wylie wasn’t sure if his clawed hands left fingerprints, but he was the one who broke into the house. He had the gun that shot the guy. He was the idiot who stayed behind…
Wylie held his breath when the man started coughing, and his chest heaved beneath his hand. Wylie raised his gaze and hesitantly met deep, blue eyes clouded with confusion. The guy looked military with his gray hair shorn close. There was something about the squareness of his jaw combined with his broad shoulders that made him seem like he had seen conflict. He could have been a retired soldier, out of place in the luxurious mansion. Wylie searched his face for more information, but beyond the twisting of his features, the homeowner didn’t have much for wrinkles.
“They’re on the way.” Wylie wasn’t sure if there was anything else to say. He was shocked the guy was still conscious; most of his blood was on the floor instead of in his body at this point.
“Your hands… Let me see your hands,” the homeowner gasped between loud, shallow breaths. He reached for Wylie’s hand, the one holding the compress in place. “Before… they were…”
“Yeah, freakish.” Wylie tried not to flinch away when his blood coated fingers were grasped and slipped through the man’s weak grip. “You don’t want a nightmare right now, man. They’re scary shit.”
“No… they were…” the man broke off with a wheeze, desperation shaking in his voice.
Wylie sighed and pulled his hand away when the homeowner tried to grab him again. “Dude, seriously…” Their eyes met, and Wylie saw a pleading in them he couldn’t understand. It was like the old guy was begging him, and it just didn’t make any sense. His demon arms were monstrous.
The guy was probably going to die… Wylie’s shoulders hunched in defeat. “Fine, whatever. But I warned you. Don’t start freaking out.”
Wylie sat back and made a point to keep his arm clear as he focused on his hand. It was always a crapshoot if he’d be able to control the transformation, and he didn’t want his scales slicing the old guy up. Wylie’s pigment darkened up to his wrist, and at the tip of his fingers, sharp, black talons pushed free. It wasn’t until the scales had finished sprouting over his hand that Wylie regretted giving in to the stupid request. The scent of blood was everywhere and overwhelmed his enhanced senses. Wylie turned away and determinedly breathed out of his mouth.
“You’re a shifter.” Shaking fingers gingerly touched Wylie’s claws where they were resting on the floor.
“You mean a freak. A killer monster with fucked up arms,” Wylie spat bitterly. “Don’t worry, I’ve heard it all before.”
“No… No, you’re a shifter.”
Wylie rolled his eyes. “Listen, dude, I know all about shifters, and I’m not like those guys. I don’t turn into anything fluffy, no fur or crazy inner animal. I’m some kind of demon monster who can only change his arms.” Wylie turned with eyes narrowed as fingers again touched his. He held his hand still as the man’s pale digits wavered near. “Careful. The scales are super sharp, so don’t go cutting yourself up even more.”
The man’s breathing broke down into coughs, and his entire body jolted with each uncontrollable spasm. He clutched Wylie’s smooth talons like a lifeline as his body shook. “Dragon,” he got out. “No such thing… as demon shifter.”
“What?” Wylie blinked rapidly and jerked his hand away. “What did you say?”
Blood speckled the man’s neck as he coughed and clutched his chest. “You… you’re a dragon shifter.”
He was a dragon shifter?
How? What did that even mean? Dragons weren’t real. It wasn’t like anyone ever dug up dragon bones and put them in a museum. But… But he might have heard of someone going to jail for selling dragon scales…
Wylie’s mind raced as he stared at the rainbow sheen of color that coated his midnight black scales. Was he a dragon shifter? Did he have an actual shifter animal inside of him waiting to get out?
The scales on Wylie’s hand fluffed, and his breath hitched. For a moment, it was like a voice inside him, something that had been lost in his own thoughts but not. No, it was someone else. Something else…
“Well, fuck,” Wylie whispered. He curled his hand into a fist and watched the way his scales aligned in a beautiful pattern over his knuckles. He might be going to jail, but at least now he knew he was a failed dragon shifter. It sounded way cooler than a demon, that’s for sure.
“How do you know what I am?” Wylie asked the homeowner solemnly as he slowly unclenched his fist.
“I know… another.”
Wylie raised his eyebrows and turned to where the man was gasping for breath. “Really? You know another dragon shifter?”
Wylie blinked at the change of topic. “Huh?”
The homeowner struggled to keep his head from falling back to the floor. “Your spit… can heal.”
Wylie wrinkled his nose and pressed down on the blood-soaked sweatshirt. “Err, I think you’ve lost way too much blood, old man.”
“Transform… and spit.” The homeowner’s bruised face twisted in pain, and another jagged cough shook through him. More blood spilled from his gaping mouth as he fought to breathe.
“I can’t do a full transformation,” Wylie tried to explain. “Even if I could heal—which is crazy unlikely—only my arms will change. I’m probably not even a dragon shifter, right?” A monster. Whatever was connected to his arms was a monster.
“Spit. It can… Transforming can heal…” The homeowner didn’t seem to hear Wylie over his shallow, desperate wheezes. “Spit heals… Transform and spit.” His voice grew weaker as he repeated himself between bursts of coughing.
Wylie sighed in frustration as the man grew more distressed and delirious. Whatever blood was left in the old guy was quickly escaping. “Dude, calm—” Wylie growled and pushed forcefully on the homeowner’s chest until he stilled. “Chill. I’ll do it, whatever. If you want to be spit on like a freak, I’ll do it. Just calm down and stop bleeding on me.” Fuck, who was he to deny the old guy his last—totally weird—dying wish?
“Hold this.” Wylie placed the homeowner’s trembling arm over the bloody sweatshirt. The guy didn’t have much strength, but it was safer than transforming on top of him with killer claws. Wylie focused down at his arms and stared from his scaled hand to his pale, normal looking one. He wrinkled his nose as the scent of blood again threatened to overwhelm him.
“Just hold on,” Wylie muttered and moved down the floor to be safe. Talons sliced through his fingernails and grew long and deadly. Scales slid free from his pale flesh, transparent with a rainbow sheen, and then filled with black as they thickened. In moments they were long enough to fluff out, his arms sharp edged from every angle. Wylie closed his eyes and tried to push the scales further up his arms for a full transformation. His other senses woke up, and his teeth sharpened and fangs poked free.
Wylie grimaced as he felt something fill him at his core, a dark shadow that grew larger, its presence expanding as he sought a more complete shift. If he really was a dragon shifter, that meant he was more than a pair of killer arms. Just… just, Wylie wasn’t sure he wanted to know just what the fuck that meant.
Maybe he had always known. There was something inside him, something that scared the crap out of him every time he peered too close. Now he knew it wasn’t a monstrous demon, though. No, only a monstrous dragon. Maybe it was safer. Maybe the dragon could do something he couldn’t. After this terrible night, he was desperate enough to try anything.
Wylie’s nostrils flared with his next inhale, and something stirred within. Something alive. Dizziness tilted him as the feeling grew and something shivered and slithered within his core.
Blood. He needed to focus on the blood. He was not for want of the life-giving liquid, and Wylie let his senses target the heavy scent rising in the air. The world slowed around him as he heard the rhythm of the blood flowing in the homeowner’s veins. It sounded wrong, sluggish, as if his heart had nothing left to pump.
Wylie groaned as saliva abruptly flooded his mouth. A wave of dizzying heat hit him so hard, he ended up hunched over the homeowner, who he just missed slicing with his claws.
“Shit.” He was hard. Wylie squeezed his eyes shut and tried to will the reaction away, but his body wouldn’t listen. It felt like a fire was burning through his veins, and his dick grew stiffer, swelling with need. Something about this, about the blood, was making him seriously horny. “Fuck,” Wylie muttered and shook his head. There was a new pulse inside of him, deep red throbbing through the darkness encroaching on his vision. For a moment, he could feel the creature again, a dark shadow twisting in his core, its heart pulsing with his own.
Messed up. Wylie gritted his teeth as his dick twitched and he fought the urge to grind against something, anything, to alleviate the building pressure. This was so not cool when there was some old guy bleeding out beneath him.
“Spit,” the homeowner pleaded, his voice a dry rasp.
Wylie’s lashes snapped open, his eyes no longer light blue but a glowing, otherworldly white. He tried to fight the pull, tried to push away, but someone—something—was controlling him. Wylie yanked the sweatshirt from the homeowner’s chest and tore away the sticking shreds of his bloodied shirt. A black hole cut through the man’s chest, pulling Wylie down, drawing him in. He bent over bare flesh, lips hovering a breath away as the fluid in his mouth increased. His sight dimmed with another red throb, and when he opened his mouth, his saliva spilled into the bloody wound.
“Ah!” The quiet gasp was tight with pain. Smoke began to rise from the wound, and the homeowner convulsed and hissed. He gripped weakly at his chest and heaved for air.
Beneath the scent of blood, Wylie was vaguely aware of the odd smoke and gasps of air quickly turning to pained cries. He inhaled again, nostrils full of the copper scent, and the world spun.
‘Blood… life giving… soul feeding…’
“No,” Wylie growled as he squeezed his eyes shut to try and block it out. “Shhhh-shut up!” A hiss escaped him, demented and animalistic. His eyes snapped open, but no, when he touched his face, it was still the same, no monster transforming his head. He whimpered when his blood wet fingers touched his lips, flavor jolting like small flashes of electricity on his tongue.
‘Taste… Taste blood… Feed…’
“Oh, fuck.” Wylie’s eyesight dimmed and darkness swarmed the edges of his vision. Before he could stop, he leaned forward and touched his tongue to the crimson, burning hot fluid coating the man’s neck. His senses exploded with the burning, metallic fluid, and Wylie moaned and surged forward, his mouth open wide to drink every drop down.
“Sorry… Really fucking sorry,” Wylie groaned, flesh vibrating under his lips as he sucked a patch of skin and lapped his tongue over the bloody surface. Somewhere, detached from the dark throb of arousal and the cloud of hot blood, he knew he was losing it, but his embarrassment was no match for his hunger. He was starving, and the blood tasted too good, too right.
More. He needed so much more.
Wylie licked long, heavy touches of his tongue up the man’s collar, seeking where blood had pooled into the hollow of his throat in a glittering, ruby red treasure trove. He groaned from the intense flavor as he swallowed the blood down, then chased the trail up the man’s jaw, sucking over sticky flesh and rough stubble. He paused, gritting his teeth to hold back when he found gasping lips wet with a terrifying trickle of scarlet. Wylie’s claws slashed into the floor as he tried to stop himself.
This was insane. The guy was bleeding out and he couldn’t stop licking his fucking blood. Shit, what the fuck was happening to him?
‘More… Drink more…’
The room twisted with a heavy pulse of red and black shadows, the same pulse throbbing through Wylie’s body, pushing him forward. The powerful rhythm built as he fought against it, the energy spiraling higher, shaking everything he could see until it was impossible to resist. “Sssssorry,” he hissed, knowing he had lost. Wylie pushed his tongue between the homeowner’s parted lips, using the pressure of his body to pin his prey down as he sought out every drop of blood he could find within the hot cavern.
The man’s mouth yielded beneath his, a wheeze of breath cut off as saliva and tongue invaded him. Wylie moaned as fresh blood burst on his tongue, the dark pulse growing triumphant in its prize. His tongue pried paper dry lips open, plunging deeper, relentlessly sucking wet sounds and weak gasps in. Beneath the pulse, Wylie felt his hips grind forward and his prey give in, responding, growing hard even as the homeowner’s body struggled to survive.
Above it, Wylie observed in a small sliver of sanity, cringing as he rocked harder against the man while stealing deep, ravenous kisses. He was kissing an old guy. A dying old guy. There was no redeeming himself after this. The guy was practically a senior citizen, even if he was kinda hot in a brutish, military way. Maybe fifties, sixties, not completely decrepit. But still, none of this was okay.
The homeowner whimpered a lost, hungry sound when Wylie’s lips broke away. It was only a moment, Wylie struggling with the shadows only to lose and surge forward again, stealing away the man’s air and blood. “Thissss isssn’t right…” Wylie got out, his eyes rolling back when his hips jerked forward, seeking more pressure for his aching erection. “Sssstop.”
The overwhelming pulse refused to abate, Wylie trapped for agonizingly long, awkward minutes before the addictive flavor of blood finally faded from his victim’s mouth. When he felt the possibility for escape, he dug his talons into the floor and pushed up on his arms, angling his head to the side. “Ssstop… just stop!” Wylie snarled. Cool air hit his lungs, and he whimpered in relief. “Oh fuck… fuck, what’s happening to me? I gotta… gotta run before…” Before he lost. Before this insane pulse demanded more than just kisses and easily available blood.
“W-Wait.” A hand grasped his neck, Wylie jolting when the homeowner’s trembling fingers pulled him back.
Wylie blinked down, confused when he saw the strange flush to the man’s cheeks, the only color to his otherwise pale flesh. He focused on the homeowner’s dazed, blown wide pupils, not sure what exactly he was seeing. He looked entranced, or maybe just really freaking confused after being tongue fucked by a total monster.
“No,” Wylie breathed out shakily. There was a heavy stream of blood on the side of the homeowner’s face from where the gun handle had cracked his skull. Darkness throbbed all around him, and Wylie’s mouth and tongue were attached to the hot flesh before he could comprehend it. He cradled the man’s head tight between his smooth palms and drew his tongue up the side of his face in rough, thorough strokes, refusing to miss any of the red fluid. Wylie’s fangs scraped skin, and he groaned, shivering at the pleasurable sensation of flesh yielding beneath his teeth and blood flowing on his tongue.
‘Drink… Drink our fill…’
Damn, it was good. Hot, tangy, and toe-curlingly perfect. Wylie’s cock pulsed in rhythm to the darkness twisting at the edges of his sight, and he groaned, wishing he could unzip but unwilling to release his prize to do it. He was so hard…
“Kid. My back.” The homeowner’s voice was stronger this time as he drew air in and blood didn’t spill free on his exhale. “The bullet went through.”
Wylie’s hands moved on their own accord, turning and shoving the man down chest first to the floor. His claws tore the bloody pajama shirt in half, revealing strong muscle, wide shoulders, and another dark hole frothing with divine blood.
“Crap.” Wylie gritted his teeth as darkness throbbed through him in a fresh wave of heat, his senses consumed with the heady scent of blood. This was bad. Whatever was happening to him was really bad, some sort of insanity he could barely comprehend. Worse, he was terrified of what it was turning him into.
‘Feed… We will have our reward…’
“Aw, shit.” Saliva flooded Wylie’s mouth, and he lurched forward as the room spun. Flushed and dizzy, he couldn’t pull his eyes away from the faint flicker he saw as the homeowner’s flesh pulsed with each weak heartbeat. Nothing should taste this good. Nothing should be able to take him over like a fucking puppet. Nothing should have him attack some weak, defenseless, dying dude.
Wylie fell forward and inhaled the combined scent of blood and flesh. “Fuck.” He licked his tongue out and shuddered when he touched fresh blood. Oh, hell, it tasted like a fucking god.
Wylie moaned loudly and roughly lapped the flat of his tongue along the burning hot wound. The room spun around him as he sucked at the blood, drinking it down between hungry gasps. His hips refused to still, his rock-hard erection grinding against the man’s thigh as the blood seeped into his senses and stole whatever restraint Wylie had left. The wound changed under his tongue with each swipe. Wylie felt the flesh slowly knit together and the blood flow trickle until it finally stopped. He instinctively sought more of the heady fluid, lost in the wild darkness swirling through him. He followed down smooth flesh and pulled scraps of cloth away so he could steal every streak and drop of red he could find with greedy, long licks of his tongue.
“Damn it,” Wylie rasped with a deep note of despair. The flavor was nearly gone, and the scent was diminishing with each lap of the firm, healed skin. “No.” He nosed down and tore at the homeowner’s shredded pajama top, but all he could find were the smallest specks of blood. “No!”
‘More… claw it free…’
“W-what?” Wylie shook his head, fighting the bizarre thoughts that sounded like his own.
‘Drink… He is ours… The weak bleed for us… cum for us…’
Wylie’s eyebrows twisted down as his arms jerked and sought to slash more blood free. “No… No! Sssssstop talking, you fucking psssycho!” A hiss tore from his lips as Wylie wrestled with the power that had taken him over. Images flashed through his mind full of blood, flesh and sex. Wylie inhaled sharply as fear gripped him. “I’m not… I’m not a monster, damn it!” He grasped at his head, snarling a sound that didn’t belong to a human. “Get out of my fucking head!”
“Kid, wait.” Somehow, the homeowner knew exactly what was wrong. With a grunt, he pushed his hand up where Wylie’s blood-soaked sweatshirt was balled in his grasp.
Stunned, Wylie watched as the sweatshirt was thrown a few feet down the hall. He was on it before the sweatshirt could hit the ground. He rolled and pulled the fabric into his mouth, a relieved growl rumbling in his chest as blood filled his senses and sparked on his taste buds once again. Wylie sank to the floor, his eyes closed as he tried to ignore the fact he was treating the shirt like a fucking pacifier.
He could still feel it, the beast thrumming inside him, its desires his as his cock pulsed with the twisting darkness. He could feel what it wanted, how it wanted it. Wylie gritted his teeth, tasting cold, ugly death as blood coated his tongue. He was going crazy. He had let his demon arms out for too long, and now he was turning into a monster.
‘Everything must feed… even monsters…’
Wylie grimaced. “Go away,” he whispered to the red pulse of darkness hovering at his consciousness. “Fuck off and leave me alone.”
Wylie wasn’t certain if the creature was listening, or if it was just bored without the promise of fresh blood to keep it around. With his next breath, cooler air filled his lungs, and some of the burning heat left his veins. Wylie exhaled heavily as the arousal pulsing through him abated to more manageable, less murderous levels. After a few more breaths, he turned his head enough to glare at the homeowner, who was staring back just as warily.
“What the fuck did you do to me?” Wylie asked hoarsely. He bit his teeth into the fabric and squeezed more blood free, but he didn’t have the urge to moan like last time. Without the scent of flesh to mix with the flavor, the blood from his sweatshirt wasn’t enticing his dragon.
“Nothing.” The homeowner grimaced as he moved his arm beneath him. He went to push himself up and immediately collapsed with a loud expulsion of air. “Hell.”
“Bullshit,” Wylie snarled. “You knew this was going to happen, otherwise you wouldn’t have thrown the shirt.” His eyes narrowed as he thought of the anti-paranormal tech that was coating the mansion upstairs and down. “Did you spell me?”
“Did I…?” The man blinked owlishly. “I’m not a sorcerer, kid.” He raised a weak hand and patted where the bullet had hit his chest. “If I am, I’m a really shitty one.” He tried to push up again, but his arms were shaking so hard, he ended right back down on the floor. “Damn it… It’s just bloodlust. Dragons are… are notorious for extreme bloodlust.”
Wylie remained impassive as he watched the homeowner struggle to get up. He wasn’t in a hurry to go near the old guy, not when he could remember all the weird stuff he had done, and the even worse stuff his dragon wanted to do. The homeowner man grunted as he tried and failed to get up again, and Wylie shook his head. “The ambulance will be here soon. Stop killing yourself.” He sought a fresh spot of blood on the shirt and crushed the material on his tongue until it seeped out.
“Run, kid. They’ll destroy a being like you.” The homeowner pushed up again and hissed in pain. “The cops will… they’ll shoot you on sight.”
Wylie’s nostrils flared. It wasn’t the panicked ravings of a dying man; he knew the cops had a bias against paranormals. He’d heard of things happening, of shifters getting shot for being aggressive with video proof showing up later of the exact opposite. Fear justified a lot of terrible things lately, even murder committed by the police. Even a rich fuck, who lived in the lap of luxury in the sheltered suburbs, knew it enough to warn him, and it struck a chord in Wylie.
Really, how did the old guy know about shifters? Where did he meet a dragon shifter, and were they friends or random acquaintances? How had he known he was a dragon shifter when Wylie hadn’t even heard of a dragon shifter before?
Wylie was silent as he pulled drinks of watery blood from the fabric of his sweatshirt. The man continued to try to get up like the glutton for an early death he was turning out to be. Wylie doubted the guy was healed on the inside. Healing the front of the gunshot wound hadn’t healed the back, and for all he knew, the homeowner was a bleeding mess on the inside.
Well, if he had any blood left to bleed as this point.
Decided, Wylie rolled to his knees. He kept his shirt firmly stuck between his teeth as he crawled over and sat on the homeowner’s back. The man collapsed flat under Wylie’s weight and finally stopped struggling.
“You need a doctor,” Wylie growled. The man, who was obviously in need of said doctor, didn’t have the strength to argue.
“Can you get me outside?” the homeowner eventually wheezed. “I don’t want the police in my house.”
Wylie snorted. “I fucking bet. I don’t know what all that shit is downstairs, but if the cops saw it, they might just shoot you on sight.” He looked down at the back of the homeowner’s head and added in a more serious tone, “You sure you can handle it? I can’t lift you without my scales out, and they hurt like a bitch.”
“It’s fine,” the homeowner said with false bravado. “After a bullet, I doubt I’ll feel anything.”
Wylie licked the back of his teeth. He doubted the guy was going to be that lucky. “Alright, man. If it’s what you want.”
Wylie stood and straddled his weak companion’s back. He cautiously slid his hands under his armpits and lifted him up. By the low hisses falling from the homeowner’s lips, it hurt like fuck and he was trying to hide it. Fresh blood welled up where razor sharp scales sliced into flesh. Wylie hesitated, but there was no sign of the dark pulse of before, no darkness twisting in trying to steal his sanity away. Wylie sighed in relief and took slow steps backwards down the hallway.
Wylie did his best not to hurt the guy. It wasn’t like he was mangling him on purpose like he did Diego. Still, there wasn’t much he could do to prevent the gasps of pain. His demon arms were things of destruction no matter the situation. Slipperless, the man’s feet scraped first the runner and then smooth tile as Wylie dragged him through the hallways. His goal was the basement stairwell tucked away near the kitchen, but Wylie paused when the ceiling arched above as they entered the grand foyer. He turned his head to eye the massive front door.
He honestly wasn’t sure if the old guy could handle a trip through the mansion and downstairs to get to the exit. And maybe, just maybe, Wylie was embarrassed with the state he had left the basement door.
The homeowner’s head raised, and he nodded when he saw the front door. “Closer. You’ll need to disable the security.”
“Uhh…” Wylie grimaced. “That might already be done,” he mumbled. He wasn’t sure if it was relief or fear clenching in his gut as he carefully maneuvered the man down onto the floor. Fresh anxiety welled in him as he approached the front door and the sound of electricity buzzed all around him like a suffocating cloud. Wylie could feel something in the air. It was like an energy but cold, chilling. He reached for the handle of the metal gate blocking the door, hoping to escape the horrible feeling, but froze when the darkness suddenly pulsed around him, loud and full of alarm.
“Wait!” The homeowner struggled to push into a sitting position. He lifted his arm sluggishly, like it was too heavy to move, and indicated the panel built into the wall next to the door. “Flip the blue switch left… and then right,” he rasped out. “Otherwise, you’re going to fry yourself.”
“What, like, it’s electrified?” Wylie glared at the panel where a switch glowed blue with power. Doubts flickered in his mind, but he pushed them aside. Why would the old guy try to trick him now when the ambulance was on the way?
Taking a deep breath, Wylie flipped the switch to the left, then again, all the way to the right. The glowing cut out, and the buzzing immediately stopped. Moments after, the black gate covering the front door slowly retracted on mechanical tracks, and there was a loud click as an automatic lock released.
Wylie’s shoulders sagged, and he exhaled heavily. He had no idea if his arms could actually handle an electric fence. The mansion had every defense possible for a howler attack, and it made him feel extra uneasy as he walked back to where the homeowner was wheezing on the floor. When Wylie crouched down, he tried to ignore how pale and fragile the old guy looked. “You get a lot of werewolves around here?” he asked flatly.
“No. Not really,” the homeowner whispered with a weak chuckle. “Make sure you latch the door behind us. The grid will re-engage.”
Wylie nodded mutely and pulled the man up into his arms. His nerves were taut as he pushed the front door open and felt the same unsettling feeling of cold dragging at his flesh. Once he had cleared the homeowner’s feet from the doorway, he kicked the door shut. Wylie jerked when the power reconnected and the scent of ozone filled his nostrils.
“What is that?” he growled, glaring back at the door where a metal grate was slowly wheeling into place on the exterior side.
“Less effective than it should be,” the homeowner wheezed cryptically. His face twisted as a cough shook his body, and when he spat, a glob of blood hit the stone at his feet. “Let’s get away from the doors. We don’t want to… to give them an invitation to search my property.”
“Sure.” Wylie couldn’t help but notice the man’s eyes were losing focus. He was cool in his arms, most of his blood left behind on the floor of the bedroom.
“Brace yourself,” Wylie warned as he tightened his grip on his armpits. The homeowner hissed in renewed pain, his body limp as Wylie dragged him down the front stairs. Outdoor lights illuminated them against the night when they moved onto the lawn. An ambulance siren wailed in the distance, echoed by a police cruiser. They couldn’t be more than a few blocks away.
Wylie laid the homeowner out on the lawn and stared into the dark where the sirens were growing louder. There was still time. He could run, take off, and hope the cops couldn’t track him. He glanced down and narrowed his eyes when he saw something shimmer on the homeowner’s chest. He peered closer and found a patch of pink flesh where the bullet wound once was.
Healed. He had healed him with a power he didn’t even know he possessed. If Wylie hadn’t walked into the house at 135 Woodcrest Ave. to rob it that night, he might have never known he could heal.
It meant something. He owed this guy something.
Wylie’s scales ruffled, and resignation settled heavily on his shoulders. He stared down at his clawed hands and concentrated until his scales pulled back in, and the black pigment cleared from his flesh. Once he was smooth, pale skin marred only by streaks of blood, he sat beside the homeowner on the stiff grass to wait for whatever hell was quickly approaching.
“The door… is it…?” The homeowner grasped at his chest, confusion twisting his features.
“Yeah, it’s locked,” Wylie soothed. “No one will know about your weird tech kink.”
The homeowner turned his face up toward the sky, and his eyes sought out the stars obscured by the white puffs of his breath. Shirtless and drained of blood, his skin was turning blue around his lips and fingertips in the low temperature. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Wylie. Wylie Doe.” He fished a crushed and bloodied cigarette from his sweatshirt pouch pocket. Wylie had a lighter in there too, but the damn thing was too wet to burn. With a sigh, Wylie rested the cigarette between his lips and glowered when flashing blue and red lights bounced off the shadowed houses down the lane.
“Wylie, I’m Collin McPherson. If you want… to know the name… of the guy you saved.” The sentence wore Collin out, and he wearily closed his eyes.
Wylie glanced over and frowned when he got a good look at his companion. The old guy looked like hell frozen over, tremors shaking him as the cold sank into his bare flesh. “Yeah, don’t get ahead of yourself there, pops. You lost a lot of blood, and I bet you’re bleeding on the inside. There’s still plenty of time for me to be an accessory to murder. Fuck, or I guess just plain murder,” Wylie added with a scowl. No one would bother looking for Diego when they had him right there covered in the guy’s blood. He really was a fucking moron.
Wylie exhaled heavily and wished beyond anything else his damn cigarette would light. “I’m sorry about what I did in there,” Wylie muttered awkwardly. “The, uh, bloodlust thing. I’m not usually into, well, corpses,” he grunted, feeling beyond defensive. He glanced over when the uncomfortable silence stretched. “Hey, don’t fall asleep,” Wylie snapped sharply. He reached over and knocked Collin on the shoulder when he saw his eyes were closed and body had lost most of its previous tension. “Shit, they’re right down the fucking road. Stay alive, damn it.”
“Right… right…” Collin mumbled.
“Crap.” Wylie tried to push down the fresh flare of anxiety as Collin’s words petered out. He had either fallen unconscious or asleep, but at least the old guy was still breathing. Wylie shook his damp, bloody sweatshirt out and draped it over Collin’s chest. It was all he could think of besides breaking back into the house for something warmer.
Sirens blared and lights flashed all around them in a dazzling display. It was surreal to watch the early October night transform into a garish carnival. The reds drew Wylie’s eyes the most as the lights bounced off of the bushes and illuminated the large expanse of manicured lawn in a wild kaleidoscope of colors. The flashing lights piercing the dark night were too much for Wylie, and he covered his eyes with his hand and tilted his head down. The grass around his feet was wet with blood and glittered with bursts of blue and red.
Doors slammed, and there was the metallic rattle of a wheeled cot being set up on the driveway. Wylie held still and kept his perfectly normal looking hands open and in view as people swarmed Collin, who was barely breathing beside him.
“Is this your dad, kid?” A middle-aged police officer in a dark uniform knelt down to Wylie’s level while everyone else focused on Collin.
Wylie had to wonder just what the man saw as he took in his blood-soaked t-shirt, splattered jeans, drenched sneakers, and crimson streaked arms. He probably had blood in his hair and around his mouth at this point. Did the cop really think he was some helpless teenager who just watched his daddy get shot?
Wylie lifted his hand high enough to glare into the compassionate eyes of the policeman, and smirked around his broken cigarette. “Nah. Never saw the guy before in my life.” Fucking cops.