Wylie’s fingers itched to turn into claws. He was ready to maul someone for a cigarette. His first burglary was already off to a shit start, and given how their luck was going, he suspected they’d all be dead or in prison before the night was out.
They were a small crew—four in total—but Wylie felt like the van was filled to the brim with potential disaster. He was in the back with his boyfriend, Beck, while the other two guys sat up front. Wylie was stationed 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. The only thing keeping him from snapping was the dark he was cloaked in. 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 quietly from the passenger-side seat in front of Wylie. The self-proclaimed hacker clattered away on his mini keyboard while muttering at a small, burning blue screen. The teen was so short his head barely cleared the back of the seat, and he hummed a caustic, nervous tune that did nothing to disguise his growing panic.
Wylie took a steadying breath and tried to block out the electric scent of fear filling the small, 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 trying 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?” A warm hand grasped his arm, and Wylie held still as Beck pressed his chest up against his back. Hair tickled his cheek when Beck leaned over his shoulder and peered at the clock on the dash. “Shit, our timetable is going out the fucking window.”
Beck turned toward him, but his gaze failed to find Wylie in the absolute black of the back of the van. Wylie’s pupils expanded, and shapes and colors began to reveal 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 his lips brushed 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 limited human eyes blink uselessly 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 to the back of his head and pressed forward so they wouldn’t be overheard.
“Don’t be dumb, baby. This is our ticket out of this bullshit. Once we make this score, we’re in.”
“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 clicking of keys as he tried to steady his shaking hands. His voice was timid and weak once he finally spoke. “I’m almost…”
“You said you were a genius, that this would be done in five minutes, tops,” Diego snarled accusingly. He turned in his seat and towered aggressively over Adam’s diminutive form. “Hurry the fuck up, you little shit, or I’m dumping you dead in some back alley where the freaks like the guy in the back will eat your fucking flesh. 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 his cowering hunch. “There’s another element I’ve never seen before. I think I’ve almost hacked it.” His narrow shoulders scrunched tighter as he bent over his small computer. Adam ducked beneath his mouse brown hair to hide from Diego’s glare 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. “You’re going to break us through the gate if the kid fucks this up. You might also need to beat the shit out of the little bitch if it turns out he’s screwing us over.”
Wylie tensed as he fixed on Diego’s brutal expression and unfocused eyes. The gangster was as mean as a junkyard dog and twice as foul, and Wylie was ready to smash his face in. Wylie might be 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 this situation was setting him on edge, and it started all the way back when Diego showed up half an hour late to the heist and nicknamed him freak.
“Yeah, none of that’s happening,” Wylie said with far more apathy 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.” Red flushed across Diego’s tanned features, 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 carefully unwound from Beck and nudged him behind his powerful form just in case Diego lost his shit and started punching. Being saddled with three nervous, untested teenagers for a gang initiation probably wasn’t Diego’s highpoint of the week either, but Wylie wasn’t about to throw his life away over the gangster’s explosive temper. He’d rather fuck it up in the driveway before a crime was committed, 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 he kept enough self control to stop from reaching 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 sudden rattle of metal, and Diego whirled in his seat to peer out the windshield. Adam beamed when the wrought iron gate blocking the driveway shuddered and opened smoothly on motorized tracks.
“Halle-fucking-lujah,” Diego growled in relief and slammed his hand on the key. The van sputtered, then roared to life. Diego showed thin restraint as he put the vehicle in gear, hit the gas, and they glided through the gate opening.
Wylie took a steadying breath as his gut clenched. There was no backing out now. Whatever happened, they were locked in.
“We’re in,” Beck gasped in excitement. He fell against Wylie’s shoulder to peer 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 sealed their lips together just to silence Beck’s optimistic spewing. Running with Roth 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 at the same time didn’t make it any better than all the other bullshit families Wylie had gone 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 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 his neck and jaw. “Don’t be that way, baby. We’re going to fuck tonight. We’re going to ace this shit, and you’re going to come over to my place and fuck me with those studly arms out.”
Beck rocked his hips against him seductively, and Wylie growled. Damn it, his dick definitely 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. One wrong move, and my scales could slice the flesh from your bones.”
“I don’t care. You’re 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 group home 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 totally 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 as Beck straddled his thighs and his palms slid hot paths over Wylie’s chest and back.
Wylie broke from the kiss and grabbed the hand trying to get under his sweatshirt. He pulled Beck tight against him and pressed his mouth to his ear. “Just promise me you’ll watch your back tonight. If you get even a whiff of the cops, you run.”
Beck 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 just 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 garage. Diego cut the engine and silence descended. Wylie squinted up to the front once his eyes adjusted, and he 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 pulled a packet from his pocket and jammed a piece of gum into his mouth. Wylie gritted his teeth when he realized it was Nicorette. The fucker.
“Alright, kiddies,” Diego drawled as 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. Anyone who saw them would see three wannabe thug teenagers and a career criminal, not fucking plumbers.
Diego didn’t look particularly concerned about the logistics of his plan as he jabbed his thumb at Beck. “B, you’re on lookout. I want you at the door with your ear on the scanner for signs of 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 avoiding 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 considerably cooler than when they left the city, and it held the distinct bite of autumn. Wylie lingered at the open back of the van as he got used to the new smells and sounds of the area and peered at the surrounding houses on the other side of the gate. They parked close to the side door nestled between the garage and main house. It was the entry point into the downstairs lounge and bar and was sheltered from view. The outside lights were shining, along with a few internal ones, and none of the crew were wearing masks.
Wylie wasn’t sweating it. Adam had taken all the cameras down before cracking the gate, and there was little fear of being spotted with the house pushed so far from the street.
The neighborhood was unnaturally silent compared to the city, but that was the rich for you. They went to bed on time. They didn’t look out windows and 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 make thieves think you were home. Wylie scoffed under his breath. When you had enough money to keep the monsters out, anyone could sleep at night.
Wylie braced himself as he started walking toward the front of the van where the others were milling. 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 thugging for a living.
Shit, he had to be good for something.
“How’s it look?” Beck asked as he came up next to him.
“It’s all quiet.” His gaze drifted to Beck and the flush to his cheeks. Wylie gripped his 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 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, and he took a slow breath as he eyed the door he was there to break through. Diego was done ordering Adam around and was waiting impatiently for things to start.
“You can do this, yeah?” Beck took his black sweatshirt when Wylie 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, his pale pigment began to darken. His skin hardened and black scales erupted from his flesh in a bloodless rush that started from fingers and flowed 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 might have been beautiful, like a dark, ruffled bird, but each oil slick blade had a razor sharp edge that ruthlessly sliced fabric to flesh when touched.
Wylie had no clue what the hell he was. A shifter, probably, but his demon arms didn’t look like any animal out there. Most days he felt like a monster. Tonight, he might actually be useful.
He held his arms up over his head and let Beck tie his sweatshirt around his waist so it wouldn’t be shredded. “For good luck,” Beck whispered and leaned close to peck a kiss to his lips. Wylie kept still, too aware how easy it would be for his scales to slice Beck up to be able to relax.
Adam threw himself back with a gasp when Wylie approached the door. His eyes were wide as he stared at Wylie’s scaled arms like he was a bloodthirsty demon there to murder everyone instead of break a door.
Wylie kept his gaze focused on Diego, whose expression was full of undisguised hate. Diego growled and pointed to the door just in case he was too retarded to figure out the reason he was there.
Wylie glared 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 asked as he looked at the back door.
“Of course it’s fucking dead. Open the shit up and shut your freak mouth,” Diego snapped.
Wylie ran his tongue along the edges of his teeth. His fangs itched to bite the aggressive fucker on the face. He forced himself to turn from Diego and focus on his job instead.
The door was misleading, made to look like every other pretty door on the rich houses in the area. Just on this house, the wooden mahogany finish varnished to perfection was hiding a solid steel security door beneath. Wylie reached across and drew a long, black talon down between the seam of the door and the reinforced metal molding. He found the bolts, four in all, and scratched the surface to mark their placement.
“Stand back.” Wylie shot Diego a glare when he found him peering over his shoulder. “Unless you’re looking to eat metal.”
Diego grunted defiantly, but moved a few steps away. Wylie really didn’t care if the unpleasant gangster ended up with his elbow in the face just so long as he got enough space to work. He ran his right 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 force was going to be 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 give him a better look.
He was definitely over-thinking it, Wylie realized when he saw how close together the bolts were and how they couldn’t be more than three inches into the reinforced molding. He sank his 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.” Wylie smiled smugly. He turned the now broken handle and the metal protested loudly when he wrenched the door. Wylie pushed it 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 shock.
Adam jolted and his eyes flew to Wylie’s face. Without a word, the kid scurried past and quickly darted inside the dark room after Diego.
Wylie shook his head. 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 years ago 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 carefully stepped up beside him while avoiding 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 thought he was destined to be a career criminal. Great.
Wylie eyed the gaping door the other two disappeared through as lights flickered on inside. Adam’s fear scent made the hair stand up on the back of his neck, and Wylie suppressed an annoyed sigh. 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. Still, neither of them had the judgment or nerves suited to rob the place, and Wylie was questioning again why they brought four people for this job.
He was in it now. Breaking and entering, trespassing, burglary, and damage to private property. 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 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 were stripped of any personal touches or embellishments. It was a flat, white room all around, and Wylie’s ice blue eyes narrowed as he took in the strange, bulky machinery made of glittering chrome and sleek plastic that dotted the large space in an obvious grid pattern.
It could have been storage or maybe a weird art installation. Whatever it was, Wylie didn’t like it.
“Start grabbing anything that looks worthwhile,” Diego ordered the trembling Adam.
The air was stale and void of natural scents, which only made Adam’s fear scent all the more intense. Wylie eyed the short teen after taking in the wall of electronics and a dividing curtain of plastic to the right. He didn’t know shit about computers and tech, but there was a lot of big equipment. If he were to go by Adam’s expression, none of this was the run of the mill stuff you’d find in some normal rich fuck’s house.
“This is military grade,” Adam whispered as he hovered next to a machine that looked heavy enough to crush him.
“Figure out what’s important, and we’ll be down to move what you can’t lift.” Diego jerked his head impatiently at Wylie. “Come on, freak. The safe is upstairs.”
Wylie followed, but his eyes were locked to where Adam was flicking on something that looked disturbingly like a laser. Wylie’s scales puffed up as a chill zapped down his spine. The sooner they got out of there, the better.
Diego stalked through the long maze of hallways with absolute confidence. It made Wylie wonder if they acquired the house plans in advance, or if Diego had been there before. Had the coarse, crude gangster convinced some unassuming maid or arrogant executive to let him see the place? Diego moved like he knew exactly where he was going and didn’t turn a light on even in the dark hallways. Wylie admitted a mild appreciation he wasn’t bumbling around like an idiot. He could put up with the asshole just so long as Diego didn’t get them thrown in jail.
Wylie slowed his steps when the corridor they were traveling down opened up into a large entryway connected to a sweeping flight of dazzling stairs that could have fit an orchestra and still have room to walk. It was such a different feel from the sterile environment they just left, and Wylie felt lost as he climbed the huge, wide expanse of steps. The front door was on the marble tile landing that split the two levels, and Wylie could see just with a glance how the security was even more beefed on this door. His echoing footsteps were muffled by the runner as he climbed the second flight and took in the art and luxury that was the top floor of the mansion. It felt like stepping into a completely different world, and Wylie couldn’t help but drink it all in like a starstruck tourist.
Diego snapped his fingers and Wylie blinked and stared impassive back at the scowl directed at him. If the fucker whistled at him like a dog, he wasn’t sure what he’d do, but he doubted anyone would blame him. Wylie continued walking and expanded his senses so he could take it all in. He could hear Diego’s breathing now, and the very distinct muttering of being ‘saddled with a bunch of snot nosed, piss for brain, fucktard kids.’ In the living room—one of many—a grandfather clock ticked from where it was housed in a tall, cherry wood stained case. It all felt larger than life and completely surreal to think people lived in a place like this.
Warning prickled through him, and Wylie stopped short. He tilted his head, his scales ruffling and nostrils flaring as he attempted to sense it out. It took him a moment to figure out what was wrong. Wylie breathed in deep and turned his head when he caught the scent of flowers sitting in a vase on a sleek, mahogany table down a connecting hall. His scales ruffled again and without a word, he turned and walked to the scent to investigate.
They were daffodils mixed with small, white daisies in a classic, ornate vase. The flowers were fresh with no drooping or touch of brown on any petal, and Wylie’s stomach churned.
Diego snarled when he discovered he was no longer being followed. He stomped over to where Wylie was glaring at the flowers. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Fresh flowers,” Wylie said tightly. He rolled his eyes when Diego looked ready to flip out for wasting time. “They’re not even wilted,” Wylie stressed and plucked one of the petals free with his dark claws. “Who 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 at the elegant hallway. “Look at the fucking place. Do you really think someone this rich does normal shit? Maybe the fucking maid put them out to look nice just in case they got robbed. Stop thinking and hurry the fuck up.”
Wylie’s nostrils flared as Diego stalked back to the main hall. The downstairs was full of military tech, the gate had a code they barely got through; who the fuck knew what else they missed? It was midnight and whoever was there—maid, butler, guest—would likely be in bed in one of the many rooms in the giant place. Wylie had no issue with stealing shit from someone who had more than enough, but he drew the line at terrorizing people.
Diego turned and waved his hand in an exaggerated movement to get Wylie the fuck over there. Damn it. Fucking damn it. His scales were twitching so much, it felt like a bug was digging beneath his skin as Wylie followed after Diego.
Shit, for all he knew, the fucking rich put flowers out ever damn day even when no one was home. Rich people were fucking crazy. Money lifted them so far from reality the same way drugs did for a strung out crackwhore. Whoever lived there had rooms for their stuff, not for people. Who the hell was he to say what went on in the minds of the ultra-rich?
Diego led them surefooted down a branching corridor, and Wylie kept close this time. He wanted this over with so he could get the fuck out. His stress grew with every tap of prison tattooed fingers to doors they passed. Diego finally stopped in front of a dark wooden door where dim light greeted through a narrow gap.
“The office. There are jewels and bonds in here plus some cash.” Diego pulled a black rectangle from inside his leather coat and unfolded a large canvas duffel bag. “The safe is on the wall past the windows and desk. A bunch of books open up like a door.” He glared into Wylie’s eyes as he placed the strap of the bag into his clawed hand. “Just empty the shit and meet me down the hall. No fucking around, no touching anything that’s not in that safe, and no running off. Empty it and meet me five doors that way, left side.”
Wylie tried not to wonder what he was going for alone. If Diego was stealing shit without Roth knowing, he sure as hell didn’t want to be the guy to blab. Wylie was there for one purpose; to do what needed to be done to get in with Roth. If Diego wanted to screw himself with the boss, that was his business.
Wylie kept his mouth shut and waited for Diego to start down the hall before he pushed the door open. He paused on the threshold and his gaze darted around the lush, sophisticated study. Unlike the clinical looking basement, this room was brimming with ancient sculptures and artwork collected from all over the world. A single table lamp shone a warm glow from the walnut desk on the far side of the large room, and illuminated the warm brown tones of leather furniture, deep red walls, and dark oriental rugs. It was overwhelming compared to the the kinds of places Wylie usually spent time in, and he took a steadying breath before he slipped inside.
It still felt strange being in someone’s house when he knew he didn’t belong. Wylie spent his teenage years living in houses where he wasn’t welcome and taking what was lent until he was sent somewhere else. This time, he was in a house to steal, not borrow. As much as Wylie tried to brush it off, his chest was tight as he walked the length of the room. He did his best to ignore the signs of recent life around him. He picked up the stale scent of human flesh. An older male… cigar smoker…
“The butler,” Wylie whispered briskly as he moved toward 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 nice, but it probably meant staff 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 an afterthought over the swinging door. Wylie raised a pierced eyebrow at the ridiculousness of it all. The house screamed money, and anyone looking would know there would be cash to find inside. The owner must have thought no one would ever get through the front door.
Wylie clicked a claw into the wooden groove and nudged the false door open. It swung wide and he eyed the matte black safe critically. It was more a vault than what he was expecting. The safe was encased completely in cement and almost as tall as he was. In the center was a dial waiting for a combination, and beneath that a handle meant to be turned. Wylie considered the metal contraption in silence.
The door downstairs had taught him a lot for his first break in, and Wylie didn’t bother trying to finesse this time. He punched his scaled fist into the door and ground his knuckles in hard until he felt the metal rip. Wylie slammed his other hand in just as hard, and slipped his claws into the torn opening beneath jagged edges of metal. He gripped tight and grinned as he slowly curled and bent the heavy door down. Even though it was made of steel, it twisted like a thin tin of spam beneath his palms.
Shit, he really was made for this.
The darkness within the safe hid nothing from Wylie’s piercing night vision. He couldn’t say what bonds were exactly, but he knew the large, colorful pieces of paper kept in neat piles up high were them. There were flat boxes he figured must hold the jewelry Diego mentioned, while all the other shelves held cash separated into bundles and kept in tidy piles. It was the most money he’d ever seen, and Wylie didn’t have to count it to know it was a fortune.
He wrenched the door down to his knees and reached to sweep the lowest shelf into the duffel. The scales on his wrist caught and tore right through the metal shelf and shredded half a bundle of cash.
“Fuck.” Wylie froze as ripped hundred dollar bills fluttered down to his sneakers. Any sudden motion could end with all the money shredded. On the best of days, his palms were the only safe part of Wylie’s hands when his scales were out. When he was shaking—not that he would admit to the adrenaline coursing through him—his demon arms became even more of a hazard.
Wylie took a steadying breath and glared down at his hands. His scales ruffled but refused to retract. “Come on, you fuckers,” he whispered harshly. Everything about his arms pissed him off, including how temperamental they were. He was pretty sure the demonic things hated him just as much, seeing as they made his life hell.
“Just the claws, then,” Wylie pleaded while wiggling his fingers. “I just 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 while his mind raced.
He didn’t have time for this. There was no fucking time.
“Fuck it.” Giving up on his hands, Wylie’s eyes lit on a thick, hardcover novel on the wall shelves. It didn’t matter if his claws shredded the book just so long as they didn’t touch the money. He pulled the book down and used a sweeping motion to clear the first shelf into the duffel bag. Wylie held the bag gingerly by the strap with a knee raised to brace the bottom, and knocked the rest of the contents on the shelf into the waiting opening.
Things went faster after that, and it was difficult to truly understand the stacks of money sailing into the bag.
Seriously, rich people were fucking stupid. Who needed this much money when at home? If they put their money in a bank, no one would be walking into their house to steal their shit. But what the fuck did he know? Maybe the hundreds of thousands flipping past his view were the equivalent to spare change in the couch for normal people. Giant mansion, giant tech, giant amounts of dough; the rich were just too fucking large to comprehend.
Wylie was glad Beck was stuck in the driveway playing lookout. He would have been writhing in this vault like it was a damn orgy. Beck had big dreams he was looking to buy if he could only get enough cash. Wylie didn’t really understand it, but then, he stopped dreaming a long time ago. Freaks didn’t get to reach their dreams. No, they got stuck doing the grunt work behind the scenes while ambitious crooks like Roth made a fortune.
The bag was nearly bursting at the seams by the time the safe was empty. Wylie tossed the now shredded hardcover book aside and flexed his shoulders as he tried to coax his scales to push up his arms. His demon arms were limited in ways he still didn’t quite get. His muscles and bones changed to something beyond human, but only up to where the scales reached. Wylie was built, but a bag full of hundreds and twenties wasn’t the lightest damn thing to lug around a maze of a mansion.
Wylie held still when he felt his biceps bulge and more scales erupted through his flesh. Sight, sound, and scent flooded him all at once as his senses responded to the transformation. A vibrant rush of information greeted him with his next breath.
Yeah, there had been a man in the office recently. Really recent. Wylie could smell the sweat now. He carried the bag one handed and wandered to a stand of glittering 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 raced rapidly with understanding.
He smelled someone. He had slammed through the downstairs door, and the sound of shearing metal when he tore through the safe wasn’t remotely quiet. Fuck. They could have already called the cops.
Fucking whore, the cops could already be on their way! They could be sneaking up the driveway even now.
Wylie didn’t bother counting doors as he booked it from the room. He followed Diego’s scent down the hallway while trying to keep his cool. 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. He winced when he thought of how long it took to get through the downstairs.
Fuck, maybe fifteen. Maybe twenty minutes—the hallways were so damn long in the place. Shit, they needed to fucking fly.
“Diego.” Wylie palmed the door handle and used his knee to push into the room the gangster disappeared into. He stopped short with a sharp inhale when scent and sight revealed an absolute shit storm.
Although the room was dark, the objects were surrounded by a halo to Wylie’s shocked eyes. It was as if someone outlined reality in a bright but invisible glow. The open wall safe and the paper waterfall spread across the hardwood floor buzzed at the edges, as did the forms of the man crumpled at the foot of the bed and Diego standing over him with a gun in his 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 sweat but the small, confused whimper of pain from the man on the floor that finally snapped Wylie back to reality.
“Don’t fucking do it, man.” Wylie stepped into the room, and his eyes jumped from the gun to the person on the floor tangled in blankets. The guy was dressed in pajamas stained in the blood streaming from a painful looking lump on his head. “Just stop.”
Diego glanced Wylie’s way an instant and glared back 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 heavy bag full of money on the floor. Red swiftly colored his features, and Diego 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 felt like a fist around his throat. The glock didn’t waver in Diego’s hand where it was leveled at his chest, and Wylie stood taller in defiance. “We’re here to rob, not murder. Do you seriously 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 so royally. 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 bag full of bonds 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. Just walk the fuck away, man. We have everything we came for.”
“I can’t!” Sweat dripped down Diego’s forehead as he shifted from one foot to the other. He held the gun with two hands and pointed it back at the man on the floor.
Wylie held his breath and dared his gaze down. Once he found the homeowner’s face, it was impossible to look 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 flowed down his forehead unchecked. Wylie’s stomach churned as he got a fresh whiff of copper scented blood.
“Don’t do it.”
“The rich fuck saw my face!” Diego shouted, as if the volume of his voice could justify his intended actions. “I’m not going back to prison. I am fucking done with prison!”
Wylie’s eyes remained fixed on the bleeding homeowner as the first signs of fear began to trickle 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 being caged again than of taking a life. Wylie hadn’t realized he still had something left to be afraid of, but apparently seeing an innocent man get shot to death was it.
He couldn’t let this happen.
Wylie tore his gaze away and fixed his glare on Diego. “Listen to me, really closely here.” He took another step into the room as he scrambled to think of something that would convince Diego to stop. He was a full seven feet away from the gangster. It definitely wasn’t close enough to do a flying leap faster than a bullet, but if he could just inch a bit closer…
Diego glanced his way, his expression grim, and Wylie froze.
“Okay, let’s say he manages to describe you even though the lighting is total shit in here, and he’s got an egg on the side of his head the size of my fist.” Sweat tickled down Wylie’s neck he didn’t dare wipe away. 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, and he can actually describe you.” Wylie stole another step closer while Diego growled.
“What’s he going to say?” Wylie 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, but his gun remained pointing down. “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 through Diego as he relived something in his mind only he could see. His body began to shake even as the red on his face and neck spread down his chest.
Wylie held his arms out in a pacifying gesture. “Stop. Chill the fuck out.” He turned his head toward the door with eyes squinted. He could just pick up the sounds of Adam calling softly from down the hall. Wylie tried to do the math of how long he’d been in the bedroom, if the cops could have shown during that time and Beck sent Adam up to warn them.
It could be possible. Fuck, they could already be there.
Wylie turned back, his eyes wide with frustration. “Listen, if this all goes to shit, you’re either in it for robbery, which is a fucking cakewalk, or it’s murder. Think! 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 growled and tapped the gun on his thigh in agitation.
Wylie held his breath. 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 moaning 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. “Kid, you’re too fucking stupid to understand. If I let this guy live and I end up back in jail for armed robbery…” Diego shook his head again, his eyes narrowed determinedly. “Sometimes you have to do shit. Sometimes you gotta make sure your rep is set.”
Wylie’s heart raced as he heard Adam’s footsteps coming 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 when Adam pushed it open, and Wylie felt the trigger squeeze. His muscles screamed in protest as he 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 he lost his sight the same moment a loud ringing filled his ears. Diego crumpled and went down heavily beneath him.
Another shot went off and Wylie jolted and scrambled to wrestle the gun from Diego before he could be shot. He clawed around Diego’s forearms desperately. The scent of blood filled his nostril’s and Wylie’s hand found the gun. The barrel was hot from just going off, but his demon arms felt no pain as he wrenched it from Diego’s grip.
“Fuck.” The scent of blood was all around him. Wylie’s only relief was if he’d been shot, he wasn’t feeling the pain yet. He lurched to his feet and hauled Diego up after him. Diego howled in pain and Wylie blinked rapidly as he tried to clear the large, dark dot from his vision enough to see the damage. Diego’s flesh was torn and bloodied from where Wylie’s inhuman claws and razor sharp scales had sliced and scraped. Wylie squinted and tried to figure out if it was bone or just a torn white t-shirt peeking through Diego’s bloodied top. Wylie’s legs, although unsteady, didn’t reveal any pain or blood that might suggest he’d been shot by either bullet.
There was a small whimper, 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 quickly pooling on the floor, and the ringing in his ears had faded enough so that 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 cry of pain.
Adam’s slim form was shaking so much, he had to grip his arms to his chest to keep them steady. Tears began to stream down his small face, and with an effort, Adam 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 him. Diego screamed hoarsely as blood sprayed up his shoulder and splattered hot on his face. There was no escape from the clawed hand that gripped his arm and carelessly sliced deep into the muscle of his bicep as Wylie dragged him through the door.
Wylie ignored Diego’s thrashing struggles. He was too pissed off to even look at the gangster for fear he might do something he regretted. He followed the scent of their trail through the mansion as Wylie strode down the corridor and took the turn that opened out to the main hall. They left far faster than when they arrived and Wylie didn’t bother to be cautious or even quiet at this point. He hadn’t seen any cops yet, but with two gunshots and a guy bleeding out in the bedroom, he was under no disillusions of how his night was going to end.
Wylie stopped at the top of the massive staircase and snarled at Diego, who was no longer trying to keep up. Diego’s legs had given out and when Wylie looked down, he found Diego’s sweaty face pale from blood loss and his dark eyes glassy. Diego’s cries of pain had turned to weak moans as they moved down the hall, but they now renewed in vigor when Wylie readjusted and tucked Diego’s slumped form under one of his jagged, monstrous arms.
Wylie descended the wide staircase at a quick pace. Each step of pain wrenched more blood and weaker sounds from the flailing gangster. Wylie tried to hide his savage smile as he stalked past the intact front door. Diego’s booted foot caught on a narrow, spindly table, and an elegant glass bowl went careening to the floor. Broken glass and small decorative rocks scattered in a spray at Wylie’s feet.
Wylie’s eyes narrowed and he wrenched Diego punishingly as he rounded and started down the second flight of stairs. Diego’s boots thumped on each step, the sound almost lost with each gasp of pain the gangster released.
Adam scurried behind them while biting at the fingernails of one hand so intently, he looked to be up to his knuckles. He was silent, his eyes forever watching as Diego’s clothes and flesh shredded in Wylie’s merciless hold, and turned crimson beneath his scales.
Wylie rushed through the dark underground corridors and pushed through a door, only to growl when the lights of the strange, white room hit his eyes. He raised his free arm up and used it to shade his vision as he plowed toward the ruined door he broke through to gain entry into the mansion.
Beck was waiting for them at the outer door, and by his anxious expression, he heard the gunshots. He was silent as he tried to figure out just why Wylie was holding both a gun and Diego, who was now unconscious and streaming blood on the immaculate floor. Wylie felt a fresh wave of anger as he watched fear slip into Beck’s dark blue eyes and grow the longer 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, and the stupid kid just stood there waiting around 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 stepped back. 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 rushed strides.
Beck looked so young, like the naive high school student he was with his brown hair dyed with stylish red streaks and his over priced sneakers. His pretty face and fast tongue had gotten him out of every petty crime he willfully jumped into, but given his new pallor and the haunted look around his eyes, Beck was suddenly realizing how unlikely it would get him out of being 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 obvious dismissal. Fuck, because the kid thought there was time to have his fucking feelings hurt when there was a man shot in the fucking 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 and saw the pathetic pile of electronics Adam had gathered up while they’d been robbing the place. Adam was useless unless he had a computer in hand. What the hell would happen to the terrified kid if he ended up in prison? Diego had been scared to go back and he was a grown man with actual muscle. Adam was so small and weak, he’d probably be dead in days.
Was it worth it? Had any of this fucking gang bullshit been worth it?
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 the man. It could have all been avoided if Diego hadn’t lost his shit like that, if he had just used his fucking brain the second they noticed the flowers. Wylie went to shut the door and stopped short when he saw the way Diego was slumped. He snaked a hand forward and carefully snatched the cell phone half hanging from the gangster’s pocket before he slammed the doors shut with his knee.
“What, are you getting…? Wylie!” Beck gaped at Wylie’s back and 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 softly. “Get them the hell out of here, B. Diego might need a hospital. I fucked him up bad getting the gun from him.”
“Don’t!” Beck pleaded frantically when Wylie went to turn away. “Just 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 Wylie’s hard expression.
Naive. Beck was so fucking naive. Rich people didn’t get murdered in their houses with no one caught for the crime, not when it’s clear someone paranormal broke through the back door. The police would never stop looking for him.
“Hurry up, B. That asshole is going to need you to help him after his huge fuck up.” Wylie’s smile was grim when he leaned down and pressed 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 had once found comforting in his boyfriend only felt like a liability now. He pulled back and tried to keep the frustration 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 to come with them even as he took hesitant steps backwards. Beck’s gaze never left Wylie’s until he reached the driver’s door to the van.
Wylie ignored the way Diego’s blood was cooling on his t-shirt in the night air and making him itch. He refused to move until Beck climbed inside the van and the engine roared to life.
The headlights flared, and Wylie growled and used his arm to cover his eyes. Beck’s voice was rough when he snapped something at a hysterical Adam, put the van in gear, and turned sharply in the driveway. Wylie lowered his arm and watched as the van crossed through the open gate and turned onto the road.
He sighed heavily and turned back to the broken door where the ground was littered with shards of wood his claws had raked free, and spots of Diego’s blood. He squinted as he noticed a small gray wad of chewing gum that had been dragged by Diego’s shoe until it had found its way on the dark pavement. Wylie leaned over and speared it with a long talon and glared at the little piece of gum stained with blood for countless moments.
Beck was right. He was as fucking stupid as they came.
Wylie pushed the ruined door closed behind him and wedged it tight until the metal bent and stuck shut. He made his way through the overly bright, white room now decorated in splatters of Diego’s blood and slammed through the doorway that led to the underground maze of dark hallways. He did his best not to think as he hurried along, but his thoughts kept creeping in, racing faster than the pulse of his heart.
He really didn’t want to face what was waiting for him upstairs in that bedroom. The blood had been intense. It was a fucking puddle compared to what had dripped out of Diego. While his scales might have shredded flesh, that gun did exactly what it was made to do, and that old guy was totally going to die.
Wylie ran up the stairs and scowled when he saw the ruined bowl. Hadn’t they done enough to this guy’s house without Diego causing mindless destruction every chance he got? Wylie took the rest of the stairs in large leaps, and bounded around the corner. He stopped short and bit back a gasp.
Strewn lengthwise along the hall was the shot homeowner. He looked like he’d been crawling, although he was too winded to move at the moment. His blood was a thick crimson and streaked the floor behind him in a gory trail.
Alive. Thank fuck.
Wylie took a deep breath and tried to calm the churning in his stomach as he inhaled in the scent of blood. He pushed forward and stalked to where the man was struggling to get up. “Stop moving. You’re just going to bleed out even more.” Relief unclenched like a fist in his chest to see the energy the old guy still had. Wylie quickly knelt down and went to turn the guy so he could see the wound. He flinched back when the man cried out and tried to wrench away.
“Chill. I’m not here to hurt you.” Wylie thought it was his arms freaking the guy out, only to remember he was still holding Diego’s gun. “Fuck,” he growled in exasperation. “Shit, I’m not going to shoot you either. I just didn’t want to leave it with that trigger happy fuck.” Wylie jumped up and his eyes lighted on the nearest closed door. He strode in and searched for a sturdy surface to place the gun, which was mangled by his claws. He selected a square table and made sure to shut the door securely behind him. He’d seen enough thrillers and wasn’t dumb enough to leave the damn thing lying around to be used against him.
The cell phone was in his sweatshirt pocket, and Wylie glared down at the man, then at his demoniacally scaled arms. He didn’t like to transform in front of strangers, but there was no way his claws could work a touch screen, and this guy’s life was pouring out in front of his eyes.
Wylie took a slow breath, then another as he focused on his scales and attempted to pull them back in. His arms must have felt like listening this time, and the long, razor sharp blades ruffled and absorbed back into his flesh. Wylie rubbed a smooth, pale hand along his blood streaked forearm and wondered as he always did just where the scales went. It was a magic he didn’t understand, one that had ruined his life so completely he rarely liked to dwell on just where the monster inside of him lived.
His 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 man and sought out the source of all the blood. “Don’t… damn it,” Wylie muttered when in pushing the man sideways to look at his chest, blood gushed fresh down the front of his nightshirt. It was bad, seriously bad.
Wylie untied the sweatshirt around his waist and wadded it up. He pressed it tightly to what he could only assume was the wound beneath the blood soaked shirt. Wylie’s nose wrinkled as his hand was quickly wet 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 man tried to clutch the material to his chest to stem the flow of blood, but his hands were shaking too much to be effective.
There was a click in Wylie’s ear right before the buzz of background activity. “911. What’s your emergency?” a woman’s voice drawled coolly 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 when blood gushed out of the fabric between his tense fingers. “Shit. He’s, uh, he’s bleeding out, and I don’t know what to do.”
Wylie really hoped his voice sounded more stable than he felt, because he was totally 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 he knew Beck was safe and he was faced with a wound that looked to lead straight to a morgue, Wylie managed to find a shit ton of terror.
“Where are you?” The operator sounded so calm, she could gave been bored, like it was a fucking walk in the park. It would have pissed him off, but he was too busy trying to remember where he was.
He was robbing a house and he didn’t even know the address? Seriously? Fail. Total fail.
“Shit, dude, what’s your address?” Wylie peered down worriedly. The silence dragged on so long, he started to wonder if the old guy could even talk.
“Woodcrest… 135 Woodcrest Ave,” the man finally managed to choke out. Blood trickled from his lips. He coughed and immediately sucked in a gasp of air.
“You get that?” Wylie spoke into the phone but was unable to tear his eyes from the crimson fluid splattered on the man’s chin. He knew internal bleeding was bad, like, it totally led to death bad. He could only hope the guy bit his tongue when Diego cracked him on the head.
Wylie wrenched his gaze away and turned, 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 said quickly to avoid any questions about gunmen and just how everything went down. “The guy is seriously bleeding out. 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 woman continued. “Has pressure been applied to the wound?”
“Uh, yeah, I’m doing that right now.” Wylie turned back with eyebrows furrowed. He couldn’t help but feel like the operator on the other end of the line was just reading off what to do and wasn’t really listening. “It’s not doing much at all. I think the bullet might have gone through him. Should I turn him over?”
“It’s best to keep the pressure. Is he moving normally, or is there signs that his spine might be injured?”
Wylie couldn’t help but crack a grim smile. “He crawled a good ways. I think 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. Oh, and it says to ensure his airway isn’t blocked. Is he breathing?”
“Of course he’s…” Wylie shook his head with a frustrated sigh, thumbed the phone off, and tossed it down the hall. He glanced down and briefly met the man’s confused gaze. “Sorry, dude, I’m not listening to her read to me until the cops show up.”
Wylie looked away and huffed. “Is he breathing? Don’t you think I would have fucking started with he’s not breathing if the guy wasn’t fucking breathing? What a ditz.” He seriously hoped if he ever found himself in a medical emergency, whoever was being called wouldn’t be that damn dense.
Wylie refocused his efforts on staving the blood that felt like it was gushing from the man’s chest wound. As each second ticked by and the man’s breath became more strained and gasp like, Wylie grew tenser until his eyes were squeezed shut. He didn’t know when it happened but at some point he started praying to the god he’d given up on since he was eight to not let this guy die. He didn’t know a thing about the homeowner except that he was rich, he kept way too much tech and money in his house, and he might like daffodils. Now it was like the old guy was the most important person in the world. He had to have been because Wylie knew exactly what he was doing by staying.
It was jail time. Juvy, 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. Still, he was the one who broke into his house. He had the gun that shot him. It wouldn’t look good.
The man started coughing, and Wylie’s brows furrowed when the chest he was pressing on heaved erratically. Wylie hesitantly raised his gaze to meet deep, piercing blue eyes. The guy looked kinda military. His gray hair was shorn close, and there was a squareness to his jaw and solidness to his broad shoulders that suggested he had seen conflict. He could have been a retired soldier, but as Wylie searched his face he couldn’t help but see beyond the twisting of his features, he didn’t have much for wrinkles.
“They’re on the way.” Wylie wasn’t really sure if there was anything else to say. He was amazed the guy was even conscious at this point. The two of them could see most of his blood was outside his body instead of within at this point.
“Your hands… Let me see your hands,” the man gasped between loud, shallow breaths. He reached for Wylie’s hand that was holding the compress in place. “Before… they were…”
“Yeah freakish.” Wylie tried not to flinch away as 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…”
Wylie sighed and pulled his hand away when the guy tried to grab him again. “Dude, seriously…” He met the man’s eyes and saw a pleading in them he didn’t understand. “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 crap shot if he’d be able to control the transformation. His pigment darkened up to his wrist, and as Wylie stared at 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 overwhelmed his enhanced senses and he 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 said bitterly. “Don’t worry, I’ve heard it all before.”
“No… no, you’re a shifter.”
Wylie rolled his eyes at the term. “I know shifters, and I’m not one. I don’t turn into anything fluffy, no fur or crazy inner animal. I’m just some kind of demon shifter who can only change his arms.” Wylie turned with eyes narrowed as fingers again touched his. He held his hand still. “Careful. The scales are really sharp, so don’t go cutting yourself up even more.”
The man started coughing and his entire body jolted with each uncontrollable spasm. He clutched Wylie’s smooth talons like they were 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 just say?”
Blood speckled the man’s chin as he coughed again and clutched his chest. “You… you’re a dragon shifter.”
He was a dragon shifter?
What did that even mean? Dragons weren’t real. It wasn’t like anyone had ever dug up dragon bones and put them in a museum. But… But he might have once heard of someone going to jail for selling dragon scales.
Wylie stared at his clawed hand, his eyes taking in the rainbow sheen of color over the midnight black scales while his mind raced. Was he a dragon shifter? Did he have an actual shifter animal inside him just waiting to get out?
The scales on Wylie’s hand fluffed a moment, and his breath hitched. It was like someone just said ‘hello.’
“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 was for sure.
Huh, maybe God didn’t hate him automatically after all.
“How do you know what I am?” Wylie asked solemnly as he slowly unclenched his fist.
“I know another.”
Wylie raised his eyebrows and glanced over curiously. “Really? You know another dragon shifter?”
Wylie blinked at the sudden change of topic. “Huh?”
The man struggled to keep his head from falling back to the floor. “Your spit… can heal.”
Wylie wrinkled his nose and pressed back on the blood soaked sweatshirt. “Err, I think you’ve lost way too much blood, old man.”
“Transform… and spit.” The man’s bruised face twisted in pain, and another jagged cough shook him right after. More blood spilled from his gasping mouth as he tried to breathe.
“I can’t do a full transformation,” Wylie tried to explain. “Even if I could heal, which I’m sure is just crazy, only my arms will change. I’m probably not even a dragon shifter, right?”
“Spit. It can… Transforming can heal…” The man didn’t seem to hear Wylie over his shallow, desperate gasps to breathe. “Spit heals… Transform and spit.” He kept repeating himself between bursts of coughing even as his voice grew weaker and weaker.
Wylie sighed in frustration as he watched the man grow more and more distressed. It was only sending what little blood he had left out of his wound. “Dude, just calm…” Wylie growled and pushed down forcefully on the man’s chest until he stilled. “Just 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.”
Hell, who was he to deny the old guy his last, totally weird dying wish?
“Hold this.” Wylie placed the man’s hand over the 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 transformed hand to his pale, normal looking one. He wrinkled his nose as the scent of blood again threatened to overwhelm him.
His transformation was never predictable, and Wylie was glad he thought to move away as talons sliced through his fingernails and grew long and deadly in an instant. His scales slid free from his flesh, transparent with a rainbow sheen, and then filled with black as they thickened and fluffed out to leave his arms sharp edged from every angle. Wylie closed his eyes and concentrated as he tried to push the scales further up his arms for a full transformation. His other sense began to wake up and his teeth sharpened and fangs poked free.
Wylie kept pushing, seeking a more complete shift. There was something inside him, something that scared the crap out of him every time he peered too close. Knowing it was a dragon instead of a malevolent demon was kind of a relief. The hopelessness of the situation called for something beyond him, something maybe a dragon could handle. Wylie was desperate to be able to do anything that might fix this terrible night.
Wylie’s nostrils flared with his next inhale, and something stirred inside him, something alive.
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. His ears hyper-focused on the blood flowing in the man’s veins. It sounded wrong, sluggish, as if his heart had nothing left to pump…
Wylie groaned as saliva abruptly flooded his mouth and a wave of dizzying heat hit him so hard, he found himself hunched forward over the man, 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. Something about this, about the blood, was making him seriously horny. “Fuck,” Wylie muttered and shook his head to clear the darkness encroaching. Messed up. This was totally not cool when there was some old guy bleeding out beneath him.
“Spit,” the man pleaded, his voice a dry rasp.
Wylie’s lashes snapped open and revealed the light blue of his eyes had seeped away to leave them an otherworldly white. It felt like someone else was controlling him as he pulled the sweatshirt from the man’s chest and tore the sticking shreds of his bloodied shirt away. The wound was easy enough to find among the crimson blood. Wylie bent over the bare flesh, his lips hovering inches away, and let the fluid in his mouth drip into the black hole cut through the man’s chest.
“Ah.” The quiet sound was tight with pain. Smoke began to rise from the wound, and the old man convulsed and hissed. He gripped at his chest and heaved for air.
Wylie barely noticed the odd smoke, or the gasps of pain that were quickly turning to cries. All he could smell was the overwhelming scent of blood. Life giving, heavenly blood. Wylie’s eyesight dimmed and darkness crept around the edges of his vision. Before he could understand what was happening, he leaned forward the rest of the way and touched his tongue to the hot, red fluid. It was a burst of divine flavor, and Wylie moaned and surged forward to lick at the blood.
“Sorry… Really fucking sorry.” Somewhere in his cluttered mind beneath the throb of arousal and the taste of hot blood, Wylie could see he was losing his mind. Unfortunately, his embarrassment couldn’t break through whatever was controlling him enough to make him stop. It tasted too good, too right, and he needed more.
He licked long, heavy laps up the man’s collar where his head wound had pooled blood into the hollow of his throat. Wylie groaned from the intense flavor, chased it up to the man’s jaw rough with stubble, and paused where his lips still dripped that terrifying trickle of scarlet. Wylie’s claws bit into the floor as he tried to stop himself, but it was no use. The room was spinning, and the pulse in his head was too powerful to ignore. His tongue followed the perfect elixir calling to him, and he pushed between the man’s gasping lips and drank down every taste he could find.
Shit, he was kissing a dying old dude. There was no way he could redeem himself after this. The guy was practically a senior citizen. Sure, he was kinda hot in a brutish, military way, probably mid-fifties to sixty; he wasn’t completely decrepit. But Wylie had no say in the matter even though it was his tongue forcing the issue. Blood always fucked him up in the head, which was why Wylie avoided it at all costs. Apparently a shit ton of blood got him horny beyond control until he was trying to tongue fuck a total stranger’s mouth for more.
It was a long, awkward minute before the addictive flavor faded enough from his victim’s mouth, and Wylie could finally pull away. He groaned when his body refused to let him leave and his lips attached to the heavy stream of blood where the gun handle had cracked across the man’s skull. Wylie held the guy’s head tight between his smooth palms and drew his tongue up the side of his face in rough strokes. His fangs scraped flesh and he fought a shiver of pleasure from each wet touch of red to his tongue.
Damn, but it was good. It was so fucking hot, and tangy, and toe-curlingly perfect.
“Kid, my back.” The man’s voice was stronger this time as he drew air in and blood didn’t drip free on his exhale. “The bullet went through.”
Wylie pushed him over before the words even sunk in. He tore the blood stained nightshirt in half to reveal strong muscle, wide shoulders, and another black hole dripping divine blood.
“Holy fuck.” Wylie’s mouth filled with saliva at the sight and renewed scent, and a fresh wave of heat moved through his body to leave him flushed and dizzy. He couldn’t pull his eyes away as he slowly leaned down and watched the surface of flesh pulse with each heart beat.
Nothing should taste this good. Nothing should be able to take him over like a fucking puppet and have him attack some defenseless, dying dude who… 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 and roughly lapped the flat of his tongue along the burning hot wound. He was vaguely aware that it was changing under his touch with each swipe. As the flesh knitted together, the blood flow first trickled and then eventually stopped. Wylie instinctively sought more of the divine fluid, having completely forgot his intent to heal. He followed down flesh, pulled scraps of cloth away, and stole every streak and drop of red with greedy, long licks of his tongue.
“Damn it,” Wylie whimpered in despair. The flavor was nearly gone, and the scent diminished with each lap of the smooth, healed skin. “No.” He nosed down and tore at the man’s nightshirt, but could only find the smallest of specks of blood. “Shit.”
“Kid, just…” It was as if the man knew exactly what was wrong. He struggled to hold his hand up. In it was Wylie’s blood soaked sweatshirt balled in his grasp.
Wylie watched as he threw it a few feet down the hall. Wylie was on the sweatshirt before it even hit the ground. He rolled and pulled the fabric into his mouth with a relieved sigh. Blood filled his senses and sparked on his taste buds once again. Wylie sank to the floor and sucked on his shirt, not blind to the fact he was treating it like a goddamn pacifier. He glared at the man who’s head was turned his way and was staring back 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 feel the urge to moan like last time. The crazed heat in his head was fading. Without the scent of flesh to mix with the blood, the blood from his sweatshirt wasn’t as overwhelming.
“Nothing. It’s just blood lust.” The man grimaced as he moved his arm beneath him. He went to push himself up and immediately collapsed with a loud expulsion of air. “Hell.”
Wylie watched him struggle impassively. He wasn’t in a hurry to go near the old guy just yet, not when he was starting to remember all the weird stuff he just did. The 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 man tried to push 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; Wylie 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 was justification of a lot of terrible things lately, even murder committed by the police. That this guy knew—some rich fuck living in the lap of luxury of the sheltered suburbs—and believed it enough to warn him, struck a chord in Wylie. He suddenly wanted to know just how the old guy knew shifters, where he had met a dragon shifter, and were they friends or just a random acquaintance.
Wylie remained silent while he pulled drinks of watery blood from the fabric of his sweatshirt. The man continued to try to get up like a 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; Wylie had to do that with direct contact. For all he knew, the guy was a bleeding mess on the inside.
Well, if he had any blood left to lose internally.
Decided, Wylie abruptly rolled to his knees. He kept his shirt firmly stuck between his teeth as he crawled over and sat on the old guy’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 house?” the man finally asked. “I don’t want the police in my house.”
Wylie snorted softly. “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 man’s head and added in a more serious tone. “You sure you can handle being moved? I can’t lift you without my scales out, and they hurt like a bitch.”
“It’s fine. After a bullet, I doubt I’ll feel anything.”
Wylie licked the back of his teeth. He seriously doubted the guy was going to be that lucky. “Alright, man. If it’s what you really 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 man’s lips, it hurt like fuck and he was trying to hide it. Fresh blood spilled where Wylie’s razor sharp scales sliced into flesh. Wylie did his best not to hurt the guy. It wasn’t like he was intentionally mangling him like he did Diego. Still, there really wasn’t much he could do to prevent the gasps of pain. His demon arms were things of destruction no matter the situation.
Wylie pulled the man down the main staircase and stopped at the door. There was no way he was about to drag the guy through the mansion just to use the downstairs exit. And maybe, just maybe, Wylie was embarrassed with the state he had left the downstairs and the door he had practically torn from the hinges.
“Brace yourself,” Wylie warned as he pushed the front door open and renewed his grip on the man’s armpit. The man hissed in renewed pain as Wylie dragged him down the front stairs and out onto the lawn where outdoor lights illuminated them against the night.
An ambulance siren wailed in the distance, echoed by what was clearly a police cruiser. They couldn’t be more than a few blocks away.
Wylie laid the man 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.
Wylie glanced down at the man, and noticed for the first time the patch of pink flesh where the bullet wound had once been. He had healed it with a power he never would have known he had if he hadn’t walked into the house at 135 Woodcrest Ave to rob it that night.
It meant something. It was owed 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 man on the stiff grass to wait for whatever hell was quickly approaching.
“What’s your name, kid?” The man turned his face up toward the sky, and his eyes sought out the stars obscured by the white puffs of his breath. Shirtless and having lost too much blood, his skin was turning blue around his lips and fingertips in the low temperature.
“I’m 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 way too wet to burn. With a sigh, Wylie rested the stick between his lips. His expression darkened to a glower when flashing blue and red lights started to bounce off the shadowed houses down the lane.
“Wylie, I’m Collin McPherson. Just in case you want… to know the name… of the guy you saved.” The sentence seemed to wear Collin out, and he closed his eyes wearily.
Wylie glanced over and frowned when he got a good look at his companion. The old guy looked like hell frozen over with 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 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 idiot.
Wylie exhaled heavily and wished beyond anything else his damn cigarette would light.
“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 softly.
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 he was still breathing. Wylie leaned over and carefully draped his black sweatshirt over Collin’s prone form to provide what warmth he could while he waited.
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 they bounced off of the bushes and illuminated the large expanse of manicured lawn in a wild kaleidescope. The flashing lights amid 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 black with blood and flickered with consistent bursts of blue.
Doors slammed, and he heard the metallic rattle of a wheeled cot being set up on the driveway. Wylie held still and kept his perfectly normal looking hand open and in view as people began to swarm the man barely breathing beside him.
“He your dad, kid?” A middle-aged police officer in a blue 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 was pretty sure he 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. He smirked around his broken cigarette. “Nah. Never saw the guy before in my life.”