Tieryn’s Fury (Shadowcat Nation #3) – Chapter 1
“There’s no way Callahan will ever find out who was involved.”
“His wife is dead. You don’t think he’ll want payback?”
Although the wall Shane was attempting to listen through muffled the conversation, he caught the gist of it. The words, uttered by two men Shane Callahan had once considered friends, slammed through him.
If he were a whole man, the heightened sense of hearing that came with his ability to shift into a mountain lion would have made his task easier. As it was, a patchwork of scars now covered the spot where his left ear had once been, covering the canal and obscuring all sound from that side. He’d become used to the sensation of walking around in a perpetual tunnel but that didn’t make it any less a pain in the ass. A chasm existed between accepting his lot in life and struggling with the hindrances, such as limited hearing.
Shane opened his mouth in a silent hiss of frustration. Every instinct screamed at him to rush the men next door and take them out. He suspected their involvement, though he’d hoped he was wrong. Now, he couldn’t deny Duncan and Keith’s guilt. Killing them wouldn’t be easy, but he wouldn’t balk from it either.
Not yet, though. He reined in his need for vengeance, a thirst for blood built over years of waiting. He didn’t move by so much as a twitch. While he knew of Duncan and Keith’s involvement, he had yet to identify other players in his wife’s murder. Rushing now would get him nowhere.
“He’s been back for months,” Duncan said. “If he had any clue, he’d have done something by now.”
“The man was an accountant.”
“What’s your point?”
“Shane’s deliberate and patient. I’m telling you, he’s biding his time,” Keith insisted.
Shane smiled at the nerves evident in the tremble in the man’s voice, something he could hear even through the wall. You should be nervous.
“He may be deliberate, but he’s also a hothead, or none of this would’ve ever happened.”
Shane clenched his hands as the truth of that statement struck a nerve. Duncan was right. Brenna would still be alive today if it weren’t for his actions.
“We need to warn the others,” Keith said.
Yes. That’s exactly what they should do. Go warn the others and lead me straight to them.
“Fine,” Duncan agreed. “Tonight.”
Shane choked back an irritated growl when the location mentioned was too muted to make out. He’d have to follow them. Harder but doable. Unless they were setting a trap.
Shane grinned at that thought. He may have been an accountant when he’d lived here before…not anymore.
Their discussion over, his former friends departed through a door that led to the hallway beyond. Shane stayed still and silent in the darkened supply closet where he hid. Satisfaction strummed though him. His patience and painstaking surveillance had paid off, despite the limitations imposed by his deformity.
He gave his marks a solid lead, plenty of time to be far away before he emerged. Satisfied he could leave his hiding place without detection, Shane cracked open the door and glanced around before he stepped into the hallway. He inhaled sharply, clearing his head of the strong scent of ammonia that pervaded the supply closet.
He grimaced at the obnoxious statue of an Egyptian cat set into a recess on the wall; just another example of the garish décor the previous Alpha had favored. Gilded mirrors, gold carpet, and stained-glass windows adorned the place, and this was just the hallway. If he didn’t know he was in the massive home of the Reynolds Dare of cougar shifters, he’d have sworn he was in an immense old cathedral.
Shane headed in the direction of his room, located in a different wing of the building. He didn’t hurry. People in a hurry were noticed, and he’d been careful to fly under the radar since his arrival.
“I hope you’re not doing what I think you’re doing.”
Shane’s footsteps stuttered at the sound of a female voice behind him. He clenched his hands, irritated that she was able to get the drop on him like that.
He didn’t turn to face her immediately. “I’ve never claimed to know what goes on in your head, Andie.”
An amused chuckle reached his good ear.
Shane spun on his heel, a good ol’ boy grin in deliberate view, to find Andie Reynolds standing there, hands on her hips. At first glance, she appeared petite, delicate even, but Shane knew how lethal his Alpha could be. He frowned at the clothes she wore. She looked like a businesswoman in some kind of conservative gray pantsuit, very different from her usual more functional fighting gear of skintight pants and a vest. What was she up to?
“I didn’t know you were here. When’d you get in?” he asked.
“About an hour ago. Sarai’s with me.”
That gave Shane another pause. Sarai was a Seer. Were they here to stop him? Vengeance, while not outlawed, was not condoned in the Shadowcat Nation.
He raised his eyebrows in an attempt to affect a curious expression. “Oh? Why?”
“Next week is the first meeting of all the Kuharte.”
Shane nodded as the knot of tension inside him uncoiled. While the fact that the Kuharte—rare shifters who wielded additional supernatural powers—were staging a mini-rebellion was interesting, their actions had nothing to do with him. “So they finally got organized, huh?”
She pulled a rueful grimace. “It took longer than expected to contact all of them, convince their Alphas, and get all three Seers to agree on the safest time to meet.”
“I bet.” Not for the first time, Shane was happy to be on the periphery rather than in direct leadership. All this political crap made him itch. “Does Sarai really think they’ll get anywhere?”
Andie leaned against the wall. “Just getting the Alphas to allow their Kuharte to attend was a big step.”
“Yeah.” He could see that. The Alphas of the ten dares tended to be power hungry individuals who didn’t like to share their toys.
“What got them on board?”
She glanced out the window. “The Kuharte threatened to boycott use of their powers.”
He gave a low whistle. Sarai and the others had the Nation by the balls on that one. The Seers and Healers’ abilities were crucial. Attacks from wolves and other shifters had only escalated. The Shadowcat Nation was fighting a guerilla war for the survival of their species.
“Why do you need to be here?” Shane wondered. “You’re the Alpha, Sarai’s your Kuharte, and you support her goals.”
She shrugged. “Unlike my predecessor, I don’t do dictatorship. I’m here to discuss things with the dare.”
“In other words, you’re here to make them feel better,” he surmised.
“Sounds fun.” He limited himself to a sarcastic comment.
She grinned. “I’m not concerned about the talk with our dare.”
He mentally cringed at her use of the word our. Andie might have defeated Walter Carstairs to become the Alpha of this dare, and under her leadership, Shane was confident conditions would improve. They already had. However, this would never be his home again no matter whose name was on the pink slip.
When he returned after years of exile, he’d allowed his friends to believe reuniting with his people drove his need to go home—an assumption he hadn’t bothered to correct. He’d bear his own burdens.
“Good luck with that.” If he’d been wearing his standard uniform of jeans, boots, t-shirt and cowboy hat, he’d have tipped it. He swung back in the direction he’d been headed.
“We need you there.” Andie’s words stopped him again.
Shane released a sigh of resignation. He knew she’d come to find him for a reason. Andie didn’t ever just stumble upon someone.
“Why me? I don’t have much to say about Kuharte rights either way.”
“Sarai wants you there.”
Shane held in a groan and waited a tick. When a Seer requested your presence, refusing was a bad idea. And, in his experience, the reason they summoned you was never good. “Right.”
Andie smiled as she slipped her arm through his. “Let’s walk together.”
Despite his irritation at the directive, not to mention the potential impact to his plans, Shane was amused. He knew what Andie was up to. She’d decided to make sure he made it to the meeting. Someone less important to him would have garnered his ire, not his amusement, but he owed this woman. Big time.
An hour later, he stood at the back of a conference room furnished in the same opulent manner as the rest of the mansion. To anyone who happened to glance his way, he looked completely at ease lounged against the wall, feet crossed at the ankles, arms crossed over his broad chest. The pose was deliberate as was the innocuous smile that graced his lips. His cheeks had ached with the effort to keep the idiotic expression in place over the last few months.
The effect was worth the effort. Those around him hardly glanced his way now, discounting him as someone of little importance. If a gaze happened to shift his way, it would skitter away from him after a curious pause during which the person tried to discern where his ear had once been, the scars now covered by his shoulder-length hair.
Andie had been right that the majority of the dare wouldn’t be concerned. They’d almost lost Sarai because of the rules imposed by the Shadowcat Nation.
Shane pushed his fake glasses up his nose. He tried to hide his desperation for the meeting to wrap up. He still didn’t know why Sarai wanted him there, and his window of opportunity to follow Keith and Duncan narrowed by the second.
“What is the strategy for safety and protection while the Kuharte are gathered?” a voice called out.
“Yeah,” another voice agreed. “Don’t you think it stupid to risk our most valuable assets when attacks from the wolves and other packs have only escalated?”
Andie stepped forward. “The Alphas and one Protector of every dare will be in attendance. Each Kuharte will be assigned a personal bodyguard. The Betas and rest of the Protectors and Commanders will remain with their respective dares.”
“And none of the Seers have had a vision to indicate any danger,” Sarai tacked on then looked to Andie.
“From our dare, I will be there. Mike is the Protector we’ve asked to go. And Sarai has opted to have her husband, Zac Montclair, as her bodyguard.”
No surprise there, Shane thought. Zac was a powerful polar bear shifter, and their marriage was recent. Only an idiot would think to cross the guy or endanger his mate.
After a few more questions, the gathering broke up with no real protests ever having been voiced. Shane levered himself off the wall to follow the crowds out.
Damn. He’d hoped Sarai might forget about him. No such luck.
He made his way against the flow of traffic to where she stood at the front, Like Andie, Sarai was dressed in a professional looking pantsuit, only red. As soon as he reached her, Sarai gave him a hug, which he tolerated. Cougar shifters tended to be reserved. In fact, living in a community went against their ingrained, loner natures. Affection was reserved for the closest of friends and family. Besides which, Shane just didn’t like being touched.
“Sarai,” he greeted. “I’m surprised your husband isn’t here with you.” Given that Zac was with her twenty-four/seven.
She waved a hand. “He had important business with his Timik that couldn’t wait. He trusts Andie.”
He already assumed something like that. Like with Shane, Andie had saved Zac’s life once. She had a habit of doing that.
“Tell him I said hi.”
She grinned. “He misses you, you know.”
He raised a sardonic eyebrow. After living with him for years. Hiding with him… “Did he say that, or are you making assumptions?”
She gave a dry chuckle. “I can just tell.”
“Right.” But he softened his skepticism with a smile. “So…what can I do for you?”
“You can go to the Kuharte conference and act as a bodyguard.”
A frown tugged at the corners of Shane’s mouth. “You already have one.”
She waved off the comment. “Not for me.”
“As far as I know the rule still stands that each dare gets only one Kuharte. Right?”
He narrowed his eyes. “What am I missing here?”
“One of the Kuharte is going to show up without her Alpha’s permission…or protection.”
Another frown. “Andie said all the Alphas were on board.”
“On board might be overstating things. In this case, one of the Alphas has paid lip service to the concept but won’t let his Kuharte go.”
“So she’ll defy him and show anyway?”
She nodded. “This particular person is more vital than they realize. I want someone I trust to guard her. Zac’s with me. Andie’s occupied. Even if she weren’t, her offer could be construed as an attempt to poach. That leaves you.”
“What about George?” Zac’s second in command had been Sarai’s bodyguard at one time.
Sarai shook her head. “Zac is the only non-cougar-shifter allowed. Our supernaturals are too important to risk their exposure to other shifters—even our allies.”
Damn. Made sense. Focused on his own agenda, Shane ran a hand round the back of his neck. He swallowed a couple of swear words as he saw his best shot at revenge slipping away. At least he still had tonight. He could identify his targets. He glanced at his watch and grimaced. He’d have to act fast.
“Fine. I’ll do it,” he gritted with more impatience than tact. “When?”
“You leave now. You need to intercept and help get her to the meeting. Andie will brief you on the plan.”
He pulled up short. “I can’t.” He was sure as hell not going to lose this opportunity to kill the men who murdered his wife.
Sarai simply waited, her gaze holding the infinite patience only a Seer could exhibit.
Shit. “You’ve already seen me go. Haven’t you?”