Somewhere in the Florida Everglades
The spray of water and the wind in his face did nothing to cool Mackenzie Bishop’s red-hot rage. The drone of the airboat buzzed throughout his entire body, and the boat left a wake of white foam behind him.
He’d left the others behind in Miami. They’d wasted too much time as it was. It had been nearly two months since Robyn had been gone, two months since Dr. Lucian Carver had taken her right from under his nose. Trevor, Jet, Rogan, Noah and Wade had vowed to help him find her, but Christ, they had taken forever pinpointing exactly where in Florida the third B*E*A*S*T* compound was located.
Once they’d found it nestled deep in the Everglades, the bickering began. How should they approach the facility? Should they barge in with guns drawn or should they take a quieter, more stealthy approach?
Mac didn’t give a shit. All he knew was Robyn was at Carver’s mercy and he wasn’t going to stand for her being in his clutches any longer. He was going to find the woman on his own.
The rest of the pack be damned.
The day was hot, almost oppressively so, as the muggy Florida air rushed by. Sweat had soaked his shirt long ago. The sun burned his skin, but he couldn’t afford to stop. The compound wasn’t too far away now. Robyn’s beautiful face spurred him on. He refused to think of what had happened to her in the months she’d been gone. The only thing that mattered was rescuing her.
His thoughts ran away from him, remembering her sultry blue eyes, capturing his soul within their depths. When he’d lost control and pounced on her back in Texas, her body had fit his perfectly. Her breasts had been flawless, as if made for his hands alone. He remembered how he’d palmed them in his lust. Her kisses had inflamed him, to the point of almost taking her right then and there–until Noah had interrupted them.
She’d called him a coward for stopping. Despite the anger boiling within him, his mouth curved into a grin. Perhaps he was a coward. He’d been afraid of himself, afraid of what he’d been about to do. Controlling the jaguar inside him was no easy feat. And he’d been a hairsbreadth away from losing that control.
But dear Lord, Robyn made him want to lose it, to bury himself within her and forget ever being a shifter. She, more than anyone, could understand what he was going through, as she was a shifter herself.
He’d found her in the wilds of Oregon, flopping on the ground as a snowy owl with a broken wing. He could tell by her scent that she’d been more than a mere owl. When she’d shifted, she’d led him to the second B*E*A*S*T* compound where they’d liberated it with the help of Jet and Trevor. And Mac had personally killed the scientist who’d hurt her.
Now, he was fixing to do it all over again. The moment he saw Lucian Carver’s ugly face once more, it would be for the last time. The bastard was going to die with Mac’s fangs sunk deep into the soft flesh of his throat.
Mac’s mouth watered and his belly growled at the thought. Killing for the sake of killing repulsed him. But killing the assholes who’d made them all into monsters made the world a better place.
Mac slowed the airboat as the facility came into view. It was well hidden among the cypress trees, which rose from the water like white skeletal bones. A few long-necked cranes took wing as he rounded the trees and the splash of something in the water caught his attention. Probably a gator. He stared hard at the animals, wondering if they were shifters themselves. He took a deep breath, but the stench of the swamp was enough to cover the scent of the creatures. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. From here on out, any damn thing could happen.
It was quiet. Too quiet. From the B*E*A*S*T* compounds in Colorado and Oregon, he’d learned a few things. There were always guards. Yet no one was patroling outside that he could see, aside from the animals around him. And any one of them could be a shifter.
Reaching between his legs, Mac grabbed his rifle and a tranq gun, as well as a large duffel stuffed with ammo and serum. Not only had they liberated that second compound, they’d raided it as well, leaving them well-stocked with serum–the shit that prevented anyone from shifting, no matter if they were in their human or animal state.
With a heave, Mac leapt from the boat onto the marshy land, thankful he’d been endowed with the grace of a jaguar. A few loud caws could be heard from somewhere nearby, and the buzz of insects was constant. He swiped them away from his face as he cautiously approached the building, looking for the security cameras high on the walls.
They were there, all right, but they weren’t moving, and their red recording lights were dark. Odd. In fact, the front doors of the place were wide open.
Mac cocked his rifle and slung the tranq gun over his shoulder along with the duffel. He was gonna shoot first and ask questions later. The weight of the gun felt good in his hands and gave him the courage to move forward.
But as he eased closer, doubt overcame him. Was this the right place? Had they been mistaken about this facility? Something wasn’t right. Something was out of place. It didn’t take animal instincts to figure that one out.
A putrid scent wafted to him on the thick air, one he recognized instantly. The smell of rotting flesh. The smell of death.
Mac didn’t think twice. He entered the compound and jogged down the empty hallway. He didn’t care about the cameras. They didn’t seem to care about him either. What the hell was going on?
As soon as he rounded a corner, it became painfully obvious. Dead bodies were everywhere. Scientists and shifters alike, bathed in a sea of red, coagulated blood. They’d been rotting for days if the smell was any indication.
Her name flashed through his brain and his desperation to reach her came to the fore. Without guilt, he
kicked a scientist onto his back and pulled off his security badge. Damn thing was covered in blood. Using both hands, Mac wiped it on the dead man’s lab coat and strode to the elevator.
He placed it in the slot and watched as the elevator doors pinged open. Thankfully, nothing alive or dead was inside. But huge streaks of blood painted the walls and pools of it gelled on the floor. No buttons lined the walls inside. This elevator only went one place.
Once the car stopped its descent a few moments later, Mac leveled his gun and pointed it out the opening doors. Silence greeted him.
“Robyn!” His voice echoed throughout the corridor, a mirror image of the horrific scene above. “Robyn Groves!”
Nothing answered him.
He checked every lab and even further, to the very cages of the shifters themselves. Each gate was open. The shifters were gone.
Cold dread hit him. All the searching, all the nightmares, all the pain of knowing Robyn was with Carver was for nothing. She wasn’t here.
Or…perhaps she was.
With tears burning his eyes, Mac searched the bodies, looking for a snowy owl. He found quite a few dead hawks and eagles. Even an owl or two. But none of them were Robyn. That didn’t satisfy him in the least. She wasn’t among the dead humans, either. Robyn was gone and he had no goddamn clue where to look next.
Mac screamed with fury and swung the rifle like a bat against the wall again and again, without caring if he broke it. He’d thought he felt helpless trying to find her these past couple of months. But that didn’t compare to the helplessness that overwhelmed him now. He’d found where she’d been, but there wasn’t a single trace of her anymore. The stink of death had erased her scent.
With a primal growl, he ran to the elevator and swiped the badge, riding it back up to the top. The doors slid open and he sprinted down the hall, leaping over the dead. He’d search every friggin’ inch of Florida if he had to. He wasn’t going to rest. He had to find Robyn. It wasn’t even a question.
How he was going to do it, though, was another matter all together.
Panic snaked around his heart, but he tried to tamp it down. He couldn’t afford to lose his cool. That didn’t stop his fur from growing all over his body. The jag wanted free. It roared inside him, demanding to shift and rip something apart.
Standing outside the facility, Mac took a few deep breaths and stood stock still, using every ounce of his willpower to rein in the animal he wanted so desperately to become. He roared once more, tossing his head back and scaring even more birds from their roosts in the trees. It helped release his anger, but it didn’t erase it fully.
Mac fell to his knees and let the guns clatter to the ground. What the hell was he going to do? Thankfully, the rifle didn’t look damaged, but no matter how many breaths he gulped, he couldn’t calm his pounding heart. Somehow, in some way, this facility had been compromised. What shifters hadn’t been killed had escaped.
His only hope was that Robyn had escaped with them. Would she come looking for him? Would she even care? She’d been locked up for weeks; it was alltogether possible she blamed him for not coming to her rescue. Mac hated himself for not finding her sooner.
“Robyn!” he screamed at the sky, knowing damn well it was beyond hope. The woman he’d held in his dreams was gone and he didn’t know where to even start looking for her.
He laid his forehead on the ground and concentrated on calming his thundering heart. For the first time in a long time, Mac wanted to give in and break down. Robyn was gone. The one person who’d kept him sane, who he’d lusted after, who he’d pushed himself to find come hell or high water, had vanished.
A sound fluttered above him, reaching his keen ears. It was a bird, probably finding its way back to the trees after being scared off by his previous roar. Whatever it was, it landed in front of him, cooing faintly.
Lifting his head, Mac took pains not to spook whatever it was. Lying prone on the ground with the guns scattered before him didn’t exactly put him at an advantage. But what he saw had him gasping for breath.
An owl with white plummage regarded him, tilting its head this way and that. It cooed once more and Mac’s stomach leapt into his throat.
He sat up slowly, so as not to spook it. It regarded him with curiosity, and hopped away when he reached out his hand.
The bird took flight once again, circling above him.
“Wait. Wait!” He stood, craning his neck to watch it, wondering if he’d finally gone mad. Was he seeing what he wanted to see? Or was that a real owl?
The bird returned, once again alighting on the ground. That was no indigenous Florida bird–that was a snowy owl. He’d bet his damn life on it.
Mac closed his eyes and filled his lungs. He recognized that scent. It was her. It was her!
“Oh, thank God. Thank you, God! Robyn, I came to find you. Are you all right?”
When the bird cocked its head, he had to wonder why she wasn’t shifting. Perhaps she’d been injected with the serum. But as far as he knew, the serum only worked for four hours. It would have long since worn away.
He took a step. The bird hopped back.
“I’m not going to hurt you. Robyn, you know me.”
Once he’d said those words, a shocking realization came to him. His entire being screamed at the possibility. She’d been mind-wiped.
“Oh, hell,” he whispered. He covered his mouth with his hand. She didn’t remember him. After all of his anxiety over finding her alive, he’d never considered the possibility that she’d forget him. His heart might as well have been ripped right out of his chest. “I…I’m a…friend. I came to find you. To rescue you. Robyn, you can trust me.”
The owl cooed once more, as if weighing his words. After a few tense moments of silence, the bird began to shift, her wings becoming arms, her beak becoming a nose and mouth. Before too long, she stood before him, gloriously naked, swaying on her feet.
She looked tired. She looked hungry.
She looked goddamn beautiful.
Mac’s eyes drank her in, roving over her hungrily before returning his gaze to her ice-blue eyes. He’d dreamt of this moment, of reuniting with her and finally taking what he’d always thought was rightfully his. But she looked at him with trepidation and tried to cover herself.
“You know my name.” Her voice caressed him, bringing his body alive. He was aware of her with every shred of his hardened flesh, but her words only confirmed his fears. She didn’t know him.
His heart broke.
“Yes, I do,” he said gently, blinking back the moisture that wanted to fall. “Your name is Robyn Groves. I’m Mac. You know me. Or at least, you used to.”
“Mac.” She exhaled on the word, as if mulling it over. “I’m sorry, but…I don’t know you.”
He sucked in air through his teeth. “My name is Mackenzie Bishop. I saved you from B*E*A*S*T* in Oregon. You were kidnapped by Lucian Carver and I’ve spent the past two months looking for you. I think you’ve been mind-wiped.”
“Dr. Carver!” she exclaimed, looking left and right with fear in her eyes.
“Easy, sweetheart, he’s not here. I don’t know where the bastard is, but he won’t hurt you ever again. Not if I have something to say about it.”
“You are a shifter too?”
He nodded, knowing she could probably smell it. “I’m a jaguar.”
“Where is Dylan?” she asked, looking around the glade.
Mac furrowed his brow in confusion. “Who’s Dylan?”
“He’s my mate.”
Coming September 6th to Champagne Books!