Posted by Lexxie Couper on Saturday, August 11th, 2012
What’s Five for Friday? It’s the first five pages of a past release. It’s whetting your appetite. It’s a blast from the past. It’s something a group of authors are doing now. Five for Friday is cool.
Dublin—Four Months Ago
The stink of sex, sin and death seeped into Declan O’Connell’s nostrils, over-ripe and acrid all at once. His lips curled into a silent snarl and he stepped deeper into the dank, dim building, the hair on his nape prickling.
This is not right.
The thought sent a ripple of tension through his already tight muscles. It wasn’t right. The whole night hadn’t been right; the anonymous tip about his sister’s killer, the insistence he be here—at this place—at this time, the derelict, abandoned condition of the building. It didn’t add up.
McCoy’s not here, Dec. Shit, he’s never been here. You can’t even smell him on the air. Face it—this was a set up. And you’ve just walked right into it.
The snarl on his lips turned into a low growl and he felt the muscles in his body begin to coil tighter. Stretch. Grow.
Teeth grinding, Declan forced back the beast, denying it control of his body. He didn’t know who had brought him here under false pretence—more than one person wanted him dead, and not all of them knew what he truly was. Better to walk out of the situation, not lope out on all fours.
A soft sound—barely louder than the snap of a dry blade of grass—shattered the silence of the derelict brothel and Declan froze.
He wasn’t alone. Someone was—
The dark blur hit him from the left. Hard.
Something large and heavy crashed him to the ground. Teeth, long, sharp and slick with saliva, snapped at his face. He was barreled across the debris-strewn floor, chunks of concrete and shards of broken glass grinding into his knees and elbows, biting into his flesh even through the leather of his jacket. His favorite Levis tore but he didn’t give a rat’s ass. Not with a fucking huge, black wolf trying to tear his throat out.
The animal lashed out, razor-sharp teeth missing his neck by a hair’s width. Declan felt hot saliva splatter his cheek. He struggled on his back, pinned to the crap-covered floor by the wolf’s writhing, savage weight. The stench of urine attacked his breath, invaded his senses with the mark of an animal Declan had tasted before.
His eyes snapped wide open, locked on the burning, iridescent gold stare of the wolf attacking him.
The word formed in Declan’s head. Cold. Furious.
Seconds before the beast in his own blood roared into existence and he changed. Human muscle into canine. Man into wolf.
He bucked the animal off him, snapping at its soft underbelly as it flipped and twisted to the side. Warm, coppery blood filled his mouth and throat. He leapt onto all fours, staring at the black loup garou, smelling apprehension and pain leech from it in thick, sickly waves.
Baring his teeth, he held its gold stare, his growl low. You’ve fucked with the wrong wolf, asshole.
The voice—low, smug and female—sounded to Declan’s left at the exact second something sharp, pointed and icy sank into his neck, right at the spot where vein became jugular. Intense cold, like the breath of Death itself, consumed him. His muscles contracted, his heart seemed to swell and, wracked in pain, he collapsed to the floor.
Incapable of movement.
Trapped. And utterly vulnerable.
Regan Thomas hated the dark. The dark kept secrets. Hideous secrets. Secrets of pain and torture and human brutality. The dark allowed man to commit all sorts of horrendous acts in the name of progress. In the name of science. The dark allowed rich men to get richer on the corpses of creatures unable to defend themselves.
Men like Nathan Epoc.
Turning the narrow beam of her flashlight on the solid, steel door before her, Regan felt her hackles rise. Of all the arrogant men of power in this country, Epoc was the worst. Every day his labs in Sydney discarded close to a hundred animal corpses—all maimed, sliced, injected and tortured to death.
A snarl curled Regan’s lip. Science. To this day, she still could not decipher what Nathan Epoc produced in the name of science, apart from dead animals. Despite only arriving in the country two years ago, he was now one of the wealthiest men in Australia. No one, however, seemed to know what the hell he actually did. Mystery shrouded what went on behind the electrified fences and impenetrable walls of his windowless buildings, out here in the southern suburbs of Sydney.
Regan placed her black-gloved fingers on the door’s security panel—flashlight beam a narrow point of illumination in the pitch black of the corridor—and keyed in a five-digit sequence. It had taken five tedious dinners with Epoc Industries’s Chief of Security to procure the password: one night of bad food, bad personal hygiene and very bad wandering hands for each digit.
A chill of revulsion shot up Regan’s spine at the memory but she shoved it aside. What was on the other side of the door was worth it. Seeing the animals running free from Epoc’s building was worth it. Seeing the bastard’s normally smug and composed face twisted with rage tomorrow night on the six o’clock news was worth it. Completely.
A soft click sounded and the door’s locking mechanism deactivated, followed by a faint hiss of escaped, artificial air—rank with animal faeces and disinfectant.
Regan’s lips spread into a grim smile. Bingo.
Muscles and nerves coiled, she gave the door a gentle and oh-so-minute push. So far, her “romance” of the security guard had landed her all the codes and schedules required to get to the main lab undetected, but she wasn’t stupid. Being stupid led to being caught. Or shot.
She stood frozen, on the balls of her feet, ready to run. Or fight.
Except the low and mournful whimpers of animals locked in cages awaiting a slow and agonizing death.
Her voice was barely a breath. She pushed the door wider and stepped into the guts of Epoc Industries’s Scientific Division, flashlight seeking those she had come to rescue.
A German Shepherd cowered in a cage before her, tail tucked between its bent hind legs. The sharp outlines of its ribs jutted out beside the hollow pit of its gut, the raw pink skin of its shaved neck and chest festered with weeping sores. It turned a sunken brown stare on her, its misery and pain clear in the liquid depths. Various tubes punctured its neck and chest, feeding something in and out of the emaciated dog.
“Epoc.” Regan shook her head. “You bastard.”
Stomach heavy, she took another step into the lab, moving her flashlight from one poor animal to another, throwing each into stark illumination as she did so. Here a bank of nine white cats, strapped into a device rendering them incapable of movement, eyelids wired open, a murky orange liquid dripping in slow, even drops onto the exposed eyeballs of each. Here a chimpanzee in a small cage, wires protruding from four stitched incisions on its spine, connecting the primate to what appeared to be a Geiger counter. Over there another bank of cats—these ones with their mouths braced shut around fat tubes filled with a black, viscous fluid.
Regan’s stomach rolled and her grip on the flashlight grew hard. Fury surged through her. Fury and burning helplessness.
It didn’t take a Zoology degree to see the animals in this lab would never run anywhere again.
Their eyes—their miserable, beseeching, dying eyes—held her. And asked for help.
Regan swallowed down the sudden lump in her throat and she thought of the small vial of Rimadyl in her backpack. It wasn’t enough. Nothing would save these animals from their pain. Nothing. Epoc. You inhuman bas—
A low groan to her far right cut the dark thought short. Fear and adrenaline scorching through her veins like electricity, Regan swung around. “Holy shit!”
The wolf was massive. Bigger than any Regan had ever seen. At least half the size of a buffalo, it stood on all fours in a heavily barred cage, bound by multiple leather straps completely restricting its movement. Two clear tubes jutted from a neat, little cut high on the base of its neck—one pumping in a thick, black liquid, the other empty, as if waiting for its use to commence.
Regan took a step forward, moving her flashlight over the wolf’s muscled form.
It was sick. Possibly dying—the rapid, shallow breath, the dullness of its steel grey coat told her the animal was suffering. Big time. Yet even unwell, it still exuded primitive strength—a wild power almost frightening to behold. Regan’s heart pounded in her chest and she slid the flashlight’s beam to its head, careful to avoid shining the narrow but powerful light directly in the animal’s eyes.
The wolf snarled silently, long teeth glistening, the twin silver discs of its eyes fixed on her.
A slight frown pulled at Regan’s eyebrows and her apprehension vanished immediately. A canine’s eyes reflected green light in the dark, not silver, regardless of the genus. She shook her head, despair making her heart ache. “You poor thing,” she whispered, throat tight. “What has Epoc done to you?”
The wolf’s strange eyes stared at her. Seemed to delve into her soul. She pulled in a long, slow breath, unable to look away. Wolf? Is it really a wolf?
The wolf watched her from its cage, radiating power and rage.
Regan blinked, shaking herself. What the hell was she doing standing around? God, did she want to get caught?
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