Shifters Storm by Tia Didmon

Chapter 1

Nicholas Cascade stared at the dancing raindrops. The tinted windows of his SUV added to the darkness, but his somber mood prevented him from admiring the beauty of the night. His mother was declining rapidly and if they didn’t find a solution soon, he would lose both his parents.

The drive to Florence had only been a few hours, yet he hit Hunter’s contact on his phone.

Racheal picked up on the first ring. “Hey Nick.”

While she attempted to sound upbeat, her voice wavered. His brother’s mate was every bit as worried as he was. “Hey, sweetheart. How are things going?”

Static crackled on the line before she spoke. “Not good. Marie had a dizzy spell after you left. She was unconscious for twenty minutes. It’s getting worse.”

Nick closed his eyes. Thunder and lightning shattered the night sky, mimicking Nick’s mood. “I just arrived at the Kallan’s Florence facility. I’ll check it out, but there hasn’t been any activity in months. As soon as I’ve confirmed that hasn’t changed, I’ll head home.”

Rachael’s voice dropped an octave. “Garrett, hacked into Cortez labs, to see if Camilla has an antidote that will help Marie.”

His eyes snapped open. “Garrett can break Jordan’s encryption?”

“Not exactly. Ari gave Garrett an opening. Before you ask, we don’t know why he is helping us. Cortez will kill him if she finds out.”

Nick blew out a breath. “Never thought we’d have a Kallan assassin on our side.”

“Me either,” she sighed. “At this point, we’ll take what we can get.”

“Okay, I’m going to check out the facility now. I will text Talen when I’m done.” He ended the call, putting the phone in his glove compartment. He’d been careful to park a few blocks away from the building.

Sparse shrubs grew along the fence of the facility. While late, he walked like a man out for an evening stroll. He hummed an upbeat tune as his cat’s senses flared, mapping the night air around him. The sound of a diesel engine starting had him pausing at the facility’s entrance. He stepped behind a tree when a security guard rounded the building.

Only a shifter with cat eyesight could see the flak jacket beneath the uniform and the strap hidden beneath the guard’s jacket. While he couldn’t see the weapon, knowing Kevin Kallan, those bullets would disable a shifter.

Nick removed his clothes, folding them behind a tree by the fence. He tucked them under a large root at the base of the trunk. His cat was on alert as his claws sprang from his fingers and fur slid over his body. His bones cracked and reformed in seconds. The pain, a welcome retreat from the fear and uncertainty surrounding his mother’s fate.

His claws ripped into the bark as he scaled the tree. Roped muscles flexed under the tawny fur of his coat. Powerful hind legs propelled him to the top limb before using it as a springboard, leaping over the electrified fence. He landed on all fours, sprinting toward a large truck, ducking underneath for cover.

The facility had been empty three days ago. Now, it appeared as if Kevin never left. The loading bay was teeming with activity. They backed two trucks into the cargo bay with several employees wheeling wrapped cartons into the facility. Their nemesis was moving back in.

With the flurry of activity at the rear loading dock, Nick made his way to the front entrance. He was about to shift to his human form when a guard exited the door. As the man walked down the steps, Nick darted inside.

He had memorized the layout from his brother’s previous incursion. He used his superior eyesight to inspect the video cameras, but none of them were active. It was only a matter of time before Kallan got the building security running, so he planned to take advantage while he could. The sound of Kevin’s voice had him moving down the hallway.

He paused at the door with a glass window.

“I have run out of time. If this continues, I will be forced to confront Jordan,” Kevin snapped. The roll of a chair on cement echoed in the hallway.

Why would Kevin confront Jordan and not Camilla Cortez?Nick wished he could bust into the office and demand the answers he needed but killing Kevin before he identified the serum given to his mother would cause her death and that of her unborn child.

His ears perked as Kevin approached the door. “Start the testing now. I’ll inform her when the time is right.” He punched the button to end his phone call.

Nick darted down the hallway and out the door. He reached the bottom step when a man rounded the building. He smiled as a aimed his weapon. “Here, kitty kitty.”

Nick hissed and swiped the ground aggressively.

The man laughed. “We both know you’re not a real cougar. Cut the act. I will have you in a holding cell hooked on shifter meth in less than an hour. Say goodbye to your freedom.”

Nick ran towards the tree, sprinting as fast as he could, but he smelled the differences in the soldier’s scent. The soldier possessed enhanced reflexes and agility, but decay and death were inevitable. As fast as Nick was, he couldn’t outrun a bullet.

The pain radiated through his hind leg, making him stumble and roll before he made it to the low tree limb that grew over the fence. He sprang onto the branch, gripping with his front claws as his rear legs struggled for traction. Shouts echoed in the night before the thud of boots stomped the pavement, signaling he’d run out of time.

White floodlights pierced the night as the facility gate slid open. The truck emerging from the driveway blocked his route to his SUV. He darted down an alley, scenting lions, tigers, and cougars. It wasn’t until he caught the scent of hay and elephants, he realized the zoo had reopened.

Shifters hated cages, and he had agreed with the animal-rights activists who had forced the zoo to close. They must have lost the lawsuit. Allegations of animal cruelty needed proof. With enhanced soldiers on his trail, the array of various animals was the perfect place to hide. His scent would go unnoticed amongst other animals.

The empty walkways lined with steel cages and animal enclosures were the last place he expected to find safe haven, but as he stumbled, a second dart pierced his stomach. He went down hard, sprawling on the cement as the man approached.

He wore a brown uniform with the zoo logo on his shoulder. His tranquilizer gun was standard issue and normally his shifter metabolism would have expunged the sedative, but his bloodstream couldn’t rebound from Kallan’s poison. His tongue lolled out as his cat gasped for air.

The man clicked the mic attached to his shoulder. “One of the cats escaped its enclosure. I tranqued it, but it appears to be having an allergic reaction. Get Evie down here, now.”

Ice cut through his veins like glass. When the guard turned to speak into the mic and survey the surrounding enclosures, Nick reached for his human form. While he could picture his human form, his body refused to obey. The opportunity to escape passed as the young woman with long blond hair and iridescent blue eyes approached. If she wasn’t a veterinarian, he would’ve assumed her much younger with the freckles that dusted her cheeks, but as she smoothed his fur and checked his breathing, he could tell she was accomplished at her craft.

Evie turned to the guard. “This cougar isn’t one of ours. There’s no tag on him.”

The guard held his hands up. “Don’t pin this on me. I saw a cougar wandering the grounds, and I tranqued his ass. Maybe, Ulrich ordered a new batch of specimens.”

Evie huffed. “Their animals, not specimens.” Her voice dropped an octave, forcing Nick to focus on her every word. “Hey baby, you’re beautiful. You look healthy. Where did you come from?” Her hands continued to move over as fur. Her scent infused his soul, taking away the pain. His cat growled in his ear as he slipped into the darkness. Mate.