Cole Grayson and his younger brother, Bryce, own a private investigation firm…or at least that’s what it says on their taxes. Actually, they are exterminators who hunt the preternatural bad guys of the world. One night, on the way home from a case, they find a man by the name of Sebastian Reaux lying in a bloody heap on the side of the road.
When they learn that Sebastian was attacked and infected by a werepanther, they are reluctant to bring him home, but the injured man and Cole find a quick attraction to each other that leads the oldest Grayson man to think there is a lot more to the future shifter than he realizes.
The three men find themselves quickly pulled into a vicious battle. Cole soon realizes that it is not just his humanity he has to fear for, but he also stands to lose the only two men who have ever been welcomed into his heart.
“I hate when people throw their trash on the side of the road like that,” Bryce said, disgust evident in his tone.
We were driving back to the office, having finished yet another cheating husband case for the detective agency we own, Touch of Gray. The headlights had beamed over a shiny black object on the shoulder of the highway. But as the car sped past it, I could have sworn I’d seen a hand twitch against the ground.
I slammed on the brakes and couldn’t help laughing when my brother was thrown forward into his seatbelt.
“Dude!” he yelled, flopping back against the seat. “What the hell?”
“I don’t think that’s a garbage bag,” I said as I backed the car up. I pulled the vehicle to the side and pointed the headlights toward the crumpled object on the ground.
I left the engine running in case I needed to make a quick getaway and stepped out onto the deserted highway. Checking my gun in the light from the overhead lamp, I clicked the safety off and held it low as I crept toward the thing in front of the car.
Bryce met me in front of the hood, his gun out as well. With cautious steps we walked together until we were standing over what was definitely a person, bent in a horrific position in a puddle of blood just off the blacktop.
“Hey,” I said as I gently tapped the body with my foot. “Can you hear me?”
“Seriously, Cole?” Bryce hissed. “You just fucking kicked him.”
“I nudged him,” I whispered.
“With your foot.”
“What would you like me to do, Bry? Bend over and whisper in his ear?”
Bryce shrugged and I rolled my eyes. Typical. He hated pretty much every suggestion I ever had but never offered up one of his own. Shifting the safety back on my pistol, I shoved it in the back waistband of my jeans. I crouched down with a quick look at Bryce to make sure he had me covered. Taking a deep breath I reached out and shook the man at my feet.
“Hey!” I yelled louder.
The guy jumped and he turned his head to look at me. What I could see of his face was covered in bloody scratches. He tried to move his arms but I could see the pain in the swollen blue eye that stared up at me.
“We should call the cops,” Bryce said. I looked up to see his face bathed in white LCD light, the cell already in his hand.
“No,” the man croaked. “Please, no police.”
I shook my head at Bryce, who looked pissed but put his phone back in his pocket.
“Dude, I’m afraid to move you,” I said as I turned back to the man. “Were you hit by a car?”
My fear was that he had been hitchhiking or something, got blasted, and was all kinds of busted. If I moved him he could end up paralyzed…or worse. Though, we’d been on this highway for hours and hadn’t seen a single other vehicle. It’d been nothing but woods and dark for miles, so if he’d been hit it could have been hours earlier.
“No, I was… I was attacked.” He was trying to move again. I glanced up at Bryce, who shrugged again. With a heavy sigh I reached out to help the man roll over. It was awkward on the gravel and my foot slipped underneath us. We both ended up on our asses, his back resting against my chest. But at least he was sitting up.
“What the fuck attacked you?” Bryce asked, dropping to his knees in front of us.
I couldn’t see the man’s face, but from the concern and fear in my brother’s eyes I knew it wasn’t good.
“It was…can we go?” he asked abruptly, turning to look into the woods. I followed his gaze, but couldn’t see anything through the dense trees.
“Can you just get me to the next town?” the man asked, his voice edged with panic. “I’ll be fine, I promise. I just… I don’t want to stay here.”
“Yeah,” Bryce said. “Of course. Do you think you can stand?”
The man nodded and raised shaking hands up to my brother. Bryce pulled and I pushed until the man stumbled to his feet. He kept his fists clenched around Bryce’s fingers as if he knew he would collapse again if he wasn’t held steady.
I rolled to my feet, turning to face him. Before I could get a good look at him the man threw himself into my arms. With raised eyebrows at Bryce I found myself folding the stranger into my chest, patting his back gently.
Bryce’s shoulders shook with silent laughter that became stronger when I shot him an angry look. I’m sure I looked pretty funny standing on the side of the road holding a bleeding and beaten stranger in my arms. But Bry really wasn’t helping the situation at all.
“Ok, dude,” I said softly. “Let’s get you to the car.”
He wouldn’t let go of me so I had to half walk, half carry him to the Mustang. I opened the back door and he let me help him into the seat as if I were putting him into a police cruiser. I tried to close the door but his hand shot out faster than I could have believed him capable of and gripped the hem of my jacket.
“Please,” he said, his blue eyes shining through a layer of grit and blood that covered his features. “Will you sit with me?”
A sharp cough came from Bryce, who was standing at the passenger-side door. I straightened up and flipped him the finger.
“Can you slide over?” I asked the man. He nodded and shifted across the seat, making room for me. It was awkward to climb into the back seat; I’d never actually sat there before.
Bryce revved the engine and took off down the highway like we were being chased. I shot him a dirty look in the rearview mirror, but he kept his gaze staring out the windshield. I saw the corner of his eye twitch up though and knew he was aware of my glare.
Bry very rarely got behind the wheel, and this was why. He drove too fast and too erratically. The Mustang was my favorite possession, not to mention our only mode of transportation. His driving scared the shit out of me.
“What’s your name?” I asked, turning to look at the beaten stranger sitting next to me.
“Sebastian,” he said, his voice hoarse as if he’d been screaming. And judging from the look of him that was very likely. It was too dark to get a good view, but he certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty pageants tonight.
“I’m Bryce and that’s Cole. Do you want to tell us what the hell happened to you?” Bryce asked, his gaze flicking to the rearview to glimpse our new passenger.
“I will,” Sebastian said slowly. “Later. But for now, I’d really like to rest if that’s all right with you.”
“Of course,” I said, nodding at him. “Just lie back. We’ll get you to a hospital.”
“No hospital,” he said as he lay down, his head resting in my lap as if we’d known each other longer than ten minutes. “No hospital, no police. Please. I need to rest. I’m sorry. I never should have been there… I’m so sorry. Just…just take me with you. Wherever you’re going, that’s where I want to be.”
I was too stunned to do anything but let him lie there. His eyes fluttered closed and within minutes his breathing evened out and he was asleep.
“You’re new boyfriend is kind of hot,” Bryce teased from the front seat. “You should take better care of him though. Domestic violence is no joke, Cole.”
“Shut the fuck up,” I said, punching his seat hard enough to rock him forward.
“So what do we do?” Bryce asked with a sigh. “He needs a doctor.”
“When’s the last time we went to a doctor after a fight?” I asked him pointedly. “Let’s take him home. We’ll figure it out.”
“Cole,” Bryce said, his tone full of warning. “Those scratches on his face. You know what they look like, right?”
I did know. I hadn’t gotten a great look at Sebastian yet, but from what I could tell he looked like he’d been on the bad end of a shifter’s claws. Probably a wolf or a panther since they were the most common in the area.
“Just get us home, Bry,” I said, my hand moving to Sebastian’s head automatically. I ran my fingers through his hair, the still-tacky blood on his scalp sticking to my skin. “We’ll figure it out.”
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