The wind whipped, bringing the chill of February much closer than was comfortable. The cracked tarmac of a lot once crowded with brand-new cars was now surrounded by rickety fences, two rusted, broken-down vehicles, and trash. The helpless air of decay complemented the derelict neighborhood where gunfire, screams, and crime often went unnoticed. Perfect for their activities tonight.
At six feet six, with skin as hard as steel and the added security of fangs, claws, and the endurance of a predator who never quit, Kisho Hayashi liked to think of himself as invincible. Though he knew better, he liked to mentally reinforce the idea that nothing could hurt him, not when he remained in control, focused, and so fucking angry, he could kill without conscience. Hell, he could see the goddamn future. He should have been all-powerful. But he wasn't.
He glared at the hated reminder of his recent failure, one of the dickheads who'd nearly beaten him to death a few months ago and who now threatened to shoot Jesse Fallon, his friend and fellow Circ. Kisho didn't have many friends, so those few he did have had his absolute loyalty. A sudden image of bright green eyes set inside a handsome face stole through him, a stranger's face more familiar than his own. He hurriedly blinked the image away.
Christ, just what he needed. Reminders of a tomorrow he didn't want to see. Sometimes he fucking hated seeing the future.
,” the mercenary spat. Devils.
Kisho considered himself and his friends, conceding that the bastard was partly right. They weren't totally human. The experiment to turn them into Uncle Sam's fighting machines made them bigger, more powerful, and...different. The Dawn Endeavor team, of which he was a part, had better instincts, faster response times, and the ability to self-regenerate, even when in human form. But when they transformed into their “beasts,” everything turned into weapons. Teeth became fangs, fingernails strengthened into unbreakable talons, and a simple punch could turn into a deathblow.
The mercenary tightened his finger on the trigger of the semiautomatic he held.
Trust Montaña to give his men decent hardware.
Colonel Ricardo Montaña, leader of a new group of subversives bent on destroying the U.S. Navy's new top secret project at the Pentagon, was a ghost who drifted throughout the States without so much as a whisper. They'd been looking for him ever since a mole in the organization had compromised their last mission.
Kisho narrowed his gaze at the assholes who'd started him on his predestined path to disaster. “Remember me? I took the swan dive off the Sunfield building.”
Curses and a scrambled attempt at escape. Their stink of sweat and fear like a drug he intended to savor. Kill, destroy. Make them hurt the way
we were hurt
, his beast--that other consciousness inside him--demanded. Considering the damage he'd undergone, it made perfect sense the animal instinct that ruled him when changed
would expect retribution. Kisho more than understood the need for revenge. Unfortunately, the man the navy had shaped couldn't agree to base murder.
In the form of his beast, however, he intended to exact pain, suffering, and at least a little
retribution for being left to die two months ago, thrown from a rooftop, then kicked and beaten until he nearly bled to death from internal injuries.
“Hey, dickhead, I asked if you remembered me.” Kisho growled at the mercenary sighting in on his teammate's forehead.
The laser sight swung to Kisho. His heightened senses enabled him to see the man's finger pull the trigger, and avoid the projectile with a second to spare. He kicked the gun to the side and watched as the semiautomatic continued to fire, taking out two unfriendlies before the gunman realized his mistake. Before the merc could swing back to Kisho, Fallon grabbed the hand holding the gun and broke it.
The gunman shrieked in pain, hurting Kisho's sensitive ears. He mentally replayed Franz Joseph Haydn's Allegro con spirit
; the classical composition was both energizing and soothing in its orchestral perfection. He grabbed the asshole and broke the man's neck in synchronized motion, just as he imagined the first movement's crescendo. A delightful scent of terror filled the air as Tersch, the team's resident Viking, corralled their fleeing opponents.
And there, the staccato of running feet like the rampage of violins. Music to my ears.
“Nope, get back into play, assholes. Hayashi's not done with you yet.” Frederik Gunnar Tersch grinned, showcasing sharp canines that shone under the bright February moon. More massive than the others, he looked like a veritable Viking god...if Viking gods had dallied with the beasts in the underworld.
Tersch clenched his massive fists and cracked his knuckles in the sudden silence.
The wind whirred through the outlying trees surrounding the rundown parking lot and energized their opponents enough that they cried out in terror once more. As if anyone in the surrounding slums would come to their aid.
The brisk breeze invigorated Kisho, and he smiled his pleasure as he tore through the enemy until only three remained.
“Remember to save one for Olivia,” Fallon reminded him. “The fuckers don't speak English, so I can't delve in and read any of them.”
Fallon, a telepath, used his mental abilities to aid the team. A vital resource when it came to intelligence, he was a limitless source of information--so long as their informant spoke the language. Luckily for them, his wife Olivia spoke native Portuguese, the language Montaña's mercs preferred. Olivia also happened to be an empath with the ability to sense truth, yet another asset the team used.
Kisho studied the remaining three men kneeling on the ground. “I'll give you a choice. Which one of you wants to remain conscious the longest?”
The men stared at him and one another, confused, terrified, and trying not to show it.
“Oh, that's right. You probably don't understand me,” Kisho said in all seriousness.
Tersch laughed. The men cringed.
Kisho focused on the tallest and most sadistic of the group, from what he remembered. “You kicked me when I was down. You're first.” In mere seconds he broke the bastard's knee, nose, and collarbone. He locked in next on the dickhead who'd spit on him, a big no-no. Kisho had had enough of that growing up. He didn't bother with fancy moves; he simply grabbed the shorter male, crushed a few of his ribs, and squeezed his neck until he passed out. Much as he wanted to kill the enemy, Kisho was no murderer. He'd leave them for the admiral's team to clean up.
The last man was on his knees, pleading and weeping for mercy.
Kisho wasn't inclined to show him any. He raked his talons across the idiot's face, a reminder that forgiveness wouldn't be coming from his camp. “Let's give him to Olivia. Then Tersch can have him for sport.”
Tersch grinned. Anything that implied violence was okay with him. “Terrific
. Hayashi, buddy, have I told you lately how impressed I am with this new attitude of yours?” He changed
back into his normal form, that of a giant blond with aggression issues. “It's like you're my new best friend.”
“No really.” Tersch followed after him like a puppy while Fallon shook his head and dragged their newest informant away by his collar. The other two remained breathing but unmoving on the ground. “I know Jules thinks you've gone over the bend, but I believe in you, man.”
“Thanks for the pep talk.” Kisho sighed. “I'll call in for backup. But it doesn't look like there's any rush.” Letting the men live who'd once nearly killed him went against the grain. His beast snarled, but the man
remained in control. He made the call to Mrs. Sharpe, their secretive boss.
“Any problems?” The smooth, deep voice glided over him like silk.
“No. Two of them didn't cooperate. They're down and likely to stay down without some help.” He heard moaning behind him and couldn't stop his beast's satisfied grin.
Tersch gave him a thumbs-up as he dragged the remaining men over to Fallon, who helped him tie them up to a telephone pole.
“I'm surprised at you, Kisho.” Mrs. Sharpe chided him over the phone. “From Gunnar, I'd expect such brutality. Not from you.”
He'd learned not to question how she knew so much about things she couldn't possibly know.
“I like to think I'm open to change,” he deadpanned.
She sighed. He could imagine her stroking those antique pearls she always wore at her ears and around her throat. Against her dark skin, the pearls gleamed, but not as brightly as the intelligence in the older woman's discerning gaze. Mrs. Alicia Sharpe had been aptly named. She never missed a trick.
“I'll see you three back here tomorrow. The authorities will meet you there in half an hour.” Authorities
meaning Mrs. Sharpe's classified Naval Intelligence contacts. “Make sure your prisoners are all still alive, will you? Geoffrey likes to think if we play nice, the other team might as well.”
“Yes, ma'am.” Kisho snapped his cell phone closed and pocketed it.
Admiral Geoffrey London and Mrs. Sharpe shared some personal history Kisho really didn't want to know about. Once Dawn Endeavor's commander, Admiral London now headed a top secret experimental group working to develop psychic warfare. The Circs the U.S. Navy had once planned as a new wave for the future hadn't panned out. Of the hundred sailors who'd volunteered and undergone genetic experimentation, only Kisho and three fellow SEALs had survived with their sanity and their bodies intact.
He glanced at Tersch and questioned the word “sanity” as it pertained to the big berserker. “Hey, let Fallon know to change
back. You know how the suits respond to claws and fangs.”
“Like they've never seen monsters before,” Tersch muttered, then left Kisho's side to find Fallon.
Kisho studied the arrogant giant he considered his best friend. When normal, Tersch stood six feet six and had blue eyes that could frost over in anger or glow like sapphires when he was aroused. Women who weren't put off by Tersch's massive size threw themselves at him. But it was Fallon who'd been the real stud--until he'd met and married Olivia.
Not as bad as Tersch, Fallon had at least taken to serial monogamy and tried to put some thought into whom he bedded instead of just sating his needs. The dark-haired, dark-eyed lothario could charm the pants off a saint, and his sense of humor gave the team a lightness it would have lacked otherwise. And speaking of team...
When Tersch returned, Kisho asked, “When's Jules getting here?”
Their illustrious squad leader remained a no-show. With an aura that screamed commanding, Julian Hawkins naturally assumed the role of leader wherever he went. Intense, thoughtful, and resourceful, the silver-eyed Circ never put his needs ahead of those of his men. That he hadn't shown made Kisho nervous.
Being Circ didn't entitle them to automatic protection against their enemies. Until a few months ago, Kisho never would have believed himself capable of being strong-armed, not when he could turn into a hybrid warrior with magnified senses and abilities. Yet he'd been tossed from a three-story building like a sack of potatoes, then tortured and left for dead, all to leave a message to his team.
“Jules? No idea. What are you waiting for? We changed
. Get to it, Mr. Slow,” Tersch prodded.
Kisho sighed. Like sliding through water, his thoughts bubbled until the man beneath the beast floated to the top. He focused his will and felt all of him begin to transition into another form. Bones and sinews rapidly shrunk. The incredible brawn once apparent in his darkened frame thinned to abundant muscle under his now almond-colored skin. The long hair that reached his waist when Circ now lay cropped over his ears and brushed the top of his neck, thick and soft, as opposed to the more coarse fibers when changed
Thankful for the elastic-waist jeans that allowed for some cover when he transformed from man to beast, he caught the bag Fallon threw him and reached in for the rest of his clothes. In his human form once more, Kisho shivered in the bitter chill of February despite his thicker blood. He'd never liked the cold. Once he'd donned a cable-knit sweater, socks, and boots, he joined his companions inside their SUV.
Modified to accommodate men of their size, the extended cab had plenty of room between the backseat and the way backseat, which faced the rear of the car. The odd seating allowed them space to change
on the move, if need be, and to face each other while they conferred over mission plans and the like.
As they waited, Kisho thought about the upcoming free weekend Mrs. Sharpe had been promising.
“Alicia had better be on the up and up,” Tersch muttered, as if reading his mind. “My luck, she'll decide she wants to run more bullshit tests on me while the three of you and Olivia
,” he added with a sneer when Fallon raised a brow, “fuck around in town.”
“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” Fallon joked.
Tersch flipped him the finger, but Kisho saw the bitterness in his gaze, knew the pain Tersch suffered, a past his friend wanted to bury as badly as Kisho sought to avoid his own history.
Kisho punched him in the arm. “Admit, it, Tersch. Alicia Sharpe has a thing for you. I think Mrs. S. wants you, man. The sexual chemistry practically sizzles when you two are together.”
Fallon laughed out loud.
The pain in Tersch's gaze disappeared, as Kisho had meant it to. “You're such an asshole. Now if Ava would get off her high horse and share some love, I wouldn't say no. But Sharpe's mouthy assistant is too busy bristling at every damned thing I do and say.”
Fallon blinked. “You pat her on the ass and call her 'sweet cakes.' You try to get her to do your laundry. You order her around like a servant. How do you think an independent woman like that is going to respond?”
“Servant, hmm. I'd rather she was my slave.”
Kisho and Fallon exchanged a glance.
“Um, Tersch, you do realize telling Ava you want her as a slave will big-time piss her off, right? She'll not only cut off your balls, she'll feed them to you for breakfast. And you can probably blame less of that on her skin color than that the woman was born aggressive,” Fallon said. “I married aggressive; I know what I'm talking about.”
Tersch flushed. “I meant sexual
slave, you idiot. Anyone tries seriously fucking with Ava in any way answers to me,” he growled and seemed to grow as Kisho watched.
Pleased his friend wasn't the insensitive lout he at times appeared, Kisho changed the subject. “Speaking of fucking with, why do you think Delancey chose Montaña to work with? An ex-navy captain and a South American drug lord running a company of Brazilian mercs? And just what the hell does Delancey have to do with all this?”
Fallon shrugged. “Who knows? I always thought he was a bit off, even when he was our captain. Good thing for us we had Jules to run interference.”
Jules had been their lieutenant back when they were active SEALs. Comrades in arms and the best of friends, the four of them were tighter than family. They had to be; their lives depended on each other to keep them sane and to provide surcease when the mating heats struck.
Kisho forced himself not to squirm and firmly shielded his thoughts from Fallon. Being a Circ certainly had its upside. He was stronger, faster, and more deadly than any normal man. When changed
, his skin could repel small caliber rounds, his claws and fangs could do major damage, and he healed at a rapid rate. Even in a man's form, his flesh regenerated quickly. The animal that resided just beneath his skin had an uncanny instinct for survival. It often knew what Kisho needed before he did.
But along with those positives came the mating heat, a major pain in the ass. Literally
. Once a month, and lately, more often than that, he and his fellow Circs experienced a driven need to procreate. So long as the sexual partner was a Circ, gender didn't matter. A raw means of survival, to perpetuate their own species--which wouldn't have been such a problem, except that few female Circs existed. A real bummer for his friends, but not such a problem for Kisho.
He'd always preferred men over women. The one time he'd tried fucking a female he hadn't enjoyed it. Frankly, the female form did nothing for him. Oh, he easily conceded Olivia's sensuality and Ava's incredible beauty, but sexually, they left him cold. His friends, on the other hand, made his temperature rise without even trying. And his natural attraction embarrassed him.
He knew his fellow Circs only engaged in sex with each other because they were driven to it. Not wanting to alienate the only people he considered family, Kisho didn't draw attention to himself. Though he thought by now they might suspect something, he refused to give them an opening to reject him. The navy's “don't ask, don't tell” policy continued, even though their official time in service had ended.
Jules and the others had accepted Circ bisexuality easier than he'd thought they might, but at the end of the day, they still sought females when hungry for human sex.
“Dude, I hate when you get all quiet.” Tersch grumbled and kicked at his feet. “You okay?”
Fallon answered for him. “He likes to think a lot, something you wouldn't know much about.”
“It's always about my ass, isn't it?” Fallon said with a fake leer. “I know you want it, but don't beg, Frederik. It's pathetic.”
Tersch grinned, showcasing sharp fangs. “Your demon wife isn't here to protect you, pretty boy. Watch what you say. I have no problem bending you over while you suck off my good buddy.” He turned to Kisho, a bright glint in his sky blue eyes. “You in? It'll be tight, but we've done it before.”
Shit. That damned mating heat again
. Even Fallon looked affected, and Olivia normally satisfied his cravings.
The blare of a horn and the approach of bright lights outside saved him from answering. Kisho cleared his throat. “Our prisoners' escorts are here. I'll take care of the transfer.”
He shot out of the SUV and slammed the door behind him, willing his erection, if not away, at least down enough not to be noticeable. Hopefully the shadows from the overhead streetlamp would hide the bulge in his jeans.
Stepping forward to the cuffed mercenaries chained to the telephone pole in the center of the barren parking lot, he saw the men shiver. Fallon had forgotten to give them blankets. Forgetful guy.
Three dark SUVs that screamed government
stopped ten feet from the pole. Doors opened, and a dozen men in suits appeared and surrounded him. Not much of a threat, even with their bulky jackets that failed to mask the firearms he knew they carried.
“These them?” one bureaucrat asked. “They look cold. No blankets in this weather? They probably have hypothermia,” he said with a frown and glanced at the running SUV.
Kisho tsked. “You know, we asked them if they wanted to share the vehicle with us, but for some reason, they preferred the outdoors.” He flashed the civilian his teeth and saw the older man swallow. Amazing how a bit of fang could instill fear. And they weren't even halfway extended.
“Right. Ah, Miguel? Need your language skills, front and center.”
Miguel shouldered his way past the others and started speaking in rapid Portuguese. At first, the prisoner didn't answer. Miguel didn't raise his voice, but whatever he said had the prisoner looking from him to Kisho. He started talking, a rapid spatter of words that didn't cease.
Happy to leave the bastards to someone else, Kisho slapped Miguel on the back. Miguel nearly fell over, and Kisho caught him before he toppled over the prisoners. “I can see they're in good hands. Make sure the conscious one gets back to Mrs. Sharpe. She wants one of our team members to take a crack at him.” He watched them load the mercenaries in the van. “Best of luck, gentlemen.” He nodded and walked toward his own SUV.
Before he reached the vehicle, he turned and watched the government vans pull away until their fading taillights winked out of sight.
Overhead, the moon disappeared behind a mass of clouds. The streetlight flickered and then died. The cold made the emptiness of the space feel like the lot where he'd fallen all those months ago. Except here shouts, backfiring cars, and occasional gunfire filled the night. Not the best section of town to frequent. Then again, the way he felt, he looked forward to a scuffle.
The faint, tempting scent of cedar and mint drifted through the partially open driver's window.
Hell. They wouldn't. Not here, not now
. His entire body tensed, and his cock throbbed, hard in an instant.
He quickly opened the driver's side door to the SUV and started to enter. He froze at what he saw: Tersch and Fallon in the back. Together
. Fallon had his head buried in Tersch's lap. Neither male wore pants.
Tersch groaned. “Fuck, that's it. I hate the mating heat sometimes, but not right now. Oh man, you're only getting better with practice. Olivia likes to watch you go down, doesn't she?”
Kisho couldn't move, caught in a lust so extreme, it hurt.
No question. The damned mating heat was back.