A 2015 "Goldie" Finalist
Jamison Kessler and Lee Grayson are back in book two of the “Under” Series. Set one year after Under the Midnight Cloak, their adversary is very human. Someone has a fixation on Lee that manifests itself in a series of grisly murders rapidly approaching serial status and child abductions. These crimes are merely warnings, but what happens if Lee fails to interpret their meaning?
Jamison, Lee and the Panthera rush to save the lives of the innocent while they struggle to identify the instrument of so much suffering. Strains in relationships cloud their ability to see the whole picture. At the same time, U. S. Park Police Detective Patricia Hex shows up to help out but may soon become a threat to the Panthera community. Jamison’s concentration splits between Lee, a mysterious killer and trying to keep Hex out of the Council’s crosshairs. Her lack of focus may be all the stalker needs to get to Lee.
Ebook copies are available through Flashpoint Publications
Paperback copies are available through Bella Books. As always many thanks to the readers. Without you, writing would be pointless.
LEE GROWLED LOW, the sound barely disturbing the night. Still, Jamison heard and loped over to where her mate’s white coat stood out against the inky blackness of shadows. The sound carried a mixture of feline fascination with a hint of disgust. She’d never heard Lee make that particular vocalization before and it understandably roused Jamison’s curiosity. Padding across the hiking trail, Jamison’s black pelt all but disappeared beneath the darkness cast by the huge tree. She scented blood on the back of her tongue before arriving next to Lee. As a jungle cat, she could discern that the blood belonged to a human. Judging from the sheer volume, the human would not have survived the loss.
Jamison captured the impression from Lee’s mental projection that she asked if the blood belonged to the two murder victims. In their animal forms, Lee would instinctively phrase any inquiries from that mindset. Prey naturally referred to any creature hunted and killed. Jamison wrinkled her nose and then sneezed in disgust.
Yes, one of them.
Sniffing around, Jamison found a cigarette butt. She coughed when she detected the stench of burnt tobacco, nicotine and saliva. The smoke stick lay atop the blood, dried into the pool. The positioning of the cigarette told Jamison it was deposited there while the blood was fresh. Their predator had made a mistake. Not quite the skilled killer they had assumed. Something crashed through the underbrush and Jamison swung around with her tail toward the tree trunk. She felt Lee take up a similar stance with their rumps together so that they faced outward.
Jamison raised her head and scented the air, but couldn’t detect whoever approached. There wasn’t enough wind to carry the information she needed. Crouching low so that her chest brushed the grass, she peered into the night. Long moments later, a lean, tawny jaguar with a white muzzle sauntered down the trail. Jamison spotted the gleam of metal from his left ear.
Travis Rooker, Andy’s younger brother.
Jamison chuffed from her place of concealment and his head turned sharply. Instinctively, Travis tucked his body in and hissed a warning. Jamison growled, but only to announce her presence. Travis immediately relaxed, but dropped his eyes to the turf to show deference.
The cubs are found, he informed her without preamble. Healer treating.
Jamison felt triumphant at the news and roared, uncaring of the fright she might cause in any park visitors. The sound carried joy that the cubs lived, but also a warning to anyone who might injure Panthera young. Jamison felt Lee urge caution, yet her mate couldn’t refrain from growling her support.
Travis added his own deep rumble. Jamison’s roar would carry or a mile or two in the darkness, but the growls would not. Had she been in her alternate form, Jamison might have cared.
Annoyed, Jamison’s ears flattened against her skull. That she would have sent the hunters home herself made little difference. Jamison didn’t like it that Elder Tristan had made that decision in her absence. Higher reasoning held little sway at this juncture. This was Jamison’sterritory.
Issuing a threatening growl, Jamison turned and loped back toward her vehicle. Lee followed closely and Jamison felt the panting breath on her tail. She heard Travis depart in the opposite direction and assumed he intended to engage in a more satisfying pursuit while darkness remained. He’d earned it.
By the time they reached the Chevy, Jamison had all but forgotten Marie’s transgression. She felt good running free under the night sky, full of hope for the future that their young were safe. Threats would always exist, that was the way of the world. But right now, life was good. Reluctant to convert back to her human form, Jamison nevertheless felt the overwhelming desire to see the children. She couldn’t wander into a hospital in her current state.
Jamison lay in front of the pickup, feeling Lee hover protectively over her. Green eyes closed and she willed the transition. Bones realigned quickly, sliding and reforming. Her thick tail shrank until it disappeared into her spine.
Jamison’s teeth and claws retracted. While painless, the transformation back to her humanoid form brought none of the joy she felt when shifting into a jaguar. The world seemed to shrink in on itself, narrowing down to only what she could see with her reduced visual acuity. Scents faded until all she could smell was the cold night air and the dirt on which she lay. Shivering, Jamison stood up and slid her fingers into the fur on Lee’s head.
“I’ll be right with you, baby. I’m freezing.”
She ran around to the side of the truck and grabbed her clothes off the seat. Jamison dressed quickly, finishing up just as the first snowflake drifted onto her cheek. Rather than allow Lee to lie in the cold while she changed shape, Jamison threw open the passenger side door. Lee didn’t wait for an invitation. She leapt onto the seat to initiate her own alteration. Jamison knew it would take Lee a few minutes since she wasn’t quite as practiced, having grownup in a full human home knowing nothing of the Panthera. Giving Lee some privacy, Jamison went to retrieve Lee’s things from the rental car. She felt like skipping, happy that the girls were at the medical center. She returned to the Silverado to discover Lee lying shivering on the bench seat.
“Hey, you’re getting pretty good at that.”
“Practice makes perfect,” Lee quipped, reaching for her clothes. “Was it this cold when we got here?”
Jamison shook her head and looked up. “The temperature has dropped in the last few hours. It’s snowing.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” Lee sat up, pulling on her hiking shoes. “What are we going to do now?”
Jamison could see the hopeful look in Lee’s blue eyes and felt torn between responsibility and desire. She wanted to go see the girls, but needed to collect the evidence they’d discovered.The crime scene needed to be isolated and searched for any other clues.
Finally, she decided on a compromise. “I’ll go collect the cigarette butt. It’s been immersed in blood and exposed to the elements for weeks but I can’t just leave it here. I’ll radio for a forensic team while I head to the hospital. Why don’t you go ahead? I’ll be right behind you.”
“No,” Lee said slowly. “It shouldn’t take but a few minutes and I’d rather not leave you out here alone.”
“I am a big, bad jaguar, you know,” Jamison teased with a slight smile.