Forever’s Creek Shifters Book One
“Beast?” She rose up to rest on her elbows. “You’re going to shift?”
There was a mixture of terror and excitement in her eyes that made him want to tease her, but he resisted the urge. “No. My beast is always within me, even when I’m in human form. There’s no need to shift.”
“What a relief. I’m not sure I’m ready to see your animal yet.” She paused, averting her eyes. “Mind if I ask what your second nature is?”
“Second nature. So proper.” He smirked. “I’m a lion.” He spoke with ease because unlike the rest of the world, he didn’t see the animal side of him as a curse or an experiment gone wrong. To him, it was a blessing, something he was proud of. Though times were tough right now, things would get better. He’d see to it.
“I wasn’t sure how to word this…this…ability.” Seeming nervous, she bit her bottom lip. “I’m not even sure ability is the right word.”
“Shifting is a magical thing, and even though the world thinks I should be ashamed of it, I’m not. My lion is as much a part of me as my internal organs. The human society that we live in just doesn’t accept those who are different, but we’re here just like everyone else, and we want to live in peace.”
“That almost sounded like a public relations statement.”
“I just want you to understand who my siblings and I are. We’re no danger to you or any other human. We’re always in control of our animal, no matter what form we may take. That’s what Hathaway Medical and the rest of the government organizations don’t understand. We shouldn’t be experimented on, nor should any other human.” He hated that he sounded like he was lecturing her, but if he was going to take her back to Forever Creek, she need to understand his kind. He didn’t want any surprises later that would send her running. Once she knew their location, if she got spooked and ran off, she’d be a liability.
“But the government doesn’t classify you as human.” With that statement, she wasn’t able to meet his gaze.
“What about you? Do you think I’m human?” Silence thickened the air until he wasn’t sure she’d answer.
“You look human enough to me.” She reached out and laid her hand on his chest. “You feel human, too. That’s all that matters to me.”
He placed his hand over hers. “This is just one side of me, kind of like a coin. Will you still feel the same way when you see my lion?”
The law said shifters were lesser beings.
They were to be captured and imprisoned in one of the camps scattered across the country. Resistance meant death. American citizens could kill anyone who showed signs of being a shifter, and it wasn’t considered a crime.
The past year had been rife with change, and the ones affected most of all were shifters. The whole world knew about them now, and they were being hunted down like the animals they shifted into. Mobs used it as an excuse to hunt, and murderers were turning to shifters to get their thrills—if they could catch them.
Patrick O’Reilly stood by the window and remembered what had brought them to the abandoned ski resort deep in the woods. Though the new home was beautiful and safe, it was nothing like they world they’d left behind. Forever Creek Resort wasn’t just any ski resort, it was a castle. It even had a moat, though half the time it was frozen over. Since they were so high in the mountains, the moat had once been used as a place for guests to ice skate. He could almost picture people skating around the castle while others gathered at one of the fire pits now hidden under all the snow. From the window, the shadow of the five floors of the castle was spread across the ground before him. There was plenty of room for them to train, or bring others into their fold to keep them safe. There would come a time when they would have to recruit the best of the best in order to survive.
He stepped away from the window and back to his desk, looking at the computer screen to check on his siblings. Once they’d taken up residence in the castle, one of the first things he’d done was enhance the security system. Whatever areas were lacking, they updated, and now he could make sure they were safe. There on the screen, he could see each of his sibling going about their normal routines. Despite this, he couldn’t stop the rush of memories from before they had gone into hiding.
He pulled the door to his small medical practice shut and stepped out into the freezing temperatures. He should have been home hours before, but a string of last minute patients had kept him late. A clatter caught his attention. It was coming from the alley next to his building. His beast sniffed the air and was met with the rancid odor of blood. Lots of it. The sane part of him told him to turn and continue on his way, to not enter the alley, but he couldn’t stop his feet from moving forward toward the noise.
He had just stepped into the entrance, and not more than twenty feet before him were two police officers. Blood seeped from a man lying against the alley wall. “Shifter. I won’t let you contaminate our world any longer. We’ll kill every one of you. Gun you down and bathe in your blood.”
That night, he’d realized how dangerous things were. It had been the final straw that sent them into hiding. We’re safe now. He could take some comfort in the fact that even if someone were looking for the castle, it was difficult to find, so there was little chance anyone could stumble upon them. It wasn’t the way they had lived before, but at least they were together and alive. None of them were stuck in some camp, or worse, being used for experiments.
They had put their skills together and started Shifters Underground. It had started out as an online forum letting others know of safe places they could seek refuge and places to avoid at all costs. Now, it had expanded. The siblings went out to rescue those who were in dangerous situations. Any shifter could send a cry for help, and the O’Reilly family would do what they could. They planned rescue missions, mapped out a safe route of travel with safe houses, reunited families, and whatever else they could to keep shifters safe, under the radar and out of the camps. Each of them were putting their skills to good use, trying to do what they could to save their species.
There would be a day shifters would take no more, and they’d stand together and fight back, but that wasn’t the case yet. There were little bands that had tried to fight back but for the most part, the government swept into action, making examples out of them. Torturing shifters before finally killing them. Many were killed in public for others to see. It had started on the streets where the townsfolk would gather, and recently it was being broadcasted on television. For those who weren’t killed, their fate was worse for their rebellion. They were sent to labs for the scientists to experiment on as they searched for a way to control shifters, to make them less of a threat. There had been some shifters spread around the country willing to help the O’Reillys on a large scale, but for the most part shifters were trying to stay under the radar. They’d hide someone in their homes, but that was as big of a risk as they were willing to take.
It sickened him to think of what happened to shifters, and through it all he had little doubt that things would only get worse before they were better. If they ever got better. There had already been rumors of experimental tracking chips being placed in shifters in order to control their movements and to possibly control their ability to shift. To take away the capability to shift was worse than locking them away in cells like animals in a zoo. The beast would fight within the body, trying to free itself until eventually the mind collapsed. Shifters wouldn’t last if that were their fate.
Instead of standing there staring out at the woods that surrounded their home, his lion clawed within him, demanding something be done before it was too late. Shifters were dying as he stood there watching the trees blow in the wind, and there was nothing he could do about it yet. He needed to gather other shifters to stand together and fight against what was happening to them. To petition the government to leave them in peace.
It was one thing to kill rogue shifters, those who went on a rampage and started this disaster, but it was another to kill their entire species because of the actions of a few. That was like eliminating humans because of murderers. This was no different, and it made the government no better than the rogues.
“Patrick.” Jade, the youngest, and only sister of the O’Reilly siblings, stepped into his office appearing pensive, her arms wrapped around her body as if she was hugging herself. “I emailed you a document. You should take a look at it now.”
He stepped away from the window and back to his desk. “What’s it concerning?”
“The government is rolling out an injection that hospitals and emergency personnel can use to test for shifters. It can be administered by a needle or through a dart gun. If the person is a shifter, it will force them to shift. If they’re human, they’re saying the only side effect is nausea. It should be in their hands by the beginning of the week and all hospital staff, emergency workers, military, and government employees will be forced to undergo the test in order to keep their jobs.”
“Shit.” He leaned over his office chair and pressed a few buttons until her email displayed on the screen.
“As if that’s not bad enough, within three months’ time they’re expected to make it available to the general public. It will be uncontrollable then, and it’ll be even harder for us.” She rubbed her hands on the outside of her arms.
“We’ll overcome.” He quickly scanned the announcement and found no further information than what she had already told him. He caught the name of the drug—Lycan Ultra Neuro Acid, also referred to as LUNA—and committed it to memory, in case he caught that word anywhere else in his research. “There’s got to be something we can do to counteract it. If I could just get a sample of the compound they’re using to bring forth the beast, I might be able to find a way to bypass the reaction.”
Austin, the next oldest O’Reilly stepped around the corner with only his workout shorts slung low on his hips and a towel in hand. “I can help with that.” When they both turned to look at him, as if wondering where he had come from, he held up his hand. “When Jade passed the gym, she looked agitated so I followed to see what happened.”
“What do you mean you can help with getting a sample of the compound?” Patrick took a seat behind the desk and pushed the chair back to recline slightly.
“If they’re going to distribute it to every hospital, police station, and firehouse, they’re going to go through the military. I still have friends in the service. I’ll call them and see if they can get me a couple vials.”
“Good, then I can go through the compounds and figure out what we can do to make the playing field even.” It wasn’t what he went to medical school for but at least he could put his skills to use. Since they’d been forced to give up everything and move to the woods, he lost his position as the town’s doctor. Now, his medical training was being wasted. “If any of your friends are shifters, you’d better tell them to get the hell out before testing begins.”
Austin nodded distractedly, confirming he’d already been thinking the same thing. Like Patrick, Austin had to give up his career. As a former Army Ranger, turned police officer, it was hard for him to not have the daily activity. “Just my buddy, Nolan. I’m going to try to convince him the Shifters Underground needs him. He’s a good soldier and we could use men like him when things get worse.”
Patrick quirked his eyebrow upward. “We should begin recruiting our troops before things get more menacing. We’re going to need the best if we’re going to stand a fighting chance.”
“Wait a minute, both of you. Are we talking about going to war?” She stared at them both, her eyes wide, letting them know she was appalled by the idea.
“Jade—” Austin started before Patrick cleared his throat.
“We won’t have much choice.” He tried to soothe the youngest of the pride because he knew just how much she hated the idea. “One day things are going to get so bad we’re not going to have any other options. It will be time for us to take up arms and stand together against this, or we’ll all die.”
“Not just in some distant future,” Austin said. “It’s going to be soon. Can’t you feel it?” When no one answered, he continued, “With every step the government makes to crush our species, we’re starting to rise up. Right now, there are just small groups like us but eventually we’ll all stand together. You can see the changes on the Shifters Underground website.”
“We understand the thought of going to battle against them scares you, but we’ll do whatever we can to protect you.” Patrick watched as his sister hugged herself tighter. If anyone understood what the government was capable of, it was her. Things got nasty when the government caught a shifter. Jade had personal experience; she knew. He did his best to set those thoughts aside. There was no need to relive the nightmare now that she was safe in their forest retreat.
“That’s the thing.” voice trembled. “You can’t stop these people. No one can. We should run, leave the country. We should go home to Ireland.” Her fear permeated the room like a toxic gas.
“Don’t be stupid,” Austin snapped.
“Austin!” Patrick scolded him.
“Come on, she needs to wake up and realize this is going to go worldwide before long. There will be nowhere to hide.”
“You’re right, but she doesn’t need that right now.” He tried to calm the situation, but she had already stormed out the office. “Damn it, Austin.”
“Patrick, it’s time she realizes what we’re up against.”
“Don’t you think she understands? The scars she has from those experiments they did on her before we could get to her, are daily reminders of what the future might hold. How can you be so heartless? She’s terrified, damn it, and comments like that aren’t helping anything.”
Austin slung the towel over his shoulder and nodded. “You’re right. I’ll go apologize.”
“Later. I’ll smooth things over for now.” Knowing she had most likely taken refuge outside, he grabbed the jacket he’d tossed over the back of his office chair and came around the desk. “Before her capture she was a take-no-shit type of girl, but what they did to her broke something deep within her. She’s just beginning to find her way back to the person she was, and she needs our support. She’s safe here, for now, but that might not always be the case. We need to get her back to the person she was, so she’ll fight alongside us.”
“What did they do to her?” Austin asked, sounding hesitant, as if uncertain he wanted to know. “In the middle of the night when she has a nightmare, you’re the one who goes to her. Has she told you anything?”
“Only bits and pieces. For the most part, she doesn’t want to talk about it.” He slipped the jacket on and tried not to picture her huddled in that tiny cage, the electrodes and machines attached to her. She had been so drugged when he found her, she’d fought him even as he tried to rescue her.
To discover his baby sister in that condition still haunted him every time he closed his eyes. Worse was the knowledge that others were suffering the same fate and there was nothing they could do about it yet. They needed to locate the labs conducting the experiments in order to attack and close them down. The longer they were operating, the longer people suffered inside them. From what he could gather, they were worse than the camps.
He strolled from his office, leaving Austin in his wake to go back to his daily workout routine. In the distance, he could hear Luke and Blake in a heated discussion about something, and Chase’s lion purrs as he tried to add his opinion to the conversation. He didn’t want to get involved with whatever they were bickering about, so he snuck out the side door. He’d go around the castle, back to the creek that ran a little distance from the building. Jade would have sought her refuge there, letting the sounds of water tinkling over the river rocks soothe her.
Even with the snow on the ground, she sat there next to the creek. She was too lost in her thoughts to notice the cold and wind beating against her. Her long blonde hair whipped around her from the breeze and she didn’t bat it out of her face like she normally would.
“Jade.” He called to her as he neared, but still she didn’t acknowledge him. My dear sister, what can we do to help you?
During medical school, he had studied cases of trauma and depression, and during his time as a family doctor he’d had to treat it, but when it came to his sister, he hesitated. He wanted to do whatever he could to help her return to the woman she had once been, but there were dangers. If he pushed too much, he could send her retreating further into herself. It was a lose-lose situation, but he was the only one there who could help her in a medical way. Besides being her brother, it was his job as her Alpha to heal her. The best way for her to move past the trauma was to talk about it. It didn’t have to be with him, it could be any of the brothers, but she had to talk to someone or she’d continue to relive it night after night in her dreams. He could only hope she’d find the courage.
“Jade.” He called to her again as he stood above her.
“I really just want to be alone.” She ran her hands down her jean clad legs and pulled them tighter against her chest.
“I know, but that’s not always good for you.” He sat down next to her, the snow soaking the bottom of his jeans. It was better than hovering above her. “Austin’s an ass.”
“But he’s right,” she said. “Eventually this will be worldwide. What are we going to do?” Tears welled in her eyes.
“We’re not going to let that happen. With every lead that comes through Shifters Underground, we follow up on it, destroy labs, and rescue those who need us.” He tugged off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. “We’re going to make it through this.”
“Maybe Austin is right, though. Maybe we need to start building our team and prepare to fight if we have to.”
“I know none of this is easy for you, and I know you’re scared, but he is right on this. The time is coming when we’re going to need to fight in order to stay alive and free.” The terror that radiated from her permeated the air until it was almost palpable. He forced air into his lungs and added, “I’d rather have you here where we can keep you safe, but if you want, Dad’s family will welcome you in Ireland.”
“I’m not leaving without everyone. I’ve never deserted the family and I’m not going to now.” She turned to him. “Do you think Dad’s still out there? In one of those camps or a lab?”
He wanted to lie to her, to tell her their father could take care of himself, but she’d have smelled it. A lie wouldn’t bring her comfort, it would only piss her off. It was time the whole family faced up to what had happened to their father the night he’d walked out for some air, only hours before the family went into hiding. “I don’t know. If he were free, he’d have found us by now, but I don’t know if it’s better to wish he was captured and imprisoned in one of the camps, or hope he was killed on sight.”
“I can’t help but fear he might have ended up in one of the labs.” A single tear rolled down her cheek before she wiped it away. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, knowing she was thinking of her own experience.
“It was his choice to go out that night. He knew how bad things were getting, and he still went. There’s nothing we can do for him now. We’ve watched the board for the last year and there’s been nothing, not even a blip. You listed him as missing and if anyone knew anything about him, they’d have contacted you just like they do with all the others. Good or bad, we would have known.”
“Which is why I can’t stifle the fear he was taken to a lab. We have very few tips on those because they’re so heavily guarded. He could have suffered as I did without being as lucky to have you swoop in and save me.”
“If that was the case, then he’s most likely dead. From the records we’ve recovered at the labs we’ve destroyed, they kept captives alive only a short time.” As he gave her what comfort he could, he was thankful she stuck mostly to Shifters Underground and working with families. It sheltered her from what they learned about the labs and the knowledge of what happened when the shifter was no longer of any use.
He didn’t want her to know the worst of it. If they hadn’t rescued her, she’d have been incinerated alive.
Doctor Clarissa Greenwood stepped out of her new office at Hathaway Medical and headed for the door. The air in the building seemed stifling all of a sudden, and the more she thought about her new position, the more it bothered her. As a scientist, she’d believed her promotion involved studying diseases to find the cures. She fumbled with her the keychain locket in her pocket. It was the one thing she never left home without, a good luck charm of sorts that her brother had given her on her first day of college as she stood before the tall buildings, ready to run.
He had always believed in her, even when she didn’t. Right now, she needed that support more than ever, considering what she’d just learned. Hathaway Medical expected her to experiment on live humans. Shifters. According to her bosses, and the government, shifters weren’t humans. They were believed to be no better than the animals companies tested their products on.
Clarissa’s heels clicked against the linoleum as she moved swiftly down the hall. All of a sudden it seemed as if the exit was too far away.
She wanted to help people, not torture them. And she was having trouble discerning the difference between a human and a shifter. All of it seemed wrong. She didn’t understand why things were happening this way, or why the government thought they could just kill or imprison an entire species. She wanted no part in it. She needed to get as far away from it as she could.
* * *
“Doctor Greenwood, just the person I was looking for.” Her boss headed straight for her, sending another wave of sickness through her. “We’ll be conducting today’s experiment on subject one-fifty-nine, so please join us in room twenty-two in an hour.”
Her stomach rolled at the comment. Subject one-fifty-nine wasn’t a subject. That was a person they were about to experiment on. A living, breathing, person with family and friends who were no doubt worried sick about them.
He paused and his gaze traveled over her. “You’re looking pale, are you okay?”
“Actually, I’m not feeling very well. I thought some fresh air would do me good, but I think my migraine is only getting worse.” She cringed as if the overhead light was bothering her, but in reality it was the man before her who made her ill.
“Why don’t you just skip the session, then? There’s normally a lot of noise and growls. You can watch it in your office, then go home for the day. Hopefully, by Monday, you’ll be well enough to assist with the experiments.”
I won’t be here Monday, or ever.
“Thank you for understanding, Sir.”
He patted her on the shoulder, then walked away. She hurried outside, into the sun. As she filled her lungs with fresh air, she put together a plan. She’d go back inside and gather what she could on her jump drive before the end of the business day.
Everyone was always ready to leave at five on Fridays. It was the one day overtime wasn’t permitted. The company claimed they wanted their employees to enjoy relaxing weekends with their families in order to be ready to go on Mondays. To most, it seemed like a family-friendly place to work, especially with the in-house daycare, but to her it seemed suspicious.
What happened at Hathaway Medical on weekends that they didn’t want anyone to know about? There were too many questions and not enough answers, but she was going to do her best to find out what she could. She shut her eyes, relishing the warmth of the sun on her face. Then she rolled her shoulders, stretched, and prepared to go back inside.
“Afternoon, Doctor Greenwood, is everything all right?”
She opened her eyes and found a security guard before her, his forehead creased with concern. “Andrew, I thought you were off today.”
“They wanted additional security for an experiment, so here I am.”
“That must have been the one I was supposed to be involved with, but with this migraine, Doctor Glass told me to watch it from my office.”
After a quick glance around, he leaned in closer to her. “Record it.”
She wasn’t sure what to say to that, but before she could come up with a reply, he stepped around her and headed inside. She stood there a moment, trying to figure him out. Despite his relaxed demeanor, he’d always seemed to be watching for something as if he expected something to happen.
Had he seen too many experiments? Did he think the shifters they were torturing in the sublevels of Hathaway Medical would one day rise up against the staff? No, they were too drugged for that. Because of their fast metabolisms, the staff kept the prisoners extremely sedated.
She wandered back into the building as she continued to question his words. What was going to happen that made him think she should record it herself? She picked up her pace when an idea occurred to her, then pulled out her cell phone in search of the email her brother had sent her before he took a job in South America.
There was one thing that could give her continual access to what was happening—a small virus that would go undetected by even the best surveillance.