Till Mercy (Paranormal Security Council BK3)
A suicide mission to avenge the death of his family brings an outspoken professor face to face with his worst enemy, and a new chance at life and love.
He’d topped the Paranormal Security Council’s hit list at one time, but Professor Nathan Valte has been given a second chance. Instead of moving on, Nathan is pedaling backward. Consumed with guilt and grief, he sets out for revenge, hunting the leopards who brutally murdered his wife and child. Armed and ready to die, he heads into the Colorado Mountains.
In Nathan’s way, preventing him from achieving his goal, is one of them. The enemy. In the arms of his worst nightmare, Nathan finds forgiveness and acceptance. In the arms of a leopard lies hope for a future, if only Nathan is brave enough to embrace mercy instead of retribution.
The big cat still hadn’t moved.
Nathan Valte lay in the midst of the tall grass, his body growing tired from staying absolutely still for so long. The setting sun didn’t help his vision any and the dry grass itched his exposed skin like crazy. Licking his parched lips, Nate raised the scope of the rifle back to his left eye. The leopard sat atop the large tree, lazing about, maybe even sleeping.
Too far away for Nate to be sure.
What he was sure of was that the cat yards ahead lay between him and the man he’d come to see. A man who would take him to the men he hunted. But he had to get past the leopard.
Fear and something else warred within Nate. Fear was obvious, the cat could do some serious damage if Nate got too close, but another darker emotion tempted him to step out of the safety of the grass hiding him. To make his presence known—if it wasn’t already—by the feline. His task would be over then, wouldn’t it?
The pain would be gone too and he wouldn’t have to fight, pretend he was present in the moment, when he really wasn’t. He could die the same way his wife and child had, torn apart by leopards.
As he’d done for what felt like forever now, Nate ignored the ache in his chest, in his heart. He ignored the stinging loneliness and the need to lay it all down, to lay his own body down, and concentrated on something else. Something bigger, something better.
If revenge is what you want, I can make it happen.
The insidious words floated around in his ear. Truth be told, he hadn’t stopped repeating them to himself since the woman named Voltaire had whispered them to him. Mysterious and deadly, she knew things. Knew what he wanted and gave it, without asking a thing in return. Nate took what she offered without a second thought, only now questioning what he’d have to pay.
His life? He swallowed a dry chuckle. Not likely, not if the outcome of his little hunting trip was what he hoped.
He’d already dug three graves and had them waiting—two for the leopards who’d slaughtered his wife and child, and one for himself. All he lived for was making those leopards pay, all he cared about was taking their lives like they’d taken Helen’s and Chrissy’s, and when he’d completed his task, he’d follow his family.
He no longer wanted a life without them. He dreaded mornings, waking up in his bed alone, and he hated the nights, cold and lonely without Helen.
He’d foolishly thought going up against the Para community would ease the pain, that amassing allies inside the Paranormal Security Council would help bring the killers to justice. No. His actions had only put him on a hit list and brought an assassin to his door. Luck and the same Para community he hated had kept him alive and brought his younger brother love. But, even now, Nathan couldn’t give up on his quest for justice.
He’d use his money and resources to get what he wanted—and what he wanted was the heads of his family’s killers on spikes.
Maybe only then would sanity return. Would the nightmares vanish. Would peace find him again.
He wouldn’t survive once he set foot into the leopard coalition’s stronghold. Hopefully someday Ryken would understand and forgive him for leaving, but it was the only way. Nate didn’t want to live anymore, not with all the pain and anger inside him, so yes, his quest for revenge was also a suicide mission.
He looked through the scope again. The leopard had climbed higher into the tree, but this time Nate had a clear view and he stroked a finger over the rifle’s barrel, counting backwards from ten.
At one he squeezed hard on the trigger, held the gun steady when it bucked slightly and watched. He caught his target in the left hindquarters and the animal snarled, froze then plummeted to the ground.
Yes. Nate jumped up and ran towards his prize, anticipation and adrenaline pumping through his veins. A subtle breeze brought the scent of his sweat to his nose. Time and patience, two things he could’ve sworn he no longer had, had paid off.
He kept the gun at the ready, finger not that steady on the trigger, and crept towards the big cat. Snarls and hissing echoed in the open space and raised goose bumps on Nate’s upper arms. The tranq was supposed to knock the animal out, but it didn’t appear to have had that effect. The leopard didn’t sound hurt, more pissed off. No ordinary cat then.
Uncertainty slowed Nate’s footsteps, but he didn’t stop until he got close enough. He stood off to the side, in the animal’s line of vision, and stared.
The leopard lay on its side, golden eyes watchful, white whiskers twitching. Its coat was a warm cream hue. He’d have to get closer to really see the colour of the rosettes, but they were dark, and the cat’s underbelly was a few shades lighter than the rest of him. The animal looked huge, well over two hundred pounds of rippling muscles.
Aside from the twitching whiskers and slight shaking of its massive body, the animal didn’t move. Except for its eyes. The gold orbs tracked Nate’s steps as he moved closer, and Nate swore he saw anger stamped over the feline features. The animal could lunge at him any moment, tear his throat out. The thought wetted his palms, a definite contradiction to his earlier suicidal thoughts. He took a deep breath and let it out.
Nothing to it, but to do it. He repeated the words over and over in his head. No time to take back his actions, not that he ever would. He had the absolute right to protect himself from those killers roaming around. Hanging on to that thought, heartbeat steadier, he knelt beside the felled cat and pulled the tranq from its body then held it up.
“Not your usual run-of-the-mill tranq,” he said softly. “Would’ve killed a pure on the spot, but you’re no pure, are you?” A pure was what non-shifting animals were referred to.
The massive body undulated before him. The cat snarled again as it stared at Nate, unblinking.
“It’s a mix of ketamine, M99 and some other things I’m sure you couldn’t care less about.” He waved a hand. “What it does is paralyse you, lock you in your feline form, permanently. You can be cured, of course, but only if you have the anti-serum.” A concoction he’d spent millions of dollars and hundreds of hours in manpower to perfect. He hadn’t anticipated using it on a random shifter. He’d come here to find the man who’d guide him into the feline compound, but now he had an actual shifter. Maybe Voltaire’s friend, whoever he was, wasn’t needed anymore.
The cat snarled again. This time Nate actually felt the ground shake. The animal regarded him with those weird eyes.
At another point in his life, way back when he’d been a respected professor with a wife he adored and a child he doted on, back when he’d had everything to live for and considered the world fair, Nathan Valte would have been appalled at actions such as these.
He’d have raised his voice to call out the person acting in such a soulless way.
Everything had changed. He’d become the soulless. He spared no thought to decency and ethics, to what was humane and right, because no one else did, and in times such as these, when animals like the one sprawled before him killed without remorse, he had to do what he had to do.
If he felt a twinge of regret, of shame at what he’d resorted to, Nate squashed it and raised an eyebrow at the cat.
He removed the two photos he’d folded and placed inside his wallet, smoothed them out and held them up. “These two men took something from me. Something priceless, something I can never get back. They need to pay and I intend to make sure they do. I know they’re somewhere in these mountains, but I’m not sure where. If you agree to take me to them, I will provide you with the serum. You’ll need to be injected, with the correct dosage known only by me,” he grinned, “in the next eight hours or so.”
The animal had grown quiet while he’d spoken and Nate brought his gaze to the feline’s face. The expression there—if one could even call it that—appeared thoughtful. Almost like the leopard was sizing him up.
Nate stiffened his jaw. He imagined he came across as desperate and quite insane to the leopard, but he couldn’t afford to care.
“Make your decision.” He looked around them. “Night is creeping up and I’d prefer not to be out in the open much longer than necessary.”
The leopard made a sound, a soft grunt, and Nate’s heart sped up.
Since its eyes appeared to be working fine, Nate instructed the cat. “Blink if it’s a yes.” It was a struggle to keep his voice from wavering, the real fear of losing out when he was so close riding him, but he did his best.
The leopard’s eyelids dropped once then lifted.
Nate’s entire body trembled. He opened his mouth, releasing the breath he’d been holding. His tense limbs relaxed and he bowed his head slightly as he cleared his throat. He’d say thanks, but that would be too much. The animal wasn’t doing it for Nathan, it was simply safeguarding its own hide.
Still… “Good choice.” He shrugged the backpack off his shoulders and buried his shaking hands inside, searching for the syringe.
The animal snorted.
Nate cleared his throat. “I hope you’re not averse to needles.” He pulled out the syringe and filled it with the clear serum. “One prick of this and you’ll be good.”
He moved closer, leaning over the cat, but careful not to touch. He wasn’t too scared of shifters now, but in the early days after Helen and Chrissy, it’d been a struggle. Now, he only got near any of the Paras when he had no other choice.
He stuck the needle into the animal’s side and depressed the plunger. The cat didn’t make a sound, but Nate felt that hot feral stare on his skin. He’d bet his life the cat was biding its time until he could tear Nate’s throat out.
Speaking of which. “Let’s be clear on something, hmm?” He moved away and stood. “If you don’t get the right dosage of the serum in the next eight hours, you’ll shift back into your animal form and remain frozen in place. Forever. You can kill me after I’ve gotten what I came for.”
The cat roared.
What birds lingered in the surrounding trees scattered in the gathering dusk. Fear raced down Nate’s spine and weakened his knees. He dug his booted heels into the dry ground and swallowed.
They can smell fear.
He chanted the words in his head until he’d forced his breathing to even out, forced his heartbeat into a more normal rhythm. Stiffening his jaw, Nate held his body taut, expectant, as he took a risk. He ignored the tranq gun at his feet and watched the massive leopard body change from fur to naked, golden-brown human skin.