THE BEGINNING OF THE WERE-HUNTERS
Long before recorded history there lived a bold king. One who refused to yield before the wills of the Greek gods who commanded him. Like so many before and after, he made the mistake of falling in love with the most beautiful woman in his kingdom. A woman whose very smile was his life’s blood.
Little did he know she bore the darkest of all curses. Because of the actions of her forefathers against the Greek god Apollo more than two thousand years before her birth, her people had been damned to die brutally on their twenty-seventh birthday. It was a secret she kept until the day when she, like all the others of her Apollite kind, began to decay and die.
In only twenty-four hours she went from a beautiful young woman to a crone, then nothing but scattered dust.
Lycaon was devastated by the loss of his love, but worse than that was the haunting knowledge that soon his own sons would join their mother and die every bit as horrifically.
Like her, they would die for something none of them had had a part in.
Unable to bear the injustice, he confronted the gods and told them to screw themselves. He would not stand by and watch his children die. Ever.
That very night, he began using the darkest of magick to splice the genes of his wife’s people with those of the strongest of animals. Wolves, jackals, lions, tigers, panthers, jaguars, cheetahs, bears, hawks, leopards, even a rare dragon-those were his chosen few to be the saviors of his children.
When his experiments were complete, he’d created an entirely new species. No longer human, no longer Apollite nor animal, they were something else entirely.
The experiments turned his two sons into four separate beings. Two creatures who held the hearts of an animal and who lived as an animal by the light of day. And two who held the hearts of a human. By day, human would be their base form.
This was their gift.
And so was born their new curse.
From their mother’s Apollite race, they inherited magick and psychic abilities. From their father’s tampering they would live by day as their base form, either human or animal, and at night they would be able to switch to their alternate form. Man became beast and beast became man.
Under the light of the full moon, when their powers were strongest, not even the laws of time or physics would hold sway over them. From that day forward they would live for centuries, immune from the curse of Apollo.
The gods were not pleased. They demanded the king slaughter all the creatures he’d made. How dare he, a mere mortal, be contentious enough to thwart their will.
But the king refused. "I will not allow my children to suffer for your vanity! You can all die for what I care."
So while his children were spared their Apollite curse, the gods gave them a new one. None of their species would ever be able to choose a mate of their own free will, only the Fates could assign them that. And there would never be peace between the animal Katagaria and the human Arcadians that the king had created.
Eternal enemies, the two races would become known as Were-Hunters because each would hunt the other. Throughout all time, they would battle and slaughter their own kind-forever suspicious. Forever angry. More than that, they would become the chosen food source of their own cousins, the vampiric Daimons who needed souls to live past their twenty-seventh birthday.
No peace. No succor. Their fate to suffer and to exist in spite of the gods.
Until the day the last two survivors kill each other. That was their prophecy.
And none were to suffer more than those who bore the name of the king’s direct descendants. Those who bore the surname Kattalakis. . . .
Sanctuary, New Orleans
"So that’s the infamous Sanctuary. . . ."
Fang Kattalakis looked up from where he was locking down his sleek Kawasaki Ninja to see Keegan eyeing the triple-story redbrick building across the street.
The pup was just hitting puberty-about thirty years old in human time, but true to their species and his Were-Hunter age, Keegan appeared around the human age of sixteen-which meant he was as excitable as an adolescent. Dressed in black leather to protect him while he rode his motorcycle, Keegan almost dropped his bike in his eagerness to visit the famed sanctuary that was owned by a family of bearweres.
Fang let out a long exasperated breath as he secured his helmet to his backpack. As punishment, he and his brother Vane had been assigned watch duty over Keegan and his twin brother, Craig.
Joy, oh joy. He’d rather have his entrails pulled out through his nostrils-whelp-sitting had never been to his taste. But at least they didn’t have their leader Stefan along on this outing. That would have resulted in all-out bloodshed since Fang had no respect or tolerance for Stefan even on his best day.
And today wasn’t even a "better" day.
The blond pup was all limbs as he started to leave, but Vane caught him by the scruff of his neck.
Keegan went instantly limp, which said it all about his age and inexperience. Even when he’d been a pup, Fang had never surrendered without a fight. It wasn’t in his nature.
Vane released his grip on the kid’s collar. "Don’t leave the pack, whelp. It’s a bad habit to develop. Wait on all of us."
It was why they were all riding motorcycles. Since "average" young weren’t real good at teleporting until they were around forty or fifty years old, and because whelp powers tended to play havoc with even the strongest when being teleported by another, mundane human transportation was best.
So here they were.
Bored. Agitated. And looking human. What a disgusting combination.
Most of all, Fang was tired.
And since they were training the whelps to socialize and maintain human forms during the light of day . . .
Sanctuary had seemed the best and safest place to take them outside of camp. At least here if one turned wolf, the bears could hide it. Only the strongest of Katagaria wolves could remain human in daylight. If the pups couldn’t learn to hold their alternate human forms under the power of the sun by the time they turned thirty-five, their leader would order the pack to kill them.
It was a harsh world they lived in and only the strongest of their species survived. If they couldn’t fight and blend in with the humans, they were dead anyway. No need in wasting their precious resources on creatures who couldn’t defend the pack.
Vane glanced over to Fang as if waiting for him to say something nasty to Keegan. Normally Fang would have some smart-ass comment about the pup, but he was just too tired to bother.
"What’s taking so long?" Fury paused beside Fang, chafing at his delay. Not quite as tall as Fang, Fury was lean and vicious. With turquoise eyes, Fury had sharp features and everything about the wolf made Fang’s hackles rise. His long white-blond hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail.
Slinging the backpack over one shoulder, Fang raked him with a sneer that said what he thought about the wolf-not much. "Locking down my bike, ass**le. You want I should lock it to you so that I know it’ll be here when I come back?"
Fury’s pupils narrowed. "I’d like to see you try."
Before Fang could lunge at him, Liam, Keegan’s much older brother, was between them. "Down, wolves."
In true wolf form, Fang bared his teeth at Fury, who returned the gesture. At Liam’s insistence, Fury moved past him while the eight other wolves crossed the street.
He and Vane pulled up the rear.
Fang indicated Fury with a jerk of his chin. "I really hate that bastard."
"Don’t kill him yet. He has his uses."
Maybe. But not enough of them that Fang wouldn’t rejoice to mount Fury’s hide to his wall. Not that he had a wall, but if he did, Fury would make a nice hairy decoration.
Fang turned his attention to his brother who was about an inch shorter-Fury’s height. "So why are we really here? We could have trained the pups in camp."
Vane shrugged. "Markus wanted us to register with the bears. Since we have so many burdened females, we might need the help of their doctor."
Yeah, their sister Anya and half a dozen other females would give birth at any minute. Markus, the unwilling sperm donor for the three of them, had also wanted his "sons" out of his sight. Which was fine with Fang. He wasn’t exactly fond of the old fart either. He would have already challenged him for leadership, but Vane and Anya kept pulling him back.
Since Vane was an Arcadian hiding in the midst of their Katagaria pack, the last thing they needed was Fang to be leader. That would lead to uncomfortable questions such as why Vane, his elder littermate who was their father’s heir apparent and one they all knew had more magick strength than Fang did, wasn’t the one fighting for leadership. But Vane could never do that. Because pain tended to make them involuntarily shift into their base forms, they couldn’t risk Vane accidentally turning human in a fight.
It was why Fang had stayed up all night. Unconscious and badly wounded, Vane had been forced to sleep as a human. Their pack would kill his brother if any of them ever suspected Vane’s true base form.
Yawning, Fang caught up to the pack that’d been stopped at Sanctuary’s door by the club’s bouncer. Bulkier than the wolves, the bear had long curly blond hair and wore a black T-shirt with the Sanctuary logo on it that was partially covered by a worn black leather jacket.
His blue eyes carefully scrutinized them. "Pack?"
Vane stepped forward. "Kattalakis Grand Regis Lykos . . . Katagaria."
The bear arched his brow as if impressed with their pedigree. Grand Regis meant that their father had a seat on the Omegrion-the council that oversaw and made the laws that governed all Were-Hunters. Since there were only twenty-three members (twenty-four originally, but one species had gone extinct), it was impressive to be one of them. "Any among you bearing the Kattalakis name?"
"Me and my brother." Vane indicated Fang.
The bear nodded as he folded his arms over his chest and took on a tough stance. "We’re Peltiers. I’m Dev-one of a set of identical quadruplets so no, you’re not seeing double or triple inside-and stay clear of the one who looks like me dressed completely in black-Remi’s an irritable SOB. My mother, Nicolette, is the Katagaria Grand Regis Ursulan-so don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit. Quick rule rundown. No fighting, no biting, no magick. You break the rules, we break body parts and you’re banned from here . . . if you survive." He passed a meaningful stare to the pups. "In short, come in peace or leave in pieces. You got it?"
Fang raised his hand to flip him off, but Vane caught his wrist before he could.
Hissing from the burn Vane was putting on him, Fang twisted out of his brother’s grasp.
Vane glared at him. Keep your mouth shut and your gestures to yourself, he mentally projected to him.
I don’t take orders from bears.
No, but you take them from me. Behave, Fang, or I’ll kick your ass back to the Stone Age. Vane grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and dragged him into the bar.
Fang shoved him away. Unless he took him down with magick, Vane was nowhere near as strong as he was. "I’m not your bitch, boy."
Vane turned on him with a look that said he was one step away from taking his best shot. "Then do it for Anya. We might need them to help us if she has problems with her litter."
That was a low blow and it was the one thing Vane knew he wouldn’t fight against. Anya was their lifeblood. For her, they’d do anything.
"Fine. I’m just irritable from lack of sleep."
"Why didn’t you sleep?"
I was protecting you. . . . Some of the wolves had been on the prowl last night and Fang had feared them stumbling over Vane’s position while he healed from his wounds and slept. So he’d stayed up to make sure Vane’s injured scent and den went undiscovered.
But he would never tell his brother the truth. It would shame Vane to think his younger brother had protected him. "I don’t know. I just couldn’t."
"So who was she?"
Fang rolled his eyes. "Why do you assume it was a female?"
Vane held his hands up. "Didn’t know you were fond of men. I’ll file that under my special Fang folder."
Ignoring him, Fang glanced around the infamous dark club that wasn’t overly crowded in the late afternoon. A few humans sat at tables while more played pool and video games in the back. An empty dance area was set before a stage with the name Howlers spray-painted in dark blue and white on the back wall.
Craig and Keegan pulled three tables together in a corner to accommodate the ten of them. Some of the humans eyed them nervously which Fang found hysterical, especially the woman who put her purse in her lap as they passed. Like a wolf needed money. But then, they were a rough-looking bunch. Decked out in biker leathers, each of them was ready to fight if they had to.
The only one of them even remotely clean-cut was Vane, who wore jeans with a brown leather jacket and a dark red T-shirt. That being said, he had the longest hair of any of them. But with it pulled back into a ponytail and with a clean shave, he was passable. The rest of them looked like the feral beasts they were.
Fang dropped his backpack on the floor and took a seat to stretch out his long legs. Leaning against the wall, he adjusted his sunglasses and closed his eyes to catch a combat "nap" while they shot the crap among themselves. If he could just have ten uninterrupted minutes to sit and think about nothing, he’d be a new wolf. . . .