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After months of being in a coma, Parker awakens chained to a hospital bed, his skin scarred and raw. He’s barely able to look at his own image in a mirror, his body left in a painful ruin by something others call a gift. Parker has no plans to remain in Bear Mountain or help a bunch of freaks win some war he has no part in.

But there’s not much left for him to go home to. With the help of Samuel, he finally realizes the safest place for him is right where he is… and there’s no reason not to try to learn a little control while he’s there… before he burns himself alive.

That control is put to the test as two shifters come into his life. One is quiet and persistent. The other is wild and chaotic. He craves their touch, but refuses it. Now locked in a scarred body, he’s no longer the pretty party boy he’d been before a bolt of lightning carried him to Bear Mountain.

Who would want someone like him, disfigured by the very lightning contained within him?

Confronted with monsters and magic, he has to come to terms with who he is now, learn to accept the image in the mirror, and face a future he’d never have imagined in a million years.


Project Zed, Book Six




Twisted E Publishing, LLC



Project Zed, Book Six

Copyright © 2018 by Kelex

Edited by Marie Medina

First E-book Publication: January 2018, SMASHWORDS EDITION

Cover design by Cover by K Designs

All cover art and logo copyright © 2018, Twisted E-Publishing, LLC.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is s; trictly coincidental.

All characters depicted in sexual acts in this work of fiction are 18 years of age or older.


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Table of Contents

Series Notes

























Also By Kelex

About the Author

Series Notes

The Project Zed books were written with the intention they would be READ IN ORDER… If you have not read BEAST, SAVAGE and DEVIL, please do NOT read this title first.

Project Zed is a spin-off series from the Bear Mountain series. You do not need to read the Bear Mountain series prior to read the Project Zed series.

Here’s a reminder…

Bear Mountain - it is a fictional county in the Pacific Northwest. It is a large range of mountains ringing and protecting a gorgeous valley. Most live in the village in the valley, which is not too unlike a human town, but there are some who live all through the mountains. The bear gods have surrounded the area with a magical dome to help protect them from those who wish to do them harm. Only those who belong inside are allowed entry. Most humans simply see nothing but vast, empty wilderness and feel the need to look away—unless they are a bears’ mate.

Bear Shifters – shifters in general are powerfully strong beings, able to shift on demand. They heal faster, have stronger senses of smell, taste, and touch, and can see in little to no light. The majority of those who live in Bear Mountain are black bears shifters and their human mates. There are a handful of other bears species and other shifters who reside there as well. The majority of shifters are homosexual. They mate other males. It simply is how it is for them and they see no shame or embarrassment being attracted to other males—and struggle to understand heterosexuality in humans. Males are capable of giving birth and typically give birth to males. Female births are extremely rare, but do occur.

Brother Bears – bears make connections in their youth to one other bear. They grow at one another’s sides, relying on one another for friendship. This relationship often blossoms into love as they grow older, and they will take on another mate to procreate. Bear shifters almost always mate in triads. Typically, it is two bears to a human or two betas to an omega, but sometimes things go off the rails. We love who we love and that is especially true in the Bear Mountain world.

Other Shifters– Deacon, the dragon shifter, was brought in to help fight off the werewolf plague that threatens Bear Mountain, along with his bevy of soldiers. These soldiers are a diverse group—from rhinos to big cats to wolves (not weres). Bull is one of Deacon’s team leaders—he has been searching out Project Zed for decades in search of his missing father.

As this army has grown, even more shifters have ended up joining the ranks, from small to large.

Wereshifter – a were is a made shifter, meaning they started as human. They can only shift during a specific time, specific to their kind, like werewolves and the full moon, or when under life-threatening duress. When they shift, they retain some of their human attributes along with some of their creature attributes, giving them a monstrous appearance. A were is often driven to the brink of insanity, as a human was never meant to house an animal spirit. The were spirit wishes to command the human’s mind and body, leading it to do evil, wicked things the human would never say or do.

Full shifter – a full shifter is born, not made. They look like their animal spirit when shifted, only larger. Weres can mate, and two or more weres can occasionally create a full shifter.

The Reservation/the ‘rez’ – there is an American Indian Reservation just to the north of Bear Mountain. For centuries, they were peaceful neighbors, but as the werewolf threat began its spread in the heart of the rez, conditions deteriorated. While the elders have done all in their power to control their werewolf community, it has created a contentious relationship between the two.

Samuel’s Farm – Samuel’s family farm is adjacent to the reservation and Bear Mountain. It is not technically reservation land, though Samuel’s family is Native American. After the death of his father and brothers, Samuel inherited the whole large plot. He wasn’t much of a farmer. Luckily for him, his mate, Cal is.

Project Zed – introduced in the Bear Mountain books, it is a top secret government project were shifters, were and full, are hunted and executed without the knowledge of the military as a whole. Covertly, some creatures have been captured and experimented on, with the desire to breed a super army. While it pulls from the U.S. military for operations, there is rumor it is not run by the government at all.

The Shifter Army – a growing group of military-trained shifters, led by Deacon and Bull, who are fighting Project Zed and freeing the monsters Zed creates. Financed by Bear Mountain, specifically their silver mine.

The Shifter Base – recently completed military-type facility built off land purchased from Samuel’s farm. It comes equipped with secured areas to place Zed’s shifters, before they’re rehabilitated and still a danger to themselves and others. Also comes with a full hospital ward.

Elementals – humans with special powers of nature. They’ve come together with the shifters to fight against Project Zed.

The children – recently freed from Project Zed by the Shifter Army. They were born in the labs at Zed, and they have untold powers. It’s still being determined if they’re a weapon for good or evil.

A few characters from past stories:

Bull – rhino shifter and ex-Marine – co-leader of the Shifter Army. Was the first to search for Project Zed. His father was abducted by Zed before he was born.

Cal – first beast freed from Zed’s grasp. Born a bear shifter, but mutated with other beasts while being experimented on by Project Zed’s scientists.

Cutler – ex-Zed soldier, Marine Master Sergeant, who now fights on the side of the Shifter Army. Also the mate of Cyprian

Cyprian – second ex-Zed prisoner freed. Born a lion shifter, but has mutated DNA of other shifters in his system. Mated to Cutler.

Dario – human elemental. Has the power of fire. Mated to Gator and Jaeger.

Deacon – dragon shifter, ex-Marine, and co-leader of the Shifter Army

Declan – Bear Mountain’s alpha

Drake – Smoke Dragon. Zed prisoner. Mated to Luca. Escaped with Deacon and Jaeger.

Gator – ex-Zed soldier. Corporeal. Works for the Shifter Army now. Mated to Dario and Jaeger.

Jaeger – Ice Dragon. Escaped Zed prisoner. Working with the Shifter Army now. Mated to Gator and Dario.

Jericho – Bear Mountain bear shifter who was attacked by a werewolf. He became a mutated werebeast, which was once thought impossible. He was the first beast saved by Killian and Finn.

Killian and Finn – Bear Mountain bear shifters and doctors. They created the serum that saved Jericho in the Bear Mountain series.

Lennox – ex-Zed soldier. Private First Class Ford Lennox. Peon.

Luca – Bull’s father. Recently freed from Zed. Mated to Drake.

Rhett – ex-Zed officer. Works for the Shifter Army now. Pilot. Has connections to Midnight, Mississippi.

Samuel – the first elemental human found; has the power of air. Mated to Cal.

‘Lightning Boy’ – arrived on a bolt of lightning. He was badly burned and unconscious. He’s been in a medically induced coma for months… until he just recently awakened to much fanfare… and so his story begins…


A god in human’s clothing…

“I can’t stand being in these things for long.”

“The body or the funeral?” Ursa asked Arcturus quietly.

Arcturus looked about before tilting his head her way with a sly smile. “Both.”

Ursa returned her stare to the gathering of humans. The large room was poorly-lit and shrouded, the scent of death cloying. What should’ve been a celebration of those who were moving on to the next adventure was a despair-filled dark room, filled with people trying to out-do the other in their pretense of sorrow.

A bunch of near strangers, vaguely linked by the deceased.

None of them seemed to notice the pair of outsiders at the ceremony. She craned her neck and stretched a bit. The human “suits” they borrowed never felt big enough, no matter how big the people were—but what bear spirit would feel at home within one?

How their beloved shifters handled being stuck in this prison of flesh, she did not know. Today wasn’t the first time she’d borrowed a corporeal shell to walk the earth, and it wouldn’t be the last—even though she hated it each and every time.

The man she’d stolen from was middle-aged, had high blood pressure, a paunch, was balding—an everyman no one would notice. The theft would no doubt be repaid. Once she departed his body, the human’s health would improve slightly. Perhaps he’d live one more year or two on this planet circling the sun, more than enough payment for the theft of an hour or so of his existence.

Why humans clung so strongly to this world when the next was so much grander, she didn’t know. But then, they were but babes in the grand scheme of things, unknowing of the voyage to come.

Someone passed by, bumping into her shoulder. Unaccustomed to being a physical manifestation, it felt odd to have another touch her in that way. She whipped a glare the man’s direction, and his eyes grew wide as he turned to look at her.

Ursa could scent his fear.

Another thing she was unfamiliar with.

“Sorry,” the man whispered before moving on.

“Are you sure about this one?” Arcturus asked, drawing her attention away from the escaping mortal.

Ursa sought the young man Arcturus questioned her about with her gaze. Through the sea of black and white—dark suits and dresses with the requisite pale lilies that those of this part of the world seemed to always associate with death and remembrance—she struggled to find him. The funeral was filled, although Ursa wasn’t completely sure why. The two who had passed hadn’t cultivated joy and love in those around them. The pair had thought that a good life could be bought and paid for.

How wrong they were.

Ultimately, they had nothing, when they thought they had everything. Houses, cars… things… even their only child had been treated like a thing, mostly one that got in their way. Most of those in attendance barely knew the couple in the caskets at the front of the church.

Including the young man they were here to meet.

That child, a boy who had yet learned to be a man. Even though he was an adult by human standards. Her gaze finally landed on Parker Smith Rodgers III standing amid a sea of anonymous well-wishers, his face devoid of any emotion. Even so, he was a pretty male. He had so much youth and beauty, even if he also had the ego to match.

“Yep. He’s the one.”

Arcturus tilted his head some, narrowing his lids. “He’s a narcissistic brat. His parents just died, and he’s not shed one tear. He feels no sorrow for their loss.”

“Hard to feel sorrow when those parents were rarely there to guide him.”

“Which only adds to my point. He had no one teach him how to be a better man. No one there to impart right from wrong. And you’re going to give him this kind of power? He will be the one you chose to help our shifters?”

“He’s the one,” Ursa whispered, eyeing Arcturus. “He will rise to meet expectation.”

Arcturus withered some under her glare, but refused to be silenced. “And if you’re wrong?”

Ursa turned back, eyeing the young man one last time before smiling. “I’m never wrong.”

“You sound as ego-drive as this impudent human.”

Ursa ignored Arcturus’ last comment, knowing there was a bit of truth to it. Perhaps that was why she had chosen Parker. He was vainglorious, just as she could be at times. But then, she was a god. She had every right to be.

She pushed the human suit forward, trying not to inhale the scent of rotting flesh around her. Not from the dead in the caskets, but the living around her. They were all slowly decaying, some more so than others. Including the one she was inside of. She couldn’t wait to be free of the body she had borrowed, but she had one duty to do before she could return to her realm.

Forcing herself through the people feigning grief, she finally made her way to Parker. He lifted his gaze to her after a moment, one brow slightly cocked in expectation. Did he anticipate she would parrot the same words of condolence the others had? Why? While they had been his creators, they had given him little else. Their deaths now freed him to become who he was meant to be.

Ursa took in his fine features once again now that they were closer. He really was quite beautiful. Perhaps maybe too beautiful.

“Are you gonna say something?” Parker spat, his expression one of disgust. “Or just stand there staring at me?”

Ursa grunted slightly, lifting a brow of her own. He is a petulant brat… but not for much longer. “I came to deliver my condolences on the loss of your parents.” It was a lie, but one that was needed.

His lips began to turn into a sneer that turned that beauty into something ugly. He opened his mouth, but before he could say something that would piss Ursa off, she took his hand with both of hers and imparted the gift she’d come to deliver.

Before she changed her mind.

Parker’s eyes widened. He tried to drag his hand away, but she held tight until she’d transferred what she’d brought with her. Not that he’d have been able to get away from her.

His body trembled as the wave rushed through him.

When it was done and over, she released his hand and Parker yanked it away.

“What the fuck, dude?” Parker roared. “This isn’t the place for some prank handshake buzzer.”

The crowd quieted, turning and craning their necks to see what happened next. That was humans for you. They loved to see drama unfold. The crowd waited with baited breath, hoping for an argument… a fight…

Ursa almost laughed at the vision of this human body participating in fisticuffs. What a sight that would be.

“No. It surely isn’t,” Ursa drawled, the human male’s voice so much deeper than her own. It sounded odd to her hearing. She could almost hear the disappointment of the crowd when she hadn’t spurred on the drama.

“Get the fuck out!” Parker cried, rubbing his hands together.

Ursa saw a slight glimmer of magic in his eyes, and a smile came to her lips. “My pleasure.” She was more than ready to escape the confines of the old, flagging body she’d taken over.

All eyes were on her—or rather him—as she made her way to the exit. Near the door, Arcturus met her and spun to leave, trailing her out the door.

Seconds later, Ursa stood out in the sunshine of the uncharacteristically warm winter morning. Coupled with the snow covering the ground, it was almost too bright for the human eyes she peered through. She removed the human’s sunglasses from one pocket and slid them into place before turning to Arcturus. “Ready to go?”

“More than ready,” he responded.

“Wait,” she said before turning to Arcturus and punching him in the jaw.

“Ow,” he cried, reaching up to cradle his chin. “Why did you do that?”

“Curiosity,” she said, shaking her hand slightly. Her knuckles hurt.

As corporeal beings, they could apparently sense pain. Interesting…

In a flash of light, they were back home, leaving the human world behind.

For now.

The two men they left behind slowly turned to gaze at one another, little memory of what had happened to them. As the seconds passed, they lost more and more of it until finally, they had no idea why they were standing outside a funeral together.

They walked off in separate directions, one cradling his jaw, the other rubbing his knuckles.

A few months later…

Parker rolled over in his bed, his body sore as hell, and felt a warm wall of flesh beside him. His head thrummed with the same bass line from the club he’d been in the night before. Opening one eye, he peeked through the haze of too much drink—and maybe a little too much ecstasy. The bright morning sun streaming through the wall of windows across from him made him wince.

When he could finally stand to try opening his eyes again, he had a viewing feast. Before him sprawled out a fine piece of ass, all tanned skin and perfectly muscled curves. Too long, dark tousled curls—the kind you wanted to dig your fingers in and pull. Of course the guy’s face was looking away from Parker, so he couldn’t see who it was.

With an ass that fine, he’d be sure to recognize it if he’d seen it before.

Apparently, he’d had a good night.

The semi-smile faded on his lips. Good? Then why don’t I feel good?

I’m with someone and still feel empty.


Sitting up, he took a little longer stare around him, searching for something to jog his memory. The few pieces of clothing littering the floor, along with a couple of empty booze bottles, didn’t do him any good.

Parker scrubbed his face. He shoved the guy beside him.

“Get up.”

Mr. Anonymous roused slowly. He turned in the tangled twist of sheets and rolled to his back—exposing a monster erection. Once Parker was able to pull his gaze away from that, wondering if that monster had been inside him—no wait, there’s no way I’ve been plowed with that thing—he forced his stare up to the handsome enough face of his bedpartner.

Parker paused a moment, realizing he was a bit sore. Maybe he had gotten the D. If so, he deserved an award or two, of the porn star variety.

The guy gripped the base of his cock and began to stroke it, a lazy smile growing on his face. “Morning, Sexy. You ready for round four?”

Four? Damn… “Nope, sorry, Sunshine. I’ve got shit to do. You need to skedaddle.”

“Awwww, come on, baby… let’s have a little more fun.”

Parker pushed the guy off him and yanked enough sheet to cover the parts those hands were already reaching out to grab. “You need to go.”

The guy stared a moment before sighing. “Fine.” He rose out of the bed, his perfect body the stuff of dreams, and began to pull on a pair of jeans. “You got my money?”


“The money you owe me.”

“What money?” He didn’t even remember coming home with the guy or anything that led up to it.

“For the drugs. And the sex.”

Parker’s mouth dropped open. A little of it came back to him. He’d taken a pill on the dance floor from the guy… which he’d done a time or two in the past…and that had spiraled into a whole lot more. More than he wanted to admit. Parker wasn’t into drugs, but in the past few weeks, his life had been thrown into chaos.

He felt himself spiraling…

And there’s no point in stopping now.

But the hell if he was paying for sex.

“A prostitute drug dealer?”

The guy laughed as he pulled on a too-tight t-shirt. “No prostitute. But you begged me to fuck you after you felt my cock on the dancefloor, remember?”

“No,” Parker said. Yet a tiny piece of that sounded familiar. Fuuuuck. “You had your cock out on the dance floor? Sounds like you were asking for it.”

“You grabbed my junk through my jeans, dude.”

“Ah,” Parker mumbled.

“I told you I had a girlfriend and didn’t do guys. You said you could turn anyone. That you had enough cash. Seems I do have a price tag.” He smiled. “And it was not nearly as bad as I expected. That mouth of yours.” He whistled. “Damn, that mouth of yours.”

Parker closed his eyes, some of that coming back to his addled brain. This is why you don’t play with drugs, dumbass. “How much?”


“Fifty fucking-thousand? Are you insane?” Parker asked, his voice going squeaky at the end.

“That was the deal,” the guy said with a smile. “Unless that was for each time, then I suppose we’re up to a hundred-fifty.”

“Get the fuck out of my house.”

Big Dick sat down on the side of the bed and began to pull a shoe on, his back to Parker. “Sure. As soon as I see my green.”

“I’m not paying you for a night in bed… one you apparently enjoyed enough that we went three rounds and you wanted a fourth.”

The guy looked over one shoulder. “I’ll admit… that sweet ass of yours was better than I anticipated… but a deal’s a deal.” He paused, putting his other shoe on. Rising, he turned to glare at Parker. “You pay up… or we’re gonna have a problem.”

“What? You gonna call the cops? Solicitation is illegal in Colorado.”

“Nope. No cops. I handle things in my own way. A way I doubt you’re gonna like.”

Somehow, the gorgeous man he’d awakened to in his bed was becoming less and less gorgeous. “I don’t keep that kind of cash on me.”

The guy looked around the room. “Nice digs. Fancy car. I’m sure you can find something of value in this place to hand over. That Jag you were rolling around in last night, for instance.”

“You want my car?” It wasn’t his. It was his father’s vintage 1974 Jaguar E-Type. A car Parker hadn’t been able to touch when the man was alive. He’d been taking it for a spin for the last few weeks, playing out his own trashier version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

And then Parker envisioned Father rolling in his grave if he knew his precious baby had been handed over to a drug dealer to pay for a night of gay sex. A smile came to his face. It wasn’t like there weren’t other cars in the garage for him to use. “Can I sign it over to you and call this night done?”

Big Dick smiled widely. “Yeah. We can do that.”

“Just one thing?”


Parker sighed. “I need to know your name.”

Big Dick laughed before spelling it out for him.

By the time Parker had found the pink slip and signed it over—and pushed Big Dick DeMarco out the front door—his father’s attorney was stalking up the drive. The lawyer gave one look at Big Dick doing the walk of shame, wrinkled up his nose as he straightened his Brooks Brother’s tie, and then glared at Parker.

Reginald Swanson, Esquire, came to a sudden halt a few feet from Parker—which was no little feat with all his girth and forward momentum—and patted the sweat from his balding forehead. “I’ve been calling you for two weeks straight. Are you ignoring me?”

“No. I just didn’t want to talk to you,” Parker said with a grin, shutting the door. In truth, he’d tossed his phone into a pool at some party and hadn’t gotten around to buying a new one yet.

Before it closed, Reggie shoved his foot between the door and jamb. “I need to speak to you. Urgently.”

Parker pulled the sides of his mother’s pink silk robe a little tighter around him. “So speak, Reggie.”

Reggie hated it when Parker called him Reggie, and it showed in the glare the man gave. “You’re blowing through cash at a staggering rate. If you keep this up, you’re going to be destitute in the space of a few years. I’m here to stop the bleeding.” Behind Reggie, the sound of the Jaguar revving up filled the air.

The car screeched out of the winding driveway, and off into parts unknown, forever gone. Reggie turned and watched it pull out and then spun around, an incredulous look on his pallid face.

“Was that your father’s car?” he asked, giving another glance in that direction.

“Yep,” Parker said with a grin. “Well, technically, it’s mine now. Not his. He’s dead, remember?”

Reggie’s head whipped back. “Have you no respect for them?”

Parker sighed and spun on his heel. As he walked away, he cried, “They had no respect for me when they were alive, so…” He headed for the kitchen in search of something to eat. He heard the front door shut and the sound of footfalls hit his ears. The talk would continue, apparently.

The kitchen was filled with empty pizza boxes, empty beer cans and wine bottles, and half-full take-out containers. Maybe I should re-hire the maid. Nah, she was too big a pain in my ass. A maid service. In and out. Yeah, that’s what I need. No one to stick around and get in my shit. As he pulled open the fridge, he saw that it was mostly just more beer and more take-out.

He’d spent the last few weeks drunk, high, or fucking his sorrows away… or any combination.

Or hell, all three at once.

Like last night.

I really need to cut back a bit so I remember what I did the night before.

“What do you mean they didn’t respect you? They provided for you… sent you to the best schools. And when they passed, they left you everything. Homes, vehicles, and a huge nest egg to live off. At least, it was huge.”

“Schools they could ship me off to, so they didn’t have to actually parent… I did my best to be expelled from each and every one, thinking, perhaps they’d give up and bring me home. Didn’t work… they always found another one, willing to take their money and wayward son. As far as that nest egg… I doubt they planned to leave so soon. I got all of that by default… there’s no one left but me.” Parker made a swirl. “Here I am… last man standing. And I got all the toys.”

Reggie conveniently ignored his comments. “You need to step back and take a look at what you’ve done. We could make a few investments… try to build your income back to where it was… before you become destitute.”

“Or we could sell the main house.” He looked around at the Aspen vacation house they were in. “I always liked this place so much better than home. But then, I rarely spent time in any of their houses. Between those boarding schools and them preferring to spend my infrequent vacations with whoever they were calling friend that month versus me.” He sighed. “But I lost my virginity here… so, it’s kind of special to me. He was older. One of their so-called friends. Had a thing for teenage boys, it seems. He was… experienced. And so, very, very tender,” he murmured mockingly. “It barely hurt when he popped my cherry.”

Reggie again appeared to ignore his last comments. “The main house has been in your family’s possession for nearly a hundred years.”


Reggie just stared at him.

“And sell the other two vacation houses—France and Mexico. But keep the one in Key West. I might winter there and summer here.”

“That might be a stop-gap to help initially, but you need to look at your spending,” Reggie said, opening up his briefcase. He sorted through it and pulled out a stack of papers. “You spent a hundred thousand dollars in one night at some place called… Hunk O Junk in West Hollywood?”

“Their Champagne Room is everything,” Parker whispered. “Oh, the lap dances we had.”

“You spent a hundred grand on lap dances?” Reggie asked in all seriousness.

“Big, muscle-bound men… all oiled up. They rubbed their big hunks o junk in my face…”

“Enough, Parker.” He glared. “I don’t need your lifestyle rubbed in my face.”

“Then you shouldn’t go to Hunk O Junk… they rub it all in your face.”

“I’m not here to listen to your bullshit.”

Parker sighed. “Have you not realized I’m all bullshit? One hundred percent prime grade shit. There isn’t anything else.”

Reggie glared at him.

“So, I bought a few rounds of lap dances for my friends and I. And then we had to have champagne in the Champagne Room. Dom for everybody!”

“You keep this up and you’re going to be broke within a couple of years.”

“Who knows? I might not live that long.”

Reggie pulled out his Reginald face, slamming his leather briefcase closed. “Look, you little shit. I’m here because I liked your parents and I’m trying to make sure you don’t fuck up. Done right, you could live off this money for the rest of your life. I felt bad for you… a young guy who lost his parents and was struggling to find his way, so I came out here to stop the bleeding and try to save you.”

Parker met Reggie’s stare, and in all seriousness, made an admission that he felt bone deep. “There’s no saving me, Reggie.”

He was living like there was no tomorrow.

Maybe there wouldn’t be.

The attorney didn’t know what to say to that. Parker could see the fear and concern mixing with the complete failure in knowing what to say to that mix on Reginald’s face. “What does that mean?”

Parker felt the intense need to open up and answer that truthfully. He had no one and this one man, as much of a schmuck as he was, was the only person who’d given a damn about him after the funeral.

He’d spent a hundred grand in a gay strip bar out of an intense need to be liked. For people to want him as their friend.

To feel less alone.

Everyone had their hands out—and in all honesty, Reggie got a percentage, too, so his concern wasn’t completely altruistic—but Parker sensed there was a little, tiny piece of the man who truly gave a rat’s ass.

Or it could be that he was coming down off a high and his world was upside down.

Who knew?

Ultimately, Parker couldn’t break down his wall enough to answer the man. “Don’t mind me, Reggie. I got sooooo fucking wasted last night and had a guy completely destroy my ass. Three times.”

Reggie rolled his eyes. “This is all a game for you, isn’t it?”

Parker laughed. “It is. And I’m playing hard.”

“What do you have to show for it? A trashed house. A trashed, empty house. You’re alone… you’ll always be alone… you can’t buy friends or love, Parker. No matter how much you try, and you’re going to go fucking broke if you keep attempting it.”

You’re alone. You’ll always be alone.

Those words were already on repeat in his head as it was. “Get the fuck out of my house!” Parker roared.

“Gladly,” Reggie said before spinning around and storming toward the door. “I’ll send one of my interns over with all your shit, Parker. You can pay your own god damned bills like an adult. You’ll be broke within five years, I guarantee it.” He yanked open the door. “You’ll call, begging me to pick up the pieces then, won’t ya?”

The door slammed closed.

Parker leaned back against the kitchen counter.

He was alone.

Always would be alone.

You can’t buy friends.

And there’s no one who wanted to be around him if he wasn’t passing out a few bucks.

He scrubbed his face, exhausted.

Maybe I should go to bed for a week.

A month.


Chapter One

Awakening from a long, deep sleep…

Parker felt as if he was in a fog. Warmth wrapped around him, yet there was an emptiness to the warmth. He felt comforted, yet fearful. His heart raced louder and louder, the echo of it ringing in his ears. Pain began to break through the fuzziness, a tightness across his body. Sounds began to filter in through the haze.

A beeping…

…are all waiting for you.

A voice, close by. He reached out for it, needing an anchor in the storm he was trapped in. Energy arced through his body as he hit something solid.

A scream came through, hurting his ears.

He gasped, sucking in a deep breath.

Parker’s eyes popped open, the scream coming from his own lips. He heard a crackling sound to his right. Tilting his head, he saw electric sparks flying from his hand and into a stranger’s hand beside him. Parker let go and the man fell to the floor, long, black hair cascading out around him.

He leaned to the edge of the… hospital bed? Where the fuck am I? The tiny movement was agony. Parker screamed for help, but his throat was dry. No words came. Inhaling, all he could scent was the smell of burning flesh. Again, he screamed, this time a little sound coming out.

“Help!” he croaked before swallowing and trying once more. “Help!”

Men in scrubs and long white jackets soon raced into the room. Two branched off and went to the man on the floor, the others circled his bed, pushing him back to the surface. Their hands stung and he screamed, the pain too much for him.

What is this?

What have they done to me?

His heart beat so fast, he was sure it would explode in his chest.

Parker gulped air, trying to get enough into his lungs, but the faster he tried, the harder it was to get any.

“Calm down, slow your breathing,” one of the nurses said soothingly to him as a cannula was brought over his head and pressed against his nose.

Parker made the attempt, but he couldn’t get his lungs to cooperate, not with the stinging all over his body.

The world around him began to fade to black…

And there the pain was gone.

Come back to me, baby…

Cal stood at Samuel’s bedside, watching the slow rise and fall of his mate’s chest. The steady beeping of the heart monitor both calmed and wore away at his fragile grip on sanity.

Wake up. Damn you, wake up, Samuel.

From the moment he saw his mate lying on the hospital floor, the sparks of electricity still shooting over his body, Cal hadn’t been able to breathe well. They’d come in to do a pregnancy test and ended up with Samuel in a hospital bed.

All because of lightning boy.

The guy had been in a medically induced coma since showing up on a streak of lightning a couple of months before. No one knew his name, where he was from, or if he was indeed meant to be there.

Samuel had been the guy’s constant visitor throughout—and this time, that hadn’t been a good thing. Cal stared at his mate’s still form in the bed, willing the man to awaken. He cast a glance to the small loveseat near the window where Cam, their son, napped. Seeing Samuel like this had been hard on the five-year-old.

It had been even tougher on Cal.

Hours had passed without a definitive answer from any of the doctors, or the nurses who came through to check on Samuel from time to time. If he heard, “you can ask the doctor” one more time, he might completely lose it.

After pacing beside the bed a few times, he noticed Cam had awakened and was silently watching him from the loveseat. Worry spread across his features. Cal knew he needed to be strong—not just for Samuel, but for their son, too. He took a seat and coaxed the cub over. “Are you hungry?”

Cam shook his head silently. It was well past dinnertime and they’d missed their trip for ice cream, too.

“Are you sure?”

Cam just stared. “Will papa be okay?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Yeah… of course he will,” Cal fibbed. The lie helped him a little, too. Of course Sam will make it. He’s strong. An elemental warrior. One zap won’t bring him down.

Cam eyed him, his stare showing Cal that the boy wasn’t buying it.

A low knock came to the door. Cal swung his gaze over and saw Cyprian and Cutler in the doorway.

“Hey,” Cyprian said. “We were here for an afterhours check-up and heard the news. How’s Samuel?”

A check-up for the baby Cutler carried. Cal saw the slight roundness to Cutler’s stomach and thought again of the babe he’d just found out grew in Samuel’s womb.

If it still grew.

That shot of electricity… he knew there was a chance…

Cal forced the thought from his mind. “Not much news. He hasn’t awakened yet.”

Cutler eyed Cam. “Hey 101, how about I buy you a soda from the soda machine?” 101 had been the boy’s number in the lab.

“He’s got a name now. One he picked out on his own,” Cal informed the pair. “Cameron. Cam, for short.”

Cam eyed the pregnant feline shifter a moment. “I’m not thirsty.”

Cutler sighed. “I am… do you know where the machines are? I could use some help finding them.”

Cam eyed Cal a moment. After Cal nodded that it was alright, Cam left the room. It was evident on his face he didn’t want to leave.

“Not much news means there was something,” Cyprian said once the pair were out of earshot.

Cal nodded. “All Sam’s vitals are fine, so they’re not completely sure why he’s still out. As far as the baby, the embryo is too new for them to find on ultrasound, so they’re not sure if it’s still viable.”

“The baby?”

Cal couldn’t meet Cyprian’s gaze. “We just found out. Well… I just found out. Samuel doesn’t even know for sure that he’s pregnant. He’d just taken the test when this happened.”

“Congrats are in order, I suppose?”

Cal shook his head. “Save the congrats for the moment we know we’re not going to lose the cub.” Cal glanced at his sleeping mate. He’d been sure this miracle couldn’t happen… and before he could celebrate it, it was already in jeopardy.

“I’m so sorry, man.” Cyprian said. “Is there anything we can do? Grab you guys something to eat? Anything.”

Cal lifted his stare to Cyprian. The two of them had bonded over the last months, their stories so similar. Both of them had been Project Zed experiments, zombies to the scientists’ drugs, and made to do any number of horrible things. That shared experience had slowly allowed them to become good friends.

“I’m not sure my stomach could allow me to eat anything, as many knots as it’s tied into. Cam says he’s not hungry, but I don’t want him not eating something. If you don’t mind grabbing him something from the diner? I’d really appreciate it.”

Cyprian glanced at his watch. “They should still be open. A burger and fries okay for little man?”

“Yeah. No cheese. Ketchup only.” Cal reached for his wallet. “And if they can put a little ice cream in a cup? We were supposed to get ice cream after Samuel was done.” He fished out a few bills and handed them over.

Cyprian lifted his hands and warded away the money. “We got this.”

“Come on, man.”

Cyprian shook his head and refused them. “I’m headed out. I’ll see if Cutler and Cam want to walk over with me. Might do the boy some good to get out of here for a few minutes.”

Cal shoved the money back in his wallet. “I appreciate it. I really do.”

“Anything you need, I’m there. Just ask.”

Cal smiled slightly. “Appreciated.”

Cyprian left him alone with Samuel. Cal walked over to the chair beside the bed, sat, and then, took his lover’s hand. He brought it to his lips and pressed a kiss on the open palm. “Come back to me, Samuel. We need you… we love you.”

Minutes ticked by. The trio of Cyprian, Cutler, and Cam returned a while later, all of them carrying bags. Cam sat down on the loveseat and started pulling out an order of fries.

“Thought you weren’t hungry?” Cal asked Cam, smiling.

Cam shrugged. Cal was happy to see him eat, even if was only a few bites.

Cyprian handed over another bag. “I know you said you weren’t hungry, but ya gotta eat. Even if it’s just a few bites.”

Cal chuckled at the mimicked sentiment.

“I gave the bag with the ice cream to one of the nurses to keep cold for Cam,” Cutler added. He handed over another bag. “We stopped into the general store and grabbed a box of crayons and a couple of coloring books for Cam. Might keep him occupied for a bit.”

“Thanks,” he answered, taking the bags. “How’d your visit go earlier?” Cal asked, realizing he’d been focused on himself and his mate. “You said it was afterhours… so was there a problem?”

“No… I’ve just been working all kinds of crazy hours and missed my last appointment. Cyprian called in and Logan said to just stop in this evening and he’d give me the once over,” Cutler answered. “All things are a-okay.”

Cal forced a smile. It wasn’t that he didn’t want everything to be fine with Cutler and their babe… he just hated the reminder of the one who might be dying within Samuel. “That’s good.”

Cutler moved closer. “Samuel is one of the strongest humans I’ve ever met. Between his powers and that mystical force of nature within him, I can’t see him not pulling through this.”

“He’s got something powerful in his corner,” Cyprian added. “Whoever or whatever has been giving these humans their powers… they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him.”

“I hope you’re right,” Cal said.

“Is there anything else we can do?” Cutler asked.

Cal shook his head. “You’ve done more than you had to.”

“We’re friends. Friends take care of one another. Hell, after all we’ve been through, at this stage, we’re more family than friends,” Cyprian declared. “Family has one another’s backs. Always.”

Cal struggled to hold back the tide of emotion he felt. “Family, eh? You might have that right.”

Cyprian came over and patted Cal on the shoulder. “You have my number. Don’t hesitate. No matter the hour. Okay?”

Cal nodded. “I owe you guys.”

“You don’t owe us shit. I know you’d be there in a heartbeat if the roles were reversed,” Cyprian said before taking Cal’s hand in a tight grasp. He pulled Cal closer, into what Samuel laughingly called a “bro hug.”

Cal chuckled at the memory of them lying in bed, watching movies, a big bowl of popcorn between them when Samuel was working to catch him up on all the pop culture he’d missed while he’d been captured. Because of Project Zed, Cal had been of a different mind, controlled by the government—and he’d lost decades of time. Samuel had been bound and determined to make up for lost time. Movies in bed, followed by sexy time had been a personal favorite of Cal’s.

He was still a little behind the times, but he was getting there.

Looking over, he saw Cam digging in on the burger. “Thanks again for the help. I promise to call if I need anything.”

“And call as soon as you get any news about Samuel. I want to know he’s okay,” Cutler added.

Cal shook the shifter’s hand. “Will do.”

After the pair said their goodbyes to Cam, they left. Cal walked over to the small loveseat. It was one of those clinical ones, that could be wiped down and cleaned—in other words, not homey at all. But given were they were, he understood.

But he hated having his cub in a place like that, especially after all the time they’d had in laboratories and clinical spaces. Cal struggled with it, so there was a chance Cameron was, too.

As big as Cal was, he’d take up most of it. Luckily, a five-year-old didn’t take up much space. He sat and eyed his son.

“How’s the burger?”

“Okay,” Cam answered, mid-bite.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Cal said, his own fathers coming flying from his lips without a second thought.

“Don’t ask when my mouth’s full,” Cam replied.

“Touché,” Cal said before placing his greasy, paper bag on the small table before the loveseat. Three burgers, two fries, and a cup of chili. “They feeding an army?” he asked more to himself than the boy.

“Cyprian wasn’t sure what you liked… and there’s a milkshake in the fridge with my ice cream, too. Strawberry.”

“I suppose I’ll need something to wash down all this food, hmm?”

Cam lowered his burger and rose to his feet. “I can go get it for you.”

“No. You sit and eat. I’ll get it.”

Before Cal could get up, Cam was already out the door. He tracked the cub out into the clinic and found him behind the nurses’ station, in the fridge there.

“Sorry,” he said to one of the nurses there.

“No worries. I told him to come on back when he was ready.”

Cam appeared at his side a second later, a milkshake almost as big as him in one arm and a Styrofoam bowl in the other.

“Got your ice cream, too, hmmm?” Cal asked with a sly grin. He liked the peeks of little boy his cub was already starting to show. 101 had been almost inhuman. Cameron was thawing and showing his human side.

“I’m almost done with my dinner.”

Cal took them both from the boy. “Get on back in there and finish it up, then.”

As he trailed behind Cam into Samuel’s room, he cast a glance at his mate. He checked the slow rise and fall of the man’s chest… the steady beeping of the monitor…

His eyes still closed …

When Cal was sure there was no change, he sat back down. Cameron polished off his small burger and fries, and gladly took the ice cream when it was offered. Cal took a few bites of one sandwich, but couldn’t force down much. The milkshake was about the only thing he could stomach.

“I like those people. The lion and the cougar,” Cam said. “I like them.”

Cameron had been a second-generation Zed experiment, using Cal’s DNA to produce the boy. They’d just freed him and multiple other children from the project, Cam included. After all the experiments, the lab, and the lack of a true home, all of the children had a stand-offish nature. They didn’t laugh. Didn’t smile. They showed next to no emotion, though Cal had already seen a few glimmers of something more in his son.

Just earlier that day, Samuel had gotten a brief hug from Cameron. It had been enough to bring tears to Cal’s eyes.

For him to announce he liked someone was kind of big, too.

“Yeah, they’re good people.”

“Cyprian was like us, right?” Cam asked.

Like us. Cal smiled. “He was.”

Cam wiped his hands and face with a napkin.

“Wait. You missed a spot.” The boy stood still as Cal wiped a smudge of ketchup from his cheek. “There you go.”

Cam looked up at Cal. “I know you weren’t telling me the whole truth when you said Samuel would be fine.”

Cal’s breath caught. Cameron had an odd sense about him—he’d known Samuel was pregnant before anyone else. And there had been other little moments where the boy had seemed to know things he shouldn’t be able to. “Is he not okay?”

“I didn’t say that. But when you said he would be okay, you weren’t sure. You lied to me.”

Cal blew out a low breath. How in the world was he going to explain himself to a five-year-old? Especially one like Cam? “It wasn’t exactly a lie.”

“It wasn’t the truth.”

“Things aren’t always black and white, Cam. There are shades of gray in between. Sometimes we tell small lies to one another, just to protect someone we care about. When we don’t want them to hurt or to worry.” Cal paused a moment. “Do you understand?”

“You care about me. You didn’t want me to worry about Samuel.”

“Yes. I care very, very much about you.”

Cam placed his hand on Cal’s arm. “I care about you, too, Daddy. Samuel’s going to be okay.”

Cal frowned. Was that the truth, or was Cameron only displaying what Cal had just taught him? He stared down at the hand on his arm, knowing that touch was a big leap. Cam leaned in and rested his head on Cal’s bicep.

“I’m tired.”

Cal gently ruffled the boy’s hair, trying to hold back another wave of emotion. “I know, kiddo. How about we let you try to get some more sleep on this sofa?”

He rose and got Cam comfortable before moving back to the bed… just as Sky and Dario came bursting into the room. They looked to the bed and then to Cal.

“You didn’t call us!” Dario spat.

“Shhhh!” Cal said, turning to look at Cameron. The boy turned away, curling up on his side, his back to them.

Cal looked at the pair. Sky had already moved to the side of the bed and had ahold of one of Samuel’s hand. Dario still glared at him.

“I haven’t called anyone,” Cal whispered. “I was hoping he’d be awake by now.”

“We’re family,” Dario said lowly, the look on his face making it apparent the man was hurt to be excluded.

“I didn’t mean to not call,” Cal said. “I’m sorry.”

Dario’s face softened some. He turned to look at Samuel. “How is he?”

“Fine, they say… but he won’t wake up,” Cal said as he sat on the opposite side of the bed than Sky. Cal took Samuel’s hand in his. He squeezed it, willing Samuel to squeeze back.


“There’s no reason for you two to stay… I can call you if he wakes up,” Cal said.

“Fuck that,” Sky murmured. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Me either,” Dario whispered. “He’s our brother. We’re in this together… good or bad.”

“Yeah, it was an elemental who did this,” Cal muttered.

“He was in a coma, Cal,” Sky said. “Lightning Boy didn’t know what he was doing.”

Cal eyed Sky. Logically, he knew that. But emotions were getting the better of him at the moment. He wasn’t sure logic would ever win, considering what they might’ve lost.

“He’s pregnant,” Cal whispered, lifting a stare to Sky. He turned his gaze to Dario.

Both men remained silent.

“Is… is he… still?” Dario asked, his face twisting into a pain-filled mask.

Both Sky and Dario looked as terrible as Cal felt. He shrugged. “Too soon to say. So it’s hard for me to give that sparky fuck a pass considering.”

“Understandable,” Sky said. “You have every right to feel whatever you’re feeling.”

“Oh god. Here comes the hippie shit,” Dario mumbled. “Next you’ll suggest he get on the floor and do a little yoga with you.”

“As if that would be a terrible thing,” Sky shot back, his voice rising a little.

“Shhhhh,” Cal reminded, casting another quick glance over his shoulder at their son. Cameron had passed out, it looked like.

He turned back, tuning out Dario and Sky’s whispered arguing. He didn’t stop them… maybe Samuel would sit up and tell them to shut up.

Gods, please. They won’t listen to me, Sam. I need you to wake up, baby. I need you…

He focused on the steady rise and fall of his mate’s chest… the stable beeping on the monitor…

We’re here waiting for you, baby. Come back to us.

Chapter Two

A day or so later…

Parker came to slowly this time. The fog lifted, and he took a moment to realize he was still in the hospital bed he remembered. Trying to sit up, he realized his hand was cuffed to the bed.

What the hell?

It was lined with fleece, so the metal didn’t touch his wrist. He yanked at it… and then noticed the burns on his arm. Looking at the other arm, he saw the same burn pattern. His skin felt tight and ached.

Yanking on the cuff again, he felt panic rising.

“That’s for your protection… and for others’, too.”

Parker turned his gaze and saw two men leaning against the heating unit across the room. “Who are you?” he croaked. He tugged his hand again for emphasis. “Why am I cuffed?”

“You hurt someone,” one of the men said. “Do you remember the last time you awoke?”

Blurry memories of him in the bed and the man on the ground beside him. An Indian… A stranger. Yet… there was something wholly familiar about the man. “Is he okay?”

“That remains to be seen,” the other man said. This one was a little more sullen looking than the other. If Parker was right, the man didn’t like him.

As if he cared.

“Mind telling us how you got here?” the first asked.

Parker searched his memories. The last thing he remembered before being in that bed was… he was at home… in Colorado… looking into the water… lifting the… He closed his eyes tight, not wanting to remember what happened next. After a moment, he opened them again and looked at the two men. “Where is here?”

“Pacific Northwest,” the first answered.

Parker frowned. “That’s a mighty big space. Can you narrow it down a little for me?”

“Almost Canada.”

Parker frowned. How had he gotten so far away from home? A sensation of flying came to him. Not on a plane, but shooting through the air as if he was strapped to a rocket. What the fuck? “I don’t remember coming to Almost, Canada. The last thing I remember was being in Colorado.”

The two men gave each other a look before they turned back to him. The first one rose from his seat and took a few steps closer. “My name’s Deacon. Our men found you… on the side of the road. You were burned pretty badly. We brought you here to the hospital. They had to keep you under, for the pain. It’s been a few months they’ve been treating you.”

A few months? His gaze drifted as that realization began to sink in. “Months?” He’d been in Aspen during the summer. “What’s the date?”

Broody answered. “February… you arrived here this fall.”

Fall? What happened between summer and fall?

“Do you recall your name?” Deacon asked him.

“Parker,” he answered, barely able to focus. He was searching his memory, trying to remember… anything…

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Parker,” Deacon said. He glanced over one shoulder for a brief second. “That’s my friend, Cyprian.”

Broody nodded, but didn’t look all that happy to meet him.

“I’d say it was nice to meet you, but at the moment, nothing seems too nice.” He peeled back the hospital gown some and saw more scars going down his chest. “You doctors?”


“Cops?” Parker asked.

“In a matter of speaking,” Deacon answered. “We protect the village.”

“Well, I need a doctor. I’m in pain.” The panic rose again. How far did his scars go?

“We’ll get someone,” Deacon said.

Cyprian jumped from his seat and headed out of the room. Deacon didn’t even turn away to watch. His stare was fixed on Parker. “You have family we need to notify?”

Parker sighed. “Nope.”

Deacon frowned.

“I’m an only child of two only children. Grandparents are all gone and so are my parents. It’s just me, and me alone.”


Parker scowled. “No.”

“You don’t remember how you got here, at all?”

Parker shook his head, narrowing his eyes. He pulled at the cuff again, the panic threatening to take over. “No. Can you get this thing off me?”

“I told you it was there for everyone’s protection.” Deacon slowly walked a few steps closer. “You don’t remember the electricity?”

A vague image of sparks… and then long arcs of lightning filled his head. He wasn’t sure why… “What electricity?”

His breath grew shorter and shorter. Fear pumped in his veins.

He heard a crackling sound…

Parker looked down and saw his hands were covered in sparks of electricity. He waved them, trying to get it off—but that only caused more chaos. The sparks grew into arcs, shooting across the room.

Deacon ducked before reaching in and taking ahold of his head.

“Calm!” the man whispered, and Parker could hear it deep in the recesses of his mind.

His body obeyed…

The electricity slowed to a few sparks before dying out. His breathing slowed… his heartbeat growing steadier.

“How did you do that?”

Deacon let go of his head. “Magic,” the guy said with a half-smile.

Parker ignored the smartass response and looked at his hands instead. “Why is this happening to me?”

“I’m not sure you’re ready to hear the answer to that quite yet,” Deacon said.

A doctor came waltzing into the room a second later, before Parker could argue. He neared the bed and gave Parker his stare.

“I’m Logan, your doctor for the evening. I’d like to give you a once over and check your vitals now that you’re awake.”

“Ready for the shock of your life, Doc?” Cyprian said as he sauntered back in. “He near about killed Samuel.”

Dr. Logan pulled out a pair of heavy gloves and pushed his hand into one. “I came prepared.”

“We’ll give you two privacy,” Deacon said. He glanced at the doctor. “I’ll be waiting for a report out in the hall.”

“You got it,” the doctor replied.

The two men left the room, and Parker turned to Dr. Logan. “What’s with all this electricity, doc? Was I electrocuted or something?”

The doctor seemed to hesitate. “I’d hoped Deacon had filled you in on that.”

“On what?”

“You have a power. You have the ability to control lightning.”

Parker laughed, but the laughing hurt. He winced in pain. “So, I’m a superhero, am I?” Great sense of humor, Doc.

“Something like that,” Dr. Logan said as he pulled up his stethoscope. “Let’s get you sitting upright.”

Parker struggled. “It hurts to move.”

“You have second and third degree burns on about fifty percent of your body. You’ve been out for a while, during the toughest stage of the healing. Be glad you slept through that.”

Fifty percent? “I don’t remember being burned.”

“The mind has an awesome power to hide our darkest moments from us. Sometimes it’s just too painful a memory, so it’s hidden deep.” The stethoscope was placed on his chest. “Deep breath.”

Parker did a few of them, as instructed before the doctor moved to his back.

“Just breathe normally now.”

“Will the scars heal? I mean… completely?”

“We were able to use some new technologies to work over your skin, and it will likely heal better than many burn victims you might’ve seen before… but no, I doubt it will be complete.”

Parker’s stomach knotted. “I need to see it… all of it.”

The doctor began to untie Parker’s gown. “There aren’t many scars back here. Most are along your front—chest, arms, and upper thighs.”

“What about my face?” he asked, tensing.

Dr. Logan pulled down his dressing gown, and Parker saw the bandages around his torso. They were clear—he could see the burned flesh through.

“Your face is pretty well unscathed. It does creep onto one cheek a little.”

“I need a mirror,” Parker spat, staring at the disfigured body he was now trapped in.

“Your face is fine.”

“A mirror!”

The doctor pulled one from his lab coat and handed it over.

Parker looked at his image… and felt his stomach drop. His face was mostly clear, but his neck, one cheek, and all down his chest was nothing but scar tissue. He cast a glance down over his torso and his legs and felt sick.

I’m a monster.

“While the worst has passed, you’re still healing. If you compare this to where you were when you got here… this is like night and day.”

Was that supposed to make him happy? Parker dropped the mirror onto his lap, his head swimming. “How much longer is this exam going to take?” All he wanted to do was sleep… perhaps this was a nightmare and he might wake up back at home, where he belonged.

Without scars.

“Give me a few more minutes,” the doctor murmured before retying the top knot behind Parker’s neck.

Dr. Logan checked his eyes, nose, and throat, and his ears before stepping back. “Cyprian said you were in pain?”

“Yep. I need the good stuff.”

“You won’t be getting the good stuff. Enough to take the edge off, and that’s it.”

“That’s cruel and unusual punishment.”

“We all saw your tox screen when you came in here. You went through detox while you were out. So, any desire for drugs is all mental, not physical.”

Parker winced. “It’s like my skin is too tight on my body. It’s pulling and it stings. It burns… I’m in pain. You gotta help me.”

“And likely itches, too. All part of the healing process.”

Parker nodded. “So you’ll get me something?”

“I’ll get you something added to your IV that will help take a little of the edge off. And help you get a little rest. But it’ll be a partial dose. Not enough to get you high.”

Asshole. If there was ever a time to get wasted, it’s now. Parker smiled. “Thank you.”

“We’re not done with the therapy on your skin. You’ve got a lot of healing still left to do. You’ve got a long road ahead… but we’re here to help you down that path. And we’ll slowly be working on getting you completely off pain meds.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Dr. Logan, but I’m not sure it’s a path I want to take. Maybe just knock me out for a few more months until I’m all better.”

“I wish it were that easy. And it’s just Logan. You can drop the doctor.”

“You’re not a physician?”

“I am. Just not into titles all that much,” the man said.

“What kind of liberal bullshit is that?”

The doctor ignored his comment. “I’ll get a nurse to come in and give you your meds. Rest up. You’ve just had a lot of shit unpacked and tossed into your lap. I’ll check back in later.”

Parker lifted his cuffed hand. “What if I need to pee?”

“Oh, you’re bagged. You’re not quite ready to get to your feet.” The doctor lifted a bag that apparently had some urine in it.


“So no getting off the cuff?”

“Until you’ve been awake a little longer, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be on your feet at all.”

Parker didn’t like it, not one bit. He was accustomed to freedom, being able to go where he wanted. “If I’m not ready to walk, why bother with cuffing me?”

“Just a little added security for us all.”

The doctor left the room, and Parker gave the cuff one final pull.

He dropped his head back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling tiles. Someone came in and lifted his hand… and shot him up with something that quickly made him feel like he was floating.

A smile crossed his face. The edge off? Someone hadn’t calculated correctly. It was more than the edge… and he was thankful for it.

Floating was better than where he had been moments before.

Maybe he could just float the fuck out of there.

Chapter Three

A Rude Awakening…

After feeling a swift kick in the shin, Samuel opened his eyes.

Before him lay a sleeping five-year-old in bed beside him. He lifted his head and realized he was in the clinic. Cal softly snored from a recliner beside the bed, his big body barely fitting inside it. Samuel slowly rolled to his back, careful of Cameron at his side.

As soon as he’d fully awoken, he remembered the shock.

His hand instinctively went to his stomach. “Cal?”

He turned his head and repeated the name. Cal came awake quickly, scrubbing at his eyes. “Yeah… you’re awake.” Cal sighed, his eyes closing. “You’re awake.”

“What about the baby?”

Cal’s eyes reopened. “The pregnancy was confirmed… but it’s way too early to find it on ultrasound. They’re not sure.”

“If I had a miscarriage… how would I even know? I’m not a female. Would there be blood? And from where?” He hadn’t needed to know answers about shifters and male impregnation, or the loss of one, before now.

“A miscarriage in a male… the blood and embryo are typically reabsorbed by the body, unless it’s farther along. Then it has to be… removed surgically.”

“So how do we know the baby is okay?”

“It’s a waiting game,” Cal answered. “You’re only a week along. They need at least another week or two before they might see something on ultrasound.”

Samuel looked down at the sleeping boy curled up at his side. While he already saw Cameron as his child—regardless if his blood ran through the cub’s veins or not—there was a part of him that wondered what it would feel like to carry Cal’s son. To hold a life they made together in his arms.

A physical manifestation of their love.

Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

“So, we wait… and we see…” Samuel said, forcing the sadness from his face, the best he could.

Cal took one of his hands. “I’m just happy you’ve come back to me. I was so scared, Sam.”

Samuel squeezed Cal’s hand.

“I should let the docs know you’re awake.” Cal rose to his feet, towering over the bed. “And Dario and Sky are likely somewhere around here…”

“You’re not leaving before you kiss me,” Samuel said.

Cal paused, a soft smile spreading across his face. He lowered his head and pressed a gentle kiss onto Samuel’s lips.

Cameron squirmed beside him before calming again and snuggling into Samuel.

“I’ll be right back, Papa,” Cal whispered with a slight grin.

High Voltage…

Parker picked at the lock on the cuff with an unbent paper clip he’d snagged off a passing nurse’s paperwork. He’d seen this trick in countless movies and TV shows, so it should’ve been easy. Quickly learning that was not the case, he angrily tossed the clip onto the hospital table rolled close to the bed. It hadn’t helped that the scars on his hands made moving his fingers as limberly as he once had next to impossible.

It also didn’t help that he was in pain and the doctors had apparently realized the dose last night had been too much. Since, they’d been giving him the equivalent of a couple of Tylenol for all it helped.

He stared up at the ceiling, the boredom of lying there making him insane. There was nothing interesting on TV. He’d asked if anyone had found his phone and the answers he’d gotten from the, oddly-enough, all male nursing team was mostly a bunch of eye rolls and non-answers.

Two seconds before he released a scream of utter irritation, Logan swept into the room, followed by two of the nurses, one pushing a cart. Not only was the nursing team here all male, but they were all basketball player tall, linebacker solid, and Hollywood gorgeous. Had he been in better shape, he would’ve spent his free time flirting, seeing how many of them could play hide the sausage.

Now, it was all a bit intimidating, enough that he’d been on his best behavior in their presence, even given his boredom.

He got the feeling none of them would put up with his shit.

The smartass quips were filling up within him like gas. He was all bloated and irritated. One spark and he might explode.

Explode? Memories of sparks spreading out around him came to mind but quickly faded.

“We’re going to try getting you up on your feet today for a little walk, if you’re ready to give it a try,” Logan said before unlocking his cuff.

Parker pulled his hand away quickly, thankful for the little taste of freedom. He instinctively caressed his skin there, but stopped as he felt the ridges and swollen skin of the scars under his palm—which was fortunately fairly free of wounds.

One of the nurses lifted his gown and began to remove the catheter from his body. Shame filled Parker as the three men went about their business as if his cock wasn’t out on display with a torture device inserted into it.

The shame only grew more when he felt a little excitement as the tube was drawn out of him. Heat flared in his face as he felt himself grow semi-erect.

At least I know that’s still working.

They pulled down his gown, but Parker could easily see the slight tenting of the thin material. Neither of the three said a word or acted as if it was anything out of the ordinary.

Not until the nurses began to pull on heavy clothing and gloves off the cart.

“What’s that for?”

“If you get sparky, it might protect them from burns. That’s the hope, anyway,” Logan answered before moving on. “Once your skin had started to heal over, we had our staff working your limbs and hands daily, trying to keep your mobility—but you’re still going to feel very stiff. Physical therapy is going to be critical to get you fully mobile again,” Logan added. “Let’s help you to the side of the bed and get you vertical.”

Parker cringed with every movement. By the time his feet were dangling on the side of the bed, he felt the urge to vomit from the pain alone. After a moment, the nurses helped him to his feet. His legs screamed in agony, mostly above the knee where the scarring was.

He felt the sparking within, but when he looked down, he didn’t see it. His whole body shook from the attempt of standing. Without the two, strong nurses on either side of him, Parker’s ass would’ve been on the cold, linoleum floor.

“How about you attempt a trip to the bathroom and back—with their help,” Logan said. In an aside to the nurses, he added, “See if he can go while he’s in there. Measure anything that comes out.”

“Wasn’t it bad enough I had a tube up my cock? Now I have to take a piss while two guys hold me up?”

“Something tells me someone has held you up to take a piss at some stage of your life,” Logan said. “You might’ve been three sheets to the wind, but still.”

“Who do you think has been giving you baths? Cleaning your scars?” one of the nurses murmured lowly. “We most definitely have seen worse.”

Parker tilted his head and looked up at the handsome as fuck nurse, a witty response screaming to fly off his tongue. Instead, he kept his mouth shut and moved when they urged him forward. That first step nearly took his breath away. But after a few, he felt the tightness in his skin relax some. Not that it wasn’t hard. He could feel sweat rolling down his body by the time he made it a few feet to the bathroom.

Where he peed for his audience. And it burned like a motherfucker. It wasn’t much. Apparently, the catheter had done its job too well.

“Fuck, that hurts.”

“It likely will for a few days after the cath,” one of the nurses said.

After he’d been well shamed, he made his way back to the hospital bed with their help and got back in.

“How was that?” Logan asked.

“Torture,” Parker spat between ragged breaths. “You get off on that, don’t you, Doc?”

“Perhaps just a little.”

“I knew… I was special,” Parker said, still struggling a bit.

The nurses began taking off their gear and folding it onto the cart.

“Well, expect more torture. No more catheter. You’re going to be doing that on your own from now on. When you need to pee, call the nurses’ station,” Logan said. “And you’re scheduled for your first PT session tomorrow morning, so let’s limber you up a little with a few more bathroom trips.” Logan turned to the nurses. “Push water all day. That should help clear out his UT, too.”

Parker wasn’t sure he could do any more of this. It was too hard. Too much work. “Minimum painkiller. Maximum torture. Something just doesn’t fit there.”

“If I had my way, we wouldn’t be giving you anything.” Logan moved over and wrapped Parker’s wrist in the cuff, snapping it into place.

“Come on,” Parker wailed, tugging at the bond.

“Until we can be sure you won’t hurt anyone with your power, we need to keep everyone safe,” Logan said. “Deacon’s orders.”

The two nurses rolled the cart out, leaving them alone.

“Who is Deacon?”

“One of the two men running our army.”

Our army? “So, is this some weird cult with a militia kind of thing?”

Logan burst out laughing. He sat down on the arm of the chair near the bed. “Actually, that’s not so far off the truth.”

“Are you saying I’m in a cult?”

Logan’s smile faded. “No. Not a cult. You’re in a place where the people are… different. You have a power… most of us here do.”

Parker narrowed his stare. “Whatever, dude.”

Logan growled low, the sound almost animalistic. Parker turned his head and saw that the doctor’s eyes had begun to glow. Actually, fucking glow. He pulled away, but couldn’t because of the cuff.

The panic grew, his heart pounding.

“I need you to calm down,” Logan said, his voice sounding more growl than human. “I want to show you something… I won’t hurt you.”

Parker took a deep breath, trying to still the rising tide. And then watched as Logan’s face began to… change.

His nose became a… snout. Fur blossomed all over. Teeth elongated. He looked like a wolf or a bear… something not human.

The panic rose… and he felt sparks coming to his hands.

Logan quickly returned to his human form. “I’m not hurting you… and I don’t plan to. Deep breaths… relax those hands.”

“Relax? You’re not human!” Parker pulled away.

Logan pulled something out of his pocket. It was a syringe and that only made the panic rise more. What would they do to him if he was out cold, unable to protect himself? Chained to a bed, he was ripe for them to kill him.

“I don’t want to have to use this,” Logan murmured. “Calm your breathing.”

The sparks grew.

“Come on, Parker… you can control it.”

He didn’t want to control it. He didn’t want the thing that was Logan anywhere near him. A scream tore from his lips as he felt an arc of electricity shoot through him. The pain from it caused another scream.

Logan grabbed his hand, the electricity coursing up his arm. The doctor hit him with the syringe, all while gritting his teeth—apparently in pain.

Parker screamed… frustration… anger… fear… they all coalesced into a writhing, chaotic ball in his gut. Logan pulled away as the two nurses returned to the room. He couldn’t hear what they said over the rushing of his blood in his ears.

Gradually, his heart returned to normal as the outside world began to fade away.

The fog returned…

And the sweet respite of utter darkness washed over him again.

Chapter Four

As the Wind Blows…

Samuel walked down the clinic’s hallway, careful with every step. He wasn’t in pain, just a bit bruised here and there—enough to make walking a bit uncomfortable. If Cal found him out and about, he’d be in trouble, so he couldn’t dawdle too much. He made his way to his destination and found the occupant awake and aware. He’d been waiting a long, long time for that meeting.

“Morning,” he said as he entered the room. “How are you feeling?”

The man in the bed only stared at him.

“The name’s Samuel. And I’ve been told you’re Parker.”

Parker stared at him a moment, a sense of some kind of recognition in his hazel eyes. “You were the guy… the one they say I hurt. Are you one of… them?”


“The monsters,” Parker said.

“Monsters?” Samuel asked, curious of what the man knew about Bear Mountain and the shifters who resided there.

“One of them… he turned into an animal last night.” Parker chuckled. “At least… I think he did. Saying it out loud makes me wonder if it was a dream.” He smiled a crazed-looking smile and shook his head. “The past few days feel like a dream.” Looking down at his body, he corrected the word. “A nightmare.”

“It’s no dream. This place is special… and so are those who live in it.”

Parker lifted his stare. “You’re telling me I really did see my doctor turn into a monster?”

“They’re shifters… not monsters. Humans… with a little added bonus.”

Parker shook his head. “What I saw wasn’t human. The only bonus was terror.”

“Did he hurt you? Attack you?”

Parker shook his head.

“So, the only terror you felt was in seeing something different than you.”

“A man turned into a bear or something.”

“Logan’s a bear shifter. Brown bear, I believe.”

Parker frowned slightly, looking a little shell-shocked.

“I’m sure whatever you saw was hard to accept,” Samuel agreed. There was no point in trying to convince the man that shifters were basically harmless. Unless attacked, of course. In time, the guy would come to understand what they were.


Silence fell between them. Parker stared at him, silent. He narrowed his gaze, as if he was searching for something in his mind.

“Why is it I feel like I know you?” Parker asked suddenly. “Were you the one who did this shit to me?”

“Not even close. I was out at my farm. There was a burst of lightning and—suddenly—there you were. You were lying on the ground, your clothes nearly burned off and falling in rags. Sparks of electricity were all over your body, burning your skin. We got you the medical help you needed, as quickly as possible.”

Parker didn’t seem to buy the story, even though it was the truth. “I showed up out of thin air?”

“More like… you rode the lightning.” Samuel laughed. “Isn’t that a song or something? You’ve already got your own theme song.”

“Sure… what superhero doesn’t need his own theme song?” Parker rolled his eyes.

Samuel laughed, even if the guy didn’t seem to share the joke. He made his way to the chair at the foot of the bed and lowered carefully into it. “Have you seen the electricity yet? Swirling in your hands… around your body?”

Parker was silent.

“So, you’ve seen it. Explain that to me.”

Samuel waited patiently, but got no answer. “It doesn’t make any sense. You’re right. It’s crazy.” Samuel paused. “Yet you’ve seen it yourself. We’ve all seen it.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “I’ve felt it. Trust me. It hurts like a bitch.”

“Yet I don’t see any burn scars on you.”

“I was lucky. This time.”

“I wish I could say the same,” Parker spat. He looked down at his hands. “I don’t want this. They just need to make it stop and let me go back home.”

“They can’t make it stop. You’ve been given a gift. Now you need to figure out how to use it.”

“A gift?” Parker snapped. He began laughing, almost hysterically. “This is a gift? Well, I wanna return it.”

Samuel paused, understanding the man’s emotion. He’d struggled at first, not understanding why he’d been chosen for the gift. “We don’t always get a choice.”

Parker was once again silent.

“What you can do is learn to control it. Make sure you don’t burn yourself or others, unless you want to.”

“And just how do I do that?”

Samuel closed his eyes, connecting with his power of wind. He allowed it to slowly swirl about his body. The funnel grew wider, surrounding him. When it lifted him off the seat, he allowed the air to bring him high enough that Parker could see what he was doing. He opened his eyes and saw Parker staring—his eyes and mouth wide with shock.

Gently, he brought himself back down to the seat and sent a blast of air at Parker. It blew back his hair.

Parker blinked a few times, looking too stunned to speak.

“Both of my brothers went mad. When they tried to murder our father—wind blasted out of my hands and pushed them back. It had never happened before that night… and since, I’ve been learning to control it. I’ve grown stronger every day, thanks to a lot of practice. You can, too.”

There was no point in explaining more about his story. If he talked about werewolves—which his brothers had been—it might make Parker fear the shifters even more. A nice, long conversation about the vast difference between weres and full shifters needed to happen, but not yet.

One day at a time.

“What is it about this place?” Parker mumbled. “Monsters, witches, and freaks. I suppose I belong here, don’t I? An electric freak who rides lightning.”

“I’m no freak,” Samuel spat. Now the witch part wasn’t too far off base, considering his training with the tribe’s shamans. “Neither are you. You have a purpose.”

“A purpose? Generator? I can be the new electrical grid of the future. Talk about clean energy, man.”

“You can joke all you want. I know it’s a stretch of the imagination, but this place holds a magic to it unlike any other. Here, you are safe. You belong.”

The laughter faded off Parker’s face. “I don’t belong here with monsters and freaks.”

“What do you think the government would do to you if they found out you had this power? Do you really think they’d let you go free, to go about your business? They’d have you locked away in some prison, experimented on, and tortured for the rest of your life.”

“Aren’t we still in America? The government can get me here, too,” Parker said.

“Like I said… this place has magic. Their reach can’t get to you here.”

“Sure,” Parker said. “And how do you know they’d come after me?”

“Have you ever seen any movie about any person with a superpower?”

“Just because it happens like that in the movies, doesn’t mean that’s real life,” Parker argued.

“Oh yeah? My husband, Cal—the Shifter Army freed him from an outfit called Project Zed. A military lab that experiments on shifters like him. They cut into him. Changed his very DNA. Drugged him until he didn’t even know who he was. Then they made him into a weapon.” Samuel paused, feeling frustration growing within. He wasn’t sure why he suddenly felt so angry. “More than likely, they’d do the same to you. Cut you open, find out why you were the way you were. Maybe make you into a weapon, too. Force you to do things you’d never want to do. Is that what you want?”

Parker was silent, but from the look of terror on his face, he was internalizing Samuel’s words.

“The man I love is what you call a monster. He’s the best man I’ve ever known. He provides. He protects. And he loves me and his family with all of his heart.”

We made a baby together… a baby who’s in danger because of you.

Samuel clenched his teeth. It wasn’t Parker’s fault. It had been an accident… but it was still hard not to throw blame when he felt so much fear for the life inside him.

“Those monsters have bent over backwards, spending months caring for you, treating your wounds, and keeping you alive. They kept you safe here, secure behind our borders. If they harbored ill thoughts, why would they have done all that? Just think about it the next time you want to call them names.”

Samuel spun slowly and began to head to the door. “When you’re ready to talk—to really talk—ask for me and we’ll have a conversation. Maybe you can drop the close-minded asshole act for a few minutes when we do.”

“Yeah, don’t hold your breath,” Parker mumbled.

Annoyance made his hackles rise. He was about to spin around and give the little shit another dressing down when Cal walked in, anger emblazoned on his face. “What the hell are you doing in here? He nearly killed you… and the ba—” Cal’s face twisted in pain. “You need to stay away from him.”

Cal turned and glared at Parker before whisking Samuel into his arms and stalking out of the room.

“I can walk, Cal.”

“The doctors said for you to rest. Instead, you think it’s a good idea to go back and chat it up with the guy who put you in the hospital in the first damned place.”

“It was an accident. He doesn’t have control over his powers.”

Ignoring his words, Cal asked, “Where are Dario and Sky?”

“Why?” Samuel asked.

“I left them in charge while I went to feed the animals. I come back, they’re nowhere to be found and you’re where you shouldn’t be.”

“Where I shouldn’t be?” he asked as Cal slipped into Samuel’s room.

A waiting Cam sat working on one of his puzzles on the loveseat. He didn’t want to argue with Cal before the boy, but this wasn’t over. After Cal lowered Samuel back into the bed, he rose to his full height and glared down. “You can talk to Lightning Boy again when he’s gotten control.”


“Whatever,” Cal murmured.

“Just who do you think is going to be the one to help him find that control?”

“Not you,” Cal snapped.

“I’ve helped the others, and I’ll help him, too.”

“Even if it puts you in more danger?”

“He’s a part of this brotherhood, whether you want to see it or not. The gods wouldn’t have brought him here if he didn’t belong.”

Cal growled low in his chest and stalked to the wall across from the bed. He leaned against it, looking like he wanted to argue more, but was holding it back. “You’re supposed to be resting right now. Save this conversation for later, when you’re feeling better.”

“They told me I’ll likely go home today. I am feeling better.”

Cal’s anger seemed to fade some. “Any news about the babe?”

The torment on Cal’s face lessened his irritation over caveman-like behavior. He knew Cal was only reacting out of a mixture of fear and love, even if it was galling. “Another ultrasound and still nothing. But they did bloodwork and I am still pregnant.” Samuel sighed. “For now.”

“That’s good news. We’ll just have to hope we keep getting the same news as this proceeds.”

“The baby is fine,” Cameron said from his perch on the loveseat. “I told you, Daddy.”

Samuel glanced at Cam, who was already back to his puzzle, and then back to Cal with an eyebrow raised.

Cal walked closer to the bed and sat down on the side of Samuel. “We had a little conversation about white lies and how sometimes we tell each other things to save hurt feelings. Right after that, he tells me the baby is fine. I wasn’t sure if it was a fib or the truth.”

“I don’t like fibs,” Cam chirped. “Even if they might help.”

Samuel smiled. “Let’s hope he’s right.” Cameron had been right about there being a baby. Maybe he’d be right about this, too.

Or was that just wishful thinking?

Cal cupped Samuel’s cheek before leaning in for a kiss.

“By the way, you aren’t the boss of me,” Samuel whispered.

Cal rolled his eyes and let go. He gave a slick smile and added, “We’ll see about that.”

Later that day, Samuel indeed went home with his family, hopeful the babe was safely growing within.

Only time would tell.

You’re not alone…

Parker lay in the bed, Samuel’s words still swirling in his mind. The very second the guy had mentioned riding lightning, an image had popped into his mind. He wasn’t completely sure it was a memory, but it felt too real not to be.

The sensation of flying, the air pushing his hair back.

And then there was the connection he felt to Samuel. He couldn’t recall feeling anything like it before. Somehow, he was meant to know the Indian. Their stories were linked.

You belong. You have a purpose.

Parker chuckled, hating that those words seemed to affect him so much. He’d never belonged to anything. Ever.

He’d never felt a sense of purpose.

But what was it he supposedly belonged to?

We both have powers.

That made Parker chuckle. Powers? Two superheroes, surrounded by a bunch of monsters to fight. Oh no, I can’t call them monsters. I might hurt the big, bad bear’s feelings. What a joke.

He could ridicule them all he wanted, yet Samuel’s words were still ringing in his ears. They were taking care of him. Why would they do that if they wanted to cause him harm?

But what if they caused these burns?

Parker knew down deep they hadn’t. The scars covering him were self-inflicted. Memories of the night it happened came in tiny glimmers, and the pieces were starting to fall into place.

The pool.

The electricity.

Why hadn’t the electrocution killed me?

Maybe it should have.

He dropped his head back on the pillow, staring again up at the ceiling instead of the ugly, red trails across his flesh. The sight of them made him sick to his stomach. If anyone was the monster here, it was him.

Giving up would be so easy.

Or would it?

Parker’s gaze drifted over to the window. The sky was so blue, almost as blue as it had been on the morning his parents had been buried. He winced, not in pain from their loss, but the memory of the man who had shown up and taken his hand.

Shocking him.

Parker frowned. There had been something so odd about the man and his companion. From that moment forward, he’d felt… off.

And then that night by the pool. He’d fallen into the water as the first shocks of electricity had circled his body. The water had caused the electrocution, he was sure of it now. Had he not fallen into the pool, he might not have gotten so badly burned.

Then there were little glimpses. The pain. The sensation of drowning. And then the sensation of flying, electricity in the air around him. It all matched the story Samuel had told him.

The power of wind…

The power of electricity…

There were other natural powers out there—so were there others like them?

You’re not alone.

Parker closed his eyes, fighting the emotion growing within.

You belong.

Parker pushed the mushy sentiment from his mind.

I’ll never belong anywhere.

Chapter Five

A few days later…

Parker gave the paper clip a second try. After a few more days of PT, his hands were a little nimbler than they’d been the last time. He was tired of being a prisoner. One way or another, he’d have to find a way out.

Sooner rather than later.

He wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid. The whole premise that they were locking him up for his own safety was bullshit, and he was done playing their games. If he had a power, he was using it to get the hell out.

An hour of fidgeting with the lock and he was still bound to the bed. Finally, a thought came to mind. He hit the call button on his bed and waited for someone to show. A few minutes later, one of his regular nurses—Harris—made an appearance in his doorway.

“What’s up?”

“Gotta pee,” Parker said.

Harris nodded. “Let me grab Frank and we can get you up and moving.”

“I’ll be good with just you. All that PT has helped with my walking,” Parker said.

Harris hesitated a moment before nodding and fishing a hand into one pocket. Once he pulled out his keys, he walked across the room and began undoing the cuff. “You be a good boy, now. Let’s get you in and out.”

Parker pulled his hand away, rubbing it to help his circulation. By the time Harris had pulled down the side of the bed, Parker had made up his mind. He reached out, willing the electricity to rise. Hoping was more like it. He didn’t know how to control the power within. Parker was running on pure instinct.

Fortunately, it seemed to work. Not fortunate for Harris, who shook most ungracefully before falling to the floor. Parker gave the guy one last glance, a tiny bit of guilt twisting in his gut.

Harris had been there all along the way, helping him day and night.

But he needed out.

After sliding the huge guy’s feet out of line of sight, Parker headed for the door. He ducked back as he heard someone passing by, trying to keep his breathing and heartbeat steady. The sparking of his hands was still going, but just little shocks more like sparklers on the Fourth of July. It stung a bit, but was rather harmless.

For now.

Once the coast was clear, he slipped out into the hall. Eyeing both directions, he followed his gut as to which one might lead him out. He crept down the hallway, past room after room. Just as another nurse swept out of one door, he pushed into a swinging door.

He paused, trying to remain silent for a moment. Leaning back, he looked around and saw it was a linen closet. Parker quickly swapped out his hospital gown for a pair of slightly too big scrubs and a lab coat—is everyone huge here?— and then hid his clothing in a pile of dirty linens. He saw no shoes. His hospital footies would have to do. Parker hated wearing them. At least they were the kind with rubber soles on the bottom. Once he was outside, he’d likely appreciate the pain in the ass things.

If he made it outside.

He peeked through the swinging door and saw all was clear. Parker eased out and started walking with a little more confidence in his new duds. Instead of ducking, he tried to blend in and just kept on walking.

The second he saw the front door, his heart began to thud in his chest.

He shoved his sparking hands into his lab coat’s pockets and forced his feet forward.

A cry came from down the hall. It sounded like it could be Frank, but he wasn’t sure. There was no way he was slowing down to look. Eyes on the prize. Eyes on the prize. He kept his head down and kept walking toward the door.

It slid open, and the cold air slapped him in the face.

Shit. I really didn’t consider the weather.

A pair of scrubs and a lab coat wasn’t going to do much to keep him warm. They’d said he’d been there for months… it wasn’t summer anymore.

But either he took this chance, or he might not get another.

It’s now or never…

Parker stepped outside into the frigid Bear Mountain afternoon, leaving the clinic behind.

Changes Spaces…

Young Burton Cromwell entered Major General James Lore’s office. Waltzed in, was more like it. As if he owned the joint. Dressed in a suit that was likely a huge chunk of Lore’s monthly salary, the young man had an air of pompousness that was starting to grind on James’ nerves.

“How can I be of service today?” he asked through gritted teeth.

“I was discussing your replacement with my father.”

Lore froze. His promotion ceremony had only been a few weeks before. He’d just rose in the ranks and they were already talking replacement? One fuck-up wasn’t going to torpedo his plans. His heart began to beat faster, which only pissed him off more. This asshole wasn’t worthy of his stress. “I told you I have another card up my sleeve. I will stop these attacks. You can count on me.”

“Calm down, James,” Burton said. “I meant at the base facility.”

Lore’s eyes narrowed. “My facility?”

“The Project’s facility. You ran it, but now that you’ve been elevated, it’s time to fill your old role with some new blood. You can’t oversee the whole project and take care of your old location. As we know how much work you’d put in to making the prison and lab into what it is, you might have some thoughts on the candidate to fill your shoes.”

James leaned back in his seat, considering who he might suggest. Captain White had been the obvious choice. Lore had groomed the man for years—but since he’d likely died in the crash in Bear Mountain, that wasn’t happening. There was no one left on his team who he trusted enough to run the whole facility. “I can do both.”

“Don’t be silly. You’ll be watching over the whole of the project—ten large facilities and the smaller stations. You need to be able to see the big picture.” Burton rose to his feet. “If you have no one to recommend, we have a couple of candidates we believe ready for a promotion to a larger facility. Actually, I see an across the board restructuring.”

“Who do you have in mind?”

“Wilhelm in Tennessee would be the obvious choice—the one most on the board assumed would take the vacant spot, but since that facility is more prison than lab, my father and I are also considering Raevnar in Uzbekistan. The lab there is almost as productive as yours.”

“A foreigner? To run an American facility? I don’t know how well that will fly.”

“But Raevnar’s mother is American. He has dual citizenship. We could grease the wheels and make it happen. I was thinking that we could make some of the smaller shifts at the outpost stations. Move Wilhelm to Uzbekistan… and get Raevnar to shadow with you for a while. You two could feel one another out and you could get him up to date on what you’ve been working on.”

Lore narrowed his stare. “You came in here asking for my recommendations when you and your father had already made your decision.”

Burton smiled. “I wanted you to feel as if you had a say.”

“When I had no say.”

Burton’s smile faded. “Start giving us results and perhaps we’ll loosen up the leash, General Lore.”

Lore gnashed his teeth, swallowing all the words he wanted to say and couldn’t.

“I’m glad we’re in agreement,” Burton said as he rose to his feet. “I’ll get the ball rolling and start the shifting of leadership. I should hope to get Raevnar into your office within a week or two.” Burton smiled. “It’s been a pleasure, as always.”

James watched the young man leave, realizing he had no more power in his current position than he’d had in his last—maybe less. He suddenly had a little more respect for General Harding—may the man rest in peace.

Lore scrubbed his face with one hand and tossed the pen in his other to the desktop. A fight he’d waged for so many years no longer felt as compelling, not when he’d faced the monsters on both sides of the war.

But if he didn’t fight, he’d end up just like Harding had. Dead, shot by a bullet from Junior’s gun.

Only that’s not the story most knew.

Harding’s family assumed he’d had a drunken accident that claimed his life. He’d died with no honor, no respect, and no dignity.

But then, they’d all lost most of those things years before.

Lore rose to look out the picture window that had no view at all.

He’d wanted a much different path, long, long ago. What had changed along the way that brought him here?

Lore was beginning to hate the man he’d become.

And the project that had brought out the evil residing within.

He almost wished he’d never heard of Project Zed.

The static of this cruel world…

“Let’s get this meeting started.” Deacon eyed those around the conference table as the dozen plus men began to quiet. “Bull and I wanted to meet with you all to discuss what comes next.”

All eyes were on him. “Malachi has spearheaded the plans for the children. We’ve spent the last few weeks working with the village of Bear Mountain to start the adoption process. A few of the children have already found homes and others are slated to go in the coming days. Hopefully, more will happen in the next few weeks. Until then, some of the rooms have been doubled up, so we can move the younger ones in to share, giving us more space to refocus on our original mission.”

“We need to finalize the attack on Lore’s lab and free the beasts there,” Bull said. “We keep hitting little by little each time, but it’s not making the dent it needs to.”

“Do we have the manpower to do that?” Malachi asked. “To make a full-scale attack at this point?”

“We have four of their beasts, three full-grown dragons, and an army that has grown to five hundred shifters, all ready to go,” Bull said.

Malachi shook his head. “So far the plan has been to slowly capture their beasts and de-program them. Save the others from the list and between them all, grow our forces. They literally have a hundred Cals. Are we ready to face a hundred Cals? A hundred Cyprians? And a human fighting force with the backing of the entire US military?”

“We’re not beasts anymore,” Cal reminded them.

“I didn’t mean you are,” Malachi said. “What you were before we found you… you were relentless… powerful.”

“Still am,” Cal spat.

Malachi sighed. “I just meant that we’re not ready to fight against a hundred or more beasts still jacked into Project Zed’s system.”

“Then say that. I can’t speak for Cyprian, but I’m tired of having it thrown in my face what we were. We’re not those things anymore.”

“Agreed,” Cyprian said. “Haven’t we proven ourselves at this point?”

“Of course you have. I don’t think Malachi meant any disrespect,” Deacon murmured.

“That facility is huge,” Kynan, their resident hacker piped up, seemingly to take over the focus. Deacon was glad for it. They were all frustrated and the infighting happened much too often. But then, they were all strong, alpha males. There was bound to be butting heads.

Kye continued. “Each day, their security is improving. We made it look like we got in and then back out… but we’ve been in for weeks now. We’ve jacked a lot of data out of their system already, but in the past few weeks, they’ve been getting quicker and quicker with throwing up blocks to keep us out. They’ve got someone working on security who knows a thing or two… not as much as us, but given time, whoever it is might find us lurking. If we don’t take the time now, we might not have the luxury of intel on our side.”

“What about the fringe bases?” Kynan’s mate Lachlan offered.

“Fringe bases?” Deacon asked.

Lachlan turned to face him. “We recently found a few smaller, satellite bases just outside the range of the larger facilities. From what we’ve seen, they might be depos—places where they can house local shifters before they’re sent in to the labs. They also seem to be spots where the teams can stop to refuel, restock. They’re small, but each one seems to house at least one beast they’re using… well, it seems they’re using these beasts to hunt shifters.”

“How small?” Malachi asked.

“None seem to be more than five thousand square feet. They’re often in desolate, out of way places. A few cells, no more than a dozen,” Lachlan answered.

“There are about eight of them, we’ve found,” Kye offered. “Eight beasts… maybe fifty to a hundred other shifters, depending on where they are in transport… But once we hit one, they’d likely be on to us. Shutter the others down, or heighten security, waiting for us to spring.”

“Unless we hit them all at once,” Bull said.

Bull turned to Deacon, a smile on his face.

“Coordinated attack…” Bull’s smile grew. “Eight small teams across the country. We hit all at once, tear down each location, free the shifters, and capture their beasts.”

Deacon glanced around the table. “We have enough men here now to captain a team of their own. Me, Bull, Luca, Malachi, Drake, Jaeger, Cal, and Cyprian. Go in small. No more than a ten-man team. Then we have a team here on base leading Ops.”

“What about transportation, though?” Bull asked. “We only have one heli.”

“We’ll be forced into ground transpo only,” Malachi said. “We could make that happen.”

Deacon turned to Lachlan and Kynan. “Bull and I need everything you have on these satellite facilities, pronto.”

“Yes, sir,” Lachlan answered.

“Everyone else, be at the ready. Once we have a working plan, we’ll meet again and review,” Deacon said. “Until then, it’s business as usual. Dismissed.”

A knock came to the door as everyone rose to their feet and began to disperse. Deacon waved the young shifter at the door inside. “Yes?”

“Sir, you just got a call from the clinic. Logan says the lightning bird has flown the coop.”

Fuccck. “Hold up, everyone. We have a new disaster to attend to.”

Chapter Six

You can go your own way…

Parker really hadn’t fully prepared himself for the escape of a lifetime. Not that he’d ever truly prepared for anything in his life. He walked the streets of a town that reminded him of some old show he’d been forced to watch at his grandfather’s house many, many years before. Something about Andy Mayberry, a podunk cop or some shit. Only this one wasn’t in black and white and this town was potentially filled with more monsters and freaks.

It looked so harmless on the outside. A diner… an old grocer… hardware store…

A sheriff’s department.

He ducked into an alley as he saw two deputies rush out and climb into a car. They sped off, sirens blaring. I wonder if that’s for me?

After about an hour or two of wandering, he was literally shaking from the cold. He finally made his way past a huge construction site where they were building what seemed like a brand new city center and he then found himself out in the middle of nowhere.

Where it was colder than hell.

He shook even harder from the frigid mountain air. His thin layers of cotton weren’t enough to cover anything. The higher he rose up the side on one mountain, the more his legs burned. The colder it got.

The more he felt like giving up.

He pulled his hands out of his pockets, sensing they were beginning to spark again. Maybe they can help keep me warm. Electricity is heat, right? He tried to focus on allowing the power to build in his body, but he was too damned cold to make anything happen.

Works when I don’t want it to. Isn’t that ironic?

Just then, an old pickup truck roared up the road and came to a screeching halt next to him. The window rolled down, and Parker saw Samuel glowering at him.

He said nothing. Parker stood there shaking violently, waiting for the screaming to come. Some chasing was likely in order, too. Not that he’d be able to run, at all.

But none of that came.

“It’s warm in the truck,” Samuel announced.

Parker’s whole body wanted to take over and frog march himself into the p