Action scenes are cool, but love scenes are awesome, November thought, setting down the worn paperback romance novel on the counter. Just yesterday Roger had done something like the scene from the book. His breath had been warm on her cheek as he bit gently on her earlobe and his fingers pushed past the low waist of her jeans.
Heat swept down the back of November’s neck at the thought. It felt almost as if his hand was there now, with his other arm cradling the small of her back, pressing her up against his fingers. It was mid-afternoon on a very quiet Thursday, and she was alone manning the register in her family’s shop. So November leaned back in the ratty leather office chair behind the jewelry counter and closed her eyes at the memory.
Love scenes in books are great. But love scenes in real life are better.
What if Roger walked in right now? He’d give her that look from under his dark straight brows. The one that said, “I want you. Now.” Then he’d stride over, grab her by the waist, and lift her to sit down on the glass counter above the engagement rings, sliding one strong hand up the back of her tank top as he pushed his lean hips between her knees, knowing any moment someone might walk in and catch them…
Something rattled in the back room. November sat up, swinging her boots off the counter. It was probably just her brother October coming in the back door early to relieve her.
Except Toby was always late. No way it was him.
She’d been raised to be suspicious, to expect the enemy at any moment. She’d been drilled on what to do if one of them showed up when she was alone in the shop. When in doubt, shift and run for the nearest bolt-hole. There were three, carefully hidden near the floorboards of the walls. The nearest one was only six feet away.
She stood up, silently sliding her feet out of first one boot then the other.
Soft, deliberate footfalls padded closer, followed by a metallic snick. A gun being cocked. She cocked her head, listening hard, and heard deep quiet breaths. November might not be able to hear things from as far away as a cat-shifter. But she excelled at distinguishing exactly what she was hearing, and she could tell from the sound of the inhales that it was not a member of her family breathing back there.
Only members of the Anderson family had the key to the back door of Anderson’s Pawn and Loan. So the first rattle she’d heard must have been someone breaking in.
The alarm hadn’t gone off. Which meant the intruder had bypassed it. Which meant he was too sophisticated to be just a burglar.
It had to be an objurer, trained by the Tribunal to combat otherkin like her. November knew exactly how he’d be armed – tranquilizer gun full of darts, an automatic pistol with silver ammo, a silver knife, and, most potent of all, his voice.
Hands shaking, she reached under the counter and pressed three times on the silent alarm button. It would take the alarm company at least fifteen minutes to get here, but her family lived just five minutes away, and three buzzes would send a 911 text to all ten of her brothers, her father, and her mother. Tribunal attack. Get here now!
One of them will get here soon.
A floorboard creaked near the half-open door to the back room.
Not soon enough.
A shadow fell over the doorframe. The arms of the shadow held something shaped like a small rifle – the tranquilizer gun. He knew she was here. He just didn’t know that she had heard him.
Time to shift. The process wasn’t as easy for her as it was for her brothers. That was why in a few weeks her parents were sending her off to some stupid school in the mountains for loser late-blooming shifters. But she had successfully shifted three times before, after long periods of meditation and concentration. She needed to find that place inside her that linked to Othersphere and follow it through.
It was difficult to do even in quiet moments, but here, now, with a hunter who though she was the personification of evil about to shoot her full of silver-laced tranq? How the hell was she supposed to do that?
The shadow carrying the gun leaned forward. Nervous sweat trickled down November’s back, her heart bumping so loud and fast inside her chest, she felt sure he could hear it. Frantically, she plunged her mind down inside herself, looking for that core of power, that vague shiny spot that linked her to shadow, to Othersphere, to her rat form, and to safety.
But she couldn’t take her eyes off the door. A square head of close-cropped brown hair appeared around the edge of it, followed by furrowed eyebrows, cruel blue eyes, and the tip of a tranquilizer gun.
The eyes locked on her, and then they smiled. He raised the tip of his gun.
Fear came at her the way the ocean rushes toward a diver leaping from a cliff. Except the thing coming for her was also kind of like a window, vaguely shiny and smelling of gummi bears.
Othersphere. For the first time, she realized that, for her, it smelled like candy. November loved candy.
She dove in.
The objurer squeezed the trigger of his tranquilizer gun as the air around her warped like a desert mirage. The dart flew right for November’s throat.
Or where her throat had been. November the girl had vanished. The dart pierced the back of her magenta “Anderson’s Pawn and Loan” t-shirt instead, flying another two feet to imbed itself in the wall, the shirt hanging down like a bright flag on a windless day.
The rest of what she’d been wearing – the demi-bra, the skinny black jeans, lacy white underwear, and the gray socks with pink hearts on them, fell in a puddle on top of her short boots.
The man’s blue eyes widened, staring down at the pile of clothes. “Filthy shifter,” he said. “Where are you?”
A lump under the black jeans moved. The man lowered his gun, aiming, as long, curved whiskers poked out. He fired. But the dart smacked into the floor as a pod-shaped brown form with a long pink tail darted away.
“A disgusting rat!” he said, following her movements with his gun. “So there’s a whole family of you running a business. Just as we suspected.”
November scurried around stacked textbooks and a ceramic vase to get under a low shelf as another dart smacked into it right above her head, knocking over some antique glasses. She was a lot tougher to hit in her smaller rat form, but any second now the objurer would unleash his voice, and she wouldn’t stay ratty for long.
She spotted the wooden plank her father had placed in front of the bolt-hole, and relief washed over her. Once she was inside the walls, the vibrations from the objurer’s voice would have a tougher time reaching her.
She heard him drop to his knees behind her. Any second he’d start shoving aside the books and other crap stored under here to get a clear path for his next dart. Or maybe even a silver bullet.
She shoved the piece of wood aside with her shoulder, then paused. The bolt-hole was still there, a door about five inches high, cut into the baseboard. But it had been sealed up with something sticky. She touched the substance with one paw and had trouble getting it free. Her tiny dagger-like nails were gooey.
She whirled to see the objurer’s face, grinning at her from where he’d crouched down beside the shelving.
“I sealed up your escape routes, little demon,” he said. “Now I think it’s time you shed that grotesque animal skin.”
He hummed, a deep, compelling notes that began way back in his throat and emanated outward to run up and down her fur like a rough hand. “Come forth,” he intoned, and she felt her connection to Othersphere waver. “I call you forth from shadow…”
She shuddered, staring at his self-satisfied smirk. Any second now he would command her human form to return, and she’d erupt up and out, displacing the shelving, naked and vulnerable. Then he’d shoot, and she’d be gone.
To hell with that. She narrowed her beady eyes, bared her incisors, and launched herself at his smug square face. There was time to see his own eyes widen in surprise, and for him to being to pull away.
Then she was on him, nails digging deep into the skin of his cheeks and chin. He screamed, and grabbed at her blindly, lurching backwards. She heard his gun clatter to the floor.
As long as he was screaming, he couldn’t command her to shift. So far so good. But she had to disable his voice. Permanently. Digging her back paws dug securely into his flesh, she wiggled her upper body away from his flailing hands and angled herself head down, sensitive whiskers feeling for his throat.
He wrapped one large hand around her hindquarters and began to pull her off him. Her nails dragged deep bloody scratches in his face as they came away. But she had found his Adam’s Apple. She opened her jaws wide and bit down. Hard.
She’d never heard such a weird, shrieky, gurgling sound come from a man before. As she shook her head, her teeth cut down deeper. Warm, salty blood and skin filled her mouth, smelling like copper.
Then he had both hands around her upper body, desperate and strong. He pulled her off his throat, burbling in a guttural way as her teeth took out a large chunk of his larynx. She wiggled furiously as his thick fingers tried to get around her throat, to strangle or break her neck.
She bit down on two fingers, and reflexively he let go. She dropped, landing on her feet, and didn’t hesitate. As he fumbled for the pistol at his hip, she scrambled up his trouser leg, leaving bloody claw prints.
He hopped anxiously, shaking his leg, blood bubbling from his throat. He hauled his pistol from its holster at the same moment as she reached the crotch of his gray camouflage pants.
Real panic frothed from his shredded voice as she used both front paws to find what she was looking for. Then she chomped down, even harder than before.
He dropped the pistol, clutching at her. His body convulsed. He fell into a fetal position, legs clamped around her like a fleshy vise.
So she bit down again. As he kicked and shuddered, she pushed free of him, spitting out shredded bits of trouser, skin, and hair. Almost everything tasted good when she was in her rat form, but there were exceptions. Bleh.
A shadow fell across her. She reared back, head up, baring bloody fangs.
Something round and black swooped down and smacked the objurer on the side of his head. He stopped spasming and lay still. November caught a familiar, reassuring scent and saw her brother Toby standing over them both, wielding a cast iron skillet from the kitchen items display.
“Holy crap, ‘Ember,” he said, staring down at the unconscious man lying next to his guns and his sister in her rat form, covered is sticky red from muzzle to tail. He crouched down and held out his hand. “I didn’t know you had it in you. Dad’s going to be so proud.”
She chirped and leapt onto his hand, running up his arm to sit on his shoulder. Behind him she saw the reassuring silhouettes of her other brothers, moving in.
She was safe. Her family was here. She still couldn’t quite believe it. Her breath came short and fast. Her ribs vibrated from the thumping of her heart. As she gazed down at the limp form of the objurer, at his torn throat and blood-soaked groin, as she picked the flesh from her teeth with trembling paws, she decided that she’d had enough action, thank you very much.
Action scenes in books are better than love scenes, she thought. Because action scenes in real life are no fun at all.
Nina Berry grew up bodysurfing in Hawaii, learned to snowball fight at college in Chicago, and now lives and works in Hollywood, pretending to lead the glamorous life.
When she’s not traveling, reading or tweeting links to save the tiger, she writes all kinds of things, some of which might surprise you.
I thought I knew myself. Then I met Caleb.
Dez is a good girl who does as she’s told and tries not to be noticed.
Then she rescues a boy from a cage, and he tells her secrets about herself. Now inside her burns a darkness that will transform her.
Everything is about to change — and neither Caleb, nor the Otherkin, nor those who hunt them are prepared for what Dez will unleash.
Read Jess Haines’ ROMP post and then VOTE via the poll on my sidebar on who you think should win today’s showdown!