Hunters of the supernatural, the Execution Underground are an elite group tasked with protecting humanity…but what happens when danger collides with desire?
Jace McCannon has one loyalty: the Execution Underground. Despite his mixed blood, his hatred for the werewolves he hunts is legendary. But in his search for a sadistic killer, Jace finds himself face-to-face with a stunningly seductive packmaster…and longing for a night with his mortal enemy.Nothing can stop Frankie Amato from defending her kind-or catching the rogue responsible for killing women in her territory. For that, this alpha female needs Jace’s skills more than she wants to admit. But as their investigation exposes evil truths, need burns into a passion that dare not be fulfilled. For to do so will have deadly consequences for them both…
Chapter One :
Jace McCannon palmed the Mateba and clicked back the gun's hammer. The cold grip panels of the modified revolver sat comfortably in his hand. Six silver bullets for a rogue werewolf. Limited shots. But he was feeling lucky.
He gripped the gun with both hands and lowered it to his side, slipping in and out of the shadows. The rank scent of garbage, car exhaust and piss wafted into his nose as he reached the alleyway. Ah, the sweet aroma of Rochester's slums. He ran his tongue over his teeth, jonesing for a cigarette to drown out the smell and steady the adrenaline buzz creeping through his veins. Damn, he wanted to find this son of a bitch.
Resting his back against a brick building, he paused and glanced up. The white moon stared down at the Earth, calling him. Heat prickled beneath his skin.
He wrenched his gaze from the tempting sky and forced himself into the moment. Inhaling deeply, he rushed around the corner and scanned the area, pointing his gun into the darkness. No one. No werewolves, no hobos. Damn, not even the prostitutes were roaming.
Not that he blamed them. Regular killings weren't anything to call home about—happened all the time. But this was different. Innocent women being found with their organs slung around their corpses, Jack-the-Ripper style. The worst part? Jace had no idea where to find the sick fuck responsible, and the thought of the young women's pain sent his blood boiling.
He explored the alley, gun still at the ready and eyes searching for any sign of movement. A rustling noise hissed from around the next corner. Jace held his gun tight and sneaked down the narrow passage toward it. The sound grew louder, and he quickened his pace. When he reached the bend he stopped, listening closely. He threw himself around the corner, gun ready and his finger on the trigger.
A plastic bag caught on a Dumpster swished in the light wind. He cursed under his breath. Maybe he wasn't so lucky tonight. He pushed his fingers through his hair. The cell phone jammed in the pocket of his jeans vibrated. He pulled out the annoying piece of shit and read the screen: David.
He jabbed his thumb into one of the buttons, hoping it was the right one, and shoved the phone to his ear. "Yeah?"
"Meeting in an hour." David's deep voice rumbled over the line.
Aw, hell. Jace shook his head. "Don't toy with me. I've got business."
"I'm not shittin' you, J. One hour, and you better show or Damon's gonna rip my head off. I told him I'd get you here."
Jace frowned. He hated being forced to carry a damn cell phone. He didn't enjoy people contacting him whenever they pleased. "It's nearly the full moon, David. This is my prime time. You know that."
"You don't have to preach to me. Damon's the one riding your ass like a Grand Canyon donkey, not me." David paused for a moment. "He's gonna want a report tonight."
"Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. I'll have something."
"Sure you hear me, and I like to dress up in tutus while my girl spanks me and calls me Big Daddy."
Jace smirked. "Hey, if that's what gets you off.."
"Shut it," David said. "You've gotta report tonight or Damon will go postal. So what are you gonna tell him?"
Jace glanced into the empty darkness surrounding him. "Same thing I told him last time—jack shit. I'm not opening my damn mouth until I've got their packmaster bound and chained, or, preferably, I'm carrying his head on a silver platter courtesy of my bare hands."
David let out a frustrated sigh. "I thought you said you had something."
"I do." Jace lowered his voice. It didn't matter that he was alone; some things he couldn't say aloud if he wanted to keep his sanity. "I've got a scent, and it's familiar, so I smell it everywhere. Trailing this monster's stink is about as much fun as shooting myself in the foot."
"You better believe it's something. But what do you expect me to do, David? Tell the whole damn division their werewolf hunter happens to be so good at his job because he's a friggin' half-breed?"
Silence answered him from the other end of the line. Another rustling sound blew through the alley, but Jace ignored the noise. "Look, I'll deal with this, all right? Forget about it. I'll be at the damn meeting with bells on and a smiling face, but let me do it on my own terms."
"Yeah, fine. I better see you there or the next time I'm around, I'll have a long rope and it'll be coming straight for your neck."
Jace huffed. "Talk to you later, Big Daddy."
"Yeah, you too sugar."
With a small click, the line went dead. Jace shoved the phone in his pocket again. The swishing sound continued, the noise growing. Jace rolled his eyes, ready to ball up the grocery bag and pitch it. He eyed the plastic.
Shit. The wind had stopped. The bag wasn't blowing.
The faint sound of footsteps echoed, and the rustling quieted. Jace lifted his revolver from his side, launching himself down the alley and around the corner. He held his gun tight, prepared to shoot.
Streetlights illuminated what lay in front of him. He stopped midrun and stared at the horror.
He gaped, all his breath escaping in one large rush. "Shit."
Blood. There was so much blood. Splattered everywhere. The light from the overhead lamps framed the corpse like spotlights at a play starring an innocent, mutilated victim. The girl's head hung crooked, touching her shoulder, mouth open and eyes lifeless. Her features were contorted in a look of pure terror. Her arms lay limp at what had once been her sides, and her legs were spread wide, with her pants and underwear wrapped around one ankle. The middle of her body had ceased to exist, ripped to shreds by what Jace knew were large canine teeth.
Anyone with a weak stomach would have tossed his cookies at first glance. Despite all the crazy shit Jace had seen in his years as a hunter for the Execution Underground, even his gut did a flip. What the hell was wrong with this guy? Guy? No, this killer wasn't a person. This sicko was subhuman, and not because he was a werewolf. This was beyond evil.
Jace fought the urge to punch his fist into the brick wall beside him. His rage overcame him, and the beast inside him longed to emerge. He growled, releasing the tension, and tried to calm himself. He needed to examine the body, and fast. If the police got here, he was screwed six ways to Sunday.
He knelt by the corpse. Bruises marred her forearms and neck. Based on their colors, they had definitely been made pre-mortem. She'd been dead at least thirty minutes. He breathed in, and underneath the overpowering smell of blood, the scent of sex lingered. She'd been raped before her death.
Power. That was what this freak was all about—power. He attacked young women, humans in their early twenties, who were no match for his supernatural strength. He preys on victims he knows he can take with ease. Deep down, he's a coward. And from the carnage of his attacks, this wasn't just about stealing women's sex or overpowering them. With this kind of blood display, these attacks were either personal or passionate, and Jace would bet on the second.
A sexual sadist. Anger excitation. It wasn't the sex that got this bastard off. It was the pain of these innocent women. Intestinal damage and blood loss: a slow death, so his victims suffered in front of his eyes. He attacks them as a wolf and violates them in human form as they die. The familiar anger built inside him again.
Jace pulled a pack of Marlboro Reds from his leather trench coat. He slipped one from the box and lit up. The smoke rushed into his lungs, the nicotine calming him instantly. This shit was going to kill him, but most days he didn't care.
A small amount of guilt rose in his chest as he stared down at the victim. Here he was, clearly not giving a rat's ass about his health or his life, with no family left to give a shit if he died. But he was living and breathing, while this innocent girl, who'd had a full happy life ahead of her, lay at his feet, violated and murdered. She'd had something to lose, people who would miss her.
He stared into the open cavity that had once been her chest. No heart. He eats their hearts when he's finished. Consumption shows a desire to keep part of the victim with him. No remorse. Jace grabbed the flask that always resided in his pocket. He unscrewed the cap and downed a long gulp of Bushmills Irish Whiskey. The liquor trickled down his throat in a warm rush. If this was any sign of how the night was going to go, he would need a lot more than the contents of the flask to keep his demons at bay.
He glanced at the dead girl again as he crouched at her side. He wracked his brain for any possible clues he could have missed. Careful to use only his sleeve and not leave a fingerprint, he lifted her hands and peered underneath her fingernails. No skin or fur. She hadn't put up much of a fight. Maybe the killer took her by surprise? Given his cowardly choice of weak victims, Jace wouldn't be surprised.
He would report to the Execution Underground and then leave things to his fellow hunters. Shane could use the voice distorter he'd rigged up to call in the crime, if need be. Jace had what he needed for his report, but he couldn't notify the beat cops himself, not until he was certain he wouldn't need to recheck the body. And it would take them a while to find her in the back alley like this, if they ever did.
As he stood, ready to go to the damn meeting, another scent came to him on the wind. He paused for a long moment.
Spinning so fast the world blurred, he had his gun out and the trigger pulled within seconds. A werewolf peeked its head out of the darkness as the bullet sped straight toward its head.
The wolf dodged the ammo and bolted from the alley. Jace dashed after his target as his cigarette fell from his lips and landed next to the girl's body. A werewolf's speed outranked a regular human's any day, but his boots clashed against the pavement as he tailed the monster with ease. The werewolf skidded sharply to the left with Jace on its heels, his pace never faltering. Adrenaline shot through his veins, charging him like a live wire.
He tapped the trigger of the Mateba and, aiming while he ran, he fired wide with purpose in mind, intentionally missing and using his silver bullets to herd the wolf. If he fired right, it turned left. He was careful, making each bullet count and ensuring he had one left for the kill.
One of Jace's shots ricocheted off the ground near the werewolf's feet. It jumped with a loud yelp and bounded into an alleyway. But he was prepared; he knew these back streets. He sprinted after the wolf. A smirk spread across his face as the monster ran into a dead end. It spun toward him and growled.
Right hand bracing his gun, he reached with his left and removed his silver dagger. When the wolf's golden eyes locked on the weapons, it backed into a corner, and Jace swore he heard it whimper before its growling continued. Stalking like a predator, he moved forward, ready to thrust the blade into the monster's heart. All his muscles tensed as he prepared for the animal to lunge at him. His whole body longed for a fight.
And damned if he wouldn't give this rapist mongrel the fight of its life.
Kait Ballenger is a full-time paranormal romance author, wife, bellydancer, graduate student, and soon-to-be-professor. She is the multi-published, award-winning author of the Execution Underground paranormal romance series. With a B.A in English from Stetson University, Kait is currently earning an M.F.A in Writing. Kait believes anything is possible with hard work and dedication. One day, she hopes to be a bestseller and to see her novels on the big screen. Look for the next two books in her page-turning Execution Underground series: Twilight Hunter, book one (August 2013) and Immortal Hunter, book two (April 2014), and don’t forget to check out Shadow Hunter, a prequel novella to the series featured in the After Dark anthology along NYT Bestseller Gena Showalter—now available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats. For more information, please visit www.kaitballenger.com or follow her on Twitter @kait_ballenger.
Twilight Hunter on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-Hunter-Execution-Underground-Ballenger/dp/0373777388/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1373240134&sr=1-2
Twilight Hunter on Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/twilight-hunter-kait-ballenger/1114504377?ean=9780373777389
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