by AC Arthur
Book 3 in the Shadow Shifters Series
They live in the shadows—half human, half beast—a powerful breed of shape-shifters who protect the civilized world from the deadliest of their kind…
Caprise is tall, beautiful, exotic. A goddess in the flesh. A dancer, when Caprise takes the stage, she feels the power she holds over men—especially the man known as X. He watches her night after night. He follows her with hungry eyes. And he knows her deepest, darkest secret—her true animal nature…
And falling in love with a Shadow Shifter is the most dangerous game of all.
Xavier has always lived for the thrill of the hunt—and the pleasure of the kill. But now, as a shifter working for the FBI, he is dedicated to keeping a leash on the world’s most savage predators. Keeping an eye on a gorgeous creature like Caprise is part of his job. But when a deadly new breed of half-human killer marks Caprise as his mate, Xavier must fight tooth and claw to save her—or risk losing the most sensual and exciting woman he’s ever known…
Book 3 in the Shadow Shifters Series
His mouth opened wide, the scream buried somewhere deep inside him. But it was there. Years later the scream would manifest into a roar that matched the deadliest animal in the rain forest. That made him powerful, stronger and deadlier than his tormentor. It gave him control. And with that control the pain of abuse was buried, the pleasure of the kill was born.
Xavier Santos-Markland stood naked, palms pressed against the Indian-stone-tiled wall of his shower, while water drizzled down over his bowed head. He let its simmering heat ease the tension that seemed forever embedded in his muscles. His teeth clenched as memories poured off him just like the stream of water, his mind forever occupied by the dark clips of his past.
It hurt. That was the first and most prevalent memory. The pain, both inside and out, of that very first time, the first day of his nightmare.
And it was unnatural. Another fact he realized instantly. He’d cried out, his scream loud to his little-boy ears, almost earth-shattering. But no one came to his rescue. Nobody heard him.
He was too small to fight, too weak to do any real damage or even to defend himself. As time passed, the pain increased, lodging itself like a tumor in his chest, growing steadily with each assault. He craved revenge, even then. Not just revenge, but justice. The boy in him hated every breath he took, every sunrise he saw, every morning he rose again. Because they all meant it would happen again. There was no one to stop it, no one who knew.
Then one of those mornings years later, he woke to a change. To his own ears his heartbeat sounded different; his blood pumped a little faster in his veins. His undershirts didn’t fit, his pants were too tight on his thighs. In school when he talked, his voice sounded different, deeper. And when it was time for the pain to come again, he was ready.
It happened so fast: In the blink of an eye the tables were turned. The tormentor became the victim, the inflictor became the inflicted.
The rage was released with teeth so long and so sharp, claws so vicious, roars so powerful. Blood rained from all around, its acidic stench filling his nostrils, rushing through his system like a tsunami. Death became the answer to the pain. And he became the killer.
* * *
X had the perfect view.
Tits and ass—T&A—were bountiful in Athena’s, one of Washington, DC’s, premier adult nightclubs. When he’d walked in, the two bouncers standing on either side of the doorway had looked him up and down. They even frisked him to make sure he wasn’t carrying a weapon. Little did they know he didn’t need one—he was a weapon. A hostess, which X thought was a nice touch for the establishment, walked him to his seat. Five feet, ten inches tall, tiny waist, thick thighs, rounded ass, and breasts that made his mouth water—just what the doctor ordered for his state of mind.
Which he’d rank close to being fucked completely up.
He’d consumed an entire bottle of Hennessy while sitting alone in his apartment. But because he was a Shadow Shifter, he wasn’t falling-on-his-face drunk. Instead he was mellow to the point of wanting to pull this physically perfect female onto his lap and give her every pent-up stroke his dick had stored for the last few months. He was in that place that he lingered in sometimes after the dream. The lonely dark space that threatened to suck him in if he didn’t get ahold of something tangible, something that could handle all that was locked inside him.
X slid into the booth directly to the right side of the stage and watched as the hostess placed a slim drink list and a napkin in front of him, leaning forward so her ample breasts jiggled in his face.
She had a ready smile, thin lips, and eyes that looked like she was used to having sex—normal sex. That definitely was not what X had in mind. Not tonight.
No, after the day he’d had he wanted—was at the point now where he desperately needed—something more.
So he ordered another Hennessy, straight, and sat back in the booth, waiting for the next act to hit the stage. He watched with one hand on his thigh, close to his semi-erect dick, all the T&A on display, because as far as appetizers went, Athena’s was doing a pretty damn good job.
The lights dimmed, and members of the audience began cheering. The next act was about to begin. There came a flurry of lights dancing around the room in slow motion as the first notes of a sultry tune began to play. The spotlight stopped on the pole, shined to perfection. The crowd went wild, jumping up out of their seats already. X remained perfectly still.
He’d picked up a scent.
Her leg appeared first, a strappy silver number with heels that looked too high to be legal. X’s gaze followed her calves down to her toned thighs as she’d kicked her leg out to line up with the pole. He shifted in his seat, adjusting his growing length.
The spotlight spread wider, the music’s sexy slow rhythm pulsing throughout the room. Her thighs were killer, the plump globe of her ass only slightly covered in silver sparkling boy shorts as she jumped onto the pole and made a twisting move that put her entire body upside down, her legs splitting in midair. The crowd roared, but X tuned out their sounds. Dollar bills were already flying through the air, but X didn’t reach into his pocket to retrieve any of his own. Instead his eyes stayed trained on the body. She had a milky, heavily creamed–coffee complexion, the hoop ring threading through her navel sparkling as if in response to the crowd. He had no idea what the material was that was able to hold her heavy breasts inside the bra that matched her shorts, but the plump mounds gyrated with her movement, giving everyone a view of what could possibly be her most prized possessions.
His breath froze, his gut clenching when his gaze fixed on her face. She’d just turned so that she was upright; long, ebony hair slid down her back like a cloak. And even though her makeup was plentiful, making her look like an exotic temptation, there was no mistaking who she was.
His fists clenched on his thighs as his dick threatened to break free of the zipper that held it back. Questions filled his mind, but Caprise alone filled his sight. He couldn’t look away, couldn’t move to grab her ass off that stage, and couldn’t open his mouth—now salivating with lust—to yell at her.
Once again she bounced on the pole, this time extending her legs forward, then opening them so her crotch was displayed—luckily covered by the shorts, he thought with only minor relief. That was short-lived. In the next second she was off the pole, ripping the shorts from her ass to reveal a tiny string with more sparkles disappearing into the curvy cheeks of her ass.
A man tried to jump onto the stage, money in hand. His mouth was hanging open, eyes all but bulging out. X felt his cat roar and slapped a hand on the table in front of him. A bouncer grabbed the man by the collar and yanked him back, dropping him into his seat. X let out a quick sigh. When his gaze returned to the stage her bra had been removed to reveal pasties on her nipples, more sparkling, as if that were what he was supposed to look at. She was basically naked, he thought, swallowing hard in an effort to regain his senses. When her hands grabbed her breasts and she leaned over shaking them to the crowd, X’s sharp teeth pricked his lower lip. He wanted her. The thought hit him like a punch to the gut. She licked her finger, traced it along the small patch of material at her juncture, and X had to drag a hand down his face.
The rest of the show was lost on him as he’d stood and made his way to the side of the stage. There was a bouncer there giving him the don’t-even-try-it look. On impulse, X flashed his FBI badge and the bouncer, intelligent character that he was, took a step back. Vaguely he realized her music had ended. He was more focused on the fact that she was sashaying her naked ass off the stage. Because the bouncer had taken a hike, X was able to slip through the STAFF ONLY door and was right there the moment Caprise stepped those sex-on-stilts shoes of hers on the floor.
He grabbed her by the arm. “Don’t say a word,” he warned when she looked up at him in surprise. “Not one fuckin’ word!”