Sheryl Nantus Blood of the Pride

ISBN 13: 9780373002092

Blood of the Pride

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9780373002092: Blood of the Pride
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When a severed rabbit's paw is delivered to her office, outcast cat shifter Rebecca Desjardin recognizes the summons home. One of their own has been murdered—and a shocking photo has been published in a local tabloid—and her Pride needs Rebecca, now a private investigator, to track down the killer.

Investigative reporter Brandon Hanover wants to find out who slipped the photo of the half-shifted catwoman under his door, marking him as a suspect in her death. Determined to stay one step ahead of the sexy journalist, Rebecca reluctantly agrees to partner with him to find the real murderer. But as their mutual attraction heats up, Rebecca finds it harder and harder to keep Brandon from discovering the existence of the shifter society—and her own true nature.

When the search leads them back to the Pride, Rebecca must attempt to Change for the first time in years to face the killer—and save the man she loves....

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About the Author:

Sheryl Nantus was born in Montreal, Canada and grew up in Toronto, Canada. She met Martin Nantus through the online fanfiction community in 1993 and moved to the United States in 2000.

In 2011 she won two Second-Place Prism Awards from the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA. In 2013 she won a Third-Place Prism Award for the first book of her paranormal series, "Blood of the Pride"

www.sherylnantus.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:



I smelled the blood before I had a chance to look for it, the tangy, dense scent landing on the back of my tongue. Forcing the familiar taste to the back of my mind, I opened the office door and studied the man sitting in the chair opposite my desk. He was clean, dressed smartly in a white dress shirt and dark blue pants. He didn't get up as I approached the desk, walking around the chipped wooden edges I had unsuccessfully tried to hide with walnut oil.

"Ms. Desjardin." Harry Cloches bobbed his head up and down as I sat down in the old oaken chair. "Sorry for being early, but I wanted to get the information I requested as soon as possible." He waved at the door. "Your front door was open when I arrived, so I thought I'd come into your office and wait in here." Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. "I hope you don't mind."

My nose twitched as I rocked back, urging a creak from the worn old wood. A small box rested on the left side of the desk. It hadn't been there when I had gone upstairs last night after locking the doors and checking the windows. The brown paper wrapper encased the palm-sized box fully, but moisture was already beginning to fight through the paper.

I picked up the file folder from the top of the small pile to my right and opened it up, spreading the black and white photographs across the desk in a half-circle display. Cloches leaned forward, his pink tongue darting out across dry lips as he squinted to see the images.

"Your wife is not cheating on you." My finger tapped the image of the brunette exiting a coffee shop, latte in hand. "She's actually working a second job."

His forehead furrowed. "A second job?"

"Your ten-year anniversary is coming up in a few months. She's saving up for a cruise." I could smell the nervous sweat on him, mixed with the scent of another woman. It took a concentrated effort to stop my nose from twitching.

"Oh." He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face dry. "I just thought..."

I sighed, trying not to show my disgust with the man. "She's not having an affair, Mr. Cloches. Your fears were unfounded and your marriage is secure." At least on her end.

I pulled the typed invoice out from the bottom of the file and pushed it across the table. He stared at it while as I gathered up the photographs and closed the folder. "This is my bill. Please send the balance due within thirty days."

The bald man mopped his face again, the damp fabric barely able to contain the moisture now. It stank of fear. I spied a small trace of lipstick just below his right ear. "It was.It looked like." He shook his head, trying to grasp the reality I had tossed in his face.

I got to my feet and motioned toward the door, urging the overweight man out of his chair. He staggered to his feet, staring at my bill as if I'd tossed a live cobra into his hands. "She's not having an affair, which is what you contracted me to investigate. If you wish to engage my services for another matter we'll have to discuss it later." I glanced at my watch. "I'm sorry, but I have another client due any minute." My cloying smile accompanied him into the hallway toward the front door. "You understand, privacy issues and all that."

Cloches nodded, tucking the damp cloth back into his pocket. One hand tugged at the tie threatening to strangle him, pulling it loose. "It just seemed like..." The fingers waggled in the air as if he were trying to summon fairies to carry him away from this existence. He glanced down at the page in his hand, his eyes widening as they hit the bottom line. "Oh my." The pink tongue flicked out again. "I didn't know it would cost so much."

I pressed my lips together tight, suppressing the urge to start smacking the moron around. What he had wanted was for me to justify his own infidelity so he could obtain a quickie divorce and I hadn't done so. Still, if he didn't pay the bill I could and would drag him into court. I wasn't wealthy enough to let welchers get away with it, and certainly not this bastard.

"If you have any questions please have your lawyer contact me." I moved closer, herding him out the door. "Good day to you."

I closed the door behind him and snapped the dead-bolt across, locking both my office and my home. Some may find it awkward to live and work in the same building, but to me it was sort of comforting. There's nothing like padding downstairs in your big fuzzy bunny slippers at three in the morning when you have a good idea and want to get to work. Or breaking early for the day when there's a rocking matinee down at the retro cheap theaters.

I sat down at my desk and stared at the box. You don't just rip a cryptic box open without inspecting it, especially when there's something dead inside.

The brown paper covered the box with enough clear tape securing it to cover the CN Tower and then some. It wasn't enough to stop a small leak in one corner, just beginning to work through the tape and paper to spread across my desk. The crimson stain had begun to travel upward as well, edging toward the top of the box. What wasn't there was as important as what was.

No return address. No stamps. The person dropping it off managed to carefully pick my front door lock before sneaking in and placing it on my desk. Quite a feat considering I had been twenty feet away in my bedroom at the top of the stairs and I don't sleep that soundly.

It sure as heck wasn't Cloches. He wasn't smart enough. All he had wanted was validation of his affair. The guy couldn't break into a loaf of bread without a chainsaw.

I opened my desk drawer and pulled out my Mac-Gyver knife—well, technically it was a Swiss Army knife, but it had enough gadgets and things hanging off that I had renamed it.

The blade slipped easily under the paper and sliced clean around the box as I peeled away the wet covering. When it fell away I stared at the cardboard box and the larger scarlet stain by one corner. It wasn't human blood. I knew that scent intimately.

I flipped the lid up, holding my breath as the stagnant air escaped into the room. It stung my nostrils, bringing back old memories of early-morning hunts and of fresh-cut grass wet with morning dew.

A rabbit's foot lay on a bed of paper towels, the white fur stained with fresh blood. This wasn't your regular rabbit's foot, clean cut with a dainty little chain secured at one end and nothing at all to remind you this once was a living creature.

This was a fresh kill. The nails were dirty with soil that smelled of fresh grass and hay, the foot suddenly shattered by a hatchet that cut through bone and sinew with a single blow. I sniffed the foot instinctively, placing the rabbit. It wasn't a wild one. It had been born in a hutch and died in a barn. I knew exactly which barn.

The farm. This was a call to come home.

Great. As if my day hadn't started off with enough bullshit.

I flipped the blade shut and stuffed the knife into the front right pocket of my jeans. The cell phone clipped onto my belt, sliding against my white blouse. It was as cheap a model as you can get—I didn't need internet access or the ability to watch music videos.

The stairs up to my living area took only a few seconds to climb as I leaped over the rickety top step masquerading as a cheap alarm system. I grabbed my black leather jacket off the coat rack then started back down. My roommate paused at the top of the stairs as I descended, trilling her curiosity.

"Jazz, you're in charge until I get back." I waggled my index finger at the thin white street cat. "Don't let in any strangers."

She began to wash her face with the usual haughtiness I had come to expect from a younger sister. I shook my head and checked the lock on my way out. Miniscule scratches on the metal spoke of a darned smooth hand, a professional. I locked it behind me, pushing once to make sure the deadbolt worked.

My red Jeep Cherokee sat in the small parking lot behind the house, hidden from casual pedestrians strolling by on the street. I liked it that way—it kept the car safe from idiots who figured that if you were stupid enough to leave your car on a Parkdale street you deserved to lose your CD player. It was a narrow and dangerous alley to get out of, however, and the numerous scrapes and dents on the brick walls and the matching ones on my car illustrated how many times I had miscalculated.

The traffic leading out of Toronto was light. I skipped onto the Gardner Expressway parallel to Lake Ontario and out to the northbound 400 Highway with ease—a good thing, since my mind wasn't on driving and I really didn't need any more stress. Weaving out from behind a slow moving tractor-trailer and sliding into the slipstream of a black Porsche that saw the posted speed limit as a suggestion rather than the law, I tried to figure out why I'd been summoned.

I had been forced out of my home more than two decades ago and now they had sent the equivalent of a draft notice, calling me back. That couldn't be good. The Pride was adamant that no contact be made with outcasts and I hadn't seen a whiff of that rule changing over the years, twenty years with nary a hint that just outside Toronto a whole community existed in secret for generations, long before I had come on the scene. Now they wanted me back. That smelled worse than the rabbit's foot.
The farm was pretty far off the beaten path. I pulled off the main highway and slid along gravel roads for a good half-hour into the Ontario hinterland. As I got closer and closer my muscles began to tense, my body getting ready for a fight. I owed them nothing. Still, they had called me and if nothing else, I was damned curious as to why the Pride had broken their code of silence.

I slammed on the brakes and spun the Jeep down the side road that could have easily been mistaken for a bike trail. If you didn't know where to turn you could easily shoot by, ending up at Wasaga Beach with no idea of where you had gone wrong. I hadn't been down this road in years and it was as if I had never left. The same rickety mailbox sat at the entrance with Ham-mersmythe's name on it. The same long drive up the dusty road that had never been paved and probably never would be. The same farmhouse with the same ugly paint job—a dark red that was peeling in more spots than it wasn't, showing off the numerous coats that had been applied over the years by delinquent kids doing penance.

It looked like any other farmhouse in North America.

It held more secrets than the Pentagon's deepest bunkers.

I pulled into the gravel parking lot. The SUVs and tricked-out trucks made my little Jeep look like a Hot Wheels toy. I picked the spot closest to the road in case I needed a fast getaway and then got out of the car. The scents charged into my consciousness—freshly cut grass mixed with the ever-present manure and straw, and more than a single barn cat seeking out mice. And, if I wasn't mistaken, an apple pie or three cooled near a window, making my mouth water even though I had just eaten.

"Reb?" Karen stood on the porch, shading her eyes from the noon sun. "Rebecca?" Her face was suntanned to the point of becoming leather, her white-and-gray hair pulled into a short ponytail held back with a rubber band. She untied the apron around her waist and neck and tossed it over the back of one of the rocking chairs as I approached.

She opened her arms wide. "It's been such a long time."

I accepted the hug, holding back just a bit. My aunt hadn't objected to my being declared an outcast due to my "disability" and, while two decades had taken the edge off of the pain of being rejected by blood kin as well as by my family, it still didn't mean I had forgiven and forgotten. Karen hadn't aged well and I smiled inwardly, taking a bit of pleasure in that fact.

"They're inside waiting for you." She released me, a worried look on her face. "I guess it's something really bad."

"Bad enough to call me." I gave a low chuckle. "Yep, I figured that one out."

One dirty running shoe scuffed the wooden deck. "You're looking good."

"Thanks." I didn't return the compliment. "Excuse me, I think I better get inside before they call a hunt on me."

The older woman flinched, a gesture so minute most people would have missed it. I didn't. I opened the screen door and walked through, turning my back on her. "See you later." I was lying, of course.

"Stop in the kitchen first. Get yourself a drink." The shout carried through to where I stood in the hallway. A series of light jackets hung on the old wooden pegs set into the wall. I didn't add mine to the stack.

The smell of cooked apple, cinnamon and way too much sugar grew stronger as I stepped to the left into the kitchen. On the spacious table sat five cooling pies, the steam still escaping through the slits in the light-brown dough. Next to them stood a row of bottles—rum, vodka, whiskey. Picking up one of the empty glasses, I filled it halfway with rum, adding some cola from a nearby fresh can. The pies were tempting but there wasn't a fork or knife in sight and I didn't think I had room to shovel the whole thing into my mouth quickly enough.

"Good God." The woman's voice spun me around, my lips on the glass.

Ruth Huckleton stood there, cradling a baby in her arms. Her dark red hair hadn't lost any color over the years, nor had she lost the sparkle in her eyes that made all children love her. "I heard they had called, but..." She gestured toward the living room with a nod. "I didn't expect you to answer, never mind come all the way out here. Not after." A squalling cry came from behind her, invoking a deep sigh and a knowing grin. "And, as usual, David can't keep himself dry for a minute." She turned around and walked briskly into the living room, bouncing the yellow-haired baby on her hip. He responded by grabbing one of the loose tails of her apron, stuffing it into his mouth and chewing on it with the enthusiasm I would have reserved for the pie.

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