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Pinked: The Pierced Series, #3

Pinked: The Pierced Series, #3

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Pinked: The Pierced Series, #3

Length:
342 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 15, 2017
ISBN:
9781301988464
Format:
Book

Description

Negotiating the relentless pull of the mate bond is tough.

Especially when one is still traumatized by memories of childhood sexual abuse and the other point blank refuses to acknowledge (out loud at least) that there is a mate bond at all.

While Pierce tries to deal with the aftereffects of her new and "unpierced" self, Lucas relives the week leading up to that fateful night when he was forced into doing the one thing he vowed he never would - inflict his disease on another human being.

As if he didn't hate himself enough already.

As she attempts to come to terms with the new her - the Pierce that is stronger, faster and less reliant on her former "dependencies" - she begins to settle into an unfamiliar, yet longed for, "normal" life with her newfound circle of family and friends. Pierce is finally able to do what her maker never could - embrace, accept and thrive from what she has become.

With Pierce's not-so-subtle help, Lucas comes face to face with the fact that maybe it's time for him to start coming to terms with this "affliction" too.

But it is not going to be easy.

Especially when they come into contact with another pack for the first time.

Publisher:
Released:
Feb 15, 2017
ISBN:
9781301988464
Format:
Book

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Pinked - J. C. Mells

PROLOGUE

Lucas (Past)

Lucas Balak, or Balak as he preferred to be called, found it hard to keep up with his friend Jake Rumson as they head through the dense woodland.  This had little to do with the steady pace Jake set and much more to do with the difficulty of negotiating through soft, deep, powdery snow with a heavy limp.  Add to that the fact the cold weather always seemed to make Balak's leg feel that much worse.

Not that he was going to let his best friend see that he was struggling though.

Jake slowed down before finally coming to a complete stop.  He held his hand up to signal for the slower-paced Balak to do the same.  He must have heard something up ahead.

Balak made an effort to control his breathing, not wanting Jake to notice how much their little jaunt up that last hill had taken it out of him.  The fog of frozen, white air, so much thicker in front of his mouth than Jake's, was going to give him away.

If the tall man with the obnoxiously large Stetson noticed, he didn’t say anything.  That was Jake.  He refused point-blank to treat Balak like the cripple he was.

Jake moved forward a few paces, motioning for him to stay still.  Whatever had caused him to stop was obviously not obliging him by making any further noise.  He motioned for Balak to come up and stand next to him.

It must have been an animal or something, he whispered, making sure he was both facing Balak and that his mouth was close to his ear to prevent his voice from carrying.  The cabin is about half a click north of here.  When we get nearer, I'm going to have you approach from the east, while I go west.  We enter the house together, understood?

Copy that.

Also Bal, he continued, The target is not alone.  His wife and two kids are with him.  They may or may not still be alive. 

Balak nodded to him to show he’d understood.  Jake would take out the target, and he would prioritize finding the civilians.

Jake turned and continued on their original path.  Balak followed close behind for now, his throbbing leg re-energized by the short three-minute break.  Come to think of it, that had probably been Jake’s intention in the first place.

Fifteen minutes later Jake gave the signal to break right, and they parted ways.

Alone for the first time since they’d left the jeep at least two kilometers down the mountain, Balak allowed his leg to drag a little more than before.  He noticed the terrain was leveling out a little in this direction in contrast to the slight incline in the direction Jake headed.  A deliberate move on Jake's part he was sure. 

Balak himself was the one who’d insisted he was up for this job once Jake was done insisting he come.  Both of them were so sure that he was ready and that his leg wasn’t going to be a hindrance.  But the relief of letting it drag outweighed the downside of the increased limp slowing down his progress.  Jake wouldn’t go in until Balak got there anyway. 

Gammy leg notwithstanding – backup was backup.

Through the trees, he could finally see his first glimpse of the log cabin.  The woods that surrounded him were deathly quiet.  There wasn’t any kind of wildlife noise at all that you’d expect in a forest such as this one – not even the sound of birds.  It was eerie and Balak began to feel uneasy, which wasn’t the norm for him on these types of missions.  That was back in his army days though - pre-leg injury.  There’d been noises behind him in the forest, but it seemed that the nearer he got to the house, the quieter it became. 

That did not bode well.

Balak took a deep breath as he flicked the safety off the Glock 21 he’d been holding in his right hand since the car.  With his left he reached up behind his shoulder and wrapped his gloved fingers around the handle sticking out from under his army fatigues.  He slowly pulled the machete from its back holster.  The face of the thick blade reflected the dimming late afternoon sunlight off all the surrounding snow.  It was coated with pure silver to match the bullets in the handgun.

If you missed the head, shooting a crazed werewolf in wolf form full of silver will slow it down and eventually kill it – but not necessarily before it had a chance to maul you to death.  Following those shots by swiftly removing its head with a machete is guaranteed to thwart the werewolf’s immediate plans to rip you to shreds. 

Killing an unarmed infected werewolf in human form was fractionally easier, but Balak doubted their target would be so obliging.

Sticking close to the trees to conceal his presence, Balak made his way to the edge of the forest line from where he could get his first real view of the cabin and its immediate surroundings.  He also noted the direction the current breeze was coming from and made sure to be standing upwind of it.  Of course, if the rogue wolf was anywhere near him and outside the house, he probably would have heard Balak coming already. 

To his immediate right, there was a small shed.  The door stood ajar and he cautiously opened it further using the end of his machete.  It was evidently a storage unit for the summer patio furniture.  He could see a couple of Adirondack chairs as well as a few other gardening tools and such.  The space was small and there was no way there could be anyone hiding in it. 

A crazed and demented werewolf didn’t hide anyway.

Balak moved on past the shed and towards the main house.  This was a small hunting lodge – probably with a kitchen and living room combo area and a couple of bedrooms off of that central space.  The side of the cabin that he now faced had a window but no doors, so he was fairly certain he was looking at the outside wall of a bedroom.

He made as little noise as possible as he crept up to the window, which he noticed was cracked open about two inches along the bottom.  There was no sign of Jake yet, but that was to be expected, as he’d be approaching from the front.  His instructions were that Balak wasn’t to go in without him.  This was his job and his show.  Balak was just along for the ride.  This was something Jake would normally handle on his own, and if it weren’t for Jake’s persistent need to get his friend back into the world of the living, as he called it, Balak wouldn’t be here at all.  He knew he’d hear it when Jake made his move.  When he did, that would be the signal for him to come help.

Balak looked up, and the windowsill was about a foot and a half too high for him to look into.  As he stood there deciding what direction to head in next, right or left, he was suddenly aware that the creak, creak noise he’d attributed to the wind and moving tree branches, was actually coming out of the window and from within the room above him.

It was a steady, ominous creaking sound, like a rocking chair moving on wooden floorboards maybe?  He could only hear it at all because of the window being open slightly.  This didn’t, however, help to explain what was causing it.

Suddenly, seeing into that room became a priority.

Balak looked around and while still a little eerie, there was nothing moving, nothing around, no sign that anyone was even home at the moment.  Just that steady sound coming from above him and inside.

Leaning his machete against the side of the cabin, he went back and quietly took one of the Adirondack chairs out of the shed.  Luckily for him, it was made of some sort of manmade plastic substance and not the traditional heavy wooden slats, so he could carry it with one hand.  There was no way he was putting his gun down this close to the house.

Placing the chair under the window Balak paused before stepping up onto it.  The creaking sound hadn’t stopped.

Putting virtually all of his weight onto his good leg, he slowly raised himself up and positioned himself to look in.  He peered in through the two-inch crack of the window opening.  There were curtains on the other side, but they weren’t closed all the way.  The sun was directly above him and the glare of it on the frosted window pane only gave him access to the fact that there was a dark shape outlined to his right – the back of a chair in front of the window was his guess. 

The room was mostly dark, with the curtains almost completely closed, but Balak could see there was a small light on – maybe a nightlight – at the other side of the room farthest away from where he was now. 

Now that he was so close and the air outside so crisp and clean, Balak couldn’t help but notice the strong coppery scent emanating from the cracked window. He knew immediately that it was blood – and a lot of it.  There was something else along with it; something he’d smelled before in his past - something he didn’t recognize immediately.

Through the thin, curtained, pillar of light visible through the blurred window pane he could see a large object swinging slowly.  It was moving ominously back and forth making the dim light intermittent.  Whatever it was, this was the source of the creaks.

He shifted his weight forward to get a better look.

Balak gave a sharp intake of breath when he saw it was a body, hung upside down and suspended from the overhead beam by its feet.  He was pretty sure this human pendulum had been decapitated, which was why it hadn’t been immediately recognizable. He thought at least one, if not both, of the arms were missing too.

He took a deep breath to get his emotions under control.  Balak had seen a lot worse in his time, but he’d been out of the business for a few years – as well as out of it for most of those.  His reaction was human, but his rustiness was embarrassing.  He forced himself to keep it together.

They’d obviously been too late to save the wife.  That was the only person it could be hanging in there.  The body was slight, but too big to be a child’s.

The creaking noise was what he’d focused on, but now that Balak had established its gruesome source, he immediately noticed another noise, like a scraping sound, coming from the same room but over to the right and outside of his current field of vision.

Leaning in close to the bottom of the window, he put his eye right up to the small two-inch by four-inch rectangular gap formed by the window frame and curtains.

The scraping stopped.

Balak paused, holding his breath.

When nothing happened and the scraping noise didn’t resume, he decided the best idea was to get a better look inside the room.

Still looking through the tiny rectangle, he slowly reached up to move the curtain slightly.  The chair that he’d noticed outlined through the curtain and frosted glass now came into his line of sight.  It wasn’t the back of the chair as he’d originally assumed.  The chair was instead turned to face the window, as if someone had a penchant for sitting in it and gazing out over the forest landscape. 

Only today no one was sitting in the chair at all. 

Instead, there was positioned in it – or rather all over it - the gruesome ripped up remains of what he immediately understood to be a baby no more than two-years old.

Human entrails. This was the source of the second smell.

Balak turned his head and threw up.

He immediately stilled himself to see if his actions, although instinctually executed quietly, had alerted the target to his presence. 

Nothing.  Not a sound.

He straightened himself up and put his eye close to the window again and peered through the small opening.

And straight into two red, glowing eyes – inches away from his face. 

Balak was staring directly into the face of a mad man, crouched on the other side of the window.  He couldn’t tell in that split second, whether the madman's eyes were really glowing red, or only appeared to be doing so due to the fact his face was completely covered in dark, red, blood.  Nor could Balak help his loud gasp at the unexpected shock, nor stop himself from the reflex action of taking a step back.

Everything that happened next felt like it happened in slow motion.  His weight shifted to his gimp leg, which immediately caused him to lose balance.  His arms wind milled in the brisk air as he fell off the chair and landed flat on his back.  While the snow might have softened the fall somewhat, it still knocked all the air out of his lungs on impact – as well as the gun from his hand.

A crunching noise, like bones twisting, came from above.  It sounded ominously like what Balak imagined a person shifting to animal form might sound, and he’d already flipped over onto his stomach and was scrambling towards the still-leaning machete.

It was inches out of his reach when the crash of broken glass sounded from above him and the hostile, who was now in full wolf form, landed directly on Balak's back, knocking the breath out of his body for a second time.  He never reached his weapon.

The weight of the large animal on him prevented him from drawing in the air his lungs so desperately sought.  But none of that mattered in the end anyway, as the crazed wolf's powerful jaws closed around the side of Balak's neck and ripped his throat out in one swift and easy move.

The last thing he heard before blacking out was a gun firing repeatedly and Jake screaming bloody murder.

And then Balak woke up, gasping for breath; sweat-drenched and muscles tensed. It was a nightmare that didn’t visit him as much as it did a few years ago – but still often enough to never let him have a hope of forgetting. 

Not that he ever would forget that is.

How can anyone ever forget the day that they were turned into a werewolf?  Turned into the very thing he’d been sent to kill.

PART ONE

CHAPTER 1 - Got to love Fate and Her sense of humor.

LUCAS (Past)

Going somewhere?  It was all Lucas Balak could think of to say.  Her appearance, or rather her face, had taken him aback for a moment. 

It wasn’t as if he was the wordiest person in the world either.

This girl with the spiky, white-blonde hair and all the scary silver in her face couldn’t possibly be the source of that scent he’d picked up inside the bar – could she?

Balak watched her eyes start at his boots and nervously flit their way up, pausing briefly on his tattoos and then the logo on his T-shirt, before they returned to his face again.

Damn, those eyes were blue.  Damn, that’s a lot of silver.

Her interest in tattoos should come as no surprise when considering all the metal in her face.  He was sure the Sexy Bitch glittering from his chest had her slightly baffled though.

He had Napoleon and Isabelle to thank for his never-ending source of gay-themed T-shirts.  Napoleon, his sister Louise's gay just-turned-seventeen-year-old ward and Isabelle her very pregnant best friend.  Pregnant with wolf twins.  The latter was the reason she’d ended up in their two-bit town in the first place.

Despite the fact that the alley that the girl-freak and he were standing in stank of piss and garbage, Balak inhaled deeply to confirm what he already suspected was fact.  Yes, this freak-show-on-legs was the source of that mind-blowingly delicious smell from inside.

Freak show not only because of the piercings in her face - but also because she’d actually paused to talk to an imaginary friend - mid fight.

Now he really did want to laugh.  The irony of the whole situation was just perfect.  So fitting, so apropos.  So...him.

Fate had, once again, decided to fuck with his life.  Or what was left of it.  It hadn’t been enough to put him in the middle of that snowy forest at the wrong time and have him contract this incurable disease that made him a potential threat to, well, anyone and everyone. She was now torturing him with this incredible smell.  A smell that had got his libido worked up in ways it hadn’t been capable of in what felt like forever.  Since even before the turn, if truth be told.  And then what happens? She encases the source of that heavenly smell in enough silver to give him third-degree burns – if not kill him – if he came too near or touched it for too long. 

Got to love Fate and Her sense of humor.

Somewhere scratching around at the back of his head was the word mate.  No, that would just be too crazy, wouldn’t it? 

Balak had done a little reading on the subject and apparently real wolves have an irresistible, instinctual, draw to their mates.  Did the same apply to werewolves?  Was that even possible?  The whole idea was ridiculous.  The fact that he was even thinking about this crap at all was mind-blowing.  Balak didn't do the whole me wolf; me go learn about the culture thing.  And why should he when stewing in his own vat of self-loathing was oh so delicious?

Of course, making his potential mate a silver-covered, deranged, Goth, butch lesbian look-a-like that apparently talked to herself, well, Fate must be rolling on the floor laughing Her ass off at that one.

She was probably still laughing hysterically when that same psycho bitch shot him twice and left him for dead a few minutes later.

***

He came to in a motel room, his mouth so dry you could have filmed the sequel to Lawrence of Arabia in it.

Oh good, Bal.  You’re awake.  Nap’s face entered his line of vision.  The kid was also eating Doritos – Cool Ranch flavored by the smell of his breath.  Want a chip?  He held the bag up near Balak's face as he spoke.

He’ll be thirsty, Naphead.  Jake’s voice came from somewhere out of Balak’s current line of sight, addressing Napoleon by his pet name for him; one meant as a stand-in for the term bonehead.  I think getting him something to lubricate his parched throat might be more appropriate, don’t you?

Jake, Balak's closest friend - his only friend really - since grade school, had always presented himself as if he was a character from an Elmore Leonard novel.  With his penchant for western attire, it sort of worked.

Nap’s head disappeared from view, and Balak slowly sat up, a little weak still from his injuries, but not so groggy he couldn’t remember being shot at all.

Of course, the first thing that jumped into his mind was the girl.  Or rather, her smell.  The girl herself was a hot mess.  He’d be better off if he never laid eyes on her again.

Did you get the girl?  Yep, he apparently couldn’t stop himself from going there.

Shit.

Napoleon returned with a bottle of water, which he handed to him and then sat down on the bed adjacent to the one Balak was in.

Oh, you lost your watch...again.  What is it with you and watches, man?  Nap chuckled.  It's a good thing Jake keeps you in good supply. 

Over the years, with all the shifting, Balak had gone through more watches than he could count.  It became yet another in-joke that he was indirectly part of - as in, getting a watch from either Jake or Napoleon every birthday or Christmas, was a riot for them.  He didn't find it quite as amusing.

Balak didn’t have the energy to point out to Napoleon that as he’d been passed out at the time, if he lost his watch from shifting, it should be thought of as his care-giver's mistake and not his.

Jake sat over at the table near the door to the small, shabby but clean room.  Don’t get too comfortable there, Naphead.  You’re on sustenance patrol now that Bal is awake.

Nap got up and walked over to Jake, his hand out.  Jake pulled out two one hundred dollar bills and placed them in the opened palm.  This is for burgers, Naphead, so no side-stops to the leather bar we passed a few blocks down.

Nap rolled his eyes. If you keep insisting on teasing me about my sexual preference, at least have the decency to distinguish between a twink and a leather queen.  While I may be considered as the former in some circles, I'm definitely not into the latter, as could be testified by the fact that the only leather items I own are shoes.  With a flick of his wrist he gave both men an all-encompassing, yet exaggeratedly effeminate wave as he sashayed out of the room, closing the door a little more loudly than was necessary behind him.

With a wide grin still plastered on his face from his banter with Napoleon, Jake focused on his recovering friend now. 

How are you feeling, Kiddo? 

Although technically Balak was older, Jake had started calling him that ever since it became apparent Balak had begun to age much slower since his turn.  Jake was now thirty-six.  Balak still looked like he was in his late twenties, early thirties.  Calling him kiddo was, to Balak, just as unfunny now as it had been five years ago when Jake had come up with it.

I feel like I was shot in the stomach.

All good then. Jake gave him a small smile.  And, no, we didn’t get the girl.  Did you get a good look at her?  Would you recognize her again?

Balak looked at him and rolled his eyes as he tipped up the water bottle and proceeded to drain it in one go.

Okay, okay, Jake continued, "so you did get a good look at the little, skinny-assed, slip of a girl who was able to shoot you, not once but twice, after kicking your butt to kingdom come."

He gave Jake his best I-do-not-think-you-are-very-funny stare.

Let me guess, Jake was still trying not to laugh, She’s a janitor by day, ninja-killer by night?

She had some skills.  It was all Balak could think of to say.  Admitting he’d been distracted by the way she smelled didn’t seem like something he could share just yet.  He was also not completely sure how he’d lost his balance either.  Had she knocked him off his feet somehow?

Back in the alley when he’d first seen her, and knowing she was the fugitive Jake was after, they had engaged in some unexpectedly entertaining combat.  Balak wasn’t one to enjoy anything these days - yet watching to see what move she would come up with next, had almost made him smile. 

Almost.

Then he’d had his feet knocked out from under him somehow.  She wasn't near enough to have done it - so how?

Jake's question in response to his last statement shook him out of his thoughts.

She had some skills?  Jake asked.  "Maybe back in your 'dark years,' when you had that leg thing, but now those must have been some serious skills to have pulled a fast one on the new and improved Lucas Balak that I know and love."  Jake chuckled.  They had known each other too long, and Jake knew him too well.

Balak opted for redirecting the conversation.  I slipped my phone into her backpack.

Jake immediately sat up.  I knew I kept you around for a reason!

Before you call whomever it is you call to trace my phone, how long have I been out? 

Almost two days.  You went wolf and then changed back sometime in the night.  Jake was already pressing the buttons on his phone as he answered.

You stayed in the room with a wounded wolf?  Balak looked incredulously at his friend.

You were unconscious.  And the kid said he had my back.  Jake managed to answer before the person on the other end of the phone picked up and demanded his attention.

Balak looked down and under the covers at his stomach.  There was a red mark where the wound had been.  By tomorrow it would probably be too faint to see at all.  Just one of the upsides of being a werewolf.  He used the term upside loosely.  There’s no such thing as an upside when it came to being a werewolf – in Balak’s opinion that is.  Napoleon, a wolf since birth, would disagree.

Apparently, this motel was right next door to a burger joint, as it was less than twenty minutes before Napoleon returned.  He came bursting in through the door laden with three carrier bags announcing their contents were from somewhere called Jack’s Burgers.  Jack’s obviously gave new meaning to the term fast food.

Nap took out two wrapped burgers and put them on the table in front of Jake, who was on call number three or four since having arranged the trace.  He then came over and sat at the foot of Balak’s bed, dropping the bags unceremoniously next to the invalid’s legs.

I got us thirty burgers; do you think it will be enough?  I cleaned them out of their already prepped stuff – and told them to make the remainder rare.  I mean you haven’t eaten in like two days, and you must be starved, right?  He was already unwrapping one as he spoke.

Alright for you, I guess, but what am I going to eat?

"Ha, ha.  You’re so funny, Bal. Not.  And why don't you leave

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