Black Magic

Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

Kalen Black knew he should stay inside tonight–or rather, remain at the Alpha Pack's top secret compound, the place he currently called "home."

A malevolent force moved in the night, something ancient and evil. Its physical presence prickled over the Sorcerer's skin like static electricity, raised the hair on the back of his neck. He couldn't identify what type of being it was, and didn't know what it was after.

Yet.

The presence wasn't human, he knew. But that didn't mean the entity wasn't here on behalf of Orson Chappell, CEO of NewLife Technology, the Pack's number one enemy. The man was responsible for hideous experiments on humans and shifters in an attempt to merge their DNA and gene strands in hopes of creating a new breed of super-shifter.

Hell, I'm a Sorcerer with the ability to shift into a rare panther. If Chappell's somehow heard of me, the asshole might've sent one of his lackeys to snatch my ass.

Or the approaching danger could be from his past, returned to exact due punishment for his mistakes. God knows he'd made more than his share while scraping to survive. The memory of one awful transgression in particular made his blood run cold, and he prayed with all his soul that the threat prowling nearby had nothing to do with him directly. Yes, he should stay inside-except that he didn't have it in him to hide when his sins may have placed his new friends in the line of fire.

He had no choice. Tonight, he would ignore the internal warning that had saved his ass so many times before. Because he'd heard that a certain gentle doctor with dark, curly hair and a winsome smile had driven into town to meet with friends, and in doing so had unknowingly placed herself at risk. Sure, odds were she'd be fine, but it wasn't a gamble he was willing to take.

Not where Mackenzie Grant was concerned.

Parking his butt on the bed in his assigned living quarters, Kalen pulled on his shitkickers, lacing them snugly. Straightening, he pushed up and strode into the living room, snatching his battered leather duster off one of the recliners. Rain or shine, he never went anywhere without it. Capping off the rest of his Goth appearance, the long coat sent just the right do not fuck with me message that any potential enemy would be wise to heed.

Most humans simply thought he was a freak, and all but the dumbest gave him a wide berth.

Those who weren't human didn't need but a few minutes at most to figure out what they were dealing with-a Sorcerer/Necromancer whose animal was a black panther, and whose power far exceeded the level most of them had seen in a man of twenty-three.

Kalen wasn't arrogant about his power, though, not even close. He'd been treated like a fuckin' weirdo his entire life, even by his own parents. He almost wished he could give it up, could be normal, but his power was all he had on this earth, and he was forced to rely on it to survive.

Sort of a vicious cycle, when you thought about it.

Shrugging into the coat, he headed out the door and down the hallway, intent on finding his new boss, Nick Westfall. Alpha Pack's leader, who was a wolf shifter and PreCog, seemed like a decent enough guy-he'd given Kalen a shot at joining the team, after all-and Kalen hoped to borrow the keys to one of the SUVs. Lost in thought, he rounded the corner and almost barreled into Jaxon Law.

"Oh, hey!" Kalen stepped back, giving the tall, goateed brute an apologetic smile. Even he'd think twice before messing with the big bastard, or any of the Pack, for that matter. Would be kinda tough to use his magic with his throat ripped out by a bunch of badass wolf shifters. "Sorry about that, guess I was in too big a hurry."

"No problem. Where's the fire?" One corner of Jax's mouth lifted as though he knew the answer. Which the shifter shouldn't, being a RetroCog-someone who could "see" events of the past by holding an object to get a reading.

He shrugged, faking nonchalance. "Just going out for a while. Wanna go grab a beer in town?"

The man thought about it briefly, then shook his head. "Nah, I'd better hang around. Thanks for asking, though."

"Already got the mating blues?"

"You know it. I promised Kira we'd have dinner and a movie in our quarters tonight, just the two of us. Women, you know?"

Kalen didn't buy his put-upon sigh for a second. "Yeah. I'm sure it's such a hardship, spending the evening alone with your hot little blonde. Anytime you want a break from that, I'll be glad to step in-"

"Dream on," his friend growled, only half-joking. "I'd hate to disembowel the Pack's newest member."

He grinned. "Ah, well. You can't blame a guy for trying."

"Sure I can."

Laughing, Kalen clapped a hand on Jax's shoulder, completely surprising himself. It wasn't often he initiated any kind of a touch, and that said a lot about how much he was starting to trust these guys. "You've got it bad, big guy. Me, I'm gonna go grab that beer."

"Sorry," the shifter said sincerely. "I get a little nuts over Kira."

"Ya think?" He winked. "Forget it. If I had a woman, I'd be the same way. Say, you wouldn't happen to have the keys to one of the SUVs on you? It's a long walk otherwise." Everyone knew he didn't own a vehicle of any kind. Hell, he'd had nothing but his backpack the day the Pack had found him in one of the local cemeteries, raising a corpse while investigating a series of murders.

"Oh, sure." Digging in his front jeans pocket, he brought out a ring and tossed it to Kalen. "Where exactly are you going?"

He caught and palmed the ring, considering his answer. In the end, he settled for a half-truth. "The Grizzly. Mackenzie's in town. I thought I'd catch up with her, have a drink."

Jax stared at him a long moment, as though trying to detect any deception. Then his lips curved upward. "Good luck if you hope to get a piece of that. Her daddy will eat your liver for dinner."

"Whatever, man." He rolled his eyes, reaching for a calm he didn't feel.

"Bring the Escalade back in one piece or it's my ass."

"You bet, and thanks. See ya."

Kalen took off before Jax could form more questions about why he was in such a hurry, and to do nothing more than have a beer with Mackenzie in Nowheresville, Wyoming, on the edge of the Shoshone National Forest, no less. Jax sensed something more was going on than what he'd said, and Kalen didn't want to get everyone excited over what might turn out to be nothing.

As he jogged outside and headed for the ginormous hangar that housed all of their various methods of transportation, he wondered why he hadn't simply come clean about all his reasons for going in to town.

Because he didn't want the others to get wind of his infatuation with a woman who couldn't possibly want a tramp like him? Maybe.

Because after nearly half a lifetime of surviving alone, he didn't trust anyone else to come to his aid if there was trouble? Probably.

Because he didn't want any of his new friends' deaths on his conscience if things went south? Definitely.

Oh, that doesn't bode well for succeeding on this team, does it? What would Nick say or do if he knew you were going off half-cocked with a bad feeling and no backup? Maybe he knows already.

Well, if Nick with his PreCog abilities did know, he hadn't tried to stop Kalen from leaving or suggest anyone else accompany him. That would have to be good enough to soothe his inner doubt. Besides, he'd handled trouble alone since he was a kid. He wasn't used to relying on others, on trusting anyone to have his back. For a loner, learning to be part of a team wasn't easy

Damn, he wasn't used to worrying about other people or what they thought. And it sucked.

That didn't stop him from making tracks into town as fast as he dared. He didn't want to get pulled over-he'd had a run-in with the sheriff when he first arrived in the area and didn't care for a heartfelt reunion. The cops hadn't helped him long ago when he'd needed them, and nothing had changed.

Twenty-five minutes later, he pulled up in the parking lot of the Crosseyed Grizzly, the local hangout that was just about as classy as it sounded. Fine by him; he didn't do fancy. The people were nice and down to earth-mostly-and the drinks were cheap.

Best of all, Mackenzie was here. Mac to her friends, and he absolutely hated that nickname. Mac sounded like a truck driver with a belt buckle overlap. But Mackenzie was beautiful, kind, and funny. As great as the team had been to him so far, she was one of the first people besides Nick to actually approach and welcome him to the fold, to treat him like a person who mattered. And her smile . . . God, that wide smile and the way her blue eyes lit up as she spoke to him had been like a kick to the balls.

Anxious, he searched for a parking spot and finally found one toward the back, close to the edge of the woods. It was dark back here and he didn't like it. He liked it even less when he saw that Mackenzie's car was only a couple of spaces away. The thought of her walking back here in the dark with no protection set his teeth on edge. Well, he was here now and he'd make sure she got back to the compound safely.

And soon. A chill slithered through his body, and a sense of urgency quickened his steps. Something nasty was on the prowl, and it would be best not to linger.

Pushing inside, he steeled himself against the twangy country music-what the fuck else would they play in a place named after a drunk bear?-and scanned the room for the doc. He didn't have to search for long. She was at the long bar between two other women, carrying on an animated conversation. He stood still for a moment, just drinking her in.

She was of medium height, though it was hard to tell with her sitting. Her build was lithe, arms and thighs toned as though she worked out in the compound's gym, but not enough to get too much muscle. He made a mental note to try to catch her in action, sweating away.

That particular thought made his dick perk up with interest. He'd like to make her sweat during a hard workout, all right. And not in the gym.

An astounding thought for a man who usually went out of his way to avoid sex, or any form of intimacy whatsoever.

Automatically, his gaze went to where her tight, jeans-encased ass was perched on the barstool, looking like a firm apple he'd love to take a bite of. His scan moved upward to her narrow waist and on to the fitted red tank top with the spaghetti straps that hugged her breasts nicely. Curly dark brown hair fell in waves to her shoulders and framed the loveliest face he'd ever seen. Her profile was an amazing mix of delicacy and strength. Her cheek bones were fine, eyes large and framed by long lashes, her smile easy on a mouth that some might think too big. Too friendly.

But he'd seen how she was strong when she needed to be, especially when it involved a patient. She was perfectly capable of standing her ground with the men of the Pack, and did so frequently. He'd heard that her father, General Jarrod Grant, was Nick's contact in the military, and he figured she came by the "tough gene" honest.

But she wasn't strong enough to win against the evil that permeated the air, closer than before. Something big was on the hunt.

Suddenly anxious to get to her side, Kalen took a couple of steps forward-and found his path blocked by one of the local yokels who, no doubt, the building was named after. He resembled a grizzly, too, really hairy and sporting a big gut.

"Weeell, whattawe have here?" His grin boasted grungy, blackened front teeth.

So, the asshole was swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool. Good news. The bad news was the top of Kalen's head came to the guy's chin. His right hand twitched, itching for his Sorcerer's staff. But he couldn't call it, or utter a spell, in such a public place, especially since they were gaining an audience.

"I'm joining someone, and I've got no problem with you, mister. So if you'll move aside, I'll be about my biz."

The shithead blinked, and then turned to share a too-loud laugh with his equally IQ-deficient buddies. "Ya hear that? Pretty boy wants me to move!" Chuckling, he smiled at Kalen, an unpleasant gleam in his beady eyes. "I think you'd best be the one headin' back the way you came, 'cause we don't take kindly to queers around here."

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