dark sentinels

Enjoy the first chapter of “Dark Sentinels Book One: Sable.” “Dark Sentinels Book Two: Torin” is in the works!

Chapter One

Akila swiped at her face, wiping at water and suds from the large dog-bath. Dipping her arms elbow deep into the warm water, she glanced up at the wall-mounted waiting-room television.  “Fay, can you come turn this off for me? I’ve got my hands wet getting beautiful here ready to go home with his Mama.”

Akila’s thriving veterinary clinic stayed open from 6 ‘til 6 Monday through Saturday, and whenever she could, she enjoyed washing and grooming her patients as well as taking care of their medical needs.

The German Shepherd watched Akila with warm brown eyes and she continued to lather his back.

Fay, one of Akila’s assistants, stuck her head in the door. “Doc, Brenda is on the phone. How much longer before you think you can call her back? It’s nearly five and she says she needs to leave soon.”

“Ah, give me another twenty minutes to dry this beautiful baby off first.  Tell her I’m really serious about expanding the no kill shelter, though.” She raised her voice to call after Fay. “Oh, and Fay, tell her please don’t do anything until I call! Get Sonya or Gary to turn off the T.V. and start locking down in the back.”

Akila finished bathing and drying the shepherd, carefully preparing him for his owners to pick him up. Then, she washed her hands and grabbed her ham and cheese croissant, her first meal of the day. She glanced at the clock. After five. “Oh, shit!”

Akila picked up the phone and called Brenda, wondering what she had for her this time.

“Hey, Key, I’ve got a real beaut for you to look at.”

Akila took another bite of her croissant. “Male or female?”

“Definitely male. He’s huge, and now that he’s awake, he won’t let any of us near him. He just came in yesterday, but he’s not eating.”

Swallowing quickly, and reaching for a 32-ounce Gatorade, Akila frowned. “Has Ray checked him out yet?”

“Yeah, he says he’s healthy, but somebody must have tried to poison him. Ray found traces of something in his blood he couldn’t identify. He wanted to take him, but I told him no. I didn’t tell him I’d called you. You know how he feels about you and the shelter. Actually, he looks like a wolf-mix. When I say huge, I mean huge. His head is bigger than mine. Ray didn’t seem to notice, so I didn’t say anything about that either.”

“Thanks, girl. I’m on my way. Don’t tranq him until I get there. I wanna get a feel for him. Okay?” Akila picked up her keys and headed for her SUV, headset already in place.

Brenda was locking the office and heading toward Akila when she arrived. Akila turned off her headset and followed Brenda down the walkway to the back.

“I put him back here because I didn’t want anybody to try to adopt him. I’ve named him Mr. Vicious.”

“Oh, my God! That is a wolf! Mega-wolf! Wonder why Ray didn’t say anything. That should have been the first thing he noticed. Where’d they get him?” Akila knew immediately this was no ordinary house-dog. He actually looked pure wolf. He stood nearly four feet tall with shiny black fur, and glared at them with baby blue eyes. His expression spoke volumes of suspicion and unadulterated fury.

Akila stooped down in front of the crate to see if he showed any further signs of aggression. The animal remained completely still. “Bren, you said he growled at the other attendants?”

Brenda stood a distance behind Akila. “Mr. Vicious not only growled, he snapped at them. He had them popping away from him like jumping beans. He meant business, and you know what that means. They want to put him down tomorrow. That’s why I called you. He might be a mean SOB, but he’s just too beautiful to be killed. I figured if anybody could do anything with him it would be you.”

Akila watched the feral gaze shift to Brenda. “I think he knows what beautiful means.” She laughed and stood to join her friend. “Did you bring the stuff?”

“Yeah.” Brenda reached into a large duffel bag and removed a collar and muzzle attached to a long stick. “I could watch you do this a thousand times and still be amazed. Still…be careful.” She handed the stick to Akila and took a few more steps back.

Akila spoke to the wolf with reverence. “Hello, beautiful. I’m not about to let anything happen to you.” She offered him a closed-mouth smile as he stared intently into her eyes. “Nobody’s gonna hurt you. I won’t let anybody hurt you ever again.”

The complete silence of the other crated dogs was unusual as she led him down the walkway.

****

“What do you mean he got away? You had five men at your command! How could he have gotten away from all of you?”

The blonde-haired man shuffled his feet, unable to look his superior in the eye. “We had him, Mr. Moore, but then he got hold of Luke and we had to unlock the cage so Luke could get out. We’d already given him the shot so we thought he was fading, but the bastard nearly killed Luke and as soon as we opened the cage, he got past us. That’s why Luke ain’t here. We still could have got him except some damned bleeding-heart activist saw us chasing him and started making threats.

“Stop your insipid sniveling, you idiot! You gave him the shot and it didn’t put him under?”

“Yeah, that’s what caught us by surprise. Like I said, he should have been fading when we opened the cage.”

Mr. Moore scratched his round, hairless chin. “You searched the area and visited the kennels around here?”

“Yes sir, but there was no sign of him. He’s gotta turn up though, right? I mean, he can’t shift with that stuff in his system.”

“You have one more day, at most, to find him. After that, the formula will be of no assistance if it is not reinforced. The fact he was able to walk after the injection tells me this one is very strong. The other one was unconscious for days. It’s possible we only have hours before his system reverts to normal. Unless he is forced, he will avoid ingesting solid matter. The formula requires solid matter to remain active in his system. As it stands, the effects of the formula are temporary at best. If he manages to shift, he can only be identified by his body temperature. Even in human form, his temperature will be that of a wolf. Find him, damn you! There is something different about this one. Something…better.”

Mr. Moore held a vial between his thumb and index finger. “Do you realize the significance of finding one of them here? Here with this damnable heat? Not only one, but two? No, I don’t suppose you would.” His gaze never left the vial.

These idiots had no idea who he really was. An award-winning neurologist, yet he had been unable to save his only daughter. Following his daughter’s death, he closed his practice and disappeared into the Georgia hills where he encountered his first shifter. He would not allow himself to be called doctor again until he found the answers he sought. No more. With the blood of these ungodly creatures, not another human life will be lost.

“Can’t you…”

Mr. Moore interrupted him. “No. I know what you are about to ask. Can’t I just utilize what I already have? No. I need a continuous supply, and the one we have is even more valuable to us in her present condition. I will take no chances with her. It was not by chance I learned of beings like Mr. Sable. His presence here alone is proof that I’ve been given another opportunity. I will not fail again. You will not fail me again.”

****

Sable followed Akila into the small cottage-style house. The collar chafed, and he didn’t even want to think about the muzzle. He was immediately inundated with the scents of other animals. He attempted to pull back toward fresh air, but Akila was having none of it.

“I know, I know. It’s a new environment and you’ve gotta get used to our scents. Nobody here will hurt you.”

She nudged him forward, stopping to introduce him to her apparent infestation of four-legged pets. He realized suddenly, Akila thought he was one of them. She actually thought he could be added to her zoo.

Two hissing, spitting cats, a small mixed-breed female dog, and one male dog who appeared to be a Doberman-mix greeted him, each in his or her own way. The Doberman-mix growled and stepped into his path. As soon as Sable squinted his eyes and gave him an incredulous look, the dog backed up.

All the while, Akila issued orders in an attempt to keep peace. He looked at her and sat down. If she wanted to keep leading him along, she was going to have to drag his 240-pound ass. Although she looked quite healthy, a little extra softness in all the right places, dragging him would still be a feat worth witnessing. He had much more important things to do than sit around acting like a fucking pet.

Sable sat, the equivalent of a giant planted in position with arms crossed over his chest. Akila tugged at the collar a couple of times and then stopped to give him a thoughtful look. Well, at least she took the hint.

“Okay, well you’re here now, so I guess you can move around on your own and get comfortable. I have two rules.” Akila bent to remove the collar and muzzle.

Sable could hear her heart beating in quick time, and she seemed to have stopped breathing. Once the collar and muzzle were removed, he heard her let out a deep breath.

He watched her as she spoke, admired her bravery. He was listening for the rules. Sable was used to rules, and he needed to follow hers, at least until he could figure a way to get around them and out of here.

She must have understood his silent acquiescence because she continued. “No bathroom privileges in the house. If you need to use the bathroom, you ask to go outside.” Akila walked back to the door and opened it, illustrating what she apparently expected him to do.

“That’s rule number one. Rule number two, no fighting. We are a family, and we do not fight one another.”

Water. He needed water. Sable moved toward the kitchen, assuming that was where Akila kept water for her pets.

There they were, a row of water and food bowls along a kitchen wall. He stepped up to the largest bowl and was met with the growling Doberman-mix again.

Sable made eye contact with the dog. Dont mess with me dog, Im not in the mood.

Once again, the Doberman-mix moved away. Smart dog.

Just as Sable was about to drink, a hand swooped down and slid the bowl from under him, replacing it with another bowl full of water. He growled at the sudden movement.

She completely ignored his warning, placing the bowl of water in front of him. “This one’s yours. What would you like me to call you?”

Sable started to drink. Oh, here we go. Another stupid-ass name. Buddy, Blacky, hell whats it going to be this time?

He glanced up and noticed Akila’s pensive expression. She was serious about this name thing. When he took a moment from berating himself for the mess he’d gotten himself into, he could see she was actually kind of cute. Definitely not an appropriate mate—the human thing and all—but yeah, definitely worth a bit of his time. She had warm brown eyes, short black hair, wouldn’t get in his way, and skin the color of baked pecans. Sable loved baked, salted pecans with a sprinkle of sugar.

He started to drink again. He had no idea how long he’d be locked in his wolf form, but he had to focus on finding Syreena. Although Akila saved him from the gallows, she had nothing to do with his original mission.

He dimly heard her soothing if incessant voice as she prattled on. “What about Brutus? You like that name?” She looked as if she really expected an answer.

Sable allowed his tongue to hang from his mouth, signaling approval. The name made him sound like a bouncer, but he had certainly been called worse, and it might shut her up long enough for him to think.

“Are you hungry, Brutus? Kip and Tammy eat all day, and Nate and Peggy ate before I came to get you. They stay at the clinic with me during the day. I have all kinds of…”

Sable was no longer listening. What was with this woman and the constant yakking? There was something he was supposed to remember about eating. He wouldn’t have dared eat anything at the kennel. Akila seemed nice, and she smelled good. Most of all, he was hungry. He watched her as she continued to talk and pour the contents of a bag into another bowl she placed on the floor.

“I’ll bet you lived with a family. You’re too domesticated to have been on your own for long, even if you are a wolf. We might have to figure out a way to disguise you. Your kind isn’t supposed to be in the city limits. Did you know that?” She laughed. “Stop looking at me like that. It’s as if you understand everything I’m saying. Come here and eat your food. I hope it doesn’t upset your stomach.”

Sable smelled the food from where he was. It didn’t smell like anything he wanted to eat. He was hungry, but not that hungry. He stretched his forepaws out and collapsed on the floor. The tiles felt good against his stomach. Cool. To his surprise, Akila sat on the floor next to him, slowly moving her hand closer to his fur.

She touched him, going straight for the fur between and behind his ears and massaging gently. The area was the equivalent of the nape of his neck in human form. He had never been able to resist a woman’s touch there, not to mention she was actually silent for a minute. Just as Sable started to relax, leaning into her hand, his eyes closed, the phone rang.

Akila slowly stood. Sable could tell she didn’t want to startle him. “Be right back, Brutus.”

He heard her entire conversation. “Hey.”

The voice on the other end was male. His hackles rose instantly. The voice was familiar though something blocked his memory. “Hey sweet thing. How about some company tonight?”

“No, it’s probably better you don’t come over right now. I’ve got a bit of a project going.”

“Come on, sweetheart. I haven’t seen you in days. What is it? What are you working on so hard you can’t even let me come over?”

Sable listened attentively. Whoever this jerk was, he wanted to come over and screw Akila. Sable might be stuck in wolf form, but he wasn’t about to let that happen.

****

Sable sat up and pressed his muzzle to Akila’s arm. She had been stroking his back since she returned from the telephone, and he started to doze. Now he could smell the jerk approaching the house. The one from the telephone. He hadn’t even gotten out of his car yet, but Sable knew it was him. Akila told him not to come over, yet here he was. Not a good sign.

“What is it, Brutus?” Her human ears couldn’t hear anything yet. She glanced up as Nate, the Doberman-mix, passed the kitchen door.

Sable stood and moved toward the front door to join Nate. Akila followed. Just as they arrived at the door, there was a knock. Sable growled, unable to stifle his reaction to the pushy man, but Akila jumped and glanced down at him, a frown marring her pretty features.

Still watching him, she reached out slowly and opened the door. She let out a heavy sigh. “Ray, didn’t I say not tonight when you called?” She stood in the doorway with her arms folded across her chest.

Sable recognized Ray from the kennel. He had examined him while he was drugged. So, this Ray was a vet. That meant he couldn’t kill him. Maybe he could just maim him in all the right places, instead.

Sable stepped in front of Akila, growling ominously at Ray, who glanced down, a peculiar glint in his eyes, as if just realizing they were not alone.

Ray backed away from the door, pointed at Sable and watched him warily. “Isn’t that the wolf-mix from the kennel? Sweetheart, he’s vicious. He was scheduled to be put down tomorrow.”

He shook his head as if another realization just dawned. “Oh, now I get it. That’s why you didn’t want me over tonight. You know you can’t keep an animal like that, sweet thing. You’re a vet, too, for crying out loud. You know better.”

Akila did not move from her position. “Ray, go home. He’s mine now, and there is no way I’m gonna allow you or anyone else to take him. Put-down, my ass. Look at him!”

She glanced down at Sable. “Come on, Brutus. The rude, crazy-ass man is leaving.”

Ray tried to push through the door.

Using his preternatural speed, Sable pounced, pushing him outside. He had Ray on the ground, his canines at Ray’s throat before Akila could stop him. He wanted to bite a plug out of him just for being such a shit-head. That would put Akila in a difficult position and she’d been nothing but kind to him. Growling, he backed away from Ray and stood in the doorway beside Akila again. Sable kept his eyes on Ray as he moved to allow Akila room to close the door. He listened until he heard Ray leave, then turned to look up at Akila.

Sable couldn’t quite make out the expression on her face, but her heart-rate was still elevated. She stroked his fur again, so she probably wasn’t angry with him. Was she upset about Ray coming over against her wishes? Yes. There was more, though. She kept stroking his fur, her brow puckered. She was worried for him. Sable felt an unusual twinge in the vicinity of his heart. He’d never had anyone besides his sister worry for him before, let alone try to protect him. Not that he needed protection. Still, it felt kind of nice.Warm. So, Akila was a vet. That certainly explained a lot.

****

Akila opened the closet and removed the largest pallet she owned. She looked at her new friend. “I hope this is gonna be big enough for you. Kip, Tammy, and Peggy sleep with me. You and Nate are big boys, so the pallets will have to do.”

She knew she wasn’t supposed to bring him home, and her initial plan was to take him to her shelter, but the moment she saw him, letting him go was not an option.

Smiling as she continued to watch him, she thought about the scene at the door with Ray. Beautiful, smart, and protective. Definitely a keeper.

She stood there long enough to see Brutus glance over at her bed, then paw at his pallet before lying down. There was no question about his intelligence. Those baby blue eyes followed her every move, and he seemed to listen intently to everything she said. Too bad she couldn’t find a man to do the same. With my luck, hed probably need a leash and a muzzle, too.

Nate intercepted her trek to the shower, nodding his head toward the door. “You need to go out, boy?” She turned to Peggy, curled up on the bed between the two cats. “Come on, girl. You go out with Nate.” Akila turned to Brutus. “Come on, let’s go outside and take care of business.”

As she let them out, she was surprised Nate hadn’t put up more of a fight. She had kept other male dogs temporarily, and Nate had done his best to make their lives hell. This time, however, it was almost as if Brutus had been there all along. Nate acknowledged him and then stayed out of his path.

Her large backyard was fenced and well-lit, so she wasn’t concerned when Brutus trotted to a spot outside her vision. She realized he was one of those shy ones who didn’t want anyone to see him take care of business.

Inside, Akila made sure her pets had water for the night, gathered her things to shower and get ready for bed, and stepped into the shower.

The warm water felt good against her skin. She wished she could wash away her concerns as easily as she washed away the grime of the day. She decided to take Brutus to the clinic with her in the morning. She didn’t trust Ray. He meant well—maybe. Out of some misguided imperative, he might try to hurt Brutus. As long as they had dated, he still did not understand her. She would never be able to forgive him for hurting one of her animals.

Although she had more than enough evidence Brutus could bite a chunk out of someone if he wanted to, somehow she knew he would not turn against her. She chuckled. He made it clear biting Ray’s head off would not bother him in the least, but he had been gentle with her even when he had to have been frightened and traumatized. He was such a beautiful animal. She wondered where he came from. It was obvious someone had cared for him, but his unwillingness to eat disturbed her.

According to Brenda, Ray said Brutus had been poisoned. Perhaps his stomach was still sensitive, but he refused the nausea medicine she’d tried to give him. She would try giving him some sensitive stomach food tomorrow at the clinic, and maybe do some blood work herself to make sure he was okay.

She grabbed her towel from an overhead rail and slid the shower door open. Usually, Nate stood in the doorway while she took a shower. To her surprise, Brutus stood there. Something about his facial expression, tongue hanging out as if smiling, and his eyes made her aware of her nakedness in a way she never felt when Nate watched her. Heat rose to her cheeks.

She wrapped the towel around her and frowned. “Brutus, go to bed.”

****

Sable trotted back to the pallet and glanced at the bed again. Being locked in wolf form was becoming more problematic by the minute.

He pawed the pallet and fell on it, groaning. He closed his eyes as he replayed the day’s events.

After a telepathic message from his sister, Syreena, he left their home in Washington State and traveled to her last known location in Georgia.

Most shifters were only able to communicate telepathically over short distances. Sable and Syreena were both alphas partially because they had extraordinary abilities. Always on the outskirts of pack territory, their acceptance was contingent upon their ability to protect the packs at any cost, even their lives.

Orphaned as cubs, and ostracized from area packs, they came to rely on one another. As they matured, they learned they were mutations with heightened senses, and because of these heightened senses, their role as adults was mapped out before they could envision anything else. Sentinels. Constant guards to a pack that feared and cared nothing for them.

He would protect the pack with his life, but he couldn’t help blaming them for his sister’s disappearance. The local packs had refused to allow him or Syreena mating rights, ostracizing them with prejudice.

After hearing rumors of wolf packs and sentinels still residing in the Georgia mountains, Syreena traveled south seeking a mate.

Sable followed Syreena’s scent to a large warehouse where he was ambushed. They had to have knocked him out with darts of some kind as he shifted to escape. Whatever they injected him with weakened him, making a return shift impossible. But why would someone want me in this state, and how did they know? He sighed inwardly.Whatever their reasons, he was on his own.

Sable heard the shower shut off before Akila stepped out. He even heard the towel as she slid it from the rack and started to dry herself. Images of her smooth skin haunted him. He closed his eyes. This was going to be a long hard night.

“Run, Sable, run!” his mother hissed. “Don’t look back! Shift and keep your sister safe!” Sable’s body jerked as the memory hi-jacked his dream. Sable pulled his sister down, coaxing her to shift along with him. They stood a much better chance of outrunning danger as cubs. He ran as fast as his short legs could take him, his twin sister beside him. Syreena yelped and whimpered, ratcheting the fear coursing through Sables tiny body as he called for others to help his father. Even at this young age, he and Syreena knew the importance of remaining close to the brush, but the farther they ran, silence stretched before them. They quickly realized they were alone. No one would come.

****

Akila woke to a coughing sound. Peggy nudged her hip while Nate rested his chin on the side of her bed. Kip and Tammy were also staring at her, their round faces reminding Akila of uppity little people. She heard the sound again. It was coming from her bathroom.

She glanced at Brutus’s bed—empty. Reaching quietly into her bedside table, she pulled her .38 and slid out of bed as carefully as she could. The sound stopped. Akila moved toward her bathroom anyway, Nate and Peggy flanking her.

Akila stepped into the bathroom and flipped the light switch on, pistol ready to fire. The room was empty. The tiny curtains at the bathroom window fluttered toward her. She exhaled and sagged against the light switch. Now, she knew what happened. Brutus became ill during the night and found a way outside through her bathroom window.

Akila closed the window, dashed to her bed and threw her silk robe around her shoulders. She slipped her arms through the sleeves as she moved to the back door, Nate beside her as she called for Brutus. Even in her well-lit yard, she couldn’t see him anywhere.

She had to find him. He wouldn’t be safe roaming the streets, especially if he was sick. Although her parents had been wealthy, Akila knew what it was like to be alone. She shuddered, thinking about what could happen to him in the wrong hands. He was simply too beautiful an animal to roam free.

She stepped onto her front porch and called to him, her voice echoing through the quiet neighborhood. “Brutus. Brutus, come here baby and let me help you.” When she still didn’t see or hear him, she instructed Nate and Peggy to watch the house, grabbed her keys, and headed for her truck. The best way she knew to entice a canine was with a ride.

Completely oblivious to her appearance, Akila slowly rode through the dark streets, stopping at intervals to call for Brutus. After riding for over an hour, she returned home. She absently swiped at her tears. How she could have been so careless as to leave that window open? Incidents of horrible animal slayings had been on the rise since the New Year. Every day or two, Akila received reports of mutilated animals, some pets and some livestock. She treated at least three dogs that had been electrocuted, and a cat whose body had been nearly drained of blood. The thought of her beautiful Brutus becoming the victim of such a senseless act made her heart ache.

Nate whined as he nudged her thigh. “Oh, Mama’s okay, sweet boy. I’m just a cry-baby.” She ran her hand along his sleek back, still swiping at her tears with the other hand. Akila returned to the bathroom and opened the window, unwilling to take the chance Brutus would return and find himself unable to come in the way he had gone out.

Akila sat on the side of the bed staring at the empty blue wall. Since childhood, she had shed tears over the senseless pain of innocent animals. She loved them so because they kept her from being completely alone as a child. Akila supposed she would always be more comfortable with them.

She rested her forehead in one hand and reached over to cuddle Tammy to her chest with the other. She knew she shouldn’t feel so attached to Brutus, yet she already felt responsible for him. She glanced at the clock and whispered, “Damn it! Another sleepless night.”

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