Authors: Rebekah Blue
Badlands: Howling Mad
Copyright 2016 by Rebekah Blue
Cover design by Melody Simmons
This book is intended for readers 18 and older only, due to adult content. It is a work of fiction. All characters and locations in this book are products of the imagination of the author. No shifters were harmed during the creation of this book.
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Naomi looked at the big wolf at bay in the back of his cell and sighed. He was heart-stoppingly beautiful, but undeniably wild. There was a glimmer of intelligence in his spooky pale-blue eyes, but his constant, vibrating growl was all animal.
She shivered and glanced at the slate to the side of the heavy iron door that separated him from the wardens and the once-in-a-blue-moon visitors. Chalked on the slate was the number #478647. No name. He refused to give one. The guards just called him Byron, like the poet, because he was mad, bad and dangerous to know. She wished she knew how to reach him. She’d tried everything she could think of, but he only reacted with savage snarling and bristling hackles.
She’d never exactly get
to working with criminals and semi-feral shifters, but she knew she was good at her job. Art therapy was able to reach even some of the inmates who were furthest gone, locked inside their own heads.
One of her biggest successes was Magnus Haines, a huge bear shifter with berserker strength. When she’d first been ushered into his cell, she’d been terrified. He’d bellowed and lunged at her, swinging a paw the size of a hubcap. Barely restrained by the four wardens assigned to him, the massive bear had snarled and cowered when they’d driven him back with their Tasers.
Magnus was a victim of the psychic powers that, for some, had come along with the ability to shift, back in the 1930s when government DNA-meddling had gone spectacularly wrong.
The ability to hear the dead had been passed down through his family line, and it had literally driven him mad. They refused to leave him alone, badgering him with unfinished business, plots for revenge and petty, maddening obsessions about which obnoxious second-cousin had inherited which tasteless tea set.
Magnus had been able to regain his grip on sanity when painting had given him an outlet to express his anger and confusion. He was one of Naomi’s proudest success stories – completely transformed. These days he was amiable and even-tempered, and even joked quietly about his spooky sidekicks.
Clay therapy had helped the Swanson twins, a pair of sweet, identical little old ladies who tended to accidentally set light to people with their minds if they didn’t get their own way. One moment they’d be happily playing bridge; the next there’d be a disagreement and someone’s hair was on fire and it was spreading to the drapes. Having a creative outlet had helped them to control their fire-starting, though they still had occasional episodes.
And even the more conventional prisoners – semi-feral shifters and violent criminals, many of them serving life sentences – seemed to benefit from painting or sculpting; making something with their hands.
Jimmy, for example, didn’t have psychic powers, but he didn’t need them – he was a chameleon shifter and a thief. That would have made him trouble all on its own, but he was also seventeen, and found it hilarious to make the wardens play guessing games about whether or not he was in his cell. Naomi could usually get him to show himself, though she couldn’t swear it was because he had an artistic streak and not because he had a crush.
Byron, though…nothing she tried had any effect. He wouldn’t even let her into his cell. It was frustrating, because her father, who was head of the institute, particularly wanted her to work with him. Almost every time they had dinner together he asked about their progress…and he wouldn’t tell her what Byron had actually done.
A few months ago she’d tried to access his digital records – usually not a problem with her level of clearance – but had found that his criminal record and a lot of his medical notes had been redacted. That had only served to make her curious, of course, but when she’d asked her father about it he’d been furious and told her to stick to her mud pies and finger-painting. That had been unlike her father. He never used to say things like that, or at least she’d never noticed, but lately he’d been more and more snappish. Something was bothering him, but he wouldn't talk to her about it, and his words had stung, so she’d backed off. But just because of that, she knew Byron must have done something terrible.
All she knew was that he’d been there for three years, he’d steadily grown more and more feral, and although he was hauled off to see the medical staff every day like clockwork, they seemed to be just as helpless as she was to get through to him.
She smiled at Jim and Pete, a pair of guards like a set of musclebound bookends, as they unlocked Byron’s cell and swung open the heavy door, smiles on their faces but their eyes wary and watchful. They’d been working with him for as long as he’d been there, and they knew how dangerous he could be. They moved slowly and cautiously, treating Byron like the wild animal he was.
“Okay, buddy,” said Pete, tossing the snarling wolf a folded orange jumpsuit – he routinely tore them to pieces. “Don’t fuck up my day. Shift change in five minutes, and I want to get out of here and bang my wife.”
“Yeah, I want to get out of here and bang his wife too,” said Jim.
Today, it seemed, he was going to cooperate. Naomi’s view of Byron was blocked by the two behemoths as he shifted and tugged on the jumpsuit, but she caught flashes of bronze skin and long, well-muscled limbs, and her heart gave a strange little bump in her chest. In human form, he was sinfully handsome.
“Nice double act,” he said to the guards as they roughly grabbed his arms and pushed him towards the front of the cell. “You should take it on the road.” He had a low, musical voice that made her toes curl and had probably dropped panties all over the state before he’d…done whatever he’d done.
His strange, pale eyes, ringed with thick, sooty-black eyelashes, were fixed on Naomi. His dark, tousled hair curled at his collarbone, and he had cheekbones you could cut yourself on. He ran his gaze over her body from head to foot, lingering on every curve, then gave her a wolfish grin. She shivered.
She stepped to the side as the guards steered him out of the cell, and looked away from him, flustered, as she realized her panties were damp.
Jim slapped a handcuff bracelet onto Byron’s wrist. Pete turned to pull the cell door closed…
And all hell broke loose.
Red lights flashed, bathing the corridor in pulsing crimson waves. A blaring alarm sounded, maddeningly loud. A robotic voice added to the earsplitting cacophony.
Security breach… Lockdown underway… Security breach… Lockdown underway…
Naomi looked around in bewilderment as cell doors along the corridor clicked open, releasing killers, shifters with rogue psychic powers, and semi-feral criminals.
She backed against the wall, alarmed. The most frightening thing was the sheer panic on the guards’ faces. Jim had gone the sickly color of spoiled milk. Pete had grabbed his radio from his hip and was talking rapidly into it, raising his voice to be heard above the din.
Red alert… Lockdown protocols failed… Red alert… Lockdown protocols failed…
Naomi glanced back towards the door that led out of the maximum-security wing towards the staff facilities. It was only a few paces away, and the corridor was still in chaos, the inmates bewildered by their sudden freedom and acting without any real goal or direction.
She turned and crept slowly and silently towards it.
A strong, muscled arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her back hard against a warm, firm body. Byron’s voice was a thrilling growl.
“Don’t panic,” he said, and she could feel his lips moving against the curve of her ear. Despite her fear, a shiver of pure lust trembled through her. “I’m not going to hurt you. But you’re going to get me out of here.”
Byron held Naomi tightly against him, one arm firmly around her waist, his free hand clamped over her mouth. She whimpered, but didn’t try to get free. She was a cat shifter – not a lion or a tiger, just a calico moggy – so in either form she knew she wouldn’t stand a chance against the Big Bad Wolf. And that was what she thought of him. Dangerous. Crazed. Bad news. Big trouble.
“If I take my hand away, do you promise not to scream?” She probably wouldn’t be heard anyway, over the alarms and shouts – the growls, howls and uproar. She was frozen against him, trembling gently. He felt like a total bastard, but something had gone spectacularly wrong with the security systems, and it was his chance to escape. He had to take it. The woman in his arms whimpered and nodded.
He moved his hand away from her mouth – and she bit him. Hard.
Son of a bitch.
He yelped and pulled his hand away, and she took advantage of the opportunity to wriggle free of his grasp, kick him in the shins, and pelt away down the corridor, dodging snarling knots of fighting shifters as she went. She was uncannily fast.
Byron cursed floridly and sprinted after her. The idiotic woman would get herself killed running through this lot with nobody to protect her.
The wardens were hopelessly outnumbered and their frantic calls for backup were going unanswered. Presumably the rest of the unit had been plunged into chaos as well. Pete was wielding a fire extinguisher, filling the corridor with a dense white cloud of powder that coated the coughing, choking prisoners. The Swanson twins tottered among the chaos in their flameproof nighties, beaming with delight at the flickering flames that licked along the floor.
Jim was struggling against an invisible barrier – he looked as if he were walking through Jell-O, like one of those terrible dreams where you’re being pursued by something horrifying and can’t get away. Byron didn’t know which of his fellow prisoners had that particular ability, but he wasn’t surprised they were in here. It could be very dangerous in the wrong hands.
Unfortunately, Byron knew exactly who the wrong hands belonged to – the owners of the Dynamic Earth Rehabilitation Center, better known to its inmates as the Zoo.
He caught up with Naomi, who hit and kicked him, spitting curses and vicious insults. Some of them, his mother really didn’t deserve. Probably. Wherever she was.
He hauled her over his shoulder, yelled, “Hold on and stop kicking me, or I’ll drop you on your head,” and sprinted for the end of the corridor, where he prayed the door Naomi had been heading for would be open.
It was, and the rooms beyond were deserted – almost peaceful, if it hadn’t been for the muted sound of the emergency alarms and the yells and thuds coming from the other side of the wall as the staff frantically fought to get the facility back under control. Byron lowered Naomi gracelessly to the floor, holding her wrists as he bent double, struggling to catch his breath.
She looked up at him, her big, dark eyes red-rimmed from the smoke in the corridor, and he swiftly snapped the loose bracelet of a pair of handcuffs around her delicate wrist, chaining her to him. Silver, of course – the Zoo wouldn’t use restraints that would allow its inmates to shift. Bad luck for Tweedledum and Tweedledee that they’d only managed to cuff one wrist before all hell had broken loose. Good luck for him.
“What are you doing?” Naomi gasped, outraged.
He hauled her upwards, holding her against his body as she found her feet. “I’m taking you hostage,” he said. “But it’s making you feel kinky, just say the word.”
He’d cuffed the wrong wrist, so her back was to him, and as he held her close the rounded curve of her bottom against him was a hell of a distraction. It should have cooled his ardor when she snorted and said, “Not even if I had a fetish for mange.” It didn’t – her spirited comeback just made his blood fizz. Pity the first lesson on the first day of Prison Break 101 was “Don’t stop to flirt with the hostages”.
Not even a hostage with soulful dark eyes, a tip-tilted nose and a wide, generous mouth. One who’d starred in some seriously X-rated dreams. His efforts to keep her away over the past months had become more and more desperate, because every time he scented her, he
her. And he couldn’t afford to let her get close. It was only his reputation for being wild, untouchable, half-feral that was keeping him from a bullet through the head. He couldn’t trust anyone – especially not the daughter of the Head Zookeeper.
The staff facilities were deserted – everyone was busy trying to control the riot that had broken out in the high-security wing. They might not even notice that he was gone until they’d brought things under control and done a head-count. Or they might come bursting through the door at any moment. No time to waste.
He wrapped his arm around Naomi and hauled her against his side, then hurried her along, straining his senses for the sounds of pursuit. As they stepped out cautiously into the grounds, a guard ran past with a tranquilizer gun, and Byron felt Naomi taking a deep breath to yell for help. He clamped his hand over her mouth and pulled her back into the shadow of a doorway, and all she managed was a strangled yelp.
He shushed her sharply. “If you get his attention, I’ll have to hurt him to stop him following us. Neither of us wants that.”
She glared at him balefully, then closed her eyes and nodded.
The guard looked around, starting in the direction of the doorway where Byron and Naomi were pressed into the shadows, but then his radio beeped shrilly and a message came through on a wave of static.
…has reached critical status … zzhhhttt … ersonnel attend immed … zzhhttt … repeat all armed personnel attend…
The guard immediately turned and sprinted in the direction of the main building. Good. That left one guard at the gatehouse.
A guard whose eyes almost popped out of his head when Byron stepped in front of him with his arm wrapped around Naomi’s waist, biceps bulging, and gave him a dangerous grin, flashing his fangs. He allowed his eyes to fade to a frightening wolfish silver.
“Allow me to introduce you to my charming companion Naomi Atkins,” he said. “Her father owns this institute. Give the nice man a wave, Naomi.”
“I can’t. I’m in handcuffs.”
“Oh yes, silly me. She’s in handcuffs. Because she’s my hostage. Now, you
try to take her from me.” He gave a dark, possessive growl and pulled her closer against him. “But that would be a very bad idea.”
The guard looked wildly from Byron to Naomi and back again. His Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. Byron could see the cogs turning behind his eyes as he ran through scenarios. They all resulted in him getting hurt…or worse, in Naomi getting hurt. The boss’s daughter. This situation hadn’t been covered in his six-week training course, and he wasn’t being paid enough to deal with it.
Byron gave him a feral grin. “That’s right. The lunatics have taken over the asylum,” he said.
The guard was already on his radio, sounding the alarm, as he ran towards the facility.