I didn’t sign up for this shit.
Matthew sat on a chair, his head leaning backward, hanging over the edge of his seat. He signed up to kill shifters, not babysit one.
Three days had passed since the woman passed out. She was fast asleep on the bed, her chest rose with each deep, even breath. Melanie had taken care of washing and dressing her. He was ordered outside when that all happened like he hadn’t traveled with her when she was stark naked. He shook his head then, trying not to remember it.
The room smelled sickeningly like a hospital—pine sol, bleach, and illness. Matthew hated hospitals. He rubbed his arms, feeling restless the more he sat in the room.
He stood up and started pacing. When the hell is she going to wake up? He paused at her bed. His eyes darted left, then right, almost expecting someone to barge in. Feeling it safe, he bent his head, taking a lock of the woman’s hair in his hand and breathed in. Lemongrass and eucalyptus. It must have been the shampoo Melanie used.
When the doorknob rattled, he jumped back, looking absolutely guilty near her body. Melanie walked in, eying him, and then shook her head.
“Welcome back,” Matthew said and quickly shuffled away.
“Right,” Melanie said. She was back to her cold self. She handed him a cream, manila folder marked with the word “SABLE” in all caps and red.
“It’s who she is from now. You were the top student in your graduating class from the academy.” The “Academy” as everyone called it was where they trained future hunters. The government and the public were aware of the facility’s existence. What they did was only known to few. It was mainly filled with men and women who came from long generations of hunters. Others, like himself, joined for their own personal vendettas. Most people didn’t even know the creatures existed. He graduated two years ago and was supposed to be part of a new group called the Blood Corp. He didn’t know what that meant and he hadn’t heard about it aside from the first notice two months ago. “You came well recommended. This is your assignment.”
“To babysit a mutant?”
He felt the slap, but he certainly didn’t see it. His eyes blinked at her. She didn’t even look like she moved.
“She’s not a mutant,” Was all she said on the matter, before moving on. “You’ll escort her to and from all her destinations. She doesn’t leave your side. You’ll also be training her when she’s not at the academy. She’ll be doing some special training, which you may need to take part in. I suggest you put your hatred for her kind aside to do your job properly. Nothing happens to her. Understood?”
“Understood,” He said through gritted teeth. Matthew opened the folder, reading over the contents inside. She was 24. Her name was Sable Ashe. Her birthday was Oct. 10. It said she was in a coma for a little over a year and woke up with no memories of her former self. She was caught in the explosion at Auburn Valley, Virginia and somehow lived. Her body was retrieved by Melanie and brought to St. Croix. Her parents and birthplace were listed as unknown, but she was a half-breed. Her species was a king cheetah. Matthew got the feeling there were some things missing.
He shook the folder at Melanie. “Why are you so attached to her?”
“I’m not attached,” She lied. Matthew saw the twitch in her eyes. She was looking at the girl now. Her cold façade flittered away briefly. He saw the concern before she put back up her resting-bitch-face. “Everything you need to know is in there.”
“Except how someone with no memories is dropped in with homicidal shifters, a revolver with eight bullets, and only uses half but lives to tell the tale,” Matthew said.
“Bullshit. What the fuck is she? She’s not normal,” Matthew spat. Well, she was a shifter so of course, she wasn’t normal. But she wasn’t your average shifter.
“Yes. She. Is,” Melanie said. “I can’t explain it. Hell, I don’t even know how she lived myself.” She was genuinely surprised, he noticed. She ran her hand through her hair, staring at the girl. Her concern was back.
“She’s not just some random shifter you found. You knew her.”
Matthew could read his death in her eyes. He was digging too much. She was going to ask him to put his shovel away, no doubt, but the rustling of sheets drew both of their attention. The woman, Sable, groaned while she sat up. He stared at her, watching the rays of sunlight flicker on her face and dark hair.
“I feel like shit,” she licked her lips, moistening them. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, watching her. He hated himself for every thought.
When her eyes met his, his body tensed. He was grateful for the splash of cold water to his senses. Her slit eye reminded him exactly what she was.
“Melanie?” She called, still watching him. Her eyes narrowed with distaste. The feeling was mutual…ish. “Why is he here?”
“He’s going to be watching over you while you get—”
“I don’t need a babysitter,” She all but snarled.
“I agree,” Matthew chimed in and felt the daggers from Melanie. He raised his arms in surrender. Mind his business. Got it. Noted.
“He’s not your babysitter. You’re a shifter—”
“Difficult,” Melanie grumbled. “It’s all the same to hunters. You’re not human, and thus, you cannot be left unattended. The slightest tension could mean death for someone here or yourself. That’s why he’s been assigned to you to make sure you don’t escape and no one bothers you.”
“Except for him, of course.”
Melanie cursed at the woman’s snide remarks. “Must you?”
“I’m merely agreeing with you sis,” She said the word before Melanie could stop her.
“Sis?” Matthew repeated.
“Shut up Slade,” Melanie said but he couldn’t let it go.
“She’s your sister? I thought your sister di—” His mouth formed an “o” then as he put two and two together. Everyone knew about the Coldwell family and how her parents died. Rumor had it her sister was a half-breed. Funny thing about those rumors. There was a bit of truth behind them. “She forgot who she was,” he whispered. Forgetting might as well have been the same as death. He eyed her curiously. Her existence, prior, was gone.
Melanie snatched him by the collar and slammed him against the wall. He bit back a curse when he felt her gun pressed against his abdomen. This was the woman who trained him—their captain. Whom he watched shoot several trainees without batting an eye. And he was antagonizing her. Smart.
“Shut. Up.” Matthew Slade was no idiot. She didn’t have to tell him to shut up twice. “You breathe a word about this to anyone, I even so much as hear a thought about who she is—” Dead. She was saying he was dead if he spoke. She didn’t need to finish the sentence. He got it loud and clear. He was bigger than she was, but she faster. Most likely smarter.
“My lips are sealed,” he said.
“Keep it that way,” She pressed the metal into his chest harder. The unspoken “or I’ll seal it for you” was loud.
She released him after a moment. Sable was already on her feet. “I don’t know,” Sable said, while stretching, “watching that exchange, I can’t say that I feel safe with this guy. He might just get me killed.”
That irked Matthew. “Not before that mouth of yours does.”
“I’d take my chances with that, instead of some novice. Honestly, I’ll just be babysitting you.”
“You’d be dead in a day without me,” He countered, agitated.
“I survived a month with creatures deadlier than you prissy humans,” She spat the word humans like it was vomit.
“Try dealing with humans smarter than you barbaric shifters,” He snapped back.
“Two-legged bitch,” She hissed.
“Flea-bitten scunt,” He snarled, his accent slipping out for a moment.
“Alright you two, put the claws…and guns away,” Melanie sighed, annoyed at their childish banter.
Sable’s hands had already half-shifted into claws. Matthew’s hand was wrapped around the butt of his gun. The two locked stares, neither willing to submit. Melanie felt a headache coming. This was not a good idea.
Sable finally took in the stranger across from her. He was huge. Broad and built. He was slightly darker than she was. His hair, a black ocean on his head with soft waves. His hazel eyes, almost gold in the sunlight with tiny specs of green, regarded her with hostility. His beard was short, boxing his face, connecting with the sharp lines of his sideburns. She hated him and his stupid face.
“Matthew!” Melanie barked, but he didn’t break the connection with the girl. She threw a pen from her pocket at Sable, and then turned and tossed a notepad at Matthew. At last, they shifted their sights away from each other. “Great. Now that I have your attention. Try not to kill each other for a while. Sable, eat something. Matthew, outside.”
Without arguing, he stepped outside. Not because he was ordered to, but because he needed to be away from Sable.
Sable rolled her eyes and dropped back onto the bed.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“I already told you, I don’t want a babysitter,” She said, only finally looking over at the table where a tray full of food sat. She picked up an apple and bit into it. There was a folder beside her food that read “Matthew.” She assumed that must have been for her.
“That’s not what I meant.”
The room fell into silence. Melanie fidgeted with her hands, pulling on a loose piece of skin on her index finger. She kept didn’t take her eyes off the floor, concentrating on the clean white tiles.
“It doesn’t matter,” Sable said and quickly finished off the apple. She had no appetite but shoveled the food into her mouth quickly.
“Of course, it matters. I want you to be happy.”
“I’m not Marissa, Melanie,” The announcement visibly threw Melanie off guard. She bit her lip at her sister’s response. “She’s dead, remember. You want her to be happy, but she’s not here. She doesn’t exist.”
“No, Melanie, she doesn’t. Your sister is dead,” She started lacing up the black combat boots on her feet. “Bury her and whatever feelings you have for her right now. For both our sakes.”
Melanie remained quiet. Sable didn’t look at her. She stood up and went to the mirror in the bathroom. She adjusted her clothing idly. Picked at some lint on her short-sleeved black shirt. There was a logo on it. A white pawprint merged with a hazard sign, enclosed in a white rifle scope, with a red dot in the middle. She almost laughed at it. Someone’s creative juices weren’t flowing when they did the design. She splashed some water on her face, then brushed her teeth. The last thing she remembered was getting out of the hell they placed her in. When she was in the hospital room again she had blacked out. Now, awake, she was certain that she wasn’t going to be given a break to gather her bearings. Had Melanie taken over her hygiene again? She wondered while examing herself.
When she stepped out the bathroom, Melanie had composed herself.
“Slade will take you to meet the senior training commander. Take care Ms. Ashe” At that, Melanie left the room in a rush. She paused, holding the door slightly ajar. She spared a quick glance behind her at Marissa…Sable…then left.
Sable followed shortly after with a folder in her hand.
Matthew was caught up in a conversation with another man. When the door clicked shut, both of them turned their attention to her. The man’s face shifted, his distaste for her crystal clear. He knew what she was. She wondered if that meant everyone knew. Thankfully, she wasn’t there to make friends so she cast aside the thought. It didn’t matter if they knew and even less if they liked her. Hell, it was to be expected. After being tossed by them to her death, she wasn’t exactly about to worship them herself.
He patted Matthew on the shoulder then left.
“I’m guessing I’ll have more of that to deal with?” She joked. Matthew didn’t answer her. Instead, he walked away. Guess she was supposed to follow him. She rolled her eyes at him but followed.
“Matthew Slade huh,” She was speaking out loud while reading through the folder. “27, born May 8 in Oklahoma, raised in St. Croix since you were 10. Joined the military–the Marines–at 18. Served seven years. You later graduated top of your class from the Kill All Shifters academy.” That wasn’t the actual name, but she assumed when they kept writing “academy” that’s exactly what it meant.
“Any reason why you’re reading my biography back to me?”
“Can I ask you something?”
“None of it is your business.”
She didn’t press any further. Her eyes scanned over the rest of the document quickly while they took the elevator down to another floor. His parents were long dead. No siblings. His aunt from the Virgin Islands adopted him. It really skimped on the details, but then again, she was technically a threat. They couldn’t exactly tell her the deep dark secrets of the man who’d be watching her. Or, perhaps, they didn’t know them either.
Truth be told, she was hoping for a bit of conversation. It was becoming uncomfortable feeling all the extra pairs of eyes on her. The hospital was much busier than when she had first woken up. Nurses, doctors, and patients flitted about. She didn’t feel a single shifter. With their healing abilities, they probably weren’t needed at all in a government hospital. She assumed that they may have had small, private practices for themselves.
Matthew still wasn’t speaking. She noticed that he was receiving some ill looks as well. Hated by association?
When they walked through the sliding doors of the entrance, her breath hitched as she felt it. A shifter. Her legs stopped almost immediately. She spun to look back and saw no one. The feeling was gone as quickly as it had come.
She ignored Matthew. Her eyes were still scanning the area. Maybe it was just her imagination.
“What is it?” Finally looking at him, she noticed he was as tense as she was. His hand lingered near his firearm, but he didn’t dare pull it out. The last thing they needed to do was cause a panic, especially if there was nothing there anymore.
“Nothing. I just thought I saw something,” She answered. Matthew released a breath, then straightened himself out.
He didn’t ask her any questions. Then she heard the clink of something locking and felt the weight and cold of metal on her skin. He’d handcuffed her. She hissed when he did the other wrist.
“What the fuck is this about?” She snarled. He was back to ignoring her and ushered her through the parking lot towards rows of black Escalades. She felt a stab in her head seeing the familiar vehicles. He noticed her falter but didn’t acknowledge it.
He unlocked the doors, but she dropped on her behind on the ground refusing to move.
“Take them off.”
He bent over her, snatching her by the arm, and then hoisted her up. She kicked and struggled against him until he roughly tossed her into the back seat. He then dropped into the driver’s seat.
She cursed angrily in the back—said some not so kind words about him, his mother and his unborn. She was obviously ticked.
It took a moment before he started the vehicle. He watched bodies enter and leave the hospital. The daunting white building—off-white, as it had aged terribly—unnerved him. He didn’t know about the holding area at the bottom where he discovered Sable. He knew it was a facility of death, but that moment had sealed it for him. God only knew what other secrets were being held in there. They couldn’t afford a unit for mental health, but a dungeon was no problem. Go figure.
He’d been excited about the assignment. James, who was visiting from another region—was nervous. Matthew was looking forward to something low-key. As far as he knew, the big heads just needed muscle while they did their thing. Although armed, he figured it would be a far cry from dodging bullets in the damn desert. He hadn’t expected to find a naked woman in a cellar and what transpired after.
I killed a comrade in there. His hands gripped the steering wheel until it hurt. I killed a shifter. He told himself, but Matthew still didn’t believe it. He hadn’t seen James shift. He hadn’t even seen him heal from Sable’s attack. George just took the woman’s words as truth and had him killed.
And now he had to babysit said woman. A woman, who was apparently a daughter of the Coldwell family. Melanie and Dominic were well known among hunters. Their father, Robert, was an icon. The family had been hunters for generations. Robert was the one who decided he didn’t want to lead anything big and took over the small sector in Virginia. Their youngest daughter was hardly mentioned and often forgotten. She wasn’t a hunter. When the rumors of her being adopted and that Robert birthed a half-breed child spread, many didn’t believe it. Later, they learned that Robert lost his mind and killed himself and his wife. It was suspected he probably killed the girl too.
He looked behind him where Sable was thrashing. The girl was alive, and a shifter and being used to hunt and kill her own kind.
“Goddammit, Slade! Let me go,” She hissed, startling him from his thoughts.
“People aren’t going to be comfortable with a mutant wondering around freely. I’ve also seen what those hands of yours can do, so no, I will not be letting you go. You can have all the free reign you want when you’re in training…where men armed to the teeth can put you down if you so much as blink suspiciously.” He drove off while she returned to cursing him.
Seeing as Matthew wasn’t about to give in to her demands, she huffed and dropped her head against the most likely bulletproof window. They were on an island, she remembered, but it wasn’t some utopia filled with palm trees and gorgeous women in bikinis.
The street he had taken was littered with buildings on both sides. They passed a large Movie Theatre on one side, there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the next. The drive-thru was full. A T-shaped intersection held bustling vehicles with drivers who refused to give anyone a chance. She flinched hearing sirens, then realized Matthew turned them on. They took advantage, and drove through, not following any rules of the roads. She spied a Dial-Rent-to-Own, on her right, on her left was a Kmart. Further down there was a Banco Popular, an Office Max and a Champs shoe store. They rounded a corner and a Wendy’s was on her left. She assumed this was a shopping district. A large billboard appeared and it read Sunny Isle Shopping Center.
The roads, she noticed, were only one way up and down. They made another turn and they ended up on a double lane road with a median separating another double lane.
“You remember highways?” She figured he must have sensed her confusion. “This is Melvin H. Evans Highway. He was a governor. Juan F. Luis, the hospital, also a governor.” He explained the driving on the left-hand side thing, how the islands were United States territories and the people U.S Citizens. The more he rattled on about the history of the islands, and how the place was essentially a colony of the U.S, she noticed how his tone has changed.
“You love this place huh,” She said at last.
He immediately shut back down. Well shit.
“I do. This is home,” He almost seemed bashful when he finally answered. Like, he didn’t want to share it with her.
“I don’t remember mine,” She muttered out loud.
“What do you remember? About anything. I always assumed someone with no memories would be like a baby. You’re not.”
Her shoulders rose then fell. “I know the basics, I guess. It’s easier to say what I don’t remember rather than what I do. I don’t remember anything about where I’m from, what happened to me, who I was. All of that is a blur. When I see familiar things I get a headache, but still not much.”
They made a turn and came off the highway. She saw a plane flying in, lowering the closer it came. There must have been an airport nearby. They passed trailer-like buildings. US Customs and borders were there, there was also UPS. She spotted planes every now and again. They eventually passed what was the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, and kept going. That one wasn’t a governor. It was named after some St. Croix native who was one of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. It was originally called the Alexander Hamilton Airport but was renamed in 1996.
They followed a long winding road, one side was covered with layers of forestation. Strangely, he turned off onto a dirt road she hadn’t noticed. The path was rugged, and she thought they would stick in the mud-covered terrain. A sharp left and right turn, had her panicking. For a moment, she wondered if he was taking her off to murder her. She fought against the cuffs on her hands. They bit into her skin as she pulled.
The car jerked when the tires suddenly hit the raised planes of a paved road, just as she was raising her arms about her head to clobber him. She blinked, confused. The number of trees shrunk until there was none left and a wide, open space appeared. A bit further was a military-like base. The huge compound was damn near a town of its own. She wondered if she was even on the same island anymore.