Twenty years ago the UK’s water supply was contaminated with an experimental pathogen, Lycanaeris, causing widespread panic across the nation. Terrorism was suspected but never proven, and when nothing happened–no epidemic, no unexplained illnesses–the whole episode was written off as an elaborate hoax. But Lycanaeris was selective. Only those of a certain age, and with a specific gene in their DNA were infected. Time would reveal the pathogen’s true nature, when those susceptible grew up Altered.
Daniel is one of thousands forced to hide his altered status by living a quiet life. He’s not like the others, though. Daniel can’t help looking so distinctive or being able to see every altered for what they really are. To those abducting altereds, that skill makes him valuable.
For Jordan, shifting from human to wolf means living under the radar to avoid unwanted attention. Meeting Daniel complicates matters. Daniel’s existence is a threat to Jordan and his friends, but Jordan can’t seem to shake the strange connection between them. When danger threatens, there’s little time for Daniel and Jordan to work out their feelings before lives are at stake.
January 1995 – Cerlika Pharmaceuticals, Reading
The research department, three floors below ground, lay quiet and deserted at eleven forty-five on a Friday night. Except for one lone scientist, typing furiously and checking over his shoulder every few minutes. He pressed the Return key on his computer, and slumped back in his chair.
It was done.
The cursor blinked back at him, the rest of the screen, empty. He’d deleted all of it—every last piece of information relating to Lycanaeris had been erased forever. He should have done it after the very first batch, as soon as he realised what they were trying to do—what they’d already done.
At least they hadn’t started clinical trials yet, and with all the information gone, they wouldn’t be able to now. All that remained were the vials, and he’d take care of them soon enough.
He turned off his monitor and walked over to the bank of fridges along the back wall, housing vials and vials of samples under test. He opened the door to the third fridge and carefully took out the small rectangular container, placing it on the bench. It held ten vials—enough to infect half the population if administered correctly.
He never heard the door open behind him, didn’t register he’d been shot until the pain hit, and red began to spread across the front of his lab coat. He slumped to the floor, the voice of his attacker sounding loud in the silence of the room.
“I have the vials, everything else is gone.”
The answering voice on the other end of the phone came through faint but audible. “The vials are all we need. Do you have them all?”
“Is everyone ready to go?”
“Yes, it’ll be in the water supplies by noon tomorrow.”
“Good. Destroy the lab. And Kestle?”
“Make sure you stock up on bottled water.”
London, January 2015
“Twenty years ago this week, the majority of the UK’s water supply was contaminated by the experimental pathogen, Lycanaeris, resulting in nationwide panic and an almost crippling water shortage. Cerlika Pharmaceuticals, the company behind Lycanaeris, denied any involvement, claiming terrorists stole the pathogen from its Reading laboratory before then setting the facility on fire and killing one of Cerlika’s lead chemists.”
Daniel frowned at the TV as he walked into the living room, while doing up the last of the buttons on his shirt. “What the hell are you watching this rubbish for?” He wandered over to the sofa and sat down on the arm where Matt had his feet propped up. “And get your smelly socks off the cushions.”
“I’m watching because it’s interesting,” Matt said, leaning forward a little and sniffing. “And fuck you, my feet don’t smell.” He turned the volume up.
“Cerlika claimed the pathogen was essentially a new strain of the flu virus, but further details were never released to the general public. The UK’s hospitals and doctors’ surgeries braced themselves for an influx of patients, but after months of waiting, the government claimed the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. By this time, Cerlika Pharmaceuticals no longer existed—having closed its doors under a cloud of suspicion and secrecy and selling off its assets to the highest bidder. The head of Cerlika, John Talson, and his top scientist, Kyle Chambers, disappeared around the same time, so neither was available for questioning. The actual effects of the Lycanaeris pathogen didn’t begin to surface until—”
“God, turn it off.” Daniel snatched the TV remote and pressed the power button before Matt could grab it back. “I don’t know why you insist on watching that shit. It’s not like we don’t know what happened. We were there.”
“Yeah, but we were, like, six years old.”
“I was five, actually.”
Matt sat up and stretched, his muscles flexing and his back cracking as he raised his arms above his head. He was still wearing only his jeans, and they were supposed to be going out in ten minutes. “Don’t you ever wonder what really happened? Why it affected some people and not others?”
Not really. I guess people react differently to viruses. Anyway, Cerlika dissolved almost straight after it happened, and the fire conveniently destroyed any evidence. Obviously they were in it up to their eyes. And the fact that no one was investigated should tell you they had friends in high places. Face it, you’re never going to know the truth, so why bother?” Daniel checked his watch and frowned. “Hurry up and get dressed, or we’re gonna be late.”
Matt’s timekeeping pissed Daniel off no end sometimes. He was one of Daniel’s best friends, they’d known each other since primary school, and he’d always been the last to get ready for anything.
Matt stood, grabbed a dark blue T-shirt from the back of the chair, and tugged it on. “There, I’m ready.” He ran his fingers through his hair a couple of times, bent to pull on his shoes, and ushered Daniel toward the door. “We’re only meeting up for a drink, it’s not like the others’ll be on time either.” Matt paused and glanced back down the hall toward the bedrooms. “Is Ash coming out?”
“No. I asked earlier, and he mumbled something about being busy with wizards and guilds, and was surprised I had the energy after such an exciting day at the library.”
“Yes, the two of you must be exhausted after a day shelving books.” Matt laughed, and avoided Daniel’s attempt to hit him.
“Hey, I only got a job there because I thought it seemed like the last place anyone would think to look. Anyway, we don’t spend the whole day putting books back, and I actually enjoy my job.”
Matt raised an eyebrow, and Daniel glared at him.
“I do. And so does Ash, for that matter, despite what he says. You don’t have to be old to work in a library, so piss off.”
“Okay, no need to get so defensive.” Matt grinned at him before leading the way to the front door, not bothering to put on his jacket. The cold January evening had little effect on him, and Daniel sighed as he tugged on Matt’s shoulder, forcing him to stop. “Matt.”
He grabbed Matt’s coat off the peg and handed it to him.
Ten years of hiding, and Matt still sometimes forgot.
They walked down to the end of their street, and Daniel shivered as they passed the last house and the wind picked up. The buildings in this part of London weren’t huge or overly expensive, but they were mainly well-kept, and the streetlights gave them an old town charm that they didn’t have in the day.
Neighbours were friendly in that they said hello in the mornings, but tended to mind their own business most of the time. Daniel felt as safe here as he probably would anywhere, and they had everything they needed within walking distance or a few stops on the Tube.
The bar they were meeting at tonight was roughly a twenty-minute walk away, maybe fifteen at the pace Matt walked. At six feet tall, Daniel stood an inch shorter than Matt, but he always seemed to struggle to keep up, even though Matt insisted he was walking normally.
As they left the residential area behind, bars and restaurants lined the streets, always busy with a steady hum of people. It had been one of the deciding factors in coming to London in the first place—too many people for them to stand out in the crowd.
“Anything?” Daniel asked, watching Matt out of the corner of his eye.
“A couple, two streets over, and six just up ahead.” Matt flexed his fingers as he spoke, glancing around them.
As they rounded the corner and the bar came into view, Daniel noticed the man on the door. Matt tensed beside him.
The guy was new.
He eyed Daniel curiously, but Daniel didn’t falter, well practiced at tamping down any reaction. The guy was probably looking at his hair anyway. It used to be a nondescript light brown. An okay colour, but nothing that turned heads. The day after the pathogen changed him on the inside, Daniel’s hair turned a shocking silver blond.
Hard to forget.
He’d tried dying it, had gone through the whole range of available dyes and colours, but nothing would take. That had been one of the many reasons his family had to move.
At least his eyes hadn’t changed, though. They were the same blue they’d always been. In fact, apart from his hair and a slight increase in his ability to heal, there was only one other notable difference. Some might call him lucky, but Daniel knew he was anything but.
He carried on walking next to Matt, heart rate steady, and breaths coming slow and even as they neared the pub.
“How late are we?” he asked, pausing in front of the door. But what he meant was “How many are there?” They’d developed simple yet subtle codes over the years. Easy to remember, hopefully impossible to detect, and essential in keeping Daniel’s ability a secret. Forewarned was forearmed.
Matt made a show of looking at his watch. “Only about five minutes, they’re all probably waiting inside.” Five, inside the bar.
With the one on the door, that made six. Not loads, but more than they’d been expecting for a Thursday night. They’d only wanted a quiet drink with friends. Daniel would have to be a little more on his guard than usual, but no big deal.
“Shall we?” Matt gestured toward the door and Daniel nodded. Matt made sure to stand between Daniel and the bouncer, acknowledging the guy with a quick nod before going inside.
The bar lined the back wall of the large room, with tables around the edges and a big open space in the middle. The décor was too modern in Daniel’s opinion—he preferred the old fashioned pub round the corner from their house—but Matt liked it.
Daniel glanced around, looking for their friends and seeing if he could spot the others Matt had sensed. Knowing where they were, and where the exits were, helped him feel more in control of the situation. Just in case.
He scanned the bar, his gaze sliding quickly past the various faces, not daring to linger. Two men sat at a table in the corner, perched on high stools, both with their backs to the wall, giving them a clear view of the room.
Daniel ignored them, showing not a flicker of recognition for what they were. Two more were at the bar—a man and a woman this time, standing closer than friends would, with their fingers loosely entwined, and he searched for the fifth one, all the while following Matt to the far end of the bar where their friends waited.
Daniel was about to give up, before it could become obvious he was looking, when the hairs on the back of his neck tingled—a sensation he hadn’t felt in a long time—making him shiver. He wanted to turn around, desperate to see what or who had caused him to react that way, but years of forcing himself to hide what he was kept Daniel firmly in place.
“Hey, Dan? You okay?” Matt nudged him gently with his elbow.
They’d reached their friends—two guys Matt worked with. Daniel smiled at them while Matt’s gaze slid down to Daniel’s chest.
Shit. His heart rate must have spiked. Daniel hoped the bar was loud enough to cover it, because altereds, or shifters as the newspapers called them, had exceptional hearing and everyone was suspicious these days. The last thing they needed was to draw any curious glances.
They ordered their drinks. Only after chatting for at least five minutes did Daniel allow himself to turn around, rest his back against the bar, and have another scan around the room.
He sipped at his pint, nodding along with the conversation while stealing glances at those around him. The tingly feeling hadn’t come back, but Daniel still felt off-kilter.
The two men at the corner table sat there, drinking bottled beer and appearing deep in conversation. Daniel didn’t think for one second they weren’t aware of everything going on around them.
He laughed at the joke Matt was in the middle of telling, chipping in for a bit and teasing him, and then he felt it again, creeping up the back of his spine like icy fingers. Daniel stayed perfectly still, suppressing his body’s natural reaction, and carefully turned to place his empty pint glass on the bar.
He let his gaze wander along to the end of the bar, past the couple he’d spotted earlier, and—
He sucked in a sharp breath before he could stop himself. Usually he got a flash of images, depending on how much they’d been altered—claws, teeth, and fur if they changed fully, but never anything like this. One minute Daniel was looking at a tall dark-haired, really hot man, and in the blink of an eye he’d changed into a huge black wolf, fangs bared in a snarl—clearer than anything he’d seen before.
The image vanished almost as soon as it appeared, and the noise from the bar suddenly jarred Daniel back to his senses.
He could be in serious trouble. His gasp had almost certainly been audible to altered senses, and his heart had begun to race before he’d managed to get himself under control. The whole thing lasted no more than a few seconds at most, but long enough for every altered in the room to notice if they were paying attention.
Matt stiffened next to him. A quick squeeze on Daniel’s arm let him know Matt had heard.
God, he hadn’t been that sloppy in years. Daniel had to fight the urge to run out of the bar. The need to get away was almost too much to contain, but if any of the five had noticed him, running would only add to their suspicions.
Daniel didn’t dare look at any of the altereds again, his fear of discovery barely concealed as it was. But then Matt moved in close beside him, ordered them both another pint, and quickly shook his head.
None of the others had reacted.
“You sure?” he asked, pointing at Matt’s new pint. Are you sure they didn’t notice anything?
He wanted to ask Matt what he meant by that, but with so many shifters around that was out of the question.
Matt tapped at his pint. “Last one, then we’ll make our excuses and go. I’m not feeling it tonight.”
“Yeah, okay.” Daniel took a big swallow of his beer and relaxed back against the bar again as though he hadn’t just put his life—and possibly Matt’s by association—in danger.
Half an hour later, Daniel was zipping up his jacket as he stepped out of the bar into the freezing night air. He hated winter—cold and dark when he got up in the morning and the same when he arrived home at night.
“Bollocks. I left my coat inside.”
“Again?” Daniel sighed. “I’ll wait here while you go and get it.” Matt hesitated, clearly reluctant to leave Daniel on his own, but Daniel shooed him back inside. It’d take Matt all of two minutes, and the bouncer was right there. Nothing was going to happen. “Hurry up, I’m getting cold.”
“Okay, but….” He held up two fingers and shot a quick glance down the street. Two shifters.
“I’ll stay right here.” Daniel nodded toward the bouncer. He might be a shifter too, but as long as he thought Daniel was harmless, he’d provide protection.
The door opened seconds after Matt had gone through it. Daniel had the words “What now?” on the tip of his tongue, convinced it was Matt coming back out, but one of the bar staff poked his head out instead, and the sounds of fighting filtered out into the street.
“You better get in here.” The barman looked pissed off—and wet.
The bouncer rushed inside after him, leaving Daniel on his own.
He glanced up and down the street, rubbing his hands together to keep warm and subtly trying to see if the two shifters Matt had sensed were anywhere near him. The whole thing felt off. The pub had seen better days, and the clientele could be on the rough side, so occasionally fights broke out. But this early on a Thursday night? Surely no one was drunk enough for that yet?
And what was taking Matt so long?
Daniel stepped toward the door, figuring he’d rather take his chances inside than out here on his own, but a heavy hand landed on his shoulder before he had chance to open it.
“You’re coming with us.”
Daniel didn’t hesitate. The grip was too strong to be human, and he was sure claws were pressing through his jacket and into his skin. He grabbed hold of his attacker’s wrist and pulled, twisting his body at the same time and catching them off guard. He hadn’t trained in years, but the muscle memory was still there.
The guy stumbled, cursing as he slammed into the wall behind Daniel. “What the fuck?”
He might not have enhanced speed and strength, but Daniel had studied tae kwon do for eight years before his family had to move. He could take care of himself.
Well, in a fair fight, anyway.
The punch that landed as Daniel tried to open the door to the bar was anything but. It caught him squarely on the jaw, knocking his head to the side and sending him flailing backwards to land on his arse on the cold concrete.
“He’s just a bloody seer, Jason. What the hell is wrong with you?”
Daniel struggled to his feet in time to see a bloke built like a rugby player, pulling another one—Jason—roughly to his feet. They both turned around, and before Daniel had got fully upright, they had him pinned to the wall in the alleyway next to the bar.
His head spun from being moved so quickly, but they didn’t give him chance to get his bearings. The next punch hit him in the ribs, followed by sharp claws raking down his side and tearing through his jacket and T-shirt. Daniel collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath.
He fingered at the rips in his clothing, and winced. Sore but not bloody.
“What are you doing here?” one of the men growled out. He kicked Daniel hard, his boot connecting with Daniel’s already tender side and making Daniel retch.
“Having… a fucking… drink,” Daniel spat out, clutching at his bruised ribs.
“Funny.” The rugby player—prop forward if Daniel was picking positions—pulled Daniel up and pressed him hard against the wall, his large hand wrapped loosely around Daniel’s throat.
“Look….” Daniel stalled, the pain in his side making it difficult to think clearly. He hadn’t been recognised once since they’d come to London, and he was pissed off with himself for being so careless. The guy tightened his grip, and Daniel struggled to get the words out. “I don’t work for anyone. I’m not looking for anyone. I’m just here with my mates, for a drink.”
Jason—the guy not preoccupied with slowly suffocating Daniel—stiffened, and his head whipped round to look back down the alley toward the road. “We’ve got company.” He sniffed the air and growled, turning back to glare at Daniel with his fangs fully extended. “Shifter,” he muttered, the words slightly distorted by his lengthened teeth. “Smells like him.”
As the pressure disappeared from around his throat, Daniel gasped for air and slumped back against the wall.
“Hey!” Matt’s voice echoed off the sides of the alleyway. “What the hell is going on?” He snarled, low and threatening, and the next moment he was there, standing between Daniel and the other two shifters.
Matt was hunched over, claws out.
“I believe I asked you a fucking question.” His back and shoulders rippled with tension. Matt was generally easy-going, loud, and friendly—until you pissed him off enough to make him shift.
The other two shifters had claws and fangs, more than enough to tear Matt apart between them, but he held his ground.
Rugby Guy laughed, and Daniel tensed. “What d’you think you’re gonna do?” He gestured to Matt and then to himself and his friend. “You can’t take us. And why the hell are you with him, anyway?” He sneered as he nodded at Daniel. “Do you know what he is?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“The facilities still exist. They were never fucking shut down, and they use people like him to pick us out of a crowd. And yet you still protect him?” Rugby Guy scoffed.
Matt flexed his hands, claws ready. Shit. The last thing they needed was a fight when the odds were so obviously not in their favour. Daniel reached out to place his hand in the small of Matt’s back.
As soon as Daniel touched him, Matt shuddered and took a deep breath, his shoulders relaxing as he slowly let it out… and said, “With my life.”