Shift, Inc, Book 1
by Crymsyn Hart
[ Paranormal Romance, MMFM ]
Beneath the complex relationships lies a horrible curse Hannia has been running from for centuries. The only way he can break the curse is to kill his mate, but Samuel’s wolf is not going to let anything happen to Nia.
Samuel Grey shifted in his seat as he stared at his boss’s desk. The managing partner of Shift, Inc., Booker Rufus, was running late. Samuel hated to be kept waiting even if it was for his best friend. He had grown up with the Rufus brothers: Ward, Booker, Toren, and Misha. Samuel and Booker were the same age. Samuel had become Booker’s beta even before they were teenagers. Booker led one of the largest packs in New England, and Samuel could hold the order in the pack. However, in the human world, Samuel had bounced from job to job. When Booker offered him a position guarding others, his one stipulation was he wouldn’t protect any humans. Shifters only. For the last ten years, things had gone well. Except for his last assignment.
It haunted him.
Booker had given Samuel time to clear his head. He had traveled, but it had made things worse. Then there were the dreams. Nightmares where a woman, whose face he couldn’t see, was getting torn apart by some horrid beast. .No matter what he did to intervene to save the woman nothing worked. There were two other men who stayed in the shadows. He awoke breathless and sweating nearly every night.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Booker walked into the room. Samuel got up and they exchanged a quick hug. Booker went behind his desk. “Damn, Samuel, you look like shit. Are you still not sleeping?”
The weariness of the day settled upon him as he sunk back into the chair. He knew dark circles accentuated his eyes. His hair had refused to be tamed. Samuel despised the city. The throngs, scents, and the overall noise upset his wolf. It yearned to return to the suburbs and run in the woods around his house. He agreed with his inner animal. “Sleep hasn’t been my friend. I’m used to that these days. What was so important you dragged me here? Is it pack business or work?”
Booker ran his fingers through his hair. “A little bit of both. A delegation from one of the bear clans is arriving down from Maine. The leader is an old friend of the family. You remember Walter Grant?”
Samuel rubbed his chin, feeling the two day scruff. “Big fellow. Seven-five, I recall, and about three or four hundred pounds. Very boisterous and used to give all the children suckers.”
His boss chuckled. “That’s him. He and his daughter are meeting with their new Shaman. The bears are more… spiritual than us. Walter rattled off that the new Shaman could shift by wearing animal skins or some such nonsense.”
“Yeah, they call it skin walking, but that doesn’t make them a true shape shifter.”
“Whatever the Shaman does, Walter has hired us to escort them around Boston. His daughter specifically asked for you.”
His brows furrowed. “His daughter? I didn’t even know Walter had a daughter. Isn’t he too old? He was ancient when we were kids.”
The phone rang, but Booker ignored it. “He was. You might recall her. She trailed us around making googly eyes at you.”
Samuel flashed back to his childhood summers. They played at a camp the family owned which was now where the pack gathered at each full moon. Nia had been eight when she tagged along behind him, looking to do anything he said. She’d neem a gangly kid with long pigtails, a pointy chin, big glasses, and uneven teeth. “Why would she want me?”
“I let it slip that you worked for us. So she asked if you were available. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking…”
He clenched the arms of the chair. The wood groaned from his fingers wrapping around the handles. Samuel counted to ten and forced the anger away before addressing Booker. “Are you ordering me to take on this assignment as my boss or the leader of my pack?”
“It’s not an order. It’d be a favor for me, the pack, and the company. They’re paying us a good amount of money, but this is up to you. Sam, you have to get back into it sometime. What happened wasn’t your fault.”
“Of course it was my fault. You gave me the assignment and I… she… I couldn’t…” Samuel shook his head and fought back the echoing shrieks of the girl he had sworn to watch over.
“Hey, if you’re not ready to do this, then I completely understand. I wanted to give you the option. Walter and Nia will be here tomorrow night. They’re supposed to meet this guy at the airport on Saturday. Join us at Giuseppe’s in the North End to at least reminisce. I’m sure they’d want to see you any way. Nia will wonder where you are,” Booker admitted.
“Fine. I’ll come to dinner. But you’re paying. And I’m not dressing up.”
“Works for me. I’ll see you then.”
* * *
Samuel tugged on his shirt and checked his watch. He was early, but he hated being late. He examined his reflection in the glass. The circles under his eyes were deeper. Sleep had come easily the night before. This time his nightmare had changed. The nightly vision became one inhabited with large bears challenging him, a man in the woods observing this, and some other male presence in the shadows. All their faces remained obscured.
Samuel had chosen a newer pair of jeans and a button down shirt to make him look somewhat respectable. He wasn’t sure he could pull it off. Booker was counting on him, and he would never let his friend or pack leader down. He tugged at the collar, butterflies bombarding his stomach. Meeting clients was always the worst. He checked his watch one more time. They hadn’t shown up yet, which meant they either weren’t coming or they were already inside.
Taking a deep breath, he entered Giuseppe’s. No one manned the podium. Forks scraped over china, making him wince at the shrill sound. Delicious aromas assailed his nose. His stomach grumbled at the thought of food.
Samuel perused the patrons and heard Walter before he saw him. The boisterous laugh resonated within the room. He turned toward the chuckle and saw a shock of brown hair shot through with white. Walter had on jeans and a blue flannel shirt. Booker sat across the table from him. A white jacket hung on the back of one of the chairs. A virtual buffet was spread on the table. Samuel didn’t see Nia. Booker gestured for him to come join them. He started to walk toward them when the world went black. Smooth hands covered his eyes. His nostrils flared at the aroma of vanilla masking the heady scent of the bear. He growled low in his throat. The sultry laughter behind him made his pulse race. It stirred the wolf in him. Samuel spun around and seized the arms of the person who had blinded him.
Her chiseled cheekbones signaled her Native American heritage. Her skin was lightly golden, a mixture of different browns and tans he didn’t have a word for. Her bright blue eyes reminded him of a cloudless sky. Dark brown hair cascaded down her back in lush ringlets. Her full lips had him so mesmerized while she spoke he didn’t catch what she was saying.
“… letting me go please?”
The words registered. Samuel released her, still dumbfounded at her beauty. His cock stiffened at the thought of climbing between her thighs, experiencing her soft curves, and discovering what she tasted like. “Sorry.”
She snapped her fingers before his face. He blinked again and withdrew from his daze. “Samuel.”
“What?” he barked. It seemed as if he was awaking from a sleep. Then again, the fitful nights were grating on him.
“It’s me. Nia.”
He forced his lips into a smile. “Hi. Sorry. I didn’t recognize you.”
“Uh-huh. It has been forever. God, you must remember the pain in the ass following you guys around all the time.”
“Sounds about right.”
“There you two are. Nia, did you find your phone in the car?” Booker asked her, tugging on Samuel’s shirt to get his attention. “Where were you?”
“Sorry, boss.” He threw the pack alpha a smile.
“Hey, Booker. I did find it.” Nia held up her phone showing she had retrieved it. “Slipped between the seats. Happens a lot. God, I’m starving. I hope Walter hasn’t been a bear. I know my father can get rather loud.”
“Not at all. Come on and sit down. We ordered a few appetizers while we were waiting for everyone to get here.”
Samuel followed the two of them. The sway of Nia’s hips made his wolf howl within his mind. He winced at the sound but enjoyed the way the black fabric of her skirt spread over the round mounds of her ass. She had curves in all the right places. He always preferred a woman with some meat on her bones. This certainly wasn’t the girl he remembered. She had come into her own.
Nia slid into her seat across from him. The vee neckline of her purple sweater rested just on the dip of her breasts. She laughed at something Booker said. Her lips spread into a dazzling grin, and her eyes twinkled under the overhead lights.
A sharp pain in his thigh made him tear his gaze from Nia. Booker shot him a murderous look. He bit his lip and tried to hide the chuckle bubbling up inside of him. Booker lifted an eyebrow, and Samuel knew he wanted him to pay attention to their potential clients rather than check out Nia. His wolf wasn’t listening to him. His gaze moved back over to Nia. Her lips moved again and all he could think about was tasting them.
“So, Samuel. You haven’t changed one bit.”
“I’m sorry, what?” he asked Walter.
The man threw back his head and laughed. “Still focused on your fantasy world, it takes someone to pull your attention back to reality.”
Samuel nodded, half listening.
“Father, stop pestering Sam. I’m sure he’s changed a lot in twenty years. He doesn’t want to hear you ragging on him the way you do.” Nia poked her father in the arm.
Walter patted her hand. “Always watching what I say. You’re better suited to be the diplomat of the bunch than I ever was. It’s a good thing you’re coming tomorrow to convince this man to come back with us. She has single handedly brought peace to our area with the lion clans, the coyotes, and the bird shifters. We all share a single territory now.”
“That’s impressive,” Samuel commented. He understood the importance of politics being Booker’s second in the pack. However, he hated dealing with it.
“It is.” Walter’s eyes were full of pride.
Nia shook her head. Her cheeks burned red from the compliments. “Dad, enough. They didn’t come here to hear you brag about me. They want to know what the agenda for tomorrow is.”
“We can talk about that later. You know my rule.” Walter eyed his daughter, his tone hardening into that of the leader Samuel remembered.
Nia rolled her eyes. “No business during dinner. Yeah. Yeah, I know. Fine.” She grabbed the spoons nestled in the antipasti and loaded some onto her plate. She handed them across to Samuel with a small smile.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
Samuel heard a phone vibrate next to him. Booker swiped his cell. His expression fell. “Shit.”
“Everything okay?” Walter inquired.
Booker glanced down at the screen. Samuel’s stomach knotted in dread. He didn’t want to be left all alone with Walter and his daughter. The boss looked over at him. “Trouble with Dusty and Minar again.”
“Do you need me as your second?” Please say yes. He would rather deal with squabbling cubs than a night out alone with the bears.
“No. I’ll be fine. Besides, business is more important in this case. I’ll get Charlotte to go with me. She can distract them. If I’m not back tomorrow, just stay with them.” Booker stood up. “Walter, sorry, my friend. Pack business calls. Nia, you’re in good hands with Samuel.”
Walter drew Booker into a big hug and planted a kiss on his cheek. “I completely understand. A leader’s job is never done. I’ll fill Samuel in on the details for tomorrow’s rendezvous.”
Samuel cast a long glance at Booker who shrugged his shoulders. He brought his pinky and thumb to his ear in a gesture that he would call. Samuel wasn’t so sure he would. If Dusty was feuding again on where his yard started and ended, it would take all night and into tomorrow to settle the argument.
“You look positively green. Everything all right?” Nia asked.
He took a long sip of water and forced it down. As he stared into her expectant eyes, instead of her bright blue ones, he flashed back to his last assignment. Dead eyes glared back at him. The accusing stare seared into his memory because he hadn’t been able to save the last person he was assigned to. “Excuse me. I need to get some air.”
Samuel walked outside of the restaurant. A cold breeze hit him and helped to clear his mind. His stomach flopped and flipped from the image of the girl he had lost.
“Hey, are you okay?”
The light touch on his shoulder roused him. He turned to his side and peered into Nia’s soul-filled eyes. He could lose himself in them if he had been in a better place mentally. “I’m fine. Sorry. I haven’t been sleeping much. Bad dreams.”
“Dreams can do that to you. If this is too much, we can ask Booker for someone else. I just thought it’d be nice to see you again. It’s been so long, and you were always my favorite out of the wolves.”
“No. It’s fine. I’ll be better tomorrow. We’re meeting your Shaman at the airport, and the flight comes in at…”
She placed a hand on his arm. “It lands at noon so we should be there by 11:30, just to be on the safe side. We rented a car, too. Daddy didn’t want to show up in his old Ford pick-up.”
He shook his head. “Not a good idea. Traffic is a bitch in Boston, and getting in and out of the airport is actually easier if you take the subway. I’ll pick you up at your hotel about 10:30. It will give us plenty of time to get to the airport with transferring to the different trains.”
“Sounds good. Are you coming back inside to finish dinner?”
The thought of food made his stomach flip again. “Not a good idea. I’m sorry. Can you find your way back to the hotel?” Samuel felt bad about bailing on a client, especially Nia and her father, but it wasn’t a good idea for him to be around others tonight. Instead of going back to his house, he would stay at one of the firm’s apartments in the city.
“We should be fine. It’s not my first time here. Daddy wanted to go to Chinatown to gather a few herbs. He has it in his head to make some alliance with the more exotic shifters.”
“Sounds like you’re going to have to keep him out of trouble.”
“That’s nothing new since my mother died. He’s been piling on more duties to make sure the others know I’m going to be in charge when he passes on.”
His expression fell. “That isn’t… I mean he’s not –”
She chuckled. “No. He’s fine. Healthy as a bear. He just wants to step down from leadership. Take it easy to enjoy the grandkids.”
“You have a mate and little cubs?”
Nia cringed at the question. “No. Who wants to be tied down? Dad says I’m just like my mother, and one day it’s going to hit me that I want to settle down. He says it has something to do with me being mixed.”
“Part Indian… I mean Native American and white?” Samuel asked.
“No. Well my mother was half Maliseet. But I meant mixed shifter. Dad is a bear and Mom was half mountain lion and half bear.”
“Ahh. I never realized.” The longer he talked to her, the more Samuel’s stomach settled down. Nia eased his stress. If she wasn’t a client, then he would enjoy talking to her more.
“Not many knew because she was from another sleuth. Dad fell in love with her. When she changed she was all bear, just a little shorter and leaner.”
“What about you?”
“Nia, are you two going to come back in and finish this food? I can’t eat it all by myself.” Walter spoke from the doorway, his voice filling the silence Samuel had sought.
“Coming. Samuel was just saying he has a touch of food poisoning. You think we can get along without him?” Nia asked, casting him a side glance.
It was apparent she knew something had disturbed him other than what he was saying. However, Nia wasn’t making him look bad in front of her father. Walter slapped him on the back hard enough Samuel coughed. “Too bad, my boy. I ordered a feast.”
“Make sure you bill Shift, Inc. for it. Again, I’m sorry I can’t stay. But yes, I don’t feel I could make it through the night.” He made a pained face and hoped it was believable.
“You go ahead. We’ll see you tomorrow.” Walter waved him to go off.
“Good night.” Samuel cast a glance at Nia. She looked at him before she went back into the restaurant. He slipped into the throngs walking by Giuseppe’s, heading toward one of the firm’s apartments. All he could think of was Nia’s radiant smile.