Home > Sedona Sanctuary (Sedona Pack #8)

Sedona Sanctuary (Sedona Pack #8)
Author: Lisa Kessler

 

CHAPTER 1

 


Miller


I stared my cell phone, willing the damned words to change. No such fucking luck. Senator Hanson knew the judge was dead. There was no stuffing that genie back in the bottle. I’d known we couldn’t keep the charade going forever, but I’d hoped to hide the fact that he was gone for a few more months. I was so close to getting the leverage I needed to keep the senator from declassifying the super soldier research that would expose shifters to the world.

Weighing my options, I sucked in a slow, deep breath through my nose and read the text for the hundredth time.

I’m not covering for killers, Sloan. The military isn’t going to shield you anymore, either. The world is going to know who you are. Soon.

My finger hovered over the senator’s private cell phone number, but my better judgment kept me from pressing it. He was goading me into making a mistake. It would be a tactical error to engage the enemy without having a defense and a ready counterattack.

I stuffed my cell phone back into the pocket of my jeans and approached the counter. Gail was already ringing up my black coffee and plain bagel. I handed her a ten-dollar bill. “The change is for you.”

“Thanks, General.” Her eyes sparkled as she grinned. “It’ll be ready in a couple minutes.”

Even though the three cashiers rotated shifts, my order never changed so they all knew what to ring up as soon as I walked in. Maybe it was because I’d spent a lifetime in the military, but I found comfort in routines. Knowing exactly what lay ahead each day meant fewer surprises, which was a win in my book.

“Thank you.” I didn’t tell her I retired, forced into it by the senator and his Transparency Collective emperors. The first time I’d come through the doors here, I’d been wearing my dress uniform. Gail didn’t know I no longer led the Air Force. No one in Sedona did.

Maybe I was a little more pissed about my forced retirement than I wanted to admit.

“Excuse me, could I get some creamers?” a woman on my right asked.

Her straight auburn hair cascaded to the middle of her back like liquid fire. Gail handed her some little white tubs, and when the woman turned, her deep-blue eyes met mine for a moment. She forced a polite curve to her lips and went back to her table in the corner and sat behind a laptop screen.

I studied her for a minute. I’d never seen her here before. Java Joe’s wasn’t in the tourist heart of Sedona, and since I’d arrived in the desert town a few months back, I visited this coffee shop at 9:00 a.m. every Monday through Friday. I knew all the regulars, and she wasn’t one of them.

I definitely would’ve remembered her.

She lifted her gaze and caught me staring, but she didn’t blush or break eye contact, almost as if she was daring me to look away first. Deep from the shadows of my soul, my wolf snarled. She wouldn’t be baiting me if she knew I was a werewolf.

“Here’s your coffee and bagel, General.”

I spun around at the sound of Gail’s voice. “Thanks.”

When I turned back with the steaming mug and the plate, the woman was feverishly typing on her laptop. The moment had passed. It was just as well. I didn’t have time for any distractions right now anyway.

My usual table was in the northern corner facing the door. The woman with the creamers was on the opposite side of the coffee shop, all her attention still on her computer screen. I took a bite of my breakfast and pulled out my phone again, mentally going through my options.

I was running out of the damned things.

The Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces was led by Senator Carl Hanson from Massachusetts. I’d worked with him for the past twenty years as the liaison to the Department of Defense, and after all those years, the bastard had gone behind my back and forced me out. I hadn’t understood why at the time, but once I’d discovered his connections with a shadow faction that called themselves the Transparency Collective, I’d realized that somewhere along the way his priorities had changed.

I found out about his involvement with the Collective too late.

The Transparency Collective had been formed when a computer programmer had accidentally stumbled onto research footage of a werewolf shifting during the first top-secret super soldier project. Operation Moonlight was the name of the experiment, and the horrific footage he’d hacked was…me.

I’d spent my life working to keep all that research hidden, and now the senator was on the brink of declassifying all of it. I wasn’t just covering my own ass. There were wolf packs all over the world, peacefully living among humans and shifting far from human eyes during the full moon. Unlike in the movies, most of us were born this way, with the shifter gene passing from a father to his twin sons. Because of that, we stayed away from hospitals, and the only medical doctors that treated us were usually pack members. We even cremated our dead so no shifter DNA would ever be discovered.

Countless lives were going to be ruined if the super soldier research was declassified and released into the world. Humans killed what they feared, and if that footage got out, they would most definitely be afraid. We’d be hunted, and our children would never be safe again.

After another bite of my bagel, I started a reply to the senator.

I had nothing to do with Judge Mitch Jones’s death. The death certificate says he died of heart failure. Your threats are short-sighted. You still don’t understand how many Americans are shifters. You’ll start a civil war you can’t hope to win. When you’re ready to talk, you know my number.

Hopefully he’d accept my bluff. The truth was, humans outnumbered shifters by at least fifty to one, but I was probably the only person in the country who knew that. For decades I’d been the only one recruiting werewolves from their packs to serve in the military. My Alpha, Allen Caldwell, had filled my head with the idea I could make a difference. In hindsight, he’d been very close with Antonio Severino, who ran the Nero Organization. Severino had won coveted defense contracts to develop super soldiers. I hadn’t known about the conflict of interest back then. I had pressured my twin brother and our friends to join with me. Now I loathed myself for it, but at the time, I’d bought into all the bullshit about the country being threatened by mounting military forces on multiple fronts. I’d believed that shifters might be able to provide the key to a stronger military.

But that was before I’d witnessed how far my country was willing to go—and who they were willing to sacrifice—to protect its interests. By the time I’d recognized it, I was already a cog in the machine.

I’d spent the past ten years trying to repair the damage and bury the evidence of the super soldier programs, but every time I thought I’d put the lid on one leak, another popped up. And I wasn’t an overconfident young man anymore. I was fucking exhausted.

But my work wasn’t finished, not yet.

I swallowed my coffee, relishing the way it burned down my throat, cauterizing a lifetime of wounds. If only it were so easy.

“Dammit.” The auburn-haired woman cursed under her breath at her laptop.

No human would’ve heard it, but with my heightened sense of hearing I had no trouble.

She groaned. “Are you kidding me?”

I glanced over at the woman at the keyboard. Her eyes met mine, and she took out her earbuds with a sheepish almost-smile, as though she only just realized she’d spoken aloud.

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