Adina struggled to lift herself off of the... what was she on?
"Where am I?" she groaned, lifting a hand to her throbbing forehead. She regretted the action quickly. Her upper body was bent at the waist, and her abdomen did not possess the strength to uphold herself. She replaced the raised hand behind her back, where it supported her weight with the help of her other arm.
She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes to block out the swimming vision before her. The smell of mulch and detergent filled her senses. Something in the warm air reminded her of the zoo. Is that where she was? When the dizziness passed, she opened her eyes and gazed around the room. A row of metal cabinets hung on a brick wall across from her. Beneath it was a matching metal counter top, three sinks embedded within. There was an emergency wash station beyond the cabinets, and near the corner were two thin doors that were swaying beneath the fluctuations in the air.
Twisting to her left, she caught sight of doorless lockers and a closet, long in length but lacking in depth. However, Adina's attention fixed itself to a tall man dressed in a fitted, tan security outfit. He stood formidably, five paces away from where she sat. His arms were crossed over his lean chest, with the fingers on one hand running back and forth across his tight lips.
She recognized his sharply cut features and mousy brown hair. His blue eyes, however, were less friendly now than when she had first seen him. When she and Tiger arrived at the zoo, the young man before her had met them at the gate and allowed them entrance without paying for tickets. Adina licked her lips as trepidation filled her, and she glanced around the room for answers. The cots looked more for medical purposes than security, but what did she know? Was this a zoo's version of prison?
Adina turned back to the security guard, her throat tight. "Am I in trouble? Is this about not paying for my ticket? Because you told us it was alright." Her voice wavered and she tried to hold strong. What sort of cruel person would encourage her to break a rule one minute and hold her accountable the next? She had wanted to pay for their entrance, pleaded with him to allow her to pay, but he and Tiger had forced her to go in without doing so. She had known she was going to regret giving in to them.
The guard waved his hand casually through the air and lowered his arms. "No, Adina, you're not in trouble... Not for an unpaid zoo ticket, anyway."
Adina sat up straighter and adjusted her body so she could face the guard. The movement let her legs dangle off the cot, and her little toes could barely reach the hard, cold floor. The edges of her eyes creased with worry. "Not in trouble for my ticket? What does that mean? Am I in trouble for something else?"
Ted raised his hands, halting Adina's trembling voice before it grew to a shrill volume. He could not stand that happening, and his spine tingled at his thoughts of the pain brought by a screaming female voice. "We're trying to help you."
Adina looked around at the use of a plural subject and managed a small smile when she saw Tiger's semi-warm face. He had looked much angrier before, surely this improvement was a good thing.
"Help me?" Adina continued her search of the room, looking for something to jog her memory. Why did she need help? Her eyes welled up at the sight of Daniel laying beside her. How had she not noticed him? Why was she constantly forgetting him?
"Daniel!" she shouted, sliding down from her cot and stumbling over to his side. He was breathed gently and sweating profusely. Adina rubbed the salty drops from his forehead, keeping them away from his eyes. She looked up at Tiger and the guard, whose name she thought she remembered hearing. Ted, wasn't it? She couldn't recall for sure, but she had far more pressing matters to concern herself with.
"What happened to him? Is he okay?"
"He's fine," Tiger answered gruffly while Ted tried to hold in his smile. His memory of tasering the young man was flashing vividly before his imagination. There was just something fun about bringing down a weaker opponent and showing one's dominance. He couldn't be blamed for that, could he?
"That doesn't explain what happened to him," Adina said quietly, concern evident on her pale face. "What are we doing here? Why isn't he awake?"
"I, uh," Ted paused. She was a woman, a human woman... who cared for the male... how could he phrase it gently? Think... how would Terrik say it? "I insisted he take a time out." The words felt fuzzy coming from his throat, as if he had just puked up a kitten. He hated it. His eye twitched. How could Terrik speak like that and feel like a man?
Tiger choked at Ted's admission, and the two exchanged a look. Ted shrugged. He had tried it Terrik's way, and that obviously didn't fit Ted's style.
"What does that mean?" Adina pressed, feeling the odd energy in the room. Something peculiar was going on, and she didn't want to ignorant of such matters - especially if Daniel's well-being was at stake.
"Adina, this man of yours was going to bite you. At the time, you didn't look pleased with the thought of bearing his claiming mark, so I tasered him. When Tiger called me this morning, he suggested the zoo would be a safe place to hide and protect you. On my honor, we will do our best to help you settle the dispute between you and your first mate. I thought it logical to make sure we have only one man bound to you at a time."
Adina stood, more confused than ever. "What?" she questioned. Was she dreaming? This sounded like a dream. Daniel would not bite her. He wasn't an animal.
"A-hem," Tiger interrupted with a forced, fake cough. His eyes glowed as he shook his head pointedly at Ted, saying, Stop! without a word.
Ted, apparently, did not get the message, no matter how blatant. He frowned and turned back to Adina. "What confused you, hun? Your mate?" he suggested, trying to prompt her memory. Most people didn't forget getting bitten by a Were. "You mean to say you forgot the fellow who stuck his stuck his teeth into the flesh of your hand?" Ted brought his own hand up to his mouth and bit on it with a growl. "Look familiar? Someone did the same to your hand when he gave you that love mark there."
"Love mark?" Adina frowned. She pulled her hand up to her chest when Ted looked at it. She stared down at it, her fingers tracing the mostly healed wound. "I got this from a snake," she protested.
"Yeah, Were-snake," Ted grunted. What was wrong with this girl? He felt sorry for whoever was mated to her. She was a few stripes short of being a real zebra, if you know what he means.
"Were-snake?" Adina breathed. "What are you talking about? I don't know what kind of snake it was. The forest was too dark. I could barely see."
Ted rolled his slanted blue eyes with a groan. "I'm talking about species, honey, not breed. I'm talking about a human-snake hybrid. A being that can shift forms between snake and human. Similar to a Were-wolf, except the non-human genes originate from the Serpentes suborder of the Animalia kingdom. Is any of this making sense or am I talking to a plastic dummy here? Hello?" He knocked on his head for extra measure, but Adina was already lost.
She looked down to see the snake's head attached to the back of her right hand... A pair of two bare feet... Fangs bared and buried into her skin... Barely distinguishable legs entered her vision... Snake... Human... Poison... A voice... a whisper...
"You survived to be mine, and I will have you."
"Oh my God," Adina cried, trying not to scream. Maybe what Ted mentioned did make sense, more than Adina wanted to admit. Was it true? She was trapped in the horrid memory of her mind. She could feel the fear, feel the spicy lava consuming her blood. Her knees felt week.
"Crap," Ted muttered, his heart tightening as he watched the seen before him. His eyes flicked to Tiger's to seek confirmation. His blood chilled when he received it: She hadn't known.
How in the world had a girl gotten involved with one of the most ruthless Were-hunting families, been mated to a Were-snake, and now nearly mated to a Were-hybrid-that-Ted-had-yet-to-identify, all without knowing about the existence of Weres? Was it possible for someone to be that blockheaded?
A shrill cry broke into the air, and Ted's hand went to the taser on his hip. She was going hysterical. He had to knock her out, but tasering her again? In so short a time? He grit his teeth and ran to the cabinets, glancing at Tiger with a look commanding the man to watch her. He rummaged through the drawers. There was some chloroform in there somewhere. Women, he bemoaned.
Adina choked as a scream welled up in her throat. Vision after vision of haunting yellow-green eyes taunted her as a snake sang a deadly song, slithering toward her and sliding its tongue out to taste her. She was going to go insane.
"Adina, what's wrong?" a smooth voice called.
The sound was too slick to be in her conscious. The bass voice was too resonant and too silken. Knowing her nightmare had come for her, she followed her master's call and lowered her gaze to him.
Daniel was staring at her from the collapsible cot upon which he lay, except it was no longer Daniel that lay there. The man's face was too pale, his features too assertive, and his eyes too stifling. No longer slate-blue, they were silver and unsightly, the pupil a mere slit. He licked his lips, which curled into a cruel grin. His tongue seemed to dart from his mouth, which gaped open, displaying sharp teeth.
Adina took a small step back, and a horrid hiss escaped his lips. Adina did not know if she started to fall first or if her descent was only after he moved, but when he lunged, her life went slack.
Becky did not know where she was heading. Surrounded by animals, surrounded by Weres, nowhere felt safe. No one could protect her. She left the building, rushing to a nearby railing. The metal bar dug into her hip as her fingers held on for dear life. An animal's pen lay open ten feet below. There were three deer lounging beneath her. One was chewing lazy as it observed her. With a quick lick of its lips, the animal nodded his head and turned away, licking the baby deer that was seeking attention.
Becky sighed, her shoulders collapsing. Hard days like today made her hate her life. She should be delighted that she was human, that she was not bound to instinct. Yet the burden of being aware in ways that only humans could be, well, some days that burden grew too heavy. How could she bare to lift it anymore? She felt the weight of the world closing in around her. Had she any chance to survive?
Becky stiffened when she felt another weight on her, the weight of a person's gaze. She turned around, her green eyes like piercing shards. The culprit was out in the open.
"Oh, it's you," she spat, seeing Terrik's lean form.
Terrik quirked his lips and slowly clapped his hands, each clap a soft, gentle sound. Becky was not sure if it was sincere or mocking. His tone was just as indecipherable. "Congratulations. I am impressed. You felt my presence within four seconds. I must say, a Were would have felt it immediately, but for a human, I am impressed."
Becky rolled her eyes and turned back to the animals beneath her. She ignored the heat of Terrik's body when he came to stand beside her, his forearms resting on the railing and resting his weight on one leg.
"I suppose I shouldn't be all that impressed, after all, you are one of the better hunters. There is no surprise to know you have been trained. So how does it feel?"
Becky turned to him, her eyes narrowed. Her voice was clipped, abrupt. "How does what feel?"
Terrik smiled, far too brightly considering what he was about to say. "Being trained to be like an animal?" Still smiling, he turned away from her, resting his back on the bar, one leg moved over the other. "I find it curious, that's all. You hate Weres and animals with so great a passion that you kill us in cold blood. Yet, to protect yourself from retribution, you train yourselves to heighten your sensitivity. You sharpen your instincts, listening to that one little whisper that could mean the difference between life and death." Terrik shrugged and turned his head toward Becky, leaning in until his face was a few inches from hers. "Do you not see it, dear? How in order to fulfill your hateful longing, you become so much like what you despise?"
Becky snarled and pushed him away. She took a few steps when his loud laugh stopped her.
"See? Snarling. How many people do you know that make that sound? Violence, a lack of control on your temper. That too could be considered beneath humanity. Like it or not, you are closer to us than your average person. Are you sure you're not Were too?"
Becky screamed and turned around. She ran at Terrik, sick of his teasing, sick of his taunting, sick of him exposing the deep fears of her mind that kept her awake at night. She hated him in that moment, and she charged at him with no thought except making him stop by any means.
Terrik was ready for her attack and leaned his upper body back at just the right time. He used his legs to trip her and then caught her with his strong arms. He roughly shoved her against the metal railing, causing her to cry out at the impact. If anyone happened to see the couple from afar, they shook their head and walked on, thinking a security guard was struggling with a drunken women. Not wanting their kids to see, they scurried away.
Before Becky had a chance to move, Terrik was there, trapping her between the bar and himself. He had a few inches of height and width on her, not too mention roughly forty pounds of muscle and a Were's ability to use them. His chest was pressed into her back, her wrists caught between their bodies in one of his hands.
Terrik inhaled deeply, running his nose down Becky's neck. Lifting his free hand, he moved her hair out of his way and continued his journey. Becky growled and tried to shoved back against him when he dipped his nose into the collar of her shirt, exploring her shoulder. Terrik responded by strengthening his grip on her wrists and pressing closer against her. He tsked softly in her ear before searching out her shoulder again. He pulled the shirt softly, moving the collar so he could see her bare, pale shoulder. There was a soft mark there, but not a bite mark. Terrik pressed his nose to the skin, rubbing back and forth and inhaling deeply. Disappointed, he brought his head back. Looking her up at down, he frowned and stepped back, releasing her.
Becky whirled around on him, her hand ready to slap him, but Terrik caught it easily, not willing to let go when she tried to pull it back.
"Where's your mating mark?"
"I am not mated!" Becky growled.
Terrik tilted his head and sniffed. She wasn't lying, but there was still the problem of another scent in the air. "Is your mate...dead?" he asked softly, noting the fear in her eyes. She looked deathly afraid of the truth. What was she hiding?
Becky's shoulders drooped. She was so sick of the fighting, sick of the hiding. She raised her hand to rub the spot on her shoulder that Terrik had smelt moments before. Had it been any other lover, she would have had a love bite there, a hickey. But not with Julius. As much as she loved him, she knew that he hated animals more than he loved her. He would never bite her, never nip her, never get too passionate. Soft kisses and tiny sucks. He told her that he would never mark her body. He told her they would never behave like animals. She didn't mind, too much. She cared about him and about being with him more than anything, but she was weary.
She needed a friend she could talk to, but there was no one. Daniel and Dorian were far too wounded over the death of their parents to provide any support for her nightmares. Julius expected her to toughen up and move on. Her parents were dead, and their graves too far away to visit. Adina would listen, but she did not know about Weres or mates. Daniel had forbidden telling her, therefore, the conversation could not happen. Here was a man, correction, a Were, and although did not like him or trust him, he looked willing to listen. He looked like he could help her carry this burden.
Becky returned her focus to the present when Terrik let go of her hand and pulled her into a hug. His voice was gentle. "I'm sorry for your loss," he whispered, inferring from her silence that her mate was dead.
Becky shrugged as if the death meant nothing to her, even if her heart felt otherwise. She contemplated withdrawing from Terrik's warm embrace and closing herself off as she had always done before. Her need for affection, however, led her to wrap her arms around him. She breathed in the spicy scent embedded in his uniform, laying her head against his secure chest.
"His name was Roger," she sighed sentimentally, recalling her mate's childlike face, not as the monster he became but as the angel she first met.
"Species?" Terrik asked, showing genuine interest in the confusing woman before him.
"Snake," Becky sniffled, her voice cracking. Her fingers dug into Terrik's cloth covered back, holding him desperately just as she tried to hold onto her emotions.
"Let it out," Terrik encouraged. She responded with a heartbreaking cry, and surprisingly real-smelling tears.
This poor girl had bottle herself up for too long. He was surprised she had not yet exploded like her brother had. She smelt of a mated human, but her brother? He was something different. There were similarities between them, but also differences.
In all the research Terrik and his brother had done on the Colman family, he had not known that the daughter once had a mate. In all their investigating and years of living, Terrik found himself filled with wonder. How had it been possible, that beneath the icy cold exterior - of a hunter of all things! - there actually beat and breathed a living, real heart?