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“What do you mean, you won’t go with me?”

She was whining and pleading, and that pissed her off almost as much as what she had to do. Not only was such behavior annoying, but it was in the top three on her list of most infuriating things other people did.

“Yet here YOU are doing exactly the thing you hate the most,” Sylvia, the Basilisk Queen with whom she shared her soul snorted sarcastically.

“Not the most, just in the top three of the most,” she grumbled. Then, more confidently, she went on, “But that’s beside the point.”

“Oh, yay, there’s a point.”

“Argh. I’m not engaging with you right now. I have enough on my plate. I don’t need to deal with commentary from the peanut gallery.”

“And at the risk of repeating myself, I must say – you are once again doing what you just said you weren’t going to do.”

Ignoring the ongoing rant of her alter ego and tuning back into the conversation happening right in front of her, Greer was just in time for the doctor to roll her eyes and sigh, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t go with you.” Leveling her gaze, she continued without so much as a breath. “I said I couldn’t go with you. I have to…”

“I know. I know. I’m sorry. I’m being a brat. I know it’s time for your monthly visit to the desert. You have to soak up as many rays as you can, check on all your patients, and visit your people,” Greer conceded, feeling even worse about her behavior.

She knew how important it was for Dr. Muirenn Santos, renowned and respected surgeon and the first Albino Beaded Mexican Lizard Shifter in a thousand years, to not only get her monthly dose of sunshine but to visit the Shifters the world had forgotten–or more to the point, the Others the world–even the Paranormal one–ignored because they were freaked out by giant poisonous Lizards, Snakes, and other Exotics who had been blessed by The Powers That Be and Chaos with Shifter Magic and all the other good stuff.

“If only they would all come here,” Greer sighed. Then she remembered the many times she’d talked with their leaders and heads of family and added, “But I understand. They have trust issues, and who could blame them after what so many of them have suffered.”

“Yeah, it’s that,” Muireen agreed with a nod. “But it’s also that they don’t want to leave their homelands. It’s where most of them were born. They fought to be there. Lives were lost to keep what was passed down to them, and they refuse to give it up. You can’t blame them.”

“I don’t,” Greer earnestly replied. “Not even a little bit.”

“They also worry that they won’t get enough vitamins, minerals, and just plain warmth from the sun here in the jungle,” Gregory, the Mexican Jumping Pit Viper Shifter and research assistant, added. “So many have been forced to spend time in unfriendly environments that they aren’t willing to take the chance. Some of the last group of survivors from that camp somewhere in the States still haven’t gotten the color back in their scales or skin. They are on so much medicine and so many supplements just to do what most of us dual-natured beings take for granted. It’s just wrong.”

“Yes, it is wrong–seriously wrong on all levels. I keep thinking the Council of Others will come up with some way to stop these people, but it seems to be getting worse instead of better.” Huffing out a sharp breath, she tightened the messy bun atop her head, something she unconsciously did when she was stressed. “I even thought about taking them up on their offer to sit on their blasted Assembly, but I don’t think meeting once a month in an office in downtown Dallas is gonna make anything better. It hasn’t so far.” Lifting her hand and gently raising the index finger of her left hand to Muireen as she was just about to interrupt, Greer kept right on going, “Yes, I know, if my dad was here, he would say that I can’t complain if I’m not gonna do anything and everything in my power to change what I think is wrong. I was there every single time he told us kids about how important it was to vote, even if it was a human election. But I just don’t believe this is the same thing.”

“Can I talk now?” Muirenn asked, her lips pursed and her eyebrows forming a straight line across her brow, but the twinkle in her eyes saying most of her bluster was for show.

“Yes, I’m sorry. I just had to get that out. You know I get all maudlin when I think about my parents, especially now.”

“I know you do,” the doctor nodded, her expression and tone softening. “But what I was gonna say was that I know how you feel about the Council, but I really think you need to reconsider their request for you to join. Maybe the problem with some of their thinking is that they are all from what everyone thinks of as ‘traditional’ Shifter groups–the ones with huge numbers who are steadily becoming more mainstream. Maybe it’s time for some of the others–like you, like my brother, like…”

“Like all the Snake Slithers,” Gregory chimed in, his voice gruff with frustration. “We may not have huge numbers in each Slither or Ball or Nest, but all together, there are a lot of us, not to mention all the other Races of Exotics.”

“Exactly,” Muirenn practically cheered. “And you are about to have the ear of the Head of the Council of Others, none other than…”

“Oh, hell, no,” Greer boomed. “Nope. Not gonna happen. I am not going to the La Pantera Pride Lands, the epicenter of all the Big Cats in the whole world, to tell Ettie­–that’s what she likes to be called, by the way– that I need her help and then casually ask her Mate to help with the Council.”


“But nothing.”

Holding her breath, Greer counted to ten as the tension in the room spiked, then slowly calmed. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last that she and Muirenn butted heads. Along with Kathy, the three of them were more like sisters than most who shared blood, and that meant they could agree to disagree and love each other all the same.

“Okay,” the Basilisk Queen acquiesced, smiling at her bestie. “I know you’re right, and I will do it, but not on this trip.”

“Thank you,” the doctor winked. “That’s all I ask, and I only mentioned it because you are the most diplomatic of all of us.”

“And the most hard-headed,” Greer snickered sarcastically. “You forgot to say hard-headed.”

“I didn’t forget. I just didn’t say it out loud.”

The loving chuckle that filled the lab was a welcome respite from the tension that had been a black cloud over their entire Slither since Gabriel disappeared. What had been a low simmer for most of her life was quickly coming to a rolling boil.

“Yeah, well, you know better than most that I just want to help everyone that I can. That’s why I get so upset. I feel like it’s what I was put on this Earth to do. And to be perfectly frank, I hate that in this day and age, our people–or any Supernatural Being for that matter– are still being hunted, persecuted, and worse because of who they are. It fucking sucks. We’re these damned near immortal and almost omnipotent Beings, and we can’t take care of our own. It just, well, it just fucking sucks,” she repeated, twisting the long blond curl that had fallen out of her messy bun around her finger to keep from screaming in outrage.

“It does,” Muireen and Gregory agreed in unison. Then the doctor added, “But you are doing everything you can–we all are. And we’ll never stop fighting. We’ll figure it out.”

“Damn straight,” Greer confirmed with a sharp nod of her head. Looking at Murienn, she went on, “And again, I am so very sorry. I know what you have to do is more important than making the trip south to watch me eat crow and beg for help, even if you really want to be there to watch me eat crow and beg for help. But…”

Spinning on her toes, she speared her other bestie was a pleading look. “What about you, Kath? How about a free, all-expenses paid trip to see me grovel? Sound like fun?” Holding her hands out with the palms up, she gave the best bat of her eyes and a little shrug with a tilt of her head. “Please come with me. If you do, I promise that before we head south, we’ll go north and cross the border. I can even portal us right outside Sam’s Diner in Valentine, TX. I’ll get you two – yes, I said two – homemade banana cream pies for the trip.”


“I’ll even call ahead and have Maggie and Bonnie put extra maraschino cherries on top and make sure it has meringue and whipped cream.”

“Wait, I…”

“And we can get fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, and collard greens with extra ham. Oh, and don’t forget the buttermilk cornbread with honey. Damn, I just love that stuff.”

“And I can weigh a ton before we even get started,” the Poison Dart Frog, surgeon, and leading researcher in the field of anti-venoms, chuckled. “Some of us don’t have the metabolism of a Basilisk.”

“Oh, girl, puhlease, that metabolism does nuthin’ to help me. I’m still curvy from head to toe and you know it.” Laughing, she smacked her butt for added effect and loved when everyone chuckled along.

Smiling but looking a little confused, Kathy lightheartedly inquired,

“Tell me again what you’re doing. I was…”

“You were looking through that $500,000, super-duper, special microscope of yours with your earbuds in and trying to ignore all of us as we had one of our many debates,” Greer sighed, pretending to be put out while trying not to smile hopefully as she secretly crossed all her fingers and toes that Kathy would agree to go with her.

“No,” the surgeon vehemently denied with a shake of her head that forced some of the brown curls out of clip holding her shoulder-length hair away from her face. Then, with her eyes glowing the bright red of the eyes of the Poison Dart Frog with whom she shared her soul, Greer watched as she tried not to snap, “Well, yes, I did have my earbuds in. I was blasting this new country singer I just found.” Instantly changing her tune, she swayed in time with music only she could hear. “His name is I am in love with his voice. His name is Ronen Coltrane, and he is taking the charts by storm. You can’t put ‘country music’ in any search and not have his name pop up.”

Humming a few bars, she continued, “I just know he’s a Shifter of some kind. I don’t know how I know, but I do. It’s like he knows what people want and need to hear even if they don’t.”

“That’s awesome, Kath,” Greer smiled, trying to keep from motioning for her friend to answer.

Just about to lose the battle, give up, and repeat her request, the Basilisk slowly let out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding when the surgeon huffed, “And I was not ignoring you.” Jutting her chin forward, she widened her eyes and gave a pointed, sideways shake of her head. “If you must know, I was trying to figure out what components to mix together to develop an effective antitoxin for some of the creatures Pandora O’Baoill created.” Forcing out a sharp breath, she went on, “It’s not their fault, ya’ know. They really aren’t trying to hurt anyone. Most of them still don’t know who they are, never mind where they are or what happened to them before they were rescued. Not only did she mess with their DNA, but she also played around in their brains.”

“You mean she tried psychoanalysis on them or hypnosis?” Greer asked, shocked because it was the first time she had heard about it, and she had been in the hellhole of a research facility for months.

“No,” Kathy sadly chuckled. “She literally messed around in their brains. She cut into them, took out samples, rerouted neural pathways…” Furrowing her brow, she put her hand on her hip and shook her head. “Well, you were there. You are the neurologist of the bunch. Didn’t you see any of this?”

“I’m the almost neurologist of the bunch.”

“You passed the boards and got your license,” Kathy corrected. “Just because you came back here before you actually hung out your shingle does not mean you’re not a doctor.”

“Maybe you’re right, but I don’t have the experience you and Muri do. So, the answer to your question is no.” Greer clarified. “When I was in Hotel Hell, I never got access to the lowest level. Hell, I didn’t know there was anything lower than Level 4 Isolation until it was too late, and I had an unconscious Pandora over my shoulder. No time for exploration.” She blew out a sharp breath, hoping it would calm even the slightest bit of the rage that continued to bubble right under the surface. “Every time she mentioned Isolation of any kind–especially Level 4–the nurses and orderlies freaked out. Their heart rate spiked, and with the horrible stench they threw off, it was hard to keep my eyes from watering. Thankfully, only a few could even access it. On the other hand, they were her most trusted idiots, and I’m not sure where they are being kept or by whom.”

“Well, I wish you would just get over whatever it is that keeps you from talking to the Dragons or the Big Cats or even the…”

“If you say Daughters of Lugh one more time, I might lose my mind.”

“Look, what’s done is done,” Kathy reassured, her tone soft and soothing. “We’ve all done things we wish we could take back. You’re your dad used to say, hindsight is 20/20. And. Before you get your panties in a bunch, any one of them would have done the same thing if they were in your position. I know some of them have gone off half-cocked when looking for someone close to them and, later, wished they hadn’t.”


“Okay, so, I can see that you’re thinking–maybe not the King of the Big Cats. And I can see where you’re coming from because Max is a whole different animal.” Giggling at her own joke, she added, “Pun intended. But you would be wrong. I have it on good authority–Maggie Mae MacAllen’s–that the first time his Mate was taken, right along with that same Alpha She-Wolf, that old Black Panther King lost his mind, his religion, and his shit.”

“No way! Are you serious? I can’t even imagine…”

“Yes, I am serious. As serious as I am about my half-caff, caramel latte with extra whipped cream and three Splendas.”

“Damn, that’s serious.”

“Yeah, and not my point. What I am trying to say is that you just need to suck it up. You have two options: Go back to that damned bunker and talk to whoever is left out there. Or get your heiney to Columbia and make with the playin’ nice. I need the information I know they’ve recovered. I mean, if you don’t want to do it, I can reach out to the Dragons I know. I am sure they’ll share the information.”

“And they’ll tell Max, who will tell Ettie, who will be even more pissed because I am going behind her back. Then she will show up here and demand to see Pandora, and I will have to admit that I lost her.”

“But you’re going to tell her that anyway,” Muirenn chimed in as she came from behind the workstation to stand beside Greer.

“I am, but that is on my terms.”

“Yeah, but your terms or hers don’t matter,” Kathy countered with unrivaled conviction. “These poor survivors need all the help we can give them. You know better than most. You are the one who went into that horrible place all by yourself.” Holding up her hand when Greer was about to interrupt, she kept right on going, “Yes, I know it was to find Gabriel, but that’s not the only reason. You did what you did to get the lay of the land and gather information so you could rally the troops. It’s what you always do You are always the champion for those who cannot help themselves. Hell, you’re the one who left the jungle, was the first to go to college from your entire Slither, and brought us all back here because of what Exotic Shifters were suffering at the hands of our enemies–and things are getting better in some respects, but we all agree where the fanatics are concerned, things are only getting worse. These assholes are like roaches. The more we find and stop, the more that pop up and keep going. But we have a golden opportunity staring us in the face. We have to do everything we can to help O’Baoill’s victims. They are right here, right now. We can help them and learn so much.” Her tone was quickly approaching the angry, shrill, piercing of her alter ego. “They can’t help themselves. They are sinking farther into the madness she thrust upon them. They strike out because they are scared and helpless and… lost. If I ever…”

“If you ever get your hands on that bitch, you’ll wring her neck,” Greer pushed the words through gritted teeth. “And you would’ve gotten your hands on that bitch if I hadn’t taken her to a cave in the bloody Chihuahuan Desert, warded it with enough Magic to sink a battleship, and gotten overconfident and turned my back. I can’t believe she got away before I even got to ask her a single question. Talk about ego, Gabriel is gonna have a field day with my latest fall from grace.”

At the mention of her brother, the Basilisk Queen tried not to let her emotions get the best of her. She knew Pandora O’Baoill was responsible for his disappearance. The Basilisk DNA running through the evil doctor’s veins was his. Greer knew it just as well as she knew her own face in the mirror. Like recognized like, and she recognized the scent of her brother and the venom of his Basilisk King as only one sibling could know another.

Throwing her hands in the air to hide the unshed tears in her eyes, Greer did an about-face and started to pace the length of the galley-like laboratory. “And he will have every right when we get him back home. But I thought I knew it all. I thought I had it all under control. I memorized all the information we could find about her and her demented family. I studied Pandora in person for months. I was sure I knew what she would do in every situation. Hell, she even thought we were friends for a minute.” Holding up the index finger of her left hand, she kept talking to finish her thought. “I mean, I have to admit that the whole transforming into a Basilisk Yowie thing was unexpected, and I have to know how she hid it from me until she Shifted, but I thought…”

“You thought you could find your brother and bring him and the maniacal doctor back here where you would have the help of your Family to get to the bottom of things,” Sylvia matter-of-factly stated, pushing loving calm and understanding Healing Magic through the unique bond they shared.

“Yeah, well, that’s what I get for thinkin’.”


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