Authors: Tymber Dalton
Too late, Emery realized exactly why Erik had done that. He stopped himself in five feet of water, with his head out, and watched as Erik beached himself.
A large crowd of people, apparently there for a barbeque, ran over to him.
Several men tried to get Erik back into the water, but he fought them, keeping himself on the sand. Minutes later, a Sarasota County deputy arrived and walked down to the beach to investigate. By now, several people were using plastic cups and children’s sand buckets to keep pouring water over the beached dolphin.
Emery smacked his tail against the water in frustration. There wasn’t anything he could do. If he shifted and came out of the water naked, he’d be arrested on the spot. If he tried to beach himself, there was no guarantee he would be kept with Erik and have a chance to kill him.
I’ve got to get Dad.
He turned and raced away.
* * * *
As he neared the southern end of the key, he pulled up short
. I’m an idiot.
He stuck his head out of the water and studied the shoreline, adjusted his course, and quickly found the Moritas’ house. Luckily for him, this section of beach was located in front of a long stretch of private homes, and there wasn’t anyone close by. He ducked under the surface and shifted into human form. When he emerged, he bolted from the water and into the Moritas’ backyard.
Both of their vehicles were there. He snagged a beach towel hanging on a line under the house and wrapped it around his waist as he pounded up the stairs to their front door.
Helen looked shocked to see him when she opened the door. “Hi, Mom,” he said as he pushed his way in. “Sorry about this, I have to use your phone. It’s an emergency.”
She followed him in. “Sean? Is he okay?”
“Yeah, he’s fine. It’s not him. Long story.” He grabbed their house phone and called his dad’s cell. Swearing when he reached his voice mail, he hung up and called his mom.
He didn’t let her get a word in edgewise when she answered. “Listen, no time to explain. Get as many shifters as you can up to Manasota Beach on the north end of the key. Right now. Erik beached himself… Right. I’m at the Moritas’ house. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
He hung up and turned around, grabbing Helen’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, but this is important. Do you have anything I can wear? And I need to borrow a car.”
She looked confused and he didn’t blame her. “Where are your clothes? How did you get here?”
He didn’t want to remind her he was a dolphin. He was in a hurry. “It’s a long story, and I’m sorry I can’t explain right now. But I have to get up to Manasota Beach. It’s an emergency.”
“Here.” Sam’s voice in the hallway startled him. He held a pair of swim trunks. “These are Sean’s. They should fit you.”
“Thanks, Dad.” He grabbed them, dropped the towel, and pulled them on.
Sam held up his keys. “Do you have your wallet?”
Emery shook his head and reached for the keys, but Sam pulled them out of reach. “No,” Emery said, “it’s in the boat with Sean. Look, please—”
“This is about those two dead dolphins I overheard you talking about, isn’t it?”
I don’t have time for this!
Sam’s face hardened. “Is this about the guy that tried to kill Sean?”
It was pointless to lie to the man. “Yeah.”
“Then I’ll drive.”
He headed out the front door before Emery could stop him. Emery tried to reason with him all the way down the stairs, but Sam ignored his protests. The older man got behind the wheel of his car and waited for Emery to climb in. Sam handed Emery his cell phone.
“Try to find Sean.” He started the car and raced down the driveway.
Quite a crowd had gathered at the beach by the time they reached the parking lot. Emery spotted four other shifters, including Denby, standing off to the side and watching, equally angry expressions on their faces.
“We can’t get close to him,” Denby said, nodding toward the three deputies now doing crowd control. “Fucker.”
When the other shifters looked at Sam, Emery explained. “This is Sean’s dad. He knows the basics.”
Sam crossed his arms and glared across the sand. “He tried to kill my son. Tell me why we can’t go take him now?”
Emery scrubbed at his face with his hands. He admired the man’s chutzpah but didn’t need an emotional human making a bad situation worse. “Dad, we can’t. There’s too many people around. Dolphins are a protected species, and Erik’s smart enough not to shift and run with all these witnesses. We go in there now, we’ll be in jail and Erik will be free. We’ll have to wait and try to get to him during the transfer, or after they relocate him. They’ll probably take him up to Mote Marine. We might be able to get a person inside to kill him there.”
Sam’s jaw worked for a moment before nodding. “You’d better. Before I do.”
Emery grabbed him by the arm and spun him around. “Dad, you can’t. You have to let us handle this.” He still hadn’t been able to reach Sean, although he’d left several voice mails for him.
They were still standing there, more shifters joining their ranks as the news spread, when Joseph drove up an hour later.
“What’s going on?” he asked Emery after he parked.
Two more deputies, and two state officers from Florida Fish and Wildlife, had arrived on the scene. “I would guess Mote will be here pretty soon.”
“Dammit.” Joseph rubbed at his mouth. “No way to get to him, I suppose?”
One of the deputies had cordoned off the area with yellow tape, only allowing a few of the spectators to stay with Erik because they were constantly sluicing water over him.
“You tell me, Dad,” Emery said, beyond frustrated at this point. It was all he could do to keep Sam Morita from going over there and kicking Erik in the head.
Not that he didn’t want to do the same thing himself.
“Do we know for sure yet where they’re taking him?” Joseph asked. “Is it definitely Mote?”
Denby nodded. “I walked over and talked to one of the state guys. Mote’s got a stranding team on the way.”
“Dammit. Too bad it’s not Clearwater.” Joseph laughed, but his hard gaze belied any humor. “We could have arranged an ‘accident’ for them while on the road. Poetic justice.”
Emery walked down to the yellow tape cordoning off the area around Erik. He stared at the dolphin until Erik’s eyes came to rest on him.
Emery touched his forehead, right between his eyes. Obviously his intent was clear, because Erik began thrashing against the humans in an attempt to get away. But the outgoing tide meant an extra five feet of sand now separated Erik from escape. The volunteers and state officers surrounded Erik. Someone brought over beach towels to cover the dolphin with, soaking them with salt water to keep him wet and blocking his vision.
Emery turned and walked back to his father. “I want to be the one to take him out.”
Joseph poked him in the chest. “It will be whoever it will be. I won’t risk a chance losing him again just to wait for someone to take specific vengeance.” He looked at Sam. “That goes for you, too.”
Just then, Sean’s truck slid into the parking lot in a cloud of dust. He threw it into park and jumped out, running across the road to join them.
“You fucking asshole!” He punched Emery’s shoulder, hard, before engulfing him in a strangling hug. Then Sean punched him in the shoulder again. “Don’t you
scare the crap out of me like that again!” Then he noticed his father standing there. “Um. Hi, Dad. What’cha doing here?”
Sam pointed over his shoulder at the crowd surrounding Erik. “The same thing everyone else here is. Waiting for a chance to kill that bastard.”
He started to take a step forward, toward the commotion, but Emery hooked an arm around him and hauled him back. “Yes, that’s Erik, and a shitload of law enforcement and witnesses.”
“Fuck! How the hell are we supposed to get to him now?”
Joseph laid a calming hand on his arm. “We wait. And we watch.”
* * * *
It wasn’t the Mote team’s arrival that next consternated the shifters. It was the arrival of a news crew from the Sarasota station. By this time, Wyatt had also arrived as the shifters started calling everyone with the latest news.
Sean watched the TV crew setting up to do a live shot as Joseph shook his head. “Well, at least we know with them filming, Erik won’t dare do anything.” Now there were nearly twenty shifters gathered at the park. They’d moved to the shade of one of the picnic pavilions to watch from a distance. “He’ll likely try to make his escape during the transfer into the tanks. Denby, you guys head up there now and stake the place out. See if you can figure out where they’ll take him in at.”
“How do you know he won’t just wait until after everyone goes home to shift and walk out of there?” Sam asked. “He’ll get away.”
“He won’t, because there are security cameras. He knows damn well if he’s caught shifting on video that the government will be after him like crazy.”
“Well, don’t you all have to worry, too? That he’ll just tell them about you?”
Joseph shrugged. “What’s he going to say? That we’re all dolphins? We’ll simply deny it. When we’re in our human form, we
human. We’re not like some shifter species who have definite differences in our blood. We’ll laugh off the accusations and volunteer for bloodwork. That alone will discredit him. He’ll be on his own.”
Sean nudged Emery and pointed at the road. A large truck, accompanied by several vehicles, had arrived from Mote Marine.
“Here we go,” Joseph said. “Let’s get up to Sarasota. Wyatt, will you stay behind and…” He pointed at Erik. “Just in case?”
Wyatt nodded. “Will do, Joseph. You can count on it.” Emery recognized the hard, cold look in Wyatt’s eyes. Wyatt wasn’t a dolphin, but a dangerous fuck like Erik was a danger to anyone, regardless of shifter race.
When Sam started moving with the group, Sean stopped him. “Dad, you can’t go.”
“Like hell I can’t.”
“Sean,” Joseph said, “it’s okay. He can ride with me.” He glanced at Emery. “But you need to get some clothes.”
“I have them in the truck,” Sean answered for him.
“Good. See you up there.”
* * * *
Erik tried to stay calm. This wasn’t the worst possible outcome by any stretch, but it damn sure wasn’t the best. If he let them take him to Mote Marine, he’d be trapped there, an easy target for Joseph and the other shifters.
That he was marked for death was a given. Even if he hadn’t suspected it, Emery’s gesture confirmed it.
Between the eyes.
Hate rolled through his gut. He would have loved Emery, been a damn good second for him. Would have supported him taking a wife to keep up appearances and further the pod’s Alpha line.
But no, Emery had to go fall in love with a damn human. Couldn’t see the good thing right in front of him.
Once they covered him with the towels, all he could do was lie there and wait for the next phase. Maybe he’d have a chance to get away before they transferred him to the tanks at Mote.
* * * *
Sean refused to hand over his keys. “You’re too wound up, Em.” He climbed behind the wheel and got the truck started while Emery climbed into the passenger side. Relief that Emery was all right tempered his ire at him.
Barely. “And what the
Emery looked over at him from where he was trying to swap out the swim trunks for his own shorts. “What?”
“I don’t appreciate what you did back there, dude.”
Sean glanced up and down the road before pulling out of the parking lot. “Leaving me behind like that. I’m not helpless, you know.”
“Erik’s dangerous. You know that.”
“Exactly. I do know that. Why do you think it’s okay to disappear like that without me knowing if you’re alive or not?”
“I didn’t want you at risk.”
“Fuck that. You don’t get to make those kinds of decisions for me. We’re partners. I’m not some precious little flower you need to protect.”
“Do we really need to have this conversation right now?”
Sean weaved around a car to pull in behind Joseph’s car. “Yeah, we do.” He glanced at Emery. “I mean it. Yeah, I appreciate the thought, but you so don’t get to do shit like that to me. Got it?”
* * * *
Wow, he’s really steamed.
He’d never seen Sean like this before. He tried to tease him out of his funk. “You’re so cute when you’re angry.”
Fortunately he’d already buckled his seat belt, because Sean slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel to the side, nearly taking out a mailbox as he swerved off the road and onto the shoulder.
He jammed a finger in Emery’s face. Sean’s mocha eyes burned with anger. “That. Right there.
shit. I’m not a girl. Do you
fucking get it? Yeah, I’m an outsider in all this. But at least give me my dignity.”