Monday 1 July 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day - The Morph (Gate-Shifters) by JC Andrijeski

Chapter One: A Scream in an Alley

I, meaning me, Dakota Mayumi Reyes, was running, full-out, for my life. 
It hadn’t happened very often in my twenty-six-odd years, so yeah, I wasn’t loving it. I ran down the fog-wet street, controlling my breaths the way my boxing coach, Becks, taught me. I knew it might be helping me a little, but I also knew I was distracting myself from the fact that I was pretty much out of time.

Bastard was faster than I'd planned for. 

That meant he was faster than Irene told me he'd be, too.

In fact, even as I tore down the alleyway in my super-grip boots, I found myself thinking I’d  have to have a few words with that girl, as soon as I got back to the office...assuming I got back to the office at all, and didn't get stabbed or shot when this guy caught up with me, which was seeming pretty close to inevitable at this point. That stunt I'd pulled back in his car had been carefully designed to enrage him, of course. I mean, I needed him to go there, right? Otherwise, how would I get him to show his true colors? So we worked it all out, me and Irene and with input from the client, of course...coming up with a routine guaranteed to push all of his little, sociopathic buttons.

Unfortunately, I’d gotten a little too good at that part of my job.

So yeah, it worked. I further compounded the problem by hitting the guy in the chest when he tried to pull his trademark ‘date-rape after multiple threats’ maneuver... not a real hit, of course, but a regular-old, 'hands off me, buddy, or I’ll scream' hit, like any normal girl might do. The client specifically warned me, more than once, that this douche really didn't like it when we chicas fought back.

So, yeah, I made a point of breaking that little rule, too.

And then, when he don’t look quite pissed off enough, and kept trying with the bully me into sex bit, I made a point of breaking it again, that time hitting him a little harder, and in the face.

He really didn’t like that...but yeah, that was kind of the point.

Anyway, I was on the clock by then, since the whole bar thing took longer than I’d wanted already, and it seemed like the easiest way to provoke the guy at the time.

That part worked like a charm, really...better than I'd expected, even after scoping this dude for a solid three weeks, long enough to have his basic M.O. down pat. Thinking back on it, I probably should have used the car itself as the hot zone...but I knew the cops could be unreliable with any situation that might be construed as some date gone wrong, or worse, a girl tease who changed her mind at the last minute. Frankly, I hadn’t wanted to take that chance. Most of the cops I’d worked with in this town were pretty cool, and some even respected what I did for a living, and had bought me drinks after a few of my ‘cases’ had good outcomes. But yeah, there was a range of sensitivity with the men in blue, too, after all. Some of them liked to give their girlfriends or wives a good smack now and then, too, so thought I was one of those feminazi dykes for even giving those women an alternative.

And yeah, some thought what I did bordered on illegal. Some maybe thought it was illegal, in the spirit sense of things, but I was pretty careful to toe the line on that stuff, too. After all, I wasn’t a cop. I wasn’t colluding with the cops, either. So while what I did could be construed as a kind of entrapment...more or wasn’t actually entrapment, in terms of the kind that could get a case thrown out of court.

But yeah, some of those cops knew me. Some of the judges in this town knew me, too. Some liked me fine, sure, but another group would gladly look the way if they saw me running down a blind alley, no matter what kind of psycho panted his way after me.

So yeah, I knew if I skirted too close to that line, they might not play ball at all, and refuse to take the guy in. As a result, I was careful to only do things any regular girl might do, in order to get the guy to show his true colors. I’d never been a cop myself, so I figured I didn’t have to follow every single one of their little rules, especially since I didn’t wear a gun, so was pretty much risking my ass every time I took on one of these nutjob cases.

On the other hand, I couldn’t risk making the cops look like jerks, either.

Bottom line, I wanted to create a situation where a) the guy reacted to what could have been any real girl in b) an environment where he’d be caught with his pants down so that c) the cops would have zero doubt about the guy’s psycho creds and that d) they’d know I'd done everything I could to escape him. To me, those four things pretty much trumped whatever I might have done to ‘provoke’ him beforehand. 

Anyway, everything seemed to be going according to plan at first. Nothing like a good foot chase through dark streets to evoke that whole 'serial killer' motif, especially when the guy is built like a linebacker and already had a few wrist slaps for aggravated assault, all of them filed by women. Then the guy turns out to be some kind of amateur track enthusiast, even after four shots of tequila, and I find myself in fear of losing my actual life. Truthfully, I’d expected my biggest problem would be to keep him interested enough to chase me the full nine or ten blocks. I'd all but called him a homo and insinuated he couldn't get it up just to keep him running on the hotter end of pissed off, but, at the time, I’d still worried it might not be enough.

Turns out, I needn't have worried.

On the plus side, the street cameras Irene and I scoped along the route that morning should be getting pretty authentic shots of terror on my face as I ran.

All of my sequencing was off now, too, even if I managed to stay ahead of him. 

At this rate, we’d both arrive early, and worse, I might have to improvise to keep from getting beat up for real...or, better yet, maybe strangled or raped for my trouble. I’d estimated a good five or six minutes of chase time, maybe longer if I managed to work a few breathers into the mix before we hit the target area. Instead, only about two minutes had ticked by according to my mental clock, and I only had three blocks to go. Really, I'd be lucky to get him there at all before he dragged me to the pavement like a wolf on a lame deer.

So yeah, Plan B was seeming pretty likely at this point. It might make me look significantly less like a victim, especially if I got too creative, but I wasn't about to take one for the team, either, no matter how much this chick was paying me.

I heard the mark’s breathing growing louder behind me. His footfalls seemed to drum in my head, too, making a sharper, higher noise in the dampness of the concrete. My super-tread boots generally treated me right in these close-quarter gigs, but I hadn't banked on him running like he wore track shoes, even in his thousand dollar loafers. I’d expected a lot of things to slow him down that hadn’t, though, not only his taste in the douche-y range of footwear, one pair of which probably cost more than most people’s monthly paychecks and got shined every Thursday by some golf cabana boy...if not this guy's train-wreck of a wife.

Grabbing the edge of the brick wall to fling myself faster around the corner, I let out a short gasp when the guy grabbed at my jacket and almost caught me for real. 

Unsurprisingly, I guess, I wore a mini-skirt and tights, and while the material was super stretchy, it might be slowing me down more than I'd really let myself think about when I shimmied into it earlier that evening. But hey, I had to look the part, and this guy didn't like women in pants, figuratively or literally. As it was, he'd given a good hard stare at my boots when I first hopped off that barstool, as if he thought those were a bit too dyke-y even with the pancake makeup and coiffed hair over my sheer and uncomfortably low-cut blouse.

Digging my toes into the concrete at the bottom of the narrow street, I forced out an extra burst of speed to put some distance between us, but it only seemed to buy me a few feet of margin, not nearly enough for me to feel secure in my lead.

Lungs burning in my chest, I fought to pump my arms and legs harder, pounding my way down the street and still counting blocks in my head, even though I'd walked the whole route just that morning and knew exactly how far I had yet to go. Feeling him right behind me again, I realized he'd closed the gap a second time and sprinted faster, feeling the first edges of honest to God panic as he paced my increase in speed.

Hell, he was going to catch me.

I could see the hot zone by then...but it almost didn't matter.

I had to be a good four minutes ahead of the planned drop, so improvisation was now definitely in the playbook. I didn't hold back any reserves that time when I pumped my arms, trying to get just that little extra distance ahead so I could get there a second or two before him. I'd played this card before, sure, but it had been a few months, and this guy had a good eighty pounds and six inches of height on the tattoo-covered Mexican kid on crystal meth who'd last forced me off the regular game-plan and into the uncharted. In that case, I had the whole racism thing playing on my side, for once...and while I didn’t feel good about it, it definitely sped things along. The cops saw the doped up gang-looking kid picking on a hot chick in a leather skirt and they immediately descended with sirens blaring. So yeah, I might not be fully white bread, with my half-Japanese mom and half-Cuban dad, but I was pretty enough and dressed conservatively enough that they rushed to my defense anyway.

This time, the guy was full-on white bread, wearing a suit, and handsome in that boring, Ken doll on steroids kind of way. He looked the part of a young stock broker, so I'd have to make the victim thing more convincing.

Even so, when I got him in the alley, I didn't hesitate to skid sideways once I'd gone past the circle of orange light from the streetlamp. The mark, who'd been so intent on chasing me it hadn't occurred to him that I might stop running, couldn't compensate. He nearly fell over as he darted sideways to follow me, grasping at my arm and back with long arms and thick fingers. He lost his balance just enough to buy me time...smashing sideways into a row of garbage cans near a squat, green dumpster. I heard the smack of his shoulder and chest against the dumpster, but barely registered either as I repositioned myself on his other side.

I didn't give him the time to recover. 

Frankly, I didn't intend to wait and see if he might have some crazy, kick-ass ninja skills that Irene also somehow 'missed' in her background check before we went live.

Shifting my weight on the laced up boots, I reached his side before he could recover, my weight balanced into a low fighting stance. When he whirled to face me, I aimed two sharp, fast kicks, using every ounce of weight and momentum I could muster in my five-foot-three frame...both of them at the joint of his right knee. Without letting that foot drop to the pavement, I swiveled my hip and round-housed the same knee from the side, that time pivoting my whole body. I felt the crack. Hell, I almost heard it. 

He went down. Hard.

I always thought it was pretty funny how in the movies these skinny chicks in lycra were always going for head kicks and upper body kicks with big 'hi-yas!' in some close quarter fight with a mondo-buff dude who was a foot taller than them.

Way stupid. 

High kicks left you all kinds of exposed...and while getting kicked in the face wasn't exactly fun, unless you managed to dislocate the guy's jaw, it wouldn't necessarily drop them. Knees, on the other hand...knees were reliable. No matter how big you were, if something goes wrong in the knees, down you go. Getting a kneecap kicked out of joint by a steel-toes boot hurt like hell. Kind of felt like getting your joint pulled apart with pliers.

This guy was no exception. 

He dropped to the same knee I'd just bent in three different directions, all of that two-hundred-plus weight landing on a pretty small point of contact. I didn't hear a crunch that time, or anything remotely so dramatic, but when he hit that pavement, boy, he let out a scream. He screamed so loud I flinched back in reflex, balling my hands into fists. That was the other thing about knees. If you got them out of whack with the joint, the pain just went on and on without really getting much better.
That's when I kicked him in the face.

Way more effective at that point, in my personal experience.

Still, this guy didn't go all the way down. He grunted, and fell sideways into the garbage cans with a lot of clanging and bother, but he knocked away my foot with one arm when I went to kick him again. He gripped the wall as soon as I gave him space, and then he seemed to be trying to get up, using his one good knee to lurch that muscular body upright.

I could almost feel the fury emanating off him by then. 

It scrunched his face into a dark red, mottled shape, almost unrecognizable from the handsome, smooth-talker who first approached me in that crappy, chrome-covered, eighties-themed club. The monster under that dimpled, blond-headed mask reared its head, and, looking at it, I felt my nerves twanging a few octaves higher, in spite of myself. This guy really did live in Bundy country, and I didn’t want to get dragged into an extended tour of his particular version of crazy.

Really, my instincts told me to knock him out and get the hell out of there. But if I did that, that would be the end of this gig.

No payday.

Worse, I was thinking at that point, this psycho would go free.

So, after a bare second of hesitation, I merely stepped back, watching him stagger to his feet. Reminding myself I just needed to stall him, that I only needed a few minutes and this show would be over, I fought to keep my cool, and my head on straight. If I freaked out, or got too scared or felt forced into a position of fighting for my life, things could turn on me real quick. Already the guy would probably be screaming for his lawyer when the cops finally showed up. If he managed to convince them that I was the one who went bezerk on him, I could very well be waving bye-bye to the sympathetic police and hello to aggravated assault charges. Worse, I'd lose my lucrative fee and this dickhead would be back on the Seattle city streets, getting his kicks off beating up drunk ex-sorority chicks outside of clubs and raping them with kitchen appliances when they refused to service him to his satisfaction.

So yeah, against my better judgment, I held my ground.

I needed my Bundy up and fighting when the men in blue showed up...which should be happening sometime in the next, oh, three or four minutes.

About as long as your average round in a ring fight, I happened to know. So yeah, long enough for him to do some serious damage, maybe, assuming the guy could fight at all. 

I really hoped like hell he couldn't fight.

By now, maybe Irene managed to find something in the way of physical evidence in his car or his apartment that could lend credence to my story to the cops. The security cams we'd marked as part of my running route from the bar parking lot to this alley would have caught enough of the chase to give my version of things some plausibility, too. Of course, if they showed up in this dingy and somewhat clichéd alley after the angry troglodyte pummeled me into the asphalt, that would make it easier to convict the guy, too. I was really hoping that wouldn’t end up being my Plan B, though...or my Plan C, D, E or F.

Stockbroker guy stood over me now, his tie askew under his collar, his lip bleeding from the kick to the face. His knee already stretched his pants where the joint swelled under the material. He still looked pissed as hell, but the creep actually smiled at me as he glared into my eyes with that death-like stare, his fists balled up in a reasonable approximation of a fighting stance.

Yeah. Shit. He looked like he knew how to fight. Box, anyway. Hopefully, he just went to a few lame, dancy, kickboxing classes at his nationally franchised and overpriced McGym.

"You like it rough, huh, bitch?" he said, hunching his shoulders. "Well, come on then. Give it your best shot..."

I fought back a surprised chuckle, deciding it probably wouldn’t be wise. 

Forcing my expression still, I measured his face instead, trying to decide if I should risk getting near him. I knew I probably wouldn't be able to pull off the frightened bar girl bit at this point, not convincingly anyway. I opted to say nothing, instead, thinking that enflaming him further might not be all that smart, either. Still, I had to fight a bit to keep the roll out of my eyes. Seriously. Didn't these guys ever learn any new lines? Why was it always bitch this, and whore that? And what was up with the lame clichés? ‘Give it your best shot?’ Seriously? I mean, who actually talks like that?

"What's wrong?" he sneered. "You seemed like you had a lot to say to me before, cunt. Worried your little jazzercize class might not get you out of the mess your mouth got you into? Well, you should be worried, bitch..."

He lunged right after he spoke, moving faster than I would have credited him, especially given what I'd just done to his knee. When I moved back and sideways, trying to get out of his way, he caught me in a roundhouse punch to the temple that I only just managed to duck. I still caught the tail end of it, but most of the force of the blow missed. Still, the contact alone was enough to jar me, which was enough for him to get in a second punch to my sternum.

That one hurt.

It hurt enough that my instincts kicked in, maybe outside of my better judgment. I kicked out without thought, aiming for his knee again, but that time he moved faster, blocking my kick with his forearm, the same one attached to the fist that just sort of got me in the temple.

Yeah. Shit. This guy could fight.

Maybe not Oscar De La Hoya fight, but definitely a good cut above most of the jerkoffs I got stuck sparring with down at that ratty boxing gym I lived in on most of my spare afternoons and weekends. My head had already started falling into that more serious, fight-for-your-life kind of place, even as it occurred to me again that I might be in for a real smack-down type situation. 

But before I could make a decision about what to do next, something else happened.

Something pretty weird.


An unusual shifter romance in the new adult category, the Gate-Shifter series centers on shifters from another world altogether, called morph. Morph and Earth humans were never meant to cross paths, until Nihkil Jamri tries to save private detective, Dakota Reyes while surveying Earth for his human masters from another dimension, and ends up pulling her into his dimension with him. Part urban fantasy, part paranormal romance, part science fiction adventure, the Gate-Shifter series explores alien romance with the least likely candidates imaginable.

Summary of Book One:
Dakota Reyes, a twenty-something private eye who specializes in what she calls ‘hard-to-prosecute’ cases, finds herself in a dark alley one night, about to end up dead at the hands of a young Ted Bundy in training…that is, until a lost, shape-shifting alien named Nihkil rescues her, and inadvertently takes her home with him. The problem is, his home is in a different dimension, and Dakota has no clue how to get back to Seattle, or Earth, or even her own time period. She finds herself bound to her rescuer, Nihkil, through his ‘lock,’ a quasi-biological structure that controls whether he can shape-shift, among other things, which he needs to be able to do in order to get her back home. Only Dakota has no idea how to open Nik’s lock, and the longer she spends in his world, the more forces begin to align against them, trying to prevent her from getting home.

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Genre – SciFi / Fantasy / Romance
Rating – PG13
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