BY: YVONNE REDIGER
Some secrets are too dangerous to share…
For shapeshifter Helly Cooper, blood is blood. She is returning to Vancouver Island to find her brother’s killer. Yes, she has unfinished business, personal business with her old boss, Will Conall. But right now, Will can either help or get the hell out of her way. Especially after she discovers an even deadlier plot involving pack politics, revenge, and twisted magic.
TAYLOR ONES SAYS: In Hell Cat by Yvonne Rediger, Helly Cooper is a shapeshifter. Her animal form is a big cat. She has the hots for Will Conall but he’s a standard human. She and Will work in private security, and he was her coworker until they got too close, and he backed away. So she quit the company and went off on her own. Now he has turned up again, claiming he wants her back in the company, but does he want more than that? And can she trust to really have her back?
Well-written, intriguing, with charming characters and a solid plot that has a number of interesting twists and turns, this is a really great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Hell Cat, A VIC Shapeshifter Novel, by Yvonne Rediger is the story of Helly Cooper, a big cat shifter. When the story opens, Helly is working at a dive in Canada, investigating why the manager seems to keep getting robbed. One night, her former boss, Will Conall shows up. Will and Holly worked together in a private security company until they got too personal, and Will not only backed away, he sent her to work a case in Africa, as far away from him as possible. Hurt and confused by his reaction, Helly quit the company and went off on her own. Now Will has found her and tells her he needs her help to capture her brother’s killer. Unable to refuse for her brother’s sake, Helly agrees to a temporary partnership. But, in reality, she wants more from Will than a good professional relationship. Even though he is a standard human, Helly wants him. And she is determined to get their personal relationship back on track—that is, if she survives the hunt for the killer.
I love strong female characters, and Helly is definitely that. Rediger’s character development is superb, her plot strong and filled with surprises, and the story intense. I found Hell Cat both moving and compelling and very had to put down.
Will Conall sat at a shadowy table in the far corner of the bar with his back to the wall. He was nursing a drink and watching my every move.
I could feel his dark eyes on me even though I hadn’t looked at him in over an hour. I could detect his scent and it tantalized me, making me extraordinarily aware of him. It also made me think about the last time we were together, and I had to squash that thought without mercy. I had a job to do.
There was no way I was going to avoid having a conversation with Will. The more I thought about it, the more I welcomed the idea. I was glad he had found me. Maybe we’d finally get a chance to clear the air. Possibly, we could save our professional relationship, if not our personal one. Although, I knew I would have preferred the latter.
Most of the Kicking Horse’s patrons didn’t notice the tall dark-haired man in the corner. He wore snug jeans and a black T-shirt that hugged his hard, lean body, and over it all, he wore a black leather coat. I knew that under the clothes his arms and chest were scarred, but he was fit and well-muscled.
I had run my fingertips over that hard body. I still remembered the texture of his skin and the heat that burned within me as we lay side by side, skin touching.
The clothing did help to conceal him, but Will had a talent for making people ignore him. Eyes seem to slide right off of him. I couldn’t really explain how it worked, but it did. Mine didn’t. I could see Will quite clearly, but then I was a shapeshifter and we had excellent eyesight.
“Get your head back in the game, Helly,” I muttered to myself.
I kept the beer and hard stuff coming for the waitresses at the Kicking Horse. It was a rougher than average watering hole in an industrial section of Edmonton.
Jimmy was the bar manager and my current boss. He kept the guys sitting at the long wooden bar lubricated while he pretended to clean the scarred surface.
The majority of our clientele were males. I avoided serving the regulars sitting at the bar as much as possible—to avoid unwanted attention and the need to break any bones. Many of these guys were old enough to be my father, and that alone made me cringe. Some were too young to bother with and I was pretty sure most of them didn’t own a mirror.
There was also the fact that, in the late evening, a few of them would try and tap out the Breathalyzer machine. It was a game they played to see who was the drunkest. Now there’s a recommendation for you.
I used my Aunt Rita’s line on most of them at one time or another. “I don’t shit where I eat.” It made them laugh and also let them know I wasn’t interested. Words could be powerful weapons when used correctly.
I listened to them and collected rumors about the bar robberies that happened before I got here. I sorted information from their conversations. Some of what they said was even useful.
“Hey, Alice,” Belinda slumped against the bar, plunking her damp cork bottom tray down next to her.
I used Alice Munro as my name for this contract. Nobody at the bar asked if I was the Nobel laureate for literature, but then I hadn’t expected anyone to.
Belinda’s breasts were bulging out of her V-neck tank top with the aid of an industrial-strength push-up bra. Her tiny denim shorts were riding up her ass showing a considerable amount of cheek. Belinda was well tipped for her efforts. Her brassy blonde hair with the odd splash of green and too much makeup took most of the attention, and thus the heat, off me. My natural blonde hair looked washed out in the dim lighting, but Belinda blazed, and I was good with that.
Jimmy didn’t have a dress code. The waitresses decided on their own how much harassment they wanted, versus how high they expected their tips to be.
I stuck to jeans and T-shirts and, with my assets, I did okay. Especially if the looks I was getting from Will across the room were anything to go by. It was all for appearances anyway, I wasn’t here for the tips.
“Hey, Belinda, what do you need?” I gave her a commiserating smile. We only had another forty-five minutes to go and we could close down for the night.
“Fifteen minutes to last call and table six wants a dozen tequila shots and two pitchers of Purple Plank.”
“Purple Plank?” I asked to make sure I had heard her right. “Nobody likes it.” That was an understatement. It was one step below swill. It was the cheapest draft beer you could get. I had looked it up.
“I know, Jimmy isn’t going to re-order it, we’re supposed to get rid of it as fast as we can.” Belinda pushed bright green bangs out of her eyes. “I told them there was a discount on it tonight. You know, like the featured beer? Not to worry, they aren’t too choosey and probably can’t taste much right now anyway. Most of them are having trouble standing.”
“Ah, smart.” I nodded as I continued pouring out the dozen shots. I’m afraid I’ve had too much practice at this.
I’d hired on as a bartender to investigate the robberies. Unfortunately, since I started, no one from any biker gang had materialized to hold up the place. At least while I was here, the building owner got his rent on time.
I gathered up the shots between my spread fingers and deposited them on her tray. “Do they have a designated driver?”
“They have a van coming for them at closing. Don’t worry. I don’t want any of these guys on the road when you and I are driving home.” Belinda winked at me.
“I appreciate that,” I said, filling the second pitcher from the tap.
“That guy in the corner has been keeping tabs on you all night,” Belinda commented glancing over her shoulder and looking at Will.
He ignored her completely I noted when I glanced up. His eyes locked on mine for a second, and then I broke the contact.
“Yeah, I know,” I said as I took the money she offered me. Jimmy didn’t let anyone run a tab. You paid up for each round or you didn’t get served.
“Do you know him, or should I have Donny roust him out?” She offered to involve the bar bouncer to protect me as she gathered up her tray. “Or, better yet, let me take care of him,” she said as she gave me a sly smile and laughed at her own joke.
“No, it’s okay I’m acquainted with him, but thanks for the offer.” I smiled at Belinda as I gave her back change for the fifty she had handed me. I was sure it would all be tip money.
“He looks like trouble with those dark eyes and that body.” Belinda grinned at me. “I hope he shows you a good time.” She turned away to head back to deliver the order.
I didn’t have time to comment. Sindy was waiting for her order to be filled, and I knew Mattie would be back shortly, too.
“Last call!” Jimmy’s bellow cut through the country western music and conversation like a hot knife through butter.
After I placed the pitcher of beer on Mattie’s tray and added two rum and Cokes to Sindy’s, I could feel eyes on me, so I glanced over at the bar manager.
Jimmy gave me a wordless frown from his end of the bar and tipped his whiskered covered chin at Will in the corner. I was touched that our grizzled, grouchy old boss was concerned that Will was eyeing me.
I shook my head and gave Jimmy a thumbs-up. He narrowed his eyes at me but, as usual, didn’t say anything. Jimmy was a man of few words.
I returned to my section of the bar and did a fast cleanup of the surfaces before Belinda made a return trip with one more order. I still had a beer keg to change out too.
Will Conall took a shallow sip of the room temperature Glenlivet from the short glass. He’d been slowly turning the tumbler between his hands for the past few hours. It was a younger whisky than he usually drank, but it was the only thing the bar served by way of a decent brand.
His server Sindy, ambled over again as she had every half hour.
“Can I get you anything else?” she leaned on the table, giving him a good look at her considerable cleavage. She cocked one hip so her painted on jeans tightened. The girl was pretty enough with her fuchsia pink hair and her heavily made up dark brown eyes, but Will didn’t care.
“No thanks, I’m good,” he said, shaking his head and turning his eyes back to the lean, hard-bodied blonde behind the bar.
“Okay.” Sindy looked him over one more time, gave a little sigh, and moved on.
There was only one woman in this establishment Will was interested in. When her charade of a job was done for the evening, he would corner Helly Cooper.
Helly had only looked up at him three times all night, and each time those blue eyes rested on him, he’d felt them strike him right in the heart.
Her expression had remained blank when she saw him. No reaction at all. Like looking at him was the same as looking at one of the grubby oil-patch workers. She hadn’t given him any sign of recognition. She’d acted like she could have cared less that he had been sitting here since nine o’clock, waiting for her.
Stupidly, he had hoped for some emotion. Whether Helly had intended it or not her attitude had gotten under his skin. They had known each other a long time, but Helly was a cool one. She always had been.
Will had stopped being angry with her months ago. He had to admit he had driven her away. She hadn’t cut all her ties to him and Security and Protection Services on a whim. It was his fault, even though admitting it to himself still stuck in his throat.
He’d to concede he was the one who had crossed the line. It was past time to do something about it if he was ever going to get her to come back to the company.
He had reconciled himself to the fact that he couldn’t be with Helly, not like she wanted. He couldn’t, not with his issues, but they could still work together and, for him, that would be enough.
We got through last call and Donny only had to pour two people into cabs. No one argued with big Donny.
True to their word, table six had a van pick them up. It was nice to see people were occasionally doing the smart thing. I figured they must be from one of the bigger drilling companies.
Horizontal drilling was the new hot technology for oil and gas companies. The technology allowed access to pockets of the resource previously too expensive to go after. Now that the price of oil had gone back up, Edmonton was back to feeling like a boom town. The Kicking Horse patrons had the disposable income to prove it. I knew Jimmy pulled in several thousand each night, a tidy sum for a dump like this.
By the time I had finished running all the dishes through the dishwasher and stacked the trays of glasses, the bar was almost empty.
Jimmy was cashing out and shoving wads of bills into the deposit bag. The rest the staff were cleaning up and wiping down the tables. I was faster than usual at this task because I wanted to get out on time. I wanted to get Will out of here. Why had he felt it was necessary to sit for hours scrutinizing me while I poured drinks? He hadn’t come up to the bar and tried to talk to me. He could have left me a number to call him later, but maybe he thought he’d lose me again. He had to know I had been expecting him to track me down for the past couple of weeks. I had stopped covering my tracks as well as I had in the beginning. I was getting tired of being alone.
I hadn’t seen Will in over ten months, and we hadn’t parted on the greatest of terms.
I knew he wasn’t comfortable working with me anymore, so it had been time for me to move on. I left SPS after working for them for almost nine years and hadn’t been in contact with him or the company since.
That being said, something compelling must have made him find me. I knew he wanted to talk to me because he had stayed seated at his table as I worked my way over to him. I glanced over at him now, and we exchanged a watchful look.
He was waiting. Like a predator stalking his prey.
Every time I met his dark eyes, I felt something. It was hard to describe, but even after ten months I still had feelings for that man.
I was spraying cleaner on a worn table top when the front door of the bar slammed open, hitting the wall.
I cut my eyes to the entrance.
Three men walked in wearing dark windbreakers, dark jeans, and ski masks, each carrying a weapon. The last one across the threshold paused by the door to close it and to throw the dead bolt.
Donny was still outside.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Will get quietly to his feet.
“Nobody moves,” ordered the male leading the three new arrivals. He was wearing a navy windbreaker with a splash of white paint on the sleeve. He raised his pistol in a one-handed grip and walked up to the bar, no doubt trusting the hand gun would freeze us where we stood. He leveled the pistol right at Jimmy’s face. “Hand over the cash and keep your hands on the bar.”
He couldn’t know about the shotgun Jimmy kept loaded under the bar. Probably it was just as well, if Jimmy went for the rifle, Jimmy would be dead.
The taller guy at the door swung a rifle up and pointed it at the waitresses. Who brings a hunting rifle to a robbery?
“Get over to the wall,” he growled at them.
They scurried to the wall by the kitchen doors and froze like deer in the headlights. Each one of them clutched a tray of dirty glasses like it was a shield.
The third guy advanced farther into the room and held a rifle as well. He didn’t have it braced correctly against his body and waved it around like an idiot. He clearly wasn’t sure who he should cover—me or the two old guys to the left of Jimmy still seated at the bar.
At least Jimmy’s cronies were following the bar manager’s example. They each kept one hand flat on the bar and had a death grip on their beer mugs with the other. They weren’t moving, but their eyes were bulging pretty good. To these thieves, it must have looked like a nearly empty bar with a few old guys and some women.
That almost made me smile. They hadn’t counted on me or Will. They certainly didn’t look like members of a biker gang, so this had to be something else.
I knew Will would take out the guy at the door first. I would have to go for whoever seemed like the most imminent threat. I was almost equidistant between the leader and his idiot sidekick. I watched both of them carefully. With my shapeshifter abilities, I would be on my target before he knew it.
I could move faster than standard humans, not faster than a bullet, but close. We shapeshifters considered ourselves human too. But we were enhanced, where regular or standard humans were not.
None of the gunmen had noticed Will. I could pick him out by the back wall in the gloomy light. He made his way effortlessly across the room to the door. He soundlessly skirted the tables and chairs and got behind his target.
Will moved quickly and efficiently as he grabbed the guy by the door. He wrapped his arm around the guy’s neck and squeezed off his air. Will grabbed the rifle with his other hand as he eased the gunman down to the floor with almost no noise.
It was a practiced move, and Will did it fluidly. Had I been facing the opposite way, like the others, I wouldn’t have known anything was going on either. One down, two to go.
I turned my body toward my target as I prepared to make my move, now that we were down to two. I would take the guy at the bar because he was their leader. Cut the head off the snake so to speak.
Idiot here, waved his weapon between me and the bar regulars. If I took out the leader, this guy would probably fold without a fuss.
The kitchen door swung open and Juanita, Jimmy’s wife and the bar cook, shuffled into the room. She was completely unaware we were in the midst of a robbery.
Idiot was startled and swung his weapon toward Juanita. He fired his rifle at her. Everyone snapped their heads in his direction.
Juanita shrieked, the waitresses screamed and dropped their trays. Juanita threw her arms over her head, turned tail, and ran back into the kitchen. Thank God the shot went wide and hit one of the wooden posts, splintering it.
With the commotion, I changed direction. I ran toward the idiot and, before he could turn on me, I grabbed the gun stock and pushed the barrel up and away from everyone. Then I pulled him into me, easily landing a punch to his throat.
He gagged, his throat was constricted. I pulled the weapon out of his hands and swung the rifle at him. I cracked him in the jaw with the butt, effectively shutting out his lights.
He dropped to the floor as well. I flipped the gun around and pointed it at the leader. Will had beaten me to him. The leader of this ragtag crew was lying unconscious on the floor at Will’s feet. I dropped the barrel down and away from Will.
He flicked one eyebrow up at me before he returned his attention to the weapon in his hand. He ejected the clip from the pistol, checked the breach to make sure it was clear, and then laid the pistol on the bar.
Will had the tall guy’s rifle that, from here, looked like a Remington 700. He cradled it in the crook of his arm as he leaned down and pulled the balaclava off the robber’s face.
Will’s eyes met mine, and he gave me a slight shake of his head. No one we knew. Which meant the leader wasn’t on any list SPS would have been aware of such as a Canada-wide warrants. He was probably a local.
Will straightened and turned to Jimmy. “Call nine-one-one,” he ordered the stunned bar manager.
In the four weeks I’d worked at the bar, I had never seen a look like that on Jimmy’s face, he was at a loss for words. Yeah, seeing Will work would do that to you.
“Jimmy?” I prompted to get him moving.
“Yeah, I’m calling.” Jimmy growled and reached for the phone under the bar as he aimed a scowl first at Will then at me. I ignored him and turned back to Will.
“I’ll go check on the bouncer,” Will said. “Have you got this?”
“Yeah, all good,” I said. I flicked my eyes over to Mattie, Belinda, and Sindy. “One of you, go to the kitchen and check on Juanita,” I ordered.
All three scurried into the kitchen. They paused only briefly to avoid the broken glass and trays in their path. I couldn’t blame them for being scared, but the danger was over.
One handed, I flipped my assailant on to his stomach. His weight was nothing to me. I nudged his hands away from his sides with my booted foot. I needed to keep an eye on all three of the gunmen while Will was outside.
My old boss wouldn’t have asked for the police if he had killed the guy by the door. There was no smell of death either. If he had, we would be calling SPS for a cleanup crew. They would handle the body and scrub the vicinity.
The front door swung open again, and Will had his shoulder braced under the big bouncer’s armpit. He helped Donny through the door and down onto a chair.
“Did he get shot?” I asked, looking at the blood running down Donny’s forehead.
“No, he took a blow to the head,” Will said, steadying Donny so he wouldn’t slide out of the chair.
“Belinda!” I yelled to the kitchen. “Donny needs the first aid kit.”
Will returned to the entrance and grabbed the tallest gunmen’s left ankle. He dragged him over to where the idiot was laying prone next to me. I rolled him onto his stomach as well. This was so that, if any of them regained consciousness and were sick, they wouldn’t choke.
He also dragged the leader over to the other two thieves, again by his ankle, to complete the set, and I flipped him over too.
It was Juanita who came bustling out of the kitchen, carrying a first aid kit and apparently unhurt. She called over to Jimmy and he waved her off dismissively. So she turned to Donny and began fussing over the bouncer.
I frowned. Juanita seemed to have regained her equilibrium remarkably quick.
Jimmy was on the phone with emergency services dispatch, explaining what had just gone down. He rolled his eyes at me as he listened to the dispatcher’s instructions.
I leaned down and removed the ski masks from the other two guys. I lifted their heads by their hair to get a good look at their faces. Nope, nobody I recognized. Well, that sucked.
“Have you got cuffs?” Will asked as he gave them a cursory look as well.
“I have riot cuffs.” Will had the Remington in his hand and the Ruger now lodged in his belt at the small of his back.
So I dropped the Winchester’s barrel to point at the floor. “Give me a second to get them.”
I walked behind the bar and dug my shoulder bag out. I extracted the white plastic restraining cuffs. The cops could trade the plastic cuffs for real ones at their leisure.
Both of the regulars left at the bar took the opportunity to head to the men’s room. The older one stumbled a bit as they made for the restroom. His friend grabbed him by the arm to lend support as they wobbled unsteadily out of the room.
“This was amateur hour,” Will said quietly as he drew each man’s hands behind their back and I secured their wrists.
“Yeah, when they walked in, I was hoping we would nail someone from a biker gang tonight. Maybe we should see if we can get anything out of navy windbreaker here.”
The former leader of the awesome trio was making groaning sounds. He had a serious bruise on his jaw were Will had clipped him.
I went through his pockets. “No wallet or ID,” I commented. That was what I had expected, but I had to look anyway.
I tried idiot’s coat pockets and, running true to form, idiot had ID on him. “Percival Jenkins,” I said reading his license. The photo matched, but anything could be faked. “Who names their kid Percival?”
Percival was coming around too. He was fairly young, maybe eighteen. The other two were older, between twenty and twenty-five.
All three had average builds with Percival on the skinnier side. They had medium brown hair and unremarkable features. Upon closer inspection I could tell the clothing was cheap, worn, and several years out of date. Possibly from a thrift store.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Will asked.
“I think so,” I said.
Will leaned close to Percival’s ear and said in a low tone, “Hey, Percy, what’s your big brother’s name?”
“Alvin or Marvin?” Percival asked. His voice was hoarse and groggy as his eyelids fluttered.
Will and I shared a grin.
“I need ice for Donny, cosa dulce,” Juanita called over to me as she cleaned up Donny. The bouncer hung his head and hadn’t moved from his seat.
I raised an eyebrow at Will. “Is Juanita talking to you, sweet thing?”
“Funny,” Will said dryly, even though there was humor in his whisky-colored eyes. It had felt good to work together again. I had missed this.
I left Will to keep an eye on the idiot squad. He was going through the third guy’s pockets as I went behind the bar. I found a clean towel, dampened it slightly, and added a scoopful of ice.
“Who’s that guy?” Jimmy asked me as I replaced the scoop in the ice bin.
I knew who he meant so there was no point in pretending. “He’s a friend of mine. He does security.” Will was much more than that, and so was I, but I didn’t think it was necessary to give Jimmy all the details. Will certainly wouldn’t thank me for it.
Jimmy grunted at my answer as I brushed a strand of blonde hair off my cheek. The hair must have been dislodged from my pony tail when I took out Idiot Boy.
I looked steadily back at Jimmy, but he didn’t say anything about Will, even though I could see he wasn’t happy. Instead, he changed the focus to me. “That was some punch, Alice. You have some experience taking guys down?” It wasn’t really a question and I had already tipped my hand.
“Some,” I said. My expression told him that was all he was getting out of me.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” Jimmy said into the phone, but his eyes bored into me.
Dispatch wouldn’t let him off the line until the uniforms got here. I raised my eyebrows at Jimmy. He shook his head and turned his back on me. I took it our conversation was over. I headed back around the bar to take Juanita the iced towel for Donny.
The idiot squad were all sitting up, though still on the floor with Will standing to one side and keeping an eye on them. All three looked embarrassed, and scared, I noted as I passed them.
I handed Juanita the towel, and she gently placed it on the left side of Donny’s head, where his bald patch started, covering the swelling.
Flashing blue and red lights hit the window. “Cops are here!” Sindy called from the kitchen.
© 2018 by Yvonne Rediger