"Awww, the little baby is crying. Boohoo. Does the baby need his bottle and his teddy?"

That plastic tie looked too thin to hold a shapeshifter.

"When I get free, I'll--"

"Don't worry. Your teddy has to be here somewhere. I bet he is upstairs. You lie here like a slug while I go look for him."

Ascanio twisted. Hard muscles bulged on his arms. Julie took a step back.

The boy jerked. A ragged snarl tore out of his throat, his skin ruptured, and a monster spilled forth. The plastic tie snapped apart and a six-and-a-half-foot-tall bouda in a warrior form rolled to his feet. Dark stripes marked his massive limbs, dashing up to his shoulders, where the brown fur flared into a long thick mane. A brown hyena. Interesting. I had only seen one of those before.

Red eyes stared at Julie from a shockingly inhuman face.

She raised her knife.

Ascanio lunged. His clawed fingers caught her wrist. He plucked the knife out of her hand and dropped it to the floor.

That was just about enough of that. I opened my mouth.

The front door swung open and Derek walked into the office. Ascanio and Julie froze, her arm still caught in his grip.

Derek's eyes sparked with a lethal yellow glow.

I moved to the stairs. Julie jerked her arm away from Ascanio.

Derek's voice was iced over. "Julie, go upstairs."

Julie sidestepped Ascanio and swiped her knife off the floor.

The bouda's mouth gaped open. Mangled words came out, shredded by his fangs. "Gorna dooo what he said, huh?"

Surprise, surprise. He could speak in a half-form. That took real talent.

Julie stuck her tongue out, went to the stairs, and saw me. Her face fell. That's right. You're so busted.

Derek shut the door and looked at Ascanio. Ascanio spread his arms, his voice dripping with derision. "What? What? What arrrre you gorna dooo?"

"I'm going to teach you a lesson." Derek shrugged off his sweatshirt and draped it over the chair.

Ascanio snapped his huge teeth. "You won't teach me anything, but I give you a few morr scarrrs. You'rrrre tooo prretty."

Derek took a few steps forward and motioned to Ascanio with his hand. "That's a nice half-form. Let's see what you can do with it."

"I'm waiting for yoooo to turrrrn, woof. I drrrag your bloody brrroken carcass to Kate. At least trrry to poot up a good fight."

Derek smiled. It was a cold humorless smile that bared the edge of his teeth. "I can't wait."

Ascanio leaped.

THE BOUDA FLEW THROUGH THE AIR, HUGE CLAWS poised for the kill. Derek shied out of the way. Ascanio hurtled past him and whipped around.

"When you're airborne, you can't change your direction," Derek said. "Try again."

Ascanio snarled and charged him.

Derek stepped into the charge, pivoted on his left foot, and kicked. The lower part of his right shin connected with Ascanio's ear. Ascanio rolled sideways, crashed into a wall, and surged up.

"Mind your flanks," Derek said. "You have peripheral vision for a reason."

"I fucking kilr you!"

"Left foot, right foot, left foot." Derek raised his arms. "Watch."

Ascanio lunged. "Left foot." Derek met him halfway and sank a vicious left kick into the bouda's stomach.

Ascanio staggered back.

"Right foot." Derek took a quick step, building momentum. "Left foot." He jumped and hammered the ball of his foot into Ascanio's forehead. Like taking a sledgehammer to the face.

The impact sent Ascanio flying. He smashed into my desk with a wicked bone-snapping crunch.

"Go easy on the furniture," I said.

"My apologies, Alpha." With a brutal cry, Ascanio launched himself off the floor.

"Left kick. Right kick. Uppercut. Arm bar. See, now I control your head. That's not good, because I can do this. Oh, and now while you're lying there, your opponent can kick you like this."

Julie winced. "He'll kill him."

"Derek's being very careful. What did I tell you about plastic ties?"

"Only for humans," Julie murmured.

"If you don't listen to me, I can't teach you anything."

Derek rolled his head left, then right, popping his neck. "Come on, shake it off. Back on your feet. You're a shapeshifter. You can take a lot of punishment. It will all heal, but meanwhile it hurts doesn't it? Kick--groin, elbow--throat. No, don't raise your hands up, you leave your stomach exposed. Side kick."

Ascanio hit the wall. The building shook.

"You know who doesn't heal as well as you do? Humans. They are smaller and weaker than you are, and they break easily and stay broken. That's why we don't put our hands on humans. Especially girls. And never ever that girl."

Ascanio's claws fanned Derek's throat. The boy wonder grabbed the bouda's left arm and twisted. With a soft crunch the arm popped out of the socket.

"You're done." I walked down the stairs.

Derek raised his hands and took a step back.

Ascanio moved to chase him. I snapped a single punch to the back of Ascanio's neck. The boy crashed down to the floor.

I grabbed his left arm and jerked sharply, popping the shoulder back into place. Ascanio gasped. I flipped him over and stared into the red-hot eyes. "It's over."

He bared his teeth at me. I slapped his nose. "I said, it's over. Or you'll find out what the loup cage looks like from the inside."

The red glow in Ascanio's eyes died down.

I glanced at Derek. "Where is Andrea?"

"She said she had an errand. She's coming back to the office right after."

"Wash up." I nodded at his bloody knuckles and turned to Ascanio. "You--come with me. We need to talk." Ascanio followed me to the side room.

I pointed at the chair. "Sit."

He landed his shaggy body into it.

"Do you know why you're here?"

He shrugged.

I sat in the other chair. "People practice for years to create a good half-form. You're barely fifteen and you already have it. And you can speak in it. That takes talent, the kind that's rare and difficult to come by. Normally when a young shapeshifter displays talent like that, there is a bidding war. Curran's guard wants him. Jim's security people want him. And the warrior trainers want him. Nobody wants you. Not even your own alpha."

"My apha ikes me!"

"Of course, Aunt B likes you. You're witty, and handsome, and a smartass. She buried two sons, boys just like you. She has a soft spot for you. That's why she sent you off to me."

Ascanio opened his mouth.

"She can't control you and she's worried you'll cross the line in public and she will have to kill you."

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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