Stunned. I think I had an out-of-body experience. I heard the words. Yet, I needed a second or two to sweep for hidden booby-traps. Ryland to my surprise reacted better than I expected. It would only require one elephant tranquilizer to settle his nerves.
“Congratulations, Dr. Xanders. Your ninety day probation starts now.”
“Big mistake,” Ryland snarled, as if he’d registered a threat only dogs could hear. His eyes once again became amber napalm, as primal energy radiated off his swimmer’s build like lethal gamma rays.
To pick a fight with a leopard was dangerous; to irritate Dr. Lynn further was suicidal. My excuse, simple, I had no friggin idea who I was dealing with. Ryland, he just couldn’t be content to court danger, he had to invite it up to his place for the night. Clearly, the man had sociopathic tendencies.
“She won’t last a month, Merryl. I promise it.”
“Dr. Xanders’ tenure will be dependent on her performance, period.”
Silence, it only lasted for a few breaths, yet suffocated the room with so much anger and regret. A look passed between the two men, an agreement struck with a slight nod from each. The gauntlet thrown, I expected, over my dead body.
I waited for Ryland to rush Dr. Lynn, he didn’t. I expected Dr. Lynn to throw Ryland across the room. He couldn’t be bothered. Instead, each man remained in his perspective seat, chins held high, chests puffed with the rightness of their own convictions. I felt the weight of their regard, like opposing fans at a playoff game. No matter how close the final score, someone had to lose, and both men were betting with my skin.
“I wish I could ask your forgiveness of Ryland’s theatrics, and offer assurances they won’t be repeated. However, that would be too obvious a lie to tell with a straight face, so I won’t bother.”
“Apologies aren’t warranted, Dr. Lynn. Mr. Hynes merely demonstrated his great affection for Tepes Memorial Institute. I can only hope that I too develop a measure of his passion during my tenure.”
“When I need your assistance, Kitten,” Ryland crooned, “I’ll unzip my fly.”
“Give me a head’s up,” I shot back, “I’ll warm the tweezers.”
The remark lingered in the air, like the expensive cologne Ryland wore. A minute passed before full appreciation of each syllable sunk in.
Dr. Lynn broke first. The heat of determination that clouded the clear pools of his gaze, were washed away by a flash flood of bemused surprise. A sudden fit of coughing seized him, as he futilely attempted to suppress it behind his clenched fist. A crack in his omnipotence appeared, and through it, I caught a glimpse of his true warmth and compassion. My female intuition screamed to keep guard against Dr. Lynn, or a broken heart would be the least of my worries.
Perplexed, Ryland leaned forward and gave me the true weight of his glare. He scanned me from the top of my sun streaked brunette crown, across my toffee hued features, down the length of my plus sized frame, with only a minor delay over the expanse of my breasts. He continued past the slight paunch of my stomach, along the full curve of my legs, to settle on my size eight feet, clad in two-inch heeled pumps.
As if the data he’d mentally uploaded didn’t quite compute, Ryland returned his attentions to the raw honey of my eyes, in search of that missing fragment of information.
It was all too much, the interview, news of the orderlies’ death, the scuffle between Dr. Lynn and Ryland, the forced trip down memory lane, the black out, and the sniping. But the sincere look of puzzlement etched across Ryland’s’ handsome features, pushed me over the edge.
Goodness help me, I laughed.
I looked right into Ryland’s bedroom brown eyes and laughed in his face. It wasn’t a demeaning or spiteful guffaw, which he so rightly deserved. No. I simply leaned toward him and let loose with an old fashioned-stress relieving-belly busting laugh. I couldn’t help myself, and I didn’t care. With everything that transpired, I needed the release, and in the name of full disclosure, it felt too damn good to stop.
He smiled then, with the barest upturn at the corners of his full lips, he smiled. Once again I saw Opie, hints of him in Ryland’s softened expression, the gentle shake of his head, and the slight shrug of his shoulders.
Ryland seemed to have found his missing fragment of information in my release. Contented for the time being, he reclined against the leather back of his previously abused chair, and waited for me to regain my composure.
After another minute, we managed to return to our original roles, minus a level of the previous animosity, as I recounted the Reader’s Digest version of the war that killed my parents and scarred most of my early life.
Satisfied that I’d be more of an asset than a liability, at least for the moment, Ryland began to explain the seriousness of our situation. It appeared the death of the orderly was just the tip of the shoe, the rest had yet to land.
“What have I missed, Mr. Hynes? If the U.S. Government is working with the supernatural community, why would either side have arranged such a drastic contingency?”
“You’re thinking with your heart, Kitten. A habit you’ll want to break if you hope to last at TMI.”
I let the “Kitten” remark go. I knew he’d chosen the slang term to get under my skin, as much as to refer to my Were-Animal. I wouldn’t allow him to goad me into a sexual harassment charge, or run off because my feminine sensibilities were infringed. Ryland Hynes could call “Kitten” all he wanted, this was one pussy he’d never lick.
“If the civilian government used paramilitary forces,” I continued, “especially trained to hunt dual natured species, how could a conflict between the two not erupt?”
“Exactly what we would hope to avoid,” Dr. Lynn interjected. “Imagine a culture that revered the Norse God Loki, suddenly faced with the existence of Were-Wolves.”
I didn’t need to imagine it. Dr. Lynn’s tactful reminder not withstanding, I knew first hand what could happen if such a thing occurred. The under-privileged and malcontents in that society would be the first to whisper “coup“. Soon everyone with a parking ticket or overdue tax bill would talk of it openly. All it would take for mass carnage would be a lycanthrope, with claims to Fenrir’s lineage and aspirations of grandeur.
“Seriously, Kitten, the civilian world isn’t ready to learn what lives beside them,” Ryland stated, with an exaggerated nod toward Dr. Lynn. “Our PR department has worked hard to develop a believable cover. As far as the public is concerned, TMI is a private facility for the mentally ill.”
Through my own experience, I knew few outside the supernatural community who were even aware of Tepes Memorial. And of those who were, few cared. Most societies regarded the mentally ill as disposable. “I’d say the cover is more than believable, Mr. Hynes. To the general public the institute is all but invisible.”
“Bet you didn’t know, we’re the only such facility in existence.”
The bats in my stomach stirred, as full realization threatened to empty my bladder. Ryland couldn’t be right. The supernatural community was a minority population, only when compared to the civilian world at large. I’d always assumed there to be numerous facilities for our kind, well concealed of course, in sparse numbers depending on the region, but at the very least one facility per country.
Ryland had to be wrong; he just had too. I looked to Dr. Lynn for affirmation. What I got was the ugly truth, as concern once again clouded his crystalline gaze.
“Now you understand our situation, Dr. Xanders. We’re not the heartless S.O.B.s you think. The loss of any life is tragic. The loss of this institute to our community, along with possibly the lives of every staffer and resident would surpass catastrophic.”
“What I think, Dr. Lynn, is that we’ve wasted enough time determining if my balls are big enough for this position.”
“Double-Ds are always the right size for any position, Kitten.”
Alright, the time had arrived to kick Ryland’s sexist tight ass. I shifted on the couch to ensure a good aim at his crotch, only to find an empty chair. Blast that friggin speed of his. The bastard leaned against the opened door and had the audacity to tap his watch toward me.
“Now move your ass, you’ve caused enough delays,” Ryland snarked, then headed down the corridor.
The jerk spoke part of the truth, which galled me to no end. I didn’t waste any more time with niceties. Not wanting Ryland to get too far of a head start, I immediately sprinted toward the door. I had one foot across the threshold when I heard Dr. Lynn’s request, inside my head.
“Please keep an eye on Ryland. It’s been a while since he’s been around anything that aroused his beast.”
The expression “stopped dead in your tracks” multiplied by infinity. I forgot how to breathe, and feared what I’d see even though I had to look. I managed to swallow a fraction of my fear, and turned my head enough to see inside the office. The very empty office, with only one exit, the door where I stood.
I nodded in agreement to no one, turned, and then broke the sound barrier to catch up with Ryland. The ass was right the world wasn’t ready. Hell, I barely was, and I knew what went bump in the night.
To be continued…