Brutus’s Surprise by Lisa Oliver

Chapter One

Oh, shit… Shit. Double shit. That was too long of a jump even for a shifter. Heath glanced back. His dray was gaining on his ass. Let’s see... Die in a failed glide or be torn to death by sharp teeth and claws... Well, hell...

Heath gave a jump, flicking his tail as he did. Soaring through the sky to the next tree, he caught hold of it by his front claws and scrambled to the branch. “Fuck.” Well, it was supposed to be fuck, but what came out was chittering. Okay, so it was fuck in flying squirrel talk. Reaching a good takeoff point, Heath took the time to glance back for a moment. Some of the dray were on the other tree preparing for the jump, others were making a mad dash for the ground to continue the chase.

“Oh shit.” Somehow swearing did not sound as effective in squirrel… Heath shook his head. Then jumped and spread his arms and legs again, floating over to the next tree. If there was only some way to get his former den mates off his ass.

There was no point in preparing for the next jump, Heath decided when he landed. He ran without stopping, then took off soaring for the next tree. Heath knew he was in trouble. He wasn’t the most athletic or the most powerful of the dray; there were too many who were better physically than he was. If they caught him, his fuzzy tail was going to be hanging from his alpha’s handle bars.

Heath scooted to the top of the tree he was on and glanced around. Smokestacks... Estimating the very top of the tree just might hold him long enough to get a better look, Heath started climbing up. The top started to sway, but he kept his eyes focused on the smoke. A factory? It had to be an old factory... The branches bent hard... Shit... or not. Heath had to decide quick. A factory would have places to hide. Maybe... The top of the tree cracked. He didn’t have time for maybe. Heath jumped and glided for the next tree. And then the next, and the next, desperate to get to that smoke.

/~/~/~/~/

Still huffing hard, Heath circled the strange building. It was an old factory, and it would have passed as abandoned except it had new windows and doors fitted, leaving no easy way inside. He chittered in frustration as he went around again.

Ah... at last, a door cracked open. Without second-guessing himself, Heath skittered inside. Long hallways greeted him, long white hallways with security cameras all over the place. Damn it, a brown flying squirrel is going to show up like a neon sign in this set up. Better find somewhere to nest. On the bright side, a dray of flying squirrels would really show up with nowhere to hide. Studying the position of the cameras, Heath realized they had a major blind spot. After all, security tech was his business. This just might work. It just might. He grinned... well if flying squirrels could grin.

Heath clawed up the wall and jumped from each lighting sconce to the other until he saw another door cracked open. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Heath glided down to the floor and sprinted through the door. His big eyes were suited to the darkness and adjusted quickly. He was in an office. This could work.

Hearing footsteps, Heath hid underneath the desk, hoping no one would think to look for him, or spot him. Shiny shoes entered, and the lights flicked on, blinding him. “Damn it, Professor Jopper left the door open again. Hang on a minute while I make sure everything is okay. It should be, he was the last one out.”

Huddled back in the darkest shadow of the desk, Heath didn’t breathe as the man walked toward him then around the room. “Yeah, it’s good.” The lights flicked back off as the door closed. Heath patted his chest, panting hard.

“Hey! Where the hell did those squirrels come from.”

Heath heard feet running down the hallway the way he’d come – the outside door must still be open

“Who left the outside door open?” Someone yelled. “Get those damn squirrels out of here.”

At least they got rid of the dray. And here he was locked in the office, which was the safest he’d been in hours. Climbing out Heath glanced around. There was a nice sized Tibetan singing bowl sitting on a shelf. Hmm... And a scarf on the back of a chair. Yeah, that would work. And it was high enough on the shelf that no one would bother to look inside. But damn, I need fingers for a moment. Straining his ears to make sure he couldn’t hear anyone coming, Heath shifted.

A brown-eyed, naked twink stood in place of the squirrel, his fawn-colored hair matching his squirrel’s fur. Moving as quietly as he could, Heath pulled the bowl from the shelf. Then taking the scarf, he arranged it in the bowl, replacing it back on the shelf where it had been, after he was done. Shifting back, Health climbed up the shelves, he curled up in the bowl, pulling the scarf over him with his teeth and claws as much as he could. He heard a door slam and more voices as he tried to relax.

“That should stop those furry little bastards. And I want to know who left the door open.”

“I’ll check the video.”

“You do that.”

Good. If they saw him at all, they would assume he had been herded out with his dray... his former dray.

Footsteps passed the door. Giving a sigh, Heath closed his eyes. He needed to get some sleep, and then he needed to figure out how the hell to get back out of the building, and away from the guards his alpha… former alpha would’ve set outside. It was a damn shame that squirrel was a squirrel, because Heath’s alpha would’ve made a very good wolf alpha or another predator. Damn, what a shitty, all-around rotten, fucking day. Sleep escaped him as Heath replayed the day, trying to work out where his life suddenly upended. Hell, probably when I woke up. I should have just stayed in bed.

/~/~/~/~/

Earlier that day.

“Heath?”

“Yeah?” Looking up from the computer, Heath scowled at the enforcer standing in the doorway.

“The alpha wants to see you.”

“Can’t it wait? I think I solved the problem with the strange loop that is causing Execucorp to...”

“No. Now.”

Fuck. Heath knew that tone. Yep. Now. Heaving a sigh, he slammed the desk drawer shut and put the computer on standby. “Okay, fine.” He shook his hair out of his eyes and stood. As he walked outside the door, another enforcer was standing there. One in front and one in back, they headed for the alpha’s house, not his offices.

Damn. Two enforcers? The alpha’s house? This wasn’t a routine visit then. What the fuck could he want? Heath’s mind raced searching for answers. Unless the alpha wanted to reward him for a job well done with the computers, it could only be his little Wednesday excursions that could’ve got him in to trouble. But who the fuck could have seen him sixty miles away? It wasn’t as if any of them would hang out at a gay club. It had to be something else.

The enforcers didn’t motion for him to sit when they reached the living room, and no one else was in sight. Oh, this was so not good. It had to be the club. It just had to be. But how the fuck did he.... Fuck it. The how didn’t matter if the alpha knew. Shit. Fuck. Oh, hell.

Heath tried to stay calm. If he was going to be dead, so was the alpha’s security business. That gave him a small bit of satisfaction. Anyone trying to access his computer would set off a chain reaction, effectively destroying the business system, and all the security programs for any of the businesses that had his system installed. Any device with a link to his system would be destroyed. The alpha and the dray would lose their major source of income in five seconds after the first domino... computer... went down. Unless they had the code, locked in Heath’s head.

And they’re not getting that even if they do kill me. Let’s see how the bastards manage if they have to actually work for a living.

The second stepped out of the alpha’s den and motioned them in. Mind blank, Heath followed the enforcer in. Shit. The alpha wasn’t alone. Cara was there. A smirking Cara at that. It must be about Wednesday. That was the only thing Heath could think of – the only thing anyone could hang over his head. And from her expression, she thought she had him right where she wanted him.

Why the fuck didn’t she just find someone who actually wanted her instead of badgering him for a mating that he didn’t want. He knew she wasn’t in love with him, and she knew damn well he wasn’t interested in her.

“Alpha, perhaps if I spoke to him?” Cara smiled at Heath. Okay, so she showed her teeth at him, like a cougar waiting to pounce.

The alpha didn’t even look at Heath. “Use the side office.”

Nodding, she gestured for Heath to follow. He may be a short little twink, but she barely made it to his chin. Closing the door behind him, she didn’t give him a chance to say anything before she whispered, “look, I’m pregnant. I need a mate, and I need one fast before my father strokes out on me.”

“Who?”

“Who what?”

“Who’s the father? Maybe you should marry him.”

“Oh, don’t start that.”

“Cara, I’m not interested in you.”

“I’m not interested in you either, Heath.” She shook her head, and the russet hair covered her face for a moment. Brushing it back, she said, “Look, just go along with this. It gets you out of hot water with the alpha for not mating.”

“No.”

“Oh, don’t be such a stubborn ass.”

“No. I’m waiting for my true mate.”

“Stop with the bullshit, there’s no such thing. If you don’t do this, I’ll...”

Heath glared. “You’ll what?”

“I’ll tell him what you have been doing on Wednesday nights when you are supposed to be taking that class.” Her smile turned sharkish.

Heath might have been small, but he wouldn’t be bullied. “Who the fuck is the father of your baby, and won’t he have something to say about this?”

“He’s married.”

“Married? Well, tell him to unmarry or at least take care of his kit.”

“I can’t. He would lose too much. He’s very powerful.”

Something clicked. Heath knew he sounded incredulous. “You... The kid belongs to the alpha?” Who else could it be? The puzzle pieces suddenly all came together. Cara was the secretary of the dray. She and the alpha traveled together, often. She was unmarried and until recently, had been happy to stay that way. It all fit. The kit she was carrying belonged to the alpha. “You can tell the alpha from me, I’m not taking his leftovers.”

The slap knocked him backward. “This was supposed to be easy. It would have worked for all of us, you moron.” Spinning on her high heels, she stormed back into the alpha’s den.

Well, shit. Heath listened to her shrieking next door. Cara was telling the alpha about his Wednesdays. Okay… He wasn’t getting a second chance. Ripping his clothes off, Heath ran for the window. Giving it a push, he shifted at the same time and dove through it, landing in a tree. Running to the end of the branch, he took another jump knowing that he didn’t have too long before the dray was on his heels.

/~/~/~/~/

Back in the office, the sound of the door opening woke Heath, followed by voices. “I found it lying on the floor near the back door yesterday and put it in here. I thought I saw you wearing it.” The male voice was deep.

“Thank you so much. My kids gave that to me as a birthday present, and I don’t know what I would have done if I lost it.” Female... huh. Wonder what they are talking about?

“I thought I put it on the chair. Now, where did I...”

Chair? Scarf. Oh shit, scarf! Heath found himself tangled up in the scarf as he tried to scramble out of it.

A high-pitched female scream sounded. “Rat!”

Crapola... She saw him.

“I don’t believe it is a rat, I rather think it is a Glaucomys Sabrinus.” The man adjusted his glasses. “Ah yes, definitely a Glaucomys Sabrinus, not a Glaucomys Volans. You see unlike the Volans, or the Southern Flying Squirrel, this one has grey in his stomach fur, and he’s much larger than...”

“Rat!” Yep. She only took that pause to get more wind.

Kicking free, Heath jumped toward the still open door, which caused a louder scream as she dove out of the way of his glide. Hitting the door, he scrambled down it and fled out the door just in time to run into a guard.

“Damn it, I thought we got them all last night.”

Double fucks. And the door to the outside was shut. Heath climbed the wall and jumped from wall sconce to wall sconce until he reached the end of the hallway.  Realizing that the door was also shut, he started to turn when the door suddenly opened, and another guard ran through it. Taking a chance, Heath glided through the door and high-tailed it down the next hallway.

Now, he didn’t have two guards chasing him; he had the man, two guards, what had to be admin assistants, and a couple of businessmen. “Get him before he gets in the lab! Everything is going to be contaminated.”

Lab? What lab? Another door slid open, and Heath slid sideways and scrambled through it. Shit. Humans or squirrels... Either way, he was in deep shifter crap up to his... Oh, shit. Net! Heath jumped and misjudged the distance to the top of a dome vat. Landing in an open vat full of stinking chemicals, he sank like a rock.

Struggling, he tried to swim to the top. Heath just had to be a flying squirrel... if he was a regular squirrel, he could have saved himself. Deciding his only chance was to shift, Heath tried. Both he and his squirrel focused on it. No dice. No human. What the hell is in this vat?

The net he was avoiding captured him, dragging him to the surface. A face peered down at him and hissed, “I don’t know how you got in here, shifter, but if they figure out what you are, we’re all in trouble.” Then louder, he said, “I got him. I’ll get rid of him. Someone test the vat.”

Shifter? Either the man was one or he knew one and could pick out the signs. Heath tried to sniff but instead sneezed because of the gunk in his nose. The man said, so only Heath could hear him, “Just play dead.” Then, louder, he added, “He’s dead. That was his last gasp. Drowned.”

“Just toss him outside.”

“What if someone comes across him? I mean, it’s obvious something happened to him that wasn’t normal. Let me get him away from here so they don’t connect this to us.”

“Good point. Go.”

The man grabbed a box and dumped Heath into it. Unsure of what to do and terrified he would get caught by the bad guys this time, Heath curled up, his tail over his feet. When he heard the car door slam, he sneezed. The box didn’t open. “Stay put until I get somewhere safe.”

After what seemed like forever to Heath, the car stopped. “Now, out you go.” The door opened, and the box moved as it was lifted and set on the ground. Heath peered out as the man opened the box, feeling as miserable as he was sure he looked. Scrambling out, he tried to shift again. Unable to, he chirped.

“Well, shift. “

This time the chirp was more insistent and frustrated.

“Stuck?”

Heath nodded.

“Can’t help you with that. You are going to have to be a squirrel until you can figure it out. I need to get back to work. Just forget the lab, okay? It has nothing to do with shifters, and it’s better they don’t know that shit inhibits shifting.” Giving a sniff, he stared at Heath. “And it appears it also hides you’re a shifter, so, be careful. You smell like a squirrel, not a shifter.” And that was it. Heath watched as the man just walked back to the car and drove off… leaving Heath… goodness knows where.

Well, great. But at least it gets the dray off my ass. They would be following the shifter scent not a squirrel’s scent. Heath looked around. Trees. Trees. Trees. Stuck as a squirrel with nowhere to hide. Climbing a tree, Heath shook his fur and sneezed again, then sniffed. At least his nose was starting to pick up scents again. Still, he knew it was better to keep moving. Heath headed in the opposite direction the car took. At least he didn’t have to find clothes. He would worry about not shifting later. Every leap was taking him further from the lab, and even further from his dray.