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Chapter 30: Panther

I woke up feeling wonderful. It would have been perfect except Gunny’s spot in the bed was cold. “Baby?”

“Hi love. We’re in Alpha’s office going over some things. You should come down here when you’re ready.” I moved into the bathroom, the aches and twinges of my normal awakening and movement were noticeably absent. Usually by the time I stood up, my back would be aching, my left knee would have made a noise like rice krispies on a stairway, and I’d have rolled my neck twice to work out the kink from sleeping. Instead, I felt like that impossibly happy morning woman in the mattress commercials. You know, sit up in full makeup and perfect hair, throw both arms skyward and smile to welcome the new day!

I hated that bitch. Mornings suck, and so do morning people. Plus, they have hair and I don’t. I felt the stubble on my head as I moved to the toilet. I didn’t feel the big scar. I turned to the mirror, my eyes not believing what I was seeing.

I still didn’t have hair, but there was no scar, no discoloration, no nothing. The skin was smooth and unblemished. I looked at my face, and I moved my fingers down in shock. The crow’s feet on my eyes, the ones I had been fighting a losing battle to hold back, were gone. My face was tighter and more youthful looking, the skin almost glowed with health. My features were a little more defined, the stubborn fat on my cheeks and neck were gone. I looked like I was in my late twenties, not thirties.

My hands kept moving down my body, over my shoulders and chest. The muscles underneath were larger and more defined, not bulging, but leaving no mistake as to their presence. My breasts were higher and firmer, I cupped them and felt the difference. My stomach was flat, the stubborn love handles gone. I moved my hand over the ridges of muscle; I had always prided myself on my abs, doing hundreds of situps a day, but now I looked absolutely ripped. The scar from the knife wound was gone. My hips were the same width, just better defined., as well as my legs. I turned to see my ass, it was firmer and sculpted, looking down my calves were larger as well. Overall, I looked like I had been dipped in the fountain of youth and given six months to work out. “Baby, this change did amazing things.”

“I know, it was VERY hard to leave you sleeping this morning. Doc said it would happen, the first change has regenerative properties. That cold shower was very uncomfortable.”

“I’m sure it was very hard, love. It must have been painful.” I felt his groan in my core, his lust for me. “Too bad you’re working. You should have woken me up for a test drive.”

“Hurry up and get down her, Rose. We have work to do, dammit.” I giggled to myself as I quickly finished my business and got dressed. As I moved downstairs, I say another change from having my panther; my footsteps were silent, my body moving with feline grace. I didn’t think about it, it just happened naturally as my nature was now combined. I could hear and smell everything; I paused on the landing, letting my mind sort out the smells. Some I recognized, others I would learn. I moved into the large dining area, not missing how the room quieted when I entered.

There was a scrape of a chair and I looked over to see Charlotte staring at me in shock. She ran to me, hugging me tightly, before moving to arm’s length so she could look at my body. “Holy shit, Mom, you look fantastic,” she said. Her fingers traced my face and down my shoulder to my elbow. “You look like my older sister, not my Mom!”

“I was shocked as well.” The werewolves I had met had this natural beauty to them, a perfection given that others had to work hard even to approach. I had the same look now.

“Gunny is going to flip out,” she said as she followed me to the serving line.

“He saw, but something important is going on or I’d be in bed screaming his name right now.” I looked at the server. “Can I get a few breakfast sandwiches and some juice to go? I need to meet with the Alphas.”

“Certainly, Rose.” She ran off to put it together.

“What did Doc say about you?”

“Well, the change healed everything, I should be fine. I just have to keep learning about my panther and my new body.” I took the bag and bottle and turned to give her a hug. “I’ll talk to you more when we’re done.”

“I love you, Mom. I’m so happy for you, your cat is the most beautiful creature I’ve seen.” She kissed my cheek and went back to sit with her friends as I walked out. Moving quickly through the hallways, I soon reached the doors to the Alpha’s offices.

I was about to knock when the door opened, Robert was smiling as he took me in. “Good morning, Rose! You look great. Did you sleep well?”

“I slept great, Alpha. The change, it was amazing. I feel so different this morning!”

“So I’ve heard. Come in, come in, we needed the break.” I walked in and looked at the conference table they were at. Gunny was standing waiting for me, he embraced me and buried his face in my neck. “Later, Gunny, there’s work to do,” Robert teased.

My mate pulled back from the hug and gave me a quick kiss before allowing me to sit in the open spot next to him. I smiled at everyone in the room; Renee gave me a huge smile, her hands clasped over her rounded belly. Craig and Ella were next to them, both were looking at their new Pack member with pride. All of Robert’s betas were present, except William and Melody, and Linda Remington. “Still working with the task force, along with Melanie and Nadine,” Craig said into my head. From our Pack, Al, Josh and Jacob were all present. “Can we quickly get Rose up to speed?”

“Sure,” Al said. His CIA background had proven very helpful to us. He opened up his laptop and pulled up a photo on the big screen. It showed a young couple, obviously in love. “This photograph was taken a few months before Captain Jennings’ helicopter was destroyed,” he said. I looked at the woman; she had dark hair, with widely spaced eyes.

She didn’t look like a serial killer. She looked happy, her eyes full of promise. In a better world, they would be holding their baby, moving into their suburban rambler with the picket fence and the golden retriever. Life didn’t happen that way, though.

“This is the most recent photo we’ve found,” he said. “She rarely posted photos of herself on social media, and there has been no activity since her husband died.”

“You said yesterday the Packs have her photo?”

“Yes,” Al replied. “All Packs have been provided with several photos including this one. They know she is the killer, but they have been instructed not to share that information with humans just yet.” Al sat back. “We have been monitoring the investigation, the database is being corrupted to keep her name out.”

“I’m working with my friends to work back and figure out who is doing it,” Josh said. “They are good at hiding their tracks. If you want, I could put the name directly in the database, they won’t be able to ignore it then.”

I looked around the room. “No, it’s not the right time. If the FBI makes her a prime suspect, he’s going to warn her off. We need her to think she’s safe, to think she’s winning.”

“She’s right,” Robert said. “The Pack knowing her photo is enough.”

“I’ve started hacking the surveillance cameras in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, using facial recognition software to search for her,” Josh said. “If she shows her face, I’ve set it up so all of you get a text message with the warning and her location, plus the photo.”

Damn, the kid was good, I thought. “What about other places?”

Craig looked over at me. “We still don’t know what she is driving. I’ve asked four other Packs for help, we’ve sent the raw video to them and they have people looking through the footage continuously. We’ll get a hit sometime.”

I sat back thinking, this was about all we could do right now. We were assuming the FBI investigation was being sabotaged, but using the raw data we could do our own. “What about her accomplice?”

It was Al’s turn to sigh. “Still working on it, if there was one. Unless we see her with someone or get more information, we don’t know. She might just have been really fast and well prepared in her escape.”

Gunny pounded his fist on the table. “SHE IS GETTING HELP,” he said. “Sure, she was a shooter, at a hundred yards with a modified .22 caliber. Every kid that I trained came in knowing how to shoot decent, but that’s a long way from being a SNIPER.” He paused for effect. “She’s making shots at long range with accuracy. Creating hides. Watching targets, waiting for just the right moment. Make the shot, then implement an escape route. I spend months training Marines to do just that, I know what it takes to do that. She didn’t figure this out by watching YouTube videos, this takes lots of practice, lots of coaching.”

“Then we find out who she got help from,” I said. Looking at Al, I pointed to Gunny. “Use what he said. At some point during the war or after her husband was killed, she spent a lot of time learning this craft. Figure out where she was, who she was talking to, and what she was doing. Keep going until you find him,” I said.

Al looked at Gunny for help. “Nope, not me,” he said. “My mate and I need to let our cats out for a bit of sneak and peek. Josh, I’ll need your help on this as well. Kind of a family outing,” he said.

“What do you have in mind, baby?”

“I think it’s time we paid your old boss’s home a visit and see what the bad boy has been up to.” He stood and motioned to Josh. “You are going to help with the alarms and surveillance while your Mom and I break in.”

Cat burglar. I could do that.

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