She’d done it.
Sophia stared at the computer screen and couldn’t believe her eyes. Number and letter sequences in front of her drove her excitement. A slow sliver of fear raced up her spine when she thought of what could happen if the information got into the wrong hands, but it wasn’t enough to stop her from smiling ear to ear.
She’d finally singled out the particular chromosome in the DNA strand that made shape-shifters shift. This little baby was the hottest ticket in Shifterville. It’s what bonded with the rest of a person’s DNA and created the furry beast that lived inside them.
If it were a person she’d kiss it, hug it, probably spank it for being bad and making it so hard for her to find it. She grinned; she couldn’t help herself. Julia would be able to have a choice in life now after being attacked by a rogue werewolf the previous year.
The one positive outcome was that her sister had met River, the beta of his pack and her current husband. Talk about love at first bark. His animal had taken one look at her sister and had literally rolled over for her to pet his tummy. It was sweet and kind of creepy, considering how damn big he was in his wolf form.
River was a real nice guy too, but nothing beat freedom of choice in Sophia’s mind. He loved her sister and treated her better than any other man she’d ever been with, not to mention the man was absolutely gorgeous. Then there was his brother, the pack alpha.
Thoughts of Chase, the alpha of the Black Meadows pack, made her heart torpedo in her chest and rockets go off in her stomach. The better-than-a-sundae, delicious-looking man, with golden brown skin and enough muscles to share with his friends, turned her into a puddle of goo.
The man had so much sex appeal her girl parts were ready to lift a white flag in surrender just by looking at him. Even thinking of him made her tongue wag. Seeing him was like having your favorite desert and knowing you couldn’t eat it.
She was very aware of her physical appearance whenever he came around her. She was short, fat, and shy, and now that she’d hit thirty-two, she also felt old.
She had long ago given up on the idea of finding Mr. Right and had started focusing on Mr. Right Now. Unfortunately, that hadn’t worked out so well either. She ended up dating boring, geeky people, and sex tended to be nothing to write home about.
Shit, sex tended to be nothing she’d want to try again with any of those guys, having been responsible for her own orgasms for as long as she could remember. Heat crawled across her skin when she thought of the last guy she’d been with, Jake the Snake, before she’d moved to town. He was the reason she’d ended up looking for a new job.
He’d stolen her research and tried to pass it off as his own. Luckily, she always backed up her work with multiple copies and had months of data to prove the work was hers.
She blinked and squinted tired eyes, then rubbed cold fingers under her rimless glasses, drawing in a deep breath. A burst of energy rushed through her blood when she thought of what she’d just accomplished. Exhilaration made up for the lack of sleep. She’d been burning the candle at both ends working and doing her own private research.
She swatted away the guilt that tapped her shoulder over using the lab resources for her own experiment. Too much depended on the results of her first test to worry about being found out. And if she was—oh well, they did encourage “groundbreaking” and “outside the box” research.
Her sister Julia would have kittens if she knew. Or should she say puppies, now that Julia was a wolf shifter? The woman had been a straight pain before, but now that she had a dramatic animal inside, she’d taken theatrics to a whole new level. Her tears could appear and disappear faster than Superman at the scene of a crime.
As the older sister, Julia always wanted to take care of Sophia, so two years ago Julia had packed up her life and moved with Sophia to the town of Black Meadows.
Black Meadows was by no means a small town, but with only the research facility and a car plant, it was easy to see people as either scientists or engineers. Then there were the blue-collar plant workers and the small-business owners.
Looking through the microscope at the samples of the particularly special FB chromosome, Sophia had to smile. Yes, she had called the chromosome Furry Beast. It was her special way of keeping herself from losing her mind after working on this for what felt like forever.
Finally she’d pulled a sample of DNA from both sets of shifters and created a pure chromosome strand of cat and wolf. A slow smile slid across her face. She could swear she heard birds chirping and a Hallelujah Chorus above her head while she stared through the small eyepiece of her microscope.
“Goddamn, I fucking rock!” Laughter and excitement unlike any she’d ever experienced, not including meeting man-candy Chase, popped and fizzled through her until she was bouncing on her stool, grinning like a fool.
Now that she thought of man-candy Chase, her brain did the usual X-rated stripping of those rock-hard limbs. Mmm, man-candy Chase… He was her biggest temptation. If she had an affliction it was called Furry Beast Alpha, or FBA for short.
Side effects included, but were not limited to: making a woman stop, stare, and drool on the spot; panties somehow finding themselves off and thrown his way; and finally, if said subject were to smile, blacking out from sudden excitement.
She was still unable to figure out how one minute he could be smiling at her, and the next she would be sitting down on a chair counting fuzzy bunnies running across her field of vision.
Thank goodness she still hadn’t gone as far as the panty throwing, but she was tempted…God, she was tempted. Every single time she got near him, her hands itched to tear off the little slip of lace, wave her arm in the air, and yell “pick me, pick me!”
She giggled and bounced in her seat, causing her short hair to tickle the nape of her neck. Looking to celebrate, she turned on the radio at her desk to some dance mix. She stood up and stretched, lifting her white T-shirt in the process and showing her softly rounded belly. All alone in the lab, she didn’t care if she showed some skin.
Her full breasts strained against the cotton while her stonewashed jeans clung lovingly to her generous hips. When she bent down to stretch her back, the move made her jeans ride low, and cold air caressed her lower back enough to show off the one thing she had ever done to be wild—a tattoo of a pink and purple fairy on her upper right cheek. Thankfully, there was no one around to see that.
She started singing along completely off-key to some song that talked about being sexy and knowing it. Snorting to herself, she knew even singing it was a lie. There were no feelings of sexiness anywhere in her—they only happened when FBA was around.
She pulled out two syringes, filled each with both werecat and werewolf chromosome, and laid them on the small collection tube tray. She sang louder as she moved. It wasn’t like there was anyone around to hear her sad attempt at singing.
She needed to find her special vials so she wouldn’t confuse these specimens with any of her other samples. She put away the older mixed strands she wasn’t actively using in the cold storage only she had access to.
Because she was the head of the genetics department, she was allowed her own work space. It also meant she got a big lab to use for her research. Other than equipment and coded papers, the place was kept immaculate. Large and small machines were strategically placed to make the move of samples from one to the other quick and efficient, along with multiple computers and printers.
The lab was also really cold. Goose bumps broke on her caramel skin as she thought of the heater sitting by her desk. Outside the weather was beautiful, but an iceberg lived inside the building.
She knew complaining would do nothing, since the best way to keep instruments from growing bacteria was to keep them cold. She would have to go to her office, which was located right next door, to write her notes before she left, so at least there she’d be warm.
Bopping to the music, she was careful of the extension cable that crossed the floor. She’d used all the electrical plugs by her computer, so she’d run an extension cord to power the amplification machine.
Holding her precious tray of sharps, she walked toward her other metal table to get to her special colored vials.
Shaking her hips, she lifted one sneaker over the white cord and then the other. The cord caught on her right foot.
What came next she would later tell herself was due to her own stupidity at trying to sing, dance, and walk when she was not as coordinated as she liked to think.
Falling forward in a sickening loss off balance, she saw the floor rush up to meet her face. Instinctively she let go of the tray to stick her hands out and break her fall. Everything around her narrowed to just the sound of her breathing. Distantly, she heard the metal tray clatter across the concrete floor, and she landed on top of it.
Something stabbed her between her breasts.
She winced and picked herself up off the floor. The damn underwire in her bra, it always tended to break through the casing. She wouldn’t have bothered with them if they didn’t make her breasts look so lingerie-catalog good.
“Ouch, dammit!” Looking down at the tray, she saw that the sharps were not on the floor. Panic seized her, and sharp blades of terror stabbed her gut while she scanned the ground. A pinching sensation in her chest drew her attention to where the two long sharps dangled from the area between her breasts.
Icy fear numbed her brain and lodged in her throat, making it impossible for her to breathe. Frantic, she pulled the two long needles out carefully and examined the amount in each.
There was a minute amount missing from each of them.
A panicked scream wrenched out of her. Her first thought was to take a blood sample and check for any alterations in her DNA. After a second thought and some frenzied breathing, she decided a few days of wait were probably best. No notable change would show up straight away if there was a delayed reaction. If there had been any life altering changes to her DNA, she would see it for sure in a few days.
Tears of frustration filled her eyes. Had she destroyed all her hard work with a stupid accident? She’d have to wait until Monday when she returned to the lab to run tests, unless there were any strange occurrences sooner.
Her stomach churned at the thought of her foolishness, but there was not much she could do other than wait and see. She stood, carefully grabbed the two vials with shaky hands, and stored her previously untainted samples.
She secured her storage freezer with her fingerprint and voice, which turned on the double-locked safe. There was no way in hell she was going to take any chances with what was in there. It was a good thing the freezer was made of the thickest metal out there and resembled a bank vault.
She headed for her office. Her previous happiness turned into a desolate sense of impending doom when she thought of the notes she would have to write to detail the calamity from that night. Then she would head home for a nice long soak and finally catch up on much needed sleep. She was going to get the rest she’d denied herself for the past long months.
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