Humans off the paved road are nothing but shifter food.
Romeo Gallo has to flee town. The problem is that the only place he can think of going is an old ranch he's inherited from his uncle, and it's off the paved road. Humans are fair game if they're off the paved road, and being eaten by shifters has never been on the list of things Romeo wants to experience.
Ciar Moonlight is a panther shifter, perfectly happy living a laidback life on the ranch. He wants nothing to do with humans. But one night, one moves into the house, and Ciar finds it hard to stay away.
Romeo soon learns he isn't the only one living on the ranch. Shifters and vampires keep popping up, and since no one has eaten him yet, he'd go as far as to call a few of them his friends. And there is a panther reluctant to leave his bedroom, so maybe one is even more than a friend. Ciar might not have wanted to get to know a human, but now when Romeo is living in his territory, he's Ciar's to keep, right? So if someone tries to get rid of Romeo, it's Ciar's right to defend him. Right?
“We made a promise to the lion, and Thano says we don’t break promises.”
“And Thano is your leader?”
“Leader of the vampires.”
Of course. Shit, vampires. “And he lives ... here?” Romeo pointed at the floor. Not in the house, right? There was talk about vampires being invisible. Romeo didn’t think it was true, more like they could move so fast that humans didn’t perceive it.
Humbert nodded. “But he’s in Last Hope almost every day.”
“What is Last Hope?” It wasn’t the most inspiring name, and Romeo prayed it wasn’t the last, but something close to hope was building in his chest.
“The human settlement.” He waved to the east, and Romeo almost forgot how to breathe.
“How far away?”
Romeo was quiet for a second or two. “Six what?”
“Miles, I think.”
He shrugged. “I’m not allowed to go.” He gestured at his face. Romeo nodded in reply. He’d never seen anyone who looked like Humbert in New Town, so he assumed the same rule applied there. Though he’d only ever seen vampires, that he knew of at least. He guessed if a supe blended in well, he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
“But do you know what they have there? Has Thano told you?” Six miles. He could walk six miles if it kept him from starving to death.
Humbert shrugged. “Thano said they have a shop with meat and produce when I told them you couldn’t hunt.”
Food, there was food. “Do you know if they have gas for a car?” He might have enough for one trip there and back, maybe. But there wouldn’t be any left. It would be worth it though. He could stock up on pantry items. Then he looked around the kitchen and deflated. One trip wouldn’t keep him alive. And he hardly had any money.
“You said there was a basement.”
Humbert nodded. “There’s a door by the well, but I think there is one in the house, too.”
There had been one by the well? Romeo had been too busy looking for possible threats while pumping the water to look around. His eyes had been glued to the trees.
Humbert walked out into the hallway and spun. The stairs were directly to the left when you exited the kitchen, and next to the stairs was a living room he’d cleaned the best he could. He’d worked hard to get rid of the dust in the fabric.
“No, it has to be in here.” Humbert walked back into the kitchen and opened the cleaning closet but closed it quickly. Then his eyes widened, and he opened it again and looked at the floor. Romeo did too. There was an indented metal ring.
“What the ...” He’d stepped there several times during the day, getting brooms and cloths for his cleaning.
Humbert pulled the trapdoor open, and Romeo looked down a steep, narrow, ladder-like stair. “Holy hell. There aren’t any monsters down there, are there?”
Humbert frowned at him. “Monsters?”
“Evil beings, big scary creatures who’ll eat me.”
“Creatures aren’t evil. They do what’s natural for them, and they only eat to stay alive.”
Romeo grinned at him. “You don’t have any stories with monsters under your bed?”
“Do you have a creature under your bed? What kind of creature?” Humbert looked confused, his round, fluffy ears flattening against his head.
“No. It’s ... many human children are afraid. Sleeping alone can be scary --”
“Children shouldn’t sleep alone. Predators can get them.”
Romeo was stunned silent for a moment. “Ah ... yeah ... but if you’re in the same house as your family, it can still be scary, and many children think there is a monster under the bed or in the closet or something. And there are tales of lunatics hiding under the bed, only to crawl out at night when you’re sleeping and slit your throat.” Romeo drew a finger over his throat to show what he meant.
“Without challenging you first?”
“Eh ...” Romeo took a deep breath as he tried to understand what Humbert was asking but came up short. “Challenge?”
“If they want to climb in rank, they need to issue a challenge. Attacking when someone isn’t prepared is against the rules.”
“Ah ... eh ... no. They kill because they like killing.”
“To eat you?” Humbert’s already round eyes grew rounder.
“No, not to eat you. They kill you and move on to the next.”
Humbert opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, a loud growl filled the kitchen, and Romeo whimpered as a dark-haired man with tanned skin and sharp teeth stalked into the room.