Pride Mates

By: Jennifer Ashley

Chapter One

A girl walks into a bar...

No. A human girl walks into a Shifter bar...

The bar was empty, not yet open to customers. It looked

normal--windowless wal s painted black, rows of glass

bottles, the smel of beer and stale air. But it wasn't normal, standing on the edge of Shiftertown as it did.

"You the lawyer?" a man washing glasses asked. He was

human, not Shifter. No strange, slitted pupils, no Col ar to

control his aggression, no air of menace. Wel , relatively no

air of menace. This was a crappy part of town, and menace

was its stock-in-trade.

Kim told herself she had nothing to be afraid of. They're

tamed. Collared. They can't hurt you.

When she nodded, the man gestured with his cloth to a door

at the end of the bar. "Knock him dead, sweetheart."

"I'l try to keep him alive." Kim pivoted and stalked away on

her four-inch heels, feeling his gaze on her back al the way.

She knocked on the door marked "Private," and a man on the

other side growled, "Come."

I just need to talk to him. Then I'm done, on my way home.

A trickle of moisture rol ed between Kim's shoulder blades as

she made herself open the door and walk inside.

A man leaned back in a chair behind a messy desk, a sheaf

of papers in his hands. His booted feet were propped on the

desk, his long legs a feast of blue jeans over muscle. He was

a Shifter al right--thin black and silver Col ar against his

throat; hard, honed body; midnight black hair; definite air of

throat; hard, honed body; midnight black hair; definite air of menace. When Kim entered, he stood, setting the papers

aside.

Damn. He rose to a height of wel over six feet and gazed at

Kim with eyes blue like the morning sky. His body wasn't only

honed; it was hot--big chest, wide shoulders, tight abs, firm

biceps against a form-fitting black T-shirt.

"Kim Fraser?"

"That's me."

With old-fashioned courtesy, he placed a chair in front of the

desk and motioned her to it. Kim felt the heat of his hand near

the smal of her back as she seated herself, smel ed the scent

of soap and male musk.

"You're Mr. Morrissey?"

The Shifter sat back down, returned his motorcycle boots to

the top of the desk, and laced his hands behind his head.

"Cal me Liam."

The lilt in his voice was unmistakable. Kim put that with his

black hair, impossibly blue eyes, and exotic name. "You're

Irish."

He smiled a smile that could melt a woman at ten paces.

"And who else would be running a pub?"

"But you don't own it."

Kim could have bitten out her tongue as soon as she said it.

Of course he didn't own it. He was a Shifter.

His voice went frosty, the crinkles at the corners of his eyes

smoothing out. "I'm afraid I can't help you much on the Brian

Smith case. I don't know Brian wel , and I don't know anything

about what happened the night his girlfriend was murdered.

It's a long time ago, now."

Disappointment bit her, but Kim had learned not to let

discouragement stop her when she needed to get a job done.

"Brian cal ed you the 'go-to' guy. As in, when Shifters are in

trouble, Liam Morrissey helps them out."

Liam shrugged, muscles moving the bar's logo on his T-shirt.

"True. But Brian never came to me. He got into his troubles al

by himself."

"I know that. I'm trying to get him out of trouble."

Liam's eyes narrowed, pupils flicking to slits as he retreated

to the predator within him. Shifters liked to do that when

assessing a situation, Brian had told her. Guess who was the

prey?

Brian had done the predator-prey thing with Kim at first. He'd

stopped when he began to trust her, but Kim didn't think she'd

ever get used to it. Brian was her first Shifter client, the first

ever get used to it. Brian was her first Shifter client, the first Shifter, in fact, she'd ever seen outside a television news

story. Twenty years Shifters had been acknowledged to exist,

but Kim had never met one.

It was wel known that they lived in their enclave on the east

side of Austin, near the old airport, but she'd never gone over

to check them out. Some human women did, strol ing the

streets just outside Shiftertown, hoping for glimpses--and

more--of the Shifter men who were reputed to be strong,

gorgeous, and wel endowed. Kim had once heard two

women in a restaurant murmuring about their encounter with a

Shifter male the night before. The phrase "Oh, my God," had

been used repeatedly. Kim was as curious about them as

anyone else, but she'd never summoned the courage to go

near Shiftertown herself.

Then suddenly she had been assigned the case of the Shifter

accused of murdering his human girlfriend ten months ago.

This was the first time in twenty years Shifters had caused