Curiosity Killed the Cat – By Lisa Kessler
When I got back up to my room inside the pink neon Circus Circus hotel, I opened my laptop and got right to work. The more I worked, the less I would think about Adam. Or at least that was the plan.
But every time I shifted in my chair, parts of my body ached, reminding me of our earlier passion. That led to remembering the way we snuggled together on his couch to watch late night television.
Until he had to bring me back to the hotel.
I rolled my eyes at myself. No sense feeling bad now. I knew before I went to bed with him that we’d have to hide our relationship. But the harsh reality didn’t really hit until we both got dressed again and he kissed me goodbye in the hotel lobby. He wanted to walk me up to the room, but what would have been the point? We both knew what would happen. Now that I knew every inch of his body, I hungered for his attention even more than before. We couldn’t be trusted alone in a private room.
And he couldn’t spend the night.
I tried to silence my inner voice. I needed to find out about the Nero Organization. Who were they and why would they be interested in me? How did they even find me? I tried internet searches earlier in the day, but came up empty.
But instead of quizzing Google about the Nero Organization, I was trolling down my favorites list and looking at pictures of my family. My adopted family thought I dropped out of school and left home with a guy. I sent postcards occasionally with veiled mentions of happiness and empty promises to come see them soon.
That seemed even less likely now. I couldn’t go home now with Sebastian the creepy cat man tracking my every move. I had to protect them by staying away. So here I was clicking through my younger sister’s pictures on her MySpace page. She added new pictures recently of her college graduation and a ski trip with her boyfriend. My eyes welled up with tears. I missed my family, but like Adam’s werewolf pack, they wouldn’t be able to accept that on the night of the new moon I was a jaguar either.
I didn’t fit in anywhere.
I closed my laptop and wiped my eyes. Hopefully I’d hear from the private eye in San Antonio tomorrow. If I could get some information on my adoption I might be able to track down my birth parents and find out a little more about where I came from and why they left me. I had no idea if they were affiliated with the Nero Organization. Anything was possible at this point.
Exhaustion gnawed on the edge of my nerves, but my mind was too active to sleep. I clicked on the television and started flipping channels when the phone in my room rang. I jumped wondering who could be calling at this time. Adam would call my cell phone.
"I must speak with you, Lana."
It was Sebastian. I hung up and ran over to engage the deadbolt on my door.
The phone rang again.
"How did you find me?"
"I saw you leave the hotel after me, but you returned again later. The concierge was very helpful with the right encouragement."
"You murdered a man and tried to pin it on me. I have nothing to say to you."
"I killed a wolf who would have killed me first if he had the chance. I need to talk to you."
"It’s about the Nero Organization. I cannot talk over the phone."
I closed my eyes. I knew I should hang up. I shouldn’t meet with my stalker in the middle of the night. Alone. I could almost hear Adam screaming in my head telling me it was too reckless.
But what came out of my mouth was, "I’ll meet you in the 24 hour café downstairs in five minutes."
I hung up the phone and shook my head. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this, but what choice did I have? Sebastian was my best source for information on the Organization that was trying to kidnap me. He hadn’t hurt me yet.
Besides the Café was a public place. Even at this hour there would be a few people inside. I ran my fingers back through my hair, trying to tame it a little, and then opened the deadbolt and started to turn the knob when the door slammed into me, knocking me backwards into the room.
Sebastian was inside with the deadbolt set behind him before I could scream. I rushed toward the bed for my cell phone, but he anticipated my movement and grabbed my wrist. Hard.
"Let go." I gasped.
Instead of letting me go, he yanked me in closer, burrowing his face into my hair. He shoved me away just as suddenly. I fell onto the bed. Too bad my phone fell right off the other side.
"You reek of wolf. His scent is all over you." He looked disgusted. His eyes narrowed as he approached me, and I scrambled to get back onto my feet. "Did he hurt you?"
Now it was my turn to look disgusted. "You just broke into my hotel room and slammed me back onto the bed, and now you’re worried about me?"
"I am sorry for my entrance, but you are in danger and I need to speak with you."
"I think danger just walked through my door."
His expression hardened. "If I wanted to kill you, you would be dead."
A chill shot down my spine and all my adrenaline-laced bravado drained from my bloodstream. "Why won’t you leave me alone?"
He shook his head. "I work for the Nero Organization. They raised me and trained me, and I do what must be done. Tracking is my specialty. They send me out to locate and eliminate targets."
"Eliminate?" My heart was pounding again. If I could just get to my phone I could… I could what? Sebastian wasn’t going to let me dial 911 or anyone else for that matter.
"Yes," he said. "But my instructions were to bring you back to our headquarters unharmed. Bring you back. They made it sound like you had escaped. Since our recent meetings, I have come to realize that you have no memory of the Organization."
He said our "meetings" like they were friendly lunches, instead of the confrontational abductions and subsequent questioning sessions we’d been having.
"I don’t have any memories because I’ve never been there. I’ve never even heard of them. As far as I can tell no one has. I couldn’t find a single website with any information. It’s like the Nero Organization doesn’t exist."
"We would be less effective if the Organization was a public entity. This way we can work under the cloak of anonymity. In fact, the Nero Organization are the only humans who know our kind exist."
"You mean jaguars, right?" I was relieved when he sat in a chair across from me. Now if I just happened to have a length of rope I could tie him to the chair. Sadly, I didn’t have rope and never learned to tie any knots that would hold him anyway. "The werewolves know about… us."
It felt odd associating myself with Sebastian, but the reality was, he was the only other person like me that I knew in the world.
His expression soured. "Yes, the wolves know, but they’re of no consequence."
"Why do you do that?"
"Make a face like they’re gum on your new shoes."
His brow creased. "Gum?"
"The werewolves," I sighed. "Why do you treat them like a lower species? I know they don’t think highly of us either. I just wonder why you have this feud going."
"I don’t have time to go into our race histories, but suffice to say, the Organization experimented with both races and determined that jaguars made better assassins. We’re able to work alone. The wolves have a pack mentality. When they are separated from the pack they weaken in mind and spirit."
"So that’s why you think you’re better than they are?"
"That is why I know we are a higher race. It is also why one as precious at you has no business being near a wolf."
I shook my head. "You don’t have any right to tell me who I should be hanging out with. You killed a man and left me to take the blame."
His jaw clenched. "I did what was necessary. You are a female born into your power. You should not be with wolves."
"I should be locked away in some top secret organization to be experimented on?"
"That is why I needed to speak with you."
Now we were getting somewhere. I waited for him to continue. He moved closer to me and reached for my hand with inhuman speed before I could pull away. I tried not to look repulsed, but I’m pretty sure I was biting at my lower lip anyway. I guess looking scared was better than disgusted. I hoped so anyway.
"Females who are born into their power are very rare for our kind. They’re proof that we are not descended from a genetic defect or disease. I have heard of non-converted females, but I’ve never seen one until I laid eyes on you. Your beauty and your scent caught me off-guard."
Sebastian’s green eyes were much more vibrant than Adam’s, giving him a more inhuman stare. He was handsome, but there was an aura of danger, like his looks were a mask to lure you in closer. He lifted my hand to his lips and pressed a cool kiss to my knuckles.
"Like gentle streams beneath our feet, innocence and virtue meet." His voice was low and soft like a purr, and if I hadn’t been nearly choked to death the first time we met, I might have been moved by his words. Instead, a chill shot through me and goose bumps rose up on my arms. Was he trying to seduce me? I retrieved my hand, forcing myself to keep from ripping it free. The last thing I needed was to offend a trained assassin.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and found my voice. "That’s from a poem isn’t it?"
His lips curved up just slightly. "You recognize the words of William Blake. Do you study poetry?"
"No, I’m a writer. It just sounded familiar." He stood up, forcing me to tilt my head back to meet his eyes. "It seems odd to hear a trained killer talk about innocence and virtue."
"I am good at what I do, but I am not defined by my occupation." He paused, his eyes locked on mine, until I finally broke the contact and stood up too. I took a step back, toward the hotel phone, but I didn’t make a move to pick it up. Not yet. At least I knew I was close enough to reach it. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
"A wolf will never understand you the way that I do," he said. "We are not like them. We need our independence and we do not count on others for our strength."
"Did you barge into my room tonight to put down wolves?" I could feel a spark of anger starting to glow inside of me. "Or did you have something else to say?"
His eyes narrowed and his hands balled into fists. I may have pushed a little too hard. Holding my breath, I waited him out.
"I came to tell you that I did a little digging into the Organization’s records. I have to be very careful. If I am caught, the punishment will be severe. When I realized you hadn’t escaped, I wondered how and why I was sent to find you. I found this." He handed me a flash drive. "The Organization touches many branches of government and has access to databases in many fields."
I looked at the flash drive and then back up at his unsettling green eyes. "Why are you helping me?"
"To prove I am not all I seem."
I shook my head slowly. "A couple nights ago you were about to kill me."
"I am sorry we couldn’t meet under better circumstances."
"Yeah, me too, but helping me now doesn’t change anything. I’m not interested in a relationship if that’s what you’re after."
"Have you told the wolf this too?"
My brow furrowed. "I’m new to this whole animal instinct thing, but trying to push your male dominance and your racial prejudices at me isn’t working."
Sebastian rolled his eyes, pulling his black hair back from his tanned face. "Just look at the information and then destroy it. I will find you when I know more."
"Thank you, but I don’t want you to think this will change my feelings."
"This has nothing to do with your feelings. I have to find out what they have planned for you now." He looked down at me again, but behind the cold calculated smile, there was a light in his eyes. "I’m curious."
I raised a brow. "Be careful. You know what curiosity did to the cat."
"Curiosity can bring it on." He flashed me a dangerous smile. "I am hard to kill."
Without another word, he turned and walked out of my room. In a flash I leapt over the bed and landed silently at the door to throw the deadbolt latch. I took a deep breath, leaning back against the door, and looked down at the flash drive in my hand.
I started to smile. Now I was curious.