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Predator and Prey

The Shifter Chronicles, Book 9

by M.D. Grimm

Predator and Prey - M.D. Grimm
Editions:Kindle - First Edition
Pages: 107

Vietnam War vet turned deep-sea treasure hunter Digger Sullivan scratches out a living, and this new commission is just another job—albeit an exciting one—off the Florida coast in 1977. But while exploring the area, Digger and his crew encounter a lot more sharks than they expected.

Reef and his shark shifter clan are charged with protecting a vital, magical secret—two of four scrolls that, when brought together, could annihilate shifters across the world. But Reef can’t keep his head in the game around this intriguing diver, and it’s not long before Digger takes one of the scrolls topside. Reef now has two missions: seduce Digger and recapture the scroll. Despite his attraction to Digger, Reef’s priority must be reclaiming the scroll.

But when Reef’s true identity is exposed, Digger is scared and appalled and rejects him. Yet Digger might change his mind when his crew is captured by the very person who commissioned them, and Reef and his shark clan are the only things standing between them and death.

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Excerpt:

Chapter One

 

United States East Coast, 1977

 

Digger loved the open ocean; the salt breeze, the rocking of his ship, the sound of the motor, and his crew laughing or cursing each other. The freedom. He’d always been in love with the ocean despite her being an often cruel mistress. She was capricious and reveled in violence, but he couldn’t hate her for that—he admired her for it. She was who she was and proud of it. No shame, no hiding, no chains. Nothing to control her.

She gave that freedom to him.

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Digger rubbed his hand over the stubble on his chin, vaguely thinking he should shave, but also not caring if he forgot again. After spending his early adult years in war, with its rigid order, commands, and brutality, he welcomed a bit of rebellion. He kept his hair short because he liked it that way, and he still worked out every day to stay toned, but otherwise, he wore scruffy clothing, sometimes shaved, and took orders from no one. He was captain of his ship, the Sea Hag, and was determined not to spend more time than he had to on shore.

Narrowing his eyes at the sea, Digger couldn’t stop a few memories from bubbling to the surface. He’d been one of the first to enlist—to his major regret—at nineteen. Somehow, someway, through the grace of God or the devil, he didn’t know which, he’d survived the entire damn war in Vietnam. He’d been relocated to different units, hopping from one jungle to the next, losing track of time, the days, then suddenly the war was over… and they’d lost. Damn waste. Then he’d returned home to find that everyone detested him. The blood he’d shed, the friends he’d lost, and those who had never known the heat and desperation of war decided they had the right to judge him. He’d spent one full month—exactly thirty days—on shore. The first half had been trying to acclimate into society, the second half, securing his boat and crew and planning his future.

He’d been a soldier. That had been his job—nothing more, nothing less. He’d done his job well. He’d followed orders, never shirking, never flinching. He’d stared death in the face; he’d stared cruelty in the eye. And while some of his friends had died or gone insane, or so twisted they’d become monsters, he’d kept his sanity by seeing what he did as what it was: a job, just like any other. Now that job was over, two years over, and Digger looked forward to the future.

The memories faded, rocked away by the ship. Another thing about the ocean that dry land couldn’t offer: sleep. Memories wouldn’t allow him to sleep. They weren’t nightmares; they didn’t have to be. Memories were brutal enough. But the sea calmed his mind, and he’d never slept better in his life.

“We’re nearing the target, Sarge,” Hook said as he fiddled with the Loran-C, their navigation tool—one he needed to replace as this one had seen too many years of wear and tear—and gazed at the nautical maps pinned to the walls of the bridge.

Digger eyed his first mate and nodded. “I can see that.”

Hook, born Winston Phillips, had been under his command in the war and had stuck to him afterward, catching his good—or bad—luck and surviving the bloody conflict. Even more grizzled than himself, Hook was several years younger and one-eyed, which caused several on board to tease him about being a genuine pirate. Hook always scowled in answer.

Digger had his own collection of scars, but he’d been lucky enough to avoid facial ones. Not an easy feat when screaming hordes of Vietnamese men attacked during the night in unknown jungles.

“Tell me why we’re taking this commission again?”

Digger didn’t even bother to sigh. He kept his face bland, stared straight ahead, and turned his ship with the slightest touch of his hands on the helm.

“Curiosity. Money. Why else?”

Hook scowled. “Yeah, well, we usually set the price. We find the treasures, name the price. We’re in charge. I don’t like the idea of some young thing ordering us around.”

Digger’s mouth twitched but that was the only indication of his amusement.

“We have a rep, Hook. I should think you’d be happy about that. Means we’re doing something right.”

“An heiress, you said? And she wants us to find the remains of some old English ship? What for?”

“She said an ancestor of hers was on that ship. Said there might be heirlooms or something on it. Wants anything we can find.” Digger shrugged. “Seems we can show her some and keep some for ourselves.”

Hook smiled. “That sounds like the man I know.”

Digger answered his friend’s sharp smile with one of his own. “I might be old, Hook, but I haven’t gone senile yet.”

His friend barked out a laugh and slapped Digger’s shoulder. “Sarge, you ain’t many years older than me. Don’t go saying you’re old—that means I am.”

Digger chuckled faintly. Hook left the bridge a moment later, and Digger went back to looking at the ocean. He smiled gently as he watched Hook order the rest of the crew on deck. His crew was his family; the only family he wanted or needed.

His father—God rest the bastard—had died six months after his birth. After being raised by his mother to love the army and find honor in serving, he’d joined. She’d died not six months ago. Good riddance, in his opinion. She’d been more of a commanding officer than any in the army had been. She hadn’t approved of him becoming an amateur treasure hunter, and that made his decision even more wonderful. He’d spent half his life trying to live up to her expectations, and the other half finding ways to rebel.

He looked up toward the sky. Hear that, Ma? Still don’t care. Scowl all you want.

Smirking, Digger slowed the Sea Hag a little ways before he approached the target destination, letting her coast to a stop. He set the anchor as Jewel walked onto the bridge. A tall and striking woman, Jewel was black, with amber eyes slightly tilted at the corners, her hair cut ruthlessly short. She was their historian and law expert, making her invaluable in Digger’s eyes.

His crew was made up of those dismissed by society, and that made their bond even stronger. He didn’t much care for the politics and heated civil rights discussions and battles of the day. He’d chosen to live on his boat to get away from all that.

“Well, Jewel, what do you think?”

She looked at the Loran-C, the nautical maps, and thumbed through a few papers in her hands. He waited patiently as she considered the data before her.

“Seems that heiress knew what she was talking about,” Jewel said. “The ship would have gotten caught on the rocky reef if it had sunk right here. We might find some broken pottery, maybe some coins or jewelry. Hope there’s enough visibility for us to see.”

Digger grunted. “No wonder no one’s found her yet. No one dives this area. Too dangerous for most.”

They were miles off the eastern coast of Florida, in dark, deep waters that most scuba divers wouldn’t venture into. But Digger and his crew had dived in far more dangerous places around the world. While he never underestimated the ocean and sudden storms, and never went into a dive thinking it would be routine, he was confident in his skill and the skill of his crew and was sure they would be successful.

Jewel eyed him. “There also won’t be much ship left. This isn’t a modern ship made of metal we’re diving for, Captain. The wood would have rotted away by now.”

Digger raised an eyebrow. “I do know that, Jewel. We’ve done old ships before. Remember our time in the Caribbean?”

She sighed nostalgically. “Warm sun and clear waters and pirate ships. How could I forget?”

Digger snorted. “Aye, I remember I had to drag you away.”

She sniffed. “I wasn’t the only one. Kevin seemed to enjoy himself also and didn’t want to leave.”

“Kevin didn’t want to leave the women, Jewel It had nothing to do with the weather.”

Jewel laughed. “Seriously, do you think we should be diving in these waters? They’re darker than most, and we only have a vague idea where the ship might have landed or broken off.”

“We take it one dive at a time, Jewel. We don’t rush and we don’t act recklessly.”

“But there are sharks in these waters, Cap.”

“There are sharks in all waters, Jewel.” He gestured for her to leave the cabin first and he followed.

“Why all the cloak-and-dagger stuff, anyway? What’s the deal with this heiress?”

“All she told me was that she didn’t want word to get around, and there’s apparently some messed-up shit going on with her parents’ estate and inheritance. She didn’t go into details. She doesn’t want to give any of the lawyers cause to take away what she sees as rightfully hers.”

“And exploring the remains of a shipwreck from the late eighteenth century would do that?”

Digger shrugged as they joined the rest of the crew on deck. “I don’t ask sensitive questions when I get commissions, girl. That’s why I’m still in business.”

Jewel sighed but let it rest. He knew she’d bring it up again eventually. He had his own questions regarding the commission but nothing that told him to sever the contract. Some people were just odd, and the rich were odder than most.

Diana Jane Knight was the heiress of a family that had made its wealth in railroads and banks when the US was still in its infancy. Her parents had died in a car accident months back, and she was the sole heir to the large fortune. The problem was, she was only eighteen years old and unmarried. He found her to be capable for such a young age and confident, edging toward arrogant. But there had been something about her that made him uneasy. Even now he couldn’t put his finger on it. He didn’t let that distract him, though. The money, he thought. Think of the money. And the challenge. He couldn’t forget the thrill and danger of diving in unknown waters.

“All right, team,” Digger said, raising his voice above the chatter. “Same as usual. We all follow protocol and observe carefully. None of us dies today, got it?”

There was a murmur of agreement from everyone. It was always a risk to dive in open waters, but at least this time there wasn’t a wreck to swim through. He doubted they’d find much on this dive, but curiosity always made each job interesting. None of them did it for safety or even the money—they did it because it was in their blood. It was in his blood.

Angie and Hook had brought their gear on deck and were checking the equipment.

“Suit up,” he said.

“Hey, Digger, mind if I go down with you?” Felipe asked. He was a stocky Mexican with big brown eyes and short hair. He was mostly muscle and certainly pulled his weight, along with everyone else’s. He was also the love of Jewel’s life. They were an odd couple, to be sure, but a strong one for all of that.

His crew didn’t always call him captain. He didn’t mind either way—the point was that they remembered he was captain and followed his orders.

Digger eyed the man. The diving team usually consisted of himself, Jewel, and Kevin, his equipment wizard. He didn’t like too many people diving at once, so Felipe would be taking Kevin’s spot. He glanced at Kevin, the man shrugged.

“I don’t mind, Captain.”

Digger nodded and considered Felipe. He’d instructed the man himself, as had Jewel, and occasionally Hook. Having been trained by the military, Digger felt as comfortable in the water as out, but he knew not everyone was cut out to do major dives.

“You know the signals?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

After taking another moment to decide, Digger finally gestured for Felipe to get suited up. Smiling big, Felipe rushed past Jewel after giving her an affectionate pat on the ass.

“Just make sure he doesn’t kill himself, Digger,” Angie said. She was the oldest of his crew and gruffer than any man he’d ever met. “Hard to find muscle like him on those pansies on shore.”

That was about as much of a compliment as Angie gave anyone.

“I’ll remember that.”

Angie sniffed, eyeing them all beadily.

After the three of them were suited and their equipment checked, they sat on the rail of the boat backward, about to push off.

“Okay, everyone,” Digger said. “Set your watches now. We got three hours. Let’s make them count.”

 

 

Reef moved easily through the water, barely noticing the way it slid gently over his gills, his skin. He hardly considered the schools of fish that swam by, the electromagnetic energy they gave off with every flick of their tiny tails. He felt the stirring of other ocean dwellers but none were as big as him, and the lack of the need for diligence was grating.

By Poseidon, he was so bored.

If he could take a shore leave and mingle among humans for even a day, he would celebrate it like a holiday. The change would be a welcome relief. Not that he didn’t love the ocean—Poseidon knew he did—but his lack of freedom was constricting and sucked much of the joy from his usual carefree existence. He’d been ordered by his alpha, Creusa—a master shifter—to guard the miniscule remains of ship garbage currently clogging a reef. He resented her for doing so, but what could he do? No one dared argue with her.

She was a great white shark and massive, dwarfing even the largest females. She usually kept to herself, living in the deep, dark depths of the ocean. But every now and then she’d call a gathering. The last had been about ten years ago, and it consisted of her assigning current shark clans to take their turns guarding the reef. She’d been doing it for over a century.

It was Reef’s clan’s turn now. They patrolled the area, up and down the coast, but currently he was alone. They weren’t very social, but Reef wouldn’t have minded having his mother, or even his annoying brother, swim alongside him. At least for a little bit. A race with his brother around the reefs would be a nice disruption to the tedium.

A great white himself, Reef knew his fierce visage would keep most of the curious humans away. He’d hoped to scare a few, at least, but he hadn’t seen anyone since his guardianship had begun almost a year ago. He’d contemplated ditching his duty and traveling on shore but the very thought of his mother—not to mention Creusa—kept him firmly rooted around the reef. If he failed or neglected his duty… even sharks could shudder.

His master shifter would either eat him or command all the others to take bites out of him until he was nothing but entrails. His own clan would participate, shamed by his failings.

Circling around, knowing he shouldn’t stray too far from the reefs, Reef swam back, realizing he was doing a sort of swim-pacing, waiting for something to happen.

Something suddenly brushed against his senses, and Reef immediately latched on to it.

What is that?

There were a couple of strange pulses in the ocean, in the direction of the reef and the ship’s wreckage. They were pulses he hadn’t felt for about a year, and territorial rage rose up to bump against panic. His shark was set on defense, but Reef was also intrigued. There were humans in the water. Maybe he could scare someone after all.

Silent as a ghost in the blue depths, Reef sped quickly through the water, black eyes vacant except for the hunger for action.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Christy Duke on Rainbow Book Reviews wrote:

As I said already, this series circles around, much like life. The two scrolls that Con and Quincy had on their voyage from England to the colonies (in book seven) sank to the bottom of the ocean when their ship did. They were rescued by Imelda, a master shifter and the one who helped them to establish Haven, but they left the scrolls where they were thinking no one could find them there. Well, it's now 1977, and technology has increased. In 'Predator and Prey', deep sea treasure hunter, Digger, and shark shifter, Reef, are going to find themselves in a battle against another reincarnation of the evil as they fight for the scrolls.

\"He liked sharks. In the back of his mind he even thought this one was a strange sort of beautiful. A pale gray, with those soulless black eyes, it was a creature without doubt, hesitation, or fear. It was pure instinct, graceful and uncomplicated. A true lord of the ocean, one that had been around since the dinosaurs.\"

*great big shudder* No offense to Digger, but Jaws pretty much cured me of my childhood fascination with sharks. Digger's very first dive to take a look at the reef the heiress who hired him directed them to, puts him face to face with a great white shark. But not before he's found something rather interesting. Reef is stunned. He's never met a human who didn't react with pure fear at the sight of him charging out of the depths toward them (umm, duh). But this human faces him head-on, his heartbeat doesn’t even speed up, and now he's got one of the scrolls. Reef is dead if his clan finds out, or his alpha, a master shifter.

Reef manages to get onboard, and he's more than fascinated with Digger. He figures he can seduce him and get the scroll back, before the rest of his clan returns. Especially since the longer he stays in this form, the more pesky emotions intrude upon the shark's cool logic. As it is, Reef had taken the other scroll and tossed it over the reefs into the deep, dark of the ocean depths. Digger is shocked that this young man is so bold in his interest, but Digger isn't stupid, either. He'll take what he can get from the beautiful man.

It was more than interesting to discover that the evil was a son growing in his mother's womb, controlling her actions. A son by the name of Arcas. And so, it's all circled back around, just as I said. Reef and Digger now have to go after Diana Knight, because it's Reef's job to get the scroll back that she took. Diana with Arcas's help will begin the creation of the Knights and continue the hunt for the other three scrolls.

Even though sharks terrify me, I adored Reef and Digger was perfect for him. I'm bummed because now I have to wait for the next book in the series, and I'm not a patient girl. *pouting* No matter, I trust the author will continue to bring me excitement, adventure, true love, and hot sex. What more could I ask for?

NOTE: This book was provided by Dreasmpinner Press for the purpose of a review on Rainbow Book Reviews


About the Author

M.D. Grimm has wanted to write stories since second grade (kind of young to make life decisions, but whatever) and nothing has changed since then (well, plenty of things actually, but not that!). Thankfully, she has indulgent parents who let her dream, but also made sure she understood she’d need a steady job to pay the bills (they never let her forget it!). After graduating from the University of Oregon and majoring in English, (let’s be honest: useless degree, what else was she going to do with it?) she started on her writing career and couldn’t be happier. Working by day and writing by night (or any spare time she can carve out), she enjoys embarking on romantic quests and daring adventures (living vicariously, you could say) and creating characters that always triumph against the villain, (or else what’s the point?) finding their soul mate in the process.


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