Take a pair of sexy vampires from Kim Harrison...
Add a sultry shape-shifter by Lynsay Sands...
Plus a werewolf unlike any other from Kelley Armstrong...
Toss in a demon hunter by Lori Handeland...
And you have an unbelievable night of
DATES FROM HELL.
Dates From Hell
The Claire Switch Project
“A bunny.” The disgust John Heathcliffe poured into those
two words made Jill Beckett roll her eyes as she rinsed out and refilled the water
bottle from the rabbit cage. He wasn’t finished with his bitching however,
and continued, “I don’t know why we can’t--”
“You do know why, John,” Kyle Lockhart countered with
what Jill considered the patience of a saint. The blonde man didn’t raise
his head from the report he was reading, but added, “Because we have to
follow safety procedures. We test it on animals to ensure that it’s safe
before we let it anywhere near humans.”
Jill glanced toward John as she moved back to the rabbit cage, noting the
irritation that flashed across the dark-haired man’s face. John, apparently,
didn’t appreciate Kyle’s patience, but then she suspected there was
little John appreciated about Kyle. Jill knew he resented Dr. Cohen putting Kyle
in charge of the lab. John felt he should be. Both men were in the last stage
of attaining their doctorates and it made their relationship somewhat competitive,
at least on John’s part. Kyle didn’t seem to have the same issues,
but then he was the one in charge.
“We’ve already checked it on a dozen mice and rats and now three
bunnies,” John pointed out impatiently as Jill reset the water bottle in
the rabbit cage.
“Yes,” Kyle agreed. This time he did glance up from the reports
as he added pointedly, “And the first couple of those animals ended up a
puddle of mush.”
John waved that away as unimportant. “Only the first few, and that was
because we were giving them too much juice. We fixed that. We now know the amount
needed per pound. We--”
“We are testing it on the rabbit, John,” Kyle said firmly. “And
then we’ll test it on a bigger animal, like a--”
“Yes, yes,” the other man said impatiently. “We’ll
test it on half a dozen bunnies, then half a dozen cats, and then another half
a dozen dogs, and then monkeys, and then, and then, and then… I’ll
be an old man before we test it on an actual human. If I’m still alive,”
he said with disgust. “What use is it testing it on these animals anyway?
They can’t tell us what it’s like. They don’t understand what
we’ve done to them, and they can’t follow commands and try to change.
“They can tell us if it’s physically safe by surviving the procedure,”
Kyle countered shortly. “They can tell us what damage – if any –
the procedure does to them physically by our following and testing them over the
“Years,” John muttered. “Stupid, safe science.”
“Yeah,” Kyle said dryly as he closed the file and got to his feet.
Jill bit her lip to keep from laughing and raised her eyebrows in question
as Kyle turned his sky, blue eyes her way.
“Jill, I need to go give Doctor Cohen the latest test results of our
subjects. Would you mind getting Thumper out of his cage and strapping him into
place while I’m gone? We’ll start him when I get back.”
“Yes, Kyle.” Jill turned back to the cage as he headed
out of the lab, but her eyes immediately found him in the rectangular mirror on
the wall over the cage. Her gaze dropped over Kyle in his long white smock. He
looked so sexy in the smock. Like the doctor he would soon be. She wouldn’t
mind playing doctor/patient with him, she thought, then her eyes moved to her
own reflection and she sighed as she took in the familiar features under the mop
of red hair she had scraped back into a ponytail. She’d been told she was
pretty more than a time or two in her life, and had a certain amount of confidence
in her looks, but they didn’t seem to matter to Kyle. He treated her more
like a buddy, or kid sister than a woman.
“Yes, Kyle,” John mimicked nastily. “Thank you, Kyle. Bend
me over the counter and--”
“You are such a jerk sometimes, John,” Jill interrupted as she
reopened the rabbit cage. She managed to use bored tones despite her irritation
and embarrassment. If the man knew he was getting to her, he’d be like a
dog with a bone. She knew that from experience. John had become increasingly rude
since she’d refused his invitation out to dinner two months ago. He’d
decided her refusal was because she ‘had the hots’ for Kyle. Which
was true, but Jill had no idea how he knew that.
“Come on Thumper,” she cooed, scooping the white rabbit out of
the cage. “There’s nothing to be scared of.”
“Right,” John agreed as he moved to the panel that controlled
the destabilizer. “We’re just going to zap you with a molecular destabilizer
that will turn you into a puddle of goo.”
Jill glared at his back as she closed the cage door, then turned her attention
down to Thumper. Petting the rabbit soothingly, she said, “Don’t listen
to him. You won’t be turned into a puddle of goo. That hasn’t happened
for a long time. Not since we figured out we were using too much juice. You’ll
Jill continued to whisper soothing nonsense to the rabbit as she carried him
into the experiment chamber. It was a small room, built in the centre of the wide
back wall of the lab. The chamber was only ten feet square, it’s front and
side walls made of protective glass to allow viewing. This was where the molecular
destabilizer waited. It looked like nothing more interesting than an xray machine,
but it wasn’t photons of electromagnetic interference that this machine
The automatic door shushed open for Jill, then closed behind her with the
same soft sound as she carried Thumper to the table under the destabilizer. Setting
the rabbit on the surface, she began to strap him down.
For some reason, this part of her job always bothered Jill. She didn’t
like strapping the animals down. Of course, they always panicked and began to
struggle at this point, but she couldn’t blame them, she wouldn’t
like to be strapped down either. Then too, they were probably picking up on some
of her nervousness. As she worked, Jill found her eyes flickering nervously up
to the funnel shaped projector the destabilizer beam came out of. She was always
nervous around the thing, afraid it would suddenly start spitting its beam at
her, which of course it couldn’t do. Someone would have to turn it on for
that to happen.
That thought made Jill glance over her shoulder and through the glass to the
control panel. John was there, frowning and muttering to himself as he worked
out the necessary calculations for the proper amount of power to use with Thumper.
It was a very weight specific process; needing a specific amount of power per
pound of the animal. Too little and nothing would happen, too much and you risked
turning the animal into a puddle of ooze, but as Jill had reassured Thumper, that
had only happened with the first couple of trials.
Sighing, she turned back to Thumper and continued fixing the straps, making
sure they were firmly in place, but not so tight they’d harm him. Despite
her reservations about working so close to the destabilizer itself, Jill enjoyed
her job. This was an exciting field to work in, this experiment on the cutting
edge. They had used research on Chameleons, as well as various changes natural
in nature such as gas turning into liquid when under pressure, and liquid to solid
when cold. Putting it all together they had created their destabilizer, hoping
that it would bring about cellular changes that would allow other animals to effect
tonal changes that could act as camouflage. In effect, creating a Chameleon rabbit,
or a Chameleon mouse, rat, dog and -- eventually -- a Chameleon human.
Finished with Thumper, Jill turned to head out of the room, pausing when John’s
voice came over the intercom.
“Jill, Thumper isn’t aligned under the projector. Go back and
Frowning, she turned and moved back to the table to peer at the rabbit. He
looked to be in the right position to her.
“Are you sure?” Jill asked, knowing John would hear her through
the open intercom. “He looks right from here.”
“The camera is only showing his lower half.” She could hear the
irritation in his voice, then he said, “Maybe it’s the camera that’s
Jill glanced up now, peering at the destabilizer itself.
“The camera is on the far side of the projector,” John announced.
“Take a look at it for me, will you?”
Jill frowned. As far as she could see, there was no way to get to the far
side of the projector without crawling over the table.
“The table slides back,” he said helpfully. “Just slide
the table backward, then crawl under the projector and look up on the other side
for a small camera. It should be aligned with the projector. If it isn’t,
I’ll need Kyle to pick up some special tools on his way back from Dr. Cohen’s
office so I can adjust it.”
She pushed gently on the table Thumper was strapped to. As John had said,
it slid easily backward, leaving the floor under the destabilizer clear. Jill
stared at the space, reluctant to fill it. She really didn’t like the idea
of climbing right under the projector. It would put her in the direct path of
the destabilizing beam.
“Which is perfectly safe so long as it isn’t on,” she assured
“Hello! I’m waiting here,” John’s said testily.
Sighing, Jill dropped to her knees and crawled into the space where the table
had been. Once under the projector, she raised her head and peered up. Jill spotted
the camera at once, but it didn’t look out of line to her.
“It looks fine,” she said with a frown. “It--”
The words died in her throat as a white beam suddenly shot out of the destabilizer’s
projector. It hit her with a jolt and Jill suddenly found herself unable to move
or even scream. It felt like what she imagined being hit by lightning would be
like. A quick crack of agony shot through her, hitting seemingly every nerve ending,
then she went numb and unconsciousness claimed her.
The voice sounded urgent and upset, but it took a moment before Jill could
move or open her eyes in response. When she did, it was to find herself staring
up at Kyle Lockhart. His blonde hair was endearingly tousled, something she’d
rarely seen since high school. His sky blue eyes were crinkled with concern, and
his mouth a firm line in his chiseled face.
“Kyle?” Jill breathed.
“Oh, thank God.” He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them
just as quickly and straightened. “Come on, let’s get you up.”
Jill peered around as Kyle helped her to her feet. They were still in the
experiment chamber, but by the front wall, as far from the molecular destabilizer
as possible. The white beam that had shot such teeth jarring pain into her was
still pouring from the projector.
“This way.” Kyle began to usher her to the door, but Jill glanced
back toward the beam as they went and frowned as she recalled what had happened.
“The destabilizer went off somehow while I was checking the camera.”
Jill said as he urged her out of the room. She shuddered at the recollection of
the beam jolting through her body.
“John is the ‘somehow,’” Kyle said grimly.
“John?” Jill asked sharply as he led her to a lab chair and eased
her into it. “You mean he deliberately zapped me?”
“Yeah. The bastard was determined to try his human trials and must have
decided you would be the test subject. The jerk.”
Kyle placed a hand on her forehead and used his thumb to pull one eyelid up.
He peered into her eye for a moment, then shifted his hand to the other side to
repeat the process on the other eye.
“Your eyes are a little dilated,” he said with a frown. “How’s
“Fine,” Jill assured him. The moment he removed his hand from
her forehead, she turned her head to glance toward the control panel, looking
for John. The dark-haired man was out cold on the floor in front of the machine.
“What happened to him?” she asked, more out of curiosity than
any real concern. It was hard to feel concern for the man after what he’d
“I knocked him out,” Kyle muttered as he took her pulse.
Jill’s eyes shot to his face in surprise. The man was six feet tall
and handsome in his own way, but he had the body of a scientist, long and lean.
He also had the studious nature of a scientist and wasn’t the kind of guy
who ran around getting into fights
Kyle shrugged uncomfortably under her startled glance.
“I came back in and saw what he was doing and punched him,” he
said almost apologetically. “Then I ran in to the experiment chamber to
pull you out from under the beam.”
“You punched him?” Jill asked, still marveling over the
“It was just…instinct,” Kyle explained with embarrassment.
“Oh,” Jill said huskily. “Thank you.”
Kyle shrugged and avoided her eyes by staring at his watch as he took her
pulse, but then his lips twisted with displeasure and he said, “It’s
my fault. I should have realized John would try a stunt like that. He’s
been crabbing about the animal trials from the start and insisting we need to
do human trials.”
“It’s not your fault,” Jill said quickly. “I’ve
heard all his complaining, but didn’t expect him to pull a stunt like this
Kyle nodded, but she could tell he still felt responsible.
“Your pulse is a little fast, but not alarmingly so.” He straightened
and peered at her. “How do you feel?”
Jill paused and considered. She felt a little shaky, but then she’d
been knocked out by the beam. Other than that, however, she felt pretty much normal.
“I feel fine,” Jill said at last. “I don’t feel different
Kyle hesitated, his gaze moving around the lab, then asked, “Do you
think you’re up to walking?”
When Jill nodded, he urged her back to her feet, saying, “Come on, then.
This has been more than enough for the day. Let’s get out of here.”
Jill couldn’t have agreed more. She felt fine, but didn’t want
to stay in the lab. And she definitely didn’t want to be there when John
woke up. If he said a single word to her, Jill might be tempted to commit bodily
harm on the jerk. He could have killed her with that stunt.
Kyle took her arm, eyeing her closely as they walked to the door. He was just
opening the door, when Jill suddenly recalled the poor rabbit still strapped to
the table in the experiment chamber.
“Wait.” She paused and turned back. “What about Thumper?”
“Oh.” Kyle glanced toward the glass walled room. After a hesitation,
he said “wait here” and hurried over to the control panel to switch
off the destabilizer, then continued on to the small room.
Jill watched him unstrap the animal, smiling as she saw his lips moving as
he petted and soothed the rabbit. Like herself, Kyle tended to murmur and coo
nonsense to the lab animals, and she knew he got just as distressed when something
went wrong. It was only John who treated them like blocks of wood.
Thoughts of the other man drew her attention to his unconscious form and she
scowled. John Heathcliffe had done some rotten things in the time she’d
known him, but today had taken the cake. It wasn’t just that she could have
been killed, but who knew what effects the destablizer could have on her?
The door to the experiment chamber opened with a soft swish, and Jill glanced
over, relieved to be distracted from her thoughts. Kyle was quick about putting
Thumper in his cage and then he hurried to join her at the door.
“What are we going to do about him?” Jill asked, nodding toward
John’s still form.
“Leave him. I’d call security, but…” Kyle hesitated,
then admitted, “I’m worried about Dr. Cohen’s reaction if he
learns you were exposed to the molecular destabilizer.”
It was all he had to say. If anyone found out, Jill could expect to be kept
here in the lab in her very own cage – though it would probably be a sterile
white room rather than an actual cage. She would be subjected to hundreds of tests,
most of them probably unpleasant and even painful. She’d also be asked a
million questions every day to see just how her mind had been affected by exposure
to the destabilizer.
No, thank you. Jill didn’t know what effect her exposure would have
on her, but no matter what it was, she’d rather not be locked up while it
“You don’t think John will tell?” she asked anxiously.
“And risk being banned from the scientific community?” Kyle asked
with a snort. “Not to mention being arrested for assault, because that’s
what it was.” He shook his head. “No. He’ll keep his mouth shut.”
Relief soaking through her, Jill nodded and allowed Kyle to take her arm and
lead her out of the lab.
They didn’t run into anyone on the way down to the parking garage. Jill
was so unsettled by the whole adventure, that they were in Kyle’s car before
she remembered her own vehicle.
“What about my car?” Jill asked as Kyle started the engine of
his little red car.
Pausing, he glanced in the direction of her parking spot, a small frown playing
about his lips, then he shook his head. “I don’t think it’s
a good idea for you to be driving just now. In fact, I don’t want you to
be alone. I was planning on taking you home with me so I could keep an eye on
you for at least tonight, preferably the weekend. But, if nothing happens and
you continue to seem fine, I’ll bring you by to pick up your car tomorrow
When she nodded her agreement, Kyle added, “Fortunately, it’s
Friday, so you’ll have the weekend to recover before we have to decide what
-- if anything -- to tell Dr. Cohen about this.”
“I thought we didn’t want him to know?” Jill asked with
a frown. “I mean, if nothing has happened…”
“I don’t want John to get away with this,” Kyle said solemnly.
“We could tell Dr. Cohen that he tried to turn the destabilizer on you and
I arrived as he did it and knocked him out. That you managed to throw yourself
out of the way when you heard it power up.”
Jill blinked with a sudden realization.
“What is it?” Kyle asked.
“I didn’t hear it power up,” she said slowly, perplexed
by the fact. She should have. Jill had always heard it before. Usually the soft
hum started while she strapped down the animal, then built to a high pitched whine
as she left the room.
“He must have powered it up before you went in,” Kyle said thoughtfully
and his expression became even more forbidding. “The bastard must have planned
to try this all along. He was just waiting for a time when I was out of the lab.”
Kyle cursed. “I never should have--”
Jill placed her hand over his on the steering wheel and patted him soothingly.
“You couldn’t know. It’s fine. Let’s just go.”
Blowing his breath out, Kyle nodded and shifted the car into gear, then backed
out of his parking spot.
“You’re okay with staying over tonight?” Kyle asked once
they were out of the parking garage.
“Yes.” Jill nodded. “To tell you the truth, if something’s
going to happen, I’d rather not be alone.”
Kyle gave a nod, then concentrated on driving, leaving Jill to worry over
what might result from the experiment. Nothing much had appeared to happen yet
to the animals they’d tested it on. If put in front of a white background,
some of them lightened in color, like a chameleon taking on its surroundings,
but it didn’t happen to all the animals and it didn’t happen regularly.
This didn’t bother Kyle. He was just happy it happened at all. As John had
pointed out, the animals didn’t understand what was done to them so simply
might not be utilizing their full abilities. She did understand, however, and
supposed that was why John had broken all the rules and exposed her to the destabilizer.
Jill peered down at her hands, the only part of her body that wasn’t
covered by clothing and that she could see at the moment. She stared at where
they rested in her lap, but they looked the same as always to her. Her skin wasn’t
suddenly lightening to match the white smock she wore. For a moment, she considered
trying to make them lighten, but then changed her mind. She was almost afraid
to find her exposure had had some effect.
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