Seneca Thomas is an agent with XCEL, a secret government taskforce charged with capturing the dangerous shapeshifters that have infiltrated New York City, passing for humans.When her partner is killed in the line of duty, Seneca finds herself teamed up with Max Dempsey--a shapeshifter. And when the pair discover a growing army of shifters gathering beneath the city, Seneca will have no choice but to trust the one man she shouldn't.
“I devoured Body Master.” -New York Times bestselling author Angela Knight
“In this novel the action is non-stop and the sexual tension between Max and Seneca sizzles. Barry has created a butt-kicking yet vulnerable heroine and a story that keeps readers going until the last page.” -PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Seneca Thomas is an agent with XCEL, a secret government taskforce charged with capturing the dangerous shapeshifters that have infiltrated New York City, passing for humans. Her Native American heritage gives her a special gift—the ability to see the shapeshifters for what they are. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make killing them any easier.
Max Dempsey was on a refugee transport that crashed to Earth, setting thousands of shapeshifters free to do what they do best—replicate the local population in order to survive. Among them is the shifter who murdered Max’s wife. Now Max’s only desire is to find him and destroy him—until he gets partnered with Seneca, a sexy, fearless agent who would kill every one of his kind—including Max—if given the chance.
As a criminal army of shifters assembles under the city determined to wreak havoc and destroy humanity, Seneca and Max will have to embrace their explosive chemistry, for only by trusting in each other and their power can they hope to stop the growing evil.
New York City, March 16
“Wait ’til I tell my wife we got Jack the Ripper.” Seneca looked over at her partner, Riley, sitting in the driver’s side of the surveillance van.
She said, “A little premature, don’t you think? We haven’t even seen him yet.”
Riley turned to her, the lone streetlight illuminating his balding head and cocky grin. “Never say premature to a guy, Seneca.”
He tipped his half-eaten hamburger in the direction of the Harlem warehouse half a block away, shadowed in darkness and disrepair. “As soon as that Shifter comes home, we’re going to waltz in there and kick his sorry ass.”
She shook her head at Riley’s ability to take every life and death situation and make it sound like a trip to McDonald’s. Bringing down an alien shapeshifter was strictly for the pros.
“Jack might give himself up, you know. That would spoil all your fun,” she told him.
Riley laughed and almost choked on his burger. “No way. Shifters never go down without a fight.”
That was true. At least the mean ones. The “good” shapeshifters just hid among Americans, watching, learning, waiting. Seneca shook off the bitterness that rose in her belly and scanned the night.
The surrounding city blocks were empty except for muggers and drug addicts and XCEL agents like her and Riley. This was their job. Shapeshifter hunters got paid to be crazy. The other crazies didn’t even know shapeshifters were here. And if they did, no one believed them anyway. Either way, the public was still clueless, and her undercover agency worked damned hard to keep it that way.
“I don’t know, Riley,” she said. “I’ve been sitting here for three days watching you eat your body weight in burgers, and he hasn’t shown his face yet. Maybe our Roto-Rooter van’s been made.”
Riley answered with his mouth full. “Naw. Everyone needs their pipes cleaned out some time, especially in this part of town. Lots of rats.” He twisted in his seat. “But I hope to hell he comes home soon. I miss sleeping with my wife.”
Seneca eyed him. “I noticed. You’re steaming up the windows again.”
He winked. “You should see me when I’m really hot. This van would spontaneously combust.”
Life according to Riley: work, sex, and fast food. Seneca laughed and sipped her coffee. “You ever wonder what you would have done with the past two years if the Shifters hadn’t crash-landed in the South Dakota Badlands?”
“Probably sitting behind some desk shooting rubber bands at you all day.” Then he beamed. “But look at us now. The best Shifter team that Earth has to offer—hunting down public enemy number one. Hot damn.”
Hot damn, indeed. Their target Jack the Ripper had earned his code name by mutilating and dismembering three people in an all-night convenience store two weeks ago. Not even the money he stole had been enough to satisfy that bastard. Then he’d blended in with the general population again. And that’s why she was here.
It wasn’t her fault that she’d become a shapeshifter hunter. If they hadn’t escaped their planet and crashed here, if they hadn’t decided to steal our DNA and look like us, if they weren’t hell-bent on criminal activities, she and Riley wouldn’t be sitting in a van waiting to apprehend one of them.
And it certainly wasn’t her fault that she was one of the few in the world who could see them for the monsters they were. They couldn’t hide from her, and she couldn’t ignore them.
“What would you be doing?” Riley asked her.
She smiled. “Arresting bad guys who didn’t turn into bloodthirsty aliens when they got pissed off.”
He gave her a disbelieving look. “Now see, this is your problem. No life. You need a man. I happen to have a friend—”
Oh hell, here we go with the friend. “Forget it. I’ve met your friends, and I wouldn’t be caught dead dating any of them.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong—” he started, and then his gaze turned serious and locked on something outside. “We have action.” He wadded up the rest of his burger and tossed it in the back while she grabbed the night vision binoculars.
Sure enough, a car had pulled around the corner and parked in the alley beside the warehouse. A lone male stepped out—six foot tall, two hundred pounds easy, and wearing a winter coat. He matched the general description they had.
As he walked to the back of the building, she focused on the ghostly shadow around his body that only she could see. It was shaped like a giant demon. Definitely a Shifter. Her second vision might be a curse, but she had no qualms using it to ferret out the aliens.
“What do you think?” Riley asked.
She stowed the binoculars and climbed in the back. “Close enough to say, stick ’em up.”
Riley smacked the steering wheel. “Hot damn! I’m getting laid tonight.”
After Riley called for the cleanup crew, they pulled on tactical headgear with integrated night vision and communications, protective body armor, and custom shoulder harnesses. Seneca strapped on her thigh holsters and slipped in her two Glock 33s. A backup KA-BAR knife went into the vest along with a single-shot tranquilizer handgun, a disrupter pistol, and extra ammo.
Riley carried the same equipment as well as explosive impact grenades. They finished gearing up quickly and silently. Long, light, black trench coats went over everything. She felt the weight of her weapons as she stood up, but there was no other way. No single weapon worked on every Shifter. There were nights when she’d used almost everything she had to bring a powerful one down. Carrying AA-12 semiautomatic shotguns, they hit the pavement fully armed under cover of night.
Seneca’s pulse quickened as she moved behind Riley, taking in everything—locked and boarded storefronts, the smell of sewer, and the thrum-thrum of the city. Two agents against one Shifter. It was a strategy that had cost a lot of lives to develop, but two agents was enough to take down the suspect while still keeping the situation contained and quiet. If the agents were good. She and Riley were very good.
As always, her training kicked in with the official XCEL agency mantra that was burned into her brain.
Level 1: Suspect compliance. Response—arrest. Which was a joke because they never complied.
Level 2: Suspect resistance. Response—containment and appropriate force. There was always resistance.
Level 3: Suspect assault. Response—all necessary force. That one was her personal favorite.
They were thirty feet from Jack’s front door when gunfire erupted from a first-floor window of the warehouse and shattered the silence. Chunks of pavement sprayed around them.
Seneca dove behind a parked Honda with Riley beside her. She leaned toward him, “I think that qualifies as Level Three.”
“Oh yeah,” he replied. In unison, they swung up and fired back. She yelled out, “Police! You are under arrest. Come out with your hands up!”
Return fire poured through a broken window and peppered the Honda. Glass shattered and sprinkled to the ground. XCEL was going to owe someone a car.
“You know, we should just stop saying that. No one ever listens to us,” Riley said. “How about we try ‘show yourself or we’ll come in there and blow your fucking brains out’? I bet that’d work.”
She flipped her communications device on. “Put your money where your mouth is, Riley.”
They moved behind the car with Jack watching them from the window, almost challenging them to fire. Riley took a shot with the tranquilizer, but Jack had shifted from human form to Shifter and the powerful sedative cartridge bounced off his head harmlessly.
“Shit,” Riley said. “Looks like we’re going to have to do this the hard way.”
Seneca gave a short laugh. “It’s always the hard way.”
“And that’s why you love it. This is like foreplay to you.”
She countered. “And sometimes it’s better.”
“You gotta get yourself a man.” Riley reloaded the tranq weapon and pulled the disrupter pistol from his holster. It was designed to deliver a potent electromagnetic charge that would temporarily disorient the Shifter’s molecular pattern long enough for the tranquilizer to stick and work. Unless, Jack had adapted to the disrupter, in which case, things would get really ugly.
“I’m taking the back door,” Riley said. “Cover me.”
Seneca laid down fire as he sprinted into the side alley. Her burst lit up the night and littered streets in shades of gray. As soon as Riley was clear, she ducked behind the car and held her fire.
Jack didn’t shoot back and the city that never slept closed in on her. Car alarms jangled the night. No sirens, which was a good sign. It meant that the XCEL cleanup crew was on site. They’d take care of the local authorities, the press, and anyone else asking too many questions. Her job was to take care of Jack.
Seneca listened carefully for movement, but it was all quiet inside. She scanned the building. The sensors in her duty visor didn’t pick up a heat signature from Jack anymore. Where’d he go?
“In position,” Riley whispered in her earpiece.
“Jack’s on the move,” she warned him.
“He’s still inside. We got the exits covered. When you’re ready, let me know and I’ll toss in a flashbang to clear the way.”
She scrambled to her feet, raced for the front door and slammed her back against the wall. A quick check of the handle revealed it was locked.
She told Riley, “I’ll need a second to blow the lock on the front door before I move in.”
“Just don’t shoot me again.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I only did that once, and it barely nicked you, you big baby.”
“Yeah, well next time you might hit a vital organ. I’d like to have a few more kids before I die.”
She shook her head. Riley already had four kids. “I’m set here.”
Riley said, “Three, two, one—”
There was a flash of light and a powerful concussion that blew out the front windows as Riley’s grenade went off inside.
Seneca spun, shot through the knob, and kicked the door in. It crashed against the inside wall as she entered, gun ready. No sign of Jack, but she heard heavy footsteps above her.
Riley shouted in her ear. “I’m on the second floor. He’s heading up the back stairs to the third.”
She raced through the doorways and rooms of the warehouse. “Wait for me!”
“No, I’m good, I got him cornered,” he replied, breathing hard. Gunfire exploded throughout the building.
Goddamnit, Riley, she thought. Fear pushed her faster as she took the stairs two at a time. When she hit the top step, there was a beat of silence, and then a hellish scream. She knew what happened even as she raced toward the sound.
She cleared the doorway that opened into a cavernous room lined with boxes and crates. Her night vision turned the streetlight green through broken windowpanes and outlined a huge shapeshifter pulling his hand out of Riley’s stomach as he lay on the floor. Jack lifted it to the light and inspected the dark blood.
Seneca staggered under the emotional impact of Riley’s death gurgle, and then his heat signature dimmed in her visor.
Oh God, no.
The Shifter looked at her and grinned, brandishing a row of razor-sharp teeth. Fresh dread rolled over her.
Focus, Seneca. Stay focused.
He was in Primary Shifter form, deadly from his smooth, domed head to his clawed fingers to powerful, massive thighs. Black armorlike skin flexed over a muscular body. Eerie, alien gold eyes met hers. A blank, cold-blooded canvas, capable of replicating anyone.
“Next?” he hissed.
And with that, her fear was gone, snuffed out like Riley’s life. Now, there was only rage. She ripped off her headgear and tossed it aside. “I think it’s your turn, asshole.”
He spread his arms wide and took a bobbing step toward her. “Go ahead. Shoot away.”
It wouldn’t do any good, she knew that now. He wouldn’t dare her if he hadn’t adapted to bullets. He’d simply thin his molecular structure so they’d pass right through him.
On the other hand, she’d feel much better. So she hit him with the AA-12 in nonstop bursts. Jack simply stood there, and the ammo pelted the wall and windows behind him.
He threw his head back and laughed, the sound echoing through the building.
She glanced at the 3GL grenades strapped to Riley, twenty feet away. Too far. With her options dwindling fast, she settled on her instincts. That, and the one thing she could always count on with Shifters—their unqualified arrogance.
Jack suddenly vanished in a puff of black smoke and materialized a few feet away. Terrific, he was one of the more powerful ones. All Shifters were killing machines—lighting fast, deadly hands, thick armor skin. But one of their deadliest weapons was the ability to thin their structure to reduce friction so they could move fast—really fast. Becoming shadows. It was going to be a challenge to get her hands on him without being sliced to ribbons.
She breathed and harnessed her anger and anguish, pushing them deeply into her concentration. She’d rather die here with Riley than leave this monster alive, or worse, allow him replicate to Riley’s DNA.
Her right hand flexed in anticipation and hope. Just work one more time, she said to herself. And so far, it had. Which is why she still used it. Luck was for suckers.
He poofed, and her second vision followed the trail he left behind. He seemed surprised as she turned to face him before he re-formed.
He said, “Aren’t you gonna try to run? I’ll even give you a head start.”
That’s more than I’ll give you. “No, I’m good.”
He rushed forward in a cloud of black smoke, bringing him a few feet away. She saw the hunger in his black eyes and felt the evil in his black heart. Cold air flowed around her.
“I like killin’ the girls,” Jack said, thoroughly enjoying his little game.
Bud, you are in for the surprise of your life. She repositioned her hands around the shotgun. “Then you should know, I’m not like other girls.”
“You all taste the same to me.” He lunged then, mouth open, and she jammed her gun down his throat. For a split-second, he gagged, and in that second, she pressed her right hand to his chest.
Concentrate, breathe . . . “Shift!”
A burst of heat pumped through her hand, coming from a source she didn’t understand and didn’t question. All that mattered was what it did to Shifters. It changed them, forcing them to shift back to whoever they were last.
She wasn’t kidding. She really wasn’t like other girls.
The intense energy hurt, driving electricity up her arm. She pulled her hand away, stretching a ribbon of white residual energy between them until it snapped. The Shifter knocked the shotgun out of his mouth with a roar and then took a few steps back.
She held her ground, waiting. Jack’s eyes widened as his chest began to contract around where her hand had been, and he clutched his stomach and stumbled to the floor.
His body contorted grotesquely, and his joints began popping, skin rippling with twisted bones. The clawed hands sprouted rudimentary finger buds. The thick legs narrowed. His head imploded and then reshaped.
All the while, she listened to his screams with cold indifference. This is what he deserved. The same mercy he’d shown Riley and the other innocent people he’d murdered. There was no compassion in his soul, no conscience in his mind. Nothing worth saving.
She walked over to Riley and knelt to check for a pulse, even though she knew it wouldn’t be there. His Kevlar vest and chest had been sliced open cleanly.
“Oh, Riley,” she whispered.
A sudden sob clutched her throat, piercing her heart beneath all her armor. A hundred thoughts flooded her mind, but one was crystal clear—she’d failed him. She hung her head. I’m sorry.
The Shifter had stopped writhing by the time she pulled herself together. Tranquilizer gun in hand, she stood over Jack’s human form, the last shape he’d used, created from stolen human DNA. He was just your average guy. Could have been her neighbor or a Wall Street broker or a husband with a wife and kids. Shifters didn’t care where or how they got their “skins.”
In her mind’s eye, the Shifter’s demon form shimmered around him like a ghost. He was still an alien, but right now he was as vulnerable as any human.
She fought the urge to use her Glock instead of a tranquilizer. She could easily blame it on self-defense. She could even justify it with Riley’s death. No one would question her. No one would care if one more Shifter died.
But her orders were to bring in Shifters alive whenever possible and she was a good agent, like Riley. She wouldn’t disgrace his memory. Not today.
Today, she lifted the tranquilizer gun, aimed, and hit Jack the Ripper in the heart.
“Seneca Thomas works for a covert government agency whose purpose is to rid the planet of Shifters, a race of aliens that utilize human DNA to blend into society. Seneca tracks down violent Shifters using her unique ability to “see” them, despite their disguises. When her partner is killed, rugged, handsome Max Dempsey replaces him, much to Seneca’s annoyance and suspicion. Max is a Shifter, and became an agent to discover the identity of his wife’s murderer, a traitor who almost destroyed the Shifter race on their last planet. An immediate attraction is present, but danger looms as a madman is creating an all-Shifter Army in the tunnels of NYC. In this novel the action is non-stop and the sexual tension between Max and Seneca sizzles. Barry has created a butt-kicking yet vulnerable heroine and a story that keeps readers going until the last page.” -PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Barry returns with a near-future, action-packed tale of extraterrestrials that also explores troubling social unrest. Through her protagonists, Barry explores the gritty reality of a reluctant alien invasion and the resulting fallout. These star-crossed lovers have sparks aplenty and baggage galore. Barry’s world just begs for future exploration, so readers can expect to take this thrill ride once again!” -Romantic Times Magazine
“A sci-fi romance that transports readers to a fantastic world! C.J. Barry is a supreme story-teller who combines passion and intrigue and creates an addicting read with Body Master!” – Tracy Marsac, ReadertoReader.com
“Action, adventure, and romance abound in BODY MASTER. C.J. Barry weaves together an intriguing tale that captures the reader’s imagination from the first page.” – Kathy, Romance Reviews Today
“If you read only one science fiction romance this year, Body Master is the perfect choice. It doesn’t disappoint.” -Terescia, The Erotic Reader