The crowd gathering in the room had to signify something bad. Considering Clyde knew his intended fate, he was afraid he knew just what that bad thing was.
Although, for the life of him—hah!—Clyde couldn’t understand why people would have a party, or attend a party, where caterpillars and other critters were going to be killed.
It wasn’t just him. There were aquariums and kennel boxes with all sorts of animals and insects in them, as well as two lizards and a long, white snake. It was either going to be a mass slaughter, or some of the other creatures would be auctioned off—that was Clyde’s guess. Each cage had a tag on it, barring Clyde’s and one other’s. People were milling around, looking at what was on offer.
This is the most fucked-up thing in the world! Clyde had heard of illegal species trafficking before, but it’d been like an alternate reality or a fictional thing in his mind. It wasn’t actually supposed to happen. Animal trafficking was supposed to be this vague story that was reported about for a minute on the news.
As the man who was he owner of the place droned on about how he’d found ‘”this remarkable species of caterpillar in south Texas,” and made suppositions about how Clyde had come to be there, Clyde tried to figure out if he was willing to die to keep the existence of shifters a secret.
He’d like to think he could be that selfless, but as the minutes passed by, fear grew and grew in Clyde until he could hardly draw a breath. He was absolutely terrified of dying, and just as terrified of shifting, which he could not do without drawing a lot of scrutiny.
And would probably lead to the eradication of shifter-kind somehow.
Clyde’s lungs burned until, in a moment of sheer s surprise, he sucked in a sharp little snap of air. Smirking down at him through the wire mesh top of Clyde’s prison was his obnoxious oldest brother, Murphy.
Beside Murphy, holding a tray of hors d’oeuvres, was Dad! Clyde waved his head from side to side, hope chasing away the choking knot of fear blocking his airway.
He saw the rest of his family there, once he started looking, and it was all Clyde could do not to shift and run to his parents. And trip Murphy, because that asshole was tapping on the glass and blowing his nasty hot breath right into Clyde’s cage.
“Excuse me. What are you doing?” a young man asked in the haughtiest tone Clyde had ever heard.
Murphy’s eyes rounded and he stumbled back a step.
“Getting fired, sir,” Kurt answered as he pointed at a door in the back of the room. “Out. You’re fired, Fred.”
Clyde blinked. Fred? Oh! Fake names, duh!
“Why is a moron like that even working for your company?”
Kurt’s cheeks darkened in a familiar way Clyde saw too often—one signifying that he was growing angry. “He passed all necessary background checks. He’s merely young and—“
“Young?” The man speaking with Kurt snorted. “Please. He’s ancient! He has to be close to thirty.” He shuddered.
A third man approached and poked the shuddering guy in the side. “Hey, Mogul, are you working your Daddy kink? Getting down and dirty with the hired help? They’re usually good for a fuck, and since you’re paying them anyway, or your dad is, you can do whatever you want to ‘em. And so can your guests.”
Kurt’s entire face was dark red. “No, you are mistaken. People aren’t bought and sold like that. We’re wait staff and catering. We are not here for anything else.”
The first young man—Mogul—What kind of friggin’ stupid name is that?—swatted at the newcomer’s hand.
“I don’t do old dudes, much less ancient ones,” he snapped. “You’re the one with the daddy issues, Manny. Trying to find the daddy who abandoned you.”
“Don’t be a jerk,” Manny retorted, his own complexion turning ruddy as he darted a glance to Kurt then back to Mogul.
“What? We both know you bent over for my dad—“ Mogul began.
“Sssh!” Manny hissed, moving closer to Mogul. “Shut up!”
“Why? It’s true. I saw the video footage.” Mogul shrugged. “I’d give you a five, maybe a six, on the sexual talent score. Out of ten, that is. You gagged a lot.”
“Gentlemen, perhaps this discussion should occur in private?” Kurt suggested.
“Yes, it should.” The older man (who intended to pin Clyde to a board and mount him with other dead caterpillars into a display case) joining the trio wore an expression that could have frozen the balls off the Devil himself. “You may both go wait in my office.”
Two gulps followed that order, then Mogul and Manny turned and rapidly left the room.
“Mr. LeHorne,” Kurt said, nodding slightly. “Would you care for an hors d’oeuvres? We have some wonderful—“
“You’ll need to sign a confidentiality agreement,” Le Horne cut in with. “I will, of course, make certain you are compensated for your silence.”
Kurt almost dropped the tray. He managed to keep it from falling, but just barely. “Sir, I signed an agreement when—“
“You are losing a grand with every word you speak to me,” LeHorne said. “Oxley will be with you shortly. I suggest you simply do as you’re told, like a good little lackey.”
Kurt growled, but LeHorne had already turned away, dismissing Kurt as if he were nothing.
Clyde seethed and wished he could get out of his cage. He’d kick LeHorne’s ass—or try, at least. LeHorne had several huge security guards that followed him not so discretely.
“What a total asshole,” Kurt muttered.
Before anything else was said, the sound of glass shattering brought the conversations in the room to a halt…except for the shrieks coming from people trying to run to the nearest exit.
Clyde couldn’t see what had happened. His glass prison wasn’t up high enough, but he could tell that many of the guests were panicking.
LeHorne was shouting out orders, and before Clyde knew what was what, he found himself picked up and tucked into his dad’s suit pocket. Clyde peeked out the top of it.
Alarms shrieked, and one man was screaming and kicking as two burly security guards slammed him against a wall. Clyde’s heart did a little whirly-flip. Whoever the guy was getting attacked by security, he was adorable. Sexy, with pert, perfect features and a slight build.
Clyde started to climb up a little more.
A roar shook him to his little caterpillary innards.
“Shit. I told him to break the lizard’s cage, not free the damned wolverine and lion!” Kurt dropped the tray.
Clyde tried to keep the pretty man in his view, but Kurt spun around and soon there was a lot of jostling.
Clyde worried he’d get squashed. He tried to brace himself for death, sorry that he’d end up being a spot of goo on his dad’s suit.
The jostling stopping suddenly but Kurt was still moving.
Clyde peeked again and would have cried had he been able to in his present form, when he saw that his family had formed a circle around Clyde and his dad, keeping them from being shoved or worse.
Except they didn’t manage to keep everyone away. A petite man slipped through their ranks and cast a frightened look over his shoulder.
Clyde experienced a rush of blood to some organs he didn’t think he even had. There was something about the man who’d escaped from the security guards that just lit Clyde up inside, in all the very excellent ways.
Clyde poked more of his head up, seeking a better view, but his mystery man was fast, cutting between Ned and Emma, startling them both.
Then he was gone, and Clyde slipped back down in his dad’s pocket, contemplating the mess he’d gotten his family and himself in, and wondering who the sexy man who’d gotten away was.