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Authors: Rob Preece

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BOOK: In the Werewolf's Den
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He wasn't big. Probably only a couple of inches taller than Danielle's five foot eight. But she felt like she'd kicked a concrete wall rather than a man.

She turned a backflip, barely avoiding the vampire's grasp.

Keep your distance, Danielle, she lectured herself. If she got into a wrestling match with a vampire, she was going to get bit. Getting bit would end her warder career forever.

"I've got him here.” She forced herself to speak slowly into the radio despite her excitement. “I need backup. Now. Sergeant Mansfield, can you get in here? And bring another stake."

The vampire grinned, his fangs gleaming in the faint light. “More warders? Oh, goody. Dessert."

Either the vampire knew little about fighting, or it simply relied on its magical capabilities to protect it from Danielle because it waded into her.

She caught it squarely in the groin, then nailed it with an elbow to the ribs.

She felt those vampire ribs give way and heard the vampire exhale hard, but he grabbed her anyway, bringing his bloody face toward her neck.

Danielle could feel her panic, barely held down by years of training. No wonder Peterson and Jones had run.

She dug deep in herself, relaxed, let him get close, then head-butted him directly in his hollow teeth.

It was a risky move. She felt her own blood where she'd caught the sharp edges of his teeth, but one of those lethal weapons broke off and the vampire reeled away.

"Bitch."

This time she laughed. “You don't know half of it, dead man."

The vampire reached for her again, but Danielle had figured him out.

She let him come, then grasped his arm and used his own momentum to accelerate him into the wall.

The reek of ozone was nearly overpowering. She wondered what it was doing to her lungs. Not that it would matter if she didn't end this fight quickly. She'd been in blur for too long and felt herself slowing.

The vampire bounced off the wall and headed back to her.

Beneath them, still too far away, she heard Mansfield and the others coming.

"Too late for you,” the vampire told her.

"And for you."

She reached for him as if she intended to smash him into the wall again.

He kicked away her hand.

His kick had to have broken something in her wrist. Despite the blur's endorphins, her pain level shot through the ceiling. Still, rather than fighting for balance Danielle used the momentum of his kick to spin her around.

As she moved, she reached into her vest and pulled out the wooden stake that all vampire hunters carry.

Her own strength wouldn't have been enough to pierce the vampire's armored chest, but the very blow that he had landed accelerated her spin, giving her the power she needed to plunge the weapon deep into his heart.

The vampire stared at her, then looked down at the stake sunk into his body.

He should be dead, she thought. Or rather, since all vampires are dead and inhabited by demons, he should be acting dead. Instead, he reached for the stake and began pulling it out.

Danielle didn't fight her panic this time: she used it. Desperate fear added to her strength as she hammered a straight thrust-kick. Her booted foot slammed into the stake driving it more deeply into the vampire's heart.

The undead monster gave her a pathetic look, then slowly crumpled to the floor.

Danielle sagged against the wall.

"Good work,” Mansfield told her, slapping her on the back. “Keep his teeth as a souvenir of your first kill. Believe me, I'll recommend you as a vampire hunter. You've got what it takes."

Danielle smiled weakly. She'd done it. Notched up her required kill, managed a successful raid, and gotten a word of encouragement from the woman every cadet dreaded. She should feel great.

She vomited against the wall.

Chapter 1

He didn't look like a werewolf.

Danielle straightened her uniform tunic, then continued to watch the
Were
, her eyes hidden behind her mirrored sunglasses. The
Were
stepped toward her, his tawny eyes staring as if they could pierce the protection of her shades and see into her soul. Even in his prison coveralls, he looked powerful, in control of the situation.

She knew he was young, in his early thirties, but a hint of silver dusted the jet black of his hair. His footsteps were silent on the hard concrete floor.

Danielle took a deep breath and reminded herself that she was in charge. She was the warder. He was just another impaired. Her prisoner.

"Dr. Carl Harriman?"

He stopped. “I'm Harriman."

"The courts have heard your appeal. Pending the results of your research, you are released from interment and remanded into my custody."

She was prepared for gratitude. For earnest shedding of tears. His curt nod was unexpected, chilling.

"About time they got around to it. And who the hell are you?"

Danielle drew herself to her full five foot eight. “Warder Agent Danielle Goodman. On temporary assignment as a herder.” Very temporary assignment, she hoped. When Joe Smealy had called her in to his office, she'd expected to be commissioned as a vampire hunter, not relegated to the low-status position as herder. Joe hadn't had time to give her details, but she planned on getting them soon. She'd graduated first in her class from the Warder Academy. She'd taken special training in martial arts, in hypnotic resistance, in emergency transfusions. She had even bought the black-on-black casual dress uniform of a hunter-agent. That uniform took up half the space in the workout bag that held all of her possessions. Wearing it would have to wait until she proved herself once more.

"Wonderful. Danielle, is it? Well, I guess I'm stuck with you."

Discourage fraternization. She couldn't count the number of times that message had been beaten into their heads in the Academy. “My name is Agent Goodman, not Danielle."

Harriman's laugh was short—almost a bark. “If we're going to be living together, I really think we should be on a first-name basis."

She bristled. “We aren't living together, as you put it. I'm your herder. You are a late-arrival
were
, released on sufferance, thanks to the generosity of the people of the State of Texas."

"Very generous, indeed.” He paused a beat. “Agent Goodman."

His sarcastic tone sent her hand reaching for the silver-tipped nightstick that all herders carried. She had to maintain dominance.
Were
, like the dogs many people had kept as pets before the return of magic, needed to know who was master. She pulled the stick slowly from her belt, slapped it against a gloved hand, and stared.

He looked back, unmoved by the threat that the silver represented. Didn't he know what it could do to him? Maybe he didn't. According to his documentation, he'd turned himself over to the authorities as soon as he'd been visited with his impairment. That quick decision had protected him from the fearful mob that would normally surround an impaired discovered living outside the zone.

He was only a
were
. Even so, Danielle decided his tone of voice was not enough to warrant using the nightstick.

"Let's get you situated in a lab,” Danielle said. The sooner she could get him to work, the sooner he could discover whatever it was that had gotten him out of prison and the sooner she could move on to her next assignment. Preferably one involving hunting vampires rather than herding lowlife
Were
.

"I've been in prison for six months,” Harriman observed. “I need a shower, something decent to eat, and real clothes rather than these paper things.” He demonstrated the flimsiness of his prison garb by grasping the fabric and yanking. Sure enough, the woven material gave, exposing a muscled biceps beneath it. “Preferably food first."

Danielle swallowed hard. The Academy was full of hard-bodied males, but something about Harriman affected her. If she hadn't been wearing her silver-impregnated sunglasses, she might have suspected he was using some sort of enchantment spell on her.

She cleared her throat, then nodded. “All right. We'll get something to eat and some new clothes. Then we'll get you moved into the zone where the government has established your lab."

Harriman smiled. He had a nice smile, Danielle thought. With large, even, white teeth. It even looked like he had all of them—another positive result of his turning himself in before the mob could find him. Unusually for a
Were
, Harriman's canines didn't even look enlarged. He looked like a normal human—except sexier than any normal human she'd ever seen.

She reminded herself that nobody chose the curse. Harriman, her stepfather, and all those others were victims of the return of magic. Just because society needed to be protected from them didn't make them evil. Just dangerous. And Harriman was definitely dangerous.

"Let's go,” Danielle finished.

"What about my things?” Harriman objected.

"Everything you had with you when you were arrested has been destroyed,” Danielle told him. “Come on. Unless you want me to send you back to your cell."

He didn't move for a moment and Danielle wondered if he would actually call her bluff. If wouldn't look good on her record if she gave up on her job ten minutes into it. On the other hand, she needed to assert her authority—and remind Harriman that she had the power to return him to prison at any time. For any reason.

"Destroying perfectly good clothing is stupid,” Harriman observed as he followed her through the silver-spiked doors that closed off this section of the Lew Sterret Justice Center. “But destroying my computer is a crime. It had records from years of research on it. Research I'll have to duplicate."

Danielle suspected that Harriman's things hadn't really all been destroyed. Some government official had probably nabbed Harriman's computer on the not unreasonable expectation that a prisoner wouldn't need it. Government computers were, by definition, a couple of generations behind the type of system a scientist like Harriman would have. By now that computer was lost in the system, sitting on some anonymous desk somewhere. There was no way she was going to admit that to Harriman, though. The system wasn't perfect. But it provided the small measure of safety that remained for the normal ninety percent of the human race. The alternative was unthinkable.

"Then we'd better get our butts in gear and get started on it, hadn't we?"

Harriman narrowed his eyes. “What's this ‘we’ stuff? Surely you don't think you're going to help with my research."

She hadn't, actually. She was his herder, not his assistant. On the other hand, Danielle had an insatiable curiosity. If she was going to spend the next couple of months with Carl Harriman, she might as well learn something. And biomedical research into the source of the magic that had so infected a large part of the world's population was something worth understanding.

"I'm stuck with you, impaired,” she told him. “I might as well do something useful."

He gave her that look again. “Right. So, we were talking about food. After six months eating nothing but processed algae, I'm ready for a huge steak, a baked potato dripping with butter and sour cream, and a salad with real lettuce and vegetables. And a bottle of wine."

Danielle bit off her laughter. She was thinking of Harriman as a prisoner, as one of the thousands of impaired whose property had been confiscated when they'd been sent into the zone. But Harriman was different. He was a late arrival. His timely surrender to the authorities had protected his property. Even with what he'd spent on lawyers, he still had plenty of money in his bank account.

"All right.” She pulled out her palmtop and punched in Carl's specifications. “There's a restaurant on Turtle Creek,” she told him. “It looks pretty close. We'll go there first."

"You've got a date."

Danielle shuddered. She might have to work with him but she didn't have to like him. “I'll wait in the lobby,
Were
."

* * * *

"Afternoon, Fred.” Carl greeted the maitre d’ at the Old Main Grill as if they were old friends. Well, maybe they were. The restaurant was the type that appealed to rich businessmen. Like Carl had been.

"Six months of prison slop would make cold oatmeal taste like a gourmet treat. I can hardly wait to taste your Tex-French cooking.

"I'm sorry, sir. We don't have any free seating."

Carl frowned. “It's me, Fred. Dr. Harriman.” He looked around at the nearly deserted restaurant.

Danielle checked her palmtop. “I made reservations for one. Confirmation number seven zero—"

"I'm terribly sorry sir, ma'am” Fred broke in. “Our computer system must have suffered from a glitch. We won't be able to seat you today."

"Dr. Harriman is legally accompanied by a registered warder,” Danielle said. “Under city ordinance two-C-seven, you are not allowed to discriminate against impaired if so accompanied."

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I simply don't have the seating."

It was a lie, of course. But no policeman would enforce that ordinance.

She shoved herself in the Maitre d's face and grasped his starch-impregnated shirt. “You'll damn-well find a seat for my ward or I'll toss some of your customers and make room."

"I'd better get the manager.” Fred fled from her, leaving shirt buttons popping behind him.

"Let's get out of here,” Carl said.

A couple, the man in his fifties, his date in her early twenties, walked into the restaurant and stopped suddenly when they saw Carl.

"Guess they aren't being as exclusive as they used to be. Imagine trying to bring one of them to a place like this."

Carl turned on his heels and strode out.

Danielle walked after him. She couldn't really blame the restaurant management or the customers. If her work didn't require her to spend time with the impaired, she'd feel a little queasy about sharing a restaurant with one, too. Especially a restaurant whose entrees started at more than a warder's weekly salary. The funny thing was Carl's surprise. He'd have to have been sleeping over the past decade not to be aware that the impaired were unwelcome anywhere outside of their zone.

BOOK: In the Werewolf's Den
8.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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