Authors: J. C. Daniels
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Vampires, #Tagline… A knife in the dark
I slid MacDonald a look. “Has it?”
He smiled. “No. It hasn’t.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Eddy…wait outside.”
Beefcake stiffened. “Sir?”
“Wait outside. Relax. Megan is with me, after all.”
I glanced over at the pretty brunette…Megan, I assumed.
She smiled at me.
A moment later, the door shut and some of the roiling energy in the room eased off. Beefcake could still listen in on us, I knew. Wolves, like all shifters, had the ability to hear things no human could. I could hear pretty damn well, better than any human, but nowhere near as well as a shifter, though I could hear him out there pacing in front of my door.
“He doesn’t like me,” I said solemnly. “That makes me sad.”
MacDonald gave me a curious look. “Why are you trying to piss him off?”
“I’m not trying.” I shrugged. “He came in here pissed off. I might as well have fun with it.” I didn’t bother elaborating. Damon probably could have explained it rather well. When I’m nervous or scared, I poke fun, prod and tug a tiger…or in this case, a wolf’s tail. But I was also irritated. The guy had come into my office growling at me. It just rubbed me the wrong way.
Sighing, I looked from Megan to MacDonald, trying to figure a way out of this. A bodyguard for a
job. This was ridiculous. “Look, the bodyguard thing…I appreciate the concern, but it’s unnecessary. I’ve never once had a courier job go downhill.”
“It’s nonnegotiable,” MacDonald said. He shrugged and flicked a piece of lint on his suit. “And you already signed the contract, Ms. Colbana. If you don’t wish to take Megan with you, I can always send Eddy. Maybe the time together will make him like you more and you won’t…be sad.”
My lip curled.
Then I glanced at Megan.
She looked like a soccer mom.
Appearances were deceptive, I knew. The previous Cat Alpha had looked like a damn Barbie doll.
“Well. How strong are you?” I asked. “If you’re going with me, you…”
Weres could hide how powerful they were. It took practice and control, and the stronger they were, they better they could hide it. Weaker ones didn’t hide well, but they didn’t need to. High level shifters could appear more human than I could—it was actually a pretty impressive sight. Sometimes I wondered if that wasn’t where the phrase
wolf in sheep’s clothing
In the blink of an eye, Megan went from soccermom to Supergirl powerful and I gulped as my tongue glued itself to the roof of my mouth. The entire time, she sat there smiling. All she’d done was drop the human act. She hadn’t shifted. Hadn’t moved. Hadn’t done a blessed thing.
And my hand burned, itched and in the back of my mind, I could hear the music of my blade…
Call me…I am here
That’s my most powerful magic. I’m bonded to my blade and nothing separates us.
But I didn’t need her just because the soccermom werewolf was super scary. My hand was steady as I reached for my cup of coffee. It was lukewarm by now—didn’t matter. I needed something to do with my hands, because my right one wouldn’t stop itching and I wanted my blade no matter much I knew it wasn’t necessary.
“Well, you hide pretty well,” I drawled. “Does he even
that suit out there?”
Megan laughed. “Oh, sure. Eddy has no subtlety to him. Everybody is so focused on him, they never noticed me.” She smiled, a small, deadly little smile. Her eyes locked with mine. “I’m the knife in the dark. You can probably appreciate that.”
I made them leave me alone for five minutes.
Any time I left town, I called.
Damon hadn’t asked me to, but it just seemed…well, like the thing to do.
As his phone rang, I stood there, staring at the cooling unit and pondering the grisly contents inside. I was hauling two decapitated heads across Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and into Tennessee. I’d have to stop somewhere for the night, too…there was no way I was driving through South Carolina at night.
Too much vamp activity there.
Still, it was easier than some of the jobs I’d had to do.
one wouldn’t involve giant snakes, alligators or humans who decided to make target practice out of non-humans.
It was stupid that just the sound of it made me smile. But something about the way he said it, that endearment—one that
have been sexist as all get-out—made my toes curl inside the solid, sturdy boots I had on. “Hey, Damon.”
Over the phone, I heard a grunt. Then something that sounded like a hiss and a whine.
“Cleaning house,” he said.
His version of cleaning house usually involved bloody fights and sometimes death. Scratch that… it
included death. He’d killed the previous Alpha, a pretty, plastic-looking piece by the name of Annette. She had looked like a Barbie doll, all big blue eyes, big round boobs and blonde hair and she had been one of the most brutal bitches I’d ever encountered in my life. And I’ve encountered more than my share.
Annette had ruled over the cat clan in East Orlando and the entire southern region with a tiny, iron fist for more than a century, well before the non-human population had been forced to come out of the proverbial closet. She’d also been certifiably insane. A few months ago, she’d hired me to find her nephew after he’d gone missing. If I failed to find Doyle, she’d kill me—I found that out
the fact. One of the reasons I was trying to learn caution.
At the end of it all, I found Doyle. Annette ended up dead. And I ended up with Damon. It hadn’t turned out badly, I guess, but he was still doing clean up—a necessity, according to Damon.
Annette had been
. Batshit crazy, and cruel with it. Like often attracted like, so he was going through and making sure the crazy and cruel that had been left behind were handled.
He wouldn’t kill them unless he had to, but they would still need to be ousted from any positions of power in the clan, which tended to require thorough beatings to accomplish. Weres didn’t back down willingly. It took physical force.
Sometimes he came to me so battered, I barely recognized him. It only lasted for a few hours, thanks to the amazing biology of a were. The virus in his genes healed wounds that would kill humans—or a half-human like me—only slowed him down and minor things like cuts or scratches disappeared in seconds.
I heard another grunt come across the line. “This is a bad time. I’ll be quick.”
“Nah. Chang and Doyle are with me. We’re mostly done. This is the last of it and I’m letting Doyle handle it. He needs to get the shine off him.” There was another grunt, followed by a roar that hurt my ears even through the phone. “We’re just about done here. Only a few hours away. Have dinner with me tonight?”
“Can’t.” As I passed around the desk, I grabbed my sword and nudged the cooling unit with my foot. “I’m going to be out of town for a few days—courier thing to the Smokies. MacDonald with the wolves is paying me to deliver some heads.”
“Ah, gimme a second.”
I heard a roar—I recognized that one, a deep, barking sort of roar, unlike anything a lion or tiger would make. Damon’s creature was a leopard, a rare one, although very few realized just how rare he was. I knew. I had no idea if anybody else did. Chang might. But for all I knew, that was it.
A few seconds and one scream later, and he was back on the phone. “Did you just say you were delivering some
“Yes. Literally. Seventy-five hundred dollars to deliver two decapitated heads to a small pack in the Smokies.”
Silence stretched out, sharp as a blade and even over the phone line, I could feel his tension. Finally, he blew out a rough breath. “Don’t leave yet. I can’t go with you—I’m supposed to attend the next Assembly session, but I’m sending Chang with you. He can be there in two hours.”
Sighing, I glanced out the window. All the wolves were standing in line, waiting. Well, everybody but Megan. She was hauling a bag from the trunk of the Audi nearest my car. “I can’t wait. I told them I’d hit the road immediately.”
Another one of those taut, heavy silences. It grated on my nerves and I pushed my hand through my hair. The pale blonde mess fell back into my face and I made a mental note to get it cut. Not that I’d remember. “Damon, look…this is my
. I was doing it a long time before I met you, remember?” Then I made a face and shot a look out the window at Megan. “Besides, I’m not even going on my own. That son-of-a-bitch is sending a babysitter with me. One of his lieutenants is tagging along.”
“That isn’t precisely settling my mind,” he said, a growl edging into his voice.
I stroked my hand down the grip of my blade and turned away from the window. “I don’t have time for this. They’re out in the parking lot and my-shadow-cum-baby-sitter is smirking like this is all very amusing to her.”
Making a face at the phone, I said, “Yes. Her.”
“He’s sending Megan.”
“Yes.” Some of the tension had faded from his voice. I knew him well enough to figure out just what had caused at least some of the tension. My inner child lurks very close to the surface at times and she escaped my grasp before I could stop her. “I tried to get him to send that big piece of meat in a suit, but I don’t think he likes me.”
“Piece of meat?”
“Yeah.” Rocking back on my heels, I stared at the wolf in question and smiled. “I think he’d like to be you, but he’s not doing a good job of it. Still, I thought he’d make interesting conversation—”
“Kit. Are you trying to make me kill somebody?”
I laughed. “No. If I wanted to do that, I’d discuss something other than his conversation skills.” I glanced around my office one more time. There were still weapons on the wall I’d love to take with me, but I wasn’t exactly going to face an army. It was just one small pack. “Damon, try to remember…
I can handle myself
. I’ve got a job to do, okay?”
“I know you can handle yourself,” he said, and that growl was back in his voice. “There’s just a very fucked-up pack in the mountains there. Didn’t he bother to inform you of that fact?”
I kicked the unit again. “I’ve lived in East Orlando for years. How much worse can that wolf pack be?” I asked. I didn’t bother mentioning the reason he was cleaning up was because of the crazy bitch
had killed. “Damon…I was taking care of myself for a long time before you came into my life, remember? My job isn’t exactly one where I teach school kids all day or work in a factory line. I deal with your kind on a regular basis. I haven’t died yet.”
“Damn it.” He bit the words off like he was trying to tear them apart. Then, finally, after another terse, heavy silence, he said, “Stay safe, baby girl.”
Ten seconds after I disconnected, there was a polite knock at the door. Polite…these wolves did everything so politely.
“Come on in.”
Megan came inside, duffel bag in hand. “May I use your restroom? I need to change.”
* * * * *
Well…one thing about this job, the
The rental car was a sleek, sexy little Roadster, a classic made back sometime around 2015 or so. It clung to the road like a lover and I kind of wanted to cry when I thought about giving her up. The cooling unit was tucked away out of sight and I could almost pretend I was just out for a nice, long, solo drive.
As long as I didn’t look in the rearview mirror.
Megan was trailing behind me, perched on a wicked-ass motorcycle, clad in leathers from head to toe.
She hadn’t been more than twenty feet away from me this entire trip, not when we stopped to eat, not when we decided to stop for the night. If I’d gotten out of Orlando earlier in the day, we could have made it through South Carolina sooner, but it wasn’t going to happen.
Once it got close to twilight, I decided to stop because of the threat of vamps.
Megan had deemed that a wise move.
I was so happy to have impressed her.
Seriously, everybody seemed to think I was completely reckless but I’m
I wasn’t exactly familiar with the problems going on in the mountains in Tennessee, and I’d even taken some time to check, making some calls as I drove. I didn’t get a whole lot of solid information—that was weird. I put in a call to Banner—Bureau of American Non-Human Affairs . Banner is the government’s answer to dealing with NH affairs when they weren’t happy with how things were going.
If anybody should have info on the Smoky Mountain pack, it was Banner.
But my normal contact wasn’t available and my other one wasn’t particularly forthcoming.
Weird. Okay, so I left a message with the one man I knew would get back to me and tried to piece things around in my head, but there was only so much you could do with next to no pieces.
One thing I was familiar with…South Carolina. Vamp infestation from
. The US government had a mandatory curfew, one that had been in place and would remain in place indefinitely since nobody was having luck curbing the vamp problem. I’d heard rumors the government was considering a tactical strike that would wipe out most of the state if they couldn’t clean the area up soon.
It was safe enough during daylight hours and many of the humans had already left, but it was still not the most ideal place to be. Getting inside the state border wasn’t much more difficult than it would be to go to oh…say…Canada. ID, explanation of business and other assorted shit.
The older vamps claimed they were doing what they could to bring the problem under control but there was no way I was driving through South Carolina at night to deliver a couple of heads. The damn things could stay on ice for a little while longer. They weren’t getting any deader, right?
The plan was to be up early and on the road as soon I had my brain alert enough to drive. Although she hadn’t said anything, I was pretty damn aware of the fact that my escort, and her pack, wanted this job
. So by all means…I was going to get it done.