Authors: J. C. Daniels
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Vampires, #Tagline… A knife in the dark
Blows hard enough to rattle the reinforced door in its frame and have my head begging for mercy.
Emerging from the stupor of a healing tonic left one feeling a little hungover for a few minutes.
I just needed some coffee and I’d be fine.
But the idiot at my door wasn’t going to give me five minutes.
Grumbling, I climbed out of bed. I had on yoga pants and a tank top. I used to sleep in a lot less, but my life has been…interesting lately and I’m dragged out of my bed too often. Better to just have something on already.
As I headed to the door, I flexed my hand and smiled. Good as new.
A glance out the peephole wiped the smile from my face.
Not somebody I wanted to see.
Sighing, I tipped my head back to the sky.
“Open the damn door,” Doyle Channing snapped.
Doyle. The reason Damon and I were together. Four months ago, Damon had come to me to help find the kid after he’d run away. The kid had ended up caught in an awful mess—humans had decided to make up their own hunting game, with non-human kids as the prey.
I’d tracked him down, with Damon an ever-present shadow.
Doyle had been the previous Alpha’s nephew, but Damon was the one who raised him. Damon was the one who loved him. Because of that, I tried to tolerate the kid.
Even though he hated me.
I wasn’t entirely fond of him myself. He’d freaked me out from the moment I met him. He reminded me of somebody from my past, and he looked at me like I was food. I could handle that. But each time he saw me, he made it clear that he loathed the very air I breathed and it’s hard to live with that kind of apathy without letting it affect you.
Pasting a bright smile on myself, I opened the door. “Hiya, Doyle. Lovely morning, yes?”
“Sure. Some of us actually have a
, though, and can’t spend it sleeping.” He glared at me, making it clear that he’d rather be doing said job—whatever it was he did for Damon. “Why in the hell aren’t you answering your phone? He’s been calling.”
I scowled and looked around, not even sure where the damn thing was.
Doyle made a move to come inside but the wards pricked at him.
He hissed under his breath and I smiled at him. “Felt that, did you? I’d think you’d remember after last time.”
Wards were expensive as hell but they helped. After I’d helped bring Doyle home, I’d used ten thousand dollars to bolster up the protections around my house and office. The one pricking at him now would feel like ants eating at his skin. It wouldn’t
him. The stronger ones were laid on my bedroom, with the strongest in my bathroom. This was just a warning.
One he ignored. His eyes gleamed a wild blue as he pushed through. I saw stripes dancing just under his skin before fading away. The mantle of his energy hovered above him like a giant cat stalking in a circle before settling back down.
Sighing, I planted my hands on my hips. “Why did you do that?”
“That won’t keep anything out.”
to,” I said. “It’s just a warning. And a distraction. And I didn’t invite you in, jackass.”
He smirked. “I’m not a vampire. I don’t
Sometimes I really disliked this kid.
“Why haven’t you called him? He’s worried. Didn’t you hear me?”
“Yes, I heard you,” I said, turning away from him and searching the living room. Colleen had been in here when I got home, so…ah-ha. There was my vest. I grabbed it and found my phone in the front pocket. “Dead battery.”
I plugged it in and then went over to my landline. It was an old-fashioned thing, but I sort of liked old-fashioned things. They didn’t fail you when hurricanes came blasting or when you forgot to charge your phone. Old-fashioned was
Numerous calls had gone to voicemail. I hit the button as listened to the first few. I felt the smile spreading across my face and kept my head tucked so the pain-in-the-ass kid wouldn’t see it while I listened to Damon’s voice.
By the fifth message, though, my man was getting a little cranky.
“Call me, damn it,” he snarled.
“Good grief.” I grabbed the phone and punched in his number, waited.
I didn’t wait more than three seconds.
“Where in the hell have you been?”
“Sleeping.” I flexed my hand again and studied it. It wasn’t sore. That was good. The headache was fading, too.
“You couldn’t answer the damn phone?”
Sighing, I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I did something sort of stupid and Colleen had to give me a healing tonic. I didn’t hear the phone.”
Finally, in a low, flat voice, Damon said, “What did you do?”
“I hit that wolf bitch Megan in the face and broke my hand. The bones were knitting together by the time I got here and I need my hands. Colleen had to rebreak the bones.”
I heard something thud. I think he might have been hitting his head on something.
“Are you banging your head on the wall?”
“No. My fist. Why did you hit Megan?”
I picked up a pen and absently started to sketch on the notepad I kept by the phone. “You ever met any of the wolves that live around Gatlinburg?”
“No. I recall telling you they were fucked up. I’d rather not meet the sick bastards…unless I need to kill them.”
“They are sick, but no. You don’t need to kill them,” I said quietly. “Remember my friend, TJ?”
The thudding on the other end of the line stopped. “Yes.”
“I think I met her Alpha. Megan, precious little sweetheart that she is, told me that none of the other wolf packs are going to do anything about him as long as he stays on his mountain. He can keep on torturing the people under his care…after all, they
stupid enough to stay,” I said flatly. The sword I’d doodled on the piece of paper didn’t look quite right. I wanted a new one. Not to replace mine, but a shorter blade, an extra one. Scratching it out, I started over. “She tells me this, so I hit her. End of story.”
I tried a different guard. “And that question is…?”
“Did she touch you?”
I narrowed my eyes as the design of the blade started to settle in my head. “That’s not entirely fair, you know. I
“I don’t give a fuck if it’s fair. Did she touch you?”
“No. I think she was thinking about it. I pulled a blade, told her we could go a round, but we had an audience and I guess she saw the wisdom of not doing that.” There was no reason for him to know anything more, really. I’d handled it. “She walked away. It’s done.”
He was quiet for a moment and then said, “Dinner tonight. I’m cooking.”
I ran my tongue over my teeth. “How about we go out instead?” If he came over, we’d just end up in bed within five minutes and I’d probably have to listen to him snarl at me for thirty minutes afterward. At least if we went out, maybe we could actually
and he’d calm down a little first.
“Come on.” I gave the blade a critical study. I usually went for more of a rapier-style than the leaf-blade, but that wasn’t fitting what I had in mind this time. It was finally starting to take form—I could almost see it coming together, too. Might see if somebody could do the sword for me, if I could get it right. “We haven’t gone out in a while.”
“Fine,” he muttered. “Just at Drake’s, though. Got it?”
“That works.” Drake’s was the only place that
work, really. It was a local shapeshifter hangout, a place that served good food, and lots of it. Plus, Drake let me keep my sword. Everybody else made me take it off. I hated that.
“Eight o’clock,” Damon told me.
“Yes, sir, Cap-i-tan.”
“See you, baby girl.” His voice dropped to a smoky drawl and I found myself grinning again. I didn’t notice that Doyle was watching me until I went to hang up the phone.
“You know, if she’d hit you, Damon would be cleaning up a mess
caused, all because you’re a fucking idiot,” Doyle snapped.
“Oh, bite me.” I shoved away from the counter and then stopped, glaring at the sword he held. “Put my blade up.”
It was one of the practice blades I’d picked up for Damon. He had said something about learning how and I’d thought he was teasing, but then he said it again and I realized he was serious. He’d never be a swordsman, but he had fun with it and it gave me an opponent.
Doyle swung the blade around, smirking at me. “Why…afraid I’ll hurt you?”
“Kid, that’s a practice blade. You’re more likely to hurt yourself, but that doesn’t mean I want you touching my weapons,” I replied.
“I think you’re scared.” A light glinted in his eyes. “You still smell like meat to me. I think you’re scared I can carve you up…just
Narrowing my eyes at him, I said, “Meat, huh?”
He continued to watch me, a hint of that arrogant laughter dancing in his eyes.
I nodded. “Tell you what. I’ll give you a chance to do just that. Give me five minutes.” I left him alone in my living room as I headed into my bedroom to change.
* * * * *
Shapeshifters are fast.
Sometimes it makes them stupid.
That’s why I do okay with them.
They never think that sword of mine is going to help me out much, because they are bigger, stronger, and scarier.
But I’m trained and I spent the first fifteen years of my life being tortured by somebody just as scary as any shapeshifter.
After I’d changed into clothes more fitting for a dance across the mats, I led Doyle into my gym. “You think you can carve me up, do you, Doyle?”
“Oh, I know I can.” He continued to spin the sword and I was a little surprised to see he had some grace with it.
But it wasn’t skill.
He didn’t hold the sword right. And he’d already made the worst mistake possible. He did the same thing everybody else did. He’d underestimated me.
“Alright. I’m going to give you a chance to prove it.”
He laughed. “Nice try. But there’s no way I’m going to,” he said, shaking his head. “Damon’s having too much fun fucking you for now and if I laid a hand on you, he’d kick my ass.” He winked at me and then added, “I’ll wait until he’s done playing with you.”
I can’t deny that.
Yeah, I know most people think he’s just toying with me and I know I’m still not entirely certain what we have going on with us, but it’s not
. There’s something between us that I can’t describe and it’s so exhausting having people ignore it, insult it…
Pushing it aside, I nodded. “Damon would definitely kick your ass if you harmed me. But this isn’t about harm. I always need a good opponent. Not that you will be, but I’ll give you a chance. Tell you what…if you can get in a shot, I’ll owe you a favor.”
“A favor?” His lip curled. “What in the hell can
do for me?”
I stared at him. “Kid, did you forget who
“No.” His eyes flashed. “Damon did.”
I started my warm-up, watching him steadily. “Did he? He tell you that or did you just guess?”
“You sure as hell couldn’t.”
“If you say so. Okay. Maybe you don’t want a favor from me. But look at this way. You hate my guts…you’ll have the memory of humiliating me. A trained swordswoman, beaten down by an idiot kid just barely out of puberty.” I smirked at him.
That goaded him into it.
He came at me with a snarl.
I waited until the last second and glided out of his way, tripping him so he hit the floor with a thud.
I was already on the other side of the room when he regained his feet.
“Never let your opponent get you angry,” I warned him. “First lesson.”
* * * * *
I would give him credit.
He had a rough, natural talent that was unexpected.
But he had absolutely no training.
Twenty minutes later, I’d disarmed him four times and he was bloodied in more than a dozen places.
But to my surprise, he was smiling when I finally said, “That’s enough.”
“Hey, I’m just now getting warmed up.”
As he circled around, I shook my head. “That’s lovely, Doyle, but I’m done. I have to get the office.”
There was an odd look in his eyes, one that almost looked like pleasure and I don’t think it was just because he came
close to disarming me.
I grunted under the impact of his attack and just barely managed to get around him that time. He really wasn’t half bad. Too bad he hated my guts. I could get him up to speed and have a decent opponent for the first time in forever, but it was dangerous to teach what I knew to somebody who despised me.
When he came for me again, I threw the practice blade down and called my real blade.
Light danced off the silver of her surface as I said quietly, “Doyle. I have to go to work. We went for twenty minutes and I’m done.”
He stopped, staring at the silver between us for a long moment and then glaring at me. “What the fuck? We were having fun!”
? Well. Yeah. It sort of had been. And it didn’t matter. “I have a job to get to.”
He acted like he was going to hurl the practice blade down and then he stopped, sighed. Held it out to me, hilt first. “I…” he snapped his jaw shut in a manner so like Damon I almost smiled. “Would you maybe let me do this again?”
“I don’t think so.”
He stared at me, anger so clearly written on that young face. “Why not?”
“Because you hate me, kid. You learn fast and you hate me. Why should I let you learn from me when I worry one day you’ll decide to take one of those skills and stick a blade in me?” I didn’t see the point in lying about it.
He growled a little, taking a step toward me. “I know what Damon would do to me.”
“That’s not enough. I wouldn’t teach anybody who doesn’t have some modicum of respect for
.” I gathered up the practice blades and stowed them away. “See yourself out, if you would.”