Authors: J. C. Daniels
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Vampires, #Tagline… A knife in the dark
* * * * *
The workout had done a damn good job of clearing the fog from my head. What little lingered was dealt with by a hot shower and a meal…and coffee. Lots of coffee could cure almost anything.
As I finished my second cup, I went to start sketching on the blade I’d been thinking about.
Except the paper was gone.
I stopped and swore, staring at the note scrawled on the blank page.
Thanks for the match
I didn’t recognize the handwriting but there wasn’t anybody it could be other than Doyle. I flipped the notepad over, searching for the sketch of my blade, but it wasn’t on the other sheets, either.
The little jerk had taken off with it. My next blade.
I should have made him bleed.
* * * * *
It was too late in the day to get much done by the time I got in. A sealed envelope had been pushed under the door.
It bore the mark of the local wolf pack.
Inside was a lovely check for the agreed-upon amount, as well as a nice little flowery note of thanks that I didn’t bother to read. I was tempted to call MacDonald and tell him he owed me double, but I didn’t. After stowing the check in my bag, I dealt with all the calls I’d had come in, some paperwork and made sure I took care finalizing this last task with the Assembly.
I’d bluffed a little when I told them they were expecting me to check in.
Yeah, if somebody noticed I was missing, they might go looking for me, but they didn’t operate on a timetable.
The people who’d come looking for me would be Damon and Colleen. I thought of TJ and my heart ached. She wouldn’t look for me, not in the Smokies, but if she knew, she’d send some of her people out.
A mean smile curved my lips as I thought of Goliath tearing up that mountain if he knew who hid there.
I thought maybe I’d pay him a visit. The two of us had a spent many, many nights wondering just who had done that to TJ. Now I knew. Maybe we should go after him together.
It was a thought to ponder.
I didn’t want the helpless people who wanted to escape to be slaughtered. But the monsters needed to go. Goliath was a very good monster killer. I’d seen him do it.
Sighing, I brushed the thoughts aside. They were something I’d have to consider long and hard before I committed to them.
Focusing on the next message, I tried to will my mind blank.
A familiar voice rolled out of the machine and my heart stopped for one very brief second. It was only a second. Really.
I closed my eyes.
Justin Greaves. He was the one partner—in
life—who could make me sweat when it came to swordplay—actual swords.
And…until Damon, there wasn’t a man alive who had ever made my heart race but Justin had come close. He’d been the one who made me realize sex wasn’t a bad thing and that had taken some doing.
I heard something crack and I looked down, realized I’d broken my pencil.
“Dunno where you are or when you’ll get this message, but I need to talk to you. I have a job for you and you kind of have to take it.”
I made a face. Justin was a Banner cop now. He was the Banner contact I’d reached out to the other day…apparently we’d been trading calls. I kept meaning get the upgrade that would connect the line here to my cell, but I hadn’t done it yet. I’d think about it when I didn’t have the money, and when I did…well. Other things came up.
Why was a Banner cop calling
? Why was
Banner had seduced him with the promises of
You get to kill things
we’ll give you lots of weapons
. He liked weapons almost as much as I did. And he liked killing things…well, when they needed killing. Justin was like a loaded gun, a good weapon and he was most efficient when he had a target.
“Call me, set up a time, Kitty-kitty. Don’t make me track you down, okay? You really do have to take this job…trust me.”
I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck.
Trust him. That was a problem. I did trust Justin. There weren’t a lot of people I was willing to say that about but he was definitely one of them.
The message ended and I sat there, staring at nothing.
I trusted him, but I sure as hell didn’t want to take any job that he might have to offer.
Jobs and Justin meant one thing: a connection to the Banner unit. The Banner units were exterminators. Non-human exterminators. Banner cops, slang for the Bureau of American Non-Human Affairs—were basically men and women like Justin, highly skilled, very deadly people who went out and eliminated the NHs who had been deemed too deadly to live. Generally, they didn’t get to play much because us non-humans patrolled our own. That was the job of the packs, the clans, the order of witches and the Assembly in general. But sometimes there were those who slipped past the ever-watchful eyes of the Assembly.
Sometimes there were those the Assembly turned a blind eye
and the Banner cops stepped up to the plate.
If Justin was calling me, it was entirely likely that he wanted my help in tracking somebody down.
Damn it all to hell.
I excel at ignoring certain things.
Justin wouldn’t be ignored for long, but I could damn well put him off for one day and that was exactly what I did.
I had to get to the bank. Two checks from two different jobs, just waiting to be cashed.
And besides…I had a
. Since I had some money that didn’t immediately have to be poured into fixing or strengthening my wards, I did something I never did. I went and bought a new outfit.
Nothing fancy because I still needed to be able to move, especially since I was meeting Damon at Drake’s. Walking into a shapeshifter hangout looking like a sex kitten wasn’t going to do me any good, because then I’d be nervous and I’d freak myself out…yeah, not going there.
But a new top, the same shade of gray as Damon’s eyes, new jeans. I could do that. I saw a pair boots that I found myself coveting, but I wasn’t about to do that today. New boots required breaking in. No, thanks. I did give in and buy a shiny, sparkling pair of earrings that fell in silvery threads almost to my shoulders. Not real silver. It wouldn’t bother Damon unless it got jabbed into his flesh, but it was the thought that counted.
I would have liked to gone home and changed, showered, but I was on avoidance mode. That meant no going home. Justin knew where I lived. Instead, I changed in one of the ladies’ changing rooms after I’d bought the clothes.
I managed to kill time until a little after seven and then I headed out, doing a quick glance around the parking lot on my way to the car. No sign of Justin, his bike, or one of the infamous Banner cars.
So far, so good.
The drive to Drake’s took thirty minutes and I was twenty minutes early. Didn’t matter. I’d go inside and wait for Damon in there, because I figure the last thing Justin was going to do was walk into that bar looking for me, even if he did track me down.
I’d just pushed the door open when I heard the roar of a motorcycle engine. I grimaced but didn’t look back. Justin. He’d tracked me down, alright. I felt the weight of his gaze slam into my back but I just kept walking.
I’d call him in the morning.
If it was
important, he would have called again, right?
He hadn’t. So it could wait.
* * * * *
I went from the frying pan into the fire, it seemed, as I crossed over that threshold. Justin Greaves looking for me and now a good forty shifters staring at me.
Almost immediately, they all looked away.
The only exception was a slim man of almost ridiculous beauty.
He had black hair done in a queue, pulled back from his face. His skin was pale gold, his eyes liquid black and he was even more insanely polite than the wolves.
In the past few months, I’d also learned that Chang was one of Damon’s friends. A close one, too.
Sometimes I liked him.
I never trusted him.
“Chang.” I shifted my grip on my sword. I wasn’t wearing her. The sheath would look damned weird considering I’d attempted to look somewhat girly tonight. If Damon wasn’t coming…
A faint smile tugged at Chang’s lips. “He’s on his way. He just asked if I would come in case you arrived early.”
“Great.” I sighed and rubbed my brow. “Because we all know I’d can’t handle myself, right?”
“Nobody said that,” Chang said. He gestured toward the back, courteously reaching for my elbow. My left one, of course, keeping away from my sword arm. Chang was all about being nice. “Would you like to sit?”
I shrugged away from him. “No. I want a drink.”
Ever wise, Chang didn’t offer to get it for me and returned to his seat.
After I’d gotten a beer, I made my way through the crowd and settled down in the one open booth, keeping my sword on the table. Nobody spoke to me. Nobody looked at me.
The noise level in the bar was conspicuously much quieter than it had been earlier, too.
Way to kill people’s fun, Kit
, I thought sourly.
I was five seconds away from sending Damon a message, calling the thing off when the door blew open and two rednecks came stumbling in.
Stumbling against each other, snorting and laughing. One of them was almost as big as Goliath, a friend of mine from way, way back. Goliath didn’t come by his name lightly. This guy, though, unlike Goliath, had a vague look in his eyes.
Some village has misplaced their idiot
Big, strong, dumb. And a shapeshifter. Something isn’t right with the world when you put that much strength and power in a body that wouldn’t have the sense to control it.
But the other one was worse.
His gaze bounced around the bar and immediately locked on me.
I studied them as they made their way over to me. They weren’t wolf or cat. And the nervous energy hovering over them made my skin crawl in a way I recognized too well. Rats.
I hated rats. Hated them with a passion.
The big guy’s eyes were getting beady every now and then, too. Going to lose it in here?
Oh, yes. This wasn’t good.
They came to a stumbling halt in front of me.
Behind them, I saw Chang rising from his chair.
I narrowed my eyes at him.
He cocked a slim black brow and folded his arms over his chest.
“Since when does a shifter bar serve meat…you’re supposed to be
the menu,” the skinny one said. “Not having food served to you.”
“Oh, trust me. Nobody here wants to take a bite out of me.” I tapped my nails on the table, keeping my hand away from my blade. “I’m too stringy.”
“You’d be good enough for me.” He bent down and peered at me. “Get up. Get out. You’re in shifter territory which means if you get fucked over, it’s your own damned fault.”
When I didn’t move, he did. I don’t know if he was going to grab me or hit me nor did I really care.
Shoving the booth back from the table, I jumped into a crouch and landed on the seat, hand gripping my sword. Three men had eased forward, surrounding him. The man seemed to think they wanted to play. “There’s not enough for everybody, boys,” he said, laughing.
“Chang?” one of them said.
“She can have him if she wants him.”
One gaped at Chang.
The second just shoved the skinny rat at me.
Others took the big bastard down.
I wasn’t paying too much attention, though, because the fucker coming at me had decided to change his skin and there was nothing less attractive than a wererat in the nude.
Muscles bulged in places they shouldn’t and his legs were all out of proportion. He shouldn’t be able to move well, if life and science were fair, but he could. As he came at me with a screaming sort of hiss, I held steady until the very last second and then moved, using his momentum against him as I spun and moved. I buried my sword deep, deep into the cavity of his chest.
I shoved forward with all the strength I had in me as I did so, riding him down.
He wasn’t strong and his body had frozen as he took the silver of my blade into him. Now I was crouched on top of that misshapen body, smelling the way the silver burnt him, the stink of it in my nostrils while his body trembled and writhed under mine.
“Now. Who were you calling meat?”
The other one was roaring pitifully. From the corner of my eye, I saw him, struggling under the weight of four bodies and staring at us.
“Get the fuck off of me!” the rat beneath me wailed.
I was pondering just how to answer that when the door opened and I felt the blast of heat rolling over me.
“You know, here’s the problem,” I said, leaning on my blade and staring down into his eyes. “One…you’re on neutral ground. Drake’s is very, very neutral and you attacked me for no reason. Two…I’m not human.”
I smiled at him. “My dad was…but my mother wasn’t.”
I could feel that heat spreading over me now and despite the insanity of the situation, my body was ready to jump up and down, all but giddy with pleasure. Damon was just a few feet away. I couldn’t hear him, I hadn’t seen him, but I could
“Since my mom wasn’t
, that means under the ANH charter, I’m not recognized as such.” I continued to watch the nerves bleeding into the man’s eyes. “Never mind the fact that if you hunt humans on neutral ground in East Orlando, you’re fucked. We hunt your kind down and eat you for breakfast here.”
“I want the fucking Alpha,” he snarled. “Where’s the Lady?”
I laughed. “Oh, that’s funny. You’re a fucking rat and you want to throw yourself on the mercy of the cat’s Alpha?”
“There’s no pack here! We have to align with somebody and you can’t deny me that right. That’s in the fucking charter,” he said and then he whimpered as I twisted my blade.
“Well, that brings us to the third problem…and really, it’s your biggest. If you’re smart, you’ll just move around until the silver in my sword shreds your heart,” I said.