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Martinis with the Devil, Part One

Martinis

with the

Devil

Zyan Star Book One, Part One

A.A. Chamberlynn

Copyright © 2015 by A.A. Chamberlynn

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

For information contact A.A. Chamberlynn at www.alexiachamberlynn.com

Cover design by Novak Illustration.

Contents

CHAPTER ONE 5

CHAPTER TWO 11

CHAPTER THREE 23

CHAPTER FOUR 31

CHAPTER FIVE 42

CHAPTER SIX 51

CHAPTER SEVEN 61

CHAPTER EIGHT 80

CHAPTER NINE 92

CHAPTER TEN 103

Chapter Eleven 115

Chapter Twelve 127

Chapter Thirteen 134

Chapter Fourteen 144

Chapter Fifteen 156

Chapter Sixteen 166

For Gareth

Dreamer, Mischief Maker, Co-Conspirator

[] CHAPTER ONE

I had just slammed back a cocktail and was happily contemplating my eternal damnation when the angel walked into my bar. Solid muscle, like all the warriors, and with that same self-satisfied, holier-than-thou attitude. It was the set of the jaw. Gave ‘em away every time. He paused just inside the door, scanning the patrons to the right and left of him. After a moment, satisfied his glamour concealed him, he headed in my direction.

The bar was packed, and no one but me seemed to notice that one of Heaven’s own had just joined the party. I poured a bubbling green concoction into a martini glass and slid it down the counter to a customer as the angel leaned against the black marble of the circular bar. He hooked me in an intense gaze and parted perfect coral-colored lips to speak.

I flashed him my highest-beam smile. “What’ll it be, Wings? Can I interest you in a Wild Stallion cocktail? Real unicorn pheromones.”

His smug expression fell and a scowl replaced it. “No thanks. I’m looking for Zyan Star.” His cold tone brought to mind dark, celestial skies, and my name sounded very formal coming off his tongue.

“Not a lot of heaven’s errand boys come looking for me. I’m not on the big guy’s naughty list again, am I?”

“You’re Ms. Star?” He leaned forward even more, arms crossed over his chest, bulging against his gray t-shirt. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my fellow bartenders Riley and Quinn staring at him.

I nodded and pushed a strand of burgundy hair behind my ear. “So, what brings a pretty boy like you to Noir? Somehow I don’t think it’s just because you decided to take a walk on the wicked side and mingle with the commoners.”

He tensed, standing up extra straight. “I’m here on official business for the Holy Representative of Northwest America.” His milky white skin seemed to glow as he said it.

“Uh-huh. And?”

“Is there somewhere private we can talk?”

I made a sweeping gesture at the room around us, just one big space with the bar dead center. Floor to ceiling windows revealing a star-streaked night formed the perimeter, and the only two exits were the sky door, and the elevator for supernaturals without wings. Not to mention we were a hundred stories up. “Not so much. And I’m a bit busy as you can see.”

The angel frowned. “The HR wants to hire you for a job.” He enunciated each word as it came out, as if I wouldn’t understand him.

Which actually, I didn’t. “Come again, Wings?”

“My name is Eli,” he said, with a very angelic glower.

“Of course it is,” I crooned. “So, Eli, I kind of thought I just heard you say that the Holy Representative, that is, the direct ambassador between Heaven and Earth, God’s right hand man, all that’s pure and holy, etc., wants me, an eternally damned soul sucker who’s technically within the Devil’s jurisdiction, to work for him. Did I hear that right? Or did that extra shot of pixie dust in my cocktail push me off the far edge of crazy?” I tapped my Twizzler-red fingernails on the bar.

A muscle in his jaw twitched. “The HR wants you to join his security team. Temporarily.”

You know, when you’ve lived over two and a half centuries, not a lot surprises you. But this was so surprising as to borderline on hilarious. “Is this a joke? Are angels allowed to do that?”

“Of course we can. But it’s not a joke.” His tone tightened.

“Right.” I rolled my eyes to emphasize how ridiculous all of this was. Like my dripping sarcasm needed any help. “Really though, when he’s got a team full of devoted angels that are a hundred times stronger than the whole NFL on steroids, why would he need me?”

Something moved across Eli’s face that almost looked like fear. He leaned in and gestured for me to do the same. I sighed and cast a quick sound bubble spell to keep our conversation private. We were so close I could feel the warmth coming off his cheek as he spoke in my ear. He was obnoxious, but man did he smell amazing. Like sunshine and sage.

“There’s been a threat on the HR’s life.” His words vibrated in my ear, tickling my skin.

“He gets death threats every day,” I countered.

“This one was different.” He hesitated. “Whoever’s behind it has hired a vamp assassin.”

I pulled back a little and looked him in the eyes. “Again, with a legion of angels, I don’t see why this is a big deal. You guys are pretty evenly matched against vamps one to one, let alone a thousand to one.”

“This vamp’s already broken through our defenses twice. We don’t know how he’s doing it, and your reputation as a bounty hunter is unparalleled. We figured with your skillset, you could help us protect the HR and figure out who’s behind this.”

I stared into his lavender eyes long enough for him to think I was considering his offer. “Sorry, but I’m a bartender and a bounty hunter, not a babysitter. Not to mention I hate religious politics.” I pushed myself back from the counter.

“Okay, then.” If I’d thought his tone sounded formal before, it was nothing compared to how he sounded now. His feathers looked a bit ruffled though, and I suppressed a laugh.

“Sure you don’t want that drink now? I can make it taste like ambrosia or flower petals or whatever the hell you angels like to drink.” I smiled again, which seemed to rub him the wrong way.

“No thanks.” He gave me one last flash of those pale eyes before striding to the sky door and disappearing into the night.

Riley was on me in less than a second, Quinn a couple moments later. In fairness though, Riley had the advantage of werewolf super-speed, and Quinn was just a plain old witch.

“What was that all about, and more importantly, who the hell was that fine piece of flesh?” Riley’s brown eyes gleamed.

“Who in heaven, actually. HR security,” I added. “The HR wants me to work a security detail. Not a big deal.”

“How is that not a big deal?” Quinn asked.

“Because I turned him down. End of story.” They both kept staring at me, but over at the other side of the bar I heard some impatient calls. “We can talk more back at the apartment. Thirsty customers await.”

Quinn opened her mouth to argue, but then just sighed and strode off towards the customers. Riley crossed his arms over his chest and stomped off. Working with your best friends sucks sometimes.

I turned around and looked out at the city skyline, winking and glittering before me like an undulating dragon. To the north, a pale moon rose up over the Space Needle. In the opposite direction, the newly constructed Angel Tower rose two hundred and twenty-two stories into the sky over downtown Seattle, a tribute to the HR and the angelic forces. Here and there I saw the sparkle of a hover craft zipping through the sky. I took in a deep breath and let it out. It was my Zen moment.

One of my regulars exited the elevator. A red light flashed across the small metallic bar mounted over the doors, as it scanned and sent his unique DNA signature to the government supercomputers that watched for another non-human population explosion like the one at the beginning of Evo. Not that anyone needed a scanner to tell them this seven foot tall beet-red man was non-human.

He leaned up against the bar. “Hey, Zy. Can I get a Demon’s Milk?”

“Sure, Ripper.” I reached for an orange bottle and began pouring the milk into a shot glass. “How’s the night treating you?”

“Great. But some annoying angel downstairs is about to get his ass kicked by a bunch of demon spawn.”

“Well, that could make a nasty mess.” I didn’t need demon spawn skulking around my building. Grabbing my katana from under the bar, I slid it into the sheath on my back. “Hey, I’ll be right back,” I called to Quinn and Riley.

I walked to the sky door and yanked it open. The night air slid across my skin. I looked out over the city again, quiet and peaceful, and then I jumped.

[] CHAPTER TWO

Keeping my arms to my sides and my legs straight, I cut through the air like a blade. Inky night whooshed past me as I fell. The pavement rose to meet me. I landed in a low crouch just a few feet from Wings and the troublemakers, and as I straightened I reached over my shoulder and pulled out my katana. It whistled as it left its sheath and shone hungrily in the streetlights.

“What’s happening, boys?” I purred.

The spawn turned to look at me with their orange goat eyes. They were ugly little buggers, similar in appearance to goblins, but with tiny wings on their backs. Five of them stood between me and Eli, whose arms were folded neatly over his chest, the veins popping out along his skin.

“None of your concern,” croaked the largest one, who stood only five feet tall, almost a foot shorter than me.

I smiled. “Actually this is very much my concern, as this fine gentlemen is a patron of my bar. I don’t appreciate my customers being harassed.”

“I didn’t buy anything,” Eli said.

I rolled my eyes. Gotta love the appreciation. “Be that as it may, I’m here now, and I’m not about to let a bunch of underworld offspring lurk around my establishment.” I pinned my hazel eyes on the leader. “That’s me asking nicely. I’ll only do it once.”

A slight twitch of a muscle was the only warning the first one gave before launching himself at my face. I brought my blade up before me and watched as his body sliced in half from forehead to groin. Two pieces of black flesh fell to the ground and sizzled into ash.

“Next?”

Two more of the spawn leaped towards me, and the other two at Eli. My sword blurred silver in the night, decapitating the first and taking the arms off the second. Eli dispatched his with a blast of white energy. They poofed into the air, little gray clouds that floated off into the sky.

I leaned down over the armless spawn, who grinned at me like a mental patient. “What’s so funny about bleeding out while your appendages lay beside you?” The tip of my sword pointed under his chin.

“You can’t stop it,” he laughed. His green blood oozed onto the pavement.

“Stop what?” Eli commanded.

“He’s coming. He’s coming! And then we will roam freely.” His smile widened, then he abruptly threw his weight forward, piercing his neck on the blade. “You can’t stop it,” he gurgled through his own blood. A moment later he dissolved into ash.

“What a drama queen,” I muttered.

Eli watched me, his eyes unguarded for just a moment before he lapsed back into what seemed his usual scowl. “That sword’s an interesting choice. Not a fan of hand-to-hand combat?”

“And ruin my nails? Don’t think so.”

“Why’d you even come down here? Did you seriously think I couldn’t handle five tiny demon spawn?”

“My turf, my business. Like I said earlier, I didn’t need them hanging around here anyways.” I ran a wash of magic over my blade to clean it and then caught sight of my boots. “Oh, God damn it!”

“Would you watch your mouth?” Eli snapped. “What’s wrong?”

“Look at my boots!” I lifted one off the ground and pointed my toe so he could see all the green gooey blood soaked into the black leather. “Now I’m gonna have to throw them away.”

“You just fought off a pack of demon spawn that spouted cryptic doomsday messages and all you can think about is your boots?” His voice was hard. Like his abs. Not that I’d been looking while we were in the middle of a battle.

“Come on, you didn’t take that guy seriously, did you?”

Eli’s jaw tightened. “It is my duty to take threats to the sovereignty of humankind very seriously.”

I laughed. “Well, you have fun with that.”

“You know, some of us actually have unselfish reasons for our existence. I’m sorry it isn’t as glamorous as your life.” He lifted his chin, golden hair falling against his jaw line.

“Yes, you should be.” I turned and strode away, leaving him on the street. “Oh, and by the way, you’re welcome,” I called over my shoulder.

The hand of the clock on my bedroom wall was creeping towards three when I awoke the next afternoon. A fuzzy beast lay in bed next to me. My German Shepherd, Malakai. I ruffled her between the ears before stumbling to the window and opening the blinds a crack. Typical overcast Seattle weather. A block away, I could see the building that Noir was in. After pulling on a silk bath robe, I headed out to the kitchen, mumbling greetings to Quinn, who was bottling potions at the coffee table.

I poured my usual bowl of Fruit Loops before sitting down at a bar stool. It didn’t do anything to nourish me, but I liked the taste of them. I wouldn’t need another soul for a few days. Thankfully a couple of those a month kept me alive, and I could find enough rapists and murderers to keep my conscience clean. Though how I’d managed to cling to any morals at all with the immortal upbringing I’d had was still a mystery to me.

My first spoonful was on its way to my mouth when someone knocked on the door.

“Can you get that?” Quinn asked. She had pink goo all over her hands.

I strolled to the door, swung it open and eyed my visitors with a wide grin. “Good afternoon, boys.” I leaned against the frame in my bathrobe. “What can I do for you?”

Two teenaged boys stood before me, one tall and pimply, the other stocky and sporting carrot-colored curls. Both pairs of eyes widened to a size bigger than the bibles they held.

“G-good afternoon, m-miss. We’re here on behalf of the Pure Club to ask if y-you’ve embraced our Lord, Jesus Christ,” said Pimples. Sweat broke out on his brow.

I smiled my biggest smile. “I always wish I’d been born a little earlier so I could have known JC personally. I am a big fan.”

“S-so, do you attend a nearby c-church?” Carrot Curls asked.

“Oh, you are a cute one, aren’t you?” He paled, if one can get paler than bone. “No, can’t say that I’ve attended a service in, oh, two hundred years or so. But it’s so sweet of you to ask.”

Pimples stammered and continued on. I had to admire his dedication. “W-we’d love for you to visit our church. N-newcomers welcome.”

Since the forces of Heaven and Hell had revealed themselves to humanity, there had been an explosion in church attendance, so it surprised me they even bothered to go door-to-door anymore. “You said you’re with the Pure Club? That’s for those committed to staying human, hmm?” I looked back into the room at Quinn and smirked. “I’m afraid it’s a bit too late for us.” I batted my eyelashes. “But would you boys like to come in? I was just getting ready to eat, and I always love company for breakfast.” I giggled at my own lame pun.

The boys darted glances at each other, and Carrot Curls reached up to loosen his starched white collar. “P-perhaps we’ll just leave this bible with y-you, miss.” He stretched a shaky hand out.

“Oh, no thanks. It won’t really help with my problem, you know, eternal damnation and all. But thanks so much for stopping by.” I winked and closed the door.

“Why? Why do you never tire of it?” Quinn chastised, but a smile tickled the edge of her mouth.

“Oh, dearest Quinn, my devotion to torment them should be at least as strong as their devotion to bother people in their homes. Don’t you think?” I sunk back in my barstool, watching Quinn over the breakfast bar, and plunked a bite of cereal into my mouth.

“They’re just impassioned young people, doing what they think is right.” She poured a bright yellow liquid into a vial of purple bubbles. “They have to be very committed to even attempt their kind of work in Belltown.”

I snorted. Belltown, aka Helltown, Seattle’s most “suped” up neighborhood. “And that’s why I love you. You can forgive the burning of millions of witches throughout history at the hands of religion. Such a kind soul.” I leaned back and propped my feet up on the countertop.

“What are you two bickering about?” Riley shuffled through the room. He yawned and stretched, his cocoa skin rippling over his muscles.

“Bickering?” I asked with mock innocence. “What makes you think that?”

“Z’s just harassing the door-to-door Pure Clubbers again,” Quinn answered.

“You’d think they’d mark our house as a no-fly zone, you know?” He headed into the kitchen. “An Irish soul stealer, a witch, and a gay werewolf. We’re pretty much lost causes.”

“Don’t forget a vamp doggie,” I said, finishing off my cereal. I let out a low whistle and Malakai lumbered into the room, wagging her tail. “There’s mommy’s princess. You would have loved a nice teenaged snack, wouldn’t you?”

Quinn rolled her eyes.

“How about a nice juicy steak, instead, huh Malakai?” I put my cereal bowl in the sink and got out a raw prime rib for Malakai, which I dropped into her bowl. I scratched her behind the ears before rejoining Quinn and Riley on the sofa.

“That’s what you’re really going to Hell for, getting your old BFF to turn that dog immortal,” Quinn teased. “That would get the church all fired up for sure.”

“And PETA,” Riley chipped in.

“Screw you guys,” I said with a laugh. “You try going through eternity with everybody around you dying every two seconds. At least we didn’t make a vamp kid or something.”

“Sure, whatever,” Quinn said.

“I’m with Zy on the whole Pure Club thing, though—I hate those creeps,” Riley said. “I get that lots of people freaked after Evo, but that doesn’t give them the right to hunt supes down like animals.” His eyes went a little wolf on that last sentence.

“They don’t all do that,” Quinn said. “Most of them just want to celebrate their humanity. Humans being the “endangered species” and all now.” She rolled her eyes a little.

“I saw that!” I pointed a finger at her. “See, even you think it’s a bit ridiculous.”

Quinn blushed. “Well, what’s the estimate—like a couple million humans turned since Evo? But there are still almost eight billion of them. Some people are alarmists is all.”

“Speaking of this whole human/non-human thing, you said you were going to tell us more about this job offer from the HR,” Riley said with a pointed look.

“What’s there to talk about? I’m not interested in working for him, especially since people are all riled up about these new DNA sensors all the businesses have to have. Even though it’s the government that mandates those, the HRs support them, and I’m not exactly going to be popular with my patrons if I start working for one of them.”

“If I got to work with that delicious angel, I wouldn’t care,” Quinn sighed.

“Agreed,” Riley said. “He brings new meaning to heavenly.”

“Whatever, guys. It’s just not happening.” I listened through a couple more rounds of arguments, mostly revolving around abs, pecs and gluts, before they finally gave up. Plus, I diverted their attention to our night-off activities. One of my other managers was running Noir for the evening. “So what are we doing later tonight?”

There aren’t many places to go when you’re a supernatural bartender, and therefore pretty picky about your hangout. “One-Eyed Willie’s?” Riley suggested.

“Yeah, that’s cool,” Quinn agreed. “Willie hired a new waiter that’s pretty tasty. I wouldn’t mind getting to know him a bit better.”

Riley snorted. “How exactly do you define ‘get to know better’?”

“Bite me,” Quinn said, narrowing her eyes. She held up a bottle of hot pink goo. “You guys better help me finish bottling this stuff while it’s fresh.”

“Sure,” I said, grabbing a bottle. “But you’re buying the first round.”

The thrum of the Porsche’s engine hummed under my skin, from belly button to collarbone. Seattle flew past in ribbons of black sky and rainbow lights. I could smell the tang of bay air on the wind rushing past us on Alaskan Way. Despite the magnetically controlled roadways which measured the distance between cars and your speed, I chose to navigate myself rather than let the auto-pilot function take over. It just took all the pleasure out of driving if you didn’t do it yourself. Another one of the gov’s great ideas to preserve fragile human lives. At least they’d outlawed gas-powered cars. That had actually been a smart move.

I pulled into the parking lot by One-Eyed Willie’s at Pier 55 and got out, running a hand over my hair to smooth it back down. Quinn was doing the same with her long platinum strands, except she added a punch of magic to curl the ends.

Riley pulled up behind us on his silver Ducati, sans helmet. He was a total adrenaline junkie. “Is mine okay?” he asked, delicately poking at his dark brown hair.

“You’ve got enough hair gel in those spikes to intoxicate a small pixie,” I said, one hand on a denim-clad hip.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, sauntering towards the door.

A comforting barrage of scents hit me as I stepped into the dim lighting of the bar. Vodka, blood, leather, limes and a pinch of lust. I was right at home.

“Zyan!” yelled a deep voice over the murmur of the crowd. A lanky surfer dude with shoulder length brown hair made his way across the room. He looked just like any other muscular, dreamy surfer guy—except for the single eye in the middle of his forehead. “Long time no see.”

“Hey, Will,” I said, wrapping him in a hug.

He waggled his eyebrow at me. “Maybe tonight I can finally convince you to go on a date with me.”

“No, I like you far too much to date you,” I laughed. “My romances always end badly.”

He grinned. “Whatever. I’ll wear you down slowly. For now, how about drinks on the house?”

“Sure.” I smiled and followed him to the bar.

“A drink for my girl, Zy,” he called to one of the bartenders. “Wanna try our new Mermaid Tear martini? It’s as dirty as they come.”

I grinned and nodded and Will hollered instructions to the bartender. Turning to survey the scene, I could see Riley had claimed one of the leather sofas in the middle of the room. Quinn had wasted no time in tracking down the cute new waiter and was leading him back to their table. “I think Quinn may abduct your new staff member,” I said to Will.

“Oh, Lucas? Yeah, he’s part Fae. All the ladies are barking up his tree.”

“Did you know people can get faerie blood injections now, to make them more beautiful?” Will’s eye widened. “Yep, it’s the latest cosmetic craze.” Those were at least legal, unlike vamp and were-blood injections that had replaced steroids for performance obsessed athletes.

“Maybe I need to get some of that,” he said with a chuckle.

I punched his arm. “Don’t be silly, you’re already gorgeous.” But I knew it had been harder for some supernaturals, like the Cyclops, to come out of the closet. The vamps had been the first, and everything changed after that, in ten short years. The worldwide shift, called Evolution, or Evo on the street, when even the forces of Heaven and Hell had finally revealed themselves to humanity.

“It looks like you may need to chaperone the two of them,” Will said, pointing to Quinn, who had pulled up her black dress to reveal the tattoo on her thigh.

“Yeah, that might be a good idea. I’ll catch you later.” I grabbed my drink, made my way through the crowd and dropped down on the sofa next to Riley. Some of his friends were sprawled out on the couch opposite us.

“What’s up, Zy?” asked Dan, a werepanther. The other two on the sofa nodded in greeting.

“Nothing much.” I leaned back and took a sip of my drink.

“You met the new vamp in town?” Dan asked.

“There are new vamps in town every day,” I laughed. “I lose track.”

“Oh, you’d know if you met this one,” piped in one of the other weres, Alicia. I’d been told she actually turned into a dolphin. Pretty useful for coastal living, I guess.

I raised a questioning brow. “How so?”

“Well, he’s an old vamp, first off. Really old. And he’s been asked to join The Assembly already. Connected with all the right supes.”

“Then that’s why I haven’t met him yet.” The Assembly was comprised of a bunch of powerful, rich supes who thought they could make rules for the rest of us. “I hate bureaucracy.”

“It’s weird though, because he’s been showing up at a lot of the usual hangouts too,” said Dan. “You know, where us normal supes chill. I’ve never seen another Assembly member step one toe inside any of our places.”

“Well, he hasn’t come by Noir,” I said, “So he’s obviously lacking in good taste.”

“For sure,” Riley agreed, clinking his glass against mine.

I felt a draft of cool air and glanced over at the door, which had opened. A tall figure stood there, all windswept black hair and electric blue eyes. Eyes which were locked on mine.

Of course they were locked on mine. He’d have felt me from miles away.

“Well, speak of the devil, there he is.” I heard Dan’s voice on the periphery of my consciousness, as if from miles underwater.

Suddenly it all made sense. The new vamp in town. The attacks on the HR, by someone skilled enough to break through the angelic forces.

He wasn’t the devil. He was much worse. Someone I hadn’t seen in nearly two hundred and fifty years.

My ex. More specifically, my first ex, the vamp responsible for the loss of my soul.

[] CHAPTER THREE

If you ever love someone, really, truly love them, then a part of you always loves them, even if they screw you over majorly. As in, promise to love you forever and then abandon you at the first possible opportunity, because as it ends up they’re a vampire and everything you shared was just a game. So, when I saw him standing there, this tiny part of me still loved him, even as a wave of black rage devoured every ounce of humanity still left in my body.

“Zy.” Quinn’s voice, a frightened tremor riding it. “Zy, what’s the matter?”

He was standing next to me in a heartbeat, the way only a two-thousand-year-old vamp can move. “Kaitlyn.” His voice swirled down my ear, low and intimate, for only me to hear.

“I haven’t gone by that name in a long time, Alexander,” I said.

Quinn’s eyes darted back and forth between me and Alexander, and Riley stood up next to me, muscular arms crossed over his chest, frenetic shifter energy rolling off his skin.

Alexander glanced at each of them dismissively. “I’m glad you’ve made friends. You seem to be doing quite well.”

“No thanks to you,” I growled, my own power flaring up.

“I can’t imagine what you mean,” Alexander purred. “We had a gorgeous time together.”

“Cut the bullshit. You played me, when I was practically a child.” My hands clenched in fists so tight I felt trickles of blood running down my palms where my fingernails bit through my skin. Beside me, Riley let out a deep growl, his eyes going wolf.

“Call off your dog,” Alexander said with amusement.

“Go fuck yourself,” I spat.

“Is there a problem here?” I could feel Will standing behind me. As distracted as I was, I hadn’t heard him coming.

“Yes,” Quinn answered.

Will fixed Alexander in his gaze. “If you’re not a friend of Zy’s, you’re not a friend of mine. Get lost.”

“You’re the owner of this place? A Cyclops? I guess society really has gone to Hell,” Alexander sneered.

My blade sang as it slid out from behind my back and sliced through the air towards him, but he was gone. Only his laugh lingered on the air, caressing my skin just as he’d intended. “Son of a bitch.”

“That’s your ex?” Quinn asked in a shaky voice.

Will and Riley’s faces bore matching looks of shock.

“I’ve gotta get out of here,” I snapped, stalking towards the door. “Thanks, Will,” I called over my shoulder.

I strode down the pier, the cool night surrounding me. When I got to the end, I took off my red strappy heels and hurled them out into Elliott Bay. I punched my hand into one of the rough hewn wooden posts, which splintered and fell into the water. My knuckles bled a little, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything but the molten desire for revenge that bubbled inside me. How could that asshole show up after more than two centuries and pretend nothing had happened? He’d known I was here in Seattle. He’d known I was in the bar before he stepped foot inside, a convenient attribute of having fed on my blood. He had to pay for what he’d done.

“Zy?” Quinn. Brave girl.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t formulate coherent words.

“Are you going to be okay?” I saw a ball of light form in her hand so she could see her way in the dark. The light hit my face and she stopped. After a moment, a moment she probably spent contemplating how safe I was to be around right now considering the murderous look I undoubtedly had on my face, she came and stood next to me.

We didn’t talk at first, just listened to the sound of water sloshing up against the dock. The rhythmic melody slowly eroded my rage. Which sucked because then I had room to think about things I didn’t want to think about. Things I had forced from my memory for a long, long time.

“You’ve never told me about when you became immortal,” Quinn said finally.

She was right. We’d known each other for almost a decade, and I’d never spoken of it. “I don’t want to talk about it now, either,” I said, my voice lifted away on the wind.

“Okay.”

We lapsed into silence again for a few minutes. And then, I heard myself talking. “I was seventeen. Lying in an Irish meadow picking flowers. I fell asleep, and when I woke up, the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen was sitting next to me.” I stopped, and heard Quinn’s heart pounding. Or maybe it was mine. “He asked if I was an angel, because I looked so peaceful and beautiful sleeping among the flowers. He’d made a crown of flowers while I slept, and he laid it on my head. I never stood a chance. He was so handsome and so smooth. We talked for hours that first day. I was in love with him by the end of the afternoon.

We saw each other every day for almost half a year. I felt like I was constantly walking in a dream when he was with me. And I felt like I would die when he was gone. Then one day he told me he loved me, and asked me if I wanted to spend my life with him. When he bit me, it hurt at first, but then… it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever felt in my whole life. Wrapped up in his body, his kisses searing through me…

He didn’t turn me into a vamp. I thought we were going to get married, and then he would. But my father had other plans. He beat me for disgracing the family and promised me to someone else, a man four times my age. I knew Alexander would stop it, take me away from everything. But he disappeared. I kept waiting. And waiting. The wedding came and went, but still he hadn’t returned. My husband was a terribly cruel man, and hit me all the time. I began to waste away. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was happening to me, but I knew. I’d lost the will to live, as pathetic as that is. That’s when she came.”

I paused, my body going rigid as the memory crept over me like spiders. Quinn stopped breathing.

“Olga. Red hair like a river of flame, gray eyes like the waves off of Galway.” I shivered as her name fell from my lips. “I knew who she was right away. There were legends, folktales passed down through all the villages. Tales of a beautiful girl who fell in love with a beautiful boy but was married off to another against her will and died of a broken heart. The next full moon she rose from her grave and sucked the life force out of her father and husband. And so Anam Gatai were created. Some of the legends call us Dearg Due, blood drinker, but blood is not enough to satisfy us.

Anyways, I guess Olga wanted company, because she started turning other poor girls into immortals like her. She pressed her lips to mine and I felt my humanity slipping away, my life floating out of me, my soul flying away piece by piece. And because my tale was particularly heartbreaking, being as how the man I loved was just fooling me and actually a vampire, she gave me extra power.” I forced a bitter smile. “I guess there’s a silver lining to everything. And I did get revenge on my father and husband. Oh, and it was sweet.”

Quinn took a deep breath. “Wow, Zy, I had no idea. I’m so sorry.”

“Everything happens for a reason,” I said, looking out over the water. A tear ran down my face.

“Which is?”

I didn’t answer her at first. The tear that had dripped down my cheek now hung at my jaw. I reached up and flicked it off. That would be the very last tear I ever cried for that dick. “I lost my soul because of Alexander. I found out later in the supe gossip circles that this was his M.O. He found young girls, and told them he loved them, then took their virginity and sometimes their soul. The ultimate player, love ‘em and leave ‘em.” I paused for a mirthless laugh. “I pushed him out of my memory. I had to move on, to survive. But now that he’s walked back into my city, knowing full well he’d find me here, he’s going to pay. I’m going to kill that asshole so he can’t keep doing this shit to other girls. Plus, he’s trying to assassinate the HR. So, I’ve got a legal excuse.”

“What?!” Quinn’s head whipped around to look at me.

“Yeah, that angel that came to Noir told me a vamp has been trying. And nearly succeeding. I didn’t put the pieces together until I saw him. He is an assassin-for-hire, after all. Another lovely tidbit I found out after we were together.”

“So, what are you going to do?” Her golden witch eyes looked like glowing suns in the darkness.

“I’m going to find him. And I’m going to kill him.” I cast one last look out over Puget Sound, then headed for the parking lot.

“You don’t mean tonight, do you?” Quinn chased after me.

“It’s not even midnight. I’ve got the whole night. When’s a better time?”

She was quiet for a moment. “I’ve never felt a vamp as powerful as him. How old is he, Zy?”

“Let’s just say he may have known Jesus Christ.” I had reached the pavement and pulled out the keys to the Porsche. I pressed the unlock button and the car blinked to life.

“Holy shit! Don’t you think we need to think about this? Come up with a plan to kill a vamp that’s almost two millennia your senior?” She stepped in front of me, blocking the door. Her black dress blended into the glossy paint like the car was absorbing her.

“I have a plan. Find that bastard, and kill his sorry ass. It has a beautiful simplicity, don’t you think?” I smiled a smile I knew was not pretty at all.

“No, I don’t think. Riley!”

Damn her. She knew he’d hear with his freaking super-wolf ears. “Listen, I’m not asking you to come with me. I know this isn’t your vendetta.” I caught her eyes with mine.

Riley pushed the door of the bar open and started towards us, Dan and a couple others on his tail. “What’s going on?”

“Tell him,” Quinn said, a stubborn set to her jaw.

I sighed. “Sweet Quinn is upset because I’m going to kill Alexander. Okay? Sharing time’s over now, let me get in my car.”

“He’s two thousand years old,” Quinn snapped. “She left that little detail out.”

Dan let out a low whistle and Riley’s face got stormy. “So basically, you’re just going to end your existence in a blaze of glory, going up against someone like that alone? That’s just dumb.”

“Alright, I’ve had enough of this.” I picked Quinn up, moved her, and slid in behind the wheel. And proceeded to become frozen in place. Except for my mouth. “God damn it, Quinn.”

“I’ll release my spell if you stop and listen like a rational person,” she said. Power rolled off her like a lightning storm.

“I don’t suppose you can be persuaded to give up your suicide mission?” Riley asked, his eyes hard.

I shook my head. “Fuck no.”

“Well, then let’s come up with some sort of compromise. Like, a little extra backup.”

“From who?”

“Well, I know a certain shapeshifter who’d be happy to help you out.” Riley’s expression was innocent.

“Are you joking? Sure, let’s just bring together all the ex-boyfriends I hate for one big night of fun.” I pushed hard against Quinn’s bonds with my own burst of power, but she had me locked down good.

Riley smirked. “I’m just talking about two of them, not a thousand.”

“Cock,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

“So, that’s a yes then?” he responded with a knowing smile.

I knew they were right. I could see the only thing I’d gain tonight was my own death. Which wouldn’t be so bad, other than hanging out in that hot-as-hell shithole smelling brimstone for the rest of eternity. But, then Alexander would just kill the HR, and keep taking advantage of other innocent girls. And nothing would come of my noble sacrifice. I sighed again. “Fine. But only so you guys will shut the hell up.”

Quinn smiled and released me. I started the car with my power and floored it in reverse. Ah, the looks on their faces. I smiled, then slammed on the brakes. “Just joking. Get the hell in.”

[]CHAPTER FOUR

The famous Chinatown dragon gate loomed in the distance. We had parked in front of an old hotel on King Street, which one of the local shapeshifter groups used as headquarters. In the rearview mirror, I could see Dan giving Riley a flirty smile as they got off the bike. I nudged Quinn and we shared a covert giggle. After all, when you might not be alive in the morning, you might as well laugh a little. Plus, since seeing Alexander I felt undone, on edge, a static buzz spinning through my veins. And I was majorly trying to ignore it, because it felt a bit too much like losing control.

I sincerely wished there was someone else I could call on, another supe skilled enough to help with my little revenge mission. But unfortunately, I had to admit my ex Donovan was by far the best muscle-for-hire in the city. He claimed to be the best supernatural bounty hunter in the world. It was a title we fought over regularly. Or had, when we were together. I sighed and flexed my back. It was going to be a long night.

“Just remember when we get in there that this was your idea,” I said to Riley as we walked around to the side entrance.

“I’ll do that,” he retorted, and opened the door for us with a low bow. “Ladies first.”

The hallway was dark but for a single glass lantern. A threadbare Persian rug ran the length of the corridor. Pale green paint peeled off the walls; I could smell it and taste it at the back of my throat. An androgynous bodyguard with iron bands for arms stood at the end of the passage.

“I’m here to see Donovan.”

“Name?” the guard asked in a monotone voice.

“Zyan Star.”

“Weapons?”

The corner of my mouth curled up in a half smile. “Always.”

The guard frowned.

“Listen, if I wanted to kill D I would have done it forever ago. Well, let me rephrase that—if I’d decided to kill him. I’ve wanted to kill him quite a few times. Just tell him Zy’s here, okay?” I heard Quinn groan behind me. I batted my eyelashes and smiled.

Without a word, expression impassive as stone, the guard turned around and left us in the hall. “Don’t you just love bodyguards?” I said, to no one in particular.

Five minutes passed. Then ten. At eleven minutes I began to feel mildly annoyed, and by fifteen I was considering carving some pretty designs in the wall with my blade. Or fingernails.

At seventeen minutes the door opened and the bodyguard came back out. “He’s busy. He said to come back another time.”

I could feel a muscle in my jaw start to twitch. “Did you tell him who was here?” The guard stared blankly ahead, ignoring my question. “Are you freakin’ kidding me? That son of a bitch…”

The hall door swung back open and a familiar, devastatingly handsome face popped into view. That of my shapeshifter panther ex-boyfriend. “Don’t talk about my mother that way,” Donovan said in a deep Irish brogue. His rugged features pulled into a grin. “You know I’m just toying with you. I had to hear your little tantrum.”

“Nice to see you, too,” I said with a sharp smile, hands on my hips. “Now that you’ve had your fun, are you going to let us come in?”

“Anything for Zyan Star.” He held the door open and gestured for us to enter.

As I squeezed past him through the door frame, his eyes caught mine. Those same sharp green eyes, like rough cut jade. The air crackled a little between us as his shifter energy mingled with my own magical aura. That, plus we’d always had crazy hot chemistry. It’d been almost three years since I’d seen him and he still affected me like the day we’d met. I reminded myself to breathe and met his gaze with a cool, neutral one of my own. Just business. That’s all this was.

I moved past D and suppressed a snort of laughter at the scene before me. We stood in a cavernous room with a double circular staircase sweeping up to the second floor. A chandelier dripping with amber crystals hung from the ceiling. Antique furniture dotted the room. Velvet divans and large wingback chairs and even a grand piano. And draped across all of it—even the piano—was an assortment of shapeshifters, most clad in denim or leather of some sort. Such a culture clash.

Donovan led us past his crew, who watched with curious eyes. A couple bristled at Riley and Dan. Shapeshifters and weres, while very similar, did not usually mix well together. Weres were compelled by the moon each month, though powerful ones could change at will. They could only be one animal, and could accidentally turn others into weres. Shifters weren’t tied to the lunar cycles and could learn to change into more than one type of animal, or occasionally something else entirely. Also, their powers were purely hereditary. All a bunch of animals when it came down to it, but man did they fight over those differences.

Donovan took us into a large room that looked like a library. “Have a seat.” He gestured towards the empty chairs across from his seat at a large mahogany desk.

“You’ve gotten all high-brow, huh?” I asked, folding into one of the chairs and kicking my feet up on the desk. Good thing I’d had some extra boots in the Porsche since I tossed my heels into the ocean. And was tracking down my archenemy tonight.

Donovan shrugged, leaning back in his chair. He was playing it cool, too. “What can I help you with?”

“I want to kill my ex,” I said casually. When he tensed, I clarified. “My first ex. He’s almost two thousand years old. Riley thought I might need some help.”

“Forced your hand, did he?” Donovan said with a smirk. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

“Well, Riley and Quinn can be quite persuasive.”

Donovan shot them both a grin. “I know they can.” He sighed, fingers laced behind his head as he contemplated the ceiling. “It’s like old times, all of us in the same room, planning some crazy suicide mission.” A chuckle escaped his lips as he looked at me. “Remember when we were trying to bring in that rogue harpie, and she spewed green goo all over your face?”

“I think the Nightmares were my favorite,” Riley said, sharing a conspiratorial smile with Donovan. “The first mission we worked with you. Though Rio de Janeiro was hot as Hell itself.”

I shot Riley a look and he wiped his smile.

Donovan smiled even bigger, his eyes lingering on mine. “Yes, back when we first met. But that was a long time ago. Why would I risk my ass to help you now?”

“Why, money of course,” I answered without hesitation. “Alexander, the delight that he is, has been trying to assassinate the HR. They contacted me to protect him. I’m just trying to get some good mercs.”

Donovan smiled. “Okay. Fifty percent of your take.”

“Please,” I scoffed. “Try thirty.”

“Forty-five.” His lips turned up even more. He was enjoying this.

I rolled my eyes. “Forty.”

“Forty and a favor.” His eyes had a gleam in them I didn’t care for at all.

Mine narrowed. “What kind of favor?”

He leaned back even further in his chair. “I’ve missed the taste of those lips something awful.”

Riley busted out laughing and even Quinn’s lips twitched upwards. “Excuse us a minute?” I said to them without turning my eyes from Donovan’s wolfish grin. They got up and walked for the door. Riley cast one last look over his shoulder.

I looked up at Donovan. God, but Irish boys could be such trouble…

“Zyan, what happened to us?” Donovan’s green eyes burned into mine.

Okay, so apparently he wasn’t playing it cool. I smiled sweetly. “You cheated on me, remember?”

“I can’t imagine now why I ever would have done such a foolish thing,” he said, his voice low. I had long ago lost my Irish lilt, but he’d kept his and it was sexy as hell. Damn him.

“Well, you did. So the way I figure it, you owe me a favor, not the other way around.” I stood up and placed my palms on his desk.

“I never said you owed me a favor,” he said, his grin returning. “I just asked for one.”

I walked slowly around the edge of his desk, the heels of my boots sinking down into the carpet. Stopping before him, I rested my hands on his arms and leaned forward until my lips hovered right over his. His breath washed warm over my skin, and with it the scent of aftershave and a tang of whiskey. I heard his heartbeat quicken. “You should have thought of how much you’d miss me before you cheated,” I murmured.

“I’ll remember that next time,” he said, his lips brushing into mine as he spoke. One hand reached up to cup my cheek.

“There won’t be a next time,” I whispered. Then I was standing across the room. He blinked in surprise at my little disappearing act, which was pretty satisfying, even if it was the most basic of Anam Gatai tricks. “So, are you in or are you out?”

“Ah, hell, Zyan,” he said, “I’ll always be in if you are.”

“I’m glad we have an understanding. Now let’s go rally the troops.”

Donovan got up and stretched languidly. As I turned for the door, I could feel his warm presence behind me, that radiating heat all the shifters had. A memory seared through my mind; hot skin against cool skin, strong hands and hungry lips tracing all over…. A wave of intense hunger hit me, and abruptly I wanted to turn around and taste him, his soul, his life force. Shit. I really was a basket case after seeing Alexander. And why did I always have to fall for the bad guys? You’d think two hundred years would have taught me something.

I pushed the door open and we walked into the big hall. Apparently though, it wasn’t big enough to accommodate the tension riding on the air. The walls seemed laced tighter together with it. Nobody was lounging about anymore. Most of Donovan’s gang had drawn in around Quinn, Riley and Dan, and those that hadn’t watched alertly.

“What’s going on here?” I called.

Riley’s face was tight as he spoke. “Well, Brian here came over to welcome us to his lair by remarking on what a couple of pretty boys me and Dan are.”

I knew that look. This wasn’t going to end well. Quinn knew it too and she was trying to back away from amidst the cluster of shapeshifters. “Brian, not to be overly bossy, but you do know this is the 21st century, right?” I asked.

Brian, a short stump of a man, turned small licorice eyes in my direction.

I smiled winningly and tried to remove the usual sass from my tone. “Riley doesn’t take kindly to bigotry. So, why don’t we all start over and forget this happened?”

Brian snorted. “I don’t need some hell-bound bitch coming into my lair and telling me what I can and can’t say to a couple of fags.”

Brian didn’t have time to blink before Riley backhanded him into the marble staircase twenty feet away.

“What was that you were saying?” Riley called. Brian just groaned as he tried to extricate himself from a small pile of broken marble.

“Well, now that we’ve all introduced ourselves,” Donovan drawled, “I’ve got an important announcement. Zyan’s hired us to help track down a vamp. We’ll all be working closely together for the next few days.” His eyes moved over to Brian. “Except you. You’re on housekeeping duty for the rest of the month. Try and get a grip, okay? We’re professionals here. Not to mention you’re just being stupid as hell.”

With a low growl, Brian stumbled to his feet and limped out of the room. Donovan turned back to me. “You want to give us a mission briefing?”

“Sure.” I crossed my arms over my chest and gazed out over my new posse. After filling them in briefly on the details, I said, “First things first, we’ve got to find out where Alexander is staying.”

“Well that’s no secret,” called one of the shifters. “I’ve seen him at a couple of the bars, and he says he’s staying with Arianna Vega.”

“The head of The Assembly. Of course.” I rolled my eyes. Not really his type, being as how she wasn’t young or human, and was most certainly not a virgin.

“Oh, well all we’d have to do is break through the top-of-the-line supernatural security system she has on her penthouse.” Riley’s expression was casual.

Donovan said, “Obviously trying to get him while he’s there is out.”

“Luckily, it seems he’s been quite the social butterfly since arriving in Seattle,” I said. “So, we should be able to catch up with him out on the town.”

“And what then?” Quinn asked.

“We kill him. I thought everyone was clear on that point.”

She pursed her lips. “Yeah, I know. I mean, how do you plan to do it? He’s so much older than you.”

“Well, with a combination of me, plus witch and shifter abilities, I think we can keep him occupied long enough for me to decapitate him and take his heart.”

She had a look in her eye that said she wasn’t satisfied with my answer. “So, are you just going to bar hop until we find him?”

“Maybe. Got a better idea?” From her smug expression, I was betting she did.

“Well, we could try a finder spell. Unless you just want an excuse to drive all over the city.”

I had something akin to witch powers, part of that extra cherry on top Olga had given me when she’d turned me, but Quinn was much better than me at this sort of thing. I’d lost control of my power once a long time ago, and since then I’d used it as little as possible. I had strength and immortality. I didn’t really need my extra power, but Quinn gave me a hard time about it, saying all I needed was practice. But she hadn’t been there all those years ago. She didn’t know all the blood on my hands that could never be washed clean. I forced a smile. “Nah, I’m an environmentally conscious gal. What do we need for the spell?”

“I need you, a circle, and some quiet.” She aimed a pointed look at Donovan.

“Everybody out.” Donovan made a round up gesture with his hand and pointed to the front hallway. “We’ll wait for you outside.”

After everyone had shuffled out, Quinn opened her purse and pulled out a vial of salt and a small knife. “You move over here.” She took my shoulders and positioned me a few feet away from the furniture. Opening the salt, she made a careful circle about six feet in diameter around me, keeping herself inside it. I could see her murmuring as she went, calling the four directions and their respective elements—air, fire, water and earth. She held up the blade, and without warning, she made a little slice on the tip of my finger.

“Oww, what was that for?” I asked indignantly.

She promptly stuck my finger in her mouth.

“Is this some kinky Wiccan thing? Because if you’re trying to tell me something, there’re other ways…”

“God, shut up, Zy.” Her amber eyes flashed in irritation. “I need something of Alexander’s to locate him. A little of his essence runs through your veins, since he’s had your blood.”

“What if the something had been, say, a sweaty jockstrap. Would you have stuck that in your mouth?” My lips curled into a smile.

“It’s faster that way. Just shut up.” She closed her eyes and took my hands. “Picture him,” she commanded.

I didn’t want to, but I did. Hair like the night, eyes the smoky blue of mountains in the distance. Dangerous lips that were oh-so-expressive. He said everything with those lips.

“Good. I’ve got him.” But when she opened her eyes, they flickered with concern. “He’s back at Will’s. That can’t be good.”

Shit. “No. It can’t.”

[]CHAPTER FIVE

I’d often wished I could fly, but never as much as I did right now. I was pushing the limits of sane driving, even for me. I could feel Quinn using her power to smooth out the turns I took at ninety miles an hour. She’d already used a punch of power to knock out the stupid magnetic speed controls.

Fire. I smelled it before I could see it.

“Oh, no,” Quinn murmured.

Donovan began to recite a prayer in Irish Gaelic.

The convertible slid to a stop, burning tire marks over the asphalt. A large crowd was gathered outside, well away from the blaze engulfing the building. Like starving animals, the flames devoured everything in their path. The roof sagged towards imminent collapse. “Where’s Will?” I yelled, to nobody in particular.

“Inside,” gasped a tear-streaked redhead, her voice raw from the smoke.

Taking a deep breath, I plunged into the inferno.

I’m not immune to fire. I can be burned to a crisp like most other so-called immortals. And I could most certainly feel the extreme heat. The smoke was not as much of a problem, just irritating since it blocked my view of what little could be seen that was not aflame. I irrationally tried to swipe it away from my face before realizing it was futile.

Half blind, I stumbled towards the back offices of the bar. If Will had gotten trapped, he must be back there somewhere. Beside me, a chunk of roof crashed down onto the floor. Burning splinters of wood flew up into my legs. I felt them pierce through my jeans and into my skin, but I didn’t care. I was running out of time. If Will was going to die in this fire, so was I.

I reached the door to his office. It was open. He wasn’t there.

Where else could he be? I had a memory of Will telling me about his wine cellar with a great deal of pride. I’d never seen it. But that had to be where he was. I’d passed a door on my way to the office that could be it. Spinning around, I fumbled my way back through the smoke until I found it.

Stairs descended into a dimly lit room. Less smoke lingered there. Now that I could see, I sped down the steps. Will lay on the floor, a figure crouched over him. Alexander. White hot rage poured up out of me. He turned.

It wasn’t Alexander. It was Eli, the angel, covered in soot. “What are you doing here?” we yelled at the same time.

“Nevermind. Just grab Will!” I yelled. He scooped Will up in his arms and we fled up the stairs.

Just as we reached the top, the roof gave a last death groan and fell. I threw my hands up and closed my eyes, waiting to feel the flaming beams on my head. Instead, I felt a strong grip on my wrist, and a second later my feet left the ground.

My eyes flew open. Vermillion embers filled the air around me, but I passed through them, up into the night sky. The sudden feeling of cool air felt like falling into a snow bank. I took in a deep breath, and it tasted beautiful. Looking up I saw only silvery wings and glowing skin.

A moment later Eli dropped me unceremoniously onto the pavement. Not that I was complaining. He landed gracefully, an unconscious Will in his arms. “Is he alive?” I asked, breathless.

“Yes. But he needs to get to the hospital right away. I’ll take him.” Eli was absolutely covered in black ash from head to foot, but still managed to look radiant. I would have made a snarky comment if he hadn’t just saved my ass and Will’s.

“Was he the last one inside?”

“Yeah, I got a few others before I found him. Ambulances are on the way. I think everyone else can wait, but he needs to go now.” Without another word, he launched into the night.

A moment later there was a blonde witch wrapped around my body. “Zy! Oh my God, are you okay?”

And then a werewolf. “When the building collapsed, I thought…” he trailed off.

“I’m fine, guys.” I took a deep breath and let it whistle out slowly between my teeth. “Is everyone here okay? I want to go check on Will.”

“You giving up for the night?” Donovan asked, approaching from a clump of bystanders.

“No,” I hissed. “One of my friends was nearly killed because of me. So, as soon as I go make sure he’s going to make it through the night, then I’ll be back on Alexander’s trail. Cowardly bastard.” Now that the shock of nearly getting crisped was wearing off, I had begun to get super pissed. Alexander had sunken to a new low.

“Alright.” Donovan’s tone was neutral, but for the briefest of moments his eyes flickered with an unreadable emotion. “Just making sure you aren’t losing your edge.”

“You can feel it if you’d like,” I answered with a smile, reaching for my katana.

“No need.” He smirked. “We’ll check out a few more places, but I bet he’s hanging low at the moment.”

“I guess we’ll just get in touch later then.”

He nodded in agreement and went to round up his gang.

A few minutes later, though it seemed a hundred years, we were walking down the florescent halls of the Swedish First Hill ER.

There are two primary scents of death. Actual decomposition, which is pretty disgusting. And then there’s hospital smell. That sterilized and infinitely scarier smell, because it seems clean but you know it’s not. You know lives are ending despite all attempts to keep them. Death both imminent and drawn out, lingering beneath the hand sanitizer and the Clorox.

We found the ER nurse’s station. One quick lie and an ensorcelled nurse later, and we were standing outside the curtained-off temporary room where Will lay. He’d been plugged up to an oxygen machine.

Now what are you doing here?” Eli asked, arms crossed over his chest.

“What, have you switched from HR security to ER security?” I rolled my eyes. “Will is a good friend of mine. What were you doing at the bar?”

“I’d heard there’s a new Assembly member and that he’d stopped by earlier. I went by to check it out. So, do you know what happened tonight?”

“Yeah.” I cast a guilty glance over at Quinn and Riley, who stood against the wall. “I ran into my ex earlier, and we’re not exactly on the best of terms, so Will kicked him out of the club. My guess is, Alexander came back to exact revenge. He’s pretty prejudiced against some of the supes like the Cyclopses.” I paused. “Oh, and by the way, he’s the new Assembly member, and the one that’s been trying to knock off the HR.”

Eli’s eyes narrowed. “When exactly were you planning on telling me this?”

“Chill, okay? I didn’t realize when you were at Noir that it was him. But then at Will’s bar, it hit me. Since I want the lowlife immortal dead as much as you do, I hired some help and figured we’d take care of it for you.”

“Yeah, well clearly that plan’s working out fantastically,” he said, his tone razorblades and jagged glass.

Goddamn, was everyone trying to piss me off tonight? “You’re a total asshole. Has anyone ever told you that?”

A groan rose up from behind the curtain. “Oooh, are we skipping right to the dirty talk? I dig it.”

“Will!” I shoved back the curtain and gave him a very careful hug. “Jesus Christ, you had me so worried!” Eli threw me a reproving look for dropping the J-Bomb. Like I freaking cared.

“Well, I had to get your attention somehow.” He grinned weakly.

“Please don’t say stuff like that.” My hazel eyes searched his face. I drew in a long breath. “It was Alexander wasn’t it? The guy from earlier?”

Will’s expression became somber, a look I’d never seen on him before. It made it a bit hard to breath. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure. I had run down to the wine cellar to get a case of Pinot Grigio when I heard someone follow me down. I turned and saw just a flash of black hair right as something hit me over the head.”

My eyes were directed very carefully at the chalk white sheets on the hospital gurney. I raised them up to Will’s, trying to keep my emotions at bay. “He’ll pay for what he’s done, Will. I’m not going to let him get away with this.”

“Don’t do anything foolish on my account,” Will said, squeezing my hand.

“She won’t,” Eli said, stepping up on the other side of Will’s bed. “Alexander is under official investigation by the HR’s security team, and he’ll be brought to justice through an official legal process.”

“Since when has hiring soul stealers been an official legal process of the HR?” I snapped.

Eli smiled tightly. “We didn’t hire you.”

“But you tried.” I flashed him my very best you’re so full of shit smile.

Eli opened his mouth to speak, but someone cleared their throat very loudly behind us.

“Excuse me, I’m Dr. Harris and I need to check on this patient.” The woman looked down at the chart in her hands through rectangle glasses. “Uh, William Evers.”

“Call me Will.” He flashed a smile.

I couldn’t believe how lighthearted he was after everything that had happened. His bar was burnt to a crisp, very nearly with him in it. He was something else. “Well, I guess we’d better get going,” I said. “I’ll check on you as soon as I can.”

The doctor cast me a stern look that made it clear how she felt about us stepping foot in her hospital again. The medical profession wasn’t too fond of us supes since we’d pretty much turned everything upside down for them. Even with the laws against supernaturals turning humans and marrying humans, the supe population continued to grow steadily. With many of us having regenerative skills or being immortal, not to mention that turning vamp could cure cancer, heart disease, and any number of other diseases, the supe population had cut into their profits heavily.

“You better.” Will gave my hand one last squeeze, returning my attention to where it was needed. “And thanks for saving my life, dude,” Will said to Eli.

“No need for thanks,” Eli said, with a genuinely warm smile. Maybe there was a little angelic streak in him after all.

Quinn and Riley popped their heads in to say goodbye to Will, and we all strode back down the hall.

“I’m going to need you to accompany me to HR headquarters,” Eli said after less than ten paces. All business again.

“And why is that?” I raised my brows.

“Because, if you’re going to assist in bringing in a known assassin, you need to be officially briefed.” He didn’t look at me as he spoke, just sauntered fluidly down the hall.

“Oh, so now I am hired? Which is it? I’m starting to get whiplash.”

Quinn and Riley’s eyes darted back and forth between us, Quinn’s expression one of apprehension, while Riley looked like he was laid out with some popcorn watching a juicy soap opera.

“Well, the official decision is up to the HR. He said he wanted to meet you.” Eli glanced over at my face this time, to judge my expression I guess.

I attempted to keep my face neutral, though the fact that the HR wanted to meet me was pretty surprising. “Whatever. But this is going to be on my terms, or I’m out.”

I heard Eli grind his teeth together. “You’ll work within the law or you’ll be arrested.”

“I’d love to see you try.” I laughed, rolling my head back and putting some oomph into it, which served its intended purpose of making Eli even more agitated.

“I’m serious—” he began.

“Tell me something I don’t know.” I stopped walking and put a finger on his chest. It was as rock hard as it looked. Not that I cared. “You are way too serious. Like, the king of serious. Loosen up a bit, okay? I’ll go with you to meet the HR, and we’ll see what he has to say about all this.”

Silence stretched between us for a moment. “Fine.”

Riley caught up to us, a mischievous grin on his face. “Any chance I can tag along and meet some of your coworkers?”

I could swear the tiniest of smiles played at Eli’s lips before he answered. “Sorry, but no. It’s HR staff only at headquarters. Not even the world leaders can gain entry without the HR’s express approval.”

“Well, the two of them are going to be helping me find Alexander. So, they’re on the team.”

Eli frowned. “Maybe they can wait in the lobby. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good.” I smiled at the three of them and jingled my car keys. “Let’s get this party started.”

[]CHAPTER SIX

I had to give him credit, Eli didn’t flinch once, though I was trying my best to scare the shit out of him with my infamous driving. He didn’t even look like he was concentrating hard on keeping a calm expression. Damn angels.

The guards outside HR headquarters, however, did give me the satisfaction of whipping their heads around when the Porsche came flying into view. I spun up to the base of the marble stairs leading up to the building and jumped out.

“That’s not a parking spot,” Eli said through gritted teeth. In the twinkling of the glass lamplights surrounding the building, I could see the indignation on his face.

“Gotta give these guys something fun to look at, right?” I grinned at the closest guard, who now stood still as a statue. But unlike the stuffy ones in London, these guards wore gray brushed silk tunic tops over loosely fitting pants of the same color. No weapons were visible, just their wings, folded tightly behind their backs. “Besides, they must be bored. I can’t imagine there’s a lot of drama around here after one in the morning.”

Unsurprisingly, I’d never been to HR headquarters. It was located in South Lake Union, out of the way of the core metropolitan area. The gleaming white marble of the steps continued in tall columns that rose to a triangular roof. For a moment, I felt like we’d stepped back in time to ancient Rome. Glancing behind me, I saw that Quinn bore an anxious look like she was definitely remembering all those witch burnings. Riley was checking out the human scenery. Well, angelic warrior scenery.

An enormous set of silver double doors greeted us at the top of the stairs, every inch covered with ornate designs. Two impassive guards stood on each side, and as we approached they hauled the doors open. It’s pretty impressive when you can see someone’s muscles under clothing that loose. Yeah, Riley wasn’t the only one looking now.

We entered a large room of the same white marble with silver accents and a ceiling with designs that matched the doors. It contained sparse but lavish furnishings, along with statues, and large vases of fresh cut flowers, a type I’d never seen before. “Pretty ostentatious,” I commented.

“All of this was donated,” Eli said, his tone a bit tight. “Further, we insisted that the donor make a cash donation of equal size to world hunger projects.”

“Wow. Somebody’s got some serious dough,” Riley said, his eyes wide.

We crossed the room and headed down a long hallway lined with doorways on both sides. Like the first room, this space had dim, golden lighting coming from some unseen source. I guessed the lights never went fully out in this place. Heaven was open 24/7, after all. Eli opened a door on the right about halfway down the hall, which led into a small room with cushioned benches, a couple wingback chairs, and the ubiquitous flowers. “Quinn and Riley, I’m sorry, but you’ll need to wait here. I don’t have authorization to take you beyond the security checkpoint.”

“That’s okay,” Quinn said. I could tell she didn’t want to go any deeper into this beehive of ultimate authority.

I cast them an apologetic look before I followed Eli back into the hallway. We walked to the end, where we came to another set of silver doors. But these had no pretty designs. Just smooth, polished metal, probably titanium or something else indestructible. And instead of two guards, there were twenty. The guard closest to the door stepped forward, hand up. “State your name and title.” He held out a small device that looked like a high-tech cell phone.

“Elijah Whitesong. Commander of Special Security.”

As Eli spoke into the small device, it turned green, and an electronic voice said, “Voice recognition verified.”

My turn now. The guard held the device up towards my mouth. “Zyan Star. Soul thief, kickass bartender and occasional bounty hunter.” I said it deadpan, no hint of humor in my voice. Not a one of them cracked a smile. Seriously?

The light on the device turned blue this time, and the robot voice said, “Voice scan obtained and stored.”

The metal doors whooshed open like elevator doors, but faster, like on a spaceship. Pretty cool. We passed through into a narrow hall. This hall was cylindrical and lined with shiny white panels. We had taken not two steps when all of the panels turned a dull red. I froze. “Weapons scan initiated,” said an electronic voice. A humming filled the hall. Eli didn’t pause, so I started moving again. After a few seconds, all the panels turned purple and the voice said, “Bomb scan initiated.” One more time, the panels changed, this time to a pale blue. “Mind scan initiated.”

“Mind scan? What the hell is that?”

Eli glanced back over his shoulder. “It reads your intentions. So, if you’re here to assassinate the HR, we’ll know about it. The entrances to this hall will be locked, and they won’t be so friendly at the next checkpoint.”

“I didn’t even know the technology existed for something like that,” I said, truly awestruck.

“It doesn’t, at least not for society as a whole. Not even the government has this stuff. Well, this exact method.”

I wondered what he meant by that, and what depth of knowledge he possessed about the governments of the world, but before I could ask the doors on the other side of the tunnel slid open and we emerged into a small room. “I guess you passed,” he said, a slight smile playing on his lips. He was enjoying my discomfort.

Another twenty or so guards crowded the next room, a large, white rectangle that reminded me of a psych ward. The guard closest to the door approached me. “Your katana, and your hira-shuriken, please.”

“My throwing stars? I’ll get them back, right?”

“Of course,” he said, face expressionless. Eli rolled his eyes at my wistful expression as I handed over my weapons. “You may proceed,” the guard said, bowing slightly and indicating a door on the opposite side of the room.

“Is the HR even awake at this late an hour?” I whispered to Eli, but he ignored me and opened the door.

Stepping through the door, it seemed we had moved through a portal to another world. Darkness lay beyond, a purple twilight hue, lit only by the flickering of candles and lanterns. An elegant Japanese-style garden lay before us, complete with reflecting ponds, bamboo and pagodas. The ceiling twinkled faintly like the light of a thousand stars, though I knew we were deep within the headquarters and only impenetrable metal and a bomb-resistant forcefield lay above us. An earthy incense floated on the air, and somewhere in the darkness I heard the bubbling of water from one of the ponds.

Eli led the way across the garden, pebbles crunching beneath our boots. We walked over an arched bridge and into a large pagoda. A single lantern cast light on a figure sitting in the far corner, cross-legged in meditation. His eyes were closed, and I took a moment to observe him. He looked younger in person than he did on TV, forties maybe, with golden skin and soft black hair. I imagined it must be a heavy burden being one of only eleven HRs in the entire world. And being the only human in this building full of angels.

“A burden I shoulder gladly,” the man said, opening his eyes and smiling at me.

I froze in place. Unnerving much?

“I apologize if I’ve made you uncomfortable, Ms. Star,” he said. “Please, have a seat.”

“Call me Zyan,” I said, lowering myself onto the cool tiles across from him. Eli did the same.

“Certainly,” the HR replied. His voice was incredibly soothing, as one might expect from someone sitting in a pagoda, in a Japanese garden, probably communing with God. “Undoubtedly Eli has told you of our problem, and subsequent request for help.”

“Yes,” I replied, glancing sideways at my grumpy angel companion.

“And there has been another development, your Grace.” Eli bowed his head towards his master.

The HR was silent for a moment, extracting the thought from Eli’s head I presumed. I shivered. “I see,” he said. “So, your—ah—old acquaintance is the one trying to assassinate me.” He said this with extreme aplomb, as if discussing his next choice of outfit.

“I’m sure of it,” I said. “I found out earlier tonight that he’d come to town. He’s nearly two thousand years old—more than skilled enough to break through your defenses.”

“This is quite fortunate,” the HR said with a smile. I frowned, puzzled, as he continued. “We know who we are dealing with now, and you perhaps know his weakness. That is, of course, if you are willing to work with us in light of this change in circumstances.”

He waited and allowed me to speak, instead of doing the creepy mind reading thing, which I greatly appreciated. “I hold no love for Alexander,” I said. “And I want more than anything to see him brought to justice.”

“About that…” Eli began.

“Your Grace,” I interrupted, fixing my gaze on the HR. “Before I agree to help on an official basis, I need to know what you will do with Alexander when we catch him.”

The HR returned my gaze with a steady one of his own. “He will be imprisoned and an attempt will be made to rehabilitate him.”

I shook my head back and forth fiercely. “That won’t work. You can’t keep him locked up. He’s too strong and too smart. One day, be it a week after we catch him or fifty years from now, he’ll escape.”

“I will not condemn any being to death,” the HR said calmly. “And beyond this one vampire, I am more concerned to discover the deeper reason for these attempts. Someone is trying to unseat the stability of the HRs, and therefore Heaven, and I need to know why.”

I decided that we could negotiate Alexander’s punishment at a later date. Like, after I’d killed him. “I will help you find Alexander and bring him to justice,” I said, wondering if the HR had caught that last little tidbit. “But I’m not interested in getting involved in some Holy war.”

The HR smiled serenely. “I appreciate your honesty and directness. It’s not something I receive often.” He paused. “Do you know why I asked for your help?”

I leaned forward slightly. “No. But I’ve certainly been wondering.”

“You have quite a reputation in the supernatural community, and I’ve followed your exploits.” He interlocked his fingers loosely and set them in his lap. “You are extremely well known in the supernatural community and have achieved wealth from your bounties no doubt. But you do not sit on The Assembly. You do not use your money to affect political debates. You pursue what you want to pursue, with no thought as to power. You could wield great influence if you wanted, but you choose not to.” The man paused, lowering his gaze for a moment, his black bangs falling into his face. When he looked back up, his eyes shone. “In a world where most people seek only to climb as high as they can, regardless of the impact on others, this is a rare trait. As you can imagine, someone in my position is almost constantly being asked to shift the balance of power for one purpose or another. I need someone who sees beyond all that. Which is why I asked for your help.”

I cast another glance in Eli’s direction. Maybe if Wings had told me that from the beginning, he’d have gotten a warmer response. “It doesn’t bother you that I’m technically under the jurisdiction of Hell?”

The HR raised his eyebrows. “Do you believe you are a minion of Hell? Does Hell exert control over you?”

“Well, no, but The Agreement—”

The HRs face clouded for a moment. “The Agreement has… imperfections. It cannot change the free will of the inhabitants of this dimension. Each individual chooses his or her own path, be it light or dark.”

I frowned. My path had definitely dipped into a dark area a few times. While I churned that around in my head, Eli interjected. “The Agreement was deemed necessary when the supernatural races began to come out of hiding, and the realms of Heaven and Hell were revealed as the closest dimensions to the Earth dimension. The supernaturals were divided up between the two realms based loosely on their general tendency towards light or dark, good or evil. It doesn’t mean that either realm has more power over you than the other.”

I sighed. I was still destined for Hell when my existence came to an end. But that was a topic for another day. Today’s topic was whether or not to work with the HR to bring down Alexander. My idea of bringing Alexander to justice was a bit more extreme than the HR’s. But if I didn’t work with them, I knew Eli would try to block me out of the hunt altogether. It was tricky business either way. Another sigh. “Okay. I’ll help you. Officially,” I said.

“I’m glad to hear it, Zyan,” the HR said with one of his beatific smiles. “And I don’t expect you to become ensnared in any Holy wars.”

“One more thing,” I said. “I’ve enlisted help from some associates of mine. They’ll need to be compensated.”

“Of course,” the HR said, nodding his head. “As will you.”

I stood up. “A friend of mine lost his bar in a fire tonight. You can donate my pay to him.”

Eli raised both brows, lavender eyes wide with surprise. The HR just smiled. “As you wish.”

We nodded to the HR and began to walk towards the exit. I heard a buzzing sound, and turned. The HR’s wrist comm glowed bright red. He pressed a button and raised it to his mouth. “Go ahead, Gabriel.” A holographic image of an angel popped up from the wrist band, about ten inches high.

“Your Grace, there’s been another dimensional breach,” said the angel. “Ninth level demons this time.”

“Another dimensional breach?” I asked Eli quietly. “Those don’t happen very often do they?”

“No,” Eli confirmed. “Every few months there’s always some demon faction or another popping through to cause trouble, but the portal police catch them quickly and vanquish them. But there have been three this week.” He scrunched up his brow.

The timing of this was most interesting. The assassination attempts alone could be any of millions of citizens tired of the government controls ever since Evo. But demonic invasions as well? “Seems to be another attempt to destabilize the HR’s power. Remember that demon spawn outside Noir, with his creepy little Doomsday message?”

“Yeah, the one I took seriously and you laughed off?” He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at me smugly. “I remember.”

I rolled my eyes. “Well, you think maybe we should check out these portal openings, then?”

His eyes smoldered into mine for a moment. “Yes, I think that would be prudent.”

“Did you really just say ‘prudent’?” I grinned at him.

“Your Grace, Zyan and I are going to check into the situation at the dimensional breach,” Eli said to the HR, turning his muscular back on me.

The HR had just ended the transmission with Gabriel. THE Gabriel, I wondered? “Yes, I think that is a wise choice. I am disturbed by the sudden intensity of these attacks.” His gray eyes flickered. “Zyan, step forward please.” With hesitance, I did so. The HR rested a palm on my shoulder and Eli’s, closing his eyes. “May the grace of Heaven be with you both.”

I felt an aura of calm wash over me. Psychosomatic, surely? “Thank you,” I said, and followed Eli out the door. A little blessing couldn’t hurt when you were on your way to a demon brawl.

[]CHAPTER SEVEN

“I need the two of you to check back with Donovan and make sure his crew is behaving,” I told Quinn and Riley after we’d picked them up and were heading back out of HR headquarters. “No one is to move on Alexander until I get there.”

“No worries,” Riley scoffed. “We aren’t gonna confront a two thousand year old vamp on our own.”

I headed down the stairs towards the Porsche, but Eli shook his head. “No time for normal modes of transportation.”

I grimaced. “Alright. Quinn, take care of my baby.” I tossed her the keys.

“What?!” Riley’s outraged cry echoed through the parking lot, causing a couple angels to look our way. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I grinned. “Good luck with the shifters, guys.” I turned to Eli. “Where’s your ride?”

“Right here,” he said, flexing his wings.

Let me clarify something and say that an angelic warrior’s wings are not the fluffy, white cherubic things one usually sees in the movies and stuff. They range in color from light to dark gray, and there’s nothing soft about them. It’s almost like each feather is coated in some sort of flexible metal. Pretty badass.

“Grab ahold of me,” Eli instructed.

I managed to avoid making a face at his bossiness and stepped into the semi-circle of his pewter wings. I snaked one arm around his back, and he did the same to me. That same delicious manly smell wafted around me as our torsos pressed together. And something else that I hadn’t noticed before. His life force. It sang a silver song as it coursed through him. I could sense it and almost smell it, simultaneously clean like an autumn wind, and sweet, like I imagined ambrosia must smell. I gulped and held my breath as an intense wave of hunger passed over me again.

A moment later I was blessedly distracted as Eli launched into the night air. I expected him to soar out over the city towards the portal, but he flew straight up like an arrow. A pulse of light flashed around us, lavender like Eli’s eyes. Then the sky was gone, and we were whisking through something blacker than the night. Here and there in the distance I saw something white and glowing like vines or spider webs or lace. But before I could get a grasp on what I saw, we were landing on asphalt somewhere, with all hell broke loose around us. Literally.

Eli spun around, squeezing me tightly against his body as his wings cut a path through the chaos. I pulled my blade, careful not to nick him, and jumped into the melee. I quickly assessed in less than a second what it would have taken a human ten times as long to absorb. There were a dozen or so ninth level demons, which are pretty high up on the demon chain of command. Basically huge hunks of bright red muscle, about eight feet tall and equipped with a mouthful of jagged teeth, talons like a mutant eagle, and a long tail with a nasty barb at the end. However, their largeness is not an oafish largeness. They’re super smart, and can cast spells, too. In other words, they’re hella trouble. Pun intended.

The portal police were already on the scene, about two dozen in total, though that included about four that were already dead. Judging by the large pile of ash in the midst of the fight, they’d only brought down one demon so far. You’d think after more than a decade, the government would’ve realized they needed more supes on their SWAT team. They’d added a few witches to defend them against the spell-casting demons, but that was it. Of course, usually it was just demon spawn and lower level demons that tried to bust through, the ones that were too stupid to obey commands from their master. This new rash of invasions was something else. Something premeditated.

The ground shook beneath my feet as something lumbered up behind me. I spun and leaped into the air, whirling my sword around. With a guttural laugh, the demon blasted a spell at me, and I hit the ground ten feet away. He leaped forward to splatter me like a cantaloupe on the pavement. I catapulted my blade into his chest. That broke his stride long enough for me to roll to my feet and jump onto one of his shoulders.

He swatted at me with his massive talons as I ducked down to yank my sword out, ripping half his heart out in the process. I felt a searing, burning, tearing down my back as he raked his claws through my flesh. Biting back a scream, I arced my blade around in one swift movement. His head wobbled on his neck, then fell to the ground. I did a tidy back flip off of him as his body crumbled into black ash. Seeping blood, I charged back into the fray.

Eli had just brought down one of the demons with a pulse of light, and one of the portal police witches got another with some sort of vanquishing spell. Great. Only nine to go. Time to quit playing around. I became the blade, darting in and out amongst the demons, a blur of movement. More than once I caught the astonished expression of one of the portal police as I flashed by, hacking at demon parts, blood and ash flying in all directions. Even my pain aided me, forcing me to focus and be efficient in my movements. It was times like these, when I felt I had become the battle itself, that I felt closest to any sort of divinity or higher power.

My peaceful moment was interrupted by a high-pitched scream of agony. It came from one of the witches on the outer fringes of the battle. Two of the demons had broken through the line of human portal police and were in the process of playing a game of tug-of-war with her body. In one heartbeat I closed the distance between us. In two I removed the arms of both demons with my blade. In three one of the demons plunged his barbed tail through my calf. And in four I was dangling three meters above the ground.

The two demons began to buffet me with spells. Being non-human it didn’t kill me, but it felt like getting suckerpunched in the gut. Blood, my own blood, was dripping down into my eyes. With a gasp of pain, I twisted up, slicing through the demon’s tail. I fell hard on my back, which felt really good considering the gashes. A huge demon foot pressed down on my chest. The demon leaned over me, it’s breath a cloud of sulfur that burned the flesh inside my throat. His yellow eyes bored into mine and he smiled. “You’re fighting on the wrong side, you know,” he growled.

“No. I’m. Not!” I yelled. I swung my sword into his leg, which didn’t sever it completely, but made him shift his weight enough for me to wiggle out from underneath his foot. I sprung straight into the air, plunging my blade in and back out of his heart, then spun and threw my blade sideways at the other demon, decapitating him. I landed in a crouch, calling my blade back to me with a small pull of power. Ash swirled around me as I reached up and caught it in one bloody palm.

Surveying the scene, I saw Eli and the portal police battling the last two demons. I reached down and yanked out the demon’s barb, pulling a chunk of flesh with it. I bit my lip to keep a shriek from leaving my mouth, then ran forward, ignoring the pain shooting up my leg. Adrenaline was my friend in these instances. As I approached, Eli sent a blast of light into the one demon, sizzling him into dust. The other demon turned, as if sensing he was the last one standing, and landed a bone-crunching punch right in the center of Eli’s chest, sending him sprawling backwards. It held a wicked curved black blade, which it twisted in its hands and swung towards Eli’s chest.

I put on a final burst of speed and launched into the air, kicking the demon in the side of the neck with my good leg. He stumbled, and Eli sent a blast of white energy right at the demon’s heart. The demon burst into ash, the blade clattering to the pavement before melting into black goo.

“Thanks,” Eli said breathlessly.

“Anytime,” I responded, sheathing my blade.

The demons were gone, but it came at a steep price—another eight or so of the black clad humans lay dead amidst the piles of ash. I finally realized where we were now, somewhere in Georgetown judging by the sports stadiums a few blocks away.

One of the portal police approached Eli. “I’m Commander Hunter. We’re grateful for your assistance.” She saluted Eli, who quickly returned the gesture.

“Commander, I’m Eli Whitesong, HR Special Security, and this is Zyan Star, a freelance agent of the HR.” I stepped forward and shook hands with the woman. “We’re looking into these dimensional breaches at the request of the HR. This is the third one this week, correct?”

“That’s right. And all with higher level demons than we’ve ever experienced before. It seems something has changed down below.” Hunter wiped a sooty hand over her black hair, which was pulled back into a loose ponytail.

“That’s what we’d like to find out about,” Eli said. “Did any of the demons say anything about why they were breaching?”

“Not that I heard. But after I debrief my team I can let you know if anyone has more information.”

“Thanks.” Eli gave her a warm smile. More than warm. Was he flirting with her? “If you can alert me of any other breaches, I’d appreciate it. I’ll be reviewing the reports from the last two incidents, and I may call you if I have questions.”

“Sure, that’d be fine.” Hunter returned his smile, batting her eyelashes a bit.

Really? Weren’t we all on the job here?

My lip curled in irritation as I turned to observe the cleanup process. Two portal police lifted someone on a gurney into a small hovercraft, which a moment later blinked out of sight. The PP got all the good technology. Which was probably why there was a huge waiting list to join their ranks. Although now that higher level demons had started showing up to the party, that list could lessen quite a bit.

Another of the PP held a metallic wand out in front of him, waving it back and forth. It was covered with buttons and a small display screen, which gave out readings on temperature, sulfur levels and interdimensional balance. I’d been told the temperature flare that accompanied any breach from a Hell dimension to Earth was what alerted the portal police. Since Evo, the government had spent major bucks setting up special towers all over the world to sense the breaches. I had no doubt the HRs had chipped into that little venture.

“You ready?” Eli called. As if I had been the one chatting it up with Commander Hunter.

“Yeah,” I said, turning back around.

Eli frowned. “Your back looks awful.”

I noticed he had barely a nick on him. I felt another surge of irritation. “Usually stuff like this regenerates on its own, but I’ll get Quinn to look at it.”

“Your leg looks pretty nasty, too.”

I looked down in disinterest. “Yeah. I’ve had a lot worse.”

“I’ll get you home,” he said.

“Okay.” I gave him directions, then we did the flying thing again.

This time he kept to the skies. I realized that what we’d done before is blip through the interdimensional pathways. I’d never known anyone who could do that without a special hovercraft or something. Evo had brought not only the knowledge of supernatural races but the realization that there were different dimensions: Earth, Heaven, Hell and countless others. In just the last couple years, people (well, uber rich people) had even begun vacationing in other dimensions, the ones that were habitable by humans and had nice features like purple sand beaches and sunsets that lasted for hours. Apparently the angels could zip in and out whenever they wanted. Nice perk.

My apartment was dark and empty when we got there. “Looks like Quinn and Riley haven’t made it back yet,” Eli said. “Maybe you should let me take a look at those wounds.”

I flipped on a light, illuminating the living room. “I’m sure Quinn will be here soon.”

“But if she’s not, and you go to sleep with those cuts… demon venom is serious.”

I sighed and opened my mouth to protest. Malakai ambled out of my bedroom and started licking Eli’s hand. Of course dogs loved him.

“Seriously, Zyan. The HR’s not going to be happy with me if you die the first night on the job.” He was getting a stubborn set to his jaw.

“Last time I checked I was immortal.” And I was getting really tired. Like, deliriously so.

“You know what I mean. Quit being so difficult and just let me examine you.” He actually took me by the shoulders and sat me down on the couch. Which tells you just how tired I was.

“Whoa, not on the suede,” I mumbled, grabbing a pillow from the nearby chair and positioning it under me to catch blood.

Eli’s lips turned up in a slight smile. He sat down behind me. “Okay, I need to take your shirt off.”

“Smooth line,” I said. My words sounded almost slurred now. This was more than just being tired…

I felt his hands at my back. “This might hurt a little.” He didn’t try to pull the shirt off, he just ripped it up by the collar and started peeling it away from my skin. It was caked in blood at this point. He laid the bright red shreds on the coffee table. They looked like the curling petals of some sort of exotic flower.

The front of my shirt fell off, so I threw it on the floor and wrapped an arm over my chest. My eyes were starting to feel really heavy now, and I felt a strange buzzing sensation creeping up my back. Was it poison? Or something Eli was doing? My eyelids flickered closed, and images flashed behind them. Flames, leathery wings, clouds of sulfur. I shuddered and opened them again.

“Almost done,” Eli said. But his voice came as if from far away. Somewhere above me. I turned my head up to try to see where I was. But a moment later a sensation at my feet brought my head back down. A burning sensation. I was standing in lava. Sinking, actually. I tried to cry for help, but no sound came out. Flames of pain licked up my body as molten heat enveloped me…

I jerked upright, the scent of sulfur tingeing my nostrils. “That was some nasty stuff,” Eli was saying.

“You’re telling me,” I said. “I was totally tripping out for a second there.” I shivered again. A quick glance at my leg showed it was completely healed.

“See, all the marks are gone,” Eli said, tracing a finger down my back where the demon had sliced it up.

It was at that moment that Riley, Quinn and Donovan walked into the apartment. “Are we interrupting something?” Donovan asked, raising a devilish eyebrow.

“No,” I said, glaring at him. “Eli was healing my back after a ninth level demon used it as a cutting board.”

“Oh, so you’ve had a fun night.” Riley’s mouth turned up in a grin, which I found myself mirroring.

Quinn was all concern. She rushed over and started checking me over, like an angel hadn’t just tended to me. The look on Eli’s face as she shoved him out of the way was pretty amusing.

“I’m Donovan McGregor,” my ex said to Eli, offering his hand.

“Eli Whitesong.” Eli took his hand, which Donovan proceeded to squeeze hard enough to crush a rock, but Eli just smiled.

Boys. I rolled my eyes. “I’m gonna go get a shirt on,” I said, standing carefully so as not to flash everyone.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before, honey,” Donovan crooned with a smirk.

“Shut the hell up.” I stalked out of the room, returning a moment later in a white cotton tee. “Eli, Donovan is the leader of the shifter pack I contracted to help us track down Alexander. So, unfortunately, we’ll be seeing a lot of him.” I shot another glare in D’s direction, but he just grinned wolfishly.

“Glad to have you on the team,” Eli said, though his eyes were a tad frosty.

“Do you angels drink whiskey?” Donovan asked. Which would have been completely random, but the Irish always have to ask that question.

Eli’s expression turned puzzled. “Sure, sometimes.”

Gotta say, that surprised me.

“Well anyone who can down some whiskey is good in my book. Maybe sometime we can open up a bottle of Jameson and exchange war stories.”

Eli smiled. “Sure, sounds good.”

Riley looked between the two of them like he was peeved to be left off the boys night invite. As if sensing this, Donovan added, “And of course Riley’ll have to join us. He can drink us all under the table.”

“That’s ‘cause he has supersonic metabolism,” Quinn said.

“Hey, you go running five times a week and eat all organic like I do, and your metabolism would be just as awesome,” he responded smugly.

“Yeah, and the whole werewolf thing doesn’t hurt either,” I laughed.

Riley just shrugged and smiled.

I abruptly felt sleep pulling on me like a pair of cement boots. “I’m going to bed,” I groaned. I caught Eli’s eyes for a moment. A new understanding had formed between us, a battle bond that eased the tension. A bit. “Thanks for fixing me up.”

“Sure. Should I swing back by around five?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

I turned and trudged into the delicious darkness of my room. I fell face first on my bed, wiggled out of my jeans, and pulled the covers up to my chin. It was gross since I still had dried blood on me, but I didn’t care. Dawn was almost here. I could almost sense the sun, the first rays of it lightening the blackness to a dark, dark eggplant hue. A hue which would lighten to indigo, then cerulean, then lavender to rosebud and finally a pale turquoise.

A soft sound; the door opening and then closing. “I’m fine, Quinn. Really,” I murmured.

“Not Quinn,” Donovan said, his voice low and deep.

“What do you want?” I sat up in bed, my heart thrumming, feeling instantly awake again.

“I thought maybe you needed to feed. Since you got all banged up tonight and all.”

In the dark, I could see the outline of him standing a couple feet away. His whiskey/leather scent washed into me. “Are you suicidal? I eat souls.”

“Shifters are damned anyways. Might as well put my soul to good use while I have control over it.” He took a step closer.

“I’m pretty sure you’d die. That’s what happens to my other victims,” I said sourly.

Another step. “They’re all humans. I’m not.” He was close enough now that I could reach out and touch him. His shifter energy was merging into mine again, the air between us tight, static. “Have you ever tried it?”

“No, tough guy, I haven’t. It’s not exactly a risk I’m comfortable with.” It certainly piqued my curiosity, however. Even as the words left my mouth, I tuned in to his soul, his life force. Some people claimed they were two separate things. Maybe they were separate, maybe they weren’t. All I knew was that when I claimed someone’s soul, they died. Donovan’s soul was certainly different than a human’s. More vibrant and strong, and instead of the usual color scale that fell anywhere between shiny and white to thick and dark, his was a light silver, pulsating with occasional flashes of color.

Donovan sat down next to me, his thigh brushing against mine. Hunger washed over me, lust and a need for energy all wrapped together in a twisted tangle of hot emotion. Slowly, he took my hand and pressed my palm against his chest. His heartbeat pounded like a symphony against my skin. He was inches away. All I had to do was lean forward, press my lips against his, and call forth all that vibrancy that ran within him…

I shoved him away from me, hard. “Get the hell out of here,” I growled, my voice ragged.

“I’m strong enough, Zy. I can handle it.”

“Get. Out!”

He got up off the bed wordlessly and slipped back out of the room.

I lay there in the dark, shivering with the thought of how close I had come to taking Donovan’s soul. His reentry into my life caused complication I didn’t care for. I liked my exes to stay exes. And now two of them were back. One I wanted to kill, and one that was practically serving his life up on a silver platter. Donovan was almost worse, because as much as I would have liked to simply hate him, I didn’t. In fact, I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt about him, and that didn’t make me happy at all. Again, complicated.

And thinking of the one ex made me think of the other. An image of Alexander’s blue eyes flashed through my head, and I felt a hot wave of anger. And with it came another intense pang of hunger. He was the reason my carefully cultivated control was crumbling. He reminded me of those early days as an Anam Gatai. The still-fresh pain mixed with the thrill of my new powers and the overwhelming need for revenge and the satisfaction of my hunger. When Olga had shown me every trick in her book and I’d had no control over myself. It was raw and intense, and a part of me… missed it.

Ugh. I was definitely going to have to get a real meal tomorrow before I got back to work.

Nighttime was usually when I fed, when I could walk the dark alleys until some sexist low life spotted me and thought he’d take advantage of the situation. So, a daytime feed required a bit more work on my end. Luckily there was a “gentleman’s” club not too far from my house, and the men there were usually easy pickings.

I put on a pair of skin-tight jeans and a low-cut black halter top and headed on down to the fine establishment. When I entered the dim, smoke-filled room I headed straight for the bar. I hadn’t even downed my first martini before a middle-aged suit sidled up next to me.

“You going on shift soon, honey?”

I took a quick peek into his eyes. The old saying is right—they really are the window to the soul. And what I saw inside was dark and thick like a salted slug. It wasn’t appetizing in the least. But it kept me alive. “No, I just come for the entertainment,” I said, winking and flashing him a smile. “I party with some of the girls here.”

“Party?” he asked, his smile broadening into a grin.

I just smiled coyly in return and let his imagination take it to the next level. Two minutes later he was following me into the bathroom. And he wasted zero seconds in letting his true colors show.

“I bet you’re a dirty girl,” he whispered, trying to shove me up against the wall. “You like it rough I bet. We’ll see if you can handle what I’ve got.” From within his jacket pocket he pulled a shiny knife which he caressed down my cheek.

Yep, I knew how to pick ‘em. I spun in a tight circle around him. He blinked as he suddenly realized he was the one against the wall.

“I’m not nearly as dirty as you.”

I leaned forward and pressed my lips to his, my hand encircling his throat to pin him in place. Inhaling deeply, I called his life force up from within him and it coursed down my throat like a hot, silky breeze. Five seconds and it was done. His body slumped to the floor and I felt energy fill me, like charging a battery. It was impure though. Nothing like the clean souls Olga and I had fed on those centuries ago.

After the initial buzz of energy came the inevitable unpleasant aftereffects.

The look of terror in a young college student’s eyes. Another woman, fistful of brown hair, struggling as she’s pinned to the floor. A rush of power, a thrill of adrenaline. Blood, vivid and thick, coursing down a woman’s cheek. Screams. Someone begging…

For about sixty seconds the memories and emotions of the person I’d drained would course through me, and I just had to grit my teeth and ride it out. It wasn’t exactly a trip to the park to have the thoughts and feelings of a rapist or murderer floating about in your body. The only thing that made it bearable was knowing I’d taken another sick lowlife off the face of the planet so he couldn’t victimize anyone else. That and knowing I was one baby-step closer to atoning for my past. If that was even possible. Of course, sometimes I wondered if the opposite happened: was I somehow being tainted by these dark souls?

The soul-meld passed and I let out a deep breath of relief. I stepped over the lifeless body and walked out of the club, erasing the memory of me from the minds of all within. They’d find Mr. Rough later and the coroner would find his cause of death to be a heart attack. And that was the end of the tale, a sad and depressing tale.

I got back to the apartment just before five. Eli was quite punctual, not that I was expecting anything different from an angel. He watched me curiously as I ate my usual breakfast of Fruit Loops on the sofa. I needed to get the taste of dirty life force out of my mouth. Quinn and Riley were making a racket in the kitchen getting their breakfast, and Malakai was chowing down on her steak.

“So, just out of curiosity, do angels sleep, or what?” I asked between mouthfuls.

Eli laughed. “Yeah, we sleep. Though we can go a really long time without it if we need to.”

“Like how long?” I raised a brow.

“Weeks.” He took a seat opposite me, sensing it was going to take the crew a while to get geared up.

“Hey, I went skydiving with an angel once,” Riley piped in as he came around the corner from the kitchen. “No parachute.”

“Yeah? That’s interesting.” Eli’s tone indicated he didn’t exactly think highly of his fellow heavenly bodies using their flying skills for such dangerous dare-devil stunts. He flicked his eyes back over to me. “My turn for a question. What exactly are the powers of an Anam Gatai?”

I took a bite of cereal. “Well, immortality unless decapitated, burned or stripped of our innards. Good regenerative capabilities. Strength. A bit of magic, kind of like a witch.”

“I’ve never met one of your kind before,” he said with a mix of curiosity and a hint of frustration. I bet he didn’t like not being an expert on things.

“An Anam Gatai is born of pain and heart break, and the need for revenge. There are only females, no males. Our creator turns young girls who experience unrequited love or betrayal like herself.”

“Interesting,” was all he said after a moment’s pause. “And can you turn others into Anam Gatai?”

“I’ve never tried.” I locked gazes with him, the cereal churning in my stomach. “I wouldn’t subject anyone else to this life. Subsisting on souls is awful.”

Eli’s face twisted in surprise. “You eat souls?”

Somebody clearly hadn’t done their homework. “Yeah. I usually stick to the scum of society. I suppose you could call me a garbage disposal.” I was blunt intentionally—if we were going to work together, I needed him to know who and what I was and get over any sensitivities.

“Sooo, what’s the plan for today?” Quinn called from the kitchen after a moment of awkward silence.

“I think we need to stop by Arianna Vega’s house,” I said.

Riley’s jaw dropped. “You are totally suicidal.”

Quinn looked equally shocked.

Eli looked between the two of them. “No, I actually like that idea. Be direct. If Alexander doesn’t know we’re on to him, no doubt he will soon. Let’s put a little pressure on.”

I eyed Eli with new respect. “Exactly. Alexander’s not dumb. He knows I’m after him. No doubt it was written all over my face last night at Will’s. But if I let him know that I’ve teamed up with the HR, maybe he’ll let something slip.” I put the last spoonful of cereal in my mouth. “Though he’s such a cocky asshole, maybe not. Worth a shot though.”

We all sat in contemplation for a moment. The doorbell rang. “Donovan probably.” I crossed to the door and opened it.

Not Donovan.

A man in a full tux stood before me. Like, cummerbund, lapels, white gloves, the whole nine yards. “Miss Zyan Star?” Yep, he had a British accent.

“Ms. Zyan Star, yes,” I responded.

“This is for you. An invitation from my mistress.” He extended a pristine hand.

Held delicately within his fingers was a small envelope made of cream-colored paper that looked rather expensive. My name was hand written in fancy calligraphy on the front. I plucked it from his hand.

“Madam,” the servant said, bowing and retreating back down the hall.

I turned and shut the door, feeling the eyes of the others heavy upon me. I cut through the red wax seal with my fingernail and pulled out the card within. My eyes grew large as I read it. “No way…”

“What is it?” asked Riley impatiently.

I lifted the paper for them to see. “A dinner invitation. From Arianna Vega.”

[]CHAPTER EIGHT

“You’re joking.” Quinn gawked at me.

“How creepy is this?” Riley said, biting his nails.

“A coincidence? Or a trap?” Eli asked, to no one in particular.

I sat back down on the sofa, my head spinning. “Definitely creepy. Coincidence? Doubtful. Trap? Probably. Oooh, what am I going to wear?”

Quinn rolled her eyes, while Riley looked contemplative. “When is this dinner?” Eli asked.

I glanced back down at the invitation. “Tonight. How convenient.”

“Too convenient,” Quinn said, her brow wrinkled.

“And it implies a certain assumption that you have no social life.” Riley smirked at me.

“Nah, she just assumes everyone will say yes to her. Especially with the pompous delivery boy and all that.” I got up. “Luckily for her, she was already in my datebook for tonight. I’m gonna go get dressed.”

“I’ll come help!” Riley and Quinn said simultaneously. I grinned, and Eli even cracked a smile.

A bit later I was dressed, rather smashingly if I may say so myself, in a black satin dress. Only to the knees of course, so I could fight if I needed to.

“So, you’re just going to walk in there all alone? What if it’s an ambush?” Quinn asked as we walked back out into the living room.

“Sorry, dearest, the invitation didn’t have a ‘plus one’.” I gave her a comforting pat on the back.

“We’ll be on standby right around the corner,” Eli said. “In case you get in a pinch. If you’re not out of there in two hours, we’ll come for you.”

I figured he didn’t realize how knight-in-shining-armor he sounded. Probably just another angel thing.

“Even better,” Quinn said, looking excited, “I have an amulet you can wear that will alert me if you get in trouble. Be right back.”

She ran to her room and emerged with a pair of crystal necklaces strung on thin ribbon. After murmuring a quick spell over them, she strung one around my neck, and the other around hers.

I looked down at the yellowish crystal hanging at my collarbone. “You know this totally doesn’t go with my outfit.”

Quinn rolled her eyes. “Get over it, Zy.”

“How exactly do they work?” My tone was dubious.

“Yours is imbued with a spell that senses danger to the wearer. If it senses danger, it will magically transmit back to my amulet, which will glow red. Then we’ll bust in and save you.” She smiled gracefully, as if talking about her favorite cookie recipe.

“Okay, but I’m just going to make a couple adjustments.” I cast a quick glamour that changed the appearance of the crystal from rough-cut stone to a gleaming diamond shape set in silver. Another quick flick of my hand turned the ribbon to a round silver choker. “Much better.”

Quinn sighed. “What would be better is if you quit focusing on simple glamours and worked on deeper magic. You know, the kind that can actually save your life.”

I should have known I was going to get another lecture on my use of my powers. I’d been getting that drill for almost a decade.

“Are you girls done?” Riley quipped. “We need to roll.”

Quinn cast me one last reproving look. “Yes, we’re done. For now,” she added over her shoulder as we headed for the door.

Arianna Vega’s penthouse was located in a posh sky rise in downtown Seattle off Union Street. Her building was a veritable hotspot for all the city’s supe royalty, as well as the human politicians, attorneys, and entrepreneurs. While society hadn’t gotten quite comfortable enough yet to allow supes to win any political seats (and in fact it was illegal in some states), the upper echelons were so close knit I’m sure Arianna and others like her had significant influence. Not to mention she could glamour them any time her charm alone didn’t do the trick.

About half a block from the penthouse we pulled over in an alley and I got out. “Good luck,” Riley said.

“Thanks.” But I knew luck had nothing to do with it.

“And be careful,” Quinn added.

“Well now you’re just asking too much.” I grinned and strode off to the street. Just as I rounded the corner, I saw a flash of wings moving up the side of the nearest building. I guess I had my own personal guardian angel.

Not one but two doormen stood at the entrance to Arianna’s building. Just in case one of them needed backup? I giggled to myself. This was going to be a totally over-the-top evening. I handed the closest doorman my invitation, which he glanced at imperiously. He looked me up and down as if sizing me up for something. If he had X-ray vision he’d know I had a dagger strapped to each thigh. But apparently he didn’t, because he gave me a weak upturning of the lips that was supposed to pass as a smile and waved me on.

The cost of the lobby of this place could probably have fed an entire third-world village. Or twenty. It made even the HR’s headquarters look shabby. Gleaming black marble floors and pillars, chandeliers oozing with hand-cut crystals, a frescoed ceiling. Even the air was heavily perfumed, like walking through a field of blooming flowers. I wondered what Arianna had done to make her money. I doubted it was anything legal.

Two more black-clad doormen stood at the entrance to the elevators, and two more at the exit on the 51st floor. As one of them escorted me to Arianna’s door, I wondered if they doubled as ninja assassins. It just didn’t seem Arianna would have a normal staff at her service. Though they were just humans, I could tell that much. We arrived at the door, which was opened by yet another of Arianna’s staff, who bowed and did a little flourishy thing with his hand.

It seemed Arianna had a thing for red. An ode to blood? The color was displayed boldly throughout the room that lay before me, from the thick velvety curtains that pooled to the floor, to the gigantic arrangement of flowers in the center of the room, to the expansive Persian rug. Even the candles flickering in the crystal sconces were red.

Though I’d arrived exactly on time, the room was already filled with people, giving me the impression they’d all been told to arrive at a different time. It was a showcase of Seattle’s elite supernatural families. Most supes chose to affiliate with a group. Vamps and witches had covens, weres and shapeshifters had packs, faeries had intricate hierarchies based on bloodline, and so on and so forth. And I of course was a loner, being a rare type of supe. Anam Gatai weren’t exactly popping up at every corner. We were sort of like vamps. And witches. And incubi and succubi. But we weren’t, and none of them had invited us into the family. Fine by me, since I found most of the groups to be very political, full of power struggles and rules. Plus, I had friends all across the supe world, which was frowned upon if you were a member of a vamp coven or faerie family.

Vamps were especially exclusive. They thought they were the most powerful of all the supes, and superior to everyone else since they had started Evo. While they had an uneasy truce with the other supes, they didn’t usually hang in the same social circles, The Assembly being the one exception. It was made up of ninety percent vamps, however, and now, here I was, in the viper pit of snooty vamp society. The head of every vamp coven in Seattle was present here tonight. Who I didn’t see was Alexander.

“Zyan!” came a delighted voice behind me. I turned to see a beaming Arianna Vega, wearing a slinky green dress as per her usual style, and cascades of red curls and diamonds. “I’m so glad you could make it!”

I hated fakey-fake conversation. When both people know they don’t like each other, but pretend anyways to serve whatever ulterior motive. Like now. I swallowed down my disgust and smiled in return. I had a job to do. “Thanks for the invite. Though I am a bit surprised.”

“Well, it’s just been so long since I’ve seen you, I figured we should chat and catch up. And now that you’re here, we can start dinner. I’ve sat you right next to me.” She said this like she’d just bestowed a royal title upon me. Her green eyes glimmered warmly, like I was her long lost best friend. Did this approach really work with anyone?

“Great,” I responded, showing my hugest smile. Two could play this game.

Arianna smiled even wider, which I hadn’t thought possible, and raised her glass of champagne. She tapped the side of it with her fingernail, which made a shockingly loud noise. “Dinner’s starting, everyone! Please take your seats!”

She shepherded us like good little sheep into an enormous dining room. Two walls of solid glass looked out over the city. Was Eli perched outside somewhere watching? Arianna led me down the length of the gleaming table, which seated all thirty or so of us present. Crystal goblets and sterling silver lined the table in perfect symmetry. She pulled out an ornate brocade chair and gestured for me to sit.

The moment she sat down, an army of waiters stepped forth from the shadows and filled our wine glasses. Mine had regular wine since I wasn’t a blood drinker, but most of the rest were filled with blood. They had businesses now that collected blood from donors for money, and some rich vamps even had blood servants, but this kind of thing was frowned upon. Since Evo, vamps had agreed to subsist on synthetic blood, and these blood collecting services existed in sort of a supernatural black market. I glanced around at the other guests as they drank freely. Laws were apparently far beneath them, not that this came as a shock to me.

Dinner consisted of five courses. The first course was a blood orange gazpacho with actual blood in it, naturally. The second was a salad of chilled shrimp and watermelon, with blood balsamic. Third came an antipasto plate with an assortment of extra bloody cuts of meat, and the main course was prime rib, cooked bloody. Again, my dishes were all made sans blood. Arianna of course kept up a steady stream of meaningless small talk throughout the whole thing, so that by the end, I felt an aneurism coming on.

It wasn’t until dessert that the real games began, however. As the wait staff brought forth little chocolate soufflés dusted with gold in intricate designs forming the initials of each guest, Arianna stood up to make a speech.

“I hope everyone enjoyed dinner.” The guests all nodded and murmured their appreciation, to which Arianna beamed graciously. “And for dessert we have a special treat. In honor of my guest, Zyan Star.” Arianna indicated me with a wave of her hand like I was part of a circus freak show. “Thank you, Zyan, for inspiring this delicious evening of fine food, wine, and most importantly, good company.”

Everyone applauded and whistled, and I even heard a few people call my name. Arianna sat back down and lifted a spoonful of soufflé to her mouth. “Mmmmm.” After a moment of silence with her dessert, Arianna began the real conversation. “In addition to catching up, the reason I asked you here tonight, Zyan, is that I’m hoping you’ll consider joining us on The Assembly.”

I suppressed a snort. This whole thing was just bullshit. She wanted me under her thumb, and I needed to know why. Or at least confirm what I already suspected. So I continued our little dance. “Out of curiosity, why are you asking me now? We’ve known each other for quite some time.”

Arianna laughed. It was all things a dainty laugh hiding dark intentions should be. “The Assembly is the seat of power in the supernatural world, and over the years we’ve garnered support and influence in other circles as well—with the other supernaturals, as well as the humans. We even have sway within the angelic and demonic realms.” She paused, taking a slow sip of her blood while fixing me with a moss green gaze. “In our realm, the HRs and their angelic forces control the balance of power. But that may not be the case much longer.”

I twirled my spoon between my fingers. It kind of surprised me she was actually saying this. She was either very arrogant, or—nah, just arrogant. “What do you mean?”

Arianna smiled demurely. God knows she was anything but. “It’s been said in the supernatural gossip circles that you’ve recently been working with the HR and one of his angelic commanders. I hear he’s quite a hottie!” She winked conspiratorially with me. “And it’s just, with events that are soon to unfold, I’d hate for you to end up on the wrong side of things.”

“The wrong side of things… yes, I see your point.” I smiled. “Arianna, tell me, where is Alexander tonight?”

Her eyes flashed for just a moment before she smiled again. Her fangs showed a little this time. “Alexander?”

“Alexander Roman. My ex. Because I heard in the supernatural gossip circles that he’s staying in this house.” I smiled again as our dance changed tempo, but this time it held ice.

“He had other plans tonight,” Arianna said. Her voice had gone flat and she let her spoon clatter noisily to her silver-rimmed china plate.

I suddenly felt cold in my gut. “Plans at HR headquarters?” I asked, forcing a neutral tone.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Arianna’s sweet smile was back, the mask firmly in place.

“Of course not,” I responded. “And I’m very glad to hear that. After all, I’d hate for you to end up on the wrong side of things.” I stood, laying my napkin on the table. “Dinner was lovely. Do tell Alexander I stopped by—I’m very much looking forward to seeing him again.”

Arianna stood as well, gesturing for two servants to escort me out. These however, were not the nose-in-the-air butler types. These servants had some serious muscles, black sunglasses and those little earpiece things secret agents wore. The message was quite clear. “Thank you for coming, Zyan. I do hope you’ll reconsider my offer.”

“I won’t, but thanks.” I turned and strode out of the room, making the musclemen practically jog to keep up. And I wasn’t just trying to be annoying. Fear gnawed at my stomach. What better time for Alexander to make an attempt on the HR’s life than when Eli and I were conveniently occupied?

As soon as I got to the hallway I tried to call Eli’s cell, but he was on the other line. The elevator seemed to take an eternity to reach the ground floor. I didn’t bother keeping up any air of propriety. As soon as the doors opened, I sped out of the building.

My phone rang. “It’s Eli. Someone’s broken into headquarters.” His voice was calm, though I knew better.

“Be there in a sec,” I said.

I’d thought Alexander was simply hiding in another room so Arianna could schmooze me in a lame attempt to get me under control. But now I realized I was wrong. Dead wrong.

I had barely reached the alleyway when Eli swooped down, grabbed me by the waist, and launched into the sky. Under different circumstances, I would have protested. We shot through that space between spaces, the interdimensional freeway. I made a mental note to ask Eli more about how he did it later.

We landed hard enough to cause a crack in the pavement beneath us, proof enough that Eli was not completely calm, despite the stoic expression he wore. I realized we weren’t in the front parking lot with the marble steps and twinkling lamplights, the public front. We were at the back of the building, which looked more like a penitentiary or military encampment. Rows of armored vehicles lined one side of the barbed-wire encircled area; a number of hover crafts, motorcycles and cars lined the other. Even with the faint shimmer of the force field that domed over the roof, there was nothing peaceful or ethereal about this place.

As I followed Eli towards a door at the back of the building, I wondered how one would go about penetrating the defenses of the building. Having been through them myself, I figured it would be near impossible. Unless, that is, you had someone helping you on the inside. Mental notes two and three: get a schematic of the building, and talk to Eli about the possibility of a traitor.

When we hit the interior of the building, I noticed the lights had dimmed to a dull red to indicate a security breach. Why was it they always dimmed the light when you were trying to find the bad guy?

“The HR’s in the safe room,” Eli said to me over his shoulder. “The security cameras caught one glimpse of Alexander when he first entered the building, but they’ve since lost visual on him.”

Vamps his age had a Santa Claus size bag of tricks, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Alexander could turn himself into mist or something. Unfortunately, since the jerk had abandoned me early on, I hadn’t had a chance to learn all his moves.

Eli turned down a flight of steps leading to a subterranean level of the compound. We descended at least two stories, passing no doors or passages leading off anywhere. After a couple minutes, a door finally loomed below us. It was open, which it shouldn’t have been judging by the look on Eli’s face. I stepped through the door into something slick. Blood. Six of the HR’s warriors lay dead just inside the door. Tension rolled up Eli’s jaw, and his eyes went cold with fury.

We broke into a run down the hall. I was faster so I pulled ahead, racing for the door at the end. Another pile of warriors lay in front of the door. I leapt over them into the room beyond. The light was even dimmer here, but I could see two figures on the opposite side of the room. One standing, sword in hand, one kneeling.

“Alexander!” I screamed.

Crossing the room in a blur of movement, I knocked him to the ground. We struggled, limbs flying. I flipped him over on his back and straddled him, landing a bone-crunching punch to his jaw. The assassin looked up at me.

It wasn’t Alexander.

It was a woman wearing a mask over her eyes, ninja style. At that moment, that split second when the shock of realization hit me, something smashed into the back of my head and everything went black.

[]CHAPTER NINE

Something acrid was being waved beneath my nose. I jumped up and flailed violently in the general direction of the hand near my face.

“Settle down, Zyan, it’s just me.” Eli was sitting on the floor of the safe room. The HR sat next to him.

“Oh, thank God,” I breathed.

“Yes, I’m sure He had something to do with it,” the HR said, a gentle smile on his lips. Such a peaceful expression, despite coming within a hair of being murdered.

“How long was I out? Where’s the assassin?” I asked, my words and my tongue tripping over each other.

“You were only out about five minutes. And the assassins, plural, got away. It seems Alexander has an accomplice.” Eli rolled the muscles in his jaw again, his expression stony.

“The one I tackled, the one that almost…” I trailed off. “It was a woman. But she was wearing a mask, so I couldn’t identify her. Alexander must have been cloaking himself somehow… someone hit me from behind.”

“Yes,” the HR said simply. “Alexander appeared out of nothing behind you. At that moment Elijah entered the room, and the two assassins fled.”

“I tried to follow them, but they were too fast.” Eli looked down at the floor. “I have a lot of talents, but not a vamp’s super speed.”

I looked back and forth between the two of them. “I don’t get it. They’d come so close. Why not kill you, Eli, and then the HR? They cut through a dozen other warriors… it doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t know.” Eli paced back and forth, running his hands through his hair in frustration.

I walked towards him and placed a hand on his back. “I’m sorry about your friends. They died nobly.” He met my eyes, and I was surprised to see they’d changed, deepened to a darker purple. And within that purple swam pain that took my breath away. “We’re going to get him. And her. Whoever the hell she is. I promise you.”

The HR rose from where he’d been sitting on the floor. “I will perform the blessings now.” He walked out into the hallway and squatted by the nearest fallen warrior, head bent in prayer. I watched as blood seeped slowly up into his white robes before averting my eyes.

“In order to properly do my job I’m going to need to know everything there is to know about this building and its security,” I said. Eli nodded, and we both turned as we heard footsteps coming down the hall. Backup had finally arrived. A little too late.

“I’m going to be busy here for a while,” he said. “I’ll have someone send the needed documents over to your apartment.”

“Okay.” We walked out into the hall. “Can I stay and help with anything?” It felt lame and inadequate, but I didn’t know what else to say.

“No. The bodies have to be blessed and moved according to strict ritual. Only the HR and his staff can assist.” He paused. “But, thanks.”

It wasn’t until a little after sunset the next day that Eli showed up at my apartment. As promised, he’d had someone send over all the security information shortly after I’d arrived home the evening before, so I’d gotten to familiarize myself with it. Now that I’d read through all of it, my initial hunch that someone inside HR headquarters was helping Alexander had grown even stronger. There were just some things that didn’t add up.

“Who disabled the laser grids in the passage to the safe room?” I asked Eli, after the pleasantries had been exchanged, I’d gotten him a drink, and we’d made ourselves comfortable on the couch. “Since once they’re activated they can only be turned off in the main control room?”

“It seems that’s what Alexander’s accomplice was doing while Alexander was taking care of the first set of guards at the bottom of the stairs. The warriors in the control room were dead.” He took a sip of his drink. His eyes had returned to a cool, controlled lavender.

“Okay. So, Alexander breached the back door, presumably after jumping over the walls of the compound. The alarms went off, you were called, the HR and two dozen warriors were sent down to the safe room. Then the other multitudes of warriors roamed about upstairs because no one could catch Alexander and his accomplice on the security cameras.” I drummed my fingers on the security notebook sitting in my lap. “What about the door leading down to the safe room stairs? It appeared completely untampered with. How did they get through it? And how did she even make it all the way to the control room anyways?”

“I don’t know, they must have somehow found out the layout of the building. He’s just really good. And his accomplice, too.” Eli sighed in frustration.

“I barely knew Alexander as a vampire,” I said. Eli lifted his head and looked at me. “He left shortly after revealing that side of himself. Until two days ago, I hadn’t seen him since then, over two hundred years ago. I heard things about him here and there. Being over two thousand years old, he’s extremely dangerous, that’s for sure. But it just seems to me that this was all too easy, even for him.”

Eli’s eyes flared slightly, then narrowed. “What exactly are you saying?”

“I think you know what I’m saying, Eli.” I held his gaze steadily.

“No. This was not an inside job. None of the angels would betray the HR. That’s tantamount to betraying God himself.” He shook his head back and forth vigorously.

“I’m just saying I think we need to consider the possibility—”

“And I’m saying it’s not a possibility.” He stood and began to pace like a cat, much like he had down in the safe room.

His stupidity and blindness to the situation pissed me off. “God damn it, Eli, it is a possibility. Just a possibility. That’s all I’m saying.”

He spun on me. “You know nothing of angels, and true purity. You’re a soul thief, so I don’t blame you for being suspicious, but I’m telling you—”

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” I stood and jabbed my finger into his chest. “If you’re so blinded to what could be lying right under your nose, maybe you aren’t the best person for this job. We’re trying to keep the HR alive here, not play a game of favorites.”

“I thought you were just trying to get revenge on Alexander—or did I miss something? Since when are you so holier than thou? You’re as far from it as you can get, in case someone hasn’t told you.” His face was twisted in very un-angelic fury.

“Get the hell out of my house!” I pointed a finger at the door.

He shot me one last glare, then stalked out.

I sank down on the sofa, trembling all over. Who the hell did he think he was? Douche bag angels…

Riley and Quinn popped their heads around the hall corner. “What the flip just happened?” Riley asked, walking over cautiously.

“I don’t want to talk about it. I just want a goddamn drink. I’m going to Noir.” I got up and headed for the door.

“I’ll drive,” Quinn offered, following after me.

“Fine,” I said. I saw Riley raise his eyebrows at Quinn.

A few minutes later, Quinn pulled her little yellow car into the underground lot beneath Noir. A couple minutes after that, I was enjoying a siren’s kiss martini with extra cherries. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the bar. I always took a couple days off a week, but even on the nights my other staff were running Noir, we almost always came up here to hang. It was my place, even more so than my apartment. Home.

Quinn waited until after my second martini to broach the subject. “So are you off the case? Or what?”

I sighed. “Maybe officially. But I’m still going to find Alexander, and I’m still going to kill him. They can’t stop me from that.” I bit into one of the vodka-soaked cherries. “Though I’m actually going to feel guilty if anything happens to the HR. I think they’re screwed without me. And I don’t want an innocent person to die because of a petty argument.”

She placed her hand on mine. “Sorry, Zy. I wish I could help.”

“I know.” I cast her a watery smile.

“You know what else?” Quinn asked, “I think you like Eli, and that’s what’s got you so pissed off.”

“I do not like Eli,” I laughed. “Have you been sneaking shots behind my back?”

“No.” She pursed her lips. “But you get insulted all the time. I think you actually enjoy it from most people. But you took it personally this time.”

“Look, Quinn,” I said, pointing at my chest. “In case you forgot, I’m a soul sucker. Eternally damned. Eli, on the other hand, is an angel. A frigging angel. You’ve gone off the deep end.”

She smiled triumphantly. “So you’re saying if it was possible for you to be together you might like him!”

“What? No, goddamn it! That’s not what I’m saying at all. Joel!” I yelled to my closest bartender. “Has Quinn been hittin’ the Patron?”

Joel was used to my rants, so he just grinned and shook his head.

I turned back to Quinn. “I’m simply pointing out another layer of absurdity to your fairy tale romance.”

Riley sloshed over with another round of drinks. “Drink up, ladies.”

I glowered at Quinn. “This little witch has had quite enough for the night.”

“Oh, God, what did I miss?” Riley placed a hand on his hip, eyeing us both.

“Nothing. Never mind,” I grumbled as Quinn burst out laughing.

Both luckily and unluckily, my metabolism is speedier than NASCAR. So, I found myself sobering up a couple hours later in one of the supernatural black markets in the University District, having convinced an inebriated Riley and Quinn to assist me in tracking down an old informant of mine. I needed more information on Alexander’s accomplice, and their plans. And I knew just the weasel that could help me. I meant that in the most literal sense, of course. A lot of informants do tend to conjure the image of a sly yet skittish fellow. But Franklin Johnston was actually a weasel. A wereweasel that is.

I decided to leave the roomies in a witch friend’s tea parlor because they were too drunk to be of any use at all, which I realized now that I was no longer drunk. Once the topic had switched to Celine Dion I knew they were beyond useless. I wandered down a dark alley with some dandelion root in my hand, one of a wereweasel’s favorite snacks. The chaotic light and color of the supe market fell behind me, though the lute song of a centaur street musician still snaked through the shadows.

“Here, weasel-weasel-weasel,” I chanted as if looking for a lost kitten.

I knew Franklin frequented this particular dark alley, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before I picked up the pitter patter of little furry feet over the slimy asphalt underfoot. The gleam of his beetle-black eyes became visible before his lanky body separated from the gloom. I squatted down and offered him the dandelion root, which he greedily gobbled up before scampering off again. “Franklin, you little slime! Get back here!”

I counted to ten, and just before I could get good and furious, I heard scampering feet again, coming from the other direction. A tall, lanky figure sprung up, seemingly from the concrete. Brushing greasy bangs out of his pale face, he said, “I smell dandelion root.”

“Well, I did have some, until some other asshole weasel ate it and ran off. Since when have there been other random weasels roaming about Seattle?” I drummed my fingernails on my upper arm.

“Yeah, that’s my girlfriend,” Franklin said. “She can be a real bitch. But the things she can do with—”

“Eww, Franklin, TMI! Do you mind?”

“Not really.” He smiled lewdly. “Well, what can I do ya for, Zy?”

I took a steadying breath. “One of my exes is in town. But you already knew that, right?”

Franklin rolled his eyes. “I knew that before he even got here.”

“I need to know more about the woman he’s with.”

“Arianna Vega? She’s all over the news every day.” He gave me a look that said I was wasting his time. He sure could be snobby for an informant.

“No,” I hissed. “Not her. The woman he brought with him. That he’s working with.”

Franklin’s eyes got real shifty. “That’s gonna cost you.”

“Fine. Five cases of your favorite gin. Tanqueray, right?” The smell of the alley was really giving me a headache, and I wished he’d just hurry up and tell me what I needed to know.

Franklin licked his lips. “Ten cases.”

“Whatever,” I sighed. “But this better be good info.”

“I’m always good, baby,” Franklin said, his smile returning.

“Don’t call me baby again unless you want to lose your little weasel balls. Got it? Now spill.” I was tapping my foot now, and I saw a flicker of fear in his eyes.

“Okay, okay. She’s one of his vamp offspring. I don’t know when he turned her, but they’ve been traveling together a while, doing different special jobs, you know?”

I felt a stab of surprise. From what I’d heard of Alexander, he always turned ‘em and dumped ‘em. “What’s her name?”

“Anna.”

“Anna what?”

“I don’t know her last name, okay? Vamps are always changing with the times anyways, there’s no telling what her real name is.” He jutted out his pointy chin defensively.

“Is that it? You said this would be good…” My eyes narrowed.

He rubbed his hands together and looked from side to side as is someone could be listening. “The different jobs? They do a lot of high-tech shit, burglaries and stuff. That’s where he gets all his money. Well, and old-school assassination. And Alexander, he’s like a couple millennium old, right, so why does he need this chick? Well,” he lowered his voice now, “She’s got some sort of special powers. It helps them on their jobs.”

“What kind of powers?”

“Don’t know exactly. For real,” he added when I took a step towards him.

“Alright. One more question. What do you know about all these dimensional breaches?” I locked him in my gaze.

“Oh, that’s a crazy mess, that is. I’ll tell you what, Zy. This info’s on the house, if you’re going to do something about that shit.” I nodded and he continued. “Some of the lower level demons and the spawn come up here to buy brimstone liquor from the witches, and sometimes they get wasted and blab about junk. Well, these ones a few days ago, they started talking about how there’s this whole plan for the demons to invade Earth, like a total takeover and everything. And running their traps about how the Devil isn’t satisfied with The Agreement, and so they’re bustin’ out and stuff. Then, this higher demon steps right out of space and burns them all to ash, just like that. Thank God or whoever I was in my weasel body and he didn’t see me. I ran so fast and so long I thought my little feet were going to fall off. Completely wacked, it was.”

Shit and double shit. I would have to tell Eli that. Which meant I was going to have to be the first one to break the silence after the argument, which blew big time.

Oh, and the demonic invasion sucked, too.

“Thanks, Franklin. This is really helpful. I’ll do my best to stop whatever they’re up to.”

Franklin looked doubtful. “I hope you can, Zy. I enjoy my simple weasel existence.”

I didn’t hold it against him. I mean, I’m good, but I was still only one woman against the hordes of Hell. What chance did any of us have? “Alright, well see you later, Franklin,” I said.

Without a word, he spun and scampered off. I thought that was a bit rude, but then I wasn’t exactly Miss Manners. I shrugged. Well, at least a demonic invasion would take the pressure off my whole eternally damned situation. I didn’t have to worry about going to Hell when I died permanently if Hell had already come to Earth. I turned to trudge back down the alley, get some chamomile tea at the witch’s shop, and contemplate the end of life as we know it.

That’s when I saw what had made Franklin depart in such a hurry.

[]CHAPTER TEN

There were about twenty in all. Vampires, at least one from each of the Seattle covens. So, Arianna was making good on her threat. She sure didn’t waste any time.

“Here to kill me, huh?” I crouched down into a fighting stance and pulled my blade out, extra slow so it hissed like a serpent. The vamps fanned out around me. “Let’s get on with it, then.”

If this were a movie, they’d come at me one or two at a time, so I could easily plow through them. But, being as how it wasn’t, they all charged me at once. I got a couple in the heart with my flying stars as they approached, and then my world became a blur as I spun, cut, whirled, slashed, lunged and punched. I knew it was hopeless from the moment I began, but I wanted to take as many of these motherfuckers to Hell with me as I could.

Adrenaline pumped through my body so strongly I wondered if maybe my blood had turned to pure energy. The sounds of battle faded, and all I could hear was my heartbeat and the haunting melody of the centaur’s song from out on the street. Each chord was so pure and sweet I imagined I could see little golden music notes dancing in the air around me. Time seemed to melt away, and my sense of it ceased. I didn’t know whether I’d been fighting for one minute or ten.

I realized I was losing blood. Or maybe it was someone else’s blood all over my hands. I wasn’t sure. Probably both. I staggered and fell to my knees. My vision blurred. Okay, a good deal of it was apparently mine. Someone grabbed my arm and twisted it until a loud snap broke through the gentle music surrounding me. A moment later a boot connected with my chin and I was on my back. I looked up through the halo of their faces. Only about ten left. Not a bad ratio. Had I ever told Quinn and Riley how I wanted my funeral to be? No, I hadn’t. We didn’t talk about stuff like that. I didn’t talk about stuff like that with anyone.

The moon was huge, shining down on me like a spotlight. Or a gigantic white blinking eye. No, I was the one blinking. My vision faded out. I struggled to open my eyes again. I wanted to be in sight of the moon when I died. There had been a moon like this the night my immortal life began. When my human life ended. It seemed fitting that this second death should be under a nearly full moon, too. It was funny how many things I still hadn’t done even after over two centuries of existence. My eyes closed.

A surge of power hit me from two sides. One surge from the moon, the other from the earth. My back arched off the ground and I gasped. Then I was on my feet, without even thinking about standing. A glow came off my skin, and it was building, building, building. The luminescence caught the eyes of the vamps around me, and for the first time, they actually looked scared. I raised my arms to the sky, and a blinding light flashed all around me.

Then, silence. No more centaur song. No more racing heart.

The remaining vamps had turned to piles of ash. What the hell had just happened? Somehow I’d destroyed them with my powers. I started to shake. I’d only done something like that once before, and that time had brought death, too. But many, many more had died. And not vamps, but innocent humans. I hadn’t tried to use my powers this time, though. They’d come without me calling them, and that terrified me more than dying.

Looking at the ash that coated the grimy sidewalk, I knew I had to get out of the alley. Away from this chaos I’d caused, this complete loss of control. I took one step towards the street, then a second, and then I passed out.

I woke up in my bed, my mouth tasting like soot. Riley sat at the foot of the bed, petting Malakai.

“I feel dead,” I muttered, putting a hand to my head, which throbbed rather dramatically.

“You were,” Riley said, his face serious for once.

“What the hell happened?”

Riley looked alarmed, and so did Quinn, who had just walked in. “We were hoping you could tell us that,” she said breathily.

“It seems so impossible…” I stared at the ceiling until they began to fidget nervously. I was just trying to figure out how to explain it. “There were almost two dozen of them. At Arianna’s behest, no doubt. I fought them for I don’t know how long. But of course, I eventually fell, it was too many vamps even for me. And then—somehow my powers kicked in and blasted the rest of them to dust. I have no idea how I did it.”

Riley’s eyes widened, and Quinn looked truly astonished. “Whoa,” Riley said for the both of them.

“Yeah. Hey, what day is it?” I leaned back on the pillows, not quite ready to move yet. Life hadn’t been kind to my body these last few days. Although, all my bruises and cuts were gone and my bone healed. Huzzah regenerative powers.

“Thursday,” Quinn said. “You’ve been asleep for about twenty-four hours, after we found you passed out in a pile of dead bodies and ashes and brought you home.”

“Donovan sent over a few shifters to guard the apartment, since you’re apparently on Arianna’s hitlist now,” Riley added. “And Eli and the HR sent over a few of their warriors, too.”

“What?” I was stunned. “So, it’s like a regular party over here, huh?”

“Well, other than being worried sick about you, we can’t complain about the scenery.” Quinn giggled and blushed.

A knock on the door. Eli. “Can I come in?”

“Sure,” I said warily.

He walked to the end of the bed and cast a glance at Quinn and Riley.

“Um, we’re going to go feed Mal,” Quinn said, patting her thigh so the dog followed her into the kitchen.

Eli had his arms crossed over his chest, and his eyes moved everywhere but to my face. “I’m really sorry about what happened last night between us. And I’m not just saying that because you nearly died,” he said. “You were right, and I was out of line. I just didn’t want to consider that someone I trust absolutely, someone I see every day, someone I’ve known my whole life, could do something like this. But it is possible, and we need to explore all possibilities.”

“Okay.” I looked at him and waited.

“And,” he took a deep breath, finally taking hold of my eyes, “I’m very sorry that I insulted you. It was a low blow, and very unholy of me.”

Well, the boy could be semi-humble. I’d better check that Hell hadn’t just frozen over. “Apology accepted,” I said. “So, you want to hear what I found out about the Devil’s minions invading our dimension?” I proceeded to tell him everything Franklin had told me.

“Oh, crap,” he said when I was done. His mouth hung open rather unattractively. Okay, well, it was kind of impossible for him to be unattractive, but it was not a flattering look.

“Oh, crap? Really? How about holy fucking shit, the world is going to end, what in God’s name are we going to do?” I softened my words with a grin.

“You cuss more than enough for the both of us,” he said with a smile. “But, yeah, I agree. Except about His name, because you shouldn’t say it in a sentence like that.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine, whatever.”

“So, are we ready to get back to work?”

Being on a stakeout is boring. Like, super boring. And we’d been outside of Arianna’s building for almost three hours. We were sitting in a boring sedan, looking through boring binoculars, making boring small talk. Quinn, Riley and some of Donovan’s crew were around the corner, some angels were around another corner, and the Non-Human Task Force was hanging around somewhere close, too.

Yeah, apparently they’d gotten involved while I was sleeping off my death match. The NHTF had been created after Evo, and oversaw units such as the Portal Police and the Vampirism Reduction Squad. They had units all over the world, under the jurisdiction of Interpol. I had a general dislike of the NHTF, since they had a general dislike of supes and didn’t like my bounty hunting business. But now that we had Alexander on camera, the HR had gotten the government involved so we could arrest Alexander all legal and tidy. First though, we had to find him.

I groaned. I was so over this waiting and shallow conversation. “What’s it like being an angel? Really?”

Eli cast a glance over at me, an alert and completely unbored looked. Then he continued looking through his binoculars. I thought for a second he was going to ignore me. “It’s interesting being created with your whole life planned out for you. Having a set purpose and all.”

“Interesting?” My tone dripped without doubt.

“Don’t get me wrong. I love serving God, and humanity, and the HR, and I wouldn’t choose anything else. But I guess it’s just the principal of the matter. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Well, you could join the devil like those fallen angels.” I smiled. “Just joking. So, you truly have no choice at all in what you do?”

Eli shrugged. “There’s a little variety. You can be a warrior, or a healing angel, or travel and promote peace, things like that. What I mean is, I’m completely defined by who I am. I can’t go see a bloody action movie without putting on a glamour, or everyone will stare. There are strict expectations for my every action, thought, feeling. It’s a little stifling at times.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” I leaned back in my seat and stretched my legs. “It’s been a little weird for all the supes coming out of the closet. But while everyone expects us to misbehave, the angels have got to be perfect.”

“Exactly,” Eli said, darting another look over to me.

“You know I’m going to see him if he comes out,” I said wryly. “You can relax.”

He was definitely ignoring me this time.

“Is it true humans and non-angel supes can’t go to the Heaven dimension, or do they just say that?” I pulled my knees up to my chest now, keeping one eye on the door to Arianna’s building.

“It’s true,” Eli answered. “Like some of the other dimensions, some beings just can’t travel there. Until they die.”

“So what exactly is that when you shoot up into the sky and we move through all that black space with the glowy white stuff? Some interdimensional back alley or something?”

Eli cast me an appraising look. “Most people can’t see anything at all when I do that.” He paused, mulling it over it seemed. “But yes, you’re right. It’s a way to move between dimensions. Kind of a shortcut.”

“Nifty,” I said, feeling a bit jealous. And that was something that didn’t happen often. “I wonder if I could learn how to do that.”

Eli shrugged. “Maybe.” But he didn’t look like he held much hope. “So, what about you? What’s it like being Anam Gatai? I mean, I know you told me a little before…”

“Well,” I said, looking at my nails, “About everything one could imagine being immortal, beautiful, super strong and extremely fashionable could be.”

He laughed. “Come on. I gave you an honest answer. Is that the best you’ve got?”

I sighed. “Fine, Dr. Phil. If you want the real answer, the real answer is that since I was turned, with each passing year I feel a little more of my humanity slip away. Now it’s little more than a fuzzy memory. A fable even, like a unicorn.” My tone was soaked with all the bitterness I felt. I shifted in my seat, kicking my feet up on the dash. “Whatever existence I live now is completely because of a stupid choice I made two hundred and forty-two years ago.”

“What choice?” Eli’s eyes were bright in the shadows of the car.

I looked out the window, away from that gaze. “Come on, Wings. The answer should be obvious.”

“Falling for Alexander?”

I turned back, feeling rather annoyed now. “Yes. I was a stupid love struck seventeen year old. It cost me my soul.”

“You said your creator found other girls that shared the same fate as her?”

A sigh escaped my lips. “Yes. It was my heartbrokenness over Alexander that attracted her. Anam Gatai are drawn to misery born of love and the betrayal of that love.”

Eli was silent for a couple long moments. “Have you been hunting Alexander this whole time?”

“No. Olga—my creator—and I traveled Ireland while she taught me how to survive. My magic, my powers as an Anam Gatai, they were extra strong, and got a little out of control sometimes. And one day—” I stopped abruptly. I didn’t want to talk about this. I’d never talked to anyone about it.

He waited a full thirty seconds before prompting me. “One day?”

“One day I lost control and demolished an entire village, every man, woman and child within.” The words hissed out in a rush, words I’d never said aloud before. It’s not true what they say. It didn’t make me feel an ounce better to admit my sins to another.

Eli just looked at me. It’s not like there’s anything comforting one can say about something like that.

“After that I gave up my search for Alexander, and parted ways with Olga. I started taking only the souls of those that harmed others, and here I am.” I stared intently through the binoculars, wishing very much to be anywhere but here.

“Everyone takes the wrong path at one point or another,” Eli said.

The silence hung thick between us, like a summer night in the Everglades. Despite his kind words, I knew that he had passed judgment on me, that in his eyes I was tainted. Hell, in anyone’s eyes I would be tainted. A darkness lived in me that could never be undone.

“Now that Alexander has shown back up in your life, just remember that he’s not worth whatever you’re planning on doing to him. I’m sure the temptation is strong, but…”

“I’d been willing to let it go, but he came here knowing this was my city. Plus, he’s trying to assassinate the HR. I think you should focus on that and not the purity of my intentions. I’m damned, remember? I can’t be saved.” I spat the last words out like they were poison in my mouth.

“Zyan—”

The door of Arianna’s building opened and a figure emerged. “Alexander,” I hissed.

He was alone, and he headed right towards us. For a second I thought he’d seen the car, but he strolled past casually. Seeing his relaxed stance made my blood boil. For a liar, thief and assassin, he seemed to lack a care in the world. Before the night was over, I’d make sure he had a few things to care about.

Once he was a safe distance past, I caught Eli’s eyes and nodded. I slipped from the car as he radioed our backup to let them know we were on the trail. Hands in the pockets of my jeans, I strode down the sidewalk, making my steps light. I watched Alexander travel down the opposite side of the street, across asphalt that glistened from a recent rain. With the stoplights casting cherry-red orbs on the road, and mist rising from the manholes like ghosts, it felt like we were players in a giant Pac-Man game. If only the stakes were that low.

Eli alighted beside me. “The rest are following at a safe distance. We just need to keep him in sight and find a good place we can close in.”

“There is no good place to close in on a two thousand year old vamp,” I said wryly.

“Well, a better place than out in the open where he could grab a hostage or just take off.”

“Hostages are expendable,” I said, straight-faced. My comment got the desired effect. Eli whipped his head towards me. I cracked a smile. “Joking.”

“Try to focus, will you?” He gave me one of his classic glowers. I could tell he was still miffed about the exchange in the car.

“I’ll think about it,” I said. “But right now I’m going to make sure I don’t lose our target.”

I pointed to my right, where Alexander was disappearing down a side street. We crossed the street and ducked into the deeper shadows of the alley. I could just make out Alexander’s shape a ways down. We hadn’t take two steps into the alley when he turned, and then in a blur was gone. “Shit!” I took off.

“Zyan, wait!” Eli yelled behind me.

To hell with that stupid idea. I hadn’t waited in the car for over three hours to lose him now.

The city became a blur around me as I melted into the night. I pulled on just a slight amount of my magic to aid my speed. Everything became mere streaks of color or varying shades of black, with occasional pinpricks of bright light. Everything but my prey. Him I kept a firm eye on as we raced through the urban backdrop. I could hear his footsteps faintly, as I knew he could hear mine. And though neither of us technically needed to breathe, our hearts still beat in our chests, and I could feel that, too. I could even smell his expensive cologne on the air. He would not get away.

I kind of lost track of where we were going until I smelled the fish. We were headed towards the bay, down in the grungy industrial section south of Pier 50. Alexander paused and looked back at me as he approached a low ramshackle building, then plunged inside. As I followed him through the doorway, I whipped out my sword, cutting through the darkness in case he tried to jump me as I came through. He didn’t. The lights flipped on, low rusty lanterns that cast brownish circles of light on the stained cement floor. I paused for a split second to let my eyes adjust. Alexander stood on the opposite side of the room. But he wasn’t alone. Another figure stood next to him, a woman with long black hair. The woman I’d seen in the safe room at HR headquarters. This time, however, she wasn’t wearing a mask.

I blinked through the low light, searching every inch of her face. Especially the rich brown eyes, eyes liked espresso swirled with cinnamon. Eyes like mine.

It was my sister. My sister Anna, who should have been dead for almost two hundred years.

[]Chapter Eleven

My sword dropped to my side, arm dangling limply. “Oh my God,” I whispered.

“God had nothing to do with it,” Alexander said, a smug smile on his face. “I did.”

“You motherfucking bastard!” My voice went from a low hiss to an earth-shaking shriek.

“Actually, I didn’t fuck your mother. Just you and Anna.” I realized then by the look on his face that he’d known all along we were tracking him. He’d brought me here for the sole purpose of shattering the one good human memory I had. “Well, at least in your family. Of course I have a few more notches on the bedpost. You would too if you’d been alive for as long as I have.”

I looked to Anna then, searching her face for the inevitable signs of disgust, of hatred. Surely he was keeping her against her will, a prisoner to do his dirty work. To help him on his jobs, with whatever special powers she possessed. She couldn’t possibly be with him willingly, knowing what he’d done to me, to her, to all the other girls. And his senseless killing, both for blood as well as his whole assassination gig.

But I didn’t see it.

No anger, no fear. Only a slight smile as she looked from him to me. Like all of this was… amusing.

“Anna.” It came out with all the heartbrokenness I felt, all the agony. A question, a plea. And for once I didn’t care how weak it made me sound. I needed her to hear me, truly hear me.

“No, no,” Alexander said, waggling his finger at me. “This is not sister bonding time. I only brought you here so you’d see that I still have the upper hand in our little situation. Besides, we have company. Someone has rudely interrupted our sweet reunion.”

I looked over my shoulder to see Eli standing in the doorway. I didn’t know how long he’d been standing there, but the look on his face said he’d heard enough. His eyes met mine in a look of sympathy, but then they widened, and his mouth parted in a yell.

I spun around as Alexander grabbed me and everything went black.

A moment later we were standing in the room again. Scratch that, a cave of some sorts.

Alexander let go of me abruptly, causing me to wobble on my feet. “Do you like my meditation cave?”

Holy shit—Alexander could move through the dimensional pathways like Eli? “Where are we?” I growled, looking around. The place was all lit up with candles. Oddly unsettling.

“A little place in the Himalayas. I come here to think things over. It’s very relaxing, being up here in the mountains near all these Buddhist monasteries. And the monks are just scrumptious, you really ought to try one before you leave.” His blue eyes danced. “You should be honored, I’ve never brought anyone here before.”

“I’m not honored. You’re a piece of shit. What have you done to my sister?” I started towards him, raising my sword.

In a flash he had my sword in his hands, the tip at my throat. “I am leading this conversation, Zyan,” he said, his tone cold. “Now shut up and listen.” His smile returned and he stepped away, then tossed my sword back to me. He began to pace slowly in the flickering light. “I brought you here to explain the rules of our game. Because it is a game, Zyan. This entire thing. You were a game, Anna’s a game, the HR, all of it. Not to use the seniority card again, but if you had been alive for over two thousand years, wouldn’t you want to find ways to keep life interesting?”

“Not like you do,” I said, shaking with cold fury.

“Really? I guess you’ll have to wait and see. If you survive this whole ordeal. Which I really hope you do, darling.” He smiled, throwing all his charm into it.

I remembered the first time I’d seen that smile, and I felt like I was going to throw up. If only I’d known what lay behind its gold…

“But,” he continued. “If you keep making me angry, I can’t make any promises.”

“Me? What have I done to you?” My hand tightened on my katana. His eyes darted down. He hadn’t missed it.

“Well, you want me dead. That’s not very nice, now is it?” Alexander crossed his arms over his chest and pouted his lips at me.

“It’s revenge, fair and square,” I retorted. “You took my soul, I take your life. Actually, that’s more than fair. Besides, you were the one that showed up in my city.”

“I didn’t take your soul. Olga did that, technically.” His eyes glinted.

“Because of you.” It took all I had not to launch myself at him.

“Semantics, darling,” he said with a toss of his hand. “It’s not my fault you fell for a scoundrel.”

I decided to ignore that last bit. Since we both knew vampires had more than ample powers of persuasion. “Why did you turn my sister?” I tried to keep my voice steady. I failed.

Alexander sighed. “I’m sure what you really want to know is why I stayed with her, why I’m still with her, when I left you. Right?” He grinned in enjoyment. “Like I said, it’s all part of the game. It’s your fault really. You see, what I love the most is corrupting the girls, before I even turn them. But you, you just wouldn’t be corrupted, even though I worked on you for months. I could feel your goodness, your purity, completely intact. Even when you finally slept with me, it was only because you loved me so much. Just so completely boring.” He let out another dramatic sigh.

“So that’s when the plan began to form in my mind. You’d talked so much about your dear, beloved kid sister, the only one you had. I just had to see if this stubborn goodness was a family thing. I had to wait a few years, of course, since she was only ten when you turned into a soulsucker and left her all alone. So, while you were off doing God knows what, I played the rich businessman who came by the house to visit with your uncle. Since you slaughtered your father and all. And of course, I brought beautiful, expensive toys for young Anna. I was there for her when you weren’t.”

I felt like throwing up again. I didn’t want to hear any more, but I had to. I had to know.

“So, she got older, and one thing led to another. Oh, and she was corruptible. It’s not a family trait after all.” His smile was its most wicked now, and I wanted nothing more than to run my blade through his body over and over again. “Anna is so much more fun than you. And with those nifty powers of hers, she’s proven quite useful. We made sure to run in different circles than you, so her existence remained a secret. Because of course, that was part of the game, too. The look on your face was well worth the two hundred years I’ve waited for it.”

I raised my sword up. I’d heard enough now.

“Yes. You want to kill me. Go ahead and try. Free shot.” He lifted his arms up in a gesture of surrender.

In a flash I was on him, my blade singing through the damp air. He dodged, which I expected, so I spun back around. But he was already on the other side of the cave. Damn, he was fast. Again I flew at him, and this time he stayed for a moment, blocking my jabs and slices with his hands, before knocking me flat on my back. I leapt back to my feet and flew at him again. Our movements were a blur. I didn’t think I’d ever moved this fast, but still he was faster. As I arced my blade in a tight circle towards his neck, he whipped it out of my hands and stabbed it into my chest, right below my heart. I gasped and dropped to my knees.

Alexander looked down at me, his expression pure ice. “You can’t beat me Zyan. And that’s the final card I wanted to reveal to you. Just so you know what you’re up against.” He leaned down, grabbing the hilt of my sword and twisting it in deeper. I bit back a cry. “If you keep up this job for the HR, I’ll be forced to kill you. And then our fun little game will be over.”

He straightened back up, smiling at the pain in my eyes. “I think I’ll leave you here to think about what I’ve said. In the meantime, while you’re trying to figure out how to get from the Himalayas to Seattle, I might visit that little witch friend of yours. She really does look like a tasty treat.”

I opened my mouth to speak but he cut me off. “Don’t bother with threats. We both know you’re in no position to back them up.” And with that, he waved goodbye and vanished.

I wrapped my hands around the blade and pulled it out. Dark blood soaked my chest, my jeans, even the floor of the cave. I ripped open my shirt and watched my skin seam back together. It hurt like hell. I got up and walked to the mouth of the cave. A wash of stars coated the sky like spilled milk. I took a deep breath of the chilly mountain air, which tasted of snow. And then I screamed.

I screamed my rage, and my sadness, and my aloneness. I screamed for my soul, and for my sister’s soul. I screamed my burning desire for revenge, and every ounce of my pain with it. I screamed for all the years, those that had passed and those that would come.

I hadn’t gone looking for him. Though I’d hated him for what he’d done, I’d let it go. Long after the love faded away, and I’d learned of his games. Even when I began to despise the memory of him, I’d gone on with my life. Tried to find what happiness I could.

But now.

Now he’d come to my city. Purposefully. To torture me with the knowledge of my sister, and watch my pain. Now he’d truly gone too far. I could not stand for it. I didn’t know how I was going to stop him, but I would do anything to achieve my goal. Anything. If I spent the next millennia of my life hunting him, I would do it.

First though, I had to get off this fucking mountain. If he hurt Quinn, I’d never forgive myself. He’d said it himself. It was my fault he’d chosen Anna. Now he was after Quinn. As long as he lived, he’d hunt the people I loved, just to entertain himself. I didn’t have time to hike down out of this wilderness and find an airport. I needed to cut between dimensions, like Eli did. And apparently Alexander. If Alexander could do it, I could. Plus, Eli had said it was odd I could even see the space between, meaning I already had a leg up.

I didn’t have any idea how to get there. So I closed my eyes and envisioned what it had looked like. The blackness. Not solid, but kind of like clouds of ink, moving and alive. And the white lights, like coral or lace or tree roots. The feeling, too. I remembered the feeling in my gut, being squeezed for just a moment into nothing, the weightlessness, like I could just float away in the jet black abyss…

My eyes popped open. Shit! I was there. Wherever that was. I hadn’t expected it to be this easy. Now I just needed to get from here to where I wanted to go. I envisioned my apartment. I tried to feel that tight squeeze again that told me I was moving between dimensions.

Nothing happened.

Shit, shit, shit! I just drifted, moving on some invisible interdimensional breeze. I tried not to panic. I seriously doubted that would help. But what was going to happen now? Would I drift here forever? That was a really long time for an immortal. Hell, it’d be an agonizingly long time even if I were just human.

I was drifting towards one of the lacey things, and somehow I felt it would be bad if I touched it. I didn’t know why, but some instinct in my gut told me something dreadful would happen. I tried to move away from it, moving my arms and legs in a swimming motion, but to no avail. My heart started hammering in my chest.

Then something else white started moving towards me. An angel. Eli. He seemed especially glowy, something I hadn’t noticed the other times we’d traveled here, probably because I’d been mashed up against his body. I felt such a wave of relief I thought I might cry. He reached out and grabbed my hand, pulling me against his chest. His heart seemed to be pounding, too. And then I blinked and we were standing in my apartment.

We stood for a moment, arms wrapped tightly around each other. Then I felt the rise of his chest as he took in a breath, and I extricated myself, feeling awkward. Which was a ridiculous thing to feel. I never felt awkward. “Thanks, Eli. I was, uh, pretty much up a creek without a paddle before you came along.”

“What were you doing in there anyways? Did Alexander leave you there?” His brow furrowed, and he looked both concerned and angry. His expression became even more angry when I told him what had happened.

“So, you actually got into the between space yourself?” Eli’s eyes held disbelief.

“Yeah. Alexander just left me in the cave, and said he was going to—” I jumped up. “Shit—Quinn! He said he was going to find her, and—”

“Calm down, Zy. She’s with two dozen angels and shapeshifters. She’ll be fine.” He took my shoulders. “It’s you I’m worried about.”

“You’re sure she’s fine?” He nodded reassuringly. I sighed and shuddered. “Eli, what are those white things in the between space?”

“They stabilize things. The space between dimensions is very unstable, especially with different beings popping in and out all over the place.”

“So if I had crashed into one of them?” I bit my lip.

“It would have caused a major interdimensional shift. That often translates into an earthquake or tsunami on earth.”

“It’s a good thing you came along when you did, then.” I leaned back on the sofa, suddenly feeling very tired. “How did you find me, anyways?”

He leaned back too, and turned his head to the side to look at me. “I kind of figured Alexander was just going to drop you somewhere in there. How he even knows how to travel that way is another question. But anyways, after you two disappeared, Anna took off, and I jumped into the between space and started surfing around trying to find you. I’d been in there for a while when—” He stopped.

“When what?” I pressed.

“I kind of felt you pop into the between space.” I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know how. I guess you have a unique aura or something.”

I laughed. “Okay. I’ll take your word for it.”

We were quiet for a few moments. “So, your sister…” Eli trailed off. “I’m sorry, Zy.”

I felt tears needling the corners of my eyes. “Yeah. I just can’t believe she would willingly stay with him.”

“Wouldn’t you have?” His tone was gentle.

I opened my mouth, then closed it again. “Yes. But I would never have taken his side against her.” Of course though, she hadn’t killed our father. My chest felt tight.

“I’m sure he’s told her all sorts of lies. He’s had two centuries to manipulate her.”

“I guess.” I looked up at the ceiling, feeling the full weight of my misery pressing down on me.

“You need to get her alone,” Eli said. “Tell her your side of the story.”

I looked at him, fighting a roll of my eyes. “Do you really think that’s going to work?”

He held my gaze. “You’ve got to try. Because otherwise, she’s going down as an accessory to attempted assassination of the HR.”

I felt like he’d just punched me in the gut. That horrible possibility hadn’t dawned on me yet. But of course he was right. It was out of my hands—the NHTF was involved now. If Anna got caught, she’d spend a very long time in one of their special prisons for supernaturals. I’d heard they were awful. They had these injections to suppress a supe’s natural powers, but they took away more than that. The supes that got the injections usually ended up in more or less of a vegetative state, with practically no mental or physical control of themselves.

“Maybe I can get her to help us track him down. If she provided valuable intel, they’d make a deal with her, right?” My voice sounded desperate even to my own ears.

Eli didn’t meet my eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe.” He sighed. “It would certainly go over better than if she resists.”

Another silence fell between us. As I opened my mouth to say something, Quinn and Riley came through the front door.

“Zy! What happened?” Quinn called, heading towards me.

“I’m too tired to talk about it now, okay?”

Quinn’s eyes flicked to Eli, as if debating whether he would let her pump him for info. “Are you crashing here?” she asked him.

He looked over to me before turning to Quinn, then said, “Thank you, but no. I need to get back to headquarters.”

“You know, you’ve got to sleep at some point, too,” I said in a chastising tone.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” A slight smile turned up his lips.

After he left I took a quick shower and climbed into bed. I couldn’t sleep, though. I felt restless and anxious, and as I tried to pinpoint the source, it suddenly hit me. Doubt.

I hadn’t had any reason to doubt anything in a very, very long time. I was good at the things I did, whether it was making a cocktail or tracking down a rogue werewolf. But now I’d come up against something that seemed beyond my skills. Alexander. He was so old. He’d shown me clearly I was no match for him. And this time, it wasn’t simply my personal pride on the line. There were lives at stake. The HR’s. Quinn and Riley. Donovan and his crew. My sister. Even Eli.

Everyone expected me to be the magic fix to this problem. The HR had picked me specifically, when he had a whole legion of angels at his disposal. But what if I couldn’t save the day? What if I couldn’t do anything but watch these horrible events unfold?

The sun was hours old when I finally succumbed to sleep.

[] Chapter Twelve

Subsequently, I felt fairly grouchy when I awoke a couple hours after sunset. This fact wasn’t lessened when I walked into the living room to find a bunch of shapeshifters, including a particular panther.

“Uh, hi,” I said groggily. “Make yourselves at home.”

“Riley and Dan let us in,” Donovan retorted cheerfully.

I looked across the room to see Riley and Dan sitting together on the couch. Dan had been here last night, too, after I got back from my little visit with Alexander. And come to think of it, he’d also been here before, when half the city was guarding my apartment after I’d gotten jumped in the alley. I hid a smile and headed to the kitchen for some Fruit Loops. “Anybody want anything?”

“I’m kinda hungry,” Donovan called as I walked off.

Next thing I knew the stovetop was covered in skillets and about half a meat market worth of bacon, sausage and ham was sizzling away. “Why are you here anyways?” I asked, leaving Riley and Dan to attend to the cooking.

Donovan pointed to the papers spread out on my coffee table. “Me and the crew are just making lists of possible hiding places for Alexander, dividing the city into search quadrants, and figuring out which informants we’re going to call.”

I eyed the half dozen other shifters sprawled out over the living room. Huh. They hadn’t really struck me as the plan-ahead types. “Alright. Well, it wouldn’t kill you to call ahead next time.”

He smiled. “I left you a message.”

I narrowed my eyes and went to grab my cell phone. Sure enough, its sleek black exterior had turned to red, and when I picked it up a little hologram of Donovan popped up, telling me he was on his way with a couple friends. Man, I must have been dead asleep.

When I walked back out, Quinn had emerged from her room and was complaining about the smell. “There’s plenty to go around,” Donovan joked.

“Oh, yes, because frying meat is a vegetarian’s dream.” She glared and went to make her usual breakfast granola.

I took a seat next to Donovan. “Well, I’ve got another couple hours before I’m meeting up with Eli. What’s your plan?”

Donovan turned and gave me an appraising look. “I never thought I’d see the day when Zyan Star was working for God. And the government.”

“Well, for once we’re trying to accomplish the same thing—stop Alexander.”

“Stop? Or kill? Somehow I don’t think the HR has given you permission to off your ex.” His voice held a tone of amusement.

I shrugged. “Okay, so we’re trying to accomplish almost the same thing.”

“What’s your plan, then? Are you going to go rogue at the last second and somehow get away with murder?”

His line of questioning was starting to give me a headache. I raised my hands in exasperation. “I don’t know, okay? Maybe I’ll “accidentally” kill him. It’s not like he’s going to just come quietly. It’ll pretty much be self defense.” When Donovan tossed me an infuriating smirk, I resisted the urge to throw all his papers in the air. “I’m not into this whole planning thing. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

“Your boyfriend’s not going to be too happy about that.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Quinn pause on her way back from the kitchen, gauging my reaction. “My what? Who are you referring to?”

Donovan just smiled. “That angel. Eli or whatever his name is.”

“You’re joking, right? Me and him?” I sighed dramatically to emphasize the absurdity of the statement.

“You two seemed awfully cozy the other night.”

Some of the other shifters hid grins. “I already told you, he was healing my wounds from the demon attack. Why do you care anyways?”

“I don’t. Just curious who you’re shacking up with these days.” He leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head in a gesture of nonchalance.

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah. Because a girl couldn’t possibly be perfectly content on her own. Without a man. What a crazy concept.”

“Are you two done with your banter?” Riley swept into the room with platters of meat. “It’s exhausting just listening to you.”

Everyone but me and Quinn clustered around the coffee table, and for a couple minutes only the sound of chewing and contented sighs filled the air. Even Riley the health nut was wolfing it down. Pun totally intended.

“So, Dan,” I said. His brown eyes popped up to meet mine. “You run in a pack, or are you a loner like Riley?”

“I’ve got a pack,” he answered.

“They must think we’ve abducted you or something these last few days.” I smiled as he blushed in response.

“Riley’s not a loner. He’s an honorary member of my pack,” Donovan said.

“That’s sweet. But these two bitches are plenty of pack for me,” Riley said with a nod in me and Quinn’s direction.

Donovan busted out laughing. I grinned and looked over at Quinn, who had already sidled up next to one of the cute shifter boys named Patrick, pretending to help him with his quadrant. “Takes one to know one,” she retorted.

“Touché.” He dipped his head towards her.

“Not to change the subject to a shitty one,” I began, “But something’s come up that you need to know about Alexander.” I filled Donovan and his pack members in on the appearance of my sister.

“Man, that’s tough, Zy.” Donovan laid his hand on mine. His warmth rushed up my arm and for a second I wondered what his life force would taste like. My hunger was putting me on edge again. Big time. With all the injuries I’d sustained the last couple days, I was going to need to feed again soon.

“Yeah. I’m hoping I can get her to work with us so she won’t get locked up by the NHTF. Until then though, keep an eye out for her when you’re out looking for Alexander.”

We went over various plans for the next few minutes, then Donovan announced they were going to hit the town and start looking. “I guess we’ll meet up with you later?” he asked.

“Probably. Not sure what Eli’s plans are, so I’ll let you know.”

Donovan and his crew filed out of the apartment. “He was always my favorite one of your boyfriends,” Quinn said wistfully. “I wish you two could work it out.”

“There’s just that pesky cheating habit of his,” I said, propping my feet up on the coffee table.

“He seems a lot more together than he used to be, though,” Riley added.

“Quit ganging up on me,” I groaned. And for once they actually let it go.

Dan announced he had to leave for a pack thing, which left me, Riley and Quinn to talk about the bar schedule for the week. After a few more minutes of lounging around, I got up to get dressed. A bit later as I walked back out into the living room, I heard Riley announce, “I smell smoke.”

Me and Quinn stared at him. “I don’t smell anything,” I said.

“I’m telling you, something is burning.”

“In here?” Quinn asked, glancing around.

“No. Somewhere out in the city.”

“I’m sure your sense of smell is good and all, but how could you possibly—” I cut off as he whipped open the blinds in the living room to reveal the glow of a large fire off to the northeast. He gave me a smug smile. “Impressive. I stand corrected.”

“That’s pretty major,” Quinn said, peering anxiously through the glass.

Riley flipped on the TV. An anchorwoman from one of the local channels appeared, looking rather panicked. “I’ve just appeared at the scene of a large fire south of the Needle, around the area of 5th and Wall Street. It seems that some sort of protest is going on, led by factions of the supernatural community.”

“Oh, shit,” I said, my jaw dropping open.

“The fire, initially thought to be caused by a gas leak, is now believed to have been caused by some of the witches marching in the protest.” Beside me, Quinn stiffened as the camera zoomed in on a man and woman strolling down the street, hurling blue fireballs at the surrounding buildings. “However, other supernatural races have joined in the riot. Members of the vampire and werewolf community have also been seen.”

“What the hell are they doing?” Riley gasped. “They’re going to get us all thrown into prison. The government’s not going to put up with this.”

“And since when have witches, vamps and weres all hung out together?” I added, narrowing my eyes. “This can’t be a coincidence.”

“A coincidence with what?” asked Quinn, though she didn’t unglue her eyes from the TV.

“With the attempts on the HR’s life. With Alexander coming to town. With the portal openings. Everything. He’s trying to create total societal upheaval.” I clenched my fingers into fists.

“But why would he do that?” Riley asked. “It seems he’d have nothing to gain. In fact, it’s a huge risk, when everything has been going fine since the Evolution.”

“You may think so. But many of the supes are not at all happy with the DNA sensors and such,” Quinn said.

“And Alexander thinks he’s vastly superior to humans, so I’ll bet he wants any semblance of government control crushed,” I added.

Screams came from the TV as the camera did another close up of a group of werewolves chasing a couple humans down the street. “The Holy Representative’s angelic warriors are on site,” the anchorwoman said, her hands trembling on the microphone. “God help us all.” The video feed cut off ominously.

I walked into my room and emerged with my sword. “Where are you going?” Quinn asked, wide-eyed.

“You heard the report. The HR’s team is down there. That means Eli. He could use my help.” I pulled on my leather jacket and headed for the door.

“Are you joking?” she screeched.

“Hardly.”

“I’m coming with you.” Riley said.

Quinn looked like her head would explode. “What’s your reason?”

Riley’s eyes flashed. “Because someone needs to know that not all the supes are trying to overturn society. I’ll have to represent the sane majority of the community.”

Quinn bit her lip. “You two are nuts,” she said, following us out the door.

I turned back to her with a grin. “And that’s why you love us.”

[]Chapter Thirteen

Things had declined significantly in the few minutes it took us to arrive at the outskirts of the chaos. The fire had spread from a couple buildings to a couple blocks. People were still trying to escape the area, fleeing through the streets in panic. Of course, some of the humans had decided this was the perfect time to loot the stores, and so most of the storefronts we passed had smashed-in windows and were being emptied out. As we walked deeper into the melee, people cast us strange and terrified glances, wondering no doubt why we were heading this way when everyone else was running their asses off in the opposite direction.

The usual human disaster management teams were on site—ambulances, city policemen, firefighters. They were no match for this type of emergency. The policemen seemed to know they were ineffectual against the supes, what with the witches casting spells, and the vamps and weres being too fast for human eyes. They seemed to have taken a strictly defensive position, simply trying to protect the paramedics and firefighters. Where the hell was the NHTF?

A block deeper into hell, I finally spotted them. “There’s Eli, with the task force.” I pointed, and we headed towards them.

Something whistled past my cheek. “Duck!” I yelled as a volley of darts flew towards us. We flattened ourselves to the pavement. “Supe tranquilizers,” I groaned.

“Stop!” Eli called. “They’re with me.”

I peeled myself off the pavement and ran to where he stood, jumping over the bodies of a couple supes who were either dead or tranquilized. “What are you doing here?” Eli yelled through the noise.

“We figured you could use some supes that hadn’t lost their freaking heads.” I put my hands on my hips. “Am I wrong?”

“No,” Eli said. “I’m glad you came. But you didn’t have to.”

“I know. What do you want us to do?”

“Quinn, can you put out these fires?” Eli asked, all business.

“Yeah,” she answered, looking around at the burning city. Without waiting for further instructions, she ran to the nearest fire and began blasting it with a pale icy shimmer of power from her fingertips.

“Riley and Zy, I need you two to arm yourselves with some darts and start taking down these rogue supes. With your speed, you should be able to tag more than the NHTF.” He led us over to a black van, where a woman was dispensing sleek black rifles. “You remember Commander Hunter?”

“Of course,” I said, nodding at the woman.

“I’m helping with the weapons since no portals have opened up yet,” Hunter said, seeming to feel a need to explain herself.

“Groovy. Load me up.” Was it my imagination, or did she cast a questioning look at Eli before handing me a rifle? Well shit, if that’s how it was going to be… “I’ll try not to kill too many civilians,” I said, turning back to catch her look of horror as I charged off into the crowd.

Riley caught up with me a moment later. “I’ve got your back,” he said.

“Cool, thanks.” I pointed to a spot in the middle of the street where we had a good vantage point in the thick of the riot. “Over there?”

“Yeah, looks good.”

We ran in a low crouch to the middle of the street and stood back to back. I fired off a couple shots and watched as a witch and a vamp hit the ground in convulsions. “Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine you’d be shooting down supes in the street, with government tranq darts?”

“Definitely not,” Riley responded after taking down a werewolf that was charging a news reporter.

“This totally blows,” I added a moment later.

“That it does.”

It didn’t take long for the supes to realize we weren’t on their side. At first we’d just get charged one at a time, and could pick off the assailant easily. But apparently they decided to form a group and take care of us traitors together, because a pack of a couple dozen supes started moving in our direction. “Uh, bad news,” I called to Riley, who faced the other direction.

He cast a glance over his shoulder. “Understatement, Zy. We’d better move.”

We started to fall back towards the NHTF vehicles, since we needed to reload anyways, but it looked like another group was swarming in that direction. I heard a scream behind me and saw a vamp dragging Commander Hunter away from the van that held the guns. “Damn it! They’re getting our guns!”

We were still a ways off, and it seemed half the riot had suddenly moved between us and the van. I could see only flashes of what was happening—Eli racing in the direction they’d taken Hunter—what looked like a couple weres passing out rifles to their buddies—bringing down a couple angels with the darts. So the darts worked on Heaven’s creatures, too. Interesting.

Somehow we cut our way to the van, at the cost of the last of our darts. Time to get our hands dirty. I pulled out my sword, and Riley just used his brute strength. I cut down the weres passing out darts, trying to deal blows that weren’t fatal unless I had to. I had no doubt lies and coercion had led them to act in this way, and I didn’t think they deserved to die. Whoever was behind this did.

I grabbed a new gun and started spraying the crowd. Supes were falling left and right, but more just sprang up to replace them. It seemed they were seeping up out of the sewers, materializing from the shadows. The angels and NHTF members seemed to have gotten swept away in the surge of bodies, leaving me and Riley as the sole defenders of the weapons. Somehow this wasn’t how I’d imagined everything playing out.

Beside me, Riley let out a groan and grabbed his shoulder. “Zy,” he gasped, before sinking to the ground, where he began to shake like a dying fish. Then his body went limp and I saw the dart protruding from his shirt. With my foot, I rolled his body under the van the best I could while continuing to fire darts into the wave of supernaturals descending on me. There were too many of them. And they looked pretty pissed that I’d taken down so many of their friends. A miracle would be good right about now.

I felt the van rock behind me. Great. They were coming at me from both sides. I looked up in time to see a shadow fall over my face as a large figure jumped down at me. I fired off a shot, but the gun was knocked from my hand and the dart spun off harmlessly. My fist didn’t miss though. I slammed it into the jawbone of my attacker, and as his head whipped back I reached for my sword.

“Damn, Zy, is that any way to treat your knight in shining armor?” The familiar Irish brogue was honey to my ears.

“Donovan! What are you doing?” I retrieved my gun from the ground and began to fire again.

“I figured you’d be out here in the thick of the trouble. Mass chaos meets Zyan Star.” Donovan grabbed a rifle and tossed it to one of his pack members, who was coming around from the front of the van.

“Am I really that predictable?” I grinned up at him.

“Afraid so, my sweet.” He kept tossing out rifles. It looked like he’d brought his whole crew, about thirty in total.

“Well, you were right on time. I was about to bite the dust.” I shot off a couple rounds.

“You know I like to be fashionably late.” He picked up his own gun and began to fire. “We need to try to get these guys pushed back.” Donovan waved over a couple of his shifters. “Gather up five or so pack members to guard the weapons,” he told them. “We’re going to try to push forward and break the wave.”

“And watch Riley.” I pointed to his limp body under the van.

They nodded and quickly began to implement their instructions. We began to move forward, and now that I was no longer holed in, I could take stock of my surroundings. I could see the angels and the NHTF over to our right, trying to push through a large knot of supes like we were. The fires closest to us had died down, no doubt due to Quinn’s counteractive spells, but further down the street they raged steadily. Bodies littered the ground, most of them simply sedated, or so I hoped. Lying there slack-faced, it was hard to tell the humans from the vamps, witches and weres.

“That way,” Donovan said, pointing towards the NHTF. “If we can meet up with their line, we can form a net and round these guys up.”

I nodded and we began to shift our way over, taking down any rogue in our path. At the rate this was going, the bodies would be carpeting the entire street in the next few minutes. Somehow, even in the midst of all the sirens and flame and smoke and screams and gunfire, I felt a wave of sadness. Just for a moment. This shouldn’t be happening. We’d all coexisted with the humans for so long. And now everything was ruined. The media would run wild with the story, and more new laws would get implemented. We would carry this scar for a very long time.

We finally made it over to the NHTF. I caught sight of Eli again, and he met my eyes for a moment. Realizing what we were trying to do, the angels and NHTF agents formed a semi-circle with us and began to swing around the crowd, blocking in the majority of the rioters. Then, below my feet I felt something rumbling. Through the smoke, I could see more NHTF trucks headed towards us. Reinforcements had finally arrived. Seeing the cavalry roll in, some of the protestors raised their hands in surrender. Others at the back of the crowd darted off, blending into the smoke and shadows.

That’s when I spotted Quinn. On the far side of the intersection, taking rapid fire from two of the rogue witches. Not gunfire, but a witch’s ammunition. Spells. They must have spotted her cleaning up their arson. Sparks and glowing lights and colored swirls flew back and forth between them like fireworks on the Fourth of July. I watched in horror as a blast of red light hit Quinn full in the chest. She fell back onto the pavement, her head rolling to the side.

“Quinn!” I screamed.

Donovan shot me a bewildered look as I broke from the line and dashed off through the crowd. I didn’t even know if he’d heard me over the noise. Just like in one of those horribly frustrating dreams, everything seemed to move in slow motion, like running through deep mud. As I approached, the witches took off. I caught one of them in the back with a tranquilizer. My anger was so intense I wished it was steel.

I fell to my knees next to Quinn. Half the skin on her body was peeled off like she’d had some sort of acid thrown on her. And then I saw the blades. If that’s what they could be called. Twisted, jagged pieces of a glasslike material, sticking out all over her body. I didn’t know what kind of spell could do something like this, but it was some major black magic.

“Quinn,” I breathed. My hands hovered over her body. I wasn’t sure if I should try to pull out the shards or not. “What kind of magic is this? Tell me what to do…”

“Nothing,” she gasped, and with just that one word she coughed up a ton of blood. “You can’t… fix this.”

“No, there has to be something.” I didn’t want her to see the panic I knew filled my eyes. She was dying. I knew it and she knew it.

She shook her head and passed out.

I felt like my heart was going to explode. Spinning around, I dashed over to the witch I’d shot. “Wake up!” I grabbed her shoulders and shook her, knowing even before I tried that it would do no good. “God damn it!”

I ran back over to Quinn and started pulling the shards out. As I touched the first one, an agonizing burning shot up my hand, pulsing all the way to my shoulder. I yanked my hand back instinctively. It had to be part of the spell. Fucking black witches. I reached down again and pulled it out, biting my lip to keep from crying out. I noticed something black creeping up my fingertips. I grabbed another piece and flung it onto the sidewalk. This time the black shot up further, like hungry vines climbing towards my wrists. I ignored it and kept going, though I was starting to feel a little dizzy.

A big piece of metal was embedded right below Quinn’s heart. I took hold of it and pulled it out carefully. This time I felt a wave of dizziness so powerful I thought I would pass out. Quinn’s eyes fluttered open and she grabbed my wrist.

“D-don’t turn…” she drifted off. Her eyes closed, then opened again and she caught me in a firm gaze. “Don’t turn me to save me… I don’t want to be immortal.”

I fought back a sob. I didn’t even know if I could turn anyone—I’d never tried. But I would try for her. “I don’t know if I can save you otherwise.” A tear fought its way out of the corner of my eye.

“I know,” she said, trying to smile bravely, but tears traced down her cheeks, too. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. It’s not okay. You are not dying on me.” I ground my teeth together and squeezed her hand. “I have most of the glass out. Just hang in there…”

Quinn’s head rolled to the side again, but this time her chest stopped moving. “No, Quinn!” I pulled out more of the shards, but there were so many. Sliding my hands under her, I lifted her up and began to run. The ambulance sat two blocks away, and Quinn’s heart wasn’t beating.

Another wave of dizziness hit me, and my vision went black. Quinn started to slip and I realized my arms had gone numb. The black tendrils had spread almost all the way up to my shoulders now. I stumbled and fell to one knee. It couldn’t end like this. Not innocent, peaceful Quinn. Not like this. I staggered to my feet, only to feel both legs buckle beneath me.

And then Eli was there, taking Quinn out of my arms.

“Eli! She’s dying. You have to save her.” I paused, choking on my words. “She won’t let me…” I trailed off, my vision blurring again.

His lavender eyes seemed to glow. Or maybe I was just hallucinating. “She’s already gone, Zy.”

“Just try. Please, Eli, try.” I grabbed his hand, and a sob shook my chest. Then I wobbled and slid sideways onto the ground.

“What happened to you?” Eli asked, looking at my arms in alarm.

“Forget about that,” I gasped. “Help Quinn.”

He looked down at me a moment, still debating, then let go of my hand and laid Quinn on the ground. Bending over her, he laid his hands on her shoulders. A blue light began to pulsate around him, creating a fuzzy outline around his body. It spread to Quinn’s body, surrounding her like a second skin. As I watched, the remaining shards glowed black, then began to fizzle and dissolve. Fresh skin began to form over the spots where it had burned off. But her chest remained still, her face remained still.

“Come on, Quinn,” I whispered. “Fight!”

Eli continued to pour energy into her, but nothing was happening. I saw his lips moving. Was he praying? Or reciting some sort of healing incantation? Quinn’s body remained completely limp, and I noticed her skin seemed to have lost its color. She looked devoid of life. Dead. More tears escaped down my cheek. I’d told myself a long time ago I wouldn’t get attached to people like this anymore. Because they always died. But here I was, faced with mortality once again.

I saw Eli’s glow begin to fade, like a comet burning out. The light unwrapped itself from Quinn’s body, bleeding back into Eli’s light, which dissipated a moment later. In contrast to the light that had been there a second before, the night seemed more black than it ever had. He turned slowly to face me, his golden hair shining in the streetlights. His silence said more than his words could have.

“No.” I shook my head. “Not Quinn. She can’t be…”

[]Chapter Fourteen

He pulled me onto his lap, strong arms holding me against his chest, holding me together.

“She can’t be gone,” I repeated. “That’s mean she’s going to—”

Quinn’s chest rose and fell.

We both froze. Her chest rose again. Then fell.

Her eyes opened tentatively, as if she wasn’t sure how to use them anymore.

“Quinn!” I shrieked.

“Zy,” was all she could manage.

“Oh, God! You were dead! You came back!” I leaned over her, wanting to touch her but not wanting to risk it with the black poison spreading up my limbs.

Her eyes, widened, scared for a moment. “Did you…”

“No, it wasn’t me. Eli saved you,” I explained.

Her eyes moved around, searching until she saw Eli’s face. “Thank you,” she sighed.

“No need to thank me for something like that.” His face was grim. I think he was still in shock that she was alive.

One of the NHTF trucks rolled past, bringing the reality of the riot back to us. “We need to get both of you out of here,” Eli said.

“And Riley,” I added, cutting off as an intense wave of pain and dizziness rocked my body.

“Zy, your arms!” Quinn protested weakly.

“Don’t worry about me,” I said. “I’m fine.” To prove my point, I stood up, at which point my body weaved convincingly beneath me.

“You don’t look fine,” came Donovan’s voice from behind me.

I felt a strong arm wrap around my waist. I knew I’d be fine, because this rescue shit was starting to piss me off. In fact, this whole riot/witch attack/poisoning/best-friend-near-death-experience had really put me in a foul mood. And I had cried. In front of someone else. Lame. “I just need to get out of here,” I said, removing Donovan’s hand.

“You need an antidote for that,” Quinn said, gesturing at my arms.

“Commander Hunter should have some. They keep all that stuff in the vans,” Eli said. He helped Quinn to her feet and we began to walk down the street.

“So you saved her from that vamp,” I said. “That’s good news.”

Eli chuckled. “She saved herself. By the time I got there she had staked him. She’s a pretty tough chick.”

I felt a wave of something that felt suspiciously like… Nah. I just really needed a martini. And a soul wouldn’t hurt, either.

We made it to the NHTF’s medical van. I insisted that Quinn lay down on a stretcher to be examined. I sat on the back bumper, resting my cheek against the cold metal of the door. “Hey, D, can you go get Riley? I don’t want them to take him to jail or something.”

“Yeah, sure.” He sauntered off, casting me a look over his shoulder. He knew it was very rare that I asked for help.

Eli had headed off in search of Hunter. I searched the crowd for him, and saw he’d found her. They were a dozen or so yards away, Eli all pale and glowing, Hunter a stark contrast with her dark brown skin and black hair. They stood a little closer than was strictly necessary for two people conversing. He pointed back to where we were and she followed him over.

“Eww, that looks bad,” Hunter said when she saw my arm. She climbed up into the van past me and started rummaging through some cabinets at the back.

“I’ll be alright,” I muttered. Eli cast me an amused look.

A moment later she returned with a huge needle. “Which cheek?”

I stared at her. “You’re kidding, right?”

She laughed. Was she enjoying this? “No. Pull down your jeans.”

I stood and started to roll down the denim. “Eli, do you mind?”

He blushed—actually blushed—and turned around to face the other way.

Hunter didn’t make me strip totally. After I revealed a couple inches of flesh, she jabbed the needle in. The medicine stung like hell. “Alright, you’re all set,” she said.

“Thanks.” I rebuttoned my jeans.

“I’ll send a medic over to look at your friend,” Hunter said. “That’s a little beyond my area of expertise.”

Eli turned back around and helped Hunter hop down out of the van. “Thank you, Marissa. You’re a life saver,” he said quietly. She smiled flirtatiously and walked off.

What? All she did was give me a freaking shot. Jesus Christ.

Luckily we didn’t have to wait long before a lanky guy in scrubs came over and examined Quinn. He proclaimed her to be fully recovered, but gave her a dose of the same stuff I’d gotten, just to be safe. I noticed the needle he used was about ten times smaller than the one Hunter—no, Marissa—had stabbed me with. Nice.

Through the smoke I saw Donovan approaching with Riley slung over his shoulder. “Hey, doc, can you wake up my friend? He got juiced accidentally.”

“Sure,” lanky doc said. He pulled out another syringe.

Donovan laid Riley out in the back of the van, and a couple minutes later he was blinking his eyes in confusion. His gaze settled on me first. “Did we die?”

I grinned. “Yeah. You missed it. It was epic.”

Riley groaned and sat up, rubbing his forehead. “I can’t handle your humor right now.”

“You mean, not before you have a cocktail. That’s cool, Donovan’s taking us out for drinks.”

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Eli asked.

I turned. “Yeah, I do. I’m totally over this riot.”

“That sounds good to me,” Donovan said, helping me and Quinn out of the van.

Eli just rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.

I really hated it when he got all holier-than-thou. “Sorry, Wings. We came, we kicked ass, we almost died, and now we need some alcohol.”

“Doctor?” Eli asked, trying to get some backup.

“I’m not getting in the middle of this one.” The doctor raised his hands in a gesture of neutrality. “I’ll just say that if I thought it was going to kill them, I’d intervene.” With a smile and a nod to me, he strode off.

Eli and I squared off. He wore his best superior-being-exasperated-by-the-commoners expression, and I donned my smuggest smile. “I’ll probably be here the rest of the night cleaning this up,” Eli said. “But can I expect you to be sober tomorrow so we can get back on the job?”

I shrugged. “Probably.”

“Fine. Come by HR headquarters.” And with that, he turned and stalked off.

“That guy’s got a major stick up his ass,” Donovan said, shaking his head.

I cast one last look in Eli’s direction. “Yeah, whatev. Let’s go.”

“Mmmm.” I sighed as I set down a frosted martini glass, having just drained my first beverage. “That really hits the spot.”

We were sitting in Cherry, an upscale supe bar downtown, located aptly on East Cherry Street. Since Alexander had burned One-Eyed Willie’s to the ground, this was the next best choice. Donovan sat on my left, trying to suavely put his arm around my shoulders, and Riley on my right. Quinn sat on the opposite side of the table, sandwiched between some of Donovan’s pack members, and judging by her eye-batting and lip-pursing, she’d forgotten all about the fact she’d almost died an hour earlier.

And I was well on my way to forgetting, too. Forgetting I had to keep the HR alive, and kill Alexander, and try to talk some sense into my sister. Definitely forgetting about Eli, and his annoying, bossy, pretentiousness. Commander Hunter and him were probably having a great time cleaning up the ashes of Fifth Ave right now, canoodling and talking about what a pain all the supes are. Especially those Anam Gatai.

“I’ll go get another round,” I said, standing abruptly.

It wasn’t until I was leaning up against the bar that I realized Donovan had followed me. I really needed to pay more attention. “I’ll help carry the drinks,” he said.

“Sure.” I looked over at him. “Hey, thanks for showing up and saving my ass tonight. You know how much I hate all that rescue business, but I have to admit I was probably a goner.”

His hip brushed up against mine, and I felt a wash of his warmth. “Yeah. I was pretty scared there for a minute. I could see you from a ways off, fightin’ like mad to keep off that wave of lunatics. I didn’t think I was going to make it in time.” Those bright eyes of his, green as the Irish meadows we hailed from, held real sincerity. Or, at least it seemed real. He was also a really good bullshitter.

“Well, you did. We live to drink another night.” I grinned and turned away from the emotions in his eyes.

Donovan grabbed my hand. “Zyan—”

The bartender saved me. “What’ll it be?”

“I’ll have a chocolate cherry faerie bomb, he’ll have a Jameson on the rocks…” I paused and turned to D, hyper aware of the tingles running up my arm from the warmth of my hand in his. “Sorry, guess I should let you order for yourself.”

He smiled. “It’s okay. I’ll always love Jameson. Some things change. Others never do.” His words were laced with not-so-subtle double meaning, and the expression on his face was making me uncomfortable.

I turned back to the bartender and rattled off a long list of drinks. He nodded and spun away to start whipping everything up.

Donovan was still holding my hand. He was a patient shapeshifter. I finally turned my gaze back to him. “Are you gonna keep that?” I flicked my eyes down to my hand.

“I’d like to,” he said. He raised my fingers to his lips and kissed them. “I’d like to keep all of you.”

“You had all of me before. It wasn’t good enough.” I pulled my fingers back.

His eyes went stormy. “I was dumb. Idiotic. And I’ve regretted it ever since. What do I have to do to show you how sorry I am?”

I sighed. “I don’t know, D. I just can’t deal with any more complications right now, okay?”

“I’m not a complicated person, and there’s nothing complicated about us. I want to be with you, okay? Nothing could be simpler.”

He was right. Well, about him not being a complicated person. It had been blissfully simple being with him. He had this soothing quality about him that always made me melt.

“I’m not trying to pressure you, Zy.” He had me locked in his gorgeous gaze again, his eyes sucking me in. “I’ve made up my mind. So I’ll wait as long as it takes.” Reaching forward, he pushed a strand of hair away from my cheek, letting his fingers trail over my skin. He was so close that his breath tickled my skin. “And to prove to you that my intentions are pure, I won’t even try to kiss you right now.”

His lips floated inches from mine. He said he wasn’t going to kiss me. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t kiss him. The question was, did I want to? Well, the fact that I was even indulging the question meant yes. Had he really changed? Boyfriends rarely did. Yet he seemed so sincere…

Donovan straightened abruptly. “Trouble,” he said, in response to my startled expression.

“What kind of trouble?” I asked. But then I heard what he’d probably felt through his pack psychic-link thing. The growls and hurling of insults that were the precursor of a bar fight.

I turned around to see two lines of weres and shapeshifters facing off in the back corner of the room. Some of them were from Donovan’s pack, the others from a werewolf pack. I could practically see their hackles standing up. We strode over.

“What’s going on here?” Donovan asked, his brows pinned together.

“This jackass says Cherry is their hangout, and we can’t be here,” said one of Donovan’s pack members.

I rolled my eyes. “I thought you weres had stopped with all this stupid territorial bullshit.” Since Evo, the weres had quit getting in fights like street gangs. A kind of mutual understanding—scuffles were bad publicity.

“Things are changing,” said one of the weres in the other pack, a tall brunette wearing full body fishnet with a leather skirt and bra. “We’re tired of being told what to do, and having to play nice just because the world is aware of our existence.”

“So, what are you going to do? Act up and get thrown in supe jail?” Riley asked.

I hadn’t realized he was standing there, on the other side of Donovan’s crew. He stood apart from both groups, because he wasn’t a member of either. His eyes weren’t on tacky hooker chick, though, they were on Dan, who stood across from him. Hadn’t it been just a few days ago that we were all hanging out at Will’s, without a care as to who was part of which clan or pack?

“We’d like to see the humans try,” said another woman standing next to fishnet girl.

“I’ll bet you guys just came from the riot, huh?” I asked. “Nice work. Societal chaos is a win-win for everybody.”

“Shut up, soulsucker. Nobody asked your opinion,” hissed another werewolf.

Man, but they were a mouthy bunch. “Well, since you’re promoting the absence of rules, you wouldn’t want me to raise my hand and wait my turn, now would you?” They were really killing my buzz and that was completely uncool. “Let’s just go back to our drinks, and remember we’re all part of one big, happy supernatural family, okay?”

“No deal,” said fishnets, glaring at me through fifty layers of black eyeliner.

“Come on, Kiki,” Dan said, touching her on the shoulder. “Let’s forget about it.”

Kiki whipped around like she was going to devour Dan. “If a boyish crush is more important than your pack, then just leave, okay? You can be a free agent like your little boyfriend over there.”

Dan cast an apologetic glance over at Riley, but kept his mouth shut. Packs were all-important to weres. Riley was an anomaly for not being a part of one. Clearly Dan wasn’t willing to give up what he had, despite his feelings for Riley. I groaned. This night was getting even more sucky than it already had been, which said a lot.

“Well, if you’re determined to fight, it’s a hell of a fight you’re gonna get,” Donovan growled. I’d forgotten how intense he could get when he was pissed off. His brogue thickened when he was mad.

“What’s going on here?”

A faerie suddenly stood on the edge of the crowd. Selfora, the owner. “This pack told this pack,” I pointed at each group respectively, “that they had to leave because this is their hangout. We’ve tried to be reasonable, but it isn’t happening.”

She nodded in understanding, her blue-black hair shimmering. Her wide almond-shaped eyes scanned over each group. “This type of behavior is not conducive to a pleasant atmosphere,” she said in a musical tone. She pointed to Kiki. “Please take your pack and leave.”

Kiki’s face pinched up in fury. “Are you serious?”

“Very,” Selfora said with a gentle smile.

It was then that Kiki did the stupidest thing yet. More stupid than picking a fight for no good reason. And more stupid than insulting me. She tried to hit Selfora. And everybody knows you don’t fuck with faeries, because they’ve got some wicked nasty magic that makes even the most skilled witch drool with envy.

So, first Kiki’s fist hit an invisible wall six inches in front of Selfora’s face that sent her blasting backwards into her friends. Then all the shifters in Kiki’s pack, including poor Dan, were simply swept by an invisible, soundless wind, kicking and screaming, out the door and onto the street.

We could see them through the windows, cursing and threatening. One of the weres pulled down his zipper and started urinating on the side of the building. There was a sudden flash, and a little bolt like lightning jumped out and zapped his…. well. He screamed and ran off with his pants down around his ass. Like I said, you’re just dumb if you mess with faerie magic.

Selfora sighed serenely and turned to me. “I believe you have some drinks waiting at the bar. I’ll have someone bring them over, and they’re on the house.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Sorry about all that.”

Selfora raised her hand as if to deflect my apology. “I hope the rest of your evening is better.” She bowed slightly and walked away.

We all settled back down again. The waiter came with our drinks, and I handed Riley’s to him. “Sorry, Ri. That sucks about Dan.”

“Yeah. It’s hard enough to find a good man, let alone one that’s gay and supernatural. And now I have to worry about pack drama?” He rolled his eyes and took a sip of his dirty martini.

“You’ll find someone else,” Quinn said, patting his thigh. “You’re too awesome to be single for long.”

“True,” Riley said with a smile.

That brought a round of laughs. I sat back, trying to laugh with them, and forget that everything was falling apart. I should have known better than to think the peace and easy times we’d had since Evolution would last.

[]Chapter Fifteen

I woke up the next evening to a dozen shapeshifters passed out in my living room and a text message from Eli. That’s right, someone had had the brilliant idea that my apartment would be the perfect place to hang out after we left the bar. And we’d stayed up past dawn drinking. Needless to say, there was a lot of cleaning up to do. So, it was a good thing Eli’s text said something had come up and he needed to meet me later than initially planned.

As I waded through the slumbering bodies, Quinn came stumbling out of her room. We murmured sleepy greetings, and while I poked about in the fridge she got a bunch of herbs out of the cabinet.

“Making tea for your hangover?” I asked as I grabbed the milk.

“Yeah,” she mumbled.

“One of the good things about being immortal,” I said. “No hangovers.”

Quinn snorted. “Well, good for you guys.” She filled her mug with water from the tap, then blasted it with a quick heat spell and tossed in the herbs.

Since pretty much every surface in the living room was occupied, we headed out to the balcony. The night was still purple, not quite black, and only a couple stars were out. Or at least, only a couple that could outshine the city lights, which were at their twinkly brightest. It was the equivalent to the glittery dew at the birth of morning, when all is fresh. Before the evening grew stale and everything faded.

I cast a glance at Quinn, who was staring out over the city. “What exactly do you remember from last night?” I asked.

A moment passed before she answered. “Not much. I remember getting hit with the spell, and then you were there, but I blacked out. Until—”

I waited, slowly munching my cereal.

“Until I woke up and saw two strange things. Your face, streaked with tears. And Eli, holding you against his chest.”

Quinn’s turn to wait. I took another bite. “Yeah, that is strange.”

She narrowed her eyes. “So? Was I hallucinating?”

I sighed. “No. Does it surprise you so much that I would cry over your death?”

She blinked a couple times. I imagine she wasn’t contemplating my question so much as letting it sink in that she had actually died last night. And been brought back to life. “No,” she said finally. “I’ve just never seen you even close to tears before.”

“Well, it’s been a long time since one of my friends almost died.” A long time, because I’d made a point not to get too close to anyone for the last century or so. I guess that plan had gone to shit.

We sat in silence for a couple minutes. “There’s something going on between you two,” Quinn said. She held her mug up to her mouth, and her gold eyes gleamed bright from behind the steam.

“Who? Me and Eli?”

Quinn rolled her eyes. “No, you and Santa Claus.”

“We’ve been over this before—” I began.

“Yeah, and you tried to bullshit me about it before, too. You’re so ridiculous!” She pointed a finger at me. “I saw the look on his face when he was holding you. He likes you, too. Just quit being so difficult about it.”

“So, he’s cute. I mean, hello, he’s an angel. But that’s it.” I leaned back and drank the rest of the milk out of the bowl. “He’s fun to look at. That’s all there is to it.”

Quinn raised a brow. “And him liking you?”

“I think it’s just professional respect. I mean, we’ve worked together a ton the past few days.” I shrugged. “He’s made it clear how he feels about my kind. Besides, he likes Commander Hunter.”

“I detect a tone of jealousy.”

I laughed. “Not jealousy. I just think she’s a stuck-up bitch. But if that’s what he’s into, whatever. ”

Quinn took a long drink of her tea. “You’re not fooling me. But I’ll drop it.”

“Good. It’s a waste of your time to dwell on something that isn’t going to happen.”

She shook her head and laughed. “Okay, whatever, Zy.”

I sighed again. “Believe what you want. I’m going to go kick out these shifters, okay? Then I need some real food.” I got up and stretched.

“Alright. I’ll help after I finish my tea.”

I shuffled back into the living room. “Rise and shine, shifter creatures. Naptime’s over.” I accentuated my words by nudging a few of them with my foot. A chorus of groans echoed across the room.

I tossed my dish in the sink and whistled loudly. Malakai came running out of my room, her ears perked up. “Not you, baby doll, the other dogs.” I knew they weren’t hungover, because wolves metabolized alcohol quickly too, though not as fast as I did. Where was Donovan?

I found him draped over one of the armchairs. “D, wake up. Party’s over. I need to clean up my house and get to work.”

He murmured something unintelligible before wrapping his arms around my waist, pulling me onto his lap, and nuzzling his face into my chest. I slapped his cheek. “Wake the hell up!”

He opened his eyes and grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Zy.”

“Oh, I’m sure. Round up your troops and vacate the premises. It’s starting to smell in here.” I got up and started walking around, poking at the sleeping shifters.

Quinn walked in, put her mug in the kitchen, then rubbed her hands together and sent a blast of yellow light towards our houseguests. Instantly they began to sit up, clapping their hands over their ears. “What’s that sound?” Donovan groaned.

I couldn’t hear anything, but then I didn’t have animal hearing. I shooed Malakai back into my room so she didn’t walk into Quinn’s spell zone. “Nice having you all. Keep it real. See you next time,” I called as they all staggered for the door.

Quinn lowered her hands as they filed out into the hall. Donovan was last to go. As I headed over to the door to shut it behind him, he blew me a kiss, then followed his pack out into the hallway. Mrs. Beckham, the little old lady that lived in the apartment across from me, stood holding her little Malti-poo clutched to her chest, her mouth hanging open as they passed. When she saw me, she glowered. I grinned and waved as she went back into her apartment.

I turned back to face the damage. It could have been worse, I guess. Just a few bottles of whiskey lying about, and some flattened sofa cushions. Quinn pointed at the bottles, then sent them whisking into the recycling bin with her magic. I picked up the sofa cushions. Manually. “I really need to get better with my magic so I can do stuff like that,” I said.

“Yes, you do. I’ve only told you a couple hundred times before,” she chastised.

“So, since we’re lamenting my subpar witch skills, can you like magically steam clean the living room or something?” I wrinkled my nose up at the smell.

“Yeah, it does smell a little.” She put her hands on her hips, surveying the room. “I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll clean the living room if you do some weight lifting.”

“Say what?”

She didn’t answer, but walked out of the room, returning with a five and ten pound weight, and a huge dumbbell. Not in her hands, of course, but floating through the air before her. She set them gently off to the side of the room. “Start with the smallest one. Lift it with your powers. Make sure you can hold it for a long time, and move it all over the place before you move on to the next size.”

I stared down at the weights. “Um…”

“Um, what? Just get started. You’ll figure it out.” With that she turned her back on me and started shooting blasts of pink light around the living room, cleaning up the carpet and upholstery.

“Alright, well, I’ll try it when I get back from feeding.”

Quinn shot me a look that told me I’d better keep my end of the bargain. I headed out the door and walked a few blocks, keeping to the dark allies and side streets. It took nearly half an hour, but eventually I was noticed by a guy with thoughts darker than the asphalt beneath my feet. Like a hound picking up a game trail, I could feel him before I even saw him standing there. It felt like an electric sizzle as his mind touched mine, and then with a little pull of power I started reeling him in. I could lure him without my supernatural abilities, but it took longer while they watched me and debated their approach, or worse even when they decided to stalk me and take their sweet time with it. I needed to get back to the apartment.

As he moved towards me, I abruptly felt an enormous surge of hunger. My power lashed out, an uncontrolled wave, and my prey actually lifted off the ground and began to move towards me at a rapid pace. Panic ran along the edge of my ribcage; I was in sight of the street and someone could see us. But a bigger part of me needed to feed, now. I slammed him against the wall of the nearest building and called his soul. I didn’t even put my lips to his mouth as I always had before, I just reached out with my magic and yanked, and it came popping out of him and into me. I barely even had time to see the panic in his eyes before he was dead.

It took a couple seconds for the hysteria to set in.

I’d lost control. Again, like the other day when Arianna’s goons had attacked me. Except this time I’d been completely conscious and not about to die. For several moments nothing had existed but my hunger, and it had batted aside two centuries of restraint and willpower like a tiger with a ragdoll. What if someone else had been nearby? Would I have stopped? In just the last few days the walls I had so carefully constructed for centuries were crumbling around me.

I realized I was shaking all over. My body slumped numbly to the ground and I buried my head between my knees. It was the stress of Alexander, my thirst for revenge, which called to my most basic, instinctual side as an Anam Gatai. Which was now a million times amplified by what he’d done to Anna. And still, even now, I knew I wouldn’t stop hunting him. Couldn’t stop. Even if I became a monster again. Even if it cost me everything.

The eyes of the man I’d drained stared up at me as I got up and headed back to the apartment. When I stepped through the door, Riley looked up from downward dog or some other yoga pose he was doing. His eyes widened. “What happened? I can smell your panic.”

Living with a werewolf, I’d long ago gotten used to weird statements like that. I would have smiled another time. But not now. I told him, haltingly and in a strange, mechanical voice that I could hear from a distance, as if I were listening to a recording of myself from another time and place. About the time I had lost control with Olga long ago, as well as what had happened tonight. “That’s why I don’t really use my magic much,” I said, my voice a hoarse whisper.

Quinn had come in near the end of my confession. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry,” she said, placing her hands on mine. “I think you’re right, it’s the stress from Alexander, it’s eroding your control. And you’re going to hate me for saying it now, but it’s all the more reason we need to practice. I’ll do it with you.”

Riley looked from Quinn to me and back again. “Actually, I think I might be a bit more help in this matter.”

Quinn’s lips pursed. “How so?”

“The core problem here is that Zyan has an inner power she can’t control. It’s like my wolf self, always waiting on the inside, trying to escape, be wild, hunt and destroy. You’ve never experienced that side of your power.” He stood up and patted her on the shoulder. “Magic skills practice will help, too, but it doesn’t tame the inner beast.”

Quinn unfolded her arms from across her chest. “Perhaps there’s some validity to that. As long as you take practicing control just as seriously.”

I nodded and then shook my head. “Yes, I’ll practice. But not now. I’m too fried.”

“You need to push through your fear or it’s just going to build.” Her voice was soothing but firm.

“Fine, you can start off, but my lessons are next,” Riley said.

“Don’t worry, everyone can have a piece of the Zyan pie,” I said with a weary sigh. I knew they were right, and I wasn’t going to get out of this. Wearily, I picked up the five-pound weight (with my hands) and brought it to the center of the living room. I set the weight on the floor and sighed and closed my eyes. Magic could be used for good. That night in the alley when I’d suddenly been filled with energy from both the earth and the moon, my magic had saved me.

“So, the key is focus,” Quinn said. “Obvious, but true. From focus comes control. We’ll start small.” She took a deep breath and we locked eyes. “Call your power and lift the weight.”

I called my magic and it responded obediently. Breathing deeply, I sat there and felt it tingle through me for a minute. Once I felt comfortable enough with its presence, I turned my focus to the five-pound weight.

I kind of thought with the strength of my power that the weight would do my bidding easily. I was wrong. I could get it to wiggle a little bit and rise an inch or two off the ground, but then it would thump back down. It occurred to me that though I could tap into the magic easily enough, focusing it was an entirely different matter. Other than the hunt, I usually used it for rote, basic spells that required practically no skills, or when I was fighting, which was kind of a wild, uncontrolled burst of power. There was nothing focused about that. So, for the next hour I worked on moving the weight, Quinn coaching me with never-ending patience. I didn’t make a whole lot of progress. I got to where I could make it rise about six inches instead of two. Big deal.

“This stuff takes time you know,” Quinn said. “It’s something you have to cultivate.”

I felt like crawling back into bed after all that mental exercise, but it was 8:30 and I had to meet Eli.

“I’m off to let the angel torture me,” I said to them. “Riley, you can torture me sometime later.”

“Call us if you do anything fun,” Riley said as I headed for the door.

“Aren’t you getting tired of my kind of fun?” I raised my eyebrows at him.

“Never,” he answered with a grin.

“Never say never.” I smiled and took off into the night.

[]Chapter Sixteen

“We’re going to arrest Arianna Vega.”

I stared at Eli for a second, and then I laughed. “Score! When?”

“Is right now soon enough for you?”

I made a show of glancing at the time on my cell. “Yeah, I happen to be free. So, what’s the plan?”

We were sitting in one of the briefing rooms at HR headquarters. Eli had just explained he’d been called into a meeting with the NHTF earlier, and that they had a warrant for Arianna’s arrest since she was harboring a known fugitive.

“Well, our intel tells us that Arianna has an appointment away from home tonight. We’re going to try to nab her while she’s away. Then, we’ll see if we can pressure her into releasing information about Alexander and your—and Anna.” His eyes darted away from mine at the last part.

I rolled right on past the awkward mention of my sister. “And if she won’t talk?”

“Well, then we have to try to bust into her apartment.” He leaned back casually in his chair.

“You do realize her security system is almost as high tech as the HR’s?”

Eli seemed unperturbed. “We’ve got people with special talents. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Alright then. Let’s roll.” We got up and headed out into the hall, where three dozen or so angelic warriors were waiting for us. They fell into line behind me and Eli, and I felt a little like a military leader heading for war.

“Where’s the appointment?” I asked as we piled into big black vans.

“Oh, someplace I’m sure you’ve visited a time or two yourself,” Eli responded, a slight smile on his face.

“You’re not talking about the gynecologist, right? Because immortals don’t have to worry about stuff like that…” I watched his face, a devilish grin on mine.

He blushed, sure enough. “No, not the—just wait and see, okay?”

A few minutes later, after we’d rendezvoused with the NHTF trucks, we pulled up in front of a place in Queen Anne that was indeed familiar to me. “The Eternal Goddess Spa?”

“Yeah. I heard this place is open all night to serve vamps and other supes. Have you been here?” Eli looked over at me.

Only every week…. “Yeah, once in a while.”

The back of the van opened and I jumped out into the street. The NHTF dudes looked classic special ops, all dressed in black, making silly hand gestures as they ran in a low crouch to the front of the building. “You want them to bust in there? Or you want me to take her down quiet?” I asked Eli.

He hesitated a moment. “You can try. We’ve got men around back in case she gets away.” He gestured for the NHTF to hold back.

“Try? Get away?” I rolled my eyes and sauntered up to the glass doors.

“Good evening, Ms. Star,” a melodious voice welcomed me.

I walked across the gleaming marble floor and leaned against the counter. “Hi, Carol. Is it possible for me to get a massage? I don’t have an appointment.”

“Of course, Ms. Star. Let me see who’s available.” The blonde started to flip through her appointment book.

“Oh, and my friend Arianna’s here tonight. Maybe I could get the room next to hers?” I smiled sweetly.

Carol’s eyes clouded with confusion for just a second, probably wondering why she’d never seen me and Arianna here together. But then she smiled and nodded. “Certainly.”

As she searched for an opening, I glanced behind me onto the street. From here, all looked peaceful. You wouldn’t know four vans full of soldiers sat just out of view. Ah, this was going to be good.

“Okay, it looks like Marie is free at the moment. Right this way.” Carol smiled brightly and led me down the perfumed hall. Candles flickered from little alcoves in the walls, and some kind of new-agey flute music played on the surround-sound. It was all quite relaxing.

We stopped before a small private room with a massage table and lots of vibrant looking plants scattered about. “Here you are. Can I get you some water or herbal tea?” Carol asked.

“Tea would be great. Thanks so much.”

As soon as she slipped out, I walked softly around to the room next to me. I opened the door and peeked in. Sure enough, there was Arianna, face down on the table, her long red curls hanging nearly to the ground.

“Just the murderous bitch I was looking for.” I pulled my blade out of its sheath in one silken move.

Arianna flew off the table in a blur of speed, a look of pure rage on her face.

“Veronica,” I said to the masseuse, who stood a couple feet away, shaking with terror, “I’m afraid your client isn’t going to be coming back for quite some time. She’s going to have a little chat with the NHTF tonight about harboring assassins. Plus, she tried to have me killed. Just FYI, in case you guys have a policy about clients trying to off each other.”

Veronica didn’t know how to respond to that, so she just nodded, her eyes bigger than the hot river stones Arianna had clattered all over the floor.

“Oh, and Veronica? Can you run along and tell Carol I’m going to need a rain check on my massage? Thanks so much.” I smiled and waved her on. She darted one look over at Arianna and high-tailed it.

“You whore!” Arianna spat. “Do you really think you’re going to get away with this?”

I laughed. “Blows, doesn’t it? Actually getting called out for breaking the law, like a normal citizen. How bourgeois.” I pointed my sword towards her robe, which hung against the wall. “You gonna go in the buff or make yourself decent?”

She seethed, her green eyes laser points that melted into me. Slowly, she pulled the robe on. Then, of course, she tried to escape.

As she blurred towards me, fangs bared, I brought my fist up in a tight uppercut to her jaw. Her feet left the ground and she hit the floor with a nasty crunch. I leaned over her, the tip of my sword under her chin.

“Thank you. I thought for a moment there you were going to go quietly. How boring that would have been.” I reached down, grabbed a fistful of red curls, and dragged her on her back kicking and screaming out onto the street. “I’ll reschedule for next week, okay?” I called to Carol as I walked past.

As soon as I appeared out on the street, the NHTF ran up and cuffed Arianna. Not with silver—a total myth—but with some high-tech metal the government made that could stand up to a supe’s strength. They injected her with the supe suppressant, too, just to be safe. I watched with great satisfaction as they loaded her into the back of their van.

“Felt good, didn’t it?” Eli asked, coming up behind me.

I gazed at him in puzzlement. “Hell yeah it did. But revenge isn’t very angelic, now is it?”

He shrugged. “Justice. Not revenge.” Then he grinned. “Okay, well the hair pulling thing was probably pure revenge. But she did send nearly two dozen vamps to kill you in a dark alley.”

“Yeah, karma’s a bitch.” I smiled back at him. “So? Are we busting into the penthouse?”

“We can get into position. They’ll need a few minutes to see if she’s in a talking mood. After that they may give her some truth serum, though that often doesn’t work on the older vamps.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I sheathed my sword and followed him back into the van. A short ride later, we were sitting outside Arianna’s building. Hell, I spent practically more time over here than at my own house these days.

The other angels filed out of the van to await instructions. Eli and I were the last to go, and as he got up I grabbed his hand. “Hey. I never got to really thank you for saving Quinn last night.”

He looked uncomfortable. “Like I told Quinn, that’s not really something you should thank me for.” He looked down. “And actually, you were the one that believed I could bring her back, when I was sure it was too late. I should have had more faith.”

“Everybody loses faith sometimes,” I said.

“Angels aren’t supposed to,” he said, his voice just above a whisper.

I looked up at him. “Remember how you said everyone expected you to be perfect all the time? Well, not me. You don’t have to worry about that with me.”

He gazed at me intently for a moment. “Thanks, Zy.” Then he turned and hopped out of the van.

I sat there for a sec, then followed him. As I gazed up at the building before me, I wondered if Anna was up there in Arianna’s apartment. Did she want to talk to me as desperately as I wanted to talk to her? Did she want to talk to me at all? Or had Alexander poisoned her so completely?

My thoughts were rudely interrupted by the ring of a cell phone. Eli’s.

“News?” He asked the caller. A pause while he listened. “Excellent. We’ll be there momentarily.” He snapped his phone shut. “She broke quickly. I have the code to get inside.”

I felt a wave of surprise. But then, she was a spoiled brat. I bet she’d spilled her guts the second they told her that in jail she’d have to wear those hideous orange suits. Hell, I might cave myself if faced with that murky future. “Sweet. Let’s crack this baby.”

Eli gestured to some of the angels and the NHTF team, and we headed for the front entrance. He flipped something—a badge?—at the doormen and we took the elevator to Arianna’s floor. We paused before her apartment and Eli slid open the metallic cover that hid the security keypad.

“Arianna’s security system requires a code and a full aural scan,” Eli said. “She can program it for her and her staff, and it will only open once the scan is complete. The person must be alive and not be under duress—the aura changes if someone is highly stressed.”

“That’s clever. So how are we going to get in?”

“Well, luckily she can perform the scan remotely with a handheld device. Once I type in the first code—” He quickly typed in a ten-digit number and stepped back as the light on the pad changed from red to green, followed by a click, which I presumed to be the door unlocking. “—she’s supposed to perform the scan.” Eli turned the knob and opened the door.

The foyer stretched before us, and about ten feet in front of us another closed door. The second door had been open the night I’d come for dinner, so the foyer had seemed like any other. Now, without the dazzling lights and food and guests and servants, it looked very austere, like the highly secured penthouse it was. I followed Eli and some of the angels towards the second door, feeling a wave of claustrophobia with all of us crammed in here.

At the second door, Eli punched in another code. Good lord, how did he keep that many numbers in his head? It must be an angel thing. The door slid open, and he motioned for some of the angels to move ahead into the apartment. We were trying to be quiet, on the off chance Alexander or Anna were here. Wouldn’t that be a lucky catch.

As I started to move towards the second door, something flashed right before me. A glowing orb appeared, hanging in midair.

“A portal! Shit!”

I dove for the second door, but didn’t make it. And I didn’t have further time to panic. From within the portal stepped two 10th level demons.

Eli lunged towards me, back into the foyer. The demons looked down at us with unpleasant smiles, then each reached up a clawed hand and made a funny gesture, bringing their fingertips down towards their palms. The doors on each side of the foyer snapped shut. Me and Eli were trapped in a tiny room. Like sardines in a can. With demons.

I launched myself at the demon closest to me. It was all rotting-flesh gray, with hundreds of bulbous glistening eyeballs all over its face. My blade and I sung through the air. And then I was crashing into the opposite wall. I sat stunned for a second. Had it thrown me back? No, it had disappeared. A damp mist hung in the air, with the delightful aroma of putrid fish and sulfur. As I spun around, the demon began to reappear, a wicked, lop-sided grin on its face. I had jumped right through it, into the wall. Fantastic.

I ducked as Eli, now standing opposite me, flung a ball of energy towards the demon facing him. Stabbing upwards from where I lay on the ground, I was almost able to connect with some flesh before the demons dissolved again, moving just out of range. One of the demons whipped its blade-edged tail down, leaving a bloody gash up my forearm. I rolled to the side, but it moved faster. It jabbed its tail down, stabbing the tip into my shoulder. I gasped and tried to scramble back, but found myself trapped against the wall.

Light burst and bounced between the walls, and I couldn’t tell what came from Eli and what came from the demons, who possessed magic of their own. If I was going to survive, I needed to add a little of my own to the mix. Concentrating on the demon before me, I tried to use my power to lock him into solid form, so he couldn’t escape my sword. He started to flicker out of sight, but then wavered and remained solid. All hundred or so glistening eyes looked down at me with a curious expression. Then he blinked out of sight.

I spun around. Where had he gone? I felt a slight pulse of energy behind me and ducked, just as he rematerialized. His grin appeared first, like a really scary Cheshire cat. “You’re going to have to do better than that,” he said in a glass shard voice.

I lunged at him with my sword, but he was already disappearing again, except for his razor blade tail, which shot out and stabbed me in the stomach. Blood bloomed on my shirt. I staggered forward, clutching my abdomen. My hand came away crimson. I’d have to do better than this for sure.

It was hard to concentrate with Eli blasting white light everywhere. But I had to do it, and quickly. I called on my power. It rushed in and flared out against the walls. Focusing, I pulled it in and concentrated it on both demons, on their physical presence, solid, heavy. Both of them turned to look at me, and started to flicker and blink out again. “Now, Eli!” I screamed, straining against their incredible pull on my magic, trying to free themselves.

A blast of white power shot out of him and enveloped the two demons. For a moment they just stood there illuminated, their tails swishing around, looking for a victim. Then they burst into dust.

I fell forward and Eli grabbed me. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I swallowed, my throat tight as my wounds healed up.

The doors opened and we were rushed by the others from both sides. “We’re good,” Eli said. “Finish checking the apartment. I’m going to call the NHTF and tell them about the slight demonic detail Arianna forget to mention.”

I walked over and sat down in one of Arianna’s fancy chairs. As an afterthought, I wrung my blood-soaked shirt all over the upholstery. The lying hag seemed to like making me bleed, so she could have a little souvenir.

Then I felt something. Someone. Anna. Here, in the apartment. I don’t know how I knew, whether it was an Anam Gatai thing or a sister thing. But she was definitely here.

I stood back up and followed the feeling like a divining rod to some stairs, which led up to an outdoor observatory on the roof. Outside, a cold night air carried promises of winter. And sure enough, a shadow stood a few feet away, at the corner of the building. “Going somewhere?”

She jerked her head around, and I saw her eyes glint in the dark. Warily, she stepped forward into the light. “Actually I just got here. But it seems I’ve come at a bad time.”

“They’ve arrested Arianna. You need to make a deal Anna, before you get in too deep.”

She laughed, though her body was rigid with tension, ready to flee at any moment. “I’m already in too deep. You know what I’ve done.”

“Because of Alexander. But it’s not too late to get free of his influence. I’m your sister. I want to help you.” I tried to keep my voice level and calm, but it wasn’t easy. I kind of wanted to cry, and scream, and shake her a few times.

“What makes you think any of this is because of Alexander?” Her tone cut through me. “Maybe I want to be a vampire. Maybe I want to kill the HR. Don’t try to assume you know me just because we have the same blood. It’s been over two hundred years. I’m different now.”

“You’re still my sister,” I said.

Her eyes met mine for a brief moment. And then Eli stepped out from the stairwell. Anna went into a low crouch. “Wait—”

She was gone.

Eli spun on me. “What the hell was that?”

My eyes widened. “I was trying to get her to make a deal. You know, turn in Alexander.”

“You don’t need to be negotiating with an assassin! You should have taken her into custody, and asked questions later!” The veins in his neck popped out everywhere.

“She’s my sister! I thought I had a better chance with a softer approach.” I crossed my arms over my chest, staring him down.

“A soft approach? We don’t have time for that with the HR’s life on the line.” He spun and jogged back down the stairs. “If you can’t be impartial…”

“Then what? I’m fired?” I raced after him, wishing I could shove him down face first.

“Yes!” He turned around and I ran right into him. “I need you to be on your game. That’s what we hired you for.”

“Oh, so now I’m just the hired help? The obedient robot?” I yelled in his face.

“Yeah, what else? You’re here for a job. That’s it!” He sucked in a breath, and then his face went still, emotionless. “You’re off the case, Zyan. Things were already tenuous with the history between you and Alexander, but now that your sister is involved… it’s too much.”

His words cut into me. They shouldn’t have hurt, but they did. He was right—things had gotten too personal. But not because of Alexander and my sister. I’d let my guard slip. “Good luck on the case, Commander Whitesong,” I said, my words blades of ice.

I strode past him and kept going until I was out on the street. And then I ran.

Countless minutes later I stopped and looked around me. I stood on the outskirts of the city, looking east over Lake Washington. Thoughts began to filter past the black storm of my emotions. I didn’t know what it was about him that got me so unsettled. Maybe… maybe because he was everything I couldn’t be. A savior, when I was damned. Light, when I was dark. No matter what good I did, I would always be eternally condemned. Nothing could change that. Nothing. And he contrasted with that reality more than anything else could.

I took in a deep breath of cold air, then headed back to my apartment. I had some decisions to make.

The story continues in Martinis with the Devil Part Two

Releasing April 25, 2016

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Also forthcoming in 2016

Whiskey and Angelfire — Zyan Star Book Two

Zyan and Eli head to Ireland to find a missing angel. They soon discover other supernaturals are missing, too, and tensions are running high in the supe community. The horse and dragon shifters are battling it out, and Archangel Michael will stop at nothing to find his missing warrior… even if it means war.

Vengeance and Vermouth — Zyan Star Book Three

Too secret to reveal… let’s just say book two ends on a cliffhanger!!

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A little teaser for Martinis with the Devil Part Two

A mob of angels whooshed in around the HR, trapping me inside the nucleus of the circle. “He’s an assassin! Grab him!” I yelled, hoping some of the angels on the perimeter would take Alexander down. But my voice was drowned out by the uproar of the audience as people panicked and tried to trample down those around them.

Slowly, inexplicably, Alexander began to rise into the air above our heads, well out of the reach of any of us. My mouth dropped open. Could he fly? I’d never known a vampire that actually could.

“Fellow citizens, both human and supernatural,” he called down to us. “What happened the other day is, as the HR stated, a tragedy.” He paused and cast a look out into the audience like it pained him to discuss it. “What he didn’t say, and doesn’t want you to think about, is that this sort of thing will happen again. And again. And again.” The crowd began to murmur, and I could see shock on the faces all around me. “Supernaturals are tired of being treated unequally, and we will demand change. The HR and the realm of Heaven cannot protect you from the chaos that is coming.” One final dramatic pause. “You may want to consider whether you are placing your faith in the right people.”

And then suddenly he was gone, evaporated into the night like a bad dream. A moment of stunned silence, and then the crowd broke into pandemonium.

About the Author

Alexia Chamberlynn lives in Florida. When she’s not writing or reading, she can be found playing with horses, eating chocolate and other delicious things, drinking wine, traveling to the next place on her global wish list, or maybe doing yoga. Connect with her at www.alexiachamberlynn.com.


Martinis with the Devil, Part One

When offered a job on the Holy Representative’s special security team, bounty hunter Zyan Star couldn’t be less interested – until she finds out it’s her most hated of exes that they’re trying to track down. He broke her heart and dumped her, which in turn led to the loss of her soul at the hands of an immortal soul thief. Now she too exists on a diet of souls, with the occasional martini thrown in for good measure, and she’s had over two hundred years to fantasize about revenge. She just didn’t quite imagine it playing out alongside the emissaries of Heaven. Working with Eli, the uptight angel that heads up the HR’s security, is just about as much fun as Zy expects. He of course wants her vampire ex brought to justice through legal avenues, which is very inconvenient and incredibly boring. As she dives into the case, however, she realizes there’s more at stake than her plot for payback. Like, the free will of mankind, and preventing the minions of hell from taking over the sovereign dimensions. This job is going to push her to the limits of her abilities, and there’s just a slight problem with that: the powers she’s suppressed for centuries after losing control of them are exactly the powers she’s going to need to save the HR, end her millennia-old ex and stop Lucifer’s little plot to join the party and invade Earth. Savior of humanity? Not so much. Or so she thought.

  • ISBN: 9781311264381
  • Author: Alexia Chamberlynn
  • Published: 2016-04-08 09:50:12
  • Words: 45852
Martinis with the Devil, Part One Martinis with the Devil, Part One