Poe’s Avenue, Virginia, FBI Paranormal Operations Division HQ
Alejandro cocked his shotgun and followed his teammate into the burnt and jagged opening in the side of the building, hoping that—for once—there weren’t any trolls.
He hated trolls.
“Clear,” Mac, already moving through the narrow hallway, called back to him. It was Mac’s turn to go first. They kept score.
Lately he’d been keeping score on a lot of things. Like time. The year, two weeks, and five days since he’d seen the sunlight outside of the academy, for instance.
Not that he was counting.
Anyway, the course at the FBI’s sister division, P-Ops, had kept him plenty busy.
“Shotgun! You coming or scratching your ass back there?”
“No, my friend, I was just thinking of asking your sister to scratch it for me,” Alejandro said, grinning at the nickname he’d won for obvious reasons. “She reaches all the itchy parts so well.”
“I will kick your ass if you get any of your itchy parts anywhere near my sister. Or she’d kick it for you. Jenny scares even me.”
The sound of Mac’s Glock firing three shots in rapid succession caused Alejandro to break into a run as he slapped his night-vision goggles in place.
“On my way,” he called, not bothering to try to be stealthy. “Save some for me.”
He caught the shifting glimmer of light in the corner of one eye and whirled around, aiming and firing in one smooth motion. Whatever it was, he missed. Too short to be a troll, so there was one mercy. If he were the type to have nightmares, he’d still be having them about the last one’s breath. Green, moss-covered teeth. What the hell was that about? Toothpaste was cheap.
“Shotgun! Could use a little help here!” Mac sounded just the slightest bit out of breath, which was unusual for the man who’d beat the all-time speed record for the FBI’s obstacle course at Quantico in an inter-agency competition. Alejandro had won a hundred bucks on that one.
He took off running, cocking the Remington as he moved. The vampire who jumped him five feet down the hall took a blast to the head. Alejandro vaulted over the disintegrating body, not wanting the acidic slime of decomposing vamp on his new shoes.
A high-pitched scream warned him of the approach from overhead of a deadly Mngwa, but he had a silver throwing knife at hand. One lethal toss later, a couple hundred pounds of mutant killer cat lay on the floor, blood gurgling out of its throat.
He skidded to a stop at the end of the corridor, not willing to rush headlong into a blind turn, and Mac called out to him again, his deep voice rough and strained. “Alejandro, if you’re coming, now would be a really good time.”
Alejandro instantly switched from student-taking-his-final-exam mode to deadly-predator mode. They had a code between them, he and Mac. They were only Alejandro and Maxwell to each other in the event of a dire emergency. Whatever faced Mac around that corner was no training-ground obstacle. Somebody had set a trap, and Mac was caught in it.
Alejandro was going to kick somebody’s ass for this one.
He dove for the floor, rolling to the side to protect the Remington, and did a modified army crawl around the corner. The natural expectation was to look for an enemy at man-height, not on the floor or the ceiling. It’s why the vampires and other supes who could climb down a building or fly always had the advantage. Nobody would expect a P-Ops rookie to come in at ankle-height.
Alejandro was far, far more than a rookie.
His first glance assessed the situation and told him everything he needed to know. A trio of wolf shifters surrounded Mac, and one of them had gotten in either a good swipe of his claws or a bite—Alejandro hoped it was only claws—and Mac was down and bleeding, his gun a crushed hunk of metal on the floor.
“Come out, come out, little human,” snarled the shifter who stood with one claw-tipped foot on Mac’s head.
Another was on all fours, his massive head hanging down near Mac’s struggling form. As Alejandro watched, that one’s long tongue snaked out as he licked blood off the side of Mac’s face.
“Yummy,” the shifter said in his garbled voice, and then he laughed.
It was the laugh that put Alejandro over the edge. Cool, clear-headed, Paranormal Operations training flew out the window. Hot, primal rage from years of battling murderous vampires in San Bartolo took over. He triangulated his shots in his head a split-second before he took them.
A couple of heartbeats later, three werewolves lay dead on the ground.
“Glad you talked me into that silver shot,” he said mildly, as if his partner hadn’t almost died and wasn’t now in danger of becoming a shifter himself.
Mac forced out a laugh and hauled himself up off the ground. “Damn wolves. I was so focused on the possibility of big, bad, and ugly that I missed the pitter-patter of little feet.”
“Leprechauns. Bastards tripped me up, and the wolves jumped me when I was down.”
Alejandro shook his head and then blasted a hole in the side of the building. Welcome sunlight poured in, and he stepped over the bodies of the shifters to reach his friend. “Let’s move.”
Mac nodded, but shrugged off Alejandro’s hand. “Thanks, but screw that. We’re going to walk out of here like it was no problem, and then we’ll get me to the infirmary after. I don’t want any of those punks laughing at us.”
“There are worse things than laughter,” Alejandro said, eyeing Mac’s wounds. Looked like claws. He hoped.
“Yeah. Fucking leprechauns.” Mac bared in his teeth in a grim imitation of a smile. “At least one of them won’t be tripping anybody else, ever again.”
He jerked his head to indicate the far corner, and Alejandro could just make out a small green shoe pointing at the ceiling.
Alejandro headed for the hole in the wall. He needed to get Mac to the infirmary before anything worse showed up.
“Could have been worse. Could have been trolls.”
Alejandro ducked his head to exit the building, so the huge wooden club smashed into the wall instead of his skull.
“Fee, fie, foe fucking fum, little Mayan,” the attacker growled in a voice deeper than the interior of a volcano and just as hot.
Alejandro hit the floor and swept a foot at the troll’s ankles, sending it crashing to the ground with a resounding thud. With anything that big, the trick was to go for the feet, ankles, or knees. Before he could cock the shotgun, Mac pointed his Glock at the troll’s head and shot it through one eye.
Alejandro stood up and nodded his thanks.
“I owed you one,” Mac said, but he was now noticeably leaning to the right, and the blood dripping out of his wounds wasn’t showing any signs of stopping.
Alejandro sighed. “Why is it always trolls?”
Dark and Deadly: Eight Bad Boys of Paranormal Romance by Jennifer Ashley, Alyssa Day, Felicity Heaton, Erin Kellison, Laurie London, Erin Quinn, Bonnie Vanak and Caris Roane
Garden City, Ohio
Rose Cardinal added a pinch of cayenne pepper for interest as she stirred a potion for sparkling conversation and tried not to glare at her mother.
“You didn't have to call P-Ops for a garden pest, Mom,” she repeated for the eighth or ninth time. “We could have handled it. Now they're going to put us in some kind of file as nuisances. Do we need to be in a governmental file? No. Look what happened when the sheriff wrote us up for indecent exposure for dancing sky clad at the solstice.”
“It's the law,” her mother reminded her, also for the eighth or ninth time. “Also, I took care of the sheriff, didn't I? His wife didn't speak to him for a month. Anyway, we have to report any occurrences of potentially dangerous supernatural activity. You can't say this isn't dangerous, after that incident yesterday with the paperboy who was trying to deliver the Witchcraft Daily News.”
Sue Cardinal might dress like a hippie, but there was pure steel underneath the deceptively sweet face, waist-length white hair, long, brightly colored skirt and dozens of bangle bracelets.
“We fixed him! He never even realized anything happened to him.” Rose protested, turning the heat off under the pot and placing a lid on it to trap the aroma inside. The last thing she needed around her house was more sparkling conversation.
“Marigold Rose Cardinal, what have I taught you? With great power comes great responsibility,” her mother said, untying the red-and-white checked apron she insisted on wearing whenever they mixed spells and potions.
Rose threw her hands in the air. “That's Spiderman. We're witches. And don't call me Marigold.”
“It's your name. Also, I don't care. I phoned them, they're coming, and that's that.” Her mother stalked out the kitchen door, chin held high and an air of injured righteousness surrounding her like the dozens of butterflies that usually flocked to her in the garden.
Rose closed her eyes and counted to ten, then to twenty, before giving it up as hopeless and cleaning up the kitchen. The bright, airy room was her favorite in the entire cottage, which was saying a lot since she loved every single room. She'd painted the walls a sunny yellow with bright white accents and trim, and her sparklingly shiny copper pots shone from the open shelving on one wall.