Being drop dead gorgeous wasn’t a crime so much as the fact that she was so in my face with it all the time. If I were single, it might be different. Would likely be different. Aw, hell, it would most definitely be different.
But I’m most assuredly not single. In fact, I’m bound tighter than bark to a tree to the most beautiful vampire on the planet. She also happens to be one of the most deadly creatures to roam our world. My companion Stacia’s not helpless; she is, after all, a werewolf. But against Tatiana Demidova, she would be a baby to an NFL linebacker. But Tanya wasn’t here, and I didn’t know when I would get to see her again. I still have a hard time picturing myself as a guy with more than one girl. Hell, for most of my life, I didn’t believe I could have even one girl. I’m the anti-player.
“Why are we meeting the Pack here?” I asked, looking away from her platinum-blonde-framed features and studying a couple of good ole boys who were studying Stacia.
“It’s neutral, well-populated, and apparently one of their regular spots,” she answered, her voice going matter-of-fact but her green eyes still gleaming. She checked the fall of her flowing white shirt, glanced down at her rich brown cowgirl boots, adjusted the brim of her straw cowboy hat, and then gave me a scowl. I knew what it was about.
“Don’t start. I’m not a cowboy, don’t own the boots, hats, the shirts, or the slip-string neckties. Besides, this isn’t bad is it?” I asked, waving one hand at my jeans, work boots and tee shirt.
She studied me critically, then smiled. “No, you’re fine. Better than fine, but I was just wishing your shirt was a bit more fitted—tighter.”
She spun around and headed toward the door, leaving me standing there looking stupid. Stupider. I watched for a split second, caught up in how her badonkadonk was swinging in time to the band’s beat, then shook myself. She knew I favored loose clothes. I have a hard enough time trying to stay under the radar. Emphasizing my V-squared-enhanced physique was so not helpful in that regard. Of course, Stacia failed to stay off anyone’s radar, and she preferred it that way.
I glanced at the third member of our little group, met his soulful brown eyes, and immediately got defensive. “What?”
Awasos looked away and then trotted to catch up with Stacia. On four large wolf feet, it only took him a couple of seconds.
I caught up with the both of them as the bouncer at the door was shaking his head.
“Absolutely not. No animals in the bar,” he said firmly. About six-four, two-hundred forty pounds, with a bald head and wearing all black, he looked more like a biker than a country-western type. Sitting on a stool, he had one size twelve engineer’s boot on the floor and one on the lowest rung.
“Please? He’s my guide dog,” Stacia pleaded, a sexy pout forming on her lips.
He looked like he might be wavering, but then I showed up and he got all by-the-book on us.
“No. Absolutely no animals,” he repeated.
“Hell, you’ll have to throw out half the customers if that’s true,” I said, looking past him at the rowdy crowd.
“Listen pal, those animals pay. This…monster doesn’t!”
Before he could go any further, Awasos jumped forward and pressed his nose up against the man’s leg. Then he backed his furry bulk up and gave one short chuff before spinning around and trotting back into the parking lot. The good ole boys who had followed us (well, Stacia, anyway) veered out of his way in a hurry. Something about Shetland-pony-sized wolves running at you will do that.
“Uh oh!” I said, watching my wolf disappear into the parked cars. “You’ve offended him. Shit! Not again!”
“Damn,” Stacia agreed softly. “Sorry, but it was your own fault for calling him a monster,” she directed at the bouncer.
“What? What’s he doing?” the big bald guy asked.
“He got your scent, so now he’s tracking down which car or truck is yours,” I said.
“What’s he gonna do when he finds it?” Baldy asked.
“Well, he kinda ate the last one,” I said regretfully.
“What!” Bouncer man took off into the parking lot at a dead run, pulling a key fob from his pocket as he went. Almost immediately, Awasos came running from the side of the parking lot, having circled around.
“Did you find it?” I asked him.
He woofed once softly.
“Did you pee on his radiator?”
“Good boy! Baked-on wolf pee has a half-life of like a year! Let’s go,” I said, ignoring the incredulous looks from the good ole boys.
I led the way through the door, my senses coming online as I entered potentially dangerous territory. Grim was lurking just below the surface of my awareness, ready to take over if things went to shit.
Awasos came next, just in front of Stacia, who sighed at our demonstration of aggressive tactical entry.
“You know, the purpose of a liaison is to liaise. Not hang back at the end of the line,” she complained.
“Humpf. The purpose of an industrial-grade monster smasher and his furry sidekick is to protect. We can’t do that from behind.”
Awasos woofed at me.
“What? You’re not the sidekick?”
He woofed again, making several people jump sideways. The panic left their eyes a bit when they saw he had directed it at me.
“Oh, so what? I suppose you think I’m your sidekick?” I questioned.
He woofed in agreement and trotted past me to take point.
“How does that feel, hero?” Stacia asked, watching me.
“About par for the course,” I answered, absently watching my furry pal point the way to the back of the giant bar, where a group of eight werewolves were playing pool and watching the booty-swinging girls on the dance floor. A couple of the ladies near the dance floor were also wolves, bringing the total number of weres to ten. My ability to spot vampires and weres wasn’t showing any other supernaturals in the place.
The group at the pool tables had spotted us, or at least Stacia. It was fun to watch their attention lock on her like guided missiles, then shift to the real wolf, then finally me. Their posture went from horny males to territorial wolves in a split second.
The bar was a wood-framed single-story structure that had a massive main dance floor with a stage centered along one wall. The entry had brought us in at one corner of the rectangular space, with the stage wall to our right and the fifty-foot oak bar ninety degrees to our left.
The pool tables were beyond the bar diagonally from where we stood, tucked into the far corner.
“Alrighty, Miss Liaison, shall we do this?” I asked.
“Let’s,” she agreed, moving up beside me.
I checked out our potential clients as we worked our way around the thumping and bumping crowd on the dance floor.
One of the men was huge, easily dwarfing the bouncer we had bypassed at the door. He had to go close to six-ten, well over three hundred pounds, but I knew he wasn’t the leader, just muscle. Lots of it, though, straining his Toby Keith tee shirt to its limit.
No, I pegged the Alpha as the blond-haired guy with the beard who was seated at the table closest to the pool game. His gray eyes were focused completely on me, after sparing a glance at Stacia and the wolf. The others were either watching my liaison or my wolf, their expressions ranging from open admiration (for her) to shocked outrage (at him).
“Ned Granger? I’m Stacia Reynolds and this is Chris Gordon. My Alpha, Brock Mallek, sends his regards,” my partner said, walking straight past two of his pack and stopping directly in front of the bearded blond. Two female weres, one short brunette, the other a redhead of medium height, approached from the dance floor to our right, just slightly behind us.
The two front weres ignored Stacia but growled at my wolf in warning. He stopped and sat on his furry rump.
“Yo fellas, leave him be. He’s still a pup,” I said.
That caused them to look up and growl at me.
“That’s better,” I agreed, smiling.
Stacia spun and shot me a worried look, making a little settle down motion with her hand. I stopped, feet spread and arms crossed, standing just slightly ahead of my wolf. Awasos glanced at me then scooted his rump slightly forward till he was just ahead of me.
“Like, that is it?” I asked before looking back up at Stacia’s glare. “Oops, sorry. Go ahead, Stace.”
“Anyway, Brock sends his regards and hopes we can be of assistance,” she said to Ned. His expression was curious, neutral, and slightly tired.
“Welcome, Stacia and Chris. And who is this who comes to us in four-footed form?” he asked, a rebuke crouching somewhere in his words.
“This is Awasos, who only has four-footed forms,” I said evenly, understanding that weres don’t like to draw attention to their world by doing things like appearing in wolf form.
“What? What the hell does that mean?” said a lean six-footer standing just behind Granger and to his right. Granger was frowning, the hidden rebuke now fully visible on his face.
“Ah, he means that Awasos isn’t like us,” Stacia said. “He doesn’t have a person form.”
“I don’t do word puzzles, Mr. Gordon, Miss Reynolds. I simply don’t have any patience left for them,” Granger said, flicking his right index finger once.
The giant took two steps forward and grabbed me by the neck with both hands and lifted me straight off the ground. I weigh over two hundred pounds, but he didn’t seem to be straining at all. Stacia looked at me wide-eyed as I struggled to control Grim. Multiple death sequences were offered for my approval before giant-man foot had completed the first step. They ranged from crushing his skull to decapitation and arm removal. I vetoed all of them. Grim offered a non-death resulting version. I agreed. He executed it.
I suppose I was intended to squirm and holler, generally showing my helplessness. Instead, I went still as Grim turned my head to stare at Granger, the Alpha, even as his minion showed strain on his huge face and now trembling arms. Slowly, inexorably, his arms were pulled down, as if my weight had doubled, tripled, quadrupled in seconds. As if some unimaginable force was Pulling me down. Something, like, say, vampire energy techniques.
My feet touched ground and I grabbed his wrists, breaking his grip on my throat. Both my arms shot forward and slammed his steamer-trunk-sized chest. The big fella flew nicely, sailing over the pool tables and slamming into the wall in a very satisfying manner, crunching the sheetrock.
Next, Grim grabbed Stacia by the hips, picked her up, and put her behind us. The maneuver was fast but not full speed. Still, the pack looked shocked. Stacia sighed and walked back about twenty feet to sit on a table.
“What are you doing?” I asked, frowning.
“This is a new shirt. I don’t want it spattered with blood,” she said, starting to text on her phone.
The band had stopped playing when I threw the goliath. Now the entire bar watched as I held my conversation with Stacia. The wolves had started to move forward but stopped, puzzled, as I held up one hand but otherwise ignored them.
“Yeah, I get the new shirt thing, but you’re still too close. You need another fifteen or twenty feet to avoid blood sprays. Trust me. I know.”
“I’m good,” she said, not looking up this time. I sighed and turned back to the Pack.
“I tried to tell her, so it won’t be my fault, right?” I asked the growling group.
Before any of them could answer, the shorter female werewolf walked past me and slapped a very startled Ned Granger. She was a were, so the slap had real power. It almost knocked him out.
I stood, frozen, as did all the others, watching the confrontation. Granger was shocked and uncertain, never a good look for an Alpha. She swung her hand back to strike again.
“Rose, stop!” he said, grabbing her hand.
She yanked free, still spitting mad.
“You swore you would get help for our girls. You swore, Ned!” she shouted loud enough to echo across the bar.
“Afina told me that this man –” she pointed at me, “—could save our babies! And you attack him? I will, so help me God, leave your useless ass if you fail our children, Ned Granger!”
“Rose, I was just trying to get answers for him bringing a were in fur,” he said, on the defensive.
“The Malleks told us he was unusual…remember? They said he would have a different kind of companion and that he was insanely dangerous! And you had to play games with him?”
“Rose..” he began, but she spun away from him and approached me.
“Mr. Gordon, please help us—please help me? My babies are taken…in the hands of something evil and we can’t do anything to stop it,” she pleaded, grabbing my shoulder lightly, ignoring everyone around us.
“That’s why we came, ma’am,” I said. If she was facing a demon problem involving children, I wasn’t going to abandon her. I was suddenly faced with the memory of a teenage girl slipping away from life, bleeding out in my arms. Her killer was equally dead, but I still ranked it as one of the worst failures of my life.
But my less-than-warm welcome had pissed me off.
“It’s the stupid posturing of an Alpha who can’t protect his own children,” she said. Behind her, Granger’s face was a painful mix of anger and anguish, but he said nothing.
I took a step back, studying the small, distraught woman in front of me. A bit over five feet tall, she was pleasant looking but not eye-catching like the redhead who was with her. And certainly nothing like Stacia, but she had a presence, a force of personality that I could literally feel.
I looked at Granger, who, despite the anger, looked more worried than I had ever seen an Alpha look. The others were also all worried and even scared. The hostility they had exhibited when we first walked up had been a mask for their other concerns.
“What did you mean when you said your babies?” I asked.
“We have twins, girls, Polly and Cassi. They’re both in trouble, as is another child of the pack.”
The band decided the drama was over, so it started playing a song about a “Red Solo Cup”.
“You’ve got three children possessed?” I asked, whispering the last word.
“Is everything okay here?” a voice asked from behind me. Two individuals were standing even with Stacia but looking at the rest of us. A male and female who wore jeans and casual Polo shirts but looked completely official despite the clothes, as in federal type official. The male was about six-two, dark-skinned, and muscular. The female was Asian and equally fit.
“Yes, Agent Krupp, we’re fine,” Rose said, her voice firm as she spoke to the woman.
Behind the two agents, I could see a group of similarly attired federal types approaching a table next to the bar. They were all watching us carefully even as they took seats.
“Are you sure? It seemed like there was a…disagreement brewing,” Agent Krupp noted. Her big companion said nothing, but he seemed very curious about me. Stacia, who looked up briefly from her texting, flexed one tanned leg in front of her like she was stretching a muscle.
To his credit, the male agent didn’t glance her way, but the struggle was evident in his eyes.
“No. Mr. Gordon is considering doing some consulting for us,” Rose said.
“And just what do you consult in, Mr. Gordon?” Krupp asked me. She was an intense personality, with frighteningly intelligent eyes, watching everything at once.
“Ah, spiritual stuff,” I fumbled.
“He’s psychic,” Stacia offered from the side. I gave her a look, and she shrugged and went back to texting.
“Psychic? So you’re here to solve the murders for us?” Agent Krupp asked, bemused, with one eyebrow raised.
Murders? I went still for a moment, thinking it through. When Stacia had originally told me about this job, she had mentioned both demons and murders. We didn’t have any other details, which was what the meeting tonight was supposed to provide. All I knew now was that there were three possessed children.
The group of feds at the bar were talking quietly and the band chose that moment to take a break, which let me listen in with my enhanced ears.
“- who are those two that the Steel Flower and Dison are questioning?” one of the two males asked.
“I don’t have a clue, but I’d like to be the one questioning him!” the blonde female said.
“Okay, deal! I’ll take the blonde and you take the muscle dude and Connor here gets the dog.”
“Seriously, I thought we were here to keep an eye on the splinter group?” the other dude, who was most likely Connor, said.
“You mean what’s left of them. I see Simon. He’s just to the right of Granger. And the redhead is over by Mrs. Granger.”
“She’s not in danger. The unsub never killed any of the females in the splinter group, but I see one other just behind the hulk there.”
I glanced back at the were pack and spent a few precious seconds noting body language. Now that I studied it closer, the group looked like two groups thrown together, neither fully meshing with the other. The tall guy near the Alpha who had been so pissy about Awasos might be Simon. The redhead the feds mentioned had to be the hottie standing with Rose Granger, and there was a real young looking guy, almost hidden behind the goliath.
I glanced over at Stacia and noted the screen of her smart phone was pointed in my direction, deliberately. Impossible for a regular human to read, but I could easily make out the text message written on it, as she intended. The contact name at the top of the screen was Big Momma, which was her nickname for Afina.
‘New pack joined Asheville Pack a month ago. Members of that pack have been murdered one at a time starting in Kentucky where they are from. Murders were in public place and crossed state boundaries so FBI is on case.’
“I’m not here for your case, Agent Krupp. Mrs. Granger has some issues with her home—you know—feng shui and all that,” I said. “But I’m glad to know that the Bureau has assigned one of its Behavioral Analysis Units to the job.”
Her eyebrows lifted slightly at my guess, but she didn’t contradict me.
“Agent Krupp, as my wife indicated, there is absolutely no conflict here. We are delighted to have Mr. Gordon and his companions here in our establishment,” Ned said.
Their bar? Interesting.
At the word companions, Agent Krupp glanced at Stacia and then looked down at Awasos. Well, not down so much as sideways, as his head wasn’t much lower than hers in his sitting position.
“It’s illegal to have animals in a dining establishment, Mr. Gordon. In addition, he appears to be a wolf. You do have the proper permit to own such an animal, don’t you?” she asked.
“Wow, things must be slow if the Bureau is sending a Behavioral Analysis Unit out to check dog tags,” I commented as I pulled out my wallet and the set of tags I keep tucked in it.
Agent Krupp frowned at the dog tags in my hand, then reached over and pushed my open wallet down so she could glance at my license. It was just a fast glimpse, but she seemed the kind of agent who memorizes details at a glance. Great!
Finished with me, she then turned her attention to the tall, lanky Simon.
“Mr. Masten, Agent Dison and I have a few more questions for you,” she said, redirecting her attention to the others. I stepped back out of the way, clearing the way for the two agents to get to Simon. I was more than happy to have her attention on him. The less the government and I interacted, the better. Unfortunately, Special Agent Krupp didn’t seem the type to be diverted once her curiosity was aroused. And her sideways glance at me as she moved past indicated that she was still very curious about me.
“So Mr. Gordon, will you come look at my problem tonight?” Rose Granger asked me, trying to be nonchalant but not quite able to cover the desperate tone in her voice. Agent Dison glanced at her, frowning.
“Sure, Mrs. Granger. We’ll follow you.”
Copyright John Conroe