THE knock on the front door was a surprise. I grabbed my 9mm before I limped over to answer. My back had taken a pounding earlier, so I was walking a little stiffly.
“Yeah?” I yelled through the door.
“It’s Cael, open up.”
As I leaned against the doorframe, the knot in my gut loosened, and I let go of the breath I was holding. All that calm that came over me simply because I knew it was my boss on the other side.
Resting my forehead against the cool dark wood, I sighed. “What do you want?”
“There was blood on the statue of Ra, and when I tasted it, it was yours.”
Leave it to him to lick dried blood off something. “So?”
“So why are you bleeding? You were simply supposed to pick up the artifact and take it to Topper.”
“I’m your courier,” I reminded him. “I always bleed.”
“My boss is a demon,” I reminded him, chuckling. “All his clients are monsters… sometimes it gets messy.”
“I would have never sent you out alone if I thought you would be in danger. I would have sent backup or—”
“The last guy you sent as my backup, I ended up having to save him. I think it’s safe to say at this point that I’d rather just go by myself.”
“Fuck no,” I growled through the door. “Just go away. I’m beat.”
“Tell me what happened?”
“Charming was there,” I answered, like that was enough.
I heard him bump against the door. “You’re the only one who calls him that.”
My smile was probably resigned. The claw marks on my left forearm I had not gotten around to wrapping yet were still oozing blood. “No, I’m not.”
“He’s a werewolf. How are you even alive if you tangled with him?”
“He doesn’t want to get shot with irradiated mercury, and honestly… I think he’s getting used to me.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that when we run into each other, when he’s hired to steal something that I’m supposed to pick up or deliver, we don’t draw our weapons anymore. He just throws me around.”
“Which is impressive considering I make,” I paused to think, “like, two of him.”
“But that’s how you know he’s a werewolf. He can bench a guy twice his weight.”
“Maybe three times,” I added thoughtfully.
“Open the door.”
“No.” I had to think. “Three times is stupid, and a bit self-deprecating, but two for sure.”
“Go away,” I said firmly.
“I command you to open the door.”
I snorted out a laugh. “Did you just try and use your boss voice on me?”
His growl would have scared a lot of things: human, demon, shifter, witch….
I laid the XDM 9mm on the shelf by the front door. “Leave me alone, Cael. I’m off the clock.”
“I want to see you!”
“I don’t want to donate any blood tonight.” I exhaled slowly. “I already told that to Charming.”
As I thought about him I remembered our encounter.
He had come at me earlier in the night, fangs lowered and bared, all wolfy, and I had elbowed him in the face.
“Bad dog, no biting.”
My words, combined with the action, made his face shift back as he stopped and gave me the smallest of grins.
“What?” I asked.
“No biting?” he questioned, chuckling.
“I could roll up a newspaper.”
Instead of bantering, he had thrown me across the room onto a table. Honestly, it had hurt when the wood splintered under me, but it had been more of a toss than a hurl, so I didn’t come up shooting. I had stood and waited. When he pulled a knife, I had squinted at him.
“Just lemme have the damn relic. You can have the next one,” he groused at me.
“My boss wants this one, and since he’s the one who bought and paid for it,” I said with a shrug, “you need to back off.”
“But I was hired to take it when you came to collect it.”
“Okay, then,” I sighed. “Come on.”
His yawn had said he didn’t care that much either.
I jolted from the sound, brought back sharply to the present.
“Open the door!”
My groan, I was certain, sounded whiney. “No.”
“I’m fine, Cael,” I assured him. “I will let my very human body do its thing all alone.”
“And I have to pack anyway.”
I had thrown him. “Yeah, I’ve gotta go to an engagement party.”
“What?” He sounded so annoyed I almost laughed.
If he were a friend, I would have opened the door, but he wasn’t, so I kept it shut. And he couldn’t come in without my permission; I had made sure of that. The mage who put the warding spell on my loft had owed me a favor. I had saved his daughter, who was a werewolf. She had been kidnapped, and some guys were forcing her to shift by holding a gun on her boyfriend. Once she had shifted, they planned on hunting her. It was sick and twisted, and I saw to it there was jail for three of the guys and death for one. Hollow point bullets fragmented on impact. When I shot at something, it didn’t live. After I had restored her safely to her father, he was, he swore, in my debt. The binding magic he used on my graystone was extremely powerful. He wanted to keep me safe, wanted to show the depth of his gratitude, so it was not surprising that nothing supernatural could come inside.
The wards had come in very handy when I was running from conjured hellhounds just a week before. I had hurled open my front door and dived through. The dogs had hit the barrier right after me, and I heard yelps of pain and then silence. The two warlocks behind them had stopped and frozen there, staring in at me. I had collapsed, heaving, on my rug. I was lucky that Charming hadn’t been after me at that point. As I had learned the hard way when I tangled with a ghoul in my bathroom, “supernatural” meant anything from another dimension, but werewolves—any sort of shifter—could come and go as they pleased.
When I had inquired of my vampire friend Nancy, who could no longer come over to my place, she said that undead fell strictly in the paranormal category, but because shifters changed back into living, breathing, warm-blooded people, there was no magic to keep them out. The spell that would do that would have to be too precise for the magic to be very powerful. It didn’t matter to me. As a rule, weres or shifters were the least of my problems.
Between the blood loss and the moving around, I was getting dizzy. “My sister’s getting married at home,” I informed him. “I have to fly out to Myerson, and—”
“Where the hell is that?”
“It’s close to Flagstaff in—”
“I know where Flagstaff, Arizona is,” he barked, and a jolt of electricity rolled through me.
I levered off the door fast.
“Open up now. I want to see you.”
But I looked terrible. My shirt was ripped, I was covered in scratches and bites and bruises, my lip was split, and my knuckles were all torn up. Added to that were the deep claw marks on my left forearm that felt bone deep but had probably only gone halfway. I was lucky the werewolf had only swiped at me. Anyone who saw me would figure I’d been in a fight...