“And I thought you were rough. Those girls are …” Dallas Gutierrez shuddered. “What’s way worse than rough? ‘Cause that’s what they are.”
“What, exactly, are you trying to say?” Mia Snow leaned away from her desk, crossed her arms, and peered at the gorgeous man across from her. Perfectly tanned skin, perfectly symmetrical features—or so he liked to brag—and the perfectly formed body of an underwear model. Lean, yet sculpted with muscle. All that perfection aside, he was an absolute pain in her ass. “And by the way, I’m not rough.”
“Perfect” ice blue eyes rolled. “You once kneed me in the balls and asked me how they tasted. Just to say hi. You’re rough.”
She had, hadn’t she? Memories were fun. “Why are you complaining? There were no complications during your testicle retrieval operation. So, anyway, what’d they do this time?”
They. Best friends. AIR—Alien Investigation and Removal—trainees Ava Sans and Noelle Tremain.
Dallas tangled a hand through that thick, dark mane of his, looking like a lost little puppy rather than the stone-cold killer he was. “Get this. I took all ten of the advanced placement trainees on an assignment last night. Call came in, you see. Was told a predatory otherworlder was picking on humans at a bar. The fine group of boys and girls I took was just supposed to observe as I threw my pimp hand around, bitch slapping as necessary, and calming things down.”
Okay. What had happened to the morose, utterly annoying Dallas of the past few months? The one who whined and complained about, well, everything? There’s a smoking-hot alien queen who wants to screw me, but I can’t encourage her because her partners always turn into cannibals, whaa, whaa, whaa. My best friend Devyn married his vampire lover so I don’t have anyone to play with, whaa, whaa, whaa. I’m your husband’s blood slave, whaa, whaa, f**king whaa. If she heard that last one more time, she was going to make him taste his balls again.
He was alive, wasn’t he? He had cool new powers like mind control and superspeed, didn’t he? Kyrin, her too-sexy-for-words husband, had saved Dallas’s ass by sharing his Arcadian blood—and was now training Dallas’s ass. Dallas should have been this happy all along.
But at least the old, everything-is-a-joke Dallas was making an appearance today, she thought, rather than the new I-want-to-slash-my-wrists Dallas. Courtesy of Ava and Noelle, a two-woman Apocalypse? She’d have to send the girls a fruit basket. Or maybe something they could actually use, like a fire and brimstone basket.
“Continue,” Mia said with an imperial wave of her hand.
Dallas nodded, a bit disappointed. Probably because she hadn’t complimented his bitch-slapping abilities. Baby. “The otherworlder refused to calm vdown, said the humans told his woman she hadn’t just been hit with the ugly stick but the entire tree had fallen on her, and the a**holes owed her an apology. The humans, of course, told me they’d only spoken the truth and that I should arrest the bastard alien for harassing them about it.”
“Which you didn’t.” Even though the arrest would have been standard protocol. But Mia was head of AIR now—three cheers for her boss deciding to retire early!—and was in the process of making a few changes. No longer would aliens be arrested for defending themselves or demanding respect for their race.
Secretly part otherworlder herself, she was flat-out done with prejudice. And now that Kyrin’s blood flowed through Dallas’s veins—again secretly—Dallas thankfully was, too.
“Nope. I didn’t,” her second-in-command confirmed with the slightest hint of relish. “Anyway, while I was apologizing to the otherworlder for all humans and their idiot tongues, Ava and Noelle went Death Match on the a**holes in question. Now, I didn’t see who started it, you understand, just heard a commotion and turned around. By that time the humans, who were both big, burly males, were unconscious and bleeding on the ground, and Ava and Noelle were grinning and banging their fists together in a job well done.”
Mia cut back a moan. Changes, good. High incident rate, bad. There was going to be hell—and apparently hospital bills—to pay for that Death Match. Not just for the males, but for herself. ‘Cause yeah, top brass would rip into her until she begged for mercy. Which meant they would pretty much rip into her until she bled to death, because she never begged for anything. Well, except when Kyrin got her into bed.
Three boos for her boss deciding to retire early. Had he stayed, this would have been his problem.
“So what’d the girls say when you asked about the carnage?”
“Ava said her hand accidentally slipped and made contact with her guy’s nose. I said, Repeatedly? And she said, ‘Uh, yeah. I’m really clumsy.’ And Noelle said her guy was trying to escape, so she took him down like we’d trained her. And oh, we shouldn’t worry about the gaping wound in his neck because he probably had that before he entered the bar.”
First, how was Noelle such a hardass? The girl was Jaxon Tremain’s cousin, and Jaxon was one of AIR’s staunchest rule followers. Not to mention, both were richer than Kyrin, who was richer than God. Noelle had been raised in a mansion, for all that was holy, her every need attended to by servants. She should be delicate.
Jaxon’s wife a bad influence, maybe? After all, Jaxon was married to the meanest female Mia had ever met. A female who was part robot—literally! Mishka actually had a longer kill list than Mia. And while Mia’s list consisted of gunshot and knife wounds, Mishka’s featured acid, thumbtacks, and for the people Robot Girl really hated, spoons.
Nah, Mia thought then. The pair hadn’t been married that long, and Noelle’s first disorderly conduct arrest had happened years ago. Mia knew because she’d studied Tremain’s lengthy file before allowing the overindulged delinquent anywhere near the AIR building.
Now, poor but deceptively sweet-looking Ava, Mia understood. The girl had double the arrests, but then, she’d grown up on New Chicago’s dirtiest streets. Just like Mia had. There, you were predator or prey, and there was no middle ground.
How had the wealthy girl and the impoverished girl hooked up? Jail? And how the hell had they remained friends all these years?
Mia sighed. “So what you’re telling me, Dally, is that it’s time to promote these two heathens.”
Dallas grinned, revealing straight white teeth. He made a production of that grin, reminding her of a curtain rising from a movie screen, an eager crowd desperate for the show to begin. “I don’t know how you do it, Mee, but you always reach the moral of the story without any prompting from me.”
“Because I’m smarter than you. Anyway, they gotta complete a mission on their own before I can officially offer them a place on my team.”
“What do we got on the chopping block? And by the way, I’m smarter than you. My IQ is off the charts, man.”
If the chart only reached fifty, then yeah. No need to tax his poor brain with numbers, though. Silent, she let her head fall against the back of her chair and stared up at the ceiling. They were inside her new office, and she’d had the panels painted blue and white, a replica of the sky, to help with her claustrophobia. This way, she could pretend she was lying on the ground in her spacious backyard with Kyrin resting beside her.
“McKell,” she finally said, thinking of the latest case to hit her desk.
“Ouch,” Dallas said. “Dousing the girls in gasoline and throwing them straight into the fire.”
“Poor McKell, though.”
Poor girls. McKell was a vampire warrior able to stop time in short bursts, do his damage with no one the wiser, then restart the clock, leaving the raging flames of hell in his wake. His own people had kicked him out of their underground world for being “unstable.” The term amused her—the man had slaughtered hundreds of vampires for daring to lock him up for a few days. Unstable? Try psychotic.
AIR wanted to talk to him about his actions. Preferably alive. But no one had been able to bring him in. In fact, Mia had sent three top-of-the-line agents to apprehend him—bastard wasn’t even trying to hide—and he’d sent all three back with severe blood loss, missing fingers, and brain damage. Fine. The agents had been brain damaged before encountering McKell, but then, weren’t all men?
Exhibit A: Dallas.
Maybe Ava and Noelle would have better luck. Besides, it was a scientific fact that females always outperformed males. And who was she to mess with science?
Sure, Jaxon and thereby Mishka would kick up a fit when they heard Little Miss Cousin would be going after a vampire, but Mia didn’t exactly care. Bring on the spoons, bitch. But maybe she’d send the couple on a prolonged vacay, just in case. Plus, it wouldn’t do for Jaxon to give the girls a helping hand. And he would. He wouldn’t be able to help himself, and that would do a lot of damage to their street cred. The girls were moving up the ladder fast, so they had a lot to prove—on their own—or none of the other agents would ever take them seriously.
And if the girls did this, if they brought in the big bad, no one would be able to question Mia’s decision to advance them rather than incarcerate them. Even better, Ava and Noelle might just think hunting and capturing a rabid vampire was a good time.
“Prep them without telling them why they were chosen or what’s at stake, and send them out.” That way, they’d work this case the same way they worked the rest of their cases, without putting on a dog-and-pony show trying to impress her, and Mia could discover just how much determination those “rough” girls possessed.
Mia blinked over at him, confused. “What?”
“You said ‘stake,’ and they’re going after a vampire. Get it? Stake … a vampire? Like in old books and movies.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a child.”
“And you’re a jealous old woman because you didn’t think of it yourself. Said with affection, of course.”
“I’m a year younger than you, jackass. Said with annoyance.”
“Yeah, but you’re only younger physically.”
Brain. Damaged. She liked the morose Dallas better, she decided. “Have you forgotten that you’re wanted by a diseased alien queen, your best friend is busy with his wife, and you’re Kyrin’s blood slave?”
Dallas flipped her off, but his grin never faded.
Maybe she wasn’t on top of her game, because she automatically returned that grin with one of her own.
“You love me, you know you do,” he said confidentially.
“Seriously. You’re like my mom, and I’m like your favorite son. No matter what I do or say, you’ll always think I’m adorable.”
Mia stood and leaned over the desk. She crooked her finger at him as if she had a secret to share. He, too, leaned forward, eager to learn that secret—poor, brain-damaged kid—and she punched him in the nose. “There. Now I’m like the mom who keeps her stupid shithead in line with a firm hand.”
He laughed as blood trickled down his lips and chin. “See. Rough.”
And he thought Ava and Noelle were worse than her? Good. Then by the time those two were done, McKell might just wish he’d decorated himself with bows and walked into AIR headquarters on his own.
He never stopped sharpening his blade.
Ava Sans watched her target from a few feet away and tried not to drool. Key word: tried. He sat on a large rock in the middle of a government-owned forest. A forest he didn’t have permission to be in. Clearly, following rules wasn’t his thing. Bless his heart, as her mother used to say about anyone in need of spiritual guidance. “Anyone,” of course, had meant everyone. Which had been ironic, since her mother hadn’t been sober a day in her life.
Concentrate. Golden moonlight framed the target’s back, and a crackling fire illuminated his front. He had pale skin and a face that proved God had an A game. And why the good Lord would have chosen to deviate from that formula and create other faces, she would never know. If everyone looked like this man—like fevered whispers in the dark, forbidden chocolate, and sin in its most tempting incarnation—crime would have ceased long ago. Or maybe never even started. Everyone would have been too busy staring at themselves in the mirror to fight. Or maybe they’d be too busy bedding themselves to even stare in the mirror.
Seriously. That face was flawless. Everyone always talked about how perfect Dallas Gutierrez was, but this man … His forehead wasn’t too long or short, his nose was wonderfully straight, his cheekbones delightfully sharp, and his chin magnificently square.
His bottom lip was plumper than his top, but both were pink and utterly nibbleable. Was that even a word? Anyway. Vivid violet eyes were framed by long feathering lashes, and his black-as-night hair boasted the slightest wave. His shoulders were wide and his body thick, built for war. Which just happened to be her favorite body type; muscles equaled delicious.
In seconds, she’d memorized every detail about him. For the job. Of course. But the best thing about him, besides that devastating beauty? He wore a necklace made of bones. Human finger bones, from the looks of them. Which meant the case of the missing AIR agent phalanges was solved, at least.
Why had he taken them?
Whatever the reason, she wanted a necklace like that for herself. Not only because it would go with all of her outfits, but also because it screamed powerful and just a little insane. One glance at that necklace, and most people would run, too afraid to bother him. They wouldn’t tease him mercilessly for his mistakes and laugh about them days later in front of his AIR peers.