Andrea Gray had just set the beer bottle in front of her customer when the first of the shots rocketed through the open front door. The bar just outside of the Austin Shiftertown had no windows, but the front door always stood wide open, and now a cascade of gunfire poured through the welcoming entrance.
The next thing Andrea knew, she was on the floor with two hundred and fifty pounds of solid Shifter muscle on top of her. She knew exactly who pinned her, knew the shape and feel of the long body pressing her back and thighs, trapping her with male strength. She struggled but couldn’t budge him. Damned Feline.
“Get off me, Sean Morrissey.”
His voice with its Irish lilt trickled into her ear, swirling heat into her belly. “You stay down when the bullets fly, love.”
A ferocious roar sounded as Ronan, the bouncer, ran past, heading outside in his Kodiak bear form. Andrea heard more shots and then the bear’s bellow of pain. Bullets splintered the bottles above the bar with a musical sound, and colorful glass and fragrant alcohol rained to the floor. Another roar, this one from a lion, vibrated in the air, and the hail of bullets suddenly ceased. Tires squealed as an engine revved before the sound died off into the distance.
Stunned silence followed, then whimpers, moans, and the angry voice of Andrea’s aunt Glory. “Bastards. Human lickbrain ass**les.”
Shifters started rising, talking, cursing.
“You can get off me now, Sean,” Andrea said.
Sean lingered, his warm weight pouring sensations into Andrea’s brain—strength, virility, protectiveness—You’re safe with me, love, and you always will be. Finally he rose to his feet and pulled her up with him; six-feet-five of enigmatic Shifter male, the black-haired, blue-eyed, Collared Feline to whom Andrea owed her freedom.
Sean didn’t step away from her, staying right inside her personal space so that the heat of his body surrounded her. “Anyone hurt?” he called. “Everyone all right?”
His voice was strong, but Andrea sensed his worry that he’d have to act as Guardian tonight, which meant driving his sword through the heart of his dying friends to send their bodies to dust and their souls to the afterlife. The Sword of the Guardian leaned against the wall in the back office, where Sean stashed it any night he spent in the bar. Since Andrea had come to work there, he’d spent most nights in the bar, watching her.
She’d also seen in the two weeks she’d lived next door to Sean Morrissey that he hated the thought of using the sword. His primary job was to be called in when there was no longer any hope, and that fact put a dark edge to his entire life. Not many people saw this, but Andrea had noticed.
Andrea was close enough now to Sean to sense his muscles relax as people assured him they were all right. Shifters climbed slowly to their feet, shaken, but there was no one dead or wounded. They’d been lucky.
The floor was littered with glass and splintered wood, the smell of spilled alcohol was sharp, and bullet holes riddled the dark walls. Half the bottles and glasses behind the bar had been destroyed, and the human bartender crawled shakily out from under a table.
A wildcat zoomed in through the front door and stopped by a clump of humans not yet brave enough to get up. Feline Shifters were a cross between breeds: lion, leopard, tiger, jaguar, cheetah—bred centuries ago from the best of each. The Morrissey family had a lot of lion in it, and this wildcat had heavily muscled shoulders, a tawny body, and a black mane. It rose on its hind legs, its head nearly touching the ceiling, before it shifted into the tall form of Liam Morrissey, Sean’s older brother.
The human males at his feet looked up in terror. But what did the idiots expect if they hung out in a Shifter bar? Shifter groupies baffled Andrea. They wore imitation Collars and pretended to adore all things Shifter, but whenever Shifters behaved like Shifters, they cringed in fear. Go home, children.
“Sean,” Liam said over the crowd, eyes holding questions.
“No one in here got hit. How’s Ronan?”
“He’ll live.” The anger on Liam’s face mirrored Sean’s own. “Humans, a carload of them.” Again, he didn’t say.
“Cowards,” Glory spat. Eyes white with rage, the platinum blonde helped another Shifter woman to her feet. The Collar around Glory’s neck, which she wore like a fashion accessory to her body-hugging gold lamé, emitted half a dozen sparks. “Let me go after them.”
“Easy.” Liam’s voice held such calm authority that Glory backed off in spite of herself, and her Collar went silent. Liam’s Collar didn’t spark at all, although Andrea felt the waves of anger from him.
One of the Shifter groupies raised his hands. “Hey, man, it had nothing to do with us.”
Liam forced a smile, stuffing himself back into his ostensible role as bar manager. “I know that, lad,” he said. “I’m sorry for your trouble. You come back in tomorrow, why don’t you? The first round’s on me.”
His Irish lilt was pronounced, Liam the Shiftertown leader at his most charming, but the humans didn’t look comforted. Liam was stark naked, except for his Collar—a large, muscular male, gleaming with sweat, who could kill the men at his feet in one blow if he wanted to. As much as they pretended to want the thrill of that danger, Shifter groupies didn’t like it when the danger was real.
Ronan staggered back in, no longer in his bear form. Ronan was even bigger than Liam and Sean, nearly seven feet tall, broad of shoulder and chest, and tight with muscle. His face was sheet white, his shoulder torn and covered with blood.
Andrea shook off Sean’s protective hold and went to him. “Damn it, Ronan, what were you doing?”
“My job.” The amount of blood flowing down his torso would have had a human on the floor in shock. Ronan merely looked embarrassed.
Sean got to the man’s other side. “In the back, lad. Now.”
“I’m fine. It’s just a bullet. My own fault.”
“Shut it.” Sean and Andrea towed the bigger man to a door marked “Private,” and Sean more or less shoved him into the office beyond.
The office was ordinary—cluttered desk, a couple of chairs, a storage cabinet, shabby sofa, and a small safe in the wall that only the bar’s human owner was supposed to know the combination to. Andrea knew good and well that Liam and Sean knew it too.
The Sword of the Guardian leaned against the wall like an upright cross, and threads of its Fae magic floated to Andrea from across the room. Andrea had no idea whether pure Shifters could sense the sword’s magic as she, a half-Fae, half-Lupine Shifter could, but she did know that the Shifters in this Shiftertown regarded the sword, and Sean, with uncomfortable awe.