I did enough years in the Guild to be viewed as a veteran. Jim did enough years just as well, but unlike me, he had the luxury of keeping his identity semi-private. Most mercs didn't know he was high up in the Pack.
I had no privacy. I was the Pack Consort. It was the price I paid for being with Curran, but I didn't have to like it.
His Majesty drank his tea. "Not looking forward to settling the dispute?"
"I'd rather eat dirt. It's between Mark and the veterans led by the Four Horsemen, and they despise each other. They aren't interested in reaching a consensus. They just want to throw mud at each other over a conference table."
An evil light sparked in his eyes. "You could always go for Plan B."
"Pound everyone to a bloody pulp until they shut up and cooperate?"
It would make me feel better. "I could always do it your way instead."
Curran raised his blond eyebrows.
"Roar until everyone pees themselves."
A shadow of self-satisfaction flickered on his face and vanished, replaced by innocence. "That's bullshit. I'm perfectly reasonable and I almost never roar. I don't even remember what it feels like to knock some heads together."
The Beast Lord of Atlanta, a gentle and enlightened monarch. "How progressive of you, Your Majesty."
He cracked another grin.
The male necromancer in the booth next to us reached under the table and produced a rectangular rosewood box. Ten to one, there was some sort of jewelry inside.
I nodded at Curran. "Your turn. How did your day go?"
"It was busy and full of stupid shit I didn't want to deal with."
The blond woman opened the box. Her eyes lit up.
"The rats are having some sort of internal dispute over some apartments they bought. Took all day to untangle it." Curran shrugged.
The woman plucked a golden necklace from the box. Shaped like an inch and a half wide segmented collar of pale gold, it gleamed in the feylanthern light.
I poured us more tea. "But you prevailed."
"Of course." Curran drank from his cup. "You know, we could stay over in the city tonight."
"Because that way we wouldn't have to drive for an hour back to the Keep before we could fool around."
A scream jerked me to my feet. In the booth, the blond necromancer clawed at the necklace, gasping for breath. The man stared at her, his face a terrified mask. The woman raked her throat, gouging flesh. With a dried pop, her neck snapped, and she crashed to the floor. The man dove down, pulling at the necklace. "Amanda! Oh my god!"
Past him two pairs of red vampire eyes stared at us through the window.
Oh crap. I pulled Slayer from the sheath on my back. Sensing the undead, the pale blade of the enchanted saber perspired, sending wisps of white vapor into the air.
The dull carmine glow of vampire irises flared into vivid scarlet. Shit. The restaurant just updated its menu with fresh human.
Flesh boiled on Curran's arms. Bone grew, muscle twisted like slick ropes, skin sheathed his new body and sprouted fur. Enormous claws slid from Curran's new fingers.
The vampires rose off their haunches.
Curran stood up next to me, nearly eight feet of steel-hard muscle.
I gripped Slayer's hilt, feeling the familiar comforting texture. Bloodsuckers reacted to sudden movement, bright lights, loud noises, anything that telegraphed prey. Whatever I did had to be fast and flashy. The blood alone wouldn't do it, not when every table was filled with raw meat.
The window exploded in a cascade of gleaming shards. The vampires sailed through, like they had wings. The left bloodsucker landed on the table, the remnant of the chain hanging from its neck. The right skidded on the slick parquet floor and bumped into another table, scattering the chairs.
I screamed and dashed to the left, pulling Slayer as I sprinted. Curran snarled and leaped, covering half the distance to the right bloodsucker in a single powerful jump.
My vamp glared at me. I looked into its eyes.
Like staring into an ancient abyss. Behind the eyes, its mind seethed, free of the chain. I wanted to reach out and crush it, like a bug between my fingernails. But doing that would give me away. I might as well give the People a sample of my blood with a pretty bow on it.
"Here!" I flicked my wrist, making the reflection of feylanterns dance along Slayer's surface. Look. Shiny.
The bloodsucker's gaze locked on the blade. The vamp ducked down, like a dog before the strike, front limbs wide, yellow claws digging into the table. The wood groaned. The chain slipped along the table's edge, clinking.
No way for a neck cut. The chain loop would block the blade.
A high-pitched female scream slashed my eardrums. The vamp hissed, jerking in the direction of the sound.
I jumped on the chair next to the table and thrust sideways and up. Slayer's blade slid between the vamp ribs. The tip met a tight resistance and sliced through it. Hit the heart. Banzai.
The bloodsucker screeched. I let go of the saber. The vamp reared, the Slayer up to the hilt in its rib cage, staggered as if drunk, pitched over, and crashed to the floor, flopping like a fish on dry land.
To the left, Curran thrust his claws through the flesh under his vamp's chin. The bloody tips of the claws emerged from the back of the bloodsucker's neck. The vamp clawed at him. Curran thrust his monstrous hand deeper, gripped the vamp's neck and tore its head off the body.