Home > Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(2)

Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(2)
Author: K.F. Breene

Especially while smirking.

“Why’d they cancel?” I asked, eyeing the first booth of people, an older couple wearing beads and laughing.

“Same reason you should call it a night and walk away. We got vamps. They came in out of the Realm.”

I pulled away from the door—reflex. “Out of the Realm? What level are they?”

“Middle or higher. And an elder. He walked in earlier like he owned the world. He ain’t the type to mess with, Reagan, even for you. Seems like they have an interest in your mark.”

I swore silently and stared out at the street. “How do you know? Did they make a move?”

“Because I know. And no, they didn’t. Not yet. Been vamp sightings all over the place, though. Them little furries are in a tizzy.”

He meant the resident shifter pack, probably. Mostly wolves and one badger. They were always the first respondents to vamp sightings in this area—under the Realm jurisdiction, anyway. My branch didn’t respond until something actually happened.

“The little furries don’t have enough power to move in and chase the vamps away.” Jimmy pulled up his britches. “That should tell you something about what’s going on. I’d go after someone less noteworthy.”

“Or…” I scratched my chin in thought. “I could bag him, hold him, and negotiate for a larger payout.”

Jimmy’s lips turned downward, and his brow furrowed. “Or you could bag him, hold him, and get eaten by vamps.”

“Don’t be silly. Vamps are just cuddly creatures that want a hug.”

Ignoring his protest, I slipped into the bar and immediately against the wall. Moving fast, I made it to the corner with the broken light fixture. Nice and shadowy. From there I had a full view of the first two booths and their inhabitants.

Baldy was sitting in the middle booth with a girl. She glanced around the bar with moving lips, her eyes wary. A forgotten beer sat at her elbow. Baldy sat opposite, his eyes on the strap of the handbag resting on her shoulder. He licked his lips in anticipation.

What are you selling?

It didn’t matter to my job in the least, but I was curious what would get the vampires all worked up. Elders seldom acted directly, preferring to send their minions. So it was extraordinary for one to not only leave the Realm, but to actually follow a mark into a bar.

I glanced at the last booth, seeing a shoulder. The person sat with his or her back to the divider, on the other side of Baldy. My waist bumped the wood of the bar as I edged over until the person’s hair came into sight, cropped close and styled with mousse. Probably a man.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked, leaning against the bar.

“I’m good. I won’t be here long. Actually…” I reached into my pocket for a five. One of my last. “What’s the guy at the end drinking?” I pointed to the far booth.

Wariness crossed her bold features. “Just a beer, but it’s full. He doesn’t want company.”

The head in the last booth turned a fraction, his awareness now encompassing me, the chick who wanted to buy him a drink. Abnormally great hearing confirmed he was the vampire, and the fact that he could hear me over the racket of the band meant he was old.

Very old.

Well then, everyone was accounted for, elder included.

I shrugged. “His loss.” I pretended to think for a minute. “I’ll have a beer. I’m waiting for Prince Charming. I sure hope he’s rich. I hate working.”

The bartender’s face screwed up in confusion as I stuffed my money back in my pocket. Without giving her a chance to ask what I wanted, or if I actually planned to pay for my drink, I took off toward the middle booth. I grabbed Baldy and yanked him to his feet.

“What the—”

I punched him so as to daze him, which made people much easier to transport, and threw him over my shoulder. The woman shrieked, but I ignored her. I wasn’t here for her, and whether she realized it or not, I was doing her a favor.

With my mark bouncing on my shoulder, I rushed for the door. A man entering the bar jumped out of the way. I darted a glance behind me as I ran out. No one exited the last booth.

Good news.

Baldy started to struggle. I threw another punch at him, and he went slack.

“Dumb move, girl,” Jimmy said.

“What’s he selling?” I yelled over my shoulder, already moving again.

“Blood.”

Blood?

Jogging now, I hastened through the streets. If Jimmy was right, I needed to outrun the vamps. Middle- or high-level vampires could move fast, organize faster, and box me in. If five or more joined forces, they could kill me. That was not the ideal situation.

I turned a corner and had to put on the brakes. A group of people collected on the sidewalk in front of a convent. A ghost tour.

“Great work, Lou!” I shouted, saluting her. To the group, I said, “Best guide in the city!” She loved her fanfare.

Lou gave me a bow, then pointed at the man starting to struggle on my shoulder. “Looks like that one is trying to get away.”

“I got it.” I hesitated long enough to punch him again, which was pretty awkward considering his face was hanging over my back, and knocked him out. If only he’d stay unconscious, my life would be a lot easier. “Resident vamp. Nothing to it.”

“Just dramatics, folks.” Lou turned back to her crowd. “She loves the theater. As does her boyfriend, there.”

Lou was good to me. I saw her on the streets often.

“She’s really strong…” one of the tour patrons said.

“She works out a whole lot, yes. Hence the display. She plays a vampire in the local theater, actually. So she has to be strong.”

All lies. I could thank my genetics for my abilities.

I hurried on. When I was nearly out of sight of the tour, a mere two blocks from safety, a shadow stepped gracefully into my path. I recognized the haircut, the large shoulders and unfaltering confidence. The elder had caught up. Crap.

I cut right and ran diagonally across the street, dodging a car. Another shadow stepped out, not as suave, but with smooth enough movements to give me a racing heart.

“Captain, we have a problem,” I muttered, looking for another escape route. Graceful and elegant shadows stepped out all around me, perfectly synchronized.

“Oh look, she’s putting on a show for us!” I could hear the worry in Lou’s voice. She knew I was up shit creek with a broken paddle.

Haircut walked toward me, slow and purposeful. Confidence radiated out from him like a weapon. He was much too calm for my taste. He didn’t think I was a threat.

Being that he was upwind, he probably also thought I was human.

“Drop the man,” he said in a velvety-smooth voice.

“Look.” I stopped in the middle of the street. “I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll—”

“I do not make deals.” He stopped ten feet from me. His minions stayed back, though perfectly placed to box me in. All ten of them. So that wasn’t good.

“Interrupting someone is rude.” I shifted so I could drop Baldy at a moment’s notice. “I need to turn him in for the money. Just him, though. You can have whatever he is selling.”

“I will have him and what he is selling. You are outmatched and outnumbered. Drop him and scamper away, girl. This does not concern you.”

“Do you know how hot it gets in New Orleans in the middle of summer? The humidity will kill you. I need air conditioning, man. Work with me on this one, and everyone walks away.”

He laughed, a sexy sound that tightened my lady bits. Stupid elder vampires.

A spell came out of nowhere, one of the minions shooting it at me from its small rubber casing.

I dropped Baldy, ripped out my sword, and sliced through the stream of white. My blade unraveled the magic, the spell’s power level strong but no match for mine. I sheathed my sword and turned to the elder. I didn’t plan to hand over my mark and lose my payday, but if I could escape without killing one of these buggers, thereby putting a huge price on my head, I would. Dare to hope.

I rushed forward, aiming for the elder. As if on cue, the minions charged forward, tightening their blockade around me, lightning fast and smooth as silk. Claws outstretched on the end of their human-looking fingers. Lips and gums turned black as fangs elongated. The predators were showing themselves, and these predators were upper-middle level, at least.

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