Authors: Megan Powell
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2013 Megan Powell
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47 North
PO Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013935321
O MY MOM AND DAD—A TRUE EXAMPLE OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
Six months of smoking cloves, and I still couldn’t blow a smoke ring. Best I could manage was a big ball of gray puff. I held the cigarette between my berry-glossed lips, inhaled deeply, formed a little O with my mouth, and tried again. Puffball. Whatever.
A swell of techno music filled the air, then cut away as the club door across the street opened and closed.
Holy shit, it’s cold
, the emerging woman thought. I rolled my eyes. What did she expect? It had been snowing for two days now. She pulled her fake-fur wrap tighter to her chest and scanned the street. No taxis. Pulled out her cell phone. Dead battery. She pushed a few buttons anyway and started walking. The click-clack of her heels feigned purpose as she made her way down the icy sidewalk. “Hey, sorry I’m later than I thought, but I’m on my way now,” she said, and then paused. There was no voice coming through the other end of the phone. She was pretending. Smart girl.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who saw through the ruse. The man looked respectable enough, camel trench coat over dark pressed pants and thick-soled loafers. He emerged from the shadowed entry of a neighboring club. He’d been waiting. Not for this girl in particular, but for a type. He wanted a very specific prey.
So did I.
OK, this was it. The final test. I could do this. Dropping my cigarette, I instantly became invisible. It was so easy, I smiled. I’d been able to go invisible for years, but now using my powers was like any other natural function. Breathing, blinking, turning invisible. It felt good to have this much control.
I stepped out at the same time Trench Coat Guy did. He lit a cigarette and kept his distance from the woman. She didn’t sense him yet, but her defenses were still up. Her voice intentionally carried through the cold air. “Yeah, headed there now, so I should be at your place in, like, ten minutes.” She laughed. “Sure. Tell you what. If I’m not there in exactly eleven minutes, call 911.” Impressive.
I stayed on the opposite side of the street, a block behind the guy. I heard him chuckle behind his cigarette as she picked up her pace. He had seen her try to turn on her phone in front of the club, then watched her struggle to walk with a don’t-mess-with-me attitude. He watched her now, the swivel of her hips under that tight little skirt. He had all kinds of pictures in his mind about lifting that skirt and listening to her screams.
I stumbled and closed my eyes to his thoughts. What the hell was wrong with people? Being with a man wasn’t supposed to be like that. The bittersweet scent of musk and metal wafted through my senses. Theo’s dark smirk flashed in my mind. Quickly, I pushed the image away. No distractions tonight. I needed to get through this and stay focused. When I opened my eyes, Trench Coat Guy was almost two blocks away.
The next instant I was across the street, right behind the guy as he strolled into a parking garage. The woman’s voice faded as she hustled up the garage’s enclosed stairwell. When the sound of a door opening echoed through the stairwell, the man started running, taking two, sometimes three steps at a time. I didn’t bother keeping pace. I just met him at the door. He slowed when he reached the landing. His eyes darkened, and a smile crept across his face. My breath caught. I’d seen transformations like this before. Much, much worse than this, actually, but the effect was still the same. It was a slight shift in features—a deepening in his eyes, a curl of his lip—but it was the same as if he had pulled off a mask, removed the handsome facade to reveal the monster that really lived there. Playtime was over. He reached for the door handle. I dropped my invisible shield.
“What the fuck!” he shouted as I body slammed him face-first into the door. He was a whole foot taller than me, so I jammed my shoulder into his lower back to keep him in place. He wriggled against my hold, but I barely noticed. I had to concentrate. Turning invisible, listening to other people’s thoughts—those abilities were nothing. But this newest power had taken me months to hone. If I could totally control it now, I knew I’d be ready. I curled my nails into his lower back and focused my power into my hands. The bones popped and stretched as they transformed into leathery, elongated talons. Claws. I twisted my wrist and sliced through his coat and shirt until I felt the warmth of his blood tickle my fingertips.
He saw me from the corner of his eye, and his knees buckled. I brought my face up close to his. Blood dripped onto the floor around us. His flesh and the door behind him darkened to a deep shade of pink. I paused. My eyes were turning again. Damn it, I still couldn’t completely control that one.
No matter. It was an emotional thing, that’s all—a warning that my pissed-off was quickly turning to real anger. I inhaled a
deep, calming breath and narrowed my gaze. His pupils dilated under my compulsion. “Here’s what’s going to happen, Mitchy. You’re going to walk out of the garage and go home to your wife. You’re going to wake her up, tell her what an incredible woman she is, and then you are going to spend the rest of your miserable life making sure she never has to question your devotion to her. It’s going to be a real-life happily ever after.”
His mouth opened and shut without sound. I pressed my claws in deeper. I could feel the blood trickling down to my wrists now. His eyes bled to black.
“I will walk out of the garage and go home to my wife. I’m going to wake her up, tell her what an incredible woman she is, and then I’m going to spend the rest of my miserable life making sure she never has to question my devotion to her. It’s going to be a real-life happily ever after.”
The pink receded, and my vision returned to normal. I slowly withdrew my claws from his back. Still holding him against the door, I pressed the long, narrow palm of my hand to the deep wounds I had worked into his back. I pushed my energy into his flesh and felt the heat as his wounds knit themselves back together. Then I erased the bloodstains on our clothes. The tears on his jacket could stay—let him wonder a little.
When he was all neat and healed, I stepped back and flipped my hair. Shooting him the bright, innocent, twentysomething smile I’d been practicing in the mirror, I said, “So this is my floor. I’m parked just by the door. Thank you so much, Mitch. I just hate walking by myself at night. Oh, watch your step. It looks like someone spilled their wine.”
He blinked twice, looked down at the puddle of blood at our feet. “Uh, yeah. No problem.” He straightened his lapels and ran a hand through his hair. “If you don’t mind, I need to get home. My wife’s waiting up.”
“Oh yeah, of course.” I reached around him for the door. “Thanks again, Mitch.”
He nodded as I stepped past him. I had barely pulled the door closed behind me before Mitch’s footsteps pounded down the stairs in a sprint. I looked down at my hands. Back to normal. The only sign that any transformation had occurred was a slight redness at my knuckles and cuticles. I’d done it. I’d stayed focused, completely controlled the transformation, and stopped a bad guy all at the same time. It may not have been as planned out and executed as a Network mission, and Mitch was just a run-of-the-mill serial rapist and not a supernatural terrorist with powers similar to my own, but I’d set an objective, stayed on target, and completed my assignment. Just like any other Network agent.
I was finally ready to rejoin my team.