Magic Gifts Page 14

I would punch him. I would punch him straight in the face, hard. "Fine. I'll need a lot of back-up for the Guild."

Curran looked at Jim. "Make sure she has everything she needs."

"Okay," Jim said. He picked up the pieces of his clipboard, pulled a piece of paper out and handed it to me with the pen. "Write it down."

I did and gave it back to him.

Jim read it. "I'll take care of it, Consort."

"Thank you, alpha."

If it had been raining, our voices would've frozen it into hail.

"Is there anything else?" Jim asked Curran.


Jim nodded and left.

"I hate you," I told Curran.

He chuckled. "You'd hate me more if Jim quit. We'd have to find a replacement. I don't trust that many people. Just think how much more shit you'd have to put up with."

"Don't," I warned him.

"Mmmm, Kate, the Chief of Security. Sexy. Who better to guard my body then the woman who owns it?"

"Curran, I will punch you."

"Rough play." Curran pretended to shiver in excitement.

I raised my fist and tapped his biceps lightly.

"You knew it was inevitable," he said.

I knew. The moment Jim sent me the file I had known exactly how it would end. But I put up a valiant fight. "Yes, but I don't have to like it. Can we eat now? I'm starving."

"Oh so I am forgiven?" he asked.

"Sure. The next time you decide to flex your claws and come up with a plan to invade a home of a high-ranking civil servant, I'll bark, 'Enough!' and expect to be obeyed, how about that?"

"You told me no," he said.


"And I didn't like it."

"You can't assault the DA's house, you crazy bastard!"

"And you can't check out of the Guild's mess. We both have to do things we don't want to do. I consider us even."

I rolled my eyes and we went upstairs to our cold food.

"I know what that ass is getting from me next Christmas," I said.


"Clipboards. Lots and lots of clipboards."

Chapter Eight

Before the Shift and the start of magic waves, a person's power could be readily judged by the kind of car they drove, by the clothes they wore, and the company they kept. In post-Shift Atlanta visual clues were still proved true in some cases, but not nearly often enough. A bum in tattered jeans and ragged cloak could walk out into the crowded street, raise his arms, and the sky would tear open and weep a rain of lightning and hail the size of coconuts, leveling everything in a three mile radius.

That's why post-Shift Atlanta evolved a new concept: a show of power. It was a decisive, showy demonstration of abilities and power, designed to intimidate.

When I woke up in the morning, a pair of grey jeans, grey T-shirt, and grey leather jacket waited for me, folded on top of a grey cloak edged with fur. Grey was the Pack color. I was going to put on a show for the Guild and this was my costume for it. I put the clothes on, added my boots, my saber in the back leather sheath, my throwing knives, and my wristguards filled with silver needles. I braided my hair away from my face and examined myself in the mirror. I was broadcasting badass loud and clear. Normally I stayed away from clothes like that. The less attention I drew when I worked, the better. Today was different.

I marched into the bathroom, where Curran was brushing his teeth. His blond eyebrows crept up. "That's your Council meeting outfit from now on."

I laughed. "Cloak or no cloak?"

"Definitely cloak," he said.

I tried the cloak on in front of the mirror.

Curran came up behind me and nuzzled my neck.

"Is that your gun or are you just happy to see me?"

"Mmm, a challenge." He nipped the skin on the back of my neck, sending electric aftershocks down through me. Some men got excited by white lace and a translucent negligee. My love muffin got excited by a woman dressed to murder. There was probably something deeply twisted about that. Lucky for me, negligees were never my thing.

He kissed me again. "You're finally getting the hang of this whole badass thing."

"I was always badass."

"No, you thought were badass and talked a lot of crap." He wrapped his arms around me.

Aha. "Let me go."

"You have time." He kissed my neck again. Every nerve in my body came to attention.

"No, I don't. I have people waiting." I pulled free from him and kissed him back. He pulled me close, locking me in with his arms. Mmm, Curran. I really didn't want to leave.

"Come on."

"No. Have to go."

"It won't take long."

"Who would that be fun for, exactly? Your seducing techniques need work." I untangled myself and escaped, before he thought of something else to say to change my mind.

It took me ten minutes to stop by the medical ward.

Roderick's collar has faded to lemon yellow. The skin around it had turned bright red, inflamed. It hurt just to look at it. I crouched by him. "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay, thank you."

"Does it hurt to eat?"

"A little," he said.

"I'm going to see someone today to figure out how to take that thing off."

He just looked at me with his big eyes. Deep down, he must've been scared. His sister died. His parents were gone. But he held it all inside and he wasn't about to let me in.

Before I left, Doolittle drew me aside. His face was bleak. "You must hurry."

"I'll do my best," I told him.

When I walked into the morning light, ten Pack vehicles waited for me. The crews of the vehicles stood in front of them wearing identical grey. Jim stood to the side, surveying the troops. I approached him.

"Satisfied, Consort?"

"How long are you going to be pissed off?" I asked him. We both kept our voices low.

He stared straight ahead.

"Jim, we had a verbal disagreement. I was an ass, but you withheld information. The way you're acting, you'd think I got some guys to jump you and work you over until you woke up with bites on your legs and bruises all over your body."

"It's different now, because we're both Pack. I've told you I was sorry about that. Are you going to keep dragging it out every time?"

"It was a shitty thing to do."

He locked his teeth, making his jaw muscles bulge.

I sighed and started toward the cars. "Suit yourself."

"I always do," he called out.

I turned around and flipped him off.

He glared at me.

I kept walking.

"Kate!" he called out.

I turned.

"Eduardo is your second. You need to talk to him. He wants you to practice something."

I nodded.


I turned around.

Jim approached me. "Do you need me to watch your back for this Guild thing?"

"I got it. Thanks," I said.

"Any time."

I went in search of Eduardo. Jim was an ornery bastard, but he did have my back. At least he wasn't mad anymore. I would probably have to make a peace offering all the same. The werejaguars were difficult creatures.

I'd have to get Dali to help me pick a gift. That way there would be no misunderstandings.

*** *** ***

The Mercenary Guild made its HQ in a converted Sheraton Hotel on the edge of Buckhead. In another life the hotel, built as a hollow tower, had a solid glass front, complete with a rotating glass door. Now massive steel gates marked the entrance. As our procession rolled up to the hotel, I could see a few mercs mulling about and smoking. Most of the Guild personnel were probably inside already. Perfect.

Next to me, Eduardo leaned forward in the Jeep's driver seat. A werebuffalo from Clan Heavy, he was over six feet tall and layered with thick muscle. His hair fell down his back in a black mane. His face with a square chin and deep set eyes said that he would rather die than back down. That impression was one hundred percent correct. I had a problem with a part of his plan and argued with him about it until I turned purple in the face, but he wouldn't budge, which was probably why Jim had assigned him to be my second for this venture.

"Wait a moment until we line up, before you go in, Consort," he murmured.

"Kate." We've been on first name basis for a while now.

"Not today, Consort."

The ten Jeeps turned in unison, parking next to each other in front of the building. The mercs at the entrance forgot to suck at their cigarettes and stared.

The car doors opened. The shapeshifters stepped out, forming two lines with a military precision, their faces solemn. I glanced at Eduardo.

"Not yet," he said.

The shapeshifters marched into the Sheraton, looking like they would chew through anybody dumb enough to stand in their way.

"I'm going to get out and go ahead. Derek will open your door. When you exit, keep walking, like you own the place," Eduardo said. "We've got your back."

"Watch it, bison," Jezebel growled from the back seat. She was one of the two bouda bodyguards Aunt B, the alpha of the werehyenas, attached to me. "You talk to her like she's a child."

I held up my hand. "It's okay. I got it."

"No worries," Eduardo said. "You will do fine."

There were few things I hated more than being the center of attention. Especially if the crowd was large.

Eduardo stepped outside. The passenger door behind me opened and Jezebel and Derek got out. Jezebel was six feet tall, moved like a predator, and had enough hard muscle on her to make me think twice about trying to take her on. Derek was leaner and younger, but his face and bearing made an instant impression.

Derek opened the door. "My lady."

The face of my aunt flashed before me. I would be Erra for today.

Eduardo stomped toward the Sheraton like a mountain with a "make-my-day" face.

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