Authors: Delilah Devlin
“Sweet Jesus!” Joe groaned. “Quentin’s gonna have my ass if I give her a weapon.”
“Should we let her go in without one?”
“I don’t suppose you just want to watch?” Joe asked. “From a safe distance?”
A scowl darkened her expression. “You’re not leaving me behind. I’m not helpless. I’ve been in Special Ops for twelve years now.”
“And just how many of your fellow officers have you shot?” Joe asked.
Max blinked and looked at her in his rearview mirror.
Pia’s mouth twisted in disgust. “Just one…well, two…if you count the time I tripped on a fallen tree limb. But that wasn’t my fault.”
“What are you?” Max asked. “The Barney Fife of vamp cops?”
“I excel at ‘undercover’ work,” she said snidely. “You should know.”
“Sweetheart, I’ve half a mind to lock you in the trunk while we answer the call.”
“Do you really think that will hold me?” she said, her voice dripping sweet sarcasm.
“Fuck!” Max turned into the parking lot that flanked the boardwalk along the beach. He killed the engine, hit the trunk latch, and bounded out of the car.
With light shining from the streetlights above and the pale lamp from the trunk lid, Max and Joe strapped on their web belts and slid percussive grenades into metal loops. Almost in unison they drew their Glocks and depressed the buttons on the sides of their weapons to eject the clips with the standard issue bullets. From an ammo box, they drew clips with the special new issue—silver-filled bullets.
“What about me?” Pia asked as she peered into the trunk from behind Max’s shoulder.
He stepped on the bumper of the car and reached beneath the hem of his trousers. He pulled out a gun and laid it in her palm.
“Don’t I get ammo, too?”
“It’s already loaded with what you need.”
He watched as she drew back the barrel and pressed the button to drive it forward again. Satisfied she knew which end of the gun she held, he reached for the flak jackets. He offered one to her.
“Uh-huh,” she said, shaking her head. “I might need to move fast.”
Max continued to hold it out. “You’ll wear it, or I’ll hog-tie you and strap you to the steering wheel.”
Pia’s eyes narrowed, and her lower lip jutted out.
Max lifted one brow.
“Oh, all right.” She swiped the flak jacket from his hands and shrugged into it.
Max assisted, closing the Velcro tabs.
She scowled ferociously. “If one of those puppy dogs bites my ass because I couldn’t get away fast enough, you’ll be hearing about it.”
Max leaned down and put his forehead against hers. “Baby, no one’s biting your ass but me.”
Max found himself grinning as he heard Pia mutter beneath her breath. He made quick work of his own jacket. When he finished closing the fastenings, he glanced up to see Joe staring, a one-sided smile quirking his mouth.
Max wiped the smile from his lips. “Not one fucking word from you,
.” The last piece of equipment he donned was the headset. He slid it over his head, lowered the thin microphone wand to his lips and flipped the switch. “Phil, we’re in the parking lot. Where are you now?”
“In back of the bar. We’re going in through the kitchen.”
“We’ll take the front door. I’ll give the signal when we’re ready.” Max spared a glance over his shoulder to make sure Joe and Pia were on the comms. Then he climbed the steps to the boardwalk and loped toward the bar.
“I’m taking the rear,” Joe said. “I’m not getting in front of Pia while she’s waving that gun around.”
“Scared, Joe?” Pia asked, her breath even despite the pace.
“Spitless, sweetheart. Quentin told me the whole story.”
“Huh! Betcha he didn’t tell you everything. Quentin’s a pussy.”
“I heard that!” Quentin’s voice broke over the channel. “Tell me that walking disaster doesn’t have a gun.”
“Quentin!” Pia said, her voice filled with aggravation. “That was four years ago. I’m quite the markswoman now.”
“So long as it’s someone else’s ass you mark, my dear.”
Max was glad when the Piki Tiki’s bamboo awning came into view. The vamp banter was making him ill. That hint of history between Pia and Quentin pricked his jealousy. He halted at the corner of the building and held up his hand. “This is the way it’s going down. Joe and I’ll go through the front door. Pia, you’ll cover us from the window.”
“I’m awfully glad I’ll have the pots and pans to duck behind,” Quentin said. “I’m coming through the kitchen with Phil.”
“When I count three, Pia will start laying down cover fire.” Max swung around to stare hard at Pia. “You are up for this, right? You weren’t exaggerating your skills.”
“She’s the real deal, Max,” Joe said. “She has the training. But she did shoot Quentin in the ass.”
Max snorted. “Well, that’s no sin in my eyes.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Quentin said, his voice wry.
Pia rolled her eyes. “Showtime,” she said softly, holding Max’s gaze. Then she shook her head.
In three shakes, all traces of the soft, sexy kitten he’d held in his arms half an hour ago were gone. In her place stood a vamp with long curved incisors. As he watched, her forehead changed shape. The bones beneath her skin shifted outward, growing until she was unrecognizable—except for the chocolate shade of her eyes.
Her lips curved into a maniacal smile. “Some men only worry about what their girlfriends look like without their makeup.” Her voice was deeper, with an odd, gruff inflection.
Max winced. “Why are you the only one donning a mask?”
“I’m only partway transformed. I need the extra muscle.” She held up her arm. “Wanna feel?”
Max shook his head. “So long as you keep your monster reined in, I don’t care. Come on, Joe.” He strode to the side of the building, and peered through the window. The scene inside was chilling.
Three wolves in various stages of transformation had half a dozen vamps and a human bartender trapped in a corner. A dark-furred wolf, still walking on two legs, swiped his claws at a male vamp, shredding his clothing and drawing four bloody lines across his chest. The vamp screamed through a row of jagged teeth and charged, wrapping his arms around the wolf to lift him off his feet.
The pair crashed to the floor and rolled. But the wolf quickly gained the advantage and opened his jaws wide to close around the vamp’s throat. With a shake of his powerful shoulders, the wolf separated the vamp’s head from his body and the vamp exploded into a dark cloud of dust. His clothing floated to the floor.
“Bastards,” Pia whispered beside him.
“They’re just doing what’s natural,” Max said, giving her a steady stare. “Offing vamps.”
Pia turned her head and lifted her upper lip, baring her fangs.
“Not your best look, baby.”
“Good thing I’m not trying to impress you then, hmm?”
Max turned his attention back to the interior of the Piki Tiki bar. This place had quite a history—a long association with the vamp scene well before they came out of the closet.
He hoped the owner had good insurance. The bar was trashed. Tables were overturned, chairs lay in splinters, attesting to the battle that had raged inside. Broken glass sparkled like diamonds on the tiled floor.
A wolf with golden fur circled in front of the group huddled in the corner, snapping and snarling. Suddenly, he faced off with the vamps, lowering his head until it nearly touched the ground. A rumbling growl built in his chest. Each time one of the vamps looked ready to answer his challenge, he neatly corralled him back like a dog herding sheep.
The vamps returned the rumbling, snarl for snarl. However, they soon didn’t attempt to step outside their corner. It was a standoff, with the golden wolf in the superior position. His pack mates had only to wait for him to cull the vamps from the herd, one by one.
“I hadn’t realized they were so goddamn big,” Joe’s whispers came through the headset. He still hovered behind Pia at the end of the building.
“How would anyone mistake them for dogs?” Pia said in her odd, gruff voice. “They’re all monsters, but that gold one’s the worst. He knows what he’s doing.”
Max agreed this wolf was a bigger danger than the others. His actions were calculated, intelligent. However much he might empathize with these wolves’ lust for vamp blood, they weren’t discriminating about what they chomped on. They’d kill humans just as quick. “We better move now,” he whispered, and gave Pia a final look. “Make your shots count, baby. The head or the chest.”
Pia nodded and crouched beside the corner of the window, her weapon held steady in both hands.
He ducked beneath the window so the occupants within the bar wouldn’t see him as he sped toward the entrance. At the door, he counted, “On three. One, two, three.” As gunfire erupted from the front and back of the bar, he shoved open the glass door, tossed a stun grenade, and rolled into the room. When he came to his feet, he aimed and fired at the golden wolf just as the grenade exploded, shattering more glass and distracting the wolves momentarily.
Max’s first shot struck the wolf in the shoulder. The wolf staggered back and then shook himself. Rather than doing the expected and charging toward Max, he leapt into the air, bypassing Max. In a second bound, he broke through the large plate glass window, landing on the boardwalk outside.
Max had only a moment to spare a thought for Pia, before a dark-furred wolf crashed into him.
He rolled with the beast, struggling to bring up his gun.
The wolf clamped his teeth over the shoulder of Max’s flak jacket in a bone-crunching grip and shook his powerful head.
Max flailed, helpless for a moment, and then clutched the fur at the wolf’s neck. All his strength focused on raising his gun. He pressed the barrel beneath the wolf’s jaw and pulled the trigger.
In a spray of blood and gray matter, the wolf crumpled on top of Max. He shoved it away and struggled to his feet.
Joe and Quentin battled the third wolf. By the looks of things, Max almost felt sorry for the beast. In the close confines of the bar, the vamps had forgone their weapons for hand-to-hand combat. They wore their vamp masks and traded blows and bites with the wolf. The muddy brown wolf was quickly losing the fight. Blood streamed from his mouth and nose, his chest heaved.
Max swung back to the window and realized Pia’s weapon was silent. With a roar of anger, he ran to the door and jerked it open. The boardwalk was empty.
His heart thudded. The wolf had taken Pia—might already have destroyed her. But which way had he gone?
“Pia! Can you hear me?” he shouted into his radio. He stood still, trying to separate the shouts and sounds of fighting inside the bar. Then he heard it—feminine gasps. She was hurt and scared, but she was alive. “Baby, hold on. I’m coming.”
The streetlamp barely illuminated the beach beyond the wooden planks. The shadows hid the wolf’s tracks. He jumped over the railing onto the sand below.
They could be anywhere. He had to find her. But first, he needed to be able to follow the scent of the wounded male.
Max stripped open the Velcro fastenings and dropped the jacket to the ground. He ripped at the rest of his clothing and equipment until he stood naked beneath the lamplight.
Please don’t let me be too late.
Pulling strength from the glare of the full moon, Max let the transformation come over him in a rush powered by his anger. His teeth slid from the roof of his mouth. His face stretched, the bones cracking as they reached outward. Then he dropped to the sand as his body lengthened and fur sprouted from his skin. Within seconds he caught the musty scent of the male wolf—and the acrid smell of a woman’s fear.
Max, the wolf, leapt from the boardwalk onto the beach and followed the trail of the other male’s scent. Lost was Pia’s name. Only a vision of a dark-haired woman with soft skin and round, wide eyes shimmered in his mind to match the scent. His strides stretched as he neared them, the woman and the golden wolf, and a deep-throated roar broke from him.
The golden wolf spun to face him. He held the woman by her torso, his large jaws clamped over the black covering encasing her upper body. The wolf was a powerful, potent adversary—and this close his scent was…familiar.
Weakened, the woman beat the golden wolf about the head with her fists, trying to dislodge his powerful jaws.
The dark wolf lifted is head and howled. His mate was in danger. Another had attacked what belonged to him alone. Fur lifted on his shoulders and back as he stalked toward the rogue wolf.
Pia gasped in
agony. She figured the enormous wolf that held her had crushed every rib along her right side. Why he hadn’t killed her outright? He could have so easily. Sure he’d go for Max inside the bar, she’d stared transfixed with horror when the wolf broke through the glass and landed beside her.
When he’d swung toward her, she hadn’t time to raise her weapon before he was upon her. In the attack, she’d lost her weapon, and could only offer a feeble defense once he’d crushed her side with his enormous jaws, preventing her from taking a full breath. Then he’d lifted her and ran into the darkness while she flailed like a rag doll.