To everyone else, it seemed a night like any other at McGronkle’s Supernatural Pub. The patrons were sufficiently mellow, well into their second round of drinks, and the staff busy but not overly so. That’s how Mondays typically played out in Hell’s Kitchen—minimal drama while the crowd recuperated from their weekend of debauchery. Holding court behind the bar, Shayla Tempest knew better than to assume that tonight the trend would continue. She’d gotten a letter from the mob.
Another assignment. This time, one she couldn’t refuse.
Unable to do much but sit and wait, Shay tended to her regulars, making sure their glasses were full and tabs current. No magic, no drinks; Sammy ran a clean club here. The humans stayed away thanks to Shay’s glamour on the building. To them, this place looked like the doorless backside of a loading dock. Additional security wards gave humans an increasingly uneasy feeling if they wandered too close, which meant most barely gave this place a passing glance. Fine by her—it kept the authorities away and her safely off their radar.
All caught up on her orders and still no special delivery, Shay grabbed her cell phone, needing a distraction. She scrolled through her Facebook feed to see if the hot fae who’d slipped her his number last week had posted anything new. When she found he hadn’t—lame—she switched to her backdoor version of Tinder. Swipe right if you were interested, left if you weren’t. Guys that looked like assholes she didn’t bother swiping, just muttered a curse under her breath instead. Their smallpox would clear up eventually.
Mimi lit on her left shoulder, a pixie-sized order pad in hand. “Heya, Sweetie. I need a fire water for the goblin in booth D and two more shots of honey for the imps.”
Shay cast a wary look to the back wall. When Sammy first opened the place, he’d hung a dart board there. Said he’d gotten the idea from a TV show. Unfortunately, sharp projectiles being hurtled across a room full of supes started killing his business. Literally. The board was quickly replaced by a swanky hangout that catered to their growing imp patronage. Turns out, the little creeps were all about Barbie Dream Houses. As she watched it bumping and rattling, one of them staggered out onto its top balcony and retched over the glossy white railing.
“Guess they didn’t get the weekend out of their system,” Mimi muttered.
“That group never does.”
Which was precisely why the mob recruited heavily of their kind. An offering of honey, and virtually unlimited opportunities to wreak havoc on everyone else? They were suckers for both, every single one of them. No doubt at least one had been sent here to make sure she accepted the package Mauri’s letter indicated he’d be sending.
The package she had to personally deliver if she wanted her sister to live.
She started on the drink orders, wracking her brain yet again for alternatives. There had to be another option, something to keep Shay as far from the mob boss as possible. But since receiving the letter, all she’d been able to come up with were three measly options: comply, ignore, or hide.
She’d done the hiding thing for many years, switching vessels, switching towns. But then a couple goons had to go and piss her off last fall, one of them dumb enough to put his face in the way of that barstool she’d flung at him, and boom—dead. Unfortunately for her, the mob wasn’t fond of losing goons.
So yeah, hiding? Not working out so well.
Option two: ignore. Sure, who wouldn’t love to tell the mob’s fearless leader where he could stick this assignment? Probably the same kind of idiot that preferred a long, slow, torturous death. Only, in this case it wouldn’t be Shay meeting a seriously unpleasant demise, it’d be her sister…which took the ignore option off the table.
No hiding and no ignoring, which meant her only other option was to comply with the assignment. The package would arrive, give the code word STORM, and off they’d go. But the note hadn’t said anything about not killing Mauri when she got there. Now that would make the trip worth her while. Question was, could she really make it happen? Because, gods, it’d be a dream come true if she could.
Oh sure, she and Mauri had their fun a few centuries ago. But that was before his soul had transformed into the lovely shade of utter darkness it was today, and before he’d come up with the insane idea of enslaving humankind so supes could run free and rule the earth.
Looking back, it’d been a stroke of luck that he’d thrown her to the wolves to save his own skin in that Divinity sting operation. Otherwise, she’d have ignorantly drank the Kool-Aid and been paired with the greediest SOB to lead Antimony in eons.
Fool me once? Shame on you.
Fool me twice? Ain’t gonna happen.
That’s why she’d chosen to escape capture rather than give Divinity her allegiance. Join the good guys to fight the bad? With all their damn rules, some days she didn’t know which was the lesser evil. Better to stay neutral and avoid getting sucked into supernatural power struggles altogether.
Soap suds rose from the hot tub in the bar’s front corner, and distracted Shay from the fire water she’d been making. A lick of yellow bit her hand as she bobbled the glass, sending flames dancing across the bar top. Four nymphs sharing a nearby stool took wing to avoid the fiery cascade, a litany of curses filling the air. Shay cursed as well, reaching for a washrag to clean up her spill before it claimed any casualties.
“Dammit Floyd, what the hell are we paying you for?”
Their mile-high waste-of-fur bouncer perched beside the door bristled. “What’s your problem, Blue?”
Her cloth snagged on a crusty spot, and she lifted it to find a chunk of charred wing. Okay, strike that—claim any more casualties. She cast a dark look to the yeti. “You are. Thought you patted the water kelpies down when they were paying their cover?”
She tipped her head toward the growing mound of bubbles and Floyd’s gaze flicked toward the tub. With a muttered expletive, he slid off his personalized tree stump and strode toward the thickening scent of lavender. At ninety-five, the guy believed he was the best thing to come along since the invention of glamouring. Maybe in another hundred years, he’d lose the ego and Shay would be able to tolerate the pompous jerk.
No, probably not even then.
He had just made it to the kelpies when the front door burst open and a body stumbled through. A human body, judging by the way he was gasping for breath. Usually, they hit the wards and made an about-face. So far, this guy wasn’t that smart.
“We’ve got ourselves a crasher,” Milo crooned from a nearby booth, his scaly green lips drawing back to reveal teeth that desperately needed a good brushing. Like, a few decades ago.
The goblin slid his arm free of the drunken fae nestled beside him and started to rise. But a brawl was the last thing they needed tonight, especially with that package due to arrive from Mauri. Shay abandoned her washrag and strode forward, giving him a not-so-subtle shove down along the way.
“Keep your shirt on,” she said.
“I said, keep your shirt on.”
She snapped her fingers, freezing the little bastard in place. Goblins—always trying to be the tough guys. Her spell wouldn’t hold him long, but it did allow her enough time to give their newcomer a onceover. He looked to be just over six feet tall, long and lean. Not overly muscular, but not an ounce of fat on the guy, either. Nothing she couldn’t handle if good old Floyd chickened out again. Why he got so nervous around humans was beyond her. This one’s dark hair was short on the sides and a little longer on top, just like all the pretty boys on posters in Time Square. As she stared, a pair of melted chocolate eyes began to scan the room.
Gods, he was repulsive.
“I’m looking for a woman.”
Snickering ensued as Shay continued forward, stopping before she emerged from the shadows. Best not to give him too big a fright, or their crasher would soon be a fainter. Fainters always made the griffins hungry, and she’d be damned if she was gonna jump in the middle of a herd of them to save clueless Joe Blow here.
“I think you’re lost, city boy,” she called. “Best turn around and head back to Upper Manhattan.”
He squinted in her direction and lifted one hand to shield his eyes from the entryway lights, a piece of crumpled paper in its grip. “Violet. I’m looking for Violet. They took her from me.”
His breathing was beginning to smooth; not a good sign. If he acclimated to the wards, he’d soon be able to see them all just as they were—a bar full of creatures he wasn’t supposed to know existed. Shay put a little more venom behind her words.
“Don’t know nothing about none of that. Now leave.”
The human unwadded the note in his hand. “No? Then how about a…Storm? She’s supposed to know where I can find her.”
Shay sucked in a sharp breath. Storm?
Oh, no. No, this guy could not be the package.
A human, Mauri? Are you out of your friggin’ mind?
“Ain’t got one of them neither,” she pushed. “Now scat.”
The newcomer squared his shoulders. “Well if they’re not here,” he said, voice rising above the bar’s standard bedlam, “then somebody better bring me that son of a bitch Mauricio Hunter. Right. Now.”
The entire tavern fell silent as every head turned to see what fool had said aloud the name of Antinomy’s most notorious mob boss. From the Barbie Dream House, cracking knuckles could be heard.
Then all hell broke loose…