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He staggered backward, clutching at his chest. Magic seeped out of him like he was a pierced balloon. He clearly couldn’t get his bearings in line to change. It wouldn’t have mattered if he had.

I increased the ferocity of my attack, battering his soul casing. He let out a high-pitched squeal before stumbling to the side. His knees buckled, as though he would kneel, but as soon as they touched down, he was up again.

I braced for his lunge, wrapping magic around his spirit box in preparation to squeeze. Instead, he spun—eyes wild, face drained of color—and sprinted toward the parking lot.

I felt Zorn’s soul drag across the hood of a car and zip after him, faster than a person should be.

“Oh shit,” I said, looking after the shifter darting manically between and around cars. It seemed he was aiming for the street. “Zorn must be in his gas form. That is a trip. I can’t see him, but I know his exact location.”

Mordecai’s arm slipped into mine. He didn’t say a word.

I heaved out a sigh as adrenaline shook my limbs. I’d barely gotten started and it was already over. I hadn’t even needed to hurt him.

“He scared me shitless,” Mordecai said with a trembling release of breath. “Excuse my French.”

“That’s not French, and it’s all in your head. Remember when Thane turned? That scared me shitless. You just jumped right in.”

“He didn’t feel the same. He didn’t…” He huffed. “It’s hard to explain.”

“We’re good, bud.” I patted Mordecai’s hand and picked up the pace, leading him toward the home store. “If you can face down a class-five Berserker, you can do almost anything. A class-four wolf with fancy watches and stupid shoes shouldn’t even register.”

He was quiet as we reached the store.

When the doors slid open and a smile spread across my face, he said, “Lexi, even if Demigod Kieran does try to control you, you won’t need any of our help. You’ll handle him all on your own. He won’t be a match for you.”

Bless him, Mordecai was entirely naive when it came to the hierarchy of magic, but it was a nice sentiment, so I patted his hand, then pushed him away. If that shifter had known who Mordecai was, he wouldn’t get a chance to tell his buddies. Mordecai was safe, and I had shopping to do.

21

Kieran

“Sir, we have a problem.”

Kieran tore his gaze away from an email he could’ve never expected and that could change the tide and glanced at his office door. His assistant sat out front, within hearing distance. He picked up the telephone receiver of his office phone, silencing the speakerphone. “I’ll call you back.”

In a flash, he closed the office door and grabbed his cell. His office didn’t have any foreign surveillance, but he wasn’t sure about his phone lines. Couldn’t be too careful.

He tapped Jack’s name, surprised it wasn’t Zorn who’d called. A quick internal check-in assured him Alexis was doing well, if a little frustrated. She wasn’t under attack, and neither was Mordecai. At the moment, anyway. Something had happened about ten minutes ago that had almost alarmed him enough to dial Zorn’s number. If it hadn’t subsided quickly, he would’ve risked blowing their cover with a ringing cell.

“Sir,” Jack said by way of answer.

“What is it?”

“Two of Will Green’s shifters were hanging around the shopping complex. The first, low-level and fairly useless, followed Lexi and Mordecai into a shop at the end. He essentially flushed them out. A more powerful wolf was waiting for them. He knew who Mordecai was, but he clearly had no idea who or what Lexi was. She had to force him to acknowledge her presence as pack leader before she dealt with him.”

Kieran leaned his elbow against the desk and directed his gaze out the window, not seeing the glistening ocean beyond. “What’s the status?”

“Bria picked up the low-level member. He’s restrained in the back of her stolen car. He doesn’t know any particulars, which isn’t uncommon for someone of his status in the pack, but he was given a picture of Mordecai, and told to call the higher-level wolf if he saw him.”

“And the other?”

“Alexis scared him beyond rational thought. He couldn’t even shift—he just took off running in human form. Zorn grabbed him, but he couldn’t calm him down. The shifter changed, got stuck halfway through, and snuffed it.”

Jack was breathing heavily by the time he’d finished relaying the events, and not because he was jogging. Seeing what Alexis could do had clearly hit the enormous and powerful water shifter at his core. Even though he’d successfully trained with her, he was scared it could happen to him.

“You’ve withstood worse, Jack, and not just from Alexis,” Kieran said calmly. “You’ve trained with me.”

“Yes, sir. I know that, sir. It’s just…she drove him to hysteria. He couldn’t even shift.” Jack took a deep breath. “I’ll get on top of it, sir. If anything, it is a reminder of how big of a help Alexis will be.”

Kieran stood from his seat and walked to the window, looking out. “It can’t be a coincidence that Will Green’s pack is looking for Mordecai directly after Amber was assigned to this case.”

“That’s exactly my thought, sir. The low-level wolf was the lookout. The higher-level wolf was the closest muscle. They were looking for Mordecai as a team, and I suspect they’re not the only group in the area. They can’t be—there is no way they could’ve known we’d be here today.”

“My father still doesn’t know that the breadcrumbs lead to me, or he would’ve wanted Mordecai for himself, if only to see why I bothered fixing him up. No, my father is tossing Green a bone. Or maybe he’s simply tying up a loose end without taxing his own reserves.” Kieran turned from the window as a shock of adrenaline zipped up his body. “How likely is it that the higher-level shifter would’ve alerted Green to Mordecai’s presence before he had the cargo in-hand?”

“I don’t know enough about Green’s pack to make that call. From what I’ve heard, the pack as a whole is deteriorating. That’ll mess with their organization and chain of command. But as I was pulling out my phone to call you I smelled a faint whiff of blood, shit, and wet fur—what a wolf hunting pack smells like. It is impossible for me to be sure, but he might already be organizing.”

Tingles of warning spread across Kieran’s skin. “How many wolves do there need to be to elicit such a smell, generally speaking?”

“At the minimum, half a dozen dirty dogs, and a full dozen decent shifters who have temporarily given in to their animal.”

“How sure are you about this whiff?”

“Fifty-fifty.”

Kieran thought for a moment. He hated to ruin Alexis’s big shopping expedition, but even if she could handle a group of wolves on her own, she’d draw a lot of notice. It was best to keep her under the radar for as long as possible.

“Pull Alexis out,” he said. “Take them back to the house. Tell her I’ll make it up to her. We’ll draw Green out when there are less witnesses and take care of the problem then.”

“Yes, sir,” Jack said. “And maybe you can challenge her later and make a mockery of her magic. I’d love to put some nightmares to rest. The mark’s effect only helps so much.”

Kieran stilled as a soft knock interrupted the quiet of the office.

“The mark’s effect?” he asked, ignoring Jack’s hopeful tone. Kieran doubted anyone could make a mockery of Alexis’s magic.

The knock hardened, the delay too short. Someone powerful and impatient was on the other side.

Only one person showed his impatience where Kieran was concerned.

“I have to go,” Kieran said quickly and terminated the call. He dropped the phone onto his desk and hastened to the door.

Valens

Irritation ate through Valens as the seconds ticked by. He turned to the composed but out of her league assistant, who was, for some reason, not reaching for the phone to see what was holding up his son.

“How long has this door been—”

The wood swung open a little too quickly before slowing, revealing Kieran in a suit befitting his position. At least that much Valens had been able to impress upon his son—the importance of dressing for his station.

“Father,” Kieran said, a trace of anxiety in his eyes. Ah. He’d realized who must’ve been waiting outside and hurried to accommodate someone with higher authority. Which meant he’d originally assumed himself to be of higher authority, and had chosen to show dominance by keeping the caller waiting.

A thread of pride worked through Valens as he stepped forward. Good. His son was learning the importance of dominance and hierarchy. There was hope for him yet.

“Kieran.” His son pulled out a visitor chair, looking at him with raised eyebrows. Valens slightly nodded, then took his seat. Kieran shut the door.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Kieran walked around the desk where his cell phone lay crooked just off-center.

Valens looked at it pointedly. Kieran promptly removed it from the surface and tucked it into a drawer.

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