I froze for a second, hardly believing what she’d said. A relieved and slightly embarrassed laugh fought through my anxiety. I’d allowed Mordecai’s paranoia to get me worked up.
“Good,” I said with a sigh.
“Just kidding. Shit’s gotten real. We got a pack of wolves organizing. Where are you in the store, exactly?”
“Wait, what? But you said—”
“I lied to keep things light. Funny, right? Where are you in the store?”
Fear coursed through me, and it wasn’t mine.
Not many things made Kieran afraid.
I grabbed Mordecai’s wrist and yanked, leaving the cart behind. “I’m working my way to the back. We haven’t seen anyone come through the front entrance. I’ll have Mordecai sniff for anyone already in here with us. What’s going on out there?”
“Good call. That’s what I was going to tell you to do. Look at you, reading a situation and reacting appropriately. I’m attributing this to my outstanding merit as a trainer—”
“Bria, what is going on out there?”
“Oh right. Well, a big team of rough-looking shifters showed up, and they are amassing near the entrances. Will Green is on site.”
“Will is…the alpha of Mordecai’s old pack, right?” I’d appealed to Will’s office years ago when I’d tried to get help paying for Mordecai’s shifter serum. Will hadn’t spoken to me directly, instead letting his secretary give me the bad news.
“Yeah. He’s a nasty sonuvabitch. I can tell from here. And he clearly doesn’t give a shit that it’s illegal to challenge someone under eighteen years of age. This crew isn’t looking to chat. They’re here for business.”
They were here for Mordecai, something I didn’t dare say to the terrified teenager standing wide-eyed beside me.
My heart sped up. I’d easily taken out one wolf. I’d taken down a Berserker. But I’d only fought more than one person at a time in practice sessions.
“It’s okay,” I said, mostly to myself. “We can handle this.”
“I love your enthusiasm,” Bria said in approval. “The guys think Valens tipped them off, and if that’s true, Valens has basically given Green his consent to kill a minor. I’m not going to blow sunshine up your ass—it’s looking pretty grim. Jack is useless to us without water, I don’t have the army of cadavers I would need to bail you out, and Zorn can only handle so many. Even with your help, we don’t have the numbers. Zorn has called in the rest of the Six, and Kieran is on his way, but we’re way the hell out here. It’s a time versus numbers game. So just hang tight, and we’ll see how it goes.”
I stopped near a woman straightening a pillow on a display bed. “How many of them are there?”
Bria paused for a moment. “Two dozen shifters. They’ve been showing up in waves. Jack says they’ll fight viciously, and they won’t fight fair.”
“How long before they make a move?”
A pregnant pause filled the line. “I don’t know,” she finally said.
She was lying. No time at all.
I turned and looked at Mordecai, studying the face of the boy I knew so well. I could remember all the times I had held him in my arms, begging the medicine to hurry up—terrified his sickness would take him. He’d depended on me to keep him safe, and even though I’d been up against the wire more times than I could count, I had always found a way to keep him alive.
I would always find a way. Somehow.
Only one person noticed as I pushed open the scuffed beige employee door at the back of the store, and that person was no longer living.
“Stay close to me at all times, Mordecai,” I said, still holding the phone to my head. I walked down an aisle of boxes and a rack of opened and probably returned items. Determination fought the fear coursing through me. I could do this. I had to. I could not let them get to Mordecai. “Do not change. That’ll give us the edge. If we need to scale a fence or something, let them be fatigued from having made a quick change. And do not fight. A couple months of training hasn’t prepared you for this.”
“Okay,” he said, following close behind me. Thankfully, he didn’t point out that a couple months of training hadn’t prepared me for this, either.
“Keep pace. Do not slow me down.”
“Do not shout out or yell unless you are in harm’s way. That’ll only distract me, and it might derail…whatever it is I am doing.”
“Kicking ass, that’s what you’ll be doing,” Bria said. “Also, Jack forbids you to leave that store in this manner. He sounds like an old woman when he panics.”
“What if they come at us from behind?” Mordecai asked.
“I don’t need you to watch my six, Mordecai. I’ve got eyes in the back of my head and all the way around. I’ll know who and what is coming for us at all times.”
I sincerely hope.
“James Bond ain’t got nothin’ on you, lady.” Excitement rang through Bria’s voice, interrupted by the jabbering of someone who sounded angry. “Jack, would you back off? She’s a type of Necromancer—we’re born with the ability to take life by the horns. This is her calling, trust me—”
“Hey!” A man bending over a pallet of boxes wrapped in clear plastic straightened from his task. He looked our way. “You shouldn’t be back here.”
I veered toward him, knowing he must’ve received that pallet through a freight door. If the freight door wasn’t open, there’d be a regular door nearby. All my experience working for retail stores was finally coming in handy.
“We’re just heading out,” I called as I neared him. Around a stack of boxes with pictures of flatware, I caught sight of what I’d hoped to find. Four floor-to-ceiling freight doors, all closed. Beside the last of them, a sliver of light cut across the floor from a regular door standing slightly ajar. “Bria, do you have eyes on the back of the building?”
“Most of it, why?”
“Can you see the freight door area?”
I heard scuffling, like fabric against concrete, before she said, “Yeah, barely.”
The guy working on the pallet of boxes of what looked like pillows threw up a meaty arm covered in thick hair. I hated to think what his back looked like.
“You gotta go out the front. I can’t have you back here. This is for—hey!”
I threw him a thumbs up to ease the blow of ignoring him. “Are the shifters waiting there?” I asked her.
“No. A dozen are waiting at the western corner so they can see two sides of the building.. The others are up front with Green. Right now, all of them are wearing their skin. Wait…hold on…” Again, I could just barely hear Jack’s baritone on the other end of the line.
“Lady, you can’t go—”
I slapped a tiny sliver of magic through the worker, needing him to mind his own business. He gasped and grabbed for his chest, pausing with his mouth open and his gaze averted sideways.
“That guy looks like he’s having a heart attack,” Mordecai mumbled. “Did you just attack him?”
“I quieted him, not attacked him. What do you think I am, an animal?” Mordecai’s lips tightened and I grimaced. “Sorry—I forgot who I was talking to.”
“We’ve got movement,” Bria said quietly. “Green and four others are heading into the store. Zorn thinks they intend to pull you out.”
“They must know I dealt with their co-worker by now,” I murmured, pushing my head to the crack in the door and trying to look out. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t see much.
“I agree,” Bria whispered. “You need to get moving.” Her tone had changed to serious and solemn. “Bring out everything you’ve got, Alexis. Shifters work together better than most magical species out there. They’re strong and vicious. If you give them an inch, they’ll rip you apart, and Mordecai after you. Don’t give them that inch.”
Nerves ate at me but I latched on to my determination
“Here we go.” I shoved the door open and stepped out into the bright day.
“She’s live, she’s live,” I heard Bria say as I finally pulled the phone from my ear.
“Here.” I handed it back to Mordecai. “Be the go-between.”
I stepped down the stairs one by one, not rushing, tapping into my power. Spirit crawled across the concrete and up along the buildings. Colors shifted as ultraviolet light filtered in around me. The Line materialized to the right and above me, its feeling comforting, its power infinite.
“Here we go,” I said again, reaching the ground.
Just as Bria had said, a group of men and women stood at the far corner, backed away from the building so they could see clearly. Three of them started and the rest slowly clued in. A hand went up to a head, probably someone calling the crew upfront.
A man stepped away from the rest, headed in my direction.
“They heard from Kieran. He says to go back inside and take them in smaller groups until he can get here,” Mordecai relayed. “But she says that if you do that, they’ll catch everything on camera. This is a chain store, so she’s not confident it’s a closed loop. We’d risk revealing your magic.” Mordecai audibly swallowed. “She said just to handle it.”
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