Quinn and Valerian have come through the trials of facing an undead lich queen and the perils of falling in love. Now they work to restore AURA to its previous strength and efficiency while navigating their new life with each other. Fortunately, they’re not in this alone.
Kai Hiltas has taken over as the head of the research department at AURA and has become everyone’s favourite workaholic, everyone except his lover Tenzin, who has had enough of his late nights and broken promises. As Kai tries to salvage his relationship, he finds a teacher for Quinn, who also happens to be one of Valerian’s new officers, Flax Wolfheart, a sexy elf with trouble written all over him.
Flax has motives beyond simply teaching Quinn to control his magic. He’s trying to recover from his own losses and failures, but he has a plan. The two newest elvish crossovers, Ash and Sage, are sizzling hot and might even like him. With them as backup as he tracks a deadly stone mage and figures out how to teach Quinn, Flax sees his chance to impress Val and snag a place by his captain’s side. On the hunt for both danger and redemption, Flax’s pursuit leads him ultimately down trails he never expected.
- 2 To Be Read lists
- 9 Read lists
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Tropes: Enemy to Ally, Evolving Powers, Immortality
Word Count: 98263
Setting: New York City
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
“Here kitty kitty. Here kitty kitty.”
The old woman called softly, gently coaxing the tomcat with the matted coat. It had rained earlier and the puddles in the alley glistened from the streetlights, sheened with oil rainbows the old woman thought were pretty, despite their source and toxicity. Many things in this city were covered in grime and graffiti and considered by most to be just another sign of squalor and decay, but she had lived within this concrete and asphalt sprawl her entire life. She found beauty where she could.
The tomcat crept slowly from the deeper shadows cast by the dumpster and heaped up piles of cardboard and other debris, lured less by the coaxing call than by the smell of food.READ MORE
“That’s it. There’s a good boy,” the woman cooed, setting down the can of cat food and backing off a couple of steps. Feeling the back of her neck prickle, she glanced around quickly. Living on these streets did not grant immunity from attack, no matter how well honed her sense of preservation. It was even less safe since the world had started randomly spawning creatures and beasts that should be found by rights only in fairy tales and fantasy books.
Even so, she was less afraid of muggers or goblins than she was of angry landlords and restaurant owners who would chase her away. Or worse, animal control officers who would get her in trouble. If it came down to a choice, she would rather meet up with a goblin in a dark alley than an animal control officer. A goblin might make sport of her, bully and try to intimidate, but a goblin would have no interest in taking away her babies.
She looked around once more, but all was still and quiet beyond the low rumble of traffic on the street. She looked down and the orange tom she had been hoping to tame enough for her to pet tonight was almost finished gobbling the can of food.
Slowly and carefully, she crouched down, trying to keep her long skirt from getting too wet. Nights were growing colder. It was nearly Halloween. Keeping dry and warm were never far from her mind. Hesitantly she reached out a hand to pet the slat-sided feline, noting as she did that he was scarred and his left ear was nearly split in two.
“Oh, that looks like it hurt! Tch tch, who have you been scrapping with, hmm? You shouldn’t fight with others, deary. Forgive and forget, I always say. Well, all except Officer Perell. Him? Doesn’t deserve forgiveness, not ever.” She sniffed. “Not any of them that took my babies away, but especially not him. You could scratch and bite him all you wanted, but you be nice to Momma Cats, hear? She bring you some nice food and is gonna give you a nice warm place to stay just as soon as we can find somewhere.”
Her fingers brushed fur and for just a moment, the cat looked like he might accept this and possibly seal his fate, but then he bristled, his tail fluffing like a bottle brush and a low growl in his throat.
“Oh, now, what’s all this? Be nice!” Momma Cats scolded. “Be a nice kitty.” But the orange tabby was not growling at her, was not even looking at her, but behind her. She tried to turn quickly, but she was crouched down and her reflexes were not what they once were.
She never saw who or what the notched-eared tom growled at. She only felt the touch on her shoulder and the pain that spread down her arm. She gasped and cried out, the pain rapidly moving to her chest and up her neck and the side of her face.
“Help! Help me… Oh, kitty, run!”
Those were her last words, but they were spoken to an empty alley. The notched-eared tom had much faster reflexes than Momma Cats and had already disappeared into his kingdom of trash, leaving the old woman to die a horrible—if mercifully swift—death alone.
* * * *
The weird stuff always happens when you’re picking up extra shifts. Officer Flax Wolfheart hurried down the street, following the high-pitched brownie laughter. Five of them had broken into a bakery after hours. The bakery assistant said they’d stolen the final bank deposit and everything from the day-old rack.
“I have visual. Pursuing on foot.” Flax spoke into his radio as he broke into a sprint. The suspects had ducked into an alley, probably hoping to vanish.
The radio crackled, dispatch answering, “Officer Wolfheart, backup’s on the way. Maintain open channel. Location updates.”
“As you wish,” Flax muttered, not exactly by the book, but fuck it. He skidded around the corner just in time. The last little brownie culprit was phasing through the bricks of the building to the left, pointed ears swiveling—large, dark eyes already dilated from the sugar high.
That was the problem human police officers had tracking brownies. The little shits could walk through walls, which was how they broke into establishments in the first place. Flax bared his teeth in a feral grin. Good thing he wasn’t a human police officer. He could still sense their magic trail through the building, and while he couldn’t go through the wall, he could still follow.
“Going on the roof. Same street, dispatch. Looks like we’re going building to building.”
“Damn it, Wolfheart. Your backup can’t follow you that way.”
The exasperated tone made him grin. “There are reasons why I work alone, you know.”
Flax leaped and caught hold, jamming fingers and boot toes in the joinings between bricks so he could scale up to the roof. The little creeps’ trails rambled through the building under his feet until they emerged out of the other side. Giggling and tripping over each other, the sugar high as bad as meth for humans, the brownies raced across the next alley. Rail thin, the pack of them, none more than a few inches taller than the trash cans they used as cover, Flax felt a momentary twinge.
Kids. They’re damn brownie kids and if they’re not homeless, I’ll eat my badge.
He waited until they had phased through the wall before he took two running steps and vaulted to the building they had entered. An old, rebellious part of him wanted to let them go. They were just kids. But he had his duty as an AURA officer and part of that duty was getting delinquent brownie kids off the street, hopefully to the help they needed.
His new life wasn’t so different from his old in many ways. Duty. Tenacity. The hunt. The solitude. AURA made exceptions for certain talents. Really, AURA was one big mess of exceptions, so they let Flax hunt alone. It was what he did best and how it had always been. The elven hunter on the edge of civilization, he accepted that—most of the time.
The brownies were meandering through the building below his feet, so he cast about the rooftop for anything he could use. One brownie kid he could corner and slap iron cuffs on to prevent more phasing. Five? Even he had his limits.
People left the damndest things out on city roofs. Rows of tomatoes and beans confronted him on this one, a rooftop garden with plant stakes pointing accusing fingers at the evening sky as if to say, where are the stars? Light pollution still pulled him up short sometimes.
There. A roll of wire mesh that humans used to keep animals out and sometimes in. Chicken wire. That could be useful. He undid the twist ties holding the roll together and shook it out as he crept to the edge of the building. The kids were right beneath him now, up against the outer wall, probably on their way back out. The alley ended in a chewed-up wooden fence here, a few bicycles and a dumpster the only obstacles.
He turned off his radio and gathered magical energy to his fingers as the brownie kids started to squeeze out through the wall below him.
“Hear them?” one whispered as they huddled at the end of the alley.
“No. No badges.” The tallest shook his head.
“Human badges.” The one with a pink scarf snickered, stomping around in a clumsy, lead-footed circle. “Slow. Stupid.”
They collapsed against each other in a fit of giggles.
Flax chose that moment to announce himself. “AURA enforcement! Stand where you are!”
The kids took two seconds in their sugar-addled states to register that the voice came from above them. A couple of them spouted some nasty brownie curses when they spotted him, then they did exactly what Flax had known they would. They ran for the next wall.
A wall of wind slammed out from Flax’s hands, hurling the brownie kids off their feet and tumbling them down the alley until they hit up against the wood slats in a tangled heap of limbs and wild cussing. With another blast of magically directed wind, Flax flung the rectangle of chicken wire through the air and slapped it over the heap of brownies. He had his knives out almost before the chicken wire landed. He snapped them down in precision throws, each of his wickedly curved hunting blades thunking hard through a corner of the wire mesh and into the wooden slats, trapping the brownies in an iron net that negated their ability to phase.
“You have the right to remain silent…” Flax gave the Miranda spiel in fits and starts as he clambered down the building to them. His backup was finally here, sirens wailing down the street.
Several officers swarmed down the alley to take the kids into custody. There would be human courts to deal with, but if the judge ruled that they were juveniles, they’d end up at AURA with the counseling and support staff. Maybe something would help this time. Some brownies managed to assimilate all right. They weren’t all petty criminals. Flax even knew one with an interior design business.
“Think you’re Batman now, lurking on the rooftops?” Lisa McAndrews passed him with a slap on his shoulder.
“I’m an officer of the law, ma’am,” Flax growled in mock offense and ruined it with a grin. “And I’m cooler than Batman.”
She laughed and walked off to help load the kids into the van. Flax sheathed his knives, waiting patiently for someone to claim him for the ride back to headquarters since he’d been on foot. Batman. Yeah. Though not as dark. They did both work alone, both outcasts in their own way. It was better to be alone, anyway. One-nighters who didn’t sleep over, that was best. Who wanted all that tangly, complicated relationship mess?
Flax shuddered and made his way over to Lisa’s squad car when she waved for him. Maybe he’d troll the bars and even have time for one of those quickies before he had to turn around and head right back in for the day shift.
A cold shiver ran across his shoulders and he twitched around in alarm. Was there… No, there wasn’t anything in the alley now. He shook his head, laughing at himself, and vowed to stop volunteering for so many extra shifts.COLLAPSE