“You like being underground.” Khait glared at Lykos.
“When there is exit.” Lykos glared back. “Took three years dig way out.”
“Frankly, you’re lucky I stuck you under a rock on this planet.” Khait rolled his eyes.
“You like being underground.” Khait glared at Lykos.
“When there is exit.” Lykos glared back. “Took three years dig way out.”
“Frankly, you’re lucky I stuck you under a rock on this planet.” Khait rolled his eyes.
“I can’t budge…” Ted sighed when Felipa just grinned at him. He stepped out of her way, then gave a small shake of his head as what looked like a skinny sixteen-year-old girl in flip-flops simply rolled the boulder out of the way. “Show off.” He smiled fondly before tossing her the second shovel.
Lidia glanced at Ahit. “How big a problem is his presence going to be for you?”
The other woman’s dark eyes turned toward her. “If he abides by the restriction set, none.”
She took a deep breath. “Ahit, if it’s an issue, I can ask Ryuu to send someone else to…”
She walked over to join Tomer as he headed to meet the foundation’s representative. Ash fell into step with her, and Magda smiled at him. He caught hold of her hand and smiled back. “You’re not with the students?” Bridget had spent the last couple days showing him how to use the machine that analyzed soil samples. Stephan, Matthias, and Michaels had been planning the operation now that they could get closer looks. The rest of them had settled in to help out in the dig.
“I thought France would look different.” Laura frowned.
“How so?” Matthias glanced down at her.
“You know. Exotic. Far away.” She shaded her eyes. “That just looks like an ordinary city.” She wrinkled her nose. “I can even see a McDonalds.”
Abigail stared for a moment. Aside from both being very good looking men, there was no resemblance at all between the blond newcomer and Khait. “I…” She turned toward the others, and she noted the professor had gone pale. “Uh…”
Professor Kravitz staggered a little, and Magda guided him to a chair. The professor immediately started taking deep breaths while Magda looked at him in confusion. “I’m not sure what just…” Magda glanced at the blond man. “Explain?”
“It’s uh…” The blond man sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s…” Khait slowly nodded and then stepped back before swallowing. “You remember me.”
“Yes and no.” The blond man gave him a gentle smile. “Enough to know you’re my little brother.” He smoothed the front of Khait’s shirt. “Usariel.”
“Little…” Things clicked, and then it was her turn to stagger. She caught herself, then took a couple deep breaths.
Khait turned toward her and took her hand, pulling her a little closer before putting an arm around her waist. “This is my girlfriend, Abigail.”
“Are you okay, Tomer?” Magda was patting the professor’s back as he kept taking deep breaths. He shook his head, his eyes wide. Abigail couldn’t really blame him.
“It’s nice to meet you.” The blond man held out a hand, and she took it. His handshake was firm. “I’m Gabriel.”
“Nice to…” If Khait hadn’t had his arm around her, she might have ended up on the ground. No wonder the professor was freaking out. Khait’s brother was… No. Usariel’s brother was… She swallowed. “Gabriel.” Then she looked at Khait. “Gabriel?”
“Yes.” Khait was smiling. It slowly faded as he gave her a concerned look, then his eyes widened. “Oh. Shit.” He turned back toward Gabriel. “You. What are you doing here? How are you here? Why are you here? You shouldn’t be here. All the seals are intact. It’s against the rules for you to be here.”
“And yet, here I am.” Gabriel shrugged. “When it is time for me to know more, I will. For now…” He nodded to Khait, then glanced over at the others. “Is the professor alright?”
“Really not sure.” Magda exhaled. Then she took a deep breath. “So…” She glanced from Gabriel to Khait and back again. “The name isn’t a coincidence. You’re actually Gabriel.”
“I thought you knew that already.” Gabriel raised an eyebrow at her.
“Yeah, but like knowing a pan is hot versus actually putting your hand down on it…” Magda sighed, then patted Professor Kravitz’s shoulder. “It’s already, Tomer. He is definitely one of the good guys.”
“Khait…” Professor Kravitz looked up at him hopefully. “Can you perhaps do that thing again where you make me not remember certain events?”
“Your power is…” Tomer raised an eyebrow at Stephan. “Complete immunity to magic?”
“We are still figuring it out.” Stephan shrugged. “I haven’t figured out how to even control it, and at least one dragon has proved able to bypass it.”
“Dragons.” Tomer exhaled. “Still wrapping my brain around that.” He glanced up at Magda. “Khait said there are currently nine?”
“There are, though as far as I know I’ve only met two. Ryuu and Tia.” Magda chuckled. “Ryuu and I had a fling, back in the 18th century.”
“I should have asked Khait for more of his stash.” Tomer laughed softly, then glanced again at Stephan. “My friend, I think I rather envy you.”
“We’ve only heard what happened in San Francisco from Laura’s viewpoint, Professor.” Stephan leaned forward. “I know asking you if anything unusual happened is kind of an odd question, considering —”
“No, I get what you mean.” He took a deep breath. “I spoke with Adam privately.”
“What did he tell you?” Magda raised an eyebrow.
“Enough that…” Tomer exhaled. “Enough that invoking his name was enough to convince me to help you. As for the rest, it was indeed a private conversation and if he’d wanted Laura or Erilon to know I’ve no doubt he’d have spoken in front of them.”
“Yeah.” Magda leaned back. “Yeah, I get that.”
“May I ask how it is you first encountered Adam?” Tomer raised an eyebrow.
“Well, uh…” Stephan laughed awkwardly. “He told me some bad jokes then his partner kicked me in the head.” He straightened. “He didn’t have a choice there. As soon as he did have a choice, he risked a hell of a lot to help us and…” He glanced at Magda.
“Adam saved Ash. I owe him for that.” Magda glanced at the door. Ash was around college students, people his own age. He was being quiet, but he was making some effort to interact. The professor had learned of Ash’s interest in geology and had introduced him to one of the students who specialized in dating rock samples and dirt layers and the conversation had quickly lost her entirely.
“He saved me.” Tomer nodded. “I owe him for that.” He hesitated. “And I will note this. Save when dealing with vampires, each time Adam fought he opted for nonlethal combat. He may call himself a killer, Magda, but I do not believe that characterization is wholly accurate.”
“Are we sure this is a good idea?” Michaels put the car in park, then turned to look at Matthias.
“We need information, and we can’t risk compromising Adam to get it.” Matthias nodded.
“Yeah, but given what this guy can do…” Michaels shook his head.
“That’s uh…” Matthias exhaled. “Why I brought you. Erilon’s tapped into your head pretty good, so she can monitor things and counter him.”
“Not.” Michaels gritted his teeth. “Comforting.”
“It seems a reasonable plan, however…” Erilon’s eyes reflected back from the rear view mirror. “I’ve never directly tried to match Khait before and I have no idea what his current strength levels are at with the talisman in play. Please try very hard not to make Bridget or Abigail feel threatened.”
“Maybe I should wait in the car.” Matthias sighed.
“That’s not the worst idea you ever had, but we are going to need to intimidate and interrogate some people and uh…” Michaels shrugged. “I happen to know you’re not bad at that.”
Matthias winced. “Yeah.” He opened the car door and got out.
Michaels followed him up to the porch, then rang the doorbell. After a few seconds, a lovely young black woman opened the door. She looked them over, then turned and looked over her shoulder. “Bridget, the scary men are here.”
“Tell them to come in and ask them if they want coffee.” Another voice came from the kitchen.
“Come in.” She smiled and stepped back so they could enter.
“Thank you.” Michaels entered, Matthias a step behind. “You must be Abigail. I’m Detective Michaels…” He gestured. “This is Matthias Jarlson.”
“Thats a lot of werewolf.” A male voice came from behind them, making him jump slightly. A young man leaned against the wall, a slight smirk on his face.
“Khait, you promised to behave yourself.” Abigail pointed at him.
“Simply making an observation.” Khait tilted his head at Matthias. Then his eyes widened slightly. “Wait…” He grinned. “Jarlson?” He suddenly started laughing.
“Khait…” A brunette woman who must be Bridget stepped out of the hallway and folded her arms. Her voice was heavy with disapproval.
“Yes.” Matthias squared his shoulder. “Jarlson.”
“Ah, Jarl…” Khait gave a low whistle. “Now, he was fun. They don’t make Vikings like that anymore.” He rolled his eyes. “Now they all lose to cheese boxers.”
“Chee—” Matthias blinked.
“It’s Packers, Khait, not boxers, and that’s football.” Abigail snickered. “Not real Vikings.”
“Oh.” Khait blinked. “Is that why they don’t have axes?”
“Can we…” Michaels pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Sorry.” Abigail directed them further into the house. “We are working on getting him up to date on modern culture and there are still areas of misunderstanding.”
“Such as why they call it football in the first place.”
“It’s an American thing. Americans insist on calling proper football ‘soccer’.” Abigail chuckled. She had a trace of a British accent. “Oh, did you want coffee?”
“I suspect…” Michaels took a deep breath. “That we are going to need it.”
Abigail and Bridget had both fallen asleep on the couch. Khait put a blanket over each of them before returning to the table. The professor had grabbed one of Bridget’s empty notebooks, and was on his way to filling it. “Mermaids.”
“Yes, but stealthy and generally hostile toward humans.” Khait shrugged. “You people dump a lot of nasty things into the oceans.”
“Yes, well…” Professor Kravitz shook his head. He frowned a little. “You were at that protest where the…” He tilted his head. “The cop that tried to arrest Bridget got run over by his own police vehicle.”
“He lived.” Khait grinned.
“I…” The professor took a deep breath. “Right. Okay.” He put the pen down, then picked it up again. “The…” He hesitated.
“Earlier, when you were talking about the dragons…” He looked up at Khait. “Erilon insisted the subject be changed.”
“She had a point. The dragons don’t like certain information getting around. It’s not…” Khait gestured. “In their best interests.”
“But dragons are immortal.” Kravitz started taking notes again. (more…)
“Okay, this Wren person?” Abigail leaned back on the couch, folding her arms. “She sounds like an utter bitch.”
“I cannot say I object to the notion of her getting her comeuppance.” Professor Kravitz accepted the tea Bridget handed him, then glanced at where Khait and Erilon were glaring at each other. Considering one of them was a glowing woman of fire reflected in a mirror, it was more than a little bit surreal. At least Khait had stopped glowing. “Adam is a good man.”
“That was our assessment as well.” Magda leaned on the back of the couch. “He saved someone very dear to me.” She took a deep breath. “Tomer, my crew and I will make sure your students stay safe. We wouldn’t ask if —”
“I already agreed.” Professor Kravitz glanced at Khait. “Admittedly, before I knew…” He exhaled. “Abigail, I…” He looked back at her. “Your boyfriend kills people by kissing them.”
“Only if they deserve it.” She winced a little. “We clarified that with him a lot.”
“I am not permitted to kill anyone that doesn’t register as at least a five on the scale of bad unless Bridget gives permission or it is necessary to save the life of another.” Khait didn’t stop glaring at Erilon.
“I don’t even want to know what registers to you on the scale of bad.” Erilon folded her arms.
“We clarified that with him a lot too.” Bridget nodded, then grabbed a notebook off a side table and offered it to the professor. “See?”
He took it and started flipping through it before paling a little. “Absolutely no killing professors for giving a failing grade?” He stared up at Abigail.
“Oh, you weren’t in danger from that.” She sat up and spoke hurriedly. “He likes you.”
“If we could get this back on —” Magda started to sigh.
“We should probably clarify where Matthias ranks on the scale, cause uh…” Laura tilted her head.
“Khait, no killing members of the…” Bridget blinked. “What was it again?”
“The Crimson Crusaders.” Laura grinned.
“Hang on, time out.” Abigail made the gesture, then pointed at Laura. “The vigilantes out in Washington are your people?”
“Who, exactly, are —” Professor Kravitz took a deep breath. “Alright, I’ve met Laura, Erilon, and Gabriel. Magda is obviously a werewolf. The others—”
“Werewolves and witches.” Erilon was still glaring at Khait. “Couple of full mortals in the group, but they either stay out of trouble or come packing a lot of ammo. Since you three are also mortals, you’ll be staying out of trouble as well.”
“Bridget and I can take care of ourselves.” Abigail shot her a dirty look.
“I can confirm that.” Khait nodded. Then he shrugged. “They manage to keep me in line most of the time. That’s more than anyone else has ever managed.”
“That’s not…” Erilon made a growling sound. “Entirely unimpressive.”
“Gee.” Bridget rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”
“Uh…” Bridget took a step back, and her eyes widened when she noticed the younger woman’s eyes were glowing red. “What?” Khait took a step toward the young woman, and the big woman, Magda, immediately put up a hand. Her eyes changed to gold, just like Joseph’s had when he shifted. “Shit.”
The woman vanished. Professor Kravitz stumbled backward, staring with his jaw hanging open. The young woman, Laura, immediately put her hands on her hips. “Bring her back, right now.” She narrowed her glowing red eyes.
“You brought a werewolf to the office of one of my friends.” Khait shook his head. “You have five seconds…” He growled. “You’ve got a body? You hypocritical little —”
“Khait…” Abigail exhaled. “You want to make some introductions?”
“Oh my god.” Professor Kravitz started to straighten.
“It’s okay, professor.” Bridget quickly rushed over to him. “Relax, you’re safe.”
“He was safe before.” The girl, Laura, shook her head. “He’s a friend of mine.” She glared at Khait. “And I’m not about to let you within ten miles of anyone I consider a friend. You’ve got five seconds to explain what the fuck you are doing here or I’m going to make you bleed from every single one of your orifices.”
Khait laughed. “Oh, I dare you to try, you backstabbing bitch.” He pointed at her. “You betrayed me!”
“You burned down Rome!” Laura glared.
“Not even a quarter of it.” Khait scoffed.
“Do you know how many Christians got fed to lions over that stunt?” She took a step forward.
“Nowhere near enough.” Khait matched her move, glaring down at her.
“Uh —” Bridget swallowed.
“Enough.” Professor Kravitz drew himself up to his full height. Bridget blinked. Five years and this was the first time she’d ever heard him raise his voice. The two arguing… Oh god, her eyes were glowing too… demons also both shut up and turned to look at him. “Laura is, in fact, a friend of mine and I owe her and her companion my life.” He turned toward her, and she gulped a little. “Bridget, what the hell is going on here?”
Stephan stared, his jaw hanging slightly open. Next to him, Ash and Michaels both had fairly incredulous expressions. Ted had needed to actually sit down. Daniel sat on the ground in front of Ted, eyes wide.
In the small clearing in front of Ted’s house, Matthias and Gabriel were sparring. Both men had stripped to the waist, and at first glance it would have seemed the outcome was a given. Matthias was several inches taller and considerably more muscular than Gabriel even before he took the form of an alpha werewolf. Matthias also didn’t rely purely on size and strength. He was a skilled fighter, having been trained by the military and educated in several forms of martial arts. And he was fast. Gabriel had a slender build, more like a swimmer or gymnast. Strong and trim, but with lean muscles. A lightweight. Except it was Gabriel tossing Matthias around like a ragdoll.
He’d been a little worried at first, but the first time Gabriel had thrown Matthias into a tree Matthias had been laughing when he got up. The big man seemed to be relishing the fact that he had a genuine challenge, and despite being locked into a seemingly brutal match the smile hadn’t left the alpha werewolf’s face. Gabriel maintained his usual calm, but there was the occasional smile that made it clear he was also enjoying the match.
“Woof.” Ash gave a small head shake as Matthias got a grip on Gabriel, only for Gabriel to use that grip as leverage to shift and wrap his legs around Matthias’s neck. Matthias hit the ground and laid there for a moment before laughing and getting back up.
“He’s agile.” Stephan nodded, then reached over and patted Ted’s shoulder. “Naked yoga pays off.” Ted made a noise that sounded vaguely affirmative and kept staring.
“Woof?” Ash glanced up at Stephan.
“Well, yeah, I mean…” Stephan shrugged. “Gabriel’s a nice guy. He’d teach you yoga if you asked.”
Ash grinned. “Woof.”
Daniel shifted and slipped to slide down a couple steps before turning bright red. “Danny?” Stephan blinked at him.
“I, uh…” Daniel managed to turn even redder. “Mental image.”
“Oh god.” Michaels immediately put his hands over his eyes and groaned as Ash started laughing.
“Oh god.” Ted’s voice was slightly breathless.
Michaels sighed, then relented and let Matthias dial the phone. Despite everything, he really hadn’t liked Laura going off with Magda. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust them, it was just Laura was his crazy-ass hobo demon girl and well… He didn’t trust them. Matthias blinked. “Laura, why are you answering Mom’s pho…” Matthias listened for a moment, his eyes growing steadily wider. “What the fuck do you mean she’s stoned?” Matthias shook his head. “Brownies with—” He blinked. “My father never stuck his dick in a musket.”
The beer nearly fell out of his hand as Michaels tried not to start laughing. Matthias glared at him. “Laura. Laur—” Matthias growled. “I absolutely did not —” He was starting to turn red and then raised his voice. “The mission, Laura. Shut about about —” He listened for a minute. “So he’s in. Alri—” He shook his head again. “Breath a word of that and I will shave Michaels’ head.”
“Hey.” Michaels narrowed his eyes.
“And tattoo a toilet bowl on his fore —” Matthias made a groaning sound. “Then I’ll wait until Gabriel is —” He winced. “Oh just…” Matthias stabbed the end button on the call and tossed the phone on the table. Then he raised his voice again. “Erilon, make them —”
“Michaels, did you know when Matthias was little it was still traditional for young boys to wear dresses?”
“I did not.” Michaels grinned.
“Fucking demons.” Matthias turned and strode out of the room.
“So how was the luncheon?” Michaels smirked at his partner. Gabriel just narrowed his eyes. The mayor’s wife patted his ass. “I told you to spill coffee on the chief’s desk, but you didn’t listen.”
“I do not miss political functions.” Stephan shook his head and looked up at Gabriel.
“You had to go to a lot of them?” Michaels glanced at him.
“Only black guy on the force.” Stephan shrugged. “I got dragged along to all of them.” He looked over his shoulder. “Magda had to go to, until they hired…” He frowned. “What was her name? Pretty blond girl with the…” He gestured in front of his chest.
“Violet.” Ash supplied the name. Stephan smirked at him, and Ash rolled eyes. “They were very noticeable.”
“Yeah she was…” Stephan chuckled. “Almost out of uniform a few times. Good cop. She’d bat her eyes, bend a little forward, and next thing anyone knew the suspect had babbled every bit of information they had.”
“I seem to recall a certain someone walking into a pole the time she wore a mini-dress for a sting.” Magda grinned. She caught Gabriel’s arm as he tried to go past into the house. “Where are you going?”
“To change.” Gabriel glanced down at her.
“Sorry partner.” Michaels patted his arm. “They took a vote when they learned you were in dress uniform. You’re not allowed to do that.” He looked over at where Matthias and Ted were coming up the stairs. “Erilon voted on your behalves.”
“So, it was one to…” Gabriel turned to count heads.
“Nah, it was unanimous.” Michaels grinned. “I like picking on you.” He put his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder. “Remember, our job is to serve and protect for the forces of justice and democracy.” He turned back to the grill and started putting burgers onto plates for Matthias and Ted.
Gabriel started toward the door again, and Magda stepped into his path to block him. Daniel and Laura came up the stairs, and Daniel started snickering. Gabriel exhaled and looked up at the sky. “She showed him the photo?”
“She showed him the photo,” Michaels confirmed.
“What photo?” Matthias raised an eyebrow.
“Oh for…” Gabriel took a deep breath, then he shrugged.
Michaels nearly dropped the plate he was holding when Gabriel simply started unbuttoning the jacket of the uniform. “Uh, partner?” He blinked. “What are you doing?”
“Stripping.” Gabriel continued unbuttoning the jacket.
“Is anyone…” Gabriel looked around. “Going to stop me?”
“Hell no.” Matthias grinned, then put an elbow on Ted’s shoulder. Ted was running a hand down the front of his face.
He shuffled a few papers together in a pile on his desk and then set them aside before grabbing a different stack. Rather than invest Mr. Ishi’s money directly into the center, he’d set up an investment fund. From that, he funded several types of scholarships and grants. Security deposits for kids getting their first apartments, emergency car repairs, clothes for seeking employment, and other needs. It was rapidly becoming one of his favorite parts of the job.
Actually deciphering the applications, however… Ted rubbed his eyes and winced. Maybe he should have listened to Monica about having them be only online, but not all the kids had access to computers. He’d set up a small computer lab there at the center, but perhaps he should consider expanding it. Ted exhaled, then set the applications in a folder. Magda and her crew would be arriving sometime today. Perhaps he could convince Daniel and Ash to help.
There was a light rapping at the door. “Come in.” Ted looked up, expecting to see Margaret. Then his face broke into a wide smile. “Rebecca. I wasn’t expecting you until next week.” He stood up.
His ex-wife returned the smile. “Plans changed at the last minute. I hope you don’t mind me just dropping in.” She shrugged, then looked around. “Last time I saw this building it looked like setting it on fire would be doing it a favor.”
“We’ve put a lot of work in over the past couple years.” He walked around the desk. “Let me show you around.”
“Just show me to whatever room is emitting that heavenly smell.” She nodded as they stepped into the hallway.
Ted laughed. “Sister Margaret teaches a cooking class. I believe this week is brownies.” He gestured for her to follow him. “And since she is a nun I suppose heavenly is accurate enough.”
Rebecca smiled warmly as he introduced her to the class. He referred to her as an old friend rather than explaining to everyone that she was his ex-wife. And it was true enough. They’d been friends once, and after putting their disaster of a marriage behind them they’d managed to become friends again. The kids let her taste the brownies, and she praised them all.
After the kids filed out, he turned toward her. “So what does bring you to town?”
“I realized I’m still paying rent on that storage unit on Fifteenth. Since I don’t recall what is in it, I thought I should check with you before heading over.” Rebecca shrugged.
“I remember it being a lot of boxes that we never unpacked after we moved from Oregon, but beyond…” He frowned, then waved a hand. “That might be where all those linens are.”
“Oh, the ones we collected in Europe?” She started nodding. “I think you’re right.” She gave him a hesitant look. “Dibs?”
“All but the French ones?” He raised an eyebrow. Magda was going to be staying with them, after all.