Authors: Linda Wisdom
Copyright © 2011 by Linda Wisdom
Cover and internal design © 2011 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Claire Brown
Cover illustration by Tony Mauro
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
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“Oh yeah, just another Saturday night hitting the clubs, watching the dancers, feeling blood stream out of my ears.” Maggie O’Malley winced as Static-X’s “Destroyer”
screamed from the state-of-the-art speakers embedded in the club’s walls. Still, she couldn’t stop her hips from moving to the throbbing music. If she wasn’t there on business, she would have been out there dancing. “Why don’t you just shoot me now?”
“Any females get naked yet?” the voice of Frebus, one of her team members, rumbled from the mic in her ear. “It’s only a matter of time ’til somebody gets caught up in the moment and starts tearing off their clothes. You gotta love shape-shifters cuz they’re always the first to get down and dirty.”
Maggie played idly with the crystal earring that dangled almost to her bare shoulders. She considered her jewelry a much better look for a mic and earpiece than the usual spy gear. If only she could mute the music for an hour. Or ten.
“Sorry, sweetie, I’m only seeing half naked, but think positive. The evening’s still young.” She grinned as she heard the low groan in her ear. Frebus and her other backups, Meech and Tita, were strategically placed around the interior, on the lookout for one particular degenerate in the sea of questionable characters.
She made her way through the hordes of glassy-eyed, gyrating dancers, skillfully avoiding the groping hands on her ass and breasts. She muttered a spell against any who returned for another feel. Nothing like a magickal zap to the genitals to spoil the mood. Judging from the yelps that followed her, at least five tried.
Maggie didn’t believe in giving anyone a second chance.
She viewed the large, creature-populated underground club with an expression of distaste and the desire for her olfactory senses to be on the fritz.
“Haven’t some of these guys ever heard of deodorant?” she muttered, passing one scaly creature that fell in the “totally gross” category. It peered at her through red-slitted eyes and hissed, its forked tongue flicking toward her. Maggie hissed back and moved on.
The club’s name, Damnation Alley, fit the interior with its glossy black walls, black glass bars with the interiors pulsing with ice-blue and black lights casting an unearthly glow on the preternaturals thronging the interior. Any unlucky human who managed to get past the door ran the risk of exiting in a body bag—or someone’s stomach.
She’d planned to spend tonight with a bowl of popcorn and DVDs at home, but one of her team members got word that a fugitive they’d been after for the past month would be at the club tonight. Maggie and her team were sent here to bring it in.
She locked gazes with a vampire she remembered going up against a year earlier. He flashed fang. She responded with a smile that promised a repeat of what had happened before. The vamp wisely turned away.
At first glance, Maggie looked like a typical party gal in her barely there black skirt and bandeau top. Shiny silver glitter accents covered the fabric that bared her shoulders and taut midriff, and only she knew of the protective spells woven into the fabric.
A dazzling, diamond-encrusted black widow spider with ruby eyes was tattooed on one bicep. Dangerous bling. Don’t leave home without it. She’d slicked back her chin-length pale blonde hair with glittery gel, knowing that it made her features seem sharper than usual tonight. She smiled at one man who focused his attention on her legs and her black stilettos.
Maggie believed in themes, and tonight’s was dangerous sexy female on the prowl.
The better to destroy you with, my dear.
She cast her senses wide, searching for her prey. Her gaze skittered to a halt when it reached a man standing in the doorway leading to the private rooms.
A few inches taller than her almost six feet, he was also dressed in black, but he didn’t look like the typical clubgoer. The silk shirt and slacks looked well tailored and suited his tanned skin, dark eyes, and spiked hair. He oozed danger. Judging by the hungry looks women were directing his way, they didn’t mind the danger part at all.
Maggie didn’t miss that most of the females were much more generously endowed than she was. She normally didn’t mind her slender athletic figure, but sometimes she’d like to have enough to fill more than a middling B cup.
No time to play, pretty boy
Maggie’s got other creatures to fry. But stick around, and maybe we can fit in a dance later on.
What a concept. Your everyday witch having an evening out where she could flirt with a gorgeous guy, get in some dancing, and just talk. When was the last time she’d had a date? Did she have enough fingers and toes to count back that far?
She purposely looked away until her gaze slammed into an odd-looking creature standing at the rear bar.
“Okay, that thing is butt ugly.” Maggie noted the bloated body dressed in rags. She was positive he wouldn’t smell all that good, either. Not that the smell seemed to bother those around him.
“Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, blondie,” Meech’s disembodied voice reminded her. She caught a glimpse of the big, blue-skinned monster on the other side of the room, guarding a side door. He was grinning as his voice continued through the mic. “While some think you’re smokin’, all I see is that you’re damn scrawny, your nose is out of place, and those pearly whites aren’t jagged enough. Plus, they’re not healthy unless they’re gray or yellow.”
“Aw, baby, you know just what to say to make a girl feel good about herself.” She took a quick glance down to make sure the girls were at their best advantage. Nothing like giving a perp something to look at while she took him down.
Not that anyone around here would notice. They’d just think it was another S and M show. Another thing Damnation Alley was known for. Although at present she wasn’t seeing the kind of sex shows that had gone on here when Ratchet owned the club.
“Oh, Frebus, you bring me to the classiest of places,” she purred.
“Better than that tavern two months ago. Plus, this one needs to be put down quick before he causes any more trouble. Him being here tonight is pure luck for us.”
“Just stay on alert in case I need backup. Bloaters aren’t the type to go quietly.” Maggie put her hips to work as she glided over to the bar. She could feel the dark-haired man’s eyes on her with a searing intensity, but she kept him on the back burner.
“Hi.” She flashed her sultriest smile at her quarry.
The creature looked up, revealing a puce-colored fleshy face, round chartreuse eyes, and a dark slit for a mouth.
“You are witch.” He looked at her from the top of her head to the tips of her shoes.
“No one’s perfect.” She rested an arm on the bar top, acting as if the putrid stench emanating from his skin didn’t assault her nose. “Buy me a drink?”
“Witches do not drink maiden grog.” His gray claws wrapped around a clay goblet.
“The main element in the grog is a virgin’s urine,” Tita whispered in her earpiece.
Maggie’s smile didn’t slip even as her brain screamed
“You’d be surprised what I drink.” She cocked a delicate brow. “They have private rooms here.” She ran a scarlet polished nail over his claws while moving forward enough to brush her breasts against his arm.
At the same time that the creature’s gaze fastened on her bare skin, she whipped iron-laced restraints out and slapped them on his wrists.
“Aw, now you’re just sweet talking me.”
The Bloater roared, rearing back and striking her with his chained claws, sending her sailing onto the top of the bar.
Maggie didn’t have time to react, finding herself thrown down the slippery slab. Drinks scattered everywhere, and earsplitting shrieks rose above the din. As she slid to a stop, she saw her quarry trying to escape, scrambled to her feet, and ran after him while others tried to stop her.
“Hellion Guard!” she shouted, even as she knew there would be those who didn’t appreciate the authorities being there.
Before her prey reached an exit door, Maggie launched herself with a leap worthy of a football player and tackled him to the floor.
“You are under arrest,” she began even as she realized he was inflating like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon, and it didn’t look like he intended stopping any time soon.
“We’re on our way!” she heard Frebus shout from her earring.
The second her three team members shouldered their way through the watching crowd, Maggie’s prisoner reached the breaking point.
And that’s when he blew up, splattering pea-green goo everywhere.
“‘Easy peasy,’ he says.” Maggie’s fulminating glare sliced through Frebus as she and the hulking creature crossed the parking lot to the waiting SUV. Everyone else stayed out of range as the thick liquid dripped off her body. No wonder. She’d be a mile away if someone was walking around with Bloater goop on them.
“‘It’s just a Bloater. We’ll be in and out in seconds. No one will even notice what’s going on. No mess,’ he assures me.” Her fingers flicked angry magick in Frebus’s direction.
Frebus hunched his shoulders up around his large head. “Intel told me—”
“Your intel sucks rocks.” A shower of stones rained on the furry beast. She wiped the pea-green liquid cement from her chest. A few muttered words turned it to puke-green ash. She wasn’t happy she couldn’t do the same to the glop that coated her skirt and top. No way she’d go naked in front of her crew.
“Frebus, I am not happy about this. Plus, he managed to explode, so I don’t have anything to take back but
!” She flicked the glop at him.
He hung his head in shame, his shaggy blond fur draped around his wide face.
“Where do I send the bill?” A new voice reached her from behind.
Maggie’s temper was already at the boiling point. Turning around to face the sexy man she’d locked eyes with in the club was all she needed, considering her look was now somewhat less than “dangerous sexy female.” She only wished they could have danced before she got slimed.
“I am impressed, Hellion Guard,” he commented silkily. “You were in my club barely ten minutes, and you managed to destroy one of my bars and the surrounding walls.”
“Two words. Soap and water.”
His dark eyes glinted with laughter under the orange phosphorous lights that dotted the parking lot.
“Is this something you do on a regular basis? If so, I will have to look into sturdier furniture. I’m also curious. Where exactly did you hide those restraints?” His gaze swept over her with alarming thoroughness. “Tell me something. Do people tell you that you look cute when you’re carrying a weapon?”
“Not if they don’t want to end up seriously hurt.”
Maggie walked toward the man. Her nostrils flared as she caught the faintest hint of sulfur before it drifted away to be replaced by a whiff of sandalwood and male.
“And you are?” She already knew he wouldn’t reveal his true name, since demons refused to divulge them. A body held too much power if a demon’s real name was revealed.
His voice washed over her head like a warm shower. Not good at all.
. The words raced across her skin, meaning Elegance, her spider tattoo, was making her feelings known.
Maggie lifted her chin.
“Just Declan.” He tucked his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. Just another guy looking to make time with a pretty girl who just happened to splatter Bloater goop all over the main floor of his club. Oh well, no one’s perfect.
His eyes flashed red for a moment. “No one’s perfect… witch.”
“Aw, and here we were just getting to know each other.”
“Are you this brave when your muscle isn’t close by?” Declan asked, his gaze briefly resting on the creatures lounging against the SUV.
A smattering of laughter and guffaws sounded.
Maggie waved a hand. Bubbles of protective power enclosed each team member, but Declan had no doubt that they didn’t hide behind the protection if their leader was in trouble.
“I’m the muscle, sweetheart. But I wouldn’t discount my backup, because they don’t like it if anyone makes me cranky.” She cocked a shapely hip. “I suggest you vet your clientele more thoroughly if you don’t want further visits from the Guard.”
“We don’t exactly run background checks.” His dark gaze wandered over her body, sending prickly heat along her nerve endings. “Perhaps you’d care to come back in for a drink, and we could discuss how to better safeguard my club?”
She glanced toward the door where an oversize guard stood glaring at her. “It’s not your club that needs protecting, Declan. The Hellion Guard is always ready to help those who need our skills, but we defend the innocent from… well, from the kind of riffraff that frequents your club. And once we’ve finished our job…”
Maggie’s smile brightened as she lifted her hand and snapped her fingers. The parking lot lights winked out, leaving the area in total darkness, as though a heavy blanket had dropped over him.
“Fuck me!” Declan widened his eyes, and even then he couldn’t see a thing.
Before he could draw a second breath, the lights came back on.
Maggie and her team were gone.
His shoulders shook with his laughter. “I must say the witch knows how to make an exit.”
“I loved this outfit!” Maggie wailed, tossing the goop-covered skirt and bandeau top into the pink wicker wastebasket. “This is why I can’t have nice clothes. Every time I have an outfit that rocks, some creature destroys it.”
She pulled yoga pants, a T-shirt, and clean underwear out of a dresser drawer. She glanced ruefully at the Barbie doll leaning against the lamp on her dresser. Her witch friend Blair had done a great job of making the doll look like Maggie, with a blonde bob, black tank top, and khaki cargo pants, complete with a variety of tiny blades and a wicked-looking rifle slung over her shoulder. The doll even had a tiny ankle bracelet with a broom charm around her booted ankle. Yeah, that was her, all right.
Maggie paused for a moment, looking down at a small painted portrait set in the place of honor on her dresser. Her fingertips trailed gently over the surface, and she whispered a few words before she moved away. She momentarily dropped her clothing on the rose-patterned bedspread so she could dig her fingers through the goo-covered helmet once known as her hair.