I adjusted my grip on the taser and looked the ripper straight in the eyes. “Drop the cat, Romeo. Just fucking drop it. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if you don’t comply.”
His eyes clouded in confusion.
Crap. Small words, Serenity. Rippers of Romeo’s level in the hierarchy weren’t too bright. “If you don’t do as I say, I will have to hurt you,” I enunciated.
Romeo opened his massive jaws and the cat tumbled to the ground. It lay still for a moment, then picked itself up and dashed off, a streak of black against the sunset. Romeo whimpered, and shook his head from side to side, a sure sign he was going to go off on one any second.
I pulled back the taser and held up my hands. A contrite Romeo was one thing, an agitated upset one was something even the taser wouldn’t be able to calm down. My earpiece crackled.
“Serenity. You okay?” Nolan said.
“I’m fine. Don’t break cover. I got this.”
They knew I had this. I was the only damn member of the Sunset Police Department that Romeo ever listened to. In his human life, he’d been a jolly enough bloke, with mid spectrum autism, and then the magick of Arcadia had gotten under his skin, into his blood and twisted his genes, turning him into one of the scourge. Everyone had loved Romeo, and even though he was one of them now, we couldn’t bear to hurt him.
Seeing me and hearing my voice usually calmed him down, but not today. Today, Romeo ducked his head, his bloodshot eyes hardening. Any traces of the guy I’d known melted away, leaving just a beast—a crush-you-in-my-jaws and pick-your-flesh-from-my-between-my-teeth-with-a-shard-of-your-bone monster. He’d gone under. The Romeo I’d known was gone. I’d seen it happen before, but this was the first time it’d been for someone I’d known and cared about. My throat tightened.
Romeo I could have reasoned with. But this wasn’t him any longer.
I took a slow step back, hands still in the air. He’d been feeding off the local cat population, and yeah, that was better than going for the humans. I knew that, the SPD knew that, but the residences of Sunset district weren’t having it. Scourge didn’t usually venture into Sunset. This was unacceptable the district representative had said, his jowls wobbling with indignation. Fucking twat. And now I had an autistic, very aggressive, ripper looking to me to be his upgraded meal.
Romeo pressed his knuckles to the ground, his haunches bunching,
Shit, shit, shit. The van was a block away, too far to make a run for it, but damn if I wasn’t going to try.
Romeo leapt, his body arcing toward me. I turned and ran. Boots pounding pavement, breath trapped in my throat, I sprinted down the street, away from Sunset and toward the inky black expanse that was Midnight.
Raspy breathes, way too loud, way too close, cut the air behind me.
I tapped my comm. “Pick up. Pick up now!”
But I was headed away from the van and farther into the dangerous territory. Midnight wasn’t our jurisdiction. It belonged to the Protectorate and the Midnight Enforcement Department, and they didn’t take kindly to Sunset’s police department encroaching on their territory. Another mile and we’d cross the border into Midnight, and Romeo would be the Protectorates problem. My heart sank, because that only meant one thing for Romeo. Death.
But it was him or me, and there was no contest.
Sorry, Romeo. So sorry.
The screech of tires in the distance gave me a second wind. Back-up was here, not far behind.
“Serenity, what the fuck are you doing?” Nolan demanded.
“Getting Romeo out of Sunset.”
“Dammit, woman!” Nolan’s voice was a coil about to whiplash me into next week.
Man, he was pissed, and yeah, I’d get my ass chewed for this, but Romeo had gone under. He was a danger to the humans in Sunset, but damn if I had the breath to tell Nolan that while running for my life.
This far on the edge of Sunset, there was only the main road out of the district, creepy forest land to my left and barren wasteland to my right. It was the road less traveled, used only by humans being banished to Midnight, or the Midnight Protectorate here on invitation. Towers rose up high, housing border patrol—humans with guns. Because although the SPD wasn’t permitted to carry lethal weapons inside of Sunset, the border patrol had authority to shoot to kill anything or anyone unauthorized trying to get over the border from Midnight. The crackle of the electric fence that stretched far to the left and right fizzed and popped in the air. It cut through the forest and across the wasteland, but it was old and filled with breaches we just couldn’t afford to fix.
Thank goodness the scourge we dealt with in Sunset were nothing compared to the crap that lived under the inky sky up ahead. My legs screaming in protest, thighs burning and ready to cramp, I pushed the final few kilometers and crossed the unofficial border out of our territory and into theirs.
But there was no stopping, because Romeo was still on my tail.
Behind me the van screeched to a halt and Romeo’s breath brushed the back of my neck.
Come on, where the fuck was the cavalry? Damn it. I was on my own, under a huge full moon, down empty slick streets, the sensation of eyes on my back. I needed to double back, but Midnight was not my terrain and the shortcuts were a mystery to me.
A howl ripped through the air to my left. Oh bloody heck. More of the beasts. The howls echoed, making it impossible to pinpoint which direction they were coming from. I took a left down a side street, cutting through onto a main road lined with stores. Humans turned to look at me and then scattered. Doors slammed and shutters came down.
Thanks a bunch. My heart was going to burst, like seriously just pop in my chest at any moment. Shadows zoomed in from either side—shadows with claws and fangs, joining in the hunt. And then two huge rippers landed in my path.
I slammed on the brakes, fell into a crouch and reached for my taser. Thanks to the district council and the no lethal weapon rule, I was surrounded by rippers with a bloody taser as my only defense.
The rippers circled me, sniffing the air and trading yips and grunts. Romeo growled. Yeah, he wasn’t into the whole sharing thing, but the ripper in front of me was bigger, probably the alpha and these were his pack. Romeo was an outsider, and if he didn’t back down, they’d tear him to shreds.
If I could just get close enough to touch one of them, just a brush, just a second of contact, enough to juice up and I could make a break for it. Leap over the smaller ripper to my left and into the alley, over the wall and double back to the border.
I just needed a moment of contact. The ripper in front of me snarled at Romeo. Romeo finally buckled, ears going flat, head down. His wide mouthed face, so beastly yet still weirdly human, swung my way and then back to the alpha. He whined and took a step back.
They were done talking.
It was time for the kill.
A low warning howl strummed the air. The rippers stopped and the hairs on the back of my neck quivered. Shit. Oh fucking shit. Something was coming, something that scared even the rippers.
Two, huge, barrel-chested guys, with arms slightly longer than the average human, strode into the road behind the scourge. Their eyes glinted like silver pennies in the moonlight.
The skin shifters backed up, bodies low to the ground in subservience. What the heck?
“House?” one of the dudes asked.
I swallowed hard. “What?”
“What is your house?”
My house, like where I lived?
“She has no brand,” the other guy said. He lifted his chin and inhaled deeply. “No scent.”
His companion’s lips curled in a hungry smile. “Then she is fair game.”
The tips of their fingers elongated, faces melting and morphing until I was staring down two hairy snouts.
“Wait.” I held up my hands. “I’m with the SPD. I’m here on official business. I—”
They attacked. Leaping at me in unison, a scream lodged in my throat and then something was hurtling toward me from a nearby building, bands of steel grabbed me around the waist and the ground rushed away.
What the heck?
“Don’t struggle or I will drop you.” The voice was deep, masculine and authoritative.
He was obviously used to being obeyed and, this high up, with the rippers looking like play figures below me, it was kinda difficult not to. But whatever had me wasn’t human and that meant it was fair game. It was touching me, its bare arms wrapped around my torso.
A flat roof rushed toward me. We were about to land. I touched its skin, smooth and velvet and hard as marble, and cracked open my shields just a bit. The rush was immediate, heady and fast and whoa, what the fuck?
And then I was falling, hands out, ready to roll. The impact was jarring, rattling my teeth and skinning my palms. They never told you it would hurt this much in training, but then they had the cushy mats back at base. Urgh. I came up in a crouch and scanned the night.
Where was it? Whatever had plucked me from the jaws of death? A shadow fell across the moon and a figure landed in front of me. Flashing blue eyes and short cropped dark hair, but it wasn’t the chiseled face that arrested me. Nope. That gorgeous face was firmly on the backburner of my thoughts as the huge dark wings flexed at his back before folding closed.
I scrambled to my feet and took a step back. “You’re a Black Wing.”
He arched a brow and ran a hand over his arm…the arm I’d touched and fed off. The energy thrummed in my veins, like a warm cup of cocoa or a huge chocolate brownie.
His eyes narrowed and he cocked his head. “What did you do? What are you?”
He was one of them, one of the winged, and he’d caught me feeding but aside from that he’d just know. He’d smell, sense or see the taint inside me.
I swallowed hard and raised my chin. My shields were back in place. “I’m human.”
He raised an index finger and wagged it from side to side. “Tut tut, lying is a sin. Now I might need to punish you.” He took a step toward me and a scream, shrill and piercing, cut through the air.
His head whipped round toward the sound.
I licked my lips, my muscles jittery with the need to move, to run away from this creature as fast as they could. “It looks like those things have found a substitute meal.”
He locked gazes with me for a long beat, his jaw ticking, clearly torn between investigating me further and helping the innocent under attack. Black Wings didn’t, as a general rule, give a shit about humans, but he’d helped me, so maybe he was the exception to the rule.
Another scream rose up toward us.
He took a step back. “Dammit, the scourge isn’t meant to be running for weeks.” He muttered to himself. His gaze narrowed. “Stay here. I’m not done with you.” His wings shot out, and he launched himself up into the air.
My shoulders sagged in relief, but there was no way I was sticking around until he came back. No one I knew had ever seen a Black Wing. They usually steered clear of humans and their issues, as if humans were beneath them somehow. The fact that this one was flying around helping people was just plain weird. And if I didn’t have a secret to protect, I’d pump him for as much information on his kind as I could, but he knew what I was. If he reported me, then everything I’d worked so hard to build would be taken from me.
The ground was a no go right now with the rippers on the loose, but with the Black Wing’s power still skimming through my veins, a little roof hopping would be a breeze. A spike of euphoria stabbed at my chest and I dropped my shields a fraction. This was something barred to me in Sunset, something my human guise didn’t allow for, but for the next few minutes I could just be.
I ran full pelt toward the edge of the roof and jumped.