Quick update. Kissed by Fire is getting re-proofed. We found a few errors that my editor and proofer missed so I’m sending it in for another round. Cursed by Fire in Audio is LIVE! I’ll be doing an audiobook giveaway soon so stay tuned. And Burned by Fire is almost done with proofing. I keep saying “next week…” and then life gets in the way but it really should be live any day now. Aside from that, here is what you’re really wanting. Chapter 8.
Today was going to be one of those days where even my coffee needed a cup of coffee. Thankfully after saying as much, James relented and drove me by the local Rocket Bakery down the street from my office. If he’d learned anything from working with me, it was that the most dangerous drinking game you could play with me was seeing how long I could go without having a cup. I drank coffee like a Gilmore Girl and trust me when I tell you, no one wanted to see how long I could go without.
With a steaming cup of deliciousness in my hands, I rested my booted feet on the edge of my desk and inhaled the earthy aroma, allowing the warm steam to fill my senses.
Come to momma.
Taking a tentative sip, I let the thick, warm liquid make its way down my throat before returning for a steaming gulp.
I moaned. It was that good.
James sat across from my desk in the guest chair with his own cup of coffee. I watched through half-closed lids as he took several deep gulps, devouring the beverage in a matter of seconds. I shook my head. He didn’t even taste it. What a waste.
“Do you always chug your coffee?” I asked.
“How else am I supposed to get the stuff down?”
I stared at him through hooded eyes. “What do you mean, ‘get it down?’ Don’t you like it?”
James made a face of disgust. “Nope. I can barely stand the stuff.”
“Then why do you drink it?” I was starting to reconsider our friendship. How could anyone who didn’t drink coffee be sane?
He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Dunno, for the caffeine kick I guess.”
“You don’t get a caffeine kick. The Lyc-V in your system burns through it too quickly to get any sort of result.” Lyc-V, short for the lycanthropy virus, attached itself to each string of DNA in its host’s body, mutating the cells to create a hybrid between man and beast.
The virus was virulent and infected the host through their blood, but it had its perks too. I’d say getting an increased metabolism, strength, speed, and increased sensitivity to sound, were a pretty decent trade off. A downside though was that no, you didn’t get any caffeine kicks.
“If I drink enough of it, I guess I can get a caffeine buzz for a minute. Maybe two.” James’ gaze was far away for a moment. “Maybe thirty espresso shots, maybe more.” He shrugged.
“Okay, so again, why do you drink it?”
James shrugged again.
I was getting nowhere. “If you don’t drink coffee, I’m not sure we can be friends.”
James grinned, and my lady bits decided to come to attention. Down, girl. Down.
“Why do you think I’m drinking it?” He raised his empty cup in a mock salute.
“Whatever,” I mumbled under my breath as I savored the remainder of my cup of joe. “I’m not buying you coffee anymore.”
A man crossed the front office window and came to a stop at the street corner, catching my attention. I leaned forward to get a better look as James got up to look around the office. The man kept his head low. A hoodie covered most of his face. He managed to angle himself away enough so I couldn’t make out anything distinguishable, but I had the distinct impression that his attention was directed inside my office.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood. The front office window was open at the street level, and when I’d arrived, I’d opened the blinds to let some light in. Now I was beginning to second guess that decision.
The glint of silver in the man’s left hand caught my attention, but just as I rose from my seat, he turned and began to cross the street.
I stared at the window, unable to shake the feeling that whoever he was, he wasn’t a friendly.
Forcing my gaze away, I turned to watch James’ study of the office.
It was a decent sized room sectioned off into four office spaces, a small kitchen, and three side rooms. One was used to catch some sleep, another housed weapons, and the third was a small bathroom. There was a small apartment above the office that I’d lived in before getting a place of my own, but it’d been over a year since anyone had occupied it.
The main office space housed mine and Mike’s desks along with a large L-shaped desk that Nico and Taylor shared when they were around. They were a team and chose to be side by side both in and out of the office.
There were two small folding tables pushed off into a corner for the non-regulars to use as a desk should they need a work space, and a small collection of worn metal-framed office chairs like the ones you’d see in a doctors office.
It wasn’t much, but it did the job well enough.
James walked slowly around the perimeter of the room, examining the various article clippings and pictures framed on the walls. Mike was a tad sentimental and liked to document anything that he considered to be a memorable event.
Most of the images were from cases solved. Missing people who were found, lives that were saved in the nick of time. Those faded clippings were our Hall of Fame. The reason we showed up each morning. Sure, we were mercs, but we had hearts.
I just wished Daniel Blackmore’s image could have made its way onto that wall.
“So what do you suggest we do next?” James asked from across the room.
I raised an eyebrow at his question, surprised he was letting me take the lead.
“First, arrange a meeting with the Coven. Daniel’s death was at the hands of a vampire. Now that the Pack is involved, they’ll be more willing to cooperate than they were before.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Well it would be in their best interest to avoid a war, wouldn’t it? And the death of a shifter child could easily ignite one. I think, if given all of the proper facts, Rebecka will realize it’s better to just hand over the perpetrator than to have us dig further. Politics and all that nonsense. From what I’ve gathered, she isn’t a fool. Besides, if the culprit is a rogue vampire, we’d be doing her a favor. Vampires don’t have the same loyalties that shifters do. They’re more vested in personal interests than those of the collective. They wouldn’t bat an eyelash over hanging one of their own out to dry if it benefitted them as a whole.”
“I think you’re wrong, Ari,” he said, his tone now grim.
“And why is that?”
I thought over my earlier statement, and it still sounded solid in my mind. Vampires were loyal, but not the way shifters were. In the end, vampires did what was best for themselves. If they could get farther in life, or the afterlife, by severing their own hand, they would do it.
Shifters, on the other hand, were more like a family unit. They all looked out for one another, and regardless of rank, everyone was important to the Pack structure.
“The vampires want a war. They’ve slowly been growing their numbers and believe they’re in a position to challenge the Pack for power over the territory as a whole. They want us out, completely.”
“The Pack has what, a couple thousand shifters within the Pacific Northwest? The Coven doesn’t have a chance. Besides, don’t the Pack and the Coven have a truce of sorts?”
“We do, which is why they haven’t shown any outright aggression, but this—this is something that, like you said, can ignite a war. When it boils down to just numbers, we have them over the Coven nearly five to one if we pulled everyone in, but that would include our vulnerable. Of those who can fight, we outnumber the vampires two to one instead. I know how Rebecka’s mind works. We’ve been studying her habits and tracing back through her history for years. She wouldn’t plan a takeover if she didn’t think she could win. That is what concerns us the most.”
James shook his head in frustration. I hadn’t realized the Pack was keeping tabs on the Coven, let alone tracing Rebecka’s history, but it made sense. A truce was made for a reason, and while the hope was usually to build long-lasting political relationships, reality was that they were enacted simply to keep everyone from killing each other. There was always a reason that they wanted to kill each other to begin with. Not that those reasons always made sense.