Half-bloods with Thierry’s skill set are given two options. They can join the conclave’s marshal program, or they can pack their bags. Turn down the job offer, and you’ve just shredded your residency pass for the mortal realm and booked yourself a one-way ticket to Faerie.
Texas is the only home Thierry has ever known, and she’s not going anywhere. Even if it means following in her notorious father’s footsteps as a peacekeeper. But pinning on the badge opens her eyes to the fact sometimes fae need protection too, and that sometimes humans are the real monsters.
Burnt ozone tingled in my nose. I inhaled deeply, but all I scented was the coming storm. Thunder boomed overhead, rumbling through the ground under my feet. I was still hunched behind a twisted metal sculpture of a giant rooster when the first lukewarm raindrops splattered on my cheeks.
Movement on my right slammed the brakes on my heart. I squinted where I thought I glimpsed a pale blur, but the sun was too far gone and the scrapyard too dark for me to tell what it had been.
My left palm tingled with suppressed energy. My kind of magic wasn’t allowed at the marshal academy.
I had to go. Every second I stood here exposed on three sides was an opportunity to get caught. I filled my lungs until they burned then exhaled slowly, hoping for a clue. Nothing.
It’s now or never.
Shoving off the rooster’s metallic wing, I ran as fast as I could toward the tower at the center of the rusting maze. Even this far away I spotted the white flag plastered against its pole. If I could just reach it, all this ended. Done. Over. If I had that flag, I could go home. If I got there first.
That was a whole lot of ifs.
“Cadet Thackeray,” a low voice rumbled.
My pulse leapt. New plan. Forget the tower. If Shaw had my taste in his mouth, he would not let me reach it. I needed a new hiding spot now before he got close enough to use his lure on me. Once I drew in the hot scent of his skin, it was over. I was lost. His heat would snare me, and I would be his.
As if I wasn’t already.
After darting past a promising heap, I hesitated until spotting a pair of large red ears sticking up from behind the twisted carcass of what once was a desk. Mei. Best friends shared a lot of things, but their hiding place during final exam was not one of them. I left the small fox to her den and kept running.
Sliding around the corner, I left the small-parts section of the yard and headed toward the stacks of crushed vehicles and rusted-out skeletons of construction equipment. I always avoided this section and the prickly sensation it inspired on my nape. Granted, the odds of the stacks falling and crushing me to a half-blooded fae pulp were pretty slim, but I didn’t want to be the exception that proved the rule.
Mud splashed up my legs and soaked my sneakers. I paused to scent the wind, gulping a lungful of patchouli-and-bergamot-flavored air. My skin sizzled and my head whirled as I fought the urge to follow that hot fragrance to the even hotter man producing it. Bastard. He wasn’t playing fair. Incubus lures were too damn tasty, and I was already nursing one hell of a sweet tooth where my instructor was concerned.
With a frustrated growl, I wound through the automotive graveyard until I stumbled past a truck with its cab mostly intact. I crawled over an engine block to reach the door handle and gave it a tug. Water lubricated its rusty hinges, and it swung open with a soft whine. I crawled inside and sank onto the floorboard.
Five minutes to catch my breath. Then I would make a break for it. The tower wasn’t that far. I wasn’t the only prey trapped in this corrugated maze, nor was I the easiest mark out there.
I relaxed into the darkness while mentally pinpointing my location and my best exit strategy.
Scratching noises perked my ears. I tensed, ready to bolt, but heard only rain pelting the roof.
Praying I hadn’t plopped down into a mouse nest, I held still and turned my thoughts back to the quickest way to reach the tower. It was tall, built like a tree stand. Climbing it would be a piece of—
I heard it again. Claws raked over metal. Louder this time.
Lightning struck as I peered through the driver’s side window, outlining a pale, masculine shape. Cruel nails, bone white and razor sharp, traced a rivulet of water down the glass. The handle clicked. I kicked out and jammed my heel down on the stubby door lock. Through the pane, Shaw glowered.
I felt pretty smug until he speared his fingers into the seams and tore the door from its frame.
“You should have run,” he said, fingers circling my ankle and jerking me toward him.
I kicked at his fist and yanked on my leg, but he was too strong. He dragged me forward until he could reach my shirt. Gripping my collar, he pulled me upright, off the floorboard and against his chest. He trailed his nose from the shell of my ear down my throat where my neck met my shoulder.
“I did run.” I gasped as his scent enveloped me. “You’re faster than you look.”
Coarse laughter vibrated through his chest into mine. “I can be, when I see something I want.”
My smartass reply stuttered and died on my tongue.
“Speechless,” he mused, drawing back to peer into my face with eyes gone ravenous.
Tearing my gaze from his, I stared past his broad shoulders at my endgame, at the soaked flag wringing itself on the pole as winds from the summer storm buffeted the tower and ripped at its hem.
I let him think he had won, let him hold me against him until I was free of the truck and could see a clear path for my feet. While hunger turned his eyes opaque, I admit it, I played the damsel card.
Once the toes of my shoes hit dirt, Shaw sank his nails into my hips while searching me for the white handkerchief shoved deep into the rear pocket of my jeans. Once he removed it, I was “dead”. Game over. Exam failed. I shot him a regretful look then slammed the heel of my palm into his nose.
Cartilage crunched and blood streamed down his chin. Shock widened his eyes. He groped at his face on reflex, releasing his hold on me. His nails sliced furrows into his cheeks. While he was stunned, I whirled out of his reach and ran for it. I cleared three yards before his enraged roar made me jump.
“Thierry.” His voice boomed.
I wish I had said something clever, but I’m pretty sure I squeaked like a mouse with a cat hot on her tail. Incubi as a race were passionate, hotheaded. Shaw as a man was competitive, driven. Talk about your explosive combinations. Attributes that made him a great instructor also made him an apex predator.
And I was feeling hunted.
It was a new experience for me, and I didn’t like it much.
Ignoring the snarling on my heels, I pushed until my thighs screamed and my legs were rubber. I ran until the tower was in sight, and I caught a second wind. The growling behind me increased, and so did my speed. Bursting into an open area, I hesitated at the sight of my classmates huddled together.
A slender woman of Japanese descent stood nude under an umbrella covered in plump cardinals. I guess Shaw had found the fox shifter after all. Damn it. Now she would be stuck retaking the exam. The only thing more competitive than a pissy incubus was a kitsune whose 4.0 GPA had just plummeted.
“Move your scrawny ass,” Mei screamed at me. “You’re the last woman standing.”
Our classmates picked up her cries and began cheering for me. I appreciated the support, but the clapping and whistling made it impossible to hear Shaw’s approach. Looking wasn’t an option. I had to watch my footing or risk tripping. He was downwind, so I couldn’t scent him. I was running blind.
Panting through the last dozen yards, I hit the corroded ladder beneath the tower and hauled my body up toward the hatch in the center. My foot slipped off a rung and hit something. I glanced down to find Shaw squinting up at me through one eye. His other was shut tight under a muddy boot print.
Crap. I climbed faster, hands slipping on the wet metal. At the top, I groped for a latch but found nothing. I wedged my shoulder against the side opposite the hinges, took another peek at a slavering Shaw, then rammed the hatch until the lock buckled and the narrow door burst open. I swung inside, bouncing the wood off Shaw’s face as he tried to join me. I winced in sympathy. It was a pretty face.
Wood splintered and metal groaned as Shaw ripped the door from its hinges and hurled it away. There were four open slots about two feet high and six feet wide on each side of the tower. The pole was mounted in the center of the roof, so that’s where I headed. I slid through one gap, careful of my footing on the slippery tin. Grasping the pole with one hand, I used it to haul myself up the tower’s side.
“Not so fast.” Shaw wrapped his palm around my ankle.
“Knock it off,” I snarled. “You’re going to make me fall.”
His other hand clutched my upper thigh. “I’ll catch you.”
“My hero,” I grated between clenched teeth.
I tried kicking where his face should be, but he wrestled with my foot until he popped off my shoe. I wriggled until the second shoe joined the first. His fingers dug into the denim of my soaked jeans. My fingers tightened on the slick pole. Using his grip to balance me on the lip of the open window, I flung out my other arm, locking both hands around the pole and hoisting myself higher.
Shaw’s hands crept up to my hips, smoothing over my ass in his search for the pocket where my flag was kept. Two inches lower and he would win. I hated losing, so I brought my knee up hard under his jaw and braced that heel in the window, kicking up and launching myself onto the roof.
While Shaw cursed at me and threatened to bend me over his knee—kinky—I found my footing. Standing tall and proud, I snatched the limp flag from its hooks with a whoop. Glancing down at the cheering cadets, I spotted Mei’s mile-wide smile and swung my soggy prize over my head with glee.
In hindsight, the victory dance was overkill. One minute I was shaking what my momma gave me. The next I was crashing through the thin roof and toppling over the jagged edge. Shaw tried to catch me. The ground managed the job for him.
Some hero he turned out to be.
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