Chapter One

I didn’t notice the intoxicating aroma of stale creek water until I was finished

packing up my laptop and notes. Crap. And I thought today might just be a

normal day. Silly Violet.

 

I slowly scanned my coffee shop. Nothing new here. Same coffee guy. Same old man

who sat in the corner everyday grumbling at the newspaper. Then, a shadow

darted across the sun-filled window.

 

I put my bag over my shoulder and moved carefully out of the café. The scent was

still there, lingering. Watching. Waiting. Double crap.

 

With ears peeled and eyes aware of everything around me, I stalked around the corner

to the small lot where my car was parked. I kept my borders open but not

relaxed, aware but not overpowering.

 

And that’s when it hit me. A burst of wind lifted me up and threw me against the

brick wall of the coffee shop. I cracked my head against the wall, but what was

really painful was the crack of my laptop against the brick. I slid down the

wall and landed on my feet. The laptop was new. Now, I was pissed.

 

A slight, scraggly man walked across the parking lot. He looked greasy and

smelled like lightening. Smelled like Sensei. The man’s dark hair hung over his

ice blue eyes and his acid-washed jacket needed to go back to the eighties

where it came from.

 

I just smiled. My Jeet Kune Do sensei, an ancient wind elemental himself, had

thrown me against more walls than I could count during our five months of

training. And if this guy really was looking for a fight, this was going to be

cathartic.

 

“Thanks,” I said to him as he approached in long, determined strides for his small

figure. I ran my fingers through my hair. “Wind-blown look is all the rage this

season.”

 

“You shouldn’t be laughing,” the man snarled.

 

“Why not?” I was already looking for an escape route. There were three, providing

that Little Boy Blew stayed where he was. Thank you, Chaz, for making me a

paranoid little panther. While other couples were playing footsie on their dates, Chaz and I were playing Shoots and Ladders, discussing the best places to hide weapons and to get out of a place quickly and undetected.

 

The man stopped six feet away. I pushed myself away from the wall. He couldn’t have

been any taller than me in his oversized combat boots. Compensate much?

 

His hands clenched tightly at his side, just like Sensei’s did. “You’re about to

die.”

 

“You know,” I said as I pulled off my already pulverized laptop and set it on the

ground next to me. “People keep saying that. In fact, you’re the fourth.”

 

And he was. Little showdowns like this were becoming a pretty regular thing. They

all wanted a piece of Violet to prove something. And they all walked away

bleeding. Of course, most of the time I had Chaz or Jessa with me. But solo

might be fun. This little guy would be no trouble.

 

“And the last.”

 

I love men and their bravado.

 

As with Sensei, I could sense the attack before it came, a whiff of lightening on

the wind. Got to love those panther super senses. The man drew in his energy

and punched it at me. His power extended out from his hand and a fist of wind

hit the brickwork next to my head. Brick chunks flew off the wall and got

caught in my hair. The noise made me jump. So, maybe he might be a little

stronger than first assessed.

 

Another attack came a second later, and I slid down the wall to avoid the attack,

another crushed brick in the wall.

 

“Ready for the real show?”

 

“Sure,” I nodded.

 

Turned out that two wind punches at a time wasn’t as easy to avoid. Dodged one of them

but the other caught me in the chest. My shoulder blade ground into the wall,

and I smelled blood.

 

And then I smelled wet dog again.

 

Holding my arm, I watched as a man the size of a linebacker tackled the small elemental

to the ground. There wasn’t much of a struggle with such a surprise attack. The

smaller man’s head slammed against the pavement and his eyes rolled back in his

head. I didn’t miss the irony that the wind probably got knocked out of him.

Either way, by the looks of the wound to his forehead that now dripped blood

onto the pavement, he wasn’t getting up any time soon.

 

I grabbed for my laptop and quickly found my keys in my pocket. The bulky pepper

spray Chaz gave me was easy to grab.

 

The large man stood up and brushed off his dusty trench coat. He looked down at the

elemental and nudged the body with his foot. Seeming satisfied, he turned

toward me.

 

I’d never forget that smell. It had accosted me too many times and was associated

with too many bad memories. But if it weren’t for his smell, I don’t know if I

would have even recognized him from any other homeless person on the street.

His brown hair hung down around his dark brown eyes now and his cheeks were a

bit more sunken in and smudged with dirt.

 

“What do you want, Briggs?” I asked. His presence here was more concerning than the

fourth assassination attempt moments before. Two months ago, Briggs and his

mongrels had my best friend strapped to a chair, ready to cut her into pieces.

Now, he stood before me like a sullen child.

 

“Nothing,” he said quickly.

 

“Then why are you still following me?”

 

I couldn’t read his expression, couldn’t guess what he was thinking, but his

power was low, nothing aggressive, like a hot coal left alone in a fire pit. My

brain was wiped clean of all the images of violence that his other form, a

black lab, had caused and was replaced by that of a little lost puppy.

 

“Because we need you.”

 

I rolled my eyes. “Not this again.”

 

“We need someone to protect us.”

 

“No,” I said shaking my head as I walked past him toward my car. “I’ve already got

enough on my plate. I’m not taking on a bunch of mutts. You’re grown men.”

 

“We don’t know where else to go.”

 

“You’re a police officer, Briggs.”

 

“Not anymore.”

 

I paused in my retreat to my car. There had been repercussions from my showdown

against the Haverty Pride two months ago, but up to this point, it had all been

aimed at me. An attack from a wind elemental here, a werewolf there. It had

never occurred to me just how influential the Havertys could have been or what

could befall a rogue member of the Pride after I had rid the Pride of both its

head and its heir.

 

I turned to face him and crossed my arms over my chest. I didn’t want to do this.

I really wasn’t just being catty when I said I had a lot on my plate. Work was

picking up. I had a movie filming this summer. Chaz was moving in piece by

piece. Jessa and I now did patrols around the city to find weak spots in the

Veil between worlds. My schedule was packed.

 

But it was that damn kicked puppy look that got me. The way he would not match my

eyes, the way his shoulders sunk. “Why?”

 

I could have sworn I heard a boot steps on the gravel. As Briggs and I looked

over to where the elemental had fallen, nothing was left but a scuff in the

dirt and a puff of dust.

 

I looked back up at the darkly clad man. It worried me how this huge man could

look so lost. What worried me even more was that I was the only person he could

turn to. A thought gleamed above all the crazy stories that usually ran around

up there: I had to help them. The last prophesy of my mother’s. I needed to

give them a direction because without one, they would perish.

 

“Let me buy you a cup of coffee.”

 

He looked uncomfortable in the chair across from me. He kept moving like he couldn’t find the right spot. I was going to suggest that if he needed to circle to get comfortable he could; it wouldn’t bother me any. But he probably wasn’t accustomed to my humor yet.

 

“I watched you from that corner over there a few times.” Briggs gestured to the

convenience store across the street.

 

“Why?”

 

“Spencer,” he said as his eyes darted down to his black coffee. “He told us to keep an eye

on you when he couldn’t.”

 

“So you know where I live and where I work out and obviously where I get coffee?” I

swirled my second caramel latté for the day. “Then why step in now?”

 

“You needed help?”

 

“From that pip-squeak?”

 

“He’s not just a pip-squeak,” the man said as he leaned across the table. “He was the

son of one of Haverty’s closest cohorts. He is actually powerful enough to be a

threat, not to mention determined enough.”

 

“Why do they keep attacking me?”

 

It was a question I had been asking everyone else for the past two months, since

the first attack. Chaz said that every pack was different and Iris was eerily

silent about how it used to work when she was in charge.

 

“You killed the Primo of the Pride. Makes you the Prima of the Pride.”

 

“No, it doesn’t.”

 

“In this pack, it does. Makes you the Prima whether you like it or not. And the others are vying for your position. Which means they need to kill you to claim the title.”

 

I began to spin my coffee cup on the table between us. “What does that mean?”

 

The man licked his lower lip and his eyes darted around the table like he might find that words hidden in the wood grain of the space between us. “Haverty was grooming Spencer to take over. How to exchange powers, how to keep different breeds in check, how to manage the family business. Spencer was responsible for new recruitment.”

 

I had to laugh.

 

“What?” the man asked confused.

 

“His idea of new recruitment was snacking on me in a back alley.”

 

The man didn’t smile. Still not used to my humor yet. Check.

 

I changed the subject. Talking about how many others wanted to kill me was leaving a taste in my mouth that the coffee couldn’t mask. “How many of you are there in your little family?”

 

“Don’t remember from the alley?”

 

Nice. He was catching on to the Violet rhythm of things. “Five. Who are the others?”

 

“Only four now. Nash, Shadow, and, of course, Tyler.”

 

“Tyler?”

 

Briggs nodded. “My little brother.”

 

Crap, there was family involved. Family always made things more complicated. I leaned forward across the table and lowered my voice. “And you’re all dogs, right?”

 

He nodded again. Yay, yet another man who didn’t mince his words.

 

As I felt his low anxious energy across the table from me, my decision felt more solid. Give them a direction before someone else does. “Okay.”

 

“Okay what?” Briggs asked.

 

“I’ll do what I can.”

 

His eyes rose to finally meet mine. They were dark, wide, and brown, not doglike at all.

 

“It’s not a great promise, I know. But I’ll try. And in return, I want something.”

 

His eyes dropped to the table. I got the sinking feeling in my stomach that no one had ever given him anything that he didn’t have to pay for in some way or another. I didn’t want to be that, didn’t want to be any closer to Spencer than I knew I already was.

 

“I need information, anything that you can give me about how the pack works, how he did whatever he did.”

 

Briggs ducked his head in a small nod.

 

“And for starters, I want all of you fed and washed and clothed.”

 

Didn’t think it was possible, but his head and houlders ducked down a little further. “We don’t exactly have the income for something like that.”

 

“Don’t worry about it.”

 

The sentence stunned me almost as much as it stunned him. I usually wasn’t too free with my money, and I had just promised away an easy grand. Wasn’t like I had college funds to save for, and I almost owned the town house already. Had a nice little nest egg for something, might as well be for a Dallas version of “What not to wear.”

 

“But let’s just talk first. All five of us. Can you guys meet me at the Galleria on Thursday?”

 

He nodded a sharp curt nod, like that of a military man. “Yes, ma’am.”

 

I winced at the title. “I’ll meet the boys and you can fill me in on a few things.”

 

Briggs looked confused for a moment.

 

“What?” I stood and put my bag on my shoulder again. I heard the distinct sound of plastic against plastic and my heart sunk. My computer warranty didn’t cover hurricanes.

 

“I just haven’t figured out the game yet,” he said with a small furrow between his brows. “You have to want something more in return than just information.”

 

I shook my head. “It’s something that I need. And you’ll quickly find out, Mr. Briggs, that I don’t play games.”

 

He licked his lips and looked down at the coffee he had used more as a hand warmer than refreshment.

 

“So Thursday at the Galleria around two.” I made it sound like an order. I knew he could take orders and frankly, this one was for his own good.