Roland glared at me, actually grinding his teeth as he shook his head in the morning darkness. “No, Callie.”
“What? I thought you might need it,” I said in a sweet tone, casually sweeping the streets with my eyes, not paying particular attention to the lights in the bakery shop before us. Two young men sat at a table inside, but after a brief look at us through the window, they resumed their conversation. Only two, I thought to myself angrily, using my peripheral vision to keep tabs on them as I readjusted my light jacket absently.
We had just climbed out of my truck, prepared to take out the trio of werewolves I had tracked to this bakery. With the local wolves having fled town a few weeks ago, these three had decided they could make a name for themselves and start a new pack. But these frat boy werewolves were rogues, feral, or just plain stupid, because I suspected them of abducting and murdering young women on their way home from the local bars.
And that didn’t sit well with the local Shepherd—the supernatural sheriff for the Vatican.
Or me, the assistant extraordinaire to the Holy Hitman.
“Just because I was injured a few weeks ago doesn’t mean I need a walker,” he seethed, pointing at the contraption I had pulled out of the back of my pickup truck.
I shrugged, feigning surprised hurt. “I was just trying to be considerate. We are going after wolves again.” I pointed at the walker. “It even has spurs. Maybe you can use them as a weapon or something.” He grimaced at the bad duct tape job I had made of attaching the cowboy spurs. I had found the spurs in the same antique shop as the walker yesterday and had known they were meant to go together, for this exact purpose.
“There are dog toys in the basket,” he growled even lower. “You’re mocking both my injury and the task ahead.”
I placed my hand against my chest. “I would never.”
“We’ll talk about this later,” he muttered. His eyes flickered over the bakery, and then down the street, making sure we were alone. It was just before sunrise in the Westport district of Kansas City, and it was Saturday, so we didn’t have to worry about commuters seeing us on their way to work. The only risk was the occasional walk-of-shame victim stumbling down the street in heels, clubbing clothes, and smudged makeup. But those majestic beasts were elusive, fickle creatures, and apparently hadn’t finished sleeping off their bad decisions.
Leaving us all alone. Perfect.
Roland deftly sliced open his palm with a blade, letting his blood fall to the pavement. He pocketed the blade, grasped the walker in front of him, and then stumbled into direct view of the bakery, holding up his bleeding hand. I darted after him, a look of horror on my face. The two wolves inside glanced up, and then froze as they saw his crimson stained hand.
The blood had the desired effect on the frat wolves.
The two of them burst out the front door of the shop, eyes excited as they quickly realized the injured man and young woman before them were the only people in sight. They were true bros in every sense of the word, wearing polo shirts with popped collars, skinny jeans, and trendy boat shoes. The one in front was tall and scrawny with dark brown hair and a long, gaunt face. He looked starved, or as if he hadn’t hit puberty yet, waiting for that pubescent shot of testosterone that made men, men—or as so many seemed to think.
But the other was short and pudgy, with short, light blonde hair. He looked like a wrestler—a scrapper. I bit back a grin as an idle thought crossed my mind. His choice of pants made his legs look like sausage links. I wondered where the supposed third wolf was—the handsome Hispanic kid, as he had been described. I had visited each bar where the victims had last been seen, and every bartender had remembered three men leaving shortly after each victim left the bar. One bartender had been the victim of Mr. Pudgy’s unwelcome flirtations, and had remembered him mentioning they could pick up fresh croissants in the morning at a bakery right next to his place…but he knew just the way to make her burn off those extra calories ahead of time.
She had instantly thrown cold water at his face, and several of the patrons had rushed him out of the bar, lucky for her. He was a dead ringer for her description. As was the scarecrow. But not the third man. Did one of them own the bakery?
“Come inside, Sir,” the tall one said, taking a step closer. “We’ll get you taken care of in a jiffy.” His eyes latched onto the walker, and he somehow managed not to lick his lips at his luck.
“You’re always hurting yourself, Grandpa. Let them help you, and then we can go get your coffee.”
The pudgy one smiled—to my eyes, a very wicked, hungry smile. “We have coffee inside.”
Roland shot them a thankful smile, latched onto his walker, and began hobbling closer to the frat wolves. “Such kind words, my boy. Thank you. At least some of today’s youth gives a damn about their elders,” he said, shooting an accusing look my way. “My granddaughter could learn a lot from you fine, young men.” I averted my eyes sheepishly for the wolves, but it was really so that I didn’t kick Roland in the ankle. Bastard. He continued shuffling closer to them with pained steps, playing his part perfectly.
Their faces smiled at me, but their eyes raped me.
There’s a difference between a look of honest appreciation and one of dark fantasies, and most girls can sense the difference in an instant, no matter how discreet the boy thinks they are being. It’s all in the eyes. These two self-proclaimed badasses looked hungry, and I could tell they considered themselves untouchable.
Whoopsies. Because little did they know, death had arrived this morning, and she fancied a fresh croissant.
I flashed them a shy smile, shifting from foot to foot uncertainly, as if appreciating their personal interest as well as their obvious concern for my grandfather.
The chubby one held the door open, and the taller one stepped through, encouraging Roland to follow. He did so at a glacial pace. The chubby one motioned me closer with a greasy smile that he no doubt thought made him appear handsome. I smiled back at him, forcing a blush to my cheeks as I let my fingers fidget nervously at my hips, unconsciously straightening my shirt at his attention. He sucked in his gut as I neared, puffing out his chest self-importantly.
I took one step inside the door to find Roland approaching the glass display case of pastries, which was illuminated from within by a fluorescent bulb. The room smelled like a new pot of coffee and freshly baked goods. I craned my neck while inhaling deeply for show, using the motion to scan the room. I spotted the light switch on the wall to my left, and managed not to smile. The display case provided more than enough light for this. As if reading my mind, Roland stumbled over his walker and the skinnier wolf darted forward to help him. I hit the light switch beside me, instantly dimming the room so that anyone outside would have a hard time seeing exactly what I was about to do.
Castrating two feral dogs.
I felt a brief pulse of magic, and the walker broke apart, revealing Roland clutching a spur tipped aluminum baton in each hand. He spun them in his wrists, bringing them up high, and then down onto the taller man’s collarbone with a loud crack. The boy shrieked and dropped to the ground. I spun, ready to take out the pudgy puppy, but was suddenly yanked out of the way by a thin tendril of magic from behind. I skidded on my ass into the display case of pastries. I quickly climbed to my feet, staring at Roland in surprise as his first victim gasped and cried out on the floor. It wasn’t that Roland wasn’t a badass, but that he was usually much more reserved.
The metal batons were a blur in Roland’s hands as he clocked the pudgy man in the forearms—which were outstretched from the wolf attempting to grab me from behind. The spurred tips scored across his forearms, and the boy howled in pain as he began to shift into wolf form. His clothes exploded into confetti, and Roland dropped the bent batons as he dove at him.
The Shepherd tackled him into the wooden door, causing the wolf to yelp before they crashed together to the ground. Roland grasped for the wolf’s throat as they rolled into tables and chairs, each fighting for control of the other. Roland got the upper hand, seeming to wrap something around the snarling wolf’s throat, and then he yanked back with all his strength, forearms corded with muscle, causing his veins to pop out under his skin. He was choking him out with…
The rope toy I had put in the basket on the walker.
The wolf whined, snapped his jaws, and scrabbled with his claws on the floor, but Roland scissor locked his legs around the wolf’s belly, pinning him as he hugged him tight. I spun at a sound behind me to find the scrawny guy coming to his feet, snarling as he continued his agonized grunts of pain at the broken collarbone. “We’re taking over this city, bitch. No matter what you two think. God is dead, and many of us feel that the days of the wizards are over.”
His words reeked of zealotry, as if repeating a mantra.
“Don’t take this too personal or anything, but…fuck your feelings.” He bared his teeth at me in outrage, and then burst into werewolf form. I grabbed something on the counter behind me as strips of clothing rained down around a tan colored werewolf. His teeth were still bared as he shook his ruff, but he lifted his front paws gingerly, the broken collarbone still hurting him in his wolf form.
“Puppy want a treat?” I asked in a mocking voice. “Sit.”
“Bad dog,” I admonished, and I threw the glass pot of coffee at his face. He yelped outrageously loud as the steaming liquid burned his eyes, crashing to the ground as his paws clawed for purchase. I prepared to smash him with a bar of air just as I heard an unsettling snap behind me, followed by silence. Before I could turn to look, Roland was shoving me out of the way, and proceeded to stab the wolf through the heart with one spur, and then he swung the other across the screaming wolf’s face, breaking his jaw or neck, I wasn’t sure.
To put it simply, it was the most violent, heartless, and efficient execution I had ever seen Roland perform. No sympathy. No forgiveness. Just death.
He stared down at the wolf, panting lightly.
I began humming in a low tone. “Dunna-dunna-dunna-dunna-dunna-dunna-dunna-dunna—”
“Callie, don’t you dare finish that stupid jingl—”
“VAT-MAAAAAAN!” I belted out, loud enough to be heard over his protests.
He rolled his eyes and let out a long, patient breath, ignoring my maniacal grin.
Then I heard a door slam in the back of the shop, and was running before I consciously chose to. The third wolf.
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