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A Magical Team

By Edward Kendrick


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2018 Edward Kendrick

ISBN 9781634866262

* * * *

Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


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This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

A Magical Team

By Edward Kendrick

Chapter 1

Is there anyone in town you won’t fuck? Nina shook her head with wry amusement after watching a good-looking man leave her twin brother’s town home. It was a rhetorical question at best, as she knew the answer.

“Damned few,” Tonio replied with a laugh, opening the front door a moment later to let her in.

“You know I hate when you do that,” she grumbled, glaring at her green-eyed, dark-haired twin.

“What? Opening the door for you?” He stepped out of reach when she tried to swat him.

“Reading my mind, ass.”

“Well, you were broadcasting loud and clear. Besides, you do it to me.” He closed the door and followed her into the living room. “That was Martin and it was his first, and last, time here. Conceited idiot.” Tonio flopped down on the long leather sofa, waiting for his sister to land somewhere, too.

Nina did, at the other end of the sofa, after kicking off her shoes so she could put her feet up, wrapping her arms around her knees. Her long, dark hair hung loose around her elfin face. Her deep green eyes, which matched Tonio’s almost perfectly, darkened as she gazed at him.

“Now what did I do?” he asked.

“It’s not what you did, it’s what you didn’t do.”

Tonio frowned. “Which was? Remind me.”

“Lex.”

“Oh hell, Nina, I don’t want to,” he whined.

“Gods, you sound like a two-year old.”

“I feel like one around him.”

“So he’s imposing and authoritarian and sexier than all get out and,” she sighed, “not the least bit interested me, damn it.”

“Why do you care? You’ve got, what’s his name? Yeah, Devlin, wrapped around your little finger. You don’t need another man.”

“Says the guy who seems to need as many as he can get his hands on.” Nina smiled devilishly. “And that’s why you’re avoiding Lex. You can’t get your hands on him.”

“I don’t want to,” Tonio protested. “He’s bossy, arrogant…”

“And sexy.”

“And sexy,” he admitted with a sigh. “If you like much older men.”

“You wouldn’t know he was to look at him.”

“Yeah, but he is. Hell, he’s got a son who is, hmm, twenty-one I think. Or thereabouts.”

“Yeah, the mysterious, never seen Dirk.”

“I saw him once,” Tonio told her. “Remember when we were teens and grandpa sent me to Lex’s home for a week for some lessons?”

Nina nodded. “I was pissed as hell I couldn’t go, too. I told him he was being a chauvinist.” She laughed. “I didn’t even know what that meant. Only that it was something I heard grandma call him sometimes. So what was Dirk like?”

“Bratty, like any ten-year-old. Followed me around wherever I went. I think he was lonely. He wanted to join in the lessons, but Lex said he was too young. Then three days after I got there, Dirk was gone. Back to his mother’s according to Lex. That was my first and last sighting of him.” He stretched and sighed. “I suppose I should stop putting off the inevitable and go see why Lex wants to talk to me this time.”

“It might be a good idea, since he sent me here to remind you.”

Tonio grinned. “And here I thought you wanted the pleasure of my company.”

“At seven-thirty in the morning? As if. Speaking of which, I’d better get moving or I’ll be late to the office. Do you work today?”

He snorted. “When don’t I work? I go in at eleven. Barring something big dropping in our laps I’ll be off at eight.”

“And in bed with someone by eight-thirty.”

He laughed. “Hey now, I’m not that bad. Honest.”

“I know. It’s just ‘tension release’ to quote you, which I’m sure you need at times.” She stood, kissed his cheek, and departed.

* * * *

“Dirk, pay attention,” Lex grumbled.

“Can I wake up first?” Dirk asked, going to pour himself a cup of coffee.

“I suppose, if you insist.” Lex smiled fondly at his son. “Once you have, meet me in the practice room.”

Dirk scrubbed a hand over his face. “What’s on the agenda for today?”

Lex was about to reply when a beep from the intercom let him know someone was at the front gate. After checking to see who it was, he sent one of his people to let them in. “I’ll tell you later. Right now we have company.”

“‘We’ as in royal sense, or as the two of us?”

“The two of us. There’s someone I want you to meet and he’s finally decided to show his face.”

Oh great, now what?

Dirk had moved into his father’s estate, well outside the city limits, only a week earlier, much to his mother’s dismay. However, she’d had no say in the matter. The arrangement between his parents had been that, on Dirk’s twenty-first birthday, he would come to live with Lex until his father was convinced he could safely be out in the world on his own.

So here he was and finally about to meet someone other than his father’s aids, all of whom were older than the hills. Of course whoever he is could be too. Dirk sighed ruefully.

He followed Lex to the living room, waiting in anticipation to see who would come through the front door when his father removed the protections long enough to let them enter.

Holy hell. Not old at all. Damn. He sucked in a breath as he looked at the man. He was tall, with ebony black hair and the greenest eyes Dirk had ever seen. The suit he was wearing fit him as if it had been tailor-made, accenting his muscular body without overdoing it. Wrap him up and I’ll take him home with me. Oh wait, this is my home now.

* * * *

Tonio dipped his head in acknowledgment of Lex’s welcome, and his importance in Tonio’s world, before looking beyond him at the young man standing in the middle of the room. He was close to his own height but slender, with shaggy blond hair covering his ears, and pale blue eyes, shading into gray when he turned his head away from the light.

“You’ve grown up, Dirk,” Tonio said, smiling.

Dirk frowned. “Do I know you?”

“Yep, though it’s been quite a while since we met, so I’m not surprised you don’t remember. You were about so high,” Tonio held his hand out to demonstrate, “and followed me around like a puppy the whole time you were here.”

“I didn’t!”

Tonio chuckled. “Oh yeah, you did. By the way, I’m Tonio, Antonio Paladini to be exact.”

“Detective Paladini,” Lex added.

“A cop?” Dirk seemed impressed. Maybe a bit too much so in Tonio’s estimation.

Tonio nodded before returning his attention to Lex. “So what did you want to talk to me about?”

Lex tapped his fingers together, grinning a bit, which sent off warning bells in Tonio’s mind. “Why don’t we all have a seat and I’ll explain.” When they were settled, Lex continued. “I want you to take Dirk under your supervision, Tonio. Teach him everything you know.”

“Now wait a damned minute here. First off, isn’t that your job? And secondly, when do you think I’d have time to do that?”

“My job is to make certain he becomes the best he can be. His…skills lie more in your field of expertise than mine, I’m afraid. He needs to hone them and I don’t know anyone better than you to help him do that.”

“Do I get any say in this?” Dirk asked acidly.

Tonio glanced at him, smiling slightly. “Probably no more than I do, when it comes down to it. The problem is, Lex, I can hardly drag him along with me when I’m on the job. The department frowns on things like that.”

“That’s all been arranged.”

Tonio sighed. “Now how did I know you’d say that? In what way exactly?”

“Dirk has just arrived in the city from a small town out west, where he was a deputy sheriff. Your chief recruited him because he showed great promise, and since your partner is moving up north in two weeks to take a new job—”

“Damn it, Lex! Why hasn’t anyone told me about that! There are few enough of us as it is without my losing him. Besides which, Dirk’s too young. No one’s going to believe this story you’ve cooked up on his background.”

Lex smiled a bit evilly. “Everything is being arranged even as we speak, including new ID which says he’s older than he appears.”

“Uh-huh.” Tonio wanted to say ‘As if,’ but knowing Lex, he had no doubt it actually was being created. “So you’re shorting me a damned good man so I can train Dirk.”

“Precisely. I don’t think you’ll regret it, when it comes down to it.”

Tonio turned to look at Dirk. “Your father seems to have a lot of confidence in you. Do you feel the same?”

Dirk rubbed the palms of his hands on his legs, frowning. “I know what I’m capable of, so far. It’s probably not as much as you’d like but…” He shrugged. “I’m still young and things get better with age. You should know that.”

“Just how old do you think I am?”

“Older than me?” Dirk’s lips quirked up in a grin.

Tonio rolled his eyes. “Isn’t everyone?” he shot back.

“Touché.” Then Dirk sobered, turning to his father. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because, until I talked with your mother, I wasn’t certain I was going to use you for this. She’s dead set against it, of course.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Mother,” Dirk muttered. “Still, if she hadn’t been, you’d never have let this happen. Right?”

“Oh, I might have. Probably would have,” Lex replied. “Only not so soon.”

“When do you plan on his joining my team?” Tonio asked. And please let it not be today.

“He’ll go with you when you leave.” Lex’s smile was more than a bit malicious and Tonio knew he’d picked up on what he’d been thinking.

Tonio scowled. Between you and Nina, nothing I think is sacred.

Lex nodded, saying to Dirk, “You might want to go put on something a bit nicer than those ratty jeans.”

Dirk looked at Tonio. “I don’t own a suit. Will slacks and a regular shirt work?”

“Yeah, sure. Go change.”

As soon as Dirk left the room, Tonio rounded on Lex. “Why are you sticking him with me?”

“He has talents you can use. He just has to sharpen them some.”

“He’d better do it quickly. He makes a mistake and he could be dead, or cause someone else’s death.”

“I’m counting on you not to let that happen.” Lex clapped a hand on Tonio’s shoulder. “I have faith in you or I wouldn’t have entrusted him to you. As a corollary, I have faith that he can handle things as long as you don’t push him too fast.”

“I’ll try not to, and let’s hope circumstances don’t warrant it.”

Lex looked sternly at him. “That, Tonio, is why you have a team.”

“So they tell me.”

“Then remember it. No more grandstanding like you did on your last job. My son’s well-being may depend on your being there with him and the team.”

“Now we come down to why you’re really doing this,” Tonio growled.

“One reason of many, and not the primary one, no matter what you might think.”

Tonio studied him for a minute then nodded. “I’ll take your word for it.”

* * * *

While they drove into the city from Lex’s estate, Dirk kept glancing at Tonio then away. After a few minutes of that, Tonio said, “Go ahead, ask questions. I won’t bite your head off for doing so.”

“All right. Exactly what do you and this team my father mentioned do?”

“At the risk of stating the obvious, since we’re cops we catch the bad guys.”

“No duh. But I know there’s more to it than that.”

Tonio nodded. “We go after the untouchables.”

“Meaning what? The ones who are walking around free because they had good lawyers?”

“Among others.”

“That smacks of vigilantism.”

Tonio shrugged. “Some would call it that, but we only go after those who deserve it. For example, using their money or power, of whatever sort, to influence a jury or a judge is not acceptable.”

“No shit. But there can’t be all that many of them. Not enough to have a team to go after them.” Dirk looked perplexed as something else occurred to him. “Is this team made up of magic users? How do you get away with that? We’re not supposed to exist.”

“Says the kid who is one.”

“That didn’t answer my question,” Dirk muttered.

“Sorry. Okay, there’s a man in the city, a very powerful mover and shaker as they say, who, for reasons I’m not allowed to go into, made an enemy of a rather nasty necromancer. This man and Lex were friends, so he came to him for help.”

“He knew what Father is?”

Tonio waggled his hand. “Yes and no. This man didn’t know his enemy was a necromancer, he only knew some very strange and terrifying things had begun to happen in his life. Your father, as you well know, has a reputation for dealing with the paranormal.” Tonio chuckled. “It’s funny, people are quite willing to believe in ghosts and goblins and such, but refuse to accept the possibility there are magic workers among them.”

Dirk nodded. “Personally, I’ll take a sorcerer over a ghost any day.”

“Agreed. Anyway, back to the story. Lex helped his friend and in the process he had to let him know exactly who, or rather what, the person was who had been making his life miserable. Once the man got over his shock, he and Lex put their heads together and came up with the idea for the team. They went to the police commissioner, and—well from what Lex told me it was a very interesting meeting. In the end the commissioner believed them and the team was formed, with Lex’s input of course.”

“But,” Dirk said, tapping his lips, “would I be right in presuming the commissioner’s the only one who knows what you really do?”

“Yep. To all intents and purposes, as far as the rest of the department is concerned, we’re a very elite unit, set up to deal with the worst of the worst. The ones the law couldn’t touch without our help.”

“Do you actually go after them, or just after—what? Rogue magic users who’ve taken up criminal activities?”

“I think calling them ‘rogues’ presupposes they’re doing something criminal,” Tonio replied with a smile. “We go after both. After all, if we didn’t bring down the occasional felon who’s managed to, and I use the term loosely, ‘legally’ avoid incarceration, we’d lose the reason we supposedly exist.”

“True. Another question, how do you find out about rogues if no one believes sorcerers are real?”

“We, meaning the team, and Lex, and a couple of his associates, keep our eyes and ears open, listen to rumors, follow up on any reports about what might be considered off-the-wall happenings. Something that suggests someone is practicing the dark arts for whatever reason. By the way, not everyone on the team is a strong magic user, though the majority of us can use magic to one degree or another.”

Tonio turned into the headquarters’ parking lot at that point, ending Dirk’s litany of questions for the time being.

* * * *

Chapter 2

“Gentlemen, meet the newest member of the team,” Tonio said when he and Dirk entered the room they used at the station house. “He’s taking Jake’s place.”

“Damn, he’s just a kid,” one of the men muttered.

“Lex’s kid,” Tonio told him.

One of the women arched a delicate golden eyebrow. “Since when did he have a kid?”

Dirk cocked his eyebrow at her in return. “Since twenty-one years ago when I was born?”

“A real young un’,” a handsome brown-haired man said, studying him.

Dirk sighed. “So I’m not as ancient as the rest of you. Shoot me.”

“And waste such a pretty lad? I’m Mattie, by the way. That’s Irene,” she nodded to the blonde, “but we call her Reni. The bearded, red-haired giant is Bay.”

“Notice she forgot to introduce me. I’m Felan, a wolf-shifter, and a lot older than I look.”

Since he appeared to be twenty-five at most, Dirk asked how old he really was.

“Seventy and counting—but slowly,” Felan replied. “Bay’s thirty-five, or so he claims. The ladies? Well, I’ll be a gentleman and keep that to myself.”

Reni smiled at Felan. “Well you should.” Then she switched her gaze to Dirk. “I’m the old lady here. In fact, the oldest of any of us. I’ve been around for, good lord, almost five-hundred years.”

“As long as we’re being honest about our ages,” Mattie said, “I’m twenty-eight, for real. Reni and I are both witches, as compared to Bay who’s a warlock.”

“Okay,” Dirk said, “next question. Felan’s already said he’s a wolf, I know Tonio’s a full elf, I’m half-elf, so what about the rest of you?”

“I’m pure human,” Mattie said. “And then there’s Reni.”

Dirk turned his attention to Reni. “You look human, but as old as you are—” He tapped a finger to his lips. “Vampire?”

“Bingo. I used to be a plain old, everyday witch until I made friends with the wrong man. Now,” she shrugged, “I’m a witch with vampire powers added in. Ones that come in very useful for what we do. And before you ask, contrary to the prevailing myths about us, I’m more than capable of tolerating sunlight except in the middle of the day, as long as I’m well covered.”

Bay rumbled out a laugh. “We’re a pretty mixed lot. As Felan said, I’m thirty-five—this time around.”

“You’re reincarnated?” Dirk asked, looking at him in awe.

“Reborn, but don’t look so impressed. I was cursed by a very powerful wizard way back in the middle ages. Around 1066, to be exact. Every time I die, or I’m killed, I’m reborn again, with all my memories intact. He said that way, maybe I’d learn a lesson about dabbling in things I had no business knowing.” Bay grinned, stroking his beard. “He was so wrong.”

“We’re definitely a mixed bag,” Tonio said.

“So what do you bring to the mix, Dirk?” Felan asked.

“Manipulation of the elements, although I’m still learning how to do it safely.”

Tonio cocked his head in question. “Lex thought this would be useful to us?”

Dirk nodded. “A well-placed fire or lightning bolt can deal out quite a lot of damage.”

“He has a point, Tonio,” Reni said. “I’d give my eyeteeth for that to be one of my powers. Okay, maybe not my eyeteeth. I sort of need them to survive.”

“One more question, if I may. Do you two—” Dirk pointed to Bay and Felan, “—use magic?”

Felan shook his head. “Not me. I haven’t an ounce of magical ability, unless you consider shifting magical.”

“I suspect some people would,” Bay said with a grin. “As for me, because I’m a warlock, I know a few spells, but I’m around more for my physical prowess. It’s been a long time since I actually practiced magic.”

“I should have guessed you’re the enforcer, so to speak. How tall are you anyway?”

“Barefooted, I’m six-eleven.”

Dirk chuckled. “Remind me to hide behind you if things go wrong.”

“Naw, I’ll pick you up and use you as my shield.” Bay winked, adding, “That is, if your protection spells are as strong as Tonio’s.”

“Nobody’s spells are as strong as his,” Reni said, casting a glance at Tonio.

“I’m not that good,” Tonio replied with a self-deprecating smile. “Unless it involves battle magic, that is.”

“We’ll actually be having battles?” Dirk asked warily.

“It’s happened,” Tonio said. “Not all rogues are willing to go peacefully, even when they realize we outnumber them. They call up reinforcements, instead.”

Dirk smirked. “I can see it now, all of us fighting it out with them in the middle of City Park.”

“We try to avoid that, Dirk,” Mattie said. “Lex owns three vacant warehouses we can use, if it comes down to a real battle in the city.”

Bay patted Dirk’s shoulder. “But it rarely does. We prefer subtlety to outright fighting. After all, we’re also police officers. We really don’t want to endanger anyone, other than whoever we’re after, if we can help it.”

“Speaking of which,” Tonio said, “Luis Acasta is back in business as of yesterday.”

Felan’s mouth tightened in anger. “The perks of having Peyton as his lawyer. He’s damned good. Emphasis on damned, which he should be. I say we deal with both of them.”

Tonio nodded. “It might be time to have a few words with Mr. Peyton.”

“Would just talking to him do anything?” Dirk asked.

Tonio smiled maliciously. “When Reni gets done ‘talking,’ he’ll see the error of his ways. Not that he’ll know that’s why he’s suddenly decided defending scum like Acasta is wrong, but he will.”

“Then why haven’t you done that a long time ago?”

“He’s not an easy man to get close to,” Reni said. “He knows he’s hated by anyone in law enforcement, plus all the people who’ve suffered at the hands of the criminals he’s managed to successfully defend.”

“What we need,” Mattie said thoughtfully, “is to give him someone new to defend.”

“Such as?”

Mattie went to the computer on the desk along one wall. Going into the recent arrest files, she checked who had been picked up within the last twenty-four hours. “This man should work. Steven Diaz.”

Tonio leaned over her shoulder to see who she meant. “Given that he’s part of Acasta’s organization, I agree. A small fry but still…Married?”

Mattie checked and nodded. “We’ll need to know what she looks like.”

“Not a problem. Why hasn’t he lawyered up already?”

“He did, and he’s out on bail as of eleven this morning. But,” she turned to look at Tonio, “I think Mr. Diaz should ask for a better lawyer.”

Tonio nodded. “That can be arranged. First things first, though. I have to get a look at his wife.” He made note of Diaz’s home address then headed to the door. “I’ll be back soon.”

“What’s going on?” Dirk asked. “What are you planning?”

Reni said, “Mr. Diaz, with his wife in tow because she’s so worried about him, is going to pay a visit to Mr. Peyton’s offices to see if Peyton will represent him.”

Dirk frowned. “Are you going to compel them to do that? And what good would that do anyway? It won’t get Reni close to Peyton.”

“I presume, since you’re half-elven, you know how to cast a Glamour.”

“Well yeah. I suck at holding it for more than a few minutes, but I can.”

“Tonio is unbelievably powerful at casting and holding one, or in this case two of them. One on himself, to make him look like Diaz, and one on Reni so she looks like the wife,” Mattie told him.

“Ah, now I get it. Neat trick to get on the inside. Do you do that often?”

“Not every day, but when necessary.”

“What are you going to do about…Never mind. I’m probably driving everyone crazy with all my questions. Sorry.”

Bay shook his head. “You can’t learn if you don’t ask, and since you’re now part of our team, not knowing could endanger all of us.”

Dirk nodded. “That makes sense. So what I was going to ask is, what are you going to do about this Acasta guy?”

“Take him out, permanently. We couldn’t touch him before, other than to facilitate his arrest. But now that he’s been found innocent of conspiracy to murder two of his rivals, it’s our turn to do something to stop it happening again. Or anything else he might have in mind, such as continuing on the way he was before.”

“Everyone turns a blind eye when that happens?”

“When what happens?” Felan said innocently. “Mr. Acasta is going to disappear, rather like Mr. Hoffa. With no body, the authorities, and his own people, can only wonder where he ran off to, and why.”

“Isn’t he well protected? How do you get to him to kill him?”

“Dirk, my dear, you’re going to find that out first hand, I suspect,” Mattie replied.

He winced. “Why did I think that might be your answer?”

“Because you’re a wise young man. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.”

* * * *

Tonio checked the Glamours he’d cast for any flaws. When he was satisfied he and Reni would pass inspection, he opened the door to Mr. Peyton’s law offices, and they stepped into the ornately decorated reception area.

“May I help you?” the well-endowed, bleach-blonde woman at the front desk asked.

“Yeah. Mr. Acasta said he’d set me up with a meeting with his lawyer.” Which he had, or so Peyton had assumed, when he talked to someone purporting to be Acasta.

“And you would be?”

“Steven Diaz, and wife.”

The receptionist looked at Reni as if she was someone who should have been standing on a dark street corner selling her body. Nevertheless, she informed Mr. Peyton that his clients had arrived. Three minutes later one of the doors on the far wall opened and Peyton appeared. With a tight smile of welcome he ushered Tonio and Reni into his office.

“This lovely young woman is your wife, Steven?” Peyton said, looking Reni over with a knowing leer. When his gaze reached her face she met it and entered his mind.

Half an hour later, Tonio and Reni walked out of the office. Behind them, Peyton sat at his desk, staring off into space, his eyes glazed over. Reni turned just before closing the door, snapping her fingers.

“Mr. Peyton asked us to tell you he’s not to be disturbed for the next hour,” Tonio told the receptionist. “He has some important business to attend to.”

When it looked as if the woman was going to buzz him anyway, Reni snapped her fingers again to get her attention and then mentally reinforced Tonio’s orders. With that done, she and Tonio left the office suite.

“Why do I have the feeling Mr. Peyton is going to be very unpopular in certain quarters by tomorrow morning?” Tonio said when they stepped into the elevator and he removed the Glamours.

“I have no idea.” Reni grinned. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if his body turned up in a landfill sometime in the near future.”

“Or under it,” Tonio agreed.

“Speaking of bodies…”

“Now who’s got you all atwitter?” Tonio asked with a grin as they got off the elevator.

Reni huffed, “I don’t do ‘atwitter,’ and even if I did, the body in question wouldn’t be interested in me.”

“Oh boy, dare I ask?”

“Young Master Raynell.”

“Dirk? Are you kidding? He’s a kid.”

“Twenty-one, and old enough to know his own mind.”

Tonio shook his head. “Which you probed.”

“You didn’t?”

“I didn’t. I hate when people read my thoughts, so for damned sure I’m not going to do it to anyone I know unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Okay, I can understand that. I did check his though, mainly to find out how he really felt about being on the team. It’s obvious, from all the questions he was asking, that Lex didn’t do anything more than tell him it was happening.”

“He didn’t tell me either. Just called me to his place and dumped Dirk in my lap, telling me he was my responsibility now.”

Reni chuckled. “Trial by fire for both of you.”

“That pretty much covers it. So now we get to train him and keep him safe in the process.”

“What’s this ‘we,’ elf man? Lex gave him to you.”

“He put him under my wing, and I’m making him everyone’s responsibility.”

Reni nodded. “Probably not a bad idea all told. I suspect, given who his father is, he’d got wicked latent powers that haven’t surfaced yet. With all of us watching over him, he’ll be able to deal with them, if and when they do.”

“And hope we’re not in the middle of something when it happens.”

“As long as you warn the others, we can probably handle it.”

Tonio smiled slightly. “Consider them warned.”

* * * *

Chapter 3

Bay glanced at Felan. “Did you get the message?”

“Loud and clear.” Felan turned to look at Mattie. She nodded.

Curiosity got the better of him, so Dirk asked, “What message?”

“From Tonio, saying everything went down as planned.” Bay replied.

Dirk frowned. “How? I mean I didn’t hear your phones ring, or see you checking for texts.”

Bay tapped his forehead. “Instant messaging of the mental kind.”

“Mindspeak. Why didn’t he do it for me too?”

Mattie fielded that one. “Probably because you’re so new here it didn’t even occur to him.”

“Well, if I’m supposed to be a member of this team, he’d better remember next time,” Dirk said somewhat petulantly.

Felan patted his back. “I’m sure he will in the future, when Mattie points it out to him.”

“Why me?” Mattie asked.

“Because you seem to have a special rapport with him.”

“It’s none of my business, but are you,” Dirk looked at Mattie, “and Tonio, umm, a couple or something?”

Mattie and the two men broke out laughing. “Dirk,” she replied when she could get the words out, “believe me there’s nothing between me and Tonio. He’s definitely into men.”

“Any man he can get into,” Bay added with a broad grin.

“Oh. Well…” Dirk looked nonplused.

Felan frowned. “Does that bother you?”

“Hell no!” Dirk exclaimed. Then he turned bright red. “I mean…why should it?”

“It shouldn’t, but from your reaction…” Felan shrugged. “Just wanted to be sure.” Then he chuckled.

Dirk looked at him, one blond eyebrow arched. “What’s so funny?”

“You went from being startled to being enthusiastic. Take what Bay said to heart. Our Tonio is a player. He’s never, to the best of my recollection, settled for one man for more than a week at a time, if that. Ask Nina if you don’t believe me.”

“Nina? You mean Antonia?”

“Yep.” Felan smiled softly for a moment, before apparently realizing he was revealing more than he should. “His bratty twin sister. Have you met her?”

“No. I met Tonio a long time ago when I was a kid and Father was training him. But not her.”

“All ten years ago?” Bay asked, shaking his head in amusement.

“Eleven, and it seems like ages ago. I didn’t really get to know him though, because Mother insisted I come back home. She hated it when I visited Father.”

“Really? Why?”

“I think because she hated him. She didn’t know what he was when they met, at least to hear her tell it. Then she got pregnant and he felt he should do the honorable thing.”

“Marry her?” Mattie asked.

“No. Tell her he was an elf.” Dirk looked defiantly at the others. “Yeah, I’m a bastard.”

Felan snorted. “Sometimes I think that’s the way to go. You can have your family and eat it too, to paraphrase.”

Bay rolled his eyes. “That’s a particularly gruesome thought, especially coming from a wolf.”

“Is, isn’t it.” Felan grinned.

Before anyone could say anything more, Tonio and Reni came into the room. They were immediately bombarded with questions about what had happened. While they replied, in detail, Dirk leaned against the side wall of the room, listening while he eyed Tonio.

A player, huh? Interesting.

Tonio glanced at him, a small smile quirking his lips up, before getting back to the story.

Oh hell, he didn’t…

Again Tonio looked at him, winking this time. Dirk felt his face heat up and stared down at the floor, hoping no one else had noticed.

* * * *

None too happily, Bay watched the interplay. He felt sorry for Dirk, if he really was in anyway attracted to Tonio. All he’d get in return, if anything, would be a night or two of pretty fantastic sex, before Tonio moved on to the next man who caught his fancy.

Which is unfortunate. The kid’s too young to know how to deal with that. Hell, I wasn’t all that happy when it happened to me, and I knew what to expect.

He kept his thoughts guarded, knowing Tonio’s ability to read people when they broadcast too loudly.

I should probably warn Dirk. Not that he’d listen. He doesn’t know me from Adam other than what he’s learned in the last couple of hours.

* * * *

Tonio was also thinking about Dirk, but more along the lines of telling himself the young half-elf was totally off-limits to him, even if he was gay. And that, from what he’d picked up on, was undoubtedly the case.

He’s Lex’s son. If I even thought about making a move, Lex would have my head on the chopping block despite the fact I run this team. And I much prefer my head where it is. Both of them.

He returned his attention to the problem at hand—what to do to put an end to Luis Acasta.

“Brainstorming time,” he said. “How do we get Acasta to come to us without any of his people in tow?”

“That’s not going to happen, especially now,” Mattie said. “He’s going to be ten times more alert, because he knows his rivals will be after him with blood in their eyes since he beat the conspiracy to murder charges.”

“So why not let them take him out?” Dirk asked.

“Come on. Where’s the fun in that?” Felan said with a grin.

Tonio was a bit less amused. “If they could have, they would have, long before now. No, it’s up to us to deal with him.”

“His son plays basketball on the school team,” Reni said thoughtfully. “Acasta never misses any of his games if he can help it. We could try for him there.”

“Basketball season’s over,” Bay pointed out.

“Oh. Well, damn.”

“What does he do for a living?” Dirk asked. “He has to have some kind of front, doesn’t he?”

“He owns a trucking firm,” Tonio told him.

“How cliché.”

“No kidding. And when he’s there he’s well protected.”

“You all have done things like this before. How do you usually get to someone?”

“Catch them when they’re alone and compel them to come with us,” Mattie replied.

“So when is a man, any man, usually alone—even when he’s traveling with bodyguards?”

“In the bathroom,” Bay said, catching on to what Dirk was suggesting. “But we can hardly walk into his home, or his trucking firm, and meet and greet him while he’s taking a piss.”

“Sure you could, at his business.”

Tonio shook his head. “One of us would have to go undercover, and while we’ve done it before it does take time to set up.”

“Come on, surely one of you knows an invisibility spell.” Dirk looked at the two witches.

“For ourselves,” Mattie replied.

“Teleporting?” This time Dirk’s glance landed on Felan and Tonio.

“If I’ve seen the target area, yeah,” Felan replied.

“So Mattie or Reni goes in, invisibly, to take a look and…Can either of you send him a mental picture of the bathroom? If so, you do, he teleports in and grabs Acasta. Bam, bam, boom, done.”

Tonio smiled, eyeing Dirk with a bit of respect. “You’re not half bad at planning, for a beginner.”

Dirk shrugged. “I’m just surprised you didn’t think of these things. You must have used those skills more than once.”

“We have, but not paired together the way you’re suggesting, which is stupid of us.”

Bay nodded. “It takes a newcomer with a fresh eye on things, I suspect. We’re old, and tired, and in a rut about how we approach a problem. At least when it comes to run-of-the-mill humans, so to speak.”

“Acasta is hardly run-of-the-mill,” Mattie said sourly, “but you’re right.”

“Okay, we have a plan now,” Tonio said. “Mattie, you get inside since you can hold an invisibility spell longer than Reni. Felan, when you get Acasta, take him to the cabin. We’ll go from there.”

* * * *

Dirk moved close to Reni, asking softly, “Why is she better at it? You’re the vampire.”

“I can’t mist, which is the vampire version of invisibility, and an invisibility spell takes a great deal of practice to maintain.” Reni smiled ruefully. “Once I got used to the fact I was a vampire, I sort of dropped my magic studies, figuring I wouldn’t need them. It wasn’t until I met up with Bay and he introduced me to Tonio that I realized I’d been wrong.”

“Oh.” Dirk glanced at Bay, to find he was watching them. “Are you and Bay?” he whispered.

Reni chuckled lightly. “No, we’re good friends, nothing more. He’s not interested in females in that way.”

“He’s not? Damn.”

Now Reni laughed outright, but replied quietly, “My thoughts exactly, when I found out.”

“Okay, what about Felan? I mean surely we can’t all be gay. Can we?”

“Since you just came out and admitted you are, then it’s three yeses and one no. He’s as straight as they come.”

“Reni, Dirk, if you’re finished whispering together, may I have your attention please,” Tonio said. “Mattie and Felan are going to get Acasta. We should head out to the cabin so we’re there before they arrive.”

Bay nodded. “We’ll need to use the trucks, given the fact it’s rained up there for the last couple of days.”

“True. Okay, Reni, you’ll ride with me, Dirk can go with Bay.”

When Bay clapped a hand on Dirk’s shoulder and said “Let’s go moving,” Dirk nodded reluctantly, shooting a quick look at Tonio. I wish I was riding with him. Then again, this is business so it wouldn’t have mattered. But still…He trailed Bay out of the room, his thoughts now focusing on what was going to happen next.

* * * *

“Every damned one of you is dead,” Acasta spat out the second Felan deposited him in the center of the cabin’s main room. Then he apparently realized exactly what had happened. “How the hell?”

Felan grinned. “It’s called teleportation.”

“That’s impossible!”

“Really?” Bay replied. “Then why are you here? Oh, and zip up, please. There are ladies present.” Turning to Felan he said, “You couldn’t have waited until he was finished pissing?”

“Not with his bodyguard standing there, albeit with his back to Acasta. He was a bit surprised when I walked out of a stall. I’m afraid I had to cold-cock him before he could warn Acasta and of course he—” he nodded at Acasta, “—turned his head to see what had happened. So…no, I wasn’t about to let him zip up.”

Acasta still appeared stunned about how he’d ended up in the cabin. Not, however, enough to stop him from backing toward the door. “My men will be here before you know it,” he sneered. “Do you think you can out-gun a dozen trained fighters?”

“Only a dozen?” Tonio replied with a barely suppressed grin. He pointed a finger at Acasta, murmuring something under his breath. “Why don’t we find out? It shouldn’t take them more than,” he glanced at Bay, “forty minutes to get up here? Until then, what say we put Mr. Acasta in time-out?”

Bay nodded, going to where Acasta stood, frozen in mid-step. Easily picking him up, Bay took him to the far side of the room and set him down, facing them. The man might have been unable to move, but that didn’t stop him from talking, or more to the point swearing while he told them in graphic detail exactly what would happen when help arrived.

“Damn, he’s got a mouth on him,” Dirk muttered. “Are we really going to wait for his people to show up?”

“Of course not. But before we dispose of him I have to get some information from him about his business.” Tonio went to stand in front of Acasta, putting his hands on each side of his head. Then he began to question him.

Dirk listened, frowning. “You know his answers are all lies.”

“The verbal ones, of course,” Mattie agreed. “But you know the saying about the elephant.”

“Umm, they never forget?”

She smiled. “No, the other one, where you tell someone not to think about the word ‘elephant.’”

“Ah. Okay.”

“A very useful trick when the interrogator can read minds,” Bay pointed out.

It took about twenty minutes before Tonio deemed he was satisfied he’d gotten the information they needed. Then he put Acasta to sleep and said, “Mattie, why don’t you and Dirk take our guest and plant him somewhere safely out of sight while the rest of us see to his friends.”

Dirk wanted to protest but one sharp look from Tonio, when he started to, and he shut up. With Bay doing the hauling, they got Acasta into the bed of one of the trucks. Tonio released the holding spell on the man at that point, after Bay trussed Acasta up like a Christmas turkey, then covered him with a tarp.

“Where are we taking him?” Dirk asked Mattie after they were in the truck.

“A fur piece down the road, as my grand pappy used to say,” she replied as she put the truck in gear and they headed down the lane from the cabin.

“Give me a break.”

Mattie laughed. “Okay, so he didn’t. My granddad wouldn’t have been caught dead saying something like that. But we are going a bit of a way from here. There’s some new construction for a housing development about twenty miles to the north. Mr. Acasta is going to be part of it.”

Dirk glanced out the back window at the tarp covering Acasta. “Who gets to put him out of his misery before that happens.”

She shrugged. “We could just bury him and let nature take its course.”

He looked at her in horror. “You aren’t serious?”

“No, Dirk, I’m not. I may be cold blooded when it comes to dealing with scum like him, but he will be dead first.”

Dirk sighed with relief. He understood that what they did, what he was involved in now, meant people who deserved it would be killed. But as far as he was concerned, there still had to be limits.

* * * *

::Are we ready?:: Tonio asked, mind to mind, when his sensitive hearing picked up the sound of an approaching vehicle. He got affirmative replies from each of the others.

Reni and Felan, the latter in his wolf form, sat with apparent casualness on the steps leading up to the cabin’s front door. Bay remained inside; armed with two of the high-powered pistols they kept at the cabin for such occasions. Tonio was well-hidden in the branches of a tree to the right of the cabin. From his vantage point he could see half a mile down to the end of the lane.

He watched as a car pulled off the paved road onto the lane leading to the cabin and came to a stop. Four men got out, each one carrying a rifle or pistol. At a signal from one of them, they spread out into the trees on either side of the lane and began working their way toward the cabin.

When they had surrounded it on all four sides, within shooting distance, the leader called out, “Lady, I would suggest you go inside and tell your people we’re here for Mr. Acasta. One false move and we shoot the dog, and then you, and we go get him ourselves.” He raised his rifle, pointing it at Felan.

Reni looked at him questioningly. “Who is Mr. Acasta and why do you think he’s here?”

“Don’t play dumb. You know who he is, and we know he’s here because we tracked his phone. So be a good little girl and tell whoever’s in there with him to send him out.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t do that,” Reni replied.

“Your funeral.” The man pulled the trigger.

“Tsk, tsk,” Reni said from behind him as she grabbed his weapon, twisting it from his hands. “It’s not nice to try to kill an innocent animal, or a good little girl, which trust me, I’m not.”

At the same that moment Reni was disarming her man, Felan was locking his powerful jaws onto the arm of the second man, who had been creeping to the window on the left side of the cabin.

Bay burst through the cabin’s back door, doing a good imitation of an old western gunslinger as he took out the man who had just stepped into the clearing.

That left Tonio to deal with the last man. One well-placed arrow from the bow that suddenly appeared in his hands took the man in the shoulder. A second one pierced his heart before he seemed to realize what was happening. Tonio dropped to the ground, speeding to the front of the cabin, intending to help Reni if she needed it.

“By all that’s holy,” Reni muttered, looking up from the body of the man she’d disarmed, “can’t a vampire dine in peace?”

“Sorry. Have at it, but don’t kill him. I have the feeling he’s the only one left alive and I want to question him.”

He continued on to the other side of the cabin. Felan was there, his massive front paws firmly planted on his dead victim’s chest. He swung his head around to look at Tonio. Moments later he had shifted and flashed on a pair of jeans. Wiping the blood off his mouth with one hand, he shrugged apologetically. “I was going to save him, but he seemed to think shooting me was great sport. I dissuaded him of that idea, and fast.”

“Where did he get you?” Tonio asked with concern. Then he saw the spreading bloodstain at the waistband of Felan’s pants. “Damn it, shift back again and heal,” he ordered.

“It’s only a flesh wound,” Felan protested testily. “See, it’s already stopped bleeding.”

“Let me see it,” Bay said, coming around from in back. “And don’t argue,” he added when it looked as if Felan was going to. Felan undid his jeans enough to pull then down so Bay could check the wound at the top of his hip.

Bay probed it skillfully to see if the bullet had hit bone, ignoring Felan’s bark of pain. “Do as Tonio said. Shift.” He smiled evilly. “It’s that or I get to play doctor and cut you open to get out the bone splinters.”

Felan sighed, but did as both men had ordered. By then Reni had joined them, asking, “Are we going to bury the bodies out back in the woods?”

“Except for the live one, yeah,” Tonio replied. “You stay with Felan and make sure he behaves.”

Ten minutes later the dead men were buried. Thanks to a bit of magic by Tonio, the graves were now hidden by leaves and dead branches, exactly like what was already covering the rest of the area.

When he and Bay returned to the cabin they found Felan, still in his wolf form, lying on the porch with Reni beside him. The man Reni had captured was seated on the bench under the front window, looking dazed.

“What does he think happened?” Tonio asked her, knowing she would have given him new memories of the last few hours.

“That he was in an accident on his way to meet his boss and we rescued him.”


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