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The two agents had left for some sort of special training up in Quantico about a week after the battle with the golems. Meanwhile I was left to grapple with information I’d been told, stuff I’d seen, and things I’d deduced. Zack couldn’t come right out and confirm my suspicions about the two of them, but he had repeatedly stressed that Ryan’s safety could be jeopardized if he knew the truth. I still didn’t know if Zack was Ryan’s guard or his guardian, but I had an odd gut feeling that the training was a convenient excuse for Zack to get Ryan away for a while.

Jill’s face twisted into a sympathetic expression. “Men are dicks,” she announced, “and Ryan’s being an emo dick, which is the worst sort.”

I smiled despite my angst. “Ryan’s never really struck me as the emo type.”

She gave a snort. “Please. Zack says that he’s being Mr. Moody—moping around or taking out whatever frustrations he has on anyone silly enough to be willing to train with him.” Then her eyes softened—which wasn’t an expression I was used to seeing on Jill. “Look, it really messed him up when he thought you’d died.”

My stomach tightened again, and I had to work hard to keep a neutral expression on my face while I gave her a nod. The only reason I hadn’t died was because of Ryan. And what he’d somehow been able to do.

…he straightened, expression smoothing to ice, with only his eyes showing a devastating rage. He raised his hands before him, and in the next heartbeat the space between his hands filled with white-blue potency. He lowered his head, lip curling as he unleashed the power at the golem.…

“I know,” I managed to say. “But I didn’t die.” I shrugged, wishing I could shrug off the tension and uncertainty as well. Was that why Zack and Ryan left? Did they need to make sure that Ryan wouldn’t go all demonic-lord-smites-his-enemies again? “Whatever. I’ve been through worse.”

She gave a mock shudder. “Unfortunately, that’s far too true. You’re such a drama queen!”

I grinned. “And you still hang with me.”

“Makes me look good in comparison!” Then she lifted her chin in the direction the BMW had gone. “So, you and the football star, huh? Spill!”

“There’s nothing to spill,” I insisted. “We were in the same Early Japanese Art class. We found out that we were from the same town. He asked me out. He was nice. We dated for about two months. We parted ways.”

She eyed me. “And…?”

I laughed. “Okay, he was also my ‘first.’”

“Niiiiice,” she said with an approving nod. “That’s how to get off to a good start.” Then she cocked her head, eyes sparkling mischievously. “So was it? A good start?”

“As good as any first time is, I suppose. He’s a decent guy. We just had absolutely nothing in common. And he was a damn sight nicer than my second boyfriend. Complete asshat and sucked in bed.”

Her lips twitched. “And now you date a demon.”

“And now I date a demon.” I shrugged. “Clearly I haven’t learned a damn thing.”

Chapter 3

The car heater did its best to pump out something resembling heat, but there was only so much that the poor Taurus could do for me. I could hardly blame it. It wasn’t often that it was called upon to perform this sort of service. To its credit, it had a quite efficient air conditioner, which was usually far more important, since the summers were insanely brutal. Hell, I’d probably be needing the air conditioner again in less than a week. Weather in this area tended to be rather inconsistent.

After a few minutes of driving, though, I gave up and pulled into the parking lot of the first non-outrageously priced clothing store I could find that was open. Yes, I had real jackets and warm clothing at home, but that was more than a half hour away. I was freezing my ass off now.

My plan was to buy the cheapest, warmest jacket I could find and maybe a pair of gloves. But when I walked into the store the first thing that caught my eye was the mannequin by the door. Or rather, what was on the mannequin.

“Oh, sweetie,” I murmured. “You belong on me.” I looked to the sales girl behind the counter. “I’d like to try that on, please.”

I slid the coat on while the sales girl looked on approvingly.

“It’s on sale, you know,” she said slyly.

I ran my hands over it, inhaled deeply of the rich scent of the black leather. “Would it be wrong for me to say I don’t care?” This mid-thigh length beauty fit snugly up top and skimmed over my hips, flaring out just enough to allow me to move and sit in comfort, with the side benefit of giving me something resembling a real figure. I didn’t usually have anything close to a defined waist, and my bust was far from exceptional, but the cut of this coat gave me actual curves without making me look chunky. A stand-up collar blocked the cold without giving me the sense I was choking, and also looked satisfyingly tough. I swung my arms, pleased to see that even though it fit me like a second skin, I could still move freely in it. Fucking hell, yes. I was buying this coat. Who needed savings? At the rate I was going, I wouldn’t live to see retirement anyway.

I ignored the whining of my credit card and my conscience. I bought black leather gloves as well, because what’s a badass coat without badass gloves? It was a good thing the store didn’t sell boots, because I had no doubt I’d have bought some. I had the brief urge to hand my Members Only jacket to the girl to dispose of, but my frugal side made a last-ditch rally and managed to slap a bit of sense into me.

Ten minutes later I was back in my car—and feeling not only warm but tough, because there’s nothing like leather to make one feel invincible.

* * *

I didn’t have any pressing need to go to the station since the report on the death of Barry Landrieu could certainly wait until Monday. However, two weeks ago the gods had decided that I was a good and just person and deserved to be compensated for the selfless works I had performed, and Grounds For Arrest had opened directly across the street from the Beaulac Police Department.

It was like Mecca and Nirvana and Valhalla all rolled into one. It was my Shangri La. They served coffee with chicory. And it was Good.

I parked in the detective’s parking lot of the PD since the café lot was being converted into a drive-through. A gust of wind caught me as soon as I stepped out of my car, and I bared my teeth in a grin. This wasn’t the icy wind from a possible summoning. This was simply winter. But I’m dressed for it now, bitches.

The clouds had successfully choked off the sun’s pathetic attempt to infiltrate the day, and the sky was back to being grey and ugly. A battered pickup chugged desultorily down the street, while a cherry red Camaro following it blasted a heavy bass beat from behind tinted windows. Grill smoke from a hamburger shack down the street whipped past me, stirring my appetite, but in the next heartbeat the wind shifted, bringing with it the sour smell of the Dumpster behind the PD. A couple hunched against the wind as they made their way down the street, surprising me when they stopped to admire the display in the window of an antique shop. I didn’t think this was the sort of weather anyone would want to go window-shopping in.

Squaring my shoulders in my kickass new coat, I crossed the street and ducked into the café. I pulled the door shut behind me and inhaled with pleasure as the scent wrapped me in its warm, pillowy embrace. Tugging my gloves off, I approached the counter.

The barista smiled as he passed a tall cup to me. “Morning, Kara. A pound of sugar, a gallon of cream, and a splash of coffee, right?”