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Author: Melissa F. Olson
Publisher: Publishing, 2017
Series: Nightshades: Book 2

1. Nightshades
2. Switchback
3. Outbreak

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags:
Avg Member Rating:
(6 reads / 4 ratings)


Three weeks after the events of Nightshades, things are finally beginning to settle for the Chicago branch of the BPI, but the brief respite from the horror of the previous few weeks was never destined to last.

The team gets a call from Switch Creek, WI, where a young man has been arrested on suspicion of being a shade.



Switch Creek, Illinois
Thursday night

At twenty-eight, Terry Anson wasn't particularly impressed with his lot in life.

Like everyone else in Switch Creek, Terry had left town for college, where he spent the next three years telling anyone who would listen that he was a "B&P" major, meaning, of course, "beer and pussy." The joke always got plenty of laughs--or at least, it did in his mind--but by the end of his junior year, Terry had to face the fact that even a thorough and intensive analysis of B&P was not, in fact, a viable path to graduation.

His parents had hired tutors, of course, as they had for Terry's two older siblings, but Terry shared the same fundamental blind spot as so many members of his generation: He did not truly believe he could fail at anything. Therefore, while he wasn't completely stupid, the possibility that his disinterest in studying would result in an actual, life-altering consequence like flunking out of college did not occur to him. Not until it was too late.

The spring after his junior year, Terry told his friends he had decided to take a year off, and by midsummer he'd convinced himself that this was, in fact, the truth. He was taking a break from school, simple as that. For the next few months, his days and nights were occupied with video games, beer, and the weight room at his parents' country club.

Terry could happily have gone on like this indefinitely, but in September his parents announced that his father was retiring from the money management firm in Chicago. Furthermore, they were tired of the harsh Illinois winters, and would be spending the majority of their time at the condo in Palm Springs.

This sounded like a great idea to Terry, who immediately volunteered his services as caretaker of the massive Switch Creek house. Before he could even dive into a fantasy about bringing girls from Chicago clubs back to the spacious five-bedroom, though, his parents exchanged a glance. "About that," his father said. "We're keeping this house for now, because we want to have the space for grandkids during holidays. But if you want to continue living here, you're going to need to pay rent and utilities."

"And buy your own groceries," added his mother, who had grown very tired of finding the refrigerator empty of whatever she'd been planning to make for dinner.

Terry was shocked. He looked from one to the other, waiting for a punch line, but his parents were clutching each others' hands, a sure sign that they were determined to be a united front on this matter. "What am I supposed to do?" Terry cried. "Be a stock boy at Target? How is that going to look to your friends at the club?"

His parents exchanged another look, and Terry realized with horror that they were prepared for this question. His father took a sheaf of paper out of his briefcase. "We've come up with another option."

Terry took the papers rather reluctantly. The top sheet read Thank you for your interest in employment with the Switch Creek Police Department. He looked up at his parents in confusion. "You want me to become a cop?"

"They require two years of college and two years with a law enforcement agency," his mother informed him. "Your father has called in a favor with the chief of police. Glenn will let you do your two years with the department, if you can pass all the tests."

Terry considered this, one athletic-sandaled foot resting on the edge of the coffee table. The idea wasn't necessarily repellent, but Terry had always assumed he'd graduate college and take a job in his dad's firm, doing... well, something with money. Whatever his dad and older brother did. He'd rent an expensive apartment in the Loop, spend every night with a new girl, and basically stay drunk until he hit thirty-five or so and was required to churn out grandchildren.

"This is the end of the road for us, son," added his father. "Your brother and sister are settled, and frankly, we're tired of parenting. You can do this, or you can be on your own."

"I don't care what my friends think about you working at Target," his mother put in. "I'll be in Palm Springs anyway."

"Huh." Terry rolled the idea around in his head like he was tasting a new microbrew. A beat cop? The idea wasn't exactly sexy. Then again, some girls were into guys in uniforms. And within a couple of years, surely Terry could advance up to captain or lieutenant or whatever, and eventually run the whole place. Maybe then he'd transfer over to the FBI. He could see himself in a tailored suit and expensive sunglasses, posing next to a corpse with a studious frown on his face as he spotted the crucial piece of evidence that had stumped all the locals. FBI agents had to get a ton of ass.

"Okay," Terry said. "I'm in."

The physical tests were a breeze, and for the first time in his life, Terry did do a little studying for the written exam. He passed with two points to spare, and very soon the department was sending him off to train at the academy. Terry's future, which he had always seen as hazy but bright, was at last decided. Beat cop to detective to chief to FBI agent. Nothing to it.

Terry muddled through the academy and his probationary years, but the only part of his job that he really enjoyed was the physical stuff. As much as he dreamed of chasing bad guys through a parkour-style maze of buildings, though, crime in Switch Creek was pretty much limited to a little embezzling and the occasional DUI. He couldn't believe how boring cops' lives were.

He did have a brief spark of renewed excitement when he was twenty-seven, and the public became aware of the existence of vampires. For once in his life, Terry followed the news fervently, and he was elated when the state of Illinois, like several other states, grew tired of Congress's indecision and declared the consumption of human blood illegal. Terry's patrols were briefly more exciting, as he told himself fantastical stories of Terry Anson, vampire hunter. He imagined catching a shade alive, which would surely let him leapfrog right over to the FBI's new vampire division.

Within a few weeks, however, Terry finally realized that shades had about as much of a presence in Switch Creek as serial killers. In fact, no cop in all of Illinois had managed to spot anyone breaking the new law. It was a colossal disappointment.

By then, seven years had passed without a single promotion, and Terry had begun to get angry. All of his high school friends had graduated from law school or med school--paid for by their parents, of course--secured jobs in the city, and were coming back to settle down and start families. It would be one thing if Terry were, say, the chief of police, but he was a twenty-eight-year-old beat cop. It was embarrassing as hell.

To avoid having to think too much about this, Terry began to drink, including when he was out on patrol. Little by little, the natural charm that had propelled Terry this far in life vanished, and his resentment soon turned into a suppressed rage that simmered just under the surface of all his interactions with the public.

And then in October, less than a year after the discovery of shades, his parents announced that they had decided to sell the house--which meant that Terry, who hadn't exactly been frugal with his tiny public service paychecks, would need to find himself a shitty apartment. Faced with the loss of DVR, pool privileges, and an impressive place to bring women, something dark ignited in Terry Anson. Something ready to explode.

The situation could have followed a predictable progression into alcoholism and disgrace, turning Terry Anson into another of the cautionary tales that mothers in Switch Creek told high-schoolers who didn't want to study. Before that could happen, though, Terry actually managed to bully his way into the life-altering moment he'd been longing for.

That year, the Downtown Switch Creek Association had made the decision to time their Fall Festival to the high school's Homecoming weekend, which was also the same weekend of several high school reunions, including Terry's. The idea was to give an enormous push to local commerce before the holidays really took off. For Terry, though, this meant that everyone he'd ever known seemed to be back in town to rub their successes in his face. He was even assigned to patrol at the festival, which meant that everyone would see firsthand how pathetic his life was.

So Terry was already in a black mood on Thursday night as he prowled through the bustling town square in his dorky uniform. This mood wasn't at all helped by the fact that Terry himself was about three-quarters drunk.

There were people in town he hadn't so much as thought about in ten years, and every one of them had a better life than he did. Itching to avenge this injustice, Terry lashed out by writing seven jaywalking tickets and marking a number of cars for parking infractions. He was just toying with the idea of giving a town alderman a citation for public drunkenness, just for the hell of it, when he saw Aidan Kerns leaning against a tree.

Aidan had been the only person in his graduating class who hadn't left Switch Creek at all after high school. There was something wrong with him--autism or asthma, something with an A--anyway, he'd been what Terry's mother referred to as a "troubled kid." After high school Aidan had taken a job at one of the country clubs, and he worked there to his day, washing and repairing the golf carts at night so they'd be shiny and purring for the next morning's golfers. Aidan hadn't really advanced in his job either, but unlike Terry, he'd never seemed bothered by this.

And now here he was, leaning against a tree in his pressed blue jeans and a checked shirt buttoned up to his chin, watching the live band and drinking from a bottle of beer like he was part of things. Like he belonged here as much as anyone.

In that moment, Aidan's very presence made Terry so angry that his vision seemed to pinpoint down to a dot. What the hell was the town embarrassment doing out here, walking around the festival like he was a real person? Who the fuck did that retard think he was, coming onto Terry's own territory and prancing around like he was better than him?

Terry hadn't even seen Aidan in years--that was how rarely the idiot came out of his house--but he decided he had never hated anything as much as he hated Aidan fucking Kerns.

"Hey!" he barked. A dozen people looked up in alarm, but none of them was Aidan. The idiot's disregard just fueled Terry's rage even more. "Kerns!" he shouted, and Aidan looked up with confusion. Terry stormed over.

"Oh, hello, Terry," Aidan said, his eyes dancing around, focusing on everything but Terry himself. He was wearing spotless sneakers that practically glowed in the dark, they were so white. "I haven't seen you in a while."

"What do you think you're doing here, freak?" Terry growled.

"I'm just drinking this beer." Aidan said in the same flat tone. He sniffed a little. "I smell whiskey. Are you drunk?"

Later, Terry would not remember making a decision to hit Aidan, but suddenly his fist was blurring out and colliding with Aidan's nose. The wet crunch of cartilage against his knuckles felt great.

"Ow!" Aidan cried, dropping the beer, his hands rushing to his face. He looked at Terry in genuine confusion. "You hit me!"

His weak voice alone was enough to make Terry draw back his leg to follow up with a kick. Before he could connect, though, his moment, the split second he'd been waiting all his life to recognize, finally appeared. Aidan's hands filled with blood, which began to run down his wrist toward his pristine shirt. Aidan looked around frantically for a napkin or cloth, but there was nothing. Panicked, he raised his wrist and licked at the line of blood like it was a dripping ice cream cone.

And time stopped for Terry Anson, as he recognized the opportunity that had fallen at his feet.

From the corner of his eye, he took in the onlookers, the festival attendees who'd raised their cell phones and started recording the moment Terry had hit Aidan. They wouldn't have taped the punch, but they had to have gotten the moment right after. The evidence was bulletproof. Terry Anson was about to be the first cop in the state to arrest someone under the new blood consumption laws.

He would be a hero. He would be famous. He would finally fill the gap between himself and his peers, the one that had confused and frustrated him for so long. Aidan fucking Kerns had just handed him the keys to the kingdom.

Feeling a great swell of gratitude for the little weirdo, Terry took the handcuffs from his belt, grabbed Aidan's arm, and twisted him against the tree. "Aidan Kerns," he said in his best hero-cop bellow, "you are under arrest for consumption of human blood."

Everyone was watching and whispering, and in Terry's mind, they all looked impressed. It was the greatest hour of his life.

It was also the last.

Chapter 1

Chicago, Illinois
Early Friday morning

Lindy did not like waiting in cars.

As one of the oldest living vampires in the world, she had long since grown accustomed to the perks that came with great age--accelerated strength, speed, healing, even the ability to go out during daylight. She was aware that these advantages could easily become a crutch, but they were too much a part of her not to rely on them, especially when she was hunting.

Being stuck in a closed car in the rain, however, dulled her hearing, her sense of smell, even her vision. She felt like she was fumbling through an underground maze in the dark, and after only three hours Lindy had a new, pitying respect for her human colleagues, who had to deal with this hobbled existence all the time.

To be fair, they also had a lot more practice with stakeouts.

Lindy was parked halfway down a narrow alley, the small, sensible car she'd "borrowed" from a neighbor wedged snugly in between a Dumpster and a brick building. It was dark enough that no one would spot the black vehicle as they walked by, but Lindy had a perfect vantage point to see the entrance to Vapors, a hookah lounge that served as one of Chicago's newest clubs. It was also rumored to be a major center for shade attacks, according to several anonymous tips that Lindy's office had received over the last two weeks.

Dealing with tips was pretty much all they had done during that time. Since the Chicago branch of the Bureau of Preternatural Investigations had broken their big case the month before--the case involving Lindy's twin brother, Hector, who had kidnapped and used up a number of innocent teenagers--the team had been overwhelmed with reports of shade activity.

With their team leader, Special Agent Alex McKenna, in Washington testifying in front of Congress, the remaining pod members had been frantically trying to respond to as many reports as they could. They'd had to bring in several floaters from the Chicago FBI headquarters just to handle the volume of phone calls and emails.

Most of it was nonsense, of course--now that Hector's very real murders had been exposed, every criminal in the world had decided "it must have been vampires" was the new "some other dude did it"--but one or two had caught Lindy's attention, including the suggestions that Vapors was more than it seemed.

Unlike the rest of the BPI squad, who were all humans, Lindy didn't particularly care if a group of shades had adopted a certain bar to hang out in, or even if they chose their feeding partners there. What interested Lindy was that two of the anonymous tips specifically mentioned seeing people carrying suspiciously shaped trash bags out of the bar at all hours. Shades didn't need to kill humans in order to feed--in fact, part of their whole symbiotic function with humanity was that shade saliva provided an immunity boost, which was hard to enjoy if the victim was dead. But if Hector had stayed in Chicago, and if he was still doing his experiments on shade reproduction, there would likely be more casualties. Besides, even if her brother wasn't working out of Vapors, this was a really, really bad time for another series of shade murders to come to light. The public was still outraged over the recent casualties, and anti-shade sentiment was at its highest yet. One way or another, if there were careless shades killing humans in that club, Lindy was determined to put a stop to it before it ever became public knowledge.

It was past bar close now, but people were still running in and out of Vapors, holding up umbrellas or jackets to protect themselves from the early October downpour. They were all so young, Lindy thought: early to mid-twenties, the women in scandalously short skirts and sky-high heels, the men in jewel-toned button-downs, no ties, and shiny pointed shoes. Nothing about their body language had suggested shades, and Lindy wasn't ready to get out and confront them. With the rain, she'd need to be pretty close to catch their scent, and if they were shades, she'd give herself away, too. She could beat almost any vampire in the world in single combat, but if the building was infested with them, even Lindy could be overpowered. She decided to wait and watch.

When the human traffic finally began to dwindle, she checked her watch: 3:30 a.m. Something was definitely off here. No club was that hot, not on a Thursday night. Then one last man exited the building, turning to lock the door behind him. He was different from the others: late forties, silvering hair, wearing a nice suit and flashy tie. He put his keys into the lock to bolt it, huddling a little under the awning.

This was her chance.

Leaning on her speed, Lindy leaped out of the car and raced through the alley, moving so fast that the lights in the rain became a watery blur. It felt wonderful, after sitting still for so long. By the time the manager had extracted his key and turned toward the street, Lindy had simply appeared next to him. He started in surprise, and she took a quick inhale through her nose, feeling instant disappointment. He was human.

The man blinked hard, collecting himself. "What do you want?" He had a thick accent that Lindy recognized. She gave him a genuine smile. She hadn't had a chance to practice Sicilian in ages.

"I have heard that this was a good place to party," she said in Sicilian, putting a hand against the door as though she were a little drunk. "Have I missed all the fun?"

The man's face lit up. "You speak Sicilian."

"Not nearly as well as you," she said sweetly. "It has been years since I visited. But I'm so happy to meet you...?"

"Tonio." He took a moment to give her body a long, slow appraisal. Lindy was wearing a long belted raincoat, not particularly sexy, but apparently he was imagining what might be underneath. "What can I do for you, Miss... ?"

Lindy reached up to push damp blond curls out of her face, using the opportunity to touch her tongue to one finger. She reached out and took the Sicilian man's hand in both of hers. "You can tell me what really goes on in here," she said, pushing power into the words. She held on to the hand, to keep the rain from washing away her best weapon. Shade saliva had a remarkable ability to make its victims pliant and suggestible, which the humans usually referred to as mesmerizing. Lindy couldn't really blame them for being afraid of her, given that her spit acted as both a narcotic and a truth serum.

The Sicilian blinked, confused, and Lindy saw that the question had been too broad. "Do shades hang out here?" she said, still smiling.

"Not... not that I know of... ," Tonio sputtered, looking disappointed. He so wanted to please her. She leaned forward and inhaled through her nose. Tonio smelled of aftershave, cologne, deodorant, expensive tequila, body odor, and grubby cash. There wasn't the slightest whiff of shade around him, nor did he smell like any of the things shades used to hide their scents.

Had she spent all these hours trapped in that metal box for nothing? "Why is the club open so late?" she asked.

"It's not really for clubbing," he explained, still in Sicilian. "We have different suppliers coming in and out, is all."

"And what," Lindy said, giving him a flirtatious smile, "do they supply, this late at night?"

"On Tuesdays we receive cocaine, Ecstasy, LSD, and Molly," Tonio said immediately.

Lindy dropped his hand. The saliva would have been fully absorbed by now, but she was disappointed. Club drugs weren't legal, but they had nothing particularly to do with shade crime, which meant there was no way they would help her find Hector. She would have to figure out a way to get this information to someone at the DEA or the local cops, but--

"And on Wednesday nights we get in the girls," Tonio added hopefully, like a man trying to impress a date with his annual salary. "You could come back...."

Lindy had already started to turn away, but that brought her up short. "What girls?"

"You know," he said eagerly. "Young ones."

The bodies in the garbage bags.

Well, Lindy thought, at least the night wouldn't be a total loss. She smiled at Tonio, leaned over, and kissed him on the cheek. The large dose of saliva hit his bloodstream, and his eyes widened with desire. Oh, this one was particularly susceptible. She knew if she looked down, there would be a bulge in his pants. "Tonio," she said in a breathy voice. "I want you to get in your car and drive to the nearest police station, about seven blocks north of here. Do you know where it is?"

He nodded, frantic to please her now. "Good. When you arrive, I want you to tell the police all about the drugs and the girls. Make a full confession, but leave me out of it. In fact, the moment you arrive at the police station, you're going to forget we ever met. Do you understand?"

"Yes." He reached for her, a quick grab at her waist to pull her close, but Lindy was expecting it. Carefully, so as not to kill him, she raised one arm and gave him a light punch to the solar plexus.

Tonio cried out and doubled up, retching. She took a step back, but he didn't actually vomit. "Go now," she said to Tonio, who turned on his heel and fled, still bent at the waist.

Sighing, Lindy trudged through the rain, back to the alley and her waiting car. So much for Vapors.

She knew she had put too much hope on finding a link to Hector here, but she was running out of ideas. Because of the downpour, and because she was preoccupied with thoughts of Hector and the horrible acts he could be committing at that moment, Lindy was nearly to her car before she saw the man leaning against it, holding a black umbrella that covered his face.

She hissed, instinctively bracing for attack, but the umbrella tipped backward, and the graying head that peered out from it was familiar: Special Agent Harvey Bartell, one of the other five members of the Chicago pod. He wore a black trench coat, and the hand without the umbrella was held up in the universal sign for "I mean no harm." As he looked at her, though, his expression changed from calm interest to fear, and the hand strayed toward his gun.

Whoops. Lindy rearranged her facial expression to something human--and mildly annoyed. "You shouldn't sneak up on shades, Agent Bartell."

"Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to startle you."

She stepped closer, past the rain, and inhaled his familiar scents: musty newspapers, pipe tobacco, soap, deodorant, that something else that they didn't talk about--and the remnants of fear. His pulse tripped a little, and his gaze flickered.

She raised an eyebrow. "Liar." He had wanted to see what would happen if she were taken off guard. It was a stupid decision, but Lindy understood that in his own strange way, it had been altruistic. If she attacked someone just for surprising her, Bartell would rather it be him than a member of the public.

Now he gave her a genuine grin. "Forgive me, but with the rain and the car, I thought this might be the only chance I'd ever get. Could we talk?"

She gestured toward the passenger door, and they both got into the little black car, Lindy at deliberately human speed, and Bartell in that cautious way that aging humans had, where a tiny part of their subconscious was warning them to go slow so as not to break a hip.

"I'd ask how you tracked me down, but I suppose I have the answer right here," she said tiredly, holding up her wrist. The bracelet gleamed in the dim light from the dash. It was expensive, nearly unbreakable, and contained the best tracking device the Bureau had access to. Lindy hated it, even if she had to admit it did go with everything.

"Noelle owed me a favor," Bartell said, unembarrassed. Noelle was the FBI technician who had been tasked with maintaining the bracelet. "And I wanted to talk to you without the others."

"What about?"

"This." He gestured toward the club entrance. "You shouldn't be out here, Miss Frederick. Not alone."

"Oh?" She turned her body sideways, finally giving him her full attention. That was... well, it was cute. "You think I can't handle some drug-dealing pimp in Prada? He's not even a shade."

He chuckled. "I know I wasn't there when you guys went after Hector, but I've heard the stories. I'm not worried about your personal safety."

"Then what is your objection?"

"The way you're going about it." His features softened. "I know Alex has been gone, and we're scrambling all over the place to keep up with these reports. But eventually, someone else is going to notice that you're going out alone, without telling anyone."

"As you said, I can handle myself."

"That's not the point. You agreed to work for the BPI, Miss Frederick." Involuntarily, she glanced down at the silver bracelet. She hadn't exactly signed on by choice. Bartell followed her look and shrugged. "Still. It was a ballsy move, considering what you are, and a dangerous one, too. Considering all the anti-shade sentiment floating around..." He hesitated for a moment, then forged on. "I'm not positive that the FBI director would honor your agreement if your status became public."

This thought had occurred to her as well. Lindy's attorney had approved her federal pardon, but it had all been done in such a rush, when Hector was terrorizing teenagers in the Chicago area. Now that the ink was dry and individual states were doing their best to make life hard for shades, Lindy didn't know if she could trust anyone in the BPI above Alex. "But you must have noticed," Bartell went on, "that not one of the agents in our pod has ratted you out."

She had to admit, this was true. After the raid on the abandoned dental office, Lindy had quietly gone around to the FBI SWAT team and made sure that none of them remembered that she was more than human. It had been easy to mesmerize them to alter their reports, and she could have simply done the same thing to the six other members of the BPI pod, including their office manager. But something had held her back.

As if he read her mind, Bartell nodded. "We know you could have taken the memory from us, like you did the others. You trusted us to keep your secret, and in return, you got a degree of loyalty. Despite what you are."

"Loyalty," she echoed, a little bitterness in her voice. In the last few weeks, they'd barely spoken to her, and she often smelled fear following her around the office like a shadow. "But not trust."

Bartell opened his empty hands. "Sarah trusts you. I trust you. You saved our lives--more than that, you risked your own life to save us. And I think Alex would go to hell and back for you. The others..." He shrugged. "They're a little wary. It's in our nature."

"As humans?"

He smiled. "I meant as law enforcement. But yes, I suppose as humans, too. Try to see it from our perspective. All we've heard about shades so far is two hundred years of vampire stories and your brother's... recent activities."

Lindy winced. "I'm trying to change that."

"I know you are. You're showing us that your kind can be compassionate. But this sneaking around thing..." He gestured to the empty alley, the club door. "If you want the pod's trust, this is not the way to go about it."

Hmm. Lindy looked at the old agent with fresh eyes. Bartell came off as a quiet, nose-to-the-grindstone worker bee, and during the fracas with Hector and his people, he had mostly been sidelined with an injury. Lindy had more or less dismissed him as either a threat or an ally. Perhaps he needed reevaluating.

"What would you have had me do?" She tilted her head toward the club. "This happened to be a false alarm, but the reports all claimed that the shades only used this location at night." When even young shades were awake and powerful.

"So we'd raid them at night." His voice was calm.

"This club has three entrances. Two fire escapes. About nine different rooms inside, in a pattern that seems designed to disorient the patrons so they stick around and dance longer."

"What's your point?"

An image flashed in her mind, making her flinch: Alex, bleeding out on the floor of a dirty abandoned building, his face and body slashed and dying. She'd been so scared. When was the last time she'd been that scared? When was the last time she'd been scared at all?

Lindy forced herself to unclench her jaw. "I can't protect all of you, not in a place like this, especially if there were multiple suspects. Some of you would get hurt, or die. Again."

A look of understanding flashed over his face. "Maybe we will," he replied, not unkindly. "But what do you think would happen to us if you weren't part of the team? If you weren't there at all? Because I can tell you for certain, we'd still go into that building. That's what we all signed on for. Including Alex." She gave his face a close look at that, but his expression was unchanged. "You need to trust us to do our job."

Lindy thought that over for a few minutes. He had a point, but she wasn't ready to concede completely. "You talk to me about trust," she said quietly, "but you're not exactly being open with the team either." Bartell kept his poker face, so she added, "About where you go on Friday mornings?"

Now he flinched. "You know about that?"

"I can smell it."

Bartell was too seasoned an agent to actually shudder, but even he couldn't suppress a look of discomfort. He shifted in the seat. "I'll tell them when I have to."

Lindy just nodded. "And we'll keep this"--she gestured to the alley, just as he had--"between us?"

He gave her a sad look, like a parent disappointed in their child. "You don't have to extort me, Ms. Frederick. I would have kept your secret anyway."

She tilted her head. "Fair enough," she allowed.

Bartell reached for the door. "Oh, and Harvey?" She touched his bare hand, which he pulled to his chest in alarm. He'd been properly briefed on shade security. Good. "I see that your heart is in the right place, and you want me to be part of the team. I really do appreciate that."

The smell of fear wafted in the car, though he did an excellent job of hiding it. "But?"

"But in the future, I'd be careful how you present these 'wise old mentor coaches the new girl' talks. I may look like a college student, but I was already powerful when your great-great-grandparents were conceived." She gave him her real smile, the one that didn't account for human flight-or-fight responses. "Try not to forget it."

He swallowed hard. "Goodnight, Ms. Frederick."

"See you tomorrow, Agent Bartell."

He got out of the car, and she watched him walk away on legs that shook only a little.

Copyright © 2017 by Melissa F. Olson


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