Suspense Urban Fantasy R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
G houl   Enforcer.   Cool   nickname.   But   the   job   forces   seventeen-year- old   Caitlin   to   make   life   and   death   decisions.   As   the   vampire   queen's intern,   she's   faced   do-or-die   predicaments.   Starting   college   should bring   some   normalcy,   but   ghouls   are   sprouting   up   everywhere   and she's   expected   to   "resolve"   them.   The   Revenir   realignment   has   shifted across    the    Atlantic    and    Cait    is    heaved,    tied    and    hooded,    into    the middle   of   the   battling   European   clans.   If   the   factions   don't   kill   her, her queen may, for interfering in her war plans.
CHAPTER ONE ~ T he   dude   had   to   be   six-nine,   two   twenty.   Not   that   out   of   place   on   a   competitive   basketball court,   but   not   what   I   typically   faced   here   in   the   afternoon   for   a   pickup   game.   I   played   at the   USF   campus   last   week   in   the   evening   where   I   faced   several   of   them.   They   thought   a chick under five foot out there was funny. I showed 'em what a little girl can do. Every   time   I   saw   this   guy   I   thought   about   how   familiar   he   looked,   but   heck   if   I   could place him anywhere but in the UT gym. I   shifted   my   hip   just   enough   to   miss   the   sweat   towel   Cory   tried   to   snap   me   with.   I pointed a finger at him and glared. The flirt. "It was a fun run," he said. Yeah, it was. I hit the winning jumper. I always like to save the day. I'd   been   playing   since   two   o'clock.   Probably   five   by   now.   Should   be   heading   home,   but hard to give up a court when you're winning. "Look who we have now." Cory head-flicked to the middle of the court. "Yeah. That guy's big." Cory followed my line of sight. "No. Not Tree. The guy in the red shoes." I   glanced   across   the   five   new   guys   stretching   out,   preparing   to   run   against   us.   No   way. The   guy   disappeared   behind   the   clutter   of   the   other   four.   Not   much   taller   than   me.   And most Munchkins are taller than me. "He's from out of state," Cory said. "Will be the Spartan starting point guard." "Kind of old, isn't he?" I asked. "Eh." Cory shrugged. "Why's he playing pickup out here?" I asked. "What. Are we chopped liver?" "You are." He   twirled   his   towel   in   threat.   I   threatened   to   pull   down   his   shorts.   He   thought   that was funny. I wasn't kidding. "We'll give you help on 'im when we can," Cory promised. I   snorted.   Told   him   he   better   worry   about   the   tree.   He   implied   there   wasn't   much point   fighting   for   rebounds   against   that   guy.   I   rolled   my   eyes.   What   a   glass   half-empty kind   of   guy.   And   he   wanted   to   ask   me   out.   Poor   guy.   I   had   been   preoccupying   his   limited mental faculties since the first day I walked on the court early summer. This   whole   empathy   thing   I'd   been   cursed   with   has   its   upside.   Spanking   new   to   the college   scene,   I   have   no   interest   in   investing   my   few   free   hours   dating   a   gym   rat.   So   I'd kept my distance from Cory. But that didn't mean I couldn't razz him a little. "Since you're ceding all the rebounds, I'll cover the tree for you." Cory   doubled   up   in   an   exaggerated   laugh.   The   snot.   I   set   down   my   jug   of   water   and headed for midcourt to bring in the ball. Cory continued to snicker as he followed me. "You better concentrate on Red Shoes." Tree   walked   toward   me   with   a   smile   on   his   face.   He   recognized   me.   His   knuckles   came out and I gave him a bump. "You used to play for Tampa Prep, didn't you?" he said. I just gave him a head thrust and kept walking. He twisted to stay with me. "Heard   you   broke   your   back   or   something   in   a   wreck,"   he   said.   "You   missed   your senior year, huh?" Who was this guy? "I hear wrong?" he pressed. I gave him a double eye squint. Figured that would get him to leave me alone. "Well,   you   look   okay   now.   Better   than   okay.   Been   watching   you   all   afternoon.   You have some new moves since I saw you last." Okay, I gave him a softer eye, but I wasn't going to get all mushy and say thanks. "My   sister   played   for   Jefferson.   I   loved   watching   you   two   mix   it   up,   considering   you looked her in the knee." "You   think   calling   me   short   is   going   to   endear   me?"   I   might   have   snapped   that   out   a little loud. But Tree laughed. It was a fun laugh. Sincere. I might have even smiled. "You   have   quite   the   vertical   now,"   Tree   said.   "I   thought   you   could   hang   before,   for your,   you   know."   He   flipped   a   finger   up   and   down,   as   though   I   could   never   read   between the lines on that one. Cory's   voice   irritated   my   ear   like   a   gnat.   He   was   trying   to   get   someone   to   check   the ball. "You share your coach with me?" Tree asked. "Nah," I said. "He's my secret weapon." "That's   cold."   Tree   walked   to   the   top   of   the   key   and   motioned   for   the   ball,   but   when Cory whipped it at him, Tree just hung the ball under his arm and stepped nearer. "So what have you been up to?" he asked. Tree's   interest   level   was   up   there   with   Cory's.   I   so   didn't   have   time   for   this.   I   suggested he   check   the   ball.   Next   thing   I   knew,   Red   Shoes   was   pressing   his   chest   into   my   face.   Jeez. I   pressed   my   hand   against   him   and   pushed   him   back.   The   A-hole   slapped   me   across   the forearm, hard. The jerk. "Cool it," I snarled at him. Red   Shoes   snarled   right   back   at   me   in   what   language,   I   don't   know.   I   can   get   in trouble   in   German   and   French,   ask   for   directions   to   the   ladies'   room   in   Italian.   His   words were   similar   to   Italian,   but   the   accent   was   way   more   guttural.   The   tone   was   clear   though. Good   trash   talk   straight   out   of   the   hood.   Harsh   for   a   white   guy.   And   we   hadn't   even checked the ball. In French, I told the guy to kiss my derriere. By   his   expression,   Red   Shoes   didn't   understand   my   words.   A   few   laughs   from   the other   guys   must   have   ruffled   his   feathers,   because   he   crossed   back   into   my   personal space.   A   buzz   erupted   in   my   chest,   flowed   up   and   out   my   nape.   A   weird   sensation,   a   little like having a Revenir shift in my face. I   couldn't   remember   ever   hating   a   person   immediately   before,   but   I'd   just   experienced it with Red Shoes. "He's   eager,"   Tree   said,   and   laughed.   He   glanced   around   to   ensure   no   one   was   tying   a shoe   or   in   a   coma,   and   flipped   the   ball   to   Cory   in   that   way   that   requires   palming   the   ball. Dang the guy had big hands. I   sprinted   around   a   pick   to   the   far   side   of   the   court   to   take   Cory's   inbound   off   my   chin and   Red   Shoes   was   already   in   my   face.   I'd   never   seen   a   guy   with   such   fast   feet.   I   drew   the ball   in   a   dribble   behind   my   back   and   headed   for   the   top   of   the   key   when   I   caught   a shoulder in the temple that took me off my feet. I   was   still   sliding   across   the   hardwood   as   I   watched,   between   my   size   fours,   Red   Shoes sprinting for the other side of the court, freaking dunking the ball. Screams   and   cat   calls   erupted   from   the   sidelines.   A   couple   of   offered   hands   to   help   me up   waved   in   front   of   my   face,   but   my   eyes   focused   on   Red   Shoes,   who   twisted   my   way with   an   expression   that   chilled   me.   He   held   a   hand   out,   one   finger   out,   drew   his   thumb down   like   it   was   a   gun   hammer.   The   chill   drew   a   shudder   starting   in   my   heart   that radiated through every limb. This guy hated my guts. What in the heck had I ever done to him? I   remembered   that   initial   sensation   I   got   from   him.   Jeez.   The   same   one   I   got   from Aggie last fall. The guy is juiced. Cheese Wiz. "Man," Cory whined. "He fouled you. Call a foul." "You   okay?"   Tree   loomed   over   me   blocking   out   the   sun—well,   the   overhead   lights.   The warm   sensation   on   my   back   was   from   his   hand.   "You've   turned   white   as   a   sheet,   girl.   You okay?" Cory   was   walking   for   the   midcourt   line   complaining   that   point   didn't   count.   As   though I   would   call   a   foul.   Hard   enough   to   be   one   of   the   few   chicks   out   here.   If   I   wanted   to   be taken   seriously,   I   couldn't   make   any   calls   unless   I   looked   down   at   my   arm   lying   on   the hardcourt. Cory   and   Red   Shoes   met   at   midcourt   and   a   pushing   match   developed.   Every   dude   on the sidelines washed onto the court to get between the two. "Hey. Twenty-four. You okay?" Heck.   Tree   even   remembered   the   number   I   wore   over   a   year   ago.   "I   have   a   stalker?"   I asked him. "Huh?" The   court   was   kind   of   filling   up.   If   Cory   wasn't   careful,   he'd   get   banned   from   the   gym. Tree   grabbed   me   under   the   arms   and   dragged   me   away   from   the   melee   before   I   got stomped on. "Get Cory out of there, will you?" I begged Tree. Chapter Two ~ I 'd   grown   seriously   tired   of   holding   the   ice   to   my   temple.   I   didn't   need   it,   but   Tree   had insisted.   My   metabolism,   thanks   to   a   little   of   Lezlec's   blood   last   fall,   helps   me   bounce   back from a lot—like cracked and fused vertebrae. I   rose   from   the   stadium   bleachers   and   poured   the   mostly   melted   ice   into   the   shrubs below,   wadded   up   the   bag   compliments   of   one   of   the   athletic   trainers,   and   stuffed   it   in   the near basket. "I need to head home, guys. My dad will worry." "I said you could use my phone," Cory repeated. "You already started one riot. I don't need questions at home." "Huh?" Cory mumbled. "Caller ID." I shook a duh head at him. Tree said, "You are way too tense. Not good for you." I   didn't   need   advice   from   a   guy   whose   idea   of   stopping   a   fight   was   pushing   everyone   to the floor. "See   ya,"   I   said,   flicking   my   sweat   towel   at   Cory's   head.   Have   no   idea   why   I   did   that. Didn't need to encourage the poor guy. "I'll walk ya to your car," Tree said. I snorted. "I don't need an escort." But he fell alongside. Dang. Cory stayed with him. Really? Guys. "So   what   was   Red   Shoe's   problem,   anyway?"   Cory   asked.   "You   make   him   look   bad   in another game or something?" I   picked   up   my   pace   hoping   one   or   both   would   get   tired   of   tailing   me.   "Never   seen   him before today." "He   acted   as   though   he'd   seen   you,"   Tree   mumbled.   "I'd   watch   out   for   that   dude.   He seem a little off to you?" "The guy's nuts," Cory gushed. That's   all   I   needed   was   an   insane   juiced   dude   in   my   life.   I   didn't   look   forward   to   the call   to   Wyoming.   Renee   needed   to   know   I   found   another   one   like   Aggie.   The   population   of endowed had sure exploded in Tampa lately. We   stepped   into   the   parking   garage   but   the   shade   didn't   help   with   the   stifling   Florida heat.   Satan   must   feel   at   home   in   Florida   in   August.   I   think   I'd   sweated   more   on   the   walk from the stadium than in three straight hours of basketball. I reached Ziggy, my guilt gift from Renee, and grabbed the door latch. Cory said, "Sweet ride." Tree asked, "How'd you unlock it?" I   slid   into   the   seat   and   gave   the   two   jocks   a   tootles-wave,   pulled   the   door   closed behind   me.   Jeez.   These   guys   couldn't   take   a   hint.   They   both   wore   puppy-dog   expressions, like   I'd   tapped   them   on   the   nose   for   leaving   poo   in   the   den.   University   of   Tampa   needs more jockettes in the gym. I   tried   to   ignore   them   as   I   backed   up.   Driving   for   the   exit   I   caught   Mutt   and   Jeff   in   my rearview   mirror,   gawking,   as   though   I   had   used   some   of   Aggie's   special   vibes   on   them   or something.   At   the   light   at   Kennedy   I   loosened   the   laces   of   my   shoes.   Aye,   feet   swell   after hours   of   hoops.   I   pulled   my   phone   out   of   the   console   and   rolled   my   eyes.   Eleven   texts. How'd I get so popular? First   was   from   Adam,   checking   up.   Jeez.   He   has   an   ancient   vampire   to   keep   happy. How's   he   find   the   time   to   worry   about   me?   Second   text   was   from   Dad—was   I   going   to make   it   for   dinner?   Okay,   I   was   texting   as   I   pulled   through   the   light,   but   only   three   words, and two were really short, all three single syllables. Snort.   Vampire   to   keep   happy.   "You're   over   using   the   word,   Cait.   Gonna   get   you   in trouble."   One   day   I'd   use   vampire   in   front   of   Renee   again,   and   after   her   last   warning,   she wasn't going to let me off the hook so lightly. Genna   told   me   Renee   ripped   Rene-Paul   to   shreds   once,   not   figuratively,   for   using   the word.   Of   course   he   can   regenerate.   Evidently   it's   a   lot   worse   for   a   Revenir   to   use   the   term than   a   lowly   caucus   citizen.   And   Rene-Paul   is   far   from   a   lowly   peon.   Not   an   ancient,   but pure   Revenir.   The   females   of   the   species   aren't   that   fertile.   Rene-Paul   is   the   last   born   to two Revenir in like forever. Nine   more   texts   to   go,   but   I   opted   to   be   good   and   set   my   phone   on   the   other   seat,   for four   minutes.   At   the   last   light   before   I   got   home   I   read   Aggie's   snarking   that   I   hadn't loomed    over    her    in    days    and    she    was    feeling    forgotten.    Jeez.    It    was    just    Tuesday    I dropped in on her. I texted her, ddnt kno u were so needy.   Number    eight    was    from    my    adopted    little    brother,    Zach,    who's    in    Chicago    this summer   taking   a   college   class.   The   dweeb's   only   fourteen.   He   said,   gotta   get   off   campus and find some nerds. He   didn't   need   to   make   friends.   I've   never   met   anyone   before   so   slick   at   forcing   an introduction.   His   issue,   he   can't   live   without   a   box   of   Nerds   candy   in   his   hand.   He   must have run out. The kith dentist must hate him. I deleted that text. No answer necessary. Number nine hit me almost as hard as Red Shoes— I hate you. A   horn   blast   made   me   lurch   a   foot   for   the   go-fast   pedal.   Jeez.   I   was   only   two   car lengths away from the guy in front of me. Rush hour traffic isn't for weenies. "You hate me?" I mumbled. "What is that about?" I   used   to   have   a   quiet   life.   It   was   just   last   summer   that   the   world   changed   on   me. Suddenly   I'm   on   a   first   name   basis   with   a   half-dozen   ancient   vampires,   Navy   SEALs and—wait,   Adam   was   a   Green   Beret.   Anyway,   I   have   kick-butt   commandos   texting   me   to see   how   I'm   doing.   The   queen   is   sending   me   on   weekend   trips   to   personally   threaten   her enemies,   visit   potential   ghouls,   and   I   have   a   new   sister   that   mopes   around   and   blames   me for—everything. She once liked me. I   think   mostly   she   hates   I   have   my   own   private   bathroom.   She   shares   one   with   the upstairs   guest   room.   She   has   it   so   tough.   Okay,   my   closet   is   twice   as   big   as   hers,   but   she has   like   five   things   to   hang   up   anyway.   For   girls,   neither   of   us   are   much   into   clothes.   My disaster   is   shoes.   One   for   every   kind   of   sport   that   exists.   That   and   a   pair   of   penny   loafers, a leftover from my Kith Prep days. I   pulled   into   our   driveway,   huddled   tight   to   the   right,   not   that   Tricia   is   a   bad   driver   or anything.   But   I   don't   take   chances   with   Miss   Ziggy,   a   BMW   Z4.   Oh.   A   big   element   I   left   off my   newness   list.   A   stand-in   mother.   Dad   needs   to   marry   the   woman.   Maybe   she   would chill   a   little.   Wound   way   too   tight.   Besides,   what   kind   of   role   models   are   they,   living   in sin, for two impressionable young daughters? I grabbed my pack and gym bag out of the back with a sigh. Inside,   Molly   raced   to   greet   me,   which   turned   my   frown   upside   down.   I   loved   on   her for   a   moment.   Dad's   voice   crooned.   "In   my   office."   Duh.   Like   Molly   didn't   sleep   next   to his desk all day. I   tromped   down   the   hall   like   a   zombie   to   avoid   stepping   on   my   laces.   Dad   turned   his cheek   toward   me   as   I   entered   his   office.   A   voice   I   didn't   recognize   from   only   two   syllables said, "Hey, Cait," on the speaker. "Hey," I answered back, gave Dad his kiss. "That   about   covers   it,   Tom,"   Mr.   Cantu,   the   male   half   of   our   Dallas   caucus   leaders, said. "You guys have a good weekend." Hanging   up   with   Mr.   Cantu   wasn't   that   simple.   It   took   another   five   minutes.   But   it was   the   first   quiet   moments   I'd   had   all   day,   so   I   hung   around   and   loved   on   Molly   the Wonder Labrador. Finally   disconnecting,   Dad   asked   me   about   my   day.   I   was   prepared.   I   held   my   phone out to him with Lisa's text. "I hate you," Dad read aloud. "Dang, I hate teenage girls." "Uh. I'm a teenager. I'm a girl." "You included," he said. "Much more grief than you're worth." "I love you too." "'Cause I'm loveable. You're just a snotty girl." Maybe   because   of   the   whole   Red   Shoes   thing,   but   I   was   feeling   a   little   like   a   teenage girl, so I said, "Why don't you act loveable and make an honest woman of Tricia." Dad dropped his mouth open wide. Yeah. Take that, old man. Whoyeah. I   waited   a   ten-count.   I   guess   he   wasn't   going   to   answer   my   charge,   so   I   just   sighed. "From   your   text,   I   thought   I'd   find   you   in   the   kitchen."   I   checked   my   phone.   It   was   six- fifteen. He should  be in the kitchen. "Thought I'd call for pizza." I gave him a brow-lift. Really? My dad didn't do fast food like other humans. "This   whole   kith-clan   realignment   has   been   a   nightmare,"   he   whined.   "I'm   exhausted. I   need   to   sleep   the   entire   weekend.   I   need   a   vacation.   I   need   a   new   brain.   I   need   a   jog. You—"   he   motioned   at   my   basketball   attire,   hinting   maybe   I   had   an   excuse   not   to   go   with him. Since   Lezlec   shared    his   blood   with   me   last   fall,   I   don't   get   tired   much.   Not   physically, anyway.   If   I   wormed   out   of   a   run   with   Dad   it   would   be   like   spitting   in   his   face.   I   don't   spit in   my   dad's   face.   I   had   homework,   but   I   had   a   full   weekend   to   complete   it.   Unless   one   of those texts I hadn't read yet was from Wyoming. I   grabbed   Dad's   phone   so   the   invitation   wouldn't   come   from   me,   pulled   up   Lisa,   and texted   her,   run   w   us?    If   little   sister   hated   me,   maybe   a   run   would   burn   up   some   of   her emotional energy. "What's with the cheek," he asked, watching me text. Still    red?    I    ignored    that    for    the    moment.    "Tricia    here?"    That's    Mommy    Dearest number two. "She ran at five AM." "I don't know how she does that." "She hates the summer heat," he said. I   looked   at   him   sideways,   but   I   didn't   have   to   say   it.   Eighty-eight   with   a   hundred- percent   humidity   wasn't   much   better   than   ninety   degrees   and   ninety   percent   humidity with the sun. At least there was always a breeze coming across the bay in the afternoon. He said, "I remember you hitting the road early when you ran track." Had   I   really   embraced   double   workouts   in   my   earlier   life?   I   was   crazier   then,   before   I started insulting vampires and accusing them of bad deeds. Lisa came back with a, meh. I   showed   Dad   the   text,   told   him   I'd   meet   him   on   the   porch,   and   headed   for   my   room.   I missed   that   Molly   didn't   follow   me   up   the   stairs.   The   old   girl   was   slowing   down   fast   these days.   She'd   be   sleeping   nights   downstairs   with   Dad   and   Tricia   before   too   long.   Uh.   No.   I'd carry her up and down the stairs before that happened. I   threw   my   wet   tee   toward   the   bathroom,   pulled   on   a   dry   tank,   and   opted   for   a   pair   of dry    short-socks    too,    grabbed    my    road    shoes,    and    headed    downstairs.    I    was    set    and stretched   by   the   time   Dad   showed   up,   shirtless.   I   gave   him   a   grin.   He   shrugged,   whined about   it   being   hot.   For   an   old   snot,   he   doesn't   look   half   bad.   I   think   he   just   likes   to   feel hunk-ish for Tricia. Ah, young love. I   asked   him   about   the   day's   disasters   while   he   stretched.   Teams   were   hunting   down unattached   endowed   that   were   causing   a   major   crime   spree   in   New   York,   the   city.   He claimed   Rene-Paul   had   things   under   control   in   Philly,   as   though   to   head   off   a   snide remark   from   me.   I   don't   know   why   he   thinks   I   hate   Renee's   lover.   That   cougar.   Rene-Paul is way too young for my queen. I should tell her that. I   followed   Dad   down   the   steps.   He   groaned   a   little.   Just   stiff,   he   claimed.   I   jazzed   him a   little.   He   pushed   me   in   the   shoulder   hard   enough   I   almost   bounced   off   the   car   parked against the curb. The twit. My   mind   flipped   back   to   Renee.   I   haven't   met   an   ancient   I'd   approve   of   her   snorking. She'd kill me if she heard me thinking that. "You   gonna   tell   me   about   the   cheek?"   Dad   asked   as   we   crossed   to   run   the   grass   along the Bayshore balustrade. "What   cheek?"   I   tried,   and   grimaced.   Heck.   It   was   a   good   way   to   break   the   news   to him. "Took a hard foul in my last game." "I   hope   you   got   pay   back."   He   shot   me   a   grin.   He's   so   evil,   encouraging   me   to   beat   on boys a hundred pounds heavier than me. "Not so much," I said. Dad tossed me one of his patient looks. "He's one of us," I said. "Caucus?" he asked. "No. Juiced." Dad stumbled to a stop, gaping at me. "Oh, shit." My dad doesn't use that kind of language. Usually. Chapter Three ~ T ricia   picked   up   on   the   quiet   between   me   and   Dad   but   she   hid   it   well.   Not   to   have   sniping sarcasm   whipping   between   us   implied   the   coming   of   the   zombie   apocalypse   or   something. Even   Lisa   gave   us   a   couple   looks.   But   Tricia   maintained   her   normally   subdued   Thousand Questions with Lisa. I decided to turn around the silence. "So   what   happened   today   to   make   you   realize   you   hated   me?"   I   took   a   too   big   bite   of pizza to ensure I wouldn't follow up and let her off the hook. "Hated you?" Tricia asked. I   didn't   look   at   my   almost-step   mom.   I   gave   Lisa   my   Interrogator   brow   lift.   Lisa   kept her eyes on her paper plate. I hit my pizza again before she finally got a word out. "You know I didn't mean it." In   my   periphery,   Dad   and   Tricia   were   exchanging   glances,   but   the   low-level   anger remained    constant    in    Dad,    while    the    oh    why    didn't    I    kill    her    before    she    became    a teenager  resonated well from Tricia. "Can we talk about it later?" Lisa hissed. "You won't escape to your room and close your door?" I asked. She   gave   me   an   irritated   head   cock,   whiff   of   a   glance   at   her   mom   to   say,   not   in   front   of the enemy. Tricia stepped in for her. "You hear from your mom lately?" she asked me. Good redirection, not. Dad rolled his eyes. Good ole Dad. "A   text,"   I   said.   "She   wanted   to   know   if   there   was   any   tactile   stimulation   from   an endowed she might be able to take advantage of." "My lord. Why? Isn't getting her PhD keeping her busy enough?" Wow.   That   implied   Mom   communicated   even   less   often   with   her   best   and   only   friend in the world than she did with her daughter. "Renee   keeps   her   busy   in   her   spare   time.   The   realignment   has   everyone   chasing   one tail or another." "Amen," Dad muttered. I   hadn't   thought   of   it   before,   but   how   cool   was   it   that   my   mom   is   a   vampire   hunter. Sort   of.   Me,   the   Interrogator.   The   two   of   us   could   make   the   coolest   reality   show,   if   we could take each other's company for ten minutes. "So is there?" Lisa asked. I   closed   my   eyes.   My   mind   refused   to   track.   Is   there   reality   shows   about   vampire hunters? Lisa helped me out. "A way for your mom to sense endowed?" "Sure,   if   she   had   Renee's   nose,"   I   said.   "I   got   clubbed   by   one   today   and   didn't   realize what he was until he showed off superhuman jumping skills." Lisa   and   Tricia   said,   huh    in   concert.   Dad   hissed   my   name.   He   still   isn't   keen   on   talking about   kith   business   in   front   of   the   newbies.   The   less   they   knew,   presumably   the   less   they would   worry.   If   they   knew   how   many   disenfranchised   and   ticked   off   endowed   there   were out   there   since   Renee's   killing   spree   of   vampire   lords,   they   would   hack   up   bloody   hair balls. "Superhuman—" Dad   talked   over   the   backside   of   Lisa's   question,   but   I   ignored   him.   Lisa   had   been   so distant the last month, anything to give her a smile would be cool. "Showing off on the basketball court," I said. "You're kidding?" Like,   the   number   one   cannon   in   the   Revenir   world   is   don't   show   off —something   to that   effect.   Second   only   to   don't   bite   people   on   camera .   After   all,   they're   supposed   to   be secret. Dad hissed my name again. "A   white   guy   like   five-five.   Dunked   the   ball   like   he   was   a   six-five   black   man.   I   mean, really." "Cool," Lisa mewed. "Not cool," Dad hissed. His   worry   oozed   from   him   like   a   heavy   garlic   meal.   The   poor   guy   would   never   get   used to   me   hopping   on   a   plane   for   DC   or   wherever   to   interrogate   some   guy   in   the   middle   of   the night.   An   endowed   on   the   lam   in   Tampa   implied   I   might   get   more   actively   involved   in   the hunting. The    sun    fell    in    Wyoming    in    about    an    hour    and    I'd    be    having    that    conversation. Considering   the   hostility   sloughing   off   Red   Shoes,   he   wasn't   going   to   be   interested   in calmly   accepting   a   subservient   life   in   Renee's   kith.   Not   if   he   was   keen   on   displaying   his juice as a college point guard. It   hit   me   that   moment.   Red   Shoes   had   already   blatantly   broken   Revenir   cannon.   They only had one punishment. Capital. Jeez. "You just figured it out?" Dad asked. Oh. My mouth hung open a little like Molly begging for a slice of bacon. "Figure what out?" Lisa asked. "Genna or Nathan would come down, wouldn't they?" Tricia squawked at Dad. As   much   more   powerfully   endowed,   compared   to   the   likes   of   me,   they   would   be   better suited   to   reflecting   whatever   Red   Shoes   had   to   dish   out.   I   heal   fast.   Have   empathy   out   of   a sci-fi   novel,   but   I'm   otherwise   pretty   much   a   human   chump.   Though   I've   proven   I   can   put a bullet in a brain stem as handily as any commando, sort of. "Renee   loves   to   push   Cait."   Dad's   anger   seethed.   "And   everyone   is   busy   with   the realignment." "Oh," Tricia drawled. The   doorbell   rang   and   Molly   sent   all   of   our   hearts   into   our   throats   with   her   ferocious din.   That   lasted   only   until   she   got   to   the   door   though.   She   quieted,   tail   between   her   legs, headed   for   Dad's   office,   so   I   knew   there   was   one   of   us   at   the   door.   But   who?   I   checked   the peephole and paused the security alarm, I hate that thing, before opening the door. Aggie held out her phone. I read, can you be at caits at ten? It   was   from   Adam.   What   was   Adam   texting   Aggie   for?   And   why   would   they   want   her here? A toot from the street drew my eye. Mr. Vesela's Lincoln pulled away from the curb. "I   told   my   dad   I   was   sleeping   over."   Aggie   drew   a   duffle   off   her   shoulder   and   hefted   it to further explain. "You do  have a spare bed tonight, huh?" "Yeah, sure." Aggie   is   a   weak   endowed   like   me.   But   where   I   got   empathy   for   my   superhuman   power, in   the   paranormal   genres,   she   would   be   called   a   succubus.   Which   I   think   is   a   great   word. Fantastic   word.   Succubus.   Rolls   off   the   tongue,   and   sounds   kind   of   sexy,   in   a   sleazy, downtown   at   three   AM   kind   of   way.   But   Renee   would   rip   my   throat   out   if   she   heard   me use the word. As   a   succubus,   Aggie   retains   some   of   the   thralling   power   vampires   have,   without   the volume   of   a   Revenir.   I've   sort   of   been   made   Aggie's   warden,   to   make   sure   she   learns   the rules    and    never    uses    her    power.    She    and    her    parents,    all    born    outside    the    kith,    are studying   our   Catechism   to   be   good   kithmen.   It   was   either   that,   or   face   the   hangman's noose. Nah. I think that was an idle threat. I hope. Unless Aggie ever misuses her power. That  would be a death sentence. Molly   hung   her   head   around   the   corner   and   Aggie   passed   me   to   love   on   her.   Dogs   fear pretty   much   anything   endowed,   but   Molly   was   coming   along   well   with   Aggie.   I'm   just happy she accepted me after Lezlec sort of turned me. At least turned on my latent juice. I   waved   at   the   night   to   tell   our   security   detail   across   the   street   hello,   closed   the   door, and   activated   the   alarm.   Aggie   was   entering   the   kitchen   by   then,   loudly   explained   her relief there was pizza. Her folks are all into natural foods and stuff that would gag me. "How are things hangin'?" she asked the room at large as I walked in. I   got   her   a   paper   plate   just   in   time   to   catch   a   glob   of   red   peppers.   Figured   she'd   go   for the vegetable deep pan. I'll take a Meat Lovers any day. Even more so since— Behind a cheek full of pizza Aggie asked, "You guys ever sit at the dining table?" With   the   original   Janecek   family   expanding   from   three   to   four   with   two   new   Jennings in   the   mix,   minus   Mom's   departure,   trying   out   the   dining   table   probably   made   sense   now, with   company.   But   Dad   stood   guard   over   the   sink   in   his   normal   position   even   though   he wasn't cooking, and we three ladies lined up on the counter overlooking him. I   returned   to   my   spot.   Evidently   Aggie   was   happy   standing   and   eating.   She   shoved   her hip into Dad's. "How's it going, hunk?" Dad said softly, "Cait act that way when she visits your place?" "Oh,   she's   much   friendlier   with   Dad.   They're   like   this."   Aggie   tried   to   cross   a   couple fingers   over   her   slice,   but   it   didn't   work   out   well.   More   topping   fell   into   her   plate.   "Good pizza. I picked a good night." "You   guys   studying   together   tonight?"   Tricia   asked   with   appropriate   surprise   for   a Friday night. Aggie   eyed   me   and   Dad   meaningfully.   She   knew   there   were   things   the   two   muggles, what   we   generally   called   Lisa   and   Tricia   among   ourselves,   weren't   supposed   to   hear.   But Tricia   and   Lisa   were   farther   along   with   Catechism   than   Aggie,   so   pretty   much   anything Aggie knew, wasn't off limits for Tricia and Lisa. It was just a protection-thing. "She got a text from Adam," I explained. "About what?" Dad asked without a breath. "I guess to be on a call with you," Aggie said. "Ah, shit," Dad hissed. And Dad doesn't use that kind of language. It had been that kind of evening. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Fantasy Dystopian
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Ghoul Enforcer CHAPTER ONE ~ T he   dude   had   to   be   six-nine,   two   twenty. Not    that    out    of    place    on    a    competitive basketball   court,   but   not   what   I   typically faced   here   in   the   afternoon   for   a   pickup game.    I    played    at    the    USF    campus    last week   in   the   evening   where   I   faced   several of   them.   They   thought   a   chick   under   five foot   out   there   was   funny.   I   showed   'em what a little girl can do. Every    time    I    saw    this    guy    I    thought about   how   familiar   he   looked,   but   heck   if   I could   place   him   anywhere   but   in   the   UT gym. I   shifted   my   hip   just   enough   to   miss the    sweat    towel    Cory    tried    to    snap    me with.   I   pointed   a   finger   at   him   and   glared. The flirt. "It was a fun run," he said. Yeah,   it   was.   I   hit   the   winning   jumper. I always like to save the day. I'd     been     playing     since     two     o'clock. Probably   five   by   now.   Should   be   heading home,   but   hard   to   give   up   a   court   when you're winning. "Look   who   we   have   now."   Cory   head- flicked to the middle of the court. "Yeah. That guy's big." Cory    followed    my    line    of    sight.    "No. Not Tree. The guy in the red shoes." I    glanced    across    the    five    new    guys stretching    out,    preparing    to    run    against us.   No   way.   The   guy   disappeared   behind the    clutter    of    the    other    four.    Not    much taller   than   me.   And   most   Munchkins   are taller than me. "He's    from    out    of    state,"    Cory    said. "Will be the Spartan starting point guard." "Kind of old, isn't he?" I asked. "Eh." Cory shrugged. "Why's   he   playing   pickup   out   here?"   I asked. "What. Are we chopped liver?" "You are." He     twirled     his     towel     in     threat.     I threatened    to    pull    down    his    shorts.    He thought that was funny. I wasn't kidding. "We'll   give   you   help   on   'im   when   we can," Cory promised. I    snorted.    Told    him    he    better    worry about    the    tree.    He    implied    there    wasn't much   point   fighting   for   rebounds   against that   guy.   I   rolled   my   eyes.   What   a   glass half-empty   kind   of   guy.   And   he   wanted   to ask     me     out.     Poor     guy.     I     had     been preoccupying   his   limited   mental   faculties since   the   first   day   I   walked   on   the   court early summer. This    whole    empathy    thing    I'd    been cursed   with   has   its   upside.   Spanking   new to   the   college   scene,   I   have   no   interest   in investing   my   few   free   hours   dating   a   gym rat.   So   I'd   kept   my   distance   from   Cory. But   that   didn't   mean   I   couldn't   razz   him   a little. "Since   you're   ceding   all   the   rebounds, I'll cover the tree for you." Cory    doubled    up    in    an    exaggerated laugh.    The    snot.    I    set    down    my    jug    of water   and   headed   for   midcourt   to   bring   in the ball. Cory     continued     to     snicker     as     he followed   me.   "You   better   concentrate   on Red Shoes." Tree   walked   toward   me   with   a   smile   on his   face.   He   recognized   me.   His   knuckles came   out   and   I   gave   him   a   bump.   "You used   to   play   for   Tampa   Prep,   didn't   you?" he said. I   just   gave   him   a   head   thrust   and   kept walking. He twisted to stay with me. "Heard      you      broke      your      back      or something    in    a    wreck,"    he    said.    "You missed your senior year, huh?" Who was this guy? "I hear wrong?" he pressed. I   gave   him   a   double   eye   squint.   Figured that would get him to leave me alone. "Well,   you   look   okay   now.   Better   than okay.    Been    watching    you    all    afternoon. You   have   some   new   moves   since   I   saw   you last." Okay,    I    gave    him    a    softer    eye,    but    I wasn't    going    to    get    all    mushy    and    say thanks. "My   sister   played   for   Jefferson.   I   loved watching   you   two   mix   it   up,   considering you looked her in the knee." "You   think   calling   me   short   is   going   to endear   me?"   I   might   have   snapped   that out a little loud. But   Tree   laughed.   It   was   a   fun   laugh. Sincere. I might have even smiled. "You   have   quite   the   vertical   now,"   Tree said.   "I   thought   you   could   hang   before,   for your,   you   know."   He   flipped   a   finger   up and   down,   as   though   I   could   never   read between the lines on that one. Cory's    voice    irritated    my    ear    like    a gnat.    He    was    trying    to    get    someone    to check the ball. "You   share   your   coach   with   me?"   Tree asked. "Nah," I said. "He's my secret weapon." "That's   cold."   Tree   walked   to   the   top   of the    key    and    motioned    for    the    ball,    but when   Cory   whipped   it   at   him,   Tree   just hung   the   ball   under   his   arm   and   stepped nearer. "So    what    have    you    been    up    to?"    he asked. Tree's   interest   level   was   up   there   with Cory's.    I    so    didn't    have    time    for    this.    I suggested   he   check   the   ball.   Next   thing   I knew,   Red   Shoes   was   pressing   his   chest into    my    face.    Jeez.    I    pressed    my    hand against   him   and   pushed   him   back.   The   A- hole   slapped   me   across   the   forearm,   hard. The jerk. "Cool it," I snarled at him. Red   Shoes   snarled   right   back   at   me   in what   language,   I   don't   know.   I   can   get   in trouble    in    German    and    French,    ask    for directions   to   the   ladies'   room   in   Italian. His   words   were   similar   to   Italian,   but   the accent   was   way   more   guttural.   The   tone was   clear   though.   Good   trash   talk   straight out   of   the   hood.   Harsh   for   a   white   guy. And we hadn't even checked the ball. In    French,    I    told    the    guy    to    kiss    my derriere. By    his    expression,    Red    Shoes    didn't understand   my   words.   A   few   laughs   from the    other    guys    must    have    ruffled    his feathers,   because   he   crossed   back   into   my personal    space.    A    buzz    erupted    in    my chest,    flowed    up    and    out    my    nape.    A weird    sensation,    a    little    like    having    a Revenir shift in my face. I    couldn't    remember    ever    hating    a person    immediately    before,    but    I'd    just experienced it with Red Shoes. "He's   eager,"   Tree   said,   and   laughed. He   glanced   around   to   ensure   no   one   was tying   a   shoe   or   in   a   coma,   and   flipped   the ball    to    Cory    in    that    way    that    requires palming   the   ball.   Dang   the   guy   had   big hands. I   sprinted   around   a   pick   to   the   far   side of   the   court   to   take   Cory's   inbound   off   my chin    and    Red    Shoes    was    already    in    my face.   I'd   never   seen   a   guy   with   such   fast feet.   I   drew   the   ball   in   a   dribble   behind my   back   and   headed   for   the   top   of   the   key when   I   caught   a   shoulder   in   the   temple that took me off my feet. I   was   still   sliding   across   the   hardwood as   I   watched,   between   my   size   fours,   Red Shoes   sprinting   for   the   other   side   of   the court, freaking dunking the ball. Screams   and   cat   calls   erupted   from   the sidelines.    A    couple    of    offered    hands    to help   me   up   waved   in   front   of   my   face,   but my     eyes     focused     on     Red     Shoes,     who twisted   my   way   with   an   expression   that chilled   me.   He   held   a   hand   out,   one   finger out,   drew   his   thumb   down   like   it   was   a gun    hammer.    The    chill    drew    a    shudder starting   in   my   heart   that   radiated   through every limb. This   guy   hated   my   guts.   What   in   the heck had I ever done to him? I   remembered   that   initial   sensation   I got   from   him.   Jeez.   The   same   one   I   got from Aggie last fall. The guy is juiced. Cheese Wiz. "Man,"   Cory   whined.   "He   fouled   you. Call a foul." "You     okay?"     Tree     loomed     over     me blocking   out   the   sun—well,   the   overhead lights.    The    warm    sensation    on    my    back was   from   his   hand.   "You've   turned   white as a sheet, girl. You okay?" Cory   was   walking   for   the   midcourt   line complaining    that    point    didn't    count.    As though   I   would   call   a   foul.   Hard   enough   to be    one    of    the    few    chicks    out    here.    If    I wanted   to   be   taken   seriously,   I   couldn't make   any   calls   unless   I   looked   down   at my arm lying on the hardcourt. Cory   and   Red   Shoes   met   at   midcourt and    a    pushing    match    developed.    Every dude    on    the    sidelines    washed    onto    the court to get between the two. "Hey. Twenty-four. You okay?" Heck.     Tree     even     remembered     the number   I   wore   over   a   year   ago.   "I   have   a stalker?" I asked him. "Huh?" The   court   was   kind   of   filling   up.   If   Cory wasn't   careful,   he'd   get   banned   from   the gym.    Tree    grabbed    me    under    the    arms and    dragged    me    away    from    the    melee before I got stomped on. "Get    Cory    out    of    there,    will    you?"    I begged Tree. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017