Fanged After Forty, Book 5
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Newly mated vampire, Hailey Whitfield has a long to-do list that involves protecting her brother, dealing with newfound powers, and plotting to take over the entire vampire political leadership system.
It’s not enough that she and Jax have done everything the council asked. Yeah, sure, there were some rocky roads and a little defiance on her end, but they managed it.
Still, Soran and Gretchen aren’t happy. Something to do with a prophecy about Jax and Hailey being the new power couple that could bring an end to the council.
Well, they have a right to be paranoid. Don’t mess with Hailey and her tight circle of family and friends. It won’t end well.
When Hailey and the Bond Girls track down a skip who isn’t human, they have decisions to make. But this skip has information Jax and Hailey need to implement their plan for dominating the midlife.
Their lives, along with those of the vampire race, are about to change forever.
The mud was never going to wash out of my hair. It was caked in and currently running down my back. So gross. “Did you see the fingernails on that guy?” I asked as I stuck my arms under the water streaming from the hose. “Geez,” I yelped. “It’s cold.” I glared up at Paige. “I thought we were supposed to be immune to cold and stuff.”
She shook her head as she chuckled. “You get to where you can ignore it. But that comes with time.”
Too bad it hadn’t come with my bonding with Jax. That had been a trip. In a matter of a month or so, my powers and strength had multiplied to the point that I was now on an even keel with Jax. That was saying something since he was old. Like over five hundred years old.
We’d found things that each were better at. He was a bit physically stronger, but when we raced, I always beat him. I could differentiate smells far better than he could, but he could see farther. It was like together we made up one perfect vampire.
Biting back a squeal, I stuck my head under the hose and rinsed as much mud as I could. Good grief, it was cold.
“Yeah,” Paige said. “Back to the fingernails. I don’t care for any kind of nail on a guy, but that was like…” She did a full on body shuddered and wrinkled her nose. “Gross.”
The water flowed through my long blond hair, washing some of the mud out, as I turned my head to look at my friend. “It might not have been bad if they’d been clean.”
My long-time witchy best friend, Kendra, made a retching sound. “Everything was nasty. All of it. I don’t care how much money is offered. We are never taking in a troll again.”
“The smell,” Luke moaned. “I still don’t know what possessed me to go on my first skip for a troll.”
I snorted as I tried to wash what I had to assume was snot out of my bangs. Eww. Don’t think about it Hails. “I tried to warn you.”
Jax walked around the corner of the house as I passed the hose off to Kendra and started wringing out my hair. Of course, he was pristinely clean, because he hadn’t gone with us, because he said he had king of the vampire stuff to do.
A likely story.
But he handed out old towels so we could dry off enough to keep from dripping when we went inside to really clean up. “You guys look terrible.”
I blotted my face and looked at my friends. Luke had a smear of blood on his cheek. Not ours; it was likely troll, as trolls were the only creatures I knew of with purple blood. He hopped on one foot as he tried to pry off one of his black boots. It was covered in muck, too, of course.
Despite our repeated efforts, Luke had still not taken to any of his vampire traits. He should’ve had impeccable balance as he pried the gloopy boot off of his foot, but instead, he fell over with a squawk.
I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing at him. Any one of us could’ve run over and caught him before he hit the ground. Did we?
Did we stand there and laugh?
It was okay. He laughed with us, flopping back on the grass with a sigh. “I really hope all your neighbors are asleep,” he said as he looked up at the stars.
Wiping tears from the corners of his eyes as he controlled his giggles, Jax handed Luke a towel. “Ransom’s gonna want to watch that on video. But not now. Now, you guys have to get cleaned up and head downtown. Jordan is chomping at the bit to get ahold of you lot.”
I sighed and kicked off my sneakers, aiming them perfectly on the back porch, where they’d probably wait for me to remember to grab them and wash them in a day or two. At least I’d remembered to wear my crappy ones.
“Did he say what he wanted?” I asked, not really wanting to go back out tonight. When I turned around to get Jax’s answer, Luke was nowhere to be found. That fink. “I guess Luke’s had enough of the skip tracking life for one night.”
Jax nodded, the corner of his lips turning upwards. “He took off like a shot for your house when he heard me say you guys were wanted.”
Kendra held up one hand. “I’m with Luke. That troll was almost too much for me. If this next skip is strenuous, I might bow out myself.” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “If I didn’t need to supplement my lost income I’d abandon you guys now.”
I gave her a sympathetic smile. She’d been worrying about the effects of giving up her day job as a corporate lawyer. She’d only been officially free of the corporation for maybe a week, after working out her notice and finishing up her cases, but venturing into that wide unknown was terrifying. I knew firsthand. When I’d left the hospital, bought a house here in Philly, and went into private nursing, I’d been completely distracted trying to figure out how I’d pay all my bills.
Then I’d been attacked by a vampire, turned into one myself, and discovered my fantabulous ability to take down human criminals during the hours between sundown and sunup.
The money had been fab-u-lous since then. I wasn’t new to bounty hunting. My first husband, Howard, was a bounty hunter, so I knew what I was getting into. And did I mention the money was good?
Half an hour later, I stepped out of the shower clean and smelling good. I didn’t take the time to do a skincare routine: I no longer had to do one! Yes, you may be jealous. Now that I was a vampire, my skin was supple, soft, poreless, and blemish-free. Heck, I didn’t need to wear makeup anymore. Not that I wore a lot of it anyway.
I did brush my hair and throw on some leggings and a big tee with a cat on it. It said, “Ew, people,” and the cat looked disgusted at the world. I’d never gotten more compliments on a shirt.
“Ready?” I chirped when I hit the living room. Paige was already down there in her own leggings and big shirt. Hers had a picture of a dragon on it.
Paige drove us over to Kendra’s, and we waited in her living room while the smells of Oil of Olay drifted down the stairs to us.
Poor witch. She still had to do a routine. Bless her.
“Did you have a hard time getting the mud out of your hair?” Paige asked as we waited.
Shaking my head, I rubbed my forehead. “No, it wasn’t the mud, it was the snot.” I shuddered again, remembering it. “I think I’m with Luke. I don’t know if I want to go after a troll again.”
She grimaced but shrugged. “Yeah, but they did offer a significant amount of money.”
That much was true. Trolls loved sprites. Tiny little faeries that I’d had no idea existed before one scared the bejeezus out of me when I was leaving Catch and Release earlier tonight.
A troll had found their home in a tree in one of the parks downtown. It’d been coming in the dead of night, using its special troll magic to mask the attacks. They’d almost lost their elderly grandmother and were willing to spend a fortune for their safety.
The troll’s magic didn’t work on Kendra, and she’d been able to track it to its lair, utterly predictably under a bridge. Once we were close enough to it, we could easily see him and fight him.
We’d knocked him out, and the sprites had been able to take over from there. I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with that much meat, but then… I really didn’t want to know.
“Okay,” Kendra called as she exited her bedroom. “Let’s do this.”
She looked a lot peppier. “Did you drink an energy drink or something?” Paige asked with one eyebrow up as Kendra skipped down the stairs.
“No,” she chirped. “I took one of my special home brews.”
She’d been experimenting with potions. This one seemed to be working.
All the way to Jordan’s office, Kendra hummed and sang along with the radio, swaying and dancing in her seat in the back. I couldn’t help but turn and watch her, happy to see her looking so carefree.
“I take it you’re less worried about money?” I asked.
She grinned. “No, I’m still worried, but I reminded myself the hustle is worth it. I’m working for myself. I can take cases that are worthy, no matter if they’ll pay me or not. I won’t be so stressed. Heck, I’m already halfway toward stress-free.”
“Yeah,” Paige said darkly. “When you’re not being chased by a rabid troll.”
I snorted, and Kendra burst out laughing.
“Truth,” my bestie said. “Man, I wish we could video some of the stuff we do. It’d go viral.”
I considered her words as Paige parked in Jordan’s lot. “If we could convince people it was really good effects, we might be able to get away with it.”
Paige shot me a dark look. “I don’t want to be TikTok famous.”
Ignoring her, I got out and headed for the door. “You like money, in whatever form it comes to us.” I held the door open for the two women to walk in and grinned as Paige gave me a dark look. She knew I was right.
“Hello!” Jordan called as he danced out of the back room. “My dears, this one will be super easy. And it’s a surprisingly high payout. The judge set the bond high for it being a non-violent case.”
Kendra grinned at the sound of a big payday, and I took the folder. We sat in Jordan’s comfy chairs in the lobby and looked over the file. I peered down at the pic of the guy before handing it off to Kendra. She was getting really fast at scrying for someone based on their picture only.
Our skip, Greg Shephard, was a scrawny fella with big round glasses and messy brown hair. Kind of like I would’ve imagined Harry Potter to look all grown up.
“Looks like a computer whiz,” Paige said, peering over from the chair beside me. “What was he in for?”
I read from his file. “B&E, theft. He stole a laptop. No priors. This should’ve been a slap on his wrist in court, but he didn’t show.”
“Got him,” Kendra said. She squinted down at the map. “Elder Ave. It’s actually really close to one of the police precincts.”
“Yep. And it’s on the way home.” I closed the file and stood. “That’s his girlfriend’s address. Let’s go before he leaves. We’ll grab him on the way home.”
“Bye,” Jordan drawled in his exaggerated southern accent. “Have fun!”
Paige drove us again, and traffic was light this late at night. We didn’t have to worry as much about the dawn as before I was mated. Of course, it didn’t matter with Kendra, and Paige was old enough that she wasn’t in danger of dropping off to sleep. We had stashed a couple of blackout curtains in the back that she and I could cover up with if we were out too late, as well as a duffel bag full of hoodies and sweatpants that would fit any of us, thanks to drawstrings.
We were prepared.
After pulling to a stop about a block away from the house, Paige and I focused on the house, listening for what was going on inside. “I hear snoring,” I said. “I think they’re in bed, but the house next door is having some kind of party. I’m having a hard time differentiating.”
Paige nodded. “Same. Let’s get closer.”
Kendra had her duffel bag full of various potions to throw if we got in any trouble. They’d proved handy more than once. She put something in them that caused confusions in humans, so they’d be discombobulated if we ended up using our vampy speed or strength.
We walked down the sidewalk nonchalantly, passing the house once. Sure enough, nothing but steady breathing and light snores inside.
“Break in or knock?” I asked under my breath.
“You knock,” said Paige. “Kendra and I will be waiting by the back door for when he runs.”
“Cool.” I headed for the front as Paige and Kendra faded into the night. I heard their footfalls, but it was highly unlikely anyone else in the vicinity could, unless there were some vamps around I didn’t know about. And that was a very unlikely possibility. I knew all of the vamps in the area. Most of them lived with us. Plus my bond to Jax allowed me to sense them.
When I was sure my girls were in position in the back, I lifted my hand and rapped sharply on ol’ Greg’s girlfriend’s front door.
The snoring stopped abruptly. I knocked again. I listened while a man and woman inside, presumably Greg and his lady, discussed who in the world could possibly be at the door at three in the morning.
After giving the door one more hard knock, I heard Greg say he’d be right back.
No way. Was he really going to come to the door? He couldn’t possibly—but then, yep, heavy footfalls on the stairs. The door opened a few moments later. “Yes?” he said, his voice still a bit groggy.
My excellent vision meant I could see him and his lady creeping down the stairs behind him with no problem.
“Greg Shepherd?” I asked, unable to keep the disbelief out of my voice. He was wanted by the police and hadn’t even attempted to hide himself. Maybe it was a mistake? Maybe this wasn’t Greg. Either way, I sensed something wasn’t right about this whole situation.
“That me.” He squinted at me, cocked his head, then said, “Hang on, let me turn on the light.”
As he fumbled around beside the doorway, looking for the light switch, I heard and sort of sensed Kendra and Paige coming up behind me.
The light flared on, and it was one of those new LED deals. I fought the urge to squint against it. My vamp eyes weren’t bothered by fake light, but my still-sorta-human instincts wanted to flinch.
Greg sure did flinch, though. “No,” he gasped, his eyes glued to my face. “It’s you.”
I cocked one eyebrow. “Do I know you?”
He shook his head very slowly back and forth. “After all these years. You’ve finally come to me.”
I looked around at my friends, completely dumbfounded before turning back to our skip. “Dude, I’ve got no idea who you are talking about.”
He backed away from the door and motioned for us to enter. “Please, come in.” He sort of bent forward in a semi-bow, like we were some sort of royalty. “You are permitted to enter this home.”
“Permitted?” Paige parroted from behind me with a snort. “My friend, we’re bounty hunters. We come in and get you whether or not you want us to.”
Poor Greg’s eyes widened, big and round. “I thought I had to invite vampires inside,” he said in a small, unsure voice.
Uh, what? How did this little squeaker know about vampires?