A Fistful of Charms
A Fistful of Charms
Жанр: Фэнтези про драконов
Год издания: 2019
His grip on his briefcase shifting, David shook his head. “I think it’s the president of the company.”
“Oh.” I thought about that. Then thought about that some more. I was getting a bad feeling about this. “David?”
He put a hand on my shoulder and leaned in. “I think you should leave,” he said, the worry in his brown eyes running right to my core.
Recalling what he’d said in the elevator about his boss gunning for him, my pulse quickened. “David, if you’re in trouble, I’m not leaving,” I said, boots thumping as he hustled me to the lift.
His face was grim. “I can handle this.”
I tried to twist from his grip. “Then I’ll stay and help you to the car when it’s over.”
He glanced at me. “I don’t think so, Rachel. But thanks.”
The elevator opened. Still protesting, I was ill prepared when David jerked me back. My head came up and my face went cold. Crap. The lift was full of Weres in various levels of elegance, ranging from Armani suits and sophisticated skirt and top combos to jeans and blouses. Even worse, they all had the collected, confident pride of alpha wolves. And they were smiling.
Shit. David had a big problem.
“Please tell me it’s your birthday,” I said, “and this is a surprise party.”
A young Were in a bright red dress was the last to step from the elevator. Tossing her thick length of black hair, she gave me a once-over. Though sure of herself, I could tell by her stance that at least, she wasn’t an alpha bitch. This was getting weird. Alphas never got together. They just didn’t. Especially without their respective packs behind them.
“It’s not his birthday,” the woman said cattily. “But I imagine he’s surprised.”
David’s grip on my arm twitched. “Hello, Karen,” he said caustically.
My skin crawled and my muscles tightened as the Weres ringed us. I thought of the splat gun in my bag, then felt for a ley line, but didn’t tap it. David couldn’t pay me to leave now. This looked like a lynching.
“Hi, David,” the woman in red said, satisfaction clear in both her voice and in her stance behind the alpha males. “You can’t imagine how overjoyed I was to find you had started a pack.”
David’s boss was now there too, and with quick and confident steps he moved between us and the elevator. The tension in the room ratcheted up a notch, and Karen slinked behind him.
I hadn’t known David long, but I’d never seen this mix of anger, pride, and annoyance on him before. There was no fear. David was a loner, and as such, the personal power of an alpha held little sway over him. But there were eight of them, and one was his boss.
“This doesn’t involve her, sir,” David said with a respectful anger. “Let her leave.”
David’s boss lifted an eyebrow. “Actually, this has nothing to do with you.”
My breath caught. Okay, maybe I was the one with the problem.
“Thank you for coming, David. Your presence is no longer needed,” the polished Were said. Turning to the others, he added, “Get him out of here.”
I took a heaving lungful of air. With my second sight, I reached for a ley line, latching onto the one that ran under the university. My concentration shattered when two men grabbed my arms. “Hey!” I shouted as one ripped my shoulder bag off and sent it spinning to land against a stack of lumber. “Let go of me!” I demanded, unable to twist easily from their twin grips.
David grunted in pain, and when I stomped on someone’s foot, they shoved me down. Plaster dust puffed up, choking me. My breath whooshed out as someone sat on me. My hands were pulled behind my back, and I went still. “Ow,” I complained. Blowing a red curl from my face, I gave another squirm. Crap, David was being dragged into the elevator.
He was still fighting them. Red-faced and wrathful, his fists lashed out, making ugly sounding thumps when he scored. He could have Wered to fight more viciously, but there was a five-minute downtime when he would be helpless.
“Get him out of here!” David’s boss shouted impatiently, and the doors shut. There was a clunk as something hit the inside of the elevator, and then the machinery started to lower the lift. I heard a shout and the sounds of a fight that slowly grew muffled.
Fear slid through me, and I gave another wiggle. David’s boss turned his gaze to me. “Strap her,” he said lightly.
My breath hissed in. Frantic, I reached for the ley line again, tapping it with a splinter of thought. Ever-after energy flowed through me, filling my chi and then the secondary spindle I could keep in my head. Pain struck through me when someone wrenched my right arm too far back. The cool plastic of a zip-strip was jammed over one wrist, snugged tight with a quick pull and a familiar ratcheting sound to leave the end dangling. My face went cold as every last erg of ever-after washed out of me. The bitter taste of dandelions was on my lips. Stupid, stupid witch!
“Son of a bitch!” I shouted, and the Weres sitting on me fell away.
I staggered to my feet and tried to wedge the flexible plastic-wrapped band off me, failing. Its core was charmed silver, like in my long-gone I.S. issue cuffs. I couldn’t tap a line. I couldn’t do anything. I seldom used my new ley line skills in defense, and I hadn’t been thinking of how easy they could be nullified.
Utterly bereft of my magic, I stood in the last of the amber light coming in the tall windows. I was alone with a pack of alphas. My thoughts zinged to Mr. Ray’s pack and the wishing fish I had accidentally stolen from him, and then me making the owners of the Howlers baseball team pay for my time doing it. Oh…crap. I had to get out of there.
David’s boss shifted his weight to his other foot. The sun spilled over him to glint on the dust on his dress shoes. “Ms. Morgan, isn’t it?” he asked companionably.
I nodded, wiping my palms off on my jeans. Plaster dust clung to me, and I only made things worse. I never took my eyes from him, knowing it was a blatant show of dominance. I had dealt a little with Weres, and none of them but David seemed to like me. I didn’t know why.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, coming closer and pulling a pair of metal-rimmed glasses from an inner pocket of his suit coat. “I’m David’s boss. You can call me Mr. Finley.”
Perching the glasses on his narrow nose, he took the stapled papers that Karen smugly handed him. “Forgive me if I’m a little slow,” he said, peering at them. “My secretary usually does this.” He looked over the papers at me, pen clicking open. “Your pack number is what?”
“Huh?” I said intelligently, then stiffened as the ring of Weres seemed to close in. Karen snickered, and my face warmed.
Mr. Finley’s slight wrinkles bunched as he frowned. “You’re David’s alpha. Karen is challenging you for your place. There is paperwork. What is your pack number?”
My mouth dropped open. This wasn’t about the Rays or the Howlers. I was the sole member of David’s pack, yeah. But it was just a paper relationship, one designed so I could get my overly inflated insurance cheap, cheap, cheap, and David could keep his job and buck the system to continue working alone and without a partner. He didn’t want a real pack, being a confirmed loner and good at it, but it was nearly impossible to fire an alpha, which was why he had asked me to start a pack with him.
My gaze darted to Karen, smiling like the queen of the Nile, as dark and exotic as an Egyptian whore. She wanted to challenge me for my position?
“Oh, hell no!” I said, and Karen snorted, thinking I was afraid. “I’m not fighting her! David doesn’t want a real pack!”
“Obviously,” Karen scorned. “I claim ascension. Before eight packs, I claim it.”
There weren’t eight alphas there anymore, but I thought the five that were left were more than enough to force the issue.
Mr. Finley let the hand holding the sheet of papers fall. “Does anyone have a catalog? She doesn’t know her pack number.”
“I do,” sang out a woman, swinging her purse around and digging to bring out what looked like a small address book. “New edition,” she added, and thumbed it open.
“This is nothing personal,” Mr. Finley said. “Your alpha has become the topic of interest at the water cooler, and this is the simplest way to get David back on track and end the disturbing rumors that have been reaching me. I have invited the principal shareholders in the company as witnesses.” He smiled without warmth. “This will be legally binding.”
“This is crap!” I said nastily, and the surrounding Weres either chuckled or gasped at my temerity to swear at him. Lips pressed tight, I glanced at my bag and the splat gun halfway across the room. My hand touched the small of my back, looking for my nonexistent cuffs, long gone with my I.S. paycheck. God, I missed my cuffs.
“Here it is,” the woman said, her head lowered. “Rachel Morgan. O-C(H) 93AF.”
“You registered in Cincinnati?” David’s boss asked idly, writing it down. Folding the pages over, he fixed on my eyes. “David isn’t the first to start a pack with someone not of, ah, Were descent,” he finally said. “But he is the first in this company to do so with the sole intent to save his job. This is not a good trend.”
“Challenger’s choice,” Karen said, reaching for the tie to her dress. “I choose to Were first.”
David’s boss clicked the pen shut. “Then let’s get started.”
Someone grabbed my arms, and I froze for three heartbeats. Challenger’s choice, my grandmother’s ass. I had five minutes to subdue her while she Wered, or I was going to lose this.