Home > False Security (Death Before Dragons #5)(14)

False Security (Death Before Dragons #5)(14)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

How different from my usual life. “I’m not the one who took him. Try barking up an orc tree.”

The next time I visited Zoltan’s place, I would take a careful perusal of the neighborhood—or ask Sindari to do it. I had a hunch someone else from the magical community lived out there and had seen me coming and going. Too bad they hadn’t seen the real kidnappers coming and going.

The security guards looked us over as we approached but didn’t step out to prevent us from passing. I was amused that I earned a longer perusal than my teenage daughter—surely teenagers were more likely than adults to come here to shoplift. Maybe it was my gauche belt. They knew how much ammo it could hold and were envious.

“What’s going on with vampires?” Amber asked as she steered me toward Neiman Marcus.

“I’m not sure exactly, but I plan to find out. An ally of mine went missing last night.”

“You have a vampire ally? You’re not kickin’ it with him, are you?”

“No.” I couldn’t tell from her tone if this was more or less appealing than the idea of me having a relationship with a dragon. She’d shared raving comments about the Twilight books on her social media page a couple years back, so maybe she considered vampires sexier. “He calls me dear robber and sics his giant guard tarantulas on me.”

“Can’t you say anything that isn’t weird?”

“Sorry. My life is weird. I don’t even know what normal people talk about.”

“No kidding.”

“Maybe you should do the talking.”

“Obviously.” She smiled for the first time as she led me into the department store. It was kind of a pitying smile, but I’d take it.

As she picked out dresses—and purses and belts and how-the-hell-was-I-supposed-to-fight-in-those shoes—I kept scanning the area with my senses. I had no idea what special-security allies the shifter knew in the mall, but here and there, people with partial magical blood moved about, and I detected a couple more full-bloods too. So far, they were meandering about solo or in pairs and seemed more like shoppers than security, but we were close enough to the parking garage for me to detect someone with a strong aura in that direction. Another full-blood. A shifter, I thought. For the moment, he was hanging out there.

Amber didn’t seem to know what to talk to me about, but she made a couple of comments about “the girlfriend,” and I learned that Shauna worked as a dental hygienist and hadn’t yet succeeded in getting Thad to buy her a BMW, but he did let her drive his car when he didn’t need it. Apparently, her old Hyundai wasn’t reliable, though Amber had never seen it break down or have any problems.

A second magical being joined the first in the parking garage. Why did I have a feeling we were going to find them waiting by the Jeep when we got back down there?

“Is there a sporting goods department here?” I asked as we checked out.

“Sporting apparel, you mean?” the cashier asked. “There are sports bras in the lingerie section and yoga pants over there.”

“I meant like baseball bats.”

Amber gave me another mortified look. “This isn’t Big 5.”

“Too bad.” I mulled over my options as we finished paying and headed toward the parking garage. There were still two shifters there. Maybe more. It was also possible there were others down there wearing the equivalent of my cloaking charm. “I wanted to get you something to use in case you need to crack an enemy over the head.”

“We could go back for one of those Prada purses.” Amber smirked. “You buy it for me, and I’ll put it to good use.”

“Does Prada have more skull-cracking heft than other brands?”

“Probably.” Her smirk faded as she studied me. “Are you serious? Is that woman who threatened you coming?”

“No, but she must have made a call. There’s trouble waiting in the parking garage.” I stopped before we reached the door. Now that we were closer, I could tell that the shifters were indeed by my Jeep. “I want you to wait out here while I take care of it, all right?”

“I can help you.”

“Or you can go get a box of cupcakes from that bakery we passed and meet me back here in ten minutes.” I pulled out a ten-dollar bill and held it out to her.

“A box?” Amber took the bill and waved it in the air like it was a piece of toilet paper. “The cupcakes are five dollars apiece. Plus tax.”

“Five dollars for a cupcake?” I managed to keep from adding “What kind of world are we living in?” to the retort, but only because I could see another eye roll coming.

“They’re amazing. There’s a Samoas one. Like the Girl Scout cookies.”

I added a twenty to the ten. “Get a small box. And take your time.”

I expected her to skip away without question, but she surprised me by hesitating. “Are you sure you don’t need help? I could pull the fire alarm or something.”

“That’s a misdemeanor.”

“But beating people up in a public parking garage is okay?”

“I thought I’d have my tiger do it.”

“Does he want a cupcake?”

“Probably not. Tigers are carnivorous. All cats are.” Though I’d heard from Willard that her cat Maggie ate olives, cheese, and whole wheat toast, among other dubious fare.

“Right.”

I waited until Amber turned a corner and was out of sight—in case she was thinking of disobeying my wishes and tagging along—before heading into the garage. I summoned Sindari and activated my cloaking charm before going in. Even though we could likely handle two shifters, I would rather surprise them. Fair fights were for chumps.

11

Is it time for a battle? Sindari asked hopefully as he materialized at my side.

Unless I can use my innate charisma to talk some shifters out of attacking me.

Excellent. There’s no chance of that.

Thanks so much.

I know you.

Since Sindari had his own magical stealth, we passed within a few feet of the valet without the man knowing it. The two shifters—big, burly guys in black leather and chains—weren’t trying to hide. They were leaning against my Jeep and eating hot dogs that looked like they’d come off the spit at 7-11 rather than any of the upscale eateries nearby.

I smell more enemies than those two, Sindari informed me.

Hidden by charms? My own cloaking charm masked my scent when I activated it, but not all magic worked as well. How many?

Two more, I believe. Female bear shifters. Those two are werewolves.

Who knew so many people were into Zoltan’s wrinkle creams?

Alchemists are highly valued.

Apparently. I stopped about ten steps away, debating if I could sneak past them and into the Jeep, start it, and back out without a fight. Doubtful. They would hear me even if I could avoid getting close enough for them to see through my charm. Besides, I wanted to question one for more information about the vampires. We’re taking these guys out, Sindari. Can you locate the bears?

Easily. I’m not an amateur. But please define taking them out. Does that or does that not involve evisceration?

Just knock them out if you can. I think we may be on the same side, even if they don’t believe it.

It is difficult to knock someone out with paws.

Do your best. I couldn’t find any baseball bats.

You’re an odd handler.

Amber was just telling me that, except the word she used was weird.

I’m going in.

I drew Chopper and circled to the side, hoping to sneak up on one of the werewolves to bash him in the head with the hilt. Knocking out shifters wasn’t easy, but fights always went better if I could start right out cracking a skull or mangling a body part.

Unfortunately, the werewolves were expecting me. As I surged in from a few feet away, my target whirled and grabbed for my arms. With his hands up high toward my blade, I altered my plans and kicked him in the knee. Cartilage crunched, but werewolves are tougher than titanium nails. He snarled and lunged at me, his mouth morphing from human to canine, his jaws snapping as they elongated.

I dodged to the right, fangs slashing through the air an inch from the side of my face. Again, he grabbed for me, but I ducked under his arm and zipped in behind him. Turning so the Jeep was at my back, I locked an arm around his neck from behind and squeezed hard as he went completely furry. He swiped over his shoulder, trying to rake me with his claws, but I brought Chopper’s hilt down hard. It slammed into the back of his head once, then twice more.

Still in human form, his buddy rushed around the hood of the Jeep and sprang at me. Without releasing the first werewolf, I turned Chopper toward my new attacker, stabbing the tip toward his face. He jerked his head to the side but not before I lopped off the top of his ear. Howling and bleeding, he stumbled back.

My captive was still struggling, and an elbow came back, finding my stomach like a jackhammer. Pain blasted me as my breath whooshed out.

The werewolf roared and lunged away from me. I let him go—I shouldn’t have gotten so close to him to start with, but I’d wanted to subdue them, not kill them. Now, I just wanted to make sure I survived.

Sindari roared and a bear roared back. I glimpsed a woman walking into the parking garage with shopping bags and an ice cream cone, but she heard the noise and sprinted back out, dropping everything on the pavement.

As the werewolf spun to charge back at me, I brought my sword up between us. He paused, eyeing the glowing blue blade.

His buddy was grabbing his ear but still close enough to be a threat. He reached for something in his waistband. As his jacket slipped aside, I saw a gun.

I lunged toward him and slammed a side kick into his groin before he pulled it out. Even though he was a big guy, my adrenaline was pumping by then, and I sent him flying across the aisle and into another car.

The first werewolf thought I was distracted and leaped for me. I drove Chopper into his shoulder—it could have been his chest, but I still wanted to question one of these guys. And if I killed them, their friends would only be more convinced I was an enemy.

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