HIDDEN talents

Chapter One

Dusk settled over the city of Resurrection like a blanket of bad news.

That’s me, Ari thought, flexing her right fist beside her hip. Bad news with a capital B.

This wasn’t just whistling in the dark. Ari had been bad news to some people in her life. To her parents. To every teacher she’d had in high school. You’ll come to no good, they’d threatened, and she couldn’t swear they’d been wrong. Certainly, she hadn’t turned out to be a blessing to Maxwell or Sarah. Because of her, Max was in the hospital with too many broken bones in his arms to count, and Sarah was God knew where. But at least Ari was trying to change that. At least she was trying to be bad news to people who deserved it.

To her dismay, Resurrection, NY wasn’t what she’d been led to believe when she’d looked it up on the internet.

She stood on the crest of a weedy hill outside the metropolis, her presence hidden by the deeper shadow of a highway overpass. She’d been expecting a down-on-its-luck backwater. Storefronts stuck in the seventies. Maybe a real town square and a civil war battlefield. Instead, she found an actual cityscape. The skyline wasn’t Manhattan tall, more like Kansas City. Few buildings looked brand new, but many were substantial. They formed a grid of streets and parkland whose core had to encompass at least five miles. This was definitely more than a backwater. Resurrection reminded her of city photos from the early decades of the last century, when skyscraper meant something exciting. What could have been a twin to the Chrysler Building stuck up from the center of downtown, reigning over its brethren.

Finding the Eunuch among all that was going to take some doing.

You have to find him, she told her sinking stomach. If she didn’t, she and her very small gang of peeps would be looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives. At twenty-six and thankfully still counting, Ari had endured more than enough hiding. She was stronger now. She’d been practicing. Henry Blackwater, aka, the Eunuch, wouldn’t know what hit him.

“Right,” she said sarcastically to herself. She’d be lucky if she got out of here alive.

But faint heart never vanquished fair villain. Ari knew she’d been born the way she was for a reason. Maybe here, maybe soon, she’d find out what that reason was.


Chapter Two

No one messed with people who belonged to Adam Santini. Unless, of course, the person messing with the person was also Adam’s relative.

“You. Ate. My. Beignets.” To emphasize his point, Adam’s irate cousin, Tony Lupone, was bashing his brother’s head against the squad room floor.

Since Rick’s skull was made of sterner stuff than the linoleum, he laughed between winces. “What sort of cop—ow—eats beignets anyway?”

“Your faggot brother cop, that’s who. Your pink-shirted faggot brother cop who’s whupping your butt right now.”

Amused by their exchange, Adam leaned back against Tony’s cluttered desk. The precinct’s squad room was a semi-bunker in the basement. A mix of ancient file cabinets and desks were balanced by some very revved-up technology. Grimy electrum grates on the windows protected them, more or less, from things that went bump in the night outside. The hodgepodge suited the men who manned it better than most workplaces could. Rough-edged but smart was the werewolf way. At the moment, Tony was so rough-edged his eyes glowed amber in his flushed face. His big brother could have defended himself better than he was, if it weren’t for his rule against hitting his siblings.

“Ow! Lou!” he complained to Adam. “You’re supposed to be my best friend. Aren’t you going to call off this squirt?”

“You’re the one who ate his fancy donuts.”

“All dozen of them!” Tony snarled, his grievance renewed. “I brought them in to share.”

“Shit,” said long-haired Nate Rivera, Adam’s other cousin, once removed. “Now I want to whup you.”

Considering even-tempered Nate was growling, Adam judged it time to end the wrestling match. “All right, you two. Enough. Rick, I’m docking your next paycheck for the price of his beignets. Dana, if you’d be so kind, raid the coffee fund and pick up another batch for tomorrow night.”

“None of which you’re going to enjoy, Mister Pig!” Panting from the exertion of trying to give his brother a concussion, Tony rose and pointed angrily down at him. “You can choke on your damned donuts.”

Wisely, Rick remained where he was while his little brother stalked back to the break room, where his heinous crime had been discovered. The dress code for the detectives was casual. Rick’s gray RPD T-shirt was rucked way up his six-pack abs. His concave stomach didn’t betray his gluttony. His fast werewolf metabolism saw to that.

“My head,” Rick moaned, still laughing. “Come on, cuz. Give your beta a hand up.”

Adam sighed and obliged. None of his wolves were small, but Rick was six four and all muscle. Even with supe strength, Adam grunted to haul him up. “Some second you are. You had to know this would cause trouble.”

“I couldn’t help myself. The box smelled so good. Plus, he was totally obnoxious about bringing them in for everyone.”

“So you knew you were stealing food from my mouth?” Nate interjected, not looking up from his paperwork. “Not cool.”

“He’s sucking up. Ever since he came out, he’s been -” Rick snapped his muzzle shut, but it was too late.

“Uh-huh,” Nate said in his dry laid back way. He’d spun around in his squeaky rolling chair to face Rick. “Ever since he came out, your brother stopped being a butch-ass prick. In fact, ever since he came out, he’s been the nicest wolf around here. You don’t like that ’cause you’re used to being everyone’s favorite.”

“Crap.” The way Rick rubbed the back of his neck said he knew he was in the wrong. Being Rick, he couldn’t stay dejected long. A grin flashed across his handsome olive-skinned face. “Can’t I still be everyone’s favorite? Do I have to turn gay too?”

“I don’t know,” Nate said, returning to his work. “So far only gay boys bring us good breakfasts.”

Seeing Rick’s private wince, Adam patted his back and rubbed. Touchy-feely creatures that werewolves were, the contact calmed both of them. He knew Rick was still working on accepting his little brother’s big announcement. Werewolves were some of the most macho supes in Resurrection, a city that had plenty to choose from. Adam knew Rick loved his brother just as much as before. He suspected Rick was mostly worried Tony would end up hurt. Being responsible for policing America’s only supernatural-friendly town made the wolves enough of a target. Turning out to be gay on top of that was as good as taping a target onto your back.

“Tony will be all right,” Adam assured his friend. “Everyone here is adjusting to the new him.”

Rick rubbed his neck once more and let his hand drop. Worry pinched his dark gold eyes when they met Adam’s. “They’re pack. They have to love him.”

Adam didn’t believe this but wasn’t in the mood to argue. Plenty of folks endowed being pack with mystical benefits. Some were real of course, but as alpha, Adam wasn’t comfortable relying on magic to cement his authority. He thought it best to actually be a competent leader.

“Boss,” Dana their dispatcher said. The young woman had her own corner of the squad room. Apart from its cubby walls, it was open. Banks of sleek computers surrounded her, each one monitoring different sectors of the city. The sole member of the squad who wasn’t a relative, Dana was the most superstitious wolf Adam had ever met. Anti-hex graffiti scrawled across her work surfaces, the warding so thick he couldn’t tell one symbol from another. How they worked like that was beyond him. Despite the quirk, Adam took her instincts seriously. Right then, she didn’t look happy. Her silver dreamcatcher earrings were trembling.

“Boss, we’ve got a suspected M without L in the abandoned tire store on Twenty-Fourth.”

M without L referred to the use of magic without a license. Adam’s hackles rose. Jesus, he hated those. “Who’s reporting the incident?”

“Gargoyle on the Hampton House Hotel.” She touched her headset and listened. “He says it’s a Level Four.”

Adrenaline surged inside him, making his palms tingle. Gargoyles were rarely wrong about magical infractions. While the strength levels went up to eight, four was nothing to sneeze at. Thumb and finger to his mouth, Adam blew a piercing whistle to get his men’s attention.

“Suit up,” he said. “We’ve got a probable ML on Twenty-Fourth.”

“Don’t forget your earpieces,” Dana added. “I’ll help coordinate from here.”

Adam’s men were already loping to the weapons room. “Load for bear,” he said as he followed them. “We don’t know what we’re in for.”

* * *

Resurrection, New York couldn’t have existed without the fae. For nearly two hundred years, it had sat on an outfolded pocket of the fae’s other-dimensional homeland, in the human world but only visible to a special few.

Those who wandered in from Outside found it less alien than might be expected. The founding faeries had used the Manhattan of the 1800s as their architectural crib sheet. Since then, the bigger apple had continued to provide inspiration. Immigrants especially liked to recreate pieces of their native land. Resurrection had its own Fifth Avenue and Macy’s, its own subway and museums. Little Italy still flourished here, though—sadly—its theater district was as moribund as its role model. Adam was familiar with the theories that Resurrection was an experiment, created to see if human and fae could live peaceably as in days of old. Whether this was the reason for its existence, he couldn’t say.

The only fae he knew were exceptionally tight-lipped.

Whatever their motives, Resurrection had become a haven for humans with a trait or two extra. Shapechangers of every ilk thrived here. Vamps were tolerated as long as they behaved themselves. The same was true of demons and other Dims: visitors from alternate dimensions who entered through the portals. If a being could get along, it could stay. If it couldn’t, it had to go. And if the visitors didn’t want to go, Adam and the rest of the RPD were just the folks to make sure they went anyway.

The job fit Adam better than his combat boots, and those boots fit him pretty good. He loved keeping order, protecting the vulnerable, kicking butt and cracking skulls as required. The only duty he didn’t like was apprehending rogue Talents. Sorcerers were trained at least, and demons who went dark side were generally predictable. Talents were the wild cards in an already dangerous deck. Their power was raw, depending not on spells but on how much energy they could channel. That amount could be a trickle or a mother-effing hell of a lot.

The previous year, a Level Seven Talent who’d gotten stoned on faerie-laced angel dust had taken down the six-lane Washington Street Bridge. Just popped it off its piers and let it drop in the North River. If the bridge’s gargoyles hadn’t swooped in to save what cars they could, the loss of life would have been astronomical. Adam still had nightmares about talking the tripping Talent into surrendering. If tonight’s incident ran along similar lines, he might need a vacation.

Along with the rest of his team, Adam clutched the leather sway-strap above his head. Nate was driving the black response van because no one else dared claim the wheel from the ponytailed Latino. They all wore body armor and helmets, plus an assortment of protective charms. Their rifles leaned against the long side benches between their knees. The guns could fire a range of ammo, both conventional and spelled. Rick, who had a knack for effective prayer, was quietly calling on the precinct’s personal guardian angel. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t, but even the atheists among them figured better safe than sorry.

“God,” Tony said, tapping the back of his head against the van’s rattling wall. “I hope this isn’t another thing like the bridge.”

“Amen,” Carmine agreed. The stocky were was the oldest member of their squad, the only one who was married, and—yes—another of Adam’s cousins.

Before he could smile, Adam’s earpiece beeped.

“You’re four blocks out,” Dana said. “The gargoyle is reporting another series of power flares. Still nothing higher than a Four.”

That was good news. Unless, of course, the Talent was warming up.

“Okay, people,” Adam said. “Watch your tempers once we get inside. Be safe but no killing unless you have no choice.”

He didn’t warn them against hesitating. Given their inbred hair-trigger werewolf nature, hesitating wasn’t an issue.

* * *

The defunct tire store sat on a small parking lot between a very well locked print shop and a transient hotel. Apart from the hotel, which wasn’t exactly bustling, the area wasn’t residential. A cheap liquor outlet on the corner drew a few customers, but the main business done here after dark was drugs. Most of the product filtered in from the human world. Since this was Resurrection, some was also exotic. If you knew who to ask, you could score adulterated vamp blood or coke cut with faerie dust. Demon manufactured Get-Hard was popular, though it tended to cause more harmful side effects than Viagra. Every EMT Adam knew had asked why they couldn’t get GH off the street. All Adam could answer was that they were doing the best they could.

Policing Resurrection couldn’t be about stamping out Evil. It had to be about making sure Good didn’t get swallowed.

The reminder braced him as he and his team ran soundlessly from the van onto the buckled and trash-strewn asphalt of the parking lot. His scalp prickled half a second before a soft gold light flared around the edges of the boarded-up back windows.

Adam had answered previous calls to this location. The rear section of the tire store was where vehicles had been cranked up on lifts for servicing. Fortunately, there was plenty of cover for slipping in. Unfortunately, lots of flammables were inside. Adam took the anti-burn charm that hung around his neck and whispered a word to it. That precaution seen to, he hand-signaled Rick and Tony to split off and block escape from the front exit.

This left Adam, Carmine and Nate to ghost in the back.

The flimsy combination lock on the door to the service bay had been snapped—probably magically. Adam and his two detectives ducked under the low opening. Inside, the scent and feel of magic was much stronger, the air thicker and hotter than it should have been in autumn. A male voice moaned in pain farther in, standing Adam’s hair on end. Without needing to be told, Nate peeled off to the right. Adam and Carmine took the left.

Scattered heaps of tires allowed them to creep up on their goal without being seen. One bare bulb dangled from a wire, lighting the far end of the garage. In the dim circle beneath it, the Talent had her moaning victim tied to a plastic chair. The sight of her stopped Adam in his tracks. Christ, she was little. Five foot nothing and probably a hundred and small change. She looked to be in her twenties and wore the kind of clothes street kids did. Ripped up black jeans. Ancient T-shirts that didn’t fit. Her oversized Yankees jacket had its sleeves torn out and was decorated with unidentifiable small objects. Her hair was a shade of platinum not found in nature, standing in white spikes around her head. A swirling red pattern was dyed it, as if her coiffure were her personal art project. What really got him though, what had his breath catching in his throat, was the clean-cut innocence of her face. Outfit and hair aside, she looked like a tiny Iowa farm girl.

It made his chest hurt to look at her. The part of him that needed to protect others wanted to protect her.

Knowing better than to trust in appearances, Adam shook the inclination off. He tapped the speaker fixed into his vest with the signal for everyone to hold. The victim was still alive. They could afford to take a minute to discover what they were up against.

As they watched, the girl lifted her right hand. Pale blue fire outlined her curled fingers. Her already bloodied victim shrank back within his ropes. He was some kind of elf-human mixblood with long gray hair. He was a lot bigger than the Talent, but that didn’t mean their fight had been fair. Despite the elfblood, he didn’t give off much of a magic vibe. A near-null was Adam’s guess. His run-in with the Talent had left damage. He looked bad: both eyes swollen, bruises, shallow cuts bleeding all over. Though he seemed familiar, as injured as he was, he was hard to identify. Even his smell was distorted by blood and fear.

“I can do this all night,” the Talent said in a voice that was way too sweet for a torturer. “Or you can tell me where to find the Eunuch.”

Carmine and Adam came alert at that. This was a name they knew too damn well.
“Lady,” said her bloodied victim. “I have no idea who you mean.”

The girl closed her glowing hand gently. The man she was interrogating arched so violently he and the plastic chair fell over. He screamed as blood sprayed from a brand new cut on his chest. Carmine started forward, but Adam gripped his shoulder.

“Wait,” he murmured. “That cut was shallow. He’s not in immediate danger.”

Carmine shook his head but obeyed. When the man stopped writhing, the girl drew a deep slow breath. With no more effort than gesturing upward with one finger, she set man and chair upright. Despite the situation’s danger, something inside Adam let out an admiring whoa.

“Clearly,” she said, “you think you ought to be more afraid of your boss than me.”

“Lady,” panted the injured man, “everyone’s more afraid of him.”

The girl’s lips curved in a smile that had Carmine shivering beside him. Admittedly, the expression was a little scary. For no good reason Adam could think of, it made his cock twitch in his jockstrap.

The Talent spoke silkily. “I’m glad we’ve established you know who I’m looking for.”

Adam expected her to cut him again. Instead, discovering her victim did know the Eunuch inspired her to up the ante on her torture. The blue fire she’d called to her hand now began gleaming around her feet. She was drawing energy from the earth - and no piddling amount either. Her glowing hand contracted into a fist, and her victim’s face went chalky. Adam was pretty sure she was telekinetically squeezing his beating heart. Unless she was really good at medical manipulation, she was going to kill him.

Go,” he said sharply into his vest microphone.

Even in human form, werewolves weren’t slowpokes. What went down next was textbook perfect. Adam and his men were on the Talent so fast she didn’t have a chance to shift her attack to them. Nate got her nose squashed down on the oil-stained floor, then snapped electrum plated cuffs snug around her wrists. The cuffs were charmed so she couldn’t break them, no matter how powerful she was. The Talent struggled, then cried out as Nate yanked her roughly onto her feet.

He dropped a depowering charm around her neck for good measure. Immediately, the energy-charged air settled back to normal. The girl gaped at the enchanted medal, then straight up at Adam. Adam’s heart stuttered in his chest. Her eyes were a breathtaking corn-fed blue, her lashes a thick dark brown. The twitch she’d sent through his cock morphed into a throb. Carmine shot him a look of surprise. Adam fought an embarrassed flush. The smell of his arousal must have gotten strong enough to seep through his clothes.

“’bout time you showed up,” the girl’s victim huffed. “This bitch needs to be locked up.”

Carmine flipped up his face shield and turned to consider him. The man flinched back, obviously wishing he’d refrained from complaining.

“Aren’t you Donnie West?” Carmine asked. “’Cause I know we’ve got a handful of outstandings on your drug dealing ass.”

“Uh,” said Donnie, abruptly recognizable under his bruises.

“That’s what I thought,” said Carmine, and let out his belly laugh.

Through all of this, the Talent’s eyes moved from one of them to the other, taking in their gear and their guns and getting wider by the second. When Rick and Tony caught up to them from the front, Tony’s upper canines had run out and his amber eyes were glowing. The girl sucked in a breath like this shocked her, though a partial change when younger wolves got excited wasn’t uncommon.

“What the—” she said before having to swallow. “What the hell kind of cops are you?”

Still holding her from behind, Nate’s slash of a mouth slanted up in a devilish grin.

“Well, what do you know,” he drawled. “Looks like we’ve got ourselves an Accidental Tourist.”

 

Hidden Talents cover

Werewolf cop Adam Santini is sworn to protect and serve all the supes in Resurrection, NY—including unsuspecting human Talents who wander in from Outside.

Telekinetic Ari is hot on the trail of a mysterious crime boss who wants to exploit her gift for his own evil ends, a mission that puts her on a collision course with the hottest cop in the RPD. Adam wants Blackwater too, but mostly he wants Ari. She seems to be the mate he’s been yearning for all his life, though getting a former street kid into bed with the Law could be his toughest case to date.

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