Five months ago
“Tell me something happy.” I nestled up against Desmond’s side and gave him my best approximation of puppy-dog eyes, adding an imploring pout to the mix in the hope he might yield to my wishes.
His bare skin was warm, and I ran my fingers through the trail of dark hair leading from his chest down to his belly button. The trail went lower, but for the time being I was trying to keep things PG-13. Knowing me, it wouldn’t last long.
He was an awfully hard man to resist.
“You want me to make up a story?” His eyes were closed, meaning my cutesy faces had all been for nothing, but a hint of a smile played on his lips.
I rested my chin on his chest and stared up at his face. “It doesn’t have to be made up.”
Outside, a car honked, and the sounds of New York at night filtered down into my basement apartment. Soon I’d need to get out of bed and head to the council headquarters, but for now I wanted to spend the first few minutes of my night with my handsome werewolf boyfriend, and I wanted to think uncomplicated, cheerful thoughts.
“Okay, I have a story for you.” His voice was thick with sleep, and I suspected he’d only gotten into our bed shortly before I awoke. He had a day job, a real one, that kept him from sharing my weird nocturnal schedule. I rarely noticed because I slept the whole day, but his exhaustion was apparent enough right now.
Burying my arms under his back, I turned my face so my cheek lay against his stomach, and I smiled as his body rose and fell with each breath. “Tell me.”
“Once upon a time there was a princess.”
I grimaced at the word but said nothing.
“This princess was beautiful, but also very stubborn.”
“Shush. This is my story.”
Though it was impossible to see from my current position, I could imagine his self-satisfied smirk with little difficulty.
“Fine, go on.”
“One day the princess met a handsome man in the woods.”
“Well, the princess isn’t too smart.”
I bit his stomach playfully, and in return he grabbed my hair and gave it a tug.
“So she meets a handsome stranger,” I said.
“Yes. They meet and fall in love. And even though the princess was betrothed to another prince, she figured, f**k that guy, and ran away with the handsome stranger.”
I sucked in a breath. Ah, yes, the other prince. Or more specifically, the king. I had to wonder how long Lucas Rain was going to be an elephant in the room for Desmond and me. But this wasn’t the time to ask.
I kissed him on his abs, and he shifted, propping himself on his elbows so he was looking down at me.
“And they lived happily ever after?” I asked.
He smiled. “I like to think so.”
New York City was burning.
I used to think I was the levelheaded one in a crisis. Usually when things got bad, I knew what to do and could react accordingly.
But standing outside the Lincoln Tunnel, looking up at the hazy orange glow of the city on fire, my mind had gone blank.
Sirens wailed in the distance, and I was vaguely aware of screaming. But there was too much going on for me to focus on any one thing.
“What the hell is happening?” Desmond came up beside me, reminding me I wasn’t alone. He put his phone in his pocket. On our way through the tunnel he’d been calling his mother to make sure she and his sister were safe. Since he didn’t say anything, I had to assume they’d gotten out or found protection.
I glanced back at him and then to Holden. The vampire, my friend and former lover, had placed his arm protectively around my sister, Eugenia. Genie, a witch and werewolf, had seen some pretty wild stuff in her eighteen years, but I was betting none of it could compare to what she was seeing now.
She was staring up at the sky wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
Even Holden, who was over two hundred years old, was gazing at the scene before us with barely restrained awe.
“Secret?” Desmond placed his hand on my shoulder, and I returned my attention to him. It was only then I realized I hadn’t spoken once since we got out of the car.
“We need to find Keaty,” I announced.
There were dozens of places we could have gone, people we could have sought out, and some of them might have been more logical than Francis Keats. But the fact was, there was no one in the world I respected more in a time of crisis than my business partner.
If anyone would know what to do, it would be Keaty.
The next problem we faced would be getting there.
The streets were littered with abandoned cars, some left with their doors wide open and the ping-ping-ping sound of interior warning chimes going off. Driving towards Central Park would be impossible—not that driving in the city was ever the fastest way to get anywhere.
“We’ll have to walk.”
“Secret,” Genie said, her voice quivering. “Don’t you think maybe we should go back?”
On our way into the city we’d seen hundreds of cars crawling their way out. It seemed like everyone was fleeing. Yet we had gone in. Now that we were here, there was no way in hell I was going to put my tail between my legs and run.
“If our friends are still here, we’re going to find them.” My voice sounded cold, even to myself.
The past week had been one hellish ordeal after another, culminating in me killing my two worst enemies—the rogue vampire Alexandre Peyton, and my mother, Mercy. I’d assumed when I got back to New York, my problems would be limited to settling debts and dealing with the council, but this…this was wholly unexpected.
The air smelled of burning metal and melting plastic, and big plumes of black smoke blotted the moon and stars from sight.
Returning to the car, I found the duffel bag with my weapons in it. I was already wearing my shoulder holster but added in a second gun and started loading my jacket pockets with ammo clips. I slung my katana over my back, adjusting the strap on the scabbard sling so it wouldn’t interfere with my ability to draw the guns. There was a silver knife tucked in my boot, and I didn’t think I could carry anything else without creating problems.
I tossed the duffel bag onto the street between Desmond, Holden and Genie.
“If you guys want to leave, I understand. I don’t know what’s going on out there, and by the look of it, it could be freaking Godzilla. I have no idea. You can go if you need to, but Keaty, Nolan and Mercedes are out there somewhere. Same with Shane and Siobhan. My dad is probably still sitting in his apartment wondering what to do. I can’t leave them.” After dropping my keys on the driver’s seat, I closed the car door. “So, if you’re going, go. If you’re staying, grab a weapon.”
For a moment Genie looked like she might make a dash for the car. I wouldn’t have blamed her. If I had a more finely honed sense of self-preservation, I would have gone that route myself.
Instead, she knelt and opened the bag, finding one of my old Glock handguns. She didn’t appear altogether comfortable holding it, but when she glanced at me, I saw the determination in her eyes. As Desmond filled his pockets with more clips for the handguns and slung a shotgun over his shoulder, my tension kicked into high gear. He looked ready to go to war, and for that one second I wanted to send him away.
My brand-new engagement ring—something he’d only put on my hand a day earlier—felt heavy, and I prayed when all of this, whatever it was, was over, I’d still have a fiancé.
The city was like a set piece straight out of an apocalyptic movie, but here I was worrying about my future wedding. Really, though, I was terrified of the idea I might lose anyone I loved tonight.
Holden didn’t take a weapon, but I hadn’t expected him to. Instead he picked up the bag—much lighter now with most of its contents removed—and strung it across his back. “Never know when we might need more,” he explained.
I could have hugged him, but I doubted he’d be too thrilled with me touching him.
Breaking a vampire’s heart tends to make them grouchy.
“You’re all nuts, you know that, right?” I said.
Genie offered a weak smile. “It runs in the family.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the idea our family lineage was being brought up right now, considering I’d murdered our mother in cold blood only three days earlier. Genie was taking that particular bit of information in stride though.
The police cruiser blocking the tunnel exit made a crackling noise, stealing my attention.
“One-six-seven, one-six-seven, do you copy?” The voice coming from the car was distant and followed by static. A radio transmission. But if someone was calling the car, that meant somewhere in the city there were still cops on duty. I felt a glimmer of hope as I jogged towards the car.
“One-six-seven?” the radio asked again.
I sat in the driver’s seat and picked up the handheld radio from the dash. Desmond, Holden and Genie circled around, with Holden’s focus remaining on the streets rather than on the car.
“This is one-six-seven,” I replied. “The car has been abandoned.”
“Who is this?” the male voice on the radio demanded.
“My name is Secret.”
“I don’t have time for games, lady. What’s your name?”
I groaned. “Just call me McQueen,” I grumbled, not bothering to explain the misunderstanding. It wasn’t worth the effort.
“McQueen. You got any affiliation? What are you doing in that car?”
I glanced nervously at Desmond, chewing the inside of my cheek for a moment. This wasn’t how I’d pictured telling the boys about my new job, but if my connection could help us, maybe it was time to spill the beans.
“I work for the FBI. I found this car abandoned at the Lincoln Tunnel. No sign of the officers.”
The radio voice cursed. “FBI? How’d they get you here faster than the military? Jee-sus. Well, hell, we need all the help we can get.”
Desmond was staring at me, and when I met his gaze, he mouthed the word FBI to me, raising his eyebrows in question.
There’d be time to explain once we started moving again. I wasn’t really an agent, anyway. Officially, I was a government asset. Like, in the same sense a laptop or a car was an asset.
“What happened here?” I asked.
“Weren’t you briefed?”
“Jee-sus,” he repeated. “Agent, we’re under attack.”
“Terrorists?” The idea sent a chill through me, but at least with a human antagonist we should be able to regain the upper hand with relative ease.
“No, ma’am.” For a long time after that he was silent, and I was about to ask if he was still on the line when he spoke up. “We seem to be under attack by…well, by zombies.”
“Zombies?” I had to be sure I’d heard him correctly. This was the same thing Nolan had said in his voicemail to me. I’d dismissed it then, but it was hard to brush it off a second time. “That’s impossible.”
For a half-vampire/half-werewolf to be dismissive of any supernatural entity might seem strange, but the fact was zombies didn’t exist. Not in the Romero Night of the Living Dead sense anyway. The dead did not rise up of their own volition and feed on the flesh of the living. It was one hundred percent impossible.
“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t believe it either. But I’ve got literally thousands of bodies blocking the Midtown Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and every other goddamn exit out of this town aside from the one you’re parked in front of. You understand me. Bodies. And they’re walking.”
I wanted to reiterate the impossibility of a zombie invasion, but this guy didn’t sound like the type to make up stories.
“When did it happen?”
“Most of this is just in the last two hours.”
“Two hours?” So this had only begun as our plane was coming in to land. How could an entire city fall apart in two hours? “Is there some sort of plan?”
“Yeah. Don’t f**king die.”
Static reigned on the radio, and I glanced to my friends, wondering if they found this entire thing half as mind-boggling as I did.
“Zombies?” Genie asked.
Holden snorted. “There’s no such thing.”
“Says the vampire,” Desmond countered.
“No, he’s right,” I said. “Zombies aren’t real. There has to be another explanation for what’s happening.”
“The dead have risen, and they’ve invaded New York. It’s a pretty clear-cut explanation,” Genie answered. “We really should go.”
“No.” I got out of the cruiser, wondering if I shouldn’t wait for more details, but it didn’t sound like my cop buddy was coming back. “There’s more going on here, and we need to figure out what it is. The dead don’t rise on their own.”
“Your plan is still to get to Keaty’s? You think he’ll even be there?” Desmond asked.
“Keaty has a frigging fallout shelter built inside his brownstone. He’s prepared for the actual apocalypse. If there’s anywhere we should go first, that’s it.” I checked my guns again to remind myself I had them. “The isn’t like The Walking Dead, okay? Their bites won’t turn you into monsters, but don’t think that means you won’t get bitten. I don’t know what these things are, but they managed to take over the city in two hours. We have to be careful. And remember—they’re dead. Don’t feel bad about whatever it is you need to do to them. Do not hesitate. Understand?”
Genie gave a tight nod.
“I don’t like this,” Holden added.
“What’s to like?” I checked the car one last time, and since no one seemed to be abandoning ship, I reclaimed my keys and locked the doors. If we managed to make it through this whole ordeal in one piece, I liked to think the car might still be here waiting when it all blew over. Though it wasn’t like we’d get the rental deposit back.
I knew it was a long shot, but I was no stranger to those. Sometimes things went in my favor.
“All right, guys. Eyes up, be ready. Let’s do this.”