I smiled and kept walking. When Giguhl switched forms, he always ended up naked. I won’t go into details, but a naked demon is a sight you don’t want to behold more than once. I was about to turn the corner when Rhea finally spoke.
“Why is it forked?”
Thus far, the food in New York left a lot to be desired. Granted, I’d only been in the city about four hours, but back in California, none of my meals ever bit back.
“Ouch!” I reared back and checked to be sure my ear was still attached. My meal stared back with glittering eyes, black in the dim light. He had a few days’ worth of scruff, and a diamond stud glinted from beneath greasy black hair.
“Fuck you, bitch.” His attitude—and his blood—left a bitter taste in my mouth. Frustrated and too tired to deal with this shit, I pushed him away. Instead of running like a normal person, he had the nerve to pull a gun on me.
“Seriously?” I said. If I weren’t so annoyed, I probably would have laughed. “I think you better hand over the gun before you hurt yourself—or I do it for you.”
He pulled the trigger. The bullet ripped through the flesh just below my right collarbone. I might have been immune to the damage, but it f**king hurt.
“Godsdammit!” I yelled, pressing a hand to my chest. “Gimme that thing.” I jerked the gun out of his hands and threw it into a wooded area off the trail. His eyes widened and he stumbled back, mumbling prayers to the Virgin Mary.
“She can’t help you now,” I said menacingly. He tripped over his feet and ran off into the night. I briefly considered giving chase but decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
Despite the empty trails this time of night, Central Park still hummed with energy. In the tree line, dark shadows shifted in my peripheral vision. A screech came from overhead. I looked up to see Stryx flying in tight circles over me.
“Go away,” I grumbled. Ignoring the owl, I trudged on through the trails, hoping to find another meal. Not an hour ago I was puking out my spleen, and now my body had to heal the gunshot wound. That meant blood had gone from a want to being a need.
The chill October air held the promise of rain. Under that, the city scents of trash, exhaust, and humanity were muted and mixed with the smoky aroma of fallen leaves. I slowed my pace and took a deep lungful of air. Wincing, I pressed a hand against the chest wound. The hole was already closing, entombing the bullet lodged there—a morbid souvenir of my first visit to the Big Apple.
Needing a minute, I sat on a bench near the intersection of three trails. The famous “Imagine” mosaic memorializing John Lennon lay a few feet away. Someone had left an offering of red roses in the center of the circle. All around me, trees reached up toward the inky night sky, and just beyond, the spires of New York’s cathedrals to the gods of commerce loomed.
What the f**k was I doing here? I settled back into the bench and allowed myself to wallow. Self-pity wasn’t an emotion I indulged often. It was easier to avoid wallowing when I thought I was in control of my life. But now control was the last thing I had.
When I’d agreed to come to New York with Adam, I’d been pissed off and ready to leave everything behind. My need to make my grandmother pay for betraying me was stronger than my worries over leaving everything behind. I knew mages were different from vampires, but I figured I’d adjust. I was half mage after all—how hard could it be?
But now that I was here and had my first taste of mage life, I wasn’t so sure I’d made the right decision. Maisie was nice enough, but I couldn’t help distancing myself from her. I’d thought since we were twins we’d be more alike, but the reality was we couldn’t be more different. Hell, even my minion liked her better than he liked me. Stupid fickle demon.
Plus, Adam’s departure had thrown me for a loop. I’d expected him to stay and help me adjust to mage life, but now he was gone. It wasn’t just that he wouldn’t be continuing our magic lessons. I’d grown used to having him around over the last few weeks. I’d even started to think of us as a team. Not that I’d admit that out loud. Nor did I want to discuss that kiss. Gods! What the hell was that about? I guessed in that respect it was good he was gone. It gave me some space to clear my head. But eventually, when he returned, I’d have to figure out what to do there. I had a feeling where Adam was concerned, things could get very complicated very quickly. And more complications were the last thing I needed.
I’m not sure how long I sat there before the twig snapped behind me. Another. Someone or something wasn’t worried about me knowing they were there. I stood slowly and started walking. They’d reveal themselves when they were ready—and I’d be ready for them.
“You picked the wrong woods tonight, Little Red Riding Hood.” The voice came from behind.
I turned slowly, silently cursing myself for not bringing more weapons with me. Two males stood on the path. From the corner of my eye, I saw two others come from the tree line to stand behind me. Four-to-one odds. Not too bad, I thought.
“Can I help you?” I asked, keeping my tone conversational. Inside, my adrenaline kicked up a notch. A good fight would offer the perfect distraction from my troubles.
The males I could see were shaggy and lean, with mean, thuggish faces. They reminded me of a pack of young, hungry wolves. Not a strand of red hair in the pack, so they weren’t vampires. No telltale sandalwood scent, so I knew they weren’t mages. But they definitely weren’t human.
The leader laughed. His flunkies chuckled while casting uncertain looks at him. He strolled forward, with the others getting his back. His laugh cut off as quickly as it started. “You’re poaching on our turf.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” I crossed my arms, reaching inside my jacket for the knife hidden there.
“By decree of The Shade, this here’s our official hunting ground.”
“Who the f**k is The Shade?” I demanded.
He raised a shaggy eyebrow. “The Shade’s the law. And the law says, anyone who poaches on our land deserves to be taught a lesson.”
“And who the f**k are you?”
He put his arms out and snarled. “We’re the Lone Wolves, bitch.”
Freakin’ great, I thought. Werewolves. Just what I needed. That certainly explained the eau de wet dog flying off the pack in nose-wrinkling waves. I’d never run into any weres in L.A., but I knew enough to recognize I’d just walked into a shitstorm. Again.