Spark (West Hell Magic Book 2) – Devon Monk

Duncan. Hey. Hey, Donut. Dunc.” Hazard, my best friend brother, smacked my skate with his stick. “Game. Now. Focus.” Right. My opponent, my enemy, my obstacle, was six and a half feet of pissed-off Russian with anger issues and a deadly weapon in his hand. He had the too-much-white-in-hiseyes that would have looked a little extreme on a serial killer. Sweat poured down his face as he growled. He wanted my blood. And I mean literally my blood. He was a fourth-marked Felidae shifter.

A cat of some kind. Smelled like tiger. I was second-marked Canidae shifter. One-hundred percent wolf, baby. Me and kitty did not get along. But here at the ass end of the third period in West Hell hockey, all I cared about was dragging my team out of this one-nothing hole we’d suicided into. “We got this,” Hazard at my right panted, sweat dripping off the ends of his dark hair under his helmet. “Just keep your head in the game.” Wizards were not as fragile as everyone thought. Or at least Hazard wasn’t.

He’d pulled a storm of knives out of a clear sky. He’d snapped thirty shifters back into human form mid-shift. He’d caught a hundred mile an hour puck with magic to keep it from killing a guy. I loved the hell outta him. In a brotherly way. Our crowd screamed for us. The rolling chorus Thunder-heads! Thunder-heads! Thunder-heads! pulsed and pounded, punctuated with two stomps and a clap. That battering, bolstering wave of sound was so thick, I could feel it in my teeth. I shivered beneath the heat of it, the thrill of it. I grinned, happy to be here, surrounded by the stink of sweat, exhaustion, adrenalin and blood, tied together with the hoppy tang of beer, brats, and violence.

Our right winger, Johan Jorgesen, or JJ, a third-marked who had a sensitive’s knack of knowing where the puck was going to be and when, took the face-off. I planted myself outside the circle, knowing he was going to shuck it toward our Dman, Graves, if he won the drop. The Tide asshole, Paski, covering me took his spot right up my ass. I made kissy noises at him. “Here, kitty, kitty.” “Fuck your face,” he snarled. There was a lot of cat in those words. Which meant he was gassed, worn out. The human in him was losing control to the cat inside him. Wouldn’t want him to lose his temper, now would we? Wouldn’t want him to shift and force a break in the game so they could throw him out.

I mean, there was only one minute left. We wouldn’t want things to get chaotic, now would we? Wouldn’t want to break their fucking stride so we had a fucking chance to bury that puck in the net. “You ain’t got the bone for it, boy,” I chirped. “I’ve had cat. Tastes just like pussy.” There. That was the blood-berserker rage I was looking for. Tension in his muscles, check. Lowered shoulders, check. Snapping his damn hockey stick in half with his bare hands? Well, now.

Check and double-check. Upside? We were going to get a break in game play and that would give us a better chance to score. Downside? This was about to turn into a freak-on-freak brawl. No, never mind. There was no downside to that. Commie Kitty dropped gloves and barreled toward me with a roar. A literal roar. The terrifying screech cut through the rest of the heat and anger and exhaustion on the ice. It was the kind of sound that brought a loud auditorium to full silence. Music to my fucking ears.

I laughed, the only sound in the place, and it echoed off the rafters. The wolf in me wanted out, out, out. Blood, blood, blood. Kill, kill, kill. Not today. The only way we were getting through this game without our team being penalized for fighting was if I kept my shift buried. Good thing the human in me enjoyed fighting just as much as the wolf in me did. We were a good pair, my wolf and me. I dropped my stick, and cocked a shoulder down so I could catch the Russian under his charge and either flip him, or get a punch into that broken rib he’d been favoring for the last two periods. “Kneel!” The league sensitive demanded over the arena speakers.

“Players will take a knee now.” A reasonable request. Too bad none of us were all that reasonable. I dropped my gloves. The crowd, which had spent all of three seconds silent, went absolutely wild. They wanted Comrade Kitten to shift. Wanted me to shift. The chant, Shift, shift, shift rocked the walls. As soon as my gloves hit the ice, the chant became fight, fight, fight. Oh, yeah.

There was gonna be a fight all right. Players lunged. Someone got slammed up on the boards, snarling, cursing. Refs hauled ass that way, stun prods in hand, ready to throw a few thousand watts of electricity into every shifter who wouldn’t drop knee. I wondered who was about to get zapped. Then I ran out of time to think about anyone else because there was a fist the size of a…what’s a large Russian thing? A bear? A tank? A Kremlin? Yeah, a fist the size of a Kremlin eclipsed all the light in the room and barreled down toward my face. I ducked and blocked. Slid forward and grabbed his jersey. It was hard to pound the ever-loving sand out of your opponent’s bags when you were on ice. Hanging on to his sweater locked us into place.

I twisted away from the follow-up punch and jack hammered my fist into his broken ribs. His groan was not human. Neither were his eyes. They carved wide as his face expanded, reshaped. And then it all went to hell. The first blow hit the side of my head like a freight train with a cut brake line. And that freight train had claws. I blocked, tucking the juicier bits of me out of reach, then pushed back. The wolf in me gave me strength no human could achieve. But then, the Russian wasn’t human either.

I heaved and twisted sideways to use the half-shifted cat’s greater weight and mass against him. He outweighed me as a human. He was even heavier as a cat thanks to magic’s screwed up mass-to-weight ratios. Full shift now, his jersey ripped at the seams, his shin pads, elbow pads and skates broke free as they were designed to do. Then his base layer stretched and shredded. His massive muzzle pulled back from huge teeth, and he snarled like a chainsaw in need of a tune-up. He stank like pissed-off tiger. No, he stank like prey. My wolf shoved for the shift. Sharp, heated claws scrabbled everywhere underneath my skin, digging for a way out.

I breathed heavily and asserted control, feeling my muscles ripple and flex. Controlling a shift was nearly impossible when a person was angry, hopped up on adrenalin, or exhausted. So, you know: exactly the state of every player in the third period of every hockey game. Good thing? I kept the wolf in check. Bad thing? I went down under a couple hundred pounds of fur and muscle and fangs and claws. Hit the ice hard. Catski landed on top of me and reared back to angle a swipe at my chest. I was pretty sure he was aiming for my neck. But he hit too low and his claws got caught in all that protective gear under my jersey. “You can’t even hit a jugular vein,” I grunted.

“No wonder you can’t score a goal.” I slammed my fist repeatedly into his side. Just because he was a cat didn’t mean his ribs were unbroken. “Get the hell off, dude,” I snarled. A snarl that was edging closer and closer to wolf. “Get. Off.” The snap of a stun prod crackled through the air and Kitty kitty went stiff. Even as he toppled slowly and bonelessly off of me, his eyes never left mine, nor did the anger and hatred in them fade. I had not made a friend today.

Oops. “Stay down!” This was a new voice, strong. Male. I looked up into the ref’s face. You’d think he was angry, but no, not really. He shook his head and pointed the prod at me, not close enough to touch. “Spark, you are a pain in the ass. Do you always have to stir up trouble at the end of every goddamn game? Some of us want to get home before midnight.” I gulped down air. “Sorry, Hartman.

How’s the family?” He blew out a breath. “Get that face looked at.” “What’s wrong with my face?” “You’re bleeding, son.” Oh. Well, yeah, of course I was bleeding. I’d just been mauled by a cat. I levered up to sit under the watchful eye of the ref and got my first look at the ice. Everyone, and I mean shifters, humans, sensitives, and the one wizard in the entire freak league was kneeling. Hazard watched me, his expression intense. Fierce.

People who said wizards were too weak to play contact sports had never met Random Hazard. He looked like he was about to punch his fist through reality and pull the guts of magic out of it. He looked like he was going to fold the world in half and hit the entire Tide team over the head with it. I was pretty sure he could do it too. He was terrifying with magic. Tested so far off the charts, they had to make new charts and they still hadn’t found his limit. He was also super-protective of me, which was kind of cute since I was a lot bigger than him and—remember—a wolf. It was my job to protect him. He was the little brother I’d brought home from school, and who my awesome parents had immediately adopted. What I’m saying here is, I’m a really great brother.

And he is a pretty great brother too, even though he worried too much when I started fights. Like I couldn’t handle a knuckle buster. He said, “Okay?” I heard him, even over all the noise. Wolf hearing was awesome. Plus, I’d know his voice even if I was at the bottom of the ocean and he were on top of the moon. I nodded. He only had regular human hearing, poor thing. Then he said, “Idiot.” And, “Good fight.” I smiled with all I had, and that included my wolf.

He smiled back. The crowd—which I’d blocked out since, hey, busy not being eaten by a tiger—was still chanting and cheering and stomping. As I gained my feet they went balls-out wild. Some of the wolves out there even howled. I raised one hand in acknowledgment to my violent, violent people. They shouted even louder and banged the glass like they were in a zombie movie. I laughed and skated off the ice, the ref moving with me to make sure I wasn’t going to beast-out. “Never seen a kid covered in so much blood look so happy about it,” Hartman muttered. “What can I say?” I shot back, the adrenalin, the surge of the crowd, the heat and hope and power of the game pouring through me like lightning frozen in my lungs, shooting down my spine, burning, burning until I was on fire, alive. “I love this game!” He tapped me on the ass as I stepped over the boards where our trainer, Leon, waited for me.

“Let’s get you cleaned up Siegfried and Roy.” I laughed, because, c’mon, that was funny. I loved this game, loved this team. Hell, I loved my life. And I would do anything to make sure it never changed.

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