Touched By Fire – Kel Carpenter

TRENTON MCARTHUR WAS the epitome of a fuck boy. Young, mid-twenties in appearance. More than a little cocky. Arrogant. Solid looks. A warlock of moderate status, and rich as hell. In another life, he would have been a frat boy from Florida State—had magic not become known to humankind and the entire world upended as a result. There was just one minor problem with Trenton. He liked to gamble. A lot. Unfortunately for him, he sucked at it, and he didn’t pay his debts. Which is what led us here tonight. Him, to play a few rounds of cards in one of the few places in town that wouldn’t kick him out. Me, to nab his ass. It was Friday, after all.

Payday. With my feet kicked up on the old, dingy tabletop, I waited for him to make his way through the bar. Leaning back, I flipped my lighter open and closed with the tip of my thumb. It was an old habit. The tiny yellow flame flickered in and out of existence. Trenton and the bartender made nice, fist bumping and doing some weird handshake thing between them. I knew from his file sitting at home on my desk that he and Egzy Daniels went way back. Egzy was just as deep in shit, if not more so, but the lucky bastard hadn’t pissed off the wrong people, and so he was safe where he was. For now. He and Trenton talked for a while, swapping stories about selling potions to minors and sharing exaggerated details of girls they’d fucked last week.

Some werewolf beta named Lizzy apparently got around. I silently questioned her life choices while I watched them settle into a routine of familiarity. After a few minutes of that, Egzy clapped my target on the back and walked him my way. They stopped before me, and I smiled. “Hello, boys . ” I purred, dragging my feet from the tabletop. They hit the floor with a loud smack, and the bar quieted for a second before resuming its bustling activities. Trenton’s eyes scanned my form as I scooted down my seat and came to stand before him. The tight black jeans definitely got his attention, but the long-sleeved turtleneck and leather jacket . less so.

“Egzy,” he drawled. “Who is this?” “I’m sorry, man,” the bartender said, blowing the ruse. I rolled my eyes, dropping any pleasantness from my face. Trenton only needed a second to realize what was up. His mouth started moving, and being the smart person I was, I pistol whipped him faster than a two-pump chump could get off. A groan fitting the sound effect for my metaphor slipped from Trenton’s lips, and I wrinkled my nose. That saying no longer appealed in any way, shape, or form. He crumpled to the ground, unconscious for the moment. “You suck at this,” I said to Egzy, who stood across from the body looking uncertain about his role to play. “Trenton’s my boy,” the bartender complained.

I glared at him, taking in his short black hair and tan skin. His features were what I would have called Asian, at least what I knew of Asia before the world went to shit. After the Magic Wars, it was hard enough to find out about other cities in America, let alone countries and continents around the globe. I had no idea if Asia was still the same, or even called that anymore. There was not much of a way to know, given the collapse of technology and the rise of magic. “I didn’t wanna rat on him . ” He pouted. While Egzy was sort of attractive and low enough on the magic spectrum that he was almost human, he was also dumb as a box of rocks and mostly got by on luck. “Yeah, well, the deal was that you help me get him out of here without a struggle. My boss isn’t going to be happy,” I said, lying through my teeth.

Egzy didn’t know who my boss even was, or that they didn’t give two shits if I captured him or not. They only wanted Trenton for the time being. Dealing with dumb criminals had its benefits. Sometimes. “You don’t think he’s going to send someone after me, do you?” Egzy asked, panic flaring in his face. I shrugged. “I don’t know, but maybe you should have thought of that before you tipped off your boy Trenton here,” I said, motioning to the unconscious douchebag sprawled out on the floor. Egzy looked from his prone friend and back to me, then grimaced. He turned on his heel and bolted through the back door while I stood there shaking my head. Typical.

Fucking typical. This was exactly why I worked alone nowadays. Trenton just happened to be a highprofile client that needed some semblance of discretion. So much for that. As I bent to grab him by the collar of his shirt, I noticed half the bar behind me had stood up. Goddamn supernaturals. Always with the pack mentality. They could fight among each other like dogs, but when a human entered the mix, it was us versus them. “What are you doing?” Crouched over, I peered between my legs at the big burly man and cursed. He was probably a shifter, and an alpha, given the assertiveness.

Betas were more my style. Omegas didn’t bother with shit unless there was literally no other choice. I straightened my back and gazed over at him. “Mind your own business, buddy,” I said. “You don’t want to get involved.” He stepped forward. “Actually, I think I do.” Yup, my initial guess was right. Definitely an alpha. Standing behind him was probably a group of betas.

Not to mention the other supes in the bar. I let out a ragged breath. My heart started to speed up. I didn’t panic. Not like most humans. When confronted with conflict, I got this giddy excitement inside. It was crazy, and extremely self-destructive, but all my life I’d found myself unable to back down from a fight if directly faced with one. “I got a bone to pick with this guy,” I said, nudging Trenton with my boot. “Really?” the alpha said, taking another step forward. “Because it looks like you’re a hunter, and I don’t like hunters.

” I lifted both hands in surrender, though one of them was holding a firearm, so I doubted it looked as innocent as I’d hoped. “I’m not with human patrol,” I said, and for once I was telling the truth. What I didn’t say was that I used to be. It was how I got my start. “This isn’t a speciesist thing.” “Who’s your boss?” the alpha asked, and I knew this was going to go one of two ways. I could tell them who I worked for, and there would be good odds everyone would sit the fuck down. But my boss didn’t exactly like being known. He liked it even less when his employees used his name to get out of trouble. Wasn’t good for business.

If I told them who, and he found out—which he would—I’d be fired within twenty-four hours as the best-case scenario. Worst-case, he’d take it personally and my head would come off. Which meant plan B. I groaned. “Why couldn’t Egzy do the one thing,” I complained. Using my foot, I kicked the unconscious dude in the side, and he went sliding under the table I’d been seated at. In a single motion, I cocked my gun and fired. The bullet landed between the alpha’s eyes. The skin around the edges glowed orange and sizzled. He fell backwards, hitting the floor with a loud thud.

The sound seemed to spur the bar into motion. All at once, half of it tried to flee and the other half decided to stand their ground. I ran, sliding over the bar top and flipping over the other side to land on my ass and hide behind it. I pulled the second pistol from my jacket, turned, and peered over the edge. Supes mowed over one another to get to me and I opened fire. Gunshots went off left and right, loud enough to only add to the pandemonium. Bullet casings hit the veneered counter with little tinks. I shot one after another, aiming for the same place each time. The fun thing about supes was that for a long time they were really fucking hard to kill. Each of them had different weaknesses, and most of them were nothing like the legends.

Vampires, while they didn’t like sunlight, they didn’t burn alive in it. It just blinded them. Werewolves weren’t allergic to silver. At all. In fact, no metal really harms them. It’s where you hit them that matters. Witches and warlocks would be the easiest, were they not such a pain in the ass to get near. A single word or wiggle of their fingers and they could kill you faster than you could kill them. And that was really just the tip of the iceberg as far as supernatural species went. The one thing I really had going for me was that I was a near-expert on all of them.

Being human and only a little kid when magic became known in the world had its perks. Largely that I had the time to study them, because in a world where half the people had magic and weren’t afraid to use it—being human was a major disadvantage. So I embraced the one universal truth I knew: knowledge is power. And because of that, I knew a single shot between the eyes would either kill or disable everyone in this bar. The best part? They usually woke up with jumbled memories from their brain healing and didn’t remember me shooting them. The click of my guns trying to fire and failing to release jarred me back to the moment. “Shit,” I cursed under my breath. The time it took me to pull a magazine from my jacket cost me. I exhaled harshly as some vampire bitch came flying at me with fangs snapping. My back hit the concrete floor behind me as she straddled my body.

Her pale, sallow cheeks and violet eyes told me she hadn’t fed recently enough. She pinned me as I focused on releasing the empty magazine and shoving the new clip in it. Just as it clicked, she loomed only inches from my face. “You’re a feisty one,” she purred. “I’m going to enjoy this.” Her jaws stretched wide as her eyes zeroed in on my neck. The thirst had her in its grips, and I used that to my benefit, letting her lunge for a bite—only to find herself with a mouthful of gunmetal. I shoved the barrel deep enough down her throat that she gagged. Her fangs bit into the side of my hand, and shock permeated her features before her eyes rolled back in her head. Disgust filled me as I pulled the trigger and the backside of her skull exploded.

The body slumped over me, and I twisted, flinging it away. One of her fangs stuck in my hand and I picked it out, flicking it behind my shoulder as I got to my feet. The bar was silent, everyone in it dead or gone. Just the way I liked it. I whistled to myself as I went to grab Trenton. He was just starting to stir as I dragged him from under the table. Perfect timing.

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