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With the release of Weaker Than Instinct creeping closer, it's time to share with you some of the opening chapter. Why only "some" do I hear you cry? Well, as standard for urban fantasy romances, my chapters are looonnng, as in there are only 12 in the entire novel.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Agent Michaels better!
Wedged to the ground, I took stock of my limbs. Wriggling toes. Flexing fingers. Cracking neck as I turned it left, then right. Three good things going for me. Shoulders— there was no holding back the grunt of pain tearing out of me.
Red hot and intense, agony sliced through my stomach, my side. I screwed up my eyes, willing my breaths to even.
One breath. Two. All the way up to five before it was time to assess the situation.
I pried my eyes open and squinted through the smoke-filled air.
Debris surrounded me, disorientating and chaotic. Lucas was going to kick my arse. There were no ifs, buts, or maybes.
Obviously I’d heal. My shifter abilities came in super handy, but the blazing ache on my right-hand side couldn’t be magicked or wished away.
Focussed on slow and steady exhales, I guided my hand to the area, already guessing what I’d find. A heavy sigh, followed by another throb of pain, trickled free when my palm connected with wet metal.
Blood. The sticky liquid coated the steel, the metallic scent thick and cloying.
Impaled was never a good look, let alone an ideal situation. But I wasn’t dead, so there was that.
My comms sparked to life. “Michaels, this is Kent. Check in. Over.”
Biting back my urge to grunt as I moved to touch the small device in my ear, I held my breath and finally pressed the button. “Michaels checking in. Over.” With no quiver, no shake, my tone remained neutral, controlled.
The two-second beat before Kent’s voice sounded in my ear was enough to warn me that she knew that shit had hit the fan. Her instincts were spookily accurate, even when a hundred kilometres away. “Status report. Over.” There it was—her tight voice, her tone making it clear I should be more concerned about her kicking my arse rather than Mathew Lucas, the head of the ITU—the Infiltration Tactical Unit—I was a member of.
“I may need an assist. Over.” I wasn’t quite gung-ho enough to think I could pull the steel out of myself. Well, not without causing more injuries. The thought of taking longer to heal, which meant more time out of the field, was enough for me to admit I needed backup.
Kent didn’t hold back her pissed-off snarl. “Two minutes. Over and out.”
Yeah, Kent was definitely the vampire I should be more concerned about.
Waiting out the two minutes wasn’t a hardship. The explosion had killed Muerso. The pool of blood decorated with ash and debris, as well as his prone form, was all the confirmation I needed. Plus the explosion was directly linked to the computer systems. I expected that would annoy Kent, our department whiz at all things cyber, but Muerso’s death would put an end to his criminal dealings.
Three months of intel told me he hadn’t been part of a wider ring. And with his servers destroyed, it was one more shady criminal enterprise dismantled. The metal piercing my side was totally worth it.
“You look like shit.” Chris’s grin was wide as he stepped carefully over the debris. His attention drifted to Muerso’s motionless form before returning to me, his brow quirked high. “I take it you not waiting for your team was worth it?”
I studied him closely, assessing if he was as annoyed as Kent. With his grin still in place, his posture relaxed, he seemed okay, but as he crouched before me and prodded my wound, I reconsidered my evaluation.
There was no holding back my hiss at his touch. Narrowing my eyes, I stared hard, holding back my snarl.
“You’re meant to wait for your partner.” His dark eyes appeared black in the flickering lights and the smoke that had yet to settle.
I rolled my eyes, which did nothing to ease the guilt bubbling to life in my gut. “You were warned I was an arsehole in the first five minutes of joining the team,” I grumbled.
“True, but you seem determined to push your reputation into uncharted waters. Putting yourself at risk like this is bullshit.” The calm tone, the casual way he scanned me for further injuries, didn’t gel with his words or the hardening glint in his gaze.
“Sorry. The wanker in me is strong.”
Chris’s lips twitched.
“While I’m digging the kebab look, you know, the whole wolf-on-a-skewer thing, you wanna help un-stab me?” I worked hard at controlling my expression, my voice. The injury in my side was a constant pulse of agony, and the sooner I was free, the sooner I could get pain meds and heal. While I was a legit arsehole lately, like right now for heading into the building without Chris, my partner of six months, I wasn’t a masochist.
I wasn’t that at all, and everyone in the team knew it, even Chris, the newest enforcer to join our unit.
At the sound of leather soles on rubble, he glanced behind him when a couple of medics entered, giving them a nod. “Looks like we can un-skewer you.” With an effortless grace I was envious of right now, Chris stood and made room for Grace and Hansen.
The two medics made quick work of checking that pulling me from the steel was the best way to tackle my release, and within a few minutes, the three of them yanked me free. Chris took a little too much pleasure in my grunt and groan.
“Fuck.” Lightheaded and shaky, I trembled, wavering on my feet. Hansen stopped me from faceplanting by putting a strong arm around me. My head swam, a fresh wave of agony rolling through me and turning my stomach.
I swallowed hard. No way would I vomit. I’d never live it down. Chris would waste no time at all spreading that story about me in the unit. Would I deserve the shit talk? Absolutely. No chance would I make it easy for him, though.
“Let’s get you a stretcher,” Hansen said.
“Nuh-uh. I can walk.”
The three of them rolled their eyes. Not that I gave two shits. The investigation was over. The crim was dead—honestly, the best place for the blood dealer. As far as I was concerned, this was a win.
Directing me forward, Chris tugged out his phone, beginning to record the mass of devastation I’d caused. “Kent is going to go for your jugular, man.”
Not bothering to glance back as I unsteadily stepped over the rubble, trying not to stumble, I shrugged. “There might be something salvageable.” There so wasn’t anything left that could be rescued from the burst of flames and mini-explosions I’d detonated earlier.
Chris’s snort called bullshit.
Ignoring him, I made it outside to the waiting ambulance. With blood trickling down my side and seeping into my tactical pants, I couldn’t risk not getting patched up. I clambered into the open back, Grace following me inside.
“You need me to cut your shirt off?”
Wide-eyed, I stared at her in horror. “Fuck no.”
Her lips thinned out as she waited for me to unfasten my bulletproof vest and tug off my black SICB-issued T-shirt. These things were expensive as hell. The Supernatural Investigation & Crime Bureau budget was shit, and our unit’s even worse, which meant if I wrecked the damn thing, I’d have to buy a new one.
Screw that. I’d wait till my yearly replacements.
By the time I eased the bloody shirt off, sweat trickled down my temples and my spine. A hot shower, a coffee, maybe some whiskey, probably a few stitches to help the wound along its way, and I’d be golden.
“Oh fucking hell.” A gaping hole from the skewer had destroyed my shirt. I flicked my attention to Grace, who remained stoic as she stared at me, no doubt thinking I was a prize dickhead. “You could have told me it was wrecked.” Petulance rumbled through my voice.
“Could I?” she deadpanned, swiping up some medical supplies so she could clean me up.
Keeping my mouth shut as she dabbed at my wound, I grimaced, knowing better than to complain. A wince and a hiss escaped as she cleansed the wound, and I glanced away quickly.
“You need an injection to numb the area?”
“I’m good,” I said tightly, earning myself a grunted mumble about me being a pain in the arse. This wasn’t Grace’s first rodeo of stitching me up, especially over the past year. If I were her, I’d be sick of me too.
A few stitches later and a bandage taped on, I was good to go.
“I’ll be happy if I don’t see you again.” Grace shot me a pointed look, and Hansen snorted as he closed the rear doors of the ambulance.
“You won’t miss me?” I tugged on a fresh tee that was shoved at me by Hansen. Unfortunately, not a new SICB one I could steal.
“Miss your surly arse? Hell no.” She followed up with a smirk.
I waved her off, giving my thanks to both of them before seeking out Chris. Already in his car, he was tapping his fingers to whatever bad-taste beat was playing on the radio.
He bobbed his head. “I’ve asked Tony to take your vehicle back to the main headquarters.” Meaning, as opposed to our unit’s covert location. “Thought it would give you a chance to heal before you head out later.”
It would be easier if Chris was a dickhead. It would mean I could keep my distance and not like the man, but when he did stuff like this, it made it tricky. “Thanks,” I grumbled, settling down in the passenger seat. “You get my bag?”
He snorted. “You mean the one that’s burned to a crisp?” The sound of the engine cut through his chuckle. “That’d be a no.”
“Damn it. I liked that bag. It had my favourite Beretta in it.” What a clusterfuck. I secured my seatbelt, readjusting the belt strap so it didn’t press down on my injury. Not only would I be getting a bollocking from Lucas, but I’d destroyed my bag and one of my handguns.
But at least the bad guy was toast, and I could close my eyes for a few minutes while Chris drove us to the ITU headquarters.
Or maybe not.
Barely sitting up straight in the SUV, I grimaced as Chris took each turn fifteen kilometres faster than necessary. Despite his smile and ease with handling this situation, and the several others since he joined the ITU, the lion was pissed off.
I got it. Deserved it. Absolutely understood it.
Since Jenson’s—my old partner’s—death last year, I hadn’t made life easy for myself or my team. I kept pushing the boundaries and had been reprimanded more than once for taking unnecessary risks. Add to that the number of times I’d gone lone wolf, and I was surprised I still had a job.
That I did such things, was so selfish at times, didn’t sit easy. But I didn’t know how to stop, how to process Jenson no longer being around. And no amount of talking about it, including the mandatary six sessions of therapy after the whole Lentwood shitshow, changed that one bit.
It didn’t help that I’d refused to share a single thing the whole time. Well, nothing of value or truth.
“You doing okay there?”
I tilted my head to look at Chris and offered a chin lift. “Still alive.”
He grunted in response.
“You got something to say?”
He sent a quick glance my way. “Not sure there’s any point.” His gaze returned to the road ahead.
The headlights caught on the late-night mist that had settled over Sydney. I always liked this time of night, especially on a weeknight. The busy city was virtually still with most residents tucked up for the night, ready for their early starts in the morning. So close to the headquarters, it was especially quiet.
While I registered Chris’s words, I struggled to form a response that wouldn’t simply piss him off even further. Landing on “Fair enough,” I watched as the electronic gates whirled into action at the compound and thought about the report Lucas would demand I write.
We pulled into the underground parking, and Chris found a space and parked. I exited with a grunt, irritating my injury.
“Get to the infirmary. You’re going to need all the strength you can get before Lucas sees you.”
Not wanting to rile Chris up any more, I held back my refusal, since I’d already been patched up. Though some drugs that actually blurred the edges of my pain wouldn’t go amiss. “He really that upset?”
His brows shot high. “I don’t think upset quite covers it.”
With a nod of thanks and a grimace, I waved off his help and headed to see the doc.
It didn’t take too long to get the all clear—after having a couple of shards of metal pulled out of my back, which I hadn’t noticed before—and make my way to the central workspace. This was really Kent’s domain, and she was the first to spot me.
“You know what they call a dead shifter who goes in blind and plays with metal sticks?” Kent deadpanned, her unwavering attention on me.
Knowing not to bait the vampire, I simply looked at her.
“Whatever the fuck they want because the cockhead is dead.” Her stare was hard, the only tell she gave that she wanted to lay me out.
I sighed, hating the guilt raising its ugly head.
When Jenson had been killed by our former division manager, it shook the whole team, devastated us all. Despite knowing how much it had impacted everyone, I found it easier to not focus on any of it. It hurt too fucking much otherwise. “I’m sorry I was a cockhead.”
An unimpressed grunt filled the space as Kent narrowed her eyes at me. “Stop trying to get dead.”
“That’s not what—”
“Michaels, office, now.” Lucas’s usually quiet, steady voice was tense and filled with ice. My attention still on Kent, I widened my eyes.
The vamp simply smirked at me and flipped me off. “Enjoy getting your arse handed to you.”