When FBI agent Cole Gregory is called to his bureau chief’s office and recruited for a special task force, he is confronted with the commander of the force, a handsome, enigmatic man named Commander Levi who makes Cole feel restless and uneasy. Cole learns of a world beyond our own, one entered only through special Blood Gates, into a world where Faeries and Demons rule, and where Fae and Paranormal creatures exist. These creatures are dangerous to humans, and the FBI has a secret special task force to keep the Blood Gates sealed. An astonished Cole is informed that he has been selected as a member of this force. While all that’s hard enough to believe, even worse is the way Commander Levi looks at Cole, as if he wants to consume him. When Levi changes into a powerful demon right before his eyes, Cole begins to wonder if he’ll even survive this encounter, or will this demon take possession of not only his body but his very soul?
Slade is another FBI agent and Cole’s best friend. When Cole suddenly goes missing and no one can explain where he is, he goes looking for him and stumbles into an open Blood Gate, where he encounters a powerful and handsome wizard, who tries and fails to send him back to the human world.
They seek help from others in the Realm and soon become caught up in a powerful war raging in the Faery Domain, one that his friend Cole, along with Levi, are already mixed up in. When Cole and Slade are both taken by the evil Faery king and slated for sacrifice, they realize they have to stick together and use all their training and a bit of luck to make it out of this alive.
Tons of people self-identified as shy — in fact, according to a Buzzfeed article Cole Gregory had once read, the numbers of shy people had grown in the past twenty years, up twenty percent. And according to researchers, almost everybody felt uncomfortable walking into a room where it was important to make a good impression. Bottom line? Cole was not the only FBI agent who had ever wanted to make a good impression at his first meeting with his new boss, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. That should help take the edge off Cole’s nervousness, right?
Not giving himself time to register the fact that so far it hadn’t helped in the least, Cole stood up confidently when his boss’s secretary told him to go inside, took a deep breath and walked into SAIC Thomas’s office. Immediately afterward, he decided that the Buzzfeed article was a total crock of shit.
Thomas glanced up from his desk in one of the J. Edgar Hoover building’s top floors and then leaned back in his chair to gaze speculatively at Cole, but it was the man sitting in one of the chairs in front of the SAIC’s desk who claimed the majority of Cole’s attention. He was tall, well-built, with longish black hair and bottomless brown eyes. He turned his head and swept his sultry gaze over Cole dismissively, before turning back to face the desk. He wore a tight-fitting black uniform over his impressive body with insignia and patches that Cole didn’t recognize, but Cole was pretty sure they had little or nothing to do with the FBI. A striking and colorful tattoo design on the side of the man’s neck spread downward to disappear below his shirt collar. He looked dangerous and edgy, as well as outrageously handsome.
“Special Agent Gregory. You’re late.”
Cole was actually exactly on time, but he stammered out an apology anyway and felt a slow burn rising from under his collar as the man in the chair focused his gaze on him again.
“I-I’m sorry, sir.”
“Mmph. I’d like you to meet Commander Levi.”
Commander of what, exactly? That was no Navy uniform the man was wearing. Nervously, Cole cleared his throat, which had gone unaccountably dry, as he extended his hand to the man still seated in front of the desk. The commander rose slowly to his feet and took Cole’s hand. Then he just held it in his firm grip for a moment that went on way too long for comfort. The corners of his mouth tilted upward and something glowed in the depths of those dark eyes, as if he knew he was making Cole uncomfortable, but didn’t care in the least. Enjoyed it, in fact. It was gone again so quickly Cole thought he must have imagined the whole thing when the man finally released his hand and nodded at Cole’s boss.
“Yes, he’ll do,” Levi said, and instead of sitting back down, strode over to lean against the window frame and gaze out the office window, as if this were his own office.
“I’ll do for what?” Cole glanced uneasily back at the special agent in charge, who motioned him to a seat.
“Sit down, Gregory. What we’re about to discuss doesn’t leave this office, is that understood?” Bill Thomas was a stern, hard-nosed agent, who had been around the Washington Bureau for years before he’d been promoted to his present position, from what Cole had heard about him. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy, it was said, and difficult to please.
Cole sat down in the chair in front of Thomas’s desk, his gaze inevitably falling again on the “Commander,” who turned and slanted a look toward him. A smell like sweet cream and honey swirled around Cole’s nostrils like smoke, and it had to be coming off the man in front of him. Cole inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, feeling a little intoxicated. Was that his cologne?
What the hell was wrong with him sniffing a man’s cologne in his boss’s office? Cole sat up straighter, stiffening his back. He thought he could feel the gaze of the commander burning into him, but when he lifted his gaze to look at him, he had turned back to stare down at the view of Pennsylvania Avenue from the window.
Thomas was speaking to him, and Cole tried harder to focus. His boss leaned back in his chair, making a steeple with his fingers. “Special Agent Gregory, I don’t believe in beating around the bush. So, I’m going to get straight into this. Have you heard any rumors about an agency called the WPDA?”
“The WPDA? No, can’t say as I have, sir.”
Thomas glared at him as if he might be lying. The man at the window was languidly examining his fingernails. Boredom wafted off him in almost palpable waves, along with that cloying scent. How could that scent make him feel so…? Cole shook his head to clear it and tried to take more shallow breaths. Just as the silence in the room was becoming uncomfortable, Thomas spoke again.
“The World Protection and Detection Agency. Its headquarters are in Mexico City with offices in every major city in the world, including New York, San Francisco and right here in D.C.”
Cole nodded, hoping he was projecting the proper amount of interest in all this. He’d been called into Thomas’s office at the end of a very long day. He’d been looking forward to his sofa, a few beers and an hour or two of mindless TV before he went to bed. He managed not to squirm in his chair or look at his watch, though it was a close thing.
The SAIC leaned toward him and pitched his voice low and steady. “The WPDA was created in 1963, right after the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy when world governments were first contacted by the Vargr.”
“The, uh, Vargr, sir?”
“Gregory, please listen carefully. Do you know anything about quantum mechanics?”
“Um, no sir.” He glanced over at the man behind Thomas, who was leaning against the window frame again, a little smile playing around his lips. He forced his gaze back. “Should I, sir?”
Thomas gave a wave of his hand. “Quantum mechanics explores, among other things, the theory of parallel universes or alternative realities. Thought to be a theory anyway until we were contacted by the Vargr in 1963. It’s complicated, Gregory, but basically, the Vargr is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with ours. An alternate universe, if you will.” He sat back in his chair, looking over at the commander for help.
Levi shrugged negligently. “He’s too young to completely comprehend this—just do the best you can to explain.”
Too young? Cole stiffened and bit down hard on his tongue to keep himself from saying something he’d be bound to regret the moment it came out of his mouth. He was thirty years old, a grown man, and an Army veteran. Was it his appearance again? He wasn’t all that large, though he kept himself more than fit, and he’d been plagued with pale, almost translucent skin and a baby face most of his life, but it wasn’t anything he could help. He just hadn’t seemed to age much since his teens. Probably why he was carded at every bar he went to and every single time he tried to buy a six-pack of beer.
What did it matter anyway? Why was Thomas wasting his time sitting here talking about alternate universes and quantum mechanics, for God’s sake, and what in the name of all that was holy was that smell in the room? It was making him a little dizzy. He shook his head and sat up straighter.
The commander shook his head. “Simply tell him what he needs to know. He can read all the theories about how the universe works later, if he’s so inclined. No one knows anything for sure, anyway, despite their claims, not even the Vargr. We’re all feeling our way in the dark.”
Thomas frowned and blew out a long breath. “Okay, listen up. The Vargr Realm has existed alongside ours since time began, so far as anyone can tell. They’ve always known about us, but we were unaware of their existence until they made contact. Their universe is a place where the people, the animals, the very laws of nature as we know them are different. It’s almost impossible to explain unless you’ve been there, but it does exist. I’ve seen it for myself.”
Cole looked from one man to another and couldn’t resist glancing around for any sign that this was all a joke. Any minute now, his co-workers would pop out from the door behind him and laugh. This was some kind of crazy initiation gag, exceedingly strange for so uptight a bureau as the FBI, but that’s all it could be.
“Sir, I-I don’t understand. What is all this about?”
“I’m trying to tell you, Gregory. The Vargr have always been among us, right from the beginning. They have knowledge of things we don’t, along with certain—abilities. They’re able to open portals from their world to ours called Blood gates. From time to time they’ve visited us, but they either glamoured themselves to look like us, or just allowed us to see their true forms, knowing that we’d make up myths and legends to explain it all anyway. All the past sightings and stories of ghosts, vampires, witches—hell, even Bigfoot—all have their basis in the Vargr realm.”
“Yes,” the commander said dryly. “Humans are fascinating creatures. The only ones I know of who can stare an unknown entity in the face, speak to it, record its voice, even take a picture of it and still question its existence.”
Cole turned toward him with growing unease. What did this guy think he was? “Uh...humans?”
Levi shrugged. “Perhaps a demonstration is necessary to convince him,” he said, looking at the Thomas. He turned back toward Cole and a kind of shimmer passed over his body, the air itself seeming to be full of tiny ripples. Levi simply—changed into something else. The tall, handsome man in front of him disappeared, and in his place stood a creature out of a dream. Or a nightmare.
He was big—that was Cole’s first impression. His uniform shirt was gone and he had muscles everywhere and a gleaming expanse of golden brown skin. His skin glowed with some kind of inner radiance, and his face was inhumanly beautiful, chiseled and perfectly formed. His hair was midnight black and hung down to skim his shoulders, and his softly glowing eyes were slanted up at the corners with long, thin pupils, like a cat’s. Trailing down his neck and shoulder and farther down his arm to end at his wrist were not tattoos, as he’d first thought, but gleaming, colorful scales, like the scales of a snake. The scales lay in little patches of iridescent green and purple and azure blue.
The creature was watching Cole carefully to judge his reactions and when he noticed his incredulous gaze falling on the scales, he glanced up directly into Cole’s eyes and smiled, revealing gloriously white teeth, the two incisors long and pointed like a vampire’s fangs. Most shocking of all, however, were the two tiny black horns growing from his forehead on either side of his head, and the small, leathery black wings that stretched out behind him.
Cole gasped and jumped up from his chair, reeling backward in his haste to get away from the creature in front of him. For the first and only time in his life, he felt like he might faint, just before he saw the floor coming up rapidly to meet him.