Good things never happen in a continuous stream for Jalen Etters. He has a job he loves, a roof over his head, and all the food he could eat. He even flirts with a sexy little barista named Markie. When he finds himself hiding out from human soldiers on his construction job site, he thinks his good streak is over. Thankfully, Rico, a hawk shifter, is sent to save him, so the good streak is still intact. Then he finds out Rico is his mate but he’s in love with Markie. Maybe his good streak is over after all.
Rico’s heart always slowed down right before a good battle, which was how he knew one was coming. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, resting his head against the wall, taking advantage of the calm.
His bodily reaction wouldn’t last long. It would morph into a high so powerful it would make his heart race and his breathing speed up.
He didn’t have to look to know the other soldiers in the room didn’t have the same reaction. They sat with their backs against the wall, unmoving, as if some force of gravity had stuck them there. Their guns were at the ready, held to their chest. Adrenaline ran through their bodies. It was visible in their eyes and in the way they sucked in air as if they couldn’t get enough oxygen.
Crow shifters mixed in amongst the Rogue soldiers, holding knives and long swords as if they were ninjas. Rico had no idea why crow shifters preferred swords, but almost all of them had at least one. Not an hour before, they’d all fought their way out of a clusterfuck, so Rico got a front row seat on how well the crows used those swords.
A body shifted beside him, and he opened his eyes long enough to look at the kid sitting beside him. Okay, so he wasn’t a kid, but he looked way too young for battle, even in his black leather and with tattoos on his neck. He was just a punk crow shifter who found himself in the wrong place.
The demons were one floor down, giving them all a different vantage point. Lennix, who was a special operations soldier like him, and Team Eight were with them.
Usually crows and demons would fight each other. Rico couldn’t possibly fathom why someone would fight to the death over a piece of land, but then Rico had grown up with parents so rich they owned an entire island three times bigger than Roguefalls, so what the fuck did he know about it.
“One…two…three…” Rico took a deep breath between each number.
“Dude, why are you counting?” The kid whispered in his ear, completely breaking his concentration.
“Just seeing how long it takes to get here.”
“What takes to get here?”
“How do you know the humans are close?”
“Experience.” Actually, it was the stillness in the air. Everything held its breath. Even the pigeons that usually lined the tops of the buildings were completely silent.
The streets were empty, a tension floating through. A few cars lined the pavement—people having abandoned them once the violence had started.
Certain sections of almost every city throughout the country had been abandoned and left to rot. Paranormals and humans alike fought over the unclaimed parts, wanting to control them for themselves, but in the end, no one won.
According to the crow shifters and demons Rico was holing up with, the humans wanted the territory where they’d been assigned for themselves. That bit of information didn’t set right with Rico. Why would humans want anything to do with a rundown ghetto?
The Rogue Army’s intelligence said they were breaking up a fight between crows and demons, but someone had it wrong. Very wrong. It never ended well when humans were involved.
Rico saw movement near the car that sat furthest out from his vantage point. He slowly raised his gun and waited.
His heart rate picked up just a little when he saw plain-clothed soldiers swarming the sidewalk like mice following the pied piper. He knew they were soldiers by the way they moved, lowering their center of gravity, with their guns pointing down. Very few civilians carried themselves that way.
Why were human soldiers dressing like civilians? Why the charade?
He looked at Virion across the small room, seeking his reaction, but he was handing a pair of binoculars to Christian. Christian put them to his face and studied the soldiers coming at them before he handed them off to Dylan.
Christian turned to Virion. “That’s our old unit.” His voice wasn’t above a whisper. Christian spoke the words so softly Rico wouldn’t have heard if not for his hawk shifter hearing.
Dylan shook his head and handed the binoculars to Virion. “Yep. I’d recognize Monroe’s big head anywhere.”
“This is gonna suck.” Christian shook his head and then covered his face with one hand. Shooting at guys you had once sworn to protect had to suck. Rico had been there when teammates had died. Each time left a hole in his heart that never fully filled up again. Rico had nightmares of a few of them and saw the Army counselor once a month, so he had scars that wouldn’t ever go away. But he had no idea what taking a teammate’s life was like. He hoped to never know and didn’t want Christian to know, either.
Rico turned to the crow shifter beside him. “Get five of your best guys and come with me.” He turned to Virion. “I’ll go street side, take out as many as I can before they get close enough for your team to take shots.”
“Watch for Seazur and Waldron. They’re supposed to be on that team,” Virion whispered.
Rico shook his head. “Clusterfuck.”
Rico met Christian’s gaze. He saw the resignation in his eyes. “I’ll make it as painless as possible.”
Rico stood and made his way down one of the flights of stairs. Five crow shifters followed behind him.