We’re Supernatural Protection & Investigations, known as SPI. We battle the real monsters of myth and legend, but this Halloween, we’re searching for diamonds…
A gala opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has attracted the upper crust of Manhattan—and thieves. A trio of vile harpies attacks the crowd and steals the stars of the exhibition: a colorful cluster of seven cursed diamonds known as the Dragon Eggs.
In the right mage’s hands, each stone can pack a magical wallop. Together they have the power to “cure” the supernaturals of the tristate area—but for many of those vampires and werewolves, that means turning into dust.
I’m Makenna Fraser, a seer for SPI. With the help of my partner, Ian, and the other agents, I have twenty-four hours to prevent total global panic, find the diamonds, and save the supernatural community. No biggie...
About the Author
Lisa Shearin currently works as the editor at an advertising agency. She has been a magazine editor and writer of corporate marketing materials of every description. Lisa enjoys singing, reading, writing novels, and fencing (foil and epee, as well as rapier & dagger dueling). She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two cats, two spoiled-rotten retired racing greyhounds, and a Jack Russell terrier who rules them all.
She is the author of The Grendel Affiar, Magic Lost, Trouble Found, Armed & Magical, The Trouble with Demons, Bewitched & Betrayed, Con & Conjure, and All Spell Breaks Loose.
Read an Excerpt
I was working, but if this was work, then sign me up for triple overtime.
This was my kind of Halloween party—cool jazz, a hot date, and a little black dress I’d paid way too much for, but refused to feel guilty about. It was my treat to me. My first Halloween in New York was shaping up to be one to write home about.
The jazz band was playing “That Old Black Magic.” I wondered if they knew how appropriate that was.
My hot date was my partner, Ian Byrne. No, not that kind of partner; the kind that works with me battling the forces of evil. He was a senior agent; I was the newbie. But his job title didn’t keep him from being the ultimate arm candy.
He was tall, dark, lean, and born to wear a tuxedo.
It was Friday night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the night before Halloween and we were posing as a hoity-toity Manhattan couple with an invitation to the season’s most anticipated opening night at the Met’s newest exhibit—Mythos.
Gods and goddesses, beasties and monsters, myths and legends, all safely represented in painting, sculpture, or artifact—all of the thrills with none of the danger.
I say danger, because monsters are real.
My name is Makenna Fraser and I work for SPI—that’s Supernatural Protection & Investigations for those in the know. Those in the know consisted of the supernatural community in Manhattan and throughout the outer boroughs.
SPI was headquartered in New York, but had offices and agents worldwide. It was founded by Vivienne Sagadraco in 1647. And no, that wasn’t the boss lady’s ancestor. It was the boss lady herself. Vivienne Sagadraco was much older than she looked, less human than she appeared, and a lot larger than you could ever imagine.
I imagine there were plenty of people who called their boss a dragon lady and meant it as an insult.
My boss was a real dragon—and a true lady.
Right now, she was . . . Well, “holding court” was about the only way I could describe it.
In her actual form, she’d have cleared the room; every human in the place would have been screaming and stampeding for the nearest exit. But as Vivienne Sagadraco, wealthy socialite and generous philanthropist, she drew a crowd of admirers wherever she went—especially admirers who had a cause or event they needed funded.
A mural of frolicking dryads was currently framing her slim and elegant figure. Whether intentional or not, the mural’s jewel-toned tiles of semiprecious stones couldn’t have provided a more flattering backdrop for her.
Though I shouldn’t have been surprised if she had chosen it on purpose. Not because it made her look good, but because it looked good to her. Dragons loved their sparklies, and Vivienne Sagadraco was no exception.
In fact, it was her love of shiny things (and uncanny investment skills) that was behind SPI’s funding. Monster hunting and protecting humans and supernaturals from one another—and keeping humans in the dark about all of it—took the latest technology, developed and run by the most brilliant minds, and seemingly bottomless financial reserves to pay for all of it. Toss in a financial management staff of scary accurate clairvoyants, and Vivienne Sagadraco’s net worth would probably put the treasuries of many first-world countries to shame. Not to mention it made all of us agents warm and fuzzy to know that our 401k accounts were in the best hands.
Ian Byrne and I weren’t here on a date.
We were here to prevent a robbery.
When it came to art with supernatural provenance, value wasn’t always measured in money. There were a handful of items in the exhibition that could cause a lot of trouble if they fell into the wrong hands.
That’s why SPI was involved.
So while we had some idea of what items the thieves were after, we had no earthly clue how anyone could steal any of them, especially tonight.
SPI had received intelligence that there would be a robbery. Tonight. Smack-dab in the middle of a museum gala with hundreds of people in attendance. As to the identity of our potential thief, none of the supernaturals or humans were behaving suspiciously. It looked like a perfectly normal thousand-dollar-a-head museum exhibit opening on a Friday night in New York. People and not-people were out and about, seeing but mostly being seen, looking at ancient art and artifacts, and admiring the pretties and the sparklies from behind velvet ropes and bulletproof glass.
Stealing anything from this exhibition would be humanly impossible.
Inhumans, on the other hand, just might be able to pull it off.
That was where SPI came in.
Or, more to the point, me.
I’m what SPI calls a seer.
Most of the members of my family could see supernatural creatures for what they really were. We could see through any magical veil, ward, shield, or spell any supernatural could come up with as a disguise. I could identify every supernatural present at this little shindig. It wasn’t in the least bit surprising that supernaturals were among New York’s glitterati. When your life span was measured in centuries, you could accumulate wealth in quantities unimaginable to all but Middle Eastern sheiks, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, or Kardashian divorce-settlement recipients.
What passed for figments of peoples’ overactive imaginations, or things that went bump in the night and day, were SPI’s bread and butter.
Fact meets fiction.
Science meets entertainment.
Myths and monsters. If the museum hadn’t wanted to tap into that, they wouldn’t be officially opening the Mythos exhibition to the public on Halloween.
Most of the supernatural guests were the vampire, elf, and goblin variety. Naturally they were veiled, meaning they had used small magics to conceal their most distinguishing features—or at least those that would be most alarming to humans. That meant fangs for the vamps, upswept ears for the elves, and both of the above plus silvery skin tone for the goblins.
I could see them all, but I’d learned at a young age to keep that knowledge to myself. Most supernaturals didn’t want to be seen for what they really were, especially by a human, which many of them viewed as a sub-creature, dinner, or both. I’d always made it a point to avoid being seen as either one.
An unremarkable-looking, middle-aged couple gazed with obvious disdain and quiet, derisive laughter at one of the promotional posters the Met had liberally spread around town on buses, subway stops, and anywhere else people couldn’t help but notice them.
The couple were vampires.
In honor of the gala, a few of the more popular posters had been expanded into banners and hung suspended from the ceiling in all their glossy glory. In honor of Halloween, and people’s seemingly never-ending fascination with vampires, one banner depicted what the Met’s Marketing department knew humans wanted to see if confronted by a vampire—a breathtakingly beautiful, darkly seductive creature, with just a hint of fang visible, and deep bedroom eyes that assured their victim that their primary intent was merely to boff them silly. Yes, there was that tiny, insignificant thing that involved driving those fangs into the side of your neck and essentially ripping your throat out as they drained your blood and left you to die in an alley, darkened park, bathroom in a SoHo nightclub, or wherever they’d found you when the mood to munch took them. But because you’d be so hot and bothered by their sexy selves, you’d enjoy the hell out of the throat ripping while they did it to you.
Though most vamps were discreet in their selection of dining partners, and unless they were feeding for the first time, they didn’t need to drain their victims dry. Regardless, it still felt like a pair of nails being hammered into the side of your neck. There was nothing sexy about that; I didn’t care what you were into.
I looked again at the banner and had to agree with the vampire couple. The depiction was highly inaccurate. I guess I should just be glad that the damned thing didn’t sparkle.
I turned to the man on my arm. “How about a spin around the dance floor? Just one song.”
My ever-vigilant partner continued scanning the crowd for any oddity, something out of place that would signal a team of paranormal thieves getting ready to make their collective move. “We’re not here to dance.”
“No, we’re not,” I agreed, not about to give up that easily. “But we were told to blend in. A lot of people are dancing, therefore dancing blends in.” I had new shoes to go with my new dress, and my new shoes wanted to dance.
“And a lot of people are not dancing,” Ian countered. “They’re going through the exhibition, which is why we’re here, remember?”
How could I forget?
Change of tactics. Ian was always telling me that a good agent is flexible. “Okay, then. Think how many more people you could see from the dance floor.” I lowered my voice conspiratorially. “It’s raised.”
Ian continued his surveillance. “I noticed.”
“Of course you did. But I bet even you can’t resist that song. It’s perfect.”
Ian didn’t respond, at least not with words.
Quicker than a takedown in one of our hand-to-hand combat lessons, Ian swept me onto the dance floor.
I yelped. Fortunately the music covered it up. “You could warn a girl.”
“You asked for it. A good agent is always careful what they ask for—spoken or unspoken.” A trace of a grin quirked his lips. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
Like my normally by-the-book partner being coaxed into mixing a little fun into our business this evening.
“Everything’s a teaching opportunity, isn’t it.” I didn’t ask it as a question; I already knew the answer.
“It is until you learn everything.”
“Which means my future’s gonna be chock-full of teaching.”
Even I couldn’t deny it. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know. My bullets were getting closer to the centers of our shooting range’s paper targets, but human silhouettes were only one kind of target that I practiced on. Some of them were so big you’d think I couldn’t miss them. Wrong. In my defense, when multiple targets popped up either at the same time or one right after the other, it was hard to remember where to shoot. Some of the things we came up against didn’t have hearts in the same places as humans. Heck, some didn’t have hearts at all.
The rest of my training was going even slower, though it’d help if Ian wasn’t the ultimate commando-ninja-badass monster fighter. Him being so good made me look even worse. However, if someday I found myself backed into a dead-end alley facing a wendigo with a hankering for a late-night snack, I knew I’d be glad that I’d been taught by the best. Ian hadn’t deemed me competent enough to progress past what looked to me like Nerf knives, and I still couldn’t last more than fifteen seconds on the sparring mat without Ian pinning me. If he wouldn’t throw me quite so hard, at least that part would be fun, though I think that was why he did it; that and to be a constant reminder that any encounter I had on the job with a supernatural critter wasn’t going to feel like fun and games.
Ian and I had spent a lot of time together since he’d been assigned as my partner/bodyguard/babysitter. SPI’s seers didn’t get combat training, but since my three predecessors had met with fatal accidents that might not have been so accidental, SPI’s management had taken steps to protect their personnel investment. That would be me. Ian Byrne was that protection. To Ian, a big part of that protection was teaching me to fend for myself. I couldn’t have agreed more, and was doing my best to learn everything he had to teach. However, I think Ian was feeling a whole lot like Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle.
During that time, my training had extended to time off the clock. Though it was more like an educational series of “Let’s have a beer after work, and I’ll tell you how to tell normal sewer sludge from the mucus trail of a giant demon slug.” Let me tell you, nothing puts you off your bar-food nachos quicker than a lecture on the color and consistency of slug secretions.
But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun, because between the lectures on monster bodily fluids, Ian would tell me about past missions. Purely from an instructional viewpoint, of course. At least that was what Ian wanted me to believe. I could tell he enjoyed the telling as much as I did the hearing. It must have been the Irish storyteller in him.
Ian began maneuvering us toward the center of the dance floor. One spin was so sudden I nearly fell off my heels. Though any heel height was too high for me. I was the only person I knew of who could fall off a pair of flip-flops.
“Easy there, partner. What’s the rush?”
Ian lowered his head to my ear while still steering us toward the center, showing his usual impressive coordination. I displayed my usual lack.
“I want you to get a look at Viktor Kain’s date,” he said. “Human or not human?”
I stiffened, and if Ian’s hand hadn’t been firmly at the small of my back, I would have stumbled.
Ian knew my reason wasn’t due to clumsiness.
“Relax,” Ian told me. “He’s just dancing.”
Well, if Nero had fiddled while Rome had burned, it stood to reason that mass murderers could dance, but that didn’t mean I wanted to dance anywhere near one.
Viktor Kain had loaned art to the Met for the exhibit—art that was the main reason we were here—and Ian had spotted him before I had.
Way to be a watchful agent, Mac.
I was glad Ian had seen him first. If my partner had swung me around and I’d suddenly gotten a gander of the Russian, I’d have probably freaked out, which would have blown our cover, at least with Viktor Kain. Though if the people around us had known what the Russian businessman really was, they not only wouldn’t have blamed me one bit, they’d have run like hell.
Viktor Kain was a dragon.
That wasn’t my problem with him. Far from it. I knew a few dragons. Heck, our boss was a dragon. Once you got past the whole humans-occasionally-on-the-menu thing, dragons could be nice people.
No, my problem with Viktor Kain was that he was the head of an international crime syndicate. He had personally killed hundreds, maybe thousands of people over his long criminal career and even longer life, and he’d ordered the deaths and ruin of even more—and he’d enjoyed every last minute of it.
Ostensibly, the Russian was here in New York because he’d loaned several items to the museum for the exhibition. SPI strongly suspected that wasn’t the only reason. Viktor Kain had brought more than art with him; he’d brought trouble, not just for SPI, but for every human on this island and probably beyond.
The Russian’s very presence on East Coast soil was a slap in the face to every rule of dragon etiquette, and two skips away from a declaration of supernatural war. No dragon would dare set claw on another’s territory without an invitation. I’d put enough agency rumor and innuendo together to know that Vivienne Sagadraco and Viktor Kain had crossed each other’s paths in the past, and as a result of those encounters, each barely tolerated the existence of the other on the planet. So if Viktor Kain the dragon wanted to come to New York, he knew better than to ask for an invitation. It wasn’t gonna happen, in this century or any other.
Local and federal law enforcement knew that Viktor Kain the Russian mobster was here, but until he broke any laws, watch was all they could do.
We couldn’t do anything, either.
Though before the night was over, karma might just kick Viktor Kain in the teeth. In all probability, one of the items he’d brought was the one that was going to be stolen.
The betting had started early among our agents on what the thief would go after. The odds were leaning heavily toward the Dragon Eggs—a massive ruby cut in the shape of a coiled dragon surrounded by seven of the world’s rarest, egg-shaped, colored diamonds, all contained in an intricately woven solid-gold nest.
The Dragon Eggs were being shown for the first time outside of Russia since they’d been given to the Empress Alexandra. Yes, that Alexandra. Wife of Tsar Nicholas, and mother to Anastasia, et al. The separate stones had blood-soaked histories that’d turn your hair white, but collectively they were said to be cursed. The curse rumor definitely picked up a couple extra believability points when in July of 1918, only months after the empress received the diamonds, the Bolsheviks wiped out the Russian imperial family. The Dragon Eggs had vanished after the Romanov family was murdered, and the diamonds had only come together again within the past few months in the collection of Viktor Kain.
I wasn’t normally the superstitious type, but you couldn’t pay me enough to touch the things, let alone own them.
But there were a lot of obscenely wealthy people, or their representatives, here tonight who wanted to do just that—touch and own. They were using tonight’s gala as an auction preview. Whether due to the curse or a need for cash, Viktor Kain was selling the Dragon Eggs; however, for a reason known only to him, he’d let it be known that he could be persuaded to sell them separately rather than together. Maybe he thought he could get more money that way.
I got a good look at the white-gowned, willowy blonde in Viktor Kain’s arms. I didn’t have to look long to determine that she was stunning. The men around her had arrived at the same conclusion, but apparently they felt the need to keep stealing glances at her in case their opinions changed.
While the woman was inhumanly beautiful, human was all that she was.
“Just human,” I told Ian. “Though try convincing any guy here that she’s not a goddess.”
Viktor Kain saw the stir his date was causing, and the oily smile on his face told me that it amused him.
The Russian had a face like the business end of a hatchet, sharp and cold. He was a couple inches taller than Ian, probably pushing six four. His date was only an inch or two shorter, but thanks to the slit in her gown combined with a particularly impressive dance move, I got a look at a pair of what had to be five-inch heels.
Beneath Viktor Kain’s human glamour was a monstrous dragon the color of dried blood. While Vivienne Sagadraco was a dragon of incredible beauty with her peacock blue and green iridescent scales, and immaculate wings that held a similar jewel-like glow, many of Viktor Kain’s red scales were edged in black as if burnt, or missing altogether, revealing rubbery, bat-like skin below. His wings folded crooked over his back, and had been torn in more than a few places, their healing marked by thickened scar tissue.
The Russian looked like a dragon that’d fought many times, and since he was here, he’d apparently met and defeated every challenger. I knew the boss wouldn’t back down from a fight, and I’d seen her in two of them, but she’d either had fewer than Kain, or was so good that she’d never been seriously injured. In a dragon fight, size took a backseat to speed and agility. Viktor Kain was bigger than Vivienne Sagadraco, but I’d seen firsthand how agile the boss was in the air. I got the impression the Russian probably lacked in that area. He looked like more of a use-brute-strength-to-set-an-example kind of guy. Rumor had it he used fire to rid himself of inconvenient business associates. Not with a blowtorch or a flamethrower, but with his own exhaled breath.
Viktor Kain had hidden his true identity over the centuries by assuming a human form; only a small and fanatically devoted circle of associates knew his true nature. I guess he needed a few people to get rid of any crispy critter that used to be an employee whose performance had disappointed him. Though you had to wonder what Viktor’s underlings who weren’t in his inner circle thought when a live man walked in to see their boss, but a human-shaped charcoal briquette got carried out. Most of them probably didn’t want to know how that happened. Keep your head down, don’t ask stupid questions, and live to resperate another day.
Our agency briefing had touched on why Viktor Kain had chosen St. Petersburg as his territory. A city of history, palaces, museums, and art. He fancied himself a patron of the arts, and true to his draconic nature, he was an avid collector. He’d been known to pay an astronomical sum to have the Hermitage closed to the public and the alarms turned off so he could walk the galleries alone, admiring and touching the priceless works of art.
A dragon communing with his hoard.
Ian and I stayed on the dance floor for one more song, and then entered the exhibit. I was glad to leave the dragon and his date to their samba.
The art and artifacts were arranged mostly by subject or time period, and what could only be called theater sets had been designed and lit for maximum effect. The exhibit representing the Delphic oracle was located in what looked like a real cave. Hollywood—or since this was New York, a Broadway set designer—couldn’t have done a better job.
It was spooky as hell; but I had to admit, it was effective.
There were paintings, sculptures, tapestries, artifacts, armor, weapons, jewelry and huge stained glass windows illustrating dragons, furies, demons, sea monsters, vampires, gryphons, giants, fae, gods, and more fantastical creatures from myth and legend—all perfectly lit to maximize their beauty and impact.
Ian paused by the oracle’s cave, getting a report from Edward Laughlin, a security consultant SPI often called upon when the valuables (or the hopeful thief of said valuables) were paranormal in nature. Eddie also had a profitable sideline business as an acquirer of antiquities with a paranormal provenance, making him kind of like Indiana Jones, minus the whip and fedora.
Eddie was also half elf and half goblin, and as such was looked down on by many of both races. Your average elf or goblin on the street was fine with the whole mixed-race thing, but any pure-blood aristocrats of either race here tonight (and there were quite a few) would rather spit on him than look at him. Needless to say, Eddie was rocking a serious glamour this evening that no one short of a mage was gonna see through. And he’d recently added some ubercool sunglasses to his disguise, due to an infection he’d gotten courtesy of an irritated temple-monkey demon that actually had managed to spit on him—right in the eyes. Though if you had to get something that was the supernatural second cousin of pink eye, cover it up in style. Between the super-sized glamour, the shades, and a thick film over his usual aura courtesy of the nasty magic–infused monkey spit, no one—including myself—could tell what he really was, making it perfectly safe for him to walk around among the upper crust of both of his races.
Ian nodded to me, indicating that I should continue; he’d catch up. I did.
The pieces featured in the exhibit came from a mix of loans from private collections and other museums. I saw a few that I recognized, like the Pre-Raphaelite painting of Pandora by John William Waterhouse. His subject may have been romanticized, but the box she was shown opening was very real. Some of the evils and diseases that had originally escaped from the box had been captured, or contained and re-imprisoned. Agency rumor had it that one of the diseases presently in the box could wipe out the entire human race in a matter of days. Pandora’s box and its remaining contents were now securely sealed in a vault deep beneath SPI’s Berlin office.
Nearby was a Greek wine jar on loan from the British Museum featuring Perseus having just cut off Medusa’s head, with the goddess Athena looking on in approval. Nice lady.
Gold flickered out of the corner of my eye. Vivienne Sagadraco wasn’t the only one who liked things that went glitter in the night. I strolled over, and the closer I got, the more familiar it looked. A Viking sword. Not just any Viking sword, but the blade reputed to be the source of the legend of Gram—the sword that the Norse hero Sigurd used to kill the dragon Fafnir.
I chuckled. I had news for the Oslo museum it’d been loaned from: there didn’t need to be a source for Gram’s legend. The real thing existed, and Sigurd hadn’t been a myth, which meant that Fafnir had probably been the real McCoy as well.
I’d seen Gram up close and met Sigurd’s descendant personally last New Year’s Eve. We’d had a problem with the descendant of another Scandinavian. Grendel. Sigurd’s multi-great-grandson was a SPI commando from our Oslo office named Rolf Haagen. He’d brought the sword with him when a team of Nordic monster hunters had jumped across the pond to give us a hand. Rolf killed one of the grendels, but he hadn’t used Gram to do it. The crazy Viking had goaded the monster into grabbing him, and then shoved a grenade down the thing’s throat.
That’d been messy.
Next to the reputed source for Gram’s legend were more swords.
We’d been warned in our pre-mission briefing that there were a few items in the exhibition that were more than what they appeared. The usual arrangement was that people used objects. A couple of the objects in the Mythos exhibition had the reputation of using people.
Between me and the room with the Dragon Eggs was an Egyptian mural of Anubis, a cursed and bloodthirsty Japanese sword that a pair of our agents were keeping a close eye on, gold Incan temple artifacts used in human sacrifices (likewise getting some special SPI protection), and the obligatory statue of St. George and the Dragon. I was betting the boss wouldn’t be a fan of that particular piece.
The lighting got even more dramatic with more than its fair share of reds and oranges. Fire. The art in this section depicted evil in its various mythical forms. Everything from a statue of the classic horned representation of the devil, to the black-winged concept of the fallen Lucifer in a more modern—and, quite frankly, hot—painting. I had news: when you caught a real demon, their veils dropped and you got a good look at what you really had on the end of your hook. Kind of like going fishing and coming up with a water moccasin. Believe me, that wasn’t something you want sharing an itty-bitty boat with you.
A life-sized painting of Hades had been roped off, not for the safety of the painting, but for the safety of female guests, especially those who resembled the daughter of Demeter. Per Demeter’s agreement with the god of the underworld, Persephone was supposed to spend summers with her mom. However, Hades had been known to have occasional bouts of amnesia on that part of the contract. A certain Italian Renaissance artist had traded his soul to Hades for talent with a brush. In return, Hades had added a nifty portal feature to the newly completed painting; a painting that could give you a direct flight straight to Hell. While Hades wanted Persephone, there’d been enough incidents over the centuries of girls disappearing into the painting to prove that any petite blond, blue-eyed beauty with long, shampoo-commercial hair would work in a pinch.
I was petite, but my eyes were green, not blue. And while my hair was blond, it wasn’t long. Still, I wasn’t taking any chances and gave the painting a wide berth. Even though I wasn’t exactly his type, I could swear the painting’s eyes followed me.
I guess it didn’t make a hill of beans’ worth of difference if you were the king of the underworld, or the managing editor of the bottom-of-the-journalistic-barrel tabloid I’d worked for when I’d first come to town; a lecherous sleazebag was a lecherous sleazebag.
A hand on my shoulder nearly made me jump out of my skin.
Ian. Not Hades.
“The boss called. She wants us on egg watch,” he told me.
THE path through the exhibit ended in the Met’s Sackler Wing at the Temple of Dendur. It was one of my favorite rooms in the museum; its sloped glass wall gave a marvelous view of Central Park. It was also one of the rooms famous for being used for parties and receptions when wealthy New Yorkers wanted to do it big. Nothing said impressive like having a two-thousand-year-old Egyptian temple as your party’s focal point.
The more classically themed pieces of the exhibition were displayed around the temple, including a study in studly featuring Jason—of Jason and the Argonauts fame—wearing nothing but the Golden Fleece. But as the highlight of the Mythos exhibit, the Dragon Eggs had been placed near the entrance to the temple itself. When you had a collection of seven of the world’s rarest and most valuable diamonds, they needed a fancy setting. And it didn’t get much more imposing than a real Egyptian temple.
The Dragon Eggs were said to be Viktor Kain’s prized possessions. That right there was reason enough to think the Russian was up to no good. And SPI sure as heck wasn’t buying the two reasons Kain had given for coming to New York—that he not only wanted to share his treasure with the world by loaning the diamonds to the Met for the exhibition, but he was considering offering the diamonds for sale. One, dragons like Viktor Kain didn’t share the prize of their hoard with anyone, let alone everyone. Two, the diamonds in the Dragon Eggs were reputed to be gems of power. The Russian was a gem mage, meaning he could use gems of power to . . . well, do whatever it was that the Dragon Eggs were capable of doing. That was one big unknown in the equation—no one knew what the diamonds were capable of besides giving their owners a lot of bad luck. In the hands of a gem mage like Viktor Kain, it’d take a lot more than a four-leaf clover to counteract whatever he had planned.
The potential for an auction of seven of the world’s rarest, and therefore most valuable, diamonds had the likes of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams salivating at the chance to get the commission off of that sale.
Then there was the elf and goblin problem.
Two of the diamonds, the pale blue Eye of Destiny and the pink Queen of Dreams, had been stolen from the elf and goblin royal treasuries about a hundred years ago. And now here was Viktor Kain, about to sell hot rocks that the elves and goblins were chomping at the bit to get back—by any means necessary.
Not to mention, the chance to buy or steal any of the Dragon Eggs was bringing the less savory heavy hitters of the supernatural magic world out from under their collective rocks. Cursed and possessed objects weren’t the only reason the boss had deployed agents all over the exhibition. Individuals on SPI’s most wanted and most watched lists were lurking among the guests, magically veiled and glamoured like every other supernatural here.
It was going to be a busy night.
From what I could see there was now another reason, other than the pretty windows, why the Sackler Wing was my favorite—that was where they’d set up the food tables and bar. If I was gonna be busy, I needed to keep my strength up.
Ian kept going toward the Dragon Eggs; I made a quick pit stop at the closest table.
Back home in the North Carolina mountains, raw fish was called bait. I’d tried to learn to like sushi, but I’d always come away with the feeling that it’d taste a lot better breaded and deep fried.
Sushi sure was pretty, though. As was the statue of a trio of harpies close to it.
Like most dragons, Viktor liked sparklies, and it didn’t get any more sparkly than the clutch of seven diamonds presently dazzling the eyes of New York’s rich and famous from inside a bulletproof and hopefully curse-resistant glass case behind velvet ropes. The case was positioned directly in front of the temple’s towering doorway. Two huge men were standing guard on either side of the doorway, with the velvet ropes surrounding the case and its guards on three sides, keeping the guests five feet away from the case on those three sides, the fourth side being the interior of the temple itself.
Those boys seemed to have things well in hand, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to fix myself a quick plate. There was no reason why I couldn’t keep my eyes peeled for supernatural shenanigans and eat at the same time. As I got two of the always safe California rolls, I couldn’t help but look at the harpies again. I’d say they were closing in on seven feet tall, and they looked like they’d been carved from a single block of stone. Their large eyes reminded me of the hawks that cruised the mountaintop thermals back home. They had cheekbones a supermodel would kill for, and full lips that a socialite was presently snapping a photo of with her phone. She probably wouldn’t be the last. I bet some of Midtown’s more exclusive plastic surgeons would be getting a flood of client e-mails with that same attachment come Monday morning.
My eyes dropped to the rest of the statue. Make that multiple attachments.
With the exception of their wings, the bird half of their bodies didn’t start until below their boobs, which were, like the rest of their human features, enviable. The wings and bird-like lower halves were all feathers, scaled feet, and talons, sharp, sharp talons—all immortalized in a type of stone I couldn’t identify.
“Exquisite, aren’t they?” purred an all-too-familiar voice from behind me.
I was proud to say that I didn’t even turn around, but simply spooned a little wasabi on my plate. “The boobs or the harpies?”
“Yes.” His voice was a low seductive purr, like a silvery cat rubbing around your bare legs.
Rake Danescu was a goblin, which made him just about the sexiest creature presently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and that included any and all statues or paintings of gods on the premises.
That was saying a lot, but Rake was a lot of hot.
He also knew it—and he wasn’t about to let me forget that he knew I knew it.
Though it wasn’t like there was any chance of me forgetting the first time we’d met. In addition to owning a few art galleries—and several Manhattan buildings—Rake Danescu owned and ran Bacchanalia, an upscale and very exclusive club that billed itself as the “complete adult entertainment experience.”
Yep, it was a sex club. One that catered to men and women—people who didn’t go to simply watch; they went to participate. During my first night on the job at SPI, I’d been part of a bodyguard detail for a leprechaun prince’s bachelor party. Fiasco was a nice way to describe how that evening had gone, and one comedy of errors after another had landed us at Rake’s club—and landed me in Rake’s arms in a backstage dressing room. He’d wanted me to work for him—and no, not as an adult entertainer—as a seer. Apparently goblin dark mage owners of sex clubs found themselves in situations where they needed the services of a seer. Go figure. I’d managed to inhale a lungful of a supernatural recreational drug in Bacchanalia’s ladies’ room, and as a result, parts of that evening were kinda fuzzy, but the part with Rake in that dressing room had remained crystal clear.
Real goblins were everything you’d been told that they weren’t—tall, sleek, and sexy, with enough charisma to make you not only drink the Kool-Aid, but happily stand in line for it.
Tonight, to every human at the Met, Rake looked human.
But he wasn’t. No human male looked that perfect.
My seer vision showed me what he really was.
Lean and predatory looking, like a sleek, silvery cat. Combine that with darkly seductive and light-sensitive eyes and you had a race that took sunglasses to the heights of high fashion. Goblins were gorgeous all by their lonesome, but they took their wardrobes and accessories just as seriously as their tangled court politics. Goblin politics was a full-contact and often fatal sport chock-full of seduction, deception, and betrayal.
Goblin hair was dark and often worn long. Their skin was pale gray with a silvery sheen, with human-sized ears that ended in a nibbleable point.
And they sported a pair of fangs that weren’t for decorative use only.
“Here to do a little window shopping?” I asked. Or casing the joint? I thought.
Rake Danescu held a glass of champagne as he looked me up one side and down the other, taking his sweet time and seemingly enjoying the view. “There are many objects of interest and desire here tonight.”
I didn’t take Rake seriously—at least I didn’t take him saying I was desirable seriously. Goblins were like politicians; they always wanted something, and if they wanted that something from you, they were relentless in getting it. On my first night at SPI he’d tried to hire me as his own personal seer—while his hands smoothly conducted their own job interview all over my body. We’d run into each other a few times since then, though it was more like he kept turning up in places where I was. I wouldn’t call it stalking, at least not yet, but it sure as heck wasn’t a coincidence. Goblins like Rake Danescu didn’t have coincidences; they arranged strategically timed encounters.
“Mr. Kain has acquired an additional escort this evening,” Rake noted. “I would almost be jealous except he did it by wealth, not charm. There’s no challenge.”
Viktor Kain and his now two ridiculously beautiful dates had the attention of everyone in the room as they made their way to the Temple of Dendur and the case containing the Dragon Eggs.
“You know anything about Viktor Kain?” I asked Rake.
“I know many things about our Russian friend.”
“He may be a friend of yours, but he’s not one of mine.”
The goblin gave me an indulgent smile. “Is that because dear Vivienne told you he’s a stranger you shouldn’t take candy from?”
“She only said that about you.”
The smile widened to give me a peek of fang. “I’ve never offered you candy,” he said with the slightest emphasis on the last word.
Time to take a sharp left turn from that topic. “Viktor Kain probably sleeps on a pyramid of gold bullion. You’d think he’d have enough fun money lying around without selling that sparkly handful of pebbles over there. What’s he up to?”
Rake glanced casually around the room. I wasn’t fooled; goblins didn’t do anything casually, and Rake normally avoided large gatherings of supernaturals like the plague—unless there was something in it for him, like the possibility of retrieving a certain stolen goblin diamond.
Rake took a sip of champagne and smiled. “Besides luring the baser elements of our cozy little mage community out this evening to be a pain in the backside of your equally draconic employer?”
“Yes, besides that.”
Rake gave an elaborate shrug. “Any move a dragon makes has at least twenty motives. They’re delightfully inscrutable. Schemes on top of plots, with intricate maneuvering running underneath.” He raised his glass in an admiring salute. “I can only aspire to be as devious.”
Typical goblin answer. A lot of pretty dancing around a topic. Except for sex. That was the one thing a goblin would get right to the point about, and keep harping on it until they got what they wanted—their target between the sheets, or against a wall, or on a—
That was when it happened.
I heard a long, low groan. It sounded human, almost. Considering my present train of thought, that was uncanny timing.
Instantly, Rake’s attention was on a spot past my right shoulder. He slowly set his glass on the table and held out his hand to me.
“Darling, step away from the harpies. Now.”
I’d never seen Rake’s eyes as large as they were right now. That was the first and only clue I needed to drop my plate on the table and move my butt.
I spun to face the statue and froze in disbelief, disbelief that quickly spiraled down to “Oh shit.”
That statue of three harpies wasn’t a statue anymore. What seconds before had been stone was now flesh with wings of bat-like leather. Only the claws looked just as hard, sharp, and deadly as they had before they’d turned.
A statue had come to life in the middle of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a major exhibition’s opening night. Hundreds of people were in the Sackler Wing, hundreds of now absolutely silent, regular, normal, everyday people whose eyes were witnessing an event their brains were telling them couldn’t possibly be real.
Rake Danescu had hit the nail on the head.
Harpies. Real, honest-to-God harpies. Or, in this case, real honest-to-Hades harpies.
“Finally, the evening gets interesting,” Rake said.
HUMANS seeing a monster for the first time generally had one of three reactions: scream, run, or faint. This was New York, so while half of the guests were engaged in one or more of the above, the other half had their phones out and were clicking away, camera flashes firing at the harpies like strobes.
The harpies didn’t like being treated like paparazzi bait. So, like a married celeb caught coming out of a cheap strip joint, they attacked.
At least two of them did.
The third launched herself into the air and, with two powerful beats of her leathery wings, dive-bombed the two men guarding the Dragon Eggs, clawed hands and feet extended for the attack.
And the kill. A really messy kill.
Any doubt about those harpies being real vanished when the blood and bits started flying. And if that hadn’t done the trick, the guards’ screams turning to dying shrieks instantly made every human within earshot a believer. Human screams joined the screeches and shrieks, and within two beats of an eye, the Sackler Wing descended into chaos.
We’d come here tonight expecting a robbery, and had come face-to-claw with the very thing Vivienne Sagadraco had founded SPI to prevent—humans finding out the truth that monsters are real, supernaturals exist, and humans share the world with both.
Mythological creatures coming to life in front of hundreds of New Yorkers was bad enough, but entirely too many of them were standing their ground and aiming their phones like those idiots on TV reality shows who see the tiger escape from its cage but who just can’t resist taking pictures of the thing right up until the moment when it rips their faces off. It was humanity’s way of thinning its own herd.
Right now there was a goodly number of people looking to move to the front of the meet-your-maker line in the next few seconds.
Fortunately for them, the harpies turned their attention to getting the Dragon Eggs out of that case. A case that was supposed to be bulletproof and curse-resistant was no match for three determined harpies. It was a smash-and-grab robbery at its finest.
While one harpy smashed the case to dust, the screeches of the other two were making it abundantly clear what the penalty would be for getting too close to the action. The crumpled and broken bodies of the two guards were a non-living example to avoid repeating their folly.
People were stampeding to get away. One guy stood still, eyes wide as the panicked crowd pushed around and past him. Tall and gangly with blond curly hair, he looked barely out of his teens, early twenties at the most.
I’d seen shock before, and this wasn’t it, at least not totally. People were either clued in or clueless to the fact that monsters and supernaturals shared the planet with us, and that humans weren’t the apex predator.
Judging from his wide, pale blue eyes, mouth open in disbelief, and general appearance of WTF, the safe bet counted him among the clueless.
But in an instant, stunned turned to determined, which signaled either bravery, stupidity, or an unhealthy dose of both. It didn’t really matter which one he had; both were going to get him just as dead. The math wasn’t in his favor. Three harpies with more razor-tipped talons on their hands and feet than I could count equaled untold chances for evisceration. I didn’t care if he was all kinds of lucky and had a pocket packed with rabbit feet; those weren’t good odds.
I couldn’t stop the harpies, but I could keep this guy from doing something he wouldn’t live to regret.
“Rake, I’m gonna need some . . .” I looked behind me. The goblin was gone. Why was I surprised? “Backup,” I said to the now empty space. “I need backup. Thanks for nothing.”
I couldn’t see Ian through the screaming, running, and YouTube-recording masses, so I was on my own.
I was wearing pumps with three-inch heels. Never again. No more cute shoes. Chucks were the new cute. Or hiking boots. Or better still, combat boots.
The guy gave a shout that was at odds with his boyish features and charged the harpies. I kicked off my heels and ran to intercept.
The harpy reached inside the shattered case, flung the ruby dragon aside, and scooped up the eggs in a single swipe of her taloned fingers.
The guy was faster and had longer legs. There was no way I could reach him before he got within gutting range.
He lunged for the harpy and grabbed the claw clutching the diamonds. At the instant of contact, a blaze of white light exploded from either the guy, the harpy, or the diamonds. Hell, I didn’t know. I hadn’t seen light that bright since I’d nearly fried my own retinas the first time I’d used my phone’s flashlight app. The screams in my immediate vicinity changed from terror-fueled to pain-induced. I think mine might have joined them.
There was something else. A tightening in the air, pulling in toward the core of the light, then releasing in a shock wave of color and heat that felt like it went right through me, popping the hell out of my ears in the process.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for The Grendel Affair
“Urban fantasy at its best.”—Ilona Andrews, #1 New York Times bestselling author
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