The Lion’s What?
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The Lion’s What?

“You’ve been avoiding me.” There. I said it. It had been bothering me for days. Reese’s brother said I shouldn’t take his bad moods personally, but I didn’t believe that for a second.
Reese may not have known I was in the witness protection program, but he knew I was in trouble. And that meant my trouble could quite possibly follow me here. To his home. He’d probably considered me a liability long before he saw my cocktail dress.
Reese’s clear green eyes flashed. “I have not been avoiding you.”
“Oh. My mistake, then.” I turned to leave, but he grabbed my wrist before I took my first step away.
“If you haven’t noticed…” His voice was nearly a snarl. “We’ve had some unexpected issues this season. A season that’s only just started.”
I flinched. I’d watched from my office window as the original hostess had gotten into her Lyft, crying. I assumed it was an isolated incident, though the rumors I’d heard in town about the family needing to sell the resort still lingered in the back of my mind. Were other employees to follow?
“I need this job,” I whispered.
He pulled me closer, bringing his head alongside mine and his mouth close to my ear. His warm breath moved my hair when he said, “Everyone needs their job.”
My whole body trembled. “I need it more than most.”

Mates?
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Mates?

Most mistakes in life are no big deal, even the big ones. After an apology, restitution, and a little time or training, eventually everything is fine.
But occasionally, a tiny error can land you in hot water.
Or boiling water, in my case.
Three months ago, while trying to apprehend a vampire who was feeding on blitzed people in a hot tub on the rooftop of a residential building, one of my spells misfired. Instead of a freeze spell, I let off a heat flash. . .and everyone in the hot tub boiled like lobsters. Thanks to a few strong potions, everyone survived, and were mostly fine within 48 hours, but the vampire I was trying to arrest, well. He was the son of their Sublime Chancellor.
Yeah, it’s a really stupid name. Magical organizations are kind of famous for those.
But vampires vote as a bloc, and the New York Paranormal Affairs Chief is an elected position. So when his daddy called my boss, Chief Lumos had to do something.
I’ve been on probation ever since, and let me tell you, having to take remedial magic courses really sucks. Usually magic is fun—spell casting, potions, circles, wards, I like most all of it. But getting sent to remedial magic class is like a plumber being sentenced to spend three months unclogging toilets. Boring, embarrassing, and it stinks.
If I’m being honest, the class hasn’t even really fixed my problem. My magic has been erratic and unreliable since I was a baby. These classes may have helped me learn how to mask my failures more effectively, but I’m pretty sure the real reason I was finally cleared is that my instructors got sick of me.
Until I’m cleared, I have to earn my paycheck somehow.
Which is how I got stuck as the NYPAD liaison to initiates from the human world. In general, the sharpest crayons are not assigned to coordinate departments.
“You’re saying that there are cops out there running around who are actual vampires?” The chunky man with ruddy cheeks leans back in his chair, his disbelief palpable.
There’s an art to explaining the supernatural world to people who only know about parodies, like Twilight or Interview with a Vampire. I usually start with vampires, because most humans want to believe they exist. It makes for an easier transition.
But sometimes, like with this guy, it’s better to just rip the Band-Aid off.
“I think I got ahead of myself.” I sigh. “A war has been waged for more than a thousand years.”
“A war has been waged? Isn’t that a little melodramatic?” He looks around the room. “Are you recording the introduction to Star Wars here?”
Do not smack the fat, rude human, Minerva, not when you’re already in trouble. “This is real.” I cross my arms, expecting another interruption.
He, miraculously, stays quiet.
“The akero, embodiment of all that is light and good, and the daimoni, the epitome of all that is dark and evil, have clashed over and over and over. You’d think they’d have realized the futility of it, but they never did. It’s like an epically bad marriage, where the husband and wife are both taking out life insurance policies and making plans.”
Officer Stevens drops the front feet of his chair back to the ground. “Wait, are you actually serious about this?”
I pull out the laminated photos of the akero, who look like the most gorgeous angels you could imagine, and drop them on the plastic card table in front of him. “I’m not a stand-up comedian.”
He splays the cards out and hunches over them, finally stopping to stare at the most predictable card, the image of Raguel, the akero who embodies joy. The priestess who snapped the photo managed to catch a shot where she has her arms raised, her face upturned toward the Northern Lights, her expression rapturous. It’s a moving photo. I’ve seen grown men cry while looking at it.
Not Officer Derpey here, but you know, emotionally intelligent ones.
“You’re saying the angels and demons are here? On Earth?”
“I haven’t explained that part yet.” He’s wrecking the rhythm of this, and that kind of thing matters with stories. “Their most epic battles happened in many different places. They’re so evenly matched that neither side could gain any advantage. It was sort of like two kids leveling each others’ sand castles, over and over and over.”
“Sand castles?”
Mental note: analogies are wasted on Officer Derpey. “Something shattered the delicate balance between light and dark, and neither of them will fess up to what that was.”
“Something?”
“That’s when the angel Gabriel, their leader, directed the akero to flee for the first time. And of course, the daimoni have doggedly pursued them ever since.”

King of Where?
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King of Where?

But sharing the conference table with the hotel’s Managing Director, Cameron Taylor, who she hadn’t set eyes on since he’d dumped her thirteen years ago? Yeah, that explained why her pulse pounded in her temples like the massive surf crashing on the nearby Monterey shore. She paused in front of the closed conference room door, taking a moment to gather her composure.
“The door isn’t locked.” An unmistakable voice rasped from beside her.
She spun around and her throat tightened the moment her eyes locked with Cameron Taylor’s arctic blue gaze.
How could someone look so familiar yet like a stranger? Lucy studied his lean, angular face. His strong, slightly crooked nose was the same, as was the determined squareness of his jawline. Small lines fanned out from his arresting eyes and grooves bracketed his chiseled mouth, which was pressed into a firm line. His posture was ramrod straight––even more rigid after a dozen years serving overseas in the Army.
“Cam.” How many times had she imagined what she’d say if she ever saw him again? How many impassioned speeches had she rehearsed before moving on with her life?
He inclined his head. “Hi, Lucy.” His crisp tone was as remote as his stony expression. The voice of an acquaintance––not the man she’d shared the love of a lifetime with until he’d broken her heart.
Through impeccable self-control, if she did say so herself, she forced her lips to curve upward. “So… how are you?” Awkward, but it was the best she had to offer. She hadn’t expected to encounter him one-on-one, at least not yet.
“Fine, but we should go in. Ryan and Charlie are waiting.” Cam reached for the mahogany wooden door’s carved brass handle at the same time she did.
His long, blunt fingers brushed hers. A flash of heat sparked up her arm and she snatched her hand back. Muscle memory? Of course, Mr. Poker Face didn’t flinch as he pushed the large door open.
Bright light flooded the conference room and bathed the expansive space in a golden glow. Lucy blinked. January on the Monterey coastline wasn’t celebrated for clear blue skies, but the cloudy gray morning had cleared, and rays of sunshine exposed the rugged Pacific coastline beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows.

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