[NEW ORLEANS, NOVEMBER 2019]
There wasn’t anything special about the sports bar, it barely had good beer. But it had people. Not enough to be crowded on a weeknight, but enough that I was just another guy drinking alone at the bar.
Oh yea. And the cute little bartender was savvy enough to recognize when a customer wasn’t interested in chatting.
I took another long sip of my beer as I considered the voicemail the Colorado Springs alpha had left me.
“I got a werewolf here that can dust a vamp with her bite. I figure you might know something.”
He wasn’t wrong.
She was a purgatum, and the first in centuries to boot.
I drained my glass and dialed Sheppard’s number. When he answered, he put me on speakerphone and filled me in on what he had seen of her capabilities. I didn’t need the narration. I knew from the voicemail alone what he had taken into his pack.
Sixteen hundred years ago, I would have begged her to take the bear from me, even if it killed me.
“Her jaws sunk into his neck as she clawed into his chest, and it was like time caught up with him,” Sheppard said. “He turned to a desiccated corpse and then to dust, right there in his cave.”
Twelve hundred years ago, I would have handed her ass directly to the vampires and walked away.
“She turned that crazed wolf back to human,” Sheppard said.
Five hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have even returned the call—not that there were even phones then. She wasn’t in danger. She had a pack.
“And I just killed three more with just a bite,” she said. The consanguinea. No, the purgatum.
It was a single line, a matter-of-fact statement about her recent vampire kills. But I heard the fear in her voice anyway. And it pulled at a bone-deep instinct I had thought long gone. An instinct I thought died in an abandoned manor in Bulgaria twelve hundred years ago.
She needed protection.
So, I told Sheppard about the only other consanguinea I had ever heard of like her—the one the church had culled because it was a threat to their mission to save humanity. Hell, the church even had to get their hands dirty since they couldn’t get any of us bears to do it. We literally could not.
When I hung up the phone, I paid my bar tab and went back to the motel next door to pack my things. I took my room key to the front office, where I found a frazzled couple dragging their uncooperative toddler toward the front desk. I caught the eye of the dad—who looked more like a pack mule with all the bags he carried—and pointedly placed my room key on the counter.
“It’s paid for the next couple of nights,” I told him before looking at the front desk clerk. She was barely more than a kid herself, with dark hair and big brown eyes. I read her name tag. “Hey Monica, I’m checking out of 214. Transfer the rest of my nights to this lovely family, alright? Take good care of them.”
“That’s really not necessary,” the woman sputtered. She had blonde hair that probably started the day in a sleek ponytail, but it now hung in a limp mess from the back of her head like her hair tie had simply given up on life. She managed to get the uncooperative toddler quiet by handing him her phone, which started blaring some obnoxious child’s song about a shark.
I waved off her protest and gestured to the bag I had slung over my shoulder and the tackle box that held my jeweler’s tools. “Obviously, I’m not gonna use it. And I’m not concerned with the refund, since it takes so long to process through the bank.”
“We sure appreciate it,” the pack mule of a father told me. His certain tone left no room for argument, and his wife gave me a weary smile.
Monica gave me a receipt for the room nights used and had me sign for the new rooms as the kid’s shark song started playing over again. The little one bounced on one of the couches in the lobby as he watched the screen, and the mom tried to wrangle the phone from him.
I headed out to my truck, a blue two-door Ford F150. She was always a bit dirty—until it rained, at least—and she had any number of minor scratches and bumps from all the miles I’d put on her already. But she was reliable as hell and easy to repair. And she was the only lady I’d had any kind of lasting relationship with in recent memory.
It wasn’t until I was five miles down the road that I even knew what I was doing.
I was heading to Colorado Springs.
I wasn’t even sure how long it would take me to get there from New Orleans. So I checked it on my phone. Twenty-two-and-a-half hours. And that was assuming I didn’t make any stops.
I stopped myself from smacking the heel of my hand into the steering wheel, an action that would have necessitated costly repairs, and instead balled my hand into a fist so hard my knuckles cracked.
This stupid instinct to protect consanguinea had been quiet for goddamn centuries, but now is when it crops up? Ludicrous. This was a bad idea. Clearly an unignorable bad idea, but a bad idea nonetheless. The last time I tried to protect a consanguinea, it went very, very poorly for everyone involved.
I checked the map on my phone and shook my head again at the time estimate. Twenty-two-and-a-half hours.
As much as I wanted to ignore the purgatum even existed, I couldn’t. My actions ceased being my own because I knew better. Protecting her—and those like her—was exactly what I was created to do.
And if I could protect her from the church, who was likely to cull her too, then maybe I could correct the wrongdoings of my past as well.