Chosen By Blood
An Excerpt From
Chosen By Blood

TWO YEARS LATER
FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C.

ONE

Kyle Mahone, director of the FBI's Special Ops Tactical Division, quietly hung up his phone instead of slamming it down the way he wanted to. He'd expected Dex Hunt to be suspicious of the Bureau's job offer. What Other wouldn't be? The rest had certainly proceeded with caution, asking one question after another.

The werebeast, however, had done something the others hadn't.

He'd laughed his ass off.

Swiveling in his chair, Mahone looked out his window, clenching his fists until his knuckles were white. He'd gotten where he was by being smart, working hard, and maintaining his cool. But something about the werebeast's taunting had hit home.

Infuriating. Smart-assed. Cocky SOB. The epithets didn't come close to describing Hunt. Still, he was the best marksman in the nation, human or Other. He was also skilled in the martial art of Karakai, a combination of Karate and crazy-ass gymnastics the Others had come up with. That made Hunt lethal from a distance and in close quarters. Add the fact he could shift into something that would make Freddy Krueger look cuddly and Hunt would be invaluable to the success of Team Red, the FBI's first special ops team to recruit both humans and Others. In addition to Hunt, Mahone had already offered spots to a human, a human psychic, a mage, and last but not least, a wraith.

Wraith, as in ghost. The dearly departed.

A no-longer-living, d-e-a-d person who swore like a trucker, adored ABBA, wore four-inch stilettos, and unlike the other handful of wraiths that were known to exist, refused to take a real name. Instead, she'd sworn to answer only to "Wraith" until she discovered her true identity. Her surly attitude wasn't ideal, but she was a survivor to the extreme—incapable of being killed by any known methods. She also happened to be an expert in ammunitions and explosives.

Twenty years ago, Mahone would have checked himself into an insane asylum before admitting he believed in any of the Others, let alone a wraith. Now the future of the world seemed to rest in their hands.

Wearily, Mahone rubbed his hands over his face. According to the crazy dream he'd had two weeks ago, the fate of the world, or rather the fate of its inhabitants, actually rested more in his hands than anyone else's—on his ability to choose the right combination of six individuals, humans and Otherborn, to serve on a new type of special ops team—a Para-Ops team.

Talk about pressure.

If it had been up to him, a Para-Ops team would have been formed years before, as soon as the President and all the Otherborn leaders had signed the Humanity Treaty. Instead, the U.S. government had left things up to local law enforcement agencies, which, while usually well intentioned, were simply unable to deal with the lingering prejudice and suspicion that naturally followed half a decade of civil war. Another five years had passed since peace was declared, yet the nation and its citizens were still recovering. Some days, Mahone doubted they'd ever find peace again. For that to occur, he knew the United States people needed help—a team dedicated to ensuring the rights of humans and Others alike, both domestically and internationally.

The dream had obviously been a manifestation of his growing unease and frustration with the President's unwillingness to step up to the plate. But in the end, the dream had also given Mahone the cajones to force the President's hand. Either give him the green light to form the FBI's first Para-Ops team comprised of humans and Others, or accept Mahone's resignation.

Now he had no one to blame but himself if the team turned out to be a disaster. Unfortunately, the call with Hunt wasn't exactly promising and he still had one more offer to make—the position of team leader to a dharmire. And not just any dharmire, but Knox Devereaux, the son of a vampire Queen and an infamous French revolutionist human, Jacques Devereaux.

This morning, Mahone had e-mailed Knox, his message concise: Teleport to headquarters as soon as possible. Nora will buzz you in.

Knox's reply had been even more concise. Three. For Knox, that was code for, "I'll be there at three o'clock, you bastard, just long enough to make you squirm."

Mahone checked the clock. Less than an hour away. Which meant Mahone needed to focus. It would be foolish to face Knox while he was still distracted by crazy dreams or a smartass were. Once again, he replayed the conversation with Hunt, trying to determine the point that annoyance had shifted into more.

Yes, he'd laughed at Mahone's offer, but the werebeast's laughter had barely died down before he'd gone for Mahone's throat. "A team to help both humans and Others, huh? Tell me, Mahone, how many Others do you call friend? How many do you drink a beer with when you're watching a game?"

Mahone's answer had been in his silence, just as Hunt had obviously expected. Even so, he'd persisted, giving Hunt both the parameters of the team's purpose, as well as a brief description of its first mission. When he was done, Hunt hadn't been laughing, but he hadn't jumped to accept Mahone's invitation, either.

No, he'd said he'd think about it.

Mahone snorted and shook his head.

Think about it. As if they weren't discussing one of the most elite teams in the world. As if riding a motorcycle to nowhere and back was half as important as things like justice or survival, or hell, even revenge.

But it was all bullshit.

Hunt didn't just want revenge, he craved it. What Mahone had proposed would give it to him in spades, complete with a "get out of jail free" card.

The werebeast could think about it all he wanted; in the end, he'd accept just as the others would.

Feeling marginally more settled, Mahone flipped Hunt's file shut and secured it. He swiped his hands over his face. When a spark of memory hit him, however, he froze.

How many Others do you call friend?

The question, virtually identical to the one posed by Hunt, drifted through his mind in a decidedly more feminine voice. Mahone frowned as he connected the voice to his dream.

How many Others do you call friend? The question played over and over, until he finally managed to form an image of the creature that had asked it of him in the dream. A creature he instinctively cringed away from remembering.

But he couldn't help remembering it, either.

Closing his eyes, he recalled how, in his dream, he'd dozed off at his desk. The sky had been dark. The building deserted. Then he'd been blinded by a flash of light and the sudden appearance of a creature at the light's center. A creature he'd never seen before nor ever wanted to see again.

She had hair that was comprised of colors both familiar and unfamiliar, floating around her in undulating waves, each strand a living, breathing entity.

A face that, instead of eyes, a nose, and a mouth, had hollow, cavernous sockets, bottomless and dark, terrifying and hypnotic, yet so beautiful it had made his own life force try to push itself out of his body to get to her.

A body that, underneath her diaphanous, flowing gown was neither female nor male, but both and so much more than he could understand.

After that first shocked look, he'd turned away from her and that's when she'd asked him, "How many Others do you call friend?" When he'd answered, "None," too scared even to think of lying, she'd told him her intentions and lamented the failure of an ancient prophesy. She'd listened when he'd told her about his idea for Team Red. And then she'd told him to form the team, explaining in shocking detail what would happen if the team failed to serve its purpose. If Mahone failed to deliver what he promised.

When he'd asked her who she was—what she was—she'd merely said "a divinity." In other words, she was a goddess. And a pissed-off one at that.

Thank his God it had been a dream.

Mahone opened his eyes, disgusted at the feel of sweat trickling down his temple. With a shaky hand, he grabbed a glass of water and chugged it down. Then he heard a voice, no longer in his memory but as if the speaker was standing directly beside him.

It wasn't a dream, Mahone. Thanking your God won't make it so.

You have one year to prove the team can do what you said.

One year and not a second more.

Whirling around to scan his empty office, Mahone dropped his glass and the traces of water within it poured out, staining the remaining files on his desk.

He knew instantly he'd been kidding himself. He hadn't dreamed the creature's visit any more than he'd dreamed the War. Instead, the living nightmare that had become his life was merely intensifying.

Falling back in his chair, he stared blankly at the water pooled on his desk, then slowly cleaned up the mess, stacking his files with precision before straightening his tie and smoothing out his jacket.

Minutes later, two raps on his door made him jump and curse. He knew immediately who was standing outside. He took a deep breath. Then another. The last thing he wanted was more drama, but he simply called, "Enter."

Simultaneously, he prayed, hoping that even though it hadn't been his God who'd visited him two weeks ago, and even though he hadn't prayed to Him in a very long time, God was still there and willing to hear him.


 

Special Agent Felicia Locke knew the minute she saw the willowy dharmire that there was going to be trouble.

She'd chosen the bar because it was as far from Pennsylvania Avenue and the J. Edgar Hoover Building as one could get and still be in Washington, D.C. With its spray-painted façade, dim lights, and ramshackle assortment of tables and chairs, the Black Hole was also light-years away from what a typical federal agent would consider reputable, let alone palatable. In its favor was the fact it served the best brandy in the state, strong and undiluted. That and some privacy was all Felicia wanted. She'd just locked her car and was walking toward the bar's back entrance when a dharmire, who couldn't have been more than sixteen years old, stumbled around the corner of the building and into view.

Felicia immediately recognized the female as half-Other; although she had a vampire's silver hair and black eyes, her skin was sun-toasted, just a shade lighter than a graham cracker. She clung to the arm of a stocky man with no neck, squinty eyes, and slicked-back hair. The man pushed her against the side of the building and covered her slim body with his own.

Felicia's prediction of trouble formed not because the man was ugly, but because he was unkempt and, considering the foul things he was saying, obviously uncouth.

She'd never met a vamp who'd willingly suffer the company of someone so appallingly unrefined. It would be like asking one to wear jeans or, God forbid, drive a beat-up old truck down a public highway. As a rule, vamps didn't do casual or tacky.

Even so, she tried telling herself that maybe the girl just looked young. There was no accounting for poor taste, after all. But the closer she got, the more apparent it became that the dharmire was under the influence. Her silver pupils were dilated and glassy, and she appeared to cling to the man out of necessity rather than affection.

The man shifted to the side just as Felicia walked within ten feet of them. She saw the fine gold chain and pendant around the dharmire's neck—a smaller, more feminine version of the one Knox wore and an exact replica of the one Noella had worn all her life. The same pendant Felicia's best friend had been wearing on the day she'd died, a gaping hole in her chest where her heart had once been.

Felicia came to an abrupt stop and blinked her eyes several times to make sure she wasn't imagining it. But no, it was real and it was a real bitch of a sign. Noella had died exactly one year ago today and it couldn't be coincidence that, before Felicia even had a chance to get rip-roaring drunk while avoiding Knox at the same time, a female appeared who was from Noella's clan—Knox's clan—and in obvious need of help.

Thoughts of Knox assailed her. Had Kyle Mahone gotten in touch with him? She'd been fully briefed on the Bureau's plan to add a new team to the FBI's elite, super-SWAT group referred to as the HRT, Hope Restored Team. She knew that team was the crucial step toward stabilizing relations between humans and the Otherborn races they'd once fought. And despite her preference to stay as separated from Knox as possible, she knew he was the right choice to lead it. Most civilians craved peace now, but it was a constant, often bloody battle given the insurgents, humans and Others alike, that resisted.

On the other hand, Felicia thought, still staring at the man and the dharmire… There would always be individuals who just naturally preyed on those weaker than themselves.

Okay, okay. Message received.

No rest for the wicked.


 

Despite how shaken Mahone still felt, he didn't flinch when Special Agent Leonard Walker threw open his door and stalked into his office. Instead, he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms over his chest, and waited calmly for the explosion.

He didn't have long to wait.

Even so, compared to an ethereal creature with the power to enter his mind and, oh yeah, the apparent ability to destroy the earth, Walker was hardly a threat.

The man planted himself in front of Mahone's desk, thrusting his face forward as if to compensate for his lack of height. "This is some kind of joke, right?"

It was obviously a hypothetical question. No sooner had Walker asked it than he thumped his fist on Mahone's desk.

"Ten years ago we were hunting these fuckers down, and now we're supposed to fight next to them?"

"Not too long ago," Mahone reminded him, "I wouldn't have been able to sit at the front of the bus with you, Walker. Now you answer to me. Times change."

Walker narrowed his eyes, making Mahone stiffen. Most of the time, Walker was an okay agent; what he excelled at was training exceptional ones. Walker had all the right moves, but only in theory. When it came to applying them in the field, where subtlety or quick thinking was required, Walker became set in his ways. He trained with all the special ops teams, but he wasn't going to train Team Red.

"Don't give me that ACLU, politically correct, we're-allequal bullshit, Mahone. Regardless of the color of our skin, you and me, we share the same DNA." Walker jerked his thumb toward the office window. "These—these freaks are—are…"

Mahone cocked a brow, amused at the blustery man's red-faced loss for words but equally pissed at his lack of restraint. He allowed a hint of steel to edge his voice. "Don't let the fact that we graduated the Academy together make you forget your rank, Walker. Stay civil. And shut my door. Now."

Licking his lips, Walker searched Mahone's face, then quietly shut the door.

"Freaks or not," Mahone said a moment later, "the Others we've selected are half-human and they have special skills that no amount of training can duplicate."

"Our men are the best—"

"No question about that. But being fully human means they have limitations. The Others aren't aliens that just landed on Earth a decade ago. They're citizens. They live among us openly now. Hell, some of their ancestors roamed Earth before we did." He laughed at the irony. "We just didn't know it."

" 'Cause they didn't want us to know. 'Cause they needed victims—"

"Victims like Manson's? Ng's? Dahmer's?" Mahone snorted. "Find me a species that hasn't been tainted by bad blood and I'll hand in my resignation right now."

"I'm not going to let you do this."

Mahone's brows lifted at the blatant threat in Walker's voice. Mouthy was one thing. Insubordinate something altogether different. "You might want to reconsider how you—" Mahone began, his voice low.

A commanding knock on the door interrupted him.

Walker spun around as Mahone got slowly to his feet.

Knox Devereaux was early.

Mahone couldn't say how he knew the half-vampire/half-human was standing outside. He just did. Mahone refused to attribute his racing pulse to fear, but it pissed him off anyway.

Mahone had known Knox for over ten years. The dharmire wasn't as overtly hostile as Hunt, but in some ways, his calm, formal mannerisms were twice as unsettling. Probably because anyone with an ounce of intuition could sense the passion boiling just beneath his controlled façade. Mahone had picked Devereaux to lead Team Red because his strategic skill, leadership ability, and calm under pressure couldn't be beat. Yet he knew there was so much more to the vamp. Mahone had seen for himself how dangerous the dharmire could be when his control gave way to blood lust, or straight-out lust—always for one particular woman.

Several more knocks shook the door.

Mahone's gaze found Walker's. "Team Red's a done deal," he snapped, hoping the decision wouldn't turn out to be the biggest mistake of his life. "And if you threaten me again, you'll wonder if we share the same DNA, after all." In a louder voice, he called, "Enter."

The door opened and Knox Devereaux stepped inside. He was, as always, impeccably dressed. Tall and grim-faced, his dark pants, expensive black duster jacket, and polished boots made him look like a GQ outlaw.

Yes, indeed, Mahone thought. The times had changed.

The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness no longer applied just to humans.

Wraiths had the right to vote. A court had just ruled that a mage's right to practice magic was akin to one's right to worship. And vamps, both full vampires and dharmires alike, couldn't be denied health coverage based on "malnourishment" being a preexisting condition.

The Others were demanding their due and making their presence known.

Soon, they'd be protecting some of the same individuals they'd fought just years before.

God bless the U.S. of A.

And just to be safe, the Goddess Essenia bless them all.

He'd done his best. By assembling Team Red, he'd either save the world or damn it. If Team Red failed, they wouldn't know the full ramifications of doing so.

Mahone, on the other hand, would take the knowledge straight to Hell.

Maybe, just maybe, Knox Devereaux could help make sure that didn't happen.

Chosen By Blood

Chosen By Blood