John Matthew tapped her shoulder and she nodded. “Yeah, I’ll flank left.”

Seconds later, they dematerialized into a dogfight. Paradise and Phury were holding their own against a slayer, pushing the lesser back in the alley. But two more had showed up at the far end.


Novo made a quick calculation and lunged forward, going on the attack. There was too great a chance of collateral damage if she used her gun, so as she ran, she re-holstered that weapon and unsheathed one of her daggers.

With her fangs bared and a great rage in her heart, she hit the lesser on the left like a train, plowing it down before it knew what the fuck was happening. She stabbed it in the throat at the Adam’s apple, and then, with her free hand, grabbed the front of its leather jacket and began to drive the back of its skull into the iced-over snowpack, again and again and again.

Black blood splattered up into her face, getting in her eyes and her mouth, the sickly sweet taste mixing with the frigid inhales that burned a path to her gut.

In the dim recesses of her mind, she knew she needed to move on to the other one. She needed to drive her dagger blade into the center of this goddamn thing’s chest so it could go back to the Omega—and then she had to continue to help in the fight.

Her arm was like a piston, though, and the black stain in the snow under the impact spot grew ever wider. The fucking fantastic part? The slayer was aware of everything that was happening, the pain she was causing registering in its shocked expression and gagging breaths.

There was only one way to “kill” a lesser.

You had to stab them through the non-existent heart. So she could keep this up for a year and the piece of shit, this immortal murderer of her kind, would feel fresh agony with each and every strike—

A bullet sizzled by her left ear and she looked up. About fifteen feet away, another slayer had come into the alley, ready to play, and he had a poodle shooter in his palm.

Which would have been a joke, except he was aiming the gun right at her—any closer, it would have been point-blank.

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Novo went into a roll, pulling the incapacitated slayer on top of her as a shield. In the process, she lost her dagger, but she had other options—digging for her hip, she took out her gun, shoved it through the various body parts flopping around her face, and started popping off rounds.

She caught the newest arriving slayer in the shoulder, the impact pitching him back on that side, but the wounding didn’t slow the bastard down much—so she kept on shooting until her clip ran out. Good news? She blew the slayer right off his feet. The bad? In the next heartbeat, the undead was back and popping—bringing out a second gun.

Motherfucker—Novo scrambled through the floppy-limbed, stinking, oozing half-corpse on top of her for her own fresh clip.

Too late. Too uncoordinated.

She was going to be dead—

From the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of movement, and it didn’t take more than a second to ID it: Paradise was bolting out of the shadows in a crouch, clearly ready to tackle the shooter.

Thank God. But Novo was taking nothing for granted. She managed to slap her backup clip into the butt of her gun and raise the muzzle, except she held her trigger, as she didn’t want to hit Paradise—

Somebody passed right in front of Novo’s gun—and directly into the bullets the slayer was discharging. The flash came from the left and moved so fast, she couldn’t track whether it was friend or foe.

Except then she recognized exactly who it was.

Peyton didn’t give Paradise a chance to do her job. He barreled into her and knocked her out of range and into a snowbank, eliminating the defensive strategy that had been engineered to save Novo.

The slayer with the gun got off two more rounds, which through nothing but blind luck missed, and then it took advantage of the opportunity to escape, pulling a turnaround and run-like-fuck—

He didn’t get far. Zsadist was on him, a pop! and a flash of light announcing a quick dispatch.

And with that, thanks to all the other back-ups that had come on scene, the action was over as suddenly as it had presented itself.

“What the fuck is wrong with you!” the Brother Phury barked.

As he and John Matthew came pounding over in the snow, it was very clear that the silent fighter was every bit as Absolutely Batshit Rip Ass as the Brother was.

Novo shoved her lesser-blanket off to the side some and lifted her head so she could see the ass kicking roll out. Also started checking for bullet wounds on herself.

Meanwhile, Phury peeled Peyton off Paradise like he was cling wrap, and the Brother all but tossed that fighter across the city. As Peyton landed with disappointing agility, shit was on.

Phury marched across the snowpack. “You want to explain what the hell that was all about?” The Brother jabbed a finger at Paradise, who was back up on her shitkickers and brushing snow off her leathers. “You compromised our team, endangered two people’s lives, and cost us a slayer.”

Peyton crossed his arms over his chest and stared at a point over Phury’s left shoulder. Then he paced around until he happened to stand beside Novo. “Paradise was in trouble.”

“Excuse me?” the female said. “What was that?”

Peyton refused to look at her. “He had a gun. He could have swung it around and shot her in the face.”

“Except that by the time he’d have seen me,” she countered, “I would have had control of the weapon. He was fully diverted.”

“You don’t know that.” Peyton shook his head. “You totally don’t.”

“Yeah. I do.” Paradise stomped her way across the alley, meeting the male head-on. “I had made the assessment, and I was executing. If I didn’t take out that gun, he might have killed Novo.”

“And again, I’ll say that you don’t know that.”

Novo rolled her eyes. Thanks for your concern, asshole.

And, p.s., why are you two having this argument right over me?

For fuck’s sake, there was no getting up now, not unless she wanted to play full-contact ref.

Paradise threw up her hands. “But I didn’t get a chance to find out, did I. Because you decided to be a goddamn hero when I didn’t need one.”

Preach, sister, Novo thought as she shoved the barely moving slayer farther off herself and sat up.

“This is unacceptable.” Phury got his phone. “You’re out of the field until further notice.”

“What!” Done with that off-the-shoulder eye thing, Peyton glared directly at the Brother. “What for!”

“Not following protocol.” Phury put his palm out. “Shut your mouth. I can assure you, nothing you say is going to help—”

The dagger came in a fat circle from out of nowhere, the stabbing motion on a trajectory directly for the center of Novo’s chest.

A shout exploded out of her as she put her arms up to catch the forearm: The heavily wounded slayer had somehow found her discarded blade…and was doing its level best to return it to her. And the undead was hellaciously strong, even with all its leaks.

Especially as her grip slipped free because of all that black blood she had drawn—

The dagger plunged into her heart, penetrating through her bulletproof vest.

There was no pain, which was probably not good, and as she fell back down on the snowpack, she was able to lift her head and look at the inexplicable sight of the weapon’s handle, still in the grip of that slayer’s fist, sticking right out of her sternum.

Oddly, she noted the way her breath exploded out of her in a white cloud, the exhale dissipating in the night as if it had been eaten. Or maybe that was her soul leaving her body?

Her last image was of the lesser smiling down at her, its crazy eyes rapt with triumph, its lolling mouth leaking black blood as it started to laugh.

And then its head exploded, bullets riddling it from some direction or another, bone getting pulverized, a fine mist of brain matter atomizing into the bitterly cold night air.

That was it for her.

She lost consciousness, a great black void swooping in, the Grim Reaper’s robe curtaining down on her, its fabric so thick and heavy, she could neither fight nor deny it.

Her final thought was that this was the precise, inevitable outcome she had predicted from the moment she had filled out the training center’s application. The only surprise? That it had come so fucking soon.

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