Home > Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)

Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)
Author: K.F. Breene

Chapter One

The sticky-sweet night embraced me like a satisfied lover. Raucous laughter crowded in close as people strolled up Bourbon Street with their green plastic drink holders fashioned after grenades. A little girl broke away from her parents and ran toward me, stopping much too close and snatching a string of pink beads off the street.

She looked up at me with clear blue eyes sparkling with excitement. “Pink is my favorite color!”

I stared back at her, struck mute. Only the naive would pluck beads off Bourbon Street. There was no telling what sweaty chest those had been on. I didn’t want to kill her dreams, though. She was so excited as she stood there, clutching the plastic string in a small fist.

Seeing that she was expecting some sort of reply, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “So is mine.”

She flashed a giant smile before turning at the calm call of her mother.

With a gaping mouth, I stared after her.

So is mine?

Pink was most certainly not my favorite color. I didn’t hate it, but being caught dead in it would be a horrible way to go. Black was my favorite color, if I had to choose. It hid stains. I could spill food or blood on it, and no one was the wiser. You certainly couldn’t do that with pink leather. No way. Everyone would gasp and point.

A very important question assaulted me: why wasn’t that kid afraid of me?

I glanced down at my black army boots, made for kicking in teeth. Paired with my black leather pants, decorated with scuff marks and four parallel lines from when a mark had tried to rake me with his claws last month, I looked fierce. A bad mama-jama. Right?

I had a freaking gun strapped to my leg! And if, for some reason, that wasn’t hardcore enough, then surely the sword strapped to my back should’ve made that kid hesitate in approaching, grimy pink beads or no. Sure, this was NOLA, where anything goes, but still, my outfit should’ve at least panicked the mother.

My job hinged on the fact that I was terrifying, dang it!

Intent on getting to the bottom of this, I adjusted my bra. A catcall came immediately. I swung a glare toward the source, a man in his early twenties loitering in a bar doorway.

He took a step toward me with a drunken smile, displaying the unmistakable swagger of idiocy.

I’m not the kind of girl sane men hit on, bro.

In a power stance, I faced him dead on, letting my glare amp up until I was sure crazy sparkled within my eyes. The man flinched. His drink slopped out of his plastic cup and down the front of his shirt. He didn’t notice. Instead, he started sidestepping back into the bar, his smile twisting into a grimace.

Good sign. That made me feel better.

Clearly, any kid brave enough to pick beads up off this street wasn’t worried about an armed bounty hunter.

She reminded me a little of myself.

With a glance back at the girl, who took a running leap and splashed into a puddle, I continued on my way to the edge of the French Quarter. I had a mark to pick up and money to collect. Soon it would get unbearably hot in New Orleans, and Mama needed air conditioning.

I turned a corner, away from the half-flooded, busy street. Clouds still spotted the sky above, blocking out stars in patches. The earlier deluge of water from the spring storm would hopefully continue to seep into the storm drains, making my hunting ground more pleasant to navigate. Wet boots really put me in a bad mood, and I refused to wear galoshes. I had to have a little pride in my badassery.

Tourists and partygoers dotted the way ahead, this month a little slower for visitors. When summer revved up, the jeering crowds would flood the street. It would be my cue to avoid the area.

Up ahead, jazz clattered out of a bar. A man backed out of my way and I caught sight of Red, a resident were-dog.

Yeah. He turned into a dog. A nondescript brown one, at that. His style points in the were-community were seriously lacking, hence his position as a snitch for Roger, the alpha of a bunch of sub-packs spread out across North America. When a magical person without a pack wanted information in this area, torturing Red was a great way to get it.

Red caught sight of me as I stalked down the sidewalk.

“No way!” He turned to flee, straight into a large group of drunk tourists. His escape route cut off, he threw a panicked look out at the street, where a police car was rolling by, before hunching down against the wall.

The man was pure comedy.

I stopped near him with a grin, just to see what he’d do next.

He threw up his hands to block his face. “I don’t know anything. Nothing is going on, I swear!”

I patted him on his bony shoulder. He flinched with each touch.

“I’m good this time,” I said, scanning the way ahead. “I don’t need any information.”

“I’ve heard that before. Then something goes wrong and here you come, looking for secrets.”

“That’s your own fault.” With a last pat, I headed away. “Friends shouldn’t keep secrets from each other.”

“You’re not my friend,” he yelled at me.

That wasn’t very nice.

I turned and scoured him with a half-assed glower. He skittered in the other direction.

I really shouldn’t pick on the poor guy, but he was a thorn in my side, always helping those infuriating shifters track my whereabouts. Half the time they showed up to dog my footsteps, no pun intended, watching my movements for some clue as to what my magic was. What I was, basically. My scent told them something was up with me, but they couldn’t find a reason to haul me into the Realm, the magical world basically run by the elves, to question me. That meant they skulked around, trying to catch me doing something wrong. Their presence made people skittish, and my marks, who were usually up to no good and already skittish, often found somewhere else to be.

The shifters represented the elves in the human world, policing the magical people to ensure our kind was kept secret. I sometimes worked for the other type of law enforcement, a human-world office funded in secret by the U.S. government that operated with the same goal—keeping all things magical from the humans. One would think the two factions would combine forces, but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Instead, the two groups were always at odds with each other. Hence my eternal annoyance with the shifters.

No sooner had I reached my destination, the Purple Bear, than Jimmy, the manager, said, “I don’t want no trouble in here tonight.” He stood at the doorway of the bar, warding away underage partygoers with his perma-scowl. “It’s a slow night and I don’t want no one leaving.”

“This one will be real easy, Jimmy, don’t you worry.” I patted him on the arm. Unlike Red, Jimmy did not flinch. “Grab and bag. No big deal.”

“You say that every time.”

“And it would be true every time if it wasn’t for outside influences.”

He sniffed. “Who you looking for?”

I scanned the dimly lit interior. Four people sat at the bar. Two were on their own and hunched over their drinks, and the other two were rehearsing for the horizontal ugly dance, hands all over each other.

“A small, wiry fella.” I shifted to the side of the door when two girls staggered closer. Jimmy reached for their IDs. “Balding. Brown eyes. He has a tattoo of a yeti on the side of his neck. Yesterday I was told he’d be in here to meet a buyer. Don’t ask what he’s selling—I have no idea.”

“A yeti?” Jimmy shoved the ID back at the first girl and took the ID of the other. The girls giggled for no reason.

“Yeah. An abominable snowman. You seen him?”

Jimmy returned the second ID and jerked his head for the women to enter. They giggled again, still for no reason. “I seen a short, balding man. Didn’t notice no tattoo. He walked through ’bout a half hour ago. I’d leave that one alone, if I was you.”

“Why is that?” I shifted so I could scan the booths. “The music tonight sucks, by the way. Did you lose a bet?”

“Becau—” He cut his explanation short and glanced inside. “That’s the best I could get last minute. The normal gig canceled an hour before they was supposed to be here. I had to get a human band, and I don’t have many connections on that front.”

Jimmy was a merman, which had shocked the hell out of me. I constantly wanted to ask how procreation worked, since they did it in mermaid form, what with the fins and the man parts and all that, but he was very closed-mouthed about it. All I knew was that he disappeared for a month out of the year to frolic in the ocean. Also, he hated when I used the word frolic.

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