Morgana lifted her head, tongue flicking in and out. She slithered to the door and bumped on it, anxious to get outside. Babet opened it and hurried to follow her. “Is Maw moving?”
A quick bob of her head, and Morgana went to the edge of the driveway, staring across the blueberry fields to the country road. Everyone gathered around them. Hatchet turned to bark, “Werewolves, inside! Out of danger. You can’t help us.”
Fang grumbled, but joined Cole and Red to return to the house. Babet watched them pick up serious looking guns from a closet just inside the doorway. The bullets they shoved in them looked big enough to blow a hole in a whale. They walked to the windows that looked out on the side yard and yanked them open, resting the guns on the heavy frame to take aim. Smart idea. She’d have never thought of that. But this pack had fought its share of rogue vampires. It was prepared to defend itself. She raised an eyebrow at Morgana. “You, too. Inside. You promised.”
If a snake could grimace, Morgana did, but she slithered to the door and Cole let her in. Cole’s wife came to stand behind them. She took a box of ammunition, ready to help reload weapons. They hadn’t seen much of her. She took over running the business when Cole had pack duties, according to Fang, but Fang and Red talked highly of her.
Prosper and Hatchet both tensed at the same time, their heads swerving toward the country road. “A car’s coming. It’s going fast.” Their hearing was more acute than hers and Dimitri’s.
Dimitri raised his eyebrows. “Has Maw learned to drive?”
Hatchet threw him a look. “Something heavy’s chasing it. Get ready. Somebody’s trying really hard not to be Maw’s dinner.”
Babet moved farther up the driveway. She’d try to buy the driver some time before Maw reached him. The three men tensed for action, but stayed out of the way so that the car could scream toward them.
The Dodge took the turn so fast, Babet worried that it would tip over, but then it righted itself and flew toward Cole’s cement parking strip. Babet stepped into the driveway behind it, waiting for Maw. When she saw the dragon, she called for winds to throw themselves at her before hurrying to join Prosper, Hatchet, and Dimitri.
Maw leaned into the winds and fought her way toward the house in time to see a young man and his pregnant wife scurry inside. Prosper switched, clothes shredding, bones stretching, and fur sprouting to become a massive brown bear. Dark clouds gathered around Hatchet, his tattoos coiled to spring, and Dimitri lit into a blazing torch. Maw stopped to stare at the four of them.
The young couple had done them a favor. They’d delivered Maw to their door.
“Leave…or die,” she hissed.
“You can talk?” Hatchet’s brows rose in surprise. “I fought you before. You won’t escape this time.”
“I remember your Druid stench. Your friend left a foul taste in my mouth. I should have cooked him before swallowing him.” The skies rumbled above her, and Maw bent to disappear underground. Babet stamped a foot, and the earth trembled.
Maw blew fire.
Babet threw a protective shield over all of them to block it.
Maw narrowed her eyes. She lunged at them, jaws snapping, and Prosper hit her so hard, she staggered sideways. Hatchet raised his hands and stabbed lightning into her heavy torso. Dimitri threw fire at her face, and she jerked back.
Babet blasted her with magic. It bounced up and down her shiny scales.
Maw turned and ran. Totally unexpected. For such a large creature, she moved remarkably fast. Babet started after her, but couldn’t begin to keep up. Maw rounded the corner to the street and disappeared. Where the hell did she go?
Babet turned and started back to the others when the dirt gave under her feet. She plummeted downward—an awful feeling. Tattoos gripped her arms and yanked her upward. Maw scurried after her. Damn the dragon! Babet spread her fingers and shot sparks downward.
Hatchet reeled Babet toward him and her friends, and Maw burst from her trap, blinking rapidly to remove Babet’s magic from her eyes. Furious, she again spewed fire. Dimitri stepped forward and stopped it with fire of his own. The two blazes met in the middle and Dimitri walked into the flames, never diminishing his own flow of power. Prosper sprinted to Maw’s side and sank his claws deep into her flesh. He raked them over her scales, scraping off a long strip of them.
Maw let out a long, high scream of pain and fury and whipped her tail at Dimitri. Babet tossed up a solid wall of earth to stop the blow. The dragon charged. Prosper grabbed the tip of her tail and pulled, digging his heels in to stop her. Maw opened her mouth again to breathe fire, but Hatchet shot a lasso of lightning and circled her lips, tugging them shut.
Hatchet pulled on her snout and Prosper pulled on her tail, immobilizing her. Babet gathered a massive ball of energy and shot it at her. She walked to the dirt at the edge of the driveway and planted her feet, then kept blasting. Dimitri bombarded her with fire on the other side, and the dragon spasmed, but would not die. Lord. What did it take to get rid of her?
The door to Cole’s house opened, and Babet glared as Morgana let herself out and sped toward the dragon. She sank her fangs into the strip of flesh where Prosper had peeled off Maw’s scales.
Babet stared as the scales began to change color, turning black and dropping off, as Morgana’s poison sped through Maw’s system. Scales rained to the ground from the dragon’s center to both ends. She lurched, trying to free herself from Prosper and Hatchet’s hold, but they didn’t let go. Morgana gave Babet a quick, apologetic look and slithered back to the house. No one relaxed what they were doing, Dimitri still shooting fire and Babet pounding Maw with white-hot energy, until Maw’s head crashed to the earth with a thud, her body convulsed, and then she went still.
Dimitri put out his flames. He stared at the dragon. “Is she really dead?”
Babet shut down her magic. She stared. Dragons were like reptiles, cold-blooded. She’d terrorized people and towns for as long as Hatchet had been alive. Could Maw come back from this?
Prosper let go of her tail, walked forward, and swiped his long, gleaming claws across her neck. It took four swipes to behead her, but when he was finished, he nodded. “She’s done.”
Hatchet released his magic, too, and stared. Then he walked to Cole’s door, opened it, and pulled Morgana to him in a hug. “Damn it, snake, but you saved our asses again.”
Morgana tossed a worried glance at Babet.
Babet raised an eyebrow. “You made me a promise.” The snake lowered her head, ashamed. “But I couldn’t have kept it either. Bless your heart. You’re the best familiar ever.”
Morgana stretched her neck for Babet to stroke it.
The werewolves tumbled out of the house. Fang stared at the dead dragon and then stared at them. “Do you fight many battles like this?”
“More than you’d think.” Hatchet ran a hand through his short, blonde hair. “More than we’d like to.”
Cole’s wife—tall and sturdy with dark hair pulled into a ponytail—shook her head at them. “Have you ever thought of moving away from River City? To find someplace quieter, safer?”
Prosper blinked in surprise. “And leave mortals on their own to defend themselves? That wouldn’t be right.”
The door opened and the young man who’d driven to Cole’s house stepped out to greet them. “I don’t know any of you, but I heard what you just said. And I want you to know, this mortal thanks you.” He smiled. “Cole’s wife just helped my Kelly deliver our baby boy.”
Dimitri beamed. He stretched out a hand. “Congratulations!”
The man hesitated. “Are you safe to touch? I won’t get burned?”
Dimitri laughed. “I’m only hot when I’m on fire.”
The man looked him up and down, but took his hand. “Yeah, right. I bet women think you’re hot no matter what.”
Dimitri shrugged. “A perk of being a demon.”
The man shut his eyes, then let out a long sigh. “I don’t care what any of you are. You saved us…and our town. Thank you.”
Cole stepped forward. “The four of you are welcome to stay with us as long as you want. Our pack didn’t have the manpower to stop that thing.”
Babet stepped closer to Prosper. “We appreciate your offer, but I’m ready to go home.” She couldn’t wait to sag on the couch in her little, yellow bungalow and hear the tourists pass by on the sidewalks. She looked at Fang. “You’re welcome to visit any time.”
Fang grinned. “I like you and all, but you guys are a little too intense for me. You’re made for the city, but I like where I am just fine.”
Cole’s wife cleared her throat. “You’re not leaving here hungry. Cole and I can cook up a breakfast in no time, and then you can be on your way.”
Prosper started to the trunk of Hatchet’s car. He’d stay in bear form until no mortals were nearby. He didn’t mind people staring at him, naked, but Babet did. He grinned. “I never turn down good food.”
They all headed into the house, Prosper following behind once he’d pulled on sweatpants, and two hours later, Babet, Prosper, Hatchet, and Dimitri headed back to River City. On the way, Morgana rested her head on Babet’s foot, and Babet kept thinking how grateful she was that Maw had chosen to attack a small town instead of a place filled with mortals and tourists. How long could Maw have picked off people in River City before anyone even realized what was happening?
Sometimes, you just got lucky. River City had enough rogues to guard against, as was. And no, it wasn’t easy guarding against them. But the city was their home. And they’d do everything in their power to protect it.