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Looked like we finally connected with our mate.
Not entirely—that required an official mating ritual—but the magical ribbons tying us together had started twining.
Poor Malcolm and Ajax had been waiting for this moment for more than 150 years. Me? Well, that was complicated. I was even older than the two of them, but my life had taken a strange turn about a decade and a half ago, and sometimes I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for.
This wasn’t exactly the best of circumstances in which to run into the woman who was meant to complete our little family.
The fates certainly had a fucked up sense of humor, didn’t they? Well, I knew that already; they’d paired me with Ajax and Malcolm, after all. Ajax was okay—he didn’t talk much and was a solid team player—but Malcolm was a giant pain in my ass. I loved the guy like a brother—and he also annoyed the hell out of me like a brother.
And now we had a fourth to complete our sacred circle.
And holy shit, was she not the most perfect final piece to our crazy-ass puzzle? Her hair was pitch black, her skin dark, her eyes brown. South American heritage, I’d guess. She had full lips, a lean neck, tits that were more than a handful each, a narrow waist, and flared hips that just begged to be grabbed while fucking. Oh, and those long, coltish legs were perfect for wrapping around a guy’s hips while he—
“First things first,” I said. I needed a distraction and somebody had to take charge and finish this damn mission before the building collapsed and killed the very reason we’d set it on fire in the first place.
“Rescue mission,” I added as a reminder.
“Right,” Malcolm said, and he offered the woman on the floor a hand to help her to her feet. “But can we first discuss—?”
“No,” I cut him off sharply. We didn’t have time, and the way the woman was eyeing us, I had my doubts she realized what our inadvertent and yet fated meeting actually meant.
When she didn’t immediately grasp Malcolm’s hand, Ajax grabbed her under the arms and lifted her to her feet. She dropped into a defensive stance, back to the wall, like she was going to take on all three of us at once.
While that idea made my dick twitch, this was so not the time, and she was very obviously not on the same page, so I snatched the gun from Ajax and offered it to her, butt first.
Her gaze shot from the gun to my face and back again, with a quick pause to check out both Malcolm and Ajax in between.
“Who the hell are you?” she finally asked, taking the gun and checking the ammo like she was worried I’d somehow managed to empty the chamber while she stood there.
Despite that distrust, her voice had the exact effect I always imagined my fated mate’s voice might have, except place, time, situation.
“Ajax, Malcolm, and Rafael, or Rafe for short. Any more than that will take way more time than we have right now, so let’s rescue those girls first,” I said.
“Then we can grab a drink or seven,” Malcolm quipped, “and Rafe can explain everything.”
I arched my brows, and he shrugged. “I’m pretty clueless right now too.”
Of course he was. Malcolm lived in the moment, which was good for him because it helped him avoid the melancholy and lament that went along with craving a fated mate we had never met and had no idea how they would fit into the family.
The woman gave us each another once-over. “Are you the firefighters?”
Malcolm chuckled. “Good disguise for rescuers, huh?”
“You aren’t dressed like firefighters.” Her gaze skated over each of us in turn again, taking in Malcolm’s shorts and T-shirt, Ajax’s cargo pants and tight, camo shirt, and my black warmup pants and black tank.
Malcolm stabbed his thumb over his shoulder. “Left the coats and shit in that room. Those uniforms are hot as fuck and way too bulky.” He affected a ridiculous Ninja pose. “I need to be able to move.”
“We needed a way to get in that wouldn’t raise suspicion,” I explained. “And would also give us a means to getting those women out. The truck has been modified, so they will be able to fit into a cavity hidden inside, and we can get them to safety.”
“Is it weird that you’re trusting me with this information when five seconds ago your bodyguard here had me in a choke hold?” our mate asked.
“Not really,” I replied.
“Why are you here?” Malcolm asked. “And how did you get in undetected?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Wore black, waited for a new moon, stuck to the shadows, avoided the cameras. Who the hell are you?”
Malcolm smacked my chest with the back of his hand. “She’s gonna be a great addition to our team.” He snickered. Apparently, he’d finally figured out who she was to us.
Meanwhile, she looked as if she might prefer burning with the building over joining our team.
“You didn’t answer his question,” Ajax pointed out. He sounded suspicious even as his eyes lapped her up like warm milk.
“Yes, I did,” the woman replied.
“Not the first one,” Ajax shot back, and fates be damned, were they about to get into a fistfight?
The walls shook, sending up a cloud of dust—probably caused by another chunk of this building giving in to the relentless flames.
All four of us suddenly hyper-focused.
“They’re in a room down that hall.” The woman pointed. “If there’s a guy with them, he’s mine.”
“What do you mean, mine?” Ajax practically snarled. One minute he’s ready to throw down, and the next he’s getting all jealous and overprotective and we didn’t even know the woman’s name.
What the hell were the fates thinking?
“He’s my kill. If you all are here to rescue those women, have at it. I’ll be busy blowing Ignacio’s head off.”
“Wait.” I grabbed her arm. The magic that flowed between us—the mating bond beckoning us, summoning us—was so strong I nearly lost my train of thought, but I shook it off. Twenty-two women’s lives depended on me thinking with the brain above my shoulders.
Her eyes went wide and dropped to stare at my hand on her arm, and shit, she had no clue that she was our mate.
All three of us.
But first … “Why are you here?” I demanded.
“I’ve been chasing Ignacio for months. I’ve never gotten this close before. And I’m not letting”—she flapped her hand at each of us in turn—“whatever this is get in my way.”
Ajax canted his head. “Do you not care about those women’s lives?”
I saw something in her eyes—guilt, maybe?—but it was gone in an instant, replaced with determination.
“Once Ignacio is dead, they won’t be in danger anymore.”
I couldn’t argue with her logic.
“Let’s do this,” Malcolm said. He wasn’t normally the go-getter in our dynamic. “The sooner we get this mission knocked out, the sooner we can get to figuring out this whole thing.” He drew a circle with his finger, encompassing, I assumed, the four of us.
“There isn’t a ‘whole thing,’” the woman said, and then she lifted the collar of her shirt to cover her nose, crouched low to the ground, and charged down the hall toward the room where twenty-two women were probably scared out of their damn minds.
I lurched after her, totally focused on the way that black spandex wrapped around the globes of her ass, but Ajax grabbed the back of my shirt and all but tossed me behind him, into our usual formation of him going first, me in the middle, and Malcolm bringing up the rear.
There weren’t any guards; the fire had frightened them all off, just as we’d intended. Ignacio still being in the building was an accident. We’d expected him to flee along with the rest of his crew.
We didn’t typically go after the bad guys directly. We rescued victims and left trails for the human authorities to track down and deal with the ones in charge. It was easier for humans to explain that way. Usually, an assumption was made that the victims had rescued themselves, and our names were left out of the press, which was exactly how we wanted it to play out.
I call us behind-the-scenes heroes. Malcolm bitched about it sometimes, claiming he wouldn’t mind a little glory once in a while, but that was exactly how Ajax and I liked to operate.
When we reached the room where we believed the women were being held, all four of us flattened ourselves against the wall, two on each side of the closed door.
“What’s your name anyway?” I whispered.
Our fourth and final mate whipped her head around to glare at me. “We are not friends,” she snapped in a whisper. “As soon as I’m done with my objective, I’m out of here.”
I almost chuckled, because there was no way in hell that was going to happen. She may need time to come to terms with the fact that she was our mate, but we’d waited far too long to let her go now that we’d found her. Besides, as I understood it, once people like us found our fated mate, the connection that roared to life never died again—unless she did, of course.
Resisting the urge to reach for the locket I always kept in my pocket, I touched her arm instead, knowing the jolt would draw her attention. “Ajax will go in first, then me, then you, with Malcolm watching our backs.”
“I work alone.”
“Not today,” Ajax said as he moved in front of us and started the process we’d perfected a decade ago. Although normally it was only three of us, it wasn’t hard to add a fourth, especially when we sandwiched her in the middle.
And then I had to suppress the image of this woman being sandwiched between the three of us, sans clothes. I never realized how much everyday rescue missions could be euphemisms for sex.
We’d set the fire on the far end of the abandoned building, in an area that had collapsed into itself and was clearly uninhabitable. We’d chosen that location so we’d have time to rescue these women who had been ripped from their lives with the intention of selling them to despicable excuses for human beings who would likely do equally despicable things to them. They’d be miserable until they died, and the guy running this little organization would be a very rich man. It was amazing how evil bastards always had obscene amounts of money to throw at their sick little pastimes.
The slight problem with our fire-setting plan was that this building had been built almost entirely of wood that had been baking in the relentless South Texas sun for nearly a century. It was kindling, and the fire was eating its way through it far faster than we’d counted on.
Which still wouldn’t have been a problem had we not inadvertently run into our fated mate and spent precious minutes accidentally slamming her in the face with a door, nearly strangling her, and then being shocked over discovering who she was.
We should probably apologize when this was over.
“Time to get this show on the road,” I said, lifting my shirt to cover my nose like our mate was doing. She gave me a narrow-eyed glare, but I ignored it and focused on Ajax’s hand signal: a lift of his arm and a quick close of his fist.
He charged at the door, slamming his shoulder against it and splintering it in one hit. A well-placed kick practically disintegrated the thing, and then we were rushing into the room, guns drawn. Our mate—it sure would be handy if she’d tell us her name—took off to the left without bothering to check with any of us, while Ajax and Malcolm started to the right like we’d planned.
Malcolm tracked my sudden deviation from the plan with his gaze, and I pointed at our girl. He nodded once and continued following Ajax. Malcolm, while plenty powerful in his own right, wasn’t nearly as big as Ajax, so it made sense to send in the muscle first. Malcolm excelled at swooping in and making the victims feel safe and secure enough to be willing to go along with whatever we instructed them to do.
I heard screams and shouts for help, which meant we’d found the women we’d come to rescue. Now we just needed to herd them out the door and to the truck while protecting each other and them from any guards who might still be hanging around outside. Easier said than done when I also felt obligated to keep an eye on a woman I didn’t know yet felt connected to in a way that was more intense than anything I’d ever felt in my long, long life.
A woman who believed she was meant to fight alone.
A woman who was here to kill the bad guy instead of rescuing the victims. Was that really what she’d said?
The screams and shouts had died down; Ajax and Malcolm had found the prisoners.
I kept my distance from our mate, partially so as not to spook her but also so I could watch her work, get an idea of how she operated. Now that our little circle was complete, there was no limit to what we’d be able to do in the world. Connecting with one’s fated mate—or mates—unlocked seriously powerful magic.
Everybody knew that.
With four people using their full potential of magical stores, well…we could be fucking kings—and a queen—if we wanted to be. Maybe, hopefully, we’d be as powerful as those gods who were always trifling with our lives.
The room we’d entered appeared to be some sort of foyer with a small office in the back. Our mate skirted around the perimeter and headed straight for that office, like she knew her quarry was in there. Maybe she did. Even without releasing our magic, all demigods had some sort of intuition; it just manifested in different ways.
She kicked in the door, gun held steady in front of her. I heard her talking to someone, although I couldn’t make out the words, so I moved closer. But I paused when another woman materialized out of the smoke and haze and made her way toward the office. She wore a simple, shapeless dress and no shoes. She had dusky skin and midnight hair that was long, nearly to her butt, and draped over her shoulder in dark waves. She held something in her hands—a cattle prod, maybe.
My assumption was that she was one of the rescued women who’d decided she wanted revenge on the guy who was keeping her prisoner. But then that intuition I was talking about kicked in, and suddenly I was not at all sure this woman was on our side.
As soon as she slipped into the office, I charged forward and caught her around the waist, tackling her to the floor as she raised her weapon with clear intent to crash it down on the back of my mate’s head.
My mate whipped around, her eyes widening as I landed on top of the other woman and shoved the cattle prod out of her reach.
“I told you, I work—”
“Behind you,” I shouted.
She turned just as Ignacio—I assumed it was him, anyway—pulled a gun out of the desk he stood behind. As he lifted the weapon, she dropped to her knees and leaned forward, slamming her palms against the desk and sending it skidding toward him.
The piece of furniture hit his knees, and he lost his balance and grip on the firearm. My mate grabbed the weapon and pointed it and her own gun at the guy.
That’s when I got clocked on the side of the head with the cattle prod I’d obviously not shoved far enough out of reach.
And suddenly, the floor was racing toward my face, even as the edges of my vision went hazy, and everything went dark.
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