Home > The Last Warrior (Shifters Unbound #13)

The Last Warrior (Shifters Unbound #13)
Author: Jennifer Ashley

 

Chapter One

 

 

Can’t a guy just drink a beer in peace?

Ben took a determined sip, pretending to ignore the seven men who’d gathered around him in the bar on the outskirts of New Orleans, a place where he’d always been able to blend in and have a quiet drink. Not tonight, it looked like.

The men who’d decided to be a pain in his ass were human, but their body language screamed as loudly as any Shifter’s that they were protecting their territory.

Ben had settled himself on a barstool at the far end of the counter, a long way from anyone. He’d returned to New Orleans to check on the haunted house and take a load off for ten minutes before he went back to work. Unfortunately, while he’d been in Faerie these last however many months, this bar had been taken over by a group of buttholes.

The leader, a guy with a beer belly, stubbly whiskers, and flyaway brown hair, leaned his elbow near Ben’s arm. “We don’t like your kind in here.”

Such an original opening. Ben guessed that when the man said your kind, he didn’t mean goblin.

“Short people?” Ben offered. In his human form, he stood a few inches below the average human male, which meant a lot less than Shifters. And weren’t Shifters smug about that?

The man frowned. “You know what I mean.”

Ben could have toyed with him, asking, Do I? Do you? but he didn’t have the patience tonight.

“Listen, boys.” Ben carefully set down his bottle. “I’m not here for trouble. I’m just taking a break. My boss—” A badass dokk alfar who’d make you guys wet your pants when he looked at you— “has me working my rear off”—recreating a magic iron doohickey that will keep hoch alfar from invading whenever they feel itchy—“a long way from home—” in the dank lands of Faerie. “This is the first night out I’ve had in months.”

“Not our problem,” the leader said. “Go drink somewhere else.”

“Delighted to.” Ben dropped another five on the bar for a tip and slid off the stool.

As he’d suspected, these ignoramuses had no intention of letting him leave that easily. They were half-drunk, belligerent, bored, and ready for any scrap they could find.

Ben hid a sigh. Really, he’d returned to this world only to find a relaxing beer and then go to bed. No Shifter insurgents, no dokk alfar breathing down his neck to hurry it up with the magic already, no Fae lords being their arrogant selves, no Dylan Morrissey on his phone saying, “Ben, I need you to …”

A little peace and quiet with a sentient house keeping everyone away by being terrifying. That was all Ben wanted. He’d also returned to reassure the house that he was all right and hadn’t abandoned it. It was always good to be kind to an abode that could eat you.

“How about we take this outside?” Ben suggested. If tables and chairs got broken the manager might add it to Ben’s tab.

“Sure thing.” Leader smiled. He had the straight, white teeth everyone in this country seemed to have, whether they were corporate execs or biker dudes.

Ben made for the door, and the men herded him along like wolves circling their prey.

Outside, the warmth of the September night was pleasant after the chill of Faerie. Ben never remembered it being so stupidly cold in Faerie, but after a thousand years in the human world, it was the little things that he’d forgotten.

The parking lot was deserted this late, and several of the lot’s lights were out, making the place inky dark. The guys flanking Ben moved him beyond the floodlights at the door and into deep shadows.

Ben could cast a glam on them, distract them while he slipped away, but while a glam rendered him almost invisible to human eyes, it didn’t render him intangible. He’d have to push past the wall of guys surrounding him, and once they focused on him, they’d see him. Better to face them down and be done with it.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ben asked. “How about I buy you whatever you’re drinking, and we call it a night?”

“Not taking shit from you.” A man with sandy-blond hair glowered at him.

Ben heaved a sigh. “All right. I’ll make it quick.”

They had no idea. The men stared at him, slightly puzzled, then they went for him.

Ben feinted back, encouraging the pack to attack him en masse, then he came out of his half-crouch and spun like a whirlwind, roundhouse kicks catching three of his attackers in the head.

He felt the beast he truly was coming out, the beast he held tightly inside because he had no choice. Ben’s inner self wasn’t a cute furry animal like a Shifter, but an ancient warrior who’d been forced into exile in this crazy human world.

His body thickened and grew, and his hands became powerful things as his true form struggled to emerge.

Ben reminded himself that these assholes weren’t hoch alfar coming to massacre his family, just lazy booze-heads looking for something to do on a Saturday night.

He stopped himself from becoming a destructive force of nature, only changing form far enough for what he needed. Ben kicked and punched, pummeled and whirled, the men’s drunkenness and the darkness not letting them see exactly what they battled.

Three went down, groaning, but the other four, not understanding their odds, wouldn’t give up.

Ben didn’t wait for them to regroup but simply launched into them. The legs of one went out from under him at the same time another doubled over with an oof! as Ben slammed a heavy fist to his abdomen.

Chime.

The cell phone-like sound distracted the remaining two men for a second, but only a second. One of them drew a knife.

Chime!

“Is that you or me?” Ben resettled into his human guise. “Maybe you should get that.”

The men hesitated, glancing at each other. Ben lunged at them, ripping the knife from the first one’s hand and throwing it across the parking lot. Then he knocked the two men together with inhuman strength. They fell, insensible, to the uneven pavement.

CHIME!

“All right, all right.” Ben jammed his hand into his pocket and pulled out not a cell phone but a small round crystal about an inch in diameter. Its white glow heated his fingers, its insistent peal ringing in his ears.

“What?” he yelled into it.

“Ben, dear, I need you.” The faint but musical tones of a woman called Lady Aisling came to him across the void from Faerie. The scary woman had powerful enough magic to do that. “Now, please.”

She said please, but she meant the now part. No arguments.

Ben glanced at the seven moaning men at his feet, none about to rise anytime soon.

“Yeah, I guess I’m done here. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“See that you do. It is very important.”

Which meant, Get your ass back to Faerie in the next five minutes or deal with me. The men Ben had just fought wouldn’t stand a chance against Lady Aisling, who could wipe them out with her pinky. Ben stood in awe of her, admired and respected her, but damn, the woman could frighten a hundred years out of a goblin.

Ben walked to the motorcycle he’d left near the building, mounted, and started it. The men were barely twitching, so he thumbed 9-1-1 on his cell phone and sent first responders to them before he strapped on his helmet and rode out of the parking lot.

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