Duke's backup was late. He'd called sent out a general call for assistance ten minutes earlier, but no help had arrived. He drummed his fingers on the top of the tailgate and assessed the four Xrains across the street. If he could avoid their razor-sharp claws, pointy teeth, lethal venom, spiked tails, and the red fur that always made him itch; he had a shot of taking them down. Since bullets didn't do anything but piss them off, he had to slit their throats. It would be tricky to say the least.
"On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." he started quietly, having decided to wait another ten minutes for a Tracker to show.
"Six Gregins growling, five silver bolts, four caged Zizks, three days rotation, two Preas prancing, and a detachable box magazine for my FN Five-Seven."
Duke hung his head at the familiar voice. He'd asked for backup and he'd gotten an overzealous rookie. Just dandy. He would have been better off taking on the Xrains by himself.
"Guess we should change that fourth part, huh?" With one foot on the hitch and the other on the rear bumper, Viola Ashwood craned her neck to see over the top of Duke's truck. "Eh, four snarling Xrains doesn't have the same jingle, you know."
"What are you doing here, Vi?"
"You called for backup. I was just sitting at home watching some stupid, sappy Christmas special on the Lifetime network." She narrowed her eyes, shoved a finger in his face. "Say a word about it to anyone and I'll rip out your spleen."
"Easy there killer. Your secret love for schmoopy romantic movies will be our little secret." Duke paused long enough for her to sigh in relief. "For a price."
"How about I not let the Xrain eat you for a late night snack?"
"You really are a pest, you know that?"
Duke chuckled and shook his head. She was annoying, but being around Viola was never dull. Her blunt honesty was a refreshing change from the Network politics he'd spent a week buried under. If he never had to attend another National Conference again, he'd be one happy region head.
"I've got a couple javelins in my car. If we use them to sever the... falanca-thingy...whatever it is they call that main artery in their neck," Viola suggested, brow furrowed in contemplation. She shivered when the icy wind shifted and shoved her hands in the pockets of her purple hooded sweatshirt. She regretted not grabbing her leather jacket before leaving the house.
"You shouldn't be here, kiddo."
"And yet here I am." She grinned at him and bumped his shoulder. Though Max Sparks was her Tracking mentor, she loved going out with Duke. Max was great, but Duke didn't give off those 'teacher' vibes. Plus, she'd been in love with him since she was six.
"You're only seventeen, Vi. I'm responsible if anything happens to you. Do you know what your brother would do to me if anything happened to you? And even then he'd be stuck with whatever pieces of me Olivia left behind."
"I'm not," she corrected quietly, smile slipping off her face. She turned her face away from him, blinked rapidly.
"Not what? Going to get into trouble? In case it's slipped your notice, Shortcake, that's all you manage to do."
She didn't know whether she wanted to cry or she wanted to break his nose. She pulled the fleece hood over her head and huddled against the cold metal of the truck. She would have thought that he of all people understood why she was freezing her ass off at one in the morning and willing to help him with the Xrains.
"Not seventeen. Not for a whole sixty-four minutes."
"Oh, Via-mia." Duke's hand found its way to her shoulder. He brushed his lips across the back of her head. He'd forgotten all about the time, but he hadn't forgotten her birthday. Underneath the seat in his truck was a wrapped box with two daggers inside. He'd picked out the carving for the handles with her in mind.
She nodded and smiled shakily. She was glad he'd finally caught on. Her birthday wasn't her favorite day of the year, and she'd rather spend it fighting a demon than at whatever party Olivia undoubtedly had planned for the afternoon. "So, the javelin idea sounded like a good plan, but I'm worried about how much maneuvering space we're going to have."
"That's a fair point." Duke popped open the toolbox in the back of his truck. He had a few weapons he could use, but there was one sure-fire way to put that twinkle back in Viola's eyes. "Check underneath my seat, kiddo. There's something there I think you could use?"
Viola's eyes lit up. She rarely got to touch Duke's weapons. "Really?"
"Yeah." Duke smiled to himself when she raced around the truck and flung open the door. "And grab my spare jacket. You're going to freeze to death out here. What in the hell were you thinking leaving the house without a jacket? That sweatshirt isn't going to protect you from the Xrain, either. I swear, Shortcake, you'd dash in after a Gragin with nothing but a stick if we let you."
Viola grinned as she pulled a box wrapped in shiny black paper out from underneath the seat. Presents, a demon, and Duke. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad birthday after all.