The Big Bad Wolf
Chapter One: The Favor
“Why did you call me here?” I ask, though I know perfectly well why the grizzled old son of a bitch sent for me. I spin the titanium ring around my forefinger with my thumb.
He frowns under his thick beard, across from me at the wooden table. He pushes a pint of ale over before grabbing his own. I don’t pick up the mug, but the man shrugs and takes a swig.
How did I end up here? For most of my life, I’ve lived on my terms with no consideration for anyone else. Not even the women I sometimes let in my bed. I follow the jobs that bring the most money and that has served me perfectly well until now.
“It’s been a long time, Brexley,” he says.
Nineteen years, if one were counting. And for nineteen years, I’ve felt the ghostly shackle, tying me to someone else. Nearly two-thirds of my life, waiting for the shoe to drop.
“Not long enough,” I say gruffly, finally grabbing the mug and taking a healthy swallow of the stuff. I hate to admit the shit is good. So I don’t.
I’ve done everything I could to be free of social ties. There is no place for me among mage, man, or fae. But today is the day my only marker is called.
I owe one being a favor in this entire world and he has summoned me here to the musty backroom of his tavern. Boxes pile high around the room, surrounding us. He named the joint Sam’s, though his name is Jameson. I never asked who he named it after, and I still won’t ask.
The drizzle kicks up a heavy mist that clings to the windows. The cold seeps its way into my bones despite my knit sweater and leather jacket. On a shitty day like this, I’d normally be at home by the fire with a book. But this old son of a bitch has me by the balls.
“You owe me, Brexley,” Jameson starts, as if he expects a fight.
I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. “I’m aware, you old bastard. Just tell me what you want so we can get this over with.”
His calloused fingers drum on the manilla folder next to him before sliding it over. “I need you to take care of her.”
His tone tells me he doesn’t mean take her out for lunch and shopping. He must have been keeping tabs on me to know what kind of business I’m in now. Or maybe he’s just a sadistic son of a bitch, and I could be a florist and he’d still give me the same mission.
I push the mug away, despite wanting more. Drinking won’t make this problem disappear. But once my only debt is paid, I won’t have anything hanging over me. I’ll truly be free.
I flip the folder open to a picture and a single page of details: name, occupation, home addresses. But I didn’t need any of that info. I instantly recognize the older woman in the photo. I’ve seen her many times—on billboards, commercials, packages of food, enamel pins that people stick on their jackets.
A dry snort escapes me. “You’ve got to be joking.”
The old bastard doesn’t crack a smile, doesn’t move a muscle.
I run a hand through my already unruly silver hair. “Grandma. You want me to go after Grandma from ‘Grandma’s House?’ The face of the most popular household brand, and one of the most powerful witches known to the world?”
Jameson repeats himself in slow, steady words. “You owe me.” Coiled tension is locked up behind his dark eyes and in the set of his broad shoulders. Blood lust shines out from his face. This is business from his past. But I don’t ask questions, and I’m not about to start now.
I study him, observing how he’s changed since I last saw him. Even more gray strands pepper his black hair and beard. His scowl has only deepened with the years, multiplying the lines at the corners of his eyes. He must be nearing his fifties, but under his flannel shirt vest is a body still packed with the sturdy muscles of a heavyweight boxer.
Once upon a time, I considered this man to be like a father to me. He quickly dispelled me of that notion with an unholy vengeance. He taught me the truth. Dependence is death. Don’t buy into the lie. You don’t need others to survive in this world. It is a gilded lie that ends with getting stabbed in the back.
Or, in my case, a set of claws raked across my face.
But finally, I’m given the opportunity to dissolve my last tie to another being, and this is my chance. As one of the most beloved celebrity icons, this also may be my chance to get killed.
My fingers wrap around the cold handle of the mug, suddenly thirsty. “She won’t be easy to get to. And afterward, I’ll be hunted like an animal.”
His chair creaks with a loud groan as he leans back with a smirk. I’ve already accepted his terms. “Good thing you’re used to it.”
So he does know my business.
I shoot him a cutting look over the edge of the mug as I swallow the rest of the amber liquid.
“After all,” he folds his arms across his chest, “you are the Big Bad Wolf.”
My grin is half-grimace. “And that is very bad news for grandmas right now.”
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