Sweet Venom

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#1 in the Sweet Venom series

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CHAPTER ONE—Gretchen

Hydras have a distinctive odor. It's somewhere between the acid tang of burning hair and a boat full of rotting fish. You can smell them from miles away.

Well, you can't. But I can.

Some beasties smell mildly unpleasant; others could peel paint. Hydras definitely fall into the latter category.

As I steer my car—Moira, named for the fickle fates as a constant reminder to take charge of mine—into a spot across from a dilapidated seafood shack the stench is practically overwhelming. Moira's upholstery is going to stink for a week. I pencil in taking her to the car wash on my mental to do list, right after replacing my favorite cargo pants, which got shredded in my last fight, but before polishing the bladed weapons in the armory.

I twist the key out of the ignition and do a quick gear check: Kevlar wrist cuffs in place, smoke bombs in left cargo pocket, zip ties in the right, and my handy dandy, military-grade, metal detector defying, twin APS daggers snug in their sheaths and hidden inside my steel toe Doc Martens. Nothing like a well-stocked pair of black cargoes to make me feel girly.

The hydra shouldn't be much trouble—balancing nine heads on a massive serpent body throws off their center of gravity so they're not exactly graceful—but it never hurts to be prepared.

Even if I ever get caught off guard, I've got a backup monster-fighting kit stowed under Moira's driver's seat and another in my backpack.

Though the gear makes things easier, all I really need to take a beastie out is the pair of retracted canines that will fang down at the first sign of trouble. They're my built in weapon arsenal. A defense legacy passed down from my ancient ancestor.

"Seriously," I mutter as I climb out onto the sidewalk. "Can't they give it a rest for a while? Maybe take an extended vacation somewhere cold and icy."

This is the fourth time in the last week that the aroma of dark and nasty has pulled me out for the hunt.

One more visitor from the abyss this week and I'll leave the gear at home and work out my annoyance with my fists. Hand-to-hand combat won't send a monster back to its prison realm home, but it'll make me feel a hell of a lot better. Who says keeping the human world monster-free can't be good therapy at the same time?

I palm the remote for Moira's keyless entry and am about to lock her sleek, black doors when I realize I've forgotten one element of my monster-fighting gear that is critical, at least when I'm hunting in human-heavy territory.

"Slick, Gretchen," I tell myself. "Real slick."

You'd think after four years—a quarter of my life—this would be second nature.

Moments later, I'm crossing the street, my sporty mirrored sunglasses shielding my eyes. Not from the sun, of course. It's not like hydras yearn for daylight. No, they'd rather drag me out in the middle of the night, when dives like this are the only thing open.

Darn inconsiderate when school starts tomorrow.

I walk up to the weathered wood shack, peer through the dirt and grime-crusted window, and scan the late night diners. All distinctly human.

If my eyes weren't practically tearing at the stench, I'd think it wasn't here.

Then I catch sight of the narrow staircase off to the right of the bar, leading to an upstairs dining room. Well, at least that will make cornering it easier.

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