Lover Unveiled (Black Dagger Brotherhood #19) by J.R. Ward

And FWIW, one had to wonder whether the missing d had been intentional, or if the masterful work had been sold by the letter and someone’s pocket change had run out.

“No, I’m not,” Mae replied.

The woman stepped forward, breasts out like Barbarella, even though she probably had no idea who Jane Fonda was now, much less who the actress had been in the sixties. “You need to get the fuck out of here.”

Mae looked down at the cracked sidewalk they were all standing on. Weeds had muscled their way in through the seams, though everything was dried and dead thanks to the winter.

“No, I don’t.”

Next to the aggressor, the other woman lit up a cigarette and looked bored. Like maybe this happened a lot and her buddy’s drama had long lost its appeal—

“You fucking get out of here, fuck.”

Dady’s Girl punched both her palms into Mae’s shoulders with such force that it was ass-over-teakettle, the landing on the packed ground hard, the only good news that her purse’s broken strap held and nothing fell out. As stunned disbelief consumed most of the air space in Mae’s brain, she looked up.

Dady’s Girl was standing over her prey, all superhero-superior, hands on hips, high heels planted in a wide stance, the invisible cloak of her sadistic joy at having bullied someone waving over her shoulders.

The rest of the wait line was looking over, but no one was coming to any rescue, and nobody seemed as impressed with Dady’s Girl as she herself did.

Mae braced a palm on the concrete and pushed up back to level, rising to her full height—which, compared to the high-heeled GLOWer, was underdog status and then some.

“Get out of here,” the woman hissed. “You don’t belong.”

Those hands came out a second time, hitting the same place, like it was a well-practiced shot, a perishable skill that was kept in tip-top shape. But Mae had also just had some relevant practice. As she stumbled back, arms flapping, feet tap-dancing, her body better prepared for the tilting scramble, she had a moment of profound numbness. She felt nothing, not the bad balance, not the momentum-created wind in her hair, not the quick draw of cool air in her lungs.

It was a surprise that she managed to catch herself.

Dady’s Girl didn’t give her much time to recover. The woman rushed forward at a steep angle, like she was a linebacker—

Mae’s arm shot out of its own volition, the limb going tree limb. And the human female ran right into the open palm with the front of her throat. The instant contact was made, Mae’s fingers closed tight.

After which, the pushback came.

Mae started walking forward, escorting the woman off the sidewalk. And when Dady’s Girl struggled to accommodate the backward movement, those spiky heels catching on the ground, Mae helped things by lifting her up by the neck so that those shapely legs dangled. Meanwhile, long-taloned nails decorated with diamantés and swirls of pink clawed at the hold on that windpipe and got nowhere, the tips snapping off, one of them hitting Mae on the chin and rebounding into thin air.

Not that she cared. Not that she really noticed.

The parking garage was constructed of concrete that had been poured properly—so its walls offered a whole helluva lot of buck-stops-here. As Mae banged the woman against the slab, the body habitus was what gave way, breath exploding out of the lungs, those pink-tipped lashes flaring.

But that didn’t go far enough for Mae.

She put her free hand on the sternum and laid increasing pressure on the front rib bones . . . which translated to the lungs . . . and finally to the fiercely beating heart inside its cage of calcium and collagen bars.

The human woman’s eyes bugged out. Her jugular went from pounding to flickering. Her coloring became florid as barn siding.

In a low voice, Mae said, “You don’t tell me where I belong. Are we clear?”

Dady’s Girl nodded like her life depended on it. Which was the truth.

Meanwhile, on the periphery, the wait line had reoriented from its forward-to-back formation to a horseshoe around Mae, and there was chatter, dim but excited—

“Jesus Christ, y’all know you can’t be doin’ this shit!”

Members of the crowd were tossed aside like stuffed animals as one of the bouncers came forward. And when Mae took her eyes off Dady’s Girl to give him the once-over, he stopped short and blinked. Like he wasn’t sure he was seeing this right.

Like maybe a houseplant had turned out to be marijuana.