Don’t move a muscle. Don’t blink. Don’t even breathe! #AgentsofASSET #SneakPeek

 Taste of Magic

Agents of A.S.S.E.T. Book 2

Sample Chapter 4

The sign in the dirt parking lot read A Refuge for Retired Animals. They listed lions, tigers, wolves, and even a giraffe among their residents. From the parking lot, large cages and chicken wire enclosures could be seen jutting up over the fence line.
Grey led the way toward a double-wide trailer that served as both ticket booth and access point to the fenced-off area beyond. “I shouldn’t have to remind you, but…keep your mouth shut. Don’t piss these guys off.”
“If you’re going to say it every time we go somewhere, why not just write it on your forehead and save us both time?”
“When you start acting like an agent, I’ll start treating you like one.” He turned his back on her and opened the door to the trailer.
Touché, she whispered to herself. She’d give him that one. They were on the job now, and heading in to meet another client. She’d save her snark for later. “Broad daylight and wild animals… I’m cool.” Sage reached for her phone, ready to take pictures.
“Put that away.” Grey held the door and waited for her to walk through into the ticket office reception area.
Quite a bit smaller than she’d expected, the room was no bigger than a closet, leaving little space for Sage to stand as Grey filed in behind her.
 A lady with a short bob of golden hair sat behind a metal desk between the doors leading in and out of the trailer. “We’re not open yet,” she said pleasantly enough, though the look in her eyes was anything but. She busily counted the till drawer from an old-fashioned cash register that sat in the space where a computer would normally occupy on her desk.
Sage tried not to stare, but the moment she laid eyes on the ticket clerk, she sensed something otherworldly.
Amber eyes, predatory and fierce, like a lioness ready to pounce. The woman glared back at Sage as if daring her to make a scene, but her voice betrayed none of the danger. “Come back in an hour.”
Grey rolled up his sleeve, showing the Tree of Life on his wrist, and just like that the danger evaporated from the woman’s gaze.
Sage had hated her birthmark all throughout her life, thinking it a horrible deformity needing to be hidden. If she’d only known how powerful a symbol it was, she’d have flaunted it everywhere she went.
“ASSET? Why didn’t you just say so?” With a toothy grin that reminded Sage of vampire fangs, the woman pointed Grey to the second door, granting access into the Wild Habitat. “Caleb is out cleaning the cages. You can’t miss him.”
Sage followed behind, making sure to show her mark as she passed, but the look she got wasn’t nearly as friendly. The teeth were all there, but Sage wouldn’t call what she saw a smile. A dare, perhaps, or maybe a challenge. Sage nearly broke into a run to catch up to Grey. He walked like a man on a mission, down the concrete path between giant fenced enclosures.
In the distance, lions roared. Sounds of chuffing and snorting gave Sage a little thrill. She’d never been able to get close to wild animals before, which made this mission an extra treat. The overpoweringly pungent scent of urine wafting to her nose she could do without, but it was still worth it for the chance to see real beasts up close.
Still following in Grey’s wake, Sage peered into the cages as they passed, but despite hearing animals all around, she failed to see any hint of them.
“Am I missing something?” Sage wondered aloud. Grey had already made it pretty clear he wanted her to just follow along quietly, so she didn’t really expect him to answer. It became pretty clear, though, why Ava had sent them. Something was definitely off. And she couldn’t quite put a finger on what that was.
They wound their way through the first row of enclosures and as they reached the largest one at the end, Grey stopped suddenly, letting out a gasp. His hand flew up to muffle the sound, but she’d already heard the shock before he could cover his mouth.
She couldn’t fault him for his sudden show of fear. The gate had been left wide open. Muddy paw prints the size of dinner plates tracked out of the gaping enclosure.
Grey bent to inspect the tracks.
Sage had wanted an up close and personal encounter with a large predator, and now it looked like she’d get that and more. If there was ever a time she wished she could use magic, this was it. Her thought returned to the conversation she’d had with the boys. Immunity wasn’t everything. Just like in the game they played, she could get taken out by blunt force. How would she fare against a five-hundred-pound lion?
The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Something was watching her. The weight of eyes she’d yet to look into had locked onto her. She knew it, and before she could turn and see the beast with her own eyes, a loud snort accompanied a gust of air blew against her back.
She clamped a hand over her mouth to stop herself from shrieking.
It was right there. How the hell could it have snuck up behind her without her noticing?
Goosebumps prickled on her skin. Sage didn’t need to look. It was there. A great big lion. The heat from its breath was practically drenching her in sweat.
“Grey,” she whispered urgently, praying the beast wasn’t hungry. Maybe if she stood really still, it would leave her alone.
He turned, his eyes nearly doubling in size with terror. That confirmed it. The beast really was behind her. “Don’t move a muscle,” he whispered.
Deep rumbling breaths vibrated the air behind her, more a growl than a purr. Definitely a predator ready to strike.
How fast she could run? Would she be able to get in and close that cage door behind her, before one of its massive claws made mincemeat of her?
Maybe, just maybe.
She could lock herself in safely, but that would leave Grey. Asshole as he was, he didn’t deserve to be mauled by a lion. Shit!
“What’s our play?” Sage whimpered the words at her partner.
“Stay very still. Don’t move a muscle. Don’t blink. Don’t even breathe,” he warned, taking a ginger step closer to her. He held a hand out for her, just out of reach. “Easy now. They can smell fear.”
The beast chuffed, blasting Sage’s back with moist hot air.
She choked down a scream threatening to burst from her throat. Every instinct she had demanded she run.
Grey’s hand trembled. He took another tiny step toward her. “Keep control, Sage.”
He wasn’t planning on pushing her aside and taking on the lion himself, was he? Knight in tinfoil armor right there. She hoped he had his machetes on him. Though they wouldn’t do him much good if they weren’t out and ready to be used.
The beast’s musty breath warmed her skin, leaving more goosebumps in its wake. Was it sniffing? Deciding if she would make a good breakfast? She prayed to any god that might listen to let her escape safely.
“Focus, Sage. Focus on me. Look at my eyes.” Already glossy, Grey’s turquoise eyes were filled with tears. Mourning her death already, no doubt. Grey could barely maintain the eye contact he’d demanded of her.
“I can’t. I have to run. We have to run. The cage.” Her voice trembled nearly as much as Grey’s arms.
His eyes flitted over to the open cage door and back to Sage in a fraction of a second. “Okay. On the count of three, make for the gate.”
“One,” Sage began.
“Two,” Grey continued the count.
“Three!” She took off running as fast as her legs would carry her. Arms pumping, pushing herself to top speed, she made for the cage.
Once inside she reached for the door handle, ready to pull it closed, but Grey wasn’t behind her. Breathing so hard she nearly choked on the air, she cried out for Grey before she could bring herself to look.
He didn’t reply.
Silence sent her mind to all the dark places she didn’t want it to go. Sage mustered all the courage she possessed and lifted her eyes.

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About The Author

Katie Salidas is a USA Today bestselling author and RONE award winner known for her unique genre-blending style.

Since 2010 she's penned five bestselling book series: the Immortalis, Olde Town Pack, Little Werewolf, Chronicles of the Uprising, and the all-new Agents of A.S.S.E.T. series. As her not-so-secret alter ego, Rozlyn Sparks, she is a USA Today bestselling author of romance with a naughty side.

In her spare time Katie also produces and hosts a YouTube talk show; Spilling Ink. She also has a regular column on First Comics News where she explores writing from a nerdy perspective.