Old Heroes Never Die
Star City Crusaders, Book 2
by Ashlynn Monroe
eBook ISBN: 06779-02182
Wolf can’t believe Hawk’s little girl is all grown up, but he won’t allow the untrained beauty to join the crusade. Her determination speaks well of who she is, but when he sees the lust in her bright amber eyes he has a hard time reminding himself he’s nearly old enough to be her father and she deserves a man her own age instead of a battle-scarred veteran of the war on crime. Wolf was powerless to save her father, but he’ll be damned if he’ll watch Annie die, too.
“Hey! Lady, stop! You’re The Hawk’s kid, right?”
The grungy man in a TMZ t-shirt ran after Anneliese Stewart as she rushed down the crowded sidewalk. He wasn’t the first paparazzi bastard to want to make some money off her dead father and he wouldn’t be the last.
“Damn heels,” she muttered as she hurried away, weaving between slower people and trying to evade the nosy tabloid reporter.
She ducked between two buildings and made it three steps before the little bit of light streaming between the buildings abruptly went dark. Annie turned around. Two large men blocked the only exit.
“Hello, sweet thing.” The bald one with the lazy eye seemed to be in charge. His companion, a younger man with a squished-looking face, glared at her. “Give us your purse and take off your clothes.”
“Oh, hell no,” she replied as she put her hands on her hips. These bastards weren’t going to use her. She studied her surroundings. There was no place to go but up. Annie cringed at the idea of escaping that way, but she’d never let these creeps touch her.
“No one’s going to help you.” The squished-face one took a few steps towards her and began unbuckling his belt. The bald one adjusted himself.
“I don’t need anyone to save me,” she told them. Squished-face’s beady eyes widened as she took off her shirt. Her small breasts were bare. A slow smile spread across his face. “I’m woman enough to save myself.”
“Smart girl. Play nice and it will only hurt a little bit. I like to hear women scream.” He paused to lick his lips and leer at her. “Damn, you’re hot.”
Annie carefully folded the shirt and put it in her purse. She did her best to move slowly, deliberately, and to keep her hands from shaking. It was chilly in the dark alley and she shivered. Baldy took a step towards her and she let go of the tension in her back. The snapping sound of her large wings unfurling made both men stumble back away from her. The fat one fell; he was so close one of her wings hit him. Baldy’s mouth dropped open and she saw a dark splotch growing on his crotch. She could smell the sour odor of his urine. Annie was glad he was afraid. These men had surely hurt other women. They’d come at her confidently. There’d been no remorse or doubt in their actions.
“Tell anyone what you saw and I’ll come back here and show you the rest of my abilities.” Annie hoped she’d scared the cowardly little pricks enough to keep them silent. The media had no idea just how much she took after her famous father, and she wanted to keep it that way. Her dad’s very public death had outed him and turned her life into a tabloid nightmare.
Annie straightened her wings. She sighed with pleasure as they stretched out. She’d kept them hidden too long this time and the muscles were stiff. She began flapping and slowly ascended. One of the pure white feathers fluttered in front of her face and she blew it away, but not before it tickled her nose, causing a delicate sneeze.
The terrified men cried out and covered their faces, braced for an attack that didn’t come. She knew she’d look odd wearing nothing but blue jeans and flying up into the sky with her giant wings, but she didn’t plan on anyone seeing her. She knew this part of the city. Once she was on the roof of the building to her left, she’d be able to dress and go down the fire escape. In a moment, her strong wings carried her out of danger and she stood on the sunny rooftop, letting the tears trail down her cheeks as she sobbed her heart out.
* * *
“What the hell?” Wolf glared at Wasp. Her blonde and black hair was a mess. She had a black eye, and she’d walked in with a noticeable limp.
“Wolf, we need that book. If you won’t go to the girl, I will.”
“You okay?” He asked out of concern, but the change of subject was a bonus.
“Of course I am. You and I both know I’ve had worse than this.”
“You aren’t twenty anymore.”
“Fuck off! You’re older than I am. Just because I turned thirty-nine last week…”
“Forty,” Wolf interrupted.
“I know how damn old I am,” she screeched. They stood toe to toe. His sister’s temper made Wasp the perfect persona for her. She was just as dangerous as any killer bee when pissed.
“I know how old you are too. Forty,” Wolf told his baby sister.
“Well, you’re forty-two, so if I’m too old, so are you.”
“I am too old, but we both know Doctor Death is out of control. The cops can’t handle that prick. There isn’t much that we can do, but if we give up there’ll be nothing standing in the way of his organization. Christ,” Wolf spat out the curse as he ran his hand through is hair. “He’s getting ballsy. He went to Dragon’s Head and took a civilian hostage.”
“The young doctor definitely has balls, which makes him more dangerous,” Wasp replied.
Wasp snorted. “Drunk.”
Wolf shrugged. Lately his old friend had been a serious pain. He couldn’t find it in his heart to get mad, not after what the man lost, but soon he’d be planning an intervention if he didn’t pull himself together. Tiger wasn’t the only Crusader who had lost someone. “I just think we should leave the girl alone. You know how Hawk felt about her getting involved. He felt like shit that he wasn’t there for her the night we all mutated. He couldn’t have saved her from it, but Hawk was such a stubborn fucker. Damn I miss him.”
“Yeah, me too, but asking for the book won’t exactly take away her wings. This isn’t an invite for her to come play crime fighter with us.”
“He asked us to stay away from her.”
“She was seventeen when he died. She has to be twenty-five or twenty-six by now. She’s a woman, not a child. I’m going to ask for the book. Those pages might be the key to taking down Doctor Death and his organization.”
Wolf grunted. “I don’t want to betray Hawk and drag his daughter into what we do.”
“You won’t. I will,” Wasp said as she turned to go out the way she’d just come in.
“Wait! Fuck it. I’ll go.” Wolf ground the words out reluctantly. He could see that his sister wasn’t going to let this go. If anyone was going to go to E’s daughter, it was him, he owed his friend that much.
His sister turned and crossed her arms over her chest. “Good. Asking for a book won’t tarnish E’s memory. His daughter will always be in danger because she’s a mutant. You can’t change that by staying away. He’d be the first one to call you an idiot for acting like this. He asked us to keep her out of the Crusaders. Asking for the book doesn’t make her part of the team.”
Wolf rolled his eyes and walked past his sister. He hadn’t seen Anneliese Stewart since she was a teenager standing next to a coffin with tears in her big amber eyes. He felt a lump rising in his throat. He’d known then he needed to stay away from the girl, especially when she came of age. He’d managed to stay independent a long time, and the idea of losing someone again made him ache.
She was his best friend’s daughter, and he’d vowed to keep her safe. Even if the Crusader lifestyle didn’t make him a constant target, he was too old for her. He should let Wasp go, but deep down he wanted to see how she’d grown up. They did need the book. As soon as Wolf was in the hall he let, his body contort. The pain no longer made him scream. He’d learned to embrace the agony of muscles and bone changing. Wolf had accepted the way his mind clouded to become part animal long ago.
A moment later, a lone black wolf ran down the marble hallway of Dragon’s Head. He paused to let loose a great howl.
* * *
Annie sat cross-legged on her couch, dressed in fuzzy socks, worn jeans, and an oversized pink T-shirt that wrapped around her like a hug. Her snuggly feeling chased away the evils of her day.
She dipped her spoon straight into the container of Ben and Jerry’s. She’d been harassed by the tabloid asshole, almost mugged and raped, but the worst part was she’d been fired.
She should’ve bit her tongue, but when the little prick executive sat in the break room spouting trash talk about the Crusaders she couldn’t stay quiet. She’d slapped the man, but she couldn’t muster one iota of remorse. He’d said her father, the Hawk, had deserved to die for being stupid enough to fly into a trap.
She loved how every idiot male who’d grown up idolizing her father and his comrades thought they had a right to an opinion about the Star City Crusaders. Like any of their pasty, office-flabby asses would be able to do anything against a super villain.
Popping the cold, sweet deliciousness into her mouth, she let the ice cream melt on her tongue. Annie closed her eyes as she savored the flavor.
The doorbell rang. The sound interrupted her moment of Zen. “Damn it. Double damn it,” she swore as she stood to walk across the small efficiency and open the freezer. She shoved the container inside, spoon and all, before she slammed the door shut. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and it was after seven. If there were Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, she was going to tell them exactly where they could stick their bibles and pamphlets.
Annie flipped the deadbolt open, but didn’t unlatch the door chain. Her door didn’t have a peephole. “Who’s there,” she called out of the small opening, and waited.
“Is anyone out there?” She didn’t wait as long this time. “I’m calling the cops!”
“It’s Wolf. I was a friend of your father’s.” His voice sounded hoarse.
Wolf. She paused with her hand flat against the door. Her heartbeat increased as she recognized the incredible deep baritone. He’d spoken to her at the funeral. She’d had a ridiculous crush on him for years. She’d been hurting so much and no one had said anything except how sorry they were, which just pissed her off. No one at the funeral had killed her father. A villain had killed him, and yet everyone had apologized.
But not Wolf. He’d held her hand until she’d felt warm again. When he looked into her eyes, he told her she was as brave as her father. That was it. He’d let go and walked away.
She’d watched him leave and the coldness had seeped back into her again. She’d had to resist the urge to run after him. He was just a kind man, but in that moment she’d felt as if she’d belonged with him.
Annie couldn’t seem to make herself move. Wolf didn’t need to clarify who he was. He’d been the stuff of her teenage wet dreams — her first crush. Of course, that was before she’d known her father was a Crusader. She didn’t blame the Crusaders for her dad’s death, but she did blame them for her mother’s murder.
She shut the door and undid the chain, motioning him in.
He scowled and the corners of his full lips turned down into a frown. “Thank you,” he said quietly. His deep voice made her shiver.
“Please come in. I remember you, Mr… Wolf. Is it Mr. Wolf or just Wolf?”
The door clicked closed behind him. Wolf gave her an amused grin. “Just Wolf. How have you been, Anneliese?” He was looking around her space. His manner seemed curious. It made her nervous.
“Better than my mother. Thanks for asking. Why have you come?” She spoke more harshly than she’d intended, but the bitterness leaked out of her like poison, darkening her tone. He’d just stood by when she’d come to the Crusaders asking for a place among them and she’d been turned away.
“I’m sorry about Helen. She was a wonderful woman. Those early years were chaotic. We had no idea Killer Kitty thought your father had the blueprints for Dragon’s Head. We never considered that you and your mother were in danger. I’m sorry we weren’t able to save your mom, but we didn’t have any reason to suspect you were in danger.”
His voice and face held genuine sympathy, but she didn’t let that sway her. Annie prided herself on being in control, but his presence left her feeling at the mercy of her emotions. Seeing him brought back all the bad memories of the funeral and of the Crusaders turning her away.
“Being sorry won’t make me any less an orphan. I was a few days shy of my eighteenth birthday. Happy birthday to me. I know the Crusaders didn’t kill my mother, but when I wanted to join, to seek revenge, you all shut the door in my face. Now you’re here, so there must be something you want.” Annie raised her eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest.
A ghost of a smile played across his lips. The man had an incredibly sexy face. She bit her lip and resisted the urge to take a step towards him. His cologne smelled fantastic, the scent warm and musky. It made her pulse quicken.
He stood so casually in her small space. His large body made her efficiency apartment look even smaller. His presence filled her with both anger and awe.
“I’m sorry you felt as if we were shutting you out. The work we do is dangerous, and your father never wanted you to get dragged into our fight. We tried to honor his memory and stay away. I wouldn’t be here now, but we still need his help. I am here for your father’s books.”
“I’m guessing you’re not taking about his collection of Tom Clancy and Louis L’Amour novels.”
“I didn’t know your father liked to read.”
“I didn’t know my father was a Crusader until he died. People wear many hats and sometimes they don’t show them all to us at once. Yes, my father enjoyed reading. I’m sure there are many things you know about him that I don’t. It’s a shame we’ll never have time to chat and compare notes. Let me get you what you’re searching for.”
She couldn’t stand next to Wolf anymore or she’d crack. She didn’t want to cry in front of him. She still wanted revenge against Killer Kitty, but she’d never ask another Crusader for help again.
Annie crossed the space and crouched down next to her bed. She pulled out a small wooden box and caressed the carved surface tenderly. Her father had been an excellent carver, and the hawk he’d created had remarkable detail.
She sighed and stood. “I don’t know what good this will do you. The notebooks are written in code. I’ve tried for years to break it.”
“If these hold the information I think they do we’ll be able to stop Killer Kitty and Doctor Death once and for all. I think we can break this. We have some interesting technology. Thank you for giving us the chance.”
She moved across the room feeling cold and sad. She should have a bigger role in her father’s killer’s demise than just handing over some old notebooks. She’d studied martial arts for years. Her need for vengeance left no room for fear. She could fight and she wasn’t afraid to die, but the Crusaders refused to allow her to join them. Her father had been good enough, but not her. Annie bit her tongue because she was afraid she’d ask him what made her inferior.
When she passed the box to Wolf, their fingers brushed. An unexpected jolt of electrifying energy coursed through her and she cried out. His touch made her breath catch in her throat. She wasn’t sure if it was the shock or Wolf’s proximity that left her off balance and uncomfortably vulnerable.
Wolf gazed down at her with a wide-eyed expression. “What was that?”
“I think I want more,” Annie whispered. A moment later, she was in Wolf’s arms and his lips were punishing her with a demanding intensity that left her breathless.