Whatever it was, watching over Cam and protecting her team was only half of the reason he was back in Mexico. He was also here to hunt down an anti-AMT fringe group that was targeting innocent Feiru—and killing them. He was still in the process of collecting evidence, but all Marco knew for certain was that this group had a reach far beyond Mexico.
While waiting for Cam to arrive in Merida, he’d received news that had made his second assignment personal—the same fringe group he was here to investigate had killed one of his cousins down in Colombia.
He clenched his hands inside the pockets of his jeans and tried not to think about how his fourteen-year-old cousin would never grow into the woman she was meant to be. He was determined to prevent other children from dying through no fault of their own. More than enough children already suffered inside the Asylum for Magical Threats compounds simply because they were the eldest child.
He’d started interviewing witnesses last night after the shops had closed, and would interview a few others later. During the day, however, he needed to focus on protecting Cam and Zalika. The owner of the handicraft stall was one of DEFEND’s local contacts, and while they didn’t think their contact’s identity had been compromised, it was always a possibility, especially with the constantly shifting landscape of Feiru politics.
He finished the soda in his hand and moved toward the door of the open-air eatery. He needed to find a better place to stake out the stall, one with easier access in case a threat appeared while Cam was inside. But halfway to the exit, a man walked by and knocked him hard on the shoulder. Marco cursed, but the man paid no attention and simply kept on walking.
Marco frowned. It seemed that Mexico, like every other country in the world, had its fair share of rude assholes.
He moved down the street, keeping one eye out for Jacek and the other on the vendor stall. He was just about to browse one of the stalls on his side of the street to keep up appearances when he noticed the rude asshole stop at the same stall where Cam had been minutes earlier. He was about to dismiss it as a coincidence when the teenage boy in charge of the stall started gesticulating wildly.
When the asshole pulled out a gun, Marco cursed, and started picking his way toward the stall as calmly yet efficiently as he could. If he drew too much attention, then the man would probably bolt. He didn’t want to chase an unknown enemy through the crowded mid-morning streets of Merida and blow his cover.
But when the asshole started motioning more fervently with his gun, Marco began pushing people out of the way. Despite his apologies, one of the American tourists started yelling at him. The man with the gun noticed, and fled down the street.
Fucking fantastic. Marco ran after him.
They were heading toward the Plaza Grande, the main town square. Once the man reached the square, Marco wouldn’t be able to take down the man and question him. There were too many human witnesses, and a fight could attract the Feiru authorities.
He wanted to use his elemental water magic to stop the bastard, but Marco wasn’t an idiot. The last thing he needed was to be tossed inside an AMT compound where they would drug him out of his mind, and do who knows what to him. He’d never be able to help Cam or his family then.
The tourist crowds started to thin out, and with another turn, the streets were empty. The tops of the buildings surrounding the main plaza were closer, and he decided it was now or never. He lunged for the man.
He managed to grab the man’s legs, and they tumbled to the ground. But the man rolled out of his reach, and Marco used his arms to lift his upper body and jump into a crouch.
He now stood between the man and the plaza. There was no way he was letting the bastard through, and since they were now alone, with no humans in sight, Marco reached a hand to the west—the direction of elemental water—in case he needed to draw on the elemental water particles in the air to do his magic.
But the man just stood there, not trying to get away or even bothering to attack. Marco knew that inaction could be a tactic, so he kept up his guard, and waited.
Then the man did something Marco should have foreseen—but had overlooked—and crashed through the window of an abandoned house to the left.
Marco grabbed the gun tucked into his waistband under his shirt and crawled through the broken window, careful not to cut himself on the glass. Once inside, he rolled to the side and hid behind an overturned couch that had seen better days. His finger near the trigger, he peeked around the edge, looking and listening for any sign of the man, or anyone else that might happen to be inside the abandoned house.
The coast clear, he inched his way toward the open door in the back of the building. There were footprints in the dirt on the floor, leading toward the back door, but they simply stopped a few feet from the exit. The prints looked fresh, but no one could just disappear into thin air.
But then he remembered. He’d seen it happen once before.
The odds were long, but he could be dealing with a shadow-shifter.
Even with the sun filtering in through the threadbare curtains, the room was half engulfed in darkness. Marco moved to stand in the light near the window and debated using his elemental magic. While streams of water or shards of ice might draw the shadow-shifter out from his hiding place, it would also reveal Marco’s abilities to his opponent.
And the last thing he needed was to destroy the cover he’d built up over the last eleven years by using his magic in front of a stranger. Especially if the man somehow managed to escape.
Another option would be to throw something heavy at the first sign of suspicious activity and force the shifter to return to his human-looking Feiru form. After what had happened in the States, Marco had learned that a shadow-shifter could only shift once every twenty-four hours. If he could scare the man into shifting back, it would give him a chance to catch and interrogate him.
Deciding to try the latter approach first, he circled around by degrees and checked the shadows for movement, careful to keep his back exposed to the light. Then he saw it—a piece of peeled wallpaper near the ceiling that waved back and forth in the still air.
Marco did a quarter turn away from his target, placed a hand on an old kitchen chair nearby, and swung it around, tossing it up at the spot on the wall where he’d seen the movement.
Right before the chair smashed against the wall, the man emerged from the shadows and rolled to the ground, out of the way. Marco jumped after the man, but the shadow-shifter dashed out the back door and slammed it shut. He heard a screeching sound of something heavy moving across the ground.
Marco pushed against the door, but it wouldn’t budge.
The bastard had blocked him in.
Left with no other choice, he made for the broken window he’d come through, and crawled outside.