<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> It's nearly impossible to get hobgoblin slobber out of raw silk. <p> I know this because I had been standing in the bathroom, furiously scrubbing at the stubborn stain for at least forty-five minutes. If I could do magic, I would have zapped the stain out. Heck, if I could do magic I would zap away the whole hobgoblin afternoon and be sinking my toes in the sand somewhere while a tanned god named Carlos rubbed suntan lotion on my back. But no, I was stuck in the Underworld Detection Agency women's restroom—a horrible, echoey room tiled in Pepto pink with four regular stalls and a single tiny one for pixies—when my coworker Nina popped her head in, wrinkled her cute ski-jump nose, and said, "I smell hobgoblin slobber." <p> Did I mention vampires have a ridiculously good sense of smell? <p> Nina came in, letting the door snap shut behind her. She used one angled fang to pierce the blood bag she was holding and settled herself onto the sink next to me. <p> "You're never going to get that out, you know," she said between slurps. <p> I huffed and wrung the water from my dress, glaring at Nina as I stood there in my baby-pink slip and heels. "Did you come in here just to tell me that?" <p> Nina extended one long, marble-white leg and examined her complicated Jimmy Choo stilettos. "No, I also came in to tell you that Lorraine is on the warpath, Nelson used his trident to tack a pixie to the corkboard, and Vlad is holding a VERM meeting in the lunch room." <p> I frowned. "This job bites." <p> Nina smiled, bared her fangs, and snapped her jaws. <p> <p> Nina and I work together at the Underworld Detection Agency—the UDA for those in the know. And very few people are in the know. Our branch is located thirty-seven floors below the San Francisco Police Department, but we have physical and satellite offices nationwide—word is the Savannah office gets the most ghosts but has the best food. The Manhattan office gets the best crossovers (curious humans wandering down) and the good ol' San Francisco office is famous for our unruly hordes of the magnificent undead, mostly dead, and back from the dead. However, we're rapidly becoming <i>in</i>famous for a management breakdown that tends to make incidents like the fairy stuck to the corkboard barely worth mentioning. Some demons blame the breakdown of Underworld morals. I blame the fact that my boss and former head of the UDA, Pete Sampson, disappeared last year and has yet to be replaced. Thus, we've been privy to a semipermanent parade of interim management made up of everything from werewolves and vampires to goblins and one (mercifully short) stint with a screaming banshee. <p> So am I a demon? Nope. I'm a plain, one hundred percent first-life, air breathing, magic-free human being. I don't have fangs, wings, or hooves. I'm five-foot-two on a good day, topped with a ridiculous mess of curly red hair on a bad day, and my eyes are the exact hue of lime Jell-O. My super powers are that I can consume a whole pizza in twelve minutes flat and sing the fifty states in alphabetical order. And that I'm alive. Which makes me a weird, freakish anomaly in an Underworld office that keeps blood in the office fridge and offers life insurance that you can collect should you get the opportunity to come back to life. <p> "There you both are!" <p> My head swung to the open doorway where Lorraine stood, eyebrows raised and arched, her blue-green eyes narrowed. Lorraine is a Gestault witch of the green order, which means that her magiks are in kind with nature and are deeply humane. Usually. <p> Her honey-blond hair hangs past her waist and her fluttery, earth-toned wardrobe reflects her solidarity with natural harmony. <p> Unless you got on her bad side, which, today, I was. <p> Lorraine glared at my slip. "Can you wrap up your little lingerie fashion show and meet me in my office, please? And you"—Lorraine swung her head toward Nina, who was holding my damp dress under the hand dryer—"can you please break up Vlad's empowerment meeting and get out to the main floor? Vlad's got nine vamps singing "We Shall Overcome" in the lunch room and I've got sixteen minotaurs in the overflow waiting room." <p> I looked at Nina. "Vlad is still into the Vampire Empowerment Movement?" <p> Nina gave me her patented "Don't even start" look, punched her fist in the air, and bellowed <i>"Viva la revalución!"</i> while slipping out the bathroom door. <p> I pulled my dress over my head under Lorraine's annoyed stare, and then worked quickly to rearrange my hair. When Lorraine sighed—loudly—I wadded my curls into a bun and secured them with a binder clip, then followed her down the hall. <p> "Okay," I told her as I tried to keep pace with her. "What's up?" <p> Lorraine didn't miss a step. She pushed a manila file folder in my hand with the blue tag—<i>Wizards</i>—sticking out. <p> "Nicholias Rayburn," I read as I scanned the thick file. <p> "Ring a bell?" <p> I frowned. "No. Should it?" <p> "How about 'Three Headed Dog Ravages Noe Valley Neighborhood'?" <p> I felt myself pale. "Mr. Rayburn did that?" <p> "No," Lorraine said flatly. "You did." <p> I raised my eyebrows and Lorraine let out another annoyed sigh. "Nicholias Rayburn was here last week. Old guy, blue robe, pointy hat?" <p> I cocked my head. "Oh yeah. Now I remember him." <p> "You should, because you allowed him to renew his magiks license." <p> My stomach started to sink. <p> "Yeah. With his three-inch-thick cataracts and mild senility. You were supposed to <i>withdraw</i> his license and strip him of his magiks, but you didn't, and he walked home, thought a fire hydrant was following him, and unleashed the hound of Hell on the land of the soccer mom. Not exactly great for our reputation." <p> I felt my usually pale skin flush. "Whoops." <p> Lorraine stopped walking and faced me, the hard line of her lips softening. "Look, Sophie, I know you've had a hard time. I understand that with all you've been through you're going to make some mistakes, but you've got to be more aware." <p> The events of the last year of my life flooded over me, and I blinked rapidly, trying to dispel the imminent rush of tears. <p> It <i>had</i> been rough. <p> While I had gone for more than thirty-three years with nothing so much as an overdue library book to raise any eyebrows, in the last twelve months I had become involved in a gory murder investigation, been kidnapped, attacked, hung by my ankles as someone attempted to bleed me dry— <p> "And I know it's got to be hard, what with Alex out of the picture and all." <p> And I had fallen in love with a fallen angel who had the annoying habit of dropping into my life with a pizza and a six-pack when things were supernaturally awful, and dropping out when things shifted into relatively normal gear. <p> I sniffed, hugging Mr. Rayburn's file to my chest. "Thanks. It won't happen again. I promise." <p> "Let's hope not. But why don't you head out a little early today?" she said, squeezing my shoulder. "Get some rest and regroup." Lorraine bit her lip and danced from foot to foot, then leaned in close to me. "Okay. I'm really not supposed to say anything but I'm about to burst, so this is just between you and me, okay?" Lorraine sucked in an excited breath. "The main offices have found Sampson's replacement. We're supposed to have the new management in place by the end of the week. But it's super hush-hush so don't tell a soul, okay?" <p> I nodded, feeling a fresh pang of emotion washing over me. In the half-second it took to close my eyes I saw Pete Sampson's cocoa-brown office walls, his worn leather chair, the orderly stack of files he always had on his desk. I felt the familiar lump in the back of my throat and swallowed furiously. Pete Sampson wasn't coming back to the Underworld Detection Agency. Pete Sampson was dead. The realization was hard enough to face; knowing someone else would be sitting at Pete's desk was almost too much to bear. <p> I cleared my throat and winced when my voice came out quiet and choked. "Your secret is safe with me. I'm going to go check in with Nina." <p> I walked slowly down the hall, taking great gulps of airs and using my index fingers to dab at my moist eyes. <p> <p> Nina was perched on the end of her desk when I found her, legs crossed seductively, her shoe dangling from one toe. She was winding her long black hair around and around her index finger and interviewing a werevamp who was sitting in her visitor's chair. Nina was the only person I'd ever met who could make the sentence "please tell me about your previous employment history" sound sordid. She was nearly purring as the werevamp—who looked dashing in a steel-grey suit and had the chiseled profile of James Bond—ticked off a forty-seven-decade-long employment history that included working as a tax collector for King Henry the VIII and ended with software programmer. <p> I tried to catch Nina's eye but she glared at me—nothing is icier than a vampire glare—and I rolled my eyes, heading down the hall toward the elevator. I was skirting the hole in the linoleum where a High witch blew herself up when I ran chest to chest into Vlad and his Fang Gang—the nine vampire staff members of UDA who were currently enraptured by the Vampire Empowerment and Restoration Movement. Loosely put, VERM members were dead-set on bringing vamps back to their glory days (think Dracula, graveyard dirt, and ascots). Though UDA code was adamant about vampire/human relationships (the former was not allowed to eat the latter), I generally tried to steer clear of VERMers—Vlad, being Nina's nephew (and a longtime resident of our couch), was the exception. Vlad and Nina shared the same fine-boned structure and elegant limbs that seemed to be signature of the LaShay family; both had pronounced, inky-black widow's peaks under their sheaths of glossy hair. But fashion-wise, the relatives couldn't have been farther apart. <p> Vlad fell in step with me, his ankle-length black duster coat floating behind him. I looked at it skeptically. <p> "Isn't it a little warm for the coat?" <p> Vlad just shrugged his thin shoulders and straightened his paisley ascot. "Vampire mystique." <p> "Of course." <p> "Have you seen Aunt Nina? I've been looking all over for her. She was going to bring the snacks for the meeting." <p> "I thought she was anti-VERM?" <p> I watched Vlad's nostrils flare; the members of the Vampire Empowerment and Restoration Movement loathed being belittled by their lame acronym. "She is, but you know Auntie." <p> I nodded. "Right. Pro-snacks." I gestured toward Nina's office door that had mysteriously closed. "She's interviewing a werevamp." <p> Vlad smoothed his perfect hair. "I didn't think we had any open positions." <p> I shrugged. "I'm pretty sure we don't. So, how are things with the movement?" <p> Vlad grinned, his fangs pressing over his lower lip. "Nice of you to ask. They're going well. We've been able to reach out to more key figures in the Underworld lately, but our next hurdle is our biggest." <p> I looked at Vlad who raised his eyebrows. "Hollywood," he supplied. <p> "VERM is going after Hollywood?" I asked, skeptical. <p> Vlad stiffened. "It's the Vampire Empowerment and Restoration Movement. As for Hollywood, we are against the way vampires are being portrayed in modern media." He shook his head. "It's awful." <p> I raised my eyebrows and met Vlad's dark eyes. He blew out an exasperated sigh. "Oh, come on; according to Hollywood—and now according to every woman south of forty-five—vampires are misunderstood nightwalkers who are really just looking for someone to love." <p> I glanced again toward Nina's office door. <p> "Trust me; she's not interested in <i>loving</i> him," Vlad said with a disgusted shudder. "I mean, have you seen television lately? They've got us going to high school, using jewelry to go out into sunlight. If a new vamp tries to mimic what he sees on television, he's going to get burned to a crisp. And don't even get me started on how they're screwing with our legendry!" <p> I nodded. "Yep. Best to go back to the good old days of Bela Lugosi, Nosferatu, and the Count from <i>Sesame Street</i>." <p> Vlad rolled his eyes but continued to stroll beside me. "So, did you hear about that three-headed dog in Noe last week?" <p> "No," I said quickly, stepping into the elevator. <p> <p> My apartment is a little more than six blocks away from the San Francisco Police Department/Underworld Detection Agency offices, but this being the Bay Area, six blocks on foot equaled twenty-five minutes in the car. By the time I pulled into my apartment building's underground parking garage the vein over my left eye was throbbing—whether it was from the midafternoon stop-and-go or from very nearly running down a clutch of tourists wearing I ESCAPED ALCATRAZ sweatshirts, I wasn't sure. Either way, I knew psychologically that there were only two things that could help the kind of day I was having, so a good forty-five seconds after pushing the key into the lock at my second-story walk-up, I had a bottle of chardonnay in one hand and a package of marshmallow Pinwheels in the other. The surge of chocolate and alcohol helped but not enough, so I beelined for the bathroom, filling my mouth with cookies and peeling my clothes off as I went. <p> I drew a bath as hot as I could stand it and upturned a bottle of cucumber-melon bath goo under the tap. Then I positioned my wineglass next to the remaining marshmallow Pinwheels and eased myself into the tub. <p> "Ahh," I moaned, closing my eyes, breathing in the heady scent of cucumber and chocolate as the hot water washed over me. "Much better." <p> I dunked a washcloth, wrung it out, and placed it over my eyes, then sipped contentedly at my wine. I was reaching out for another Pinwheel cookie when I heard the rustle of cellophane and felt a cold prickle of fear creep up my neck, despite the hot water. I stiffened and froze, arm outstretched, palm upward. <p> Someone placed a Pinwheel in my open hand and I sat bolt upright in the tub, the washcloth falling from my eyes, the poor Pinwheel reduced to chocolaty, marshmallow ooze as I gripped it. Bits of bathwater-doused marshmallow dripped through my fingers. <p> "Didn't mean to scare you," Alex said, perched on the side of my tub, his pincher finger and thumb hovering above my half-empty Pinwheel package. "May I?" <p> Alex Grace was gooey, chocolaty goodness if ever there was. And he had disappeared without a word six months ago. <p> I felt my eyes bulge and the speedup of my heart was so immediate it hurt. "Alex?" My tone was that rare mix of Christmas-morning excitement, beautiful-man proximity, and ex-boyfriend angst. I felt the burn of anger, the hurt of loss, and the wild rush of pure animal attraction as Alex Grace looked down at me, Pinwheel held aloft, luscious pink-tinged lips pushed up in the cocky half-smile I had started to remember in my dreams. <p> He was an angel—of the fallen sort—with sky-blue eyes and hair the color of dark chocolate, swirling in wondrous, luxurious curls over his forehead, snaking over ears just perfect for nibbling. He had the high cheekbones and feather-long lashes that women would do naughty things for, and the square jaw and puckered pink lips that could do naughty things. His build was fairly slight but wrought with wiry, rock-hard muscles that made his jeans look mouthwateringly comfortable, and stretched out the chest and arms of his T-shirts mercilessly. <p> "What the hell—why are you—" I fluttered and floundered, splashing bits of cucumber melon-scented fluff, chocolate pieces, and bathwater all around. Alex just grinned that familiar half-smile that I found so annoyingly erotic; he crossed his arms and relaxed against my towel rack, clearly enjoying my spastic discomfort. That angered me even more so I worked to get my panicked breathing under control. Alex and I had shared some steamy moments and every glance or touch of his skin electrified me. This moment was no exception—but he was bad news. Fallen angels always are. And his whole disappearing/reappearing thing really got on my last nerve. <p> And then I realized I was naked. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Under Attack</b> by <b>HANNAH JAYNE</b> Copyright © 2011 by Hannah Schwartz. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.