Authors: Cat Adams
Tags: #Magicians, #Contemporary, #General, #Fantasy, #Demonology, #Bodyguards, #Fiction, #Occult fiction, #Occult & Supernatural
DEDICATION AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
As always, we dedicate this book to our favorite two men, Don Clamp and James Adams. We would also like to thank our terrific agent, Merrilee Heifetz, and our editor, Melissa Ann Singer. We’d also like to acknowledge Jennifer Escott and Melissa Frain, for all their hard work, as well as all the behind-the-scenes people at both Writers House and Tor Books, who make the creations of our imagination into reality. To the assistants, receptionists, art, promo, sales, accounting, and every other department we might not know exists—
. You guys
Thanks also to our family, friends, and readers. You make this not only possible, but fun.
TO OUR READERS
Welcome back to the world of Celia Graves. We’re very excited to bring you this new episode in her adventures. In some ways, this book marks a turning point in her life. While she will continue to be a professional bodyguard, her role in investigating problems, rather than just being swept away by them, will grow and shift. We hope you enjoy all the new people you’ll meet in this book. They’ll continue to be a big part of Celia’s life. For better and worse.
turn off intuition after you’ve spent years developing the sense, honing it to a razor’s edge. I could feel
gathering among the seemingly innocent racks of clothing. The voices of my two best friends in the world faded into a background buzz, and I found myself shifting the way I was holding the shirts I’d planned to take to the dressing room so that I could use my hands if needed.
My eyes moved from person to person in rapid succession while my feet backed toward a wide aisle that could be easily navigated. The bored but patient father of a tween girl wasn’t a threat. Neither was the mother with one child in a stroller and another held by the hand. Clerks moved among the holiday-festooned racks like ballerinas performing
I tracked them briefly. The best salespeople are often empaths or psychics. They’re attuned to those shoppers who want approval—codependents in the process. They weren’t the cause of my alarm, either.
Or were they?
Nothing I could see accounted for the tingling of my skin. It forced me to raise the bar and start checking the area over again, which made me noticeable.
“What’s wrong, Celia?” Dawna had taken one look at my face and begun to spill panic from her pores. The whisper from her perfectly colored and edged lips held an edge of fear. Things didn’t used to bother her as much, but she had been attacked recently and was still a little skittish.
She wasn’t the only recent victim. The part of me that had been transformed by a vampire bite could feel her fear, taste it, smell it. While my reaction wasn’t as strong as it might be closer to sunset, it still made my vision go into the sort of hyperfocus that makes vampires one of the apex predators in the world. Dawna wasn’t going to be my victim, though. Not ever.
Then I spotted him. I shook my head slightly and transferred the hangers from my hand to Dawna’s exotically tanned one, motioning her toward the dressing room. She obeyed instantly, grabbing a few additional random skirts before pulling the third member of our group, Emma Landingham, toward the sheltered hallway. Emma was obviously reluctant. Dawna was practically having to drag her away. It was unlike her—usually she was very practical about avoiding danger—and made me a wonder just what she was up to. Emma had obviously been trying to get up the nerve to tell or ask me something all day. But even when I’d asked her directly, she’d changed the subject and acted evasive.
Whatever her problem was, it would have to wait. Trouble was brewing.
I’d believed the teenage boy in the next department to be the older brother of the bouncing tween girl—just like he’d planned. But once I concentrated my vampire sight on him, I could see that his energy was all wrong. He wasn’t a bored sibling. He was following them, just at the edge of their comfort zone … not so close as to be noticeable, but enough that he became invisible, part of a family unit.
Was he after the girl? I watched where he looked whenever eyes weren’t on him. No, he had no interest in her, which relaxed me just a bit. His focus was on the jewelry counter. Instead of being cluttered and difficult to reach like in most department stores, this one offered a straight shot to an exterior door and, worse, was being restocked, so the display cases were open. The girls’ clothing department was a short, straight walk down the aisle from jewelry, which made his choice simple.
I started scanning for store detectives but saw none. Was it shift change? Were they cutting back on personnel? That seemed stupid this close to Christmas. Maybe the boy knew something I didn’t, because he started dissolving his act. His hand moved instinctively toward the pocket of his hoodie as he started looking for threats. Either he didn’t see me or he didn’t consider me worrisome. His mistake. The rectangular lump I spotted in his pocket was similar to the one under my jacket, but I was betting he didn’t have a concealed-carry permit in his wallet. The weapon turned a simple, impulsive snatch and grab into armed robbery with possible injuries.
The problem was that I wasn’t a police officer or an employee of the store. I was just a self-employed bodyguard who happened to be at the wrong place at the right time. Even under a broad definition of citizen’s arrest, I couldn’t detain him, disarm him, or hurt him without risking arrest myself … and the possible loss of my license.
But I also couldn’t let him rob the store and possibly shoot someone.
I hate my life sometimes.
I started toward him, hoping I would think of something between misses’ petites and jewelry. Without making my movements obvious, as I neared the shoe department I let my face light up at a particularly sparkly dress sandal—which actually
really cute—and headed for it. The shoes were directly between the would-be robber and the slender young clerk crouched behind the open display cases, oblivious to her predicament.
My entire focus was on the teenager as I increased my speed. I might not be able to pull my gun or throw him to the elegantly patterned tile with a flying tackle, but I could intercept him and strongly suggest he find another way to occupy his afternoon. His every movement seemed like frames of stop-motion animation thanks to my supernatural sight, so I didn’t worry that he would pull his gun before I could react. But I hadn’t expected that when my vision slipped into vampire mode the rest of me would, too. In fact, it wasn’t until I stepped directly in front of him and put out a hand to stop him that I realized my skin had taken on a pale green glow. A glance into a nearby mirror showed me that my lips had pulled back to reveal fangs.
The look on his face was priceless when he finally turned his attention from the glittering gold and diamonds to see who had bumped straight into his chest.
“Holy crap!” His eyes went wide and his face got nearly as pale as mine. He backpedaled so fast he stumbled against a display of boots and spilled to the ground, taking the whole carefully arranged stack of red and green boxes with him. The battered 9mm fell from his pocket and was lost among the boxes of size 8s.
Before he could react, I was crouched down next to him and reaching for his arm. With a smile on my face, as though I was helping him up, I pulled him close. The scent of his fear made me remember that I hadn’t had a nutrition shake before we came to the mall. But I had to ignore that and concentrate on what I was doing. I’d love to say it was easy, but it wasn’t. Bloodlust is nothing to be casual about. I found myself staring at his neck, watching the warm glow of energy trapped under supple skin. So much energy, and my stomach was so very empty. I shuddered and forcibly moved my eyes from his neck to his face.
His wide eyes took in my fangs and probably now red eyes before coming to rest on the .45 Colt nestled under my arm, revealed when my jacket swung open as I reached for him. Oh, and let’s not forget the long line of drool dripping onto the plush carpeting. Mustn’t forget the drool.
He struggled to pull away, but there’s really no way to break a supernatural grip unless you also have superstrength. My voice became a hiss normally reserved for bad things in dark alleys: “I know what you’re planning, and I’m sick and damned tired of guys like you making my clothes cost more so the store can recoup the losses from theft. You are going to get your lazy ass out of this mall right this second and find a legal way to make a living, or I swear on everything holy that I’ll find you some cold, lonely night and make you regret it.” I parted my lips so he could get a good look at what would be chasing him. No, I wouldn’t really eat him or drain his blood. I don’t plan to
try human blood. It could be that one straw that breaks me. But I could scare him really well.
In fact, I already had. His blood had retreated so far from his face that he didn’t even smell good anymore. His white lips opened, but only a squeak came out.
I raised my brows and leaned close enough to smell the scent of liquid courage on his breath. “Got it?”
He nodded, slowly at first and then in a rush of movement that gave him the appearance of a bobblehead doll. “Yeah. Got it.”
Leaning back, I pulled him to his feet as I stood. “Good.”
He didn’t so much run out of the store as scrabble, using both hands and feet. The guard who had finally come to investigate the commotion noted the boy’s guilty exit and raised a walkie-talkie to his lips. Whatever he said caused the security cameras to spin in the boy’s direction and follow him out of the store.
I was so busy watching all this that I didn’t notice the father of the tweenage girl shooting holy water at me until the stream hit me in the face. Sadly, I’ve come to expect being doused in holy water and having crosses shoved against my chest in the past few weeks. The fangs sort of give the impression
the threat, rather than the punk I’d just stopped. Fancy that.