Authors: J. C. Daniels
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Vampires, #Tagline… A knife in the dark
“I don’t understand why she would. Unless it’s sheer cruelty that drives her.”
“Well, sheer cruelty is reason enough, for her.”
“For some reason, that doesn’t shock me.” She pushed my hair back from my face. “In the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this…Damon heard. I don’t know how. He has ears in the Assembly and I think that sleek piece of work that he calls his
is behind much of the information he ferrets out. But he has ears. And he heard. It was the single biggest mishap any of them could make. He’s down to one final name now.”
“Your name was on his list.”
She blinked. “He made a list?”
I swallowed and jerked my gaze away. “In his private chambers. Nobody but me is likely to ever see it, but…”
“And he isn’t likely to realize the impact of you seeing it,” she finished.
The stone in my chest weighed so much heavier. I think it used to be my heart but now… “This is all my fault.”
“No. He is doing the same thing you are, Kit. Protecting what is his. Just as you’re protecting what is yours. It’s a dangerous game on all sides.”
Coming off the bed, I started to pace. “The Banner squad has him down for execution if I don’t find justifiable cause for what he’s done.”
“And I’ve given you one.”
I snarled, stopping in my tracks as I turned to glare at her.
She was holding a letter.
I blinked as I stared at it. “What…what’s that?”
“Something I wrote the day after he left. There’s a notarized copy in my files at the Assembly House. This is your copy and I have another for my files here.” She inclined her head. “Once upon a time, I briefly worked with Banner. I was one of the witches they’d called to read a mark. They will not refute what I’ve given you.”
The knot in my chest tightened.
“He’s still going after one of the Assembly members.”
“Yes. Cedric.” She shook her head. “You won’t be able to stop him, Kit. Maybe you shouldn’t try.”
“I have to see this through,” I said quietly. “If he kills another one, they’ll move up the damned timetable. I’ll call Justin, let him know I have this…” I looked at the letter I held. “But I can’t just ignore it when I know he’s going after somebody else.”
Her eyes were terribly sad as I walked away.
But I couldn’t let it stop me.
Damon was risking his life to help me.
I was going to give everything I had to help him.
* * * * *
are the world’s greatest assassins for a reason. It’s the same reason we are good thieves, good treasure hunters, all that jazz. Give us a target and we
I hadn’t lied when I said I’d never had a lucky shot in my life.
However, luck had guided me more than once in my life.
Maybe I was a watered-down offshoot and so far, I’d only done a handful of assassinations and I’d much
a different way of earning a living, but still…I am what I am. The descendent of Amazons, and something whispered to me, tugged at me.
Damon wasn’t going to wait long. Was maybe even on the move—?
it was an odd little tug inside me. Drawing at me. I’d felt it before. Pulling me in and drawing me toward my target. We were the world’s greatest assassins because we
found our target and we
missed a mark.
This time, my target was my lover and my goal wasn’t to kill him.
Just stop him.
Halfway between East Orlando and Es’s, I had a call.
“I’ve got your proof,” I snapped into the phone. “But I’m on a—”
“He’s on the move,” Justin bit off. “And I can’t come to you. They’ve got me watching
The pit of my stomach dropped out.
“Kit…if he kills another…”
My belly went cold. “He’s got a reason. It’s justified by the charter and I can give you proof. I’ll get it to you and if I
, tell your superiors they can’t do a damn thing without conferring with Delores Richards. She used to do work for Banner and they should listen to her.”
“What’s the reason, Kit? And I need
than a reason. I need proof of it.”
I stared at my reflection in the mirror. “I’m the fucking proof…he’s doing it for me.”
“Yeah. You can thank my dearest grandmother for this mess. There’s no time to explain this right now, though. Where the hell is he?”
At any other time, I might have appreciated the pure, undiluted hatred in his voice. “Justin, tell me where he is, or I’ll kill not only your bike, I’ll break into your house and destroy every single thing in there. And you know I’ll do it. You know I
“Kit, what the
is going on?”
“Tell me what I need to know,” I shouted.
“He’s heading south, that’s all I know. Now tell me about that evil bit—”
I hung up the phone. South. That told me everything I needed to know.
Justin couldn’t help me. I was hoping like hell somebody else could. As I dialed another number, I prayed.
Colleen came on the phone.
“I need a cloaker and I need it so bad, I’ll give you a kidney if you can make it happen.”
“Ah…that’s a bit extreme,” she said. “And gross.”
My plan was simple.
I had to get to the Assemblyman’s house before Damon and head him off.
I had to do it without being seen or sensed or detected.
That required something
handy little knack wouldn’t cover. I could go invisible for short periods of time, but I could still be heard. I was quiet, but I couldn’t stop the beat of my heart or hold my breath. Nor could I eradicate my scent trail.
A cloaker could hide all of those things.
The ability wasn’t common among witches. Those born with it tended to be their warriors or have a lot of pent up aggression. I think that’s why they didn’t see the cloaking skill very often.
The man coming toward me had a swaggering gait, buzzed blond hair and an
smile. He also had power coming out of his finger nails. I didn’t like the look of him or the feel of him, but I didn’t have to. All I had to do was tolerate him so he could help me get to Marlowe’s, a sprawling piece of real estate forty-five miles west of here.
“You need to hide?” he said, smiling at me.
I stared at him, doubt shivering through me. Something about him felt off. If he came to me wanting me to do a job, I’d turn him away. His type tended to do things outside the law, and they tended to go…well, wrong.
wrong. “You’re with Green Road?”
“I freelance.” He shrugged. “Colleen knows me and knew you needed a hand so I volunteered…although you are paying me.”
“Yes. I’ll pay.” I wasn’t doing a favor for him later on the down the road. That was how witches worked. “What’s your name?”
“Xavier.” He exposed his wrist and showed me a wrapped twig. I had to smile a little. Colleen had bound him. “She’s not taking it off until you call her, so I’d appreciate you doing it as soon as we’re done. It’s going to apply more and more pressure and she’s timed it to twelve hours.”
It looked like a twig, all right. But it was a Green Road charm. A ticking time bomb. Colleen really loves me. And she must not trust this guy at all. “Wow. You must not be on her good side.”
He smiled. “Nah. She’s just the cautious type.”
That wasn’t it. Not by a long shot.
Colleen was pretty good at judging people and she wouldn’t put one of those on anybody outside of an emergency. So it meant one thing—she knew I’d had an emergency and she was giving me the backup I needed, even though she didn’t like it.
“Well, then.” I smiled at him thinly. “Let’s go.”
I started toward my car but he caught my wrist. “Sorry, sugar. We need to be in close physical contact and I can only cover small area of space if we’re looking at an extended amount of time.” He pointed to the bike he’d arrived on.
“Fine.” He turned and started back to the bike. “Make sure you call and let her know you refused the service, sugar. I want the charm off if you aren’t using my services.”
* * * * *
I kept feeling him pressing at me.
I was sensitive to magic and I knew what he was doing, and it pissed me off, although I didn’t know
he was trying to get a feel for what sort of power I had.
It wasn’t something anybody other than a witch…or somebody
a witch…would feel. Weres could feel active magic, but this wasn’t active. Vampires were the same way. This was calm, passive…rather like he was breathing me in as we sped down the highway. Breathing me, taking my measure.
And I didn’t like it.
He wouldn’t pick up much. Colleen, even Es, had done similar things. I
sort of magical, but I didn’t feel like a witch. If I had any active protection spells on me, he might be able to break those with his poking and prodding, but I didn’t carry active spells. I left those on my home and office and it would take more than a few pokes and prods to break them.
This guy was strong, but if he tried to break what half a dozen Green Road witches had crafted, he’d be in for one hell of a shock.
I doubted he was aware that I knew what he was doing. Colleen hadn’t realized I could feel all her little pokes and prods until she’d
it with her empathy. This guy had about as much empathy as a piece of roadkill. I wasn’t going to enlighten him, either.
One lesson I’d learned rather well under my grandmother’s brutal hand…
Never show your weapons until you need them
While my ability to feel his magic wasn’t really a weapon,
I wouldn’t show my hand until there was a need to.
But if he thought he could stick his magical fingers inside my head and not pay for it…
Something tugged me.
“Stop the bike.”
“Thought we were in a hurry, sugar.” He guided the bike over the side of the road and propped a foot on the ground while the engine rumbled beneath us.
“Nobody sees or hears us, right?”
That was the problem with a cloaking witch. One had to
in them and I didn’t trust this guy. Although I had felt it when the cloak settled us earlier at the out-of-the-way diner where I’d left my car. It was like I’d had my head plugged with cotton—ears, nose, mouth, and my eyes were hazed by a greasy, white smear. All of that faded in the background as the cloaking settled in but it was still unpleasant.
“Yes, it’s up. Why?” He scowled and tugged at the twig wrapped around his wrist. It didn’t move. “I want this thing
The word died in my throat.
There was a singular sensation that nobody else could cause.
energy—that warm, rolling cloak that spread around me like a mantle. But it wasn’t warm or comforting now. Nor was it warm. Icy. Focused. And bearing down fast.
I gulped and turned my head, staring down the road.
It wasn’t even sixty seconds before I saw Damon’s car, that long, sexy black car come hurtling down the road. A Dodge Challenger, made in a century past, when non-humans still hid in our closets and man still thought he was at the top of the food chain. Back then, mankind had put out some seriously kickass pieces of automotive equipment and this one of the finest, a classic piece of work from the 1970s, the engine modified to run on cleaner fuels and eat up the miles like it was starving.
“Sugar, he can’t see us,” Xavier said, his voice grouchy. “Trust me. The last thing I want is for that fucker to rip my face off because he saw me with you. I’m not going to fight that bastard, so I’m keeping this up good and tight, trust me.”
He knew of Damon. That didn’t completely surprise me, but I was a little caught off-guard that he knew about
. Another reason not to trust him, not that I needed it.
Even after the car had shot past us, I was still breathing shallowly, each breath coming in an odd, hitching little pant that made it almost impossible to really get oxygen where it needed to go.
“We going to move or just stand here so you can have a panic attack?”
I gave Xavier a dark look.
If I had to hurt somebody in the next few hours, I’d really like for it to be him.
* * * * *
Keeping the black car in my sight wasn’t hard.
Listening to Xavier bitching was harder. “It would be easier if you could just let me do a trace on him and we could drop back. It’s hard keeping a cloak up this long.”
“No. You want me to pay you? I asked for somebody who could cloak and that’s what I need.” It was only the tenth time I’d explained it; hopefully it would be the last.
Damon had just exited the expressway.
“We’re almost there. We need to get around him,” I said. I had an idea. It was insane but if I could just get there ahead of him…
“If you want me to pay you a red cent, you’re going to do what I need you to do.”
,” Xavier snapped. He pulled over and pointed off into the distance. “That’s Cedric Marlowe’s turf. I even
to cross his boundary line and he can fry my ass. High magic can’t cross it. Now
be okay. Your cat? I don’t know. But I
. If I try to cross his wards, he’ll feel it and he’ll fry my ass. He’s old magic, sugar, and I’m
“Fine.” Snarling, I shoved a hand through my hair, trying to think. “Get me as close as you can.”
Long seconds ticked by and then he shrugged. “Whatever you say, sugar. It’s your funeral.”
We drove a few miles before we reached the turnoff. “It’s coming up close. I can wait for you, but once you’re two feet from me, I can’t cloak.”
“I know. I—”
The world exploded around us.