Authors: J.C. Daniels
I carried a picture of Doyle in my back pocket. I’d made a copy and tucked it in my pocket the day I accepted the case. Maybe it was silly, but I wanted to remember what I was risking my life for. A kid.
A nervous, scared kid who wasn’t even sure he could survive the change from human to were.
He had blond hair, sleepy-looking eyes and the promise of what would be a killer smile. So much promise. And what was more…he had kind eyes. The kindness in his eyes hadn’t been lost on me.
The cat shifters needed more kindness in their ranks…not less.
I knew his face now. He was mine. I’d do everything I could to find him and if I couldn’t find him, it would be because there was nothing left to be found.
On the way down to the cold lower level of Banner HQ, I slid my hand into my pocket and tugged out the picture of Doyle, rubbing it with my thumb. I didn’t look at it. There was no need. I knew his face well enough now that I could draw his picture. More than once, I’d found myself doing just that.
He didn’t look like his aunt.
A hand came up and closed over my neck as the elevator doors opened. The people trickled out, but before we could follow them, Damon hit the button to shut the doors and then he just held it. “Are you trying to push yourself into a panic attack?” he asked, dipping his head and growling right into my ear.
I drove my elbow into his stomach. I might as well have been hitting steel for all the good it did. I did it again anyway.
He swore and spun around, shoving my back against the elevator doors.
My hand itched—
bad, bad, bad
“Listen, little girl,” he snarled.
He reached for me.
Copyright 2012 Shiloh Walker
First digital edition 2012
Cover Art by Angela Waters
Editorial Work Sara Reinke
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
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Dedicated… as always with love to my husband and kids. Love you…
Thank God for you…
Thanks to Tori and Sara. Tori, for all the feedback and how much you believed in this book, and Sara for all the help you gave me.
aneira [a-nir-a] derived from
, found in the
, warrior women, meaning ‘those who war like men’. Also known as Amazons.
My sword arm is mighty.
I will not falter.
I will not fail.
My aim is true.
My heart is strong.
I’m the descendant of some legendary badasses and I’ll damn well make myself wake up
“You are so lovely…”
The silken voice whispered to me in the depth of my dreams, wrapping around me and pulling me under. It was a seductive thing, full of promise. Full of warmth and wonder and lies.
Jude. The bastard had never been able to keep to himself.
It had been six years since I’d met him and in those six years, he’d done his damnedest to infiltrate my life. I’d trusted him, sort of. Once. But in the years since I’d made his acquaintance, I’d learned to place my trust elsewhere…and to keep my distance.
So far, we were at a stalemate, but when it came to dreams, he usually had the upper hand. I’d always had surreal, vivid dreams anyway, and here, he reigned supreme.
Lost in the dark, velvety grasp of sleep, I wasn’t able to do much more than grumble and groan when he first appeared. It always took me a few minutes to get my bearings when he shoved his way into my dreams. Jude, the bastard, took great advantage of it.
He stretched out beside me on the bed and I could even feel it giving way under his weight, under that long, lean, powerful body. His hand rested on my belly and I could feel the way my muscles reacted, the way I reacted.
“Are you going to come to me, little aneira?” he whispered, dipping his head and nuzzling my neck.
I found my voice at the brush of his teeth on my neck.
Figures it would take that.
Yeah, having a vampire pressing his teeth to your throat, even in dreams, is enough to get the adrenaline going.
Full-fledged vampires aren’t the hot and sexy things of books. They are deadly. Cold. Soulless, powerful and yes, they can be sexy as hell—Jude is proof of that, but I suspected it might safer to share my bed with a pit viper.
Summoning that image to mind gave me the strength I needed to move.
My sword arm is mighty.
I will not falter…
Rolling out of bed and away from him, I grabbed the T-shirt from the foot of the bed and jerked it on. “Jude, seriously. How often are you going to do this?” I asked.
“You had to get dressed, didn’t you?”
I shot him a dirty look and immediately wished I hadn’t. Moonlight gilded him with its pale light, turning his blond hair to silver, casting that carved face into angelic lines as his eyes glowed.
They were green. When he was angry, they glowed red with blood hunger, but right now, they were alight with an emerald luminescence that raked over my skin like a caress.
Damn it. It had been too long since I’d gotten laid. The last boyfriend I’d had ended up leaving town after he’d been offered a very lucrative job. He was around off and on now, but it was more off than on and we’d drifted apart. Still, there were times when I missed him. A lot. And not just because of the sex.
But if I’d gotten laid anytime in the past couple of years, Jude wouldn’t seem so damned appealing right now. That look in his eyes was enough to drive me mad, but I wasn’t going to let him get to me.
Not any more than I hadn’t already.
“What do you want, Jude?”
He laughed. It stroked over my skin, begged me to laugh with him. Nope. Not doing that. Definitely not. “You know what I want, little warrior. When are you going to stop avoiding me? I haven’t seen you in months. You’re not taking my calls and you won’t take the work I send your way…foolish, that. Your silly little business is hurting for work and we both know it.”
Running my tongue along my teeth, I returned to my bed.
I could let the anger I felt at the insult get to me. Or I could use it.
I’d rather use it.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Jude’s eyes widen as I drew closer. His hand snaked out as I reached with my own.
But I wasn’t reaching for him.
I was reaching for the sword I kept under my pillow.
No, I couldn’t wield it in dreams…but I could use the strength I found in it.
The hilt settled in my hand, like an extension of my arm. Just touching it made me feel like I’d…come home.
Touching a sword. Yes. I’m more than a little messed up.
Smiling at him, I said, “I’m waking up now.”
My sword arm is mighty.
I will not falter.
I will not fail.
My aim is true.
My heart is strong.
The mantra of the aneira—the people I’d descended from. My mother had been full-blooded. My father had been human. Still, that had been drilled into my head and I’d shouted it out on the practice fields of Aneris Hall, the hell where I’d lived for the first fifteen years of my life.
The entire thing would take several minutes to recite, but the first few lines were enough to get me through the worst things. Sometimes, I had to say it several times a day.
My name is Kit Colbana.
In a world filled with shapeshifters, vampires and witches who can turn your insides into your outsides, I’m next to nothing; a peon.
I’ve got a knack for killing and tracking things down. I’m a talented thief, although I try to avoid that line of work, if I can. Luck tends to swing in my favor, although sometimes it’s in a very odd manner, but at least I land on my feet when I ought to be landing in a grave or worse. And I have the ability to fade out…I can go invisible. A handy skill for an assassin, I guess.
But that’s it. That’s pretty much all I can do.
The magic in my blood is weak. I’m a half-breed, and while that term might bother some people, it’s just a fact of life.
My human father? I don’t know anything about him, other than he was human. I don’t know why my mom decided to shack up with him, and I don’t know why he was never in our lives.
He’s just a non-entity.
My mother was aneira…think of Amazons, and imagine something more. Something magical. We were once a well-known race, assassins sent out to do the jobs no other could. Sometimes we were thieves, sent out to track down priceless treasures. We’d even been bounty hunters, if legend tells it right.
A proud, noble race.
Now we’re not much more than a memory and only a few hundred of us remain. My mother had died when I was young, leaving me in the care of my not-so-loving family.
The aneira didn’t smile on the half-bloods and I was worse than most, because I was half human. They’d rather kill me than care for me. Sometimes, I think the only reason they didn’t is because they figured they’d have more fun tormenting me for years. If they killed me, it would be over too soon.
So they kept me, raised me. And they made sure I never forgot that although I had aneira blood, I wasn’t one of them. I was just a mongrel. A useless waste.
My mother’s fucked-up mistake…that’s what they liked to tell me.
That was the heritage they decided to share with me. Her mistake.
But I had a few scattered memories of her…I could remember her singing. The faint echo of her voice.
Maybe I was her mistake, but I shared her heritage. I had the memory of her singing to me.
And her sword.
Alone in my gym, I practiced. Strike. Block. Downward cut.
I practiced alone. But in my mind, I saw Jude. The bastard.
Sneaking into my dreams again.
Bleed him out. If I did anything at close range, that was what I’d have to do. Nick the arteries. I was fast. He’d be faster. But vampires needed blood just as much as we did. If I injured him enough, maybe I could slow him enough to really hurt him.
It was a fun fantasy, anyway.
Not that I’d really have a chance.
Six years ago, I’d made the mistake of calling him when I tried to help a friend. I hadn’t known him, he hadn’t really known me, but he’d offered help just the same.
The daughter of a friend had gotten mixed up with a bad group. The worst kind—wererats. A werecreature, in and of itself, wasn’t a bad thing, but the rats in East Orlando had been notoriously bad. Criminally bad, even. I found out a few weeks after my little adventure the rats had been slated for extermination by the council, anyway.
And said friend’s daughter had gotten involved with one of them. She was sick, diagnosed with leukemia, and she’d gotten in her head that the bite would cure her. In all likelihood, it would just hasten her death. A were’s bite is a hard, brutal thing and less than twenty percent survive it, anyway. If you’re not healthy, you don’t stand a chance. She hadn’t been healthy.
If living was her only goal, she’d have been better off going to the vampires. Not that they were likely to have touched a sick, underage girl. Vamps were careful about that, for the most part.
In the end, it hadn’t mattered. She died less than a year after I brought her back to her mom.
She died hating me, too.
It was a weight I’d carry the rest of my life.
But I couldn’t let the rats keep her. They wouldn’t have saved her life and they wouldn’t have been kind about how they tried to mark her, either.
Too bad she had been too young to understand that.
Sometimes I felt like it was all for nothing.
All for nothing, and I still had an albatross by the name of Jude around my neck.
Bleed him. Dozens of nicks across that very fine body, preferably when he hadn’t fed for a while. That would be best. And then—
I whirled, bringing my sword across right where the level of his neck would be if he had actually been standing in the room with me.