Read Skin Deep Online

Authors: Mark Del Franco

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary, #Fantasy

Skin Deep

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

 

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

CHAPTER 35

CHAPTER 36

CHAPTER 37

CHAPTER 38

CHAPTER 39

 

Look for the next Connor Grey novel

Raves for Mark Del Franco’s Connor Grey novels

UNQUIET DREAMS

“Connor Grey is rapidly becoming one of my favorite fantasy detectives.”—
Locus

 

“A tale filled with magic, mystery, and suspense . . . a well-written story with characters that will charm readers back for another visit to the Weird.”—
Darque Reviews

 

“A solid adventure filled with unique characters and plenty of fast-paced suspense.”—
Pulp Fiction Reviews

 

“Mark Del Franco is a master at combining modern fantasy with crime-detective mystery. Fans of either genre are sure to find a good read in
Unquiet Dreams
.”—
BookLoons

 

“An urban fantasy wrapped around a police procedural that makes for a fast-paced, action-packed novel . . . This looks to be a great new urban fantasy series, judging by the first two books in the series.”—
Gumshoe

 

“Del Franco’s clear and textured voice ensures that readers vest instantly in characters and story. Waiting for the next installment will be tough.”—
Romantic Times

 

“Readers who like a mystery as the prime plot of an outstanding fantasy will be thoroughly entertained and challenged. This is a great new series with the potential to be a long-lasting one.”—
Genre Go Round Reviews

 

UNSHAPELY THINGS

“It will pull you along a corkscrew of twists and turns to a final, cataclysmic battle that could literally remake the world.”

—Rob Thurman, national bestselling author of
Deathwish

 

“[An] entertaining contemporary fantasy mystery with a hard-boiled druid detective . . . a promising start to a new series.”—
Locus

“An engaging urban fantasy . . . a bravura finale.”

—SF
Reviews.net

 

“Masterfully blends detective thriller with fantasy . . . a fast-paced thrill ride . . . Del Franco never pauses the action . . . and Connor Grey is a very likable protagonist. The twisting action and engaging lead make
Unshapely Things
hard to put down.”—
BookLoons

 

“The intriguing cast of characters keeps the readers involved with the mystery wrapped up in the fantasy . . . I look forward to spending more time with Connor in the future and learning more about him and his world.”


Gumshoe

 

“A wonderfully written, richly detailed, and complex fantasy novel with twists and turns that make it unputdown able . . . Mr. Del Franco’s take on magic and paranormal elements is fresh and intriguing. Connor Grey’s an appealing hero bound to delight fantasy and paranormal romance fans alike.”—
The Romance Readers Connection

 

“Compelling and fast paced . . . The world building is superb . . . Fans of urban fantasy should get a kick out of book one in this new series.”—
Romantic Times

 

“A very impressive start. The characters were engaging and believable, and the plot was intriguing. I found myself unable to put it down until I had devoured it completely, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the sequel.”—
Book Fetish

 

“A wonderful, smart, and action-packed mystery involving dead fairies, political intrigue, and maybe a plot to destroy humanity . . .
Unshapely Things
has everything it takes to launch a long-running series, and I’m very excited to see what Del Franco has in store next for Connor Grey and his friends.”—
Bookslut

Ace Books by Mark Del Franco

The Connor Grey Series
UNSHAPELY THINGS
UNQUIET DREAMS
UNFALLEN DEAD

 

The Laura Blackstone Series
SKIN DEEP

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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South Africa

 

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

 

SKIN DEEP

 

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

 

PRINTING HISTORY
Ace mass-market edition / August 2009

 

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Del Franco.

 

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form
without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in
violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

 

eISBN : 978-1-101-10179-7

 

ACE
Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

 

 

http://us.penguingroup.com

For Jack, who made this one possible

CHAPTER 1

AS SHE LEANED
back in her seat, the van’s motion vibrated against the base of Laura Blackstone’s skull. She rocked her head, hoping it would soothe her tense muscles. It didn’t. Odors tickled her nose—the scents of hot electronics, clean gun oil, and leather uniforms. If someone blindfolded her and spun her around, she’d still know immediately that she was inside a SWAT-team van.

She couldn’t see outside the van, but she didn’t need to sightsee in Anacostia. With years of law enforcement under her belt, she knew all of Washington, D.C.’s neighborhoods well. The historic Anacostia had its share of crime and urban blight mixed in with bland strip malls and expensive homes.

This time, the neighborhood had a drug lab that the local SWAT team wanted taken down. Nothing unusual about that—it was what SWAT teams did. And since Captain Aaron Foyle needed specialized backup, he called someone he could rely on: Laura Blackstone. Actually, he called “Janice Crawford.” That was the persona Laura used when she worked with the local D.C. SWAT team.

Laura looked at the men in the van and, not for the first time, wondered what humans thought of her, really thought of her. Did they see the person behind the ability? Or was she always perceived as this fey being who manipulated essence, some inhuman thing with the power to perform what they believed was magic?

After over a century of coexistence with humans, the fey were still feared and misunderstood. Unlike most fey, Laura wasn’t technically from Faerie—she had been born and raised in the United States, an American citizen. That helped smooth the way in most social situations since she didn’t have the same cultural baggage as the Old Ones—the fey originally from Faerie. Laura and the other here-born fey fit into the modern world, and what’s more, they wanted to fit in. They could pass.

And Laura passed as human better than most fey. Druids didn’t look different. They didn’t have long, pointed ears like Teutonic elves or strange-colored skin like the solitary fey. They didn’t fly like the Celtic fairy clans. They didn’t have wings at all. The difference between druids and humans—between Laura and humans—was that she manipulated essence, and they didn’t. Couldn’t.

Tapping into the inherent energy around them, the fey used essence to fly or to fight or simply to turn on the lights. What was as natural to Laura as breathing, humans called magic. She couldn’t understand their fear.

As they neared their target, the tension built in the van. Laura pulled at her flak jacket, trying to adjust it so it fit more comfortably. Again. They weren’t made for women. Conversations muted or faded away as the other team members readied for the assault. Everyone dealt with those last few minutes differently. Laura was glad no one in the group was a talker. The less small talk she made, the fewer details she had to commit to memory for the Janice Crawford persona. Instead, she spent her time mentally reviewing her agenda for the next day’s meeting at the Guildhouse.

When the public saw Laura Blackstone—the actual Laura Blackstone—it only ever saw a public-relations director for the Fey Guild. Her role was to put a good face on fey activities. Some people thought that meant making excuses for whatever trouble the fairies and elves and other fey got into. Laura liked to think it was a matter of perspective.

Sometime in the early part of the twentieth century, the realm of Faerie merged with modern reality. No one knew what had happened to cause what came to be known as Convergence, although it was clear it was something that had occurred in Faerie. Over the next hundred years, the fey moved out into the greater world and became part of the social and political landscape. In order to gain human allies and assure people that the fey meant no harm, the Seelie Court established the Guild to respond to concerns raised by both humans and the fey.

The Guild played many different roles. It served as the diplomatic embassy for High Queen Maeve of the Seelie Court at Tara, the fairy queen who rarely ventured outside her mist-shrouded home in Ireland. The Guild also worked as a policing force on the local level for magic-related crimes committed by the fey.

But for criminal activity on the international level, the Seelie Court, along with the governments of other nations, provided law-enforcement staff to the International Global Security Agency—InterSec—to investigate and resolve criminal activities wherever needed. And Laura Blackstone was one of InterSec’s best operatives.

By day, Laura sent out press releases. But by night, she had another life as an agent with InterSec, which no one at the Guild knew about. Only a few outside InterSec knew Laura Blackstone worked undercover. She had spent years keeping it that way.

The SWAT team’s intelligence had uncovered information that the drug lab had two brownies as security. Brownies were low-powered Celtic fey. From an essence point of view, they had enormous stamina, great organizational skills, and other rudimentary essence abilities. They were useful as security guards dealing with humans, but for someone with druidic training, brownies weren’t much to worry about.

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