Read an Excerpt
An Angel Assassins Novel
By Tricia Skinner, Robin Haseltine
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Tricia Skinner
All rights reserved.
Katherine Logan understood irony. Only a desperate thief dared steal from a notorious crook.
She drifted through Raymond Washington's study and dropped carefully chosen treasures in her backpack. She skipped the jade dragon bust, the ivory elephant with ruby eyes, and the diamond-crusted bowling ball. Her gaze narrowed on the gold football encased in glass with up lighting. That she skipped as well. Wasting time on museum knockoffs would land her friends in the morgue.
The councilman's house was stocked with a few valuables for her purpose. Once pawned, the loot would make a dent in the protection fee hanging over Raina, Sprocket, and Frazzle. Her musician friends were in deep — five grand — and the Black Fangs were the last vampire gang anyone wanted to piss off.
Katie surveyed Rip-Off Ray's palace of undeserved wealth and privilege. The snake shifter drove a gold Cadillac, had a chef come in twice a week to sauté his rats, and owned a wardrobe allergic to nondesigner tags. He was also as dirty as the vamps hounding her buddies.
The heft of her haul felt promising and eased some of her worry. She passed through a set of French doors and scanned the dining room. Apart from an ornate china cabinet the room was a junk hoard. She swore and moved on.
In the home office, she walked to the desk and skimmed the loose papers and stacks of file folders bearing the official seal of Detroit's Council for Supernatural Affairs. Katie shoved away the temptation to spit.
Ray was a bastard and voters shouldn't have elected him to tackle issues specific to Others, the nonhumans in the community. Anyone with half a brain knew politicians like him had a steady second income provided by underworld organizations like the Black Fangs. The councilmen should have been drafting guidelines to benefit Detroiters; instead they took bribes and left honest humans and Others to suffer protection rackets. Don't pay, and you or your loved ones end up hurt or six feet under.
Spurred by her hatred of Ray and his rich pals, Katie left the study empty-handed and found the game room. She'd finish there and head to the next house on her list. Ray's place didn't have five thousand dollars worth of good stuff, and if she stayed longer than planned, she'd give in to the temptation to set his animal-print rugs on fire.
Two more houses and she might have enough. God, it had to be enough. Raina, Sprocket, and Frazzle didn't deserve this shit storm after they'd worked so hard chasing their music dreams. Katie couldn't hold a tune, but she was the band's manager. As soon as the vampires had demanded a payoff, which was inevitable if Collapsed Star expected to play around Wayne County, she knew only her sticky fingers would get her friends out of their mess. But this was a one-off. She'd pay those bloodsuckers and then get her friends safely out of Detroit. A risky plan, but worth it. Nobody threatened people she cared about. Nobody.
A noise no burglar wanted to hear broke the silence, the sound of a locked door clicking open. She froze. Her heart stuttered, and she didn't dare to even breathe.
She clutched her backpack, and her gaze darted around the game room. The space was crowded with a pool table, a Skee-Ball machine, and a miniature putt-putt golf course complete with pink flamingos.
When the front door banged shut, she dove into the carved mahogany coat closet and drew it closed, a thin gap providing a sliver of light from the exterior. Her breath hitched as heavy footsteps tapped a cadence of doom across the hardwood floor.
Katie's muscles trembled as she waited. She'd studied Ray's routine for weeks. He never arrived home before ten. Now, the night she'd picked, he switched his pattern. What a snake. If you couldn't trust a politician to stick to a schedule, how could you trust him at all?
Even with her obstructed view through the French doors she picked out Ray's stubby profile. He wore his signature coat, a blue wool monstrosity with a fur-lined collar. His green-and-black, mottled skin glistened, his bald head a shiny globe. Snake shifters couldn't grow hair but he seemed like the kind of man who polished his dome.
"Can I take your coat? I'd offer you a drink, but I don't want to insult you," came Ray's wheezy — and nervous? — voice.
Coat? Shit. He turned toward the closet, and Katie fought to keep herself from bolting as fear-fueled adrenaline rocketed through her veins. Could he see her? He stopped and turned away.
"Insulting me would be unwise," answered a deeper voice out of view. "And I won't be here long."
"I know the Renegades are impatient." Ray shifted his posture and glanced at the game room door as if planning an escape route. "I've done what they demanded, but I can't force the votes."
Renegades. Figures. Katie knew Ray was a scaly weasel. Now he was a scaly weasel who hung out with a bunch of fallen angels from Heaven's Most Wanted. If Renegades were involved, that was the same as hanging with the mob.
"You promised results, not votes, for our reelection assistance." The stranger's voice dipped and turned icy. "Your patrons are disappointed."
The thump of apprehension she'd ignored increased in volume, jackhammering in time with her heartbeat and pounding against her temples. Then the stranger partially stepped into her line of sight.
A black hoodie cast his face in shadow, but he had a body like Conan — broad and muscled and unmissable. Giant Guy had to be almost seven feet tall. Short, blond hair spiked from under his hood like a gold crown. She squinted through the door, but couldn't see his face.
Ray's fingers twitched at his sides and his skin gleamed with natural oils. He was scared. Real scared.
"There are eyes everywhere. I've approached the most — flexible — of my colleagues. Sure, the Renegades can keep the heat off from the cops, but they can't protect me from Heaven's wrath — or their fatal punishments."
Fear exploded through Katie, forcing her to swallow a few times to clear her throat. For once, Ray wasn't lying. Everyone whispered the Directorate, the angel's ruling board, doled out tough justice to anyone who broke their laws. What those laws consisted of was anyone's guess.
What the hell have you stepped in, Ray? She wanted to swear. What the hell have I stepped in?
Giant Guy moved away from the councilman and beyond Katie's sight. A tremor of dread coiled deep in her chest. Scratch her earlier thoughts. She didn't want to see his face.
"You admit failure." Not a question. Giant Guy's rough, low voice stated fact.
"N-no." Ray retreated a step, adding more space between them. Katie didn't blame him. Right now, the urge to blast past both men and run screaming from the room primed her muscles.
"Give me more time to work on the others." Ray wiped his forehead with his coat sleeve. "I-I promise I can deliver results."
Giant Guy's massive body moved into view once more. Katie stared at the dagger in his hand as he turned the hilt toward Ray.
I am not seeing this.
"No, wait. Please. I only need more time," Ray begged. His body shook the way hers wanted to.
"You've had enough time." Giant Guy's voice was cold.
Fear cramped her gut and her muscles drew impossibly tight. She locked herself into place in hopes the position would keep her still and silent. Hell, she'd bite a hole in her tongue if it meant staying alive. The view through the door blurred as her eyes watered.
"Take it," Giant Guy ordered in a firm tone. Katie blinked and focused on Ray's trembling body.
He reached shaking hands for the dagger and grasped the hilt. "Oh no. Please. Please."
Giant Guy lowered his empty hand and tipped his head at Ray. "Stab yourself."
The councilman's body stiffened, and Katie slapped a hand over her mouth to squash the "oh shit" threatening to escape.
"Sweet Jesus, someone help me," Ray babbled, his voice high-pitched like a girl's. The air filled with a tear-inducing musk, the stench nearly triggering her gag reflex.
Giant Guy stepped closer to Ray and waited.
No one had the power to make you kill yourself. Right?
Ray raised the dagger to his stomach.
The world Katie understood shattered in slow motion. The roar of her frantically rushing blood dominated her hearing. She clearly heard the councilman's sobs as he plunged the blade deep into his gut; the squishy, wet sounds of torn fabric and flesh, the patter of blood striking the hardwood, and his agonized screams filled the closet where she cowered. She clenched her pelvic muscles, afraid she'd piss herself.
"Again." Giant Guy hadn't turned away. Blood dripped off the hoodie, but he didn't move out of the spray. "This time without the scream."
His body shuddering and swaying, Ray struggled to tug the dagger from his lacerated midsection. The councilman managed to raise the blade once more. He didn't hesitate, but slammed the bloodstained dagger into his mangled stomach and this time, his mouth clamped shut. His eyes went wide, his gaze wildly darting around the room. His legs wobbled a moment before he crumpled to his knees.
"Reach in and pull out your intestines."
Katie screamed inside her head, loud and long. She tightened her body, desperate to stop the spasms crashing into her rigid spine.
One sound and she'd share Ray's fate.
Don't move. Don't breathe. Don't move. Don't breathe. The chant was a silent prayer in a room devoid of mercy. She closed her eyes, not wanting to watch Ray's arm come down.
A cough, followed by a gurgle, persuaded her to peek. The councilman's body convulsed, and then he fell to the side, his grip still tight on the dagger. His entrails were sliced open, and the stench of shit drifted to Katie. She worked her throat in a frantic bid to hold down the vomit roaring up, seeking an exit.
Ray twitched, then stilled.
Giant Guy hovered over the councilman despite the grisly scene. He seemed to consider the body, and then he crouched next to it.
Fabric ripped. Giant Guy leaned over Ray's corpse, engrossed in carving something into the councilman's exposed chest. His attention was singular. When he finally finished, he stood and pushed the hood off his head and all Katie could do was gape in silence.
Giant Guy was handsome in an unearthly way. Silver eyes as cold as forged steel, strong cheekbones, and a broad forehead. Her gaze passed over his shapely lips and the faded tan that warmed his skin tone. His stance showed off torso muscles barely concealed by a tight black shirt.
In any other circumstance, this man would have been hot enough to burn down Victoria's Secret. A slow, contented smile curved his mouth.
Stab yourself ... This time without the scream.
The words he'd uttered to Ray blazed in her memory. They were ruthless. Heartless. Soulless.
Giant Guy studied his carving job and nodded as if he approved, and then he casually strode from the room.
The front door clicked shut. Katie didn't move, her body remained pole straight behind the closet door; even as her muscles throbbed, her mind struggled to process what she'd seen.
Time to call the police. Whatever mojo he used, Giant Guy was still responsible for the councilman's death. Before she could twitch, another thought froze her heart midbeat.
I burglarized Ray's house.
Katie's gaze roamed over the area near the body. Of course, Giant Guy had taken the dagger, so who'd believe Ray stabbed himself? No one. She swallowed the sudden burn of bile, and envisioned how the cops would play this. Katie Logan, a former juvenile delinquent, had broken into the house and killed the nonhuman city leader when he'd caught her.
And how could she ignore one last fact: probation. She was weeks away from finishing without another mark on her record.
Clink. Bars shut. Slide my food through the cell door.
She couldn't involve the band, they had enough shit to deal with. Maybe Jon? Her brother had always listened first, and then formulated a plan. God, she needed him now.
Katie waited, craning her ears for the slightest sound. She flexed her cramped leg muscles and stamped her feet to circulate her sluggish blood, then opened the closet door and stepped into the room, careful to keep a wide radius from the corpse.
Pooled in his own blood and shit, Ray's body had shifted in death. Now, his man-sized snake form lay on the floor, turning gray. Earlier tonight she'd hated him, now she pitied the guy. An image of Giant Guy floated into her thoughts and she shuddered, then ran for the back door.
She never wanted to see his face again.
* * *
Katie stumbled into Lafayette Coney Island, crammed her chin farther into her light jacket, and found an empty high- back booth in a distant corner. Normally the landmark's homey smell of boiling hot dogs, diced onions, and toasty buns caused an impatient grumble in her stomach. Now the extra saliva in her mouth warned she was dangerously close to vomiting.
"What you have, lady?" asked the waiter bussing the table beside her.
"Faygo Red and water."
He nodded and disappeared with his arms full of empty plates and dirty utensils, then returned with her drinks, dropped a straw on the table, and left her alone.
Katie eyed the fizzy pop and her stomach churned. The bright red liquid phased out, replaced by her mind's eye. Blood red, like the stuff sprayed from Ray's body, coated his killer's black hoodie, pooled under his dead body. Tremors racked her and she pushed the glass away.
"Excuse me," she said to another passing waiter. "Can I get orange instead?"
The guy removed her drink. Katie picked up the straw, twisting the paper off. She shrugged off her backpack, tossing it next to her in the booth. She eyed it for a full minute, wishing the damn thing would disappear. On instinct, her hand had closed on the bag when she'd sprinted from Ray's house to reach her car.
How is this my life?
Stupid question. This was exactly her life, the one she'd created. An ex-burglar with a screwed up inclination to help her buddies. A witness to a murder that involved a supernatural bad guy. A kid sister who prayed her brother would know how to fix her mess. Hollywood didn't create reality shows for this crap.
The backpack was a problem. The stash of stolen goods placed her at Ray's house, but even if she'd had time to replace every item where she'd nabbed it, she couldn't be certain they wouldn't hold clues for the police.
Come on, think. She tapped the table with her fingers. The waiter returned and placed a glass of orange pop in front of her and she tried to smile, but her lips wouldn't cooperate. Instead she raised the glass in her shaking hand and managed a minor miracle — she took a sip without spilling the liquid down her front.
Eventually her adrenaline drained away. Katie grabbed her cellphone and called Jon's mobile number. Four rings later, his voice mail picked up.
"It's me. Call me back ASAP. Uh, please." The "please" would tip her brother off that she was in trouble. She hung up and resumed tapping on the table.
What if she skipped town and headed to the family cabin in the Upper Peninsula? March winter would soon succumb to spring. The place wouldn't be half-bad with groceries, possibly a Rottweiler.
She peeked at the wall clock. "Crap, crap, crap." Fumbling with her phone, she dialed Raina and fiddled with her straw. "Come on. Pick up. Please pick up."
"Hey, I was just about to head over to your place," her friend replied.
Movie night with her bestie was the weekly norm, but she wanted to kick herself for nearly forgetting. "That's why I'm buzzing you. Can I get a rain check? Something came up."
"Aw. I drove all the way to Sprocket's to pick through his DVDs," Raina griped. "What's more important than Thor and Loki fisticuffs?"
A murderer on the loose and a bag full of stolen knickknacks, Katie was tempted to say, but her second line beeped before she could answer. "I'm helping Jon with work junk. I'll make it up to you, 'k? Gotta go."
"Totally cool. Tell big brother hi for me."
"I will. Bye Raina."
Her heart slammed in her chest as she thumbed the talk button, disconnecting her friend. "Hello?"
"I could get used to calling you at home," Jon said. "No one-phone-call requirement."
Excerpted from Angel Kin by Tricia Skinner, Robin Haseltine. Copyright © 2014 Tricia Skinner. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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