Blood Song (Blood Singer Series #1)by Cat Adams
Bodyguard Celia Graves has definitely accepted her share of weird assignments, both human and supernatural. But her newest job takes the cake. Guarding a Prince from terrorists and religious fundamentalists is hard enough, but it seems like the entire supernatural world is after this guy too. When she is betrayed by those she is employed to help, and everything… See more details below
Bodyguard Celia Graves has definitely accepted her share of weird assignments, both human and supernatural. But her newest job takes the cake. Guarding a Prince from terrorists and religious fundamentalists is hard enough, but it seems like the entire supernatural world is after this guy too. When she is betrayed by those she is employed to help, and everything goes horribly wrong, Celia wakes to find herself transformed.
Neither human nor vampire, Celia has become an Abomination—something that should not exist—and now both human and supernatural alike want her dead. With the help of a few loyal friends—a sexy mage, a powerful werewolf, and a psychic cop—Celia does her best to stay alive. On the run from her enemies, Celia must try to discover who is behind her transformation…before it’s too late.
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By C. T. Adams
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 C. T. Adams and Cathy Clamp
All rights reserved.
I pulled the Miata to the curb and checked the address one more time. I stared at the building and the neighborhood. It wasn't what I'd expected. The interview I'd had with the prince's retainer had taken place in a conference room at one of the very best Los Angeles hotels. In fact, at this moment I knew that the press and several royal bodyguards were stationed at that same hotel. This place was nice, palatial even, but it was far enough off the beaten path that I'd had to use MapQuest to find it.
I shut off the engine and looked down at the file sitting on the passenger seat. I thought about looking at it again, but I'd practically memorized the contents already. Prince Rezza of Rusland was in the United States with his father's blessing, meeting with private defense contractors. Publicly the prince was being the very image of a religious conservative. Ruslund was a small kingdom in eastern Europe, nestled primarily between the Ukraine and Poland, touching on the Czech Republic as well.
Rusland might be small in size, but it was gaining a whole new level of prominence politically thanks to the discovery of a huge supply of natural gas in the region. The Russians were practically apoplectic. Their control over Europe's natural gas supply was critical to their economy. Having a competitor next door wasn't making them happy.
Despite their common ancestors, the Russians hadn't been happy with the Ruslunders since ... well, ever. Still, the little country managed to stubbornly exist as a monarchy in the face of socialism, communism, and rampant capitalism. How they'd managed not to be overrun by Germany during World War II, or absorbed into the Soviet Union afterward, was one of those burning political questions that nobody either could or would answer.
Traditionally the public religion of Rusland was Orthodox, but a fundamentalist regime was gaining power and influence. It was the kind of political turmoil that makes you worry about assassination. The prince had very publicly declared his anti-American sentiments and allied himself with the zealots — who would not necessarily be pleased with his private plans while in L.A. Which was why an impostor was taking his place for the evening, freeing the real prince up to do whatever it was he had in mind. The retainer had been fairly coy, but the prince's upcoming marriage had been made very public. So I was guessing this was the equivalent of sowing the last of his wild oats. Besides, using a stand-in is a fairly common ploy when people like royals are trying to ditch the paparazzi. It's difficult and expensive to find someone good enough at magic to do a long-term illusion, but they exist, and there's always the old-fashioned "body double."
Whatever. I wasn't about to judge, especially not given Vicki's situation. My job is to keep the protectee safe. Celia Graves, personal security consultant. At one point or another I've served as a bodyguard for movie stars, politicians, authors, celebrities, and, now, royalty. I protect them from the press, overzealous fans, and, when necessary, the monsters. I'm good at what I do, so I charge quite a lot and stay in business by myself, for myself. I'm not particularly good at the political and social sides of the job: too blunt, too sarcastic, not inclined to suck up and play nice. The "attitude" has cost me jobs, so I try to work on it ... and generally fail miserably.
I was getting ready to grab my jacket and climb out of the vehicle when I caught sight of the brightly patterned photo envelope sticking out from beneath the folder. I checked my watch. I was early. I could spare a minute or two to look at the pictures from my best friend's birthday party this afternoon.
I grabbed the envelope, pulled it open, and began flipping through the photos. The ones I'd taken weren't great. I'm no photographer. But the others, taken by one of the staff members at Vicki's insistence, were really nice. There were shots of Vicki blowing out her candles. There were flowers from Vicki's girlfriend, Alex, and a balloon bouquet in the background. One or two really good shots of the two of us, and even more of Vicki standing in front of the present I'd bought her.
Her face was absolutely alight with joy, and I couldn't help but smile in satisfaction. Unlike Christmas, or her last birthday, this time I'd actually managed to find the perfect gift. Vicki's a level-nine clairvoyant. She uses a mirror to focus her gift. I'd found an antique mirror, backed with real silver, and had it put under multiple protection spells until it was well nigh unbreakable. That way she could have it in her room at Birchwoods.
I sighed. Vicki had been at Birchwoods, a high-end "treatment" facility, for almost five years now. She could probably move home. Then again, maybe not. A clairvoyant of her power could actually change the future if she got out of control. Right now she was stable, but I didn't doubt that the shielding and protected atmosphere of Birchwoods helped her. So it didn't surprise me that she showed no desire to leave, even though I knew Alex wanted the two of them to live together.
It was none of my business. Vicki might be sweet and quiet, but she had a will of iron. She would do what she was going to do, and that was the end of it.
I was still smiling as I stuffed the photos back in the envelope and tossed it back behind the passenger seat. It wouldn't do to have anyone spot them accidentally. As far as the world is concerned, Vicki is not at Birchwoods. Like the prince I was about to meet, she has a body double. Hired by her wealthy parents, the fake Vicki plays on the Riviera, vacations in the Hamptons, and skis the Swiss Alps — none of which the real Vicki has ever had the luxury to do.
Just thinking about that took away my smile, which was fine. It was time to get down to business. I climbed from the vehicle, grabbing my blazer from the passenger seat. I slid it on. It took a minute of shifting things around to get everything balanced comfortably. Despite the fact that it was practically a walking armory, the jacket didn't bulge. The tailoring and illusion spells cost a small fortune, but I consider it worth every penny. Hidden discreetly beneath that jacket I had not only the holster with my Colt but also a pair of "One Shot" brand squirt guns filled with holy water, a stake, and a very special pair of knives. Oh, and a garrote. Mustn't forget the garrote, although honestly, I've never used it and couldn't imagine drawing it quickly enough for use in a crisis. I was also wearing an ankle holster with a little Derringer, but if things got desperate enough for me to draw that I was in deep shit. Still, when it comes to weapons, better too much than too little. Some of the older bats are damned hard to kill, and on my best day I wouldn't want to take on a werewolf or ghoul without backup.
I glanced down at my watch: ten fifteen. I wasn't due on shift until eleven. I still had plenty of time to use the nifty new gadget I'd picked up at my favorite weapons shop. I reached behind the front seat and pulled out a black box not much larger than the wallet I carried in my back pocket. The lid was hinged, like a jewelry case, with the store's logo embossed on it in red foil. Very classy. Considering the price, it should be. I'd actually thought twice about whether or not to get it. But if it worked as well as advertised, it would be worth the money.
I grinned. I'm such a geek. I love gadgets, and this one was sweet. I could hardly wait to take it for a test drive.
Flipping open the lid revealed what looked like a Matchbox car and a small remote. Made primarily of silver, the little car gleamed in the light of the street lamp overhead. I set the tiny vehicle onto the pavement at my feet, facing the building where the prince was staying. I took out the remote, then closed the box and slid it into my front pocket. Pressing a small green button on the remote, I said, "Perimeter check," as clearly as I could. The little vehicle zipped forward with astonishing speed. It stopped just inside the driveway of the building and turned sharply right. I followed on foot, watching in pleasure as, with a soft whirring noise, it traced the invisible magical barrier that surrounded the building, protecting those inside from preternatural creatures. I followed it over well-lit lawns, around to the one-lane service road that ran along the back of the building. Abruptly the little car stopped, emitting a sharp, high-pitched whistle. A light on the remote in my hand began flashing red.
I looked from the remote to the car and back again. "Well, hell. This can't be good." I rummaged in my pocket to withdraw the box, where there'd no doubt be the instruction manual that I should've read ahead of time but hadn't. Oops. It took a minute, but I finally managed to retrieve the instruction booklet and flip to the appropriate page.
When encountering a perimeter break the unit will issue a warning in the form of a whistle.
No kidding. I never would've guessed. But that didn't explain the light show.
The type of energy causing the break will be indicated by color on the transmitter unit. Green indicates the presence of ghouls or other necromantic magics; amber, werewolves; blue, vampires. A red flashing light indicates non-vampiric demonic energy. A continuous red light indicates a current presence.
"A demon?" I stared at the remote in my hands in disbelief, my hand shaking the tiniest bit. Yes, the demonic exists. So does the angelic. But it's not like I run into either of them every day. In fact, unless a person works for one of the militant religious orders, they probably will go their entire life without running into either the angelic or the demonic — other than vampires. Real demons are rare. Which is good. Particularly if you don't have the clearest conscience in the world. How bad a problem this was depended on whether we were looking at a half-demon spawn, an imp, or a lesser or greater demon. But even flipping desperately through the directions, I didn't see any way of telling which it might be.
Crap. I mean, good news, the light was flashing. Bad news, it was red; I was dealing with a freaking demon of one level or another, and the barrier was down.
I needed to fix this. Fast. I'm neither a mage nor a true believer. About the only thing I had on me right now that would hurt anything demonic was the holy water in my One Shots. One Shot being both the brand and a literal description. For a vampire, it would burn like acid, I hoped buying me enough time to kill it with one of my other weapons. But this wasn't a simple bat. It had taken something big and bad to break through a standing magical barrier like this. If I wound up facing whatever it was, my little squirt gun would probably just piss it off.
Think, girl ... think. You need the barrier back up, at least long enough to call in a mage or a warrior priest.
If there was enough residual magic left from before the break I might be able to get the barrier partway back up if I could reseal the break. It wouldn't be as strong, but it would be better than nothing. Of course, if I sealed the barrier I might be sealing the demon in.
I debated the pros and cons for a few seconds, and decided it was better to get the barrier up. If I sealed the demon in, we'd have it in a contained area when the priests arrived. If I sealed it out, more the better.
I slid remote and manual into my jacket pocket and drew out one of my two little plastic squirt guns. I really didn't want to use both. I might wind up needing one if the demon was still around. Ever so carefully, I drew out the refilling plug and began dribbling holy water in a delicate line. As every drop hit the ground, the little scanner moved forward, the headache-inducing whistle giving a little hiccup before restarting. Still, when the last drop fell and my little gun was dry, the gap snapped shut. I knew this because the little silver car went silent and shot along the reraised barrier, around the corner, and out of sight.
I jogged after it, across the asphalt and sprinkler-soaked grass, all the while keeping alert for anything out of the ordinary. My head was throbbing from the combined effects of stress and that ear-piercing whistle.
I would like to say I was surprised that no one came to a window or door to check out the racket. Sadly, I wasn't. Alarms mean trouble. People don't like trouble. On the whole, most of them will cower behind charmed thresholds or inside power circles, hoping and praying that whatever's out there will pass them by.
I came around the corner just a few feet from where I'd started, to find a blocky man dressed in the kind of nice clothes that wouldn't look out of place in the better clubs but would still hide the same kind of arsenal I was carrying. He stood on the perimeter, holding the probe in his hand, examining it with a rapt expression on his face.
I came to a skidding halt in the wet grass. "Johnson?" I stared in disbelief. It was Bob. It really was. Seeing him standing there made me feel better. Because Bob Johnson is an experienced professional. Hell, he's the man who'd convinced me to go into the business when I first got out of college. Everyone else had told me that a "vanilla" mortal with no magic or psychic abilities had no business fighting the monsters. Bob said that no human was a match for the monsters, talent or no, that the two things that were most important were brains and good equipment. I'm not stupid, and I'm willing to pay for top-of-the-line weaponry.
I met Bob when Vicki's grandfather hired him to work up the security for her estate. It had been the old man's "housewarming gift." I'd watched Bob set everything up. He'd been patient enough to explain the how and why of everything he did — let me follow him around for days. It was obvious he knew his stuff. With an almost unlimited budget to play with, he'd done one hell of a job. I'd been impressed at the time. I still was.
His plain features lit up with a delighted smile. He brushed a hand over shaggy hair the color of warm honey. "Celia Graves, as I live and breathe. Don't tell me you're here to guard the prince?"
I nodded my affirmative, and Bob's grin widened. "Is this yours?" He held out his hand to me. The little scanner looked almost impossibly tiny balanced in his huge palm.
"Yup. Just bought it this afternoon. Works like a champ."
"I heard. But why didn't you put it on stealth mode? What good is the deluxe model if you don't use all the bells?"
"There's a stealth mode?" Yow! I couldn't help but grin — nearly identical to the one Bob had on his face.
He snorted and rolled his eyes but proceeded to flip the little car over and show me a switch I hadn't noticed before. "So what was with the alarm?"
I told him about the break in the perimeter. His expression sobered instantly. He handed me my car without any fuss and said, "Show me."
I showed him. He didn't have a lot of magical talent — almost none really. But that didn't keep him from squatting down and using what little he did have to test the area around my little "fix it" job.
He looked up at me, his expression serious. "This isn't going to hold up for more than a few minutes. We need to get upstairs, warn the client, and call in the cavalry."
I let him take lead. Neither of us had a weapon drawn, but our jackets were open, our hands loose, so that we could react in a hurry if need be. We moved deliberately toward the side entrance, eyes scanning the area for any sign of trouble.
Nothing. Not a damned thing. It should've reassured me. Instead, I felt the tension in my shoulders tighten another notch. Why would a demon break a barrier and then just leave?
I turned to the side, providing cover as Bob took the wallet from his back pocket and pulled out a key card. I'd been provided a similar card when I'd been hired. From the corner of my eye I saw him slide the card through the black security box. A series of small lights flashed green. When the last one lit, I heard the lock on the door click open.
We stepped inside and the door swung shut, locks and spells closing behind us. I waited as he repeated the process with the service elevator.
Excerpted from Blood Song by C. T. Adams. Copyright © 2010 C. T. Adams and Cathy Clamp. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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