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Immortals: The Darkening
By Robin T. Popp
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 Robin T. Popp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe blaring noise of the alarm roused Lexi Corvin from a deep slumber, and she awoke feeling drugged and irritable. She wanted to rip the offending timepiece from the wall and toss it through the window of her fifth-story apartment, but knew she couldn't afford to keep buying new clocks-or replacing windowpanes. So, instead, with great restraint, she merely slammed her hand down on the snooze button to quiet the obnoxious noise.
Resisting the urge to go back to sleep, she cracked open her eyes and found herself squinting against the bright sunlight slipping through the curtains, giving the room a disgustingly cheery warmth that was at complete odds with her mood.
The week before a full moon was always hard on werewolves. Their animal side grew stronger, and they had an urgent need to foster reproduction. Translated into human terms, it meant she was bitchy and horny.
If she had still been living in upstate New York with her pack, she would have simply shifted to wolf form and spent the next week hunting prey and frolicking with the available males. That wasn't really an option anymore, now that she lived in the city. She had bills to pay, food to buy. That took money, and people who took offa week or two each month to be a "wolf" didn't hold jobs very long. She wanted to keep her job. It was the first one she'd had that particularly suited her. Bounty hunter.
Shoving back the covers, she dragged herself out of bed. She took a couple of minutes to stretch, trying to loosen muscles that had become tight and sore after chasing down four skips the day before. Crime in the city was up by staggering numbers, which meant business was good.
She crossed the bedroom and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels until she found the news. Lately, it was more depressing than ever. The world-or at least her little corner of the Big Apple-was going to hell in the proverbial handbasket. Just last night there'd been another gang fight in Central Park, leaving five teenagers dead and another three seriously injured. In Murray Hill, a venerable neighborhood filled with old money, a fourteen-year-old boy had gone berserk and shot his parents and younger sister before turning the gun on himself. Down in Soho, a man had stabbed his girlfriend multiple times following an argument, killing both her and their unborn child. Plus, five more people were mysteriously missing-making a total of twenty-three in the last four weeks. The police had no more clues now about how the different people were related or what had happened to them than they did after the first disappearances. The number of random street muggings was up, as were the number of rapes, and the police were advising everyone to stay inside after dark-much to the annoyance of the local nightclub owners, who were fighting back by offering nightly specials.
Lexi flipped the station and watched a reporter standing outside the mayor's office giving an update on the rumor that the city officials were debating on calling in the National Guard to patrol the streets both day and night. But New York wasn't the only city suffering, and the National Guard was already stretched thin. Lexi shook her head and turned to yet another channel, this time finding a TV evangelist asking his congregation to petition their government for stricter Conversion Laws because he felt the number of vampires in town had dramatically risen in the last six months.
She turned off the TV and walked into the bathroom. Had she really thought that by moving to the city she'd escaped the raw animal violence that came from living with the pack? It seemed she'd only traded it for a new, darker kind of violence-though she couldn't remember it being this bad five years ago. Only recently, as far as she could recall.
She stood in front of the mirror and gazed at her reflection. The light gray eyes staring back at her looked tired. She'd let her friend Heather talk her into going to a special meeting last night. Like Lexi, Heather was a witch, but while Lexi preferred to operate on her own, Heather belonged to a group called the Coven of Light. They had stayed up too late, listening to the members discuss possible strategies for dealing with this dire outbreak of crime. The coven believed the growing problems were the work of a powerful demon, who was upsetting the delicate balance of living magic and death magic.
Lexi didn't know who this all-powerful demon was, and frankly, she found it hard to believe the coven's predictions of doom and gloom if the Big Bad wasn't stopped. Like most magical creatures, she'd learned the basic laws of physics at an early age. The world was comprised of two types of magic: living and death. The natural state was for both magics to exist in balance.
The Coven of Light witches were convinced that the Big Bad was somehow going to eradicate all living magic, even if it meant the world would be destroyed as a result.
Weeks ago, Heather had told Lexi about Amber Silverthorne, a witch in Seattle who had an encounter with the Big Bad while investigating the murder of her sister. She'd almost died too, but then some warrior called an Immortal had suddenly appeared to protect her.
At that point in the story Lexi had almost walked out on her friend. Was she supposed to believe the Immortals existed? Please. Demons trying to take over the world? Immortals? Myths and legends. Then again, people once thought werewolves and witches were just stories too.
She picked up a brush and started working the tangles from her long black hair.
Lexi would have dismissed the whole story as nonsense, but Heather had never lied to her, and she could see for herself the death magic increasing in strength.
When the coven found out the demon was being aided by one of the five Immortals, the members decided the only way for it to be stopped would be to hold a Calling and summon the other brothers to help. Heather had begged Lexi to participate. They needed as much living magic power as possible to make the spell work. Still not one-hundred-percent convinced, Lexi had nevertheless agreed.
To her amazement, the spell had almost worked. She'd caught a brief glimpse of at least one of the other Immortals in her scrying flame. Unfortunately, the spell had also Called the rogue brother, Tain, who appeared on the scene with the Big Bad at his side and helped break the spell before any of the other three Immortals could materialize.
Lexi put the brush down and held up her hands to look at the palms. Fire was her medium for casting spells, and that night of the Calling, she'd had to hold a fireball in her hands for longer than ever before. In the end, all she'd had to show for her effort were first-degree burns across her palms and fingers. But now, a week later, the only evidence of her participation was a slight pinkish tint to her skin where the burns had healed.
Last night's meeting had shown her that the witches were feeling at a loss as to what to do next. They'd played their ace and lost.
Lexi still wanted to find some way to help, but right now she had some big bads of her own to tackle. Working her waist-length hair into a braid, she secured the end with a hair fastener. When she finished, she pulled off her nightshirt that read "F*** You and Your Anger Management Class" and pulled on her working uniform of a black leather sleeveless shirt, pants, and Dockers. The outfit was comfortable to work in, but, even more importantly, she knew it made her look tough. A lot of times, taking down a skip was as much about psychology as it was sheer speed and strength.
As she prepared to leave her apartment, she felt the prickle of pent-up magic along her arms. She'd need to visit Ricco soon to help her siphon off some of it before the buildup of magical energy killed her-not that she'd ever let it get that bad. She smiled at the thought of all the wonderful ways the dark-haired, blue-eyed vampire gang leader had "helped" her before. Ah, Ricco.
Heaving a sigh, she left her apartment. Outside, she discovered a beautiful, clear May morning with just enough of a breeze that in the shade, one could actually catch a chill. She let the sun warm her and took in the bustling neighborhood. Hell's Kitchen in the morning was a place unlike any other.
She walked along the sidewalk, listening to the chatter of people on their cell phones as they hurried about their business. The smell of fresh-baked breads and pastries mingled with gas fumes from passing cars. Over the din of traffic, she heard the distant blare of a cruise ship's horn as it pulled out of dock. At the corner, she waited for the traffic light to change before crossing to the other side, where she stopped at her favorite kolache shop to grab a bite to eat. By the time she reached the office of Blackwell Bail Bonds, she was in a better mood.
"Morning, Marge," she greeted the secretary at the front desk. Then she crossed her arms across her chest and gave the petite older woman a reproving glare. "I thought you were going to quit?"
"I quit last night, honey," Marge said in her deep, gravelly voice. She took another drag off the remaining half-inch of her cigarette. "It worked so well, I might try it again tonight."
Lexi shook her head. "Those things'll kill you, you know."
"Yeah, well, at my age, there's not much point in giving up something I enjoy." She exhaled a puff of smoke and coughed a couple of times. "What's going on with you? You look like shit this morning."
"Late night," Lexi said evasively, not bothering to elaborate when Marge raised her eyebrows. She wasn't sure Marge would believe her if she told her some superdemon was trying to destroy the world. "Who are we going after today?" she asked, pulling the top case file from her in-box. She was hoping for a difficult rundown, or maybe someone who would resist arrest so she'd have an excuse to rough them up just a little. Such things were frowned upon, but she would relish a bit of a fight just to work off her frustration-sexual and otherwise.
She opened the file and read over the case. "You're kidding me, right?" She waved the file in the air. "This is a fucking fairy. I'm not going after him."
Marge tsk'd at her in disapproval. "Such language."
Lexi tossed the file back in her box and cocked her head in apology. "I'm sorry. Let me rephrase. I'm not going after that fucking leprechaun." She looked at the other in-box and plucked out the top file resting there. "What kind of skips does TJ have?"
TJ was the other bounty hunter at Blackwell. He was a year or two older than she was and six feet of pure muscle. Behind that muscle was a keen intellect, which made him deadly for a human. Despite her werewolf abilities, Jonathan Blackwell still typically assigned the tougher cases to TJ.
She opened the file. "Maurice Gonzales. Charges of spousal abuse. Seven priors. Substance abuser." She glanced at Marge over the top of the file. "I'm taking this one."
"Lexi, you know the rules. Jonathan assigns the cases, and he specifically gave that one to TJ."
"It's not fair," Lexi said. "The leprechaun's a lush. He's probably passed out somewhere. He'll be easy to find, and he's so tiny that TJ can carry him in a backpack."
"If you don't like the cases you're assigned, you'll need to take it up with Jonathan." Marge's scratchy voice was firm as she stood up and came around the desk. Taking the file from Lexi, she set it back in TJ's box. "All I know is that I put it in TJ's box. Now, if you'll excuse me."
"Where are you going?"
"If you must know, that coffee went right through me. Have a good day," she hollered over her shoulder as she headed for the bathroom in the back.
Lexi's gaze found the coffee mug sitting on the desk, looking shiny and clean. She glanced over to the coffee machine and saw the carafe, sitting empty and dry on a hot plate Lexi would bet was cool to the touch. She smiled to herself and pulled the leprechaun's file from her in-box and placed it in TJ's box. She grabbed the Gonzales case, quickly thumbed through its contents, then dashed out before Marge came back.
Gonzales's apartment was only about a twenty-minute walk down to the far west part of 37th street. This close to the river, the buildings tended toward warehouses. Its emptiness gave it a bit of a spooky feel, even in broad daylight. Not surprisingly, Gonzales lived in a building where security was nonexistent. The lock on the front door was broken, so there was nothing to stop her from going straight to his apartment.
The young woman who answered held the door ajar and looked out warily. There were fresh bruises around her jaw and right eye that didn't completely hide the discoloration of her older bruises. She looked like she didn't weigh more than a hundred pounds soaking wet, and Lexi wondered what kind of scum her husband was to beat her up. She was almost eager to give him a try at someone who could fight back.
"I'm looking for Maurice Gonzales," Lexi said. "Is he in?" She tried not to appear too obvious as she looked past the woman's shoulder into the apartment.
"Who are you?"
"I'm from the bail bond agency. He missed his court appearance, so I'm here to take him back to jail."
It was hard to miss the look of surprise that crossed the woman's face. "He won't go. I tried to remind him the other day and ..." She gave a small shrug, but Lexi didn't need her to finish the sentence. Her bruises told the story for her.
"I understand your concern, but I think he'll find I can be very ... persuasive."
"He's very strong," the woman cautioned.
"Stronger than a werewolf?" Lexi asked, smiling when the woman's eyes opened wide in surprise.
A slow, tentative smile appeared across the woman's face. "Maybe not." She glanced behind her at the small boy playing with toys in the middle of the room before turning back to Lexi. "If you take him to jail, how long will he be there?"
"That depends on whether I think there's a chance he'll run again. If I do, he could be there until his new court date-which could be several weeks from now."
"Several weeks would give me time to pack up and leave." The woman stopped talking while she thought about it. "If I tell you where he is," she said finally, "will you call and tell me when he's in jail?"
Lexi nodded. "I will."
"Big John's Ice House."
Lexi smiled. The day was looking up. She thanked the young woman, got her phone number, then left. Big John's wasn't more than five blocks away.
Inside, the bar was more crowded than she would have liked since it was almost lunchtime, but she spotted Gonzales immediately.
He was sitting at a table with several other men, playing cards. Despite the dim lighting, she saw he had stringy, dark, shoulder-length hair and a jagged scar across his left cheek. When he held up his cards, she saw the prison tats across his fingers.
Lexi thought about her strategy. According to his case file, he was a little taller than her own 5'10", and he outweighed her by a good fifty pounds. She had a couple of options for taking him in-all of which would be easier if she could get him someplace by himself.
Stepping behind a floor-to-ceiling column, she unbuttoned the top couple of buttons of her shirt and pulled the band from her hair, letting it cascade down her back. Under the circumstances, it was the best she could do to soften her appearance.
Stepping up to the bar, she ordered a drink. As she waited, she passed her gaze over the room, making sure to linger on Gonzales until he saw her. When their eyes met, she gave him the barest hint of a smile and then kept looking around the room, making sure she looked at Gonzales at least once more before turning her attention to the drink the bartender handed her.
She pretended to daintily sip it, though she had no intention of drinking anything from this place. After a minute, she rose and, throwing one last shy smile at Gonzales, walked out of the bar. If she were lucky, Gonzales would take the bait and follow her out.
She walked slowly to the end of the building and stopped to wait. Just when she was about to give up and go to Plan B, the door to the bar opened and Gonzales stepped out. She saw him look around, and, spotting her, he gave a big smile. His teeth were heavily stained from tobacco use, and she wasn't sure he'd ever seen a dentist. She had to work hard to keep disgust from showing on her face.
As he came toward her, she eased around the corner. There was a narrow gravel driveway that led to a parking area behind the warehouse next door, and she walked along it, hearing Gonzales's hurried footsteps as he came after her. Briefly she listened for sounds of anyone walking nearby who might feel compelled to interfere.
Excerpted from Immortals: The Darkening by Robin T. Popp Copyright © 2007 by Robin T. Popp. Excerpted by permission.
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