In her new world, Jean-Marc des Ombres is the one person Izzy can trust as she claims her birthright—keeping New Orleans and the House of the Flames safe from supernatural enemies. But those enemies will do anything to destroy her. When Jean-Marc is injured, Izzy is caught between fighting off a powerful vampire and opening her House to a potentially treacherous ally. And now the lives of the people she cares about most may be sacrificed for her own .
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The moon was a flickering, low-watt streetlamp threatening to go out any second. Sirens roared in the New York City jungle of burned-out tenements and rusted cars. Bottom-dwelling predators—dealers, pimps, "kickers and gangbangers glided through the misery and poverty of the urban landscape surrounded by snowdrifts, garbage and needles.
It was the last hour of third watch, the end of Izzy DeMarco's very first shift as an NYPD rookie. She and her field training officer, Patrolman Juan Torres, were escorting Sauvage, a young goth from Brooklyn, to her boyfriend's place. The building was not very nice, but at least the graffiti on the bricks was random and crude, lacking the trademark tags claiming the building for some gang. Gang territory was worse news than basic low-rent squalor.
Sauvage had promised to stay here until the department located Izzy's former coworker, Julius Esposito, and took him into custody. Sauvage had witnessed Esposito, who had worked with Izzy in the property room, shaking down a corner boy—a street dealer—for money and contraband. She hadn't seen him commit murder, but Esposito was also wanted in connection with the possible homicide of Detective First Grade Jason Attebury, also of the Two-Seven.
Detective Pat Kittrell—what should Izzy call him, her lover? her boyfriend?—had argued that Izzy needed protective custody of her own. Although he had no concrete evidence to back up his case, Pat was sure Esposito was the shooter who had taken aim at Izzy's father in a burning tenement fire—and missed. If he wanted one DeMarco dead, he might want two. Pat was furious when Izzy was assigned to escort Sauvage to a so-called safehouse, and he had half a mind to go to Captain Clancy and tell her so.
Torn between feeling flattered and patronized, Izzy had demanded that Pat stand down and back way off. The last thing she needed was a gold shield lecturing her boss about how to use a new hire.
I'm a cop. Finally. And I sure as hell knew the job was dangerous when I took it.
Besides, Sauvage had declared that Izzy was the only person in New York whom she trusted. With white makeup, black eyes and scarlet lips, costumed in her evil Tinkerbell finery—black-and-red bustier, lacy skirt and leggings topped by a pea coat, with combat boots sticking out underneath— Sauvage cut an exotic figure beside Izzy, who had on her brand-new NYPD blues. Izzy wore no makeup, and her riot of black corkscrew curls were knotted regulation-style, poking out from the back of her hat. Dark brows, flashing chestnut eyes, and unconcealed freckles danced across her small nose—Izzy had never aspired to fashion-model looks, but some men—okay, Pat—said she was a natural beauty. She didn't know about that. But she did look exactly as she had imagined she would look in her uniform, and she was very proud.
"Okay, so where is your boyfriend?" Torres thundered at Sauvage as the three stamped their chilly feet on the stoop of the building. Izzy blew on her hands. She had forgotten her gloves. Torres had not. He was bundled up against the night air, and he had a few extra pounds of his own to keep himself warm. And onion breath. Their vehicle reeked of it.
Huffing, Sauvage jabbed the buzzer repeatedly with her blood-red fingernail.About ten minutes ago, back in the squad car, Sauvage had let her boyfriend, Ruthven, know they were on their way, and he'd assured her that he was in the apartment cooking her a big bowl of brown rice and veggies—with a supply of her favorite clove cigarettes at the ready.
"I don't know why he's not answering," Sauvage muttered.
"He is so dead."
Let's hope not, Izzy thought, a chill clenching her gut, but she remained silent.
From his jacket pocket, Torres handed Sauvage his cell phone and said, "Call him and tell him to get this door open ASAP."
Sauvage obeyed, punching in numbers. She waited a moment, then looked up from the cell phone and said, "It's not making any noise."
Izzy's anxiety level increased. She turned her head, surveying the street, tilting back her head as she scanned the grimy windows. A few of them had been boarded over. "Try mine," Izzy offered, pulling her Nokia out of her dark-blue coat and handing it to Sauvage. Meanwhile, Torres was depressing buttons on his cell phone as he exhaled his stinky onion breath, which curled like smoke around his face.
Sauvage took Izzy's phone, punched in the number and murmured, "C'mon, c'mon" under her breath. She closed her kohl-rimmed eyes and pursed her blood-red lips as if she were trying to send her boyfriend a message via ESP.
"Nope," she announced, shaking her head and holding the phone out to Izzy. "It doesn't work, either."
Izzy listened to the dead air and frowned.
Torres said, "I just called in. I'm not getting anything. Let's go to pagers."
They whipped them out. Nothing.
Torres announced, "I'm going to the car." He jogged about ten feet down the block to their squad car. After about half a minute, he was out of the car and looking in the trunk.
He came back with their twelve-gauge shotgun. "Hijo de puta," he groused. "Computer's out. Radio phone's not working, either."
"How can that be?" Sauvage asked, sounding frightened.
"You guys are the police. Your stuff is always supposed to work."
A frisson shot up Izzy's spine. This all seemed familiar in a way she could not define. The cold, the phones not working...
"I think we should get out of here," she said. "Let's take Sauvage to the precinct."
"No, we can't go," Sauvage fretted, hunching her shoulders. She tapped the column of nameplates and jabbed the same button. "He's here. We can buzz someone else who lives here and get them to let us in." She ran her finger up and down the list. "Here's a cool one—Linda Wilcox."
"No," Torres said. "It's his place or we're not going in." Izzy thought about arguing. Maybe something had happened to Ruthven. Something bad. Maybe it was happening right now. Ten—make that fifteen—minutes ago, he had been cooking something for his girlfriend to eat. Izzy sincerely doubted he'd left to go buy some more zucchini.
"I'm going across the street to call for backup," Torres said. There was a little mom-and-pop convenience store across the street, signs in the window for Colt 45, cigarettes and lotto tickets.
"Let's go together," Izzy suggested. "Something is seriously wrong."
He said, "I'm only going across the street. You two should keep trying the buzzer."
Then he split, taking full advantage of the lull in the oncoming traffic to jaywalk between parked cars.
Uneasy and cold, Izzy checked her watch again. Forty-eight minutes to go. She knew that Big Vince, her father, was counting each minute, too, waiting for her call to assure him that she had come through her first tour safe and sound. A veteran patrol officer, Big Vince hated that she had become a cop, which was exactly what she had predicted. He wanted his little girl safe and protected from the cold, harsh world, not out in it protecting others.
As soon as this detail was over, she'd phone Big Vince and assure him that he could go back to bed. Then she'd meet up with Pat, debrief, celebrate. Pat Kittrell, a detective second grade in the NYPD, was the man who had helped her fulfill her dream of becoming a cop. Encouraged her, supported her, even helped her overcome her phobia of guns.
He had bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate. They'd go to his place, pop the cork, toast...and then they would make love.As on edge as she was, her body became energized with the thought of his hands on her body, of how it felt when they started the dance. She could smell his musky scent, feel the smoothness of his lips, hear his voice whispering her name in her ear just before he slid into her warm and willing body.
"What is taking him, like, forever?" Sauvage asked Izzy, jolting her out of her reverie. Sauvage tap-danced against the pavement in her combat boots. "I don't like this."
Izzy didn't either like it, either. "Let's check the store," she said to Sauvage. "Be careful of the ice," Sauvage cautioned her, as she herself slipped and slid, grabbing Izzy's hand.
When they reached the crosswalk, Izzy reached out to depress the pedestrian signal. As soon as she touched it, the streetlight above them flickered a few times and went out, casting them in relative darkness.
"What the—?" Sauvage muttered, gazing upward.
In the same instant, a black panel truck roared around the corner on the same side of the street as the convenience store and squealed up to the curb. Izzy yanked Sauvage back, hard. The front bumper missed Sauvage's left knee by inches.
Izzy aimed her weapon as the passenger door burst open and a dark silhouette leaped out. She recognized the pomaded hair—Julius Esposito—just as he lunged at her and slammed something against her arm. There was a sharp, painful jolt.
Her vision fragmented into gray, shiny dots and there was a scream out in the world or maybe that was the nerves in her ears going haywire. She began to convulse, and she hit the icy sidewalk hard, her arms and legs twitching. For a few forevers, everything shorted out. Then as she swam back, her head began to throb.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, she thought.
It took her a while to wrap her right hand around the grip of her revolver and get to her feet. Her left ankle hurt worse than her head. Bad sprain.
The car was long gone, but Esposito was two blocks ahead of her, dragging Sauvage on foot down the street. She was shrieking and batting at him. Esposito didn't pay her the slightest attention. Neither did the solitary man staggering drunkenly past them in a pair of earmuffs over a do-rag and a black Mets jacket.
Izzy shouted, "Stop! Police! Torres! Torres, get out here!" Esposito was hustling out of her kill zone—too far away to shoot. And she might hit Sauvage or Mets.
She was surprised that Esposito had taken Sauvage. Why didn't he drag her into the truck and tell his wheelman to take off? Obviously, he wants me to follow him.
Her best bet was to sic her uninjured partner on him. The mom-and-pop loomed across the street like a journey of a thousand miles. It took her a supreme effort to walk, but she put her pain on hold as she started across the street. She was still holding her gun, but she let her arm drop to her side, concealing it from view.
A bell on the front door of the shop tinkled as she rushed inside. The store smelled of tobacco and floor cleaner, and the clerk, a short Asian man, leaned over the counter at the front and pointed toward the opposite end of the store.
He said, "He go into the alley."
"Did he use your phone?" she asked, as she made her way down an aisle of canned lychee nuts and Japanese rice crackers. She spread her thumb and forefinger and held them against the side of her face like a phone. "Did he call the police?"
"No call," the man informed her, shaking his head. "No working." He held up his white portable unit as if to corroborate his testimony, and shrugged apologetically.
Why aren't the phones working? What is going on? "Try again. Call 911! Tell them officers are in pursuit, on foot. Perp armed and dangerous. And tell 'em all the radios are jammed up down here."
"It no working," the man insisted.
"Keep trying!" she bellowed.
She burst through the back door into the alley. There were Dumpsters and trash cans, but no Torres.
She whirled in a circle, shouting, "Torres! Damn it! Where are you?"
There was no answer.
Figuring he'd circled back around, she flew back through the store and burst outside again.
No Torres there, either.
Damn it, she thought.
Esposito had put a lot of distance between himself and her. Alone, without backup, she hobbled through East Harlem, one of the more impoverished neighborhoods in all of New York City. Fifth Avenue to the East River, Ninety-Sixth to One Hundred and Fifteenth Street. Night was a heavy lead weight slung across her shoulders, a sudden dumping of snow flurries slowing her pace as surely as the pain freezing up her ankle.
Esposito maintained at least a fifty-yard lead, despite the fact that he was dragging Sauvage and she was fighting him every step. The young goth's black combat boots kept scooting out from underneath her on the icy sidewalk; now he was screaming at her over his shoulder and brandishing his gun. Izzy wondered how long Sauvage would be able to struggle. Beneath her pea coat, her black-and-red bustier must be constricting her breathing, and her skirts were wrapped around her legs like a shroud.