Kismet knows Perry and Belisa are likely playing for the same thing -- her soul. It's just too bad, because she expects to beat them at their own game. Except their game is vengeance.
Nobody plays vengeance like Kismet. But if the revenge she seeks damns her, her enemies might get her soul after all. . .
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By Saintcrow, Lilith
OrbitCopyright © 2010 Saintcrow, Lilith
All right reserved.
How fast does a man run, when Death is after him?
The Trader clambered up the rickety fire escape and I was right behind. If I’d had my whip I could have yanked his feet out from under him and had him down in a heartbeat. No use lamenting, had to work with what I had.
He was going too fast for me to just shoot him at the moment.
Didn’t matter. I knew where he was headed. And though I hoped Saul would be quick enough to get her out of the way, it would be better if I killed him now.
Or got there first. And then killed him.
He went over the edge of the wall in one quick spiderlike scuttle and I flung myself up, the silver charms tied in my hair buzzing like a rattler’s tail. The scar on my right wrist burned like a live coal pressed against my skin as I pulled etheric force through it. A sick tide of burning delight poured up my arm, I reached the top and was up and over so fast I collided with the Trader, my hellbreed-strong right fist jabbing forward to get him a good shot in the kidneys while my left hand tangled in his dark, dirty hair.
We rolled across the rooftop in a tangle of arms and legs, my leather trench coat snapping once and fluttering raggedly. It was singed and peppered with holes from the shotgun blast, where I’d lost my whip. I was covered in drying blood and very, very pissed off.
Just another night on the job.
Oh no you don’t, fuckwad. One hand in his hair, the other one now full of knife hilt. The silver-loaded blade ran with crackling blue light as the blessing on it reacted to the breath of contamination wavering around the Trader’s writhing. I caught an elbow in the face, my eye smarting and watering immediately, and slid the knife in up to the guard.
The Trader bucked. He was thin but strong. My fingers slipped, greasy with blood. I got a knee in, wrestled him down as he twisted—
—and he shot me four times.
They were just lead, not silverjacket slugs. Still, the violent shock of agony as four of them slammed through my torso was enough to throw me down for a few moments, stunned and gasping, the scar chuckling to itself as it flooded me with crackling etheric force. My body convulsed, stupid meat freaking out over a little thing like bullets. A curtain of red closed over my vision, and I heard retreating footsteps.
Get up, Jill. Get up now.
Another convulsion running through me, locking down every single muscle. I rolled onto my side as lung fluid and blood jetted from my mouth and nose. The contraction was so intense even my eyes watered, and I whooped in a deep breath. My hands scrabbled uselessly against dirty rooftop. My nails were bitten down to the quick; if they hadn’t been I would’ve splintered them on tarpaper.
Get UP, you bitch!
My feet found the floor, the rest of me hauled itself upright, and I heard my voice from a dim, faraway place. I was cursing like a sailor who just found out shore leave was canceled. Etheric force crackled around me like heat lightning. I took stock of myself and took a single step.
So far so good.
Now go get him. Get him before he gets there.
I stumbled, almost fell flat on my face. Getting peppered with plain lead won’t kill me, but if it hits a lot of vitals it’s pretty damn uncomfortable. My flesh twitched, expelling bits and chunks of bullet, and I coughed again rackingly, got my passages clear. More stumbling steps, my right bootsole squeaking because it was blood-wet. The knife spun, blade reversed against my forearm, and I blinked. Took off again, because the Trader’s matted black hair puffed up as he dropped over the side of the building.
Now I was mad.
Go get him, Jill. Get him quick and get him hard.
A waxing half moon hung overhead, Santa Luz shuddered underneath its glow, and I hurled myself forward again, going over the edge of the building with arms and legs pulled in just in case. The drop wasn’t bad, and I had some luck—the stupid bastard decided to stand and fight rather than run off toward the civilian he’d marked for death.
He hit me hard, ramming us both into the brick wall of the building we’d just been tangling on top of. This rooftop was a chaos of girders and support structure for the water tank looming above us. I got my left arm free, flipped my wrist so the knife blade angled in, and stabbed.
Another piece of luck—his arm was up, and my aim was good. The knife sank in at a weird angle, the axillary region exposed and vulnerable and now full of silver-loaded steel. My knee came up so hard something in his groin popped like bubble gum, and I clocked him a good one with my hellbreed-strong right fist.
Stupid fuck. While he was running, or at least just trying to get away, he had a chance. But fighting a pitched battle with an angry helltainted hunter? Not a good idea.
He folded, keening, and I coughed up more blood. A hot sheen of it slicked my chin, splashed on my chest. I pitched forward, following him down. My knee hit, a jolt of silvery pain up my femur; I braced myself and yanked his head back. His scream turned into a harsh rasping as the neck extended, vocal cords suddenly stressed.
Another knife hilt slapped my palm and I jerked it free of the sheath. My right hand cramped, he made a whining noise as I bore down, my body weight pinning him. I’m tall for a female but still small when compared to most hellbreed, Traders, or what-have-you. The scar helps, gives me denser muscle and bone, but when it comes right down to it my only hope is leverage. I had some, but not enough.
Which meant I had to kill him quick.
The silver-loaded blade dragged across easily, parting helltainted flesh. A gush of hot, black-tinged blood sprayed out. Human blood looks black at night, but the darkness of hellbreed ichor tainting a Trader’s vital fluids is in a class all its own.
Arterial spray goes amazingly far, especially when you have the rest of the body under tension and the head wrenched all the way back. The body slumped in my hands, a gurgle echoing against rooftop and girders, twitches racing through as corruption claimed the flesh. I used to think that if Traders could see one of them biting it and the St. Vitus’s dance of contagion that eats up their tissues, they might think twice about making a bargain with hellbreed.
I don’t think that anymore. Because really, what Trader thinks they’re going to die? That’s why they Trade—they think the rules don’t apply to them. Every single one of them, you see, is special. A special little snowflake, entitled to kill, rape, terrify, and use whoever and whatever they want.
They think they can escape consequences. Sometimes they do.
But not while I’m around.
My legs didn’t work too well. I scrabbled back from the body, a knife hilt in either fist. Fetched up against the brick wall, right next to the indent from earlier. Sobbing breaths as my own body struggled for oxygen, my eyes locked to the Trader’s form as it disappeared into a slick of bubbling black grease starred with scorched, twisting bones.
Watch, milaya. My teacher’s voice, quietly, inside my head. You watch the death you make. Is only way.
I watched until there was nothing recognizably human left. Even the bones dissolved, and by daybreak there would be only a lingering foulness to the air up here. I checked the angle of the building—any sunlight that came through the network of girders would take care of the rest. If the bones had remained I would’ve had to call up some banefire, to deny whatever hellbreed he’d Traded with the use of a nice fresh zombie corpse.
But no. He’d Traded hard, and he’d used his bargain recklessly, burning up whatever remained of his humanity. I coughed again, shuddered as the adrenaline dump poured through me with a taste like bitter copper. Training clamped down on the chemical soup, my pulse evening out and my ribs bringing down their heaving.
Just another day on the job. And we were three scant blocks from Molly Watling, his last planned victim. Who was probably scared out of her mind right now, even if Saul had shown up to get her out of the way.
It’s not every day your ex-husband Trades with a hellbreed and shows up with a thirst for human flesh, hot blood, and terror. Trevor Watling had worked through his current wife, three strippers, and two ex-girlfriends, not to mention a mistress and another woman grabbed at a bus stop. His sole victim of opportunity, his practice run for the others.
Even killers start out small.
I blew out between my teeth. The reek was amazing, and I was covered in goop, guck, and blood. The night was young, and I had a line on the hellbreed Trevor Watling had Traded with. A hellbreed I was going to talk to, up close and personal, hopefully with some silverjacket lead, because that was my job.
Time to get back to work.
But I just stood there for a few more moments, staring blankly at the smear on the rooftop. I’ve given up wondering why some men think they own women enough to beat and kill them. It used to be like a natural disaster—just get out of the way and hope it doesn’t get you. Then I thought about it until it threatened to drive me batshit, chewing over the incomprehensible over and over again.
Now it was enough just to stop what I could. But, Jesus, I’m so tired of it.
A vibrating buzz almost startled me. It was the pager in its padded pocket. I dug it out and glanced at it, and my entire body went cold.
What the fuck is he doing calling me?
I tested my legs. They were willing, capable little soldiers now that the crisis was over. My shirt was ruined, and my leather pants weren’t far behind. Still, all my bits were covered, and my trench coat was ripped and tattered but still usable.
I got going.
My pager went off again, and when I slid it out of my pocket Concepción, the Filipina ER nurse, looked at me funny. But they’re used to me at Mercy General, and Saul made soothing noises at the sobbing, red-haired almost-victim.
“Montaigne at the precinct will have details,” I told the ER nurse, who nodded, making a notation on her clipboard. “She’ll probably need sedation, I don’t blame her.”
The stolid motherly woman in neatly pressed scrubs nodded. “Rape kit?”
I shook my head. “No.” Thank God. I got there in time.
Of course, if I hadn’t, Molly Watling would be carted to the morgue, instead of driven to the ER or even forced to endure a rape exam. Small mercy, but I’d take it. Connie’s expression said she’d take it, too; her relief was palpable.
“It’s all right,” Saul said soothingly. The silver tied in his hair with red thread gleamed under the fluorescents, and he didn’t look washed out in the slightest. But then, Weres usually look good in any lighting. “You’re safe now. Everything’s okay.”
The slim red-haired woman nodded. Fat tears trickled down her damp cheeks. She flinched whenever I looked at her.
“Bueno.” Connie patted the woman’s arm. “Any injuries?”
I shook my head again. “Nope. Shock, though. Ex-husband.”
Comprehension spread over Connie’s face. No more needed to be said.
I rolled my shoulders back once, dispelling the aches settling in them. “So, sedation. Call Montaigne, get a trauma counselor over here, and Monty’ll take care of the paperwork.” County Health has counselors on standby, and so does the police department. Especially in cases like this. “I’ve got to get going.”
Connie nodded and deftly subtracted Molly from Saul. The redhead didn’t want to let go of his arm, and I completely understood. A big guy who looks like Native American romance-novel cheesecake, red warpaint on his high cheekbones? I’d be clinging too.
“Th-thank you.” The almost-victim didn’t even look at me. “F-for everything. I didn’t th-think anyone would b-believe me.”
Considering that her ex-husband had terrorized every woman before he’d killed them, and he’d been a real winner even before Trading, it made sense. If I’d been a little quicker on the uptake, I might’ve been able to save some of the other women as well.
But I couldn’t think like that. I’d done what I could, right?
That never helps. Ever.
“He’s not going to hurt you anymore.” I sounded harsher than I needed to, and she actually jumped. “He’s not going to hurt anyone anymore.”
I expected her to flinch and cower again. God knows I’m hardly ever a comforting sight.
But she surprised me—lifting her chin, pushing her shoulders back. “I sh-should thank you t-too.” She swallowed hard, forced herself to meet my eyes. It was probably uncomfortable—a lot of people have trouble with my mismatched gaze. One eye brown, one blue—it just seems to offend people on a deep nonverbal level when I stare them down.
And like every other hunter, I don’t look away. It’s disconcerting to civilians.
I nodded. “It’s my job, Ms. Watling. I’m glad we got there in time.” Too late for those other women. But take what you can get, Jill. I shifted my attention to Connie. “I need a phone.”
“Si, señora. Use the one at the desk.” And just like that, I was dismissed. Connie bustled the woman away out of the curtained enclosure, and the regular sounds of a Tuesday night on the front lines swallowed the sharper refrain of a terrified, relieved woman dissolving into fresh sobs. The smell of Lysol and human pain stung my nose almost as much as the dissolving reek of a Trader’s death.
Saul let out a sigh. He reached out, his hand cupping my shoulder. “Hello, kitten.”
I leaned into the touch. The smile spreading over my face felt unnatural, until my heart made the funny jigging movement it usually did when he was around and a wave of relief caught up with me. “Hey, catkin. Good work.”
“I knew he wouldn’t get there before you.” His own smile was a balm against my jagged nerves. He’d put on some weight, and the shadows under his eyes weren’t so dark anymore. The grief wasn’t hanging on him quite so heavily. “What’s the next emergency?”
I shrugged, held up the pager. “Gilberto paged from home.”
He absorbed this. “Not like him,” he finally said. Which was as close as he would get to grudgingly admitting my apprentice was doing well.
“That’s what I thought.” I reached up with my left hand, squeezed his fingers where they rested against my shoulder. His skin was warm, but mine left a smudge of filth and blood on him.
He never seemed to mind, but I took my hand away and swallowed hard.
Saul examined me. “Well, let’s see what he wants. And then, lunch?” Meaning the night was still young, and he’d like a slice of time alone with me.
It’s kind of hard to roll around with your favorite Were when you’ve got a kid living with you, after all. I was about ready to start suggesting the car’s backseat, but—how’s this for irony—I hadn’t had time yet. One thing after another, that’s a hunter’s life. “I don’t see why not. I’ve got a line on the hellbreed Watling Traded with, too.”
He nodded. The fringe on his jacket trembled, and he turned on one heel. “Sounds like a busy night.”
“Aren’t they all.” I followed him out, past other curtained enclosures. Some were open, the machinery of saving lives standing by for the next high-adrenaline emergency. Some were closed, the curtains drawn to grant a sliver of privacy. Someone groaned from one, and a murmur of doctor’s voices came from another. Mercy General’s ER was always hopping.
The nurse at the desk just gave me a nod and pushed the phone over, then went back to questioning a blank-eyed man in Spanish through the sheet of bulletproof glass as she filled out a sheet of paperwork with neat precise scratches. The patient swayed and cradled his swollen, messily bandaged hand; he was pale under his coloring and smelled of burnt metal and cocaine. I kept half an eye on him while I punched 9 and my own number.
He picked up on the first ring. Slightly nasal boy’s voice. “Bruja?”
“Gilberto. This better be good.” I regretted it as soon as I said it. He wasn’t the type to call me for nothing.
As usual, he didn’t take it personally. A slight, wheezing laugh. “Package for you, mi profesora. Wrapped up with a pretty bow.”
What? “A package?” My mouth went dry. “Gilberto—”
“Man who delivered it still here. Uno rubio, in a suit. Says he’ll wait for you.”
A blond, in a suit? The dryness poured down, invaded my throat. “Gilberto, listen to me very carefully—”
A slight sound as the phone was taken from my apprentice. I knew, from the very first breath, who was waiting for me at home.
“My darling Kiss.” Perry’s voice was smooth as silk, and full of nasty amusement. “He’s quite a winning elf, your new houseboy. And so polite.”
Think fast, Jill. My heart leapt nastily. The scar on my wrist turned hot and hard, swollen with corruption. As if he had just pressed his lips against my flesh again. “Pericles.”
Saul went stiff next to me, his dark eyes flashing orange for a moment.
The hellbreed on the other end of the line laughed. “I have a gift for you, my darling. Come home and see it. I will be content with the boy until then.”
He dropped the phone down into the cradle. The sound of the connection breaking was like the click of a bullet into the chamber.
I slammed my receiver down, pulling it at the last moment so I wouldn’t break the rest of the phone. The man on the other side of the glass jumped, and the nurse twisted in her chair to look at me. I didn’t bother to give a glance of apology, just looked at my Were.
Saul’s eyes met mine, and I didn’t have to explain a single thing. He turned so fast the fringe on his jacket flared, and he headed with long strides for the door that would take us out toward the exit. I was right behind him. The scar twitched under the flayed cuff of my trench coat. Saul’s stride lengthened into a run.
So did mine.
Excerpted from Heaven's Spite by Saintcrow, Lilith Copyright © 2010 by Saintcrow, Lilith. Excerpted by permission.
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