Tip #1: Don’t get on her bad side. Tip #2: There’s no good side.
read more at the J.C. site!
read more at the J.C. site!
It’s a Kit-related thing…not a Kit thing.
Her name is Frankie. At least, that’s what she calls herself.
She looks human, but she’s no more human than she is a faith-healer. That doesn’t stop her from using her…more unique abilities to take care of certain needs. It’s those abilities that lead to a chance encounter with an unusual woman in Florida.
It’s a chance encounter with fate that will set these two down a collision course with destiny.
This short story is loosely connected to the Kit Colbana Files. Can be read as a stand-alone.
Due out in June. Preorder links coming soonish…
Eventually, the emotions in my head, the misery and easing of it stopped crashing and swelling inside me, coming to an uneasy sort of peace.
I’d sleep—right there…
The sound had me coming up off the bed and landing in a crouch. Too many years of fleeing from those who might yet hunt me had me drawing my weapon. The blade was as long as my forearm, the metal matte black—it didn’t reflect any light, not that there was much of it in my room. I’d had the blade designed after a flash of light had almost given me away years ago. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. Not ever.
Head cocked, I listened.
Not even the brush of a shoe on pavement was that quiet. But somebody was outside, on the farthest edges of the parking lot.
I crept to the walls.
I hadn’t turned on the lights. I’m just as at home in the shadows and darkness as I am in the light. Comes from living in a perpetual gloom for the first two or three decades of my life. What might seem an unending, unyielding blackness to others was no hindrance to me. Placing one foot in front of the other, carefully placing each step, I made my way to the window, stopping just at the edge of the frame so I could peer out.
Behind me, the air in the room stirred.
There was no sound to indicate who it was, but I knew, nonetheless.
“They are clever, aren’t they?” I said softly.
Saleel’s scarred hand touched my shoulder. “Shall I take care of them?”
In Saleel’s mind, there was only one way to take care of something.
I shook my head.
If I really wanted to take care of them, we both knew I could do it myself. Just as we both knew that Saleel considered it his job. His…duty. Even an honor.
“No,” I said. They were closer now. I couldn’t see her, which was an oddity, considering how pale she was. I could barely see him, but he was a witch. I could smell a witch a mile away. One that pretty was worth keeping an eye on, too.
“I wonder what they want.”
“They don’t approve of you,” Saleel said, and his disgust was so thick, I could have spread it on a slice of toast.
I slid him a smirk over my shoulder. “Neither did you…once.”
His eyes, nearly black even in the bright of day, held mine. “I did not make a judgment simply because I saw you spread your hands out over a room of ill people.”
“No. You judged me for a different reason entirely.” I gave him an arch look.
A grim smile curled his lips.
Our history was complicated.
I held out a hand. “Come. I’m not in the mood for distractions tonight.”
I could practically taste his annoyance as he placed his hand in mine. He must have been in the mood to play cat and mouse.
Who would be stupid enough to try and get into a fight here?
In my defense, I hadn’t planned on the fight.
It was the crazy-eyed shifter who’d crashed into me at the buffet—she started it.
The buffet was loaded with everything from raw cuts of meat—for the shifters—to the most beautiful sugar-spun pastries you could imagine. I was staying far away from the area where things were still bleeding and focusing on the sweets. The sparkly little ball of puffy dough should have looked too pretty to eat.
I’d eaten five of them before I could stop myself and was pondering a sixth when she moved in front of me.
She was so close, I could feel the ripple of her energy on my skin—way too close and I didn’t like it.
I backed up two inches before I realized what I was doing and then I wanted to kick myself.
I already recognized the feel of shifter—and the feel of bitch.
A smug smile curled her lips and I knew I’d just broken one of the cardinal rules when dealing with shapeshifters.
Never back down until they throw you down or your life depends on it.
I could brazen it out, though.
I can brazen my way through anything. With a bright smile, I met her gaze. “Hello.”
She just continued to stare.
A chill raced down my spine, but I ignored it and selected another sweet, this one a delicate cake that resembled a miniature pumpkin—complete with the grinning jack o’ lantern.
She caught my hand before I could pop the cake in my mouth.
“You weren’t raised very well, were you?”
Her voice grated across my nerves.
The words, too, rubbed me raw, but while I can’t lie and say I’ve accepted my less than desirable upbringing, I had come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t me who screwed up.
With an easy smile, I said, “Nope.”
Then, moving into her grip, I waited and when her grip slackened just the slightest, I twisted away. People never expect you to move in when you’re being forcibly restrained.
Once her hand fell away, I backed up—fast.
She’d already tried to grab me again, but now there was five feet between us—and eyes on us.
Instead of advancing, she flared her nostrils and scented the air. “Human,” she pronounced and she said it the same way I might say dead mouse—with utter distaste.
“Guilty.” I gave her a wide grin. “At least, partially guilty. There’s something more in the bloodline than just human.”
“All that matters is the human,” she said, shaking her head. “No wonder you have no manners. I’m curious just what the Alpha sees in you.”
A few more gazes slid our way. Most people only glanced out of curiosity before looking away, but more than a few started to watch us and the low murmur of voices in the immediate vicinity went quiet.
“I don’t know.” I still held my plate. I dragged my finger through the sugary powder that had fallen onto it, and then, still watching her, I popped my finger into my mouth. “Maybe he likes human.”
“For meat.” She all but purred it.
Meat. What the more asshole shifters called those they considered prey.
“If that was what he was looking for, I think he would have moved on by now.”
“Oh.” She gave a condescending laugh. “Precious, it’s only pity that holds him. Pity. Fascination. He’ll tire of you.”
A heavy, familiar tread came to my ears and I knew he was near. Near enough to hear us both and it sent a twist through my gut.
“He’ll tire of you,” she said again and now she smiled. “You can’t even satisfy his hungers now. Your fear is like a stink in the air. You aren’t even a woman.”
“Alice,” a low voice said.
It wasn’t Damon.
I didn’t bother to look from her to Chang. I just put the plate down and leaned closer.
“Maybe I’m not a woman, but at least I’m not a hyena,” I said, curling my lip at her.
A low, ugly growl escaped her and I saw Chang catch her arm. “Enough,” he said, his voice a biting command. “You will leave.”
She tensed, like she’d ignore him, but then she inclined her head.
I saw the promise of retribution in her eyes, though, as she headed down the buffet, her back turned to both me and Chang. That was a look that promised pain.
I guess that’s why I wasn’t surprised when she circled the far end and slid me a cold smile—then she lunged.
Just a couple more days, guys!
“Chang.” I cocked my head. “Sorry to crash in like this…sounded like serious stuff. Am I interrupting?”
Chang had an innate courtesy. He’d brush it off. Of course not. How are you, would you like some tea—
To my surprise, the only response he made initially was to sigh.
It was a soft, heavy sigh, one that carried a world of weariness. “I had to call a family up north with grim news. An awful sort of call to make.”
“I…” I stopped for a moment. “I’m sorry. Are there…problems?”
An odd question to ask, maybe, but the look on Chang’s face wasn’t one that spoke of somebody who’d lived to see a ripe old age and then died peacefully in his sleep.
From the corner of his eye, he watched me. There was a strange expression to his features, as though he wanted to say something, but then he sighed and said, “No. Sit. I’ll fix tea. You’ll tell me why you’re here.”
There was no point in arguing.
Chang had fallen back on his role of courtesy.
There was no getting out of it now—and no chance of tugging out any details about that phone call, either.
I waited until I had my tea in hand—tea was a personal addiction of mine, almost as bad as the soaps and lotions and other girly things I bought obsessively. Breathing in the sweet and spicy scent, I sighed. I doctored it with sugar and cream. I liked my tea, with just a little more sugar than most people. Or a lot more sugar.
“How you can drink it that way confounds me,” Chang said. “I keep trying to break you of that habit, but it doesn’t work.”
“To each their own.” I shrugged and took my first sip. Perfect.
Chang had a look of amusement and revulsion on his face.
“When you spend a good ten years of your life scrapping just to get enough water and food to fill the hole in your belly, you develop odd cravings.” I shrugged it off.
Chang’s eyes fell away.
I scowled inwardly, wished I hadn’t said anything. I’d dealt with more abuse in my life than most people had ever heard of—I’d come to grips with what my family had done and generally dealt with it, in my own unique sort of way.
Sometimes, I was even able to not be ashamed of it. But it made other people uncomfortable. Honestly, that’s just plain stupid to me—it happened to me—if I can deal with it, then why can’t they?
But then I had to deal with people looking away, or lapsing into silence…or just…fading away.
“Sorry,” I said, my voice tense.
“Why?” Chang said quietly.
I stared at him, opened my mouth—then snapped it shut. “Fuck it. Never mind.”
But he was too insightful, by far. Unlike many shifters I knew, he didn’t just go by what his senses told him. He looked at people. Saw beneath the surface. Sometimes, he saw so deep, it pissed me off.
“I’m not aggravated with you for speaking of your childhood,” he said softly. “In a way, it…humbles me. I know you don’t always speak freely of your past, Kit.”
The languid way he moved couldn’t be called pacing, not by any means.
But Chang rarely made wasted moves and the way he moved from the window at the back of his office to his wall of weapons then to his desk to straighten the non-existent clutter there before repeating the circuit was nothing but wasted movement. And it was done with all the elegance, grace and speed he did everything else with. “At the same time, the thought that any soul could treat a child as I know you were treated makes me…”
He looked up.
For the first time in all the time I’d known him, I saw a faint glow roll across his eyes.
The flash was gone so fast, I couldn’t even place it—just a glow of color too light to belong in that dark gaze, and then it was gone. “It angers me. Children should be treasured.”
“That’s how the world works sometimes.”
His eyes held mine. “And sometimes, the world sucks.”
“I’ve found myself thinking that a lot lately.”
“Yet another reason I like you, Kit. You are a wise woman.”
At that, I snorted. “I’m a lot of things—wise isn’t one of them.”
He chuckled and the tension in the air passed. He returned to his seat and faced me. “Let’s discuss why you’re here. Not that I’m not delighted to see you, of course.”
He’d never say it, but I suspected he had things to do, secrets to pass on and people who needed to kill or be killed.
That was his job, after all.
Since I respected that, I didn’t beat around the bush.
“I’m tracking down—or trying to track down—some information. I could use your help.”
He arched a brow as he lifted his tea cup to his lips.
He’d help if he could. I knew that. Just like I knew he’d stonewall me if he couldn’t.
“NHs are disappearing. I need to know about any shifters who have gone missing…specifically some in Georgia. I need information and if anybody has it, it’s you.”
The cup froze at his mouth.
Without taking a sip, he lowered it. Then he put it down and moved behind his desk to stare out the window. “Who have you been talking to, Kit?”
I started to move my knee back and forth. “Am I going to sound terribly childish if I say I asked you first?”
“Sound as childish as you want. But you’re more likely to get answers from me if you cooperate.” His eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Then a faint smile appeared on his face. “You can always ask Damon. However, if you wanted to do that, you would have. You often end up in messes that worry him, a fact I’m sure you’re aware of. This is likely why you came to me instead.”
“You’re telling me this because…” I drummed my fingers on the arm of the chair as I stared at him.
“Only two people possess the information you’re looking for—or possess an in-depth knowledge of it. That I know of. Damon hasn’t spoken to you—he wouldn’t, not about this. If somebody has spoken to you…” He let the words trail off.
“If you’re worried my source might be behind these disappearances, you can draw your claws back in, Chang.”
“My claws aren’t out.” A brow lifted. “Yet.”
Like, um… three more weeks? I think?
Vampires weren’t a compassionate race, but they were a cunning one. Sometimes they had bad eggs. Bad eggs didn’t bode well for them. Sadly, their idea of a bad egg and everybody else’s idea of bad egg didn’t exactly align.
“We have a…contact,” Justin said. “He doesn’t exactly work for Banner, but he’s been known to take on contracts and he gets good intel. I’ve spoken to him.”
Without turning my head, I slid my gaze back to him. “A vampire.”
He didn’t answer that, just continued on with what he was saying. “He’s in the line of one of the missing bloodsuckers. He says there’s just a disconnect.”
I shook my head and frowned. “A disconnect?”
“Yep.” He looked around and then grabbed the notepad on the corner of my coffee table. “Here.”
Justin sketched out a series of circles, connecting them by lines. It reminded me of…well, of a chemical formula more than anything else. Inside the circles, instead of elements, he’d scrawled names. A few of them, I recognized. Most of them didn’t cause much reaction, other than my now-instinctive dislike of vampires, but others would have made my heart lurch in fear, if I had allowed it.
“This is the direct line and the closest relation for my contact.”
I saw the name. Immediately, my spine stiffened. Allerton.
“I know him,” I said softly.
Paddy looked up as Justin continued his sketch. “D’ ya now? He’s not a bad man to have at your back in a fight.”
“I’d rather stick a knife in my own back.”
I’ll be having at least one more J.C. Daniels book out this year…but it’s not a Kit book.
It’s not urban fantasy, either.
J.C. is trying her hand at science fiction. SF with a splash of romance.
Here’s a snippet of FINAL PROTOCOL, due out from Samhain in July.
Some people said that this was what Old Earth would be like by now. Well, except for the population thing. Aris still had a thriving population. Disease and war had all but decimated Old Earth. There were rumors that those who had remained behind no longer even resembled anything that we’d consider human.
Personally, I think human is just another word for animal. None of us are worth much. Me, included.
The ariste were a different beast altogether. Some of the kindest, most gentle people I’d ever come across resided here, on this hot, desert planet that travelled too close to its sun. The people made me nervous and I wanted nothing more than to kick the dust of this planet off my shoes and leave it far behind.
Leave these smiling people far behind.
I had very little use for people in general. If I couldn’t fuck it, then the only time I was likely to come in contact with anybody was when I was sent a contract to kill.
Like this old man, with his round, cheerful face and his silver eyes—ariste eyes, hidden behind the tinted lenses he wore.
I was here to kill him.
And he knew.
A smile creased his face as I moved into the room, not bothering to conceal myself.
He already knew I was there. Why bother to hide?
Either he’d called for help, which would mean I had to move things along, or he thought he could handle me myself.
Neither would change the outcome.
He would die, because the alternative was that I would likely die and I didn’t plan on that being the case.
He nodded at the table where he sat.
“Would you join me?”
I paused, my hand on the darts I’d planned to use. The problem was he hadn’t been on the long, narrow balcony taking his normal walk. He was ariste, and one of the older ones. They had a thing about the setting sun. It was a religious fascination as far as I could tell. All of the houses had balconies that faced the west, so they could watch as the brutal, burning sun sank below the horizon. Even the poorest of families would struggle to get a simple opening so the family could face the death of the day.
Cree Ru was far from poor.
Yet he hadn’t taken his sunset walk.
“Come.” He smiled at me. “Sit.”
I said nothing. I knew better. My voice could be used to track me, pin me to the crime, if anybody was successful at hunting me down. I’d evaded capture on a dozen planets in four different systems. This was an amateur’s mistake.
Just like walking in that open door was an amateur’s mistake, I chided myself.
“You will not sit then.” Cree nodded. “Very well. I’ll speak a bit. I’ve time yet.”
He must have sensed something because he slid me a small smile. “No. The authorities weren’t alerted. I sensed you three days ago and had the time since then to decide on the actions I’d take. First, I had to think about who must have hired you.”
That wasn’t an answer I could give him.
I accepted the money, the job, all from my handler. There were other things I took from him, and some things he forced on me, but he never told me who hired me. It was essential, he’d once told me, that he protect his clients. Names were never given.
Cree didn’t let my silence stop him as he leaned back, steepling his fingers together as he looked out into the night. He had thick, floor to ceiling walls of what the locals called plaris. It made me think of the pilastene, a manufactured material that was used in almost everything for those who’d settled the New Earth colonies.
The NE colonies weren’t home to me, but many of my tools were NE made. It was what I was familiar with, what I was used to. Pilastene was nearly unbreakable, safe to manufacture and inexpensive.
Plaris, like ‘stene, was durable, and nearly unbreakable, something that served this volatile planet well, designed to endure quakes that could have leveled cities. His entire home was made of plaris, and the windows were the clear stuff, the most pricy form of it out there. Eyes on the night sky, he studied the twin moons and said, “I hated to admit it to myself, but there are only two people who would have done this. Only two who would benefit. My son and his wife.”
Arching my brows, I edged in closer, searching for weapons. So far, I’d yet to see a single one.
“I cannot tell if the look on your face is curiosity or merely an attempt to distract me.” He sighed and then reached out, pushed a plate toward me. “If you are any good at your job, you’ll recognize this.”
My eyes moved to the plate, a thin disk of what looked like hammered gold.
The sight of the three small berries there made my belly clench, even if I was there to kill him.
Death’s seal, the most poisonous plant in three systems. Deadly, and outlawed on almost every planet in those three systems. Just the touch of it on the tongue was enough to kill a child. Half of a berry could kill a woman my size. Three berries could kill three men.
“I’m going to make this easy,” he said quietly. “My son seeks to kill me, thinking he’ll inherit.”
Cree reached for a berry.
“Wait,” I said, the word ripping out of me despite my intention not to speak. “Why? If you wish to fight him, then why do this?”
“I don’t wish to fight him.” He smiled, rolling the berry between his fingers. “I wish to deny him what he tries to take by betrayal.” Then he shrugged. “And I refuse to let him use another in his endless vendetta against me. Do you know…it’s our belief that for every life you take, you must save two more if you want to leave this existence with your soul intact.”
I inclined my head. “I have no soul left. You do this for nothing if you try to spare me.”
“If you had no soul, it wouldn’t concern you to see this berry in my hand.”
He smiled at me as he tossed it up in the air.
I don’t know why I did it.
It should mean nothing to me.
I could easily claim his death as my own. Poison wasn’t unknown to me. I suspected I even knew who had provided him with those three priceless, deadly berries.
But my hand moved, almost as though it had a mind of its own and the sliver-thin dart stole the berry from the air and I quickly used two more darts to destroy the other two berries. He could still lick the plate, I supposed, but somehow I didn’t see this regal, elegant man choosing that route.
“Why?” he asked, his voice puzzled.
Staring at the plate, at the thin stalks of the darts, I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I murmured. Then I looked at him. “Do you count now? As one half of a life?”