Lisa and I released this book back in January. We wrote it pseudonymously because it’s a genre change for us. It’s a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy. Those of you who’ve read our book Stolen, will recognize Grace and Parker as Perish, is Eshu, a time traveling, bounty hunting shape shifter. This is the first book in a series, the next book, Acts of Wars will be out early next year. We’re going to keep the original blog (www.cravenofwars.wordpress.com) for now, and park everything regarding the book there and on our own blogs. Here’s the first chapter:
“Look son, it’s colder than a motherfucker out here, so I’m going to make this nice and simple.” Perish Blackburn paused and looked down at the terrified man she was dangling over the balcony thirty floors up. She tightened her grip when it went slack and the sudden quick rough movement against the waist-high stone barrier had chunks of the decrepit building falling off like so much rubble. She shook her head. It was the curse of most buildings in the city. Her victim let out a terrified yelp, and Perish tightened her hold some more. “Not to worry,” she said, making her voice as carefree as a breeze, “I won’t drop you.” She jiggled him a bit. “Yet.”
She took a sip of the vanilla soy chai latte she held in her other hand, and her mouth twisted in disgust. “Fuck. Now my tea’s gone cold. All right. It’s time to wrap this shit up. Post. Haste.” She shook him hard once in warning.
“You’re going to tell me what you did with Connie’s access codes or you’re going to have an unfortunate accident.” The man mumbled something but the late December wind swirling around the balcony made his words indecipherable. Her patience gone, Perish began bouncing him up and down yo-yo fashion. After just a few moments of this treatment, he began screaming at the top of his lungs. Satisfied, Perish placed her now-undrinkable beverage on the ledge and used both hands to pull him back onto the balcony.
He stood before her, literally shaking in his boots, too terrified to even piss his pants. He certainly wouldn’t be the first. God I love my work, she thought.
“You’re that crazy bounty hunter, aren’t you?” the man whined, still shivering more from fear than the cold. “I can’t believe Connie sent you after me.”
“Then clearly you don’t know your former business associate very well. Connie doesn’t tolerate thieves. Unless, of course, you were stealing for him. Now speak up. What the hell did you do with his codes?”
“I’ve got them!” Voice still quivering, the man quickly held his hands up to forestall her when she moved a step closer. “I’ve got them right here.” He hurried into the hotel room through the French doors and ran over to a small overnight case that was sitting on a chair. After opening the case he carefully pulled back the lining. “Here! Here it is,” he said, handing the flash drive to her.
Perish pulled a small tablet computer out of her backpack. With smoothly efficient movements she plugged the drive into the port and quickly pulled up the document. As she’d expected, the document contained a series of numbers that meant nothing to her and she quickly e-mailed it to her client to check its validity. While she waited for a response she continued to eye the man who’d been stupid enough to try to steal from Constantine Drakos. He was pale with dull brown eyes and matching hair. Not particularly large, he was of average height and build and somewhat shorter than her own six feet.
He was studying her as well, a look of incredulity on his face as his eyes roamed her thin frame. His gaze strayed back to her face. “How the hell does some skinny chick like you pick me up like that? What kinda shit is that?”
Perish’s smirk was self-directed. “Must be I got me some super powers, or some shit like that,” she said mockingly. Her good mood suddenly dim, she scowled at the computer screen, wishing Connie would hurry the hell up and get back to her with an answer.
The man spoke up again. “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?” he squeaked.
Perish smiled, the fierceness of her expression making his eyes go wide with fear. “Unlike you, I always follow my client’s orders to the letter. As long as you give it up and haven’t tried to access the accounts…” She raised a brow in inquiry. He shook his head rapidly. “Then Connie said to let you go, and that’s what I’ll do.”
“But Connie owes me that money. By rights it should be mine.” The whine was back in his voice, but now there was a look of timid hope as well. “Hey. What’s say you let me go and I cut you in?”
Perish let her smile broaden. Why did they all think she was stupid? “Now why on earth would I want to do that? Connie’s a good client. Pays well and in cash. I never double-cross a client, especially one with such a vengeful streak.” She glanced down at her computer when it beeped to indicate she’d received an e-mail. She checked it to confirm that she had the desired information then slipped the device back into her backpack.
“You got off easy this time. If Connie has to send me after you again I’ll stomp you into a lovely inkblot. I hate do-overs.”
The man nodded his agreement as Perish turned to exit the hotel room. He flinched when she turned back.
Perish’s new smirk was smug and satisfied. “Relax. I just forgot about the message Connie told me to give you. He said for you to say hello to his sister. And don’t forget about his New Year’s Eve party.”
Constantine Drakos looked like a Minoan bull, or at least how the mythological beast would look if someone tailored a five thousand dollar suit to fit him. A stocky man, he nonetheless had a certain elegance about him. If Perish didn’t know he was one of the most notorious arms dealers in the world she would have thought he was a wealthy financier — not that there was all that much difference between the two.
“So how is my esteemed brother-in-law?” he asked, rising from behind his desk as she entered his mahogany-paneled office.
“Still alive when I left him. More’s the pity,” Perish said and slid the flash drive across the massive heavily carved desk.
With reflexes that would have made him a frightening opponent in the boxing ring, Drakos caught the device before it slid off the edge of the desk. Then he laughed. “Oh, Perish. I had quite forgotten how much I enjoy your sense of humor.”
“It’s the only reason people keep me around.” She dropped down uninvited into the plush office chair and unceremoniously propped her jack-booted feet up on his desk.
“Had he used the codes to access my accounts?”
“Would he still be alive if he had? I guarantee satisfaction and your instructions were clear.”
“You know, Perish, you’re a woman after my own heart. Honestly if I had a few more of you—”
“You’d be fucked beyond all recognition. I don’t play well with others, Connie. I’ve told you that before. I’m not part of your crew and never will be.” Connie had been trying to recruit her forever. She’d heard his shtick so many times she could recite it verbatim. Now he’d start complaining about having to hire muscle. Of course, he still had plenty of knee-cappers on his payroll. He only called her in when a situation called for a certain…delicacy. That almost made her laugh out loud, so she focused her gaze on her steel-toed boots. Delicate was hardly an adjective she would normally associate with herself.
Drakos exhaled a heavy sigh then resumed sitting at the desk. “A man can always hope. I don’t understand this generation. In my day a young gun was happy to join an organization like mine. Now, Omerta is a joke. Hell, it might as well not even exist. Everybody talks when they shouldn’t, there’s no loyalty and every swinging Richard wants to be a freelancer. And there’s the damn barter system that seems to be gaining momentum…” He shook his head as if confused by the improbability of it all. “What the fuck? Do you know some guy actually asked for a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner in exchange for a job the other day? Where in the hell am I supposed to get my hands on something like that? And with gas costing almost as much as it does to educate a child, what does he think he’d run it on? What the fuck?” he exclaimed again with a confused look at Perish.
She shrugged tiredly. Connie was getting old and was always talking about the good old days. The time before the Die Off when things still made sense. Perish was too young to remember those days and was starting to think they were a figment of people’s imagination.
“What are you talking about, Connie? Half the people you have working for you are sharecroppers working for nothing but a roof over their heads.” she said.
Connie looked away as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “That’s not the same thing. I take care of my people,” he said indignantly.
Much as she wanted to Perish didn’t roll her eyes. She had to get paid, after all. “It’s not just you. Anyone who has money is fucking over poor and uneducated people. And since pretty much everybody is poor and uneducated, that’s a lot of fucking over.”
“It’s not the same thing. People are happy with what I’m giving them. This bartering shit is a joke.”
“You can say that because you have money. You might want to start getting with the program on that one, Connie. Nobody has cash anymore. You know that saying, ‘my money is funny’? Well, it’s not just a common phrase for people nowadays; money isn’t funny, it’s nonexistent. So they’re trying to take control of the chaos. It’s not rocket science. Hell, I barter myself sometimes.” Perish closed her mouth with a snap. She was starting to sound like Princess Buttercup. Clearly, she was more tired than she realized.
Connie leaned forward and stared at her with a narrow-eyed gaze. “What’s with you, huh? You’re starting to sound like one of those goddamned revolutionaries. You haven’t taken up with those fruitcakes, have you?”
Now she did roll her eyes. “What are you talking about? You’ve known me for ten years. The only thing I revolt against are people who don’t pay me. Otherwise, I’ve got too much shit to do.”
Connie sighed and with a wave of his hand, dismissing the familiar conversation. “Anyway, I’ve made the usual arrangements for your payment. I trust that will be satisfactory. I have another small project for you—”
“I’m taking a break for a minute. I need a vacation. If it’s something that can wait, I’ll be happy to take care of it when I get back. Otherwise I can recommend someone for you.”
Drakos shook his head once. “No. I don’t want anyone else. I think it will wait. How long will you be gone?”
“About a month, but that’s not definite.” She lowered her feet from the desk and stood to leave the office.
“Oh, did my brother-in-law say whether they would be attending my New Year’s Eve party? I’d hate for this recent unpleasantness to put a damper on the holidays.”
Perish snorted softly. Family dynamics: she totally didn’t get them. Made her glad she didn’t have one, unless you counted Princess Buttercup. And she didn’t. Suddenly, her energy was gone and all she could think about was finding her bed. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’ll be there, but do me a favor, keep your important stuff locked up. Killing stupid people is warm weather work.”
Aaron Hall had known it was going to be a bad day the moment he’d awakened that morning. He hadn’t wanted this particular job, but Gregor had insisted, and when Gregor insisted, you did what you were told, no questions asked. He shook his head. I’m just a simple telepath, he thought. There’s no way I should be on this job. This Perish Blackburn bitch sounded scary as hell. He sighed and looked at the young hothead sitting next to him in the driver’s seat. Gary, a new recruit and a clairvoyant with a bad attitude and an unfounded need to prove himself, had somehow gotten the cockeyed idea that they could bring the girl in themselves.
“I’m big, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I’m superman and willing to take stupid and unnecessary risks,” Aaron said suddenly, and smirked when Gary looked at him in surprise. “Forget I could read your mind?”
Gary scowled, but flushed guiltily. “I just don’t see why we have to sit out here freezing our asses off with no pay-off, that’s all. I mean, you saw her picture just like I did. She’s just some skinny chick who they think might have some talents. It would be easy to handle her.”
Aaron looked across the street at Perish’s house. The old two-story brick structure sat surrounded by at least a half-acre of city land and looked like a loner in the sparse urban landscape. The house and grounds were surrounded by a seven-foot black iron fence safeguarded with a coded lock and intercom. And he’d already counted at least four cameras. To his way of thinking, none of that information boded well for Gary and him.
“Oh, she’s got talents all right,” he murmured, his mind still on the security precautions taken for the house. “You can bet on that.” He shook his head again. “You just don’t get it, do you? It’s what the boss didn’t say that should make you worry. All he told us was to watch her because she could be useful to us.”
“Exactly. She could be.”
“Listen, kid. I’ve been with the Confederacy long enough to know that they aren’t going to send us out to watch a subject unless they already know just how useful that subject will be. It’s a waste of time. Hell, you’re clairvoyant. Can’t you just look and see what’s going to –”
“It only works if I have physical contact.”
Aaron suddenly chuckled. “Yes, I heard what you didn’t say,” he confirmed when Gary frowned at him again. “What? Shit, kid, you’re broadcasting like a radio frequency. I can’t help but hear,” he said and busted a gut laughing when he heard the words son of a bitch without Gary saying a word. “All right, all right, no need to get upset. And you can forget about kicking my ass. I might be older, but better men than you have tried to take me out, and lost the battle.”
“Whatever,” Gary muttered and went back to staring at the house.
After a few minutes of brooding silence, Aaron said, “So the old gift is wonky, huh? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t? Shit, no wonder you’ve got such a big chip on your shoulder.”
“It’s not wonky.”
“Sounds like it is to me. But anyway, you’ll just have to trust me on this. We sit here and we wait and we watch. That’s all we do.”
“Fuck that,” Gary muttered.
“No! Fuck you, asshole!” Aaron said, his patience totally gone because he knew that Gary was planning to try and snatch the girl despite orders to the contrary. “I’m not going to let you screw up this op. I’m too fucking old to be letting some snot-nosed kid get me killed. Gregor has a reason for us being here, so just give me the damned camera and settle the fuck down.”
“Hey, don’t tell me—”
“Shut up.” Aaron’s eyes were on the rearview mirror. He watched as a car slowly approached. “What kind of car did Gregor say she drives? A black GTO, right? This is her. Look at the finish on that thing. It don’t even shine. That’s a bad-ass car,” he said admiringly. “It looks vintage. I’m thinking she’s had it converted to fuel cell. Nobody’s dumb enough to be driving expensive ass gasoline.”
“Be cool,” he warned softly when Gary tensed.
Perish pulled up in front of the house the woman she’d called grandmother had left her. The house, a small trust and a letter that had completely turned her life upside down comprised the entire inheritance Abigail Blackburn had left her when she’d died. And Abigail was the last damn thing she wanted to tax her brain with after such a trying day, so Perish decided to concentrate on the two idiots in the black van. What the hell do they want?
Letting her vehicle idle, she decided to get out and punch in the code instead of speaking into the intercom. As she leisurely strolled to the gate, she kept her ears attuned. She’d noticed the van right away and her suspicions had instantly been raised. No one parked on her street. If they did, they didn’t stay for long. The look of her house, and the rumors about her usually kept them away.
“Back unknown, two in front, male, largest no taller than five eleven, two hundred, two hundred and twenty, both up to no fucking good,” she mumbled to herself. A feral anticipatory smile broke across her face, and suddenly she wasn’t tired anymore. “Come on boys, what d’ya say? Gonna give it a go?”
Head cocked, Aaron watched Perish, a frown of confusion on his face. And then comprehension dawned. Dismayed, he closed his eyes and threw his head back against the seat in resignation. “Shit,” he mumbled forlornly. “Not only is this chick not broadcasting, she’s blocking me from reading her.”
Gary looked at him impatiently. “So?”
“So, if she’s able to block me — and I’m not bragging mind you, but that’s a tough thing to do — then she’s a talent, a damned good one. It doesn’t even feel like she’s trying. I think it’s just automatic for her.”
Unimpressed, Gary just snorted and went back to watching Perish. “I still think I can take her, and now is the perfect time,” he said as he started the van.
“What? No, don’t be an idiot!” But it was too late, and an obedient observer of the Confederacy’s code of always having your partner’s back, Aaron prepared to engage in what he just knew was going to be sheer folly.
Perish heard tires screech and even smelled the rubber burn as the van hurtled across the street towards her. The running feet were no surprise and she was braced when two pairs of heavy hands fell on her shoulders. “Hello, boys,” she said. Quick as a snake, she whipped around, breaking the hold of the larger one, snatching the wrist of the other as in one continuous motion she bent her body into it and flipped him over her shoulder.
And so quickly that the bigger man still standing blinked and missed it, she had a fistful of his shirt, lifting him onto his toes. She pushed her face in his and smiled so that he saw her suddenly elongated canines. When he blinked again and stared at them, she gave him a smug look, pursed her lips and made a kissing sound. “Wanna play?” she purred. Tiger, I think. She concentrated, felt her face contorting and grinned when the man’s eyes went wide with shock as he watched her shifting bones flow underneath and make ripples in her smooth skin.
Her eyes turned yellow with black pinpoints. They began to glow. “Surprise, asshole.”
“Ohhhh, fuck…” Aaron’s heart rate accelerated and he felt slick, scared-shitless sweat roll down his back. He groaned in shock and dismay. Thick tufts of orange and black fur had begun to sprout out all over the woman’s face and his mind went blank with fright. I didn’t sign up for this. He tried to lock his knees, but they began to buckle anyway. He felt her hold tighten and she gave him a fierce shake so that he had no choice but to watch in terror. Her face was completely covered in fur now and whiskers were shooting out on either side of…oh, shit…now she had a muzzle! Fuck you, Gary! Aaron thought as he fought to hold his bladder in check.
Perish growled low in her throat and he heard the satisfaction in the sound. His eyes rolled to the back of his head, but she shook him again, driving them forward once more.
“Jesus,” he breathed just as she gave a mighty roar, the force of it blowing his head full of hair back, forcing him to close his eyes against the power of it and making it difficult for him to breathe. He felt as if he were walking into a windstorm. Tiger drool flew into his face, and finally, Aaron gave up the fight. He fainted.
Pussy. He heard her thought, heavy with disgust, just before he sank gratefully into unconsciousness.
Perish felt the power of the change crash through her and she roared again. Her grip was the only thing keeping the man from crumpling to the ground, so she let him go, tossing him a few feet so that he landed right in front of her car. Before his head hit snow-covered concrete, she was once again fully human. From start to finish, the change had taken less than a minute.
She looked over at the man she’d earlier tossed over her shoulder. The smell of urine and feces wafted from the ball he’d rolled himself into and she chuckled huskily and licked her lips. “Tell whoever sent you that next time I won’t play so nice.” She angrily punched in the code that opened the gates leading to her home. “Get your friend and get off my property.” The words were tossed carelessly over her shoulder as she strode back to her car.
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