Read below for the first three chapters of my brand new Urban Fantasy novel ‘Shadow Heist’, Book 1 in The Nightkind Trilogy.
The house was in the middle of nowhere. Far from the leafy lanes and huddled homes, far from the still moonlit lake, and rundown trailer park. About as far from the normal places where normal people lived as you could get. In other words, it was my kind of place.
Locating the hidden turning for the private, wooded lane took more magic than I wanted to use. My client had given me the exact coordinates, but the concealing spell masking the road still made me shoot by it the first time.
I slowed and turned onto the narrow, bumpy track. It took a while to catch the gleam of distant lights shining through the trees. I pulled over, climbed out into the chilly October night, and made an inventory.
Gun loaded… Check. Knife in sheath… Check. Cursed vampiric sword by my side… Check. The weapon’s hidden magic pulsed through me as I touched its hilt, making me shiver. It was like its power was seeking a release. It wouldn’t have long to wait.
I padded through the trees. The last thing I needed was to alert my prey; he already had the advantage. And if the accounts my client had given me were accurate, and despite my intense dislike of her, I had no reason to believe they weren’t, things were going to get wild and bloody.
The sword’s blade rumbled in its sheath. It was feeding time.
I stood at the edge of a clearing and scanned the house in its center. It was a big place, rustic, expensive, and with plenty of windows for my prey to watch me through.
Was he waiting for me? Had he caught my scent?
The wind shook the branches, and the moon emerged from behind wispy white clouds. The house and its surroundings were beginning to resemble a horror movie set.
“Right,” I muttered in a lame attempt to ready myself for what was coming. The job would keep me from homelessness for a couple of months, and if I was lucky, there might even be enough cash left over for food.
A car was parked haphazardly on the gravel drive before the house. Its windscreen was gone and shards of glass glinted beside its slashed tires. Someone, or something, had left five gigantic claw marks along its dented side.
A woman lay next to the vehicle, her still hand reaching toward me. Dark splatters spotted the back of her coat and blood leaked below her like an oil stain.
The house’s main door was ajar and hung wonky on its frame. I raised my gun and listened, but all I heard was the wind shaking the trees and my thumping heart.
Another body lay past the broken door; a man lying on his back. His face was etched with horror, and his chest was wide open. His blood decorated the walls and carpet like abstract art in a pretentious gallery.
I crept past him into a living room.
The newspapers and magazines littering the floor were at least a decade out of date. An old-fashioned television lay upon its side, its screen jagged shards of glass, and the paintings on the walls above it hung lopsided, their canvases broken, their subjects so torn I couldn’t make them out.
A sense of spent anger laced the air.
My quarry was close. Was he listening for me, just as I was listening for him? I tried not to think about the claw marks slashed across the side of the car outside. I’d faced worse.
Something flashed in a patch of moonlight upon the carpet. A locket. The picture of the woman on the left side oval looked a lot like my client, only a couple of decades older, and the toddler beside her shared her thick red hair and serious eyes.
Was this the child my client had said the beast had slain?
I gripped my gun, eager to meet my quarry and to end his twisted life.
Something shifted above me.
Someone was upstairs.
I made my way to the stairwell, cursing myself for not bringing backup. The state of the corpses suggested my current task should have been a two-person job, maybe more. Coming alone had been another screw up in a string of rash decisions I’d made of late. More cutting corners. I hoped I wasn’t going to pay a much greater price than the couple of thousand dollars I’d saved by setting out on my own.
Another creak came from the landing, and the sound of crying, or laughter. It was hard to tell which.
I held my breath as I climbed. My limbs trembled with adrenaline and excitement. I hadn’t lost my lust for adventure after my former employers at the Organization had terminated my contract. No, the reckless urge for thrill chasing, which would probably be my undoing one day, was still present and correct.
The door ahead groaned open, and I caught a scent of blood and… wine?
Was my quarry drunk?
The bright green eye set into my sword’s pommel opened and fixed me with a piercing gaze. I nodded. You’ll feed soon enough, I thought. Sooner than I’d probably wish for.
I’d already realized the sword was far more nuanced than it had first appeared when I’d found it in that vile magician’s home. That it was something I should rid myself of as quickly as possible. But as it rumbled in my hand, I no longer cared what its hidden intentions were; I was just glad to have it with me. And if it was serving itself more than it was serving me, so be it. I still needed every ounce of its magic…
I froze as someone roared inside the room ahead. A moment later something crashed to the floor.
It seemed the beast was goading himself into a growing rage.
I steadied my hand as I trained my gun ahead of me and crept up the remaining stairs. A broken door stood ahead, and as I glanced through its gap, a shadow flitted across the wall. It was a slight figure, definitely not what I was expecting. It stooped down and hurled something that smashed inside the room.
I’d almost reached the top of the stairs when the step beneath my feet creaked.
The shadow froze and turned toward the broken door.
“Who’s there?” The voice was male, young, and almost childlike. I’d encountered plenty of demons masquerading as children, but this was different. It didn’t smell like a demon… It smelled like a beast.
“My name’s Abadare Glynt,” I called back, trying to keep my voice unthreatening. Like I’d just happened upon this broken house and held no ill intentions.
He stepped into the doorway.
I put his age at eighteen at the most, and his thin red beard was more down than stubble. He swept the ends of his long, auburn hair off the shoulders of his flannel shirt, and blinked rapidly, as if trying to focus on me. A tang of sour wine filled the air and as he limped toward me, I smelt the blood splattered upon his clothes. “Who are you?” His voice changed. It was a subtle shift, but I caught a snatch of a fleeting, deeper tone.
“I already told you.”
He glanced at my gun and pulled a knife from the waistband of his bloodied jeans.
“Put it down,” I said.
He laughed and strode back into the room. I followed.
The place was a tip. Every item that had decorated its walls lay smashed upon the torn-up carpet. The boy perched on the base of an upturned cabinet and almost ignored me while he scraped the dried blood from his fingernails with the tip of his knife.
I paused as something cracked below my shoe; a photograph torn up in a broken frame. It showed the boy before me, only younger, maybe ten or twelve and standing beside the lady who’d hired me. “What happened?” I asked.
“What do you think happened?” His stare was bleary and tired.
“I think you killed those people downstairs.”
“And I think you killed your brother.”
His laughter was gravelly and strained. “I don’t have a brother. I’m all alone in this big bad world.”
And that was when everything fell into place. My client had lied; she hadn’t hired me to save lives, she’d paid me to end one.
“She sent you, didn’t she?” He struggled to his feet.
“She told me you killed her son.” I lowered the gun, but only partially.
“I am her son.”
“Who’s blood’s that?” I nodded at his filthy clothes.
“It belongs to the man and woman she sent to kill me.”
“Who did you kill before that?”
“No one. Just animals when I had to feed. I never asked for this curse.”
“Who’s house is this?”
“My grandmother. She died a few years back. My mother sent me to live here because she wanted me out of the way. It’s a prison, Mr. Glynt.” He used my name mockingly. I let it go. “A place to hide unsightly things.” He made an almost flawless impression of his mom when he said that.
“You shouldn’t have killed those people.”
“So, what should I have done instead?” He leaped up, pulled a mini bottle of vodka from his pocket, and took a deep swig.
“Prick!” He threw the bottle. It barely missed my head. His face shifted from human to something else; something wolfish. Something powerful.
“Calm down.” I held out my hand toward him.
“Calm down?” He grinned. His teeth had grown a lot larger than they’d been before, and patches of hair had sprouted across his face. “So you can put me down like a dog?”
“I don’t want to-” My words faded as he fell onto all fours with a thud. The transformation was fast. He grimaced as he arched his back and his shirt tore down its seams. Fury, fear and frustration filled his animal howl.
I backed out of the room and tried slamming the door as a makeshift barrier between us, but it came away in my hands. I wanted to put a bullet between his eyes, but I felt bad for the kid. We’d both been set up.
There wasn’t any fear or frustration in his voice as he roared again. Only fury.
I put a warning shot into the wall beside him. He grinned as the dust and plaster rained down around him. There wasn’t even a scrap of humanity left in his eyes.
“You want to do this?” I asked. “Really?”
He came at me fast.
I squeezed off two shots into his dominant arm.
He yelped but kept coming. I threw out my hands as he charged into me, sending me flying back through the air.
I struck the floor so hard I barely had time to take aim before he smashed the gun from my hand. Slather dripped into my face as he leaped astride me. I recoiled from the overwhelming stench of wine and bile and as he leaned in close, the rags of flanneled shirt hanging from his furred back were the only reminders of the boy he’d been before.
He raised a paw to pound into my face. My shielding spell took most of the blow, but it still hurt like hell as he repeatedly slammed it into my temple. I brought my knee up into his groin and, as he howled again, I punched him where I’d shot him. It was enough to slow him.
I shoved him off and rolled across the floor and over the broken bannisters. I fell and struck the stairs and pulled myself up to my feet as his shadow did the same. The floorboards shook as he stalked across the landing to the top of the stairs.
My sword rumbled, reminding me of its presence. As I unsheathed it, the eye on its pommel blinked, and the tiny teeth painted along the crimson ridge of the blade gnashed together.
“Stop!” I called as the werewolf loomed at the top of steps, gazing hungrily down at me.
I backed down the staircase, seeking even ground. He followed one stair at a time, his steps exaggerated like he was playing the big bad wolf and I was a child suffering a nightmare brought on by one too many bedtime fairytales.
He grinned. He wouldn’t stop until his claws had turned my flesh to ribbons.
“Roar!” He growled and held out his claws. His laughter was low and guttural as I reached the ground floor and backed away through the broken house, my sword held before me.
My blade shone with an eldritch green glow that matched the eye set into the pommel. The sword gave me a burst of energy that eclipsed my core magic as the werewolf sprang to the foot of the stairs, and landed with an almighty thud that felt like it had shaken the whole house. “I’ll huff and I’ll puff!” He growled.
“Yeah, and you’ll blow my house down. Except it isn’t my house, it’s your house, you moron.”
He roared and punched his fist through the wall beside him.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I said, as his shadow eclipsed mine. “You’ve already had enough pain in your life.”
He panted so hard that his tongue slathered down to his furred chest, and a flash of hunger lit up his eyes.
As I backed away, I wondered if there was even the slightest chance in hell I’d make it to my car before he brought me down…
I stumbled over the corpse in the hallway. I’d be joining it soon enough.
He came at me, running headlong in a red and a brown blur, his claws splayed and tensed.
All notions of a peaceful resolution were gone.
There was only one option left…
Kill or be killed.
I raised my sword and raced to meet the beast as it shot toward me. It ran up the wall, vaulted over me, and landed with a heavy thud in the hallway behind me, blocking the door.
“Let me feed. I can end him,” my sword whispered.
The werewolf cocked his head as if he’d heard it, but it was impossible; the sword spoke to me and me alone.
I strode past the corpse my opponent had left sprawled across the floor, and fixed my attention on his claws. If he was anything like the other werewolves I’d encountered, he’d slash me to slow me before tearing my flesh apart with his teeth. But he was drunk, and that made him unpredictable.
He arched his back and his howl was horrifically loud in the confined space, just as he’d intended.
I cast a spell to mute him and slowly approached him as he howled again. This time, I was unaffected by the din, which threw him off guard. So did the bullet I fired into the exact place where I’d injured him before.
He gnashed his teeth and scored his claws into the wall’s plaster. His yellowed eyes fixed on mine.
“Last chance!” I warned. I was certain he wouldn’t take it, but I also needed to live with my actions once the mess was over. If I survived…
He barreled toward me.
I waited until his eyes were close enough for me to see their bloodshot vessels, before running my sword through his heart.
The blade blazed with glowing green light as it fed, and after it had taken as much of his essence as it could, it passed me the magic it couldn’t store. I didn’t need it. My opponent was dead.
As the beast transformed back to the boy he’d been, I glanced away. I didn’t want to see it, so I kept my gaze fixed upon the staircase along the passage until I heard him slump to the floor. I sheathed my sword and took a photo of his corpse with my phone.
The wind shook the trees as I left the house and strode past the bloody devastation on the drive. I barely gave it a second thought. I was focused on one thing and one thing only; settling up.
* * *
“Who the hell do you think you’re talking to!” Ms. Swift barked. She held the front door half open between us like a shield.
“I’m talking to the person who had me do this.” I showed her the photo of her son lying dead in his grandmother’s hallway.
Her gaze flitted over it and when she looked at me again, there was little emotion in her eyes other than mild irritation. “I’ll pay you as we agreed, and I’ll thank you to keep your attitude in check.”
“My attitude… You lied to me, Ms. Swift. That boy…”
“Was a monster.”
“He could have gotten help.”
Her laugh was cold and mirthless. “I gave my life trying to help him.”
“Did you?” I glanced from her plush townhouse to the perfectly manicured garden, and the pond at its center with the pale marble water nymph statues staring down at me. There was no way her neighbors, who had to be mostly blinkered, knew about the magic in their midst. “Somehow, I can’t see how your son could have fit into this neighborhood. Not with his condition.”
“Which was why I bade him to move away.”
“Right. And then you sent a couple of assassins after him when he became too much to handle. You know, if I was still working for the Organization I’d take you in.”
“But you don’t. They fired you, and frankly Mr. Glynt, it’s not surprising.” Clearly, she’d done her research.
“Fuck you very much.” I strode away, but came to a halt. I hadn’t collected my money…
The shit-eating grin on her face made me want to break several things in quick succession. “I assume you want paying, Mr. Glynt?” She raised a supercilious eyebrow.
“Maybe you should have considered that before your little outburst.”
I matched her smile with my own. “It’s fine, Ms. Swift. If you’d like me to show your blinkered neighbors just who they’re living with, I can oblige.”
“You can’t reveal magic to non-magical citizens. It’s against the law!”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about the law. That ship sailed long ago.”
“Then maybe I should contact the Organization and ask them to pay me a visit so I can tell them what you said.”
“Go ahead. Given your status, they’ll probably send someone out right away, but it won’t be fast enough to stop me exposing you to everyone around you first.” I cast a quick spell to animate the statues. The curvier of the three water nymphs raised the large leaf hiding her modesty, and winked at Ms. Swift.
“Stop it!” She glanced up at the neighboring houses. “Hold on!”
She vanished into her house, returned with a handful of hundred-dollar bills, and threw them at me. I gave her a quick dance and held out my hands out as the cash rained down around me. “I don’t quite have what it takes for lap dances, Ms. Swift, but I’ll do my best. Keep the money coming.”
She slammed the door with a definitive thud.
“You might want to send someone to clean up your son’s corpse too,” I called through her letterbox. “As well as those two assassins he mauled to death.” I grabbed the money from the garden, counted it, stuffed it into my coat, and headed to my landlord’s house for even more fun.
* * *
My apartment was on the edges of the blinkered part of town, right over a nail parlor that clearly existed for more nefarious purposes than removing cuticles. It was a dingy, decrepit place; not that my landlord, Mr. Grosbeak, had probably ever set out to visit it from his lavish home in the Magical Quarter.
Grosbeak had made an obscene amount of cash with his various properties, but he hid it well. Whenever I saw him, he wore the same old cheap, un-ironed shirt and tie, frayed trousers and scuffed shoes. Whether this was an intentional attempt to conceal his riches, or down to his miserly nature, was a mystery to me. He was a repulsive, squat little man with a crooked back, as if all the years of housing people in squalor had weighed down on him.
As I arrived in Dauphire Street, one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in town, I spotted the car parked outside Grosbeak’s townhouse. Its cracked, tinted windows, dented sides, and broken taillights fitted in with the surroundings about as much as I did.
Were they there for Grosbeak, or me?
I gave the car a cursory glance as I strode by. The two men sitting inside looked like they had more than a passing acquaintance with steroids and temper tantrums. I curtsied to them.
“Abadare,” Grosbeak said as he opened his door. He looked harried, and his dark eyes were definitely more skittish than usual. I heard the car door open behind me, but he held up a hand and it thunked shut.
“Are your friends here for me?”
“I, yes, well…” Grosbeak took a deep breath. “Have you got my money?”
“Don’t I always?”
“No, you don’t. You’re two months late.”
“I told you I had a problem.” I held up a finger as he began planning his response. “It’s the first time I’ve missed a payment in the five years I’ve rented that hellhole from you. And now you’re trying to intimidate me with two-bit thugs? You’re a class act, Mr. Grosbeak.”
“If you want me out, just say so. But you’ll need to give me notice; in the mail, rather than via impotent wannabe thugs looking for broken jaws. I’m saying this for the sake of your health and wellbeing, as well as mine.”
“Are you threatening me, Glynt?”
“Nope, I’m telling you.” I thrust a fistful of cash into his hand. “There you go. You can sleep well tonight knowing you don’t need to worry about any more delayed payments.”
“You used to be one of my best tenants.” Grosbeak’s eyes grew misty, as if he was reflecting on a treasured memory. “You’ve changed, Abadare. You’re not the man you used to be.”
“I’m exactly the same man you rented your squalid apartment to. I just don’t work for criminals anymore.”
“The Organization aren’t criminals! You’re the crim-”
“They stitched me up.” I felt my blood pressure rising and forced myself to take a deep breath.
“You’ve fallen far. I’ve seen it before, believe me. Do you have any idea how many of my tenants I’ve seen descend into the gutter?”
“Most of them, I’d imagine. I mean, you’re not exactly renting out luxury penthouses, are you? I’m already halfway into the gutter.”
“You used to be someone. You were… respectable. Now look at you. You’re lucky I’m housing you, Glynt, although I can’t promise it will stay that way for much longer. You’re on a downward spiral, my friend.”
“I’m not your friend.” I stepped toward him, forcing him back inside his house. The car door opened behind me again, but I ignored it. “Now, I’ve paid you what I owed you, so we’re even. Right?”
“For now. Like I said, you’re on a slippery slope.”
“If I want wisdom, I’ll go get some fortune cookies.” I headed for my car and ignored the goons as I swept past them. I would have relished a good, honest fight, but I needed to calm my temper before it blew up and left me in an even worse position than I was currently in.
I climbed into my car and sped away.
The night felt as black as the sky above me. My life appeared to be sliding back into the same dumpster fire it had been in since I’d been unceremoniously canned by the Organization a year ago. And it seemed each time I tried to climb out, someone was standing by waiting to stamp on my fingers to send me tumbling back in.
I’d get out. And there’d be scores to settle once I did.
I drove through the Magical Quarter to my office on Barrow Street. I unlocked the door and made my way up the narrow stairs to the tiny rooms at the top, which had once belonged to an accountant’s office. For now, it housed my Detective Consultancy Business although if the Silverton Agency, who’d set up shop across the street from me, vacuumed up any more of my clients, it wouldn’t be for much longer. I slumped into my chair and glanced through the blinds.
Despite the late hour, the lights blazed in the grand old building housing the Silverton Agency, meaning they were good and busy while I wasn’t either of those things. The only clients I seemed to end up with were people like Mrs. Swift; vultures bypassing the Silvertons for the cheapest option.
I yawned and leaned back in my chair. I was done with worrying for the day. I needed to make an action plan to turn things around, but it could wait until the morning.
The bottle of scotch inside my desk looked more and more tempting, but I was too tired to drink, and I was definitely too tired to drive home.
Instead I swigged down a hit of Hedgeberry potion to make a start on healing my wounds, kicked my feet up on the empty desk, and took a nap that lasted until the sunlight streamed through the blinds, filling my tired old office with rays of golden light.