Haunted Blade – Colbana Files #6

Haunted Blade Colbana Files 6Haunted, Hunted…Harassed.

Never let it be said that Kit Colbana had ever been given the easy road. Or even the semi-paved road. Only weeks after dealing with the mysterious—and murderous—being called Puck, she’s got another killer on her hands. Perhaps even two.

Some of the bodies turning up bring up haunting memories of a past she longs to forget, but as always, that past is chasing her at her heels, like a hated shadow.

As the body count racks up, there’s an imbalance of power, particularly among the vampire population, and Kit must yet again deal with ugly memories as one of the monsters who tried to break her is set free to deal with the imbalance of power. Yet while a power struggle rages in East Orlando, there’s another, more subtle battle taking place and Kit feels like the center of it all.

Arrogant? Maybe. But the dead bodies don’t bear the mark of her grandmother’s pet killer by sheer coincidence…and she doubts her nemesis being released is either.

“What do you mean, I only get twenty percent? And by the way—how in the hell did you manage to call a piece of rope to use as a weapon?”

The young man stared at me with a mix of amusement and aggravation in blue eyes.  I was glad I hadn’t taken the last two steps, because it saved me the trouble of having to crane my neck to look up at him.

Doyle Hansen now stood just a shade taller than his de-facto father, Damon Lee—and Damon wasn’t exactly short.

I was. Having them both tower over me made me feel even shorter sometimes. I really hoped Doyle was done growing.

Looking up at him like this made it hard to remember who was the teacher and who was the student—especially when he asked questions like that.

“Why wouldn’t rope be a weapon?” I ased loftily. I didn’t want to tell him that I was still little unnerved by the fact that I’d actually called a piece of rope—rope, for fuck’s sake.

We’d been sent after an offshoot who’d been accused of…snacking on things that shouldn’t be snacked on.

We were advised not to use metal and Doyle learned why after the offshoot tried to eat his axe—tried to just swallow it down. Doyle had saved it, barely, then used the thing to slice our target’s gut open before leaping away as I jumped on its back and use a rope to strangle it.  I had no idea where I’d seen the rope.  I just knew I’d seen it and it was…there.

I wasn’t going to tell Doyle that either. I was supposed to know what I was doing.

“You turn anything into a weapon…I bet you could decide an old tire iron was a weapon and call that.” He had a look torn between annoyance and admiration on his face.  Then it shifted to sheer annoyance.  “And you still didn’t answer me. Twenty percent? You wouldn’t have been able to do shit if I hadn’t gutted that thing.”

Waving the slip under his nose, I said, “You’re still the intern—and you’re just ancillary muscle.  You won’t get the full rate even when you aren’t an intern. Remember?”

“Yeah, about that…” Doyle’s dark blonde brows furrowed over his eyes and he crossed his arms.  “Kit, I gotta tell you. That really blows.  I mean, if they have to call me in or if you bring me in, then that means shit has hit the fan and I should get extra.”

“In your dreams.” Rolling my eyes, I jumped the last two steps and landed beside him.

With Assembly HQ at our back, we headed toward his car.  The sporty ride wasn’t my preferred method of transportation, especially since he rarely let me drive, but my car didn’t exactly fit him and I got tired of listening to him bitch.

The job we’d just finished had been a long, aggravating three days of little rest and about as little food. That offshoot had been the Assembly’s version of DOA—dead or alive.  After he’d tried to rip my throat out, we’d both decided dead.

Apparently, the thing had been eating anything with metal—including people with metal in their bodies. That was what had been insinuated.  If he won’t come willingly, take him unwillingly or kill him.

He was very, very much dead now. And I had a nice little bit of money to add to my cache.

The job had gone relatively well. It would have been too much for me to handle solo, but it had been perfect for training Doyle.

“So what’s the deal with the kill/no-kill lines?  I thought killings weren’t sanctioned by the Assembly at all.  But they didn’t have a problem with this being a kill if need be.” Doyle unlocked the car but didn’t climb in, bracing his arms on the hood and studying me with thoughtful eyes.

“You haven’t been studying up on the Charter.” Sighing, I folded the slip I’d received minutes earlier and put it in my pocket.

“It’s dryer than the Sahara Desert.”  Doyle rolled his eyes.

“And you need to know it.” Lifting a shoulder, I pointed out, “It’s what kept me alive more than a few times.”  I gave him a hard look.  “Especially when it came to dealing with your aunt…and with Damon a couple of times.”

Doyle started to laugh but he stopped when he realized I wasn’t grinning. “Damon wouldn’t have hurt you.”

“The first few days, I think we both happily would have killed each other.” I shrugged.  “Luckily, he needed me more than he needed me to stop annoying him.”

“You still annoy him.”

I grinned.  “And he still pisses me off. Your point?”

He scraped his short nails down the stubble that had darkened his face sometime between morning and now.  I didn’t even know when he’d started having to shave, but he could do it twice a day and still have stubble.  “I’m not sure.  I think I’m trying to avoid reading the Charter.  And you still haven’t answered me.”

“The answer is in the Charter.”  But I shrugged.  “There’s a difference between an assassination and justified killing—some assassinations could be argued as justified, but they would have specific ramifications.  Like taking out the head of a vampire house.”

“Or an alpha.”

“Right.” Nodding in acknowledgment, I said, “A shifter is fine to do it within his own pack. If Damon and Dair went at it, unless there was some justifiable cause like one of them was showing signs of going mad, the Assembly is going to step in.  They don’t want a city-wide shifter war.”

Eyes troubled, he continued to rub his chin.  “Dair could have taken Annette out.”  Annette—his batshit crazy aunt.

“I think so, too. I also think that if things had gotten much worse, he would have.  And the Assembly would have accepted it—she was well over that going mad line.” A gentle breeze kicked up, stirring the hot, humid Florida air. It did nothing to ease the heat, but I’d been in this area for a good long while now.  I was used to the summers here.  “But a vampire can’t go in and order the assassination of an alpha shifter.  Not his place.  He can’t step in and take control.”

“What about happened with Eddie?”

Eddie.

The smile fell from my face.  Doyle tensed immediately after as his brain kicked in—the rat alpha he’d asked about hadn’t been killed by me, but by Jude Whittier.  Jude, a two-faced son of a bitch who’d hidden those two faces very well.

But his true one was that off a monster and he was currently doing time in a silver box for crimes committed against me.

“Jude is—was—a Speaker for the Assembly,” I said in a flat voice as I reached for the door.  “That comes with certain responsibilities.  Since Eddie had gone and grabbed a minor, and one who for all intents and purposes was human and dying, he’d pretty much signed his own death sentence.”  Shooting for something to loosen the tension in the air, I forced a smile. “Hell, if I’d known then what I know now, I could have taken one big-ass gun loaded with silver and just shot my way in and out—Colleen hired me to retrieve her sick, underage daughter.  Eddie broke the law.”

I went get into the car.

Doyle stopped me with two single words.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” I managed a smile.  “Come on.  I wouldn’t mind getting some sparring time in—I might even let you drag that axe out.”

“I’ll never get as good with it as I could without that practice.” He took the out I’d given him.

“If I could just find a weapon that made it a little more equal between us…” I gave him a dark look, and pushed the car door wider.

“You turn anything into a weapon,” he said cheerfully.  “I’m telling you…a tire iron.”

“Hmmm…ideas.” Wagging my brows at him, I ducked to climb into the car.  But then, I stopped, slowly straightening back up.

A shiver twitched and danced its way down my spine and my fingers started to cramp and hurt. I didn’t realize why until I looked down and saw that I was gripping the edge of the car’s roof.

Looking up, I stared at Doyle.

His eyes had bled to pools of gold. He blinked and they were back to blue. Yet the pinpricks of his tiger’s eyes were trying to bleed through.  He shuddered, lowering his head.

I don’t know what the hell was going on, but he was feeling it, too.

Peeling my hands away from the roof, I turned away from the car and walked a few paces.  I’d like to say it was casual, but I couldn’t.  Not really. Doyle met me at the trunk of the car and we leaned against it, him with his hands braced on the surface, facing the car, me in the other direction.

“We’re being watched,” I said under my breath.

“So I gathered. Do we stay, go? Try to hunt whoever it is down?”

That odd shiver on my spine repeated.  “We’re not going to have to do that.  He’s coming.”

“How do you…” Doyle stopped and tipped his head back, breathing in through his nose, then expelling through his mouth.  “I don’t know how you handle all this stimuli all the time.”

“My senses aren’t as tuned in as yours.  Besides, you’re just starting to focus in on this part.  You’ll figure it out.  Are you hungry?” I turned my head in his direction, lightening my tone through sheer will alone.

Courtesy had him looking at me.

Courtesy, protocol.  I didn’t know which is was, but one or the other drove it.  A shifter who doesn’t look at you when you’re having a conversation is one who fears you, who doesn’t respect you or who just plain dislikes you—maybe all three.

Sometimes I hated all the protocol that went with hanging around them, but I was finally getting the hang of it.  Doyle’s mouth tightened a bit, but he responded to my comment in an easy enough voice.  “I can always eat.  You’re buying. You’re taking most of the money.”

As the tension on my spine increased, I pushed away from the car.  “You aren’t letting that go, are you?”

“Nope.”

I’d timed it so that when I turned to look at Doyle, I caught sight the man who’d just emerged from HQ.

Immediately, my instincts went on red alert. Giving Doyle a subtle look, I turned to the car.  We should have gone with go.

It was too late now, but we were giving it a shot anyway.

The man coming our way approached with what looked like unhurried ease but before I’d even reached my door, he was there.

I knew him.

Not well—we’d spoken only once or twice, but I knew his name, I knew the rumblings I’d caught about him and I had my gut feelings about him—all of that was more than I needed to know.  People didn’t like him.  I didn’t trust him.

Malcolm—no last name—stopped less than five feet from Doyle’s car, closer to the kid than I liked and he…posed.

I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.

Hands resting on the top of a walking stick, he cocked his head and studied us, first Doyle, then me.  I wasn’t certain if I liked the fact that I got the longer perusal.  Doyle was the more interesting of us, but one had to be pretty insightful to see it.

Yet I had no doubt in my mind that Malcolm was the insightful sort.

That he was more interested in me could mean any number of things and I didn’t like any of them.

“Ms. Colbana.” He gave me a polite nod as he spoke and the words were melodious.  I’d heard of people having bell-like or song-like voices but hadn’t ever put much faith in things.  But this guy could make money on his voice alone.  Assuming you didn’t bother to listen for anything deeper.

I wasn’t listening, but I heard it anyway.

There was another layer to his voice, withering dead things, left too long in the sun.

Death.

 

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