Read Edge of Darkness Online

Authors: J. T. Geissinger

Tags: #Teen Paranormal

Edge of Darkness

Also in J.T. Geissinger’s Night Prowler series

Shadow’s Edge

Edge of Oblivion

Rapture’s Edge

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Text copyright © 2013 J.T. Geissinger, Inc.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

www.apub.com

ISBN-13: 9781477848944

ISBN-10: 1477848940

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013910956

To Jay, for making me laugh and having my back.

CONTENTS

START READING

PROLOGUE

ONE Beautiful Stranger

TWO Quicksand

THREE All Animals Are Equal

FOUR Carnaval

FIVE Pretending

SIX Off Balance

SEVEN Alphas, Betas & Others

EIGHT How to Live

NINE Firecracker

TEN Mystery Man

ELEVEN Sonata

TWELVE Life or Death

THIRTEEN Elsething

FOURTEEN Quid Pro Quo

FIFTEEN Ten Minutes

SIXTEEN Secrets Have a Cost

SEVENTEEN Gift Horse

EIGHTEEN From the Mouths of Babes

NINETEEN Mad Euphoria

TWENTY Hard Lessons

TWENTY-ONE Soul Sick

TWENTY-TWO Struggle

TWENTY-THREE A Troubling Pause

TWENTY-FOUR Oil and Water

TWENTY-FIVE Bloodlust and Holy Missions

TWENTY-SIX Casting Lots

TWENTY-SEVEN Thirteen

TWENTY-EIGHT Marked

TWENTY-NINE Eye for an Eye

THIRTY The Woodshed

THIRTY-ONE Beautiful Monster

THIRTY-TWO Eternal Flame

THIRTY-THREE Operation

THIRTY-FOUR Guerrilla Warfare

THIRTY-FIVE Captive

THIRTY-SIX Come What May

THIRTY-SEVEN Two Words

THIRTY-EIGHT All I Need

EPILOGUE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Khalil Gibran,
The Prophet

March 31, 20—

Easter Sunday

Hello, human.

I know your kind normally address you as President or Prime Minister, Chancellor or Chairman, or even that most amusing title Supreme Leader—as if you, mere Man, could ever be supreme over
us
—but I have no use for your silly titles. They are as meaningless to me as your names, nearly as distasteful as your very existence. To me you are one thing and one thing only: human.

Enemy.

I acknowledge there are those among us who disagree with that label, fond as they are of your foibles and farces, foolishly tolerant of your small, petty lives. I imagine they find you charming and adorable in the way of newborn kittens: bumbling about on unsteady legs, blind and weak and helpless. You are all of those things, to be sure, but I admit your charm escapes me, the same way the charm of a virus escapes me. In fact, of all the living things on this planet you resemble a virus the most closely. You infiltrate where you are not wanted. You consume far more than you produce. You proliferate with the mindless speed of a bacterium. You take and you take and you take, until all that is left is diseased and ruined, and then you move on and begin the process all over again.

You have ruled this planet far too long. I will remedy that.

Beginning today.

In our eagerness to be left alone, we have allowed your sickness to spread. We have turned a blind eye to the evil of your ways. We have lived in secrecy and in silence for millennia, learning to live alongside you, learning to dress and eat and speak like you, learning to hide.

Who are we, you ask?

We are Vapor and predator and quick, slinking death, relics of an age when Nature ruled and beauty abounded and magic still lived and breathed. Born in equatorial Africa where all of life originated, we are the firstborn children of Mother Earth, and her most splendid creation.

We have many Gifts you can only dream of.

We can smell a bird on the wing miles away in the winter sky and know if it is hawk or pigeon or starling. We can hear the heartbeats of all the small, unseen creatures, foraging under fragrant beds of leaves or burrowing tunnels into damp earth or clinging to the boughs of trees. We can hunt in the dark and outrun a gazelle and rip out your throat with sharp fangs before you even know you’re in danger. We hold the power of transformation from thought, and I’ve heard it said that to look upon even the least beautiful of us is to see the face of an angel.

We are
Ikati
. We are your superiors in every way.

You’ll understand that much more clearly in a moment.

You’re about to make history, you see. Undoubtedly you think you already have, with your wealth and your title and your “power,” but all of that is nothing in comparison to the everlasting fame I will bestow upon you.

The kind of fame one can only achieve with a spectacular, unforgettable death.

So be quick now, look up from these words—do you see him, the lithe creature approaching on silent feet? Never mind how he stole past your guards and your pathetic security systems—do you see his cunning smile, the bloodlust in his eyes? Does your pulse quicken, realizing these breaths you draw will be your last?

Mine does. I’m with you even now, here in your final moments, living it all in my imagination just as you are living it in the flesh. I’ve waited a lifetime for this, and I am willing to admit I owe you some thanks.

Because you, by your death, and the deaths of all the other human leaders like you who are at this very moment also reading a copy of this letter, are going to help me rule the world.

Ciao, enemy mine.

I hope you rot in hell.

King of the
Ikati

The first time Ember laid eyes on the man who would destroy her life, she knew with a sharp, blood-curdling certainty, like a knife shoved between her ribs, that he was—in a word—dangerous.

It wouldn’t be until much later that she found out just how dangerous he really was, but on that particular evening, amidst the chill of a February thunderstorm, she was standing where she stood six days a week, from ten in the morning until six at night, behind the polished oak counter of Antiquarian Books, the snug little bookstore in the old Gothic quarter of the city. It was near closing time, and through the tall windows that flanked the door she saw the rain sheeting down in a black, sideways slant, bouncing high enough off the uneven cobblestones of the narrow street outside to indicate it wasn’t letting up anytime soon.

Ember was sick of rain. Sick of winter.

Sick of pretty much everything.

It had been a bad day in a worse month in an even worse few years, and she was tired to her bones. Though only twenty-four, she felt decades older, having already survived things that might have sent other people less stubborn straight to their graves. She never indulged in luxuries like self-pity, but she couldn’t escape the bone deep fatigue that would creep up on her on nights like this.

Rain held bad memories for her. So did that melancholy hour just after sunset, when the last happy rays of daylight are devoured by the hungry, spreading gloom of night. So the moment the shop door opened and the little welcoming silver bell sang its merry jingle, all she wanted to do was go home, take a hot bath, and crawl into bed.

She looked up to see who’d come in, and it was as if an invisible hand reached out and seized her heart.

A man stood inside the doorway, shaking the rain from a large black umbrella. He closed it, lowered it into the antique iron stand nearby, smoothed the collar of his beautifully tailored suit jacket, and slowly, deliberately, gazed around the store. Tall and dark-haired, broad-shouldered and substantial yet somehow simultaneously lean and dancer-lithe, he was both forbidding and fascinating.

Assassin
, she thought, and a little chill ran down her spine.

It wasn’t his clothing—a tailored charcoal suit that screamed bespoke, black Ferragamo loafers polished to a mirror gleam, a platinum and diamond Patek Phillipe watch she knew from her stepmother’s rotating stable of wealthy boyfriends cost more than she’d earn in a decade—or his quiet confidence, or the way he glided noiselessly as he moved away from the door, those gleaming loafers silent against the floor as if they never touched the ground. It wasn’t even his general mien of elegant, menacing mystery, or the way the air seemed to gather around him, tense and expectant like a held breath.

It was his eyes.

Electric, smoldering,
unearthly
green, rimmed in the kohl of thick lashes and heavy-lidded as if he’d very recently found his satisfaction in some lusty woman’s bed, his eyes held promises of sin and carnal pleasures. They also held a distinct, ominous, unspoken warning—
Danger
—which offered an irresistible opposition to their seductive invitation.

His eyes were, simply, stunning.

So was the rest of him, and she wasn’t the only one who thought so. The swath of gaping women he left in his wake as he slowly threaded his way through the clusters of low tables and book displays toward the counter where she stood was ample evidence of that.

Because Ember was the kind of girl who despised the kind of man who reduced otherwise intelligent women to gelatinous puddles of blathering goo, she hated him on sight.

Why should he be prettier than the prettiest woman in the room? And possibly the world? Really, it was indecent. Unless he made his living as a model or an escort, no self-respecting man should pay so much attention to his wardrobe. Or his grooming. His hair, jet-black and glossy, trimmed short on the sides and in back but with a studied bit of tousle up top, was as perfect as the rest of him.

Maybe he’s an actor, she thought, watching him approach, his stride liquid and leisurely. He did have a definite Pierce Brosnan/Daniel Craig kind of thing going on, though he was younger, and infinitely prettier than either. She pictured him jumping from a helicopter to the roof of a speeding train to engage in a fistfight with a knife-wielding psychopath, emerging after it was done without a speck of grime or a single wrinkle on that beautiful suit.

Or maybe he was gay? It was so hard to tell; these Spanish men were much more sophisticated and better groomed than the boys she’d known back home in the States. Ember wished her friend Asher was here to rule definitively on the matter. His gaydar was far better calibrated than her own.

Green Eyes stopped in front of the counter. He looked at her. In a commanding, masculine tenor refined by a cultured British accent, perfectly suited for ordering terrified servants to do his bidding, he said, “
Casino Royale
.”

Ember almost laughed. Instead she blurted, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Casino Royale
? The book that launched James Bond into pop icon status? The coincidence that she’d been imagining him as exactly that was, in itself, incredible. She wondered if Green Eyes was a mind reader. In addition to being a beauty queen.

King. Whatever.

The corners of his full lips lifted, the faintest chagrin. “As it happens, I’m not. I’m looking for a first edition, hardcover, 1953. I was informed this is the best rare bookstore in the city.” He paused, let his gaze drift over her plain brown cable-knit sweater, her baggy jeans, her scuffed running shoes, long faded from their original white to a dingy, dusty gray. When his gaze rested again on her face, he murmured, “Or perhaps I was misinformed.”

Wondering if this was some kind of joke, Ember studied him. Depending on the condition of the book and the dust jacket, a first edition copy of
Casino Royale
would cost somewhere between fifty thousand and one hundred fifty thousand euro. With the economy the way it was, she hadn’t had a sale like that in…well, too long. She decided to call his bluff.

“No. you weren’t misinformed. It’ll have to be tomorrow, though.”

His brows lifted.

“Storage,” she replied, by way of explanation. Antiquarian Books didn’t keep the rarest and most valuable books on the shelves for the general public to paw over. They were kept in acid-free book boxes, on rust-resistant metal shelves, in a temperature and humidity-controlled storage facility on the outskirts of the city. She was tempted to add a churlish, “Duh,” but held her tongue. “What condition are you interested in?”

“Perfect,” he replied instantly, as if it should have been obvious.

Of course he’d want perfect. From the looks of him, she assumed perfect was all he’d been accustomed to, all his life.

In swift assessment, his blazing green eyes narrowed. “Irritating you, am I?”

That startled her. Ember was certain she hadn’t curled her lip, snickered, or otherwise given physical proof of what she’d been thinking. Though she wasn’t the superstitious type, the vague notion that maybe this pretty, pampered stranger could read minds deepened into something nearer certainty.

“Um, no. Of course not.” She cleared her throat and tried on her best “interested professional” face. He was still a customer after all, and she had to be polite. The bookstore and rare book dealing business her father started had been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy since he died three years ago. Well, technically since he opened it, five years ago. Her late father, an artist and daydreamer who had a fetish for collecting books, wasn’t a very good businessman. And if she was being honest, she wasn’t really up to the task either. She’d inherited both his artistic ability and his lack of business acumen. Music had always been her thing.

Until it wasn’t.

So if Mr. Bedroom Eyes Assassin wanted to spend his money, she’d better be nicer to him. She thought she’d have to warn him, however, just to be fair. “You’re looking at a substantial investment, though. A first edition in perfect condition is likely to run you—”

“I understand. Shall I leave a deposit?”

He hadn’t even waited for her to say the price. He didn’t seem the least bit interested in the price. Ember didn’t know if he was being arrogant, or if he actually was one of those people who never had to ask the cost of anything. Fascinated in spite of herself, she wondered what that would be like. Awesome, no doubt. Completely awesome.

And she could barely pay the rent.

Her dislike took a sharp turn toward envy. Then she was irritated with herself for being so petty, and even more annoyed with him for making her mad at herself.

Before she could even open her mouth to answer him, his eyes had narrowed again. But he didn’t seem angry, only bemused. “Whatever it is I’m doing to annoy you, I sincerely apologize. It’s not intentional.”

Her “interested professional” expression vanished, replaced, she was sure, by one of obvious shock. Face flaming, she stammered, “No…
it’s…I’m not…I’m the one who should apologize. I’m being rude.”

Inside
, she was being rude. But how the hell did
he
know that?

Bedroom Eyes Assassin had officially creeped her out.

He reached out a hand toward her, but then seemed to think better of it as he abruptly lifted it to his head and ran it through his hair, rumpling the artfully arranged dark strands. He sighed, let his hand drop back to his side. “I’ll just leave my information then, yes?” Without waiting for an answer, he reached for the cup of pens on the counter beside the register. On the white notepad next to the collection of pens, he wrote something in swift, precise strokes. “Call me when it arrives. I’m leaving my credit card information as well; charge whatever deposit you feel is fair.”

He straightened and held out the paper. Ember took it between her fingers.

Christian McLoughlin
, it read, followed by a series of numbers, credit card and telephone.

Christian. She wondered if his friends called him Chris for short, then immediately dismissed it. No nicknames, she was sure of it. No informalities. His own mother probably called him Mr. McLoughlin. Or possibly sir.

She wiped the thought away, worried he might guess it again, and tucked the paper into the back pocket of her jeans. “A deposit isn’t necessary.”

He waited silently, watching her with those preternatural eyes. A passing car’s headlights slanted through the front windows and reflected off the long mirror behind the counter, and a sliver of light caught his eyes. She imagined for a moment that something in those green depths changed. Something tangible went aqueous and ephemeral, as if she were looking at the surface of the sea.

A tingle of fear raised the hair on the back of her neck.

“You should see what you’re paying for,” she explained, lifting her hand to the delicate chain she always wore around her neck.

It was an unconscious habit, something she did when preoccupied or upset, and one his sharp eyes didn’t miss. He watched her twist the two gold rings on the chain between her fingers and his face softened. He nodded, as if he’d made up his mind about something.

“I’m not the kind of man who has to see things to believe in them,” he said, still watching her twist the necklace.

This flew in the face of the opinion she’d formed of him in the few short moments since he’d approached the counter. He looked like a man who wouldn’t believe anything that wasn’t written in a contract, visible to the naked eye, or otherwise provable beyond a shadow of a doubt.

His gaze found its way back to hers. Keen and penetrating, it fixed her in place, made her forget her wariness her dislike, her distrust of strangers. She said impulsively, “The only things worth believing in are things you can see. Anything else is just self-delusion.”

He seemed to take that as some kind of challenge, because his eyes flashed, then a slow smile spread across his face. “Hold out your hand and close your eyes.”

“What?” Startled, Ember took a step back.

He chuckled, then said, “I don’t bite. Unless, that is, you want me to.”

That brought the blood back to her cheeks. Was he
flirting
with her?

No, men like him didn’t flirt with girls like her. Plain girls. Ruined girls. Girls with one good hand and two left feet and a lifetime of could-have-beens choking their throats until they wanted to scream.

“Just hold out your hand,” he insisted, his voice low and persuasive. “Trust me.”

He said those last two words as if they were a dare, and he looked at her that way, too.

Trust you? Ha. As if.

However, because he was in possession of what was apparently a bottomless bank account and she needed the sale, Ember silently proffered her right hand, palm up.

His smile grew mocking. “Halfway there. Close your eyes.”

It was her turn to narrow her eyes at him. She glanced around the store. There were a dozen people within eyesight; the women’s book club that met every Wednesday sat at a table near the back of the store—all six of them still gaping at Christian—a few more customers were browsing the aisles. She was probably safe.

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