Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
Magick Justice from P.J. Bishop, a wonderful new voice in urban fantasy
A man on a mission to save his soul and a young reporter descended from a Samurai magicker must risk everything in a fight against a Rising of Demons.
Spirits Rising from RITA winner Evelyn Vaughn
A little haunted history is what Penny expects when staging a Victorian mansion in Galveston. What this amateur ghostbuster doesn't expect is a mysterious stranger and a dark curse.
Blood Rising from RITA finalist and Reader's Choice award winning author Karen Fox
When revenge for her sister's killer drives a vampire slayer's every thought, can she put aside her vengeance long enough to trust the one man who can help her?
A Shift in Magick from Golden Heart winner Laura Hayden
Private investigator Jonathan Craft's tricks-of-the-trade include the carefully guarded secret of his shapeshifting. A routine case turns dangerous and forces him to rethink everything he knows about his life.
Destiny Rising from popular romance writer Jodi Dawson writing as Jodi Anderson
Celeste and Erik have serious history. Centuries ago she doubly damned herself by killing the man she loved to save the world from an evil wizard. Her one chance to bring him back to her has gone horribly wrong.
Wolf Rising from bestselling YA author Parker Blue
Duncan Gray desperately needs a curefor the lycanthropythat is killing him. His last hope is a Wiccan woman with secrets and fears of her own.
"Great book... Perfect length for a quick read and the Halloween season on the way." -- Ann Klausing, GoodReads
is definitely a must read book…each story was incredibly written. I didn't
want to put this one down." -- Norma
Wills, Wakela’s World
"SKID ROW BUTCHER TOLL RISES TO FOUR”
—Banner headline, seventy-two point type. Continued page three.
"SKID ROW BUTCHER STRIKES AGAIN”
—Right side, above the fold, sixty-point. Continued page eight.
"BUTCHER CONTINUES TO PUZZLE POLICE”
—Metro section, below the fold, forty-eight point. Half column.
"NO LEADS IN SKID ROW BUTCHER CASE”
—Metro section, below the fold, twenty-four point. Twelve lines.
"HOMELESS DEMAND ACTION”
—Buried ten pages into Metro section, twelve-point. Four lines.
"FOUR MEASLY LINES.” Miko Jones slapped the Metro section into the recycle bin under the desk she shared with a day shift City Gazette reporter. Sure, it was her byline beneath each of those headlines, but each week saw her dreams of hitting the journalistic big time with this serial murder story fading faster than her ex with her alimony.
Not that her career was more important than catching a serial murderer. Finding justice for the victims, that came ahead of writing for a big media outlet. Always.
But if a big media outlet took her on, there'd be a better chance of Uncle Nic seeing one of her articles and maybe contacting her. So, she hoped for the big time.
"Jones, get in here.” The second-shift desk editor didn't wait for her answer before he bellowed again. "Jones. My office. Now.”
To compose herself and also to make a point, she took her time twisting her long black hair up and securing it with two kanzashi—intricately inlaid hair sticks passed down by Uncle Nic from their Japanese Samurai magicker ancestress. According to Nic, they both had a magicker bloodline that made them exceptional fighters. Before his stint with the Marines in Iraq, before he retreated into PTSD psychosis and homeless camps, he'd won every martial arts fight he entered. As his pupil, Miko had proven unusually adept, but she drew the line at crediting magick, no matter how much Nic told her it was so.
Miko shook her head. Other than occasionally making her skin hum, the kanzashi were nothing but hair decorations. But that didn't prevent her from wearing them anytime she need a confidence boost.
Yep, her editor'd read her latest. Prick.
He had his mouth open to yell again as she strode into his office. "We've established my name. What can I help you with?”
He jabbed a finger at the computer. "What the hell is this?”
A glance told her she'd been right. "My follow-up on the Skid Row Butcher.”
"I told you to drop that story. It's deader'n those bums he killed.”
Miko suppressed the urge to throttle him. "Just because they're homeless doesn't mean they—”
"Homeless people don't buy papers.” He pressed the delete key and glared up at her. "Hit the streets. I want a new story. Gotta give the readers some fresh gore.”
She stalked out, banging the door closed behind her. "Got it. Gore. Fresh. Whaddaya want it on?”
EVENING MIST slithered up from the river, muffling sound, haloing the streetlights. Birds twittered uneasily in the highest limbs of the shadowing oaks. Dogs howled then fell to whimpering. A grungy old man shuffled along the river trail, worn knapsack weighting his back, threadbare blanket draping his shoulders. Two joggers passed him, covering their noses.
Banan gave a wheezy chuckle at their discomfort and hitched the pack higher. "Just you wait, you high and mighty bastards. My day's comin'.” Under his filthy shirt, a dark heat throbbed insistently in his chest. He rubbed at it. "Not long now ‘til the Gathering. Not long at all.”
Quickening his steps, he headed toward the place where others like him congregated. Soon night would reign, and it was best in these times to be with one's own kind. The Skid Row murders hadn't gone unnoticed on the streets, and now they all kept an eye peeled, fearing they'd be next.
He had a half mile to go when he heard footsteps on the gravel behind him. Close and gaining fast. He adopted a tremulous tone as he turned. "Don't hurt a poor old man.”
The mist parted around a tall male form, clad in black. "I don't hurt poor old men.” His smile flashed white in the darkness.
Banan eased the pack a bit on his shoulder. Only a mortal. Nothing to fear.
"However, I shall kill you.”
Others had died at the hands of men, but Banan was ages older, craftier than them. With a bellow that scattered the birds from the trees, he hurled his pack at the man.
The black-coated figure deflected it as if it were nothing and reached beneath his coat. Withdrawing a glowing dagger the length of his forearm, he studied Banan as a scientist might study a loathsome bug.
The smell of incense hit Banan. Dread snaked through his gut, freezing him where he stood. Not merely mortal.
The dagger flickered, first bright as the noonday sun then black as a moonless night. The man stepped closer. "I smelled your evil stench.”
"I ain't afraid of you,” Banan croaked. Lunging, he grappled for the weapon.
A normal man would have been laid out flat by the ferocity of the assault, but Banan's adversary was no normal man. Not with that strength, not with that reek.
"I felt your heat, Banan.”
"M-my heat?” Banan's eyes widened as his enemy dragged him closer, the dagger pricking his skin, circling his chest, then dropping to his abdomen.
"Don't pretend, Banan. I know the feel of crasboethiad heat.” The dagger dug deeper, blood sizzling as it touched the metal.
The man's eyes blazed into Banan's with unearthly fire. The dagger plunged deep. His adversary grated out, "I know your kind. I know you.”
Banan's back hunched as he writhed against the blade, his eyes popped and bled, his hands gnarled and twisted backwards. Blood spattered to the ground as he gazed up at the man and whispered, "Butcher.”
"I see you know me.” The man pulled back on the dagger only to drive it deep into Banan's chest to still his pulsating heart.
To obliterate his crasboethiad, his hellfire's soul.
MIKO STOPPED HER ancient Jeep behind the coroner's van. As the solitary crime reporter for the city paper and with the TV news teams occupied at a multi-car pileup on the interstate, she was the only media rep present. A small crowd of looky-loos complicated the street cops' job.
The medical examiner stood on the opposite side of the yellow crime tape. "Hey, Kelly,” she said. Dr. Kelly Wyzinski had been her BFF since they'd met and bonded while volunteering at the city homeless shelter. She dropped her voice. "The Butcher again?”
A wave of anxious mutters ran through the crowd, drawing the attention of Detective Garm. "This is a murder scene, Jones. You know we can't make any statement—”
"—until you've completed your preliminary investigation. Yeah, yeah, I know. Can't blame a girl for trying.” Miko glanced past him; Kelly nodded. Flashing Garm a smile they both knew was phony, Miko retreated to scrounge the crowd for witnesses.
As usual with the Skid Row Butcher, there weren't any. After an hour, she considered calling it a night when she noticed a boy, maybe nine or ten, still crouched beneath the overhanging limbs of a blue spruce, eyes as big as the soccer ball he clutched with white-knuckled hands. None of the kids she'd babysat would've hung around for an hour. Alone. Unless he'd seen something.
Like a murder?
She waited for the boy to become aware of her before saying, "Sup?”
He jumped, and his gaze skittered toward the body under the sheet fifty feet away, but he offered a shrug.
"Pretty grisly, huh?”
"Yeah.” He swallowed and turned a paler shade. "I ain't never seen a dead person before.”
"They're not all this bloody.” Miko moved to block his view of the stained sheet. The kid didn't need to see more of the carnage. Attempting a nonchalant air, she asked, "My name's Miko. What's yours?”
"Brendan,” he said, young enough to automatically answer an adult's question.
She cleared her throat. "Did you see it happen?”
"I saw someone coming from this direction really fast, but I—” He swallowed again. "I didn't see... it... happen.”
Was it possible? Could this kid have seen the Skid Row Butcher? Her heart, already racing, kicked up to sprinter-at-the-finish-line speed. "What did the person—a man, right?—look like? Tall? Short? Was he white? Black? Anything familiar about him?”
"H-he was tall. A wh-white guy.” For the first time, Brendan's expression lightened. "And he moved fast as Spiderman.”
"Could you recognize him if you saw him again?”
Brendan's eyes skittered to his left before giving a jerky nod. Miko followed his gaze toward a tall man on the edge of the onlookers. Swiftly, she summed him up: over six feet, dark chiseled good looks in a brooding better-than-Twilight way, black hair curling slightly over his collar, and an upscale black trench coat that billowed dramatically in the breeze. Buffy's Angel all tricked out.
She snorted. Really? Mr. GQ's the killer?
Still, who was she to say a murderer couldn't dress well? Careful to keep her movements subtle, she switched her camera to video and panned it from Brendan toward the man.
Miko returned her attention to Brendan. "Is that guy in the black trench coat the one you saw coming from the direction of the... uh, from back there?”
"Yeah, that's him.” Brendan edged farther back into the tree. "I gotta go. My mom's gonna k-kill me for being out after dark.”
Before Miko could grab him, before she could get his last name, he fled down the trail, lost in the darkness within seconds. She ran a few steps in pursuit, but he must've darted off the noisy gravel onto the grass.
Great, how do I find him to turn him over to Garm now? On the heels of that thought came another: Who cares about the kid if I have the murderer?
Murderer: not exactly fair and impartial reporting. She had one conversation with a nameless boy and no evidence. She rolled her shoulders. Possible murderer. Or possible witness. Or innocent bystander. Would Garm even believe her? Knowing she was jonesing for a story on this? She turned back to the scene.
Dammit, make that absent murderer or witness or bystander.
She scanned the crowd—no black trench coat, no GQ good looks. She hurried through the thinning bystanders, but he was gone.
"That's it, folks. Clear out. Nothing to see.” Several uniform cops made a sweep to clear the crowd.
Giving Kelly the high sign, Miko slid ahead of them to lurk on the floor of the Jeep. If it looked empty, it might not attract Garm's attention.
The unsolved murders had him riled up, and she seemed to be the object of his wrath after she questioned the police department's diligence in pursuing a murderer who only targeted the homeless. Not that they were the first to put such murders low on the priority list, but what if one of these men were Nic? This was where she'd lost his trail, but he could still be here in one of the homeless encampments or up in the mountains above town. Miko sighed. Nic could be anywhere, but wherever he was, with PTSD in the mix, he would be as vulnerable and as nameless and faceless as any other homeless man.
She heard the detective wrap up his part of the investigation and leave along with most of the cops. Finally, after Miko had jotted down all her notes on her iPad and hunger had driven her to digging dusty breath mints from between the seat cushions, Kelly tapped on the window.
"Remind me why I risk being fired to help a reporter?” she asked with a grin.
"Because it'd take a super majority vote of the city council to oust you, and they can't agree on anything?” Miko climbed out and stretched her legs. "And because we're both soft-hearted fools with Don Quixote complexes.”
"True and true.” Kelly's grin faded, and she laid a hand on Miko's shoulder. "Any word on your uncle?”
"No, but it's just a matter of time and effort. Someone's bound to remember seeing an Asian ex-Marine.” If they could see past the homeless exterior to the man beneath.
"If there's anything I can do to help, all you have to do is say the word,” Kelly said then motioned for her to follow. A crime scene tech rose, but she waved him away as she lifted the yellow tape to let Miko through.
Miko braced herself as the M.E. lifted the sheet over the dead body. Even as she gagged at the sight, relief rolled over her. Not Uncle Nic.
Pulling on gloves, Kelly pointed out the mutilations. "The Butcher's characteristic long abdominal-thoracic wound made by a sharp, medium-length, double-bladed weapon. Then the brute force dislocation and twisting of almost every joint in the body, including the vertebrae.” She rolled the body over to display the hunched, contorted spine. Easing the body back, she gently lifted each hand, deformed by knots that looked like advanced arthritis. "And also as usual, he chose a crippled homeless man. Sorry, homeless man with disabilities.”
"I don't think this guy cares whether we're PC or not.” Miko squatted beside her friend, taking several photos of the DB's face. Better to think of it as a dead body instead of a mutilated old man with no one to stand up for him. Not until she was away from the scene. Then she'd become his champion. She'd make sure he had justice even if it was posthumously.
She stood back as Kelly and the tech loaded him onto the gurney and into the coroner's van. The M.E. stripped off her gloves to push her hair from eyes that were now all business. In a low voice for Miko's ears only, she said, "I'll give you a call when I have the autopsy results.”
Miko walked the perimeter while the last policemen finished up. After scanning her camera over the scene one last time, she opened the Jeep's door, but a prickling at the back of her neck made her scrutinize her surroundings. Nothing moved but the trees in the wind and the flapping yellow crime scene tape. Even the neighborhood dogs were quiet. Still she had that same feeling of being watched she'd had every other time she'd come close to the Butcher's work.
"Need something, Jones?” a street cop she knew from the dojo asked, his tone tired but kind.
She looked around again and shrugged. Nerves.
"No, thanks.” She slipped behind the wheel. Keeping a constant eye on her rearview mirror, she drove a circuitous route to her home. Nothing. No one trailed her.
But the sensation of being watched scratched like fingernails on chalkboard.
HADRIAN HAWKEN stepped from the overhanging canopy of a willow tree and watched as the reporter's apartment came to life. Firelight flickered warm against the golden walls when she switched on the fireplace. Miko Jones poured a glass of wine, dropped into her accustomed chair in the living room's big bay window and opened her laptop, then seemed to have difficulty settling. Her gaze returned again and again to the window until finally, she rose and turned out the room's lamps. As she had on previous nights, she crossed her arms over her chest as if for protection and peered into the darkness.
Retreating into the shadows, Hadrian studied this persistent complication. The police made a show of investigating, but Miko Jones did much more than pretend an interest. Only she seemed to care about finding the Skid Row Butcher. Thus, only she stood between him and his mission. A mission begun long ago and close to completion.
From behind him, a rumbling purr announced the arrival of his Overseer, Azrael, long white fur luminous in the gloom like a ghostly apparition. She disturbs you, came the thought into Hadrian's mind.
Hadrian glared down at the massive white cat, closer in size to a lynx than the domestic cat shape he assumed. "She bears watching. Nothing more.”
You have watched her a great deal of late.
"She has become a regular investigator at each cleansing.”
She is after all a reporter.
"Yes.” The woman unsettled something deep within him, stirring memories of another. "The boy on the path—she, not the police, noticed him. She sees things others miss.”
She sees too much? A touch of alarm flavored the thought.
Returning his gaze to her window, Hadrian shook his head. "She is yet an innocent.”
Azrael flicked his tail and narrowed his eyes, gleaming gold in the darkness. See she remains so.
RUBBING HER ARMS within the draped sleeves of Uncle Nic's dragon-printed silk yukata, Miko stared out into the night. The street was empty, as it should be at two in the morning. The only movement was an enormous white cat meandering across the neighbor's yard. Still, she couldn't shake the sensation of being watched. Her gaze backtracked to the trees where the cat had come from.
A chill chased fear down her spine. The doer was out there. He'd been out there since shortly after she'd tagged him the "Skid Row Butcher.” Wherever she went, he was there. Sometimes, she woke during the night and sensed him, a tangible presence in the darkness outside. Watching.
"Leave me alone,” she whispered into the silence, wishing again that the cracking plaster and out-of-kilter window would hold a curtain rod for more than a couple of hours. Wishing she stayed in one place long enough to bother fixing stuff. Wishing she could locate wayward Uncle Sinichi Nakasima.
Her yukata billowed in a ghostly wind that disturbed nothing else in the room. The long, draped sleeves settled at her elbows as if folded back, ready for fighting as Nic had taught her. She dropped her hands, and the fabric slipped down her arms.
Oookay, that's creepy.
With a huff, she chastised herself for a vivid imagination then settled into the worn leather sofa and idly soothed herself by combing the kanzashi through her hair while trying to ignore the humming along her spine. Drawing her laptop to her, she connected the camera and downloaded the latest crime scene. Gruesome viewing, but it was her job. After that, she tackled the task of mapping out her story—one version in-depth and comprehensive, the other short and regrettably what her editor would publish.
Once she finished and hit Send, she returned to the crime scene video. Her wine glass stood empty as she ran the scene over and over, pausing each time at the man Brendan had identified as running from the area of the murder. Why had the man remained—or returned—if he was the Skid Row Butcher? Serial murderers were egotistical but not usually stupid. Most seemed to make do with collecting newspaper clippings and TV news stories, recording their YouTube coverage.
On the other hand, these victims wouldn't have even that fleeting notice. The rich, the powerful, the celebutante—let one of them be murdered, and the world knew of it in endless, redundant detail as the lead story across every media channel. However, old men with crabbed fingers, hunched backs, and grotesquely deformed faces were lucky to grab a ten-second blurb deep in a newscast.
"Or four lines on page ten of the Metro section.”
Chest tight, Miko pulled still photos of each of the Butcher's victims from her messenger bag. The first one, unidentified like all the rest, had fiery red hair. She recalled her shock when she'd photographed the Elephant Man-like corpse. While she hadn't lost her cookies, she'd skipped dinner.
As she studied each photo, her resolution intensified. The police, overworked and driven by politicians with their own agendas, simply didn't have the time or manpower to "waste” on the unwashed and unwanted. One dead bum meant one less hiding under the bridges. The only shelter in town was overflowing and under-funded. The soup kitchen ran out of food before the last in line reached the door. Who would miss one or two—or nine—homeless men in that chaos?
She did. Kelly did. So had Nic.
Oh, there were goodhearted folks in town, but none with much clout. Miko had real access to the media; she could do something about the invisibility. But her editor stood in her way.
"Damn the man!”
She closed the laptop with a sigh. Tomorrow—no, later today—she'd go to St. Michael's for her weekly ritual of lighting a candle for each victim.
Nine candles. Nine victims in need of justice. Nine men who'd been husbands, fathers, sons.
"MIKO, YOU GOTTA get over here quick.” Kelly's voice on the phone was way too excited for a wakeup call.
Miko dragged the pillow off her head as she fumbled with the handset. "This better be good.”
"Better than good,” Kelly answered. "Think X-Files. Think Men in Black.”
She opened her eyes and rolled onto her back. "It better be earth-shattering. I didn't get to bed until after six.”
"Hope he was good,” Kelly said with her dirty-minded chuckle.
"I wish, but I was working on the latest Butcher story.” The story, Jones. Get the story. Miko shoved her hair out of her eyes. "Okay, I'm awake. Give.”
"You know John Doe number nine from last night? He's got some wonky internals.”
"Wonky?” In spite of the headache building from lack of sleep, Miko sat up. "You been sniffing the formaldehyde, girlfriend?”
"No, really. He's not... normal.”
"You wouldn't be normal if someone sliced and diced you either.” Still, Miko headed for the bathroom, phone in hand.
"Just get here soon. Garm says he can't make it until lunchtime. Gives us a couple hours.”
"Be there in ten minutes,” Miko said, her reporter's nose twitching.
THIRTY MINUTES later, Miko firmly instructed her stomach to remain in position. "Ewww, yuk.”
"Wuss.” Kelly, dressed in surgical gown, gloves, face shield, and mask, reached into a basin and lifted something vaguely resembling liver onto the scale. She turned it over. "See all these things coming off here?”
"Mm-hmm.” Miko gritted her teeth and wished she hadn't grabbed that donut on the way over. Even so, she turned her camera on Kelly's examination of the bloody mass.
"I've got years of surgical experience including five on this job, and I've never seen anything like this. The previous Skid Row victims had unusual findings in the same region. But nothing this strange.” She pointed to another lump. "And on this side here I found some small growths in the same area in the previous victims, but nothing this large. At first I thought it was a germinal carcinoma, but I've never seen a tumor like this.”
In spite of herself, Miko lowered the camera and studied the baseball-sized thing. "Where was it in the body? In English, not medical.”
"I waited to close because I knew you'd ask that.” Kelly turned to John Doe number nine on the table and put her hand in the Y-incision to lift his ribcage. "Right here, under the ribs and heart, directly in line with the fatal wound. Whatever weapon killed him went into this thing before hitting the heart.”
Miko gulped to keep her donut down and put the camera to her eye. Better to view this through the distance of a lens.
Carefully lowering the ribcage, Kelly asked, "Do you want to leave or stick around for more details?”
"I'll stick.” Miko stifled a groan. Why couldn't I have chosen a nice normal profession like flipping burgers? Or sheep shearing? No blood, no wonky internal organs. Just nice fluffy sheep. Still, she came in closer when Kelly started opening the unknown tumor thingy.
"Wh—?” Kelly stepped back before she gave the thing a poke with her tweezers.
Miko zoomed in on the opening and gasped. "It's charred inside.”
Kelly pulled a magnifying light over it. "Burnt to a crisp.” She continued the cut several more inches around, revealing the same burnt tissue. "Never seen anything like this.” Glancing away, she reached for more swabs and stuff.
"Butt ugly, whatever it is.” Teeth still clenched, Miko moved in a little closer.
Black ash erupted into her face as the organ collapsed like a punctured balloon.
Miko yelped, tumbling backwards into the other autopsy table and scrabbling to wipe the stuff off her face. She dropped her camera to use both hands. Oh God, it burned. "Help!”
"What th—?” Cutting her question short, Kelly wrestled Miko to a sink.
"What is it, Kelly? What is it?” Pain. So much pain. Like beestings all over her face, in her eyes, her nose, and mouth.
Kelly flushed Miko's eyes and her whole face over and over, calmly shushing her. Minutes passed before the stinging eased. "Better now?” she asked, holding each eye open while she shined a bright light into it.
Only after Miko was drying her face with a scratchy blue towel did Kelly ask, "What the hell happened? I just turned away for a second, and then you yelled and...”
Miko shook her head. "That thing just collapsed and spewed out ash or whatever that black stuff is. I thought for sure I wasn't going to have any skin left.” She shuddered and glanced in the mirror. Just a reddish tinge and phantom itching remained. "Are you sure I'm okay?”
Kelly pulled Miko's eyelids down then turned Miko's head from one side to the other, inspecting her like one of her corpses. "Looks okay, but let me know if you experience anything unusual.”
She returned with the charred organ. "I have no idea what this thing is or what it does, but I'm going to find out.” She added several other items to her equipment then adjusted her face shield and mask. "I want a copy of your video. But for now, roll it. This sucker's gonna tell me its secrets.”
Miko picked up her camera, wiped it off, and pulled on a face shield before joining her friend. Carefully, she zoomed in on the structure where it rested, dark and... wrong. The thought lodged in her mind that it was not of this world. That it didn't belong here.
"I KNOW THE WAY,” Detective Garm boomed down the hall. "Let's see what the corpse cutter's found. Probably just another drunk.”
Miko and Kelly glanced at each other, then at the clock. A couple of blocks away, St. Michael's church bells chimed noon.
"Uh-oh,” Miko squeaked and ran for the office door behind her, sliding through as Garm swung through the double doors into autopsy. Much as she wanted to watch his reaction to the strange charred whatever-it-was, common sense won out over curiosity.
She slipped out the office's hallway door, relieved to miss another run-in with him. He made her all itchy, and apparently she irritated him as well. She made her way out the office's hallway door and to her Jeep. After putting several blocks between her and the morgue, she pulled up to the light by St. Michael's. A few elderly faithful exited from noon mass, drawing their jackets close in the gusty winds.
Attending mass wasn't her thing, but she entered the dim interior to kneel at the candle-lit altar of the Madonna. She touched a flame to the first of nine votives, crossed herself, and began, "Hail, Mary, full of grace...”
DARK CLOUDS scudded across the early afternoon sky, muttering to themselves like discontented giants as they descended the foothills. Miko opened the church door only to have it ripped from her hand to bang against the wall.
"Damn it, come back here.”
From the side aisle, the priest gave a censorious harrumph. Miko chuckled. She'd heard him swear a blue streak more than once. Over her shoulder, she called, "Sorry, Father Dan.”
She pushed the door closed and headed down the steps. Halfway down, a gust caught her coat and plastered it across her face. Although temporarily blinded, she kept going.
Suddenly she connected with something solid that gave a muffled "Whumpf.”
Miko looked up and gasped. Tall, dark, and serial stood there, bare inches away.
Okay, so she couldn't prove he was the Skid Row Butcher, but Brendan had placed him at the murder scene. What more could a reporter want? Facts. Motive, opportunity, and means... as in some sort of wicked knife. So she wouldn't convict him yet. Or turn her back on him.
She flashed him the smile that had weaseled her into a mountain's worth of journalistic dirt. She stuck out her hand. "Miko Jones. Sorry for running you over. "
"A pleasure, Miss Jones.” The roughness of his palm surprised her. She wouldn't have guessed that Mr. GQ would work with his hands. Or that he'd have a British accent.
The smell of incense wafted by, bringing with it memories, indistinct and somehow associated with metal striking metal. With blood and chants in Japanese.
Her hair slapped her face, bringing her mind back to the present. She still held his hand. "Sorry.”
His shrug told her nothing as she pulled her hand free, trying not to notice the loss of his warmth and strength.
Not the time for this, Jones! The wrong time never stopped me before. "British accent, right? Been here long?”
"Not long enough if I have not met such an extraordinary beauty as yourself before now.” His dark eyes danced. "But then again, I feel as if I know you from your newspaper articles.”
She gave the guy points for smooth, but she still didn't know his name while he knew not only her name but that she was a reporter.
The wind churned up from the river. He lifted his face to it, nostrils dilated as if catching an unpleasant scent.
Miko had to agree. It smelled like a trash dump with a dash of abattoir. She stepped back, using a parked SUV to shield herself from the wind, and plastered on another smile. "So you're from... ?”
His earlier amusement faded and something like wistfulness ghosted behind his eyes. "Glastonbury.”
"You mean like King Arthur and the Round Table?” Why don't I just carry a sign announcing Geek Alert?
"You'd know it by the Camelot myth, yes.” The wind whipped his coat like a black sail behind him. He scraped a hand over his chin with a soft rasp. "By its power.”
A shiver that had nothing to do with the cold coursed up Miko's back. At that moment, she could have believed him a dark knight on a quest. A marauding pirate.
A murderer even?
Instinct moved her another step away from him before her mind could formally agree to the action.
The man took a step back as well. He turned into the wind and touched his fingertips to his brow in a salute. "I have business that cannot wait. Farewell, Miko Jones.”
Desperate to maintain some connection—whether as a reporter or as a woman—she called, "I didn't catch your name.”
He paused, head down for a few seconds, and she wondered if he'd answer. At last, as if each fraction of an inch of movement gave him pain, he turned. Shadows haunted his eyes. "Hadrian Hawken. And again, farewell, Miko Jones.”
His coat flapping like the wings of a massive raven, he strode away.
Unsettled, she hurried to her car then glanced back.
Fast like Spiderman, as Brendan said. Except Spiderman was one of the good guys.
"Get a grip. He just turned the corner or got into a car.”
From under the bridge a few hundred yards away, an unearthly shriek echoed. Her heart raced up her throat, but Miko forced it down as she sprinted toward the sound. She didn't hesitate. Someone needed help. It could be one of the guys from the riverside homeless encampment. Bert!
It could even be—please, no, not Nic.
Dialing 911 while pelting down a sidewalk wasn't easy, but she connected and made sure the dispatcher understood where to send a squad car.
"And an ambulance.” No one would scream like that, that long, if they weren't hurt. All she could think was to help whoever was in so much agony.
The screams became inhuman, animalistic. Then they ceased as quickly as they started, leaving only the rush of the river.
"Damn damn damn.” She scrambled down the embankment to the riverside footpath, barely avoiding tumbling headlong into the icy river. Maybe the victim had fallen. Maybe he was drowning while she floundered around.
Maybe he was being attacked.
"Damn damn damn.”