Excerpt: Angelic Avenger

Angelic Avenger Copyright 2009 Kaye Chambers All rights reserved - a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication

The lights and bustle of Atlantic City have always bothered me. Strolling down the sidewalk three streets away from the casino strip, I remembered why. In the daylight, the neighborhoods were shady enough with their testament to the tourist industry marked by pawn shops with bars on the doors and windows. Add in the shadows, and it made a girl wonder about the things that go bump in the night. As if he could read my thoughts, the werewolf I was following threw a very telling glance over his shoulder. I tried to look like a casual tourist, but knew I'd failed when he ducked into the recessed doorway of one of those shops.

Why did they always have to be stupid?

I walked by it as if I didn't notice and couldn't care that he was hiding deep in the shadows. At the last second, I sidestepped into the doorway, sliding easily into the opposite corner to face him across more than the dirty sidewalk. I was here to deliver a message I knew he wasn't going to like.

"Really, Evan-" I sighed and let the pity show in my eyes, "-has it gotten so bad that you think I'm that careless?"

The whites of his eyes showed and he darted a look to the only escape. Bold of him, all things considered. With my heightened senses, I could smell the fear mingled with the alcohol wafting off his skin.

"Please tell me you're not going to run."

The words came out with another sigh and in the back of my mind a part of me registered how tired it sounded. I'd been doing this gig for way too long. Pushing the thought away, I straightened to my whole five feet six with a yawn.

"You know I hate to chase. I'm only here to talk, but if you run, I'll have to chase and we both know where that usually ends up."

"What do you want to talk about?"

His voice echoed with the slow gravel of the change.

I blinked and narrowed my brown eyes at him even as I flipped the rubber band into my dark hair to hold it back out of my face. It used to be dark brown, but it'd been so long since I'd been around a lot of sun most people thought it black these days. I'd never been a beach bunny. With my current profession, most of my work came at night. It was simply logistics because that's when most of my charges were likely to wrap themselves into mischief they had no business getting into, like the werewolf standing in front of me.

What in the hell had Gavreel and Gabriel not told me that would have Evan threatening to change because I popped up to talk to him?

Yes, that's Gabriel as in the Gabriel, my link to the Powers That Be and where I get my assignments. I'm no angel. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to be. I'm the one who does what needs to be done to keep their hands lily white. Of course, it really doesn't matter for me.

I'm going to Hell. I know it. They know it. My fate is sealed. I took an innocent life. Oh, don't get all shocked and melodramatic on me, it was mine. Do you have any idea how pissed off the Powers That Be get when you go screwing around with your fate? You're liable to find yourself on the banks of the Chattahoochee tasting that vile water with Suriel glaring down at you before he starts that pacing and yelling thing he has down pat about cosmic destiny. It's not a fun feeling, let me tell you.

My punishment for jumping off that bridge? I had been granted the privilege to work off my slight to the cosmic balance by working as a Reaper, as in Grim. I collect souls for a living, with a side of running errands for angels, and riding herd on the population of shifters. It's not a bad living, all things considered. I could just be dead.

"Now, Evan-" I turned my attention back to the task at hand and called his bluff, if it was a bluff. I didn't know him well enough to know if I was starting trouble or not, "-that's rude. What have I done to you that'd you risk dying right now instead of letting me pat you on the head with your friendly warning and slipping away? It's not your time yet."

"Like that would stop you," he snarled.

I narrowed my eyes at the way his teeth were suddenly pointed. Damn dog really was going to shift on me. I hate it when they do that.

He had a point, though. I was known for bringing in more than one soul ahead of its time, if the situation warranted it. I had this thing about fairness. It didn't seem fair some people thought that they were above a little basic decency. I knew better than to call it human decency. I rarely dealt with the simple human. Of all the people I did deal with, the human contingent were the least decent of the bunch. Besides, the only time I was ever sent to talk to humans was when I was trying to be all nice and sneaky with the ulterior motive of finding out some nice tidbit of information. I wasn't very good at it and that was how I'd garnered a reputation for being prone to picking off those big men who thought size and strength gave them the right to pick on women, children, and animals. Guess what? They may be bigger, but I was dead already. They couldn't hurt me. The good thing about bullies is that they were often too stupid to realize when they'd met their match until it was too late.

"You're right, I don't care. But old Pete and Marty get pretty pissed at me when I try to turn in souls early. It screws up the scheme of things or something appropriately divine. What are you so afraid of?"

The last was barely a whisper. I really wasn't trying to taunt him but his eyes darted back to the opening. I had a heartbeat of warning before he was gone. Cursing, I bounced off the wall a second later, but his enhanced speed put him several yards ahead of me as I ran after him, praying the shadows around us both would be good enough camouflage. Thankfully, the only people who saw us were those close enough to brush against us as we darted down the sidewalk. Luckily, the only people out were the late gamblers and most of them reeked of the alcohol from the casinos. They'd write off what they saw as a side effect of that last drink over the slot machines.

Evan must have realized he wasn't going to lose me on the street because he darted into an alley with me only steps behind him. I pulled up and matched his glare as it dead-ended. His eyes flashing blue in the dim light was the only warning I had as he threw his head back in a cry and shifted, his clothes ripping from him. As experienced as I was, it was still an impressive sight. His body swelled and changed with a blur of motion. No matter how often I saw it, it still managed to make my breath instinctively catch in my throat. Some instincts are hard to shake, breathing being one of them.

"Come on, Evan." I drew the enchanted short sword from the sheath sewn into the lining of my coat with a heavy sigh. This wasn't my favorite part of the job, that's for sure. "You don't want to die today any more than I want to kill you. No one saw you like this but me. It's not too late to fix this."

I truly didn't want to kill him. Shifters, as a rule, were incredibly hard to kill. Since I certainly wasn't big enough to beat him until his body couldn't heal itself fast enough, the only true way for me to take him out was to take his head. Humans, a Reaper could touch and harvest, but most magical beings had to have a little help to part the corporeal body and the soul.

Mentally, I cursed the turn of events. I was supposed to be the messenger today, not the avenger. I realized with a sinking heart that the Powers That Be probably expected him to run rogue if they were sending me to him as the bearer. It pissed me off, but there was no help for it, now.

It was times like this that I seriously hated my job. For all practical purposes, I'd traded my humanity for a one-way ticket as the lackey of the people who held my parole. Personally, I think I would rather have that nice crematory vault I'd paid for.

The look on his face in the halfman form could only be called regret as he turned toward the brick building. The effort to launch himself into the wall made his grunt echo in the cold night only to be drowned out by the sound of his claws digging into the aging bricks for handholds halfway up the wall. I put my regrets aside as I drew the pistol from its holster at the small of my back and sighted it on him one handed. The silencer held as the body stiffened and fell to the ground. Striding to him, I knelt beside him.

"Talk to me..."

"Finish it," he whispered. The defeat in his voice only managed to prick my conscience further. I didn't know him, but the sight of him laying there waiting on me to deliver that killing blow was like a knife in the back. Laws were laws and he'd left me no choice, but the why lingered in my mind. I had to know. Shaking my head, I stepped toward him.

"Not like this."

Anger flashed in his face as he struggled around his useless legs to get his body under him to kneel.

"Finish it!"

His voice echoed and I glanced for spectators. A drunken homeless man hovered around the mouth of the alley and I realized I'd run out of options. I closed off the part of me that still longed to be human, and brought the sword in the arc to behead him in a clean stroke. I watched his head fly to the side dispassionately and turned to see his body shudder back to the human form. The bullet wound was already half healed. Shifters tended to heal quickly and if that myth about silver bullets were true, my life would have been a lot easier.

With a sigh, I couldn't help but wonder what could have made death more desirable than talking to my superiors. I stepped back and watched as the soul of the shifter rose out in a fine mist. It hovered expectantly as I held out my hand and recited the ritual words. His face was almost peaceful as he stepped toward me, and then I jerked as our hands touched.

The cold traveled up my arm as I became the vessel for the displaced soul. I shivered and wondered how I would ever get used to being soulless despite the couple of decades or so that I'd been doing this. Putting my weapons away, I stepped over the body without a glance and strolled into the street as if nothing had happened. The authorities would find the body and it would go down as an unsolved homicide. If I'd had time, I would have seen to it, but the feeling of him crawling around in the empty cavern where my soul belonged was too much to deal with. Some souls rest easy and give you a chance to give their bodies dignity. Evan wasn't one of those souls. He wanted me to leave his body for the front page, so that's exactly what I did.

Walking out of the mouth of the alley, I strolled down the boardwalk behind the casinos to the beach and called for my ride. The thin line of moonlight bathed the sand of the beach in front of me and I stepped into it without a glance. To anyone who was watching, one minute I was just a woman strolling on the beach and the next, I had disappeared into the shadows. Ever hear of those suicide women in the legends who haunt beaches and leave footprints in the sand that disappear?

 

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