Authors: Lindsay J. Pryor
An imprint of StoryFire Ltd. 23 Sussex Road, Ickenham, UB10 8PN. United Kingdom
opyright © Lindsay J. Pryor 2014
indsay J. Pryor
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right to be identified as the author of this work.
ll rights reserved
. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.
his book is
a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events other than those clearly in the public domain, are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
special thanks to
, Anita, Christine, Fiona, Incy, Kat, Kelly, Linzi and Tracey.
What would I do without you? You ladies are just the best.
y amazing Facebook followers
You bring me so much laughter. Your support means everything.
Thank you for being there to share every moment.
who takes the time to get in touch.
Thank you for letting me know how much you’re enjoying my series. I truly am lost for words sometimes.
he fabulous bloggers
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I can’t thank you enough for your loyalty as Blackthorn progresses.
The incredible publisher making all of this possible.
I’m so very fortunate to have you at the helm of my first series. Thank you for continuing to believe in Blackthorn – and in me.
den stood alone
in the darkness, habitually flipping the mint in his mouth over and over again with the perfected rhythm of his tongue. The night air was fresh against his face, the breeze slightly stronger from his viewing point on the flat roof of the derelict shop.
The van in the alley thirty foot below was still being unloaded. Whatever the crates contained wasn’t heavy, not from the ease with which the lone guy lifted each onto his shoulder in turn. He followed the same pattern every time – lift the crate, carry it inside, be gone for three to four minutes, then unload the next.
When he disappeared inside for the eighth time, Eden scanned the roofs of the row upon row of terraced houses. The graffiti-emblazoned buildings, sat amidst their maze of back alleys, were once an inhabitable residential area of what had once been classed as a city decades before.
Now, aside from the district’s hub where the third species hung out, this was the second most lethal place to be in Blackthorn. This was The Circus: home to the convicts abandoned by the penitentiary of Lowtown across the border, and forced to reside within the confines of the third-species-dominated core of the locale.
Returning after disposing of the ninth crate, the guy slammed the van door shut and reversed back into the side alley from where he’d come. The same alley where he’d passed Eden – his van lights off, opting for the tight squeeze as opposed to the main road only a few feet away. It had evoked Eden’s curiosity enough to take the external fire escape steps up onto the flat roof – an advantageous viewpoint of the buildings he’d been heading for anyway.
He flipped his mint over in his mouth again as he watched the van back up to leave, when the figure to his left caught his attention.
‘You spying?’ the petite blonde asked, remaining a sensible twenty feet away. Her hands were tucked in the pockets of the black, cropped leather jacket that hung half off one skinny shoulder. Right hip cocked slightly higher than the left, her thin, parted legs ended in biker boots to complete the defensive stance.
‘You know this place?’ he asked.
He slid his open-cuffed jacket sleeve up to expose his inner arm, the numbers tattooed there – numbers that indicated the penitentiary he had come from as well as the categories and frequency of the crimes he had committed.
She folded her arms as she walked towards him to take a closer look, her vest top low enough to reveal the lace cups of her well-padded bra.
Her eyes – hollow, sad, barely visible through her shaggy bob – were indicative of the system she was no doubt locked in. And those blue eyes flared as she examined the condemnatory array of numbers that stretched higher than his restrictive sleeve would allow her to see.
Blowing back her fringe, she raised her eyebrows, her subsequent half smile as blatant as the length of her tight skirt. ‘That’s a
of bad behaviour.’ She tilted her head to the side slightly. ‘And yet you look so sweet.’
‘Where does that door go?’ he asked, cocking his head to where the crates had been taken.
She stepped alongside him and glanced down at the alley. She shrugged her small shoulders. ‘There are doorways all over this place since they knocked all the houses through – some blocked up, new ones put in both inside and out. I’ve been here three years,’ she added, ‘and I don’t know half of this maze.’
Three years. At least sixteen years his junior, she couldn’t have been a day over twenty.
She took a packet of cigarettes out of her top pocket and offered him one.
‘You know how hard it is to get your hands on these around here?’ she asked.
‘I don’t smoke.’
‘I suggest you take it up.’ She placed one between her badly painted lips, her skinny fingers trembling in the cold – fingers worthy of piano playing, tipped in chipped baby-pink nail polish that conflicted with the tough biker look. She sniffed and wrapped an arm around herself, dropped her cigarette-holding hand loosely to her side to flick off some ash. ‘Saying that, some reckon they fill these with all sorts of shit before shipping them in; that they’ll kill us off that way if not with the booze and food they supply.’
He’d heard the conspiracy theories a hundred times before and they didn’t get any more interesting with a change of teller. ‘Do you know what was in the crates?’
She shrugged again and blew out a curt stream of smoke that promptly dissipated in the cold night air. ‘You’re new here, right?’ She raked him swiftly again. ‘Only I’d remember you.’
‘New as of a few hours ago.’
‘They just dump you off on this side of the border? Shit, isn’t it? No money. No provisions. No directions.’ She took another swift inhale before exhaling just as brusquely. ‘Do you know what percentage of cons dropped off here make it to the second night?’
She shrugged again. ‘Nah. Still, it’s better than the penitentiary. At least you get to do what you want around here.’
‘You’re a con?’
She slid her jacket sleeve up her arm with her cigarette-holding hand to give him a quick flash of her own numbers.
He knew exactly what they meant. ‘Murder?’
She shrugged again. ‘Stopped him cheating.’
He didn’t know whether he was saddened more by the indifference in her tone, or the lack of expression on her heavily made-up face.
‘You don’t get sent here just for murder,’ he said.
‘I killed one of the penitentiary guards who reminded me of him.’ Her jacket sleeve dropped into place again as she wrapped her arm back around her waist.
He didn’t doubt it was more than bravado. The capability consumed her morally apathetic eyes. He knew the type only too well. Had handled enough.
‘I don’t remind you of him too, do I?’
She smiled, revealing surprisingly good teeth. ‘Good looking
a sense of humour. Nah, you’re all right.’ She stepped up to the edge to look down at the alley before turning to face him. ‘Building up the courage to go in, huh? You’ll be all right – unless you’re planning to make your mark and get beaten to a pulp for it. My advice: keep your head down. And don’t flash those numbers too much. Some might see it as competition.’ She lifted the cigarette back to her lips and exhaled as she assessed him from head to foot again. ‘Messing up that handsome face, let alone that body, would be a crime in itself.’ Her gaze lingered before she sauntered back over. ‘I’ve got a room in there. You can bed down with me until you get yourself straight.’
someone get themselves straight around here?’
‘This patch is Pummel’s. If you’ve got something to offer, he might give you a room. If not, you can try one of the abandoned buildings, but security ain’t good. Any further afield and you’re going to find yourself with vamps as neighbours or a rogue lycan or whatever other third species crawls the back alleys of this district.’
Anywhere beyond the thin margin of the south that didn’t belong to anyone other than the squatting cons.
‘Pummel?’ he asked, despite already knowing he was in the right place.
‘That’s what he’s known as around here. For good reason.’
‘He sounds like a charmer.’
She smiled again, but this time it didn’t reach her eyes. ‘So you want that room?’
‘With my history?’
She exhaled a steady stream of smoke as she sidled closer. ‘This place gets lonely. Besides, whatever those numbers say about you, I’m a good judge of character. Hang around long enough and you get to know types around here.’
Clearly not that good a judge.
‘As much as I appreciate the offer, you don’t want to be bedding down with me.’
She smiled as she closed in, her overpowering perfume surrounding her like an aura. ‘Why? You got some kind of fucked-up kink or something? Only I’m open-minded.’ She looked back down at his arm before looking him in the eyes again, lingering with a confidence only experience brought. ‘Just how far up do those numbers go anyway?’
Eyes that, despite their confidence, looked on edge, almost impatient.
He glanced over at the fire escape and back at her. As he’d guessed, her impatience escalated.
‘Or we can stay up here,’ she said, discarding her cigarette before running her hand down his arm, guiding him to face her, his back to the fire escape, as she pressed her lips together. ‘That’s quite a body under that jacket. I bet you know how to take care of yourself. And me.’
It was subtle. And she was good. But not good enough for it to do anything but confirm he’d been right to sense the signs of an ambush.
‘And taking care of me is the only thing I’m interested in right now,’ he said, removing her bony hand from his arm, a hand he could so easily crush for what he suspected, before backing away.
‘At least let me show you around,’ she called out louder than she needed to, catching up with him as he crossed to the steps. ‘Hey! Wait! You’ll want to know where you’re going in there.’
‘I’ll take my chances,’ he replied, descending.
She clunked down the fire escape behind him. ‘What’s the problem? You not into women or something? Or am I not good enough for you?’
‘Don’t take it personally.’
‘In case you haven’t noticed,’ she said, grabbing his shoulder, ‘I’m offering it to you on a plate here.’
‘And lucky for you, I don’t have an appetite tonight,’ he said, shrugging her off.
At least he’d got to the bottom of the steps before they appeared.
There were two of them at first. Then another two appeared from behind them.
He glanced back over his shoulder at the blonde who remained four steps up, her arms now tightly folded, her eyebrows raised smugly to perfectly complement her smirk.
‘You’re done, Mya,’ one of the males said.
‘No way,’ she insisted. ‘Not when I did all the work again. I want to watch this time.’
Eden glanced back over his shoulder at her again, the thought of putting her over his knee and giving her a damn hard spanking, and not for his personal pleasure, reeling through him. ‘Sugary little thing, aren’t you?’
‘Fuck you,’ she sneered.
‘Oh, darling, you wish,’ he said, turning his attention back to the four squaring up ready to attack.
If there was one thing he abhorred it was pack hunting. If he was going to be taken on, he could at least grant some respect to an opponent willing to take him on alone. But these reeked of cowardice, a guarantee to send his adrenaline pumping.
Only two types fought in packs in Blackthorn – cons and lycans. And there was nothing lycan about these. Lycans didn’t hesitate, and they sure didn’t use honeytraps to do their dirty work.
In fact, there was nothing third species about them at all. These were humans – his own kind – convicts that clearly didn’t intend to ask questions or need a reason for their intentions. This was about entertainment. He could see by the look in their eyes that they wanted to hurt him, and he’d been in that situation
too many times before.
He crunched the thin remainder of his mint as strategy instantly kicked in. The two guys on the periphery were the weakest link. They’d be easy enough if they fought fair.
But Eden turned his attention to the one who had spoken – clearly the leader. He dominated his five-foot-ten adversary by at least three inches, unlike the other three who were the muscle of his little gang.
‘Any of you Pummel?’ Eden asked, already knowing that the answer was no. But it wouldn’t hurt to play innocent.
The leader’s thin lips broadened into a chilling smile. ‘You ain’t going to get that far, pretty one.’
Eden had the feeling the con believed it. He frowned for effect. ‘Is that some kind of come on? Only I’m not into possessive types.’
The leader didn’t laugh. Neither did the others. The leader’s slitty eyes narrowed – eyes that emanated sadism. ‘What the fuck did you say?’
‘Hey, I’m not questioning your taste,’ Eden said. He glanced at the other three guys. ‘Unless I’m the anomaly and
your usual choice.’
It took a moment for his insult to sink in.
When it did, just as he’d suspected, they didn’t come at him in an orderly queue.
With a single nod of the leader’s head – a nod that indicated he intended to sate his minions’ taste for blood first – the three attacked.
Eden didn’t take his eyes off his first target. One clean and powerful sideways kick to the windpipe and number one was down long enough for him to turn his attention on the second. A swift, solid, precise fist to the attacker’s groin and number two was on his knees, curled over with pain.
The third took his opportunity and punched Eden clean in the jaw – but only enough to throw him off balance rather than take him down.
Eden ploughed into him before the attacker’s fist had a chance to make second contact. He rammed his attacker against the wall only for him to shove back with equal retaliation, slamming Eden backwards onto the metal fire escape steps.
Mya squealed in disturbing delight, almost skipping as she slipped past them to avoid the onslaught, whilst number three, pinning Eden to the steps with his weight advantage, applied two sharp blows to Eden’s side and another to his jaw.
Eden spat out blood into his attacker’s face, surprised, from the force and angle of number three’s blow, that a tooth hadn’t exited with it.
The blood shower only incited more vicious pounding, the leader also closing in ready to pounce.
Eden gritted his teeth, lifted his knee and kicked him clean off. Using the steps as leverage, he got back onto his feet.
But so did the other two he had taken down in round one.
Eden wiped his bloodied mouth with the back of his hand, spitting out more blood as he rethought his strategy.
Clearly they didn’t take the hint. Clearly they intended to kill him. And he never took to either kindly.
This time, a second blow to number one’s windpipe was intentionally fatal. A swivel kick to number two knocked him clean against the protruding rusted pole jutting out from the wall.
Their comrade’s impaling only slowed number three and the leader for a couple of seconds before they bared their teeth and closed in on him again.