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Authors: Christopher Golden

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Horror, #Fantasy, #Fantasy & Magic

Laws of Nature -2

BOOK: Laws of Nature -2
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Laws of Nature -2
Prowlers [2]
Christopher Golden
Pocket Books (2001)
Rating:
★★★★★
Tags:
Juvenile Fiction, Fiction, General, Horror, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic
About the Author

Christoper Golden was voted the third most popular science fiction author of the year 2000 by the readers of SFX magazine. He is the author of several dark fantasy novels and comic books in addition to numerous Buffy the Vampire Slayer adult novels and reference books which have made him a major UK bestseller.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

The swinging door that separated the dining room from the kitchen of Bridget's Irisk Rose Pub was a portal between two worlds. In the restaurant proper, fans whirled lazily above brass and wood, and the Celtic-rooted melodies of the Chieftains were pumped into the room along with the air-conditioning. Only the steady chatter of the clientele and the bustle of the waitstaff disturbed the tranquility of the scene.

When Molly Hatcher, empty tray in hand, pushed through the door into the kitchen, it was like diving into chaos. The cooks in the back shouted pleasant obscenities at one another, dishes were clattered, and orders were shouted out. Somehow, the chaos managed to find a kind of focus whenever Tim Dunphy was on duty.

Tim was twenty-three, a powerfully built guy from South Boston who had little patience for fooling around. Molly had a feeling it was more the respect for Tim's ability to kick the hell out of any one of them rather than his prowess as a chef that made the other cooks obey him. Either way, he ran a tight ship. Loud, yes, and wild, but somehow the orders in his kitchen were filled and rarely wrong.

Molly stood with her back to the wall to let another waitress slide by her. A computer screen to the left showed that order number 0417 was up, and it was one of hers. She slipped her tray onto the counter and scanned the various dishes that were arrayed on the warming racks before her. Swiftly, she gathered the four dishes that comprised her order and turned to go.

"What, you don't even say 'hi' anymore?"

Tray balanced precariously on one hand and hip, Molly turned to grin at Tim on the other side of the counter.

"Hi, Tim," she replied, a tiny smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "I didn't want to interrupt. You guys are so busy."

"Never too busy for you, Miss Hatcher," he flirted.

Molly rolled her eyes, but she knew he would not take it harshly. Though she did not really know how to handle his advances, that didn't mean she didn't like them. Not at all.

Tim was a mess -- greasy face, bandanna tied over his head to keep his hair from falling into the food; never mind the odd bump on the bridge of his nose, where it had been broken at least once. A fighter, no doubt. Growing up in Southie, he'd probably not had a chance to be anything else. And with her wild red hair and green eyes, Molly knew she was Tim's type. He'd made no secret of that fact. Truth be told, despite his rough edges, she thought he was sort of sweet.

But it was too soon. Way too soon. After what she'd been through...after Artie...

"So, y'know," Tim began, "I was thinkin' maybe we could -- "

"Leave the girl alone, Timothy Dunphy."

Molly turned, startled -- though not enough to unbalance her tray -- and saw Tim's sister Kiera shaking a finger at him. Kiera was also a waitress at the pub, and she and Molly had struck up a friendship.

"Mind your own damn business, Kiera," Tim snapped, eyes narrowing.

"I make it my business. Why don't you just do your job?"

Her brother bristled. "You oughta learn to keep your mouth shut."

"I kicked your ass when you were twelve, boy, and I'd be happy to do it again."

Tim shot her the finger, then grinned broadly at Molly and disappeared back into the kitchen. A second later one of the other cooks slipped several plates of food onto the warming racks.

"Don't let him bother you," Kiera said, a smirk on her face.

"He's not," Molly insisted. "But I'm happy to provide you guys with something else to fight about."

"And we appreciate it," Kiera confirmed, eyes lighting up with mischief. "We truly do."

Molly shook her head in amusement, then carried her tray out of the shouting and clattering that was the kitchen and into the much more serene environment of the restaurant. The other difference, of course, was temperature. The kitchen was insufferably hot, with so many stoves and ovens going at once. The restaurant and bar area whistled along at a cool seventy-three degrees, according to the thermostat.

As she slipped around a recently hired waiter named Paul and waved at Wendy, the hostess up by the front door, Molly found her thoughts again drifting back to Artie. For most of high school, the two of them had been inseparable. Then, in April, her sweet, funny guy had been murdered. Surreal as it had seemed then, it was even more so now. For Artie had not been killed by a drive-by gangbanger or convenience-store robber. He had been butchered by a race of monsters that had been around before the first man walked the earth.

Monsters. After all she had seen, she still had a hard time wrapping her mind around that word. But there was no other way to describe them. They weren't werewolves, though there were similarities. Unlike the werewolves of mythology, the Prowlers had no human core whose basic moral structure might restrict their actions, though some of them lived peacefully, even benevolently, among humanity.

The rest were just savages, beasts who stalked the human race like lions on the veldt or hunted in packs along the fringes of civilization. Except sometimes they didn't stay on the fringes. A bold pack of Prowlers hunting in the city had killed Artie and Kate Nordling, one of Molly's best friends, as well as a bunch of other people. The authorities had finally caught up with them, and Molly and her friend Jack Dwyer had taken down their leader while the police dealt with the others.

But there were more out there. No one knew how many, but it was clear that they existed, scattershot, all over the world, in ones and twos and packs of various sizes. Molly shuddered at the thought of what might happen someday if they were all brought together. Their knowledge of the Prowlers had put both her and Jack on edge, made them suspicious of everything and everyone.

Jack.
He was the other reason she did not know how to react to Tim Dunphy's flirting. All through the horrors back in April, Jack had been at Molly's side. He had been Artie's best friend since the two of them were very young, and he was the one who had first discovered the truth about the Prowlers. For her safety, Jack and his older sister Courtney, who owned the pub with him, had invited Molly to live with them and work there.

For safety, she had agreed. Once she was there, even after the crisis was over, Molly was not about to go home to her drunken, abusive mother and their filthy apartment in Dorchester. She only had six weeks left to go now before she started classes at Yale in the fall. Not a lot of time, and she wanted to spend it with Jack and Courtney.

She had to wonder if she didn't really just want to spend that time with Jack. Even wondering filled her with horrible guilt. Just a few months earlier her boyfriend had been murdered, and now she felt...something, at least, for his best friend. But she could not help it. Jack was her best friend, now. No one had ever known her so well. Not even Artie.

Which didn't help alleviate her guilt at all.

"Miss?"

Molly blinked, stopped too quickly and only just managed to keep from letting the dinner tray topple from its perch atop her fingers. She frowned as she glanced at the woman in the booth who had called out to her. Then realization dawned, and Molly offered an apologetic, self-deprecating grin. The order she was carrying belonged to the three women at that table.

"I'm sorry," she said earnestly as she slipped the plates one by one onto the table. "Just a little preoccupied, I guess."

"No harm done," a diminutive blond piped up from across the booth. "As long as we all get what we ordered. I'm starved."

The other women chuckled, and Molly joined in.

As she slid the last of the dishes onto the table, she happened to glance over at the bar area. A small cluster of locals sat at one end, eyes glued to whatever sporting event was on the TV bolted to the wall behind the bar. A few empty stools down from them, however, there sat a man, alone.

Staring at her.

With a quick intake of breath that whistled through her teeth, Molly turned her attention back to her customers. She forced a smile, all the while feeling the stranger's eyes boring into her from behind.

"Can I get you ladies anything else?" she asked.

One of them asked for an iced tea, but the others practically ignored Molly as they dug into their dinners. When she turned around, her gaze ticked involuntarily back to the bar again. The man wore blue jeans and black boots, and a stylishly tight powder-blue T-shirt stretched over a broad, muscular chest. One of his biceps bore a tattoo she could not make out at this distance. His hair was too long and his chin bore several days stubble.

He would have been strikingly handsome if he didn't look so mean, if his eyes didn't burn as he stared at her with a hunger that was almost...predatory.

Oh my God,
Molly thought, heart skipping a beat. A horrible thought occurred to her.

Panicked, she glanced anxiously around the pub until she spotted Jack talking to the hostess up front. She dangled the large, round tray at her side as she made a beeline across the restaurant for him. When Courtney was not around, Jack was in charge. But even if his older sister had been there, Molly would have gone to Jack instead.

When he saw her striding toward him, Jack's conversation faltered.

"Molly, what is it?" he asked.

Her gaze flicked toward Wendy, who instantly got the message and returned to the tall desk the hostess used to take reservations and assign seating.

Molly purposely positioned herself in the line of sight between Jack and the man -- the predator -- at the bar. "Don't look right away," she warned him. "There's a man sitting by himself up at the bar who looks a little like a TV star or something. He's staring at me."

A small smile twitched at the corners of Jack's mouth. "Can you blame him?"

She grimaced. "Not in a good way, Jack. I get a vibe off him. I can't help wondering if he's...hunting."

Her friend's face blanched and his eyes narrowed. He was five foot ten and, though muscular, not physically intimidating. But Jack was stronger than he looked, and when his body tensed, she could feel the coiled power of a much larger man. Jack was not someone to underestimate. Not at all.

As Molly watched, Jack glanced past her shoulder. She saw no reaction in his features before he gazed at her again.

"Wish Bill was back from his break," Jack said, voice low and grave. "He'd be able to tell."

Molly hesitated a moment, then gave a tiny shrug. "What do we do?"

Jack nodded slowly. Then, without a word, he set off across the restaurant on a direct course for the bar.

The world around him shuddered and seemed to disappear as Jack strode the wood floor of Bridget's Irisk Rose Pub. The voices were gone and the other patrons ceased to exist, until all that remained were the guy at the bar and the music that lingered in the air.

Adrenaline rushed through him, and Jack nearly quivered with it. His alarms were going off, and he did his best to tone them down. Molly was right. The guy looked out of place in here, like a model or an actor. Too perfect. And cruel, too. That was what disturbed Jack most of all. A powerful-looking guy, out of place, all by himself, and staring at Molly as though he were the hunter and she the prey.

Prowler,
Jack thought, and the idea only solidified as he moved closer to the man, defiantly challenging him with his steady gaze. The man did not look away.

Jack took the two steps up to the bar area and stood directly in front of the man, staring down at him.

"You're pissing her off," Jack told him.

The man's eyebrows shot up, a glint of amusement in his eyes. It was an arrogant look, and Jack wanted very much to slap it off his face. "I'm sorry? I don't know what you're talkin' about."

Arms crossed, Jack glared at him. "The redheaded waitress, the one you keep staring at. You're pissing her off."

The guy laughed. "I'm watchin' her. She's pretty tasty-lookin'. No law against watchin'. And I'm wonderin' if maybe it ain't her I'm pissin' off. Otherwise maybe she'd be over here tellin' me herself. Doesn't look like the kind of girl who'd let a guy do her dirty work. Unless maybe she's scared a' me."

Tasty-looking.
The phrase stuck in Jack's mind. It might just be the guy being obnoxious, or it might mean something else entirely.

"Maybe she is," Jack admitted. "So maybe you should go."

The guy shook his head in disbelief and stood up. He was a good four inches taller than Jack, a lot broader, and -- Jack had to hand it to him -- he was better dressed. He knew how the man must see him: punk nineteen-year-old in a cotton shirt with the name of the pub sewn on the breast, telling him what to do?

"I'm not done with my beer," the guy drawled in his slight southern accent.

With a frown, Jack tilted his head and regarded the man. "You've never heard of Tanzer, have you?"

From the flicker of confusion in the guy's eyes, he knew the answer. This man was not a Prowler. Just an arrogant, sexist moron with a chip on his shoulder.

Jack sighed. Prowlers were one thing. Jerks like this he had to handle just about every day, which got monotonous.

"You're gonna leave now," Jack told him.

"Who the hell are
you?"
the guy scoffed.

"The owner," Jack said coolly, gazing up at the man. He sniffed with a boredom that was only partially feigned. "Look, I know you think you're a badass. But you're gonna have to trust me when I say I've dealt with meaner. If you want trouble here, you shouldn't come alone."

For a few seconds the guy laughed at that. But even as he did, he watched Jack's eyes. Whatever he saw there, something in them convinced him that Jack was speaking true.

He reached behind the bar and grabbed his mug, sucked back several gulps of beer, then slammed it down hard and stalked off, not looking back.

BOOK: Laws of Nature -2
13.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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