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Authors: Dianne Sylvan

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Contemporary

Queen of Shadows

BOOK: Queen of Shadows
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Queen of Shadows
pulled me in . . . Dianne Sylvan’s rich, dark, sexy reimagined Austin is filled with people I want to visit again and again. Dianne Sylvan’s got voice, doesn’t miss a beat, and rocks it all the way to the last note. Sit down. Shut up. And enjoy the show. It’s intense, dark, sexy, with just the right touch of humor. Looking for a new addiction? Go no farther.”

—Devon Monk, author of Magic on the Storm


Queen of Shadows
grabbed me on the first page and didn’t let go. Miranda, the heroine, is vulnerable and gutsy, with magical abilities even she doesn’t suspect. Vampire David Solomon is as powerful and heroic as he is deliciously seductive. Dianne Sylvan has created an original take on vampires that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’ll be looking for her next book with great anticipation. She’s a skilled and talented storyteller who definitely knows how to deliver one hell of a book!”

—Angela Knight, New York Times bestselling author of Master of Fire

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
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South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

QUEEN OF SHADOWS

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

PRINTING HISTORY
Ace mass-market edition / September 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Dianne Sylvan.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eISBN : 978-1-101-44257-9

ACE
Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

http://us.penguingroup.com

For Laurie and Laura, who told me so

PART ONE

Pomegranate Seeds

One

The guy next to her in the checkout line looked kind of like a vampire.

Miranda didn’t look at people. She kept her eyes averted, even while negotiating the chaos of the Austin city streets. She slipped into the empty spaces between bodies and went unnoticed, a messy ponytail bobbing in and out of focus, a pale, heart-shaped face drawn with years of insomnia. If anyone remarked on her presence, it was probably to say something about her hair; unconfined, her dark red curls spilled haphazardly down over her shoulders, a jeweled tone that caught fire on the rare occasion sunlight touched it. If they thought anything about her at all, it was probably that her hair was fake. They certainly wouldn’t remember her eyes, for no one ever saw them.

She was very careful about that.

A woman walking down Sixth Street carrying a guitar case was hardly news in Austin, which had at some point proclaimed itself the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Musicians here were like actors in Los Angeles, plentiful and mostly working in restaurants.

A woman standing in line at the mini mart with a guitar case was a little more interesting, mostly because she should have been bumping into people, but Miranda knew every inch of space around her, could feel the individual people on all sides, and she knew not to get too close.
Don’t look up, don’t touch. They’ll regret it. You’ll regret it.

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, shifting the red plastic basket in her hands, looking down, as always, at her purchases. Allergy medicine, hummus, pita, a small block of Cheddar carefully selected from the pile, oranges, six bottles of Shiner. She could have been anyone in Austin.

There were only a handful of people in the store, which was why she was there after midnight. The crowd at the club had been dense and restless from the heat, and she wanted nothing more than to sprint home with her guitar bouncing on her back and gain the safe silence of her tiny apartment off Lamar, scald the night off her body in the shower, wash down a couple of Benadryl with a Shiner, and fall into a short but welcome coma.

But her fridge was empty. She had been eating less and less, drinking more and more. Her hands shook with hunger on the neck of her twelve-string and nearly missed every other chord.

Not that it mattered. She could bang two sticks together, and still they would come.

She twisted one hand free of the basket handles and impatiently shoved a loose curl back behind her ear. She wasn’t going to think about that. Not now. If it started, it wouldn’t stop, and she’d never make it home. There was only one more person in front of her in line, and then it was two blocks from here to the bus stop, ten minutes to the apartment complex. She could make it.

Edging closer to the register, she snatched a pair of Snickers bars from the display and dropped them in the basket.

“I prefer Milky Way, myself,” came a low voice alarmingly close to her left shoulder.

Miranda held back a scream and spun around, for once lifting her head and
looking
.

A young man had somehow come up right behind her and was standing only a couple of feet away, watching her with detached curiosity. He was oddly pale in the bright fluorescent lights and wore a long black coat that covered him from neck to ankles.

In Texas, in August.

She stared at him, heart pounding in her chest at the shock of being sneaked up on. No one ever came into or out of her presence without her feeling it. She could feel a pigeon blink at fifty paces. She relied on the knowledge even as she hated it.

He seemed unaffected by her reaction and simply stood watching her; that was when she realized how insanely blue his eyes were. They were dark, almost the color of blueberries, an impossible shade she’d never seen before. They had to be contacts—nobody had eyes that color. If she hadn’t been so rattled, she might have smiled to herself; she was thinking the same thing about his eyes most people did about her hair.

“Are you all right?” he asked. There was something musical and compelling in his voice, almost soothing, and it contained an apology for frightening her.

She wanted to sob,
No, I’m pretty fucking far from all right
, but all that would come out of her mouth was a strangled half whimper. She took a step back involuntarily, and the strap of her guitar case started to slide off her shoulder. She groped after it, but it was either grab the instrument or hold the basket—no contest, really. She started to let go of the handles—

—and a pale, long-fingered hand shot out and took the basket from her smoothly, holding it out in front of her at a careful distance while she got herself back together. It was a strong hand, neatly manicured, and she couldn’t help but compare it to her own, constantly trembling with nails bitten to the quick. Her right hand had decent nails so she could play, but she’d nibbled off the left for years.

Shaking, she took the basket back and mumbled her thanks, returning her eyes to the ground where they belonged.

The cashier was giving her a pointed look, and she realized she was next. She stumbled forward and hoisted the basket onto the conveyor belt, turning to slide through the lane without whacking the guitar on the sides, simultaneously digging her wallet out of the blue embroidered purse she’d bought at a street fair back when . . . back when.

This was not how things were supposed to go. No one was supposed to notice her. The bored-looking blonde ringing up her food wouldn’t even remember she’d been there. The only people who ever paid any attention to her were the ones who paid the fifteen-dollar cover charge and stood before and below her line of sight every Wednesday and Friday night at Mel’s. They saw her, and they listened. Random strangers didn’t do that.

She glanced back behind her, almost sure he would be gone, but he was still waiting patiently, no longer watching her. She dared take a second to size him up, just in case he came after her on the street. Taller than her, which didn’t mean much to a five-four woman. Slender. Pale. Black hair that was shiny in the lights like a raven’s feathers. No visible tattoos or piercings. Coat buttoned all the way up to the neck, almost clerical. She could see black leather boots.

He was holding one item: a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. Something about that struck her as exceptionally weird.

She handed the cashier her debit card and waited, knowing when to take it back without looking up. Two plastic bags, and she all but bolted from the store.

She was sweating bullets as she climbed on the bus, and not from the brief run to catch it before it sped away.

Don’t freak out, girl. Focus. You’re almost home.
She brought her mind forcibly back to the present, away from the store, and concentrated. Music. In her head she rehearsed her latest cover song, and her fingers squeezed her thigh lightly, miming the chords. She wasn’t satisfied with the bridge.
The minor fall, the major lift . . . the baffled king composing Hallelujah . . .
Her own thoughts and Leonard Cohen’s blended together as the bus bounced all over the road.

Hallelujah
. . . five more minutes . . .
hallelujah
. . . three more blocks . . .
hallelujah
. . .

She gathered up her bags and her guitar and disembarked, ignoring honking horns and shouted insults as she ran across the street against the light to her building, keys already in her hand.

Home was a first-floor one-bedroom in the corner by the pool. Home was small but comfortable, furnishings pulled together piece by piece in a kinder time, an eclectic sort of mix that went for comfort over unity of style. Home had a fantastic sound system that was worth more than all the furniture combined. Home had no plants or pets, nothing to demand her affection or attention.

She let her guitar slide onto the floor, along with her purse, and shoved the grocery bags into the fridge without unpacking them. The only thing she removed was a beer.

Miranda flung herself onto the couch, the desire to wash the stale cigarette smell and sweat off her body taking second place to the desire to get wasted as quickly as possible. Her apartment, barricaded and blocked from the world through years of unvoiced prayer and desperation, was the one place she could think in silence, the one place nothing could touch her.

For how much longer?

Her eyes, so used to sticking to the ground, lifted up the wall, following a crack in the paint that had been here as long as she had. It was comforting, that crack, always there, able to tease her gaze upward, to remind her there was a world above her waist.

Not that there was much of one below her waist. Even her once-trusty vibrator, a powerful Hitachi she called Shaky, lay gathering dust beneath the bed, as day by day life contracted and the thought of ever caring about orgasms seemed laughably far away.

Cold. She was cold again. She reached sideways for the quilt that was always on the couch and pulled it around her. People who didn’t eat got cold. She should eat.

Her last boyfriend had been Mike. Five years ago. They’d met at the insurance company where she clerked while she made her halfhearted attempt at college. The university had swallowed her, her freshman class larger than her hometown, and she had gotten lost, a foreshadowing perhaps of her life now. Mike had helped her move into this very apartment, and they’d had sex on the living room floor before she bought the couch. Six months later he’d proposed. She’d said no. It wasn’t until that moment she realized she didn’t love him, and really never had. Boyfriends were like the Freshman Fifteen; you were supposed to obtain them in college. She’d gained the fifteen, too, but those pounds were long gone. She looked a bit gaunt now, even more so than her mystery guy at the grocery store—

She shuddered. Blue eyes and a raven’s feathers.

He hadn’t been gaunt, though. Really quite nicely built, just—

She drank the rest of the beer without tasting it and immediately opened another. By the time she fell asleep on the couch, still fully clothed with her shoes on, she’d had four, and her mind was blissfully numb.

She was famous, and she was insane.

Her voice soared out over the audience, holding them spellbound and enraptured, delivering their hopes and fears tangled in chords and rhythm. They called her an angel, her voice a gift.

She was famous, and she was a liar.

They had no idea where her talent came from—critics and journalists and experts of the industry postulated that she’d had a musical family, that she’d started in a gospel choir, that she had taught herself to sing. They were all stupid and blind.

Her extraordinary talent, as they called it, depended on them . . . and it was killing her.

Miranda had been playing guitar for only six years, but she had taken to it as if she’d been born with one in her hands, and it came as naturally as breathing. She taught herself out of books and a drive to do something, anything useful with her life. A friend of a friend had been dicked over by his roommates, left holding a three-bedroom apartment and a lease, so he’d sold off all their possessions. She’d bought a pair of speakers, and he’d thrown in the guitar for free just so he didn’t have to look at it anymore.

In less than a month she hadn’t wanted to look at it either. It was a piece of shit suited for a rank amateur. She gave it up on Craigslist and took an entire paycheck down to Strait Music for something real. When she told the salesman how long she’d been playing, he blinked at her as if she were speaking Farsi. She’d picked up a five-thousand-dollar Martin and shown him she was very, very serious.

Then, while he was ringing up her (considerably less expensive) purchase, out of curiosity she’d sat down at a piano.

“Are you sure you’ve never played before?” the salesman kept asking.

Oh, she hadn’t been an instant virtuoso, but she’d made her way through the sheet music on display slowly, with only a few mistakes. The arcane notations on the page made sense to her in a way nothing else ever had. The second time through she played it perfectly.

Now she had a fairly sophisticated digital keyboard; her apartment was too small for a piano. She sat down one night with YouTube and drank in performance videos, staring at hands on keys, and after that it was easy.

All of that might have frightened her, but soon she had far more pressing concerns.

One night, back when she was still with Mike and had a social life, she was sitting outside Austin Java practicing playing and singing at the same time. She was sad—she spent a lot of time sad, so she couldn’t remember now what particular sorrow had haunted her that night—and she sang quietly, not wanting to disturb the other patrons. The place was crowded with students poring over their textbooks.

At one point she paused and looked up. Every single person there was crying.

A little scared but fascinated, she’d repeated the situation on another night, in another place, with a different song, to the same effect. Whatever emotion she wanted to call up, all she had to do was put it in the music, and everyone around her felt it. She could take a happy song and use it to make people weep, or have everyone dancing a jig through the most emo crap she could think of.

It didn’t take long to figure out there was more to it than that. If she concentrated, stretched out toward the people around her, she could feel hints of what they were feeling. She could take that, and amplify it, or change it. Once she knew what they were feeling, it was a lot easier to influence them.

At first it was fantastic. She played on the street for tips, and her cup overflowed with dollar bills. Then a guy who owned a bar downtown, Mel, offered her a paid gig on Wednesdays. The crowds had been minuscule at first, but after everyone walked out high as kites on the happiness she pumped into them, they came back, and they brought friends. Soon she was seeing her name in the
Austin Chronicle
, and Mel recommended she get an agent.

And if she had her doubts, if she wondered how ethical it might be to manipulate people’s emotions so willfully with this funny little talent of hers, she quickly forgot those doubts in the glare of the stage lights and the adoration of the crowd.

BOOK: Queen of Shadows
3.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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