Authors: Alysia S. Knight
By Alysia S. Knight
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2013 ALYSIA S. KNIGHT
Cover Art Designed by BOOK BEAUTIFUL
To my family, with all my love
“Lady… Lady! Isn’t this your stop?”
The bus driver gained Laken’s attention enough for her to realize he was right. She stumbled off the bus. The rain felt blessedly cool against her skin. It had been the most awful day of her life. With shaky fingers, she touched her forehead. It felt hotter. A groan made it past her lips, and she staggered. She wondered if anyone would notice if she sank to the sidewalk.
Her body trembled as chills raked her despite the fever. Her feet were the only place on her body that didn’t seem to be burning up. They were freezing in what, that morning, had been her best leather pumps. The shoes were now water-soaked and ruined.
Forcing herself to put one foot in front of the other, Laken concentrated on the pharmacy sign halfway down the block. It became her beacon leading her through the dark, rainy night. Another hundred feet and she could get the flu medicine, then two blocks to her apartment and bed. She could sleep late in the morning. Finally, after all the nights and weekends, the building plans were done, and the presentation wasn’t until one o’clock. All she had to do now was make it home.
The cold glossy concrete beckoned her. Maybe she could just lie down and rest for one minute. She wavered on her feet. Her knees started to give out.
, she thought forcing herself to stiffen. Focusing on the pharmacy sign, fifty more feet, Laken concentrated on the doorway, counting each step she took. She made it to twenty then started again, unable to make her mind go higher.
With her attention locked on the doorway, she didn’t even notice the woman until she cut her off. The woman’s stride was quick and purposeful, full of energy, like Laken’s normally was. They were close to the same age. Even their shoulder-length brown hair was similar, except the other woman’s hair was still dry and springy due to the umbrella she carried. Laken had forgotten hers that morning. One other major difference existed between them. The other woman looked alive and radiant. Laken knew she looked about at death’s doorstep.
The woman disappeared into the drugstore. Laken forced herself to follow. Again so intent on her destination she didn’t see the man until she collided with him in the doorway. The impact knocked what strength Laken had from her. She would’ve fallen if it weren’t for the large hands that bit into her arms.
Laken caught the scent of sandalwood and musk over the stuffiness in her head. “Sorry.” The words came out scratchy and hoarse from her throat. She raised her gaze up over the tall form covered in a black trench coat. The collar was turned up and a hat pulled low, hiding his face from her except the eyes.
The words of thanks died on her lips, cut off by pale, penetrating orbs which seared deep into her soul. The feverishness of his eyes didn’t seem to be from a physical illness like hers. Laken found herself not wanting to speculate about them.
“Thank you,” she managed to choke out, dropping her gaze.
Before she could pull back, his hand came up to touch her face. He traced a finger along her sweaty brow then brought it to his lips.
“I know you now.” The voice rumbled low and gravelly.
It tore at her like broken glass. He disappeared into the drugstore. A full minute passed before a shudder ran through her, breaking the spell. She managed to push her way into the store.
Thankfully, the man was not in sight. Laken looked down each aisle she came to, fearing he’d be there. Her anxiety ebbed when the aisle she needed was empty. The pharmacy window was closed, so she tried focusing on the different medicines. Her muddled mind took forever to make a decision.
Her relief rose when she didn’t see the man at the checkout counter, though the woman who entered before her stood there talking to the sales clerks.
“I’m celebrating,” the woman boasted. “Those guys never knew what hit them. I pulled the promotion out from under them so smooth I’m sure they’re still scratching their balding, two-watt heads wondering what happened.” As the woman laughed, one of the clerks broke away.
“Bad night?” the old man greeted Laken, stepping up to check her out.
“Yes.” Her hand trembled as she gave him a twenty dollar bill.
“Not feeling good?”
“No.” She took her change, not knowing or caring if it was correct.
“You better get home and take care of yourself.”
“That’s my plan.” She pulled on her strength and answered sounding better than she felt. “Goodnight.”
“Night,” the man returned as she moved to the door.
Outside, the rain had stopped, but it didn’t ease how Laken felt. In a stupor, she made it home, barely managed to swallow a dose of medicine, and then struggled out of her wet clothes before she fell into bed.
The nightmare started immediately. Her heart pounded, ready to explode. The heat burned unbearably, a hunger of its own, consuming her. She fought with the shadow, but it closed in, driving her farther into the darkness. She tried to run, but foggy hands held her back. The ground itself clung to her legs. Fire consumed her. No matter how she struggled, she couldn’t break free. The race was on. Death was at hand, she could feel it.
Long, powerful strides ate up the darkened alley. Exuberance rose in the hunter. In front of Laken, a figure darted. She felt the fear in the woman, tasted the terror. It was so powerful. The hunter’s pace quickened, taking Laken with him, but still the hunter didn’t break into a run. Their prey was trapped. The hunter could taste the victory. Fevered blood pumped hard. He savored the challenge, anticipated the kill. It sickened Laken.
Closer now, the prey stumbled and fell. She looked back over her shoulder, and for a moment, Laken looked into her own face, then it wasn’t hers. It shifted, changed slightly, familiar but unknown. The fear which shadowed the woman’s features spread into terror.
“No!” Laken saw the woman scream out as she reached for her. It wasn’t her hand. The hand which caught the woman had large, long fingers, undoubtedly masculine, encased in black gloves. Laken looked past the hand, back to the woman frozen in fear. Laken could feel terror radiate up through the hand. The hunter fed on it. The sense of power burst in him.
“Fight!” Laken tried to scream at her. The command became lost in the excitement and adrenaline of the hunter as he pulled the woman from the ground. Laken attempted to turn away, but was trapped as much as the woman. She fought to pull herself from the awful nightmare. Finally, as if her struggling somehow seeped to the woman, she began to fight. The hunter pulled her to him, wrapping an arm around her, holding her trapped against his body. Euphoria pounded through him. He looked down into the woman’s eyes as he plunged the knife into her back. Laken screamed for the woman as she watched her fall lifeless to the filth of the alley.
Satisfaction coursed through the hunter as he leaned down and, with a couple careless swipes, wiped the knife off on the woman’s sweater. He straightened, deliberately placed his foot on her back and ground it down before stepping over her. Task finished, he simply left, without so much as a glance back, finally letting Laken slip free into oblivion.
“You’re not going to like this.”
“What do we got, Jonesy?” Spencer ‘Mac’ MacDaniels asked as he eased his six-foot-four body from the car. He towered seven inches over his partner, and that was just the beginning of their differences. Marcus Jones had a stocky, compact body like a bull and dark brown hair, while Mac had a lean waist, broad shoulders and sandy hair.
“Female Caucasian, brown hair, age twenty-seven,” Jonesy recited as he led the way down the alley. “Name’s Andrea Chambers. They found her purse back there intact. It had about eighty bucks in cash and her cards still in it, so definitely not a robbery.”
“Is the team here?”
“Yeah, it’s all being handled by the book. If there’s anything, they’ll find it.”
Mac nodded, grimacing slightly as he stepped over a piece of trash and came down too hard on his left leg.
“You okay?” Jonesy asked.
After being partners for near three years, Mac figured Jonesy knew what the answer would be. “Yeah.” The leg that had taken a bullet three months earlier would never be the same again. Mac wondered just how long he had before he was forced into retirement.
Retirement… A couple months ago he couldn’t have imagine such a thing. Then in a flash, a bust had gone wrong when a civilian stepped in the way. He’d been able to draw the fire away from the man who had picked the wrong place and time to stop for a smoke. They got the shooter, but not before he’d been hit in the leg. Mac wanted to shake his head at the stupidity of it. He was a good cop, a good detective. Some might even say great. He and Jonesy had the best record in the city. That’s why he was back on duty, but for how long?
His thoughts shifted direction at the sight of the body lying amongst the trash in a puddle. He stayed back, letting the crime scene guys do their work, as he took in the surroundings, cataloging each detail. They’d give him photos of every inch of the area. Still, he liked to get the layout firm in his mind. Gradually, he moved in as close as he dared, getting his first real look at the woman. She lay face down so there wasn’t much he could tell.
“What we got, Rob?” he asked the man doing the grid beside her.
The man looked back over his shoulder. “Hey, MacDaniels.” The cheerfulness in the voice belied his profession. “How’s it goin’?”
“A lot better for me than her. What can you tell me?”
“One stab wound to the back. Judging from the body and weather conditions probably sometime last night. Give you a closer time later. I’d say she was facing the killer when she was stabbed. We’ll have to get the Medical Examiner’s report at the lab to confirm that and any other details. I do have one odd thing for you, though.”
“What’s that?” Jonesy said from beside him.
“See here.” Rob pointed a gloved finger toward an area on the woman’s back where there was a distinctive smudge spot.
“I’m getting a strong feeling that didn’t happen when she fell.” Jonesy studied the area.
“Nope, whoever killed her stepped on her, and not by accident. I’d say he deliberately smashed his foot down,” the tech put forth.
“Like he was grinding her under his foot,” Mac speculated so just his partner and tech could hear.
“That’s what it looks like to me,” Rob agreed in a hushed tone.
“Do me a favor.” Mac shifted his gaze away from the mark to the man. “Keep quiet about this, but give me extra pictures with measurement.”
“Knew you were going to say something like that — I’m way ahead of ya. I’ll pull anything I can from it.”
“Thanks.” Mac didn’t doubt Rob. He liked working with the man. Rob was the best at what he did. They all fell silent. While Rob worked, Mac and his partner studied the scene, so they could discuss it later. It was one of the things that made them so good together. They both could take in a scene and then pull it back up, rehashing it until they dissected every detail.
Mac didn’t like what he was getting. This was no accidental killing or domestic dispute. It had been planned, played out, and executed. He could feel it and knew it would happen again.
Laken groaned and forced her eyes open. She wasn’t dead, but she still felt awful. At least she wasn’t burning up. With another groan, she pushed herself up from the damp sheets. Looking at the clock, it read eleven fifty-five. A wave of panic swept over her. She only had an hour to make it to the office.
Springing from the bed, she swayed, catching herself on her dresser. She felt totally drained. However, she didn’t think she was going to die anymore. A shiver of dread went through her as the vision of the nightmare flashed through her mind in horrifying clarity. Shaking it off, she stumbled to the bathroom. After a five minute shower she felt more refreshed.
Twenty minutes later, she hurried from the apartment. Luckily, the buses were with her, and she made it to the office in record time, getting off the elevator with ten minutes to spare.
“Laken, what are you doing here?” Kathy Martin, the architectural group secretary, exclaimed from behind her desk. “You’re supposed to be home sick.”
“We have the Sherman presentation. Don’t worry, I’m all ready for it. As soon as it’s over, I’m going back home to bed. I just couldn’t miss this. I know they’ll love my designs. I added some extra features that make them perfect.” She let her enthusiasm boost her energy, but it faded quickly at the expression on the secretary’s face.