Being the leader of the supernatural forces of good isnâ€™t as cool as it sounds. For one thing, I had to put the world first. So everything else was second, third, four hundred and fifty-ninth. And weâ€™re talking important things like love, friendship, family. Which is how I ended up killing the man I loved.
Oh, I didnâ€™t kill him twice. I killed two separate men. One didnâ€™t stay dead, the other . . . Iâ€™m not so sure.
Yes, Iâ€™m in love with two different guys. It was news to me, too. Add to that the beginning of the end of the world and youâ€™ve got chaos. As anyone whoâ€™s ever experienced it can tell youâ€”chaos bites.
Since the night my foster mother died in my arms, leaving me in charge of the Apocalypse, chaos had been, for me, standard operating procedure.
Several weeks after Iâ€™d killed him, Sawyer invaded my dreams. He was a Navajo skinwalkerâ€”both witch and shape-shifter, a sorcerer of incredible power. Unfortunately his power hadnâ€™t kept him from dying. Considering that heâ€™d wanted to, I doubted anything could have. I still felt guilty. Tearing out a guyâ€™s heart with your bare hand can do that.
The dream was a sex dream. With Sawyer they usually were. He was a catalyst telepathâ€”he brought out the supernatural abilities of others through sex. Something about opening yourself to yourself, the universe, the magical possibilities withinâ€”yada-yada, blah, blah, blah.
Iâ€™d never understood what Sawyer did or how. Not that it didnâ€™t work. One night with him and Iâ€™d had more power than I knew what to do with.
In my dream I lay on my bed, in my apartment in Friedenberg, a northern suburb of Milwaukee. Sawyer lay behind me. His hand cupped my hip; he spooned himself around my body. Since we were nearly the same height his breath brushed my neck, his hairâ€”long and black and sleekâ€”cascaded over my skin. I covered his hand with mine and began to turn.
Our legs tangled; his tightened, along with those fingers at my hip. â€œDonâ€™t,â€ he ordered, his voice forever deep and commanding.
He nipped lightly at the curve of my neck, and I gaspedâ€”both surprise and arousal. I knew this was a dream, but apparently my body did not.
With hard muscles rippling beneath smooth, hot skin, he felt so real. Living for centuries had given Sawyer plenty of time to work on every muscle group for several decades, honing each inch to a state designed to make women drool. Heâ€™d be perfect if not for the tattoos that wound all over him.
To shift, most skinwalkers used a robe adorned with the likeness of their spirit animal. For Sawyer, his skin was his robe, and upon it heâ€™d inscribed the likenesses of many beasts of prey. Sometimes, in the firelight, those tattoos seemed to dance.
â€œWhy are you here?â€ I asked.
â€œWhy do you think?â€ He arched, pressing his erection against me. I couldnâ€™t help itâ€”I arched, too. Sure, it had only been a few weeks, but I missed him. I was going to miss him for the rest of my life.
Without Sawyer the forces of goodâ€”aka the federationâ€”were in deep shit. Certainly I was powerful, and would no doubt get even more so, but Iâ€™d been thrown into this without any training. I was like a magical bull in a very full china shop, thrashing around breaking things, breaking people. So far Iâ€™d been able to keep those who followed me from getting completely wiped out, but only because Iâ€™d had help.
â€œItâ€™s a long trip from hell for a booty call,â€ I murmured.
His tongue tickled my neck in the same place heâ€™d so recently nipped. â€œIâ€™m not in hell.â€
â€œWhere are you?â€
He slid his hand from my hip to my breast. â€œWhere does it feel like I am?â€ He rubbed a thumb over my nipple, and the sensation made me tingle all over.
â€œI know youâ€™re not here,â€ I said. â€œYouâ€™ll never be here again.â€
Sawyer didnâ€™t speak, just kept sliding his thumb over and back, over and back, then he sighed and stopped. I bit my lip to keep myself from begging him to start again.
His lithe, clever fingers brushed across the chain that hung from my neck, then captured the turquoise strung onto it. â€œYouâ€™re wearing this now?â€
Sawyer had given me the necklace years ago. Iâ€™d taken it off only recently. When heâ€™d died, Iâ€™d put the turquoise back on. It was all I had left of him.
â€œIâ€”â€ I paused, uncertain what to say. I didnâ€™t want him to know how badly I missed him. How I rubbed the smooth stone at least a dozen times a day and remembered.
â€œIâ€™m glad,â€ he said softly. â€œIt brought me to you.â€
At first Iâ€™d believed the necklace was just jewelry. It had turned out to be magic, marking me as Sawyerâ€™s, saving my life on occasion, and allowing him to know where I was whenever he wanted to.
He let the turquoise fall back between my breasts. â€œWhat was the last thing I said to you?â€
I stiffened so fast I conked the back of my head against his nose. The resultant thunk and his hiss sounded pretty real to me, as did the dull throbbing in my skull that followed.
â€œPhoenix,â€ Sawyer snapped. â€œWhat was theâ€”â€
â€œProtect that gift of faith,â€ I repeated.
He ran his palm over my shoulder. â€œYes.â€
â€œWhat does that mean?â€
I closed my eyes, drew in a deep breath. Right before heâ€™d said those words, Sawyer had said a few others. Words that had kept me up nights almost as much as his death had.
I chose to leave a child behind.
I blocked out the horrible images of what had come after those statements with what had come not long before. Heâ€™d crept into the room where I was chained to a bed, a prisoner of my own mother, a woman Iâ€™d thought long dead. Sheâ€™d been a winner. Five minutes in her company and I no longer regretted being an orphan.
The situation had been dire, yet heâ€™d seduced me. I hadnâ€™t wondered why until he was gone. My hand moved to my still-flat stomach. Had he left a child behind in me?
â€œSawyer,â€ I began. I had so many questions. I didnâ€™t get to ask any of them.
â€œYou need to wake up now.â€
â€œPhoenix,â€ he said, then more softly, â€œElizabeth.â€
Most people called me Liz, but Sawyer never had.
â€œThereâ€™s someone here.â€
In the next instant I scrambled toward consciousness, and as I did the sound of his voice, the weight of his hand, and the warmth of his body faded.
â€œSomeone or something?â€ I asked.
â€œBoth,â€ he answered, and then he was gone.
My eyes snapped open, my hand already reaching for the silver knife beneath my pillow.
The world wasnâ€™t what it seemed. Beneath the facades of so many people lurked half demons bent on our destruction. Theyâ€™re known as the Nephilim, the offspring of the fallen angels, or Grigori, and the humans.
Theyâ€™ve been here since the beginning, glimpsed more often in times past when wolf men and women of smoke were commonplace and gave rise to the legends we now see on the screen at the multiplex. Unless youâ€™re me, and then they show up in your apartment.
My fingers wrapped around the hilt of the knife even as I stilled, waiting for the slight buzz that signaled evil creepy thing to wash over me. But it didnâ€™t.
I sat on the edge of the mattress, eyes narrowing, ears straining, then I took a deep breath, and my skin prickled. The bed smelled of Sawyerâ€”snow on the mountain, leaves on the wind, fire and smoke and heat.
â€œDream my ass,â€ I muttered.
Downstairs, outside, came a soft thud then the scrape of something hard against the pavement. A shoe? A toe? A claw?
As I crossed the room, I could have sworn fur brushed my thigh. I glanced down but saw only the flutter of the loose cotton shorts Iâ€™d worn to bed along with a worn and faded Milwaukee Brewers T-shirt.
An odd cry drew me to the window, where I kept to the side and out of sight. New moon and the sky was dark, the stars dim this close to the city. The single streetlight in Friedenberg revealed nothing but empty sidewalks and dark storefronts. Which meant nothing. Nephilim rarely used the front door. They didnâ€™t have to.
Uneasy, I glanced upâ€”only shadows on the rooftops. Of course those shadows might become anything.
I kicked the cot shoved against the wall in the corner. My apartment was an efficiency located above a knickknack shop. I owned the building, rented out the first floor, and was considering renting out the second. I rarely came to town these days. The only reason I was here now was that Iâ€™d promised my best friend Iâ€™d attend her daughterâ€™s ninth birthday party. I owed Megan so much, the least I could do was show up when she begged me to.
â€œLuther!â€ I nudged the makeshift bed again. I didnâ€™t want to touch him if I didnâ€™t have to.
Iâ€™d been psychometric since birth, I assumed, since I couldnâ€™t remember a time that I wasnâ€™t able to touch people and see where theyâ€™d been, what theyâ€™d done. In the case of the Nephilim, I could see what they truly were. Or at least I could until recently. Now I had Luther for that.
â€œWhaâ€”? Huh?â€ Luther rubbed at his face. His kinky golden-brown hair stuck out from his smooth brown skin even more than usual.
â€œGetting any bad-guy vibes?â€ I gave the boy credit; he woke right up.
â€œNo,â€ he said slowly, head tilted, hazel eyes narrowed.
â€œYou sleep pretty deep.â€ From what I heard, most kids did, though Luther would say he was no longer a kid but a man.
He swore he was eighteen, but I had my doubts. Tall and gangly, Luther had huge feet and hands. Many Nephilim had believed Lutherâ€™s awkward appearance meant he was slow and clumsy. However, Luther moved as quickly and gracefully as the lion he could become.
Luther was a breedâ€”the offspring of a Nephilim and a human. Being part demon gave him supernatural powers. Being less demon than human meant he could choose to fight on the side of good. A lot of breeds did.
â€œIâ€™d hear Ruthie if she had somethinâ€™ to say. Wouldnâ€™t matter if I was sleeping or not.â€
Ruthie Kane, my foster mother, had been the former leader of the light. Now I was. In the beginning, sheâ€™d spoken to me on the wind, in dreams, or in visions, to let me know what flavor of evil lay behind a Nephilimâ€™s human face. Now she spoke through Luther. I had demon issues.
â€œThereâ€™s something out there,â€ I said.
Lutherâ€™s silver knife appeared in his hand as quickly as mine had. Silver kills most shifters, and if it doesnâ€™t, the metal at least slows them down.
â€œRuthie talking to you again?â€ Luther was already making his way toward the door that led to the back stairs.
â€œNo.â€ I paused to retrieve both my gun and Lutherâ€™s from the nightstandâ€”if a silver knife works well, a silver bullet works even betterâ€”then I hurried to catch up.
We tossed our knives on the kitchen table. The kid reached for the door, but I shouldered in front of him. Luther was a rookie.
Sure, Iâ€™d been on the job less than four months, but I was the leader, which meant I got to go through the door first.
In the past a seerâ€”someone with the psychic ability to recognize a Nephilim in human formâ€”worked with several DKs, or demon killers. However, that arrangement had gone to hell when the Nephilim infiltrated the federation and wiped out three-quarters of the group. Now the remaining members pretty much did whatever they could. Seers became DKs, DKs became seers, and everyone killed anything that got in their way.
â€œIf Ruthie still isnâ€™t talking, then how do you know somethingâ€™s out there?â€ Luther asked reasonably.
I wasnâ€™t going to tell him that Iâ€™d had a dream visit from the dead. Not that such news would be a shock. Luther got visits from the dead every damn day. I just didnâ€™t want to share right now. Right now I wanted to know what was out there, and then I wanted to kill it.
I crept down the stairs, silent on bare feet. Luther was even quieter. Heâ€™d been born part lion. He couldnâ€™t help it.
A door led into the parking lot behind the building. I opened it but didnâ€™t step out. Instead I listened; Luther sniffed the air, then our eyes met and together we nodded. Empty as far as we could tell.
â€œDonâ€™t shoot anyone Iâ€™ll have to dispose of later,â€ I cautioned, a variation on Donâ€™t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes or, in federation-speak, Donâ€™t kill a human by mistake.
Nephilim disintegrated into ashes when executed correctly, eliminating impossible-to-answer questions and the annoying necessity of bloody body removal. People were another story.
Lutherâ€™s only answer to my caution was a typical teenage sneer combined with an irritated eye roll. I didnâ€™t have to touch him to know his thoughts.
We stepped outside. No one shot us, not that a bullet would do much damage. Supernatural creatures, even those like Luther and meâ€”more human than notâ€”healed pretty much anything but the one thing common only to them. Which meant the killer had to know what that single thing was.
I indicated with a tilt of my chin that Luther should go around the building to the left, while I moved to the right. Weâ€™d meet back here then check out the dark gully at the far end of the lot where the Milwaukee River gurgled merrily.
Excerpted from Chaos Bites by .
Copyright Â© 2010 by Lori Handeland.
Published in May 2010 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.