Authors: A. L. Kessler
Tags: #vampires, #werewolves, #shifters, #Magic, #demons, #dark fantasy
Dark War Chronicles
Box Set One
Copyright © 2013-2015 A.L. Kessler
All Rights Reserved
England Early 1800's
is warm lips pressed against mine with a feverish need. I parted my lips, granting him access. The need I felt was hair-raising and toe curling. My hands yanked against my bonds as I yearned to touch his face one last time. The soldier ripped him away and left me standing there, flushed. The cold autumn air bit into my skin as the wind rustled the dead leaves around my ankles.
I caught his cobalt blue gaze through his windswept brown hair. He was walking to his death and all I could think about was his soft lips on mine.
"I love you," just a simple whisper that the breeze carried to me.
"And I you. Josh-"
He shushed me as the soldier started to lead him away. "I know. We will meet again." A knowing look haunted those oh-so- blue eyes before he broke from my gaze.
Not once did he look back as he was led up the rickety wooden steps to the gallows. The hangman's noose swung in the breeze before the executioner, shrouded in his black mask, caught the rope and placed it around my love's neck. Josh met my eyes again and I could have sworn a small smile graced his face as the lever was pulled.
The clatter of the wooden door echoed in the early morning air and my heart stopped when I saw his dangling feet. I closed my eyes against the sight and wished that his last words gave me hope.
I woke with a jump at the electronic chorus of my ring tone. The images of the dream refused to fade as I pushed away my drowsiness. For months the dream haunted me and left me with the same question: Who was Josh?
The red glaring numbers on my clock flashed 4:00am. With a growl, I snatched the singing phone off the nightstand. "Mae speaking."
A male voice chuckled on the other end. "Did I wake you?"
"You know you did, you bastard. Now speak before I hang up and go back to bed." I fell back against my pillow. Not bothering to hide the huff of annoyance, I ran a hand through my brown hair to get it out of my eyes.
A beat of silence followed and I knew what that meant. Dread filled me as I thought about what he wanted.
"Fuck, really? It's been a month since the last kill." I sat back up and forced myself out of bed.
Sanders sighed on the other end. "Exactly a month. Just like the two before. Superiors say we need you on the scene."
I struggled into my jeans. As I hopped on one leg, I balanced my phone on my shoulder. "Need my ass, I'm your last resort."
"Normally because you tell us it's not human."
Because that was usually the case, but there was no point in arguing. Only the government knew about supernatural creatures. Well, them and a few unlucky civilians. Those civilians normally ended up dead, or turned into people like me. "Location?"
I scribbled down the address he gave me. "See you in a few."
I threw my long hair into a ponytail and then pulled a shirt on, the stretch fabric clinging to me, and adding to the natural curves I had. My jeans hung on my hips and brushed the ground when I wore shoes. I threw my running shoes on over mis-matched socks and grabbed my ID off the nightstand. Finishing off the outfit, I threaded my belt through the loops, added my gun and its holster and then threw on a warm jacket over that. I caught a glance of dark circles under my hazel eyes as I passed a mirror and it made me debate picking up coffee on my way.
On the drive over my mind drifted back to Josh. His brown hair cut so that it barely fell to his jaw line, curling just right. I could see the details perfectly, his luscious lips that gave melting kisses and his piercing blue eyes. The curve of his masculine jaw begging to be caressed shadowed with just enough scruff to be considered sexy. I couldn't shake the panic the dream gave me.
Flashing lights and flares lit up the pre-dawn air and made the location easy to spot. If those didn't tip me off, the line of police cars and row of unmarked black vehicles would have. Sanders stood at the end of the line with his hands on his hips, green eyes narrowed and his stance wide. I wasn't even on scene yet and he was pissed. As I parked my truck I knew this did not bode well for my morning.
I got out of the car and slammed the door shut. "What?" I demanded as I crossed my arms.
"My superiors changed their minds." He clenched his jaw. "Said we don't need your help, they've got it solved."
I raised a brow. "They still on their human theory or did they go with the shifter one?"
"Shifter, panther to be exact. A girl named Kassity DeBeau." He glanced behind him. "Can't let you on the scene, but it's just like the other ones."
I bobbed my head in acknowledgement. He had given me all the information I needed. Smirking, I turned away and gave him a little wave. "Thanks for wasting my time, Sanders." Yet we both knew that he hadn't.
I still had the files from the other scenes back at my house. They were gruesome. Some big animal had eaten most of the victims. Body parts were missing, the insides had been consumed, and blood was everywhere. There was no way that the kills were done by something human, which was why I had suggested it was a shifter or a lycanthrope.
Not that anyone wanted to believe me then. Now it looked like they were taking me seriously. I was the best paranormal investigator in these parts, but even the amateur ones would have agreed with me. Sanders' superiors called me when they found the first body dangling over a branch in the woods. Instantly, the kill made me think big cat. A hunter. Now I knew that was the case and I had a name to start with.
Massive searches through programs that I probably shouldn't have had access to turned up a death certificate for Kassity DeBeau, killed by a silver bullet to the heart two years ago. As the only known panther shifter in the area the government had kept close tabs on her. Their system showed me a living relative by the name of Josh DeBeau and that she worked at a bar on the outskirts of town.
Leaning back in my chair I sipped my coffee. A feeling stirred in me. There was something wrong about this whole situation, something more than a few deaths. I tried to put my finger on it as my eyes studied the screen and the displayed information. My phone rang and without looking at it, I swiped it up and answered. "Mae."
"What do you have for me?" Sanders' voice was light, but expecting.
I looked down at the papers on my desk. "According to the government, Kassity has been dead for two years. Family member by the name of Josh DeBeau is my only lead." I needed to find him. Something kept tugging at the back of my mind telling me that this Josh was The Josh. A strange rush of sadness flooded through me as I thought about the Josh in my dreams. I shook my head, trying to shake off the feeling.
"Strange, isn't it?" He asked and continued before I could give him shit for knowing already. "The higher ups won't let me dig deeper. Think you can?"
"I was planning on it." I took a sip of my coffee. "I'll update you in a couple days."
He was silent for a beat. "What are you up to tonight?"
I looked at the address of the bar on the computer screen. "I think I'm going out for a drink."
"You're going to look into this Josh character." He stated. "It's dangerous there. We know that bar has a history of violence."
Having survived a vampire attack, I felt confident that I'd be fine in a crowded bar. Of course, I would be taking protection with me. "I feel like taking a walk on the wild side."
"You already know something that you aren't sharing." The disapproving tone in his voice was one that I'd grown used to hearing. "You're going to get yourself killed."
I looked at the burn scars that marred my left shoulder. "You always manage to save my ass." When the attempt on my life happened, Sanders had been there to pull me out of the burning building. I'd stupidly gone after the vampire who had attacked me as a child and I had only told Sanders where I was going. I was lucky he'd been smart enough to show up.
"There will be a day where I can't."
"Perhaps." I disconnected the call and looked back at my screen, once again faced with the question. "Who are you, Josh? What do you want with me?"
Dressed in leather with my gun at my back and my knives in my boots, I almost felt safe as I entered the bar. I let my eyes adjust to the low lights and watched a couple people in the corner play pool. The far left side of the wall was tiled with mirrors that were all covered with spider web cracks making it impossible to see a clear reflection. Fake wood paneling covered the rest of the walls leading up to the dark oak bar. Neon signs hung above the bar and a fake barrel stuck out from the wall for the beer on tap.
There were only a few patrons this late at night, just the people playing pool and a couple that sat in the middle of the long bar. With the woman's tall heels, short skirt, tiny shirt, teased up hair, and plastered on makeup, I was betting she was here for something other than a drink. I shook my head as her acrylic nails traced up the man's thighs.
I found my way to a seat at the end and watched the bartender. His brown hair fell to his chin, and his piercing blue eyes met mine right away. My breath caught and my heart skipped a beat. Josh.
His eye widened a bit, and his jaw tightened before he finally approached me. "What can I get you?"
"A tequila sunrise and good hearted conversation, Josh." I never broke away from his gaze.
A slight tremor of tension moved down his body. "I can get you the drink, the conversation on the other hand-"
"It's about Kassity." I lowered my voice, and let my eyes dip to his lips. They had just a bit of a red color to them making them look kissable.
He paused at my words. "Stick around, we'll talk when I get off." He fixed my drink and placed it in front of me on a napkin.
I sipped my drink as I waited, letting my eyes scan the room. The couple in the middle of the bar got up and walked out in a hurry, the woman's hand tucked down the back of the man's pants. A shiver crawled up my back and I turned back to the bar. Standing in a doorway of the back room, another vampire stared at me. His black hair and dark eyes made sent a shiver down my back. It wasn't often that I dealt with vampires, but I knew enough to keep my cool. I raised my glass and gave my best innocent smile. Judging by his scowl, he didn't buy it. He spun and walked into the back, allowing me a glance at the redhead behind him. Kassity. Well I'll be damned, she was alive. I used Kassity’s death certificate as a reason to check out Josh. I hadn’t expected to find her here.
"Surprised?" Josh asked as he placed another drink in front of me.
Either he could read my mind or I didn't cover up my reaction well enough. I paused as a distant memory came to me. Images of Josh's hands sliding over my body and heat rising in both of us took over my thoughts.
I felt my face flush as I realized just what kind of heat it was.
Josh chuckled. "Normally I wait until the second date for sex."
Yep, he was reading my mind. "I'd appreciate it if you stayed out of my head."
"Why are you looking for Kass?" He leaned against the bar.
I met his eyes, not scared of him. "Why fake her death?"
He jumped as if I had slapped him. "None of your concern."
"Well, it is. She's come up in my line of work." I swirled the red straw in my drink.
He laughed a little. "Well, you aren't a cop, so that makes you what? A private investigator? Bounty hunter?"
"Doesn't matter, but I know you're family...somehow." Though I was still trying to figure out how a vampire and a panther were related. "You want to protect her, so you need to work with me." I gave him my best concerned look.
"I can't talk here." His eyes darted around.
I pulled my card out of my pocket. "Call me when you get off." I could sense the other vampire watching us, so I leaned forward and pecked Josh on the cheek as he glanced down at the card. The moment my lips touched his cheek, my head exploded in starbursts. I pulled back and put a hand to my head.
"I'll talk to you later." He turned from me to help another customer that approached the bar.
I set my cash on the bar and headed out. I wasn't sure if he would call or not, but if he was concerned about Kass then he would know I was his only option.
I parked my car on the street. This early in the morning cars decorated the sides of the road and lights in houses remained dark. My house stuck out only because the green door clashed with the cream colored siding and the white trim.
I walked up the couple steps to my door and paused. A noise caught my attention. Footsteps from behind me. I spun and drew my gun out of instinct.