Mysteries abound, new friendships are made, old ones are tested to breaking point, and keep an eye out for appearances by characters from RETRIBUTION – Chronicles of the Irin 1
The minivan rocked beneath our feet as Kailin and I landed in shadowed interior of the back of the vehicle, the heels of my boots sliding on the ridged metal floor.
Kai’s shudder was only a manifestation of my own feelings toward the claustrophobic tomb-like space that reeked of rubber and oil.
After my recent jaunt in New Orleans, and my recent freedom from the evil spirit that had been an all too heavy burden to bear, both on my mind and my body, I’d taken a few days to recover. but what with the death of my friend and mentor, Samuel Fontaine—or murder, if my suspicions were correct—weighing so deeply on my mind, I was happy to lend a hand where needed and occupy my thoughts with something more practical. Especially if said helping hand would be returning the favor very soon.
When I’d turned into such a mercenary bitch, I had no idea.
I was helping skinwalker Kai on an unusual mission, one that was a surprising change of pace in that this time, the alpha panther’s own life was at stake. Previously, when she’d called on me for help, she’d been running off to save other people, so being roped in to assist in saving the woman herself as was a refreshing change.
Threatening letters and attempted abductions had culminated in Kai being framed for the murder of one of the higher ranking officials in the Walker Council. After emergency surgery—not a huge issue for a powerful alpha like Kai–she’d been sequestered at the Chicago PD’s headquarters where the decision was made that she be extract if she wanted to keep breathing.
Dangerous forces were in play, and with the reappearance of the supposedly dead Agent Jones of Division 7, Kai was forced to hide out, in order to draw the assassins out of the shadows and so she could remain alive long enough to find out what in the hell was going on.
Additionally, the public theory leaked courtesy of the FBI–that Kailin herself was some sort of scientific experiment on the loose–had resulted in overzealous reporters and hired mercenaries on her tail, the latter being of the abducting asshole kind.
The–perhaps even more distasteful–alternative was that the collected contingents of assailants, abductors and attempted murderers were targeting Kai because she was Nia’mh. So far though, it appeared they were only aware of Kai. If you counted the attempt of the Shadowman to kill me in NOLA, then perhaps they were aware of me too.
So she’d called in the troops to help her avoid these unseen, unknown variables, and to help understand who they were and why they were after her in particular.
Helping her stay alive was a small side-benefit.
Still, it wasn’t as if Kai was doing nothing while keeping her head down. And now, we were in the middle of a brilliant ruse, tricking Kai’s assailants into following a decoy. Fake-Kailin—aka Cassandra Monteith, the ShapeChanger—was currently posing as Kai in order to draw away the nefarious elements so we could spirit the panther to safety before Shadowmen or Division 7 agents got their hands on her.
We’d barely materialized in the back of the minivan—situated outside Kelpie & Co, an awesome little ice-cream play a few blocks from the CPD—when a somewhat high-pitched voice came from the driver’s seat. “I was expecting you,” he said, giving a short laugh, startling both Kai and myself. “But just not like that.” The man’s voice was filled with nervous amusement, and yet his tone echoed the edginess that had haunted me for the last hour or so.
My shifter friend blinked and glanced toward the cop who was her assigned driver, her green feline eyes glowing in the darkened interior of the van. “Sorry,” Kai said, waving at him in greeting and apology. “You ready to leave?” she asked, clearly not wanting to waste time on chatting, or on hanging about any longer than was required.
I understood her need to keep moving. Like me, she was undoubtedly questioning how truly loyal this man was to Chief Murdoch. Betrayal seemed to be quite fashionable these days.
Especially among the creatures of the DarkWorld.
And though Chief Murdoch may be all-too-human, he was still neck deep in the supernatural world—his Mind Mage wife notwithstanding. The Chief had helped Kai from the start of her troubles, and though he was overstepping his human, and not to mention his legal—authority, he’d been all too happy to instigate the plan to get our favorite alpha shifter to safety.
“Ready when you are, ma’am,” the cop replied, turning to tug at his seatbelt.
As the belt clicked, I released Kai’s arm, a ripple of discomfort, mingled with concern, riding a wave through my body. I’d held onto her as though she were about to disappear—but who could blame me for being worried?
Not worried, Mel. Afraid. Be honest.
So I was afraid too. Considering I had a crapload of things to be worried about, main point of concern being a certain djinn who was imprisoned in his palace back in the Mithras.
Saleem was waiting for the team to gather and come to extract him. And Kai was part of that team, so she’d damned well better remain breathing.
Now, Kai glanced back at me, seemingly oblivious of my inner turmoil. “Thanks, Mel,” she said, her voice low now. She looked like she wanted to say something more, but I evaded her eyes—which were usually all-too observant—and retrieved a notebook and pen from my jacket pocket.
Holding them out to Kai, I said, “If you want to send me a message, just write it here. Don’t use your mobile phone, just in case.”
The notepad—an ingenious trick I’d learned from Samuel—was the best way I knew how to circumvent any cameras or listening devices discovering our communication. Hopefully they would help when Kai needed updates—because we all knew how the alpha shifter loved to remain on top of things.
“Thanks, Mel,” Kai said, her head bobbing although her expression seemed somewhat distracted. That I could totally understand.
Her world had fallen apart around her.
We’d all been through the ringer these last few months and I was beginning to wonder when it would all end. The landscape kept shifting, betrayal seemed to lurk around every corner, and it almost felt as if the very air held a warning that something was about to happen, something huge.
If it had anything to do with the Niamh, the prophesied five who would save the world—no pressure or anything—then I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprise. That mysterious letter had turned up with its strong prediction, bit with a very disappointing lack of a manual, or even a mentor to tell us what was. Required of us.
It often made me wonder if it was all just a joke.
Now, all I wanted to tell Kai was that everything would be okay, and that she didn’t have to worry. But—because I was merely an astral projector and jumper and not a seer—I merely said, “Pleasure. Just make sure you stay safe.”
I hesitated, Saleem’s face hovering in from of my vision. Kai had to back me up, so for Saleem’s sake as well as mine, she’d better be okay.
I took a ragged breath and said, “I need you to help me with Saleem.” I winked, trying to make things a little less tense, a little less demanding than the way the words had come out sounding. Then I took a step away from Kai, readying myself for the jump.
She grinned, her eyes sparkling at the mention of Saleem. “I will. Don’t worry. I’m going to be right beside you when we go bring home the djinn,” she assured me, her tone serious now as her amusement faded to be replaced by worry and fear for Saleem.
I knew I could trust her to help me, to help Saleem, which was such a relief. Kai had a history with the djinn anyway, they’d been friends even before I’d met him, so I knew that she, along with Logan, would also be invested in making sure Saleem remained alive and breathing.
Still, I wasn’t sure how much longer I was going to be able to wait before I lost it and ran off to Mithras without backup. Which would probably be a very bad thing to do.
“Gonna hold you to it,” I said, giving Kai a comforting smile.
Then, with a quick wave, I jumped away from the minivan, keeping my fingers mentally crossed that the mission would go as planned.
Also, don’t forget that the SoulTracker Series is part of the DarkWorld Universe. Explore the DARKWORLD UNIVERSE TIMELINE on my website to find out which books you’ve read and where they fit within the timeline of the other series: SkinWalker Series and the Chronicles of the Irin.