Thursday, October 26, 2006

Watchers in the Night by Jenna Black (Tor)

Jenna/Jennifer www.JennaBlack.com
Watchers in the Night, coming
October 31, 2006;
Secrets in the Shadows, 5/07; Shadows on the Soul, 9/'07
The Devil Inside (Bantam/Spectra urban fantasy), Fall '07


She was just a few steps from her car when she heard the unmistakable sound of a footstep behind her. She whirled around so fast she almost made herself dizzy.

In the dismal pool of shadow, not ten feet away from her, stood a white male, maybe eighteen or twenty. The street lamp made another feeble attempt to come back to life, and Carolyn got a good look at him. Blond hair spiked with some kind of greasy gel, blue eyes with the color and warmth of a glacier, thin, heavily chapped lips twisted into a menacing sneer. Despite the cold, he wore only a denim jacket for warmth, but from his dilated pupils she gathered he'd found a chemical solution to the cold. His hand moved, and she saw the gleam of a wicked-looking switch blade.

"Well, hello there pretty lady," he said. His gravelly voice should have belonged to someone who'd smoked three packs a day for sixty years or so.

Damn it! When she'd first stepped out of her house, she'd taken a city-girl's care to check out her surroundings, scoping out the area before potentially stepping into danger. But she'd just walked blithely into the darkness of the parking lot with barely a second thought. Trying to prove to herself how tough she was, how unaffected by the constant uncomfortable feeling of being watched. She knew better.

The hoodlum licked his chapped lips. "Whatcha got under that nice coat?"

A Glock with your name on it, she thought. She consciously widened her eyes and made her lower lip tremble, trying to project helpless victim. All she had to do was get her hand under her jacket, and the hoodlum was in for a big surprise.

Her feigned fear must have been convincing, because the kid's eyes gleamed with malicious enjoyment, and his jeans bulged noticeably. Carolyn glanced around the parking lot, but there wasn't another soul in sight.

"Scream, and I swear I'll cut your tongue out," the kid warned, coming closer, brandishing his knife

"P-please don't hurt me," she stammered. Her eyes focused on the knife and her heart rate shot through the roof as adrenaline pumped through her system. The kid was probably hopped up on something, not to mention armed, so her chances of taking him at hand-to-hand combat weren't good. She had to get to her gun before he made his move.

His smile was sly and cold and ugly as sin. "Oh, I won't hurt you none, lady. Long as you behave yourself. Now why don't you slip out of that nice coat for me?"

She sniffled loudly, not having to feign the sound because the cold was making her nose run. She fumbled with the first button on her coat, making it look like her hands were shaking. Sometimes it helped that she was so petite and looked like such a girly-girl. It had pissed her off when her fellow officers underestimated her, but it wasn't a bad thing at all when the suspects did.

Her world shrank until there was nothing in it but herself, her attacker, and this little pool of shadow in which she stood. She continued slowly unbuttoning her coat, mentally rehearsing the hurried reach into her blazer, the quick draw. The hoodlum would be caught entirely by surprise, and she tried to imagine what he'd do. A sensible guy would probably run for his life, but Carolyn doubted this punk would be sensible considering how high he was.

The kid's breath was coming shorter and shorter as he grew more excited. Oh, he was just loving this show of fear, loving the power he thought he wielded! Carolyn looked forward to turning the tables on him.

The last button slid free, and she shrugged her shoulders out of the coat. She meant to let it fall to the ground behind her, but as it slid down her arms she once again felt that prickle on the back of her neck. Her hands were free of the coat, but it didn't hit the ground. Her attacker's jaw dropped open, and Carolyn caught a glimpse of misty white breath brushing past her cheek.

Reflexes took over, and despite the threat of the knife, Carolyn whirled and backpedaled at the evidence of a threat from behind. Her hand plunged under her blazer, seizing the butt of the Glock. And then froze.

Standing there, maybe a foot away from where she had been, was a ghost from her past. How he could possibly have come that close to her without her noticing--or without the knife-wielding punk noticing--was beyond her.

The man had her coat in his hands, and he casually laid it over the hood of a car while the punk quickly determined that he was a much greater threat than Carolyn.

"Stay away from me, man," the punk snarled, poking the air with his knife for emphasis. But he'd lost a lot of his cockiness.

Carolyn blinked rapidly, but the ghost didn't disappear. He looked markedly different from how he'd looked three years ago, when she'd seen him last, but there could be no doubt that it was him. Gray James. The only man she'd ever loved. The man who'd stranded her at the altar and disappeared from her life.

He wasn't dead. For three years, she'd told herself and anyone else who would listen that something terrible must have happened to him. For three years, she'd dreaded getting the news that his body had finally been found. Now, here he was standing in front of her, very much alive, and she could hardly believe her eyes.

Gray had lost a lot of weight, she noticed. He'd never been fat, really, but he'd always been just a touch on the heavy side, no matter how carefully he'd watched his diet. His hair, once always cropped close and neat to his head, formed a shaggy black mane around his pale face, which was devoid of the glasses and mustache he'd once worn. He even dressed differently. Instead of his dress-for-success outfits, he was now wearing a black leather jacket over faded jeans and well-loved sneakers.

Damn, he looked good.

Then he smiled, and a chill traveled down Carolyn's spine.

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