Home > Embrace the Night (Cassandra Palmer #3)

Embrace the Night (Cassandra Palmer #3)
Author: Karen Chance

Chapter 1

A weeping angel shattered in a crack of gray dust, sending its wings flying off in two directions. It took a second for me to realize I wasn’t dead, and then I dove for the side of a nearby obelisk. I pressed flat against the ground, feeling the mud seeping into my already drenched clothes, while a barrage of shots struck sparks off the granite overhead. I was starting to suspect that this tomb raider thing might not be as much fun as I’d hoped.

Of course, that was pretty much the story of my life lately. A chain of events that might very charitably be classified as disasters had left me with the position of Pythia, the supernatural community’s chief seer. The Silver Circle, a group of light magic users, had expected one of their tame acolytes to inherit the office since it had happened that way for a few thousand years now. They’d been less than thrilled when the power went to me instead: Cassie Palmer, untrained clairvoyant, protégée of a vampire crime boss and known cohort of a renegade war mage.

Some people have no sense of irony.

The mages had expressed their displeasure by trying to send me off to explore the great mystery of what lies in store for us after death. Since I wasn’t that curious, I’d been attempting to stay under their radar. It didn’t look like I was doing so hot.

I decided to try for better cover beside a crypt, and was halfway there when something that felt like a sledgehammer knocked me to the ground. A bolt of lightning exploded against a nearby tree, causing the air to tingle and writhe with electricity and sending blue-white, hissing snakes scurrying over a tangle of exposed roots. It left the tree split in half, blackened along the center like old firewood, the air flooded with ozone and my skull hammering from the near miss. Above me, thunder rolled ominously across the sky, an appropriate bit of sound effects that I would have appreciated a lot more during a movie.

Speaking of irony, it would be really amusing if Mother Nature managed to kill me before the Circle got the chance. I crawled in the general direction of the crypt, temporarily night-blind and helpless, blinking away afterimages. At least I discovered why gun grips are ribbed: so when your palm is sweating with abject terror, you can still manage to clutch the thing.

My new 9mm didn’t fit my hand as well as my old one, but it was rapidly becoming a familiar weight. At first I’d decided it was okay to wear as long as I shot only at supernatural bad guys who were already shooting at me. Lately, I’d had to broaden that definition to anytime my life was in danger. I was currently leaning toward a slightly more comprehensive rule somewhere between proactive self-defense and the-bastards-had-it-coming, which, if I survived long enough, I intended to blame on my deranged partner rubbing off on me.

I found the crypt by running into it face-first, scraping a cheek on the pitted limestone exterior. I strained my ears, but there was no sign of my attackers. A hail of shots rattled against a nearby path, ricocheting off the cobblestones to fly away in all directions. Okay, no sign other than the fact that someone kept shooting at me.

I hugged the wall and told myself not to overreact and waste bullets. I’d already lobotomized a cupid after a gust of wind blew a few leaves across it, giving it a fleeting sense of movement—and that had been with the glow of an almost full moon to see by. It was worse now that the wind had blown dark clouds in, and the spatter of rain made it impossible to hear quiet footsteps.

The firing finally stopped, but my whole body continued to shake, to the point that I dropped the reserve clip I’d fumbled out of my pocket. The old one still had several rounds left, but I didn’t want to run out at a crucial moment. Another shot hit the cupid I’d decapitated, shaving off one of its little butt cheeks. I flinched and my foot kicked something that splashed into a nearby puddle. I got to my knees, searching around in the grass for it and trying to curse quietly.

“A little to the left.” I whirled, gun up, heart pounding. But the dark-haired man leaning against a moss-stained fountain didn’t look concerned. Maybe because he no longer had a body to worry about.

I relaxed slightly. Ghosts I could deal with; I’d even been expecting them. Père Lachaise isn’t Paris’ oldest cemetery, but it’s huge. I’d had to reinforce my shields to be able to see anything past the green glow of thousands of ghost trails, crisscrossing the landscape like a crazy spiderweb. It was the main reason I’d left my own ghostly helper behind. Billy Joe could be a pain, but I really didn’t want him serving as a midnight snack for a bunch of hungry ghosts.

“Thanks.”

“You’re American.”

“Uh, yeah.” A bullet pinged against an iron railing nearby and I flinched. “How’d you know?”

“My dear.” He looked pointedly at my mud-spattered jeans, once-white tennis shoes and soaked gray T-shirt. The last had been an impulse buy a few days ago, something to wear to target practice to remind my exacting coach that I was still a beginner at this. Its quip, “I don’t have a license to kill. I have a learner’s permit,” was starting to look really ironic now.

Lara Croft would have worn something a lot less mud-covered, and she would have had her hair in a sexy style that still kept it out of her face. My own curly mop was at the stage where it was too long to stay out of the way and too short to keep in a ponytail. As a result, I had wet blond strands falling into my eyes and clinging to my cheeks, adding to the overall lack of cool.

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris,” the ghost said, after taking a drag on a small cigarette. “But you’re not dead. I suppose the question must be, are you good?”

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