Undercover magic, p.1
Undercover_Magic, page 1
This book is dedicated to my mom. Thank you for the pen name inspiration, taking me to the library every week when I was a kid, never telling me my wild imagination was weird, and for encouraging me to pursue my love of writing. I know you're looking out for me from heaven, Mom. Thanks for that, too.
As always, my heartfelt thanks go out to Joyce and Zoe for being beta readers and to my editor, Christie Stratos. I couldn't do it without you, ladies!
Published by Golden Angel Press LLC
Copyright © December 2013 by Judy P. Mills
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the author, Judy P. Mills
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual business establishments, inventions, items, locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
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Shifty Magic Series:
Charlotte, NC ~ 2033
It was mid-day on a Monday and I'd just kicked back with my feet up and my chair tipped to the perfect angle for relaxing when it happened. The message from my boyfriend was blunt and to the point: "Run!"
I stared at the command on my state-of-the-art iC. The device continued to buzz across the scarred surface of my desk—a door set across two filing cabinets. Since I wasn't inclined to follow orders, even from Agent Cooper Daine, one of the FBI's top werewolf agents in the States, I ignored it.
With temperatures still pushing the upper eighties, despite being September, I was extra motivated to not pay attention. Sweat dampened my neck, my bra and the back of my tank top. I should have invested in an air conditioner instead of listening to Cooper and buying a used security system. I was dying in this heat and I didn't need my bossy sweetie pie giving me orders.
I picked up the iC and started to thumb in "why?" plus a few other choice words when someone banged vigorously on the silver reinforced steel door of my office.
"Addison Kittner, open up! FBI!" an unpleasantly familiar voice shouted from the other side.
Alarm punched me in the stomach and I slung my feet off my desk. My heavy black boots hit the floor with a thud and I pulled my laptop closer. I jabbed at the keys and brought up the view from the security camera outside my door—a distorted black and white image of the gang of beefy government types clustered up in the hall looking pissed.
My nervous, frizzy-haired landlord stood behind them wringing his hands as the female Were in the front stood back and glared at the door. Agent Stillman. A mean-as-hell chick I'd worked with on a murder case a few months before and not someone you'd want for an enemy.
She was five-six with a medium, compact build, short hair and a thin scar running from under her left ear to within an inch of her windpipe. Instinctively, my right hand went to the modified Browning BuckMark strapped to my thigh.
She looked directly into the camera and the absurd feeling that she could see me sent a chill buzzing down my back.
On my computer screen her mouth moved as her muffled voice came through the door. "We just want to talk."
As far as I knew, I hadn't broken any laws worthy of FBI interference. Even secretly dating Cooper didn't warrant the kind of manpower I saw outside my humble basement office.
A collision that sounded like a truck had slammed into the wall shook through my office and a roughly shoe-shaped bulge appeared on my side of the barrier. The door wouldn't hold out long under that kind of beating.
I shut my computer, pocketed the backup clip, and dropped my government issue iC on the floor. When someone's smashing into your office without permission, you don't ask questions, you bolt.
"Sorry, baby," I muttered to my iC and I slammed the heel of my logger boot down on it. I allowed myself a millisecond of mourning at the crunching loss of the sleek, awesome technology and then headed for the escape hatch behind my desk.
Pushing the framed poster of the classic movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, to the side, I pressed the pad of my thumb against the lower corner of one of the cinder blocks usually hidden by the poster. There was a series of muffled mechanical chattering sounds as the complex locks disengaged, and then a section of the wall slowly swung away from me.
From the two by three foot opening I'd labored to create after I'd leased the space, the musty darkness of the building's basement storage area beckoned. I ignored the scrape of fear scouring between my shoulder blades and slipped through the opening in the wall.
As my office door shuddered under another blow and gave an ominous creak of distress, I reached back into my office, straightened the poster, and pressed the button that reset the cinderblocks.
I turned away as the locking mechanism engaged with a solid click. Then the screech of my office door tearing free and the crash of it hitting the floor drowned out any other sounds, even my heart pounding in my ears.
As I crept away from the wall, I held my breath, not trusting the thickness of the cinderblocks to shield me from the hypersensitivity of the Were team's hearing. I wondered again if the government's interest in me had anything to do with my relationship with Cooper. Neither humans nor the three paranormal groups now roaming the planet encouraged intermixing, but I'd never heard of them going to this much trouble to enforce their prejudice.
Whatever the FBI was after, I had no intention of finding myself stuck in the bowels of their headquarters in an interrogation room. So not on my to-do list for this century.
Tucking my computer more securely under my arm, I inched along the edge of the wall toward the half window on the street side of the basement. As silently as I could, I wove in and out of stacked boxes, sacks of powdered cement, and other basement flotsam that cluttered the fifteen by twenty foot space.
Just short of the window, I crouched behind an ancient storm door propped against the outside wall and listened. Low murmurs from the unwanted guests came from the direction of my office and I imagined the team combing the room for escape routes.
At street level on the adjoining wall, I studied what I could see through the half window. A thin glow of sunlight struggled through the dirty glass, flickering like an old-fashioned movie projector as sporadic groups of pedestrian feet hurried past. No FBI goon faces peered suspiciously in, so I allowed myself a quiet sigh of relief.
From my office came the muffled thump of someone kicking the wall. "There's a mechanism here somewhere," I heard Stillman say. "Her scent's all over this end of the office. What's on the other side? Where's that landlord?"
Uh, oh. They'd realized Ol' Frizzy had the keys to the basement.
Turning my attention to the wall beside me, I counted off six cinderblocks from the window and eight down. Never make an escape route that ends in a dead end unless you want to get killed or captured, I always say.
I pressed the pads of my forefinger and middle finger to the mechanism in the bottom right corner of the correct block. Locks clicked and chattered then went quiet, but nothing happened. My heart skipped a beat.
Stillman's voice cut through the silence of the storage room, as sharp
A jolt of fear shot like lightning through my nerves. With a shaking hand, I pressed my fingers to the spot again. Nothing.
Crap. The temptation to dramatically shout, "You'll never take me alive!" rolled through me, but instead I clamped my teeth together. She was only shooting in the dark, hoping to bait me into revealing where I was.
The clank of a bundle of keys bouncing against the door as a nervous hand tried to insert the right one into rusty lock number one shot my alarm into overdrive.
That, or Stillman was trying to distract me while they made a counter attack.
I jumped to my feet and slammed the heel of my boot against the cinderblock. "Work, damn you," I hissed between clenched teeth as I again pressed the pads of my forefinger and middle finger into the slight indention.
Finally, the locks clicked and rotated. I held my breath. The last lock in the mechanism gave a hollow clunk. The section of wall that I'd rigged swung in, its hinges grinding against collected grime and soot.
I plunged through the opening and into the alley next to my building.
* * *
All doors to the building would be watched. The alley only opened onto the street at the front, so that was no good either. Generally, nobody ever looked up, making a roof the perfect way out.
With only my left hand to grip the bars, I awkwardly scrambled up the rusty fire escape of the building next to mine and tried not to smell the stench of garbage all over me. Gripping my computer tighter, I chastised myself for not being more diligent in maintaining the cover for my emergency exit. The old trash bags piled up against the wall had split like rotten fruit when I'd pushed my way through them, showering me in yuck.
I smelled like a nightmare combination of rotting food, pee and puke. I only hoped the stink would throw the Weres off when they started tracking me.
The ladder shuddered as the intermittent brackets that held it to the side of the building groaned and creaked under my weight. I ducked as another bolt popped off and clattered down into the alley now nearly twenty feet below me.
Breathing hard, I pushed myself faster, clumsily wrapping a leg around the fire escape's outer rail and hooking my foot underneath each rung before I felt confident enough to release my grip and stretch for the next rung.
The top was in sight and triumph swelled in my chest. The metal supports screeched and groaned in a repeat chorus of my office door's death song. I picked up speed, fearing the worst. As quickly as I dared, I half crawled, half climbed the last five feet to the top. As I scrambled on my belly up onto the tar paper and gravel roof, the ladder gave a jolt and tore away from the building.
Rolling up onto the roof the rest of the way, I scooted back and watched as the dilapidated structure fell in slow motion and dove into the alley with a loud crash. The noise would bring the FBI running.
I got to my feet and bolted across the hot roof for the other side of the building.
There were reasons Cooper thought I was an un-bonded Were. A few months ago we'd tracked down a serial killer and discovered that a bigger, badder menace was pulling the strings. To escape from a confinement spell, I'd jumped about five feet straight up. In case you hadn't heard, a human coming in just shy of five-eight and one hundred and thirty-five pounds can't do that. A Were that height would manage it easily.
I blamed it on the adrenaline, but Cooper stuck to his guns and refused to look at the big picture. I'd lived a hard life and my body had adapted to match it. The instinct to survive gave people strength and abilities they could never manage at any other time. No supernatural powers necessary.
As I sprinted for the edge of the building, I prayed those abilities pumped into me now. I was going to need them.
About six inches from the edge of the building, I jumped and hoped no one was looking.
I sailed through the air like I was flying.
* * *
For now, Addison had gotten away. Thank the goddess.
Agent Margaret Stillman paced back and forth under the grimy half window of the cluttered basement, a small black, non-FBI issue iC to her ear. Around her, her team scoured every nook and cranny of the area taking readings with their strictly regulated and monitored iC devices.
Whenever they came too close to the wall where Addison's scent was the strongest, she directed them somewhere else. Whatever method the human had used to get out of her office, Margaret suspected that she'd pulled the same trick in here. Eventually she'd pretend to make the discovery, but for now she had orders to give Addison as much of a head start as she dared.
"They're searching the building now," she said quietly into the phone. "I minimized the fallout, but it's risky." Margaret paused, frowning. "She's unpredictable, but I'll continue doing what I can until my position is compromised."
She disconnected and pocketed the phone, worry pinching her face. One of her team leads, Agent Fuller, a young but competent Were on his first tour of duty among the humans, entered the basement. He spotted her and made a beeline in her direction.
His brown eyes gleamed with excitement. "We tracked Ms. Kittner. She's trapped on the roof of the adjoining building. We're procuring access from inside."
Margaret hid her alarm. Her last assignment would end in failure if the girl was captured. She couldn't let that happen. "No action until I get there. She's not officially a suspect."
The word "yet" hung silently in the air between them as she pointed to several of the other agents to accompany them as she and Agent Fuller headed out of the basement.
She hoped that she never fell in love. The damage to Cooper's common sense where Addison was concerned was astronomical.
* * *
Eighty feet down and twenty-five feet across, but I landed on the roof of the next building, caught myself, and kept running. Euphoria pumped into me, bringing my environment into sharp focus as I raced for the next building. Adrenaline was a wonderful thing.
When I hit the fourth roof, one that belonged to a high-rise apartment complex, I came to a stumbling, panting halt. Hunching over, I pressed my fist into the cramp pulling against my side and gulped air into my burning chest.
I didn't believe I was Were. I knew I wasn't a vampire. I wasn't sure about the practitioner thing since I'd done some pretty funky stuff when I was under stress during the murder case—things I still had nightmares about.
I knew I was human, despite the fact that a few weeks after the case, I'd woken up and found impressions in the wall above my head like the solid material had turned to clay and I'd pushed my finger tips into it. I hadn't been able to repeat the effect awake or asleep, so I'd called my super and complained about the cheap quality of the plaster. After he'd laughed at me, he told me that for the rent I paid, I was lucky to have a wall at all. Good point.
Pulling in another deep breath, I straightened up and headed for the side of the building facing away from the street. It was the tallest of the three at the perimeter of my escape route and only a few miles from one of the safe houses Cooper and I had established a few weeks ago. Best of all, behind the apartment building were the feral remains of what had once been a two acre park.
The city that had enjoyed a thriving business district as well as great restaurants, cultural events, entertainments, and clubs no longer existed. As one of the United States' banking hubs, Charlotte had been hit and hit hard when the paranormal terrorists launched their attack on countries around the world. Fighting had destroyed property and inspired people to flee, and a lot of them never came back.
Buildings were left to rot and parks returned to nature, often with less than natural residents occupying them. Ah, life. Like one of my Language Arts teachers used to say, you get what you get and there's no use getting your panties in a wad over it.
For my purposes the forest was perfect. Don't want any big, bad FBI minions seeing you going down a buildi
I retrieved the collapsable ladder I'd hidden under an old crate that I'd found there when I'd first chosen this spot as an exit point. I hooked the top of the ladder to the wall that ran around the edge of the roof. As quietly as I could, I let it drop down the side of the brick high-rise.
As I slung my leg over the edge and started down, I marveled at how different this block was from the area where my office and apartment were. Half the buildings there were abandoned and falling apart. Here, people were doing their best to pretend their world hadn't changed.
That still didn't stop them from putting bars on their windows and installing reinforced doors, even up this high. Stick your head in the sand, but make sure your butt is covered was apparently the reining philosophy here.
The ladder swayed and bumped against the pitted brick as I gingerly climbed down, jumping the last three feet to land lightly on the plastic composite wood of the top balcony floor. The curtains on the inside of the sliding glass door in front of me had been pulled tightly together and it looked like no one was home. Excellent.
I hated leaving the ladder behind as evidence, but trying to pull it down was too big of a noise risk. I figured Stillman and her crew wouldn't discover it for a while anyway, and most of the apartment residents should be at work.
Getting a better grip on my laptop, I straddled the railing of the balcony like I was a kid laying down on a horse, grabbed the corner brace with one hand and swung off. Dangling by my left arm, I kicked my legs toward the balcony below and dropped. I didn't stick the landing and nearly fell on my butt, but at least I hadn't catapulted to the ground seven stories below.
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