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Caught Forever Between

Written by Adrian Nikolas Phoenix
Illustrated by Nicole Cardiff



Tearing down the yellow crime-scene tape, Cassie keyed open the door to INNER EYE TATTOO and stepped inside. Closing the door, she glanced around the shattered shop she and Alex shared.

Broken glass from the windows glittered like mica on the stone-tiled floor and on the sofa; night-glo inks, their pungent odor lingering still in the humid air, smeared the walls, ceiling, and floor in neon-bright Rorschach designs. Almost everything had been bashed or ripped apart—the computer, the phone, Alex's patterns and sketches and, behind her . . .

Cassie turned, glass crunching beneath her Doc Martens, and looked past the remains of the sterilizer and the tat gun scattered on the bloodstained floor.

Alex's blood. Clotted and dried into eerie designs that rivaled some of his best work—

Throat tight, Cassie looked away. Whoever had done this had hated Alex, hated him in secret until it had finally burst free, spattering the shop with a bitterness so thick she could feel it still; smell it bile-rank beneath the spicy-sweet odors of boiled shrimp and cayenne, magnolias and chicory coffee drifting in through the broken windows.

A week since That Night and Alex remained in a coma at Charity Hospital—would her Michelangelo dream forever? Never again open his eyes?—and nothing had been done.

Just like nothing had been done when her mother was murdered fifteen years ago in Boise.

Switching on the fan, Cassie sank down onto the client lounger. She sighed in relief as the fan's breeze dried the sweat on her face and throat. The warm rush of air plastered her black mesh tank top against her perspiration-dampened skin and fluttered the hem of her red plaid skirt. From outside, jazz and faint laughter from Dumaine Street floated in to mingle with the fan's determined hum. Another sultry Naw'lins night. Her seventh night in hell. And counting—until Alex opened his eyes again.

If, a traitorous part of her whispered, repeating the doctor's words. If. And even then, he could remain in a vegetative state, blue eyes open, but empty. Forever.

Cassie pulled her feet up onto the lounger and wrapped her arms around her fishnet-clad legs. She shut her eyes and rested her chin against her knees. She felt like a little kid again, no longer eighteen, longing for the comfort of embracing arms.

In the darkness behind Cassie's eyes, an image of her mother formed—the only one she had—bending over Cassie's bed, long red hair shadowing her face, but something glittered—fairy sparkles? magic dust? tears?—on her mother's cheeks as she reached for Cassie and shushed her, saying in her husky voice that everything was all right.

Cassie often wondered what had brought her mother in to comfort her—a nightmare? fever? simple love? She'd asked Helena once. Her sister had stared at her, dark eyes shadowed by long red curls, looking so eerily like their mother in that moment that Cassie's heart had started pounding hard and, for a split second, she'd been terrified of what Helena might say. In the end, though, Helena had shaken her head, and said, her voice low and taut, "Geez, Cassie, I don't know. I was on my own then."

Cassie half believed that Helena still wished she was on her own, not saddled with a kid sister. Helena had followed the free trade South, teaching Cassie the Art along the way and with the years. They'd always had to hide since Helena refused to go legit, refused to join the Tattoo Artists Union, refused to be anyone's apprentice. Preferred to be an ink-slinging outlaw.

They'd settled in New Orleans when Cassie was thirteen. That was the year they'd discovered that Cassie was an Intuitive—an artist who could see into and symbolize the inner person. Helena had abruptly stopped teaching her, insisting she wasn't qualified. Helena had found someone who could, though—Alexander "Michelangelo" Paris—another Intuitive and an apprentice to a legitimate ink-slinger. Over the next five years, between his regular duties, Alex had guided and taught Cassie.

And when, six months ago, Alex had opened his own shop, and Cassie'd left Helena to be his apprentice, she'd seen darkness brewing in her sister's eyes and, beneath her cigarette-and-vanilla scent, Cassie'd smelled something bitter.

Like she did now.

The cops were dicking around, and the Union pretended to make an effort, but nothing was being done to find Alex's shooter. So Cassie'd sent word that she sought justice through the streets, bars, and botanicas of the French Quarter, and even into the Projects. Sought justice and would pay for it. Her mother's murder had never been solved, but that wasn't going to happen with Alex.

Tinkling bells, followed by the swoosh of the front door swinging shut, roused Cassie. Her eyes flew open, and she jumped up from the lounger, heart thudding.

The woman standing just inside the door appeared to be in her late fifties or early sixties. She wore a simple, flowered sundress and sandals. A red scarf hugged the gray-streaked black curls framing her face. Gold hooped through her earlobes and encircled her wrists, bright as sunshine on her cypress-brown skin. Her gaze met Cassie's. Cassie's skin prickled. Power radiated from the woman, dark and bayou-steeped. Mambo.

"Be you M'selle Danger?" the woman asked.

Cassie nodded and smoothed down her skirt. "Actually, it's Danzinger, but I work under the name Cassandra Danger . . . ma'am."

"I be Gabrielle La Rue."

"Ma'am. I wasn't expecting an answer so . . . soon," Cassie said, more than aware of the shattered glass, ink, and blood on the floor. "I thought maybe . . . well . . . that I'd have to . . . " What? she wondered, her fingers pleating her skirt. Undergo some midnight ritual, give a secret handshake, slaughter a chicken?

"I don't have time for that kind of nonsense," the mambo snorted, as though Cassie had spoken aloud. "How can I help you, m'selle?"

"Cassie, if you please, ma'am," she said, forcing her fingers away from her skirt. Pondering how to answer the mambo's question, Cassie glanced into her eyes. Their hazel depths tugged at her like quicksand, and the harder she struggled, the deeper she sank. Gabrielle's scent—dark earth, water, and incense—whirled into her, dizzied her.

The mambo clasped Cassie's hand; cool fingers latched around her wrist. "What is it you need?"

Cassie shook her head and forced her gaze down to their linked hands. Summer dusk and pale winter noon, their hands. She felt the sudden urge to draw. She shook her head again, trying to focus.

"My Michelangelo. . . . " Cassie said, then lapsed into silence. There were no words for what she needed to say. Still holding the mambo's cool hand, she turned. She looked at the dried blood pooled on the floor, the designs streaking across stone tiles and spattering one wall. "My Michelangelo," she whispered.

The woman beside her drew in a breath. "Ah," she said, squeezing Cassie's hand, then releasing it. "The blood's been spilled, child. You can't put it back. Name the thing you want."

"I want Alex to open his eyes," Cassie said, her gaze still on the floor. "And justice. I want justice." She glanced at the mambo.

A wry smile curved Gabrielle's lips. "So," she murmured. "Justice." She shook her head. The mambostepped gingerly to the counter, glass and other broken things gritting beneath her sandals. She traced a design on the counter with a long-nailed finger.

"I wonder if you know what that truly means or what shape it can take," Gabrielle said. Her finger stopped moving. She turned to face Cassie. "Or how cold and brutal justice can be."

"Colder than a bullet to the head?" Cassie asked, throat tight. She strode over to the wall. With a trembling hand, she tore down one of the tacked-up patterns. Whirling, she held the blood-spattered paper up for the mamboto see. "More brutal than that?" She shook the pattern. "If so, then it's justice I want."

Lips compressed, Gabrielle stepped forward and gently tugged the pattern from Cassie's fingers. She looked at it for a long moment, then folded and tucked it into a pocket in her sundress. She sighed. A deep line creased the skin between her eyebrows. She held Cassie's gaze, and Cassie thought she saw something submerged like a 'gator in those hazel depths.

"It won't change a thing. You understand?" the mambosaid. "The bullet still fired . . . the blood still spilled. And your Michelangelo, his eyes still closed."

Cassie dropped her gaze. Outside, summer thunder rumbled across the sky. She remembered Alex sprawled on the stone floor, his head pillowed on her lap; remembered her hand pressed against the wound, his blood hot against her fingers.

Her hands curled into fists. "Maybe so. But it'll even things out," she said, voice strained. "Blood for blood."

"Nothing ever evens out spilled blood," Gabrielle said, weariness edging her voice. "But . . . so be it. Come to the bayou tomorrow night, after sunset. Bring your tattoo gun and your inks. Tell mon filleul—my godson—what it is you want. If he lets you set your gun to work on his skin, then all you'll need do is give him a name."

Glass crunched under the mambo's sandals as she walked to the front door. She opened it, tinkling the bell. Glancing over her shoulder, she said, "Then you will get your justice, child." Neon light from the street flickered across the dark planes of her face, creating a mask of ever-shifting colors. "As cold and brutal as you could ever want."

"Wait," Cassie called as the mambo started out the door. "I don't know how to find you. I need directions."

Gabrielle nodded toward the counter. "You already got 'em." Then she was gone.

Cassie looked down at the counter. There, glowing on the polished wood surface, was a map—drawn by the mambo as she'd talked to Cassie. She stared at it, heart pounding, sweat trickling between her breasts and along her ribs. Thunder rumbled and drumrolled. Heat lightning flashed white across the horizon.

Going to the back room, Cassie filled a bucket with hot water and cleanser. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror above the sink—long auburn hair streaked with purple to match her dark violet eyes; eyes blue-smudged from lack of sleep instead of outlined with the usual black kohl; pale, heart-shaped face, rose-tinted lips—a ghost startled by her own unexpected reflection.

Struggling for air, Cassie looked down. Her fingers clutched the cold porcelain edge of the sink. Head bowed, face shielded by her hair, she refused to look up again. Didn't want to see Alex fading from her eyes.

Cassie pushed away from the sink and gave the mirror her back. After tying up her sweat-dampened hair, she fetched a broom, dustpan, and a roll of trash bags. She had a night's hard work ahead of her.

Fixing her gaze once again on the dried blood, Cassie memorized every streak and spatter, needling its design like a tattoo onto her heart. "Whoever Madame La Rue's godson is," she whispered, "he'll never be cold enough or brutal enough for me."

An evening breeze blew in from the street, bringing the smell of distant rain and the river's odor of fish, mud, and decay. As Cassie set to sweeping, an image gleaned from Helena's heart right after Alex's shooting burned in her mind: a tiger rearing up on muscular hind legs, claws slashing, fangs bared in a snarl, guarding a sleeping cub behind it. A figure—just a black silhouette, really—went down beneath those claws. But Cassie recognized her Michelangelo bleeding on the floor.

* * *

Cassie stopped and switched off her scooter when she reached the end of the dirt trail. Lifting her shades, she glanced at the map she'd copied from the counter. The scooter's motor clicked as it cooled, blending with the insect hum and buzz—the only sounds she heard. The air was thick with the smells of green things and wet tree roots and sun-heated swamp water. She wiped sweat from her forehead as she looked up at the Spanish-moss-draped cypress. Beyond the dark trunks, the sunset blazed like a forest fire, searing the sky purple, orange, and red.

Sliding off the seat, Cassie stood beside her scooter, squinting into the sunset-hazed darkness beyond the trees. She thought she saw a building of some kind ahead—maybe a swamp shack. Something tickled the back of her bug-spray-guarded knee, and Cassie slapped the spot without looking, her gaze still locked on the barely discernible path through the cypress and along the edge of the swamp.

She shrugged her knapsack higher onto her shoulder, its weight pressing her sweat-damp velvet-and-mesh dress against her skin. Perspiration trickled between her shoulder blades, and her heart pounded so hard her body trembled with each beat. The humidity and heat sucked at each shallow breath as she drew it in.

Something rustled in the tall grass beside the swamp. Cassie's heart ratcheted up to warp speed. She stared, frozen, at the heat-yellowed sawgrass. 'Gator! her mind babbled. But nothing moved. Nothing she could see, anyway.

Drawing in a deep breath, she stepped onto the path. Dirt crunched beneath her Docs. Dropping her shades back over her eyes, she walked in between the trees and into the sun-gilded mosquito-laden darkness. The insect buzz and chirping, croaking frog song stopped abruptly, abandoning her to a thick, watchful silence.

With each grass-muffled step she took, Cassie became more certain she was being watched. The hair on the back of her neck prickled, and her muscles tensed. She kept her gaze straight ahead and her pace even. She fought the urge to run, sensing that if she did, whatever was out there would chase her. And catch her.


After five long minutes, the back of a weatherworn shack on flood stilts appeared out of the twilight. Cassie stopped several yards short of it. She removed her shades, then tucked them into a side pocket of the knapsack. A motorcycle was parked beside the towering oaks behind the shack—a Harley, Cassie judged.

Off to one side was a cistern to catch rainwater, and on the other side was an outhouse as weathered as the shack. As Cassie walked along the right side, she passed a tree stump holding an ax. She paused for a moment as unwanted slasher-film images popped into her mind; then, shaking her head, she circled around to the front of the shack. A porch with a dock extended to the swamp and the pirogue tied to it. A short flight of steps in front led to the porch.

"Hello?" Cassie called, her voice loud and uncertain in the silence. "Madame La Rue?"

A single cricket chirruped, then fell silent.

"Oui, girl," said the mambo'sfamiliar voice. "Over here."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Cassie glanced in the direction of the mambo's voice. An engine chugged to life, filling the air with a mechanical hum. On the right side of the porch, Gabrielle La Rue straightened up from the generator she'd started. A blue scarf matching the royal blue dress she wore, covered her curls.

"I be right wit' you," the mambo said. Giving the generator one last glance, she descended the steps to join Cassie. She looked Cassie over from head to toe, then shook her head. "Ain't you a sight in your red dress, girl? Mmm-mmm." She shook her head again. "Nothing subtle about you, Cassandra Danzinger. You might as well be wearing your Michelangelo's blood."

Heat rushed to Cassie's cheeks, and she was grateful for the deepening dusk. "No, I . . . that is. . . . " She lapsed into silence, wondering if Gabrielle was right. Had she chosen red to symbolize the thing she sought—to win her cause with the mambo's godson?

Gabrielle glanced past Cassie. "Introduce yourself, boy," she said.

Cassie whirled, the knapsack flying off her shoulder and thudding hard onto the grass-matted ground. In the lingering shadows cast by the cypress and oak trees, the mambo's godson stood no more than a handspan away from her.

"Evenin', mam'selle. I be Devlin Daniels," he said, his voice low, the rhythm of his words Cajun-spiced.

"Uh . . . evening," Cassie managed.

She quickly looked him over, her artist's eye noting details. He appeared to be in his early twenties, taller than Cassie's five-two by six or seven inches, his body lean, muscular, and broad-shouldered. Tangled black hair fell just past his shoulders and swept over the left side of his face, almost hiding the left eye. He was bare-chested and barefoot, his black jeans torn and weathered almost gray. A veve-etched ouanga bag on a leather thong hung around his neck, and through the blackness of his hair, she caught a flash of silver-and-red earrings. Two sets of scars—thick and white with age— crisscrossed his chest.

His dark eyes gleamed, capturing and reflecting the dying sunset behind her. Cassie's breath caught in her throat. Lambent eyes. Hungry and watchful—like something wild waiting in the brush, all glowing eyes and sharp teeth.

"Somethin' wrong?" Devlin asked, leaning closer.

Cassie shook her head, not wanting him to come nearer. But he did anyway, closing the short distance between them. The hair on the nape of her neck rose, and her hands knotted. Survival instincts insisted she not run. She caught his scent, musky and wild and clean.

He slowly circled her several times, his shining gaze sweeping over her, nostrils flaring. She turned with him, heart pounding, refusing to give him her back again.

Was this a test? Or had he just been in the swamp too long? Maybe both?

He wasn't what she'd expected. From what the mambo had said, Cassie had half believed she'd have to sweet-talk the Devil himself to get her justice. But no horns sprouted from Devlin Daniels's forehead, no cloven hooves, just dirty bare feet. She hadn't expected him to be white, either. But why wouldn't Gabrielle La Rue have a Caucasian godson? Devlin's skin was nearly as pale as Cassie's own—and given that he lived out in the bayou, that fact surprised her.

Devlin finally stopped in front of her. Cassie met his gaze. He held out her knapsack. She took it from him, noting his long fingers with their thick, curved nails.

"Boy," the mambo said from behind her, voice stern. "Go on inside with yourself and put on a shirt. Mind your manners."

Devlin stared at Cassie through his hair for another long moment before loping away with an irritated snort. Turning, Cassie watched him leap up the porch steps. The mambo's godson moved with a quick, fluid, almost animal grace. Opening the screen door, he slipped into the shack.

A heartbeat later, the chirping-crrriicking-croaking-humming song of the insects and frogs lifted again into the sultry evening air. They know the danger is past, Cassie thought, her mind still filled with the image of Devlin's gleaming eyes watching her from behind the cover of his hair—hair black as a starless winter night.

"That boy never did like being told what to do," the mambo said. "But at least he knows when to pay heed."

Cassie saw amusement in Gabrielle's eyes. "Which is more than you can say for most male creatures, ain't it so, ma petite?"

Cassie nodded, wondering why the mambo had said male creatures instead of men. Slinging the knapsack onto one shoulder, she glanced up at the shack. It remained dark.

"What if I can't convince him?" she asked, hating how uncertain her voice sounded, how small. "What if he won't listen?"

"Oh, he'll listen, Cassandra, he'll listen good 'n close." The mambo started toward the steps. "But it's up to you to show him the fired bullets and the spilled blood. Up to you to make my Devlin hunger to right things for your Michelangelo."

Cassie followed Gabrielle. "And if I can't? What then?"

The mambo glanced back at her, her eyes night-swallowed, expression cryptic. "Then whatever you do, don't run from him. Hear me? Don't run."

Cassie halted. She stared at the mambo, hoping she hadn't heard right.

"There always be a price," Gabrielle said, drawing herself up. "Justice ain't never been free, girl." Power as dark and deadly as the bayou emanated from the mambo. Her face was cold and regal, and Cassie truly saw her for what she was, a hoodoo priestess steeped in magic, able to summon shambling life or shape a cold and brutal death.

Cassie's gaze drifted back up to the lightless shack. She shivered, chilled, her fingers suddenly numb. Make Alex live for the mambo's godson. You do that and maybe he'll open his eyes again.

Sucking in a deep breath of moist air, Cassie said, "Devlin, what is he?" The steadiness of her voice surprised her.

"He be the last of the coeur sauvage, the wild heart of the bayou—the loup garou." Swiveling around to face the shack, Gabrielle placed her hands on her hips, and said in a low voice, "Turn on some lights, boy. We ain't got your eyes."

Pale yellow light suddenly spilled from the shack's windows and door. Cassie stared at the mambo, wishing she could believe she hadn't heard right, but Gabrielle hadn't mumbled. She'd been quite clear. Loup garou. Werewolf.

"Go on up with yourself, child," the mambo said, waving a hand at the steps. Her bracelets jingled.

"Werewolf?" Cassie said, her voice strained.

Gabrielle chuckled. "Don't be calling Devlin a werewolf. That boy, he a wolf, pure and simple."

Cassie's gaze flicked back up to the shack. A shadow crossed behind the window, blotting out the light for a moment, then was gone. She swallowed hard, thinking of light-filled eyes and black hair, of justice in the form of claws, black and thick, and gleaming white fangs. In that moment, she realized she believed Gabrielle. Why the hell not? she thought. If there can be vampires in the French Quarter, why not werewolves in the bayou?

Grasping the porch railing, the worn wood smooth beneath her hand, Cassie placed her foot on the bottom step. An image of Alex filled her mind; Alex intent on his work, inking an Intuitive design into willing flesh, his golden hair tied back, his deep blue eyes focused, intense; saw again the laugh lines etched beside his lips, felt again the warmth of his gaze.

Cassie climbed the steps. Taking a deep breath, she opened the screen door with a steady hand. Devlin stood in one corner of the sparsely furnished room, his back to the wall. His nostrils flared as she stepped into the shack. She noticed he'd pulled on a black T-shirt. Guess he does know when to listen, after all.

Cassie glanced around the room. An easy chair. A couple of wooden kitchen chairs and a square kitchen table. An acoustic guitar propped in one corner. Next to one window, an artist's easel holding a blank canvas. And, on the walls—her gaze stopped, lingered. Paintings, unframed and raw—dark, swirling colors, the images hungry and hurting and lonely.

Her gaze skipped from one painting to the next—an empty boat on black water, oars floating away, glowing eyes watching from the darkness lining the shore; a tree stark against a moonlit sky, animal pelts hanging from its branches and a wolf howling at its base.

If this was Devlin's work—he was good, very good. He was also an Intuitive. Cassie felt utter truth in the images he'd created.

She also felt Devlin's unwavering gaze as she walked over to the table and dropped her knapsack onto it. Determined not to look at him, to see if he'd slipped silently closer, she unzipped the knapsack. She pulled out a sketch pad and pencil, a box of inks, a few clean rags, antiseptic, a small bottle of bleach and her homemade rig.

Not having the time to replace Alex's shattered gun, Cassie'd cobbled one together, prison-style. A sandpaper-sharpened guitar-string needle, a hobby motor, a spoon for the frame, guitar strings and pen shafts, a nine-volt battery transformer for power connected to a simple foot pedal, and she was good to go.

The screen door thunked shut as Gabrielle entered the shack. A sudden flash of heat lightning strobed through the room, bleaching out the room's yellowish light. Cassie blinked. A long moment later, thunder rolled across the horizon. Her sweat-damp dress was plastered to her back, and her hair clung to her temples and forehead. Several fans churned the hot air. Gathering the heavy mass of her hair, Cassie tied it back into a ponytail.

Turning around, she looked at the mambo's godson, relieved he still stood in the corner, and said, "What now?"

Devlin met and held her gaze, half of his own hidden behind the veil of his hair, but said nothing. Through a window beside him, Cassie saw a jagged tongue of lightning lick from the sky to the ground, dazzling blue-white, haunting her vision for several seconds afterward. Thunder boomed. Heaviness stilled the air. Her skin prickled.

"The loa walk and talk," Gabrielle said, her voice reverent as she looked out the window. "This be a night for requests. The loa are listening, ma petite. Be careful what you say."

Devlin's gaze shifted to his godmother. "Ils sont d'eine mauvaise humeur," he said, his voice pitched low.

The mambo shrugged. "Nothing for it, boy. Their mood be even worse if we turn back now."

Cassie jumped when Devlin suddenly growled, a low, deep-throated sound that vibrated through the room. He dropped down into a crouch, his long-fingered, thick-nailed hands touching the floor in front of him. His muscles rippled, and she caught the gleam of long, curving canines as his growl intensified into a snarl.


Cassie thought of the door behind her and of the mambo's warning—Don't run. Sweat trickled along her temples.

"Speak, girl," Gabrielle said, her voice an urgent whisper. "Storms make him testy."

Gripping the edge of the table, Cassie stared at Devlin. His thick nails had become black talons. "Alex looks into the heart of people, just like you do. Everyone calls him Michelangelo 'cause his work steals the breath and lifts the soul. And someone shot him for it," she said, throat tight but her voice level. "A bullet to the brain. His blood spattered on his own pictures."

Images flickered, nightmare-grained, her memory a theater without an exit.

Flicker: Alex sprawled on the floor, blood spray on the wall behind him.

Flicker: The sound of him choking.

Flicker: The reek of gunpowder and blood and vomit.

Flicker: Raleigh, sketch pad in hand, following her into the shop, face pale.

Flicker: Bored cops. Yellow crime-scene tape. Questions.

And looping endlessly through her mind, Raleigh's strained voice asking if his brother was dead. He's dead, isn't he? Cass? He's dead.

Devlin stopped growling. He continued to watch her, unblinking. Cassie held his gaze, riveted by the wildness stark in his eyes.

"I think Alex sketched out a hidden evil, maybe not even recognizing what it was," she said, kneeling on the wood floor to be at the loup garou's eye level. "But the one he drew it for? That one realized what Alex had revealed and tried to kill him. And maybe they have," she added, the words slow, reluctant. She swallowed. "He's been in a coma and he may never . . . he may—"

"C'est assez," Devlin cut in, sparing her from saying aloud the thing she did not want to say, ever. His voice was thick and harsh, little more than a growl. He rose to his feet in one fluid, effortless motion. "Look into my heart and draw what you see."

Cassie straightened slowly, the velvet fabric of her dress clinging to her thighs. Heart pounding, she settled herself into one of the kitchen chairs. Flipping open her sketch pad, she picked up a pencil and poised it over the blank sheet of paper.

She glanced up at Devlin. He stood still, watching her, his hands with their black claws at his sides. She noted claws arching from the toes on his bare feet, as well. Lightning strobed into the room. Devlin's eyes gleamed through his hair, white fire, silver moonlight, blue heat, and Cassie sucked in her breath, caught in his restless gaze.

Her pencil scratched across the paper, sketching in hard, bold strokes as images and symbols flashed through her mind like the lightning dancing across the sky: a black wolf pierced through the heart with three swords. Strobe.

Claws scraping across a bare chest, blood welling up in their wake. Strobe.

A bloodied figure huddled among a pile of corpses—human, wolves, and some in between—blood-smeared arms wrapped around knees, head down, face hidden, long black hair spilling, spilling, spilling. Strobe.

A blood-red moon hanging low on the horizon silhouetting a crouched figure, flames blazing where a heart should be—

Light-headed and gasping for air, Cassie felt the pencil slip from her grasp, heard it tunk against the floor and roll away. She looked up and almost fell out of her chair when she saw Devlin standing over her, his gaze on the sketch pad. His scent—musk, sweat, and night-cooled green ivy—filled her nostrils. She stared at him, her eyes following the strong line of his jaw up to the pointed tip of his ear poking through the black depths of his hair.

The mambo had been right. This was no man. This was an upright wolf. And a wounded one, at that.

"You seek justice, too," Cassie whispered.

Devlin went still. Listening. Waiting. His gaze never wavered from her sketch pad.

"Do I get mine, loup garou?" she asked. She extended her hand, thinking to touch him, pet him maybe, get him used to her scent.

A low growl rumbled up from his throat. Cassie froze, her hand still in midair.

"Don't touch him, child," Gabrielle said. "You leave your scent on him if'n you do, and that's a mighty personal thing."

Lowering her hand to her lap, Cassie said, "Well, do I?"

Devlin turned his head and looked at her. She tried to read his eyes, but couldn't, their dark, moonlight-flecked depths wary and waiting. He tapped one thick, black claw against the sketch pad.

Cassie glanced down, then stared, transfixed, by the image captured in her quick pencil strokes. She recognized it as one of the Major Arcana of a Tarot deck; a tall tower struck by lightning, ravaged by fire and battered by waves, figures tumbling through the storm-darkened air, plummeting helplessly as disaster overtakes them.

"It's a long way back from hell, for true," Devlin said. "Y'sure you wanna go down that road?"

"Already on it," Cassie said. Lightning flared, and searing white light pulsed in from outside. Light pulsed in Devlin's eyes, as well. After many long seconds, thunder grumbled. The storm was moving away. She held Devlin's gaze.

"Oui, mam'selle," he said, his voice low and solemn. "Je te donne ma parole. I give my word," he translated. He shook his hair back from his face. A handsome face, Cassie realized. He glanced at his godmother. A wry half smile tugged up one corner of his mouth. "Sa fini pas."

Gabrielle nodded. "Oui, boy. It never ends. Ain't that the truth." She crossed the room to the little dormitory-sized fridge next to the sink. She retrieved three bottles of Dixie, giving one of the ice-cold bottles of beer to Cassie and one to Devlin. The third she kept for herself.

Twisting off the cap, Cassie poured nearly half of the amber-colored beer down her parched throat. Then she touched the bottle to her face and forehead, sighing and closing her eyes. Relief, as icy and soothing as the beer, poured through her. Blood would be spilled for blood.

"Set your gun to work," Devlin said. Again, he tapped at the Tower sketch.

Cassie realized that his claws were gone. His long fingers ended in thick, curved fingernails. How does he do that? she wondered. She glanced at his feet. Yep. No claws. Toenails. She looked back up and into Devlin's watchful gaze. Amusement flickered in his eyes, there and gone. She flushed, but didn't lower her gaze.

"One more thing," Devlin said. He touched the paper beneath the design. "I want the words 'coup de grâce.'"

Turning the kitchen chair around, he straddled it. He pulled off his T-shirt, muscles flexing with the movement. He tossed the T-shirt onto the floor. Gabrielle tsked, but said nothing.

Cassie opened the jars of ink and readied her rig. Scooting her chair beside Devlin's, she said, "I need to clean your skin, okay?"

Devlin glanced at her, nose crinkling at the antiseptic's sharp odor. Leaning his forearms on the chair back, he nodded.

Cassie cleaned his skin, wiping it dry with a soft rag. She splashed bleach on the already sterilized guitar-string needle, just to be double sure. She tapped the rig's foot pedal. The gun buzzed, its bumblebee-drone filling the room. Her fingers tingled. She never pretraced patterns onto flesh. She always worked by memory, freehand.

Glancing at her sketch, Cassie needled black ink into Devlin's shoulder. His muscles tightened, then relaxed. Otherwise, he didn't react. The pungent smell of fresh ink curled into her nostrils. As the Tower took shape beneath her fingers, Cassie focused on the sketch and the skin under her needle and forgot about everything else. Even Alex.

The night beyond the windows was still and deep when Cassie lifted her foot from the pedal and sat back. The gun fell silent. She wiped perspiration from her forehead with the back of an ink-stained hand. She felt utterly drained. She tossed the little homemade gun onto the table and picked up her bottle of Dixie. She poured the rest of the now-warm beer down her throat. She closed her eyes.

"You got talent, girl." The mambo's voice dropped into the silence like a pebble into a pond, her words rippling into Cassie's thoughts. "Ain't that right, Devlin-boy?"

"Oui," the loup garou murmured. "For true. She should take that talent and go."

Cassie opened her eyes. Arms still folded along the back of the chair, Devlin watched her, his gleaming gaze and half-shadowed face impossible to read. She stiffened, then leaned forward. "No."

Devlin looked away. He stood, a sudden and graceful movement, turning the chair around as he did. He tossed his head, but his night-black hair still tumbled across his face. "Who?" he asked.

"Helena Danzinger," Cassie said, voice tight and hard. Unfamiliar even to herself. "My sister."

Behind her, Gabrielle gasped. Devlin held Cassie's gaze for a long moment, then he turned and walked to the door, but not before she saw the muscle jump in his jaw. He pushed open the screen door.

"Wait!" the mambo called. "She never said it was her own kin that needed hunting. You sit yourself back down, boy. You don't have to do this."

"Name's been give, marraine," Devlin said. "Word's been given, too, for true." He glanced at Cassie. "Tomorrow night. Tell ma marraine where." He stepped out into the night, the screen door slamming behind him.

Face tight with dismay, Gabrielle turned to face Cassie. "His kin's been murdered, and you ask him to slay yours. You pushin' fire, girl."

Cassie nodded. She'd been pushing fire all her life.

* * *

Cassie held Alex's cool, unresponsive hand, her gaze on his dreaming face. At least, she hoped he was dreaming and that the dreams were sweet. The machines that monitored her Michelangelo's every breath and heartbeat blipped and beeped, a steady, reassuring sound. Needles pierced his flesh and IVs dripped fluid and medication into his veins.

A beige curtain partially encircled Alex's bed, giving the illusion of privacy, but the harsh coughing from the patient on the other side provided the reality. Cassie'd placed a vase of lilacs on the nightstand; the purple flowers glimmered under the lights, and their sweet, clean scent filled the room.

She slid her hand over Alex's chest, rested it over his heart. She felt every faint beat. She'd never tried looking into Alex, had never tried to see the inner man, feeling no need; whenever she looked at him, he dazzled her sight. He burned white-hot and pure, like the sun. She almost believed that sunlight filled his veins instead of blood; he was strong and golden and warm. He smelled of summer, like dew-flecked grass at dawn and cool blue lakes and August heat.

But now when she looked Cassie saw only darkness; sunlight hadn't sprayed from his veins, after all. Now she only smelled stale air laced with disease and death.

She caressed his hand, squeezed it. "Don't leave me, Alexander Paris," she whispered. "Don't let go."

"Hey, Cass," drawled a soft, familiar voice.

Cassie glanced up as Raleigh strode into the room, his sketch pad tucked under his arm. The sight of him was like a knife to the heart—tall and lean, long blond hair framing his face and sweeping past his shoulders, his lips curved into a smile. Except for the wry twist to his lips and the shadows lurking in his cobalt-blue gaze, Raleigh was the spitting image of his older brother.

But where Alex blazed, burning with life and laughter and talent, Raleigh was more like a reflection in an old, dim mirror. His eyes held dark secrets, and a look of mirth lit his face at odd moments—like he'd heard a good joke, a really good one, but a joke only he was smart enough to understand.

Cassie often felt sorry for Raleigh. Twenty-one to Alex's twenty-four, he was light-years behind in talent and personality. Yet he tried so hard to be like his brother.

"How is he?" Raleigh asked, his voice shaking Cassie from her thoughts. He tossed his sketch pad onto the nightstand next to the vase of lilacs.

Cassie noticed dark spots spattered or dripped across the sketch pad's cover. Looked like blood. Maybe from That Night . . . "The same," she said. "But I believe he'll get better soon."

How had blood gotten onto Raleigh's sketch pad?

"Do you, now?" A strange tone edged Raleigh's voice.

Cassie looked at him. His gaze was on his brother's face, his own still and tight with some emotion—grief, she thought, but in the split second before Raleigh's attention shifted back to her, she realized, with a cold shock, that what she saw on his face was hatred.

"Well, if he doesn't," Raleigh said, voice hushed, "I'll take you for my apprentice, Cass. That's a promise."

"You don't have a practice," Cassie said.

"I will," Raleigh said.

She stared into Raleigh's eyes, looked for light in his midnight-blue gaze, searched for the sun, but all she saw was her own reflection. His gaze shifted back to Alex.

Cold iced Cassie's veins. She felt faint movement beneath her hand. Alex's fingers twitched within her grasp. Pulse racing, heart triple-timing, she kept from reacting to the movement, to the fire melting the ice within her, to the sudden hope blazing in her heart. A sunburst filled her vision, golden and white-hot, then it was gone. Cassie squeezed Alex's hand.

Then, glancing up, she looked into Raleigh.

An endless abyss stretched before her, utterly lightless; a yawning maw surrounded by row upon row of razor-sharp fangs as yellowed as old bones. Like a black hole it sucked in everything around it. Compressed. Absorbed. Annihilated. Nothing escaped. Nothing remained to escape.

Had Raleigh attempted to feed the void with Alex's light? Tried to shift from reflection to the one reflected? Yearned to live Alex's life?

Had Alex finally looked into his brother?

Shuddering, Cassie turned her face away from Raleigh and her vision. Instead, she looked at Alex's pale face. She released his hand and wiped her sweaty palm against her skirt. Her heartbeat thudded loudly in her ears. She felt sick.

"What were you doing?" Raleigh asked, his voice flat. He leaned over her and tipped up her chin with an ink-stained finger. "Were you looking?" he whispered.

Beneath Raleigh's sharp sage cologne, Cassie smelled something hot and bitter, like vomit in an alley, like the lingering stench at the shop.

The blood on Raleigh's sketch pad was Alex's. It'd been spattered there when Raleigh had shot him. Had he still been there when she'd come in? Gone out the back? And what—came back in to see his handiwork? her reaction? to savor the moment? all of the above?

And Devlin—the loup garou—was on his way to deliver cold and brutal justice to the wrong person.

Or, at least, for the wrong reason. What had she seen within Helena's heart?

"What did you see, Cass?" Raleigh demanded, leaning in close enough for a kiss, his breath hot against her cheek, his sage and bitter-bile scent stealing her breath. One hand closed on her shoulder.

Forcing a smile onto her lips, Cassie met his black-hole gaze. "The sun," she said. "Only the sun."

Raleigh blinked.

"I'm tired. Would you mind taking me home?" Cassie said. "I hate making the trip alone, especially on the bus."

"Yeah," he said, releasing her shoulder. "Sure."

"Great. Just let me call Helena and tell her she doesn't have to meet me." At Raleigh's nod, Cassie fished her cell out of her purse and speed-dialed her sister. The phone rang twice, then Helena's voice mail kicked on. Dread snaked through Cassie.

It's too soon! she thought, glancing at the clock. She left a message for Helena to phone her before coming over, then ended the call.

Cassie glanced at Raleigh. His sardonic expression and tilted smile were back in place. Something cold and dark twisted within her, latched on to her heart. He wouldn't be wearing that expression much longer.

"Let's go," she said.

Lights burned inside the shop. Cassie's dread intensified. She climbed out of Raleigh's pickup and shut the door. The night air felt thick and still, oddly soundless, given that it wasn't yet midnight. On the sidewalk, people hurried by, shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, like a storm loomed over them or a mugger followed, surefooted and silent.

He's here, Cassie thought. The loup garou had arrived and, somehow—primal instinct, sixth sense—people felt the danger in their prickling skins, their senses electrified and wary.

Just like Cassie.

"Looks like Helena didn't get your message," Raleigh drawled, narrowed gaze on the light seeping around the boarded-up windows. "You still want me to come in?"

"Just to make sure it's safe, okay?"

Raleigh grunted in assent.

Cassie pushed open the unlocked door. The bell above tinkled, the sound loud in the silent shop. She looked around the room; not much to see or hide behind since she'd cleaned it and trashed all the ruined furniture and equipment. Counter. Walls bare of patterns. Fan. Nothing out of place.

She glanced at the door leading to the back room and the living quarters upstairs. It was open. Her heart leapt into her throat, and she felt cold and fevered at the same time.

"Helena?" she called.


Taking in a deep breath, Cassie hurried across the stone floor—cleaned of the blood-smeared swirls and designs etched forever onto her heart—and through the door. A thought arrowed through her mind: Maybe she didn't return my call because she's already dead.

"Cass?" Raleigh said. "Something wrong?"

She didn't answer him, couldn't. Her words dried up in her throat when she saw her sister backed up against the kitchen counter, her face white, her gaze locked on something or someone out of Cassie's sight—but she didn't need to see Devlin to know he was there. A blood-red moon, full and swollen, filled her vision. She stumbled to a halt, her hand groping for the wall.

Cassie blinked until the image cleared from her mind and from her sight. Helena didn't glance at her, didn't even blink. Maybe she believed her steady gaze kept the beast in his place.

"What's going on?" Raleigh stopped beside Cassie. He fell silent, his narrowed gaze dropping from Helena's face to her white-knuckled hands gripping the counter behind her. He took a step back.

Cassie gripped his arm. "I made a mistake," she said, her voice low and level. She knew the loup garou's pointed ears would hear her even if she whispered. "I gave the wrong name."

Raleigh stared at her, his muscles tensing beneath her tight-fingered grip. "Who are you—"

In a blur of snarling movement, Devlin sprang around the corner and onto Raleigh, hitting him so hard that Cassie was knocked away. Her head thudded into the wall. Bursts of color starred her vision. Nausea knotted her belly. She slid to the floor.

As her vision cleared, she saw Raleigh on the floor, his right arm up and over his throat, his blond hair spilled across the floor like honey, his eyes wide as he struggled to escape the creature on top of him.

Devlin, still mostly in two-legged form, eyes silvered and gleaming, black claws extending from human fingers, crouched on Raleigh, knee to chest.

Cassie glanced up as a hand latched around her arm and hauled her to her feet. Helena clutched a steak knife. Cassie sucked in her breath.

A low growl, building in intensity, froze them both. Cassie looked at the loup garou. Devlin's claws pierced Raleigh's shoulders. The smell of blood and musk filled the room. The loup garou watched Cassie through a wild tangle of hair, curving canines revealed as he growled.

"I gave you the wrong name," Cassie said, heart pounding. She wondered if Devlin was still human enough to reason with. Wondered if he'd ever been. What had Gabrielle called him? Coeur sauvage. Wild heart.

"Raleigh shot Alex," Cassie said. "I'll still walk the road with you, loup garou, but let my sister walk away."

"No," Devlin said, voice thick. "You had it right. She a kinslayer, for true." His burning gaze fixed on Helena.

Helena held his gaze for only a heartbeat or two before she lunged, jaw clenched, knife slashing like claws through the air, arcing down toward Devlin's chest.

"No! Don't!" Cassie cried, uncertain of who her words were meant for.

The loup garou yanked one hand from Raleigh's shoulder and slapped the knife from Helena's hand. The blade tunk-tunked across the stone tiles. Helena's wrist snapped beneath Devlin's black-clawed grip, the sound sharp and sickening. Gasping, she dropped to her knees.

"Kinslayer," Devlin snarled.

"It was an accident, but I'd do it again," she whispered. Sweat beaded her forehead. "I've got no regrets."

Helena looked at Cassie, and Cassie felt herself drawn into her pained, defiant eyes like smoke into a fan. Thoughts and images whirled through her mind, leaving her dazed.

Tiger. Sleeping cub. Black silhouette.

She'd been right. And wrong.

Cassie knew in that moment, knew it with the clarity of a polished mirror, a mirror aimed behind her, that her treasured and puzzling memory of her mother bending over her was a memory of Helena; long red curls, dark eyes, smoky-sweet smell of tobacco and vanilla. The glitter sparkling on her face hadn't been fairy sprinkles or magic dust or even tears—it'd been droplets of blood, their mother's blood.

Closing her eyes, Cassie turned her face away.

"She was doing meth again. Neglecting you," Helena said. "Her life revolved around meth. I asked her to give you to me, since she had no time for you. I was eighteen, Cass, and I'd been on my own since you were born. Because she had no time for me, either. And I asked . . . we argued . . . she hit me . . . one thing led to another."

Helena laughed, a low, throaty sound full of irony. "When I found out you were an Intuitive, I was afraid you'd see what I'd done. And hate me for it. So I sent you to Alex." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "And I was right."

"Cass, I got nothing to do with this—" Raleigh's words ended with a snarl from the loup garou. Raleigh moaned and whether it was just simple fear or added pain, Cassie couldn't tell.

"Cassandra Aphrodite Danzinger," said a familiar voice. "Open your eyes, girl, and witness what you done brought about."

At the mambo's cold words, Cassie opened her eyes. Gabrielle La Rue stood in the doorway between the front and the back of the shop. She stepped forward, the door swinging shut behind her. She fixed Cassie with a gaze as icy as her words, her eyes like night-hidden stones. A purple scarf covered her hair and silver flashed at her ears, throat, and wrists. Her purple dress was simple and summer-sheer, and her brown feet were sandals-clad.

A queen stood before her, a queen full of dark power, one who weighed and measured her better than any set of scales. Cassie straightened. Met the mambo's gaze.

"You set all this in motion, girl," Gabrielle said, crossing the floor to stand beside her crouching godson and his downed prey. "You a decision to make." Her gaze shifted to Helena. Helena met the mambo's dark eyes and lifted her chin slightly. "Justice for your mama or—" Gabrielle glanced at Raleigh. Her lip curled slightly as though she smelled something bad—maybe the bitterness he'd splashed all over the shop and himself when he'd pulled the trigger That Night. "—justice for your Michelangelo."

Returning her attention to Cassie, she looked at her for a long moment. "You must choose one. The other be released, y 'hear, girl? Released until the day a higher power calls 'em to task for what they done."

"I didn't shoot Alex," Raleigh said, his voice thin. "He's my fucking brother!" Sweat gleamed on his forehead. His strained face looked ghostly even in the kitchen's clear light, his eyes as dark as midnight.

A sudden pang pierced Cassie. He looked like Alex had when she'd discovered him on the blood-pooled floor, pale and fading, eyes shut. She remembered Raleigh walking into the shop, the color draining from his face as he looked at his brother held in her blood-smeared arms; remembered his words: He's dead, isn't he? Remembered the shocked expression on his face when she'd breathed, No. Call 911.

Remembered the shattered-heart feel of the world ending as Alex's blood pulsed past her fingers

Tearing her gaze away from Raleigh, Cassie looked at her sister kneeling before her, broken wrist held tight against her chest. Helena met her gaze. Held it. She said nothing. Her earlier words looped through Cassie's mind: I'd do it again. I've got no regrets. And felt again Helena's arms wrapping around her, comforting and warm, strong enough to hold her forever. Recalled Helena's voice shushing her, soothing her—right after she'd murdered their mother.

Cassie shifted her attention back to Devlin. He watched her through the dark fall of his hair. "Raleigh Paris," she said. "D'you hear me, loup garou?"

"Oui," Devlin growled. "I hear you, for true."

"No!" Helena exclaimed. "Cassie, this is all wrong—"

Her words ended when Devlin threw back his head and howled. The sound reverberated through the small room, lonely and full of yearning, dark and primal. The hair rose on Cassie's arms and neck.

Helena stared at Devlin, lips parted, eyes wide. Raleigh struggled frantically to push himself free of the loup garou's weight.

In seconds, Devlin stripped off his clothes. His muscles rippled.

Gabrielle strode past her morphing godson and, hand to elbow, eased Helena to her feet. "You be free, girl," she said, her gaze stern. "You weren't named. Time to go."

"No, I—" Helena began, but the mambo held her hand up to her mouth and blew the glittering dust cupped in her palm into Helena's face.

Coughing, Helena wiped at her face. The dust sparkled like tears in moonlight, like blood in the dark, like gold in a sunlit stream. Her hands fell to her sides. Her eyelids drooped.

Behind Gabrielle, the loup garou shifted; bones cracked like gunfire, and joints popped like fire; and Devlin howled, his voice full of anger, hurt, and hunger.

"Let's leave this place," Gabrielle murmured. Grasping Helena's good hand, the mambo led her from the kitchen.

Cassie pressed herself against the wall, breath caught in her throat, as she watched Devlin shape himself into a creature as much a part of the night as the moon. Gleaming fangs. Silver eyes. Black fur. Claws.

She realized she was seeing his true form—the crouching hunter silhouetted by a swollen blood-red moon. Saw flames where his heart should be.

Raleigh no longer scrabbled to get away from the loup garou. He stared, frozen, mouth open, as Devlin looked down on him, silver eyes moon-bright, lips wrinkling up on his muzzle as he snarled, saliva dripping from his fangs.

The sharp smell of piss filled the room as Raleigh's bladder let go. A dark stain spread across his jeans and down one leg.

The loup garou's muzzle dipped and, at the same moment, Raleigh threw his right arm across his own throat. The wolf bit into Raleigh's forearm, tearing into the flesh. Bone cracked beneath fangs. A high, ragged scream pierced the air. And for one heart-stopping second, Cassie wasn't sure who'd screamed—herself, lost in a nightmare replay of finding Alex on the stone-tiled floor, or his brother, caught in the werewolf's jaws.

Nosing past the damaged arm, the wolf's muzzle closed on Raleigh's throat. Blood sprayed onto the loup garou's face, into the air, and spattered hot against Cassie's throat and chest.

Heart pounding, muscles coiled, Cassie struggled to keep watching. Raleigh's feet drummed against the floor as the loup garou's muzzle burrowed into and shredded his throat. Her stomach clenched, and she swallowed hard. Raleigh gurgled. Thrashed. She remembered Alex's blood pooled and smeared on the floor. Remembered his closed eyes, the froth on his lips, his convulsing body. Tried to remember the warm feel of Alex's hand; tried to remember the sun.

But instead, the moon sucked her in, and the night swallowed her whole as she looked through the loup garou's eyes, the tang of blood in her/his mouth as she/he, no, they, abandoned Raleigh's ruined throat. Their claws and bloodied muzzle tore into the man's chest, snapping through bone. Their fangs sliced into the man's quivering heart. Tasted it. Gulped it down. Blood spread dark across the stone tiles.

The night suddenly released her, and Cassie gasped for air, pulse racing. The reek of blood, piss, and animal musk saturated the air and left the scent of death upon her clothes and skin like a too-sweet perfume.

Raleigh was still. His eyes, half-lidded, glazed. He seemed to shrink, to become smaller and thinner. Cassie stared at him, the rich and raw taste of his heart still on her tongue.

Her stomach lurched, and she looked away, her hands knotting into fists. What if she'd seen wrong? She'd been wrong about Helena, albeit not completely. Pain pierced Cassie's temple, doubled her vision for a moment. She felt something close within her, like shutters over a window.

The loup garou looked at her, silver eyes unblinking. Cassie met his gaze, then looked within and saw . . . nothing. The pain in her head faded, leaving a dull ache. A different kind of pain squeezed her heart and stole her breath. She remembered the mambo's words: Justice ain't never been free, girl.

"Are we done walking the road?" Cassie asked.

The wolf circled Raleigh's body, sniffing it, pushing at it with its muzzle. Pissed on it. After a few circuits, the wolf sat on its haunches and its body undulated, twisted in on itself.

Unable to look away, Cassie watched as Devlin shifted back into two-legged form. She winced at the painful sound of bones and joints rearranging themselves. When the metamorphosis was complete, he crouched nude on the floor, hair a wild tangle across his face. He glanced at Cassie with gleaming eyes.

"I told you, for true," he said, his voice thick and rough. "It's a long way back from hell, and we got a ways to go yet."

He stood, and Cassie's gaze swept over him, seeing in her mind the way she'd translate his lean, taut-muscled body and blood-smeared face onto paper, but that was all she saw, no matter how far into him she looked. She watched as Devlin pulled on his jeans and T-shirt, then tugged on scuffed-up scooter boots.

Bending, he eased Raleigh's limp piss-and-shit-stinking body onto his shoulder, then stood. He looked at Cassie. She stood and led him out the back door into the courtyard with its ivy-blanketed walls. Water gurgled through the white stone fountain, splashing into the small pool below—normally a musical, soothing sound, clear as wind chimes in the night. But not on this night. This night she only heard the liquid passing of time, time measured in cold water, time spilling away forever.

Crossing the courtyard, Cassie unlocked the padlock on the door leading to the street on the other side of the building. She stepped onto the sidewalk. An old battered Ford pickup was parked at the curb. She looked back at Devlin, lifted an eyebrow. He nodded. Cassie glanced up and down the sidewalk. All clear. She stepped out so Devlin could follow with his burden.

Cassie waited, hand on a cold bronze horsehead hitching post, while Devlin heaved Raleigh's body into the bed of the pickup and covered it with a tarp. She watched, feeling nothing, seeing nothing, numb inside and out—just like she'd been after Alex had been shot. Wrapped in cotton. Muffled. Unreal. Her head ached, but that was all, and even that was fading.

"Follow me."

The words shook Cassie awake like a hand to a dreamer's shoulder. She looked at Devlin and just managed to catch the keys he tossed to her.

Devlin trotted across the street to a motorcycle. It was the Harley she'd seen outside his shack. He kick-started it into rumbling life. Cassie started the pickup and followed when Devlin pulled away from the curb.

* * *

Raleigh's body splashed as it slipped into the swamp's night-blackened water. Orange lambent eyes flashed for a moment before sinking beneath the surface. The water suddenly churned.

'Gators, Cassie thought. "Justice," she murmured, throat tight. She closed her burning eyes. Made herself see—one last time—the designs Alex's blood had made on the floor, the dark spatters on his patterns and sketches.

Raleigh's voice: I didn't shoot Alex! He's my fucking brother!

Remembered: He's dead, isn't he? Cass?

And Helena's calm words: I'd do it again. I have no regrets.

"Automne be your name," Devlin murmured. "You be the twilight season caught forever between summer and winter, for true."

Fingers brushed at her temples. Cassie's eyes flew open. Devlin stood just a handspan away, his lambent eyes full of moonlight. His fingers whispered against her temples again, there and gone, but the feel of him burned against her skin.

He gazed into her—she knew he was seeing—and she tensed, felt herself knot up against him. Leaning in, he nuzzled her, rubbing his cheek against hers. His scent—musk, sweat, and night-cooled green ivy—lingered upon her face. He smelled of the deepest night, wild and hidden. He also smelled of blood—Raleigh's blood—and death.

"Sa me fait de la pain," Devlin said, his breath warm against her cheek. "Your Sight is gone. That be a hard price to pay, for true." He straightened, but remained where he was, his heat baking into her body. "Didn't I tell you to take your talent and go?" He looked away suddenly, staring into the night. "Our walk be done, for true."

Cassie nodded, then said, "I was right about Raleigh, wasn't I?" She blinked back the tears threatening to spill from her eyes. "He shot Alex—"

"Take the pickup," Devlin said, leaving her question, her doubt, unanswered. "Gabrielle, she expecting it."

"I want you to know—"

Devlin shook his head. "Go."

At the pickup, Cassie glanced back the way she'd come through the dark. Devlin had stripped and hunkered down, his pale-skinned body shifting. On all fours, he ran into the night. She watched until he was gone, a swift black shape caught for a moment in the moonlight.

* * *

Cassie held Alex's hand. The fresh fragrance of lilacs drifted through the room. The harsh coughing from the next bed had ceased—the bed empty and stripped bare. Out in the hall, voices called over the intercom, paging doctors and squawking codes. Inside, the machines monitoring Alex blipped and beeped.

Cassie drifted into half dreams of the night and the moon, of autumn fires and gleaming eyes, of a black wolf and a man. But in her hands, she cupped the sun. A sun she could no longer see.

Caught forever between, the loup garou and her, trapped between skin and fur, sun and moon, justice and vision. Maybe the walk along hell's road never truly ended.

Grief squatted like a gargoyle on Cassie's heart. Her Michelangelo would need a new apprentice. And his brother was gone forever. But maybe Raleigh had vanished the moment he'd pulled the trigger. And Helena? The tiger defending the sleeping cub? Cassie didn't know. She hadn't spoken to or even seen her sister since the mambo had led her from the kitchen.

Murder was murder, wasn't it? Killing for love no cleaner than killing out of envy, no cleaner than asking another to kill for you.

Wasn't it?

Shaking free of her half dreams, Cassie glanced down into eyes of deepest blue, cool and soothing: a mountain lake; a twilight sky just before the stars sparked to life. Her breath caught in her throat.

Alex had opened his eyes.

* * *

Adrian Nikolas Phoenix is the author of several stories.

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