Kelley Armstrong Otherworld Secrets

ISBN 13: 9780356500676

Otherworld Secrets

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9780356500676: Otherworld Secrets

For fans of Kelley Armstrong's beloved, bestselling series, an exciting collection of novellas and stories, both original and chosen by the author, featuring her Otherworld characters in heart-stopping, pulse-racing action.
     Globe and Mail and New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong captivated readers with her thirteen-novel Women of the Otherworld series of supernatural thrillers. Though the series is over, her characters live on, not only for her fans but for Kelley herself. In this new collection of deeply enjoyable, compulsively readable novellas and short stories, she throws her wonderful characters deep into tricky situations that test not only their ability to safely navigate danger but also their relationships with each other.
     On top of these treats, she also offers her readers a terrific, brand-new novella featuring Karl and Hope, on what just may be Karl's last heist.

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About the Author:

KELLEY ARMSTRONG is the internationally bestselling author of the thirteen-book Women of the Otherworld series, the Nadia Stafford crime novels and her new series set in the fictional town of Cainsville, Illinois, and which so far includes the novels Omens, Visions and Deceptions. She is also the author of two #1 New York Times bestselling young adult trilogies, Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising, and has just launched a new YA fantasy series with Sea of Shadows. She lives in rural Ontario.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Cainsville Series

Omens

Visions

Deceptions

The Otherworld Series

Bitten

Stolen

Dime Store Magic

Industrial Magic

Haunted

Broken

No Humans Involved

Personal Demon

Living with the Dead

Frostbitten

Waking the Witch

Spell Bound

Thirteen

The Nadia Stafford Series

Exit Strategy

Made to Be Broken

Wild Justice

The Darkest Power Series

The Summoning

The Awakening

The Reckoning

The Darkness Rising Series

The Gathering

The Calling

The Rising

Story Collections

Men of the Otherworld

Tales of the Otherworld

Otherworld Nights

eSpecials

The Hunter and the Hunted

About the Author

Also by Kelley Armstrong

Title Page

Copyright

PROLOGUE

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

1. MORGAN

2.

3. JESSICA

4. ELENA

5.

6. JESSICA

7. ELENA

8.

9. MORGAN

10. ELENA

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

17. MORGAN

18. ELENA

19. MORGAN

20. ELENA

21. MORGAN

22. ELENA

23.

24.

25.

26.

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

1. HOME SWEET HOME

2. HEDGING A BET

3. CRUSADER CRUSH

4. DIVVYING UP DUTIES

5. THE FIRST RULE OF FIGHT CLUB

6. ROUND ONE

7. BLACK MAGIC WOMAN

8. TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

9. UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT

10. THE ART OF BLACKMAIL

11. BROTHERLY LOVE

12. FOLLOW THE MONEY

13. HOMEWARD BOUND

14. WAKING NIGHTMARE

15. DRAGON’S BLOOD AND BUCKTHORN

16. CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS

17. MAINTAINING THE CHARADE

LIFE AFTER THEFT

PROLOGUE

Sharon Avery settled her large frame into a chair on Fredrick Birkan’s rooftop deck and gazed down the mountainside at Lake Geneva. How much money did one need to own a house in the Swiss Alps? Enough that she was quickly recalculating the price of the goods she was about to offer Birkan.

Birkan came out the French door and handed her a glass of wine and then set a plate of cheeses on the patio table. He made the requisite small talk. She replied by rote. Idle chatter really wasn’t her thing, but Birkan was the kind of man who’d dismiss her as a crass American if she got right down to business.

Finally, he broached the subject himself, swirling his wine before saying, ever so casually, “I took a chance inviting you to my home, Ms. Avery. You are a stranger to me and I do not usually invite strangers here. But I made a rare exception, based on your excellent professional reputation.”

That was a lie. According to her sources, he said the same thing to every potential new business associate, to make them feel both honored and obliged to live up to his expectations. And, she presumed, so he could show off his estate—a don’t-fuck-with-me display of his wealth and power in the supernatural community.

“I will admit,” Birkan continued, “when you first contacted me, I thought it was a joke. The item you offered . . . well, it is not exactly easy to obtain.”

“I wouldn’t offer it to you if it was,” she said. “That would be an insult to the quality of your collection.”

He nodded, pleased. “Yet you believe you can obtain it? While you have a sterling reputation, I am told it is impossible, even for a master thief.”

“True, but I’ve come into some information that will make it much easier. And I have a particular thief in mind. One whose reputation surpasses even my own.”

She reached into her briefcase and passed him a file folder. As he read the first page, his brows shot up.

“Karl Marsten? The werewolf?”

“Is that a problem?”

“He is notoriously difficult to hire. I have tried myself and have not even been able to arrange a meeting with him.”

“I can get you one.”

Birkan tapped the folder. “So he has not truly retired?”

Avery smiled. “Oh, he says he has. But I believe we can persuade him to take one last job.”

ONE

As I edited the piece on chupacabra sightings, I sipped my decaf coffee and ignored the disapproving looks from the sales director. A week ago, she had informed me—complete with Web links—that even decaf contained caffeine and I was endangering the life of my unborn child. I’d pointed out that I’d drunk decaf all through my pregnancy with Nita, whereupon she’d made some snide comment about my daughter’s high activity levels. I ignored that. Nita had a werewolf and a chaos half-demon for parents—one couldn’t expect her to sit quietly for long.

I returned my attention to the article, written by an intern who apparently had managed to get through college without learning the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” I had only myself to blame, given that I’d hired him. I’m now the editor at True News, which would be far more impressive if I hadn’t been promoted during a downsizing, when they’d decided I could handle the position while still being lead reporter. But it’s a miracle we’re open at all—World Weekly News stopped publishing years ago when the Internet began fulfilling the public’s appetite for “Proof of Elvis on Mars!” stories.

When my phone rang, I answered with, “Hope Adams.” My brother, Joel, laughed and said, “You guys can’t afford call display?”

“No, I can’t afford the two seconds it takes to look at it. I’m rewriting an intern’s piece and lamenting the state of the modern education system. Which makes me feel very old.”

“Maybe so, but I’ll join you in that lament. I just hired two MBAs who don’t know how to write a proper business letter. Which segues nicely into the reason for my call. Good employees are hard to find, and when you do find one, you do everything in your power to keep him. I need you to talk to your husband.”

“I thought Karl was working out well.”

“Better than well. I had three guys working on a security plan for weeks, and they couldn’t meet the specs. In two days, Karl had it done. The client was ecstatic.”

“Okay . . .”

“Then I put him on this project protecting something called the Anatolian Hoard. It’s supposedly cursed, so figured he’d get a kick out of it, given what you do for a living.”

“So what happened?”

Silence. Then, “He didn’t tell you? He quit.”

“What?”

“I gave him the project yesterday morning. He started work on it. Then, after lunch, he tells me he wanted to go back into sales. I tried to talk him out of it, but you know your husband. I may be his boss, but with Karl that’s a technicality. Which is where you come in. Will you talk to him? Please?”

When I married Karl, I knew exactly what he was. Not just a werewolf, but a jewel thief. Hell, I’d met him because I’d been hired to foil one of his museum heists. So there were no illusions. And the fact that he retired from the life six months ago has nothing to do with me. In fact, if I had my way, he’d still be stealing jewels, because that’s his life—it’s how he’s lived since his father died when he was fifteen. More important, it’s how he works off the nastier instincts that come with being a werewolf. Instead of chasing human prey, he chases the glittering variety, getting his adrenaline rush from that. Nobody understands the importance of that sublimation better than me, as a half-demon who craves the same rush.

Karl had begun talking about retiring when Nita was born. He’d been shot in the head a couple of days before her birth, while I’d been taken captive, our unborn daughter held as “ransom” to get my father’s—Lucifer’s—attention. All that had nothing to do with Karl’s profession, but it still put things in perspective, and he’d wanted to make changes, starting by quitting the life.

I’d convinced him there was no point. He took only a few jobs a year, all out of country, and it would be years before Nita started asking questions. Then we’d started working on having another baby, and he’d barely broached the subject of quitting again when we had an . . . incident. It was at a Pack Meet. The youngest Pack member, Noah, had asked Karl to show him a few tricks, because he was taking law enforcement in college, so he was curious. Karl obliged. Nita watched. Then we returned home to discover her luggage contained two books, a stuffed animal, and a necklace that she’d stolen from the Danvers twins.

Nita had been very proud of herself, regaling her father with the story as best a three-year-old can tell one. She’d gotten a long talk about the notion of private property and a trip back to Stonehaven to return the items with apologies. The twins had been very impressed and made her show them how she’d done it—getting the books and toy from a high shelf and the jewelry from around Kate’s neck. Elena and Jeremy had been amused. Clayton was not. But one person was even more appalled than Clay: Karl. When we got home Sunday night, he’d called my brother to see if his long-standing offer of employment still stood.

TWO

After Joel’s call, I packed in my editing early and headed out to find Karl and Nita.

After Nita was born, we’d moved from a condo to a house . . . the sort of home that befits two people with very healthy bank accounts. Not some obscenely tacky modern mansion—that isn’t Karl’s style or mine. It’s an early twentieth-century two-story on an acre of land, backing onto a ravine. The money went into the location—a neighborhood dating back almost to the time my dad’s family landed on the Mayflower. And by “dad,” I mean Will Adams, the man who raised me, not my biological father. Dad’s family may be old, but compared with Lucifer’s, they’re strictly new blood.

Given the time, Karl and Nita would be at the park. Karl worked only part-time for Joel, doing as much as possible from home, because he was the primary caregiver for our daughter. As he says, there’s only a brief window before kids go off to school, and it’s an experience he’s never going to get again.

Even from the parking lot, I could see my husband. In a sea of au pairs, nannies, and mothers, the only man stuck out. Not that Karl wouldn’t stick out anyway. He’s fifty-six, but werewolves age slowly, so he looks more like a forty-year-old guy in prime condition: six feet tall, well built, wavy black hair barely touched with silver, and a face that belongs on the silver screen. Of course, being married to him, I could be biased, but the looks he got from the other caregivers said I was not.

As Karl watched Nita on the climbers, a couple of the twenty-something nannies stood nearby, trying to catch his attention and failing miserably. When Karl switches on the charm, he’s undeniable, which is why he’d made a good salesman. Yet it really is a switch, and when it’s off, that’s a hint: leave him alone or you’ll wish you had.

When he saw me, that somber expression broke into a smile and he turned . . . just as Nita attempted to leap across three bars. I yelped a warning, but Karl was already in flight, catching her as deftly as if he’d never taken his eyes off her, which he hadn’t, not completely.

“Oh, your nanny’s here,” one of the women said, adding, “Finally,” with a look that told me I really shouldn’t force my poor boss to—God forbid—take care of his own child.

As for why she presumed I was the nanny, let’s just say that every other woman of color in that playground was caring for someone else’s kids. My mother is Indo-American, and being half-demon means I get my looks from her. That’s when Nita spotted me and let out a whoop of “Mommy!” diving from Karl’s arms. I scooped her up as Karl came over and kissed me, and the nannies decided they really ought to get back to, you know, actually watching the kids they were being paid to watch.

“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” Nita sang as she hugged me tight enough to inhibit breathing. “Did you see me jump?”

“I saw you nearly fall.”

“Daddy caught me.”

“Daddy won’t always be there to catch you,” I said, ignoring the look on Karl’s face that said he damned well would be. “You need to be more careful. Or you’ll take a tumble and—”

“Break my arm,” she said, giggling. “Kate broke her arm. I want to break mine.”

“No, you do not.”

“I never broke a bone. I want to.”

“To see what it’s like? I’ll tell you. It hurts.”

She shrugged, as if this was inconsequential compared with the thrill of a new experience, and I cursed Lucifer for that. When Nita was born, my demon father said she would inherit some of my chaos hunger, making it more manageable for me. Which it is, but it’s left my daughter with a thirst for adventure that keeps us very, very busy. This is as bad as it will get, though, and if pressed I’ll admit that’s not such a horrible thing, and it’s not entirely the fault of my genes. If I were too worried, I certainly wouldn’t be having a second child.

“Park done, Daddy.” Nita twisted in my arms and launched herself back at her father. “Ice cream time.”

“I believe ice cream is on Tuesdays,” he said. “Today is Thursday.”

“Mommy’s having a baby. She needs ice cream. My book says so. Milk and cheese and ice cream for . . .” Her face screwed up.

“Calcium,” I said.

“Calcium!” she said, screeching the word like she’d found a new toy. “Calcium, calcium, calcium. Mommy needs calcium. Mommy needs ice cream.”

“You’re right,” Karl said. “So we’ll buy Mommy some. You and I will sit and watch—”

“No! Daddy watch. Mommy and Nita eat. Need calcium, calcium, calcium!” She wriggled down, saying, “Slide!” and then took off for one last ride, running and singing at the top of her lungs.

“She’s such a deeply unhappy child,” Karl said. “I don’t know where we went wrong.”

I laughed. Nita does have a temper—no idea where that came from—but the best word to describe our daughter is exuberant. I watched her run off, black curls streaming behind her. If the nannies were surprised she was my daughter, they needed glasses. Her big blue eyes are Karl’s, but otherwise she has my hair, my features, and skin only a shade lighter. Also, sadly, she has inherited her mother’s size, meaning we’ve just barely gotten out of the infants’ section.

Karl took my hand, entwining it in his as we walked. When we first started dating—after two years of being friends—he’d have no more held my hand in public than he’d have worn brown shoes with black trousers. I won’t say marriage and kids have mellowed him, but they’ve calmed something in his core. It is the realization of a goal he never allowed himself to even acknowledge. He had a stable life now—with territory and family—and public displays of affection declared that this was his choice and he was happy with it.

His hand tightened around mine. “I’d ask if you got done early, but I know that never happens. Was it work you could bring home?”

I nodded.

“Excellent timing. Nita goes ...

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