Shadow Kin: A Novel of the Half-Light City

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9780451464040: Shadow Kin: A Novel of the Half-Light City

On one side, the Night World, rules by the Blood Lords and the Beast Kind. On the other, the elusive Fae and the humans, protected by their steadfast mages...

Born a wraith, Lily is a shadow who slips between worlds. Brought up by a Blood Lord and raised to be his assassin, she is little more than a slave. But when Lily meets her match in target Simon DuCaine, the unlikely bond that develops between them threatens to disrupt an already stretched peace in a city on the verge of being torn apart...

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

M. J. Scott is the author of the The Shattered Court and the Half-Light City novels: Shadow Kin, Blood Kin, Iron Kin, and Fire Kin. She is an unrepentant bookworm. Luckily, Scott grew up in a family that fed her a properly varied diet of books, and these days she's surrounded by people who are understanding of her story addiction. When not wrestling with one of her own stories, she can generally be found reading someone else’s. Her other distractions include yarn, cat butlering, dark chocolate, and fabric. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.

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

Chapter One

The wards sparked in front of me, faint violet against the dark wooden door with its heavy brass locks, proclaiming the house's protection. They wouldn't stop me. No one has yet made the lock or ward to keep me out. Magic cannot detect me, and brick and stone and metal are no barrier.

It's why I'm good at what I do.

A grandfather clock in the hall chimed two as I stepped into the shadow, entering the place only my kind can walk and passing through the door as though it wasn't there. Outside came the echoing toll of the cathedral bell, much louder here in Greenglass than in the Night World boroughs I usually frequent.

I'd been told that the one I was to visit lived alone. But I prefer not to believe everything I'm told. After all, I grew up among the Blood and the powers of the Night World, where taking things on faith is a quick way to die.

Besides, bystanders only make things complicated.

But tonight, I sensed I was alone as I moved carefully through the darkened rooms. The house had an elegant simplicity. The floors were polished wood, softened by fine wool rugs, and paintings hung on the unpapered walls. Plants flourished on any spare flat surface, tingeing the air with the scent of growth and life. I hoped someone would save them after my task here was completed. The Fae might deny me the Veiled World, but the part of me that comes from them shares their affinity for green growing things.

Apart from the damp greenness of the plants, there was only one other dominant scent in the air. Human. Male. Warm and spicy.

Alive. Live around the Blood for long enough and you become very aware of the differences between living and dead. No other fresh smell mingled with his. No cats or dogs. Just fading hints of an older female gone for several hours. Likely a cook or housekeeper who didn't live in.

I paused at the top of the staircase, counting doors carefully. Third on the left. A few more strides. I cocked my head, listening.

There.

Ever so faint, the thump of a human heartbeat. Slow. Even.

Asleep.

Good. Asleep is easier.

I drifted through the bedroom door and paused again. The room was large, walled on one side with floor-to-ceiling windows unblocked by any blind. Expensive, that much glass. Moonlight streamed through the panes, making it easy to see the man lying in the big bed.

I didn't know what he'd done. I never ask. The blade doesn't question the direction of the cut. Particularly when the blade belongs to Lucius. Lucius doesn't like questions.

I let go of the shadow somewhat. I was not yet truly solid, but enough that, if he were to wake, he would see my shape by the bed like the reflection of a dream. Or a nightmare.

The moonlight washed over his face, silvering skin and fading hair to shades of gray, making it hard to tell what he might look like in daylight. Tall, yes. Well formed if the arm and chest bared by the sheet he'd pushed away in sleep matched the rest of him.

Not that it mattered. He'd be beyond caring about his looks in a few minutes. Beyond caring about anything.

The moon made things easier even though, in the shadow, I see well in very little light. Under the silvered glow I saw the details of the room as clearly as if the gas lamps on the walls were alight.

The windows posed little risk. The town house stood separated from its neighbors by narrow strips of garden on each side and a much larger garden at the rear. There was a small chance someone in a neighboring house might see something, but I'd be long gone before they could raise an alarm.

His breath continued to flow, soft and steady, and I moved around the bed, seeking a better angle for the strike as I let myself grow more solid still, so I could grasp the dagger at my hip.

Legend says we kill by reaching into a man's chest and tearing out his heart. It's true, we can. I've even done it. Once.

At Lucius' demand and fearing death if I disobeyed.

It wasn't an act I ever cared to repeat. Sometimes, on the edge of sleep, I still shake thinking about the sensation of living flesh torn from its roots beneath my fingers.

So I use a dagger. Just as effective. Dead is dead, after all.

I counted his heartbeats as I silently slid my blade free. He was pretty, this one. A face of interesting angles that looked strong even in sleep. Strong and somehow happy. Generous lips curved up slightly as if he were enjoying a perfect dream.

Not a bad way to die, all things considered.

I unshadowed completely and lifted the dagger, fingers steady on the hilt as he took one last breath.

But even as the blade descended, the room blazed to light around me and a hand snaked out like a lightning bolt and clamped around my wrist.

"Not so fast," the man said in a calm tone.

I tried to shadow and my heart leaped to my throat as nothing happened.

"Just to clarify," he said. "Those lamps. Not gas. Sunlight."

"Sunmage," I hissed, rearing back as my pulse went into overdrive. How had Lucius left out that little detail? Or maybe he hadn't. Maybe Ricco had left it out on purpose when he'd passed on my assignment. He hated me. I wouldn't put it past him to try to engineer my downfall.

Damn him to the seven bloody night-scalded depths of hell.

The man smiled at me, though there was no amusement in the expression. "Precisely."

I twisted, desperate to get free. His hand tightened, and pain shot through my wrist and up my arm.

"Drop the dagger."

I set my teeth and tightened my grip. Never give up your weapon.

"I said, drop it." The command snapped as he surged out of the bed, pushing me backward and my arm above my head at a nasty angle.

The pain intensified, like heated wires slicing into my nerves. "Sunmages are supposed to be healers," I managed to gasp as I struggled and the sunlight—hells-damned sunlight—filled the room, caging me as effectively as iron bars might hold a human.

I swung at him with my free arm, but he blocked the blow, taking its force on his forearm without a wince. He fought far too well for a healer. Who was this man?

"Ever consider that being a healer means being exposed to hundreds of ways to hurt people? Don't make me hurt you. Put the knife down."

I swore and flung myself forward, swinging my free hand at his face again. But he moved too, fast and sure, and somehow—damn, he was good—I missed, my hand smacking into the wall. I twisted desperately as the impact sent a shock wave up my arm, but the light dazzled me as I looked directly into one of the lamps.

A split second is all it takes to make a fatal mistake.

Before I could blink, he had pulled me forward and round and I sailed through the air to land facedown on the feather mattress, wind half knocked out of me. My free hand was bent up behind my back, and my other—still holding my dagger—was pinned by his to the pillow.

My heart raced in anger and humiliation and fear as I tried to breathe.

Sunmage.

I was an idiot. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Stupid and careless.

His knee pushed me deeper into the mattress, making it harder still to breathe.

"Normally I don't get this forward when I haven't been introduced," he said, voice warm and low, close to my ear. He still sounded far too calm. A sunmage healer shouldn't be so sanguine about finding an assassin in his house. Though perhaps he wasn't quite as calm as he seemed. His heart pounded. "But then again, normally, women I don't know don't try to stab me in my bed."

I snarled and he increased the pressure. There wasn't much I could do. I'm faster and stronger than a human woman, but there's a limit to what a female of five foot six can do against a man nearly a foot taller and quite a bit heavier. Particularly with my powers cut off by the light of the sun.

Damned hells-cursed sunlight.

"I'll take that." His knee shifted upward to pin both my arm and my back, and his free hand wrenched the dagger from my grasp.

Then, to my surprise, his weight vanished. It took a few seconds for me to register my freedom. By the time I rolled to face him, he stood at the end of the bed and my dagger quivered in the wall far across the room. To make matters worse, the sunlight now flickered off the ornately engraved barrel of the pistol in his right hand.

It was aimed squarely at the center of my forehead. His hand was perfectly steady, as though holding someone at gunpoint was nothing greatly out of the ordinary for him. For a man wearing nothing but linen drawers, he looked convincingly threatening.

I froze. Would he shoot? If our places were reversed, he'd already be dead.

"Wise decision," he said, eyes still cold. "Now. Why don't you tell me what this is about?"

"Do you think that's likely?"

One corner of his mouth lifted and a dimple cracked to life in his cheek. My assessment had been right. He was pretty. Pretty and dangerous, it seemed. The arm that held the gun was, like the rest of him, sleek with muscle. The sort that took concerted effort to obtain. Maybe he was one of the rare sunmages who became warriors? But the house seemed far too luxurious for a Templar or a mercenary, and his hands and body were bare of Templar sigils.

Besides, I doubted Lucius would set me on a Templar. That would be madness.

So, who the hell was this man?

When I stayed silent, the pistol waved back and forth in a warning gesture. "I have this," he said. "Plus, I am, as you mentioned, a sunmage." As if to emphasize his point, the lamps flared a little brighter. "Start talking."

I considered him carefully. The sunlight revealed his skin as golden, his hair a gilded shade of light brown, and his eyes a bright, bright blue. A true creature of the day. No wonder Lucius wanted him dead. I currently felt a considerable desire for that outcome myself. I scanned the rest of the room, seeking a means to escape.

A many-drawered wooden chest, a table covered with papers with a leather-upholstered chair tucked neatly against it, and a large wardrobe all made simply in the same dark reddish wood offered no inspiration. Some sort of ferny plant in a stand stood in one corner, and paintings—landscapes and studies of more plants—hung over the bed and the table. Nothing smaller than the furniture, nothing I could use as a weapon, lay in view. Nor was there anything to provide a clue as to who he might be.

"I can hear you plotting all the way over here," he said with another little motion of the gun. "Not a good idea. In fact..." The next jerk of the pistol was a little more emphatic, motioning me toward the chair as he hooked it out from the table with his foot. "Take a seat. Don't bother trying anything stupid like attempting the window. The glass is warded. You'll just hurt yourself."

Trapped in solid form, I couldn't argue with that. The lamps shone with a bright unwavering light and his face showed no sign of strain. Even his heartbeat had slowed to a more steady rhythm now that we were no longer fighting. A sunmage calling sunlight at night. Strong. Dangerously strong.

Not to mention armed when I wasn't.

I climbed off the bed and stalked over to the chair.

He tied my arms and legs to their counterparts on the chair with neck cloths. Tight enough to be secure but carefully placed so as not to hurt. He had to be a healer. A mercenary wouldn't care if he hurt me. A mercenary probably would've killed me outright.

When he was done he picked up a pair of buckskin trousers and a rumpled linen shirt from the floor and dressed quickly. Then he took a seat on the end of the bed, picked up the gun once again, and aimed directly at me.

Blue eyes stared at me for a long minute, something unreadable swimming in their depths. Then he nodded.

"Shall we try this again? Why are you here?"

There wasn't any point lying about it. "I was sent to kill you."

"I understand that much. The reason is what escapes me."

I lifted a shoulder. Let him make what he would of the gesture. I had no idea why Lucius had sent me after a sunmage.

"You didn't ask?"

"Why would I?" I said, surprised by the question.

He frowned. "You just kill whoever you're told to? It doesn't matter why?"

"I do as I'm ordered." Disobedience would only bring pain. Or worse.

His head tilted, suddenly intent. His gaze was uncomfortable, and it was hard to shake the feeling he saw more than I wanted. "You should seek another line of work."

As if I had a choice. I looked away from him, suddenly angry. Who was he to judge me?

"Back to silence, is it? Very well, let's try another tack. This isn't, by chance, about that Rousselline pup I stitched up a few weeks ago?"

Pierre Rousselline was alpha of one of the Beast Kind packs. He and Lucius didn't always exist in harmony. But I doubted Lucius would kill over the healing of a young Beast. A sunmage, one this strong—if his claim of being able to maintain the light until dawn were true—was an inherently risky target, even for a Blood lord. Even for the Blood Lord.

So, what had this man—who was, indeed, a healer if he spoke the truth—done?

His brows lifted when I didn't respond. "You really don't know, do you? Well. Damn."

The "damn" came out as a half laugh. There was nothing amusing in the situation that I could see. Either he was going to kill me or turn me over to the human authorities or I was going to have to tell Lucius I had failed. Whichever option came to pass, nothing good awaited me. I stayed silent.

"Some other topic of conversation, then?" He regarded me with cool consideration. "I presume, given that my sunlight seems to be holding you, that I'm right in assuming that you are Lucius' shadow?"

I nodded. There was little point denying it with his light holding me prisoner. There were no others of my kind in the City. Only a wraith is caged by the light of the sun.

A smile spread over his face, revealing he had two dimples, not one. Not just pretty, I decided. He was... alluring wasn't the right word. The Blood and the Fae are alluring—an attraction born of icy beauty and danger. I am immune to that particularly charm. No, he was... inviting somehow. A fire on a winter's night, promising warmth and life.

His eyes held genuine curiosity. "You're really a wraith?"

"Yes."

He laughed and the sound was sunlight, warm and golden, a smooth caress against the skin.

"Is that so amusing?"

"If the stories are to believed, you're supposed to be ten feet tall with fangs and claws."

I tilted my head. "I am not Blood or Beast Kind. No fangs. Or claws."

He looked over my shoulder, presumably at my dagger. "Just one perhaps? But really... no one ever said you were—" He stopped abruptly.

"What?" The question rose from my lips before I could stop myself.

This time his smile was crooked. "Beautiful."

I snorted. Beautiful? Me? No. I knew that well enough. The Fae are beautiful and even the Blood in their own way. I am only odd with gray eyes—a color no Fae or true demi-Fae ever had—and red hair that stands out like a beacon amongst the silvery hues of the Blood. "That's because I'm not."

He looked surprised. "I know the Blood...

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