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The Taste of Night

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The Taste of Night

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Author: Vicki Pettersson
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2007
Series: The Signs of the Zodiac: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Equal parts Light and Shadow, Joanna Archer must fulfill a destiny she never wanted. Once a photographer and heiress to a casino fortune, she is now dedicated to the cause of good... but susceptible to the seductions of evil.

A deadly virus is descending on Las Vegas--a terrifying plague unleashed by the powerful overlord of Zodiac's dark side: Joanna's father. Chaos and panic grip Sin City as agents of Light fall prey to the terrifying epidemic. Death reigns supreme--and Joanna stands at dead center of an epic and terrible war long foretold, the last hope of a damned world.

But first she must somehow conquer the malevolence that grows all around her... and within.


"You know who I really am." Though surprised at his use of my real name, I stated it as fact ... because the real question was how?

He smiled in mock sympathy, and began that slow head nod again. "Kinda puts a hitch in your five-year plan, doesn't it?"

I clenched my jaw, but said nothing. Shadows were braggarts, down to the last, and while annoying, it was something I might be able to use to my advantage. Keep him talking, buy enough time to signal Vanessa, and we could corner him and escort him outside to his death. If that failed? I'd shoot him where he stood.

"You're the first real Shadow I've seen face-to-face in a long time," I began conversationally, though the taunt was spot on. For some reason our enemies had been laying low for the past six months, a move that spoke of a blanket command. I knew that couldn't sit well with all the Shadows, and was right in suspecting Liam was one of them. His eyes narrowed and the air around us warmed, peppery cinders bleeding from his pores. "I mean ... you are a real Shadow, aren't you? Not just some rogue agent looking to score brownie points with the local troop?"

His face tightened at the insinuation. Rogue agents were outcasts looking to usurp their counterparts in a city's established troop and nobody on either side of the Zodiac liked to be compared, much less mistaken for what essentially amounted to a paranormal mutt. "I'm more real," he said through clenched teeth, "than most of the breasts in this room."

"Prove it," I said, shooting an unconcerned glance around the room. I didn't see Vanessa anywhere. "What raids have you led lately?"

As expected, he was anxious to brag. "I was responsible for the showgirls held hostage at the top of the Trop at the beginning of the year."

"That was you?" I feigned interest, having caught sight of Vanessa ruminating over a tray of crab cakes, and he nodded while I waited for her to turn. "Not very original."

The smile dropped. "I also devised the implosion of the new Cirque showroom."

That'd been two months earlier, a paranormal prank that'd spilled hundreds of gallons of water out and onto the Strip. "We should've let that one go." I said, philosophically.

"Clean up was a bitch, was it?" he said, referring to the lengths we'd had to go to keep the entire event from mortal notice.

"Not really," I said, shrugging. Vanessa had turned my way to grab a champagne flute from a passing waiter. Now all I had to do was catch her eye. "But like we need another fucking Cirque show in this town."

"Okay, then," He licked his lips, provoked. " How about the theft of the mayor's gin back in March?"

He smiled when an involuntary shuddered up my spine. The mayor and his damned martinis. The entire city's coffers had nearly gone to the first person to come up with a bottle of Tanqueray. "That was a close one," I had to admit.

His arrogance returned. "So. Been taking many photographs lately, Joanna? 'Raising awareness of the homeless and displaced through you art'," he quoted, and it was my turn to stiffen. Those words had been in my obituary six months earlier. "But Olivia doesn't take photos, does she? Though plenty are taken of her."

I feigned a yawn, like his words – and knowledge – didn't matter. "I've been kinda busy lately. You know. Saving Las Vegas from evil beings bent on chaos and destruction."

"You mean tourists?" Liam grinned at my unamused stare. "Wouldn't it be so much easier to protect these mortals if it weren't for the whole 'free will' thing?"

"Forgive me if I don't get into the moral responsibility of promoting individual choice with a guy who takes his orders from an evil overlord."

"An overlord, I should remind you, who's also your father."

People just loved to throw my fucked up parentage in my face.

"So is that why you're here? Dear ol' Dad send you to convince me to turn to the dark side of the force?" I rolled my eyes and caught Vanessa heading toward the Henshalls. Damn.

"Actually I wanted to see for myself what all the excitement was about."†And he looked me up and down, doing just that.

His curiosity didn't surprise me. I was something new after all. Something spoken about in the superhero mythology and written about in our texts, but that no one on either side of the Zodiac has ever seen before. I was the first star sign who'd ever been both Shadow and Light, the person our mythology called the Kairos, and the fulcrum upon which the supernatural fates hinged. Basically I could tip the metaphysical scales in the favor of whatever side I chose, Shadow or Light, which made me a valuable commodity in the paranormal world.

"And?" I finally said, resisting the urge to cross my arms over my chest.

Liam leaned close in a way that must have looked intimate and wolfish from afar. "I think you're the biggest joke I've ever seen. I think you've as much chance of being the Kairos as my dirty socks. And I think you should die for even breathing the same air as I am right now."

"Then it's a good thing," I slowly said, "that I don't give a fuck what you think."

And now my parental heritage pushed itself to the forefront, soot and dust overpowering his own scent as my vision went red at the edges, telling me my eyes had gone tar black.

If Liam was startled, he didn't show it. He just reached out very slowly and put a hand to my face, resting it on the side of my cheek. I let him, just to show I was unafraid and, truly, I felt no fear just then. I could reach up and snap his wrist before anyone in the room blinked, but I let him touch me, feeling philosophical about the whole thing. Soon enough, I was going to touch him back.

He let his hand rest before patting my cheek hard enough to sting, and I was sure, to leave a red mark there as well. "You've got the balls of your father, I'll give you that. Do you know he was actually proud of the way you took care of Ajax and Butch? A Shadow, proud of the Light." He shook his head, and scoffed. "But I want to see what you've learned since then. I wonder, do you know how to do more than just fight?"

"Like what?"

He let his gaze wander off over my shoulder, as if he was pondering the eternal question, and when his eyes returned to mine, they were smiling with the answer. "Like ... run."

Run? I was going to ask, but he was gone before I could take the breath. I swiveled as the air rushed past me, caught myself before I darted after him. People were watching me. Plus it was already too late. Liam was already halfway to his destination; a normal door with a red-lettered exit sign fixed above it, but with another symbol above that, one noticeable only to those who knew how to look.

I cursed inwardly and bit my lip as I stared at the tiny variable star winking above the archway, marking it as a portal. Once Liam opened it, he shot a final victorious glance back at me, then slammed it so hard the room's chandeliers rocked, and the champagne flutes shook on their trays. I sighed inwardly. Even the mortals had noticed that.

More importantly, the star above the doorway flickered, then blinked out. Portals disappeared as soon as they were accessed, a paranormal precaution against mortals accidentally getting through ... and proof positive the Universe had a twisted sense of humor.

Run, Liam had said. But what he meant was follow. And even though my instincts told me not to, that a trap awaited me on the other side of reality, I didn't have much of a choice. Either I stopped Liam before he got too far, or my hidden identity would spread across the paranormal world like napalm across the rainforest.

And if that happened, Kairos or not, my troop would place me in a secured holding cell to wake up a week from now with an entirely new identity, and alias, to get used to. That'd be the end of the relationships I'd been working on so hard these last six months. Goodbye to Cher. Goodbye to the life I'd built.

Goodbye to Olivia.

And that wasn't going to happen. So I said nothing to Vanessa, who was staring hard at Lena Carradine's lip implants, and slipped out of the room when no one was looking. And once outside – even in skyscraper heels – I did as Liam wanted. I ran.

Copyright © 2007 by Vicki Pettersson


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