Hunters prayer, p.28
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       Hunter's Prayer, p.28

           Lilith Saintcrow
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  Apparently dental work wasn’t part of the contract he’d made with whatever hellbreed had given him supernatural strength and the ability to set shit on fire at a thousand paces.

  I brought my knee up, hard.

  The hellbreed this particular Trader had bargained with hadn’t given him an athletic cup, either. The bony part of my knee sank into his crotch, meeting precious little resistance, so hard something popped.

  It didn’t sound like much fun.

  The Trader’s eyes rolled up and he immediately let go of my trachea. I promptly added injury to insult by clocking him on the side of the head with a knifehilt. I didn’t slip the knife between his ribs because I wanted to bring him in alive.

  What can I say? Maybe I was in a good mood.

  Besides, I had other worries. For one, the burning warehouse.

  Smoke roiled thick in the choking air, and the rushing crackle of flames almost drowned out the screams coming from the girl handcuffed to a support pole. She was wasting both good energy and usable air by screaming, almost out of her mind with fear. Bits of burning building plummeted to the concrete floor. I gained my feet with a convulsive lurch, eyes streaming, and clapped the silver-plated cuffs on the Trader’s skinny wrists. He was on the scrawny end of junkie-thin, moaning and writhing as I wrenched his hands away from his genitals and behind his back.

  I would have told him he was under arrest, but I didn’t have the breath. I scooped up the handle of the bullwhip and vaulted a stack of wooden boxes, their sides beginning to steam and smoke with the heat. My steel-reinforced bootheels clattered and I skidded to a stop, giving her a once-over while my fingers stowed the whip.

  Mousy brown hair, check. Big blue eyes, check. Mole high up on her right cheek, check.

  “Regan Smith.” I coughed, getting a good lungful of smoke. My back burned with pain and something flaming hit the floor less than a yard away. “Your mom sent me to find you.”

  She didn’t hear me. She was too busy screaming.

  I grabbed at the handcuffs as she tried to scramble away, fetching up hard against the support pole. She even tried to kick me. Good girl. Bet you gave that asshole a run for his money. I curled my fingers around the cuffs on either side and gave a quick short yank.

  The scar on my right wrist ran with prickling heat, pumping strength into my fingers. The cuffs burst, and the girl immediately tried to bolt. She was hysterical with fear and wiry-strong, choking, screaming whenever she could get enough air. The roar of the fire drowned out any reassurance I might have given her, and my long leather trenchcoat was beginning to smoke. I was carrying enough ammo to make things interesting in here if it got hot enough.

  Not to mention the fact that the girl was only human. She would roast alive before I got really uncomfortable. I’d promised her mother I’d bring her back, if it was at all possible.

  Promises like that are hell on hunters.

  I snapped a quick glance over my shoulder at the Trader lying cuffed on the floor. He appeared to be passed out, but they’re tricky fuckers. You don’t negotiate a successful bargain with a hellbreed without being slippery.

  The roof was falling in. More burning crap fell down, splashing on the concrete and scattering. A lick of flame ran along a runnel in the floor, and the girl made things interesting by almost twisting free.

  Dammit. I’m trying to help you! But she was almost insane with fear.

  It probably messes your world up when you see a short woman in a long black leather coat beat the shit out of a Trader with a bullwhip, three clips of ammo, and the inhuman speed of the damned. The silver charms tied in my long dark hair spat and crackled with blue sparks, and I’m sure I was wearing my mad face.

  I hefted the girl over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and spent a few precious seconds glancing again at the motionless Trader. Burning bits of wood landed on him, his clothes smoking, but I thought I saw a glimmer of eyes.

  She beat at my back with her fists, but I hefted her and sprinted down the long central aisle of the warehouse, lit with garish flame. Fire twisted and roared, stealing air and replacing it with toxic smoke. Something exploded, a wall of hot air mouthing my back as I got a good head of speed going, aiming for a gap in the burning wall.

  This might get a little tricky.

  Rush of flame, a crackling liquid sound, covering up her breathless barking—she had nothing left in her to scream with, poor girl—and my own rising cry, a sound of female effort that flattened the streaming flames away. The scar ran with sick wet delight as I pulled force through it, my aura flaming into the visible, a star of spiky plasma light.

  Feet slapping the floor, back burning, I’d wrenched something when I’d brought my knee up. Probably feel better than he does. Hurry up, she can’t take much more of—

  I hit the hole in the wall going almost-full speed, my cry ratcheting up into a breathless squeal because I’d run out of air too, darkness flowering over my vision and starved muscles crying out for oxygen. Smoke billowed and I hoped I’d applied enough kinetic energy to throw us both clear of the fire.

  Physics is a bitch.

  The application of force made the landing much harder. I don’t wear leather pants because they make my ass look cute. It’s because when I land hard, something snapping in my left leg and the rest of my left side taking the brunt of the blow, trying to shield the girl from impact, most of my skin would get erased if I wasn’t wearing dead animal.

  As it was, I only broke a few bones.

  Concrete. Cold. The hissing, roaring of the fire as it devoured all the oxygen it could reach. The girl was still feebly trying to struggle free.

  It was a clear, cold night, the kind you only get out in the desert. The stars would be huge bonfires of brilliant ice if not for the glare of Santa Luz’s streetlamps and the other, lesser light of the burning warehouse. I lay for a few moments, coughing, eyes streaming, while my leg crunched with pain and the scar hummed with sick delight, a chill touching my spine as the bone set itself with swift jerks. My eyes rolled up in my head and I dimly heard the girl sobbing as she stopped trying to get away. She’d be lucky to get out of this needing a few years of therapy and some smoke-inhalation treatment.

  Sirens pierced the night, far away but drawing closer. Here comes the cavalry. Thank God.

  Unfortunately, thanking God wouldn’t do much good. I was the responsible one here. If that Trader was still alive and the scene started swarming with vulnerable, only-human emergency personnel …

  Get up, Jill. Get up now.

  My weary body obeyed. I made it to my feet, wincing as my left tibia and my humerus both crackled, the bone swiftly restructuring itself and all the pain of healing compressed into a few seconds rather than weeks. My hand flicked, the bullwhip coiling itself neatly and stowed at my hip, and I had both guns unholstered and ready before the warehouse belched a torrent of red-hot air and the Trader barreled through the hole in the wall, flesh cracking-black and his eyes shining flatly, the sick-sweet smell of seared human pork adding to the perfume of hellbreed contamination.

  Traders are scary-quick. I tracked him, bullets spattering the sidewalk as my right arm jolted under the strain of recoil going all the way up to my shoulders, broken bone pulling my aim off.

  Mikhail insisted on me being able to shoot left-handed, too. I caught the Trader with four rounds in the chest and dropped the guns as he reached the top arc of his leap, his scream fueled with the rage of the damned.

  I’m sure the fact that half his meat was cooked didn’t help.

  My hands closed around knifehilts. Knife-fighting is my forte, it’s close and dirty, which isn’t fun when it comes to hellbreed or Traders. You don’t want to get too close. But I’ve always had an edge in pure speed, being female and little.

  The scar helps too. The hard knot of corruption on the soft inside of my wrist ran with heavy prickling iron as I moved faster than a human being had any right to, meeting the Trader with a bone-snapping crunch.

bsp; The idiot wasn’t thinking. If he had been, he might have done something other than a stupid kamikaze stunt, throwing himself at a hunter who was armed and ready. As smart and slippery as Traders are, they never think they’re going to be held to account.

  The knife went in with little resistance, silver laid along the flat part of the blade hissing as it parted flesh tainted by a hellbreed’s touch.

  The Trader screamed, a high gurgling note of panic. My wrist turned, twisting the knifeblade as we landed, right leg threatening to buckle as momentum drove me back. I stamped my left heel, the transfer of force striking sparks between metal-reinforced bootheel and concrete.

  My other hand came up full of knife, blurred forward like a striking snake as the blade buried itself in his chest, and I pushed him down, pinning him as the shine flared in his eyes and roasted stink-sweet filled my mouth and nose.

  Hunting is a messy business.

  Table of Contents


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27



  Meet the Author

  A Preview of Redemption Alley



  Lilith Saintcrow, Hunter's Prayer



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