Marked by Sin Chapter Two
Pushing through a group of girls at the entrance, I ran straight past the cloakroom and out into the night. The queue was a thick snake of people who swallowed me up. Weaving my way through them, away from the entrance, I ignored the dirty looks and annoyed tsks. Mr. Tall and Built was still behind me, dithering by the head of the queue.
Yeah, try getting to me now.
He stepped around the line and began striding down the pavement parallel to it.
There was a taxi rank around the corner. I needed to get to it fast. A well-placed elbow here, a nudge there, and the crowd thinned out. Almost there. Heart hammering against my rib cage, throat tight with fear, I broke out of the queue and ran, full sprint, toward the rank. A taxi waited on standby. Its lights flared on as I approached.
I jumped in. “Drive, drive now.”
“Hackney, just drive, please.”
The engine roared to life, and I risked a peek out the window as we drove away.
The man was nowhere to be seen.
Shit, had I imagined the chase? No. The man had definitely come after me. I was sure of it. But why had I run? Loki’s was a safe place, and I could hold my own. I pictured the guy’s face, the intense way he’d focused on me. A shudder ripped through me. But if he had truly been coming after me, where had he gone? It wouldn’t have been hard for him to run ahead and cut me off. Had I imagined the flash of neon in his eyes? It could have been the lights. But the snarl?
“Miss, you okay back there?”
“Fine. I’m fine.”
I sat back and blew out a breath. The taxi was a temporary cocoon of safety and warmth, and my pulse slowed down. Maybe I’d overreacted. Admittedly, I was wound too tight. I’d been working so hard that it’d been a while since I’d hit the training room for some good old-fashioned one on one. Maybe I just needed sex?
My stomach grumbled. Damn, I’d forgotten to grab a kebab, and my bloody coat was still in the cloakroom.
Sod it. I could handle a little chill if it meant food.
I leaned in toward the partition separating me from the driver. “Hey, change of plans. Can you drop me off at Charlie’s, please?”
The driver nodded and cut across the lane. He made a right turn at the lights and deposited me on the freezing sidewalk outside Charlie’s. It was a ten-minute walk from there to my flat, maybe longer in heels, but I needed food, and Charlie’s did the best kung pao chicken this side of Hackney.
A few minutes later, steaming hot food in a bag, I began my clip clop home. Shame being an assassin didn’t give me blister-proof feet. I was five minutes out when I sensed I was being followed. The guy from the club? My muscles tensed, but I kept an even pace. I was in a well-lit area with plenty of open shops, but in a few minutes, I’d be turning down a dimly lit residential street lined with crappy flats, one of which was mine. I’d had to leave Vindra—my Indian Jambiya dagger—at home. There was no way I could have concealed nine inches of curved Damascus steel under this dress, or in my calf-high boots. But I wasn’t stupid enough to wander the streets of London at night defenseless. I reached into my handbag, retrieved my keys, and unclipped my cold steel micro-recon blade from the keychain. When flipped open, the blade was barely two inches long, but it was all I needed.
Still, it was best to face my pursuer on the main street.
I spun around, intent on confrontation, and scanned the pavement. People milled about, either heading home or out for the evening. A night bus pulled in across the road, lighting up the street with its inner glow as it picked up eager travelers. My stalker was absent.
Man, this was why I avoided clubs; they completely messed with my senses. I wasn’t being followed, but my food was getting cold.
Picking up the pace, I headed down the main street and cut to the side street that led to my block of flats. The hum of the city fell away, and silence wrapped around me except for soft panting and a click of claws on pavement. I turned to look down at a grey dog with its cute lolling tongue and beady black peepers. He looked exactly like Toto from the Wizard of Oz film.
He looked back at me with puppy-dog eyes that tugged at my heartstrings. The street was deserted. There was no sign of a dog owner.
“Hey, are you lost?” I took a step toward the dog. He didn’t growl or bark, so I crouched and tentatively reached for it. He ducked his head, padded closer, and allowed me to pet him. His fur felt rough and gnarly with skin stretched over bone. There was no collar.
Crap. A stray.
The poor animal was probably starving, attracted by the smell of my Chinese food. I’d seen lots of strays in the area, although the local shelter was pretty good about doing sweeps and rounding them up. I really didn’t have time to take responsibility for getting this one to the shelter. Standing up and adjusting the hem of my dress, I turned my back on the little creature.
My steps were accompanied by the click of toenails.
Maybe he’d get bored and leave. I just needed to ignore him.
My block of flats came into view—a beautiful vista plastered in colorful graffiti, and surrounded by crushed beer cans and cigarette butts.
Home sweet home.
The distinctive scent of cannabis tickled my nostrils as I climbed the steps to the fire doors. I let myself in and allowed the doors to close behind me with a click before heading for the stairs. The lift in this place was permanently out of order and stunk of piss. Thank goodness I lived on the second floor and not the tenth.
As I put one boot on the first step, the back of my neck pricked. I glanced over my shoulder. The dog sat on the pavement outside, bathed in the anemic light filtering out from the entrance hall. The world rumbled and the heavens opened, battering the fire doors with fat raindrops.
Surely the stray would run off now. It would seek shelter. But there he sat, staring at me with black eyes. Let me in, they said. Pwease. I could almost imagine a trembling bottom lip.
I stomped back over to the fire doors and pushed them open.
“Come on then, get in here.”
He trotted up the steps and into the foyer, then proceeded to shake himself dry.
“Whoa, hold still.” I held my hands a foot over his body and willed the water to rise off his fur. Droplets hovered in the air, and I flicked them toward the wall to my left. He wasn’t bone dry, but he wasn’t sopping anymore.
Yeah, water was kinda my jam. Wish I knew which parent I’d inherited it from. Being adopted didn’t really bother me—Barrett had been good to me, and I’d never wanted for anything as a child—but it was frustrating, not knowing where I came from. Were my heightened senses from my mum or dad? Which one could manipulate water? Barrett had agreed there was supernatural influence somewhere in my bloodline, but there weren’t many humans left who didn’t have a supernatural creature in their family tree.
The dog was doing that looking at me thing again.
I sighed. “Come on, Toto. Let me introduce you to my humble abode.”
Settled in the corner of my cramped sitting room, Toto, who I’d positively determined was a guy, chowed down on kung pao chicken. I had nothing else to give him. Fast food and microwave meals were my staple diet, and the tiny hob was only lit when I fancied a fry-up.
PJs and fluffy socks on, I curled up on my battered two-seater sofa and ate straight out of the containers. My stomach growled in appreciation. The television was on, and Graham Norton quizzed celebrities about their latest achievements while taking the piss out of them. This was bliss. My dump turned cozy retreat. Every item—from the squeaky sofa, the chipped coffee table, the threadbare rugs and cushions, and the numerous knickknacks that littered every available surface—were personal ones I’d sought out and paid for myself. Barrett had been worried about me moving out of guild accommodations, but I’d made it on my own. Yeah, I would miss this place, cramped and cluttered as it was. A pang of nostalgia hit, and I hadn’t even left yet.
I finished my food, placed the empty containers on the coffee table, and stretched.
“Stay here,” I said to Toto before padding toward my bedroom.
After I stripped my clothes off, I climbed into my small double bed. My skin felt tight and itchy, but an early morning swim at the leisure center would put that to rights just in time for my big job. I’d drop Toto off at the shelter on the way.
I closed my eyes and visualized tomorrow, envisioned Barrett’s face as he handed me my fiftieth kill order. It was a milestone event, and he always handed them out. This time, he would have that extra twinkle in his eye that denoted pride. And maybe, just maybe, he would even hug me. Yeah, the fiftieth kill order could change everything.
It had to.
Sleep wrapped its warm arms around me. And with my bed’s perfectly sagging mattress and springs shaped to cradle my frame, it was like being rocked to sleep. I was just nodding off when the distinctive sound of a bass beat rattled the ceiling, jerking me awake. Damn. The third time this week.
Gritting my teeth, I swung my legs off the bed and grabbed my robe. It was time to stop playing nice. Shrugging the rough silk over my shoulders, I stormed out of the flat to give the bloke upstairs the ear bashing of his life.
If only the guild allowed kill orders on noisy neighbors.
The neighbor was alive, but sans music system, after I accidently on purpose dropped a glass of water onto it. In high spirits, I headed to the pool for my much-needed swim. Toto had disappeared sometime in the night, and though I’d searched high and low, he was nowhere to be found. I felt bad for the little guy—he was probably hiding in a corner somewhere, scared—but I had to choose between searching for him or getting in my laps before the day started.
He was a cute dog, but the laps were going to win every time.
As I cut through the water with long, sure strokes, my mind drifted and my senses opened. It was here that everything was truly heightened. Every particle of light, every scent, every sensation…was just…more. Laps done, I simply floated, calling the water to me, commanding it to cradle me as I coasted.
A splash cut through the silence.
I knew that scent—fresh, clean, alien in the fact that it was devoid of any actual real smell—but unique to its owner and her kind.
Deena’s face emerged out of the water by my head. “Thought you had the place to yourself, did you?”
“Should have known you’d be along to intrude.”
Deena was in better shape than me. A dancer at Loki’s, an apsara—one of the water nymphs who had graced the god Indra’s court back in their glory days—she had a body built for movement, and looked pretty good for someone who was more than a few centuries old. Back then, no supernatural creatures walked the earth. But then the gates of hell had opened… and the human realm been overrun by shaitan—demons that raped, pillaged, and burned our cities.
The gods had come down, revealing themselves as they fought to protect the humans. Indra, with his lightning bolt; Varuna, rising out of the sea with his trident; and Narada, winging his way from god to man and delivering the messages that helped win the war. Most humans had forgotten the gods’ ancient Vedic names, knowing them by their Greek, Norse, or Roman personas. The gods had closed the gates of hell, pushing the shaitan back into the underworld, but the demon’s seed had remained. It had spawned all manner of supernatural monstrosities. Only a tiny percentage of pure human bloodlines remained. The rest were tainted. Some had evolved into the meld of man and beast that made a yaksha; others had evolved into vampires—entities without physical bodies of their own. And then there were those who had evolved to harness magic, banding into covens and calling themselves witches.
This was the world I’d been born into. This was the world I killed to protect.
Deena splashed water in my face. “Hey, fancy a race?”
I rolled onto my front in the water. “Do you even have to ask?”
We set off across the pool, neck and neck at first. Like always, she pulled away at the last moment to touch the edge of the pool and take the win.
“Just admit it. You’re toying with me.” I came up to rest beside her.
She was a bloody water nymph; she could beat me in a swim race with her hands tied behind her back. We bobbed in the water, side by side.
Her full lips parted to reveal even, white teeth. “I wish I were, Malina, but you’re fast— not as fast as me, at least not yet—but fast.” She winked and rose in the air, throwing herself backward into the water and vanishing under the surface.
Swim time was over. It was time to find out if Aaron had heard right. I climbed out of the pool, stomach bubbling with nerves.
The changing room was empty, and I dressed quickly, pulling on my soft grey jeans and black polo jumper. Vindra settled against my hip, and I shrugged on my coat to cover her up. I had a permit to carry her, but I’d learned that flashing her about didn’t really endear me to anyone. I used my affinity for water to draw the moisture from my hair, leaving it dry enough to pull into a ponytail.
My phone beeped with a new text. Barrett wanted to see me as soon as possible.
The order had come in.
It was time to make my fiftieth kill.
Tune in next week for Chapter 3…and don't forget to pre-order your copy on Amazon!