Juno Books

An Excerpt From Highborn by Yvonne Navarro

[ Information on Highborn ]


Most of the time, Astarte could smell the souls burning.

Accompanying the heavy fragrance, the tortured screams below her window endlessly swelled and receded, strung together like notes pried from a twisted violin and seething with the burned sugar scent of agony.

There had been a time, early on, when she had enjoyed this, had relished the eternal punishment being hammered upon the spirits of those creatures she and her long time lover considered no better than the rats that infested their earthly world. No, not rats; mice, tiny, insignificant rodents worthy only of being food for those beings not much better than themselves. The shrieks had been musical back then, filled with blood and retribution, but eventually Astarte found that she barely heard the sounds--they faded to the background like the constant buzzing of ever present insects.

But now the soul cries had changed. They should have been as natural as the blood that constantly oozed from the cracks in the walls of her opulent rooms, nothing more unusual than the eternity of time one second took to pass to another. But no; lately the undulating waves of suffering had begun to eat at her, stinging her psyche like hungry, biting blowflies diving relentlessly at the wounds of a dying beast. Sometimes she would lash out and silence the ones within range, her rage and impatience incinerating them instantly and giving her a few moments--just that--of heavy, anticipatory silence.

Then, of course, the next shrieks would ripple across the plains as more souls were pushed forward to fill the void left by those she had temporarily destroyed. A hundred or a thousand seconds from now, the same souls she had just obliterated would be reborn into another cycle of their punishment and would be heard yet again. If she was lucky, their wails would fall upon the ears of another rather than herself, one who would grin rather than flinch at the sound.

But who in Hell was ever lucky?

She turned away from the sill and its vista of glowing scarlet rivers, a landscape that was dark but forever well lit. It was an arena filled with abominations that were always new and unspeakably dangerous, things that even now continued to surprise her when they crossed her royal path.

Everything in Hell watched everything else; it was a living thing, encompassing all, missing nothing, revealing everything to everyone. Even so, she neither knew nor cared who or what watched as her cracked and blackened fingertips lifted the only thing that remained of what she had once been.

A feather.

Its quill still glowed white, crystalline and pure--even the fires of Hell could not dim the light within its center. That the edges of the vane were singed and stained with sulfur and smoke took nothing away from the power it held over her. The pain she felt each time she held it was worse than anything a thousand demons could inflict, and the agony grew deeper and more overwhelming every time. The feather's light was an aberration in this room, a single spot of perfection that was impossible to disguise or hide in this city of sheer obscenity; as if to prove that, the screams of the damned would swell to an unbearable cadence of want if she held it toward the unshuttered window. That the feather had not been ripped from her possession was a testament to the fact that even she, with all her vile, hallowed standing in this place, was not above being personally tormented. Nothing reminded an immortal being of its own eternity like an everlasting memento of that which could never again come to be.

Hell had taught her many things, not the least of which was how to wait. She had spent countless days, each like a century, with one elbow resting on her knees as she contemplated the feather, that glorious relic of the time before her fall from Grace. As the heat of Hell swirled inside and outside of her, she had to wonder--

Could she be redeemed?

It was said that nothing and no one could truly return from Hell, that time ceased to exist once those colossal black gates closed behind a weeping spirit. Any chance of salvation or forgiveness was left behind, as eternally unreachable as the Great Light of God Himself. But Lucifer was the King of Lies, and what better way to intensify the punishment of those who were forever condemned than to take away the one thing that had always kept even that weakest of creations, mankind, going?


She had it now, but only because she was allowed to, only because someday she would awaken to find the feather gone, spirited away as though it had never been. Then her symbol of hope would be gone, and what would be worse, she wondered: to have had it and lost it, or to have lost it and wonder if she had ever truly had it at all?

No, she had to get out of here before it truly was all gone. Not just the feather itself, but the hope, and the memories--before the last of those finally fled to leave her with nothing but a nameless, charred emptiness she no longer remembered how to satisfy.

Chapter One

A butterfly saved her.

Being what she was, she'd always been partial to anything with wings, and the fireball missed her only because she leaned sideways to look at the creature where it was balanced on the back of a park bench in Chicago's Lincoln Park. Two inches wide at best, the butterfly was orange and yellow, plus a couple more colors that never registered because of the agony that suddenly ran up one arm and nearly spread to her neck and jawline.

A Hunter had already found her!

She dropped forward and rolled away from the next fireball, then scrambled around and behind the bench. A third fireball, small and white hot, arced across the space in which she'd been standing only a second before, then disintegrated against a massive old tree. It made a sound like a fast moving forest fire then instantly burned out, leaving a smoking, circular scar on the tree's thick trunk. On its heels was a scream from a woman who had come around the bend in the path just in time to see the miniature blast.

Good. Getting humans involved would put the balance on her side, give her a chance to escape while her pursuer was forced to hide. He wouldn't kill her, but it was glaringly obvious he was going to have fun hurting her before he dragged her back.

Like she was ever going to let that happen.

It wasn't difficult to lose herself in the trees off the path while the Hunter tried to follow without being seen. Once he made it into the trees, she could hear her attacker crashing after her, and all it took to leave him behind was stealth--he was overconfident and noisy; she was neither. She stayed close to the ground, almost on all fours, and moved as fast as she could, intentionally weaving in and out of the populated areas. In these she was barely more than a blur that made passersby frown and blink, and when she got to the edge of a body of water next to a sign that said South Pond, she sucked in air and slipped into the warm mud and leaf choked liquid without hesitating. She didn't breathe for a long, long time, swimming blindly away from the danger and coming up like an alligator at the water's edge several hundred feet later, slow and cautious as only the top of her head and her eyes broke the surface.

She was safe.

For now.

She washed her face and hands at a water fountain in the park, then pulled clean water through her hair until she felt reasonably presentable. Water was such an amazing thing--refreshing and clear, sweet against her skin despite the chemicals added by the city's processing system. Although she hadn't been able to stay and appreciate it, she'd even enjoyed the dirty, slightly polluted water in the pond.

Quickly moving west and away from the upscale lakefront area, she found some clothes hanging on a line in a small backyard. In this world of modern conveniences, she didn't think people did that anymore--hang clothes out to dry--but perhaps this person wanted the smell of fresh air in the fabric. To her sensitive nose, Chicago's exhaust choked air wasn't truly fresh, but people here were used to it.

Taking the simple T shirt and denim jeans and the worn pair of athletic shoes she found by the back door was stealing, but she was out of options and that, surely, was not even a blip on the chart of her many crimes. Besides, walking around in rags stinking of pond water and streaked with dried mud wasn't going to help her accomplish her task. The stolen jeans fit her tall frame surprisingly well, although the T shirt was stretched snugly across her wide back and small breasts. The fabric was tight around her biceps, and every movement of her right arm sent a hot jolt down the flesh burned earlier. The side of her neck and face were deep pink from the heat spillover, but the pain was minor; her hair was singed and still smelled of fire. But she was quite used to that smell.

"That's a pretty nasty burn on your arm."

The voice came from her right and belonged to a nice looking guy in his late thirties and who was a good four inches taller than her own six foot two. She was in Walgreens, a store like a twenty first-century apothecary, staring at a shelf full of gauze and burn salve and thinking about the products on display. Her own physical pain was something she hadn't had to contemplate in quite awhile. The last time she'd paid it any mind, human medicine had been little more than someone waving burning clumps of herbs over a wound and uttering a meaningless chant. Was there anything among the brightly colored boxes on these shelves that would actually soothe the monstrous stinging on her arm, or would it simply be a waste of time? Humans were certainly good at that. Because of what she was, a lot of things how to dress, how to talk, even a culture's customs and slang, just came to her automatically. But for this, she really had no idea, simply because she'd never needed such a thing. And in the meantime, here was this man.

No, not a man.

A nephilim.

A child fathered by an angel and born of a human mother.

She could smell him, in the way that only her kind could. It was an unmistakable thing, deep and alluring, as though he were surrounded by a mist of clean ocean water. The scent was so strong and so unexpected that all she could do for an overly long moment was breathe it in, pull it deep into her lungs and hold it there while she reveled in his nearness as his essence spread throughout her body.

A double heartbeat later, she exhaled. Without conscious thought, her tongue flicked over her lips, seeking the last trace.

He was looking at her expectantly. The burn--right. He'd said something about it. "Yeah," she responded at last. Her voice was low and husky, a bit hoarse. She hadn't actually spoken in centuries--it simply hadn't been necessary--and she certainly hadn't carried on a conversation with a human. Was there something else she should say about her injuries? What would this nephilim want to hear?

No, she reminded herself. Don't think of him as nephilim, think of him as a man. After all, that's all he knows that he is. Just a man.

The guy looked down at her arm again, then his gaze skimmed along the display. "This," he said, pointing to a small blue-and-white box labeled Burn Jel. "If you're not going to see a doctor, this is your best bet. Wash the entire area thoroughly every morning and evening, then spread this stuff on a piece of sterile gauze and scrub off the newly formed skin until all the dead skin is gone and the new is growing in evenly. It's called debriding. It'll be painful but it will help it heal and keep scarring to a minimum."

She shrugged, then winced as the movement pulled the fabric of the shirt against her arm. "I don't care about that," she said. She wanted to keep him talking, but her people skills sucked. "It just... hurts."

He nodded. "I'm sure it does, but there's not much over the counter that's going to help the pain. The ointment has a small amount of lidocaine in it, and you could take some aspirin along with that. You could also try one of the burn sprays, but I wouldn't expect much out of it, not at that level." He nodded at her arm, then fell silent for a moment. "You know," he added finally, "that's a fresh second-degree burn. I can't believe you're not going to see a doctor."

She managed a small, strained smile. The pain made that easy, even if normal conversation was a challenge. "I thought you were one."

He looked momentarily surprised, then shook his head. "Me? No, I'm an EMT."

She squinted at him. "What does that stand for?"

"Emergency medical technician. I drive an ambulance."

"Next best thing."

"To a doctor?" He shook his head again, this time more emphatically. "Not at all."

"Well," she said. She hesitated, finally stepping back from the shelf. She'd run out of creativity and couldn't think of anything else to talk about. "Thanks for the advice."

His eyes widened. "Wait--aren't you going to pick up some supplies?"

"Maybe later."

"Ah." He frowned at her, then his expression smoothed. She realized instantly that he knew she had no money. As much as he dealt with people, he was probably an expert at reading situations. "I'm Toby. What's your name?"

Name? Of course--she should have one of those, yet she hadn't given it a moment's thought. Giving her real name was unthinkable, but what should she call herself? Twice before she had been formally named, and she had used thousands of others through the millennia; for the first time, now she could choose her own. A million alternatives flashed through her brain, letters and languages with little rhyme or reason, still others with hidden purpose--

"Brynna," she blurted.

All right. That would do.

"Very nice," he said, but it was clear he was thinking about anything but that as his hand dug in his back pocket and brought out a worn leather wallet. "Listen, Brynna. I think you could use a little hel--"

The left side of his head caved in.

There wasn't much sound with it, just a sort of thump and a crystalline tinkling that seemed to come afterwards, almost as an addendum to the actual event. One moment Brynna was gazing at Toby, whose expression was sincere and vaguely like that of an eager to please child as he prepared to offer her money; in the next, she was blinking at a misshapen red hole easily two inches around. It was a huge and ugly thing that gouted blood down his shoulder; even more hideous was the way the right side of his skull had suddenly bulged outward, like someone had forced air into a balloon then let only part of it out. Toby's knees buckled and he turned and fell in front of her, leaving a pattern of bloody mist and vaporized skin in his wake. He went down as quickly and gracelessly as a dropped wooden puppet.

Brynna scowled and bent over him, but it was a useless gesture: he'd been gone and sent to glory in the millisecond between when the bullet had touched his left temple and slammed against the inside of his skull on the right. If she touched him, she might be able to see at least a hint of the duty his destiny had demanded, but why bother? Whatever task had been assigned to this gentle and generous nephilim soul would never be completed. Now he was just an empty husk ready to be returned to the dust of the earth. "For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return," she murmured.

Brynna straightened, then realized someone was screaming. It was an older man in a white coat behind the counter at the end of the aisle, and the only reason she even noticed was because it was so odd to her senses that there was just one man screaming instead of thousands. He was frozen in place, his sight locked on her as his mouth gaped and howled, and he gave no sign of stopping anytime soon. She sent him a puzzled look, then it hit her that this must be a terrible shock--most humans simply weren't used to blood and death on the same scale she was.

As if to underscore that, something red and moist dribbled down Brynna's forehead and slid across the bridge of her nose. When she reached to flick at it, her fingers came away washed in the familiar hue of scarlet. Her hair and face were splattered with Toby's blood. Nothing new historically, but it was really kind of admirable, the way humans had come up with so many deadly methods of killing one another. Twenty thousand years ago she never would have thought them capable of much more than desperate hunting with rudimentary tools, yet look at them now.

Brynna sighed and automatically tuned out the old man's screeching as she turned away from the nephilim's corpse. There was nothing to be done for Toby now, and she didn't have currency or anything else that seemed likely to be accepted in trade for the medicine the dead EMT had recommended. She had an idea that Toby's death was going to throw off the normal rhythm of things, anyway. From where she stood, Brynna could see the front window of the drugstore, or what had been the window before it, too, had been shattered by the same single bullet that had killed her nephilim. Glass fragments sparkled in the sun where they weren't shadowed by the flapping remains of the advertising posters that had been taped to the inside surface. She glanced back at Toby one more time before starting toward the door. As she did, her gaze skimmed across the people gathering on the sidewalk; she stopped short as her eyes locked with those of a single young man's.

Brown hair cut very short, hazel eyes. Tall and overly thin, all arms and legs underneath a hip length denim jacket that was too heavy for the hot afternoon and bulky along one side--

The escalating sound of a siren cut through the jabber of conversation outside. The man jerked his gaze away from Brynna's, then backed up and disappeared behind the gawkers crowding up to the broken window.

Brynna stared at the space where he'd been, considering, before she quickly left the drugstore. There was no reason to stay here, and she certainly didn't want to be involved in any police investigation. The man outside, though, he was another story; there was something about him that intrigued her. Was he also a nephilim? Nephilim weren't common but they also weren't rare; still, to see one at the moment of another's death... that was certainly on the side of odd.

The people standing on the sidewalk stepped aside to let her pass, and it took Brynna a couple of seconds to figure out why--she was bloody, her face and shoulders splattered with the last moments of Toby's earthly life. With her history, it was ridiculously easy for her not to notice something like this; the sensation, the sticky, heavy copper scent, the warmth--it was all just one more part of a bigger normalcy. But that had to change if she was going to blend into this world. Judging from the appalled expressions of the onlookers and the way they backstepped, she really needed to work harder on remembering her surroundings. It was damned ironic--all the mayhem, murder, and devastation that mankind had wrought throughout the ages, yet now people in some of the most densely populated areas on the globe couldn't seem to stomach the sight of blood. How had the human race ever gotten through the Dark Ages? The Inquisition? The countless, never ending wars they waged upon each other?

There wasn't any place she could wash as she had in the park, so the best Brynna could do was stay close to the buildings and duck her head when someone came toward her on the sidewalk. She didn't miss that she was essentially skulking in broad daylight, and she hated having to do that. Skulking reminded her of the alley demons from Below, hideously filthy creatures that looked like a cross between hyenas and Komodo dragons. They prowled the blood soaked passageways of the undercities and preyed on fleeing souls, darting forward to snap and drag a fugitive into the darkest shadows. There they chewed on the screaming victim until nothing remained but ragged, twitching puddles of ripped and half digested soul flesh. When the soul finally died, they moved onto the next and left the ruined spirit to disintegrate and re-form back at the original location it had so stupidly thought it had escaped. Hell was nothing if not repetitious.

Finally Brynna found a service station with outside restrooms. She waited, and when an older man came out of one door, she ducked inside; the sarcastic comment he started to utter died in his throat at the sight of her blood smeared cheeks.

With her face and hands cleaned a few minutes later, Brynna came out and studied her surroundings. There was a big yellow Shell symbol above her, and on the corner was a dual street sign that read Halsted on one side and Wrightwood on the other. The air was heavy with the smell of gasoline, but Brynna barely noticed. She'd smelled a lot worse.

The slight breeze tingled the places on her face that were still wet and Brynna let herself soak in the feeling for a few seconds. But only that--she wasn't here, standing on this particular corner in the city, by happenstance; even as she'd tried to make herself as invisible as possible, she'd been tracking the man she'd seen staring at her through the drugstore's broken window. There wasn't much to go on but the slightest hint of his body odor; by itself it wouldn't have been enough--there were too many other scents in the city that smothered it. But there was something unnatural mixed with it, something much stronger and heavier and impossible to miss.


Feeling less conspicuous now that she'd been able to clean up, Brynna lifted her head to the sunshine as she turned onto Wrightwood and followed the acrid scent west. She'd only gone two blocks before her sharp sense of smell made her turn north onto a heavily tree lined street called Mildred Avenue.

The thick canopy of leaves from hundred year old oaks made the air cooler and dimmer; instead of heavy summer sunshine, the sidewalks and buildings were mottled with thousands of sunlit circles that moved and danced as the breeze cut through the leaf laden branches. It gave the old apartment buildings a softer, more appealing look than they would have normally had. On an overcast day, Brynna knew they would appear as they really were: worn and overused brick and crumbling mortar fronted by cracked sidewalks and lawns dotted with weeds. Here and there were halfhearted splashes of color, geraniums, petunias, and marigolds planted along borders that weren't particularly straight. Right now there wasn't much going on and the street was devoid of people. That made it easy for Brynna to follow the stink of gunpowder down a shadowed walkway to where it ended at the glass fronted door of an apartment building.

Brynna stood there for a moment, then tried the door. It was locked, which wasn't much of a surprise. Humans always thought they could keep out their version of the Big Bad with things like flimsy metal fastenings. It was a useless effort, but she wasn't here to be the evil anymore, was she?

She was pretty sure her target was a nephilim--he'd paused at the door and she was almost positive an ocean scent lingered beneath the caustic smell of gunpowder. There were names and doorbells along one side but unless he made a habit of pushing his own bell, she had no way of sensing which one belonged to him. It was a big building, at least thirty six units, but once she was inside, it would be easy to find the door to his apartment.

Brynna tried the door again. The handle was nothing but decoration; the lock mechanism above was what kept it closed. To force it, she'd only have to break the jamb on the side.

"What are you doing down there?"

A sudden gravelly voice somewhere above her head made Brynna jump. She backed away from the door and looked up to where a wrinkled old woman with fuzzy, iron colored hair was glaring down at her from two stories above. "This is a Neighborhood Watch area, missy, and you'd better believe I watch it all the time." The woman's voice climbed higher and took on a threatening tone as she squinted at Brynna. "Never seen you here before."

"I was looking for a friend of mine," Brynna explained.

"Then ring the damned doorbell instead of hanging around like a hoodlum!"

"I don't know his last name," Brynna said without thinking.

"Then you're not much of a friend," the woman snapped back. "You get out of here or I'm calling the police. This is a Neighborhood Watch area!"

"I heard you the first time," Brynna said. She gave the door a final look, then shrugged. If the murderer who'd gone into this building really was a nephilim, he'd been corrupted, led astray from the path God had set out for him. It was unlikely Brynna would do herself any good by finding him anyway. Let the humans deal with the killer in their midst. She wanted nothing more than to forget he existed.

"I'm warning you!" the elderly woman screeched.

Brynna turned to follow the sidewalk back to the street. "You have a nice day, ma'am," she said as sweetly as she could. The woman muttered something cantankerous in return as Brynna touched her forehead in a gesture of farewell. A moment later the crone gasped and backed away from her concrete windowsill.

Brynna grinned darkly. Stone was always so good at soaking up heat. Maybe that would keep the old bat away from her Neighborhood Watch area for a while so her fellow tenants could go in and out in peace.

Chapter Two

Spending her first night in human form was definitely a learning experience for Brynna. It might have gone better except for the burn on her arm; the wound was healing rapidly, more so than any normal person's would have, but it still hurt. The swift healing process also had a downside: the growing skin itched ferociously, yet if Brynna gave it the smallest rub, the itch morphed into a deep, savage sting.

She didn't notice the summer night's cooler temperatures; her heat came from within, stored from millennia spent in Hell. Had it been winter, Brynna could have slept in the snow and her body temperature would have melted a circle around her. But the weather wasn't the problem--she had nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep, nowhere safe to be. Still out there somewhere was the Hunter that had tried to capture her earlier, and although she might have a demon's soul, this was a human body--more or less--and it had human requirements. It screamed for things like food, rest, and bodily comfort.

Tomorrow, she decided, she would figure out how to get some money and go back to that drugstore for some of the ointment the dead nephilim had recommended. She could ignore the feeling of hunger in her belly, but this body had been injured and overtaxed. It required rest to heal, so she couldn't put off the need to sleep. When Brynna thought back, today's events didn't seem all that taxing; on the other hand, it wasn't every day that a high level demon escaped from Lucifer's kingdom and re formed herself on earth as a human woman.

She was tired.

Brynna had endured a lot in Hell, and although a soft bed with silk sheets would have been nice, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the dark niche she found between a Dumpster and the back wall of a dinky neighborhood restaurant. She settled herself beneath the dubious cover of a torn, dirty cardboard box and thought wearily about Toby, the dead nephilim. She didn't know if it had been the sight of the horror on the faces of the onlookers outside the drugstore's broken window or the memory of his blood trickling down her sun warmed cheeks, but as her eyelids fluttered closed, all Brynna could think about was that it was a shame Toby's already short human life had been cut even shorter.

When she finally slept, Brynna dreamed of scarlet lakes of fire beneath the coolness of a glowing and maddeningly out of reach blue sky.

Brynna had been half expecting to find the Walgreens closed the next morning, but although the window was boarded up, it was open by the time she wandered over at a little past nine o'clock. She still didn't have any money, but that didn't stop her from going inside and heading to the aisle where the burn medicine was. The floor had been cleaned but her overly sensitive nose could still pick up the scent of blood, and she could see it, too. Nothing man made would erase the blood shadow where Toby's life had leaked onto the floor. Humans couldn't see it, but her kind could pick it up in an instant.

Brynna glanced over at the prescription counter and saw the same old man who'd been there yesterday; he recognized her and his eyes widened, but she paid no attention to him as he turned and pressed a telephone against his ear. What was it Toby had recommended? Gauze and burn salve. Her gaze skimmed the shelves until she found the stuff he'd pointed to, but she was no longer sure she wanted it. Her arm stung, yes, but the pain had diminished to the point where it was bearable and would probably be gone by tomorrow... well, provided that damned Hunter didn't find her and toss another fireball or ten her way.

She wasted another twenty minutes browsing around the aisles, fascinated at the variety of goods, the things humans had come up with. She couldn't remember the last time she'd physically been on earth--perhaps it had been in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Medicine, electricity, flying...so many things had grown out of what she and her angelic brethren had believed were little more than dull minded creatures who might look like their Creator but would never accomplish more than warfare based survival. They--

"Excuse me, ma'am."

Brynna looked up from her study of something called a giant bone sponge in the auto accessory department. It looked nothing like a bone and it certainly wasn't a giant anything, so she was trying to wrap her brain around why it was called that.

"Ma'am," the man standing in front of her said again.

"Yes?" He was a nice enough looking man but ordinary, not nephilim. At six feet tall, with blue eyes, pale skin and slightly shaggy brown hair, he reminded her vaguely--very vaguely--of the ancient images of an angel. Well, except for the round glasses (another incredible thing man had invented) and the scruff growing on his cheeks and chin--angels never had to shave.

He took something out of his jacket pocket and offered it to her, but when Brynna went to take it, he pulled it just out of reach. All she could do was look at it. It was a piece of metal in the shape of a star, with numbers on it and the words Chicago Police Department and Detective. Ah, a policeman.

"I'm Detective Redmond. I need to ask you a few questions." Brynna lifted one eyebrow, but he didn't wait for permission. "Yesterday a man named Tobias Gallagher was shot and killed in this store." His unwavering gaze was fixed on her. "You were talking to him when he died."

Tobias Gallagher--Toby. Of course. "Yes."

"What were you talking about?"

"Burn medicine," she replied without hesitation. She nodded toward her arm.

"Uh huh." He stared at her and frowned slightly. "And when he was shot right in front of you, what did you do?"

"I left." Despite an instant effort to hide it, she still caught his expression of surprise. She added, "Other than that conversation, I didn't know him. So..."

"So you just left." He pulled a small notebook out of another pocket. "Did it ever occur to you, Miss--"

"Brynna," she said.

"Okay, Brynna. Did it ever occur to you that you were just leaving a crime scene?"

Crime scene? She hadn't thought about that. She'd seen and grown used to countless instances of death in her existence, so Toby's death was just that to her: a death. But to these humans, having one of their own die like that was something else entirely. It was a murder. And for that they had police, and laws, and repercussions. Well, none of that concerned her--she hadn't killed the nephilim. But he was waiting for her to answer his question. "No," she said. "It didn't."

"Right." He ran a hand over his hair. "I'm going to need you to come down to the station with me."

"The station?"

"Yes, ma'am. The police station."

Brynna considered this, then shook her head. No, she didn't want to go anyplace with this man. It was too dangerous--if a Hunter caught up with her, she might not be able to escape in time. "No, I don't want to do that."

Standing not far from the police detective was another man. This one was shorter and darker skinned. His skin tone and dark eyes made Brynna think of the exotic men in ancient Persia, back when Alexander the Great had defeated the Persian Empire. He stepped behind Brynna and stopped, then turned to look at Redmond.

"It's not a request," Detective Redmond replied. He put a hand on her wrist and she slapped it away instinctively. He yelped in surprise and stumbled backward--she'd forgotten her more-than-human strength. Even so, she raised her hand to strike him again if he dared to touch her once more. Suddenly there was an ominous, metallic sounding click behind her right ear.

"Please do not move," said a soft, thickly accented voice, "or I will be forced to shoot you. You are under arrest."

Brynna opened her mouth to argue, then shut it. There were too many people around for a Hunter to take advantage of her unfortunate situation, and while her demon essence might go a long way toward strengthening this human female form, it was still little beyond a fragile shell. The gun at her head also brought back the unpleasant memory of the way Toby's skull had pushed outward when the killer's bullet had gone into his brain.

"All right," she said.

Redmond scowled at her as he brought out a pair of steel handcuffs. He pulled her arms around to her back and snapped the cuffs around her wrists before the other man reholstered his revolver. With a detective on either side of her, Brynna was led none too gently to an unmarked police car parked outside. "You have the right to remain silent," Detective Redmond told her in a rigid voice. Then he kept on talking, droning about courts and the law and more things she paid no attention to as he opened the door and his partner guided her into the automobile's back compartment. The door closed and locked, leaving her feeling trapped if not vulnerable; the windows were tinted, so at least she wasn't on display inside a glass bowl. It was more comfortable than Brynna had expected, and having her hands restrained behind her back bothered her not a bit. She was limber enough to easily wriggle her backside and legs through and get her wrists to the front, but ultimately she decided that wouldn't be a good idea; she'd swatted that Detective harder than she'd intended. She could see him favoring a wrist that was showing a deep bruise along one side. Clearly, hurting him hadn't been a good move on her part.

With traffic, it took almost forty five minutes to get to the Criminal Courthouse, a big, multi story gray building that the street signs noted was at 26th and California. The front of the structure on California Avenue had eight stone columns, and while Brynna thought they were poor copies of ancient Grecian architecture, they did give it an imposing facade.

Inside, the place was crowded and noisy, filled with uniformed and plainclothes policeman and criminals of all kinds. It was fascinating, the sight and scents of so many different aspects of humanity, all jammed into a relatively small space and with one group--the law enforcers --trying to maintain control over the other. While a lot of the people seemed to be in a hurry, Redmond and his partner were not; they took their time about getting her seated at a table in a room surrounded by windows, then uncuffed her and left her there for several hours as she wondered what the next step in her arrest would be.

When Detective Redmond finally came back, he was alone. He settled himself on a chair across from her and pulled out a pen and a notebook, then looked at her expectantly. "Name?"

"Brynna," she said promptly. Cooperation seemed like a good thing.

He sighed. "Last name?"

Brynna sat back. Last name? Damn, she should have expected this--almost all the humans used them now. "Malak," she blurted. The Arabic word for angel was the first thing that came to mind.

"Malak," Redmond repeated, then spelled it out loud and waited for her confirmation that he was correct. "Address?"

This was going to be a lot harder than she'd thought. If she tried to make something up, he'd find out. "I... don't have one," she answered. "I just got here."

"Where did you come from?"

Crap, it was just getting worse. "You wouldn't know it."

Redmond tapped his pen impatiently. "Just give me the address."

"Caina," she said after a moment of indecision. He scowled, and she added quickly, "1224 Maple Street." It sounded fake even as she said it, but it was too late to take it back. "It's down south, very... out of the way."

"Down south," Redmond repeated. "Where down south? Georgia? Florida? Tennessee? Where?"

"Georgia," Brynna said.

He glanced at her as he was writing. "You don't look like the southern girl type."

"Appearances can be deceiving."

"Uh huh." He stared at her for a long time without speaking, but she only stared back. "You know, I could charge you with assaulting a police officer and leaving the scene of a crime."

Brynna resisted the urge to point out that she'd only slapped him on the wrist. Sarcasm was probably not the way to go. Instead she said, "But I didn't commit the crime. I didn't even know there was a crime." His look of surprise made her instantly realize her mistake--of course it was a crime to kill someone. This was Earth, not Hell, and everyone would know that. "I mean, I knew there was a crime, obviously, but I didn't do it so I didn't know I was supposed to stay." She hoped that would somehow cancel out her blunder, but the expression on the detective's face said otherwise. If only propriety came to her as easily as words.

Finally he leaned forward. "Let me explain something, Ms. Malak. This is the fifth shooting like this, where some poor sucker--and they've come in all ages--seems to be just minding his or her own business, and kablaam!" He slammed his fist on the table, but Brynna didn't even flinch. "Shot in the head, right out of the blue. No reason, no motive, no connection between the victims."

Brynna opened her mouth to ask if five was a lot, then wisely shut it.

"One was a middle aged homeless woman, another was a fourteen year old boy going home from a soccer game." He glared at her. "One was a science professor about to retire, another was a secretary at an advertising firm. And the only thing they have in common is that they were all killed by the same gun." Redmond half stood and leaned across the table. "And here you are, the closest thing to a witness that we've had, standing right in front of the latest victim. But you don't have an address here in the city, and I'd bet my next paycheck you don't have any identification. In fact, I'd bet you don't have a driver's license or even a social security card. Do you?"

All Brynna could do was look at him. "I don't drive."

"And a social security number? How have you held a job without one?"

"Well, I've never really worked..." Her voice trailed off.

Redmond stood up so quickly that his chair toppled over behind him, but he didn't seem to notice as he made a sharp gesture toward the two way glass. "I've had enough of your bullshit," he said roughly. "You don't have any identification, you don't have a local address. A man dies right in front of you, and you have this screwed up attitude like it's no big deal. Maybe a night or two in lockup will put you a little more on the cooperative side." By the time he'd finished speaking, two female police officers had come into the room and taken a position on each side of her.

"I don't know what you want me to cooperate about," she countered. "I didn't kill Toby, and I don't... know who did."

Redmond had already turned his back to her, but he picked up instantly on her hesitation. He spun and pushed his face close to hers. "You saw something, didn't you? Something or someone. And out of all these killings, you are the only one who did. So why don't you help us out, huh?"

She wasn't sure why, but Brynna wasn't ready to talk about the killer or the fact that she'd followed him back to what was mostly likely his apartment building. She might need this information to help herself, and giving it out to this cop could change everything, could put her into the public eye in a way that would be devastatingly unsafe. She shook her head. "No. I can't."

"You're lying," Redmond said flatly. He jerked his head at the uniformed women. "Take her to booking. For now, just make it a twenty four hour hold."

Brynna didn't bother watching Detective Redmond as he walked out. In another moment, the two officers had rehandcuffed her and were leading her out. She was more interested in the next twenty four hours. Did he think she would be frightened? That was ridiculous--it was such a short period of time, not even a twitch of her eyelid in the passage that had been her existence. It had been a long time since she'd been on Earth, and she'd already decided that being in the belly of this building was a safe enough place. Like being in the belly of a whale, protected from the sharks circling in the dangerous waters of the outside sea. Spending the next day here would, Brynna believed, go a long way toward bringing her up to date on part of the culture that modern mankind had developed.

"Maybe this will make her more cooperative," Eran Redmond said as he and Sathi watched Brynna Malak being led away by two policewomen, both of whom were considerably shorter than their prisoner.

"Perhaps," his partner agreed.

Redmond turned to look at him. "You don't sound convinced."

Still watching as Brynna and her escorts disappeared around a corner, Sathi crossed his arms. "There is something... strange about that woman," he finally noted. "I can't quite figure it out."

"She's very attractive," Redmond said without thinking. When his friend sent him a wry glance, Redmond shrugged. "Come on, it's not like you didn't notice, too."

"I did," Sathi admitted. "But I think it would be a grave mistake to do anything about it."

"Yeah," Redmond said. He pushed open the main door and headed out to the parking lot and their waiting car. His face darkened and he couldn't keep a hint of bitterness from edging out with his words. "It always is."

A corner of Sathi's mouth lifted. "In your love life, that does seem to be the unfortunate truth, my friend. But in this instance..." He didn't finish.

Redmond started to prod him, then decided not to. It wouldn't do any good to put Sathi on the spot when Redmond had a feeling the man couldn't explain himself. Just as Redmond himself couldn't explain that even though his partner had never finished what he was saying about Brynna Malak, Redmond knew exactly what he was talking about. To start with, there was the obvious: A cop never, ever hooked up with someone involved in a case. Redmond couldn't think of any faster way to screwed up, and although anyone with a brain would say it was a non brainer, he'd seen plenty of good cops take their careers right into the crapper by doing just that. He didn't need any personal education on it, thank you very much. He already had enough of a family history to know what the flipside of being one of the good guys could get you.

But as Sathi had noted, there was, indeed, something about Brynna Malak.

Setting his jaw, Eran forced away his thoughts of her as he climbed into his car and went about the rest of his day.

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