Unhinged (Immortal Redeemer 3)
J. Hali Steele
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Copyright ©2014 J. Hali Steele
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Two hours, and five espressos later, Nightshade Santone sat still as a statue. Nothing ruffled his feathers, not even patrons milling around his table eying the lone empty chair in the cafe. Shade waited patiently; shit, he had waited a lifetime to find the Covenant.
It was within his grasp if he waited just a little longer. Arriving a few days earlier, Shade had booked a room at a motel in Shenandoah and called the manager of his club in Arizona to have money wired to the local bank. He was surprised to find one of his favorite menswear stores tucked away in a corner of the tiny mall when he made a necessary shopping trip to purchase warm clothing for his stay. Shade did not intend to remain in this part of the country any longer than necessary so he opted against buying at least one pair of the long johns he'd eyed distastefully. He thanked the magic which came into play and saw to it he always reappeared in the clothes he'd donned before allowing his raptor to emerge.
Townspeople bustled into the only establishment open for miles and it remained overflowing. Some sat on windowsills, some leaned against walls, and none appeared in a hurry to go back outside. What locals called a nor'easter blew snow in every direction, and before lumbering plows made any headway, more of the white stuff fell, covering pavements and anything else that didn't continuously move.
If hell were to freeze over -- it would happen today.
Canvassing the area before the storm arrived, Shade had sniffed out three women, none of whom would pose a threat when he made his move. One, a female Redeemer around a hundred years old, the second woman he couldn't quite figure out. There was an odd scent, not the usual piney aroma.
The third was the human he waited for.
A smile tugged his lips when his thoughts drifted back to the women and their scent. Immortals carried an aroma that had no rival, and having followed the human for a few days, Shade enjoyed the scent clinging to her even though it caused him quite a bit of discomfort. He wondered if she wore long johns and if flowers or butterflies decorated the thick cotton material. The sound of a tray clattering to the floor snatched him back to reality. The Covenant. He was in this godforsaken town for one reason and if he didn't detest cold, snowy climes, he would have come for it sooner. Yet, niggling away at the back of his mind was the objectionable idea he hungered for contact with his own kind after years of loneliness. Nightshade shoved that thought away, and with a grimace pulling his mouth in a stern line, he attempted to stamp it out for good. There were bigger things to think about. Standing between him and the book was a legend among immortals, and the son-of-a-bitch had kept the tome hidden for centuries. Currently, he wasn't in the area, and with this storm, he wouldn't be likely to return anytime soon. Hawks took flight in bad weather, but not far, and snow made travel by car treacherous on windy, mountainous roads.
A patron decided to stop, eye his empty cup and the vacant chair, interrupting his train of thought. "You done? I need a couple seats."
Ignoring him for the moment, Shade watched a teenage boy yank a leash and choke a golden retriever. The kid dragged the dog in his direction, and he prayed they passed his table. Come to Poppa. Small town, and the owner, a real nice guy, allowed a few people to come in out of the bad weather with their animal companions as long as they remained on a leash and were quietly tucked under a table while everyone sipped their coffee or nibbled a breakfast roll.
"You done or what?"
Shade's spine tingled in agitation and he'd opened his mouth to respond when the kid tapped the man on the arm. "Dad, Champ keeps jumping around. I think he has to go."
The father turned to his son. "I told you, kick the shit out of him if he doesn't mind you."
The woman he waited for picked that moment to walk through the door, just in time to hear the dog yelp when the man punched it in the head. Shade slowly slid his chair back, but not before she weaved through the tables and stood toe-to-toe with the man.
"Jake, if you hit that dog one more time, I'm taking him from you." Anger colored her cheeks, made her more beautiful than Shade remembered. She shook snow from long brown hair and pierced the huge man with a deadly brown stare. "I'm not telling you again."
Shade bided his time. Sniffing the air, he detected the unmistaken sweet aroma that moments ago made him smile. He briefly wondered why the woman visited the Redeemers each morning, or was it possible she stayed there? Highly unlikely so many Immortals in such a small territory would require helpers. Shade, sometimes known as the Shadow by a handful who lived to tell the tales of him appearing out of nowhere and taking down small armies, had been the human's personal shadow for three days and he'd followed her to the cafe each morning. Today, he'd come early and awaited her arrival. The man, his kid, and the unfortunate dog, just made meeting her a lot easier.
A pin dropping would have made a loud noise as every eye peered in their direction.
"What the fuck you gonna do, bitch? That's my dog."
The behemoth of a man drew his oversized foot back, prepared to strike the animal -- but never got the chance. Shade didn't have to leave his seat to reach the man's raised foot with his hand. He snatched the big bastard's leg from under him and he crashed to the floor face first.
The youngster gawked in disbelief at his old man eating dirt.
"That's no way to talk to a lady." Shade stood and helped the man up before he totally gathered his senses and became even more confrontational. "You and sonny boy should run along." Grabbing a fistful of material, he yanked the man close. The tips of their noses brushed, and leaning toward the man's ear, he whispered, "I'm not as nice as she is and if I ever see you harm that dog again, I'll rip your fucking nuts off and shove them down your throat." He dusted dirt from the man's shirt. "Understand?"
"I'll get you for this."
"Sure you will." He glared at the man and allowed his eyes to change enough to spook anyone with common sense. Having a little bit of sense, the bastard took a step back. "I'll be around." Shade detested men like him and wondered if he abused the boy. "Maybe I'll look you up later, how's that?"
Turning quickly, the bastard headed for the door, and his son fell in line behind him tugging the dog. "Easy on the leash, young man, shorten the strap and let him walk beside you." The kid followed his advice, but it wouldn't be long before he learned his daddy's way. Brute force.
Twisting back to the table, he heard applause. The man had probably bullied everyone here at some point. Shade shrugged. "I wonder sometimes why dogs are called animals instead of us." The woman remained in the same spot gazing at him. When she smiled, the cafe lit up as if the sun shone. "Only empty seat in the place, join me."
"I'd love to." She removed her fleece-lined coat and hung it over the back of the chair. "I'll be right back."
Shade moved his chair to face the counter. Sitting down, he noted a few people started to don their outerwear and leave, no doubt to gossip about the morning's excitement. A table emptied beside him, allowing room to stretch his long legs as he watched the woman weave toward the register...