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Night Life

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Night Life

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Author: Caitlin Kittredge
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2008
Series: Nocture City: Book 1
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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The first book in a thrilling, addictive new series by a talented new voice in dark fantasy. Welcome to Nocturne City, where werewolves, black magicians, and witches prowl the streets at night...

Among them is Luna Wilder, a tough-as-nails police officer whose job is to keep the peace. As an Insoli werewolf, Luna travels without a pack and must rely on instinct alone. And she's just been assigned to find the ruthless killer behind a string of ritualistic murders--a killer with ties to an escaped demon found only in legend... until now.

But when she investigates prime suspect Dmitri Sandovsky, she can't resist his wolfish charms. Pack leader of a dangerous clan of Redbacks, Dimitri sends her animal instincts into overdrive and threatens her fiercely-guarded independence. But Luna and Dimiri will need to rely on each other as they're plunged into an ancient demon underworld and pitted against an expert black magician with the power to enslave them for eternity...


Chapter 1

I smelled the girl's blood and saw her body in a pool of neon light. Signs from a bar facing the alley painted the scene dreamlike, the pavement slick and bottomless and the body's skin pink and hard.

I could smell her blood because I'm a werewolf.

I had gotten the call because she was dead.

A uniform stopped me with an upraised hand. "Ma'am?"

I drew my jacket aside and showed him the Nocturne City Police Department detective badge clipped to my waist. He squinted at it in the ineffectual light and then nodded. "Sorry, Detective... Wilder. Go ahead."

He even lifted the tape for me. I rewarded him with a smile. "Call me Luna, Officer... ?"

"Thorpe, ma'am." He smiled back, tired blue eyes lighting up. I tend to have that effect on men, even when it's 3 am and I'm wearing raggedy blue jeans and a T-shirt stained with fingerprinting ink. Not my off-duty attire to be sure, but you try cleaning blood out of a silk halter.

Thorpe called after me, "Hope you didn't eat dinner. She's juicy!"


I walked into the red light from the beer signs, moving between CSU techs and a photographer snapping a digital Nikon. I stopped, the pointy toe of one boot just shy of the body, and looked down at the girl. Her throat was opened in a wide gash, obscured by dried blood. What hadn't been left inside her--and that wasn't much--was coating the blacktop, giving oily life to the ground below her. Her left index finger was severed neatly at the knuckle, a raw red-white disk with the blood coagulated.

Someone spoke from below my line of vision. "Another night, another dead girl. Nice to have a routine, isn't it?"

Bart Kronen, one of the city's three medical examiners, crouched next to the body, his bald head as red as everything else. I mimicked his posture and bent over the girl's corpse.

"Nice wouldn't be my word for this." Closer, the blood wasn't the only smell rolling off the girl. A sharp, musky odor lay under it, and that only meant one thing. I slid a glance to Bart to see if he'd figured it out yet, but he was busy with a thermometer and a stopwatch.

"Killer took time to get a souvenir, so make sure you print her skin before the autopsy. Any idea what made that gash in her throat?" Other than the obvious, of course--the musky scent was the panic of a trapped were, panicked because she had wandered down the wrong street and been jumped by a rival pack.

Kronen chuckled, plump cheeks crinkling. "If this happened before the Hex Riots I'd say you've got an outlaw were that needs to be put down, but as it is..." He shrugged and began packing away small evidence bags filled with cotton swabs taken from the body. He didn't pick up my instinctive flinch at the phrase put down.

Weres don't kill people, and never did, except the few who can't take the phase and go insane. Were attacks were the fuse that lit the bomb of the Hex Riots over Nocturne City in the 1960s. If you got the bite, you pretty much resigned yourself to living with the constant, twitchy fear that someone would discover your secret and take matters into their own hands. Witches and weres don't enjoy many civil rights in this day and age. On paper, sure, but when a self-righteous plain human with an aluminum bat is after you, it's another story.


I put my attention back on Dr. Kronen. "Hmm?" Great, could I manage to seem like more of an airhead? Maybe if I showed up for work tomorrow in a pink sweater set.

Kronen gestured to the dead girl's hands. "You may want to take a look. She's got some nasty defensive wounds."

I slipped on the proffered glove and took her right hand in mine. Her fingers dangled limply, flesh stripped off the tips, nails torn and broken. Good girl. You fought like hell. You scratched him and kicked him, and made it hard for him to hide what happened.

"I'm also guessing we'll find evidence of sexual assault."

"Why do you say that, Doc?"

He rolled his eyes at me and stood up, brushing nonexistent dirt from his khakis. "Cause of death appears to be peri- and postmortem mutilation, and coupled with the ritual of severing the left digit, I'm guessing this is a sex crime."

"Isn't mutilation usually a secondary trait in sex crimes?"

Kronen nodded. "Usually, but I can't find another obvious cause. I'll know more when I can screen her blood for drugs and cut her open to have a peek at her internals. Your skin may lie but your guts never do."

"Kronen, your reverence for victims never fails to amaze me."

"In this line of work, Detective, if we didn't laugh we'd all be prey to the wolves of insanity before the night was out."

Wolves again. What was it with this guy? Well, as long as he was harping on it I might as well put my talents to good use and see if I could find anything he'd missed.

I took a second look at the girl, inhaling deeply as I let my eyes focus in on her skin, her hair, the creases and crevices where trace evidence could hide. The telltale sting told me that my eyes were starting to turn from their normal gray to deep were gold, and I blinked fast to clear them.

Grease, urine, blood, garbage, and the smell of wet brick from the recent rain all mingled. It wasn't what I'd ever describe as pleasant, but there was nothing out of the ordinary, either.

The girl herself looked about twenty, with porcelain skin and black hair, a lighter color showing at the roots. Leather skirt, black platform sandals, and a shocking lime-green halter top made out of stretchy material that showcased her chest. No bag, wallet, hidden money roll, or anything else that would help me ID her. And it wasn't exactly like I could go knocking on her pack's door for information. An Insoli like me would get a boot in the ass at best, a torn throat to match the dead girl's at worst.

I walked with Kronen back to the ME's van. "So, any theories?" he asked me, tossing his gear into the back.

"Based on the neighborhood and the outfit... pro. John gone bad. Always tragic, but it happens a lot around here." Kronen was a good medical examiner and a decent guy, but he shared the human attitude that Were=Bad & Scary & Okay to Hurt. Best to feed him the party line for anonymous dead hookers.

Kronen got into the driver's seat and shut the door. "Prostitute murder in a downtown alley? How rare. Shocking, in fact."

"Absolutely shocking," I agreed, glad that he let it go at sarcasm.

"I'll page you when the autopsy is scheduled."

"Thanks. Night."

"Morning," he corrected me. And it was, nearly four thirty.

I walked back through the tape and sat in my 1969 Ford Fairlane. Black, shiny, fast, and a hell of a lot better than an unmarked vehicle from the motor pool.

I was a liar. Even as I voiced my theory to Kronen, I knew it was a bad excuse. The torn throat, the fierce defensive wounds, and the missing finger joint all spoke to something far more violent than a business transaction gone sour or a were pack warning a pro off their turf. Lots of packs did street-level dealing and sent their mates out to work the streets, but run across one of those puritanical pack leaders and you were in deep crap. Usually the offending were got away with some nasty bruises and a humiliation bite. Killing just made it bad for all of us.

It could have been a human who killed her, a savage one, but I dismissed that as quickly as it popped into my head. Even without phasing, a were could fight off a human three times their size. We're strong. Not Spider-Man strong, but we manage.

Attempts to rationalize failed, which meant I was right. She had been killed for a reason. A heightened five senses comes standard with being a were, but I firmly believe it gives you heightened instincts, too. Now I would use them to find out why the girl in the alley was dead.

I looked at the dashboard clock as I pulled away from the scene and turned onto Magnolia Boulevard, once the heart of downtown Nocturne City. If it was a heart now, it was one in dire need of a quadruple bypass and a pacemaker. Boarded-up storefronts glared at me like empty eye sockets, illuminated by broken streetlamps and holding enough shadows to hide a multitude of sins.

The clock read 4:42 am. With no means to ID the girl with until she was fingerprinted and x-rayed at the morgue, I had nothing to do for the rest of my shift except go back to the Twenty-fourth Precinct, file my report, and see if any progress had been made on my seven other open cases. That, I doubted. Working the midnight-to-eight shift in homicide does not lead to a high clearance rate, or a lack of bags under my eyes. Some nights I swore I should invest in the company that made my concealer and retire.

Magnolia intersected Highland and I made the right turn, crossing over into the old Victorian district. Highland Park was one of the few neighborhoods where the residents had been able to stop the city from widening the street and chopping down the hundred-year-old oak trees. It also housed the Twenty-fourth, tucked neatly into a skinny brick two-stor...

Copyright © 2008 by Caitlin Kittredge


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