Dead Zone

TRY TO GET OUT ALIVE...

In the seedy underbelly of the Chicago supernatural scene is a club that no one talks about. The Patronus Ceteri have tolerated it for decades, but when club-goers start dying, the self-appointed protectors of the balance can’t let it go. To get to the bottom of what’s happening there, Sapphira, their newest and most powerful member, must ally herself with a wolf she’s not sure she can trust, a troll she’s been forbidden to see, and a ghost who can’t speak.

But that’s not her only problem. Her psychotic ex has returned, threatening to expose her secrets to those who can hurt her the most. Even more than the killer on the loose.

DEAD ZONE, the third novel in the Blue-Eyed Bomb series by USA Today bestselling urban fantasy and paranormal romance author Amber Lynn Natusch. Blue-Eyed Bomb is a Caged spinoff series. While set in the same world as the Caged series, the Blue-Eyed Bomb series can be read apart from the other Caged World series.

 

 

Excerpt:

DEAD ZONE
A Blue-Eyed Bomb Novel
© 2018 Amber Lynn Natusch


PROLOGUE

I dreamt of Iowa that night.

I dreamt of cornfields and sunshine and the boy that helped me. Of horses and tractors and a river that tried to pull me under. Of a silent mother and a sacred property and the force that threatened to destroy it all.

All because of me.

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With an injured ankle, I hobbled out onto the front porch to watch Gabe haul boxes into the barn, the sun glistening off his sweat-coated back. He stopped to look over his shoulder at me and smile. I couldn’t help but smile back. Something about him made it so easy to want to.

As I ventured down the crooked wooden steps, I saw a darkness growing on the horizon. The wall of grey became more vast and ominous as it neared, and I called to Gabe to come inside. Even though my fear was plain, he just waved at me and continued his work.

A crack of thunder shook the ground below us, knocking me down. Something was coming for us. Something evil and hungry.

“Gabe!” I shouted, my call barely audible over the oncoming storm.

He appeared around the house, still smiling at me, but didn’t stop. He continued past me toward the edge of the property where a wall of black waited, toeing the line that it could not cross. From where I lay on the ground, Gabe showed no sign of stopping before he walked right into that dark abyss. If he did, he’d be lost forever.

“Gabe! Snap out of it! You have to fight its pull!” I shouted, struggling to my feet. Hobbling as best I could, I attempted to run—to stop him.

Standing only inches away from the swirling wall of black, he looked over his shoulder at me again. This time, there was no smile.

“You can’t fight what you are,” he said, his voice low and cold. Then he threw himself into the storm, disappearing in an instant.

“NO!” I screamed, no longer caring about the biting pain in my ankle as I sprinted toward where he’d just stood.

The storm smiled at me.

“I’ll see you soon, Trouble. I promise.”

Then it disappeared.

With wide eyes and my heart in my throat, I turned back to the house to find Gabe’s mother standing there. The judgment in her expression was severe.

“I can help him,” I cried, falling to my knees. “I can bring him back…” My head hung low as I fought back the tears stinging my eyes. When I looked up, she was standing right in front of me, staring down at me with sharp eyes.

“He’s coming for you now,” she said. There was a note of satisfaction in her voice—or maybe I just imagined it. Maybe my guilt was just taking another round out of me. “Wake up!”

When I didn’t move, her eyes darkened to the stormy black of the enemy. They moved toward me, seeming to drag her body along with them. She crouched down halfway so I could better see her features distort, swirling like the storm that had taken her son. She stared at me for a moment, silently assessing something, then shouted at me, her voice the deep boom of a male.

“WAKE UP!”

Then her mouth hinged open wide like the storm, and she swallowed me whole.

CHAPTER ONE

I shot up in bed, panting hard. Darkness surrounded me, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Anemoi—the mythical storm—was coming for me just like it had in Iowa, even though that wasn’t possible. Nyx, my dark half, had made sure of that.

I darted for the window, throwing open the blinds to let in the pale moonlight illuminating the night sky. The second it fell on my face, my heart slowed. With deep breaths I stared out at the city, trying to calm myself.

“It was just a dream…”

As I tried to convince myself of that fact, my eyes caught movement below, a dark silhouette disappearing around the corner of the adjacent building. I saw the shadowy figure turn and look up at my window before blending into the cover of night for good.

I recognized his face.

“Shit!” I whisper-shouted. The boy from Iowa—turned whatever it was he’d become—was lurking near the warehouse, a death wish at best. But then again, that wasn’t actually a problem since he was already dead, as far as everyone knew. Everyone but me. I was the only one who knew the truth about the night Sinful burned to the ground. How I’d let my heart cloud my judgment. How I’d let a threat escape out of guilt.

Time was running out for my Gabe rescue mission. If I couldn’t find a way to solve his problem—to undo what Dennis, the dream weaver, had done to him—I knew what I’d have to do. I swallowed hard against the bile rising in my throat.

Letting my head loll back, the moon shining down on my face, I vowed to take care of the situation one way or another. War was upon me. And I had no intention of losing.

Just when my heart rate had normalized, my bedroom door flew open, slamming against the wall. Then Nico rushed in like my life was in need of saving. More like my ass, if he’d found out about Gabe.

“It’s showtime, Phira. Just got a call about a body. A werewolf. The suspect is still there.”

I looked at him through the darkness, confusion creasing my brow.

“Then what do they need us for, if they have the guy that did it?”

“Our job is to determine whether or not the death was accidental.”

“Okay, sure. I’ll be right down. Just let me get dressed.”

He turned to leave, then stopped, hovering in the doorway. “Why are you up?”

“Couldn’t sleep. Bad dreams.”

He barked out a laugh. “Worried the bogeyman is coming for you, little sister?”

“Yeah…something like that.”

Assuming I was joking, he turned and closed the door behind him. I thanked the universe that it hadn’t been Alek who’d come to tell me we were needed. He and his empath abilities would have seen right through me in that moment, and the jig would have been up.

By the time I got downstairs, the boys were waiting for me. The Fates and Muses, my uncles, were already on the scene, and TS was going to meet us there. My brothers and I made our way down to the car, and I did my best not to scour the area for Gabe when we stepped outside. But I knew in my heart that he was gone. He wasn’t after my brothers.

Only me.

We rolled up on the crime scene just before midnight. The massive old metal building had been cleared out with the exception of the killer, the body, and a werewolf: Jenkins. The lone wolf and I had come to better terms since he learned that I’d shut down the magic traffickers auctioning off supernatural girls in his hood, but we were still far from friends.

Everyone who’d been removed was sequestered outside on the far side of the building, awaiting our arrival. Muses and the Fates went straight to work with them while TS, who had arrived just before we did, my brothers, and I walked inside. The place had been an old mill or workshop or something like that. Now it housed a quasi-legal fighting ring—supernaturals only, no humans—which was tolerated by the PC so long as they didn’t draw attention to themselves.

And nobody died.

In the middle of the wide-open space was a cage, the same kind used in MMA-style fights. Other than that, there was nothing. No seats. No partitions. Inside the cage stood Jenkins and the other fighter. At their feet lay the body.

The four of us stepped up onto the mat and walked through the chain link door. I looked at Jenkins and the young werewolf standing next to him, reading their energies for anything that might be helpful, but all I could feel was confusion from the former and fear rolling off the latter.

“So who wants to start talking before we clear the room?” Nico asked, though his tone implied a demand. They’d tell him what he wanted to know if they were smart. I hoped for their sakes that they were. I didn’t have a taste for bloodshed that night.

Jenkins stepped toward us and spoke.

“I was refereeing the match when it happened. To tell you the truth, I don’t really understand what went wrong. Sully hit him with a legal punch. Ward’s guard was down when it connected. Snapped his head around so hard I thought it might go all the way to the back. Then Ward hit the floor and didn’t move. I called the fight and bent down to check on him, but he was already dead. Sully broke his neck.”

Nico stared him down.

“Is that the story we’ll get from everyone outside?” Nico asked. Jenkins and the young fighter both nodded. “Yeah, well, we’ll see about that. TS, take them out to Muses and have him confirm their stories. Then do whatever you need to do to make sure the killer and the others don’t remember our little chat.” Jenkins shot my brother a look. “The wolf excluded. He might be useful.”

“As you wish,” TS replied, gesturing the two toward the cage door. They walked by in single file, and Jenkins looked right at me as he passed. But unlike at our previous encounters, his eyes held no malice. Instead, they were full of sadness—sadness for what had happened there that evening.

I immediately looked away from him and down at the body in the center of the ring. He was average in size, not unlike the wolf that had killed him. It should have been a fair fight, but the angle of the victim’s neck suggested otherwise. He was splayed out on his back like a starfish, but his nose rested against the mat over his right shoulder—an anatomical impossibility even for a werewolf.

On the way to the crime scene, Nico had explained how the fight club worked. It had once been a wild and unorganized venue for supernaturals to blow off steam, but the PC had put an end to that. Rather than shutting it down fully, fearing the repercussions, they had allowed it to stay in operation as long as the participants adhered to a strict set of rules, the first of which was no humans. The second was that anyone who wanted to fight did so without their powers. Stepping into that cage meant doing so without any of their supernatural prowess. They were reduced to virtually human status, courtesy of the nulls that worked there. Each one had a radius of energy around them that could nullify a being’s powers (hence the name), rendering them equivalent to humans. This was a genius plan for a couple of reasons. First, it kept the death toll nonexistent, at least until that night. Second, it reduced the number of supernaturals in attendance, given that it wasn’t only the fighters that would enter a dead zone of magic and be rendered powerless; the perfect crowd control. Finally, it gave nulls a way to hang out with other supernaturals. They were typically avoided like the plague because of what they could do, and they often became asocial or insane over time because of the isolation. Happy nulls were always a better option. Unfortunately, even with the help of the nulls, things could apparently go wrong.

“Should we just get this over with?” I asked, still staring at the body.

Nico didn’t bother responding. Instead, he closed the distance between himself and the corpse, then crouched down beside it.

“You should probably sit down, Phira,” he said over his shoulder. “We already know how this ends.”

I did as he suggested and sat down next to him, knowing that I would have eventually crashed to the mat just as the victim had. I rolled onto my back and closed my eyes, waiting for Ward’s final moments to overtake me. Reliving another’s death was far from my favorite thing to do, but it was my job. I did it because I had to, because it served my father’s legion of warriors who maintained the balance between the human and supernatural worlds. Without the Patronus Ceteri—PC for short—all hell would break loose, and even I didn’t want that. I loved a little chaos in my life, but I knew that this was one place it couldn’t reside. The PC maintained the balance at any cost. And if we found out that Ward’s death had been anything but accidental, there would be only one fate for the young werewolf named Sully—he’d be as dead as his opponent.

There was one clear rule in the supernatural community: obey the PC or face the consequences.

And by consequences, I mean death.

COLLAPSE

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