UNEDITED (This is book 4 in the Reclaiming Honor series [A Kurtherian Gambit series]. Check out books 1-3 on Amazon, all in Kindle Unlimited)
“I must die,” Valerie said.
Neither Sandra nor Jackson seemed to hear her, as Sandra was too busy arranging a cheese and wine sampler that some of her customers had ordered, while Jackson stood at the entryway to the backroom where they were all huddled. He kept pulling the curtain aside and nervously glancing out.
Valerie looked over her shoulder at Diego, going through one of the crates of supplies that had recently been delivered via blimp from Europe.
“Thank God this shipment made it through,” he said, closing the lid and turning to them with a smile. “All accounted for.”
“Good.” Sandra sliced chunks of cheese from a block, but this one she held as if she was going to take a bite. But right when it was close to her mouth she pulled it back to say, “One more damn shipment intercepted by those pirates, and I swear to god I’ll figure out how to become a vampire and go after them myself.”
Valerie just shook her head, flabbergasted.
“What?” Sandra asked. She looked at the others, who looked equally confused. “Did we miss something?”
“Only my death.” Valerie rolled her eyes. “But no one cares about that, apparently.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re invincible,” Diego said.
Jackson let the curtain fall and looked back at her. “Dear, the people of this city, those that know anything about you anyway, love you. They’d follow you to the ends of the earth.”
“And yet, none of that changes the fact that I have to die,” Valerie said. She stood now, brushing out her purple coat over the tight leather outfit she had become accustomed to wearing. She mostly moved in the shadows and stayed out of sight anyway, so why not wear what made her feel sexy and badass?
This got their attention, and Sandra took a swig of a nearby glass of wine, but then realized she wasn’t supposed to. She shrugged and drank the rest from the glass.
They were all looking at her waiting.
“It’s like this,” she said, “the three amigos will keep sending assassins after me, and—”
“Wait, three amigos?” Jackson turned from his post to look at her. “You’re bringing that back?”
“Back?” Diego asked.
Valerie leaned back, knowingly. “It was what a lot of the Enforcers and others called them before we ousted Strake. Referring to the CEOs, of course. The point is, we’ve taken out at least ten of their assassins since that night at the Bazaar, right? And who knows how many they have in reserve, or what sort of sick game they want to play next. For all I know, they’ll come after you three.”
“Which is why you aren’t seen with us,” Sandra said.
“I wish it were so simple.” Valerie stood and walked over to Jackson, waving. He pulled back the curtain slightly. “See that man in the corner, the one who keeps glancing out of the window. Yeah, one of them. A vampire, so I’m willing to bet Forsaken, and I’m willing to bet he’s one of these new assassins, just waiting for me to come walking by.”
She pulled back and turned to the group. “So you see, I have to die. Well, fake die, anyway, so that they think I’m dead.”
“Won’t that be dangerous for the city, though?” Jackson asked. “I mean, if they think you’re out of the picture, what’s to stop them from just coming back here with their army and moving in?”
“Honestly I think we did a number on their army,” she replied. “And this city has Cammie, Royland, you Jackson, and the police force. The city is in damn-good hands. And then there’s the fact that, if they think I’m dead, they’ll be extra surprised when I show up on their doorsteps to bring them justice.”
“You want to go after them?” Jackson was staring at her now with wide, uncertain eyes.
“It’s the only way to truly end this.”
She turned then and walked out the back, secret route, sensing their emotions of confusion as she walked away. It swept over her like a cold tingling, and then she was in the alley and it was gone.
Glancing at the nearby streets to ensure no one else was watching her, she then walked over to stop at the corner, just within sight of the people from inside, glanced around, and waited. It was dark out, so she wanted to be sure the assassin saw her, and then she walked back into the alley.
A moment later, she heard the door close and shoes scuff on concrete, but when the Forsaken she had smelled entered the alley, his expression darkened at the fact that he was, seemingly, alone.
Then the fear hit him, but only slightly, as Valerie couldn’t control its direction and didn’t want to scare off the customers within Sandra’s café.
The Forsaken took a step back, eyes wide, darting back and forth across the alley, and before he could take another step back, she was on him, swooping down from behind with a strike so hard he went flying into the brick wall on the other side.
But this one was better than the last the CEOs had sent after her, and a split-second after impact he had rolled aside, pulled out two silver-plated blades, and slashed, knowing she would have come in for the attack.
The son of a bitch was right, and dammit the tiny cut on the tip of her knuckle hurt. While she had gotten more used to pain with all of it that she had to deal with over the past couple of months in Old Manhattan, she still hated it just as much. She just had a higher threshold for it than most.
So when she blocked the next strike and kicked out his knee, she kicked it with such ferocity that not only did she bust the kneecap, but she sent her foot straight through it.
It was disgusting.
The Forsaken stared at her for a second, then lunged as she tried to step back… but he collapsed right onto his face.
“They need to train you bastards for years before sending you out here like this,” Valerie said as she knelt next to him, ignoring his groans and writhing of pain. She took one of the blades, which he had dropped in his fall, and put it to his throat. “I wish I could tell you to run off, to warn your masters that their days are numbered, but…” She glanced over at the severed leg and cringed. “That really is disgusting. You should see someone about that.” And then she ended him. She tossed the body into an old, dumpster that smelled like rotten diapers left out for years, and went back into the café.
She immediately went to the service sink and washed her hands, annoyed that they had a red stain that was harder to get off than she had hoped. Before the others had a chance to ask her what that was all about, a quick knock came from the wall next to the curtain.
“Yes?” Sandra asked.
“The guy who ordered the crème brulee is gone,” the waitress Sandra had hired said, sticking her head in the back. “Anyone want it?”
Valerie raised an eyebrow and said, “Over here.” She smiled as the waitress handed it over, and then broke the hard top with her spoon, already loving the sweet scent of cream and vanilla. When she noticed Sandra staring at her, she said, “What? It’s not like it goes to my hips or anything.” She took a bite and moaned. “Oh God, this is definitely one of the best perks about being a vampire. No need to stress over what I’m eating.”
“You’re telling me you could eat straight sugar for a week and not have any concerns?”
She thought about it. “I imagine I still need nutrients, but the negatives? Yeah, I’m pretty sure my body would fight it off.” After another bite, she said, “Oh, yeah, we’re going to need some people to clean up the alley. A bit of a mess.”
“Please try to keep it away from the café,” Sandra said, exasperated.
“Hey, tell the idiots to attack me somewhere else and…” A thought hit her, and she frowned. “Shit, they’re coming here, looking for me. Sandra, they’ve associated your café with finding me. This isn’t good.”
“It won’t matter, I mean not really.” Sandra looked at her like it was obvious. “I mean, because of course I’m coming with you.”
“You heard her,” Jackson said. “We all are.”
Valerie stared at them, totally certain that there was no way that was going to happen. This was going to be too dangerous. It was going to be her against the world, against the three most powerful men in America, for all she knew.
Along the way, she meant to take care of this place that trained assassins. What had the Forsaken called them, back at the Bazaar? The Black Plague, right. She almost laughed, then realized Sandra was frowning.
“Oh, no, I’m not laughing at you all,” Valerie said, her smile vanishing. “Just… this is going to be incredibly dangerous, and well…” She glanced over at the three, and could see this was going to be tough. “Jackson, you leave the city and it falls apart. You can’t deny it.”
“Yeah, but…” He stopped, mouth open, working as he tried to come up with an answer. Nothing.
“She has a point there,” Sandra said. “But us? We have each other, and that’s it.”
Sandra wrapped an arm around Diego’s waist.
“Exactly my point!” Valerie said, then faked gagging. “You two, can you imagine how going on a trip like this with you would be?”
They looked at her frowning, and Diego said, “Enlighten us, won’t you?”
“It’d be sickening! You two are the sappiest love birds I’ve ever seen, I mean, come on!”
Now it was Jackson’s turn to laugh. “She’s got that right.”
“Shut up,” Sandra said to him, then took her arm from around Diego so she could point at Valerie. “And you, get fucking used to it! Because if you think for a second I’m letting you wander off by yourself, with us having no way of knowing how you’re doing, or if you’ll even make it back, you are sadly delusional.”
Valerie pursed her lips, hearing a couple of forks hitting plates in the other room, as people reacted to Sandra’s yelling. There was once a time when that in itself would have surprised Valerie, back when Sandra was effectively her slave. But now, it had become something of a thing.
“And if you act like this when we’re out there?” Valerie said. “When it’s life or death on the line, and I tell you to do something, I want to know that you aren’t going to turn around and argue with me.”
“When?” Sandra beamed. “You did say when, not if.”
“Yeah, but I mean—”
“She said ‘when’!” Sandra jumped into Diego’s arms and they kissed.
“Good luck,” Jackson said, stepping up to Valerie. “I’d say it’ll be harder to survive these two than anything the CEOs can throw at you.”
Valerie ran a hand through her hair and groaned. “You think I really have to take them?”
“No, but… If you’re going to, I get dibs on the café. Don’t be surprised if all the wine’s gone when you get back.”
That got Sandra’s attention. “Hey, no way. We’re already down because of those stupid pirates. You want me to kick your butt up to Toro or whatever they call that pirate haven up there now?”
“Wait, what?” Jackson glanced around, confused.
“Just, Clive told me about the pirates up there,” Valerie said, filling him in. “The ones that almost took us down on the way over here, apparently they all have this kind of home base up there. What used to be Toronto. But, wait a sec, Sandra… how do you know about all that?”
Sandra looked to Diego, and he shook his head, just barely. A red aura shot out from them, warm, but too warm.
“No, no lying,” Valerie said, interpreting the sensation. This sort of mind reading was weird, but fairly useful.
Judging by Sandra’s annoyed sigh, she didn’t seem to think so. “Okay, with all this pirate crap interfering with the business, we’ve been going down to talk to him recently. Found out a bit more about it, and we’re talking about ways to set up a defensive.”
“Wait, you’re what?”
“You know, like set up a blockade to stop the pirates.”
Valerie almost laughed. “Are you saying you’ve been going behind our backs to try and set up a fleet of ships and airships, basically?”
“More just thinking out loud,” Sandra said, clearly affronted. “And just because someone does something without telling you, doesn’t mean they’re going behind your back.”
Valerie frowned, but had to admit that Sandra had a good point. “And you want to put that on hold to wander the wilderness, possibly face nomad tribes and whackos and who knows what else on our way to confront the CEOs in whatever the hell Chicago is like nowadays?”
The question caused Sandra to pause, but then she bit her lip and nodded. “You’re my everything, Val. Well, you and Diego here.”
Diego took her hand and kissed it.
“Ugh, what did I say about that crap?” Valerie spun around, shaking her head, only to be met by Jackson staring at her with a grin. “Don’t you start too now,” she said, and then nodded for him to follow. “We can take care of our sappiness in private.”
His grin grew even wider, and they headed for the backdoor. It looked like Valerie was taking Sandra and Diego to hunt down the CEOs. In the meantime, they had some preparations to take care of.
Valerie paused and turned back to Sandra. “Let’s make sure everything’s in place, figure this all out. We have my death to plan, after all.”
FROM JUSTIN >>> Can you believe it’s time for book 4 already? But here’s the scary thing – there are so many amazing Kurtherian Gambit books now, are you all still going to read mine? My guess is that you readers are so amazing and love reading so much, that having more books in the series is always a plus. Right? Right?! Haha.
For new people who don’t know what I’m talking about, the Kurtherian Gambit Universe is huge. Michael Anderle started it and has like 15 books in the original series. He then spun it off to include such authors as Craig Martelle and myself, and more now. What’s really exciting for me, as a fantasy reader and writer (check Land of Gods, with over 150 reviews), is the new installment, ranked 182 in ALL of Amazon, and #1 in Coming of Age fantasy, by C.M. Raymond and Le Barbant:
She didn’t mean to use magic
She didn’t even know she HAD magic
She just wanted to save her brother, who was dying in her arms.
Accused of using illegal magic, and sentenced to a cruel death at the hands of the city’s guards, Hannah has no choice but to trust in the aid of a strange old man who wields unimaginable power.
The Founder has returned to correct the wrongs of unjust. But to do that, he needs Hannah, a young woman from the city slums. She has a key to unlocking a power even greater than his own–if she can only learn to trust herself and the magic flowing within her blood.
Restriction is a fantasy set in the far future, where magic and monsters ravage the land of Irth and only the strong survive.