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Authors: T. G. Ayer

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban

Skin Deep

BOOK: Skin Deep
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Skin Deep

Book 1 of the DarkWorld Novels

 

T.G. Ayer

 

Kindle Edition

 

Copyright 2013 by T.G. Ayer

 

 

Find out more about T.G. Ayer at

http://www.tgayer.com/

http://www.tgayer.wordpress.com/

 

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may
not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author or publisher except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or reviews.

***

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, businesses, characters and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events or locales is purely coincidental.

 

***

 

Cover art by Eduardo Daniel Priego.

Cover art (copyright) T.G. Ayer. All rights reserved.

 

Edited by
J.C. Hart

 

***

 

Kindle Edition, License Notes

This
eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

***

 

Dedication

 

For Dharshini- daughter & assistant.

Rumpelstiltskin once asked me for my first born, and in return he said he'd make my dream come true. I said no thanks – my first born is my dream come true.

Isn't he a fool?

 

***

 

Chapter 1

The door stood open and my supervisor walked back and forth, already arranging the chairs in a cozy circle. Clancy grinned as I entered. "Hello, Miss Tardy," she teased. I stuck my tongue out at her and stashed my backpack behind the desk.

I always arrived at least thirty minutes early, something she teased me for often enough. Today I was only fifteen minutes early, so technically, she was right and I was late.

I'd headed to the group therapy session in spite of the dull headache pounding my skull with the feverish tenacity of a jackhammer. While these sessions weren’t compulsory for the clients, my attendance was mandatory as far as I was concerned. I'd never missed a session since I started working for the Sandhurst Centre for Rehabilitation—also known as the Rehab Centre.

"You okay?" Clancy's voice cut through my thoughts and I realized I still stood at the table, stock still.

I nodded. "I'm fine, just a headache." I squeezed my forehead, trying to massage the throbbing away. The pain had crept up on me, so unbearable now I couldn't swallow without feeling it pulse in my throat and in my skull.

Clancy tucked her long, dark hair behind her ear and walked over to me, her green eyes narrowing in on my face. "Look, take off if you’re not feeling up to it, okay? Go home and sleep it off."

I shook my head and regretted it immediately as a sudden throb gripped my head in an agonizing vice. Swallowing a groan I said, "No, really, I'll manage."

"Alright. But you look like crap. What will our kids think?"

A giggle escaped my lips. "Yes, Ms. McBride. I’ll put on a happy face for the kids," I answered, my voice dry but still filled with laughter.

Clancy grinned and rummaged through the desk, rearranging paperwork, her hair hiding her features. Our coloring—hair, eyes, even skin tone—was so similar many people assumed we were related. I took it as a compliment. Despite being Human, Clancy embodied everything I wanted in a friend and mentor. And she always had my back.

But she didn't know I wasn't Human. And I had no intention of finding out how she would react to my true identity. What would she think if she knew her bright young counselor was a Panther shapeshifter? Humans weren't known for their acceptance of the unknown and I wanted our relationship to remain just the way it was.

A hum in the corridor announced the first arrivals, who usually waited for company before they entered. Clancy and I fiddled with paperwork until the group settled. Still officially in training, a qualified counselor often joined me for assessments. And each class proved an educational experience for me.

The stragglers trickled in and the group began to settle.

Todd Denfield, one of our regulars, sat back in his chair, almost melting into the metal backrest. A picture of enforced, bored non-attention. When Todd's rough voice broke the usual beginning-session silence, nobody in the room was more surprised than myself.

"How do you become gay?" Heads turned as the fourteen-year-old boy voiced the question, eyes downcast.

Silence smothered the group, palpable and thick. My jaw stuck, unsure how to respond. But even as Clancy and I shared a quick glance to decide who would respond, one of the other patients answered the question.

"There's nothin' wrong with bein' gay, Todd." Sam
answered. He was one of the older, already rehabilitated kids, who returned often to attend the open forum. He admitted it reminded him of what he had to lose, of how hard he'd worked to pick himself up from where he'd fallen. "Maybe tell us why you're askin'?"

Todd gave him an impatient glare and shook his head. Eye- wateringly bright fluorescent light glazed his dark hair, gelled and spiked to stand straight up in places, while curtaining his eyes in oily fronds. "So— how does it happen? I mean, how do you know you’re
...gay?"

"You just do, like knowin’ you’re straight." Sam looked around the room. He received a chorus of nods. It seemed the simplest answer, and the best one.

"And can you stop?" Todd asked. "Like today you're gay and tomorrow you're straight."

"There are people who are bisexual which means they find both sexes attractive. But I don't think a person's sexual orientation can change overnight." Sam sat back, satisfied with his explanation.

Todd stared at the older boy, dark eyes thickly lined in black. He'd failed to hide the purple crescents hugging each dull orb, betraying nights of sleeplessness. Todd's upper lip curled. A thankful smile made slightly grotesque by two tiny silver piercings that clung to the soft flesh of his lower lip. As I watched him, the telltale signs beneath the pasty-pale goth foundation became clearer. Faint coral smudges stained the skin at his neck, almost hidden by a thick, studded-leather collar. His clothing looked unnatural, uncomfortable. A staged, gothic treatment, which I'd always taken as an outward indication of his inner emotional turmoil. I'd been presumptuous. So blind.

Good thing Clancy knew I felt a bit under the weather. At least now, she wouldn't realize I sat there almost paralyzed with shock.

How did you miss the signs, Odel? You're slipping big time.

They'd been right there in front of me all along and I'd missed them. The peach residue which clung around Todd's neck screamed of a Wraith’s touch, something I saw every day— because it's my job to hunt the god-damned soul-sucking freaks.

I let out a tiny breath of relief. Todd wasn't the one possessed. Perhaps his father? But, the many traces of pale peach and coral located around Todd's neck and arms proved the Wraith definitely abused the boy. I may be too late to help him. My stomach twisted. This lack of observation and awareness could mean the death of an innocent boy.

Aching head temporarily forgotten, I contemplated my next move as the session disbanded and the kids trailed out of the room and down the hall.

I sighed as Clancy waved a quick good-bye, shaking a finger at me – a warning to go home and rest. I began stacking chairs to move them to the storeroom, still chock-full of guilt for being so blind to the presence of a Wraith around Todd. No matter how much I convinced myself the make-up Todd had slathered on hid the signs too well, spotting Wraiths was my job.

The vicious throb returned with a vengeance once silence descended on the room. I tried to ignore it while it ate farther into my brain, farther into my neck and shoulders. I sat heavily on my seat and rolled my head from side to side, hoping the movement might relax the muscles, while I pressed desperate fingers into lumps the size of peach pits pebbling the muscles in my neck.

A Wraith-hunt now was inconvenient to say the least. But, headache be damned. I had to make time for a bit of recon at Todd's house later in the day.

A boy's life hung in the balance
.

 

***

 

Chapter 2

My head still throbbing, I dragged my body from my office, to make a stop at my friend Tara's shop. Tara was a Metal-singer, an Ethereal with the ability to manipulate any solid substance with only the power of her mind and the blood that sang in her veins. Though Tara's gift lay in working metals, her real power was the strength of her heart.

When I'd arrived in Chicago to stay with Grandma Ivy, I'd needed a weapon for protection. Gram's friend Storm had generously provided Tara's name as a legitimate weapons forger and I'd had a crash course in direct contact with an Elemental Fae. I'd never trusted anyone easily but she was one of the most caring people I knew. Somehow it had been easy to trust her. Deep down I hoped I'd never regret it.

I set off, jogging the three blocks to Tara's shop, worried because I hadn't been able to get her on the phone. Though eager to see the modifications she'd made to my old bow, I was more interested in the ammo she'd been developing. Tara was a weapons manufacturer, but for me she often went above and beyond. She knew about my Hunting and she and her mother Gracie had been searching for just the right substance to fill the cartridges for my jazzed up bow. Just the right substance to kill a Wraith on contact.

When I reached the shop, a closed sign hung in the window, and peeking in through the front window confirmed the place was draped in shadows. I had more luck at the rear entrance. A broken exhaust pipe propped the back door open. An iron security gate still shut me out though. Tara’s vague, gray shape moved about inside the dingy backroom.

I peered into the room. Ebony tendrils escaped a haphazard topknot and clung to Tara's neck and shoulders, slick with sweat. Her pale skin, like most Elementals, bore the swirled markings of the Elemental Fae Court she came from. The glamored patterns remained unseen by Humans unless they had the Sight.

Through the bars, I watched her smooth the curved blade of a scimitar with the tips of her fingers. The metal glowed red against her fingertips as they slid along the blade, shaving fine slivers off until the edge became so sharp it disappeared. Tara honed bladed weapons capable of slicing through bone like butter.

I swallowed back the bite of metal as the warmth from the room bathed my skin. Although Tara worked with metal, she never needed a furnace to heat the material to a red-hot, pliable substance. She did pretty well with just her fingers.

She ceased her work and laid the blade on the worktable. Rising, she dusted her hands on the seat of her pants. I hadn't dared to disturb while she worked, only rapping my knuckles against the door now as she stretched.

"Hey, look what the cat dragged in," Tara said, grinning at the pun. Corny, but cute.

She shut the gate behind me, leaving the door open for fresh air. Besides a fear of overheating the room, she possessed a second elemental trait— claustrophobia. Adaptation to the Human way of life took longer than a few decades, but most elementals managed to a certain extent.

"Sorry, I called, but
..."

"Yeah, I've been busy back here. A couple of orders keeping me frantic." She shrugged an apology and moved to the table where the scimitar blade sat. Even without a handle, it was still a vicious enough instrument. "What do you need?"

BOOK: Skin Deep
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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