Nightlife (Cal Leandros #1)

Written By: Rob Thurman

Nightlife (Cal Leandros #1) by Rob Thurman




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


I would like to thank several people: first and foremost my amazing editor, Anne Sowards; my long-toiling agent, Wanda Cook; the brilliantly talented art and design team of Chris McGrath and Ray Lundgren; wonderful copyeditor Michele Alpern; fellow author Mara; webmeisters Beth (also loyal MOTG) and Terry; good pals Mikey and Lynn; the evil twins Shannon and River; and last but not least—the Pack.





Prologue




People… they do the craziest shit.

Yeah, I know. It's not the most elegant observation. But considering I was making it with a knife blade buried in my stomach, kudos to me. Although I had to say that it didn't hurt as much as I would've expected. In fact it didn't hurt at all. It just felt cold… cold and numb, like I had a bellyful of ice water.

It was the touch of a much warmer liquid on my fingers that let me know differently. It was blood. My blood. I tightened my hand over the one that held the knife handle. The blood covered both of our hands, his and mine. He had actually done it… stabbed me. Not that that was the crazy part. It wasn't, not by a long shot. No, the crazy part, the howling-at-the-moon madness bit was that he had tried so hard to avoid it. But wasn't that my brother all over? Honest, loyal, all but rolling in integrity. Too good for his own good. But, hell, in the end, too good for my good as well.

"Well," I said ruefully. "Look at that." Then my knees buckled and I dropped to them, sliding off the blade as easy as you please. There was the kiss of metal and then only gaping emptiness as I fell. Letting go of his hand, I covered the wound in my abdomen. It was strange, how the blood was so warm while I felt all but frozen. I looked up into eyes the same color as mine, pale gray as a winter sky. Curling up the side of my mouth, I gave him a half smile. "My mistake. I guess you have the balls after all. Good for you, big brother."

The blade dropped from his hand to clatter on the floor with the metallic, ringing peal of a bell.

"What? No souvenir?" I asked curiously. The words came out slurred and thick, heavy and fading. Like me. Fading and fading fast. A morning mist dissipating in the rising sun. A broken bird plunging from the sky. A scuttling dark thing fleeing the light of day. Shit, I should've been writing some of this down. Dying really brought out the poet in me.

I heard the gate close, a thunderous and oddly final sound that threatened to bring the building down. The walls shook with a peculiar rippling effect that rose from floor to ceiling, and plaster and metal began dropping like rain. If you had to go, might as well go out with a bang. "Better run, Chicken Little. The sky's falling." Fairy-tale words with a predator bite. They weren't deep, not meaningful, but they had teeth. And like any good predator I wanted to go out with the sweet taste of blood in my mouth.

Naturally he didn't run. Heroes don't do that. And apparently neither do brothers. Hands gripped me and I was flung over a shoulder in a fireman's carry before I could even take a swing at him. Of course, that was making the assumption I had enough life left in me to make a fist. As assumptions went, they didn't come much bigger. Then he was running, jolting me up and down. Behind us I could see the monsters boiling in frustration, rushing at where the gate hung, impenetrable. This time it was closed for good and they knew it. To a one every narrow, pointed face turned in our direction, every molten-lava eye seething with bloodlust and a poisonous, black hatred. Like an ocean wave they came after us, a riptide of murderous intent. Monsters, they didn't handle disappointment well. I should know. I was one.





Chapter One




Most kids don't believe in fairy tales very long. Once they hit six or seven they put away "Cinderella" and her shoe fetish, "The Three Little Pigs" with their violation of building codes, "Miss Muffet" and her well-shaped tuffet—all forgotten or discounted. And maybe that's the way it has to be. To survive in the world, you have to give up the fantasies, the make-believe. The only trouble is that it's not all make-believe. Some parts of the fairy tales are all too real, all too true. There might not be a Red Riding Hood, but there is a Big Bad Wolf. No Snow White, but definitely an Evil Queen. No obnoxiously cute blond tots, but a child-eating witch… yeah. Oh yeah.

There are monsters among us. There always have been and there always will be. I've known that ever since I can remember, just like I've always known I was one. Well, half of one anyway. And regardless of what inherited nastiness I might have on the inside, on the outside I was all human. In fact Niko had said, and pretty damn frequently, that I had more human qualities than I had good sense. He never hesitated to remind me that no matter how god-awful I thought my problems were, I was still his punk-ass kid brother. If I wanted to beat up on myself, I'd have to go through him first. Niko was such a Boy Scout—albeit one with a lethal turn and a Merit Badge in deadly weapons.

Niko, for all his fascination with sharp, pointy things, didn't have a drop of monster blood in him. Of course his father could barely be classified as human in my book, but technically the man met the definition. Worthless bastard. Niko had been two weeks old when his dear old dad had taken off. He'd seen him no more than three times in his entire life. There were some true parenting skills at work. Three times. Hell, I'd seen my father more than that.