Demon Song

By: Cat Adams

Tor Paranormal Romance Books by C. T. Adams and Cathy Clamp

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1



You can’t turn off intuition after you’ve spent years developing the sense, honing it to a razor’s edge. I could feel something gathering among the seemingly innocent racks of clothing. The voices of my two best friends in the world faded into a background buzz, and I found myself shifting the way I was holding the shirts I’d planned to take to the dressing room so that I could use my hands if needed.

My eyes moved from person to person in rapid succession while my feet backed toward a wide aisle that could be easily navigated. The bored but patient father of a tween girl wasn’t a threat. Neither was the mother with one child in a stroller and another held by the hand. Clerks moved among the holiday-festooned racks like ballerinas performing The Nutcracker; I tracked them briefly. The best salespeople are often empaths or psychics. They’re attuned to those shoppers who want approval—codependents in the process. They weren’t the cause of my alarm, either.

Or were they?

Nothing I could see accounted for the tingling of my skin. It forced me to raise the bar and start checking the area over again, which made me noticeable.

“What’s wrong, Celia?” Dawna had taken one look at my face and begun to spill panic from her pores. The whisper from her perfectly colored and edged lips held an edge of fear. Things didn’t used to bother her as much, but she had been attacked recently and was still a little skittish.

She wasn’t the only recent victim. The part of me that had been transformed by a vampire bite could feel her fear, taste it, smell it. While my reaction wasn’t as strong as it might be closer to sunset, it still made my vision go into the sort of hyperfocus that makes vampires one of the apex predators in the world. Dawna wasn’t going to be my victim, though. Not ever.

Then I spotted him. I shook my head slightly and transferred the hangers from my hand to Dawna’s exotically tanned one, motioning her toward the dressing room. She obeyed instantly, grabbing a few additional random skirts before pulling the third member of our group, Emma Landingham, toward the sheltered hallway. Emma was obviously reluctant. Dawna was practically having to drag her away. It was unlike her—usually she was very practical about avoiding danger—and made me a wonder just what she was up to. Emma had obviously been trying to get up the nerve to tell or ask me something all day. But even when I’d asked her directly, she’d changed the subject and acted evasive.

Whatever her problem was, it would have to wait. Trouble was brewing.

I’d believed the teenage boy in the next department to be the older brother of the bouncing tween girl—just like he’d planned. But once I concentrated my vampire sight on him, I could see that his energy was all wrong. He wasn’t a bored sibling. He was following them, just at the edge of their comfort zone … not so close as to be noticeable, but enough that he became invisible, part of a family unit.

Was he after the girl? I watched where he looked whenever eyes weren’t on him. No, he had no interest in her, which relaxed me just a bit. His focus was on the jewelry counter. Instead of being cluttered and difficult to reach like in most department stores, this one offered a straight shot to an exterior door and, worse, was being restocked, so the display cases were open. The girls’ clothing department was a short, straight walk down the aisle from jewelry, which made his choice simple.

I started scanning for store detectives but saw none. Was it shift change? Were they cutting back on personnel? That seemed stupid this close to Christmas. Maybe the boy knew something I didn’t, because he started dissolving his act. His hand moved instinctively toward the pocket of his hoodie as he started looking for threats. Either he didn’t see me or he didn’t consider me worrisome. His mistake. The rectangular lump I spotted in his pocket was similar to the one under my jacket, but I was betting he didn’t have a concealed-carry permit in his wallet. The weapon turned a simple, impulsive snatch and grab into armed robbery with possible injuries.

The problem was that I wasn’t a police officer or an employee of the store. I was just a self-employed bodyguard who happened to be at the wrong place at the right time. Even under a broad definition of citizen’s arrest, I couldn’t detain him, disarm him, or hurt him without risking arrest myself … and the possible loss of my license.

But I also couldn’t let him rob the store and possibly shoot someone.

I hate my life sometimes.

I started toward him, hoping I would think of something between misses’ petites and jewelry. Without making my movements obvious, as I neared the shoe department I let my face light up at a particularly sparkly dress sandal—which actually was really cute—and headed for it. The shoes were directly between the would-be robber and the slender young clerk crouched behind the open display cases, oblivious to her predicament.

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