“Don’t try sayin’ that was déjà vu, Catrina. We both know you’ve never been in this town before and this building is brand new.”
Catrina Capwell watched her partner, John Ransom, brush off his pants as he took out his cell phone. Damn it. They would have caught that asshole if John hadn’t fallen in a trench on the side of an old foundry that hid this brand new building. He was okay, thankfully, but it caused her to lose focus and have to call back—her advantage. Now the scumbag was getting away, and she didn’t know when she’d have an opportunity to use that advantage again. Especially with John so curious about how she knew things.
“It doesn’t show up on Google,” he stated, staring at the screen on the phone he held in one hand while wiping sweat off the back of his neck with the other. He wasn’t taking summer Los Angeles heat so well, she noticed. It was one hellishly hot night she would have to admit. “This building is too recent,” he said, sharing his map analysis with her. “So, who could even know it was here, I wonder?”
His eyes narrowed, his expression hard, suspicious. No, more than suspicious—like he knew something. John had been her partner longer than any of the others. Three whole months. And she often found him looking at her like that.
She didn’t like it.
First of all, he wasn’t put off by her in the least, unlike the others. She wasn’t normal FBI material, and that was all right by her. Every partner she’d had asked for a transfer. But John performed the job effectively, where the others were just along for the ride, wondering how she knew where the perp was hiding or what his next move was. John always kept pace.
It was frustrating. He was everywhere. An excellent crime scene analyst, a top-notch profiler and in terrific physical shape. Certainly her human match in every way. But since Special Agent John Ransom had been assigned to her, deploying her non-human abilities had been damned difficult. Being able to project above the scene and view everything from aloft with eyes as sharp as a bird of prey wasn’t exactly standard FBI procedure.
And then there was her reaction to him. Her carefully guarded libido had a few holes in security where he was concerned. Sometimes, even when she was alone, his presence was so strong her skin tingled as if he were touching her for real.
She didn’t like that, either.
God! She wished she could just work alone. But the guys in charge were big with The Book. Everything by The Book.
And she certainly wasn’t fond of that.
All told, it had been almost impossible to do what she did—find and take out the worse criminals. Before J.R., as he like to be called, came along, it was easy to get into the files of unsolved murders and other atrocities and then “eliminate” the perpetrators. But he’d been stuck like glue to her since he arrived.
And to top it off, he had the worse taste in movies. Dirty Harry? Really?
“So, how’d you know about this building? You psychic or something?” he asked.
“No-oh! There’s a driveway—recently used. Didn’t you see it?”
“Nope. So, you can see in the dark?”
She shifted her feet, annoying evidence he made her nervous. A muffled noise close by cut short any attempt at a smart retort. John already had his gun out.
“That came from in there,” he said, indicating the older building.
She drew her Glock. “Maybe we’re in luck,” she replied, thinking it’d be great to get this guy tonight. John had made the break that tagged the perp in East L.A. which led to finding the abducted boy. Catrina’d like to catch this baby-snatching asshole and keep her perfect suspect-nabbing record intact.
“I’ll take the back. You the front?”
“Okay,” Catrina agreed, then thought to add, “Uh, wait up a few so I can get into place.”
She saw him nod in the dim light cast from a naked bulb hanging on the wall. She jogged around the side of the building and stopped in the deeper shadows that hunkered next to the warehouse. Her ears caught another noise out front. She scowled. The pervert was not getting away this time.
Gun holstered, she drew her body straight, shoulders back and arms out. Inhaling, holding it then exhaling fully, she looked into the night sky and released the Falcon. Dark mist rose from her head and shoulders, expanded out like unfolding wings carrying her spirit into the sky. But for the second time that evening Catrina’s concentration broke. Something evil and vile was too close for comfort.
A shape moved into the pale light ahead, backlighting the silhouette of a huge man. She froze, severing connection with the astral being soaring above. Before she could react to call her winged asset back or draw her gun, the air next to her shuddered. In the heartbeat that followed, she saw a holographic shape reveal next to her and harden into a man—who drew a gun and fired.
The dark shape at the front of the warehouse crumbled to the ground.
Shocked into action, Catrina slammed her shoulder into the person holding the gun, not expecting the quick moves that pinned her to the cold brick—a forearm pressed against her windpipe.
“What the . . ?” she rasped, recognizing her partner, John.
“Seems you have a little more going for yourself than déjà vu, Special Agent Capwell.”
“Me!” she hissed, shoving hard against him. “Who, or what the hell, are you?
He released his arm. “I’m the one who decides if you go back or not.”
“Back? Back where!”
“Don’t game-play. Few ever leave and you, my dear, had help.”
Stunned, she answered before thinking. “I don’t belong there.”
He laughed, skeptical. “That’s being questioned. The recent rage-kill. .?”
“That was justified!”
“You tore out his throat, Catrina.”
She pushed past him. “Well, then you know what he did,” she said, feigning swagger while shaken to the core by his words. Heart thumping, she looked into the sky then relaxed when she felt Falcon’s presence and saw the skylights of the city through her eyes. She was not far away. Good!
John’s gaze had followed hers. “Careful! I’ve seen how talented you are with your wings.”
“You use your stealth technology to spy on me, then?”
“Oh, really?” she snarled and threw her head back, arms out to call her wings. John was tossed to the ground as if hit by a bullet. Catrina stood above him, the center of a dissipating mist. She glared at him, showing him the golden eyes of her bird of prey. She moved toward him, but he disappeared and again the cold brick of the wall pressed against her back.
This time the length of his invisible body pushed against hers, his breath hot on her cheek. The power in his body, the channeled energy that so easily subdued her, delivered a strong message. Her whole existence was at stake.
“You’re walking the edge, Catrina. Some believe you are reverting to the monster you were.”
“I’m not! Please. Who are you?”
The air quivered around them. A breath caught in Catrina’s throat as she watched John’s tall, hard form shimmer then resolve flush against her body. “I was sent to decide. And I’ve decided.”
“I can’t go back. I’m not that person!”
His hand rubbed down her arm. “Don’t worry. We aren’t going back.”
Catrina shifted and looked into his eyes. He pressed closer and she realized. “It wasn’t my imagination. You were touching me—all those times.”
His smiled. “Something like.”
Catrina stiffened as an erotic response flashed through her body. She stepped to the side to get away. He didn’t move, but his energy enveloped her, caressed her, halting her step. “Stop that!”
“Now who’s game-playing? Stop . . . touching me!”
He put his hands up, palms out. “I’m not.”
“I don’t allow anyone to do that!”
“That’s not strictly true.”
She looked away, scowling. For three years—not since the night Falcon came to her—had she been close enough to anyone to permit contact. Until recently, it now dawned on her. Three months ago to be exact. She cut a glance at him, her eyes seeing him perfectly in the thickening night. John Ransom. Turns invisible to fight crime and—sneaks around and—Oh, my god. She knew she should be getting mad about now, and she would, she told herself, as soon as she got over the shock.
He moved toward her and she jerked back when he raised his hand. He dropped it to his side and smiled. “Touching is very human.”
“Okay, stop! This can’t be happening. Even for me, this is crazy shit. You are completely distracting me, us, from doing our duty. We have to deal with the fact you just shot someone.” She jogged to the corner of the building. “What the hell? What’s happened to the body?” she demanded. There was a strange black mass where a dead man should be. Though it was right under the light, there was no reflection from the eerily smooth surface, the blackest black she’d ever seen. It was as if the bulb cast shadow instead of illumination.
“Holy crap!” she said in a half-whisper, barely conscious that John was next to her. “This jerk-off was some kind of demon.” She stepped back. “I saw one once.”
Catrina whirled on him, a hand on her holstered gun. “All right, damn it, you’d better . . .”
“Before you pull your gun or worse brandish talon and beak,” he interrupted, “stop and think. Weren’t we hot on the trail of a pedophile? Why would a Black Spirit be here?”
Catrina shrugged him off and stepped away. “I . . . I don’t know,” she hissed.
She stared at the remains of horror lying on the ground. John stepped past her and held both hands out over the immobile substance. She gasped when it suddenly shivered and buckled up like heated tar. The next second a sickening shriek ripped the night in two, and the black tar vanished between the torn edges into a piercing white light. The night closed in on itself once again, like a stage curtain. But to no applause—only a haunting silence that screamed the truth loud and clear.
“Oh, my God.” Angry tears traced down Catrina’s cheeks. She slapped them away and turned to John. “Why did you come here pretending to be the perfect FBI agent? What game are you playing Demon Hunter? It’s obvious you know what I did. Why not just kill me or take me back? Why . .?” she stopped. “You’re the one that helped me get out, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I was compelled to act on your behalf. The man who killed your brother was a very powerful Darkbound who hid his transmutation—until he killed the boy.” He paused as if to gather the courage to tell the rest. “I responded, armed to quell the demon, send it to the Split Dimension, but there you were—a mere human female confronting pure evil to avenge her brother. But something snapped in you when you attacked him and with incredible strength gutted him with his knife. You followed him—followed it—into the dark. This had never happened before. A live human walking into the Split Dimension? A human vanquishing a Darkbound? The results of such a thing were unknown.
“You, Catrina Capwell are one of a kind, full of love’s light, yet capable of being a stone-cold killer. Your kindness, your compassion saves you time and again, but you have chosen a job that essentially is, and always will be, an act of vengeance for your brother. The possibility that your malevolence and talents will grow too powerful to stop greatly concerns the Council. I came to . . . Handle the situation. Seeing how it was I who set you on this path.”
“Then why did you come here and work with me? Why did you spend all this time? Why did you have to get involved like this?”
“Because it was my only chance to feel you, be with you, to hear in human form, your human voice. To watch you confound your colleagues with your clever mind as well as with your ability to project and see with the eyes of a raptor. It was my opportunity to tease you and see the spark of defiance when you gave as good as you got.” He walked closer and ran the back of his fingers across her cheek. “This was my chance to care for you as a man.”
Catrina looked into his eyes shocked to realize that the intimacies she thought were only in her head had been real. Images of their love-making painted over the reality of the where they were, the feeling of impending danger momentarily replaced by the memory of the deep pleasure he’d given her. “So, my dreams were . . .” She paused, waiting for him to fill in the blanks.
His hand fell to his side. He didn’t speak.
Then anger hit. “You used your powers to sneak into my house and violate . . . My privacy. You had no right to do that. And while I was sleeping!”
“Be truthful, Catrina. Were you asleep?
“What do you mean?”
He smiled. “You could see me. You chose to keep your eyes closed.”
“Oh, really?” was all she could say. Her insipid fall-back I’m-too-flustered-to-say-anything-else-line. Oh, now she was furious. She started to turn away but stopped even before John grabbed her arm to warn her. Falcon stirred in her chest. Someone or something was approaching.
“Catrina, there is so much I need to tell you, but there is no time, now.” He turned her toward him. “I was too late to save your brother, but I swear I will not lose you.”
“Will you please just tell me what is going on?”
“I can only tell you that I am a Freewalker who can be in all dimensions, good and bad. I’ve broken every rule to stay as close to you as I could. I was supposed to assess you and decide. It should have only taken a day, but I . . .” He looked at their surroundings. “The Dark is filling in around us. You are doomed, Catrina. There is only one hope, and that is for you to stay at my side in the Dimensions.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m saying that you can be safe. You can live—if you give up your human existence.”
“What! Are you insane?” She pushed away, but her limbs, in the sweltering heat, became cold, painfully cold.
He pulled her into his surrounding warmth. “Please listen to me. That’s the icy death of the Darkbounds you’re feeling,” he said. “There is one way you can survive and still avenge your brother and protect other innocent victims. You can become an astral being. The fact that you could carry such an entity inside of you these three years shows you are strong enough. You even absorbed some of her abilities which will help you with the process of change. Catrina, come with me as my Falcon.”
Catrina just stared at him. It must be the heat, she thought. He’s stroking out. Hell, I’m stroking out. None of this is real. Wasn’t having secret bird abilities enough to make her different? Now, she’s supposed to be one?
His voice jerked her off of her how-crazy-is-this thought-train. “Now, I’m going to let your arms free, Catrina. Please choose to stay alive with me. Hold the Falcon at bay so I can affect our joining.”
“Joining? What does that mean? I already joined the FBI! I can’t leave, you know, I can’t just die. I’m a Federal agent. You know I’m not demon material. I protect people. I have a badge!” A gust of air buffeted them and a strange pressure, heavy, suffocating, bore down on them.
“There is no more time.” He placed his hands on the sides of her face. “You must remember.”
Catrina watched stunned as John changed before her eyes into the beautiful being that rescued her from the darkness. And she did remember. Everything. The black void she’d found herself in that night. The fact that he gave her Falcon. He told her she would learn to fly and see the truth and that he would always be close to her. And now she was ready to be close to him. She put her hands atop his that cradled her face. Then she stepped back and raised her arms. “I am ready.”
As Falcon responded, preparing to rise from Catrina’s body, she watched the golden shape of the Freewalker, his eyes glowing with the light his being possessed. Already she felt joined to him. Her heart, the one he would make stop in mere seconds, filled with love for him. She was at peace as the rising mist unfurled into wings poised to grab lift from the air. John reached forward, and she instinctively knew that just as Falcon ascended, he would reach inside her and still the rhythm of her human life. She readied herself for the beginning of the next tempo, excited for the dance to come.
But the hand fell away. John stumbled back. Startled, then horrified, Catrina watched his body stiffen, its golden glow dim then flicker. A deep growl of pain burst from his lungs a second before she heard the terrified screech of a bird of prey.
“John! What is happening?”
She moved to go to him, but he yelled at her. “Too late! Call her back. Run!”
Another bone-chilling shriek above drew Catrina’s eyes upward, but another deep, agonized groan pulled her gaze back to John. “Oh, my God!” she screamed as his body, now dull gray, started to elevate from the ground. Dark shapes that glinted like black ice floated toward him. “John . . . Falcon,” she whimpered, shaking so hard her body seemed to be coming apart.
Then the rage began—a deep, guttural instinct stirred inside her. She was no stranger to this pulse of tormented anger, but this feeling was different, colder, sharper-edged. Like prey talons scoring her mind, drawing blood lust with every swipe. But she pushed back from blind fury when she heard Falcon’s huntress call.
And suddenly, Catrina knew what she had to do.
She raised her arms to the winged spirit above, calling the astral power home as she had done countless times except this time, without thinking, Catrina rose up herself and became the Falcon. She flew toward the gruesome mass of seething evil surrounding John, striking out with talon, beak, and wing forcing the mass of death away from him and ripping the fabric of the night. Each scrape of claw opened a long scar where light sliced through, disintegrating one by one each Darkbound, silencing their screams of pain until all was still and the night closed its wounds.
Catrina hovered in the air, dazed with the enormity of her actions, just beginning to realize the extraordinary feeling of having wings.
John’s voice, “Catrina? Are you there?” A charge zapped through her body, and she fell like a bird shot out of the sky, but landed on two human feet. “Astonishing. It seems you have more going for you than a little astral being, Special Agent Capwell.”
“Oh, thank heaven you’re okay,” she said when she saw John, or rather her Freewalker, leaning against the building, no longer the dark color of death. She reached out to touch him but stopped. Her eyes widened when she noticed her own body. Her skin was glowing and the color of dark ivory that shimmered when she moved her arm in colorful, opalescent hues. She drew in a quick breath. “What happened? Did I die? Did we join? Am I your Falcon, now?” When no answer came, she asked, “What am I?”
“I’m not sure, Catrina. You are something never seen before. You jumped from one reality to another, from flesh to energy without a catalyst. You are amazing.”
“I feel so light. I feel like I could go anywhere, do anything.”
“It seems you can. You saved me, after all.”
“I did. I kicked some serious demon butt, didn’t I?” She paused, frowning. “How did I do that?”
“I’m sure you will find out. For now, we need to go.”
“Okay. So how does this work? How do we—go?”
“We just do. We go where we are needed to help those who can’t help themselves.”
“So, now we ‘Protect and Serve’ on a whole other level, right?” She smiled. “And we don’t have to do it by The Book, do we?”
John, the Freewalker-slash-human-wannabe grinned. “Like Eastwood says, ‘We don’t need no stupid badges.'”
“Oh no. If you must quote dumb, macho movies, at least get it straight. It’s ‘stinking badges.'”
He laughed, took her hands and pulled her up into the sky, covering them with invisibility as they ascended. Catrina’s voice faded into the night, “And that’s not even from an Eastwood movie.”