Stormrise, Book 1 of the Storm Chronicles
The neon lights of the ‘All Live, All Nude’ sign flickered in the rain, showering the street with sparks that sizzled and flared in the cold night, an electric cadence to match the distant rumble of thunder as dark clouds continued to roll in off the lake and blanket the Windy City in an autumnal thunderstorm. Detective Raven Storm stood beneath the sparking sign, her pale skin contrasting with a waterfall of hair so red it was almost black. Her green eyes glowed with a feral light in the alternating flashes of lightning from the storm and sparks showering from the tilting sign above.
Raven’s heels clicked on the sidewalk and splashed in puddles as she walked back and forth in the shadows, her stylish grey pantsuit and silk blouse darkened where the cold rain had soaked through. She didn’t notice the chill. She was watching the apartment building opposite the club for her latest and only suspect in a series of brutal murders that had taken the lives of seventeen women in the last three weeks. The news called him the Lakeside Strangler; the details of his savage attacks had been leaked to the press and the city had been in a panic ever since. She was going to end his killing spree tonight, one way or another.
Shortly before one in the morning she saw him: a young heartthrob, his black suit and fedora drenched with rain. He held an umbrella in one hand, a gorgeous young woman’s arm in the other, keeping her safe from the rain under the umbrella while he got soaked. Raven watched the couple enter the old apartment building, her heart beating faster. She didn’t want to wait, didn’t want to endanger another woman, but she had to be sure. The suspect had evaded her before and this could be just a young couple out for a lark; she’d had only a glimpse of his face before he had vanished into the darkness. Shooting the wrong guy would be bad form and lead to red tape.
Raven waited until the pair had entered the elevator before sprinting across the street and bounding up the stairs two at a time, her balance perfect as she ran, her heels ringing out on the ground. She slid to a halt in front of the elevators and rang for the car, tapping one heel against the floor while she waited for the doors to open, hoping she wouldn’t again be too late or that she would be wrong altogether.
Seconds later she stepped out on the twelfth floor of the building. The suspect’s apartment was at the end of the hall and Raven jogged towards it, her senses stretched to the maximum. When she reached the apartment, she pressed her ear to the door and listened intently. Somewhere inside she could hear the couple kissing and the faint rustle of the woman’s dress as the man pawed at her. The sound of kissing ended abruptly; in her mind’s eye Raven saw her suspect pulling his victim’s dress over her head before wrapping his hands around her slender neck. She could wait no longer; if he followed the pattern he would soon strangle and rape his victim and make his escape. With a single, powerful blow, she kicked the door open and crashed through, her left hand drawing the stainless-steel Automag pistol from its holster beneath her jacket.
She had been right. The suspect was kneeling over the woman, her dress draped over his shoulders like a cape, his hands wrapped around her slender throat in a vice-like grip. The woman writhed and gasped for air, her legs flailing between his thighs as she fought to escape.
“Chicago Police!” Raven yelled, the gun pointed evenly at the man’s head. “Release the woman and freeze!”
The suspect smiled and raised his hands, allowing the woman between his knees to wheeze and cough for breath.
“Of course, officer,” he said in a German-accented voice. “Have I done something wrong? My girlfriend and I were just having a little exotic fun—”
“Shut up and keep your hands where I can see them.”
Raven moved closer, her eyes flicking between the gasping woman and the suspect. “You are under arrest for battery and second-degree assault.”
“I think not, officer,” he replied gleefully. “I find prison to be so boring and confining. Catch me if you can!”
The man was a blur of motion that leapt across the room, foam drooling from his mouth and his eyes wide with insane glee. Raven fired twice, but he was so supernaturally quick that her shots went wide, punching melon-sized holes in the wall behind him. She didn’t have time to adjust her aim before the larger man slammed into her and knocked her to the floor with enough force to send her pistol flying and make stars dance behind her eyes. When she could see again, he was straddling her, his wine-scented breath warm in her nose.
“Now I’ll kill you, and then take my pleasure with her,” he crowed, saliva trailing from his lips. “Two damsels for the price of one; what could be better? Such a beautiful dark and stormy night!”
Raven growled and writhed under the larger man, recoiling in disgust as she felt his swelling manhood pressed against her thigh.
“I’m a Chicago police officer. You kill me and you’ll be out of options. You’ll have nowhere to run and it will be life in prison without parole. Let me go and give yourself up!”
The killer leaned closer, his tongue trailing over Raven’s cheek. “Oh No! No, no, no! I have given you a death sentence and it will be carried out. Once you are dead I’ll have all the options in the world. Do I take your body or kill the other one? Do I take her then kill her? Kill her then take her? Decisions, decisions, it’s so hard to choose; I’m quite giddy with anticipation!”
He giggled like a maniac and rubbed himself against Raven’s thigh. Raven ignored him and closed her eyes tight. When she opened them again, they glowed with power, the black pupils becoming the feral slits of a predatory cat in the middle of furious green pools. With a growl, she head-butted him, breaking his nose and causing him to loosen his grip. She then pushed him away with all her strength. The killer flew across the room like a toy and crashed into an antique side-table that splintered beneath his weight.
Raven stood and dusted herself off. “I’m also the youngest child of Valentina, Mistress of the City. Surrender and I’ll see you get a fair trial before they lock your ass away. Keep fighting me, I’ll pull your head off and use it as a bowling ball!”
The killer rolled off the side table and stretched, his back cracking loudly.
“So you would be the Mistress’s bastard child, then,” he replied with a sneer. “The pathetic half-vampire! Your father was a police detective too, wasn’t he? Dead before his time? Head all blown off with his own gun? It will be a pleasure to feel your corpse cool beneath me as I take you one last time!”
Still grinning, the killer shook, his skin melting and flowing like butter in the sun, his shape exploding outward until he looked altogether alien. He blinked huge, multifaceted eyes and flexed claws longer than Raven’s entire arm, each joint cracking as bones settled into place.
“A doppelganger. No wonder you were so hard to catch,” Raven said.
“Indeed,” the creature replied in a chorus of voices. “Our body is legion, and when we finish with you, we will move on and continue our work elsewhere. So many beautiful women, so little time, as they say!”
Twittering in harmony with himself, the doppelganger approached again, his long arms reaching for the much smaller woman. Raven danced back out of the way, her heightened reflexes allowing her to avoid the clumsy grab.
“You killed seventeen girls, including my friend Sydnee,” she hissed. “You’re going nowhere but back to hell where you belong. I’m more than just any half-breed.”
The doppelganger laughed and made a swipe for Raven, his claws whistling past her face.
“Oh, we remember your friend. Cute, with blonde hair and eyes the color of the sea on a stormy day? Yes! She lasted much longer than the others; it took her almost ten minutes to stop fighting and die. We think she was waiting for you to save her, wasn’t she? Pathetic dhampyr, just too weak to save your bitch!”
Raven snarled, showing fangs. “That’s it, skinjob. I’ve had enough of you.”
With a skill born of heartache and fury, Raven kicked the creature squarely in the groin, the toe of her heel pulping his genitals and causing him to keen in pain. She followed the kick with a series of punches and chops, any one powerful enough to have shattered the skull of a normal man.
The doppelganger swayed backwards, whimpering in pain, one hand cupping its ruined crotch, the other trying to block Raven’s vicious attack.
“Please, no! Please, we’ll be good! Tell your mother; she can use someone with our talents. We can be anyone, think of all the possibilities, all the information we can provide to her!”
Raven shook her head. “Not a chance, bub. Your life was over the second you touched Sydnee; you just hadn’t stopped breathing. Now that I know what you are, it’s my duty to put you down. My mother has no use for monsters like you!”
Allowing no quarter, Raven lashed out with another blinding fury of blows, ending with a roundhouse kick that sent the doppelganger through the sliding glass door, across the balcony, and over the railing to fall screaming into the street below.
Raven knew what she would see, but she walked to the railing anyway. Thirteen stories below, the doppelganger lay dead in the street, sparks from the neon sign falling on his naked body and sizzling in his wide, staring eyes.
“Marvelous,” Raven muttered. “Frost is not going to like this.”