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Hunter's Prayer

Lilith Saintcrow

  Copyright (c) 2008 by Lilith Saintcrow

  Excerpt from Redemption Alley copyright (c) 2008 by Lilith Saintcrow. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a data base or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


  Hachette Book Group, USA

  237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

  Visit our Web site at .

  First eBook Edition: September 2008

  ISBN: 978-0-316-03986-4



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27



  Meet the Author

  A Preview of Redemption Alley

  “The simple rules I give you will keep you safe.”

  The lights flicked back on, and my smile wasn’t nice at all. They stared at me, dumbfounded.

  “I will be blunt, rookies. You’ll all be required to memorize the number to call to reach my answering service, which will page me. Pray you never have to use that number. Three or four of you will have to. A few of you won’t have time to, but you can rest assured that when you come up against the nightside and get slaughtered, I’ll find your killer and serve justice on him, her, or it. And I will also lay your soul to rest if killing you is just the beginning.”

  Praise for Lilith Saintcrow:

  “Saintcrow’s true gift is her ability to take extremely flawed characters and make you care about them. With the close of this amazing series, readers can look forward to exploring new worlds with this one-of-a-kind author.”

  — Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine on To Hell and Back

  “Saintcrow’s distinctive heroine is a tough, sarcastic, deadly swordswoman… .”

  Publishers Weekly on The Devil’s Right Hand



  Night Shift

  Hunter’s Prayer

  Redemption Alley


  Working for the Devil

  Dead Man Rising

  The Devil’s Right Hand

  Saint City Sinners

  To Hell and Back

  Dark Watcher

  Storm Watcher

  Fire Watcher

  Cloud Watcher

  The Society

  Hunter, Healer


  For Miriam Kriss,

  whose honor is impeccable.

  From ghoulies and ghosties

  And long-legged beasties

  And things that go bump in the night,

  Good Lord, deliver us …

  —Traditional prayer

  Thou Who hast given me to fight evil, protect me;

  keep me from harm. Grant me strength in

  battle, honor in living, and a swift clean death

  when my time comes. Cover me with Thy shield,

  and with my sword may Thy righteousness

  be brought to earth, to keep Thy children safe.

  Let me be the defender of the weak and

  the protector of the innocent, the righter of

  wrongs and the giver of charity.

  O my Lord God, do not forsake me when

  I face Hell’s legions.

  In Thy name and with Thy blessing,

  I go forth to cleanse the night.

  —The Hunter’s Prayer


  It’s not the type of work you can put on a business card.

  I sometimes play the game with myself, though. What would I put on a business card?

  Jill Kismet, Exorcist. Maybe on nice heavy cream-colored card stock, with a good font. Not pretentious, just something tasteful. Garamond, maybe, or Book Antiqua. In bold. Or one of those old-fashioned fonts, but no frilly Edwardian script.

  Of course, there’s slogans to be taken into account. Jill Kismet, Dealer in Dark Things. Spiritual Exterminator. Slayer of Hell’s Minions.

  Maybe the one Father MacKenzie labeled all females with back in grade school: Whore of Babylon. He did have a way with words, did Brimstone MacKenzie. Must have been the auld sod in him.

  Then there’s my personal favorite: Jill Kismet, Kickass Bitch. If I was to get a business card, that would probably be it. Not very high-class, is it?

  In my line of work, high-class can cripple you.

  I walked into the Monde Nuit like I owned the place. No spike heels, the combat boots were steel-toed and silver-buckled. The black leather trenchcoat flapped around my ankles.

  Yeah, in my line of work, sometimes you have to look the part—like, all the time. Nobody takes you seriously if you show up in sweats.

  So it was a skin-tight black T-shirt and leather pants, the chunk of carved ruby at my throat glimmering with its own brand of power, Mikhail’s silver ring on my left third finger and the scar on my right wrist prickle-throbbing with heat in time with the music spilling through concrete and slamming me in the ribs. With my hair loose and my eyes wide open, maybe I even looked like I belonged, here where the black-leather crowd gathered. Bright eyes, hips like seashells, fishscale chains around slim supple waists—all glittering jewelry, silken hair, and cherry lips.

  The damned are beautiful, really. Or here in the Monde they always are. Ugly ‘breed don’t come in here, or even ugly Traders. The bouncers at the door take care of that.

  If it wasn’t for my bargain, I probably would never have seen the inside of the place shaking and throbbing with hellbreed. Even the hunter who trained me had only come here as a last resort, and never at night.

  I might have come here only to burn the place down.

  Nobody paid any attention to me. I stalked right up to the bar. Riverson was on duty, slinging drinks, his blind eyes filmed with gray. His head rose as I approached, and his nostrils flared. He could sense me, of course. Riverson didn’t miss much; it was why he was still alive. And I burn in the ether like a star, especially with the scar on my wrist prickling, the sensation tearing up my arm, reacting to all the dark hellbreed energy throttling the air.

  Plus, a practicing exorcist looks different to those with the Sight. We have sea-urchin spikes all over us, a hard disciplined wall keeping us in our bodies and everything else out.

  Riverson’s blind, filmy gaze slid up and down me like cold jelly. “Kismet.” He didn’t sound happy, even over the pounding swell of music. “Thought I told you not to come back until he called.”

  I used my best, sunniest smile, stretching my lips wide. Showing my teeth, though it was probably lost on him. “Sorry, baby.” My right hand rested on the butt of the gun. It was maybe a nod to my reputation that the bouncers hadn’t tried to stop me. Either that, or Perry expected I’d show up early. “I just had to drop by. Pour me a vodka, will you? This won’t take long.”

  After all, this was a hangout for the damned, higher-class Traders and hellbreed alike. I’d tracked my prey almost to the door, and with the presence of ‘bre
ed tainting the air it must have seemed like a tempting place to hide, a place a hunter might not follow.

  It’s enough to make any hunter snort with disgust. Really, they should know that there are precious few places on earth a hunter won’t go when she has a serious hard-on for someone.

  I turned around, put my back to the bar. Scanned the dance floor. One hand caressed the butt of the gun, sliding over the smooth metal, tapping fingers against the crosshatch of the grip—blunt-ended fingers, because I bite my nails. Pale flesh writhed, the four-armed Trader deejay up on the altar suddenly backlit with blue flame, spreading his lower arms as the music kicked up another notch and the blastballs began to smash colored bits of light all over the floor.

  Soon. He’s going to show up soon.

  I leaned back, the little patch of instinctive skin between my shoulder blades suddenly cold and goosebumped. Silver charms braided into my hair with red thread moved uneasily, a tinkling audible through the assault of the music. I had my back to Riverson, and I was standing in the middle of a collage of the damned.

  Life just don’t get no better than this, do it, babydoll?

  “You shouldn’t be here,” he yelled over the music as he slammed the double shot of vodka down. “Perry’s still furious.”

  I shrugged. One shrug is worth a thousand words. If Perry was still upset over the holy water incident or any other time I’d disrupted his plans, the rest of my life might be spent here leaning against the bar.

  Well, might as well enjoy it. I grabbed the shot without looking, downed it. “Another one,” I yelled back. “And put it on my tab.”

  Riverson kept them coming. I took down five—it’s a pity my metabolism just burns up the alcohol within seconds—before the air pressure changed and I moved, gun coming up, left hand curling around the leather braided hilt at my waist and the whip uncoiling.

  People have got it all wrong about the bullwhip. In order to use one, you’ve got to lead with the hip; you have to think a few seconds ahead of where you want to be. Like in a fast game of chess. You get a lot of assholes who think they can sling a whip around ending up with their faces scarred or just plain injured, forgetting to account for that one simple fact. A whip’s end cracks because it’s moving past the speed of sound; little sonic booms mean the small metal diamonds attached to the laces at the end can flay skin from bone if applied properly—or improperly, for that matter.

  Despite his ethnic-sounding name, Elizondo was a dirty-blond in blue T-shirt and jeans, dust-caked boots, his hair sticking up in a bird’s nest over the face of a celluloid angel. His eyes had the flat hopeless look of the dusted, and I was willing to bet there was still dried blood under his fingernails. What he was doing here was anyone’s guess. Was Perry involved in the smuggling? It wouldn’t surprise me, but good luck proving it.

  The whip curled, striking and wrapping around Elizondo’s wrist; blood flew. I pushed off, my legs aching and the alcohol fumes igniting in my head, the butt of the gun striking across his cheekbone. Not so pretty now, are we? When I get finished, you won’t be. I collided with his wiry-thin, muscular body, knocking him down. Heat blurred up through my belly, the familiar adrenaline kick of combat igniting somewhere too low to be my heart and too high to be my liver.

  He went sprawling, landing hard on the dance floor, the thin graceful figures of Traders and hellbreed suddenly exploding away. They were used to sudden outbreaks of violence here, but not like this. It wasn’t the usual dominance game played out for flesh or sex, or even darker hungers.

  No, I was playing for keeps. As usual.

  I landed hard, the barrel of the gun pressed against his temple, my knee in his ribs. “Milton Elizondo,” I said, clearly and distinctly, “you are under arrest.”

  I should have expected he’d fight.

  Stunning impact against the side of my head. Judo stands me in good stead in this line of work; I spend a distressing amount of time wrestling on the floor. I got him a good one in the eye, my elbow being one of my best points. He had a few pounds on me, and the advantage of being a Trader; he’d made a good bargain.

  Still, I put up a good fight. I was winning until he was torn off me, his fingers ripping free of my throat, and flung away.

  A pair of blue eyes met mine. “Kiss.” Perry’s voice was even, almost excessively so. “Always causing trouble.”

  I made it up to my feet the hard way; pulling my knees up and kicking, back curving, gaining my balance and standing up. It was one of those little things you see in movies that’s harder to do in real life but worth it if you want a nice theatrical touch. Nobody ever thinks a girl can do it.

  The whip twitched as my arm tensed, flechettes chiming against the floor.

  Perry is a few bare inches taller than me, and slim in a casual gray suit. Blue eyes, long nose, a thin mouth, and a shock of pale hair completes the picture. If he wasn’t so damn bland he might be more frightening—but the fact that he’s unassuming, that he blends in, that the eye just kind of slides past him, makes him scarier when you think about it.

  Much scarier.

  Especially with the kind of beautiful damned hanging around him.

  I pointed the gun at him. He held Elizondo up with one hand, the other hand in his pocket, casual as if he wasn’t doing something no normal man would be able to do.

  The music bled away in throbbing fits and starts. The scar on my right wrist turned molten-hot, the ruby at my throat began to vibrate, the silver charms tied with red thread in my hair tinkled. Mikhail’s ring thrummed against my left ring finger; the finger that according to legend held a vein going directly to the heart. “He’s under arrest, Perry. Put him down.”

  One blond eyebrow lifted slightly. He examined me the way a cat examines a nice, sleek bird, one the cat isn’t quite sure if it’s hungry enough to chase. A flicker of his tongue showed at the corner of his mouth, almost too fast for human vision to track.

  The tip was scaled, and too wet cherry-red to be human. “Unwise to come in here, hunting.”

  Elizondo struggled, but Perry didn’t even have the grace to pretend it mattered. Instead, his blue eyes held mine. I kept the Glock absolutely steady. Last time I’d shot Perry he’d bled buckets; I’d sent him a cashier’s check to cover the damage to his suit. Which he promptly sent back with a dozen red roses and a little silver figurine of a scorpion that I’d picked up in a bit of newspaper and had Saul melt down. The silver had gone to coat more bullets, I burned the newspaper and the roses—and scattered salt all through the warehouse.

  It pays to be cautious when dealing with the damned; especially hellbreed. The trouble is, nobody knows what type of damned Perry is, not even me, and he was a legitimate businessman. Deeply involved with all sorts of quasi-legal shit, but still legitimate, and able to afford a good lawyer. Or ten. Or twenty good lawyers, if it came down to it.

  I cashed the check, though. I’m not a fool.

  Then there was the holy water incident about a month ago. Which I was hoping he’d forgiven me for, or at least wasn’t going to kill me over now.

  Not when he could make me pay later, in private. I was banking on that, as I did so often. “I follow the prey, Perry. You know that. Hand him over, I’ll cuff him, and the rest of you can get on with your revels. End of discussion.” And I’ll even assume you have nothing to do with his business, but since he ran here like a rat once I blew his other hidey-holes I’m thinking it ain’t a fair assumption. If I find out you’re into slaving, Perry, our business relationship is going to undergo a drastic renegotiation.

  Perry’s smile widened. “And what do I earn for my cooperation, Kiss? What is this,” he shook Elizondo, negligently, “worth to you?”

  Elizondo made a whimpering, whisper-screaming sound like an exhausted rabbit caught in a trap. I thumbed the hammer back with a solid click. Most women use baby Glocks because of their smaller wrists; I’m one of the stupid bitches who likes a big one. What can I say, I find it comforting. Very comforting. Plus I
can handle the recoil, since I’m much stronger than your average girl.

  Or even your average human. “Put him down, Perry. I’ll cuff him.” I am not going to negotiate with you on this one.

  “A few moments of your time, Kiss? Since we are in such a very special place right now.”

  He’s still mad about the holy water thing. Maybe it wasn’t so easy for him to fix the scars. My throat went dry. I was acutely aware of the Traders and hellbreed, solemnly watching with their bright eyes and pale faces. I was outnumbered, and if Perry made it open season on me I was going to have a hell of a time.

  Get it, Jill? A Hell of a time? Arf arf.

  “Suck eggs, Pericles.” I had four and three-quarter pounds of pressure on the five and change-pound trigger, and this time I lifted the gun. I would hit him right between the eyes, my pulse suddenly slowed and the sweat turned to ice on my skin. “Put him the fuck down before I blow your motherfucking head clean off your scrawny little body.”

  “Such ladylike language.” But Perry dropped him. Elizondo hit with a thump and scrabbled briefly against the floor. “What is the nature of this one’s sin, avenging angel?”

  Sometimes hellbreed ask me that. Do you really want to know? Are you sure? “Child molester.” I moved forward, carefully keeping the gun on Perry. Dropped the whip and gave the body on the floor a kick, he moaned and coughed. All the fight had gone out of him. I knelt, and managed to get the left bracelet on him. It took a bit of doing one-handed, but I also got his right hand wrapped, tested the silver-coated and bespelled cuffs, and decided it was good. “He had a thing for cutting out little kids’ eyes. Once he finished raping them, that is. Then there’s his habit of passing older kids along for a slave ring, that’s what he’s facing charges on now. Trouble is, this boy’s a clairvoy. Always knows where the cops are going to be, jumps ship like a rat.” My fingers curled in Elizondo’s greasy hair, I wrenched his head up, examined his face. Yep, under his fluttering eyelids there was a sheen to his eyes. Trader. He’d bargained with one of Hell’s denizens for an advantage over humans. It would be useless at this point to try to find out which one in town had given him what he’d asked for.