Shadow Hunt Page 1


Three years ago

From the age of five or six, Petra Corbett had been told that she had bitter in her blood.

This was not surprising: even as a small child living just outside Paris, she had collected grievances as easily as other children obtained toys or trading cards.

In some families this attitude could have been a problem, but in Petra’s world, animosity and resentment were practically the family trade. Her natural pull toward hostility in all its forms—verbal, physical, magical—actually wound up making Petra her grandfather’s favorite, despite the unfortunate circumstance of her not being male.

Petra’s mother hoped that time might mellow her youngest daughter’s rancor, but instead Petra’s capacity for hatred only seemed to expand. And expand. Until she was on her first scouting trip to America, and she realized that her entire lifetime of dislike had just been a long and arduous escalation to that precise moment. Because the reality was that Petra Corbett had never loathed anything as much as she hated driving in Los Angeles.

For the first four days of her stay, that was all she had done: drive the streets, getting to know the city and the shallow idiots who lived in it. It was bad enough that Americans insisted on driving themselves everywhere, but Los Angeles in particular seemed to depend on individual cars the way other, more intelligent cities depended on public transportation. And their reward for this individualism was to spend hours of every day in gridlock. Petra thought it was a perfect example of American “independence”—selfish, lazy, and with a complete lack of foresight.

Still, Grandfather felt that she needed to understand the city, so she gritted her teeth and drove, usually accompanied by the bargest Belle. Belle couldn’t be trusted to ride up front untethered, so she stayed locked in the back of the rental van, inside one of the two massive steel crates that had flown to the city with them in Grandfather’s private jet.

Occasionally, Petra would pull over, her whistle in hand, and let Belle out of the crate to run drills. This was only possible, however, when she could find a stretch of unpopulated land. Petra did not want too many people to get a look at the bargest, whose bizarre appearance was simply too memorable. Some members of the Family had actually argued that Belle should not receive the bargest curse for this very reason, but Petra’s father, who was in charge of training the potentials, had insisted that Belle was the most intelligent and athletic of all the current crop. Petra hated her father—of course—but in this case she had to admit he’d been right. Belle was an excellent specimen. And it was easy enough to exercise her at night, when Petra could also keep an eye out for any signs of the local werewolf pack.

By the fifth day of their scouting trip, Petra had run out of the ostrich steaks that the bargest required for protein. She used her laptop to find a pet store that specialized in large animals: horses, mostly, but also goats, sheep, and very large dogs. After a moment’s consideration, Petra opted to leave Belle in her second crate at the apartment complex. Petra didn’t think Belle would forget her training and decide to hunt and kill a horse for fun, but the bargest was hungry. No need to risk it.

So Petra followed her phone’s GPS to Freddy’s Feed and Supplies in an area called Altadena. The store itself was dusty and understaffed, which was just fine with Petra. Small and insignificant meant no one would bother with video cameras, and understaffed meant Petra wouldn’t have to deal with salespeople who didn’t understand her limited English.

She had brought a couple of five-gallon pails from a hardware store, and went straight to the freezer section, filling both pails with frozen ostrich steaks. Then she lugged them to the counter herself, sneezing from the dust. There was one customer ahead of her at the register, and while Petra waited, her eyes wandered to a nearby rack of expensive, durable dog toys. It would never have occurred to Petra to “play” with the bargest, but she could see the value in keeping Belle’s instincts honed by having her track and destroy a ball. It was the same reason greyhounds chased practice rabbits.

Petra absently scanned the racks of rubber and thickly stitched canvas, and then her gaze landed on the leashes hanging from a hook at the very top of the shelf. Her breath caught, and she dropped the buckets and stepped closer. Petra could read English better than she could speak it, and after a few moments of concentration, she understood the small sign above the leashes: HANDMADE IN LOS ANGELES.

But that didn’t make any sense.

“It can’t be,” she whispered to herself. She grabbed the middle of a leash, holding it two inches from her face so she could examine it: the same nylon used in fishnets, braided and twisted over and over again in a unique pattern that formed a series of interlocked knots. Petra had once seen the hitch on a pickup truck detach from the truck bed while testing one of these leashes.

“Miss? Can I help you find something?”

Ignoring the confused-looking clerk, Petra ran out to the rental van and scooped up the thick fishnet leash she’d brought with her from France. She carried it back inside and held it up to the new item, comparing them. Her own leash was black, and the other was brown, but there was no mistake: the design was identical, down to the intricate braiding near the handle attachment, the length, and the number of knots.

A rare grin spread across Petra’s face. She pulled out her cell phone and called her grandfather in Paris. It was two in the morning there, but he would forgive her. While she waited for the connection, Petra turned to look at the young man behind the counter. He was tall and gangly, an uncertain-looking teenager with acne and braces. Oh, this was going to be easy.

No, this was going to be fun.

The phone rang three times, and then Grandfather’s gruff voice came on the line. “What is it, Petra? Have you found the nova wolf?”

“No.” She didn’t bother to keep the satisfaction out of her voice. “But you will never believe who I did find.”


Chapter 1

It started with an overprotective bargest, and what I assumed was the flu.

For weeks, Shadow, the bargest who had adopted me, had been obsessively glued to my side, following me so closely that it was hard for me to make sudden turns without stumbling over her. And I do mean over her: at about a hundred and eighty pounds, Shadow was roughly the size of a Great Dane, but shorter and more muscled. There were several times when I came close to belly flopping over her back and face-planting into the carpet.

At the time, though, I was moody and grieving, so if I noticed her unusual behavior at all, I chalked it up to her being worried about me.

Then, in the middle of April, I got sick, with what I thought was a normal flu bug. But one night, a few days into it, I went on a vomiting spree that legitimately frightened me. Usually when you get the flu, you stop puking—or at least slow down—when there’s nothing left to come up. But I couldn’t seem to get it under control. That’s when I started to worry that there might be something seriously wrong with me.

No, I’m not a complete moron, and yes, I do watch television—I’m aware that by then, any reasonably informed, sexually active woman would have suspected a pregnancy. But it honestly never occurred to me, because although no one completely understands why nulls are the way we are, there’s one thing that everyone agrees on: nulls are sterile. It’s just a fact. Vampires need blood, werewolves have to change during the full moon, and nulls can’t procreate. We’re like zonkeys: a weird anomaly in nature that happens every once in a while, but can’t reproduce itself.

So instead, I was worried that I might have, I don’t know, a tapeworm or stomach cancer or, God forbid, an actual gluten allergy. Okay, fine: I was worried that I’d done permanent damage to my body months earlier, when I’d used my abilities to cure a human of vampirism. Dashiell and the others had warned me that there could be physical ramifications, but I hadn’t listened. What if saving Hayne had done something to my insides?

The next afternoon, I called my doctor’s office, but the nurse insisted I needed to take a pregnancy test. I rolled my eyes but decided to humor her, just so I could call back and figure out what was really wrong. I went out and got a box of three tests, read the instructions—and then realized I wasn’t supposed to pee on them until the next morning.

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