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Copyright © 2019 by Arizona Tape
All rights reserved. No part of this publication or cover may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
The Case Of The Night Mark is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Individuals depicted in the images are models and used solely for illustrative purposes.
Chapter 1. An Unwelcome Surprise
There were many things Samantha Rain believed in, but magic was not one of them. No, she liked to put her faith in things she could see, smell, and touch. Things that occupied spaces and left identifiable traces.
She prided herself in her rational approach and that she’d managed to make a living out of that. It was a personal victory that she could call herself a detective.
Yes, Sam enjoyed that she was a normal, functional, well-established adult with a life that many envied. Her deductive reasoning and clear mind, that many called brilliant, had given her this. She held herself to a high standard, determined to always be the first to figure out what was going on and to predict what was happening next. Which was why the folder with divorce papers was so taunting. She hadn’t seen it coming.
Melissa hadn’t often seen her partner speechless, but the request to separate had certainly done the trick. Silently, she waited for the other woman to say something.
Sam sighed as she flicked through the folder. Everything was meticulously prepared, which wasn’t a surprise if she knew her wife. Then again, maybe she didn’t.
She stared at the woman, who after seven years had become a stranger again. “I need a drink.”
Her wife slowly closed her eyes, one of the things she always did when she was annoyed with Sam. “Do you have to? This is a serious conversation.”
Samantha pushed her short hair over her shoulder as she turned her back to her partner, hoping to hide the tears welling up. “It’s not really a conversation if you’ve already decided the outcome.”
“Don’t Sam me.” She strode to the big cabinet in the back of the attached living room. She inherited the ornate piece of furniture from her late grandfather and despite it clashing with everything else in her relatively modern house, she’d never managed to get rid of it.
The hinges shrieked as she pulled the cupboard open to reveal three rows of bottles. Bourbon, brandy, and her favourite, whisky.
She reached for a bottle in the back, an expensive single malt from Japan. It was still three-quarters full since she only ever broke it out for special occasions. Being asked for a divorce was pretty special, she reasoned.
With a wry smile, she heaved the crystal glass to Melissa. “To our divorce, eh?”
The other woman sighed heavily. “Come on, don’t be like this.”
“Like what?” Sam growled, taking a big, passive-aggressive swig. “You’re leaving me. You didn’t even talk to me about it, you just went ahead and drew up the papers.”
“I tried talking to you, but you weren’t listening,” the other woman argued.
“Ugh.” With a scoff, she threw the last of her whisky back, not even able to enjoy it properly. What a waste.
She wiped her mouth as she pushed past Melissa. She always loved the beauty of the other woman, but now she couldn’t even bring herself to look at her.
She thundered down the stairs, towards the rack of coats and the front door. “I’m going out.”
“Sam!” Melissa shouted, the frustration clear in her voice.
“What?” Sam countered, her hand tightening around the bronze doorknob. Ironically, one of the first things she and Melissa bought together. “I thought you’d be glad to be rid of me.”
Her wife stomped her foot. “Oh, for god’s sake, that’s not—”
“Can’t hear you!” she interrupted, slamming the front door as hard as she could on her way out. While she realised she was acting out of hurt and spite, but she couldn’t stop herself. Even if she had to admit their marriage hadn’t always been perfect, she hadn’t thought it had got this bad.
Despaired, she crossed the street to the other sidewalk. That one had more streetlamps and it made her feel a little more secure in the dark, not that she had reason to be scared. The neighbourhood was one of the better in town, something she’d insisted on.
A mist of rain cloaked her departure, muffling the noises of passing cars and the brewing thunderstorm. It was a terrible time to go out, but she knew she hadn’t been able to stay in the house for one minute longer.
Angrily, she kicked a littered plastic bottle to the side and shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her trench coat. Autumn was turning, but her winter coat was still stowed away in the attic. Melissa always sorted their wardrobe, but clearly she’d been too preoccupied with filing for a divorce to do it.
“Absolute bollocks,” Sam muttered to herself. A gust of heavy wind whirled around her, tugging on her sleeves and trying to steal her scarf. Any sane person would’ve returned home, but right now, Samantha was not very sane.
“No!” she shouted, stubbornly pushing forward. She knew it was ridiculous to feel like the weather was against her, but right now, it just felt like the entire world was conspiring to make her miserable. She wouldn’t let it.
She roamed the streets aimlessly for about half an hour, turning left and right without paying much attention where she was going. It didn’t matter, she didn’t have a destination besides ‘not home’.
But when lightning flashed through the sky and thunder rumbled threateningly, she realised two things. One, despite having lived in the neighbourhood for years, she didn’t know where she was. Two, it was going to storm. Badly.
Desperate to find shelter, she tightened her coat as high as she could and followed the dim light of the street lamps to wherever they’d lead her. It was unlikely that anyone else would be out in this weather, but that didn’t mean she could be careless in where she went. Danger lurked around every corner, whether it was in the form of a car accident or a man with bad intentions.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Sam cursed as the heavens opened and the faint drizzle turned into pouring rain. Her trenchcoat was a classic staple of modern fashion, but it was not waterproof. She’d have to find shelter somewhere or risk being drenched to the bone.
She hurried forward, creating small explosions of water as she ran through the rapidly-forming puddles. It was a good thing she always wore sensible shoes. Heels were just too impractical and she didn’t have time for that.
Many things went through Sam’s head as she ran through the rain. Why had her marriage failed? What could she have done to prevent it? How could people wear two different socks without it driving them crazy? Why hadn’t she memorised a map of her neighbourhood?
That last one seemed a real oversight, but she didn’t accept clients within a ten-mile radius and as a result, she had never seen her own surroundings as something to monitor or study. A real blind spot, she now realised.
With a low growl, she ducked underneath an abandoned bus stop, grateful for the temporary relief from the rain. In minutes, it had soaked her down to her underwear and the chill was already setting in.
She contemplated sitting down on the rusted bench but decided against it. Her coat was too expensive to be ruined and from what she’d heard from her friends, divorces were expensive. She didn’t expect Melissa to demand more than half, but that would still change her life quite a bit.
She hugged herself in the half-open bus stop and scoffed at the irony of the situation. Her wife asked to split up and not even half an hour later, she was out in the rain. Well, the last bit had been because of her own doing, but that was completely beside the point.
As Sam waited for the rain to subdue, a strange sensation suddenly prickled the back of her neck. Almost as if someone was watching her.
She’d learned to trust her instincts enough not to brush her worries away and instead, slowly patted herself for her trusty taser. Technically, it wasn’t exactly legal to carry one, but she’d rather go to court than to the hospital, or worse, to the morgue.
Her paranoia grew every passing moment she felt watched, but as she patted all her pockets, she came up empty. “Shit.”
What was she supposed to do now?
She ran multiple scenarios through her head, trying to calculate the best course of action. Ignoring her worries, thirty per cent chance of success. Staying and taking the fight, ten per cent. Running away, eighty-five. The choice was easy.
Just as she decided to take off, a flicker of light drew her attention. She had no idea what it was and despite her risk assessment, she decided to stay and investigate. After all, that was what she did best.
“Grrr…” A low growl emitted from a soaking wet cardboard box next to the bus stop.
Had that been there when she arrived?
She couldn’t remember, she’d been too relieved to be out of the rain and hadn’t paid attention to her surroundings. The second mistake of the day, but not the last.
Sam approached carefully, telling herself that nothing too scary could come out of a medium-sized box. At best, it was a lost bird. At worst, a bomb. But those usually didn’t growl.
A little bit more confident, she crouched down to pull the flaps open. With a caged breath, she prepared for the worst, only to find the smallest puppy she’d ever seen. With bright blue eyes and a silvery coat, it was very different from the purebred animals most of Sam’s neighbours owned.
“Hi, there.” She reached into the box and lifted the animal from the miserable confinement. “You poor thing. Did someone throw you away? I know how that feels.”
The dog whined pathetically, his blue eyes shimmering strangely. They reminded Sam of falling stars in a night sky or the silver light of the moon.
Highly unusual and a little spooky, she noted.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe now,” she said as she sat down on the rusty bunch, not thinking twice about her expensive coat. “I’ve got you.”
The puppy yawned adorably and nestled himself on her lap, clearly glad to be free from the wet cardboard.
“Good boy.” She smiled as she stroked the dog’s entire body. He was so small, he was barely bigger than her hand. Whoever abandoned him had to be a heartless asshole.
Luckily for the pup, Sam had a real soft spot for animals and had always wanted one. It had been Melissa who had protested, but now that she was getting divorced, she could do whatever she wanted. Which included bringing this poor dog home.
She pulled her scarf down and wrapped it around him to stop his shivers. “There, that’s better, isn’t it?”
The pup looked up at her, his blue eyes shimmering again. No, they were glowing. Actually glowing. The light spread from his eyes into his fur and lit up a strange but elegant pattern from his head down to his tail.
“What—” Before she really knew what was happening, the glowing dog sank his premature teeth deep into her wrist. A cold burn shot through her veins, the pain immediately overtaking all her senses.
The last thing Sam saw before she passed out, was the blue fire burning in the stray dog’s eyes. And then everything went dark.
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