Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Amanda Bonilla’s Darian from Shaedes of Gray.
In the shadows of the night, Darian has lived alone for almost a century. Made and abandoned by her former love, Darian is the last of her kind-an immortal Shaede who can slip into darkness as easily as breathing. With no one else to rely on, she has taught herself how to survive, using her unique skills to become a deadly assassin.
When Darian’s next mark turns out to be Xander Peck, King of the Shaede Nation, her whole worldview is thrown into question. Darian begins to wonder if she’s taken on more than her conscience will allow. But a good assassin never leaves a job unfinished…
Darian and the Doll
The mall was like the seventh level of Hell, only Hell was probably a lot nicer. I’m not exactly what you’d call a people person and the place was packed tight with shoppers who had no choice but to invade each other’s personal space as they navigated the narrow walkways. Unfortunately, the mall closed at midnight on Christmas Eve and I didn’t have a choice.
Bing Crosby’s version of Silver Bells piped through the PA system. It’s funny; I remembered hearing that song in 1950 when it was first recorded. You gotta love how the oldies are still goodies. Holiday shopping wasn’t in my repertoire in the 50s just like it isn’t now, proving that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
I guess there was one nice thing about the mall: it was full of self-absorbed people too busy with their own lives to worry about the inhuman creature walking in their midst. Laughter threatened to escape my lips as I thought about what I must look like dressed head to toe in black, head slightly bowed to hide the soft glow of my eyes. If anyone bothered to notice me, I would have stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the bright greens and reds, the lively smiling faces, and so much holiday cheer.
I didn’t bother with the kiosks offering free samples of useless crap or the Hickory Farms booth—what was a cheese ball made of anyway?—with its platters of goodies to sample. A woman on a mission, I had only one stop tonight and I planned on getting in, getting out, and getting the hell out of here. I paused at the entry to the store. It wasn’t like I’d burst into flames or anything if I stepped inside, but I sure felt like I would. The pretty dolls, books and other keepsakes lined the walls and counters, gleaming under the fluorescent lights in a way that screamed, “Buy me!” Good thing, too. I was there to do just that.
This mission was definitely outside my scope of practice. I’d never questioned Tyler about a job before, but there’s a first time for everything, I suppose. I unfolded the slip of paper he’d given me, and wandered around for a bit until I found what I was looking for. Each doll had a corresponding book that told her unique story and I double checked the name Tyler had written down to make sure I grabbed the right doll/book combination.
As I carried my merchandise to the check-out counter, I couldn’t help but wonder at the true reason for Tyler wanting me to buy the doll. Was he planning on hiding a bomb inside? Was he going to rig it to spew out poisonous gas at just the right moment? I was assassin after all, and Ty was my handler. There wasn’t anything we did that didn’t end up in someone being killed.
The cashier flashed me a brief, tight-lipped smile as she rang up my purchase. I’d be willing to bet she was counting down the seconds until the store closed and she could go to whatever holiday party she was more than likely late for. I paid for the doll and beat a hasty retreat. No need to stick around, the press of bodies and dull roar from too many voices was beginning to get to me and it would only be a matter of time before I decided to clear a path with the dagger I had hidden in my coat. It’s not like I was planning on actually stabbing anyone, but one glance at my shiny blade was guaranteed to give me a wide berth through the hordes of shoppers.
Once I left the purgatory known as Westlake Center, I traveled in my shadow form to The Pit, my favorite hang-out. Tyler waited for me at our usual table tucked in a corner at the back of the bar. “Here you go.” I set the bag down in front of him and took a seat. “Are you going to tell me why you have me out buying dolls at 11 PM on Christmas Eve?”
Tyler smiled and checked inside the bag. He jerked his head toward the door and stood. “Come with me.”
I hated it when he got all cryptic, but I played along, curious to see what this job was all about. Fifteen minutes or so later, we stood in front of a shelter for women and children. I turned to Tyler, my brow arched in a silent question. He took my hand and led me inside and pointed to a little girl sleeping on a narrow bed beside her mother.
“That’s Alicia, and her mom, Stacy.” Ty said. “Stacy got mixed up with a nasty dealer a few months back. He’s got connections to the Cartel. She knows too much for him to simply let her walk away, so I’m getting them out of here. They’re leaving tomorrow, but Alicia isn’t exactly getting the perfect Christmas. Stacy said she asked for this doll, so…”
Something warm swelled in my chest at Tyler’s gesture. The move was typical Ty. I swallowed back the smile that threatened to break out on my face. “You’re a good guy.”
Tyler took the bag from my hand and smiled. “Don’t forget it, either.”
He turned toward me and I stiffened as he stepped so close that his cheek brushed against mine. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with his delicious scent. I wondered if our close proximity affected him like it did me. His fingertips brushed against my palm, sending an electric rush through every nerve ending before he placed a wide envelope in my palm.
“What’s this?” My voice came as a hoarse whisper.
“Part two of the job,” Tyler said close to my ear. I shivered as his breath stirred the hairs at my temple. “We’re going to make sure Alicia and her mom won’t spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders.”
Ah. Now this I understood. I might not have been the big-hearted, doll-buying soul that Tyler was, but I could help Alicia and her mom in my own way: by taking out the bad guy. For good. “It’ll be done tonight,” I said, looking over Tyler’s shoulder at the mother and daughter sleeping on the narrow bed.
“I can always count on you. Merry Christmas, Darian.”
I watched as Ty walked over to where Alicia slept, tucked against her mother’s body. They’d get a new start tomorrow, thanks to Tyler and that little girl would get her Christmas gift as well. “Merry Christmas, Ty,” I whispered before fading into shadow. He didn’t need me for this. I’d leave the good deeds to him. Besides, I had a date with a dealer…
Meet Amanda Bonilla!
Amanda Bonilla lives in rural Idaho with her husband and two kids. She’s a part-time pet wrangler, a full-time sun worshipper, and only goes out into the cold when coerced. She loves the outdoors, black clothes, pink appliances and thinks junk food should be a recognized food group. In the summer, she can be found sitting by the lake, enjoying the view from her dock.
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