Vicki Pettersson

The Touch of Twilight

The third book in the Sign of the Zodiac series, 2008

To my grandmother, Eva Mattingly.

Thank you for unconditional support, ceaseless prayers…and for saying I remind you of you.


The country-western bar rocked on its pilings with music and conversation, laughter and line dances-and an obscene number of ten-gallon hats-all competing with the glint of the club’s lights to obscure my sightline. It didn’t matter. The scent of the Shadow alone was enough to alert me to her presence. Even the sweaty masses, with their perfumes and deodorants and soaps, could do nothing to mask the pungent rot of a demon masquerading as a human being.

A cigarette flared on the lips of a man to my left as I slipped smoothly across the straw-strewn dance floor, squeezing the grip on my crossbow through the open zipper of my designer clutch. Raucous laughter erupted ahead and to my right as bellies filled with the Jell-O shots that would eventually be blamed for this night’s folly. The band rocked hard in front of a plate-glass window suspended beneath a slanted rooftop, and the lights of the Las Vegas Strip sparkled enticingly in the distance.

My awareness of all this was cursory. Acridness was building in the back of my throat, and the tang of soured skin made me wince as I neared the bathroom door, but I held my breath once there, stilled my movements, and steeled myself for battle. Regan-Shadow agent, astrological Cancer of our enemy Zodiac troop, and would-be rival for my true love’s affections-possessed hearing so sharp she could make out wings beating in the air. She could taste unbridled emotion as if sipping from a cup, and given the chance, she could scent me too.

My nostrils flared as I breathed in deeply, and it was there…the petal-soft top note of singed roses powdering the air, just shy of cloying. The heart note like milk so recently gone sour a dulled palate wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

The base note of slick, hot vomit.

With aching slowness, I gripped my conduit in front of me, slipped off my kitten heels, then lowered my chin and widened my stance.

You are the Kairos, the fulcrum upon which hinges the paranormal battle between good and evil. Your every action is loaded with meaning, charged with energy, and linked to your legacy.

My troop leader’s reminder fired like a rocket through my mind, and I shot back a mental rejoinder as I kicked open the door with a splintering crack.

How’s this for action?

But the sitting area was empty, and I immediately sidestepped my way to the cluster of stalls, stopping short when something sharp and unnaturally shiny caught my attention. An ice pick lay angled across the vanity, projecting homicidal intent as clearly as a chalk outline. I recognized it as Regan’s conduit, her paranormal weapon, the only thing that could truly destroy one of us. A blow from an enemy’s conduit would slay you, and a conduit turned against its own controller would erase their existence so completely, they were scrubbed from supernatural history. Not even a footnote left to speak to their existence. And Regan’s was lying right there in the open.

Stupid bitch. I took a step toward it.

“I wouldn’t, if I were you.”

I whirled toward the stalls in time to watch a slim, delicate, and deadly hand appear. It held one of the tiny, teasing devices I’d found littering my ex’s modest tract home. It was the reason I’d come here to kill.

Lowering my own conduit, I stepped down. One mean twitch of her thumb, and a man would be blown to bits just outside these doors. My man.

“Come on, superhero,” Regan taunted, coming into full view. “Show me your scariest super face.”

Though expected, Regan’s appearance always startled me. Her dark bob was exactly chin length, as if she’d measured it with a ruler while cutting it, and hadn’t let it grow a centimeter since. Her build was more compact than when we’d first met, but then mine used to be as well, and that’s what jolted me. That’s who she’d been designed to imitate. Me. Before I’d been turned into a white-hot, slick-curved, brick-house blonde.

“Where is it?” My voice had turned unnaturally raspy for a woman. It happened when I was extremely pissed.

“His watch.” She shrugged, watching me carefully, eyes lingering on my bare feet. “I told him I could get a great deal on a TAG Heuer. He loves it.”

She sauntered across the powder room to perch herself on a stool designed like a mini-sawhorse, still holding the detonator aloft. I smirked as, one-handed, she began putting on lipstick in a shade I used to favor. Cute. She’d taken the blueprint of my former features-the way I wore my hair, the skin tone, and eyes-twisting the details in small ways to make them her own. The clothes she wore were still conservative, if a tad tighter than mine had been, and her jewelry was more dramatic, playing off deceptively delicate features.

Regan’s beauty regimen, and her near-pathological need to test me, had her slyly setting the detonator down and whipping out a simple black compact. Not trusting that this too wasn’t a detonator in disguise, I only watched as she used a cut sponge to reapply cover-up to a scar below her left ear. I wasn’t privy to how she’d gotten that one, but I knew Vanessa had nearly caught her three weeks ago with her hinge-bladed fan, and sure enough, Regan lifted her shirt to reveal the still-angry scores above her waist.

Unlike wounds from mortal weapons, conduits always left scars…again, if we survived them at all. Ordinarily one had to work to conceal the raised scars, but this concealer went on smoothly and the scar vanished, leaving her belly flawless in its mirrored reflection. Whoever had mixed the compound, I admitted grudgingly, had known what they were doing.

“Isn’t Ben even a little curious as to why his sweet ‘Rose’ has so many scars?” I asked acerbically. Now that my immediate plans for murder, mayhem, and revenge had been foiled, I decided to keep her talking until I came up with a plan B.

“Benny-boy sees what I want him to,” she retorted, perching herself on the counter, feet on the sawhorse as she dabbed at her right calf. “You should get your lab rats to engineer a compound like this. Isn’t it wonderful? Close to your coloring too.”

I narrowed my eyes. It was exactly my coloring. The Shadow surgeon who’d turned her into a younger, stinkier version of the old me hadn’t skipped any corners.

“So, am I doing a good approximation of you, Archer?” Since we were alone, she used my title-my sign on the Western Zodiac-openly.

“Please. You’re merely poaching.” I said, mindful of the device next to her as I watched her apply the makeup. It would be useful to have some of that for the mark on my chest. My glyph had burned me from the inside when I’d been captured in an underground cavern last month, and it still hadn’t quite faded. Regan had been responsible for that Kodak moment too. “Hurt him and I’ll finish the lobotomy your mother so clearly fucked up.”

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