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Freebies: Hunt the Moon, part 1


Warning: Spoilers ahead.  If you have not yet read Hunt the Moon, the fifth Cassandra Palmer book, please skip this page. 

Author's Note:  Since I recently put up a deleted scene from Dory's series,
I thought it only fair to include one from
Cassie's. So here it is, a never-before-seen chapter from Hunt the Moon! 

So what was wrong with it?

It was what I refer to as a "test chapter." I always know the ultimate destination of a book when I begin it, but of course there are many ways to get there. And
every once in a while, I come to a fork in the road, so to speak, and have to decide which path to take. Most of the time, the right choice is obvious, but sometimes there are pretty big advantages to both routes. When that happens, I've found the only way for me to decide is to write them both out. This was simply the road not taken in this particular instance.

What was it about?

This and another chapter that I'll post seperately originally followed the fight with the Spartoi at the pizza parlor. They were an alternate version in which Pritkin was not seriously injured at this point (although it was scheduled to happen later in the book). Instead, he and the Circle began an investigation into what had been after Cassie.  

I like this chapter because it features Cassie's bodyguards, which are always fun to write. And because of an early appearance by the take-charge Cassie who would be seen again at the end of the novel. It also set up the personal situation with Pritkin that would play out later on, which is why a few paragraphs may seem familiar.

The problem with going this route was that I needed Pritkin injured for the whole second half of the book to work, and there's not a lot of things that can almost kill a centuries-old, paranoid, half-demon war mage! I was also running over on word-count, s
o I decided to save space by having the Spartoi-as-dragon do the deed. That worked much better narrative-wise, but it meant that I lost a couple of fun chapters. Of course, that means that you gain them as a bonus, which I hope you’ll enjoy!

[This is the alternate ending to the previous chapter and the chase with the Spartoi.  You need it to understand what follows.]

     ...Pritkin’s overtaxed shield gave out a few seconds too soon, sending us tumbling through the air, with me desperately trying to shift even knowing it wouldn’t work. And all I could think in those last few, furious seconds was that we’d won, against all odds we’d won, damn it, and it still wasn’t—
     And then we were jerked up, so hard I thought my bones might separate. 
     I just hung there for a moment, bouncing on air, too dazed to feel much of anything except some blood slipping ticklishly down my spine. Then I noticed Caleb overhead, leaning dangerously far over the side of the convertible, something close to terror on his habitually calm face. And his hand out flung in an odd gesture. 
     I thought that might have something to do with the faint golden glimmer wrapped around Pritkin and me like—well, like a lasso. Nice catch, I didn’t say, because my mouth didn’t seem to work. And then I couldn’t have anyway because it was occupied. 
     Pritkin’s arms abruptly tightened, one hand grabbed my neck under my sweaty hair and he kissed me. Bloody and battered and filthy, in front of half a dozen war mages, dangling from a fragile spell twenty stories over a battle zone. And none of that bothered me at all. 
     I clung to the heavily muscled body, the skin fever hot with the thrum of magic still pulsing just under the surface. And oh…God. A surge of pure, molten lust flooded me, a rush of heat that started in my belly and swept outward in an unexpected, uncontrollable wave. 
     Pritkin groaned into my mouth and pressed closer, to the point that I felt the butt of a gun digging into my ribs, and I didn’t care. The hand on my ass tightened, became two, then lifted me as if I weighed nothing until I wrapped my legs around his hips, my pulse beating hard in my throat and more demanding places. The probe of a hot tongue sparked a coiling warmth in my gut, melted my spine, made my whole body light up, until my insides dissolved in a surge of shivery, achy desire--
     And then he jerked away, face flushed and breathing ragged, and stared at me wildly. “God damn it!”
    I didn't say anything; I didn't even think I could. And then Fred spun past, still dangling by one ankle, his eyes glassy but his face strangely euphoric. “Hot damn! Now that was what you call bad ass!”
     I couldn’t have agreed more.


Lost Chapter: Hunt the Moon (part 1)

     Half an hour later, I was really starting to appreciate shifting. And not just for the saving my life thing. I’d never really thought about it before, but it got me out of a lot of useless sitting around. However beat up I was, however lousy I felt, however dirty, grimy and blood-spattered I might be, I had one huge advantage: I could leave. 
     I could take my tired, smelly, filthy self off to a shower and a bed. I could get something to eat. I could do the Scarlet O’Hara thing and think about it all tomorrow. 
     Except for tonight, when I couldn’t. 
     I didn’t want to think about who might be out there, learning from their third attempt and planning a fourth. I didn’t want to think about how close we’d come to immolating a diner full of people, whose only crime was to be in the same place at the same time as Calamity Cassie. I didn’t want to think about Pritkin’s expression, which had pretty much said that he’d thought it was game over, too. 
     I didn’t want to think about that kiss, which opened up a whole world of complicated I’d successfully ignored until now.
     But I couldn’t seem to help it. Because despite having plenty of other options, that was what my brain kept replaying, like it was stuck on a loop. Not the chase, not the almost plummeting to my death thing, not the freaking dragon. But the taste of beer and spearmint and desperation. The sensation of those strong arms lifting me, that hard body pressing against me, the rasp of that unshaven cheek as he plundered my mouth, as he took what he wanted, as he-- 
     I broke out in full-body goosebumps, just from the memory.
     I put my head in my hands, breathing hard. God, I didn’t need this. I so completely and utterly did not need this right now.
“You okay?”
     I looked up to see Fred chewing gum and peering curiously over the seat in front of me. The guards and I were in yet another car, this time a rusted blue Fiat parked curbside a couple streets over from the chaos, waiting on Caleb to remember our existence and come debrief us. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry. 
     “Fine,” I said hoarsely, sitting up and pushing sweaty green curls out of my face.
      The scene hadn’t changed from the last time I’d looked. Something had hit a nearby hydrant, which was spewing an arc of water across the road, framing the crash site and the hundred or so war mages, emergency personnel and very confused police milling around. The Circle was going with gas leak, one of the mages had told me. Which I supposed was as good as any other story if you didn’t count the four thousand pounds of dragon flesh bleeding out a few streets over.
     Even with the numbers, it looked like the Corps was having a hard time keeping up with the memory charms. I watched a woman in a fuzzy purple bathrobe come out onto the front steps of her building and look around, only to get hit with one from a passing mage. She gazed around blankly for a moment, before wandering back inside. But every few minutes she popped out again, like a strangely-colored cuckoo clock striking the hour.
     “You think that hurts ‘em?” Fred asked, after the third go around.
      I shook my head. “It just causes short term memory loss. She’ll be a little woozy tomorrow, probably put it down to a lousy night‘s sleep.”
     I could sympathize. The adrenaline rush that had kept me going during the emergency had burned off, leaving me exhausted enough to sleep on rocks—or in a cramped Fiat that smelled like cigarettes and old shoes. Only apparently that wasn’t happening, either.
     Every time I tried to curl up against Rico’s shoulder, somebody stuck their head in a window to ask if I wanted to see a healer—no—or to ask me some question about what had attacked me—dragon, large—or to ask if I would like some coffee but then to never bring me any.  I finally gave up and slumped in a corner, staring blankly at the red and blue emergency lights refracted through the spew of water. It was strangely hypnotic.
     “Can you go find Caleb?” I finally asked Rico. “Find out what the hold up is?”
     Rico looked conflicted. “Marco said we’re supposed to watch you.”
     “And you take some watching,” Jules snapped. “Goddamn.” 
     He was wedged into the driver’s seat, trying to clean up with a small pack of wet wipes he’d found in the glove compartment. Mostly, he’d succeeded in smearing the blood and dirt and oil around, making unintended patterns on the fine Egyptian cotton of his shirt.  I don’t think he noticed. The once soft waves in his perfectly cut blond hair were now matted with ash, his nose appeared to be slanting slightly to the left, and his iridescent blue eyes were looking a little crazed. 
     I decided to let the comment slide. 
     “I’ll go,” Fred offered. “I need to make a pit stop anyway.”
     “A pit stop where?” I asked. Because it wasn’t like he had to go to the bathroom.
     “Golden arches.”   
     “It’s 3 A.M.”
     “Yeah, but I know where there’s one of those all night ones.”
     “Fred is a fast food junkie,” Rico told me. “If he was human, his heart would have given out long ago.”
     “I was human for forty years and my heart was fine.”
     “They didn’t have fast food back then.”
     “They’ve always had fast food; it’s just easier to get now.” Fred looked at me. “You want anything--coffee, burger, one of those little pies?”
     “I don’t think I need a pie. I'm going to be on salads for days as it is."
     “They ruined them when they started baking them,” he agreed. “I mean, whose
idea was that? If I want health food, I’m not gonna be eating there in the first place, you know?”
     I nodded.
     “And it’s not like they changed the rest of the menu. They’ve got fatty burgers, fatty fries, fatty coffee drinks, fatty milkshakes--fatty everything. But for some reason known only to the corporate gods, they won’t deep fry my damn pie!”
     “In Italy, they still have the fried pies,” Rico said.
     “Seriously?” Fred looked intrigued. “I might have to go.”
     “You might have to go?” Jules asked, a little shrilly. “You might have to go to the land of world class cuisine in order to eat fast food?”
     “Maybe you didn’t hear him. Fried pies.”
     “How are you getting there?” I asked Fred.
     “Well, I guess I’d have to fly. I mean, everything else would take forever and ley lines make me want to—”
     “To the restaurant.”
     “Oh. Marco sent over another SUV.”
     “With a driver?”
     “No, he went back. Why?”
     “Because you don’t know how to drive.”
     “I do now.”
     I frowned. “No, you really don’t.”
     “It’s not that far, and who’s on the road this time of night anyway?”
     “People who don’t need to be run over.”  I glanced at Jules, who looked like he could use some air. “Go with him.”
     “He doesn’t need a damn pie, and I’m not going anywhere!” He didn’t even look at me,
too busy examining a five inch tear in his brand new coat. 
     I took a breath and told myself to be understanding, because we’d all had a bad night.  And because the rip wasn’t on a seam, which meant Jules was basically wearing a couture rag. “Maybe you didn’t hear me,” I said calmly.
     “I heard you.” He snatched off the coat, opened the door and hurled it at a nearby Dumpster. “I just don’t give a damn!”
     “You know, maybe I don’t need a pie,” Fred said.
     “And why is that?” I asked Jules. 
     “Why?” Furious blue eyes met mine. “I’ll tell you why. I’ve been here less than a day. Let me repeat that—less than a day. And in that time, I’ve been attacked by demons, assaulted by war mages and then, as a chaser, almost roasted alive by a goddamned dragon! And why?”
     “I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”
     “Because of a foolish, willful little girl who doesn’t know enough to be grateful for what she has! Do you know how many women would kill to be in your position? You live in a penthouse! You’re waited on hand and foot! You have a generous allowance—”
     “I don’t take money from Mircea.”
     “—and all you’re asked to do in return is to follow a few simple rules for your own damn good! But oh, no.” 
     “I can take Fred,” Rico offered, slanting a look at his friend, which Jules didn’t see because he was on a roll.
     “If they hadn’t told me you were a seer, I’d think you were a goddamned jinx!” 
     “I don’t want you to take him,” I told Rico. “I want Jules to take him.”
     “I am not your personal lackey!” Jules snapped.
     And that was it. 
     “You’re right. You’re not.” I looked at Rico. “Put him on a plane. Tonight.”
     “What?” Jules blinked at me, as if that was the first thing I’d said that had actually registered. “What are you talking about?”
     “I’m talking about you, on a plane, back to Mircea. Or whoever is holding the fort in Washington.” 
     “You can’t do that!”
     “Watch me.”
     Jules looked at me like I’d gone mad. “Do you have any idea—” he broke off when Rico’s fingers closed around his upper arm. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
     “Putting you on a plane.”
     “Because a human told you to?”
     Rico rolled his eyes.
     “Wait.” Jules said, as his friend started to get out of the car. He looked at me. “You’re serious.” 
     “Why?” he asked viciously. “Can’t take the truth?”
     Annnnd something snapped. I didn’t intend to get in his face, I really didn’t. But I guess
whatever internal meter keeps up with these things had decided that was tilt. Because I was suddenly through the front seat and into the driver’s side, pushing Jules hard against the door. I don’t know what my face looked like, but he was staring at me as if I was baring fangs I didn’t have. 
     “Here’s the thing, Jules,” I told him, pressing against his body, violating his space, pushing every button a vamp had and doing it on purpose. “I’m young, I’m female and, yes, I’m human. So it should be easy to categorize me, right?”
     Jules looked at his fellow vamps, as if to ask what the hell? But I grabbed his lapels and jerked his face back to mine. “Right here, Jules. Right here. Am I easy to categorize?”
     He hesitated a moment, as if not sure what answer was wanted. But he finally went with the truth. He nodded. 
     “But see, it gets complicated. Because I’m not just the boss’s latest bimbo. He marked me,” I yanked my hair to the side, to make sure he got a good look at the two little wounds on my neck. “And I’ve served as his second—”
     Jules blanched.
     “And for all I know, I might still be his second. He never said whether he bothered to rescind it after that particular emergency was over.” I laughed, a little maniacally. “Why the hell should he? He never bothered to ask me in the first place! And that means I outrank you, doesn’t it?”
     He nodded, faster this time. 
     “But you know what? Even if I had no connection to any court at all, I would still outrank you. Because I’m Pythia. I probably won’t be for long at the rate things are going, but until somebody or something drowns me or puts a bullet through my brain or freaking eats me, as far as the supernatural community is concerned, I outrank you. I outrank Marco. I outrank everyone except the goddamn Senate, and that’s debatable. And I kinda doubt you’d have just spoken to a senator that way!”
     We stared at each other for a minute, eyeball to bloodshot eyeball, until there was a rap on the window. Jules jumped, as if he hadn’t heard anyone approaching, and I reached over and rolled down the window. “What?”
     There was a war mage standing there, with several more behind him. He looked from me, to the vampire I was assaulting and back again. “Uh. Do you require assistance, Lady?”
     “Do I look like I require assistance?”
     “Then get lost.”
     They got lost.
     “Actually, he probably would,” Fred said, after a second. 
     I looked over my shoulder. “Would what?”
     “Talk to a senator that way. Jules always puts his foot in it.”
     “I don’t!” Jules said, but his blue eyes were a lot less certain. And although he really looked like he’d like to get rid of the lapful of Pythia he’d somehow acquired, he didn’t move. 
     “You really do,” Rico told him gently. He glanced at me, and then he shook his head, grinning. And then he decided it deserved better than that and laughed, a warm, rich, full-throated sound that was instantly infectious. I felt some of the anger drain out of me. 
     “It’s not funny,” Jules snapped, but he still didn’t move.
     “Oh, yes,” Rico said, wiping his eyes. “Yes, it is.” He looked at me. “It’s why he’s here.  It’s why we’re all here.”
     “What is?”
     “We’re in hiding.”
     “From who?” 
     “The master’s fancy guests.”
     “He’s talking about the coronation,” Fred said, seeing my confusion. “Everybody’s rushing about, getting things ready back at court, and it was felt that some of us might be…uh…in the way—” 
     “In the way my ass,” Rico said. “Try embarrassing.”
     “I am not embarrassing,” Jules said indignantly.
     “A lot of bigwigs are coming,” Fred told me, ignoring him. “Which is why they shuffled your bodyguards. They pulled the suave, diplomatic types back to deal with the prima donnas, and sent the more, uh, awkward of us into exile.”
     “I’m not awkward, either!” Jules snapped. “I was trained for exactly this sort of thing!”
     “Then why are you here?” I demanded.
     He shifted uncomfortably, although that might have been because my knee had hit him in a sensitive spot. “I--something I said was taken the wrong way.”
     “What did you say?”
     “Nothing!  It was an offhand remark.”
     “What kind of remark?”
     “I simply said that we might want to move some of the more delicate chairs out of the ballroom if certain guests confirmed.”
     “What’s wrong with that?”
     Fred snorted. “Because what he actually said was ‘we need to get the expensive stuff out of here before the fat butts arrive.’” 
     “Some of those are chairs are Louis XIV,” Jules said defensively.  “They’re irreplaceable.”
     I stared at him. “So is the alliance!”
     It was the reason I was sitting in the stinky Fiat surrounded by a bunch of war mages, each and every one of whom probably also thought I was being a foolish little girl. Only in their case it was for not going quietly off to the protection of war mage HQ. But that that was exactly what I couldn’t do.
     Having a vamp-friendly Pythia, one who might even have a somewhat adversarial relationship to the Circle, was the trump card in Mircea’s argument. It was something the vamps had never had, the prospect of heretofore unknown power and influence, which he was dangling like a jewel in front of their dazzled eyes. And nothing works on vamps like power. It trumps old jealousies, petty grievances and sheer pigheadedness. And it’s pretty much the only thing that does.
     But in order for Mircea’s plan to have any chance at all, I had to walk a tightrope. I had to somehow keep the Circle happy—or as happy as they ever were--while not giving the vamps who disliked the idea of an alliance any ammunition. Like running off to the mages at the first sign of trouble. 

     “Mircea would prefer to lose a hundred antiques rather than risk offending someone with a vote,” I told Jules. “Nothing is more important than the alliance right now. Nothing.”
     “That’s what he said,” Jules told me miserably. “Right before he sent me here.”
     I’d have to remember to thank him, I thought grimly.
     Jules didn’t say anything else, but the unease on his face grew by the second. To the point that I started to feel sorry for him. He’d only said what a lot of others had been thinking. Probably most others.
     “The master won’t let him stay,” Rico told me, looking more sober. “If you send him back. He won't risk having him blowing up on a guest like he just did on you and possibly costing a vote.”
     Jules stared out the window, looking blankly at the gushing hydrant. “He'll trade me,” he said bleakly.
     “Won’t,” Rico said. “Boss doesn’t do that.”
     “I’ll be the first, then. He’s a diplomat. Everyone on staff is, everyone important—”
     “Thanks,” Fred said sourly.
     "—and it’s why he acquired me. He thought I could be useful, but I just—” he looked at me, blue eyes pained. “All I’ve ever had is my face, but it’s never been enough.”
     I didn’t ask what he meant by that. I didn’t want to know. Vampires were Changed for all kinds of reasons, and while most masters were pretty damn careful about who they took on, others picked up people like toys, amusing themselves for a short time until they grew bored and tossed them aside. Or, in vampire terms, traded them onto some other master like a kid would trade baseball cards. 
     If that had happened to Jules, I felt sorry for him, but it didn’t help with my problem. A master vamp would have had his head on a plate for that rant, possibly literally. And if I really meant what I said about being taken seriously by the Senate, I ought to do the same. Or at least follow through on my threat and send him back.  I could talk to Mircea, make sure he didn’t trade him—
     But that wouldn’t keep Mircea from sticking him in some backwater business, probably permanently. Jules might spend decades, possibly centuries, paying for a single mistake made after a night from hell. Because family rank, once lost, was really hard to win back.  And exiled from court, he’d have little chance to do so. 
     I still ought to send him back. A real master vampire definitely would, probably in pieces. And not doing so could end up costing me whatever little respect I’d managed to gain--assuming I wasn’t already in negative territory. 
     I stared out the window, where it looked like it was raining. Little droplets from the hydrant were getting tossed about on the wind, occasionally sending a spatter against the Fiat’s grimy glass. It turned the dark car somewhat cozy. 
     God I was tired.
     I looked at the vamp, and since I was basically on top of him, we were eye to eye. His looked depressed, resigned. I don’t know what mine looked like, but given his expression, I had to assume they weren’t real comforting.
     “You have to understand, I can’t have people around who countermand the simplest of orders,” I told him. “Who think they automatically know better than some little human. It’s not just vanity or whatever. In a crisis—and we have a lot of those around here--I may not always have time to explain everything. And I can’t afford to run the risk of someone deciding to ignore what I say at a crucial moment and in the process get people killed.” 
     “I understand,” Jules said, his face white.
     “So can I trust you?”
     It took him a moment to get it, and then he looked around at the others, as if he might have misunderstood. “I…you mean…you want me to stay?”
     “I don’t know. Can you follow orders? Can you not be an ass?”
     “That’s asking a lot,” Fred said.
     Jules puffed up at him, but then he looked back at me and deflated. “I can try.”
     “And can you not mention this to anybody?”
     The vamps exchanged glances again. The others nodded but Jules looked confused. “You—you’re trying to preserve my standing?” he asked.
     “I’m trying to preserve mine. It’s not going to help my reputation if anybody knows I let you off the hook.”
     He blinked, as if that idea had never occurred to him. “I—yes.  Yes, of course.”
     I sighed and climbed into the tiny back seat. “Good. Now will you please take Fred to get his damn pie and let me get some sleep?”
     I think I was out before they closed the door.