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When she was sixteen, Joanna Archer was brutally assaulted and left to die in the Nevada desert.
By rights, she should be dead.
Now a photographer by day, she prowls a different Las Vegas after sunsetâa grim, secret Sin City where Light battles Shadowâseeking answers to whom or what she really is . . . and revenge for the horrors she was forced to endure.
But the nightmare is just beginningâfor the demons are hunting Joanna, and the powerful shadows want her for their own . . .
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He didn't look dangerous, not at first glance. Still, a girl can never be too careful on a blind date, and that's why I'd insisted Mr. Sand meet me in a popular steak-house nestled in a casino dead center on the Las Vegas Strip. It was, I'd thought, the most public of all public places. Yet now, watching the way shadows from the muted lighting sought out the unhealthy hollows beneath his eyes and cheeks, and the way he toyed with his blue cheese and endive appetizer, I decided the most ominous thing about Mr. Sand was a deeply embedded issue with self-control, and the only thing I was in danger of dying from was boredom. Of course, that was before I really knew him. And before my death the very next day.
At the time I had no way of knowing Mr. Sand's true intentions, not like now. Besides, who knew homicidal maniacs came wrapped in horse-faced packages with little to no fashion sense? Beyond that, he was so skinny his Adam's apple bobbed like a buoy above the opening of his pressed shirt, while knobby bones protruded at both knuckles and wrists. Ichabod Crane in a poorly fitted suit. Not exactly intimidating.
Looks aside, the next mark against him was his first name.
"Ajax?" I repeated as our soups arrived, not quite sure I'd heard right.
He nodded, lifting his spoon, though I noted he didn't actually use it. "Ajax."
"Like the cleaner?"
His smile was tight. "Like the Greek warrior."
I mean, really.
Cursing my sister for setting me up on yet another blind dateâand myself for letting herâI nevertheless tried to plant my feet firmly on the bright side of things. At least this one could walk without dragging his knuckles on the ground. And even if the woman in me had recoiled at first sight, the photographer in me had something to do.
I tried to picture Ajax in a bank, as he'd already told me how the world's financial industry would fall flat on its ass without him, but I couldn't quite imagine him languishing behind a desk. There was too much movement, too much latent energy in those snaking limbs for that. His fingers twined and untwined, his bony elbows rose to rest on the table only to drop a second later, and his eyes darted around the dining room, taking in everything but never fully settling. I'd like to still those relentless limbs with my camera, I decided. Take time to study those shifting eyes. See just who Mr. Sand became when seen in two dimensions instead of three.
He looked at me like he knew what I was thinking.
And it was that look, those eyes, that sent up the first red flag. I don't mean the color, a blue so light it was nearly transparent, but more the way they tried to own me. I licked my lips, and his eyes dropped to watch my tongue dart out. I ran a hand through my bobbed hair, and felt him following the movement so that my fingers fisted there. I exhaled deeply, forcing myself to relax, and for some reason that made him smile.
I was jumpy, I confess, but I recognized that hungry look. I'd seen it once before, long before I'd ever started dating. I'd hoped never to see it again.
"So, what do you do for a living?" Ajax asked, finally breaking the silence. "I mean, you don't just live off Daddy's money, do you?" This was followed by a shallow "just joking" guffaw, one belied by how carefully he continued to watch me.
I ran my fingers over the stem of my wineglass, wondering just how long it would take Ajax to notice that mine weren't the hands of a debutante, but those of a fighter. "I take photographs."
"Like weddings or models or something?"
"Like people. Shapes. Shadows. Usually night shots using natural lighting and gritty settings. Reality."
"So . . ." he said, drawing the word out, "you don't make money at it?"
The Scent of ShadowsBy: Vicki Pettersson