by D Jordan Redhawk
As an adult, all Joram Darkstone wants is to be out from under the thumb of her adoptive guardian and to play music with her band. Life as an orphan is firmly behind her. When she meets the mesmerizing Naomi after a show, her overt obsession with the other woman baffles her friends but somehow feels right.
Naomi Kostopoulos grew up in the Carpathian Mountains, trained to be sensitive to magic and burdened with a heavy purpose: Guard the dimensional door at any cost when the time comes. Now living in Southern California, a chance meeting with a musician opens up dangerous possibilities. Joram may be a stranger, but her voice echoes from Naomi’s childhood dreams.
As the signs of magical cataclysm swirl around them, Joram and Naomi are bound inexplicably closer by love… And destiny.
Two women on opposing sides of the battle between good and evil, both pawns in a game they don’t fully comprehend…
GCLS Goldie Awards
Darkstone — Finalist, Lesbian Science Fiction/Fantasy.
The Lesbian Review
You need to read this book. If you like urban fantasy, hard-edged music, and a pair of women who are willing to defy their imposed destinies to be together, then this book is for you. And if you think you know where the story's headed, trust me, you don't. I thought I had the ending figured out, but Redhawk took me down a completely different path.
More Praise for D Jordan Redhawk
GCLS Goldie Awards
Broken Trails — Finalist, Lesbian Contemporary Romance, Ann Bannon Popular Choice.
Lambda Literary Awards
Broken Trails — Finalist, Lesbian Romance.
“C’mon, kid. I’ve got something for you to play with!”
The small child huddled in the dark, back pressed against the cold earth as a grubby hand searched for her. Her tormentor blocked the meager streetlight as he stretched an arm into the narrow drainpipe that separated them. Unable to see anything, she felt the breeze of his grasping fingers bare inches away, instinctively knowing that his limited reach was still too near for comfort. The air was fetid with his breath and body odor—stale alcohol, rotting teeth and sour sweat blending with the smell of concrete dust, raw earth and her own familiar dirty aroma.
A muffled voice said, “Lemme try. My arm’s longer.”
Tormentor Number One grunted in disgust, partially pulling back. Light filtered in as he cleared the opening, followed by a rush of fresh air as he turned to his companion. “You’re fatter than me, idiot. It doesn’t matter how long your arm is if you can’t get your shoulder in there too.” He gestured toward the pipe. “She’s jammed in there pretty good. I can’t get at her.”
Tormentor Number Two’s work boots appeared in her vision. After a brief scuffle, he roughly pushed Number One away. “Let me have a look anyway, asshole.”
Number One swore but rolled aside, allowing his companion room as their shadows flickered across the opening of the corrugated pipe. She shivered, feeling the tears and snot tickling her face as she stared at the second stranger peering into the pipe. They’d come upon her too fast. She hadn’t had time to reach her bolt-hole, the refuge where’d she built a small nest in the middle of the construction mayhem. This opening had offered desperately needed safety from the two large men running her down. Unfortunately, the construction crew working on this project had yet to connect this pipe with any of the others. Once there, she had nowhere to go. It was twisted luck that the men had seen her dive for cover.
The flame of an old-fashioned metal lighter illuminated Number Two’s face, heavy-jowled and beady-eyed. He extended the light into the pipe until he caught sight of her. “Yep, she’s in there.” His voice echoed in the small confines.
“I told you she was,” Number One groused out in the yard.
Number Two ignored him. “Hey, cutie-pie. Why don’t you come out of there and we can get something to eat, huh? You look like you’re hungry.” She didn’t move, didn’t respond. His eyes greedily swept over her. It made her insides feel funny, like she wanted to pee. “You’re a pretty little thing, ain’t you? Come on out. We won’t hurt you, I promise.”
“Hey. I found something we could use.”
Number Two flipped the lid over the lighter, extinguishing it and plunging her back into darkness. He turned back to his friend. Despite his girth, she saw Number One’s ratty tennis shoes beside him. Number Two reached up and took something from One. “That’ll work.” He turned back to her, flicking the lighter again. He tapped a metal pipe against the corrugated steel of her trap, an ugly smile on his face. “You come out of there now, girl, or I’ll smack you with this.”
Her heart thumped in her chest. She shook her head no.
He growled, filling the hole as he pushed forward. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will, you little bitch. Get out here now!”
The pipe slid forward, a metallic scrape filling the shrinking enclosure as his bulk clogged the opening. She winced, turning away from the oncoming threat, closing her eyes as she waited for the pain.
Muffled noises distracted Number Two. She peeked out the corner of one eye. He paused, the pipe mere inches from his prey. Street light bled in from behind him as he turned his head to see what was happening. He slid swiftly backward, his makeshift weapon dropping with a loud clang that rang with the echoes of his abrupt shout. His lighter clattered onto its side, the flame flickering a foot from the entrance.
She flinched from meaty sounds of violence but saw nothing beyond the stretch of dusty ground immediately before the drainpipe—grunts and a deep horrible cracking noise, then the vibration and sound of something heavy hitting the ground. From her vantage point, she saw a beefy hand flop into view for the briefest of moments before it was dragged from sight.
Either her tormentors were trying to trick her or someone bigger and badder than them had come along. In either case, she didn’t have much choice but to stay put, until daylight if necessary. She inched forward, listening intently as she neared the entrance, her thundering heartbeat drowning out any other noise. Her senses, honed from forever living on the streets, indicated no one hovered at the other end. With a preternatural quickness, her hand darted out to grab the still glowing lighter, snuffing it out as she scrabbled backward to safety. The lighter was hot to the touch. It burnt her hand. She dropped it in the dirt at her side with a hiss of pain, scooping up the steel pipe and clutching it to her small chest. Wiping her nose on her filthy shirtsleeve, she swallowed away the tears and waited for her next attacker.
She didn’t know how long she sat there. She shivered in the cold, her eyes sliding to the cooling lighter. If she lit it for the warmth, someone would see her. Whoever had chased off Number One and Two might still be out there, waiting for her to poke out her head. What if they didn’t know she was inside? The adrenaline gradually faded, and she crouched in her haven-cum-prison, her eyes drooping in fatigue. Her stomach ached with hunger. Despite her exhaustion, she felt a kernel of anger at herself and the situation. The men had been waiting for her; she hadn’t been as careful as she’d thought. Tonight she’d raided a Dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant. She’d been so surprised when Number One and Two emerged from the shadows, intent on capturing her, that she’d dropped her meal. The chicken chow mein she’d scavenged lay in a heap a half block away from here, rotting on the ground. If she didn’t get out of this pipe before daylight that would be the only food she’d get today. She’d have to wait until nightfall tomorrow to find more or risk being discovered by the construction crew.
Footsteps roused her from slumbering choler. She jerked, the pipe in her hand brushing against the corrugated metal of her prison, announcing her presence. Unable to help herself, she gasped aloud at the sound, eyes darting to the entrance as shadows cast themselves across it.
Someone squatted there. The hands were large, indicating that it was a man. A gold ring flashed in the streetlight as he opened a bag, the crackle of paper heralding a delicious aroma. Using the bag as a makeshift placemat, he laid out a feast—a cardboard tray of french fries, a paper sleeve with a pocket pie and a box, which he opened to reveal a grilled chicken sandwich. Next to these he placed a large cup, the straw jutting upward and bent toward her. Her mouth watered at the heavenly smells filling her tiny domain. Regardless of the banquet sitting just out of reach, she warily watched his feet stride away. He wore polished dress shoes that flashed in the streetlights. The farther away he walked, the more of his legs was revealed. He wore dark pants and a long coat.
He stopped, turning this way and that a moment before sitting down on a dusty concrete block, his form lit by nearby streetlights and perfectly framed in the oval of the drainpipe. He was an older man, his hair going salt and pepper. His dark eyebrows arched majestically, almost peaking into wings at their apex. A goatee surrounded his smile. He gestured at her, as if he could see her crouching there. “Please, allow me. I’m certain you’re famished.”
His accent was strange, and she frowned as she concentrated on his words, tilting her head. Understanding made her heart flip in her chest. She swallowed against a surge of hunger, her eyes flickering back and forth between him and the food sitting so tantalizingly close.
“Truly, you’re safe with me. I’m way over here and I’m alone. You’re fast and agile—I’d wager you can retrieve your dinner and return to your refuge long before I could reach you.” He held his hands out, palms forward. “I promise you, I mean you no harm.”
Maybe he had someone with him, someone just outside waiting to pounce. She debated a moment, warring with her stomach as she extended her senses. He remained quiet, patiently awaiting her decision, a friendly smile on his face. She instinctively didn’t trust that smile—many adults smiled before they reached out to hurt you. Her ears picked up no other sounds nearby. Was he telling the truth?
The tempting aroma forced her hand. She inched forward, watching the drainpipe opening until she got close enough to reach his offering. She fidgeted a moment, chewing her lower lip as her gaze darted out to the man still seated calmly several feet away. With a rush, she snatched the bag and drink cup, dragging them backward with her until she reached the earthen hole once more. She wasted no time in stuffing a handful of still-warm french fries into her mouth, almost choking as she tried to swallow. Sucking mightily on the straw, she groaned as the chilled soda helped lubricate her throat.
“You eat with such gusto, miting. Please be careful. It would be such a waste if you were to make yourself sick.”
She started guiltily at his voice, mouth full of chicken sandwich. In her hunger, she’d almost forgotten his presence. Peering down the drainpipe she saw he hadn’t moved from his perch. She considered his words as she chewed, forcing herself to slow down. Being sick was too dangerous. With growing realization she looked down at her meal—if she safely survived the night, she wouldn’t have anything to eat later. Mournful, she took one more bite of the sandwich and carefully put it back in its container.
“A very smart young lady,” the man said. “It takes a tremendous amount of self-control for a child in your state to consider your future. I applaud you.” He patted his fingers together, making little noise.
The hair on her neck rose a little. It was pitch dark in her hiding place. Could he see in the dark? Picking up the soda, she cradled it in her lap, feeling the cold seep into her already chilled hands. The sharp claws of hunger had been driven back, but the beast in her stomach remained discontented.
Her lack of response didn’t faze her visitor. “So far tonight, I’ve protected you from a pair of thugs and fed you a fine meal. By all rights, you are now obligated to me.” He leaned forward a little, bringing his face well in line with her view. “But I’ll release you from that particular debt.”
He sat erect once more and began rummaging in an inside pocket of his jacket. She tensed, expecting a weapon. His words sort of made sense, but she couldn’t quite understand with his accent. Did he mean she owed him? Or that she didn’t anymore? He must want something, though. Why else was he still here?
“Ah! Here it is.” He pulled a thin metal flute from his pocket with a flourish.
It sparkled, a slither of luminescence independent of the streetlight. The glint caught her eyes, and a strange excitement filled her, sublimating her fear. As she watched, he brought the instrument to his lips, a delightful ripple of sound emitting as he blew on it. Before she’d realized it, she’d set the soda to one side and crouched on her knees to get a better look.
“It has the most agreeable voice, doesn’t it?” He paused in his play to admire the flashing silver instrument. “It’s called a piccolo. Have you ever played one?”
His eyes pierced hers and a tremor ran through her heart. He could see her in the dark. To test the theory, she shook her head no.
“That’s too bad. I believe you’d make a fine musician.” His smile widened and he tapped his left cheekbone below his eye. “I can see these things, you know.”
She chewed her lower lip, studying him. He had protected her from danger, driven away her persecutors. He’d brought her enough food to feed her for another day. He could see in the dark. Tentative, she asked, “Are you magic?”
His smile broadened and then he laughed. “I am indeed, miting.” He waggled the piccolo. “And this is my magical flute. I’m the Pied Piper of Hamlin reborn.”
Frowning, she tilted her head. She didn’t know what a pied piper or a hamlin was. Maybe that’s why he brought me the apple pie. Pie and a flute would make him a pied piper?
“Would you like to play it?”
She blinked, the urge to scramble forward as strong as the demand to stay put.
His smile became sly and his eyes sparkled. “I know you do. It’s all right, really. To be honest, I brought this as a test for you.”
He stood, his face disappearing from her view as he walked toward her. Scrambling back the few inches she’d gained, she watched him kneel before the drainpipe. With a flash of white and silver, he placed a handkerchief just inside and deposited the piccolo atop it. He retreated a safe distance and sat down once more. “Would you like to play it? If you do well, you may keep it.”
Keep it? Her mouth open in wonder, she stared at the instrument sitting just outside the shadows of her haven. Her fingers twitched with anticipation. Suspicion stopped her. Adults smiled and promised things, then they hit and hurt. Promises meant nothing to adults, not when made to children. “Why?”
His grin became lopsided. “Didn’t I say you were a smart girl? Very good!” Again he made the silent clapping motion. His smile faded in thought. “For a very long time I’ve been seeking a special child, one with an uncommon gift. You are not the first I’ve spoken with nor the first I’ve tested, but none of the others had that…spark that I sense within your spirit.”
Pleasure swelled in her small chest, igniting a sliver of competitiveness. “You think I’m the special child?”
“I do.” He leaned his elbows on his knees, peering into her dark domain. “How old are you?”
She scowled, wondering whether or not to tell him. If he was looking for a special child, wouldn’t he want the truth? Only bad people lied and bad people weren’t special. “I don’t know.”
“Do you know where you came from? Who cared for you before you lived alone?”
Scenes flashed across her eyes, murky and distant memories that offered only pain and sorrow. This time she didn’t answer.
“I presumed as much.” He nodded in commiseration. “I’ve been watching you for several days now, wondering if you’re the one I need to Choose. But you have to Choose as well.”
She didn’t know whether to feel fear or solace that he’d been watching over her longer than just this evening. “If I’m the special child, what will that mean?”
He smiled again, leaning back, arms wide to indicate everything around them. “That means you’ll come live with me! I’ll teach you everything you need to know, feed you, clothe you, keep you safe from harm.” He pointed at the piccolo still gleaming between them. “And you’ll play all the music you’ve ever wanted to play.”
Her gaze settled on the irresistible instrument. The one constant in her life, the one thing that made her existence livable was music. Sometimes she’d hide in the park to listen to the songs played by ethnic performers. Or she’d watch the street dancers with their boom boxes and raucous tunes. On warm nights she’d sneak down the alleyways outside clubs and let the bass and drum wash over her. To be able to learn how to make music…
She glanced up to check his location. He hadn’t moved, hadn’t spoken, letting her decide what to do. With a swallow, she scooted forward. At the halfway point, she paused to sense whether or not he was truly alone. Again she didn’t feel that anyone waited just out of sight to attack her. She snatched the piccolo, holding it close but not withdrawing back to her safety net.
After several long moments she relaxed, looking down at the instrument. It was so pretty, glowing even in the limited illumination of the drainpipe. Her fingers were dirty, dark against the pristine silver, and she felt a moment of dismay. She shouldn’t be touching something this nice. A smear of oil from the french fries marred the piccolo’s surface. She carefully cleared it away with the edge of her shirt, wiping her hands on her soiled pants. Once it was clean, she was at a loss. Her eyes flickered up to see the man still seated several feet away. “I don’t know how.”
“Oh, it’s easy, miting,” he said with a jovial chuckle. “Blow into the hole at the top like I did. Use your fingers to manipulate the keys running up and down the side.”
She did as instructed but nothing happened. It wasn’t like a toy whistle where you could blow into it and a little plastic ball rattled inside. Frowning, she examined the mouthpiece, noting the peculiar opening. She recalled how he had pursed his lips when he had played it and copied the motion. It took a couple of minutes of practice before a wispy thin note played.
Enthralled, she continued experimenting until a solid tone rewarded her. Her audience forgotten, she began to use the keys, learning the sound of each in turn as she ran up and down the instrument. Once she had a feel for the instrument’s range, she remembered a song she’d heard the night before behind a dance club and began playing the refrain. The drainpipe had excellent acoustics, and the music swelled and danced about her, echoing off the corrugated metal. She stopped copying the song and played with the sounds, seeing them in her mind as she watched them capriole and cavort around her. She played until her lip began to chafe from the unfamiliar effort. Silence reigned as the last of the notes dissipated into the night.