| 1 Chapter
Cody Morgan stared at the crowd. She turned in a complete circle along the busy promenade. How did I get here? How long have I been here?
A long dock stretched as far as she could see on her left and on her right, full of people bustling about because of the storm that was approaching. Unlike the others, this was no “wind advisory” from the weather reports. Nor was it a “high wind watch.” What was coming now . . . was what some had named “The Awakening.” Others had deemed it “the end of the world.”
In truth it was all of that. It’d been covered by all the media. The latest in the storm analysis had predicted this starting a year ago and the only thing that changed in that time was just how monumental of a storm it would become.
For a year they’d been listening to the predictions. Not everyone believed it. Cody held the hair out of her face as she attempted to make sense of where she was. The sky was currently blustery and gray, swirling hues of white, light gray, and even some dark blue twirled in a dance above them. She was one of the few who understood the truth: the storm coming was the be all end all of terrible weather.
As if someone had found Pandora’s Box and opened it, believing there was nothing to fear. Apocalypse. That’s truly what it was. For a year the government had been telling them to prepare themselves. That there would be ships built in factories nobody was given directions to. The ships would be able to handle millions of lives, protecting them, saving them. Like a modern day Noah’s Ark they claimed, which was when the majority of the world stopped listening.
Noah’s Ark, she’d heard people say, how ridiculous has the government become? First a laughable president who is controlled by all around him . . . and now religious nonsense?
That was then.
This was now.
Scattered here and there were groups of two, three, four people. Families gathering together. Couples with strollers beside them, crying babies. Friends clambering to remain together. Suitcases were packed, waiting for the owner to grab and go. Here and there, people had been in such a rush to pack that a shirt was hanging from one suitcase, another had a bra dangling out. Toddlers screamed and wailed, gathering their energy from the frantic pace and the anxiety of the people who surrounded them.
A man with balloons and stuffed animals hanging from his clownish attire went from child to child, handing them out for free. His hope was to bring a little jubilance to the children, even to some of the adults as they too received a piece of candy or a lollipop.
A line of shops stood in front of her, side by side. Most of the places were abandoned, clothes or tourist items left without a care in the world. Two of the shops had windows that were boarded over with plywood. Their owners obviously believing that somehow they’d come back to open up shop soon. Despite the last year of predictions that all continents would fall beneath the coming swell of water. This was not a typical storm, hurricane, or typhoon. There were no scales to measure or words to describe what was churning overhead.
In the months to come, the ocean would claim the world and there may be no land left. No homes to come back to. No roads to drive on. No parks to visit. No stores to shop at. Not unless they were on the ships, which were built to become small virtual islands if the walls were brought down and flattened.
A salon’s old-fashioned barber’s pole spun, making the red, white, and blue helical stripes spin around and around. The wind carried the stripes faster and faster until the pole blurred into a solid color, then it drifted slowly back to the red, white, and blue before spinning faster and faster again.
Seagulls tottered between the crowds, stealing scraps of food dropped on the ground. They bounced along the ground, between the legs and feet of all who were gathered, flying up when disturbed. Some flew above, gliding on the brewing storm winds, sending their keeooowww of the approaching storm. Pigeons made their hooo hoooo sound and attempted to join the hunt for scraps but the much more aggressive and larger grey and white birds ran them off.
The last place Cody could recall was her house. She was packing as many bags as she could fit in her jeep, getting ready to leave. Then she was here. Smack dab in the center of the busy promenade, wondering how in the hell she got here. She attempted to recall more than that, but her mind gave her nothing in return.
How long have I been here?
In the distance of her mind, a knock came at her front door as she shoved her clothes into her backpack. Then . . . blank.
A man in a business suit bashed into her shoulder and spun her around, drawing her focus back to reality. His tie was undone, his white shirt pulled free of his pants and clinging to his body from sweat or the rain. No apology. No second look. His eyes were crazed, he probably didn’t even see her. Everyone was in a rush, too busy to notice her standing there like a fool, attempting to figure out where she was. The chill of the day soaked into her flesh, and she rubbed her arms to warm herself.
A highlighted blonde woman passed within reach. “Excuse me!” Cody grabbed for the woman’s jacket, but the woman diverted at the last minute. As the woman ran off with a frown, Cody spoke to herself, “I just wanted to know where I’m at.”
She had been here before. She knew it, and yet . . . she didn’t. The knowledge existed deep down inside Cody’s subconscious. Maybe there was a reason she came here. That same familiarity.
Another person bumped into her, but the woman muttered an apology as she ran past. Like stampeding buffalo along a prairie, they couldn’t see her, didn’t want to. Every single person out here knew they didn’t have much time to get on the ship. They only hoped they were one of the few lucky ones without a ticket who’d manage to snag a place on a ship.
Cody spun around again, then glanced at the churning sky. A couple drops of misty rain hit her in the face. The monsoon would start soon. If she didn’t get back to her house and get her belongings, then head to the docks to board a ship, she would be as good as dead.
They all would.
How in the hell did I get here?
She may as well give up thinking about going home. Without knowing exactly where she was, she’d lose precious time. First she’d have to go home, then get her things, and rush back to the docks. Time she didn’t have. The ships would have protection. The ships would also have spare clothes. Or someone might. Hopefully.
Once the storm settled in for the long haul and that sky opened, nobody would find themselves spared. Not rich, not poor, nothing and no one. If she had any hope of survival, she had to move, and had to move . . . now.
A large balding man in a soaked brown tweed suit stumbled into her. He grabbed her shoulders to steady her. His cheeks were puffy and ruddy. “I am so sorry, miss. What on earth are you doing standing here?” He spun her with him, made sure she was steady, then let her go with a few pats to her shoulders. He backed away with wide eyes, his cheeks losing color, “Get out of here child. Get out of here while you still can.”
The waves against the dock roared up and over the railing in answer. People screamed and backed further in.
Over his bulky shoulder, a group of men shoved their way through the crowd. A man wearing an expensive silver suit with black shirt beneath his coat, black shoes, and silver tie around his neck moved with purpose. He only had eyes for her. He led the way while the two beside him made a path.
Black hair, Asian descent, attractive in a dangerous ‘this man may slice your throat in the middle of the night’ way. The leader. Of what, would be the question. A business no doubt. A business nobody wanted to get involved with.
The two men with him stayed a few steps behind. Though they looked to be guards of some sort, Cody had the unnatural feeling the man in front was far worse to take on than either of the two following him. They both wore the typical black suit with white shirt, but they had red ties around their necks. The jackets flapped in the current they made, revealing occupied gun holsters at their waists. One had dirty blonde hair and brown eyes, the other had dark brown hair with brilliantly stark blue eyes.
As she watched the Asian man approach with his eyes on her, her heart skipped a beat.
Déjà vu swam through her. She’d seen this man before. Somewhere. Her thoughts went off into a place she dare not go. The idea that she’d ever known a man like this one shoving—literally—his way through the crowd, determined to get to her, scared her. And she was the one he aimed for. There was no doubt in her mind that he wanted her, or that she’d known him before.
When the bulky man who’d bumped into her turned, he came face-to-face with the newcomer. They stood at similar height, and the newcomer was trimmer, but somehow this newcomer seemed much larger. Without a second’s hesitation the newcomer took hold of the tweed jacket with long elegant fingers and perfectly manicured nails. He spun him as easy as if the big man weighed nothing, then heaved him into the grip of the blonde man beside him.
Not missing a beat, the blonde guard gave the big man a great shove to the side. Tweed jacket man toppled into the surrounding crowd with a, “hey!”
He knew better than to waste time in a fight with these people. As far as he was concerned, people like that would be the first to go. He believed this was judgment day. Tweed jacket man crossed himself. He tripped on sodden shoes and stumbled, then ran off without so much as a backward glance.
Cody moved to the side to leave and Mister Dangerous blocked her way. “We need to talk.” Very smooth voice, polished to perfection.
Cody froze. “Get out of my way,” she said and pushed past him.
The man grabbed her arm and dragged her back in front of him. The vice grip on her arm confirmed her suspicions of his strength. His fingers bit into her flesh. “Cody, correct?”
Cody twisted her arm toward his thumb and dragged her arm free from his grip. “And?”
“My name is Guerin,” he said.
So they hadn’t met. That made her feel better. Still, her unease screamed get away from him, not to trust him. She may not know him now, but she had known him at one time. Maybe. Maybe known of him. That was more than enough. His dark eyes, his aura. It made her think of what evil may appear as in human form.
“This means something to me?” Knowing she would be better off letting this man spew what he had to say, she crossed her arms to wait him out.
A shadow of a smile touched his eyes and nothing more. The only thing she felt from him was cold. Danger. Death. “I was told you are the person to see for a little . . . help I require.”
Cody’s eyebrows drew together, her eyes narrowed. “Exactly what sort of ‘help’ are you talking about?”
This time the man did smile. A small one, but it was forced and looked unnatural. Supernatural even. Guerin’s smile held no comfort. Only cold, calculating disdain. His eyes darkened further if that was possible. He didn’t like people holding him up. He wasn’t used to people refusing to jump when he said so.
“You’re an alchemist. I have a project I need built. One that cannot stop the storms, but that will help the survivors. One only you can deliver.”
Cody straightened. That perked her interest. A little. “Help? What sort of help?”
She asked all the wrong questions. According to him. He glanced at the dark-haired guard, who stood a few inches taller than Guerin. When he faced her again, Guerin took a step closer, invading her personal space. He stood an inch taller than her, but it may as well have been a mountain. His aura came across far larger than his real-time presence. She didn’t like it. More that he dare invade her personal space.
“What does that matter? I will pay twice your normal fee.”
“And you believe you can afford such a cost?”
One eyebrow quirked. She presented a challenge. “For this, I will pay three times. Whatever you ask.”
“That’s a mighty large sum you’re talking about. That speaks volumes. You do know that any second a storm is going to break. One that money can’t buy off?”
Guerin looked at the churning darkness, threatening to come down on any one of them. “Time is of the essence.”
He regarded her as they all did. A child. She looked young. Her freckles came with the bright auburn hair, add blue eyes and she forever resembled youth. She had since she was a child. She never aged. Always the innocent young girl next door look. His mistake was the tone. The implication business men like him held that he was better than her.
Cody stared at Guerin for a long drawn out minute. Going along with him was a grave mistake. When he said ‘help the survivors’ her gut clenched. A gut that never steered her wrong. A gut instinct she listened to.
“Seems to me you have all the time in the world—” Cody’s attention was drawn behind Guerin, and down. Some feet away—she hadn’t noticed him before—stood a little boy. Perhaps only nine or ten years old.
Golden brown curly locks—the kind you wanted to run your hands through. He was dressed in a formal white collared shirt and khaki pants, black shoes. The front left tail of his clean white shirt was hanging over the belt on his pants. All put-together looking, but for that one thing.
Guerin noticed where her focus was. “My son, Carter.”
Carter had been warily watching the crowd swirling around him, fully aware of how small he was, how fragile in their midst, and how fast they moved. The guards were a few feet in front of him. Guerin left him standing near a trash can that was welded to the light post, but that provided little safety from such a vast amount of people scrambling for their lives.
Upon hearing his name mentioned, Carter raised his face. Cody felt as if she’d been punched. There was something familiar about that child. His face lit up. He glanced at his father, then went back to keeping an eye on the crowd.
“You shouldn’t leave him there alone,” she said with growing concern. Not that he was her child, but he was defenseless. Someone should be there with him.
“He isn’t. Look again.”
Cody did as told, and saw what he meant. Carter wasn’t alone. His attention wasn’t on the crowd. The little boy had his attention on men among the crowd, but standing a few feet away from him on either side. One stood at his 3 o’clock position, another at his 6 o’clock position.
The two men wore casual clothing compared to the men by Guerin’s side. Nothing more than jeans and t-shirts so they could merge with the rest of the people, but that was all that was casual about them. Their stances were stiff, their attention sharp on the child and on the crowd, ready to intervene in an instant. They took note of Guerin as well once a minute or so.
A woman ambled too close to the path that would lead her on a collision course with Carter. The guard closest, redirected her. Not at all gentle. She stumbled, brushed herself off, and said something under her breath before stalking off. It reassured Cody the kid was safe. She had a soft spot for kids.
“You believe me a man who would list his child as low priority?”
Cody gave him a pointed stare. “I believe you a man interested in getting what he wants no matter the price.”
“My son is priceless. Is that a yes, or no?”
Not a chance in hell. Cody stepped closer to him, then twisted to move closer to the bodyguard on his right. She spoke to Guerin, but advanced on the blonde guard, causing him to step backward. “I tell you what. If I see you again? Maybe.”
Cody moved around the bodyguard before they registered what she said. She caught sight of Carter and noticed the child smirked. There was no way he could have heard her was there? Seemed he knew what she’d do.
Do we know each other?
She spun around the bodyguard and disappeared into the crowd.
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