Chapter 1

Lux Monroe leaned low over the table, lining up her shot with one eye closed. The last ball she needed to sink was across the table by the right corner pocket, and the eight-ball was in the way just enough to be a nuisance. She shifted her wrist on the grimy, green felt to give herself a better angle.

If you weren't a regular at The Frisk, an underground bar that catered to minors, you wouldn't know that this particular pool table, of the four in the room, had one leg that was a quarter of an inch shorter than the others, enough to throw off your shot if you needed it to be perfect. The guy she was about to beat, Roy he had called himself, wasn't a regular.

Lux slid the pool stick backwards from the juncture of her pointer finger and thumb, inhaled, and pushed the stick forward on her exhale. There was a satisfying clack as the queue ball connected with the target and dropped it in.

She stood up with a grin. "Pay up."

Roy, a muscular boy of nineteen with unfortunate acne scars covering his face, glanced over to his friends who were watching. One of them was sniggering behind his hand.

"You hustled me," he said, glaring at her. A flush was creeping up his neck and turning his ears red.

Lux leaned her stick against the table and spread her hands in mock innocence. "It's not my fault you underestimated me."

"You lost the first game on purpose," he accused, taking a step towards her and brandishing his stick.

"You can't prove that," said Lux with a shrug. "And whether I intended to lose has nothing to do with the fact that you got cocky and decided to celebrate every half-decent shot of yours with a drink. You were an opponent, but you were never a player."

Roy's mouth opened in outrage, his bushy eyebrows drawing in over beady, rat-like eyes. It made him look rather stupid. Other players had paused in their games to watch now, sipping from their bottles and whispering in each other's ears.

"Now," she continued, "Are you going to pay me or should I get Denton to settle the matter?"

He looked over at the older man watching them from behind the bar with cold eyes. Denton, the owner of Frisk, was a hardened war veteran who didn't tolerate fights in his bar. If two customers had a disagreement, he was prosecutor, judge, and jury, and you didn't appeal his decision. And in this case, he would decide in Lux's favor.

"Just pay her man, you lost," said one of Roy's friends.

Roy threw his stick to the side where it clattered across the stone floor. He rummaged in a pocket of his jeans, plucked some bills from his ratty wallet, and slammed them onto the table. Luz scooped them up, counted out the two-hundred dollars and tucked them safely away in her shirt.

"It was lovely doing business with you boys," she said, giving them a wide smile.

Roy shoved past her, his shoulder connecting painfully with hers though she didn't show it. "Bitch," he muttered. He and his friends hurried up the narrow back staircase and disappeared.

Once they were out of sight, Lux rubbed her shoulder and swung her arm in a circle to try and ease the discomfort. She collected the balls from their pockets and re-set the table, declining an offer from another player, before going to sit at the bar.

Technically, Roy had been right; she had lost the first game on purpose though not by a wide enough margin to give him a false sense of security and consider it hustling. He had decided she would be an easy win on his own. That, and she had been watching him play for an hour before she approached him with the bet. He took his time between shots, making crude jokes with his friends and taking long drafts of his beer, but he didn't take time to actually take his shots so more often than not, he was off- balance. Drunk, cocky, arrogant, he was the perfect opponent, and she needed the money.

"Do you always gotta pick the fighters?" Denton asked, gruffly.

"You know I love to keep it interesting, Dent," said Lux, sliding onto a cracked leather bar stool. She blinked a few times to allow her eyes to adjust to the dimness. It was darker over in the bar area; the only lights came from the wall, filtering through the shelves haphazardly lined with foggy liquor bottles.

Denton grunted and continued wiping the glass in his hand with a dish rag of questionable cleanliness. His brow was perpetually furrowed and his lopsided mouth was always pressed into a disapproving line; he never looked anything but angry, but he liked Lux well enough.

"That mouth of yours is going to get you in trouble one day," he said, eyeing her.

"Hasn't it already?" she asked, grinning.

He grunted again and shook his head. "You want something then, or are you just taking up space at my counter?"

"The usual," Lux said.

She drummed her fingers across the chipped, imitation wood countertop. Sawdust that had pooled in its pockmarked surface stuck to her hands. She looked over her shoulder to survey the dingy room. A mild crowd of players mingled around the pool tables cast in a hazy glow from the low hanging, green lights. There were a few faces she recognized, but mostly there were strangers. It made her slightly, uneasy. Usually the Frisk was only populated by regulars with the occasional new comer; she didn't like people encroaching on a place she considered a sanctuary.

Denton placed a beer bottle in front of her and walked away without another word. Lux wondered what he was like outside of the bar.

Her phone buzzed with an incoming text.

"Where the hell are you?" It was from her father.

Lux gulped the rest of her beer, needing the buzz if she was going to have to deal with whatever mood her father had drank himself into again. She stood up, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and placed a bill on the counter. She wove her way through the bodies of the room, and ducked into the narrow stone staircase that led up to a dark alley.

Trash cans over-flowing with garbage and broken furniture stood guard at the top of the stairs. A rat skittered across her path and she curled her lip in disgust, stepping around puddles of waterlogged and rotting debris.

It was the witching hour as her mom used to call it, the time of night when shadows took on life of their own, stretching and shifting in man-made lights to make you see things that weren't there. Her mom used to love stories about witches, would often make them up on the spot when she put Lux to sleep as a little girl. But that had been before her mom had died.

Lux walked quickly through the dark roads, taking her usual shortcuts, and avoiding streets lined with clubs and bars. The ones in this area of the city weren't known for attracting the well-to-do, and more than once she had been corned by drunken men thinking she was an easy target. The knife hidden in the side of her boot usually discouraged them.

It was twenty minutes later when she finally got to the run-down apartment building she lived in with her dad. Its crumbling brick façade and rusted fire escapes were reminiscent of a better time when the buildings on the street were new and fresh and clean and un-abused by their current inhabitants. Lux ran up the stained stone steps and unlocked the front door, shoving her shoulder into the crease to force it open. She jogged up the five flights to the very top, pausing to catch her breath on the fifth landings.

Screaming from behind the door of number 508, her door, made her freeze. Loud male voices were interrupted by the sound of something heavy being thrown across the room. Lux reached down to pull the knife from her boot, clutching it tightly in her sweating palm.

She took out her cell phone, dialed 911, listened to it ring while her heart beat painfully in her chest.

"911, what's your emergency?"

"I want to report a break-in," she said quietly. "There are men in my apartment." She gave the operator her address, ignored his warning to leave the building, and then hung-up.

The door was unlocked when she turned the handle. She shoved it wide with her foot. It opened to reveal her bare, dirty apartment. The couch was overturned and broken glass littered the floor. Graying curtains billowed into the room from the open window; someone had put their foot through the television. There was no one there.

Lux entered slowly, knife raised before her.

"You're a worthless son of bitch, you know that Ronnie," said a deep voice from the kitchen down the hall. "I told you last week I would be paying you a visit."

"Please, just listen to me for a minute," replied a hoarse voice. It was her father. It sounded like he was swallowing broken glass. "My daughter will be back any minute."

"I don't give a fuck about your daughter—"

"No," my father coughed. She heard him spit. "You don't understand. She has the rest of the money I owe you."

Lux's heart threatened to burst. Her father had told her they needed the money for the bills or they would be evicted. He hadn't mentioned anything about owing someone. She crossed the room and moved into the hall, trying to be silent.

Blood was roaring in her ears and her mouth was dry. She moved her thumb across the handle of her knife, trying to keep the grip with her sawdust coated fingers.

She gritted her teeth. If this man didn't kill her father, she sure as hell would.

Lux stepped into the kitchen. A middle-aged man with a receding hairline had corned her father in a chair on the far side of the room. Ronnie was cowering into chair as though it could swallow him. There was blood dripping from a cut on his temple, and his hands were shaking badly like they usually did when he was drunk. His bleary eyes focused on her and he smiled in relief, visibly relaxing.

The attacker turned around. He had a patchy black beard coating a doughy face and small, bloodshot eyes that narrowed to slits when they say her. His leering mouth revealed a handful of missing teeth; the ones that were left were yellow.

"See, here she is," said Ronnie, making to stand up.

"Sit down," the man snapped. Her father tripped in his haste to obey, knocking the chair to the ground with a bang.

It was then that Lux realized he was holding a gun.

The room suddenly got much smaller and Lux's vision narrowed to a tunnel that included her, the man, and the gun.

"Lux, honey, you have the money, don't you?" said her father.

She wondered if she could throw the knife faster than he could get off a bullet if he didn't see it coming. The gun was still pointed at Ronnie on the ground.

"Yes," she said, trying to keep her voice even. Reaching into her pocket, she threw the wad of bills onto the slanted kitchen table. It slid towards him.

The man picked it up, thumbed through the cash, and laughed. It was an ugly, guttural sound.

"You think six hundred dollars covers the loans you owe me, Ronnie?" he said.

"How much?" said Lux.

"Thousands, little girl," snapped the man. "It seems your father bit off more than he can chew. Now shut your fucking mouth, and maybe I'll let you live to repay the rest of his debt."

He turned back toward her father whose face had turned the color of sour milk.

"No," he stuttered. "Please, I'll get you the money—I swear…"

There was a click as the bullet slid into the chamber. And Lux threw the knife.

It stuck into the man's fleshy back with a thud and he roared in an animal's rage. He turned on his heel, brandishing the gun and fired.

Lux fell backward, screaming, her head striking the tiles. Stars exploded in her vision and liquid fire ran down her arm. It felt as though someone was peeling the skin and muscle from her shoulder, plucking out her nerves with a white hot needle.


There were sirens in the distance.

Blinded in pain, still screaming, Lux didn't see the man step over her. She didn't see him rip the knife from his back and throw it aside. She didn't feel his blood dripping on her. She didn't hear the second crack of gunfire. But she felt the second bullet that ended her life.