Hunt the Moon (Cassandra Palmer #5) read online free by Karen Chance
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Hunt the Moon (Cassandra Palmer #5)
Author: Karen Chance

Chapter One

I hit the ground running—or stumbling or falling; it was kind of hard to tell when it felt like the earth was crumbling under my feet.

And then I realized that was because the earth was crumbling under my feet.

“Craaaap!”

I plummeted straight over a cliff and into thin air, arms waving and feet still moving uselessly, screaming bloody murder. For a long moment, there was nothing but me and crystal blue sky and acre upon acre of sparkling, snow-covered land way the hell too far below. I knew I was supposed to be doing something, but the wind was roaring in my ears and my eyes were watering from the cold and the ground was rushing up to meet me at a pace that promised one very mushed clairvoyant in the very near future—

And then I was jerked back up, fast enough to cut off my breath, to leave me dizzy. Or maybe that was the feel of the hard arms around me or the harder body behind me. Or the stunning relief of Not dead, not dead yet—

Because that never gets old.

My name is Cassie Palmer, and I’ve cheated death more times than anyone has a right to expect. In the past two months, I’ve been shot, stabbed, beaten and blown up a few dozen times, and that doesn’t count all the magical ways I’ve almost been killed. I’d have been dead a long time ago if not for my friends, one of whom had just jumped off the cliff after me.

I’d have been a lot more appreciative if he hadn’t pushed me first.

My nose was running, I couldn’t see worth shit and my brain was still frozen in abject terror. So for a moment I just hung there, gulping ice-cold air and waiting for my heart to stop trying to slam through my chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a small piece of what was holding us up, and it wasn’t reassuring.

It was almost transparent, except for a faint bluish tinge that was largely invisible against the brilliant sky. It had a dome-shaped top and a few filmy tentacles streaming downward to wrap around us, making it look vaguely like a jellyfish—if they were as big as a bus and had a habit of drifting around over the Colorado Rockies. What it was was almost as strange: an expression of one man’s magic, formed into a parachute that I didn’t trust at all.

On the other hand, I did trust the man. Although I really wished he’d caught me from the front instead of from behind. That way I could have kneed him in the nuts.

“You did that on purpose!” I gasped when I was able to breathe.

“Of course.”

“Of course?” I looked up, but had to crane my head back, leaving the features above me wrong-side up. The clear green eyes were the same, and, unfortunately, so was the spiky blond hair.

It didn’t look any better from this angle, I decided.

“You have yet to learn to react reliably under pressure,” I was told. “Until you do, you are vulnerable.”

I tried swiveling my head around, because glaring at someone upside down doesn’t work. But all I saw was part of a muscular shoulder in an army green sweatshirt. My sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, all the time pain in the ass John Pritkin wasn’t wearing a coat.

Of course he wasn’t.

It had to be subzero out here, and if it hadn’t been for all the adrenaline pumping through my system, I’d have been freezing to death—but a coat wasn’t macho. And if I’d learned one thing about war mages, the closest thing the supernatural community had to a police force, it was that they were always macho. Even the women. It was kind of scary.

Sort of like dangling about a mile above a lot of very pointy mountains.

“Your abilities will do you little good if you cannot learn to function under stress,” he continued calmly, as we slowly drifted closer to the pointy bits.

“Stress?” I asked, my voice cracking slightly. “Pritkin, stress is a bad hair day. Stress is gaining five pounds right before swimsuit season. This is not stress!”

“Call it what you will; the point is the same. Remember what we discussed. Assess—determine what is happening; address—decide which of your abilities can best deal with the problem at hand; and then act—quickly and decisively. You must learn to do this automatically, without freezing up, and regardless of the circumstances. Or you will suffer the consequences.”

“I’m trying!” I said resentfully. It was barely two months since I’d been pushed off another cliff, and the fact that it had been a metaphorical one hadn’t helped at all. I’d been declared—over my loud and sustained protests—Pythia, the chief seer of the supernatural world.

It was a job that some people were willing to kill for, as I’d discovered the hard way. For my part, I’d spent a good deal of those two months trying to give back the power that came with the office, only to find that it didn’t want to leave. After a number of very hard lessons, I’d finally accepted that I was going to have to make the best of it.

As a result, I’d been working my metaphysical butt off trying to make up for the lifetime of training the other candidates had received. It would have helped if Rambo up there hadn’t demanded that I learn self-defense, too. I agreed that I needed it, but one thing I didn’t know how to do at a time was enough.

“Try harder,” Mr. Complete Lack of Sympathy told me.

“Look,” I said, trying to reason with him despite extensive experience that this rarely worked. “This isn’t a great time. I have my inauguration—”

“Coronation.”

“—coming up, and I’m trying to raise my abilities from pathetic to just sad before then so I don’t totally embarrass myself in front of the people I’m supposed to be leading. And then there’re fittings for the dress they want me to wear, and about a ton of names to learn, and if I get a title wrong it could cause some kind of international incident—”

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