First Chapter Sneak Peek: Sync & Shadows (Darkvale Book 4)!

Good news! My editor didn't hate Sync & Shadows. I should get the copyedit back this week (or early next week), and the book will be ready for release next Wednesday! I hope!

To celebrate, I'm gonna share the first chapter. Yeah, it still needs a copyedit so I know there are a few typos. But who cares! You came for the kissing, right? Here it is. ^_^

Chapter One

Spencer Bennett pressed himself into the shadows and took a deep breath. The air chilled his lungs—icy in early spring.
No, that wasn't right. He wasn't Spence Bennett right now.
He was Sync.
A masked vigilante.
With his powers, he could be considered a superhero.
And being a superhero was a lot more complicated than he anticipated a mere few months before. Even the name and the black uniform didn’t keep him from feeling like Spence Bennett at that moment. Especially when he'd been standing in the same spot for close to an hour.
His legs ached to the bone, and he had a stitch in his side that he'd gotten on the way over, and it hadn't faded yet. Probably had to do with the cold. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that he’d spent the morning at his Krav Maga class and had a number of new bruises to show for it.
And the guy he was waiting for hadn’t shown yet.
If he didn't pop up in the next five minutes, he'd tell Hunter that their information was wrong. Of course, Hunter would deny that was even possible.
No, not Hunter.
When they were decked out in their masks and black suits, Hunter was Orion.
Spence needed to think of them in their vigilante names. At least their new uniforms were a step up from the black jeans and turtlenecks they used to wear. That was before the terrorist attack on the governor's mansion. The one that made all vigilantes in Darkvale City illegal.
Back then, they were just a couple of street kids playing dress-up. Beating up johns and muggers. Now, they were in this for real.
They made that choice together—to protect the city from the criminals and politicians (same thing in a lot of cases) who wanted to destroy it.
Darkvale needed someone like them.
Sure, there were several other active vigilantes, also known as masks by those on the street. The first and foremost was the one-time city-sanctioned vigilante group the Victory Squad. However, they'd gone underground. But they were still active, though they kept it on the down low. None of the news blogs even picked up on their activity lately.
The other formidable pair of vigilantes was X and Apprentice. Though, after the Commissioner claimed that X was responsible for the bombing at the Governor's Mansion (not something Sync agreed with) they'd gone underground too.
Lately, there'd been word on the street the pair reappeared. But it was all whispers in the shadows. And none of it was the big-time stuff they'd done before.
Spence had yet to see X with his own eyes recently.
He had, however, seen the other X. The imposter X—the one whom he still owed a favor.
That thought curdled the contents of his stomach. A sharp knot of guilt curled there, one he hadn't been able to get rid of since he made the deal—the deal that saved his own skin from the labs that would study him because of his special abilities.
But what choice did he have?
That bastard imposter X knew that and took advantage of it.
Still, Spence would do what he had to do to survive.
That was the theme of his life—all eighteen years of it.
He couldn't see Orion, his partner/boyfriend/best thing in Spencer's life, but Spence felt his presence. Orion crouched on a fire escape about a block away. They had walkie-talkies to communicate with and cell phones to text each other if need be, but Sync didn't need either of those to know exactly where Orion was.
As long as Orion was in a close enough radius, the shadows Sync controlled told him everything. They relayed teeny bits of information in ways Spence didn’t yet understand. The implications frightened him. He already knew he could use them to hide and move at superhuman speeds.
What else could he do?
The only other person with superhuman abilities that could do something even remotely similar was Prophet, and he read minds and was telekinetic. Not really the same thing.
Spence, as always, was alone with his own freakishness.
He stomped his feet to bring the feeling back into them and smoothed his hands over his black pants. They were a high quality Kevlar blend that also doubled as a lightweight armor.
Not as good as the other masks, but it was all he could afford.
Spence never told Hunter, but he’d dipped into his trust fund—the thing he hadn't touched even when he was homeless on the streets—to get them better equipment.  It didn’t feel like cheating when he used the money on something like that—something that helped everyone in the long run and not just himself.
The jackets they wore were made of sturdy leather, and underneath they had bulletproof vests. Those came in handy at least once so far, and Spence shuddered to think of what would've happened to Orion without them.
He was the one who took a bullet a month ago in the center of his back. While it knocked him down and left a nasty bruise, he was still alive. Without it, Spence was sure he wouldn't have been.
Their new masks weren't the slick domino masks most of the other vigilantes on the street wore. They looked like normal ski masks, but they were thinner and stretchier. No longer made of heavy knit. And they had some unique features that Spence designed himself.
For one, the walkie was now built into the mouthpiece with an earpiece that acted as a receiver. Still, they had to press a button for it to work. Spence was working on getting rid of that feature, but he wasn't sure how to do it without the feed being live all the time.
Not that it was completely a problem, but it got distracting in the middle of a fight. Especially when he was worrying about Orion’s safety while trying to keep himself alive.
At that moment, Sync was about to press the button and suggest they call it a night.
Whoever Hunter got the info from was wrong.
Then, a man scurried past Sync’s hiding place, a duffle bag clutched to his chest. He moved purposefully. Didn’t glance back and forth or behind him like he was being followed, but the duffle bag itself was suspicious. If he was just coming back from the gym, he’d carry it normally. Not like it held a damn bomb.
Or a shit ton of cash.
Sync hoped it was the latter.
Sync recognized the guy’s face. Too thin and greasy with a large nose and small chin that made him look like a rodent. The lank dirty blond hair didn’t help matters.
Tommy Fingers.
Well, that was a street name. Sync still hadn't figured out why everybody had to have a weird street name. What would his be? Probably Skinny Spencer or something equally humiliating. Thankfully, Hunter hadn’t given him one. And if Hunter had his own, he never shared it.
Sync gritted his teeth into a grim smile and slipped after the guy. The shadows he controlled muffled his footsteps, and he could move fast enough to get past Tommy without the guy ever realizing Spence had been there, but he'd only needed to use that power if Tommy Fingers ran.
Once Tommy saw Orion, Spence didn't put it above him. Nor could he blame the guy. If he was a criminal himself, he'd run from Orion too.
Sync pressed the button on the walkie. "Got him. Headed your way."
Tommy Fingers scurried faster, but he hadn't heard Spence. They practiced talking in the lowest possible register for ages to get it right. To not alert their prey. The last time they did that, things got unpleasant.
But they were still learning. Working out the kinks in their relationship (in more than one way).
“Got ya," Orion said, sounding like he was having far too much fun for a guy who’d been crouched on a fire escape for an hour.
Were vigilantes supposed to have fun?
Spence didn't know. His body tingled when he went out on the street like this doing good. Bringing down dealers and rapists and thugs who roamed the street and wanted nothing more than to hurt people.
But it also put a big fat target on his back. A target he spent his entire youth avoiding. He hid his powers from everyone, parents included. Friends (not that he'd had many). Teachers. Fellow students. Back then, no one knew what Spence could do.
Now that the news blogs wrote about them, everyone knew there were two more vigilantes on the street. And that one of them had strange powers that involved shadows. That put a target on his back whenever they were out like this—not just from the DCPD, but also any labs interested in studying people like him.
Sync slipped below the fire escape where Orion waited and heard the metal squeak above him. His shadows reached out gently and lifted Orion from the spot, several stories above his head, and lowered him to the ground without looking.
Without stopping.
They’d had to practice that several times as well. Spence knew he could do it, but Hunter wasn't keen on the idea of shadow tendrils picking him up and moving him around. He didn’t mind it in the bedroom, but dangling several stories up was a different matter.
However, once he realized Spence had total control, he relaxed a bit.
Still, Sync felt Orion's heart rate increase and his breath catch as the shadows caught him and set him down. He placed Orion in front of him, close enough to Tommy Fingers that should anything go wrong, Orion could handle it.
But, they weren't going to do anything until Tommy met the guy he was buying from.
That was the deal tonight.
Tommy Fingers had been picking up cheap meth and selling it on the South Side. And he had ties to Frank Baratta. And anything that annoyed or hurt Baratta was a must for them.
Spence was pretty sure Hunter was more pissed about the drug thing than the tie to Baratta. He hated dealers, how they got people hooked and bled them dry until they died without a thought to the damage caused. Or the destruction they left behind. They were just in it for the cash.
It wasn't quite far enough west to be considered Baratta territory, but he’d been expanding his empire. Up until recently, Hunter said it'd been neutral ground between all the gangs and mobs. Now, with vigilantes unable to act as freely as they used to, Baratta and the others were closing in. The Killer Aces even made a few tries, but got shoved back by Baratta himself.
Tommy Fingers turned left at the end of the alley, and his scurry turned into a trot.
Orion cursed under his breath, and Sync was sure he was the only one who caught it. He smiled distantly and hurried after them both.
Tommy turned again onto 45th and went about a block before he slipped into one of the old prewar tenements that had been abandoned a good thirty to forty years before. They were full of asbestos and falling down, but the city couldn't afford the cost of cleaning them up, so they left them to rot.
They weren't downtown. Not around anyone who mattered, anyway. That's what Hunter said, and Spence understood why he felt that way. After living on the streets as long as he did, how could he not?
They were mostly used by the homeless as squats and the gangs and mobs to either dispose of bodies or do their drug deals.
This was the latter.
And it gave Sync and Orion plenty of places to hide.
They did.
Orion went high, as usual, and Sync stayed low. Pulled the shadows so tight no one without unnatural abilities like his own would be able to sense him. He moved as close to Tommy as he dared—kept a few yards away.
He heard the other party before he saw them. Not as if they were trying to be quiet. They knew the cops wouldn't bust them here. They probably figured X and the VS were conveniently tied up and out of the way.
He let that thought settle over him. It eased the guilt in his gut by a fraction of an inch.
"Hey, Tommy. Took you long enough. Where the fuck have you been? Stop for a blow job on the way over?" the guy in charge said.
His name was Carl Malone.
Sync was surprised they didn't call him Maloney Baloney or something equally ridiculous.
He near the top of Baratta’s food chain, and more people they took down in the Baratta organization the better. Malone didn't matter. Punching holes in Baratta’s drug trade did.
Two other guys stood close by, guns bulging at their hips. They all laughed at the guy’s joke like it was actually funny. They were obviously the muscle.
Spence had seen Malone at another deal—one they didn't bust properly. In that case, the guy with the drugs got away. The guy with the money fell into the river, though Sync managed to grab the duffle before the cash went under with him.
He hadn't been able to save the guy. According to the news blogs, his body was found a week later, washed up on the shore at Hope Harbor.
Tommy Fingers shrugged and gave them a sly grin. "Can't resist a good suck job. No red-blooded guy can, right?"
Malone laughed again, and Orion snorted. "He's right."
Sync frowned. He might be right, but Sync didn't want to agree with a stupid mobster. Especially when the person giving Tommy the suck job was probably paid to do it and didn't particularly enjoy it. He'd heard conversations among enough of the working girls to know how they really felt about their job.
Not great, to say the least.
"Got the cash?" Malone said.
The deals usually went like that. Start with a joke to lighten the mood, then get down to business. And as soon as they revealed the cash and the drugs, Sync and Orion would pounce.
His muscles tensed as he waited.
Tommy nodded, dropped the duffle, and one of the goons leaned forward and unzipped it. They ran one of those money scanners over it to make sure it was real.
Counterfeit drug money had been a problem lately. Thankfully, Hunter and Spence hadn’t snagged any of it. That’d be hard to explain to their landlord.
Once he figured the cash was good, the goon stood up and nodded.
Malone snapped his fingers and the second goon pulled out his own duffle bag.
Sync felt Orion’s body tense. His fingers curled around Molly—his trusty tire iron. Orion’s other weapon was a pair of iron knuckles he wore under his gloved fingers and a set of switch blades. They didn't carry guns, but each of them had a Taser.
Orion wasn't afraid to use any weapon. Fists included.
Sync was a little more specialized. He trained in martial arts when he was younger. But he was nowhere as good as the VS, X, or Apprentice. Over the last month and a half, he'd been working hard to make up for that. He joined a Krav Maga studio with Hunter. If they were going to take down a big-time mobster, and possibly imposter X, they needed to be able to do everything, quickly and efficiently.
It had the added benefit of putting a little extra muscle on Spence’s slight frame.
The goon opened the duffle, and the tightly packed bags of brownish yellow crystals shone under the beam of his flashlight.
The dirty kind.
It didn't matter to addicts though. They were already hooked.
Sync felt more than heard Orion's chest rumble. The shadows clung to him, and Sync hardly had to think about it anymore. Hardly had to will them to do what he wanted. His unconscious took over. Made things easier so he could focus on the present.
Like exactly how they were going to take down four guys—all armed.
Well, they had a plan for that. As the guy zipped up the bag of drugs and they made the exchange, Sync felt Orion move.
He lobbed a rock at the single lamp that hung from the ceiling. It impacted, and a shower of sparks rained down on their heads.
Darkness descended upon the scene, but they didn't need light to see. Sync had his shadows, and Hunter's mask had infrared lenses. Another of Spence’s additions.
Malone screamed at his goons, and one of them turned on a flashlight. Sure, it wasn't pure darkness. The residual light from the city around them, in all her glittering neon splendor, never left anything completely dark, but after the halo of the lamp, it would take awhile for their eyes to adjust.
Sync and Orion moved.
Two of the goons pulled their guns, and Sync shot his shadows toward them. One wrapped around the goon’s hand and squeezed. Metal and bone cracked as one, and the man let out a bloodcurdling cry.
“Masks!" Malone yelled. "Get the cash and kill them!”
Sync snorted.
Yeah. Right. They wouldn’t get away this time.
Orion landed next to the other goon with the gun and swung Molly. She connected with the weapon, and it hit the ground before the guy could think. His fist swung next, slammed into the goon’s thick jaw.
The man crumpled into a pile and didn't move.
Three left.
Tommy Fingers headed for the exit, one of the duffle bags clutched to his chest, and Sync shot after him. The first pass knocked the duffle from Tommy's hands and he spun, fell on his ass and looked around.
"What the fuck?" he cried and scrambled back.
His eyes were wide, staring into the darkness that surrounded him. He couldn't see a damn thing, not with the shadows that clung to Sync and slipped over Tommy’s face. Sync made sure Tommy drowned in them.
He cut off the light and even, possibly, air.
But they weren't murderers.
That's not how they did things.
They weren't imposter X.
Still, that didn't mean they let drug dealers go unharmed.
The shadows lifted Tommy Fingers up, holding his arms to his sides, and Sync landed a one-two punch to his jaw and solar plexus.
Tommy let out a grunt, eyes bulging, and hung limp in the shadow’s grip.
Sync dropped him and moved to the next.
The duffle trailed after him.
Orion stood over the last goon, but Carl Malone sat on his middle-aged ass with a gun aimed right at Orion's head.
How the hell did that happened? Sync had been too tied up with Tommy Fingers to notice.
He frowned.
Willed his heartbeat to slow.
Remain calm.
They could get out of this.
"I will pop you and that shadow mask. You've messed up enough of my deals. You don’t have any powers. Not like that other sick freak," Malone snarled, though his hands shook.
Orion didn't move, though he tightened his grip on Molly, and Sync felt his jaw tense and his heart throb.
Not really fear—anger.
It took awhile for the shadows to learn the slight variations in his mood. But they were getting better. Spence was getting better.
"Sick freak? It looks like you forgot about me," Sync grumbled. They still didn't have proper voice modulators, but it was something he’d been working on in his spare time.
Being a vigilante was a lot more complicated than it seemed on the surface.
Not only did they have to take down these drug dealers, they also needed to go grocery shopping after they got home. The pantry was completely bare—Hunters fault, again—and Spence hadn’t even got around to writing a list yet. And if he didn't write a list, all Hunter wanted to buy was junk food, and Spence was intent on getting his boyfriend to eat real food as often as possible. Including vegetables that weren’t smothered in some kind of imitation cheese sauce.
Malone didn't turn the gun on Sync. He kept it aimed right at Orion's head and sneered. "Give me that bag or your partner dies.”
"You think he’ll listen to you? You pissed him off. You don't even know everything he can do," Orion said.
Malone's eyes darted from one to the other. His heart throbbed, and Sync’s shadows felt it and relayed the information back to him. Yeah, obvious the guy was freaked. Who wouldn't be when confronted with a couple of masks like them?
No one really knew what they were capable of. If they followed the VS’s no kill rule or not. They did, but the mob didn't have to know that.
Better to keep them guessing.
Malone let out a burst of hysterical laughter. “Oh, I'm gonna bring you in. The boss can torture the fuck outta you. Find your family and torture the fuck outta them too. You think you can live after you mess with Baratta?
 The fact that the guy wasn't pissing his pants raked Sync's nerves a little. They hadn’t built a reputation yet. They weren’t X or Apprentice or even the Victory Squad.
They had to work on that. Work until the city saw them for the heroes they were. And the criminals were scared enough to go straight. So, Sync would just have to teach Malone the lesson. A lesson he’d share with everybody.
Sync shot forward, faster than the human eye could see, and slammed into Malone. The gun clattered to the ground, and Orion moved after him.
The shadows crept forward and twisted around Malone’s arms, lifting him into the air. He hung by his wrists a good three feet off the ground. He squirmed and struggled, and Sync pressed the Taser into the man's neck. "If you don't stop moving, you have no idea what will happen. For one, you can pull your shoulders out of their sockets. That's painful. Not that this next bit isn't going to be equally painful,"
"Oh yeah. It's going to be really painful. And you’re gonna be awake for the whole damn thing,” Orion said and swung Molly at Carl Malone’s kneecap.
The man screamed.


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