A sampling of Angel Rising Redemption Book 1
Warning to those who follow:
Evil does not always wear the face of the unappealing. People don’t usually spend time gazing into the eyes of the homely. On the contrary, most poor souls are too busy looking away, or perhaps trying to pretend they don’t notice the unsightly wart on someone’s face. Yet, they gaze raptly into the eyes of beauty.
Malevolence can and will display the face of immense loveliness and often not just a stunning portrait, but one reserved for gods and angels alike. After all, such is a face with which to become enraptured. Mortals are unable to look away from those eyes of deepest midnight, set in such perfectly symmetrical beautiful features, only to be ensnared in the abyss of their own destruction. Most people don’t bother to look past the façade. If, for some reason, they happen to catch a glimpse of the vast emptiness lying within the portals to what should have been a soul, they discount it. Claiming it is nothing more than a trick of the light. More fool they.
People are experts at denial, especially with what they don’t understand. Or fear. Which is why those with hollow souls exist unknown among us. The soulless ones roam the world looking for something to fill the void inside, craving the emotions they do not have. Human blood, fueled on strong emotions, provides such nourishment.
Hate and violence are the most filling and favored, but over time, require vast amounts of human fodder. These emotions are the easiest to understand and manipulate on a large and more satisfying degree. It is mere child’s play for these soulless creatures to manipulate brother to kill brother, or friend to turn on friend, and then gorge on the resulting hatred and violence. When one is nearby, death is sure to follow.
All it takes is a whisper in the right ear—at the right moment. Timing is everything. Wherever there is war, destruction, fear or strife, there is one without a soul nearby, filling the desolation with strong emotion. Guaranteeing the escalation of negative, destructive energies.
However, as with most things under God’s creation, there are gray areas and exceptions. Some soulless ones are not evil and merely wish to survive, to exist among us. Without a soul they must be, but they try to maintain a balance, taking as well as giving. While one kind kills, the other doesn’t. They even bring a sense of relief. But there is no easy way to tell the difference between those that do and those that don’t until it is much too late.
So, if you happen to catch a glimpse of anyone with black, dead, depthless eyes, it is not a trick of the light. Look away. Then, Run!
Kalipia, first Chronicler
The man stood in front of the building housing his uncle’s dojo and inhaled. The odors of sweat and even a little blood filled his senses. Exhaling, his warm breath frosted white when mixed with the cold. He pushed against the closed door and it opened. The sounds of grunting inside reminded him of his own victories and defeats. It drew him beyond the empty waiting area and down the long hallway flanked by classroom doors. The only lit room flagged the last evening class coming to an end. But he wasn’t there for class. He made his way to the back of the building to the only door without a window on it—Samuel’s office.
Beyond the open doorway, he found his uncle seated behind his desk.
Samuel looked up as soon as he walked in. His uncle rose, coming around the desk to hug him and pat him on the back. “Karl, what are you doing here?”
Considered tall at six feet, he still had to glance up at his uncle who had a good three inches on him. Even though they both had the same green eyes and sharp cheekbones, he had red hair while his uncle’s was dark brown with blond highlights. And whereas, Karl just turned twenty-eight, his uncle only looked about twenty-eight. The nature of their blood relationship was complicated.
“Not that I’m not damn glad to see you,” Samuel continued, “But it’s late. Is Brenda alright?”
Karl pulled away from his uncle and raked jittery hands through his short-cropped hair. “Yeah, she’s fine. She’s home.”
“Come on, sit down,” Samuel urged, closing the door and gesturing to one of two chairs in the room.
So far so good. Karl took a seat, inhaling this time to calm his racing nerves. He should have known his uncle would be happy to see him. Now, he felt guilty he hadn’t done more to keep in touch.
Samuel leaned against his desk facing him. “Okay, I know something’s wrong. What is it?”
His uncle could read his emotions. “I’d forgotten about that.”
“Two years is too long, Karl.”
They’d last seen each other on Karl’s wedding day. After Karl’s marriage, Samuel put distance between them. His uncle’s way of trying to protect him, since Karl didn’t want to tell his bride the truth about himself or Samuel.
Samuel looked a little sad. “I didn’t want it to be this way.”
“I know. I couldn’t tell her.”
“Just because I was against the marriage at first, because I thought you were both too young, does not mean I’m not happy you found love.”
Karl grinned. Practically everyone they knew, even the eighty-five-year-old maintenance man in the building, would be too young for Samuel. “I understand, Samuel. It was because of my own fears and immaturity that you cut me loose. You did the right thing.”
“True, and by staying out of your way neither one of us would have to lie to your wife about the ugly side of my life.”
Karl nodded. “I know. And I understood, still do.”
“You’re here now and I’ve missed you, man,” Samuel said, crossing his arms over his chest. “But I would also never allow Brenda to be anywhere near the danger I’m involved in.”
Karl’s mouth curled up into a weak smile. First and foremost, Samuel protected those closest to him. Which is what made this both difficult and easy.
“Okay. So what’s going on?” Samuel asked. “Your depression is beating at me, and you’ve lost a little weight.”
Karl hung his head then raised it to look his blood uncle in the eyes. After so long of having to hide his true feelings, he allowed his fears to surface. “I lost my job as a broker about eight months ago. But even before that, things were tight. We lost a lot of money in the stock market and have been living on savings. I’m—I’m facing foreclosure.”
“Shit!” Samuel dropped his hands to the desk. “Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Brenda doesn’t know. She thinks I’m out buying more wine for our cellar. God, man, I feel like such a failure.” His damn pride, the reason why he hadn’t gone to Samuel earlier. Shit, pride didn’t pay bills.
“You are not a failure.” Samuel leaned forward a little. “I should have paid closer attention to you both. Okay. What’s left on the note for your brownstone?”
Karl told him.
Samuel moved back behind the desk and opened up the laptop on it. “What’s your checking account number?” He took his bankcard out of his wallet and passed it to him.
“I don’t want a hand out, Samuel. I will pay you back.”
“Oh, no you won’t. You’re family. I have more than enough for ten life times. Besides, if anything happens to me, it’s all yours anyway.”
“Thank you.” One less thing to worry about, but regardless of what Samuel said, he had to find a way to pay his uncle back. He’d been wrong to allow Samuel to stay out of their lives. He could have approached the man before this happened.
A knock on the closed door had Samuel glancing toward it. “Come in.”
A tall, dark-skinned, heavily muscled man stepped into the room. “Hey, sorry to bother you. Just wanted you to know class is over and I’m ready to roll whenever you are.”
“Eric, this is my nephew, Karl.”
“Hey, Karl,” Eric said, stepping forward to shake Karl’s hand.
Karl noted he didn’t bat an eye at the fact he appeared older than his uncle. Which meant he knew Samuel’s secret.
Samuel tossed Eric a set of keys. “Saddle up. I’ll be with you in five.”
“Cool. Nice meeting you,” Eric nodded, then left.
“I don’t recognize him?” Karl noted.
“Yeah, he started not too long after you left. There are quite a few new members.”
“Are you going out tonight?” Karl asked, getting an idea.
Samuel nodded. “Yes. We’ve seen a pattern.”
“Then I’m coming with you,” he offered.
His uncle smiled and shook his head. “We’re good.”
“But you can use my emotions,” Karl insisted. “They’re still running high, and I can focus on them.”
“Samuel. Let me do this.” He gripped the arms of the chair. “I can help. Remember, I was trained by the best.”
His uncle paused, staring at him intently before grinning. “Okay. Last time.”
Karl released the breath he’d been holding and relaxed his hands. He owed his uncle so much and regretted not telling him about the baby—he couldn’t. If Samuel knew Brenda was ten weeks pregnant, Samuel Glaus would never let him put himself at risk. But he had to. His small way of making up with his uncle and paying him back.
Thalya stood alone on her balcony, hands braced on the wide stone railing overlooking Central Park. The wind picked up, blowing her chest length curls away from her face and cutting through the material of her thigh high sleeveless silk dress. Bitter cold accompanied the end of January or so she understood. She would love this time of year, if she could, even the cold. Too bad, she couldn’t feel any of it. No matter the external temperature, her body heat never changed.
Winter boasted her most fulfilling time of the modern year. The onset of depression. The time mortals realize they’ve spent way too much of the money they did not have over the holidays and now owed more than they could afford. Then, maybe they have gained twenty pounds during those holidays on top of the twenty already making them overweight. Or how about the woman, who at thirty, not only didn’t get an engagement ring for Christmas, but also by New Year’s, she no longer has a boyfriend?
To walk the earth she must feed her hollow soul. Yes, this time of year kept the void inside her full of emotion. The kind she craved. Mortals were so ripe for plucking. Hunger had her licking her full cranberry-colored lips in anticipation…the void within would soon be filled.
Opening up her senses, she sniffed out the most depressed in the city block around her. While she had no human sense of smell, the scents of emotions to her were as potent, as humans would say a bouquet of freshly cut roses. She could have gone out and canvassed a wider area but her favorite show, Being Human would start in a half hour. She never liked recording the program if she could help it, so she tried not to miss an episode.
Thalya preferred to live in the moment, because she’d had enough of the past. Besides, she didn’t have to go far, plenty of depression existed right around her. Why, right across the street a man entered the park. The scent of his depression rode right to her on the wind. Hot, potent and yummy, she would feed on it for a few days. There were no others of her kind in the area, so she wouldn’t have to warn anyone off. Although, quite a few soulless resided in New York, the size of the area ensured she didn’t run into others if she didn’t want to, which she usually didn’t.
Going back inside her penthouse condo, she walked across thick sand-colored carpet. Her artist friend, Franklin, would have both loved and hated the great room. Loved it for the cool colors—reds, beiges, and golds. Those had been his favorites, but then she’d stuck a long, extra-wide black leather sofa smack in the center of it. He hated leather and black.
Franklin, long gone…just another from her past.
She changed her mind about recording her show and headed for her entertainment control pad sitting on the low side table. The pad came with the flat TV. Picking up the control, she programmed it. Just in case. A long, dark chocolate colored leather coat lay over the arm of the sofa. She grabbed the coat, put it on and headed for her private elevator. She didn’t need it but she wanted to blend in. No jumping from her balcony or moving too fast for any mortal eyes to see. Tonight she would act normal. Normal, at least for a human. As an additional benefit, when she walked through her lobby to get to the street, she would open her senses to her immediate surroundings, sampling a taste of surface emotions as she passed by. A nice appetizer before her main course.
Not all of her kind could suck out emotion without touch but as an olden, one from a time long past and more powerful than most, she could. But other things also set her apart from those like her. She did not need to kill her providers or have them kill others to satisfy her needs. Draining humans of their depression, her emotion of choice, more than satisfied her. Why, she didn’t even have to cause it. Humans had it in abundance. She merely put her providers to sleep and afterwards, they usually woke up feeling less depressed. Hers represented a more symbiotic relationship. She actually helped people, much like a psychiatrist would. Only, instead of talking them out of their depression, she drained it right out of them.
The elevator door opened and she got on.
This hotel where she lived also housed private residences, but a few guest milled around the lobby for the evening. Just enough people around with some serious issues to make her grin and tremble within her ankle-length leather coat.
“Delicious,” she purred, savoring her version of oysters on a half shell. Red knee high stiletto boots clicked as she crossed the polished marble floor. She ignored the appreciative looks of the men and women as she glided among them, intentionally projecting a do not approach compulsion. Look but don’t touch, unless she was the one doing the touching.
The doorman opened the door for her and smiled. “Good evening. Cold one tonight.” Bundled in layers and with a wool cap on his head, he stood directly beneath a heating vent to stay warm.
He always spoke. She rarely did and tonight, she didn’t. She flashed him some teeth in the semblance of a smile. At least she hoped it looked like a smile and not a grimace. Happiness. It rolled off him in waves. She’d never tried draining that emotion from her providers, although over the centuries she’d met a few of her kind who preferred it. Anything to fill the void in the soulless place. But stealing someone else’s happiness always seemed unnecessary to her. Depression worked just fine.
Out on the sidewalk, the scent hit her again. Like a shining point of light in dark woods, the depressed man she’d sensed beckoned her to follow him. After crossing the street, Thalya entered the park. It didn’t take long to find him.
He sat on a bench at the other end of the park, leaning over with his head in his hands.
She wouldn’t be able to read his thoughts until she actually touched him. No matter, she sensed his depression.
He’d picked a bench away from the lighted path, but they didn’t have complete privacy. A few people walked through the park at the other end and they weren’t far from the street. Still, she could not resist. No more than the moth could fight being drawn to a roaring flame. They were secluded enough for her purpose. Besides, anyone could look in their direction any time, but no one would see anything alarming. Just a beautiful woman sitting with a man. Even if they did notice, it wouldn’t prevent her from doing what she must. Her survival demanded it.
She sat on the bench next to him; he didn’t even bother to look up. Thalya placed her hand on his shoulder and her inner feminine muscles contracted to the point, she almost had an orgasm.
Depression, and so potent.
“Mmm, good,” she murmured.
At her touch, he raised red-rimmed eyes in her direction.
Finally, she had his attention.
He pulled back slightly, some form of self-preservation kicking in. “Who—are you?”
“Shhh. It will be all right. I promise,” she whispered.
The man sat up and she wrapped her arms around him.
Unable to help himself, he let her.
Hmm, handsome. She always seemed to gravitate toward the young, good-looking ones, although she’d never sleep with any of them. Well, hardly ever. She nuzzled the side of his neck. Under the alcohol he’d indulged in, he had a nice clear human scent. Given his emotional state, she’d expected the scent of alcohol to be stronger. Surprisingly she only caught a slight whiff. No more than a beer. Maybe he just started on his drinking for the evening. Didn’t matter. Whatever he’d ingested, she didn’t care about.
She didn’t give him a chance to say more. Instead, she made her way to his mouth, which opened as soon as she pressed her lips against his. Unleashing her powers, she inhaled his depression into the starving emptiness that should have housed her soul, and at the same time, began to read his memories.
Poor thing. Karl, yes…Karl Hammer. He’d recently lost his job and his wife, pregnant with their first child, someone didn’t know about it. He’d swallowed his pride and asked his blood uncle of sorts for help. Except Karl hadn’t spoken to his uncle in years. Mmm, interesting. She probed for the reason why.
Samuel and the others like him lived a dangerous life. Samuel, a master hunter of the soulless and Karl, merely…bait.
“What the hell?” Thalya pulled away from the man who now slumped against her shoulder. She’d drained him of his depression and swallowed his more recent memories in seconds, but his last thought had her trembling. The soulless did not know fear, but throughout the ages, a small secret group of humans would appear who were aware of their existence. Well trained in combating her kind, they made it their life’s work to hunt and destroy every soulless. But—that happened a long, long time ago, when the soulless killed more openly and much less discretely.
“This cannot be,” Thalya mumbled. She had heard nothing about a new era of hunters in this area. Then again, she didn’t exactly watch the news or read the newspapers on a regular basis. Such a thing would not be on the news, anyway. She preferred not reading about wars, death and the prejudices of man. She had her television shows, her books and other forms of entertainment. Also, a few friends of her kind, but she didn’t see them often. Only about every few decades or so. Like her, most of her friends fed off depression or hopelessness. They never caused it.
The last soulless she’d spent any real time with was Adam, another olden and the ancient among them, a couple hundred years ago now.
“Stay away from the other soulless,” Adam had told her. “Especially, the ones manipulating terror.”
“Give me some credit,” she’d replied. “I know they manipulate human emotions to suit their needs.”
“More importantly, they take blood and thrive on the more dangerous emotions: anger, hate and fear. Emotions they themselves cause born of cruelty and death,” Adam had said.
“I know. They carry off a completely different vibe.” She’d been around enough of them to know the difference and wanted no part of those who dealt in death. She spent time with Adam because back then, the soulless were hunted. Nothing would harm her under his protection.
“And they are the reason we are hunted to begin with,” Adam said. Adam did what he could to prevent human deaths, but even he disappeared every few hundred years or so, and her kind grew bolder in his absence.
The last few times she’d noticed the news, there’d been certain items catching even her attention, if briefly. An increase in violent family crimes where a mother or father killed an entire family or an entire family disappeared, except for one member. They’d made her wonder if those other types of soulless were on the rise once more.
If they were causing havoc again, the hunt would be on for all soulless. The hunters never bothered to understand the difference between one of her kind, who sought human providers, and those others who sought human prey.
Thalya didn’t glance at her provider again, just lowered him gently to the bench.
He would continue to sleep for a few minutes, waking up refreshed.
She need not fear Karl. His uncle, however, she did not want to encounter. A slight stirring in the air made her glance in the direction of the shadowed area of the walkway. Her keen eyesight, able to penetrate the dark saw nothing, but something, someone hid there. Watching her.
Not wasting time to find out who or what waited in the shadows, Thalya stood and walked hurriedly away. She only fought when absolutely necessary, preferring to avoid confrontation. No human and not many of her own kind could out run her. At first, she headed toward her building but soon realized she’d been followed from the park. Too close. Instead of crossing the street and entering the hotel, she continued moving quickly down the sidewalk, away from her building. She increased her speed to lose her pursuer in the crowds.
Whoever followed her proved better than good. He kept up with her, even at a pace beyond human ability. But she still hadn’t moved as quickly as she could. She found it fascinating and so little made her curious. Perhaps, because she’d just fed, she held a modicum of borrowed emotion.
A male tailed her. Testosterone dominated his emotional scent at the thrill of the chase.
After a quick decision, she ducked into a bar to see if he would follow.
Friday night, so humans looking for a quick hook up or something more packed the place. Perfect neutral ground. A few high round tabletops stood near the bar but all were occupied.
Thalya focused on one in the far corner where a couple sat in privacy. Something she might need. She headed in their direction and stopped beside their table.
The man and woman both glanced up at her.
Casually, she placed a hand on each of their shoulders, and they jerked as she captured first one gaze, then the other. With her powers of persuasion, she calmed them and gently pushed them in the direction they were already headed—back to his place. With a passing thought, Thalya changed the suggestion to the woman’s apartment. She had a roommate. A girl couldn’t be too careful.
Without a word, the couple rose, grabbed their coats from the back of the stools, and walked out of the bar.
Thalya smiled at their retreating backs and then took off her jacket, draped it over one of the vacated stools, and sat with her back to the door.
Her pursuer did not disappoint.
The fine hairs standing at attention at the base of her neck alerted her to his presence.
Ah, now she understood better. Her instincts never failed her. Not quite human, but not soulless either. A puzzle. She didn’t bother to turn around, just pushed the stool out across from her—a silent invitation for him to sit. She could not experience enjoyment from a puzzle but puzzles held her attention. This one especially.
Samuel never did like them. This female didn’t react like the others. For one thing, she hadn’t taken blood from Karl. She’d just kissed him and put him to sleep. Samuel had paused long enough to check on his nephew and signal in back up to take care of him. While there were no puncture wounds on his neck, confirming she hadn’t taken any blood and his kin didn’t appear hurt, something did happen. Other than the unexpected rage, overcoming him when he watched her mouth pressed against another man’s. He’d had an instinctual urge to rip Karl away from her by his hair, and not harm her.
He shook his head. No. Not possible. He only felt rage on Karl’s behalf. After all, his relative’s life had been threatened by a bloodsucker. Yet, she’d run away instead of confronting him and yes, she knew she’d been watched. Almost always the soulless fought, feeding off the physical confrontation unless they were losing. Then they high tailed it—if they could.
Why hadn’t she taken any blood? The million dollar question he needed answered and what drove him after her. He just couldn’t quite figure out what she’d done to Karl. Something had happened; his instincts never failed him. They screamed at him she held no soul, but…there was a difference about her. Whatever he sensed separated her from others of her kind—the soulless ones.
Over the years, he’d heard rumors some bloodsuckers were different, but he’d never quite believed it, or rather allowed himself to do so. Even though his very existence proved at least one had been different. Until now, he didn’t dare believe there were others. Well, the something different about her he’d sensed and the fact she hadn’t taken Karl’s blood being the only reasons he hadn’t killed her back at the park, and still wouldn’t—at least not quite yet. It’d been a long time since anything had interested him on so many levels, especially a woman, one unlike any female he’d ever encountered. That alone got his attention.
Her voice came across as smooth, like taking a sip from a glass of hundred-year-old brandy. Nothing but pleasure generated from the heat making a path inside him. The way he wanted inside her. The combination of her voice and looks had his long dormant cells waking up and paying attention when they should damn well stay dormant. He could use one of those glasses of brandy right about now. Maybe it would wake him up from this fantasy.
Samuel hadn’t gotten a good look at her face, just a flash of red heels as she moved. Either her back or profile had been turned to him. Unable to help himself, he paused after he pulled out the stool. To cover his hesitation, he took off his heavy jacket and placed it on the back of the stool before sitting. His weapon, a short sword, lay hidden in a sheath sewn into a side panel, still within easy reach.
All of the soulless ones he’d encountered since becoming a hunter six hundred years ago had been beautiful, whether male or female. Literally, deathly so. The woman seated before him did not qualify as the exception, far from it. About runway model height and beautiful enough to make them look like rejects, her coloring reminded him of toffee, her complexion being just a richer darker shade of toffee candy than her hair. Plump lips in a heart-shaped flawless face had him wondering about the way she tasted. Did she taste like the candy she resembled? She might not be the first soulless female he’d encountered, but she was the first to get this reaction of intense attraction from him. As well as one of the most memorable.
“Hello,” he finally replied, purposely sitting back and folding his arms on the table in front of him.
Her gaze held his, her eyes were the same pitch black of all soulless, yet nothing seemed empty about them. His image looked back at him in their depths. Not possible.
There should be no reflection, just a sea of endless darkness the unwary would drown in. He blinked and looked away, knowing what it meant to look too deeply into the eyes of these creatures. They beguiled humans and their prey ended up losing a sense of self, resulting in death. But then again, he was more than human. He turned and met her direct stare again. His reflection still lay within.
The waitress heading in their direction prompted him to glance away, a welcome distraction. “A glass of Remy Martin, please,” he told the young lady before she could ask.
The woman across from him shook her main of curly hair at the waitress to indicate she didn’t want anything. The strands cascaded over her shoulders covering the material at the tip of one of her breasts.
He wondered if the texture of her hair felt as soft as it looked. What the hell! “Wait,” he said to the waitress as she turned away. Maybe he needed a little something to smooth his restless soul. “Do you have any Courvoisier L’Espirt?”
She frowned like he spoke unrecognizable French.
Well, that answered that. “Never mind, the Remy’s fine. And a full glass.” He would need it. Figures, this little hole in the wall wouldn’t have something going for over sixty-eight hundred a bottle. He’d have to wait until he got home to get a decent drink.
“Hmm, and you have excellent taste too.”
The word excellent sounded more like a purr, reminding him he still had to deal with the being in front of him, and this—he hesitated, not wanting to think in terms of attraction but unable to come up with another word for the force gripping him. Once the waitress moved off, Samuel gathered his mental defenses about him. He would need all of his formidable skills around this woman. “Yes, very,” he finally replied.
Instinct made him clamp down on his emotions and thoughts but the attraction still surfaced, which should have been unfeasible. His control had never before been breached. Too bad, the pull between them gave lie to his claim of control. The waves of tension burned so brightly, he could practically see the visual links in the way their bodies strained to and away from each other as they leaned across the table.
“Who are you?” She tilted her head slightly, probing at his defenses. “What are you?”
He smiled, even chuckling a little at her boldness. Something he hadn’t done in a long time. Damn, interesting and unbelievably beautiful, even for one of her kind. “A little forward, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps, but who chased whom? You obviously want something, so I allowed myself to be…caught, to satisfy your curiosity.”
He raised one eyebrow at her. “You did, did you?”
She grinned, showing perfect white teeth in an already otherworldly beautiful face. “Oh, yes. But in exchange I think my questions need answers too.”
He nodded, liking her even more. Perhaps a more dangerous emotion to have around one who feeds on it. “My name is Samuel Glaus. Yours?”
Her eyes narrowed and she seemed to contemplate her response.
Whether the reaction was about his name or his request for hers, he wasn’t sure. “Oh come on,” he said shifting on the stool to fold his arms on the small lacquer tabletop between them. “I thought we agreed to exchange answers.”
“In a manner of speaking. You may call me Thalya.”
“Well Thalya, I think you already know I’m a hunter, and the only reason you’re not dead is because as far as I could tell, you didn’t harm Karl back at the park.”
Her full lips curled up at the corners.
Watching her, he found himself grinning back at her, like they were friends or something. Better yet, if he could just kiss the edges around her luscious mouth. He shoved those thoughts out of his head and tightened his emotions down even more. For the first time in many years, he had to fight against his instincts rather than follow them. He frowned instead. “You’re not like the other soulless bloodsuckers I’ve encountered.”
“Soulless I might be, but blood…” She shivered as if to indicate distaste. “Yuck!”
Either he read her actions correctly or she appeared craftier than the others. Maybe both. “So you say, but what exactly did you do to Karl?”
“Tell you what, I’ll tell you what I did and you tell me what you are.” She waved a well-manicured hand with nails painted a dark red in the air before him. “Yes, yes I know you’re a hunter and all, but you’re not quite human.”
The slenderness of her hands fascinated him. He wondered about her touch and what to tell her about himself. This time, he let instinct guide him. “Fine. You first.”
She leaned closer and crossed her arms on the small tabletop between them, mimicking his posture.
He automatically moved forward, to better hear her, not to catch another whiff of her fragrance. In all his considerable years and travels, he’d never smelled anything like it. If twilight had a scent, this would be it. No perfume crafted by man had this essence—the scent of wild nights and all Thalya. Only an inch separated their fingers from touching on the table, but it might as well have been a thousand miles. He could never know her touch.
When she finally spoke, Thalya pitched her voice low, like she told him a prized secret, “I took his depression.”
He needed a moment to reply, captivated by the woman more than her response. What the hell? He shook his head to get back into this game. “Exactly.”
“That’s the emotion I feed on, but I do not cause it. So, no killing or bleeding necessary. When Karl wakes up, he’ll feel refreshed and less depressed.”
“What?” He reared back just as the waitress approached with his brandy. He waited for her to leave before he leaned forward again. “What do you mean, the emotion you feed on?” he whispered harshly. “Don’t all your kind feed on blood filled with any strong human emotion?”
She shook her head. “Gracious no. The problem with you hunters is you never could tell the difference among us. Most of us only feed on human emotions, period, not blood, leaving the human quite unharmed from the encounter and at times, feeling better than when we found them.”
He took a sip of his brandy. “That’s debatable.” The warmth seeping through his veins did nothing to ease the problems she posed for him. Maybe he should have ordered something stronger.
“But true. Why don’t you call—your nephew, is it?—and see for yourself? He should be awake by now.”
Samuel frowned, surprised at her suggestion. Still, he pulled out his cell and called Karl, who answered on the third ring.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” Karl replied. “I left Eric and I’m headed home now. Listen, thank you for letting me do this. Things will be much better now.”
“No, thank you for tonight. I’ll check on you tomorrow.”
“Do that. And Samuel, I expect us to see more of you.”
“We’ll see.” Samuel ended the call, not wanting to say too much in front of Thalya. Even though centuries of great uncles stood between him and his nephew Karl, it didn’t matter. Samuel would always protect his family. It irritated him a little to find Thalya spoke the truth. Karl did sound a lot better, more confident than when he’d first stopped by to see him earlier. But the funds Samuel had immediately transferred into Karl’s account probably had more to do with his emotional state than whatever Thalya had done.
“Doesn’t prove anything,” he retorted as he placed his phone back into his pocket. “I know strong negative or destructive human emotions attract your kind and Karl focused on his depression to reel you in. He already knew after tonight he’d be fine, his personal situation taken care of. So, I doubt you had anything to do with the change in his emotional state. He just stopped focusing on those negative emotions.” He shrugged, and took another sip from his glass, feigning nonchalance. “You probably didn’t have a chance to do what you really needed to do.”
“Take his blood.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ve never wanted or needed to take blood. By the time I was aware of you, I’d already finished feeding.”
“All you’d done was butter him up with a kiss.” Even to his own ears the accusation came out angry and accusatory, like something a jealous lover would say. Whoa, where the hell did these thoughts continue to come from? Never gonna happen. Was it?
“What, are you…dense?” She smiled. “Kissing is how I feed.”
“Excuse me?” He shook his head, sure he hadn’t heard her right.
“I literally pull the emotion out of my providers by inhaling their breath.”
“‘Providers? You mean prey.”
She sat back and crossed her legs. “I say exactly what I mean.”
He folded his arms on the table. “Okay, we won’t quibble over the right P word.”
“We’re not going to quibble at all. Now, I told you what you wanted to know. Seems you owe me, so it’s your turn.” She leaned forward again. “What are you?”
He took another slow sip of his brandy, letting the liquid settle into his bones. Could this be true? He knew at least one soulless who had not survived solely on blood. No question Thalya’s kind were attracted to humans projecting strong emotions. Some types more than others. So, why couldn’t the way they extract emotion differ. Taking a risk, he told her what she wanted to know. It’s not as if they kept his existence among hunters or soulless a secret. “For want of a better term, I’m a hybrid. One of your kind and a human.”
She sat up in her seat. “But—but that’s impossible. We can’t create life.”
“Maybe, yet here I am.”
“How could such a thing be?” she asked, the sound of amazement ringing clear in her tone.
He shrugged. “As far as I know, I’m the only one. But my father was one of you and my mother, as human as they come.” His father had stopped feeding off the blood of humans long before he’d met his mother. So, it made sense he had to find some other way to feed, but Samuel didn’t admit that to her.
“Are they both still alive?”
“No. I’m a lot older than I look. They died a very long time ago when I was a boy. My mother first and my father shortly after.”
“Died? How could he die?”
“My parents loved each other very much, and less than a week after she passed he didn’t get out of bed one morning. Like he’d willed himself to be wherever she’d gone.” Samuel didn’t understand why he told her so much. His innate senses understood and responded to something different about her from the others hunted and killed. Even knowing she didn’t have a soul, he couldn’t deny on some level she drew him to her.
Also, she had a scent. None of the others did. Not even bad breath after they’d fed. Just the scent of blood from the deceased.
He’d been a loner by necessity, yet this female presented unfamiliar territory for him. Women around him aged, he didn’t. Thalya might understand his history and not run away from him, screaming in terror. Even among the few female hunters he’d known, he never got close emotionally to any of them. Never wanted to.
“Then how do you have a nephew?” Her question brought him back to their conversation and away from his inner turmoil.
“He’s a nephew several generations removed. I had an older human half-sister. We shared the same mother, different fathers.” A sister who hated his father and the reason he’d become a hunter.
Thalya frowned. “A human sister. What happened to her?”
“After my father’s death, Aaline came and took me to live with her.” He understood Aaline’s resentment of his father, Derry. Even though Derry treated her as a daughter, she’d seen Derry kill her father and never forgiven him for it. But she’d been a mere a child at the time and traumatized.
“But there’s more to you, isn’t there?” Thalya asked. “You carry some of your father’s abilities too.”
He nodded. “Yes I do.”
“Then why did you start hunting your father’s kind?”
A good question one, he found himself answering, “That happened over time. My sister ran away a couple of years before our parents died and joined with a group of hunters. After my father’s death, she came and took me to stay with her, so I lived amongst them for a time without really being a part of the hunt. But when my, ah, special abilities began to show, it seemed right to help my sister and the other hunters use that advantage in the quest against the soulless.”
“I see. You sense us.”
He nodded. “Yes. I made sure the innocent didn’t suffer.”
It hadn’t been hard for the sister he adored to convince him the soulless needed stopping. “I’d seen for myself the death and destruction your kind cause in order to feed.” He simply refused to believe his beloved father, Derry, had been like the rest of them. According to what their mother told him, Aaline’s father was the only human Derry had ever killed and Samuel believed her.
“I’ve only known of one who hadn’t killed his victims.” Samuel always thought of his father as different, one of a kind. Maybe the woman seated before him could somehow be different too. Or maybe he just wanted her to be.
“We are not all the same,” she insisted.
“My father was different,” he told her. “For one thing, he married my mother and stopped taking blood.”
“I don’t take blood, not all of us do. But how could he tie himself to a human?” she asked, shaking her head. “He’d never age, and if he died, really died, he can’t enter heaven. His fate is worse than being condemned to hell. He ceases to exist.”
“That would be true, had he remained soulless.”
She frowned. “But—you said he was like me. Soulless.”
He nodded. “Yes, but before I was born. I’m not sure how long he’d been alive, he never said, but he remained soulless until he met my mother. He loved her and she loved him, because of her and the love they shared, he grew a soul. He began to age, and he died.”
“Are you sure of this?” She narrowed her eyes and stared at him, as though trying to probe his mind for the truth.
“Oh, yes.” He stared intently back at her, letting her know he did speak the truth. “All you had to do was look into his eyes, and you’d see it. They were green like mine.”
“Oh, Grace!” She raked her hand through her hair. “Then the myth is true. And you have a soul. I can feel it.”
“Yes. What myth?”
“Over the years I’ve heard myths, stories that some of us were able to acquire souls. Though, no one I knew had ever done so or known anyone who had. The stories on how always differed but none of them mentioned love, an emotion most of us are unfamiliar with and not one I feed on. I know some of my kind who do and usually they travel in pairs.”
“The soulless ones I’ve run into seem to favor fear, hatred and violence,” he said. “They encourage it, then feast on the aftermath and they’ve always taken blood. Even my father, before he met my mother, took blood, but he didn’t kill. He might have been drawn to those who were already full of rage or fear. He never caused or encouraged the emotions in others. It’s how he met my mother.”
Samuel’s mind leapt to the stories he’d been told of how Aaline’s father had beaten their mother so badly, she’d almost died. Aaline had watched his father kill hers, too traumatized to understand his father did it to save their mother’s life. Soulless, his father might have been at the time, but even he stopped an injustice. Thoughts of his father brought up another. Would killing Thalya also be an injustice?
Samuel stared at her, unable to answer the question. Hell, he had no idea why he’d told her so much about himself. Too much. Yet, the same thing compelling him to stay his hand instead of slaying her in the park pushed at him now.
“I am no blood drinker,” Thalya stated after they’d been silent for a while. “Never have been, never will be.” She reached for his brandy. “Although I do try to drink a good brandy on occasion. I know the great effort humans put into its making, but my emotion of choice has always been depression, despair. And no, I do not cause it. I’m drawn to those emotions. These are the humans I can help.”
He watched her place her lips to his glass, tilt back her head and down a good bit of his drink.