TWELVE YEARS LATER …
Sorcha stared at the street below and felt a lonely chill watching the people flow past like so many fish in a stream. At this hour, they were couples mostly, and groups, out for the evening, heedless of the lightly falling rain. They existed simply, taking their pleasures, living their uncomplicated lives.
A couple passed directly below, hand in hand, crossing her building’s front door. The woman’s laughter drifted up, curling like sultry smoke on the air. Sorcha followed her brightly bouncing scarf as she faded down the cracked, uneven sidewalk into the water-soaked night.
Humans had no clue that creatures like Sorcha existed, walked among mankind, observing from the shadows.
They could never know.
Strange how life worked. As a girl she’d desperately craved the moment when she would grow up and transition and become like Jonah. So he could finally love her. So her father would approve of her and no longer frighten her.
Now here she stood, a dovenatu, powerful and strong.
Rain shivered down the glass surrounding her top-floor loft. She’d bought the building a year ago, shortly after Gervaise’s death. It was a world away from the Central Park penthouse she’d shared with her husband. As far as anyone knew, the rundown building was just one of many sandwiched together in the crowded Soho neighborhood.
No one would ever expect that the wife of the late tycoon Gervaise Laurent lived within its molded brick walls. Precisely why she’d bought it. That and the windows. They gave her a view of the world she could only ever observe from the fringes. Flattening a palm on the cold glass, she exerted the slightest pressure … as though she would break through and leave everything behind. Fly away from the memories of her pack—from Jonah—and now Gervaise. All dead.
She shuddered, chafing her arms. Nothing was left. Nothing except an appetite for revenge that fed her heart.
Alone since Gervaise’s death, the dark beast inside her prowled, clawing to come out. She could deny it no longer, not with this constant hunger for vengeance.
She had become as dangerous as her father, her mother—consumed by a thirst for the blood of whatever thing had killed her husband.
Her pulse beat faster as she recognized a shiny town car slowing and pulling up at the curb below. Finally, she was here. Sorcha watched as the woman stepped onto the sidewalk littered with bags of late-night trash. Hopefully, she held the answers to Gervaise’s death.
Turning, Sorcha moved to the elevator and waited. A small shiver chased down her arms as the motor revved, carrying her much-anticipated guest up toward her.
When the door slid open, she spared not a glance for Cage, her late husband’s trusted man and a former NFL linebacker. Eventually, she’d have to let him go. Once it became too obvious that she wasn’t aging as she should be.
Sorcha’s gaze settled on the woman. The female was nervous, but tried to hide it, holding her chin awkwardly high. Her unnaturally dark hair was all the more striking for its contrast with her crystal blue eyes.
“Maree?” Sorcha inquired, her nostrils flaring, scenting her. Mothballs.
The woman nodded briskly, her gaze darting around, as if she expected something deadly to emerge from the shadows. Little did she know that the deadly thing already stood before her.
“Thank you for seeing me.”
“Like I had a choice?” Maree shot a glare over her shoulder at the hulking Cage the moment before the elevator doors slid shut on his impassive face. “He wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“You’ll be generously paid for your time.” Turning toward the area she’d designated as the kitchen, Sorcha pushed the sleeves of her loose sweater to her elbows and motioned Maree to follow.
She did, the heavy thud of her boots echoing across the wood floor. “This is pretty nice. Wouldn’t have thought this was tucked up here. Looked like a real dump from the outside … thought I was being dragged into some crack house.”
Sorcha smiled. Exactly what she wanted. It kept people from sniffing about where they shouldn’t. “Can I get you anything before we begin?” She sank down in a chair at her table as if she dragged unwilling clairvoyants into her home every day.
The woman hesitantly lowered herself across from Sorcha. “No. Thank you.” She buried her hands beneath the line of the table, somewhere into the folds of her skirt. “Most people come to me for readings.”
“I’m not most people.” That was putting it mildly. Since Gervaise’s death, she’d avoided going out in public. Her anger, her sadness … It was just too dangerous.
Sorcha cocked her head. “I hope you won’t disappoint me. Everyone else I’ve spoken with has been less than helpful. You’ve come highly recommended, however, so let’s just cut to it and save us both time and see if you’re legit.”
Maree’s pupils seemed to darken and overfill her bright eyes. An alertness that hadn’t been there before swept over her. She glanced toward the elevator as if prepared to bolt. “What do you mean?” she asked, her voice as tremulous as a feather drifting on the air.
“Are you a real witch?”
“A witch?” Maree’s gaze shot back to Sorcha. She laughed, the sound cracking on the air. “I have a gift. Nothing more. Witches don’t exist.”
Sorcha leaned across the table, her nostrils flaring, scenting something besides the odor of mothballs rising on the air … an earthy aroma that reminded her of freshly tilled soil. She’d never smelled such a thing on a human before. Maree’s body temperature changed, dropped several chilling degrees. Sorcha smiled, slow and deep, satisfaction rippling through her. “You’re a witch,” she announced.
Sorcha had not known until this moment if this woman was a con like all the rest she had questioned. She had faced too many brick walls to count in her hunt for a real witch. She knew they existed, knew one had started the lycan curse over two thousand years ago. Which was why, deep at her core, in her bones, she knew that a witch could lead her to Gervaise’s killers.
“Listen, lady,” Maree began, “you’re wrong. I don’t—”
“When I asked you if you were a witch, your pulse quickened, your body temperature dropped. Not the reaction I would expect if I was off base.”
Maree shook her head, tossing her black hair. “What are you, some kind of—” The witch stopped abruptly, her voice dying as a look of dread passed over her face, bleeding it of all color.
Sorcha nodded. “It’s safe to say we’re both extraordinary females.”
“What are you?” Marre asked quietly, her gaze darting again to the closed elevator as if she might rush it. She moved in her chair, turning her body slightly, and Sorcha knew she was about to try.
“You’ll never make it,” she warned, her blood heating up and pumping faster. The darkness inside her frothed, eager for release.
Maree fell back in her chair and seemed to shrink where she sat.
Sorcha stood up and moved a safe distance from her, breathing thinly through her nostrils until she felt in control again. She loathed it that her beast could rouse so quickly. It never used to. She stared at her reflection in the dark glass. The face that stared back at her was beautiful, an elegant, sculpted beauty. She couldn’t help but wonder if Jonah would have liked her this way. Would he still have pushed her away?
“Do you really want to know what I am?” Sorcha’s voice scraped through the air, the words thick in her mouth. She angled her head, waiting.
“It’s safe to say we both know the world is composed of many unnatural things. Can you not guess whose den you’ve entered?” Sorcha swung an arm, turning from the window. “Why don’t you just do what it is you do, and then you can leave.” She fluttered a hand. “Forget you ever met me.”
Maree nodded jerkily, her blue eyes overly large in her pale face.
“Good.” With a brisk efficiency she didn’t feel, Sorcha reclaimed her seat. Crossing her arms over her chest, she lifted an eyebrow. “Read for me. Do whatever it is you do.” The words felt strangely thick on her tongue. Oddly, after all her efforts to locate a true witch, she felt unsettled sitting across from one. She could only think that it was one of Maree’s kind who had started the lycan curse … which created so much misery for the world. For Sorcha.
The witch exhaled. “This isn’t television. I do not read. I can’t see the future. That’s not my particular skill. Every witch has a different gift.”
“And what is your gift?” And how could Sorcha manipulate it to find her late husband’s killers?
The scene of Gervaise’s death had been terrible. Bloody. Violent. There hadn’t been much of his feeble body left. Their marriage might not have been real in the sense of couples who came together physically, but she had loved him. Gervaise had been the father to her that Ivo never was. Her elderly husband had known what she truly was and accepted her anyway.
He should not have died the way he did. He should not have suffered such a horrific end. She’d known instantly that the perpetrator couldn’t be human. It was a massacre—the kind that a lycan would commit in a feeding frenzy. Tonight she would learn everything about the creature who’d taken Gervaise from her. She would find him and his pack and destroy them all.
“I can see only the past,” the witch explained. “That’s all I do.”
Sorcha sat up straighter. “Perfect. That’s all I want to know.”
“I cannot guarantee that I will see the past event you wish to see … it could be something else from your past.”
“I will see my husband’s death,” Sorcha vowed, her jaw tight and aching where it clenched.
“I can try. But first, the fee you promised me.”
Sorcha removed a neatly folded wad of cash from the large front pocket of her sweater and dropped it on the table’s gleaming surface. Maree stuffed the money into the handbag she wore strapped across her chest. “Let’s do this then.” Sliding to the edge of her chair, she motioned for Sorcha’s hand.
Sorcha obliged, stretching out her arm, showing no reaction as Maree’s moist fingers took hold of her hand.
“Can you remember the event?” Maree asked.
Sorcha swallowed tightly and nodded. She would never forget the bloody sight.
“Good. Visualize that and I will try to channel the moment.”
Silence stretched. Sorcha studied the witch’s face as she pictured the night she’d found her husband torn to pieces. Sweat soon beaded Maree’s creased brow. Her breath grew raspy and Sorcha was convinced she was somewhere else, removed from this setting.
“Maree?” she whispered, and then felt silly because of her hushed tones. “Maree? What do you see?” she asked, her voice louder.
“A great fire,” she said, so softly that Sorcha leaned in. “It fills the night sky, lights up the entire city. I see you. Running down a street, the heat of the flames warm on your back …”
Sorcha sucked in a deep breath, knowing instantly where Maree had gone. And it wasn’t to the scene of Gervaise’s death. She was seeing Istanbul … the night Sorcha escaped from her pack and left Jonah behind forever.
She swallowed, fought the sudden thickness in her throat. Almost as if she were choking on the smoke from that night all over again.
She had never wanted to leave Jonah, but she couldn’t remain with the growing danger of her father. She still recalled Jonah’s eyes, heard his voice … felt his rejection in her heart. He would never take her to mate, never love her as she loved him. So she had fled. Raced headlong into the night, escaping her father and pack shortly before a group of hunters blew up the building.
Sorcha shook her head, returning to the sound of Maree’s voice recounting that event. “Tears run down your face, but you keep running …”
A breath shuddered through Sorcha, seeing herself through the witch’s words. As if she were there again, she tasted the salty fall of tears on her lips, smelled the smoke and ash.
She had wept for Jonah that night—and long after. Losing him had killed her young heart, stolen the last scrap of her youth. And this witch forced her to relive that.
“Move on,” she hissed, squeezing the witch’s hand that held hers. Maree made a small noise of pain and Sorcha relaxed her grip. “Look for Gervaise.” She lowered her voice to a coaxing pitch. “It was a spring night. I left to pick up dinner from his favorite delicatessen. He was listening to Der Freischütz.”
She gently hummed some notes, imagining their elegant penthouse as she left it. Gervaise reclined in his leather armchair, a book in his lap, the soft lamplight casting his craggy features into relief.
Maree nodded. “Yes, I am there. I see him. The old man has a blanket over his lap… and a book …”
“Yes.” Sorcha’s blood raced. “Yes. Do you see his killer?”
No one had seen anything, not the building’s surveillance, not the doorman or the countless people who passed through the lobby. For a time, Sorcha had been a suspect. The police finally gave up on her, unable to explain away the lack of blood anywhere on her body or the several witnesses who had seen her walking to the delicatessen.
She shook her head. So much blood. More black than red. It covered the elegant pinstriped wallpaper, the windows, the furniture. Everything. She could still hear the staccato drip of it from the ceiling … could still smell the coppery tang.
A lycan was the only explanation. The only thing that made sense. The creatures moved faster than the human eye could detect. Hell, they could scale the side of her building. A lycan had killed Gervaise. Or a hybrid like herself, but their numbers were small when compared to the lycans who roamed the world.
Maree grew oddly quiet, her lids drifting shut over her bright blue eyes.
“Do you see the killer?” Sorcha pressed, shaking the woman’s hands, determined to have the truth. She was close now. She could feel it just as she felt a telling heat building at her core. At that moment, Maree started to shake with great full-body shudders. The hair at the nape of Sorcha’s neck tingled.
Maree’s eyes flew open then, and Sorcha gasped at the dark orbs—deep, black space, void of any white. Her eyes gleamed like twin marbles, polished to the point that Sorcha could see her reflection.
She dropped the witch’s hands as if stung and leaned back. “Maree?” she questioned in a low voice.
Maree cocked her head, the motion quick and birdlike. “You shouldn’t stick your nose into affairs out of your realm … dog. Or should I call you mongrel? You’re only a hybrid, after all. Not even a real lycan.”
Sorcha dug her hands into the edge of her chair. The voice was Maree’s, but not. It was different, dead and hollow sounding. “My husband is my concern.” Her voice sounded far calmer than she felt, considering the sudden rush of searing blood in her veins. It was as though her body knew what her mind struggled to grasp.
“Your husband is dead because of you.”
Sorcha dragged a hissing breath between her teeth. She tossed her head, the dark strands of her hair slapping her cheeks at these words. Denial surged hot and heavy in her chest. Gervaise had not been targeted because of her. No way. He was all she had, all that was left after she’d lost her pack—lost herself. He was the one thing that had come close to filling the hole in her heart Jonah had once occupied. She sucked in another deep breath. It couldn’t be her fault.
Maree continued, “I hoped you would be blamed for the murder …”
Two things became instantly clear as that comment sank in. First, Maree was no longer speaking to her. But Gervaise’s killer was.
The blood rushed to her head. She swallowed the dizziness and blinked past the sudden haze clouding her eyes. “What are you?”
“Safe to say, I’m not some useless witch who only harnesses a fraction of her power by resisting possession.”
“You really are a stupid cow, aren’t you? Hard to imagine you could be any real threat.”
“What are you?” she demanded again, leaning forward. “Where’s Maree?”
“Cowering inside herself at the moment … like most white witches. Always running, hiding from my kind. If she knew what was good for her, she would give herself over to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Haven’t you figured it out? I’m a demon. I possess witches … at least the ones who let me. You might have heard of one witch I own.” A heavy pause followed this. “Tresa.”
Tresa. The name struck a chill in Sorcha’s heart. “The witch who started the lycan curse?” Her lips moved numbly around the question. Tresa was the reason Sorcha existed … the reason any lycan or dovenatu existed.
Maree smiled. At least her face did. But Sorcha now knew it was really a demon smiling at her—Maree’s mouth stretching over teeth the color of bone. “Well, well, you do know something then. Maybe you are the clever mongrel the Dark Prince warned me of, after all. The Master predicted you would bring me down if I didn’t stop you. Looking at you, listening to you … it’s almost laughable to consider.”
“Tresa,” she whispered. “She still lives.”
The demon nodded. “As long as I exist, she lives. When she cursed Etienne Marshan long ago, she signed away her soul. To me.”
Sorcha pressed her fingers to her temples, struggling to take it all in. “You killed Gervaise …”
“Well, Tresa did it, but at my behest.” The demon leaned in, his lips moving slowly around the words. “Take it as a warning to stay out of my way.”
Sorcha stared in bleak fury. “I was living my life. I didn’t give a damn about you …” Until now. “You’ve made a serious mistake.” Heat erupted at her core, zipping along every nerve ending, pushing at her tightening flesh.
“What are you going to do about it, mongrel?” The demon sneered. “I’ve lived over two thousand years. Think you can stop me?”
In a flash, Sorcha turned. Could not stop herself. Her bones pulled, snapped into place in a burning instant. Her voice spat past her lips, thick and gurgling. “Why don’t you stop hiding inside Maree and come out so we can fight this properly?”
“Oh, I would love that. Tell you what, find Tresa. Destroy her. Then you and I can finish this. And I’ll show the Master that no pathetic mongrel has the power to kill me.”
Sorcha lurched from her chair, sending it clattering to the floor, forgetting at that moment that the demon wasn’t really there. She grabbed the witch by the shoulder, her fingers digging, eager to hurt, hungry for vengeance … until Maree cried out sharply. Sorcha pulled her hand back as if stung and stared hard at the witch’s face.
The black liquid pools of her eyes blurred, shrank and faded away. The startling blue flashed back into place. The witch sagged in her chair, blinking in confusion.
And Sorcha knew. The demon was gone.
Glancing wildly around the room, convinced the demon could still hear her even if he no longer possessed Maree, Sorcha shouted, “I’ll find Tresa! I’ll destroy her and then we’ll finish this!”
For Gervaise. For the misery Tresa’s curse had caused across ages. I’ll finish it.
Nothing would stop her.
© 2010 Sharie Kohler