Authors: Lara Adrian
Tags: #Paranormal, #General, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Occult & Supernatural
For John, whose faith in me has never faltered, and whose love, I hope, will never fade.
ith much gratitude to my agent, Karen Solem, for helping chart the course, and for brilliant navigation under all manner of conditions.
My wonderful editor, Shauna Summers, rightly deserves her own page of acknowledgments for all of her support and encouragement, not to mention the superb editorial vision that always finds the heart of every story and helps bring it into focus.
Thanks also to Debbie Graves for enthusiastic critiques, and to Jessica Bird, whose talent is surpassed only by her amazing generosity of spirit.
Lastly, a special nod of appreciation to my audial muses during much of the creation of this book: Lacuna Coil, Evanescence, and Collide, whose stirring lyrics and amazing music never failed to inspire.
TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO
er baby wouldn’t stop crying. She’d started fussing at the last station, when the Greyhound bus out of Bangor stopped in Portland to pick up more passengers. Now, at a little after 1
., they were almost to the Boston terminal, and the two-plus hours of trying to soothe her infant daughter were, as her friends back in school would say, getting on her last nerve.
The man beside her in the next seat probably wasn’t thrilled, either.
“I’m real sorry about this,” she said, turning to speak to him for the first time since he’d gotten on. “She’s usually not this cranky. It’s our first trip together. I guess she’s just ready to get where we’re going.”
The man blinked at her slowly, smiled without showing his teeth. “Where you headed?”
“New York City.”
“Ah. The Big Apple,” he murmured. His voice was dry, airless. “You got family there or something?”
She shook her head. The only family she had was in a backwoods town near Rangeley, and they’d made it clear that she was on her own now. “I’m going there for a job. I mean, I hope to find a job. I want to be a dancer. On Broadway maybe, or one of them Rockettes.”
“Well, you sure are pretty enough.” The man was staring at her now. It was dark in the bus, but she thought there was something kind of weird about his eyes. Again the tight smile. “With a body like yours, you ought to be a big star.”
Blushing, she glanced down at her complaining baby. Her boyfriend back in Maine used to say stuff like that, too. He used to say a lot of things to get her into the backseat of his car. And he wasn’t her boyfriend anymore, either. Not since her junior year of high school when she started swelling up with his kid.
If she hadn’t quit to have the baby, she would have graduated this summer.
“Have you had anything to eat yet today?” the man asked, as the bus slowed down and turned into the Boston station.
“Not really.” She gently bounced her baby girl in her arms, for all the good it did. She was red in the face, her tiny fists pumping, still crying like there was no tomorrow.
“What a coincidence,” the stranger said. “I haven’t eaten, either. I could do with a bite, if you’re game to join me?”
“Nah. I’m okay. I’ve got some saltines in my bag. And anyway, I think this is the last bus to New York tonight, so I won’t have time to do much more than change the baby and get right back on. Thanks, though.”
He didn’t say anything else, just watched her gather her few things once the bus was parked in its bay, then moved out of his seat to let her pass on her way to the station’s facilities.
When she came out of the restroom, the man was waiting for her.
A niggle of unease shot through her to see him standing there. He hadn’t seemed so big when he was sitting next to her. And now that she was looking at him again, she could see that there was definitely something freaky about his eyes. Was he some kind of stoner?
“What’s going on?”
He chuckled under his breath. “I told you. I need to feed.”
That was an odd way of putting it.
She couldn’t help noticing that there were only a few other people around in the station at this late hour. A light rain had begun, wetting the pavement, sending stragglers in for cover. Her bus was idling in its bay, already reloading. But in order to get to it, she first had to get past him.
She shrugged, too tired and anxious to deal with this crap. “So, if you’re hungry, go tell it to McDonald’s. I’m late for my bus—”
“Listen, bitch—” He moved so fast, she didn’t know what hit her. One second he was standing three feet away from her, the next he had his hand around her throat, cutting off her air. He pushed her back into the shadows near the terminal building. Back where nobody was going to notice if she got mugged. Or worse. His mouth was so close to her face, she could smell his foul breath. She saw his sharp teeth as he curled his lips back and hissed a terrible threat. “Say another word, move another muscle, and you’ll be watching me eat your brat’s juicy little heart.”
Her baby was wailing in her arms now, but she didn’t say a word.
She didn’t so much as think about moving.
All that mattered was her baby. Keeping her safe. And so she didn’t dare do a thing, not even when those sharp teeth lunged toward her and bit down hard into her neck.
She stood utterly frozen with terror, clutching her baby close while her attacker drew hard at the bleeding gash he’d made in her throat. His fingers elongated where he gripped her head and shoulder, the tips cutting into her like a demon’s claws. He grunted and pulled deeper at her with his mouth and sharp teeth. Although her eyes were wide open in horror, her vision was going dark, her thoughts beginning to tumble, splintering into pieces. Everything around her was growing murky.
He was killing her. The monster was killing her. And then he would kill her baby, too.
“No.” She gulped in air, but tasted only blood. “Goddamn you—No!”
With a desperate burst of will, she snapped her head into his, cracking the side of her skull into her attacker’s face. When he snarled and reared back in surprise, she tore out of his grasp. She stumbled, nearly falling to her knees before she righted herself. One arm wrapped around her howling child, the other coming up to feel the slick, burning wound at her neck, she edged backward, away from the creature that lifted his head and sneered at her with glowing yellow eyes and bloodstained lips.
“Oh, God,” she moaned, sick at the sight.
She took another step back. Pivoted, prepared to bolt, even if it was pointless.
And that’s when she saw the other one.
Fierce amber eyes looked right through her, but the hiss that sounded from between his huge, gleaming fangs promised death. She thought he would lace into her and finish what the first one had started, but he didn’t. Guttural words were spat between the two of them, then the newcomer strode past her, a long silver blade in his hand.
Take the child, and go.
The command seemed to come out of nowhere, cutting through the fog of her mind. It came again, sharper now, spurring her into action. She ran.
Blind with panic, her mind numb with fear and confusion, she ran away from the terminal and down a nearby street. Deeper and deeper, she fled into the unfamiliar city, into the night. Hysteria clawed at her, making every noise—even the sound of her own running feet—seem monstrous and deadly.
And her baby wouldn’t stop crying.
They were going to be found out if she didn’t get the baby to quiet down. She had to put her to bed, nice and warm in her crib. Then her little girl would be happy. Then she’d be safe. Yes, that’s what she had to do. Put the baby to bed, where the monsters couldn’t find her.
She was tired herself, but she couldn’t rest. Too dangerous. She had to get home before her mom realized she had missed curfew again. She was numb, disoriented, but she had to run. And so she did. She ran until she dropped, exhausted and unable to take another step.
When she woke sometime later, it was to feel her mind coming unhinged, cracking apart like an eggshell. Sanity was peeling away from her, reality warping into something black and slippery, something that was dancing farther and farther out of her reach.
She heard muffled crying somewhere in the distance. Such a tiny sound. She put her hands up to cover her ears, but she could still hear that helpless little mewl.
“Hush,” she murmured to no one in particular, rocking back and forth. “Be quiet now, the baby’s sleeping. Be quiet be quiet be quiet….”
But the crying kept on. It didn’t stop, and didn’t stop. It tore at her heart as she sat in the filthy street and stared, unseeing, into the coming dawn.
emarkable. Just look at the use of light and shadow….”
“You see how this image hints at the sorrow of the place, yet manages to convey a promise of hope?”
“…one of the youngest photographers to be included in the museum’s new modern art collection.”
Gabrielle Maxwell stood back from the group of exhibit attendees, nursing a flute of warm champagne as yet another crowd of faceless, nameless, Very Important People enthused over the two dozen black-and-white photographs displayed on the gallery walls. She glanced at the images from across the room, somewhat bemused. They were good photographs—a bit edgy, their subject matter being abandoned mills and desolate dockyards outside Boston—but she didn’t quite get what everyone else was seeing in them.
Then again, she never did. Gabrielle merely took the photographs; she left their interpretation, and ultimately, their appreciation, up to others. An introvert by nature, it made her uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of this much praise and attention…but it did pay the bills. Quite nicely, at that. Tonight, it was also paying the bills for her friend Jamie, the owner of the funky little art gallery on Newbury Street, which, at ten minutes to closing, was still packed with prospective buyers.
Numb with the whole process of meeting and greeting, of smiling politely as everyone from moneyed Back Bay wives to multipierced, tattooed Goths tried to impress one another—and her—with analyses of her work, Gabrielle couldn’t wait for the exhibit to end. She had been hiding in the shadows for the past hour, contemplating a stealth escape to the comfort of a warm shower and a soft pillow, both waiting at her apartment on the city’s east side.
But she had promised a few of her friends—Jamie, Kendra, and Megan—that she would join them for dinner and drinks after the showing. As the last couple of stragglers made their purchases and left, Gabrielle found herself gathered up and swept into a cab before she had a chance to so much as think of begging off.
“What an awesome night!” Jamie’s androgynous blond hair swung around his face as he leaned across the other two women to clutch Gabrielle’s hand. “I’ve never had so much weekend traffic in the gallery—and tonight’s sales receipts were amazing! Thank you so much for letting me host you.”
Gabrielle smiled at her friend’s excitement. “Of course. No need to thank me.”
“You weren’t too miserable, were you?”
“How could she be, with half of Boston falling at her feet?” gushed Kendra, before Gabrielle could answer for herself. “Was that the governor I saw you talking with over the canapés?”
Gabrielle nodded. “He’s offered to commission some original works for his cottage on the Vineyard.”
“Yeah,” Gabrielle replied without much enthusiasm. She had a stack of business cards in her pocketbook—at least a year of steady work, if she wanted it—so why was she tempted to open the taxi window and scatter them all to the wind?
She let her gaze drift to the night outside the car, watching in queer detachment as lights and lives flickered past. The streets teemed with people: couples strolling hand in hand, groups of friends laughing and talking, all of them having a great time. They dined at café tables outside trendy bistros and paused to browse store window displays. Everywhere she looked, the city pulsed with color and life. Gabrielle absorbed it all with her artist’s eye and, yet, felt nothing. This bustle of life—her life as well—seemed to be speeding by without her. More and more lately, she felt as if she were caught on a wheel that wouldn’t stop spinning her around, trapping her in an endless cycle of passing time and little purpose.
“Is anything wrong, Gab?” Megan asked from beside her on the taxi’s bench seat. “You seem quiet.”
Gabrielle shrugged. “I’m sorry. I’m just…I don’t know. Tired, I guess.”
“Somebody get this woman a drink—stat!” Kendra, the dark-haired nurse, joked.
“Nah,” Jamie countered, sly and catlike. “What our Gab really needs is a man. You’re too serious, sweetie. It’s not healthy to let your work consume you like you do. Have some fun! When’s the last time you got laid, anyway?”
Too long ago but Gabrielle wasn’t really keeping track. She’d never suffered from a shortage of dates when she wanted them, and sex—on those rare occasions she had it—wasn’t something she obsessed over like some of her friends. As out of practice as she was right now in that department, she didn’t think an orgasm was going to cure whatever was causing her current state of restlessness.
“Jamie is right, you know,” Kendra was saying. “You need to loosen up, get a little wild.”
“No time like the present,” Jamie added.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Gabrielle said, shaking her head. “I’m really not up for a late night, you guys. Gallery showings always take a lot out of me and I—”
“Driver?” Ignoring her, Jamie slid to the edge of the seat and rapped on the Plexiglas that separated the cabbie from his passengers. “Change of plans. We decided we’re in the mood for celebrating, so ixnay on the restaurant. We wanna go where all the hot people are.”
“If you like dance clubs, there’s a new one just opened in the north end,” the cabbie said, his spearmint chewing gum cracking as he spoke. “I been takin’ fares over there all week. Fact, took two already tonight—fancy after-hours place called La Notte.”
“Ooh, La No-tay,” Jamie purred, tossing a playful look over his shoulder and arching an elegant brow. “Sounds perfectly wicked to me, girls. Let’s go!”
The club, La Notte, was housed in a High Victorian Gothic building that had long been known as St. John’s Trinity Parish church, until recent Archdiocese of Boston payouts on priest sex scandals forced the closings of dozens of such places around the city. Now, as Gabrielle and her friends made their way inside the crowded club, synthesized trance and techno music rang in the rafters, blasting out of enormous speakers that framed the DJ pit in the balcony above the altar. Strobe lights flashed against a trio of arched stained-glass windows. The pulsing beams cut through the thin cloud of smoke that hung in the air, pounding to the frenetic beat of a seemingly endless song. On the dance floor—and in nearly every square foot of La Notte’s main floor and the gallery above—people moved against one another in writhing, mindless sensuality.
“Holy shit,” Kendra shouted over the music, raising her arms and dancing her way through the thick crowd. “What a place, huh? This is crazy!”
They hadn’t even cleared the first knot of clubbers before a tall, lean guy swooped in on the spunky brunette and bent to say something in her ear. Kendra gave a throaty laugh and nodded enthusiastically at him.
“Boy wants to dance,” she giggled, passing her handbag to Gabrielle. “Who am I to refuse!”
“This way,” Jamie said, pointing to a small, empty table near the bar as their friend trotted off with her partner.
The three of them got seated and Jamie ordered a round of drinks. Gabrielle scanned the dance floor for Kendra, but she’d been devoured in the midst of the crowded space. Despite the crush of people all around, Gabrielle could not dismiss the sudden sensation that she and her friends were sitting in a spotlight. Like they were somehow under scrutiny simply for being in the club. It was nuts to think it. Maybe she had been working too much, spending too much time alone at home, if being out in public could make her feel so self-conscious. So paranoid.
“Here’s to Gab!” Jamie exclaimed over the roar of the music, raising his martini glass in salute.
Megan lifted hers, too, and clinked it against Gabrielle’s. “Congratulations on a great exhibit tonight!”
“Thanks, you guys.”
As she sipped the neon yellow concoction, Gabrielle’s feeling of being observed returned. Or rather, increased. She felt a stare reach out to her from across the darkened distance. Over the rim of her martini glass, she glanced up and caught the glint of a strobe light nicking off a pair of dark sunglasses.
Sunglasses hiding a gaze that was unmistakably fixed on her through the crowd.
The quick flashes from the strobes cast his stark features in hard shadow, but Gabrielle’s eyes took him in at once. Spiky black hair falling loosely around a broad, intelligent brow and lean, angular cheeks. A strong, stern jaw. And his mouth…his mouth was generous and sensual, even when quirked in that cynical, almost cruel line.
Gabrielle looked away, unnerved, a rush of warmth skittering along her limbs. His face lingered in her head, burned there in an instant, like an image set to film. She put down her drink and braved another quick glance to where he stood. But he was gone.
A loud crash sounded at the other end of the bar, jerking Gabrielle’s attention over her shoulder. At one of the crowded tables, liquor seeped onto the floor, spilled from several broken glasses that littered the black-lacquered surface. Five guys in dark leather and shades were having words with another guy wearing a Dead Kennedys wife-beater tank and torn, faded blue jeans. One of the thugs in leather had his arm slung around a drunk-looking platinum blond, who seemed to know the punker. Boyfriend, apparently. He made a grab for the girl’s arm, but she slapped him away and bent her head to let one of the thugs put his mouth on her neck. She stared defiantly at her furious boyfriend, all the while playing with the long brown hair of the guy fastened to her throat.
“That’s messed up,” Megan said, turning back around as the situation escalated.
“Sure is,” Jamie added as he finished off his martini and flagged a server to bring another round. “Evidently that chick’s mama forgot to tell her it’s bad news not to leave with the guy who brought you.”
Gabrielle watched for another moment, long enough to see a second biker move in on the girl and descend on her slackened mouth. She accepted both of them together, her hands coming up to caress the dark head at her neck and the pale one that was sucking her face like he meant to eat her alive. The punker boyfriend shouted a string of obscenities at the girl, then turned around and shoved his way into the spectating crowd.
“This place is creeping me out,” Gabrielle confided, just now noticing some clubbers openly doing lines of cocaine off the far end of the long marble bar.
Her friends didn’t seem to hear her over the driving pound of the music. They also didn’t seem to share Gabrielle’s unease. Something wasn’t quite right here and Gabrielle could not shake the feeling that eventually the night was going to get ugly. Jamie and Megan began talking between themselves about local bands, leaving Gabrielle to sip what was left of her martini and wait on the other side of the small table for an opportunity to break in and make her excuses to leave.
Essentially alone at the moment, her gaze drifted over the sea of bobbing heads and swaying bodies, as she surreptitiously searched for the sunglass-shaded eyes that had been watching her before. Was he with the other thugs—one of that gang of bikers still stirring up trouble? He was dressed like them, certainly carried the same dark air of danger about him.
Whoever he was, Gabrielle saw no trace of him now.
She leaned back in her chair, then nearly jumped out of her skin when a pair of hands came to rest on her shoulders from behind.
“Here you are! I’ve been looking all over for you guys!” Kendra said, sounding breathless and animated at the same time, as she leaned over the table. “Come on. I’ve got a table for us on the other side of the club. Brent and some of his friends want to party with us!”
Jamie was already on his feet, ready to go. Megan took her fresh martini in one hand, Kendra’s and her pocketbooks in the other. When Gabrielle didn’t rush to join them, Megan paused.
“No.” Gabrielle stood up and looped the strap of her handbag over her shoulder. “You go on, have fun. I’m beat. I think I’m just going to catch a cab and head back home.”
Kendra gave her a little-girl pout. “Gab, you can’t go!”
“You want some company for the ride home?” Megan offered, even though Gabrielle could tell she wanted to stay with the others.
“I’ll be fine. Enjoy yourselves, but be careful, right?”
“You’re sure you won’t stay? Just one more drink?”
“Nah. I really need to take off and get some air.”
“Suit yourself, then,” Kendra chided with mock venom. She stepped in and planted a quick peck on Gabrielle’s cheek. As she withdrew, Gabrielle caught a whiff of vodka, and, beneath that, something less obvious. Something musky, queerly metallic. “You’re a buzzkill, Gab, but I still love you.”
With a wink, Kendra looped her arms with Jamie’s and Megan’s, then playfully tugged them toward the churning mass of people.
“Call me tomorrow,” Jamie mouthed over his shoulder as the trio were slowly engulfed by the crowd.
Gabrielle immediately started her trek for the door, anxious to be out of the club. The longer she had stayed, the louder the music seemed to get, drumming in her head, making it hard to think. Hard to focus on her surroundings. People pushed at her from all sides as she tried to pass through them, squeezing her into the press of dancing, flailing, gyrating bodies. She was jostled and nudged, pawed at and groped by unseen hands in the dark, until, finally, she stumbled into the vestibule near the club’s entrance, then out the heavy double doors.