Sunday, July 26, 2015

Targeted by Evangeline Anderson ♥ Freebie, Spotlight & GIVEAWAY ♥ (Paranormal Romance)


A warrior sworn to kill or die trying…
A woman going through a deadly transformation…
Can they reach safety together?
Or have both of them been Targeted for death?

Emily Brooks is just an unremarkable girl living a boring existence--she teaches kindergarten, has a small house on the north end of Tampa, and tries not to envy her sister's perfect life. But Emily holds a remarkable secret within--one that won't stay hidden much longer. She is about to become something and someone completely different--that is, if she lives long enough to undergo the transformation.

Tragar is a Beast Kindred with tragedy in his past. Pain and loss have driven him from the Kindred way of life and into a new career--that of a deadly Verrak assassin. The Verrak take an oath to kill every target they contract for or die trying. Now Emily is in his crosshairs but the moment he gets close enough to her, his sharp Kindred senses tell him something is different about this particular target. Emily is a Khalla--a rare female who some say embody the essence of the Goddess herself. She is a treasure beyond compare. Tragar is well aware that his own choices have left him unfit to serve her but at least he can protect her until he can find someone worthy on his home planet of Rageron.

But there are dark forces in their way. Tragar's oath to kill can not be broken lightly. And there is a shadowy figure rising from the darkness who wishes to claim Emily's life. Can the fallen warrior guide and protect Emily to the place she truly belongs? Or will he die trying? You'll have to read Targeted to find out.

Chapter One

It was happening again.
Emily Brooks gasped as a flash of heat swept over her body. It started in her lower pelvis and rolled outward, like flames licking her skin from the inside out, stealing her breath and making every inch of her tingle with unwanted heat.
Oh God, ohGodohGod…No, please—not this—not this again!
Her hands clenched into fists at her sides and her toes curled in her sensible low heeled shoes. The shapeless cotton dress she wore was suddenly too hot—sticking to her full-figured body with the dew of sweat that bloomed across her flushed skin. The hair at the nape of her neck was prickling with tension and her eyes burned. Not like she’d gotten soap in them, though—they burned as if there was some strange heat source behind them. As though there was a flame inside her brain that was burning its way out.
But though all these weird physical problems were uncomfortable and strange, they weren’t what Emily feared the most. She feared the other coming out. The one she sometimes glimpsed in the mirror. The one inside of her who was getting closer to the surface every day…
“Miss Brooks? Miss Brooks, Avery pushed me!”
“Did not. Anyway, she pushed me first.”
“Did not!”
“Did so!”
“Class!” Taking a deep breath, Emily forced herself to forget about what was happening inside her and concentrate on the kindergarten class under her care at George Washington Elementary.
Her stress must have come through in her voice, because all fifteen of her kids got suddenly quiet and looked at her with large eyes.
Oh God, what do they see? Do they see what I see when I look in the mirror?
Emily took a deep breath…then another. Calm, she had to be calm. It was only 9:30 and she had to make it until 2:15 when the bell rang for dismissal.
“Miss Brooks,” ventured Avery Andrews. “Do you feel okay? Maybe you oughta go to the nurse.”
“I’m fine, Avery. Thank you for your concern though—that’s sweet.”
Emily did her best to smile at the little boy who was the class clown but so endearing you couldn’t help but love him.
“You don’t look fine,” Kelsey Pincter remarked.
“Yeah, your eyes look funny.” Miracle Jackson said. “All sparky and hot. Like you gots a candle in your head, right behind your eyes—like a jack-o-lantern.”
Like a jack-o-lantern… Emily took another deep breath.
“I’m just fine,” she said again more firmly. “Or I will be if everyone will settle down before we go into the library. Other students are studying in here so we need to be…what?”
“Quiet!” they all chorused loudly and each of them put a finger to his or her lips. “Shhhh!”
Emily tried to smile. Normally her class was the light of her life—she loved kids and since she was never going to have any of her own, being a kindergarten teacher was wonderful. But just now she felt shaky and hot and out of breath—like she’d just run an hour on the treadmill at the gym. Not that she could usually do more than a brisk walk for that long but still—that was the feeling she had.
“All right then, let’s go in quietly,” she murmured, putting her finger to her lips. “Elbows and tip-toes. Line leader, open the door and hold it for the rest of the class.”
Avery was the line leader and he gave her a big freckle-faced grin as he followed instructions, tucking his elbows in and walking with exaggerated caution on the tips of his toes. Emily tried to return the smile as she shepherded her class, which were all doing the same thing, into the large, beautifully decorated media center.
It was a warm, welcoming area with various storybook characters on the walls which had been painted by a local artist . Alice and the Mad Hatter took tea in one corner while the caterpillar looked on from his mushroom. On a far wall, Lucy was opening the door to the magical wardrobe that led to Narnia and on a another wall, a haggard looking Frodo Baggins was holding the One Ring aloft and staring up at the ominous Mount Doom, looming in the distance.
This last mural was perhaps a touch dark for an elementary school library but as a confirmed Tolkien freak, Emily had always loved it. Today, however, she barely noticed it as she herded her class to the big rainbow carpet in the Alice in Wonderland corner. There, to her intense relief, she saw Mrs. Andrews, one of the parent volunteers, was sitting in the big rocking chair and waiting to read a story.Dragons Love Tacos! proclaimed the book in her hand and Emily’s class was already crowding around her. They loved story time.
Mrs. Peltz, the librarian with iron gray hair and stern features, was standing behind the check out desk explaining to a fifth grader why he couldn’t check out the graphic novel he wanted since he still had two more out.
“Mrs. Peltz,” Emily murmured when the disappointed student left. “Since you have a volunteer here, do you mind if I run to the faculty restroom for a minute?”
Mrs. Peltz pursed her lips to a thin, pink line.
“Miss Brooks, you know you’re not supposed to leave students unattended in the library!”
“I know.” Emily was beginning to get desperate. She could feel another heat wave coming on. “I know but it’s just—it’s that time of the month. And I left my, uh, supplies in the classroom.”
“Well…” The librarian looked at her disapprovingly.
“Please,” Emily begged in an undertone.
“All right. But no more than ten minutes, mind.” Mrs. Peltz nodded her sharp chin at the door. “Go on.”
“Thank you!”
Incredibly relieved, Emily left the media center by the back door at a fast walk.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she got out into the chilly wind of the breezeway that connected the media center to the rest of the school. Tampa didn’t get much cold weather but it was mid January, just after the Christmas break, and the thermometer had actually dipped into the low sixties—positively frigid for Florida.
The breeze swirling through the breezeway cooled and revived her, drying the sweat that had broken out across her forehead but Emily could still feel the heat building inside her. By the time she reached the faculty bathroom, located in the rear of the admin building, she was nearly shaking again. Control…she had to get control!
She fumbled for the knob and let herself in, intensely relieved to see she was all alone. Stumbling to the sink, she turned on the cold tap and splashed her face with freezing water. Gasping in shock at the water’s bite, she reached blindly for a stack of the coarse, brown paper towels and blotted her cheeks and eyes. She tried not to smear what little make-up she had on but her face still looked naked when she studied herself in the mirror.
“Calm,” she whispered, her voice echoing in the tiled room. “Keep it together, Ems. Keep calm.”
Ems was her nickname—an affectionate moniker given by her big sister, Anna.
No, adopted sister, Emily reminded herself. Adopted—not really blood related at all.
The news of her adoption was still new to her—something her parents had decided to tell her over the Christmas break. “Because we’re getting older, dear,” her mother—no, adopted mother, Emily reminded herself—had said. “And you need to know in case you have some kind of health problems down the line.”
“We wanted to wait until you were married and settled down so you’d have a family of your own and it wouldn’t be such a shock,” her father had added. “But, well…”
“We decided that now was as good a time as any,” her mother had finished delicately. But Emily had understood the unspoken message. We wanted to wait until you were married but you’re past thirty and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.
“I’m only thirty-one,” Emily muttered to the mirror. “It could still happen.”
But she knew it wouldn’t. She was never going to get married and have kids of her own. It wasn’t that she was getting too old—that was silly—she knew women in their forties having their first baby. And in fact, she looked much like she had ten years ago in her early twenties. Unfortunately, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
With a sigh, Emily stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her shoulder-length dishwater blonde hair couldn’t be more nondescript if she’d dyed it with a color called Anonymous. And her eyes were a wishy-washy blue-gray-hazel that managed to be all colors and no color at once. Her face was just all right—she had broad, almost Slavic cheekbones, and a wide, too-generous mouth with a small nose. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t model-pretty either and it wasn’t like she had anything else to recommend her. Aside from her limp hair and no-color eyes, she was too short—barely five foot four—and much too round. The loose cotton dress that hid her figure did her no favors but she wasn’t about to go out and buy anything that hugged her curves. She’d tried that once in college and the result had been disastrous.
As a matter of fact, the last time she’d had this trouble with the weird internal heat waves had been back in college, too. Right before—but Emily pushed that thought away hurriedly. It was a memory she preferred to leave buried.
“Should have known I was adopted,” she told her image in the mirror. “Anna and Mom and Dad are all tall and thin and perfect…and I’m the exact opposite.”
Her sister Anna was thirty-three, a size six and a successful attorney. She was married to a heart surgeon who was both handsome and kind and they had just produced a perfectly beautiful set of twins with big blue eyes that Emily adored. She loved her sister too, despite the fact that it seemed like Anna had gone down the “success checklist” of life and checked off every single box in her relentless march to perfection.
“You’ll find a guy, Ems,” her sister had told her, when Emily confessed that the way her parents had revealed her adoption had hurt almost as much as the adoption itself. “You just have to get out there and get over what happened in college. People do go on, you know. There are support groups for—”
“Stop it!” Emily pressed her fingertips to her temples, rubbing fiercely. Damn it—why did everything come back to that? She hadn’t thought of it in ages but lately, since she’d found out that her family wasn’t really her family, it had been coming back. The memories…the flashes of heat…the dreams…
Oh God, the dreams.
Emily closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The dreams were horrible. One in particular…
I wake in the night. I am thirsty. I go to the bathroom and run some water from the sink into my favorite blue mug. As I raise it to my lips, I look in the mirror and see that I am naked. Naked and pale in the moonlight streaming through the window. My belly ripples—ripples like a white pond with some unseen predator just below the surface of the water. And then the pains start—the sharp, blinding agony right behind my naval.
I start to scream and that’s when I see the claws…long, black claws, poking out of me on either side of my belly button. They tear outward and blood gushes in a wave—I am being torn apart. Annihilated. The other is taking over… ripping me open from the inside out…
Emily shuddered and tried to push the nightmarish image away.
“Don’t be stupid.” Her voice echoed again in the tiled room, making her jump, but she went on lecturing herself in the mirror anyway. “Don’t be stupid there’s not really any other. It’s all in your head just like it was in college when—”
But the words died in her throat.
The eyes staring back at her from the bathroom mirror were no longer nothing-colored. Instead they were a pure, clear gold. Not amber or light brown—brilliant, burnished gold. And her hair—it was changing color too. From dishwater blonde it went to Bible black. The change was sudden and complete—as though someone had dumped a bucket of midnight over her head. A stranger stared back at her from the mirror. A stranger…an alien…the other.
Emily gave a soft, breathless scream and backed away from her radically altered reflection. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and dug her fingernails into her palms.
No…nonono…I’m not seeing this. It’s an illusion—a hallucination brought on by stress. I’m fine. I’ll be fine…finefinefinefinefine!
With a low moan, she forced herself to open her eyes.
They were no-color again. And her hair was the same limp, dishwater blonde it had always been, no matter how many products she used to give it body.
“I’m Emily,” she whispered to herself. “Emily Brooks and I’m fine. There is no other. There is no other.”
If only she could make herself believe it.
She backed away, never taking her eyes off the mirror, fearful lest she see herself change again. But the image stayed the same as she fumbled behind her for the doorknob and let herself out.
Emily took a deep, sobbing breath and leaned against the bathroom door, letting the chilly wind dry her tears. Everything was all right. She was fine.
For now.
* * * * *
Rivin Tragar of the Verrak stared at his target through narrowed eyes.
She appeared to be crying.
Why—he had no idea. It wasn’t really his business. His business was to kill her. And that hadbeen his business since he had first agreed to take this contract from the strange Dark Kindred who called himself “Two.”
So why hadn’t he done it yet?
Tragar had no answer to the question.
Well no—that wasn’t exactly true, he corrected himself. He hadn’t killed her yet because he wanted to know what she was capable of. When Two had convinced him to take the contract, he had hinted darkly of a female with hidden depths—a monster buried just below the surface that might burst through her mild exterior and leave a trail of blood and destruction in her path at any moment.
A monster like that was right up Tragar’s alley. He preferred to take targets who were dangerous and could give him a good fight. Even better if innocent lives might be at stake. In fact, when he’d seen that this female—this Emily Brooks—worked with younglings, he’d almost taken her out from a distance at once, even though it wasn’t his usual way. Better to break his personal protocol than risk young, innocent lives.
But he’d delayed—stilling the itchy trigger finger on his sonic rifle for two reasons. The first was he preferred a fair fight. Unlike some of the other Verrak, he didn’t usually take targets at a distance. He took them somewhere safe and secure and let them choose their weapon and fight him face to face—let them die with honor. No matter what heinous crimes they had committed, everyone deserved dignity in death. That was Tragar’s belief, anyway.
The second reason he didn’t shoot was that he saw the way Emily interacted with the younglings. During his first observation one of them had fallen, scraping a chubby knee on the hard walkway that ran between the school buildings. The young one had run crying to Emily, her knee seeping blood, her eyes awash with tears.
Here we go… Tragar’s finger had tightened on the trigger. Surely the sight of blood would bring out the ravening monster Two had sworn lurked in the innocent looking girl’s breast. He was ready to shoot her down the moment she went for the youngling’s throat.
But instead of going feral—becoming a thing of teeth and claws and appetite—the girl he had been sent to kill gathered the youngling into her arms. She dried the little female’s tears and said some words of consolation—too low for Tragar to understand though he had been studying her language for days now.
The little female had quieted, obviously feeling safe and comforted in the arms of Tragar’s target, who still showed no signs of attacking. Gradually, his finger had loosened on the trigger and then he had put down the rifle altogether and just watched.
Gods, it reminded him of Landra…the way she was with Jalex when he hurt himself…
No! Tragar had pushed the memory away. He took a deep breath. I do not allow my past to dictate my present or my future. There is no then. There is only here and now. There is only the target.
It was a Verrak saying—a necessary reminder since most of those in his elite brotherhood came from a background of loss and sorrow. But though he repeated it to himself over and over, he still hadn’t been able to kill Emily Brooks. Not then and not now, ten days later.
He studied her—watching her wipe at her eyes with a hand that trembled. Why was she crying? What had agitated her so? For a moment he imagined holding her against him and asking her what was wrong. It was foolish of course—a fantasy that could never come true. But there was no denying she would be pleasant to hold.
She had a lush body hidden beneath her shapeless garments—he could tell. It was a shame she didn’t wear clothing that showed her shape, but just the outline of her curves was tantalizing. Not that he was supposed to be looking at her that way—she was only another target, after all. Still, those full breasts and rounded hips…
A burning sensation in his left arm brought him back to reality. It was the narsh—the mark of theVerrak—given to him when he first passed the trials and took the oath. Tragar looked down at the thick black lines criss-crossing his muscular arm from shoulder to wrist. The narsh burned to remind him that he had a job outstanding—a commission as yet undone.
Tragar ignored it. He was used to doing so. He almost never took jobs with time limits on them, preferring to take his time and get every detail exactly right.
I just need to know her, he argued with himself. Need to find out what’s so special—what makes her dangerous before I pull the trigger.
And so he watched…and waited. Soon, he would kill her soon.
But not…just…yet.

Chapter Two

“You’re late—where have you been?” Mrs. Peltz’s narrow face was a mask of rigid disapproval.
“I’m so sorry! I…I got sick,” Emily said, grasping for the first explanation she could think of. Really, it was true—seeing herself morph into a stranger in the mirror could certainly be considered an illness, though not of the physical variety.
“Well if you’re that ill maybe you’d better take a sick day.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Emily muttered. “I’m certainly, uh…ill.” For the first time she wondered if she ought to seek medical attention—was it safe for her to be around her class if she was having delusions? But it wasn’t like she was having violent urges or anything. And she’d been through this before, in college and hadn’t hurt anyone. No, you were the one who got hurt, whispered a little voice in her head. You were the one who got—
“Shut up!”
“Excuse me?” Mrs. Peltz’s iron-gray eyebrows were raised nearly to her hairline. “What did you just say to me?”
Oh God, had she said that out loud?
“I’m sorry. I…I thought one of my kids was talking too loud in the library.” Emily gestured at her class who were happily browsing through the easy reader stacks, still assisted by Ms. Andrews who was helping them find books to check out.
“And so you yelled ‘shut up’ at them?” Mrs. Peltz’s eyebrows were in danger of disappearing completely. “Is that how you speak to your class?”
“No, I…” Emily shook her head, realizing that she had just made things much, much worse for herself. “I’m sorry,” she muttered desperately. “I just…I’m just not feeling well.”
“Are you on something?” The librarian’s eyes narrowed. “Some kind of medication?”
“What? No!” Emily snapped, stung into raising her voice. “No, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the way you’re acting, young lady.” Mrs. Peltz frowned at her. “First neglecting your class, then shouting at them? It seems to me that someone ought to know about that.”
“I told you, I’m just feeling sick.” Emily wished she didn’t sound so defensive. “Honestly, Mrs. Peltz, that’s all it is.”
“Well…” The librarian sniffed, her long, boney nose wrinkling as though she smelled something bad. “You’d better get yourself together in a hurry. Ms. Lane’s class is due here any minute and your library time is almost up.”
“Thank you. I’ll get my kids.” Emily nodded her head humbly.
She managed to herd her class into a line at the circulation desk and made sure they all had their library folders so Mrs. Peltz could check them out. As she did, the librarian stared at Emily with thin-lipped disapproval. Emily tried not to show any emotion but inside she was alternately seething and worrying.
How dare the librarian imply that she was on some kind of drugs? And who would she tell if she was feeling suspicious enough—or mean enough—to seek out someone in the upper administration? George Washington Elementary was in a very nice area of Carrollwood—one of Tampa’s upper class neighborhoods. Teachers were held to the highest standards and any kind of personal problems were frowned upon.
It seemed to take forever to get all the kids checked out but finally Emily had them lined up at the library exit door with Avery at the head of the line, looking at her expectantly. She was about to tell him to go when the entrance door opened and Julia Lane walked in with her own class.
“Oh Julie, hi!” Emily was glad to see a friendly face. Julia taught first grade and she was a friendly, open, happy girl with honey blonde hair and big blue eyes. She was also skinny, but Emily didn’t hold that against her.
“Ems!” Julie smiled as her class filed into the library, then frowned as she got a better look at her. “What’s wrong? You’re pale as paper and sweating like crazy!”
“I…I’m fine.” Emily passed a trembling hand over her damp forehead. Damn it, Julie was right—she was sweating. “Just not feeling great right now. It’s uh…that time of the month. You know,” she said, using the same excuse she’d given Mrs. Peltz. Actually she hadn’t had a period in ages—her cycle had stopped around the time the strange heat waves and dreams began. But it was a quick and easy way to explain why she felt bad.
“You poor thing!” Julie squeezed her arm sympathetically. “Maybe you should go home if they can find you a sub. Of course if you do that, you’ll miss meeting Mr. Grayson.”
“Mr. who?” The name sent an ugly shock through Emily’s entire body, making her feel as though someone had just pricked her with a very large, very sharp pin.
“You know—the new vice principal!” Julie lowered her voice. “Oh, and he’s cute too. If Dan and I weren’t engaged…” She winked expressively and Emily managed to manufacture a weak laugh.
“Wow, sounds hot. Guess I’d better stick around.”
“Not if you feel bad. You ought to go.”
“I’ll try,” Emily promised.
“Well, just take care of yourself. Oh—and did you hear the other news? The school’s name change is going through.”
“Really?” Emily tried to act like she cared. But right now, she didn’t give a dman what her school was called, she just wanted to get out of there.
“Uh-huh.” Julie nodded. “No more plain old George Washington Elementary. Effective immediately we’re going to be CFAE—the Center for Academic Excellence. Sounds pretty hoity-toity, huh?”
“Yeah, kind of.” Emily shrugged. Personally, she thought the new name sounded stupid but it was typical of their principal who was always looking for ways to raise the school’s profile.
“I know. I just—” Julie started to say.
“Ms. Lane, Ms. Brooks, are you two going to take charge of your classes or stand here talking all day? We have volunteers here to help out but it is not their job to police your students,” Mrs. Peltz’s sharp voice cut into their conversation.
“Sorry!” Emily got her class, which was getting antsy anyway, moving out the exit door.
“Talk to you later,” Julie said, throwing the librarian an unfriendly look.
“Sure.” Emily nodded a goodbye at her friend, trying not to feel the sharp eyes of the librarian boring into her back.
As she walked back to her classroom with her students in a line behind her, she couldn’t help remembering Julie’s words about the new vice principal. She’d known that GWE was getting one—the old vice principal, Mrs. Adams, had been about a thousand years old and had finally retired much to everyone’s relief. She’d been a crusty old bat with very rigid ideas about discipline and proper behavior. And since the principal, Ms. Edwards, was a social butterfly who preferred to promote the school with fund raising events and exposure in the local media, much of the day-to-day running of the school had been left to her.
When Mrs. Adams had finally stepped down, there had been a lot of speculation as to who would be taking her place. Emily had been as interested as anyone. But the name Grayson…she shivered. It sent a cold chill down her spine.
It’s nothing, she told herself uneasily. Grayson is a really common name. It’s no big deal.
She hoped.
When Emily got her class back to their room, she settled them down by sending them to their favorite centers even though center time wasn’t supposed to be until after lunch. They played more or less quietly in their favorite spots—the sand and water table, the home tasks station, the art area—and she had time to relax and try to regain control.
It’s all right, she told herself over and over again. It’ll pass. It passed in college, didn’t it? Of course, the strange heat waves and dreams hadn’t passed until after what Emily had come to refer to as “the incident.” And she certainly didn’t want to go through that again—not even to stop the bizarre changes that seemed to be happening to her body.
One thing was clear—she couldn’t keep coming to work like this. It wasn’t fair to the children under her care. Reluctantly, she decided to take some personal leave.
I’ll ask for some time off—say that a family member is ill or that my grandmother died or something—anything to get a few days off. Maybe I can go someplace—Grandpa’s cabin up in the Blue Ridge—and clear my head.
It was an appealing thought. It seemed to Emily if she could just get away from the city—maybe go up into the mountains—then the clear, fresh air might help her. Might blow away the frightening dreams and strange fantasies of the other she kept glimpsing in the mirror and leave her free to live her life in peace again.
I’ll do it, she decided and felt immediately better. She didn’t believe she was a danger to her kids or anyone else but she didn’t like to take a chance, even a small one. Today after school was over, she would go straight to the principal’s office, explain that she had a family emergency, and ask Ms. Edwards to find a substitute for her class for the rest of the week. The principal wouldn’t like it but the school wasn’t hurting financially—they could get a sub. Also, Emily had never taken a single sick day in the entire time she’d worked there. They should be willing to work with her now.
Feeling lighter now that her decision was made, Emily went about the rest of her day. The hours seemed to fly by and when the bell rang at 2:15, she was almost feeling herself again. She decided it was still best to ask for some time off, however—the heat waves did seem to come and go and there was no reason to suppose they were suddenly gone for good.
She saw the last of her kids off on their respective busses and then went back to her classroom to get her things, intending to stop by the office on her way out. Just as she was hooking her purse over her arm, however, the intercom over her desk crackled to life.
“Ms. Brooks ? Ms. Brooks , are you there?” It was the bored, nasal voice of Linda, one of the school secretaries.
Emily felt a prickle of unease.
“Yes, I’m here. What is it?” she asked.
“You’re needed in the office. Right away please.”
Emily resisted the urge to ask why she was wanted. Had Mrs. Peltz been to visit the principal’s office already with wild tales of Emily’s strange behavior? Well if so, Emily would just say it was because she was distracted by her family emergency. She didn’t like to lie but she could hardly say she was shaking and sweating because she kept having strange delusions that something weird and “other” was taking over her body.
“I’m on my way,” she said loudly. “Please tell Ms. Edwards I’ll be there soon.”
“Not Ms. Edwards—you’re wanted by the new VP—Mr. Grayson,” Linda informed her. Then the intercom went dead before Emily could ask any more questions and she was left standing there with a strange, sinking feeling in her stomach.

Chapter Three

“I’m here to see the new vice principal?” Emily didn’t like the way her voice came out sounding so high and uncertain but she couldn’t seem to help it. She didn’t like being called to the principal’s office as though she was a misbehaving kid.
“He’s in his office.” Linda didn’t bother looking up from her screen—she was absorbed in a game of Soda Saga.
“Okay. Thanks.” Lifting her head high, Emily walked down the long hallway leading back to the admin offices. The door to Mrs. Adams’ old office was ajar and there was a shiny new plaque on it which read Grayson. Again she felt that cold chill go down her back, skating along her spine like an icy finger but she tried to shake it off.
Don’t be ridiculous, she told herself uneasily. There’s no way it’s him.
A peek inside the room showed that Mrs. Adams’ old battered desk and swivel chair had been replaced with a shiny mahogany writing table and a high-backed deluxe executive’s chair which was currently turned away from the door so Emily couldn’t see who was sitting in it.
She knocked hesitantly at the door.
“Hello? It’s Emily Brooks. You wanted to see me?” As she spoke, she stepped inside the room and moved towards the shiny new table.
“Yes, I did.” The chair swiveled around and Emily stopped moving, frozen in shock.
“Well, Emily, it’s been a long time. A very long time indeed.”
Richard Grayson rose from behind his writing table and took a step towards her, holding out one large, meaty hand. He was still as handsome as he had been in college, back when they’d taken Early Literacy and Reader Development together. He was tall—so tall he seemed to loom over her—and had thick dark blonde hair and blue eyes. All American good looks that hid a much darker side, as she well knew.
Emily took a quick step back.
“Not long enough.” Her voice came out in a shaky whisper. “What…what are you doing here?”
“I thought that would be obvious.” He spread his hands. “I work here now. In fact, I’m your boss. Isn’t life funny?”
Emily wasn’t finding it a bit funny. No, no, no—this can’t be happening…he can’t be here…no, no, NO.
“Why did you call me here?” she demanded. “What do you want?”
“Well, first of all I wanted to make sure it was you.” He gave her a pleasant smile which didn’t fool Emily a bit. She would sooner trust a shark than Richard Grayson. Fool me once and all that.
“It’s me, all right.” She took another step back. “Now what the hell do you want?”
He shook his head and made a tsking noise.
“Is that any way to speak to your new boss?”
“You’re not my boss—Ms. Edwards is.”
“No, our esteemed principal has put me in charge of the teachers at GWE—or should I say CFAE—so she can pursue other avenues of raising the school’s profile. You know, I think she might take a run at the mayor’s office?” He grinned charmingly. “Now wouldn’t that be something? It would certainly put the Center for Academic Excellence on the map! Anyway, I’m here to free her up as much as possible which means I am your boss and you will speak to me with respect.”
His hands on me…holding me down…the horrible searing pain, the feeling of wrongness as he…No!
Emily shook her head, trying to clear the past away. She wanted to turn and run…wanted to shrink into a tiny ball and hope he would just leave her alone. But then something happened—theother inside her came forward giving her courage, lifting her chin and straightening her shoulders.
“Sorry, I don’t respect rapists,” she heard herself say.
The charming smile dropped abruptly off his handsome face.
“All right now, Emily—that’s a very ugly word.”
“And a very true one.” The other was still speaking for her—she didn’t know how but at this point she didn’t care. He took a step towards her but she held up a hand. “That’s far enough—don’t come near me.”
“Now, Emily—be reasonable.” He frowned like a stern father confronting a wayward daughter. “Can’t we just let the past be the past?”
“Not after what you did to me.” Emily glared at him. She felt the heat starting behind her eyes again but this time she welcomed it.
“All right now, we both know I didn’t do anything you weren’t asking for,” he snarled, his fatherly demeanor slipping. “There were twenty other people in the bar that night who saw you coming on tome. You practically dragged me back to my dorm where you ripped off my clothes and pulled me on top of you.”
“I…I…” Emily faltered and she felt the other recede, taking the power and certainty she’d felt just a moment before with it. True. What he was saying was all true.
“Come on now, you know it’s true,” Grayson said, echoing her guilty thoughts. He crossed his arms over his chest, wrinkling the material of his expensive black suit. “I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want sex behaving the way you behaved that night. I just did what you asked me to do.”
“Not completely.” Emily’s voice broke and she had to clear her throat before she went on. “You…you didn’t stop,” she whispered. “Even when I begged you to—you wouldn’t stop.”
“Well you could hardly expect me to—”
But she turned and fumbled blindly for the door, her eyes blurred with tears. God, she had to get out of here—had to get away from this horrible shadow of her past that had somehow come forward to engulf her in darkness.
Had to leave before she went crazy…if she wasn’t already.
* * * * *
Tragar watched as the little female stumbled out of the school and scrambled to get into her vehicle. There were tears in her eyes but he hardened his heart against the sight of her weeping. His fantasies earlier of holding and comforting her had decided him—he was getting too attached to her. This was the day. It was time to stop watching and start acting. He couldn’t observe Emily Brooks forever to find out what was so special about her—the fact was he had agreed to take the job and he had to get it done.
But not at her place of work—not at a place where the younglings might find her. No, he would follow her to her domicile and put her to rest quietly and humanely. It wasn’t his usual way, that was certain, but he didn’t like the way this little female was getting under his skin. The more he watched her, the more interested he became in her and not just as a target.
Better to break his own protocol and finish the job from a distance than to risk getting emotionally involved. That was the cardinal sin of the Verrak –one which could not be excused or forgiven. And somehow, even though he had never spoken to her or touched her, he found he was perilously close to committing that sin. She affected him, though he didn’t know how or why.
“Never going to find out, either,” he growled to himself as he started his own vehicle—a small shuttle which converted easily to look like any of the Earth cars he saw whizzing past him on their concrete roads. He had light refraction tech on the shuttle too, allowing it to become invisible at will but he felt no need to use it now. If anyone saw him they would simply assume he was another Beast Kindred going to the Human/Kindred Relations building.
Tragar watched as Emily pulled out of the parking lot, the wheels of her tiny vehicle shrieking in protest as she swerved wildly to get out onto the street. He was about to follow when a human male ran out to the same lot and got into another, much larger and more expensive looking vehicle. Tragar frowned as he watched the male with dark blonde hair take exactly the same path that Emily had. Was he following her? If so, why?
Was he the one that had put those tears in her eyes?
Unbidden, Tragar felt an angry, possessive growl rise in his throat. He tried to swallow it back down and found he couldn’t. This was ridiculous—the female was nothing but a target. This male might even be going to do his job for him which he ought to welcome. Instead, for some reason he felt rage that the male would dare to hurt her or make her cry. Rage and a deep sense of protectiveness.
Don’t be a fool, he lectured himself uneasily. She’s a target. You’re not here to protect her—you’re here to kill her! But the feelings wouldn’t leave and he couldn’t stop the sense of urgency he felt as he put his vehicle in drive and pulled out, chasing Emily and the blonde human male who was following her.
* * * * *
Emily tried to stop crying but somehow she couldn’t turn off the waterworks. In fact, she could barely see to drive but that didn’t stop her from putting the pedal to the metal as her sister Anna would have said. The only thought in her mind was getting away—getting as far as possible from the dark piece of her past which had somehow shown up on her doorstep like an ugly, evil jack-in-the-box popping up where it was least expected or wanted.
How long had she been pushing the details of that awful night down into her subconscious, burying it like rotten garbage that would begin to stink if she left it lying out in the open?
You should have reported it—should have called the campus police and let them know what had happened to you—let them know what he did.
The voice in her head sounded suspiciously like Anna’s. Her older sister was the only one she’d admitted the rape to—the only one she felt she could trust not to judge her. Then Grayson’s voice came back to her as well.
Come on, Emily, who’s going to believe you? Twenty people saw you coming on to me, practically dragging me back to my dorm room. You wanted it—you were hot for it.
And she had been too—right up until the point where he started trying to fit himself inside her. Then the waves of heat and lust she’d been feeling, the urgent need to have a man inside her, had abruptly departed, leaving only a sense of wrongness so deep it seemed to sear her very soul. It wasn’t guilt either—her parents had been strict but it wasn’t like they preached complete abstinence. Though her mother had hinted delicately that it was better to wait until marriage when she had “the talk” with Emily at age twelve. No, it was something else—something almost biological. A feeling of revulsion and sick depravity had swamped her, making her feel like she’d somehow been tricked into an act of bestiality rather than having sex with a man.
What was it about Grayson that triggered such a strong and horrible reaction inside her? Emily didn’t know but she couldn’t fight it. All she knew was that she had to get away—get out from under him. She had a desperate realization that she couldn’t let this happen—it had to stop now. At that moment she began to struggle beneath him, trying to push him away rather than pull her towards him.
Grayson had had several beers that night—they both had—but Emily had no doubt he knew what he was doing. When she tried to fight, he held her down and when she started to scream and beg, he put a thick, meaty palm over her mouth, pressing down so hard her teeth cut into her lips and she tasted blood.
“Shut up you little cunt.” His breath had been heavy with stale beer fumes. “You want it! You know you want it and I’m going to give it to you…”
Emily cut off the memory then—shoving it away with an almost physical effort of will as she pulled into her own driveway which was screened by a row of large Mexican Breadfruit bushes. She lived in a small one bedroom bungalow at the unfashionable end of Old Carrollwood—the only place she could afford near her school on a teacher’s salary. In fact, she’d just closed on the little house a few months before, which was a shame since it now seemed she was going to have to leave it and get the hell away from George Washington Elementary and everyone in it for the rest of her natural life.
Hell no—we’re not going anywhere, whispered a voice in her brain. GWE is our school—why should we leave it to that raping bastard?
Was it the voice of the other? If so this was the first time she’d spoken up. The other had always been a silent, ominous presence located somewhere in the back of her mind. Now, it seemed, she was coming forward at will and even talking—at least inside Emily’s head.
Emily pulled the key from her ignition and ran a trembling hand through her hair. The fact that the other now had a voice and a personality was even more reason to get the hell out of Dodge as far as she was concerned. But forget her grandfather’s cabin in the mountains—maybe she ought to check herself directly into the local insane asylum.
“Well, wherever I go, I’ve got to get away,” she said aloud in a shaky voice. “Screw getting sick leave—I’ve got to get out of here!” There was no way she could face Richard Grayson again—no way in Hell.
She fumbled open her car door and got out clumsily, wobbling on legs that didn’t want to hold her up. God, was she actually faint now? What was wrong with her? Was it just the stress of confronting the man who had done such a horrible thing to her so many years ago? Or was it theother coming forward, trying to take control of her body? Already she could feel the heat waves burning outward from her center, swamping her in a dizzying rush of emotions too complicated to explain or ignore.
“Please,” she whispered, leaning against the side of her little blue bug and putting a hand over her eyes. “Please, just go away and leave me alone. Please just let me be.”
“Talking to yourself again, Emily?”
The horribly familiar voice made her jump and open her eyes. She felt her stomach sink with a sickening lurch when she saw Grayson striding across the lawn to her.
“You followed me home?” Emily couldn’t keep the tremble out of her voice. “What the hell iswrong with you? Get back or I’ll…I’ll…” She fumbled in her purse, trying to find either her cell phone or the small canister of mace she kept in case of attack. Neither one came to her shaking fingers, however. Instead she grabbed the first pointed thing she could find—which turned out to be a red ball point pen.
“Or you’ll what—give me an F? Write me to death?” The contemptuous laughter in Grayson’s voice was almost too much to bear.
“What do you want? How dare you come to my house?” Emily whispered. She still gripped the pen like a knife even though she felt foolish doing it. It was the only weapon she had and she’d be damned if she let it drop.
“I just wanted to talk—we never finished our conversation.” Grayson sounded completely reasonable but there was a gleam in his light blue eyes that Emily didn’t trust. Not at all.
“Say what you want and get out then,” she said, hearing a touch of the other in her voice again. “I don’t want you at my house—this is an invasion of privacy.”
“No, this is me making a deal—a deal I think you’re going to want to take.” His eyes still gleamed as he took another step forward.
Emily wished desperately that she had any hope of someone seeing what was going on. But the yards were unusually large in Old Carrollwood and most of the houses, hers included, were screened with lush tropical plants which formed natural hedges around the property. It gave a charming, hidden aspect to the houses and it was one reason she’d fallen in love with her little bungalow in the first place.
Now she belatedly realized that the thick foliage also provided great cover for an attack. The Mexican Breadfruit leaves of her own hedge completely hid what was going on in her yard from the street—even her nosiest neighbor, Mrs. Harmon, couldn’t see into her property. Great if she wanted to sunbathe in a bathing suit on her own front lawn—not so good if she wanted help while confronting an attacker.
“What are you talking about? What deal?” she asked warily, still gripping her red ballpoint pen.
“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you but I didn’t just call you to my office for old times’ sake.” He grinned most unpleasantly. “I also had a complaint about you today from one Mrs. Peltz.” He paused delicately and Emily could see how much he was enjoying twisting the knife. “She, ah, seemed to think you were on something earlier today. Said you were sweating and shaking and swearing at your class—”
“What?” Emily exploded, stung by the injustice of his words. “I wasn’t feeling good today and she thought she heard me say ‘shut up’ but that’s hardly swearing.”
“It might as well be. You know how we feel about using such derogatory language.” Grayson shook his head and made that condescending tsking sound with his tongue again. “Such a shame if you had to take a drug test. Even if it came up negative it would tarnish your reputation permanently—maybe even cost you your job.”
“I’m not on any damn drugs and you know it,” Emily spat, the other full force inside her now.
“Well, I believe you but I’m not sure the school board would. Or the parents for that matter if it happened to get out.” Grayson gave her a nasty smile.
“So what’s your deal?” Emily began to see what he was up to here. “You want me to keep my mouth shut about what you did to me and you’ll ignore Mrs. Peltz’s complaint?”
“Not exactly…” He took another step towards her and her fingers tightened on the Bic until she felt the pen’s plastic casing creak in her fist. “I admit that was what I had planned at first but now that I’ve seen you again, I have something else entirely in mind.”
“What?” Emily’s breath felt like it was stuck somewhere in her throat and she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. Yet she was frozen to the spot, unable to run—caught like a small, frightened animal in the headlights as he advanced on her. Where was the other when she needed her?
“It’s just…I’ve never forgotten that night we spent together.” Grayson took another step towards her, his eyes gleaming. “I’ve been with so many women since then but none of them could compare to you, my dear Emily. You were so tight.”
Suddenly the other came rushing forward again at full force.
“That’s because I was a virgin and you raped me you bastard!” Emily heard herself snarl at him. “I asked you to stop—I begged you to stop. But you wouldn’t!”
“Well, as I said, I think we should let the past be the past.” He made a dismissive gesture with one meaty hand as though the horror he’d put her through was nothing. “Right now we need to concentrate on the present. And so I’m willing to offer you a deal—I won’t say a thing about your little drug problem as long as you’re willing to accommodate me once in a while. Shall we say…once or twice a week?”
“Accommodate you?” Emily couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You mean—”
“Fuck me. Well, but I guess I would be doing the fucking.” His smile had turned into a sneer of malicious enjoyment. Clearly he thought he had her in a bad spot and she wouldn’t be able to refuse him. “At least once a week. Starting now.”
He took another step towards her and suddenly he was right in her face, invading her space. Emily raised the red Bic pen intending to stab him but he caught her wrist in his beefy hand and squeezed until the bones creaked. Her fingers went numb and the pen dropped with a harmless clatter to the concrete of her driveway.
“You can cry and beg while we do it if you want.” Grayson leaned forward, pressing his cheek close to hers. “Actually, I think I’d like that,” he breathed.
For a long, nightmarish moment Emily felt as though the past was repeating itself. Here was Grayson, looming over her again, his face like a bloated moon that filled her vision. He had her in an unbreakable grip and his hot breath was gusting in her face. Only this time it smelled like stale coffee instead of stale beer.
And once again he was intent on taking what she desperately didn’t want to give.
“Come on, Emily.” He grinned at her unpleasantly. “I know you don’t want me reporting your drug problem to Ms. Edwards. So how about you invite me in? Unless you’d rather do our little business transaction right here in your charming front yard?”
“You wouldn’t dare,” she whispered, her voice breaking on the last word. “We’re in public. In broad daylight.” Which was actually a bit of an overstatement since it was a gray, overcast day threatening rain. But still.
“I don’t think anyone’s home yet and even if they are, they won’t be able to see us through all the bushes you’ve got around here.” He nodded at the screen of Breadfruit plants. “Come on, Emily—”
Suddenly it was as though someone had lit a bomb inside her—a Molotov cocktail that burst and sprayed rage like fire through her whole body. The other rushed forward again.
“You son of a bitch!” Emily heard herself say, her voice a menacing snarl. “You take your hand off me now or I swear I’ll fucking bite it off!”
“Oh, you’re feeling feisty!” He laughed. “I like it—we can go with that. I don’t mind a struggle.”
“Then I’ll give you one.” With strength she hadn’t known she possessed, Emily tore her wrist from his grip.
“Emily?” He frowned as though he was really seeing her for the first time. “Your eyes—they’reglowing. What the hell?”
Once again she felt the burning behind her eyes—the ripples of heat rushing through her body.The attacker, whispered the voice of the other in her brain. The bad man—he hurt us!
Well he’s not going to hurt us again, Emily told it firmly.
Then she was on him—seizing him like a wild animal that scents its prey. Grayson made a strangled noise of surprise and stumbled backward. The shift in his balance gave Emily the advantage and she lunged forward hard and fast, bearing him to the ground despite their height difference.
He tried to push her away but she was feral—the other taking over completely. Locking her teeth to the side of his throat she bit as hard as she could while scratching long, bloody furrows down the sides of his face. He flailed wildly but he couldn’t buck her off.
“Ow! Get off me, you bitch! What the hell is wrong with you?” Grayson’s howls would have been comical if she could have felt anything but fury. But a red curtain of rage clouded her vision and the hot, coppery blood in her mouth only seemed to fuel her fury.
Kill him! whispered the voice of the other in her head. Kill him now so he can never do it again!
Emily obeyed mindlessly, looking for a better grip on his neck in order to rip his throat out. It didn’t occur to her that the mild-mannered kindergarten teacher she believed herself to be would never do such a thing or even think of doing such a thing. She only knew that she would kill or die before she allowed herself to be taken against her will again. Grayson was a threat so he had to be eliminated.
Now.

Chapter Four

Tragar’s vehicle skidded to a halt in front of the little domicile shielded by the lush tropical vegetation. He’d been held up on a one way street by a slow, elderly driver he couldn’t get around which seemed to be a very common problem here in Emily’s part of Earth. Normally the delay wouldn’t have bothered him but by the time he finally got around the slow driver, he was nearly frantic with worry.
She’s just a target—it doesn’t matter what happens to her, he tried to tell himself. But he didn’t believe the lie for a moment. The knot of tension in his gut just kept growing every time he remembered the tears in her eyes and the way she had rushed away from her school. Not to mention the blond male who had been following her. Who was he, anyway? Tragar had been casing her school for days and had thought he knew all the instructors and support staff. But who was this bastard and why had he affected Emily so deeply?
Could it be another hunter? Another assassin out for her blood? The thought made him even more uneasy. When he had taken the job, the Dark Kindred named Two had said that he might not be the only one hunting Emily. Though Tragar had assured him he could take out one lone female—no matter how dangerous—with ease, he seemed the type to leave nothing to chance.
“I will give you ten solar days from the time you take the contract,” he’d told Tragar, those metal teeth of his gleaming. “No more. After that, others will be dispatched with the same goal as yours—to kill the girl. I mean to see her dead, Verrak, and it must happen soon…”
Tragar tried to push back the disturbing memory. He would deal with other assassins if they came. Right now he had to see to Emily.
When he finally parked his vehicle and made his way quickly but silently up the lawn, staying well hidden in the large leafed plants, he saw what was clearly a bad situation happening right in front of Emily’s front doorway.
The male with the blond hair and pale eyes was advancing on Emily, speaking to her in a low, threatening tone. Tragar’s first instinct was to jump out of the bushes and knock the bastard flat with one punch or maybe even kill him outright with a single shot of his sonic rifle. Terminating people other than the target during an operation wasn’t exactly forbidden by the Verrak but it was certainly strongly frowned upon. In this case, however, Tragar was more than willing to take whatever chastisement might come his way for killing the son of a bitch.
But something stopped him. It was a scent—a scent in the air he’d never smelled before and yet one he instinctively knew. One he would recognize anywhere though he would never have expected to smell it here on Earth, so far away from his home world of Rageron.
What in the Seven Hells?
He had to be wrong—there was no way. It couldn’t be. He sniffed the air and scented it again—was it really coming from Emily?
Hidden by the screen of vegetation, he breathed deeply and watched the scene in front of him unfold.
“It’s just…I’ve never forgotten that night we spent together,” the blond male said, taking a step towards Emily. Tragar could only see him from the side but he didn’t like the look on what he could see of the male’s face. It was greedy and lustful. “I’ve been with so many women since then but none of them could compare to you, my dear Emily.” His eyes gleamed. “You were so tight.”
Tragar felt a low growl rising in his throat but Emily’s reply left him mute.
“That’s because I was a virgin and you raped me you bastard!” she cried, glaring at the blond male. “I asked you to stop—I begged you to stop. But you wouldn’t!”
Every fiber of Tragar’s being howled in protest. Raped her? This fucking scum had dared to take her against her will? If she was what Tragar’s nose told him she was—what her scent proclaimed her to be—there could be no worse crime. To take any unwilling female was shameful and disgusting—the act of a coward who deserved nothing but death. But to take a Khalla—
Things were happening rapidly now. The male had her by the wrist and was squeezing hard. Tragar lifted his rifle to shoot—not to kill—that was too good for this bastard. He just wanted to wound him and he would finish the job later. Slowly. But then something else happened—something that confirmed his suspicions.
Emily ripped her wrist from the male’s grip and her eyes began to glow. They changed from the no-color blue they had been to a pure, fiery gold. Her hair changed color too—going from brownish-blonde to thick, glossy black. And then she pounced.
Seven Hells! Tragar rushed forward but he wasn’t sure what to do. On one hand, it was her right to exact justice for the wrong which had been done her. Taking the maidenhood of a Khalla against her will was a sin punishable by torture and the most painful and prolonged death possible. But if he allowed her to kill this slimy male it would surely throw her body into complete Tenrah and shortly after that, the breeding heat would be upon her. At that point it would be either breed or die. He couldn’t allow that to happen.
“Stop!” Grabbing her by the back of her garment, he pulled her off the male as carefully as he could. He didn’t give a damn if it hurt her rapist but he didn’t want to damage her.
At first she fought him, trying to reach the male who had scrambled away, holding a hand to his bleeding throat and moaning.
“Emily!” Tragar took her by the shoulders and shook her as gently as he could but she kept struggling. He wished he knew her Kit’tara’s name—that would have gotten her attention—but the name of a Khalla’s hidden or second self was a secret known only to herself. He put his face into hers and tried to catch her eyes. “Emily,” he demanded. “Emily Brooks, see me!”
Finally she focused on him. Her eyes were still fiery gold and her ripe scent filled the air. When she spoke, her voice had a strange double echo.
“Who…who are you?” The golden eyes reflected his image back to him—tall and dark and menacing. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“Relax,” Tragar rumbled, trying to sound reassuring. Apparently he failed.
“Let me go!” She began to struggle again and this time her pure gold eyes were filled not with fury but with fear. “Let me go, I won’t let you!” She glanced at the blond male who was still moaning and nursing his wounds. “I won’t let you do it! I won’t go through it again—I won’t!”
Tragar felt his heart fist in his chest. Gods, she thought he was a rapist, no better than the bastard that had ripped her maidenhood from her and taken her against her will!
“I’m not what you think,” he said more roughly than he intended. “I didn’t come to rape you, Emily. I was sent here to kill you.”
* * * * *
“Kill me?” For some reason his words calmed her down. Death was better than enduring what Grayson had done to her again. Anything was better than that horrible violation and the feeling of wrongness that accompanied it.
“Yes.” The huge, dark man shook her slightly and looked intently into her eyes. “I’m a paid assassin—one of the Verrak. I was hired to hunt you down and take your life.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Emily lifted her chin, glaring at him. She didn’t know where she got the courage—maybe it was the other who seemed to be taking over more and more.
Her words seemed to have a bad effect on the huge man who was holding her. His eyes glowed with anger and Emily couldn’t help noticing they were the same molten gold she saw herself when she looked in the mirror while the other was coming forward.
“You don’t mean that,” he said roughly. “The life of a Khalla is immeasurably precious.”
Emily had no idea what a “Khalla” was and she didn’t care.
“Why shouldn’t I mean it?” she threw back at him. “Why should I care if you kill me? I’m going crazy anyway. I keep seeing flashes in the mirror—my eyes are changing, my hair is changing—and now apparently I’m turning into some kind of feral wolf girl who gnaws her attacker’s throat.” She cast a glance at Grayson, who was curled up on his side whimpering. Had she really done that? And how in the hell was she going to explain it?
“You’re not crazy, you’re simply going through your Tenrah,” the huge man said patiently. But was he a man? The more Emily looked at him, the more she thought he might be something else—something more than human. He made Richard Grayson, who had seemed so big and scary when he was menacing her, look like a scared little worm.
A Kindred, she thought, taking in his golden eyes and the long, black hair that flowed over his broad shoulders. One of the Beast Kindred—he has to be. He had high cheekbones, a straight nose and a neatly clipped mustache and goatee that framed a strong mouth and sensual lips. The result was a face that was both striking and intensely masculine.
“You’re not crazy,” he repeated, looking at her intently.
“Not crazy, huh?” Emily gave a sobbing little laugh that hurt her throat coming out. “Tell that to Grayson over there.”
“Yes—this male—the one you call Grayson…” He frowned, his face like a thundercloud. “It is time to attend to him.”
He let her go and went over to Grayson who he grabbed by the back of his collar, hauling him into the air as easily as though he was lifting a bag of trash.
Grayson gave a moan of protest and struggled in the huge Kindred’s grip.
“Be still you fucking slime,” the Kindred snarled shaking Grayson so hard his teeth clicked together. “I know what you are and I know what you did—you deserve death many times over.” He looked at Emily. “How shall I dispose of him, Khalla?”
“My name is Emily, not Khalla,” she protested, crossing her arms nervously over her chest. “And what do you mean ‘dispose’ of him?”
“I mean kill him, of course.” He looked surprised that he even had to explain to her. “He deserves death for wounding you so grievously and while I cannot allow you to kill him yourself, I will be more than happy to kill him for you. In fact, it will be my very great pleasure.” He glared at Grayson, his golden eyes fierce with anger.
“Hey, now wait a minute—” Grayson began to protest but the Kindred shook him again.
“Silence, dhag and let your betters speak.”
Emily didn’t know what a dhag was anymore than she knew what Khalla or a Tenrah or any of the other strange, foreign words the Kindred was spouting meant. But she could tell by looking into his eyes that he meant business.
“You’d really kill him?” she asked him.
He nodded shortly. “In any way you see fit. I have a sonic rifle for a quick kill but that wouldn’t be my pick.”
“It…it wouldn’t?” Emily couldn’t stop staring at him.
He shook his head.
“For what he has done, a quick death is too merciful. I also do excellent knife work.” A long, curving silver blade suddenly appeared in one large hand. “But we would need a private location or something to gag him with.”
“A gag? You’re asking me if I have a gag?”
The Kindred nodded and looked speculatively at Grayson who was still hanging from his fist, in his rumpled and bloodied suit.
“There is apt to be a lot of screaming. Would you like to watch me skin him? Or perhaps carve his organs out one by one while he still lives? I can save the heart for last and be certain he feels intense pain to the very end.”
“Oh my God,” Emily whispered faintly. “You…you’re serious, aren’t you?”
Grayson seemed to have come to the same conclusion.
“Please!” He wriggled like a hooked fish in the immense Kindred’s grip. “Please don’t—don’t let him, Emily. I never would have hurt you—I was just playing a joke.”
Emily glared at him. “Some joke. Following me to my house to…to…” But she found she couldn’t get the words out with the big Kindred standing right there. “It was no joke,” she finished angrily.
“Tell me how to kill him—what end would best meet your thirst for vengeance?” the huge Kindred rumbled, looking down at her. “Tell me Khalla and it shall be done.”
For a moment Emily was severely tempted. How many times had she fantasized about a moment like this when she was trying to heal from Grayson’s attack? Well, not a moment exactly like this, she acknowledged to herself. She’d never in her wildest dreams imagined a huge avenging Kindred coming to her rescue and offering to carve up Grayson’s liver and save his heart for last. But still—she’d wished her rapist dead more times than she could count. And yet, now when it came down to it, she found she couldn’t do it. Couldn’t kill him or have him killed in cold blood.
A moment ago when the other had taken over she could have done it easily—could have ripped out his throat and bathed in the fountain of crimson that pulsed from the ragged hole in his neck. But now that she was herself again and sanity had reasserted itself, a thousand questions came crowding into her mind.
If they killed Grayson, where could they hide the body? Even if they could find a good place, she was certain the death would eventually come back to haunt her—both literally and figuratively. And how could she explain it when they found his corpse in a shallow grave and some hair or fiber evidence or the DNA she’d left when she bit and scratched him tied her to the case?
Yes officer, he raped me back in college and I figured revenge was a dish best served cold…no, there’s no record of the attack…no I never reported it… Right. She doubted the police would buy it.
And then there was the fact that Mrs. Peltz had accused her of being on drugs. Emily could just imagine the story the prosecution would spin…a teacher high on some kind of mind altering substance…a brutal murder…a botched cover up…
They’ll put me under the jail, she thought dismally. Or else lock me in some mental health facility with padded walls. I’ll never see the light of day again.
No, she regretfully acknowledged to herself, it wasn’t worth it. As much as she wanted to see Grayson dead for what he’d done to her, losing the rest of her life for revenge didn’t make sense.
“Let him go,” she told the big Kindred who was standing motionless, waiting to hear her decision. He was holding Grayson aloft as though it was nothing to hold a two hundred and fifty pound weight over his head with one hand. “Just…let him go.”
“After what he did?” The golden eyes widened and then narrowed. “No—there must be retribution.”
“If you punish him, the police are going to punish me,” Emily told him shortly. “So let him go.”
“At least let me cripple him.” His voice was a low, menacing growl. “I can break his spine with ease. He’ll never walk again.”
“No.” Suddenly Emily was tired of the whole mess. “No let him go and you go too.” She lifted her chin. “Unless you’re still planning to kill me?”
The Kindred didn’t give her an answer. Instead he simply glared and shook his head. Then he left her front yard, still holding Grayson by the scruff of his neck. The Mexican Breadfruit bushes rustled with his passing.
Suddenly all the strength seemed to run out of her legs and Emily sank down on the first step of her front porch. She took the corner of her skirt and wiped at her chin where Grayson’s blood was drying, then spat in the grass until she got the coppery taste out of her mouth.
“What a weird, awful day,” she whispered to herself and put her arms around her knees. She wanted to go inside and fix a cup of hot tea and then call Anna and pour out the whole crazy mess. Her older sister was the only person she could think of who might even come close to grasping the bizarre details of what she’d just gone through.
Dimly, through the bushes, Emily heard the big Kindred’s deep, growling voice interspersed with Grayson’s whiney begging and crying and a few muffled shrieks. Then a door slammed and a motor gunned into life.
That’s it—they’re done and now he’s coming for me. She knew she ought to get up and run into the house—call 911 and beg them to send a squad car to protect her. She thought of the long silver knife in the Kindred’s big hand and shivered. And yet, somehow she couldn’t make herself move. She was too bone weary—worn out both emotionally and physically.
Let the big Kindred come for her—she didn’t care anymore. No doubt Richard Grayson was on his cell phone right now spreading lies about her to the principal, Ms. Edwards and anyone else who would listen. Her career was over and her life was in ruins—not to mention she was still clearly going crazy. Nothing mattered.
She rested her head on her arms and waited for the inevitable.

Chapter Five

The Kindred came back into view soon enough, moving as silently as a jungle cat through the dense bushes that screened her house. With his golden eyes and long, wild black hair he reminded Emily of a panther. She shivered as she watched him come, her determination not to care about her fate slipping just a little. What if he wanted to kill her the way he’d offered to kill Grayson? What if he decided to gut her like a trout?
Suddenly she wanted desperately to jump up and run inside the house but before she could even get up, he was standing right in front of her. To her surprise, he held out a hand to help her up.
Hesitantly she reached for it but the moment their hands touched, a strange shiver of sensation ran through her. It was like the waves of heat that had been consuming her lately but different…more intense.
“God!” Emily gasped as her nipples hardened into tight points and the place between her legs went suddenly liquid with desire. What the hell? She snatched her hand back in fright and huddled into herself. “What…what did you do to me?” She looked up at the big Kindred mistrustfully.
“Nothing.” He frowned, his hand still outstretched. “I simply wished to assist you.”
“Assist me to what? To feel…to feel…” But Emily had no name for the strange rush of emotions and sensations that simple touch had made her feel. She’d had no sexual desires at all since the rape back in college. None since that fateful night when the other and the strange heat waves had pushed her relentlessly to find a man…and then deserted her when she finally had found one. Emily had believed that part of her was dead—buried by the trauma of the rape. And now, years later, to have such a strong wave of desire rush over her so suddenly for no apparent reason…
No, there is a reason, she told herself, looking up at the Kindred. He’s the reason. But how the hell did he do that? And why?
“Khalla?” He was still looking at her expectantly, clearly puzzled by her reaction. So whatever he’d done, he hadn’t done it on purpose. Had he?
“I told you, that’s not my name.” Emily kept her distance from his still outstretched hand.
“Forgive me, Emily.” He bowed to her in an oddly formal way. “I am Rivin Tragar of the Verrakbut you may know me simply as Tragar. I had forgotten you don’t have any knowledge of me, though I have been watching you for days.”
“You have?” She felt even more uneasy.
“Of course,” he said patiently. “I told you, you have been targeted for termination. I was sent to kill you.”
This again.
“Great.” She began to edge away from him, wondering if she could possibly hop up and somehow get inside the house before he could grab her. But her purse was somewhere on the grass out by her car. How could she—?
“I am not going to kill you now, of course.”
“You’re not?” Emily stopped her edging and looked at him uncertainly. Was he lying to throw her off her guard?
“Of course not. That would be tantamount to defiling a precious piece of art—desecrating a treasure of incalculable worth,” he said gravely. “A Khalla must be protected at all costs, which is why I must ask you to come with me.”
“Ask me to what?” Emily began scooting again in a hurry. “Come with you where?”
“Back to my ship. First I must endeavor to get the contract I was given to kill you revoked. Then we must be certain that no one else is attempting to assassinate you. Once I am sure of your safety, I’ll take you back to Rageron.”
“Rageron? You mean the Kindred home world?”
“It is one of them.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “I assume you don’t wish to stay here while going through your Tenrah. You need to go back home where there are suitable males to choose from.”
“Back home? You mean you think that Rageron is my home?” Emily shook her head, not understanding him.
“Of course.” He frowned. “You are clearly Khalla—your scent proclaims it as do the changes in your eyes and hair when your Kit’tara comes forward.”
“Wait a minute—you know about that?” Emily sat up straighter and stared at him. “You know about my eyes? And the…what did you call it? The thing coming forward?”
“The Kit’tara—your secret or second self.” He frowned. “Do you truly not know about these things? How can you be so ignorant of your rightful heritage?”
“I don’t have any ‘heritage’,” Emily protested. “Other than being a Floridian. I was born right here in Tampa at Saint Joe’s hospital.”
“Impossible,” he said flatly. “The Kindred haven’t been on this planet long enough for you to have been born here.”
“But I’m not Kindred,” Emily said, exasperated. “You have me confused with someone else.”
He looked at her, his golden eyes narrowed.
“I could not confuse your sweet scent with another’s in a thousand years, Emily. You are Khalla—there is no denying it. As a male of the Beast Kindred I am sworn to protect you to the last breath in my body and the last drop of my blood.”
“Well thanks. That’s, uh, really nice.” She was edging away again, eyeing him mistrustfully. “Maybe we could talk about it later? It’s been a long day and I could really use some alone time right about now if you don’t mind. I mean not to be rude but—”
He blew out an exasperated breath.
“Have you not heard a word I said to you? Someone wants you dead. And the male who put the contract on you all but promised me I wasn’t the only assassin assigned to target you. Every minute you’re out here alone in this unprotected place you’re in danger.”
“I’m not unprotected—I have an alarm system,” Emily protested.
“The one with the code numbers 7-17-27?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Hey!” Emily put her arms around herself and shivered. “That’s private!”
“Yet it was one of the first things I found out about you when I started my surveillance.” The big Kindred crossed his arms over his broad, muscular chest and frowned at her. “I could have come into your domicile any night and killed you as you slept.”
“Ugh!” Emily shuddered involuntarily. “What a horrible thing to say! And you wonder why I don’t want to go anywhere with you?”
“I’m simply stating the facts. I’m a very good assassin—I haven’t missed a target yet. But it wouldn’t take a member of the Verrak to take you out. Any fool with a sonic rifle and a scope could do it.” He motioned to her front lawn. “Look how your sight lines are blocked by vegetation—foolish! The locks on your doors are easily pickable and even if they were not, the doors themselves are made of such flimsy material they could be forced with very little effort.”
“Oh my God.” Emily leaned away from him. “You really have been studying me. Watching me…waiting for the right opportunity to…to…” But she couldn’t finish the thought.
“As I told you—I was hired to kill you.”
He shrugged, his massive shoulders rolling with the gesture. He was wearing a black leather vest which left his arms free. On the right one was an intricate tattoo of black cross hatched lines that ran from shoulder to wrist. For a moment it almost seemed to pulse—the lines wriggling along his tan skin.
“Even now the narsh calls to me, reminding me that I have given my word to kill you,” he said, nodding at the tattoo she was studying. “But I will not answer its call. Though I have turned my back on everything else I ever believed, I cannot violate my most basic instincts—you are a Khalla in danger here and you must be protected.”
“I don’t know you—I never met you until fifteen minutes ago!” Emily was up on her feet now, backing away. “How do I know you’re not just making up some kind of story to get me to come with you? I mean, maybe you’re some kind of…of Kindred serial killer and you just want to take me back to your ship and go all Silence of the Lambs on me. Maybe you want to wear my skin and eat my liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti!”
He frowned and looked down at his large black boots. He appeared to consider for a while before answering. At last he looked up.
“I can see why my words would seem suspect to you. If you truly believe yourself to be human and you have no knowledge of your true birthright, everything I have told you would sound like an elaborate lie to lure you away to your death.”
“Damn right, that’s exactly how it sounds!” Emily said in a shaking voice. “So just stay away from me!”
“Emily…Khalla…” He took a step towards her and she backed up some more.
“I said stay away! I’m not who you think I am—you have me confused with someone else.”
Still he kept advancing, as silent and as menacing as a panther that had somehow escaped its cage to go wandering around a residential area.
Emily looked around wildly, trying to find a way out of this situation. Maybe she could get around to the back door where she kept a key under a fake rock…
“That’s him, officer! That’s the man I saw coming up here!” The high, quavering voice of Mrs. Harmon, Emily’s nosy next door neighbor, suddenly split the tense silence between them.
Oh, thank God!
Emily looked up with relief to see two police officers, guns drawn, advancing up her driveway. Behind them, wearing a pink flowered muumuu was Mrs. Harmon. Her gray hair was already up in curlers for the night even though it wasn’t yet five o’clock.
Emily thought she had never been so glad to see her nosy neighbor in her life. When she’d first moved in, Mrs. Harmon had made her life semi-miserable coming over constantly with pies and casseroles and invitations to join this book club and that bridge club and every other intrusive thing under the sun. Now Emily swore to herself that she’d join anything her neighbor asked her to, no matter how irritating it seemed.
Of course Mrs. Harmon was a little late—it would have been nice to have help while Grayson was menacing her. But his blond American good looks and expensive suit probably hadn’t pinged her elderly neighbor’s radar nearly as hard as the big Kindred’s long hair, tattoos, and leather vest. Not to mention his sheer size and his brilliant golden eyes.
That’s him—that’s him,” Mrs. Harmon exclaimed again, pointing at the Kindred who’d said his name was Tragar. “Get him, officers!”
“Just stand back, Ma’am,” one of the policemen said to Mrs. Harmon. “We can handle it from here.”
“You’d better handle it! I told you what I saw him do to that other man’s hand! And poor Emily is all alone here since she still doesn’t have a husband.”
Emily felt a little of her goodwill and gratitude slipping. She tried to remind herself that her neighbor came from a generation that believed getting married and having kids was every woman’s sole purpose in life but it was still irritating to hear the tone of pity in Mrs. Harmon’s voice—as though being single was some kind of disease Emily was afflicted with.
“Ma’am,” the officer said, this time speaking to Emily. “Are you all right? Is this individual harming or threatening you in any way?”
“I—” Emily began but she didn’t know what to say. Both the policemen and the big Kindred were staring at her, waiting. “He…said he was sent here to kill me,” she said at last. “But then he said he wouldn’t,” she continued quickly as Mrs. Harmon sucked in a gasp of dismay. “Because I’m, uh, special somehow. Some kind of something that needs to be protected.”
“Sir, I think you’d better come with us,” the second officer said to Tragar.
The big Kindred shook his head, not even looking at the police. His eyes were locked on Emily’s, giving her the uncomfortable sensation that he could somehow see through her.
“Khalla,” he said softly in that deep, rumbling voice of his. “You are making a mistake. You’re not safe here.”
“I—” But before Emily could say anything else he simply melted into the bushes at the edge of her lawn and disappeared.
“What the hell! Stop—that’s an order!” the first policeman yelled, running for the Breadfruit bushes.
“Did you see where he went?” The second officer went running into the bushes too, gun ready.
But though the two of them searched the bushes with increasing urgency and anger, they couldn’t find even a trace of the huge, golden-eyed Kindred.
He was simply gone.
* * * * *
Tragar moved his vehicle a few blocks down and parked on the other side of the street. Then he enabled the light refracting tech and sat there, invisible for all intents and purposes, to watch the peace keeping officers search for him.
Emily was still outside too—he caught a glimpse of her through the large gaps the officers had made in the vegetation while searching for him. She was standing there—as much a target as ever—talking to her elderly neighbor. The same female who apparently hadn’t been a bit worried when that bastard of a rapist had come upon Emily by herself and unarmed but had decided the law must be called when a male like himself came on the scene. They seemed to be talking and Tragar could imagine what they were saying—Emily was probably confiding the whole, frightening story to the older female who was no doubt consoling her.
He cursed himself for a fool as he watched. Why had he told her he was there to kill her—that she was a target for termination? And why had he revealed that he knew all the particulars of her flimsy security system? At the time, he’d been simply trying to convince her she wasn’t safe and needed to come with him. In retrospect, he could see how his words would come across as menacing and ominous.
I actually told her I could have come into her domicile and killed her at any time I wanted. Gods, what’s wrong with me? She’s probably frightened to death of me and rightfully so.
It had to be her scent affecting his mind to make him act so stupid. Gods, he’d never smelled aKhalla in heat before but his old instructor, Xen’dex, had told him he would never be able to mistake it if he did. And he had been completely right—Emily smelled like a warm, ripe fruit, ready to be plucked.
Tragar wondered how long she’d been in Tenrah. Such a state was very dangerous but he was more concerned with the fact that someone else might be targeting her now. His ten solar days were officially up and the narsh on his arm was burning. There might not be a formal time limit set in his contract but Emily’s time was clearly running out.
Another thing bothered him too. He’d told her they would try to get the contract on her life revoked but he knew such things were not done—not in the Verrak. Once a contract was taken, itmust be finished—either with the death of the target or the death of the assassin who had failed to kill said target. For years Tragar had courted death—hoping in his secret heart that each new target would be the one who was able to kill him. But now he felt differently—he had a purpose again, other than seeking death. A Khalla must be protected, no matter what the cost.
That cost is apt to be very high, you know, whispered a little voice in his brain. Up to and including your life.
Tragar shook his head, pushing the thought away. He would deal with the contract and his violation of it when the time came. For right now, he simply wanted to keep her safe. Unfortunately she had hidden herself away in her flimsy dwelling, preferring the illusion of security to the harsh reality that she was in danger.
He wondered if there was any way to get to her before it was too late.

Chapter Six

Emily settled down for the night and pulled the covers all the way up to her chin. For the hundredth time she wished she’s taken her big sister Anna’s offer to stay at her place tonight. Actually, it hadn’t been so much an offer as an order.
“You’re coming here tonight and that’s settled!” Anna had insisted when Emily had spilled out the whole messy story on the phone—after she’d finally gotten rid of Mrs. Harmon, that was, which had taken forever.
“I don’t know,” Emily had hedged.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You just told me that not one but two men tried to attack you today! And one of them is Richard Grayson, that son of a bitch! You need to come over herenow!”
Emily had shifted uncomfortably, glad her older sister couldn’t see her. She hadn’t been completely honest about what had happened, especially when it came to Grayson. After all, how could she explain that she’d gone feral and nearly ripped his throat out? She’d never told Anna about theother inside her—had never told anyone. In her version of events, the Kindred warrior had come just in time and broken up the encounter. Which he had, but not before she’d bitten a chunk out of Grayson’s neck.
Speaking of Grayson, where was he now? Since she had yet to get a call from the police or a lawyer saying they were filing charges, she had reason to hope that he would leave the matter well enough alone. But you never could tell…
“You need to come stay with me,” Anna had said again. “You know you can always have the guest room.”
Right—the one right beside the nursery? I don’t think so, Emily thought. If she really was in danger, she didn’t want to bring that danger into her beloved sister’s house, especially if it might affect her new little niece and nephew. That was the main reason she’d decided to stay put in her own place. The place where that huge Kindred knows your alarm code, a snarky little voice in the back of her brain reminded her. But Emily had pushed it to the side.
“I’ll be fine,” she’d told her sister. “The police have left a squad car right outside in my driveway and there’s going to be an officer watching all night long. Nobody’s getting anywhere near me.” She hoped, anyway.
“Well…all right.” Anna had sounded really unhappy about it but Emily could also hear the fatigue in her voice. The twins had been keeping her up all night, giving her precious little sleep. The last thing she needed was to worry about her sister. After a few more exchanges, Emily had finally gotten off the phone and had gone to do her usual night time routine.
She had thought that her nightly bubble bath and a glass of white wine would help her relax but she’d been looking over her shoulder the entire time she was in the tub and jumping at the least little thing. Every sound made her wonder if Grayson or the huge Kindred warrior was coming in the back door, every whisper of a tree branch against the windows sounded like someone slitting the screen with a long silver knife to get to her.
It’s no wonder I can’t relax, Emily told herself, as she lay there rigid in her bed. After the day I’ve had and having to see Grayson again after all these years…But though confronting her rapist was extremely distressing, it was the things the big Kindred had said to her which kept coming back to haunt her.
“Khalla” that’s what he called me. What does that mean? And why should it make me so precious—someone to protect rather than kill? Unless he really did want to kill her after all and was just trying to trick her into coming with him.
But then, how had he known about her eyes? And about the other inside her? Why had he thought she was from Rageron instead of Earth? Most of all, why had touching him affected her so strangely? She could still feel the tingle of his hand on hers, could still remember the way her body had reacted so strongly to that simple touch—how he had awakened a part of her she’d thought was dead and buried.
Emily sighed and turned over. There were a lot of questions she was probably never going to get the answers to. At least, if she was lucky. Because she certainly didn’t want the big Kindred coming after her again.
She had almost fallen asleep completely when she heard a soft, high-pitched whining sound right outside her bedroom window.
“What in the world?” She sat up at once, heart pounding as the sound came again. What was it? It sounded for all the world like a lost puppy but could it be some kind of a trick?
Sliding out of bed, she dropped to all fours and crawled across the darkened floor to the bedroom window, where she twitched the shade to one side so she could see out. She felt ridiculous acting like a character in a spy movie but she didn’t want to take any chances.
The window opened onto her small back yard which was currently bathed in shadows. At first she couldn’t see anything but then the soft, pitiful whining came again and she thought she saw the glint of moonlight off a pair of big, sad eyes. Was there a puppy out there? And was it hurt? It certainlysounded hurt.
Emily knew she shouldn’t let herself be affected but she couldn’t help it—the noise tore at her heart. She was a confirmed dog lover herself and her ancient Lab, Chewy, had just died a few months back. Emily had owned him for years and it had hurt her dreadfully to lose him. Still, in the back of her mind she had known she would eventually get another dog. Probably not a puppy—they were a lot of work. She’d been intending to go to the shelter when she was ready and find a young rescue dog that needed a home and some love.
The whining sounded again and Emily sighed. Okay, maybe a puppy was in the cards after all. Chewy had come to her the same way—showing up in her yard with scruffy, matted fur and a huge laceration along one side that left a scar. It looked like some asshole had simply tossed the dog out of a moving car and left him on the side of the road to die. Emily had taken him to the vet and cleaned him up and they had been inseparable after that. Maybe fate was taking a hand again—sending her a new puppy to care for to make up for the generally all around crappy day she’d had.
Emily hoped so anyway.
As she went around to the back door, she heard the Kindred’s voice in her head again. “Have you not heard a word I said to you? Someone wants you dead. Every minute you’re out here alone in this unprotected place you’re in danger.”
But I’m not unprotected—there’s a policeman right outside in my driveway! That nice Officer Lawry. He’d introduced himself personally and Emily had made him a cup of coffee to keep off the chill of the cold night. He was out there right now, sitting in his squad car making sure no one and nothing could hurt her.
Still, the big Kindred’s words gave her pause. Danger, whispered a voice in her head—the voice of the other.
Leave me alone, Emily told it. I’m fine—I’ll be fine if you’ll just go away and leave me alone!
Danger! insisted the other again.
Emily hesitated with her hand on the door knob but then the whining sounded again. This time it was closer and there was definitely a note of pain in it. She couldn’t help seeing a puppy in her mind’s eye—a soft little bundle of fur maybe with cuts and bruises like Chewy had had or maybe even with a broken paw…people were so cruel to animals. He might have been thrown from a car or just left to die. She couldn’t ignore that kind of pain—she couldn’t.
Pushing the other’s warning to the back of her mind, she opened the door just a crack and peered out into the dark, chilly night.
“Here, boy,” she called softly, shivering as a gust of cold air whirled around her bare ankles. Wrapping her robe more closely around her, she stared hard into the shadows that filled her back yard, looking for where the sound was coming from.
Under the robe she had on a short, silky nighty that was pale blue with a lace hem. Also, another gust of cold air reminded her she was barefoot. She wished she would have taken the time to put on her fuzzy slippers and was just about to go get them but just then the whining sounded again, this time from her right. Well, it was too late now—she’d just have to get cold feet.
“Here, boy. Come here, it’s all right now—it’s all right…” Emily risked stepping outside her door. The whining stopped for a moment and then intensified. Once again she thought she saw the gleam of eyes in the darkness. She had the definite feeling that the puppy wanted to come to her but it was afraid.
“It’s okay, little guy,” she whispered soothingly walking out into the dark yard. The grass was damp and cold under her feet and a chilly breeze was sliding through the leaves, making an eerie whispering sound. Emily barely heard it. She was completely focused on finding the puppy now—not thinking at all of any kind of danger that might be waiting.
In her mind’s eye she could see it—a fuzzy, matted little bundle of fur with big brown eyes and a long, taffy-pink tongue. She still had a can of Chewy’s favorite soft food in the cupboard. She would coax the puppy inside and warm the little guy up and feed him. She might have to try and give him a bath if he was really dirty or hurt but—
She stopped—her thoughts going blank. Her half frozen toes had brushed against something slippery and warm.
What in the world…?
Emily looked down and the moon, which had been hiding behind a cloud, chose that moment to appear. A scream rose in her throat as she saw what she’d stepped on. Or maybe stepped in would be a better way to describe it, whispered a hysterical little voice in her head.
Lying on the ground, face up and half hidden in the too-long grass she should have had cut ages ago, was Officer Lawry. It was his eyes Emily had seen glinting in the darkness—they were wide open and staring sightlessly into the night sky. And it was his blood she’d stepped in. Looking more closely, she saw in horror that there was a huge, jagged wound in his throat—a gaping hole where his windpipe should have been. Someone or something had ripped his throat out and Emily had just stepped in what remained of it.
The scream that was building in her throat suddenly burst out, shrill and breathless and not nearly as loud as she’d thought it would be. At the same time the whining sounded again but this time it was different. It started out in a high, pitiful tone and then slid down into a much lower, more ominous register. Soon it had become a growl.
Danger—I told you—danger! The other was suddenly back.
Yeah, right. Not that you’re being very helpful, just saying “I told you so” Emily thought at it wildly. Thanks a lot! Why don’t you just—
Her thoughts were cut off abruptly by what she saw.
Out of the shadows of the tropical plants surrounding her yard stepped a beast.
Emily didn’t need the other to tell her she was in trouble. She wanted to run but she felt frozen to the spot.
Still growling, the thing came towards her. It was clearly an animal but like none she had ever seen before. It had silver skin for one thing and glowing red eyes which were completely focused on her. She would have thought it was some kind of robot but it moved so smoothly, so naturally…it seemed hard to believe anything mechanical could move like that.
It most reminded her of a Doberman Pincer but it was huge—Emily had never seen anything like it. There was a dark stain on its silver muzzle that let her know what had happened to poor Officer Lawry.
“Please,” she whispered, trying to back away slowly. “Please, just stay back, stay away…”
For a moment she thought she saw its eyes grow even brighter—a deep, ominous crimson that illuminated its bloody muzzle and snarling, silver teeth. Then it crouched and sprang, leaping at her with deadly intent.
Emily gasped and tried to scramble backwards but there was no way she was going to make it—the huge silver beast was unnaturally fast. It was going to kill her—going to rip out her throat just as it had done to Officer Lawry. It—
There was a sudden, deafening blast of noise beside her and the silver beast was knocked off course. It jerked to the side with a startled whine and collapsed on the grass in a twisted heap beside the body of the fallen policeman.
Emily gave a squeak of surprise and stared uncomprehending at the crumpled beast at her feet. It was as though a huge fist had simply punched it out of the air. Even as she watched the red light behind its eyes was dying. It gave a soft, final whimper—the puppy sound it had used to lure her out into the yard—and then stopped moving.
“Oh my God,” Emily whispered. All the strength seemed to have run out of her legs and she felt like she was going to fall. She started to sag to the cold grass but suddenly a large, warm hand gripped her arm, pulling her upright.
“I told you it wasn’t safe here,” a deep, rumbling voice said in her ear.
Emily turned her head and saw the huge Kindred warrior standing there. What had he said he name was? Telgar? Tragar? He had one hand wrapped around her arm and the other held a handgun type weapon with a muzzle as wide as a shotgun.
“I…you…” She didn’t know what to say—both her tongue and her brain felt numb. “What…whatwas that?” she finally managed, nodding at the twisted silver heap.
“Sniffer. Used by the Dark Kindred to sniff out emotions only in this case, it was tuned exclusively to you.” He frowned. “Not surprising since the male who put the contract on you was Dark Kindred. He must have decided I was taking too long to do the job.”
“Oh my God,” Emily whispered faintly. “You mean…there really is someone trying to kill me?”
“Didn’t I tell you so earlier?” He frowned at her.
“Yes but…” Emily shook her head. “But I didn’t know what to believe—it didn’t seem real.”
“The threat is real, all right.” He sounded grim. “And where there’s one sniffer, there are usually more. Maybe even a pack of them. Come on—we have to get away.”
“Get away?” He was already dragging her across the dark lawn but Emily dug in her heels, trying unsuccessfully to put on the brakes. “Wait a minute, what do you mean? Where are you taking me?”
“With me. To my ship.”
“What? No!” She tried to break free of his grip but it was like trying to break out of handcuffs—there was no way. “Stop!” she exclaimed. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
The big Kindred paused his relentless forward motion for a moment and looked at her.
“Khalla,” he began.
“That’s not my name!”
“Emily, then. I am aware that this is a distressing situation for you but it’s also very dangerous. We need to go before more sniffers show up to finish the job.”
Me—I’m the job! Emily thought and shivered.
“But why can’t we just go inside my house and lock the doors? We can call the police—tell them what happened.”
He gave her an incredulous look.
“Why? So more of them can be killed? I may be an assassin but I do not condone unnecessary death. Besides, as I pointed out earlier, the defenses of your domicile are extremely flimsy. We would simply be backing ourselves into a corner, waiting to be attacked.”
“But—”
Her words were cut off by a long, liquid howl. It was far in the distance but it sounded like it was getting closer.
“Come on!” The big Kindred tugged on her arm but the bone chilling sound had frozen Emily to the spot. She literally couldn’t move.

     


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Evangeline Anderson is a registered MRI tech who would rather be writing. She lives in Florida with her husband and son and enjoys reading, writing, baking, and playing Diablo II. (She has a barbarian named Giggles and a necromancer named Jimbo.) Despite her goofy hobbies, she writes smoking hot paranormal, sci-fi, and BDSM erotica
       


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