Dark Desire

More Order Options

Dark Series ,
Book 2

Latest Release:
Latest Release Date: July 31, 2012
Original Release Date: December 1, 1999
Number of Pages: 416 pages
Publisher: Avon Books
Language: English
ISBN: 0062019430

Dark Desire (Dark Series, #2)


The stranger silently summoned her across the continents, across the seas. He whispered of eternal torment, of endless hunger . . . of dark, dangerous desires. And somehow American surgeon Shea O'Halloran could feel his anguish, sense his haunting aloneness, and she ached to heal him, to heal herself.

Drawn to the far Carpathian mountains, Shea found a ravaged, raging man, a being like no other. And her soul trembled. For in his burning eyes, his icy heart, she recognized the beloved stranger who'd already become part of her. The imperious Carpathian male had compelled Shea to his side. But was she to be his healer. . . or his prey? His victim . . . or his mate? Was he luring her into madness . . . or would his dark desire make her whole?

Christine's Notes

Christine Feehan
This book was probably the most difficult of all the books to write because I had to strike such a balance with the hero, a very tormented individual, powerful and nearly mad. I felt the heroine was extremely courageous under very difficult circumstances. Dark Desire takes place in the Carpathian Mountains and some of the same characters appear again. Usually I start a book and instantly the story line flows to me, but I wasn't satisfied with the beginning of the book for a long, long time. In fact, I worked on the beginning chapter longer than the entire rest of the book! In the end I was very satisfied and can't wait for you to read it and love the characters as much as I do.

— Christine Feehan

Christine regularly writes about her books (and all kinds of subjects) in the following places:


Dark Desire

More Order Options

Dark Series ,
Book 2

Latest Release:
Latest Release Date: July 31, 2012
Original Release Date: December 1, 1999
Number of Pages: 416 pages
Publisher: Avon Books
Language: English
ISBN: 0062019430

Dark Desire (Dark Series, #2)

More Order Options

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Excerpt: Chapter 1

There was blood, a river of it running. There was pain, a sea he was floating in. Would it never end? A thousand cuts, burns, the taunting laughter telling him it would go on for all eternity. He could not believe he was so helpless, could not believe his incredible power and strength had been drained from him leaving him reduced to such a pitiful state. He sent mental call after call out into the night, none of his kind came to help him. The agony continued, went on relentlessly. Where were they? His kin? His friends? Why wouldn't they come to him and end this? Had they deliberately left him to these butchers who wielded their knifes and blowtorches with such delight? It had been someone he knew, someone who had betrayed him, but the memory was curiously fading, obscured by the agony of endless pain. Was it a conspiracy?

His tormentors had somehow managed to capture him, paralyze his body so that he could feel, yet not move, not even his vocal cords. He was totally helpless, vulnerable to the puny humans tearing his body apart. He heard their taunts, the endless questions, felt the rage in them when he refused to acknowledge their presence or the pain they inflicted on him. He wanted death, welcomed it and his eyes, cold as ice, never left their faces, never blinked, the eyes of a predator waiting, watching, promising retaliation. It maddened them, but they refused to administer the finishing blow.

Time no longer meant anything to him, his world had become so narrow, but at some point he felt another's presence in his mind. The touch was far off, female, young. He had no idea how he had inadvertently connected with her, his mind melded to hers so that she was sharing his torment, every scorching burn as they charred his flesh, every slice of the knife, draining his blood, his life force from him. He tried to remember who she might be. She had to be close to him if she shared his mind. She was as helpless as he was, enduring the pain with him, sharing his agony. He tried to close himself off from her, the need to protect her paramount in him, yet he was far too weak to block his mental thoughts. His pain poured out of him, a raging torrent, flowing straight to the female sharing his mind.

Her anguish hit him like a powerful blow. He was, after all, a Carpathian male. His first duty was to protect a woman above his own life at all times. That he was failing added to his despair and sense of failure. He caught brief images of her in his mind, a small fragile figure huddled in a ball of pain, trying desperately to hang onto her sanity. She seemed a stranger to him, yet he saw her in color, something he had not seen in centuries. He couldn't send either or them to sleep to save both of them from this agony. He could only catch fragments of her thoughts as she desperately tried to call out to someone for help, tried to figure out what was happening to her.

Droplets of blood began to seep from his pores. Red blood. He clearly saw his blood was red. It meant something important, yet he was confused, unable to discern why it was important and what it meant. His mind was becoming hazy, like a great veil was being drawn over his brain. He couldn't remember how they had managed to capture him. He struggled to 'see' the image of the one of his own kind who had betrayed him, but the picture would not return to his mind. There was only pain. Terrible, endless pain. He could not make a sound, even when his mind shattered into a million fragments and he could no longer remember what, or whom he was protecting.

Shea O'Halloran lay curled up on her bed, the lamp providing just enough light to see her medical book. She read fast, page after page in seconds, committing the text to memory as she had done since she was a child. Now as she was completing her residency, the youngest resident on record, she hurried to finish the text, wanting to get some rest while she could. The pain hit her unexpectedly, slamming into her body with such virulence she was thrown off the bed, her body contorting with the force. She tried to cry out, to crawl blindly toward the phone, but she could only writhe on the floor helplessly. Sweat beaded on her body, smears of crimson blood seeped through her pores. The pain was like nothing she had ever experienced, as if someone was cutting her skin with a knife, burning her, torturing her endlessly. It went on and on, hours, days she didn't know. No one came to help her and they wouldn't, she was alone, so private she had no real friends. At the end, when the stabbing pain tore through her, ripping her body as if a hole the size of her fist had opened in her chest, she lost consciousness.

When he thought his tormentors were through with him, would end his suffering, give him death, he discovered what true hell really was. Gut wrenching agony. Evil faces above him. The sharpened stake poised over the region of his heart. A beat of time, a second. It would end now. It had to end. He felt the thick wooden point drive into his flesh, tearing a huge hole through muscle and sinew. The hammer fell down hard on the end of the round stake, driving it ever deeper. The pain was beyond anything he had ever imagined. The female sharing his mind lost consciousness, a mercy for both of them. He continued to feel every blow, the huge peg separating his flesh, penetrating his insides while blood spurted like a geyser, further weakening him. He felt his life force fading away, his strength so gone now he was certain he would die. He reached for death. Embraced death. But it wasn't to be. He was a Carpathian male, an immortal, one not so easily disposed of. One whose will was strong and determined. A will that fought death even when his body begged for an end to his suffering and existence.

His eyes found them, the two humans. They were covered in his blood, red sprays across their clothes. He gathered his strength, the last of it, and captured their gazes with his mesmerizing stare. If he could just hold them long enough to turn their own evil back on them. One cursed suddenly and jerked his companion away from him. Quickly, they covered his eyes with cloth, no longer able to stand the dark promise in the deep dark pits of suffering, afraid of his power, although he was so helpless before them. They laughed as they chained him into the coffin and lifted it upright. He heard himself scream with the pain, but the sound was only in his mind, echoing sharply, locked away, mocking him. He forced himself to stop. They couldn't hear him, but it didn't matter to him. He had a shred of dignity left. Self-respect. They would not defeat him. He was Carpathian. He heard the dirt hitting the wood as they buried him in the wall of the cellar. Each shovel-full. The darkness was complete. The silence took him like a blow.

He was a creature of the night. The dark was his home. Yet now, in his agony, it was his enemy. There was only pain and silence. Always before, he was the one that governed whether he chose to stay in the darkness, in the healing soil. Now he was a prisoner, locked away with the soil just out of reach. Comfort should have been his, was near, yet always the thin layer of wood prevented his body from touching what would eventually have healed his wounds. Hunger began to invade his world of agony. Time passed, meant nothing. Only the terrible, relentless hunger that grew until it became his entire world. Agony. Hunger. Nothing else existed for him anymore. He was damned to an imprisonment of hell for all eternity. He found, after some time, that he could put himself to sleep. The return of his gift meant nothing anymore. He remembered nothing. This was his life. Sleep. Wake only when an inquisitive creature strayed too close. The rush of agony consuming him when his heart beat. Conserving as much strength as possible to try to draw food to him. It was few and far between. Even insects learned to avoid the place of darkness and the malevolent creature who dwelled there.

In the moments of time that inched passed during his waking agony, he would whisper his name to himself. Jacques. He had a name. He was real. He existed. He lived in hell. He lived in darkness. The hours turned into months, then years. He could no longer remember any other way of life, no other existence. There was no hope, no peace, no way out. There was no end. Only the darkness, the pain, the terrible hunger. Time continued to pass, meant nothing in his limited world.

His wrists were manacled so that he had little room to maneuver, but every time a creature came close enough to waken him, he scratched at the walls and lid of his coffin in a vain attempt to get out. His strength of mind was returning so that he eventually could coax his prey to him, yet it was only enough to barely survive. There was no way to regain his power and strength without replacing the huge volume of blood he had lost. There was no creature underground big enough to do that. Every time he woke, moved, fresh blood would drip steadily from his wounds. Without the necessary amount of blood to replace his loss, his body could not heal itself. The circle was endless, hideous, an ugly cycle that would last for all eternity.

Then the dreams began to intrude. Waking him when he was starving and there was no way to fill that empty void. A woman. He recognized her, knew she was out there, alive, no manacles, not buried beneath the earth but able to move freely around. She was just out of his mind's reach, yet he could almost touch her. Why didn't she come to him? There was no face, no past, only the knowledge that she was out there somewhere. He called to her. Begged. Pleaded. Raged. Where was she? Why wouldn't she come to him? Why did she allow his agony to continue when even her presence in his mind would take away the terrible sense of isolation? What had he done that was so terrible that he deserved this? Anger found its way into his world. Hatred even. In the place of a man a monster grew, deadly, dangerous, grew and thrived on the pain, became a will impossible to crush. Fifty years, a hundred, what did it matter if he traveled to the very gates of hell for revenge, he already resided there, lay imprisoned in it every waking moment.

She would come to him. He vowed it. He would bend his will to finding her. Once found he would become a shadow in her mind until he became familiar enough with her to force his will on her. She would come to him and he would have his revenge.

Hunger gripped him each time he came awake, so that pain and hunger melted together and became the same. His concentration on finding the path to the woman saved him agony. His focus was so complete he could actually block the pain for a short while. First it was only seconds. Then minutes. Each time he woke, he bent his will toward finding her, there was nothing else to do. Months. Years. It didn't matter to him. She could not escape him forever.

The first time he touched her mind, it was such a shock after all the thousands of fruitless tries he immediately lost contact. The rush of elation caused a bright red spray of blood to erupt around the stake buried deep within his body, draining his remaining strength. He slept for a long period of time in an attempt to recover. A week perhaps. A month. There was no need to measure time. He had a direction now, although she was far away from him. The distance was so great, it took his full concentration to focus and reach for her across time and space.

Jacques tried again when he woke. This time he was unprepared for the images in her mind. Blood. A small human chest ripped wide open. A pulsating heart. Her hands were immersed inside the chest cavity, covered in blood. There were others in the room with them and she was directing their movements with her mind. She seemed unaware that she was doing so. Her focus was completely on her horrendous task. The ease with which she directed the others suggested she did so often. The vivid pictures were horrible, and he knew she had been part of the betrayal, was part of those torturing him. He nearly lost the contact, but his indomitable will kicked in. She would suffer for this. Really suffer for this. The body she was torturing was so small it had to be a child.

The operating room was dimly lit, just the way Dr. O'Halloran liked it. Only the body on the table had a bright light shining down on it. Outside the door, her unusually acute hearing picked up the nurse consoling the parents. "You're lucky Dr. O'Halloran is working tonight. She's the best there is. She has a gift. Really. When there's no chance at all, she still pulls them out. Your little boy couldn't be in better hands."

"But he's so crushed," that was the terrified, already grieving mother.

"Dr. O'Halloran has been known to work miracles. Truly. Have faith. She just never stops until she saves them. We think she wills them to live."

Shea O'Halloran couldn't have any distractions right now, certainly not a nurse promising parents she could save this child with his chest literally crushed and his internal organs a jigsaw puzzle. Not when she had spent the last forty-eight hours solid doing research and her body was screaming at her for sleep and nourishment. She blocked out all noises, all voices, and focused completely on the task at hand. She would not loose this little boy. She wouldn't. It was that simple to her. She never gave
herself any other choice, never allowed any other thought into her mind. She had a good team, knew they worked well with her. They meshed like a well-oiled machine together. She never had to look to see if they were reacting to what she wanted or needed, they were always there for her. If she was able to save her patients, where others couldn't, it wasn't her alone.

She bent closer to the little boy, pushing out everything but her desire for this child to live. As she was reaching to take the instrument her nurse was handing her, something struck at her. Pain gripped her, consumed her, sweeping through her body like a terrible fire. She had only felt such agony one other time, a couple of years earlier. She had never managed to discover what had been wrong with her. The pain had simply disappeared after nearly twenty-four hours. Now, with a child's life hanging by a thread, depending upon her skills, she did not have the luxury of fainting. Agony gripped her, twisted her insides, and took the breath from her lungs. Shea struggled to control herself, years of forcing her mind to remain under a strict disciplined control stood her in good stead. Like everything else around her, she forced the pain out of her mind, took a deep breath and concentrated on the child.

The nurse closest to her regarded the doctor with complete shock. In all the time she had worked with O'Halloran, admiring her, almost idolizing her, she had never seen the doctor loose her focus, not even for a second. This time, Shea had stood perfectly still, a few heartbeats, that was all, but the nurse couldn't help noticing because it was
so unusual. It was so subtle. Her hands had trembled, and she had broken out in a sweat. Automatically the nurse reached up to wipe the beads from the doctor's forehead. To her horror, the cloth came away stained with blood. Droplets were beading up, seeping through her pores. The nurse wiped the doctor's forehead a second time, attempting to hide the cloth from the others. She had never seen anything remotely like it. Then Shea was once more herself, snapping to attention in the space of a few heartbeats. The nurse swallowed all of her questions and went back to work, the images of what Dr. O'Halloran needed coming into her mind so fast, she had no time to think about the strange phenomenon any more. She had long ago become use to knowing what the doctor needed before she asked for it.

Shea felt an unfamiliar presence in her mind for one more heartbeat before she closed it out, felt the dark malevolence beating at her, then her mind was completely taken up with the child and the shredded jumble that was his chest. He would not die. She would not allow it. 'You hear me, child? I'm here with you and I will not let you die.' She meant it. She always meant it. It was as if part of her merged with her patient and somehow managed to keep them alive until modern medicine could kick in.

Jacques slept for some time. It didn't matter to him how long it had been. Hunger was waiting. Pain was waiting. The treacherous heart and soul of a woman was waiting. He had an eternity to gather what strength he could and she could never escape him now he knew the mental path to her mind. He slept the sleep of immortals, his lungs and heart stopped as he lay in the earth, his body close to the soil it so desperately needed to aid healing, yet a thin layer of wood away. When he awakened he scratched at the walls of his coffin patiently. He would reach the healing soil some day. He had managed to make a hole to coax his prey to him. He could wait. She would never escape him. She was his single-minded purpose.

He haunted her. It didn't matter to him. Day or night. He no longer knew the difference when it had mattered so much before. He lived to try to appease his ever-present hunger. He lived for revenge. For retribution. He lived to make her life a living hell during his waking hours. He became good at it. Taking possession of her mind for moments at a time. It was impossible to figure her out. She was so complex. There were things in her brain that made little sense to him and the few minutes he could stay awake without losing his precious remaining blood, did not give himself sufficient time.

There was the time she was frightened. He could taste her fear. Feel her heart pounding so that his own matched the terrible rhythm. Her mind remained calm in the center of the storm, a quick, brilliant flash of data she processed so quickly he nearly missed it. Two strangers were hunting her. Taunting her. He saw an image of himself, his thick hair hanging in strands around his ravaged face, his body savaged by brutal hands. He clearly saw the stake driven through his own skin deep within the tissue and sinews of his body. It flashed for a moment in her mind, there was the impression of grief, and then he lost contact.

Shea would never forget their faces, their eyes, and the smell of their sweat. One of them, the taller of the two couldn't take his eyes from her. "Who are you?" she looked at them wide-eyed, innocently, totally harmless. Shea knew she looked young and helpless, too small to give them trouble.

"Jeff Smith," the tall one said gruffly. His eyes devoured her. "This is my partner, Don Wallace. We need you to come with us and answer a few questions."

"Am I wanted for something? I'm a doctor, gentleman, I can't just pick up and go. I'm due in surgery in an hour. Perhaps you could arrange to ask your questions when my shift is over."

Wallace grinned at her. He thought he looked charming. Shea thought he looked like a shark. "We can't do that, Doc. It isn't our questions, there's an entire committee looking to talk with you." He laughed softly, a film of perspiration of his forehead. He enjoyed inflicting pain and Shea was altogether too cool, too haughty.

Shea made certain her desk was solidly between them. Taking great care to move slowly and appear unconcerned, she typed in the command to destroy her data, hit the enter key, picked up her mother's diary and slipped it into her purse. "Are you certain you have the right person?" She accomplished everything easily, naturally

"Shea O'Halloran, your mother was Margaret, 'Maggie' O'Halloran from Ireland?" Jeff Smith asked. "You were born in Romania, your father is unknown?" There was a taunting note in his voice.

She turned the full power of her emerald eyes on the man, watched coolly as he squirmed uneasily, as he became consumed with desire for her. Smith was far more susceptible than his partner was. "Is that supposed to upset me, Mr. Smith? I am who I am, my father has nothing to do with it."

"No?" Wallace stepped closer to the desk. "Don't you need blood? Crave it? Don't you drink it?" His eyes glowed with hatred.

Shea burst out laughing. Her laughter was soft, sexy, a melody to listen to forever. "Drink blood? Is this some kind of joke? I don't have time for this nonsense."

Smith licked his lips. "You don't drink blood?" His voice held a hopeful note.

Wallace looked at him sharply. "Don't look into her eyes," he snarled. "You should know that by now."

Shea's eyebrow shot up. She laughed again softly, inviting Smith to join her. "I occasionally require a transfusion. It isn't uncommon. Haven't you ever heard of a hemophiliac? Gentlemen, you are wasting my time." Her voice dropped even lower, a soft seduction of musical notes. "You really should leave."

Smith scratched his head. "Maybe we've got the wrong woman. Look at her. She's a doctor. She's nothing like the others. They're tall and strong and have dark hair. She's delicate, petite and she goes out in the sunlight."

"Shut up," Wallace snapped. "She's one of them. We should have gagged her - She's turning you with her voice." His eyes slid over her, making her flesh crawl
. "She'll talk." He grinned evilly. "Now, I've scared you. It's about time. You'll cooperate O'Halloran, the hard way or the easy way. I prefer the hard way."

"I'll bet you do. Just what do you want from me?"

"Proof that you're a vampire," Wallace hissed it like an accusation.

"You've got to be kidding. Are you insane? Vampires do
not exist. There is no such thing." She needed information and she was willing to acquire knowledge from any source, even someone as sick as the two of them were.

"No? I've met several," Wallace grinned his evil grin again. "Perhaps a friend or two of yours." He threw several photographs on the desk, his eyes daring her to look at them. His excitement was a palatable thing.

Keeping her face a blank mask, Shea picked up the pictures. Her stomach lurched, bile rose, but her training didn't let her down. The photographs were numbered,
eight of them in all. Each of the victims was blindfolded, gagged, heavily manacled, all in various stages of torment. Don Wallace was a butcher. She touched the one tagged with a number two with her fingertip, experiencing a sudden, unexpected wrench. A young boy no more than eighteen. Quickly, before tears could well up, she flipped through the rest of the photographs. Number seven was a man with a mane of dark, jet-black hair, the man haunting her dreams. There was no denying it. No mistake. She knew every angle and plane of his face, the well-cut mouth, the dark expressive eyes, the long hair falling around his head. Anguish welled up. For a moment she felt his pain, a sharp agony of mind and body driving out all sane thoughts until there was only room for pain, hatred and hunger. She brushed the pad of her thumb over the tormented face lightly, almost lovingly. A caress. The pain and hatred only grew stronger. Hunger became all consuming. The emotions were so strong, so alien to her nature, she had a strange feeling something or someone was sharing her mind. Disoriented for a moment, Shea contemptuously tossed the photographs on the desk.

"It was you in Europe a few years back, the vampire killings, wasn't it? You murdered all those innocent people."
Shea made the accusation calmly .

"And now I've got you."
Don Wallace didn't deny it .

"If vampires are such powerful creatures, how did you manage to kill so many of them?" Sarcasm dripped deliberately to egg him on.

"Males are very competitive," Wallace laughed harshly. "They don't like one another. They need women and they don't like to share. No matter how they suffer, they never talk, but you will, Doc, I'll have all the time in the world with you. Did you know when a vampire's in agony they sweat blood?"

"Surely I would know that if I was a vampire. I've never sweat blood in my life. Let's see if I have this straight. Vampires stalk everyone, including each other. The males torture and betray one another to human butchers. And they need females. I thought they just bit women and turned them into vampires." Sarcastically she was ticking off each item on her fingers. "You want me to believe I'm one of these fictitious creatures, so powerful, my voice alone can enslave this strong man here." Deliberately she gestured toward Jeff Smith, flashing him a gentle smile. "Tell me something, gentlemen. I'm a doctor, I save lives every day, human lives. I sleep in a bed, not in a coffin, I work at a very demanding job, I am not in the least bit strong and I have never
sucked anyone's blood in my life. You admittedly have tortured and mutilated men and even murdered them. Evidently you derive great pleasure from this. I don't believe you are cops, I think you are monsters." She turned her emerald eyes on Jeff Smith, her voice low, seductive. "Do you really think I'm a danger to you?"

He seemed to be falling forward into her beckoning eyes. He had never wanted a woman for his own more. He blinked, cleared his throat, and stole a slow, calculating look at Wallace. Smith had never noticed that greedy, cold look on his partner's face before. "No, no, of course you're not a danger to me or anyone else."

"Damn it, Jeff, let's get her and get the hell out of here," Wallace snarled, the need to teach her who was in charge riding him hard.

Emerald eyes slid over Smith, fastened on his mesmerized gaze. She could feel his desire and she fed it, fed his fantasies of her welcoming his attentions. She had learned at a very young age she could get into people's minds, manipulate their thoughts. It had terrified her to wield that kind of power, but it was a useful tool when threatened.

"Don, why don't they just turn a human woman? That would make sense. Why did he stop helping us? The vampire just quit helping us. We left the area in a big hurry. You never did tell me what went wrong," Smith said suspiciously.

"Are you trying to say one of these male vampires helped you kill others and that's how you were so successful?" Shea asked, a little sneer of disbelief in her voice.

"He was a nasty, vengeful man. He hated the kid, but particularly despised this one here," Smith tapped the photograph of the man with the black hair. "He wanted him tortured, burned, to feel it," Smith offered.

"Shut up," Wallace snapped. "Let's get it over. She's worth a hundred thousand dollars to the society. They want to study her."

Shea laughed softly. "If I truly was one of your mythical vampires, I should be worth far more than that. I think your partner is holding out on you, Mr. Smith."

The truth was there to read on Wallace's face. Smith turned to confront him, his body between Wallace and Shea. Shea simply leapt out of the second story window, landed on her feet like a cat and ran for her life. She had no personal items she was concerned about, no momento or favorite china. Even her clothes didn't matter and she had never invested in jewelry. Her one regret was the loss of her books.

When he felt her fear, Jacques experienced the need to protect her. The urge was as strong as his desire to revenge himself. Whatever he had done, and he was the first to admit he couldn't remember, he could never possibly deserve such a horrendous punishment. Once again sleep overtook him, but it was the first time in months he had not filled her body with his pain, and possessed her mind for a few seconds, insuring she felt his dark anger and promise of retribution. This time he hadn't punished her. Only he had the right to put fear into her mind, into her fragile trembling body. She had looked upon his image with a mixture of puzzlement and regret. Did she think he was dead and it was his damned soul haunting her? What went on in the head of a treacherous woman?

Time continued endlessly. Wake when a creature strayed near. Scratch and claw at the rotting wood. Eventually the cloth over his eyes rotted until it fell away from him. He had no idea how long he had been there. It made no difference to him. Dark was dark. Isolation, isolation. His only companion was a woman who had betrayed him, forsaken him. At times he called to her, ordered her to come to him. Threatened her. Pleaded. He needed to touch her mind. He was already insane, he accepted that, but his total isolation was making him completely mad. Without her touch, he would be lost to the world, not even his will keeping him going and he had a need to live. Retribution. He needed her as much as he loathed and despised her. He needed the moments of companionship as perverted and twisted as their relationship was.

She was physically closer to him now, not an ocean away. She had been so far away from him he could barely make it across the distance. But now she was much closer. He renewed his efforts, calling her at all hours, striving to keep her from sleep.

When he could manage to get passed the pain and hunger and simply remain quiet, a shadow in her mind, she intrigued him. She was obviously intelligent, brilliant even. Her method of thinking was like that of a machine, processing information at fast rates of speed. She seemed to be able to push aside all emotion, perhaps she wasn't capable of feeling emotion. He found himself admiring her brain, her thinking patterns, the way she focused wholly on her work. She was researching a disease, seemed obsessed with finding a cure. Perhaps that was why he often found her in the dimly lit room, covered in blood, her hands buried deep within a body. She was conducting experiments. It didn't excuse the abomination of what she was, but he could admire her single-minded purpose. She was able to put aside her need for sleep, for sustenance for long periods of time. He felt her need, but she concentrated so wholly on what she was doing, she didn't seem to recognize her body's cries for normal care.

There seemed to be no laughter in her life, no real closeness to anyone. That was odd to him. Jacques was unsure when that began to bother him, but he found it did. There was no one. She concentrated only on what she was doing. He would not have tolerated another male's presence in her life, he knew he would have sought to destroy any other that came near her. He told himself it was because whatever male came near her must be in on the conspiracy to make him suffer. He had no idea why sometimes he found himself wanting to talk to her. She had an interesting mind. She was everything to him. His savior. His tormentor. Without her he would have been completely insane and he knew it. She shared her strange life with him, gave him something to concentrate on, a companionship of sorts. In a way it was ironic. She thought him locked underground. She thought herself safe from his vengeance, but she had created the monster and now she was keeping him going, his strength growing with his every touch to her mind.

He found her again a month later, perhaps a year later, he didn't know, didn't care. Her heart was pounding in fear. So was his. Perhaps the overwhelming intensity of her emotion awoke him. The pain was excruciating, the hunger engulfing him, yet his heartbeat was frantically matching hers and he could not find enough lungpower to breathe. She feared for her life. Someone was hunting her. Perhaps the others who had helped betray him had now turned on her. He gathered himself, waited, blocking out pain and hunger as he learned over the years to do. No one would harm her. She belonged to him. Only he could decide whether she lived or died no one else. If he could manage to 'see' the enemy through her eyes, he could destroy them. He felt his power swelling in him, his rage so intense, so potent, at the idea that someone might take her from him, that it astonished him.

The picture was clear. She was in a shelter of some kind, clothing and furniture overturned all around her as if there had been a fight or someone had searched her belongings. She was running through the rooms, grabbing a few things along the way. He caught glimpses of wild red hair, silky soft, vibrant. Hair he wanted to touch. To sink his fingers in the thickness. To wrap around her neck and strangle her with. Hair to bury his face in. Then it was gone, his strength drained and he lay impotently in his prison unable to reach her, to help her, to see that she was safe. That added to his torment of agony and hunger. That added to the debt she already owed him.

He lay quietly and slowed his heart until it barely beat, only enough to allow him to think, to gather himself for one last try. If she survived, he was going to bring her to him. He would not allow any more attempts on her life. If she lived or died it was his decision alone. 'Come to me, come here to me. The Carpathian Mountains. The remote, wild regions where you should be, where your home is, your people are. Come to me.' He sent the call, filled her mind with the compulsion. It was strong. The strongest he had been able to accomplish. It was done. It was all he could do without furthering endangering his own life. So close to his goal, he would not take any foolish risks.

They had found her again. Shea O'Halloran ran for her life. She had been more careful this time, now that she was aware she was being hunted. She had plenty of cash hidden in various locations, her truck was a four wheel drive, had a camper shell so she could live in it if necessary. She kept essentials packed so all she had to do was grab a bag and run. Where, this time? Where could she go that she could loose them for a time? She was driving fast, skillfully, racing away from those who would dissect her like an insect, those who looked upon her as something less than human.

She had so little time to live. Her strength was already wearing down. The terrible disease was taking its toll and she was no closer to finding a cure than when she started. She had most likely inherited it from her father. The father she had never met, never knew, the father who had abandoned her mother before she was even born. She had read her mother's diary so many times. The father who had stolen her mother's love, her very life so that she was a mere shadow, not a real person anymore. The father who didn't care in the least for her mother or herself.

She was already driving in the general direction of the Carpathian Mountains, her father's birthplace. The land of superstition and myth. The rare blood disorder she suffered from could very well have originated there. Suddenly she was excited, focusing her mind completely on the data so that she pushed aside fear. This had to be the origin. So many vampire myths began there. She easily recalled every detail of every story she had ever read or heard. She could be on the right trail at last. The evidence had been in her mother's diary all along. Shea was disgusted with herself. She had developed such an aversion to the idea of her father or any of his family, she hadn't stopped to consider she should track her own roots to find the answers she was seeking. Her mother's diary. She knew every tragic word by heart.

I met him tonight. The moment I saw him I knew he was the one. Tall, handsome, mesmerizing eyes. His voice is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. He feels the same way about me. I know he does. It is wrong, of course, he is a married man, but there is no way out for us. We cannot be apart. Rand. That is his name, foreign, like him, like his accent. The Carpathian Mountains are his home. How could I have ever existed without him?

His wife, Noelle, gave birth two months ago to a boy. I know he was bitterly disappointed at having a son. For some reason, it is important he have a female child. He is with me all the time, even though I am often alone. He is in my mind talking to me, whispering how much he loves me. He has a strange blood disorder and cannot go out into the sun.

He has such strange habits. When we make love, and you can't imagine how glorious it is, he is in my mind as well as my heart and body. He says it is because I am psychic and so is he, but I know it is more. It has something to do with his need to drink my blood. There I wrote it where I could not say it aloud. It sounds awful, terrible, but it is so erotic, the feel of his mouth on me, my blood in his body. How I love him. There is rarely a mark unless he wishes to brand me as his. His tongue heals wounds quickly. I have seen it, like a miracle. He is a miracle.

His wife, Noelle, knows of me, he has told me she will not allow him to leave her, that she is dangerous. I know this is true because she threatened me, threatened to kill me. I was so afraid. Her eyes glowed red and her teeth gleamed at me like an animal's, but Rand arrived before she could hurt me. He was furious, so protective of me. I know that he tells the truth when he says he loves me, I could tell by the way he spoke to her, commanding her to leave. How she hates me!

I am so happy! I am pregnant. He doesn't know yet. I haven't seen him in two nights, but I'm certain he would never leave me. His wife must be protesting his leaving her. I hope the child is female. I know he wants a daughter desperately. I will give him the one thing he has always wished for and Noelle will be in his past. I know I should feel guilt, but I cannot when it is obvious to both of us that he belongs with me. Where is he? Why doesn't he come to me when I need him so desperately? Why has he gone from my mind?

She cries constantly. The doctors are excited over her strange blood results. She needs transfusions daily. God, I hate her, she keeps me tied to this empty world. I know he is dead. The day Noelle came to see me, he returned alone for a few wonderful hours. He told me he was going to leave her. I believe he tried. He simply vanished, out of my mind, out of my life. My parents thought he left me because I was pregnant, that he used me, but I know he is dead. I felt his terrible agony, his grief. He would come to me if he could. And he never knew of the child. I would have joined him, but I had to give his daughter life. If his wife murdered him, and I am certain she is capable, he will live on through me, through our child.
I have taken her to Ireland. My parents are dead and I have inherited their properties. I would have given her to them, but it's too late now. I cannot join him. I can't possibly leave her when so many ask questions about her. I'm afraid they will try to kill her. She is like him. The sun burns her easily. She needs blood as he did. The doctors whispered so much about her and stared at me in such a way I was afraid. I knew I had to disappear with her. I won't allow anyone to harm your daughter, Rand. God help me, I cannot feel anything. I am dead inside without you. Where are you? Did Nicole murder you as she swore she would? How can I live without you? Only your daughter keeps me from joining you. Soon my darling, very soon I will be with you.

Shea let her breath out slowly. Of course. It was there in front of her. She needs blood as he did. She had inherited the blood disorder from her father. Her mother had written that Rand actually took her blood when they were making love. How many people had been persecuted and had a stake driven through their heart just because no one had found the cure for their terrible disease? She knew what it was like to suffer such a thing, to loathe oneself and fear discovery. She had to find the cure, even if it was too late for her, she had to find the cure.

Jacques slept for a long time, determined to renew his strength. He woke only to feed briefly, to insure she was alive and nearby. He contained his elation so that he had no chance to loose more blood. He needed his strength now. She was so close he could feel her. She was within a few miles of him. Twice he 'saw' her cabin through her eyes. She was fixing it up, doing the things women did to make a run down shelter a home. Later, Jacques began to awaken at regular intervals, testing his strength, drawing animals to him to give him much needed blood. He haunted her dreams, called her continually, kept her awake when her body desperately needed sleep. She was already fragile, half-starved, weak from lack of feeding. She worked day and night, her mind filled with problems and solutions. He ignored all that to keep at her so that she would be so tired he could easily hold her under compulsion to do his bidding.

He was patient. He had learned patience. He knew he was closing in on her. He had time now. There was no need to hurry this. He could afford to grow in strength. From his dark grave he stalked her, every touch of his mind to hers making the connection between them that much stronger. He had no real idea of what he was going to do to her once she was in his hands. He wouldn't kill her right away, he had spent so long in her mind, it seemed as if they were one sometimes. But she would surely suffer. Once again he sent himself to sleep to conserve the remaining blood in his veins.

She was asleep at her computer, her head resting on a stack of papers. Even in her sleep her mind was active. Jacques had learned many things about her. She had a photographic memory. He learned many things from her mind he had either forgotten, or perhaps he had never known. He often spent time studying before he subjected her to his harassment. It was a source of knowledge for him, knowledge of the outside world. She was always alone. Even the flashes of childhood memories he caught were of a small child isolated from others. He felt as if he knew her intimately, yet he really knew nothing about her. Her mind was filled with formulas and data, with instruments and chemistry. She never thought about her appearance or anything he would expect a woman to think about. Only her work. Anything else was quickly banished.

Jacques focused and aimed. 'You will come to me now. You will not allow anything to stop you. Awaken, and come to me while I am resting and waiting.' He used every ounce of strength he possessed to embed the compulsion deep within her. He had forced her several times over the last two months or so to walk towards him, to be drawn through the darkened forest in the vicinity of his prison. Each time she had come his way as he had bid her, but her need to complete her work had been so strong in her, she had eventually turned back. This time he was certain he had enough strength to force her compliance. She felt his presence within her, recognized his touch, but she had no real idea that they were linked. She thought of him as a dream, or rather a nightmare.

Jacques smiled at that. There was no amusement in the strong white flash of his teeth, only the promises of savagery, the promise of a predator stalking it prey.

Shea O'Halloran jerked awake, blinked to bring the room in focus. Her work was scattered everywhere, the computer on, the documents she had been studying a bit crumpled where her head had rested on them. The dream again. Would it never stop, leave her in peace? She was familiar with the man in the dream now, the thick mane of jet-black hair, and the touch of cruelty around his sensuous mouth. In the first three years, she had been unable to see his eyes in that nightmare dream, as if perhaps they were covered, but the last couple of years, he had stared at her with black menace.

Shea shoved at her hair, felt the little beads of perspiration gathered on her forehead. For a moment she experienced the strange disorientation she always did after the dream, as if something held her mind for just a heartbeat of time, then slowly, with great reluctance, released her.

Shea knew she was being hunted. Where the dream was not reality, the fact that someone was stalking her was true. She could never lose sight of that, never forget. She would never be safe again, not unless she found a cure for herself and the handful of others that shared the same rare disease. She was being hunted as if she was an animal with no emotions or intelligence. It didn't matter to the hunters that she spoke six languages fluently, that she was a skilled surgeon, that she had saved countless lives.

The words on the paper in front of her blurred, ran together. How long had it been since she had really slept? She sighed, swept a hand through her thick, silky hair, shoved it away from her face. Dark, wine red hair, thick and luxurious it fell to her slender waist. As always, Shea pulled it back rather haphazardly and secured it with whatever happened to be handy.

She was small and very delicate, frail almost. She looked young, like a teenager, a symptom of her strange blood disease. Shea aged at a much slower rate than a normal human. Her eyes were enormous, vividly green, mesmerizing. Her voice was soft velvet, beautiful. When she lectured, most of the students were so enthralled by her voice, they remembered every word she spoke. Shea's senses were far superior to others of the human race. Her hearing and sense of smell were extremely acute. She saw colors more vividly, details most humans missed. She could communicate with animals, jump higher, and run faster than the trained athletes. She learned at an early age to hide her talents.

She stood up, stretched. She was dying slowly. Every minute that ticked by was a heartbeat less in time she had to find the cure. Somewhere in all these boxes and reams of paper, there had to be a solution. Even if she found the answer too late for herself, she could prevent those like her from the terrible isolation she had felt all of her life.

She might age slowly and have exceptional abilities, but she paid a high price for them. The sun burned her skin. Although she could see clearly on the darkest night, her eyes couldn't stand the light of day. Her body rejected most foods, and worst of all, she had to have blood every day. Any blood. There was no blood incompatible with hers. Animal blood kept her alive--just barely. She desperately needed human blood and only when she was close to collapse did she allow herself to use it, and then only by transfusion. Unfortunately, her particular disease required an oral transfusion.

    Shea flung open the door, inhaled the night, listened to the breeze whispering of fox and marmots, of rabbits and deer. The cry of an owl missing its prey and the squeak of a bat sent blood rushing through her veins. She belonged here. For the first time in her lonely existence she felt a semblance of peace.

Shea wandered outside to her porch. Snug-fitting blue jeans and hiking boots were fine, but her thin T-shirt could not stave off the cold of the mountains. Snagging her sweatshirt and hiking bag, Shea hurried out to the beckoning land. If only she had known of this place. She had wasted so much time. A month earlier she had discovered the healing properties in the soil. She had known, of the healing agent in her saliva. Shea had planted a garden, vegetable and herb. She loved working in the soil. Quite by accident she had cut herself, a rather deep and nasty gash. The earth seemed to soothe, ease the pain. The cut was nearly closed by the time she finished working.

She began to wander aimlessly along the trail wishing her mother could have seen this place of peace. Poor Maggie. Young. Irish. On vacation for the first time in her life. She had met a dark, brooding stranger, one who had used her and discarded her. Shea shook her head, tears welling up, she refused to shed them. Her mother had made her choice. One man. He had become her life to the exclusion of everything else. To the exclusion of her own flesh and blood, her daughter. Shea had not been worth the effort of trying, of living. Only Rand. A man who had deserted her without thought, without warning. A man who passed on a disease so vile his daughter had to hide it from the rest of the world. And Maggie had known. Maggie hadn't bother to research or even ask questions of Rand to find out just what her daughter would be facing.

Shea let the soil trail through her fingers. Had Noelle, the woman her mother had named as his wife been as obsessed with Rand as Maggie had been? It sounded very much as if she had. Shea had no intentions of ever taking a chance that she shared her mother's failings. She would never need a man so much that she would neglect a child and eventually kill herself. Her mother's life had been a senseless tragedy and she had abandoned Shea to a cold, cruel life without guidance. Maggie had known she needed blood, it was all there in the diary, every damning word. Shea's fist clenched until her knuckles turned white. Maggie knew Rand's saliva carried a healing agent. She had known that, yet she had left it to her child to find out on her own.

Shea had healed herself countless times as a child while her mother stared dully out of a window, half-alive, never once hearing a toddler's cries of pain when she fell learning to walk and run, learning everything alone. She had discovered the ability to heal small cuts and bruises with her tongue. It had taken awhile before she realized she was unique in such a thing. Maggie had been an emotionless robot, caring for the barest minimum of Shea's physical needs, and none of her emotional ones. Maggie had killed herself the day Shea had turned eighteen. A low sound of sorrow escaped Shea's throat. It had been terrible enough to know she had to have blood to exist, but to grow up knowing her mother couldn't love her had been devastating.

Seven years ago a kind of madness had swept Europe. It had seemed so laughable at first. Fanatics, a faction of uneducated people, superstitious people for years had whispered of the existence of vampires. Shea, like everyone else, had thought it due to the popularity of vampire novels and movies. She had been clinically curious, of course, her mind worked that way. The legends always included the Carpathian Mountains and, of course, her father had come from that region.

It was probable the blood disorder had been the basis of the vampire legends. If the disease was indigenous only in the region of the mountains, wasn't it possible, those persecuted down through time suffered from this disease? Excitement had set in. If it was genetic, and it must be, and the origin was the Carpathian Mountains then there was a good chance she could study others like her.

The killings had swept through Europe like a plague. Men mostly, murdered in the ritual vampire style, stakes through the heart, garlic, and beheadings. It was sickening, repugnant, frightening. Shea had been terrified, certain those murdering in Europe might really try to find her. A group of respected scientists had begun to discuss the possibility of such a thing as vampires as being real. Evidence from some earlier source combined with samples of a female child's blood, hers, she was certain, had raised questions of possibility.

How could anyone in these educated times believe such nonsense? She identified with those murdered people, certain she shared the same blood disorder. She was a doctor, a researcher, yet she had failed all of them, fearful of the discovery of what she thought of as her loathsome little secret. It angered her. She was gifted, brilliant even, she should have unlocked the secrets of this thing long ago. How many others had died because she hadn't been aggressive enough in her search for data?

Her guilt and fear fed her wild, exhaustive sessions of study. She accumulated everything she could find on the area, the people, and the legends. Rumors, supposed evidence, old translations and the latest newspaper articles. She rarely ate, rarely remembered to give herself transfusions, rarely slept, always searching for that one piece of the puzzle that would give her a trail to follow. She studied her blood endlessly, her saliva, her blood after animal intake, after human transfusions.

Shea reluctantly had burned her mother's diary, she would never forget a single word, but she still felt the loss of it deeply. Her bank account was substantial. She inherited from her mother and she made good money in her profession. She still owned property in Ireland that rented out for a good amount. She lived frugally and invested wisely. It was easy enough to move her money to Switzerland and lay a few false trails throughout the Continent.

From the moment she had entered the range of Carpathian Mountains, Shea felt different. More alive. More at peace. The unrest, the sense of urgency in her grew, but she felt as if she had a home for the first time in her life. All of it. Everything. The plants, the trees, the wildlife, the very earth itself felt a part of her. Like somehow she was related. She loved breathing the air, wading in the water, touching the soil.

Shea caught the scent of a rabbit and her body stilled. She could hear its heartbeat, feel its fear. The animal sensed danger, a predator stalking it. A fox, she caught the whisper of fur sliding through the underbrush. It was wonderful to hear, to feel things, to not be afraid of hearing things others couldn't. Bats wheeled and dipped, diving at insects and Shea raised her face to the heavens, watching their antics, taking pleasure in the simple show. Climbing to her feet she began to walk aimlessly, needing the exercise, needing to put the weight of responsibility from her shoulders for a time.

She had found her cottage, the barest bones of a home, and over the last few months had turned it into a sanctuary. Shutters blocked out the sunlight during the day. A generator provided the lights and necessary power for her computer. A modern bathroom and kitchen had been the next priority. Slowly Shea had acquired books, supplies and everything needed for the emergency care of patients. First and always she was a doctor. As isolated as she was, Shea hoped never to have to use her skills. The fewer people who knew of her existence, the better off she was, and more time she could devote to her valuable research.

Shea entered the thick forest of trees, touched their trunks reverently. She always kept a supply of blood hand, easy enough tapping into the blood banks with her hacker skills, but that required monthly trips. There were three villages within a night's travel and she could scatter her trips between them. Lately she had grown so much weaker, fatigue was a major problem and bruises were refusing to heal. A craving in her was growing, an emptiness, begging to be filled. Her life was drawing to a close.

Shea yawned. She needed to go back and sleep. Normally she never slept at night, but saved those dead hours for afternoon when the sun took the heaviest toll on her body. She was miles from her house, in deep forest, high in the remotest part of the mountains. She came this way often, drawn inexplicably to the area. She felt restless, an overwhelming sense of urgency. She needed to be somewhere, but she had no idea where. When she analyzed how she felt, she realized the force urging her onward was almost a compulsion.

She had every intention of turning around and going home, but her feet continued along the uphill path. There were wolves in these mountains, she often heard them singing at night. There was such joy in their voices, beauty in their song. She could touch the mind of animals when she chose. She had never attempted such a thing with a creature as wild and unpredictable as a wolf. Their nightly songs almost made her wish she might encounter one.

She continued to move forward, pulled toward an unknown destination. Nothing seemed to matter but that she continue moving upward, always higher into the wildest, most isolated area she had ever been in. She should have been afraid, but the further she got from her cabin, the more important it seemed for her to go on.

Her hand went up absently, rubbed at her temples, her forehead. There was a curious buzzing in her head. Strange how hunger gnawed at her insides. It wasn't normal hunger, it was different. Again she had the strange feeling she was sharing her mind with another being and the hunger was not really hers. Part of the time it seemed as though she was walking in a dream world. Tails of fog wound around the trees, hovered above the ground. The fog was beginning to thicken a bit, the air temperature dropping several degrees.

Shea shivered, ran her hands up and down her arms. Her feet picked a path, missing rotting logs. She was always astonished how silently she could move through the forest, instinctively avoiding fresh twigs and loose rocks. Something rippled in her mind. Where are you? Why do you refuse to come to me? That voice was a venomous hiss of fury. She stopped, horrified, and pressed both hands to her head. It was her nightmare, the same voice calling to her, echoing in her head. The nightmares were coming more often, haunting her sleep, disturbing her waking hours, creeping into her mind at all hours. Sometimes she thought she might go mad.

Shea picked her way over a rippling stream. The rocks, vibrant splashes of color, were flat and welcoming. She used them to cross the crystal clear water. It was icy cold when she bent to idly trail her fingers in it. The feel of the stream was soothing to her.

Something compelled her forward. First one foot, than the other. It was madness to go so far from her cabin. She was too many hours without sleep. She even considered she was sleepwalking she felt so strange. Shea paused near a small clearing and stared up at the star lit sky. She didn't even realize she was moving until she had crossed the clearing and was in a thick grove of trees. A branch snagged in her hair forcing her to stop again. Her head felt heavy, her mind clouded. She needed to be somewhere desperately, but she didn't know where. Listening didn't help. With her acute hearing, she would have heard if any person or any creature was hurt or in trouble. Shea sniffed the night air. She would probably get lost and get caught out in the open and the sun would fry her. She would deserve it for this stupidity.

Although she laughed at herself, the feeling was so powerful that Shea walked on, allowing her body to ramble where it wanted to go. An almost non-existent path, heavily grown over, wove in and out of brambles and trees. She followed it faithfully, intrigued now, wondering what could draw her away from her research. Woods gave way to a higher meadow. She crossed the open field, her pace began to pick up as if she had a purpose. At the far end of the meadow, a few scattered trees looked down on the remains of an old building. It had been no small cabin, but a good-sized home, blackened and crumbling, the forest creeping back to take what had once belonged to it.

She walked along the perimeters, certain something had brought her to this place, but unable to identify what or the reason. It was a place of power, she could feel that, but for what or how to use it, she had no idea. She paced, her body restless, a relentless pressure in her mind, like she was on the verge of a great discovery. Squatting low, her hands let the soil run idly through her fingers. Once. Twice. Her hand found timber beneath the dirt. Shea's breath caught in her throat and her pulse jumped with excitement. Something. She was certain of it. Carefully brushing away the topsoil, she found a large single door, six feet by four with a solid metal pull. It took all of her strength to lift it and she had to sit for a few minutes to catch her breath and get the nerve to look into the hole. Rickety steps, rotted and cracking with age, led downward into the large room. A moment of hesitation and Shea went, her body and mind pulling her when her brain wanted to be more cautious.

The walls of the cellar were constructed out of dirt and crumbling stone. No one, nothing had disturbed the place in years. Shea's head went up alertly, eyes scanning the area quickly, senses flaring out looking for danger. There was nothing. That was the trouble. It was totally silent. Eerily so. No night creatures, no insects. She could not detect so much as a rat scurrying or the shine of a spider's web.

Her hand of its own accord began to skim along the wall. There were no animal tracks in the dirt. Nothing. Shea wanted out of there. Some sense of self-preservation urged her to get out. She shook her head, unable to leave even though the place distressed her. For one horrible moment her imagination caught up with her and she felt something watching her, lying in wait, dark and deadly. It was so real she nearly ran, but just as she turned, determined to go while she had the chance, her fingers found more wood beneath the dirt of the wall.

Curious, Shea examined the surface. Whatever lay on the other side had been deliberately covered. Age had not done it. Unable to stop herself, she dug away handfuls of soil and loose rock until she uncovered a strip of rotting wood. Another door? It was at least six feet high, maybe more. She dug in earnest now, carelessly throwing handfuls of dirt behind her. Her hand brushed something ghastly.

She recoiled, leaping back as dried little carcasses fell to the ground. Dead rats. Hundreds of withered bodies. Horrified she stared at the rotting box she had uncovered. The dirt holding it in place shifted and the box fell forward, part of the lid on one side giving way. Shea backed all the way to the stairs, alarmed at her find. The pressure in her head increased until she cried out with the pain, falling to one knee before she could climb the steep rickety stairs leading out into the fog-filled night.

Surely it wasn't a coffin. Who would bury a body upright in the wall that way? Something, morbid curiosity, some compulsion she couldn't overcome, forced her feet back to it. She actually tried to stop herself from moving forward, but she couldn't stop. Her hand trembled as she reached out gingerly to shove off the rotting lid.

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