village was far too small to stand against the army advancing
so quickly toward them. Nothing had slowed the Turk army. Everything
in their path had been destroyed, everyone murdered, cruelly murdered.
Bodies were elevated on crude spears and left for the scavengers
to finish off. Blood ran in rivers. No one was spared, not even
the youngest child or the oldest elder. The Turks burned and tortured
and mutilated, leaving behind only rats and fire and death.
Lucian Continued-Carpathian Mountains
The village was eerily silent, not
even a child dared to cry. The people could only look at one another
in despair and hopelessness. There would be no help, no way to
stop the massacre. They would fall as had all the villages before
them in the wake of that terrible enemy. They were too few and
had only their peasant weapons to fight off the advancing hordes.
They were totally helpless. And then the two warriors came striding
out of the fog-filled night. They moved as one unit, in perfect
accord, in perfect step. They moved with a peculiar animal grace,
fluid and supple and totally silent. They were tall and broad-shouldered
with long flowing hair and eyes of death. Some said they could
see the red flames of hell burning in the depths of those black
Grown men moved out of their way,
women shrank into the shadows. The two warriors looked neither
left nor right, yet saw everything. Power clung to them like a
second skin. They ceased to move, became as still as the surrounding
mountains as the village elder joined them just above the scattered
huts where they could stare out at the empty meadow separating
them from the forest.
"What news?" The elder
asked. "We heard of the slaughters in every direction. There
is nothing that can stop this storm of death. Now it is our turn.
We have nowhere to go, Lucian, nowhere to hide our families. We
will fight, but like all the others, we will be defeated."
"We are traveling fast this
night, Old One, as we are needed elsewhere. It is said our Prince
has been slain. We must go to our people. You have always been
a good and kind man. Gabriel and I will go out this night and
do what we can to help you before we move on. The Turks can be
very superstitious people." The tone was pure and beautiful,
like velvet. Anyone listening to that voice could do no other
than exactly what Lucian commanded. All who heard it wanted only
to hear it again and again. The voice alone could enthrall, could
seduce, could kill.
"Go with God," the village
elder whispered in thanks.
The two men moved then. Perfect
rhythm, fluid, silent. Once out of sight of the village, without
speaking a word aloud, they shape-shifted at exactly the same
moment, taking the form of an owl. Wings beat strongly in the
night as they circled high above the timberline searching out
the sleeping army. Several miles from the village the earth below
was strewn with hundreds of men.
Fog moved in, thick and white, low
to the ground. The wind ceased so that the mist lay dense and
stationary. Without warning, several dozen owls dropped silently
out of the sky, razor-sharp talons directed straight at the eyes
of the sentries. The owls were everywhere working in precise synchronization
to target each guard so that they were in and out before anyone
could come to the sentries' assistance. Screams of pain and terror
filled the void of silence so that the army raised up, grabbing
for weapons and searching for an enemy in the thick white fog.
They saw only their own people, empty sockets for eyes, blood
running down faces as guards ran sightlessly in all directions.
In the center of the mass of warriors,
an audible crack was heard, then another. Crack after crack and
two lines of men dropped to the ground with broken necks. It was
as if hidden within the thick fog were invisible enemies moving
quickly from man to man breaking necks with their bare hands.
Chaos erupted, men ran in all directions screaming into the surrounding
forest. Wolves boiled out of nowhere, packs of them, snapping
with powerful jaws at the fleeing army. Men fell on their own
spears as if directed to do so. Others rammed their spears into
neighbors unable to stop themselves no matter how hard they fought
the compulsion. Blood and death reigned along with terror. Voices
whispered in their heads, in the very air, whispered of defeat
and death. Blood soaked the ground. The night went on and on until
there was no place to hide from the unseen terrors, from the specters
of death, from the wild beasts that came to help defeat the army.
In the morning the villagers went
forth to fight and found only the dead.
air reeked of death of destruction. All around were the smoking
ruins of the human villages. The Carpathian ancients had tried in
vain to save their neighbors, but the Turks had struck as the sun
reached its highest peak. The vulnerable hour rendered the ancients
helpless as their powers were weakest at that time. So many of them
had been destroyed, men, women and children alike. Only those of
their people who had been far away had escaped the crushing blow.
Julian, young and strong, yet a mere
boy, surveyed the sight with sad eyes. There were so few of his
kind left. And their Prince, Vladimer Dubrinsky was dead along with
his lifemate, Sarantha. It was a catastrophe, a blow from which
their species might never recover from. Julian stood tall and straight,
his long blond hair flowing well past his shoulders.
Dimitri came up behind him. "What
are you doing here? You know it is dangerous. We cannot be out in
the open like this. There are so many that would destroy us. We
were told to stay close to the others." Despite his youth,
he moved protectively closer to the younger boy.
"I can take care of myself,"
Julian declared staunchly. "And what are you doing out here?"
The young boy gripped the arm of the older boy beside him. "I
saw them. I am certain it was them. Lucian and Gabriel. It was them."
There was awe in his voice.
"It cannot be." Dimitri
whispered it, looking in all directions. He was excited and scared
at the same time. No one, not even the adults named the twin hunters
aloud. Lucian and Gabriel. They were legend, myth, not reality.
"Come on, I am certain. I knew
they would come when they heard the Prince was dead. What else could
they do? I am certain they have gone to see Mikhail and Gregori."
The older boy gasped aloud. "Gregori
is here also?" He followed the smaller boy through the thick
forest. "He will catch us spying, Julian, he knows everything."
The blond boy shrugged, a mischievous
grin curving his mouth. "I am going to see them up close, Dimitri.
I am not afraid of Gregori."
"You should be. And I have heard Lucian
and Gabriel are really the undead."
Julian burst out laughing. "Who told
"I heard two of the males talking about
it. They said no one could survive as long as they have hunting
and killing and not turn."
"The humans have been at war and our
people have been destroyed. Even our Prince is dead. There are vampires
everywhere. Everyone is killing everyone else. I do not think we
have to worry about Gabriel and Lucian. If they were really vampires,
we would all be dead. No one, not even Gregori could defeat them
in battle," Julian defended. "They are so powerful no
one would be able to destroy them. They have always been loyal to
the Prince, always."
"Our Prince is dead. They are not necessarily
loyal to Mikhail as the heir." Dimitri was obviously quoting
Julian shook his head in exasperation
and continued forward, this time making certain to be silent. He
made his way through the thick vegetation until the house was in
sight. Far off, a wolf howled, the note high and lonely sounding.
A second wolf answered, then a third, both much closer. Julian and
Dimitri shape-shifted. They were not going to miss the legendary
shadow figures. Lucian and Gabriel were the greatest vampire hunters
throughout the history of their people. It was well known there
was no one that could defeat them. The news that they had single-handly
destroyed an entire Turk army during the night had preceded their
arrival. No one knew what their exact body count was but over the
last few centuries, it was extremely high.
Julian assumed the shape of a small
marmot, moving in close to the house. He kept a watchful eye out
for owls as he approached the front porch. He heard them then. Four
voices murmuring softly from within the interior of the house. Although
he was young, Julian had the incredible hearing of the Carpathian
people. He used the acute hearing of his people, determined to get
every word. The four greatest Carpathians alive were in that house
and he would not miss the event. He was barely aware of Dimitri
"You have no choice, Mikhail,"
a soft voice said. The voice was incredible, pure velvet, commanding
yet gentle. "You must assume the mantle of authority. The bloodline
is your inheritance. Your father had a preshadowing of his own death
and his instructions were clear. You must assume leadership. Gregori
will help you in this time of great need and we will do the job
your father asked of us. The mantle of authority does not belong
to our bloodline."
"You are an ancient, Lucian. One of
you should rule our people. We are so few, our women lost to us,
our children gone. Without women, what are our males to do?"
Julian recognized Mikhail's voice. "They have no choice but
to seek the dawn or become the undead. God knows, we already have
enough of them doing that. I have not yet acquired the wisdom to
lead our people in such time of great need."
"You have the blood and the power
and most of all, our people believe in you. They fear us, our power
and knowledge and all that we stand for." Lucian's voice was
too beautiful, too compelling. Julian loved the sound of that voice,
could listen to it for all time. It was no wonder the adults were
afraid of his power. Even at Julian's young age he recognized the
voice as a weapon. And Lucian was simply talking normally. What
would it be like if he wished to take command of those around him?
Who would be able to resist such a voice? "We give you our
allegiance as we did your father, Mikhail, and will provide you
with whatever knowledge we can to aid you in your difficult task.
Gregori, we know you as a great hunter already. Is your tie to Mikhail
strong enough to see you through the dark days that will follow?"
Lucian's voice, although as soft as ever, demanded truth.
Julian held his breath. Gregori was blood
kin to Gabriel and Lucian. The
Those of that bloodline were always the defenders of their race,
the ones that brought the undead to justice. Gregori was already
powerful in his own right. It didn't seem possible that he could
be compelled to answer, yet he did.
"As long as Mikhail lives, so do I
that I may provide for his safety and that of his line."
"You will serve our people, Mikhail,
and our brother will serve you as we did your father. It is right.
Gabriel and I will continue the fight to defeat the strangle-hold
the undead have on the humans and our own race."
"There are so many," Mikhail
"There is so much death, so much
fighting and our women have all but been stamped out. The males
must have hope for a future, Mikhail, you must find a way to provide
them with one, or there is no reason to hold out when the darkness
stretches on endlessly. We must have women to provide our males
with lifemates. Our women are the light to our darkness. Males are
wholly predatory, dark, dangerous hunters growing more deadly as
the centuries pass. Eventually, if we cannot find lifemates, our
race will be extinct and the dangerous males will choose to give
up their souls. There will be such devastation, as we cannot imagine.
That is your task, Mikhail, and it is a monumental one."
"As is yours," Mikhail said softly.
"To take so many lives and stay as one of us is no small thing.
Our people have much to thank you for."
Julian, within the body of the marmot,
scampered back into the bushes not wanting to be caught by the ancients.
There was a rustle in the bushes behind him and he turned. Two tall
men were standing there in complete silence. Their eyes were dark
and empty, their faces carved in stone. Around him the mist seemed
to fall from the sky leaving Dimitri in a heap beside the smaller
boy. Julian caught his breath and stared in astonishment. Gregori
materialized just slightly in front of the two boys, almost protectively.
When Julian moved his head to look around the larger body, the mythical
hunters were gone as if they'd never been and the boys were left
to face Gregori.
Lucian 1500 France
sun faded from the sky leaving behind brilliant colors. Those colors
slowly were taken over by the charcoal of the night. Beneath the
earth a single heart began to beat. Lucian lay in rich soil. His
wounds from the last terrible battle were healed. He scanned the
area around his resting place noting only movement of animals. Dirt
spewed upwards as he burst from the earth into the sky, drawing
in the air to breathe. His world would be changed this night for
all time. Gabriel and Lucian were identical twins. They looked alike,
thought alike, fought alike. Over the centuries they had acquired
knowledge in all areas and subjects and shared that knowledge with
All Carpathian males eventually lost
their emotions and the ability to see colors leaving them in a dark,
bleak world where only their sense of loyalty and honor kept them
from turning vampire while they waited for their lifemate. Gabriel
and Lucian had made a pact with one another. If one were to turn
vampire, the other would hunt and destroy his twin before walking
into the dawn. Lucian had known for some time Gabriel was wrestling
the demon, consumed by the darkness spreading within him. The constant
battles had taken their toll. Gabriel was far too close to turning.
Lucian inhaled deeply, taking in the
clear night air. He was determined to keep Gabriel alive, to keep
him safe from harm. There was one way to do so. If he could convince
Gabriel that he had joined the ranks of the undead, Gabriel could
do no other than hunt him. It would prevent Gabriel from battling
any other than Lucian. By not having to kill, by having a purpose,
Gabriel would be able to hold on indefinitely. Lucian took to the
air, searching for his first victim.
Lucian 1600 London
young woman stood on the street corner, her smile painted on.
The night was cold and dark. She was shivering continually. Somewhere
in the darkness was a killer. He had already murdered two of the
women she knew. She had begged Thomas not to send her out tonight,
but he had slapped her several times before pushing her out the
door. She crossed her arms over her chest and tried desperately
to look like she enjoyed what she was doing.
A man was coming up the street.
Her breath caught in her throat and her heart began to pound.
He wore a dark coat and top hat and carried a cane. He looked
like he was from the upper class, slumming in her part of town.
She struck a pose and waited. He walked right past her. She knew
Thomas would beat her if she didn't call out, try to entice this
stranger to her, but she couldn't make herself do it.
The man paused and turned. He circled
her slowly, looking her up and down as if she were a piece of
meat. She tried to smile at him, but something about him frightened
her. He pulled out a handful of money and waved it at her. His
smile was taunting. He knew she was frightened. He pointed with
his cane toward the alley.
She went. She knew better, but she
was just as afraid of going home to Thomas without money as she
was of going into the alley with the stranger. He was ruthless,
forcing her to perform all kinds of acts right there in the alley.
He hurt her deliberately and she endured it because she had no
other choice. When he was finished he shoved her to the ground
and kicked at her with an elegantly clad shoe. She looked up to
see the straight razor in his hand and knew he was the killer.
There was no time to scream, no reason to do so. She was going
A man loomed up behind her killer. He
was physically the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Tall
and broad-shouldered with long flowing hair and icy black eyes.
He materialized out of nowhere so close to her attacker she had
no idea how he could have gotten there unseen by either of them.
The man simply reached out with his hands, caught the murderer's
neck and wrenched hard.
Run. Run now. She heard the
words clearly in her head and could not even wait to thank her
rescuer. She ran away as fast as she could.
Lucian waited until he was certain
she had obeyed his order before he bent his dark head to the neck
of the murderer. It was imperative that he drain the blood from
his victim and leave the evidence for Gabriel to find.
"I find you here as I expected, Lucian,
you cannot hide from me," Gabriel's soft voice came from
Lucian allowed the body to fall to the
ground. Over the long years it had become a game of cat and mouse
no other could play. They knew one another so well, they had choreographed
their battles together for so many years that each knew what the
other was thinking almost before he thought it. They knew each
other's strengths and weaknesses. Over the years they had scored
many mortal wounds on each other only to break apart and go to
ground to heal. Lucian turned toward his twin brother, a slow,
humorless smile softening the hard edges of his mouth. "You
"You were too greedy this time,
Lucian, killing your prey before you fed."
"Perhaps it was a mistake,"
Lucian agreed softly, "but do not worry about me, I am more
than capable of finding myself warm bodies. There is none that
can defeat me, not even my brother who gave me his word to do
this one small thing."
Gabriel struck hard and fast as Lucian
knew he would. Lucian was no longer there. They came together
in a deadly battle they had been practicing for centuries.
Present Day Paris
crouched low, his stance that of a fighter. Behind him, his lifemate
watched with sorrow-filled eyes as the tall, elegant man approached.
He looked what he was, a dark, dangerous predator. The black eyes
glittered dangerously, graveyard eyes. Eyes of death. He moved
with an animal grace, a ripple of power.
at five --Florida, US
"Stay back, Lucian," Gabriel
warned softly. "You will not endanger my lifemate."
"Then you will do as you vowed
so many centuries ago. You must destroy me." The voice was
a whisper of velvet, a soft command.
Gabriel recognized the hidden compulsion
even as he leapt forward to strike. At the last possible second,
with his lifemate's denial loud in his mind, he whipped his clawed
hand at his twin brother's throat and realized Lucian had opened
his arms wide in acceptance of the kill. No vampire would do
such a thing. Never. The undead fought with their dying breath
to kill everyone and everything around them. To sacrifice ones
life was not the act of a vampire.
The knowledge came too late. Crimson droplets
sprayed the room, arced over the heavy curtains. Gabriel tried
to go back, to reach his brother, but Lucian's power was far too
great. Gabriel was unable to move, stopped in his tracks by Lucian's
will alone. His eyes widened in surprise. Lucian had so much power.
Gabriel was an ancient, more powerful than most on earth, he would
have said Lucian's equal until that moment.
"You must let us aid you," Francesca,
Gabriel's lifemate said softly. Her voice was crystal clear, soothing.
She was a great healer. If anyone could prevent Lucian's death,
she could. "I know what you have done here. You think to
end it now."
Lucian's white teeth gleamed. "Gabriel
has you to keep him safe. That was my task and it is ended. I
go now to rest."
Blood was soaking his clothes, running
down his arm. He made no attempt to stop it. He simply stood there,
tall and straight. There was no accusation reflected in his eyes
or voice or in his expression.
Gabriel shook his head. "You
did this for me. Four hundred years you have deceived me. You
prevented me from the kills, from turning. Why? Why would you
risk your soul this way?"
"I knew you had a lifemate.
Someone who would know told it to me many years ago. I asked it
of him for you and knew he would not tell an untruth. You did
not lose your feelings and emotions quickly, as I did. It took
centuries for it to happen to you. I was a mere fledging when
they ceased for me. But you merged your mind with mine and I could
share your joy in life, see through your eyes. You made me remember
what I could never have for myself." Lucian staggered.
Gabriel had been waiting for the
one moment when Lucian would weaken and he took advantage, leaping
to his brother's side, sweeping his tongue across the gaping wound
to close it. His lifemate was at his side. Very gently she took
Lucian's hand in hers. "You think there is no more purpose
to your existence."
Lucian closed his eyes tiredly.
"I have hunted and killed for two thousand years, sister,
my soul has so many pieces missing that it is like a sieve. If
I do not go now, I may not go later and my beloved brother would
be forced to destroy me. It would be no easy task. He must remain
safe. I have done my duty. Let me rest."
"There is another," Francesca
told him softly. "She is not like us. She is mortal. At this
moment she is young and in terrible pain. I can only say to you,
if you do not find her, she will live a life of such agony and
despair, as we cannot imagine with all of our great gifts. You
must live for her. You must endure for her."
"You are telling me I have
"And that her need of you is great."
"I am no gentle man. I have
killed so long I know of no other existence. Tying a mortal woman
to me is sentencing her to live with a monster." Even as
he made the denial, Lucian was not resisting as Gabriel's lifemate
began to work on the savage wound. Gabriel filled the room with
healing herbs and began the ancient healing chant as old as time
"I will heal you now, my brother,"
she said softly. "A monster such as yourself will be able
to protect her from the monsters who would destroy one such as
Gabriel cut his wrist and pressed
the wound to his twin's mouth. "I offer my life freely for
yours. Take what you need to heal. We will put you deep within
the soil and guard you until you are at full strength."
"Your first duty is to your
lifemate, Lucian," Francesca reminded softly. "You can
do no other than find her and remove her from danger."
"Look at me, Uncle Tyler,"
Jaxon Montgomery called proudly, waving from the top of the high
wooden tower she had just climbed.
"You're crazy, Matt," Russell
Andrews shook his head, shading his eyes against the sun as he stared
up at the replica of the high platform used for training recruits.
"She could break her neck if she fell." He glanced at
the small, fragile woman lying on the chaise lounge, cuddling her
newborn son. "What about it, Rebecca? Jaxx isn't even five
yet and Matt has her training for Special Forces."
Rebecca Montgomery smiled absently
and looked up at her husband as if asking his opinion. She didn't
even glance at her daughter.
"Jaxon's great," Matt said
immediately, reaching to capture his wife's hand and bringing her
knuckles to his mouth. "She loves this stuff. She was doing
it before she could walk."
Tyler Drake waved to the tiny girl
calling to him. "I don't know, Matt, Russell's right. She's
so small. She takes after Rebecca in her looks and build."
He grinned. "Of course we were rather lucky in that department.
The rest of her is all you. She's a daredevil, a little fighter,
just like her daddy."
"I'm not so certain that's a
good thing," Russell said, frowning. He couldn't take his eyes
off the child. His heart was in his throat. His little girl was
seven years old and he would never allow her near the tower Matt
and Tyler had constructed in Matt's backyard. "You know, Matt,
it's possible to force a child to grow up too fast. Jaxon is still
Matt laughed. "That baby can cook breakfast
for her mother and serve it to her in bed and change diapers. She's
been reading since she was three. I mean really reading. She loves
physical challenges. There's not much on the training course she
can't do. I've been teaching her martial arts and some Judo. Tyler
has been working survival training with her. She loves it."
Russell scowled. "I can't believe you're
encouraging Matt, Tyler. He never listens to anyone but you. That
child adores both of you and neither of you have any sense where
she's concerned." He manfully refrained from adding that Rebecca
was a washout as a mother. "I hope to hell you don't have her
swimming in the ocean."
"Maybe Russell's right, Matt,"
Tyler sounded worried. "Jaxon's a little trooper with the heart
of a lion, but maybe we push her too much. And I had no idea you
were allowing her to cook for Rebecca. That could really be dangerous."
"Someone has to do it," Matt shrugged
his wide shoulders, "you can't expect Rebecca to do it. Jaxon
knows what she's doing. When I'm not home she knows very well I
hold her responsible for Rebecca's care. And now we have little
Mathew Jr. Just for your information, Jaxx is a good swimmer already."
"Are you listening to yourself,
Matt?" Russell demanded, "Jaxon is a child, a baby. Rebecca!
For God's sake, you're her mother." As usual, neither parent
responded to anything they didn't want to hear. Matt treated Rebecca
like a porcelain doll. Neither paid much attention to their daughter.
Exasperated, Russell appealed to Matt's best friend. "Tyler
Tyler nodded slowly in agreement. "You
shouldn't put so much pressure on her, Matt. Jaxon is an exceptional
child, but she's still a baby." His eyes were on the small
girl waving and smiling. Without another word he got up and began
striding toward the tower where the little girl was calling to him
screams coming from her mother's room were horrible to hear. Rebecca
was inconsolable. Bernice, Russell's wife had called the doctor
to administer tranquilizers. Jaxx put her hands over her ears to
try to muffle the terrible sounds of grief. Mathew Jr. had been
crying for some time in his room and it was obvious her mother was
not going to go to her son. Jaxon wiped at the steady stream of
tears falling from her eyes, lifted her chin and went across the
hall to her brother's room.
"Don't cry, Mattie," she
crooned softly, lovingly. "Don't worry about a thing. I'm here
now. Mommy is very upset about Daddy, but we can get through this
if we stick together. You and me. We'll get Mommy through it too."
Uncle Tyler had come to their house with
two other officers and informed Rebecca her husband would not ever
be coming home again. Something had gone terribly wrong on their
last mission. Rebecca had not stopped screaming since.
is she today, honey," Tyler asked softly, stooping to kiss
Jaxon on the cheek. He laid the bouquet of flowers down on the table
and turned his attention to the little girl he had loved since the
day she was born.
"She isn't having a very good day,"
Jaxon admitted reluctantly. She always told Tyler the truth about
her mother, but no one else, not even Uncle Russell. "I think
she took too many of those pills again. She won't get out of bed
and when I try to tell her things about Mathew, she just stares
at me. He's finally out of diapers and I'm so proud of him, but
she won't say anything at all to him. If she does pick him up she
squeezes him so hard he cries."
"I have something to ask you, Jaxx,"
Tyler said. "It's important you tell me the truth. I don't
like you living here all by yourselves. Your mom is sick most of
the time and you have to take care of Mathew, manage the house and
go to school. I was thinking maybe I should move in and help out
Jaxon's eyes lit up. "Move in
with us? How?"
"I could marry your mother and be your
father. Not like Mathew of course, but your stepfather. I think
it would help your mother and I'd sure like to be here for you and
little Mathew. But only if you want me, honey, otherwise I won't
even talk to Rebecca about it."
Jaxon smiled at him. "That's why you
brought the flowers, isn't it? Do you think she'll really do it?
Is there a chance?"
"I know I can persuade her. The only
time you get a break around here is when I've got you on our training
course. You're getting to be quite a marksmen too."
"Marksperson, Uncle Tyler," Jaxon
corrected with a sudden teasing grin. "And the other night
in karate class I kicked Don Jacobson's butt." The only time
she found herself laughing anymore was when Uncle Tyler took her
off to the Special Forces training area and they played soldier.
Female or not, Jaxon was becoming someone to contend with and it
made her proud.
book was a mystery and well suited to the stormy night. Tree branches
were rattling the window and rain drummed heavily on the roof. The
first time she heard the noise, Jaxon thought it was her imagination,
just because the book was so scary. Then she stiffened and her heart
began to pound. He was doing it again. She knew it. As quietly as
possible, she crept out of bed and opened her door.
The sounds coming from her mother's
bedroom were muffled, but she heard them all the same. Her mother
was weeping, pleading. There was the distinctive sound Jaxon knew
so well. She had been in a karate class as long as she could remember.
She knew what it sounded like when someone got punched. She ran
along the hall to her brother's room to check on him first. Thankfully
he was sound asleep. When Tyler was like this, she hid Matthew from
him. He seemed to hate Mathew at times, his eyes cold and ugly every
time they rested on the little boy, especially if Mathew happened
to be crying. Tyler didn't like it when anyone cried and Mathew
was little enough to cry over almost every little scratch or imagined
hurt. Or every time Tyler glared at him.
Taking a deep breath Jaxon went to stand
just outside her mother's bedroom. She found it so hard to believe
Tyler could be as he was with her mother and Mathew. She loved Tyler.
She had always loved him. He spent hours training Jaxon like a soldier
and everything in her responded to the physical training. She loved
the courses he set up to challenge her. Jaxon could go up nearly
impassable cliffs and slither through tiny tunnels in record time.
She was in her element out on the range, firing weapons and fighting
hand to hand. Jaxon could even track Tyler now, a feat most of those
in his unit were unable to do. She was especially proud of that.
Tyler always seemed proud of her and very warm and loving towards
her. She had always believed Tyler loved his family with the same
fierce protective loyalty she did. Now she was very confused, wishing
her mother was someone she could talk with, reason it all out. Jaxon
was coming to realize that her stepfather's easy charm hid his constant
need to control his world and those in it. Rebecca and Mathew didn't
meet his standards of what they should be and he made them pay dearly
Jaxon took a deep breath and very quietly
pushed the door open a crack. She stood perfectly still as Tyler
had taught her to do when there was danger. Tyler had her mother
pressed against the side of the wall, his hand squeezing her throat.
Rebecca's eyes were bulging and wide with terror. "It was so
easy to do it, Rebecca. He always thought he was so good no one
could ever do him, but I did. And now I have you and his kids, just
like I told him. I stood over him and watched the life go out of
him and I laughed. He knew what I would do to you, I made certain
of that. You've always been so useless. I told him I would give
you a chance, but you just couldn't manage it, could you? He spoiled
you just like your daddy did. Rebecca, the little princess. You
always looked down on us. You always thought you were so much better
than us just because you had all that money." He leaned close
so that his forehead was bumping Rebecca's and sprays of spit washed
over her as he enunciated each word. "All your precious money
would go to me if anything happened to you, wouldn't it?" He
shook her like a rag doll, an easy thing to do when Rebecca was
At that moment, Jaxon knew Tyler was
going to kill Rebecca, that he wanted to kill her. He hated her,
and he hated Mathew. Jaxon was bright enough to realize, although
she was hearing something out of context, that Tyler had very likely
murdered her father. Both of them were on the Seal team and not
so easy to kill, but her father wouldn't have been expecting his
best friend to betray him.
She could see her mother's eyes trying desperately
to warn her. Rebecca was afraid for Jaxon, afraid if she interfered,
Tyler would turn on her.
"Daddy?" Deliberately Jaxon said
the word softly into the menaced-filled night. "Something woke
me up. I had a bad dream. Will you sit up with me? I really need
you. You don't mind, do you, Mommy?"
It took a few moments before the tension
seeped out of Tyler's ramrod stiff shoulders. His fingers slowly
loosened from around Rebecca's throat. Air rushed back into her
lungs yet she remained cowering against the wall, frozen with terror,
trying to suppress the cough welling in her raw throat. Her eyes
had jumped to Jaxon's face. Rebecca desperately, silently, tried
to warn her daughter of the danger. Tyler was completely mad, a
killer, and there was no escape from him. He could find them, he
had warned her what would happen if she tried to leave him and Rebecca
did not have the strength to save them. Not even for little Mathew.
Jaxon smiled up at Tyler with complete
childlike trust. "I'm sorry I disturbed you, but I really did
hear something and the dream was so real. When you're with me, I
always feel so safe." Her stomach was cramping, protesting
the terrible lie, her palms were sweaty, yet she managed perfect
Tyler sent Rebecca a hard stare over his
shoulder as he took Jaxon's hand. "Go to bed, Rebecca. I'll
sit up with Jaxon. God knows you've never done it, not even when
she was sick." His hand was strong, she could still feel tension
in him, yet Jaxon could also feel the warmth that he always exuded
whenever they were together. Whatever had possessed her stepfather
in those earlier moments seemed gone once was he was physically
linked to Jaxon.
In the two years that followed, Jaxon and
Rebecca tried to hide their growing concern with Tyler's mental
state from Mathew. They kept the child as far from Tyler as possible.
The little boy seemed to be some kind of a catalyst to bring about
the change in what once had been a loving man. Tyler often commented
that Mathew's eyes were following him around the room. Mathew learned
to avert his gaze when Tyler was in the same room. Tyler looked
at the little boy coldly, unemotionally, or with absolute hatred.
He looked at Rebecca with a stranger's eyes. It was only Jaxon who
seemed able to connect to him, to keep him centered. It frightened
her, that terrible responsibility. She could see the evil thing
within Tyler was growing ever stronger and after a time Rebecca
relied completely on Jaxon to cope with it. She stayed in her room,
taking the pills Tyler supplied, ignoring her two children. When
Jaxon tried to tell her that she was afraid Tyler would harm Mathew,
Rebecca pulled the covers over her head and rocked back and forth
with a keening sound.
Desperate, Jaxon tried to tell the other
members on Tyler's team that something might be wrong with him.
The men merely laughed and passed on what she had said to Tyler.
He was so furious Jaxon was certain he would kill them all. Although
she was the one who had told, he centered the blame on Rebecca,
repeating over and over that she had forced Jaxon to lie about him.
He beat Rebecca so badly, Jaxon wanted to take her to the hospital,
but Tyler refused. Rebecca remained in her bed for weeks and was
confined to the house after that. Jaxon spent a great deal of her
time creating a fantasy world for Tyler, pretending to believe that
all was well in their home. She kept her brother far away from him
and deflected his anger from her mother as much as possible. More
and more she spent time with Tyler on the range, learning as much
as she could about self-defense, weapons, hiding and tracking. It
was the only time she knew her mother and brother were truly safe.
The others on the Seal team contributed readily to her training
and Tyler seemed normal at those times. Rebecca had retreated so
far from the real world, Jaxon dared not take Mathew and run, as
she would have had to leave her mother behind and she was certain
Tyler would kill her. Little Mathew and Jaxon had their own secret
world they dared not share with anyone, they resigned themselves
to live in constant fear.
Jaxon's fifteenth birthday
in science class she suddenly knew. She felt it, an overwhelming
premonition of danger. She remembered gasping for breath, her lungs
refusing to work. Jaxon ran from the classroom, knocking her book
and papers from her desk so that they fell in a scattered shower,
floating to the floor behind her. The teacher called to her, but
Jaxon ignored him and continued running. The wind seemed to rush
past her as she sped down the streets, taking every shortcut she
As she neared the house, Jaxon slowed
abruptly, her heart pounding. The front door was gaping open, an
invitation to enter. At once darkness took hold of her mind. She
felt a sharp demand to stop, to turn back, the premonition so strong
it held her frozen for a moment. Mathew had stayed home from school,
little Mathew who looked so like her father, who could send Tyler
into a killing fury so easily. Her Mathew.
Her mouth was dry and the taste of
fear was so strong she was afraid she was going to be sick. Her
stomach clenched and the pounding in her head increased until it
nearly drowned out the overwhelming urge for self-preservation.
Jaxon forced her foot forward. One step. It was difficult, like
forcing herself to walk through quicksand. She had to look inside
the house. She had to do it. The pull to do so was stronger than
the instinct for self preservation. A smell was flowing out to her,
an odor foreign to her, yet every instinct she possessed told her
what it was. "Mom." She whispered it aloud, a sacred talisman
to make her world right again, to drive away the truth and knowledge
that was in her pounding in her head.
The only way she could force her body
to move was to lock herself against the side of the house and inch
her way painfully forward. She was fighting her own instincts, fighting
the reluctance to face what was in there. Keeping her hand pressed
firmly against her mouth to keep from screaming, she turned her
head slowly to allow her eyes to see into the interior of the house.
The living room looked the same as
ever. Familiar. Comforting. It did nothing to stop the fear, instead,
she felt terrified. Jaxon forced herself forward to the hallway.
There was a smear of bright red blood on the doorjamb to Mathew's
room. Her heart began to beat so hard she was afraid it might pound
right through her chest. Jaxon edged her way along the wall until
she was right outside Mathew's room. She prayed fervently as she
took the tip of her thumb and slowly pushed open his door with it.
The horror of that sight would be imprinted
on her brain for all time. The walls were sprayed with blood, the
covers soaked with it. Mathew lay sprawled sideways on the bed,
his head hanging off at a right angle. His eye sockets were empty,
his once laughing eyes gone forever. She couldn't count the stab
wounds on his body. Jaxon did not go into the room, she couldn't,
something far more powerful than her will was stopping her. For
a moment she couldn't stand, sliding unexpectedly to the floor in
a huddled heap, a silent scream tearing through her body in absolute
She hadn't been there to defend him.
To save him. It was her responsibility. She was the strong one,
yet she had failed and Mathew, with his shining curls and his love
of life, had paid the ultimate price. Jaxon didn't want to move,
didn't think she could at first. Her mind seemed to go mercifully
blank so she was able to drag herself back up the wall and proceed
down the hall to her mother's bedroom. She already knew what she
would find. She told herself she was prepared.
This time the door was wide open.
Jaxon forced her eyes to look toward the interior. Rebecca lay crumpled
on the floor. She knew it was her mother by the mop of blonde hair
that spilled out like a halo around the crushed head. The rest of
the body was too mangled and bloody for recognition. Jaxon couldn't
pull her gaze away from the terrible sight. Her throat was closing
off, strangling her in reaction. She couldn't breathe.
There was a sound. The hint of a sound really,
but it was enough to trigger Jaxon's years of training. She leapt
to one side, whirling to face her stepfather. His hands and arms
were wet with blood, his shirt splattered and stained. He was smiling,
his face serene, his eyes warm with welcome.
"They're gone now, honey. We
won't ever have to listen to their whining again," Tyler held
out his hand to her, clearly expecting her to take it.
Jaxon backed a cautious step down the hall.
She didn't want to alarm Tyler. He didn't seem to notice he had
blood all over him. "I'm supposed to be in school, Uncle Tyler."
Her voice wasn't natural to her own ears.
A sudden scowl crossed his face.
"You haven't called me Uncle Tyler since you were eight years
old. What happened to Daddy? Your mother turned you against me,
didn't she?" He was moving toward her.
Jaxon stayed very quiet, very still, a look
of innocence on her face. "No one could ever turn me against
you, that would be impossible. You know Mom doesn't want to have
anything to do with me."
Tyler relaxed visibly. He was close
enough to touch her. Jaxon couldn't allow that, her tremendous discipline
would not extend far enough to let him touch her with the blood
of her family on his hands. She struck without warning, jabbing
her fist straight into his throat, her foot lashing out so that
the edge caught his kneecap hard. The moment she connected, Jaxon
turned and ran. She didn't look back once, she didn't dare. Tyler
was trained to respond despite being injured or hurt. In any case,
she was very small compared to her stepfather. The blow might stun
him, but it would never incapacitate him completely. With luck her
kick might have broken his knee, but she doubted it. Jaxon ran through
the house and straight out the door. They were living on base, Rebecca
had always liked the protection of living on base, and Tyler felt
more in control of them that way. Jaxon was grateful now. She screamed
at the top of her lungs, running straight across the street to Russell
Russell's wife, Bernice, came running
out to meet her, distress on her face. "What is it, Dear? Are
Russell joined them, circling Jaxon's
slender shoulders with his arm. "Is your mother ill?"
He knew better, he knew Jaxon. She was always a child in complete
control, calm under fire, always thinking. If Rebecca were ill,
Jaxon would have called for medical aid. Right now her face was
so pale she looked like a ghost. There was horror in her eyes, terror
in her expression. Russell glanced across the street at the silent
house with its door wide open. The wind was blowing, the air crisp
and cold. For some unknown reason, the house gave him the creeps.
Russell started across the street.
Jaxon caught his arm. "No, Uncle Russell, not by yourself.
You can't save them, they're already dead. Call the MP's."
"Who's dead, Jaxon?" Russell asked
quietly, knowing Jaxon wouldn't lie.
"Mathew and my mother. Uncle
Tyler killed them. He told Mom he killed my Father too. He's been
so strange and violent. He hated my Mother and Mathew. I tried to
tell you, but none of you would believe me." Jaxon was sobbing,
her hands over her face. "You wouldn't listen to me, none of
you would listen." She felt so sick, her stomach rebelling,
her mind replaying the scenes until she thought she might go insane.
"There was so much blood. He took Mathew's eyes. Why would
he do that? Mathew was only a little boy."
Russell pushed her toward Bernice.
"See to her, honey. She's going into shock."
"He killed everyone, my entire
family. He took everyone away from me. I didn't save them, I couldn't
Bernice hugged her tightly to her.
"Don't worry, Jaxon, you're with us."
Jaxon at Seventeen
beautiful," Don Jacobson leaned down to ruffle Jaxon's mop
of wild blond hair. He tried not to act too possessive, Jaxon always
shot down anyone who tried to get too close to her. She had a wall
erected so high around her, no one seemed to be able to break into
her world. Since the death of her family, Don had seen her laugh
only with Bernice and Russell Andrews and their daughter, Sabrina.
Sabrina was two years older than Jaxon and home for spring break.
"Where you off to in such a hurry? Master-Chief told me your
times were better than his new recruits."
Jaxon smiled rather absently. "My times
are always better than his new recruits every time he gets a new
group. I've been in training my entire life. I'd better be good
or Master-Chief would have thrown me out a long time ago. Too bad
women can't serve in the Seals. It's the only thing I'm suited for.
I graduated early with so many college credits, and now I have no
idea what I want to do." She shoved a hand carelessly through
her hair, tousling even more. "I'm younger than most of the
other students, but, to tell you the truth, I feel so much older
than most of them, sometimes I want to scream."
Don had a burning desire to hold her close,
to comfort her. "You've always been smart, Jaxx. Don't let
anyone get to you." He knew it was really because she could
not get over the trauma of what had happened to her family. How
could she? He doubted if anyone could. " So, where are you
running off to?"
"Sabrina is home and we're going
to the movies tonight. I promised I wouldn't be late this time."
Jaxon made a face. "I'm always late when I come to the training
center. I never seem to get out of here on time." The training
course was the one place her mind was so occupied with other things
that she couldn't think, couldn't remember anything else. She worked
herself hard physically, keeping the demons at bay for just a little
Jaxon hadn't felt safe in so long
she couldn't remember what it was like to get a good night's sleep.
Tyler was still out there somewhere, hiding out. She knew he was
close by, she felt him watching them sometimes. Only Russell believed
her when she told him, Russell knew her now. Jaxon didn't give in
to her imagination. She wasn't prone to hysterics. She had some
kind of sixth sense very strong in her that warned her when danger
was close. She had trained beside Tyler for years. If she identified
a sign as his, Russell believed her absolutely.
"What show?" Don asked,
"I haven't been to a good show in a long time." He was
blatantly fishing for an invitation to go along.
Jaxon didn't seem to notice he was
trying. She shrugged, suddenly distracted. "I'm not sure, Sabrina
was going to choose it." Her heart was beginning to pound.
It was crazy. She was standing out in the open with a boy she had
known all of her life, yet she felt detached, far away and peculiarly
alone. Darkness was spreading within her and with it a terrible
Don did touch her then. She had gone
so still and pale, he was afraid for her. "Jaxon? Are you sick?
What is it?"
"Something's wrong." She
whispered the words so softly he nearly missed them.
Jaxon sprang passed Don, brushing
him aside. He raced beside her, reluctant to leave her in such a
state. Jaxon was so cool and withdrawn all the time, Don couldn't
believe he was seeing her like this. She didn't glance his way,
instead running flat out toward her foster home. Russell and Bernice
Andrews had taken her in and given her a loving home. Russell and
the other members of the Seal team had continued her training, recognizing
she needed the physical action to alleviate the memories of her
traumatic past. Don's father was part of that team and often talked
to his son of the tragedy. No one was absolutely certain whether
Tyler had really killed Mathew Montgomery as he had bragged to Rebecca,
but there was no doubt he had killed Rebecca and Mathew Jr.
Don had a bad feeling as he sprinted along
beside Jaxon. It wasn't all that hard to keep up, he was in good
shape and far taller than she was. His strides made three of her
steps, yet he was sweating. Jaxon had a look on her face that made
him certain she knew something he didn't. Something terrible. He
wished he had a cell phone. As he rounded a corner, he spotted an
"Hey, follow us. Come on, something's
wrong." He yelled it with conviction, not even afraid of making
a complete fool of himself. He knew this time, he knew it the same
way Jaxon knew it as they raced up the street toward her foster
Jaxon stopped abruptly in the driveway,
staring up at the door. It was partially open as if in invitation.
Don started passed her, but she caught his arm. She was shaking.
"Don't go in there. He might still be there."
Don tried to put his arm around her.
He had never seen Jaxon so shaken up. She looked fragile and grief-stricken.
She pulled away from, her eyes darting around the yard, searching
the terrain above them. "Don't touch me, Don, don't come anywhere
near me. If he even thinks I care about you, he'll find a way to
"You don't know what's in that house,
Jaxx," he protested. A part of him didn't want to go see if
she was right. The house looked evil to him.
The MPs swaggered their way up the driveway.
"You kids better not be wasting our time. What's going on here?
You know whose house this is?"
Jaxon nodded. "Be careful. I think Tyler
Drake has been here. I think he killed everybody in the house."
She sat down abruptly on the lawn, her legs giving out.
The two MPs looked at one another.
"Is this for real?" Everyone knew about Tyler Drake, a
former Seal operative who had murdered his family, eluded capture
and who was still hiding out somewhere. "Why would he come
Jaxon didn't respond. The darkness
in her was her answer. Tyler had killed the Andrews family because
they had taken her in. She was his and they had usurped his position
in his twisted mind. It should have occurred to her that he would
do such a thing. He had murdered her father thinking her father
had no right to her. The same with her mother and with her brother.
Of course he would murder the Andrews. It would make perfect sense
to him. She drew up her legs and began to rock herself gently back
and forth. She only glanced up when the two MPs rushed from the
house and began to vomit over and over all over the immaculate lawn.