Sandu Berdardi had a decision to make. He sat on the roof a building facing the ocean in the dark of night, watching the waves as they came and went in a never-ending show of power. He was like that sea. He scrubbed one hand down his face, knowing his time had been up centuries earlier. He had hung on far too long. A matter of honor. Always it came back to that. Honor. It was inked on his back.
Olen wäkeva kuntankért. Staying strong for our people
Olen wäkeva pita belső kulymet. Staying strong to keep the demon inside.
Olen wäkeva --- félért ku vigyázak. Staying strong for her.
Hängemért. Only her.
He was an ancient Carpathian. There were few of his kind left in the modern world. They rarely scarred, not unless they had been wounded mortally and somehow managed to survive. He had several scars. Tattoos didn’t take on their skin. Those had to be carved into flesh repeatedly and stained with special plant-based ink.
The oaths tatted onto his back, were all about honor. His entire life had been dedicated to honor. Here he was, on a rooftop, far from the Carpathian Mountains, in a country he didn’t understand, surrounded by people he didn’t understand. His time had definitely passed. He knew it was time to go back to the monastery or to choose the dawn.
More and more he needed to be alone, away from everyone. Hunting alone was a delicate balance that added an extra level of danger. Not because he feared dying, but he feared what he became when the violence called to him—took control of him. He had learned there were things in the world every bit as monstrous as vampires, and he was one of those things.
He had held grimly onto his honor, held to the code etched into his skin, but he knew time was slipping away from him. His soul had gone from tattered to scarred. There was no removing scarred. There was no coming back from some things. His time was over. A Carpathian male had few choices once he lived beyond a certain time and Sandu had certainly surpassed that time centuries ago.
He didn’t have the social skills to be in the company of modern humans for a prolonged period of time. He hadn’t wanted to learn those skills, although it was apparent it was necessary if he was going to remain here. He doubted if he would. He no longer belonged in this world and he hadn’t for centuries. He’d recognized that fact many years earlier. He didn’t have an anchor to keep him sane. He’d left the monastery with his ancient brethren in the hopes of finding his lifemate, the one woman who could save him, but the world was a big place and time made it even bigger.
He was a renowned vampire hunter, but truthfully, that only added to how dangerous he was. He had gone into the monastery, recognizing that he was no longer safe around humans, or even Carpathians. When Carpathians were born, their souls were split apart, the dark half residing in the male, the light in the female. The male had to find the keeper of his light and bind them together. That had been the way of their people until their ranks had been decimated.
There were few Carpathian women. Recently, the Prince of their people had discovered a few human women with psychic abilities could carry the souls of the Carpathian males and become their lifemate, renewing hope when hope had been lost for so long. With world so vast, it wasn’t like there was a beacon guiding them to the right woman.
Sandu had come to San Diego to help his fellow ancients, but it was time for him to leave—one way or the other. Colors had long since faded from his memory along with any recollections of his childhood. He had lost all ability to feel emotion after that first two hundred years. The longer he lived, the more the whispers of temptation had grown stronger. If one killed while feeding, they could feel a rush, but they would become the very thing they hunted—the undead. He had kept his honor over the centuries, ignoring those whispers and tracking the vampire to destroy him. Now, even the whispers were gone. He hunted. He fed. He lived in a gray void. He searched in vain for his lifemate.
Each kill of the vampire had brought him closer to the edge of madness. Like so many others, he considered meeting the dawn, which was basically suiciding, but that didn’t seem honorable, leaving behind his lifemate to be born over and over with no satisfying love life. When he became too dangerous, he had entered the monastery in the hopes to gain better control before returning to the world and once more searching for his other half.
He had left that retreat, but now, after so many battles, he knew it was time to return, or to leave the world for good. He had that decision to make and he had to make it alone, away from his brethren. They would seek to influence him to stay with them in the compound set up on the outskirts of the more rural part San Diego.
You are very conflicted.
The voice came out of nowhere, filling his mind in spite of its softness. Feminine. Gentle. A statement but definitely tentative as if she knew she was intruding and didn’t want to, but feared he might really be contemplating suicide. He remained silent, studying each note. Wondering how she gained access to his mind and why the sliver of moon over the water appeared a different shade of gray.
I don’t wish to disturb you, but sometimes talking things out can help.
That was a clear offer. Her voice. He blinked rapidly because all around him the world was changing. There was white froth on the waves. The few people on the sidewalk were in brightly covered clothing. His stomach lurched and behind his eyes, there was an explosion of agony which he quickly cut off. He toned down the way he was seeing, fading the shades to almost shadows so his brain could get used to it.
Who are you? He kept his tone strictly neutral. Non-threatening. He tried to get a direction on her, but it seemed impossible, as if the notes were far-off and being dispersed through several filters.
I am Adalasia. I’m sometimes called Lasia.
She didn’t hesitate to give him her name and her soft voice, although muted, rang with truth. In these modern times, few women were called by that name. It was very old Italian, mostly used around the twelfth to fourteenth century. There was no way she was that old unless she was Carpathian. Even mage wouldn’t be that old. Many times, when someone set him up to be murdered, they feared giving him their true name, yet she hadn’t hesitated. He was suspicious of the way she had slid so easily into his mind, and he couldn’t quite get a direction on her—yet.
I am Sandu. And yes, there is a decision to be made.
A journey. She made it a statement.
In many ways. It is not a single journey, but in many directions and it is a dangerous path I will travel. I will have to ask another to embark on that path with me. Deliberately, he tested her. He had been contemplating going on a journey alone, but no longer, not since the moment color had been restored to him.
Time passed while the waves crashed and foamed. He thought Adalasia might have slipped away from him she was so still, but there was still a feminine presence in his mind. He had been alone for endless centuries, a long gray void of nothingness, that even with her being so still, she brought him comfort.
He heard her sudden intake of breath. What is it?
This person you speak of embarking on the journey with you? Is this a new relationship? A love interest?
He considered that. A love interest was a way a human would define a relationship. A lifemate was so much more. His other half. He couldn’t survive without her. He was speaking with her right at that very moment. Was she as moved as he was? Most likely she was unaware of the significance of their exchange. No other would have been able to penetrate his defenses.
I have yet to meet her but she is within my reach. That was honest enough.
This journey is not without risks, but it is worth it. You may need to expand your views, be willing to experience new visions that are not your own.
She sounded reluctant to say the last. She also sounded as if she was giving him a bit of a lecture, telling him to expand his views as if he was too narrow-minded to see other people’s ideas that weren’t his. Did that mean she thought he didn’t listen to other people’s opinions? That could be true. At least not human opinions. He had been around for centuries and seen countless scenarios. In the grand scheme of things, humans were babies, thinking they were experts.
The journey I must undertake to another land?
Again, there was silence as if she was mulling something over. Must you? Go to another land, or do you want to go to another land? You have to decide for yourself if it is a want or a need.
The reluctance was much more pronounced.
Adalasia, you have an idea you do not wish to share with me. Are you a seer?
I can sometimes be a guide. The admission was hesitant.
For the first time Sandu heard a discordant note as if she wasn’t telling the exact truth. That displeased him. Lifemates didn’t lie to one another. She didn’t realize she was his lifemate, but she was the keeper of the other half of his soul. Did she know that? Was she aware? He knew there was no mistake. She had restored color into his world. Color and emotions. As he sat on the roof watching the waves come and go, catching the sheen of the moon, he experienced a variety of unfamiliar feelings he had to sort through in order to identify.
You are sometimes a guide? He echoed her statement.
She sighed. I can’t always see everything. In your case, the way is murky. There is danger everywhere I turn. I can’t see a clear path for you.
He believed she spoke the truth. Her assessment didn’t surprise him. Clearly, she was upset on his behalf. She sounded as if she thought she was failing him. He had a much clearer direction now. She was behind him, somewhere away from the ocean. He needed to keep her talking and she wanted to end their conversation because something she saw frightened her.
Do you believe in monsters? Sandu kept his mind calm and his voice absolutely matter-of-fact so as to sound as if he was merely engaging in discussion. For one terrible moment it flashed through his mind that she was talking to a monster. He shut that down, not wanting to take a chance on sharing any of the battles he’d been in with her.
He stood, keeping his weight from the rooftop, hiding his presence from anyone who might look up. He was a big man and would draw attention if he wasn’t concealing himself. He took to the sky, but stayed low, skimming the rooftops, moving slowly in the direction he was certain she was. He didn’t want her to know he was on the move. She seemed a little skittish to him but he wasn’t certain why. She didn’t seem like a woman who lacked confidence.
As in human monsters? They certainly exist.
He was definitely closer. The further he got from the roaring of the waves, the more he heard the sound of laughter and music surrounding her voice. Blending with it.
Yes. Human monsters. Have you ever encountered any monster you thought might not be human?
His question was met with silence. She hadn’t withdrawn. He felt her presence. At least a full minute went by. He was guided by the sound of the music and laughter.
Who are you? Her voice was very low. She sounded frightened.
Never your enemy.
You’re a hunter.
What did she mean by that? Did she know what a Carpathian was? Was she a female Carpathian? If so, what was she doing without protection in the city where vampires were known to slaughter prey?
I am merely someone at the crossroads. Wondering which direction to travel on his journey. Searching for my lifemate to travel with me, but I have a need to know if this is a good idea right now. Keeping her talking to him when she wanted to stop was the best of ideas.
There is always calculated risk when starting any new journey whatever it may be. My next client is here and I have to go. It was nice to talk with you, Sandu.
Before he could say another word to her, she was gone and he was alone. He had been used to being alone and yet after sharing his mind with her and their brief exchange, he felt—bereft.
She’d left him abruptly, as if she was afraid of something. Of him. Of something she saw. He had dark, violent, memories and he had protected them. He knew she couldn’t possibly have gotten past his shields. Even if she was Carpathian, and that didn’t quite feel right to him, he was too strong. Too old. Too experienced. Too brutal…. But then…she had caught him off guard and entered his mind so smoothly. Very seamlessly, as if she’d been doing it forever.
He kept moving slowly over the rooftops, invisible to the crowds and cars below, following the faint sounds he had picked up in the background. Increasingly, he was deeper into the city. He preferred the outskirts where he could breathe without the smell of fuel and exhaust. Without the continual scent of bodies crammed into small spaces. Office buildings and malls meant hundreds of people talking, seemingly all at once. He had to sort through those conversations, tone them down, hear what was needed and discard the rest. Cities were not places Sandu would ever feel comfortable.
Within a matter of a few minutes, he had found the faint note he was looking for. It was blended in the muted conversation that was blurred in the background of so many other conversations. He adjusted his line of travel until that blurred conversation became just a little stronger. The fact that those in the buildings he traveled over continued to be so much louder no matter how much he tuned to those other sounds, filtering out the notes he didn’t want to hear meant she wasn’t inside those buildings. She was somewhere else. Under them? In the middle of them? Was she surrounded by them?
Was magic involved? He didn’t feel the prickle of energy on his skin or in his mind. He was far too old for a mage to fool him for long. No, the notes he sought were below the louder ones, and he was beginning to move away from them. He doubled back and once more sat on a rooftop to scan the area for his greatest enemy—the undead.
This time of night, the malls were closed, but the bars and nightclubs were full as people had gotten off work, eaten and were looking for company and a good time. He knew from his long experience, that vampires would welcome the hunt in the crowded, dark taverns, luring their victims outside where they could take their lives and discard their bodies like so much garbage.
Sandu found no evidence of the undead anywhere nearby. He was uneasy, but could find no reason for his alarm to be giving him even a vague warning. Somewhere close, his lifemate could be in danger. The apprehension might be about her. He’d been in her mind, just as she’d been in his. There was now a path forged between them whether she knew it or not. That meant, he would feel any threat to her.
He floated to the sidewalk, keeping away from any of the people coming and going from the various buildings around him. The pull on him was strongest toward the narrow alley between two structures. He walked that way and turned into what appeared to be nothing more than a sparsely grass and dirt covered path between the buildings. There were no lights other than what was spilling from the windows on either side.
There was no doubt that others had come this way. The grass had been trampled and the dirt had been pressed deep and tight. As he continued down the alley he came to a fork. He could choose either way to proceed. Both sides seemed to be well-traveled and the strange muffled sounds of laughter and multiple conversations were coming from either direction.
Sandu stayed still, listening, filtering through the various voices and the muted music and sudden flare of laughter only to have it cut off abruptly. He caught that one soft note he’d waited for. Her note. She was somewhere behind the buildings, in the maze of alleyways. He felt the pull of her, and took the very narrow passage to his right. Beneath his feet, the grass and dirt gave way to brick and dirt. He knew others had come this way because he felt the concentration of their cells left behind as they passed. Hair. Skin. Nails. It was all there, unseen by others, but to him it was glaringly obvious.
Sandu had undertaken many journeys in his life over the far too many years he’d been alive, but none were, perhaps, as foolish as this one. He walked soundlessly along the narrow pathway following the whisper of the note that had gotten under his skin when nothing ever had—ever could. It was impossible—and yet, those whispers called to him in a dark conspiracy he couldn’t ignore. There was something here other than the path leading to his lifemate.
He needed to figure out what he was getting himself into. Where was this often-traveled alley taking him to? He wasn’t alone. No one was behind him. There were people in front of him. Several. More a good distance in front of him. Over his head, on the rooftops, he felt the presence of others, not that they were necessarily paying him attention—at least not yet. He had cloaked his presence for the moment. There was zero fighting room in the alley and he was assessing the situation.
His life was an endless, empty void. He woke. He took what he needed to survive and he hunted prey. He was an excellent hunter and once a target was acquired, it was rare that he missed. But this…this was something that was different. Something new in his very long life and anything new or different was intriguing and therefore potentially dangerous.
Sandu knew he shouldn’t be intrigued—it was an impossibility for his kind. He shouldn’t feel anything at all and yet—he did. There was an odd thrumming, like the beat of a drum in his veins, answering that whisper of a note he followed. It was as if his very heart tuned to that strange note buried among all the voices he heard. His lungs wanted to breathe in tune to that nearly muted sound. His lifemate. There was no mistake as much as his mind kept telling him it couldn’t be true that he’d found her.
It had to be a trap. If it was, it was new. He’d seen many over the centuries. He hunted the undead and the master vampires were skilled and intelligent. They could never be underestimated for one moment. If, as a hunter, one began to believe they were smarter or faster, one would lose their life every time. There was a reason the undead survived long enough to become a master vampire. Masters rarely were alone. They had pawns and they used them ruthlessly. They recruited humans. Sometimes psychic humans.
Colors and emotions could only be returned to him by his true lifemate. There was never a mistake. That didn’t mean his lifemate wasn’t under siege, kidnapped or part of the conspiracy to trap him knowingly or unknowingly.
Sandu looked carefully around him before uncloaking his presence. The narrow pathway he was in was very dimly lit. His shoulders barely fit in places. It was the perfect place to ambush the unwary. Above him, anyone could walk along the rooftops and stalk their victims, dropping down quickly to rob them of fat wallets and then hastily disappear back onto the safety of the ridges and gables out of sight.
As he proceeded deeper into the labyrinth of alleyways, beneath his boots, the broken brick and dirt turned to much older cobblestone. He could tell this part of the city had been built over many times. The narrow passageways began to widen revealing several spacious areas surrounded by small shops.
The sounds. The notes. Perhaps it wasn’t all the sounds or all the notes. He paused to listen, straining when he had such acute hearing, he could track a human miles away. He held his breath and forced his heart to slow to a crawl so he could better hear. Several voices blended together. He heard them clearly through the sounds of many others speaking as they bargained in the various shops or with the street vendors. It was all coming together in his mind now. The various alleys coming in from between buildings were leading to a central location. This had to be, by the smells and sounds, an outdoor alley market, an underground artists’ paradise.
People crowded this odd venue at night, squeezing through the dimly lit and narrow alleys to get to the wider spaces where the street artists displayed their wares. Small shops could be found in the intricate maze and there were little markets scattered throughout where food and drink could be purchased. This was not a place one found law enforcement, or at least, it was rare to find an officer venturing inside.
Street vendors called out to those crowding around the steps of the shops trying to entice them to buy from their carts or see their wares. As he came into sight, a small hush fell over the groups of people as they looked up watching his progress. Anyone in his way, quickly moved out of it.
Sandu was used to that reaction to his presence. Not only was he a big man, all flowing muscle, his face carved with angles and planes and harsh lines, but his eyes, so black they were ink, glowed with red flames, especially in the dark, like now. He looked feral. He looked exactly what he was—a predator. He could disguise what he was, but why bother?
He kept walking, not changing his pace, following the soft note buried deep in the sounds of so many others speaking. The closer he got to what he sought, the louder those around it broadcast. He registered everything, as he moved along the alleyway that had suddenly opened up into a mini-city.
The deeper he immersed himself into that small world, the more there were small shops and back porches and steps, with little markets set up in the wider spaces. It didn’t seem to matter that the narrower paths were dimly lit, the backstreets flourished with life. This was a far different world than the one the streets just beyond portrayed.
A few taverns blared live music from behind closed doors, adding to the chaotic sounds of swelling conversation as Sandu approached the very epicenter of the mini-city. The round cobblestoned center held plants surrounding a few trees. Dispelling the darkness were colored, strung lights shining behind the trees, silhouetting twisted branches reaching upward toward the sky. The colors at first dazzled his eyes, even though he’d made every effort to fade the effect. It was difficult not to stare at the vivid red, blue and green shining so brightly. Even the silver was so much more beautiful than a dull gray.
The shops and bars were a little larger here, but not by very much. Artists had their paintings, or pottery set up under bright canopies to protect them from weather. At first glance the roundabout looked chaotic, but Sandu could see there was an order to the madness. Each of the street vendors had their own space and were careful to keep within the confines of that space. They didn’t block the steps leading to the stores directly behind them, allowing customers access to the taverns or shops in the buildings.
The roundabout held a much larger crowd than any of the wide market spaces had held. The smells of food were stronger. The music seemed loud enough to shake the buildings. Sandu had to tone his hearing down when he was trying to establish where the single note he was tracking was coming from. He ignored the effect he was having on the crowds as he moved in a circle facing the buildings, waiting to catch the soft note among the loud sounds of so many conversations and the cacophony of music pouring from two different bars.
There it was. A low murmur. A woman’s voice. Her voice. Adalasia. She was real. Not a figment of his imagination. He went completely still, his heart pounding, blood thundering in his ears before he could get control. He immediately swept away that unacceptable reaction. Emotions had no place in the life of an ancient, a hunter of the undead. He had no idea if his woman was being held hostage or if she was his enemy. No matter which it was, she was his lifemate and he would sort it out. To do that, he needed to be in absolute control.
Like all the shops in the buildings, the name was over the door. The Guide. That told him next to nothing about what went on inside. There were two windows, one on either side of the door, neither particularly large. They were rectangular in shape and like the other windows in the strange little mini-city, seemed dingy. He could see books on shelves and various items on tables and display cases. The items appeared old as if perhaps the shop held antiques.
An uneasy feeling had him making the circuit a third time, studying each shop with the same attention he’d shown The Guide. Someone was observing, not only him, but the antique store. Had the observation simply been one of idle curiosity, Sandu would have ignored it. Humans were often curious about him. When he didn’t bother to tone down his predatory appearance, he drew attention. This attention felt different. It felt threatening—but not toward him, toward those inside that shop.
He didn’t feel the presence of the undead. This threat felt more human and yet…not. More. He let his gaze shift around the crowded roundabout. People were wary of him and gave him room, but they were back to shopping and talking with their friends. That allowed him to study the crowd and ferret out the one or ones threatening whoever was in that little shop. It didn’t take long before he zeroed in on three men and a woman whose wares were set up almost directly across from the shop. They had a green and white striped umbrella-type canopy over their paintings. The woman sat in a chair drawing a portrait of a man with a boy standing next to him with what appeared to be colored pencils.
The four did their best not to stare at the antique shop, but their focus was on that shop. He had no doubt that anyone coming and going into the shop would draw their attention instantly. Deciding to test his theory, he once again approached The Guide. There was a small clock on the door saying a reading was taking place and would be over in another seven minutes, to please not disturb. He thought that was interesting. He wasn’t certain what ‘a reading’ entailed, but the fact that someone would lose business while they did a reading had to mean they did fairly well.
He took another slow circuit of the roundabout, listening to the conversations. Three women couldn’t wait for a fabric shop to get their latest fabrics in. They cost the earth, but they were the best. Another group of women loved the yarn offered by a shop owner who spun and dyed her own fiber from various animals she kept on her farm. There was a shop specializing in quilts and another in homemade jams. A leather shop made belts, wallets and boots.
These shops and the outside vendors were not only artists but the real deal. They were craftsmen. Experts in their field. This place was unique. They weren’t charging small amounts of money for their wares. This was a chance to get jewelry or a vase or artwork by a master before anyone else. The people who came here knew it and they paid for the privilege. Without the police to enforce the law, who kept them safe? Who patrolled the dimly lit alleys one had to walk before reaching the inner mini-city? Were the ones he’d noticed on the rooftops keeping those shopping in the markets safe from thieves?
He’d spent enough time looking at the pottery offered at one of the stands. The work was beautiful. He considered purchasing something for his brethren, Andor’s lifemate, Lorraine, or Ferro’s lifemate, Elisabeta. Both women would no doubt appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship. He did so, arranging to have the pottery shipped as he wasn’t about to carry it around with him. That added to his authenticity as someone who appreciated the arts. All the while, he kept an eye on the four under the brightly striped canopy. They were definitely watching the antique shop—and him.
The door to The Guide opened and two men emerged along with a woman. They stood on the steps leading to the shop, talking for a moment.
For the first time, Sandu got a good look at his lifemate. She was stunning. Beautiful. Gorgeous. She took his breath away. Perhaps it was that way with all lifemates. He was certain his brethren thought that way of their women, but he had eyes only for his.
She would be considered tall by human standards. He liked that. He was a big man and he didn’t want to spend eternity bending in half to kiss her. She had curves. He was a man who appreciated curves on a woman. Her hair was thick and glossy black. She had it drawn back from her face in a high ponytail that fell in waves like a waterfall. He expected her eyes to be dark like her hair, brows, and lashes, but they were a startling blue. This then, was the woman he’d spent centuries searching for. She could have died and been reborn countless times. She was the keeper of the other half of his soul, and she was beautiful.
“Thank you, Lasia,” one of the men said, holding out his hand. “I appreciate your time.”
Adalasia took his hand with a flash of her small, white teeth. The moment her hand was enveloped in both of the stranger’s, Sandu could barely contain the need to leap across the space between them and rip his spinal cord from him. The growl threatening to escape was shocking. He’d never had such a visceral reaction in his life.
He took a deep breath to try to breathe away the deep, primitive reaction, a primal rage that was as cold as ice and hot as a raging volcano. Animalistic. The kind of darkness that enfolded him in battle. He couldn’t have that happen here. Not with her. He was an ancient, in control at all times, too powerful not to be. He breathed away the need to kill, forcing the power in his body to recede along with the sharp fangs.
“Of course, Adolf, anytime.”
Her voice was soft. The notes like music, penetrating right through skin and bone, deeper still, through his heart to pierce his black, black very, tattered, very scarred soul. He could almost feel the way her amazing voice managed to weave together pieces of that broken travesty. He was at his most vulnerable, unable to see properly—and at his most lethal. An unknown male was touching his lifemate. There were enemies close, humans—but enemies never-the-less.
“We’ve benefited from your guidance so many times, Lasia. I can’t imagine what we would do without you,” the other male said as he slung his arm around Adolf’s shoulders.
The need to kill receded slowly as Sandu recognized that the two males were obviously a couple. He breathed away the monstrous response that had arisen so strong in him followed by so many other unfamiliar emotions he hadn’t ever had to cope with. Jealousy? Was that a true emotion an honorable Carpathian would feel? It was a little humiliating to think that he would experience such a thing. He stood still, breathing, letting the air move through his lungs, waiting for the terrible crash of unwanted feelings to cycle through and leave him so he could think rationally.
Sandu allowed himself the luxury of drinking her in while the two men took their leave and moved down the steps and away. He immediately cut off anyone else from entering her shop simply by standing on the lowest step. There would be no way to get around his large body. He heard her swift intake of breath and then her eyes met his.
“Adalasia.” He said her name with deliberate gentleness. “Sandu Berdardi.” He gave her the courtesy of his name.
Her gaze swept the width of his shoulders, his tall, intimidating form, his dark eyes and hard demeanor. Because he was a man who noted every detail, he caught the slight tremor to her voice.
“Adalasia Ravasio. How did you find me?”
He ignored the question and gained a step. That put him nearly to her. One more stair and he’d be on the same one with her. She didn’t give way.
“You can’t be here. You have to go.” She whispered the warning, ducking her head as if she feared someone might overhear or be able to read her lips.
He gestured toward her sign, the one that said she did readings. “I’ve come for your guidance.” He took another step forcing her to back up to the shallow porch.
“I read your cards. There was danger all around you. You have to go while you can, Sandu. You might think this is all silly and a game because I read cards, but I’m not wrong. You have to leave.”
He stepped up onto the porch beside her. She wore a dark, long, olive-colored skirt that fell around her ankles in soft ruffles. Her camisole was very modern, much more so than he would have approved, but now that he was close to her, he could see the way the lighter olive-colored material showcased the swell of her breasts. The laces going up the valley between her breasts drew attention, making him want to explore those curves.
He put his hand very gently on her flat belly and exerted pressure to back her through the open door. “Are you concerned about the three men and the woman watching you from across the way?” He reached behind him and closed the door firmly.
Adalasia gave a little sigh and moved around him to open the door and turn the sign around that proclaimed she was giving another reading. “You’re a stubborn man.”
“It’s best that you realize I have no intention of leaving you behind. If I leave this place, you will be traveling with me.”
He delivered his statement in his low voice so he doubted if his words sank in at first because she was settling into a chair in front of a table when her dark lashes suddenly lifted and her cobalt blue eyes narrowed with laser sharp intensity.
“I’m sorry? What did you just say?”
“You heard me and don’t act surprised. You already read the cards. At least you said you did. I imagine the reason there were all those hesitations was because you didn’t like the things you were seeing regarding the two of us.”
A soft, very attractive flush spread from her neck to her face. “It’s possible I did see things in your cards that I mistook for involving me. I’ve never connected psychically with anyone like that before, with the exception of my mother, but certainly not with that kind of strength. It was exhilarating. This tremendous rush. Sometimes I feel alone, even surrounded by so many people and to suddenly have that connection felt like a gift. I lost my mother last year and it’s been really difficult.” She shrugged, striving to look casual. “That’s all it was. I put myself in your reading which was easy to do since it was a distance reading you weren’t even aware of.”
Sandu was as adept at reading people as she was at reading cards. She knew better and she was lying. There was a slight tremor to her hands as she moved them over the deck, but there was also something else, a kind of loving feel to the way she touched the cards.
“Did your mother read cards?”
Adalasia nodded. “Yes. This deck has been handed down mother to daughter for generations, but, according to my mother, some see more than others. That can be both a blessing and a curse.”
Sandu immediately had the feeling she saw much more than her mother had when she read the cards. Her fingers were long and slender. A woman’s hands. This was no fake diviner. She had a true psychic gift. She’d been born with it and her talent was exceptionally strong. He felt it when she touched the cards. They felt almost as if they came alive for her.
Almost reluctantly she pushed the cards across the table to him. “Shuffle.”
He went to pick them up and immediately felt a sting, much like a thousand needles penetrating his skin, as if the cards themselves were trying to get into his skin. He pulled his hands back and looked at her. He hadn’t actually touched the deck and yet he knew the power there was part of him. Trying to enter him. “You shuffle and lay them out for me.”
She frowned at him. “What’s wrong?”
“The deck is very powerful. So am I. The two forces feel each other, perhaps as a threat.” He watched her face carefully.
Her large eyes went a dark blue. She regarded the deck on the table. “May I?” Without waiting for his consent, she placed her right hand under his right palm and her left palm over the back of his left hand. “Put your hands as close to the deck as possible without me touching it.”
Sandu did as she asked. He felt the same wave of needles biting into his flesh, desperate to get to his bones, to his organs. Inside of him. Evidently, she did as well.
Adalasia removed her hands from his and lifted her gaze to his. “I’ve never had that happen in all the years I’ve done readings for people. Who are you?”
“You know who I am. The cards told you earlier when you consulted them. You asked about my journey and discovered it was our journey together, didn’t you?” He didn’t ask why the cards recognized him. And they did. He would ask. Just not yet.
She made a little face. “Well, yes, but I explained that. I most likely inserted myself into the reading accidently because I had connected with you psychically. I’ve never done that with anyone else. It would be natural to make a mistake like that.” She shuffled the cards and fanned them out, ran her palm over the top of them and then shook her head and shuffled them again.
“It’s always going to be the same. Our journey is together.”
“It isn’t,” she denied and laid the cards very decisively out in a pattern.