Nonie woke from her nightmare with a start. She sat straight up in bed. Her heart raced, and she was covered in sweat. Like so many times in her life, this had been more than just a bad dream. She looked out the window at the stormy sky and knew that Samantha was in grave danger. Memories of when she lost her beloved Jane came flooding back and practically paralyzed her. That night she’d been helpless, unable to save her daughter. This time would be different. It had to be. She knew that the one person who could help her granddaughter was Malcolm.
She picked up the phone to call him and was met with a deafening silence. Frantic, she hung it up, silently cursing herself for not getting a cell phone as Samantha had told her to. As quickly as her old body would allow, she made her way downstairs and out into the turbulent night. The wind lashed against her relentlessly, testing her strength with every step down the staircase to the beach. The sands whipped up, stinging her face, but she kept going. After what felt like an eternity, she reached the enormous wooden steps to Malcolm’s home.
Malcolm was seated in his living room, glancing at his watch for the tenth time. It was after eight o’clock, and Samantha was an hour overdue for their date. The inability to touch his mind to hers was torturous. He wanted to reach out and reconnect, but he’d promised her privacy. He wondered how much longer this girl talk was going to take. He looked at his watch yet again and cursed silently under his breath as he stalked over to the enormous glass doors. His attention was immediately caught by an intense current of emotion undulating in the air. He went very still, his heightened senses at full attention. His eyes shifted and swiftly scanned the area outside.
Within moments, he spotted Nonie struggling to reach the top of the beach steps. She was exhausted and tremendously distressed. Malcolm dashed out into the whipping wind and rain. When he reached her, she collapsed against him. Her weathered hands clutched his arms as she gasped for air. Malcolm scooped up her frail body and uttered the ancient language. In a flash, they were back in his living room. She was ice cold, drenched, and shaking. With a wave of his hand, a roaring fire appeared in the fireplace, and a dry blanket materialized around her. He wrapped her up. “Davis! Come in here quickly!” He rubbed Nonie’s arms gently in an effort to help warm her. “Helen? What’s happened?” he asked with pleading eyes.
“I’m not sure,” she said through a tearful voice. “I had one of my dreams. Just like the night her mother died. Malcolm, please, you have to go to her. I can’t lose her like I lost Jane.”
Davis shuffled into the room and came directly to her side.
“Helen? What’s happened?”
“It’s Samantha.” Malcolm helped Nonie sit down. “Did you call Kerry’s house or her cell?” He tried to keep his voice calm. He struggled to dampen the dread rising inside of him.
She shook her head as Davis sat next to her and placed a soothing arm around her shaking shoulders. “The phone lines are down, probably due to the storm.” She sniffled. “I don’t have a cell phone. Samantha’s been after me to get one.” She gave a teary smile. “Why don’t you just reach out to her Malcolm,” she whispered with downcast eyes.
Malcolm froze and peered at Nonie through narrowed eyes. “Helen?”
“She knows all about the Amoveo, sir.” Davis tenderly rubbed Nonie’s back as Malcolm stared back at him in disbelief. “She has for years.”
“And if I hadn’t, well, don’t you think transporting me in here and visualizing the fire might’ve been a tip off that you are…different?”
Malcolm wouldn’t have been more surprised if Nonie had jumped up and done a backflip. “What? How?”
Nonie silenced him with a glare. “Don’t you think we have more important things to discuss? Like finding my granddaughter,” she said more sharply than she’d intended. “We can have a history lesson later.”
Malcolm nodded somberly. “Samantha closed her mind to me before she went to Kerry’s house. Something about privacy for their girl talk.” He stood. “Well, before I break my word and try to connect with her, I’m going over there.”
“Malcolm, please,” Nonie said anxiously. “Be careful. I know something is dreadfully wrong.”
“I will. I swear to you she will be all right,” he said in earnest. He turned to Davis. “Once she’s feeling better, I want you to take Nonie home right away, and stay with her there until you hear from me. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Davis helped Nonie up from the couch. “First I’m going to get some tea for my best girl.”
As Malcolm went out into the stormy night, he heard Davis whispering soft reassurances to her. He shifted. Within moments, he flew through the air, his feathered body pelted by the howling wind and rain. He prayed the quiet promises Davis made were going to be kept.
Malcolm flew over Kerry’s house and tried to connect with Samantha, but was met with the same void. He cursed himself for ever agreeing to break their connection. Even before Malcolm landed, he could see that something was dreadfully wrong at the Smithson house. The house was completely dark, and the sliding door was wide open. He landed on the deck and shifted back to his human form, except for his eyes. He needed the special vision now more than ever. Soaking wet, he stepped into the house and was horrified at the scene before him. Evidence of a battle was strewn around the room. A fear greater than any he’d felt before gripped his heart. Panic threatened to engulf him.
He scanned the room and sensed trace evidence of Samantha’s energy. What he saw next made his heart leap into his throat.
He launched himself over to the sickening stain that seeped out from behind the couch. To his surprise, he found Dante. An enormous silver arrow pierced his cousin’s chest. He was unconscious and bleeding profusely. His life force ebbed low. “Dante? Can you hear me?” He was met with only a moan. He knew Dante needed a healer. Malcolm immediately focused on creating a mental link with Steven. Within seconds, Steven answered the call and materialized next to them. He kneeled down to inspect the bloody wound in Dante’s chest. “My God,” Steven gasped. He closed his shifted green coyote’s eyes and placed his hands on Dante’s chest.
Malcolm watched the intense concentration on Steven’s face as he worked to repair the mutilated flesh. Steven was always known for his smartass humor, but when it came to healing, he was all business. Malcolm wanted to grab Dante and shake him so he could tell them what had happened here. The fear and frustration of not knowing where she was began to consume him. “Is he going to live?” Malcolm asked impatiently. “Why was he even here, Steven? I thought you all were called off because the Caedo hunter had been captured?”
Steven did not answer, but kept his attention fully focused on his patient. I need to focus on Dante, Steven telepathed to him in a calm, steady voice. Why don’t you take a look around, and see if you can find anything else that will help us find Samantha? Through it all, Steven stayed stone still with intense concentration on Dante’s wounds.
Of course, Malcolm replied. He felt foolish that panic threatened to overtake him. He went through the first floor, which was littered with broken furniture, lamps, and just about everything else. After finding nothing on the first floor, he made his way upstairs to the bedrooms. The first three bedrooms revealed nothing—no sign of Samantha or her friend, Kerry. Malcolm approached the last room. His hand hit the doorknob, and he was assaulted by an all too familiar surge of evil. His eyes flashed yellow, and he kicked the door down.
His stomach rolled at the sight before him. The walls were papered with photos of Samantha. Her beautiful face with laughing eyes wallpapered the room. There were hundreds of images of Sam in her daily life, doing everything from grocery shopping, jogging, and working in the city, along with several of her here at the beach with Nonie. This sick bastard had been stalking her every move. Rage bubbled up, and the currents in the room shifted dangerously. Malcolm stepped closer to several photos that had huge red targets drawn on them. Bile rose in his throat when he saw that those were of him and Samantha.
There was a photographic record of their time together all around the room.
It made him boil with fury that their privacy was violated. Various notes were tacked along the wall as well, which read things like Devil Spawn. Evil permeated the room, and Malcolm couldn’t understand how he never noticed it. The Caedo hunter had lived here, next door, right under their noses. How did this hunter not only block thoughts, but create a barrier around this room? Malcolm walked over to the desk where several papers were strewn about. He read quickly through them. They were all from the same person, but they were unsigned. Whoever was writing the letters had been helping with the whole sickening thing. With every passing second, his anger rose higher. His body shook with rage, and he crumpled the papers in a white-knuckled fist. All this time the enemy had been hiding in plain sight.
There were various weapons in the room, as well as night vision binoculars. The last thing that he noticed was a telescope. He looked through it and dread crept up his spine. It peered directly into Sam’s bedroom. The rage flared violently and quickly. He knew exactly who had Samantha and had a pretty good idea where she was taken.
Samantha gained consciousness gradually. Excruciating pain radiated through her head. The slightest movement caused the pain to branch out mercilessly in brutal tendrils. Panic and fear threatened to overwhelm her. She focused on her breathing and took stock of her situation. She was blindfolded, and her head wasn’t the only source of pain. Her hands and wrists, bound behind her back, throbbed relentlessly. Her shoulder was incredibly sore from having passed out on a cold hard floor. Her entire body ached. Her nostrils were filled with the pungent smell of salt water and fish, which hung heavily in the air. She could hear water swishing around as it echoed in the room. She knew she wasn’t alone.
She heard someone breathing and sensed another energy signature that was faint and close to going out altogether. She was about to reconnect her mental link with Malcolm when she heard the door open. It slammed shut and was immediately followed by the sound of a heavy bolt sliding into place. The person who entered brought an undulating wave of sickening energy, which she could only describe as evil. It felt like a thousand snakes were trying to slither into her mind. The bile rose in her throat, and she swallowed hard, forcing it down. She stayed very still in the hopes her captor would think she was still unconscious. No such luck.
“I know you’re awake,” hissed a slightly familiar voice.
She could feel him and the dark energy that slithered off him incessantly. She steeled herself to withstand the onslaught of his hatred. She fought the urge to shrink away from him. She had never encountered such violence; well, at least it had never been directed at her. His maniacal giggle skittered and echoed around the room.
“I hope you’re going to call your boyfriend. The party won’t be complete without him.”
“How can I call anyone? I’m blindfolded and tied up,” she snapped.
He made a scolding noise at her and nudged her leg with his foot. “Shame on you, Samantha. Do you really think I don’t know what you are?” He sighed heavily as though bored with her. “You are an animal. Just like him. So you have to die.” He practically sang it.
Samantha knew that she couldn’t call Malcolm for help. She’d be leading him to his slaughter. She had to find a way out of this, and talking to her captor would buy her some time. “Where’s Kerry?” She hoped she didn’t sound as scared as she felt.
“Oh, she’s passed out and tied up a few feet from you. She put up quite a struggle though. I have to give her that. She’s feisty, as you know, Samantha.”
She could hear him stalk away from her and over to Kerry’s limp body. Fear gripped her heart. She realized the low energy she felt was Kerry. She was dying. Sam licked her dry lips. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours.” She held her breath, waiting for his response. Would he answer her? Smash her over the head? Kill her?
He said nothing, but moved closer and squatted down next to her. His fetid breath puffed on her cheek. He ran one finger along her jaw and slowly down her neck. She clenched her teeth and resisted the urge to scream. To her surprise, he pulled the blindfold off, causing yet another wave of radiating pain. She thought she might pass out. She steadied her breathing and slowly opened her eyes. Sam squinted as they adjusted to the bright fluorescent lights overhead. Her eyes became accommodated to the light, and she found herself looking into a familiar face. “AJ.”
He was dressed all in black, like some kind of ninja commando. In his gloved hands, he held a mammoth black crossbow. He stood up, spread his arms out, and with a perverted grin, took a bow. He postured like some kind of demented peacock in front of a pool of water. The ripples of water were reflected all around them, along the walls and domed ceiling. She figured that they were at the aquarium where AJ worked. It must be some kind of access room above one of the giant tanks that thousands of tourists go by every day. She shuddered to think what was in that tank. She had a feeling it probably wasn’t the beluga whales, but something with a little more bite.
Sam glanced to her left and saw Kerry. Her heart sank. She was lying in a puddle of blood, blindfolded, gagged, and bound at her hands and feet. The elegant outfit she’d worn on their shopping trip was torn, dirtied, and stained. Her face was covered by her dark hair, and her breathing was shallow. Was the shopping trip today? It seemed like a lifetime ago. How long had they been here?
“The one and only AJ.” He was strutting back and forth across the room as though waiting for applause.
“Why are you doing this?”
“You are a freak just like your father.”
“My mother was human.” She glared at him, daring him to deny that much at least.
“She was his whore!” he screamed, looming over her. “She let herself be touched by one of those…those things.” He stuttered, spitting as he spoke. “My grandfather told me all about it. He taught me. He told me that it was all up to me now. I am the avenger now.”
“You’re Caedo,” she whispered. The implications of his heritage dawned on her, and she looked over at Kerry.
“Anthony James Caedo, at your service.” He bowed again, and then quick as a snake, knelt next to Sam. He brushed her cheek with his knuckles. “But you can call me Tony.”
Sam shrank back from him, and her expression twisted in disgust.
His face grew dark, and he roughly grabbed her chin. “What’s the matter? Don’t like to be touched by a real man?” Then inching closer, he licked the side of her face.
A rage and disgust that she’d never known before boiled up inside of her. She felt her eyes shift harshly as a guttural menacing growl rose from her throat.
Tony jumped in horror and hid behind the sights of his crossbow. He kept it pointed at her, backed up, and shuffled around the giant pool at the center of the room. He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily as he glared at her with fear and hatred. “See. You are an animal.”
Samantha struggled through the mind-splitting pain and forced herself to sit up. She gritted her teeth through dizziness and nausea. She broke out in a cold sweat and leaned against the cement wall.
Tony took a few more steps back and then pointed his crossbow at Kerry. “You come near me, and I’ll kill her.”
She knew he was afraid of her and had to stop herself from smiling. Good thing he didn’t know she had no idea how she’d just done that. She glanced at Kerry and nodded toward her friend. “She’s your family, AJ.”
“Stop calling me that,” he screamed. “I hate that fucking nickname. No one calls me that anymore. It’s Tony!”
“Okay. Sorry,” she apologized. Sam wanted to keep him as calm as possible, but more than anything she had to keep him away from Kerry. “But she is your family.”
“No,” he shouted. “She’s not. She’s adopted. She’s not Caedo blood. Grandfather wouldn’t tell her the secret. He didn’t even tell her mother or my father. He knew they were weak. He only told me. I’m the one he trusted. I’m one of God’s soldiers. I’m his avenging angel, and I’m going to help wipe every single one of you abominations from this earth.”
He ranted and punctuated each word with vehement hatred as strings of spittle clung to his chin. She could see why his grandfather had chosen him. He chose Tony for the same reason certain people get sucked into cults. He’d always been a bit of an outcast and considered something of a loser. This was his chance to be special. The fact that he was crazy was probably considered a bonus.
“Now,” he hissed. “You are going to call your boyfriend with that special mental telephone.”
Sam licked her lips, and she struggled to think of a way to distract him. “From what I understand you have some psychic abilities of your own. Malcolm told me that you were able to block his mental probe. You’re obviously talented in your own right.” Sam hoped to distract him and appeal to his vanity while she loosened the bindings on her wrists.
His face twisted in a sickening grin of self-satisfaction. “Yeah, that’s right.” He snorted. “I am special. You know, it’s not just anyone that can learn to do that.” He puffed up his chest with pride.
“How did you learn how to do it?” Sam continued to work the duct tape around her wrists. The sweat dripping down her arms helped loosen the adhesive.
“A friend,” he said smugly. “Definitely not someone I thought I’d ever work with, but it seems we have a common enemy.” He glared at her.
“No more questions,” he barked. “Now, call your boyfriend, or I am going to put a nice big silver arrow through her brain.”
He calmly pressed the crossbow against Kerry’s temple, and she moaned softly.
Sam felt a momentary spike in her energy, and it raised her hopes. Kerry would be okay. She had to be.
“We can find out if there really is a brain in that pretty little head.” He taunted, poking Kerry harder, which elicited another groan of pain.
“No! No please,” Samantha screamed more desperately than she wanted to. Tears welled in her eyes. She squeezed them shut, not wanting him to see it. He was a sick bastard. He was making her choose between her best friend and the love of her life. In that moment, Samantha realized that she was completely and irrevocably in love with Malcolm. The tears flowed now beyond her control, and her breath hitched in her chest. She loved him, and if she called him here, he would probably die. She knew by the violent look in Tony’s eyes that he would kill Kerry without hesitation. She lay there helpless and bleeding, unable to fight back. Malcolm, however, was another story. “All right.” She sniffed. “I’ll call him.”
“Good.” Tony removed an enormous jagged knife from a sheath at his waist. He placed the crossbow down and leaned it against the wall between Samantha and Kerry. Slowly, he stalked over to Sam with the knife.
She lifted her face defiantly and blew her hair out of her eyes. Her gaze landed sharply on his and with a small smile, she said, “But you know what they say, Tony. Be careful what you wish for.”