Kansas City, Missouri, October 29
There was not enough brain bleach in the world to scrub away the things Rory Rainey had seen. Her visions were getting worse, and if she didn’t find the person who could make them stop, she was going to go bat shit crazy.
As frequently as the mental images were slamming into her lately, that inevitable insanity conclusion wasn’t far away.
Rory kept her head down and her gaze firmly on the sidewalk in front of her. While her eyes saw only dirt and concrete dimly lit by streetlights, her mind saw much, much more. A riot of TV shows and video screens blazed in her head, one image superimposed upon the next, until it was all merely a blobby glow of color and light. Nearby, someone was staring down at a newborn baby. Someone else was reading a book, but there was too much visual chaos in Rory’s head to make out the words. Brief glimpses of the same nearby sections of street fired in her mind, repeating over and over as the few people still out at the late hour drove by. As she moved down the street, she got close enough to a couple having sex in one of the surrounding buildings to catch what they were seeing.
The man was all fleshy and sweating, his face red with effort. The harnesses and implements twisting the woman into a vaguely pretzel-like shape made Rory speed her pace until that sight faded.
Ugh. Not enough brain bleach in the world.
She was in a bad part of town hit hard by the recession. The streets were lined with abandoned storefronts and condemned buildings. It was late and cold, and there was little foot traffic for her to collide with as she made her way to the homeless shelter she often visited. She didn’t need the shelter—she had her own home. Nana’s home. But that shelter was one of the places where she’d noticed the visions recede.
Little, fleeting moments of peace had come to her there. What she saw was real and hers alone, making it quiet and oh, so precious. At first she’d thought that she was getting better, that the space between mental barrages was getting longer. But then she left the shelter and the visions were there, waiting for her.
Her fumbling, painful experiments had led her to believe that someone inside that shelter was blocking her curse. If she could only figure out who they were and make them teach her how they did it, she’d be free.
But her potential savior had left, and Rory had never been able to track them down. Once in a while, her visions would fade and she’d know she was close, but she’d never figured out who was to thank for that reprieve.
A flash of hot pink hair and chain-clad leather burst in her mind, making her stumble in shock. Rory’s hair was hot pink, and while she wasn’t the only one who had that artificial feature, chances were slim there was another woman with her hair and jacket nearby.
Someone was watching her.
Rory tried to sort through the jumbled images to focus on who was behind her, but there were so many flashes, and most of them were so bright, she could hardly see the ground in front of her feet. There were too many people still awake in the city, too many sights slamming into her for her to latch on to a single one for very long.
And just because someone looked at her was no reason to wig out. Lots of people looked at her. That was one of the side effects of having hair louder than a freight train.
Still, her instincts were screaming at her, and she’d learned the hard way that she should trust them. As she continued walking, the hair on the back of her neck rose up in warning. Being out at night was dangerous. There were monsters everywhere, and for reasons she refused to think about, they wanted her.
Rory hurried her pace, anxiety driving her forward. She cut through an alley to get off the street and shorten her walk. The shelter wasn’t far now, and while the remodeling wasn’t finished, the doors were open, and they were letting people inside to escape the cold.
Bright pink consumed her vision, blocking out the wet pavement at her feet.
That was her hair—her back—and whoever was watching her had followed her down the alley. Definitely not some random pedestrian.
Well, hell. Now she had to do something. No way could she just keep walking, playing the role of prey. She’d never been much of an actress.
Rory stopped dead in her tracks, gripped the gun in her purse, squared her shoulders in a way that shouted she was not some fragile victim, and turned to face whoever was following her. She really didn’t want to have to shoot someone, but after what Matt had done to her, she had learned to be more proactively defensive in her thinking. Two days and nights spent in a flooded basement filled with tentacled demons that lived on human flesh and blood had a way of curing a girl’s poor decision-making habits.
Anxiety tightened her grip, but she kept her breathing even, struggling to see the alley looming in front of her over the splashy colors and lights in her head. She saw no one, only a slight flicker of motion she couldn’t even trust to be real.
“I saw you,” she yelled into the night, her breath misting in the cold air.
Another fleeting glimpse of pink came to her, again showing her the back of her own head.
There was no way someone could have slipped past her. Even with her crazy visions, she wasn’t that blind—at least not yet. If the visions got any worse . . .
She wouldn’t think about that now. She had to stay positive and convinced that there was a cure for her faulty wiring.
A low hiss rattled out from behind her.
Fear streaked along her veins, and she whirled around to face the threat, gun raised and level.
A demon stood there, black and shiny, easily blending into the wet pavement. Larger than a big dog, its forelegs were too long for its heavily muscled body, pushing it nearly upright. There wasn’t a single hair on the creature, but something thick and oily seeped from its skin, leaving smears behind with every step. Its face was disturbingly human, with eyes that glowed a bright, sickly green.
Rory took a step back, unable to control the impulse to flee. The demon’s pointed ears twitched as if it heard something, and a second later, in the midst of flashing sights that were not her own, she saw the back of her head again. Only this time it was much, much closer.
There was still someone behind her. Or something.
She steadied her gun and aimed at the demon in front of her while she spared a quick glance over her shoulder. Sure enough, the demon’s bigger, uglier twin was right there behind her, its bright eyes flaring with hunger.
Rory knew better than to hesitate. This was a kill or be eaten kind of situation if ever there was one—something she was way too familiar with these days.
Stupid demons fucking up the city. Someone needed to get rid of them, and while she really wished that someone was anyone but her, there was no one else around.
She fired her weapon three times at the closest demon. Chips of brick flew out as bullets hit a building. One of her shots sucked less than the other two, hitting the demon in the shoulder. It roared in fury and cowered back, twisting its head at an awkward angle so it could lick its wound. From behind her, she heard the other demon charge, its claws scraping across the asphalt. She turned and pitched her body to one side, working to find a clear shot through the flash and sparkle filling her head.
She landed hard enough to rattle her teeth, but managed to stay on her feet. Before she could even steady the weapon, the demon was flying through the air again, claws extended and yellow teeth bared.
The beast really needed a good dentist. That random thought slid through her as she moved on instinct, leaping out of the way. Her shoulder slammed hard against a brick wall, no doubt adding to the bruises she naturally accumulated thanks to her shitty visions.
It was only when she tried to move again that she realized she’d hit more than her shoulder. Pain gripped her knee, scraping along her nerves and digging into her spine. Her leg refused to bend. She looked down and saw a small section of shiny nail protruding from under the side of her kneecap. Attached to that nail was a length of discarded two-by-four that ran back down to a pile of construction refuse. The board was over six feet long, and there was no way she could drag it along with her. But if she pulled the nail out, she’d bleed faster.
Rory knew the folly of that plan way too well. If she bled, these two demons would become the opening act to dozens more.
One of the demon’s eyes flared as it smelled her blood, and charged.
She was used to fear. She’d lived with it for years, and she had been intimate with it briefly for a couple of horrible nights. That time had taught her how to function despite the terror screaming through her, but that didn’t mean she didn’t feel it. Her poor ribs were taking a beating as her heart thundered against them. The clammy chill of sweat coated her skin, making the gun harder to hold. But holding it was important, so that’s what she did.
She raised the weapon and fired it, sending the greasy beast skidding back on the wet pavement.
That wouldn’t keep it away for long. There were only a few more bullets in her gun. She had no choice but to free herself and hope she could run fast enough and reach the shelter before the rest of the demons nearby smelled her blood and came running. Because they definitely would.
She pulled in a deep breath and jerked the nail from her knee. The bent metal was coated in her blood, and she could feel wetness cooling on her jeans.
Both demons were slinking toward her now, their forelegs awkwardly bent to their sides, their muzzles low to the ground as they wove their way closer. One lifted its head and howled, letting out an eerie, mournful sound.
From somewhere a few blocks away, an answering howl rose up. And a little more distant, another. Then another.
Sometimes she hated being right.
Those howls were the dinner bell, and Rory was the main course.
She aimed for the head of the bigger demon and fired. Her shot was clean, and a chunk of oily skin and bone erupted from the thing’s head. It staggered and took a clumsy nosedive into the street, legs twitching. Its twin bent down and licked the wound, though whether it was helping or hurting the wounded beast, she had no idea. Nor did she give a fuck.
She hadn’t killed it—not if it was like most of the creatures she’d seen. All she’d done was buy some time and increase her odds of surviving, if only from zero percent to one percent. One ravening demon was more than enough to kill her just as dead as two could.
Someone in an apartment nearby looked into a nearly empty refrigerator, and whatever magic curse haunted her decided that she really needed to see a bowl of fuzzy green stuff right now, instead of the demons trying to kill her.
Frustration raged inside of her, but she tamped it down. She had to stay calm and focus on what was real and in front of her. The angrier she got, the more chaotic her visions would become—the more blind she’d become.
Rory shoved out a harsh breath, and backed away from the pair of monsters, easing her weight onto her injured leg. It held, but the pain grew worse with each step. The cold, wet spot on her jeans drooped down farther, reaching her shin now.
Somewhere nearby, a finger bent with age and arthritis dialed 911.
Shit. Poor cops had no idea how to deal with demons. Some ignorant, law-abiding citizen had just sent the protect-and-serve team into the jaws of evil. Literally.
Maybe if she was out of here fast, the demons would go away and not nom on the cops’ faces. It was the only chance they had.
Before she could take so much as a step, the sight of dead, brown grass filled her mind, sliding past her fast. It was lit by a bright, green glow that glinted off of a blunt, shiny muzzle that looked just like those of the demons in front of her. And then the vision shifted and she saw another muzzle pointed down at a dirty street, and another lifted high to stare at the top of a chain-link fence, and another slinking under a parked semi.
Fear chilled her skin and tightened her muscles, and she had to make a conscious decision not to go into a screaming tailspin of panic. More demons were coming, getting closer. She had to get out of here—both for her sake as well as the cops’.
Rory took another step and her knee buckled under her weight. She nearly fell, catching herself against the wall before she completely lost her balance.
A scratching sound behind her warned her that something was coming. She flattened her back to the wall and split her attention between the pair of demons and whatever was coming now.
It was small—the size of a rat, but hairless and sporting a barbed scorpion-like tail that curved up over its back. Three glistening spines caught a sparkle of streetlight as its claws scrabbled over the pavement, heading straight for her. Six tiny, glowing eyes lit its path.
Rory had no idea what it was, but she knew what it was going to be in a second: dead.
She aimed and fired, finally hitting where she aimed for once. The little demon—or whatever it was—splattered into a greasy stain. Droplets of black blood sizzled across the pavement, sending up thin tendrils of smoke.
Definitely a demon.
She was feeling pretty pleased with herself, congratulating herself for the shot when she heard more scratching coming from around the corner. Not twenty feet away, she saw a faint, green glow. And then she saw what was making it.
Dozens of those barbed scorpion-tailed things came scurrying toward her, moving faster than she could run.
She didn’t have enough bullets. She couldn’t put weight on her fucked-up knee. The only exit was blocked by the pair of greasy black demons. Only seconds has passed since she’d looked away from them, but she didn’t dare turn her attention away for long.
She needed a way out. Fast.
Rory leveled her weapon at the biggest threat. The demon she’d shot in the head was back on its feet. The hole in his skull had begun to seal shut already. The smaller demon was several feet closer to her, and she could see flashes of her own face, pale and terrified as it stalked nearer.
She glanced up, hoping for a convenient fire escape, but there was nothing above her but clear, black sky and boarded-up windows way too high to reach.
She pulled in a fortifying breath, working hard to shove out some of her fear as she exhaled. The gun bucked in her grip. The closer demon yelped and flinched, but didn’t go down. She fired again, and again, each shot sliding it back a bit, but making no real difference. The things kept advancing, and she swore they were grinning at her, their green eyes glowing with malicious intent.
Her gun clicked. She was out of bullets. But she wasn’t about to give up and let these fuckers have her. She’d survived worse odds than these.
Of course, she hadn’t been bleeding then, either, calling every hairy, slimy, scaly thing nearby to come and take a bite.
Rory dropped the gun and grabbed the long board that had stabbed her with its inconveniently placed nail. The wood was cold in her grip, but it felt solid and real. If she was going down, she was doing it Babe Ruth style.
One of the little things hit her shoe and started crawling onto it. She tried to fling it off with a hard kick, but the pain stalled her out, and the thing held on. She slammed the end of the board into it, crushing its head and her own toe.
Pain sliced through her, stealing her breath for a moment.
Her attention had been shifted to the little scorpion thing for less than three seconds, but as the vision of her own head getting close filled her mind, she knew that had been too long a distraction. The bigger demon lunged for her, and she was completely flanked, and completely fucked.
The world slowed as adrenaline flooded her body. She turned and began shifting her weight to fling herself out of the way. The jaws of the demon were wide open, its yellow teeth only a couple of feet from her head—close enough to see black blood coating them and pulpy bits of greasy flesh stuck between them. The rotten stink of its breath made her gag.
She lifted the board to protect her face, but even as she began to move, she knew she wouldn’t be fast enough. There wasn’t enough time to get the board in the way before those jaws closed on her head.
This was it. This was how she was going to leave this earth—bleeding, afraid and alone, while the rest of the world moved on as if nothing had happened. The fact that she could see them going about their routines rubbed her nose in just how small and insignificant her life really was. Now that Nana was gone, no one would miss her. As distant as she kept people, chances were no one would even know she’d died. These things would haul her off and eat her, leaving no evidence behind.
What a sad, little life she’d led, full of fear and suck.
A metallic sound filled her ears, followed by a solid thwack. The open jaws careening toward her jerked down suddenly and hit her shin, but there was no force behind the blow. The muzzle simply bounced off, and the head rolled away.
It had no body.
Confusion clouded her mind as she tried to figure out what she was seeing. Was this another vision? Something happening nearby? If so, then why wasn’t she dead and seeing nothing?
Rory blinked, hoping to sort out reality.
A man loomed a few feet away, too big to be real. He held a wide sword in his huge hands. The gleaming blade was coated in black oil. His giant body moved fast, muscles straining the seams of his leather jacket.
She didn’t trust her eyes, and yet this all seemed quite real. It even sounded real. Her visions were silent.
At the man’s feet lay the body of the demon that had nearly killed her. Black blood arced out of its neck in a pulsing spray that got weaker and weaker with every spurt. In front of him was the larger demon, staying low and out of range of that lethal blade.
He’d saved her. He’d lopped off the head of the demon and saved her face from being eaten. That wasn’t supposed to happen. That wasn’t the way her life went these days. Things were supposed to suck, just like they always did.
And yet there he was, still there, not vanished like a fleeting vision.
Rory’s world began to make sense again, but the shock of still being alive hadn’t faded. A sense of joy filled her up with her next breath. She wasn’t dead. The world was still moving on, but she was moving with it.
The big man’s back was to her, and he was slowly circling the demon, angling it back into a doorway for an attack. For a moment, all Rory could do was stare. He was smooth, each move flowing into the next in a seamless transition of power and strength. Muscles in his thighs bulged under his jeans, and when he stepped in a shallow puddle, his boot barely made a ripple. Even the mist from his breath curled out slow and lazy, rising into the night as if it had all the time in the world.
Graceful power radiated out from his every gliding step. Shadows caressed him, holding him close in a lover’s embrace. He seemed too solid—grounded as if nothing could so much as rock him. And it wasn’t just his size that gave her that impression. She felt something sliding out of him—a heavy kind of energy that pinned her in place, mesmerizing her. She could stare at his broad back all day and never grow bored.
A sharp pain stabbed her ankle, jerking her attention back to reality. She looked down and saw that one of those little scorpion demons had stung her and was now scurrying away, its barb shining wet with her blood.
That pain made sense. That was how her life was supposed to go. She got a beautiful visual treat in exchange for the low, low cost of being stabbed by a demon.
The board was still in her hands, and she batted it at the little fucker, hoping to squash it dead. Her aim was off, and she only winged it, sending it into a skittering spin.
The thing righted itself and sped off. The others of its kind veered around her and went straight for her savior in black leather.
“Behind you!” she called out, even as she pushed herself forward, using the board as an awkward crutch.
The man spun around in a fluid arc that was way too graceful for someone his size. Between his big, booted feet, she saw the head of the second demon roll across the pavement and bounce into a brick wall.
Whoever he was, she was glad he was on her side. At least he was for now.
Rory slammed her board down on one of the rat-sized things, turning it into a greasy black stain.
The man booted one of them into a wall hard enough to make it pop like a water balloon. The rest of the swarm must have seen it happen, because they moved as one, like a flock of birds, reversing direction to flee. Seconds later, they were gone, back around the corner the way they’d come.
He scanned the area, searching for more signs of a threat. His wide shoulders lifted with each even breath, and that big sword was still in his grip, ready for action. Dim light gleamed off his blade, as if collecting specks of it from the inky shadows. He wasn’t looking at her, but she still felt his awareness as keenly as if he’d been staring.
“You’re hurt,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“Only a little. I’ll live.”
His gaze hit her then, and drove the breath from her body. His eyes were a deep, earthy green, set below thick, dark brows. The bones of his face stood out, forming rigid, masculine angles. His jaw was a bold statement of strength, the muscles there bulging with determination. It wasn’t his good looks that she reacted to, either, though he was a fine-looking man. There was something else in those dark eyes, something potent and stark, with a kind of desperation she’d seen only a few times in her life—usually in those who knew they were about to die. Pain radiated out from him, quivering in the small lines around his eyes, so much a part of him she wasn’t even sure he was aware of how obvious his agony was to anyone who cared to see it.
She couldn’t look away. His pain called out to her, making her ache in ways she didn’t understand. It was as if something inside of him was reaching for her, screaming in torment.
Rory shut her eyes to block out his silent pleas for help. A vision of an elderly woman’s sleeping face appeared for a moment before it faded behind closing eyelids.
She pushed aside the visions, trying to concentrate on what was real and looming in front of her—all six and a half feet of him.
He took a step closer, scrutinizing her, and she felt that scrutiny glide along her body, down to her cold, throbbing toes. By the time his gaze had made its path from her head to her shoes and back again, she felt stripped bare, was trembling and defenseless. And that pissed her off.
She knew what he saw: the pink hair, the heavy makeup, the multiple piercings. No one ever really saw her beneath the shock factor, and that was the way she liked it. At least until now. For some stupid reason, she wanted this man to see her—the real her—all the way down to her bones.
His gaze slid over her face, then lowered to where she was bleeding. She couldn’t tell if he was sizing up her injury because he cared or because he was looking for some weakness he could exploit. His face was about as expressive as a marble wall, so there was no way to know for sure. What she did know was that if he sent that sword sailing in her direction, there wasn’t a damn thing she could think to do to stop him from slicing her in two where she stood.
His voice was low and deep, rumbling out of him like stones rolling down a mountain. “Come with me.”
Her pink hair was ridiculous. That was Cain’s first thought.
Her dark eyes were lined with smudged black makeup that stood out against her pale skin. Multiple silver rings and sparkling crystals decorated her ears, and she wore a tangled trio of chains around her slender throat, along with what looked disturbingly like a spiked dog collar.
His second thought was that she was more than she seemed—more than pink hair and juvenile trappings. That all felt more like a show to him, a disguise.
Her leather jacket was equipped with metal rings, chains and studs, all positioned in a way that looked suspiciously like they’d been put there for the purpose of guarding her against attack, rather than merely being decorative.
She’d kept her cool in the fight, which made him guess this wasn’t the first one she’d been in.
That thought angered him and made his head pound even harder. Not even the physical exertion and rush of combat had helped ease the pain this time. It loomed inside of him, large and demanding. Meditation no longer helped, and now it seemed he was losing the slight benefit that fighting gave him as well. Once that was gone, he had no idea what he’d do to stave off the pain of his dying soul.
Death or imprisonment were his only options, and neither one appealed to him. Then again, nothing appealed to him anymore. His soul was fading, and with it his ability to find joy in the things around him.
His ward, Sibyl, who had been like his own child for centuries, had grown up and left him a few months ago. He hadn’t seen her since then, and each day he ached with loneliness. Her e-mails from Africa were getting shorter and spaced farther apart. Each time they contained fewer details about her life, as if she were weaning him off of having her around. He knew he had to let her go—that she deserved a life of her own and a chance to find her place in the world—but the cost of losing her was much greater than he’d ever imagined. It was killing him.
But not tonight. Tonight there was still some fight left in him.
Cain held out his hand to the woman. “If I don’t get you out of here you’ll die. I heard the howls. More demons are coming.”
“Thanks, but I’ll find my own way home.”
Her gaze met his, and the pounding pressure in his skull quieted. The grinding pain of the ever-growing power he contained within him abated. His luceria—the magical ring and necklace he’d been born wearing—vibrated against his skin.
Cain stepped closer, refusing to believe what he was feeling. His luceria would react only in the presence of a woman who was capable of wielding the power he carried. Women of his kind were rare, and stumbling upon one in the dark made hope and suspicion war within his chest. Part of him yearned to believe she was as she seemed—that she was one of the precious few able to save his decaying soul. But mostly, he doubted that which seemed too good to be true. If the Synestryn had set out to create an enticing package he could not resist to lure him in, this woman would have been it.
She was lovely beneath the heavy makeup. The tilt of her dark eyes, the smooth curve of her cheek, the sweet shape of her mouth—they all invited his gaze to linger a bit too long. The longer he stared, the more curious he became. She roused a restless, hot ache deep in his gut, even as she eased the tightly clenched muscles riding along his spine.
There was a fierceness about her that intrigued him. In the moments before he’d reached the end of the alley, he’d seen her fight. Her fear was evident in her trembling limbs, and yet she refused to flee as most humans would have done. Perhaps it was her injury that held her in place, but something about her attitude made him question that. If his guess was right, she wasn’t new to dangerous situations. She seemed far too calm for that. There were no questions about what those demons were or why they’d attacked her. She wasn’t in shock. There were no hysterics.
She’d done this before. And survived. Only a true fighter could have done that.
But beneath that fierce exterior, beneath the chains and leather and ridiculous hair, Cain saw something else—something vulnerable and fragile, as if she were protecting some vital, breakable part of herself.
That was what intrigued him most, drawing him in. He wanted to get past all of the trappings and exterior wrapping to the real woman hiding beneath. Only there would he find out if she was the miracle she appeared to be, or some new trick the Synestryn had learned to play.
Cain stepped closer. The wind picked up, dragging a hint of her warm, sweet scent to his nose. Some dormant, crouching part of him woke up, groaning in delight. He breathed in again, desperate for anything powerful enough to distract him from the pain. He didn’t even care how it looked for him to lean close and suck in the air around her as if it were the only source of oxygen he could find.
Heat spread down his chest. He felt the branches of his lifemark sway as if seeking a way to get closer to her.
It had to be a trick—some sinister weapon devised by the Synestryn to keep him still so that she could attack.
But she made no move to do so. She simply stood there, staring at him with dark, intoxicating eyes meant to lure him in and render him stupid.
Keeping his voice quiet so he wouldn’t scare her away, he asked, “What’s your name?”
Her gaze slid to the ground, her posture tightening defensively at his question.
The pain within him swelled again, cutting off his air for a moment. Lights danced in his vision. His hand gripped his sword harder as he fought through the returning pain, shoving it down where he could better control it.
“There’s a shelter not far from here, in the old Tyler building,” she said, avoiding his question.
She didn’t want to tell him her name? Fine. He’d learn it soon enough. After he saw to her wound.
“I know the place,” he said. “Can you walk?”
She scowled at him as if he’d insulted her. “Of course.”
She used the two-by-four as a cane, but it was too long for the job. On her next step, she tilted wildly, and Cain lunged forward to catch her.
Before his hands made contact, she righted herself. His hands fell to his sides. He was glad he hadn’t had to touch her while at the same time regretting the missed opportunity to feel some part of her within his grasp. If he touched her, he’d know for sure if he was imagining his luceria’s reaction.
As stupid as it was, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the truth just yet. Lingering in this fog of possibility was nice. There was so little hope left in his life that he couldn’t help but wish for it to remain alive for just a bit longer.
He was close enough to her now to see that she was shaking—lose enough that his necklace lifted away from his skin, straining to reach her.
He wasn’t imagining that. He wasn’t simply making up pretty lies for himself. She was the real thing. A Theronai like him.
Or she was causing him to hallucinate.
Cain couldn’t take any chances with her life—even if that meant falling for whatever lure the Synestryn had cast in his direction. He had to assume she was as she seemed until proven otherwise. And that meant getting her to shelter. It wasn’t safe for her to be out alone and unprotected like this. “We need to get you patched up.”
He reached for her, but she hobbled back, leaning on that board for support. “I’ll be fine, thanks.”
Irritation tightened his mouth, holding back sharp words better left unsaid. Her rejection was as obvious as it was predictable. He’d been through this before—been within arm’s reach of a woman who could save his life only to have her deny him. Jackie had chosen another man. Based on this woman’s reaction to him, his chances with her weren’t much better.
Cain took a long step back. He wasn’t going to do this to himself again. He wasn’t going to let himself hope for miracles only to have them yanked away from him at the last second. Jackie’s choice had nearly killed him. It was killing him. He could feel the decay of his soul moving faster with every passing day. If he hadn’t been able to convince a woman he was worthy of her vow before, he had little chance of doing so now, with even less of the man he’d once been remaining.
His responsibility to the pink-haired girl was only to see to her safety. Logan would heal her and report her existence to their leader, Joseph. Once that was done, Cain would be on his way. With that decision made, he felt better. Less unbalanced.
She took a wobbly step forward, trying to make it on her own. If she continued on like this, she was going to hurt herself, and even if she didn’t, getting her to safety was going to take entirely too long.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he told her, hoping to ease whatever misgivings about him she had. “My name is Cain. I just want to help.”
She avoided his gaze and his invitation to give him her name. “You were pretty handy a minute ago, doing that ninja act. I would have been monster chow if you hadn’t come by. How did you find me?”
So she knew about the Synestryn demons—she wasn’t one of those people who pretended they were rabid dogs or chimpanzees escaped from the zoo because it was easier to accept.
That made him wonder if she knew who she was, too. Several of the women like her they’d found recently had had no clue about who they were. What they were. They’d thought they were human.
It wasn’t exactly the kind of thing he could ask. If she wasn’t even willing to tell him her name, he couldn’t expect her to tell him her secrets. And it had to be a secret. If it hadn’t been, someone would have known about her—one of the Sanguinar, at least. They meddled enough in the lives of humans to know everything, and if one of them had known, he would have brought her to Dabyr for her protection.
“I was in the area, hunting,” he said.
She blinked fast as if trying to clear her vision. “Uh . . . hunting?”
He realized the latent violence of his wording too late. It was no wonder Jackie had rejected him. He sounded like some kind of barbarian. “Those things that attacked you, it’s my job to kill them. I was told there was an infestation in this area and came to eliminate it.”
“So, you’re like some kind of monster exterminator?”
“Something like that. I heard the gunshots. I thought I should check it out.”
“You’re not the only one who heard them. The cops will be here soon.”
At the rate she was moving, both she and Cain were still going to be here when that happened. He really didn’t have the time or the patience to wipe the minds of a bunch of human police and send them on their way.
“Please. Let me help you,” he offered again, stepping a few inches closer, gauging her reaction to see if she’d balk at his approach. He’d seen her face the demons, and while she’d been afraid, she hadn’t been panicked. The spacing of her shots was too even. She’d saved her ammunition until the end. Those were not the actions of a coward.
“Unless you’re afraid of me,” he added.
Like he’d flipped a switch, her posture changed. She was no longer shrinking away from him, but thrusting her chin out in defiance, her narrow shoulders square and her head held high. Fierce independence radiated out from her dark eyes and Cain felt himself being drawn in, wishing he could get even closer.
Her voice was sharp with anger. “You’d need a hell of a lot more than just a sword to even make my scary meter twitch. Some ugly teeth and at least a few claws for starters.”
“Good. Then you won’t mind.”
Before she could ask what she should mind, he slid her arm over his shoulder and gripped her waist, forcing her to lean on him for support. He didn’t want to touch her, but she wasn’t capable of making it to Logan without help, and the sooner Cain got her to safety, the sooner he could be on his way.
He was careful not to touch her bare skin with his, but even with the padding of fabric and leather between them, more pain dribbled away, giving Cain room to breathe. He hadn’t even realized how bad things had gotten for him until some of that agony eased with her nearness.
He glanced down at the ring portion of his luceria—the magical band that was meant to tie him to a woman, allowing her to wield the power swelling inside him. He’d been on his own too long, and now that power was killing him, crushing the soul from his body.
The swirls of colors in his ring were moving as if they’d been stirred—much faster than they’d ever moved with Jackie. There was no question. Whoever this woman was, she was a Theronai. And she was compatible with his power.
This small, ridiculously pink-haired girl who wouldn’t even tell him her name had the power to save his life.
Rory was broken. That was the only explanation as to why she was letting a stranger touch her—especially one as armed and deadly as this man.
She’d lied about his sword not scaring her. The proof of just how deadly it was lay on the ground behind them, leaking black blood. Not that she thought he’d use it on her. She didn’t. But she’d learned not to trust her own judgment when it came to hot men.
And Cain was definitely hot.
Pressed up against his side like this, with his arm around her, she could feel just how powerfully built he was. Every step made his muscles flex and bulge as he practically carried her toward the shelter.
He was so warm. Wave after wave of heat sank through her clothes, each one warmer than the last. She tried to stifle her shivers of delight, but she was certain he had to be able to feel them.
“It’s cold out here,” she said, hoping he’d take those shivers for something other than her drinking in his delicious heat. He said nothing, but pulled her tighter against his side, sliding his hand a bit lower onto her hip.
Rory stifled a groan of pleasure, biting her lip to hold it back. The urge to lean her head on him was driving her crazy. She was not the kind of girl who snuggled against a man for warmth. Or anything else, for that matter. She’d learned the lesson Matt had taught her. For all she knew this guy was some kind of Renaissance festival freak who lopped off the heads of demons for fun. Slay the dragon, save the girl.
Rory did not need saving. At least not usually. Though even she had to admit that tonight had been a close call.
Flashing police lights filled her head between flickers of QVC and some guy surfing a porn Web site. “The police are coming.”
“They’re the least of our worries. You’re bleeding.”
“You must be blooded. That’s why the Synestryn came.”
She’d heard Hope talk about Synestryn, but she’d never heard the term blooded before. Besides, playing dumb was probably the much safer option here. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
A ragged howl echoed off of nearby buildings.
She felt more than heard a low, angry growl emanating from Cain’s thick chest, and in that moment, she became all too aware of just how formidable an opponent he’d be. She had no chance of defending herself against him, and hoped like hell that he was telling the truth about wanting to help. Because if he wasn’t, she couldn’t think of a single thing she could do to stop him from doing whatever he wanted. She couldn’t even run.
His arm tightened around her waist a bit more, and she could feel his hand through her clothes, leaving patches of heat wherever his fingers touched. For one brief moment of total insanity, she wondered what his touch would feel like without all the denim and leather in the way.
Great. Apparently she’d lost enough blood to render herself stupid, too. Just her luck.
His hand was shaking. Or maybe that was all her and her quivering idiocy. She couldn’t tell. Whatever it was, the vibrating touch felt . . . nice. Right. And he smelled so freaking good, she was sure it had to be her imagination. If she leaned her head against him like she wanted and breathed in his scent, there was a good chance that she might be able to distract herself from the fact that he could be some raving mad, sword-wielding serial killer who wanted to use her skull as a coffee mug.
Their progress was slow and awkward, thanks to her injury. Each step hurt more than the last. The sharp, stabbing pain in her joint nearly stole her breath away, and now a fine layer of sweat was forming on her skin. She made it only a few yards before she could no longer put any weight on her knee. She tried to cover her flinch of pain, but she could feel him staring down at her.
“This isn’t working,” he said. “I will carry you.”
Part of her jumped up and down, clapping its hands at the thought of being in this man’s arms, but the rest of her was smarter than that. “We’re not far. I can make it.”
“Before the demons catch up?”
As points went, he had a good one. Normally she would have protested, but she was worn down by the pain and not at all ready for round two with a demon horde.
Her pride died a little as she accepted the only reasonable option. “Okay, but if you try to cop a feel, I’ll punch you in the eye.”
One side of his mouth twitched with a hidden grin. “I’ll consider myself warned.”
He shifted his weight, and a second later, she was airborne. It was a long way up, and the motion spun her head and gave her a brief moment of vertigo. Her fingers slid higher on his shoulder and brushed the bare skin of his neck.
Rory’s world went dark.
All the flashes, all the visions—they disappeared as if someone had flipped a switch. Peace settled over her, clearing her mind of the confusing, jumbled haze and leaving her thoughts blissfully clear.
He moaned, making a deep, purring sound, and said something she didn’t catch. She was too busy basking in the visual silence, in the quiet dark of the alley where the only thing she saw was coming from her own two eyes.
Rory’s eyelids fluttered shut in pleasure, and she saw nothing. Clear, perfect nothing. It was so peaceful, so beautiful. She didn’t dare move. She barely even breathed.
Her throat tightened with gratitude that she couldn’t utter. She tried to tell him not to move, that if he did she might lose this gift, but he’d already stopped dead in his tracks. She felt the heat of his body against her left side, felt his arms pull her tighter to his chest. The vibrations she’d felt before were stronger now—strong enough she could tell that it wasn’t the trembling of hands causing it. There was something more to it, a kind of living energy pulsing between them.
She felt his body clench. Heard his breath come out in a shocked rush.
She opened her eyes and saw him staring down at her. Even in the darkness she could see longing and hunger in his eyes, as if he’d been starved all his life and had only now found his first meal. And she was it.
The fact that such a crazy notion didn’t scare the shit out of her proved just how big a fool she was. Not even the lesson that what’s-his-name had taught her seemed to do any good.
Rory started to pull her hand away from his hot skin, but his grip tightened and a look of fear widened his moss green eyes.
“Don’t stop touching me,” he said, more a plea than an order. “Not yet. Not until I get you to safety.”
They were only a couple of blocks away from the shelter, and the truth was it didn’t matter if she touched him or not. If he intended to do her harm, she was screwed.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said as if sensing her worry.
She lifted her chin, giving him a hard stare. “I wouldn’t let you hurt me.”
“Of that I’m sure. Come on. Let’s get you inside and out of those clothes.”
“Excuse me?” Rory nearly shouted.
“That’s not what I mean,” he said, a hint of embarrassment in his deep voice. “The blood on your clothes will draw the demons. I’m sure Hope will have something else you can wear.”
Oh. Well. That was different from what she’d first thought—that he had other, less noble intentions. Though with waves of delicious heat sinking into her wherever he touched, and those tingling vibrations dancing between them, maybe less noble intentions would be fun.
No. Bad Rory. Remember Matt?
Yes. She did. She also remembered those endless hours of fighting for her life, not knowing if she’d ever be free, or if she’d die as a snack for some monster lurking in that filthy water. Matt had caused that torture, and even though he was dead, Rory would not forget that lesson.
“You know Hope?” she asked, hoping to distract herself from hellish memories.
“Yes. How do you know her?”
She could feel the low rumble of his voice all along her left side. He had the faintest hint of an accent—one that came out only with certain words, like he’d been raised somewhere else. She found it intriguing and sexy as hell. If circumstances were different, she would be happy to simply close her eyes and listen to him for hours. It wouldn’t even matter what he said. Let him recite his recipe for stewed Rory brains for all she cared—she’d bask in his voice all the same.
After a moment of collecting the few scraps that were left of her wits, she cleared her throat. “I went to the old shelter where she worked sometimes. Before it burned down. Back when Sister Olive—” Rory couldn’t finish. Her throat tightened with grief, cutting off her air. She swallowed, trying to work through her feelings of loss and anger at the nun’s murder, but she wasn’t that strong. It was too soon. Only a few months had passed, but every minute had been lonely and isolated. She hadn’t spoken to anyone about what had happened in that abandoned building those demons had converted into home, sweet home.
Words could not make the pain of memories like those go away. Nothing could. She’d carry that grief and terror around with her for the rest of her likely short life.
His thumb slid over her side, clearly an offer of comfort. “Hope told me about her. Her death was a true loss.”
Rory nodded, but that was all she could manage. She still hadn’t been able to shove away the memories of that night and all its lingering horror.
And monsters had found her the moment she came out of isolation. Story of her freakin’ life.
They reached the back of the shelter. The door was locked. Cain tapped it with his boot and a few seconds later, it opened to reveal Logan, Hope’s husband, who was way too pretty to have been born a dude. He had silky, dark hair, and silvery eyes that lit with recognition. The angles of his face were too perfect to be real, and he was much less gaunt than the last time Rory had seen him—back on the night Sister Olive had died.
“Rory?” A frown wrinkled his brow for a second, then his eyes zeroed in on the blood staining her jeans. “Get her inside.”
Cain carried her into the big kitchen, but instead of letting go of her like she expected, he pulled her a bit closer against his body, shifting her away from Logan and his intense gaze.
“I left some corpses a couple of blocks over,” said Cain. “Police are on the way. I need to go clean up the mess and scrub the cops’ minds if they see anything they shouldn’t.”
“I’m far better at such things than you are. I’ll take care of it,” said Logan. “Get Rory to the safe room.” He waved an elegant hand toward one of the doors leading out of the kitchen.
“Patch her up. She’s bleeding.”
“I’m keenly aware of that fact, and of just how heavily blooded she is.”
“Then take her. Make the bleeding stop.”
“Uh, guys. I’m right here. I know the demons can smell my blood. Just put me down and I’ll dump some superglue on the wound and plug the hole.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” said Logan.
“We can’t have you risking infection,” said Cain.
“It’s nothing I haven’t done before. I’ll be fine. Just get me some clean pants or some scissors to cut away the blood, and I’ll be on my way.”
Logan looked over her head at Cain, clearly dismissing her. “Lexi warded the room when she came to visit. That should cut off the scent trail of her blood, at least for a time. I’ll be there in a moment.”
“We’re wasting time, Cain. Do as I ask.”
Cain’s body tightened. Positioned in his arms like she was, she could feel power tremble through him. Until now, she hadn’t realized just how gentle with her he’d been—how light his hold on her was. And now that she knew, she wasn’t sure if she was grateful for his restraint or feeling deprived that he hadn’t held her closer, tighter.
Even more proof of how stupid this man rendered her.
Cain’s voice rumbled out in a hard warning. “The two demons I killed aren’t alone.”
“They won’t even see me,” said Logan, and then he was gone.
Cain’s didn’t say a word as he hurried through the kitchen, but she could tell by the muscles bulging in his jaw that he was pissed.
“Was Logan born a girl?” she asked, hoping to distract Cain from the tension running through his body.
He stopped, midstride, and looked down at her. The faintest hint of a grin creased the corners of his eyes. “I think you should ask him that yourself. Preferably when I can watch.”
Then he moved on through the kitchen, but at least now he didn’t look like he was going to chip some molars in frustration.
Rory hadn’t been in the new shelter before, but it was much nicer than the old one had been. Of course, the fact that it wasn’t a pile of cinders and rubble made it no contest.
This building—grievously the rundown Tyler building—had been gutted last spring and was now nearly rebuilt. The modern, industrial kitchen was gleaming and bright, with new appliances and lots of stainless steel. Past the door a hallway lead to several offices and a small conference room that were vacant at this time of night.
“In here,” said Cain, nodding to a solid wood door with no window. He didn’t have a free hand to open it, so she did the job herself and flipped the light switch.
Inside was an organized array of freeze-dried food, big boxes labeled as drinking water, and medical supplies stacked neatly on open metal shelving. A gurney covered in pristine white sheets was tucked against the far wall, near a giant stainless steel sink. A row of oxygen tanks sat in a corner, along with a bunch of medical equipment she couldn’t name. On the opposite side of the room was what she swore had to be a kind of oven they used to cremate bodies.
Despite the fact that they called this the safe room, it made her feel anything but. “Looks like they’re preparing for the zombie apocalypse.”
“Something like that,” said Cain as he kicked the door shut behind him.
He set her on the gurney and pulled away.
The moment her hand left his neck, the visions came back, blasting her with a barrage of lights and colors so ferocious her stomach gave a dangerous heave. Pressure built behind her eyes, as if all the sights she’d missed out on for the last few minutes were there, waiting to flood in and torture her.
A shrill sound of pain filled her ears, and it took her a moment to realize that she was the one making that horrible sound.
She clamped her lips shut, and breathed through the assault, letting it wash over her. Slowly, her breathing evened out and she opened her eyes.
Cain was on the floor, his big body shaking. She blinked to clear her vision, wondering if what she was seeing was real.
A flash of an advertisement in a gun magazine superimposed on top of someone washing his hands captured her attention for a second before she could regain a moment of control.
She wasn’t seeing things. Cain was sprawled on the white tile, making a horrible choking sound.
Panic darted through her bones, freezing her in place for a long second. Once her heart started beating again, she gathered her senses and glanced around for signs of an attack. No one was here, but she couldn’t imagine what could have been strong enough to knock the giant on his ass like that.
Rory knelt down beside him. Pain spiked through her knee as if someone had taken a hammer to it. She felt blood seep faster from the wound, but ignored all of that.
She grabbed Cain’s head to keep it from slamming into the metal shelving, and he went still in her grip. Fast, hard breaths rose from his lips.
Once again, Cain was the only thing she saw. No lights, no visions, just his face.
So strange, and yet so very, very welcome.
Concern lined his forehead and sweat dotted his brow. A vein in his temple throbbed and his breathing was labored. “You okay?” he asked, his voice rough and strained.
He was asking about her? “You’re the one on the floor. You were thrashing around like you were choking.”
His hands covered hers, vibrated against them, and she swore she could feel his ring buzzing near her skin.
“Sorry. I knew it would be bad for me, but I didn’t think it would hurt you, too.”
He sat up. His face was close to hers now, and for the first time, the lighting was good enough for her to actually see him. He was older than she’d first thought. With a heavy build like his and those gliding reflexes, she’d guessed him to be in his twenties, but now that she got a closer look, she knew that was wrong. He looked like he was in his thirties, but that didn’t seem to fit, either. He seemed older, though he had no heavy creases or lines, no gray in his hair. There was a kind of depth in his moss green eyes, a kind of awareness or wisdom she’d seen only in people like Nana who’d lived a long, long time.
Several small scars marked his hands and face, supporting her theory. His dark brown hair was mussed from the wind, falling over his forehead in places. A few strands clung to his damp skin. She realized she’d been staring for a long time. Too long. Rory cleared her throat and looked away. “You didn’t think what would hurt me?”
“Breaking contact. I saw your face before I . . . collapsed. I heard you. You were in pain.”
She wasn’t about to talk to him about her visions. No way. All she needed was to get patched up and back out there to hunt for the person who could make the visions stop.
The way he did.
Maybe he was the person she’d been looking for. Maybe he was the one who’d stopped her visions before.
“Do you live nearby?” she asked.
“Were you ever at Sister Olive’s shelter before it burned down?”
He shook his head, frowning at her. “Not that I remember.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Why does it matter?”
“I’m looking for someone.” She felt obligated to tell him at least that much. He had, after all, saved her life tonight.
His gaze roamed her face, so palpable it was almost a caress. “Who?”
Oh baby. She could get lost in a man like this. It wouldn’t even be hard. She was so used to being invisible—to people merely glancing at the surface—his complete focus was nearly too intense to stand. If he’d tried to make a move, she would have freaked, but he hadn’t.
The door opened and Hope walked in, glowing with health and so beautiful it made Rory shrink back so Cain wouldn’t compare them.
“Rory. You’re safe.” Hope rushed forward and engulfed her in a hard hug full of love and friendship. Rory had to blink back tears so no one would see them. She was not sappy. She did not cry, except during that one coffee commercial that aired during the holidays, but that was forgivable. Crying now over some silly hug would not be.
Hope didn’t seem to mind showing others weakness, because tears were streaming down her cheeks openly as she pulled back. “I was so worried. You just disappeared after that night. No one knew where you’d gone.”
“What night?” asked Cain.
“I needed some time alone,” Rory lied, cutting Hope off before she could tell Cain things that were none of his business. He didn’t need to know about her captivity. No one did. Her ignorance and shame at falling for such a stupid trick was not something she wanted him to know.
The visions that had been blissfully absent while she’d been held captive had come back before the chaos had settled and survivors were toted away. Not only had the visions come back, but they were stronger. She’d been scared shitless. She hadn’t wanted anyone to see her like that, so she’d scurried away like a timid bunny.
Hope wiped her eyes, which glowed with compassion. “I understand.”
No, she didn’t. No one did. But Rory didn’t want to be rude and point that out.
Cain was watching the whole exchange. He was holding Rory’s hand, his fingers laced between hers. He hadn’t let go, even though they were all on the floor in an awkward heap.
Hope finally saw their joined hands, then her gaze slid up to Cain’s throat. A narrow, iridescent band stretched around his neck, hugging it. Colors swirled inside the band, as if it were alive. Shimmering blues and pinks slid in a slow dance around plumes of lavender and darker purples. The colors were way too feminine for a man like Cain to wear, but then Rory figured a man like him could wear whatever the hell he wanted and no one would say a thing for fear of being pounded into pulpy bits.
Shock widened Hope’s eyes, and then she looked at Rory. A grin spread over her face and she dove in for another tight hug, only this one felt like some kind of congratulations.
“What?” asked Rory, confused.
“She doesn’t know,” said Cain.
Hope looked at him. “But you’re sure?”
He nodded, but rather than looking at the stunning woman who’d asked the question, his gaze was fixed directly on Rory. And she felt that gaze all the way down her spine in a thrilling rush.
“What am I missing?” she asked.
Hope cupped Rory’s face in her hands. “You’re one of us. Welcome to the family.”
Family? A family who fought demons and had a “safe” room stocked like some kind of survivalist nutcase? That didn’t sound like her kind of family. “Whoa. Hold on a second. I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
“Let it go, Hope,” said Cain. “We’ll deal with that after she’s patched up.”
“Patched up? What happened?”
Rory tried to pull her hand free of Cain’s, but he didn’t let go. She glared at him while she answered Hope’s question. “Just me and my suckful luck with monsters. You know. The usual.”
Logan walked in. His nostrils flared and his eyes seemed to glow. “Your bleeding. It’s gotten worse.”
“That’s my fault,” said Cain. “I collapsed. She came down here to help.”
Logan’s mouth flattened as he looked at her and then Cain. “I see. We’ll deal with that in a minute. Right now we need to stop the bleeding.”
“They’re compatible,” said Hope.
Cain scowled at her. “Not now, Hope.”
Rory’s confusion deepened as she watched the silent play between them. Hope was looking like she’d just opened a shiny new toy. Logan was clearly trying to take that toy away, and Cain kept a tight grip on Rory’s hand like she was going to float away if he let go.
Rory wanted to mind. She wanted to be pissed off, because that was a lot easier to deal with than all of this unsettling, sappy, tingling nonsense.
Cain rose to his feet in one graceful move. He held on to her hand, his thick fingers laced between hers. In one easy lift, he set her on the edge of the gurney.
He didn’t back away, though she could see his body tense as if he was getting ready for her to kick him in the balls or something.
“You need to let go of her,” said Logan.
“I know,” said Cain in a tone that warned Logan to back off. “I’m working on it.”
“Do it slowly. I’ll do what I can to ease the pain.”
“Pain? Will one of you please explain what the hell is happening here?”
“In a moment,” said Logan as he grabbed Cain’s wrist. “Just hold still.”
“Ease hers,” said Cain. “Last time we stopped touching, it hurt her, too.”
“Interesting,” said Logan, and then he looked at Rory like she were a new and intriguing puzzle for his amusement.
She almost told him that it wasn’t pain she felt, but if she’d done that, she would have had to tell them about the visions, and she wasn’t about to do that. She didn’t know these people. She didn’t trust them. Even though she and Hope had been through something horrible together, that didn’t mean Rory was ready to be BFFs.
Logan laid his hand on her forehead, and she flinched away from his touch. His fingers were slender and cool, not at all like Cain’s. She didn’t like the way Logan’s hand felt on her. It was . . . wrong somehow, like a kind of betrayal she couldn’t understand.
“I won’t hurt you,” said Logan. “Just relax.”
She had no intention of doing any such thing, but a second later, she felt her tension drain away. She sat there on the edge of the bed, swaying and content. Even knowing that whatever he’d done to her was fake, she couldn’t find the energy to care.
Cain took several deep breaths like he was about to go free diving, and then eased his grip on her hand. His fingers loosened and slid between hers, inching away. She was sure he hadn’t meant it to be a caress, but she felt it all the way to her curling toes. Those heated vibrations trickling into her wherever he touched seemed to cling, wrapping around the tips of her fingers. She swayed toward him, eager to deepen the contact again, but he continued to back away, keeping just enough distance between them that she couldn’t make any headway.
Finally, after she was gripping the edge of the gurney to keep from lunging toward him and getting more contact with his skin—wherever she could find it—the slightest bit of his index finger was still in contact with hers.
Electricity arced between them, so intense she swore she could hear it crackle. There was something precious and powerful in that tiny contact—promise of something she didn’t understand, but yearned to possess all the same. She recognized the power, as if a piece of her had been chopped off at birth, only to return to her now in this form.
It was hers and she wanted it.
He broke away, and all thoughts of power were crushed from her head. The relentless stream of images was there, waiting for her, ready to strike. Within seconds, she was completely blinded by the flood of lights and colors that did not belong. Never before had it been this bad. Not even in the daytime. There were too many sights. She couldn’t absorb them all.
The flow of images nauseated her. Her head spun. She held on to the bed, but even that solid support did nothing to pin her in place. She tried not to panic, but terror was clawing at her, tearing at her resolve until it lay in tattered shreds. She had no control, nowhere to hide. All she could do was sit here while the visions slammed into her, driving her closer to the brink of madness.