Unchained, p.1Part #3 of Men in Chains series by Caris Roane
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To my sister, Nancy, and her tremendous support over the years
Many thanks to Rose Hilliard and the team at St. Martin’s Press for bringing the Men in Chains series to the shelves, for the outstanding covers, and for the fine editing. All blessings.
Also by Caris Roane
Praise for the Guardians of Ascension series
About the Author
Shayna Prentiss left the bar near the University of Washington, wondering if someone had slipped her a roofie. She felt light-headed and from the corner of an eye, she was sure she saw a man, dressed in black, floating in the air. When she turned to look, though, nothing was there.
Had to be drugs.
But she’d been so careful, never letting guys buy her drinks and, once she had a drink in hand, keeping it there. In her undergrad days she’d been through the gauntlet of insanity that accompanied the college journey and had made it a point to learn vicariously from stories that traveled like wildfire around the dorms. More than one student had ended up in the hospital.
But tonight, something must have gotten past her. Had she been distracted? Had she turned her back to talk to someone? Yet she couldn’t think of a single moment when she’d let her guard down.
Or maybe it was just stress. Her replacement passport hadn’t come through yet and she was leaving for Malaysia in two weeks to start her fieldwork. She’d booked the flight months ago to get a solid cheap rate. But she’d gotten so caught up in putting together as many chapters of her dissertation as she could before she left that she’d somehow managed to lose her passport.
She wasn’t the most organized person, but she loved anthropology with a passion and intended to earn her PhD before she was thirty.
The dizziness returned, forcing her to stop to plant a hand against a light standard. And now she had a headache as though someone was tapping on her mind, wanting in.
She took deep breaths.
On a Friday night students headed everywhere, even at ten at night. She’d met up with friends for a drink, happy to unwind for a couple of hours, but now she was ready to get back to work. She tended to pore over her books until the early-morning hours and loved it. From the time she’d started college, she’d scheduled afternoon and evening classes whenever possible. She did her best thinking after the sun went down, preferably with books and papers scattered all around her. Antique statuary helped, as well as the oh-so-stereotypical midnight pizza. She had a fine collection of geodes she looked at or turned over and over in her hands when she was puzzling out some aspect of theory.
The air smelled of rain and the clouds overhead had gathered to form a thick, familiar mass. A distant rumbling of thunder explained things loud and clear.
Great, now it was going to pour—and as usual, no umbrella.
A couple of guys stopped in front of her. “Shayna, how’s it going?” They were in one of the classes she was required to teach as part of her doctoral program. They were young and had that hungry, Friday-night, hoping-to-get-laid look. And unfortunately, she never looked older than eighteen no matter how much makeup she wore.
With thoughts of her latest paper on her mind, she wasn’t interested in encouraging any kind of male attention. “I’m fine. You boys move along and flirt with girls your own age.”
They both grinned. She didn’t always get the same respect as other teachers because of her youngish features. She’d be carded forever, but there was nothing she could do about that.
Waving them off, she hurried up the street, half walking, half running as thunder once more sounded from the north. She was cold now, grateful she’d worn her jeans and not the short skirt she’d actually considered.
As she rounded the corner, however, she swore that flying man appeared again, floating in the air, tracking her. So long as she didn’t look directly at him, she could see him, and this time she took a hard look. He was handsome in a scary way, with short, roughed-up hair and dressed in black leather. He was big, too, like he kept a gym in his garage and spent most of the day there working out.
As hallucinations went, he was amazing.
She forced her gaze away from him and kept moving. Maybe she’d ingested some kind of psychedelic.
But the pressure on her mind increased then broke through. Words followed that set her heart racing. Are you Shayna Prentiss?
She stopped in her tracks and shifted slightly and now she could see the flying man clearly. But it also seemed like wavy lines floated in front of him. “I don’t know what the hell you are, but would just leave me alone?”
His voice penetrated her head once more. So you can see me?
She shook her head in disbelief. The man she’d somehow fabricated from her apparently way-too-vivid imagination now communicated with her telepathically. Before answering his question, she analyzed the situation as best she could. Drugs seemed like the most sensible explanation, but other than some dizziness, she didn’t feel drugged out.
She responded mind-to-mind. Are you talking inside my head?
I am. Shit, you’ve got power and you’re human, right?
Yes, I’m human. Okay, an alien might make a statement like, You’re human, right? although the words seemed earth-colloquial in nature. She’d never been much of an extraterrestrial believer. Intellectually, she knew that unexplained phenomena existed, but she also thought that science could eventually offer a rational explanation.
And you can see me. The flying man wasn’t asking this time.
Should she even respond? The more prudent course would be to get back to her apartment, take two Advil, and go to bed. Hide under her comforter.
Yet the whole situation set her curiosity on high flame, and his question had a simple, scientific basis. I can sort of see you. I mean sometimes I can, better from the side. You have wavy lines in front of you right now.
This really couldn’t be happening. She added, I have to go home now. Maybe you should find someone else to talk to. I’m real busy these days. Understatement.
Once again, she put her feet in motion and kept her head down. Had to be stress. She’d probably just been pushing too hard, as usual.
The flying man ignored her suggestion. The truth is, Shayna, that I’ve come to talk to you, so it’s great that you’ve got so much latent power for a human. That you can communicate easily mind-to-mind is a big plus.
There it was again, for a human. What the hell did her hallucination mean by that? She wasn’t into science fiction. When she needed to chill, she watched documentaries.
She shook her head and forced her gaze to the sidewalk. “Keep one foot in front of the other, Shayna,” she whispered. “You’ll be okay. This too shall pass. You’re just stressed out. Losing your passport clearly was too much for you. At least you booked your flight. Jus
The man’s deep, resonant voice once more penetrated her mind. You’re not hallucinating. I’m real and I need your help.
She must be going crazy because now the hallucination was asking for her help.
The first raindrops struck her shoulders and she started to run. Her apartment wasn’t far, just a couple more blocks.
Maybe if she focused on the reality around her, on her life, on the fieldwork she’d planned for her yearlong stay in Malaysia, her mind would clear.
She had a meeting with her adviser in the morning, something she was not looking forward to. She often argued with Greg Michelson, and it didn’t help that she’d broken her sacred rule and had not only slept with him but actually engaged in a very intense six-month affair with the bastard. Turned out, the man with such lofty ideals was a complete narcissist, especially in bed. He’d given her self-esteem a serious blow with all his attempts to remake her in his image as well as how often he called her selfish when she insisted that her needs be treated with as much respect as his demands.
I need you to come with me.
Even her hallucination appeared to be just another man wanting something from her, needing her to set aside her own goals in favor of his.
“Like hell I’m going to do that,” she shouted. She took off on a sprint.
She tried to draw her keys from her purse, but her hands shook. If she could just get inside, she’d be okay. Bed, Advil, a shot of Ketel One if necessary.
I’m not going to hurt you. Dammit, would you please just stop and listen to me. I need your help.
She wished he didn’t seem so real, and another part of her wished the drug would kick in and she’d pass out because right now she was scared out of her mind.
She turned the corner and groaned. The street was poorly lit and there wasn’t a single person around. Even though she was only a few yards away from the front door of the complex, the man swept ahead of her, flying, his long black leather coat flapping as he moved.
He reached the door to the apartment building first, dipping beneath the overhang. He floated to land on the sidewalk, but this time he spoke aloud. “Are you Shayna Prentiss? I really need to know. It’s important.”
She squeezed her eyes shut and gave her head a shake, willing him away. “This is all in my head. It will pass.” She repeated the words several times.
But when she opened her eyes, he was still there, and closer now. The rain had started to come down, lightning flashed, thunder boomed closer still.
“Please confirm your identity.” He scanned her hair, her eyes, her face as though looking for something specific. “White-blond hair, unusual light-blue eyes, tall, pretty. Has to be you.”
“Fine, I’m Shayna Prentiss, but who are you?”
“Marius Briggs.” The hallucination had a specific name? “You’re not seeing things, Shayna. I’m real.”
She trembled now. “I don’t understand any of this. What do you want with me and how were you doing all those tricks in the air?” When she started to back away, he moved in and took hold of her arms, his grip like steel.
“I need you to know that I don’t usually do this kind of thing, but I’m desperate. My world is in trouble and we need you.”
“Your world needs me? Are you an alien?”
“Not exactly. We live here, right alongside you. We just have the ability to disguise ourselves, to keep hidden from your kind.”
“My kind.” Oh, God.
Every horror movie she’d ever seen flipped through her head, except that this man didn’t look like a monster.
But that’s when things went haywire all over again because suddenly she saw just him, the faint cleft in his chin, the sharp angle of his cheekbones, and his unusual hazel eyes, flecked with gold. He was incredibly handsome.
But there was something more, almost as though she could sense what he was feeling, the level of his determination and, as his gaze skated over her features, his sudden male interest in her.
You’re beautiful slid through her mind.
She didn’t react; instead she held herself open to him, wanting to understand him. She no longer thought she was in the grip of a mind-bending drug, and she never drank more than would give her a nice buzz.
No, the man was real.
Oddly, her fears began to dissipate as her curiosity rose. She felt like she did when she was deep into some aspect of her studies, like she’d come home, as though she belonged here talking with this otherworldly man.
She resonated with him.
The term wasn’t exactly scientific in nature, but that’s what came to her as she stood in front of—what was his name? Marius Briggs. The questions came, the ones that rolled through her mind as familiar to her as breathing. “What hidden world? And you’re not human? Yet you look human. Are our species related?”
He seemed exasperated as he shoved a hand through his loose, slightly messy dark hair. He grimaced. “I don’t have time for this.” He glanced around, worried.
Michelson, her former lover, had often been exasperated with her. If Mr. Briggs hoped to get her help, he’d better lose the attitude and start talking.
Despite his hold on her, she wiggled just enough to fold her arms over her chest and lift her chin. “I’m going to need some answers if you expect me to cooperate.”
“I’d better just show you.”
He pulled back his lips slightly and the next moment, she watched a set of what appeared to be extremely sharp fangs descend.
More horror movies popped through her mind. Really? Fangs? Flight? The black leather coat and all this supreme sexiness?
She wrinkled her nose. “You’re a vampire?”
“We’ve lived in a secret cavern-based culture, right alongside yours, all this time, with our own customs and beliefs, our own problems. But we have disguising abilities, something that apparently you’re good at seeing through but have kept us as separate species from the beginning of life on earth.”
A number of thoughts and questions rattled through her brain, some of a scientific nature stemming from her curiosity about other cultures. But he’d already told her enough that she sensed she was in some kind of danger. “Does your kind prey on ours?”
“The worst of my kind does, yes, and they need to be stopped, which is why I’ve come to you for help.”
“And I’ll need to go with you, right?”
He breathed a sigh of relief. “Exactly.”
“Well, I’m sorry, Mr. Otherworld Vampire, but I’m going to Malaysia to do critical fieldwork. I’m leaving in two weeks and I have a boatload of work to get done before I go. I have my own life, my own goals, and sorry but you’re out of luck.”
She’d spoken with confidence, but he still had hold of her arms and his face was taking on a tight, stubborn look. “You’re still not understanding either the depth of my world’s need or why it has to be you.”
“Oh, come on, I can’t be that special.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. You have specific, latent abilities that dovetail with my world. The fact that you can communicate telepathically with me no problem at all is a profound indication that what I’m telling you is true. And we need you, desperately.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m still kind of in shock.”
“As you should be.”
He looked so damn sincere. If she’d met him anywhere else, like at a party, she would have trusted him.
The flying man got a strange look on his face, his gaze still pinned to hers. “I saw pictures of you, but I didn’t think you’d be this beautiful. My God.” His voice had dropped into the lower registers.
She knew that man-sound. For all his fine words about looking for someone to help him save his world, maybe he was just cruising the university bars looking to get laid. Maybe this was just his line. No doubt male vampires, sharing DNA with humans as he suggested, had a lot in common with males of her species.
Yeah. Except for that. And they had fangs for a purpose well documented in human fiction.
Her dizziness returned, only different this time. As she stared at him, he seemed to fade as well as the grip on her arm. She thought maybe she was fainting, but instead the space around her began to spin, increasing the sense that she could topple over.
She remained upright, but new images arrived. She saw Marius standing in the doorway of what had to be a bathroom. He wore a robe of some kind, silk maybe, and dark blue with a pattern on it.
She moved, only it wasn’t her, but some future version of herself in the vision. She couldn’t see it clearly, because strange dark waves covered parts of it. But from what she could make out, she was in a bathroom unknown to her and she was completely naked. What was he saying? Something like he thought she could use the robe. She watched as he hung it up on the back of the door.
Shayna did not understand what she was looking at, except that she was now drying off with her towel and didn’t seem in the least distressed. Which meant that she was incredibly comfortable with Marius although he seemed to be uneasy.
She felt herself speak within this weird vision, a very strange sensation: Thank you. I love the paisley in your robe. Is that silk you’re wearing?
For reasons she couldn’t explain, she felt that this was some kind of vision of the future. She knew then that she’d slept with Marius and that she’d loved it.
Oh, dear God, what the hell was happening to her?
When she closed her eyes, the present returned, and she found that Marius still had hold of her arms but was essentially holding her upright.
“Shayna,” he called sharply. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but you and I … we were together. In a bathroom somewhere. You were dressed, but I’d been showering.”
“Shit, have you just had a vision of the future?”
“I think so. Or maybe one possible future. My head aches from trying to make sense of everything. This really can’t be happening.”
* * *
Marius Briggs saw her confusion. He hated doing this to her, confronting her about issues in his world and trying to persuade her to come with him.
Unchained by Caris Roane / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes