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Created darkly, p.16
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       Created Darkly, p.16

           Gena D. Lutz
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  Rush’s head popped into view, startling me. I jumped and slammed my skull back against the ground. “Ouch!”

  “My God, woman! Can’t you go ten seconds without getting blown up, passing out, or getting hurt? You’re going to send me to an early grave.” He looked around and smirked. “At least, I wouldn’t have far to travel.”

  Rush slipped his hand between my head and the gravel. He helped me into a seated position and after a few moments of recovery time, to my feet.

  “What happened?” I asked, rubbing my throbbing head. I removed a few blades of grass and shook the dust from my hair. It flew everywhere before landing on my shoulders in a knotted mess.

  Reaching forward, Rush plucked out a few remaining pieces of grass.

  “I don’t know. One second, you were asking me about your tools, and in the next, you were staring off into space. It was like you were hypnotized, or something. Then, as soon as we pulled up to the cemetery, your eyes slammed shut and your body seized. I dragged you from the car. You fought me to the ground. You scared the crap out of me, Kris. I didn’t know what to do.”

  “I was with Rafe.” I didn’t know how to explain how or what I’d experienced.

  Rush’s brows shot to his hairline, almost jumping off his forehead. “Unless that vampire is hiding in my backseat, or has had the misfortune of being staked and is now a ghost, I can’t see how that’s possible.” He gave me a worried look and began inspecting my body. He felt the back of my head, and I winced as his fingers traced over the bump there. “I think you might have a concussion.”

  I moved away from him. “I’m okay.”

  “You don’t look okay to me, beautiful. Maybe we should sit in the car and let you rest for a while.”

  “That can’t happen. Time isn’t a luxury we can afford.” I took his hand and gave it a squeeze. “And what I meant by, ‘I was with Rafe,’ was that I connected to him somehow. I had a bird’s-eye view of what he was doing, and I was experiencing his thoughts and feelings.” I scowled. “It was almost as if I was a living, breathing…ghost, which of course, isn’t possible, right? You have to die before your spirit can rise up and leave your body. But that’s how it felt, anyway.”

  Rush’s features were stark with disbelief. He mumbled something under his breath before he gave me a puzzled look. “What you’re describing is impossible. Are you sure you aren’t suffering from a concussion, or maybe you dreamed all this up?”

  “Hey!” I blurted, offended. “Are you accusing me of lying to you? Do you really think I don’t know the difference between what’s real or imagined?”

  “I’m pretty sure I said nothing of the sort.”

  That got my attention. Rush wasn’t the domineering type, at least not when it came to me, so for him to raise his voice or be curt gave me pause. I had to admit, though, his backbone turned me on. He reached over and grabbed my shoulders.

  “If what you described really did happen, then we have to bring this to the Council’s attention.”

  “You’re out of your mind. I want nothing to do with the Center, Rush. All they care about is money…how to make it and how to keep it. I refuse to be used as a pawn to further their ambitions. I won’t do it. Not even for you.”

  Nothing could have gotten my back up more than what he suggested to me. I may have falsely judged the vampire race as a whole, but I knew for certain that the Center was bad news. Just ask my mother about what those assholes made her do to further their cause. You’d probably find what remains of her bellied up to a bar, staring down the bottom of a whiskey bottle.

  Rush took a deep breath. It seemed to fortify him. “I only suggest this because it’s their job to make sure they are privy to the ins and outs of necromancy. We have questions, and they will probably have the answers. Wouldn’t you like to know why your magic is different from all other necromancers? You marked a vampire, for Christ’s sake, and let’s not forget your little ghost walk….” His hands traveled up my shoulders, to my face. He cupped my cheeks and looked deeply into my eyes. “Trust me. You don’t have to play nice with the Council. I only want access to the vast knowledge and experience they have.”

  I twisted my lips and tapped my chin, looking off into the sky as if pondering over his proposal. In actuality, I was thinking about how there was no way I was going to chat it up with those elitist snobs.

  “I’ll think about it.” It was a teeny-tiny fib, but for the sake of our budding relationship, it was a necessary one. I knew that soon I would need to come to terms with the fact that my new lover belonged to a group of people that I viewed as despicable. But considering that I was still reeling from the incredible sex we just had…twice…my reservations would have to wait until a later date for resolution. Every relationship had its snags. Why should ours be any different?


  Rush and I made our way into the cemetery on foot. Wolf hadn’t specified where he wanted us to meet, so I kept my eyes peeled for anything that seemed out of the ordinary. You know, a psycho kidnapper, possibly a killer, hiding behind a tombstone, waiting to jump out and plunge a knife into my gut—that kind of thing. Needless to say, I was staying vigilant.

  We walked for what seemed like forever. At first, the gravestones that marked the plots we passed were new and well maintained. Some even had fresh flowers from recent visitors.

  As we continued on through the cemetery, the headstones began to show deterioration, morphing into dilapidated landmarks that represented the lives and deaths of a town of people from centuries past. That part of the cemetery was sectioned off by a black and rotting cast iron fence. Moss and vines crawled menacingly up the bars, twirling and constricting, kind of like the knots in my stomach were doing at the thought of pushing through the waist-high gate, so we could venture on our path to finding—

  A shot rang out! Rush dropped to his knees. He wore a look of confusion as he stared at me with wide eyes. All I could do was watch in horror as he fell forward, almost in slow motion, to the ground. I took my gun from its shoulder holster and stepped in front of Rush, acting as a barricade to hinder the aim of the person shooting at us. Everything inside me screamed to check Rush’s pulse, to see if the shot had been fatal, but I held my ground. I would be of no use to him dead. I called out into the night.

  “Show yourself!”

  Rush lifted his head at the sound of my raised voice. “Leave me. Run!” he choked out before his head fell back to the ground.

  Realizing that even if he was severely hurt, Rush still lived, I felt my heart slam against my chest as if it just started beating again. I intended to keep it that way, so I shushed him with a whisper. “Keep quiet and reserve your strength, handsome. My ass isn’t going anywhere. And you’re not dying on me.”

  I spied blood blossoming from his shoulder blade area; it had soaked all the way through his jacket. That could be good or frightfully bad. If the bullet hit his shoulder, exiting out the back, he would probably survive the gunshot wound. Even with a complete draining of blood, a necromancer could survive. We were built to create and sustain vampires. On the other hand, if that bullet had plunged into his heart…I shook away the morbid thought. I wasn’t going to put any power behind that possibility.

  The rustling of leaves and muffled cries alerted me to an encroaching visitor. My arm swung to the right, and I trained my gun on the vicinity of the noise. Thick blackness and a shadowed tree trunk were all I could make out of my surroundings. However, I could still hear somebody’s quick approach, and I had to swallow my fear to meet whomever it was coming at me, head-on.

  “I thought I made myself clear. There was to be no one from the Center with you,” said the disembodied voice that, up until then, I’d only heard over the phone. It came from behind the cover of a copse of trees that lined the dirt path I was standing on. His tone sounded calm. The blasé attitude disgusted me. “Come on, sweets. Pick up those feet of yours. Kris has been waiting ever so patiently to see you.”

  They both came ou
t of the shadows at the same time. A man of average height was holding Torra tightly by her forearm. It took everything I had to stay where I was. I took a good look at my tormentor. He had short hair, dark and trimmed to his scalp. He bore a patrician’s nose that sat high in the middle of an ordinary-looking face. He stared through me with large, dark brown eyes. He painted on a sickly sweet smile.

  “What a pleasure it is to finally meet you, Kristina,” Wolf said.

  A gravelly cough bounced off the ground at my feet as Rush tried to convince me to flee one last time. “Run!”

  Wolf looked down at Rush. “Oh, is he a little under the weather? Sorry about that, but in my defense, I did warn you.”

  I ignored his taunting and focused all of my attention on Torra. She thrashed and squirmed against Wolf’s biting grip, but he easily held her in place. It made me wonder if I was dealing with a vampire instead of a human, which I’d assumed he was from the beginning. Nah, he couldn’t be. I wasn’t wearing my contacts, and if Wolf was a blood-sucker, my eyes would be glowing bright like a jack-o-lantern.

  Out of the blue, Torra jumped at Wolf with blinding speed. He blocked and swung her away from him by wrenching down on her arm. With the butt of the gun he held in the other hand, the one he used to shoot Rush with, he whacked the back of her head. The gun came down with a loud crack. Torra’s eyes rounded as she choked out in agony. After a silent plea through watery eyes, her body went limp. She dangled off his arm like a ragdoll.

  Before I could think, my finger tightened, and I squeezed the trigger. Three shots popped off; my arm vibrated like a tuning fork against the recoil. I blinked. Damn it! All I managed to hit was the tree Wolf had been standing in front of. Within that single blink of an eye, he had moved out of the way. I only knew of one creature that was capable of such a feat, and I met my first one the night before at the Center. Wolf had to be a phantom.

  It was starting to make since, how Wolf was able to control one of the strongest paranormal species in existence; it was because he was one of them. Also, if you take into account that he had at least one phantom working under him, doing his evil work, that would mean he was a very strong phantom, to boot. Wonderful.

  “Save your bullets for someone you can shoot.”

  I swung around and aimed my gun in the vicinity of the chuckling voice. “Thanks for your concern, asshole.”

  I heard a loud swish, the sound of branches breaking, and then a jarring thud. Torra landed on her back, ten feet away from me, at the base of a tree. I lost my breath as her blond head smacked down hard against protruding roots. She didn’t move.

  “Have I earned your undivided attention?” Wolf asked.

  He emerged from behind the tree where Torra lay unconscious. His hands were empty; he must have ditched the gun. He didn’t need it. He was powerful enough on his own, and he knew it, judging by the cocky look that overtook his features.

  He had me frazzled, catching me off guard. I had been free falling into nothingness before, unable to fully understand what was going on in regard to what he wanted from my sister and me. I followed his rules, raised a corpse, and dragged my ass to that creepy graveyard per his instructions, but apparently, all my efforts to make the guy happy were not enough. Unless his ultimate goal was to make me suffer, I was stumped.

  “What do you want from me?”

  Wolf stared off into the night, deep in thought. His smug smile smoothed out into a straight line and his body relaxed. “I want what everybody wants and deserves to have.”

  I waited for the space of two heartbeats and asked, “And…what would that be?”

  I couldn’t keep my focus trained on my enemy, even though I knew it was in my best interest to do so. My eyes kept jumping to Torra, and then over to Rush. Both of them were still breathing, thank God. Torra’s breaths were shallow, but steady. On the other hand, Rush’s lungs were struggling to work. That answered my question of where the bullet had hit. It was lodged in his lung. Very painful, but he would eventually recover.

  “Come with me,” Wolf said, walking away from me down the dirt path.

  For a second, I thought of running, grabbing up my loved ones and getting the hell out of Dodge. But there was no way I could carry the dead weight of both their bodies, and those two wouldn’t be walking on their own steam anytime soon. I also knew that if I tried a stunt like that, Wolf wouldn’t hesitate to finish the job and kill them both. At least, if I did as Wolf asked of me, they would remain hurt, but safe. I gave Rush and Torra one more look, then turned and followed the phantom.

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  With my head down, hands in my pockets, I watched Wolf’s shiny black loafers kick up dust and dried leaves as I followed him. Those crunching footfalls echoed deep within my ears.

  My heart fluttered like a nervous rabbit as my thoughts remained several feet behind me, where Rush and Torra were left helpless and injured. I couldn’t count how many times I almost turned around to go back. It felt wrong to abandon them to fend for themselves in their completely defenseless state.

  Wolf had promised me that no harm would come to them if I did as I was told. My only hope was that Rush’s injury would heal soon, so he could take my sister far away from there, because I didn’t trust that Wolf character to keep his word for a second.

  “Your friends will be fine, so chin up.”

  Infuriated, my heart gave a hard thud, and I had to swallow back a hate-filled scream. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a woman. Her shadowy form hovered next to me as if she’d always been there, like a casual acquaintance joining me for a midnight stroll in the park. I fancied that idea more than my current situation—a death march in the middle of the scariest part of the cemetery with a maddened monster.

  “He speaks the truth. Your friends are fine. I just checked on them,” she said.

  The tall, thin, middle-aged woman had on a white dress that covered every inch of her body. It was long, flowing past her feet to drag the ground behind her. The gauzy fabric cinched at the waist, with lace trim adorning the bodice, high-neck collar, and the cuffs of her long sleeves. She had a generous amount of hair that rode high atop her head in a round poof, with wisps of it waving in the air in front of her transparent cheeks and eyes. An oval-shaped cameo pendant hung around her neck, nestling at her bosom.

  She wore a smile that seemed at home on her face. If she wasn’t a ghost, I knew it would rosy up her round cheeks, a bright red. Her cheery features were etched in deep lines that were usually a reflection of spending a lot of time underneath the blazing sun. I could picture the woman working a farm or tilling happily in her garden. By her appearance, I would venture to guess she once lived in the early1800s.

  “Are they still unconscious?” I asked the apparition.

  She smiled, nodded, and said calmly, “The fellow is able to sit up now.”

  Knowing that bit of information made me feel much better. “Thank you.”

  There was something about her smile that seemed eerily familiar.

  Wolf stopped and turned to me. “Who are you speaking to?”

  “A ghost.” I saw no reason to lie.

  “Whose ghost?”

  “Choose from any one of these headstones; she could belong to any of them. Just because I can communicate with them doesn’t mean I know their life story.” Okay, maybe my last statement was a little bitchy. But come on…no one would expect me to have a great attitude in that situation.

  Before I could react, Wolf struck out. The back of his hand came down hard across my face. Pain exploded, radiating out across my cheek bone. My jaw made a cracking sound. I found myself flat on my ass in the dirt. Through a haze of confusion, I could see the ghost hovering over me. She wasn’t smiling anymore; in fact, her shadowy form was flickering in and out, her energy being displaced, the frequency interrupted, because of how pissed off she was.

  “Watch that foul mouth of yours, necromancer. You are nothing but a low-born woman, put on this earth to do a man
s bidding. Hopefully, that punishment will remind you of your place.”

  I pushed up off the ground to stand on unsteady legs. I was fuming inside. That wasn’t the first time I’d been struck. The vampires I went after didn’t like it much when I drained them of their life force, and I’ve had the crap beaten out of me because of it. But that was different. He struck me like he had a right to, like I was an insignificant nuisance. Without a thought, I swung at him, punching with all my might. Right before my fist could make contact with his face, he teleported out of the way again.

  “You’re cute when you’re angered,” he taunted.

  “Screw you,” I seethed through a busted lip. I could taste the tang of blood and feel a wet trail down my chin. “I swear, I am going to kill you.”

  His face flared with anger. “Keep talking, and I will bend you over one of these gravestones and fuck your mouth shut, if that’s what it takes.”

  “Try it, and I’ll kill you before you get that puny dick out of your pants. That’s a promise.”

  It wasn’t an empty threat. All I had to do was somehow lay a hand on any part of his body, and I would be able drain the life force right out of him. It would probably kill his host in the process, but I was willing to do just about anything to be rid of him and save myself from being raped. From the look on his contorted face, I could see he knew it, too. I would wager he knew a lot more about me than I was aware of. It would explain why he was going to such great lengths to stay out of my reach.

  He shook off my threat like it was water on a dog, and then, acting as if he hadn’t struck me across the face or threatened to rape me, he managed to plaster on another fake smile. His body relaxed, changing his appearance, making him resemble a marionette doll with that creepy smile and the way he stared through me with dark, vacant eyes. Chills replaced the heat of anger pumping in my veins, and I wished for a time when it would all be over.

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