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Authors: Jaime Rush

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Darkness Becomes Her

BOOK: Darkness Becomes Her
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JAIME RUSH

DARKNESS

BECOMES HER

Dedication

Dedicated to Dave Deslandes

Prologue

Fifteen years earlier

“W
ake up, Ally!”

Her daddy’s voice, hands shaking her. Not a dream. Her eyes snapped open, finding his face, scared and desperate, hovering in front of her.

“You’ve got to hide now.”

She tumbled out of bed, heart squeezing her chest. “What’s happening, Daddy?”

“The man I told you might hurt me, he’s here, Allybean.”

She swiped up her penguin, the one with the special coin sewn inside it. She couldn’t breathe all of a sudden. “Where’s Mommy?”

“She’s all right. He won’t hurt her.”

“But he’ll hurt me?” The words squeaked out of her mouth.

“I don’t know what he’ll do. I just want to make sure you’re safe.”

He tugged her down the hall to the closet and shoved aside the coats.

“How will I know when it’s safe to come out?” Fear made her voice a whisper.

“Either your mother or I will come get you. You’ll be okay.”

He didn’t look as though he felt that way, and that made her even more scared.

“I love you, Allybean.” And he closed the door, shutting her in the dark.

Daddy had always seemed overprotective and kind of worried. When she turned nine a year ago, he told her there was a man who wanted to hurt him: his own brother, Russell. Daddy had shown her a picture, trained her to be on the lookout for him. He had something called the Darkness inside him. Daddy had promised to tell her more when she was old enough to understand.

Now Russell was here, and she didn’t understand, not at all. Minutes dragged by, each one so long, so painful. She squeezed her penguin and felt the coin her father had put inside. Through the fur, she could barely make out the raised cross on it. The symbol was supposed to protect her, to hide her presence from the man who was hunting Daddy.

A
thump
froze her. Like someone being thrown against the wall. Loud, harsh voices, two men . . . and Mommy. They were screaming all at once, their words crashing on top of each other. Another
thump
. Tears filled her eyes.
Please, don’t die, Daddy.

She tried to peer through the slats in the bifold door but could only see the hallway. What if she crawled out but kept the penguin with her? It would only be for a few seconds.

Her mom cried out, the same way she did when she dropped a heavy pan on her foot last year.

Mommy!

The men’s voices got even louder, but nothing from her mommy. Her ears were buzzing, making it hard to hear more than angry voices.
Have to look.

She stretched through the opening. What she saw froze her heart. There was blood everywhere, splattered on the walls and puddling on the floor. And her mommy, she was lying on the floor. Not moving. Ally stifled a cry.

“I can heal her,” one of the men said in a voice so thick it was impossible to tell who was talking. “I can use Darkness to heal her, but then she’ll have it, too.”

“Don’t touch her.”

Those words, raw and hoarse.

The men moved into view, like two boxers, squaring off, punching, lunging like in the movies Daddy watched. She was in the dark, and she was pretty sure they couldn’t see her. They fought, growling and shoving, moving in and out of her view.

The bad man said, “Does the child have Darkness, too?”

“No, she’s normal. Leave her out of this.”

The child?
Her
.

“My son inherited it,” Russell said. “Your daughter probably did, too. If she holds Darkness, she’ll have to be . . . contained. Trained.”

“The hell she does!” A loud sound, and a chair slid across the floor.

She’d stretched farther out into the hallway without even realizing it, and now saw Russell, his back to her, his foot on her father’s chest. She wanted to burst out and save him but stopped herself. Anger and fear, it froze her, closing in her vision. No, not her vision. She saw blackness. Her father, turning into . . . she blinked. Couldn’t be. He was now a black blob of smoke.

Russell stepped back, facing the dark mist. “You’ve been trying to suppress Darkness, just like before. But I’ve been working with it, mastering it.”

He became the same smoke. The blobs took shape, changing to something solid again, to huge, mean wolves. Her daddy’s wolf was gray, Russell’s was black. The wolves fought, snarling, and then the black wolf spun like the Tasmanian Devil in the cartoons and wrapped itself around her father’s wolf. Terror gripped her, making her eyes water and her throat dry. Was she really seeing this?

Go back in!

The shadows became men again, and one of them fell to the floor. The bad man! Her daddy was okay!

She got to her feet. Her legs felt so wobbly, and she hardly had breath. She took a staggering step toward the kitchen, her fingers clutching the penguin. Her daddy knelt by her mommy’s body on the floor. “No. You can’t be gone.” Such pain in his words. Smoke snaked out of his hands as he leaned over her, sending . . . sending the smoke into her mommy.

“No!” The word roared out of her throat.

He turned to her and . . . his eyes were gray, not the green she knew. He wasn’t her daddy. He looked like him, but she knew, knew in her heart, that he wasn’t. Russell had gone into her daddy’s body.

“There you are.” He jumped up and grabbed for her.

Chapter 1

“W
hat are you on to, checking up on me?” Lachlan narrowed his eyes as his brother sauntered into the kitchen.

Magnus managed to find a reason to come to the family’s remote estate, dubbed Sanctuary, every few days for some lame reason or another. As usual, he surveyed the house, checking to see, perhaps, if garbage was piling up or if Lachlan had painted any of the walls black.

Magnus poured himself a cup of tea from the pot sitting on the counter, then opened the fridge to pull out milk and frowned. “If I
were
checking up on you, I’d point out the lack of quality food in the fridge.” He closed the door and tugged on Lachlan’s hair. “Or that you haven’t cut your hair in months; it’s as long as a girl’s.” Magnus pinched Lachlan’s chin. “At least you shave, but next time use a mirror. You missed some spots.”

“Considering you and the clerks at the stores are the only people I see, I have no need for a cut and style.” Lachlan stroked the strip of hair that ran from the bottom of his lower lip to his beard. “I was bored, figured I’d try something different.”

Magnus lifted the back of Lachlan’s old T-shirt. “No lash marks on your back, at least. Saw a movie about those monks who beat themselves with whips in punishment.”

Lachlan shoved him away, not that the big guy moved much. “Sod off. Thought you were busy, as you’re so happy to tell me, living life, shagging women, and making up for lost time. Why are you driving all the way out here to check up on me? Making sure I haven’t gone over the edge?”

Magnus dropped down into a chair and propped his big black shoes on the kitchen table. “Holing up here by yourself day in and day out, it’s bound to make you mad. You’re a pain in my arse, but you’re all the family I got. You want to live like a monk, keep punishing yourself for the past, nothing I can do about that. But I don’t want to come out and find your rotting body.”

Lachlan smirked. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“I’m the one who’s going to have to deal with it.”

Lachlan leaned against the counter. “Ah, it’s the cleanup you’re worried about. I promise you, I’ll not be doing myself in. That’s a coward’s way out. I’ll live till I’m a hundred and deserve every wretched minute of it. Now you can move on.”

Magnus tilted his head. “I do care. It’s me and you, Locky. That’s all we’ve got.”

“Don’t remind me, Maggie.” Not that he could forget why their parents were dead.

“You’re the only one who hates yourself, you know. It’s time to ease up.”

“‘Ease up’? I killed our mum, for God’s sake. Would have killed you, too, if I hadn’t come to my senses. I’d hate me, if I were you.”

“You made a mistake, a big one, but you had no idea that the outcome would be as horrific as it was. It’s been almost a year, Locky.”

Lachlan kept his expression passive. He didn’t deserve forgiveness or release. Or the childhood nickname. “I’m happy working on my projects, being alone, and living vicariously through your exploits. Get any gigs?”

Magnus gave him an exasperated sigh, hopefully giving up on him. “I’m filling in for an ailing drummer Saturday for the Wee Willies. And I’ve got a date. Not that you’d know what one of those is.”

“I know what a bloody date is.”

Magnus’s laugh came out a low rumble. “Oh, that’s right, you learned all about that kind of thing in those chat rooms and from watching dirty movies.” When Lachlan narrowed his eyes, Magnus raised his hands. “I’m not judging you. I watched them, too. We were hot-blooded teenage boys living a life in isolated areas, being home schooled. We had to get our jollies somewhere. But we’re not boys anymore, not being hunted down. It’s time to go out in the world and live.” He raised a thick eyebrow. “And touch women.”

“I’ve no interest in either. I’ll stick to my cars, thank you.”

Magnus nodded toward the newspaper on the table. “At least you’re keeping up with society. The girl I’m seeing, she’s in there. Front page of the Living section.” When Lachlan didn’t move toward the paper, Magnus said, “Go on, have a peek.”

She must be a number if he was eager to show her off. Or he was really hot for her. Maybe both. His brother always filled Lachlan in on the girl he was dating, a different one every time. Not to brag, but probably out of an attempt to draw him out into the world. Tempt him.

Dutifully, Lachlan turned to the section. The story featured a winter carnival to raise money for a local girl who not only had muscular dystrophy but had recently undergone a bone marrow transplant. An anonymous marrow donor had saved her life, but medical bills threatened to bury the family.

There, in the background of a photo of people setting up booths, was a petite, dark-haired woman, her shiny hair in a pixie cut that fanned over her shoulders. Unaware of the camera, she held up a large sign while two people hammered it in place. Her profile showed apple cheeks, tight-fitting jeans, and a sweater that molded a great set of knockers.

“Nice,” he allowed.

“I haven’t even pointed her out yet.” Magnus jabbed his finger at the same woman. “Name’s Jessie. I’ve fallen for her.”

“That’s what you said about the last four or five. Or ten.”

Magnus’s mouth turned up in a roguish smile. “Yeah, and I did, temporarily.”

“What happens after you’ve fallen? You just get up? That’s it, the feelings are all done?”

“Yeah, like the bubbles going out of a soda after it’s been sitting for a while. But there’s something about Jessie that I can’t put my finger on.”

“Well, she’s hot.”

“She is, but that’s not it. Dunno. Anyway, you could come to the carnival—”

“No, thanks. Have fun with your girl. I hope you’re using a condom.”

Magnus smirked the same way he had. “I didn’t know
you
cared.”

“I was thinking of the lass, you horn dog. ’Twould serve you right, catching crabs or lobsters or whatever.”

Instead of taking the bait, Magnus laughed, shaking his curls. Well, sure, he could be in a good mood. He was going to get laid.

Magnus pushed to his feet. “All right, carry on with your wallowing. Might help your mood if you got laid, too.”

“Stop reading my mind. Invasive, meddling—”

Magnus chuckled as he headed to the front door. “Nice job on the fifty-five, by the way. Sexy as hell. I’d say the sixteen coats of Marine Spar varnish did the trick.” He let the door close behind him.

Lachlan knew that ’55 Chevy truck was as sexy as his life was going to get. He carried the mugs to the sink but stopped short. The shiny, bloodred tile backsplash was wobbling. The floor shifted under his feet. Earthquake? He set the mugs on the counter, and the house started spinning. He grabbed onto the back of a chair at the small table, but it gave way. So did he.

Not the house, him. He broke out in a cold sweat, his body rigid.
Stroke? Heart attack?
Those words pinged through his head and seized his chest as he shivered on the tile floor. Then he was standing in a completely different place. He saw a Ferris wheel, booths, but everything was blurred. Over there, someone in the near distance. He stumbled toward him but his gaze went to the mound on the ground: Magnus, dead. Somehow, he knew his brother was dead. Standing next to him was a woman, petite . . . the woman in the photograph? No one else, just the two of them.

Then he snapped back to the kitchen, staring at the can lights in the ceiling. He patted his hands down his body. Here, alive. He got to his feet and grabbed the newspaper. Yes, the same woman. He slumped to the chair, feeling the same peculiar fatigue wash through him that he used to get after he astral-projected. Except he couldn’t astral-project anymore. He’d lost that ability when his father had tried to save his sanity.

The carnival, that’s what he’d seen. He grabbed his phone and called Magnus. “Get back here. Now.”

Magnus walked in a few minutes later, concern in his eyes. For a second he reminded Lachlan of their mother. They’d both gotten her brown eyes, but only Magnus had her curls. A sharp pain stabbed him at the thought of her.

Magnus dropped into the chair next to Lachlan’s. “What’s up? I just left and you looked fine. Well, as fine as you can look. Now you look like shite.”

“Something happened. I think I astral-projected.” With shaking hands, he held out the newspaper, pointing to the lass. “She’s going to kill you.”

“What the devil are you talking about?”

Lachlan told him what had happened.

“You’re serious?”

“You think I’d make something like this up?”

“You saw her kill me?” Not a small dose of skepticism in Magnus’s voice.

“I saw her standing over you after she’d killed you.”

“You were only able to project to the present and past. So you’re telling me your ability’s come back, and now you can see the future?”

“I’m telling you what I saw. So unless that’s happened in the past, then yes, I saw the future.”

Magnus dropped the paper on the table. “You haven’t had a glimmer of your abilities in ten months, and now, the moment I show you a picture of a girl I want to start seeing—”

“You think I’m making this up—or imagining it—because I’m
jealous
that you’re interested in someone?” He rammed his fingers back through his hair, tangling in the strands. Yeah, a bit too long.

“It’s either that or you’re going mad again, in which case I hope it is jealousy. Jessie’s sweet, shy, and she’s not coming on to me. The opposite, in fact, which is probably why I’m so fascinated by her. So if she’s a homicidal woman who picked me for her next victim, she’s not doing a great job of luring me in.”

“Maybe she is doing a great job. Play hard to get. Just like you said, that only makes you want her more. You don’t think smart women know that will snag a play-around like you?”

Magnus rolled his eyes. “Why would she want to kill me? Do you know how many female serial killers there have been in history? Like, a handful. I hate to say it, but it’s much more likely that it’s your imagination. We don’t know what the side effects of the antidote might be. It was something Dad worried about.”

Was he going crazy again? What he’d felt when he saw Magnus dead . . . it shattered him. He couldn’t take a chance that this wasn’t real.

“It happened—it’s going to happen—at the carnival. Are you planning to be there with her?”

“I’m helping her with last minute details tonight.”

“Did she bat her eyes at you, tell you how much work there was to do, so little time to finish it?”

Magnus narrowed his eyes. “I offered all on my own, no eye-batting necessary.”

“What do you know about her?”

“She just moved here, got a job at the music shop where I bought my kit. She won’t let me pay for her coffee or lunch, yet I know she’s tight on money because she wanted a large latte but settled for the small. She’s volunteering her time at this carnival because someone in her life had muscular dystrophy. You can tell it means something to her when she talks about it. She’s warm and playful with the kids who take classes. And you forget, if she had any murderous thoughts, I’d probably pick up on them.”

Magnus could read thoughts, or at least pick up words here or there. He hadn’t lost his abilities when he’d taken the antidote. Lachlan had been bitter about that, but he’d come to realize he didn’t deserve abilities, not when he’d killed someone by using them. Now, though, something
had
come back. Something different than what he’d had.

“I’ll go back earlier and see what happened.” He had always been able to project at will, but nothing happened.

“So it’s not back, then,” Magnus said a minute later. “You haven’t gone all tense and twitchy.”

Lachlan’s eyes snapped open. “Humor me and stay away from the carnival.”

“How did she kill me in this supposed vision? Knife in the parlor? Candlestick in the drawing room.”

“Sure, joke around when I’m telling you your life is in danger. I couldn’t tell how you’d died, only that you were dead. Everything around you was a blur, but I didn’t see anyone else.”

“Give me more, Locky.”

Frustration swamped him. “I don’t have any more.”

Magnus got up and walked to the foyer.

Lachlan followed. “I never hallucinated. That wasn’t what happened with mum.”

“You saw something that wasn’t there. By definition, that’s a hallucination.” He pushed open the door and turned back. “Last time you thought you had everything under control, and then you lost it. Don’t do anything crazy.”

Magnus left, and Lachlan stalked back to the table, staring at the picture of the girl. He had to find out more about her. He’d lost both his mother and father in the last eleven months. He wasn’t about to lose his brother, not when he could prevent it. He could never live with himself if he didn’t do something. Hopefully, Magnus wasn’t in danger. But that meant his own sanity was.

Lachlan grabbed up the newspaper and walked to his room. The house was a square, like a fort, wrapped around a courtyard flourishing with flora, fauna, and fungus, his father’s fascinations. The trek from one place in the house to another gave Lachlan too much time to think. He sat at the computer, booted it up, and waited through the process.

He’d been cut off from the world for so long, exposed to television more than to actual people. For the first half of his life his father had rented isolated homes. During the last half, they’d lived here in a house they owned, built in the middle of a large tract of land. Their social interactions consisted of brief forays into town.

Magnus made friends easily. He longed for the world, for contact. Lachlan had inherited the lack of need for others from his father. Dad could spend all day in his lab or out with the fungus. Lachlan did that with the old truck now, immersing himself in the process of restoring it. He’d done it several times before, resurrecting something old, rusty, and broken into something whole.

Something he could never do with himself.

He launched into a search for Jessie Bellandre, finding several mentions. One was a blog entry dated two years earlier in which her name appeared. The blogger was a sixteen-year-old with muscular dystrophy, talking about her experience at an MDA summer camp. Her counselor was Jessie, and the picture of the woman in a canoe matched the Jessie in the article, except she had blond, wavy hair. The camp was in Iowa.

BOOK: Darkness Becomes Her
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