Soul Deep: Dark Souls, Book 2

BOOK: Soul Deep: Dark Souls, Book 2
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Dedication

I dedicate this book to the cheesecake gals—you know who you are—and to my friend Isabelle, for being my most loyal fans. You champion my work, purchase e-readers just so you can read my stories earlier, attend each and every book signing, and buy all my books not once but twice! Your support means the world to me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I’d also like to thank my husband for his unwavering faith and encouragement, and my children for getting their own cereal whenever Mom forgets to feed them because she’s busy typing away. A great big thank you to Lucy for her fresh perspective and helpful insight. And, of course, special thanks to my editor, Jennifer Miller, and to my agent, Nalini Akolekar, for believing in my work so profoundly. You are a constant source of inspiration and I deeply value your advice.

Chapter One

The vintage Victorian cottage should’ve been beautiful, with its Palladian windows framed by tall, white arches, its rough-hewn stone façade and its quaint wraparound porch. It was the kind of house that brought to mind comforting images of checkered tablecloths and apple pies cooling on windowsills, no different from any number of historical homes found in Newport, Oregon.

But as Regan climbed the creaking wooden steps leading to the weathered oak door, all she could think about was death. Her nostrils blistered from the smell of it. The stench of charred flesh permeated the air, as did the lingering energy of something bright and powerful.

“You feel that?” Marcus crowded beside her, his wide frame dominating the narrow stairway and making her all too aware of the tension coiling through him. The same tension that snaked through her.

She nodded, her hand rising to the hilt of her dagger. “Cal was right. Something weird definitely went down here. I’d bet my departed soul on it.”

With a concentrated thought, Marcus unlatched the door and sent it swinging inward on well-oiled hinges. Being a soulless, immortal creature with tainted angel blood had its benefits. They crept inside, unsheathing their daggers as they entered.

The stench intensified, and Regan wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I think I’m going to lose my lunch.”

“I warned you not to eat that cheesecake.” Thick, dark hair brushed his forehead, fringing eyes that glinted with a hint of humor. Marcus’s icy features and penetrating glance gave an impression of lethal efficiency, but despite the dead-serious expression he favored, he could be quite a tease.

“A girl has to get her perks somewhere.”

She didn’t stick around to hear Marcus’s witty comeback. Using her unique ability to fold space, she materialized in the kitchen, where the smell of seared flesh grew so thick, her stomach curdled in response. Something had definitely been flash-fried here, and it wasn’t apple pies.

Holding her breath, her heart pumping a million beats a minute, she circled the counter and glimpsed behind it. Regan had witnessed her share of horrors over the past three decades as a Watcher. She’d seen people turn on each other, their souls corrupted by prolonged exposure to her kind. She’d disposed of countless shrunken carcasses, both human and not. She’d experienced the devastating effects of war and seen women and children ruthlessly slaughtered. But none of that had prepared her for the sight that greeted her in this sun-dappled kitchen.

A couple lay sprawled on the terracotta tiles in an awkward display of limbs, their skin mottled and gray, staring up at her with empty eye sockets. Bones protruded at sharp angles, the bodies atrophied beyond recognition. The two victims were nothing but skeletons with leathered skin, and yet according to the Watchers’ leader, Cal, the disturbance he’d sensed in the atmosphere had occurred mere hours ago.

Marcus’s tall form suddenly filled the doorway. “Find anything?”

“You could say that.”

He closed the distance between them, took in the macabre scene. Apart from a slight twitch in his jaw, his countenance gave nothing away.

“Could be a Rogue attack.” Only a Rogue would leave such a mess behind.

Her partner frowned, his features carved in granite. “No. This energy is different, made of pure light. I sense no darkness in this house.”

Marcus possessed a very special skill. He read energy patterns like a signature. His ability to recognize the different frequencies each life-force emitted and determine exactly who’d been in a given location and where they’d gone never failed to impress Regan. That was what made him the Watchers’ most valued tracker and the best partner she could’ve asked for.

“Then what could’ve done this?”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he made his way to a small pantry at the far left corner of the kitchen and swung the door open. Crouching on the floor, his thin arms wrapped around his bent knees, was a boy of no more than seven or eight.

The child scuttled back when he saw them, pressing his spine against the wall. A shiver coursed through him, and he looked up at them with wet, startling blue eyes. “I killed them.” He bit back a sob. “I killed my parents.”

Chapter Two

Regan instinctively took a step toward the child, but Marcus stopped her by raising his arm in warning. “Don’t get too close.”

“He’s just a little boy.”

“A little boy who just incinerated his parents.”

The kid began to weep uncontrollably, and Regan’s heart constricted. The urge to comfort him spread through her, a painful ache in her gut. She’d had a boy once, a baby she’d willingly abandoned in a futile attempt to protect him.

For some reason, this child reminded her of Jace. She’d only seen her son as an infant and then as a grown man, but she’d often imagined what he would’ve looked like as a child. This boy’s image matched the one she’d always carried in her head.

“We can’t just leave him in there.”

“This is beyond our scope.” A beat of silence followed. “We need to get Cal down here.”

The second Marcus pulled out his cell phone to call their leader, Regan fell on her haunches to sit at eye-level with the boy. “What’s your name?”

She wasn’t sure he heard her. It was pretty obvious the kid was in shock. “Ben—Benjamin,” he whispered after a long pause.

“What happened here, Ben?” She gave him an encouraging smile, tried to keep accusation from seeping into her voice. The last thing she wanted was for him to shut down on her. “What happened to your parents?”

Tears leaked from the corners of his eyes to drench his cheeks. “He hurt me.”

“Who?”

“My dad. Here.” Benjamin pointed to his arm, and only then did Regan notice the finger marks, faint red lines that threatened to blossom into a bruise. “I got scared. I thought he was going to hit me again. He always hits me when he gets mad.” He started to sob again.

“You’re not scared now, are you, Ben? You know you’re safe with us.”

The boy shrugged, reluctantly nodded. “I think so.”

“Then why don’t you come out of that pantry and let us help you?”

He trapped his lower lip between his teeth until it blanched. With the heartrending wariness of a wounded animal, he climbed out of his hidey-hole.

Ignoring Marcus’s warning, Regan placed a comforting arm around his shoulders and guided him out of the stifling kitchen onto the porch, where the bitter stench of his parents’ remains abated, no longer serving as a cruel reminder of whatever freakish nightmare had taken place within this house.

Benjamin inhaled a long, shaky breath. He looked so small and lost, his eyes huge in his pale, freckled face.

“Is that better?” she soothed.

He nodded, hugging himself with his skinny arms.

“I can’t help you unless you talk to me, kiddo.” With a smile meant to encourage full disclosure, she ruffled his scraggly cap of reddish-brown hair. “So tell me, what happened after your dad grabbed you?”

“I saw them. Like that. Then it happened.”

“What happened?”

The boy shook his head emphatically, closed his eyes and covered his ears with his palms. A low whimper resounded from his throat.

Nice going. You pushed him too far.

Squatting in front of the child, she gently removed his hands from his ears. “You don’t have to tell me,” she reassured him. “Only if you want to.”

“I don’t want to.” Each breath he drew into his lungs rattled in his chest. Panic laced his voice. “Please don’t make me. I don’t want to see it again.”

“Cal’s on his way. He’s bringing Jace and Lia.” Marcus lumbered onto the porch, only to skewer her with a disapproving stare. “I thought I told you to keep a safe distance.”

She rolled her eyes. “Do I look hurt to you?”

Marcus’s steely composure finally fissured, and exasperation swamped his features. “And I thought your son was stubborn.”

Regan didn’t validate his comment with a reply. She’d never openly admitted to anyone at the Watchers’ complex that Jace was her son. Everyone believed she’d drowned her baby shortly after birth. Only Jace and his soul mate, Lia, knew the truth. But Marcus had guessed, and he refused to let it rest.

Realizing he wouldn’t get anywhere with her, his midnight blue gaze settled on the boy again. “Did the kid tell you anything?”

She stood and weaved her arm with Marcus’s, leading him to the opposite end of the wraparound porch, where Ben was less likely to hear them. “Not much. His name’s Benjamin, and from what I gather he was acting in self-defense. He still hasn’t told me how he did it, though.”

Marcus lapsed into deep thought, his face growing distant and blank, the way it usually did when he struggled to work something out in his mind. He leveled an intense stare at Ben, who gazed vacantly into space.

“What is it?” she asked.

He shook his head, uncertain. “His energy is so pure, it’s blinding.”

Their kind had the ability to see a human’s essence, Marcus more than most. A soul usually manifested itself as a pulsing, white glow encompassing the person harboring it.

Her partner was right. Ben’s life-force was exceptionally bright, as powerful as it was innocent. “A child’s soul usually is.” A sudden breeze blew, sending a flutter of red curls dancing over her eyes.

“Not like this. His shines even brighter than Lia’s did.”

Regan shot an assessing glance Ben’s way. “Are you implying what I think you’re implying?”

The stoical expression returned, shuttering Marcus’s eyes and cutting her off from his thoughts. “Let’s wait for Cal. Hopefully, he’ll have some answers.”

 

Marcus hated it when certain pieces of a puzzle evaded him. He’d been around for a long time, much longer than Regan. He’d lived through several wars that had nearly obliterated humanity, had an intimate understanding of evil because he’d once belonged to it.

And yet, despite the horrific scene he’d glimpsed within this gingerbread house, he sensed no evil on these grounds. A different force was at play here, one that was both foreign and familiar and dwelled in the brittle frame of a small human boy.

Regan had already taken a liking to the kid. Despite Marcus’s repeated warnings, she kneeled beside him, a motherly arm draped around his shoulders, whispering soft reassurances to him. The compassion in her amber eyes was unmistakable, bordering on devotion.

Sunlight fell in sheets to blanket her, softening the lines of her face and setting her hair aflame. The sight of her elicited a slow tug in his abdomen, and he shook his head in frustration. If ever there was an enigma he longed to solve, it was Regan. He’d worked side by side with her for over three decades, but the inner workings of her mind remained a mystery to him. Maybe that was the thing about her that intrigued him so damn much. She was a Watcher, as soulless as the rest of them, and yet emotion ruled her.

Oh, she talked a good game, fought real hard to hide it, but he’d always seen past her act.

Today, even the carefully erected façade she struggled to preserve had crumbled.

The kicker was that when he gazed upon Benjamin, he, too, was gripped by the crazy urge to comfort and protect. There was something infinitely compelling about this kid’s aura. Something that reminded him of the humanity he’d lost, scraped at old wounds and stirred echoes of a past he preferred to keep buried.

The familiar black Lexus SUV abruptly rounded the corner and grinded to a halt in the driveway behind his Escalade. Cal, Jace and Lia poured out of the vehicle simultaneously, and headed their way. From his vantage point, Marcus had a clear view of the street and of Regan and the boy, who were tucked in a quiet corner of the balcony, more toward the back of the house.

BOOK: Soul Deep: Dark Souls, Book 2
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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