Authors: Colleen Houck
Tags: #Adventure, #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Magic, #Urban Fantasy, #Mythology
For my parents, Bill and Kathy—
who put off all their adventures
to raise a brood of seven
by John Moultrie
Forget thee? If to dream by night and muse on thee by day;
If all the worship deep and wild a poet’s heart can pay;
If prayers in absence breathed for thee to Heaven’s protecting power;
If winged thoughts that flit to thee a thousand in an hour;
If busy fancy blending thee with all my future lot—
If this thou call’st forgetting, thou, indeed, shalt be forgot!
Forget thee? Bid the forest-birds forget their sweetest tune;
Forget thee? Bid the sea forget to swell beneath the moon;
Bid the thirsty flowers forget to drink the eve’s refreshing dew;
Thyself forget thine own dear land, and its mountains wild and blue.
Forget each old familiar face, each long-remember’d spot—
When these things are forgot by thee, then thou shalt be forgot!
Keep, if thou wilt, thy maiden peace, still calm and fancy-free,
For God forbid thy gladsome heart should grow less glad for me;
Yet, while that heart is still unwon, oh! bid not mine to rove,
But let it nurse its humble faith and uncomplaining love;
If these, preserved for patient years, at last avail me not—
Forget me then; but ne’er believe that thou canst be forgot!
Behind the thick glass of his Mumbai penthouse office once again, Lokesh tried to control the incredible rage slowly circling through his veins. Nothing had gone according to plan in the Baiga camp. Even the villagers had turned out to be weak and disloyal. True, he had captured Dhiren, the white tiger-prince, and taken a vital piece of the Damon Amulet from the girl, but he hadn’t been able to finish what he’d started.
Breathing deeply to calm his rage, he pressed his fingers together and deliberately tapped them against his bottom lip as he pondered the fight.
They’d possessed special weapons. His underlings had discovered that
the weapons were somehow tied to the goddess Durga. Clearly, there was some
kind of magic involved, and it wasn’t the weak country magic of the tribe.
Magic was a tool, a gift to be used by those wise enough to understand and manipulate it. A trick of the universe that only a few sought and even fewer could harness. Lokesh had it, and he would use it to bring him even more power. Others thought him evil. He didn’t believe in good and evil—only in powerful and powerless. Lokesh was determined to be the former.
Why Durga? Perhaps the goddess is somehow guiding them.
Like good and evil, he didn’t believe in gods. Faith was a crutch, a convenient way to control the masses who would become mindless slaves, choosing not to use whatever meager intellect they possessed. Believers sat at home and wept and prayed, prostrating themselves for divine assistance that would never come.
An intelligent man takes matters into his own hands.
Lokesh frowned as he remembered the girl slipping from his. To her, it must have seemed like he ran. He’d sent in reinforcements, but the idiots had returned empty-handed. The command center had been destroyed. The cameras and video records were missing. The Baiga, the tiger, and the girl were nowhere to be found. It was extremely … vexing.
A chime rang as his assistant entered the room. Lokesh listened as the man nervously explained that the tracking device he’d implanted in the prince had been found. The man opened his shaking hand and dropped the smashed remains on the desk. Without a word, Lokesh picked up the broken chip and, using the power of the amulet, threw it and the quivering assistant out of the sixtieth-story window. He listened to the assistant’s screams as he dropped floor by floor. Just when the man was about to hit bottom, Lokesh murmured a few words that opened a hole in the ground under his assistant and buried him alive.
Disappointing distractions dealt with, he pulled his hard-won prize from his pocket. Wind whipped through the broken window, and the sun rose higher above the bustling city, casting a beam of light on the freshly acquired fourth piece of the amulet. Soon, he would unite
the pieces of the amulet and would finally have the means to accomplish what he’d always dreamed of since he’d learned of the amulet’s existence. He knew that the completed amulet would fashion him into something new … something … more. Something … perfect. Though he had deliberately prolonged starting the process and relished the anticipation almost as much as the victory, it was time.
The moment had arrived.
A crackle of pleasure raced through his blood as he touched the fourth segment to his precious amulet collection.
It didn’t fit.
He turned, twisted, and tilted the wedge, but it would not mold to the others.
Why? I snatched it from the girl’s neck in the Baiga camp. It was
the same amulet piece she had worn in both visions.
Instantly, a heavy black shadow of loathing fell upon him. Gnashing his teeth, he crushed the offending amulet imitation and let the powder trickle through his tight fist as each cell of his body burst with a blazing tempest. Sparkles of blue light popped and crackled between the digits.
Waves of anger washed through his mind, pummeling against the thin barrier of his skin. Without an outlet to assuage his violent urges, he clenched his fists and buried the power deep within him.
The girl! She
Anger pulsed at his temples as he considered Kelsey Hayes. She reminded him of another from centuries ago: Deschen, the tigers’ mother.
Now there was a woman full of fire
, he remembered—unlike his own wife whom he had killed when she bore him a girl, Yesubai. He’d wanted a son. An heir.
My son and I would have ruled the world.
After his disappointment with the birth of his daughter, he’d come up with a new plan—kill Rajaram and take Deschen for his own bride. Part of the fun would have been breaking her spirit. The fight would have been exquisite.
Deschen was long gone now, and fortunately, the tigers had brought him Kelsey. She was more than he bargained for.
more. Slowly, his seething rage transformed into something else. It cooked and bubbled in his mind, thoughts forming and bursting like cankerous blisters until his determination boiled down to a dark, maddening desire.
had the same fiery bravery that Deschen had possessed, and he would have a perverse pleasure taking her away from the sons of Rajaram. Suddenly, his fingers itched to touch her fine skin again. How pleasant it would be to put his knife to her flesh. As he pondered that thought, he ran a finger along the sharp edge of the broken glass window.
he would even let the tigers live so he could revel in the turmoil it would cause them.
Yes. Caging the princes and making them watch as I
subdue the girl will be highly pleasurable. Especially after
So long. I’ve waited
Only one thought calmed him: The battle was far from over. He would find her. His team was already searching all over India, monitoring Durga’s temples, and watching every transportation hub by land, air, and sea. He was a man who took no risks and left no stone unturned. He would strike again. After all, she was only a girl.
, he thought. Lokesh shuddered as he imagined touching her again. He could almost sense her.
I wonder what she’ll sound like when she
It surprised him that he was almost looking forward to capturing the girl more than to obtaining the amulet. The need to have her was vicious. It tore through him as his fingers itched again. Soon he would have the girl and unite the pieces of the amulet.
Once I get my hands on
her though, I’ll have to be patient. Rushing things has been my downfall.
He twisted one of the rings on his finger. Perhaps he shouldn’t have expected grappling with the tigers to be easy. They’d caused so much trouble the first time. However, they weren’t the only predators in India. He too was a creature to be feared. He was like a shark, cutting silently, swiftly, and fatally through the water.
Lokesh smiled. Sharks were creatures to admire, the ultimate predator, the dominant fish in the ocean. In the animal world, predators are born. However, a man chooses to be a predator, ripping to pieces those who stand against him, cracking the backbones of all who would oppose, and swallowing his enemies. He chooses to be the predator, or he chooses to be the prey.
Long ago Lokesh had decided to be at the top of the food chain. Now there was only one family and one young girl left that stood in his way.
And no girl stands a chance after I catch the scent of her blood in the water.
Lokesh thoughtfully stroked his beard and smiled as he pictured circling her. The waters were chummed. They would never see him coming.
s he going to do it?
I stared at Ren, searching for a hint of emotion.
A full minute ticked by. The second he made his choice, I knew it.
Ren stretched out his hand to make his move.
“I win.” He smiled as he knocked Kishan’s pawn off the board and moved his
. He sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Told you,” he said. “I never lose at Parcheesi.”
It had been more than a month since we rescued Ren from being tortured and held prisoner at Lokesh’s Baiga camp and three weeks since my terrible birthday party—and life was purgatory. Even though I gave him my journal and used up all the flour baking my mom’s famous double-chocolate peanut-butter cookies, Ren sadly had no memory of me. Something had happened with Lokesh to cause Ren’s amnesia. Now we were reunited, but we weren’t together.
Still, I refused to give up hope that somehow he might miraculously recover our past, and I was determined to free him. Even if Ren could never be mine again, I had made a commitment to seek the other two gifts to fulfill the goddess Durga’s prophecy and break the tiger’s curse so that both princes could once again be normal men. The least I could do for the man I loved was to not let him down.
Every day being near Ren but not being
him was harder than the last. Mr. Kadam did his best to distract me, and Ren’s brother, Kishan, respected my feelings and stood by me as a supportive friend, though every look and touch made it very clear he was still interested in something more.
Neither Ren nor I knew how to act around each other. The four of us seemed to be walking on eggshells, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Only Nilima, Mr. Kadam’s great-great-great granddaughter seemed to keep us all breathing, eating, and sane.
One particularly tear-filled night, I found Mr. Kadam in the peacock room. He was reading a book by the soft light of a lamp. I sat down next to him, put my head on his knee, and cried softly. He patted my back and hummed an Indian lullaby. Eventually, I calmed down and shared my fears. I told him I was worried that Ren was lost to me and asked him if a broken heart could really heal.
“You already know the answer to that, Miss Kelsey. Was your heart full and happy when you were with Ren before?”
“Your heart wasn’t too damaged to love Ren because of your parents’ death?”
“No. But those are two different kinds of love.”
“It’s different in some ways but the same in others. Your capacity for love does not ebb. You love your parents still, do you not?”
“Then I would suggest that what you are feeling is not the scarring or the diminishing of your heart, but the absence of your loved one.”
I looked at the wise Indian businessman and sighed. “It’s pretty sad when I feel the absence of my loved one while he’s standing in the same room.”
“It is,” Mr. Kadam admitted. “Maybe it would be best to do nothing.”
“You mean let him go?”
He patted my arm and, after considering a moment, said, “One of my sons once caught a small bird with an injured wing. He longed to care for it and keep it for a pet. One day he brought his bird to me. It was dead. He explained that the bird had healed and flapped its wings. But my son panicked and caught the bird before it flew away. He held it so tightly it suffocated.
“The bird may have chosen to stay with my son or may have flown away. Either of those events would have led to a happier conclusion. If the bird had left, my son would have been sad, but he would have remembered it with a smile. Instead, my son was devastated by the death of his pet and had a very hard time recovering from the experience.”
saying to let Ren go.”
“What I’m saying is … you will be happier if
“Well, I definitely don’t want to smother Ren to death.” I sighed and tucked my legs under me. “I don’t want to
him either. I like being around him and avoiding him would make finishing Durga’s quest together difficult.”