Souled - Diana Murdock - ebook
Opis

One boy… One girl… One 1500-year-old soul hell bent on coming between them… permanently. The lure of having it all is strong, and when 17-year-old Seth is given the opportunity, how can he say no? And why should he? The way he saw it, he had everything to gain. But when he unknowingly invites another soul to share his body, Seth discovers that not all power is good – especially when it was never his to wield. And when the soul reveals its true intentions, will Seth have the strength to fight it or would death be less painful? But love is a powerful force, and despite everything, Dani knows that the boy she fell in love with is hiding somewhere behind the darkness in his eyes, and she’s not about to give up so easily. Enter the most unlikely ally Dani will ever know – dark, misfit, and totally misunderstood Alyx, who has her own secrets she’d rather no one know about. Time is running out and Seth is quickly losing control. Dani must rely on the truth in her heart – and Alyx - to pull the dark force out of Seth. But will the power of love and faith be enough to conquer evil? Or is it too late for both of them?

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SOULED

Table of Contents

Title Page

Souled (The Souled Series)

PROLOGUE

"I Will Not Bow"

Chapter 1 | SETH

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

"Breath"

Chapter 22 | DANI

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

IS THIS THE END? | ALYX

AUTHOR'S NOTE

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Diana Murdock

Souled is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific living persons or experiences. The businesses, however, are or have been a part of Sandpoint, Idaho, and are only included in this novel as locales and have not endorsed the opinions/imagination of the author.

The opinions expressed in this fictional piece are solely the opinion of the author. The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal right to publish all materials in this book.

––––––––

Souled

All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2012 Diana Murdock

This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Your support of author rights is appreciated.

PROLOGUE

450 A.D.

––––––––

Fingertips of fire seared his flesh as Silura trailed her hand along the length of his heavily-corded arm.

“In exchange for your body and soul, I offer you the world and all that it holds. You will know immense power and you shall want for nothing.” The violet of her eyes glowed under his gaze. “What say you?”

He flexed his muscle instinctively, recognizing the power in her touch. “You wish that I forsake all others and become your consort?”

Her fingers curled slightly, her nails pressing lightly onto his bronzed skin. “You find that distasteful?”

The corners of his lips raised in amusement. “Quite the contrary. I find it to be... most interesting.” He raised his hand to stroke the line of her jaw and followed it back to the nape of her neck. Leaning toward her, he drew her face close to his, holding himself a breath away.

When he spoke again his voice was honey-sweet, sending a shiver up her spine. “So, my body and soul. That is the only price?”

Her brow rose in a graceful arc. 

Laughter rumbled deep in his chest. “There is always a price for everything, is there not?”

Yes. There was always a price, she thought.  She would do anything for him. She wanted his heart to be hers, and would gladly give him her own. She knew she could not compel his loyalty, for only true love could command that. But, she vowed, she would give him reasons enough to remain at her side. She felt a pull of possessiveness she had never before known.

She winced at her weakness. A powerful sorceress, reduced to a love-sick fool! But to have his body and soul was well worth the title of Fool.

“The price is mine to bear,” she whispered. She dared not ask for his love, for if he refused, it would shatter her. But surely love would come with time.

It must...

"I Will Not Bow"

Now the dark begins to rise

Save your breath, it's far from over

Leave the lost and dead behind

Now's your chance to run for cover

I don't wanna change the world

I just wanna leave it colder

Light the fuse and burn it up

Take the path that leads to nowhere

All is lost again

But I'm not giving in

I will not bow

I will not break

I will shut the world away

I will not fall

I will not fade

I will take your breath away

Watch the end through dying eyes

Now the dark is taking over

Show me where forever dies

Take the fall and run to Heaven

All is lost again

But I'm not giving in

I will not bow

I will not break

I will shut the world away

I will not fall

I will not fade

I will take your breath away

And I'll survive, paranoid

I have lost the will to change

And I'm not proud, cold-blooded fate

I will shut the world away

Chapter 1

SETH

The desires of the boy are many. In him, I see the chance to regain my strength. I must convince him of my power. Total control of his mind must be mine. That is the only way that I can be released.

~ Maksim

My girlfriend, Dani, stood very still with her elbows pressed against her sides, apparently oblivious to everything going on around her. The bowling alley was always packed, always loud on Friday nights. In our little Idaho town of only 6,000 people, about the only place to go on the weekends during the winter and spring months was the bowling alley. Despite the other bowlers’ laughing and shouting and the noises coming from the arcade, Dani’s focus was on the solitary pin staring her down from the far end of the lane.

“She’s good.” The voice slithered over me—a voice I’d know anywhere.

The muscles in my back cinched up and my shoulders squared off when I heard Dirk’s voice, but my eyes never left Dani.

Beside me, Justin, my best friend, glanced over his shoulder at Dirk and lifted his chin a fraction before turning away.

“Yes! Beat that, Seth!” Dani turned and sauntered towards me, smiling at her pin takedown, but the corners of her mouth dropped when she saw Dirk.

He was one of the best wrestlers at Sandpoint High School, by far the cockiest, and, hands down, the biggest jerk. Inexplicably, a lot of the girls at the high school saw him as some kind of god or something. 

Fortunately, Dani wasn’t one of them.

“Nice one, Dani,” said Dirk.

He was so full of shit. The only time he gave out compliments was when he wanted something. In this case, it was Dani.

Her eyes narrowed. “That’s Danika to you.” The words smacked the air like a rubber band.

One of the many things I loved about her: she could handle herself.

“Okay, Danika,” Dirk grinned. “I’ll take you up on your offer to beat that.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” she said, flipping her long brown hair over her shoulder and turning her back to him.

But I couldn’t keep my back to him. I didn’t trust him. He played dirty both on and off the wrestling mat, getting serious pleasure in whatever pain he could inflict. There was no question which side of the line of good and bad he walked. Dirk had probably carved up dead cats when he was a kid. No, I had no doubt he’d stab me in the back, given the chance. Hell, he’d stab me in the chest.

And he’d probably get away with it. His parents owned one of the biggest houses on Ponder Point, right on Lake Pend Oreille, and they knew all the important people in Sandpoint, including the police chief.

I’d been to Dirk’s house once when his family had a housewarming party a few years ago. They’d just moved here and he’d invited everyone in his classes. We’d been in algebra together during our freshman year.

That was before we had gotten to know each other. Before we realized we hated each other.

I stood and faced him. Both of us were about the same build—big, around six feet tall, with wide shoulders—but his muscles were a little thicker, a lot like his head. His dark, short-cropped hair made him look like he’d come straight off an army recruiting brochure.

“I don’t remember inviting you,” I said.

Dirk very deliberately sized me up and smirked.

As if that would intimidate me.

“Go back to your own lane,” I said quietly, tipping my chin in that direction. My hands ached from fisting up. I wanted so badly to knock that smirk off his face.

Dirk looked past my shoulder. “Maybe some other time then, huh, Danika?” He laughed and turned around.

It killed me to let him walk away. But I had to. I refused to let him provoke me.

“Hey.” Justin stepped in front of me and punched my shoulder.

Justin may be shorter than I am, but he packed just as much muscle on his body.

“Forget about him, man. He’s just being a dick, as usual,” he said. “Let’s finish the game.” He turned and headed toward the carousel. “Besides, we can’t let a girl win, can we?”

Dani reached up to hit him upside the head as he walked by, but Justin ducked right before she could make contact.

“You might as well give it up, boys,” Dani proclaimed. “This girl has this game in the bag.”  Then she tugged on my arm and pulled me into a hug. “Let it go, babe,” she whispered.

I took a deep breath and the tension in my back eased up a little. She was everything in my life, and I was pretty sure she felt the same way I did. Why, then, couldn’t I shake the feeling that she’d find someone better, someone who could give her more?

“I hate the way Dirk looks at you,” I said, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her close.

“Hey, he’s not worth the energy,” Dani shrugged.

Okay. I’d drop it for now, but I would never let it go.

I looked over Dani’s head at the scoreboard. “Looks like I have some catching up to do.” I turned Dani around just in time to watch Justin’s ball knock down all ten pins.

# # #

After school that Monday, I pulled my truck into my driveway. Man, I was still wound up about Dirk. He had enough girls to choose from. Why did he have to go after mine? Let it go, let it go, I thought. Right now I had more important things to think about. Like finding a birthday present for Dani.

I pushed open the front door of the house and stepped into the small hallway leading to the living room, walking past the family photos that hung on the wall, past the photos of Mom.

I really missed her; some days more than others. I missed the way the three of us hung out together every Friday night—our family movie night. That was our routine. After a week at work and school, we’d pop in a movie and have popcorn and ice cream—vanilla ice cream with hot fudge and heaps of whipped cream. That was the one night Mom would let me eat as much ice cream as I wanted.

But life was different now. School, homework, and wrestling practice all week hadn’t changed, but coming home every day to an empty house was now part of my life. It took getting used to at first, but now the silence wasn’t so loud.

A lot of kids at my school have it far worse than I do, but then again some have it better. Since Mom died, Dad has tried to make ends meet the best he could. He drove a semi, logging enough miles so we could live comfortably. I told him I’d get a job to help out, but he insisted I focus on school and wrestling so I’d have a better chance at getting a scholarship for college.

After turning the heater on just enough to break the chill in the air, I headed to my room to finish what I’d been doing for the last couple of weeks: obsessing over finding the right birthday present for Dani. I had done the same thing the last two years for her birthday, and both years I’d made myself crazy trying to find her the perfect gift. I never had much cash to work with, so I always needed to make every penny count. I’d lost track of how many hours I’d spent on my computer surfing through page after page of ads and sites. I’d seen just about everything a girl Dani’s age could possibly be interested in—and a whole lot she wouldn’t.

Pulling the chair back, I sat down, turned on my computer, and started my nightly routine. My email inbox displayed the usual stuff. There was a message from my dad, notifications from the social media site and eSouled. I always opened my dad’s email first, just to make sure everything was okay.

A sidebar ad next to the email caught my eye. Power and Control. I’d seen that one before. In fact, it’d been there every day for the past week. Had to be some woo-woo thing, some New Age self-help crap. I ignored it.

The last email was from eSouled, with their latest on-line auction recommendations. Usually those had nothing to do with what I wanted, but I opened the email anyway.

Draw others to you. Same address as the “Power and Control” ad in my sidebar. There was probably a warehouse full of the books or DVDs, or whatever the ad was selling. 

I deleted the next two emails without even opening them. I opened the last one, a notification that Justin had posted some pictures from his family’s Hawaiian vacation this past summer. I had to check those out. He and his family always took some amazing side trips wherever they took a vacation.

Power and Control. It popped up in my social site sidebar now. They were pushing that ad heavily, weren’t they? Who would be stupid enough to fall for it? I could use both power and control, but this had “quick buck” written all over it. There was no way you could sell, or buy, control or power.

Another click and I was on eSouled’s home page. What I really wanted to get Dani was jewelry. She never wore much, except for the necklace I gave her last year, and I wanted her to have more. Something really nice.

An hour later, though, I still hadn’t found anything. Damn! This definitely wasn’t easy.

An email came in from Dad, letting me know his next route.

“Have. A. Safe. Trip. Dad,” I said out loud as I typed the words. “Send.” I pressed enter. Hunger gnawed at my stomach, but I decided to take one more look before I made dinner. Going back to eSouled, I typed in “earrings.” At the top, that same stupid ad was featured. The words Power and Control pulsed yellow, almost like a heartbeat. My fingertips instinctively touched the pulse in my neck. Like my heartbeat. Wow! That was pretty cool.  How did they do that?

“I might have to check it out,” I said. What price would someone put on something like control? Huh. Apparently not much, because the bidding started at one dollar. Big time scam. But still... To have some power, some control over things in my life... How great would that be? Laughing at myself, I put it on the Watch List. Watching it didn’t mean I was buying into the idea. I was just curious.

A shiver worked its way up my spine even though the house had warmed up. I shrugged it off and reached for my backpack. Right now, all I had control over was getting some food into my stomach and getting my homework done.

Chapter 2

Love. Desire. Power. A potent mixture. A formula that inspires mortals to perform deeds of greatness... or deeds of destruction. It leaves a trail with a scent so compelling, it calls to the primitive core of Man, cutting through him with the ease of a freshly-honed sword. His desire for these things called me to him. This boy’s desires will be his undoing.

I know.

Because they were mine.

~Maksim

––––––––

“Dude, come on! Spot me.”

Justin shifted his body on the duct-tape-patched weight bench that sat in a corner of my room, gripping and re-gripping the bar, waiting to finish our workout.

“Yeah, okay.” I said, running my palm across my chest, trying to ease the tightness that was building in my muscles. I’d been looking at the Power and Control auction from my Watch List. I still wasn’t sure exactly what the deal was, but it’d definitely gotten my attention. I mean, the page had totally sucked me in. Maybe it was the colors. Maybe it was the description. Just the title alone had me thinking.

Power and Control.

“You can look for Dani’s present later. I’ve gotta get going,” Justin said.

He was usually quiet, watching everything around him in that way he does, his arms crossed in front of him, keeping his mind and opinions to himself. Justin and I grew up next door to each other, totally inseparable since age five. We were so close, people thought we were brothers. We even looked like we were from the same family. I was taller by a few inches, but we both had brown eyes and sandy blond hair that we preferred to keep as long as the wrestling regulations would allow. We were easy-going for the most part, but Justin was harder to read, even for me, who knew him better than anyone.  Right now, though, I knew he was running out of patience.

Justin was right about the auction not going anywhere right now, so I dragged my heels off the edge of the desk, snagging a picture frame with them. I lunged, but wasn’t quick enough to catch it before it crashed onto the hardwood floor.

“Crap,” I said, picking up the frame.

“Isn’t that seven years of bad luck?” Justin joked. 

“That’s for a broken mirror,” I said. I flipped the framed picture over and ran my fingers over Dani’s image. She was the best-looking girl at Sandpoint High and, being a runner, she was in incredible shape. Thin, in a healthy-thin way. The sharp angles of her jaw made her look determined, but when she smiled, those angles always softened. Her eyes, an amazing shade of jade-green, looked out at me from behind the broken glass. I remembered she’d been laughing at something I’d said when I took this picture last summer. Yeah, she was something special.

I set the frame on the desk along with the other stuff that had fallen. Scooping a stray sock from the floor, I threw it towards the corner of the room, just missing the laundry basket, before rounding the bed to the weight set.

“You good?” Justin asked.

I widened my stance and held my hands directly under the bar, in case Justin needed help. “Yeah, I’m good.” 

Justin pushed the bar up and off the brackets and eased it down to his chest to begin the last set.

I forced myself to focus on him. I had to, because one slip...

Power.

Something pushed at my brain, almost like a whisper that brushed under my skull. And it came from...

The sudden weight of the bar across my palms snapped my focus back to Justin. His arms were starting to wobble with fatigue under the weight of the bar.

“Come on, you wimp.” I grinned, now completely focused on him. “It’s not that heavy. I didn’t even put the extra plates on yet.”

That hit a nerve. Justin could never resist a challenge. His eyes locked with mine and with a yell, he shoved the bar away from his chest, locked it out, and dropped it onto the brackets. Man, he was quick—that was his strength on the wrestling mat. He caught me totally off guard when he whipped himself off the bench and ducked under the weight bar.

He had his hands locked behind my knees before I knew it. My feet lost contact with the floor a second before my back hit, his shoulder pressing hard against my chest.

“Okay, okay!” I grunted. If he hadn’t knocked some of the wind out of me, I would have laughed. “I’m tapping out!” was all I managed to say.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a spark of black flash on the computer screen, but when I snapped my head around to look, the screen was just as I had left it.

I know black can’t flash, but I would’ve sworn it had just done that. It was as if a black hole sucked in a bunch of color and spewed it out, like the taste of the colors was too disgusting for it to ingest. Maybe Justin hit me so hard, I was seeing stars. Maybe, but I was pretty certain that wasn’t it, because being knocked flat didn’t usually result in me hearing voices, and I did hear a voice. Distant, but clear.

You need me.

I shoved Justin off and scrambled over to my desk. I switched from screen to screen, looking for... I don’t know what for. I pulled up my auction watch list and checked the time remaining in the auction. Fifteen minutes left. What the hell? I thought there was more time. Hadn’t it just said there were two hours left?

“What’s that?” Justin looked over my shoulder.

“I don’t know. I’ve been watching something.  It says ‘Soul for Sale.’ Crazy, huh?”

“Yeah, well,” Justin answered, “you definitely need soul. Have you ever watched yourself dance?”

I could see Justin’s reflection in the window as he danced, looking like a malfunctioning robot, his arms flailing and head twitching in every direction.

It looked like he was enjoying himself too much at my expense, so I reached around and punched him hard on the shoulder.

“There’s not even one bid on it,” I said, turning back to the computer. I nodded towards the screen and crossed my arms over my chest. “Only one dollar. It’s probably a scam. Still...” I leaned closer to the screen. “Listen to this: ‘Power. Seduction. Control.’ Wouldn’t that be sweet?” I leaned back into the chair and started imagining what I’d do with all of that. “I could get Dad off the road, get Dani something cool for her birthday, and have her wrapped around my finger...”

“Instead of the other way around?”

That earned Justin another punch.

Justin leaned in to get a closer look, rubbing his shoulder. “Power Over Your Enemy,” he read aloud.

I grinned. “I might need some help with my dance moves, but you could use help with your enemies on the mat. Maybe you should buy this, whatever it is.”

This time I had the element of surprise. Standing up and spinning around to face him, I stepped forward and snatched Justin’s ankle, lifting his foot high. I tripped him backwards until he landed with a thud on the floor.

“Dude, not cool!” he said, laughing.

We grasped each other’s forearms as I pulled him up.

“You’re lucky I have to go home and finish my English paper. Otherwise, I’d stay here to kick your ass,” Justin said, shoving me back. He grabbed his jacket and put it on. “Did you finish your paper yet?”

“Yeah, this morning.” I crammed my hands into my pockets. “Dani’s coming over. Movie night.”

Zipping his jacket, Justin nodded. “Cool.” He turned to the door. “See ya,” he said over his shoulder. His footsteps faded down the hall and within a few seconds the front door closed.

I looked at the clock. Not much time before Dani would be here.

I sat down at the desk and put my hand over the mouse. The item seemed to be glaring at me, as if I had some nerve to keep it waiting. Great, now it had a personality.

Ten minutes remained in the auction. The picture on the screen wasn’t very clear, but if I squinted really hard, I could almost make out an image flickering in the photo box. Not quite enough, though. It was more like I could feel it, rather than see it, but that made absolutely no sense. I rubbed the frown between my brows. Why did I even care about this? I scanned the description again. Soul for Sale. Power. Seduction. Control. Nothing will be beyond your reach.

That’s why I cared. There was everything I needed to make me happy.

Down at the bottom of the screen, I read the shipping details. No shipping fee. Immediate delivery upon completion of transaction.

Leaning back in my chair, I propped my foot up on the desk, narrowly missing Dani’s picture again. “It would be nice to have a little edge once in a while,” I said to her photo.

It wasn’t that my life was so bad. My room, like the rest of the house, like the neighborhood—hell, like Sandpoint—wasn’t very exciting. But it was a solid world, and it was mine.

But then again, to have control! I could really take care of Dani. I could give her anything she needed. If I had control over everything I wanted, I’d get a scholarship and have enough money to keep Dad from driving all over the country. We could live in a newer house, my old truck would be history...

All of that for only one dollar.

Oh, what the hell. Why not? Even as I clicked on “Bid Now” and even after I entered my debit card number, knowing this was bogus, I couldn’t stop hoping that my bid would win. Hey, a little desire never hurt anyone.

Time started taking bites out of the five minutes left, and still no one else had placed a bid. Probably for a good reason, I thought, shaking my head, suddenly losing the excitement that I’d had. More than likely, a month from now I’d get some stupid token made in China or a cheap booklet with philosophical crap on the meaning of life or the power of the mind. Maybe a hokey statue made in an obscure Third-World country.

Even so, I couldn’t help but imagine the things I could do with this... soul... or whatever it was. I leaned back in my chair and waited the longest five minutes of my life. Dragging my hand over my face, I let out a sigh. I couldn’t believe I was taking this so seriously. How much of an idiot was I?

The screen glared at me again. Five seconds, four, three, two, one, zero.

Congratulations! You’ve won!

Waves of heat poured through my body and my skin crawled with sharp pinpricks that made the hair on my arms stand up. I wanted to rub the goose bumps off, but my muscles clenched up and I couldn’t move my arms. My breathing sped up and my eyelids felt like lead. I let them close, focusing instead on trying to make the pain in the pit of my stomach go away. I was seriously close to puking.

Crap! This was not the time to be coming down with the flu. Not that any time was good for that, but especially now. With the state wrestling championships coming up, getting sick was not an option.

The second my chin hit my chest, my eyes snapped open. I couldn’t get air into my lungs fast enough as I fought a feeling of panic that pressed against my ribs. I held the air in, taking back control. The tingling stopped, my skin cooled off slowly, and the waves of nausea finally eased up. Relief washed over me, but was it because the waiting was over or because I’d won the bid? I dragged my fingers through my hair again. Maybe a shower would help. I stood and leaned against the desk before moving, feeling suddenly worn-out. Whatever “power” I had just bought had better get me through the next month.

# # #

“Seth?”

The front door slammed shut.

“In the kitchen!” I called to Dani. I shook the skillet around to mix the rice with the sauce. I liked to cook, especially in the winter. Mostly comfort food. Since it took a lot of food to fill me up, I figured I should learn to cook something more than spaghetti and frozen pizzas.

Dani came through the living room and poked her head around the corner. “Mmm! Smells great! Whatcha got cooking there, babe?” She tossed her keys on the counter and stood behind me, wrapping her arms around my waist.

“It’s nothing special,” I said. “Just chicken, rice, and veggies. Oh, and corn muffins.”

She kissed my shoulder. “What you cook is always special, Seth. Don’t sell yourself short.” Her arms tightened for a second and then she stepped around me to lean up against the counter. “You spoil me, ya know?”

I gave her a half-grin and shrugged. “Can’t help myself. You deserve to be spoiled.”

I turned down the temperature on the stove and opened the oven door. “Hand me that, would you?” I asked, pointing to the oven mitt behind her.

Dani grabbed it and tossed it my way. A perfect pitch, but it slid off my hand just as I grabbed the hot baking tin. Yanking my hand back, I waited for the pain. Small, shiny lines ran across the tips of my fingers and thumb, but quickly faded, as if they’d never been there.

“Oh, my God! Are you okay?” Dani pushed herself off the counter and stood close. She grabbed my hand. “Did you get burned?”

We both took a closer look. Nothing.

“Huh,” I said. “Must not have touched it as long as I thought I did.”

“You’re supposed to put your hand in the oven mitt, Seth,” she teased. She took my hand and pressed her lips to my fingers. Then, picking up the mitt from where it had fallen, she slid her hand inside it and took the muffins out of the oven.

I looked at my hand again. There should have been at least some pain. I’d felt the heat coming off the tin when I grabbed it. I stretched my hand and angled it toward the light. I know my skin got burned. I saw the marks. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I had thought.

I took two plates from the cupboard and handed them to Dani so she could set the table while I started on the salad.

Opening the refrigerator, I poked around. “Lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, and...” I raised my voice so Dani could hear me, “this week, Madame, you have a choice of ranch dressing or blue cheese.” My hip bumped the fridge door shut as I turned to face the only counter space in the small kitchen. There was one problem with the way I cooked—I always managed to use every utensil, seasoning, pot and pan we have, and leave them on the counter, giving me hardly any counter space to work.

I elbowed dirty pans to one side and everything else to the other to make room. Dani’s keys were pushed to the edge of the counter, and teetered for a second before slipping over the edge. Dropping the head of lettuce on to the counter, I reached to catch them. Just as my palm was right over the keys, a single thread of heat shot from my shoulder to my fingertips, just like a pinched nerve, numbing my entire arm.

The keys hovered for a fraction of a second before my fingers wrapped around them.

Yeah. Hovered.

Which was exactly what my heart felt like it was doing.

“Nice catch!” Dani appeared behind me. “You’ve got great reflexes.”

“Yeah,” I said, staring at the keys in my hand. “I guess I do.”

Dani scooped the keys out of my hand and tossed them back on the counter, leaving me to stare at my empty palm.

“Here,” Dani said, getting two knives out of the drawer in front of us and handing one to me. “I’ll help you.”

We made the salad in silence, which was okay, because my mind was spinning with thoughts I couldn’t ignore. My reflexes weren’t that fast, and the keys would have dropped had they not... maybe it was my imagination. 

Maybe not.

“What?” I looked at Dani. “What’d you say?”

“I didn’t say anything.” She smiled up at me, then went back to chopping the tomatoes.

That was weird. I could have sworn I’d heard a voice. Again.

With the salad finished, Dani carried the salad bowl to the table. I hung back, though, staring hard at the keys. They sat where Dani had tossed them, nothing out of the ordinary.

But something wasn’t right. Flexing my hand and straightening my fingers, I passed my hand over the top of the keys. Nothing happened. I lowered my hand until it was almost touching the metal.

Still nothing. I’m not exactly sure what I was waiting for. This was nuts. Dani was right. I just had great reflexes.

Chapter 3

Compelling this boy has not been easy. Fear follows closely on the heels of his curiosity. I indulge him by letting him perform simple tricks. Soon he will believe. He will see the usefulness of my power. For now, I merely shadow him. Soon I will be his equal.

Then I will be his master.

And finally...

~Maksim

––––––––

“Come on, come on,” I twisted the key harder in the ignition, as if that would force the engine to turn over.

My truck didn’t usually have trouble starting when the temperatures dropped down into the 20s like they did last night, but this morning the battery had only enough juice in it to sputter before dying.

“Damn!” I slammed my palm onto the dashboard. I didn’t have time for this. Dani was waiting for me to take her to the animal shelter where we volunteered Saturday mornings, something she had recently talked me into helping her with.

I pressed my forehead against the cold plastic of the steering wheel. God, I was tired. Just how long does it take for three cups of coffee to kick in? I’d never had nightmares before, but last night I’d had a long string of them. Not the zombie or disaster-type nightmare, just the really disturbing, confusing-type. I didn’t remember much more than screams and maniacal laughing and... shadows, I thought they were, moving in darkness.

Looking up and rubbing my forehead, I stared through the windshield at the quiet street ahead of me. Sandpoint was slow to wake up on winter weekends. On Sundays the town pretty much shut down and Saturdays weren’t much more alive than that. There were hardly any tourists in town now, especially since the ski mountain wasn’t getting a lot of snow this season. Boring. Nothing ever happened here. I couldn’t wait to graduate and go to college, to go somewhere a little more exciting.

I blew out deep breaths and stared as the moisture stuck to the windshield, the edges spreading until I couldn’t see the street in front of my car anymore. What was I doing? I had to get over to Dani’s house.

Reaching down, I pulled on the hood release and then shoved the door open with my shoulder, carefully stepping over the thin ice on the street. I unhooked the latch and the hood opened with a quiet groan, reminding me once more how old my truck was. I knew my way around the wires and belts on this engine better than I wanted to, but I was glad that it was the battery giving me trouble and nothing more than that.

A flash of red from the corner of my eye caught my attention as a brand new, cherry-red truck drove past my driveway. A totally sweet ride. I didn’t stop staring at it until it turned the next corner and drove out of sight.

Depressing. My truck was nothing compared to that—not even in the same league. Crap! I needed to get a new battery, and soon. How much would it be? Seventy-five bucks? I didn’t have that kind of cash and I couldn’t ask my dad for any more money.

There is no need.

“Huh?” I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see my neighbor, but there was no one there. Whatever.

I glared back at the battery. “Stupid thing,” I mumbled. As I jiggled the connectors and checked the bolts to make sure they were tight, pinpricks stabbed at my palm. I tried pulling back, but my hand froze over the battery. Stabbing shots of energy broke against my skin and oozed heat that spread across my entire palm. Blue light arced across the battery and clung to the cables. It was damn near impossible to flex my fingers, but I finally pulled my hand away, and when I closed it into a fist, the heat broke somewhat, but not completely. Gulping down the thudding of my heart and rubbing my hand against my pant leg, I took a couple of slow steps backward to distance myself from the truck. I’d always been under the impression that unless I’m touching metal to exposed terminals on the battery, the chance of getting shocked was fairly small, but okay, next time I’ll use gloves.

Well done.

What? This time I spun around quicker, but I was still alone.

“I’m losing it because I’m tired. That’s all. I’m just tired.” I couldn’t get the hood shut fast enough. That was just too weird. Yanking the truck door open, I slid behind the wheel. Dragging in a deep breath of the cool air, I wiped my sleeve across my forehead. This was going to be okay. If I couldn’t get the truck to start, I’d just have to get my neighbor to help me with jumper cables. Not a big deal.

Turn the key.

Okay, I definitely heard a voice that time, but it was just my own voice inside my head... wasn’t it?

“Come on, man,” I muttered. “Get a grip.” I turned the key, and the engine rolled over without a hitch, the battery sounding fully charged. Huh. The connectors must have been...

A satisfied smile lifted the corners of my lips. But the smile felt... wrong... like it wasn’t mine. Like strings attached to my mouth had pulled my lips up, forcing the reaction.

I shook my head hard, then scrubbed my mouth to rid myself of whatever the hell that was all about, and shoved my truck into gear.

# # #

Dani and I stepped into the lobby of the animal shelter and headed to the reception desk.

“Hey, Gracie! Taking good care of my babies?” Dani asked the receptionist.

Gracie, years of experience sunken into the lines of her face and in her gray-streaked hair, looked up from her computer screen and smiled.

“Hey, kids!” She took her glasses off. “Good news! Sasha was adopted Wednesday.”

“Really? Oh, Gracie, that’s great!” Dani squeezed my hand tight and gave me a huge smile. “Isn’t that great, Seth?”

That, I thought, was what I lived for—her smile, her happiness. These dogs meant a lot to her. It never seemed to occur to Dani to be anything but happy, and I’d do anything to keep her that way.

Anything? What would you do?

I was beginning to annoy myself. This brain chatter had to stop. It wouldn’t do me any good to keep questioning myself.

“Why don’t you two head on back?” Gracie nodded in the direction of the doorway behind the front counter. We could hear the barking and whining of the homeless dogs from the back. “I’m sure the dogs can’t wait to see you.”

“Come on, babe,” Dani said, tugging on my arm. “It sounds like they know we’re here.” She dragged me along behind her.

Gracie called, “Oh, and there’s a new one that came in last night. Real friendly. Last suite on the left.”

We made our way back to the cages, aware of being the focus of each and every one of the dogs.

“Hey, you guys.” Dani walked ahead of me, dragging her fingers along the wire cages, letting the dogs catch her scent. “Are you all ready for a walk?”

The barking bounced off the walls, ricocheting in every direction, drowning out Dani’s voice.

To me, it seemed louder today and was of a different pitch, like the dogs were afraid. But that didn’t make any sense. Why would they be afraid?

I walked over to the cage of my favorite dog, a chocolate Labrador. Max was brought in about the same time I started volunteering here. We hit it off the first time we met, but then again, Labs love anyone who will show them attention. I squatted down and poked my fingers through the wire. “Hey, Max.”

The dog wagged both ends of his body at the same time, his tongue trying to reach my face through the wire.

“You’re always glad to see me, aren’t you, buddy?” I stretched my fingers to reach his ear. “You’re too good to be in here.” I leaned closer to the cage. “I’ll walk you first, okay?”

“Hey! I heard that,” Dani teased. “No playing favorites.” She stood close behind me and eyed Max. “Unless, of course, that favorite is me. You understand, Max, don’t you?” She reached down and squeezed my shoulder. “Come on, Seth. Let’s check out the new kid in the neighborhood.”

Two cages down, a Schnauzer wiggled his bobbed tail excitedly. His eyes were pinned on Dani, his nose frantically sniffing her fingers as she squatted and brought her face down to his level. As soon as he caught a whiff of my scent, though, his nostrils flared and his excitement died completely. The dog went perfectly still except for a ridge of hair on his back that slowly rose, along with a low, deep growl that vibrated in his throat.

“Whoa.” Dani looked up at me, her eyes wide. “Gracie said he was friendly.”

I squatted beside her and placed my palms against the wire. “It’s okay, buddy.”

The dog stood still, his body tense. The edges of his nose flared again as if my presence offended him. With his ears flattened against his head and his eyes fixed on my face, it didn’t look like he trusted me at all. Taking two steps backwards, he sat on his haunches and whined.

“Losing your touch, Seth?” Gracie said as she walked toward us. “I’ve never seen a dog that didn’t like you.”

I stood up and turned to face her. “Yeah, well, I just haven’t turned on the charm yet.”

“What’s up with this dog, Gracie?” Dani asked as she moved next to me, linking her arm through mine. “Is he usually like that?”

Gracie looked past me at the dog and frowned. “Hasn’t been until now.”

Dani bit her lip, staring first at the Schnauzer and then at me. “Okay, I have an idea,” she said. “Why don’t you walk... what’s his name, Gracie?”

“Blaze,” Gracie said.

“Seth, you walk Blaze and I’ll walk Dakota and Lady.”

“But I promised Max,” I protested. Besides, I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea to get too close to Blaze.

Dani laughed. “I’m sure Max will understand. Come on, Seth. It’s bonding time.” She turned to the Schnauzer, who had backed himself into the corner. “Don’t worry, Blaze. Seth won’t bite.”

“Nah,” I said, smiling at the dog. “We’re going to get along just fine.”

# # #

My truck rolled to a stop alongside the curb outside Dani’s house. She hadn’t said much on the way back from the shelter. She seemed to be bothered about how the morning with the dogs went down, because she’d gotten quiet right after we’d taken them for their walk.

As for me and Blaze, I wouldn’t say that the bonding session had been a complete success. In fact, it was a total failure. After having to practically drag Blaze outside, he’d distanced himself from me as far as the leash would allow the entire time we walked. Dani had gotten so discouraged watching the two of us interact, she finally traded dogs with me. The difference in his behavior after that was like night and day. Even though it looked like he’d forgotten about me, he’d glance back and step up his pace if I was too close to him. I didn’t understand it, but I knew it wasn’t a good thing.

Anything you desire can be yours, the voice in my mind whispered.