Dark Mercy (Preternaturals #0)

Chapter 6

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Angeline settled herself in the offered seat. The table between them was a round glass-topped table with cream, antique lace fabric and a gleaming crystal ball.

“I can scry, read your palm… or I could do your cards.” Tam was draped in multi-colored shawls that covered a much simpler white dress. Without the accessories, the simple shift would no doubt make her look like some sort of medieval peasant. Once Angeline had her enthralled, she’d get rid of the shawls and jewelry and have her scrub her face clean of cosmetics.

“Cards would be fine,” Angeline said, becoming increasingly unnerved by the woman.

“Good choice. It’s what I’m best at.”

The vampire watched as the girl sat across from her and retrieved a small, wooden box from a shelf behind her. The box had esoteric carvings on it, and Angeline could feel the power coming off it. She watched the woman, noting her delicate, elfin features. She was far too pretty, and Angeline was glad Hadrian, being new, would lose control and kill her. The last thing she wanted was to compete with a pet for attention.

Tamara looked at her for a moment, and Angeline forced a sweet and unassuming smile to her lips. The raven started making the creepy gurgling sound again in the back of his throat. Fucking birds.

The crystal ball was carefully placed on the shelf, and the box with the cards inside were put in its place. The cards were wrapped in red silk and seemed quite old. “I’ve had these since time began, it seems,” the woman said.

“You’re little more than a child,” the vampire replied.

A knowing grin teased the corners of the woman’s mouth as she unwrapped and shuffled the deck. “Here. Cut them any way you like, then hand them back.”

Angeline took the deck, made a few cuts in it, then passed the cards back to the fortune teller.

Tam laid them in a pattern on the table face down, then one by one flipped them up. In the center of the spread was a card with a skeleton on it that said “death” across the bottom.

The women’s eyes met, and Angeline tried to keep the guilt off her face. Wasn’t the reading supposed to be about her? There was no way the witch could know what she had planned.

“Don’t worry. The death card almost never means death. It’s more a card about change, usually.”

The dread bird started making a fuss on top of his cage again.

“Henry, I said that was enough.”

What will she do if I can’t enthrall her? It had been awhile since Angeline had faced off with a witch, back around the turn of the century. She’d barely escaped alive. Her hair had been singed by one of those electric purple fireballs some of them could conjure.

So start with something small, something you can back out of if she’s onto you.

The vampire took a deep breath. “Maybe I would be more comfortable having my palm read, instead.” She held her hand out, hoping the woman would take the bait. If they were touching and she could establish eye contact, she’d stand the best chance.

Tamara looked down at the cards, divining their meaning, no doubt unmasking her for what she was, then she looked up. “All right. If that’s what you prefer.” She gathered the cards, wrapped them in the silk, then placed them back inside the box.

Angeline extended her hand, and Tam took it, skin pressing against skin.

“You have an unusually long lifeline,” Tam said. She looked up, smiling. “See? Maybe you shouldn’t have worried so much about that card.”

Angeline stared deeply into her eyes. “You should put the bird away in his cage. It makes me nervous.”

The woman’s nose crinkled slightly, her eyes drawn in confusion and Angeline thought she was caught, but then the woman’s face seemed to blank out, her eyes staring but not really seeing anything. “Yes. I should put the bird away in his cage.”

The raven squawked and flew around the room.

“Henry! Get in the cage.”

An argumentative squawk. Then she spoke something to the bird in a language Angeline didn’t understand, perhaps a spell, because the bird looked irritated, but then finally went inside and settled on his perch. Tam covered the cage with a dark blue piece of fabric, then turned back to Angeline looking blank as ever.

“You’re going to come with me now.” Angeline held out her hand, and the girl took it and followed her out of the shop, the perfect, pliant doll.

Hadrian’s eyes snapped open to darkness. A shroud or blanket wrapped around him—and the rich scent of damp earth. Suffocating. I’m suffocating. He let out a howl as he struggled in the shroud. Then he remembered: he didn’t have a true need for air. Something different animated him now.

Relax. Everything is fine.

His soul hadn’t been able to move on. It had been trapped, waiting to reanimate his body, waiting for his body to be able to house it again. But it wasn’t just his soul. There was something else. A darkness that had tainted him. Demonic instincts and abilities had knit themselves around his soul. And knowledge, so much knowledge.

He knew that the link between a vampire and his or her creation was based upon a control of the demon side, not the human.

Father Hadrian hadn’t been sure what would happen if he tried to exorcise a demon while being turned. He wasn’t even sure which demon he’d been trying to exorcise: his own or Angeline’s. He didn’t know if the way his human soul and demon soul had merged and blended were the normal way of things, or if his ritual had somehow caused it. He suspected the latter.

He felt like one whole thing. Not evil, not good, but something that could go either way at any time. He’d been… awakened, like he could see reality for the first time. Good and evil were passing shadows in the face of the greater whole. He just hoped his chanting had done what he’d believed it would. It wasn’t the standard use of the exorcism ritual, but the spirit of his intention had been the same—to gain power to protect himself from a demon.

Angeline was getting impatient up on the surface. He could feel it. Her blood was now part of him, but he didn’t have the mindless compulsion he knew he was supposed to feel toward her. So far, so good.

Hadrian ripped through the fabric wrapped around him, and tunneled up through the dirt with a strength and fluidity that surprised him. When he broke the surface of the ground, and fresh, clean air filled his lungs, he coughed, overwhelmed by how sharp and loud and crisp everything was. His senses were so heightened, he wanted to go away and be in a plain, quiet room for a few days, just to get his bearings. But he couldn’t afford to do that right now; his freedom was on the line.

He looked down to find Angeline had redressed him in his clerics, and he couldn’t decide how he felt about that. Was she mocking him? Why would she dress him back in this? To rub in his face what she’d so callously taken from him?

What’s that smell? It was like the heaven he hadn’t been allowed into, a smell as pure and clean as the light he’d spent three days in. He was crushed suddenly by that thought. The light had been even more brilliant than the sun; it had teased him with something he couldn’t have. Darkness had become his companion instead.

If this works, you can make a choice. You can go back there. He was unsure if the mental voice was his human side or his demon side. Infection or no, it had called forth something unique. The demon may also be him, but it was a new addition to who he was. At least that was what he wanted to believe.

His eyes darted to the source of the delicious smell. His nostrils flared when he saw an attractive blonde woman wearing a simple white dress. She’d been bound and gagged. Strange. He couldn’t read her mind. Shouldn’t he be able to do that? Even without that skill, he sensed she was an innocent, and something in him rebelled against the notion of hurting her.

“There you are, my dear. I was worried you’d overslept,” Angeline cooed at him. “She’s a witch, so you won’t be able to read her. Some of them are well-shielded from that sort of intrusion. Try not to let it trouble you.”

Angeline’s voice was like fingernails on a chalkboard. Not nearly the seductive purr that had fooled him before. Her human face wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t quite the level of perfection he’d seen as a human. It wouldn’t have been enough to cause him to break his vow of chastity.

As her fangs descended, he could see the demon ripple over her image, not just the small bits he’d seen as a human with glowing eyes and fangs, but the full demon, smiling out at him. A moment later, the ripple was gone and she looked as she had before as her eyes changed back to normal and her fangs went back to their hiding place inside her gums.

He turned his attention back to the hand-delivered meal. He was like a tiger in a cage being fed a prey animal in an enclosed space. He should feel the thrill of the hunt as he stalked his prey. But this one was already complacent, already enthralled and willing to offer her vein to him. She watched him, without a trace of fear, more curious than anything.

Before Hadrian could think about what wasn’t lining up here, Angeline’s voice screeched at him again. “Feed,” she ordered.

Even under normal circumstances as a human, Hadrian hadn’t been the type of man who took orders well. Perhaps it was why he’d courted a position of authority himself. But if his human side didn’t like to be commanded like a misbehaving puppy, his demon side definitely did not. Oh, she did not know the Pandora’s box she’d just opened.


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