As I’m working to get my second novel, Family Vows, into print, I thought I would share an excerpt from my debut novel, Blood Adversaries. Enjoy!
Friday, September 1
Jonathan thudded through the trees, struggling to keep his balance in the dark. As he hurried along, Jonathan kept the ancient book tucked tightly under his arm. His heartbeat roared in his ears drowning out any other sounds. His side ached.
Jonathan pushed past the pain even though all he really wanted was to stop and drop to the ground. If that wasn’t enough, his chest burned as his heart and lungs strained to keep up with the pace he set. He longed to turn around and head home. To shut himself away in the safety of his own apartment. To lose himself in research for his dissertation. Or maybe have a sci-fi movie marathon from his massive collection of DVDs.
As his mind wandered, Jonathan stumbled over his own feet. He fell hard on his stomach and the old book flew from his grip.
“No, no, no,” he mumbled. He frantically patted the ground around him. He’d come too far to lose the book because of something stupid like tripping. Everything he had wanted was on the line – completing his Ph.D., becoming a professor, publishing his work, earning the respect of the academic world. His fingertips brushed against the cracked leather cover. Relief washed over him. He lifted the book and hugged it tightly against his chest.
Damn the book! It simultaneously inspired and cursed him. It didn’t look different from any of the countless old volumes he had studied over the past seven years. It smelled musty and old. A rough cover housed pages brown with age and silky from use but without the frailties usually associated with an ancient book. The pages were strong and pliable and the ink remained dark. Jonathan loved old manuscripts but from the first moment he touched this one, he knew it was different. Instantly he felt a sense of devotion, of protectiveness toward it. Long ago someone had given it the title Munimentum Codex, Latin for Fortification Book. Somehow Jonathan knew it was more than that. It was his destiny.
He crawled to the closest tree and sat. His eyes stung from the sweat dripping down his forehead. He swiped at his face. No time to stop now. He focused on his next movements.
There were only a few more yards of wooded land. Then Jonathan would have to cross an open field. No cover. No place to hide. Just a clearing where he would be vulnerable. He listened for any sounds of pursuit like leaves crackling under a foot or branches scraping over a body. He only heard his own labored breathing.
He laughed silently. Of course there was nothing. He had slipped away from Dameon unobserved. No one had a reason to be after him. Only his imagination, his own fear, chased him.
Coward, he chided himself. He fought to catch his breath. His gut spilled over the top of his jeans onto his thighs where it seemed to shake on its own. Revulsion washed over Jonathan. He regretted the years of self abuse, of comforting himself with junk food when he was lonely and when he hurt. Locking himself away to his studies. Letting his body go to pot as he expanded his mind. Never realizing that one day he would actually need a strong, healthy body. And now it was too late.
If his luck held out, it wouldn’t matter. He’d simply cross the field, zigzag through the town and return to the university. He’d meet his contact and turn over this book that had caused so much trouble. Once it was gone he would get back to his own life. Finish his dissertation. Earn his Ph.D. Leave the country if needed. Above all, he vowed that he would lead a very boring life.
The idea of giving the book to someone else filled him with grief. For a moment he considered simply hiding the book among his other tomes. Even as the idea crossed his mind, he knew it wouldn’t work. The book needed to be in a safe place, away from those who hunted it. More importantly if Jonathan was truly honest with himself, he had to admit his own reaction to the book scared him. He needed to be away from its influence.
Jonathan shook his head, dispersing the thoughts that clouded his reason. He had wasted enough time on himself. He knew he couldn’t stay here forever. Even if no one realized he was gone from the house, it was better to put distance between him and them. Lots of distance. He gently stroked the book in his hands. Perhaps it would be better not to have it in plain sight.
He unbuttoned his coat and ran his hand across the bottom until he found the zipper for the quilted lining. Jonathan’s fingers trembled as he fumbled with it.
Relax. This is the easy part, he told himself.
Jonathan breathed in deeply and tried again. This time the zipper slid smoothly across the track. He pushed the book into the space between the coat shell and the lining, then zipped it shut. He adjusted the book until it rested along the front bottom of his coat. When he was satisfied that the book was well hidden, he buttoned his coat. Jonathan strained his ears listening for anything out of the ordinary. After a few minutes, he decided it was time to continue. Slowly, he rose to his feet. The book banged against his thigh. His legs quivered beneath the weight of his body.
He filled his lungs with cool, crisp air before forcing himself to move forward, away from the protective screen of trees. He took small steps to allow the blood to flow through his numb legs again. A nearly full moon illuminated the night. Eerie shadows crossed the ground before him. As Jonathan broke through the woods and into the clearing, he quickened his pace. Sweat trickled down his neck. The silence of the night burned his ears. His eyes flicked from side to side, trying to pierce through the edges of darkness the moonlight did not reach.
“Stay in control. Stay in control,” he whispered to himself. However, the monsters in the pit of his stomach gnawed at him causing a wave of panic to erupt. A cry escaped his lips as Jonathan began to run.
The woods were just ahead of him. A few more minutes and he would be protected from sight again. Jonathan picked a focal point and concentrated on reaching that spot. As he got closer, he relaxed. He was going to make this work. All of it. Even if it meant relinquishing his former dreams. For so long, he wanted nothing else than to teach history. Now he was striving to preserve the present despite the sacrifices. He wasn’t sure when he had made the decision to move from passive observer to participant but he did know that he had just changed the course of his life. He smiled. It seemed life was full of surprises.
Abruptly, all light disappeared. He stopped in his tracks.
It’s only a cloud passing over the moon, Jonathan rationalized. In spite of his efforts, fear tore through him. Jonathan cautiously stepped forward. The night enveloped him, robbing him of his sight and allowing noises to assault him. The sound of the wind blowing through the treetops. The crackling of dead leaves. Footsteps. His mind urged him to remain still, to be calm, even as his legs desired to run again.
The darkness lifted and the strong moonlight returned. The sudden shift to light momentarily blinded him. Jonathan blinked hard until his eyes adjusted. He scanned the area. Something wasn’t right. He studied the scene before him trying to figure out what was different. Then it hit him. A dark form stood several yards in front of him cutting him off from the woods. A form that wasn’t there before the unexpected darkness fell. He strained his eyes trying to identify the figure. As he stared, the form moved. Jonathan was rooted to the spot as the person came closer. When it was only feet away from him, he saw a face peer at him from under a hood.
“Oh shit!” Jonathan muttered as he recognized the feminine voice. Hope drained from him. He had to keep his wits about him. He had to get away.
“Darling! Imagine running into you. Out here in the middle of nowhere.” She walked toward him. “Of course, that does raise a whole other question. Whatever are you doing out here in the middle of the night?”
“L … Lil … Lillith!”
Jonathan swallowed nervously. Lillith lowered the hood. Her golden hair reflected the white moonlight. Her smile lit her entire face. Jonathan’s breath caught in his throat. Lillith’s eyes bore into him. So often, he had admired her from afar, longing to be near her. To breathe in the scent of her. To feel the heat from her body next to him.
She stopped a mere step from him.
“I needed some fresh air. It’s a … good night … for a walk,” he stammered.
He couldn’t tear his gaze from her eyes. They seemed unnaturally large and dark. The eyes themselves disappeared into the shadow of her face leaving gaping, empty sockets.
“You don’t strike me as one to go for long, moonlit walks,” she countered. “Especially not by yourself. Besides, I thought you were enjoying Dameon’s hospitality at the house.”
“It got a little crowded.”
“I see. I guess I should be thankful for this opportunity. I haven’t had a chance to have you all to myself in a while. It seems someone is always around you. Asking questions about your work. Wanting your opinion. I feel like I’ve neglected you since introducing you to the rest of my group.”
A shift of her body eliminated the space between them. She pressed into his chest. Her breath warmed his cheek. She wrapped her arms around his neck. Jonathan closed his eyes, the irony of the situation not escaping him. For so long he had daydreamed of this. Being alone with her while she whispered endearments to him. While she caressed him. Just as she was doing now. But instead of the sweet tension of desire, he felt stone cold. More than anything, he wished she was a million miles away.
Lillith smiled widely. Shadows obstructed parts of her face creating the image of a sneering skull. Jonathan shivered.
“You’re so tense, love. And sweating on such a chilly night. Whatever could be wrong?”
“It’s nothing. I’m not feeling well tonight.”
Lillith stroked his hair. “Jonathan, I have a problem. I was at home not long ago and I noticed something awry. You see, I had a special collection of rare books delivered to your workroom a few weeks ago. Extremely valuable books. Now one is missing. I borrowed it from a dear friend who is a collector.”
“I’m sorry, Lillith, but what does this have to do with me?”
Lillith scowled. Her grip tightened. “Jonathan, I brought you into my ring of associates. I introduced you to people–rich, powerful people. I asked for nothing in return. I know that you were cataloguing those rare books. Do you have the missing book?”
Jonathan gazed at Lillith, careful to keep his face relaxed in spite of his fear.
Lillith grabbed a handful of Jonathan’s hair and snapped his head back. With her other hand she pushed down on his shoulder. He gasped. Despite her slight form, she forced him to his knees.
“Wrong answer!” she hissed. Her fingers dug into his flesh piercing through the skin.
“Ahhh!” Jonathan cried out.
“Go ahead and scream. No one will hear. And even if they did, would they care? Is anyone going to miss you?” Lillith taunted him. She lowered her face to his. Red points of light shone out of the dark eye sockets. “To think of the time I wasted on you. Building you up to think you were on the same level as the rest of us. That you were special. That I enjoyed listening to all your tiresome, self-serving ramblings. You only had to do what you were told and I would have rewarded you greatly. Translate a few texts and you would have had anything you wanted at your disposal. But you wouldn’t play along. Had to bring along a moral compass. Couldn’t just look the other way. So now it ends for you.”
Lillith pulled Jonathan forward and buried her face in his neck. She bit deeply into his exposed flesh. Pain exploded through his head. He was excruciatingly aware of Lillith sucking and lapping his blood. Then as suddenly as she attacked, Lillith shoved him away from her. He landed hard on his back.
“Disgusting!” she spat as she wiped his blood off her lips. “Even your blood is foul! It tastes like mold and mildew. Just like the books you surround yourself with.”
As Jonathan struggled to rise onto his elbows, Lillith turned and walked toward the trees. The night wind whipped through her hair flinging it about wildly. She whirled and smiled cruelly at him. When she spoke, venom dripped from her words.
“I didn’t come here alone. I brought two friends with me. They are very anxious to meet you.”
Lillith clapped her hands. Jonathan glanced around nervously, expecting Dameon and one of the other houseguests to appear. Moments passed without anything happening. Confused, he stared at Lillith. Then a faint growl reached his ears. His eyes searched wildly for the source. Two silver wolves appeared on either side of Lillith.
“Oh Jonathan, there is so much you still don’t know about us. Alexa is very talented. She surpasses you in languages and history. Guess that is to be expected when you’ve lived as long as she has. Along the way she found her gift in the mystic arts. These two beauties have been our pets for years. Alexa doesn’t like to take them way from their home. There’s not enough space to roam and hunt in cities. So she created a charm to bring them to us whenever we call.” Lillith petted the two wolves affectionately. “I’ve found that particular spell quite useful. Rena and Rhana have helped me deal with certain problems from time to time. Like tonight.”
“No! Lillith! Please!” Jonathan’s heels dug into the earth as he tried to push himself away. The wolves attacked. Instinctively, Jonathan tucked his face into his chest and wrapped his arms around his head. He tried to curl into a ball but the wolves pounced on him, tearing into Jonathan’s flesh with their claws and teeth. A muzzle pushed its way into the space between Jonathan’s arms and closed around his throat. The great animal shook Jonathan as its teeth sank into the soft tissue of his throat. Its front paws slashed Jonathan’s chest, tearing through his clothing and ripping away skin. A terrified whimper escaped Jonathan. The second wolf clamped its mouth around one of Jonathan’s arms and pulled back, exposing the side of his face. The two animals ferociously shook and clawed Jonathan’s body. He waited for death to arrive, praying it happened quickly before the wolves literally tore him apart.