Out of the Dark (The Brethren Series)

BOOK: Out of the Dark (The Brethren Series)
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OUT OF THE DARK

Book
Seven in The Brethren Series

by Sara Reinke

 

Copyright 2
013 Sara Reinke
 

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

September, 1792

 

The sun was little more than a rose-colored tint along the edge of the horizon, but seven-year-old Naima Morin was already hard at work in the yard behind the family’s great house. Her mother was human, a former slave, but her father was Arnaud Morin, one of the Brethren, a race of long-lived vampires who lived in secret in the farmlands of the Kentucky frontier. She’d heard stories that described vampires as being bloodthirsty monsters—descriptions she’d always found ridiculous and untrue. Her grandfather, Michel Morin, was the farthest from monstrous as she could possibly imagine. From the moment of Naima’s birth, Michel had realized her heritage, and he’d tried hard to keep her hidden and safe on the Morin family farm. She’d grown up living in the great house, educated with the other Morin children, treated no differently than any of them in Michel’s kind and fond regard. Even so, she’d still been expected to pull her own share around the farm, the same as the other children. And for Naima, this meant tending daily to the chickens.

B
arefooted, her brown skinnearly bone-colored with dust and dirt clear up to her knees, she lugged a heavy tin pail with one hand, scooping out and scattering dried corn with the other. More than a dozen chickens followed her in a dutiful mob, plump brown hens clucking and scratching and the bossy bantam rooster fussing at stragglers who took too long in keeping stride.

As was her habit,
Naima led them in a slow parade, circling the grounds between house and barns. When she passed by one of the stables, she paused in the doorway, caught by a curious sight: an unfamiliar boy about her age, white with sandy brown hair, using a pitchfork to scatter fresh hay down onto the floor of one of the empty stalls. He’d been at this chore long enough to break a heavy sweat, and had stripped off his shirt. He worked with his back to her, and she could see lash marks across his spine and shoulders, some of them vicious enough to have laid open his flesh, revealing bright red meat beneath.

He wasn’t one of the Morin children; these she all knew very well. And yet, in that moment, the most peculiar sensation
had come over Naima—a chill that had seemed to originate at the base of her brain and then race its way south from there, spreading through her entire body in a sudden, swift and not-entirely unpleasant shiver.

He’s like me,
she’d realized.
A Brethren.

“Who are you?” she asked.

The boy whirled around, nearly falling over his own feet from surprise and physical fatigue. He didn’t answer, merely stood there, looking for all the world like he’d been caught getting into mischief and expected to be scolded for it.

“I said, you got a name, boy?” she asked. With a huff of breath, she blew a wayward curly strand
of hair back off her brow.

“A-Aaron Davenant,” he stammered. Hi
s eyes were enormous, round with fright.

Less than a week earlier, Michel had been second in a duel against one of the Davenant clan, a man named Victor. While Naima didn’t know or understand much of what had taken place, she knew that the name
Davenant
was no longer one that was welcome on her grandfather’s land.

“This isn’t your barn, Aaron Davenant,” she told him. “It belongs to the Morin clan.”

“I…I know, yes,” he said, bobbing his head like he’d been caught in the wind, a skull full of milkweed seeds.

“Then what’re you doing here?”

“I…I ran away,” he said. “It was dark and I…I found your barn. I slept up in the hay loft.”

It had been cold enough the night before to have left frost on the ground that morning. Naima had crunched through it as she’d tromped from the house to the barn to collect her pail and chicken feed.

“I didn’t steal anything,” he added quickly. “I thought I’d clean up…put down fresh straw...in payment for me staying.”

“Who beat on you?” Naima asked, as the chickens pressed in more closely around her feet, clucking and fussing because she’d stopped feeding them.

“My…my father,” he replied at length, holding the pitchfork impotently between his hands, while hay tumbled from its tines in a soft, snow-like parade.

He looked so pitiful, with his large eyes and his torn open back. She’d overheard Michel talk about Lamar, the Davenant clan’s Elder, and knew that he was reputed to have a violent temper. And while she didn’t know if it had been Lamar or another in the clan who had laid into the scrawny little boy in the barn, she was willing to bet the fruit in the Davenant family didn’t fall far from the tree, and the choice of suspects would be long and plentiful.

After a long moment, she snorted to blow back that same drooping curly-cue from between her eyes. “Come on then.” She turned around, flapping her hand at him in beckon. “Let’s find someone to take a look at you.”

 

She led him to an outbuilding behind the main house, where the kitchen was located. “You sit down here and wait,” she said, scooting a stood toward Aaron. “I’ll be right back.”

He sputtered in objection, but after a moment’s hesitation, and a wary glance at the kitchen staff, he sat slowly down onto the proffered stool. Quick as a wink, and without another word, she scampered out the door, her bare feet slapping in the gravel and grass as she ran for the main house.

Anyone else in the family, even if medically trained, would have told her to order a Davenant on his way. But she’d known that Michel would take pity on the boy and come to help him, and her grandfather hadn’t disappointed her.

“I’m going to clean these wounds for you, lad,” he told Aaron. When she returned to the kitchen with Michel in tow, Aaron’s eyes had grown enormou
s with fright. Clearly he recognized the master of the house, and was intimidated.

“I’ll have to stitch some of them closed. I’ve some salve that can dull the pain somewhat, but not all.”
As he spoke, Michel’s expression grew sorrowful.
“Je suis désolé,”
he said—
I am sorry
in French.

“Here.” Naima had plucked a cinnamon stick from a jar on a nearby window sill and thrust it out, offering it to Aaron. “Bite on this when it hurts. You won’t holler as much that way.”

All large, round, blue eyes, Aaron had looked at the cinnamon, then Naima, then lastly at Michel. “I won’t,” he said quietly, a slight tremor in his voice. “Holler, I mean. I…I promise.”

Michel stroked his hand gently against the back of Aaron’s tousled hair
.
“I expect you’re the sort of man who doesn’t give his word lightly,” he said. “And when he does, it’s binding then, no?”

Being called a man seemed to please Aaron; some of the trepidation faded from his face, and he managed a weak, fleeting smile. “Yes, sir.”

Michel returned the boy’s smile. “Here we go then. Take a big, deep breath for me.”

Aaron kept his word. He
didn’t as much as whimper while Michel cleaned and stitched his wounds. .

“He stayed in the barn last night,” she said to Michel, , watching with curious fascination as Michel slid the curved needle, which looked to her like an oversized fishing hook, in and out Aaron’s skin.

“You could have frozen to death out there,
petit,”
Michel told the boy, a gentle remonstration.

Aaron hunched his shoulders as if Michel had just cuffed him across the head. “I borrowed a blanket from one of the stalls,” he mumbled.

“No wonder he stinks like horse dung,” Naima remarked. Michel shot her a quick look, his brows narrowed in disapproval. “He
does.
The least we could do is offer him a bath, don’t you think? And maybe some breakfast? We’ve got more than plenty.”

Michel smiled at her gently. “
A bath we can do,
oui,
and some breakfast besides
.
Why don’t you fix him a bowl of porridge? There’s a pot by the fire. It should still be warm.”


I thought he could stay in the house from now on, instead of sleeping in the barn,” Naima continued, as she scampered to her feet and began to root around in a nearby cupboard in search of a bowl. “We have plenty of room. Me and Mamma, we can share our room with him. He can have my trundle bed. I’ll sleep on the floor.”

Aaron blinked at her, surprised yet visibly touched.

Michel’s smile, however, faltered. “I think it would be best if we bring the boy home after he eats,” he said quietly. When Naima blinked at him in bewildered surprise, he added: “I’m sure his father is worried for him.”

“But h
is father is the one who beat him in the first place,”
Naima protested.

Michel gave her another pointed look and shook his head. “That’s quite enough.”

Aaron hung his head, twisting his hands together anxiously in his lap, as if imagining the grim homecoming that would await him. Never one to do what she was told, Naima forged ahead, indignant and frightened on Aaron’s behalf.


We can’t send him back. He’s only going to get beaten again if we do—probably worse this time!”

Naima, I said enough.
Now Michel spoke to her with his mind, his brows narrowed as he met her gaze sternly.

But
Grandfather, please,
Naima stared at him, pleading, her eyes swimming with sudden tears.
Can’t we keep him?

He’s not a pet,
ma fifille
,
Michel replied and his expression softened at the realization of her tears, his face filling with sorrow.
Not a lost pup or kitten in need of tending. He has a home, and he belongs there. It is not my place—or yours—to keep him from it.

With the soft
whisp
of shears cutting the suture line, and then with a quiet groan, Michel rose to his feet. “But the bath, as I said, is a fine idea,” he said aloud, as if their telepathic conversation hadn’t taken place, and he picked up their verbal one right where they’d left off.

He draped his hand against Aaron’s shoulder
. “What say I have someone ready a tub while you eat? After that, I’ll get you a fresh shirt and call for a carriage to be brought around. I’ll deliver you home myself.”

***

When Michel’s curricle and team were brought to the front of the house, Naima had grabbed a cloak off a hook by the kitchen door and, instead of returning to her chores as Michel had instructed, she dashed across the yard and scrambled up onto the back perch of the carriage. Throwing the cape over herself, she crouched on her knees on the floorboard, pressed against the back of the front seat, her breath bated. She felt the curricle shift, squeaking and rocking on its axles as Michel first climbed aboard into the driver’s position, then the boy, Aaron, took a seat on the leather-upholstered bench beside him. With a clucking of his tongue, a jangling of the reins and a soft
“Giddap,”
Michel spurred the team underway.

Eventually, Naima dared to pull the edge of the cloak back from her face and watched the dirt and gravel path beneath them rolling by. The entire carriage shimmied and jostled, and she covered her mouth to stifle a soft cough
from the flying dust and grit. Glancing up, she found Aaron looking over the back of the front seat at her, his blue eyes meeting hers and widening with surprise.

Shhhh!
Naima mimed, pressing her forefinger to her lips.

Aaron nodded once, then turned away, looking stricken, though by her unexpected presence or the notion of what was sure to be an unpleasant homecoming, she didn’t know.

When the
y reached the Davenant farm at last, and the carriage drew to a halt, she ducked back beneath the cape and listened to the restless snuffling of the horses.

“It’s alright,
petit,”
Michel coaxed, as he climbed down from the bench, because clearly Aaron didn’t share this sentiment, and had lingered, fearful, in the carriage. “Come on now. There’s your father.”

At this, Naima couldn’t resist and pulled back the cloak again. She inched closer to the driver’s side of the coach, enough to peep around the side of the driver’s bench. They had reached a brick Georgian mansion that could have been an identical twin to the Morin clan
’s great house. A man Naima guessed to be Lamar Davenant stood at the top of a stone stoop, his face granite-like in its stoicism as he rested his weight against a cane.

BOOK: Out of the Dark (The Brethren Series)
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