Authors: C. T. Adams,Cathy Clamp
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Touch of Darkness.jpg
Touch of Darkness
Third and Final Book of the Thrall Series
C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp
Table of Contents
DEDICATION AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Note from the Authors
DEDICATION AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
As always, this book is dedicated first and foremost to Cathy’s husband, Don, and to Cie’s son, James, and then to all the family and friends who have helped along the way. Special thanks go to Merrilee Heifetz and her able assistant, Claire Reilly-Shapiro, of Writers House; and to Anna Genoese, Heather Osborn, Jozelle Dyer, and the rest of the wonderful staff at Tor. Finally, we want to thank you, the readers, for coming along to play in our worlds. It would mean nothing without you.
Note from the Authors
« ^ »
The airport described in Las Vegas doesn’t exist as envisioned here. It’s located approximately where McCarran currently sits, but liberties have been taken with the design. Also, Mesquite Hills, Texas, is a nonentity, as are Beaver Falls and Murphysboro. We tried not to mangle Colorado criminal legal procedure too badly, but it’s an alternate reality, so Kate’s world isn’t quite like ours. The new St. Elizabeth’s has been moved to an actual medical complex, but I believe the real-life Veterans Affairs hospital is set to go in and will have opened and been in use by the time this book hits the shelves.
All our characters are imagined people with the exception of one friend who specifically requested that their name or description be put in the first book of this series and who has been mentioned in the following two. Otherwise any similarity between fictional and real people is purely coincidental. (And if you think we were that effective in bringing a character to life, we’re flattered.)
We hope you will enjoy this, the concluding book in the Thrall/Kate Reilly series. In truth, while we write for love and for a living, we mostly write for you, the reader.
« ^ »
Tiny needlepoints of pain dragged me up through layers of sleep. Increasingly insistent, the repeated puncturing resisted my best attempts to drop back into the warm and inviting dreams of my soon-to-occur wedding. I vaguely remembered rolling over beneath the heaps of down comforters. The resulting yowl of a startled and indignant cat pried open my eyes.
The room was pitch black—that enveloping depth of darkness you only get after a power outage. We forget how surrounded by light we are normally, even at night… from the soft glow of the clock to the little dots and rectangles of hibernating electronics.
But I’d been prepared for this after watching the weather report at bedtime. I reached to the nightstand, nudging aside the soft bulk of my cat, who refused to stop digging claws into my arm. A click later, and the yellowish glow from a battery lantern pushed away the black. As my brain started to function a little better, I heard the wind howling outside. It’s not completely unheard of to get early-season blizzards in Colorado, and this one was going to be a doozy. Even in the dim light I could see icy patterns on the window ledges high above the bed, and driving snow that moved sideways across the glass. I groaned in response and curled deeper under the covers. Again Blank jumped on my chest with a weight that pushed the air from my lungs hard and fast, like airplane turbulence. He was named Blank because of his unfinished appearance. A bare canvas that only required a splash of color to be real. But his whiteness had dulled to a dirty gray in the light, even while his pale, nearly clear eyes reflected it. They became headlights that made me squint. As I lifted his body off me, I thought he was purring, but then I realized it wasn’t a purr that rumbled his chest.
It was a growl.
He combined the warning with claws digging deep into my wrists and I was suddenly fully awake. Adrenaline pounded my pulse as I listened for danger. I hadn’t had any trouble for awhile now—no women with knives, men with guns, or even Thrall vampires trying to slice open my veins. So it was probably time for them to appear again. Damn it. Just when life was going pretty good.
A little snow wouldn’t bother the Thrall. They’re not vampires of legend that slow down like reptiles in the cold—
making them little threat before they’ve fed. No, they’re ordinary humans, turned superhuman by sentient psychic parasites, but fully capable of shopping for winter clothes at the mall in broad daylight. Even in flannel pajamas, the chill that hit me when I threw off the covers was enough to make me shiver. Apparently, the power had been out for longer than I’d thought. My feet found the slippers on the wooden floor by touch. Good thing, since I couldn’t see that well yet. I picked up the handle of the lantern and walked to the dresser to turn on the second lantern. This one was bigger, an eight D-cell monster that, with a flick of the switch, filled the bedroom with comforting incandescent light.
Sometimes, just having a light turn on is enough to scare away an intruder, but I didn’t hear any footsteps or panicked voices downstairs. No scents of unfamiliar cologne or sweat found my nose. A quick glance at the wind-up clock on the bookshelf showed it was 2:00 A.M. That’s when I heard the sound… a rumbling, cracking sort of noise and sensation that I couldn’t place. The cat hissed and leapt down from the bed to stand next to me. The guttural thrum reminded me of the approach of a distant trash truck. The sound faded away after a moment, leaving only the wind and snow beating against the windows. There are a lot of windows in my loft, formerly a factory in the lower downtown of Denver, called LoDo by the locals. I renovated the place so that the old, thick industrial glass would rise above the floor on the west side for two full stories. Rain and snow hitting the wall of glass tend to set up a rhythmic vibration that becomes white noise after years of hearing it.
Blank stayed with me, crouched low next to my feet as I descended the staircase to the main level, carrying my little circle of light. He was looking all around, taking in everything, as though he couldn’t place the sound either, but didn’t like it. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, while I was still surrounded by walls that gave some measure of defense, I opened up my senses. Being psychic has advantages at times, and this was one of them. I can touch minds that are nearby, can communicate telepathically with family and loved ones in danger. But mostly, as much as I hate it, I can sense where the Thrall are. They’ve tried repeatedly to turn me into one of their own. They’ve come so damned close to succeeding several times now that if one was in my apartment, I’d know.
But they weren’t here, or even there. Though the whole Denver hive should be up and about at this time of night, I was met with a smooth, flat wall of… nothing. Either my ability to touch the hive was being blocked by the queens, or they were holed up, sleeping out the storm like sane people. Since a lot of the Thrall hosts tend to be abnormally athletic people, hence slightly insane in my opinion, they’re probably out in this mess. My fiancé, Tom Bishop, would say I was the pot calling the kettle black, since I’m a former professional athlete. It’s part of why the Thrall has been trying to capture or kill me for years. But even I’m not nuts enough to be outside in a Colorado blizzard. I played volleyball… beach volleyball. Warm sun, soft sand.
So, I was betting it was option number one, which was a bad thing. They only block me when they don’t want me to know what they’re up to. It’s an effort for them, because I’m pretty strong, so they don’t do it for long. But you know what they say—you’re only paranoid if you’re wrong. If you’re right, they call you proactive, and in my many encounters with the Thrall, I’ve been exceedingly proactive.
The wind stopped for a few moments, the calm before the next blast of snow. In that brief silence, I heard the sound I’d been missing. A steady trickle of water that was like a dripping faucet, but more hollow. It seemed to come from ahead of me, but there was nothing along the wall of windows that had pipes, except the dripper lines in each of my potted plants for when I go on trips. I suppose the sudden cold could have split the plastic hoses. It made me sigh, because it would be a mess to clean up if it was in more than one place. The tension in my muscles was replaced with a weary resignation.
I have a lot of plants.
My brother Joe called me Jungle Kate for the sheer volume of greenery … well, he did back when he was speaking to me, anyway. The last time he spoke to me was at his wedding months ago. It was just a tense thank-you in response to my congratulations, and only after being prodded in the ribs by his new bride. Then he’d turned his back and walked away. He even returned the gift Tom and I had given them, unopened. That had brought on the first of many tears. But we’re both stubborn, and I refuse to apologize for being psychic … for being a target of the Thrall. I hate that the vampires keep attacking my family because they’re trying to kill or capture me. But I don’t know what to do except keep trying to destroy them, and keep protecting those I love to the best of my ability. The power chose that moment to flicker on. Both Joe and the Thrall were instantly purged from my brain by the horror that made me gasp and Blank hiss and dive for cover, almost simultaneously.
« ^ »
My wall of windows was a waterfall—literally. Spiderweb cracks had appeared across the panes in a pattern that reminded me of a baseball line drive to a windshield. The inside was still warmer than outside, so the snow was melting as it hit the glass and was seeping through the cracks to drip on the floor. My gaze was pulled upward because no way should those windows be cracking. I’d been forced to heave a woman who was trying to kill me through the glass a year earlier and her body had only managed to break out a single pane. It had taken months for the glazier to find a sheet of quarter inch, blue-tinted glass big enough to replace it. I’d had him check the integrity of the whole wall when he’d finally returned, and the panes were as solid as the bricks surrounding them. But not anymore, and I could see why. Apparently, a lot more snow had fallen than they’d forecast, because the ceiling was bowed down nearly a foot where it met the windows. Either several tons of the white stuff, or a military transport plane, had crash-landed on my roof.
A rapidly growing puddle was crossing the hardwood floor and seeping down into the pit area toward my sofa and entertainment center. But they were the least of my worries as the rumbling sounded again, this time accompanied by the very particular sort of squeaking that metal makes when it’s being stretched beyond its limits. I instinctively ducked and Blank darted back under the coffee table when sizzling and popping came from above. One of the industrial-sized ceiling fans that keep the loft warm or cool stuttered and began to smoke. The ceiling dipped further. There was no time to do anything but run for my life.
I dove for the floor and grabbed the cat, who responded by clinging to my chest with all four feet, claws extended. The cat carrier was already by the door because he was going to be staying downstairs with my tenant, Connie Duran, while I flew with Tom to Las Vegas for our wedding. My flight was supposed to be later today, and Tom planned to follow tomorrow at the end of his shift at the firehouse.
Those plans might be changing.
Another ominous series of creaks and groans hurried my feet, and I suddenly didn’t care that I was wearing pink and yellow pajamas with fuzzy bunny slippers. I did care that it was snowing outside and I might freeze to death, though. Thankfully, Tom had left a pair of boots next to the couch, and my coat was with the jump bag I keep in case of emergencies in the downstairs closet. It has spare clothes, toothbrush, and weapons. I grabbed it quickly, pulling the strap onto my shoulder.
Blank went into the carrier without any fuss for a change and I snapped the metal gate closed just before slinging on my coat and tucking slipper-clad feet into the boots. I’d guessed right that they’d be darned close to a perfect fit that way.
The door to my apartment is one of the old fire doors from the original factory. It takes a pretty tough person to open it under normal circumstances. My shoulders are my strongest feature, so I can open it, as can Tom. Of course, he’s a werewolf, so that helps. But I hadn’t ever tried to open the door with weight on the door frame. I could already see the heavy steel beginning to flex down, and I wasn’t sure what would happen if I yanked it open. Would the whole header collapse down on my head before I could get out? Would it start a chain reaction that would take out the windows and bring down the roof?