Excerpt for Black Soul (The Forbidden Series 1) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Black

Soul

Book One of The Forbidden Series

Odessa Gillespie Black

All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the author.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidences are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblances to actual persons, living or deceased, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Printed in the United States of America

First Printing, January 2013


Cover Image by Winter Bayne Cover Designs

www.winterbayne.com


Cover Model is Vikkas Bhardwaj

www.vikkaszone.com


http://odessablack.wordpress.com


ISBN-13: 978-1541173491


DEDICATION

To Christine Black for your editing expertise!

Without you, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Love and hugs forever.









Aura Key


Purple: Love, Concern

Pink: Amused

Red: Anger

Orange: Fear

Gray: Mischief

Sapphire Blue: Sadness

Teal: Curiosity

Yellow: Happiness

Green: Envy

Mint Green: Aggravation, Conspiracy

Brown: Pain

Black: Evil



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


I’d like to thank God for the twisted imagination to write this stuff (Paul Franklin Moss, Jr. Rest in Peace). To my Daddy Robert H. Gillespie, Jr. Thank you for instilling in me the Christian values it took to write these novels. Mama: you were an amazing inspiration and your input was invaluable.

Christine Black, I don’t know what I would have done without your amazing editing skills. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. Lacee, Shelby, Ceara, and Codie: I couldn’t have done it without your support and housecleaning abilities. Thank you for all the time you let me take away from you guys to make our dream come true. Brant: you are an amazing seat-wiper-off-er! Anna Marie: Thank you for planning my tour and everything else that remotely has to do with my career. I love you till the end of time! Thomas, Dawson and Baron: I’ve used many of your quotes. Hope y’uns don’t mind. Frankie Frank, you are the most amazing friend/agent/sidekick I could have ever asked for. Maria: You are my sanity. Thank you. Sarah Deady, you are my best friend for life. Love you and miss you. Chasity and Chance Moss: Thank you for all the time you put in reading and rereading and rereading! Your help was priceless. To my whole family and all my friends, I love you all!









Chapter 1

Suicide



Noah Kavanaugh


Revealing that I was a monster to my only human friend Abigail hadn’t been easy, but she deserved the truth. She’d begun to exhibit a special attachment to me, so it was only fair.

I know she wanted to be considered my girlfriend, but I wasn’t sure I could allow it.

Our souleater leader, Amon, had only ever allowed me to experience hunger. According to him, other than self-preservation, emotions were useless.

The lake twinkled like diamonds under the sun. Behind a towering oak, my friend sat on her knees bent over a picnic basket, her blonde tresses falling over her exposed shoulders. Abigail wore a yellow sundress that settled in nicely with the leaves, grass, and lime green picnic basket. Flipping up the lid, she drew out a few containers, a book, and had just started to unfold her knees when sticks broke under my footfall. She dropped the book.

“I wish you made more noise when you crept up.” Abigail patted a spot beside her. “You’d think you were stalking your lunch.”

After weeks of meeting here, she continued to jump at my approach. If she was alarmed by my speedy appearance she was sure to be alarmed by my revelation. But there was no sense in hiding the truth from her any longer.

She would eventually catch me rising from the earth.

My voice shook. “We need to talk.”

“I talk to you all the time.” She flattened a wrinkle in the checkered blanket.

I sat down. “I mean talk.”

“You mean like ‘the friend talk?’” Abigail met my gaze.

“I’m not sure what you mean, but yes. It has to do with us being friends. And something a little more than that. I think?” I paused. “We are a little more than that, aren’t we?”

Knocking a bowl of grapes over, Abigail landed in my lap, and before I could dissuade her, her lips crashed into mine.

And of course, my saliva glands elicited her favorite taste, cotton candy and apple pie, simultaneously. Dammit.

She jumped back, her wide gaze searching mine. Then with a glazed over look, she attacked me with a hungry kiss. Surrendering, she fell limp in my grip. She drew my mouth down her neck as if she were offering her blood.

Blood wasn’t what I craved.

Temptation pulsated on my lips. The soul is housed a few inches from where she’d drawn me, so I wrenched myself from her.

We lured in our prey without their detection.

They never knew they were in death’s grip. By eliciting an aroma that sent females into a frenzy and inhibiting males into paralysis, we blinded them with notions of things they enjoyed. Almost sinful pleasures and fantasies.

Naturally, the women were effected differently.

Fear for her life empowered me to shove her away. Maybe I elicited a little too much force, but it was for her own good.

With her a safe distance across the blanket, the dazed look escaped her face. She glared at me, then inspected her moistened lips with her fingers. “What just happened?”

“Did you taste something familiar, warm, intoxicating when you kissed me? Did you lose control of your body? Would you have done anything I asked?”

I didn’t linger for her reply.

Her wide green eyes and pastry white face answered all my questions.

“It’s part of what I am. It’s probably why you’ve stuck around as long as you have. It’s a way to lure our prey,” I said.

“Why now? Why are you telling me this?” Abigail’s voice quivered as she shrank away.

Because she was falling in love with a souleater, and she needed to be aware of the danger. And that I might be incapable of returning her affections. At least not the way she hoped. My lifestyle would have imposed on hers. There was no way we could find common ground. I was a killer, and she was an innocent, as I called them.

I had to break it to her with more ease than my angelic mind was used to. With my brothers, candor wasn’t a problem. Nothing shocked them. But humans were more sensitive.

“I’m not like you. I’m something else.”

“You’ve got that right. You’ve made me think you cared about me. That you might have feelings and then this load of bullshit—”

With my sharp forefinger, I sliced my wrist.

Abigail was already hysterical. But for the wrong reasons. I had to make her understand quickly. Before she drew the wrong attention.

Amon was infamous for his stalking skills. That’s why I’d chosen this place. Remote and probably not on any map, but Abigail’s cries could attract a near souleater.

In a scream, she lunged for my arm. She probably thought I’d lost my mind, that I was attempting suicide, but when the stream of cobalt blood dripped from my arm, and the site of the wound healed almost instantaneously, she scrambled away from the blanket.

“You needed to know.” After my body became the ground, and I sank out of sight, I rose from the earth in another spot—what I and my brothers coined as transferring.

Abigail crashed against a tree, holding herself up. “This isn’t happening,” she whispered over and over.

“You needed to know,” I repeated, wondering if I hadn’t said it more for myself than her.

She had taken it the way I thought she would. Shock. “I need some time.”

“I want you to understand. I would never hurt you.” I stepped closer, but she lunged out of my reach.

“Can you?” she said.

I slowly reached for her and took her face in my hands. “I would NEVER.”

She flinched then nodded. My touch wasn’t as pleasant to her as it had been for the last few months. She’d never drawn away from me. Until now.

“Please keep this to yourself. And if you decide this is more than you can handle, I will walk away and never bother you again. But I will always watch over you, protecting you,” I promised.

She met me with a level gaze. “And you would never hurt me?”

“Never.” I inched us back toward the blanket.

She sat beside me but not as near as before. It would probably take her a bit to get used to the information dump I’d just thrown on her.

Before I could get settled into a sitting position, she was on my lap kissing me, again.

With a chuckle, I nudged her back to gaze into her green eyes. Her blonde hair grazed my hand.

“I love you. I don’t care what you are.” Abigail rested quietly in my embrace.

I wasn’t sure what love was, but from the sounds of her admission, it could be complicated for me to be tied up in it.

Two days later, Amon followed me, eavesdropped, and discovered that I had betrayed him by giving away our secret. He yanked Abigail from my arms and forced me to witness her beheading.

He gripped her head by her long blonde, bloody hair and separated it from her shoulders with a snatch. The white orb of her pure soul sank into his mouth falling into the depths of him, a place much worse than hell.

When the process was finished, he dropped her head. It hit the picnic blanket with a disrespectful thud. With a vicious smirk, he kicked it into the pond as the rest of her slumped to the ground, twitching.

“I’ll set her soul free if you die. I can’t very well have a traitor scheming behind my back, can I?” Amon narrowed a lethal gaze at me.

I bowed, readying myself for him to detach my head, but he lifted me to my feet.

“No. On second thought, I think I’ll have you do it the slow way,” Amon said. “To give you time to think about your betrayal. Three long years of decaying as you live and suffer through it. Souleater suicide.”

From behind Amon, Matthew, of whom I called Matt, Zach, Luke, and Nick rose from the ground, dirt falling from their bodies. They reassembled into half angel, half human form. In secret, they’d shared their concerns, that the earth would be rubble when he was done and that they couldn’t bear to join Amon in its destruction. In our earlier years, he’d been a great leader, only taking black souls. But now. He’d become more than God’s assassin. He was Hell on Earth.

I had no choice.

Fighting him would be pointless.

He’d kill me with a flick of his wrist.

When he left in the same manner as the guys had appeared, he motioned them to follow him. Matt shook his head in regret as he turned away from me and became one with the ground.

I waded to where Abigail’s head bobbed like an apple in the water. Tangling my fingers into her soaked hair, I clutched her head to my chest and released a scream into the twilight sky.


* * * *







Chapter 2

Eggs and Lemon Cleaner


Two Years and Eleven Months Later:


Noah Kavanaugh


On the wall, across from my bed, Abigail’s locket draped the corner of a painting. A tree in the light of a setting sun. The diamond in the middle of the heart reminded me of her sparkling smile. I took a deep breath fighting the pain, remembering why, again, I had to die.

“Whose was it?” My nurse, Gertie stared down at my feet as she worked on them. Somehow, she knew what captivated me. She was irritatingly intuitive.

I sighed. “None of your business.”

“Girlfriend, wife, sister, great aunt?” Gertie pressed. She scrubbed my heel with a ped-egg.

“A friend! Now scratch the right side of my big toe on my left foot. It itches.”

Gertie looked up at me. Her brow furrowed.

“It does,” I insisted again.

“It can’t itch. Unless....” A flash of hope twinkled in Gertie’s eyes.

For Gertie’s sake, I squinted in an attempt to tense the muscles in my paralyzed legs. I knew they wouldn’t move, but she hounded me about how I’d given up. I let out a sigh.

She didn't understand.

No human would.

“Nope, nothing,” I said.

Gertie’s nostrils flared as she shook her head disdainfully. She emptied the horrid little egg shaped contraption. It held skin shavings.

Ugh.

She laid it aside and massaged lotion onto my numb legs and feet, all the while, grumbling.

“Ungrateful…” I couldn’t hear the next few words, “…and doesn’t even appreciate his place…” the next few words were gibberish and then, “…could have everything but still wants to die.” She made a distasteful clicking sound with her tongue.

“You know I have no feeling below the third lumbar. There will be no miracles here today. These legs will look like charred spaghetti noodles for the rest of my life.” Even I couldn’t stand to look at them. “Sometimes, I have phantom itches. It would be nice if you would do your job and scratch my toe, instead of lecturing me.”

“I was talking to myself.” Her tone was flat.

“I like it better when you lecture. You being submissive is boring. It pisses me off when you go switching things up.” I complained because she’d given me nothing to complain about.

“I think you need to rethink your tone with me, young man, and for your information, phantom itches only happen to phantom limbs, and as far as I can see, both your limbs are intact.” She blasted me with her usual crass tone. “For now,” she added with a cluck.

I was propped against a mountain of pillows as I stared down my legs at her.

“If I want a phantom itch, I’ll have a phantom itch, Gertie.” I hated to be corrected, but glad to see that defiant glint in her old, steel-blue eyes. I leaned back and closed my eyes. I couldn’t feel her, but the notion of a massage was relaxing.

“You might just wake up one day, and I’ll be chopping those legs off just so you can have a phantom itch!”

I flashed my eyes open and stared at her, setting my jaw. “Oh, Gertie. Do quit being a stick in the mud. You’d never do that because you love me too much to be cruel.”

She had to care somewhat or she wouldn’t still be here.

I caused her grief daily.

“It’s Trudy or Gertrude. You know I hate Gertie.”

“I know.” I smiled.

She huffed and playfully slapped my legs with a towel.

“And, it still itches,” I said.

The next thing on our schedule was a butt-changing, as she called it. I hated this part, but she didn’t seem to mind the mess of handling an adult diaper. Today, she stared at my legs speculatively as though she didn’t believe I was paralyzed. As if she was waiting for a muscle to flinch.

“Hey!” I made her jump.

She clutched her chest. “I swear, boy! You are going to be the death of me yet. You run me ragged every day, scratching this and rubbing that, and all for what? Nothing. You won’t ever walk, and you won’t ever regain the feeling unless you try. You're just too damned stubborn. I don’t even know why I bother, with the way you carry on.” Gertie mumbled some more as she stomped to the hamper and tossed my dirty clothes in. She knew I would never fire her. She was the only one who could put up with my crap. “God don’t bless people who only know how to be aggravatin’!”

“You know, you really shouldn’t swear.” I pulled myself up in the bed. “I know you love me.”

The washer started.

I called out, “You won’t have to put up with me for much longer anyway.”

“Shut up with that nonsense. You’ll be here when I die,” Gertie shouted back as she slammed the storage cabinet door.

“I keep telling you three months. Maybe shorter. You’ll come in, and no more itching. No more pointless lotion rub downs, and no more beef stew. I hate beef stew by the way.” I yanked the blankets over my legs so I wouldn’t have to see them.

The washroom was off the kitchen of my large two story house. From there, Gertie could see into my room which was my old study. The desk and bookshelves had been relocated to the living room to make room for the motorized hospital bed and a dying man’s medical supplies.

“You’ll eat what I make, and you’ll like it. It keeps your energy up.”

“There’s only one thing that will keep my energy up, and I forfeit it daily,” I muttered.

“What did you say?” she called from the kitchen.

“I said there’s only one thing you make that doesn’t make me nauseous, but you won’t make it daily.” An unexpected spasm of pain took me. I doubled over on the bed, glad for no audience.

Gertie always freaked out when this happened. Taking it for the pain a diseased and dying man might feel, she had no idea it was so much more than that. So intense now.

The burning began in my stomach. It was low, deep and agonizing. I swore under my breath as I wrapped my arms around me. I squeezed so tightly I thought my ribs may have cracked. I shuddered, shook, rolled to one side, then the other. It started to ease when Gertie spoke. I focused on her voice. Tried to find the humor in it as I did when the pain wasn’t present.

I was on fire.

Slowly the flames that licked at my insides ebbed, and I could breathe again.

“Damned picky ass,” she said.

This woman didn’t deserve the hell I put her through, but I couldn’t stop. I was so irritable, I hated myself.

Gertie, oops, Gertrude was 54, but it only showed in her logic and mind set. And there wasn’t an evil thing about her. I drew out the closest thing to a demon in her when she was with me for 12 hours every day. Normally by 6 in the evening, I had her so riled I was sure she ran to her car to flee from me.

She was still mumbling something as she rattled pots and pans together. I caught the rear end of it. “…and you can bet I won’t be here to scratch it. They’ll have me loaded up in a patty wagon with a straightjacket on all because there was one more cracker in your soup than you normally liked.”

A year or so back, I’d tried to burn myself alive. It was a botched attempt at suicide. A scar across the left side of my face had left me even more homely than before I’d wasted away.

Now, my relationship with Gertie was the only real human interaction I'd had since the on-purpose accident.

Who wanted to see a charred, burned face? Healed it might be, but scarred it had been left.

I wouldn’t bother to shave or groom my hair, I couldn’t walk, I wore a diaper, and I was pretty damned disgusting if you asked me.

Nobody ever did, though.

They never came around.


***


The next morning I woke having dreamed of my childhood and young adulthood almost all night. Black and white scenes of carnage from the days Amon was a just and upright soldier flipped through the backdrop of my mind.

He’d done God’s bidding—take only black souls—for most of his early years, but after he accidentally tasted a pure soul, he’d changed, in effect, changing our rules. We could take gray souls, ones who were predestined to do terrible things in the name of being proactive.

Not too long after, he gave up on any sort of conscience and began taking pure souls. He couldn’t get enough. Sort of like an addict.

Amon led my brothers and me into living like a rabid pack of wolves when the hunger hit. We had to hide that the lifestyle stabbed at our consciences like a knife digging in an open wound.

He might have killed us if he’d known we opposed his views, so we pretended. And doing so wasn’t hard when a pure soul was so very pleasurable.

Until I’d met Abigail, I’d almost lost that part of me. The part that wanted to be good.

It was as if my mind told me, “Why bother? He’ll just kill you.”

We were concerned that Amon might take a few souls in various cities, but what happened when his hunger became insatiable? How many humans would he kill?

Amongst the dreams, flashes of cobalt blue eyes had begged me without words to come to her, to find her. And it wasn’t Abigail. A female I’d never seen before. No matter. I was no good to anyone, human or souleater, in my current state.

Nonetheless, the words permeated my mind, like a sigh. “Find me. I’m scared.”

I sat up and pressed the dream away. I waited for a while, glancing at the clock every few minutes.

Gertie was late. That wasn’t like her.

Every day, she had bustled through my back door at precisely 8AM and cursed at me because I lay slumped over instead of upright. Today, she hadn’t bothered to call. Old coot.

The ringing phone caused me to jump.

I dragged myself to the edge of the bed and stretched as far as I could. I grabbed the ancient phone receiver and almost knocked its base into the floor.

I was out of breath when I answered, “Hello.”

“Mr. Kavanaugh, Gertie is going to be unavailable today so we have sent—” I slammed the phone back into its cradle before the woman could finish. I would run off whoever they sent. I'd sit in my own feces till nightfall, then clean myself up without the help of some little winch who had no idea what I liked or disliked.

My day had just gained an upward crawl towards not sucking so bad because I wouldn’t have to see the imploring look on Gertie’s face.

I could have sworn she knew my secret.

“Mr. Kavanaugh,” a girl’s voice called from the back door. After the voice, a knock followed. Wrong order. That was her first mistake.

“It’s Noah, and you’re trespassing. Go away.” I stared stubbornly at the black walnut paneling of my old office.

I saw her aura before she made it into the kitchen. It floated around the corner into my room, seizing my heart.

“I’m Caroline. I’m here to take care of you today.” A sweet voice sang through the kitchen.

Familiar with every sound in the house due to months in bed picking out what had made which noise, I listened closely.

The owner of the voice in my kitchen dropped two bags on the table. “I’m sure you don’t want to be alone all day.”

“I’ll be fine till Gertie gets back. Leave.”

Caroline smiled. “Not until you’ve eaten.”

I clenched my jaw preparing for the smell of her. Slamming me with a vengeance today, the pain of the hunger intensified with every passing second. I didn’t want another human to witness it or become victim to it.

“I’m not going anywhere. Satan himself couldn’t run me off, just so you know.” The girl rounded the corner, and the flashes of purple, pink and yellow of her aura magnetized my stare like gravity to a falling 2000-pound boulder.

I’d been breathing, but the air in the room was no longer air. It was molasses thick with her aura and my need.

She inched up two steps into my room. Steeling herself for an explosion, her eyelashes lay in crescents on her cheeks, and her fists balled into a knot.

She had been warned about me.

I chuckled, but my voice caught in my throat and turned to a ridiculous gurgling, strangled noise.

She lifted thick lashes to set on me a flash of blue she must’ve stolen from a near midnight sky.

A very strong, unfamiliar, and—from what I’d learned from living alongside humans all my existence—explicit male reaction eclipsed the stilling of my heart.

I didn’t normally curse in the company of females. “Shit,” I said as our gazes locked.

“Is it time for a change?” Her brows perked. Her black hair was pulled back from her face, but there was nothing she could have done to tame those curls or my heart for that moment.

“Leave,” I blurted. A simple and extremely boring day escalated to very dangerous in the five seconds this girl had been in my room.

“I’m here to do a job, and I intend to do it.” She invaded my bathroom. The air shifted toward me as she walked by.

An earthy yet sweet scent surrounded me.

I gasped hoping she hadn’t noticed. Temptation had never been so alluring.

This troubling girl left the door open as she rambled through the cabinets and towel closet.

“Nice and big, just how I like em.” She glanced at my shower stall.

My mind went to the human gutter. What was this? I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to. This was not good.

“These stalls are easy to get the patient in and out of.” Her voice enticed me, amplifying my hunger and this new human need.

I wanted Gertie back, and I wanted her now.

“You won’t be getting me in or out of anything. You’ll be leaving.” I shifted uncomfortably in my bed. Pressing my long hair out of my face, it was the first I’d considered my appearance. I was a damned mess.

“You are feisty.” In the threshold of the bathroom, the light formed around her giving her a halo. She took sentry at the foot of my bed and gave me a full inventory.

Her gaze raking over me like that sent a ball of fire to my stomach. She had to leave. Now. But that thought put my stomach in a panic.

“I can be more than feisty if I don’t get my way. I don’t want anyone in my house except Gertie.” I closed my eyes against her. Suddenly, with all I had in me, I had to know her.

Stop, stop, stop! I told myself.

“Well, you will have to get up and remove me.” Caroline stalked around the bed. “Now what do you want for breakfast? Eggs or Oatmeal?”

“I want eggs with a side order of you walking out the back door and not coming back. Now leave or I’ll—” I could think of nothing to threaten her with as I searched the room for anything to distract me from that endless blue.

She was a strong, healthy, unnaturally beautiful young woman. In my room. With eyes like a twilight sky, skin like creamy milk, and a soul that was probably flavored with vanilla. For a second the urge to find out slammed me, but I shoved it away. That time it wasn’t a human, male, erotic urge.

She put her life in danger by existing and wasn’t aware.

I pictured my hand behind her head, but instead of using my thumb and forefinger to snap her head off the base of her shoulders, my fingers would thread into her hair and pull her head back so I could kiss the neck I would have normally ripped apart. I held my breath and fought to open my eyes, but that vision held me.

My eyes snapped open when she spoke.

“You’ll what? You were saying you were going to do something to me? I wanna hear this.” She spun back to the bathroom with a determined furrow of her brow. Her efficient movements made me dizzy.

I preferred Gertie's arthritic lurch.

Caroline's long elegant fingers clutched a wash pan. She rambled through my towel closet for a wash cloth. A devastating smile pulled her beautiful red lips into a smirk when she turned to me.

“Hey, what are you doing, lady? Don’t think you are getting close to me with that.”

She filled the wash pan.

“I told you. I don’t want anyone but Gertie.” My heart slammed against my birdcage of a chest. Would I have to physically fight her off? I couldn’t let her touch me. It was too dangerous for her—for both of us.

“She hates being called Gertie, but you knew that, didn’t you?” Caroline turned off the squeaky faucet. “And no, I’m not going to touch you if you don’t want me to, but you will need to clean up while I’m cooking. And I insist that you come to the table to eat.”

“In case you haven’t been informed, I’m paralyzed. I can’t move from this spot.” I gestured to my legs. Stubborn-assed women.

“Oh, I’ve been informed about you. I know that Trudy had her hands full, but you have a wheelchair and you can move from that spot.” Caroline sat the wash pan on my bedside table. “Here’s your soap, wash cloth, and the water should be just right. Do you need help undressing?”

“Absolutely not!” I lugged myself and my dead legs as far from her as possible. I damn sure didn’t need her trying to undress me.

“Suit yourself. It’s easier if you have help. And that was eggs you wanted?” She turned back to me before going to the kitchen. Now she would meddle in my kitchen cabinets.

“I didn’t. And if you waste your time making them, I won’t eat ‘em.” I yanked the covers up.

“You’ll sit there for thirty minutes, either way. You need some movement in those limbs. Ain’t no patients wasting away on my clock.” Her voice was clear, like a crystal bell.

“What do you care?” I wiggled to get comfortable. Oh, for dusk to come. She’d be gone, and I wouldn’t have to put up with the lump these damned sheets had created under me.

“I do care or I wouldn’t be in this field of work. Some patients give up, and that isn’t an option for mine. I’ll be in the kitchen. Scrambled or fried?”

“Whatever,” I grumbled. “Damn broads.”

“You really shouldn't curse. I’m a lady, and I deserve to be treated with respect.” Caroline stepped back into the room with a set jaw, no smile, and her arms crossed curtly across her perky chest. “Besides, my mama always said a wholesome tongue is a tree of life; but perverseness therein is a breach in spirit.”

“Now you’re a walking book of Proverbs. That mixed with cheeriness could get something thrown at you around here.” Diverting my attention from her was impossible.

She glared at me.

What did she expect? An apology.

“I'm surprised you recognized that, that was a biblical scripture.” She unfolded her arms and rested on the doorsill.

“God should have asked me to write a book. I'd have spiced things up a little.” I yanked a pillow from under my head.

The flower graveyard beyond my window was even more gray today.

“You're amusing. I like you.” Caroline retired to the kitchen.

Before I could stop myself, the words fell out. “I apologize for speaking inappropriately. You’re right.”

WHAT? She’d obviously put a spell on me for me to succumb to her charms.

“See. You can be cordial.” Caroline’s voice mixed with rattling in the kitchen.

As I considered her dark skin and chocolate hair, I wondered if she had Italian mixed in her bloodline, then realized if I didn’t end this little farce, and soon, her bloodline could be in jeopardy.

“They said you would have me blubbering and crying within thirty minutes. I have once again been underestimated.” She took something from the third cabinet above the sink and then from under the sink. Probably some sort of cleaner to put in my food because I had been so rude to her. Eggs with lemon cleaner? Or was it dish soap to cleanse my filthy mouth? This Caroline was too classy for that.

Well, she wouldn't win.

I might have slipped up and been nice one time, but that didn’t mean my record would be blemished with it. I’d be ornery the rest of the day, and I’d be damned if I'd bathe. Maybe poor hygiene and offensive odors would run her off. I needed it to. As much as I hated to admit my loneliness, I couldn’t let someone close.

Crossing my arms, I allowed the hot water to cool in the tub.

Caroline's singing voice filtered in from the kitchen. A familiar tune. Couldn't place it. Didn't care to.

My ears weren't bleeding. I wouldn't complain. Yet.

I drummed my fingers on the end table.

Ah, yes. I'd danced with Abigail to that very song in a field beside my parked car when my legs worked. A few months back, they hadn’t been string bean looking.

I had interviewed twenty or so girls from the local Home Health Agency, and Gertie had been my choice for a reason. The prettier and younger, the more irresistible it made their pure souls.

She had once been magnificent, but time had carved wrinkles into Gertie’s face. She had been in less danger than the other 19 would have been.

And she hadn’t cared if my legs were noodles or heavily muscled the way they’d been only weeks before her hire.

While the gorgeous Caroline hummed and clanged pots and pans together, I concocted a plan.

Plans A, B, and C were interrupted by one of my most irritating brothers. “It’s getting closer.”

Not bothering to look, I cringed.

Matt stood on the right side of my bed.

The door to the living room was on the left, and the large bay window was on the right behind him giving him an aggravatingly angelic glow.

I didn't have the energy for his heckling. Little miss goodie-goodie and him. In one day. “I'm in hell.”

Matt stood erect clasping his hands behind his back as he turned and stared at the view of what now looked to be a gray, sad graveyard. Cement weathered benches surrounding chipped tables, broken three-tiered fountains full of moss and muck, and planters full of dead limbs and limp ocher weeds were the skeletal remains of what once had been a luxurious expanse.

“Could we not do this today?” I had thought I was rid of him.

Matt hadn’t shown his troubling face in weeks. He bowed his head. “We may only have days, Noah.” He pointed to the sky. “I wish he’d guide us.”

“Who? God?”

“If God would only let us hear him. I mean, why Amon?” Matt fumed.

“You ever wondered if Amon really hears Him at all? Seems to me that a fair God wouldn’t allow Amon to continue his reign over us?”

Matt turned to me, his eyes wide. “Remember. He can hear you.”

“What could God do to me that's worse than this?”

“There's always hell.”

I glanced toward the kitchen. “I'd gladly welcome it, most days.”

From that direction, a door slammed, and a sweet hum heading in our direction jarred Matt.

Ha. Matt hadn’t expected a new visitor.

Matt shot downward, transferring through the floor with a speed I'd rarely seen. He was the cocky, lazy one that normally waited till the last minute to disappear, always leaving that chance that a tuft of hair might be seen sticking up out of the floor giving the human just little enough time to wonder if they'd seen anything at all.

Funny. He'd been caught off guard for once.

“She's an odd one, this nurse of mine. She has a weird way of flying under our radar,” I said to the floor.

Caroline entered the room. “Who are you talking to?”

“The voices in my head.”

Caroline gave me a look that said she thought I had gone nuts. She shrugged. “You don’t have to bathe if you don’t want to.”

“I know I don’t.”

She took the tub to the bathroom.

On the other side of my bed, the puddle of wooden slats hardened back to solid consistency.

Humming all the while, she emptied the tub, rinsed it, tapped it on the sink, and placed it back in the closet.

From the living room, she toted a motorized wheelchair around the corner and up two steps. In seconds, it sat in wait beside my bed.

I shook my head vigorously.

“But you are coming to the kitchen for breakfast.” Her tone was firm but pleasant.

It was time to exercise my authority. “I’ll take my breakfast in here, or I won't eat.”

Matt had the ability to speak to a person's mind without being verbal. With his gift, he invaded my mind. Hope sounded in his voice even from under my floorboards. “You aren’t as lost and lonely as I thought. Don’t forget. You have a job to do. Save the planet. Maybe this girl will be what gets you out of that bed. Or keeps you in it. Either way, as long as you’re useful again, I don’t care what she does with you.”

Caroline locked eyes with me, and for a second softness her aura couldn’t even project pleaded through her blue eyes. “Will you please sit with me at breakfast? I really hate eating alone.”

A sarcastic male laugh filled my ears.

Get out of my mind, and furthermore, out of my floor. There are probably rats bigger than us in there,” I mind spoke to him.

“Come on. I’m famished, and I’m sure you’re dying of hunger.” She couldn’t know how close to spot on she was.

My mouth fell open, and normally where I would have acted three years old in a screaming rampage, a foreign word fell from my mouth, “Okay.”

Matt couldn’t witness me fending her off. I’d never live it down.

She has you wrapped. Have a wonderful breakfast, Brother. I’ll be back to update you this evening,” Matt antagonized. “This time, your weakness may just be your strength.”

Butt out!” I yanked my legs to the side of the bed.

Caroline’s eyes widened. She hurried to angle the chair closer to the bed.

Panic stricken, I shriveled backward.

“I need to help you into the chair.” She inched toward me.

It was just breakfast with a human. What could it hurt?

“I’ll do it myself.” I scooted closer to the wheel chair.

“Have it your way. Apparently, you always do.” With a triumphant expression, she waited as I heaved each lifeless leg close together and wrenched myself almost into the chair. I fell back, but didn’t land on the floor. It took everything I had to steady myself. She sounded thoughtful. “You know, I should probably change you before we go.”

Through straggly, greasy bangs, I flashed her a touch-me-and-lose-a-hand stare. Pride I’d long since buried dug to the surface. I wasn’t as old and disgusting as outward appearance disguised. And having someone as young and as pretty as her dealing with my dirty diaper changing was demeaning.

With clenched teeth, a set jaw, and burning cheeks, I said, “I don’t drink after 7 PM. I’m dry.”

Caroline shrugged and waited.

I could have died right then and there. Wearing a diaper had never been humiliating with Gertie. “Well, don’t just stand there, help me.”

Without hesitation, the girl pressed her knees to the bony protrusions I formerly called knee caps and locked me into place. And though I was sure Caroline knew exactly how to hoist me to the chair, I stiffened when she touched me.

“Noah,” she said, commanding my gaze. She was so close.

I met her gaze.

Her expression was compelling. “I won’t let you go.”

My heart slammed what I was sure to be its final beat. I'd heard those words before.







Chapter 3

Sabotage




Almost tumbling forward out of the chair, I wagged my head and leaned toward the bed. This was a mistake.

“I don’t want breakfast.” In my attempt to retreat, she took my hands.

Her touch was tongues of fire smoldering on my icy skin. I had to gaze into her eyes.

“I’ll be honest. I don’t want to eat alone,” she said. “For me, come to the kitchen.”

I could imagine no man had ever told her no. “If you think dragging me to the table is going to somehow contribute to my quality of life, forget it. It’s going to take a lot more than breakfast with a gorgeous woman to send me into remission. I was fine before you got here. Just go. I’m sure you can find someone to spend time with that actually wants to live.”

A painting on my wall held her attention as she sat on the bed beside my wheelchair. Her expression darkened.

What was she thinking? Blinding light from all hues of the rainbow invaded my senses. Never had I experienced an aura so colorful. Every tint of goodness existed in the same space. It was more than an experience. It was a phenomenon.

When she moved her arms to clasp her hands in her lap, the aura trailed behind them like jet streams.

I’d never seen this before. This occurrence meant something, but hunger, fear, and desire fogged my mind.

“I get it. I know how it is to want to give up. I’ve been there. I used to get up at five in the morning and make breakfast. My fiancé would come in shortly before six and sit with me after he got off work. He worked third, so I didn’t get to see him before bed. Mornings were our quality time. Then one morning, he didn’t come home. I waited at that table for hours.” Her gaze was somewhere else, locked in a past memory. “His SUV was the only thing left of him, pulled at an odd angle off the side of a remote road. They still call it a missing person’s case, but I know in my heart they’re wrong. When someone's dead, you know it, deep down. For three years, I have had to leave without that meal. Leave the house altogether to try to forget him.”

Why had she told me this?

“Will you please sit at the table with me so I don’t have to stare at that damned empty chair?” she asked one more time in earnest.

With increased effort, I locked the wheels on the chair. This was against every plan I had. “Help me?”

Allowing her to assist me in, I sank into the chair. With her behind me, it lurched forward.

In seconds, I was at the door of my room. A threshold I hadn’t crossed in so long I couldn't remember the exact last time I'd seen the view.

Clenching the arms of the chair, my knuckles went white. I was about to ask how her puny little human self would lug me and the chair down two steps when she, with agility, leaned me backward and lowered me to the main level.

I exhaled loud enough for her to hear.

Was that a giggle?

The undeniable urge to kill her for poking fun at me was replaced with a flood of relief for not having been dropped.

The living room was as I had left it. Three black leather sofas formed a blocked U facing the creek rock fireplace. It took up the eastern wall of the house. A black and white painting with a splash of red reminded me of why I had to die. Abigail's artwork.

“Gertie’s not a worthless old bag after all. This place is spotless.” I nodded at the sparkling room.

The young, pretty nurse cleared her throat. “She likes things clean. She’s always been that way, even at home.”

She must’ve known her personally or something.

At the dining room table, a chair had been relocated to accommodate me.

“You knew you would get me out here, didn’t you? I don't like being manipulated.” I retracted my hands so they wouldn’t be pinched between the sides of the chair and the door sill.

She didn’t answer but pushed me to the table and locked the chair.

“I'm not going to try to get away,” I muttered.

She retrieved two plates from the cabinet and served a healthy helping of food onto them. “I'm faster than you, anyway.”

She had no idea how fast I could be. If she didn't soon quit pissing me off, she'd find out.

“Are you sure you didn’t make up that whole spill about your boyfriend to manipulate me?” I unfolded my napkin.

“I wouldn’t lie about that.” Giving me a level gaze, she sat down beside me.

“Hmm.”

“So, you think I’m ‘gorgeous’? You said that earlier, you know?” She fussed with the napkin to make it stay in my shirt collar.

I yanked it from her hands. I fumbled with the napkin. Giving up, I dropped it in my lap. I may have been a brute, but I still had some manners. “I never said that. And if I did, I take it back. What are you going to do, spoon feed me, too? Damn.”

“What’d I say about cursing?”

What was I now? A five-year-old?

“You’re pushing your luck, lady.” I picked up my fork. It may as well have been a pitchfork instead of a small metal utensil. My hand trembled refusing to maneuver its weight.

“Spoon feeding you would probably be the easiest way, come to think of it.” She took note of my tremors. Our eyes met as she leaned in close to take my fork. Her skin was porcelain, her eyes the crystal blue of the sky when rain washed away the clouds. How did they get that blue?

A little voice spoke to me. Her soul is just behind those eyes. Take her. You want her. Take her. I jerked from her trance. “I'll feed myself. You just stay over there. I need to build up my strength, don’t I?”

She might stay back if I could tell her what I really was and that my appetite far exceeded the yellow globs of junk trying to pass for eggs on the platter in front of me.

The colors around her had an aroma that took me to a warm, candle lit room with crisp fresh linens on a rose petal-covered bed. In the center of the bed, she lay offering everything to me. Including her soul.

This was a scene a souleater might draw the purest victim into. Not the other way around.

Sweat beaded my brow when her hand brushed mine.

“I'll help if you need me to. Don't tire yourself out because of pride.” Our gazes locked again.

I didn't pull away so soon that time. Something about her touch was just as enticing as her forbidden soul. What was happening to me?

I flinched. “Don't touch me unless you want to lose a finger.” Or your life.

“They should add Xanax to your daily pill regimen.” Caroline handed the fork back and unfolded her napkin. She rested it primly on her long, toned legs.

“Read my med chart. I only take vitamins.” I shook like a leaf in the March wind as I shoveled the first bite into my mouth. A chunk fell and rolled down my lap into the floor.

“Gertrude said there were many times she thought about taping your mouth shut with surgical tape and strapping you to the bed, you were so mean.” Caroline lifted my cup to my lips. She smiled and held my shoulder for anchor. The warmth of her touch heated me from the inside out.

I closed my eyes as I sipped.

With inhuman speed, I could have her undressed and lying beneath me…. Block it, Noah.

She took her hand from my shoulder leaving me colder than ever before.

Good. Now I wouldn’t have to kill her.

“When’s Gertrude coming back?” I muttered through the eggs, blowing some of them on the table just for effect.

Caroline looked unaffected by my poor manners. “You don’t like me.”

“I chose Gertie, and I want Gertie.”

“There’s no easy way to tell you this. I’ve been trying to time it just right, but Gertrude fell and broke her hip last night. She won’t be back for a few months at least.” Caroline winced.

I coughed and a glob of eggs that tasted just like the ones Gertie prepared became lodged in my windpipe. When Caroline leaned to hand me my glass of water, I slapped it from her hand in a blind rage.

The glass connected with the marble and shattered spraying small diamonds of heavy lead crystal all over the floor.

Color drained from Caroline’s face as the rims of her eyes filled with tears.

Somehow, I didn’t get the feeling she was as experienced as she let on. Home health care aids were accustomed to outbursts, but she appeared genuinely fearful.

Good.

“I don’t want you here, and if the company you work for can’t send me someone older…and more experienced…you can tell them not to send anyone at all.” I fumbled to unlock the wheelchair, turned, and clumsily wheeled myself through the crunchy glass to my room. Breathless when I reached the two steps up to my room, I realized I wasn’t strong enough to make it up them without Caroline.

Why hadn’t I put in a ramp? Damn, Damn, Damn!

Her footfalls crunched through the glass behind me. Young, strong arms turned me around and hiked me back up the two steps.

“Every day, when Gertrude gets home she talks about you. Incessantly. Sometimes she complains, but mostly she recounts the funny stuff you do. She loves you, and I know you must care for her, but she can’t always be here. She’s getting too old for the lifting and all the manual labor this job entails. I know you better than any other person in that company. Mama’s express wishes were for me to be the one to take care of you.” Caroline acted as though she’d forgotten my outburst, but I was sure she hadn’t. There was still an edge of fear in her voice.

Caroline angled the wheelchair at the bed and put the brakes on. The red rim around her glassy eyes caught me.

I’d almost missed the meaning in her words.

She started to grasp me to help me to the bed, but I was flabbergasted. My stare must’ve scared her back a step.

“Mama?” I could say no more.

“That’s correct. That ‘old bag’ is my mother.”

I was accustomed to making people feel two inches tall. It wasn’t so comfortable sitting on the other side of the table.

“She never said a thing about having a daughter,” I said.

“You’re so self-absorbed, you never asked.”

“Isn’t there something in the HIPAA laws about discussing your patient with someone else? I mean, isn’t that disclosure of private health information?” It was the only thing I could come up with to fuel my anger. I didn't want to feel apologetic.

“If you want to make a fuss over it, I guess it is, but do you blame her for venting. You aren’t exactly a peach to be around. She swore that you were too mean to die. Obviously, Mama is about as ornery as you.”

“I’m accustomed to her.”

“I know, but for now, unless you want a stranger in here that doesn’t know a thing about you, you have to deal with me.”

In silence, she transported me to the bed.

I lay back and refused to meet her gaze.

In the kitchen, she swept up my mess in silence.

I slept until the urge to go to the restroom hit me.

I’d soiled adult diapers quite often, but I’d be damned if she was touching my privates. So, I had to do all I could to make it to the commode.

“Caroline,” I called through the house.

She was at my bedside in seconds. Her voice landed in my ears like the softest snow. “Yes.”

“I need to use the restroom.” I'd just keep myself from looking at her.

She reached for the bed pan under the foot of my bed.

“No. I want to go into the bathroom to the commode.” I nodded at the bathroom door.

“Oh.” She looked pleasantly surprised. Then she smirked. “Mama is really going to be impressed or really pissed.”

I wasn’t in the mood. My bladder felt as though it would explode any second. “Well, it’s not for her benefit. And the next time you see her, tell her I said she better get up off her ass and get rehabilitated quick. It’s hard trying to die without her assistance.”

“So, that’s really your goal? Dying, I mean.” Caroline gave me a troubled sidelong glance as she shoved the wheel chair and me to the bathroom door.

“Lifelong dream.”

She clicked the brakes into place. “Hmm. Who stays with you at night?”

“You're way too nosy. I don’t need nighttime care.” My bladder contracted. We had to hurry.

“Oh.” Her tone was crass.

I could almost hear her mundane mind formulating a million questions like butterflies, their silky wings fluttering as they made their way to her mouth. But she stopped them.

Once she had me safely in the bathroom, Caroline exited, pulling the door behind her.

I sensed Caroline’s closeness as I did my business. On the other side of the door, she probably inspected everything in the room as if now that I wasn’t in there it was acceptable to snoop. The plaques on the wall from my past service as a police officer, the paintings Abigail had given me—I’d had them framed and used them for accents throughout my house—and everything else in the room would probably generate fresh questions as to my past. Great.

“These paintings are out of this world. Who painted them?” Caroline said.

How’d I know?

“A friend.” My voice was frosty.

“They’re interesting. She saw the world from a different perspective.”

“How did you know it was a girl?” I stopped mid-zip on my pants and added, “By the way, I’m done.”

She swept in the room with a broad smile on her red lips. “I didn’t. You just told me.”

“I don’t like you.” I’m sure my eyes exposed the truth. I would have never been a successful spy.

Caroline helped me back to the chair.

When settled in it, a cramp took my stomach doubling me over. Suddenly my mouth watered and the savory smell of her aura, which was too tantalizing to fight.

I shoved Caroline, and she almost fell backward into the bathroom floor.

She steadied herself and glared ferociously at me.

“I’m sorry. Just go. Get away.” I held my stomach with a death grip.

She must’ve mistaken what was happening to me for pain. Her anger dissipated, and her aura turned purple. That was the color for love in most situations, but it could also mean sympathy.

With her hands out, she started toward me, but I held up a hand. “Just wait. Please. No closer.”

With a shudder, the pain fled as swiftly as it had attacked.

I nodded and gestured for her to come to me.

Caroline moved carefully around me and behind the chair to push me back to the bed. Without speaking, I allowed her to move me to the bed.

Exhaustion from the early morning activities took me. I slept until Caroline bombarded my room. “Lunch time.”

“I’m—I’m not hungry.” I wasn’t energetic enough to be rude. I craved only sleep.

“You need something.” She searched my face.

Yeah, I needed something I didn’t think she would be willing to give.

“I’m fine. Really.” I slurred. “I have done more than I’m used to today. Rest. Just need rest.”

She started to retreat to the living room, but stopped in the doorway. She turned back. “You know, it takes less energy to be nice and agreeable than it does to make a fuss all day. Sleep tight.”

Not giving me time to formulate a come-back, she left the doorway empty.

Good. I didn't have an argument left in me.

A short time later, I fell into another deep sleep.


***


“Noaaaaah. Noah.” The silky feathers of a female voice tickled my senses, appealing to a foreign longing I’d recently begun to feel. The weight of a hand on my shoulder in the dark reminded me of days long past. Instinct led me to search for the source. My sleep-weighted hand found smooth skin on long delicate fingers resting outside my shirt.

I allowed my hand to trail over the soft, fiery, velvet flesh. The back of a feminine hand. I wanted these fingers under my shirt, all over my skin.

I sighed.

And this female’s skin was different from any other. The warm mixture of summer flowers and balmy, intoxicating pheromones emanated from it.

My eyes fluttered open to focus on a face. Dim lamplight revealed a gaze of the deepest blue.

I could have lived there.

Reality hit.

I was dying. I wouldn't be living anywhere.

I yanked my hand back, cowering from her. “What are you doing?”

Caroline sat on the side of the bed, her eyes glued to me. As if she were a magnet, and I was made of the strongest metal, I was being drawn to her more the longer she was around.

She searched my face. “In your sleep, you said a name?”

“So, you stalk people in their sleep?”

Caroline stared at my microfiber blanket. “It's time for me to go home. I was trying to wake you when you said a name and began stirring. I was worried.”

“Tell that useless hag to teach you some manners. And Abigail is none of your business.”

Caroline flashed me a look of surprise. She glanced at my neck, not able to make eye contact. “Abigail? Um. I think you misunderstood. You said my name.”

Now I’d done it. She’d want to know who Abigail—wait—why had I said Caroline’s name?

I shook my head to shake off the after effects of such deep and surprisingly rejuvenating sleep.

“Either way, I just thought I’d offer you something to eat before I go.” With flushed cheeks, Caroline stood.

A spasm of pain jolted me and my head slapped backward against the headboard. Stiffly, I waited for the hunger to subside.

Speech wouldn’t find my vocal cords. The thing I needed wrapped its colorful presence around Caroline in the sweetest mist I’d ever witnessed.

Fear that I would harm her and lose the chance to see the blue of her eyes again, I couldn’t catch my breath.

My voice came through clenched teeth. “I’m not hungry. And if you want to live to see your next birthday, you won't hover over me when I'm sleeping. Is that clear?”

“What are you going to do? Suck the life from me?” Caroline pursed her lips, but her eyes twinkled.

“Don't tempt me.” A thousand pounds of pressure sat on my chest.

“I will see you tomorrow.” Caroline gave me a lift of her defiant chin. She'd learned too soon how to deal with me, and that I didn’t like.


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