Those of you who are in Facebook fan group have gotten a couple of snippets already, but today I’m posting the first two chapters of Destined for Shadows. I thought I’d hold off until now so you wouldn’t have long to wait until the rest of the novel came out. Hope you enjoy!
Cori used to have a cranky old lady for a neighbor who nagged her incessantly about her numerous faults, but Ms. Callahan had recently been replaced by a cranky immortal with a lack of social skills who rarely made an appearance outside of his cabin. She should have appreciated the change. Truly, she should have been happy that her one and only neighbor for miles in the Alaskan wilderness kept to himself. Except the immortal was half angel—also known as a nephilim—who’d just come from a hundred-year prison sentence in Purgatory. And yeah, it was the same Purgatory from religious texts that most people thought was only a myth. A place in some other plane of existence where souls were tortured for their crimes on Earth.
Bartol, the nephilim, needed someone to bring him out of his shell and show him how to live again. Cori believed she was the right woman for the job. Not that she was looking to get into a relationship or anything. Neither of them was in a place where they were ready for that, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t give Bartol the kick-start he needed to get going again, and they could have a little fun along the way. She liked focusing on other people’s problems, rather than her own. Especially since her problems were in the past and not exactly fixable.
Cori headed for the kitchen, entering the only part of her two-bedroom cabin she’d remodeled since moving into the place a few years ago. It had black marble counters, dark wood cabinets, and stainless steel appliances. A window was set over the sink so she could view the forest behind her place and a bit of the blue sky above. She loved cooking in the kitchen even if she had to eat alone most of the time. Her regular customers at the tattoo studio would have never guessed she enjoyed preparing meals as much as permanently marking people’s skin with artwork.
The lasagna she’d baked sat cooling on the stovetop. The aroma wafted from the dish, overwhelming her senses and making her stomach growl. She grabbed a spatula, cut through the pasta, and scooped out a large chunk to put in a plastic container. Then she took a few slices of the garlic bread she’d also made and put them into a plastic baggy. Bartol would eat at least a couple of decent meals a week if she had anything to say about it. Left to his own devices, he only ate baked potatoes or canned soup. As a man who was born when the Roman Empire was still around, and who’d missed out on the biggest technological changes in modern history, he had a lot of catching up to do if he wanted to survive in this era.
After grabbing a pre-made bowl of salad from the fridge as the final piece of the meal, Cori put everything into a plastic bag and left the house. Cool air touched her face as she stepped outside. Though it was mid-September and the days were still long, autumn had already arrived to the Alaskan interior. She had lived in the state her whole life and was used to the weather being colder than most other places. Forty degrees might seem a bit cool to southern folks, but she had no problem wearing jeans and a tank top until it hit below freezing.
She carried the food bag as she walked down a narrow dirt road lined with evergreen trees. The rutted path ran for about half a mile until it reached the highway. Bartol’s cabin—a smaller one-bedroom place—wasn’t quite as deep in the woods as hers, but it only took a few minutes to reach. She caught the smoke from the chimney before she saw the actual home. Only during the warmest days of summer had she not seen it going.
According to Cori’s friend, Melena, the bowels of Purgatory where Bartol had been imprisoned were freezing cold. The ice set into the bones of whoever stayed there, so that the inhabitants could never truly feel warm. Melena had gotten over her stay fairly quickly, but she’d only been confined there a few months. Bartol, whose stay was longer than most people’s life spans, acted as if anything below seventy degrees was too cold for him and kept his fireplace blazing day and night. The poor guy probably should have moved to Florida, but his friends had talked him into living in Alaska instead. He had a lot of catching up to do in the modern world, and at least here he could ease into it a little slower.
Cori skipped up the wooden steps to his front porch and knocked on the door.
“Bartol!” she yelled. “I’ve got dinner for you.”
Curses and grunts came from inside. A minute later, the door flew open and an annoyed man with golden eyes filled the opening. Cori couldn’t help dropping her gaze to his bare chest where he’d filled out over the past few months—mostly thanks to her cooking. A healthy nephilim tended to be large and strong due to the angelic half of their DNA, but years of wasting away in Purgatory had left Bartol unnaturally lean. He’d grown to a healthier weight recently, and his muscles were more defined now. Black sweatpants covered his long legs, and he had a pair of thick socks on his feet. For all that he complained about the cold, he didn’t like wearing shirts for some reason. Cori didn’t mind that little quirk at all.
“Here.” She shoved the bag of food at him. If she wasn’t brusque and demanding about it, he’d try to refuse her. “I cooked more than I can eat again.”
Bartol took hold of the bag, sparing it a brief glance. “Then why don’t you try cooking less?”
And the game resumed with him pretending a complete lack of interest in her food, but she wasn’t fooled. The containers always appeared on her porch the next morning empty and freshly washed. He liked her cooking, but he’d never admit it.
“Because most of my recipes were designed to feed a family.” She didn’t dare admit she’d had a family once and that was how she’d picked up her love of cooking. It wasn’t something she ever wanted to discuss, not even with her closest friends.
He narrowed his eyes. “If you knew what was good for you, you’d stay away from me.”
“About the only thing I do that might be considered good for me is take long walks through the woods.” With a rifle, just in case a bear or other wild animal made an appearance. “Bringing food to you doesn’t even rate on my list of bad.”
He set the bag on a side table next to the entryway and braced his hands on the door frame, leaning closer to her. “Look at me. Do I look friendly or nice to you?”
Cori swallowed. She had a knack for pretending not to notice the burn scars on the left side of his face. If she ignored that half, he was stunningly beautiful, but if she stared at the part where a guardian from Purgatory had burned Bartol from his hairline down to his chin—only leaving the area around his eye intact—then his skin bordered on grotesque. Everything from next to his nose to just before his ear appeared to have melted, begun to heal, and then got locked in place by some sort of magical spell.
That was the story she’d been told by others, anyway, since Bartol would never talk about it. Nephilim could normally recover from any injury, but what happened to him was an exception to the rule. His wounds couldn’t be fixed, and he would have to live with the scars for the rest of his life. He didn’t even have the glamour capabilities some of his kind had to cover it up. At best, he could make himself invisible, but then no one would notice him at all. It was kind of sad since she had a feeling there was so much more to him that he kept hidden away.
“I see you,” Cori said, forcing herself to stare at the damaged half of his face. He’d grown a light beard that obscured some of the scarring, but not all of it. “So what?”
Bartol let out an exasperated breath and pulled away from her. “Did you come here just to look at the poor man who lost his face?”
“It’s not that bad, and you have both your eyes. There are other people out there who have it way worse than you.” She took a step closer until their noses almost touched. “Stop being a baby and get over yourself.”
His golden eyes blazed. “Go to Hell.”
The door slammed in her face almost hitting her nose. They’d had this conversation a few times, so Cori wasn’t daunted. She pounded on the door and screamed at him, “I will keep coming by, and I won’t stop until you quit hiding in there and start living your life again!”
“If he just got laid, he would feel so much better,” she muttered, looking up at the sky. “He might as well be a virgin after a hundred years without a woman.”
The door flew open and Bartol stepped out, his face a mask of fury. “And you think you’re the one to take care of that problem?”
Cori lifted a brow. “Maybe, maybe not, but someone has to do it. I’m right here if you need me.”
He growled and stomped forward, forcing her backward until she almost reached the porch steps. Cori gripped the railing next to her for support. Maybe she’d gone too far this time with the virgin crack, especially considering how Bartol had ended up in Purgatory.
His nostrils flared as he stared down at her. “I wouldn’t fuck you if you were the last woman on Earth—or anywhere else.”
He always thought it would hurt her feelings to say things like that, but he didn’t know she’d suffered far crueler insults in the past and learned to ignore them. Cori knew she wasn’t that bad looking. Men hit on her all the time at the tattoo studio, and she went out on dates—once or twice a year.
She cocked her head. “Really? I can’t be that bad of a choice unless you were castrated along with having your face screwed up.” She dipped her gaze down to the slight bulge in his pants, pretending horror. “You weren’t, were you?”
He might be the one with burn scars, but she was the one playing with fire. It was just too hard to resist. The only way to get any kind of reaction out of Bartol was to poke sticks at him, and it worked every time.
“I assure you that everything down there is intact.” He looked her up and down. “I would not choose you because you are human…and annoying.”
“You’re not exactly Mister Approachable. If I wasn’t annoying, you wouldn’t talk to me at all,” she pointed out.
Bartol stepped back, allowing the dark shadows of his home to obscure him. “I don’t need your charity. Find someone else to bother.”
At the rate she was going, it would be another six months before he even let her enter his home. “Are you going to live like a monk for the rest of your life?” She cocked her head. “Because for you, that’s going to be a very long time.”
The only way he could die was if an archangel cut off his head since they were the only ones strong enough to do it. Cori had been hanging around the supernatural community for over a year now, and she’d learned quite a lot during that time.
Bartol gripped the door. “If I do change my mind, it will be long after you’re dead.”
She let a slow smile spread across her face, taking a step closer. “Maybe, but I’ll make sure you remember me while you’re doing it.”
His jaw hardened. “I sincerely doubt it.”
Cori jumped when he slammed the door on her—again. One of these days he was going to take that sucker off the hinges. She sighed in resignation, figuring she’d reached her limit with him for this day. It was just long enough that Bartol had been forced to socialize, and he’d have something to think about while he ate. The fact that he didn’t ignore her knocks told her he didn’t hate her visits half as much as he claimed. Though it was probably a good thing she knew how to cook well, or else he might never open the door.
Taking a fortifying breath, she headed back down the road to her own cabin. The sun was beginning to set with the trees casting long shadows across the ground. Unease filled her as she reached her home. There was a red envelope tacked to the wall next to her door that she hadn’t noticed before. This evening was the first time she’d left her cabin all day since her tattoo studio was closed on Sundays, and she’d had no reason to go out before now. The envelope could have been left there any time since last night. But by who and why? Most people called or emailed if they had something to say to her.
She took the envelope and broke the seal, finding a folded white sheet of paper inside. Opening it slowly, she took in the neatly typed message on the page. Her heart began beating harder, and her throat swelled as she scanned the words.
Next time you leave someone for dead, make sure they’re dead.
See you real soon, babe. –G
Cori fell to her knees, the sheet of paper crumpling in her hand as she hit the wooden planks of her porch. He couldn’t be alive—he couldn’t. No one could survive what she’d done to him, and she’d buried him in four feet of snow in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention there’d been no signs of life when she’d dumped him. She was almost positive of that, but niggles of doubt wormed their way into her mind now. Cori hadn’t checked his pulse. She’d been too far out of her mind at the time to think about that.
Even if he hadn’t been dead right then, he couldn’t have survived for long and no way could he have crawled over a mile to the nearest highway for help. This had to be some kind of cruel joke. Someone—though she didn’t know who or for what reason—had found out what she’d done nearly four years ago, and now the past was coming back to haunt her.
She had brought him food—again. Bartol could not understand why the crazy woman kept visiting him no matter how he much he tried to push her away. Though he’d implied that she was not good enough for him, it was quite the opposite. Cori was a beautiful woman. She had shiny black hair with a slight wave to it that just brushed her shoulders and a heart-shaped face that if he allowed himself the luxury he could stare at all day. Her nose was small and impertinent, her skin creamy, and she had hazel eyes she used to challenge him at every turn. There was a time when he would not have hesitated to grab that lithe body of hers and take her to his bed right away.
But he’d changed.
Not only had his face been disfigured, taking away the striking looks he once employed to charm women, but he no longer possessed the skills to handle a human. His kind had far greater strength than mortals. It took practice to hold them carefully. And though he could get past that little problem with a bit of effort, it wasn’t the worst of his issues. Bartol couldn’t stand to be near anyone. For too long, the only physical contact he’d had with others were with the guardians in Purgatory who’d beaten and tortured him unmercifully.
And the reason? Because the last female he’d ever touched in a passionate way had been strictly forbidden to him. His primary punisher had made certain that even being near a woman would make him ill, and the very idea of sex had him breaking out in cold sweats. It was why he needed to push Cori away. No matter what she hoped, he could not be the man she wanted. Purgatory had broken him, leaving only a husk of his former self behind.
Bartol moved across the living room to the adjoining kitchen. Only a dining room table separated the two spaces in what others informed him was an open floor plan. He set the bag of food Cori had given him down on the kitchen table, the scent of the lasagna wafting to his nose despite the airtight containers. His stomach rumbled in reaction. Ever since returning to Earth, it seemed as if he could never eat enough. There were times in Purgatory when he’d gone without food for months, and even when he got it the contents were questionable at best. At worst, his meal might move about of its own volition. He would never eat rice again.
After taking a plate and silverware from the cupboards, he settled on one of the bench seats next to the dining table. It was a long, rectangular piece of furniture made of wooden planks with iron supports underneath. Not many of the items in his home were anything he’d chosen and instead came from a fellow nephilim friend, Lucas, and his wife, Melena. When Bartol had decided to purchase the cabin with his limited savings, he hadn’t given much thought on how to furnish the place other than a bed. Melena and Lucas took care of the rest, insisting he couldn’t live in an empty home. He’d argued the matter, but they’d insisted and promised to give him space if he allowed them to do that one thing for him. True to their word, he’d hardly seen them in three months. If only Cori would follow their example. Of course, they might have made her their spy, which would explain a few things.
He opened the food containers and transferred the lasagna and bread over to his plate, digging into his meal right away while it remained fresh. It was no surprise to him that it tasted wonderful. Cori might not behave like a proper woman, but she certainly knew her way around a kitchen. It had only taken eating her food one time before he couldn’t get enough. No matter how much he might wish to ignore her frequent visits, he could hardly turn away anything she prepared. He suspected she knew that, the damn woman.
As Bartol finished the lasagna and began to dig into the salad, a knock sounded at the door. Who in the hell could be bothering him now? Cori never came back twice in the same evening, so he doubted it was her.
He ignored the firm knock and continued to shove forkfuls of salad into his mouth. Whoever had come to bother him could stand out there all night if they wished. Nothing would come between him and his food.
He was chewing on a tomato when a bright flash of light appeared inside his living room.
A moment later, a man stood next to his black leather couch, frowning at him. The nephilim was a long-time friend that Bartol had known since his youth. Lucas had found him when he was a gladiator and only twenty years old—before he’d gained his full powers and strength. The older immortal convinced Bartol to travel the world with him. They’d fought in numerous wars, honing their fighting skills until they were unbeatable to all except the most powerful supernaturals. That was before Bartol got bored with battles and turned to seducing women for amusement instead. Once in a while, he’d met up with Lucas again for a few weeks if there was a human conflict he found interesting enough to take a side, but even that became risky. The angels started enforcing the rules on nephilim more strictly than ever about five centuries ago, which made it harder to kill humans even when the mortals were going to kill each other anyway. Those were the good old days before life became more complicated for them both.
Lucas stood more than six feet tall, had broad shoulders, golden skin, and short blond hair. The man was powerful and had certainly become one of the greatest warriors of their kind. Bartol had even seen him defeat an archangel a couple of years ago.
He finished chewing his tomato. “What are you doing here, Lucas?”
“Did Cori give that to you?” the nephilim asked, nodding toward the bowl.
“Yes.” Bartol set his fork down. “But that doesn’t answer my question.”
Lucas strode across the room and took a seat on the other side of the table. “There was a time when you would exchange pleasantries before getting to business.”
“And here I was just thinking how well you and your wife have done at staying away like I asked.” Bartol gazed at the remainder of his salad mournfully. “But I should have known it wouldn’t last for much longer.”
“Finish your meal. I will do the talking,” Lucas said, resting his arms on the table. He was almost always dressed impeccably and today was no different. A navy-blue suit, tailored to fit his large frame, hugged his body and gave him an imposing appearance.
Bartol picked up his fork again. “Very well, but this better not take long.”
“Yes, I would hate to interrupt your busy schedule.”
“Save your sarcasm for your wife or that insolent teenager you two are raising.” Bartol filled his mouth with lettuce and chewed while glaring at Lucas.
“I have a job proposal for you.” He paused and held up a hand when Bartol began to choke on his lettuce. “Wait and hear me out first. I believe this could solve both our problems.”
Bartol got up to fill himself a glass of water, gulping it down before returning to Lucas. “I sincerely doubt it.”
The older nephilim went on undaunted. “As you are probably aware, we are in the final months of training the nerou, and we’ve begun to work on their individual skills.”
The nerou were a hybrid race who were half nephilim and half sensor. Normally, a nephilim could never hope to have children because they were cursed with infertility. The exception to the rule was with sensors because that race was immune to magic and therefore nullified the curse. The product of the two races merging made for very powerful offspring. For thousands of years, the archangels had taken the children away shortly after birth to be hidden in Purgatory, claiming the progeny of such unions were too dangerous to be allowed to roam free. Most couldn’t remember their parents, and they spent their entire lives in that wretched place.
Earlier in the year, Lucas and Melena, along with a couple of others, staged a rescue to get the nerou out and bring them back to Earth. Everyone involved had been punished, but after much arguing on Melena’s part, the archangels allowed the nerou to stay on the condition that they were trained to become enforcers. They would eventually take over various regions of the planet, punishing any supernaturals who harmed humans. Bartol suspected the angels had seen the day coming when they wouldn’t be able to hide the vampires, nephilim, werewolves, witches, and other races any longer. They’d been hoarding the nerou for all that time, brainwashing them into their way of thinking so that when the nephilim-sensor hybrids did get free, they would do what Heaven’s dictators wanted. Lucas was one of their trainers, helping to orient them to Earth and teach them fighting skills, but he was watched closely to ensure he followed a strict program.
Bartol pushed his empty salad bowl away. “You know I won’t step foot in that compound even for the nerou. Not with him there.”
He referred to Kerbasi—the guardian from Purgatory who’d tortured Bartol for nearly a century and scarred his face. Kerbasi had been relieved of his duties last year and sent to Alaska where he’d been learning to find his “humanity,” and more recently, help train the nerou. Too bad they couldn’t have sent the evil man to Antarctica instead.
“You won’t need to go to the facility.” Lucas clasped his hands together, resting them on the table. “There is only one nerou I want you to help, and Remiel has approved him coming to you for training instead.”
Remiel was the archangel who oversaw the Alaska training compound. He didn’t make many physical appearances, but he was almost always watching from a distance to ensure the program went as he dictated. There were several other facilities around the world with different archangels and nephilim running them. It was all designed so that the nerou could acclimate themselves to the regions where they would be assigned after their adjustment period was over.
“It sounds like too much trouble to me.” Bartol grabbed his empty dishes and carried them over to the sink.
“You would be well compensated for your time.”
He stiffened. “I’m not looking for charity.”
“I assure you that this is not charity,” Lucas replied.
Bartol began rinsing the dishes. He’d gone without a proper home for so long that he was obsessed with keeping the cabin clean and couldn’t leave anything dirty. It likely had to do with living in his own filth—rarely able to bathe—while he was in Purgatory. Nothing about his stay there had been comfortable, and he wanted to distance himself from that lifestyle as much as possible.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Who is it you wish me to train?”
Bartol cursed. “The one who is part demon?”
“Yes. I admit he is a handful, but he needs more individual attention than we can give.” Lucas sighed and gave Bartol a plaintive look. “Yerik does what he can, but he’s only allowed to visit his son once a month, and that’s not enough.”
Tormod’s father had committed numerous crimes to upset the archangels, the first of which was simply being born. Yerik was a daimoun—a product of an angel and demon union. He’d been separated from his parents when he was young and forced to go into hiding after that.
It took a few thousand years, but eventually an archangel tracked him down. They fought and Yerik won, killing his opponent and proving he was even more powerful than anyone could have imagined. Not that the daimoun took down the angel because he was a bad guy, but because it was the only way he could survive. Then he fell in love with a sensor about fifty years ago and had a child with her—Tormod. While the daimoun was away from home, the archangels came for the baby and took it to Purgatory. Yerik made a vow to his mate that he would get their son back before she died. The sensor, like most of her kind, was mortal. If she wanted to see her child again, they had a limited number of years to recover their son.
It had taken a massive coming out party with supernaturals across the world revealing themselves to humans to provide a major distraction. Once it was well underway and the angels were scrambling to handle the chaos breaking out on Earth, Yerik, Lucas, Melena, and Lucas’ brother Micah—who also had a daughter there—broke into Purgatory and freed the nerou. All of them were half sensor and half nephilim except Tormod. He was both of those plus a quarter demon, which made him quite the troublemaker. It didn’t help that he was the youngest of the entire group as well.
“Surely someone else would be better qualified than me,” Bartol said, drying his hands and turning to face Lucas. “I do not see how I can be of much assistance with that boy.”
Lucas gave him a plaintive look. “Tormod is developing a talent for fire, and he is able to flash.”
Flashing was usually something only nephilim and angels could do, which was somewhat like teleporting from one place to another. From what Bartol understood, none of the nerou had developed the ability, but Tormod had more potent blood running through his veins than the others.
“Tell me.” Bartol crossed his arms. “What was the last prank he pulled?”
Lucas worked his jaw. “He burned a phallic shape onto our training field. It was surprisingly…detailed.”
“So he’s also an artist with a penchant for destroying property.” Bartol ran his hand through his loose hair. “It does not sound like he will be easy to handle.”
Because the nerou were very long-lived, though not immortal, they tended to mature at a much slower rate than humans. Tormod might be fifty years old, but he behaved more like a seventeen or eighteen-year-old with his hormones running high and the requisite need to rebel. While Bartol agreed the boy needed special attention, he did not think he’d have the patience for such a job.
“It would be better if you found someone else.”
Lucas stared at him. “We both know the funds you have are limited from what I was able to save for you. Remiel has agreed to not only pay you a monthly salary for training Tormod, but also a sizable bonus if you get him under control. We only ask that you spend at least a few hours a day with him doing whatever it takes to help him learn discipline. You can even have the weekends off if you wish.”
Bartol paced the kitchen, considering it. He’d once owned valuable properties and had a small fortune saved, but when he was sent to Purgatory his investments were left for his solicitor to handle. The man had done a poor job, made worse by the Great Depression in the 1930s. Once Lucas had found out about the problem, he’d saved what he could, but most of Bartol’s funds and possessions had been lost by then. And by the time Bartol got out of Purgatory, he barely had enough left to purchase his cabin and support himself for the next couple of years—if he was careful. Lucas was well aware of that fact.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, stopping his pacing. “But you must guarantee I will not run into him.”
Lucas nodded. “I see no reason why Kerbasi needs to be involved, or why you would even need to go to the training compound, but I will tell you he isn’t as bad as you remember. Melena has performed a miracle in that regard.”
Lucas’ wife had spent over fifteen months helping to humanize the guardian before the archangels assigned him to work with the nerou. And though everyone swore Melena had changed Kerbasi for the better, he was still evil in Bartol’s eyes. He could not and would not go anywhere near the guardian, not even for revenge.
“I will let you know of my decision soon,” Bartol said.
“Fair enough.” Lucas stood. “But do not take too long.”
This novel will be out on March 25th on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes.
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