I decided to make Sunday my "Sample" day. So, today, you can get a sneak peek at LINKED without having to download it.
2,000 years ago...
The Evil One stared through the invisible walls holding him and laughed.
They would never be able to vanquish him. Their powers paled in comparison to his own.
With no other option, they had constructed this prison.
Even though the Druids tried to hide it from him, he still heard of the prophecy. His spies were everywhere. He came to force answers from the Druids, but they had been ready for him.
Before he discovered the Druids’ intentions, he had been trapped. Their blood sacrifice had been unable to destroy him, but they ensured he would remain imprisoned here for the next two millennium.
He actually laughed at the Druids when they trapped him. Time was of little consequence to him, as it would pass in the blink of his eye.
He existed since the beginning of time and they were mere mortals. Never would they have the power to destroy him—but something could.
He managed to read only a small part of the prophecy before he had been detected.
When two become one.
He needed to recover those two pieces before anyone else found them. He vowed to make sure they would never have the chance to become one.
He would not be destroyed. And now that he knew what to look for, nothing, and no one, would ever be powerful enough to vanquish him.
Humankind would pay for the Druids’ audacity. Did they think to imprison him and not pay the consequences? Did they think he would suffer their insolence?
He hoped they did. Almost hoped they thought themselves safe from him.
True enough now. For the time being they would be out of his reach. As time passed, they would forget about the threat which lingered over them like a black cloud, circling, gathering speed and force…waiting for the right moment.
Yes…revenge would be his, and humankind would once again bow before him.This prison would not hold him indefinitely. Eventually, he would escape. Then he would find the pieces and destroy them.
Nothing would stand in his way.
Lana Summers shot awake in a cold sweat, her arm outstretched, reaching for someone who wasn’t there. She sat up and brushed the hair away from her damp face.
“What the...?” She glanced around the dark room, half expecting to see her mom. That’s whose voice had screamed in her head.
No, not in her head.
It was from her dream—just a dream. Her mom wasn’t there.
God, it had been so real. Too real.
She shook her head in immediate denial. Her mild psychic abilities never progressed to the same level of her mother’s, thank God. It had only been a ridiculous dream. She refused to accept it as anything paranormal.
I won’t be like you, Mom. I love you, but I won’t be you. I won’t live my life always wondering what horror I’ll see next.
But the dream…it had been so vivid. It had seemed so real. And this wasn’t the first one she’d experienced. She’d had the first one a week after her mother’s death. Though, in that one, her mother hadn’t screamed at her or scared her half to death. All she could remember about it was her mother’s tone seemed urgent, but she couldn’t figure out what was wrong or what her mother wanted to tell her.
Not that she had tried that hard, nor had she wanted to.
Unable to shake it off, Lana put her feet over the side of the bed and slowly stood up, still looking around the room. She slipped her feet into her slippers and had just reached to turn on the bedside lamp when she heard a strange noise.
Her breath held as she listened. Hearing strange noises in an apartment wouldn’t have bothered her, but this was different—closer.
It took only a matter of seconds before she recognized the sound of footsteps. Someone was in the hallway headed toward her bedroom.
Someone was in her apartment! A scream slowly bubbled up in her throat unbidden, but she suppressed it. She had to get out, but how?
The window was her only chance.
Thank God for first-floor apartments, she thought as she grabbed her robe off the foot of her bed and made her way, quick and silent, toward the window. She held her breath again and tried to open the window quietly. It finally opened with a creak, causing her to wince as she slipped one leg over the ledge.
The back of her building had been built on a downward slant of land, so what should have been a four or five foot drop to the ground, ended up being eight.
The doorknob rattled. There was no time to debate the pros and cons of jumping. She could either jump now or…. She didn’t want to wait for the or.
So much for choices, she thought grimly, and jumped feet first.Her ankle twisted as she hit the ground, causing her to fall to her knees and suck in a breath at the sharp pain. She looked up and saw a shadowed figure standing at the window. As she pushed herself up, she turned her head, managing another quick glance. After sticking his head out the window, he threw one leg over the edge.
He was going to do what she’d just done, she realized as she took off around the side of the building.
Lana made her way toward the front of the apartment complex, running as fast as her injured ankle would allow, not even noticing that she’d lost a slipper somewhere along the way.
Footsteps echoed behind her, but she ignored the natural urge to turn around. If she could just make it across the street to the twenty-four hour store, she would be able to get help.
She stumbled and barely managed to catch her balance. The convenience store, and a man standing outside, finally came into view as the passed the edge of her building, and she almost wept with relief. Never before had the sight of dim lights and a stranger made her so happy. It was going to be okay.
Without slowing her pace, Lana finally dared a glance over her shoulder to see if the figure was still following her, and saw him round the corner.
Cole needed a cigarette. For the umpteenth time he wondered why he’d quit the week before. The temptation to light up surged through him, but he had better control than that. Barely. The urges weren’t as frequent now, but when they hit, he really wanted to give in to them. Maybe he should have tried one of the patches or that new medication. He was not one to give in, though, once he’d made up his mind. Why had he decided to quit again? Oh yeah—cancer.
If he couldn’t smoke, he needed gum, and he needed it ten minutes ago.
He saw a convenience store up ahead and debated whether or not to stop. The one closer to his house was only fifteen minutes away, but that meant fifteen minutes longer without gum.
Not to mention the pack of Marlboro that was sitting in his glove box. It had been easier somehow to quit when he knew that there was a pack waiting. So far, it had worked well knowing it was there if he really needed it.
The internal debate didn’t last long. He’d quit. He wasn’t giving up, so he pulled in the parking lot and parked by the front entrance. It was nearly deserted, which suited him just fine. He really wanted that gum.
As he jumped out of his car and headed for the door, a tingling at the back of his neck had him turning his head.
He saw her immediately.
A woman out for a run at one thirty in the morning? Not likely, and certainly not wearing anything but what appeared to be a robe. Obviously something was wrong. She ran with a limp, wearing only one slipper, and glanced over her shoulder.
Gum forgotten, Cole headed toward the edge of the parking lot. A man came darting from behind the building. Instincts—not to mention the terror on the woman’s face—told him the guy following her wasn’t someone she wanted to catch her.
Cole hesitated only a second before sprinting across the street. Horns blasted, and a driver yelled obscenities, but he ignored them.
The woman ran into him fast enough to spin him around. She would have sent them both sprawling to the sidewalk had he not put his hands around her waist to catch her. Either she hadn’t noticed him cross the street, or she was too preoccupied with the man chasing her to care.
“There’s someone after me,” she said breathlessly.
“I know.” He turned back around to get a better glimpse of the man, but he was gone, and that worried him.
She bent over, hands resting on the tops of her legs, trying to catch her breath. “I’m sorry,” she said and straightened. She brushed long curls out of her face, finally giving him a chance to get a good look at her.
Her brown hair glinted with reddish highlights in the glow from the convenience store lights. Fear and pain tainted the smoky blue of her eyes. She stood almost a foot shorter than his own six-two and his innate protective nature kicked in instinctively.Her dark blue robe looked as though she had rolled around in the mud—the remaining slipper on her foot didn’t look much better.
“Are you okay?” Cole asked, his voice soothing. He wanted her to stay calm enough to tell him what was going on, and that wouldn’t happen if she hyperventilated or got hysterical on him. Hell, leave it to me to be in the wrong place at the right time.
She nodded. “I’m okay. I think.”
“Go on into the store and wait for me, alright? I’m going to go see if he’s still around.”
He gave her a hang-in-there smile and a pat on the arm before running in the direction from which she’d come. He didn’t expect to find the guy, but if he could figure out which way he went or where he came from, it might give the cops a place to start.
If she wanted to call the cops.
The thought made him cringe. He hated dealing with the cops. They were the bane of his existence. They didn’t like dealing with him, even though he was a private investigator and one of the good guys. Well, too bad for them. He was involved—whether the cops, or the pretty little thing at the store, liked it or not.
The edge of the woods and the area he’d seen the woman running in showed no recent sign of foot traffic, other than his own.
It had rained the day before, and if anyone had been there, he should have found tracks in the mud. As it stood, the only tracks he found belonged to the woman at the convenience store.
Damn, what’d the bastard do? Disappear into thin air? He frowned. There wouldn’t be anything to show the cops.
If he had the time, he would have shape shifted, but she was still waiting for him at the store and likely terrified.
How did the guy just seem to vanish off the face of the earth in a matter of seconds? He couldn’t explain that one. Yet.
Another niggling feeling pricked at him as he performed one more walk-by of the area, looking for clues he might have missed. Something was missing. At the moment, he didn’t know what exactly, but he wouldn’t drop it until he had some answers. She might not know it, but she would have a shadow until he found them. He wasn’t one to leave a puzzle unsolved.
“Did you find anything?” she asked as soon as he walked back to the store. Her tone was still anxious, but stronger than before.
He shook his head and frowned. “Nothing at all.”
A sigh escaped her lips. “I appreciate you looking, Mr…?”
Cole extended his hand. “My name’s Cole Thomas, ma’am.”
“Thank you. I’m Lana. Lana Summers.” She shook his hand, her grip surprisingly strong. “I suppose I should go see if anything is missing.”
Well, that told him that it wasn’t likely a domestic problem, and since it was an apartment building, he was guessing someone had broken in. Part of him was glad she didn’t look too happy about it going to check on her own. He was going to help, and the look on her face said she didn’t really want to go look by herself. “Would you mind if I went along with you, just to make sure there’s no one around?”
She studied him for a moment, wariness clear in her eyes. He didn’t mind, though. Had someone just broken into his house and chased him down, he’d probably be a tad suspicious of strangers, too.
After a moment of silence, he almost bet her answer would be no.
“No, I would appreciate that, thank you.”
Cole gestured for her to lead the way and took hold of her elbow. “How bad is the ankle?”
“It’s not bad. I can walk on it, so it’s not broken.” She attempted a smile, but it fell short. “Some ice and aspirin and it’ll be good as new. I just landed on it wrong.”
He didn’t agree or disagree, but decided he’d check the damage for himself at the first opportunity.
“Cole. Please, call me Cole,” he said.
This time she managed to smile and it almost reached her eyes. “Cole,” she repeated, “I really appreciate your help. I could be polite and say that you don’t have to go with me, but I won’t.”
He laughed. “That’s quite alright. I’m just glad I can help, ma’am.”
Lana stopped and gave him a look. “If I’m going to call you Cole, then the least you could do is call me Lana. ‘Ma’am’ makes me sound old.”
“Lana it is, then,” he chuckled. “You’ve got some sense of humor, considering the circumstances.” He glanced over, noticed she’d crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you cold?”
She turned her head in his direction, startled. “What? Oh, no. I’m fine, it’s just….”
He nodded. He’d begun to wonder how a woman could act so nonchalant about having her house broken into and having a man chase her down. Hell, most men would have either panicked or done something stupid and ended up hurt—and he wasn’t being sexist. She’d gotten her butt in gear and escaped. Which posed another good question….
“Just how did you get out of your apartment?”
She turned to face him. “I woke up a minute before I heard footsteps, and then I realized someone was in my apartment, so I jumped out of the window.”
He whistled. “Out of the window? No wonder you hurt your ankle. Quick thinking, I might add.”
“Thanks.” She paused in front of a door. “This is my apartment.”
“Bet you’re glad you picked a ground floor apartment.”
It was her turn to laugh. “Yes, I am. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact carrying furniture up flights of stairs is a pain.”
Lana grabbed the doorknob and turned. “Crap,” she hissed under her breath and swung back around, a look of absolute disgust on her face. “I don’t have my keys. If you could give me a boost to get back in through my window, I’d appreciate it.”
She started to walk past him, but he placed his hand on her arm. “I’ll go. You don’t need to walk on that ankle any more than necessary and we’re not sure it’s safe.” It was an order, one he’d make sure she followed, but she didn’t need to know that.
He saw the hesitation in her eyes as she thought over what he said. Finally, she sighed. “You’re probably right.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said and jogged his way to the back of the building.
Why did her window have to be so high? He could shift, but that was always dicey out in the open, and he didn’t take unnecessary risks unless he absolutely had to.
As he studied the wall, he noticed a small space where a brick had been broken or fallen out. Using that for a foothold, he boosted himself up and climbed in through the open window.
Since she didn’t have her keys, there would be no way for her to get in until he let her in. Knowing he may not get another opportunity, he took a deep breath and imagined the animal he needed to become. Ignoring the pain, he shifted quickly into his tiger.
Somehow the intruder had hidden his tracks, but it wasn’t as easy to hide his scent.
He didn’t have long before she would expect to be let in, so he moved fast, sniffing around the room. He’d been inside less than a minute and knew, without question, that the only human scent belonged to Lana. Lavender, soap—nothing else.
Quickly, he checked the rest of her apartment, going room-by-room, still puzzling over the fact that the only smells he came across in the entire place belonged to her. Someone had been in her apartment, she’d said. Considering he’d seen the person chasing after her, he knew damn well she hadn't been lying.
This was wrong, dreadfully wrong. There must’ve been something more sinister going on than a bungled burglary. This was getting deeper and stranger by the minute. He should have smelled some other scent—anything. So why hadn’t he?
Trying one last time, he held still, his back completely rigid. His nose moved from side to side as his nostrils flared, his ears taut, listening for sounds that didn’t belong.
Did she know more than she let on? If she didn’t, should he keep it that and investigate it quietly on the side, or should he question her more and find out if she was hiding anything?
On a frustrated growl, he changed back into human form. He still had no answers, just a stockpile of new questions.