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In Destiny's Shadow
By Ingrid Weaver
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBenedict fondled the woman's body, feeling the stone warm in his hand. No one knew how old she was. Her previous owner, the late collector who had last possessed her, had claimed her age was ten thousand years. She had been caressed like this for eons; her rough edges had been smoothed by the touch of countless handlers. She was squat and gray, not much longer than the length from his wrist to the tip of his middle finger, but she contained all the essential elements. Yes, whatever prehistoric craftsman had fashioned this figure knew exactly what mattered most in a female.
He rubbed his thumb across the woman's breasts, pausing to flick his nail over a distended nipple. No pert, Barbie doll silicon implants on this girl. These breasts hung in a V like heavy, overripe pears, swollen with the promise of nourishment for the child she carried in her belly. She had no face on her tiny head, which was another point in her favor. Her arms were mere suggestions in the stone, short grooves that angled backward out of the way and would be incapable of putting up a fight. Her thighs were wide, her legs short and sturdy. She had no feet because she would have no need to go anywhere. Her sole purpose was to bear children.
The stone grew slippery from the sweat onhis palm. Benedict moistened his lips and rubbed harder. Too bad real women weren't more like this. It would have been so much simpler if Deanna had been like the stone carving, all breasts and womb, no brain. He had entrusted his plans to her body but she had betrayed him. She had stolen the six children who would have given him the future.
She had paid for her crime with her life.
He replaced the priceless figurine in its case. Turning in a slow circle, he contemplated the other treasures that lined the spot-lit alcoves of his inner sanctum. There was a sphere of solid crystal mounted on a pounded copper circlet, a deer hide medicine pouch, a jade amulet, the sword of a Samurai, marble from the Temple of Athena, a fragment of stone from the Pyramid of Cheops ... The extent of his collection was too long to list. Every item was reputed to possess mystical powers. And now he possessed them.
That was how it worked. Possess them, possess their power. He was going to need it. His enemies were growing stronger. They had destroyed much of his empire but they would never find him. They didn't understand that with each blow they struck, they pushed him closer to his ultimate destiny.
Benedict climbed the steps to the platform in the center of the room. At the top was a plain square table and high-backed chair fashioned from alder wood. The chair creaked as it took his weight, the dry wood making a noise like a scream. He laughed at the sound. The wood had been taken from a Welsh valley once said to be used by Druids. Whether their old gods liked it or not, the power that lingered in the wood was his now, too. Soon he would be invincible.
He had reinvented himself before. He would do it again. He had begun life as Benedict Payne. After Deanna's betrayal, he'd assumed the identity of uber-criminal Titan. His next transformation would be his last. He smiled and slipped a deck of tarot cards from his suit pocket.
Like the stone woman, the edges of the cards had been worn down from handling. He dealt a pattern for himself on the table and turned over the first card. His smile deepened as he saw the figure depicted on the front. It wore different guises in different decks. At times it was a blue-robed sorcerer, other times it was a rabbit, but its true identity remained the same. The Magician - working in secret, gathering power, using any means to control those around him.
Yes, control was the ultimate power, he thought, tapping the card against his lips. Soon, the world would see the culmination of the plan he had set into motion over three decades ago. He had been patient, watching and waiting for the right time to make his move. Five times he'd almost had Deanna's children within his grasp. Five times they had eluded him.
Yet there was still one left. The firstborn, the boldest, the one who dared to hunt him. This time the hunter would become the hunted. The Magician would prevail.
And then the future would be his.
"If you help me, Fredo, I'll help you." Melina put her hand on his shoulder. She could feel the sharp outline of his bones through his denim jacket. He was trembling. The night carried the taste of autumn, but Fredo's tremors likely weren't due to the cold. "We don't have to go to the local police if you don't want to," she said. "I know someone in the FBI. They would protect you. They could get you somewhere safe."
"You don't understand what Titan's turning into." Fredo shrugged off her grasp and stepped from the sidewalk into the alley where the streetlight didn't reach. "Nowhere is safe. You can't trust anyone."
"The feds got all his labs. They destroyed his drugs, his equipment, everything. Half his guys were arrested. It made him flip out."
Wind gusted past the canvas awning of the closed fruit market beside the alley, rattling the strings of dried chilies that hung out front. Melina's skirt swirled against her calves, the wool rubbing over her suede boots with a noise like stealthy whispers.
She looked behind her to check that the street was still deserted. It was. They were far from the popular tourist haunts of downtown Santa Fe. There were no quaint adobe buildings or historic missions here, just modest shops, video places and liquor stores, all of them closed up hours ago. The only movement she could see came from dead leaves and bits of crumpled paper that skittered along the pavement.
Most women would find the situation unsettling, to say the least. It was two in the morning and she was standing at the entrance to a dark alley with a thief. Yet Melina Becker had faced far worse to get a story. She slipped one arm through her purse strap to loop it around her neck and followed Fredo into the darkness. "Do you know where Titan is now? I heard he has a stronghold. When you called me you said you had information."
"All I have for you is a warning. You better stop what you're doing."
She detected a rising note of anxiety in his voice. Her pulse sped up. She must be closer to paydirt than she had thought. "I can't stop yet, Fredo. Couldn't you give me something?"
"You were decent to me once, Melina. That's why I'm trying to do you a favor now. Why won't you listen?"
"I've put months into this story, and I do realize how dangerous Titan is. I promise he'll never know you talked to me."
Fredo laughed, a high-pitched, nervous bark that echoed from the brick walls flanking them. "If you believe he won't know, for sure you don't know Titan at all. Ever since the feds raided his labs he's more paranoid than ever. He scares me. I'm telling you, he flipped out."
Excerpted from In Destiny's Shadow by Ingrid Weaver Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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