Kiss of Darkness

Kiss of Darkness

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by Jennifer St. Giles

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Mighty warriors sworn to protect humanity, the shape-shifters known as The Shadowmen move between two worlds. Now their dark leader has exiled himself from the spirit world, opening the door to the forces of chaos...and to the power of love.

Half wolf, half man, Aragon has abandoned his brethren to repay a debt of honor; he is sworn to kill a rogue Blood Hunter,

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Mighty warriors sworn to protect humanity, the shape-shifters known as The Shadowmen move between two worlds. Now their dark leader has exiled himself from the spirit world, opening the door to the forces of chaos...and to the power of love.

Half wolf, half man, Aragon has abandoned his brethren to repay a debt of honor; he is sworn to kill a rogue Blood Hunter, though exacting revenge will doom him to a ghostly existence trapped between two worlds. But when a mortal woman unexpectedly calls him to her side, the heat of her soft flesh arouses a hunger in him that threatens to complicate his mission.

Dr. Annette Batista, a dedicated healer, is determined to find her missing sister. With the amulet found at the site of her sister's disappearance, she unwittingly summons a shadowy warrior. She wonders if she can trust this powerful male named Aragon, who claims he can vanquish her sister's captor -- the very monster he's vowed to destroy. Or is Annette blinded by her shocking passion for the most alluring, mysterious man she's ever seen?

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Product Details

Jennifer St. Giles
Publication date:
Shadowmen Series, #3
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.84(w) x 4.30(h) x 1.03(d)

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Chapter One

TRAPPED BETWEEN the spirit realm and the mortal world the black wolf cried out, howling into the twilight. His haunting plea for help, for freedom, echoed throughout the misty barrier that separated mortal from immortal, but he could not be heard. Not among his brethren. Not among the humans he could see so clearly. Only the lost souls on Spirit Wind Mountain heard him, spirits as imprisoned as he. He was a warrior bound by invisible chains, unable to answer the sworn call of his Blood Hunter's soul to protect Logos's Elan and the struggling mortals, unable to fight the great darkness unleashing itself upon the mortal ground.

Present Day

Twilight, Tennessee

"I have to go to town, Em. I'm sheriff. Twilight's my responsibility." Sam Sheridan clenched his teeth, fists, stomach, and anything else he could clamp down on, wondering just how sharp an edge a man could walk before he split apart. It was worse than ironic that after everything he'd been through — the military, imprisonment, torture, and years of personal hell — that a pint- size bit of mystical fluff was going to do him in. Make that a nicely figured bit of mystical fluff with wet- dream jeans and a soft green shirt that hugged every curve he wanted to touch.

"You canna go. Not now," Emerald Linton said as she planted herself in the middle of the doorway to the one-room cabin he'd made into his office. "Leaving here would be a mistake. You'd be opening yourself up for an attack from Cinatas. And once you're away from the protective shield, the growing darkness I feel from the gathering Vladarians will feed the vampire infection inside you."

"It's been four days, Em." Closing his eyes, he fought for patience. She was determined to keep him at the old ranger camp they were holed up in, and he was fast approaching the point of no return — the point where he'd start kissing her and never stop. A vampire's lust for blood couldn't be any stronger than his lust for her. He'd been trying to avoid her since he'd returned from Belize bitten and supposedly damned for eternity. So far nothing had happened in the ninety- six hours, forty- two minutes, and — he glanced at his watch — ten seconds since Luis Vasquez had sunk his teeth into Sam's neck. No fangs had developed. No bloodlust had overtaken him. He'd like to think it was because he'd killed the Vladarian Vampire seconds into the bite and not because Emerald's protective shield was holding any changes at bay.

Even if he wasn't infected, it wouldn't change his hands- off policy where she was concerned. They had no future together, never had a chance at one from the moment they'd met nine months ago. She was a woman with a child in tow and he'd been damaged goods from the start, never knowing when and where he'd have a PTSD flashback from the past. Or if he'd hurt someone in the dark hours of the night.

He did know without a doubt that the vampire bite had nothing to do with his visceral desire for Emerald. He'd been itching for her since he'd first seen her. His gaze raked up Emerald's body, managing to avoid her imploring, misty green eyes. Every time he looked into her eyes, he went a little crazy inside. Itching didn't come close to describing his need for her. Ravenous did.

More than once he'd considered giving in to his need, just having an all- night sex fest and getting her out of his system. But he didn't think he'd have the resolve to walk away the morning after, and she'd feel even more of a need, maybe even then would have the right, to "fix" him. And he was unfixable.

Drawing a deep breath, he tried to refocus on the reason she was in his face at the moment. "Have you had a vision about me, Em? About today? Is that what this is all about now?"

She didn't immediately answer and her hesitation jerked him to attention. He brought his narrowed gaze to hers, searching the liquid green depths that always left him drowning in her allure. He'd never known her not to be pigheadedly sure about her magic mumbo jumbo. After a long moment she shook her head then focused on his desk, fear and an odd vulnerability clouding her eyes. "No, no vision this time. I just feel something bad is going to happen. You canna go."

He had to go, for both their sakes. She'd be angry, but then that was a good thing. If she was ticked at him then the odds they'd end up in the bed behind him went way down, right? He'd been operating on that philosophy since he met her, but it was failing to do the trick these past few days.

He could feel her from all the way across the room. Her hot- blooded temper and wild sensuality dragged at him like a riptide, pulling him so far under her spell, he could barely breathe.

Sucking in another deep breath, he caught a whiff of her scent and cursed. The pure essence of Irish lavender mixed with a mysterious but irresistibly alluring aroma hit him hard. It was a heady aphrodisiac potent enough to wake the dead.

"Hello? Sam? Are you hearing me?" Emerald demanded, waving her delicate hands at him as she spoke. Even though her bracelets tinkled like heavenly bells, the effect of her siren- red nails was like a matador waving a red cape at a bull. Surely steam had to be rising off him.

"Yeah, Em, I'm feeling you," he said, his voice cutting through his throat like shards of glass. He heard her all right. He just didn't know what in the hell to do with her.

He knew backward and forward what he wanted to do with her.

He shot up from his seat. He had to get out of there fast and he had to put her out of his mind, even if it was just for a little while, or he was going to do something they'd both regret — like make use of the bed shoved against the wall.

"I don't think you are, Sam," she said, her lilting voice imploring him. "Dark, powerful forces are gathering all around us."

Shamefully, the forces bearing down on him had nothing to do with evil and everything to do with sex. Yep, they were in a battle for their lives and for the lives of thousands if not millions of others. Yep, they barely had any privacy holed up in a small ranger camp with her daughter and seven others, including two elite warriors from the spirit realm called Blood Hunters. Yep, he should be thinking about a million other things besides her and him being hot and heavy, but he wasn't. And that was exactly why he had to leave. He had to do something to put his focus back on their situation. Making an appearance at the station house in Twilight and doing a little recon on the Falls Resort, Dr. Cinatas's stronghold on Hades Mountain, fit the bill.

Squeezing his eyes shut and searching for strength, he counted to five, then tried to reason with her one last time. "Em, feeling something bad might happen isn't good enough for me. There's something bad happening just about every split second all over the world. I can't toss aside my responsibilities just because you've got a 'feeling.'"

"This isn't a joke, Sam," she said. "You know it's more than just a feeling with me. You know that sometimes I just know things. The evil surrounding us is stronger than ever before. I sense it out there beyond the shield."

"None of that changes the fact that I'm the sheriff. I have to check on the town. The station has been getting dozens of calls from old man Hatterfield about the 'black cloud' over Hades Mountain, and 'goings- on' at the Falls Resort there. We both know it isn't his moonshine talking. Cinatas is up to something and I have to go. The citizens of Twilight pay me to keep them safe."

"You canna do anything for anybody if you're dead," she cried. "You're officially on vacation until next week, remember? We all agreed that until we had some idea of how Cinatas and the Vladarians would react to our attack in Belize it would be best to stay under the protective shield. They'll be wanting revenge." She held a finger up for each point. "You destroyed the Vladarians' blood supply and killed Luis Vasquez, one of their own. You, Jared, and Aragon wiped out their Belize stronghold. Because of Aragon, Pathos, their leader for hundreds of years, is gone forever. And none of that is counting what we did to Cinatas's Sno- Med operations here and in Manhattan. What part about they want us dead doona you understand?"

He had to bite back a grin at that question, realizing he'd probably said something similar to her during one of their many disagreements. She was right. Dr. Anthony Cinatas and his Vladarian bloodsuckers would come after everyone with both barrels blasting. But Sam just couldn't sit here any longer waiting for "it" to happen — not if he could get a handle on what that "it" might be.

"Em, the protective shield is great — a real miracle. But we can't cower here with our heads stuck in the sand. If we don't try and find out what they're up to, I can guarantee they're going to come up behind us and bite us in the ass." He gathered his keys, hoping the jangle would bring an end to the argument. "Jared, Aragon, and Nick agree."

She didn't say anything, but turned to look into the outer room, giving him the freedom to study her profile. Bad move. Sunlight spilling over her cast her into shades of gold, making him greedier than King Midas.

"When did you men have this conversation and why dinna you tell the rest of us?"

"Late last night, so there hasn't been time to talk yet," Sam explained. Though battle ready, the Blood Hunters — Jared and Aragon — hadn't been as antsy to act as Sam and his deputy, Nick. Four days to men who'd been alive for millennia amounted to less than an eye blink, but the former spirit warriors did agree that more information was needed. "With no vision, how do you know that what you're feeling is even connected to me or not?" he asked.

"Instincts? Intuition?" She threw her slender hands up into the air, clearly frustrated. "Whatever you call it doesn't matter. I just know something bad will happen."

Sam had figured out a long time ago that all women spoke two languages simultaneously. The words that they said were one language and what they meant was another story. Like when they said "nothing" was bothering them, it always meant that "something" big was up.

At least it was that way until Emerald zoomed into town in a red Mini Cooper that screamed "squash me" to every semi and logging truck barreling down Twilight's Appalachian two lanes. He saw red every time he thought of her and her daughter tangling up with another car, and he saw red every time he went toe to toe with her mystical speak. It was a whole different language, and it left his head spinning. Give him a "nothing" that meant "something" and he was all right, but give him a "something" that meant "everything in and out of this world" and he was at his wits' end.

" 'Something's' not good enough. I've gotta go."

"Sam, please." She turned and their gazes met again. Hell, he was in big trouble; tears filled her eyes. The emotion in her plea twisted him inside out.

You're drowning, man. You're a total goner with the will of a marshmallow. Just lock the door and go for it. Forget the town, forget the threat. Forget the fact that you're twisted up inside and just take her. Get your fill. It doesn't matter that you can't offer her anything more than sex.

A cold sweat broke out all over his body. He had more honor than that. A man didn't take a woman unless he could give back full measure of what she's willing to offer and Em wasn't a one night stand. "Hell, Em, look at it my way for once. I can't live my whole life according to your mumbo jumbo."

She recoiled as if he'd hit her. "My...mumbo...jum — oh! How can you still say that after all that's happened? After so many things have been proven true? After all you've seen — the Red Demons, the shield...How can you not have any more belief in me than that?"

Damn! How did he always end up hurting her feelings? "Em. I didn't mean it that way. I just can't live by your 'feelings.' Not when — "

Her BlackBerry chimed and she dug it out of her pocket. "Hold on," she said, glancing at the screen.

Sam thought he would blow a gasket. They were in the middle of an argument and she was going to give advice? If Emerald had one fault it was that she tried to take care of everyone all of the time. And that damn BlackBerry she answered twenty- four/seven for her sex counseling clinic in Ireland was part of it. He didn't care if somebody over there had a kink in their dick at the moment. "Looks as if we both have more important things to do today. You're in my way, Em."

She gasped. "Fine, Samuel T. Sheridan. You can do whatever you want. I doona care." Whipping around on her heel, she marched out of the building. The tears streaming down her cheeks told him that she did care — a lot. But he bit back the urge to call out to her, not trusting himself to even exhale until the door slammed.

He was safe. For now. Checking his 9 mm Glock, he slid on his holster, gave his desk a quick once- over to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything. Then he escaped from his office before Emerald changed her mind about leaving him to his own devices. Burying the niggling voice urging him to go after her, he went in search of his deputy, ace helicopter pilot Nick Sinclair. Nick needed to be on extra alert while Sam went to town.

He found Nick in the dining hall, cleaning their stockpile of weapons. The cache wasn't nearly enough to fight the battle they'd be facing. Sam already had sent out a red alert to all his military connections that he was looking for hardware. He hoped they'd have a load soon.

"Aragon and Jared should be helping you break down and clean the guns," Sam said. The spirit warriors were sharp and battle savvy but could use a little more experience with modern weapons. Considering how fast they'd assimilated to life on earth, it wouldn't take them long to become experts.

"Jared and Erin are on the Net, trying to track down all of Pathos's real estate holdings. So far they've found a humungo estate outside of Vienna. If we can figure out where besides the Falls the bloodsuckers congregate, we can deal a mortal blow to them and their operation. Erin wants to pinpoint all the Sno-Med clinics and research centers worldwide as quickly as we can, too. With the vampires' supply of Elan blood destroyed, they'll be looking to replenish it by offering free medical screening to the masses again. If we know when and where they plan to hold their health expos then we have a better chance of stopping them. Aragon and Annette are with Stef. She had a bad night." Nick looked back at his gun. "Annette thinks I should keep out of Stef 's sight."

Nick said the last with a sense of angry despair, and Sam clasped the young man's shoulder in a reassuring squeeze. Sam wasn't exactly sure what he should say about Annette's sister. In his opinion everyone was expecting too damn much from the girl too soon. She did have to realize that starving herself to escape the pain of existing after being in Vasquez's clutches wasn't hurting the bad guys. Sam knew how she felt, but he'd fed on revenge and the need to fill in as a father for Nick. Reed Sinclair had died getting Sam out of that hellhole in Belize, and it was the least Sam could do. "Believe me. It's not you, man."

Nick shrugged, clearly disbelieving, and Sam released him, sighing.

Nick continued to oil the gun a moment more then said, "The thing is, I feel partially responsible for what happened to her."

Sam glanced at his watch then straddled the bench opposite Nick. The town could wait a minute or two. "Yeah, right. Annette's investigation is going to show you were on Sno-Med's staff and killing women with experimental blood treatments. That you were in cahoots with Stef 's boss, Rankin, to off his wife with the deadly treatments. Then you kidnapped Stef and Abe Bennett and sent them to Vasquez to cover your ass."

Nick rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean. I knew five seconds into my blind date with Stef that she wasn't a player, but that didn't stop me from maneuvering her into my bed. I was horny and there was just something about her, a goodness that I...hell, wanted to touch. I can't explain it. If I'd left her alone like I should have then she wouldn't have been so upset about sleeping with a guy she hardly knew and she might not have been out searching for peace at the Sacred Stones so early in the morning and vulnerable for Rankin's attack."

That was a mouthful from Nick, which only attested to how torn up he was over Stef. Sam sure as hell knew what it was like to want what you shouldn't have, and unfortunately Nick was learning a hard lesson. "Rankin would have gotten Stef and Abe no matter what. So you can't put that onus on yourself. As for your guilt over Stef, you're right in some ways. A real man doesn't take a woman unless he can give her what she is looking to give him. But Stef is an adult. She could have said no."

"With me pushing all of the right buttons?" Nick replied. Apparently a woman didn't have a chance to resist when Nick turned on the charm.

Sam shook his head. Some things never changed. He narrowed his gaze at Nick. "Seems to me everyone wants something out of Stef — wants her to talk, to eat, to heal. Maybe what you need to do is decide how you feel about her and your one night together. Are you her lover, her friend, or a stranger? Then act on that basis to give her what she needs rather than wanting her to forgive you. She might not have any forgiveness in her."

Nick looked stunned and sat staring blankly at the pieces of his M- 16. "You're right. This isn't about me, but about her. I care about her, but...hell, I don't know if there is anything else."

"Don't let guilt lead you into promising what you don't have to give, but at least be someone who cares," Sam advised.

Nick snapped the rifle barrel into place. "Have you talked to her about Vasquez? About what the bastard might have done to her and Abe?"

Sam shook his head. "She knows I was Vasquez's prisoner for two years, but she won't talk to anyone about her captivity. Vasquez had Stef for six months. I can guarantee she's been through some heavy shit. It isn't going to be all better anytime soon. Maybe never. What little we've learned has come from Marissa, but Vasquez kept his niece locked up with her grandmother most of the time in a nunnery on the compound. Other than the screams of those being tortured and what Marissa imagined caused them, she didn't see what went on in the camp. She just knew her uncle was evil and she and her grandmother would be the ones screaming if they didn't do what he said."

Reluctantly, Sam's mind went back to Belize and what he'd lived through at Vasquez's hands. Though Stefanie didn't bear the physical scars that Sam did, he knew the scars on the inside were the worst. Shuddering hard, he clenched his fists. "You want a snapshot of what it was like? Vasquez enjoyed physical torture, but he excelled in destroying the spirit and soul, mainly by making you watch someone else pay the price for your actions. Once a woman at the compound brought me food and treated my lacerations from Vasquez's whip. He caught her helping me. The punishment was forcing me watch him..." Sam shuddered again then swallowed the choking lump in his throat. "Let's just say she died hard after a long time. My guess would be Stef 's friend Abe died hard, too. And she had to watch."

"Jesus. How can bastards like that be allowed to exist?"

Sam didn't answer. There wasn't any answer.

Sam's cell phone vibrated. It was the station. "What is up with Myra?" he muttered. "She's called no less that a dozen times since yesterday about old man Hatterfield's complaints. Usually she lets me know once and then fields the rest until I come into the station."

Sam flipped open his phone. "My ETA is twenty," he told her as he connected the line. "What's up now?"

"You were supposed to be here by now," her voice was deliberately sultry. "The coffee is...ah, very hot...and ready, but now you've got company." Sam frowned at his phone. What the hell was that?

Nick obviously heard. He rolled his eyes.

"What kind of company?"

"Oh, just the FBI."

"Did they say what about?"

"No. Maybe we can have coffee after," she said suggestively.

"I'll be there shortly." Sam gritted his teeth, dismissing Myra's lunacy to focus on why the FBI was here.

"Want me to come along?" Nick asked.

Sam shook his head. "I can handle the suits. They're probably here to finish clearing Erin's arrest warrants."

"I'm not talking about the FBI, I'm referring to Myra. Sounds as if your absence has revved her libido and sent her off the man- hunting deep end."

Sam snorted. "She's harmless."

"Harmless as a barracuda," Nick muttered. "Here, take this for backup." He dug out his wallet and tossed a foil packet. "She's probably waiting naked in your office and the FBI thing is a ruse."

Sam caught the condom, shaking his head in exasperation. It wasn't the first time Nick had tossed one at him. He'd been doing so with increasing frequency since learning Sam had been without any sort of relationship after being a prisoner in Belize. In Sam's mind his flashbacks put him out of the dating game. It wasn't until Emerald showed up that he'd had any sort of desire for things to be different. "No need to worry. Myra's not my type."

"Man does not live by bread alone and you've been starving yourself for over eight years. I know a powder keg ready to blow when I see it and you're it. Find your type and do something. Maybe then you'll stop taking everybody's head off just because they were unwise enough to speak to you."

He left the dining hall and headed for his patrol car in a bear of a mood. He was getting it from all sides this morning. The FBI had better be camping out on the doorstep for Myra's sake or he'd fire her. Not that Sam wanted any government suits sticking their noses into Twilight. Until definitive proof of Cinatas and Sno- Med's illegal and murdering activities was found, the unconventional war he and the others waged against the bloodsuckers wouldn't sit well with the law.

Over the past few weeks Sam had dealt directly with the FBI twice. Once to prove Erin Morgan hadn't been responsible for the murder of four patients and the burning of Sno- Med's Manhattan clinic. The second time was over a freshly electrocuted corpse found on the side of the road in Twilight. The dead man had been a serial killer who'd been executed in the electric chair two years ago in South Carolina, then buried there by the state. The Feds were still scrambling around, trying to figure out how the corpse ended up in Tennessee, looking as if he'd been executed an hour ago. Sam knew, but telling the Feds would get him a one- way ticket to a padded cell. Who would believe anything that had been happening? Warriors, werewolves, undead vampires in influential positions around the world, assassins, and a petite woman with enough magic to make a shield worthy of Star Wars.

"The gack- headed idiot!" Emerald muttered as she rushed from Sam's office for the privacy of the nearby woods and rested her back against the rough bark of a pine tree. She needed a minute to pull herself together. She shivered, despite the warmth of the bright morning sun filtering through the leaves.

Why today of all days had Sam decided to leave the camp? Why today of all days had she awakened with an overwhelming sense of imminent doom? The two had to be connected, but all she had to go on was her intuition. No matter how hard she tried, she'd been unable to conjure even a tiny glimpse into the future.

She'd felt this deep sense of dread only twice before. Once had been six years ago when her husband had tried to kill her and give their daughter to Michael Wellbourne. The second time had been last year when Michael's brother, William Wellbourne, discovered where she and Megan had been hiding and came after them. Both times Emerald's visions had alerted her to the danger and they'd escaped to safety, but this time, all was darkness.

The energy needed to draw power from the nearby Sacred Stones to form the protective shield over the camp had drained her resources and was likely why she'd been unable to tap into her precognitive abilities. She'd experienced a similar problem after fighting Eric and Michael Wellbourne at Stonehenge. It had taken her six months to recover her ability to scry into the future. She had to find another source of power. This floundering in the dark was driving her crazy. She hadn't realized how much of her confidence was dependent on her visions.

All she had right now were her nightmares of Eric's vampire infection and her intuition. Both of them screamed that Sam was headed for trouble. Suddenly Emerald's mind shifted into gear. If she couldn't beat him, why not join him? At the very least she'd be around to help protect him. Stowing away would be her best option. He wouldn't ditch her on the side of the road, so he'd have to come back to the camp or keep her with him. Halfway to his car, she heard his cabin door open.

Heart racing, she dove behind a pine tree and cursed herself for waiting too late to act. But instead of coming her way toward his car, Sam went in the direction of the dining hall, and she took that as a divine sign to go with her wild plan. The second he disappeared from sight, Emerald ran for his squad car.

It was stupid of her to expect he'd hold back from something he thought he had to do. He wouldn't be Sam if he did. Nine months ago, she'd driven into Twilight and he'd pulled her over for a traffic warning. She'd never forget it. He'd stepped from his flashing squad car and sauntered her way, oozing power and sex appeal as his honed muscles stretched the seams of his uniform. Her breath had come to a screeching halt and her pulse went from sixty to two hundred in one point five seconds. He reached the side of her car, all tall, dark, and foreboding, looking like a god next to her little Mini. He'd tipped his hat in a show of respect that zinged her insides, but it was his deep rumbling voice saying "Ma'am" that surged a sensual heat through her erogenous zones. He'd swept her away right then and there. She could still feel the tingle to this day.

It had been quite a shock to be so turned on by a total stranger, especially with her daughter sitting in the seat next to her. But that hadn't been as nearly as shocking as seeing his eyes. He'd lowered his mirrored Ray- Bans to pin her with blue eyes so remote and cold that she'd literally shivered from the frost. In that split second, she'd had a vision of him that grabbed her heart and wouldn't let go. A vision of a lone warrior, covered in wounds, who stood alone on a glacier facing a malignant army of thousands. The warrior died a horrible death and had been dragged into the pits of hell.

Since their first meeting, they'd gone toe to toe on everything under the sun. He was determined to be the Lone Ranger and she was bent on saving him from that fate. She believed she could, but then he'd returned vampire bitten just like Eric had been and her faith had taken a nose dive. Nightmares of Sam becoming as damned and evil as Eric filled her dreams.

For once, Emerald thanked the heavens for her short little frame as she climbed into the back of Sam's squad car. The Red Demons had done a number on it last week, beating up the body of the car and shattering the back passenger window. She'd thrown an old blanket over the backseat to shield anyone from missed slivers of glass until the window could be repaired and the car thoroughly cleaned. Hopefully it would keep her hidden from Sam for now.

Crouching in the floorboard and pulling the edges of the blanket over her, she dialed Annette up on her BlackBerry. Annette answered on the first ring. "Listen, luv. Don't ask questions, but run outside and distract Sam with conversation while he's getting into his car. He's insisting on going to town and I'm stowing away to join him."

"Are you crazy?" Annette asked.

"Just bloody do it. I don't have time."

"I'm hunting him down now," Annette said, lowering her voice to a whisper. "Are you sure about this?"

"No, but I'm too worried to let him go alone. This feeling of doom I have is connected to him."

"So you're going to march into the jaws of the shark as well? What kind of sense does that make?"

"I know what he's up against when it comes to the paranormal and his vampire bite. He doesn't. Will you and Marissa keep Meggie with you today? She can read to Stef again. I'll call her as soon as we get to town, okay?"

"All right, but I don't like it. I see Sam. Bye."

Emerald turned off her BlackBerry and waited for Sam, feeling ridiculous about hiding in his car, but she couldn't see any other way. She pressed the back of her hand to her damp brow, and her angel bracelets tinkled. She hadn't taken off the protection her mother had given in years, but she couldn't afford for Sam to hear them now. Slipping them from her wrist, she stuffed them into her pocket.

Thankfully, she didn't have long to wait. Within minutes, she heard Sam's and Annette's muffled voices. Sam opened the car door.

Annette was in midsentence. " you're getting that stuff you might as well bring the sterilizer for the surgical instruments. And the rest of the bandage supplies would be good, too. They're in the cabinet against the back wall of the supply room — gauze, tape, sterile pads, elastic wraps, and the nonstick Teflon pads I use on burns, and — "

"Hold it," Sam interjected. "What about the kitchen sink? Or better yet, why not have the whole clinic trucked up here?"

Emerald could clearly imagine Sam' scowl. Annette had probably asked him to bring everything in her clinic.

"That would be perfect," Annette replied.

"That was a joke," Sam said. "You know as in ha, ha."

"Yeah, mine, too," Annette said. "My bad mood is because I haven't had my coffee yet. What's yours?"

"Wrong side of the bed," Sam said. "You lost me after about item number fifteen. Can you call Myra with that list? I'll send a deputy over to get them and I'll bring them back with me this afternoon. Will that work? I'm in a hurry right now."

"Yeah. Um, will you do me another favor?"

"More?" Sam asked.

"Be careful, all right?"

"Sounds like Emerald got to you, too."

"She's worried about you and with good reason. Besides, she hasn't been wrong yet."

"I know. That's what bothers me the most," Sam said. "Not that she's right, but that she's as worried about me as she is. She has enough to deal with already. I'm not letting her add me to her responsibility list."

"Too late. You're already there, whether you like it or not."

Emerald heard Sam climb into the driver's seat and the space she hid in suddenly seemed to shrink. Bloody hell. This was stupid. She braced herself, ready to lever up from her cramped position, but paused to hear Sam's response.

"I'm not going to let her mess herself up trying to help me. I'm staying as far away from her as I can. Don't get me wrong, I'm taking her warning seriously — but it doesn't change the fact that I'm the sheriff of Twilight. These are my people and I have a job to do. If an epidemic hit the town, you'd be out there treating the sick no matter what the danger, right?"

Annette sighed. "Dead on. Just be careful, okay?"

"Count on it," Sam said.

Emerald heard Sam shut the car door and crank the engine. He moved about four feet then rolled down his window. "Nette," he called out. "Tell Em...hell. Tell her I'll check in every couple of hours."

"She'll appreciate that," Annette replied.

Then Sam pushed on the gas and the car began a bumpy journey over the dirt road leading from the camp and the Sacred Stones at the top of Spirit Wind Mountain.

Emerald stayed tucked into her little space, sure she'd made the right decision. She understood Sam all too well. He was the sheriff, so he'd sheriff. What he didn't understand was that she was an angel, well, part angel, and as such she too had a responsibility. To save her friends. Unless the evil became too great. Then she would have to kill.

Copyright © 2009 by Jenni Leigh Grizzle

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