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The instant Lucas Kenyon heard the man's cultured, sanctimonious voice on the six o'clock evening news, his blood froze. Despite not having seen the speaker for fifteen years, he shuddered. He knew that voice, knew it too damn well. Even after fifteen years, it still haunted his nightmares.
Up until this past January, he'd assiduously avoided anything to do with The Church of Sanctuary and its leader. If something came on the news, he'd changed the channel. Newspaper or magazine articles were tossed, unread. He'd wanted no reminders of his painful past.
But the time had come to face his demons. Lucas had never in his life made a New Year's resolution. This year, he had. No more would he bury himself in work and avoidance.
"What the hell?" he muttered, grabbing the remote and turning up the volume.
The man, Jacob GideonLucas refused to think of him as his fathersmiled benevolently. "We can heal young Hailey, I promise you that." His tone reverberated with the sincerity of his conviction. "Faith works through my hands."
Faith? Try murder. Un-freaking-believable. Briefly, Lucas closed his eyes, allowing the long-ago grief and pain and shame to wash over him. On some inner level he'd known. After all, Jacob had killed once in the name of his faith. Lucas had no doubt the man would do it again.
If he hadn't already. Lucas cursed. No wonder the voice of his conscience had gotten so loud he'd been unable to drown it out.
As the man spoke again, Lucas snapped out of it. What Jacob was suggestingno, statingwas more than wrong, more than an outright lie.
Of course, Jacob spoke as if he really meant his own nonsense. Lucas made a sound of pure disgust. Jacob had always believed he was an angel appointed from up high who had somehow misplaced his wings.
As if angels killed. Though thinking about how Lucifer actually had been a fallen angel, Lucas supposed it was possible. Jacob always had styled himself as if he sat on the other side of God.
His father looked sincere and kind, but Lucas knew better. Jacob was pure evil. Studying the man, he shook his head. Jacob looked eerily the same, as if selling his soul to the devil had granted him eternal youth. He was more than dangerous. He was deadly. No one knew that better than Lucas. After all, Jacob had been hunting him for the past fifteen years.
With narrowed eyes, Lucas watched the rest of the news segment, wincing as a fragile little girl with a heart-shaped face smiled painfully at the reporter. Something about her delicate vulnerability reminded Lucas of the child he'd once been, and the other. The twin he'd lost. The sister Jacob had killed.
As the camera narrowed in on a womanher mother? Lucas moved closer to the television. The sight of this unknown womanas defenseless as her daughterhit him like a sucker punch to the gut. Her brownish-blond hair as fine as spun silk, creamy porcelain skin and long-lashed green eyes, made her a beautiful mystery that interested him far more than his father's manipulative faux spiritual healings. She was, Lucas thought, both lovely and otherworldly, in a way neither he nor Jacob Gideon would be able to resistfor reasons as different as they were themselves.
This was partly what interested him, or at least that was what he told himself. True, she was gorgeous, but around her he could see the faint hint of an aura. An aura that meant she was like him. He'd learned there were others, of course, and how to recognize them, even though he stayed away from them like he stayed away from Jacob.
Until now, as far as he knew, no others of his kind had fallen into Jacob Gideon's clutches. Of course, if they had, he wouldn't have noticed. A shudder racked him, of guilt and grief and sorrow at the knowledge that his years of avoidance might have enabled Jacob to snare another Shifter. Lucas had personal experience with what would happen to any soul so unlucky.
He closed his eyes. Though it had been fifteen years, he still fought the lasting effect of those inner wounds. This woman, whoever she was, was making a terrible mistake. Jacob would torment her the same way he'd tortured his own son, under the guise of doing his idea of the Lord's work. That was awful enough.
Ah, but it didn't stop there. Worse, far worse, was the fact that her little girl would be in even greater danger, despite Jacob's claims of being able to heal her. Neither she nor her mother would ever be heard from again, once Jacob had them locked away in the compound known as Sanctuary, an enclave of his faithful on thirty acres in the West Texas desert. Both of them would probably end up dead.
Jacob had killed once before, many years ago. No doubt he'd have no qualms about doing so again.
The woman came on again, her clear, melodic tone professing what sounded like sincere hope that Jacob Gideon and his Sanctuary church would be able to help her daughter. Standing frozen, Lucas couldn't evade or avoid the pain and the longing and the need in her voice for her daughter to be healed. The emotion touched him deep inside.
While he wrangled with the unexpected rush of emotion, his inner wolf came awake, paying attention to the woman's words. This, too, was odd, as the beast had never before shown interest in any female. Concentrating on listening, he pushed his wolf back down, trying to figure out what drove the woman to ask for Jacob's help.
She was desperate, he understood. She had to be to agree to something as far-fetched as Jacob's outrageous claims. His stomach heaved and he swallowed back bile. He hadn't expected this when he'd decided to avoid having anything to do with Jacob and his Sanctuary.
The question was, what was he going to do about it?
Dragging his hand through his hair, Lucas stood transfixed in front of his TV, even as the footage moved away from the woman and child and back to the news reporter. Finally, a commercial came on. The report had ended. As he clicked the remote and turned the television off, reality sank in.
Jacob Gideon had finally gotten his claws into another Shape-shifter. As far as Lucas knew, there hadn't been any other victims since him and Lilly, which had led to his own escape so long ago. Since that fateful day, the image of his beloved sister's lifeless body had haunted his every waking moment, as well as his dreams.
And this? He couldn't hide from the truth. Unless he did something right now, he'd have to live with another innocent's death on his conscience.
Which would be, of course, completely unacceptable.
Furious, he snarled an unintelligible curse, stopping himself just short of hurling the remote at the flat screen.
He could no longer remain hidden; the revenge he'd spent half his life dreaming about would finally be a possibility. After all, he was no longer a frightened teenager. He had to return to Sanctuary and save the Shape-shifter woman and her daughter.
Because he knew in his heart of hearts if he didn't, he'd be just as badjust as horrible, foul and evilas the man he'd once called Father.
Blythe Daphne smiled wanly at the television camera, loathing that she had to beg for sympathy and invite ridicule. She'd do anythingabsolutely anythingto help her daughter, Hailey. This was her last resort.
Proof positive stood a few feet away, flanking Hailey's tiny body. Jacob Gideon, leader of a religious group called Sanctuary and renowned faith healer. Despite the fact that he was human and she and Hailey were not, she wanted to believe him. Though she'd be careful he never learned the truth about her daughter's nature, Blythe supposed faith was faith and healing was healing. Her daughter could use healthy doses of both.
Hailey had been born with a defective heart. She hadn't been expected to live a week, never mind five years. Surgery couldn't repair it and since Hailey was a Halfling, the wait for a compatible heart transplant was unfathomable. Halflings, the Pack doctors said, didn't have these sorts of problems. None of them were able to explain Hailey's condition. And, since Blythe knew very little beyond the basic dry medical information she'd been given about the sperm donor who was technically Hailey's father, she couldn't explain it, either. But she loved her baby girl more than life itself.
Despite her grim prognosis, Hailey fought and lived and grew. Her caramel-colored eyes sparkled with joy and love. Together, they celebrated each birthday almost defiantly, Hailey still standing, as though her little spirit refused to give up. And if her daughter wouldn't admit defeat, then how could her mother?
Blythe had started an all-out campaign to find a way to save her daughter. When conventional medicine, both human and Pack, had failed, she'd turned to the internet, trying everything except what seemed dangerous. Each obscure cure grew stranger and more expensive than the last. None of them made the slightest difference.
Finally, having read about him extensively, she'd arrived at one of Jacob Gideon's Power of Faith seminars. Jacob Gideon was confident. Taking hold of Blythe's hand, he'd gazed into her eyes and promised he could heal Hailey, as long as the two of them were willing to stay at his West Texas compound, Sanctuary.
That's when Blythe had balked. Something about Jacob Gideon agitated her inner wolf. Hailey, however, acted as sweet toward him as she did everyone else.
Torn, Blythe hadn't been able to make up her mind. Sensing this, perhaps, Jacob had contacted the press, no doubt using them as a means to sway her as well as gain publicity for his church. So far, she'd been interviewed for two national news stories. They'd run on consecutive days, and she suspected they'd be presented as if she'd already agreed to travel to Sanctuary while in reality she still struggled to make up her mind.
Every instinct she possessed urged her to run away as fast as she could. Only the tiniest bit of hope kept her considering it. How could she not try something that mightno matter how remote the chancesave her daughter's life?
While the media was around, Jacob seemed sincere. He gave grand speeches, making Blythe believe all over again. After all, the Pack had a Healer. She'd long ago placed Hailey's name on the waiting list.
If the Pack had a person who could heal, why would things be any different for humans? The more Jacob promised to help them, the more desperately she clung to the flicker of hope that he could.
Hailey shouldn't be sick, but she was. An ordinary man shouldn't be able to heal, but maybe he'd been graced with the same kind of gift that the Pack Healer, Samantha, had been given.
Taking a deep breath, Blythe made her decision. "I'm honored to accept your kind offer to help my little girl. I'm willing to go with you to Sanctuary so you can heal her."
The media greeted the news with applause.
Jacob Gideon simply inclined his head and smiled. "Wonderful." Beaming at her, he crouched down and took Hailey's small hand. "Your mother loves you very much, doesn't she?"
Smiling, Hailey nodded vigorously, even as she clung to Blythe's pant leg.
Apparently satisfied, Jacob pushed to his feet. "Blythe, I want you to be certain this is what you want. You do understand that you must forsake the rest of the world for a minimum of thirty days?"
She nodded, keeping a smile on her face despite the fact that his insistence on this was the only thing that truly bothered her. Why so long and why only there? Healers healed. Right then, right now. Under normal circumstances, she would have told him no, thank you, and taken her leave. She'd seen the pitying glances from the reporters and their camera crews. This, she could live with. None of them understood her determination to save her little girl and prove all the doctors wrong. They'd given Hailey less than a year to live. Blythe planned to ensure she had a lifetime.
No matter what it took.
"Are you certain you comprehend this?" Jacob pressed.
"I understand," she said smoothly, her smile wearing a bit thin. "I just need to go home and pack a few things"
"No need," Jacob interrupted, the sincerity in his voice making her feel a bit better. "You can spend tomorrow shopping, since I have a few more services scheduled before we return. But really, there's no need to buy much. Everything you require will be provided to you at Sanctuary."
She nodded, clinging to hope. This was it thenher last possible chance to back out. But why would she, when this man might be her only chance to help Hailey? She'd done her research. Just because she was desperate didn't mean she was a fool. Though a lot of peoplefor example, most of the general publiclikened the close-knit community of Sanctuary to a cult, no one had reported anything negative. Jacob Gideon had broken no laws and was not on the government's radar for any he might potentially break in the future.
Once Blythe had established that, she'd turned away from the negative and began looking for the positive. Exactly forty-two people, all alive and breathing, claimed Jacob Gideon and his principals had cured them from a terminal illness. Blythe had managed to speak to several of them personally, and had been granted permission to review their medical records, as well. Contrary to their various doctors' dire expectations, each and every one of these people had finally been given a clean bill of health, which they all attributed to Jacob Gideon.
Maybejust maybeJacob's Sanctuary and the power of faith could heal Hailey. The sheer magnitude of having actual hope made Blythe catch her breath.
A normal heart. Pink-tinged skin and tons of energy. This was what she wanted for Hailey. She'd sell her soul in order to get that.
Glancing again at the man she'd heard described as everything from the right hand of God to an angel on earth, she smiled. You never knew from where help might come.
The next day, while Jacob preached, she and Hailey had a girls' day out. They ate breakfast out, shopped, caught the newest animated movie and had a lovely early dinner at a pizza place. By the time they got back to the hotel, both of them were exhausted.
They'd barely made it to their room when someone knocked on the door. Blythe opened it to find Jacob Gideon standing in the hall, flanked by his entourage.
"Are you ready to go now?" he asked, one silver brow lifted, his expression kind and concerned.
Slowly, she nodded, her heart skipping a beat.
Giving her a half bow, he stepped aside, waving her on. "This way, please."
She and Hailey gathered up their bags and followed one of his people outside.
He'd come in a limolong, black and mysterious. When his driver opened the door, Jacob indicated she and Hailey should climb inside.
Clutching her daughter's hand, Blythe only hesitated briefly before doing as he'd asked. Jacob got in after and took the seat directly opposite her, his expression calm, as though he was inwardly reflecting. His impeccably groomed silver hair matched the winter frost of his eyes.
Inside the darkly luxurious vehicle, Blythe felt uncomfortable, out of place. Jacob looked larger than life, at ease in his surroundings. Catching her eye, he flashed a reassuring smile. Rather than feeling at ease, she pressed her hand to her stomach, trying to smother her sudden doubt. Was she doing the right thing?