For millennia, two groups of immortals have roamed the earth in a spiritual chess game for human souls. Now they enter the time of Final Vengeance.
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VALLEY OF BONES
By ERIC WILSON
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Eric Wilson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMid-August 2004-Cascade Mountains, Oregon
Her time was not yet over.
Far from it.
Gina settled back to earth through rain-slick tree branches and watched felled Douglas firs slam into the guardrail and cartwheel into space. One impaled her Nissan, carrying it over the cliff toward the river below, while the overturned logging truck responsible for this mess slid another hundred yards down the road and plowed into a bank of roots and mud.
As far as cops and Collectors would know, Kate Preston was dead.
Gone for good.
In reality, Gina Lazarescu was still alive and kicking. It'd worked. Actually worked. She wore a goofy grin, thinking how she and Cal Nichols had ascended through the roof of her car in that moment before impact. She'd put half-immortal lineage to use, bridging seen and unseen, uniting physical and spiritual elements in a dance of molecules that harkened to those first moments of creation.
Beside her, droplets played in and around Cal's form as he too regained substance beneath the concealing foliage, and it made her happy. For this transitory moment he was a mist unfazed by the rain, a soul freed from mortality by the Nazarene Himself.
Plus, he was her father. Nickel, he liked to be called.
"Agggh," he said. "What's that?"
"What's wrong?" Gina scanned the road for signs of more trouble, while her hand reached for the dagger strapped to her shin.
Nickel flailed at his shirt collar, where a battalion of tiny spiders had paraglided upon him from the evergreens. Gina was tempted to laugh, but knew his motions might draw attention and threaten this entire charade.
"Just babies," she said. "Keep still. We're trying to stay hidden here."
"Seems kind of wimpy for a man with immortal blood."
"Bears? Werewolves? No problem. Spiders? They're just ... creepy."
"If you say so, Mr. Scaredy-Pants. So, where am I supposed to go from here? And what about him?" She pointed at the white Dodge pickup on the roadside, at the man climbing into the cab. He looked familiar, although it was hard to tell in this weather. "You think he's noticed us at all?"
"Nah," Nickel said. "He's got his own issues to deal with, but I'll be seeing him again soon."
"You know him?"
"Name Clay Ryker ring any bells?"
"Ryker? Wait, he's one of those you said was keeping watch over Kenny last month, guarding him while I worked at the hardware store."
"You got it," Nickel said. "And he knows your husband's uncle, Sergeant Turney. Clay has a son of his own, and I've asked him to take a personal interest in Kenny's well-being once he's heard that you're dead."
"Dead. That sounds so ..."
"Least you'll be off the Collectors' radar. That's a good thing."
"You think it's worked this time."
"I'd bet my life on it."
Through sheets of rain, Gina watched Clay back the pickup onto Highway 126 and speed away with someone else beside him in the cab. Cars crawled past the strewn bits of wreckage, and it was only a matter of time before emergency vehicles arrived.
"What now, Dad?"
Down in the chasm, white water had swallowed Gina's Nissan from view, a reminder that her old life was gone.
Nickel's smile shimmered through the rain. "Time to lay low and get ready."
"Ready for what? 'Queen of the Resurrected,' that's what my name means, right? But you're telling me I'm not allowed to watch after Kenny any longer or even know where Dov Amit's hiding. What can I do? What's the point?"
"Your mothering isn't done."
"Sure seems like it to me."
"For now, you'll have to supervise from a distance."
"Supervise? That's not the same thing."
"And remain anonymous."
"What? Please don't mess with my head, not on this subject."
Nearly seven years ago, she'd lost newborn Jacob to a Collector's attack, and minutes ago she'd left behind her role as Kenny Preston's guardian. She was dead to the world now. Also dead to her own desires. By drinking Nazarene Blood, she had chosen to serve with Those Who Resist.
"How," she asked, "am I supposed to resist if I can't show my face?"
"The postcard," Nickel said.
"In your pocket. The one I told you to bring along."
"This?" She pulled the item from her jacket. The front showed the Campo Santo, a cemetery near the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In the corner, an old smudge of her father's blood pulsed with details of his past-and, by proxy, some of her own.
"You'll find your purpose in there, Gina."
"You're scaring me."
"The last time you told me to trust you, I lost my-"
"You lost Jacob. I know you blame me for what happened at that clinic, but even then I meant what I said. Go on." He gestured at the postcard. "Find out what really happened."
She dug her feet into good old terra firma. The downpour pasted long chestnut hair to her bronze skin.
Nickel moved closer. "What're you waiting for?"
She touched her tongue to the postcard, felt the bloodstain turn moist. Suddenly, she was careening through her father's recollections, week by week, month by month. What was she looking for? He'd told her earlier she couldn't miss it, yet even now she was missing so much-bits of Romania, of bears and blackbirds, Israeli wastelands and Jerusalem alleyways, and a baby with a knitted cap lying in his incubator.
She gasped. Her eyes snapped open.
"Don't pull back," Nickel said, taking her hand.
"Dad, I can't do this. Please don't make me-"
"Don't look away."
"Why am I watching this?"
"Because you need to know everything."
She knew she had lost her son and also knew her husband, Jed Turney, had split with her a couple of years later as a result of their shared yet inconsolable grief. Was that any big shocker? Statistics showed that many parents separated after the death of a child.
"Keep going, Gina," Nickel insisted.
With heart ready to burst, she pressed on. The scene opened again in her mind, a tableau of broken glass and splintered wood and spattered blood and ... and little Jacob pierced by the nails of a pipe bomb.
A sob lodged in her throat. She couldn't breathe.
"Jump ahead just a little bit." Nickel squeezed her hand. "Go to the night right after his memorial."
Nearly three days had passed and the news crews had backed off, giving Gina and Jed space to mourn, even as authorities continued sifting through the bomb's aftermath. Above the Chattanooga graveyard, black storm clouds churned. Her baby's tombstone lay humble and undisturbed.
Jacob Lazarescu Turney Our precious son Sept. 8, 1997 One day of pain, an eternity of peace
Amid the gravestones, Gina's father appeared with Gina's mother alongside. Nikki Lazarescu in all her middle-aged, raven-haired glory.
Nickel and Nikki ...
They were shoveling dirt, rubbing sweat from their eyes, wrapping blisters on their hands, shining a hooded flashlight into the ground, pausing to check the graveyard's perimeter, and digging, digging, digging.
What're they doing? No, no, this can't be possible.
Nickel was cracking open the casket, parting those thin baby lips, dribbling Nazarene Blood from the vial around his neck. Jacob's skin changed from chalky gray to rosy pink. His eyelids fluttered and he let out a life-affirming wail. Alive? Her son was alive? Wrapped in a blanket and that light-blue birthing cap, Jacob pawed at the air, tried to suckle at his Grandma Nikki's bosom. Nikki drew him close and wept into his wisps of hair.
"Is this real?" Gina whispered.
"To save his life, he had to lose it," Nickel said.
"You ... you never told me." Torn between celebration and a longtime deceit, she swiveled her eyes toward him as anger coiled in her chest. "You let me believe the worst."
"It was the only way."
"He's my son."
"And we were thinking of you. If we had told you, it would've endangered both you and Jacob, not to mention the future of mankind."
"Mankind?" Gina threw up her hands. "C'mon."
Her father was resolute. "You've seen what these vampires will do. You've felt their fury firsthand. Don't tell me you still doubt the stakes that we're fighting for. Imagine what would've happened if-"
"Stop!" She shoved at his chest. "Don't go making excuses for this. I deserved to know, and you had no right to keep me in the dark." Tears rolled from her chin. "I'm not a little girl anymore."
"I know that."
"You have any idea what you put me through, Dad?"
"I'm sorry. Believe it or not, I've had my own griefs in all this, starting as far back as my first wife in the days of Ezekiel."
Overwhelmed, Gina could hardly fathom that concept at the moment. "Listen," she said. "Don't you ever deceive me again, you understand?"
"Now ..." She filled her lungs with oxygen. "Where is he?"
"He better be."
"He's got some of your immortal genes, and it's only a matter of time till he takes his place among the Concealed Ones. This is part of the reason they gathered in Portland back in '71-an emergency session, strategizing ways to bring about good from my wrong choices."
"I was a result of those choices, you know. Maybe that's why Nikki was always trying to purge my veins, huh? Trying to bleed out my sins and yours."
"Listen to me." Cal Nichols took her shoulders and turned her toward him. His gold-flecked green eyes peered into hers, melting away her doubts. "Sweetheart, don't even begin to believe all that junk your mother lumped on you. She meant well, but she was wrong. Heck, even the Nazarene has murderers and whores in His bloodline. He's all about redeeming the ones who seem most unredeemable."
"Thanks. I think."
He cupped her face in his hands. "You are one beautiful lady."
She set her mouth and looked off through the trees.
"You were not a mistake, Gina. Don't you ever believe otherwise. Say it," he told her. "You were not a mistake."
"I was not a mistake."
Though she wanted to stay mad at him, to punish him for the pain he had put her through, she couldn't deny the paternal adoration in his voice. She met his eyes. "Dad?"
"Thank you for ... for everything you did to save Jacob." She brushed a kiss across his cheek. "I love you."
"And I've loved you since the day you were born."
Sirens sounded from down the mountain. He said, "You better get moving. It's gonna be awhile till you see me again, and there can't be any more of our cell phone calls."
"Mine's down there," Gina said. "In the river."
"It's better that way. Don't worry, though-I'll be around."
"Wait. What about Jacob? What's 1971 have to do with him?"
"Oh, the whole D. B. Cooper thing. That was a scheme cooked up at the Concealed Ones' meeting. With Natira closing in, trying to wipe out my bloodline, they decided to act as bait on that plane, hoping to draw him away while Nikki and I escaped with you and your brother."
"Natira wasn't fooled, though."
"No, he ... well, he killed Reggie. But he never found out about you."
"So now, through me, Jacob's lined up to be a Concealed One."
"Soon as he reaches thirteen."
"Still six years away."
"Plenty of time for you to be a mother to him-from a distance, of course, and without him knowing who you are. That's the way things have to be until we get closer to his bar mitzvah. Jewish tradition says that's when he becomes a man, a true 'son of the law.' And that's when he'll be ready for what's ahead."
"Where is he?" Disbelief fell away, and all that mattered now was that she see Jacob for herself. She'd never had the chance to hold him, to feed him, change him, wipe his tears. Who had been there to watch him take his first step? Was he in school? So much to catch up, so much ...
"Listen, Gina, I can't let you just go running to him. Not yet. I-"
"Where?" she demanded. "You owe me this, Dad. You owe me. I want to see my son."
"Please, he needs me." When Nickel stayed silent, she touched her taste buds again to the postcard and tried to dredge up the information. She shot him a bewildered look. "You don't even know where he is?"
"Not exactly, but Nikki does."
"Great. Like she'd tell me anything."
"She's parked at a café just off the Blue River exit, in an Acura NSX with tinted windows."
"Blue River? As in, just down the road?"
"She's waiting for you."
Chapter TwoWould Gina actually come?
Nikki Lazarescu pressed back against the headrest, catching sight of herself in the Acura's rearview mirror. Her raven locks were fanned around high cheekbones, her eyebrows shaped and waxed above eyes so dark they were almost black. Despite being in her late fifties, she had been told she was a classic beauty, a fact evidenced by the lusty males among her late-night TV show's audiences. "Hello, Regina," she practiced in the glass.
Much too formal.
"Gina, dear, it's good to see you."
A little better, though there was no need to sound patronizing or glib. That had never been Nikki's style, and she wouldn't kowtow now to the emotions of her only surviving child.
Nearly forty years ago, Nikki had given birth to twins: Reginald and Regina. In 1971, in a desperate maneuver to disappear from the Collectors' crosshairs, she'd lost Reggie.
Lost? The word was grossly inadequate.
No, her son had been murdered. He'd been tapped by Natira's fangs and left for dead in an icy river. Cal Nichols had failed to save him before the end of that third day-a window of immortality allegedly created by Yeshua's victory over the grave. Distraught and nearly penniless, Nikki had run back to her homeland of Romania with young Gina, intent on carving out their own survival.
And I was successful, was I not? Gina's still alive, as am I.
From the mirror, the flat expression in Nikki's eyes argued otherwise. She'd learned to close off the doors of the heart, to lock away the past and keep her focus fixed upon the future. No room for deviation, especially in light of her recent doctor visits.
She clicked painted fingernails on the steering wheel. After making the long drive from her home in Southern California, she was beginning to doubt her daughter would show. Gina, too, had lost a son. Gina had spent nearly seven years believing the worst-and no doubt blaming Nickel and Nikki.
"I'm sorry," Nikki said aloud. "It was all for Jacob's survival."
Tap, tap, tap ...
She flinched, then turned to see a form at the passenger door. Drawing air through pink-glossed lips, she disengaged the power locks and watched her daughter duck her head.
"Hello, my angel."
"I'm all wet. I don't know if you want me to-"
"Please." Nikki gestured toward the seat. "Come out of that rain."
Wearing soaked, baggy khakis and a U2 tour shirt, Gina slid in and closed the door. Nikki saw that she was shivering, her thick hair streaked with caramel highlights, her earlobes free of those silly ruby earrings she'd received long ago from her father.
"You look miserable. Let me turn on the heat for you."
"I'm not too bad, but thanks. After walking through the woods, I can't really feel my fingertips."
Nikki started the engine and angled the vent's warmth to the right. She set her jaw, then took her daughter's hands and rubbed them between her own with all the businesslike vigor of a prison nurse.
Excerpted from VALLEY OF BONES by ERIC WILSON Copyright © 2010 by Eric Wilson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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