Debra Mullins introduced readers to the world of the Truthseers in Prodigal Son. Now the story of the lost Atlanteans continues in Heart of Stone.
Darius Montana is a Seer. With his gift of empathy, he can see into the hearts of others, both human and Atlantean. When his family comes into possession of one of the legendary power stones of Atlantis, Darius is sent to find the Stone Singer.
Faith Karaluros is the last Stone Singer. Manipulated all her life for her rare ability, she is widowed after her husband tried to steal her power for the Mendukati, an extremist group that hunts Seers. Faith wants nothing more than to stay out of this war when Darius comes to find her—just in time to rescue her from being kidnapped.
Faith goes with Darius, determined to do the job and be on her way with the money that can set her up where no one can find her again. She didn't count on the Mendukati sending a hit man after her. Darius swears he can protect her, but when she discovers he is one of the rare Atlanteans whose powers work on their own kind, can she trust him to keep his word, or is she being used again?
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About the Author
DEBRA MULLINS is an award-winning author of historical and paranormal romances, including Prodigal Son. She has been nominated for the Holt Medallion, the Rita from Romance Writers of America, and the National Readers Choice Award. When not writing, Mullins is reading or traveling or working on her family tree—sometimes all at the same time. Born and raised in the New York/New Jersey area, she now lives in California with her family, where she doesn’t miss snowstorms in the least and continues her search for real pizza.
Read an Excerpt
Heart of Stone
By Debra Mullins
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Debra Mullins
All rights reserved.
Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico Three years later
The bear figurine glowed in the rosy light of the setting sun streaming through the window. Faith set down the soft black pouch in which the gift had arrived, unable to take her gaze from the polished stone in her hand. Lovingly carved of caramel-colored travertine with little turquoise eyes, the fetish warmed in her palm, sharing both her body's heat and its energy. Like a whisper, the carving's song trickled into her mind, soothing and protective.
Her eyes stung with tears, and she closed her fingers around the stone figure as she absorbed the love and caring infused in the stone by its maker. Ben Wakete still worried about her, had made this to protect her, and she couldn't stop the curve of her lips. A harmony rose in her throat, a counter to the sweet song of the stone.
"Faith, are you still back there?"
Lucita's raspy voice jerked her back to her surroundings. Sucking in a shaky breath, she blinked and looked around. She was in the rear room of the shop, unpacking the newest delivery of handmade jewelry and crafts from the pueblo. Her father-in-law, Ben, had brought the box himself, smiling that mysterious smile of his and reminding her of their dinner date as he'd slipped the pouch into her hand and disappeared.
He'd kept her sane these last three years after Michael's death, always supportive yet letting her find her own way.
"Faith?" Lucita appeared in the doorway from the front of the shop, her gray-threaded braids and weathered, bronzed skin a testament to her mixed Spanish and Native American heritage. She took the part of Old Town merchant seriously, dressing in long skirts and a multicolored shawl for the tourists, though Faith knew darn well she wore jeans and sneakers when not at work. "Didn't you hear me, child?"
"I did. Sorry, Lucita. I was wool-gathering." She slipped the fetish into the pocket of her jeans. She knew Ben had made this for her, not to be sold in the shop. The energy he'd woven into it spoke volumes. "I'm almost done here."
Lucita snorted. "More than likely you were dazzled by whatever gorgeous things Ben brought. Well, we'll have to admire everything tomorrow. It's closing time."
"I don't mind staying a little later, Lucita."
"No, you won't. You know the rules. We close at sunset." She peered at Faith with knowing dark eyes. "You aren't going to live your life for work, child. Not while I'm breathing. A young girl like you needs to enjoy life. See friends. Go to parties." She winked. "Maybe have a little romance."
"Romance? No way." Faith gave a laugh. "You're the only friend I need, Lucita."
"Bah." Lucita waved a hand. "I'm old. You need friends your own age. Go dancing. Be happy and silly and young."
Faith shook her head. "Not interested."
Lucita pursed her lips, clearly weighing her words. "I'm going to say something, child, and then I'm going to never mention it again. When Ben asked me to give you a job, I knew you were running from heartbreak."
"Lucita —" The other woman held up a hand, and Faith fell quiet.
"Losing a husband like you did is bad, no doubt about it, but you can't let tragedy cut your life short before it's begun. Things happen, child, and then you have to live afterward."
Faith started repacking the new merchandise, unable to look Lucita in the eye. The shop owner thought her a grieving widow, and while Faith hated lying to her, the omission of certain facts kept Lucita safe. "I am living," she said. "Living it up here in the big city."
"I'm serious." Lucita shook her head. "Big city or not, working here is a job, not a calling, Faith. You can't shut yourself away. Life — and love — has a way of finding you, like it or not."
"What if I don't want to be found?"
Lucita laughed. "Good luck with that in this world. Not a day goes by you're not leaving a trail on the Internet or being tracked by the GPS in your cell phone or being caught on a traffic cam somewhere. I think the days of being able to truly hide are gone."
"Still, it would be nice." Faith paused with her hands on the flaps of the box she was about to close. "You know, if you want to head home, I can lock up. I'm meeting Ben for dinner down the street."
Lucita gave her a long, hard stare, seemed as if she wanted to say more. Then she shrugged. "All right, then. I've said my piece, and I can see you don't want to talk about it. That's fine. But I'm still your boss, and I'll be checking up to make sure you weren't here all night. You know how I feel about all work and no play." She wagged a finger. "And I have my spies."
Faith managed a grin. "I'll be gone in ten minutes, tops. I promise."
"Then I'll see you in the morning. Good night." Lucita turned away.
"Good night." Faith closed up the last of the boxes, listening to her boss's quiet steps as Lucita headed to the front of the shop, then the tinkle of the bell as the older woman left the building. The front door shut with a click of the latch, letting Faith know she was finally alone.
She stopped where she was, hands clenched on the edges of the last box, and closed her eyes, inhaling a slow, deep breath. Lucita meant well, but the older woman had no idea about the complications of Faith's true heritage. Friends? Romance? Not for her. Not as long as the Mendukati pursued their mad obsession for superiority. Not as long as they saw a Stone Singer as an important key to obtaining their goals.
She wanted no part of this war and never had. Being a Stone Singer made her a target, and she longed to disappear, where those looking to take advantage of her powers could never find her. There had to be a place, even in this world of constant surveillance.
Michael had not been the first Atlantean to try and manipulate her into using her powers for his gain, but he'd been the most clever. She'd never seen it coming, just blindly followed his lead as he "helped" her learn about her abilities, believing all the while he had her best interests at heart, that he loved her. But as he'd demonstrated on that ridge three years ago, all that had been a lie. He'd just wanted to exploit her powers for his cause. And he'd died for it.
Her heart still sank like a rock in her chest as she remembered his staring eyes.
If not for Ben, she might have gone mad that day. He'd dealt with the body, protected her from the backlash of Michael's death with her people, helped her move away from the Mendukati to the human world in Albuquerque. And he'd forgiven her, though she'd killed his only child. He knew Michael's nature. He'd tried to talk them out of getting married, but she wouldn't hear of it. So he'd made her that ring. And even after that day on the ridge, he'd continued to protect her. To watch over her as if she were his own flesh and blood.
But even he couldn't save her from the stain on her soul. The way the act had changed her. What she had become.
A laugh sounded from outside, and she jumped. Just tourists. Her shoulders relaxed. Normal foot traffic in Old Town. Nothing to worry about.
Shaking her head at her own edginess, she turned off the light in the back room and headed into the front. Glancing at her watch, she leaned down to get her purse from beneath the register. She was looking forward to a nice, peaceful dinner out, and maybe a beer to go with it. She'd missed Ben. Her father-in-law's trips to Albuquerque were becoming less and less frequent as he traveled to more galleries and art shows in other states to sell his work. He could certainly have sent his handmade jewelry and carved fetishes along with one of his younger cousins or nephews. But she knew the only reason he made the trip at all anymore was because he still worried about her.
The bell on the door chimed while she was still bent behind the counter. She sighed, shoved her purse back into the small cabinet, and straightened. There was almost always a last-minute tourist who stumbled upon the tiny shop at the end of the Old Town street just as she was trying to close up.
"May I help you?" she called to the woman perusing the pottery near the door. "I was just getting ready to close."
The woman turned and smiled, a baring of teeth that lent an edge to her girl-next-door, blond good looks. "Hi, Faith."
Cold swept over her. "Corinne."
"Long time, no see." Corinne sauntered toward her, hands clasped behind her back — always a dangerous sign for a lightning thrower. "Took awhile to find you."
"Didn't know I was hiding." She knew why Corinne had come. Faith glanced down at the case in front of her, at the turquoise and tiger eye and boulder opal jewelry displayed there. She could pull power slowly from the gems without being obvious about it. Hopefully Corinne, with all her flash and flare, wouldn't notice something so subtle.
Hopefully Faith wouldn't need the power to defend herself.
"Oh, come on, now. You practically fell off the Earth after Michael died." Corinne clicked her tongue. "Understandable, I guess. What was it again? Energy overload?"
"That's what they said."
Corinne flashed her a knowing look from cat-green eyes. "Occupational hazard for an Echo."
"I understand the whole mourning thing." Corinne waved her hand as she spoke, a swath of crackling light, like an Independence Day sparkler, trailing after the movement. "You two got married so young. First love and all that. I get having to go lick your wounds, work through the pain of watching your husband die." She paused and tilted her head, chilling and predatory in her stillness. "But, Faith. You. Didn't. Come. Back."
She bit off each word like a chunk of ice.
Faith glanced down, monitoring the flow of energy from the jewelry in the display case. Her hands trembled, but the resilience of the stones slowly hardened her resolve, and the tremors ceased. She looked Corinne in the eye. "That life — it's not for me. Never was."
"Not for you?" Sinuous as a feline, Corinne edged toward the counter. "You're a Stone Singer, Faith. What kind of life did you expect? This?" She swept her hand at the displays. "Running a gift shop for tourists? Are you kidding me?"
"I like it. It's simple." Faith kept her voice calm.
"Well, get ready for complicated. We've found the second Stone of Ekhia." Corinne laughed. "You should see your face! It's true. We found it. The third can't be far behind." She did a little twirl and stopped on a dime, her every muscle under supreme control.
Faith shook her head. "Every few years someone thinks he's found one of the missing stones, and it's always a fake."
"But we did find it! Don't you get it?" She cocked a hip. "Time to come home, Faith."
"No, Corinne." Faith braced herself, harmonies slipping into her mind as the gemstones around her hummed. "I won't help you kill anyone else."
"What is wrong with you?" Corinne surged forward, gripping the edge of the counter as she got up in Faith's face. "They're Seers," she hissed. "Greedy murderers who destroyed our homeland."
"Thousands of years ago. Who are they hurting now? No one."
Corinne narrowed her eyes, her tight mouth pulling her features taut. "And they won't be allowed to. We have to protect what's ours."
"I won't be a part of it." The song gathered in her mind, power swelling around her. "Go back to them, Corinne, and tell them to find another Stone Singer."
"There isn't one. Wei Jun died two weeks ago. You're the only one who can finish his work." She held Faith's gaze. "You're the last Stone Singer alive."
The silence stretched between them for a long moment. She knew Corinne had been sent to bring her back, willing or not. But Faith had changed in the years since she'd stood on that ridge with Michael.
She would never be used as a weapon again.
"I'm sorry you came all this way," she said, watching the rage flare in Corinne's eyes, "but you've wasted a trip. Tell the Elders I'm not going back."
"The Elders? They're not the ones you have to worry about." Corinne gave a knowing little smile. "It's Criten. He's sent Azotay for you."
Faith's blood chilled at the name. She'd heard of Azotay; who hadn't? In the island nation of Santutegi, where many refugees from Atlantis had settled, Jain Criten, their leader, ruled with equal amounts intimidation and ruthlessness. If Criten wanted something from you, or wanted you to disappear, he sent Azotay to handle it.
But she'd been with the Mendukati long enough to learn the truth about Criten. He personally commanded the forces of the Mendukati in their quest for blood vengeance against the Seers. Though he smiled for the cameras and played politics on the surface, in reality he wielded Azotay like the whip's lash Azotay had been named for, mercilessly destroying his enemies and bending others to his will with icy callousness. The merest mention of Azotay made even the most hardened mercenaries uneasy. No one dared cross Jain Criten, or if they did, they didn't live to tell about it, thanks to Azotay.
Corinne was watching her closely. Faith hoped she looked mildly interested rather than terrified. "Azotay is here, in the United States?"
"Oh, yeah, he's here. Flew in a few days ago. President Criten was ambushed by the Seers who stole the second stone. He escaped, but he had to get back to Santutegi, so he sent Azotay to get the stone back."
"I thought you said you had the second stone." Faith watched some of the glee fade from Corinne's expression.
"We know where it is. We'll get it back." She smirked and pointed at Faith, electricity crackling and flowing around her fingers, along her arm to her elbow. "And my orders are to bring Azotay the Stone Singer."
Never. Two of the three Stones of Ekhia had been missing for centuries, ever since Atlantis was destroyed. If Criten were to get his hands on all three and harness their power ...
Well, Armageddon just wasn't a strong enough word to describe what would happen.
Her heart thundered in her chest, her blood roaring in her ears. She could not let them use her like that. They'd tried to make her a weapon before. Wei Jun was dead, so without her, they had nothing, just a bunch of rocks. It had to stay that way.
"No." Faith pulled her own simmering power with a rush, the songs of the stones around the shop whirling in her mind like a choir. Her tattoos glowed and throbbed, and she held up her hands so Corinne could see. "How smart is it, really, to threaten a Stone Singer in a shop full of stones? Leave, Corinne. While you still can."
Corinne's lips peeled back in a growl. She whirled, firing lightning blasts all around the room. Woven blankets on the walls caught fire. Pottery shattered on shelves, and jewelry in glass cases exploded. The turquoise and tiger eye and onyx in those rings and bracelets and earrings shrieked their death wails in Faith's mind, ripping through the power stream she'd summoned and flashing back on her. She staggered, bile rising at the death of the stones.
Corinne spun back to face her, advancing with an obvious rage flaring her power even hotter. The lightning coiled all the way up her arms like snakes. "Who's the smart one now? You haven't learned anything about combat, Faith. But I —" She thumped her chest with one crackling hand. "I've been training for this my whole life."
"I'm not going with you, Corinne."
"Oh, you will." The blonde leaned closer. "I've orders not to kill you, but all bets are off for Michael's daddy. You don't come, he pays."
Faith's breath caught. No way would she let them hurt Ben. Not after all he'd done to help her, both before and after Michael. He was all she had. She would die first. If she were dead, they wouldn't be able to use the stones. And they would leave Ben alone.
She slid her hand into her pocket, touched the stone bear fetish. Power surged through her body at the brief contact, borne of love and woven especially for her. Its song swelled inside her, fighting to explode.
She let it.
* * *
"I've dreaded this day." Ben Wakete sat with his hand curled around his beer mug and gave the other two men at the table a solemn look, the light of dusk carving shadows around his strong Native American features. "She's happy now. I don't want to ruin it for her."
Darius Montana tossed back another swallow of his bourbon, ice clinking in his tumbler. As with most humans, Ben's emotions batted at him like moths trying to get to a glass-encased flame. Being here in a big city like Albuquerque had just about tested his empathic limits. So many people, so many feelings. But there had been no choice. In order to survive this war, they had to chase down this woman.
Excerpted from Heart of Stone by Debra Mullins. Copyright © 2014 Debra Mullins. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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