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Mecca is a murderer.
At least, that’s what she thinks when she accidentally kills a man who attacks her in the parking lot of her favorite coffee shop. Self defense, right? Except how is she to explain that she killed him with only a hand on his wrist?
Vampires don’t exist. At least, not in the “traditional” sense. The Visci, a species that subsists on human blood, are not undead. They’re not human. And they never were.
Close kin to humans, the Visci pass within our society easily, and over millennia, have wedged their way into positions of power. Long-lived, they are also very difficult to kill. However, they have an evolutionary flaw. While they do not die easily, they also do not reproduce easily.
But they can mate with humans — and have, giving rise to a population of human-Visci hybrids, called half-bloods by those of pure Visci lineage. For centuries, they lived and worked together, these half-bloods and pure bloods. But tensions have risen and civil war is now raging on the doorstep.
But Mecca Trenow knows none of this when she flees to her father, panicked over her unintended use of the family Gift: the one that allows her to manipulate human energy. She’s always hated her gift and refused to learn anything about it beyond how to control it so she would do no harm. That is, until a rogue pure blood attacks her and she reacts instinctively, draining his life — the life he’s stolen from another — out of him in moments.
And now she’s a murderer.
When word gets back to the Visci of someone who can kill one of their kind with just a touch, the race is on to acquire Mecca as a weapon in the coming battle. As she learns about this shadowy underground group, she also discovers her father’s dark past and the secret he has kept from her all of her life. Reeling from this discovery and unable to trust the one person she has always counted on, Mecca is isolated from everything she once knew, all the while being hunted by dangerous creatures bent on using her Gift for their own bloody purposes.
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She's been called the kind of evil that inspires hugs.
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Darkness cloaked the back parking lot in Little Five Points. On the asphalt, the man shuddered and gasped, his dusky blue eyes wide in his confusion. Mecca Trenow, her fingers wrapped around his wrist, held her own fear at bay by the need for survival. A confused grimace transformed the man's face into an ugly, alabaster mask.
Mecca's heart thumped hard against her breastbone. Everything had happened so fast! His attack. Her response. Now, crouched over him, she found the arm in her grasp thinning, becoming more frail, until she could feel the actual bone between her fingers. His dark hair greyed and then wafted to the concrete like so many delicate feathers.
Superimposed over his form, like a double-exposed negative, the Cavern where his soul would have resided spread before her. It should have been bathed in golden light. Instead, a small ball of gold looked to be tethered to the walls with thick, silver-grey tendrils.
She closed her eyes to block out the reality behind the image of the Cavern. She tugged at the golden life force within him. Its colored fringes had already washed out to a pale pink. The silver tethers which held it stretched and then popped, one by one. Mecca surrounded the sad little ball with her own energy, gold with blue fringes, as it began to come away.
The captive energy swung free from its bonds, momentarily bathing the cold, dank Cavern in light. It hurled into Mecca. Her own life force, the little part of her soul she'd sent into him, crashed back to her, breaking her hold on his frail arm. She toppled onto her ass between the cars, sharp pain vibrating up her spine.
Energy tore through her, mixing with her adrenaline. The red-hot spike shuddered through her body and along her limbs. It reached her toes and then bounced back and shot through her entire body again. Her skin tingled electric.
She had no concept of how long she lay on the gravel lot. The acidic smell of piss coming from the ground made her queasy. The energy waned and ebbed until it settled into her and became familiar, became a part of her own soul. With a long, deep breath, she pulled herself up from between the cars, leaning against the cool door of a Toyota Camry.
As the energy finally began to level out, she realized that she felt drunk. Her fuzzy brain had trouble registering things around her, or even thinking, for that matter. So it took a moment to realize that the blob she stared at now was actually a man. He stood near the Dumpster, across the parking lot.
Tall, with dark, tousled hair, he watched her with wide eyes. What she'd done began to sink in. Panic edged her thoughts. She looked down at the withered corpse, at herself.
Dark droplets dusted her blouse. She touched the side of her neck and her fingertips came away bloody. The thump-thump of her pulse pounded in her ears.
At her feet, the shrunken carcass looked nothing like the sexy man in the coffee shop who'd approached her so many times over the last few weeks. His energy had been strange, which had kept her from engaging. But today, she'd said yes to a chat. And she'd ended up a murderer.
She stared at the dead thing. The fear she'd been holding back crashed over her like a flood.
She turned on her heel and ran.CHAPTER 2
The young Visci half-breed male — smelling of a sweet, rotten scent, much like day-old milk — who showed Claude into Emilia's quarters had been more interested in his telephone than in courtesy. But there was no accounting for manners.
Emilia's rooms encompassed half of the lowest level of the sub-basement in her compound. Situated at the end of an extended hallway, it would be defensible in case of a breach; Claude felt sure that Emilia had installed escape tunnels leading from her rooms to a safe location. He would have, in her shoes. Good defense means nothing if one is trapped like a rat in a corner.
Claude crossed the threshold into Emilia's quarters and the door closed behind him with a muted click. Rich moss-green carpet swallowed his footfalls as he made his way through the small ante-chamber to the main living area. The scent of cinnamon incense caressed him.
Emilia's love for all things aged and European showed in her design tastes. The Queen Anne style writing table that flanked him on the right held a pale cream colored porcelain pitcher beside a chipped washing basin, both settled on a lace table runner. A tapestry on the opposite wall displayed an English fox hunt with braying dogs, noblemen and pretty women riding side saddle. Claude had always found Emilia's affection for European history charming.
Through an open archway, he entered the sitting room. The green on the floor gave way to a thick, merlot carpet, which accented russet walls hung with various light colored paintings framed in dark woods. Emilia's passion gave way to practicality with the smoke grey, leather sectional in the corner and the glass-topped desk which faced the room near the far wall, flanked by two ultramodern chairs.
Emilia sat at the desk, glow from the LCD computer monitor highlighting her almond skin tone. When she looked up at him, Claude saw the girl he'd taken from a battlefield in what is now Cambodia. Her face, her expression when she smiled, those were the same. But her eyes had changed. Darker now. Harder, perhaps. Claude supposed he'd done that to her.
"Thank you for coming," Emilia said as she rose, a smile spread across her face. "Things have gotten complicated and I am eager to have your counsel, if you would stay for a bit."
Claude affected a short bow. "I am happy to assist." The conflict between the pure blood Visci and the half-breeds roiled below the surface of every interaction these days, in every city he'd visited, so Atlanta seemed no different. It had only been a matter of time.
Commotion just outside the arched doorway caught both their attention. A tall, thin man bustled through, followed directly by the rotten-milk half-breed, who sputtered apologies to Emilia.
"What is going on?" she said, moving from behind her desk. "James?" She stared the new arrival down, but to his credit, he did not fluster under her gaze.
"My apologies for bursting in," James said, tilting a nod in Claude's direction.
Claude could detect no scent coming from him, though he was a distance away. Pure blood? Interesting.
"You need to hear what happened to Hayden."
Emilia waved a hand of dismissal to the half-breed from the doorway and he stepped back, a scowl on his face.
"All right," Emilia said as she leaned against the desk. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Who did Hayden kill this time?"
Claude didn't know who this Hayden was, but listened with interest. James shook his head, but seemed unable to talk for a moment. When he finally did speak, it came out all in a rush, with barely any breath between words.
"He didn't kill anyone. Someone killed him."
"What?" Emilia rarely showed excessive emotion, but the surprise traveled across her features for a moment before she regained control. "Was it Visci? A pure blood killed him?"
James shook his head. "I don't know what she is. But she isn't Visci."
This conversation had gotten exponentially more interesting.
"Then how?" Emilia asked.
"He was at the college campus, down at Little Five Points. He hunts — hunted there pretty often. He liked the college kids."
"Yes, yes, I know." Emilia waved her hand. "Go on."
"He was in the coffee shop and had zeroed in on one girl. He'd targeted her before, several times, actually, but she always shut him down."
"Who is she?"
"I don't know. She's a student — she's always in one of the coffee shops, working on things — light-skinned, African-American, young. I've been in the same room with her too and I get why he wanted her. She pulled at me, but I have no idea why. I suppose that's why he kept going back to her every time he saw her."
"But this time, she accepted him." Emilia's jaw had tightened and set in a hard line.
"She let him walk her to her car but then ... Then ..." James looked down and Claude realized suddenly that although James might have been a full blood Visci, he was very young. That made him wonder who the boy's parents were. Who had been lucky enough to procreate without a human? Claude would have to make inquiries.
"Enough with the theatrics," Emilia said. "What happened?"
"He went to feed from her and when he leaned in, he died."
Emilia caught Claude's gaze for a moment and the exasperation evident in her tone flashed through her eyes. She looked back to the young Visci in front of her. "James, I swear to you, if you don't tell me what happened, you're going to be an offering in the Maze Gathering, rather than a potential contestant."
"Yes, I'm sorry. When he went to feed, she grabbed his arm and he just suddenly started withering. He tried to pull away, but not until he was too weak to do it. It's like she was sucking everything out of his body and he just shriveled up and died."
Something in the back recesses of Claude's mind pinged on James's words, but he set aside the strange memory-like feeling for now. He'd search his past later. Now, he wanted more information, and he hoped Emilia would ask the questions he wanted answers to.
"I don't understand," Emilia said. "What actually killed him?"
James shook his head, but didn't respond immediately. Claude wondered whether James feared for his own safety because he was unable to answer. When James did find his voice again, he said, "I don't know how she killed him. There was no blood, and I saw no injury when I retrieved his body."
"What did you do with it?"
"It's still in my car. I thought you would want to see it."
"Yes. Take it to the medical suite and we'll see what we can make of things." Emilia moved behind her desk again. "You can go. You did well, James. Thank you."
James furrowed his brow and shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back again. "There's something else."
Emilia looked up from the paper she'd lifted and begun to study. "What?"
"She saw me."
Claude could all but feel Emilia's temper, though her face remained stoic. She'd always been hot-headed, but it seemed she'd finally learned to control her immediate outbursts. Likely a skill learned as she solidified her hold over Atlanta. It's difficult to govern Visci effectively without a huge measure of self control.
"Go on," Emilia said, her tone quiet and calm.
"She saw me, but I think she was terrified. She ran in the direction of the university."
Claude wondered, briefly, whether Emilia had misgivings about having heard all of this news with him in the room. He had the sort of feeling that created something like a live wire beneath his skin, as if he had information that he didn't yet understand, but that would be indelibly useful in the future.
"Is there anything else?" Clearly, Emilia was ready to dismiss James. Her attention returned to the things in front of her eyes, though Claude was sure that she didn't even know what she looked at.
"Very well. Please take the body to the medical suite."
"Yes, Lady." To his credit, James left on silent feet.
When he closed the door behind him, Emilia raised her gaze to Claude. "I'd like to postpone our discussion until tomorrow. I have a few things that I must address."
Claude tilted his head in a respectful bow. "Of course. As you wish. Please send for me at your convenience."
She gave him a smile and for barely a moment, he saw the girl she had once been — slow to smile, but with a twinkle when she did. "I'm glad you're here," she said.
"It is my pleasure," he replied. "Until later, then."
* * *
The death of this Hayden weighed heavy in Claude's thoughts. There was something about it ... something about how it happened. He knew there was something in his past — probably in the early part of his life, judging from the difficulty he had recalling it — that called to him.
It took longer than he expected to find the medical suite. James was just entering with a black back slung over his shoulder. Not the most graceful way to transport a body surely.
Claude followed the man into the medical suite and stood near the door as James dumped the bag onto a flat thin-mattressed gurney. Claude had expected it to be something like a body bag — though he had no idea why he would think a Visci traveled around with a body bag in his car — but it turned out to be a plain black garbage bag. James ripped the plastic, as if he were unpacking a pound of store-bought beef.
The body inside looked more like a mummy than a recently-dead man. The memory in Claude's mind that hadn't wanted to come forward before, slammed to the forefront now.
Claude's uncle — a man named Politus — had been found just like this in a copse of olive trees a few leagues from where Claude had grown up. Claude couldn't remember specifics. He'd only been a boy then. But he recalled his father organizing a party of Visci — they'd all been full blood then — to hunt down the ...
Claude couldn't remember the name of the person, or maybe it was a group name. He would have to think on it for longer.
Claude stepped up silently behind the young full blood. "James." He got a bit of satisfaction at the startled jerk and turn when James faced him.
"Yeah ...?" Even this close, James had no scent. He must have come from a strong bloodline.
"You said, in Emilia's quarters, that this girl only touched him and he became ..." Claude motioned to the corpse.
James narrowed his eyes, obviously suspicious. "Yeah."
A man of many and varied words. "Only one small question, if you please. I see he wears a long-sleeved shirt. Do you recall whether she touched him over the shirt or on his skin?"
James glanced at the corpse and looked back to Claude. Claude imagined he was weighing the pros and cons of sharing something now that he hadn't shared with Emilia. That's what Claude would be doing. But all things considered, this was a seemingly innocuous piece of information.
"Does it mean something to you?"
Claude didn't show his surprise, but he hadn't expected the question. "Perhaps. But I can't know without some research. And there's no need to do the research without an answer to the question."
"Did Emilia send you?"
Claude didn't answer, but didn't release the man's gaze.
James licked his lips and pulled in a breath. Then he turned to the corpse and pointed to what would have been a strong arm. "There. At the wrist. She grabbed it when he'd leaned in to feed from her."
"So the clothes weren't in the way?"
"Thank you, James." Claude left the man to whatever he would be doing now that he had the body on the slab.
The skin to skin contact meant something. Now Claude just needed to remember what that was.CHAPTER 3
Mecca clutched the steering wheel in two tight fists, her cell phone pinched between her head and shoulder. On the dashboard, the speed needle had slipped past eighty. She eased her foot off the gas. The buzzing ring in her ear stopped as the line clicked on the other end.
"Dad?" The fear in her words scared her even more.
His sleep-roughened voice came across the line. "Mecca? It's almost 1 a.m. What's wrong?"
She took a deep breath, releasing some of her panic. "Dad, something really bad's happened. I think I killed someone." She blurted it before she chickened out. I know I killed someone. Her words hung in the air like a heavy winter fog.
"Are you with the police?"
"No. I ran."
Moments crawled by. A giant black Lincoln Navigator blew past her, windows open, bass thumping. Her seat vibrated with the beat.
Her father finally responded, his tone tight and clipped. "Come home."
* * *
She pulled into the driveway and cut the headlights. The foyer's chandelier dropped a warm glow through the open front door. Her father's silhouette appeared in the door frame. Relief welled up in her.
She closed the space between them. When he opened his arms, memories of her childhood overtook her. She fell into his hug and let her defenses down for the first time since she'd met Hayden at the Brew-haha.
He brushed a hand over her hair. Tall and strong, with broad shoulders and thick arms, her father made her feel safer than she had all night. When she looked up at him, she found more comfort in his electric blue eyes which looked at her now with worry.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Jivaja"
Copyright © 2018 Venessa Giunta.
Excerpted by permission of Fictionvale Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Jivaja (Soul Cavern Series, #1),
Chapter One: Mecca,
Chapter Two: Claude,
Chapter Three: Mecca,
Chapter Four: Mecca,
Chapter Five: David,
Chapter Six: Mecca,
Chapter Seven: David,
Chapter Eight: Mecca,
Chapter Nine: David,
Chapter Ten: Claude,
Chapter Eleven: David,
Chapter Twelve: Mecca,
Chapter Thirteen: Mecca,
Chapter Fourteen: David,
Chapter Fifteen: Mecca,
Chapter Sixteen: David,
Chapter Seventeen: Mecca & David,
Chapter Eighteen: David,
Chapter Nineteen: Mecca,
Chapter Twenty: Claude,
Chapter Twenty-One: Mecca,
Chapter Twenty-Two: David,
Chapter Twenty-Three: Mecca,
Chapter Twenty-Four: Claude,
Chapter Twenty-Five: Mecca,
Chapter Twenty-Six: Victoria,
Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Maze,
Chapter Twenty-Eight: David,
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Mecca,
Chapter Thirty: Mecca,
Chapter Thirty-One: Mecca,