The alien vampires known as the Thrall classify most humans as Prey, save for a few who survive the bite of the parasite. People like Kate Reilly, whose latent psychic powers were activated by the vampire's venom when she was attacked a few years ago. Kate is Not Prey, and safe.
Or is she? The Thrall Queen intends to make Kate her successor, despite Kate's hatred of the vampires.
All is not bleak in Kate's world. Her downstairs neighbor, Tom, is a hunky firefighter who arouses her senses…including the ones that tell her he's not human. Tom's a werewolf—and his pack knows how to protect Kate from the Thrall Queen. The problem? The last time Kate trusted a man she loved, he betrayed her to the Thrall and nearly got her killed.
Action, adventure, romance, and thrills—everything readers want from the USA Today bestselling authors who are also Cat Adams, creator of the Blood Singer series—are all on display in Touch of Evil.
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Touch of Evil
By C. T. Adams, Cathy Clamp, Anna Genoese
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2006 Cathy L. Clamp and C.T. Adams
All rights reserved.
"Katie?" The sound of a familiar voice calling my name made me turn and grin. Peg always has that effect on me.
She was a sight for sore eyes; we didn't get to see each other much, usually staying in touch via email and cell phone. As always, she looked crisp and professional in her dove grey flight attendant's uniform. Her short blonde hair was perfectly coiffed, her make-up flawless. You'd never tell from looking at her that it was four in the freaking morning. With me, you could tell. Oh my, yes!
I had just stepped off my third red-eye in a week, the last in a long string of flights delivering valuables around the globe. I'm a bonded air courier, which sounds glamorous — and sometimes it even is.
This was so not one of those times.
Her wide blue eyes narrowed as she looked me over from head to toe. "Here." She handed me the cup of coffee she'd been carrying. "You need this worse than I do. You're limping again. Is that old vampire bite bothering you?"
Had I been limping? As soon as she said it, the whispering in my head started. I slammed down my mental shields and the voices faded, but the cold chill down my spine remained for a moment. "Gee, thanks, Peg. Now you've got me thinking about my least favorite person in Denver."
She grimaced and blushed. "Oops. Sorry. How's the coffee?"
I took a gulp of scalding coffee and let out a small, happy sigh. "Nirvana! If coffee isn't the nectar of the gods I don't know what is. You saved my life." The drink was strong enough to peel the fuzz from my teeth. No cream, no sugar — just the way I like it. Without caffeine I wasn't sure I'd make it to the truck, and none of the airport restaurants or coffee shops would be open for a while yet.
I gestured to her bag with my pinkie. "Where are you off to?"
"Paris, then Rome." She grinned at me, showing white teeth and deep dimples. "Who knows, maybe I'll actually get to be there long enough to see the sights this time." It was a running joke between us. We refer to ourselves as the great young globetrotters. We travel the world — but we're too damned busy to visit the sights or play tourist. Most of the time our schedules don't permit it, and when they do, we're too exhausted to take advantage.
I could, however, write a book about the best sheets and pillows in Europe.
Peg shook her head as I took another long pull on the coffee. I knew that look. "What?"
"Are you ever going to retire that blue blazer?"
I glanced down at the jacket. It was looking a little bedraggled, but it had been a long flight. "What's wrong with it? I've only had it a few years."
"Try five years, Kate. I was with you when you bought your work wardrobe — remember? Jackets, pants, and skirts in navy blue, black, and green, along with an armful of white cotton shirts. Even the airline changes their uniforms more often than you!"
I didn't dignify that with a reply. I just raised an eyebrow and then stuck out my tongue while she laughed. It was too soon for the caffeine to be taking effect, but I would've sworn I felt more alert.
"Um ... how's Joe?" Peg tried to keep her voice casual as she inquired after my older brother. It wasn't easy. She'd fallen for him hard not so long ago, and he'd behaved like a world-class jerk. I love my brothers, but now was not the time for me to talk about Joe. I was absolutely furious with him, and not over Peg.
I sipped the coffee, trying to think of a response that wouldn't turn into a rant. There wasn't one.
"Same as always." I winced. I hadn't intended my voice to sound quite that bitter.
"Oh God, what has he done now?" Peg steered me toward the nearest bank of chrome and vinyl chairs so that we could both take a seat.
"He bought himself a brand new H2."
"A Hummer? But he lives in the city. Where's he going to park? How's he going to afford it?"
My voice was cold and hard. I couldn't help it. If Joe wanted a new vehicle — fine. But Peg was right. He should've bought one he could afford. "Oh, he can make thepayments."
Peg groaned a bit but nodded. Joe's a doctor. He makes good money, especially now that all his student loans have been repaid. But he doesn't think things through too well when he wants something bad enough.
I gritted my teeth, and used my fingers to make the little quote things in the air from around the coffee cup. "But he 'didn't count on' the increase in his car insurance. So now he can't afford to pay his part of the bills for Bryan's care." A harsh laugh escaped my lips. "He doesn't think that's a problem. Do you know that he actually told me I should raise the rents in my building to make up the difference! I just barely got my first tenant and now I'm supposed to raise the rents?"
Peg stared at me, blue eyes wide, her mouth slightly ajar. It was a long moment before she was capable of speech. "I don't believe it." But I could tell from her voice that she did.
I took a long drink of coffee, trying to force myself to calm down and come up with a different subject of conversation. I needn't have bothered. Peg caught a glimpse of my watch, paled and swore.
"I've got to go! I'm late!" She rose in a fluid movement. She bent to give me a quick hug, promised we'd talk more soon, and took off at a half-run, dragging her wheeled carryon bag behind her. The rapid tattoo of her heels against the floor echoed through the nearly empty concourse.
I shook my head and rose. I looked around for a waste can for the empty coffee cup. I was still tired, but running into Peg had cheered me up immeasurably. And hey, the combination of caffeine and fury at Joe had gotten my blood pumping nicely.
I was halfway to the shuttle train to the main terminal when I felt the first stirrings of unease.
I was being followed.
The rhythm of my footsteps on the patterned marble floors had been joined by a second set. I would've liked to think it was coincidence, just another weary traveler headed back to the terminal. But the person stepped only when I stepped. Normal people don't do that. They're in too much of a hurry. While I wasn't exactly dawdling, I hadn't been rushing either.
I don't like being tailed. But it happens fairly frequently — and I imagine that it's happening even more often. I'm paranoid by both profession and nature. I've got a huge insurance policy to cover any thefts of clients' valuables, but many of the items I deliver are irreplaceable — and I have a good reputation in the business because I don't take unnecessary risks.
I was busy working out how to lose the person behind me, so I almost missed the announcement overhead. "Adam Dexter. Sam Franks. Mary Kathleen Reilly. Please pick up the white courtesy phone."
I didn't even have to guess who was on the phone. There are only four people still alive who use my full name. Only Joe knew my flight time. He was pissed about something. Otherwise the page would've been for Kate, or Katie. Yeah, right. Like he gets to be miffed at me! Dream on.
Enough of this shadow business. I turned around abruptly in the darkened hallway, but there was no one there.
That wasn't good. If the person wasn't content with approaching me in an empty, dimly lit spot, it meant they were waiting for somewhere even more secluded. Whatever crisis my brother had in store could wait.
At least I'd come back empty handed. It's a nuisance trying to fight and keep track of valuables. This way my hands were free. It also meant that whoever it was, they weren't after cargo I was carrying. I slipped my hand into my pocket and started walking at a brisk pace past the phone bank. Using the reflection from the shop windows to watch behind me I kept a close eye out. No luck. Whoever it was, they were good. They stayed just far enough back so that I couldn't even catch a glimpse.
Since I couldn't see anything with my eyes, I debated looking with my mind. I don'tlike doing it. It makes me feel so damned vulnerable. The parasites are a constant buzz in the back of my mind at the best of times. Letting down my guard enables me to use my abilities, but it leaves me nearly defenseless if they try to attack. They haven't yet — but that doesn't mean they won't. So I usually rely on the physical instead of the psychic. It's just safer.
I decided it was worth the risk. I lowered my shields and felt outward in a circle with my mind. Nothing. Utter silence. Not even the angry buzz of the hive queens. I felt a shiver of unease run down my spine. That I couldn't hear them meant they were shielding me out — hiding something. That was so not good.
One problem at a time. I slowed and did an odd two-step, as though I'd tripped.
There was a solid footstep that wasn't mine during that little dance. Nope, it wasn't my imagination. I ducked into the nearest women's bathroom. I stopped just inside the doorway and flipped open the antique pocket watch I'd pulled from my purse. It doesn't keep time. I have my wristwatch for that. Not being able to carry an actual mirror since 9/11 really sucks, so I've been forced to improvise. I've polished the case to a reflective, albeit slightly fuzzy, finish. I use it for things like applying lipstick and watching my back.
Most tails will either stay nearby or deliberately walk past and then wait further up the hall. I had a couple of options. I could set a trap to confront the bastard, but if it was a Thrall host they could easily have used mind games to get a weapon past airport security. Hell, even a truly determined human can manage to smuggle things in.
I sighed. The fact was that I just wasn't really up to a physical battle right now. The combination of coffee and adrenaline had sharpened my nerves enough to recognize the danger, but it wouldn't last. I needed to avoid this fight if I possibly could.
I closed the watch and slid it back in my pocket. I stood utterly still, eyes and ears open, waiting long enough that anyone who'd not been deliberately following me would have gone past. No one passed. Shit.
I was still standing there, debating what to do when I heard voices I recognized from the plane. A weary young couple was bickering in hushed tones. I peeked out of the doorway. The woman was juggling her purse, diaper bag, and a carryon. Her husband struggled with the dead weight of their sleeping toddler. Perfect. I popped out of my doorway just in time to join them.
My stalker kept a distance behind us. More people appeared as I reached the underground train from my concourse back to the baggage claim area. I kept trying to find my tail, but he eluded me. Evidently he wanted to get me alone — probably on my way to the parking lot. Still, I could be wrong. Just in case, I made sure the less-than-happy family was standing close at my back so that no one could sneak up on me as we waited for the train. When it arrived, I bullied my way to the front and sat on the bench facing the crowd.
About half the people stared blankly forward. The other half talked with companions or watched the pinwheels. But today I ignored the pretty, twirly spinners that I usually watch. Instead, I kept my eyes on each of the passengers in the car in turn. All by itself that annoyed me, because I'd rather be oohing and aahing out the window with the little tow-headed girl and her brother sitting next to me. Nobody made me nervous, although I couldn't say the same for them. I got more than a few odd looks.
I couldn't exactly blame them. I stand six foot one in my stocking feet, and have long red hair that I usually wear in a tight braid, plus the kind of attitude that makes most people think twice about messing with me. Joe calls it my "tough act." It's not an act. There's a reason they called me the Terminator when I played pro volleyball — a reason why the Thrall consider me a threat. Joe just doesn't like to admit it.
I made sure I was the last to exit the car when we reached the terminal, jumping out just as the doors were starting to whoosh closed. Everyone scattered to their various destinations. Nobody lurked. Nobody even glanced at me.
I stopped in the middle of the floor and opened my mind again. There was nothing but a solid white wall of static. Despite the heavy blazer, I felt chilled. The Thrall usually aren't active during the day, but the sun wouldn't be up for a while yet, and their human Herds are always a threat.
People on the street call the Thrall vampires. Yes and no. They're not the evil undead of legend. "Thrall" is their own term for the mind control they have over their human Hosts and the Herds. The scientific name for the parasite is complicated and Latin, so people call them either vampires or the Thrall. It's easier.
They have a hive mentality, ruled by a group of queens who control individual Hosts and the human Herds. They despise most humans, referring to them as "Prey." Only a very few humans, perhaps two dozen in the world are "Not Prey." We've earned our place, earned the respect of the queens — usually by dint of killing one of their kind. They have "rules" for dealing with us. Of course, that means there are rules for us to deal with them, as well. Not Prey don't run, don't hide, don't use guns or other distance weapons. If they do, they lose their status. And the status is useful. As Not Prey the Hosts and Herds can't lie to you, and the queens have to treat you as an equal.
There is, of course, wiggle room in the rules — usually in favor of the Thrall, who take every advantage of it.
I earned my title the hard way. I killed the former queen of Denver, but in the process I got bit. Since then, the Thrall have been a constant presence in the back of my head. I hate it, but I've learned to cope. Most of the time even the strongest of them can't cloud my mind — at least, not for long. Still, it helps to have something to listen to. It keeps them from seeing my thoughts. For me, that's usually heavy metal music. But good old distracting conversation will do nicely. So, when I caught a glimpse of my buddy Leroy, I greeted him with more than my usual enthusiasm.
"Hi, Leroy!" The big, ebony-skinned guard turned at the sound of his name. He saw my waving hand and smiled.
"Jeez, Reilly," he replied in greeting. "Do you live here? Didn't I just see you a couple of days ago?"
"Actually, it's been a week." I chuckled. Leroy Williams has worked at the airport almost since it opened. You'd think he'd have enough seniority to have his pick of shifts, but I've seen him here at all hours of the day and night, always wearing a freshly pressed uniform and a friendly smile. We'd become fast friends one night when we'd both been trapped at DIA because of a blizzard. We'd played what must have been fifty games of cards while we waited for the storm to clear. I'd learned all about his family life while he'd happily taken a fair chunk of my spending money. The guy's an incredible cardplayer.
Leroy was wearing a jacket over his uniform. He was either just coming on shift or just getting off. I was hoping for the latter and told him so.
His chin tipped and his face grew concerned. "You got trouble, girl?"
"Maybe." I shook my head to clear it. "Hell, probably."
Leroy glanced around the nearly deserted food court. No one looked suspicious.
But then my tail made a mistake. He'd gotten too close and I felt him. Thrall. Our eyes locked across the huge room. The moment he knew he'd been spotted the shield of static vanished. The Thrall presence slammed into my consciousness. My head buzzed with the sound of a thousand voices and I clearly heard my name. I shook my head to clear it and slammed my best mental shields into place. I could still sense them, but distantly. Fortunately, with the shielding, they wouldn't be able to read my thoughts.
Leroy saw my sudden panic. He moved close to me, projecting menace from every pore. His massive bulk of muscle was comforting. When he removed his nightstick and started to twirl it, the host gave one last glare and left. Good.
Excerpted from Touch of Evil by C. T. Adams, Cathy Clamp, Anna Genoese. Copyright © 2006 Cathy L. Clamp and C.T. Adams. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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What People are Saying About This
"The premier authors of paranormal fiction."Romantic Times BookClub Magazine
"I read the book in one sitting. I look forward to the next book in the series, because it has to be the beginning of a series. A world this enjoyable deserves more than one visit. This book has some new twists in the werewolf's tail that were very cool."Laurell K. Hamilton on Hunter's Moon