Chapter I

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Boise, Idaho, Present Day

AIREL LAY STILL. DEATHLY still. Dirk Elliott bent to her chest and laid an ear over her heart, listening for the sounds of life as they faded.

Then it beat no more. Dirk picked Airel up and carried her body into the women's restroom, depositing her on the toilet in the far stall. He left the door open wide. He felt like bragging about his latest conquest.

He stood at the door to the stall and stared at her. Airel was strong, much stronger than he ever imagined. He could feel her—he possessed every one of her thoughts, emotions, and fears now. She was a walking contradiction too, as much human as angel.

Leaving the bathroom, he went to the table where she had been reading. He sat and picked up his book, Tennyson, and picked up where he'd left off. Airel was no more . . . but that didn't mean he had to stop reading right when it was beginning to get good.

A few minutes later, a scream came from the bathroom and a hysterical woman ran out, gasping, "She's dead. She's dead." Dirk smirked and continued reading. After a few more minutes, the library was abuzz with activity.

Standing, he walked out the front doors, calm. Sirens in the distance made him chuckle. This would be on the news. Everyone would talk, but he wouldn't stay to feed on the chaos. He had a few loose ends to tie up; he had a fee to collect and a pet to feed.

"Rest well, Airel," he said. "Maybe in another life we could have been . . . something . . . but as it stands, we can only play the parts we were born to play."

He would not miss her—not really. She was a part of him now, and in some cheesy, romantic way, they would be together forever, wouldn't they? He laughed out loud. Well . . . it was a nice thought, anyway.

* * *

I COULD FEEL DIRK kissing me and for a moment, I kissed him back, pulling him into me hard, letting out all my pent-up emotions. Michael was the furthest thing from my mind and what I was doing didn't matter—not anymore.

But then something died out of me and I was abandoned. The light couldn't reach me. I was underwater.

My head spun. I opened my eyes, and then I saw my attacker beyond the Dirk-mask he wore. It was a child, a boy of about ten. His face was all malice, pure murder, and the way it looked frightened me more than I'd ever been. I pulled back and tried to break away, but my limbs wouldn't work. I could hear him feeding on me; I could hear him sucking, gorging on my heart, my soul. He said, "Calm yourself, Airel. Give over to me, and you will have the rest you desire."

She was screaming at me, but her voice made no sense. She was drowning in a sea of nothing far away.

My instincts kicked in and I called for the Sword.

Nothing happened.

I raged, kicked to launch into flight, swearing to rip his head from his slimy little body.

Nothing.

It was all inside my head—a dream. Nothing was possible.

Memories of my childhood bubbled up and came to the surface. My first puppy, Max. He was so cute and got into everything. My dad would find his shoes chewed up and yell at me. The huge swing at the park behind the SuperMart. Mom would push me so high. The higher I went, the more I would giggle. She was so kind to me, and now . . .

She kept screaming something. What was she yelling? I was only sleeping. Why was She all worked up? Why?

"Defend—protect your mind, Airel!"

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