Beauty is a work of fiction. Characters, names, incidents, and places are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally, with much creative license. Any resemblance to actual locations, places, events or persons, either still living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2016 by Janean Worth
All rights reserved. . Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying, recording, xerography or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the author, Janean Worth and the publisher, Author’s Art, www.authorsart.com
Cover design by Janean Worth, graphics from Adobe Stock
Scripture quotes/verses from the Bible, King James Version.
This book deals with fictional characters who possess supernatural abilities. Although I have never personally met anyone who has been gifted with a supernatural psychic ability, I do believe that God blesses each of us with a gift as described in 1 Corinthians 12.
I also believe that, as described in Matthew 17:20, should any of us have faith the size of a mustard seed, nothing would be impossible for us. If we genuinely wanted to use our gifts only to serve God and His desires, and had sufficient faith, we could possibly be gifted with such physical gifts as I’ve seen fit to give the fictional characters on the following pages.
Table of Contents
Lucien Curmodene leaned against the wall outside Bella Thompson’s apartment and listened to the commotion going on inside, not even trying to wipe the delighted smile off of his face. He really enjoyed the sound of a good, raging argument. Especially this one.
He’d rented the apartment on the floor above Bella’s earlier that day. Hers was a very nice building, with a long waiting list—very posh, very safe, in a prime spot in Portland. He shouldn’t have been able to rent the apartment at all. He hadn’t been on the waiting list. He hadn’t even known there was an open apartment until sweet Bella had told him about it a few days ago at work after she’d seen the previous occupants moving out.
Work! He held back a snort. He hated that job. He was glad he’d only be working there a few more days. In fact, tomorrow would be his last day, if his plans progressed as he expected. He couldn’t wait to walk out for the last time. He hated everything about it. It was demeaning to lower himself to help the customers and grovel to the boss, demeaning to hide his power from them. He wasn’t sure how he’d been able to force himself to do it for the previous three days without resorting to violence. The customers, the manager, his coworkers—even sweet, beautiful Bella—had no idea what he was or what he was capable of, and he couldn’t wait to show them. The next day couldn’t come soon enough for him.
There was more shouting from inside Bella’s apartment, and he returned his attention to the epic argument that Bella and her fiancé were having.
It was escalating quite nicely. In fact, after Lucien’s initial manipulation of her fiancé, the argument had progressed just fine on its own, without any more help from him.
Bella’s fiancé was shouting at the top of his lungs. The man sounded like a bull, bellowing like that, and for a moment Lucien contemplated breaking down the door and barging in to put an end to the way the man was speaking to his beautiful Bella. But no, Lucien had to stop himself. This was all part of his plan. Bella had to suffer this indignity, and quite a few more, before he could set the rest of his plan in motion.
It was too bad, really, but that was just how it had to be. Staring at the closed door as he listened to the man spew fury and vitriol at Bella, Lucien wasn’t particularly sorry about it. Sometimes a little suffering was good for a person. Any suffering that she had to go through would just make the culmination of his plans for her that much sweeter, and perhaps humble sweet Bella just a little.
Lucien very much liked his women humble. He grinned again just thinking about his future plans for Bella and for himself, all of which were going to be made possible by his new talents.
He loved his newfound abilities and, most important, he loved what he was able to achieve with them. He only wished he’d discovered how to use them sooner.
If he’d known about his gifts earlier, he’d have been able to create quite a few more arguments, just like the one that Bella and her no good fiancé were having, purely for his own enjoyment.
“That’s it!” Derek yelled, his face suffused with angry color, a vein throbbing in his forehead. “I am not putting up with this any longer! If you don’t love me enough to give me what I want, like a normal woman would, then I can find someone else to love me. The engagement is off!”
Spittle flew from his open mouth as he shouted viciously at Bella. Confronted with such unleashed rage and bitter criticism, Bella took a fearful step back, shaking violently with emotion.
She was so frightened that her mind began to imagine oily black shapes coalescing in the corners of the room, just at the edges of her vision. The anger in the room was almost palpable. It seemed to hover in the air between them like a living beast, hungry for prey.
Derek had never treated her this way before. Never. She wasn’t sure what had triggered such a ferocious outburst from him. She wrapped her quivering arms around her stomach, trying to hold in her sobs, trying not to let the bitter tears that burned her eyes escape from under her lids.
“I do love you, Derek. I do, it’s just that I wanted to—”
“Shut up! Just shut up! I don’t want to hear it anymore!” he yelled, his white knuckled fists now clenched at his sides as he leaned toward her, rage glinting in his eyes. In a high falsetto, he mimicked her voice, “You want to remain pure and chaste. You don’t want to have sex before marriage. The Bible says . . .”
Bella bit back another painful sob. It hurt to hear him say those things, to make light of her beliefs, to belittle her so crudely. It hurt a lot.
“I’ve heard it all before! I don’t want to hear it again,” he bellowed. “If you loved me, you’d show me the affection I need!”
“I said shut up!” he roared. “I’m done with you. Just done!”
Derek grabbed his leather jacket from the rack beside the door, nearly tearing the rack from the wall when the fabric caught on it momentarily. He ripped open the front door and, without even a backward glance, stormed out. The powerful slam of the door shook the entire wall and a tiny crack appeared in the aged drywall that edged the hardwood frame.
“Derek . . .” Bella whispered into the empty air. “Don’t go . . .”
She stared at the closed door, eyes burning, cheeks hot with humiliation, stomach churning with fierce emotion. She stood there for a full minute before she finally dared to let her sobs escape. And once she started crying, she didn’t know if she could stop. Great, gulping sobs tore out of her as a torrent of tears rained from her eyes.
How could he treat her like that? After a two year relationship, with their wedding less than nine months away, how could he demand sex from her in such a cheap way? How could he say that she did not love him? She loved him more than any other man she’d ever dated. She loved him so much that she’d agreed to become his wife. She’d done more for him than she’d ever done for anyone else she’d ever gone out with, but she wouldn’t cross that line. She believed in purity before marriage. She believed what the Bible said about it. Why couldn’t he see that she was saving herself for him too? For their future? For the stability of their marriage foundation?
Sobs shook her so hard that she stumbled to her leather couch and crumpled down upon it, afraid she’d just fall into a heap where she stood if she didn’t sit down.
It wasn’t fair! It wasn’t fair!
She’d thought that Derek was different. How could she have been so wrong? She’d thought that he truly cared about her. That he loved her. That they had the same goals in life.
Of course, lately she’d noticed small signs, mostly in the previous couple of months, that maybe Derek wasn’t as happy in their relationship as she was—the little digs, a sarcastic tone sometimes, comments about her “cold” nature. But, she hadn’t realized that his unhappiness with her choice to remain chaste had gotten quite so out of hand. She hadn’t realized that he had been so terribly angry at her.
And she wasn’t cold. She wasn’t! She’d shown him affection all of the time. She’d cuddled with him on the couch while they watched movies. She’d embraced him frequently. Even kissed him passionately. But she didn’t throw herself at him, or rub her body against him suggestively, or lead him on, because that would have been wrong considering her vows of purity. She’d been straightforward and honest. She’d told him of her Christian beliefs early on in their relationship. She’d told him that she would remain pure until her marriage. And he’d said it was fine with him. He’d even said he’d admired her choice. But he’d lied.
Just like all the rest. Men only saw her appearance, the shape of her face, the shape of her body. They did not see the shape of her soul.
Slowly her tears lessened, but she remained on the couch, despondent. The black shapes that had lingered just at the edges of her vision seemed to draw nearer to her as she sank into deep despair.
Without Derek, her plans for the future seemed empty. Meaningless. No marriage. No husband. No children. Nothing. She hadn’t realized just how much hope she’d invested into the future of their relationship until he’d ripped it away from her.
Thinking of her past experiences with the other men she’d dated, she realized that she would probably always be alone. Men only saw her beauty—nothing more. They only wanted a physical relationship with her—nothing more.
Feeling broken, she closed her eyes and said a quiet prayer, asking for comfort.
The morning alarm on her phone awoke her after she’d fallen into a fretful sleep on the couch. After Derek had stormed out the night before, she hadn’t had the fortitude to get up and do her nightly routine of brushing her teeth, showering, or even taking off her makeup. In a fit of self pity, hating her own beauty, she had lain there until she’d drifted off into a land of nightmares and repeated rejection.
Groaning, she sat up, rubbing at the sharp kink at the base of her neck. Her mouth tasted foul and her morning breath would rival a dragon’s. As she struggled up out of the cushy couch, she silently berated herself for not at least brushing her teeth before she went to sleep. Brushing her teeth had nothing to do with a beauty regimen, she told herself. It wasn’t vanity to want to have a clean mouth and teeth; it was cleanliness. Nothing more.
She shuffled to the kitchen, set the Keurig to brewing a large cup of extra bold roast, and then shuffled into the bathroom to brush her teeth and take a shower.
She realized on the way there that nothing she did really seemed to matter much to her. Her usual enthusiasm for life seemed to have been stripped away with her hopes and dreams the previous night, and she felt empty. She could easily have gone back to bed and attempted to sleep off her deep depression. She didn’t really care. About much of anything. The day ahead seemed bleak and empty of purpose. In fact, the whole week ahead—or month, or year—seemed devoid of purpose.
Why was she going to shower and get ready for work? She didn’t really care for her job—sure, she liked the work she did, but she didn’t really like dealing with some of the people—and she hadn’t for a long time. It wasn’t fulfilling. It didn’t make her feel like she was doing anything that made a difference.
So why was she doing it? To pay the rent? To buy food? Yeah, that was it; she was caught in the rat race, unable to jump off the hamster wheel and flee. But it still didn’t feel like it mattered that day. She thought about calling in sick.
Sighing, very near tears again as she thought of the bleakness of her life, she undressed and climbed into the shower anyway, the routine almost a comfort to her when the rest of her life without a husband and children loomed before her like a shadow of permanent loneliness.
She firmly reminded herself that she had to go to work because she had said she’d be there. It was an important day for her employer—though it was one that she secretly dreaded. That day was the beginning of the new buy one get one free iPhone deal at the cell phone store where she worked at the service desk. The store would be very busy. And if she weren’t at the service desk to help customers with their app questions and settings problems, then her boss would be upset. He’d said he needed all hands on deck.
Because she felt complete apathy that morning, only her moral obligation to always try to act according to God’s will kept her from taking that unplanned not really sick sick day.
Sighing again, she finished her shower and got out, wrapping a thick towel around her hair and another around her body. She padded over the plush bath mat to the mirror above the vanity, then wiped off the thin layer of accumulated steam with a fluffy hand towel and stared at her foggy reflection.
“You look terrible,” she said to herself. Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks were red with hectic color. “But men will still think you look fine, won’t they? More than fine, they’ll think you’re beautiful.”
She rolled her eyes at her reflection, wincing at the way the gritty after effects of her hard cry felt under her scratchy eyelids.
As she looked at her reflection, she realized that she hated that too. She hated the way she looked. She hated her own beauty. She’d often prayed, asking God why he’d given her such a gift. To her, it was more of a hardship. And perhaps that’s what it was supposed to be. Perhaps it wasn’t a gift but her cross to bear, something to help her build character.
She thought of Derek, and his demands for a more physical relationship, surely brought about by the appearance of her body and face, and she nearly broke out into sobs again.
Pushing all thoughts of her former fiancé from her mind, she left the calm environs of the peaches and cream bathroom to get dressed for the day.
She pushed all thoughts of work away too. She didn’t want to think about what a horror the day would be. She didn’t want to think about the oglers, the shoulder touchers, the elbow graspers. She didn’t want to think about the “what’s your phone number babe” questions, or the leers that she’d receive as she helped the male customers with their cell phones. And she didn’t want to think about the glares from their girlfriends, wives, and, sometimes even their mothers. Usually, she combated this kind of treatment by making it obvious that she was engaged. She would happily gush to anyone who would listen—and even some who didn’t want to—about how wonderful her fiancé was and their plans for their upcoming wedding. Usually, this discouraged most men. But she wouldn’t have that today, would she? No, today she would have no good way to fend them off gently. And her boss really disliked it when she had to get rude with a customer.
She looked down at her pale left hand, at the sparkling diamond and gold engagement ring on her third finger, and slowly reached to pull it off. She laid it carefully on the antique hand me down dresser and walked away, deciding not to think about it, either.
It wasn’t her fault she looked the way she did. She really did nothing to cause herself to look beautiful. She wore barely any makeup. She usually pulled her hair back in a plain ponytail. She didn’t wear suggestive clothing.
Sure, she ate healthfully and exercised to keep herself fit, but that wasn’t for beauty, it was because her body was a temple, a gift, and she tried to maintain it as such.
Grabbing a plain pair of black dress pants, a conservative purple blouse, and a plain black jacket from the closet, she dressed quickly for the day. As a concession to the chilly fall Portland weather, she added a pair of thick socks to the ensemble and slipped her feet into a pair of low heeled black boots, then went back to the bathroom to pull back her hair and moisturize her face.
That done, she trudged reluctantly back to the kitchen, doctored her steaming cup of coffee with just a touch of honey and some organic cream, grabbed an apple from the fridge, and her keys and capacious purse from the entryway, and headed out the door. The clock app on her phone showed she had little time left if she wanted to be on time, but she found that she really did not much care about that either.
Juggling her purse, coffee, keys, and apple outside the door, she attempted to lock the deadbolt.
“Here, let me help you with that,” a deep voice said from behind her.
Face averted, Bella barely suppressed an eye-roll. Really? Less than thirty seconds outside her apartment, and she was going to be hit on already?
Suppressing a sigh, she turned, “That’s okay, I’ve got it.”
Then, seeing who the voice belonged to, she smiled in relief.
“Oh, hello, Lucien. How are you today?”
Lucien was her new coworker at the store. She’d told him about the vacancy in her apartment building just a few days ago, and he must’ve taken her advice and rented the space.
“Fine. Just fine. I like the apartment. Nice building. Great landlords. Thanks for the tip.”
Bella grinned, happy to have been able to help him. He seemed like such a nice guy.
His expression changed just slightly as he stared down at her smile, his smile slackening a bit and his eyes drifting to her lips.
Oh no! Too much! Too much. Tone it down, she thought.
She stopped smiling, and he stopped looking at her like he was a carb addict and she was a double chocolate chunk cookie.
“So, are you ready for the big sale today?” she asked as they turned and headed for the elevator.
He gave a short bark of derisive laughter, “No, I barely know what I’m doing. I’m not looking forward to the rowdy horde of people you said we could expect.”
Trying for an upbeat tone, Bella said, “Well, maybe it won’t be so bad?”
Lucien chuckled again. “You don’t sound very convincing, Bella the Beautiful.”
She stopped walking, feeling a chill skate up her spine. “Please, Lucien, don’t call me that.”
He punched the “down” button on the elevator and turned to look at her. “Why not? It’s true.”
“Just, don’t, okay? I want us to be friends, not . . . well . . .”
Lucien’s eyes sharpened. “Not what?”
“Just friends, that’s all,” Bella said, wishing that she could somehow suddenly become invisible. Maybe just shrink into the floor and disappear. Or, perhaps somehow transform her features into those of an elderly grandmother. And, as long as she was fantasizing about impossible feats, it would be great to know exactly what Lucien was thinking of her, too.
Maybe she was wrong, and he was just being friendly to a new coworker. Maybe he wasn’t like other men.
She nearly snorted to herself in derision. Sure, sure, he wasn’t like everyone else. Just like Derek hadn’t been.
To cover her upsetting thoughts, which were surely putting a sour expression upon her face, she took a long sip of her coffee. When the door to the elevator finally opened, she pasted a thin smile back on her face and tried to appear cheerful. The day would be hard enough without her reading things into her coworker’s behavior that might not be there.
Lucien gestured for her to precede him into the steel lined elevator, and she entered quickly, muttering a soft “thanks.”
On the way down, Lucien remained silent, and she wondered if she should say something. He was her new coworker, after all, and she didn’t want to offend him. She glanced at him.
He was looking at the shiny steel elevator door in front of him, but he caught her glance in the wavy reflection and turned toward her.
“Look, I’m . . .” Bella began at the same time that he said, “I didn’t mean . . .”
They both broke off, and Bella laughed.
The stiff tension between them broke, and in a moment of decisiveness, Bella resolved to be just blunt and honest with him. Didn’t most people like that, anyway?
“Look, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I appreciate your complement, it’s just that I’m used to guys only treating me a certain way because they think I’m attractive, and I guess I’m getting a little tired of it,” she said, ending on a sigh of real frustration.
“I get it,” Lucien said. “I do. A woman who looks like you must get lots of unwanted attention. Let’s just forget it, and try to make the best of this day, okay? We can start over, and I won’t call you that anymore.”
“Yes, let’s make the best of it. Thank you,” Bella agreed.
But, she really didn’t feel like trying to make the best of anything. Inside, under the apathy hid a morass of hurt, pain, and confusion. If she’d really tell Lucien the whole truth—that she’d been dumped by her fiancé the night before, that her emotional life was in a turmoil, that she really didn’t care about her job, or herself, or, well, much of anything other than the Lord—she wondered what he’d say.
She took another sip of her coffee and glanced at him again, intending to ask him what he thought of his new job so far. Her breath caught on an involuntary gasp as she caught a glimpse of his face. For a moment, superimposed over Lucien’s features, there appeared the snarling visage of a wolf, dark eyes looking at her hungrily, teeth bared in a snarl of predatory dominance.
She looked away hurriedly, choking on the sip of hot coffee that she’d just taken.
Lucien reached out a solicitous hand to help her, silently offering to pat her back to help with the coughing, but she leapt back in fear, unable to stop herself.
Still choking, eyes streaming, she glanced back at his face. The strange image was gone, and Lucien’s handsome face was frowning down at her in concern.
From a shadowed alleyway across the street, David watched Bella Thompson as she left her apartment with Lucien Curmodene.
That was not a good development. She didn’t know what Curmodene was, and he hadn’t been able to warn her yet about the abilities that she herself was developing. He hadn’t had time to build a rapport with her yet, and without that, without some sort of connection, he knew that she would not believe what he had to tell her.
He hoped that it wasn’t too late. If one of them had already found her, he feared that it might be. He was disappointed in himself. He’d had several weeks to find her, but he’d only been able to finally locate her the day before. Portland was a big city, and looking for her tiny filament of developing spiritual energy was like looking for a candle flame inside a roaring fire.
The delay hadn’t left him much time to let her get to know him. He’d only been in the surveillance phase of the process, and hadn’t even managed to engineer their first meeting yet.
“I have failed us,” he said quietly to his fellow Invisible, the woman who shared the shadowed alleyway with him.
The short, middle aged woman stood behind him, hidden inside the shadows so well that he could barely see her, though he knew she was there.
“We don’t know that yet. She may yet choose the Lord,” she said, her voice soft and reassuring.
“But, she’s with Lucien Curmodene. And we both know that Lucien has already made his choice,” he said, keeping his voice pitched low.
He knew that the people who passed by their alley could not see them, and would not notice them, but if the pedestrians heard voices, that could change. Their camouflage only lasted as long as the people passing by remained oblivious to their surroundings. If the meandering pedestrians looked too closely inside the concealing shadows, if they really focused their mind on what might be lurking in the deep alley, they’d be able to see him and the other Invisible who lingered there.
“Has he?” she said. “It does seem that he is associating with them, and perhaps has already been indoctrinated, but his thoughts about them seem unsure. He is learning to shield his thoughts, though, so I cannot be completely certain. Still, the Lord has performed far greater miracles before. We should not dismiss Lucien quite yet.”
“I’ve seen him talking with three of them, just since I arrived yesterday. How can he not be one of them? You know their methods! They do not permit those with budding abilities any chance of escape.”
“Have you seen any of the others around Miss Thompson, yet?” she asked, a hint of alarm in her voice.
“No, they’ve only been watching her, as we are,” he said. “Look, across the street. There is one of them now.”
His companion hissed in displeasure when she sighted the burly black clad man loitering in the adjacent doorway. “Such evil. I can almost feel it from here.”
“We have little time left, if any,” he reiterated. “As I said, I fear that I may have failed this time.”
“The choice is hers,” his companion said. “Always remember that the choice is hers to make. We cannot force her.”
“No, we can’t,” David said, feeling deep fear for Bella pierce his heart, “But they will try to force her.”
The six block walk to work through the early autumn chill had been very awkward. Lucien had kept pace with her, remaining silent, but casting questioning glances of unconcealed concern at her every few steps.
Bella had remained silent too, still deeply shaken by the frightening hallucination she’d had in the elevator. She had never experienced a hallucination before, and wasn’t sure why she’d had one then. Was she losing her mind? Was the stress of standing firm for her morals and bearing the repercussions of those choices in the loss of her fiancé starting to get to her? Or was it a cumulative effect, starting months and months ago when she’d lost both of her frail, elderly parents to unexpected complications from the flu?
She didn’t know. She just hoped that the rest of the day got better.
But, of course, it didn’t.
Hours later, she was heartily wishing for the end of the sale, and that perhaps they’d just miraculously run out of stock.
The day was a horror, just as she’d thought it would be. With only one hour left in her shift, Bella stood behind the service desk counter and tried to mentally tame her raging headache.
It wasn’t working, but it would be another whole 59 agonizing minutes before she could leave her station, clock out, and grab some aspirin out of her purse.
Though she’d been expecting a miserable day, she’d been unpleasantly surprised when it had exceeded her prediction of wretchedness. The iPhone sale had drawn in quite a few customers, and it had been an extremely busy day. There had been a line for over three hours at the service desk after lunch, and she’d just finished dealing with the last, lingering man, barely managing to gracefully fend off his requests that she have dinner with him.
The bell over the door chimed shrilly, signaling another customer, and Bella nearly groaned when she saw who entered.
Mr. Eckles had been there before. He came in nearly every week, in fact. She thought that he came in just to harass her. She’d even told her boss about it, but he’d told her to handle it and get over herself.
Headache pounding, stomach lurching in nausea from the pain, Bella watched Mr. Eckles approach and thought again how wonderful it would be to be invisible. If he couldn’t see her, he couldn’t hit on her. If only, somehow, she could avoid being seen.
She contemplated hiding behind the desk, but the bottom half was open, and she’d easily be seen if she crouched behind it.
To amuse herself, she imagined that he couldn’t see her and would just skip his visit to the service desk and go talk to Lucien instead.
She knew it was wishful thinking, fanciful behavior, even, but, with her defenses down, she had nothing else to do except hope for the impossible. The whimsical idea had probably only occurred to her because she read too many fiction books. And really, she knew deep down that he would continue to her desk whether she wanted him to or not, but imagining herself becoming suddenly invisible to his eyes gave her a bit of amusement. Which she badly needed at that point in the day.
Smiling wistfully at her own foolishness, she watched as he meandered into the store, wondering if he knew how cheesy his appearance was.
Middle aged, with a heavy paunch, Mr. Eckles had chosen perhaps the least flattering clothing that he possibly could have. Today, he wore a bright green and orange striped Polo shirt tucked into sixties style polyester pants in a sickly shade of pea green. The leather loafers on his feet were perhaps the only stylish things that he owned, and Bella fleetingly thought that they’d probably been a gift.
He pulled down his aviator style sunglasses, as if to allow his eyes to adjust, and scanned the room in what Bella thought must be a move he practiced in front of the mirror on a daily basis.
Again, she had the urge to duck behind the counter, wishing that his gaze would just pass right on by her.[
__]After this thought, a blinding, stabbing pain lanced through her head and she winced, wishing heartily for the aspirin in her purse.
Blinking her eyes, which were tearing in pain, she glanced back at the door, expecting to see the customer nearing her desk.
To her complete shock, Mr. Eckles was not advancing upon the service desk. He was, instead, looking confused. He ambled over to Lucien, then gestured to the service desk counter with one hand.
“Where’d Bella go? I thought I saw her there when I came in,” he said, his voice a little uncertain and just a little miffed. “I only come in here to see her, you know.”
Lucien looked at her, and his gaze met hers.
Bella could feel her mouth hanging open in wonder. She quickly closed it and shook her head at Lucien, mouthing I don’t know, but don’t tell him.
Lucien’s eyes narrowed, but he nodded slightly in acknowledgement.
“I don’t,” Lucien said, staring intently at the man. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Well,” Mr. Eckles said, his voice sounding even more uncertain than it had a moment before, and his eyes flicking left and right. He licked his lips nervously. “I guess . . . Yes . . . I think I want . . .”
He closed his eyes, blinked hard, and then opened them to stare at Lucien.
“I guess I want an iPhone 6s plus. You get a commission on that, right?”
Lucien nodded, looking pleased.
Bella couldn’t help but stare at Mr. Eckles. He was known to be extremely thrifty. In all of the weeks that he’d been coming into the store, he hadn’t bought a single thing. He’d only asked questions at the service desk.
That model of iPhone was the newest on the market, and a bit pricey, so the purchase was very out of character for the man.
Lucian was smiling widely. And Bella couldn’t blame him. He would get a good commission on the sale. A really good one.
“I didn’t really want one when I came in, because, well, I really only came in to see Bella. But now, yeah, I think I want an iPhone,” the customer said.
Bella felt a chill skate up her spine.
Not only could he not see her—as she’d wished—but he was acting completely out of character and very confused.
She sidled to the side of the service desk so that she could more closely watch him interact with Lucian, trying to make sense of his behavior.
Was the man playing an elaborate joke? But no, he couldn’t be. He couldn’t have possibly known what she was thinking when he came in. And, if Mr. Eckles truly couldn’t see her, why could he see Lucien?
Bella’s head throbbed powerfully again, and she held back a moan.
It was all just too much. She didn’t know what to think of the man’s strange behavior, and her head was killing her. Another lancing pain spiked through her head, and she closed her eyes again, swaying a bit behind the service desk as dizziness assailed her.
When she opened her eyes again, Mr. Eckles had turned back to her.
“Hey, Bella, there you are. I was just asking this guy where you’d gone,” the customer smiled his lascivious smile, and sauntered toward the service desk.
“Do you still want the iPhone, sir?” Lucien called after him, looking deeply disappointed, and perhaps even a little angry.
“Nah,” the customer said, waving his hand dismissively as he stopped in front of Bella. “I just want to talk to Bella. I’m having a problem with my phone that only she can help me with.”
The customer gave her a wink, and, when he did, a shadow bloomed over his head. A shadow with red eyes and long shadow claws. The shadow reached inside the man’s skull with those claws and squeezed.
And as it squeezed, Bella’s head ached even more, as if she could feel the pain that it should have been inflicting upon Mr. Eckles. As the shadow gripped his skull, Mr. Eckles leered at her, his expression changing into one of prurient hunger and vile lust, morphing beyond what any normal human face should be capable of showing, becoming almost a caricature of himself. And, in her head, Bella heard a whisper, very faint.
She’s not wearing her ring today. She can’t shove it in my face. That pretty boy of hers must’ve had his fill and dumped her. That’s okay, I don’t mind leftovers.
Sickened by the whisper, Bella stumbled backward, grabbing the counter behind her to keep herself from falling. At her movement, the shadow looked up at her, red eyes flickering with malevolence, and leapt toward her.
Bella couldn’t help it. She screamed. And then she fainted.
When she came around, she was lying on the floor behind the service desk, her cheek pressed to the low-quality, well-worn carpet. It stank like mildew and she turned her face hastily away and sat up, biting back a groan.
Her boss stood over her, looking down at her without even a hint of sympathy, and Lucien crouched next to her, his eyes wide with . . . Was that enjoyment on his face?
Bella blinked, trying to clear her head. It still ached, but not like it had moments before. The spiking agony that she had felt seemed to have lessened.
Suddenly remembering the shadow leaping toward her, she shot to her feet, then swayed dizzily. She didn’t see the shadow, or Mr. Eckles, anywhere. In fact, the store was completely empty except for her, Lucien, and their boss.
Lucien rose to his feet beside her, the strange expression of secret enjoyment gone. Had he only hidden it, or had it ever really been there? She wasn’t sure.
She closed her eyes against the spinning in her head and said a prayer of thankfulness. She didn’t know what she’d have done if her hallucination of the red eyed shadow had remained present.
“You’re fired, Bella,” her boss said, his tone hard and filled with an unexpected malice.
Her eyes snapped open.
“What?” she gasped out. Fired? For fainting?
“You’re obviously on illegal drugs. Can’t have you scaring away any more customers. I doubt Mr. Eckles will ever come back in this store after the way you screamed in his face. And the others”—he made a gesture encompassing the empty store—“they left, too, after you screamed.”
Bella felt herself sway again, her balance even more compromised by the shock of suddenly losing her job.
Beside her, Lucien reached out a supporting hand, a strange smile upon his face, but Bella couldn’t stop herself from cowering away. She didn’t want to be touched just then. Not by anyone. She was just trying to sort out her thoughts and she didn’t need anything else to deal with. She especially didn’t want his touch. And she didn’t want to think about why he was enjoying her situation.
She felt off. Out of sync with her surroundings. Everything seemed odd, as if there was something that she should be able to perceive, something just out of sight or barely beyond human hearing, but it remained faintly veiled to her senses. She didn’t know what it was. It felt like a pressure, but one that came from inside her.
Her fingertips tingled oddly, shocks of sensation darting down her arms like electric current flowing through a damaged wire. Her head throbbed in time with them.
What was happening to her?
She felt tears of frustration at her lack of knowledge sting her eyes.
“But, I just fainted. I’m not on drugs,” she said quietly, trying to salvage her job, or at least make sense of things. “You know I don’t do drugs.”
Her boss snorted through his large nose, eyeing her snidely, his steel gray eyes hard with derision.
“That’s what they all say. Get your things. And get out. I won’t have an employee who comes to work high.”
His reaction seemed extreme to her. He was usually a taskmaster of a man, but a fair one. She’d always done her job, and done it well, and she’d thought that he appreciated her efforts to always be there, show up on time, and do a good job. He’d never been this unaccountably brusque to her before.
“But I’ve worked here for seven years, Mr. Bouthar,” she whispered, cowed by his unwavering tone, but unwilling to give up her only source of income quietly.
Her headache was beginning to worsen again, and she could barely maintain her shaky grasp on composure.
“I don’t care,” Mr. Bouthar hissed, a strange, unexplainable viciousness in his gaze when he looked at her. “I want you out.”
Bella gasped as he took an unexpected, threatening step toward her, and to her horror, a shadow began to rise up behind Mr. Bouthar, drifting up out of the floor as if it were the tapped source of his maliciousness and he was drawing it nearer to him.
The shadow was enormous, yet strangely insubstantial, with red eyes glowing as brightly as hot coals and long hands tipped with scythe like claws. It slowly flickered into existence, as if materializing out of nothingness. The murky gray that composed its body seemed to have no substance, yet its vaporous shape drifted closer and closer to Mr. Bouthar until it was nearly snuggled up against the man’s side.
Her boss seemed unaware of its presence.
“No,” Bella whispered to the shadow, and to herself, unwilling to believe her eyes. “No.”
“Yes!” Mr. Bouthar bellowed into her face.
Bella felt as if her mind was splitting. The ache in her head wasn’t even the worst of it. She could not comprehend what was happing to her. Why was she seeing these hallucinations? Why was everyone acting so oddly?
Mr. Bouthar was so angry, unaccountably so, out of proportion to the events that had just taken place. So she’d screamed and passed out. He’d be justified to call an ambulance, maybe, but not to get this angry, accuse her of being on drugs, and fire her.
And Lucien, why was he enjoying this so much?
She glanced at him. He was still standing there beside her, but he was no longer looking as if he was having a good time at her expense. Instead, he was staring at the shadow.
“You can see it?” Bella gasped. “You can see it too?”
Lucien did not reply but his gaze snapped to her face.
“If you stay in my store one more minute, Miss Thompson, I’m going to call the police and have you arrested for trespassing.” Mr. Bouthar shouted, a vein throbbing fiercely in his temple.
Behind him, the shadow grinned, reaching out a vaporous hand to stroke Mr. Bouthar’s bald pate, the gesture much like a loving owner would bestow on a pet that had just successfully performed a trick.
That was enough for Bella. Crazy or not, hallucinations or not, she couldn’t take another moment of trying to figure it all out. With panic riding her, she pulled the store nametag from her jacket, flung it onto the service desk, and turned to run into the break room, where the locker checked out to her held her purse.
She fumbled with the combination lock on the locker, her hands shaking so badly she could barely turn the dial. She felt a presence at her back and jerked around, expecting to see the horrendous shadow, but she found Lucien there instead.
“Let me help you, Bella,” he purred, smiling again.
“No,” Bella said, her voice quivering with emotion. “Just get away from me. You’re enjoying this for some reason. You’re a part of this somehow. I don’t know how, but you are!”
“Now, Bella, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lucien said, his tone meaning just the opposite of his words.
His overly familiar, oily manner sent shivers up her spine. They joined the gooseflesh puckering her neck in foreboding.
With a cry, Bella turned back to the combination lock, her fingers frantically seeking the correct numbers. The lock chittered metallically as she repeatedly knocked it against the locker in her haste. After several failed attempts, during which time her panic seemed to grow exponentially, she finally managed to unlock it.
She flung the lock aside and jerked open the steel door, ignoring the loud bang as it rebounded against the locker next to it, and reached in with both hands to grab her purse.
Without another word to Lucien, she raced for the front door, passing Mr. Bouthar and the shadow on her way out.
Fleeing down the sidewalk, she let a sob escape her as she ran toward her apartment in defeat. First Derek and then her only source of income. She was losing everything. Even, it seemed, her grasp on sanity.
“I don’t care. I don’t care,” she mumbled to herself as she ran. “Nothing matters. Nothing really matters.”
Please help me, Lord, she prayed silently. Please help me.
She jogged down the sidewalk, clumsily jostling other pedestrians in her haste.
“Hey, lady, watch it! Are you crazy?” one groused at her as she stumbled against his arm, crowding him hard enough to make him spill the precious contents of the Starbucks cup that he held.
She ignored him, and muttered to herself, “I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.”
Several blocks from the cell phone store, she slowed her frantic pace, her breath sawing out of her lungs in great, heaving gasps, her whole body a jumbled mess of raw nerves.
She tried to calm her pounding heart, but it was no use. Fear, loss, and horror still rode her hard. Head down, avoiding the other pedestrians on the sidewalk, Bella watched her boots as they tapped out a fast tattoo against the concrete beneath them, taking her closer and closer to the haven of her apartment.
I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.
But, maybe she was crazy, Maybe she was. Who else saw red eyed shadows that weren’t even real? Besides Lucien, that is.
Trust me, Bella, you’re not crazy. But you are in danger.
It took her a moment to realize that the whisper of thought was not hers.
Gooseflesh once again prickled the skin of her nape, and she stopped walking, keeping her head down. Afraid to look up.
She was fairly certain that she would see another hallucination standing there. Only now, it was going to talk to her. In her mind.
I am not a hallucination, Bella. Look up, I’m standing right beside you. You are in danger.
Filled with dread, scared nearly out of her mind, Bella raised her head.
Lucien watched Bella flee down the sidewalk in front of him. He let her get fairly far away from him. He wasn’t walking quickly and he wasn’t going to rush to catch up. He knew where she was going. There was only one place she could go. A woman like her would scurry back to her apartment, where she felt safe. And he lived in the same building, so there was no need for him to hurry at all.
He smirked as he watched her retreating back, unable to believe that it had been true, what the others told him. There were people in the world with strange gifts like his. People who could see things that they weren’t supposed to be able to see, and hear things that they weren’t supposed to be able to hear.
That first day, nearly a week before, when he’d seen Bella, he’d merely found her beautiful and irresistible. Her unusual, entrancing beauty had been what had attracted his attention. As soon as he’d seen her, he’d known. The first glance had been enough for him to set plans in motion so that he could add her to his collection of beautiful things. He hadn’t known that she had been gifted with abilities, too. He hadn’t known that she was like him. It was all almost too perfect.
He’d thought they’d been lying when they’d come to him and told him their story. The Quislings, they called themselves. What a stupid moniker. Lucien snorted in derision, ignoring the weird look that the woman sharing his piece of sidewalk tossed his way.
She was slender, blonde, and mildly attractive, but she was no Bella. He dismissed her without another thought. She was meaningless. But Bella. Bella was . . . everything. She was so stunning, so extremely beautiful, that he just had to have her for his own. She’d make a fine wife for him.
He allowed himself to gloat just a little. Bella didn’t know that she would soon become his wife. But he did. And, for the moment, that was enough.
After realizing that Bella had seen the red eyed shadow also, he knew that anything was possible. Evil, true evil, really did exist, though it seemed beyond the comprehension of most people and only viewable to a few gifted individuals. This knowledge gave him a great sense of power. It opened up a whole new dimension of possibilities. Until Bella had acknowledged seeing the shadow as it tormented Mr. Bouthar, he hadn’t been sure that he’d actually been seeing them himself. But now he knew that they were real. And, what was even better, he now knew that he could influence Bella’s thoughts if he tried, too.
She’d seen his wolfish mask during their ride together in the elevator. She’s seen the hunger he’d projected. He knew that she had.
And he almost couldn’t believe that she’d seen the shadow feeding off of Mr. Bouthar’s emotions, too. It was a piece of good luck that he hadn’t expected.
No one else, except the Quislings, had ever claimed to be able to see the red eyed shadows.
Quislings. He scoffed again. What a stupid name for an organization that they claimed was so great and powerful. It sounded like some sort of weird, cultish nickname—one picked by a teenage boy addicted to MMO games.
He knew what it meant, because they’d told him. And, it did seem appropriate. A quisling was a traitor who collaborated with an enemy force occupying their country. And that was exactly what their organization did. It collaborated with evil to overthrow good. And, if the Quislings’ plans came to fruition, they’d collaborate well enough that they’d eventually drive out spiritual goodness completely. All those do-gooder Christians. All those people seeking His face. Gone. And Lucien wouldn’t miss them.
Lucien rolled his eyes. God had never done him any favors. But evil had. Since he’d begun developing his odd talents and he’d learned how to use them for his own purposes, he’d achieved considerable financial gains. And other gains, too.
It had been almost too easy to get the open position at the cell phone store when he’d decided that he wanted it. He’d been hired on the spot, without even having an interview.
He’d been strolling down the sidewalk when he’d looked into the cell phone store and had seen Bella. Bella the Beautiful—once they were married, she wouldn’t be able to stop him from calling her by the nickname he’d given her when he’d first seen her. He’d known immediately, of course, that he had to have her. He wanted to own her, possess her, dominate her.
And so he’d gone inside and had suggested, mentally, that Mr. Bouthar should hire him. And he’d been hired immediately, and had started the same day. By lunch, he’d been talking to his sweet Bella.
He’d gotten his new apartment, in that most coveted of buildings, the same way. He’d only had to strongly suggest that the fine, upstanding landlords needed to rent the apartment to him, and that no, they didn’t need to check his references or background, and they had agreed instantly. No questions asked. No deposit. And, he grinned, remembering, no rent payments, either.
And, using his talents, he’d gotten rid of Bella’s fiancé, too. He hadn’t been sure he’d be able to influence the man’s thoughts, or stoke his anger through the barrier of the apartment door, but he had given it a try. He’d had no idea that it would work so well. Bella’s fiancé must have been very, very angry deep inside. And now he was gone, leaving Bella free to marry Lucien.
Yes, life was looking up since he’d started to show these strange abilities.
On a whim, he decided to test them further, wondering just how far he could push his will upon others.
He stopped on the sidewalk and looked around.
Seeing a young mother walking close by, pushing a stroller, he approached her.
“Hi,” he said, smiling.
“Hello,” she answered, looking wary.
“I want all of your money and credit cards. And your baby. And I want you to give them all to me, with no questions asked.”
She looked startled at his suggestions, then horrified. She started to shake her head and back away, but he caught her gaze and stared into her eyes.
You will do as I have asked. You will do it now. Give me your money and your baby.
Lucien knew that a mother’s instincts were nearly primal in their strength. No mother would willingly give up her baby to a stranger. This would be the ultimate test of his control.
The woman looked pained, but she opened her purse, took out her wallet, and handed it to him.
“Now the baby.”
Give me the baby.
With a sob, she reluctantly reached down and removed her child from the stroller.
“I don’t know why I’m doing this. Why am I doing this?” the woman whispered fearfully. “I don’t want to do this. Why am I doing this?”
A huge shadow rose up out of the sidewalk, grinning. It reached for the woman and she shuddered.
Crying, tears tracking silently down her cheeks, she handed Lucien the baby.
He took the child, feeling a thrill of victory run through him. If he could convince a mother to give up her own child, what couldn’t he do?
He grinned as the baby began to cry. The mother did not ask for her child back; she simply stood there, looking lost, the shadow clutching her entire head in its massive hands.
Lucien stared at the shadow, unafraid. “Are you helping me, or am I doing this on my own?”
It didn’t answer.
The baby screamed louder.
Lucien smiled wider.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name . . .” a strong voice said from behind him.
At the sound of the words, three things happened simultaneously.
Lucien immediately felt the power being stripped from his compulsion upon the woman; she gasped and reached out to snatch her baby from his arms, and the shadow disappeared, without even a puff of smoke to signal its passing.
Incensed, Lucien turned to face the owner of the voice.
A middle-aged woman, graying around the temples but still beautiful, stood a few feet from him. Her hands were on her hips, an expression of challenge on her face.
“Begone with you,” the woman said. “I will tolerate none of your kind stealing babies from their mothers.”
“One of my kind?” he asked, arrogantly. “And just what kind is that?”
“A Quisling,” the woman hissed, distaste written clearly upon her face.
“I haven’t joined them yet.” Lucien asserted.
“Oh, but you are thinking about it, I can tell,” she said.
“And who are you?” Lucien asked, unperturbed by her assumption. She could think what she liked.
“You know who I am,” she said. “I am a soldier in God’s army. I seek only to do His will and help others.”
Lucien smirked, shocked that the Quislings had actually told him another truth. Perhaps it was time that he started trusting them after all.
“Ah, so the Invisibles that they spoke of are real, too. Interesting,” Lucien said, staring her down.
He caught her gaze and thought, you will now bow down before me and kiss my feet.
The woman laughed.
“As if that paltry trick will work on me, Quisling.”
Lucien frowned. Was she somehow immune to his new abilities?
“Leave. Now. And trouble that woman and her child no more,” the woman demanded.
“And if I don’t? What will you do?”
The woman gave him a smile. “Me? I will do nothing. It is the Lord’s power that you have to worry about.”
Lucien snorted. “Sure.”
“You don’t believe in His power?” she asked.
He just glared at her.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for the Lord is my shepherd . . .” the woman began to recite.
For a moment, Lucien felt nothing. And then a strange tingling began in his mind, at the exact spot that he thought of as the center of his strange abilities.
He tried to impose his will upon her again, glaring into her eyes, nearly shouting commands inside his head, but the power of his abilities would not come.
He stared, feeling a fission of fear. Had her words taken his powers?
He backed away, the fear turning to a strange kind of panic. What if he didn’t get them back? He was just getting used to them. She couldn’t take them from him now. He needed them.
“Stop what you are doing,” he said, annoyed that his own voice sounded so afraid.
To his consternation, she stopped, immediately. And then she smiled sadly at him.
“His words have power, and so does prayer. If you truly have not yet joined the Quislings, then you still have a chance. Do not join with them. Cease using your gifts for evil, and come with me. We will help you adapt.” The woman held out her hand.
Lucien stared at it for a moment, and then he spat upon her upturned palm and turned to stalk away. He didn’t need her help to adapt. He didn’t need anyone’s help. He knew what he was doing, and he had his plans well under way. He scowled as he stalked toward Bella’s apartment. Who did the woman think she was, anyway?
“You have nothing to fear from me, Bella.”
Bella looked into the eyes of the man who had spoken, searching his gaze for truth. And it seemed to be there. But, after her experiences the past twenty four hours, she really couldn’t even believe her own eyes anymore. She couldn’t trust her instincts either. Everything seemed so off kilter.
I can’t trust him, she thought.
“Yes, you can trust me. And few others,” he said.
How did he know what she was thinking? Was he just good at guessing, or was her expression so transparent that it was obvious?
He made no threatening moves toward her, and his face, lined with only a few wrinkles and topped with graying brown hair, seemed friendly. His eyes, the irises a blue so light that they looked frosted, were both frightening and very direct. It seemed that she could see into his soul—almost—when she looked into those unusual eyes.
The man chuckled.
“That’s nice, but you really can’t see the soul in a person’s eyes, Bella.”
She gasped, and took several stumbling steps backward.
He was reading her mind? How could that be? No one could read minds. It was impossible. Her thoughts were supposed to be hers alone, and no one else’s.
“That’s true too, but you have left your thoughts open for all to read—at least those who are attuned to the spiritual realm.”
“Stop it,” Bella said, angry despite the man’s friendly appearance and unthreatening manner. She didn’t want anyone reading her mind. It had to be some kind of cheap parlor trick, but she still didn’t like the act. Not one bit.
“My apologies, but your thoughts are so loud, I cannot help but know them. You are projecting them, allowing your emotions to amplify them. They’re like radio waves, Bella, and your frequency is quite strong.”
She clenched her teeth and backed away a few more steps. It was crazy. It was just too crazy. He couldn’t be reading her thoughts, and she couldn’t have just lost her job after fainting because she’d seen a shadow with red eyes grab a man’s head and squeeze. She couldn’t have lost her fiancé, and all of her wonderful plans for the future, the night before.
That all just couldn’t be happening.
“Bella, I’m sorry that you’re frightened, and I’m sorry that these things have happened to you. If you are already seeing the demons—the shadows—then your abilities are progressing rapidly. I tried to locate you before this happened, and I’m sorry that I was not able to find you sooner so that I could have helped you through this transition.”
“No, no. I’m not listening to this. I’m sorry, mister, but I’m just going to go back to my apartment, brew a strong cup of coffee, take a few aspirin, and pretend that the last twenty four hours never happened. And please don’t try to follow me, or I’ll have to call the police,” Bella huffed out a sigh and moved around the man, setting off along the sidewalk at a fast clip.
“Going back to your apartment won’t help. The others have already found you. They’re after you. They covet your abilities, and they will not stop until they have acquired you as one of their own.”
Bella wanted to put her hands up and cover her ears, but instead she just walked faster. What he said sounded like madness, and she didn’t want to hear any more madness that day.
Had the whole world gone mad, or was it just her? She didn’t know. Perhaps her headache had scrambled her brains.
The man began to follow her.
She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, and looked over her shoulder at him.
“I’ll call them. I mean it. Don’t make me.”
“I’ve been sent to help you because we have similar abilities, Bella. If you call the police, they will not be able to help you as I can. They cannot protect you from the others.”
What others? She wanted to shout, but she didn’t. She wouldn’t buy into his madness. She wouldn’t. She had enough of her own to deal with.
“The others, Bella. The Quislings, they call themselves. They’ve been looking for you as diligently as I have. And it seems that one of them found you even before I did. Your new friend Lucien. He is one of them.”
“Stop it! Stop flinging my own thoughts back at me! Or whatever you’re doing. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but stop it,” she snarled at him, walking faster.
She looked down at the face of her phone and contemplated dialing the police. But when they came, what would she tell them? That the man on the sidewalk was talking crazy, and she’d seen red eyed shadows, and been fired from her job after being accused of being on drugs and she’d lost her fiancé after a huge fight because she wouldn’t have premarital sex? How did that sound? They’d cart her away to a room with white padded walls, surely.
She sighed, stuffing the phone back in her pocket.
“Good choice. Good choice,” the man said. “But, really, I didn’t need to know any of that. TMI, if you know what I mean. Much too much. And, your fiancé is a fool, for what it’s worth.”
Bella stopped walking, the now familiar feeling of foreboding skittering up her spine as another, more unsettling thought occurred to her. She turned to face the man, giving him her full attention.
“Have you been spying on me?”
“Well, yes,” he said.
Shocked at his blatant admission, Bella just stared at him. He admitted that he’d been spying on her? Who did that?
How long had he been doing it? What else did he know about her?
She shook her head to try to clear her thoughts, but it only made her head hurt worse. This was truly horrible. She’d never had a stalker before. And, on the worst day of her life, she suddenly picked one up?
The situation, in fact the whole day, seemed out of her control. She needed help. Extraordinary help.
Dear God, she prayed silently, please help me.
The man grinned at her, then, strangely, gave her a thumbs up sign.
She frowned at him and took a few steps, walking backward, away from him.
“Well, look, um . . . Please stop spying on me and leave me alone,” she said lamely, wondering what she’d do if he didn’t. If she wasn’t going to call the police, then there wasn’t much else she could do, especially if he knew where she lived.
Over the man’s shoulder, Bella saw Lucien approaching, his face set in an angry scowl.
She groaned. She didn’t want to deal with him too.
This day just couldn’t get any worse, could it?
The man looked over his shoulder.
“Well, that’s not good. He’s a mean one, that one is. His abilities are young, like yours, but he’s been figuring out how to use them easily enough. And he uses none of them for good. And, what’s worse, I’m afraid that he’s fixated on you, Bella.”
Fixated on her?
Bella shook her head. This guy was certifiable. But then, so was she, with the shadows and fainting and screaming and hallucinations lately.
“He is, you must believe me. We must leave before he gets here. His thoughts are quite dangerous. He feels possessive of you, and wants to know what I’m doing talking to his future wife.”
Bella gasped, too astounded to remember that she wasn’t trusting this man. “His wife?”
“His future wife, yes. That’s how the thinks of you.”
“But, I’m not . . . I’m engaged. I mean I was engaged. I’m not marrying Lucien . . .” she stuttered, stopping once again in the middle of the sidewalk.
“Well, he’s sure you are. He is thinking that he rid you of your fiancé and that you’ve got no business talking to a man on the sidewalk when you should only be talking to him. He’s thinking that he didn’t go to all that trouble of getting you fired and making you feel vulnerable just so that some old dude—an unflattering opinion of me—can try to pick you up on the street.”
Bella gaped at him, not caring that her mouth was hanging open. This couldn’t be true. Lucien had gotten rid of her fiancé and gotten her fired? But no, that wasn’t possible. Just not possible.
“I don’t believe you,” she said.
“Well, believe me or not, he has his own plans for you and your budding abilities, and his thoughts toward you are not pure and selfless, but evil and possessive. You are in danger from him. He will surely deliver you to the Quislings as soon as he joins their ranks.”
The man had moved closer to her while he was speaking. He hovered a few feet away, his manner almost protective.
Were middle aged stalkers supposed to act protective? She had no idea.
Bella couldn’t take it anymore. She threw her hands in the air and turned around, walking swiftly away.
Maybe her new stalker and Lucien would take care of each other. She’d had enough.
“But you can’t go back to . . .”
The man called after her, and so did Lucien, but she ignored them both and walked faster. When she heard heavy footfalls on the sidewalk behind her, she broke into a run. She just wanted to get back to her apartment. Where it was safe. Beyond accomplishing that, she didn’t know what she was going to do.
Sprinting, she took a left on Eighth Avenue, which ran right in front of her apartment building, grateful that she only had about a block left to go before she could enter her building, ascend to her apartment like a princess to her safe, high tower, and try to escape the insanity that had seized her day.
She’d only run a few more steps when a burly man, wearing a full length black trench coat, of all things, stepped out of a doorway right in front of her.
Unable to stop in time, she ran right into him. Her breath whooshed out with the impact, but his arms came up to catch her, gathering her in an unwanted embrace, his reflexive gesture so fast that it almost seemed as if he’d been expecting their collision.
She hadn’t seen him in the doorway, but that didn’t mean that he hadn’t seen her.
She put her arms out to push away from his too close chest, set on apologizing and thanking him for his efforts to prevent her from falling, when she looked up into his face.
He was smiling. A self-satisfied, wolfish smile.
Her words of apology died in her throat.
“Well, hello, Bella,” he said, his voice a smug purr. “Fancy meeting you here.”
She put her hands up to push against his chest, but before she could do more than that, he reached up a hand to press a folded rag over her mouth and nose, forcing her closer with his other arm.
She gagged at the stench of it, turning her head away violently. It was wet with some fluid that stung her mouth and nose.
She tried to hold her breath as she put every ounce of strength that she possessed into trying to get away. She kicked, pushed, punched, wiggled. She screamed behind the cloth, but then realized that only made going without air worse, because she’d emptied her lungs and they ached for oxygen.
The man held her with ease, one powerful arm locked around her middle, the other hand keeping the cloth pressed tightly over her airways, leering down into her face as he watched her struggle helplessly. She was like a butterfly caught in a web, and he was the spider waiting to devour her when she could no longer struggle against his trap.
Panic gripped her. Time was running out. Either she’d soon pass out from lack of air or she’d have to draw a breath and suck in the fumes from the cloth. She shook her head wildly from side to side, kicking her feet into his shin, but he was immovable.
Her lungs were screaming for air. She couldn’t hold out another second. She reached up to try to claw his face, but he turned his face to the side, easily avoiding her fingernails.
Biology took over then, and she gasped in a breath unwillingly. The fumes burned down her throat, making her eyes water, and almost instantly she felt the effect of them.
Her vision blurred, her head swam, and she felt the strength go out of her arms. Though her heart still pounded in terror, a strange lethargy took hold of her body.
As her vision began to go gray at the edges, the man moved her toward the curb. Her arms and legs flopped like a rag-doll with each stride that he took.
Just before she lost consciousness for the second time that day, he finally removed the cloth from her face, holding her against his chest with one steely arm around her ribcage. She heard him open a vehicle door, and just as her vision faded to black, she felt him stuff her into the back of a dark colored van.
When Bella awoke, her head ached, her mouth tasted like she’d been eating ashes, and her eyelids felt as if they were lined with sandpaper instead of flesh.
When she tried to move, she discovered that she couldn’t. She was bound to an uncomfortable metal chair with duct tape. Her ankles were taped to the blocky chair legs and her torso was taped to the sturdy back of the chair, several layers of the tape wrapped around her ribcage just below her breasts. Her hands were taped together, and oddly positioned to lie demurely in her lap.
Her neck ached, and she struggled to raise her chin from her chest and right her slumped over position. While unconscious, her body had flopped forward and only the layers of tape around her chest had kept her in the chair. Her ribs ached from the unaccustomed pressure.
Her body felt sluggish and slow to respond. The room was dim, but she still had to blink several times to bring everything into focus once she attained an upright position. When she was able to see clearly, she was surprised to see Lucien sitting across from her in another metal chair, only a long, metal table separating them.
“Hello, Bella,” he said. “Glad to see that you’re awake.”
“Where am I? Why have you done this?” Bella whispered, her throat scratchy from the burning chemical that the other man had forced upon her.
“Oh, I haven’t done anything except protect you, Bella. I told them that you were mine, and that if they harmed you, I would not join them.”
“What? Join who, Lucien? What are you talking about?”
Bella kept her other questions to herself. Why did he think that she was his? Why would he want to join people who kidnapped innocent women? Why hadn’t he taken her from this place, if he were actually protecting her like he said? She didn’t think that she could ask him any of these questions without making her situation worse, so she kept them behind her teeth.
“The Quislings. They want you and me to join them. They’ve been talking to me, and since I’ve expressed my interest in their undertakings, I’ve been allowed time to make my choice. But you, Bella, you were seen talking to an Invisible while under their surveillance, and they don’t want you joining that camp, so they’ve brought you here to convince you to join them.”
Quislings? Invisibles? After the many shocks that she’d had earlier in the day, Lucien suddenly talking like he’d fallen down the rabbit hole probably shouldn’t bother her, but it did. If there were truly others around—and she saw no sign of them—then Lucien really could be the only reason she was still breathing. And if he was, she needed him sane, not talking crazy.
“Their usual methods are . . .” Lucien paused, as if searching for a polite word, “ . . . rather violent, but I have persuaded them than they cannot use physical pain to turn you to their side. I even insisted that I be the one to bind you to the chair. The tape isn’t too tight, is it? I didn’t want to bruise your lovely skin.”
For a moment, Bella could only stare at him, a myriad of conflicting thoughts jumbling through her mind, one thought returning over and over again. Someone wanted to commit acts of violence against her, and she was bound to a chair and helpless. Panic skittered at the edges of her mind and she closed her eyes before she could scream at Lucien that his question was absurd under these circumstances. He didn’t want to bruise her? But he’d let them keep her here, bound like an animal?
“Thank you,” she finally choked out, gritting her teeth against the bile that rose in her throat at having to placate him. “They’re not too tight. The tape isn’t hurting me.”
“Good, good. Then, I’ll tell them that they can begin.”
Lucien rose from his chair and turned toward the door.
“Wait! Wait, Lucien. Please don’t go. What are they going to do to me?”
Ice cold fear chased down her spine. Lucien seemed to be insane, but at least she knew him. If he went to get others, her situation would only get worse, she was sure of it.
“You’d like for me to stay? But, Bella, it is sure to be a humiliating and shameful process, with them digging around in your most private thoughts and feelings. Why would you want your future husband to witness that?”
Bella gulped. They were going to dig around in her mind? Then she gulped again, realizing the rest of what he’d said. Future husband?
That’s just what the other man had said to her earlier. The stalker must have been telling the truth. She immediately wondered if the rest of what the man had said had been truthful as well.
She knew that she shouldn’t ask, but the question burned for an answer, “More humiliating than losing my fiancé because I wasn’t affectionate enough, Lucien? More shameful than losing my job because Mr. Bouthar thought that I was doing drugs?”
Bella had thought that he’d get angry at her veiled accusations, but instead, Lucien smiled down at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners in genuine amusement.
“Ah, so you’re more clever than even I had thought. Figured out that I had a little something to do with your bad luck lately, have you?”
Astounded at this open admission, Bella felt righteous anger boil up within her. It searing away the hard edges of her fear.
“How? How did you do it?”
“With my gifts. You have them too, and that’s what they want to talk to you about,” he turned to go, stopping only when he reached the door. “And don’t worry, Bella. They will not hurt you . . . physically. Just cooperate, and this won’t take long at all.”
He left without another glance at her, closing the door behind him.
She didn’t want anyone digging around in her mind, and after all that she’d witnessed that day, what she would have once scoffed at as impossible suddenly seemed entirely too real to her.
She glanced around the room. Unpainted concrete walls, bare concrete floor, no windows and only one door, sparsely furnished with only the two metal chairs and the metal table. A single bare bulb hung from an unfinished fixture in the ceiling, its weak yellow light not strong enough to chase away the shadows in the corners. The place looked like an unfinished basement that could have existed anywhere in any city. It gave her no clues as to where she was, and she saw no avenue of escape.
She shuddered, trying not to think of what that meant for her.
What did these people want from her? Quislings? Was Lucien involved with some sort of cult?
Bella tested her bonds, trying to tear her upper torso loose from the chair, but they were too strong. She tried to push with her foot and tear the tape away from the chair leg, but the tensile strength of the duct tape was just too great.
Panic rose within her and tears of pain stung her eyes as she rocked desperately against her bonds, nearly tipping over the chair, the tape cutting deeply into the tender skin beneath her breasts. After several moments, she stilled, realizing that she was accomplishing nothing but hurting herself, and that wouldn’t gain her anything.
There was only one thing that she could do. In a situation this hopeless, only the Lord would be able to save her. She closed her eyes and began to pray.
She prayed for several minutes before she recalled a video that she’d seen once online. It had been a brief snippet created by a self defense instructor, designed to entice women to join his self defense classes, and it had shown exactly how to break duct tape bindings on the wrists. With a brief whispered prayer of thanks, Bella brought her hands up and twisted them in a fast snapping motion, just as the video had shown. To her amazement, the technique worked. The tape tore down the side of one wrist and with another couple of forceful twists, she was able to free both hands.
Her eyes went to the door as she frantically ripped the loosened tape from her hands and bent to tear away the tape at her ankles, expecting Lucien to return with the Quislings at any moment.
Trembling, nearly whimpering with panic, she tore at the tape frantically.
Before she could finish tearing off the tape around her ribcage, she heard the snick of the lock at the door. Her panic returned and she clawed at the tape as she simultaneously attempted to stand.
The door swung open and the burly man who had kidnapped her stepped inside. He was no longer wearing the long black trench coat, but he still wore his mean, half amused expression.
Bella shuddered at the look he gave her. He had nothing good planned for her, she was sure.
Three other men followed him into the stark room, and they could have been his clones. They were all big, muscular, and mean-looking. As they entered the room, the atmosphere seemed to change, as if they’d brought evil with them.
The hair on Bella’s nape rose to attention, and gooseflesh puckered the skin on her arms as a feeling of heavy, permeating evil reached across the room and seemed to caress her.
Seeing her tugging at the last of her bonds, all four of the men smiled an identical smile—predatory expressions of delight that their prey still remained caught and at their mercy.
Bella shivered, her fingers still plucking at the tape frenetically, nearly hysterical in her need to free herself.
As they drew closer to her, a single thought seemed to explode inside her mind with such force that it blocked out everything else—even her fear.
Sing, Bella! Sing a song of praise! Sing now, and be prepared to run!
She knew immediately that the thought was not hers, but it galvanized her into action nevertheless. She didn’t know where it came from, or how, or why, but she knew that she had to do as it instructed.
She reached down to rip the last of the tape from her chest, freeing herself from the chair at the same time that she began to sing “Amazing Grace” at the top of her lungs. She didn’t know who had sent the thought. Didn’t even question that someone had been able to send a thought to her. She just sang.
The atmosphere in the room changed again immediately, and Bella no longer felt the strange press of evil that had sought to envelop her. To Bella’s shock, the men responded to her song as if someone had stunned them with a shock grenade.
They covered their ears, wincing, groaning as if in pain. The burly man’s eyes widened as she dashed past him and out the open door, but not a single one of them seemed to be able to do anything to stop her.
The door to her short term cell led out into a colorless gray hallway, and Bella broke into a run as she fled down it, still singing.
The men did not give chase until she was nearly at the end of the hallway, some sixty feet away from them. She kept singing and running, running and singing. The words flowed from her lips easily—“Amazing Grace” was her favorite hymn—and seemed almost to take on a strange kind of power. She didn’t understand it, but it seemed as if her love for the Lord poured out of her through her song, creating a pocket of protection around her.
There was a door at the end of the hallway, but it wasn’t locked. She flung herself through it and then up the flight of steps just beyond, starting to pant with effort. Her song suffered, becoming choppy as she struggled for breath, but she sang on, gasping out the words.
When she reached the top of the stairs, there was another door. She hurried through it and discovered what looked to be a very large office area. It was filled with desks and chairs and tables and people. Lots and lots of people. And they all turned to stare at her as she entered the room, panting and singing loudly.
Seeing them all, Bella faltered, then stopped singing. She stood near the door for a moment, panting, unsure of what to do. There were so many people. And they looked fairly normal, dressed in office attire, some drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups, some chatting around desks, others typing or writing, or talking on the phone.
How could such a normal looking office sit on top of a kidnapper’s lair? It made no sense.
And then she felt it. The place was not as normal as it had seemed at first glance. What she’d felt in the basement was here too, in this seemingly normal office. A creeping sense of pervasive evil cast an invisible pall over the room.
Bella shivered and edged carefully away from the door at her back, feeling like a deer caught unexpectedly among a very large pack of wolves.
A man detached himself from the group of people nearest to her, heading in her direction, his clothes and the embroidered insignia upon his arm designating him as security.
He smiled at her, and when he neared, he reached out a solicitous hand.
“May I help you?” he asked. His voice was calm and reassuring, yet lightly oiled with a strange, hidden malevolence.
Bella felt an odd burning inside her mind, and then a paralyzing fear began to creep into her emotions. Powerful, irresistible, all encompassing [_fear . . . _]It seized hold of her mind in a vice tight grip, and she nearly cried out at the intensity of the emotion.
Sing, Bella! Sing!
The thought blasted through her mind with such force that it almost seemed to ring in her ears. It dislodged the fear, sweeping it aside with such power that for a moment, Bella’s mind felt like a blank slate, wiped clean of everything except a desire to follow the instruction implanted there.
She didn’t hesitate a moment longer. She began to sing just as the security officer’s fake, oily smile morphed into a snarl and he lunged for her. Singing loudly, she dodged him and headed for the outside entrance to the office area, where she could see dusk staining the sky a deep orange through the double glass doors.
As she passed amongst them, people covered their ears and turned away, almost as if her voice, her song, hurt them.
The strange malevolence that filled the large room seemed to part before her, like water under the prow of an enormous ship, leaving a wake of silent, eddying wickedness behind her.
The paralyzing fear seemed to snap at her heels, chasing her out of the office space, a weakened distortion of what it had felt like moments before. Her voice, the song, the words of praise seemed to hold it at bay while she ran as if her life depended upon her reaching the doors as soon as possible.
She burst outside into the setting sun just as the four men from the basement, and Lucien, entered the office from the stairwell door.
Lucien shouted at her, but she paid him no mind.
To her never ending gratitude and utter surprise, not a single one of them gave chase. They just stood near the doors, frowning ferociously at her as she escaped, as if rooted to the spot by some invisible force.
A very large parking lot spread out before her as she exited the glass doors. Waning sunlight limned the shiny blacktop with an orange tint, making her squint against its bright reflection. Panting, sweating, singing, Bella ran a few steps along the sidewalk. Confusion inundated her thoughts. She wasn’t sure what had just happened in the building behind her, but she felt lucky to have escaped it.
She stopped singing, and cautiously slowed to a walk, trying to catch her breath, expecting someone to give chase at any moment.
She cast a nervous glance over her shoulder, but her kidnappers were still not pursuing her. She could see them well enough as she passed by the full length glass windows surrounding the exit doors. If looks could kill, she’d be dead, but all they did was glare at her, their eyes promising painful retribution if they ever ran across her path again.
Bella didn’t know what to make of it. She felt as if perhaps she had fallen down the rabbit hole too.
Need a ride, Bella?
Bella started, hearing the thought in her mind. It had the same flavor as the other thoughts that urged her so strongly to sing, though this one was more of a suggestion than a command. She looked around, trying to find the source and spotted the man easily.
To her left, leaning against a sleek, red sports car, stood her stalker.
She was close enough that she could see him roll his eyes in what appeared to be exasperation.
“For the last time, Bella,” he said aloud, sighing heavily, “I am not a stalker!”
Bella eyed the man and the short woman sitting in the passenger seat of the car, unsure. Had he just helped to rescue her from her kidnappers? Probably. Or, rather, his thoughts had.
And how did that even work? How was he able to speak into her mind?
“If you’d care to get into the car, I’d be happy to tell you,” he said. “Their inactivity inside will only last for so long. The pain of the Lord’s goodness is more quickly shaken off by the evil in the physical world, which is not the case in the spiritual realm.”
“Oh, I forgot, you can read my mind too,” Bella said, unable to completely strip the sarcasm from her voice. It was all just so bizarre.
“I get it, you don’t believe me. And, when I was in your shoes, I didn’t believe, either. But, after what just happened, I would think you’d be willing to hear my explanation, at the very least.”
“Who is your companion,” Bella asked, jerking her head toward the woman in the passenger seat of the car, stalling while she tried to make up her mind. She had just escaped one set of kidnappers; she didn’t want to trade them so quickly for another.
She glanced over her shoulder, angling her head to catch a view of those men through the glass doors. They’d edged forward, and were standing very near the entrance, glaring at her with such malice that it made her skin crawl. Lucien stood at the forefront of the group, looking very, very angry.
“He is very angry, Bella,” the woman said, her face pinched with worry. “I am glad that you have not yet honed the ability to hear his thoughts, for they frighten even me.”
Bella shuddered, imagining the kind of thoughts Lucien might be having about her right at that moment.
She looked at the men gathered at the door a moment longer, recalling the sense of creeping evil that had hung like a pall inside the room. She shuddered again, remembering that strange feeling of malice as it had crawled over her and the intensity of the fear that had invaded her mind. She realized that just like the thought that the stalker had sent, the fear had not been her own, either. She felt a chill of remembered horror cool her sweat slicked skin, and knew that her choice was easy to make.
Bella stepped closer to the car.
“Okay, I’ll hear your explanation, and I hope it’s good. I’ve been feeling as if I need to reserve a room for myself in Bellevue all day.”
The man opened the passenger door for her and Bella slid inside the car. He shut the door behind her and moved quickly around to get into the driver’s seat.
Bella turned once more to look at the entrance to the building. None of the people had ventured outside yet, but more had gathered behind the glass. They glared at her, and Bella could almost feel the weight of their collective stares.
She shuddered and turned her attention back to the man.
“Let’s start with who you are, and why you’ve been spying on me,” Bella said as he started the car, revved the engine, and backed quickly out of his parking space. “And, can we stop by my apartment? I’d like to get back there before Lucien does. I think I’ll grab a few things and spend a couple of nights in a hotel, just to be safe.”
The woman swiveled around in her seat, her expression pained.
“Well, that may present a bit of a problem,” she said.
“Oh?” Bella asked, warning bells sounding in her head.
“Well, yes . . .”
“Why is that?” Bella asked, trying to keep her tone light, but failing miserably.
What next? she thought. What else could possibly happen today?
She glanced at the door beside her seat. It remained unlocked. That was good. It meant that she could bail out if she needed to at the next stoplight.
“Well, dear, it is no longer your apartment,” the woman told her. “And your things are no longer there.”
Velma Stockton was feeling very sorry for Bella. The poor young woman had received shock after shock after shock today. And it wasn’t over yet.
She could hear the clarion of fear in the woman’s thoughts, and felt badly for it, but there had been no other choice. Once Bella had been taken by the Quislings, decisions had had to be made.
That’s why their organization had sent her along to assist David. She was good at making the hard decisions. Very, very good.
It was one of her gifts. Grace under pressure, she liked to call it.
“What do you mean, it’s no longer my apartment? Of course it is my apartment. And where would all of my things be, if they’re not in my apartment?” Bella was sounding angry, and Velma could hardly blame her after all that she’d been through.
“I know you’ve had a bad day, dear, but if you’ll just let me—
Bella cut her off before she could finish her sentence.
“A bad day? A bad day? No, no, this was not a bad day. A bad day is when your coffeemaker quits before work and you have to go to work with no caffeine. A bad day is when you rip your pants at work and can’t go home to change them until lunch. A bad day is when you eat sick shrimp for lunch and then can’t leave the bathroom for an entire evening. No, today was not a bad day. It was a horrible day. A mind bogglingly terrible day. I’ve seen things today that you wouldn’t believe. I’ve picked up a stalker, been kidnapped, lost my job, found out my new coworker thinks he owns me and wants me to join some psychotic cult and now you’re saying I no longer have an apartment and all of my stuff has gone missing?
“I didn’t say missing, dear,” Velma said at the same time David said, “I am not a stalker!”
Bella ignored David, giving him a scowl.
“If not missing, then what?” she said.
“We had it all relocated. The whole lot. All of it. And it’s safe, don’t worry. We also paid the remainder of your lease in full and told your landlords—sweet people, really—that it would be fine to rent your apartment again as soon as possible. They were, of course, overjoyed, seeing as how they have a two-year waiting list for tenants. They said they could have that apartment rented by the end of the day. ”
Velma could see Bella’s jaw bunch as she tried to hold in her words. Her efforts were for nothing, though, since Velma could hear the young woman’s thoughts as clearly as if she had spoken them aloud.
Of all the nerve! Who does she think she is? And how could Mr. and Mrs. Cooper just let them take my things and terminate my lease like that? Is that even legal? Maybe she’s lying. Maybe they just don’t want to take me back to my apartment.
“Bella, we’ve done this all in your own best interests. You said yourself that you didn’t think you’d be safe there since Lucien also lives in the building now. And, when we visited the Coopers, we removed a compulsion that Lucien had implanted in their minds, and he’s sure to be even angrier about that, since he no longer lives in his apartment, either. However, if you’d like, we can take you by and you can verify with your former landlords that the lease has been paid in full. It would have to be quick, so we won’t chance meeting up with Lucien and I’d caution you against alarming the Coopers in any way. We do not want to draw the attention of the police. It is enough that we have drawn the notice of the Quislings once again.”
“Fine, fine, I get it. You can read my thoughts, too. So, no privacy for me, huh? But you both can just sit up there, secure in the knowledge that I have no idea what you’re thinking!”
“Shielding your thoughts is a skill you will need to learn. In fact, it is the first skill you will be taught if you decide to join our organization,” David said.
He switched lanes and glanced back at her in the rearview mirror.
“If you want to go by your apartment to verify what Velma has told you, I need to know now. The turn for Main Street is just ahead.”
Bella’s conflicting and emotional thoughts were truly painful to hear. Velma tried her best to shut them out, but the young woman was still so upset by the trials of the day that her strong emotions projected her jumbled thoughts loudly.
Bella frowned, trying to think nothing at all while at the same time wondering what she should do. She didn’t want them to know her thoughts, but at the same time, she couldn’t stop thinking about this latest bit of news that the woman had provided.
Her life was in a shambles. All of her plans for a happy future had walked out the door with Derek. She had no job, no family, and very few close friends—and none who were close enough that she’d want to burden them with the strange events of the day—and if she could believe the woman, she had no place to live anymore, either. She felt stripped bare, as if the day had taken everything from her. She hoped that her savings was still in her bank, otherwise, she didn’t know what she’d do.
The woman cleared her throat, and there was a long pause, as if she had something to say but didn’t want to say it. Finally, she sighed and started talking again.
“And that’s the other thing, Bella. As soon as they’d kidnapped you for ‘reprogramming,’ they also hijacked and modified your identity and drained all of your accounts, siphoning off your funds to use for their organization. They have those among them who have the ability for a bit of illusion, so it was quite easy for one of those individuals to take on your image and withdraw your funds from your accounts. Especially after they had your identification, which they took from your purse when you were kidnapped.”
Bella’s heart seemed to stutter in her chest. All of her savings, gone? The money she’d worked years to make, her nest egg for the future . . . it wasn’t there anymore? What was she to do now?
And wasn’t this all so very convenient for the two in the front seat of the car? If she had nothing—no job, no money, no apartment, no one who cared about her—then wouldn’t it seem as if she had to join these people who were so kindly offering their aid?
From the front seat, the woman answered her as if she’d spoken aloud, “Yes, Bella, but that was their goal, not ours. With you completely at their mercy, what choice would you have but to marry Lucien and accept the membership into their organization?”
Bella frowned, trying to sort it all out. It was all so convoluted. She didn’t know whom to trust.
“So, if you weren’t taking me back to my apartment—because it is no longer my apartment—then where were you taking me?” she asked.
“We were going to take you to a coffee shop, have a long talk, explain ourselves, and then, with your agreement, we’d like to take you to our organization’s compound. It’s a very long drive, so we thought some caffeine might help keep us all awake overnight. The compound is where we have had your things moved. We have a place for you there.”
Bella held back a snarl. “That was a little presumptuous, don’t you think?”
“Action had to be taken, Bella,” Velma said. “Now that they’ve made their first move, the Quislings will not stop trying to gain your abilities for their own.”
“What abilities?” Bella asked, nearly shouting. “I don’t have any special abilities!”
Instead of answering, David sighed loudly, meeting her gaze in the rearview mirror.
“I’m sorry, Bella. I’ve made a mess of things,” David said quietly.
Velma reached out a reassuring hand, placing it on David’s arm, as if comforting him in some way.
“You do have abilities, Bella,” Velma explained. “Just as we do. They’re a gift, from the Lord. Everyone has been gifted in one way or another, and all gifts are different. The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, knows exactly what gifts will serve us best before we are even born. Through Him, your gifts can grow stronger. And, some fortunate few are even allowed to catch a glimpse of the supernatural realm that exists all around us. To see the angels and evil spirits. Few in the world receive gifts such as these, Bella, and you are one of the lucky people who have.”
“But, the Lord also allows us all free choice, so the gifts we have been blessed with can be used to serve Him, or they can be used for evil and self serving gains,” David said.
“You have been blessed with several very powerful gifts. And they have only recently begun to show themselves. These gifts have put you on the radar, so to speak, for supernatural forces and for those whose gifts allow them to see into the supernatural world,” Velma explained.
“So, you’re saying that Lucien, and the Quislings . . . they’ve been gifted too, and they’ve chosen to use their gifts for evil purposes?”
“Yes, quite evil, dear,” Velma said.
“And you don’t? You use your gifts for good? Is that right?” Bella asked.
“That’s right, dear, we don’t use our gifts for self serving or evil purposes. Our gifts are only used to further His Kingdom,” Velma assured her.
Bella didn’t know what to say. These people sounded as crazy as Lucien had sounded down in that stark basement. The only difference was that Bella felt no evil emanating from them, and her instincts urged her to trust them.
“There’s a Starbucks just ahead. And it looks like it’s still open. Do you want to stop?” David asked, cutting into the uncomfortable conversation.
Bella glanced behind them, a spike of fear jolting through her as she again recalled the malefic atmosphere that had seemed to permeate the building that the Quislings had taken her to.
“Maybe we could just go through the drive thru?” she said.
“So you’ve decided to go with us to the compound? To join us? So easily? You don’t need to talk about it?”
“That depends upon where it is. But I’d still like some coffee.”
“Unfortunately, we can’t tell you where it is until you’ve arrived. And, once you’ve arrived, you’ll have to stay for a while—at least until you’ve learned to shield your thoughts. It’s much too dangerous for us otherwise.”
Oh, well, that didn’t sound ominous at all, did it? Bella thought, and then tried quickly to unthink it. She wasn’t sure how to withdraw a thought from existence, so she just tried thinking of something else. Something benign. Roses. Kittens. Trees. Clouds.
She wasn’t sure if it worked, but she thought she saw a smirk twist up the corner of David’s mouth, so she was fairly certain that he’d read those thoughts, too.
She frowned. He thought it was funny? It was NOT funny!
Another thought occurred to her, and she tried her best to hide it, tamp it down, bury it under a million images of cute, cuddly, furry kittens, but still he seemed to know it before it was even fully formed.
“There is no need to leap out of the car at the drive thru and make a run for it, Bella. I can pull over here if you’d like. You’re free to leave Velma and me whenever you want. At least, until we arrive at our compound, and then you’ll have to stay a while until you learn how to protect the secret of its location within your mind.”
Bella sighed. She hated this mind reading thing. But she really wanted to put some distance between herself and Lucien and those Quislings. She never wanted to feel the kind of fear she’d felt inside that building ever again.
“Fine, coffee it is, and I’ll decide on the drive whether or not I’ll join your ‘organization’.”
Bella sat in the back seat sipping her mocha double chocolate chip and nibbling at her lemon cake while David drove them out of Portland. Night had set in, shrouding the landscape in darkness, but as Bella stared out the window of the sports car, she was sure that she saw red eyed shadows everywhere in the night. As they passed by in the car, Bella could see them clearly. The shadows seemed to be meandering the busy sidewalks near pedestrians, crouching inside cars next to drivers and passengers, crowded up against patrons in busy restaurants.
To her eyes, they seemed to be everywhere that people were. After the events of the day, she no longer questioned whether she was crazy, or whether they were real. She now knew that they were. And she was slowly coming to terms with it. Slowly.
David and Velma seemed content to let her stew in her own thoughts as they drove toward the compound that would be her strange new home for the next few months if she chose.
She wasn’t sure that she was ready for that, but, if she were honest with herself, she really didn’t have much of a choice. With no money and no place to live, what else could she do but rely on their offer?
She’d borrowed one of their cell phones earlier, and, while waiting in the drive thru line at Starbucks, she’d called the Coopers and verified that her lease had indeed been paid in full and that her apartment was already rented out again. After hanging up, she’d logged in to her online banking accounts and checked the balance. Both her checking and her savings were empty. So, she really was very much at their mercy. She couldn’t even begin to fathom where else she’d get help if she decided to leave their company and rebuffed their offer of membership into their organization.
“Now, dear, that’s not—” Velma began, but she was interrupted by David.
“Let Bella think, Velma. She needs to sort this out on her own.”
Bella scoffed silently. They already knew what she was thinking, so what did it matter if they let her do it in silence?
She wasn’t used to this level of mental intimacy with anyone. She had always been very careful what she did and did not allow herself to say to people. She only allowed the thoughts that she had to pass her lips on rare occasion. Now, with the two of them able to read every single thought, it was as if her very soul was laid bare to for their perusal. She didn’t like it. Not one bit.
“No, go on, what were you going to say, Velma?” she asked, knowing that speaking was unnecessary, at least on her part, but doing it anyway because it seemed normal. And, today, she liked normal more than she ever had before. In fact, she dearly missed normal and desperately wanted it back.
“I was going to say that you do have a choice. We can relocate you to any city in the United States if you wish. You will not be forced to join our organization. We even have a special fund that we use for relocations, which we will happily give to you so that you can start over without financial hardship. The choice is entirely yours, Bella.”
That was good to know, Bella thought, but what she really wanted to know was how to keep her thoughts to herself. She didn’t like that David and Velma could read her mind, but it made her slightly ill to think of men like Lucien being able to read her every thought, too.
“You haven’t ever told me what the name of your organization is. And what it is exactly that they do.”
“We are called the Invisible,” David said, just a slight note of pride in his voice. “And we do many things. Mostly, we use God’s goodness to fight the evil that permeates the world.”
“And we seek out others, such as you, whenever our sources indicate that one of you may be coming into your abilities. That is when you are most vulnerable to the Quislings.”
“And, what is it that the Quislings do?” Bella asked.
“They spread evil, dear. They destroy goodness through any means possible, using their abilities to their own advantage.”
“And the shadows?” Bella asked. “What are they?”
“They’re manifestations of the Prince of Darkness’s minions. They can only inhabit the spiritual realm, as you know, and cannot physically affect us. As it says in the Bible, the Lord has delivered us from this domain of darkness. They often feed negative emotions—hate, avarice, rage—stoking them to unprecedented levels in those who are susceptible already.”
Bella realized that this made complete sense. Derek’s emotions on the night that he’d broken their engagement had seemed out of control and magnified, but she’d known that, deep down, he had felt at least a little resentful of her vow of chastity. And Mr. Bouthar’s response to her fainting had been beyond normal, to say the least, but it must have been based on some small grain of what he believed to be truth. The realization that these shadows, the Devil’s minions, were able to influence those already in the grip of negative emotion sent a shiver of fear down her spine.
Velma sought to comfort her. “There is nothing to fear, Bella. Anyone who asks for it has the protection of the Lord. These evil spirits must be allowed to influence people in this way, by those same people that they are influencing. They cannot take away a person’s freedom of will.”
“And your organization, the Invisible, they can protect others from this influence?”
David nodded, keeping his eyes on the road. “Yes, we can if they will allow it.”
“And what of those who fall under this influence? Are they . . . damaged?” Bella thought of Derek, and though hurt speared her heart as she remembered his treatment of her, she did not bear ill will toward him. She did not want him hurt, though he’d hurt her deeply.
“No, they are not damaged. But, most of them are extremely sorry for their behavior later,” Velma said.
David nodded again, then muttered, “Yes, be angry and sin not. Good words to live by.”
“And Derek. Will the Quislings leave him alone after I leave Portland?”
“We have taken precautions to guarantee that they do,” David told her.
“And how—” Bella’s question was cut off by the shrill ringtone of Velma’s phone.
The older woman mumbled, “Sorry, dear, just a moment.”
Velma answered the phone with a frown of concern, “Yes? What has happened?”
David and Velma shared a look across the front seat, and Bella wondered if they shared thoughts as well. Though it shouldn’t have, just the idea of being excluding from their mental exchange made her feel like an outsider, alone and on her own in a big, dark world. A world that had grown exponentially darker during the course of the day’s events.
“We are just leaving Portland, so we would be the closest available, since most of the others are out of the country,” Velma said, then paused to listen to the response from the person on the other end of the connection. “Yes, we will. Thank you.”
Velma pushed the icon to end the call, then stuffed the cell phone back into her pocket, looking upset and a little flustered.
“It seems that there is another who has exhibited the beginnings of extraordinary abilities, and he is currently in grave danger. We are the closest to his location. I’m afraid that our trip to the compound will have to be postponed, Bella. And, I apologize, but you’ll need to make your choice now, rather than later.”
Bella didn’t need to think very long. She again vividly recalled the fear and confusion she’d felt earlier in the day. If she could help David and Bella save someone else from experiencing a similar feeling, or rescue them from an even worse fate, such as the one that had loomed before her in that stark basement, she had to try to help. There was really no other choice to make.
She smiled, not even bothering to give them her answer aloud. She knew that they were already aware of her decision. Both of them were beaming at her from the front seat.
To be continued in Riches, Invisible, Episode Two. Find a free preview of Riches next:
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The brilliant, hot globe of the sun was just rising in the east, sending out fingers of warmth across the fading colors of the autumn landscape. Sitting on his glass and chrome patio balcony, overlooking the best view that the city of Houston had to offer, surrounded by all the richness that money could buy, Leo Vance was miserable.
And it was all because of money. It wasn’t that he didn’t have enough, as seemed to be the problem for so many others. No, it was that recently he had acquired too much. And he’d also acquired a host of problems that seemed to go with the money.
He sipped rich espresso that he’d made with the expensive Electa Belle machine out of a platinum rimmed Bernardaud Limoges cup—both gifts that had been foisted upon him by satisfied CEOs—and squinted against the glare of the rising sun, trying once again to determine exactly how his life had taken such a bad turn.
He now had truckloads of money. Boatloads, even. He had so much money that he didn’t know what he’d ever do with it all. And, getting it has been incredibly easy—but only recently, in the last three months. Before that, he’d had to struggle to make ends meet just like everyone else he knew. It wasn’t that he was lucky lately—no, it almost seemed to be more than that. It was almost as if he could not fail at making money now.
But he didn’t seem to be having that same success with everything else. Conversely, it now seemed as if he was failing at every other aspect of his life. His longtime girlfriend had recently dumped him for another man. A man she’d said was better looking and wasn’t such a stick in the mud. Apparently, her other man was a lot more fun than Leo was. But Leo knew that what she’d really meant was that this other man didn’t mind wasting money on foolish, unnecessary things like plastic surgery and trips to Vegas. She’d been angry with him for giving so much to charity, yet neglecting her need for bigger breasts and a smaller nose.
And, strangely, Leo’s friends now seemed to only like him for the things that he and his new enormous amounts of money could provide for them—and when he tried to tell them that maybe those things they wanted weren’t so good for them and that he wasn’t going to help them waste their lives or become addicted to the newest drugs on the street, they became angry and their relationships with him became strained. So much so that now he didn’t feel like he had a single real friend left.
But these strained relationships didn’t make him change his mind about providing his friends with things that weren’t good for them. He didn’t believe in throwing crazy, wild parties so that his friends could get “wasted” and have fun, or buying sports cars just so his buds could pick up women. It just wasn’t right, not when others needed that money for basic needs. Still, he missed the camaraderie that he used to have with his friends before he’d started making money hand over fist.
Even his acquaintances had started hitting him up for money lately. He didn’t mind, as long as it was to help them out—after all, he now had more money than he could ever spend in a lifetime—but when they started coming to him for gambling debt payments or to buy drugs or booze, he had to turn them away. And this, of course, did not endear him to them at all.
Before he’d become a seemingly infallible financial guru, he’d thought that what people said about money was wrong. He’d heard time and again that money was the root of all evil, and he hadn’t believed it. But now, after dealing with the flood of money for a while he was starting to believe it.
Though he’d tried not to let it happen, his money had corrupted all of his friends, and, he had to admit, he was starting to feel its deleterious effects as well. For the first time in his life, he was glad that he had no family and had been an orphan for all of his formative years. It would have been too painful to see his money corrupt a beloved mother or father, sister, or brother. That, he could not have borne.
Lately, he could feel the pull of the money upon his own thoughts and actions. He could easily quit his job as a consultant. He had no real need for an income anymore. He could buy anything he wanted, go anyplace he pleased. Money equaled power, and he had it in spades. But he fought against the corruption of ease and plenty. Instead, he donated massive amounts to deserving charities and those in need. He believed that he could still do good in the world, and so he tried desperately to funnel his time, energy, and money into that. The problem was, he just kept making more money. No matter how much he donated, it seemed like he always received it back tenfold.
And, he hadn’t quite figured out why.
When the sun’s creeping rays reached where he sat on his massive patio balcony, he finished the rest of his espresso and went inside to prepare for his day. He had an important meeting with the head of Green International that he didn’t want to be late for.
Green International was a multi billion dollar company. It was also the biggest donor to charity organizations in Houston—other than Leo, of course. But, since he always insisted on being an anonymous donor, no one, other than his ex girlfriend, knew that he donated so much to worthy causes. His anonymous status made it seem that, instead, Green International was the biggest philanthropic organization around.
Lately, Green International had come into a bit of financial trouble, and with his status as the best financial advisor around, he’d been called in to consult. Leo was eager to help so that their charity donations could continue. Though Green International’s donations had already dropped a great deal in the previous few months, Leo was confident that he could help them recoup their losses and commence the donations again. After all, those in need in the city of Houston could use all of the help that they could get, and Leo was determined to do all that he could to help them get the help that they needed.
Draven Latimer, the leader of the Quisling cell in Houston, had big plans for the city. But before his plans could be put into play, the Houston cell needed to stop all of the do gooders in the city from mitigating the misery that he and his men tried so hard to create each and every day.
The biggest block to his success in chasing good from the city and replacing it with evil was, of course, those who constantly donated to the causes most in need. He needed to put a stop to the charitable donations for the soup kitchens, homeless shelters, domestic violence centers, and free medical care centers. If he could interrupt the flow of money to those types of organizations, he knew that it would be only too easy to stop their volunteers, too. And after that, they’d soon be forced to close their doors. This would create much misery in the city, making it a lot easier for his cell to put the rest of their plans in motion. A miserable city was a vulnerable city. And everyone knew that misery loved company. If his cell could instigate enough misery in the city, it would soon become a self perpetuating circle.
One corporation in particular was responsible for a huge part of the charitable donations for those types of do gooder organizations, and he’d already implanted men within the company ranks and had them start to decrease financial revenues. Mostly, they had come up with clever ways to siphon off the profits of Green International and funnel that money into the bank accounts of various Quisling enterprises. But, they’d had a little help from their various supernatural abilities, too. With those powers working in their favor, his cell had the upper hand and easily manipulated others within the company to do their bidding.
So far, it was working splendidly. Without their huge profits, Green International’s donations had already begun to decrease dramatically. It was working so well, in fact, that the company had hired a financial consultant. The meeting would be today, and Draven intended to be there. One of his abilities allowed him to remain unseen to the undiscerning eye—very similar to the abilities of those filthy Invisibles who tried so hard to undermine his organization’s works—so he had no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be allowed to attend the meeting. They wouldn’t even know he was there.
He was quite looking forward to it. The consultant that they’d hired had recently come up on the Quisling’s radar, anyway. It seemed that the man, Leo Vance, had begun to display a certain ability, one that would prove very, very useful to Draven’s cell.
Draven was feeling very eager to meet the man. If fate was on his side, by the end of the day, Mr. Vance would be a member of their organization, whether he was willing to be or not.
With a shaking hand, Leo slapped the “down” arrow button on the wall and waited impatiently for the elevator to arrive, breathing deeply to calm himself. The airy, glass walled hallway on the top floor of Green International headquarters should have given him a feeling of ease and calm—great care had been taken by the interior designer to create just such an effect—but instead he felt caged and pent up.
Green International’s financials were worse than he’d thought they’d be—far, far worse. He wasn’t sure even his newfound talents would be enough to help them back into a profit margin large enough to recover their recent losses.
And, to add to this bad report, the meeting itself had been tense and awkward. There had been an air of unseen heaviness present with them in the immense board room where the meeting had taken place. It had manifested as an oppressive feeling of indistinct evil. It had been odd, to say the least, and the atmosphere had not helped Leo mitigate the board members’ concerns at all. In fact, it had almost seemed to work against his efforts.
But worst of all, Leo himself was not feeling at the top of his game . Though he’d arisen early, had his traditional healthy breakfast, done his hour of treadmill and weights, and should have been feeling terrific, he had seen things inside the board room that had made him question his own mental well being. While sitting at the huge marble and glass table, he had—multiple times—caught a glimpse of a man lounging against the wall in the corner of the room.
When he’d tried to look directly at the man, his image had always wavered and then disappeared. After the fourth time this had occurred, Leo had decided that he must be hallucinating. And when the huge, evil looking, red eyed shadows had begun to filter into the room and hover near the board members, he’d been sure of it.
When the meeting had finally concluded, Leo had been feeling hot under the collar, sick to his stomach with nerves, and very eager to leave. Even now, as he waited for the elevator, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling of pervasive, unseen evil. In fact, it felt as if the evil had stalked him all the way from the board room to the elevator.
He snorted aloud, scoffing at his own thoughts. That just wasn’t possible. Evil didn’t stalk people. Perhaps the kale in his green smoothie that morning had been spoiled, and it was messing with his brain chemistry in some way and causing these hallucinations and paranoid delusions.
When the elevator arrived, Leo hurried inside, turning to press the button for the lobby before leaning against the glossy, wood paneled interior and closing his eyes against the headache that was beginning to pound in his head.
As the elevator descended, he blinked several times, hoping to clear his brain fog, and once again noticed the man standing in a corner.
“Are you real?” Leo asked, glad that he was alone in the elevator so that he could at least confront this figment of his imagination.
The man said nothing, but his image did not fade as Leo stared directly at him this time. He stared back at Leo, his dark eyes filled with such an expression of menace that Leo was forced to look away.
Even knowing that he was a hallucination did not prevent a chill from chasing down Leo’s spine after seeing that look in the man’s eyes. It was a murderous gaze, filled with malice and contempt. Leo couldn’t fathom why his subconscious mind, hopped up on bad bioflavonoids from spoiled kale, would conjure up such a thing.
When the elevator doors whooshed open, Leo exited eagerly and hurried out of the building. On the bright sidewalk in front of the building, he saw his hallucination exit and join up with three other men. They all turned toward him, and Leo’s head lanced with pain as their gazes focused upon him.
Hallucination or not, he sensed that he had better not linger. These images of men that only he appeared to be able to see carried with them the same shadow of evil that had permeated the atmosphere of the board room.
Skin prickling in warning at his nape, Leo set off at a fast walk toward the massive parking garage where he’d parked his Hummer. It was only a block away.
Though it was nearing eighty degrees outside, a cold sweat broke out on his skin under his favorite power suit. He’d worn the heavy suit that morning just for the meeting, but as he walked to the garage, it felt oppressive and he couldn’t wait to get out of it.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that the three men following him had been flanked by three more men. These three were dressed a bit differently than the others, in dark hoodies and black cargo pants. All three of the newcomers had telltale bulges under their clothing, indicating to Leo that they were all armed.
Leo turned back to the sidewalk and picked up the pace, hoping he’d be able to make it back to the parking garage before they could catch up to him.
But, like everything lately except for financials, Leo’s luck did not hold out. As he rounded the corner, entering the lowest level of the garage, he ran right into an immovable mountain of muscle.
Rebounding, he stumbled a few steps before regaining his balance.
“Excuse me,” he said, starting to apologize, but the gun in the man’s hand stopped him from continuing. His words dried up in his throat. He took a step back, but the man raised the gun, leveling it at Leo’s heart.
“Wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the man said, his voice rough with violence.
Leo raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, “Hey, it’s ok. You want money? I can give you plenty.”
The guy smirked. “I know you can, Mr. Vance.”
A shock of fear cut through Leo. If the man knew his name, and knew that he had money, then this indicated premeditation, not a general opportunistic mugging. And that meant that the situation was even more dangerous than Leo had first surmised.
Leo glanced over his shoulder, barely holding back a muttered curse as he saw the three men in hoodies nearing the entrance to the garage. Oddly, the man that Leo had hallucinated earlier was still with them, keeping step with them, as if they were traveling as a group.
Dismissing the problem with his mental state because he simply did not have time for that at the moment, Leo glanced back at the massive man in front of him, realizing that he had only a few seconds left if he had a chance at escaping whatever they had planned for him. And he now had no doubt that they were all working in tandem.
He glanced around the parking garage. It was full of cars of every make and model, but empty of people who could serve as witnesses. To his left, a low concrete half wall divided the entrance from the parking area; to his right, the entrance road curved around to the upper level.
Leo chose left, banking on the fact that, if the men wanted more money than he currently carried in his wallet, they’d know that they needed him alive.
He feinted toward the man, then darted left, saying a quick prayer for success.
“Stop!” the man shouted, but Leo paid no heed.
He barreled toward the half wall and then, to his own surprise, managed to vault over it like a professional hurdler.
Behind him, the muscle bound man cursed and fired the gun.
The bullet pinged off of the concrete wall, ricocheting back toward the man with a dangerous whine.
Leo ran for all he was worth, knowing that his Hummer waited just down at the end of the row of parked vehicles. He was unutterably thankful that he’d managed to find an open spot on the ground level that morning.
As he ran, he groped in his pants pocket for his key fob, managing to push the unlock button on it even while his legs pounded against the concrete in a flat out run.
The Hummer’s horn chirped as it unlocked, and to Leo, it sounded like the most beautiful sound that he’d ever heard. He could hear the pounding footfalls of the others behind him as he neared his vehicle, but he didn’t dare to look back.
Skidding to a halt beside the massive SUV, he ripped open the driver’s door and leapt inside, slamming the door behind him and quickly hitting the automatic locks for the doors.
Hand shaking, he still managed to fit the key into the ignition and start the vehicle. He backed up without looking behind him, tires squealing against concrete as he gave the Hummer too much gas, and then maneuvered the large vehicle onto the exit road.
His would be assailants were now in front of him, on the exit road, running toward the Hummer.
The muscled man must have decided that it was worth the possible death of their target to prevent Leo’s escape. He raised his gun and fired, emptying the gun into the hood and windshield of the Hummer until the magazine was spent.
The glass of the windshield bloomed with multiple starbursts, and the hood dented as the bullets pinged off of it, but neither was pierced by the gunfire.
Leo whooped in triumph, adrenaline surging through him in powerful waves.
He revved the engine and barreled toward the men.
“Armored vehicle with ballistic glass!” he yelled at the muscled man as he passed, the man and his companions leaping out of the way of the speeding SUV. “I got all the extra options at no additional cost!”
Feeling high on escape and adrenaline, Leo laughed aloud as he rocketed out of the parking garage, passing the man from the elevator as he went, now not so sure that he had been a hallucination after all. He ignored the glares of veiled menace that the man and his companions cast his way.
Read more of RICHES, INVISIBLE 2, now available.
Bella has a problem - she's started seeing shadows, hearing thoughts and experiencing things that are just beyond the realm of what's normal. Not only that, but she has attracted the attention of a bad group of people. This is the first episode in the Invisible series, a series of supernatural Christian novellas and novels that will introduce you to a group of extraordinary people who possess extraordinary gifts. Each of these individuals must choose whether to use their gifts and abilities to fight the forces of darkness, or join them and wreak havoc upon the world.