Undiscovered Angel, page 1
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Jerry held the car door as Kassian ducked into the back seat settling Kat on his lap. The door slammed behind him as soon as he pulled his legs in, and the tinted windows shielded them from the trailing photographers and curious onlookers. He pulled a blanket from under the seat and tucked it around her as he realized he hadn’t thought to see if she had a coat and the November evening was chilly. The atmosphere still felt heavy and oppressive with something dark, though it was less pronounced now. He tucked the blanket more closely around the motionless woman in his arms. In sleep, she looked like a child, young and defenseless, her fisted hand resting quietly on his chest, her thick lashes forming dark crescents against her pale skin. Her intricate hairstyle had come loose and wisps of spun silk tickled his neck as Jerry cranked the heat and opened the rear vents. He absently stroked the softness of her cheek, his long fingers brushing a wayward strand of hair behind her ear and she curled into him like a lost kitten. He felt something heavy settle in his chest, a temptation in the air that had nothing to do with evil, but everything to do with sin. Damn, this was so not on his agenda.
Earthbound Series, Book 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT © 2014 by Sharon Saracino
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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Cover Art by Tamra Westberry
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
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First Faery Rose Edition, 2014
Print ISBN 978-1-62830-401-5
Digital ISBN 978-1-62830-402-2
Earthbound Series, Book 1
Published in the United States of America
For Vince, my own personal angel
London, November, 1888
On the corner of Commercial and Fournier, a faceless, cape-shrouded prowler of the night lounged against the cold stone pillar of Christ Church, indistinguishable from the shadows that concealed him. His attention remained firmly fixed on the ribald jocularity emanating from the Ten Bells, directly across the road. Closing his eyes he inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the sweet scent of sin and fear, reveling in the wretched despondency of desperation swirling through the alley, as thick and choking as fog on the Thames. Misery slinked among the rag shops, pubs, and poisoned human lives, like a malignant shadow. He depended on the power of desperation, and this squalor spawned many bleak souls ripe for harvest, like juicy plums hanging from a tree. He hoped the whore would be leaving soon; he had other matters to attend to this night. As if in answer to his silent wish, the increased volume of slurred shouts and laughter across the way heralded the opening of the door. His red eyes narrowed to speculative slits. Finally! He pushed all other thoughts aside, growled in satisfaction and anticipation…and faded into the shadows.
By the time winter’s weary sun stretched tentative fingers across the cobbled courtyard outside Number 13 Miller’s Court, little of the mutilated remains in the small, cold room bore any resemblance to the young woman who had sheltered there. When the Metropolitan Police arrived from Scotland Yard, few of those gathered in the curious crowd remembered anything particularly unusual about the previous night. Someone thought they’d heard Mary singing, some described seeing her with one man, some another. In the end, no one could say for sure. There was little love and even less trust between the East Enders and the police. Few would mourn the unfortunate girl; and fewer would remember the shouts of battle and the clashing of steel in the fetid courtyard outside Mary’s room following her death. No, those memories had been carefully and deliberately erased.
November, Present Day
The evening was an exercise in endurance, at least from Katrina Shephard’s perspective. She detested the wall-to-wall people in the pub, and was uncomfortable in the large crowd. She concentrated on ignoring the passions and emotions swirling through and around her, craving her solitary living room with the overstuffed armchair and the pile of books awaiting her attention.
“Having fun yet, babe?” Elle’s blue eyes flashed with excitement that was nearly palpable. Her short red wig was fashionably layered and spiked, and her heart shaped face bore little make-up, only enough to enhance her lapis eyes and full, pouty lips. The accordion pleated skirt of her sapphire halter dress ended slightly above her knees, swirling seductively with every twist and turn, and the high, strappy Jimmy Choo’s made her legs look longer than they actually were. With eclectic elegance, she always managed to pair upscale designer with funky downtown chic. Kat shook her head in affectionate wonder. Elle could wear anything well and was frequently reinventing herself. Tonight she looked to be channeling a mischievous and sultry pixie chick.
“Just living the dream.” Kat rolled her eyes and laughed while Elle stuck out her lower lip in a mock pout and linked her arm through Kat’s. Kat stiffened only slightly, comforting herself that she was suffering for a good cause; her best friend would have been crushed if she hadn’t at least put in an appearance at the party celebrating her latest book release.
“You really need to learn the meaning of the word fun, Kat,” Elle complained giving her simple black sheath and understated accessories the once-over. “This is your success too, you should be enjoying it.”
“I do know the meaning of the word fun; we just use different dictionaries! You know this is your scene, not mine. I’m more of a hover-in-the-background kind of girl. Besides, I didn’t even think you should do this book…I only came for the food.” She snatched an appetizer from a passing tray to punctuate her point.
“True, but you got right on board once I convinced you I was right, as usual…hence the reason I’m not saying I told you so.” Kat nearly choked on the shrimp toast she’d just swallowed. Elle pounded her between the shoulder blades until her breath and natural color began to return. “Well, okay, maybe I said it once or twice, but I didn’t rub it in or anything. And by the way, in that outfit you will not only hover in the background, you’ll blend right into it!”
“Good, then my evil plan is working…and thanks for the ego boost.” Kat bumped her hip against Elle’s, pushing her away. “Go…your adoring public awaits,” she urged with a laugh. “I’m going to find a quiet spot to hide until I can decently make myself scarce. I am so proud of you, sweetie.”
Elle looked around at the milling crowd and s
“Hey, good luck with that quiet spot thing…I know you hate this stuff. You really are the best, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah…. preaching to the choir. Now get out of here and enjoy yourself.”
Kat continued to count the minutes until she could make a graceful escape. When Elle Gates, one of McAllister Publishing’s premier romance authors, had initially pitched a dark, gritty, investigative piece about Jack the Ripper, Kat did everything but turn cartwheels and spit wooden nickels to discourage her. The genre was the complete antithesis of Elle’s established market. But she refused to be dissuaded, and her previous sales record and reputation got her a reluctantly tentative go ahead. Not only an outstanding writer, Elle was also an excellent judge of her fan base, and initial sales figures indicated that Ripper-mania was still alive and well over a century after the murders. Kat was more than happy to have been wrong. Elle never did anything by half measures; the book was incredibly well researched, tight and well written, and included new, never-before-published details. It ultimately stopped short of drawing any concrete conclusions, allowing the reader to draw their own. It was guaranteed to provoke discussion and debate.
Kat surveyed the crowded room and silently congratulated whoever had made the decision to host the party in an English style taproom rather than the usual upscale venue. Finley’s had always been one of her favorite places, and with a little research, a competent decorator, and the enthusiastic cooperation of the pub’s owner and staff, the interior now bore a strong resemblance to a late Victorian establishment. Cunningly fashioned arrangements constructed from reproduction prints of the East London Observer articles chronicling the Ripper’s bloody nineteenth century rampage centered every table. The wait staff and bartenders wore costumes reminiscent of working class London in the 1880’s, and the dark, wood paneling and flickering oil lamps contributed precisely the right touch of ambience. The overall effect was intimate, elegant, and a tad mysterious. A continuous hum of conversation punctuated by laughter mingled with the tinkle of fine glassware as strains of the Bare Naked Ladies played inconspicuously in the background. The music, along with a faint, but pervasive odor of sterno, provided a jarring element of modernity, but Elle loved the band and her agent decided it was a little enough concession; especially when she’d had to veto the fog machine. Kat could appreciate the authenticity of the décor as she had accompanied Elle on her London research jaunt.
The long hours in the close confines of the plane had been a challenge, but she’d managed with her iPod blasting five hours of music into her ears at top volume. Once there, she found herself fascinated by the research process, though the actual evidence was gruesome. Kat’s own writing was confined to poetry and didn’t require such meticulous research and adherence to fact. By the time she finished reading Elle’s final draft, Kat knew that she’d be eating her words. Despite her initial misgivings, the book was a winner, one that was going to rocket right to the top.
Kat finally found herself a relatively uncongested corner and tuned out her surroundings. She concentrated instead on building a symphony in her mind to block out the cacophony of feelings bombarding her as she sipped at the fluted crystal of lukewarm ginger ale that she had opted for in lieu of champagne. The throbbing in her head was still dull, but she knew from experience it wouldn’t stay that way long. She estimated she could disappear without provoking comment in another thirty minutes, or so.
Kat made people uncomfortable. And the feeling was mutual. She was well aware that spiritual metaphysics were controversial at best. The world at large is dependent upon that which is perceived and received through one of the five senses. There is simply not enough hardcore evidence for the majority of mainstream society to accept psychic and empathic abilities as a real possibility. Of course, there were exceptions, like Elle, who Kat suspected might still believe in the Tooth Fairy, but the world at large regarded abilities like Kat’s with suspicion. Kat was different. Her different was twisted in the strands of her DNA. Her different was balancing on the blade of a double edged sword, alternately blessed and cursed, two things that were not mutually exclusive. Hardwired at birth, she couldn’t change it any more than she could change the length of her legs, the cleft in her chin, or the brilliant pewter sheen of her thickly fringed eyes. But she had learned to control it. Mostly. The alternative was existence in a state of constant exhaustion being knocked around by other people’s karma. Different was not always easy, but it was the only reality she had.
A sudden flurry of activity at the rear exit of the pub caught her attention and she felt the almost painful spike of excitement move through the crowd despite her best efforts to block it out. Across the room she saw Elle’s face light up in nervous expectancy. Her eyes met Kat’s, bright with anticipation as she mouthed “McAllister.” Kat nearly choked for the second time that evening. Honestly, Elle must be trying to kill her. Everyone who was anyone had heard of the elusive Kassian McAllister, but few knew him personally. He kept a very low profile, surrounded himself with a few trusted assistants, and as far as Kat knew, had not attended a public party in all of the time Elle had been affiliated with McAllister. Members of the press gleefully punched their speed dial and chattered a mile a minute into their cell phones. Any appearance of Kassian McAllister guaranteed a media frenzy.
From her vantage point, Kat watched over the rim of her glass as he worked his way toward Elle. Tall, broad shouldered, and slim hipped, McAllister moved with a casual elegance and lithe grace that hinted at controlled danger. He had classically chiseled features, full sensual lips, and long, dark hair which he’d pulled straight back and secured with a leather slide at his nape. Much younger than she would have expected, he certainly wasn’t the stereotypical business magnate. The man was a knockout and coupled with a net worth reportedly well over a billion, Kat wasn’t surprised to see that half of the women in the room nearly drooled outright. They monitored his progress through the room as though he was the last drop of water in the middle of the Sahara at high noon. On his part, the disinterest was almost palpable.
McAllister reached Elle’s side, brought her hand to his lips, and bent to say something in her ear. Kat had never seen Elle blush like that and curiosity trumped caution. What could he have said? She avoided touching individual minds as a rule, avoided invading privacy whenever she could. But it couldn’t hurt, just this once, could it? Elle wouldn’t mind and the suspense was killing her. She took a deep breath, dropped her shields, and sent a gentle push into the mind of Kassian McAllister and found… nothing? Impossible! People, in general, were an open book to Kat, usually way too open. Occasionally she encountered someone with some degree of natural ability to block their innermost thoughts, but she had never come in contact with a person she could not at least get something from. Worse, McAllister’s head whipped around immediately, his eyes scanning the crowd then locking on her in the corner; he knew exactly what she was doing. Her heart raced with excitement and fear in equal measure. Though people claiming to be psychics could be found flipping tarot cards and gazing into crystal balls behind thick, velvet curtains all over the city, Kat had never encountered anyone else besides her mother that could actually do any of the things she could. Apparently that had changed, in the middle of a crowded cocktail party, of all places. She really needed to find a new hobby; being the poster child for Murphy’s Law was exhausting.
Kat glanced down at the slender gold watch that had been a sixteenth birthday gift from her mother and checked the time. She needed to get out of here. Her head truly pounded now and she began to mentally recite Longfellow’s Evangeline to drown out the overwhelming rush of impressions that had assailed her from every direction when she’d opened herself seeking McAllister’s thoughts. Hopes, dreams, disappointments, despair, guilt, lust. Dumb, dumb, dumb! Now she was distracted and having trouble re-establishing her shields and there were some things she really didn’t want to know about people. In fact, she grimac
She glanced around and noticed to her dismay that Elle was leading McAllister in her direction. Fudge! Kat was happy for Elle; McAllister’s appearance at the party would garner an enormous amount of attention. It implied he was giving his personal seal of approval, something that was unprecedented. That would no doubt provoke an increased interest in the book. Elle deserved the success and this unexpected recognition by someone with McAllister’s cachet. This might be her biggest blockbuster yet. That being said, she was one of the only people to whom Kat was truly close. Kat would miss her after she was gone, since she fully intended to kill her at the first opportunity! Elle knew better than anyone what a struggle crowds were for Kat. What was she thinking dragging the CEO over to add to her stress level? It was sad, but she was really going to have to kill her.
Her mouth felt suddenly dry and she immediately downed what remained of her lukewarm drink, looking for a passing tray to deposit the empty glass. She formulated a quick plan; go in the opposite direction, make short work of the inevitable farewell tour, and slip out quietly. But, before she could make any headway in the crush, she found herself captured by the darkest eyes she had ever seen, obsidian eyes that hinted at a thousand secrets locked behind thick inviting lashes. And they were only inches away. Kat loved words, words were her friends, and words were her salvation. Now, when she could have used a bit of back up from the little buggers, for the first time in her life, words failed her miserably. She felt a flutter of awareness, a gentle push of his mind touching hers… and she was slightly irritated to find that it felt more like a caress than an invasion.
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