Seeking redemption from his inner demons, peace comes from the least likely of sources.
After existing for three hundred years, Joaquin Ramirez has fought the last nightly battle for his sanity. Rather than relinquish his tenuous hold on humanity, to not become the soulless monster that lives within him, he has decided suicide is a more honorable death. Until an unknown voice whispers from the darkness to literally shout at him—‘coward’.
Lily Jaspers is an enigma to Joaquin. A woman who has been abused, her internal pain shrouds her telepathic words. Yet she is living with, protected by, the very creatures Joaquin has no trust in—the Brethren. Maniacal and cruel, the Brethren are the vampire society as it is known, and feared, by humans. They are soulless beings who were once men of honor, like Joaquin. The one he faces who protects Lily is, in fact, the most adept and strongest he’s ever met. The whole situation intensifies when the home where he found the holder of the enchanting voice is attacked by a human force that leaves no doubt none were expected to survive.
Fleeing under the cover of night sets a path for both Joaquin and Lily that neither will be able to escape as danger from her past, alongside the secret of his reality, threaten not only them, but the freedom Lily and her friends have fought so hard to achieve. A freedom that can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
Joaquin made his decision.
He crouched in the thickening darkness like a silent wraith, unmoving beneath the extended arms of the shadow-laden trees, listening to the mockery of life all around him. His lip lifted with a derisive snarl as the single word knifed through him. Life. He had none. His had ceased to have meaning more than three hundred years ago. At this point, he didn’t even know why he was still paying his penance. After three centuries, he was sure God, himself, would forgive him.
There was no joy on his features, no anticipation, not even the etched sadness he’d worn for decades. Now, there was nothing. Nothing in his heart. He was cold; existing, but not living.
He watched with unblinking attention from the shifting shadows as the young couple disembarked the horse-drawn carriage in the verdant public park. The man held his date tightly in the cooling night air, their heads together in quiet, tender conversation as they strolled the cobbled walkways arm in arm. The gesture meant nothing to Joaquin. Ironwork lampposts created a romantic ambiance, showering golden light onto the flowered trails, the perfect setting for a couple in love. Unfortunately, there were no feelings filling the frozen abyss in his heart as he watched the couple walk through the pools of light. To him, they were his subsistence, nothing more. Tonight, they would be his last.
With the ease of those endless centuries empowering him, he beckoned the couple from the path and into the tree line of the park with a simple command. The closer they came, the more the scent of hot blood raked his senses, and his hungers blazed to match it. Joaquin knew that same fire would shine in his eyes. It was part of his curse, a part of him. Yet, in all of his lonely, silent years stalking the night, he had never taken a life. He’d never cursed another with the cruel and cold creature consuming his soul one endless night at a time. Now, when he’d made his decision to accept whatever judgment waited for him on the other side of the sunrise, he was careful to keep a firm hand on those driving and demanding hungers. He knew if he failed to win the battle tonight, all the years of brutal penance, all the years of his own living hell, would be for nothing.
A firm mental push sent the couple safely on their way after sating his bitter appetite. Neither would ever know the travesty performed on their unsuspecting bodies, or how close to death they had stood.
With a leap, he shot into the night sky, changing his shape to fit into the nighttime world as easily as nature itself, unseen yet in plain sight. The trees of the park melted away as he rose above the earth, slipping through the breezes to leave it all behind. All he had to do was wait for the rising sun. He had no one to tell. There was no one left who knew he even existed. He guessed there should be sadness in that knowledge somewhere, but if there was, Joaquin couldn’t find it.
He had no reason to continue this imitation of living any longer and hadn’t for decades, but he had held out hope that God, someone, would show him why this abysmal hell had been laid at his door. Eventually, even hope dies. Coldness seeped into his skin the further he flew. It forced his concentration to his surroundings where he could easily push away the evening chill with a dismissive thought, recreating the blanket of warmth that would protect him in any form. The northern wilderness cooled faster once the sun had gone down, but he hated staying within the cities. It invariably caused him trouble.
Woods sprawled like a green jeweled sea beneath the beat of his long wings, with some glittering, faceless city left behind. He was sure another city lay somewhere ahead. Was this all there was giving him hope? The knowledge that another warm body could keep him alive for one more night? That some city’s deep streets or the wide open countryside would offer up some treasure, a wisdom he had never been lucky enough to find? A peace of mind that had eluded him for these many centuries? Was this why he’d risen night after endless night? These eternal ages of silence weren’t how he’d wanted to spend his lifetime. More than one lifetime. He released a rare, deep sigh into the silent chill.
This was why Joaquin knew it was time. There wasn’t anything living left inside of him. His heart beat because he made it. He breathed because he could. He didn’t have to do either if he didn’t want to. He had become an emotionless void, no joy in life, nothing to inspire him to feel, to live as the man he had once been. This was not living. This was where he believed he should care, but he couldn’t. Not even a trickled sense of resignation as he searched one last time and found no argument to negate his final decision. He would die in the morning.
The sudden mental bark knocked him from the sky with the force of flying full speed into a brick wall. For the first time in at least a century, Joaquin lost his shape in mid-flight.
Tumbling, he caught his balance before impaling himself on one of the large trees beneath him. He floated downward, agape with stunned shock. His feet reached the leaf-marbled ground, instantly wary of the voice and of the power it held. Surprise widened his eyes when he realized she wasn’t finished with him, either.
“Would you stop? I’m almost in tears over your self-pity. You have emotions. Good God! They’re so strong, I can’t stand to listen anymore. You’ve been at it for three nights. Just stop!”
He traced the path to the sender, completely shaken by the strength she wielded, and by the sheer power of her voice. Her voice. A woman. He stood in bewildered silence for several seconds, blocking out everything else around him.
Joaquin stared daggers in the direction her rich voice came from in the next instant as shock morphed into anger, not only for the invasion of his inner thoughts, but at the direct command in her voice. “You’ve been listening to me?” he demanded, outraged at the invasion of his privacy. His thoughts whirled with the implications that she could hear him, had been listening and could apparently touch his mind with hers, rather easily at that—without any bonding between them. The realization tore through him, shaking him to his core. Only a few had broken his mental silence over the centuries, and none had been human, or female.
Who was this person who arrived at his darkest hour? How could he hear her when he hadn’t heard another who wasn’t like him since his conversion?
“You haven’t exactly been quiet about it,” she informed him with a tart rebuke, breaking his dissection of their mental path into mere wisps of puzzlement to concentrate on later.
He shook his head at the curtness of her response. “How can you hear me? I haven’t spoken to anyone in years.” Understatement of the century, he thought to himself with a grim frown.
“That I don’t know, but you’re very disruptive. I’m trying to read and then I pick you up like a radio talk show.” He knew he heard a sigh of frustration. “You’ve made it rather difficult to concentrate.”
This didn’t make any sense. “Who are you?” Silence met his question. Joaquin waited, and with a touch of fear that she had disappeared, demanded her attention. He whipped an energy pulse through the air.
“Hey! Don’t do that. I’m here.”
“Why didn’t you answer me?” Something was happening inside of him. He didn’t want to lose the unique connection with her. Over only minutes, it had become imperative. He wasn’t sure why, wasn’t sure of anything, only that he needed to hear more of her voice.
“Maybe I have my reasons.”