Excerpt for Soul Taker by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Soul Taker



Karen Michelle Nutt





Smashwords Edition



Soul Taker

Presented by Twin Star Books

Copyright 2013 Karen Michelle Nutt

Cover Art Copyright 2013 Karen Michelle Nutt



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Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.



Soul Taker is a work of fiction.

Though actual locations may be mentioned, they are used in a fictitious manner and the events and occurrences were invented in the mind and imagination of the author except for the inclusion of actual historical facts. Similarities of characters or names used within to any person – past, present, or future – are coincidental except where actual historical characters are purposely interwoven.









Dedicated to Johanna Nutt, who lived a century, witnessing changes

most of us can only imagine. We'll miss your sweet smile.

December 31, 1911- June 11, 2012





Soul Taker



No soul is safe…

A vampire from the Grim Sith sept is sucking the souls out of young women from the Boston area, but this sinister crime is far worse than a vampire seeking substance. He's selling the souls to the highest bidder and it seems business is booming.

A vampire, a werewolf, and a Necromancer are a most unlikely team, but Garran, Harrison, and Isabella plan on putting a kink in the dubbed Soul Taker's plans. It's personal now. One of their friends has fallen victim to the Soul Taker's charms, but to stop him from hurting anyone else, their efforts may involve raising the dead.





Chapter One



The moment Sanya entered the bar, Garran MacLaurin's scent slammed into her, causing the icy fear to twist at her heart. Through the throng of patrons' laughter and carrying on as they drank themselves into oblivion, she spotted him. He sat alone in the back, beneath the dim overhead lights. She immediately scanned the bar looking for his furry sidekick, Harrison Connell. She didn't see him, but she would bet the werewolf lurked somewhere close.

Sanya concentrated on MacLaurin again. He appeared relaxed as if he enjoyed the Irish band's poor rendition of Danny Boy. Good, he hadn't noticed her...yet.

She backed up a step, then turned and headed for the side door. Once in the alley, she took off at a brisk walk, not wanting to draw attention by shimmering and leaving a preternatural trail. She silently cursed herself for wearing her three-inch stilettos. She should have never bought the darn things, even though they were the perfect shade to go with her slinky red dress. She looked good in red. It flattered her long dark hair and strong Spanish features. Men drooled to be near her and it had nothing to do with her vampire allure. However, these beautiful shoes weren't meant for an evening jog.

She had a good thing going in Boston and she wasn't going to be run out of town just because it was time to switch leaderships again. The rule was every twenty-five years territories exchanged hands. It kept the humans from becoming suspicious when their neighbors didn't age as they did. She was in Boston during the roaring twenties, again in the early eighties—which was the last time MacLaurin ruled with Harrison at his side. She and MacLaurin had a thing for each other back then, but that was history.

MacLaurin was a Grim Sith, created by a Baobhan Sith, one of the most vicious vampires in Scotland. However, MacLaurin ruled his territory with rigid rules that made a vampire want to cut off her head just to end the misery. She had hoped the rumors of MacLaurin's return were false. Tonight, told her otherwise.

Sanya didn't slow her pace as she thought of her escape route out of Boston. MacLaurin's home base was here, even though his rule also covered most of Massachusetts.

Maybe she'd head over to Salem for a few weeks. Give MacLaurin a chance to cool off. By now he would have heard about her little mistake.

She rounded the corner and skidded to a stop, panic rioting through her veins. The sanctimonious jerk knew she'd been at the bar after all. He stood there with his arms folded against his chest and leaning against the brick building in a nonchalant manner.

Her tongue slipped out, licking her suddenly dry lips. "I didn't know you were in town," she lied, trying to bide some time. She took a step back, fighting the urge to run. Fleeing would give MacLaurin all the more reason to chase her. It was all about the hunt with predators. Something she understood all too well, being she was a vampire, too.

"I may have believed ye, darlin', if ye hadn't slinked out the back door of Tony's Pub." Garran MacLaurin's Scottish roll of the tongue was sexy and menacing all in one. The man stood six-five with light hair and eyes. He looked about twenty-five if not a day older, but if she remembered right, he'd been made back when broadswords were all the rage.

Her gaze slid over him, trying to imagine what he would have looked like in a kilt. Yeah, damn good, she thought and shook her head. And now…some might find him attractive in his worn blue jeans, T-shirt and duster, but he scowled most of the time, making his strong angular features fierce. She'd let the other chicas have him.

She backed up another step. "A girl's gotta eat, Garran."

"Sanya, ye know where ye can obtain the blood ye need."

"Pig's blood," she spat. "I sooner starve."

"Ye should have stuck with that plan then." His eyes glowed with intent as he stalked her. "I don't appreciate havin' to clean up after ye."

"One or two little ol' mistakes. Are you going to hold them against me?" Sanya nervously chuckled.

He was so fast. She didn't even blink and he was there in front of her. His hand snaked out, grabbing her arm and pulling her against him. "Oh aye," he hissed baring his fangs.

Sanya couldn't help whimpering, expecting him to sink his sharp teeth into her, ripping out her throat. It was the way it was often done if an Otherworldly being overstepped in the head honcho's territory. The ruler of the territory set the rules and all his subjects must follow.

MacLaurin was like an avenging angel…or rather devil. She bit back the urge to chuckle. Yes, he was more like a Fallen Angel with his 'my way or suffer' protocol. Damn him. MacLaurin didn't stake out a territory for hunting. He watched over it and protected the food source instead of indulging in it. Why couldn't one of the vampires, who partook in sampling humans now and again, be in charge? Even a demon ruler would be better than MacLaurin.

MacLaurin's large hand cupped her face, his gaze sliding over her slowly as if memorizing each of her features. She hated to plead, but she didn't want to go out like this. "Please, Garran, you're one of us."

"One of us? How charmin'." His eyebrows rose in mock pretense.

"Sure, you're a vampire even if you were infected with—"

He put a finger over her lips, silencing her. She struggled to be free from him, but his grip tightened. She closed her eyes, but instead of him taking her throat, he kissed her.

Something in the back of her mind screamed to fight him, but her body wouldn't listen. She began to relax as his tongue coaxed her to open up to him. She let him devour her mouth and she took too, enjoying this little turn of events. She was a little disoriented when his mouth left hers.

"I'm sorry, Sanya," he whispered.

Before she could decipher what he meant, she felt a sharp pain in her chest. Her eyes widened in surprise as fear and anger knotted inside her. He actually had done it. She had heard rumors he would seduce his victims, not unlike what she would do to a human, but she wasn't human. She hadn't been one since the Spanish Inquisition had its first auto-da-fé held in Seville in 1481. Sanya was older than Garran and should be able to take him, but his determination to follow his creed of right and wrong proved stronger.

She could withstand most attacks and heal. Vampires from every sept were virtually immortal unless beheaded or stabbed through the heart. Garran's hands bit into her arms, pinning them to the side. She waited, expecting to explode into dust as legend claimed. "What's happening?" she stammered, fear gripping her insides.

MacLaurin brushed aside a strand of hair from her face. "Ye didn't believe a stake would actually kill ye, did ye?"

"Yes, I did, you bas—"

"Watch it, lass," he interrupted her attempt at a colorful metaphor. He took an exaggerated breath and shook his head. "A stake through the heart only paralyzes a vampire, while letting the vampire have a full function of his or her thoughts and speech. Did ye know the ancients would bury a vampire, leave them to contemplate their sins while the rats and bugs ate at their flesh? Quite painful I hear, but alas a vampire heals and the process repeats all over again the next night and the next... forever."

Sanya tried to make her limbs move, but to no avail. "Please, you wouldn't do that to me, would you?"

"I believe ye need to learn a lesson, Sanya."

She heard a vehicle screech to a halt beside the curb and a door opened and shut.

"Are you ready to move her?"

Sanya recognized Connell's voice. She'd known Garran's dog wouldn't be too far behind.

"I believe I'm finished with her," Garran said as he slid his arms beneath her legs and lifted her up to cradle her against his chest.

She had to think. She had to think of something that would save her.

He tossed her in the back of the van like trash going to the dumpsite.

"Wait!" She did have something.

"Give me a good reason why I should be listenin' to ye."

"I know what happened to the last governor of Otherworldy business."

"Go on." Garran nodded. "I'd wondered why Franco Meridos hadn't been here to greet me."

"Uh, yeah… He was working with a new vamp. They had a falling out."

"So?" Garran's right brow rose as if bored with the news.

"Franco lost." She tried to gage MacLaurin's reaction to the news. He didn't even flinch. The jerk already knew Franco was dust. "The new vamp's claiming to be the new leader of this territory now," she hurried to say. "He's like you, too."

Garran's hands gripped her shoulders and pulled her up so he could look her in the eyes. "What do ye mean like me?"

"He's from Scotland, if his brogue is any indication. He looks like an angel, but… there's something dark in him. He takes sucking the life out of his victims to a new level." She chuckled with admiration. "I've never seen anything like it. He has to be one of the creations from the she-devil septs from overseas. It's almost like watching an incubus at work, but with an evil twist. You know the uncouth kind that seduces their prey, sucks their life source before ripping them to shreds." If she could, she would have shrugged, but her limbs would not obey even the slightest gesture. "See, I'm not so bad. At least, if they aren't turned, there's something left of my prey for the grieving family to bury."

The side of Garran's cheek pulsed as if he clenched his teeth.

Maybe she shouldn't have added that last part.

"Did this new vampire give ye a name?" His gaze bore into hers.

"I can't remember, but I had the opinion he knew you. We got real cozy, if you know what I mean."

"I can imagine," he said dryly.

"I mentioned how I once knew a highlander Grim Sith. I swear the blood in his veins clotted and he became as still as stone." She cleared her throat as the statement reminded her of her predicament. "Anyway he says you and him were kin. Alexander. That's it. His name is Alexander." If she didn't know better, she'd swear MacLaurin's face paled even more than his usual fair skin appearance. Vampires tended to be lighter skinned due to never being out in the sun, but MacLaurin was once a Highlander, they were all pale as paper in her opinion, vampire or not.

"Where can I find him?" His eyes narrowed.

"I… I don't know."

He harrumphed and threw her down. "Enjoy the rats."

"Wait! I know where he chills sometimes."

He lifted her up again. "I'm listenin'."

"I would have to go. Obviously, there's been bad blood between you two, in more ways than one." She chuckled, but Garran didn't crack a smile at her pun. She cleared her throat before she spoke again. "If he sees you, he'd only disappear again."

"Do ye expect me to believe ye, Sanya? Please give me some credit."

"Believe what you will. I'm at your mercy, am I not?"

"If ye're lyin'—"

"I'm not. I'll lead you to him. I'll—"

Garran covered her mouth with his index finger. "I don't want to meet with him. I want ye to get close to him, and find out what he's up to."

"You want me to spy on him."

"Aye."

She licked her lips. "I can do that." Really, was she in any position to say otherwise?

"Oh, come on Garran, you don't actually believe her," Harrison Connell spoke up.

"Why don't you keep quiet, Irish dog," Sanya hissed.

"You will mind yer manners, Sanya," Garran told her. "Let me warn ye if ye double cross me, havin' a stake through yer heart will seem like a holiday."

She gulped. "I wouldn't double cross you."

He pulled out the stake and she inhaled, the pain causing her to grip his arms. "Holy…eff…ing…" A stream of Spanish curse words flew from her lips.

"Now, Sanya, is that anyway for a lady to behave? Oh, I forgot, ye aren't a lady, are ye?"

She glared at him, wishing her gaze could burst him into flames. She saw the trick once in a movie. She really wished it were a true talent she could learn.

MacLaurin chuckled as if he read her mind.

Regaining most of her strength, she pushed him away and scrambled out of the van. She straightened her dress that had risen up her thighs.

"No more human attacks," Garran warned. "Ye'll go back to the pig's blood."

"I'll be shaky for days. I'll look like a junkie."

Garran's gaze raked over her. "Ye already look the part with the slip ye have on that's doin' a piss poor job of masqueradin' as a dress."

She hissed baring her fangs.

"I mean it. Boston and the surrounding cities better not have one blood-drained death or I'll be lookin' for ye."

She turned to leave, but he grabbed her arm. "Don't skip town either. Ye're workin' for me until I say otherwise."

She yanked free. "I'll be in touch."

"Aye, that ye will."

****

Garran waited until the beautiful Latino sashayed out of sight. He found it difficult to believe he'd once thought the selfish beauty was his soul mate. He glanced at Harrison who stood there with a hand on his hip and shaking his head. "Don't say it, Harrison," he warned him.

"I don't have to. That woman will double cross you, to be sure."

"Aye, but she's the only one who has gotten close to the fiend who calls me kin. We need her to smoke him out so we can clean up the mess Franco didn't."

"You do realize Sanya drained two men and changed another."

"Aye, and I eliminated the minion before I headed over to Tony's tonight."

Harrison paced in frustration. "Sanya is sloppy and endangers other preternatural creatures who are trying to blend into the human population. Like us, for starters." He tapped his chest.

"Sanya will spread the word that we're back in town. We'll have everything under control once more."

Harrison lifted his eyebrows, obviously not sharing his confidence.

Garran sighed, not blaming Harrison for his skepticism. "Sanya won't kill while she thinks I'm a threat. I'm workin' on the other problem. Vampires killin' at will are one thing, but the other menace…"

Harrison stared at him. "Do you know who the fiend is then? Is he from your sept as Sanya claimed?"

"Aye, he's from my sept. I knew the killin's were like a Grim Sith's. He's livin' off the person's essence—their soul. However, he's leavin' just enough to keep the body alive. For a while, it will throw off the authorities." He sighed in frustration. "Centuries ago, the Bobhan Sith, the females of our sept, used to cover their tracks by rippin' the victim to shreds in hopes the villagers would think they were attacked by a wild animal."

"How lovely?"

"Hmm… Aye. Doesn't work so well in the city," Garran said thoughtfully, recognizing Harrison's sarcasm for what it was. "The Bobhan Sith usually don't venture far from the Highlands, but Fallon…" He could never say his sire's name without bitterness. "She made the Grim Sith, the males of the species. Until her, the human males were turned, used to father their young, then fed upon and discarded. Only the females were kept alive. Ye can see why the Grim Sith don't like to stay in one place for long. A Grim Sith will usually seek adventure elsewhere." He looked up at the moonless night with a frown. The darkness didn't hamper his vision. It enhanced it.

Harrison gave him a wolfish grin, his canines lengthening. "We'll find him. So stop frowning. It doesn't become you."

Garran growled, not liking his moment of melancholy interrupted.

"You know you waste your I-can-beat-the-crap-out-of-you-look on me. Let me buy you a drink and we'll plan our next move. Aye?"

Garran relaxed his features and nodded. When he'd taken on this assignment, it had unsettled him that the killings were similar to the one's after the bloody battle of Culloden, the ones near his home in Balquhidder. That was some three and half centuries ago. The fiend had been Alexander MacLaurin, his cousin, his betrayer. He didn't want to believe it, but the recent deaths screamed of Alexander's handy work. Tonight, Sanya confirmed his fears and named the fiend. Where had the bugger been hiding these past centuries? He'd believed him dead. Had he been in hiding all this time and waiting to exact his revenge?

There's one thing Garran learned in his long life: Time did not heal all wounds; it made them fester.





Chapter Two



Isabella stirred the spaghetti sauce as it simmered over the open flame. She raised the wooden spoon to her mouth and closed her eyes, savoring the aroma of thick red tomato sauce, fresh basil, and onions mixed with a dash of oregano and Parmesan cheese.

Her gaze locked onto Mario. He was a proud man, only an inch or two taller than her five-foot, four-inch stature. He'd been the chef for A Taste of Home from the very beginning, when her parents were alive and running the restaurant.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked in a thick Sicilian accent he never lost, even though he left Sicily decades ago. He tended to drop words and letters as he spoke in the singsong voice of Italian flair and he used his hands to emphasize his point.

"I think it's perfect. I don't know why you worry. Like usual, everything smells wonderful, Mario."

"Bene. Now you must leave. Let Mario finish. It's a busy night. Go, go." He shooed her away.

Isabella knew Mario for all his gruffness loved her like a daughter. She also knew she was the only woman he allowed to step foot in what he dubbed his kitchen. His respect didn't come easy. She had to prove her worth, prove she knew how to prepare chicken Parmesan, ladling the tomato-olive sauce over the chicken and sprinkling just the right amount of mozzarella. She had to make a perfect cannoli shell from scratch, a lemoncello cheesecake to die for, and any other dishes Mario demanded she learn to prepare. She earned her place and loved every moment of it.

"I'll be up front if you need my help," Isabella called over her shoulder as she pushed opened the two-way door. She headed for the office, glancing at a photo that hung on the outer wall. It was of her father and mother on opening day of A Taste of Home, taken some thirty years ago when her parents hoped for a happy, simple future—before Nicholas and she were born.

Giovanni Lucci had dark hair then, a real looker. His hazel eyes rimmed with gold were framed with thick black lashes. Nicholas and she were blessed with the same trait, too. From Louisa, their mother, Nicholas possessed a cleft chin and she was blessed with her thick wavy hair and a slender figure with all the right curves.

However, looks weren't all she inherited. Her father was a sensitive and knew when a person needed anything from being a good friend and listener to knowing if the individual needed medical care. Her mother was from a long line of Necromancers, those sensitive to the world beyond the veil. She could call a soul back—if only for a few moments. A true Necromancer was rare, but one whose power could potentially bring the person back for longer than a few moments was almost unheard of, but her mother had been one such Necromancer.

Both her parents were gone now, a car accident or perhaps the balance of the universe righting itself. One could not bring back the dead without consequences.

She touched her fingers to her lips with a kiss and placed it on the photo before she knocked on the office door. One rap and she opened the door and peeked in. Nicholas sat behind the desk, going over the bills. He looked up with a smile. "Hey, Izzie, just the girl I needed to see." He pushed his black-rimmed glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. "Can you stay later tonight? Marcy never showed."

Isabella frowned. Marcy never missed her shift. She had noticed the last few days that the girl's aura was off, but she hadn't thought it was anything serious. "Did you call her?"

Nicholas must have heard the worry in her voice and looked up. "I left a message on her cell. I'm sure she's all right, Izzie. She has a new boyfriend and…" he gave her a half smile. "She's been distracted lately. Falling in love does that to a person."

"Yeah." Falling in love proved a fantasy to her, but she nodded in agreement.

"So, will you stay?" her brother asked again.

"Sure." As pathetic as it sounded, she didn't have anything better to do on a Friday night. "We're going to have a full house. I caught a glimpse of the reservation list. Mario's already in a tizzy, thinking he won't be able to keep up."

"He'll keep up."

"I know. Personally, I think he likes to grumble."

Nicholas nodded as he punched the numbers on the calculator. "I'll be up front later to help. Let me catch up on the bills."

"How are we doing?"

"It looks like we'll see a profit this month."

"Good. I could use a pay check." Isabella left her brother to go up front.

Customers from every walk-of-life came into the restaurant to enjoy Italian cuisine—from the tourists, who leisurely strolled down the Freedom Trail to the locals, who came in to talk or relax after a hectic day at work.

Nicholas and she decorated the restaurant with red-checkered linen tablecloths on the tables, votive candles for ambience, and three of the white washed walls displayed framed pictures of Italian landscapes. On the fourth wall, Nicholas painted a floor to ceiling Italian villa in Tuscany.

Isabella noticed some of her favorite patrons were here tonight. Sean and Giovanna O'Brien, who were celebrating their anniversary, were seated at the far corner where they whispered to each other, their lips curved in secretive smiles. Their families swore their marriage wouldn't last. An Irishman marrying an Italian woman caused a commotion here in Boston.

Ted Johnson, widowed recently, dreaded being alone. He sat at the back of the restaurant, sipping his merlot and reading the evening paper. She was glad to see his aura looked better this week. Also toward the front of the restaurant, she spotted Harrison Connell, another Irishman, his speech still flavored with a lilt. He sometimes brought a date, but for the last week, he'd been having dinner alone. As she greeted the customers, nodding a hello and asking how their families were doing, she made her way over to him.

Harrison stood six-foot-one or two, slim built, but with well-defined biceps, indicating he must work out. His hair was the color of chestnuts and his eyes a deep whiskey color. He looked up and smiled. Boy, did he have a smile. It set the colors of his aura, the brown and gold shimmering around him with warmth.

"How are you doing, Harrison? I haven't seen you with Lori lately." Come to think of it, Lori hadn't been to palates either.

"We broke up," he informed her with a slight shrug.

"That's too bad. I'm sorry to hear it."

"I'm not."

Isabella's eyebrows lifted ever so slightly.

He chuckled. "It wasn't a healthy relationship," he explained, and then added, "for either of us."

Isabella opened her mouth to comment, but her friend Johanna came bursting into the restaurant, waving her hand in a gesture of I-need-to-talk-to-you-now. "If you will excuse me," she said to Harrison.

"By all means." He glanced at Johanna and his aura spiked. Interesting.

Harrison had a thing for Johanna? She shook her head. It would never work. Harrison was confident in his skin, while Johanna cowered in hers. The relationship would… hmm… Maybe she'd have to rethink this. Harrison seemed to be a decent man. Perhaps he would bolster Johanna's confidence. But then, she frowned as another thought crossed her mind. He could further damage her confidence if he hurt her.

Harrison went through girlfriends like they were tissues to be discarded, but then maybe he chose the wrong type of woman. He may be attracted to the flashy model types—heck, most men probably were, but once the lust wore off… Well, even a man in good shape couldn't spend all his time in bed, could he?

"Psst." Johanna waved to her again.

Harrison chuckled softly. "You better see what she wants. She's near bursting at the seams to tell you her news."

"Yes, it does appear so."

"Go. You shouldn't keep a lass who is bent on sharing."

She nodded her thanks. Yes, Harrison may not know how to commit but he was a considerate man. She strode over to her anxious friend.

Johanna Threshold was a tall, gangly woman with an upturned nose, brown eyes that were too close together, and she harbored an overbite, that four years of braces hadn't corrected. Most men passed her over without a second thought, which really was unfair. Isabella wished they could see Johanna as she did, with all the colors of her aura, all those warm welcoming colorful hues radiating from her. She was one of the good ones, a pure soul.

Isabella tilted her head to the side, realizing how Johanna's aura seemed to glow brighter tonight. "You look like you've just won the lottery."

Johanna grabbed a hold of her arm, her smile broadening. "Izzie, I think I've found Mr. Right."

"Really? Who is he? Where did you meet him, and does he have a brother?"

Johanna giggled at their standard joke. "Sorry, I believe he said he was an only child. He breezed into the flower shop, right before closing to buy a bouquet for an ailing friend. We hit it off so wonderfully. We ended up at Siren's Call. You know the Karaoke bar. I even sang."

"You?" Isabella's brows rose in surprise.

"I know, I know. It was so fun, too. And God, Izzie, this guy is so cute. Can you believe it? A gorgeous looking man likes me."

"Why wouldn't he? Johanna, you're wonderful." She gave her a warm hug. "I hope he knows how lucky he is to have you. When do I get to meet this mysterious man of yours?"

Johanna's smile slipped for a fraction of a second before she flitted away from her, pretending to be interested in the evening's dinner specials posted on the chalkboard in front of the cashier desk. "Soon, I promise. I just don't want—" She looked at Isabella as if she didn't know what to say. "I don't want to jinx it. Okay?"

Isabella nodded, sensing she was holding something back, but she didn't push. "You let me know. You can bring him here for dinner—on the house."

"I will, Izzie. I will." She turned to leave.

"Be careful," Isabella called, causing her friend to look back at her with a smile.

"I've been careful all my life," Johanna said. "I think it's about time I'm a little reckless. He makes me feel pretty." Her cheeks turned a bright crimson. She shrugged her embarrassment away. "I don't want the feeling to end."

Isabella wanted to tell her not to be rash, to take it slow and make sure he was worthy of her heart, but she knew Johanna wouldn't listen to her.

Isabella walked over to the door and watched Johanna race across the street. A whisper of unease teased her senses and she frowned, wondering why she was worried. Her friend radiated with happiness. Surely this meant the man she dated was treating her right. Just to be safe, she said a silent prayer, urging Johanna's guardian angel to watch over her.

****

Harrison watched the exchange with interest. Isabella's brows furrowed and she chewed on her lower lip. Curiosity got the better of him. He'd heard snippets of the conversation. Keen hearing made eavesdropping easy. "Does Johanna have a hot date?" Funny, how the thought of another man touching her disturbed him, but he pushed the thought away. Johanna wasn't his type. He was worried about her… like a big brother. He cleared his throat. His carnal thoughts proved how that was a lie.

Isabella looked at him. "How do you know Johanna?" She walked back over to his table.

He chuckled. "She's in here almost as much as I am. We've exchanged words a few times." He shrugged. "She seems so unsure of herself." He didn't mention how she stuttered and blushed every time he tried to start a conversation with her.

Isabella sighed. "She doesn't know." His right brow lifted and Isabella hurried to explain. "She doesn't know how special she is."

"No, she doesn't," Harrison agreed. Isabella's pensive expression reminded him of her mother. Louisa Lucci would have been about Isabella's age the last time he saw her. He often wished he'd kept in touch with her.

Preternatural beings lived long lives and they had to reinvent a new life every so often, but Louisa knew what he was and wouldn't have cared.

When he and Garran decided to come back to Boston, he was glad to hear A Taste of Home hadn't closed its doors. He'd sauntered into the restaurant, looking for Louisa Lucci and her talents as a Necromancer. It would have been nice to have the old team back again, someone they could trust. Louisa had helped them on numerous occasions back then.

She'd been young and vibrant the last time he saw her and expecting her first child—obviously, Nicholas, if he added the years right. He was surprised to learn Louisa had died over a decade ago.

He knew such talents as Louisa's were often passed down to their children. He didn't notice any special abilities with Nicholas Lucci, other than his keen eye for art and business, but Isabella…she perceived more than others did from a mere glance. She sensed things about them. She most likely would sense something different about him, too. Though he had a hunch she didn't know he was a werewolf. There was no indication she recognized Otherworldly beings – other than perhaps their aura appeared different than a human's. Such a shame her parents died before they had the chance to train her.

He'd been eating at A Taste of Home every night for the last six months. He arrived in Boston before Garran to make arrangements, get their paper work in order, like new IDs and such.

He'd witnessed Isabella in action. She was cautious with her gift. He of all people understood prudence. Not many people would accept what he was and for Isabella—her gifts would be ridiculed. She would give subtle suggestions when she knew a person's health was in jeopardy, or if they weren't happy, she would try to cheer them up with conversation, a glass of wine, or an extra piece of pie. She knew what would make them smile again. When they beamed with cheerfulness, she was there to share in their bliss.

"You're a good friend, Isabella," Harrison told her and meant it. "Just keep reminding Johanna how precious she is." Isabella's gaze riveted to him and he wondered why of all the words he could have used, he voiced the word precious. He cleared his throat and ignored her curious gaze. "Eventually, she may believe you."

"I hope so," she said.

Harrison knew Isabella would worry anyway. She cared and never judged. This was why he wanted to recruit her. Seeing auras did not make her a Necromancer, and there was no indication she had the ability like her mother, but being able to read people could work to their advantage, too.

He didn't doubt his ability to sway her to his side; however, a certain vampire was still not convinced.







Chapter Three



Nicholas waited for Isabella outside the restaurant as she ran back inside to grab her purse. Thank God, the humidity had dropped a little and the night was tolerable. "I'm ready," Isabella said, as she shut the door and locked it again. She swung her purse strap over her shoulder.

They headed down the street, which was nearly empty now. They each owned a car, but they walked since the two-bedroom condo they shared was only a short distance from the restaurant.

Nicholas shoved his hands into his pockets as he began to whistle a tune, an old Italian lullaby their mother used to sing to them. It was her cue that he wanted to talk and give her advice, but was still working it all out in his mind how he would voice his concerns. Nicholas was seven years her senior. He practically raised her once their parents had died and still felt it was his duty to take on the parental role even though she turned twenty-one last month.

They passed by the infamous Paul Revere's home. Built in 1676, it was the oldest surviving building in Boston. She loved the old site. It reminded her how others walked this road long before she had, brave men and women, who fought for their freedom and won. She was good about directing the tourist to the different sites along the Freedom Trail. She knew the city well, embraced it.

She glanced at her brother who should have gone off to college to study art. He was talented, but instead he stayed here to keep the restaurant going and take care of her. He'd put his life on hold. She thought it was because of her, that he felt responsible for her, but she didn't think so anymore. Something else had put him in limbo.

He stopped whistling and glanced at her. "I noticed Harrison Connell talking to you."

"Harrison always talks to me."

"Yeah, but he didn't bring a date, hasn't in awhile."

Isabella shrugged. "So?"

"So, maybe he's interested."

Isabella chuckled. "Interested? In me?" She knew where her brother was going. She hadn't been on a date since Evan Peterson broke her heart.

"Who else are we speaking of?"

"Nick, I don't think I'm Harrison's type." Besides, she had a hunch Harrison had a secret crush on Johanna. She wondered why he hadn't acted on it. He didn't strike her as the shy type.

It was probably too late now anyway. Johanna had a boyfriend. If he turned out as wonderful as she made him out to be, she wouldn't be looking to end the relationship anytime soon.

"When I came up front," Nicholas continued, "I caught him checking you out."

Isabella looked at her brother. "He's a nice guy, but…" She let the sentence drift off.

"But he's not Evan," Nicholas finished for her.

Isabella's brows furrowed before she forced a smile. "I'm not looking for another Evan."

"Let's hope not, since he left your heart bruised and bleeding."

"He couldn't forgive me," Isabella sighed with regret.

"It wasn't your fault."

"Wasn't it?" she countered.

"You told him his daughter was ill. He was the one who didn't take her to the hospital. Then he dared to ask—"

"Let it go, Nick," she warned. Evan grieved for Bethany, his three-year old daughter who had died from meningitis. His wife had walked out on them when Bethany was six months old. He had raised Bethany by himself. Evan wanted his daughter back and consequences be damned, but Isabella hadn't been properly trained in the art of Necromancy as all her mother's family had been.

Uncle Giovanni, their mother's brother, had started to teach her the art, but once Nicholas found out, he put a stop to it. Since her brother was her legal guardian, he had the final say. So most of what she knew had been learned by trial and error, curiosity being her motivator. Hanging out at hospitals and funeral homes didn't make her the most popular girl at school.

She could bring back a shade, an impression of what the person once had been. Sometimes their last thoughts rang through, but nothing more. She didn't know how to call the soul completely back from the veil. Death could be tricked into giving up a soul, but in the end, it could not be cheated. Bringing back Evan's daughter would mean someone else would have to die.

"I'll let it go when you do," Nicholas said. "You haven't been out on a date in over a year. Maybe Harrison Connell isn't the best choice, but there must be someone."

"No one's asked."

"You don't let a guy ask."

"I don't see that you have a steady girlfriend," she deflected.

"I don't have time for one." He shoved his hands into his pockets of his slacks again.

"So it's okay for you not to date, but it's not all right for me."

"If you were happy, I would say it was fine, but you're not, Izzie. I know you're not happy."

"Give me some time, Nick. I will be."

He opened his mouth, to probably say something to the contrary, but a woman's scream shattered through his thoughts. "What the…"

"It sounds like it came from over there." Isabella pointed down the street toward the Revere house.

"Wait here," Nicholas told her.

"I'm going with you."

He didn't have time to argue with her as another scream filled the air. They both tore off at a full run.

As they reached the house, a woman came barreling around the corner, plowing into Nicholas. She fell back, but Nicholas' quick reflexes steadied her. "Whoa, what happened?"

With a shaky hand, the woman pointed toward Paul Revere's house.

"Did someone attack you?" he asked.

Isabella glanced uneasily in the direction the lady had run from. The news had buzzed about two slayings behind Tony's Pub. Supposedly, it was a drug deal gone wrong. Still it had everyone on edge.

The woman shook her head. "No, there's a… Oh God, no!" She hid her face in her hands. Nicholas let her go and headed toward the old structure.

"Be careful," Isabella called to her brother as she put her arm around the hysterical woman's shoulder.

When Nicholas returned, his olive skin had paled. He had his cell phone out. "It's Marcy." Nicholas voice choked. "Oh my God, I can't believe it. Marcy…she's dead, Izzie."

Isabella swept by Nicholas, not caring he called after her to stop. She had to see for herself. She had to know if it was truly too late, but as she neared where Marcy lay, sprawled on the ground, her steps faltered. Something was off, and not just because there was a dead body in the courtyard. When someone died, there were one of three things she would see: One – nothing, other than the body, because the soul had gone beyond the veil; Two – the soul, lingering as if it couldn't decide if it should go or not; or Three – she might pick up a ghostlike apparition.

Standing over Marcy's body, she saw none of the above. Marcy's aura looked fragmented, as if something sucked bits and pieces of it and left only minimal amounts of it behind.

Isabella moved closer and crouched down. "What happened to you, Marcy?" Marcy was dressed in black pants and a white blouse. She'd been on her way to work.

Isabella knew she shouldn't touch the body. What if Marcy had been murdered and she tampered with the evidence? She looked over her shoulder. Nicholas was consoling the woman who had found Marcy and wasn't paying any attention to her. She looked back to Marcy.

She could call her back. For only a moment, just to find out what happened, but she would have to hurry. She could already hear the sirens drawing nearer.

Since Marcy just died tonight, she wouldn't need to draw blood to summon. At least, she didn't think so. She fished out her cell phone from her pocket, fingering the smooth screen. She really hoped it didn't get fried. She took hold of Marcy's hand and concentrated on the fragments of warmth around her body, pulling it in, tethering it to this world. Her phone lit up as the essence fed off the energy.

Marcy's body shuddered and her lids flew open, her eyes bright with fear.

"What are you doing?"

Isabella jumped at Nicholas' voice and she let go of Marcy's hand. Her phone screen went dark, as the line to the other side broke free. "Damn." The fragments scattered and drifted away like dust particles. She glanced up at Nicholas' face, his frown of disappointment saying more than words.

She stood as the paramedics came rushing over to them. She didn't bother telling them they were too late. In the next few seconds, the paramedics would know themselves.

The police arrived minutes later to secure the perimeter, while the coroner went over the evidence with the detectives.

There weren't any signs of foul play, but the twenty-four year old was dead.

Once they gave the police their names, Marcy's contacts, and answered their questions, they were allowed to leave.

They were home now, but Isabella couldn't shake the chill, spreading through her. She hugged herself close as she stared out the window of their condo, going over every detail of the conversation she had with Marcy. Days before she noticed Marcy's essence looked off. She told Marcy to take it easy. "I should have insisted she see her physician."

Nicholas put his arm around his sister and led her away from the window. "Why?" He asked as he made Isabella sit down on the couch. He'd brewed herbal tea and handed her a cup before he sat down next to her.

"Marcy was ill," she explained. "I could see it, but I didn't tell her to see a doctor."

"Izzie, you can't hold yourself responsible. She was a young woman. There was no reason you should have feared for her life. She could have had a cold and you would have seen that her aura was off. People don't run to the doctor for a cold."

"Still…"

They were silent for a moment, but she knew it wouldn't last.

"Izzie, what were you doing when I found you next to Marcy's body?"

She sipped her tea before she looked at her brother. "I believe you know."

"Why?" He shook his head. "She was already gone. Why would you risk trying to bring her back?"

"Nick, something wasn't right. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I know if I could just awaken her for a moment, I could have asked her what happened."

"You know the shades aren't always reliable."

"I know they can sometimes be confused, but doing nothing leaves us wondering why a young, healthy girl dropped dead."

He shook his head, his features troubled as he pursed his lips. "You shouldn't have tried. It's too dangerous to conjure."

Yes, she was aware. Nicholas didn't say it. He didn't have to. Their mother brought her back from the veil. Louisa Lucci broke the rules and paid for it, too.

If only Isabella hadn't been screwing around on her bike that day. She rode it with no hands. Nicholas kept telling her to stop showing off, but she wouldn't listen. She'd lost control and swerved as a car came around the corner. She was thrown from the bike. She would have survived, if she hadn't been thrown into oncoming traffic.

Nicholas had raced back to the restaurant and told their mother what had happened.

A few days later, she woke up in the hospital room. The press found out what happened and printed: A girl rises from the dead. She was then dubbed the Lazarus girl.

She hadn't understood it then, thought it a miracle, but later she realized her mother summoned her, brought her back from the veil and defied death. Less than a year later, death demanded payment and took both her parents.





Chapter Four



Garran pinned Harrison down with his stony gaze. An unearthly growl emanated from his throat and his fangs lengthened. "I knew ye were reckless," he hissed, "but to contemplate bringin' a human into our confidence—yet again, seems like a redundant argument. We do not need a human's help with this." He paced the room with his pent up energy, slamming his books back into their rightful place within the shelves of novels and reference books that lined his walls.

Harrison plopped himself down on the large throne-like chair, which Garran recently purchased for his library. It fit well with the other medieval castle-like reproductions in the room.

"We could train her, hone in on her talents and shape them to suit our needs," Harrison added casually, as if the last fifteen minutes of saying—we don't need a human on their team—never occurred.

Garran looked at him. "Surely, ye did no' suggest we train the human."

Harrison chuckled. "Aye, I did. Why not, I ask you?"

"Why no'?" he sputtered. "Because… Because I have no wish to. That's why no'." He stopped to rearrange a few of his books, noticing his historical volume on Medieval Europe sat on the shelf beside Shakespeare's book of sonnets. He replaced the book back on the reference shelf.

"I'm beginning to believe you're afraid of humans," Harrison teased.

"Don't be a dunderhead," Garran grumbled.

"With ye sweet talkin' me that way, ye wee couthie, I might think ye cared." Harrison imitated his brogue to the tee, which only proved to annoy him further.

Garran glared at him with narrowed eyes, a stare he perfected when he was laird back in Scotland centuries before. His nostril's flared as he took an exaggerated breath. "We're dealin' with creatures I am sure yer human doesn't know exists. Ye said it yerself, she isn't trained. She cannot protect herself from Otherworldly bein's, which means one of us would have to be with her at all times. She'd be a target and we'd be so busy playin' watchdog, we'd lose sight of our goal."

"Isabella knew which women were infected before we did," Harrison reminded him. "She may not be aware of what was happening to them, but she sensed they weren't well. Besides, Isabella isn't just any human. She's the daughter of Giovanni and Louisa Lucci. Her father was a sensitive and if you recall, Louisa was a Necromancer."

This last caught Garran's attention. Necromancers could control the dead and technically, he was dead in the human sense of the word. True, Louisa Lucci had helped on more than a few cases, but he kept his distance, letting Harrison handle that part of the investigation. "I don't trust Necromancers."

"You don't trust Necromancers, humans, the demons...your list is getting longer every day."

Garran grumbled with protest. No matter where they settled, Harrison wanted to form a team. He had some serious longing for a pack issues. Garran did not. "I just don't see the need to add a human to our team."

"Team? You and I do not constitute a team. If we could just find one victim before she's in the hospital or dead, we might be able to track the preternatural being to his lair and we wouldn't have to rely on Sanya."

He knew Harrison had a point, but it didn't mean he had to like it. "I never heard of a human bein' able to see a soul," he continued to argue.

"I'm not saying that's what she sees, but she obviously notices something we can't. Mandy Davidson is proof. Mandy had dinner at the restaurant and I witnessed Isabella fuss over her, trying to convince her to see a doctor. The woman didn't because we both know the Soul Taker had already influenced her. The woman's dead now. If we inform Isabella what we're up against, she could spot the Soul Taker's next victim."

"We're calling him the Soul Taker now?" Garran lifted an eyebrow.

"All serial killers have a name, be them preternatural or not."

"Hmm." He took out Otherworldly beings that refused to follow the rules and left bodies piled up. He supposed the preternatural beings could be labeled serial killers. Alexander fit the description well enough. He witnessed the fiend's handiwork back in Scotland centuries ago. He had thought Alexander dead. He himself had staked him and lit the torch to burn the stable. Nothing should have survived, but Alexander was a wily sort.

He should have cut Alexander's head off to make sure he was gone from this earth, but he had been newly made and still thought like a human. It never occurred to him a Grim Sith could rise from the ashes like a bloody phoenix.

"What's wrong?" Harrison asked as the silence lengthened.

"It's nothin'."

Harrison shook his head. It was obvious the werewolf didn't believe him, but for friendship sake, Garran knew he would let it slide.

Garran met Harrison centuries ago. Harrison had helped him stop a madman from making his sixth ritual kill that would have released a demon far more sinister than the killer was himself. Jack the Ripper was what the locals dubbed the butcher. Harrison and he cornered and killed the bastard, making sure there was nothing left to resurrect, but it was still too late for victim number five. Ginger was the name she used, but to Garran, she would always be Mary Jane Kelly, the Irish lass with the smiling blue eyes who gave him precious leads to unearth the fiend. She paid for it with her life.

"Why don't you join me tonight at the restaurant where Isabella works."

"Just what I want to do. Sit and watch ye eat. No, thank ye. And don't go involvin' the girl, Harrison," Garran warned. "It would be a mistake."

Harrison pursed his lips then let out a long tired sigh. "Wouldn't it be a real corker if your soul mate ended up being a human? Truly, I pray it is so. It would serve you right."

He wished he never told Harrison about the legend of soul mates and what they meant to a vampire, but they had been friends for centuries; it had been only a matter of time before hopes and dreams were revealed. "It would never happen. Besides, God wouldn't be so cruel."

"You think not?" He chuckled. "I find He has a wicked sense of humor."





Chapter Five



Harrison couldn't convince Garran to join him at A Taste of Home, but he could still enjoy dinner there.

He strolled in to find everyone in a somber mood. Grief hung in the air like an entity ready to greet its next victim. His gaze took in his surroundings. Candles and flowers were arranged near the register like a shrine. Tables and chairs had been moved to the side and a large banquet table stood as a focal point with food trays, a large stainless steel coffee container, and a punch bowl. He knew the restaurant sometimes held private parties, but they usually did so on the days they were closed and not on a busy night.

Isabella spotted him and headed over to him with only a hint of a smile. Her eyes gave away her true feelings. Puffy and blood shot – she'd been crying. What in the hell happened here? His gaze shifted to the familiar faces that dined at the restaurant on a regular basis. Mario, the chef peeked his head out from the kitchen, his aged face lined with grief. Patti, one of the waitresses stood near the back of the room, dabbing her eyes. Nicholas appeared to be consoling her. He kept patting her shoulder in a brotherly fashion.

Then it dawned on him. This was Saturday night. Marcy should be working this shift. Harrison's gaze found Isabella's once more. He heard rumors: a young woman had been found dead near Paul Revere's house. He had a sinking feeling Marcy had been the victim.

"Hello, Harrison," Isabella greeted him. "I don't know if you heard yet, but Marcy—" She couldn't finish the sentence, choking on the word that would finalize what happened to the young vibrant woman, who had light brown hair and a quick smile. She wanted to be a teacher.

Harrison led Isabella to one of the tables and pulled out a chair for her to sit down. He crouched down beside her. "What happened?" he asked.

"Marcy was found dead. The EMT, who arrived on the scene suspected a heart attack. I heard him call it into the hospital." She met his gaze. "How does a perfectly healthy twenty-four year old have a heart attack? She ran track in high school for God's sake. Wouldn't her physician have seen if she had something wrong with her heart long before now?"

All good questions, Harrison thought. Unfortunately, he couldn't answer them for her. "Marcy never hinted she didn't feel well?"

She hesitated as if she wanted to share her suspicions, but instead she clamped her mouth shut, her teeth worrying her lower lip. She shook her head. "No, she never complained."

Harrison would have asked her a few more questions, but he spotted Isabella's brother heading toward them. His protective stance told him to tread lightly with Isabella. He didn't blame Nicholas for his concern. He felt protective of Isabella, too. Harrison stood. "Hi, Nick."

"Harrison." Nicholas nodded toward him before he glanced at his sister. He pushed back his glasses that had slid down his nose. "I can handle everything here if you want, you could go home."

"No." Isabella took a deep breath. "I promised Mario I would help him in the kitchen." She stood and looked at Harrison. "You'll stay for the vigil, won't you?"

"Absolutely." Harrison nodded.

Her hand brushed his arm with a gentle squeeze of appreciation. She turned away then, and he watched her walk toward the back of the restaurant and disappear into the kitchen.

"My sister has been hurt before," Nicholas said.

Harrison frowned. "Are you implying I might hurt her?"

The O'Briens entered the restaurant, but before Nicholas stepped away to greet the family, he leveled his gaze on him. "No, I'm warning you not to."

Harrison's brows lifted. "I'm impressed," he murmured under his breath as he stared at Nicholas' retreating back. Obviously, there was more to Nicholas than the mild-manner persona he displayed to the world.

Harrison glanced at his watch. He needed to call Garran. They would have to check out Marcy's body to verify if the Soul Taker took her out. If Isabella's hesitation was any indication, she'd known Marcy was compromised.

The bell chimed on the door and Harrison turned to see Johanna stroll in. Since Isabella was in the back and Nicholas was preoccupied with the O'Briens, Harrison decided he would greet her. He smoothed down his hair and took a deep breath. Big mistake. Johanna's scent made his senses swirl. God, the woman turned his insides to gel and aroused him like no other. He kept telling himself she wasn't his type, but his body obviously thought otherwise.

Her gaze met his and her hand automatically clutched her blouse close to her neck as if she feared he'd cop a feel right there in the restaurant. Timid and unsure didn't mix well in his world, especially since he was an alpha. His mate would have to be strong, too. He almost chuckled. "Mate," the word came out like a curse. Damn his libido for branding Johanna as his. He should turn around and walk in the other direction, but his feet had a mind of their own.

As he approached, Johanna took a step back, bumping into a couple coming in the door. No escape for you this time, my sweet lass. Harrison tried not to smile, but the big bad wolf couldn't help baring its teeth—even if it was only a grin.

"I'm sorry." Johanna turned with her apology.

The couple nodded and headed toward the O'Briens.

"How's it going?" Harrison asked and felt like a fool for not coming up with a better line. Where were his suave moves when he needed them? He could schmooze any woman into his bed—if he had the mind to do so—but he couldn't even have a decent conversation with Johanna. Then it hit him why. The women he dated didn't expect forever. Johanna would.

Johanna tucked an imaginary hair behind her ear and nervously licked her lips. Her gaze didn't quite meet his. She concentrated on something right over his shoulder. He made her nervous just standing in front of her. His brow furrowed with a thought. What if she felt the undercurrent between them as he did and that was why she was so nervous?

"Um… I'm doing well. Is Izzie around?" she blurted out the question as if changing the subject would keep her from having to talk to him.


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