Excerpt – Seeker of Shadows

Excerpt from SEEKER OF SHADOWS:

Jacques threw open the hinged pass-through at the end of the bar, gratified by the sudden startling noise it made as it slammed against the counter. The jarring sound echoed through the empty cathedral of his new life and through his equally shadowy soul.

What the hell is wrong with me?

He stopped before the small sink and twisted the cold tap, filling unsteady hands and splashing his face with the bracing chill. It failed to cool an overheated body or his wildly inappropriate thoughts.

He refused to glance up toward the dark blank of his office window where she was probably still shivering in dread and disgust. Because he was exactly what she feared.

A rude brute. An unmannered beast. An untamed animal. Growling, grabbing at what wasn’t his to take or desire. A primal, inferior species unable to harness his carnal needs.

Jacques started to reach for one of the jewel-like bottles stacked in tempting rows, but let his hand drop away. He stared at the face in the mirror behind them that had been that of a stranger when he’d first seen it seven years ago. He’d had no idea who those features belonged to before that moment. He could have been anything, anyone. What he’d become had been born in that instant of non-recognition.

What he did know was that he’d belonged to them, to those pitiless users in the north, who’d obviously trained him and directed in to serve their capricious whims. The scar between his shoulder blades told him that much. Had he pleasured their females? Had he hunted and killed his own kind the way the Tracker who’d died in the hallway had? Had he been a mindless drone who went about their business with a blind obedience? Was he so conditioned to their commands that he had no self-control even now?

Resentment simmered as he paced, movements dangerously predatory even as his thoughts panted in raw confusion.

Why can’t I get a grip? This isn’t me. This isn’t what I’ve made of myself. Why am I letting her get to me? She’s one of theirs, not one of mine. She belongs to one of them, not to me. Not to me.

So why was every primal pulse of his blood denying that fact?

There was no explanation for the way his heart had stumbled when he’d looked into his office and discovered her gone. Instantly his mind had blanked with alarm and self-blame, thinking some harm had come to her. That crippling wave of fear had almost taken him to his knees. The response came from no place he recognized, but he’d been there before. When he’d seen that Tracker place a gun to her head.

He would never stand for injury to come to any female, to anyone weaker or defenseless. Not in his place, not on his job site, not in his presence. He just wouldn’t tolerate it. But these instincts, so overprotective and nearly pathological where Susanna Duchamps was concerned defied logic or understanding.

So he stalked behind the bar, circling from one end to the other and back again, like a wild thing in a cage, trying to outdistance the emotions churning through him. He was still shaking inside, all his senses in a heightened state pumping raw adrenalin like a crude oil leak. The need for violent action spiked, fever hot, because sex was out of the question.

Sex was what he wanted. Sex with that maddeningly irresistible female cowering in his office. The taste of her burned through his blood like grain alcohol, frying his thought process, enflaming his lust. He’d felt her heartbeat leap beneath the press of his fingertips and for moment had believed it spurred by an answering passion.

Madness. No other way to describe it.

You’d think he was a rutting youth sniffing out his first female.

You’d think he’d discovered his one and only all over again.

But the fragile Chosen doctor was not his chosen mate despite what his pounding desires told him. He’d lost that treasured female when his memories were torn from him, her fate unknown to him. He’d lost his right to be content. He’d failed her and he couldn’t go forward because there was no going back to right whatever terrible mistake he’d made that had erased her from his future. There was only here and now and at the moment, he couldn’t bear the bleakness of that knowledge.

Jacques pulled a bottle from the neat line up, carrying it without the civility of a glass to a table where he could drink without being seen through the one way office window. The first long swallow was as harsh as his mood, burning his throat, wetting his eyes. After that, like his situation, it lost the power to hurt him.

Susanna gave up on trying to work. Her thoughts were fragmented, her emotions, rarely tested or tried, were in a knot. Fatigue and sorrow twisted about the sense of blame that refused to let her alone.

She’d done the right thing. Seven years ago, she’d done the only thing she could to save them all. There’d been no other choice, no options, and if she hadn’t let him go, instead of pacing the floor in an agony of frustration, he’d be dead. That simple.

But knowing that truth didn’t lessen her pain.

She couldn’t destroy him with the knowledge that had her heart breaking.

Tears burned in her eyes as she watched his restless movements, knowing he struggled against feelings he couldn’t understand. His desire for her wasn’t natural, not like the earthy affection he had for his female staff, yet it couldn’t be broken by distance or anger or the drink he finally reached for. Its power couldn’t be explained, rejected or denied. She knew. She felt it, too.

She could still taste him, feel him, smell him. Wanting him growled through her like a hungry beast, terrifying in its strength, devastating in its potential.

And it would only get more difficult.

She had family, he had a life here. Their politics, their pursuits, their physiology, none of them were compatible. There was no hope for a future, no solution now, any more than there had been then. She’d been wrong to think so once, but she’d been young and giddy with passion. Now, she had no excuse, only a sad sense of culpability as she watched him find solace in alcohol-drenched dreams.

Resigned, she shut down the computer, unable to endure another minute of the self-destructive torture. But she did leave a note, printing neatly on a cocktail napkin, “Have gone home. S,” tucking it gingerly beneath the motionless stretch of his fingers. So he wouldn’t worry. It took every ounce of her will power not to touch that still hand or stubbled cheek.

The misty new dawn air felt good against her skin as she walked the quiet streets. The exercise freed her from the tension twining through her. She’d ask Nica to return the foolish purchases she’d made and to find her another place to work, one without the dangers and distractions. She’d concentrate on her research and let Jacques LaRoche get back to his gumbo. She couldn’t afford to put herself in his way again lest both their wills give way.

She hadn’t come to New Orleans to relive an ill-fated past. She’d come to guarantee a future for the child she loved more than herself.

As she moved along the uneven sidewalks, Susanna’s focus returned with a renewed purpose. Her thoughts stepped free of miring emotions in pursuit of scientific avenues. As she climbed the stairs to her borrowed apartment, she was busy formulating the direction of her next two-fold study to restore life in one and protect life in another. First she’d attend her body’s need for sleep then she’d be ready to attack her work with new vigor.

Using the key Nica had given her, she unlocked the door and stepped into the dark living area. Just enough light filtered through from the large windows on either end of the narrow shotgun apartment for her to find her way over to the café-sized table to place her satchel on the floor. She gave a slow stretch to release the tension in her shoulders.

That’s when her weary gaze caught on the glitter of broken glass on the floor beneath the window sill.

Something moved behind her, a shift of shadows without sound.

Before Susanna could turn, a rough hand clamped over her mouth, effectively stifling her scream.