Betrayal’s Shadow Excerpt

The Guardians of Eden Book 1

By K.H. LeMoyne – Copyright 2011

The Covenant

 
And humans were cast from the Garden of Eden
To work the lands far from their blessed origins
To survive outside the comfort and glory of God’s original design.
 
Mankind came to know both good and evil
To suffer under the consequences of free will.
 
For their salvation, God enacted a covenant with other beings of His creation.
Beings whose convention and purpose would be the release and healing of souls
 unto mankind.
Beings empowered with select skills to guide humanity from the perils of their own making.
Beings birthed in the far edges of Eden’s Sanctuary.
 
Though not God’s chosen people, these wardens would be gifted for their service.
Bonded in time with those who would match them in commitment.
Gifted with one mate and rewarded with the sharing of one soul for eternity.


 

Chapter 1

A sonic crack followed by searing fire along his shoulder blade shattered Turen’s resolve. He snagged the leather tail on its next pass, twisted around, and yanked, hard. The seven feet of bullwhip wrenched out of his captor’s hand and snaked across the floor to coil at Turen’s feet.

Wrists manacled, bound by two feet of chain, he still managed a hard strike to Shank’s thick jaw and a swift jab with the whip’s handle to the guard’s stomach. Backing away, he crouched and rolled the whip in his hand, waiting on the next assault.

Two months in this prison hellhole were about to end his two hundred and fifty years of peaceful co-existence with humanity. He’d endured abuse for the sake of his guard’s entertainment. He’d tempered his anger. He’d camouflaged his strength and skills in exchange for access to even the smallest bits of information. Yet he’d learned nothing.

No more. With Shank’s attack, he let his anger and festered frustration feed the raw black desire to dish back some pain.

Sweat dripped down Turen’s face, stinging at the corners of his eyes, as he met Shank’s glare. The shift of the man’s meaty fingers registered as they twitched near his holstered gun.

Shank issued no warning, no order that would alert anyone listening on the intercom of his intent. From the gleam in Shank’s dark eyes, he didn’t intend to allow anyone to stop him from adding Turen’s death as a notch to his ego.

So be it; Turen wasn’t leaving this world alone. He flexed his fingers, circled Shank and edged toward the chamber door, the whip and his nerve his only tools of defense. No internal surge of Guardian power responded to the summons his mind issued. His powers were dead or at least crippled. The composite alloy of the manacles stemmed his energy’s natural flow, though the chain’s closest link quivered a fraction of an inch at his attempt.

Not enough to count as headway or success.

Shank raised the gun as Turen let loose a strike of the whip and dove for the door. Splinters of rock chips from the wall by his head shattered over his shoulders. He turned to gauge Shank’s next move. A sizzling wave of current speared above his kidney and echoed through every nerve in his body, vaulting him into the air and slamming him to the stone floor.

“Enough.”

Turen drew in a harsh breath, kept his eyes closed and listened for the clipped strike of leather boots closing in on his personal hell. A hand fisted in his hair and yanked his head up, but still he refused to meet the gaze of his tormentor. While Shank’s attentions were brutal, Rasheer brought a new meaning to the word torture. Unlike the guards who reported to him, Rasheer modified his abuse with each session as if Turen had become his personal test lab for pain.

“Be insolent and see what that buys you.” Rasheer’s voice, calm and contained, bridled with aggression as he turned on Shank. “Secure him and report to the loading docks.”

“He—” Shank’s growl sputtered to a halt.

At a grating shuffle and the clank of metal on metal, Turen slid a glance to the door.

Thick gray six-foot tentacles supported a clear jellied head, round and flat, the shape of a three-foot wheel of cheese. Saliva dripped from beneath the head; rows of razored teeth ground in the circular maw as lights danced from a computer implant surgically connected to its neural pathways. The hybrid creature slithered back and forth like an overexcited child.

Turen looked away. The altered aquatic creature, somehow mutated for land, was lethal. It was impossible to believe that any of his comrades could sink to the creation of such an aberration. However, the creature’s appearance and potential threat had effectively blocked Shank’s plans for retaliation.

And Turen’s exit.

Pain ripped across Turen’s his shoulders as Shank forced him to his knees and clipped the chain into a hook on the wall behind his back.

Despite the violent show of dominance, Turen gritted his teeth, refusing to allow even a glimmer of emotion to cross his face.

Rasheer squatted before him, the whip Turen had dropped when he was Tasered gripped in one hand. “You cause a lot of trouble here in my master’s cells.”

The comment didn’t require an answer.

A smirk of satisfaction split the long, pale scar running from Rasheer’s chin through the corner of his mouth, ending just shy of the right eye socket. Combined with the narrow-set black eyes, Xavier’s Captain of the Guards exhibited a fair depiction of mean and deadly.

Turen swallowed back the urge to spit in the man’s face. Death wouldn’t achieve his goals. What was a little pain and humiliation compared to freedom for his Guardian race?

“I should leave you to Shank’s influence.” Rasheer said with a humorless laugh.

Influence. Right. Four guards routinely escorted him from his cell to Rasheer’s interrogation room, each trip an exercise in survival. Always chained, always outnumbered. His human guards found a bound captive sporting. He’d shown them sporting. This time Turen had left two guards unconscious, broken ribs on the third and a visible streak of blood on Shank’s chin from the whip strike.

Guardian twenty-five, humans two.

Turen maintained the running count. It kept him sane. He awarded them one point for capturing him, another for rendering him unconscious during the first long trip through the compound’s hallways. No points for them since. He refused to add to his people’s mortality rate.

Shank’s breath beat hot at his back, but the hybrid creature Rasheer had brought into the room as his personal guard encouraged the six-foot, two hundred and fifty pound bulldog of a man to leave per his orders.

With a glance over Rasheer’s shoulder, Turen recalculated the odds of escape. A repetitive exercise he used to kill time while in this room. Futile, maybe, but only for now. Once free, he’d give his jailers a taste of something worse than the Taser they’d become so fond of.

Rasheer pushed the bottom of his boot into Turen’s chest, rocking him back, wrenching his arms in their sockets. “You can spend forever in Xavier’s dungeons. You can die here. But first, I’ll extract what you are and what you know.”

Turen gritted his teeth and glared silently at Rasheer. He’d never give this human weasel the time of day, much less divulge information on his people or his reasons for seeking out Xavier. Evidently, Xavier wasn’t sharing information with his second in command either.

Not that Rasheer didn’t already have more information than was safe. Several months ago, Turen had agreed to a meeting in a fleeting hope to enlist Xavier’s aid.

Rasheer had appeared instead, not Turen’s former leader. In a split-second decision, Turen allowed the capture, hoping to gain an opportunity. He had pitiful little to show for his sacrifice after the resulting months of confinement and abuse.

No information, no details to help his people and even less indication as to whether Xavier could be brought back from the brink of madness to fight for their cause. There were days when Turen wondered if Xavier orchestrated this abuse at Rasheer’s hands as the ultimate punishment for a comrade trusting enough to fall into his custody. That hypothesis assumed Xavier gave a damn.

Drug lord and leader of this den of thieves, Xavier never attended these sessions. Turen had yet to see more than a quick glimpse of his face. Only Rasheer’s references confirmed this was indeed Xavier’s base of operations.

“The woman who betrayed you would have proved more malleable.” Rasheer turned away, one hand fisted around the whip. “Someone else delivered their bit of justice before I was able to question her.” Rasheer glanced over his shoulder.

Air stopped filtering in Turen’s lungs, a heavy weight pressed against each breath. Isabella, dead? He’d assumed her safe at the Sanctum. The undercover cop who’d helped Isa track down Xavier had left with her before Turen arrived at the meeting point. A tiny sparkled outline of her mark on the alley’s brick wall was the only sign she’d been there and left.

He closed his eyes with a grimace. The little information he’d gleaned in this compound wasn’t worth Isa’s death. Nothing justified the death of one of his own people, much less the youngest.

“The whore would have been easy to break.”

An odd vibration altered Rasheer’s voice. A sickening lilt threaded his words. The slight rise in pitch and cadence disturbed Turen more than the torture Rasheer meted out.

He scrutinized Rasheer’s face, examined every muscle twitch and gesture for some confirmation that Xavier’s second hadn’t executed the kill. The sick reflection of disappointment in Rasheer’s expression was reassurance enough. Yet he’d kept Isa’s death a secret for two months, withheld the information until now as fresh torment. What else had he withheld?

Turen hadn’t credited Rasheer with such patience. Or intelligence.

“She wouldn’t have broken for you.” Turen deliberately provoked Rasheer’s ire. His reward—a closed-fisted strike to his mouth.

“Fool. You live only by my choice.” Rasheer’s face, infused with a mottled flush of deep red, vibrated as he stepped away.

“Is that your version of mercy?” He forced a laugh. Rasheer whipped a quick lash against Turen’s stomach in reward.

He held back the flinch, slowly spit blood from between his split lips, and maintained Rasheer’s gaze. The more he pushed, the more Rasheer lost control. Less control provided more options and sometimes information. It would also drive a faster end to this session.

“No matter.” Rasheer turned away and then back, hardly an instant spent, yet his face was blank. “If you won’t break for me, then you can watch me break others.”

Turen couldn’t stop the growl that erupted from his throat and jerked forward against his restraints.

“You’re an open book,” Rasheer whispered with a smile that didn’t reach his glistening black eyes. “I will flay you, Turen. Make you watch the fragile light fade from the eyes of others.” Rasheer stepped back, his hands fisted at his hips. “I’ll bring their bodies to the brink of death before I shatter them. Tear them to pieces until they beg for their death…from you. Because I will make it clear, you are the key to their escape. One word from you and I will end their suffering. Quickly.”

Turen muttered a silent curse, unable to repress the twitch of rage in his cheek. Power boiled beneath his flesh, it churned and fired, pulsing for release only to meet the sizzle of heat from the manacles around his wrists and ankles. Impotent rage coursed through him until he let loose a harsh breath and exerted effort to decompress.

No force within him could break free despite the trigger of Rasheer’s cruelty. The damn manacles relegated him to mere human strength. Strength he needed to maintain in case the sadist provided an opening.

Rasheer was more astute than Turen had credited—a deadly underestimation in his abilities.

Turen couldn’t bear the burden of more souls, and Rasheer had known, had seen deeper than he should have been able. Not clearly, but with enough insight to know his methods caused a grievous effect. No matter how many more souls Turen might ultimately save, Rasheer would burden him with the death of innocent beings, a mental anguish more potent than any lash of the whip.

“You have extraordinary resilience, for a man. But then, you endure like no normal human.” Rasheer paused. “You’ve made me wonder about immortality. Where is the ultimate challenge if one can’t die? Hardly in dealing with petty human issues of life and death.”

Turen balanced on the rigid edge of control and waited.

Rasheer pressed the end of his whip along Turen’s shoulder. “You may not consider me your equal, but I promise you, I can keep your attention.”

“Maybe this time I’ll die and rob you of your prize,” said Turen.

“Really? My master is happy to let you rot in his cells. He’ll never notice you’re gone, much less care. However, he believed the woman’s note—that you carry answers of value, some resolution, some closure. To what?” He spoke the last to himself and moved away. “I could have pulled the answers from her had I not wasted time bringing you here.” With a low grunt, he turned back, the sneer a solid fixture on Rasheer’s face again.

His moods were like the weather. What Turen wouldn’t give to permanently remove that smirk.

“Xavier recognized her and that she wanted something from you—something you refused her.” Rasheer made a cluck with his tongue and moved his whip like a caress down his hip and thigh. “I would have given her what she needed.”

Turen swallowed back bile. Thank God, Isa hadn’t fallen into his hands. He prayed no woman ever did.

A buzz signaled from the phone at Rasheer’s waist. With a quick glance at the message, he pressed a button on the wall’s intercom and signaled the hybrid guard to take Turen away. “Another time.”

The heavy chains rose in the gray tentacles’ grip. Turen staggered to his feet and followed the creature, his thoughts churning.

This session had delivered one horrific bit of information—notification of Isa’s death.

For her sake, for his, if there were more to learn here, he’d muster the patience to find it.

***

Mia Bowman toed off her running shoes, pressed the blinking light on her phone cradle, and leaned against the counter to stretch out her legs.

“Hi, Mia. It’s Becca. Hope you’re okay. Haven’t heard from you. Rob and I still want you to come up and stay with us for a show and dinner sometime soon. Let me know if you’re free in the next few weeks. Quit hiding. Call me.” A click signaled the end of the call.

A tame message. Not one of Alex’s friends, thank God.

She grabbed several unassembled boxes propped against the wall and dropped them inside the guest room door on the way to her bedroom. Clothes stripped off into a wad on the floor, she walked into the bathroom and flipped on the hot water.

Steam, thick and heavy, enveloped the walls in mist, covering her image in the mirror. For minutes, she stared at the shades of shapeless color. No flashes of insight guided her thoughts. Her life evidently didn’t merit divine clarity. With a mental shrug, she stepped into the shower.

The water and suds washed over her body and removed the sweat. But dark emptiness and anger remained stuck to her like a second skin no matter how much she scrubbed.

The anger was the hardest. She refused to lash out at unsuspecting friends. Instead, she worked to tamp it down. Strong and unfamiliar, the emotion gnawed at her, unrelenting. She twisted off the water and forced an end to her train of thought.

How so like Alex not to be around to absorb the fallout from his actions.

Wrapped in her long terry robe, she padded into the spare bedroom.

Clothes and belongings littered the bed and floor. She assessed the closet and dresser drawers with a bitter attitude. Did she need more moving boxes, or should she just give in to the temptation to open the window and chuck everything out?

With an exhale of frustration, she sat on the bed and rubbed her face to dispel the irritation. Ten years of marriage gone to hell.

Twenty-one days ago, after Alex’s death in a car accident, she’d embraced regrets. The divorce papers, delivered the day after, stemmed that emotional bleed. The woman who’d introduced herself at the funeral, the coworker Alex had been screwing, snapped the lid on Mia’s self-recriminations. The shiny full carat ring Alex had purchased for the new Mrs. Bowman released her anger anew.

She’d no more delusions. She and Alex weren’t soul mates, but their marriage had seemed…normal. No, normal wasn’t the right word. Happy didn’t cover it, either. And obviously, committed didn’t fit.

If she’d bothered to pay attention, she would have recognized the signs of Alex’s infidelity sooner.

That wasn’t what bothered her. Okay, the infidelity bothered her a lot, but it was the glaring lack of loss, the lack of emptiness inside of her. Anger, yes, she had plenty, but no loneliness. No ghosts lingered in the house, no echo of sweet words, no treasured smile missed each day. That the lack felt like her failure only served to fuel her anger more.

With a heavy sigh, she gritted her teeth and turned back to erasing Alex’s presence from her home.

Several hours later, brown boxes trailed from the center of the room to the doorway like a small city skyline outlined against the bedroom’s white walls.

Shoulder muscles tight with fatigue and a tiny drum of pain nagging behind her eyes, she sank onto the bed and leaned against the headboard to take stock.

Closet empty. Drawers empty. Boxes sealed and ready to go. A quick glance at the clock—two in the morning blinked back in pale green. Exhaling, she closed her eyes and listened.

Pre-dawn stillness hung in the room. No sounds from the birds, no ticks as the house settled, no clicks from the thermostat, not even the sound of her breath. Just a hush of silence.

She rode the rhythm of her breathing, keeping a clear image in her mind. Miles and miles of endless blue unraveled and forced her thoughts to calm. Weariness fought her hold on the image. She curled her fingernails into her palm to focus against the distraction.

Behind her eyelids, the blue diminished. Darkness wavered in its place, wisps of black interwoven with gray. Smoke and shadows veiled her from any view. She fought to reestablish the blue sky. It eluded her. The effort drained her until she gave up and swirled farther with the currents pulling her toward the darkness. Smoke dispersed, replaced by a cold, moist chill that shocked her skin as a damp stench assaulted her nose.

She blinked. Fuzziness receded but not the dark.

A dream? No, the cold was too vivid. She searched for the source of the numbness in her legs. Her toes peeked from the bottom of her robe. Her lower body was shaded in gray against a frigid black stone floor. Not home. Not her bed.

“Don’t cower in the dark.” A deep voice growled from the shadows. Mia’s body rippled with an involuntary shudder.

Dim light from slats at the top of a closed door to her left framed a large male body across from her. Coils of chain looped around the floor by his legs and snaked off into the darkness. Dark streaks crusted the visibly mauled, naked flesh of his abdomen above the waistband of his ragged pants. The shadows hid the remainder of him.

Mia released her breath, suddenly realizing she’d been holding it so tight her chest ached.

Keep still and silent. Blend with darkness. Distance seemed smart, too. She scooted backward. A hard wall pressed against her tailbone. The veil of black had reached its limit; no way to put more distance between herself and the only other occupant of the claustrophobic room.

Too real. Time to wake up. Mia gripped her knees and squeezed for control, but she couldn’t pull her eyes away from the man across from her.

Long legs extended across the floor, morphing into thick thighs that stretched the seams of his pants. Hard, corded muscle wrapped beneath the flesh of his wounds and torso.

He was a lot bigger than her. She glanced between them, comparing the length of her legs to his—taller as well.

A surge of sympathy for his condition intruded on her thoughts, dampened immediately by the threat of being stuck here.

Or could she leave? She sidled to the door to give it a tentative push. Solid. Yep, stuck.

“You’ll gain nothing in the shadows, whatever your master’s plan.” The chains rattled in concert with his momentary outburst and then silenced.

Mia cringed. The gravel of his voice spoke volumes of his treatment. It wasn’t a natural vocal inflection. The tone was grated and rough from lack of fluid, or worse. Perhaps he was guilty of unspeakable crimes, though the stone cell, the chains, and antiquated door didn’t resemble any form of humane justice. That she was here with him curbed her sympathy. At least until she arrived home safe in her own bed.

To his credit, he left her alone. She couldn’t gauge whether he physically couldn’t move or just had no interest, but he didn’t say another word.

Need to wake up, Mia. She pulled back again and buried her head against her knees. Her ears alert for any movement from the man, she scrunched into the smallest ball she could make, wrapped her arms around her legs, and counted her breaths.

Focus on the inward breath, hold and release slowly.

Dreams didn’t last forever. Right? Whatever reason her mind created this image, this cell, this man, she’d seen all she needed and more than she wanted. It was all her illusion. Whatever the man represented, her dreams couldn’t harm her. She maintained control.

She fought to regain the gray mist that had ushered her into this nightmare and continued to count her breaths, waiting.

Moments? Hours? She couldn’t tell, yet in spite of her awkward pretzeled position, her limbs expanded with a sense of lightness as she lost count and the darkness took control.

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