Friday, April 13, 2012

Excerpt Beyond the Shadows, adult, m/m

Beyond the Shadows by Deirdre O'Dare

Blurb: First year Border Patrol officers Rhys Davis and Liam Malone have been friends since second grade. When their new assignment puts them on the front lines in tracking down a vicious and inhuman killer along the southern border, they must call on every resource at their disposal.
The most potent of these turns out to be memories from a life they shared two thousand years ago in the British Isles, one in which they were partners in every way, forming an eternal bond that allowed them to defeat this same enemy in that life. Will crossing the line from friends to lovers in this life destroy their friendship or build on it?

Excerpt: A moment later, Liam was again cursing the fact he was not on horseback. A horse would have scented trouble before they roared around the bend right into the middle of it. As it was he slammed on the brakes so fast Rhys almost ran him over. The sight confronting them was too bizarre to absorb for a moment. A man-sized and shaped figure loomed in the center of the faint two-rut trail. As Liam ground to a halt, the creature threw down the limp form he'd been holding, a young woman from what Liam could see. It was still early in the morning and the deep canyon had not yet seen the sun.
The body fell, loose limbed and lifeless as an oversized rag doll. The apparent killer stood a moment, staring down at the still form. Liam's stomach clenched. Oh, shit. There wasn't any blood, nothing similar to the body they'd found a week ago. What shocked him into paralysis, though, was the fact the man-creature was almost colorless, a shadow of an entity whose opaqueness ebbed and flowed. For an instant you could see through it and then the next, it would be dark and appear solid.
Rhys muffled words echoed Liam's thoughts. "Holy shit, what the fuck is it?"
At the sound, subtle though it was, the creature's head came up and he pinned them with a scarlet, glowing gaze, eyes that seemed to reveal a banked fire smoldering within the shadow of his form. Liam swore he could feel the heat and hatred shooting like a laser in that soulless stare.
He grabbed for his sidearm as Rhys dismounted and came up beside him. A slanting glance showed him Rhys had also drawn his weapon. They both spoke as one. "Halt. You're under arrest."
The monster gave a harsh cackle that might pass for a laugh. "Try to stop me." He--or it--wheeled and sped away. It didn't seem to walk or run, but simply glided over the rough ground, floating, skimming. Both men fired at the same moment, but the figure did not waver. For a blink, it almost vanished and they saw their bullets impact into the hillside some yards beyond where the thing paused. Then it darkened and moved on, vanishing around a bend in the canyon far too quickly.
For a few breaths, Liam and Rhys stood frozen, looking at each other in total disbelief.
"What the fuckin' hell was that? Our bullets passed right through him. He just dimmed out and then went on like nothing happened. Jesus! Were we hallucinating?"
Liam shrugged in reply. "Damned if I know. I guess we'd better check on the vic and then try to call this in."
The young woman was clearly past help. She wasn't clawed to pieces like the man had been, but that might only be true because they'd interrupted the killer in the act of murder. Stooping beside the body, Liam shook his head. "Gomez is going to think we're crazy if we tell this the way it happened. We'd better get our stories straight right now."
Rhys nodded. Liam figured they were both still in shock, completely spooked. He damn sure was. Rhys' face, as the first sunlight leaked over the rim above them, showed a greenish gray pallor. Liam guessed he didn't look any better.
Anything that could shift from transparent to solid at will and let bullets pass through its shadow self could probably morph into a dragon, a werewolf or a demon from the pits of hell. Shit, he couldn't believe it himself and he'd seen the whole thing.
He studied the hapless victim. She seemed deflated, empty, reduced to a state beyond normal deadness to something from which the very essence had been extracted. Although newly killed, the young woman's lifeless body held no heat, no ooze of blood, and no trace of energy fading with the last of her life. The monster had drained her completely, leaving only a husk of flesh.
She'd probably been pretty, but her face was shrunken and pinched now, marked by the last throes of total terror. They found no ID on her, but that was not unexpected. Border crashers seldom carried their life history, if they even had such documents. He'd guess this poor girl was mostly Indian, probably from somewhere far to the south. How she'd become separated from the group she should have been traveling with they'd likely never know. They might never even learn who she was. He blinked for an instant against the rush of sadness. Nobody deserved to die that way for the mistake of listening to someone who promised a better life.
"We're not going to split up this time," Rhys declared. "I don't know what we'd do if that thing came back, but at least we wouldn't have to confront it alone. We can carry the vic out; I'd say she wasn't killed here anyway, although there isn't much sign to read. Doubt if even Billy could unravel this one, but he may get a chance to try."
They wrapped the woman in a small tarp and tied her body on the back of Liam's ATV, which had an empty carrier rack. Once back at the trailhead on a ridge, they called the incident in. Then it was wait again for the CSI forensics team and for Billy, who came with them.
The young Navajo shook his head as he examined the body briefly, with an obvious effort to subdue his distaste and discomfort. "Tchindi," he muttered. "I can smell 'em. A really bad tchindi like a dead skinwalker." After he climbed on behind Rhys, they drove back to the site. There was really nothing to mark the small flat as a crime scene--no blood, no tracks, not even a stone or a dry leaf that looked disturbed.
The CSI expert opined the woman had probably not been killed there. Liam and Rhys had agreed to say they'd just found the body, no hint of what had happened to her. They might have to say more later, but for now that seemed the safest approach. They'd tell Billy more, of course, but not in the presence of the others.
After the CSI group left with the body, Billy checked the scene with the care of a search and rescue dog checking for signs. He didn't quite squat and smell the ground, but he did almost everything else, even walking to the bend and looking around it, where, of course, he could not see anything.
"Tchindi," he repeated. "No question. We're dealing with some bad medicine here, bros. Wish my uncle was still around. He might be able to do something to stop this, but what little I learned from him is about as useful as a cap pistol against an anti-aircraft gun. Let's get out of here. It's givin' me the spooks."
Liam had no issue with that. For the second time that day, they retraced the route back to the trailhead. There they loaded the ATVs on their pickups and then headed back to town.
More than enough for one day.
Finally back home, Liam realized he was tired to the bone, but he dreaded bedtime and falling asleep. He'd been having some strange and disturbing dreams lately and this was surely not going to help. He'd die before he'd admit it to Rhys who was always going on about déjà vu and lucid dreaming and shit like that, but some of Liam's dreams were getting much too vivid and hard to forget. Maybe I'm not cut out for this work after all if it's going to cause this sort of reaction. Hell, even Iraq wasn't this bad. Blood and guts and death he could handle--well, most of the time--but this weird stuff gave him the heebie-jeebies. Bad medicine indeed.
* * * *
He seemed to come awake drenched with sweat, aching in every fiber of his body. The bed was hard beneath him, an uneven surface with prickly texture. The blankets felt heavy, smelled of dust and a raw animal scent. The room seemed dark; the only light a low fire flickering to one side. A man-shaped shadow moved between him and that light. The bed sank a little as the man sat down on the edge. Then a damp cloth swiped over Liam's face, soothing, cooling. A pungent herbal scent stung his nose of a moment, but it seemed to ease his pain and fear. He was safe and everything would be all right.
"You're awake." The voice was low and mellow, as soothing as the herbs and the cool damp touch on his face."You've been very sick, stranger, but I think you're going to pull through. The wounds are closing, and I've broken your fever."
The speaker used words and a tone he recognized--Druid. They were healers, wise men, priests and more, the few who held keys to the future and ways to appease the vengeful gods. Maybe even ways to deal with the spirit suckers who would steal so much from their victims there wasn't enough left to get to Tir-Na-Nog or be born again. He found a vague memory of encountering one of them in the forest while on patrol.
How he was still alive, he was not sure. A miracle. He'd have to make some major offerings to the gods when he could walk again, even throw his best shield and maybe his spear into the holy well. You had to thank the gods for saving you with valuable stuff. Weapons could be replaced, but souls could not.
"Thank you, Druid. I know I'm blessed to remain among the living after all I suffered. I will not ask how or why. And I will make offerings to the gods--whatever you deem right--as soon as I am able to get up."
"Rest easy. There will be time enough for that later. My name is Rhysanos. Yes, I am Druid, but that is a title and a duty, not a name. What do you go by, stranger? How came you here to our quiet corner of the Isles?"
"I think I am called Finbar, but my memories are unclear. I was on a patrol for my king, guarding the boundaries of his domain, looking for signs of raiders and those who would steal from our people. Where is this place? It seems far from my home."
The Druid's touch was gentle, yet it sent a strange energy surging through his weak body. His cock stirred at that touch and blood pounded through his whole form as if he must run or fight or do something else he did not understand. He stiffened with a mixture of fear and eagerness.
"No, be still. Do not fear. You will be all right. Now you need to sleep more to let your body heal. I will be here, guarding you while you sleep. I guarantee you will be safe."
As soft grayness enfolded him, he drifted off into it, fading to a similar shadow of existing. Fear blinked out; arousal and tension did so as well. For a moment, he had a dim recollection of the security of his mother's arms--a mother long dead and almost forgotten except in times like this...
Trust was not something he really knew, but it came to him now. This strange, powerful man, though no warrior, would keep him safe. He knew that beyond any doubt.

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