from Romantic Times Book Reviews!
~ Jill M. Smith, Romantic Times
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Catherine Spangler, award winning author of the popular Shielder futuristic romance series, has demonstrated her versatility with a brand new paranormal series.
Atlantis rises again through the reincarnated souls known as Sentinels who have returned to rid the world of the threat of the evil Belians. Though mortal, Sentinels possess supernatural abilities that are magnified when combined with the energy of an opposite sex Conductor, ordinary human souls who have the unique ability to link with a Sentinel, helping to focus their psychic energy in order track down dark souls bent on mayhem and destruction.
Dark, edgy, and incredibly sensual, Touched by Darkness is spellbinding contemporary fantasy thriller that combines romance, suspense, mythology and metaphysics – A unique and enthralling series debut that is not to be missed!
~ Leslie Tramposch for PNR Reviews
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Dr. Kara Cantrell fled a supernatural malevolence seven years ago when she witnessed the brutal murder of her husband. She settled in the small town of Zorro thinking it would be a good safe place to raise her son Alex and settled into living a normal life, away from the threats of evil. All seemed right with her world until the day when she stepped from her truck and felt the ‘power’. Gazing at the tall dark stranger in town she recognized him for what he was -- a Sentinel. Kara knew the danger and the risk, and she wanted no part of him, his powers, or any influence he would have over Alex.
Damien Morgan was an Atlantian Sentinel soul born human -- mortal but with supernatural powers to track down and bring Karmic justice to evil Belians. He knew at once that Kara recognized and felt his power; knew also that she was not a Sentinel but a Conductor who could help him find the Belian. More than the woman though, Damien sensed a much more powerful energy emanating from the boy, and knew he was an initiate - a fledgling Sentinel who without guidance would easily fall prey to the Belian evil.
Damien forcefully inserted himself into Kara and Alex’s life mainly to protect but also knowing that with her help he would fare a greater chance of discovering where the evil Belian dwelt. Kara knew the dangers of emotional involvement with a Sentinel, knew Damien’s purpose of rooting out the evil was dangerous and she could not afford to have her heart broke again. But the pull Damien had on her was so intense that falling in love was too hard to resist.
*** This was an amazing story. Damien was a terrific lead with a take charge no nonsense attitude and was not about to be ignored. Fabulously sensual, the concept of how a Sentinel and Conductor’s relations empowered the Sentinel’s chances of tracking the enemy made for a truly steamy tale. The concept and characters were developed extremely well, and the brief background of terms describing these new beings was fabulously helpful in giving this reader a better understanding of what was going on and who was who in this authors new world. Breathing life into the characters with a deft touch the reader will become immersed immediately into the story, feeling the terror, the heartbreak and the joy of the characters as they began to work towards the common good. Personally, I loved the entire concept of how these people came from the lost land of Atlantis and give this author high marks for originality and creativity. Fans of Spangler’s Sci-Fi Fantasy are going to be mesmerized by this sensual new series.
~ Marilyn Rondeau, The Best Reviews
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TOUCHED BY DARKNESS is a humdinger of a paranormal story that will keep you glued to the pages throughout. A mysterious man comes to the small town of Zorro, Texas posing as a crime writer investigating the recent murders in the area. Damien Morgan is tall, dark and dangerous and has supernatural powers.
Dr. Kara Cantrell and her young son Alex have settled in Zorro hoping to escape years on the run after her husband was killed. Now darkness is following her once again and it seems that Damien is her only hope of survival.
Damien needs Kara to be a conductor for his unusual powers as he tracts down the evil creature that is stalking them and the town of Zorro. Talk about explosive, wait until the two start a conduction. Wow and double wow! The sparks of sensuality are flying high in every direction when this sexy Sentinel puts on the power. Also, Kara has been trying to hide the fact that her son Alex has the same powers as Damien. Alex is a wonderful addition to the story and you know he will eventually have an important part in this fabulous mini series about the Sentinels who are protectors…lovers…and a whole lot more. The cover alone will send this book flying off the shelves. Readers once having read the electrifying story will be on fire for the next book Touched by Fire that comes out October 2007. Catherine Spangler is an author who knows how to tell an intense spellbinding story that is to die for. Check out www.thesentinelseries.com.
~ Suzanne Coleburn, The Belles & Beaux of Romance/Reader To Reader Reviews
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“I’ve been fascinated with Atlantis most of my life, and I’m certainly not alone,” says author Catherine Spangler in a note to her readers. The fascination shows with the beautifully drawn characters in her newest romance called Touched by Darkness. The story of Dr. Kara Cantrell is one that will pull at your heart, and keep you on the edge of your seat. The ancient continent of Atlantis did not give up its hold on the earth. Some of its creatures have returned, reincarnated into opposite ranks, one for good, and light, the Sentinels, and one for the dark, evil side, the worshipers of Belial. Damien Morgan is a tracker, a Sentinel who hunts and tracks down the renegade souls who would ravish the inhabitants of Earth to the bloody Glory of their god, Belial. These Belians have already wreaked havoc in the life of Kara, when one brutally murdered her husband and threatened to take over her body and soul as well. The experience has left its mark on her, and when Damien comes into her life, she is ready to fight to get him out.
Touched by Darkness brings Kara and Damien together, both needing the same thing, yet neither willing to admit it to themselves, or anyone else. Their journey toward finding the light, and the love they crave is a tender and riveting story, and is told with great intensity and finesse. A gripping take of the dark side of life, the danger present, and the passions aroused between these two is one that cannot be put down easily. The dark and brooding Sentinel is played to the hilt as Damien struggles to keep himself from the strongest conductor he has ever encountered. The scared and wimpy Kara hides a backbone of pure tensile steel as she faces the danger to her psyche and her son. The true caliber of the woman is shown as she picks up the gauntlet he had previously discarded and run from, and faces her worst fears. Touched by Darkness is truly a book not to be missed. It is heart-wrenchingly and brutally vivid in the telling of the struggles of these two to come to terms with what could be between them. The questions remain, dear reader, do you have the strength to be Touched by Darkness? We shall see. Look to Berkley/Jove books for Kara and Damien’s adventure in January of 2007…~ Rose Brungard, Romance at Heart
For being afraid is the first consciousness of
sin's entering in ....
touched by DARKNESS
It didn't start out as a day of horrendous memories–or of soul-numbing pain. It started as a beautiful, sunny Saturday, with the air so clear and crisp, one couldn't help but inhale deep breaths of the cleansing freshness, and feel as if a multitude of God's benevolent blessings must be shining down upon the entire world. Terrorism, disease, poverty and hunger, grief and despair, were distant threads of reality, too dim to possibly exist.
Life was good, Kara thought, as she headed to town in her '98 Chevy truck. Like the few daffodils insistently pushing their way through the thick grass and weeds lining the two-lane road—despite the fact it was only early March—the heart could recover from overwhelming anguish, could return from a harsh, debilitating winter. Life could resume, with a reassuring ebb and flow of normalcy.
She glanced over at Alex, his head bent over his Game Boy Micro as he concentrated on FIFA Soccer. From an early age, he had displayed a superior intelligence, and could play games far above the level of most six-year-olds. Even so, she wouldn't let him play any of the fantasy games that most young boys indulged in. No magic or monsters. Those things too closely alluded to dark, shadowy realms; to other-world entities which were very real and far more dangerous than any mythical monsters, more terrifying than the average person could even begin to conceive.
A chill shuddered down Kara's spine, but she quickly shook it away. She had no more involvement with the supernatural darkness, was determined that their life from this point forward would be normal. Except that Alex . . . She also shook that thought away before it could fully congeal.
Their life was normal, she told herself fiercely. He–they–were safe from such a possibility. She had made sure of it, moving halfway across the country to take up residence in Texas. She was fortunate that she could use her medical skills anywhere.
And she liked the small town of Zorro, liked the close-knit community, and the simple way of life. She turned onto the main street of the town, rumbling past the antique and second-hand shops, home-style restaurants, hardware and feed stores, a dress shop with dowdy, "mature woman" fashions in the dusty display window. Traffic was sparse and leisurely, matching the laid-back pace here.
Kara pulled into a parallel space in front of Sal's Grocery and cut the engine. She reached over to tousle Alex's thick brown hair. "Hey bud, we're here."
He didn't look up from his game. "Just a minute, Mom," he wheedled. "I'm about to score."
"Pause it," she advised. "I want to get our errands done." She pulled the key from the ignition and dropped it into her sweater pocket, then swung open her door. "Come on."
She felt it the minute she climbed down from the pickup. It assailed her, surrounding her like the treacherous tentacles of a sea monster. Threatening, suffocating.
She grabbed the top of the door, suddenly struggling for breath. No! She was just imagining it, still haunted by the terror of seven years ago. Still raw from Richard, even now. No one in this small west Texas town could wield such power. Alex was too young, and–God willing–would never learn to manifest it. She shouldn't have even let herself think about it on the drive here. That was the only possible reason she could be imagining the sensation.
But the feeling persisted, furtive, horribly familiar. The sensation of the power. Adrenaline surged, sending an awful tension through her body. She slammed the door shut, leaned against the truck, battling the beginnings of all-out panic. No, no . . . no!
Her frantic denial didn't diminish the effect of her pounding heart–or the insistent barrage of an outside force. It was coming from across the street, near Don Mason's feed store. Kara turned that direction, determined to tame her runaway imagination.
A man stood on the sidewalk in front of Mason's Feed, tall, dark, unmoving. A long black duster flapped around his jean-clad legs. The same breeze blew his midnight hair around a sharp face with chiseled features. His steady gaze fixed on Kara, an all too familiar glow flaring into his eyes. No . . .
"Mom? What are you doing?"
She felt sweat trickling down between her breasts, even though the day was chilly enough that she'd worn a sweater over her shirt. The power was like that, like an insidious fever that heated the blood, destroyed balance and rational existence.
Reminiscent of hell.
Still staring at the stranger, she saw his gaze shift downward and to her left. Oh, God. Alex.
She looked at her son. He clutched her sweater, concern on his thin face. Dark brown eyes, sandy brown hair, and an expression so much like Richard's, she wanted to cry–something she had refused to do since about two weeks after his death.
Richard. Her gaze snapped back up. The stranger was striding towards them, staring intently at Alex. The power. Here, in Zorro. Panic coalesced into terror.
"Get in the truck!" she gasped, pulling Alex away from the vehicle and jerking open the door. She jammed her hand in her pocket, grabbing the keys. "Get in! Now!"
He stared at her, obviously confused by her irrational behavior. "But Mom–"
"Now!" she screamed, picking him up and heaving him across the bench seat. She didn't give him time to slide over, before she leaped in behind him. It seemed like an eternity before she could right herself from the sideways angle in which she landed, while Alex wiggled out from beneath her.
She leaned out to grab the door. The stranger was almost upon them, moving in steady strides. From painful experience, she knew his seemingly moderate speed was deceptive. Her heart battered her rib cage. She fumbled the key into the ignition as she swung the door shut.
The engine roared to life, the truck lurching forward as she floored the gas before the gears had fully engaged. The jolt snapped her head backward painfully. For one horrible moment, she thought the vehicle would stall. Frantically, she stomped the gas pedal again. Tires shrieking, the truck shot down the road, fish-tailing and nearly crashing into the right curb, before Kara spun the wheel and got it under control.
She sped away, exhaust spewing out behind them. She had to look. Was compelled to look. In her rearview mirror, she saw the stranger, standing in the road, watching them. Watching her. Watching Alex. She began shaking uncontrollably.
And knew her bid for a normal life had just gone up in smoke.
The terror pressed down on her, the memories swirling through her frantic mind. Only she feared memories weren't the only monsters she now faced.
But real flesh-and-blood demons.
Damien Morgan stared after the speeding truck, noting the license plate, in case he met with any resistance from the locals. Not that he expected to, but he preferred to keep mind probes or subconscious inducement to a minimum.
The surge of power he'd sensed when the blue pickup had driven past him had taken him totally by surprise. He watched the slender, auburn-haired woman climb from the truck, thinking it came from her. The power hadn't been very strong for a fully evolved Sentinel, nor had it been shielded.
It took him a moment to realize the energy emanated from the boy, which had been even more of a shock. The woman was obviously not one of them, but the boy was. Yet there were no other known Sentinels remotely close. They rarely overlapped territories. Even so, Damien had sent out a query before he left for Zorro, getting no response. He had believed he was the only Sentinel within miles.
Strange. A child with the power, left unattended, without guidance. Unheard of. Unless . . . none of the Sanctioned knew of his existence. And the woman . . . she wasn't one of them, but she had recognized Damien immediately. Only an initiate or a conductor could have sensed shielded power.
Turning possibilities over in his mind, Damien started towards Sal's Grocery. Since it was the only grocery store in the vicinity, most of the town's residents would shop there. The employees would surely know the identities of the auburn-haired woman and the boy.
Glancing around to be certain no one would see him, he turned his palms upward, visualizing what he wanted to manifest. A silk scarf whispered across his skin, in a gold color that he knew would complement the woman's coloring. He went up the cracked cement steps to the store.
A chime tinkled when he opened the door. Inside it was overly warm, but wonderful aromas permeated the air: coffee, cookies, cinnamon and other spices. A check-out area with an ancient cash register stood in the right corner. Old-fashioned glass cases lined the first fourth of the store, displaying meat and cheese on one side; baked goods on the other. Further down was a small produce section, then a dairy case.
The limited floor space was crammed with shelves piled with all sorts of goods. Towards the rear, tools and work clothing hung on the walls, indicating this was more of a general store than a grocery. Damien walked down the right isle, his booted feet resounding on the wooden floor.
Halfway down, a man was stacking burlap bags of flour against the wall. He glanced at Damien, then took a closer look, apparently pegging him as an outsider. The man straightened and stepped forward. He was tall and gangly, with a gaunt face weathered by years of hard work, and a shock of white hair. He wore a blue-and-white plaid flannel shirt, tucked carefully into faded work jeans. Damien picked the man's identity from his mind. He was Sal.
"Can I help ye find anything?" Sal asked in a gruff voice with a strong country twang.
"You can help me find the owner of this scarf." Damien held up the gold silk rectangle. "She dropped it when she was getting into her truck. Drove off before I could catch her. She was driving a blue Chevy pickup. She had auburn hair and a young boy was with her."
Sal's brow furrowed as he took the scarf in his rough hands. "Well, now. Sure sounds like Dr. Cantrell ye just described. But I can't see her wearing nothing like this."
"Dr. Cantrell? Does she have a son?"
"Sure does. His name's Alex, and he's real bright." Sal considered a moment. "I guess I'll keep this and ask the doctor if it's hers the next time she comes in. She shoulda been by, if she was in town this morning. She usually does her shopping on Saturdays."
"Does she?" Damien smoothly retrieved the scarf before Sal could get a firm grip on it. "I'd rather return it myself. Thank you, though."
A dull red suffused Sal's face. Damien detected high blood pressure. "I woulda seen she got it."
"Oh, I'm sure you would have," Damien hastened to assure the old man. He sent a small burst of calming energy. "But since I'm now a resident of Zorro, I'd rather give Dr. Cantrell the scarf myself. It's a good way to meet a pretty woman, if you know what I mean." He winked conspiratorially at Sal. "Oh, unless she's married."
Sal didn't take the bait, instead giving Damien a thorough once over. "New resident, eh? What line of business are you in, Mr—?"
"Morgan. Damien Morgan." Damien extended his hand, and Sal slowly accepted it with his own callused hand. "I'm a crime writer for Society Magazine."
"A crime writer? Not much crime around here. Hey, you investigating those murders over in Fredericksburg? Naw, you'd be staying over there if ye was."
There was more criminal activity in Zorro than the old man could possibly know. "I don't really investigate murders," Damien lied. "I leave that to the authorities. I do write about them, though, and I needed a quiet place to live, where I could find a slower pace and focus on writing."
Sal considered this. "Zorro ought to be slow enough for ye. Not much going on. Where you staying?"
"The Magnolia Bed and Breakfast, for the time being."
Sal nodded. "Belle Willams will take good of ye there."
"So where can I find Dr. Cantrell?" Damien persisted. "I'd like to meet her and return the scarf."
"Well, I don't give out other folks' addresses, not without their say so. But you can catch Dr. Cantrell at her clinic on Monday. She’s usually in from nine to four, and sometimes later, if she’s needed. It's a small town, and she don't always work full days."
Damien had no intention of waiting that long. With the boy broadcasting power, it was only a matter of time until he attracted discarnate entities, or worse, the Belian that Damien was tracking. But he didn't want to arouse Sal's suspicions. "Where is her clinic?"
" One street over on Johnson." Sal hooked his thumb toward the west. "Take a right on Maple, then go right again on Johnson. It's about halfway down on the left. The doc is in if her pick-up's out front."
"Thank you for the information." Damien started to leave, then turned back. "Occurs to me you might want to pay Dr. Cantrell a visit yourself. You look a little under the weather."
Sal grunted. "Ain't nothin' wrong with me, excepting a lot of years of living."
Knowing there was nothing more he could do, Damien headed for the door. "See you around."
He walked down the cracked steps and into the sunshine. The air seemed cooler after the overheated stuffiness of Sal's store and he tugged the front of his duster closed as he headed towards his car. It was nothing flashy or obtrusive, just an older model gray sedan. Even so, he knew he stood out like a sore thumb, as evidenced by the curious stares of the good citizens of Zorro.
Although many small towns like Zorro, with their antique stores and bed-and-breakfast facilities, drew a fair number of visitors, Damien had never been able to blend well. His height and the chiseled harshness of his features drew attention. He often wore dark glasses to hide the intensity of his eyes and tried to dress casually, but it always took a while for people to become used to his presence.
Ignoring the stares, he strode to his car and got in, starting it and pulling onto the main thoroughfare. He drove to Johnson Avenue and turned right per Sal's instructions. Apparently one of the older parts of Zorro, this street had once been a residential section. Now the old homes lining it were businesses of one sort or another. He saw antiques, art supplies, florist, law offices, and then the neatly painted sign identifying the medical office of Kara Cantrell, M.D.
Like the sign, the small house was well kept, painted a pale yellow with white trim and large pots of pansies flanking the front steps. A concrete driveway took Damien to a small parking lot behind the house. He was grateful for the rear entrance, which would allow him to enter the building without being seen or questioned.
The locked door was no challenge, and he readily located Dr. Cantrell's office. Moments later, he had what he needed—her address, and the knowledge she wasn’t married or dating anyone seriously. The latter came from a recent birthday card in which her brother had jokingly asked when she was going to get a boyfriend. Good. That would make things easier. Re-locking the door behind him, Damien got in his car, consulted his map, and headed for the private residence of Kara Cantrell.
Kara paced the family room, rubbing her hands along her chilled arms. She had turned on the gas logs she'd had installed in the fireplace shortly after she and Alex moved into the old house. While charming, with its wood floors, rugged ceiling beams, and large country kitchen, the house was drafty, and she had neither the time nor the energy to deal with wood-burning fires. But right now, the efficient gas fire didn't begin to warm the bone-deep chill racking her body.
No, the cold went far deeper than that, into the depths of her very soul. And Kara knew why. The stranger in Zorro. She tried to tell herself that she could have been mistaken about him, about sensing the power. That it was her overactive imagination, fueled by the memories of what had happened with Richard. But gut-deep intuition told her otherwise.
There was no doubt in her mind that the stranger was one of them. The power had been too strong, his reaction further confirmation, leaving no doubt he'd picked up on Alex. She didn't know what the stranger would do, but she felt certain they hadn't seen the last of him.
He could find out who she was easily enough. There was no anonymity in a small town. The knowledge of the stranger's true nature, that he could find her and Alex, sent a surge of hysteria through her. What should she do? Pack up? Run, like she had before? And then what? Richard had told her they were everywhere.
As long as Alex was broadcasting, he would always be at risk, wherever they went. Kara had tried to deny his power, had tried to tell herself that it was under control. But deep down, she knew better, and today had driven home that point. She'd denied it far too long, had denied it from the beginning, when Alex showed signs his was one of the special souls. It was right before he turned three. She could still remember the first time, as clearly as if it were yesterday.
"Mama, me been here before."
"Me here before . . . before now. Me a woman in a scary place."
"Silly boy. What are you talking about?"
Alex had thrown his chubby arms over his head and burrowed against her. "Fire. Big rocks falling on me! Hurts."
She'd held him close, feeling his pounding heart, her own terror clawing at her throat. "It's just a story, sweetie. Just a bad dream, that's all."
"No," he'd insisted. "Real."
It had taken some doing to soothe her terrified son, but she had persevered. And as he got older, Alex seemed to forget the so-called memories, to forget his claim that he'd lived in another place and time.
It had also taken quite an effort to teach him to restrain his pointing and the ensuing results if he were upset or excited. Dishes spinning off the table, plants tipping over, scorched places on the floor or furniture.
Kara had hoped and prayed that the power would become dormant if not acknowledged and encouraged, that it could be repressed with conditioning. Alex was a good child, responsive to her parental requests. Now he never pointed at anything, and his normal placid nature dominated his moods. There had been no further incidents, and she'd begun to believe her prayers had been answered.
Until the past month, when strange things started happening around the house and Alex's school class. Things that seemingly were not a direct result of anything he did.
The faint ding of a timer broke into Kara's reverie. She drew a deep breath, trying to still her shaking. She'd almost begun to believe she and Alex were safe, that the past was behind them, had almost convinced herself.
A foolish and fragile hope. But that same knowledge told her it was useless to run again. Until she could find some way to shield Alex, they'd be at risk of discovery wherever they went. For now, she was determined to keep his life as level and normal as possible.
"Alex," she called out. "I know you heard that timer. Turn off the television." She stepped closer to the fire, still cold. She limited the time Alex could spend on the computer or watching T.V., determined he not become totally dependent on them for his entertainment. Already, he displayed loner tendencies like his father had, preferring solitude to the company of others.
A moment later, Alex came tromping down the hall, Mac, their mixed-breed dog, trailing behind him. "Ah, Mom," Alex protested, "There’s a Star Trek marathon today. Ten episodes in a row."
"Then it will still be on in an hour," Kara told him. "You need a break and some fresh air. You can work in the garden with me for a while. Get your jacket. And tie your shoes."
Alex rolled his eyes, but he dutifully knelt down and dealt with the dragging shoe laces, then went to the wall rack by the front door and took his denim jacket off its hook. Reluctantly leaving the fire, Kara decided to get a sweatshirt to garden in, instead of her bulky jacket.
Alex opened the front door as she started to her bedroom. The sound of a vehicle turning onto the graveled drive halted her. Mac's shrill bark filled the air. Another omen, as Mac rarely barked at anyone, unless he felt threatened.
"Hey Mom! Who do we know who drives a silver car?"
Apprehension sent adrenaline pounding through her body. She didn't need to see the car, didn't need to run through a mental inventory, to know who it was. She already knew.
"Alex, get inside," she said sharply, reaching the door in a few frantic strides.
He stepped further out, his attention on the driveway. "It looks like that man we saw in town this morning."
"Now!" she ordered, her voice rising. She grabbed her son's arm and dragged him back. "Get in here!"
"Ow!" He stumbled and almost fell. "Mom!" he stared up at her with startled eyes. The intensity of Mac's barking increased. The dog sensed the danger.
She struggled to keep her voice calm. "Listen to me. I want you to go to your room. Turn on your television and stay there. Do not come out until I tell you to. Is that clear?"
"Don't argue with me, son. Do it. Now."
"Okay." He shuffled off, throwing her one last look over his shoulder.
Kara turned back to the door. The adrenaline rushing through her had her shaking, made coherent thought difficult. She battled to draw a breath into her constricted chest, to stay clear headed.
Every instinct screamed at her to slam the door shut and throw the bolt, to snatch Alex and run out the back of the house and through the fields, away from the stranger and the terror he represented. But bitter experience reminded her of the futility of such an act. There was no where to run from them.
She felt exposed, vulnerable, with no weapon or no means to defend herself and her son. Because of Alex, she refused to keep a gun in the house. Besides, Zorro was a quiet, safe community. She'd never before felt the need for weapons. She thought of Alex's baseball bat, stored in the utility room with other athletic equipment, but she knew it would be no protection against a Sentinel.
The slam of a car door, along with Mac's frenzied barking, told her she'd just run out of time. Sending a prayer to a God whose existence she'd long doubted, she forced herself to step out onto the porch. The driveway was to her right and the stranger was out and strolling around his car.
Still on the porch, Mac snarled and snapped, his hackles raised. The stranger stopped on the near side of his vehicle, raised his palm towards the dog, making a sharp motion. Mac immediately quieted, lowering his tail between his legs with a small whine.
The stranger turned towards Kara. She couldn't see his eyes through the dark glasses he wore, but the rest of him was intimidating. He was a big man. The black duster emphasized his tall length, made him appear even more ominous. His long midnight hair was sleeked behind his neck and tied, leaving bare the slashing lines of his lower face.
He didn't move for a moment, then slowly, deliberately, he raised his hand and removed the sunglasses. Steel-blue eyes, glowing with a preternatural energy, seared through her. He made no effort to shield his power; rather he seemed to direct it outward, its insidious force penetrating her mental barriers, a psychic barrage.
Kara felt physically broadsided, emotionally violated. Any doubt about her earlier assumptions concerning this man's identity was evaporated by the blast of pure, unchallenged power.
She grabbed the door jamb, digging in her nails, willing herself to remain upright and steady. Managed to find her voice. "What do you want?"
He slid the glasses in his duster pocket, then leaned against the car, seemingly relaxed. "To talk about Alex."
The shock of hearing him say Alex's name sent her reeling again. He knew her son's name! Anger followed on the heels of that knowledge. How dare this man pry into their lives; how dare he drag Alex into this?
She forced back the fury, reaching for calm rationality. There was nothing this man could do to Alex and her. True, he was one of them. A Sentinel. He was powerful beyond human imaginings, and very dangerous, but he was also bound by a strict code of ethics. He could never hurt innocent beings. She refused to let him intimidate her.
"I have nothing to say to you. Get off my property."
He straightened, all indolence gone, replaced by intense purpose. "I think we have plenty to discuss."
He strode to the steps and mounted them steadily, his gaze never leaving her. Kara stepped back involuntarily, grabbing the edge of the door. It wasn't far enough. The stranger's close proximity launched an invasion into her personal space.
She felt the electricity leap between them, a lightning bolt of raw chemistry. She'd only ever experienced such a reaction with Richard, had assumed it was specific to him and her. The horrifying realization that she could encounter the same thing with this man sent her staggering backward into the house. She groped for the door handle, gripped it tightly.
He titled his head, his gaze assessing. "You're a conductor."
Oh, God. He felt the shocking chemistry, too. And he was far too close to another area that she had walled off seven years ago. Utter panic surged through her, evaporating all traces of indignation and anger. All thoughts of trying to deal with this man fled. All she could think about was survival. Getting away from him, and the threats he presented.
"Get off my property now, or I'm calling the police." She slammed the door before he could move, shoving the bolt home.
Shaking violently, she ran to the phone by the couch and snatched it up. She punched 9-1-1, but nothing happened. She disconnected and tried again. It took another fumbling moment before the fact there was no dial tone registered. She heard the bolt on the door jiggle and looked up. Horrified, she watched as first the bolt, then the door handle, turned smoothly.
She threw down the phone and ran to grab her purse off the dining room table. The door swung open, and the stranger loomed in the doorway.
"Go away!" Kara screamed, fear pushing her beyond reason. She dumped her purse on the table, snagged her cell phone.
"It's no good," he informed her. "It won't work."
"It will, it will," she chanted like a mantra, trying to activate the phone. Nothing. It was dead, like the other one.
She stared at the phone, a sense of inevitability dulling the mindless panic. Along with it, she felt something else–a soothing swirl of reassurance, almost like a physical, calming touch. It took a moment to realize the source. She dropped the phone onto the table and turned toward the doorway.
"Don't," she said sharply, glaring at the stranger. "Don't use your so-called magic on me."
He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. "Then I suggest you calm down. Unless you want to upset your son further." He nodded toward the other side of the couch, where Alex huddled against the wall, sheet white, his terrified eyes huge as he clutched Mac against him. He had come back into the living room and probably watched everything out the window.
What a muddled mess her near-hysteria had caused, especially considering it had accomplished absolutely nothing. She went to her son, sinking down on her knees and wrapping her arms around both him and Mac.
"Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry I upset you." She kissed his head, inhaling the musty scent of a little boy who needed a bath. "It's okay now."
"But Mom," he said, his voice wavering, "what about him?"
Kara lifted her head and glanced at the stranger, still standing beside the front door, watching them intently. "It's okay," she said carefully. "He'll only be here a little while. I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier and pulled on your arm. I guess . . ." She paused, not certain there was any way she could explain her erratic behavior. "I guess I lost my temper."
"But you never lose your temper," Alex said, then thought about it a moment. "Until today."
Remorse tore at Kara. Twice in one day, she'd not only yelled at her son, but physically manhandled him. She'd probably blasted him emotionally as well, since he was highly sensitive to the feelings of others.
"I'm sorry, sweetie," she said hoarsely, her throat tight. "I'm having a bad day. It's not your fault. We'll discuss it later. Right now, I need to talk to this man."
Alex looked uncertainly from her to the stranger. "He feels funny," he said. "I don't like him."
So he could sense the power. Kara had never had any way of knowing how Alex might react if he were around others of his kind–until now. She strove to reassure her son. “Silly boy. He's on the other side of the couch. How can you tell anything about him from here?"
But Alex remained serious, his distrustful gaze on the stranger. "Listen," Kara said, shifting back. "Why don't you go to your room and watch Star Trek? Take Mac with you."
Alex nodded, but he seemed reluctant as he stood and headed toward the hallway. With a low growl toward the stranger, Mac followed, his tail still tucked between his legs.
Dreading the coming encounter, Kara rose and walked to the fire, seeking its warmth. She turned her back to the flames, keeping a wary watch on the stranger. He shrugged out of his duster and tossed it over the arm of the sofa, then started toward her.
"I didn't invite you to stay," she protested.
"I don't stand on formalities." His voice had an odd rasp to it, not unpleasant. He closed the distance between them, moving to her side.
She realized it had been a mistake to position herself in front of the fire. Now the stranger had her virtually hemmed in, with the flames behind her. This close, he was even more intimidating, towering almost a foot over her own five foot, six inches.
He wore a red pullover sweater and faded jeans over his impressive physique. His face appeared even harsher, defined by high cheek bones beneath slashing steel eyes. His full, sensual mouth had a ruthless set to it. Energy sizzled between them, permeating her skin and moving though her body like molten lava. How could a virtual stranger have such an affect on her?
"So you're a conductor," he said, certainty in his voice.
What he thought he knew and what she would admit were two different things. It was far too frightening to go down the same path she'd traveled nine years ago. She forced herself to meet his penetrating gaze. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes you do. In town this morning, you recognized my power immediately. Since you're not a Sentinel or a Belian, that leaves only one possibility." He stepped closer, and she tensed. "And there's no denying the energy between us."
His words, enhanced by the electricity arcing between them, conjured up shockingly erotic memories. Memories of Richard, and of him and Kara naked and entwined, their bodies locked together in a frenzy of passion. With them, it had been like a fever in the blood, a hunger that couldn't be sated.
Richard had told her it was a chain reaction of chakra energy, automatically ignited when certain conductors and Sentinels were in close proximity. Yet there had been more than just sex between Richard and her. She chose to believe that the reaction itself was simple lust, fueled by chemistry, no more, no less. It could be controlled–mind over matter.
"I don't feel anything," she lied. "You've barged into my house uninvited, talking foolishness. I want you to leave."
"You're a conductor, and your reactions to me, earlier and now, prove it. Besides, you just told me not to use magic. Why would you say such a thing, if you didn't know what I am?"
He had her there. She knew he wouldn't leave now. His extraordinary powers had ensured he'd be able to ferret out her secrets, despite her resistance. Not that she'd been very cool or level headed. She stepped away from the fireplace, putting some distance between herself and him.
She tried to still her trembling, to speak normally, but her voice came out as a hoarse whisper. "What do you want from me?"
He advanced, and she retreated, her legs shaky. He gestured toward the couch. "Sit, before you fall down."
Hating that he could see her fear, but knowing his suggestion was valid, she moved to the couch, sinking down on the sturdy blue corduroy. She was grateful he took the large armchair opposite her and that he now appeared to be shielding the energy. It wasn't the bombardment it had been.
"Tell me, Dr. Kara Cantrell, about your psychic abilities."
Another shock jarred through her. "I have none," she said adamantly.
Impatience flashed in his eyes. "Stop lying to me. Many conductors have some sort of ability–precognitive, empathic, telepathic. And you were able to sense me from a distance. You can’t deny your abilities."
Kara shook her head, wishing she could block out the truth of his words. Her thoughts drifted back through the years, to events she would rather forget. The earliest memory was from age four, when she awoke from a particularly vivid dream and informed her parents, "Grandpa went to visit the angels." Two hours later, they received a phone call with the news that her beloved Papi had suffered a sudden heart attack and died.
Then there was the terrible time, when at age eight, she again awoke from a dream–this time screaming–and told her mother that she'd ‘seen’ her father crushed in his car. They soon learned a drunk driver had smashed into her father's vehicle, killing him instantly.
During her senior year of high school, while in her calculus class, she’d had a sudden vivid image of her brother Dan being shot in the left leg, his knee shattered. Dan, who was serving in Desert Storm, lost his left leg from the knee down that very day.
There were more, many more, incidents over the years. She’d felt like a freak, been unsettled by these unexplained occurrences, and rationalized them away as coincidence. She had taken refuge in science, which was logical and definable. And she’d worked hard at suppressing the events, training herself to awaken at the first hint of an unsettling dream. Of course, meeting Richard had opened her eyes to a world which couldn’t be explained by logic. But she refused to acknowledge or enter that world again.
"I'm a doctor, with scientific training,” she said. “I don't believe in unexplained phenomenon. Obviously, you have me confused with someone else."
"Do I? Your son is a Sentinel. Which means at least one of his parents is a Sentinel. In this case, it would have to be his father."
“Leave my son out of this.” She had no intention of discussing Alex with this man. Alex was just a normal six-year-old boy. He attended first grade, played soccer, watched Star Trek. He— She clenched her eyes shut, not wanting to face what she'd known since Alex was three, what she desperately wanted to will away.
The sudden presence next to her, the startling feel of a hand over hers jolted through her like a burning brand. The stranger sat next to her on the sofa, having moved with astonishing stealth and speed–something she well remembered. She gasped and tried to pull back, but he tightened his grip on her hand. Currents of energy tingled up her arm.
"No more games," he said. "I will get to the truth of the matter, with or without your cooperation. I can help you. Alex needs protection until he can learn to shield himself."
What protection had Richard had? If her son was in danger from the same dark forces . . . God, why had she thought all that was behind them?
She pressed her free hand against her mouth, mortified by the sudden rush of hot tears in her eyes. "We don’t need your help. Just go away."
His face impassive, he manifested a clean handkerchief in his palm and handed it to her. "Let's start from the beginning."
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Atlantis - A mystical, magical culture that some believe actually existed in the North Atlantic Ocean, bordering parts of what is now the eastern U.S. coast. It is also believed that Atlantis had an extremely advanced culture, and destroyed itself through civil war and the misuse of its great Tuaoi Stone.
Belial - The cunning, evil leader of a rebel Atlantian faction,Belial advocated human slavery, human sacrifices, and the dark side of magic. His group gained control of the Tuaoi stone and orchestrated the destruction of Atlantis.
Belian - A follower of Belial (also known as the Sons of Belial). Adhering to their leader’s original dark practices, Belians are now reincarnating in human form on Earth, and wrecking violence and havoc on its inhabitants. They thrive on chaos and terror and blood offerings to Belial. Although they occupy mortal bodies, they have superhuman abilities. They operate from the four lower spiritual chakras, and can shield their presence from Sentinels.
Belian Crime Scene (BCS) - The scene of a Belian crime. A Sentinel investigates the scene, absorbing the psychic energies left behind by the Belian, in order to track it down.
Belian Explusion (BE) - A forced exile of a Belian soul to Saturn for spiritual rehabilitation. It requires the joint efforts of a Sentinel and the High Sanctioned.
Chakras - The seven spiritual centers of the human body, starting in the lower abdomen and moving upward. Each corresponds to a physical part of the body, and also to a specific color. The first four are the lower chakras and grounded to the Earth. The last three are the higher chakras and are linked to the Creator and the spiritual realm.
Conduction - The process in which a Sentinel and a conductor link spiritually through the seven chakras; most specifically, the sixth chakra and third eye. This amplifies the psychic energy the Sentinel has absorbed from a Belian crime scene and helps to identify the Belian. The process also raises powerful sexual energies and has a physical component—sexual intercourse, which further enhances the psychic energies. Often several conductions are required before the Belian’s shields are breached.
Conductor - A regular human who is psychically wired to link with some Sentinels, and to magnify and enhance the Sentinel’s psychic tracking abilities. Conductors are relatively rare, and a good conductor/Sentinel match is even rarer. A matched conductor is always the opposite sex of the Sentinel, and there’s a powerful sexual attraction between them.
Crystal Pendant - A pink quartz crystal edged in silver, it’s worn by many Sentinels. Attuned to the great Tuaoi Stone, and to the Sentinel’s personal energy, it helps focus and magnify psychic energies, and with shielding.
High Sanctioned - Those entities (souls) that were the high priests of the temple of The One on Atlantis. Generally, they don’t occupy physical bodies, but act more as spirit guides for Sentinels. They assist with Belian expulsions.
Initiate - A fledgling, a young Sentinel who is still learning how to shield energies and use the Sentinel powers.
Law of One - The spiritual law and belief followed by most Atlantians, it acknowledged a higher Supreme Being and placed the focus on the Light, and positive energies.
Psychic Signature - The energy patterns left behind by a Belian, more pronounced if a violent crime has occurred. A Sentinel collects and absorbs these energies, and pieces together clues and mental pictures to help identify the Belian.
Sanctioned - Spiritually advanced Atlantian entities who served the high priests in the temple of The One. They occupy human bodies and are the overseers and the decision makers in the day-to-day Sentinel operations on Earth.
Saturn (Burning/Experience) - Saturn , the ‘grim reaper’, rules the moral and karmic lessons souls must experience and overcome. Also called the ‘karmic initiator’, Saturn is where Belian souls are sent until they learn their spiritual lessons. It is not a pleasant experience—more like purgatory.
Sentinel - An Atlantian soul reincarnating into a human body to track down Belians and dispense karmic justice. Like Belians, Sentinels are mortal, but possess superhuman powers. They operate out of the three higher chakras, making it difficult for Belians to sense their presence. They often use conductors to help them identify Belians.
Sexual Surge - The raw, powerful surge of sexual energy that occurs at the beginning of a conduction, when the lower chakras open and pull in earth-based energies—which most resemble the vibratory levels of Belians. This surge helps the Sentinel get a better fix on the Belian.
Shielding - Using psychic energies to create a spiritual shield that blocks the presence of either a Sentinel or a Belian.
The One - The Atlantian term for God/Supreme Being.
Third Eye - A spiritual center which is linked to the sixth chakra and the Pineal Gland, and represented by the color indigo, the third eye enhances ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ on an ethereal level. A Sentinel, often with the aid of a conductor, works through the third eye to track Belians.
Tuaoi Stone (The Great Crystal) - A huge spear of solid, multi-faceted quartz crystal, the Tuaoi stone was housed in a special temple on Atlantis. It provided all power, as well as a means of communicating with The One, and was ultimately used to destroy Atlantis. It now lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, its power undiminished.
White Brotherhood - (Does not refer to race or gender.) This was the Atlantian priesthood established for the perpetuation of the Law of One. They had the ability to transport themselves in thought or body wherever desired. Many of them have incarnated as Sentinels, the Sanctioned, and the Higher Sanctioned.