Book One in the Manipulated Evil Series
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Her name is Ravyn. Black-onyx eyes swirl jade and sapphire; fear nothing stance and commanding presence hold the attention of all. The moment Kyle D'Arcy notices this striking woman hidden in shadow, he knows she's involved with secrets he's desperate to unearth.
Kyle's search plunges him into a nightmare fraught with lethal diseases — where allies may also be a force to fear. Ravyn proves to be his savior. But as the battle against an adversary set on destroying humanity spins wildly into the unknown, will he become hers?
"T.C. takes you into a new dimension with this book. Kyle D'Arcy starts out with a fairly normal life and ends up in a while new world. The twist and turns in this book will keep you reading for hours. A wonderful weaving of action and adventure with a splash of romance. The only 'bad' thing is once you read this first book in the Manipulated Evil Series, you won't stop until you have read them all!" —Epstein LaRue, Travel Nurse and Published Author.
"What is the true nature of evil? How can it come not from ill intent, but from good people who do wrong believing that "this one time, the end justifies the means"? As I read THE UNSEEN, I asked myself those timeless questions. Sometimes I shivered in sympathy with the characters, and sometimes I wanted to reach through the pages and shake them. I can't wait to read Book Two!" — Nina M. Osier, author of Rough Rider
"Although the story itself is on a grand scale, the author has delved deep into the heart of the characters and you have to read on to know what is going to happen to them. It is a story of love, sacrifice and ethics. Is it just to do wrong things for the right reasons? Can the end ever justify the means? Is evil a force of nature or nurture? The book makes you think long after the last page has been read."— Annette Gisby, UK author of Silent Screams and Shadows of a Rose
Hammering rattled the apartment door. Kyle opened one eye and eased his bare shoulders flat against the soft bed sheet. The sound seemed unreal in the dim haze of morning light. He squinted at the alarm clock beside the bed and read 7:15. Too early. He never crawled out of bed until 8:30, just in time to rush to his morning class at 9:00.
The knocking ceased and he hoped whoever it was would leave him be. He snuggled closer to Amanda's warm and supple body and, in his tired mind, wondered how long she would stay with him. It was nice, having her around, but he knew it would be only a short time until she wanted more than a night in the sack and a party companion. Girls always wanted more.
The pounding erupted again, louder this time. Kyle groaned and covered his eyes with his forearm.
"Maybe you should get that," Amanda mumbled. She brushed her warm lips over his.
Kyle listened to the racket for a moment more before he sat up. He pulled on his favorite pair of blue jeans, leaving them unbuttoned, and shuffled to the small apartment living room full of cluttered furniture, piles of magazines, and several beer cans. The banging grew louder. Kyle groaned. The landlady downstairs was sure to complain the next time she spotted him. He scrubbed his hands over his face to wipe away sleep.
"All right already, I'm coming!" he yelled.
He twisted the lock and yanked open the door. Scolding words faded on his lips when he saw Dean Larson. Dean looked rough, his red hair more disheveled than usual, dark circles under his hazel eyes. He still wore the woolly, brown sweater and black jeans from the day before. Kyle decided Dean must have had a better time at the late night party than he'd had.
"Why is your phone off the hook," Dean said with a weary sigh. "They've been trying to call you for almost an hour, finally found me."
Kyle leaned on the door and glanced at the phone jack beside the plaid couch. He always unhooked it when he had a girl over. It prevented any interruptions. He raked his fingertips through his thick hair and, in need of caffeine to unfog his mind, turned to the narrow kitchen. Dean snagged Kyle's elbow in his thick fingers.
"You've gotta hurry up and get ready," Dean said. "We have to leave, right now."
Kyle glared at Dean and jerked his arm free. "What are you talking about? I’m not going anywhere."
Dean shook his head; his tired eyes softened. "It's bad, Kyle. Real bad."
Nerves tightened in Kyle's gut. They'd been friends for far too many years to count off hand, and Dean was usually the jester of the two of them. Something wasn't right.
"Dean, it's too early for your games."
"Your dad's been shot."
Kyle choked on the word.
"Shot?" He heard his voice but fought to keep from grasping the meaning of it.
Dean flattened his fiery hair to his scalp. "Yes, Kyle. Shot. By a gun. Now come on, I told your mom I'd get you home, pronto. Your dad's in bad shape. Last I heard they had him in surgery but it didn't look good at all."
There was no way Carter D'Arcy was in the hospital. Kyle shook his head. Dean reporting someone shot Carter didn't make sense. His mind swirled violently for a moment then settled firmly on denial. It wasn't real.
Kyle shuffled to the phone so he could call home, as he did so seldom, and hear his father's voice on the other end. It was a voice he had dreaded over the past several months and had practically hung up on two days earlier. But now, now he wanted to hear it and put his morning back in order.
"Kyle," Dean said, his voice much too soft. "Your mom's at the hospital and it'll take too long to get through to her. Get ready, I'll drive you home."
Kyle turned from Dean but he wasn't thirsty anymore. He wasn't hungry either. He walked back the dark hall to his bedroom and blindly pulled a shirt from a hanger in his closet. Amanda said something. She stood by the door, hidden from the living room, and wore only his college sweatshirt.
"I've got to go," Kyle said. He scooped his wallet and watch from the nightstand.
"I heard." Amanda crossed her arms over her chest and twirled an end of her blond hair in her fingers. Her pale-blue eyes slanted as if she would cry.
Kyle paused in the doorway and fastened the leather band of his watch around his wrist. "I'll call you," he said, but he couldn't look at her. He couldn't stand the sadness softening her face. "When I get back."
He followed Dean from his apartment and into the cold October air. It hit him and jolted his senses as he crossed the sidewalk to the nearly empty parking lot. Only a few others had wandered into the morning, a woman filling a trashcan, a man in a business suit lifting boxes from the trunk of a silver vehicle. Kyle pulled open the door of Dean's car and kicked aside soda cans and potato-chip bags.
The engine roared and Dean slammed through the gears, barely slowing for stop signs. They were on the highway, speeding by tractor-trailers and minivans full of people, when Kyle finally looked at Dean again.
"So help me, if you're pulling some sick trick to get me home, I’ll never forgive you."
Dean bumped on the turn signal with his wrist and glanced in the mirrors before he swerved his sleek Firebird from behind a delivery truck.
"You know me better than that," Dean said. Deep creases marred his forehead and the corners of his wide mouth.
A strange jolt shot through Kyle. The fear landed hard in his gut like a block of sharp-edged lead. His breaths quickened. Dean wasn't kidding. But he had to be, things like this didn't happen, couldn't happen.
"You all right?" Dean said.
Kyle turned away. He watched the brown delivery truck out his window. A piercing spark of sunlight reflected from the chrome bumper and an odd feeling of surrealness engulfed Kyle. He couldn't fully comprehend why he was in Dean's car and not his own Jeep or why he was headed home for the first time in months. His reflection hung before him like a phantom in the glass, his eyes pools of blue, his black hair nothing more than a shadow framing his chiseled features. It was a face he saw every day but wasn't sure he knew at all.
He had spent many years creating a nonchalant attitude toward Carter D'Arcy. He wasn't sure why exactly, it simply seemed to work out that way after the arguments, the complete lack of understanding. He figured the man didn't care about him, he had to return the feeling. Knowing his father's career as a geneticist took many hours and held a hand in finding cures or treatments for cancers and other diseases didn't make him feel any less rejected.
But he still loved his dad, and there was no way the man could not live on. Carter was only forty-eight. And he was too stubborn to die.
Four hours later, Kyle climbed from the car and onto the sidewalk in front of the main hospital entrance. Dean slowly drove on toward the parking garage, and Kyle turned to the revolving glass doors set inside the base of the towering building. Rows of tinted windows stretched across the white façade. Kyle watched several people in wheelchairs pushed through the bustling crowd in the lobby, one by a woman and one by a man in pink smocks. Kyle wanted to find his dad in one of those wheelchairs, his gray eyes hard and demanding, his voice critical while he asked why Kyle chose now to finally return home.
Kyle made his way inside and headed for the short line at an information desk centered in the lobby as colorless as the outside veneer. A woman with a loose bun stacked high on her head sifted through papers and handed out slips to volunteers around her. The pink smock she wore covered her robust belly and breasts. She looked up at Kyle and smiled.
"Yes, dear, how may we help you today?"
"I'm looking for Carter and Beverly D'Arcy. I was told they were here." Kyle crossed his arms over his chest. Dean was wrong. Everything was fine.
The woman creased her crimson lips together in a tight line as she tapped a computer keyboard.
"And who's asking, please?"
"Kyle D'Arcy, their son." She was going to tell him there was no one here by that name. And then Kyle would hunt down Dean.
"You need to follow the main corridor there," the woman said. She leaned toward him and pointed to a wide hallway and a set of double silver doors. "There will be a room to your left just through the second set of doors. You need to wait in that room, dear. Do you think you can find it, or do you need someone to walk with you?"
Kyle shook his head. He didn’t like the pity softening her cheery voice. He stepped back from the counter and bumped into a woman who struggled to restrain a small boy.
"I can find it," he said. "I'll find it."
People filled the wide corridor, nurses, family members, aides, all moving quickly like a highway of two legged vehicles. By the time Kyle reached the second set of doors, only a few other souls were around. He stopped at the silver barriers and stared though the glass rectangles in each of them. The walls beyond were colorless, the hall empty. He pushed through the swinging entrance.
The smell of disinfectant hit Kyle like a tsunami and unsettled his quivering nerves. He swallowed the rank odor and reached out for the cold wall to steady himself. Everything was a mistake and once he found out Carter and Beverly weren't there, he could go back to the college, hitch up with Amanda.
He glanced to his left. Another door stood there. Kyle stepped onto the gray-speckled carpeting. Two women sat along the wall, hunched over next to each other. One held a balled up tissue to her nose and dabbed her eye. He didn't know either of them. The other chairs were empty. A whisper of relief rose in his mind.
Kyle turned to the corner behind him. A man dressed in green scrubs sat beside his mother. Beverly sprang from the chair and rushed to him.
"Oh, it is you. I wasn't sure Dean found you."
Her dyed-black hair and red fingernails were neat and perfect as always, but her cheeks were pale, and her eyes were damp, swollen, and bloodshot. Tension coiled tighter in Kyle's shoulders.
"Yeah, I was home, phone wasn't working," Kyle said. "What's going on, where's Dad?"
Kyle stood stiff when Beverly wrapped her thin arms around him. He could only offer one arm in return. A sob burst from her and she twisted the collar of his shirt in her fist until the fabric dug into the back of his neck.
"He didn't make it." Tears magnified her hazel eyes. She trembled. "Oh, Kyle, he's gone."
She watched from the hedges behind the D'Arcy house and tucked her hands in her jacket pockets so she could relax her sore shoulders. A breeze swept her long hair around her neck and caressed her cheeks as softly as her mother had done so many years ago. The loving touch was a mere memory now, a fading memory overpowered by the hate and turmoil inflicted on her as she'd grown into the being she now was.
She stood perfectly still under the bright moon low in the east sky. Thin clouds shrouded it but only muffled the milky light. An icy scent of frost coated the air and thickened the sour stench of exhaust fumes, electrical wires, and smoke from chimneys or flues. It was going to be a cold night, a calm night. The odors she hated, but had learned to tolerate, would settle to the earth and grow heavier, unbearable. Still, she watched the house, not able to leave it.
Tonight she wasn't there to battle or research, just to say her farewells. She studied the house she had never once entered, its flawless brick sides and white framed windows all washed in shadow. She had always stood outside, where she was now, to wait for Carter. Despite Carter's insistent invitations, she had refused to allow herself pleasure in the normalcy of the interior. She had feared the desire such an experience would stir. And she'd been right to fear it.
Even with all her precautions, she had made a mistake. Desire plagued her now. She had allowed herself to dwell on a man she didn't even know, one who she'd only heard about in Carter's tales and observed from great distances. But with the way things had transformed, she had no need to ever meet Kyle. With Carter gone, there would be no reason for harm to come directly to his family. Surely, Rhynon was finished here.
She dampened her dry lips with her tongue and listened as an animal crept across the mowed yard, light on its feet, stalking. No doubt a cat. Yellow eyes glowed back at her, capturing the dim streetlights, just before it streaked off into the shadows. Sly creatures cats were, as sly as she. None in her battalions or those in her care knew where she was. They would wonder, of course, and if they did find out they would be confused, more confused than even she was.
Why she had come here, she couldn't clearly identify. Curiosity was the best she could conjure, but it was a weak attempt to explain her actions. Kyle's wide smile, his profound cobalt eyes, his silken black hair, were all so different from where she came from, all so enticing. But any involvement with Kyle wasn't smart. She knew such a meeting between the two of them would not bring good fortune. It would bring him only death. Death surrounded her.
She had to stay away unless Rhynon pursued Kyle. Or Kyle pursued him. A tiny whisper drifted through her mind, spurred by the history Carter had shared with her. She narrowed her eyes, wishing away the thought, wishing only for Kyle to live in peace. But she couldn't deny the possibility Kyle would get himself into trouble by innocently searching for answers. Carter had told her about his insatiable need to know and understand everything.
A car moved down the street to her right, its tires humming softly on the asphalt. She moved back a step into the shadows of the brick shed, away from the fleeting reflections of the headlights. Darkness embraced her, held her, comforted her. She hoped it would also comfort Kyle in his sorrow, hoped he would somehow know Carter was in a safer, more peaceful place. There was no reason to mourn for him.
Of course, she felt familiar sadness with the loss. She hadn't been with Carter when he needed her, but she wouldn't cry for him. She envied him, envied his ability to die and go on. She doubted she would ever be so lucky. She was condemned to live here or fade away completely. For that, she was certain.
"Sleep well, Kyle," she whispered as she turned away and walked into the darkest shadows of the street. But she wouldn't leave the remaining members of the D'Arcy family wholly unguarded. Not yet.