There’s nothing like the underwater world if you’re craving solitude. Time seems to stop. The sun lights up the surface and splinters into the murky depths, revealing the secret landscapes few human eyes have seen. It is so peaceful and silent under water. And that’s why Eva Parker loved to dive. She’d find any excuse. Today it was spearfishing.
A yellow fish flashed by Eva’s mask and she jerked, the movement slow and oddly stilted underwater. She rolled her eyes at the overreaction and her fingers clutched the spear tighter as she approached a small cave formation. She knew this area well, and the fish loved hiding in the low crevices that dotted the rock. Dinner wasn’t far off now.
She shouldn’t be out here diving alone. Of course Eva knew that. She just didn’t care. The solitude added to the thrill. The truth was, Eva wasn’t like anyone else. So why pretend?
A lingcod darted from between the rocks. It was huge! More than thirty pounds, anyway. Its jaws gaped, and Eva took aim and slashed with her spear, impaling the big fish through the side of the face.
Oh, shit. As soon as the thirty-plus pound fish was dead it started to drag. Determined not to lose the catch of the month, Eva repositioned her grip on the spear and the fish, so she was behind its bulk, and gave it her all with her legs. She was almost out of air.
Adrenaline helped. Her muscles appreciated the boost as they burned through the best workout in weeks. Eva knew she’d feel this tomorrow. Not to mention the welcome distraction from her now-mundane civilian existence.
Eva burst through the surface into the full light of day, her eyes dazzled by the brightness of the late afternoon sun over the water, even through her mask. Her lungs heaved in a giant breath before she sank under again, getting her grip on the fish as she moved toward the shore, a short swim away. Her legs ached from the exertion, and she longed to shove her mask back, but it wasn’t to be at the moment.
Eva gripped the rocks. Now that she was steady she shoved one end of her stringer through the lingcod’s gills and out the other side with a triumphant grin. She heaved the fish onto the shore, watching where it landed carefully. Mom and Uncle Dan were going to flip when they saw this fish.
Eva hopped out of the water and hovered over the fish, finally shoving off her mask as she considered how best to retrieve her favorite spear without ruining too much of the prized catch. She wasn’t paying close attention to her surroundings, which she regretted a moment later, when a foreign hand wrapped around her wrist.
“What?” Eva yelped, tugging her wrist to no avail. She glared at the man holding her – assuming he was male due to his bulk. She was probably correct, but once she saw his ugly face, gender wasn’t much of a concern. Eva was looking straight into the visage of a monster. And three more stood behind him. There was no rhyme or reason to their looks, but they were obviously together. One had only a single eye that was way too large to pretend at humanity. Another had ape-like, swinging arms that reached near to his ankles, and a grotesque overhanging brow. The one holding her was more humanoid than those other two, but it was too large to be a normal man, and its face reminded Eva of a snake – too round and smooth, his nose two slits nearly flat against his face.
What was she doing considering their looks? These guys were obviously up to no good.
Instantly, Eva triggered her power, a silvery boundary forming at her skin and shoving outward mightily. But she couldn’t avoid shielding the creature that held her as well.
Damn. It. All.
Eva glared at him, and he glared back, eyes narrowing as he let out a strange, gurgling hiss.
“Do not struggle.” The words were barely understandable; his voice was low and his syllables strangely abrupt.
“Yes. Do not struggle, Eva.” Another voice, from outside her shield, spoke up.
Eva sought the source, and found a tall, thin man with an eye patch staring her down. He was incredibly good-looking, and completely untrustworthy. Call it the eye patch, or the mother effing monsters, or just the random attack on the beach – she wasn’t going to give this guy’s commands the time of day.
“Good luck with that.” Mad now, Eva shoved the one holding her and gave a sudden lurch to her left, bringing her right leg around to sweep his legs out from under him. He crashed hard on the rocky beach and hissed at her from his prone position. She stepped on his throat, pressing down until he squirmed.
Then, somehow, he got the better of her. Her leg was suddenly in his grip, and then she was sailing through the air to bounce against her own shield, which felt something like the wall of an inflated balloon.
“Oh, no!” Eva growled. As she bounced off the wall of the shield, it didn’t bounce back. Instead it expanded, capturing two more of the beasts inside with her. The tall eye patch man and the other monster were still outside.
The original bad guy was no longer prone, and the three of them stood shoulder to shoulder, inside Eva’s shield.
She dropped the shield, and turned to eye patch man. “What the hell do you people want?” she demanded.
One of the monsters stooped and retrieved her lingcod.
“Not my fish!” Eva shouted.
The thing gave a gurgling reply that might have been a laugh, and ate the fish’s tail end in a single bite.
“God damn it! That was my fish!”
Two of the monsters had closed in on her, and she rounded on them. She landed a few solid punches in a curiously satisfied-yet-detached state of mind she knew all too well, before everything went dark.
Waking to another dark, damp day, only God knew where, Joel Rivera stared at the rough stone ceiling and listened to the sounds around him to determine the time. The monsters holding him hadn’t brought breakfast yet, and Joel wished he could sleep more, until they brought him the meager meal to stave off starvation. But his cell was so cold he couldn’t get comfortable under the single square of unraveling blanket they’d provided.
Instead he rose to his feet and stretched his arms high above his head. The cell wasn’t big – his cot was barely long enough for him, and took up almost half the floor space – but at least the ceilings were high. The uneven stone walls seeped with moisture, and the sounds in this cold place could drive one mad.
The monsters were bad enough, but they held … other things … in the cells here. Joel wasn’t sure exactly what, but they weren’t human. Not by a long shot.
Of course, his captors weren’t human. They were something else. Sinister, violent, and unreasonable. After all, what did they want with him?
As close as Joel could tell, he’d been taken prisoner because he was a half-human, half-Sidhe. His father was a renowned Sidhe healer. He’d had a twin, too–
Joel cut the chain of thought mid-stride. He would not think of Therese.
She was all he’d thought of the first weeks he’d been here. But focusing on her death would not bring her back. Nothing could do that. He would always live with the fact that he’d been too slow, too weak, to save her.
And then these savage creatures had taken him, and he hadn’t even been able to say goodbye.
Joel realized his hands were aching. He’d made fists so tight he could see red grooves left by his fingernails. He smiled hopelessly. A little pain would be something to focus on … something to break up this endless monotony. Joel ached to be anywhere else – to get the hell out of this place they’d thrown him into. Had they lost the key? Did they even remember he was here?
Joel dropped to the ground, dirty as it was, and started in on push-ups. He’d been doing a lot of them. So many that he no longer kept track of how many times he counted to one hundred.
A shuffling, clinking sound made him jump back up. Finally. Breakfast.
“Get back,” growled the guard when he got to Joel’s cell. Joel complied. The guard eased open the door and slipped a plate inside before sealing it again.
“New prisoner today. You will like her. I promise.” It cackled to itself, shaking its overlarge head.
Joel didn’t bother replying. He retrieved his breakfast and sat on the edge of the cot to eat.
The thing shuffled back down the long hall. Joel listened, trying to remember how many steps it was to the other end of this narrow, cell-lined cavern. From there, a quick jog to the right and dash down the next corridor would bring him to where they’d changed worlds. Again.
All of this world changing was tiresome. Just a couple of months ago he’d been a mostly normal guy, or at least that’s what he’d always told himself.
His power had always set him apart. When he got angry, or scared, the darkness came. Pure and black, it plunged everything around him into a night without stars, which lasted until he could gather himself enough to force it back.
Some of his most awkward memories included the extra horror of exposing this strange ability. He lost friends, and girlfriends, before he finally learned to control it – most of the time.
In order to control it, Joel embraced the dark. He found if he carried it with him, just below the surface, it bubbled out into the world around him far less frequently.
Still, his life seemed charmed, now that he looked at it from this distance. But he’d never seen that while he lived it.
Half-Sidhe. It all made sense through that lens. Joel thought of his father, the Sidhe healer. They’d met him just weeks before his capture, as the world grew dangerous for the Sidhe’s half-human offspring. Now Joel wasn’t sure he’d ever see his father again.
He would try to escape. But there were so many of them…he may just as well die trying as make it back to Tir Nan Og, the land of his father’s people.
The monster had mentioned a new prisoner.
Joel remembered the last. An old woman. Their cells had shared a wall, and he could see her through a three-inch wide gap in the stone, near the cell doors. He’d shoved his meager blanket through the gap into her hands, and shared his rations with her. He spoke to her, but she didn’t seem to understand him. They didn’t share a language. But it didn’t matter anyway, over the days she spoke less and less, until she finally huddled, weeping, on her cot. She died on the third night.
Whoever they were bringing, they probably wouldn’t survive. In his weeks here, Joel had seen three different prisoners enter that cell. None of them had walked out of it again.
Why had he waited so long here? Was it fear? The idea seemed more and more distant. What if they did kill him? Was that so much worse than staying here?
Before he’d finished eating, more footsteps announced the new arrival. Two hulking creatures dragged the prisoner between them. Joel set his plate aside and stepped to the front of his small cell. He watched through his door as they approached.
Was it another monster slung between them? Joel squinted in the low light. The prisoner’s flesh was smooth, hairless and dark. Sleek, almost, like a seal, but with a humanoid shape.
They got to the cell, and shoved open the door with a loud clang. Joel stepped to the narrow gap and continued watching.
One of the monsters grunted something at the other, and tossed a backpack on the cot in the cell. Joel stared at it, and looked back at the prisoner. Closer, he could see what he’d mistaken for a creature of some sort was really a human woman in a wetsuit. She slumped on the cot where they set her, unconscious.
Joel’s heart fell. He couldn’t stop staring.
This was no old woman, or middle-aged man. This was not a person he could chalk up to a lost cause.
She was young. Not even thirty, by the looks of her.
A monster slapped the wall next to the slit he watched through, and some sort of viscous liquid hit him right in the face. Joel didn’t back up as the thing chortled at him from the other side of the wall.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” A voice spoke up in clear English, which made Joel’s ears perk curiously. He tried to get a glimpse of the speaker, but he didn’t have a suitable angle to see him.
He looked back to the woman. His heart raced with fear for her. With high cheekbones, delicate, arching brows, and full red lips, beautiful didn’t describe her well enough. These creatures would eat her for lunch.
Silent, Joel strained to learn more about the speaker as he went on. “She should be. Eva is one of yours. I believe you were looking for her, when I found you at the Well of Slaine.”
Joel growled at the mention of the place where his sister died. “What did you say?”
The speaker stepped forward, and Joel could make out a tall form, and a black eye patch. “I was with the Fomorii when they attacked the Well of Slaine.”
Joel growled, low in his throat, barely realizing he made the sound. So this was Abarta. The assassin bent on destroying all of the half-human descendants of the Sidhe.
“Your friend Nathan gave me this for my trouble.” He gestured to the eye patch.
Joel recalled Nathan. Another of the half-human Sidhe children. He’d only known him a day before the attack that had killed Therese.
Savage glee filled him at the idea of ripping more of this man’s parts from his body. Nathan was a lucky bastard. And here Joel was, stuck in a cell, unable to do any damage of his own.
The monsters shuffled out, leaving only Abarta, staring through the slit at him.
“You will understand soon enough, Joel. We can’t have ones like you standing in our way. The time grows ripe.”
Behind Abarta, the gorgeous woman on the cot stirred, her eyelids fluttering.
As though he’d felt her begin to wake, Abarta left the cell, closing the door with a firm click behind him. “Not taking chances with this one,” he muttered. “She tried to take on three of the Fomorii, by herself.”
Joel’s stare swiveled back to the cot, and the slender woman who currently occupied it. He didn’t ask the question he wanted to, because he wasn’t in the habit of speaking to his captors. Did Abarta mean this woman had tried to take on the monsters?
As he stared, her eyes flew open, darting around as she took quick stock of her surroundings. She dropped off the cot, into a crouch, her hands splayed on the floor, like she was ready to pounce, or run. She must have seen their captor backtracking down the hall through the bars of her cell, because she yelled. “Coward! You need bars between us, you one-eyed dickhead? Come back here and I’ll shove my foot so far up your ass you’ll spit it out your pretty mouth!”
Joel’s eyes widened. Nice language. The lady knew her way around a curse.
Sneers and catcalls filled the hallway as the other prisoners responded to the new girl’s hostility.
“You had to eat my fish, you worthless blobs? The least you can do is let me take it out of your skins!” She kicked the door of her cell, which had to hurt through her soft wetsuit booties, though she gave no sign of pain. She huffed another loud, angry breath as the large door at the other end of the hall banged shut with finality.
“Damn. It. All.” She kicked the cell door again and turned to take in her surroundings. That’s when she saw Joel watching, and met his eyes with a look that made his bones melt. “What the hell are you staring at?”
Eva regretted her display as soon as her captor was out of earshot. The man watching didn’t help things, but that didn’t mean he deserved her anger. There was just so much of that to go around.
Mother. Effer. Where was she?
A cold cell in an eerie underground cavern, the low light from no sort of electricity she’d ever encountered. And then there were the monsters.
Eva looked down, realizing she was still in her wetsuit. They’d tossed her bag on the tiny thing they apparently believed was a cot, and she sighed in relief at the sight of it.
She turned back to the staring guy, thankful there was at least another human in here, and the look he gave her made her belly drop. Nice place to meet a hot guy, Eva. She could just picture how that would work out. About as well as all of her short-lived relationships. Or maybe it was the most fortuitous meeting in her dating history. After all, it couldn’t go anywhere but up from here.
She shook her head at her spinning thoughts. She had to get out of this wetsuit. “Do you mind?”
He turned away, still silent. Eva glared at the empty slit in the wall, then turned to her task. She pulled her change of clothes out of her bag, glad she’d packed for the chill she usually felt after a springtime dive. Yoga pants, long-sleeve tee and windbreaker later, Eva felt more like herself. Time to figure out how to get out of here.
“Hey, you over there. Do you speak English?”
A moment later he appeared, all soulful blue eyes and frowning. “Yes. I’m Joel.”
She tilted her head to the side, considering that. “How do you know?”
He was silent.
“What’s going on here?”
Nothing, except a slight shuffling of feet and another frown.
“Oh, you are hopeless,” she said, furious. She stalked to the other end of her cell, where she couldn’t see him. “I don’t care if you talk to me or not. But quit watching me if you’re not going to be any help.”
“I know of you, because you’re like me.”
It was her turn to be silent. What did he mean by that?
“Did they tell you anything?”
They hadn’t. And she’d been too busy throwing punches to ask questions. She shook her head.
He ran his fingers through his dark hair, which was on the long side. A cut that would never work out in the military.
She touched her own hair unconsciously. It had grown back over the last two years, post-military. She never knew what to do with it anymore, like her own hair was a foreign guest or something.
“Where are you from?” Eva finally asked, growing tired of her own thoughts. Maybe if she got Joel here talking, he’d tell her what he knew.
“Seattle.” Joel sat down against the far wall of his cell, his hands on his knees as he considered her through the narrow opening. “I used to live in Seattle. You?”
“California. The north coast.”
“Ah. The state of Jefferson.”
“Haha,” Eva answered. “People are disgruntled. When there are no jobs, people start coming up with all sorts of crazy ideas.” Eva heard the anger in her voice, and stopped talking.
“You were the last on Abarta’s list. But why did he take both of us alive?”
“Um … speaking of crazy … what are you mumbling about?”
“The guy with the eye-patch. That’s Abarta. He’s the reason you’re here.” Joel stood again, returning to the slit they were speaking through.
Eva stood her ground. Even one step back would give the signal that he outranked her, and she wasn’t having that. It was unlikely the man before her had any training whatsoever – and they were going to need all of her skills to get the hell out of here. But first, she needed to know why she was here in the first place. “When you said I’m like you … what did you mean by that?”
“This is going to sound really strange.”
Eva looked around. “I don’t think I’m in a position to question your strange story right now, Joel.”
“So … continue.”
“Laying the groundwork, do you happen to have a missing parent?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“Just tell me.”
“Yeah, my mom raised me. My uncle helped out, but my father was nowhere to be seen.”
“And that was a maternal uncle?”
“Yes. Mom’s brother.” A sinking feeling spread through her guts, but she ignored it fiercely – she wasn’t going to let fear stop her from getting the truth.
“It was your father, then.”
“What was my father?”
“Exactly.” He nodded.
Eva shook her head, holding her tongue to the count of ten. Then she said, her breath whistling through her clenched teeth, “Tell me. In plain language.”
“Your father isn’t human. He’s one of the Sidhe.”
A buzzing filled her ears. Not human? A part of her wanted to resist it, but she knew he spoke the truth. There was her power, after all. Her unexplained, incredible ability.
“What is a she?”
“Pesky Gaelic. S-i-d-h-e. They’re old, from the land that is now Ireland. Back in the day people considered them gods.”
Eva heard the words, but her brain was making the connections faster than she could rationally process. “Does my mother know?” she blurted out.
Joel met her eyes, sorrow filling his. “I have no idea.”
“And you’re one of these Sidhe, too?”
“My father was also one, yes. I found out just a few days before these assholes brought me down here.”
Eva wanted to ask Joel if he had any strange abilities, but it felt rude. Not to mention, if he shared such a thing with her, he’d expect reciprocity. And she wasn’t in a mood to share at the moment.
Her father wasn’t human. She wasn’t human. Not one hundred percent.
Shit and damnation.
It explained so much.
Her mother didn’t know. Eva realized she’d already made that determination, going over her memories in some hidden part of her mind and concluding that no, Mom hadn’t known. If she’d known, she would have understood Eva’s ability. And Eva wouldn’t have spent the last twenty years hiding it from her.
“Are there a lot of these Sidhe?”
“I don’t really know. I’ve met a couple dozen. I know there were far more than that. They were trying to gather all of us, to keep us from Abarta. They couldn’t find you.”
Yeah, Eva wasn’t big on being found.
“How long have you been here?”
“Weeks and weeks. I’m not sure anymore.” His voice dropped off, his gaze focused on some distant point. It gave Eva a chance to consider him more forwardly. He was young. Probably her age, or within a couple of years. Taller than her by almost a head, which was odd for Eva. He wore just a t-shirt and dark jeans, both looking like they’d never before seen a washing machine. His face was haunted … and handsome. A straight nose, big eyes, high cheekbones. Cleaned up, the man would be good looking.
His gaze swiveled back to hers, caught her staring. And then he smiled.
Good looking? No. That wasn’t doing him justice.
This man was a caged storm. The smile he’d just given her was as electric as his blue, blue eyes.
Eva swallowed. Here she was in a dungeon, being held by monsters, and he’d just shaken her with a simple smile. What was wrong with her?
Joel lay awake, long after Eva had taken to her cot, still grumbling about its size. The woman had a startlingly bad mouth. She hadn’t turned it on him in hours, and he counted himself lucky. He hadn’t been able to answer most of her questions, a fact that left him seething with impotent rage.
He would get out of here.
Having met her, he was no longer worried that Eva would be yet another in a string of bad ends in the cell next door. She was too strong for this to break her. When she’d seen where she was, Eva hadn’t gotten scared – she’d gotten angry.
She was some woman.
Too bad he had to meet her when he hadn’t seen a shower in ages. Sure, they let him use a facility, of sorts, every few days. Soon she’d be in the same situation.
But not if they could escape. Maybe together they could get past the guards. He didn’t know anything about her skill set, but Eva seemed like a woman who knew how to handle herself. Or maybe she’d be the woman to make him soft and get him caught.
From the next cell, he heard murmuring, and a soft moan. His ears perked up at the mournful sound, and he listened for anything else. Was she crying?
Then a gargling, growing scream rent the air. “No! Not all of them! No!”
Joel’s brow knit as he listened, as still as he could be on his own cot.
She was dreaming.
He wondered what she was seeing. It was something that tore her heart to shreds – and it didn’t seem random. She sounded terrified.
Her breathing was rapid now, like she was running. “No,” she sighed. Then, “No!” in a stronger voice.
Joel crept to the edge of his cot, and then to the slit in the wall.
What he was hearing sounded at once intensely personal and private, and possibly dangerous. Joel was a private person, and there were some things he’d never forgive a stranger for hearing. He had the feeling Eva was of the same mold … if he could wake her, she could keep some of her secrets.
She thrashed in her sleep, those soft moans filling the air and breaking Joel’s heart.
“Eva,” he whispered.
“Eva,” he spoke out loud.
She shot up in bed, sitting straight and reaching for something. She groped for whatever it was, and dropped to a crouch on the floor next to the cot, assessing her surroundings.
Joel watched her move – her speed alarming. She went from zero to sixty in a snap.
Suddenly, he realized something. Eva was military. She had combat training – that was apparent – and it fit with the nightmare.
“You were having a nightmare,” Joel told her, in what he hoped was a soothing voice.
Eva blinked at him. “Yeah? Well, that’s how it goes.”
He didn’t ask. Instead, he went back to his cot, to give her privacy.
He’d never considered it. He fixed cars for a living. A far cry from saving lives and protecting freedom. The only experience he had with war was the coverage that made the news. And he didn’t even watch that very often.
Melancholy rose up in him. He welcomed its familiar pall. Welcomed the darkness hovering at the edge of his vision.
He hadn’t had much of a life, before all this. He hadn’t contributed much, that’s for sure. He’d done what he loved, fixing cars, fixing bikes. He was decent at it. He mostly tried to keep to himself and avoid showing off his particular ability, which tended to depress people when they found out.
Eva sighed into sleep in the cell next to his.
He closed his eyes, alone again with his jumbled thoughts. Alone with memories he’d never outrun, and a gripping sadness that had always threatened, and had recently become seductive.
Joel smiled grimly, letting the darkness take hold. It fell like the deepest night, snuffing out all light in a twenty-foot or so radius of him. It chilled the emotions that had felt too chaotic to contain. Coated them in nothingness. Not despair, exactly, but something close to it. Acceptance, maybe.
He’d never thought much about it. Either he was trying to hide the darkness, like usual, or reveling in it completely, as now, for a few precious stolen minutes.
For him, the darkness was pleasant. Empty. Still.
The murmurs began a few seconds later, and soon an argument broke out a few cells down. Growls reverberated off the stone walls.
The guards would come.
Joel clutched at the thought, a quickening desperation eating at him until he consciously acknowledged it. He couldn’t let them find him at the center of the darkness. His ability and their ignorance of it were the only advantages he had here.
He gathered himself with a shaking breath.
Shit. He’d needed the darkness, for a few.
But now he had to pull it back.
He focused, grimacing, on taking the darkness into himself. He felt it come. Felt the heaviness. The raw clamor of his mixed up thoughts returned, and Joel groaned, holding his head. He slumped back onto the cot, resigned to fight for sleep another night in this hellhole.
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***Series intended for an adult audience due to some smokin' hot scenes.***