Deep within the ageless Carpathian Mountains, an ancient evil wakes. Imprisoned many centuries ago, the creature has waited, patiently, for the one destined to grant her freedom. Combining elements of mystery, horror, vampire, and a hint of romance, this novel covers many genres, and still keeps the action flowing.
Shades of Death
Deep within the ageless Carpathian Mountains, an ancient evil wakes. Imprisoned many centuries ago, the creature has waited, patiently, for the one destined to grant her freedom.
Arienne Lereaux has studied the preternatural menace called "vampyre" for most of her life. She is an expert in the field. Loosely affiliated with a secretive organization called The Institute of Paranormal Research and Investigation, she turns to them when she unearths what may be the first representation of the vampyre ever to exist.
The enigmatic and attractive Head of the Institute, Adam Raven, has spent a lifetime tracking the clues left by his mother's disappearance in the mountains of Romania nearly twenty years past. When Arienne arrives at the secluded island headquarters of the Institute, he wonders if she holds the key to finding his lost mother. But before too many days pass, the city of Vancouver is rocked by a series of grisly murders. As it races to find the culprit, the Institute faces an evil unlike any it has encountered before..
The Institute of Paranormal Research and Investigation, British Columbia , Canada
The Nest, Adam Raven’s whimsical moniker for his small island home called Raven’s Eyre, was filled tonight with patrons from many of the charities and educational institutions that regularly received grants from The Institute of Paranormal Research and Investigation. There were also the expected number of curious spectators, casual students of archaeology, and reporters.
Standing slightly apart from the gathering was Arienne Lereaux, casually at ease and smiling, but shrouded in an almost visible, self-imposed distance. She held a glass of sparkling champagne, sipping it occasionally as she watched the other guests, her expression pleasant but aloof. She was not a woman who sought the limelight, but she never failed to attract a certain amount of attention in any room. At five and a half feet tall, Arienne was not imposing; yet she was striking. Her voluptuous curves drew men to her, and her cool, sometimes scathing wit just as quickly drove many away. Her hair was shining coffee brown, falling to the middle of her back; her eyes a matching darkness, that when she chose, could be fathomless.
Her features were a disarming mix of soft feminine gentleness, and unrelenting stubbornness when she was crossed. At thirty-three, she remained detached from people, and oddly untouched by the passions of love. In her innermost heart, where honesty is the only rule, she knew she inflicted that isolation on herself because she’d never met anyone who challenged and cherished her in equal measure. She made it an impossible quest for any man who tried, and, so far, none had proven her wrong.
Her expression warmed marginally when she met Adam Raven’s polite gaze, and she raised her glass in a wordless toast to him. His smile reflected amusement, and enjoyment.
Doctor Adam Raven was a man who made her contemplate things she rarely considered. He was intelligent, and an easy match for her swift mind. He was casually arrogant and composed, naturally in control of the responsibility of The Institute. Her woman’s heart also conceded to his charm and his handsome face. Adam was a man that was impossible not to notice–especially when dressed as he was tonight, in the stunning black and white of a tuxedo. Arienne smiled when he scanned the crowd to locate Lorinna Mallory, the most beautiful woman in the room, as far as Arienne could see. Adam smiled again when his colleague nodded in response to his wordless directive.
The Institute workers discreetly made their way to the far end of the room, and positioned themselves in a loose semi-circle at Adam’s back. The reception room grew hushed, and all attention became focused on the draped pedestal that was so clearly the reason for tonight’s party.
The Institute headquarters on the small island off the British Columbia coast was a grand, vaguely mysterious place, rarely made accessible to the public, except on occasions such as the one that opened the house tonight. The rich dark shades of gleaming wood dominated the atmosphere; books were a natural part of the decor; antiques of varying ages and places of origin; and a staff of demure, well-trained people ran the house with discreet efficiency.
Arienne knew that somewhere in its depths, the mansion also housed one of the most advanced laboratories on the planet. That was one of her reasons for coming to the city. A few seconds later, her attention was diverted from the estate and her internal wanderings.
Lori stepped forward and smiled.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if we could please have your attention for a few moments?”
The crowd quieted, and Adam once again glanced at Arienne, who made her way to the front of the assembled group, but had not joined the Institute team. For the first time since they’d met, her smile was radiant, and she nodded.
“You all know Adam Raven...” Lori continued, and took a step back to her position beside Robin George, a psychologist and M.D., and relatively new to the eclectic team.
Adam halted next to the shrouded pedestal and felt the focus of the entire room settle on him with expectant intensity. The unconscious force of psychic energy battered him for a moment before he imposed the control that kept such sensations from overwhelming him. Composed again, he smiled and addressed the people in front of him.
“As you are aware, the Institute Museum is home to many valuable and rare artifacts from all over the world.” He waited out the expected spurt of applause. “Tonight we are honored to add to our collection a piece many scholars and researchers believed to be pure myth.”
With the theatrical flourish of an accomplished magician, Adam lifted the small sheet that had hidden from view a figure of ancient stone. It was hideous in appearance; fanged, skeletal, winged and Vampire-like. Clutched within its talons was a human skull. There was an odd, eerie luminescence lurking within the dead eyes of the figure.
A quick scan of the room told the Institute members that their guests were wary of looking too closely at the small statue. That unease created its own wash of anxiety among them. Adam once again became the center of attention as he broke the uncomfortable silence.
“This piece has been dated at well over 30,000 years old. It was discovered in,” he smiled, expression faintly ironic, “perhaps appropriately enough, the Transylvanian Alps . Tonight, we have with us the woman who found the piece, Doctor Arienne Lereaux.”
He gestured to Arienne, who responded with a tiny bow of acceptance of the polite burst of clapping.
“Doctor Lereaux, would you do us the honor of explaining the significance of this piece?”
Arienne frowned briefly, then her expression smoothed, and she went to stand at Adam’s side. The slinky ripple of her gown as she moved made her overly conscious of herself, and she mentally berated herself for allowing the saleswoman to persuade her to purchase the outrageously priced designer dress–scarlet was not a color that left its wearer unobtrusive, as Arienne generally wished to be.
“Thank you, Doctor Raven.” She turned to the people who awaited her explanation of the find, and its significance. “We’ve all heard the legends of vampires and many of the myths most commonly found in our culture were born from Bram Stoker’s novel, DRACULA. There are vampire legends from virtually all cultures; they vary in types and abilities, but all have two things in common. They are creatures reputed to have died, and they feed off the living. This,” she touched the figure with reverent fingers, “is one of the oldest representations of the mythical being we call vampyre. The people of the Alps believe to possess this figure is to be enslaved to the vampire spirit entombed within it.” Arienne shrugged, and her features shifted to an expression of wry humor. “I guess that makes me Renfield.”
The guests laughed weakly, still unreasonably agitated in the presence of the idol. Adam and the other Institute members were also growing apprehensive along with the mood of the room.
Adam moved to go to Arienne’s side and halted abruptly, his eyes suddenly filled with the flashes of psychic vision plaguing him in recent years. As they often did, the images blurred together, a rapid series of impressions that would not make sense immediately: .....He and Arienne in a passionate embrace... making love... Arienne screaming... blood on Adam’s hands... Then, lastly, Arienne’s eyes... terror-filled. .. glowing...
The vision ended as precipitously as it began. Adam, inwardly shaken, completed his interrupted step to Arienne’s side. She was gazing at the crowd, seemingly oblivious to his closeness.
“The first record we have of this figure in our culture links it to Christianity, though it’s not clear how or why there is a connection,” she said quietly.
Adam glanced again at the crowd, aware that they were shifting nervously, hardly concerned with what Arienne was saying. He touched her elbow, and when she looked at him, he shook his head.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. As always The Institute is grateful for your support and your continued interest.”
Adam glanced back to the other members of the Institute team, his request silent, but understood. They broke up and began to mingle with the guests, carefully leading them into the banquet room.
Discreetly, Adam took Arienne by the arm and led her toward the stairs. They exchanged smiles and comments with various guests as he maneuvered her up the flight, through the library, and into the conference room.
As soon as they were alone, Arienne left his side and wandered to the window, her thoughts alive with chaotic images that were terrifying.. . and uncomfortably familiar.
“You did not mention a religious connection when you brought the statue to us, Arienne,” Adam said. His voice, softly accented by his years spent in English schools, was cool with annoyance.
She was motionless, and unresponsive. For a moment, Adam wondered if she’d even heard him. When he was about to repeat the question, she turned to meet his angry eyes.
“Why else would I be interested in it? You know my specialty, Adam. I’ve been trying to connect vampire lore to the Christian myth for years.”
Adam crossed the room to stand at her side. “For many of us Christianity is not considered a myth of any kind. It is the basis of our faith and our goals here. The Institute supports your research in terms of knowledge, but not in spirit, Arienne. Not if you consider the core of our strength nothing more than myth,” he admonished with a gentleness that was in direct contrast to the storm that brewed in his deep brown eyes.
“You misunderstand me, Doctor Raven,” she whispered. She faced him squarely, expression composed but equally angry. She indicated an ornate plaque, visible beyond the open door as it reigned over the library, and the inscription etched deep into the rich silver, “All sacrifice is made worthy by Truth,” she read aloud, then smiled. “I am merely seeking that truth, Doctor Raven. Something your parents would understand well.”
Adam remained silent, waiting for her to continue.
“I have reasons as great as your own for believing in God, and all that He represents. The darkest path needs a light, however ephemeral, and I have often found that beacon from within my faith and trust in a God more wise than we will ever be.” As she spoke, she calmed, the anger and argument forgotten. She relaxed with her subject and spoke more freely.
“The primary purpose for my quest, as it were, is to discover why there has always been such a great fear of vampirism and why it’s become so heavily linked to the Christian faith. There’s more to it than the modern fascination with lurid fiction.”
Adam was thoughtful, and leaned on the polished frame of a window, his hands resting on the wide sill.
“How long have you been studying this?”
Arienne perched on the edge of the conference table and shrugged delicately.
“Since before I became associated with The Institute... I ran into one of your people on one of my excursions into the Carpathians, and she persuaded me to take my talents to your Paris Division. I agreed. It’s been very useful,” she added with a laugh.
Adam smiled. “For us as well.”
Lori interrupted whatever reply Arienne was considering. Adam looked toward her, and saw the hesitation on his friend’s exquisitely beautiful features.
“We need you downstairs.”
He paused long enough to cast another look at Arienne, saw her nod and stroll to another of the many windows in the room, then he moved and followed Lori to the main floor.
Alone, Arienne stared blindly out the window. For the flicker of an instant, the mirrored surface of the glass cast her image back at her, but her eyes flared red fire. She was unaware of the disfiguration, and shivered violently as tears blurred her vision. Hugging herself tightly, she closed her eyes and bit back a sob of anguish.
* * *
Arienne felt weary down to her bones, and she squeezed warmth into her hands as she clutched the cup of coffee she was attempting to drink. She gazed out the window, mind awhirl, nothing snaring her erratic attention long enough to hold her concentration to a single thought.
Adam and Michael (Mick) Malone, an ex-mercenary who had chosen to work with The Institute after barely surviving a disastrous mission in Iraq , entered the room. The strands of their conversation gradually reached her as they discussed the success of the previous night and speculated on the significance of the newly acquired statue. They stop talking when they discovered that they were not alone in the room. Adam exchanged a look with Mick, who went to pour coffee from the service that was on the table. Adam went to her side.
“I hope you haven’t been standing here all night?” Adam inquired.
Arienne turned, smiling at the mildly teasing tone of his voice. Her eyes swept over him, appraising without conscious thought. Adam Raven was a man women would want to know and be close to, she decided again in that second. Tall, dark-haired, in his early forties, he was well-built, and exuded charm and intelligence. He was dressed casually, jeans and sweater, leather boots, and it only added to the air of strength and presence with which he filled the room. Still smiling over her private thoughts, she permitted him to lead her to the table. She sat across from Mick, and he nodded a greeting.
“I slept very well, all things considered,” she replied, tone vaguely enigmatic.
As he sat at the head of the table, coffee in hand, Adam’s expression spoke the question without words.
“Ever since I returned from my last trip to Transylvania I’ve been finding it almost impossible to sleep at night,” she explained.
“Is there something you want to tell us, Arienne?” Mick quipped, a faint Southern accent adding another layer to his teasing tone.
Arienne grinned at the humor, and the implication. “Did you check your neck this morning?”
She liked Mick, finding in him an irreverence that was refreshingly honest. He was attractive, lethal, and delightfully witty.
Mick grinned back at her.
“How are you feeling?” Adam asked, serious despite the banter between his colleague and their visitor.
She hesitated, then sighed heavily.
“Tired. All the time. I’ve had a thorough check-up, and nothing appears to be wrong. It doesn’t seem to matter how long I stay awake, the days are a struggle, and the nights sleepless.”
Adam accepted the information without commenting on it. He turned her attention to more immediate concerns.
“Lori has located some of the data you requested. She’s in the lab.”
“Which is precisely where?” She glanced around, aware of the smiles her action incited. Mick nodded in the general direction of the wall.
Arienne smiled at them, sardonic amusement in her face. “I don’t recall being scanned for access or recognition. Would you care to help me?”
Mick’s laughter was genuine. He stood and walked toward the wall. He placed his hand on the glowing panel that appeared at the touch of a button, and waited. The retina scan was instantaneous, then they were through the camouflaged barrier and entering the heart of The Nest’s base of operations.
Lori was seated at one of the computer terminals. She looked up and gestured for Arienne to join her. Mick followed and leaned over her shoulder to see what Lori was accessing for the foreign Institute member.
“You were right about the first mention of the statue. It occurs shortly after the death of Jesus Christ. I’ve had the computer searching databases all over the world, and nothing’s turned up that even hints at an earlier mention.”
Startled, and confused, Mick bent closer to the screen that Lori was reading from.
“But the statue is thousands of years older than that.”
Arienne nodded confirmation, seeing his puzzlement. “Which is only one of the mysteries that surround it,” she commented. “I’ve run the global search myself, but I was almost hoping you’d find something that I missed.”
“Afraid not,” Lori smiled. She hesitated a moment, then glanced up as Adam joined them. “I did find one thing that you might want to tell us about?”
Arienne smiled when Adam stopped at her back, his hand coming to rest on her shoulder. The warmth that emanated from his presence and his touch was comforting.
“What is it, Lori?” Adam asked, his softly accented voice quiet and pitched to an almost seductive murmur.
Startled by the tone, Lori glanced discreetly at Arienne, then Adam. They were having a visible effect on each other; a very strong, sensual effect.
“Reports of a mysterious stranger in the vicinity of Zarnesti,” she began quietly.
“That would be me,” Arienne paused when she saw all eyes were on her. “I’d guess,” she shrugged, mildly embarrassed by the attention.
“Unless you’re a lot older than you look, there’s another stranger in those mountains,” Lori said, and quickly called up the old newspaper archives she’d unearthed.
“Have you heard anything about this, Arienne?” Adam wondered as he turned to look at the enlarged screen Lori indicated for them.
Arienne frowned, thoughtful. Something was nagging at her, trying to surface.
The Institute members watched her closely, surreptitious looks exchanged as she remained silent and her expression grew steadily darker.
“There’s plenty of time to look into it further,” Adam decided, his eyes on Lori. She nodded and he knew she’d continue digging into the reports. “Arienne, a package has been delivered, addressed to you.” He smiled, and she brightened to buoyant excitement.
“I’ve been waiting for it,” she told him, voice filled with delight. “Please, Adam, I’d like for you to see this, if you have time?”
He shrugged, and gestured for her to precede him from the lab.
Lori grinned at them, while Mick merely shook his head.