Dark Desire (Dark #2)


by Christine Feehan

Chapter One

There was blood, a river of it running. There was pain, a sea he was floating in. Would it never end? A thousand cuts, burns, the taunting laughter telling him it would go on for all eternity. He could not believe he was so helpless, could not believe his incredible power and strength had been drained from him, leaving him reduced to such a pitiful state. He sent mental call after call out into the night; none of his kind came to help him. The agony continued, went on relentlessly. Where were they? His kin? His friends? Why wouldn't they come to him and end this? Had it been a conspiracy? Had they deliberately left him to these butchers who wielded their knives and torches with such delight? It had been someone he knew who had betrayed him, but the memory was curiously fading, obscured by endless pain.

His tormentors had somehow managed to capture him, paralyze him so that he could feel yet not move, not even his vocal cords. He was totally helpless, vulnerable to the puny humans tearing his body apart. He heard their taunts, the endless questions, felt the rage in them when he refused to acknowledge their presence or the pain they inflicted on him. He wanted death, welcomed it, and his eyes, cold as ice, never left their faces, never blinked, the eyes of a predator waiting, watching, promising retaliation. It maddened them, but they refused to administer the finishing blow.

Time no longer meant anything to him, his world had become so narrow, but at some point he felt another's presence in his mind. The touch was far off, female, young. He had no idea how he had inadvertently connected with her, his mind melded to hers so that she was sharing his torment, every scorching burn, every cut of the knife, draining his blood, his life force from him. He tried to remember who she might be. She had to be close to him if she shared his mind. She was as helpless as he was, enduring the pain with him, sharing his agony. He tried to close himself off from her, the need to protect her paramount in him, yet he was far too weak to block his mental thoughts. His pain poured out of him, a raging torrent, flowing straight to the female sharing his mind.

Her anguish hit him like a powerful blow. He was, after all, a Carpathian male. His first duty was to protect a woman above his own life at all times. That he should falter so added to his despair and sense of failure. He caught brief images of her in his mind, a small, fragile figure huddled in a ball of pain, trying desperately to hang on to her sanity. She seemed a stranger to him, yet he saw her in color, something he had not seen in centuries. He couldn't send either of them to sleep to save both of them from this agony. He could only catch fragments of her thoughts as she desperately tried to call out for help, tried to decipher what was happening to her.

Droplets of blood began to seep from his pores. Red blood. He clearly saw that his blood was red. It meant something important, yet he was confused, unable to discern why it was significant and what it meant. His mind was becoming hazy, as if a great veil were being drawn over his brain. He couldn't remember how they had managed to capture him. He struggled to "see" the image of the one of his own kind who had betrayed him, but the picture would not return to his mind. There was only pain. Terrible, endless pain. He could not make a sound, even when his mind shattered into a million fragments and he could no longer remember what, or whom, he was struggling to protect.

Shea O'Halloran lay curled up on her bed, the lamp providing her just enough light to read her medical journal. She covered page after page in mere seconds, committing the material to memory as she had done since she was a child. Now she was completing her residency, the youngest resident on record, and it was an exhausting ordeal. She hurried to finish the text, wanting to get some rest while she could. The pain hit her unexpectedly, slamming into her with such virulence that she was thrown off the bed, her body contorting with the force. She tried to cry out, to crawl blindly toward the phone, but she could only writhe on the floor helplessly. Sweat beaded on her skin; smears of crimson blood seeped through her pores. The pain was like nothing she had ever experienced, as if someone were cutting her flesh with a knife, burning her, torturing her endlessly. It went on and on

hours, days, she didn't know. No one came to help her, and they wouldn't; she was alone, so private that she had no real friends. At the end, when the pain ripped through her as if a hole the size of her fist had opened in her chest, she lost consciousness.

When he thought his tormentors were through with him, would end his suffering, give him death, he discovered what true hell really was. Gut-wrenching agony. Evil faces above him. A sharpened stake poised over his heart. A beat of time, a second. It would end now. It had to end. He felt the thick wooden point drive into his flesh, tearing a huge hole through muscle and sinew. The hammer fell hard on the end of the stake, driving it ever deeper. The pain was beyond anything he had ever imagined. The female sharing his mind lost consciousness, a mercy for both of them. He continued to feel every blow, the huge peg separating his flesh, penetrating his insides while blood spurted like a geyser, further weakening him. He felt his life force fading away, his strength so drained now that he was certain he would die. He reached for death. Embraced death. But it wasn't to be. He was a Carpathian male, an immortal, one not so easily disposed of. One whose will was strong and determined. A will that fought death even when his body begged for an end to his suffering and existence.

His eyes found them, the two humans. They were covered in his blood, red sprays across their clothes. He gathered his strength, the last of it, and captured their gazes with his mesmerizing stare. If he could just hold them long enough to turn their own evil back on them. One cursed suddenly and jerked his companion away. Quickly, they covered his eyes with cloth, no longer able to stand the dark promise in the deep pits of suffering, afraid of his power, although he was so helpless before them. They laughed as they chained him into the coffin and lifted it upright. He heard himself scream with the pain, but the sound was only in his mind, echoing sharply, locked away, mocking him. He forced himself to stop. They couldn't hear him, but it didn't matter to him. He had a shred of dignity left. Self-respect. They would not defeat him. He was Carpathian. He heard the dirt hitting the wood as they buried him in the wall of the cellar. Each shovelful. The darkness was complete. The silence took him like a blow.

He was a creature of the night. The dark was his home. Yet now, in his agony, it was his enemy. There was only pain and silence. Always before, he was the one who chose whether to stay in the darkness, in the healing soil. Now he was a prisoner, locked away, with the soil just out of reach. Comfort should have been his, was near, yet always the wood of the coffin prevented his body from touching what would eventually have healed his wounds.

Hunger began to invade his world of agony. Time passed, meant nothing. Only the terrible, relentless hunger that grew until it became his entire world. Agony. Hunger. Nothing else existed for him anymore.

He found, after some time, that he could put himself to sleep. But the return of this gift meant nothing anymore. He remembered nothing. This was his life. Sleep. Wake only when an inquisitive creature strayed too close. The rush of agony consuming him when his heart beat. Conserving as much strength as possible to try to draw food to him. Sources were few and far between. Even insects learned to avoid the place of darkness and the malevolent creature who dwelled there.

In the endless moments that inched past during his waking agony, he would whisper his name to himself.

Jacques.

He had a name. He was real. He existed. He lived in hell. He lived in darkness. The hours turned into months, then years. He could no longer remember any other way of life, any other existence. There was no hope, no peace, no way out. There was no end. Only the darkness, the pain, the terrible hunger. Time continued to pass, meant nothing in his limited world.

His wrists were manacled so that he had little room to maneuver, but every time a creature came close enough to awaken him, he scratched at the walls of his coffin in a vain attempt to get out. His strength of mind was returning so that he eventually could coax his prey to him, yet only enough to barely survive. There was no way to regain his power and strength without replacing the huge volume of blood he had lost. There was no creature underground big enough to do that. Every time he woke, moved, fresh blood would drip steadily from his wounds. Without the necessary amount of blood to replace his loss, his body could not heal itself. The circle was endless, hideous, an ugly cycle that would last for all eternity.

Then the dreams began to intrude. Waking him when he was starving, without a way to fill the void. A woman. He recognized her, knew she was out there, alive, no manacles, not buried beneath the earth but able to move freely around. She was just out of his mind's reach, yet he could almost touch her. Why didn't she come to him? He could summon up no face, no past, only the knowledge that she was out there somewhere. He called to her. Begged. Pleaded. Raged. Where was she? Why wouldn't she come to him? Why did she allow his agony to continue when even her presence in his mind would ease the terrible sense of isolation? What had he done that was so terrible that he deserved this?

Anger found its way into his world. Hatred, even. In the place of a man a monster grew, deadly, dangerous, grew and thrived on the pain, became a will impossible to crush. Fifty years, a hundred - what did it matter if he traveled to the very gates of hell for revenge? He already resided there, imprisoned in it every waking moment.

She would come to him. He vowed it. He would bend his will to finding her. And once he found her he would become a shadow in her mind until he was familiar enough with her to force his will on her. She would come to him, and he would have his revenge.

Hunger gripped him each time he woke, so that pain and hunger melted together and became the same. Concentrating on finding the path to the woman, however, saved him some agony. His focus was so complete that he could actually block the pain for a short while. First it was only seconds. Then minutes. Each time he woke, he bent his will toward finding her; there was nothing else to do. Months. Years. It didn't matter to him. She could not escape him forever.

The first time he touched her mind, it was such a shock after all the thousands of fruitless tries that he immediately lost contact. And the rush of elation caused a bright red spray of blood to erupt around the stake buried deep within his body, draining his remaining strength. He slept a long time in an attempt to recover. A week perhaps. A month. There was no need to measure time. He had a direction now, although she was far away from him. The distance was so great, it took his full concentration to focus and reach for her across time and space.

Jacques tried again when he woke. This time he was unprepared for the images in her mind. Blood. A small human chest ripped wide open. A pulsating heart. Her hands were immersed inside the chest cavity, covered in blood. There were others in the room with her, and she was directing their movements with her mind. She seemed unaware that she was doing so. Her focus was completely on her horrendous task. The ease with which she directed the others suggested that she did so often. The vivid pictures were horrible, and he knew she had been part of the betrayal, was part of those torturing him. He nearly lost the contact, but his indomitable will kicked in. She would suffer for this. Really suffer for this. The body she was torturing was so small, it had to be a child.

The operating room was dimly lit, just the way Dr. O'Halloran liked it; only the body on the table had a bright light shining down on it. Her unusually acute hearing picked up voices outside the room: a nurse consoling the patient's parents. "You're lucky Dr. O'Halloran is working tonight. She's the best there is. She has a gift. Really. When there's no chance at all, she still pulls them out. Your little boy couldn't be in better hands." "But he looked so awful." That was the terrified, already grieving mother. "Dr. O'Halloran has been known to work miracles. Truly. Have faith. She just never stops until she saves them. We think she wills them to live." Shea O'Halloran couldn't have any distractions right now, certainly not a nurse promising parents she could save this child with his chest crushed and his internal organs a jigsaw puzzle. Not when she had spent the last forty-eight hours solid doing research, and her body was screaming at her for sleep and nourishment. She blocked out all noises, all voices, and focused completely on the task at hand. She would not lose this little boy. She wouldn't. It was that simple to her. She never gave herself any other choice, never allowed any other thought into her mind. She had a good team, knew they worked well with her, meshing like a finely tuned machine. She never had to look to see if they were reacting to what she wanted or needed; they were always there for her. If she was able to save her patients, where others couldn't, it wasn't by her efforts alone. She bent closer to the little boy, pushing out everything but her desire for this child to live. As she was reaching to take the instrument her nurse was handing her, something struck at her. Pain gripped her, consumed her, sweeping through her body like a terrible fire. She had felt such agony only one other time, a couple of years earlier. She had never managed to discover what had been wrong with her. The pain had simply disappeared after nearly twenty-four hours. Now, with a child's life hanging by a thread, depending upon her skills, she did not have the luxury of fainting. Agony gripped her, twisted her insides, and took the breath from her lungs. Shea struggled to control herself; years of forcing her mind to remain under strict discipline stood her in good stead. As she did with every other distraction, she forced the pain out of her mind, took a deep breath, and concentrated on the child. The nurse closest to her regarded the doctor with complete shock. In all the time she had worked with O'Halloran, admiring her, almost idolizing her, she had never seen the surgeon lose her focus, not even for a second. This time, Shea had stood perfectly still - a few heartbeats, that was all - but the nurse couldn't help noticing because it was so unusual. Her hands had trembled, and she had broken out in a sweat. Automatically the nurse reached up to wipe the moisture from the doctor's forehead. To her horror, the cloth came away stained with blood. Droplets were beading up, seeping through her pores. The nurse wiped the surgeon's forehead a second time, attempting to hide the cloth from the others. She had never seen anything like it. Then Shea was once more herself snapping instantly back to attention. The nurse swallowed all her questions and returned to work, the images of what Dr. O'Halloran needed coming into her mind so fast, she had no time to think about the strange phenomenon anymore. She had long ago become used to knowing what the doctor needed before she asked for it. Shea felt an unfamiliar presence in her mind, felt the dark malevolence beating at her for one more heartbeat before she closed it out, then her attention was completely taken up with the child and the shredded jumble that was his chest. He would not die. She would not allow it. You hear me, child? I'm here with you, and I will not let you die he silently vowed. She meant it. She always meant it. It was as if part of her merged with her patients and somehow managed to keep them alive until modern medicine could kick in. Jacques slept for some time.