Touch of Darkness

The Thrall Series (Volume 3 of 3)

C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp

Tor Paranormal Romance

Chapter One

Tiny needlepoints of pain dragged me up through layers of sleep. Increasingly insistent, the repeated puncturing resisted my best attempts to drop back into the warm and inviting dreams of my soon-to-occur wedding. I vaguely remembered rolling over beneath the heaps of down comforters. The resulting yowl of a startled and indignant cat pried open my eyes.

The room was pitch black—that enveloping depth of darkness you only get after a power outage. We forget how surrounded by light we are normally, even at night . . . from the soft glow of the clock to the little dots and rectangles of hibernating electronics.

But I’d been prepared for this after watching the weather report at bedtime. I reached to the nightstand, nudging aside the soft bulk of my cat, who refused to stop digging claws into my arm. A click later, and the yellowish glow from a battery lantern pushed away the black. As my brain started to function a little better, I heard the wind howling outside. It’s not completely unheard of to get early- season blizzards in Colorado, and this one was going to be a doozy. Even in the dim light I could see icy patterns on the window ledges high above the bed, and driving snow that moved sideways across the glass. I groaned in response and curled deeper under the covers.

Again Blank jumped on my chest with a weight that pushed the air from my lungs hard and fast, like airplane turbulence. He was named Blank because of his unfinished appearance. A bare canvas that only required a splash of color to be real. But his whiteness had dulled to a dirty gray in the light, even while his pale, nearly clear eyes reflected it. They became headlights that made me squint. As I lifted his body off me, I thought he was purring, but then I realized it wasn’t a purr that rumbled his chest.

It was a growl.

He combined the warning with claws digging deep into my wrists and I was suddenly fully awake. Adrenaline pounded my pulse as I listened for danger. I hadn’t had any trouble for awhile now—no women with knives, men with guns, or even Thrall vampires trying to slice open my veins. So it was probably time for them to appear again. Damn it. Just when life was going pretty good.

A little snow wouldn’t bother the Thrall. They’re not vampires of legend that slow down like reptiles in the cold—making them little threat before they’ve fed. No, they’re ordinary humans, turned superhuman by sentient psychic parasites, but fully capable of shopping for winter clothes at the mall in broad daylight.

Even in flannel pajamas, the chill that hit me when I threw off the covers was enough to make me shiver. Apparently, the
power had been out for longer than I’d thought. My feet found the slippers on the wooden floor by touch. Good thing, since I couldn’t see that well yet. I picked up the handle of the lantern and walked to the dresser to turn on the second lantern. This one was bigger, an eight D-cell monster that, with a flick of the switch, filled the bedroom with comforting
incandescent light.

Sometimes, just having a light turn on is enough to scare away an intruder, but I didn’t hear any footsteps or panicked
voices downstairs. No scents of unfamiliar cologne or sweat found my nose. A quick glance at the wind- up clock on the
bookshelf showed it was 2:00 a.m. That’s when I heard the sound . . . a rumbling, cracking sort of noise and
sensation that I couldn’t place. The cat hissed and leapt down from the bed to stand next to me. The guttural thrum reminded me of the approach of a distant trash truck. The sound faded away after a moment, leaving only the wind and snow beating against the windows. There are a lot of windows in my loft, formerly a factory in the lower downtown
of Denver, called LoDo by the locals. I renovated the place so that the old, thick industrial glass would rise above the
floor on the west side for two full stories. Rain and snow hitting the wall of glass tend to set up a rhythmic vibration that
becomes white noise after years of hearing it.

Blank stayed with me, crouched low next to my feet as I descended the staircase to the main level, carrying my little circle of light. He was looking all around, taking in everything, as though he couldn’t place the sound either, but didn’t like it. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, while I was still surrounded by walls that gave some mea sure of defense, I opened  up my senses. Being psychic has advantages at times, and this was one of them. I can touch minds that are nearby, can communicate telepathically with family and loved ones in danger. But mostly, as much as I hate it, I can sense where the Thrall are. They’ve tried repeatedly to turn me into one of their own. They’ve come so damned close to succeeding several times now that if one was in my apartment, I’d know.

But they weren’t here, or even there. Though the whole Denver hive should be up and about at this time of night, I was met with a smooth, flat wall of . . . nothing. Either my ability to touch the hive was being blocked by the queens, or they were holed up, sleeping out the storm like sane people. Since a lot of the Thrall hosts tend to be abnormally athletic people, hence slightly insane in my opinion, they’re probably out in this mess. My fiancé, Tom Bishop, would say I was the pot calling the kettle black, since I’m a former professional athlete. It’s part of why the Thrall has been trying to capture or kill me for years. But even I’m not nuts enough to be outside in a Colorado blizzard. I played volleyball . . . beach volleyball. Warm sun, soft sand.

So, I was betting it was option number one, which was a bad thing. They only block me when they don’t want me to know what they’re up to. It’s an effort for them, because I’m pretty strong, so they don’t do it for long.

But you know what they say—you’re only paranoid if you’re wrong. If you’re right, they call you proactive, and in my many encounters with the Thrall, I’ve been exceedingly proactive.

The wind stopped for a few moments, the calm before the next blast of snow. In that brief silence, I heard the sound I’d been missing. A steady trickle of water that was like a dripping faucet, but more hollow. It seemed to come from ahead of me, but there was nothing along the wall of windows that had pipes, except the dripper lines in each of my
potted plants for when I go on trips. I suppose the sudden cold could have split the plastic hoses. It made me sigh, because it would be a mess to clean up if it was in more than one place. The tension in my muscles was replaced with a weary resignation.

I have a lot of plants.

My brother Joe called me Jungle Kate for the sheer volume of greenery . . . well, he did back when he was speaking to me, anyway. The last time he spoke to me was at his wedding months ago. It was just a tense thank- you in response to my congratulations, and only after being prodded in the ribs by his new bride. Then he’d turned his back and
walked away. He even returned the gift Tom and I had given them, unopened. That had brought on the first of many tears. But we’re both stubborn, and I refuse to apologize for being psychic . . . for being a target of the Thrall. I hate that the vampires keep attacking my family because they’re trying to kill or capture me. But I don’t know what to do except keep trying to destroy them, and keep protecting those I love to the best of my ability.

The power chose that moment to flicker on. Both Joe and the Thrall were instantly purged from my brain by the horror that made me gasp and Blank hiss and dive for cover, almost simultaneously.

Excerpted from TOUCH OF DARKNESS by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clump.
Copyright © 2008 by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clump.
Published in August 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to
reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.