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Soulmate (Chapter 14)

Stay here," Rashel said sharply, but Hannah ran with the rest of them toward the front of the house. She

could hear a ferocious snarling and barking outside-a very familiar sort of sound.

Nilsson and the other CIA guys were running around. They looked grim and efficient, moving fast but

not frantically. Hannah realized that they knew how to do this sort of thing.

She didn't see Lupe.

The snarling outside got louder, building to a volley of short barks. There was a yelp-and then a

scrambling noise. After a moment of silence there came a sound that lifted the hair on Hannah's

forearms-a wild and eerie and beautiful sound. A wolf howling. Two other wolf voices joined the first,

chording, rising and falling, interweaving with each other. Hannah found herself gasping, her entire skin

shivering. Then there was one long sustained note and it was over.

"Wow," the tiny blond called Gillian whispered.

Hannah rubbed her bare arms hard.

The front door opened. Hannah felt herself looking toward the ground, but nothing four-legged came in.

Instead it was Lupe and two guys, all disheveled, flushed, and grinning.

"It was just some scouts," Lupe said. "We ran them off."

"Scouts from Maya?" Hannah said, feeling a tightness in her stomach. It really was true, then. Maya was

trying to storm the house to get to her.

Lupe nodded. "It'll be okay," she said almost gently. "But I think all of you better stay inside today. You

can watch movies or play games in the game room."

Hannah spent the day talking with the Circle Daybreak members. The more she found out about them,

the more she liked them. Only one thing made her uncomfortable. They all seemed to defer to her-as if,

somehow, they expected her to be wiser or better because of her former lifetimes. It was embarrassing,

because she knew she wasn't.

She tried to keep her mind off Thierry… and Maya.

But it wasn't easy. That night she found herself walking restlessly through the house. She wound up in a

little anteroom on the second floor that looked down on the enormous living room.

"Can't relax?"

The lazy murmur came from behind her. Hannah turned to see Ash, his lanky elegant body propped

against a wall. His eyes looked silver in the dimly lit room.

"Not really," Hannah admitted. "I just wish they'd find Thierry. I've got a bad feeling about it."

They stood for a moment in silence. Then Ash said, "Yeah, it's hard to be without your soulmate. Once

you've found them, I mean."

Hannah looked at him, intrigued. The way he said that…

She spoke hesitantly. "This morning Thea said you were all here because you had human soulmates."

He looked across the room at French doors that led to a balcony. "Yes?"

"And-well…" Maybe she's dead, Hannah thought suddenly. Maybe I shouldn't ask. "And you

want to know where mine is," Ash said. "I didn't mean to pry."

"No. It's okay." Ash looked out at the darkness beyond the French doors again. "She's waiting-I hope.

I've got some things to put right before I see her."

He didn't seem scary anymore, no matter how his eyes changed. He seemed-vulnerable.

"I'm sure she is waiting," Hannah said. "And I'll bet she'll be glad to see you when you've put things

right." She added quietly, "I know I'll be glad to see Thierry."

He glanced at her, startled, then smiled. He had a very nice smile. "That's true, you've been in her shoes,

haven't you? And Thierry's certainly tried to make up for his past. I mean, he's been doing good works

for centuries. So maybe there's hope for me after all."

He said it almost mockingly, but Hannah caught an odd glistening in his eyes. "You're like her, you

know," he added abruptly.

"Like my-like Mary-Lynnette. You're both… wise."

Before Hannah could think of something to say to that, he nodded to her, straightened up, and went

back into the hallway, whistling softly through his teeth.

Hannah stood alone in the dim room. For some reason, she felt better suddenly. More optimistic about

the future.

I think I'll be able to sleep tonight. And tomorrow, maybe Thierry will be here.

She clamped down hard on the rush of hope that filled her at the thought. Hope… and concern. After

all she'd said to him, she couldn't be absolutely sure how Thierry would receive her. What if he doesn't

want me after all? Don't be silly. Don't think about it. Go outside and get a breath of air, and then go to

bed.

Later, of course, she realized just how stupid she had been. She should have known that getting a breath

of fresh air only led to one thing in her life. But at the moment it seemed like a good idea. Lupe had

warned her not to open any outside doors-but the French doors only led to a second-floor balcony

overlooking the backyard. Hannah opened them and stepped out.

Nice, she thought. The air was just cool enough to be pleasant.

From here she could look across dark stretches of grass to flood-lit palm trees and softly splashing

fountains. Although she couldn't see Thierry's people, she knew they were out there, stationed around the

grounds, watching and waiting. Guarding her. It made her feel safe.

Nothing can get to the house with them around it, she thought. I can sleep just fine.

She was about to turn and go back inside when she heard the scratching.

It came from above her. From the roof. She glanced up and got the shock of this particular lifetime.

There was a bat hanging from the roof.

A bat. A bat.

A huge bat. Upside down. Its leathery black wings were wrapped around it and its small red eyes shone

at her with reflected light.

Wild thoughts tumbled through Hannah's mind, all in a fraction of an instant. Maybe it's a decoration…

no, idiot, it's alive. Maybe it's somebody to guard me. God, maybe it's Thierry….

But all the while, she knew. And when the instant of paralysis passed and she could command her body

again, she sucked in a deep breath to scream an alarm.

She never got the chance to make a sound. With a noise like an umbrella opening, the bat unfolded its

wings suddenly, displaying an amazingly large span of black membrane.

At the same moment something like sheet lightning seemed to hit Hannah, a blinding surge of pure mental

energy. She saw stars, and then everything faded to darkness.

Something hurt.

My head, Hannah thought slowly. And my back. In fact, she hurt all over. And she was blind-or she had

her eyes shut. She tried to open them and

nothing changed. She could feel herself blinking, but she could only see one thing. Blackness. Utter,

complete blackness. She realized then that she'd never seen real darkness before. In her bedroom at

night there was always some diffused light showing at the top of her curtains. Even outdoors there was

always moonlight or starlight, or if it were cloudy, the reflection of human lights, however faint.

This was different. This was solid darkness. Hannah imagined she could feel it pressing against her face,

weighing down on her body. And no matter how wide she opened her eyes or how fixedly she stared,

she couldn't see even the slightest glimmer breaking it.

I will not panic, she told herself.

But it was hard. She was fighting an instinctive fear, hardwired into the brain since before the Stone Age.

All humans panicked in complete blackness.

Just breathe, she told herself firmly. Breathe. Okay. Now. You've got to get out of here. First things first.

Are you hurt?

She couldn't tell. She had to shut her eyes in order to sense her own body. As she did, she realized that

she was sitting up, instinctively huddling into herself to keep safe from the darkness.

Okay. I don't think you're hurt. Let's try standing up. Very slowly.

That was when the real shock came.

She couldn't stand up.

She couldn't.

She could move her arms and even her legs. But when she tried to lift her body, even to shift position

slightly, something bit into her waist, keeping her immobile.

With a crawling feeling of horror, Hannah put her hands to her waist and felt the rough texture of rope.

I'm tied. I'm tied….

There was something hard against her back. A tree? Her hands flew to feel it. No, not a tree-too

regular. Tall, but squarish. A post of some kind.

The rope seemed to be wound many times around her waist, tightly enough that it constricted her

breathing a little. It bound her securely to the post. And then it fastened above or far behind her

somewhere-she couldn't find any knots with her fingers.

It felt like very strong, very sturdy rope. Hannah knew without question that she wasn't going to be able

to wiggle out of it or untie it.

The post seemed very sturdy, too. The ground under Hannah was dirt and rock.

I'm alone, she thought slowly. She could hear her own gasping breath. I'm all alone… and I'm tied here

in the dark. I can't move. I can't get away.

Maya put me here. She left me to die all alone in the dark.

For a while, then, Hannah simply lost control. She screamed for help and heard her voice echo oddly.

She pulled and twisted at the rope with her fingers until her fingertips were raw. She threw her whole

body from one side to the other, trying to loosen the rope or the post, until the pain in her waist made her

stop. And finally she gave in to the galloping fear inside her and sobbed out loud.

She had never, ever, felt so desolate and alone.

In the end, though, she cried herself out. And when she'd gasped to a stop, she found that she could

think a little.

Listen, girl. You've got to get a grip. You've got to help yourself, because there's nobody else to do it.

It wasn't the cool wind voice or even the crystal voice-because they were both just part of her now. It

was Hannah's own mental voice. She had accepted all her past selves and their experiences, and in return

she felt she could call on at least some of their wisdom.

Okay, she thought grimly. No more crying. Think. What can you tell about your situation?

I'm not out in the open. I know because there's no light at all and because of the way my voice echoed.

I'm in a big… room or something. It's got a high ceiling. And the floor is rock.

Good. Okay, do you hear anything else?

Hannah listened. It was hard to concentrate on the silence around her-it made her own breathing and

heartbeat seem terrifyingly loud. She could feel her nerves stretch and fray… but she held on, ignoring

her own noises and trying to reach out into the darkness with her ears.

Then she heard it. Very far away, a sound like a faucet dripping slowly.

What the hell? I'm in a big black room with a rock floor and a leaky faucet.

Shut up. Keep concentrating. What do you smell?

Hannah sniffed. That didn't work, so she took long breaths through her nose, ignoring the pain as her

midsection pressed against the rope.

It's musty in here. Dank. It smells damp and cold.

In fact, it was very cold. Her panic had kept her warm before, but now she realized that her fingers were

icy and her arms and legs were stiff.

Okay, so what have we got? I'm in a big black refrigerated room with a high ceiling and a stone floor.

And it's musty and damp.

A cellar? A cellar without windows?

But she was just fooling herself. She knew. The skin of her face seemed to sense the pressure of tons of

rock above her. Her ears told her that that musical dripping was water on rock, very far away. Her nose

told her that she wasn't in any building. And her fingers could feel the natural irregularity of the ground

underneath her.

She didn't want to believe it. But the knowledge crowded in on her, inescapable.

I'm in a cave.

A cave or a cavern. Anyway, I'm inside the earth. God knows how deep inside. Deep enough and far

enough that I can't see any light from an entrance or vent hole.

Very deep inside, her heart told her.

She was in the loneliest place in the world. And she was going to die here.

Hannah had never had claustrophobia before. But now she couldn't help feeling that the mass of rock

around and above her was trying to crush her. It could fall in at any minute, she thought. She felt a

physical pressure, as if she were at the bottom of the ocean. She began to have trouble breathing.

She had to get her mind off it. She refused to turn into that screaming, gibbering thing in the darkness

again. Worse than the thought of dying was the thought of going insane down here.

Think about Thierry. When he finds out you're missing he'll start looking for you. You know that. And he

won't give up until he finds you. But I'll be dead by then, she thought involuntarily. This time, instead of

fear, the idea of her death brought a strange poignant loneliness.

Another life where I missed him, she thought. She blinked against tears suddenly. Oh, God. Great.

It's so hard. So hard to keep hoping that someday it's going to work out. But I'll meet him again in my

next life. And maybe I won't be so stupid then; I won't fall for Maya's tricks.

It'll be harder for him, I guess. He'll have to wait and get through the years day by day. I'll just go to

sleep and eventually wake up somewhere else. And then someday he'll come for me and I'll remember . .

. and then we'll start all over.

I really did try this time, Thierry. I did my best. I didn't mean to mess things up. Promise me you'll look

for me again. Promise you'll find me. I promise I'll wait for you. No matter how long it takes. Hannah shut

her eyes, leaning back against the post and almost unconsciously touching the ring he'd given her. Maybe

next time she'd remember it.

Suddenly she didn't feel sad or afraid anymore. Just very tired.

Eyes still shut, she grinned weakly. I feel old. Like Mom's always complaining she feels. Ready to turn

this old body in and get a new…

The thought broke off and disappeared.

Was that a noise?

Hannah found herself sitting up, leaning forward as far as the rope would allow, straining her ears.

She thought she'd heard… yes. There it was again. A solid echoing sound out in the darkness.

It sounded like footsteps. And it was coming closer.

Yes, yes. I'm rescued, I'm saved. Hannah's heart was pounding so hard that she could hardly breathe to

yell. But at last, just as she saw a bobbing point of light in the blackness, she managed to get out a hoarse

squawk.

"Thierry? Hello? I'm over here!"

The light kept coming toward her. She could hear the footsteps coming closer.

And there was no answer.

"Thierry… ?" Her voice trailed off.

Footsteps. The light was big now. It was a beam, a flashlight. Hannah blinked at it.

Her heart was slowly sinking, until it seemed to reach stone.

And then the flashlight was right in front of her. It shone in her face, dazzling her eyes. Another light

snapped on, a small camping lantern. Vision rushed back to Hannah, sending information surging to her

brain.

But there was no happiness in it. Hannah's entire body was ice cold now, shivering.

Because of course it wasn't Thierry. It was Maya.

I hope I didn't disturb you," Maya said.

She put down the lantern and what looked like a black backpack. Then she stood with her hands on her

hips and looked at Hannah.

I will not cry. I won't give her the satisfaction, Hannah thought.

"I didn't know vampires could really change into bats," she said.

Maya laughed. She looked beautiful in the pool of lantern light. Her long black hair fell in waves around

her, hanging down her back to her hips. Her skin was milky-pale and her eyes looked dark and

mysterious. Her laughing mouth was red.

She was wearing designer jeans and high-heeled snakeskin boots. Funny, Hannah had never noticed any

of Maya's clothes before. Usually the woman herself was so striking that it was impossible to focus on

how she was dressed.

"Not all vampires can shapeshift," Maya said. "But, then, I'm not like other vampires. I'm the first, my

darling. I'm the original. And I have to say I'm getting really sick of you."

The feeling is mutual, Hannah thought. She said, "Then why don't you leave me alone? Why don't you

leave me and Thierry alone?"

"Because, then, my sweetpea, I wouldn't win. And I have to win." She looked at Hannah directly, her

face oddly serious. "Don't you understand that yet?" she said softly. "I have to win-because I've given up

too much to lose. It can't all be for nothing. So winning is all there is."

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