Today’s theme is horror – so I thought I’d put up a scene from READING BETWEEN THE LINES when Haley finds her parents have been murdered…
READING BETWEEN THE LINES by LAUREN DANE
Copyright 2008, Lauren Dane
All Rights Reserved, Samhain Publishing
Enraged, Conall burst through the sithein and sifted a spare two minutes after she’d gone. His father was with him. Riordan had already gone right after her, yelling at the guards to tell the others where they’d gone. He was going to kick her ass for breaking her promise to him.
She was risking her life for a stubbed toe or a…all thought froze when he landed in his in-laws’ living room and the scent of blood and dark magic assailed him.
Then he heard Haley, or what he thought was Haley. The sound sent a shiver up his spine. He ran toward it, skidding in a pool of blood where she knelt, his brother’s arms around her.
The scene made no sense to his eyes at first. In the background he heard Riordan speaking Gaelic to Haley, telling her to calm, to stop looking, to let him use his magic to help. She made small, feral sounds of grief that cut at him. He wanted to move to her but the energy in the room was thick and his eyes would not understand what he saw.
Blood everywhere. Signs of a struggle but it must have been fairly brief. What was that in the corner?
“In the name of all that is blessed, this is blasphemy. This…Riordan, get Haley out of here now!” Conall heard his father say it, felt his touch at his arm right as he figured out Ninane had done something to pull Haley’s parents apart so that nothing was recognizable. Dark spells etched the walls in blood. The taint of what had been done hung heavy. This was a violation of all their laws, of the laws of magic. Ninane had taken a step she could not move back from.
“I won’t leave!” Haley began to scream and it freed Conall from his horror as he rushed to her.
“We have to go, Haley. This is wrong. You are not safe here. Hear that? Aoife has sent people, my father has too. They have to clean it up. They will take care of your parents. I make my vow to you. Irish witch, you can’t help now. Please, please come away.” He kissed her softly, wanting to erase the devastation from her face.
“What is this?”
The crack of magic that came with the demand filled the room, biting his skin. Riordan paled as he and Conall shielded Haley between them. Conall turned to see Aoife but he’d never seen her this way.
Her hair, unbound and dark as night stood around her head, floating on her magic. She wore a breastplate, smeared in blood older than recorded human history. She was the warrior queen, manifested there.
“This cannot stand. She opened a gate and unleashed hell in this room.” Aoife’s voice had an eerie quality as her magic pushed the evil from the space. She was one of the oldest, one of the first, Conall wasn’t sure there were any around who could stand against her and he saw why.
“This is my fault. Don’t you see?” Haley’s voice was small, choked with emotion.
Aoife’s terrible rage ebbed away as the darkness fell from the space, leaving only sadness and desolation. She moved toward them and placed her lips to Haley’s forehead.
“Sleep and be dreamless, child. This is not your fault.”
Haley fought it, Conall saw how angry she was at having her will stolen but she couldn’t hold it off long and she slumped against him.
“I’ve sent people to Maeve’s. She’s alive but there was an attack on her house last night. She didn’t want to alarm anyone but they’d woven a spell, holding her there. They killed her animals, even her dog who’d been outside. She’d been trying to reach us or get out. Healers have taken her to her people where they can help her get her strength back. I’ve sent a demand to Dugan but haven’t heard as yet. We will avenge this, Conall. This kind of magic breaks our most basic laws and she’s taken human lives and left evidence of our existence.
“Take her home. She’ll be angry when she wakes up. Send for me and I’ll speak with her then. When Maeve feels up to it, she’ll come to Haley or, and you’re not going to like this part, she’ll go to her. Her people will want to avenge this. I advise you now to accept that and find a way to make it work.”
Conall remained silent. It was a battle he wasn’t going to think about right then. He nodded his thanks to Aoife, looked to his father and once around the room and he and Riordan sifted back to the sithein.
Haley woke up, confused and feeling like she’d been hit by an eighteen wheeler.
“Haley? Honey, how are you feeling?”
She turned her head to see Conall’s face and warmth filled her. Happiness. She loved that face, loved his voice.
But it fell away a moment later. When she saw his features, saw the concern there she began to remember.
Her hand moved to cover her mouth as bile rose. She scrambled out of bed and headed for the bathroom, Conall on her heels.
Afterward, he’d held her as he took a cool, wet washcloth to her face and neck, speaking soothingly in Gaelic to her.
The way Riordan had at her parents’ house.
Her knees buckled as it all came to her in vivid color. All reds and violent splashes. The remains of her mother and father. Not together, not right.
She shook her head as madness clawed at her. Her brain couldn’t accept it. It was wrong. What had done that to them? Strange sounds came from her. She wasn’t sure how she made them or how to stop.
“Haley, come back to me, Irish witch.”
Conall picked her up and settled them in bed, her body curled into his as he rocked her, smoothing a hand over her hair.
“You’ll do no good if you let yourself go. You have to hold on. For me. For you. For them. Fight it. I know it’s hard. I know. But don’t let her win.”
“Why, Conall? Why would she do that? What did she do to them?” The insanity within her eased back, but it still felt like broken glass shifting around in her belly.
“I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish there were answers, Haley, but there aren’t any. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“My grandmother!” She sat up on a gasp.
“She’s well. Aoife sent people to her the instant we learned about your parents. She’s with her tribe.” After a brief hesitation, he told her about the spell and the attempt on Maeve.
“Where are my parents? Or what’s left of them? I’ll need to deal with the police, won’t I? Their house. Their jobs and friends. What’s going to happen?” The enormity of what Ninane had done hit her. She’d exposed them all.
“Aoife and my father stayed behind. We’ve been exposed. They’ll have to fix it. Aoife used a great deal of magic to convince the authorities your parents died of carbon monoxide poisoning. You’ll need to go back and deal with them. For now, they’re under the belief you’re out of the country, out of contact but will get with them as soon as possible. Your grandmother has made arrangements to ship their bodies to Ireland.”
“I have to go to her. When will Dugan deliver Ninane to Aoife? Will you be the one to prosecute her?” If she stayed focused on tasks, the pain was just barely survivable.
He sighed. “Haley, Dugan won’t deliver Ninane. He’s refused. He says we have no proof it was her. He even blamed us saying we did it to put the blame on Ninane.”
“Well, so I imagine we’re at war now. I need to help. I’m sure Riordan will be someone in charge now. Your father too.”
He remained silent long enough for her to push away from him and see the look on his face.
“What is going on?”
“We’re not at war, Haley. Technically, Dugan is right. We don’t have the proof it was Ninane other than basic common sense. We’re working on the proof now. Aoife has magical scholars studying the marks on the walls. We’ll get the proof.”
“Are you telling me that fucking butcher who ripped my parents into pieces is going to get away with it? She’s free right now? I know it was her who attacked me. What about that? Or do I not matter at all?”
“You do matter, Haley. This will not go unavenged, I make my solemn vow to you.”
Haley turned to see Aoife standing in the doorway, looking very tired.
“So you said five months ago when Ninane tried to kill me. And yet, she was free enough to kill my parents and try to kill my grandmother.”
“I cannot just storm in and take her. Even after that attack. There are rules. I’m sorry. You don’t know how sorry I am but the rules keep us from war and they keep roughly a hundred thousand Fae from killing each other and humans too. I’ve demanded a trial. Dugan is dragging his feet. More now because he claims Ninane won’t get a fair trial with this incident being blamed on her.”
“Incident? My parents were in pieces! Their blood was everywhere. On the ceiling. What did she do to my mother to get her blood on the ceiling? I don’t care about your rules. I don’t care! You talk a good game and yet nothing has happened except I’m now without parents. Because of me. They’re dead because I came here.” Haley’s voice had reached screaming proportions, her head throbbed, her mouth tasted ashes, she felt nothing but rage.
“Sweetness, please calm down. You’re only going to make yourself sick.” Riordan came into the room, holding his hand out.
“But I’m alive to be sick. I’m alive here. Safe here. And my parents didn’t have that option. I chose you people over them and it got them killed.”
Aoife cocked her head. “I never had daughters. I have many nieces who I love very much. But you’re important to me, like a daughter. I feel your pain. If I could risk all the sitheins under my rule to avenge your loss I would. But my blood is in my vow to the treaty. It controls my magic, it controls the safety of every sithein and all her residents as well as the below where Dugan rules. The magic holds because it’s within us, within the ground, the mounds, the sky. If I break my vow without obeying the rules, it all crumbles and leaves everyone defenseless. We would not win even if I did break my vow. It would only speed our defeat and the Fae would have a king such as Dugan. If so, what happened to your parents would happen to millions of humans.”
Haley didn’t want to care about any of them. She didn’t want to wait, didn’t want to be patient.
Conall put his arms around her and she rested her head on his chest. “Haley, this is not your fault. Lady, how I wish I could make this better for you. I wish I could erase it and if it meant getting rid of our bond to save you from this, I would even though it would kill me to not have you. But that can’t happen. We can’t go back in time. You’re here with me and I love you with all that I am. Your parents loved you and they loved their life as humans. Your father gave that up knowingly and gifted his immortality to you. Don’t wish that away, it was his gift.”
This man touched her deeply. She’d associated her bond with him as a reason for their murder, she realized. It must have hurt him but he put her first instead of his own feelings. She didn’t wish away what she had with Conall. She couldn’t imagine how gray and flat her world would be without loving him. Even through the pain of her loss, she knew that.
“I love you, Conall. I may not deserve your love or this bond but I’d never wish it away. I’m too selfish. Promise me she won’t get away with this. Promise.”
He let out a long breath and hugged her tight. “I love you too, even when you’re stupid and say things like you don’t deserve our bond. And you have my promise. The promise of our tribe.”
When he said it, she believed it. Held on to it because it was all that held back the madness.
Conall paced as his wife stared at him through red-rimmed, determined eyes.
“Honey, I just think it’s better for you to stay here.”
He’d tried very hard to retain his calm as they argued. He knew she was upset and grief stricken. He wanted to respect that. He also knew she’d get combative if he raised his voice and he wasn’t mad anyway. Just desperate to make this all right for her, desperate to ease the pain from her face.
“I know you do. You’ve said it about three dozen times and while I admire your restraint and the bland way you’re keeping your voice lest I shatter into a million pieces and all, I’m going.”
“Haley, your grandmother is safe and she’ll come here, you know that. There’s no reason to go and expose yourself.”
“I’m not making an old woman come here after she’s had her last remaining child murdered. And they’re my people too, as was my father. I want to be with them right now. I dealt with the cops and my parents’ friends and employers. I have to plan a memorial there. People loved my parents, they should have a time when they can celebrate their lives. I’m even more determined to travel now. If I catch her outside her little zone of protection, I will kill her myself. Rules bedamned. I will kill her for what she’s done. I’m done hiding.”
“What does that mean?” He froze.
“It means I’m not going to hide in this hill anymore. I’m going out when I need to. I’m going to see my father’s people. I’m going to plan a memorial for my parents. I’m meeting with their attorney so I can arrange to have the house sold and the proceeds will go to set up a scholarship program at the Foundation in their names. I won’t let Ninane steal another second of my life.”
“Haley, you’re upset, I know that. But you saw what she did to them. She will do that to you if she gets the chance. I can’t…I can’t walk into a room and see you like that. Don’t do this to me. Please.” He got to his knees. “You want me to beg you? Because I will. Please don’t do this. I love you. I need you and I can’t survive without you.”
She moved slowly, kneeling on the carpet in front of him. “I don’t want you to beg. I know you’re freaked. I am too. This is a lot of tough talk on my part. But I can’t let her make me cower. I can’t. It’s like she’s here all the time, governing my every action. Our every action. Because she makes us afraid. Well, she did this to me when I was safe tucked up here. Don’t you see? There’s no difference to her. She’ll harm us no matter where we are.”
“It’s me she wants, Haley. I feel responsible. I am responsible. You’re mine to protect.”
“She does want you. But you’re mine. She can’t have you. And so you and I will work to take her down. The rules aren’t going to help here, you know that.”
What kind of crazy plan did his Irish witch have brewing in her head? “Haley, I don’t like that look on your face. You’re up to something.”
She fell back to the carpet and looked up at him. Lady, she was beautiful, even with dark circles beneath her eyes and the clear stamp of loss on her face.
“Help me forget, Conall. Put your hands on me and help me forget.”
He couldn’t resist. Didn’t want to resist. He always wanted her, but when he’d seen her kneeling, covered in blood, not knowing at first if it was hers, the need within him to touch her in the way only he could, had begun to build.
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