Chapter 1 – Sam
The warmth of Drake’s lips against mine sent butterflies spiraling through my stomach. His strong arms tightened around me just enough to make me feel safe without stealing all the air from my lungs. I rested my cheek against his chest and breathed in his unique scent—part campfire, part wind. Everything about that moment in our bed felt right… until the butterflies in my stomach turned into angry bees bent on killing me.
My legs itched as if unseen bugs crawled through them; I couldn’t keep them still. Hot and cold, my body fluctuated between extremes as I opened my mouth to speak, but my throat refused to comply.
“Drake!” My mind called to him even as my body pushed away from his.
He held onto me and refused to let me crawl into my own misery. “Sam, what’s wrong?”
I tried to speak out loud, but couldn’t. “I don’t know. Something is happening to me. Something isn’t… right.”
Drops of sweat trickled down my forehead and stung my eyes. I shivered and clutched at Drake. My hands wrapped around his taut muscles as if trying to absorb their strength.
His hand dropped to my swollen belly, and he switched to our mind link. ‘Is it our baby?’
My mental whimper made me cringe, but I couldn’t help it. My body had been invaded by aliens. I wanted to tear my skin off and crawl out of myself. A ball of anxiety grew in my chest, smothering any of the peace I had felt just moments before. “It’s not my stomach, it’s everywhere. Like a poison or… Ahhhh!”
The pain that ripped through me swallowed up all thoughts of words. If I hadn’t already been lying in bed with Drake, I would have crashed to the floor. A vague need clawed at me—some unnamable craving that made no sense to my mind, but which captured the needs of my body.
Some thing was missing, and its absence sent my nervous system into chaos.
Drake covered me with a blanket and pressed his cool hand against my head. “I’m really freaking out here, Sam. You’re pale, clammy, and you can’t stop shaking. I don’t know what to do. I think I should take you to the hospital.” The skin around his blue eyes tightened in worry.
I spoke through chattering teeth. “You can’t. Baby. Experiments. They might take me away.”
I couldn’t summon enough clarity to tell him why this was such a bad idea. I’d spent my whole life in a lie. The people who’d raised me as a paranormal spy, for hire to the rich and powerful, had given me everything any girl would ever need to live comfortably. Then they impregnated me against my will and held me prisoner.
If it hadn’t been for Drake, I’d have never gotten out.
Drake and I met telepathically, after they kidnapped and imprisoned him at my school. We fell in love before ever meeting in person. Through him, I had learned not only to read minds, but to control them—a gift I often wished I could give back. But it had saved us.
We were free, but hunted.
We couldn’t go to a hospital, where we might be reported or discovered. It was too risky.
I didn’t realize he’d gone until he came back with a cool washcloth and pressed it against my forehead. “If you aren’t feeling better soon, we’re going to the hospital. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe and get you out of there, if it comes to that.” He towered over me, his spiky blond hair disheveled from our recent make-out session that now seemed so long ago.
My body shuddered, and not just because of my symptoms. Whatever it takes could mean a lot of things to Drake, including—but not limited to—physical violence and total mind control. The darkness of his paranormal talents scared me and seduced me in equal measure.
Time held no meaning as my mind darted in and out of memories. Past and present collided to create a full-sensory collage out of my life: playing hide-n-seek with my best friends Luke—who always cheated by walking through walls when he was about to be caught—and Lucy; Mr. Caldrin critiquing my sketches and offering ideas to make them more realistic; targets changing faces, blending into the same person, their thoughts rippling through my mind like waves. Through it all, a demon stalked me from the shadows of my memories, never quite showing its face, but crouching, waiting.
And then I dreamed….
The needle plunges into me, tearing through skin in one small, sharp poke. Yellow fluid drains from the vial and into my veins.
I float outside my body, above a younger version of myself sitting on the hospital bed. My brown hair is longer, a child’s cut with blunted bangs and pigtails. My blue eyes look brighter, more innocent. “Why do I have to get this all the time? What does it do?”
Dr. Sato also looks younger, though very old to my child-self, her Asian features smooth and pronounced, her white coat and stilted accent forever the same. “You not get it all the time. Only every three months. It vitamin. It make you strong and healthy. Make you feel good.”
I struggle to slip into her thoughts, but they’re all mumbo-jumbo, the sounds foreign and harsh to my young mind. I haven’t yet learned many other languages, just one or two common ones. Her Japanese dialect is not common, and no amount of mind reading will change the fact that I cannot understand her words. Trying only gives me a headache.
Then it’s okay. I don’t mind not knowing, not hearing her thoughts. All is well.
Time slips forward and again I’m in a hospital bed, only this time I’m older… and unconscious. My legs are spread. A male doctor I’ve never seen sticks something inside me—
I scream. And scream. And scream.
No one hears.
My sleeping form does not move.
Fingers dug into my shoulders, pulling me from my dream fragments. Ghostly hands clawed at my mind and tried to carry me back into my nightmares, but Drake’s hold on me didn’t waver. His mind probed mine; my consciousness had no choice but to wake up and take control.
My throat cracked when I spoke. “How long have I been asleep?”
He sat at the edge of the bed and kissed my head. “A few hours.”
“I feel worse than before I fell asleep, like I ran a marathon with a hangover.”
The right side of his lips curved up in his signature half grin. “You’ve never had a hangover, so how would you know?”
I smirked. “I don’t have to get drunk to know the aftermath doesn’t feel so great. Intelligent people learn lessons without having to make all the mistakes. Unlike some, who think that chugging beer through—what do you call those things? Beer hats?—is a genius thing to do.”
“That’s the last time I tell you any of my secrets.”
“Uh… I can read your mind.”
“True. Speaking of reading minds… yours was screaming at me while you slept. Then you actually screamed. What were you dreaming, Hon?”
Only bits and pieces of my dream remained–the terror, the invasiveness–but no real details. Something nudged at the back of my memory, though, an important piece of the puzzle that my subconscious mind needed me to remember.
“I think I’m hungry. Or thirsty. Or… something.” What? What did I need to feel better? I resisted the urge to scratch the skin off my restless legs, but it was so hard. Everything ached. Everything had a wrongness about it.
Drake left to get me food. I forced myself out of our Queen-sized bed and made my way to the bathroom we shared with Brad. Sharing a bathroom with two men was not the highlight of my new life, but we were lucky Brad had a place for us at all. He’d even kept all of Drake’s stuff when he left their old apartment and rented this one. I would forever be grateful to Brad for standing by Drake the way he had all these years.
I wiped down the sink with a piece of toilet paper, erasing evidence of men who brushed their teeth like children, and splashed warm water over my face. My symptoms were all so muddled–pregnancy and illness duking it out for supremacy in my miserable body. Dizziness. Restless legs. Nausea. Anxiety. Shakiness. Those all seemed new. Well, not the nausea, but what had once been run-of-the-mill had turned into a Code Red vomit fest. Not normal.
Time for Google.
When Drake returned with a turkey sandwich, a salad and water, I sat propped-up in bed with the laptop on my legs.
My search results revealed a lot of random diagnosis. Adrenal insufficiency. Environmental allergy. Hormone imbalance—very likely, all things considered. Unknown pathogen—thank you, Google, that’s very useful.
The one diagnosis that kept popping up again and again was the one that scared me the most.
Chapter 2 – Drake
St. Michael’s Catholic Church occupied the entire corner of Naples and Coeur D’Alene Avenue in a quaint neighborhood of Venice, where kids played ball on the street and women sold Tamales from their pushcarts on the corner. Typical Southern California.
The church had been Drake’s fifth foster family’s contribution to his life. He didn’t remember the family all that much—they all blurred together after awhile—but he did remember this church and Father Patrick. It had been too long since Drake visited the old Priest. Now he needed him more than ever.
Sam and Drake escaped the clutches of Rent-A-Kid just over a month ago, and for the last two weeks, Drake had stood by and watched as Sam suffered. She’d grown gaunt and pale, and lost too much weight, especially with their baby growing inside of her. She shook all the time, and cried when she thought he wasn’t looking. Drake had seen people come off meth… and that’s what Sam looked like.
He hadn’t taken her to the hospital. She was too scared they would keep her for drug use while pregnant, or something. Drake knew he could get her out, no problem, but she didn’t want him using his powers that way.
If he couldn’t use his powers to protect his child and girlfriend, then what was the point of having powers? He didn’t understand Sam’s problem with using para-powers that were a part of them. How could it be wrong if it’s how they were born?
He pushed the large, wooden carved doors in and stood for a moment, letting the silence and holiness of the place rest over him like a shawl.
As if psychic—and Drake had long suspected he was—Father Patrick shuffled down the aisle with arms wide open. “Drake, my boy, it’s been too long. Too long. I’ve been worried for you.”
The old man, a good foot shorter than Drake, wrapped his arm around the taller man and gave him an affectionate squeeze.
“I’ve sensed some darkness around you, boy. And I’ve been saying my prayers.”
Drake followed him down the aisle and through a side door into the priest’s office. “I could use your help, Father.”
“It’s not my help you need, but our Lord Father’s help.” He smiled and sat behind his desk. “Yes, I know, you don’t believe in all this, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t believe in you.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Never mind all that. What can I help you with?”
A plump woman dressed in orange opened the door and peeked her head in. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, Father, but I thought I heard….” Her voice trailed off as she made eye contact with Drake. “…and I did! Drake, look at you, such a big boy. Where have you been? You should see the patio and garden this time of year. So lovely. Everyone is just so grateful for all the work you did on that. We have never seen a young man with so much strength.”
Mrs. Maypol kissed Drake’s cheeks and hugged him so hard a normal person might not have been able to breathe. He smiled big and hugged back, more gently so as not to crush her.
He looked to the priest and to Mrs. Maypol. These people had been his family growing up. Whenever he could sneak away from whatever foster home served as temporary residence, he came here. Through the years, it just seemed natural to help them out with different projects around the place. He never took to their religion, but always believed their hearts were in the right place.
“It’s good to see you, Mrs. Maypol. I’ve been out of town for awhile, but I’ve missed you all too.”
“Well, I’ll leave you to your talk. I just had to say hi!” She bustled out as quickly as she’d bustled in.
The priest settled his eyes on Drake. “You’re in some kind of trouble, I suspect?”
Drake debated how much to tell him about what he’d gone through. Trust wasn’t the issue; he didn’t want to put Father Patrick in danger if anyone should come looking for him. They might not find his connection to this church, but he couldn’t risk it.
“I’m not even sure I should have come here. It could be dangerous, but I didn’t know who else to talk to. Father, you know how I’ve always been… different?”
The priest chuckled. “Yes, different. That’s one way of putting it. I seem to recall a young Bishop who will never return to this church because he believes it is haunted and that his soul became possessed one Sunday while doing a guest sermon.”
Drake laughed. He hadn’t thought about that day in many years.
At ten years old, Drake was just starting to test the limits and boundaries of his powers. When the Bishop yelled at one of the other kids for not kneeling properly during the Sacraments, he became the perfect target.
The man stood at the front of the church, full of pomp and arrogance, proclaiming God’s intention that even the poor give of their last dime to further finance the Armies of God. It irritated Drake that this man, who knew nothing of the people here, would drain his foster family of what little they had out of misguided guilt.
Time to play a little prank.
As the Bishop droned on… “To any who hold back even the smallest penny of abundance, everlasting misery shall surely follow you for your lack of faith and lack of support….” Drake slipped into the Bishop’s oily, weasely little mind. “And so we petition you as Christ petitioned His followers, to give until it hurts, for only then will you….” –and Drake was in— “…dance the hokey pokey in heaven.”
A murmur of surprise started like a wave through the packed congregation. When the Bishop actually started doing the hokey pokey, bursts of guilty laughter hiccupped throughout the crowd.
Father Patrick, sitting on stage behind the Bishop, looked straight into Drake, and the ten-year-old understood in that instant… the Father knew.
“That was how we met.” Drake closed the memory back up, putting it away carefully in his mind. He didn’t have many happy memories, but those he did he guarded fiercely.
“A day I shall forever cherish,” Father Patrick said. “And between you and me, that pompous Bishop deserved a bit of humbling. But, back to the point of it all: yes, you are different.”
“There are more of my kind. Not exactly like me, but with different abilities. All kinds of abilities, things you wouldn’t believe if you saw!”
The priest’s eyebrow arched up in surprise. “How many?”
“I don’t know exactly, but an entire school’s worth, and younger kids in another facility. They’re using them, doing horrible genetic experiments, and… I’ve fallen in love with a girl. Sam is her name, and she’s pregnant with my child. I’m going to be a dad, and… the kicker is… we’ve never even….” Drake hesitated. “We’ve never known each other in the Biblical sense,” he finished.
The priest laughed full belly at that. “You can use the word, boy. Sex. I’m a priest, not dead. I’m familiar with the word. As to the rest, I need to give this some thought.”
Drake fidgeted in his chair. “Do you think I’m crazy?”
“No, but this is a lot to take in. I’m not surprised that there are others with special gifts. History, and my own life experiences, prove that, whether through supernatural or genetic intervention, some people are blessed with incredible powers. But an organization that would exploit these children, use them and experiment on them? This is the highest level of unholy. They must be stopped.”
“We’re trying to work out a plan. Sam’s friends are there. We need to rescue them.”
Father Patrick reached over and patted Drake’s hand. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, Son, but you’re not alone. The church has resources that can help. I know the Church doesn’t have quite the political reach it used to, but we still have some influence. Whatever I can do, I will.”
“It’s such a relief to finally talk to you about this. I’ve been so alone in it all, and now I’m about to be a father. I’ve never even known a real father in my own life. All this other stuff aside, how am I supposed to take care of a child?”
“That’s an entirely different conversation, Son. It won’t be easy, but it isn’t for anyone. You’re loyal and loving and your child will feel that, even when you make mistakes. And you have your church family to help, always.”
Drake nodded. As usual, Father Patrick nailed it on the head. No one knew him like this man did, and no one Drake knew had more wisdom and insight. “There’s more. Sam is really sick. I think this organization, in addition to impregnating her, also drugged her and all the kids there. She’s going through major withdrawals. I’m worried about her, and about our baby, but she won’t let me take her to the hospital. She’s scared they’ll take her away. But I can protect her. I can get her out. Only, she doesn’t really approve of my ‘special abilities.’ At least one of them. I love her, but when I’m around her, I feel like something inside me is bad. Do you think what I can do is evil?”
The Father didn’t answer for many, long, silent minutes. They ventured out of comfortable silence and into a twitching kind of quiet that forced Drake out of his chair so he could pace the room. When the priest finally did speak, the direction of the conversation surprised Drake.
“Do you remember the story of Joseph and his ability to decipher dreams into prophesy?”
“Yeah, his brothers were jealous of him and sold him to slavery, but he used his gifts to garner favor from the Pharaoh. He became very powerful.”
“His gifts were often considered in the realm of sorcery. In fact, many gifted prophets in the Bible went against the norm of the day.”
“But I’m not a prophet. I control people’s minds. There’s a big difference.”
“You were born to be who you are, my boy. Every gift has a dark and light side. It’s a tool. The morality or immorality isn’t inherent in the tool, it’s in how you choose to wield the tool.”
“So what do I do? How do I help her? When we were escaping the center… something happened. A woman who was helping us died. Sam wouldn’t leave her, but we had to get out of there. Sam had been shot and was in shock. I didn’t have time to think, I just acted… and I controlled her to get her to the car. I don’t think she’s forgiven me, even though she says she has. Was it wrong to do that?”
“Only you know if what you did was right or wrong. As for Sam, it’s a very hard thing to lose control like that. Try to see it from her perspective. Don’t give up, Drake. And know that I’m always here if ever you need me.”
The priest pulled a Rosary out of his desk and handed it to Drake. “Take this. I know you don’t use it in the way I might suggest to others, but let it be a symbol of the love I hold for you, the son I never had.”
Tears filled Drake’s eyes as he reached for the gift. Precious gems of emerald, ruby and sapphire alternated to create a beautiful pattern that led to a silver crucifix, with the anguished Jesus hanging from a cross. Drake always wondered why Catholics focused on the torture and pain of the crucifixion, while Protestants focused on the empty cross of the resurrection. Father Patrick had explained once. ‘The crucifixion is a reminder to us of the Lord’s sacrifice. For while others focus on the redemptive nature of humanity, we choose to focus on the redeemer Himself, so that His sacrifice is never in vain.’
The priest handed him a tissue. Drake wiped his eyes and put the Rosary in his pocket. “Thank you, Father. It means more than you know.”
“Come, I will walk you to your car, and you can tell me more about Sam.”
They took the long way, walking around the pristine church grounds. Drake had said more than he intended. The old priest always did have a way of getting him to open up.
Father Patrick turned to him when they arrived at the car. “What do you plan to do now?”
“I don’t know. Wait until Sam gets better, then figure out the next step. Her friends are still trapped there. We need to figure out a way to get them out.”
“And what will you do with so many children and teens if you do free them? Where will they go? With whom will they live?”
“Honestly, we haven’t thought that far ahead. We’ve kind of been reacting more than planning so far.”
“Do you have a few more minutes? I’d like to show you something.”
Drake nodded and followed the priest back into the church. They made their way back to the priest’s office.
He moved aside a picture of the crucifix and revealed a safe. “I had a sense, some time back, that we would need this, though I didn’t know why or when.” Father Patrick pulled out a thick envelope and handed it to Drake.
“Open it and see.”
Drake sifted through the papers: A deed to 100 acres of land in Washington, and the blueprints for what looked like a mansion.
Drake sat, stunned. “What is this?”
“It’s for the children you rescue, a place for new beginnings. It can be anything you want, including a live-in school for your paranormal friends.”
“This is incredible. How did you—?” Drake looked at the man who had practically raised him. “You seem awfully prepared for something you knew nothing about until a few minutes ago.”
The priest’s blue eyes sparkled with mischief. “What can I say? I was a Boy Scout.”
“Right… and it has nothing to do with how you always seem to know things you shouldn’t?”
“My boy, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I should introduce you to Sam. She’s good at reading people.”
The priest laughed and hugged him. “I’d love to meet her. I have nothing to hide from your mind-reading girlfriend.”
“Thank you, Father. You’ve given me hope when I was ready to give up.”
“Never give up, Son. There is always reason to hope.”
Goodbyes were hard, but Drake needed to go someplace and think. He needed to process all this new information and figure out what it would mean for him and Sam.
He was pulling into a parking spot at the beach before it occurred to him that he’d never told the old priest what para-power Sam had. So how’d he know she could read minds?
Chapter 3 – Drake
Drake inhaled the cool, salty beach air and sunk his toes into the warm sand. The crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean always calmed his mind, but not this time. He dropped his shoes onto the sand and rolled his cargo pants up past his calves, so he could feel the sharp bite of the cold water over his feet.
The sun hovered over the ocean, ushering in another day. Surfers dotted the watery landscape; Drake longed to be one of them, lost in the Zen of the wave, no other care or concern but that one moment of bliss.
His life had changed too much for surfing to bring him any peace. That day so many months ago changed everything. He’d been primed to win the regional Venice Beach Surfing Competition—next stop, Hawaii. Brad had warned him to keep a low profile, but surfing was too important to him, so Drake competed.
And he’d paid.
The wave crested and his board sliced into the water as he rode it to shore. In that moment, every molecule of his being had become one with the ocean.
The cheering crowd drummed in the back of his mind, but didn’t break through the tranquility that surfing always brought him.
Rick knocked surfboards with him and grinned. “That wave was off the hook, man. A few more like those and you’re sure to place first.”
The warm sand squished under his feat and the hot sun blazed down on his head. His senses came to him in increments but he smiled at his friend. “Thanks, dude, it felt good. I’m going to rinse off and grab a drink before the next round.”
Drake dug through his cooler and pulled out a bottle of water, guzzling it in one gulp. He walked to the showers and rinsed off some of the saltwater and sand residue.
Something stung his shoulder.
He reached around and pulled out a dart. His thoughts swirled around in his head and his recent clarity gave way to a jumble of confusing thoughts.
“Dude, are you all right?”
A voice spoke to him, but male or female, he couldn’t tell. His vision blurred and he slumped onto the wet cement, with the cold water spraying over him until it ran out of time and stopped.
“Drake, you’ll be okay. Come on, boy.”
Again, a voice he didn’t recognize. He reached out with his mind to stop whoever was touching him, but nothing happened. His power didn’t work.
When hands pulled him away from the familiar noises, he fought with his muscle.
“Damn it, he’s still too strong. Get him to the van, quick.”
Before Drake could process anything more, a painful whack to his head sent him tumbling into darkness.
Drake wondered if his blood still stained the block of cement his attackers had used to bash in his head that day, after hitting him with a tranquilizer gun from afar. Overkill, much? They hadn’t underestimated his strength, at least.
Still, not all was lost. The priest’s words gave him hope. They could form a plan. They had help. They were not alone.
But how did the priest know so much? Was he psychic?
A shout from behind pulled him out of his thoughts. “Drake!”
Kylie the Beach Bunny, as she liked to be called, hadn’t changed a bit. Bits of a silver string bikini hugged her curvaceous form as if it were painted on. Her bleach blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders in artificial curls. Pretty much everything about Kylie was artificial, actually. Drake could not for the life of him remember why he’d ever hooked up with such a shallow creature.
Drake hadn’t turned around all the way when Kylie slipped her slender arm around his waist and pressed her body against his back.
His skin crawled at her touch.
She leaned in close to his ear, her voice a contrived throaty whisper. “I’ve been missing you, Drakey boy. Nobody has ever had the stamina you do.”
Drake turned to face the last person he wanted to see in that moment.
**Look for Forbidden Fire on Amazon, March 27th, 2012 through Evolved Publishing–and stay tuned for some major announcements and promotions that day as well!**