Dark Sentinels Book Three: Parrish
The brush of her fingers, one accidental touch, and he’s caught up in an elegy with which she is all too familiar.
Dana Rainwater is dying. Taking leave from the pop-gospel stage to live out her final months in peace, she visits a remote area to commission the designs of a famous, yet reclusive architect few have ever seen.
Wolf sentinel shifter Vadrian Parrish is a renowned architect whose nature-inclusive designs have earned the title of “Healing Plans.” Born to a high calling, his disturbing visions render him nearly inaccessible to others, but one accidental touch draws him into another nightmare, one he’s not sure he wants to escape.
Dark Sentinels Book Three: Parrish
Dana tore out of the parking lot, her tires screeching in protest. He saw me! A mental battle ensued as she steered the white Mercedes Benz AMG along the deserted highway at breakneck speed. She hit speed-dial. Of all nights to insist on going to the studio alone. Her bodyguard, Adabi, would have known exactly what to do. Unlike her, he was spontaneous, accustomed to handling life and death situations as if they were second nature.
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”
“Th-there’s been a-a murder. I- 7014…” Overwhelmed by shock and disbelief, she barely managed to give the operator the address to her studio. She couldn’t begin to process the fact that her manager was dead. The murderer moved like a man, but she hadn’t seen his face or even his hair color. Perhaps she could describe his build, but there was nothing particularly unique about it. He wore a green, hooded raincoat, but all things considered, Dana knew she would make a piss poor witness.
After giving the operator the studio’s address, she abruptly hung up in the middle of the woman’s next question – “What’s your na—?”
Despite the brain-freezing effects of shock, Dana couldn’t risk being identified. Getting caught in the middle of a crime investigation would mean the end of her plans. If she failed to escape what was sure to be a scandal, she could kiss her dreams of spending her last few months in peace goodbye. She knew things about Stephen—secrets, and as far as she was concerned, his many indiscretions were a perfect motive for murder.
He saw me. I know it. He looked right at me. God, I hope he didn’t recognize me. Unlike the man who had just murdered her manager before her eyes, Dana had been in plain sight, clearly visible. She shoved away the debilitating fog of fear. The instinctual fight or flight reaction completed its forced entry into her mind, disabling her usual calm. Reaching Adabi was the only clarity she could find, a response as innate as basic self-preservation.
Despite cheating on all of his girlfriends and eventually, his wife, Stephen was a kindhearted man. In fact, he had been the one to convince her to purchase the studio incognito—a place she could sneak off to, he’d said. She hadn’t considered all of his reasons at the time, but right now, she was grateful. Dana did have to wonder, though, who would have known exactly where to find Stephen.
A few minutes later, she arrived at Adabi’s apartment complex. Dana employed an entire security team, but she had never been the trusting sort, and Adabi was the only one she trusted with her life. He led the rest of her bodyguards, constantly reinforcing his expectations – “Your life for hers.”
“Come inside, little one. I’ll get the rest of your things,” Adabi ordered, stepping out to greet her before she reached his door. Even though she hadn’t called him, it was as if he knew she was coming.
She’d always wondered about his uncanny knack for knowing when she needed him, even when she was a child in his care, but she had never been more grateful for it. Sometimes she forgot he worked for her. He’d been a father to her in every way except biology, despite the fact that she had no idea how old he was. He really didn’t look much older than she was—as if suspended in time.
Adabi was the only father figure she had ever known, and the musical rhythm of his African accent provided the oxygen she needed. Finally, she exhaled, wondering how long she had been holding her breath. This time, though, there was little he could do to help her. She made a quick decision to keep her mouth closed, knowing Adabi would try to talk her out of leaving town if she told him she had just witnessed Stephen’s murder.
Parrish raced for the construction zone, hoping he could save some of them. One life. Saving just one life would change everything.
A soft rustling sound assaulted his ears, accompanied by a jolting snick! Thousands lay broken below him, unable to move due to their injuries, most likely dead. Their bodies had been tossed into the quarry like trash, their heads severed as if they were the threat. Engines roared to life, closing in from every direction, preparing to crush them as if they had never existed.
The rustling sound increased, growing closer, closer, closer still, until the noise seemed to rumble inside his head.
Parrish felt his limbs lengthening.
Shifting uncontrollably against his will.
Compelled by someone or something else.
His lupine sprint slowed to a hopeless crawl as four legs became two, his thick, wiry white fur receded, and icy wind whipped across his naked body, slicing deep gashes into his vulnerable human flesh.
The impact jolted him back to the present.
“Looks like I got here just in time again, bro. Same lovely scene?” Vadrian’s assigned, part-time roommate peered down at him, his waist-length hair swinging back and forth. The dripping bucket in his hand explained the icy jolt that had just snapped Parrish out of his nightmarish vision.
“What the hell are you doing here, Harry?” Parrish snarled, waving him away with one arm as he reached up from the floor and snatched the bucket from Harry’s hand with the other. Parrish plopped the bucket down on the floor next to him. Icy water dripped from his body as he rose up and leaned forward, rubbing his burning eyes.
Harry stepped back, then leaned toward Parrish, taunting him with a wide grin. “Don’t take your bad night out on me. The real question is, what are you doing down there…again? Maybe if you’d find a female like I’ve been telling you, you could get some real sleep instead of going through this bullshit. These visions of yours are landing you on the floor more often. What was this one about?”
Parrish stood, lifting a towel from the chair beside his bed in one fluid motion. “Dead wolves again, thrown into a deep quarry.” Lifting his T-shirt, he swiped at the water on his torso as he shot an accusing glare at Harry. Parrish sat on the side of his bed, exhausted after three-hours of sleep—a full cycle for him—but he had no idea how much of that time had been hijacked by nightmares. “What are you doing here?”
Sighing, Harry crossed his arms. “Stop asking dumb questions. You already know the answer. Whenever you’re in over your head, she sends me,” he said, pointing toward the ceiling. “She assigned me to you, remember? Where she sends me, I go. I have nothing to do with it. I’m tired of dealing with your sad ass, too.” He turned his head as if he heard something outside, then offered Parrish a side-glance before turning to leave. “Keep that dazzling smile, my friend,” Harry said with sarcasm. Parrish seldom smiled. “And finish cleaning yourself up. I hear there’s a honey involved this time. You won’t go find her, so she’s coming for you. She just doesn’t know it yet.”
“Right,” Parrish sneered. “As if I’d ever bring an innocent woman into my fucked-up life.”
“Yeah, well I’m afraid you’ve got no say about that, either.” Harry shifted, his black cotton “T” morphing into gold and brown feathers, then flew out of the same window he’d used to enter Parrish’s apartment.
Parrish heard Harry’s laughter as the obnoxious bird-shifter flew away.
Leaning back, Parrish clasped his hands behind his neck and just lay still, doing his best to quiet his hyperactive mind. Despite Harry’s perfect record, Parrish hoped his guide was wrong this time. The last thing he needed now was a woman and the complications she would inevitably bring into his life, let alone the danger he would add to hers.
“Dangerous Beauty, Sexy Beast”
After sipping her last drop of liquid energy, she slipped the coffee mug and prized coffeemaker back into her shoulder bag. In addition to the coffee cup, the pink leather bag held one microwave-safe covered plate, one multi-purpose terra ceramic pan, and a set of stainless steel utensils. The small bag fit neatly into a rollaway with compartments for each category of her necessities, including her 11” laptop with a hidden IP address provided by her benefactor. Since she was always packed for a fast getaway, there was no room in her life for extra baggage of any kind.
The refrigerator that had come with the furnished apartment remained empty, and with the exception of coffee, a giant Hershey’s chocolate bar, and peanut butter crackers, her white kitchen cabinets simply served as decorative woodwork. She bought fresh produce, prepared her meals each day, and gave whatever leftovers she had to the stray cats and dogs that always seemed to find her no matter where she lived.
Continuing her daily ritual, she pulled the laminated, aged magazine article from a hidden compartment in her bag, sliding her fingers over it reverently. The encapsulated picture of her mother, father, and three brothers always pulled her right back into that moment, a whirlwind of loss, pain, and upheaval, yet she returned to it regularly, as if she needed the reminder:
Renowned archaeologist, Daniel Evers, his wife, Kiswanna, and their three sons, Daniel III, Knight, and Kamau, were found dead in their Pensacola, FL home yesterday at 4:30 p.m. Daniel was known for his contributions to the British Museum, the Smithsonian, and a number of others. Dr. Kiswanna Ungoji Evers gave up a high-level position as a physicist and geologist to start a family. She worked as a librarian. The case is under investigation…
Her favorite ocean sounds CD, also on automatic timer, blared to life, drawing her attention back to the present, and she assumed a scissor-like supine position on the hardwood floor to begin her 60-minute evening drill. She had developed the drill over time to strengthen every muscle and joint in her body. From this position, even her pinky was forced to gain strength and hold its own. She had always been small in stature, and she’d trained long and hard so every pound would exert more force than its actual weight.
She remembered sparring with her older brothers. Treva smiled as she thought about them teasing her. Daniel, the eldest, lovingly called Trey, along with Knight and Kamau, would take turns lifting her upside down with one arm, then force her to free herself from their grips. Later in life, their embarrassing pranks had paid off time and time again, as she had yet to find a situation she couldn’t get out of.
Ignoring stiff muscles, sustained injuries, and groaning sore spots, she allowed the sounds from the CD to take her mind elsewhere. Ever since the day she had returned to find the remains of her family, ripped apart and strewn from one end of their home to the other, the course and purpose of her life had been determined.
Long before the consideration of dreams, desires, or interests, this reality had become hers, and the thought of her quest being over, having choices and possibly finding some semblance of normalcy, left her confused and lost—a lion with no pride, a shell of whomever she was to become.
Without the mission to avenge the massacre of her family, Treva had no purpose.
He slid his tongue across his pointed incisors…
While the world changed outside, he had undergone a secret metamorphosis inside these walls, and searching for answers about who and what he was had turned up absolutely nothing.
Whatever the explanation, the sense of something lying in wait was always with him, ever present, and it had been a part of him as far back as he could remember. Everyone around him felt it, their fear of him instinctual. The reaction he received from most people reminded him of deer sensing the presence of a lion, but Helen, his adoptive mother, had been different. She had accepted him, even when she saw his skin instantly knit together seconds after being wounded.
Andreus closed the door on his memory of her again, putting it away safely until later when he needed her image to help him get some much needed sleep. Playbacks from his nightmares haunted his days as well, hounding him with swords clashing, molten rocks exploding, deep chasms filled with fire splitting the Earth, multi-timbre voices of war, and huge wings rushing toward him, claiming him. Even now, Helen’s image held the power to offer him a measure of peace. She was the only one who had ever cared for him.
He walked over to one of the exercise bars in the prison yard, set his playlist to a classical mix of Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy, and inserted his earbuds. When he looked up, the group of inmates who’d been hanging around the bars just seconds ago had sauntered off, giving him a wide berth. He had no interest in getting to know them or sharing their company for that matter, but being left alone within these four walls with nothing but his own disturbing thoughts made the maintenance of sanity a challenge.
Like most of his possessions, he had purchased the electronic device with ‘gift’ money he’d earned for keeping another inmate safe. Easy money. All Andreus had done was to allow the bullied prisoner to sit with him in the mess hall and hang with him in the yard for a few days. He maintained a calm demeanor, never advertising his services, but business always came his way, particularly since the casinos had opened.
Andreus heard footsteps approaching from behind as he contracted his muscles and continued his daily exercise routine. He already knew exactly who approached before turning around, so he didn’t bother to stop what he was doing.
“Shannon, you too. The warden and the social worker want to see you.”
As if he hadn’t heard the guard, Andreus took his time finishing his last set of pull-ups, then leapt down from the bar. He snatched his t-shirt from the concrete bench and pulled it over his head. The moment he turned to face the guard and four other inmates, he saw and smelled their fear…
He mouthed her name again – Malina. The simple act recharged something inside him like a new battery to a stalled engine. A life-long veil lifted as he took a deep, satisfying breath for the first time in his long life, his ever-present restlessness subsiding. His entire essence focused on her, receptive to the way she moved, the sway of her hips, the slight spring in her step, and the soft curve of her back as she tilted to slide into her car, all causes of many a warrior’s fall. What the hell? I have to complete this mission, and fast, before I…
She looked up, and Asriel held his breath, quieting his thoughts and remaining as still as possible when her amber eyes seemed to lock on him. The moment grew into seconds, surreal, as if nothing else existed.
Asriel finally allowed himself to breathe again when Malina shook her head, then started her vehicle and sped out of the parking lot, ending his self-admonishment and drawing his attention to more urgent matters.
According to what he’d read, Malina would lead him to his wayward charge, Joseph Ward, a man who had not been seen nor heard from in over twenty years. He cloaked himself to avoid being seen, and followed her, lifting his wings again to fly high above her so as not to cast a shadow when she drove away. He frowned, something instinctual rising to protect her when the man she had been speaking to outside the office building followed.
The encroacher’s disregard for Malina’s obvious distaste for him put Asriel’s senses on alert. He squinted, puzzled by his sense of connection to her, and his instinctive reaction to the man’s unwanted attention, his teeth grinding again, urgency and fury warring inside him for first place. Catching her would not present a challenge, but he had no idea what to say to earn her trust once they stood face-to-face?