THE NIGHT SERIES - Book One by Lisa Kessler
Two and a half centuries ago, Calisto Terana lost everything when a zealous priest murdered the woman he loved. Now, desperate for another chance to love her, he wants redemption for the mistake that cost her life.
She’s haunted by dreams of her own death…
After catching her fiance with another woman, Kate Bradley returns to San Diego to clear her head. The last thing she needs is romance, but after meeting Calisto she’s drawn to him in ways she doesn’t understand.
They’ve waited in the shadows for centuries…
Calisto has no doubt Kate is the reincarnation of his lost love, but the Fraternidad Del Fuego Santo has a new watcher with dark ambitions of his own. As old enemies re-emerge and a new threat arises, the betrayal that enslaved Calisto to the night might destroy the only woman he’s ever loved again.
Praise for Night Walker:
★★★ stars. “In the first of her Night series, Kessler tackles a love that has waited 200 years. While the tale is tender and poignant, readers will sigh both in dreamy acceptance of a love that never dies as well as exasperation for the secrets the characters keep from each other.”
– Sabrina Cooper, RT Book Reviews
“Hot romance and cool characters make Night Walker an all-night read.”
~ Kelley Armstrong, #1 NYT Best-Selling Author
“A stellar first novel with heart-stopping suspense and a hero to die for.”
~ Angie Fox, NYT Bestselling author of THE LAST OF THE DEMON SLAYERS
“Lisa Kessler pens the kind of lyrical romance we all want to experience!”
~ Linda Wisdom, national bestselling author of A DEMON DOES IT BETTER
“Night Walker is a wonderful tale about the power and magic of a love that transcends time.”
~ Linda Thomas-Sundstrom, author of the Vampire Moons series
“A soulful, timeless love story and an engrossing new take on immortal
mythology—if you’re looking for a touching paranormal romance, Kessler’s got
one for you!”
~ Christine Cody, author of the Bloodlands series
© Lisa Kessler
Kate couldn’t remember the drive home or walking from her car to her front door. Her mind kept replaying Tom’s surprised face, the way he jerked his hands free of the woman’s tight sweater, and the flushed cheeks of his grad student. Her knuckles ached from clenching her fists, struggling to control her emotions. Blood smeared across the palm of her hand where her fingernail broke the skin.
She could still hear his footsteps echoing behind her in the desolate parking lot and the pleading in his voice. “Please, can’t we talk about this?” His desperation made her nauseous.
What could he possibly explain?
After three tries, she finally managed to calm her trembling hands and unlock her apartment door. Forcing a deep breath into her lungs, she steeled herself for what awaited. The eight-by-ten engagement photo smiled at her from the side table. Her knees threatened to buckle under the weight of betrayal.
Leaning against the door, she struggled to understand. Their wedding was less than a month away. All their plans, their dreams, tossed away for a pair of most-likely-fake double Ds.
How could she have been so blind? She almost married him.
For the third time since she’d sped away from the university, her cell phone buzzed. She powered it off and tossed it aside. The bastard could call all night, send flowers, beg on his knees, but nothing would change the fact that she’d never walk down the aisle in the designer gown that he insisted she buy. She’d never move into the new condo they’d had their eye on. And she would never trust him again.
It was over.
She wiped her nose and glared at the photo on the table. Shouldn’t she be jealous? Did she even care if he’d slept with this woman? Was she devastated because she would miss Tom, or because her life wasn’t turning out the way she thought it should?
Puzzled, she pushed away from the door and turned the frame facedown on the table. Her gaze locked onto her parents’ photo. Nearly two years had slipped by since the accident. She’d worked so hard to distance herself from the pain of their loss that she’d avoided dealing with the remainder of their estate. She still hadn’t sold their house.
Instead, she’d pushed her relationship with Tom forward, avoiding her emotions by planning a wedding to a man she wasn’t certain she loved.
Gripping the frame, she tilted the photo to cut the glare from the overhead light. Her mother’s warm smile brought a swell of heartache—real heartache, not this shock of betrayal and sudden change that Tom had delivered.
“I wish you were here, Mom.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “You probably would’ve seen right through his sexy, crooked smile.”
She waited, half-expecting to hear her mother’s voice telling her she deserved better.
Because she did.
“I think it’s time for me to go back home. I’m through hiding, Mom.”
Once she returned the photo to the table, the tightness in her chest loosened its grip. This wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, it was a chance at a new beginning.
She’d call her school in the morning and let them know she needed a leave of absence. Then she’d get in touch with the caterers and the perky wedding planner.
She could be on the road by the afternoon. She lifted her chin a notch and dropped her engagement photo in the trashcan. Tomorrow, she would take control of her life and her future, and this time she wouldn’t rush into anything.
When they parked at the Mission de Alcala, Kate stared up at the bells. Although she grew up in San Diego, she’d never played tourist and visited this famous landmark, which she admitted now was a shame. The white arched bell tower of the first Spanish mission in the New World stretched toward the heavens, oblivious to the changing landscape around it. For a moment, she felt like she’d been transported back in time.
Edie hefted her camera bag over her shoulder. “Hurry up! We don’t want to end up standing for the service.”
“I’m coming.” Kate ran up the uneven tile steps after her friends.
When they entered the white adobe sanctuary, her breath caught in her throat. The natural pine ceiling arched high above them, voices echoed in the cavernous space, and soft chords from the pipe organ at the rear of the hall floated down. The music washed over the congregation, filling the church with its somber peace.
Her mother would have loved this place.
Lori grabbed Kate’s hand and pulled her across the sanctuary to a pew by the opposite door. Candlelight filled the chamber with a warm glow, and soon the only sounds were the soft chants from the priests. Images of Christ’s crucifixion lined the walls, and the quiet hymns from the choir added to the poignancy of the Mass. Bittersweet sorrow swelled in her heart. This would be her second holiday season without her parents, and her first without Tom. The Mass felt like a solemn reminder she was alone in the world.
The room blurred behind a wave of tears.
“I need some air. I’ll be right outside,” Kate whispered to Edie.
Edie gave her an are you all right look, and Kate managed to smile and nod before slipping out the door. As the heavy wooden door clicked shut behind her, she stepped into a lush courtyard with centuries-old adobe crosses rising through thick ferns that threatened to swallow them. More candles flickered around the garden. Shadows moved across the surrounding walls, mingling with the darkness that gathered in the corners and alcoves.
The cool night air filled her lungs, calming the storm brewing inside her. Seeing the families and couples in the sanctuary stirred up heartache. She had erected protective walls around the spaces her parents and her ex-fiancé used to fill, but now they crumbled. Kate took another deep breath and stared at the pale moon. She could almost hear her mother’s voice telling her to stay strong. Keep moving forward.
Just as she’d promised herself she’d do.
Clearing her throat, Kate focused on her surroundings and followed a worn tile path to a weathered sign. The courtyard, and the crosses within it, honored the Native American neophytes who worked at the mission in its early years. Kate scanned the garden again, finding even more of the half-hidden handmade crosses peering at her from a thicket of ferns. Most of them now leaned to the side, weathered from years of exposure to the sun and rain.
The once-strong angles of the markers now drooped as though they wept.
She followed the path deeper into the garden and found another cross nearly engulfed by the foliage and flowers that grew around it. Though the path here was unkempt and the aging monument covered in moss, a simple floral wreath adorned the neck of the cross.
How many Native Americans died at the mission in its early years? She wondered if anyone really knew. She learned about the missions in elementary school, but her teachers never discussed the relationship between the missionaries and the local tribes. Was neophyte a fancy word for slave? She didn’t know, but whatever their role might have been, it was encouraging to see the indigenous people who had lived at the mission had not been forgotten.
When the service concluded, the murmur of soft conversation broke through her solitude. Mass was over already? Kate frowned. How long had she been outside?
Car engines started and brakes squeaked, the headlights drowning out the candlelit shadows. Beyond the black wrought iron gates, small groups of people departed together until finally the floodlights over the parking lot blinked off. She would have worried about Lori and Edie’s absence, but she knew they had plans with their digital cameras after the mass.
According to her friends, Dia de los Muertos was the perfect night for ghost hunting. Lori and Edie always enjoyed ghost stories when they were kids, and their fondness grew until they considered themselves amateur paranormal investigators. What better place to find them than in the oldest building in San Diego on the one night a year reserved for the dead?
Kate didn’t share their zeal for spirits, but she had no problem waiting for them to have their fun. She was happy to have a few minutes to herself anyway.
The candlelight glimmered around her, the flickering flames left to burn out sometime before morning. The warm glow made for eerie light, casting long shadows of the weeping crosses over the garden. It was exquisite and melancholy in the same moment.
She caught a sudden chill. The longer she lingered, the more her sadness mutated into unease.
The back of her neck prickled. Kate crossed her arms and walked toward the sanctuary doors. She suddenly felt exposed and alone. Before she reached the doors, Lori and Edie came up the path at the other end of the courtyard, snapping pictures as they walked, until Lori disappeared from view.
When Edie saw Kate approach, she grinned. “Oh, you should see some of the great shots we got tonight. We had lots of orbs in a couple of pictures of the bell tower. There might be even more when we can look at them on a larger screen.”
“You’ll have to show me once you get them on the computer.” Kate glanced around the courtyard. “Where’d Lori go?”
Edie turned around. “She was right behind… ”
“Edie… Kate.” Lori’s voice, a loud and insistent whisper, emanated from the shadows.
Kate flinched when she heard her name. She had no idea why she was so jumpy tonight. They tracked down Lori and found her kneeling by one of the crosses. She beckoned them closer.
Edie rushed over with an eager grin, camera at the ready. “Wow. Look at this.” She squatted beside Lori.
The cross was smaller than most of the others, weather-beaten and canted. There was a single letter in the center, a T, and a single candle burned beside a bundle of large white blossoms.
“Who do you think left those?” Lori whispered.
Kate shrugged. None of the other crosses had fresh offerings. “Probably the priests, right?”
“I don’t know.” Lori glanced at the other crosses. “Maybe this person’s relatives still visit every year.”
“Can you imagine?” Edie whispered. “Being remembered like that? I hope someone’s still bringing me flowers after I’ve been dead a couple hundred years.”
Kate thought about correcting them, telling them these crosses were memorials to the Native Americans. But she didn’t. Something about the cross held her rapt. The conversation around her faded away as Kate moved in closer to the fragrant blossoms.
She’d never seen flowers like these with huge, beautiful blooms of white, silky petals and a center like pure sunshine. And the scent. It was the primrose-like perfume that made her reach out to touch them, entranced by their spell.
Had she seen these flowers before?
“Kate? Are you okay?”
Kate looked up at Lori, her brow furrowed and mouth pinched in concern. “I’m fine,” she said, yanking her hand away from the flowers. “Just a little tired, I guess.”
“We’re almost done. We need a couple more pictures around the front by the steps,” Edie said.
“All right.” Kate straightened, still unable to pull her attention away from the cross and its bouquet. “I’ll wait for you here, okay?”
Lori continued to frown, but Edie said, “No problem. We’ll be right back.”
Kate watched them wander off before kneeling closer to the cross. Unable to stop herself, she traced her finger along the T in the center.
Behind her, someone cleared his throat. Kate jerked her hand away and shot to her feet. When she turned around she found a tall, dark-haired man staring at her.
Her cheeks flushed with heat. She hoped he hadn’t witnessed her touching the relic. She waited for some kind of admonishment, but he didn’t say anything.
Not with words.
Something in his dark eyes captured her. His gaze wandered over her face like a tender caress, and strangely, instead of screaming for Lori and Edie, she caught herself imagining his touch on her skin.
“I hope I did not frighten you,” he said.
His deep voice resonated through the empty courtyard, and the intimate tone weakened her knees. The hint of a Spanish accent didn’t hurt, either. Nervous laughter escaped her before she could contain it.
Her face warmed all over again. “Just a little startled. I didn’t see anyone else out here.”
He stepped closer without encroaching on her personal space, his eyes locked with hers from beneath thick lashes. “Forgive me.”
She swallowed hard and prayed she wasn’t blushing. “No problem.” She looked away before she embarrassed herself even further, focusing on the cross. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
“Si.” He nodded slowly. “Yes, it is.” His barely there smile made her think he wasn’t referring to the flowers or the cross. “I am Calisto. Calisto Terana.”
Expectation hung as heavy as the scent of eucalyptus, as if he waited to hear something more than just her name.
“I’m Kate.” Instead of offering to shake his hand, she tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“The honor is mine, Kate… ” His accent colored the vowel in her name. It had never sounded more beautiful. She reminded herself to breathe.
When he hesitated for a moment waiting for her to speak, she realized she hadn’t shared her last name as he had. She flipped through a rapid pro and con mental checklist, and decided it couldn’t hurt. Maybe they would meet again.
“Bradley,” she said.
A sexy smile curved at the corners of his lips. “I hope this will not be our last meeting.”
She glanced around the shadowed courtyard, feeling vulnerable, and almost gave in to her first instinct—to run. But she remembered her promise to herself. Be strong. Take action. She lifted her chin and said, “I guess you never know.”
With a smile that said he had every intention of seeing her again, he tipped his head. “Buenos noches, Kate Bradley.”
Her heart raced and her palms sweated when she realized he meant to leave. No man made her palms sweat. Ever.
His gaze held hers for a moment, full of unspoken promises she didn’t understand. Without another word, he walked away.
Kate willed him to turn toward her one last time. It would be easy to get addicted to the way his gaze caressed her, entrancing her with his full attention. She wet her lips and shook her head slowly, struggling to break the spell.
A strange man had flirted with her in a dark courtyard. Hello! Huge danger signal for a woman alone.
But she never felt threatened. As if she’d met him before.
“Who was that?” Lori tucked her camera inside her bag.
“He said his name was Calisto Terana.”
“He looked sexy from where I stood. Yum!” Edie grinned.
Lori nudged her with her elbow. “Looks can be deceiving. Why was he loitering after Mass and hitting on Kate?”
There went Lori, being overprotective, like Kate was her younger sister instead of a peer. Kate rolled her eyes. “He wasn’t hitting on me. He was a complete gentleman.” She paused, glancing in the direction he’d gone. “Old fashioned.”
Lori hooked her camera bag over her shoulder. “You didn’t give him your number, did you? Old fashioned or not, you don’t know anything about this guy.”
“Yes, Mom! I’ve been a single adult just as long as you have, remember?”
Lori hooked her arm through Kate’s. “I still worry about you. You’ve been through a lot lately. I don’t want anyone to take advantage of you.”
Kate relaxed, though she still chafed at being treated like a child. “Believe me, I don’t want that either.”
Part of her was shocked she even considered looking at another man. A couple of weeks ago she wanted to wipe all the bastards off the face of the earth, and then tonight a gorgeous guy with an accent and a healthy dose of manners suddenly had her heart racing. Go figure.
They started toward the car. Kate peeked over her shoulder, wondering where Calisto had gone. No doubt it was for the best that he walked away when he did.
But secretly she wished he had asked for her number.
Edie unlocked the car. “What kind of name is Calisto anyway? It doesn’t sound Mexican.”
“Maybe Spanish?” Lori said.
Kate replayed the way he said her name. “He did have an accent. Not quite Mexican though. Maybe he is from Spain.”
“Oh, I love accents.” Edie pretended to shiver. “Why don’t I ever meet handsome foreign men in dark courtyards?”
“Get in the car already.” Lori smiled.
Their banter continued as Lori pulled out of the mission’s parking lot toward Old Town, but Kate wasn’t listening anymore. At the other end of the lot she saw him standing in the moonlight.
He stared right into her eyes. Even at this distance, the heat of his gaze flushed her skin, and her breath caught in her throat.
What if she never saw him again? A knot of panic tightened in her stomach.
He watched them roll down the driveway, bowing his head before turning to walk back into the shadows. Kate sighed and finally faced forward, chastising herself for acting like a love-struck teenager. The last thing she needed right now was a relationship. She’d just been burned so badly that she took a leave of absence from her teaching job and left the state of Nevada.
How could she stomach even looking at another man?
She stared out the window and smiled in spite of herself. Calisto didn’t seem like any other man she’d ever met. Against her better judgment, she caught herself hoping they would meet again.
She was dead.
Part of him still could not, or would not, believe it. Even now as he covered her body with dirt, he imagined this was a foul dream. Still clothed in his missionary robes, Father Gregorio Salvador prayed he would awaken to the sound of her laughter, or see her dark eyes sparkle with shared humor again. Tala had the most beautiful dark brown eyes with a tiny hazel crescent at the bottom of her right iris.
She used to smile at him every time he told her she had the moon in her eyes.
His jaw clenched. He would have his vengeance.
As he laid the bundle of large, white Romneya flowers over her grave, his tears fell onto the freshly turned soil covering her body, like raindrops darkening the sandy dirt. The sight brought him to his knees.
He knelt at her grave, silently begging the God he once served for answers. Was it wrong to love her? Was God so unforgiving of their sin that He sought to take her life and damn his soul? They had hurt no one. He had broken his covenant with God, yet she was forced to pay his penance with her life? Why punish her?
But he already knew. What greater punishment could he suffer than to go on living without her? He was certain no deeper pain existed.
Surely God knew he had been no more than a naive boy when he took his vows in Spain.
He buried Tala at the edge of the cliff where they met in secret during the warm summer evenings to watch the sun set over the water and color the sky. He hoped her soul would find peace there. Taking the rosary beads from his neck, he laid them over the flowers covering her final resting place. He would never touch another rosary. God had forsaken him, punished him for loving her, and he wouldn’t serve Him any longer.
Kissing his fingertips and touching the flowers, he whispered, “My love forever.”
He tugged at his collar, and then stripped off his robe. Clothed only in his black wool pants and sandals, Father Salvador walked into the darkness of the hills. He couldn’t bear to look back.
Calisto watched her until the car faded away into the night. The Old One’s promise had finally come true. With his heightened vision, he had seen the lighter crescent of color in the lower corner of her iris. He recognized her in an instant. She had the moon in her eyes.
Tala, his love, lived again.
Her features were familiar, but not exactly as she had once been. Her skin was lighter now and the angle of her jaw softer, but her long black hair and her eyes had not changed. Hearing her voice, seeing her smile, brought back memories of a life they once shared.
The sound of her laughter was like a burst of sunlight in his endless night.
But Kate Bradley wasn’t Tala. She had no memory of him. It was a bittersweet moment to see her face again, yet be unable to touch her. Although she didn’t seem to fear him as a stranger, she also didn’t recognize him as a lover.
He knew nothing about her life now.
The desire to touch her had overwhelmed him. He yearned to taste her lips and hold her in his arms. There would be time for that later, he promised himself.
It would have been simple to reach for her thoughts and learn her secrets, to become exactly the man she desired, but he denied himself the intrusion. He vowed not to use his preternatural power to entrance her or to listen to her private thoughts. He’d given up his mortality, his soul, for this moment, this second chance, and if she fell in love with him again, he needed to know it was real. No other person had ever touched his life like she had. Though she was no longer Tala, surely a piece of the soul he once loved lived inside of her.
Calisto walked into the shadows, wondering if she still sang with a voice that rivaled the angels. Would she dance with him in the waves of the Pacific as they had centuries before?
He was anxious to find out. How long had it been since he’d been eager for anything? A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. Kate Bradley.
He would see her again. Soon.
Clearing his thoughts, Calisto opened himself to his animal spirit, allowing the raven to take shape in his mind. Gradually, the air around him sparked with energy as his body shifted and changed from a tall, dark-haired man into a large, jet-black raven. Fully changed, he shook his body and stretched out his wings before launching himself into the air. Silently, he soared with the wind and winged his way through the night sky.
Blood marred the stone wall of his modest dorm room. His knuckles stung each time his fist slammed into the rough rock. Pain cloaked the bitterness and rage that festered inside him.
The monsignor had passed him over. Denied his chance at his destiny.
It would be Brother Cardina who would fly across the Atlantic Ocean to San Diego. Brother Cardina would watch over the Night Walker and witness immortality with his own eyes.
Grinding his teeth together, he struck the wall once more, imagining it was Brother Cardina’s pious face, but he held back, careful not to hit too hard. Bruised and bloodied flesh could go unnoticed within the ancient walls of the Fraternidad Del Fuego Santo, but broken bones would not help his cause.
Pain burned up his arm, calming him. He stepped back and basked in the ache.
Brother Cardina was no match for an immortal blood drinker.
He moved closer to the wall, drinking in the earthy scent of his blood. He would get his chance. Staring at the fresh crimson stain, he stuck out his tongue and allowed himself a long, slow lick. He closed his eyes and smiled, resting his cheek against the wall. For now, he would be patient.
Clenching his raw fists, he opened his eyes and stared at his pencil sketches of ravens. His chance would come.
“Go with God,” Calisto whispered as he tossed the lifeless body into the ocean far from the shore. Although he had forsaken religion centuries before, his victims might still find a merciful afterlife in spite of their many sins. He hoped, for their sakes, they would.
The Pacific waves lapped at the Southern California beach. The ocean was a perfect disposal for his meals. The sea drank them into itself, and the bloodless corpses sank to the depths of the ocean, food for the marine life. In the cold waters, it took weeks for the bodies, or what remained of the bodies, to float to the surface. If they did wash ashore, the decomposition made it virtually impossible to determine the exact cause of death.
Not that it mattered. If pathologists did discover the true cause of death, he doubted they would link the deaths to someone with no boat and no records of accessing one. And how would they explain bloodless victims with no discernable wound?
No one spoke of Night Walkers anymore except as merely folk tales.
Blood drinkers in Europe had called themselves vampires years before Calisto ever heard the word, but they knew nothing of what it meant to be a true Night Walker. He despised the glamour that went with the ridiculous name they adopted. He found very little romance in death, even less in immortality.
As the years passed his strength and power grew, making him less of a man and more of a monster. He’d slowly changed into a hunter stalking his prey. He fed on the refuse of humanity, killers, drug lords, and child abusers, then gave his victims’ bodies to the sea.
Vampires were for movie screens and romance novels. And he would never think of himself as one of them. He was a Night Walker. But it didn’t matter what he called himself in this modern world. No one believed in his kind, regardless of the label they used.
He wouldn’t believe it himself if he weren’t already living in endless night.
But tonight his existence changed forever. After over 200 years of waiting, he saw Tala smile again, heard her laughter. He felt more human than he had in centuries. Though newfound hope lightened his spirit, he had to remain patient and proceed with care and caution.
He needed to get to know her again, and for her to know him.
But what if she didn’t fall in love with him this time?
He stopped walking to look at the moonlight shimmering on the waves. Could fate be so cruel to show him her face again, to let him know she lived once more, only to have her push him away? As many times as he had dreamed of this day, it never occurred to him she might not want him.
His jaw tightened. She smiled at him tonight. She’d seen him watching her as she drove away. Something inside of her remembered him. He felt it.
Or was he blinded by hope?
Calisto continued down the sand until he reached his home. He wanted to see her again. Surely after waiting lifetimes for her to return, he had been patient enough. He didn’t want to endure one more night without her.
Music blared, interrupting his thoughts. Through the windows of his home, charity patrons mingled and laughed. He’d hoped the benefit party would be over before he got back. He was in no mood to entertain a room full of wealthy mortals. Not tonight.
Tonight he wanted to relive the moment Tala smiled at him. He had forgotten the way the moon sparkled in her dark eyes, and the way her full lips curved in a welcoming smile. If only he could have touched her.
With a determined sigh, he closed his eyes and focused his thoughts. As he approached his front door, he straightened his clothes. Certain no traces of his victim’s blood stained him, he pulled open the door.
“Calisto! What a wonderful surprise.” Betty took his newly warmed hand as he entered. “I was afraid you might not make it. The party has been a huge success. Come, I’ll introduce you around.”
“No. Forgive me, Bettina.” He raised her hand to press a kiss to the back of her fingers. She enjoyed hearing her full name with his Spanish accent. Flattery came easily for an immortal with the power to persuade and years of practice. Although he regretted toying with her, tonight it was a necessary evil. “I do not mean to be rude, but I am too weary from my business trip to entertain guests. Please continue to make use of my home, but I must retire to my room and rest.”
“Oh, I understand completely,” she said with an almost giddy smile. “I’ll start wrapping up the party down here. Don’t worry about a thing.”
“I never do.” He went upstairs to his room, and closed the door behind him.
Within a half hour Betty’s heels clicked against the Spanish tile foyer floor, echoing through the empty house. She had cleared the guests, proving again the wisdom of his decision to elevate her to Director of Foundation Arts. Not only was she intelligent, loyal and hardworking, but her infatuation with him also made it easier to hide his true nature from her. She rarely questioned him, and for an immortal to live among mortals, it was imperative they take him at his word.
However false it might be.
“Calisto?” Betty knocked on the door.
He already knew what she would say. Her thoughts were an open book to him, but he thought it best to keep up appearances. “Come in, Bettina.”
His dark hair hung loosely around his face, freed from the band he used to keep it tied back. He sat on the edge of his king-sized bed as she opened the door. Betty was the only person to ever see him in such a casual state.
She tried to hold back a smile. “The house is all yours again. Everyone’s gone.”
“Thank you. I wish I had been a better host for you tonight.”
She smiled and shrugged a bare shoulder. “No problem. Everyone was thrilled to be inside your home. We raised close to one hundred thousand dollars tonight.”
“You did a wonderful job.”
Her expression said she hoped for more from him, but he couldn’t focus on small talk.
Leaving flowers at the mission in memory of Tala usually left him feeling despondent, but tonight had been the opposite. Tonight, he wrestled against hope instead of bitterness. Fate finally offered him a second chance at love and happiness.
“Well, I guess I’ll go then,” she said. “I’ll be in the office in the morning.”
“I will be out of town again, but perhaps we can set a meeting for Tuesday night? You can update me on anything needing my attention.”
She pursed her lips for one brief second and then assumed her usual professional expression. When he hired Betty, he explained she would probably not work with him often. Even so, he knew she didn’t expect his frequent trips, but she kept her opinions to herself. Working for an influential philanthropist, she expected some eccentricities. He paid her well, and it wasn’t her place to inquire of his whereabouts. Every once in a while, he mentioned details about trips abroad to his homeland in Spain, and she seemed satisfied with his explanation.
“Tuesday night is fine,” she said. “How about six o’clock? We could meet somewhere for dinner.”
“Perfect. Just leave a note to let me know where I am to meet you.” He loathed computers and e-mail.
He stood and worked at the buttons on his shirt. “Good night, Bettina, and thank you.”
Her all-business nod indicated she realized he wasn’t in the mood for conversation. “Goodnight. I’ll see you Tuesday.”
And then she was gone.
He waited until he heard the front door close and the lock turn before leaving his bedroom. He had trained her well.
When the soft purr of her car’s engine faded into the distance, Calisto went downstairs and sat down at his grand piano. Playing was one of the few activities of late that helped ease the loneliness plaguing him. The music surrounded him in a calming embrace, like a child wrapped in his mother’s arms.
Over the years, he had become a virtuoso, a product of having centuries to practice. In that time, he had memorized countless masterpieces by Chopin, Mozart, and Beethoven, but right now Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” poured from his soul, through his fingertips, making the grand piano ring with emotion.
The music spoke words he couldn’t recite, and he played with fervor and accuracy only an immortal being could achieve. Tonight the piano sang, not with the bitter ache of emptiness but with hope and the promise of love. Passion built in the melody, and in his mind he saw her eyes shining as he bent to kiss her lips. He closed his eyes as he played, envisioning her body pressed against his, her warm skin enticing him to hold her tighter.
At the final cadence, his hands remained frozen over the keys, suspending the final chord as it echoed through his empty house. When silence crept around him, Calisto rose from the keyboard and made his way to the secret chamber buried deep within the cliff of his beachfront home.
He would find her again. Tomorrow night he would search for Kate Bradley. For the first time in decades, he was anxious for another night.
As the dawning sun warmed the earth above him, he settled into the cold depths below. Closing his eyes, his ancient heart quieted and his lungs let out a final breath.
Blood trickled down her arms and legs, but she couldn’t stop to nurse her wounds. Not now.
She ran, breaking through the bushes as they tore at her flesh, never slowing her pace. Thorns stabbed her bare feet, and the pungent smell of sagebrush filled her lungs as she forced herself to move faster.
Deafening wind tugged at her buckskin dress and pushed her back, but she continued to run. Her life depended on it.
Scrambling through the brush and over the rocks, she ignored the pain as the rough terrain ripped at the bloody soles of her feet. With a glance over her shoulder, she saw him closing in, his face veiled in shadows.
She ran faster, her lungs aching with pain. Her heart raced as erratically as the rabbits that darted in front of her. Blood from her split lip burned the back of her throat.
How much longer could she stay ahead of him?
“Tala,” he yelled, his voice loud enough to startle her. He had drawn closer. “Hay en ninguna parte funcionar.”
She didn’t agree. Escape was still an option. If she reached the boulders, her pursuer would have to abandon his horse or risk the animal losing its footing. If the Spanish guard were on foot she would have the advantage. He didn’t know the terrain as well as she did.
The pendant around her neck thumped against her chest with every stride. Her arms and legs felt weighted with stones as sweat rolled down her face and stung her eyes. Clinging to hope, she pushed herself, pounding her aching heels into the rough dirt and pumping her arms faster.
Until her foot tangled in an exposed root.
She hit the ground hard, knocking the air from her lungs. Gasping, she scrambled on her belly, her fingernails scratching into the dry granite soil as she tried to drag herself away.
The thump of his boots on the dirt spurred her on.
She had to get away.
Before she could struggle to her feet, he grabbed her ankle. She kicked his wrist with her free foot, but he didn’t loosen his grip.
When he flipped her over, she screamed until he covered her mouth with a dirty, calloused hand. Tala stared at him in shock. She recognized the guard from the Mission de Alcala, but the lustful hunger in his eyes was new and turned her stomach.
She slid her bloodied fingers over her slightly rounded abdomen and murmured a soft apology to her unborn child.
He pressed a knife to her throat and tore at her dress with frenzied, rough hands. She struggled to break free, but his weight pinned her to the ground. When she scraped her broken nails across his cheek, he grasped her wrists with one hand and held her prone. And then he violated her.
She closed her eyes, praying for the spirits of her Kumeyaay ancestors to guide her soul.
Kate screamed, waking herself from the dream. Her nightshirt stuck to her sweat-drenched body. Coming to San Diego brought back the nightmare that had haunted her since childhood. She shuddered, pushing her hair back from her face. She thought by now it wouldn’t terrify her so much, but the dream felt real, the scent of sagebrush, the ache in her feet, the panic.
Shaking off the dream, she got up and did her best to get a jump on the last few items on her to-do list. Since the renters moved out, she had the perfect opportunity to get her parents’ home ready to sell. But instead of making calls to carpet cleaners and painters, she surfed the web on her laptop, searching for Calisto Terana in San Diego.
The search engine’s hourglass turned over and over like it used a hamster running in a wheel as its only power source.
“Oh come on.” She clicked the refresh button again. Maybe he wasn’t from San Diego. He might’ve been a tourist visiting from Europe or something.
Finally the screen shifted, and she stared at the page in shock.
All of the search results showed a Calisto Terana, philanthropist and founder of Foundation Arts, the same charity her mother had supported. The same charity slated to inherit her mother’s piano. Kate glanced at the baby grand sitting in the corner and sighed. She’d tried to take care of everything last year. As the only child, no one else stood beside her to help with the loss, the loneliness, and the demands. In the end, it was too much too soon.
Losing both parents at once, without warning, left her bereft and barely functioning. Lori and Edie helped her box up most of their things and put them into storage, but Kate fell apart at the thought of selling the house. She didn’t make arrangements to donate her mother’s piano and sheet music, or many of the things her mother requested in the will.
In the end, she left the house furnished, rented it out, and left Point Loma for her new life in Reno. She’d deal with the rest of the estate later when her emotions weren’t so raw, she’d told herself.
It was definitely time to finish up her parents’ trust.
She set the laptop on the table, deciding to walk off some of her excess energy. It was a small world. What were the chances the founder of her mother’s favorite charity would be at the Mission de Alcala at the same time as her? What were the chances he’d be at the Mission at all?
And what were the chances he’d be gorgeous?
She sighed, remembering the way he approached her with the confidence and stealth of a jungle cat. He’d worn khaki slacks and a sage button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up loosely, exposing his muscular forearms.
It seemed plain to her that he was successful and professional, but there was something more she couldn’t put her finger on.
She reached up behind her neck, rubbing at a tight muscle. If she closed her eyes, she could still see him staring at her with dark, brooding eyes that warmed when his lips hinted at a smile. His broad shoulders and narrow waist made his athletic build impossible to ignore.
He had a European air about him, and even discounting his accent, Calisto didn’t strike her as a San Diegan. He wore his dark hair just past his shoulders, but rather than allowing it to hang in his face like a La Jolla surfer, he tied it back. And despite his olive skin, he didn’t seem particularly tanned.
The way he looked at her still haunted her thoughts and sent a shiver down her spine. Somehow Calisto had made her feel like a priceless treasure without ever saying a word. He hadn’t even touched her. And when he said her name…
She shook her head. Snap out of it.
In the den, she sat down at her father’s empty desk. She pulled her mother’s worn address book from her backpack and dug through it for the Foundation Arts phone number. Her mother wanted this, she told herself. She was fulfilling her mother’s wishes, not concocting a ploy to run into Calisto again.
Not much of one anyway.
What would be the harm if she happened to see him again? He was sexy eye candy. It wasn’t like she was going to marry him.
Now she sounded like a moonstruck fifth-grader. Great.
Kate rolled her eyes at her excuses and flipped pages in search of the number for Foundation Arts.
Her mother supported the arts around San Diego for most of her life. Kate hadn’t been shocked to discover she left her baby grand piano and collection of rare sheet music to her favorite charity. On some level, it did hurt a little that her mother didn’t leave it to her. She was by no means a virtuoso, but she knew how to play, and a piano would have been handy for her job as a choir director. She could’ve used it to plan the music for her classes and student choirs.
It didn’t surprise her, though.
Her mother lived to support the foundation, to support “The Arts.” As if Kate’s work was less than art. Her mother had her own set of goals for Kate’s future. You have miles of potential, she’d tell her. She really wanted her daughter to be a performer of some kind. Although Kate aced her vocal performance juries in college, teaching was her true passion.
The disappointment was plain in her mother’s eyes the day Kate turned down an offer for graduate school to study voice. Instead she entered the teaching credential program. She’d found her calling. She wouldn’t live her mother’s dream, but she wished her mom could’ve seen her work.
If she had been able to witness the joy on the teens’ faces when they sang together on stage for the first time, maybe then she might have realized Kate hadn’t settled. She might have understood Kate was an artist, and better yet, her work ensured an ongoing love of music in the next generation of art lovers.
Finding the number, she went to the phone and made the call.
“Foundation Arts, this is Betty.”
“Hi, I’m Kate Bradley. My mother left her piano to the Foundation—”
“Oh Kate, I’m sorry for your loss,” Betty said. “Martha was a wonderful woman. We all miss her. She spoke highly of you.”
Kate was more than a little surprised. “She did?”
“Of course,” Betty said, a smile coming through in her voice. “You’re a choir director in Nevada, right?”
Kate’s surprise morphed into shock. “Yes. I teach middle school chorus.”
“I’m sure it takes a lot of patience.”
“Yes, it does.” Kate collected her thoughts. “Um, the reason I called though… My mother left her baby grand piano and her sheet music collection to your foundation. I just wanted to find out who to call about the piano moving.”
“I can handle all of it for you. I’ll need your signature on a few documents, and I’ll take care of everything else.”
Kate raised a brow. “You’ll handle finding piano movers?”
“Great. How soon can we get this going?” Kate asked.
“Well…” Kate heard pages flipping on Betty’s end of the call. “I have a meeting at six o’clock tomorrow night. I can be a little early. How about five-thirty at The Fish Market? It’s the one near Seaport Village, on the bay.”
“Sounds great. I’ll see you then.” Kate placed the phone back on the receiver with a little smile. Maybe her mother respected her work more than she ever realized. Too bad it was too late to tell her how much it meant to her.
Gregorio lived with the tribe for nearly three months before they took him to the Old One. He still mourned Tala’s death, unable to move past the pain and emptiness weighing down his soul. He drank very little and ate only when someone reminded him.
The pain of her loss became his only reality. Shadows and loss colored every part of his world.
Every time he saw the Romneya bloom in the valleys, he ached with memories of Tala, of the way she wore them in her hair and how they perfumed her skin. The sight of the ocean waves where they learned each other’s customs now tore him apart.
As the weeks passed, he found some solace in the tribal beliefs and eventually became involved in spiritual discussions with the Shaman about death, spirits of the dead, and the belief they might one day live again.
The night of the full moon, after the tribal ceremonies ended and embers were all that remained of their community fire, the Shaman told him stories of the Old One. The white-haired man lived on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. They believed he could delve into the minds and hearts of men. If the Old One found Gregorio worthy, he would bestow on him a new title, and Gregorio would become a member of the tribe.
The Shaman honored him with his invitation to meet the wise old man and make Gregorio a part of their tribe. But it did little to raise his spirits. A new name, a new life, it didn’t matter. Tala would not be part of it, and his soul would still be empty.
Each night when he slept, he saw her, held her, tasted her lips, and drank in the sound of her laughter, and each morning when he woke, his loss felt raw.
He began to hate the sun.