Dark Passages: Tristan & Karen,
DARK PASSAGES: Tristan & Karen
Book Four in The Brethren SeriesTM
by Sara Reinke
Edited by Jennifer Barker
Published by Bloodhorse Press, LLC at Smashwords
Cover artwork by Kimberly Killion, Hot Damn Designs!
Copyright 2011 Sara Reinke
The Brethren Series is a registered trademark of Sara Reinke.
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
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Tristan Morin shoved Karen Pierce back into the nearest wall and pressed his mouth against hers. The warmth of her lips, the sweetness of her tongue, saliva, and breath—it was enough to strip the senses from him.
“Tell me to stop,” he whispered, because it was all he could do not to wrench her head back by the hair and sink his teeth into the hot, pulsating length of her carotid artery. His canines had extended, dropping from recessed grooves in his gumline. His pupils had enlarged, an ancient, primitive reflex that left them dilating wide enough to nearly swallow the visible portions of his irises and corneas. In this sudden, extremely light-sensitive field of vision, Karen’s pale skin seemed to glow, miniscule droplets of perspiration glistening against her face like diamonds.
“No.” She shook her head defiantly, her cheeks flushed, her blonde hair askew, her blue eyes glossy and round with eager anticipation.
He reached between them, ripping open her blouse with a single forceful yank. Buttons popped loose, scattering against the floor; she wore no bra beneath. He drew back long enough to shrug his way out of his own shirt, then pushed himself into her, feeling the incredible heat of her body, the bullet points of her nipples against his chest.
“Tell me to stop,” he pleaded again, because if he didn’t, he was going to feed from her. And I can’t do that. God help me, I can’t.
Karen locked eyes with him. “No.”
Her fingers tangled in his hair as he slid his hands down her torso, following the slim indentation of her waist, the outward swells of her hips. She’d worn a black skirt to the funeral, something simple, with a hem that fell to midthigh. He pulled it up now toward her navel, then opened the fly of his pants. Seizing one side of her panties, he gave a jerk, ripping them away from her, then caught her buttocks in his hands and hoisted her off the ground.
Her legs wrapped around his midriff, her hands splayed across his shoulder blades, and when he entered into her, filling her in a single, swift stroke, she stiffened, her breath catching sharply.
Crushing her back into the wall, he drove himself into her, feeling her fingernails hook into his back. Almost immediately, she came, as if their rough, harried foreplay had brought her to the breaking point and he’d just driven her over the edge. The sudden rush of blood through her body, adrenaline-infused and endorphin-laced, was almost more than he could bear.
His bedroom was upstairs, a loft overlooking the open floor plan of his A-frame home. With a soft grunt, he pulled her near, carrying her toward the stairs, her legs still viselike around his waist. This left her throat vulnerably exposed and close to his mouth, his fangs. He was salivating, his mouth flooded, his jaw aching. She knew what he wanted and wasn’t afraid, not of him or his sudden overwhelming urge to feed, and somehow this realization excited him even more.
Please don’t let me do this, he thought as he reached the top of the stairs, carrying her toward his bed. Her shoes fell off along the way, black leather pumps that tumbled noisily to the floor and that he kicked out of his path. He opened his mouth, letting the tips of his fangs press against her, lightly at first, then dimpling her skin, sinking slowly, deliberately. Oh, God, please don’t let me bite her!
With a hoarse cry, he pushed Karen away, and she fell back against the mattress, her eyes wide with startled surprise. Without giving her time to recover—or for him to reconsider the aborted bite attempt—Tristan flipped her onto her stomach, clasped her hips, and pulled her back against the bedspread, spearing into her from behind.
As he fell into another powerful rhythm, he held her hands against the mattress, his fingers laced through hers, and she arched her back, leaning into his shoulder, grinding her buttocks into him. He came hard, release crashing over him in shuddering waves, and as it did, that relentless urge to feed, to bury his teeth into the soft, sweet meat of her throat, was mercifully obliterated.
Because I don’t think I could’ve held out much longer, he thought, crumpling onto the bed beside her, letting his breath escape in a long, heavy sigh. And if I give into the bloodlust…if I feed from Karen…then, oh, Christ, I’m screwed. Royally.
Karen rolled onto her side, spooning against Tristan. His eyes were closed, his face glossed with sweat, his hair swept messily across his brow. She could see his canine teeth beginning to recede, slipping back beneath the cover of his upper lip and into his gums.
This has to be a dream.
With a smile, she draped her hand lightly against his chest. Like hers, his skin was flushed, infused with heat, sweat-soaked from exertion, and beneath her fingertips, she could feel the rapid-fire rhythm of his heartbeat.
Tristan and his family were of a race of beings who collectively referred to themselves as the Brethren. By any other definition, they were vampires—long-lived carnivores who seemed to never age or tire, whose canine teeth could elongate at will so that they could feed. Unlike the cheesy horror-movie variety or sparkling, ethereal creatures from teen-age melodramas, the Brethren lived seamlessly among humans, not preying upon them. Or at least, the Morin family, including Tristan, didn’t.
Their home was a communal estate along the mountainous shores of Emerald Bay, off Lake Tahoe in California. More than sixty members of the Morin clan lived in dozens of houses scattered among the pine trees and aspens. For much of the year, many of the houses went unoccupied, with Morin cousins, brothers, sisters, and assorted kin out and about in the human world, living undetected, going about otherwise unextraordinary, even mundane, lives. Tristan lived on the lakefront property, as did Karen. She was the sole human allowed access to, and intimate knowledge of, the Morins’ carefully guarded world. In addition to homesteads, the property also housed a one-of-a-kind medical clinic that specialized in the treatment of Brethren, who with their unique physiologies and biological needs required equally individualized treatments. She’d been hired to work at the clinic by Tristan’s grandfather, Michel. The benefits included free on-site room and board, a house of her own, and a view of the lake below.
Another perk of the job was working with Tristan, being near him, day in and day out.
The first time she’d laid eyes on him was at the Sierra Nevada Medical Center in Reno five years earlier. She was an oncology-certified nurse and he was one of a handful of residents on rotation in the ward. His youthful appearance had belied an astonishing clinical proficiency beyond his years, but more than this—there was something about him that she’d felt drawn toward, as if he was somehow magnetically charged, exerting some unseen, unbidden pull on her mind and heart. She’d never told him this, of course—or anyone else, for that matter—and had sure as hell never acted on it.
Tristan’s mother had been buried yesterday, a small service at a family plot less than a ten-minute walk from where Karen now stood. Lisette Morin had been sick for a long time, languishing in a unresponsive state of persistent catatonia, her mind virtually stripped in the aftermath of a violent hemorrhagic stroke years earlier. Her death had been inevitable, a fact that had never been lost upon her physician son, who had tended faithfully to her care. Still, however expected, the loss had left Tristan grief stricken. He’d stood at the graveside, eyes fixed on the glossy casket draped in an arrangement of lilies and roses, listening as his grandfather, Michel, had offered a quiet sermon meant to comfort, but to which Tristan had seemed oblivious.
After the service, as the gathering of Morin friends and family had broken apart, she’d felt a momentary bewildered thrill as he reached for her, catching her by the hand, pulling her near.
“My house,” he’d whispered, his lips brushing her ear as he spoke with intimate proximity, a gravelly hoarseness to his voice. “Now.”
He’d said no more but hadn’t needed to. She’d seen it in his eyes, what he meant with those words. She’d followed him down the rutted path back to his home as he held her hand lightly but firmly in his own. It had seemed so surreal to her, and she trembled all the while with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. Despite her association with vampires on a daily basis, she’d never once been bitten by any of them.
Long before Tristan was even born, Michel had come up with revolutionary ideas about Brethren nature and behavior that had flown in the face of what others of their kind had believed for millennia. His first such controversial hypothesis had been that Brethren weren’t meant to feed from humans at all, but rather, from each other, a physiological preference supported by the Brethren’s innate ability to heal quickly and fully from almost any injury, and the fact that heightened psychokinetic abilities only developed in those Brethren who fed regularly on their fellows. This particular supposition had led to the Morin clan being forced into exile, segregated from other Brethren clans centuries earlier.
Karen had been told that the bloodlust—the instinctive need the Brethren felt to feed—was strongly akin to sexual desire, so much so that when a Brethren male was aroused before lovemaking, his canine teeth would extend, his pupils dilating so his eyes would seemingly turn black. Last night, it had happened to Tristan, but rather than shocking or frightening her, his appearance had only turned Karen on all the more.
Tell me to stop, he’d whispered to her, and she remained uncertain as to whether he’d meant making love to her or trying to feed from her. She’d told him no each time, not caring which.
Still smiling, she closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of his chest against her cheek, breathing in the lingering hint of his cologne. Now she could hear the pounding measure of his heartbeat as it slowed inexorably to a less frantic pace.
I love you, Tristan, she thought with a contented sigh.
I love you, Tristan.
Tristan wished he could block her thoughts out of his mind. But like his body, it had been unhinged by the bloodlust, and there would be no reining it in, no containing or controlling the powerful telepathy he normally commanded with accustomed and comfortable ease.
Even the simple act of her touching his chest was enough to make him tremble, as if a current of electricity stole through her body and into his own. He was too exhausted to pull away from her, however, even though he knew it would be safest.
Because if I don’t, the bloodlust might return, he thought, gritting his teeth, forcing himself to roll over, turn his back on Karen. I can’t take that chance.
He could pick her out of a crowded room; with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back, he was invariably, unerringly drawn to Karen. Her scent—the intermingling fragrances of her skin, hair, breath, and blood—left him dizzy, nearly drunk with desire if he stood too close to her for too long. He’d never reacted to a human like that, and had fought the temptation to yield to that incessant need every day from the moment they’d met.
Which is why Michel brought her here, Tristan thought with a frown. And why I can’t give in to her. It’s exactly what the son of a bitch wants.
The next morning, Karen woke to the sweet strains of piano music. Her eyes opened a bleary half-mast, and she blinked sleepily across the breadth of a king-sized bed draped in white sheets and a pale, pillowy down comforter.
Tristan’s bed, she thought with a soft smile, even though there was no sign of Tristan. The music continued from downstairs, unabated and intricate, giving her a pretty good idea of where she’d find him.
It was real, then. The thought made her smile shyly, her hand darting to her mouth. It really happened. Tristan made love to me.
Her smile still tugged at the corners of her mouth as she slipped out of bed. She was naked except for the skirt she’d worn the day before. This was tangled around her waist, the hem hiked so high, it hugged her more like a belt or bandeau, and she tried to tug it back down toward her knees. Her high-heeled shoes lay in a pile by the closet door, and as she slipped them back on, she spied a rumpled T-shirt on top of his nearby dresser. She slipped it over her head, then glanced at herself in a nearby mirror—wrinkled clothes, sleep-tousled hair—and winced.
God, I look rough, she thought, trying to smooth her hair down, tucking it behind her ears. But it was worth it. Every last glorious minute.
As Karen crept down the stairs, she could look out across the open interior of the first floor below. Tristan’s house was framed by towering windows on all sides, awarding a nearly panoramic view of the surrounding vista overlooking Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay. Some of these opened onto a large adjoining patio and had been left deliberately ajar to allow the crisp, cool morning air to filter inside.
She saw Tristan seated at a grand piano, dressed only in a pair of sweatpants, his chest and arms bare. Although he faced the keyboard, his hands rested at his sides, his fingers hooked over the edge of the bench beneath him as if he braced himself against an impact or a blow. His head was tilted slightly backward, his eyes closed, a soft cleft between his brows suggesting deep concentration. In front of him, she could see the keys moving up and down, flying in rapid-fire procession, as if invisible hands drilled against them.
Which, in a manner of speaking, was exactly what was happening.
Because he fed from other Brethren, Tristan was endowed with telekinesis. Blessed with a natural ear for music, he could use this unnatural and, in Karen’s opinion, extraordinary ability to hear any piece of music, then play it for himself, all without laying a finger on a piano. He could play by hand, of course, having been taught in his youth by his now deceased mother. However, he did so rarely, preferring instead to play by benefit of his mind. The Brethren way, as he called it.
The music abruptly faltered, and he lowered his head, opening his eyes as he glanced over his shoulder at her. She hadn’t made a sound, had been trying her best, in fact, to be as quiet as possible lest she disturb him, but she may as well have not bothered. The Brethren were also telepaths.
He probably sensed me the minute I woke up.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to…”
He shook his head, cutting her off. “It’s all right.”
“The music was beautiful,” she said. “What was it
“Ravel. Gaspard de la nuit.” He leaned back, resting his elbows against the piano keys with a disharmonic sound. “Listen, I’m glad you’re up.”
“Why?” she asked, a mischievous smile tugging the corners of her lips. She considered going over to him, straddling him on the piano bench, hiking her skirt back up to her hips to allow him easy access.
“I’ve got some things to do before I have to check in at the clinic today,” he said, stopping her cold in her tracks. “I need to take off in a few minutes.”
“What?” Karen blinked at him, bewildered. She didn’t know what she’d been expecting—if not an encore performance of the previous evening’s main event, then at least maybe a cup of coffee and a smile—but this sure wasn’t it.
“I can give you a ride back up the hill to your place, if you want,” he offered.
What is he talking about? He can’t be serious. She stared at him, wounded. Not after last night.
Although the Morins didn’t feed from humans, they did intermarry with them, have sexual relations, even children with them. Not Tristan, however. While many of his siblings, cousins, and kin were the results of these human-Brethren matings, Tristan had been born to a Brethren mother, sired by a Brethren father. He was the last full-blooded Brethren to be born among the Morins. Because of that distinction, he wanted to breed with a Brethren woman to continue his bloodline.
Not a human, she thought, her eyes stinging with tears, because that was part of the reason she’d been so excited by the urgency she’d seen in his eyes as they’d left the gravesite. I thought he wanted me.
Less than a week earlier, he’d damn near married a young Brethren woman named Tessa Noble, not because he’d loved her—he’d hardly even known her—but because it would have meant, in his estimation at least, a suitable breeding partner.