Some people will do anything to avoid it. Even trade their immortal souls for endless existence.
Secretly, inexorably, they are infiltrating our world, sucking the essence out of unsuspecting victims with their hideous parody of a kiss.
Adam Thorne founded the Institute to study and destroy his monster of a brother, but the key to its success is held in the pale, slender hand of a woman on the run. There is something hauntingly different about Talia O’Brien, her unknowing sensuality, her uncanny way of slipping into Shadow.
This is the place between life and what comes after - a dark forest of fantasy, filled with beauty, peril, mystery. And Talia is about to open the door.
Other Covers for Shadow Bound
Shadow Bound was released in paperback in June 2010. It was released in Germany in 2011. It was re-issued in e-Book format (with updated cover art) in January 2012.
Excerpt from Shadow Bound
A light in deepest Shadow.
The fae lord pulled his cloak around his face to dampen the intensity of the glow. Futile. The woman was still there, in his mind, shining like molten gold. The heat of her soulfire penetrated the veils between the mortal world and Twilight and slid across his skin in a caress. She, the sun, powerful enough to quicken even him.
From his dark vantage, he peered into her room. Her bed was made, pillow undented. He'd come too early to ride the rough waves of her dreams, to mellow her sharp knocks of pain and worry so that she could rest. He'd done as much since she was a child. It pleased him that the detritus of the sick room huddled in a corner, unused. Oxygen in a tank. Machines dozing, their cords wrapped and waiting.
She sat on a stool in front of her easel, brush in hand, facing into a deep triangle of darkness cut away by the fall of light from the bedside lamp. She gazed into his Shadow world, just as he marveled at hers. On the canvas before her, she painted a fairy-tale landscape: lush hills lit by star shine, a border of black forest, and the wide gray sea beyond.
Her heart hitched, and the veils between them thinned as her time drew near. He both welcomed and braced against the sudden ache of her pain as it echoed through him—something of her to feel.
She paused for breath, hands falling to her knees. The tip of the brush made a drop of green on the skirt of her dress. He wondered at her strength of will as she gritted her teeth and forced her body back into a steady rhythm. Strange how she clung so fiercely to life, yet bent her skill to an image of Twilight.
He crept closer, into the variegated grays of her room, until he could just catch the scent of her—the bright smells that danced on her skin and clung to her hair, the musk of the paint on her fingers that never quite washed away, and something denser, darker, that was woman and mortal.
He sensed her grim resolve, tainted by desperation, in a concentration of spirit that kept her young heart beating, commanding its exercise long enough for her to embrace life, to make something that would last, a legacy of herself to the world. Though her emotion coursed over him like a wild river, he could not unravel her structured thoughts, the building blocks of her intellect, of motivation and creation as she changed her world in ways both subtle and great. Such was the beauty and power of mortality. If she only knew.
She mastered herself. Picked up her brush, put tip to canvas, then paused, head tilting.
"Are you there?" she called, her voice barely above a whisper.
Her sister was in a room beyond, out of earshot, staring into a silver window of moving lights and laughter.
"I know you're there," she said, though she regarded her painting. Her brush resumed its stroke. "You might as well come out and talk to me for once."
So. She seeks me. It's come to that at last, and yet, still too soon. A small flame sparked to life in his chest, but he forced himself to pull back into Shadow, drawing his cloak around his shoulders.
She sighed. "I didn't mean to scare you."
She paused again to scan the room, her gaze touching on this corner and that empty chair, glancing off him, only to peer more keenly into the deepening grays to her other side.
She laughed, short and full of irony. "Fancy you being afraid of me. That's got to be a first."
Indeed. Most cowered from the very idea of him. Not her.
"And after all this time we've spent together. Well, not exactly together, but you know what I mean. I wish we could talk for once. But then, I suppose it won't be long before we meet. There will be more than enough time after."
Not true. She would pass through Twilight but briefly before moving on to the next world. Twilight was merely the boundary. She could not bide there long, no matter how he tried to delay her passage. And he would. He could not let her pass by him like a guttering candle at the end of its wick. Not his Bright Light.
Darkness lay heavy on his back, and he itched to cast his cloak away. Already she was aware of him. And her painting was proof that her view of Twilight was nigh unobstructed.
What harm could come of it, really? If he could not keep her long in Twilight, perhaps he might steal a moment here. Now.
Rending a thin layer of veil, the last remaining before her crossing, he stepped out of Twilight and into the half shadows of her room. Scents of the mortal world crowded around him, too many to discern individually. Except for her. She filled him with a single breath.
Her gaze darted to him. The brush fell to the floor. Her skin, already pale, washed white. Her eyes blinked like butterfly wings, blue-ringed indigo and fringed with curling black.
"Hush," he said, reaching out a down-turned hand to calm the sudden shock and surprise that stopped her breath.
Her eyes filled with tears as she took in his presence, her mind working its mortal power to shape his form according to her soul's deepest conception of what he would be. It did not change his essence; now and forever he would be the Final Courier. The Ultimate Host. Captain of the small boat that would carry her from the mortal world, across the waters of Twilight, and release her on the shore beyond.
But the form he took—that was in her keeping. If mortals only knew the power they wielded, they could reshape the three worlds with a thought. Perhaps one day they would.
What did she see when she looked at him at last? A nightmare concocted of fear, aged beyond reckoning and grotesque? It happened like that quite often. Those whose dread of the dark passage created a terror out of the ether, shaping him with their minds into a being bent on horror.
No. She did not fear time or Death. She did not tremble as he advanced closer to her. As he stepped forward to view her painting.
She'd gotten some things wrong: The black forest was darker, dark as pitch, and as inky as abject fear. She'd missed, too, the pillar of smoke that rose in the center from the fire of rage. But he was there, crouched in the foreground, a figure wrapped in gray wind. Storm wind. The kind that harries or hinders, a force unto itself. She'd caught that exactly, but she did not depict his face.
What did she see? The question pricked him.
"Is it a good likeness?" Anxiety pitched her voice high.
He shifted his gaze to her. "Yes."
She inhaled deeply, tamping down her emotion. "What is beyond the sea?"
He contemplated that often himself. "I don't know. I can't go there."
"But I will."
It wasn't a question, but he nodded a confirmation anyway.
She brushed her tears away with a wrist. Then she held a slightly trembling hand to him. "I'm Kathleen O'Brien. Nice to finally meet you in person."
Ah, a friend, then. A companion. That was good. He did not know if he could bear it if she feared him. If she saw him as a monster.
He knew the custom, had witnessed it for a millennia or more, but still he wondered as he reached out his own hand and grasped hers in a slow slide of Twilight and mortal skin. She was warm, soft, and for all her frailty, as strong as the tide. Her heartbeat reached to the end of her fingertips and stirred something alien in him. Curious.
She drew a careful breath. "And what's yours?"
He'd been called many things over the years, but all those he rejected. He would not have those names formed by her lips. "I don't have one."
"Everyone has a name."
"Then I've forgotten it. Pick another for me. I swear I won't forget again." He laid himself open to her, waiting for the word that would name his soul, the sound of her claim on him.
A slow smile bloomed across her face, delight washing away the last of her unease. For that alone, trespassing the boundary had been worth it, come what may.
"I've been calling you Shadowman for, well…forever."
"Then I am Shadowman forever."
She kept his hand. He did not release hers. They were anchored together yet adrift. Kindred spirits from different worlds.
The light in her spirit darkened. "Is it time?"
"No. Not now." He skimmed his mind along the shimmering veil. The membrane was thin, but still impenetrable for a mortal. "Not today, I think."
Creases formed between her brows as she frowned. "I'm not sure that I am ready to go, but I am tired of waiting."
He smiled slightly. Impatience was a universal trait for mortals. For them everything had a beginning and an end, like fixed points in a landscape of life, and that knowledge incited a persistent expectation of what was to come. Not so in Twilight, where everything stretched in-between and time was something Twilight folk wove into their midnight music.
"Do you know when?"
"I don't. No one can know that. Would you really want to?"
Her gaze darted up, forehead tight.
"No. And yes. I want to know—or, or understand something. I've been sick my whole life. What is the point of being alive if I never get to live? I want—" Her words choked off. She took another steadying breath. "I guess I just want a reason."
Riding through her body, down her arm, across her fingertips and into his hand—frustration and loneliness. Almost unbearable. Certainly unacceptable.
"There is no reason for beauty. It just is." Scant comfort, he knew. "Perhaps you will find a better answer in the next world." He raised his hand to the horizon line on her painting. "In the world beyond the sea."
"And you can't go there?"
Just you. The faerie are forbidden."
"So this is it." She turned back, eyes shimmering with fresh pain. "This is all the time I get?"
He inclined his head in answer, but slightly, carefully. He did not know precisely what she meant, so he could not agree in totality. Not with that strange light shining in her eyes. Not with the alien intent that coursed out of her and into him, the velvety longing that gathered in his gut.
"Touch me," she said, suddenly. "I mean—will you?"
Then, not a friend. Or, not only a friend. What did she see?
She stood, her body a breath before his. "I want to feel something real while I can. You've been there all my life, waiting. Just out of sight. I'd hoped that we were… that you and I…" She dropped her gaze, shaking her head in frustration.
You and I. Yes. Nothing else was necessary; she'd captured the truth in a marriage of words that had power on any side of the veil.
He felt her will harden inside her, and she slowly raised her head to meet his gaze. "Please touch me."
No. Being in this room, speaking thus, already broke the laws of Twilight. There would be repercussions as it was. But her heart pounded in his head, pushing out all thought. Heat rose in his chest. He searched blindly with his mind for the coolness of Shadow. He should not have come here; the laws of Twilight existed for a reason. He understood that now.
The sound of his name stopped him short.
She released his hand, reached up to his face, and dipped into his dark hood. Finding his cheek, she drew back just enough to skim her fingertips over his lips.
"I cannot do this," he said. He should remove himself from her reach at once and draw the fae shadows tightly round his shoulders. Never come here again. He'd meet her in Twilight, perhaps soon, and that would have to be enough.
Yet he turned his face into her palm, her soft skin burning away the last of his resolve. Her mortal will was stronger than any he could marshal.
He could not pinpoint the moment he fell—perhaps when he first stepped out of Shadow. Or in that breath drawn to shape the sound of his first word, hush. Or years before when he came to watch her from his dim vantage when he had no call to do so.
But he was lost now, bending his head, tasting her lips for the first time. The dark, wet wine of her mouth, sweeter than anything on any world or in-between. One taste, one deep drink, and then he'd go.
Her heart beat strongly, thudding over the bridge that they'd created. Hardly weak. Perhaps if he touched her like this she might live forever.
He pulled away and the loss of her hollowed him out. "There are laws that even you must know, deep inside, should not be broken."
"I don't care. I've been careful too damn long."
Only a mortal could be so brave. They know an end will come and so, too, a new beginning. But for an immortal, the repercussions were simple and never finite. She had no idea.
"You said it yourself," she insisted. "It will not be today. Maybe tomorrow or the day after, but I have right now. Can you understand?"
"Kathleen…" His argument died on his lips. He'd never said her name before.
"You've been there all my life making the worst better, the most frightening moments easier. Why? You have to love me."
"I do." Beyond reason.
She stilled, her breath suppressed, waiting for a flicker of hope from him. For him. Incomprehensible.
How did mortals bear it? In the space of a single lift and fall of her lashes, he was done with waiting. To lie down with her, Kathleen, to be able to pierce the darkness with light just once, he would dare anything. There was no penalty that could mitigate the need. No retribution that he had not already paid in the dark corners of her room, waiting.
If the tightness that gathered in his gut, complaining to touch her, to meld his body to hers, if that was what men called passion, then he could do this thing. Pour himself inside her. Give and take a moment of that beauty.
And yes!—he understood it now—time was short. Her impatience was a catching thing. He'd been here but moments and already a nagging current of it tainted his blood, itching under his fingertips.
He brought a hand to the cotton of her skirt just below her waist. The fabric was coarse to his touch, nothing like the silks on his side of the boundary that poorly mimicked the fall and function of mortal cloth. This had weight—the strange magic of mass. Slight though it was, the cloth required physical effort to draw it upward in a miracle of movement that stirred the air and carried a sweet, dark scent off her skin. Without this form, this gift of a body, he could not have done it.
Kathleen. Her power was formidable, indeed. Dangerously so. Bid me come, and here I am. Shape my being, and for a short time I can move mortal air in and out of my chest. Ask me to love you, Bright Light, and you make real a dream-giver's deepest desire.
She quivered when he lifted her dress, but she raised her arms to let it pass easily over her head. The skin beneath was pure white. It had seen so little sun. He dismissed his dark cloak, which lifted like smoke off his body. For the first time, his dusky skin borne of Twilight was revealed entirely.
Her lips parted, but the thought that sparked in her mind never took structured form.
What did she see? Did she fear him at last?
He glanced down, following her line of sight.
She'd made him a man. Strong and well formed, aroused and wanting, if such a thing were possible. How much was her desire and how much his, he did not know. He did not care. All that mattered was that some mortal magic had conspired to enable him to love her.
"You're beautiful," she said, her color pinked.
A smile twitched at his mouth. She should know; she'd shaped him from her own fantasies.
His hand moved up the long line of her arm to the bend in her elbow, the secret tuck of sensitive skin. A rainbow of sensation spread through her and echoed through him. No one had touched her like this before. Just him. Just this once.
"My sister…" she began.
"…is asleep and will remain so for the rest of the night."
She bit her bottom lip; it flooded with color. Red, intoxicating. Taking his hands, she pulled him to the bed. She shed the rest of her clothes and shifted her hips onto the side.
For all her daring, her trembling redoubled. The last thing he wanted was fear between them. His existence was influenced too much by that already. He wanted only light. Only Kathleen. He covered her body with his, bracing his elbows on either side of her head. He wiped away the tears that quickly gathered and fell off her cheeks with his thumbs. Wet and wonderful.
"Hush, now," he said again.
A curl of fear whipped up inside of her to sting him. "Can you show me how to go? I don't know…"
He grinned. "I don't know either."
"So we just…" she began.
"…love each other, I think." Before her fear could grow, he bent his head to kiss her again. He did not know the niceties of the act, but that seemed insignificant. He reveled in her mouth, warm and lush. Given to him freely.
Her fingers laced into the hair at his nape, her courage rising.
She lifted her chin to his kiss and wrapped a leg around his body to stroke him in a long caress that reached from his hip to his calf. He shuddered. She laughed low and throaty against his mouth. Alive.
He settled himself in the sweet valley of her body, hands molding her, setting each nerve singing. He took the cherry of her nipple in his mouth and suckled like a babe. Born to her, to himself, to this world at last. Her hands gripped his hair by the roots, holding him in place.
Not necessary. He couldn't move if he wanted to. Well, perhaps to attend the other one. And the hollow at her neck, and then down again to the smooth plane of her belly. Below that his thoughts fragmented into senseless feeling. Her hands tangled loosely in his hair, fluttering at his crown while he bowed to hers.
One moment they arched, pelvis to pelvis, the next moment he was inside her. There was pain on both sides, his an echo of hers, but soon forgotten in a welling of intense pleasure, of suffused senses weeping in carnal delight.
A drum set up in his chest, then fell lower into a mindless place. A place that was all dark, hot sensation. Greedy to give. The drum beat an old rhythm, older than even he, underscoring the melody of her sighs. Her desire set the pace for his, led it and drove it until his body answered hers beat for beat.
He moved like the ocean, pushed by forces within and without, by the moon and stars and deep black of space, by some nameless power men somehow knew, but he, for all his aged wisdom, did not.
He explored the subtle rise and dip of her hips, the swell of her breasts. He poured himself over her body like a flood just bursting its dam. Water rushing to fill, to leave no dark place unquickened.
It was the kind of water that gave, and when the storm was over, he knew he left some small part of himself inside her. Yet he remained undiminished. If anything, he was augmented, bearing a knowledge that was hot and sweet, a single incandescent thought burned into being: Kathleen.
He cradled her close with his back to the bed; she curled into his side, leg carelessly draped over his. The scent of mingled waters hung in the air.
From the dark corners of the room, Shadow seeped out to grasp him, to bind him, to carry him back across. No wonder this world made him a monster. The deepening shadows—his place of power—seemed a menace to him now.
A lick of frigid blackness slid around his ankle. With his mind, he pushed the Shadow away with vehemence. It held firm and scrolled up his leg.
They had little time left together, he and his beloved, floating softly on an echo of pleasure.
Except they weren't alone. Something else had sparked into being and glimmered in his mind's eye. He reached between them to find the source.
There. An unsettled spark.
"Something is happening," he said, touching her lower abdomen.
Her eyes rounded. She lifted her head to check her naked belly, then shifted her gaze to his face. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know. A life maybe. I don't know much about that." A lash of darkness twisted up his other leg. He could feel himself beginning to come apart. It was near impossible to hold his form long in mortality. "Be still while I try to stop it. I don't have much time left."
"No," she breathed, her hand drawn protectively to the spot. "No." She pulled away from him, sliding off the bed to stand at the brink of threatening blackness.
He reached out to her. "I don't know what it is. What it will be." A spark could turn into a fire, and a fire can become a changing force of nature. When her resolve didn't falter, he added, "I don't know if it should be."
"If it shouldn't, then why is it happening?"
"I broke a law to be here. And more to be with you like this. I've lost count how many, and I don't care. But this… this could be the beginning of the repercussions." The thought had him by the throat: It was one thing for him to endure the effects of his trespass, but for her to bear them, his lovely Kathleen, alone, that was intolerable. He had to end it.
"No," she said.
Grasping darkness inked up his body. No time. "Kathleen, you can't know what it is. Or what it will cost."
"I don't care. It's ours. Yours and mine together," she answered. She met his outstretched hand and flattened it on her pelvis.
He could quash the spark now, be done with it. But her heart stuttered, stopping him. Her eyes filled with new hope, a world's worth of hope, her smile struggling with a painful joy.
"You don't understand," he said. And he did not have the time to convince her. Something terrible would come of this. Her happiness had to come at a price. A darkness born to match that glimmering spark. He should not have come, yet could not regret it either.
"I do, too. More than you." She pressed the back of his hand. "We're making something. Something of us."
The spirit in her eyes never burned brighter. He could not bring himself to diminish it. He tried another tack. "You may not have the time to see it through as it is."
Her conviction staggered him. "Kathleen, even now your heart falters."
She met his eyes while taking a deep, controlled breath. "I only need nine months. Nine months is nothing. They've been telling me that I only have six for years."
"Kathleen. Love," he said, his voice rough, near breaking. He gathered her to him, speaking into her eyes. "Neither of us knows what time you have. Better to end it now. I may be back for you with the sun."
"I have no power over this, Kathleen." And no power to fight what must surely accompany the life she prized. He caressed the length of her arm for the last time.
"You defied the laws. Now watch me do it."
"Kathleen…" He could not stop saying her name. He didn't want to, not as he felt himself unraveling into the icy darkness. His substance dissolved into the chiaroscuro of Twilight, while his Shadow-bred senses reached toward mortality.
The spark. Her joy blooming within her.
And, yes, in a weak film clinging to the corners of the room: a smudge of black spit on the world, to grow and thrive, a horror to match her miracle.
Kathleen! Something terrible, indeed.