Wicked Nights (Angels of the Dark, Book 1) – Gena Showalter

THE MORNING OF HER eighteenth birthday, Annabelle Miller woke from the most amazing dream feeling as if her eyes had been ripped out, dipped in acid and shoved back into their sockets. She became aware of the sensation gradually, her mind still fogged from sleep. When full awareness ɹnally struck, her entire body tensed and bowed, a scream ripping free of her throat. She pried her swollen eyelids apart, but… there was no dawning light. Only darkness greeted her. The pain spread, riding the too-swift tides in her veins and threatening to burst through her skin. She rubbed at her face, even clawed, hoping to remove whatever was causing the problem, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. No bumps, no scratches. No… wait. There was something. A warm liquid now coated her hands. Blood? Another scream left her, followed by another and another, each like a serrated piece of glass scraping her throat raw. In seconds, panic chewed her up and spit her out. She was blind, bleeding—and dying? The whine of hinges, the clack of high heels against the hardwood ɻoor. “Annabelle? Are you all right?” A pause, then a hiss of breath.

“Oh, baby, your eyes. What happened to your eyes? Rick! Rick! Hurry!” A curse was followed by the pound of hard, fast footsteps. A second later, a horriɹed gasp filled her bedroom. “What happened to her face?” her father bellowed. “I don’t know, I don’t know. She was like this when I came in.” “Annabelle, sweetheart.” Her dad, now so tender and concerned. “Can you hear me? Can you tell me what happened to you?” Annabelle tried to speak—Daddy, help me, please, help me—but the words became diamond hard and too jagged to swallow. And oh, dear heaven, the burn migrated to her chest, flames sparking every time her heart beat.

Strong arms slid under her, one at her shoulders, the other at her knees, and lifted her. The movement, temperate though it was, jostled her, magnifying the pain and she moaned. “I’ve got you, sweetheart,” her dad assured her. “We’ll get you to the hospital and everything will be okay. I promise.” The sharpest edges of her panic ebbed. How could she not believe him? He’d never made a promise he couldn’t keep, and if he thought everything would be okay, everything would be okay. Her dad carried her to the SUV in the garage and laid her across the backseat as her mother’s sobs echoed. Her dad didn’t bother with a buckle, just shut the door and sealed Annabelle inside. She expected his door to open next, then her mom’s.

She expected her parents to climb inside and drive her to the hospital, as promised, but… nothing. Annabelle waited… and waited… seconds ticking by with excruciating slowness, the raggedness of her inhalations becoming laced with the taint of rotten eggs, fetid and sharp enough to nip at her nostrils. She cringed, confused and frightened by the change in the air. “Daddy?” she said. Her ears twitched as she listened intently for his reply, but all she heard was… Muffled voices through the glass. The shrill grind of metal being scratched. Eerie laughter… … a grunt of agony. “Go inside, Saki,” her father shouted in a terriɹed tone Annabelle had never before heard him use. “Now!” Saki, her now-shrieking mother. Grimacing through the pain, Annabelle managed to struggle into a sitting position.

Miraculously, the unbearable blaze in her eyes at last faded. As she wiped away the blood, tiny rays of light pierced her line of vision. One second passed, two, then the light spread, colors appearing, blue here, yellow there, until she was taking in the full scope of the garage. “I’m not blind!” she cried, but her relief was short-lived. She spotted her father, shielding her mother against the far wall, his gaze darting this way and that but never landing on anything speciɹc. Grisly cuts marred his cheeks, blood drip… dripping from each. Shock and horror blended, becoming an unstoppable avalanche tumbling through every inch of her. What had happened to him? There was no one else in the small enclosure and— A man materialized in front of her parents. No, not a man, but a… a… What was that? Annabelle scrambled backward, hitting the other side of the car. The newcomer wasn’t a man but a creature plucked from the depths of her worst nightmare.

Another scream formed, this one lodging in her desiccated throat. Suddenly she couldn’t breathe, could only stare in revulsion. The… thing was freakishly tall, the top of its head brushing against a ceiling she couldn’t reach with a step-ladder. It possessed a barbarian’s oversize bones and fangs she’d only ever read about in vampire novels, with skin the darkest shade of crimson and as smooth as glass. Claw-tipped ɹngers dripped with blood. Gnarled wings of pitted black stretched from its back, and small horns protruded along the length of its spine. A long, thin tail curled from the base, ending in a blood-soaked metal spike that clanged against the concrete floor as it swished back and forth, back and forth. Whatever it was, she suspected it had caused her father’s injuries—and it would only cause more. Fear overcame every other emotion inside her, yet still she lurched forward, banged her fist against the window and forced her voice to work. “Leave my parents alone!” The beast looked back at her with shockingly lovely eyes that reminded her of newly cut rubies.

It ɻashed those razored fangs in a parody of a grin—before slashing its claws across her father’s throat. In an instant, ɻesh tore and blood sprayed a thin line over the car window. Her father fell… hit the ground… his hands wrapped around his weeping throat, his mouth open as he gasped for air he couldn’t, wouldn’t, find. A sob left her, formed from incredulity but sharpened by rage. Her mother shrieked, scanning the garage with wide eyes as her father had done, as if she had no idea where the threat had come from. Her hands tented over her mouth and tears tracked down her cheeks, smearing the blood already splattered there. “D-don’t hurt us,” she stuttered. “Please, don’t.” A forked tongue ɻicked out, as though tasting her fear. “I like the way you beg, female.

” “Stop!” Annabelle shouted. Have to help her, have to help her. She wrenched open the car door and ɻew out, only to slip in a pool of her father’s—no. No, no, no. Gagging, she fought to stay upright. “You have to stop!” “Run, Annabelle. Run!” More eerie laughter—before those claws struck, silencing her mother. Her mother, who collapsed. Shocked, Annabelle stopped ɹghting. She toppled to the ɻoor, uncaring as oxygen burst from her lungs.

Her mother… on top of her father… twitching… stilling. “This can’t be happening,” she babbled. “This isn’t happening.” “Oh, yes,” the creature said in a deep, rasping voice. She caught the undertone of amusement, as if her parents’ murder was nothing but a game. Murder. Mur. Der. No. Not murder.

She could not accept that word. They had been assaulted, but they would pull through. They had to pull through. Her heart slammed against her ribs, bile searing a path up her chest and past her larynx. “Th-the cops are on the way,” she lied. Wasn’t that what all the experts on all the reality shows about survival said you should do to save yourself? Claim help was on the way? “Go. Leave. You don’t want to get in any more t-trouble, do y-you?” “Hmm, I love the sound of more trouble.” The monster turned, facing her fully, its grin expanding. “I’ll prove it.

” It began to swipe… swipe… swipe at the bodies… clothes and skin ripping, bones cracking, pulp and tissue flying. Can’t process. Can’t… But oh, she really could. She knew. If her parents had had any chance of survival, that chance had now withered to ash. Get up! You let that thing mutilate the people you love. Are you going to allow it to mutilate you, too? And what about your brother, upstairs, alone, probably asleep and unprepared for a slaughter? No. NO! With a roar that sprang from a soul soon to be shredded by grief, Annabelle launched herself into that massive, boxy chest and punched at that ugly face. The monster fell back, but swiftly recovered, rolling her over and pinning her down. Wings outstretched, curtaining the rest of the world so that only the two of them existed.

Still she punched and punched and punched. For some reason, the creature never tried to claw her. In fact, it batted her hands away and tried to… kiss her? Laughing, laughing, never stopping with the laughing, it pressed its lips against hers, blew fetid breath into her mouth and shivered with sublime pleasure. “Stop,” she cried, and it thrust its tongue so horribly deep she gagged all over again. When it lifted its head, it left a white-hot slime behind, the disgusting substance coating the lower half of her face. Ecstasy shone in its eyes. “Now, this is going to be fun,” it said, and then it was gone, vanishing in a puff of putrid smoke. For a long while, Annabelle felt paralyzed in mind and body. Only her emotions were on the move, and they were escalating at an alarming rate. The fear… the shock… the grief… each pressing against her chest, nearly suffocating her.

Do something! Finally, the flicker of a thought. It could return at any moment. The realization gave her the strength to free herself from the prison. Slipping and sliding, she made her way to her parents’ bodies. Bodies she could not put back together, no matter what she tried. Though everything inside her rebelled at the thought, she had to leave them behind if she hoped to save her brother. “Brax!” she screamed. “Brax!” She tripped her way into the house and called 911. After a hasty explanation, she dropped the phone and ran upstairs, again shouting for her brother. She found him in his bedroom, sleeping peacefully.

“Brax. Wake up. You have to wake up.” No matter how hard she shook him, he merely muttered about wanting a few minutes more. She remained with him, protecting him, until the ɹrst responders arrived. She showed them to the garage, but they could not put her parents back together, either. The cops arrived soon afterward—and within the hour, Annabelle was blamed for the murders. CHAPTER ONE Four years later “HOW DOES THAT MAKE you feel, Annabelle?” The male voice lingered over the word feel, adding a disgusting layer of sleaze. Keeping the other patients in the “trust circle” in her periphery, Annabelle tilted her head to the side and met the gaze of Dr. Fitzherbert, otherwise known as Fitzpervert.

In his early forties, the doctor had thinning salt-and-pepper hair, dark brown eyes and perfectly tanned, though slightly lined, skin. He was on the thin side, and at ɹve-ten, only an inch taller than she was. Overall, he was moderately attractive. If you ignored the blackness of his soul, of course. The longer she stared at him, rebelliously silent, the more his lips curled with amusement. Oh, how that grated—not that she’d ever let him know it. She would never willingly do anything to please him, but she would also never cower in his presence. Yes, he was the worst kind of monster, power hungry, selɹsh and unacquainted with the truth, and yes, he could hurt her. And would. He already had.

Last night he’d drugged her. Well, he’d drugged her every day of his two-month employment at the Moffat County Institution for the Criminally Insane. But last night he had sedated her with the express purpose of stripping her, touching her in ways he shouldn’t and taking pictures. Such a pretty girl, he’d said. Out there in the real world, a stunner like you would make me work for something as simple as a dinner date. Here, you’re completely at my mercy. You’re mine to do with as I please… and I please plenty. Humiliation still burned hot and deep, a ɹre in her blood, but she would not betray a moment of weakness. She knew better. Over the last four years, the doctors and nurses in charge of her care had changed more times than her roommates, some of them shining stars of their profession, others simply going through the motions, doing what needed doing, while a select few were worse than the convicted criminals they were supposed to treat.

The more she caved, the more those employees abused her. So, she always remained on the defensive. One thing she’d learned during her incarceration was that she could rely only on herself. Her complaints of abominable treatment went unheeded, because most higherups believed she deserved what she got—if they believed her at all. “Annabelle,” Fitzpervert chided. “Silence isn’t to be tolerated.” Well, then. “I feel like I’m one hundred percent cured. You should probably let me go.” At least the amusement drained.

He frowned with exasperation. “You know better than to answer my questions so ɻippantly. That doesn’t help you deal with your emotions or problems. That doesn’t help anyone here deal with their emotions or problems.” “Ah, so I’m a lot like you then.” As if he cared about helping anyone but himself. Several patients snickered. A couple merely drooled, foamy bubbles falling from babbling lips and catching on the shoulders of their gowns. Fitzpervert’s frown morphed into a scowl, the pretense of being here to help vanishing. “That smart mouth will get you into trouble.

” Not a threat. A vow. Doesn’t matter, she told herself. She lived in constant fear of creaking doors, shadows and footsteps. Of drugs and people and… things. Of herself. What was one more concern? Although… at this rate, her emotions would be the thing to finally bury her. “I’d love to tell you how I feel, Dr. Fitzherbert,” the man beside her said. Fitzpervert ran his tongue over his teeth before switching his attention to the serial arsonist who’d torched an entire apartment building, along with the men, women and children living inside of it.

As the group discussed feelings and urges and ways to control them both, Annabelle distracted herself with a study of her surroundings. The room was as dreary as her circumstances. There were ugly yellow water stains on the paneled ceiling, the walls were a peeling gray and the ɻoor carpeted with frayed brown shag. The uncomfortable metal chairs the occupants sat upon were the only furniture. Of course, Fitzpervert luxuriated on a special cushion. Meanwhile, Annabelle had her hands cuʃed behind her back. Considering the amount of sedatives pumping through her system, being cuʃed was overkill. But hey, four weeks ago she’d brutally fought a group of her fellow patients, and two weeks ago one of her nurses, so of course she was too menacing to leave unrestrained, no matter that she’d sought only to defend herself. For the past thirteen days, she’d been kept in the hole, a dark, padded room where deprivation of the senses slowly drove her (genuinely) insane. She had been starved for contact, and had thought any interaction would do—until Fitzpervert drugged and photographed her.

This morning, he arranged her release from solitary conɹnement, followed by this outing. She wasn’t stupid; she knew he hoped to bribe her into accepting his mistreatment. If Mom and Dad could see me now…. She bit back a sudden, choking sob. The young, sweet girl they’d loved was dead, the ghost somehow alive inside her, haunting her. At the worst times, she would remember things she had no business remembering. Taste this, honey. It’ll be the best thing you’ve ever eaten! A terrible cook, her mother. Saki had enjoyed tweaking recipes to “improve” them. Did you see that? Another touchdown for the Sooners! A die-hard football fan, her dad.

He had attended O.U. in Oklahoma for three semesters, and had never cut those ties. She could not allow herself to think about them, about her mother and father and how wonderful they’d been… and… oh, she couldn’t stop it from happening…. Her mother’s image formed, taking center stage in her mind. She saw a fall of hair so black the strands appeared blue, much like Annabelle’s own. Eyes uptilted and golden, much like Annabelle’s used to be. Skin a rich, creamy mix of honey and cinnamon and without a single ɻaw. Saki Miller—once Saki Tanaka—had been born in Japan but raised in Georgetown, Colorado. Saki’s traditional parents had freaked when she and the white-as-can-be Rick Miller had fallen hopelessly in love and married.

He’d come home from college on holiday, met her and moved back to be with her. Both Annabelle and her brother were a combination of their parents’ heritages. They shared their mother’s hair and skin, the shape of her face, yet had their father’s height and slender build. Although Annabelle’s eyes no longer belonged to either Saki or Rick. After that horrible morning in her garage, after her arrest for their murders, after her conviction, her lifelong sentencing to this institution for the criminally insane, she’d finally found the courage to look at herself in a mirror. What she’d seen had startled her. Eyes the color of winter ice, deep in the heart of an Arctic snowstorm, eerie and crystalline, barely blue with no hint of humanity. Worse, she could see things with these eyes, things no one should ever have to see. And oh, no, no, no. As the trust circle yammered on, two creatures walked through the far wall, pausing to orient themselves.

Heart rate spiraling, Annabelle looked at her fellow patients, expecting to see expressions of terror. No one else seemed to notice the visitors. How could they not? One creature had the body of a horse and the torso of a man. Rather than skin, he was covered by glimmering silver… metal? His hooves were rustcolored and possibly some kind of metal as well, sharpened into deadly points. His companion was shorter, with stooped shoulders weighed down by sharp, protruding horns, and legs twisted in the wrong direction. He wore a loincloth and nothing else, his chest furred, muscled and scarred. The scent of rotten eggs ɹlled the room, as familiar as it was horrifying. The ɹrst ɻood of panic and anger burned through her, a toxic mix she could not allow to control her. It would wreck her concentration and slow her reflexes—her only weapons. She needed weapons.

The creatures came in all shapes and sizes, all colors, both sexes—and maybe something in between—but they had one thing in common: they always came for her. Every doctor who’d ever treated her had tried to convince her that the beings were merely ɹgments of her imagination. Complex hallucinations, they said. Despite the wounds the creatures always left behind—wounds the doctors claimed she managed to inɻict upon herself—she sometimes believed them. That didn’t stop her from ɹghting, though. Nothing could. Glowing red gazes at last settled on her. Both males smiled, their sharp, dripping fangs revealed. “Mine,” Horsey said. “No.

Mine!” Horns snapped

.

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