Of Fear and Faith
Death and Destiny Trilogy
Before trust and love can take hold, grow solid roots, and blossom into a reality larger than self, fear must be conquered and faith embraced. Yet fear of an ancient prophecy, of burning magical power, and a broken heart, Sanura Williams, psychology professor, is unprepared when Special Agent Assefa Berber enters her life, hunting a preternatural serial killer. Assefa’s intelligent, chocolate eyes and intoxicating aura signature stirs her fire spirit but frightens the woman.
In a world where all is not as it seems, Sanura and Assefa must battle the gods’ first creations – vile predators who threaten the safety of humans. Each confrontation, each bloody clash, will bring Sanura and Assefa closer to fulfilling the prophecy of being the Fire Witch and Cat of Legend – the ones who will save humanity from the Water Witch of Legend. Death, godly magic, and physical attraction draw Sanura and Assefa to each other, but fear and faith will determine their destiny.
“Come in, sweetheart,” the foolish man said, ushering the adze into his precious home. “Dear Lord, child, where are your clothes?”
Before the adze could think of an answer or imitate the immature speech pattern of a pubescent human female, the stupid man hobbled away, awkwardly dragging his right leg behind him.
Too easy. Her lips pulled back and over teeth in a satisfied snarl.
Five minutes later, the sun-kissed man who smelled of fire-cured, dark-leaf tobacco returned, female garments fisted against his chest. He handed the clothing to the adze, then turned away, and mumbled, “I don’t know what happened to you, sweetheart, but no one has a right to take a girl’s clothing and leave her stranded on a stranger’s front lawn.”
Weak. Compassionate. Foolish human.
The adze sniffed and looked around. The library the human had taken her into felt like a wooden cave—dark, gloomy, confining. A perfect coffin. But where was the one she’d scented earlier? Where was the witch who would satiate her pangs of hunger, set her free? The transformation wouldn’t hold much longer, and the thought of draining the pathetic crippled human before her was almost enough to quiet her raging appetite. Almost.
Not bothering with the lemon-scented clothing, the adze opened her mouth to speak. Inexperienced tongue glided over teeth, saliva pooled and fell. But no words escaped.
But she didn’t have to. The man, whose back was still turned to the adze did, voice inquiring, trembling with anger over whoever was to blame for her abused state.
“I’ll call the police. That’s what I’ll do. They’ll take care of you, sweetheart, make sure you get home, capture the swine who hurt you, made you bleed.”
Ah, yes, the blood. Even after the transformation, droplets of the girl’s blood still stained her mouth, her teeth. The very teeth that were throbbing to push free of the human gums she now wore and press into the witch’s equally throbbing neck. The witch she’d scented from the air, from the gnarled tree, the one she needed to find and devour.
The man’s fists balled, then fell away to massage the lame hip. And the adze wanted to laugh.
All that righteous fury and you’re nothing but a neutered dog—leashed and bound and a threat to no one, not even the fleas that suckle from your inconsequential hide.
The man’s thin shoulders began to shake. His head moved from one side to the other, short, curly gray hair emphasizing too-large ears.
Without warning, the man turned and exited the room. But not before saying, “I have something to attend to. Give me a few minutes and I’ll be right back.”
The adze growled at the closed door, ripping the green dress and ugly white shawl she held in her hands. Angry and impatient, she dropped the shredded pieces, stepping over them when she exited the library.
She was tired of the farce. The blinding ache deep in her soul demanded release and she would wait no longer. A witch would die tonight, and her exquisite blood would soothe and rejuvenate her body, her life. The way it always did, the way it always would. But first, the adze had to find her.
The house was dimly lit and quiet. The hallway was short but wide and the smell of witch mouthwateringly close. Lowering her head like a Basset Hound on the hunt, she followed the scent, moving soundlessly down the hall, around a corner, and up a carpeted flight of steps. The smell of fresh paint hung in the air.
The adze paused in the upstairs hallway, dark-brown eyes scanning. Rows of angled pictures cluttered the walls like a mural done by a fool with too much sentimentality. Children’s faces smiled back at her, mismatched shapes, hues, and forms making for the most unlikely of family portraits. There was a toddler in a wheelchair, a teenager guided by a large, brown German Shepherd, a kid of indeterminate age sitting under a tree with the lame do-gooder next to him. The boy’s eyes stared vaguely at the camera, his wilted and misaligned jaw giving way to drool.
The man in the picture didn’t seem to mind, though. His arm was wrapped reassuringly around the drooling retard’s bony shoulders, the glare from the sun shining off the kid’s bald head, reminding the adze why such beings were left in the woods to die. During her day, a time when adzes roamed unencumbered and were numerous in number, the weaklings prominently displayed on the Wall of Shame, would’ve been shunned, starved, or fed to ravenous giant rats.
Running an index finger over the center photograph, the adze leaned in closer, recognizing the front of the house in the amateurish picture. And a sign she hadn’t noticed when she’d entered the home. But one that made her now smile. Children’s House of Hope. The adze wanted to cackle, to shed her human form and graze her tongue over canine teeth.
Instead, she heightened her senses and renewed the hunt. There were five doors on this level, all closed, no light peeking out from under them—except for one, the wooden door at the end of the hallway, her destination, her café au blood.
Reaching out with trembling, pale hands, long, ebony hair falling over forehead and into brown eyes, the adze turned the bronze-colored knob. The door gave way with a somber creak, and the delectable smell of witch blood filled her anxious nostrils, triggering the most ancient of responses.
The man and—presumably his wife—sitting vigil, turned confused eyes her way when the adze entered the candle-lit room. A twin-canopied bed with pink and white ruffles and lace took up most of the bedroom. A white dresser and chest with hand-drawn flowers flowed like wild vines, merging with the pallid wall.
The neutered dog of a man abruptly stood, placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder, bidding her to stay put, to allow him to handle the naked intruder. Again, the adze wanted to laugh. The man was impotent, a pathetic non-obstacle. But, oh, how good it felt to know her belly would soon be filled, no matter the sick stench wafting from the child sleeping in the bed, her human guardians too ignorant to understand that their deathbed ward was a witch.
During her long life, the adze had tasted the blood of witches whose bodies were in varying states of illness, varying states of drug addiction, and varying states of good health. And while those—like the Baltimore girl tonight—whose body was free of impurities, the sweetness of the rich, thick brew as fine as any Napa Valley wine, was every adze’s dream, in the end, however, food was food. The sick and dying girl in the bed, surrounded by glittering white candles, wouldn’t make the Wine of the Year list, but, by the gods, she would do.
“What are you doing in here?” the man asked. “I thought you were going to get dressed and wait for me to return.” He began to walk toward the adze, and then stopped, his face registering the first horrid embers of fear.
And well he should, for the scent of blood, the pang of hunger, the whisper of animal instinct had the adze in its grip, transforming her. Human skin and limp hair began to slide away, her true self roaring forth. Moon night wings and glorious fangs shimmered in the cloud of deception.
A woman’s scream, followed by a ragged hiss from the man, was an elegant symphony that transcended time. And the adze smiled, her bat face as wicked as her soul. Her ravenous hunger exploded, the divine smell of fear fueling her craving.
“She’s just a c–child, you m–monster, her parents—”
Swipe. Scream. Thud.
The drab, white wall had more appeal now. The shape of an imperfect red rose decorated it, not quite matching the flowers on the dresser and chest, the severed head at the adze’s feet an openmouthed soccer ball, still spinning but coming to its last blood-spurting rotation.
A woman’s disbelieving bellow of sorrow rang out. The symphony reached its crescendo, then another flower. This one blossomed on the opposite wall, a matching pair. How quaint.
The adze moved to the canopied bed and listened to the labored breathing of its occupant. Fair hair matted to sweaty head, eyes closed in somatic innocence.
Dinner is served. She lunged in for her overdue feast. This time, however, there would be no wallflowers. No, this blood, this sacred elixir of life was too good to waste.
And when the adze fed, she drank every drop, leaving nothing behind but a rotting corpse with hair the color of depleted sunshine.
A Short Story by N.D. Jones
Ayana stood in front of her full-length mirror, examining the changes her pregnancy had wrought. Her breasts were huge and heavy. And Ayana didn’t even want to think about having a baby suckle from them. Not, she admitted with a sensual grin, she ever minded having Brian suck them.
Speaking of Brian, what was taking him so long to shower? Ayana was in one of her moods, and it had taken all of her composure not to do something about it earlier when the house was full of well-wishers.
Strong arms wrapped around her too-large waist. “I thought you would’ve been asleep by now.”
Ayana turned in her husband’s arms, then glanced down at the impossibly large belly between them. She groaned. “I’m as big as this mansion.”
Brian chuckled. “You’re beautiful.”
“Only if you’re into beached whales.”
“I’m into you, no matter the size.”
“Playboy charms, Ambassador Alexander, are the reason why I’m in this state.”
Brian led her to their bed, and they sat.
“No, Mrs. Alexander, if I’m not mistaken, you were the one to seduce me.”
She had at that. It was the way of her kind. Yet it had been the human who’d stolen her heart so completely she’d had to have him. Had to make him her mate, no matter the sacrifice.
He caressed her cheek, thumb gliding over lips and part-ing them for his kiss. Soft and gentle. “You’re mine.”
Brian kissed her deeper, feeding her supernatural craving with his sweet tongue. And yes, she was his, not just in body. In heart. In soul.
Ayana wanted him, wanted Brian in a lusty, primal way that was urgent and all consuming.
He pulled back, leaving them panting and unfulfilled.
“I want to make love.”
Dark-brown eyes dropped to breasts that were straining against the silk gown Ayana wore. Brian licked his lips in un-disguised lust, reminding Ayana of the males from her island home.
“You’ve had a long day, Ayana, and you’re exhausted.”
True, but that didn’t mean—
“You need your rest, not a horny husband pawing all over you.”
That was exactly what she needed but Brian was laying her down and tucking her in.
He was right, but that did nothing to abate her hunger for him. “At least hold me until I fall asleep.”
“That goes without saying.” He snuggled in behind her.
“You’ll work tonight?”
“I’m still editing the peace treaty between my people and yours. I have a couple of more ideas, which I’ll run by you tomorrow,” he said, Brian’s subtle way of letting her know that business talk was also off the table for tonight.
“No sex. No business. You’re a cruel male, Ambassador Alexander.”
The hand that had been idly playing with her belly slid northward, found a breast and squeezed.
“Just for tonight. Trust me, tomorrow morning, after you’re well rested” —he flicked her nipple— “I’m going to have my wicked way with you.”
The sound Ayana made was half laugh, half moan. The male really did have the most exquisitely pleasing fingers.
“Fine. Tomorrow.” She settled comfortably, feeling warm and protected with him holding her. Just as she began to drift off to sleep, Ayana remembered. “We haven’t thought of a name.”
Brian kissed her bare shoulder. “I know. I’ve given it some thought, but we can talk about that—”
“Tomorrow. Yes, I know.”
“Go to sleep, Ayana. It can all wait. We have time. To-morrow is just a few hours away.” He kissed her again, leaning up this time to meet her lips when she turned her head to him. “I love you, now stop talking and go to sleep.”
Turning her head, and finally admitting she was bone tired, Ayana allowed herself to fall asleep, dreaming about Brian, their baby, and tomorrow.
An unknown amount of time later, Ayana heard the door to her bedchamber open. Brian was no longer holding her, alt-hough she still slept on her side. All the lights in the room were now out, the moon shining in from the balcony doors the only illumination.
She didn’t open her eyes, didn’t make a single move as she listened to him close the door and come farther into the bedchamber. Ayana sensed, rather than heard, him walk around the bed and to her side. She could even feel his eyes on her.
But the sensation of his proximity was all wrong. A cold chill swept over her, followed by an ominous flash of fear. She knew, with all that she was, Ayana knew it wasn’t Brian who stood above her.
The hand that smelled of long years of smoking should’ve surprised her when it slapped over her mouth and nose. But it didn’t. She’d never known the scent of evil, but she did now. It smelled of sulfur. A demon stench that clung to the man who’d crawled into bed with her.
“You’re more beautiful close up than on television. Eb-ony skin, sultry smell, long, coiled hair. Such a pity. The two of us could’ve had some fun.” Something hard with a circular tip pressed into her stomach. “But it seems your human pet got here first, creating this abomination.”
Abomination. Yes, Ayana knew some humans viewed the child she and Brian created in that way. She had neither cared about their hateful words nor their incessant rallies against the peace treaty. Yet this night, she wished she weren’t with child, especially a human child.
This male had chosen well, knowing when a female of her kind was at her weakest. It was when so many of her kins-women were typically slaughtered. And the reason she’d traveled to this land, needing to protect her people from unpro-voked attacks
Ayana dared not move, dared not open her eyes and let him see the terror she knew was there. Instead, she shut them tighter and prayed. Prayed that Brian would stay away, prayed that the human only wanted to scare her into returning home.
“That pet of yours has betrayed his kind. Laid down with the enemy and given her his seed. We don’t want no goddamn peace treaty. And we don’t want your kind among us.”
Before she could register the pfft of sound, she felt the sharp stab of pain. Ayana wanted to scream out, wanted to roar, wanted to kill the human who smelled of smoke and sadism. But she thought of Brian rushing to her side, crashing through their door in a hurry to see what was the matter. And running into the killer with the gun. No, Ayana wouldn’t cry, wouldn’t give the bastard the satisfaction of using her to lure Brian into his malicious web of horror.
So she stayed still and quiet, as quiet as the blood slowly seeping from her body, from the belly that was supposed to keep her baby safe.
Negasi eased from under the heavy embroidered com-forter and slid out of bed. Foregoing slippers and a robe, she made her way to her bedroom door and opened it—just a crack. But it was enough. Enough for Negasi to see a glow of light from under Ayana’s door.
She opened the door wider, took a single step into the dimly lit hallway, then stopped. Every atom in her body screamed for her to go to her daughter, to offer what comfort she could, to cradle her in her arms as if she were still a babe of two. But Negasi didn’t give into the yearning. Instead, she stepped back inside her room and closed the door, feeling utterly, pathetically helpless.
Negasi paced, as she did most nights after bringing Aya-na home from the hospital. But this wasn’t truly her home. Why on earth would Ayana want to stay in this mansion of death and despair? Thankfully, her daughter had the good sense not to return to the bedchamber she’d shared with her human consort.
But sleeping three doors away from the master bed-chamber was small comfort for Ayana, Negasi knew. Yet she’d refused to leave, giving nonsensical reasons that Negasi didn’t bother arguing against.
Ayana spent most days either locked in her room or in Brian’s library, where the male’s body had been found slumped on his desk—two gunshot wounds to the back of his head.
Negasi opened the balcony doors, letting in the crisp May breeze. She heard flapping wings above her and soft feet patrolling the grounds below her. The guards were on duty—deadly and ravenous for human blood. They should’ve been there that fateful night, but Ayana had convinced them all that an entourage of armed sentries did not convey the right image for a nation in the middle of a peace negotiation.
“We have to demonstrate trust, Mother, or the humans will forever fear us. To receive trust, one must be willing to grant trust.”
Ayana had been naïve, thinking the heart of humans to be as pure as her own. Against her better judgment, Negasi had relented. Now Brian and the baby were dead and Ayana was nearly taken from her.
Ayana would not be fine. She was not fine, and Negasi didn’t know what it would take to save what was left of her daughter. And that was a sobering, depressing thought that just pissed her the hell off.
Grabbing a key from her dresser drawer, Negasi slung on a white silk robe and exited her bedroom. A moment later, she was standing in front of Ayana’s bedroom door, key in hand. Out of courtesy but knowing she wouldn’t answer, Negasi knocked—four times.
Using the key, Negasi let herself into Ayana’s bedroom. Since the attack, Ayana had taken to locking her bedroom door, even when she wasn’t asleep. Ayana had also taken to sleeping with a knife under her pillow, Negasi learning this the hard way when she used her key to let herself in one night after hearing Ayana screaming from yet another nightmare. She’d gone to her, but in her wild, blind state, Ayana had struck out with the butcher knife, nearly cutting Negasi’s throat.
Thankfully, Ayana hadn’t been fully awake to know what she’d almost done. And Negasi had seen no reason to inform her.
Cautiously, she entered the room, her eyes adjusting to the low light beside Ayana’s bed. And there sat Ayana, awake and propped against the headboard, knife in hand, eyes as bleak and black as she’d ever seen them.
Something in Negasi skidded to a stop, then began an Olympic race that had her sweating. She did not like the way Ayana was playing with that knife. She wanted to reach for it, but the way Ayana was holding it—close to her wrist—she did-n’t dare.
“Why are you up so late?” She took two steps towards her daughter.
Ayana didn’t answer, just continued to stare down at the blade, slowly gliding it across her skin, not cutting, not yet.
Negasi’s heart sped up, fists clenched.
“Talk to me, sweetheart. Do you think you can do that? Will you look at me so we can talk?”
More gliding. A thin yet long cut across her wrist.
Negasi moved closer still. Ayana didn’t seem to notice, her eyes fixated on the blood beginning to flow from her wrist and onto the crumpled bed sheet.
Desperate, Negasi said the first thing that came to her mind. “Brian died trying to save our people. He wouldn’t want this. He wanted you to live.”
Ayana’s head jerked up, eyes finally focused. And, dear lord, where had her sweet, loving girl gone? The eyes that bored into hers held the tortured pain of a reanimated soul forced to live among the living—with them, but not of them.
“I should have died.” The knife bit deeper. More blood. No tears. “I should have died with my family.”
Neither the words nor the voice belonged to Ayana. At least not the Ayana she’d raised or the one she’d kissed good-night after her baby shower. This was a different Ayana, an Ayana tossed into the pit of Hell and forced to claw her way out.
“You lived for a reason. Please know that. The pain you’re feeling will pass. I know it doesn’t seem that way now, but it will pass. It takes time.”
“It hurts too much. So damn much that it chokes, leaves me breathless but cruelly alive. I don’t want to wait for it to go away. I just want to go away.”
Negasi glanced at the knife, expecting Ayana to slice an artery and put an end to her pain. But she did nothing, just con-tinued to stare at her with haunted onyx eyes.
“And what of the nation? Of me?” Guilt and love were all Negasi had to bargain with. She wouldn’t lose her daughter. Not like this. She couldn’t help her that wretched night, couldn’t prevent the ugliness she’d been forced to endure. But she was there now.
Ayana blinked. Good. Something was getting through. She kept going, unwilling to lose the slight advantage.
“And what of Kayla? She looks up to you. She fell apart when you were in the hospital. A girl needs her big sister.”
Negasi played her last card. “If you do this, then those murdering bigots will have won. Don’t let them win, Ayana.” She reached for her daughter then, took her chin in her hand and raised her face. “Don’t let them win. Make. Them. Pay.”
Ayana said nothing.
Neither did Negasi.
Their eyes remained locked, and Negasi squelched the shiver that came with staring so deeply into eyes that suddenly glowed with demon fire.
Almost imperceptibly, Ayana nodded. Then she smiled—not prettily, not sweetly. The only thing Negasi could liken it to was the look that came over hyenas when they had their prey cornered and afraid, knowing death was but a bloody bite away.
“Do you know who harmed my family?”
She did. Kayla and five elite guards had spent the last month tracking down, not only the men who’d done the vile deeds, but the entire terrorist cell.
“Yes. What do you need me to do?”
Ayana took a deep, measured breath. “I need you to ar-range a meeting with the World Treaty Organization.”
“I’ll put Kayla on that. What else?” Because Negasi knew that was not what Ayana truly wanted her to do.
Tears filled red eyes. “I missed their funerals.”
Brian’s mother had waited as long as she could, but the services had to proceed. No one, not even their healers, knew when or if Ayana would awaken from her coma. So they’d had the funeral for Brian and Baby Alexander—without Ayana. The thought burned as much now as it did then.
“I have yet to pay my respects. Couldn’t bring myself to go to the Alexander mausoleum. Will you go with me, Mother? Will you stand by my side when I say goodbye to my husband and daughter? Will you lie to me, just once, and tell me all will be fine?”
They were both crying—silent and bone-deep.
“And will you help me choose a name for my daughter? I was thinking Brina Negasi Alexander. Do you think Brian would approve of that name?”
Brina meant protector, and that was exactly what Aya-na’s child had done. She had protected her mother by taking that bullet, shielding Ayana with her tiny body. No wonder Ayana had contemplated suicide. Would Negasi do any different if Ayana or Kayla ever gave their life to save her own? Would she not too suffer from survivor’s guilt?
“It’s a beautiful name. Brian would approve.” She would have it inscribed on the baby’s headstone immediately.
Without a word, Ayana pushed off her covers, jumped out of bed and walked to the balcony doors. Swinging them opened, she exited the bedroom.
Wings stopped flapping, feet halted their patrol, and everyone dropped to their knees, including Negasi.
“You’re queen now, daughter. What do you command of the Succubi Nation?”
“I only wanted peace.” Sharp, angry claws pierced skin.
“I know, daughter.”
“I only wanted the love of a good male.” Saber-shaped fangs dropped from gums.
“I know, Ayana, I know.”
“I wanted a child of my own to love, the way you loved Kayla and me.” Black wings pushed through nightgown, shred-ding the delicate garment into fine pieces of silk.
“Now I only want blood.” The queen bolted into the night sky, black wings wide, red eyes on fire.
“Justice,” she growled.
Negasi and the guards followed, wings beating against the air in a deadly symphony.
All Hollows’ Eve, Negasi thought, following her daugh-ter as the queen led her deadly army into the terrorist compound. The perfect night.
“Revenge,” Ayana screamed, right before she sank her fangs into the man who’d shot her, ripping his throat out and drinking his blood.
There would be no peace this night. The queen had risen, and it was time to feast.
No seduction, just a demon queen’s broken heart and bloody wrath.
About the Author:
N. D. Jones lives in Maryland with her husband and two children. Having earned a M.A. in Political Science, she is a dedicated educator. She taught high school social studies for nine years. Currently, she is a professional development specialist with a local Maryland school system, working on increasing student achievement through teacher and administrator efficacy. N.D. is also a continuing education student who is pursuing her doctorate in education in Community College Leadership.
A desire to see more novels with positive, sexy, and three-dimensional African American characters as soul mates, friends, and lovers, inspired the author to take on the challenge of penning such romantic reads. She is the author of two paranormal romance series: Winged Warriors and Death and Destiny. N.D. likes to read historical and paranormal romance novels, as well as comics and manga.
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