When English student Alice Preda meets campus heartthrob Damian Novac, she develops the heaviest crush ever. She joins him and friends on a winter trip in the Carpathian Mountains, hoping to get close to him, but this choice will change her life abruptly.
When the train derails in high snow, the group of students seeks refuge at a cottage deep in the woods, but soon they start losing their minds and dying. Alice and Damian are among the survivors and return home, but the nightmare is far from over. She discovers that a shady corporation which conducts experiments on humans and which had engineered Damian into something monstrous many years before is on their trail.
A man of secrets and obscure powers, Damian might be a villain or a hero. Though aware of the danger he poses, Alice can’t fight the obsession that draws her ever deeper. Will Damian become her lover or her executioner?
See Prologue here.
Before he could speak again, Damian grabbed one of Biker’s arms and Hector another. I instinctively looked at Hector, hoping something in his face, his reaction, would betray some meaning to all this.
The bearded singer’s features shimmered in the light of the oil lamp he carried. He looked robust, his small eyes shadowed by bushy eyebrows and he had the nose of an eagle. His skin had the color of ripe olives, which made me think of a gypsy, the rich beard adding to the grim air. But his face betrayed nothing besides sternness, there was nothing I could read or interpret.
Biker tried to jerk from their grasp, but he didn’t stand a chance. I heard muffled bumps and cusses as they took him up the creaky stairs to the attic. I wanted to follow but my feet wouldn’t take a step, soft and unreliable, my ears thudding with anxiety.
Talking turned up volume, and soon there was a fuss about everything: How Svetlana felt – she got most of the attention again –, the two heroes’ injuries, Biker’s words. A few hours later, as dawn slowly drew a bloody horizon across the mountainous contour, everybody reached a consensus – the man and his companions had been complete strangers to us until yesterday, so no way Biker truly knew Damian or any of us. Completely drunk, he talked nonsense.
My tired mind accepted their conclusion easily. It made sense. The one question running around in my head right now was another, anyway – how come Damian hadn’t lost his temper when he’d learned Biker had tried to force himself on Svetlana? As much as I loathed myself for it, hope bloomed in my chest. Hope that he didn’t care about her, that there was yet nothing between them.
The sleep I got tormented by daylight, snoring from at least a dozen sources and bad breath from just as many mouths ended about noon, with a headache and a sensation of weakness all through my body. I barely carried myself to the kitchen, mind numb and lids swollen.
The voices around sounded painfully cheerful. They stabbed my brain, tempting me to skirt around the overpopulated room, but it contained the only sink where I could wash my face and teeth. Toothbrushes and as good as all items for personal hygiene had been abandoned on the train – unlike the booze – so I rubbed my teeth with my finger, bent over the rusty, enamel-peeled sink. The freezing water smacked me full awake.
Chattering gained meaning. People gossiped about last night and the story took thrilling turns for those who’d been too wasted to experience it live. Even in this lonely winter cottage where the truth shouldn’t have had trouble coming to light quickly enough, there were different versions for different clusters. Some versions even talked about Svetlana kicking Biker in the balls, and Damian punching him senseless. The reason why he and Hector hadn’t barged in along with the others was that they’d been in the attic, looking for lamps and other useful objects that might help us survive several days of isolation or the road to the nearest village or town. I didn’t know if it was any truer than the kick in the balls, but it was plausible.
Groggy and with throbbing temples, I looked for Ruxandra and eventually found her arranging sandwiches on a clay plate – a rarity.
“Wow, I didn’t know people still used these things.” I looked over her shoulder and reached for a bite. She slapped my hand off.
“This ain’t for you, sweetheart. Make your own.” She was stiff and frowning – so either preoccupied or nervous.
“Breakfast or clay plate?”
She glanced around, making sure no one listened.
“I’m taking this to the attic,” she whispered, and I instantly felt like a guilty accomplice.
“You’re most certainly not! If anyone feeds that animal, it should be someone who can tame him.”
“You mean Novac or Hector? Neither are here, and this is my chance.”
Suddenly Novac? What happed to Damian? “Why should you need a chance?”
“They won’t allow anyone up to the attic. But I need to talk to him, and I don’t know how much time I have until they’re back.”
“Where are they?”
“Novac went with two others to look for the nearest village or town, if they find one within a mile or two. They’ll bring back help and food. Hector stayed back as watchdog, but right now he’s cutting wood in the barn.”
“I’m coming with you.”
She shook her head. “No you’re not. Stay here, make sure no one comes up.”
“Why are you doing this, Rux? What can you possibly want with the guy?”
She looked aside through the window. It was the first time Ruxandra formulated sentences in her head before she spoke them to me, which drew serious alarm.
“Don’t think, Rux, talk! Do you know him?”
“I don’t, but Svetlana surely does.”
“Okay . . .” It did come as a surprise, but stayed so for only a moment. It actually made sense. I’d heard most rapists turned out to be from the victim’s close circle. “But what’s your business with him?”
“He has information I need.”
Shaking my head, puzzled and a bit annoyed, “All right, what do you know of the guy?”
“If I’m right, his name is Marius Iordache and he’s an investigation reporter with Adevarul.”
I tilted my head back, inspecting her. “And that is important because . . .”
“Because he wrote an article about a certain Cezare Lupan. Che-zuh-reh,” she stressed the pronunciation like Biker had as if to emphasize the connection to badass historical character Caesare Borgia, looking me hard in the face.
“And why is that important?”
“You still ask? You heard him call Novac by that name yesterday.”
I snorted. “So Damian’s the long-lost descendant of a badass cardinal.”
“Don’t mock. Cezare Lupan is the name of a file classified by the Romanian Intelligence Service, the R.I.S.,” she spat out fast. It came like a punch in my face.
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