Excerpt from Chapter 5 of The Rabbit and the Raven, Transformation:
Out of the shadows of the labyrinth, a massive beast emerged. He was bigger than Calder had been, but while Calder had been a hairless, muscled brute, this feline creature was lean, muscled in a way that was beautiful and terrible at the same time. He had the look of a sophisticated and efficient killer—covered in thick, shiny fur with black-on-black stripes. He approached Abby with a menacing deliberateness, bearing long, primeval fangs.
“Hello, Rabbit,” the creature said as he circled her slowly. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Abby could feel the beast’s hot breath on her skin. Don’t show fear, she thought, planting her feet in a fighting stance and drawing herself up to look taller, brawnier. Look him straight in the eye. If you’re going to die, at least have a little dignity about it. She stared into his eyes and spoke his name: “Tierney.”
The creature stared back, eyeing Abby’s clenched jaw and defensive stance, and then he smiled apologetically. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Tierney said. “I forget this face can be, shall we say, rather off-putting. Allow me to present a more pleasing visage.” His form changed, melting away like smoke, leaving black ashes lingering in the air. In the creature’s place stood a handsome young man with dark eyes—nothing like the beast he had just been.
Don’t be fooled by the illusion, Abby told herself. He’s the same monster he was before—it’s just a mask. She stood her ground, infusing her voice with authority. “On the contrary. You know that face is off-putting. That’s why you wore it.”
To her surprise, Tierney started laughing—not a mean, condescending laugh, but one of genuine, unguarded amusement. It wasn’t quite the response Abby had expected.
“Well, now,” he chuckled, “you are a surprisingly perceptive one. Do you know why I’m here?”
“I assume it’s to get to the Solas Beir by killing me,” Abby said.
“Oh, come now, Rabbit, I’m hurt. I have absolutely no such plans. None at all,” Tierney replied.
“I have trouble believing that—your reputation precedes you,” she said.
“Well, dear Rabbit, a reputation is really quite subjective, don’t you think? And you must concede that your sources may be a bit biased when it comes to me.” He began circling her again, looking her up and down. “Actually, I’m here because I heard a very interesting story about you. And I must say, I think there’s more to you than I was originally led to believe. I heard that an ordinary human girl rescued the Lightbearer by killing a Blood Shadow—and not just any Blood Shadow, mind you, but one of the strongest among us. And I wondered to myself, an ordinary human girl? How can that be?”
Abby noticed that Tierney used the term “Lightbearer” rather than David’s formal title of Solas Beir. She didn’t think it was an accident. In fact, she was certain that Tynan Tierney never said or did anything that wasn’t calculated. “What is it you want, exactly?” she demanded, putting her hands on her hips.
“Only to see if the story was true. I can see now that you’ve been underestimated. Clearly, you are no ordinary human girl. You are turning out to be much more interesting than I thought you would be, pretty little c’aislingaer,” he said.
Abby glared at him. “Thanks, but you can’t fool me into falling for flattery.”
Suddenly Tierney stepped close to Abby, his arms pulling her to him, his breath on her neck as he whispered in her ear. “No, indeed I cannot. For I have met many a fool, and you are not one.”
He was so warm, and his touch made her skin tingle, much to her chagrin. She fought to show no response, reminding herself to keep her guard up.
He continued, his lips almost grazing her skin as he talked. “What I want, Abigail, is to show you the truth—to help you see my side of the story so you can decide for yourself if my so-called reputation is deserved.” He pulled away suddenly, his head cocked to one side as if he had heard something.
Abby heard nothing.
Tierney turned back, his dark eyes on her. “Your boyfriend is coming. Better not let him see you fraternizing with the enemy. Until we meet again, little Rabbit.” Taking her hand, he held it to his lips, kissing it with a disarming tenderness. Then he was gone—not in some magic puff of smoke, but simply not there anymore.
Abby heard the crack of a twig breaking as someone approached. Rather than feeling a sense of relief, she felt oddly guilty, like she had been caught in the act of doing something wrong. She had just survived what should have been a lethal encounter with a monster, but instead of being frightened of Tierney, she found herself attracted to him. And that terrified her.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2012