By: Evangeline Anderson

Her sister Anna was thirty-three, a size six and a successful attorney. She was married to a heart surgeon who was both handsome and kind and they had just produced a perfectly beautiful set of twins with big blue eyes that Emily adored. She loved her sister too, despite the fact that it seemed like Anna had gone down the “success checklist” of life and checked off every single box in her relentless march to perfection.

“You’ll find a guy, Ems,” her sister had told her, when Emily confessed that the way her parents had revealed her adoption had hurt almost as much as the adoption itself. “You just have to get out there and get over what happened in college. People do go on, you know. There are support groups for—”

“Stop it!” Emily pressed her fingertips to her temples, rubbing fiercely. Damn it—why did everything come back to that? She hadn’t thought of it in ages but lately, since she’d found out that her family wasn’t really her family, it had been coming back. The memories…the flashes of heat…the dreams…

Oh God, the dreams.

Emily closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The dreams were horrible. One in particular…

I wake in the night. I am thirsty. I go to the bathroom and run some water from the sink into my favorite blue mug. As I raise it to my lips, I look in the mirror and see that I am naked. Naked and pale in the moonlight streaming through the window. My belly ripples—ripples like a white pond with some unseen predator just below the surface of the water. And then the pains start—the sharp, blinding agony right behind my naval.

I start to scream and that’s when I see the claws…long, black claws, poking out of me on either side of my belly button. They tear outward and blood gushes in a wave—I am being torn apart. Annihilated. The other is taking over… ripping me open from the inside out…

Emily shuddered and tried to push the nightmarish image away.

“Don’t be stupid.” Her voice echoed again in the tiled room, making her jump, but she went on lecturing herself in the mirror anyway. “Don’t be stupid there’s not really any other. It’s all in your head just like it was in college when—”

But the words died in her throat.

The eyes staring back at her from the bathroom mirror were no longer nothing-colored. Instead they were a pure, clear gold. Not amber or light brown—brilliant, burnished gold. And her hair—it was changing color too. From dishwater blonde it went to Bible black. The change was sudden and complete—as though someone had dumped a bucket of midnight over her head. A stranger stared back at her from the mirror. A stranger…an alien…the other.

Emily gave a soft, breathless scream and backed away from her radically altered reflection. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and dug her fingernails into her palms.

No…nonono…I’m not seeing this. It’s an illusion—a hallucination brought on by stress. I’m fine. I’ll be fine…finefinefinefinefine!

With a low moan, she forced herself to open her eyes.

They were no-color again. And her hair was the same limp, dishwater blonde it had always been, no matter how many products she used to give it body.

“I’m Emily,” she whispered to herself. “Emily Brooks and I’m fine. There is no other. There is no other.”

If only she could make herself believe it.

She backed away, never taking her eyes off the mirror, fearful lest she see herself change again. But the image stayed the same as she fumbled behind her for the doorknob and let herself out.

Emily took a deep, sobbing breath and leaned against the bathroom door, letting the chilly wind dry her tears. Everything was all right. She was fine.

For now.

* * * * *

Rivin Tragar of the Verrak stared at his target through narrowed eyes.

She appeared to be crying.

Why—he had no idea. It wasn’t really his business. His business was to kill her. And that had been his business since he had first agreed to take this contract from the strange Dark Kindred who called himself “Two.”

So why hadn’t he done it yet?

Tragar had no answer to the question.

Well no—that wasn’t exactly true, he corrected himself. He hadn’t killed her yet because he wanted to know what she was capable of. When Two had convinced him to take the contract, he had hinted darkly of a female with hidden depths—a monster buried just below the surface that might burst through her mild exterior and leave a trail of blood and destruction in her path at any moment.

A monster like that was right up Tragar’s alley. He preferred to take targets who were dangerous and could give him a good fight. Even better if innocent lives might be at stake. In fact, when he’d seen that this female—this Emily Brooks—worked with younglings, he’d almost taken her out from a distance at once, even though it wasn’t his usual way. Better to break his personal protocol than risk young, innocent lives.