Elizabeth Alsobrooks’ Illuminati series, Book I
Ljluka Vargas, immortal prince and the cool-headed enforcer for the Vargas Dynasty,
must go up against his most intriguing enemy, the mysterious Nalini. She intends
to beat him to the secret archaeological site of The Book of Life which contains
the genetic secrets of their ancient ancestors.
In order to escape the cruel domination of her family and gain freedom for her mother, Nalini assumes the role of assassin. In her rival, the sleek and deadly Luc, she finds a different kind of danger. She’s supposed to eliminate him, but that would foil destiny’s plan for them to be together.
It’s a race from power-hungry D.C. cabinet rooms through the secret realms of the Vatican, from cloud forests and desert sands to the caverns of the Underworld as mankind hangs in the balance. For whoever possesses the Book of Life has the potential to rule the
world, offering or denying immortality to the human race.
Why was it always so damn hot whenever he was sent to kill someone?
At least it seemed that way to Luc. The heavy humidity matched his foul mood. It was sweltering and sticky even for D.C. in August. He dug a finger into the collar of his shirt and tugged. The air felt gritty, heavy with pollution and other less tangible remnants of a power base for the largest economy on the planet.
It was the kind of evening bound to produce high crime stats in tomorrow’s news. Sensationalized stories, perhaps his, would trump summer closeout sales and free concerts in Lincoln Square.
His gaze scanned the sooty windows for nosey vagrants or addicts. Those in better neighborhoods sat in their controlled airflow high-rises listening to newscasters warn about a dangerously ignored and ever-growing population of disillusioned has-beens and wannabes whose fired-up tempers couldn’t be cooled with tax breaks that never reached the sweaty tenements where they looked for lost hope in the bottom of a bottle or the end of a needle. What Luc saw was the inevitable decay of yet another civilization.
Which is why he didn’t plan to linger in this back alley. Luc sighed softly, increasingly weary of the unending violence and secrecy.
A final survey confirmed empty brick-framed rows of darkened windows. Despite the filth, they still shimmered with obscured reflections of rising moonlight that might camouflage an unwary onlooker. Habit and a nagging whisper of something not quite right tightened his shoulders expectantly, and Luc again scanned the panes for a hint of rumpled curtain or a partially revealed face leaning curiously toward the glass.
* * * * *
She knew he couldn’t see her crouched in the shadow of the dumpster behind him. Yet as if his instincts screamed danger, he spun around and looked straight at her with a fierce, predatory stare. The hairs on the back of her neck tingled. He took a step forward and then stopped and shrugged the tenseness from his shoulders. She took a deep, slow breath and relaxed her own.
* * * * *
Instead of approaching the dumpster, Luc reassured himself that a mere ten feet separated him from the sedan he had parked near the rear exit. It was situated to the left of a dangerously neglected fire stairwell. He doubted the rust-welded tiers could still descend but no one lurked in the shadow of the landings and nothing blocked his path to the car. Yet something still made him pause.
Something’s wrong. Where’s the danger? Relax. I need to sense my surroundings. Deep breath. Yes. Better.
Premonition snapped his attention back to the alley. A near-undetectable footfall sounded behind him. As he spun around, a man lunged out of the shadows.
The man’s fist, gloved in one-hundred degree weather, approached his face. Tilting his head aside, Luc barely avoided the blow. He stepped into the attacker’s momentum. His own knuckles smashed into the man’s stomach. The impact was reduced by what Luc assumed must be Kevlar. A quick turn. His arm flexed around the bulky, unprotected throat of his assailant. The brute was taller and outweighed him. Two-hundred and forty, maybe fifty pounds, plunged backward and shoved against his chest, repeatedly, the goal to break Luc’s grip. Struggling to retain his hold, Luc almost missed the weapon.
The man’s arm slashed downward. When the assailant’s hand came within reach, Luc snatched hold. He levered the blade it held forward, away from his own mid-section. A jerk of his wrist sent the thrust upward.
A burning sensation was followed by a spreading dampness. It was then he realized he’d been nicked. His shirt stuck to his side.
Extreme physical training and centuries of experience guided Luc’s self defense. Reactive adrenaline added force to his actions. The long, surgical quality hunting weapon pushed through the assassin’s body armor and into the man’s chest. The knife skipped off a rib. Judging by the gurgling sound, it found a lung before protruding from his back. Luc relaxed his taut muscles.
It hit him then, full-strength. The scent of life flowing into death. Tantalizing. Delicious. Pulling at his senses. Hypnotic in its power. His spine stiffened and he froze.
What’s wrong with me? Why am I having this reaction again? It’s getting more frequent, at least half-a-dozen times now.
He clutched his side and fought to regain control as he released the body.
I can’t let the family find out about this, at least not until I figure out what it is.
It occurred to him as he sprinted toward the car that he should have used the dumpster across the alley with social appropriateness, putting the trash who’d tried to kill him in its rightful place. But there was no time for delicacy. As the would-be killer’s head hit the pavement with an unpleasant thud, Luc’s hand was already jerking open the driver’s side door.
* * * * *
Nalini’s appreciative gaze shifted across the wide breadth of shoulders, and lowered to admire the cut of her target’s highly tailored trousers. His legs were moving quickly, but she could still tell from their length that he was at least six-foot-five. Though lean, even covered in silk there was a sinewy tautness in those movements that hinted of well-honed muscle. She’d been following him for only a dozen hours, but already she had determined that he was much more of a threat than her arrogant brothers had suggested. When he turned to again survey the alley, she pressed herself against the filthy green metal and slid backward a few more inches until she could no longer see him.
Once the car sped forward, Nalini stepped from seclusion and leaned down to examine the fresh corpse. Her head tilted in concentration. She could smell the coppery aroma of blood that spread across his shirt where it had oozed from the confines of the Kevlar. Why had Ljluka Vargas bent toward the frontal wound, if only for a split second? He seemed entranced, almost as though the blood drew him against his will, like a hungry animal.
“Oh, he’s dangerous, all right. Deadly so,” Nalini muttered, as she turned to flee.
* * * * *
As he settled into the sedan, Luc unbuttoned his shirt and viewed his injury. The bleeding had already stopped. He jerked the arm rest compartment open. The small box held what he sought. It took only a moment for him to apply an adhesive bandage to the small cut on his side, just under his ribcage. He closed his shirt, buttoned his jacket and just before he steered the expensively-harnessed horsepower out of the alley glanced in the rear-view mirror.
His attention held.
She was glorious. A vision of beauty and grace.
Where had she come from?
The image lasted only a split-second as he sped away, but he would never forget the haunting impression she made upon him. Flowing fabric of gossamer spun gold caressed sleek, bronze limbs. Her fluid movements caused her layered skirts to float around her like a whispered rumor. The mirage rippled between his fallen victim and the corroded dumpster, as stimulating as any fleeting fantasy, and just as inaccessible. Then she was gone. He shook off his brief enchantment with a cold dash of reason. There wasn’t enough time to look for her now–though he would have liked to see her face.
Ah, I’m too much like father used to be, letting my mind possess whatever pleases my eyes. Was the lissom apparition the presence he’d detected earlier? Could the Usurper’s minions be onto me so soon? Letting out his breath, he sighed. Back to business.
His brow creased with concentration as he braked behind a city bus. A small group of twenty-something males filed out and loudly made their way toward what was, judging by the edgy music that drifted out as a couple exited, a local singles club.
In that moment’s pause, his thoughts returned to the alley and the nagging feeling that the attack on him was a warning of more to come. He reviewed his movements. The sophisticated head of the subcommittee leaving the dingy hotel room, followed by the fulfillment of the first stage of his mission–insuring the Usurper’s minion would be permanently unavailable for future covert meetings with the quick flash of his blade. Then he’d gone out through the back alley where he encountered the would-be assassin. Judging from the shot-filled knuckles of the law enforcement-type glove the thug was wearing, he’d been no ordinary flunky.
So why attack me after the fact ? I already carried out the hit. They never tried to prevent it. Revenge then?
From every angle, Luc arrived at the same conclusion, that the two events were completely unrelated. Either way, going back now just wasn’t an option. It wasn’t protocol. The mission came first.
The mission always came first.
A faint buzz sounded in his right ear. He reached up to tap the receiver. Amusement tugged at the corners of his mouth as Kirin’s melodic voice teased him back to his present task. He was quick to reassure her.
“Just a momentary delay, nothing to concern yourself about.”
“Oh, but I’m always concerned about you, Luc. Always,” she responded playfully, using the affectionate nickname she’d christened him with when they were children. His given name, Ljluka, took too long to say, she’d assured him. He could imagine the teasing sparkle in his sister’s emerald eyes.
“How long?” she questioned, her clipped, more professional tone alerting him that someone had joined her.
Finish it and return, commanded a voice used to instant obedience.
This message was transmitted without benefit of the earpiece. His mother needed only to think its delivery for him to receive it as if he were now standing in the room with them, rather than weaving in and out of late-night traffic. He was just a few cars back from one of several dark limousines ahead of him as he approached Pennsylvania Avenue.
Of course, he responded in like manner. He didn’t bother signing off with Kirin. He knew she had disconnected even before the soft click sounded in his ear.
Pulling out his diplomatic identification, he extended it through the open window and waited for the guard to validate it.
The young Marine handed it back, saying, “Thank you. Have a nice evening, sir.”
Electronics hummed while black wrought-iron gates swung open and an electrical impulse activated retractable bollards that receded into the asphalt before he was once again moving toward the limo now parked behind the White House.
Luc noticed without reaction the meaty secret service agent standing in the lee side shadow of an evergreen. Geared completely in black, starting with his seam-busting tight black t-shirt, Mr. White House Special Ops was packaged for delivery with Kevlar and Velcro, carrying some seriously fun party favors with plenty of popping power. Much had changed since 9-11—yet another reason his mother had no intention of letting up any time soon. She would never rest until the Usurper was destroyed.
The updated Rambo wannabe never moved, but even though all he could possibly see was another vehicle with tinted glass, his alert stare followed Luc’s corporate- rented BMW until it rounded the curve in the driveway.
Pulling to a stop, Luc left the keys in the ignition and stepped onto the walkway. Careful to ensure his jacket was buttoned to hide his bloodstained shirt, he lifted his arms to shoulder-height, suppressing a grimace as the action caused a slight twinge in his side. A waiting agent swept his frame with a slow-beeping wand before signaling him toward yet another agent waiting to escort him to his destination.
Moments later he entered a high-ceilinged office filled with Chippendale period pieces and glanced across the room at the gray-haired, middle-aged cabinet member he had been sent to persuade. Shock, quickly masked, appeared in the man’s watery blue eyes before he sprang up rather quickly for such an out of shape Boomer. Luc distrusted him on sight. The calculating gleam in the man’s eyes disgusted him.
The door swung shut with a soft clack, the agent having remained in the outer office. “I-I was expecting someone else. Forgive me. No one . . . no one said they were sending you. I thought that–” He was already around the desk, motioning toward a more intimate grouping of furniture in the far corner.
The long-cherished gift from Kirin, the modified cufflink that bore the owl, symbol of his name, exquisitely carved in Etruscan gold had been slipped into Luc’s jacket pocket. The cuff of his light blue silk shirt was pushed up just far enough to reveal the tattoo on his forearm. The cabinet member recognized the flaming sphere illuminating the cross within–the symbol identifying him as a member of the Illuminati’s inner circle.
Luc moved forward with distaste. “I won’t be here that long,” he said softly, extending his hand.
The man gasped, but dutifully put his right hand out to be engulfed and squeezed within Luc’s larger, firmer grip. Secret handshakes were supposedly only rumors, but in this case it confirmed Luc’s superior status.
“As you can see for yourself,” Luc continued more forcefully, “I am the message.” He leaned down, closer, until he could smell the vile stench of stale cigar smoke emanating from the man. Directing the full force of his ice-blue stare at the man, he added, “The cohort from your earlier meeting this evening won’t have any objections if you wish to reconsider doing as you were instructed, I assure you. Don’t forget that not so long ago others had to be reminded of what it means to be humbled. Not even the moneylenders are above our reach. We have toppled civilizations.”
“I-I understand. I will call the committee together at once.”
Luc straightened and flexed his shoulders. The man’s pale face lost whatever color remained.
“It will be done. I swear it.”
Desperation squeezed beads of sweat from the man’s forehead. Luc grimaced and dropped the soggy hand. Without another word, he turned and left the room.
After he washed his hands, Luc had one more mission–somewhat more personal–to attend to before he flew back to Rome.
What People Are Saying About Elizabeth:
“When Elizabeth Alsobrooks holds a mirror up to life you can be sure she catches it all. Poet, novelist, scholar, publisher, professor, literary liaison – how could it be otherwise? This is a writer for all seasons, of all seasons. ILLUMINATI is as good a single word capture as you could get for her eclectic mind and imagination. Follow the implications through these pages and you will travel the crossroads of authentic history as well as a secret past that might have been. But you will scarcely have to leave your own time – or your heart – in order to feel the universal passions of her characters and their intrigues. Savor it all in this intelligent and lyrical tour de force.” –Thomas Sullivan, Pulitzer nominated author of Dust of Eden, Water Wolf, Born Burning…
“Strong, well-drawn characters walk a tight-rope of ancient legends and modern day intrigues, blending action a la Indiana Jones/Lara Croft with the lure of a Dan Brownesque mythology in a smart adventure/romance this talented debut author categorizes as urban fantasy reinvented. Then add feuding family pathos packed with surprises. These folks could have their own reality show: Affairs of the Rich and Immortal! Alsobrooks leads the reader along a daring chase that leaves plenty of teasing openings for series expansion. My personal favorite – the eloquently fawning servant Hassidim. I need a Hassidim. I want a Hassidim. And then, of course, there’s the hunky brother, Andrew . . . but that, I’m told, is another story. I’ll be looking forward to it. –Nancy Gideon, Award-Winning Author of the By Moonlight series…
Now that her children have flown from the nest, Elizabeth lives with her two new babies (AKA Maltese) and husband, Bobby, at the foot of the beautiful Catalina Mountain Range in Oro Valley, AZ. She loves to hike the mountain trails, ride her bike on the miles of walk/bike paths, sit on her patio sipping coffee and reading or brainstorming plots and enjoying the grandeur of her breathtaking mountain views. Elizabeth calls herself a pantser on steroids. The first book of her Illuminati series flowed like a psychic muse channeled it from her fingertips to the keyboard. She wrote 120,000 words in 45 days. “After the first couple of chapters, the characters took over. They knew what they wanted and what they were willing to do to get it.” Her love of mythology and ancient literature and history were the backbone for her series, and the Sigma Force series by James Rollins inspired the fast-paced adventures (He recently told her at a literacy fundraiser that he found that flattering, as no one had ever told him he was inspiring before!). The result was an action packed URBAN FANTASY novel series, with its basis in truth, superstitions, mythology and conspiracy theories.