Read Season of Strangers Online

Authors: Kat Martin

Season of Strangers

Praise for the novels of
New York Times
bestselling author
KAT MARTIN

“[Martin] produces irresistible novels that blend the eerie and unexplainable with her own uniquely sensual and exciting style.”

—
Romantic Times BOOKreviews

“In this intricately crafted novel, a terrific paranormal story unfolds that is sure to send shivers down many a reader's spine…. Ms. Martin is a master storyteller.”

—
Coffee Time Reviews
on
Scent of Roses

“A real page-turner…
The Summit
is a superb story…”

—
Romance Reviews Today

“An edgy and intense example of romantic suspense with plenty of twists and turns; fans are sure to be turning pages well into the night to finish.”

—
Paranormal Romance Writers
on
The Summit

“A terrific contemporary romance with an interesting setting, perfect pacing, compelling plot, fascinating detail.”

—
Booklist
on
Midnight Sun

“A stunning achievement for such a talented author!”

—
Literary Times
on
Bold Angel

“For once, here's a paranormal book where the paranormal element is truly creepy.”

—
All About Romance
on
The Silent Rose

Also available from
New York Times
bestselling author

KAT MARTIN

and
MIRA Books

THE SUMMIT

SCENT OF ROSES

The Heart Trilogy

HEART OF HONOR

HEART OF FIRE

HEART OF COURAGE
(coming in 2009)

The Necklace Trilogy

THE BRIDE'S NECKLACE

THE DEVIL'S NECKLACE

THE HANDMAIDEN'S NECKLACE

KAT MARTIN
SEASON
OF
STRANGERS

To my friends on Rock Creek. What a great group
you are! Thanks for all the good times. It's been
fun just getting to know you.

One

I
t was an odd sound, like the wind whipping a heavy wire stretched too tight. She heard it and a tense shiver crawled up her spine. The sun scorched down, hotter than she'd expected. The sky, a washed-out white instead of its usual blue seemed to trap in the heat. There wasn't the hint of a cloud to offer relief.

It was Wednesday, the middle of the week. No one swam in the ocean. No one looked down from the private, guarded cliffs rising up from this deserted stretch of beach. Only a stray black dog, little more than a pin-dot in the distance, wandered aimlessly in her direction, veering occasionally into the surf to cool its burning feet.

Ignoring the dog and the heat soaking through her red bikini, Julie Ferris turned to her sister, propped up on the sand just a few feet away. “Listen, Laura—do you hear that sound?”

The tall, sleek young woman beside her sat up on her faded yellow beach towel. A sticky breeze coming in off the ocean lifted strands of her pale blond hair. “What sound? I don't hear anything.” She reached over and lowered the volume on the radio, extinguishing the low beat of rock music that filtered out toward the sea.

“It's sort of a thick funny buzzing. I think it's coming from someplace over there.” Julie pointed toward the west, out toward the breakers crashing in with the rising tide. They were lying in a private cove on Malibu Beach, part of a huge estate owned by Julie's neighbor, Owen Mallory, a friend and her most important real estate client.

Cocking her head toward the odd hum that had begun to resonate along her spine, Julie rubbed her arms, trying to rid herself of the goose bumps prickling her skin. “Now it sounds like it's coming from the east. I can't exactly tell.”

Laura shifted in that direction, angling her slender frame and tilting her head. “Kind of weird, isn't it? I can hear it and at the same time, I can't. It seems to be sort of all around us.”

Julie dusted clumps of gritty sand from her hands, which were smaller, more petite than the long-boned supple fingers of her younger sister. At twenty-four, Laura Ferris had taken after their handsome fair-haired father, while Julie's dark-red hair, lightly freckled nose, and small pointed chin came from her mother's side of the family. She looked more pixieish than beautiful, though she was attractive. She was proud of her figure and shapely legs, and she thought she had a very nice behind.

“Whatever it is,” Julie said, “it's irritating to say the least.” For a moment, the sound seemed to heighten and a sharp stab of pain shot into her head. “It's getting on my nerves and giving me a headache.” She craned her neck, scanning the empty stretch of beach, careful to keep her eyes shaded beneath the brim of her big straw hat.

Glancing up at the washed-out blue sky, she tried not to stare into the harsh ball of early June sun. “Maybe it's coming from above us…some kind of microwave something-or-other, or a military jet that's flying really high.”

At twenty-eight, Julie was more outgoing than Laura, more vivacious, more driven to make the most of her life. Their father had left when they were just kids and the years of bare subsistence gave Julie her relentless drive. Laura had reacted in an opposite way, growing up shy and withdrawn, dependent on Julie to take the place of a mother who was rarely there. As a child, Laura was sickly much of the time—or at least believed she was.

“I don't see anything,” Laura said.

Julie scanned the sky. “Neither do I, but that noise is giving me the shivers. Maybe we ought to go in.”

“I'm not ready to go in yet,” Laura said, sliding down onto her backrest. “Besides, it doesn't seem quite so loud anymore. I think it's starting to fade.” She yawned hugely. “It's bound to stop in a minute or two.”

Julie rubbed at the irritating goose bumps, trying to ignore the piercing hum that didn't seem to bother her sister. She lay back on the red-and-orange beach towel that read Watch Out For Sharks, which she had gotten at a real estate conference in Las Vegas.

“Turn the radio back up.” Julie clenched her jaw, wishing the grating noise would end. “Maybe that rock station you were listening to will drown out the sound.” Shoving her sunglasses up on her nose, she settled her straw hat over her face to shade her eyes. Beside her, Laura reached for the volume knob on the radio, but it was no longer working.

“Damned thing.”

“Probably the battery,” Julie mumbled from beneath her hat.

“Can't be. I just replaced it.” Laura gave the radio a whack, but it didn't go on. “They always crap out when you need them.” Grumbling, she picked up the book she'd been reading, a Danielle Steel novel about two sisters and the hardships they had suffered as children, a story much like their own early years.

“What time is it?” Julie asked, grateful the noise had finally stopped though the weird vibrations continued. Her body tingled from head to foot, her fingers felt numb, and her heart was throbbing strangely.

At the same time she felt unaccountably sleepy.

Laura glanced down at her diamond-faced wristwatch, a present from Julie last Christmas. “That's weird…my watch has stopped working, too.” She grimaced and plopped the paperback book down over her face. “Nothing works when you want it to.” The words whispered out from beneath the pages.

“You're not going to sleep, are you? One of us had better stay awake or we'll wind up with a doozie of a sunburn.”

But already Laura's eyes were closing.

And as the odd numbing sensations became more intense, Julie's limbs began to feel heavy. Her eyes drifted closed and her thoughts slowly faded. A few moments later, she was soundly asleep.

When the stray black dog sauntered over from the edge of the surf, dripping water from the hair under his belly, he cocked an ear at the once again softly playing radio. A low growl rumbled from his throat and the thick black ruff of fur at the back of his neck shot up as he sniffed the terry-cloth folds of the two vacant beach towels, the empty backrests, and the cast-off book he found carelessly abandoned in the sand.

He growled again and glanced up, then whimpered and began to back away. Tucking his tail between his legs, the dog turned and bolted off down the beach.

 

Val lingered a moment in front of the monitor on the narrow metal table, studying the glowing blue screen. He'd been examining his research notes ever since the tests had been completed and all of the data assembled. Nothing he saw on the screen or in any of his other case studies gave him the answers he searched for, answers he so desperately needed.

He shut down the power and the monitor went blank. Panidyne would be waiting for a report and he still hadn't reached a decision. He wasn't usually so indecisive. Back home he tended to be somewhat outspoken, not a particularly desirable trait, considering the position he held. But this time the action he was considering was far too risky, too important to undertake without a great deal of thought.

The fact was, he needed more data before he put his radical notion before the council.

He moved away from the table, a sudden calmness settling over him. His superiors had wanted more testing, but he had disagreed. It was harmful to the subject, life threatening, they now knew.

But perhaps this time the council was correct. Perhaps it was worth the risk. Another round of tests might give them the key, hint at where to find the knowledge that up until now had remained so elusive.

More data would give him more answers. Perhaps he would know for sure if the perilous proposal he was about to make was worth the terrible risk.

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