Authors: Angela Daniels
|Counselor of the Damned|
|Loose Id LLC (2005)|
Tegonni Ellis, a counselor working for angelic beings, saves troubled souls for a living. Accustomed to dealing with clients who have a choice to save or damn their souls, she is at loss as to how to help her newest referral, Fernando Amaral. A devout Catholic, the vampire shuns the violent tendencies of his race, embracing kindness and decency. However, none of that changes the fact that his soul is imprisoned and belongs to Hell. Heaven agrees that he is damned. Unwilling to live such existence, he desires to die by taking a holy sacrament.
Her vampire-phobic boss refuses to let her take on the case, but Tegonni is on a mission. She deplores the unfairness of Fernando’s situation and wants him to feel worthy of Heaven. But as they continue meeting together she’s inspired by the man rather than her cause, and Fernando seems to care more about being worthy of her than Heaven. Becoming emotionally involved with a vampire is a good way to ruin her career, and possibly her life. Boundaries are crossed and her loyalties challenged. With her boss close to discovering what she’s been up to, can Tegonni save the vampire…and herself?
COUNSELOR OF THE DAMNED
Counselor of the Damned
Copyright © February 2014 by Angela Daniels
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Editor: Venessa Giunta
Cover Artist: Scott Carpenter
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“We counsel those who can be saved, Tegonni. I’m not going to allow you to waste time and resources on a lost cause.” Jaime’s heels clicked on the linoleum floor as she crossed the break room. She poured herself a cup of coffee.
Tegonni Ellis trailed after her boss, one hand tapping at the belt holding up her beige dress slacks, the other clutching the new-client file. Jaime hadn’t bothered to read it. No surprise. Tegonni gestured with the folder. “Father Morgan says this guy goes to confession every week. He’s searching. Just let me bring him in for an assessment.”
Jaime stared at Tegonni over one slender shoulder. At five foot seven, Tegonni felt like an amazon as she towered over Jaime’s short, petite frame. With her pixie haircut and high cheekbones, Jaime looked…cute. She wasn’t. She turned away, whipped her coffee and cream before throwing the spoon into the sink. “No. I don’t care if the vamp’s a priest. He’s damned.”
Tegonni twisted her fingers around the tightly coiled locks of her hair. Catching herself in the calming gesture, she stopped and looked out the window at the park across the street instead. Tegonni had never given vampires much thought. Jaime was right. A Demon Lord held their souls captive, so they were certainly damned. They hadn’t given themselves, however; they were born that way. “He is powerless over what he is, but he’s making the choice to be a good person. My job is helping lost souls.”
Jaime slammed down her cup and coffee splashed on her hand. “Fuck!”
Tegonni fought the smile twitching at her lips as her boss stuck her scalded fingers under the cold tap. Most Lightworkers, from whatever religious background, kept an air of decorum about them. Dealing with heavenly beings daily inspired even the most irreverent to reign themselves in. Not Jaime. She’d curse in front of Archangel Michael himself without flinching.
Tegonni studied the other woman, who muttered as she refilled the cup. Jaime must possess
degree of piety for the Lephiri—their angelic bosses—to keep her in such a high position in Lightworkers Universal, but Tegonni had never seen it.
Jaime stared at her, the amber of her eyes a cooler reflection of the fire in her brick-red hair. “Your job, Dr. Ellis, is to save human souls from damnation. People—not vampires—who still have a chance to turn their lives around. As you said, he has no choice in what he is. Evil. Best case, nothing happens. Worst, he’s tricking you into allowing him to get close enough to kill you. Or worse, mind-rape you for information.” She shivered.
is his goal. He may not even be aware of Father Morgan’s affiliation with us.”
“Doesn’t know a priest had ties to the human servants of Heaven? Tegonni, please.” She snorted.
Tegonni shrugged. Though Heaven recognized no religious boundaries, embracing all, the Lephiri could only speak to and guide those who listened. An embarrassing number of spiritual heads didn’t. In his church’s neighborhood, Father Morgan had a reputation for creating miracles with his devotion to prayer. Humans weren’t in the know about Lightworkers Universal, or the greater paranormal community for that matter, but vampires certainly were. She had to admit Fernando would have to be dense to have missed the priest’s Lightworker connection. “I also ran a background check. No red flags. Willing donors only, no deaths, no bindings, and he hasn’t turned anyone.”
“Willing donors, eh? Vampires’ power to compel makes that doubtful. Their idea of willing and ours are very different. You know that. And, anyway, no red flags makes him even more suspect. Sounds like a wiped history to me.”
Tegonni blew out a breath and debated whether to use her last gambit. It might convince Jaime of the vampire’s sincerity or confirm her belief they had no need to involve themselves with this affair. “He wants Father Morgan to give him the Eucharist.”
Jaime startled and stared at her with wide eyes.
That got her
. Hope pushed Tegonni to continue. She stepped closer to her boss, talking excitedly. “Mr. Amaral has been pleading for the last month to take communion and prove his devotion.”
“A surprising choice, I admit. Or a ruse. The Host will certainly kill him. Without divine intervention at least. I rather like the idea of letting Heaven decide.”
Tegonni groaned inwardly. “Father Morgan doesn’t want to give Mr. Amaral the Eucharist knowing he won’t survive.” She left out the part about the priest being directed through prayer to abide by the Lightworkers’ decision on the matter. That was the reason he’d contacted her in the first place.
“I still don’t believe the creature is on the up-and-up.” She gave a little shake of her head. “No, too dangerous. Help Jenson with the survivors of that demon-summoning debacle on the West Side. Let the vampire bastard take the Host and accept God’s judgment.” She brushed past, leaving Tegonni staring after her.
Wow. Vampire bastard?
Tegonni tossed the folder on the counter and made herself a cup of tea. She shouldn’t have been surprised at the way the conversation had gone. Everyone in their Chicago branch of Lightworkers Universal knew Jaime hated vampires almost as much as demons. What bothered Tegonni more than Jaime’s prejudice was her recklessness in allowing it to rule her decision.
Tegonni knew firsthand how destructive such reasoning could be. Her mother, a devout Catholic, had left her father when he began studying African religious traditions. That was difficult, but fair, even understandable. What had been unforgivable was Mom’s rejection of Tegonni and her sister when she found out they’d been attending rituals while visiting their father. Tegonni remembered her mother’s hard eyes and harsh words.
“Go live with him. I don’t want any sinners in my life.”
Tegonni clenched her teeth at the memory. She could not accept Jaime’s determination on this case. But defying her could be a career-ending move.
She opened the file and studied the picture of Fernando Amaral for the umpteenth time. His eyes, gold as they caught the light, seemed to plead with her from a youthful, bronzed face. She scanned his bio.
Born February 3, 1367 in Castile, Spain. Race: Bloodborn vampire.
Born a vampire. Not changed like those who used to be human.
The sired commonly had regrets, but she’d never heard of a bloodborn seeking redemption. Before Father Morgan had come to her, she would have agreed with Jaime—vampires were evil, and like a demon, had no choice in the matter. Now, Fernando Amaral challenged her assumption.
“Unless he’s lying.” Vampires were as good at deception as any other hellspawn; it might be a trap.
One tidbit in his bio convinced her otherwise.
After the death of his bloodborn mother, Alaria Eshan, Fernando was baptized Catholic at the behest of his human foster father.
He already would have been drinking blood at that age, and he’d survived a baptism. Tegonni shook her head in wonder. The demonic part of him should have guaranteed a gruesome death.
She’d seen a vampire doused with holy water. The image of melting skin made her shiver. She silenced the memory of the poor shrieking creature. What a horrible chance his father had taken. She didn’t want to think of a child, even a vampire child, enduring such torture.
He, however, had suffered no ill effects.
She had to agree with Father Morgan’s explanation. Baptism was about a parent’s commitment to raise the child with Christ’s teachings, since the child was too young to understand. Because of this, Father Morgan believed Fernando’s foster father and his unshakable faith in heaven had protected young Fernando.
That gave credence to Fernando’s assertion he had lived his life as a devout Catholic, as much as he was able. She peered out the open window. Children giggled and shouted to one another as they ran in the park. He’d never been one of those kids playing in the sun and had probably wanted to be so badly. He must have been isolated growing up away from the vampire community but unable to be with human children. His developing a faith in an all-powerful God would be a comfort.
What’s it like for Fernando to have lived nearly six hundred and fifty years believing he was cut off from heaven’s light?
Tears stung her eyes, brought on equally by awe at his devotion and by his personal hell.
No wonder he wanted to end his existence by taking communion. When she confirmed his sincerity, perhaps she’d petition the Lephiri to free his soul. She didn’t know what else she could do, but she wouldn’t let such a remarkable vampire die without trying to help. “Heaven help me.”