Excerpt from Sanctum Angels: Shadow Havens Book 1
All rights reserved.
Ilea Galaurus pulled her skirts up, tucking her legs into the overstuffed brocade chair. Dragging it closer to the carved bed had been a struggle, but she’d been watching her son in the candlelit bedroom for hours, needing to be close. His pale features and occasional soft whimpers frightened her, demanding her vigilance, yet she was unable to do anything to help him. Saan shivered despite the thick, ebony duvet covering his limbs. He rubbed his inflamed eyelids but remained unconscious. Although he’d only fallen ill three days ago, the fever had struck him like a hurricane. It seemed like something that could fell a human even though there was no possibility that Saan, the child of a daemon and a pureblood vampire, could be infected by any of the diseases a human would carry. The young male had grown hot and delirious, despite the efforts of the best daemon healers of the Demesne, who hadn’t seen anything like this illness. Although used to healing injuries, large and small, they’d never met fever. One had heard of an illness like this that could take a supernatural quickly, but nothing was known of a cure. The daemon healers had looked to the Internet for answers but found few. Three deaths had been reported in Europe from an illness that could be the same. None of the stricken supernaturals had survived. Calls had crossed the Atlantic, from southwestern Pennsylvania to the capitals of Europe. Promises to share any information were exchanged, but time was trickling through an hourglass in Ilea’s heart. She knew her son might never regain consciousness. Death could take him this very night. The thought propelled her to his bedside for perhaps the hundredth time. Leaning over, moving the voluminous amber skirts of her long gown, she whispered his name and ran a fingertip across his blond eyebrows. Even so ill, he was handsome. Perhaps you should lie down with him, my lady,” the only healer left in the bedroom suggested from behind her. “It might still his shivering.” Ilea whirled on the young female. “Get out,” she said, but her words lacked fury. Instantly, she regretted the dismissal. The daemon healers had done as much as they were able. “Forgive me. Your name is Lily?” The healer nodded shyly. “Saan is….my only son and …he’s dying in front of me… "
“I understand, my lady,” the daemon healer named Lily replied. “I will go now. One of my sisters will return later.” After bobbing her head of light curls, she left quietly.
“Thank you,” Ilea said, turning back to Saan, searching his face for any sign of improvement. She sat on the bed’s edge to take his face in her hands. Just for a moment, Ilea saw the pupils of his beautiful, dark eyes. The whites had gone crimson, as if he were bleeding from some injury behind the bones of his face. His pale skin was hot and moist to her palms. Carefully, she dropped her hands and found to her shock that tiny bruises had formed on his pale cheeks exactly where her fingertips had been, leaving discolorations from the lightest touch. Pulling the duvet gently back from Saan’s pallid chest, Ilea found bruises. Tiny smears of blood had formed over some. “Dear God,” she breathed. Looking at her own hands, she saw blood on her fingertips. Wiping them against her skirts, she flew to the door. Two huge vampiric warriors stood guard on either side of the doorway, a measure that Saan’s father, Sebastien Galaurus, the Demesne’s leader, had commanded. No one but Ilea, the healers and Saan’s sister, Iridea, would be permitted to cross the threshold. “Where is my Mate?” Ilea demanded.
“In his study, my lady,” the vampire answered instantly.
Ilea picked up the skirting of her gown and rushed through the richly carpeted halls of the elaborate underground Demesne haven she’d shared with her Mate for centuries. By the time she reached Sebastien’s study, her flaming hair had come undone from its tight chignon and her face had grown hot. Saan was dying and a tiny thought she’d kept buried for the past two nights would find Sebastien’s ear whether he wished to hear or not. Drawing breath, Ilea whipped the black double doors nearly from their hinges to stride to the dark, massive desk in front of her Mate. A small group of the Demesne’s vampire warriors were with him but they stepped swiftly from her path. “Leave us,” she ordered.
The warriors of the Demesne were unused to taking orders from their leader’s Mate, whom they rarely saw, but left after Sebastien gave them a fast nod. Hearing his Mate’s pounding heart, Sebastien sat quickly, as if the air had been knocked from his lungs. “Has our son passed?” he asked quietly.
“He lives but he may well pass before the morning unless something is done,” Ilea gripped the edge of the desk and leaned over it, into her husband’s perfectly sculpted face. “Call your brother at the Sanctum and seek his advice,” she commanded. “Ask him to send one of the angelic healers. It is the only thing that can save our son.”
Sebastien had thought this might be requested of him, but he had also expected Saan to recover, having his mother’s daemon blood and his own vampiric blood. “Andrieu is not my brother. I cannot contact anyone at the Sanctum,” he said.
Ilea pulled her hand back and brought it forward in a mind-numbingly fast arc to connect with Sebastien’s jaw. Her Mate’s head bounced backward against the high back of his carved chair, yet he didn’t lift a hand. “You could not have heard what I asked,” Ilea said. “Call Andrieu and ask…no, Sebastien …beg him to send an angelic healer. Tonight.” Ilea’s eyes were changing to the silver swirls associated with strong emotion among daemons. “Do it,” she hissed.
“Has he grown worse? Have the healers found nothing to help?” Sebastien’s voice was barely above a whisper. He knew the answer.
“Must I strike you again to get you to understand my words? Saan is dying. He grows weaker as we speak. The healers have done all that is possible. There is no hope but an angel’s blood!” Ilea’s voice rose, but she couldn’t control herself. “Only the blood of an angel can clear his body of this venom that steals his life tonight, Sebastien. Call Andrieu Grey at the Sanctum.”
Sebastien sat back, staring at the daemon he loved. She was as he’d never seen her, with her hair undone and her face in flames. “Ilea,” he began, “an angel’s blood will kill him. It is poison to all that have daemon blood.”
“He will die, Sebastien! If the angel’s blood hastens his end, he will be released from this torment!” Ilea’s voice cracked with emotion and she dropped her head as a tear fell to the desk’s surface. “If you cannot bring yourself to call Andrieu, call Miriel. She has a child…a boy…and a stepchild…her daughter…she will understand a mother’s pain.” She raised her face to him, wishing she could will him to do as she asked. Had he been less strong willed, she might have glamoured him to it. “See him yourself,” she implored. “Go to him.”
Sebastien rose to his full height, took his Mate’s small hand and moved for the hall. The tight cluster of Demesne warriors in the hall parted, but Sebastien motioned them to follow him. In moments, he was at the foot of Saan’s bed, while the warriors waited outside the young male’s rooms.
Ilea turned on a small lamp, bringing light to the bedroom. Saan was writhing but settled as his mother touched his shoulder and whispered something to him. A small blood tear had formed at the edge of his eye. Ilea wiped it away with her fingertip. Rubbing her hands on her skirts, she looked at her Mate’s hard face. Quickly, she tugged the duvet away from Saan’s chest, which was now streaked with skinny ribbons of blood where his skin and the tissue beneath were dying. The leader of the Demesne waved a hand at her and she replaced the duvet, searching his face, waiting for the words she wanted to hear so badly.
He motioned her to the hallway, where his warriors stood, expecting orders, but unable to imagine what they would be told to do. Sebastien, who commanded all and intimidated most, took his Mate into his arms.
Just then, Iridea, their daughter, rounded the hall’s bend, nearly colliding with her parents and the Demesne warriors. She’d worn one of the long, ornate gowns her mother favored, almost as a good will offering to her parents, who often disapproved of her jeans and loose hair. Not understanding their tight embrace, she thought Saan had made some improvement. “Is he better?” she asked.
Sebastien shook his head, as he took her into his arms too. Holding both females tightly, he said, “Go to your brother, Iridea. It appears that his illness is coming to crisis. He will die or survive in the coming hours.”
As Ilea’s breath hitched and her tears fell against Sebastien’s chest, Iridea pulled free to do as she’d been told. She would stay with Saan to the end or to see him recover. Making eye contact with two of his most loyal warriors over his Mate’s head, Sebastien lifted Ilea’s face. “The blood of an angel will kill him Ilea. Saan may still overcome this illness,” he said wearily.
The words burned like lava in Ilea’s chest. Sebastien wasn’t going to contact the Sanctum even though it might be the only chance for Saan. Immediately, she began to struggle. The sleeve of her gown tore exposing a pale shoulder.
Sebastien held her. He had no wish to hurt her, but he could not let her go. “Saan’s life or his death are not mine to com…”
“Yes, they are… you bastard…you filthy bastard…you can save him…,” Ilea shrieked. Ilea’s words and struggles were cut short as Sebastien wrapped one heavily muscled arm around her tiny waist and pulled her to his chest so tightly that her feet left the carpet. He raised a hard palm in front of her face, staring as deeply into her eyes as he could, while she writhed against his expansive chest. “Ilea…listen to me …Ilea… hear my voice Ilea…” Within seconds, she slumped, unconscious in his arms. Two Demesne vampires rushed to their leader to help him with Ilea’s slight weight. Sebastien lifted her into the arms of Zeris, one of his most trusted warriors. Once the vampire held Ilea aloft, Sebastien smoothed strands of red hair from her face. “Take her to her rooms and lock her in. No one is to see her like this,” he said, before going back into Saan’s room.
Iridea sat at Saan’s bedside, as her mother had. In the soft light, Sebastien noted the resemblance between brother and sister and recalled the unexpected joy his children had brought to him. He’d had little to do with their rearing and although his relationship with Ilea was sometimes difficult, she’d always been a good mother. A strong mother, he thought. Moving closer, he saw tears on his daughter’s face, silver in her wide eyes. “Iridea…,” he started.
The young woman held a hand up to stop the flow of words. “No more words, father. Just allow me to be with my brother.”
“Will you remain with him then? Through the night?”
“I’ll stay here until he dies or improves.” Raising her head, Iridea looked around. “Where is our mother?” she asked, not realizing that Sebastien had blacked his Mate out and had her locked in her rooms.
“She’s resting. This has been terrible for her,” he said. “And the angelic blood? Last night, mother told me it might help Saan.”
“It would kill him. I have no doubt of this. He may yet survive Iridea.”
Iridea shook her head as a tear fell. Her deep red hair rippled like waves as she trembled. “We both know we will never hear the sound of Saan’s voice again father.”
Hours later, when the sun rose, Saan’s life had ended. True to her word, Iridea had remained with him until life had gone from his once beautiful body. Daemon healers had come and gone throughout the night, but Iridea was barely aware of them. One had asked if she wished them to ease Saan’s passing, but she’d shaken her head. After Saan had drawn his last breath, she’d gone to her father, who’d taken the news in his study without words. “Do you want me to tell mother?” Iridea asked, but Sebastien had shaken his head, before saying that he would see Ilea himself.
In the early hours of the next day, daemon healers carefully washed and wrapped Saan in fine, pale linen, before Sebastien carried his son to a windowless receiving room where old prayers and the sweet white smoke from incense burners hung in the air. Ilea was brought to the receiving room in a dark, simple gown that Iridea had chosen for her. Her lackluster eyes tracked the daemon healers who took her son from the receiving room to an elevated pyre just outside the doorway, where the dawn would destroy what the flames set below the pyre did not. She collapsed as the first tendrils of smoke began to rise through the soft white shrouding. Sebastien carried her back to her rooms and laid her on her bed again.
“You are beyond vile. I will hate you forever,” she’d whispered, before closing her eyes.
As that evening fell, hours later, Ilea woke, wrapped herself in a soft cloak the color of night and ventured from her rooms. She hurried through the halls of the Demesne, her gown and cloak billowing behind her like sails. Rain had fallen during the gray afternoon hours, which might make her work easier. It was a fact that pleased her, as she wished only to complete her task without seeing anyone. Entering the receiving room where she’d said a final goodbye to her Saan, Ilea pressed the heavy wooden doors open, breathing in the clear night. Overhead the moon’s radiance was a gift. The flashlight she’d brought would not be needed. Stepping down onto the ground, her soft leather boots sank into mud and the hems of her gown and cloak soon followed. At times, she envied Iridea’s comfort with jeans. Undaunted, she moved to the plot of earth where Saan’s body had been taken in flames. As she’d expected, his larger bones had not been rendered to dust and ash, as he’d only been half vampire. They met her eye like silvery spokes of a wheel broken in the mud. Bending quickly, she began pulling them free to put them into her sack.
Four years later…
Priana Grey’s hands and feet were freezing. Her arms felt like wood and a thin trail of blood was snaking its way down her palm from the fine wire binding her wrists. She wiggled her fingertips but couldn’t risk moving more. The man with his fist in her hair would only yank her backward again and the gun at the end of his other hand looked as long as a bowling alley. He would use it, she knew, but she tried to stay calm by telling herself that every breath was a blessing to take her closer to surviving. Even though she was only wearing a wine-colored slip and the guy with the gun kept yanking at her head, she struggled to ignore the knot twisting her gut. The fact that she had a fifty / fifty shot at dying in her underwear in front of total strangers meant nothing now.
Less than two hours earlier, Priana had come to the First Bank of Saint Rushton to make a deposit. Her only thought had been to go to the bank before the oppressive heat and humidity that often bakes southwestern Pennsylvania in early September took hold for the day. Five other people had been in the bank, including two tellers. As she had turned away from the tellers’ counter, a young man with unkempt blond hair had entered the bank, shoved a crowbar through the handles of the glass doors and pulled a gun from the back of his jeans, before ordering everyone to stand in front of the tellers’ counter. In that instant, she had gone from bank customer to hostage. P
riana’s heart had begun hammering in her chest. The guy was strung out and rough looking, in ragged jeans and an oversized plaid jacket. The bitter disgust and hatred in his eyes frightened Pria as much as the gun he kept waving around like some kind of baton. She drew a fast, deep breath and did a quick assessment of her companions. There were two older men, both of whom were very pale. The tellers, both middle-aged women, seemed to be holding themselves together, but a pretty, dark haired girl, who couldn’t be out of her teens, had a bad case of the shakes that caught her attention.
Pria turned her options over in her mind. As the child of a pureblood vampire and an angel who’d chosen to fall, she had skills to end the situation, but putting a human life at risk was unacceptable. Unless there was a direct threat to life, she would not take the life of even someone like the man with the gun. She could try to get close enough to the thief to pull a glamour, which wouldn’t kill him, but given his agitated state, it might not work. If she were close enough to even try a glamour, she could do much more, yet she was reluctant to compromise his life if all he wanted was money. Cursing inwardly, she decided to see where the situation went. Hopefully, he’d just take the money and leave. T
he robber pulled two heavy laundry sacks from his long jacket, tossing them at the tellers, with orders to empty the bank’s cash into the bags. As the tellers took the sacks and the thief’s attention followed them, Pria grabbed at the man standing next to her and whispered, “Change places with me,” so she would be next to the young girl, who was almost panting. The girl looked at Pria, eyes wide with terror. “Cooperate,” Pria whispered. “Keep breathing.”
The tellers didn’t speak to each other as they moved from cash drawer to cash drawer, as one held the sack and the other stuffed bills into the opening. Having worked together for many years, they didn’t need to speak as they both depressed small square buttons beneath the counter. After emptying the cash drawer, they took the sacks to the vault at the left of the tellers’ area.
At the Saint Rushton Police Department Dispatch Center, a light began blinking on the black console of a rookie dispatcher, who wasn’t too sure if he was right about what he thought the light meant. Although still learning the ropes, he knew he wasn’t supposed to leave his console unless someone else covered it. Standing, he looked around a bit frantically before his supervisor saw him from her glass-fronted office. He motioned to her with his arm. She had a kid the same age and she’d already taken a liking to him.
“Shit,” she said when she saw the square red light. “How long’s that been blinkin’? That’s the First Bank of Saint Rushton.”
“Just started,” the rookie answered, a little breathless and a little proud of himself for knowing the light meant that serious shit was going down at the First Bank of Saint Rushton.
“Well, let’s wake up SWAT,” she said looking at her watch. “Christ! It’s not even nine in the morning. Today should be a real kick in the ass, kid!”
By the time the tellers were dragging cash-filled sacks across the floor toward the thief, two SWAT teams, three snipers and two paramedic units were headed for the bank. One SWAT team and the snipers entered the bank through a rarely-used side entrance the thief knew nothing about. The shooters slipped further into interior areas of the bank, normally closed off from the public, including a small employee lounge to the thief’s left side.
When the tellers had dragged the cash-filled bags to the gunman’s feet, he motioned them back in line, yelling, “Now, everyone get your clothes off! Shoes off, too. Throw everything in a pile here,” he ordered, gesturing to the floor with the gun.
Pria heard a sharp intake of breath next to her that alarmed her more than removing her red dress, which was little more than a long tee shirt. She whipped the dress over her head and kicked her flip flops to the center of the floor. Down to her slip, she glanced at the girl, who was sliding a pair of cut offs down thin, tan legs. She wore a simple pink top with buttons and white cotton panties. Her fingers fluttered over the shirt’s buttons, unable to make herself undo them. “Honey…” Pria whispered.
“I’m not wearing a bra,” the girl hissed, in a panicky voice. “It’ll be okay. Keep the shirt on. Just don’t say a word, no matter what.”
In a moment, the thief’s eye came to rest on the girl, as the other hostages continued disrobing. He strode forward until he was inches of her face. “Get your shirt off, bitch!” he screamed.
The girl squeezed her eyes closed as if to protect herself from his fury. She turned her head away, expecting to be hit.
Pria noted the thief’s hot breath and dirty, blond hair. His pale skin was specked with acne scarring. Spittle gathered at the corners of his thin lips. Pria’s hand flew upward in front of the man’s face. “She won’t run,” she said firmly. “That’s why you want us to take our shoes and clothes off…so we won’t run for the door. She won’t run.”
The gunman looked down at Pria, as if aware of her for the first time.
Pria slipped an arm around the girl’s shoulders to pull her closer. It was a small glamour, but the most she could hope for given the thief’s almost-frenzied mental state. “She won’t run,” she repeated. “She knows you’re powerful…and strong. She doesn’t want to die, so she won’t run. You’re strong and powerful and you can allow her to keep the shirt on,” Pria insisted. “The shirt means nothing. She won’t run. Because you’re powerful”
In the thief’s mind, Pria’s voice had an odd lilting quality. It calmed him and somehow he felt her words to be truth. The girl wouldn’t run, he realized. She knew he’d kill her. Closing his eyes, he saw the girl running; saw himself shooting her in the back as she got closer to the bank’s glass doors.
“She will not run,” Pria repeated firmly.
Then, the thief knew she was right. No one would want to die with a bullet in the back. The shirt wasn’t important. He could allow her to keep it. “Yeah… I don’t have time to fuck around with this,” he said under his breath and moved away.
The girl clutched Pria’s hand, like the lifeline it had become.
“Be still,” Pria whispered. "Don’t make a sound."
"Everyone on the floor!” the thief bellowed, still waving the gun like a riding crop “Cells, purses, wallets…right here…at my feet!” Purses, wallets and cell phones quickly became a small mound in front of the thief, who pulled a spool of thin wire from a back pocket. Moving quickly from hostage to hostage, he bound their hands in front of them with the wire, which was meant to hurt as much as restrain.
The next two events told Pria a teller had somehow managed to alert the police. First, the power went out, killing most of the lights, air conditioning and several computers, plunging the bank into an oddly quiet state. Within a few minutes, a phone on a corner desk began ringing. The sound brought a look of triumph to the thief’s face, as he shoved a teller to answer it.
The tiny, gray-haired teller, bright-eyed with fear, snatched at the phone, which seemed deafening. “It’s for you,” she said in a whispery croak, as if her vocal chords weren’t cooperating.
Pria felt genuine fear punch a hook into her stomach, as the thief snatched the phone’s receiver and grinned. Reports of this kind of thing were plentiful and news images often showed live hostages being taken away by cops after the fireworks were over. Until she’d seen the sick grin, she’d hoped the guy would take the cash and bolt. This wasn’t just a bank robber, but a psychotic, who was far more dangerous than someone looking for money. She also realized, with a horrible sense of dread, the bank robber hadn’t covered his face. Since everyone in the bank could easily identify him, Pria recognized their chances for getting out alive were dwindling. Although the thief kept his voice low on the phone, Pria had the sense that he was asking for someone named Joe.
“Yeah, you get Joe in here,” he said smugly, leaving Pria to wonder who Joe was.
The thief concluded the conversation quickly, slamming the phone’s receiver back into its cradle. Three long strides brought him to Pria, with her legs tucked under her on the floor. Grabbing a fistful of her long, dark hair, he pulled her upright. “Do what you’re told, bitch,” he hissed, spinning her to face the door. “Understand?”
Grimacing, Pria nodded, causing him to yank her hair harder. “You will not hurt me,” she whispered. The glamour wouldn’t work, she realized. He was too wired and she couldn’t make eye contact with her back to his chest.
With one hand still fisted in her hair, he pulled her forward with him, yanked the bar out of the door handles and dragged her back to the middle of the floor. He propped his other arm over her shoulder to point the gun at the bank’s front door. Pria couldn’t see police or anything else through the glass doors, but within minutes, they parted and a tall, dark-haired guy stepped through. He was wearing a dark suit, a pale blue shirt and a Kevlar vest. A badge was clipped to his belt, but he didn’t appear to be armed. His face showed no emotion, as he spread his hands wide in front of him.
“Hi Marcus,” the cop said calmly. “You could’ve called or sent me a text if you’d wanted to talk.”
“Wasn’t sure you’d wanna’ talk, Joe,” Marcus Whitwater, thief, gunman and ex-con answered, grinning again. He was enormously pleased to see Joe Cafaris. In fact, he almost had to stifle a chuckle because this was the cop who’d taken his freedom more than ten years ago to put him in jail. In hell, actually, but today, Joe would be the one to walk him out the door with all the cash in the bank. The situation was a delicious irony to Whitwater, who had every intention of killing the cop after they were away from the bank and perhaps not too quickly.
Joe noted the presence and position of the woman Whitwater was hanging onto. Dark, red slip, lots of dark hair, no shoes and …breathing. Her position would make the sniper’s job tougher. Had to hurt, being held by the hair, but he prayed she’d remain still and not fucking lose it now. “Well, we’re talking now,” Joe said evenly, beginning his approach to Whitwater and Pria. “You’ve got my undivided attention, but you need to let the woman go, Marcus. I’ll take her place. That’s what you want, right?” If Joe could keep the bastard’s attention focused on him, the hostages stood a decent chance of getting out alive. Well, some kind of chance, he thought, taking another step forward. From the corner of his eye, he saw the door to the employee lounge open a crack, but he kept his face toward Whitwater.
Behind the black slit, between the door and its frame, a police sniper waited anxiously.
“I can get you out of here,” Joe said, still moving toward Whitwater and Pria. “You were right about that. I’m probably one of the few people who could get you out of here, Marcus. The hostages…the woman you’re hanging onto …they’re a liability now. They’ll be too hard to move once you’re through the doors. But you already know the cops outside won’t shoot me…won’t even risk shooting at me. I’m your ticket out, Marcus. You’re too smart to blow it, right?”
Pria grimaced as Whitwater tightened his grip in her hair again. She watched Joe moving forward with a strange, powerful grace that spoke volumes to her. She sensed his anger…his determination… his intimate knowledge that death was possible for all of them, yet his approach was relentless and steady. Like the gun meant nothing.
Roughly a yard separated them. Joe knew time was disappearing fast. If the woman screamed or moved suddenly, Whitwater would start shooting. Or he’d start shooting whether she moved or not. “Take the bag, Marcus,” Joe said, taking three slow steps forward. “Take the money and let’s go for a walk. Let me change places with her” Very slowly, he started to reach for Pria, who eyed him with horror. For a single moment, Joe allowed himself to take his eyes away from Whitwater’s face to look down at Pria. She was breathtakingly beautiful, he realized. And utterly terrified. White hot rage flared in his chest, but he reined it. This was no time for an emotional response. He raised his hand very slowly, inching his palm forward toward her shoulder.
Pria turned her eyes toward Joe, seeing that he meant to ease her free of Whitwater’s grasp. What flooded her senses now was the intuitive knowledge that Whitwater wanted desperately to blow the cop’s head off and the robbery, the hostages and everything else revolved around that single desire. If Joe changed places with her, he would die. “No,” she whispered.
As a loud popping sound deafened her, a searing burn ignited Pria’s bicep. She raised her bound hands to her chest, squeezed her eyes closed and brought all of her energies to a tight, hot ball in her chest. She held the mental picture of Whitwater’s face as he’d screamed at the dark-haired teenager a short time ago and shot her energies outward at his image. Standing behind her, Marcus Whitwater instantly felt like a lightning bolt had sliced through his chest as a hot pain grabbed at the very center of his body. His heart sputtered and seized causing a horrible grinding sensation to take root behind his sternum. Every nerve cell in his body tingled with electricity like he’d shoved both hands into an outlet. The gun slipped from his fingers and thudded on the floor in front of Pria. He gasped as if trying to suck a breath beneath twenty feet of water.
Pria felt Whitwater’s body cave into itself, as he released his hold on her hair. As his struggling heart sent his blood on one final lap through his veins and arteries, she stepped forward to Joe, who caught her shoulders and pulled her close. She grabbed at the pain in her arm awkwardly, but her knees were suddenly loose and the floor seemed to be on its way up to her face. Hot, thick liquid was running down her arm over her fingers. As Joe’s arms closed around her, two more shots were fired, but Pria couldn’t tell where they were coming from. She moved into Joe’s chest, letting him break her fall. Someone was screaming.
Still clutching Pria, Joe saw Whitwater hit the floor and an ocean of blood forming beneath him. He yanked his jacket off to wrap her in it. The sleeve went wet and warm in his hands. “You’re going to be okay…we’re going to get you out of here…,” Joe reassured her. “What’s your name?”
“Pria...my name’s Pria,” she replied.
Within moments, they were engulfed in a swarm of cops and paramedics. Still clutching her to his chest on the floor, Joe picked up Pria’s bloody, discolored hands. He yelled for something to cut the wire with. “I’m Joe,” he said quickly. "You were very brave, Pria. Stay with me. We’re gonna get you out of here.
Pria looked up at the stranger who had offered his life for her own. The man Whitwater would have happily killed. Even frowning and more than a little pissed, he was gorgeous. She had the strangest thought that, she would come to know him in the ways a female knows a man. And would struggle with all that would bring, but faces began swimming before her eyes, pulling her away from the thought. Someone was tugging her from Joe’s arms to lift her. She was being plopped on something hard, flanked by several enormous paramedics. Her legs were being covered. Someone was asking her name. One of the paramedics, a woman with a kind, round face, asked her about medical problems. Did she take any medications? Was she allergic to anything? Pria shook her head. Loud voices and the sound of at least one woman weeping clogged her ears but it all seemed to be moving away from her now. She struggled to keep her eyes open. Someone was cutting the wires around her wrists, which stung like hell. A paramedic in a blue uniform was wrapping something thick and white around one of her wrists.
“Sorry we have to hurt ya’, sweetheart,” a rusty-haired paramedic said, lifting her hand. “We’re gonna put an IV line in, honey, so we can give ya’ fluids and other stuff.” The paramedic raised one of Pria’s hands, eyed her discolored fingers and shook his head. He pulled her right arm straight at her side, wrapping a tourniquet in place and shoving a needle into a vein, which burned a trail down to her mottled hand. Pria jerked away involuntarily. And jerked again as her wounded arm was maneuvered and wrapped. “
Easy with the fucking needle, Mike,” Joe said tightly, across her body.
“Sorry Joe. I gotta put a line in,” the paramedic said apologetically.
“No…no hospitals,” Pria whispered to no one particular. “No hospital…” Her voice was literally falling on deaf ears, but Joe’s face filled her eyes for a moment. His eyes seemed endless and so filled with concern, as he frowned.
“You’re going to be okay,” he promised. “You’re going to be fine.”
“Hospital…no…,” Pria replied, trying in vain to sit up.
“Yeah, you’re going to the hospital,” Joe assured her, pressing her shoulder gently to the gurney. “We’re going to take care of you.”
“We’re ready to go, Joe,” the rusty-haired paramedic said. “The gunshot wound…we just stabilized her. It’s best if the docs deal with it at the hospital.”
“Where’s she headed?” Joe asked, as the paramedic adjusted a thick belt across Pria’s middle to keep her from falling as they moved her.
“Saint Rushton University General. They’re prepped and waitin’,” the paramedic said, without looking up.
Joe looked down at Pria. God, she was really gorgeous, even bloody and half conscious.
Pria’s eyelids were so heavy, so hard to keep open, yet she knew he was staring at her, needed to say something more.
He touched her shoulder through the white sheet the paramedics had wrapped her in. His jacket was somewhere under it with her. “I’ll see you again, Pria,” he said. “Just lie back. Try to relax. Let these guys do what they do best.”
“Fuck…,” Pria murmured although the surrounding noise prevented anyone from hearing her. The gurney was moving and she was suddenly dizzy, moving past so many faces turned in her direction. As she slid into darkness, she wondered when Joe would find her.
For the first moments Pria was awake, she didn’t understand why the lights were so blinding or where so many loud voices could be coming from. For that brief time, she remained still and flat in the hospital bed, unsure of where she was. With a blinding speed, the details overtook her, jolting her into brutal reality. Launching herself upright, she saw the pale, yellow privacy curtains around her bed…a bed with safety bars, which could only mean she was in a hospital for humans, probably an emergency department with lots of doctors and nurses who were completely used to treating humans. And she’d probably been there for hours. Her red slip had been replaced with a hospital gown and her bicep was bandaged. Her wrists were covered with white dressings as well. Prodding the bandage on her upper arm she felt a tingling sensation A bag of clear fluid hung over her on a stand connected to the needle in her hand. What she knew almost instantly was what she didn’t have. No cell… no purse… no clothes…no car.
“Relax,” Joe said quietly. “You’re okay now. You’re in the ER at Saint Rushton University General Hospital.” Joe’s voice startled Pria, as he’d been sitting almost behind her, on a hard plastic chair that felt like it had become part of his ass. He’d planted himself there about an hour ago, simply waiting for her to wake up. He’d used the time to talk to his supervisor, Cy Kent, and learned that Marcus Whitwater had died, although it would take a coroner to figure out exactly why.
The thief had taken the second and third shots fired in the bank; one had fractured his hip and the other had traveled through his ass. Neither should have killed him, but Whitwater was parked in the morgue. The first shot fired had wounded Pria, a fact likely to cause a massive problem for the Saint Rushton Police Department. As a result Cy had ordered Joe to remain with her, promising to stay in touch, but orders were only one reason he’d remained. Something had just annoyed the hell out of him about her being alone there, even though the ER was a place he knew as well as a staff member.
Of course, he’d tried not to stare at her, but he couldn’t seem to pull his eye away from the fall of dark waves framing her too-pale face. He’d had time to notice that although tiny and wrapped in the ugliest garment in the universe, commonly called a hospital gown, her curves were impossible to miss. He’d also had plenty of time to call himself a bastard for thinking like this about a woman who had survived being a hostage and a gun shot. “I’m sorry I frightened you. You’re safe now,” he said, rising to move to the upright bed rail.
“You were at the bank,” Pria said. “I remember… you offered to change places with me.”
“Yeah, I was in the bank. I’m Joe Cafaris,” Joe said, taking in her eyes, which were the same wild green as the ocean just before a storm.
“I’m glad you were there. I’m grateful for what you did,” Pria said, amazed at his courage. She knew she was staring. Staring kind of hard, but damn, he was breathtaking, with his wide shoulders and dark eyes. Mentally she slapped herself for going in that direction. “Your name’s Pria, right? Can I get you anything? I should get a doctor or a nurse. They told me you’re going to be fine in a couple of days,” he said, aware that he was talking too fast. “A doctor should really tell you…whatever you need to know. I think they’re admitting you for the night anyway.”
Being admitted to a hospital for humans was so not going to happen, as far as Pria was concerned, but she knew she’d have to move cautiously. She really didn’t want to have to glamour Joe or black him out entirely. “Looks like they already took care of my arm,” Pria said, lifting her bandaged limb, as if offering proof. “I don’t need to see a doctor really. Do you know where my clothing might be? I had a slip on, but when I got to the bank, I had a dress… shoes.”
“Your clothing is evidence for now actually, but you can’t leave yet,” Joe replied, surprised she’d think of doing so.
“Damn,” she swore, looking at the hospital gown. “I really do have to leave. I mean, I am all right.”
Joe’s face showed the amazement he felt. Usually people who had been shot weren’t in a dizzy rush to leave a hospital. And although her eyes were...well…spectacular, he couldn’t tell her that leaving was a great idea. “You were wounded in a rather traumatic event and it would be kind of foolish…crazy really…. to leave the hospital so soon afterwards. The other hostages are being checked out here too.”
“Are you calling me crazy or just foolish Officer Cafaris?” Pria asked, smiling .
Joe had seen bigger people than this little brunette insist they were utterly fine, just before they kissed the floor. “Neither,” he said, instantly regretting his choice of words. “You displayed a lot of courage in the bank. Everyone got out okay, but if you had started screaming or struggling with Whitwater, he’d have started shooting. Frankly, leaving here is a bad idea,” he insisted. “You should stay for your own good. And, it’s detective, by the way.” “Whitwater? That’s the guy’s name…that had me?” Joe nodded. “He was taken down.”
“You mean dead?” Pria asked, feigning a lack of knowledge. Damn, she hated lying, when she knew the bastard had been dead before he hit the floor, even before he’d been shot.
“He wanted to kill you,” Pria said, before she could stop herself.
Joe wondered how she could know that, but maybe Whitwater had said something to her about it. He nodded again. “We think that was the idea. He was definitely looking for revenge.”
Man, this woman had a lot of questions, but then she had a weird right to know. “Several years ago, he committed a crime a lot like what happened today at the bank and I arrested him,” Joe explained. “He went to jail for about ten years. While he was there, his wife divorced him. He basically lost everything and I guess he had a lot of time to think it all over and come up with me as the reason for his troubles. Then, he got out. Turned out, life on the outside wasn’t to his liking either. In his mind, I guess it all came back to me and so this stuff that went down at the bank. This was his insane idea of revenge. Getting me to walk him out of there with all the money was like some crazy symbolic way for him to turn me into a criminal. People like Whitwater aren’t usually too smart. He was operating on straight emotion and probably a dose of a few recreational chemicals so he didn’t think about the bank’s cameras or the back entrance we used to get in after the panic buttons were pushed. As I said, I think the idea was to kill me. And as many other people…cops…as possible.”
“And you walked in anyway,” Pria pointed out. “When the tellers hit the panic buttons, we had to assume it was a hostage situation, since it was happening during the bank’s business hours. Walking in wasn’t a choice,” he said calmly.
“How did you know he wanted you to come into the bank?” Pria asked. Joe smiled. “
He asked for me. Said he’d start shooting people if I didn’t.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “You were remarkably brave at the bank. I want you to know that. It’s unfortunate you were wounded, but... ”
“I can’t say I feel particularly brave just now, but I appreciate what you’re saying,” Pria said, interrupting him. “It must have taken a lot of courage for you to do what you did, knowing about this guy already. Offering to take my place. That was pretty amazing.”
“Well, the point is that you’re gonna be okay and everyone else is okay,” he replied, deflecting the praise he didn’t feel he deserved anyway. “I apologize for the fact that you were accidentally wounded. It’s very unfortunate when hostage situations sometimes go this way.” In truth, she was lucky she hadn’t been killed, something Joe didn’t mention.
“I really have to go now,” Pria said again. Although she wouldn’t have objected to staring at Joe for a few more hours, the realities of the situation were intruding. “I forgive you for calling me crazy and foolish and I will swear you tried to prevent me from leaving the hospital, but I need to find some kind of clothing.” Silence hung between them, giving Pria time to notice again that Joe had really wide shoulders and probably had a gorgeous chest to go with them. And beautiful dark eyes that looked tired in the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights hanging overhead.
“So, what’s the rush?” Joe asked after a moment. “Do you need to be somewhere? I mean…can someone bring you clothing at least?”
“I just don’t like hospitals,” Pria admitted. The fact that she’d ended up in one was going to be problematic enough. In ways the detective could not even begin to imagine. “Do you think I could borrow a set of scrubs or something?”
“Look, let me find a doctor to look you over. Just wait here,” Joe ordered. “If one of the docs say you’re okay, I’ll drive you home myself.” Joe’s plan was to find some sane nurse or doctor to tell Pria that she needed to remain in the hospital. He could not quite get her need to go, but the hospital had no authority to hold her against her will. As he whipped the curtain aside, he found himself face to face with a group clearly headed for Pria. A tall man dressed in black, with wavy, blond hair that brushed his shoulders was right behind an enormous, dark haired guy, dressed in denim and a tall, elegant blond woman in dark glasses moved past Joe to Pria.
The blond immediately lowered the bed bar, pulled her dark glasses off and drew Pria into a loose hug. “We’re taking you home, Pria,” she said, plopping a gold tote bag on the bed. “I brought you something to wear.” Holding Pria at arm’s length, the woman looked her over critically. “Are you in pain?” she asked.
“No, Miri, no pain,” Pria answered. “This is the police officer…detective…from the bank,” she said, nodding in Joe’s direction. “He came into the bank to save me.”
The woman and both men turned to Joe. The blond man shook hands with him quickly, as the woman moved to the other side of Pria’s bed to disconnect the IV line and remove the needle from her arm. Joe noticed that she seemed to know what she was doing.
“We are extremely grateful for what you did,” the blond guy said. “We’re Pria’s family. We’ll care for her now.”
“She seems very eager to leave the hospital,” Joe said. “Maybe it would be best if….”
“No,” the woman called Miri said firmly. “We will care for her, but I thank you for saving her life. Everyone out now, so I can help Pria dress,” she said shooing the men, who walked out into a busy corridor within the emergency department.
“I’m Keircnan,” the blond man told Joe. “This is Monroe,” he said gesturing to the other man. “What happened to the man who was holding Pria? Was he killed?”
“Yes, he died at the scene,” Joe answered, without going into the details of an apparent lack of a cause of death for Whitwater. Plunging ahead, he said, “In fact, Marcus Whitwater…the guy that took Pria as a hostage… didn’t shoot her. She was accidentally wounded by a police sniper, who was aiming for Whitwater.” Joe paused to let that one sink in, before continuing. “The department apologizes for the fact that she was wounded in what went down at the bank and the medical bill….”
“Arrangements have already been made for the bill to be paid,” Keirc said quickly. “I was simply curious about this man, Whitwater. I can assure you, Pria will not be interested in suing the police department or speaking to the media about any of this. She has no wish to embarrass the police department. Her privacy is important as she will be recovering at home.”
“I didn’t know she’d spoken with her family,” Joe said, surprised again. She’d been out cold when he’d been with her and the hospital personnel had not contacted them, because they hadn’t known exactly who to call. “I wasn’t aware the hospital had called anyone. Are you her attorney?”
“Pria is my stepsister, but we are close,” Keirc replied. “I can assure you, her desires are as I have told you. Will the police department need to speak with her, do you think?” For a fraction of a second, Joe thought he saw Keirc’s palm up near his face, but when he blinked, he saw the man’s hands at his sides.
“The district attorney’s office…,” he said, struggling for a moment to recall the question.
“I see,” Keirc said. “She will be with us for a few days. I think I can convince her to stay with us that long, before she insists on returning to her business. If you need to reach her, leave a message at the Maidenheart Bakery. Pria is the owner.”
The sound of a cell phone interrupted the conversation. Monroe pulled the phone from his jacket to answer. “Miri and Pria are in the car,” Monroe advised Keirc, ending the call. He shook Joe’s hand quickly, murmuring, “Thanks,” before turning to leave.
As the men left, Joe wondered about the odd conversation. A family that appeared from nowhere to take a woman with a gunshot wound home from a hospital that hadn’t officially discharged her. A beautiful victim who couldn’t get out of the hospital fast enough. A stepbrother who seemed to be doing the talking for her and nobody seemed to have any desire to hang the cop who’d shot her. And how in the hell had the women gotten out of the ER so fast? Without him seeing them?
Joe was still thinking about Pria as he headed through the hospital’s exit to his car. Jogging for the parking lot, he walked directly into Georgia Hudsis, TV anchor and professional pain in the ass.
Seeing him, she whipped a hand through her blond bob, pulled her dark glasses off and moved in like the predator she was. “Hey, gorgeous, “she breathed, standing a little too close. “Miss me?”
“Not really, Georgia, but how are you anyway?” Joe lifted a hand toward the reporter’s cameraman, who was already hoisting the large camera to his shoulder to start shooting in Joe’s direction. “No pictures,” he said firmly.
“You look camera-ready to me.” Joe fixed Georgia in a hard stare, as her cameraman dropped the bulky camera to his side again. “So, what happened at the bank?” she asked.
“Talk to Cy Kent yet?” Joe asked, referring to his supervising officer. With any luck he could dump the reporter in his lap and move on from Georgia’s relentless clutch. Looking around he saw no other news teams had appeared at the hospital, a good thing for the other hostages who were still being checked over inside.
“What would Cy know anyway? You were there,” the reporter said, moving a little closer to Joe.
“Yeah, I was there but you know how it goes. Can’t release any information that might compromise any investigation .blah…blah…blah. I’m not who you need Georgia. Talk to Cy.” he advised.
“What investigation, Joe? The guy went into the bank. He took hostages. He wanted money. You guys shot him and he’s dead.” Georgia put her hand on a cocked hip.
“Not much of a story, when you put it like that, huh?” Joe pointed out, beginning to move away from the blond.
“I heard there was bad blood between the two of you,” she said keeping pace with his long strides. “You and the guy at the bank, I mean. Any truth there?”
“Really? That’s what you heard?” Joe said, dodging the question.
“How are the hostages?”
“Well, probably happy they’re not hostages any more, Georgia, but do humanity a favor and give them some space huh?” Joe stopped walking to nail her squarely in her big blue eyes. “They’ve been through something traumatic. Your questions and the whole camera thing won’t help them.”
“Killjoy,” Georgia accused. “What about the woman who was shot? She’s still in there?” she asked, realizing she wasn’t going to get anything worth broadcasting from Joe.
“A woman was shot?” Joe knew this tactic of firing questions, as she shot her own in his direction, was especially annoying to her, but he considered it entertaining as hell.
“Yeah, that’s what I heard. One of the hostages was shot. She was wearing a cute red slip.”
“Well, Georgia, I think you could be right about her still being inside,” Joe said, lifting a dark eyebrow and looking over his shoulder at the hospital exit. As odd as his conversation with Pria’s family had been, he was suddenly glad they’d taken her from the hospital, even if he had no idea how they’d managed to do it so damned quickly. Georgia’s interest in Joe evaporated like a tiny puddle on a suffocating afternoon. She started moving back toward the hospital exit as if she’d never seen him before in her life.
Free again, Joe jogged to his car. Once inside, he placed a call to the hospital to talk with the ER’s charge nurse, a guy Joe respected for his ability to get things done quickly. After explaining his conversation with Georgia Hudsis to the nurse, Joe suggested that any hostages leaving the hospital should be escorted out by hospital security or cops and taken through a back exit from the ER to the parking garage. He’d already arranged for each of them to be driven home by cops if no family members showed up to get them.
As Joe was dumping Georgia and hopefully preventing her from wreaking emotional havoc with ex-hostages, Pria dropped her head on the backseat of Keirc’s SUV, looking forward to reaching the Sanctum, a haven for supernaturals a little less than a hundred miles from Saint Rushton, where she’d been raised with Keirc by her step-parents, Miri and Andrieu. Keirc was behind the wheel, with Monroe riding shotgun. Miri was next to Pria in the back seat. “
So, Whitwater’s dead,” Keirc said breaking the silence. “Your kill?” he asked Pria.
“Yes,” she answered. “My kill.” The thought nauseated her slightly even though she’d killed before. As her mother had been a fallen angel, she had the abilities to preserve life or end it. In some circumstances, ending life was a noble calling, but she wouldn’t have taken Whitwater’s life had there been an option. With Joe Cafaris facing a certain death if he’d taken her place, she’d had no choice. If Whitwater had only wanted money, she’d have done nothing to prevent him from taking it. “How did you know what happened?”
“Monroe heard a news report at the bakery. The initial report said a number of police vehicles were at the bank, but he knew that was where you’d gone, so he called Keircnan,” Miri answered. “Keirc tracked police scanners and then hit the hospital databases. That’s how we knew where you’d been taken. All of the hostages went to Saint Rushton University General.” Miri covered Pria’s hand with her own. Knowing her stepdaughter, she could sense Pria’s uneasiness as well as the pain in her arm. Miri also knew that if Pria had killed, there had been no alternative. “Tell us what happened,” she said.
Pria outlined the events at the bank, including the fact that Joe would have died if he had taken her place as Whitwater’s shield.
“Well, I think the humans should be thanking you, although I still can’t for the life of me see why the hell you want to live or work among them,” Keirc said, unearthing a conflict that had existed since Pria had made the decision to move from the Sanctum years ago. “The Sanctum is your home, Pria. You’re safe there. Much as you might wish otherwise, you are not a human and humans…”
“Keirc, please don’t start…,” Pria said, trying to cut her stepbrother’s rant before he really got rolling. “
"You descend from an angel and a vampire, for Christ’s sake, and what happened today could prove to be a risk for everyone at the Sanctum, which is where you belong, Pria.” “Keirc, the Sanctum…” “Is a safe haven for all supernaturals, Pria,” Keirc continued. “Your own mother was a founder with your father. And, now, I’m going to have to do a hack and scrub on a lot of records to prevent problems.”
The sound of Keirc’s voice was becoming unbearable to Pria, as she cut him off again. “Keirc just shut the hell up!”
“What of this detective, Pria? What did you tell him?” Miri asked.
“Nothing,” Pria answered.
“I told him that Pria owns the Maidenheart Bakery,” Keirc said. “He would’ve ended up knowing that anyway, if he doesn’t already. He’s very bright, Pria, and very strong willed. It was tough to glamour him, while you were leaving the hospital.”
“He offered his life for mine,” Pria said. “I know we may be facing problems but he deserves respect for that.”
“Problems? Ya’ think?” Keirc said sarcastically. “We do all we can to avoid anything that would reveal who and what we are to humans, Pria, and when something like this goes down, it’s a headache. Still, it was a very righteous kill. You should be proud of that at least.”
“Thanks Keirc. I’m so glad you’re proud of me,” Pria replied, her voice oozing sarcasm to equal his.
“Keirc complains about your choices but he loves you Pria. He’ll do what needs to be done once we reach home,” Miri said. Her voice was firm but soft, an order for Keirc in disguise. “You should stay at our home until you are healed, of course.”
Pria agreed wearily and closed her eyes against the fading warmth of the afternoon landscape moving past the car windows. The sound of Miri’s cell broke her light doze briefly, but she only listened to Miri’s voice relating the details of her ordeal to her stepfather, Andrieu, for a moment before letting her thoughts coast. She knew Andrieu would be waiting when they arrived at the Sanctum.
“Don’t worry about anything Pria. I’ll take care of things at the bakery, Keirc will do what he does and you’ll get better,” Monroe said. A werewolf of few words, her business partner and best friend, his advice warmed her heart.
“Thanks Monroe,” Pria said smiling. As the conversation died, she put her head back against the leather seat and thought about what Joe’s hair would feel like against her fingertips. His dark, soft curls had brushed his collar but his eyes had really drawn her. He might be human, but walking into the damned bank had taken balls, she thought. His arms felt so strong as she’d collapsed against him. The thought drifted as she fell into a light sleep.
Joe was finally headed home, a place where he relaxed and left the cacophony of his world behind. He was looking forward to a long shower when he pulled his car into the garage, but as he hit his bedroom, his cell rang again. Grabbing at it like it was something to be crushed, he eyed the screen. The caller was Cy Kent. Sitting on his bed’s edge, he answered it, tugging a shoe off. “Yeah, her family took her home,” Joe explained. “To their home, actually…it was her stepbrother…guy named Keircnan... No, I don’t know how to spell it. He said he didn’t think she was interested in talking to the media or suing the shit out of us or whatever.” Joe kicked the other shoe free and tossed it to the end of his bed. “His concern seemed to be her privacy,” he continued. “Yep, I thought it was weird too, but that’s the word the guy used. They said that if I wanted to talk to her…well, if anyone wanted to talk to her, they should leave a message at the Maidenheart Bakery. Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Supposed to be pretty popular, but it’s kind of isolated... It’s north on Route 60. Apparently she owns the place….Yeah, I know…handle with kid gloves.”
Joe tossed his cell on the floor and fell backward on the bed. His head still hurt and his stomach hadn’t seen food for a few hours, but he couldn’t shake the image of Pria curled up in the hospital bed. She’d looked angelic, with her hair spread out over the pillow. Her skin, almost translucent, with long dark lashes against her cheeks. So, how come a stepbrother showed up to take her home and not a boyfriend or a husband, he wondered. A woman like that had a man somewhere. She’d shown a lot of courage under pressure and he’d seen plenty of situations where people snapped and made things worse without meaning to. Now, it was all about damage control because she’d been wounded by a cop. Yet, the stepbrother had said everything was cool. “Cool, my ass,” he muttered, not really going for it. And, now, he was the guy assigned to smooth things with her and prevent a bunch of shit from going down in the local papers. Or a stampede of lawyers. “Great,” he muttered, unbuttoning his shirt. Still, he couldn’t help but look forward to seeing her again. He wanted answers to a lot of questions, but he really wanted to see her again. Maybe she wasn’t really as hot as he’d remembered. Or maybe she was.
As Joe stuffed his clothes into a hamper, Pria was being ushered to a bedroom in the home Miri shared with Andrieu, her stepfather, a fallen angel and healer. Although she maintained a home of her own in the Sanctum, Miri had insisted she stay with them. When they’d arrived, Andrieu had taken her into his arms, kissed her hair and led her straight downstairs from their receiving room to a small bedroom, already prepared for her. Pria had changed into a dark purple, silk robe and sat on the bed to wait for Andrieu. Peeking around the door at her, he smiled before entering the bedroom. Miri was right behind him with a small burner and several tiny blue cones of incense. She quickly lit one and a spiral of smoke filled the air with a light scent, not unlike lily-of-the-valley.
“May I take the bandages off now, my daughter?” Andrieu asked. Ever polite and soft spoken, Andrieu sat beside her, to gently cut the white sheaves of bandage around each wrist and her bicep. “No other wounds then?”
Pria confirmed that only her wrists and bicep needed his attention. “If I could heal myself, these would already be gone,” she said, inhaling the incense, watching her stepfather’s tapered fingers move lightly over the incision-like wounds made by the wire Whitwater had used to bind her wrists. She watched as he closed his gray eyes and dropped his head. “You cut your hair,” she observed.
Although still past his shoulders and held back by a thin piece of leather, Andrieu’s dark auburn hair made him look more like a rock star than an angel or a healer. Miri was equally beautiful, but then the fallen always were.
“Just a trim,” he confirmed, blowing softly against her wrists, which he now held in his hands. As he did so, the edges of the wounds drew together, started to dry and became pinker. Eventually they would disappear completely. Pria closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. The incense was doing its job, making her sleepy, decreasing the pain from the wounds.
“Hungry?” Miri asked. “You haven’t eaten since morning.”
“Later, maybe,” Pria answered, as her stepfather turned his attention to her bicep. “
Ugly,” he stated, raising the loose sleeve of the robe. “It would be even uglier if you were human.” Andrieu’s fingertips roamed over the wound, weaving the healing grace so the wound would close and dry quickly. “You killed today.”
Pria nodded. “Not what I wished, but I did.”
“No choice,” Andrieu said in a flat voice. He moved his fingers to her chin and lifted her face. “There was no choice. It was meant, Pria. Not a random, senseless thing. You also saved a life, did you not?”
“Yeah, I did,” she affirmed.
“The life of a man who offered his own for yours.”
“This was meant to be so rest easily with it. Your arm will be healed by morning but you must rest and Miri will bring you food when you wake,” Andrieu said rising.
As Andrieu left the bedroom, Miri helped Pria under the light quilt. “You want to see this detective again.” she said. “I can tell.”
“He is beautiful,” Pria said lazily, remembering the feel of Joe’s arms wrapped around her. “His eyes are the deepest brown I think I have ever seen.”
“He has the warrior heart,” Miri said in that matter-of-fact way of hers.
“I know. Are you going to remind me that I have not been with anyone for a long time?”
“No, I was going to remind you that he is human,” Miri answered.
“He is beautiful,” Pria repeated. Miri smiled.
“You mentioned that.”
“And, he is a warrior.”
“Most warriors are beautiful in their way. Our Sanctum warriors are beautiful.”
“He would have ended his life to save mine. Amazing, isn’t it?”
“Think carefully, Pria,” Miri advised. “He would have saved your life but ask yourself if what you feel is gratitude or really something more. It would not be surprising to feel something like affection for such a man after the events of this day. There is much at risk for all of us. You know, Keirc tends to rant but to love a human is a calculated risk, little one, and something that can end very tragically.”
“Miri, you are such a mother,” Pria answered, her eyes closing slowly. “He probably has a woman.”
“When your mother brought you to this world, I gave her my vow to love you and care for you if ever the day came when she could not,” Miri said, rising to pull the covers over Pria. “Rest now.” Looking down, Miri realized that Pria was dozing. Brave, headstrong, beautiful Pria had always given her a run for her money in all ways. If Pria’s mother, Regine, were alive even she would have urged extreme caution, although she had been a true romantic at heart. This event and the detective could pose significant risks to all who called the Sanctum home.
Miri resolved to watch the situation closely, as she closed the door behind her, to find Keirc waiting for her in the hall. “Before you ask, she is sleeping and I want her to remain that way, Keirc,” she said raising her hand. “And I know what may be ahead. We can do nothing tonight. Now, tell me the hospital records have been successfully hacked and show that Pria is a normal human.”
“Of course,” Keirc answered. “The records show that she is pure human and nothing more. Actually, there was not much there, to alter or not. She was given cursory treatment. No blood was taken from her and she was given only antibiotics, a tetanus shot and her wounds were dressed.”
“She said she was unconscious for a time. Why?” Miri asked. “
Unfortunately, she was given a small amount of pain medication, which could have caused her more damage than being shot. They had trouble getting a blood pressure, but they attributed that to shock,” Keirc explained. “Besides, she’d killed, which might have weakened her for a time. She lost some blood. I think it was a combination of things.”
“Why was she being left in that emergency room?”
“She was to be admitted for the night for observation,” Keirc explained. “They were waiting for a bed on a unit upstairs. The doctors thought she should stay but only for observation. After twenty-four hours, they probably would have allowed her to go without a problem.”
“And the financial records?” “Clean. Bill paid in cash in full and nothing more noted except the bakery’s address.”
“Thank you Keirc,” Miri said. “Now, do what you do best, and find out everything you can about this detective. About this criminal as well. We need to assess risks.”
Excerpts from Sanctum Retribution: Shadow Havens Book 3
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Excerpt from Chapter One of Sanctum Retribution: Shadow Havens Book 3
Ilea Galaurus raised her head, closed her eyes and inhaled the cold night winds. The skies had cleared, leaving a dazzling spray of stars across black velvet skies. Under other circumstances, she might have taken a moment to admire the beautiful display, but she could afford no such distraction on this night. Her sweeping sapphire blue cloak and deep red hair, pulled upward away from her face, gave her a majestic appearance, despite her diminutive size and soft gray eyes. She folded her hands together beneath the bell sleeves of the cloak and dropped her gaze to the warriors in front of her. The Demesne’s were and vampiric warriors towered over her like hard-faced totems, surrounding the small, torchlit platform where she stood, flanked by Keircnan Grey, her son in law, Iridea, her pregnant daughter and Xavier, her second in command as well as her confidante. Her three companions stood ready to protect her if necessary and she sensed their tension, even as she felt there would be no need for them to use the weapons they carried. She carried nothing herself, save the words that would come from her heart, unrehearsed, unvarnished by platitudes and unheard by anyone before. An expectant hush fell as she took in the size of these fighters, the leather they wore, the weapons they carried. None would fight this night and they knew it, but tradition demanded the arming. One hundred and fifty warriors would hear her at this gathering and their words… what she hoped for… would be carried on the winds to heaven, as powerful a vow as those taken at a Mating.
“All are assembled, my lady,” Xavier said, touching her shoulder lightly. “We await your commands.” His role as her second was evident in his use of the traditional prompt, even though he’d become much more important to her than that role would imply.
Ilea smiled as she thanked Xavier and walked forward to the platform’s edge. She paused for just a moment …and stepped lightly to the ground to walk among her haven’s fighters. They moved closer around her, like walls closing in, yet she felt no fear. Clearing her throat, she began to speak, conscious that her actions were now the catalyst for renewal of her haven… her Demesne. “You have come here, on this night, as warriors of the Demesne and each of you will make a decision before you leave this gathering,” she said, walking farther into the center of the rough circle of muscle. Looking around, their names filtered through Ilea’s mind, as she’d come to know each of them since her mate, Sebastien, had escaped her hold to wreak havoc in Saint Rushton. Once, she’d been almost invisible to these warriors, but that time had passed. “Sebastien Galaurus is my Mate; however, he is no longer among us. As all of you know, he escaped the haven… a choice that was his alone to make. The warriors who went with him made their choices as well. I have taken the haven and with the aid of many, I will build a new future… one that does not inspire fear or violence. That was Sebastien’s legacy and his rule. My rule will not allow for it.” As Ilea spoke, the warriors followed her slight form, listening intently.
Some shuffled, their booted feet brushing dry scrub, but none spoke.
“On this night, you will be asked to swear your fealty to my rule… to this haven… to those who abide within our borders and those who come to us as allies. This is your choice… your decision. If you do not swear your loyalty, by dagger and blood, you may leave the Demesne and no one will stop you,” she said, turning a slow circle to meet the eyes of the warriors nearest to her. “You may choose to live anywhere, but if you prey upon the innocents of Saint Rushton or other supernaturals or havens, you will be hunted and killed. By your own brethren.”
A were warrior, his hair in a long chestnut queue, stepped toward her, placing a callused hand on her shoulder. Ilea turned quickly to look up at him, as she heard the unmistakable click of a gun’s safety being undone. Another followed it and she turned to raise her hand to Xavier and Iridea, who aimed their weapons at the were. “It is all right!” she declared. “Lower your weapons! Fortune means no harm to me!”
Xavier held the gun steady, saying nothing, although Iridea lowered hers. Keirc took a step toward her, his fists bunched at his sides, a scowl creasing his face.
“Fortune is loyal, Keircnan,” she said quietly. “All is well.”
The were jerked his hand from Ilea’s shoulder to hold both palms up. “No fears! I bring our lady no harm,” he said to them, over her head. “Lady Ilea, none here would harm you or yours,” he said, looking down at her. “Let us swear our fealty now. Sebastien would not be welcomed by any here tonight should he return.”
Ilea smiled. “It pleases me to hear this. Your loyalty… the allegiance of all of our warriors is crucial to our haven, but I tell each of you this… the Demesne that existed under Sebastien’s rule is no more. Day to day life will change little, but the hunt will end for all who feed upon blood. The activities that went on in the clubs owned by the Demesne in Saint Rushton will end. The prostitution…the gambling…the drugs…all of it must end. Whether you agree with my resolutions or not, you will be asked to enforce all that I have told you. That is the price of remaining as a warrior of the Demesne. Will you pay it? Each of you?” she asked, turning to Fortune, before looking her warriors over again.
“I will,” Fortune answered, his amber eyes bright as the torches surrounding the platform. “We have all heard rumors of what your rule might entail. You have my dagger and my blood.” He dropped to a knee before her, his head nearly as high as her shoulder.
“I welcome both, Fortune,” she said, quietly dropping her hand to his shoulder. Looking around as he came to his feet, Fortune raised a hand. “Swear to Lady Ilea’s rule and the Demesne or get out,” he ordered.
Excerpt from Chapter Three of Sanctum Retribution: Shadow Havens Book 3
“We’re taking you to one of our favorite places, Sebastien,” Amaya said breathlessly. He turned to the lovely Asian vampire.
“Where would that be?”
“It doesn’t really have a name, but Circe created it as a place for us to play.”
“I am certain to enjoy it then,” he replied grinning.
Circe ducked under his arm, spun and pulled at his hand. “It’s a place just for vampires,” she said, drawing him back to the elevators. “It’s time you came out, Sebastien. Time to let others know the Father of the Demesnes is in Paris.”
“I wasn’t aware that I’d been in hiding,” he said, bristling suddenly. Amaya took his other hand.
“Of course not, but don’t you want to meet the cream of our French community?”
Sebastien considered the question, realizing the females had a point. It would be good to meet others.
“Our friends have been wildly curious,” Amaya said in a light, silky voice that made Sebastien think of the shrines and temples of Japan, her ancestry. She tossed her shiny black hair. “We don’t want to be selfish with you.”
“I confess I have not felt the need for companionship beyond both of you; however, it may be time to broaden my circle of new friends,” he said, allowing them to lead him into the elevator.
Minutes later, Sebastien was being whisked through dark streets, away from the pulse of Paris. Circe raised the privacy shield of the limousine, cutting them off from her driver, and popped the cork from a bottle of champagne. Amaya produced three glasses from a tiny cupboard, giggling as Circe poured. As the females settled themselves on either side of Sebastien, he sipped.
“We think you need something to cheer you,” Amaya said, as she placed her champagne in a circular holder in the tiny table in front of them.
“Really?” Sebastien asked, a bit sarcastically.
Circe nodded, crossing her long, pale legs, allowing a high heel to dangle from her toes. “Your thoughts seem too much in the past. With all that happened to you, that could be understandable, but we are vampires, Sebastien,” she said huskily. “We are made to take life’s throat and make it give all we want.” She planted her champagne in the table to draw a fingertip along the inside of his thigh. “Say you agree.”
“I do and perhaps you are right,” he said, as Amaya traced the buttons of his shirt. “The events of the past do snap at my heels… at times.”
“Then, shake them off.” Amaya sat up a little to bring her lips to his throat. “Everything is ahead,” she said, drawing the tip of her tongue along his throat.
Sebastien dropped his hand to her thigh. “And, you’ll help me to do that?”
Excerpt from Chapter Nine of Sanctum Retribution: Shadow Havens Book 3
“I do not want anyone to know this, Xavier. Not yet. Swear to me that you will not allow this knowledge to leave your rooms.”
“Ilea,” he’d gasped. “Surely, Iridea and Keirc...”
“No, Xavier,” she’d said firmly. “I need to be alone in this knowledge for a time. I cannot think past it yet… although I will. Swear that you will keep this secret with me.”
In the end, he’d given his vow to protect her secret, as she’d known he would. He’d taken her hand then, leading her to his bedroom, where he’d removed her shoes and his own before lying down with her on top of the covers. It had simply seemed the best thing to do and she’d settled against him easily, as if they’d come here many times to allow the darkness to take their cares. Hours had passed, as he listened to her breathing, let her lilac scent make him think of spring, stroked her hair. Once or twice, he’d thought she slept, but then she’d moved a bit or touched his chin, letting him know that she was far from unconsciousness.
“I am in love with you,” he whispered, afraid to break the sweet, dark spell, yet unable to hold his words.
“I know,” Ilea answered. “You must see the love that has grown in my heart for you. I should have…”
“No,” he said, stopping her. “No regrets, Ilea. Do not look back. There is only what we have ahead.” He felt her nod against his shoulder.
“You are so very wise,” she said. “
Let me help you.”
Excerpt from Chapter Ten of Sanctum Retribution: Shadow Havens Book 3
“Grab your phone, baby,” Odera said, hearing the familiar musical chime. “I’ll take over here.”
Arabella answered, happy to hear her friend.
“Elaina Coutard here, dear. How are you?”
“I’m great!” Arabella replied, looking at the moon rising outside her kitchen’s window. “How are you? And, how is Abigail?”
“We’re fine, but I have a situation here.”
“Oh?” Arabella said, frowning. Her happiness suddenly felt very fragile.
“I have a female vampire here at my home. She’s saying she must see Micah.”
Arabella’s breath caught, as she frowned. “Why? Who is she?”
Sensing trouble, Odera turned from the small stove, as he turned off the flames licking the bottom of the skillet.
“She’s told me a remarkable story, dear. She is not in good condition, but she’s from the Parisian Demesne and I think perhaps your Micah should see her.” Elaina looked at Amaya’s wide, haunted eyes.
Arabella inhaled sharply at the word, Demesne, her frown turning into a true scowl. Odera grabbed the phone. “Elaina, this is Micah. What’s going on?”
These novels contain descriptive material and scenes of explicit sexual encounters between consenting male and female adult characters. They are intended for adult readers only. The novels are works of fiction. All characters, dialogue, locations, events, organizations, technologies and businesses contained in these titles are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, real location, real event, real organization, real technology or real business is purely coincidental. All rights reserved.
Excerpt from Sanctum Illusions: Shadow Havens Book 4
All rights reserved.
Excerpt from Chapter One Sanctum Illusions: Shadow Havens Book 4
Circe leaned forward to tap on the tinted window separating her from the driver. At the sound of her rapping, her driver touched a small button on the limo’s dash and the window fell. “Where are we?” she asked sharply.
The driver, a vampire named Henri, quelled an inpatient sigh. “Nearing Saint Etienne,” he answered. “
How long until we arrive at the cloister?”
“Twenty minutes…approximately.” He was tired of snow and shitty roads, but Circe had told him to use only the back roads from Paris to the vampiric cloister, a bit south of Saint Etienne. He had a long night ahead even though he’d deposit Circe at the cloister very soon. It was the only such place in France, the first of its kind, but not the only one in Europe. He’d only been there once, to deliver Sebastien Galaurus, or what was left of him, to the cloister mistress, a creature whose nature he could only guess at. The place …and the cloister mistress …unnerved him, even though he might one day enter its dark halls voluntarily. He really couldn’t imagine being under Corinthias’s care for even a short time, although he’d known others who had chosen this very retreat, seeking the darkness of the cloister. Years later, they emerged with new identities, prepared to live among the vampiric race again.
Circe sat back and crossed her legs. She’d see Sebastien soon and was almost looking forward to seeing Corinthias, although she thought the cloister mistress a bitch… whatever else she was. She’d brought no warriors with her, thinking she’d have no need for them. The cloister was a place of peace and Corinthias was so removed from the world, she would have resented their presence as a representation of politics, something she had no use for.
“Do you want me to notify anyone that we’re coming… you’re coming?” Henri asked.
“No, just drive. I’ll do the notifying when I arrive.” The window slid soundlessly into place, leaving Circe to her thoughts again. She rubbed her hands along her jean-covered thighs and opened her silver mink coat. The temperature would drop below freezing long before sunrise, but the limousine’s heater was going full blast. Sebastien Galaurus, the Father of the Demesnes, had been fatally wounded in a plot of his Mate’s design a month ago. The bait to get him to leave Circe’s Demesne in Paris to return to the Saint Rushton Demesne in southwestern Pennsylvania had been his pregnant daughter, Iridea, or so he’d believed when he’d left Circe’s plane. The redhead on the airstrip had been Ilea, his ex-Mate. While he’d been surrounded by hostile warriors from the Sanctum and the Saint Rushton Demesne, he’d been shot with a crossbow, a weapon none had carried that night. Although Circe believed Sebastien had been killed by one of the haven warriors, no one from either haven knew who had wielded the crossbow with fatal efficiency. Although Sebastien hadn’t believed such a thing could happen and marched off the plane in a characteristic display of arrogance, Circe had come prepared with one of her most special concoctions, an elixir so expensive to produce and powerful, that she’d only succeeded in creating a single vial. After taking Sebastien’s body, she’d injected it directly into the wall of his dead, ravaged heart within minutes of his death to keep the organ beating. Although she’d never used it before, she’d succeeded in keeping the Father of the Demesnes alive, despite the staggering odds against a vampire with an arrow impaling his heart. Once her plane had landed in France, she’d taken him to the single place she knew of where he could be cared for by the one creature she knew least about… Corinthias.
Circe had returned to her haven, the Parisian Demesne, and tried to monitor Sebastien’s care from there… unsuccessfully. Corinthias was simply uncooperative in supplying her with the details of how he fared, but tonight’s visit would give her the knowledge she wished and she’d make certain that Corinthias understood that she would not be trifled with.
She closed her eyes for a minute, blocking the vision of the snow swirling around the limousine and the French countryside, cloaked in night. When Sebastien had come to her haven in Paris after escaping his own, she’d been surprised at how beautiful he was, having not met him face to face before. He’d also been a little less than willing to embrace Parisian vampiric aristocracy, but with her encouragement and that of her ex-lover, Amaya, he’d seemed to blossom… to leave his past and his haven behind. There had been sex… amazing sex… that she’d shared with Sebastien and Amaya before…
“That’s the farmhouse,” Henri said into a tiny microphone that allowed him to communicate with Circe without dropping the window again.
“Park,” Circe answered, as her eyes opened.
Henri maneuvered the limousine down a narrow, rutted road to a small, dilapidated farmhouse that was barely visible from the road. Snow covered its sagging roof and framed the windowsills. A wide wooden porch shielded the stone building’s entrance from the storm. Once the limo was parked, he left the driver’s seat and made his way around the vehicle to open Circe’s door.
Circe put her foot down in several inches of snow, as more blew through the limo’s spacious interior. “Shit!” she hissed. “Damned snow.” She pulled herself upright, observing the innocuous building for just a moment before taking the first of several wide strides to reach the porch.
“Should I accompany you?” Henri asked. His desire was to head for Saint Etienne and spend the night there, as he didn’t want to remain at the cloister. He had friends there, who’d be happy enough to see him. They could still hunt, as the night was young. Shit, he thought, I’d rather spend the night in the limo than spend a minute in…
“Yes, you will remain with me, Henri,” Circe said over her shoulder, as she pulled her silver mink around her.
“If you’d rather be…”
“I’d rather you remain with me. Is there a problem?” Circe asked, turning to the vampire, her boots in snow that reached nearly to her knees.
“No, my lady, there is no problem. I will accompany you.”
“Yes,” she replied, “you will.”
Once they reached the porch, the dark, weathered door opened and two vampires emerged. Both were female, dressed in jeans and heavy sweaters.
Finding them unremarkable, Circe addressed them as servants. “Tell Corinthias that I am here. You know who I am.”
The first vampiress, a tall brown-haired female, stepped forward, but neither moved from the doorway. “You are not expected, although we were aware of your approach, of course.”
Circe laughed, a harsh sound, muted only a bit by the falling snow and wind. “I can’t believe she will be surprised that I have come. This is my driver, Henri. We will expect shelter for the night… and the new day.”
The vampiress frowned. “It is unusual that we have guests who are not seeking retreat.”
Circe said nothing, as she pulled her gloves off. Her long, dark hair was damp with snow, another annoyance.
“No,” Circe said. “You may not do whatever you were about to ask. You have been given an order. Tell Corinthias that I am here with my driver. Do not make me repeat myself.”
The vampiress disappeared, closing the door, which surprised Henri. He’d never seen Circe treated rudely by anyone who’d lived to discuss it, yet she appeared unconcerned. “They just closed the door in your face,” he observed quietly.
“Shut up!” she snapped. “You know nothing of the workings of the cloister.”
A moment later, the brunette reappeared in the doorway. She said nothing, but stepped aside so they could enter. The only thing that did not surprise Henri about the interior of the farmhouse was its roaring fireplace. On his last visit, with Sebastien’s body, Circe had guided him to an entrance that was several hundred yards behind the farmhouse. Her warriors had carried Sebastien through ground level doors and down a steep stairwell into the center of the cloister, most of which was below ground level. Tonight, Henri had expected lots of overstuffed furniture and quaint charm beyond the farmhouse’s doors. Instead, he found a sizable array of technical equipment, including video monitors displaying the access roads and farmhouse from all possible angles, computers and more monitors, displaying the ancient halls of the cloister below the farmhouse. Six male and female vampires lounged in front of monitors and two more were sleeping on a wide couch. Their entrance was not acknowledged.
“Corinthias said that you should be escorted to her chambers,” the brunette said. Whatever her opinions were, she kept them from her face, as she led them down a hallway, off the great room and opened a nondescript wooden door. “Follow me,” she said, beginning the descent.
The white stone stairwell was well lighted and seemed to go on forever to Henri, forcing him to stay within a few steps of Circe. Four flights down, the dark-haired vampiress turned sharply to follow another white stone hall to another door, which opened to a small, steel elevator. Once inside, she pressed an unlabeled button, the doors closed and the car dropped suddenly, causing Henri to jostle Circe. It jerked to a stop and slid apart revealing another hall, this one black stone. And Corinthias.
“Well,” she said, “you are late in coming, Circe. I expected you’d grow impatient before now. Should I welcome you to the cloister?”
“That would be appropriate, Corinthias, but when have such things mattered to you?” Circe stepped past the vampiress, extending a hand to her host, who was exactly as Henri had remembered her – as beautiful as she was bizarre.
Corinthias was at least six feet tall, slim and muscular, with ebony skin, hip-length white hair and pale blue eyes that looked like they were made of quartz crystals. Her pupils were shaped like diamonds and the sclera of each eye was a vibrant yellow, giving her a reptilian appearance. Tonight, she wore a simple white robe, gathered at her waist with a belt embroidered in gold thread. She gave the vampiress a curt nod, sending her back into the elevator, which closed, taking her away. “You might be surprised to know what I care about, Circe. I understand you wish to remain with us this night and the new day.”
Circe nodded. “This is Henri, my driver. He will stay with me.”
Corinthias’s voice was whisper and gravel, as she turned and began walking away from Circe and Henri. “Will he? Have I agreed to offer you my hospitality and forgotten?” she asked, without turning. “Surely, you are not suggesting…”
“I suggest nothing,” Corinthias interjected. “You’re welcome enough, as your driver is, Circe. It is not something I offer frequently. Don’t forget that, while you are with us.”
Excerpt from Chapter One of Sanctum Illusions: Shadow Havens Book 4
Kya ended her call and dropped the cell to her desk in the Sanctum’s feeding center. Several members of the haven’s Basium Cruenta were in house and more were expected. Vampires had been coming in pairs or alone to feed and as usual, her phone was wide awake and doing what it always did… beep, blip or chime every time she looked at it. She was the coordinator of the feeding center, diplomat and friend to every human and vampire who came through the feeding center’s doors, three hundred, sixty-five days a year. Running the feeding center made her a vital part of the Sanctum’s functioning structure and known to everyone. She also knew what they needed or cared about or hoped. Another might have found her job draining, but Kya loved it, especially since she’d finally found what she needed. His name was Lien Meniari, a vampiric warrior of the Sanctum, and he made her heart sing. When he came through the door, Kya’s face lit like a sparkler, making him grin. He kissed her across the desk, still grinning, with a hand behind his back. “You’re going out tonight?” she asked, although she knew the answer. He would patrol Sanctum land until close to the time the sun rose, then return to his home once he was relieved by were warriors, who would not be affected by sunlight as he would.
“In a little while,” he answered, looking down at her behind the desk. The smile on her heart-shaped face had become so important to him. “I have time to feed and kiss you for about fifteen minutes. Sneak away with me.”
Kya looked at her phone, hoping it wouldn’t ring. She found Meniari’s beautiful face and dark eyes and snatched the phone from the desk to turn it off.
He took her hand, pulling her around the desk to his chest. “I brought you something,” he said, producing a bouquet of crimson roses and white baby’s breath wrapped in delicate lavender paper.
“They’re gorgeous,” Kya gushed. “Where did you find wild roses in January, Lien?”
“I have my ways. Leave them here,” he said chuckling, as he took the flowers to drop them on the marble- topped desk. Tugging her along behind him, Meniari found an empty feeding suite, pulled Kya through the door and locked it telekinetically. In a second, he had her against his chest and his mouth closed against hers.
Excerpt from Chapter One of Sanctum Illusions: Shadow Havens Book 4
Fortune’s lip was bleeding, even as he grinned up at the bastard whose feet dangled over the alley’s floor. Neon reflected off the sooty, wet brick walls and pounding music seemed to echo from inside the club. The stink of garbage rose around the were and the human, but Fortune, whose nose was much more sensitive than a dog’s, pushed it out of his mind, as he studied the human. His knuckles were bleeding too, but he really couldn’t recall when he’d enjoyed himself so thoroughly. “So, you like the women, huh? The boys too, I’d think. Made lots of money from them, haven’t you?”
The guy was only in his mid-thirties, but the were was right. He had made a goddamned mint off his ‘little family of whores,’ as he thought of them. Young, older, boys, girls. Some he’d trained himself, some had come with the skills already, but what counted was the money… and why it wasn’t flowing in his direction any more. “Who the fuck are you?” he rasped, as the tips of his Italian leather shoes scrapped at the concrete and his shoulder blades became a part of the filthy wall behind him. Initially, he’d thought to put a blade into the big bastard who seemed to run the crew keeping him, his whores and his business friends out of the four hottest clubs in Saint Rushton. He’d bragged about it to a friend, looking forward to the encounter, but things hadn’t gone his way at all. For one thing, the guy his crew had pointed out was fucking huge and surrounded by others who equaled his size… and strength. So, he’d begun with a quiet invitation to discuss things in the alley behind the club. The fucker had actually grinned when he’d accepted the invitation, but the guy thought a knife would do the trick. Knives were great convincers.
“Not who, asshole,” Fortune corrected. “What…what am I? Now, say it, for me.”
The guy looked down into Fortune’s face, taking in his long chestnut hair, the amber eyes that seemed to fucking glow, all the leather. Something acidic and primal flowed into his heart then… and he knew that his life could be close to ending. In a fraction of a second, he remembered how twenty-five men and women had died on the streets of Saint Rush in a single, horrible night weeks ago. This guy could have done it… all of it. The Internet was still in flames with speculation about those gruesome deaths… and it was probably this guy who’d killed them. He couldn’t force himself to do as he’d been told, but he managed to unearth something else. “You want money? Just let me…”
Fortune lowered the greasy bastard a little. “That’s what you think? I want money?”
“No! I mean… I’m a businessman. I’ve done this before! I have a lot of money and cutting you in wouldn’t be….”
Fortune dropped the guy a bit lower and snarled, a deep rumble coming from the center of his expansive chest. He let his lips pull back over his teeth and tipped his head back. “Money from men and women and children on their backs or their knees?”
“I don’t know what they…”
Fortune shoved the guy backward into the wall a little harder, even as he vowed he would not kill this disgusting bastard. He would, however, make him hurt. He punched his body up against the bricks three or four more times, until there were tears on the guy’s cheeks. “You were warned to stay out of this club and keep your whores away from it. The next time I see you here… and I will, because you are a stupid fuck, I will break your bones. I will begin with your legs… so you understand what to expect. Now, shall we make an appointment, because I know you will not heed this warning?”
The guy shook his head and closed his eyes, just as his bladder let go. No, he’d never come back. There were lots of other clubs. “No…no…”
“Say it!” Fortune snarled. “I will stay out of these clubs and I’ll keep the family out…”
“Forever,” Fortune whispered, cutting the guy’s words, shaking him like a doll. “You will stay out forever…”
Excerpt from Chapter Two of Sanctum Illusions: Shadow Havens Book 4
Gwyn had completed a slow circuit of Saint Rushton’s club district in her wolf form, returned to the alley, shifted and dressed again. The guy was gone when she’d returned, probably having hauled himself some place for medical attention. At least, she hoped he’d done that, but the point was that her clothing was where she’d left it and he was gone. She’d walked a long route back to the room she’d rented for the week over the dry cleaner’s, taking Saint Rush in through the eyes of a female. A couple of men had tried to pick her up. One had bluntly asked for sex, retreating quickly after she’d snarled openly into his fat, sweaty face. Humans could be so fucking tedious, although she had nothing against sex. The lights, music, and crowds were less intense when she was in a human form, but the scents were still powerful, like perfume mixed with a dose of night wind and smoke.
The room she’d taken wasn’t much, having only a table, two chairs, a hot plate and tiny refrigerator, a bed, one naked window, a miniscule bathroom and a door that locked. The smells of soap and bleach from the dry cleaner’s seemed to permeate the place, but it was quiet for the most part and she would have been able to hear footfalls on the stairwell… if anyone or anything had tried to visit her tiny room. Stocked with enough food and supplies for a week, the room was perfect, temporary as it would be.
Her real home was the Sanctum and her place there was so much better, but it wasn’t time to go home yet. She wanted to explore the small city, just to see how things were with it… get her head back to the haven before she actually crossed its borders off Route 60.
The light switch by the door brought a bare bulb to life. She walked to the table, dumped her jacket and sat to pull her boots off. Saint Rush was much as she’d remembered it, small and mostly dull, in spite of the new theatres and upscale restaurants that had sprung up during her decade-long absence. The club district had looked sort of interesting, as it had before she’d left the Sanctum, but the were in the alley occupied her mind.
Who the hell was he? And, why was he pounding on a human? She doubted that it had anything to do with the Sanctum, but who could say? Thinking of the haven, she was filled with a kind of nostalgia, recalling her friends there… if she had any left. Still, the supernatural world was unbelievably small sometimes and even though she’d left without a word to anyone except the Greys, she hoped she still had a few friends.
Of course, after she got back together with Lien Meniari, things would be good, whether she had friends or not. As Gwyn killed the light, stripped out of her clothing and stretched out over the small bed, she let the image of his face to fill her mind. She had traveled a lot in the past decade, seen a lot of wild things, done even crazier things, but what she wanted… craved… was Lien Meniari. It had taken her a few years to figure that out, but so what? They were good together… had been anyway. She’d just pushed her luck with the warrior… and blown a fuse when he’d refused her Mating proposal. Maybe she’d have to apologize for that, but she’d do it, knowing he’d want her back. The proposal was what had wiped them out, not the relationship itself. If that were out of the equation, what could Meniari object to? Looking up at the moon, framed in the ugly ass window, she whispered, “Goodnight, Lien,” and closed her eyes.
Excerpts from Chapter Two of Sanctum Illusions: Shadow Havens Book 4
Saan had never seen the inside of the Maidenheart Bakery in the realm of the living, but he imagined it would be far more modern than this replica in the realm of the dead. The windows were covered with linen curtains and the walls were rough wooden logs. The table was rough wood, with four plank chairs. Two more squatted in front of the wide fireplace. A back door, also rough wood, was next to the fireplace, where a modest fire burned.
“In the realm of the dead, we create our own abodes. This place is where I was happiest when I lived and so this is what I created when I came here,” Sabine explained, as Saan settled in a chair at the table across from her.
A thin, pretty girl with high cheekbones and gray daemon eyes appeared at the back door, smiled shyly at Saan, before taking a chair at the fireplace. Her dress, a deep lavender, was as simple as Sabine’s. She seemed to stare into the fire intently, as she drew her fingers through her long red hair. Saan eyed her, finding her resemblance to Iridea a little unsettling. He gave her no greeting as she’d offered him none.
“Claire is shy,” Sabine explained. “She does not speak frequently because she finds it difficult, having never lived. She communicates well enough though.”
“Well, this is all very cozy, Sabine, but you were going to tell me why I’m here. Not like the death angels gave me a lot of choice in coming. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but…”
“But you will be,” she interjected. “I can see why Sebastien feared you.”
“Feared me? My father had no use for me or my sister, Iridea. Let’s not entertain any illusions about that.”
“You think he allowed your mortal life to end,” she said, “and you’re right about that. He did. It was before the natural time for you to pass.”
“Are you always so direct?”
“You asked that we dispense with creating illusions,” she said, laughing at him again. “He did, however, fear you. You were very much like him, Saan. You still are, but do not allow that to upset you. We all have our guilts. I admire the strength you gave to your mother, Ilea. What you did, will always be in your favor… something to take pride in. You prevented your father from creating even more pain than he did.”
“Right,” Saan answered tersely, as he rose to pace the room. “So, why can’t I find him… in this realm?”
Sabine folded her arms across her body. “He is not dead.”
Saan rubbed at his face, forcing himself to stay silent as he chose his next words with some care. “He’s dead, Sabine. I saw him go down. There were…damn, I don’t even know what they were, but his spirit was taken and his body was on the ground.”
Sabine rose with all the grace of the long dead and glided to him to take his hands, pulling him back to the small table. “I know what you saw, Saan, but you must trust in this. Sebastien is not dead even though his state is not fully living either. That is why you cannot find him. He is not with us in this realm.”
Her voice was having the same calming effect that his death angels’ sometimes did, but he fought against the way it could muddy his thoughts. “Why the hell am I here? I don’t get what you want, Sabine. You were my father’s first Mate. So what? I’m not going back there to protect him or some nonsense. I’m not…”
“You’re not going anywhere yet,” Sabine said indulgently. “I will be seeing Sebastien soon … very soon.”
Excerpt from Chapter Two of Sanctum Illusions: Shadow Havens Book 4
Several floors below Ilea’s rooms, Fortune was lying on a table in the healing center, his arm extended across a blond daemon healer’s lap, with Rachel standing on his other side. “I do not see the need to lie down,” he said. “I am not ill; nor, will I lose my consciousness.”
“You are not in charge here,” the healer said quietly, as she cleaned the badly shredded tissue over his knuckles. “Even weres need help to heal sometimes. Your hand is a mess. There’s nothing left of your skin to stitch together.”
“Fortune, you should be careful,” Rachel said, leaning over to frown into his face. “I think an ice pack would help your lip.”
Smiling hurt, but he couldn’t help it. Her sweet nature was a warm wind rising to gust the ugliness of the night away. “My lip will be healed by nightfall next, Rachel, but I appreciate your concerns.” He would have appreciated much more, but he held the words that sprang to his mind. “Eating will be difficult for a time.”
“I think soup’s the answer,” Rachel replied. She loved his smile, even with a fat lip. “Something with rich, warm broth and vegetables.”
The healer looked at them and sighed. “He will not starve, Rachel.”
“Maybe not, but it’d be painful to eat… with that lip.”
The healer sat back. “It’s going to be raw for a day, Fortune, but it isn’t fatal. I’ll give you a plant paste and some extra bandages. Tell me you did not hit a human with this hand.”
Fortune was still lost in Rachel’s scent and her eyes, but he forced himself to look away from her lovely face to the healer. “The human moved. It was a brick wall that I hit.” Turning to Rachel, he asked, “Would it have meats too? The soup?”
Rachel nodded grinning. “Big chunks of beef.”
“Do you know where I might find soup?” he asked innocently. “It sounds like it would be delicious.”
“I am going to cut your arm off, Fortune,” the healer said firmly, knowing he’d never hear her now. “I’m getting my machete.” She rose, retrieved a jar and several small packets from a cabinet drawer and added fresh, white bandages from a glass jar on the counter. Returning to the table, she started applying the yellow paste to the were’s raw knuckles.
“I made soup last night. I like it at this time of year, when it’s so cold outside. How about I bring you some?” Rachel asked.
“I would not put you to trouble.” Fortune was grinning, which opened his lip again and hurt like a bitch.
Rachel reached across him to grab a gauze pad from the healer’s stash and gently blotted his lip where blood had reappeared. Her brief trip over his chest had him stiffening in his leathers, but he moved, raising his knees on the table, hoping she wouldn’t notice.
The healer looked up at them. “You’re not putting her to trouble, Fortune, because she wants to bring you soup. And, Rachel, if you’re not careful, he’ll have you feeding it to him, spoon by spoon.” She returned to the were’s knuckles, resolving to say no more.
“It wouldn’t be any trouble. I’ll bring it to your rooms here,” Rachel said lightly. “I’ll feel better if I know you’ve eaten.”
The healer raised her head from the were’s hand. “By all the gods, why would you feel better if he eats?”
Rachel smiled at the healer. “He shouldn’t go hungry, especially since he’s hurt.”
“Yes,” Fortune added, turning his head to the healer. “What she said.”
“You know a hungry were can eat a cow, Rachel,” the healer advised in a stiff educational tone. “Some have.”
Rachel looked down at Fortune. She knew what he was, knew who he was… and her heart was in free fall. “Don’t eat any cows, okay? I’ll meet you upstairs in your rooms in about fifteen minutes. I’ll bring soup.”
After she’d gone, Fortune raised himself from the table to eye the healer, frowning sternly at him, arms crossed over her chest. “I have never eaten a cow,” he told her soberly.
Excerpt from Chapter Four of Sanctum Illusions: Shadow Havens Book 4
Tamuel propped his foot on his knee, looking around Miriel’s study, a lovely room done in scarlet and gold. “This room suits you, Miriel.”
“Thank you. It is my hope that you will be comfortable with us,” Miri said, sinking into the chair at her armoire, which doubled as a desk. “Kellan is here already, of course.”
“Yes, I know,” he said, taking her hand to kiss. “I am terribly sorry.” Miriel’s eyes widened.
“For what are you sorry, Tam?”
“Anything that Kellan has done or said that has upset you.”
“He has only been here a short time. He has yet to commit any atrocities… and we do have warriors. You’ve already met one,” she replied a bit nervously.
Tam kissed her hand again. “In that case, I apologize for that which he has yet to do and remains unknown to us, at this point.”
Miri chuckled. “I will tuck that one away for later use. Kellan is joining us in a few minutes. He has set things up in the house you have been given. Should you come to blows, I ask you to take it into the tunnels or outside. I enjoy my home as it is.”
“Fear not, we have yet to have an altercation, although I have threatened him,” Tamuel said conspiratorially. “He’s atrocious as an angel. I was appalled to learn he’d slept with that woman… his charge.”
“That’s a lie,” Kellan said, striding from the doorway to the angel. “No pictures. No Videos. Didn’t happen. How was the flight, asshole?”
“Kellan,” Miri said sternly “For an angel of thousands of years, you are quite exasperating. Sit down and be quiet!”
“Just sayin’, beautiful. It never happened.”
Tam leaned to Miri. “You see now what I am forced to deal with, but let us go on,” he said turning a vicious scowl at Kellan, who lounged in the chair next to his.
“How did you learn that you could return to the angelic?” Miri asked
“I have been petitioning for centuries, of course,” Tam explained. “One of the problems was that my activities as a professor of literature and languages were seen as a conflict between my desires and apologies to our creator. How could I be sorry for what I had done, when I continued to do it, you see? I was flung from the angelic and my wings taken because I’d taught humans to read and write, but I continued to do it even as I said I knew that I should not have.”
“I can understand that,” Miri said. “It is a conflict, but what has changed?”
“I retired from university in Scotland,” Tam announced. “More than a decade ago. Since then, I have continued to petition the heavens and I have taught nothing. Hanael came to me a month ago and told me of my pardon. Kellan was at my doorstep soon after.”
“Hanael is a kind angel,” Miri said, nodding. “And, now, you wish for what?”
“I have visited with all of the fallen, whom I cared about. Aza sends her regards, by the way.”
Miri smiled, recalling the angel who’d taken her in with Andrieu and Regine in Italy when they fell from the angelic in 1416. “She is with her were in Siberia?”
Tam nodded. “An engaging couple. The were is ferocious, yet his love for Aza is a light. Siberia is dreadful, Miri, a frozen hell, yet they are happy.”
“You wish us to take your mortal life from you?” Miri asked, as she saw what was coming.
“I do. The world has weighed upon me, for many years. I tire of caring for this mortal form and traveling among humans. I have no family beyond the fallen angels and many loves in the angelic realm. They are forbidden to see me, of course, and I wish to return.”
“Could you do it tonight?” Kellan asked Miri anxiously. “I think tonight’s good for a heart crushing. What do you say, honey?”
Miri turned to him wordlessly and raised her eyebrow. “Okay, not tonight then,” he said quickly, seeing her anger. “I’m sure you have stuff to do, sugar. But soon, okay? No point in delaying, when we know what’s coming. I mean… I’d do it, but I’m not allowed.”
Tam turned to Kell, his lavender eyes glowing. “Shut. Up,” he whispered furiously.
“Right. Got that, big guy,” Kell said shrinking into the chair.
Miri turned back to Tam. “Do you have a wish regarding when you wish to relinquish this life?”
“Yes, I want to stay here for a time to enjoy the Sanctum, which I have never seen. A month perhaps.”
“Of course. Andrieu and I welcome you and Kellan,” she said, giving the other angel a quick, forgiving smile. The conversation was interrupted by someone calling Miri’s name. Miri rose, as Amaya appeared in the doorway with a pink box, bearing the label of the Maidenheart. Miri smelled cinnamon and realized that her stepdaughter, Pria, had sent a delicious gift.
“Miri,” she said, walking toward the three angels. “Priana sent…” Suddenly, the vampiress stopped walking and speaking. Her long black hair was flecked with snow and her lovely face was rosy from the cold winds, but her eyes were wide.
Tamuel rose to his full height and stepped across Kellan’s legs to approach her. “Who are you?” he asked, looking her over slowly, from head to foot.
Amaya gulped, reminding herself to breathe. The angel was spectacular. Andrieu and Miri had seemed that way to her too, but this one was even more breathtaking. His pictures hadn’t ever done him justice and she’d seen many of them during her years as Circe’s lover. Now, face to face with the angel her former lover had followed obsessively, she was finding speech difficult. Her hands were like ice, but her face flooded with heat. Something about him was deeply familiar and it went beyond the fact that she’d seen dozens of photos of him. “I am Amaya,” she said, thinking her voice sounded thick as sludge.
“Your name means ‘night rain.’ Did you know this?” Tam asked softly, as her light jasmine scent filled his senses.
“It is a common name,” she said, clutching the box a little tighter. The room suddenly seemed far too warm… and small.
“You are far from common. You are extraordinary, Amaya.” He had traveled the world, never having seen a lovelier female. Even in her jeans and little furry jacket, she was gorgeous, yet what he felt, looking at her was more than admiration for beauty. Some deep awareness was forming in his mind, but he couldn’t place a finger on its root. He didn’t know this scent or this face… yet he did. Kellan and Miri watched, as the silence grew between Amaya and Tam, until the angel took the box from her hands, dropping it on Miri’s scarlet couch. He took her hand and kissed the back of it lightly, which turned Amaya’s face a deeper pink. “I am honored to meet you, Amaya,” he said, stifling his confusion to smile as only angels can. “My name is Tamuel.”
“I know who you are,” she breathed, looking up into his face. “But, I must go now.” Amaya backed away from Tam, like he was a coiled snake, ready to strike. “Yes, I have to leave right now.”
As Amaya turned and ran from the room, Kellan tapped Miri’s knee. “We got problems, honey. Big problems. That little vampiress is gonna’ screw everything up!”
Miri debated a response, but the sound of an approaching motorcycle stole her attention. As she turned her head away from Kellan and Tam, the engine died at her home’s aboveground receiving room, which could only mean that Gwyn had come home.
Excerpt from Sanctum Warriors: Shadow Havens Book 2
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Excerpt from Chapter One:
Sebastien smirked. “It is all right. Let Ilea and the Demesne think that I am fully restrained for now. It will make her comfortable. I have things to consider and I plan to rest anyway.” He lifted his arms. “Put the cuffs on. One of the healers will be bringing more of Ilea’s blood in those fucking plastic bags soon. Let her see me in these vampire chains.”
“You feel that is best…for you to be seen in chains?”
Sebastien roared up off the bed with no warning. Condatus found himself pinned to the wall, with Sebastien’s hands wrapped around his throat, before he could draw breath. “Let me tell you something that a dead warrior knew,” Sebastien snarled into Condatus’s face. “Zeris was loyal to me for a long time before that bastard, Joe Cafaris, killed him. Never did he question a direct order. If you wish to live, you’ll follow his example.” Sebastien dropped his hands, releasing Condatus. “Learn it now.” He walked to the bed, listening to Condatus wheeze. “Get the fucking chains in place and when the daemon healer comes with Ilea’s blood, allow her into the room. Let her see me chained like a dog.” ***
Excerpt from Chapter Five
Odera knew he had several hours before dawn, yet he felt reluctant to go back to the Sanctum. He’d held Arabella until she’d stopped crying, more from exhaustion than closure. When she’d settled against his chest, he’d walked her to the bedroom he would never share with her, and covered her with a quilt. As she dropped into sleep, he’d left the apartment, locking the door behind him.
Since then, he’d been walking the streets of Saint Rushton, alone in the cold, but his heart was colder yet. Humans moved away from his path, just as they always had, because of his size and appearance. He envied their easy laughter with one another, their ability to know nothing of all that could lurk in the night, their ability to easily choose a love to share their short, fragile lives.
A whore approached him as he moved through the club district, but he glamoured her, telling her to go to her home and stay the night there. Of course, he knew who owned the clubs and what went on there. Arabella could have been in one, but he doubted that. Kya wasn’t stupid enough to take her to any of these places, little more than extensions of the Demesne, where humans were almost openly stalked. Surely, the little vampire had taken her to another …hopefully, one owned by a human, although it may not have been all that much safer. Still the thought nagged him because he could not control Arabella’s fate. He could have no say in where she went or whom she saw or took to her bed. Looking at the lights and too –loud crowds spilling through the entrance of a garishly lit nightclub, he stopped just to breathe the scent of humans, but he found them distasteful.
The women were as drunk or high as their men and he’d been raised in a time when men protected women from such things. He would be called chauvinistic or sexist by some, he knew, but he had no better respect for the men who seemed to enjoy taking in the chemicals to dull their minds or lose their money on games of chance. Arabella would never… Well, there was no point in that thought, he knew.
That was when the intention that had been skipping across his mind for the past hour found solid ground. He would leave the Sanctum. If he could not be with Arabella, he could not remain to see her at the Sanctum each night, as she walked the paths, or laughed with Kya and her other friends there. He could not bear to see the evidence of her love for another male and he could never be just her friend. If he remained, he would never be able to resist watching her, perhaps even tracking her movements when she came to Saint Rush or punching out any males who came too close to her. He would ruin her life through his love for her, which was far from what he truly wished.
The world was wide and he could go where he wanted. Perhaps even to his home in Norway. He hadn’t been there since his name was something other than the one he wore now…a very long time indeed. Looking around, as if he’d been in a daze, Odera realized that he had come to one of the seediest areas of the city, near the club district. The lights and loud music were several blocks behind him and although he’d never seen sunlight, he imagined it would do little to brighten the sooty buildings around him. The fabric of normal in this area consisted of prostitutes doing johns in alleys and addicts crouched low in shadowy doorways, nodding against their skinny, ragged knees, oblivious to the cold.
Suddenly, he heard the harsh crack of flesh meeting flesh and a feminine voice raised in fear. Sniffing the air, he scented many things, but it was instinct that pulled him to a street corner, badly lit by a flickering street light. In the tainted, bluish illumination, he saw a skinny whore, with her top half pulled off, as a large human male backhanded her savagely. Again. In two strides, he was on the man, as the whore staggered backward on her heels. Her dark hair was as short as the human male’s and her eyes were bleary. “Go,” he growled. “Get out of here!”
The whore took his advice, stumbling a few times before she reached the corner, but then she was gone, leaving the male to Odera, who took particular relish in smashing the human’s face until he felt bones snapping under his knuckles. Stepping back to watch the male fall in a bloody heap on the dirty pavement, he saw several bills. He bent to pick the tens and twenties up, kicking the male over onto his back so he could take those the man had fallen and bled on. When he’d taken all that he saw from the pavement, he fisted the bloodstained bills, looking around to see if he could find the whore. She could probably use the cash.
It was then he noticed a black SUV stopped at the corner traffic light. The windows were wide open despite the cold and he could see males inside. Something drew him forward, but later he would not remember what tugged his feet.
As Sebastien pulled the ball cap off and undid the ponytail, his hair whirled around his face in the dry, frigid breeze. He was grinning, but as he closed his eyes and turned to the wind, he gave Odera a full view of his face in the flickering light. When the traffic light turned green, the SUV disappeared, blasting through the intersection like a missile.
Odera dropped the bills and yanked his cell from his pocket. Noting that he’d forgotten to turn it on, he cursed, waiting for it to beep itself to life in his hands. He’d only seen Sebastien face to face once, when he’d gone into the Demesne with Keirc to rescue Pria and Joe, yet the vampire’s face had been burned into his memory like a nightmare that would not go away, even when sleep lifted.
Meniari answered after two rings. “Hey, brother,” he said jovially. “What up? You talk to Arabella?”
“Meniari, get to Keirc…and Andrieu,” Odera ordered. Meniari’s voice changed to ice. “Problem?” “Lock the Sanctum down tight. Right now.”
“Where are you?” “I’m in the asshole of Saint Rush! I just saw Sebastien Galaurus, looking like he was about to have the time of his fucking life! I’m going back to Arabella’s! I’m bringing her back with me tonight!” Odera ended the call, shoved the phone in his pocket and took off in a flat out run for the apartment. She might hate him but he’d get her back to the Sanctum… where she’d be safe. ***
Excerpt from Chapter Six
“Aeric, she’s lovely,” Sebastien said, looking Arabella up and down. “Not a redhead, but beautiful.”
“I am pleased she meets your expectations, my lord,” the were said. Actually, he wouldn’t mind doing the blond tethered to the bed in the dirty, vacant room, in her pale blue panties and bra. Not at all. Maybe Sebastien would leave something for him. “I noted her peculiar scent and thought you might enjoy her.”
Sebastien tapped the edge of the rusty bedframe at the foot of the bed, his eyes glued to Arabella “Yes, that scent is very special. You’re Aeric, correct?”
“Yes, my lord.” “Go to your rest, Aeric. You have done well. Close the door.” When the were had gone, Sebastien stretched. His fatigue was growing but the blond, who was now fully conscious, intrigued him. He stripped his sweatshirt off and stood beside the bed, inspecting her soft skin and luxuriant hair, until he came to her wild, blue eyes. “Yes, I see your fear,” he said. “I understand that, yet you bring many questions to mind, so you must look past the anxiety. Be as intrepid, as you can. Let us start with your name. What is it?”
Arabella remained silent. The only light came from a candle, burning in the dusty corner on the floor, as a filthy blanket had been nailed over the room’s small, grimy window. Still, she believed she knew who she was looking at and his reputation. She resolved to give him nothing…not even her name.
Excerpts from Sanctum Storm: Shadow Havens Book 5
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Excerpt from Chapter One of Sanctum Storm: Shadow Havens Book 5
Circe smiled benignly. “Poor Alurin. You’re so confused, aren’t you? Well, dawn is not very far and I have yet to hunt. That will be my first order of business. When I return, we are going to sit down and have a long discussion about the future… yours, mine, Amaya’s, Ilea Qilbane’s…the Sanctum’s. I also have a number of things to acquire… disposable cells… a new laptop… vehicles… suitable clothing. You two will help with that.” She turned on her booted heel and strode to the door. “Be here when I return.” T
he silence, after she slammed the door, was a roar. Alurin turned to Maksim. “Are you staying?”
“She has my balls,” Maksim admitted soberly. “I’m staying with her for the time being. It depends on what she’s after in Saint Rushton. That’s the question.”
“Did you see her, Maksim? No furs… no jewels… no warriors walking up her heels. Very surprising.”
Maksim looked at his friend. “I agree. It’s unlike her to travel without an entourage or the trappings of her station. She said there had been a development, but I know no more.”
Alurin was out of the chair, hunched at the tiny desk in a flash. He flipped his laptop open and turned it on. “Policier,” he whispered after a few minutes. “A cop disappeared several nights ago. A woman, too. It’s all over Paris, in the news and papers, Maksim. If Circe did not kill them, what is she doing here?”
Maksim shook his head, without looking at the laptop or his friend. “Maksim, wake up!” Alurin demanded. “Maybe she had to get out of Europe. She had an arrangement with that police officer… killing one of theirs is forbidden to all of us. If Circe…”
Maksim shot from the chair to pace the small room. “None of that matters, Alurin! What matters is that she’s here! The point is what happens now, not what happened in Paris. Are you staying?”
Alurin closed the laptop and rubbed at his mouth. “Until I know what she has in mind. After that, I cannot say, my friend.”
Maksim dropped into the chair again. “Then, we’ll find out together. Staying could be lucrative. Leaving could be fatal. Let us learn more and then, we will decide.”
Excerpt from Chapter Three of Sanctum Storm: Shadow Havens Book 5
Amaya planted the bowl of popcorn on the table and turned to Tam. The evening at the Maidenheart had been busy and she was glad to be settled on her couch with Tam. Kell had spent the evening in the Maidenheart’s kitchen, pounding dough ruthlessly and slamming pans, as he’d taken over some of Monroe’s baking responsibilities. To everyone’s surprise, he was turning out the rolls, tarts and pastries with surprising efficiency and they tasted as good as Monroe’s had, but his demeanor was ragged and his nerves raw. In the past, Tam and Kell had often returned to Amaya’s home in the Sanctum, after their hours at the Maidenheart, to enjoy a movie or conversation before they returned to their own home in the haven, but recent events had driven an uncomfortable wedge into their relationships. “Kell did not want to come in tonight,” Amaya said, handing Tam a napkin.
Tam frowned, taking the napkin and placing it across his knee with a precision it didn’t require. “He needs time. We have spoken of his situation, but clear answers are in short supply.”
Amaya nodded, playing with her own napkin. “I am pleased he is not with us, although he would have been welcome. I want to speak with you about him.”
“What is it you wish to discuss, my love?” Tam said, giving her his full attention. As Amaya looked into his lavender eyes, the world slowed, as she wished she could just fall into him and forget everything but the feel of his body against her own. Clearing her throat, she forced the vision away and straightened. “I want to talk to them… the angels.”
“You’re speaking to one.”
“Yes, I know that, but I want to speak to the archangels. They can change Kellan’s situation, can’t they?”
Tam raised an eyebrow, studying her. She was gorgeous, as soft as the white jasmine petals she smelled like, but something hard was shaping her features… something he hadn’t seen before. The archangels were not to be trifled with and although their compassion was legendary, they were not known for patience. Kell’s situation was undeniably complex and while he was brother and comrade to the archs, they had remained steadfast in their ruling that he had to stay exactly where he was as an earthbound angel. “About Kellan?” he asked as awareness of Amaya’s aims dawned on him.
She nodded. “I think you can make this happen, Tam, and I want to do it. Tell me you will help me.”
“You would make an appeal to the archangels on Kell’s behalf?”
“Yes,” she said firmly. “I will make them listen and I want Kell to be happy. His situation is unfair. What has he done that is so terrible? He should not be punished this way.”
Excerpt from Chapter Four of Sanctum Storm: Shadow Havens Book 5
The daemon healers were planted on the magenta silk couch, side by side, with their hands folded in their laps, as they stared at Sebastien. They wore the traditional pale blue tunics and long skirts that marked their profession and their eyes were wide swirls of silver.
To Sebastien, they were the personification of the iconic primates who never saw, heard or spoke evil and he hadn’t said a word yet. He had bathed, dressed informally and ignored Saan as he had each night since returning to life. His ability to move had improved and he no longer struggled with strange pains that shot through his limbs like bolts of electricity, which meant the time had come for decisions and action. “Lucine, please introduce me to your sisters in healing,” he said casually.
“This is Calla,” the healer in the middle said, gesturing to her left at a healer with short auburn hair. “This is Mariz,” she said gesturing to the brunette on her right.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mariz… and Calla,” he said carefully. “I appreciate what you have done for me.”
Calla’s chin was trembling, he realized, but Mariz was like a stone.
“Circe will kill us if she finds that you’re alive and awake and we did not tell her,” Mariz said quickly. “She was going to kill us if you died and now she’s going to do it anyway. You must be the devil, himself, Sebastien Galaurus!”
“I assure you I am not,” he said smiling. The smile felt unnatural, but he held onto it, trying to be as engaging as possible. “And, Circe…”
“Will do just what she promised!” Mariz said breathlessly, as she launched into a full- blown tirade. “We have been penned in here like livestock and we cared for you, even though we could have killed you… the Father of the Demesnes. Now, if we don’t tell Circe, she will come back here and she will…” “
She will not harm you, Mariz,” Sebastien interjected, fighting the urge to raise his voice. “I will not allow her to kill you or cause you pain.”
“I don’t believe you! We know what happened to Amaya, oh, mighty Father of the Demesnes! Circe even loved her… we think,” she said, pounding her knees with her small fists. “Look at what happened to her!”
Sebastien relaxed in the chair, crossed his legs and brought a finger to his temple, as his elbow came to the chair’s arm. Saan appeared beside the screeching daemon. Sebastien gave his son a glance, as the Mariz went on… and on. Saan gave Sebastien two thumbs up, although he appeared to be laughing uncontrollably. Sebastien supposed ghosts could laugh, although his time in the hereafter had involved little humor. He flipped back to Mariz, who was now weeping and gulping air, as her rage flowed over him. Her small hands fluttered around her face like wild birds. Her daemon sisters in healing had gone deathly white and were stiff as hours- old human corpses. “Mariz,” he started, “listen to me for a…”
“No,” she snapped, raising a finger toward his face. “If I’m going to die, I’m going to have my say. You and Circe….”
Sebastien found himself grinding his fangs, yet he understood her position. The daemons had been forced into a beautiful jail with him, threatened with death and cut off from their haven. He also understood that this little daemon had balls and brains. After a few minutes, she ran out of adjectives and adverbs and took a breath. “Mariz,” he said, snatching the opportunity to speak, but she bulldozed him.
“And, Circe slapped me! Did you know that? Yes, she did and…”
“Mariz,” Sebastien said, leaning forward. “Listen to me.”
Almost panting, the little daemon stopped herself, although she couldn’t have said why. Something in Sebastien’s tone made her feel like she wanted to listen. “Don’t you dare try to glamour me, Sebastien Galaurus!” she said, shaking herself mentally.
Sebastien met Mariz’s eyes. “I am not attempting a glamour,” he said seriously. “I understand your emotions, but you must brace yourself. One day you’re going to help me run this haven.” In the silence that descended, he looked to Lucine and Calla. “Hold tight to your strength,” he said. “You’re onboard too.”
As Sebastien began speaking and the daemon healers studied him fearfully, Sabine appeared at Saan’s elbow.
“This should be interesting,” Saan said, folding his arms across his chest.
“Have faith,” Sabine replied. “You will aid him, so note what he says to them. You are onboard too.”
“You think he can pull this off?” Saan asked.
“Pray that he can, Saan, for your mother’s sake. I think he’s doing very well,” Sabine said haughtily. “I am not permitted to allow myself to be seen by Sebastien or communicate with him, but nothing stops me from seeing you. And, I may have suggestions from time to time.” ####
Excerpt from Chapter Five of Sanctum Storm: Shadow Havens Book 5
Maksim’s bags were packed, resting on the disheveled bed. He’d dressed, gone out to feed on some hapless fool in a nearby residential area with Alurin and paid the bill at the hotel, as per Circe’s instruction. Alurin had left him to finish Circe’s shopping list, although he’d procured black paint, four dozen wool blankets and tarps, bottled water and a few bags of groceries from nearby stores the evening before. All of the supplies had been stowed in a large SUV that Circe had purchased with cash, from a used car dealership on the outskirts of the city days ago. Alurin had returned later and headed off to pack. Circe would be returning soon from her hunt. Their time at the hotel was over and although he knew little about the penthouse that was now owned by one of Circe’s shadow organizations, he looked forward to leaving the hotel’s cramped rooms. Saint Rush was growing old and while he wasn’t delighted to be with Circe, moving was at least a change of scenery. The knock at the door was unexpected, since Circe and Alurin tumbled locks as easily as he did and never announced their presence. Expecting to have to shoo a cleaning person away, he walked to the door.
Gwyn stood in the hall, grinning at him like a long lost friend, with her arm around a young woman, with bleached white hair, and black rimmed, blue eyes. “Hey, Maksim, I thought you could use some company,” she said, breezing into the room, towing the woman by the hand. “This is Sherry, my new friend. She wanted to meet you, ‘cause she thinks vampires are hot.”
Sherry and Gwyn turned to face Maksim from the edge of the bed. Maksim paused just a moment before walking to them. He eyed Gwyn, saying nothing. The young woman was attractive under the pounds of cosmetics and her hair’s natural color would have been prettier, but her scent was luscious… sweet and clean. Her eyes widened as he extended a hand to her cheek, but she was smiling.
“Gwyn said you were… you know… real. I just had to meet you, but I swear I won’t tell anyone,” Sherry offered seriously.
Maksim nodded, looking her over again, head to foot. Her clothes, if they could be called that, were atrocious, but he knew her as if he’d met her a hundred times before. There were vampire wannabes all over the world… even in Paris, where the real thing lived and hunted every night. This woman was a security nightmare, but her scent told him her blood would be delicious. If Circe returned and found a human in his room… well, to hell with that, because who the fuck knew where Circe was feeding tonight. He met Gwyn’s eyes. “I thought you’d left Saint Rushton, cher. What brings you to my door tonight?”
“I decided to hang around. Maybe take you up on your earlier offer.”
“Mmmm… I see,” he replied noncommittally. “And, your friend?”
“Oh, it was my idea to visit,” Sherry said quickly. “I had to talk Gwyn into it. She told me how private you are.”
Maksim nodded, looking back to the woman. “Did she?” He traced her jaw with his knuckles.
Sherry closed her eyes and squeaked, excited at the small touch. This man… this vampire… was gorgeous. Tall, well- muscled, with long black hair hanging around his chiseled face like a fucking picture frame and full lips that would be heaven against her throat. She’d always known vampires were real and he was so fucking real… much better than those guys she knew, who were just fakers. No, Gwyn hadn’t lied and she was going to thank her for this… take her to breakfast or something after they left.
Maksim circled the woman slowly, inhaling that wondrous scent. “Yes,” he murmured, “I am very private… selective about friends.”
“I understand,” Sherry replied seriously. “But, don’t be mad at Gwyn. You could think of me as a fan. Can I call you Maksim? Gwyn told me your name. I mean… maybe I shouldn’t have asked that, since we just met.”
She giggled and Maksim raised his eyebrows, struggling for a moment against his rising appetite. He looked to Gwyn, who mouthed the word, “Gift,” at him over Sherry’s head. “It is all right, mon ange. You may call me Maksim,” he told the young woman. “What do you know of us?”
“I know about the sun thing and garlic, which I never eat. I know you’re probably older than hell and know lots about history and things. Obviously, you’re French, which is damned cool. I guess you were probably turned into a vampire… maybe against your will, but it looks like it’s worked out okay for you. I know about holy water and I know about blood too, but the thing with blood doesn’t gross me out or anything. It’s just a nutrient, right? We all need those,” Sherry finished.
Maksim gave Gwyn a smile. Only a fraction of what she had said was truth, but he enjoyed hearing the myths spouted as fact. “Your friend is a delight, Gwyn,” he said, looking down at her. “What do you know of the bite?”
“I’ve heard it’s pleasurable,” she said seriously. “I’ve never been bitten though.”
“Ah, a virgin,” Maksim said smiling indulgently. Sherry giggled again, sending a jolt into Maksim’s dick as well as the pit of his gut. He was close to losing all control, urged into ravenous hunger by the young woman’s oddly lighthearted demeanor and the smell of her blood, which would be fabulous.
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call me a virgin, but I’ve never been bitten,” she said.
“But, you know so much of us and you wonder about this,” he said, as mysteriously as he could. In a minute or two, he felt sure he’d grow a cape just to please her. “The bite. You want to know what it is like.” S
herry rolled her eyes, just as Gwyn did, for completely different reasons.
“Yeah, I guess I do,” she said. “I’ve heard things, but never experienced anything like that.” She released Gwyn’s hand and stepped close to Maksim’s chest. Looking up, she met his eyes and turned her head, before tipping it back to expose her smooth throat.
Maksim slipped his arms around her tiny waist, under all the black lace, and pulled her roughly to his chest. Sherry closed her eyes, tensing a bit, before breathing deeply to relax herself. She squeaked again, as Maksim raised his eyes to Gwyn and lip- synced, “Merci.” In the next moment, he had Sherry under him on the rumpled bed and had driven his fangs into her jugular. Fresh, spicy, sweet, hot … there weren’t enough words to describe the taste of her, especially since he’d been feeding from humans whose blood was not nearly as young or pure as this one’s. She was liqueur compared to the rusty water he’d been taking and he was grateful beyond words. He’d never trust Gwyn, but she’d done well by him this night. He wouldn’t forget that.
Excerpt from Chapter Seven of Sanctum Storm: Shadow Havens Book 5
Rachel grabbed for her cell, missed, grabbed again and knocked it to the floor beside her bed. Snatching at it, she stabbed at the phone icon. “Hello… hello…”
“Hello, my love,” Fortune said, leaning back against the headboard of the tiny bed. The apartment was quiet outside his bedroom door and he was happy to be alone. Christophe and Noah were resting. Monroe, Ares and Cronus had gone back to the Sanctum for the night. Vampires from both havens were hunting and he had a second phone to maintain communications with them. He used the one he held only to talk with Rachel.
“Fortune,” she said happily. “I’m so glad you called. I was hoping I’d hear from you.”
“Tell me how you are,” he said, closing his eyes to imagine her face and what she felt like.
“I’m fine. Everything here is fine. I miss you, but I’m not going to tell you that.”
Fortune laughed in his dark bedroom, feeling his heart warm with affection for his woman. “Tell me anyway.”
“I don’t want to distract you from anything,” Rachel said, flopping across the bed on her stomach. She kicked her feet back and forth, enjoying the rich sound of his bass voice.
“I am alone in a bedroom here at the apartment. I have a second phone to communicate with the others here. There is no danger of distraction,” he told her. “Are you in your rooms or your home or the feeding center?”
“Actually, I’m in the bar… you know, the place in the lower level of the fortress, where everybody drinks and dances and makes out in the corners.”
Fortune laughed again. “Liar.” “
Okay, I’m lying across my bed. Kill joy,” she accused.
“Alone?” he asked, imagining the room where they’d pleasured each other. It seemed so long ago, although he held the memory close. R
Rachel thought of a flippant remark… something like, “No, I’m having a huge party,” but his tone was serious.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m all alone. Glad you are too. Making any progress?”
“I would love to tell you that we are, but we are not, unless one considers the vampiric scents we have found. They disappear quickly, but we will not give this up. Of course, you know that.”
Rachel frowned. As she closed her eyes, images of dead warriors flitted through her imagination like gaunt, ugly wraiths.
“Rachel?” Fortune asked. “You’re there?”
“I’m here. I just… well, good luck,” she said softly. “I am totally confident in you. And, I was thinking about asking you something.”
Fortune smiled at her reticence. “Yes?”
“What’s your name… the real one? Diamond said that supernaturals change their names a lot ‘cause you all live so long and I know that’s true, but I never asked yours. Is it Fortune?”
“No,” he said slowly, realizing that he hadn’t used it or spoken of it in hundreds of years. “My name is Marchand Fortunis, but Fortune is what you should call me. It is what I love most on your lips.”
“It’s a gorgeous name, you know. It’s almost like poetry or music… Marchand Fortunis,” she said softly.
For a moment, he thought of telling her more, even though she hadn’t asked. If he ever took her into his past, he’d need far more time than they would have this night. “Tell me of the haven,” he said to flip topics.
Rachel filled him in on recent happenings… a possible daemon pregnancy… how happy their mutual friend, Lily, was with her lover, Burl… an upcoming concert… Xavier’s visit with her a day ago. “Xavier’s really the best, you know,” she said. “He stops by to see how I am all the time and he’s so good to Lady Ilea.”
A pang of jealousy stabbed at Fortune’s heart, although he knew it to be irrational. Xavier had brought Rachel to the Demesne. It was sensible and sane that he stayed in tune with her life. They’d known each other for decades and she’d once been his singular source of blood, although he knew Xavier had stopped the practice and fed from Lady Ilea exclusively now.
“Fortune?” Rachel asked, wondering if the call had dumped.
“I am here,” he said, dropping his voice.
“Xavier’s a good friend. You aren’t jealous, are you?” She kept her tone neutral, but the idea that Fortune could be a bit jealous made her want to giggle.
“No, I am not jealous,” he said, more forcefully than he intended. What the hell was wrong with him? The vampire was one of the most honorable males. If he wanted to be jealous, he should worry about Diamond, who fed from Rachel whenever possible. Logic warred with his heart, before he went on. “Xavier is a very positive part of your life. I know. He is very good to you and for you.” Rubbing his face, he said, “I am pleased that he stays close.”
Rachel turned onto her back. Something in the were’s voice was off, but his words were what she believed. “Yeah, me too, but you know I miss you like crazy.”
Fortune grinned. “It is my hope that we are at the Demesne soon. Tell me, is the bedroom lamp on?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Why?”
“Turn it off.” “Hold on,” she said, as she dropped the phone on her pillow. She scooted over to the bedside table and extended a hand to reach the lamp. She clicked it, sending the room into blackness, as she fumbled for the phone. “Okay, it’s off. Why do you…”
“What are you wearing?” he asked, imagining her beneath him, naked and welcoming. He stretched his long legs, wishing he could ignore his erection.
“Black yoga pants and a tee shirt,” she replied, grinning in the darkness. “
You should take them off,” he whispered.
“That’s what you’d like?”
“I’d like to take them from you myself, but you are there and I am here. Would you take them off for me? The tee shirt and bra too.”
Excerpt from Chapter Seven of Sanctum Storm: Shadow Havens Book 5
Gwyn eyed Circe up and down as the vampiress dropped her black sable on the bed like it was a cheap canvas jacket. Her suit and pale sweater were clearly expensive, even if they weren’t high label designer. If the vampiress’s reputation was anything to go by, she was as lethal as she was gorgeous and rich.
Circe walked to Gwyn and extended a manicured hand. “I am Circe. I lead the Parisian Demesne.”
Gwyn leaned forward, took her hand and smiled. “I know who you are. I traveled all over Europe for a while. We’ve never met, but I know your reputation.”
“Apparently, you did not know it is appropriate to rise when I enter a room. Even this one.”
“Maybe in the Demesne,” Gwyn said casually, dropping her hand and leaning back in the chair.
Circe looked close to laughing, as she whirled at Maksim and back to Gwyn. “You’re quite the hellcat, I see.”
“Were,” Gwyn corrected.
Circe raised a brow. “How do you know Maksim?”
“I almost ran him over with my motorcycle a while ago. He survived and we talked.”
“I see,” Circe said, still deciding if she might like Gwyn or not. Much would depend on what the were had to offer and she wouldn’t be here empty handed. What the were wanted was a different question. “Let us become better acquainted then. You already know something about me. Who are you exactly and why is Maksim telling me that you have information for me?”
“Maksim didn’t kill that warrior,” Gwyn said evenly. “His name’s Lien Meniari and I’m sure he’s alive.”
Circe ran her tongue over her fangs. “I thought not, but why is that important to you?”
“I was a Sanctum warrior for a long time. Then, a male… Lien Meniari… fucked that up for me. I hear you’ve got a chip on your shoulder for both of the havens here and I have a score to settle.”
“We have a common enemy then,” Circe said quietly. “You know what they say about the enemy of an enemy.” Circe sat down in the chair next to Gwyn. “Why is this male your enemy?”
“Long story,” Gwyn said. “The point is that I have no allegiance to the Sanctum or the Saint Rush Demesne. I’d like to see them brought down. I bet you would too.”
Circe’s brain was clicking, calculating how much she should say to the hot-tempered were. She might prove useful. Only love gone terribly wrong could inspire such hate or a desire to see two havens fall, but that was something she could relate to. “This male, Lien Meniari, he broke a relationship with you?”
“He blew it to hell,” Gwyn admitted.
“Males can be swine,” Circe said relaxing. Turning to Maksim, she ordered him to go to the bar across the street to buy a bottle of wine or two. “Make it expensive, so it’s not swill,” she snapped. “Gwyn and I have much to discuss. Alurin will return soon. Head him off in the lobby. I want privacy for this discussion. Dawn chases us. We will spend one more night in this hovel, so take care of the front desk.”
Maksim grabbed for a jacket and headed out. He’d take his time and when he returned, he’d either have Gwyn’s body to dispose of or he’d have a co-conspirator. An hour later, Maksim returned with two bottles of wine and Alurin. They were swill, but the bar had little to offer. Not sure of what to expect, he willed the room’s locks open. Gwyn was sitting on the bed with her legs folded in front of her and Circe was planted in the chair facing her, listening intently as the were described the perimeters and other features of the Sanctum. As he walked to the bed, Gwyn was launching into a monologue about the number of warriors the haven had and the security cameras mounted in strategic locations all over the property. When she stopped, Circe was actually grinning.
“Now,” Gwyn said, “what do you want to know about the Maidenheart Bakery? Pria Grey owns it. I guess her name’s Pria Cafaris these days. That’s Andrieu’s stepdaughter. She’s angelic, but that bakery’s a huge security loop hole.”
Circe leaned forward, grasping each word to her evil heart. “Does the name, ‘Amaya,’ mean anything to you at all? She’s French, but her heritage is Japanese. She’s been seen near the bakery.”
Excerpt from Chapter Seven of Sanctum Storm: Shadow Havens Book 5
Lucine had moved Sebastien through the Parisian Demesne, using halls and deserted corridors he’d never known of. Dressed in cheap, rugged clothing, his blond hair gone and carrying only an ugly, overstuffed valise, he was barely recognizable, but if Lucine were seen outside of the rooms they’d left, questions would be asked, so the pair moved quickly. Sunset was only twenty minutes away and he wanted to be away from the haven as soon as he could be. The Saint Rushton Demesne held many such unseen passages, built over time, used by few, forgotten even by those who’d built them. It was the nature of a haven and he had no trouble keeping close to her rapid steps. At the end of one luxuriously papered hall, she’d shouldered a wall panel, which had opened to reveal a long, dark stairwell. The smell of mold and filth enveloped them both, but he didn’t hesitate to follow, dragging the panel closed behind him. At the bottom of the stairwell, Lucine turned again and moved down a black, stone hallway. Cold, dark torches lined the walls in sconces.
At the hall’s juncture with another, she paused, turning to him. “This is the dungeon level. It’s disgusting, but there aren’t usually any warriors here. They dislike it down here as much as anyone else would.”
“How do you know of this level?” he asked, thinking that this was certainly not a place the pristine healer would come voluntarily.
“In the past, warriors have sometimes used this level to fight, when a vendetta existed between them,” she explained. “Most haven residents do not know of its existence, but a few times I have been quietly summoned here by a warrior, to heal one who fought. Only once, there was a death. Sometimes, I was brought to take someone from here… after Circe ordered a punishment.” Lucine’s eyes were wide, almost accusing him of whipping Amaya himself. What she said was as vital as the words she held, clenched in her perfect white teeth.
“I see,” he said quietly.
“Healers always know a haven’s secrets,” she said quickly. "I would have helped her… Amaya.”
“I know,” he answered, regret bitter as ash in his mouth. “I am sorry, you know. I have regrets and what happened to Amaya is one of them.”
“She got away, but she was chained in there,” the healer said, motioning to the black, cavernous entrance to some sort of chamber to his left. “Against a wall.”
The reek in Sebastien’s nose was lethal enough by itself. “I would seek your forgiveness, but it would not be possible to…”
“We cannot waste time, Sebastien Galaurus,” Lucine interjected. “You have a chance to do something good. Do it and come back here so my sisters and I are protected. If you do not, we could die in one of these filthy chambers, because Lady Circe will order it.”
Sebastien gripped her shoulder through the blue tunic and found her trembling “I will not forget you or your sisters in healing, Lucine. I will do all I can to return here. I do not know why you trust me, but you can.”
“Your nature is changed. That is the why of it, but we have to move now. Come,” she ordered, striding off into the darkness.
Sebastien followed, stopping minutes later, when Lucine came to a steel door. “This is how Amaya was taken away. There is no other way out of the haven that many eyes would not see. Wait here until your new cell rings,” she said tensely. “Henri will call you when the sun is fully gone. This door takes you to a stairwell that you will follow. The door at the top of the stairs opens into an alley that is close to the haven. Close both doors behind you. Henri will be waiting. I must go, so that I am not seen in the halls.”
Sebastien grabbed at her hands. “I will not forget. I will return here.”
Lucine nodded. “I send you with wishes for good luck, Father of the Demesnes.” She turned quickly to run back along the black corridor. He listened to the fading sound of her furiously pounding heart, knowing the risks she was taking, knowing her well-founded fears. Shaking his head, he reminded himself that even though he was dressed in the cheapest clothing, standing in a filthy hallway, with a force comprised of three daemon healers and one vampiric chauffeur, he was still a monarch. Somehow, in the exchange of trust between them, he’d become a savior of sorts. A protector. It was a foreign idea, as he contemplated it all, but suddenly he wanted to tell the healer that he would move the heavens to get back to the haven and keep them all safe. His phone chimed a moment later, startling him, but he dug quickly in his rough corduroy pants to grab it. “Yes, Henri, I am coming now.” He pocketed the cell, pushed at the door and looked back… just once. The stygian blackness was no match for Sebastien’s vampiric vision, damnable contacts or not, but it had swallowed Lucine whole, as if she'd never been there.
Excerpt from Sanctum Weres: Shadow Havens Book 7
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The were surveyed the small valley from where he stood facing east. Lifting his head, he drew breath and sniffed, before sending an ear-splitting howl of pleasure from the angled cliff to the heavy clouds above. The day’s fading light slid over his broad, muscular chest, covered in black fur, as he dropped his dark head. To a human eye, he would have seemed an overlarge wolf, remarkable only because his size would have placed him in a class by himself. In truth, he was a very old werewolf, with a heart as dark as the night that was about to descend on the village nestled below. The name escaped his mind, but it was a picturesque place, including the tiny bed and breakfast inn, where his brother waited at a shining window…waiting for him to return with a plan. He would, of course, but he’d desperately needed to strip, shed his human form and run free, as wolves have always been meant to. The autumnal wind, the gloaming, the smell of humans fading from his nose, as his powerful muscles carried him up narrow trails, helped to clear his mind and sharpen his resolve.
His name was Blacod Luce and he’d lived inside the walls of the Chicago Demesne with his brother, Elegan, for a very long time among the haven’s weres, vampires and daemons. Elegan’s attack on a female daemon, named Tula, had gotten them tossed to the street like garbage. They’d been no more welcome at their sister, Sylvan’s, home in Manhattan, but she’d given them enough time under her roof to find a new home… Saint Rushton in Pennsylvania. It had seemed an appropriate choice because of the small city’s high crime rate, which would have helped conceal Elegan’s bloody addictions until Blacod found a way to end his little brother’s unnatural hunger.
A face Blacod remembered from a very distant past had ended their time in Saint Rushton. Seeing Marchand Fortunis – Fortune – after hundreds of years had stirred a shocking amount of hate in his heart. He’d thought the were among the dead, but there he’d stood, with his woman on a dark street. Blacod had kidnapped a human woman – Azalea Kindeath – just moments before, to use her for blood that he’d give to Elegan in tiny doses to bring his addiction to heel. Everything changed in that instant. Oh, yes, he’d wanted to get out of the car. He’d yearned to kill the were warrior right there, but the woman in the car’s trunk needed his attention… and he’d driven away, promising himself a date with Fortune in the future.
Only fate could have delivered Fortune’s woman to him days later, in such a perfect package… nearly dropping her at his feet as he watched Renaissance from an adjacent building’s rooftop. Renaissance was some sort of business enterprise being developed by Iridea Galaurus Grey, for the exclusive use of supernaturals, but Blacod didn’t give a shit about that.
What he knew and cared about was that Fortune would be helping to guard it, as a Demesne warrior. Instead, he’d found the warrior’s woman. Naturally, he’d taken advantage, leaving her tied to a fire escape railing in silky undergarments, with rage in her eyes that equaled his own.
Shaking his shaggy head, as he turned to the path that would take him back to the inn where Elegan was no doubt pacing, he realized for the first time since he and his brother had hauled ass out of Saint Rushton, that he had no idea if either woman had survived. He hadn’t actually killed Fortune’s woman and Elegan had been bitching and moaning about that, ever since they’d stolen a car and left Saint Rushton. Elegan thought they were fleeing Fortune’s wrath, which had his fur on fire, but that was far from the truth. Azalea Kindeath might be dead too. Those two oh-so-human women meant absolutely nothing to Blacod and their deaths would have meant less. Humans died all the time and were ridiculously fragile. It was just a fact.
What was more important was Fortune and his response to Blacod’s abduction of his woman. In fact, he knew his plan to draw Fortune away from the Saint Rushton Demesne was working, since he’d caught the scent of werewolves in the wind and gone to investigate. Had he killed Fortune in Saint Rushton, he’d never have made it out of the city alive. The were was a warrior now for the almighty Saint Rushton Demesne and had too many goddamned allies for a kill in the city. Of course, Fortune had rounded up a few friends and was tracking Blacod, just as he’d expected in the moments after he’d stolen the car. He hadn’t needed to catch sight of Fortune or those who accompanied him. Their scent was high near the shitty farmhouse where they were staying. It was only fifteen miles from where he planned to rest that very night, but he’d pull the were ever farther away from his haven over the coming days… before he killed Fortune and every were who traveled with him.
The kills would give him great satisfaction, but the other parts of his plan would take shape after Fortune and his weres had taken their last bloody breaths. Before the year’s end, he’d rattle Saint Rushton and the havens near the city to their very foundations, simply because an extraordinarily arrogant vampire had told him to leave those fucking humans of Saint Rushton alone… as if they were under the protection of the Saint Rushton Demesne. Xavier Koltte might be Ilea Qilbane’s second and perhaps more to her, but Blacod Luce was looking forward to teaching them both an important lesson.
When he was done, the havens would never know peace in secrecy among humans again. While it was evident that Saint Rushton’s humans had no idea who lived near the border of their city, in the Demesne or the Sanctum, Blacod Luce was about to destroy the fantasy that humans were the top of the food chain.
Weres owned the food chain… and he was going to own the city and the Saint Rushton Demesne too. Turning to move through the low-hanging branches, he quickened his pace along the deserted trail, breaking into a sprint just to enjoy the speed and the way the wind moved through his thick black fur. Suddenly, he had much to do and a great deal to look forward to… a great deal indeed.
As Blacod made his way along cool trails, to a small inn, Lucifer’s fingers brushed the edges of a stone basin, watching his progress intently. The basin held images… locations… humans… supernaturals… angels. Blacod was moving events in a direction he liked, although getting the concepts and ideas into the were’s head had taken more effort than he’d have expected.
As Lucifer’s fingertips swished at the liquid in the basin, Circe appeared at his shoulder as Blacod’s image disappeared and the liquid changed to a dark swirl. When the banished angel was away from the basin, the water was clear as a stream. His presence turned it all on somehow and Circe could only wish that she understood how the fucking thing operated. She’d come to suspect it was focal point of Lucifer’s consciousness and would respond only to his touch, which was disappointing at the least. She’d shoved her hands into the liquid, up to her wrists, when he was gone, but nothing changed. She could only hover over the basin when Lucifer was present, watching as he did, whatever the fuck he did. He’d shown her many things in the basin, often to torment her in some way. Enemies who’d found happiness, places she’d once owned or enjoyed… but would never see again. They’d all come to life in the basin that responded only to his touch or presence.
The ornate rooms around them were something of a mystery, her prison as much as her home, since her mortal death at the hand of Kellan, a shunned angel. She didn’t hate Kellan nearly as much as she hated Lucifer or the dark, opulent rooms where her soul survived at Lucifer’s whim, but she’d signed herself away to him so long ago. He’d been waiting to collect her the minute she’d died in Sebastien Galaurus’s arms at the doorway of the fucking Maidenheart Bakery. Since that moment, she’d been living with Lucifer, perpetually naked, except for the high heels he permitted her to wear, continuously bored and always looking for a way out. The massive library, the bed next to the ever-crackling fireplace, the lavish bath were places she preferred, although there were other rooms and spaces. There was a room that held displays of old weapons, another that held nothing but heavy crates and wooden boxes, one that seemed to hold nothing but glass containers filled with a variety of strange liquids and powders and dried plants. All were lit by candles or firelight, creating a shadowy, closed world, she could never leave, with a banished archangel who alternated between fucking her, slapping her around, ignoring her or thinking of new ways to piss her off. She never gave him the pleasure of seeing her weep. In fact, she’d tried unsuccessfully to murder him several times, which only amused him or gave him a huge hard on.
Eventually, she’d given up on that, but the idea of somehow escaping into the realm of the living preoccupied her. She thought she’d found a possibility in the only room where she was not permitted. Lucifer had forbidden her to enter and the door was always locked with some sort of dark barrier magic. She’d watched him enter, but could see only a desk and bookshelves around his wide shoulders, yet there had to be a reason she was forbidden to go inside. Perhaps, the room hid something that could weaken Lucifer or a way into the mortal realm, which would be priceless.
As Lucifer smacked her ass, Circe realized she’d been staring into the basin, tangled by her own thoughts… a dangerous thing, since Lucifer was prone to physical attacks to break her concentration. The pain she felt was very real, but the injuries were fleeting as her broken bones and bleeding tissues healed in seconds. She spun away from his reach, fists raised.
“Oh, fuck me,” he hissed gleefully. “You want to fight! You are a joy beyond compare, my sweet Circe!” He was on her in two steps and his fist connected with her jaw, breaking bone and splitting her lip. He grabbed at her dark hair, dragging her off the balance of the high heels and yanked her toward the rumpled bed at the fireplace. Flinging her onto the bed, he grinned, which made Circe cringe. Lucifer’s silver hair and wings were shining in the light of the fire, as the tuxedo he wore disappeared from his flawless body. In another lifetime, she might have found his advance toward her stimulating. Sexy. In the here and now, she knew what was coming… and braced herself, vowing again to find a way to end this bastard for good.
Morigean Xana swept a hand through her pale hair, glanced at Ilea, seated in the silk brocade chair in the corner and crossed her lengthy legs as she plopped on the bed. The rooms she’d been given in the Saint Rushton Demesne were as lovely as her own in the Chicago Demesne, where she’d lived as second and lover to Roberian Nize. Although she’d originally come to the Saint Rushton Demesne to see Iridea Grey’s new business, Renaissance, Morigean had found herself swiftly pulled into the fabric of the haven’s culture and life. Roberian Nize’s decision to keep the secret of the Luce brothers – Elegan’s attack on the female daemon in Chicago – had rankled when it had happened and now it vexed her even more. Because of Roberian’s arrogant pride and his fear of appearing weak, he hadn’t told anyone in any of the American Demesnes that the attack had taken place. While she’d wanted him to alert others to be watchful for the presence of the violent were brothers in their cities or havens, Roberian’s concern was that others might suspect him of a certain flawed softness since supernaturals were attacking each other under his roof. As a result, the Luce brothers had settled in Saint Rushton and because of violence from the past and revenge, the brothers had attacked a woman, newly Mated to Fortune, a Demesne warrior. That she’d survived at all was a miracle, since she’d been punched unconscious, hung from a rusty fire escape, bound and gagged, to hang in the cold wind. Several days had passed and the woman was well enough, but time had weighed heavily against Morigean’s integrity. Picking up the phone, she ran over the words she planned to use, sharp tools for a distasteful job. Giving Ilea a final, fast glance, she tapped her lover’s icon on the cell screen.
Roberian answered his private line after only two rings, although he’d planned to retire soon, as the sun would be rising. “Morigean?” he asked, after glancing at the cell’s screen and her smiling likeness.
“Yes, Robbie,” she confirmed, knowing she sounded tight. “We must speak.”
“We are,” he said, frowning as he dropped against the silk- covered headboard in his bedroom. “You sound unhappy.”
“I am. The Luce brothers came to Saint Rushton… and attacked a woman. The Mate of a Demesne warrior.”
“Ah,” Roberian replied, as his pale eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead. “Are you safe?”
Morigean sighed, smoothing her fingertips over the fabric of her creased burgundy slacks. “Yes, quite so. I am a guest here and Ilea has a remarkable Demesne. It is safe, but I feel somewhat responsible for this turn of events, Robbie, and I want you to do something… for me.”
Roberian gripped the phone, saying nothing. The conversation wasn’t at all what he’d expected when he saw her image on the screen of his cell. He’d imagined her telling him of her friend and the haven news or how Renaissance was progressing. He missed her in his bed and their tête-à-têtes. The Luce brothers were gone from his haven and he felt his problems with them had ended. “Why would you feel responsible? Is the woman alive?”
“She lives. She is a member of the haven’s Basium Cruenta and well-loved here, but we might have prevented this,” Morigean replied quickly.
Roberian rubbed his face, stretching his long legs against the warmth of Egyptian cotton sheets. “How? Did we tell the Luce idiots to go to Saint Rushton?”
“Elegan Luce should have been put down after he attacked Tula,” Morigean said firmly, naming the female daemon that Elegan had nearly decapitated. “The American Demesnes should have been alerted when you allowed him to live and threw them both out… with no thought to where they might go or what havoc they might cause elsewhere.”
“We’ve discussed this before. What could you possibly ask of me now, Morigean? I stand by my decisions. Tula lives. I could not have…”
“You feared for your reputation and gave no thought for other supernaturals,” Morigean accused. “Now, others face risk.”
“What fucking risk?” Roberian demanded hotly. “Make sense, female!”
“A Demesne warrior… the Mate of the woman who was attacked… has gone after them. We’ve had little word of them, but…”
“I wish him great luck! I hope he guts the fuckers!” Roberian snapped, cutting her words.
“I want you to send our warriors to help fortify that effort,” Morigean blurted. “And, alert the American Demesnes to the nature of the Luce brothers, who are now… well, gods only know where they are, but I am certain I can find out. Xavier Koltte is a genius. I am utterly sure…”
“No!” Roberian barked into the cell. “Absolutely not!”
Morigean sat back as if she’d been slapped. She’d feared this response from her lover, but she’d also hoped for cooperation with her desires. “Robbie, please, I think…”
“It is out of the question,” he said, cutting her off again, although he wished she were next to him in bed. “The only reason I’ll send warriors anywhere is to escort you home. Now, listen carefully, Morigean. You insisted on traveling to Saint Rushton alone… by train…among humans… to help Iridea Grey get her fucking business rolling. I allowed this.”
“Allowed, Robbie? Allowed?”
“Yes, allowed. We discussed the Luce brothers and I gave you my decision. It stands. You will now return to the Chicago Demesne. I will send four warriors to….”
“No,” Morigean said very quietly.
Roberian sat forward, not quite believing what he’d heard. The single word, just two letters, had stopped him cold. “What? What did you say?”
Morigean sighed and squeezed her eyes closed as tears started a fall down her cheeks. “I said no. I will not return, under these circumstances.”
“You are my second! You have lived here for centuries and …”
“No,” Morigean repeated, sliding a hand across her cheek. “My decision stands, Robbie. You want a second and a lover who will tell you you’re wonderful and strong, but liars hide from truth and responsibility. Liars are weak!” Her voice was so soft, but the words fell like hammers against an anvil. “Send my things to the Saint Rushton Demesne… as soon as possible.”
Roberian Nize was suddenly panting with fury. His gut had become as hard as granite and he dragged a hand through his long blond hair before speaking. “If you want your things… the furniture and clothing and whatnot, you’ll come back here and get them!”
Morigean’s mouth opened and closed a few times, before her daemon silver eyes narrowed to little more than slits. “Robbie?” she asked, ending the silence.
“Fuck you,” she said quietly, before stabbing at the icon to end the call. Almost seven hundred miles separated Morigean Xana from Roberian Nize, yet she knew that he’d just thrown his cell so hard that it was likely the phone had become a part of the wall in the bedroom they’d often shared. Looking up, she shook her head and wiped at her eyes. “Ilea, I am so sorry. I know you told me that he would never agree. I believed our relationship stronger… but I have been foolish.”
Ilea Qilbane stood, folded her hands at her waist and walked to her old friend. “He is much like Sebastien, you know, and Sebastien would never have acquiesced. He mentored Roberian after his takeover of that haven and… so I am unsurprised, but grateful for that which you tried to do,” she said very quietly. “I do not feel you are responsible for what has taken place here, Morigean. In truth, we will not need help with the Luce brothers. The Demesnes were never set up to be social or supportive of each other, which is what Sebastien wished. Will you remain with us then? As a guest of my Demesne?”
Morigean rubbed at her angular cheeks and sighed, before she slid from the bed and dropped to her knees. She raised her face to Ilea’s. “I am grateful for your hospitality, as I find myself without a home. I would not be your guest, my friend. I give my fealty instead. I would be one of yours in the truest sense… a resident. Loyal to this Demesne and your word as law.”
As the doors of the Maidenheart Bakery opened, a cold wind rushed through the dining area, making Pria look up from a wide tray of coffee cakes. Several seats were filled and the aroma of brewing coffee and roasted pecans filled the bakery. Miri walked forward smiling, trailed by two casually dressed women. Both had long, dark hair, brushed out in waves over their shoulders and dark, soft eyes, taking everything in as they looked around the quaint bakery that was almost a perfect replica of the one that had been destroyed in brutal attacks less than a year in the past. The tiny wooden tables, plank floors, white lacy curtains at the windows gave it all a step- into- the past feeling that was utterly charming. When Miri reached Pria, she leaned over the counter as Pria shoved the tray into the glass case and tiptoed for a kiss. “You smell so wonderfully pregnant,” she said, as her smile widened.
“Thanks,” Pria chuckled. “I feel great too. This must be Azalea and Heather Kindeath,” she said, leaning around Miri to give the women a smile. She was, in fact, glad to see them and hoped they’d be happy working with her.
Azalea Kindeath had been kidnapped by the Luce brothers and forced to provide blood to satisfy Elegan’s addiction. Heather, her sister, had contacted local police when she realized Azalea had gone missing, but the efforts of Alroy Conayll, a local cop, had proven fruitless. The sisters were distant relatives of Bride Kindeath, a long-dead member of the Sanctum’s Basium Cruenta, who’d kept a detailed diary of her experiences at the Sanctum at the turn of the century. After her death, the diary had fallen to the hands of relatives, who’d passed it along, until Azalea and Heather had inherited it and a small building in a shabby – chic neighborhood of Saint Rushton. The sisters hadn’t been sure of how they were related to Bride, but Azalea had combed the diary, riveted by her ancestor’s tale and fascinated by the recipes for soaps and lotions she’d found in the fragile pages. She’d modified those recipes so they could be used for pets and opened a tiny, exclusive pet store in the elderly building, as both sisters had moved into its tiny third floor. When Azalea went missing, Heather re-read the journal and a passage about Andrieu Grey, whom Bride had held infinite faith in. Pushing her reservations aside, Heather had called the Maidenheart and been put in touch with Andrieu, who’d arranged for Gregor, a Sanctum warrior, to help in locating Azalea. In the end, he had been the one who’d broken in the door of the bedroom in Blacod Luce’s home, freeing Azalea. She’d come home to Heather, weary and hungry, but alive.
Afterward, Miri had approached the sisters with a surprising offer. They would work at the Maidenheart, helping Pria and Honora, since Monroe had taken off with Fortune to track the Luce brothers and Pria was pregnant. They would maintain their business in Saint Rushton on a part-time basis and sell their pet soaps, treats and toys at the Maidenheart, as well as through an online store that could easily be set up. The arrangement benefitted the sisters, who would reach a completely new market, but it also kept them and their knowledge of the Sanctum and supernaturals close to Miri. Although Miri doubted either would spread knowledge of the haven, because of their apparent gratitude, she’d found it best to keep humans with any knowledge of the havens close. It also kept them a little safer, a concern since Miri suspected that what might happen between her weres and the Demesne weres and the Luce brothers could affect Saint Rushton, where the sisters lived.
The sisters smiled shyly at Pria, still taking in the surroundings. They’d read about Priana Grey in Bride’s diary, which Heather had handed over to Miriel at their first meeting. Seeing the beautiful female, who was half vampire and half angel, was another thing.
“I was here once before for muffins. They were delicious and… we read about you,” Azalea blurted, laughing delightedly, as she held a hand across the counter for Pria to meet. “In Bride’s diary!”
Pria couldn’t help but chuckle. “I remember Bride well. She was sort of a rebel for her time. You both look like her. The only difference is that her hair was red.”
“She said you had a lot of spunk,” Heather said.
“Well, she certainly did, so I’ll take that as a compliment,” Pria said, taking Azalea’s hand and drawing her to the end of the counter. “C’mon in the back and we’ll talk a little. I want you to meet Honora. She’ll be working with us.”
As everyone found seats at a battered worktable in the spacious kitchen, Honora stopped dusting powdered sugar over a tray of small yellow cakes and wiped her hands, before approaching the women. She leaned to kiss Miri and turned to Azalea and Heather, who’d seated themselves between Miri and Pria. “I’m glad to meet you both,” she said, tossing a small towel over her shoulder. “You’re very welcome here, ‘cause we do need the help. Bride was a good woman.”
“You knew her too?” Heather asked, realizing the lovely blond had to be a supernatural of some kind or she couldn’t have known Bride, who’d died decades in the past.
“Not as well as the vampires, but, yep, I knew her. It would have been hard to dislike, Bride. She had a real love for life. It was kind of infectious,” Honora replied. “I’ll take the front, Pria. Take your time here.” As Honora disappeared through the door to the bakery’s dining area, the sisters looked back and forth between Pria and Miri.
“She’s a werewolf,” Pria said casually. “That’s what you wondered, but you’ll never be in danger from Honora or any of our supernaturals. Aside from the freaks of the supernatural world, like the Luce brothers, you’re safer here than in Saint Rushton. Something you should know about Honora… her lover is my business partner. His name’s Monroe and one reason I need help here is that he’s gone after Blacod Luce. Luce killed his family a long time ago. Honora tends to be quiet, but I thought you should know.”
Miri sighed, as she smiled at Azalea and Heather, whose eyes were like saucers. “My Priana is blunt, but she speaks truth. We have many things to share with you both, but what you must remember is that you are welcome at the Maidenheart and we want your business to succeed as Pria’s is.”
Azalea and Heather nodded slowly, their eyes still wide.
Pria stood. “Let’s start with coffee and muffins. I’ve always found that info goes down easier when it’s paired up with good food.”
Heather stood quickly. “I can help,” she said, “if you just tell me where things are.” Pria turned, looking into the woman’s dark eyes. She had the feeling that her heart was good and she was no stranger to hard work, which meant she’d be invaluable. She drew Heather into her arms for a fast hug, before holding her at arm’s length. “You’re going to like it here,” she said. “The coffee machines are in the hall behind you and that massive steel door leads to the refrigerator. Grab the cream.”
Keircnan Grey turned the collar of his leather jacket up against the wind that had gone cold and stepped farther out onto the loading dock of Renaissance, his beautiful Mate’s business venture. The sun turned his long hair into gold as he turned his shoulder to it, lost in his thoughts. The alley behind the building was stark and deserted, manned at either end, by were warriors of the Demesne or the Sanctum, yet the Luce brothers had taken Fortune’s Mate, Rachel, from the very dock where he stood. They’d punched a Demesne healer, named Lily, unconscious and left her crumpled on the cement, where he’d found her, as a mysterious fire had blazed inside the building… a fire that shouldn’t have been able to come to life at all. He shook his head and stuffed his hands into his pockets, before turning to Joe Cafaris, his brother in law and Kellan, an angel, who’d been banished from the angelic realms by the archangel, Michael. “Well, the trouble with the whole fucking scenario is that the Luce brothers were perched on that rooftop,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder to a place where the weres had watched everything below. “Weres are known to attack from height, when they can, and I just didn’t see it as a weak point. This was my mistake. And, it almost cost a life.”
Kell stared hard at Keirc, whom he’d come to like and respect, since becoming part of the Sanctum and joining the warriors stationed at Renaissance. “You didn’t give birth to the Luce brothers,” he observed dryly. “You didn’t order them to kidnap Rachel. It’s a live and learn thing. We need to secure that building across the alley. Put our own up on the roof and see what’s inside the building.”
Joe looked up at the building. “It’s not a bad idea,” he said. “This feels like closing the barn door after the livestock’s hauled ass, but it’s damage control too. Renaissance’s interior buttons up tight, but this area back here is going to be a weak spot, because of the human workers coming in and out. I can’t see that it can be avoided for now. Do we know what’s inside the building across the alley?”
Keirc nodded. “Yep, I had Anton Grear do a run down on the place. The city of Saint Rushton owns it and it’s deserted. No tenants.” “
Why’s that?” Joe asked, tilting his head to the side. The building didn’t appear to be falling apart, although it had clearly been built years before.
“There was some branch of the local government there, but the offices were moved back in the eighties and they never did anything more with it,” Keirc replied, as he turned to face Joe and Kell. “Gentlemen, we are going to buy that building and do exactly what you suggested, Kell. I’m not sure what we’ll do with it, but the roof is critical. Damn, I should have considered this before Rachel was almost killed!”
Kell and Joe nodded approvingly.
“They’d have found another way to go after Fortune,” Kellan said. “From everything I’ve heard, these weres, Blacod and Elegan, are trouble.”
“I have the feeling they won’t be for much longer,” Joe replied, clapping Kell’s shoulder. “I have a lot of faith in Monroe and I know how Ilea Qilbane feels about Fortune.”
Keirc smiled coldly. “I wouldn’t get in Monroe’s way. He’ll do what needs to be done, but in the were tradition, Blacod Luce is Fortune’s. I’m sure he won’t hesitate.”
“You’re right,” Kell said nodding. “You hear anything from Monroe or Ares or Cronus, Joe?”
Joe shook his head, wishing he had. “I know where they are, but that’s it. Stay tuned.”
“You’d let us know, right?” Kell asked.
"Well, I’m sleeping with Christine tonight,” Kell said, over his shoulder, as he turned to head back into Renaissance. “If you need a security detail or anything else, you can reach me there.”
As Kell disappeared, Keirc turned to Joe. “He’s with her most nights, isn’t he? She’s a nurse?”
Joe nodded, as they headed back into Renaissance. “Yeah, he has concerns about her safety and she’s an Illuminant, so she’s more vulnerable to risk for just about everything. At least, that’s what Andrieu’s explained to me. She’s human… born to inspire others through how she handles adversity, which means that she’s had a lot of adversity. This is about Lucifer too. He’s approached Kell a few times… made some threats against the nurse.”
Keirc stopped walking at they hit a bend in the hall that led to Renaissance’s opulent lobby, with its fabulous tapestries, burbling fountain and marble everything. “I’d be nervous too.”
Joe’s dark eyes met Keirc’s green ones. He dimly recalled a time when they’d disliked each other intensely. “Kell talks with Andrieu a lot and Andrieu fills me in on what he thinks I need to know. He’s really in love with Christine. She fills up the hollow spaces in his heart and he has more than a few.”
“That’s what good females do,” Keirc agreed. “I better go talk to mine,” he said striding away, as he tossed a fast, “I’ll be in touch, brother!” over his shoulder.
Rachel settled herself on the lavender divan in the small, quiet room at the rear of the healing center. The center held several such rooms that were used by the members of the haven’s Basium Cruenta to feed vampires and it had become like a second home to her. She was surrounded by friends, human and supernatural, lived like a princess and wanted for nothing… except Fortune to come home in one piece. She’d tumbled into the spinning, dizzying kind of love with her were that movies were built on, complete with glittery fairy dust and a wonderful Mating. That he’d left her, to find and kill the bastard who’d left her dangling from a rusted fire escape, was understandable, but in the long days since then, she’d somehow stopped caring whether Blacod Luce lived or died. All she really wanted was for him to be far away from her, her Mate and her haven. The fact that the only guarantee of that distance was his death was a conflict that constantly burned in her heart. She appreciated how Xavier and Lady Ilea were looking after her, but Fortune hadn’t called her himself; nor, had he called anyone else at the Demesne. Xavier’s information was coming from Noah or Christophe, who were with Fortune and she’d found herself wondering if maybe he’d been hurt and they simply didn’t want her to know. Paranoid much, she asked herself. Smoothing her hands over her jeans, she closed her eyes and imagined Fortune’s beautiful face… his whiskey colored eyes… his high cheekbones… the scent of his chestnut hair…
“Hello, little Rachel,” Diamond said softly, as he surprised her by dropping to the small couch. Rachel opened her eyes, put her smile back in place and turned to one of her favorite vampiric warriors. “You need to stop calling me ‘little’,” she said, almost grateful for the interruption to her thoughts.
Diamond raised a brow. “You are little. I like that about you. How does that offend?”
“What if I called you big Diamond?”
“I am big. In many ways. It is an observation,” the vampire drawled, as his green eyes sparkled in the low light. “As long as we’re being accurate.”
“Have you heard from Fortune at all?” she asked, realizing that she’d make no progress with her point.
Diamond shook his head. “You know how this must be. He will not contact any of us until this quest is done. This is the were way.”
“Uh huh,” Rachel said, smoothing her jeans again. “I get that, but…”
Diamond covered her hand with his palm. “Talking with you would be a massive distraction. He will need all of his wits and you must be patient. What does Xavier tell you?”
“He’s heard from Christophe, but only a couple of times.”
Diamond rubbed her hand and sighed. He’d have taken great pleasure in being with Fortune, whom he considered a brother and understood Rachel’s angst, yet he had seen other weres on honor quests and knew how they operated. “We cannot expect hourly reports,” he said gently. “These are weres and this is their way. They don’t call. They show up at home, when things are done, with muddy boots, wearing someone else’s blood.”
“I’m trying to relax, but I’d give anything to be near him… with him.”
Diamond sighed. He’d heard females say such things in similar situations in the past, yet having a female close in a combat situation could only lead to disaster. “You are not trained in combat,” he continued softly, even though his words were blunt. “Even if you were, you should not be with Fortune now. He will come home alive.”
Rachel searched Diamond’s face, praying he was right. “Okay,” she said, going for bright-and-cheery, as she prepared to flip subjects. “What’s this I’m hearing about you? And, Lily?”
Diamond threw his hands in the air and rose. His hands fell to his hips as he looked down at his favorite member of the Basium Cruenta. “She is a terror!” he said.
“Lily?” Rachel squeaked, stunned at his reaction. “Our Lily? The healer?”
“An absolute menace to my heart!” “Really?”
The vampire dragged his fingers through his long, dark hair and started pacing the tight space. “I don’t know how to reach her. She isn’t responsive to my attempts to… get to know her better than I do.”
“You mean she won’t sleep with you,” Rachel said dryly.
“I find her very attractive,” Diamond confirmed. “I am sure she finds me attractive. I cannot understand what the problem is. I know she is not with another. She told me herself that she was no longer with Burl. It is unfathomable. Unnatural.”
“Unnatural. I see,” Rachel said, nodding. “It’s really got you in a roaring tizzy, huh?”
“You’ve no idea,” Diamond said, dropping next to Rachel again. “What should I do?”
Rachel paused to think, struggling to drag her thoughts away from Fortune. She hadn’t talked with Lily about Diamond and she loved them both. Rumors were flying because Diamond had been trailing Lily like a lost puppy since the Luce brothers had attacked them both, leaving her to dangle from a fire escape, while Lily had lain unconscious on the loading dock of Renaissance. The vampiric warrior’s demeanor was such a departure from what others considered his normal behavior with females. Choosing her words carefully, she said, “Maybe you need to think about what you want with Lily.”
“Enjoyable sex,” Diamond said, in a matter of fact tone. R
Rachel couldn’t help but laugh. “Given any thought to what she wants or doesn’t want? A relationship maybe?” Rachel prompted. Diamond was egotistical, arrogant and often funny as hell… and she had a deep respect for him.
“Well, I cannot imagine that she doesn’t like sex!” he announced. “Isn’t that a relationship?”
Rachel shook her head, as she rolled up her sleeve. This was going to be a long discussion. “After you’ve fed, I’ll give you a few things to think about. If all you want is sex, look for it somewhere else,” she advised. “If you think you’d like a relationship, that’s something to work with, but you’d better get clear in your head first.”
Excerpt from Sanctum Weres: Shadow Havens Book 7 Chapter Two
All rights reserved.
Fortune strode to the back door of the farmhouse, which was close to collapsing from its hinges. His heavy steps made the ugly gold linoleum crackle and the walls of the kitchen had been painted with a matching mustard color at some point decades ago. A musty odor permeated the place, but he and his companions wouldn’t be there long enough to think of it as anything but a roof over their heads. The place had become theirs temporarily, after Monroe had charmed the owner, a half-blind, elderly woman, who lived in a modern house, about a mile away. His story was that they were truckers, on the road, looking for a place to rest for a few days to go fishing. He’d also told her that they were brothers and disliked hotels. She’d squinted at him, a large, dark shape in her broken eyes, from inside her shadowy doorway and asked for five hundred dollars a week, after pointing out that the old home had no electricity or centralized heating. The fireplace had been blazing since they’d settled in, a few days ago and the place was damned near falling over, but she’d been honest and five hundred bucks was like loose change to the weres. After they found and killed Blacod Luce, they’d be on their way with his corpse and the old woman could have the key back. Each were had taken a shift to patrol the surrounding hills for protection, but neither Blacod Luce; nor, his fucked up brother, Elegan, had appeared. That singular fact annoyed Fortune, but it made Monroe highly suspicious.
Christophe, Ares, Cronus and Noah were sleeping in the dilapidated bedrooms upstairs, but Fortune knew Monroe was seated a few feet from the door, watching him in the darkness. “You did a sweep?” he asked, looking out the door’s dirty window at the rounded hillside behind the farmhouse.
The sun would rise soon, but this time of the morning looked much like dusk, with a delicate haze to blot out the harder edges of reality.
Monroe stood, pulling himself out of the battered chair, to reach his full height of six and a half feet. “Yep,” he murmured, moving to Fortune’s shoulder. “Nothin’”
“He’s out there,” Fortune countered lightly. “We’ll have him in a night.”
“Catch a scent?” Monroe asked, almost eagerly.
Fortune shook his head. “I just know,” he answered.
“We’ll kill him this time,” Monroe said quietly. Blacod Luce had killed his family centuries ago in the bloodiest conflict between European weres that had ever taken place. That he’d appeared in Saint Rushton… damned near killed Fortune’s Mate, Rachel… harmed an innocent daemon healer. Those things would be answered for. There would be no court or lawyers to defend the were… no debates about his rights or what privileges he should have. Blacod’s life was one that should have ended long ago.
“There should not be a ‘we,’ in this one, old friend,” Fortune replied, turning to Monroe. “We should discuss this now, because we are close.”
Monroe raised a dark eyebrow in surprise. “What the fuck?”
“I know he killed your mother and your sister. He took my mother and my Mate the same way and attacked Rachel, but it should be one of us or the other… to kill Blacod,” Fortune said quietly. He reached into the pocket of his black jeans and pulled a quarter out. “Flip?”
Monroe glanced at the quarter and back to Fortune’s whiskey-colored eyes. “Are you saying you want to go after him alone? Or that one of us should go alone?”
“We should do this the old way, Monroe,” Fortune answered. “One of us should kill Blacod. The others,” he said gesturing at the ceiling of the room with the shining quarter to indicate the other weres, “have been useful with tracking the fucker. The kill belongs to you or I. Flip?” he asked again, holding the quarter up to Monroe.
“He won’t be alone,” Monroe said flatly. “His asshole brother will be with him.”
“I know,” Fortune said quickly. “I care less about Elegan than Blacod, but I expect them to be together.”
“Okay, so you take Blacod, because he attacked Rachel and that’s the most recent issue. I’ll take Elegan and the others can stay away from this… unless Blacod has other allies with him.”
Fortune smiled coldly. “The old ways, Monroe. Remember them. Were to were, with no interference. A fight to the death between two. Elegan means less. It’s Blacod who is the master and the one to die. If Elegan interferes, that’s different. Then, he should die as well. If he doesn’t, then his life should be his.”
Monroe put his hands on his hips. “No weapons either, I guess? Just were to were, to the death. No help from anyone.”
“You’re an ancient fuck, you know that?” Monroe asked, with no animosity. “He’s yours, because of Rachel, but if I see things goin’ shitty…”
Fortune gripped Monroe’s shoulder.
“Or, if Elegan tries to interfere,” Monroe went on, “I’m intervening. I’m tellin’ you now.”
Fortune grinned in spite of himself. “Okay, then, watch my back. Blacod’s mine for the kill. I don’t give a shit if his brother lives or not.”
Monroe didn’t actually care how Blacod Luce ended up dead and held no particular ownership over the events that brought death to the were. All he cared about was that it happened, sooner rather than later, so he could go home and make love to Honora for about a month. He admitted to himself that Fortune’s stake on the kill was deeper… hotter … than his own, although he’d have enjoyed ripping Blacod apart. He’d go with Fortune’s plan… as long as Blacod lost his life and Elegan didn’t present an obstacle. What the chances were of that, he didn’t know… and didn’t care. He’d be just as happy to help Elegan on his way into the hereafter.
“All right, then,” Fortune murmured, stepping away from Monroe.
“Make sure the young ones know how this goes,” he said, gesturing at the ceiling and the other four weres. “They’ve no experience with the old ways and might not give a shit, but it’s important.”
Monroe found himself looking up at the ceiling, before he glanced back at Fortune. “They’ll get it,” he said. “They’re not idiots. You going out to run?”
“I’m going to sweep the area… about twenty square miles. If Blacod’s anywhere near us, I’ll find his location today,” Fortune said, as he unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off. His pants and socks followed. “The night is ours,” he said before dropping to his hands and knees to become a molasses-brown wolf with whiskey eyes.
Monroe sighed anxiously, as Fortune disappeared through the door. Later, he would wonder if things would have changed if he’d flipped the quarter, casting fate to gamble on a shiny, silver coin.
Excerpt from Chapter One of Sanctum Illuminant: Shadow Havens Book 8
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Lucifer burst into joyous laughter. Naïve didn’t even begin to describe this one. He cackled, trotting after Christine, as she bolted from the bedroom to look for a door. Clearly, she still thought she was in the realm of the living.
Christine rounded the bend in the hall and jogged through a kitchen, two baths, a living room, a small library and a dining room, before she doubled back to the living room. There was one door, next to a chocolate leather couch, that wouldn’t open. She yanked helplessly at the knob, but it wouldn’t give. She spun toward Lucifer. “Open it!”
Lucifer waved a hand and the door popped. There was an odd hiss, as Christine shoved the door wide and stepped into an empty room, with a weird birdbath, in the center. There were no doors or windows. Whirling around, she pushed her hair from her face. “There are no doors!”
Lucifer nodded in confirmation. “None, however, there are windows. You could try to climb out. Escape that way.”
Christine ran for the kitchen, heading for a large window over the sink. Whipping the heavy curtains aside, she could see a sunny field… clouds… blue skies. Grasping the window frame at the bottom, she lifted… and found a blank wall of red bricks. Pulling the window closed again, the same illusion appeared behind the glass, right down to trees, whose leaves seemed to be blowing in a breeze. Trying it again, she touched the rough surface of brick, as the first hot tears formed in her eyes. Turning, panting with real fear for the first time, she found Lucifer sneering at her, as he lounged against a yellow wall. “I need to go home!” she said, struggling for control.
“You do not need anything, except to learn what I plan to teach you, nurse,” Lucifer said impatiently.
“Kell will come for me,” Christine huffed furiously, as she brushed her cheeks. “He will.”
Lucifer chuckled, as he imagined taming the shunned angel, who’d refused him. He’d have the idiot leaping through flaming hoops just to preserve this so-fragile human and he’d enjoy every fucking minute, because it would make Michael and the other archs insane. “Oh yes, he certainly will,” he chortled.
Excerpt from Chapter One of Sanctum Illuminant: Shadow Havens Book 8
All rights reserved.
“Kellan!” Miri shouted at her cell, in the dark silence of her greenhouse at the Sanctum. With Gregor’s body four feet from her and her Mate building a pyre to use at sunset, Kellan’s voice was like an ice pick in her brain. “Start at the beginning!”
Kell shuddered, as he drew a ragged breath. “I left Renaissance and drove to Saint Rushton Providence Hospital to pick Christine up. Half of Saint Rush is here, because of the fire. I was parked and I saw her walking toward my SUV. Then, she stopped in front of an alley and I thought she saw something. I don’t know what I thought, but she went into the alley and when I got there, I saw her on the ground with a girl. She was bleeding and Christine was trying to help her, but then Lucifer was there and he grabbed Christine! Michael and Saira were there, too, but all Michael did was restrain Saira!”
“Why didn’t you stop Lucifer?” Miri demanded, her voice rising even more.
“He put some kind of barrier on the alley’s front end! I couldn’t get to them! I could hear everything, but I tried to break through! It wouldn’t budge! He took her and left the girl, but she’s not really a girl, Miri! I don’t know what she is!” Kell rattled on, halfway to hysteria.
“How did you end up in the hospital?”
“A cop walked into the alley! He had a gun on me and he saw the girl! I glamoured him, but I told him to remember me. He called paramedics and they took her, so I had no choice but to walk in here. I have to get the girl. She must know what the fuck…”
“Why didn’t you heal the girl and take her?” Miri demanded, following tightly twisted facts, as panic made her hands shake a little.
Kell ran a hand through his hair. “There wasn’t time!” he blurted. “I couldn’t heal her and glamour the cop at the same time! He got those paramedics there in seconds! Then, in the ER, they rushed her into surgery and... shit... here I am. There’s a mob of humans here! I have to get that girl out of here, Miri. I have to get her back to the Sanctum…find out what she knows. He made threats about Christine before, but I can’t believe that scummy bastard actually took her! I’m going to get her back. Somehow, I’m going to get her back!”
When Kell felt a hand on his shoulder, he whirled to find an unremarkable, dark-haired man dressed in scrubs. Miri was talking, but he moved his cell away from his ear, scrutinizing the guy. “What?” he snapped. The face meant nothing.
“Come with me, Kellan,” Michael said quietly.
Kell raised the cell to his ear, as recognition of the archangel’s voice clicked into place. Miri’s words were hurried and fearful, but he silenced her. “I’ll call you back. Michael’s here.”
The arch was wearing a tired look to go with the blue scrubs, which meant he fit right in with every other nurse and doctor in the hospital. He turned and walked down the hall, not waiting for Kell to follow. At the bend in the hall, he turned, leading Kell deeper into the facility, to a bland stairwell. Opening the door, he motioned Kell into the almost-private space. “We will not be bothered here,” Michael said tightly, as Kell faced him. The fury in the shunned angel’s eyes would have been frightening to anyone but an archangel.
Kell pulled a fist back and smashed Michael’s jaw, with such force; he heard the bones of his own hand snap. “That’s for letting Christine go! You could have stopped this!”
Excerpt from Chapter One of Sanctum Illuminant: Shadow Havens Book 8
All rights reserved.
The soft glow in the greenhouse told Andrieu that Miri was still inside with Gregor’s body. He’d built a massive pyre for the dead vampiric warrior with Eli’s help and sent the vampire home to find what rest he could. Exhaustion was dogging his heels, but he looked forward to walking home with Miri, through the waning night. When he entered the greenhouse, he found her, sitting on a worktable, with her feet dangling in the air and her cell pressed to her forehead, like she was praying over it. She was still dressed in the leather she’d worn into Saint Rushton. Gregor’s body was on the other worktable. Since Miri had bathed him, closed his cavernous chest wound and dressed him, he looked like he might roll off the table and go for a walk. “Miri?” he asked, sensing her despair.
Miri looked up, dropping her hands and cell to her knees. “Kellan called me. I almost cannot believe this,” she said weakly. “You will not either.”
Andrieu raised a brow, walking to her.
“Kellan is at Saint Rushton Providence Hospital with Michael. Lucifer took Christine.”
Miri’s words stopped Andrieu in mid-step. He put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “Impossible. She would have had to tell him that she wanted to go with him… to become his.”
Miri raised her cell. “It is possible, according to Kellan.” Just then, the phone went off again and Miri stabbed at Kell’s face on the screen.
“We’re going to get the girl from the alley… the one who isn’t human… and we’re bringing her back to the Sanctum,” Kellan said, roughly.
“We’ll expect you,” Miri replied. “This is what Michael thinks is best?”
“Yeah,” Kell replied, eyeing the arch on the step next to him. “The girl’s in surgery, but Michael said that the minute we can get to her, we’re taking her. She has to know something. We’re going after Lucifer, Miri.”
Miri’s eyes slid closed, as Kell ended the call and her cell blinked off. She looked at Andrieu, resolve in her eyes. “You heard?” she asked.
Andrieu walked to her and slid himself onto the table next to her. “May the creator have mercy on all of us,” he murmured, taking her hand.
Excerpt from Chapter Two of Sanctum Illuminant: Shadow Havens Book 8
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As Bride pushed at the front door, she found her death angels exactly where she’d expected them to be… standing in her aboveground receiving room. They rarely ventured into the subterranean rooms and considered her privacy an important part of their relationship. Now, facing them, Bride shuddered a bit, as Gregor slipped his arm across her shoulders. Straightening, she smoothed her long skirt and soft, pale shirtwaist, before taking a step forward. “I know you are unhappy with me for what I have done,” she said firmly, meeting their eyes. “I cannot regret it, although my Gregor’s death is on my own hands. Whatever you must say, say it. I am prepared for what punishment you bring.”
The tallest angel Gregor had ever seen stepped to Bride. “You caused Gregor’s death, Bride. Have you no regrets?”
Gregor stepped in front of Bride. “Just a goddamned minute! She didn’t shoot me with a couple of hollow points! I went into Saint Rushton on my own! The were shot me! What are you…”
The angel raised his eyes to Gregor’s death angels, Pariza and Tien. “Take him,” he said quietly, raising a hand over Gregor’s chest. “Get your charge under control.”
As Gregor’s death angels raised their hands, he found himself unable to move or speak at all. Bride turned and kissed his cheek, making him want to wrap his arms around her and take her anywhere but here. This must be what a hard glamour felt like, he thought, as he struggled against the invisible bonds holding him in place.
“Say nothing, my love,” Bride whispered. “I will be back with you before you know it and we will go to your funeral together. They cannot prevent me from being with you for that.”
As darkness folded over Gregor, he felt like he was dying again… cold… paralyzed… and alone.
Excerpt from Chapter Two of Sanctum Illuminant: Shadow Havens Book 8
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As Kell went for his SUV, which was still parked where he’d left it when he’d been waiting for Christine, Michael looked the girl over. She had long blond hair and blue eyes. Freckles were splashed across her nose and cheeks. She couldn’t be more than eleven or twelve and she hadn’t said anything since leaving the operating room, but she wasn’t even close to being human. She’d never had human parents or experienced anything of human life and her eyes held far more knowledge than they should. A kind of urgency filled him, as he asked, “What is your name?”
“Circe,” the girl croaked.
“I wish. Who are you?”
“Michael,” the archangel said, without looking down. “You belong to Lucifer,” he said quietly.
“That’s debatable, isn’t it?” Circe looked up at the archangel. She sensed what he was, but her impressions were cloudy, muddied with human medications. What was undeniable was that the other angel was the one who’d ended her mortal life as a vampiress, a life she’d been very happy with. Her only hope revolved around the fact that she was away from Lucifer and might find a way to avoid being called back to him. It was something worth fighting for or cooperating with former enemies for, and it was the only thing keeping her with these two.
“We have much to discuss.” Michael said, scanning the humans surrounding them. No one paid him or the girl any attention. They were simply anonymous faces in a crowd of distracted humans.
“Where are you taking me?” Circe asked, dreading the words she hoped she wouldn’t hear, although she was more than willing to do anything that might hurt Lucifer.
“The Sanctum,” Michael answered, as he kept his eyes on the cars and the dark street in front of the hospital. There were only a few hours of night left. Time seemed to be passing much too quickly.
“No,” Circe hissed, trying to rise from the wheelchair. “I can’t go there. I tried to blow the haven to bits! That angel killed me the first time around. That’s how I ended up with Lucifer, but I can’t go to the Sanctum. I told him in the alley to get me out of the hospital, but the Sanctum’s out! A hotel or…”
Michael put a single hand on her shoulder and pushed her down into the wheelchair. “You will go to the Sanctum. You will cooperate. You will shut your mouth. You gave Lucifer your soul. Where did you think you would end up after you’d died?”
Excerpt from Chapter Five of Sanctum Illuminant: Shadow Havens Book 8
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Within minutes, angels whirled around her, friends and fellow guides to welcome her to her angelic home. At this height, they would never be seen or heard by any living being, but the love Saira felt was almost as warming as the sun. A few became dozens, then hundreds. Here, among angels, she was never alone, never without their support and comfort. Turning her body into the air, she felt her hair flowing over her wings, as others touched her shoulders, concern so clear on their angelic faces. “I need all of you,” she whispered into their minds. “My charge was taken against her will, on wings of lies. Lucifer has her and I must find a way home for her. Please help me, beloved angels. Do not leave her with him.”
A large angel, with wings the color of dusk, hovered at her shoulder. “How can we help the lost Illuminant, if we do not know where she is? If she is in hell, we cannot go to her at all. What you ask is impossible, Saira.”
Saira flapped lazily, keeping herself aloft with almost no effort. “Find Phanuel and force him to me, beloveds. He is her hope and my own.”
The angels were flustered, hurt by the anguish that seemed to bleed from Saira’s wings, touching all of them. Diving into the winds, darting around each other, like frightened, exotic birds, they brushed Saira’s body with wings of every color imaginable. “Phaaanuuuellll,” hundreds of voices whispered into the winds. Finally, they stilled, hovering around Saira again. Among archangels, she had always felt less than significant… weaker than the mighty archs, who decided so much and commanded all. Among her peers, angelic foot soldiers, she was strength personified and commanded great respect for walking among the living to strengthen an icon… her Illuminant.
“If she dies, Christine is his forever,” Saira said, letting her soft words wash over the angels surrounding her. “Phanuel exists somewhere. Who could find him, but all of you?”
The largest angel, who often took a masculine appearance when among the living, moved directly to Saira’s face. “We will seek what we may never find, Saira, but if archangels cannot find Phanuel, we will be no more successful.”
“That is not so!” Saira insisted. “There are many of us and only a few archs. Only one Phanuel. Scour the living and angelic realms and force him to me to save my Illuminant… I beg all of you.”
As angels darted away from her, Saira listened to their soft songs of love… hope… promises to find Phanuel, the elusive archangel. She sent them deep, heartfelt thanks, as she whispered, “Sanctum,” over and over again. “Send him to me at the Sanctum, my friends… for Christine.”
Excerpt from Chapter Seven of Sanctum Illuminant: Shadow Havens Book 8
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The chapel on the outskirts of Guarujá was dark, except for tiered racks of small candles in red glass tumblers, next to a peeling statue of the Virgin Mary in the corner. It was warm inside, despite the night breeze, but that was the nature of Brazil… warm even as night was waning.
The archangel stretched his legs against the pew in front of the one where he sat. He always chose the second or third pew, in any place of worship. He didn’t deserve the first, thinking it was for those who hadn’t ever questioned faith or doubted the aims of a universe they couldn’t possibly understand, even though they often worshipped relentlessly. First pews were for those who’d never doubted. He wasn’t capable of looking down his angelic nose at anyone, yet he marveled at humans’ steadfast adoration, thriving in spite of their lack of true knowledge or understanding. Humans simply mystified the shit out of him, but his visits to the living world were very few and very far apart in time.
He hadn’t bothered to conceal his wings. Had he brightened them with his natural, internal light, they would have appeared to be a rare shade of smoky indigo or even black in the right light, but he hadn’t done that sort of thing in a long time. It was showy, in his opinion, and wings were, after all, so terribly functional. His clothing was simple… jeans… a short-sleeved shirt… a denim jacket… flip-flops to protect the soles of his feet. His hair was his point of vanity and he shook his head, just to feel the weight of the silky black mane, shot through with white that began at his temples, extending to the middle of his back. He wore black glasses, even inside the church, knowing how much his almost-useless eyes freaked humans out, because they were colorless, like bright glass marbles.
He expected the prostitute, before others descended on him, a pack of snarling, wing-snapping angels, with a mission, high on outrage. He’d felt their angst, although he lived far from them, yet still wired into the angelic world. He’d sometimes preferred no connection at all, but it remained, regardless of his wishes.
The prostitute, however, had just arrived, a treat and an offering, too. Saving her would be a gift to her and the universe. Fucking her would be his welcome-back-to-the- living- realm gift to himself. She was standing behind him at the very edge of the entrance, fearful of walking into the chapel, as if lightning might blow her apart before she even touched him. He knew he should get up and walk to her, speak words that would ease her fears or some fucking thing, yet he waited, just to see what she would do. He’d put her in a nasty situation or had she done that herself? If she returned to her pimp without any money, he’d beat her. If she came to him? Well, she’d still be able to walk when he was done… free of pain… and much better off. He could almost feel her mind falling in line, her decision made, as she took a few steps forward. These were the females he preferred to save when he could, if they weren’t too frightened to take his help. Rising slowly, he tucked his wings tightly to his shoulder blades, turned and stepped out of the pew to watch her approach. She couldn’t have lived more than twenty-five years, but her eyes were so haunted that her gaze almost hurt. Of course, his own were far from useful or calming. What the fuck, he thought, we’ve all got problems.
As the prostitute approached, she started to say something in Portuguese, but he raised a hand and she stopped, words dying in her throat, as she came to a halt. In the candlelight, he could almost see, finding an outline of a curvy woman with a cascade of lustrous, dark hair, although she’d lightened chunks of it near her face. Her lips were lush, the central focus of her pretty oval face. They were full and very soft, just like her cinnamon - mocha skin. Her bright dress looked like it had been painted on, but her legs were so smooth, they were shiny in the scant light of the candles. He imagined the rest of her to be as hairless and smooth.
“Hard eyes,” he said in the language of the angels, as the wind shifted and he found her scent. She’d been to a beach that day, allowing herself to float aimlessly on blue waves, wondering if she would be better off if she allowed them to swallow her. The salty wind had clung to her even though she’d bathed and he luxuriated in it. “Your eyes stop you from being physically perfect. That’s all… those hard eyes. That and the pain you wear like a cloak.”
The prostitute shook her head in confusion at a language only a few humans had actually heard. She had no idea what the guy had said and it didn’t matter really. She wasn’t here for conversation anyway. A fast fuck… a quick blow job. That was all he’d asked for and all he’d agreed to pay for, although she hated the idea of fucking in a chapel. Why, she didn’t know. She’d done far more in weird places, she supposed. It was just her upbringing, rearing its ugly head. The problem was that her hunger would rear its ugly head faster than her guilt and a woman had to eat. She viewed her profession as her singular option, an ancient answer to a problem as endless as time. She fucked or did whatever these assholes wanted her to and she ate. Her mother, who could barely walk, ate. Her niece and sister ate. And, they all got a roof over their heads.
The archangel could feel her mind tumbling thoughts like clothing in one of the drying machines humans used. When he spoke again, he used Portuguese to tell her they wouldn’t be completing their business inside the church. It was a meeting place that was convenient and a place for contemplation. Seeing her relax a little was a reward for him, as he imagined that she’d once been someone’s child, someone’s friend, someone’s daughter. Actually, she’d been all of those things, yet she had changed… adapted to what life brought her. He asked her to walk out with him, promising to take her somewhere private, but she balked, frowning at him with thunder rolling through those terrible eyes.
Leaving might be dangerous and she told him so. Her pimp would expect to hear from her, she warned, but the archangel chuckled. The pimp cared little, but she held onto that illusion desperately.
As he reached for her arm, light exploded through the tiny chapel, as dozens of angels shot down at him through the eaves of a roof, well on its way to collapsing. Their glow was blinding to the archangel, who could barely see in any light but the tiny flare of a candle or two.
The prostitute reacted sanely. She dove for the door, stopped long enough to rip her heels from her tiny feet, tossing them behind her like they were on fire, as she bolted into the night barefoot.
The archangel put his hands on his hips and dropped his head. He hadn’t expected this armada… this angelic taskforce… so soon and they’d truly fucked his night. Wondering why… oh, why… had he returned to the realm of the living, he raised his arms, as angels darted urgently around him, whirling so close that their wings fanned over his entire body. He knew what they were doing, of course. They were flying closer and closer to each other, as well as his body, to form a spiraling cone from which he couldn’t escape. He’d had no intention of fleeing, but they didn’t know that. He’d allowed them to find him, but they didn’t know that either. What they knew, was that Saira needed his sorry ass to save her woman… the Illuminant who’d ended up in so much shit, he wasn’t even sure he could help her.
He’d seen the whole mess taking shape for weeks in his cave, at his scrying basin. The cave was the only place he was comfortable and the only place where he could see clearly outside the angelic realm… another place he hadn’t visited in hundreds of years. It was a prison as much as a refuge for him.
“Fuck,” he murmured in Aramaic. No archeologist would ever decipher the term on any stone tablet and no human had heard it, but the word was as timeless as he was and it certainly covered his situation. It was his last thought before the angels lifted him from the floor of the chapel and drove him through the roof, into the starry skies over Brazil. The only thing left in the chapel, that could ever have betrayed his presence, was a set of ragged flip-flops that had fallen from his feet.
Excerpt from Sanctum Renaissance: Shadow Havens Book 6
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Excerpt from Chapter Three
Fortune shoveled the pans into the sink next to the stove, pushed at the cold water spigot and turned back to Rachel, as clouds of smoke and steam billowed over the sink. “I told you once that you would fall in love with me, Rachel. We have said the words, but have you truly come to love me? As I love you?”
Suddenly, Rachel’s cheeks were as hot as the pans steaming in the sink. “Yes,” she whispered. “I love you more than I ever thought I could. I don’t know a thing about your past and I’ve wanted to ask you a million questions, but I didn’t know…”
Fortune punched at the spigot, pushed himself away from the sink, walked to her, dropped to a knee and gathered her into his arms, as the steam from the sink swirled along the ceiling. “It is all right. Hush, my Rachel,” he whispered into her hair. “I love you and I will care for you, no matter what you seek to know about me. I told you once that I would give whatever you asked of me. If you still love me, after you have asked everything in your heart, then, we will know your love is truth… as mine is.”
Rachel found herself trembling against his chest. She hadn’t known love like this before and the were warrior had come to mean the world to her, yet she hadn’t been able to trust her own heart in the past. So many times, she’d given herself to a lover, only to be brushed aside after they met her brother, David, a wonderful man challenged by Down’s Syndrome. When boyfriends and lovers found that David would always be her first concern, they’d left. Some went graciously, some not, but the result had been the same… a broken heart. Expecting little had become her habit. Fortune had changed everything, turning her upside down, even though she was careful to conceal the true depth of her love for him. She had come from a different world… the human world. Although she was very much a part of the haven, she was nagged by an aching fear that if she gave too much, he might feel smothered. It was the force of a fixation that held her and she’d been so very alone after David’s death, saved from despair by Xavier, who’d taken her into a new life and the supernatural world, where she’d found Fortune. An eternity passed, as Fortune stroked her back and shoulders gently, until she looked up, finally able to relax. “Why wouldn’t I love you, if you tell me about your past?” she asked softly. “What could it matter?”
Fortune struggled to keep his features neutral, knowing that once the words were spoken, they couldn’t be taken back. The truth would begin with the barest facts. Perhaps, she would look beyond them, if he could tell her all of it. With her love or without it, there would be nothing hidden between them anymore. “Because, I started a war after my Mate and my mother were murdered,” he said slowly, letting the words slide into the air between them, “and many died because of it.”
Excerpt from Chapter Three of Sanctum Renaissance: Shadow Havens Book 6
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Kell stepped away from Christine’s porch, with Skip at his side. He’d offered to walk the golden retriever around the block, while she showered and changed, but that had been a ruse. He hated being less than honest with her, but the truth would scare the living shit out of her. The dog knew who Kell expected to find waiting for him, concealed in the night, and Skip had absolutely no fear of him. Animals had an instinctive understanding of good and evil that far surpassed human intuition and often impressed Kell. Some cowered in the face of evil, but Skip was made of sterner stuff and his pure heart made him all but useless to Lucifer. Once Kell was a few feet away from the porch, he whispered, “Let’s go,” to Skip and the pair jogged down the path, turned left and headed for the parking lot of a small school where Christine often took Skip to play. There would be no balls to catch tonight, but Skip was straining at the leash, nearly dragging Kell along, in his eagerness to reach the lot. Once there, Kell unclipped the leash and walked to a shadowy form with silver wings, lounging against a street light at the edge of the lot, in a classic black tux. Skip started barking his ass off, but he went silent, after Kell raised a hand and gave him a fast nod. “Stay away from her and stay away from me,” Kell said, without preamble.
“Hello, Kellan,” Lucifer said amiably. “I see you brought a friend.” Lucifer glanced at the golden retriever.
Kell dropped a hand to Skip’s head. “Stay away from him too. None of us need you or want you.”
“That’s harsh. I suppose you are happy with your new friends… your new family.” Lucifer straightened, pouting a little, as he flipped his silver hair over a shoulder. “I suspect we could work well together.”
Kell laughed, a short, bitter snort. “I reject you and all you are.”
“Really? So, Michael took your wings and banished you from the angelic realms for something you didn’t do. You hadn’t fucked Christine, when he cut the wings, right?” Lucifer asked, as if he needed clarification.
Kell glowered at him, but said nothing.
“He shackled you to that idiot, Tamuel or Penemue or whatever the fuck he calls himself these days, putting you in a position where you’d have nearly no choice in defending those around you. Then, when you do exactly what he thinks you will, what does he do? He shoves you out of the angelic realms for killing a vampire, who would have killed Joe Cafaris. You killed Circe, too. Have I got this right?”
Skip growled, following Lucifer’s stroll around Kell, with his dark eyes. Kell reached down to stroke his ears, sending him a mental message to chill.
“And, the Sanctum? How are things there, with the former death angels? You know, Miriel and Andrieu were always unique, so I was not surprised that they fell. Quite the little corner of paradise they have out there on Route 60, but it isn’t the angelic realm, is it? It isn’t flying into the sun so fast, your wings are on fire and it certainly isn’t the peace of heaven.”
“It’s more than you’ll ever have, my brother,” Kell said, through his gritted teeth.
Lucifer studied Kell’s face. “Come with me.”
“I can give you so much more than you have, working at that shitty bakery… watching movies with your little Illuminant… that fucking haven. Say you’ll come.”
“No,” Kell spat. “You have nothing to give me or anyone else.”
“How is Christine?”
Kell inhaled deeply, as Lucifer drove a needle into him. “Stay away from her,” he hissed.
“Stay away from her? You need to think about the position you’re in, brother,” Lucifer chuckled. “What would you do if I didn’t? I have no heart to crush and that’s about all you have in your arsenal now, isn’t it? And, if I fuck with her life, I’d be doing the Creator’s work, Kell.”
Kell’s fist shot outward, catching Lucifer’s jaw so fast, a human eye wouldn’t have tracked it. It felt good… so very good. Lucifer staggered backward a step or two, wiped at his lip, even as it healed and chuckled again. “We’re both banished, brother, but I can give your wings back,” he said, moving to Kell’s chest, so that he was eye to eye with him. “Michael screwed you so well. He really did, but I can keep shit away from that woman of yours, despite the fact that she’s Illuminant. I can even make her and her dog live forever, you stupid bastard, and you refuse me? Think, Kellan, she’ll never want for a fucking thing and you can both come and go in my realm, just like it’s the angelic realm. You won’t know the difference!”
“I’ve refused you,” Kell said tightly. “I will always refuse you. Leave Christine alone… just leave us the fuck alone. I knew this was coming… this shit feast between you and I, Lucifer, but accept what I’m telling you!”
“You’ve put that woman of yours in an awkward position, you know,” Lucifer went on. “She’s very vulnerable.”
Kell closed his eyes for a moment, gritting his teeth so tightly that his jaw hurt. “You’re nothing,” he said, whirling away from Lucifer and all of his lies. He jogged away, with Skip on his heels and Lucifer’s laughter trailing him.
Excerpt from Chapter Four of Sanctum Renaissance: Shadow Havens Book 6
All rights reserved.
Iridea stiffened and leaned back against the divan. “Here’s a news flash,” Keirc continued. “I understand why your father was so goddamned adamant about where you went and what you did. I get it now. He was a bastard, but I like knowing that you’re here with Keisaan, surrounded by warriors. I like it when I know you’re at the Sanctum with supernaturals who would protect you at the cost of their own lives, Iridea. Your father put you in a beautiful cage and I see why he did it.”
“I will not be caged!” she whispered hotly. “Have you forgotten that I found ways to get out from behind the bars, Keircnan? Who do you think…”
“I haven’t forgotten a damned thing!” he said, struggling to keep his voice low. “ It was me, on the other side of the bars, waiting for you! I want you to know a few things, Iridea, and I didn’t want to talk to you about this, but maybe it’s good we are. I’ll back you a thousand percent on this, but I’m going to be with you… like a second skin. Warriors, electronic security, the whole works… and I will not allow you to fight me on it!”
“I never said..”
Keirc held up a hand. “I know you haven’t, but you’ve forced me to do a lot of thinking. I don’t want to do what your father did. You’re smart and strong. You deserve the chance to build your dreams, just like anyone else, but you’ll do it safely. For Keisaan’s sake, if not mine.”
Iridea’s eyes narrowed, swirling silver in the darkness. “Don’t you dare use Keisaan to manipulate me, Keirc! I’m not some idiot and I love our baby more than…”
“I’ll use anything I have to, to gain your cooperation,” he said, cutting her words as surely as if he’d held a knife. “You are not just building your dream, Iridea. You’re a mother and a Mate. What you do matters to us.” “I never said I didn’t want security, Keirc! I never said I didn’t want you to be involved. Security is vital and so are you! I know damned well that I’m a mother and a Mate. How dare you imply that I don’t care enough about our baby or you!”
“Well, then, you should be happy, ‘Dea,” Keirc said, as he pulled away from her to stand. “I’m involved. Up to my ass.”
“You don’t believe this can be successful!” she shouted at his back, as he hit the entrance to their bedroom. “You think I’m playing some kind of game or that I’m not thinking of Keisaan!”
Keirc turned and paused a moment, taking in her glowing eyes and the way her scent had charged the room, like hot, free-flowing electricity. “What I believe isn’t important. I can’t define your success,” he said. “Only you can do that and since you didn’t clue me in, I don’t know what your expectations are. What I know is that you’re not going to like me much, if you don’t cooperate with security. I may not be proud of what I’d have said if you’d come to me first, but I’ll be damned if I’ll stand for anything to pose a risk for you or Keisaan. And, if I see a threat like that? You can kiss this whole thing goodbye.” #####
Excerpt from Chapter Sixteen of Sanctum Renaissance: Shadow Havens Book 6
All rights reserved.
“A woman called the Maidenheart… asking for me,” Andrieu said, still staring at the phone. “Cronus took her number.”
“Perhaps, it is a supernatural, seeking a place with us, Andrieu. That is not surprising,” she said, sliding closer to him. “Call the number. If it’s a supernatural, we can have Eli or Gregor find them, maybe even move them here at nightfall next.”
“Yes, of course, you’re right,” Andrieu said, as he tapped the digits on his cell, after eyeing the number Cronus had sent him by text. The exchange was for an area in Saint Rush, but that meant nothing. In the small apartment in an old section of Saint Rushton, Heather leaped for the cell, praying for Azalea’s voice on the other end. Her sister would be apologetic. There would be an explanation of some kind and Heather would accept it. She’d find out where her sister was and go get her immediately. Then, they’d be hugging and Heather would probably cry a little... but she’d bring Azalea home and call the fucking detective… Conayll. She’d have to tell him that he’d been right. Azalea had needed a little break or something and he was a fucking genius, but everything would be okay. “Hello!” she said breathlessly.
“I am trying to reach someone named Heather,” Andrieu said calmly, aware of the winded sound of the feminine voice.
“I am Andrieu Grey. I believe you phoned the Maidenheart Bakery earlier, seeking to reach me.”
Heather scowled, as she gripped the phone. “Andrieu Grey,” she repeated, knowing she sounded a little dull. “Yes.” Heather’s mind suddenly went blank. The guy’s voice was deep, sort of soothing. What the fuck was she actually going to say? This couldn’t be the guy Bride had talked about in her fucking diary. She’d been nuts and Heather was sure she was headed in the same direction, so she’d just apologize and…
“Did you phone the Maidenheart Bakery earlier?” Andrieu asked courteously.
Heather took a big breath. “Yes, I did… well… I made a mistake with the names. That’s all. I’m sorry if I caused confusion, Mr. Grey.”
Andrieu frowned, glancing at Miri, who had taken a bite of his pie, as she listened to the conversation on the cell. She frowned back at him, sensing more than the female’s words.
“I see,” Andrieu said. “Who were you looking for then?”
Heather paused, unsure of where to go with the conversation. Most people would just hang the hell up. Maybe they’d call her a dumb bitch, at worst, but they’d get off the phone and go on with life. They wouldn’t ask who she was looking for. “Just someone else,” she said, sounding tired, even to herself. The hours of anxiety were catching her.
“With my name?”
“I thought so, but I found your name in a book and… I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. You have to be a descendant of the Andrieu Grey that’s in this book and… it was dumb of me to call your bakery. I apologize… and I’ll just let you go now.”
“Wait,” Andrieu ordered. “Do not hang up. I wish to speak with you.”
Heather closed her eyes. The voice had an authoritarian ring to it, but the guy wasn’t mean. He just sounded like he was used to people doing what he told them to. It had a musical quality, making her almost want to listen to him. She rubbed at her eyes again. “Why?”
“May I ask… what is your name?”
“Heather Kindeath,” she replied. What the hell? He had her on caller id anyway. Andrieu looked at Miri whose brow had raised a couple of inches. The name was far from common, which would make the woman a descendant of Brigid Kindeath, a former member of their Basium Cruenta. She’d left the haven decades ago and retired in a remote area of Canada, with their full blessings, yet her descendant was clearly on the cell in Andrieu’s hand, talking about his name in a book of some sort. “Ms. Kindeath, I should very much like to meet with you. I believe I am the Andrieu Grey you sought. You’re in Saint Rushton?”
Heather flopped backward on the couch, not quite believing what she was hearing.
“Ms. Kindeath?” Andrieu prompted.
Heather thought about hanging up, but something indefinable made her hang onto the cell. “Yeah, Saint Rushton. Where are you?” she whispered.
“Nearby. Shall we meet at a location of your choice?”
“Azalea’s Emporium. In Saint Rushton,” Heather answered, as something wild and irrational came to life in her heart. Maybe Bride hadn’t been a total loon. She didn’t have to be. Heather had played by a lot of rules all of her life. Stripping was a big departure from those rules and a first, but maybe… just maybe… this guy could help Azalea, wherever the fuck she was. It was worth a shot. After all, what did she have to lose? “It’s a store. It’s at…”
“I will find you,” Andrieu said, breaking Heather’s whirling thought train.
“Mr. Grey… wait… don’t hang up!”
“My ancestor, Bride… she said you were a fallen angel,” Heather blurted urgently, rushing through the craziness. “I mean, she’s been dead for a long time and maybe she wasn’t all together in the head, but… I have to ask. Are you?” she asked, finishing in a whisper.
Andrieu struggled for a moment with some kind of response, but truth was his nature and the woman was clearly distressed enough to push her reservations and logic aside. What she needed, he didn’t know, but the fact that she had a book of some kind with his name in it was screaming that she probably knew far more than she thought she did. “Yes,” he said quietly. “I am. I will see you tomorrow evening.”