Authors: Brenda Joyce
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Romance, #Gothic, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy
Long ago, somewhere in the Kingdom of the Picts.
TODAY HE WOULD DIE. He did not care, even though he was but three and twenty. For he would not die alone.
He stood on the ridge amidst oak and pine, panting like a hunting hound, sweat pouring down his body. He had been hunting Kael for two endless weeks, ignoring all advice, all counsel and every warning. Now Kael was within the fortress on the other side of the glen, atop the adjacent ridge. He did not have to see him to know. He felt his black power.
But he could not sense Brigdhe, his bride.
Pushing tendrils of gold hair from his face, he started down the ridge, his strides long, determined. His linen tunic stuck to his young, hard body, soaking wet, clinging there. His long sword bumped his thigh with every step. He left the security of the tree line, and saw men gathering on the wooden watchtowers, which were spaced evenly about the palisades. A horn blew. He smiled. Let them shout a warning!
He reached the barred doors of the fortified manor and did not hesitate, although he was new to his powers. He had been summoned to Iona six months ago by his father's friend, MacNeil. He hadn't understood then what a summons by an abbot to a monastery had to do with him. But be bad quickly learned that be hadn't been summoned by a true abbot, and that there was far more than a monastery on the island.
He'd been aware for most of his life that he was stronger, more virile and more sexual than other men. His intellect was sharper, his sense of danger far more acute. And physically, he was at least a head taller than his friends.
When be made his vows to old gods he hadn't paid attention to until the choosing, swearing to protect Innocence through all time, suddenly his powers were released. He remained unsure of just bow strong he was, but nothing would stop him now. He reached for the bolted doors, each one as tall as two men and as wide as a war horse. He ripped them off their iron hinges.
Above him on the towers, the men shouted in alarm.
Arrows rained down on him. One pierced his skin and stung. Another went deeper, embedding itself in his flesh. He ripped it out, feeling no pain.
He collected his mind and instinctively put his power around him like a shield, never breaking stride, heading for the largest of the buildings in the fort. The arrows fell uselessly around him now.
A dozen giants rushed him, carrying lances and leather shields. They were human, but evil possessed them.
He kept walking, drawing his sword. Metal hissed.
The giants rushed him, throwing their spears all at once.
He found more power and thrust it boldly at his assailants; the giants fell as if pushed by huge winds, their spears falling backward, past them.
He lunged up the steps and into the darkened hall.
Kael faced him.
But he saw only Brigdhe, lying naked on the rug before the fire, her long red-gold hair streaming about her slender body, her hands bound. He faltered.
She turned her bead listlessly and looked at him. Her eyes widened—and then he saw the accusation on her face.
The blow took him by surprise, sending him flying backward. He landed hard on his back by the door, but did not drop his sword. As Kael’s sword descended, Brigdhe’s accusatory expression remained engraved on his mind, and with it, so much horror arose in his heart. Instead of parrying the blow, his own weapon yielded uselessly and Kael’s blade rent his shoulder, all the way through muscle and bone.
He forgot his bride. He rolled away as Kael blasted him with more energy, the second blow as stunning as the first. He was not used to men fighting this way. Pushed against the wall, he felt Kael’s sword coming, and this time, he struck upward with his blade, blindly, by sheer instinct.
Steel met steel. Metal screeched, rang. He leapt to his feet bleeding heavily. Kael thrust more power at him.
He was hurled backward into the wall again. As he crashed into the wood as if thrown from a cliff to the glen below, he gathered his wits. He had power now and surely he could fight this way too.
"A Brigdhe," he roared. And he struck at Kael with all the power he had.
Kael was flung across the entire hall, landing on his back, not far from Brigdhe. He rushed after him, ignoring the burning pain in his shoulder. Kael rose and he thrust his blade savagely through his heart, the tip piercing out the other side of his back.
A human would have instantly died. Kael gasped—and then smiled. "Your suffering just begins."
He could not understand and did not care to. He pulled his sword free, took Kael by the neck and cruelly snapped it in two. The demon's red eyes glowed another time—and then they were sightless.
Instantly, a pain arising in his shoulder, he ran to his wife.
She sat with her back to the walk hugging her knees to her chest. His heart now breaking for her, he knelt, reaching for her, about to enclose her in his embrace. The pain in his shoulder suddenly screamed, making him dizzy.
“Don’t touch me!”
Stunned, he jerked back, the floor becoming level once more. Somehow, he dropped his hands; somehow, he did not touch her. “T’is over now. I’ll take ye far from here,” he soothed. But in his own heart, he was sick, frantic and ashamed of his failure to protect her
He tensed, stunned searching her eyes, but she wouldn't look at him now. “I’m sorry, Brigdhe.”
“Sorry?” Her tone was scathing and hatred filled her eve s. “Get far from me. He did this to me because of ye. Stay away from me!”
Her words delivered the blow that Kael had not been able to wield. He tried to breathe and failed. She was right; Kael had used his bride against him. He had vowed to protect Innocence, and he hadn't even been able to protect his own wife.
In that instant, he knew his marriage was over.
“Can ye stand?” he asked, his tone rough with emotions he must not yield to.
“Dinna touch me,” she cried furiously.
He stood and stepped aside, just as his brother and MacNeil arrived. Horribly grim, he watched Brogan lift her and carry her from the hall. He stared after them, refusing to feel the aching in his heart. He had been a fool to think he could keep a wife and uphold his vows as a Master. He did not blame Brigdhe for hating him now. He hated himself.
MacNeil beckoned him from the tainted bail's threshold, his handsome countenance set in grim, severe lines. “Ye disobeyed me, Ruari. Ye were told not to hunt Kael alone.”
He was in no mood to argue. “Aye.” From where he stood, be could see the great Healer, Elasaid, tending to the woman who had so briefly been his wife. Never again, be thought.
And MacNeil had been lurking in his mind, because he said. “Aye. Yer a Master, lad. Ye’ll stand alone like the rest of us. A Master stands alone, fights alone, dies alone.”
“Dinna fear,” he said grimly. He bad no intention of ever allowing another woman into his life, much less taking one as a wife. He would not condescend to any pain in his heart. Not now, not ever. The vows he had made would be his life.
MacNeil softened. “I dinna think ye could vanquish Kael. I’m proud of ye, lad.”
He nodded curtly. MacNeil clasped his shoulder indicating that they should leave. The fortress would be razed, the ground consecrated. Human prisoners would be taken, demonic ones vanquished. The humans would be exorcized, if possible.
He heard a woman's soft cry for help.
He stiffened, because the afternoon was entirely silent outside the dark hall.
"Ruari,” MacNeil asked.
The air moved around him. A woman whispered his name.
He glanced at MacNeil. “Did ye hear the woman?”
MacNeil looked aside. “There’s no one here buy ye and me.”
He was wrong. A woman had called to him from the hall—he was certain. Leaving MacNeil he stepped back into the dank chamber, glancing into every shadowed corner, but no one was present. Then he saw a trap door set in the floor.
He had heard a woman calling for him, as clear as day. He rushed to the trap door and lifted it. And he heard the hissing of snakes. “Get me a torch!” he called.
“There's no one down there.” MacNeil said firmly. “I'd sense life if it was here.”
“A torch,” he demanded.
A moment later MacNeil handed him a burning torch. He lowered it and saw piles of black, writhing snakes—but the pit looked empty otherwise. Still he could not be sure. For he felt the woman now, and she was afraid.
He leapt down into the pit, waving the torch, scattering the snakes away from his bare feet. He looked around the small manmade cellar, and realized MacNeil was right. There was no one down there.
He tossed the torch to MacNeil and reached up. A moment later he was walking from the manor, but he remained uncertain and uneasy. He looked back.
The air inside the dark hall fluttered and beckoned. A woman's fragrance suddenly enveloped him. And he heard her again. Royce...
He seized MacNeil, halting him. "Who is she? Where is she? What does she want and why does she call me by my English name?"
MacNeil stared "She's not here, lad"
“Then where is she?" He did not, could not, understand. And he turned back, overcome. "I must find her."
MacNeil took his arm, forestalling him. “Ye canna find her now. She's in the future—yer future.”
SHE STOOD NAKED at the window, aware of her lover's deep, even breathing coming from the bed behind her. The Long Island night was blue-black and star-spangled, the moon full and bright, and she could hear the ocean's rhythmic roar. A sea breeze caused the upholstered shades to knock softly against the windows. As she stood there, clouds gathered. She tensed.
The sky darkened. Shadows crossed the moon's bright face, scarring it. The shutters began banging against the walls, almost frantically.
Allie stared at the moon, watching as it turned black.
She strained. And she felt evil intent forming.
Her pulse accelerated. She hurried across the room, about to step into her walk-in closet, when Brian stirred. He murmured, "Hey," his tone drowsy.
She smiled and swiftly returned to his side. I'm starving. Want me to bring you some goodies from the kitchen?" She hated lying to him, but he would not understand,
He was snoring.
She waited a moment, impatience gnawing at her. One of her best friends was a whiz with spells, but Allie didn't have any powers like that. It was unfortunate at times like these, when a sleeping spell would have been great. Reassured that he was deeply asleep, she quickly stepped into a black tank top, black cargo pants, and black Nikes, picking up a black backpack. She didn't bother to open it; it was loaded and ready to go. As deftly as a cat burglar, the sleeping man now forgotten, she slipped out the window and climbed down the trellis, as if she'd done so a thousands times, which she had. Then she ran across the lawn to the driveway where she'd left her Mercedes SL560.
Allie jumped in, but didn't turn the car on. She sat very still, focusing her sixth sense.
A shadow of darkness and death was gathering in the north.
She felt malice; she felt lust.
Allie turned the ignition, adrenaline flooding her. Aware that she couldn't peel out of the driveway, because that would wake up the entire house, she focused on the gathering storm of violence, needing to pinpoint the location. She slowly cruised down the drive, the lust in the night intensifying. Allie felt its heart thudding, thick and strong, hot blood pulsing with evil carnal intent.
She turned onto the two-lane road and hit the gas. Rubber burned and screamed. She was going to save this vic. She drove by instinct, feeling the monster's evil energy. She ran two stop signs. The damned monster had found its prey. She could feel it watching, about to pounce, to take, to kill. She was guessing both the predator and his or her victim were outside of one of the bars or restaurants on Highway 27. It was the weekend, and the nightspots were hopping.
A wave of pleasure began.
Allie cried out, because she could actually feel their sexual pleasure. It quickly began to escalate. Murder was always the outcome of these crimes of pleasure. The car ahead of her was obeying the speed limit and doing forty-five, Allie stomped on the gas and veered dangerously past the car ahead of her—and narrowly by an oncoming truck. The truck driver blared his horn at her.
The pleasure became ecstasy, rapture. It flowed over Allie in waves—both victim and criminal were having orgasmic sex. It didn't turn her on—it couldn't. Her rage knew no bounds. It was going to be too late....
Allie sped into a parking Jot adjacent a popular bar and restaurant overlooking the bay. Although the lot was full, she knew exactly where to drive.
In the back, far from the restaurant’s entrance, she saw them. A couple was in the throes of sex on the ground. And it wasn't rape....
As she stared, the man turned his head in her direction, sensing her white power.
Allie jammed on the brakes and leapt from the car. As she did, she felt dark power exploding in the night. It was too damned late!
For it was blinding and briefly, her senses were diminished. It was hard to see and she could not feel the victim: all she could feel was the triumph of evil and death.
She stumbled as she reached for her backpack, pulling out a gun with a silencer. Then she turned, bracing herself as she aimed.
The man stood, smiling, blond and beautiful, his features perfect, like a movie star's. In fact, for all she knew, he was a movie star. Dressed like a model in expensive trousers and a beautiful shirt, he hurled his black power at her.
Allie cocooned herself in her white light, but it was a healing light, so it didn't do a lot. Instead she was slammed against the car so hard it felt as if he'd broken her back. She somehow rifted the gun and fired.