By Karen Lynch
Copyright @ 2014 Karen Lynch
This is a sample. The number of pages is limited.
To keep the people she loves safe, Sara left everything she knew behind. She soon learns this new world is nothing like her old one, and she struggles to make a place for herself among the Mohiri. But it soon becomes apparent to Sara and to everyone one around her that she is not your typical warrior.
As the weeks pass, Sara builds new relationships, copes with her new trainers, and tries to manage her ever-changing powers, while keeping her unique heritage a secret. Looming in the background is the constant shadow of the Master who will do anything to find her.
Sara finds herself on a journey of self-discovery that uncovers her true strengths and awakens a part of her she never knew existed. She experiences the delight of new friendships, the sweetness and pain of first love, and a loss so deep it could be the thing that finally breaks her. At the end of it all, she discovers that the one place she was supposed to be safe might not be the refuge she thought it was.
I FELT IT coming even before he slammed into me and sent me flying back a dozen feet to land in a heap against the wall. “Ow.” Little pinpoints of light floated before my eyes, and I tasted blood in my mouth where I’d bitten the inside of my cheek. That pain was nothing compared to the bone-deep aches all over my body. God, how much punishment could a body take?
A shadow fell across my face. “Is anything broken?” asked a gruff Scottish voice that rang more of impatience than concern.
I rolled onto my back and stretched my sore limbs to test them for injuries, grunting when my shoulder made a small pop. Satisfied that my body was still in one piece, even if it was as bruised as a ripe peach, I peered up at the dark-haired man standing over me with his feet planted apart and his hands on his hips. “I’ll survive,” I muttered, not sure if I was happy about it.
He extended a hand, and I took it reluctantly, letting him pull me to my feet. When he let go of me, I leaned against the wall as the training room did a little spin before my eyes. I didn’t need to see straight to know that my painful flight had been witnessed by Terrence and Josh – the two other trainees in the room who were watching us while pretending to focus on their own workouts. I couldn’t blame them. My daily training sessions were something of a spectacle, like a pileup on the highway that you can’t help but slow down to watch.
Callum crossed his arms over his wide chest and fixed me with a reproachful stare. Solid muscle and taller than me by almost a foot, he was my penance for every one of my past screw-ups. At least that was what I told myself every day when I lowered my freshly bruised body into the healing bath. How I ever thought it would be fun to train with the smiling warrior with the sexy ponytail and chocolate-brown eyes was beyond me. It took less than five minutes of our first session for me to discover the scourge hiding behind that pretty smile.
“You are still not working with your Mori, and you will never be able to fight or defend yourself unless you open to it. Remember, without that demon inside you, you’re only human and just as helpless as one.”
Not quite human. Not that Callum or anyone else in this place would know that. Only a handful of people knew my secret, and they were all far away from here.
I rolled my shoulders to work out a kink. “I know what you told me. I’m just not sure how to do it. Maybe my demon is defective.”
His scowl deepened. “Your demon is not defective, and this is nothing to joke about. How do you expect to become a warrior if you cannot fight?”
“Maybe I don’t want to be a warrior.”
Callum barked a laugh. “You attract a lot of trouble for someone who doesn’t want to be a warrior.” I blinked in surprise, and he shook his head. “Oh, I’ve heard of your little adventures, and how you kept a whole unit – not to mention two of our best warriors – running around Maine for the better part of a month.”
His remarks conjured an image of a dark-haired warrior with smoldering gray eyes. I brushed it away angrily. “They were there because of the vampires, not me, and they could have left whenever they wanted. In fact, I told them to leave more than once.”
“So I’ve heard.” Was that actual amusement I saw in his eyes? “There are not many people who would challenge Nikolas Danshov. I expected more from someone who did.”
He was baiting me, and I refused to bite. “Sorry to disappoint you. Maybe you should find another trainee who will meet your expectations.”
I got three steps away before he growled, “Where do you think you’re going? We are not done with this lesson, and you leave when I say you leave. Now assume your position.”
So much for pleasantries. I adjusted my padded vest and went to the area he had marked off for us. There was a painful twinge in my lower back and my butt was already protesting the punishment that was sure to follow, but I pushed the pain aside and turned to face my trainer. I might suck as a fighter, but I still had my pride and I’d see this through if it killed me.
Callum, however, was not where I expected him to be. I looked around and found him by the door talking to two men and a woman I had not seen before. The woman was tall and beautiful in a knee-length red dress, with flawless skin and long, straight black hair. I could not help but notice that the boys had stopped pretending to train and were ogling her. She seemed not to notice them as her emerald eyes found me and her nose wrinkled delicately. I almost laughed because I could only imagine how I looked and smelled after two hours with Callum.
My attention shifted to the men with her. They were both tall like all Mohiri males but very different in appearance. One had a plain face with curly brown hair and tanned skin. The second man had long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail that suited his finely sculptured face. His blue eyes swept the room as he listened to whatever Callum said to him, and they lit on me briefly before returning to my trainer. The man’s commanding air and the way the other trainees had perked up told me he was someone important. This place was a hive of activity with warriors coming and going almost daily, so it was impossible to know everyone. But I was obviously the only person in the room who did not recognize the blond stranger.
Callum smiled at the man and turned back to me with his training face on again. I expected the newcomers to leave, but they leaned against the wall like they were planning to stay and watch. Great. All I needed today was more people watching me get my butt handed to me.
I watched Callum warily as he moved to a spot ten feet from me and faced me with the calculating gleam in his eyes that I had come to dread. “Open yourself to your Mori, Sara. Feel its power, and let it guide you. Its survival instincts are strong, and it wants nothing more than to protect you. Without you, it cannot exist.”
Do you hear that? I said to the beast crouched sullenly in the back of my mind. You need me a lot more than I need you, so you’d better behave. I forced my mind to block out everyone else in the room and focus only on Callum’s face. His eyes always gave him away a split second before he made his move, not that knowing when he was about to strike had ever helped me. I lowered the wall holding back the demon, feeling it flutter with excitement as its cage opened. At the same time, I reached for the glowing power at my center and pulled back a thread to wield if the need arose. The demon was strong, but it was no match for my Fae power and we both knew it.
My Mori and I saw Callum’s eyes flicker at the same time, but the demon reacted first. It rushed forward in an attempt to fill my mind and make my body obey its commands. For a second, I allowed it – before the old memory surfaced. I could still feel the scorching heat of the demon beneath my skin, and the helplessness of floating in the vastness of the demon’s mind.
My walls shot back up a split second before Callum plowed into me and sent me soaring backward again. This time, instead of colliding with the wall, I found myself snatched from the air and pulled against a hard chest.
“I think our little bird has had enough flying for today, Callum.” Laughter rumbled through the chest of the man holding me before he set me on my feet. Embarrassed, I looked up into the sapphire eyes of the blond stranger, but there was no mockery in his expression. If anything, his smile was kind, indulgent.
“I think you are right,” Callum agreed, looking at me. “No less than thirty minutes in the baths, Sara, and take some gunna paste.” I made a face, and his expression grew stern. It was no secret that I would rather suffer a few aches than eat the awful putty-like medicine. “If I see you limping at dinner again, I will hold you down and feed it to you myself.”
I nodded reluctantly because I knew he would follow through with his threat. Mumbling a good-bye to the newcomers, I hurried to the equipment room to shed my padded armor. Then I escaped the training area before Callum decided to feed me the nasty gunna paste himself, like he’d done on my second day of training.
The dark paneled hall in the training wing was quiet except for the muffled sounds of combat coming from behind the closed doors. Mohiri warriors spent a lot of time training when they weren’t out saving the world. The stronghold housed between thirty and forty warriors on a given day – not including the teams that came and went – so the training rooms were always busy this time of day.
I pushed open the heavy door to the women’s baths, relieved when I saw the empty chamber. Mohiri women were not timid or self-conscious, and they thought nothing of stripping down in front of each other, something I was still getting used to. If I was lucky, I could get in and out of the bath before the room got too busy.
The first thing I did was go to a cabinet in the wall and retrieve a can of gunna paste. Scooping out some of the green paste with my finger, I grimaced and put it in my mouth. Within seconds, a dry, bitter taste coated my tongue and every corner of my mouth, and I had to force myself to swallow the paste instead of spitting it out. Even after the paste had gone down, the foul taste lingered, and I knew it would take at least another five minutes for it to go away. I silently cursed Callum as I did every day after training. It didn’t change things, but it made me feel a little better.
Stripping off my sweaty clothes, I immersed my body in the nearest of the six rectangular tubs sunken into the tiled floor. The hot cloudy liquid bubbled gently, and I moaned in sheer bliss as it began to soothe my aches and pains. I didn’t know what was in the water; just that it came from a deep underground spring that fed into massive tanks somewhere under the building. There, it was treated with special salts and purifiers and piped into the healing baths in a constant flow. That was as much as I cared to know about it, other than the fact that it did wonders for the body if you stayed in it long enough.
I closed my eyes and tried to relax and not think about my abysmal training session, or the dozen other negative thoughts that often plagued me in the week and a half I’d been here. It’s not as if you expected it to be like home. I just had to give it some time, to get used to the people and my surroundings. I had never been comfortable getting to know people, and making new friends didn’t come as easily to me as it did to Roland and Peter. A wry smile touched my lips. One more thing I had to work on.
When my thirty minutes were up, I climbed out of the tub to stand beneath the shower. Cleaned, dried, and dressed in a fresh pair of drawstring pants and T-shirt, I left the bath chamber and headed to my suite on the third floor of the north wing. Westhorne was a Mohiri military stronghold, but there were no barracks here. My suite was almost as big as my loft back home, with a much larger bathroom and a small combined living room and kitchenette. The furnishings were richer than I was used to, but I did love the antique four-poster bed. And the fireplace would come in handy if the winters in Idaho were anything like I’d been told.
I opened the window and took a deep breath of fresh air. The view outside my window was so different from the one I’d grown up with. I missed the ocean, but there was something about snowcapped mountains that made my breath catch every time I saw them.
If only I had the freedom to explore them, I might have felt better about my change in scenery. So far, I had been pretty much restricted to the grounds. Not that I hadn’t tried to go beyond the border of the property, only to be caught and returned twice. They told me it was standard procedure for new orphans and it was for my own good, but I suspected my past escapades might have had a little more to do with it. I longed to walk in the woods and hike on the mountain trails without someone treating me like a five-year-old who had wandered away. It wasn’t like I was going to run off. We were in the middle of nowhere and the closest town was five miles away. Even if I did head for town, Butler Falls had a population of a whopping four thousand and more farm supply stores than restaurants. Not exactly a magnet for vampires, especially with a Mohiri compound next door.
I turned away from the window with a sigh and hunted for a pair of jeans and a shirt in my ridiculously huge closet. Who needs a closet the size of a small bedroom anyway? My clothes took up half a rack and two shelves. A few days ago, the rest of my boxes from home had arrived, and most of them still sat unopened on the floor of the closet. That still left almost three-quarters of the closet bare. Claire, the woman who had shown me around the day I arrived, told me they had set up a line of credit for me to buy anything I needed, but so far I hadn’t bothered. It wasn’t as if I had anywhere to go, and my old clothes served me well enough. Besides, I felt weird about spending Mohiri money when I barely knew them.
I grabbed a warm coat and a paperback from my nightstand. The book was one of Nate’s and I’d read it before, but reading it again made me feel a little less homesick. I tucked the book in my pocket as I left my room.
As I descended the stairs, the murmur of voices grew louder. It was lunchtime, but the last place I wanted to be was in the crowded dining hall. Instead, I left by the door in the training wing that opened to a courtyard at the rear of the building. To my right was the wide, deep river that bordered one side of the property. I started that way, but the call of the woods was stronger. Besides, I always had the feeling someone was watching me when I went near the river. No doubt they were making sure I did not fall in and drown myself.
I passed a group of warriors carrying bows and swords, and they nodded politely but didn’t speak to me. As beautiful as Westhorne was, I was constantly reminded that it was a military holding. The Mohiri had dozens of compounds across the US alone, and at least ten of them were like this one. The rest were community compounds that were even more fortified than Westhorne, but were less involved in military operations. I did not have to ask why I hadn’t been sent to one of the Mohiri communities. No one wanted to take a chance of the Master attacking a compound full of kids if he ever figured out I was alive. So I came here instead.
Home sweet home.
The scent of pine surrounded me when I entered the woods. Overhead, I could see only patches of blue sky through the canopy of branches, but the sun still managed to seep through, its rays casting a dappled pattern of light across the ground. It was so quiet here, and the only sounds came from the birds in the branches above my head. I took a deep breath, imagining I was in the woods back home in New Hastings, and I could almost pretend Remy or one of his little cousins was about to sneak up on me like they used to.
I shook off my melancholy because the woods were too beautiful to allow sadness to mar them. Sticking my hands in my pockets, I wandered aimlessly, content just to be outdoors and alone for a while. It will get easier, I told myself like I did every day. They had a lot more rules here than I was used to, but the people were not unkind, even if they were different. Just because I didn’t feel at home here, it wasn’t fair of me to judge the whole Mohiri race after less than two weeks.
You mean it’s not fair to judge them because of him.
Thinking about him would only make me angry, so I made an effort to focus on anything but him. I stepped into a small sunny glade where the air felt ten degrees warmer than in the shade of the big trees. It was a chilly day, almost too cold to sit outside, but it was infinitely better than being inside. I closed my eyes and raised my face to the sun, listening to the quiet sounds of the forest and breathing in its rich, earthy smell. Yes, this will do nicely, I thought as I stretched out in the grass with my book.
I barely got through two chapters before a small brown rabbit hobbled into view and stopped at the edge of the trees. Even when I’m not using my power, it seems to broadcast to animals and other creatures, letting them know I am not a threat. But gentler creatures like rabbits are still a bit wary. I laid my book by my side and reached for my power, sending a stream of it toward the rabbit. His nose twitched, and he sniffed the air for a minute before he started moving forward. I let him come to me, not moving even when he touched his nose to my hand. I let power flow from my hand into him until he lay against my side trustingly.
I sat up slowly, so I did not startle him, and laid my hand on his back to feel for the source of his injury. It didn’t take long to find the swelling and inflammation in one of his hind legs. I moved my hand until it closed around the injured leg and felt around for the extent of the damage. “Don’t worry, little guy. I’ll have you fixed up in no time.”
A familiar heat welled in my chest and flowed down my arm to my hand where it sought out the injury, enclosing it in a healing fire that easily knit the hairline crack in the bone and burned away the swelling. I felt the leg return to its normal size, and I withdrew my power and lifted my hand from the rabbit. “There you go, as good as new.” I’d like to see Callum do that. I might not be warrior material, but I had other gifts. Perhaps I’d be better off if I stuck to healing and left the killing to the real warriors.
The rabbit shifted his weight and took a few hesitant hops before he decided his leg was working right again. “See you around,” I called to him as he went happily on his way. I lay back in the grass again to recover from the healing, and I was surprised to realize I wasn’t feeling drained at all. Strange, even a small healing usually required a little recovery time. If anything, I felt energized, restless.
I got to my feet and started walking again. There was a small lake less than a mile from the estate. I’d seen it on a map in the library, but the first time I tried to go to the lake I was detained. Maybe this time I’d get lucky.
“What the – ? Not again.” I came to a halt when my scalp began to tingle and my hair crackled like it was charged with static. My palms and the bottoms of my feet started to grow warm and itchy, and currents raced along the skin of my arms beneath the sleeves of my coat. A rustling sound made me look down to see the dead leaves around my feet quiver, even though there was no wind.
As quickly as it had started, it was gone. What is going on? It was the second time I’d experienced something like this in the last four days. I suspected it was an undine thing because Aine had told me my powers were still developing, but there was no one I could ask about it. I wished I knew how to contact her. She promised to visit me soon, but I had a feeling that the Fae had a different concept of time than everyone else. For her, soon might mean a few weeks or a few years. I had no idea.
“Ugh!” I yelped as a spot in the center of my chest began to itch and a cold knot formed beneath my breastbone. This was new. The coldness was not painful but it did feel uncomfortable, and it alarmed me that it was exactly where I’d been stabbed a month ago. Aine said the faeries had healed me completely, but what if she was wrong? Even the faeries had admitted they were not sure how my body would react to the vampire blood that had been on the knife.
Rubbing my chest, I resumed walking and hoped the cold knot would go away. I turned and started back toward the stronghold, and to my immense relief, the knot began to ease. Whatever it was, it seemed to be going away on its own.
“Someone’s been a bad girl again.”
I jumped a foot in the air and spun around to face the man who had so easily snuck up on me. The red-haired warrior standing less than five feet away shook his head and gave me his “you know you’re not supposed to be out here” look.
“I really wish you wouldn’t do that,” I grumbled.
“Do what?” asked another voice, and I let out a small squeal as I whirled around again to find a grinning mirror image of the red head. “Damn it, guys! Stop it!”
Laughter filled the woods as the twin warriors moved to stand side-by-side in front of me. Seamus and Niall were so identical that I doubted even their mother could tell them apart. They were the same size with bright green eyes, spiky red hair, and boyishly handsome faces. Right now they sported identical smirks.
“Now where would you be off to on this fine day?” asked the one I thought was Niall.
“Just taking a walk and I was already heading back. You can go back to patrolling or whatever it is you do out here.”
“Well, unless you are planning to spend the night in the mountains, you’re headed in the wrong direction,” said the other who might or might not be Seamus.
Mountains? I must have been thrown off by all the weirdness I’d been experiencing a little while ago. It wasn’t like me to get turned around in the woods.
“Come on, back you go.” The twins moved to flank me, and I held up a hand to stop them.
“I can make it back on my own. Just point me in the right direction.”
“Sorry, lass, we have our orders.”
“Oh come on, you guys, not again.” My plea fell on deaf ears, and I found myself being escorted along a trail I hadn’t even known was there. The twins were watchful as if danger was hiding behind every tree, walking with me between them like a wayward child . . . or a prisoner.
“I was only getting some fresh air. You can stop treating me like I’m some fugitive.”
The twin on my right spoke – I’d given up trying to tell them apart. “Isn’t that what she said the first time, brother?”
“Aye, and we were near fool enough to be taken in by that sweet smile.”
“That was over a week ago. How long are you going to hold that against me?”
“And what about three days ago?” asked the twin on my left.
“I told you I just wanted to hang out by the lake for a while. Where is the harm in that?”
The right twin snickered. “Like the last time you went to hang out by a lake, huh?”
“How do you know about that?”
He gave me a lopsided grin. “We’ve heard lots of stories about you.”
“Which is why you won’t be pulling the same trick with us,” added his brother. “Though I am starting to feel a wee bit sympathetic to those guys.”
The trees thinned and I saw the stone walls of the sprawling building I now called home. We passed the edge of the woods and stepped onto the wide green lawn. “I think I can make it from here,” I told them.
Neither of them took the hint, and they stayed on either side of me as we walked toward the building. I folded my arms and went with them. No one had told me when I came here that being under Mohiri protection meant being treated like someone in a juvenile detention center. The twins were always good-natured about it, but they were still my guards no matter how you looked at it.
We neared the courtyard outside the training wing where two men stood talking, and as we approached they turned to watch us with knowing looks. Two more men walked around a corner, and I recognized them as Callum and the blond man who had shown up in training earlier. Callum gave me an amused nod, but the blond man’s expression was unreadable.
I pulled away from the twins without a word and marched toward the door, trying to hide my anger and embarrassment. I’d promised to give this place a try, but I couldn’t take much more of this. If this was going to be my life from now on, I wanted out.
I was almost at the stone archway of the courtyard when I heard shouts and saw the two men in the courtyard staring behind me with horrified expressions. What now? My heart raced as I whirled, expecting to find an army of vampires descending upon us.
At first, all I saw was Seamus and Niall drawing their swords along with Callum and his companion. “Run, lass!” yelled one of the twins. He jerked his head to the left to look at something. I followed his gaze and gasped at the sight of two monstrous creatures bearing down on us.
Bearing down on me.
THE WARRIORS FORMED a defensive line in front of me a second before I realized what I was seeing. The creatures were coal black and so big they made a Great Dane look like a lap dog. Their huge jaws opened wide to reveal massive fangs.
The last time I had seen these two beasts had been over a month ago in the wine cellar of a mansion in Portland, and they looked just as ferocious in the sunlight as they had in the dimly lit cellar. Back then, I’d used my power to soothe them, but from the looks of them they were not so friendly anymore. All I could do was stand and watch huge claws gouge the ground and saliva flying from snarling jaws as the hellhounds thundered toward us.
The four men in front of me raised their weapons, and my mouth went dry with fear. My knowledge of hellhounds was very limited, and I had no idea if the Mohiri were even a match for the powerful beasts. I didn’t think my power was going to help much this time.
Or was it? What was it Nikolas had said about the hellhounds? They are yours now. Once a fell beast imprints on a new master they are incredibly loyal. They will only answer to you. Was that true? Had they really imprinted on me?
I backed away from the men who were too focused on the approaching beasts to watch me. When I had put a dozen or so feet between us, I turned and ran to the left, gathering my power as I went. If Nikolas was right, the hellhounds would not harm me because I was their master now. If he was wrong . . . I swallowed hard. I didn’t want to think about that.
I stopped running and whirled around just as the hounds changed direction and headed straight for me. The warriors looked my way, and I saw horror on their faces as they realized what I’d done. They spun to intercept the hounds. I’d seen how fast Mohiri warriors moved, and I knew they would engage the hounds first. I had to do something before it was too late.
“STOP!” I bellowed at the top of my lungs, and the power building inside me made my voice resonate across the lawn in a way it had never done before. Men and beasts skidded to a stop and stood just feet from each other, watching me with startled expressions. My hand went to my throat. Had that sound really come from me?
I lowered my voice. “Don’t move.” When one of the twins opened his mouth to speak I cut him off. “I know these boys, and I think I can handle this.” I had no idea if that was true, but it sounded pretty good, and I was encouraged by the fact that the hounds had actually stopped.
Before anyone could object, I pointed at my feet and said in my most commanding voice, “Come.” The hounds tilted their heads to one side and looked at me like they weren’t sure what to do. I spoke louder. “Come.”
I didn’t really expect it to work. I could barely get our beagle, Daisy, to come on command, even though I had saved her life and allowed her to sleep on my bed whenever she wanted to. I wasn’t prepared when the two hellhounds sauntered over and halted right in front of me. Holy crap! I sucked in a sharp breath when I found myself face-to-face with two pairs of red eyes and two of the scariest looking mouths I had ever seen. Their hot breath fanned my face as they panted, and I resisted the urge to wave my hand in front of my nose at the awful smell that was like a combination of raw meat and bad foot odor. God, I really hope these guys didn’t just eat someone.
“Sit,” I commanded, and they sat back on their haunches. Their faces were still at eye level with me, but they didn’t look nearly as threatening with their tongues hanging out. “Good boys,” I praised while trying not to cough from their noxious breath. If you overlooked their size and their red eyes and their bone-crushing jaws, they were just big dogs really.
“Now, how did you two end up here?”
Their tails began to thump against the ground, and I smiled in relief. I reached out and rubbed the top of one hound’s head, giving him a good scratch behind the ears. He shifted until he was pressed up against my side, and his weight almost tipped me over. A whimper made me look at the neglected hound on my other side, and I patted my hip. I found myself crushed between two heavy hellhounds clamoring for my attention. It occurred to me that I might be the only person to ever show them kindness. Hellhounds were bred for one purpose and that was to maim and kill. They were weapons, and weapons did not need affection.
I scratched their heads and grimaced when my face was bathed by two very long, wet tongues. “Ugh! This is not very hellish behavior.” I tried to shove their mouths away, but they pushed back harder until I almost toppled backward. “Stop, stop,” I wheezed, and when that didn’t work, I choked out, “Down.” The two of them immediately lay down and ceased their play. They were well trained at least.
I wiped my wet cheeks with my coat sleeve, grimacing at the wet tendrils of hair that hung around my face. My hand stilled in the act of pushing my hair out of my eyes when I realized how quiet it was. I looked up to find the four men watching me with expressions of shock and disbelief. I let out a sigh that only the hounds could hear. Just what I needed – another reason for people to stare at me.
The men recovered from their surprise, and the twins took a step toward me. The hellhounds leapt to their feet in front of me and bared their teeth, letting out low threatening growls. Niall and Seamus stopped in their tracks.
“Stop that,” I ordered, putting my hands on the back of the hounds’ necks. The growling ceased, but I felt the tension in their bodies as they maintained their protective stance, ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. What do I do now?
“If I wasn’t seeing it with me own two eyes, I wouldn’t believe it,” said one of the twins without taking his eyes off the hellhounds.
His brother shook his head. “I’m seeing it and I still don’t believe it.”
I felt a low rumble in the hellhounds’ chests when the men spoke, and I wondered how in hell I was going to stop the beasts from hurting someone. The hounds seemed docile enough with me, but apparently that did not extend to anyone else, especially armed men.
“Um, can you guys lower your weapons?”
None of the men moved to do as I asked, and they all stared at me like I had lost my mind. I understood their hesitation, considering what they were looking at, but I could not see any other way to end this peacefully.
“They are protecting me, and you all look pretty dangerous right now,” I explained, still petting the hounds’ heads. “They don’t know you are friendly, so could you please just put the swords away?”
The blond warrior was the first one to comply, sliding his sword into the sheath on his back. The others followed, and as soon as the last weapon was out of sight, I felt the hellhounds’ hackles go down.
“Much better. Now, I don’t suppose any of you know how my hellhounds ended up here.”
One of the twins gaped at me. “Your hellhounds?”
I patted one of the huge heads. “Do they look like they belong to someone else?”
Callum chuckled, and the blond warrior gave me an appraising look. Seamus and Niall stared at the other two men as if expecting one of them to say something. When neither spoke, one of the twins said, “They got here yesterday. That’s all I know. I don’t normally handle any of the beasts.”
“You have other animals here?”
He made a noise. “I wouldn’t call them animals, but yes, I think there’s usually a few in the menagerie.”
The image of young trolls trapped in a cage flashed through my mind, and outrage filled me. “You have a menagerie here? You put creatures on display?”
“That’s just what we call it. It’s where we keep some of the creatures we capture that are causing problems for the humans, until we can figure out what to do with them.”
“I want to see it.” He looked like he was going to object, so I said, “If my hounds are living there, I want to see it. Besides, how else do you plan to get them there?”
His eyes flicked warily to the hellhounds, and he sighed. “Follow me.”
I trailed him, keeping a safe distance as he led me to a cluster of stone buildings at the back of the property. The hellhounds walked beside me, but I saw how they constantly surveyed our surroundings, looking for anything they perceived to be a threat.
Claire hadn’t taken me near these buildings during my tour, and I’d figured they held weapons or more training rooms. The largest one was a long rectangle two stories high with windows on the second story only, and a domed roof that looked like thick glass but was most likely a much stronger material. There was one entrance, and my guide pulled open the heavy reinforced steel door, allowing me and the hounds to go ahead of him.
Whatever I was expecting, it was not the bright, airy, two-story room separated into eight caged enclosures of varying sizes. Between the cages were solid walls, presumably to keep the inhabitants from bothering each other, and metal bars lined the front of each cage. I could not see inside the cages when we first entered the building, but shuffling noises at the far end of the room told me that at least one of them was occupied.
“Can I look around . . . which one are you again?”
He grinned. “Seamus. Go ahead, but you’d best be putting up your beasts first because they make the other critter nervous. And me, too.”
“Where do they go?” I hated the thought of caging any animal, but common sense told me the hellhounds could not be allowed to run free. At least not yet.
“There.” Seamus pointed to the first enclosure that was at least twenty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. There was a slot at the front near the floor where food and water could be pushed inside, and at the back I saw an opening that led to a dark cave-like structure.
I waved at the open door to the cage. “All right, in you go, boys.” The hounds hesitated for a moment, and I thought they were going to refuse to enter the cage. I couldn’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be caged either. But they went in without any further urging, and I closed the gate behind them. “I’ll come visit you every day. Maybe they’ll let me take you for walks if you behave yourselves.”
Seamus made a face that suggested no one would ever trust the hellhounds enough to let them walk around freely no matter how well they behaved. We’d have to see about that. These hounds were my responsibility, and I would not keep them locked away like zoo animals.
Seamus examined the locking mechanism on the gate after I closed it. “Hmmm, this doesn’t appear to be broken. How did these two get out?”
“Maybe someone forgot to lock it.”
He shook his head thoughtfully. “The locks engage automatically on the cages, and they can only be unlocked from the main control panel or with a coded key. I’ll have to get security to pull up the surveillance for today.”
I looked around until I spotted a number of security cameras fixed at regular intervals high up on the walls. There was one camera for each enclosure and two near the entrance. It made sense that if you were housing dangerous creatures, you kept them under close surveillance.
I left Seamus muttering over the lock and walked toward the other cages, intensely curious about what kinds of creatures they kept there. The first three cages I passed were empty, but my pace picked up when I saw what looked like wisps of smoke drifting out of the fourth one.
“Watch it, lass. Don’t get too close to that one,” Seamus called just before the interior of the cage came into view. Heeding his warning, I moved to the other side of the floor before I turned to see the occupant of the cage. My jaw dropped and my eyes nearly bugged out of my head.
“What the . . . ? You have a freaking dragon in here!”
I gawked at the greenish-brown creature breathing small puffs of smoke as it watched me with large green eyes eerily similar to those of a crocodile. Leathery wings were folded against its scaled body, and it crouched in the back of the cage like a cat about to pounce. It was small for a dragon, roughly the size of a very large bull, so I figured it must be young. Dragons are not native to North America so I wondered what in God’s green earth had brought this one here.
“Not a dragon, a wyvern actually.” An olive-skinned man with short black hair walked up to stand beside me. “And a mean one at that. This one burned five people and killed two in Utah before we managed to catch him.”
I tried to remember what I had read about wyverns. They are smaller and faster than their dragon cousins but not as powerful. They breathe smaller flames, and they have two legs instead of four. Whereas dragons are intelligent, wyverns are closer to animals, kind of like a crocodile with wings and just as deadly.
I shivered. “What will they do with him?”
“We have a place down in Argentina where they actually train them to hunt vampires. We’re holding Alex until they can send someone to get him. Don’t get too close to him. His flame has a good three-foot reach, and he won’t think twice before trying to fry you.”
I couldn’t stop the laugh that burst from me. “Alex? You named a wyvern Alex?”
The man chuckled. “One of the men who caught him gave him that name. He said the beast was as surly as his older brother.”
Shaking my head, I smiled and held out my hand. “Hi, I’m Sara.”
“Sahir.” His dark eyes were warm when he smiled. “I have heard much about you.”
I made a face. “Yeah, you and everyone else, apparently. I think warriors gossip more than the girls at my old high school.”
Sahir’s laugh was deep and rich, and I liked him immediately. He moved toward the hellhounds’ cage, and I followed. The hellhounds growled menacingly, but he ignored them. “I have cared for many creatures, but this is the first pair of fell beasts I’ve ever had in my care. They are extremely rare. When I heard how they were captured, I must admit I thought the story was fabricated – until I saw you walking with them.”
“Damndest thing I ever saw,” said Seamus, who had finally stopped studying the lock on the hellhounds’ cage. “I thought for sure someone was going to die when I saw them coming at us. Sahir, you have any idea how those beasts could’ve gotten loose?”
Sahir shook his head. “No one’s been here since they brought them in last night, and the keys are in my office. Perhaps we should check the security footage.”
Seamus and I followed Sahir to his brightly lit office at the back of the building where Sahir logged into a computer. A few clicks later, he brought up the feeds from the security camera in the building. “All camera feeds are stored in the central security database, but you can view them from any computer if you have clearance,” he explained to me as he clicked on the camera for the hellhounds’ cage. He opened the digital footage and went back an hour. Then he slowly fast-forwarded until we saw the door to the cage click open and the hellhounds leave the cage. Sahir switched to one of the outdoor cameras, and we watched the hellhounds push open the main door and run from the building.
“Could it have been unlocked by mistake?” I asked, and their expressions told me that it was unlikely.
Seamus rubbed his chin. “Not many know the beasts are here, and I can’t see why anyone would set them free.”
“As a precaution, I’ll ask security to put a second lock on the cages,” Sahir said as he reviewed the footage again. “I’m just thankful Alex didn’t get loose as well.”
I shivered at the thought of the wyvern flying around the grounds shooting flames at anything that moved. “Yeah, same here.”
Seamus left after we finished going over the surveillance videos, saying he had to get back to work. I stayed with the hellhounds for another hour and spent a little while getting to know Sahir who was new to Westhorne, too. He’d come here from the compound in Kenya two months ago, and before that he’d lived all over Africa and the Middle East. He was originally from Afghanistan, but his interest in supernatural creatures took him far from home. He considered himself more of a scholar than a warrior, and he obviously cared a great deal for the welfare of the beasts in his care. He told me few people came to the menagerie, but I was welcome to visit the hellhounds whenever I wanted.
I was in much better spirits when I returned to the main building later that afternoon. It felt strange to have so much free time here, but Westhorne did not offer regular classes for the trainees. Mohiri children went to school until they turned sixteen, and then they began their warrior training either at their home compound, or at a place like Westhorne where the seasoned warriors took over their education. There were six trainees here besides me, and I’d noticed their days were a lot fuller than mine. In the mornings, I trained with Callum, but so far my afternoons were free. According to Callum, it was to allow me a period of adjustment before full training began. Eight hours with that Scottish brute? I couldn’t wait.
Back in my room, I fired up the killer new laptop that had been waiting in my room for me on my first day here. It made my old one look ancient, and I was immensely grateful the Mohiri loved technology. Their network connection blew my old cable modem out of the water. I went to my happy place every time I logged in.
The first thing I did was log into the new email account my hacker friend, David, set up for me. David was hiding from the Master, too, and he was pretty paranoid about communication, which considering our shared history wasn’t a bad thing. He had also shown me how to check for any kind of surveillance software on my new laptop, in case the Mohiri were keeping track of my online activity. I hated to be mistrustful even before I got to know them, but I had to be sure. Thankfully, the computer was clean.
There was one new message from David, and I opened it, eager to see if he had any news. I knew the Mohiri had to be looking for Madeline and the Master, but in the week and a half I had been here, I hadn’t heard a word about their progress. So, David and I were doing our own search for Madeline. Well, David was doing most of the work, but he had as much vested in finding her as I did.
The last lead I told you about turned out to be bogus. I have a few more I’m checking out and I have some of my friends helping. It might take me a few weeks, but if M is in the country, I’ll find her. I’ll keep you posted. Stay safe.
I read the email again. David was really good at what he did, and I bet his friends were, too. If anyone could find Madeline, it was him. When he did, she was going to tell us everything she knew about the vampire that had torn our lives apart. I still hadn’t figured out how I would make her talk, but I’d think of something. Maybe I’d threaten to feed her to the hellhounds.
I tried for the hundredth time to think of a reason why she didn’t just pick up a phone and call the Mohiri to tell them who the Master was. Why spend your life on the run when you could eliminate the thing you are running from? She was a warrior, a vampire hunter. She should be ridding the world of vampires instead of protecting the identity of one as dangerous as a Master. I did not waste my time wondering why she didn’t give up his name to protect me. Madeline had shown her lack of maternal feelings a long time ago.
I closed my email and checked out a few of the message boards to see what was going on out in the world. According to my old pal, Wulfman, it was very quiet in Maine these days, and I suspected that was because every werewolf in the state was still on alert after all the vampire activity there a month ago. I worried about Nate there alone after what had happened to both of us, but Roland kept assuring me that Maxwell was monitoring the area and the pack was keeping an eye on Nate, too.
The rest of the country wasn’t lucky enough to have werewolves guarding it, and I read about at least two dozen disappearances in California, Texas, and Nevada that looked vampire-related. I shuddered every time I thought about a human in the hands of one of those monsters. I still had nightmares about Eli even though I’d killed him. I had no illusions about my ability to fight off a vampire, and I knew things could have turned out horribly for me if circumstances had been different. If Nikolas and the werewolves had not arrived when they did. If Eli hadn’t been too distracted to see me reach for my knife.
My phone rang and I reached for it, knowing it had to be one of two people since only Roland and Nate called me at this number. I was already smiling when I answered it.
“You owe me big time, demon girl,” Roland quipped, snickering at the nickname he’d made up for me last week.
I leaned back in my chair and scowled at the wall. “If you don’t stop calling me that, I’m not talking to you anymore.”
He laughed at my weak threat. We both knew that would never happen. “I think you’ll forgive me when I tell you about my little trip to a certain cave today.”
My stomach quivered in excitement. “And?”
“And that place is a bitch to get to. You couldn’t find a less dangerous hideaway?”
“Remy found it, not me, and you have to admit it’s the perfect spot. Now tell me.”
“Do you know how bloody cold it is up on that cliff?” he moaned. “I think my toes are still frozen.”
He sighed. “Message delivered and answered.”
I jerked upright, my heart racing. “Answered? He left something for me?”
“More like he drew something on the wall of the cave. I took a picture of it with my phone. I don’t know how you can read this stuff. It looks like hieroglyphics.” I heard him playing with his cell phone. “I just sent it to you.”
I scrambled to check my email, and I had to wait another thirty seconds for his message to show up. When I opened the attachment, I stared at the picture for a minute before tears pricked my eyes. Leaving home had been hard enough, but leaving without saying good-bye to Remy had killed a little piece of me. After a lot of pleading on my part, Roland had agreed to leave a small note in the cave for me. Remy could not read human writing, and I knew how to write a few dozen troll words, so my short message translated to, I miss you. Sara. On the cave wall, written in Troll was, I miss you too, my friend.
“Well? What does it say?”
I translated the writing for Roland, and he huffed loudly. “That’s it? You made me freeze my ass off climbing down a cliff twice to find out if he was still your friend? Hell, I could have told you that and saved myself the trip.”
“You don’t know trolls, Roland. They have very different ways, and the elders are really strict. If they told Remy to stay away from me forever, he would obey them.”
He sighed again. “Sara, I might not know troll ways, but I saw you with Remy. Meeting him is not something I’ll ever forget. No matter what happened back then or what orders he got from his elders, that troll will never stop being your friend.”
Roland was usually playful and goofy, and sometimes I forgot how insightful he could be. “I think I just needed to hear it from him. Thanks for doing this for me. You’re the best.”
“I know. I get that a lot.”
I rolled my eyes and laughed. “Good to know some things will never change.”
He laughed with me. “What can I say? Women love me.”
“You’re hopeless, you know that? One of these days, you’re going to meet someone who doesn’t fall all over you, and I hope I get to meet her.”
“I have met her, and she broke my heart back in elementary school.”
“Oh, don’t start that again.” I closed my eyes, still embarrassed by his and Peter’s recent confessions that they both had crushes on me when we were kids.
“I bet your face is red right now,” he teased.
“Stop it or I won’t tell you about what happened today.”
“More exciting than my day?”
I told him all about the hellhounds, the menagerie, and the wyvern. He whistled and told me I had to send him some pictures. “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that, but I’ll ask. Maybe you can come visit me and see them yourself.”
“Yeah, a werewolf visiting a Mohiri stronghold, that should go over well.”
“You never know. Stranger things have happened.” I picked at the label on a bottle of Coke on my desk. “So, any special plans for the big birthday next week?” I felt a pang of sadness at the thought of not being there for his eighteenth birthday. It is a huge milestone for a werewolf because they are considered an adult at eighteen, and they are included in hunts and start doing patrols with the other adult wolves. It was bittersweet for both of us. We were excited for his coming of age, but sad that we wouldn’t be able to celebrate his birthday together. My own birthday was a little over a month away, and it was hard to imagine him and Peter not being here for it.
“No big plans. I think I have to work the next day anyway.”
“You have a job? Who are you, and what have you done with Roland?”
He groaned. “And what’s worse is I’ll be working for Uncle Max at the lumber yard. Every weekend.”
“Didn’t you always say you’d rather work at a fast food joint than for Maxwell?”
“I have no choice. I gotta make some cash if I’m ever going to get some new wheels, and the lumber yard pays good money.”
Guilt settled over me. Roland’s pickup had been ripped up by a pack of crocotta trying to get to me. He loved that old truck.
“I know why you’re quiet all of a sudden, and you better stop it,” he ordered. “That was not your fault. Besides, one of the guys in the pack might sell me an old Mustang he has in his shed. It needs some work, but my cousin, Paul, said he’d help me fix it up. You remember him; he’s the mechanic. I just need to get enough for a down payment and it’s mine.”
I smiled at the excitement in his voice. “I wish I was there to see it. You never did finish teaching me how to drive.”
“Forget it! I saw what happened to the last car you drove.”
“Hey, that was so not my fault, and I got away from the bad guys, didn’t I?”
“They must have lots of cars there you can practice on, and they can afford to replace them.” He made a sound like a snort. “I bet Nikolas could teach you, if you don’t kill each other first.”
My hand jerked, almost knocking over the bottle of Coke. I pushed it out of my reach and glared at it. “I haven’t seen him since he dumped me here and took off.”
Roland was quiet for a moment. “I’m sure he has lots of work to catch up on and he’ll be back soon.”
“He can stay away for good for all I care.”
“Come on, you don’t mean that. Nikolas is not such a bad guy, and coming from me, that’s something.”
“I don’t want to talk about him.” My face heated up, and my palms prickled as resentment flared in me at hearing my best friend defend him. I knew I was overreacting, but I couldn’t stop the angry hurt that came every time I thought about Nikolas leaving the same day we got here. After everything we went through, he couldn’t even be bothered to say good-bye.
A soft hissing pulled me from my silent rant. I looked at the Coke bottle a few inches from my hand, and gasped at the brown soda bubbling up as if it had been shaken. My hand closest to the bottle was crawling with blue static, and sparks leapt from my fingers to the bottle that looked ready to explode.
I jerked my hand back and tucked it under my other arm, and almost immediately, the soda began to settle down. What was happening to me? Whatever it was, it was getting worse.
“Hello? You still there?”
“Yeah, sorry.” I tried to keep the tremble from my voice. “I got distracted for a minute. I need to tell you something.”
“Okaaay,” he said warily. “You haven’t been selling troll parts on the black market have you?”
I sucked in a long, slow breath. “You know how my friend Aine said my Fae powers might start to grow? I think it’s happening – or something is going on anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It’s like my power is on the fritz or something.” I described the little flare-ups I’d been having, including the strange cold spot in my chest. “I almost made a bottle of Coke explode a few minutes ago, just by touching it.”
“Hmm.” He was quiet for a minute. “Maybe it’s tied to your emotions.”
“What do you mean?”
“You haven’t been very happy since you went there, and you got mad when I mentioned Nikolas. Faeries are supposed to be, like, happy all the time, right? Maybe being negative screws with your Faerie magic.”
I snorted. “Great explanation.”
“No seriously. Or it could be hormones. It’s not that time – ?”
“Stop! Do not go there if you know what’s good for you!” My face really was flaming now.
Smothered laughter reached my ears, and I called him a few not-so-nice things, which only made him laugh openly. The thing about Roland is that it’s really hard to resist his laughter.
“Feel better?” he asked when we’d both finally stopped cracking up.
“Yes.” I wiped my eyes. “You’re an ass.”
“But you love me anyway.” His voice grew more serious. “I’m sure this thing with your power is nothing. You’ve been through a lot lately, and it’s probably messing with you.”
“Maybe you’re right.” What he said made sense. This had only started up since I came here. I wasn’t miserable, but I wasn’t happy either.
“Of course I’m right. I’m not just a pretty face, you know.”
“No, you have that huge ego, too.” I felt lighter than I had in days.
“Well, my job here is done.” He heaved a weighty sigh. “Now I have to study. We have a chem test tomorrow, and I still have to graduate from high school.”
Chemistry was Roland’s worst subject. It used to be mine, too, and we used to help each other cram for tests. Chemistry was one thing I did not miss. “Good luck on the test, and thanks again for going to the cave for me.”
“Anytime. No, scratch that. Please don’t ask me to do that again,” he pleaded. “Talk to you tomorrow.”
I hung up and rubbed my damp hands against my thighs. The static was gone and the Coke was back to normal, but that didn’t lessen my anxiety. My power was acting weird, and I had no idea what to do about it. I wished Aine was here, or Remy. He was so knowledgeable and would have helped me figure this out. I let out a ragged breath. I missed him so much.
“Enough of that.” I pushed away from the desk and glanced at the clock. It was a little early for dinner, but I had to get out of this room and stop wallowing in self-pity. I grabbed my laptop, tucked it under my arm, and headed down to one of the common rooms. There were three such rooms where people could hang out and watch TV or talk. They had wet bars if you wanted a drink, and no one seemed to care how old you were. Roland and Peter had been so envious when I told them that part.
TV sounds drew me to one of the rooms, and when I peeked in I found a single occupant, a blond boy named Michael, who I’d met on my second day here. Michael was fifteen, and he was quiet and reserved compared to the other kids here. He was a bit of a computer geek, too, and he spent most of his free time on his laptop, gaming and talking to his friends online. On my third day here, I was struck down by a vicious migraine, and it was Michael who had come to my room to see how I was doing and to ask if I needed anything. The healers said my headache was probably brought on by stress, but it was so bad that even the gunna paste had no effect on it. I lay in bed suffering for the better part of a day before I remembered the tiny vial of troll bile I’d brought with me. I’d planned to destroy it, but thankfully I never got around to it. A single drop of bile in a glass of water was all it took to rid me of the horrible pain.
Michael was sitting in an armchair, engrossed in his laptop as usual, when I took a seat on the couch. “Hey, Michael.”
“Oh . . . hi, Sara,” he stammered, smiling shyly. Poor guy, I didn’t know how he would ever make it as a warrior if he didn’t get over his nervousness. I almost rolled my eyes. Like I had room to judge others. I was probably the worst trainee in Mohiri history.
“What are you up to?”
“Not much, just talking to a friend.” He leaned on the arm of his chair and his face lit up. “Did you hear that they wiped out a huge nest in Las Vegas yesterday?”
“How big was it?” The last time I saw a vampire, he had twelve of his friends with him. I couldn’t imagine facing more than that.
“I heard it was thirty suckers, and it only took two units to take them all down. Of course, that’s because Nikolas Danshov ran the mission. He probably took out half of them himself.”
My mouth went dry. “Nikolas was there?”
His eyes practically glowed from excitement. “Yeah. What I wouldn’t give to see him in action. They say he can take out half a dozen suckers at one time without breaking a sweat.”
“Yep,” I replied absently, remembering Nikolas facing down a dozen vampires and easily disposing of three of them.
“What’s he like? You know him right? Everyone says you even fought suckers together.”
I held back a sigh. It had taken less than a day here to learn Nikolas was something of a superhero among the younger Mohiri. “Nikolas is an amazing warrior.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “I know that. I mean, what’s it like hanging out with him?”
I let out a short laugh. “Nikolas doesn’t hang out. He glares at you and tries to boss you around. Then he leaves. We spent more time fighting with each other than the vampires.”
Michael’s cornflower-blue eyes widened. “No one argues with Nikolas.”
“He might be a great warrior, but he’s still just a person, Michael, and half the time he’s an arrogant pain in the butt.”
“Who’s an arrogant pain in the butt?” asked a new voice, and I looked at the two boys entering the room. Josh ran a hand through his unruly blond hair and elbowed Terrence before sitting beside me on the couch. “She must be talking about you, buddy.”
Terrence scoffed as he plunked down in one of the other chairs. With his mocha skin, artfully spiked black hair, and stunning hazel eyes, he was easily one of the best looking guys I had ever seen. He looked at Michael. “Whatcha up to, Mike?”
“Nothing,” Michael mumbled. He gathered up his laptop and stood timidly. “Um, I have some stuff to do. Talk to you later.”
I watched him hurry from the room, feeling bad that we had scared him away. “He doesn’t seem to fit in here much. He’s an orphan too, right?”
Terrence nodded, wearing a sympathetic smile. “Yes, poor kid.” I gave him a hard look, and he quickly added, “Oh I don’t mean it that way. I have nothing against orphans. He’s just never gotten over losing his family.”
I was afraid to ask, but I did anyway. “What happened to them?”
“What else? Suckers got them. He and his brother were living with their mother in Atlanta when our people found them. But the same night they went to get them, the suckers went after them. Only Michael got out. His mother didn’t make it, and the warriors couldn’t find Matthew. The suckers took him.”
“How old was his brother?”
“Matthew was his twin, and they were seven when it happened.” Terrence sank back heavily in his chair. “They never found Matthew, and Michael still believes his brother got away. No one can convince him otherwise. He spends most of his time searching the Internet, looking at missing persons websites, public records – stuff like that.”
“That’s awful.” I’d lost my dad to a vampire, but at least I knew he was dead and I didn’t have to go through life wondering what had happened to him. I’d spent ten years just trying to understand why he was killed, and I could not imagine how hard it would be if he had gone missing like Michael’s brother.
The three of us sat in silence for a minute before Terrence asked, “So, Sara, what did Tristan say to you today?”
“Tristan?” The only Tristan I knew of was Lord Tristan, who sat on the Council of Seven and ran Westhorne. He’d been away on Council business since I got here, and I had yet to meet him.
Terrence shook his head like I had asked who Michael Jackson was. “You know, Tristan, the head honcho? He showed up in training today.”
“Oh . . . which one was he?” I resisted the urge to bury my head in my hands. Callum had wiped the floor with my butt in front of Lord Tristan? After that exhibit, the man must be wondering why Nikolas had wasted so much time trying to bring me in.
Both boys snickered. “He would be that one,” Josh informed me. I looked through the doorway, which gave us a clear view of the main hall, and saw the blond man from this morning talking to a red-haired woman I recognized as Claire, who had shown me around on my first day here. I felt heat rise in my neck. “Oh, him. He didn’t say anything to me. He was talking to Callum.”
The boys looked disappointed that there was nothing more to it, but Josh quickly switched gears. “We heard some things about you, and we were wondering if they were true.”
“And what would that be?” I asked warily.
“Is it true that you actually hung with a pack of werewolves?”
At the downward turn of his mouth, irritation shot through me. I knew the history between werewolves and the Mohiri, and I was well aware of how the two races felt about each other. But Roland and Peter were like family to me, and I would not listen to anyone put them down. “Yes, I hung with them all the time. I even slept at their houses and ate with them. In fact, my best friend is a werewolf.”
Josh put up his hands. “Touchy. Okay, we get it; the wolves are off limits.”
Terrence leaned in. “We heard a lot of other stuff, too.”
“Did you really kill some suckers?”
“And fight off a pack of crocotta?” Josh asked.
“And rescue a baby troll?”
I looked at their eager faces and shrugged. “Yes.”
“Yes to what?” Josh asked impatiently.
“Yes to all of it. Only there were three young trolls and I didn’t rescue them alone. I did fight one crocotta, but it probably would have killed me if one of my friends hadn’t killed it first. And I did kill a vampire.” I had killed two vampires if I included the one Remy held for me, but Eli was the only one that mattered to me.
“No way!” exclaimed a new male voice, and I looked up to see that Olivia and Mark, two other trainees, had joined us. I hadn’t spoken to Mark much, but Olivia and I had talked a few times and she seemed nice. Olivia was pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way with long dark hair, a smattering of freckles, and a sweet smile. Mark reminded me of a grunge rocker with shaggy blond hair that fell into his eyes. He didn’t smile as much as Olivia. I had noticed they hung out together a lot, and I wondered if they were a couple or friends like me and Roland.
Mark took Michael’s vacated chair and stared at me in disbelief, making me want to scowl at him. Olivia was a little more hesitant. “Do you mind if we join you?” she asked.
I shrugged. “The more the merrier, I guess.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Mark began. “You expect us to believe that you did all that with no training whatsoever? I hate to point out the obvious, but from what I’ve seen, you can’t fight . . . at all.”
I flushed at the reminder of my training. “You can believe what you want.”
“Don’t mind him. Tell us about the suckers,” Terrence urged.
Josh leaned closer. “Forget the suckers. I want to hear about the trolls.”
I told them about how the young trolls were kidnapped and we had to find them before they were taken overseas. “They were holding them at this huge house in Portland. Nikolas and Chris went in first to take out the security, and we went in after. We had no idea those guys were crazy enough to work with vampires, and we had to kill a few of them to get to the house. Nikolas, Chris, and my friends took out most of them. I did one, but I had help.”
“So, you found the baby trolls?” Olivia asked breathlessly.
“Yes, they were in the wine cellar.”
Her eyes were like saucers. “What happened next?”
“A bunch of Mohiri warriors showed up and took over and we left.” It was only half the story, but there was so much I couldn’t tell them without revealing things I couldn’t share.
Terrence whistled. “How did you guys know about the trolls in the first place?”
People did not understand my relationship with Remy and I was not in the mood to answer the questions that would arise if I mentioned him. “The werewolves know everything that goes on in their territory.”
“That is too frigging cool,” Josh said, his blue eyes wide.
Mark frowned. “Wait. What did you use to kill the sucker if you didn’t have any weapons?”
“I did have a weapon. I had a knife Nikolas gave me when we met.”
“You have one of Nikolas’s knives?” Olivia asked, and I almost shook my head at the worship on her face.
“Not anymore.” It was either at the bottom of the ocean or somewhere in Faerie, and I wasn’t going to explain either of those possibilities.
A girl with a cute blond pixie cut walked up to our group. Jordan was eighteen and, from what I’d seen and heard, the best trainee here. According to Michael, she was the oldest orphan ever reclaimed at ten years old – before I came along.
“What do you mean?” Olivia asked.
“It’s a great story, but I’ve seen your girl here in training.” Jordan scoffed. “If she killed a sucker, it’s probably because it tripped and fell on the knife.”
Terrence smiled at me. “Don’t mind Jordan. She’s actually a nice person when she’s not being herself.”
Jordan scowled, and I couldn’t help but think she would be prettier if she stopped glaring at everyone. She walked away, calling over her shoulder, “Whatever. Make sure you get plenty of sleep tonight, Terrence. You wouldn’t want to lose your grip on your sword again tomorrow.”
Terrence muttered under his breath, and Josh said, “Don’t let her get to you. She got lucky today.”
I didn’t say anything. I’d seen Jordan handling the long thin sword favored by the Mohiri, and I didn’t think luck had anything to do with her skills. That girl was scary good. Not as good as Nikolas, of course, but she might be someday.
My stomach rumbled, reminding me I hadn’t eaten lunch. I grabbed my laptop and stood.
“Hey, don’t go,” Terrence protested. “I want to hear about the crocotta.”
“The crocotta will have to wait. It’s dinnertime, and I’m starving.”
He and Josh stood at the same time. Terrence gave me a wide smile, showing off his dimples. “Perfect. You can tell us all about them over dinner.”
I TOSSED MY sketchpad and pencil down on the bed after staring at the blank page for the last ten minutes. I was trying to draw the hellhounds, but even though I could see them exactly as I wanted to sketch them, my fingers didn’t seem to know where to start.
Rolling off the bed, I went to open the window and listened to the heavy silence of the valley. It was too quiet here at night. I’d give anything to hear the familiar sounds of the waterfront or open my door and hear Nate clicking on his keyboard. I missed Daisy’s three-legged gait and Oscar’s motorboat purr. Hell, I even missed the imps scratching and chattering behind the walls. I missed everything.
It was too early for bed, and watching TV alone in my room didn’t appeal to me for once. I opened my door, wondering if any of the other trainees were hanging out downstairs. Seeking out company was a new experience for me, but I’d never really felt lonely before I came here. I’d enjoyed having dinner with the others tonight, instead of eating alone like I normally did. For the first time since I arrived, it felt like I’d connected with other people. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that until today.
The common rooms were empty except for a warrior I didn’t know watching an old black-and-white movie in one of them. I stood in the main hall and debated where to go. The north wing and west wing housed mostly living quarters like my own, so there was nothing to see there. The first floor of the west wing was training rooms and I’d seen more than enough of them already. The south wing held the offices, meeting rooms, security, and the living quarters for Lord Tristan, some of the senior warriors, and important visitors. That left the east wing. During my tour, Claire had pointed out the medical ward on the first floor. She’d also told me there was a sick warrior recuperating in the wing. I stayed away from the first floor so I didn’t disturb him, and I was very quiet when I took the stairs to the second floor.
Strolling down the long second-floor hallway, I ran a hand lightly along the dark paneling, struck for the hundredth time by the grandeur of my new home. The walls on this floor were hung with beautiful oil paintings and ornate wall sconces that had been converted from gas to electric. I had not asked anyone how old the building was, but I suspected it was well over a hundred years old. The Mohiri lived for centuries, so it was no surprise for them to hold onto their homes for a long time. What was it like to live that long and to witness the coming of electricity, automobiles, and the age of technology? What wonders and changes in the world would I live to see over my own lifetime?
At the end of the hallway, light spilled from a room with the door slightly ajar. I pushed it open and I could barely contain my excitement at the sight of the shelves of books lining the walls from floor to ceiling. There was a large library off the main hall, but it didn’t hold a candle to this room. This one looked like something out of an English manor with dark walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a large fireplace at one end of the room. Two high-backed chairs faced the fire that crackled in the hearth, and a lamp on the small table between the chairs cast a soft glow over the room. It looked like someone had just stepped out of the room, and I hesitated, worried they would mind my intrusion. I turned to leave, but one more look at all those books changed my mind.
The only problem with so many books was choosing one. I liked a lot of the classics, but I had tons of them in the boxes of books that had come with me from home. I inhaled the smell of old paper, and a smile spread across my face. I had a feeling I was going to be spending a lot of time here, and I couldn’t help but think that my dad would have loved this room, too.
I scanned the titles to see what treasures the little library held. Automatically, my eyes searched for the Bs because something told me there had to be some Brontë on these shelves. I found what I was looking for high above my head, and I had to roll the squeaky wooden ladder over so I could reach the books. Reverently, I pulled out the copy of Jane Eyre and fingered the cloth-covered spine. My copy was a dog-eared paperback that was falling apart from too many readings. I opened the cover to the first page and felt my eyes bug out. A first edition Jane Eyre in perfect condition!
I shouldn’t be touching these. Regretfully, I reached up to slide the book back into its place on the shelf. My old copy would do just fine. I’d be too nervous about damaging the rare book to enjoy it.
The thought had barely passed through my mind when my hold on the ladder slipped. I let out a loud gasp as I lost my grip on the precious tome and it fell to the floor with a thud. I grabbed the ladder again, just in time to keep from falling. Climbing down, I picked up the book, relieved to see no damage to the cover.
“If you are quite finished making a racket, I’d like to get back to my book now,” said a voice in clipped English from behind one of the chairs.
Startled, I almost dropped the book again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone else was here.”
“Well, now you do. There is a perfectly nice library downstairs where you can bother someone else.”
I bristled at his rudeness. I might have disturbed him, but that was no reason to be nasty. I’d dealt with too many bullies in my lifetime to let a faceless person push me around. “Thank you for pointing that out, but I am perfectly content here.” I moved toward the chairs near the fireplace, fully intending to make myself at home.
With an irritated sigh, a man stood up and came around the chairs. He was tall, and his dark auburn hair hung in unkempt waves to his shoulders. His complexion was pale as if he did not see much sun, but that did not take away from his handsome aristocratic features. Hooded brown eyes glared at me, and his mouth was turned down as he crossed his arms and blocked my passage. I couldn’t help but notice that his pants and jacket looked like they were from another era, and they were wrinkled and lightly soiled.
I stared at him for several seconds, not because I was afraid of him, but because he looked so much like Stuart Townsend in Queen of the Damned. The resemblance was uncanny. I think I smiled, which only made the man scowl even harder. After a month of fighting with Nikolas and coming face-to-face with real vampires, this guy was about as scary as Michael. There was something slightly off about his stare and his disheveled appearance, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“You must be new or you would know no one comes up here. They prefer to use the other library. I am sure you would be happier there.”
I met his dark gaze without wavering. “I appreciate your concern, but I like it here.” I moved to go past him, half expecting him to try to block me again, but he only watched silently as I took the other chair and opened my book. I felt his eyes burning into me for a long moment before he made a grumbling sound and went back to his own chair.
Once he sat, the only sounds were the whisper of pages turning and the soft cracks and pops from the fire. It was hard to believe I was reading a first edition of one of my favorite books, which had just been sitting on a shelf for anyone to read. Maybe a book like this didn’t hold as much interest for people who had been around when the book was first released. I ran my hand along the open page and hoped I never got too old or too jaded to appreciate things like this.
It took me a few minutes to realize I was the only one turning pages. Something told me my companion was staring at me again, but I was determined not to give him the satisfaction of reacting to his behavior. If this was his attempt at scaring me off, he’d have to try a lot harder. To prove it, I pulled my feet up under me and prepared to lose myself in Jane’s world.
He seemed to settle down after that, and it was another twenty minutes before I heard him shift in his chair and make small huffing sounds. I was tempted to tell him there could be no way I was disturbing him now, but I refused to acknowledge him. Maybe he would give up or just go away once he realized I was here until I was ready to leave. However, after another ten minutes of listening to him fidget and grumble under his breath, I was ready to throw a book at him. And he said I was making a racket.
“She was a beautiful woman, but always so serious.”
His voice startled me into looking over at him. “Excuse me?”
He waved a hand at the book I held. “Charlotte. Most people said that Emily was the fairer one, but she really had nothing to her older sister. Such a gifted but tragic family.”
It took me a moment to understand what he was saying. “You knew the Brontë sisters?” I didn’t try to keep the disbelief out of my voice.
He looked affronted, and his voice rose a notch. “Are you insinuating that I am lying?”
I shrugged. “I’m not insinuating anything.”
“Still, I don’t think I like your tone.”
I turned my attention back to my book. “Then don’t talk to me.”
He made another series of huffing sounds and got up to go to the other side of the room. After a few minutes of quiet I figured he had gone. I felt a little bad because I hadn’t meant to drive him away, but I had as much right as him to use this room. And it wasn’t like I had been disturbing him, except for dropping the book. He looked like a twenty-year-old, but he behaved like a crotchety old man who was put out because he couldn’t have his way.
It surprised me when he appeared beside his chair again with a different book in his hands. His body shook a little as he sat, and I noticed a fine sheen of moisture on his face.
“Are you ill?”
Apparently, that was the absolute wrong thing to ask him. His nostrils flared and his eyes darkened even more. “What is that supposed to mean?” he snarled, and I felt the hairs rise up on my arms. Okay, maybe he was a little scarier than Michael.
“It doesn’t mean anything. I just thought you might not be feeling well.” Something told me he would not react well to a sympathetic voice, so I kept my tone as normal as possible.
“I am perfectly fine.”
“Why do you care anyway?” He still sounded angry, but the snarl was gone at least.
“I don’t know. I guess it’s one of my many faults.”
He was quiet again for a few minutes before he griped, “Do you do this often, invade others’ privacy and tell them they look awful?”
I looked up from my book again and met his challenging stare. “As far as I know, this library is open to anyone, and I did apologize for disturbing you. I did not say that you looked awful, so please stop scowling at me. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were fishing for compliments.”
“I do not fish for compliments.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “You are an annoying little imp. It is no wonder you came here instead of being with the other children. They probably can’t abide your company.”
I stood, fed up with his churlishness and insults. “Listen here, Lestat, you are no charmer yourself.”
“Lestat?” His eyes widened and he jumped up, sputtering. “Did you just compare me to a vampire – a fictional vampire?”
I didn’t know what had made me call him that, but there was no taking it back. “You called me an annoying imp.”
“Because you are annoying.”
“You’re not too much fun to be around either.”
His mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water. “You are an irritating person, and I am not used to people talking to me this way.” He pulled himself up to his full height, sounding every bit like a haughty lord. For all I knew he was one, but that didn’t give him the right to treat people like crap.
“If you don’t like how I talk, then don’t talk to me. You read your book, and I’ll read mine.”
“I can’t read now. You’ve ruined it for me.”
Good Lord, this guy would try a saint. “Then leave if you don’t want to read.”
He looked like he was about to stomp his foot like a little boy. “I was here first.”
I let out a heavy sigh. The man was infuriating and rude, and I really didn’t need the aggravation. “Fine. I’ll leave. Good night.”
“You showed up here and ruined my evening, and now you are leaving?” Was that disappointment in his voice? I could not understand this guy for the life of me.
“Yes.” I stopped at the door and wrinkled my nose at him. “Something in here smells really old and musty. Maybe the room just needs a good cleaning.” Turning away, I left before he could see the satisfied smile on my face.
* * *
I barely noticed my surroundings as I walked back to the main building from the menagerie. I still couldn’t believe the hellhounds were here, and I had no idea what I was going to do with them. They were huge brutes, and they growled menacingly whenever anyone but me went near their cage. I couldn’t leave them locked up in there forever, but Sahir was afraid – and probably rightfully so – that they would harm someone if they were let out. Their welfare and happiness were my responsibility now and it weighed on me. I was determined to spend as much time as it took to train them and make them safe for other people to be around.
The hellhounds were not the only things on my mind. My power was going haywire all of a sudden, and I had no idea why or what to do about it. Just this morning, I was soaking in the healing baths after training when my scalp began to tingle and static crackled in my hair. I could have sworn I saw tiny sparkles of light in the cloudy water. Fear drove me from the bath before my time was up, and I’d cast a furtive glance at Olivia who lay with her eyes closed in her own tub. But the other girl had shown no signs of noticing anything out of the ordinary. How long could I hide this before someone saw it and started asking questions I couldn’t answer?
I turned to find Claire hurrying toward me. Judging by her amused expression she had called to me several times. “Hi, Claire. What’s up?”
She returned my smile. “I thought you would have forgotten my name with all the new faces around you. How are you settling in?”
Claire laughed at my unconvincing tone. “Give it another week or so. All orphans have an adjustment period. It took me almost a month to even speak to anyone.”
“You were an orphan?” It was hard to think of cheerful, outgoing Claire as a shy orphan. “How long have you been here?”
She put a hand to her chin. “I think it’s been eighty years. You lose track after a while. I was four when Tristan found me.”
“Yes. It was during the Great Depression,” she said as we walked together. “He found me at an orphanage in Boston. I have vague memories of my mother, but I don’t remember what happened to her. The people at the orphanage told Tristan they were overflowing with abandoned children whose parents could not feed them anymore. Tristan adopted me and set up a monthly stipend to help the orphanage. I think he did that for a lot of orphanages at the time.”
The last two weeks, I’d resented the absent leader who had enforced so many restrictions on me. Hearing Claire’s story about how generous Tristan was improved my opinion of him.
“Speaking of Tristan, he’d like to see you in his office. I’ll show you where it is.”
Lord Tristan wanted to see me? Maybe after my awful training session yesterday he had decided I wasn’t cut out to be a warrior after all. Or maybe the incident with the hellhounds had made him question the wisdom of having me here.
Claire led me to the first floor of the south wing and stopped in front of a closed door. “He’s waiting for you. Go on in,” she said and left me alone in the hallway.
I couldn’t just walk in, so I knocked on the door and waited for it to open. Lord Tristan’s blue eyes were surprisingly warm and his smile welcoming when he saw me standing there. He opened the door wider and waved me inside. “Sara, come in.”
His office was impressive. One side was taken up by the usual office furniture: desk, chairs, filing cabinets, and a computer. On the other side of the room was a sitting area with a couch, a chair, and several small tables. Large windows overlooked the front lawn.
He shut the door and surprised me again by leading me to the sitting area instead of going to sit behind his desk. I took a seat on the couch, and he sat in the chair.
“I’m sorry it has taken me this long to meet you. I wanted to be here when you arrived, but Council business kept me abroad these last few weeks.”
“I understand,” I told him, but I really didn’t get why an important man like him with so many responsibilities would bother to explain his whereabouts to me.
“Tell me, how are you doing since you moved here?”
I made a face. “You really need to ask that after watching my training yesterday? I’m not exactly good warrior material.”
His laugh was rich and warm instead of mocking. “I think it will take more than a few weeks to determine what kind of warrior you will be. From what I have heard, you have other very special qualities to commend you.” I gave him a questioning look, and he said, “Nikolas told me about your unique heritage. Do not worry; your secret is safe with me.”
“Training aside, how do you like it here? Are your quarters to your liking? Have you made friends?”
His questions caught me off guard. Why would he care if I liked my room or made friends? Besides I had no doubt that he already knew everything there was to know about my first two weeks here.
“You want the truth?”
“This place is amazing, but I don’t fit in here. I hope that doesn’t sound ungrateful because I really do appreciate everything you’ve done for me, and I know why I have to be here. I just . . . I miss home.” My throat tightened, and I looked away from him. My eyes found an oil portrait of a beautiful blond girl on the wall behind his chair. Her hair was the same shade as his, and I knew they had to be related.
Lord Tristan’s blue eyes filled with understanding. “The transition to this life can be difficult for orphans, and I think we assumed it would be easier for you, given your age. We did not take into account the strong ties you have to your old life. All I can say is that it will get easier and you will find your place with us. I hope you will trust me in that.”
I wanted to believe him, but I’d been burned once already. “The last person I trusted dumped me on your doorstep and took off.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I was under the impression that you and Nikolas couldn’t spend ten minutes together without needing a referee. Perhaps you both needed some space.”
“You mean he was glad to get me off his hands.”
He laughed. “I doubt that. Nikolas plays by his own set of rules. Don’t read too much into him not being here right now. When he is hunting, he often spends weeks away at a time.”
“Busy guy. From one job right into another.” I smiled even though I did not feel like it. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk about him.”
Lord Tristan nodded. “I understand. I did have another reason for asking you here today. Nikolas told me you might be open to meeting your Mohiri family once you feel comfortable among us. I wanted you to know they are very eager to get to know you – when you are ready, of course.”
“They’re here? I have family here . . . now?” His news floored me. I had been living under the same roof with family for almost two weeks without knowing it? Had I passed them in the halls? Sat near them at meals? They could be one of the other trainees or even my trainer. I crossed off that last thought. After everything I’d been through, there was no way God would be cruel enough to make Callum my family.
His face gave nothing away as he nodded. “You have a cousin who lives here, but he is away at the moment. And your mother’s sire is here. You would call him your grandfather.”
“My grandfather is here?” When Nikolas told me that Madeline’s father was still alive and wanted to meet me, I was curious but nowhere near ready to meet him. The knowledge that my grandfather was at this stronghold right now filled me with trepidation and excitement at the same time.
“Would you like to meet him?” Lord Tristan asked.
My stomach twisted nervously. Was I ready to meet Madeline’s father? The man wasn’t Madeline and I could not hold her behavior against him, but was I ready to have him in my life? “No . . . I mean, I don’t know. I’m sorry, you took me by surprise and it’s a lot to take in.”
He settled back in his chair. “It’s understandable. This is a big adjustment for you and you need more time. He only wants you to know that he is here for you when you are ready to meet him.”
I lowered my gaze as guilt hit me. Great. Now I felt like a total jerk. My grandfather sounded like a nice guy, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. It wouldn’t hurt to just meet him, right? It wasn’t like we had to start having family dinners and all that. And how could I walk around here after this, knowing he was here and not be able to identify him?
“I’m ready,” I said at last.
“Are you sure?”
I raised my eyes to his again and nodded. “I’m a little nervous, but yes.”
Smiling, he stood and went to his desk. Instead of reaching for his phone as I had expected him to, he opened a drawer and pulled out a thin book. It wasn’t until he returned to the sitting area that I saw it was not a book, but a photo album. He passed the chair and sat beside me on the couch. I looked up into his eyes, and the tenderness I saw in them punched me square in the chest.
“You have been through so much, and I can see how unhappy you are right now. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for all the pain you’ve suffered. More than anything, I wish I could have been there for you all these years. Nikolas told me about your uncle and how much you care for each other, and I’m happy that you have someone like him in your life. I don’t want to replace him. All I ask is the chance to get to know you and that you will come to think of me as family, too.”
I struggled for words. What do you say when you find yourself face-to-face with a grandfather you never knew? Especially one who looks like he should be in college. “You’re Madeline’s father,” was all I could manage.
His eyes grew sad. Nikolas hadn’t told me much about Madeline or under what circumstances she had left the Mohiri, and I wondered what her relationship had been like with her father.
“I know Madeline hurt you deeply. My daughter has a lot to answer for when we find her.” He reached for my hand, and I let him take it despite my conflicting emotions. “When I learned of your existence, it took everything in me not to go to Maine myself. But Nikolas advised against it. He told me about your anger toward Madeline and your refusal to have anything to do with us. With everything else that was going on at the time, he was concerned about overwhelming you.”
I let out a tremulous laugh. “He was right. I kind of freaked out when he told me what I was. I’m still getting used to it all.”
He squeezed my hand lightly. “All I ask is for the chance for us to get to know each other.”
The hope shining in his eyes touched me, and I suddenly felt very shy. I nodded because I couldn’t trust myself to speak.
He let go of my hand, but he didn’t move away. “Why don’t we start slowly by getting to know each other a little better? Nikolas told me what he could of your life, but I would rather hear about it from you. I’m sure you must have questions for me as well.”
“Okay. Um, what should I call you?”
“We don’t use most of the familial terms humans do, so you can call me Tristan.”
His smile grew. “That is my formal title, but everyone here calls me by my first name.”
I returned his smile, feeling a little more at ease. “I have to tell you it feels very weird to have a grandfather who looks a few years older than me.”
Tristan chuckled. “I can imagine.” He settled back against the couch. “Why don’t you tell me about yourself, if you want to, that is?”
I started with my early childhood. Tristan’s smile faded when I spoke of Madeline leaving us when I was two, but it returned when I described my dad and recounted the many ways he had made my life so full and happy. I told him about my dad’s love of books and his penchant for creating games to encourage my interest in reading and music and poetry.
When I talked about losing my dad, Tristan waited quietly while I struggled to get through it. I told him about my life in New Hastings with Nate and my friends – human and nonhuman. I made sure he understood that my life there had not been an unhappy one and that it had taken a Master to drive me from my home.
Tristan began to talk about himself then, and I was shocked to learn he was born in sixteen eighty-four. He told me about growing up in England with his parents and older sister, Beatrice, training to be a warrior and then travelling around Europe and living at various strongholds. I discovered that he had been to almost every corner of the earth, he was the youngest member to ever join the Council at the ripe old age of thirty, and he spoke fourteen different languages, including a few words of Troll. He met my grandmother, Josephine, in Paris in eighteen sixty-one, and she moved back to America with him.
When I asked him where Josephine was, he grew quiet before he told me she was killed during a raid on a vampire nest in southern California in nineteen thirteen. Their scouts had misjudged the size of the nest, and when Josephine’s team of six went in, they were overwhelmed and only one of them made it out.
“It was a very dark time for me, and I might have done something reckless and gotten myself killed if it were not for Madeline. She was only ten, and I could not leave her without a parent. Nikolas took a team and wiped out the nest. He avenged Josephine for me because I could not leave my daughter, and he brought her body home to us.”
“People here talk about Nikolas like he is some kind of superhero, but they seem almost scared of him, too.”
“But you are not?”
I couldn’t deny how good a warrior Nikolas was, having seen him in action more than once. “He is pretty good, but don’t tell him I said that because he’s arrogant enough already. He’s way too bossy, but there’s nothing scary about him.”
“Our young people grow up hearing stories about Nikolas’s missions and his fighting skills, so it’s natural they look up to him. He is a fierce warrior, and there are few who could stand up to him when he sets his mind on something.”
“No kidding. Been there, got the T-shirt.”
Tristan laughed heartily. “In the short time I’ve known you I can already see why you were such a challenge for him. You seem to have a very strong sense of self and a quick mind. And you are not easily intimidated.”
“I guess I had to grow up fast.” I didn’t tell him I struggled every day to figure out who I was and it wasn’t getting any easier. “Can I ask you something?”
“I know you guys are looking for the Master, but every time I ask someone about it they tell me not to worry. Will you tell me what you’ve found so far?”
He gave me an indulgent smile. “You don’t need to worry about him anymore.”
“See, you’re doing it, too.” I threw up my hands in frustration. “I’m not a five-year-old, and I didn’t move here to be coddled and kept in the dark about things that affect me.”
Tristan was taken aback by my outburst, and silence stretched between us. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” he said at last. “We are naturally protective of our young people, and we don’t include them in such things until they become warriors. It is a dangerous world, especially for our kind.”
I watched his gaze move to the portrait of the beautiful blond girl with the dainty, heart-shaped face and angelic smile. Pain flicked across his face, long enough for me to realize who she was. Nikolas had once mentioned Madeline’s aunt who was killed by vampires a long time ago, and there was no mistaking the resemblance between Tristan and the girl in the painting.
“Just because I want to know what is going on it doesn’t mean I will go out looking for trouble. Trust me; I plan to stay as far away from that vampire as I can.”
He came out of his reverie. “We cleaned out three nests in Nevada and two in California that we suspect belonged to him, but so far we have found no clues to his identity or his whereabouts.”
“I guess he wouldn’t be a Master if he was easy to find, would he?”
“I have hunted six Masters during my life, and this one is the most evasive by far. We did not even know of his existence until you told Nikolas about him.”
“Six Masters? Did you get them all?”
“Yes, and we will get this one, too,” he replied with conviction. “I just don’t know how long it will take. Today’s technology makes it easier to follow leads, but it also makes it easier for someone to disappear if they are good enough.”
The phone on his desk rang, interrupting us. When I glanced at my watch I was surprised to see that nearly two hours had passed. Tristan stood, wearing an expression of regret. “That would be my reminder that I have a Council call in five minutes. I hate to cut our time short.”
“I understand. We can talk again some other time.”
“I’d like that very much.”
We were walking to the door when my eyes lit on his large bookcase, reminding me of the strange man in the library. “Two nights ago, I went into a small library on the second floor of the east wing and I met a man who was upset about me being there. He didn’t look like a warrior. I mean, there was something different about him. I think he was sick.”
“Did he frighten you?” He didn’t ask what the man looked like, so he obviously knew who I was talking about.
“No, he was pretty agitated though. There was one point where I thought he was going to freak out, but he was mostly rude.”
He looked amused. “His name is Desmund, and he lives in that wing. He has been suffering from illness for a long time, so you’ll have to excuse his bad behavior.”
“Oh, I should have known. I heard there was a sick warrior living in the wing, but I assumed he was on the first floor.” I felt terrible. I’d upset a sick man who probably needed peace and quiet so he could recover. No wonder he’d been so irritable.
Tristan’s chuckle took me off guard. “Desmund has been closed off up there for too long, and it will do him some good to be around other people.” He opened the door for me. “Desmund’s had a very long and interesting life, and he was a different person before he became ill. I think you will like him when you get to know him.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Feel free to use that library whenever you wish. He can be difficult at times, but don’t let him drive you away. I think you will be good for him.”
I made a face. “Great, just what I needed, another difficult warrior.”
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