For fans of MM, I’ve added a MM story to my Night Warriors series, as THE MASTER’S LOVER was a MM in my Star Mages series.
THE WARRIOR’S MAN (Night Warriors- Warriors #3.5)
Available in ebook from Phaze Books
MM paranormal erotic romance
BLURB-Stevie has had a rough life. Kicked out of his home with his twin sister in tow—he gay and she pregnant—when they were only seventeen, he’s had to struggle for the last six years to keep his head above water. He’s dealt with homophobes, with cheating exes, and with an unkind world, but he’s carved out a little place for himself in it, all the same. Now he has one more struggle…facing the fact that vampires exist, as do the Warriors who hunt them.
Terry has been attracted to men as long as he’s been attracted to women, but he never followed through. Warriors of Armen tend to fall fast and hard for women they save, so why waste time on a man, when there’s a woman somewhere in the world for you? He falls fast and hard, but it’s not a woman he saves that catches his attention and stokes his need to print. It’s Stevie. A Warrior has never printed on another man before. Will the rules of sanction stretch far enough to allow him to claim what he really wants?
Terry Armen cursed under his breath, cleaning the cut on the other man’s neck with an alcohol pad to get a better look at it. Thankfully, it was little more than a scratch. The beast had been going for the kill when Terry reached them, and as a result, the damned thing got the tip of a fang in.
Gods damn it! A minute earlier... Ten gods’ damned seconds earlier, and this wouldn’t be necessary.
The victim was a young man. Terry would guess his age at twenty or so, a little more than half Terry’s thirty-six years. In human terms, he was little more than a boy, and he looked it.
Right now, that boy was trembling hard, using the brick wall behind him for support. There was something endearing in that, something that called to Terry’s base instincts as a Warrior. He wanted to protect him.
I have to offer protection. Even the tip of a beast’s fang was too much. It marked the prey for other beasts, making him nothing short of a beacon, screaming out: “Come eat me. Easy meal.”
“That was...” The kid took an unsteady breath. “That was a vampire. Wasn’t it? I’m not hallucinating? Someone didn’t slip something in my drink?”
He was calmer than most victims of attacks were. That was good, considering the news Terry had to impart to him.
“Yes. We call them beasts.”
The kid swallowed what sounded like a lump in his throat. “And you...hunt them? I mean... I’m sure you don’t just walk around with that hardware for fun.”
“Yes, I do.” He tossed the alcohol pad at the nearest trash can and stepped back to meet the young man’s eyes. “And now I have to protect you.” Terry didn’t make it a question, as he should have. A rebellious corner of his mind insisted that he wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer.
“Protect me? Isn’t that...” The kid motioned to the dead beast lying ten yards away. “Isn’t that what you’ve already done? Thank you, by the way.”
Terry sighed. “The beast got his teeth into you.” He put up a hand for calm, before the kid could get the wrong idea. “It’s not going to turn you into one or anything like that, but it makes it easier for others to find you.”
His mouth worked as if to form words, but nothing emerged. His blue eyes went wide and wild, and he pushed a quaking hand through his rust-colored curls.
“Yeah. I know. If one had a meal, the others want a bite too. But that’s my job. To make it impossible for any of them to get a bite out of you.” If I can. I haven’t done a bang up job of it so far.
“Whatever it takes,” the kid vowed. “I’d rather not be some vampire’s juice box. Thanks but no thanks.”
“It’s fairly simple. I give you this.” Terry pulled out an amulet and held it up in the dim light from the street. “I speak a few magic words. I take some information, so the others like me know who you are to protect you better. All done, save that you obey when one of us gives you orders for your own protection.”
“Magic words? Seriously? Will that work?”
“Did I kill it?”
The kid glanced toward the downed beast again, nodded, then turned his gaze back to Terry. “Good deal. I’m in.”
Thank the gods!
Terry eased the amulet over the kid’s ears and let it fall to his chest. “Never remove this. It only works while it’s on your body somewhere. Put it under your shirt or looped around your belt loop and shoved inside your pants, but keep it on and preferably covered, so the cord can’t be severed.”
He fingered the leather cord. “Can I replace this?”
“With a chain or something, so it’s sturdier?”
“Yes, but still...keep it next to your skin. No further than a shirt between you and the amulet.”
Terry leaned closer to him and started reciting the Zeremonie des Schutzes. He chose Gaelic, because it had always been his favorite language.
The kid’s eyes slid shut, and Terry thanked the gods for it. Most men balked at the idea of a kiss being part of the blessing, fed on or not. It was always easier to do it quickly, while the other man was unaware, then offer apologies for the ‘oversight’ of not mentioning it, than make a big deal out of it and end up in an argument while beasts might be closing on their position.
The final syllable left his lips and Terry leaned down to lay a quick peck on the kid’s forehead. He jerked his head up, probably at the sensation of Terry moving. Their lips brushed, and Terry went still. A whisper of sound escaped the kid’s lips, and Terry savored it.
Common sense kicked in, and Terry moved to plant the kiss on the kid’s forehead. Where I should. He stepped back, acutely aware of his cock battling with his jeans for land rights on the now-too-tight fabric.
The kid’s eyes opened and he took a step back, colliding with the wall. He shot a panicked look at Terry, his hand raised, seemingly waiting to take blows. He launched into a hasty apology. “I’m...sorry. Didn’t mean to.”
The urge to reassure him was more powerful than ever. “No problem. I should have warned you. The...uh...kiss on the forehead? Sort of part of the magic.”
He breathed what looked like a sigh of relief. Terry tried to reason his way out of his disappointment. The kid wasn’t arguing with him. Wasn’t that good news?
The kid leaned against the wall, scrubbing a hand over his sweat-coated face. The movement drew Terry’s gaze down his slim body to the unmistakable outline of his erection.
Terry’s heart thundered, and his curse started demanding sex. Hard sex. Now. With the kid, of all people.
He’d noticed men before, but Terry had chalked it up to the curse making an unmated man indiscriminate. As such, he’d never followed through on it and had funneled it toward the next available willing female. He’d never felt himself driven to any sexual partner this way before, not even a female.
The kid looked up at him, his eyes narrowing. “What now?” he asked, seemingly wary.
Terry tipped his head. “What’s your name?”
“Paperwork,” he reminded him.
“Oh...yeah. You did say that. Steve Cole. My friends call me Stevie.”
Terry forced a smile to his face. “Well, Stevie. Next, I drive you home, so I’m sure you make it there alive. It will be easier to get the information I need there, and I’ll tell you how to reach us in an emergency.”
Stevie hesitated a moment and then nodded. “Sure. Sounds good.”
Stevie unlocked the door to his apartment and led the way inside, hitting light switches at the door, then the next set at the entrance to the living room. His nerves were strung tight, and it wasn’t just being attacked by a vampire talking.
The sound of the door closing and locking behind him reinforced what had him on edge. Terry. The man was sex in leather and jeans, and he’d had Stevie scrambled since he appeared over him and dragged Stevie away from the vampire who’d been trying to make him a late dinner.
I can’t believe I almost kissed him. What am I? Stupid? He’d like to claim it had been some sort of post traumatic reaction speaking, but it wasn’t, and he knew it. He wanted Terry, and there was no denying it.
“Nice place,” Terry complimented him.
Stevie nodded. “I’ve been working on it.”
Translation. It’s screams ‘Gaaa-aay.’ “Yeah. I think so.” Common courtesy kicked Stevie in the head. “Can I get you something? A beer? Soda?” A nice white wine? He bit back a wince at Terry’s reaction to that.
“Got any coffee?”
“Sure.” Stevie made his way into the kitchen, forcing his gaze to pass by Terry when he wanted to linger. And drool. Terry was eye candy supreme.
He pushed away the thought and set to work grinding beans. He was halfway through the preheat on the machine when Terry’s voice stopped him cold.
“Not bad. A Barista Express.”
Stevie swallowed hard. “Yeah. I bought it refurbished.” The six hundred dollar price tag for a new one had been a little out of his range. He glanced at Terry over his shoulder, packing the grounds down. “You’re familiar with it?”
Terry laughed. “Warriors live on coffee, espresso, cappuccino...anything made from roasted coffee beans. I don’t think I’ve met a Warrior who doesn’t drink the stuff.” His brow furrowed. “Well, maybe the young Blutjagdfrau,” he amended. “Last time I saw her, it was soda or chocolate milk.”
“What’s a...um...?” Stevie gave up. It was a safe bet he’d massacre the word if he tried to repeat it.
“Female Warrior. We have a couple of them...not many.”
His heart sank. “Oh. Okay.” Stop dreaming. It’s fairly certain Terry is into women.
“We have the same model at one of the cabins,” he switched subjects back to coffee. “We just replaced the Portofino Exec Two at the main house.”
“Replaced? That’s a new model.”
“It gets a lot of use.”
“But...” Stevie’s head spun at the expense. “That’s a five-thousand dollar unit. I know coffee shops that don’t use one that expensive.”
Stevie gaped at him. “What did you replace it with?” Something told him he had to ask.
Terry went red-faced, and he cleared his throat.
“Oh, come on. I have to know. One coffee lover to another.”
“Uh...a couple of TopBrewer Coffee Faucets.”
Stevie gaped at him. “Couple of?” He couldn’t afford one of those on a good day.
“Three. I think. I’m usually too tired to pay attention.”
“Hence the coffee,” he quipped.
“Pretty much. I’m shit before my second cup.”
Terry tucked the notebook back into his pocket, resigning himself to the fact that it was time to leave. He couldn’t state with certainty why he’d stayed this long. Sure, he liked talking to Stevie. They shared some common interests, but he expected that he’d stayed because his damned libido was still playing havoc with him.
As if reinforcing that fact, Stevie stretched and yawned, and Terry’s cock hardened against his zipper again. He opened his mouth to suggest that it was time to leave.
The sound never emerged. Stevie glanced at Terry’s lap, started to turn his head, and his gaze returned. The silence around them was potent, and Terry swore he could detect musk rising from the younger man.
He stared, swallowing audibly, his expression unreadable.
I should give him an out. Explain it. “Warriors... We are a pretty sexual bunch. Need it often. You know.”
Terry ground his teeth, frustrated by the answer. Part of him wished Stevie would suggest they find a bed. The other part wished he’d tell Terry he wasn’t interested. Not knowing made wanting the kid this way worse. Whether he was interested or not, Terry had to find someone to sate this need.
Neither of them broke the silence. It seemed they were at an impasse.
Time to go. Definitely time to go. “I probably should...”
“I mean... I really don’t mind.” Stevie met Terry’s eyes, a slight smile curving his lips, one brow cocked.
No one could mistake the implied invitation. “What are you offering?”
“What are you asking for?”
Terry’s mind rioted, and his cock added all sorts of demands to the mix. “I’ve never been with a guy before, so... Honestly, I don’t know what I want.” That was a first. Even his first time with a woman, Terry had known what he wanted.
“How about something you’re comfortable with, then?”
Terry nodded dumbly, as Stevie stood and crossed the room toward him. He faltered and looked toward the hallway.
Please let him suggest a bed. Why it was so important to make it to a bed was beyond Terry.
“I have condoms in the bathroom. I should—”
“They aren’t necessary.”
Stevie shot him a startled look.
“Warriors don’t carry STDs. We can’t get them if someone else does carry them. We’re immune, on all levels.” And we don’t have to worry about pregnancy. That went without saying, so he didn’t offer it.
He stared, open-mouthed.
He doesn’t believe me. “But if you’re more comfortable with—”
“Part of your magic?”
“Yes. We also heal quicker than most people do.” A lot faster. But there was no sense in scaring Stevie with that.
“Okay then.” Stevie took the last step and sank to his knees between Terry’s spread legs.
When did I widen my stance? His mind refused to provide an answer.
Stevie unbuttoned Terry’s jeans and slipped the zipper down. Terry savored every moment, committing it to memory. When Stevie untucked the two layers of shirt, Terry peeled them up and off, tossing them on top of the leather jacket he’d already removed.
There was a moment of dead silence. Terry realized Stevie was holding his breath. His gaze trailed up and down Terry’s chest, and color bloomed in his cheeks.
“Like what you see?” Terry asked, trying to lighten the mood.
“Yes is an understatement.”
Terry’s cock jerked in response, drawing Stevie’s gaze down to it. He went back to spreading the jeans and easing them down. Terry tipped his hips up, allowing him to pull the fabric down to the tops of his armored boots.
Stevie closed a hand around Terry’s length and started stroking. His hand was softer than Terry’s was, lacking the calluses a Warrior built up. But not a woman’s hand either. Stevie’s hand was stronger, more knowing, and his grip harder and more demanding.
It would be far too easy to come this way, but Terry wanted more. He opened his mouth, intent on asking for it. Stevie’s mouth closing on the head of his cock wrenched a groan from him.
There was nothing sweet in that move, nothing tentative. Stevie knew what Terry wanted and offered it with ruthless efficiency.
There was no play at Terry pretending it was a woman sucking him off. He didn’t close his eyes and daydream of one of the women who’d done this for him. He kept his eyes wide open, enthralled by the red-brown curls, rising and sinking over his cock, the suction on the withdrawals.
I’m letting a guy suck me off, and damn it’s good.
Terry wrapped his hand around the back of Stevie’s head, and Stevie faltered for a moment. He wondered at that, but before Terry could ask, Stevie was back at it full steam.
His balls pulled up tight to his body, and Terry managed to gasp out a warning that he was close. It was always a fifty-fifty proposition, whether or not his partner would choose to swallow.
Stevie didn’t hesitate. He took Terry to the root. The sweet suction along the full length forced him to climax. Terry closed his fist in Stevie’s hair, the cum rushing up his length, a shout echoing off the walls.
He sat there for a moment, spent, stunned by his reaction to Stevie. And wanting more. Like most Warriors, a blow job didn’t fully relieve him.
I should return the favor. At least give him a hand job. The Rules of Sanction were pretty specific about returning the kindness of a lover.
“Come up here, Stevie.”
Stevie pushed to his feet, watching for signs that Terry might snap. He’d said he’d never been with a man before. That, in itself, could be a warning sign. Terry lived a violent life; he was über-alpha male. That kind sometimes experimented and then got scared or pissed off when they found they enjoyed sex with a guy.
Terry wrapped his hands around Stevie’s hips and pulled him down to the couch. Stevie’s tensing muscles relaxed at the fingers working his jeans open.
“What are you doing?” Stevie’s question came out a gasp.
The tug at Stevie’s jeans and the hum of appreciation from Terry was the only answer. In the next instant, Terry’s hand was wrapped around Stevie’s cock, milking him hard.
The first stroke up his length had Stevie arching toward him with a gasp of delight. The second wrenched a groan from him.
“Softer?” Terry offered.
Stevie shook his head, incapable of making a verbal response.
Terry squeezed and stroked, jerking Stevie toward orgasm with brutal efficiency. Stevie’s breathing went harsh, and his legs shook.
Terry’s hand retreated, and Stevie looked up at him, stuttering out a plea for more.
“Lay down. Wrap your legs around me.”
I’m opening myself to him. Visions of Terry working him up and sliding home made him dizzy in pleasure, and Stevie complied.
Terry didn’t do anything of the sort. He knelt between Stevie’s legs and looked down at him with a potent expression that made Stevie’s heart race.
Then he started stroking again. It was all Stevie could do to keep his eyes open and to force enough oxygen into his body to stay conscious.
That didn’t mean Stevie was capable of stringing two words together. He could barely get out one at a time, pathetic pleas for more.
Terry growled out a series of curses, then brought his mouth down on Stevie’s. The kiss was scorching and hard, and Stevie wrapped his arms around Terry’s shoulders, seeking more intimate contact.
Climax roared over his nerves, and Stevie drew his head back and shouted. His breaths came in starts and gasps, and he licked his lips, trying to clear his mind. His arms lay at his sides, boneless in his scattered state.
Terry stared down at him, his expression unreadable. “I…I should go. I have to call in. File my paperwork.” He pushed up from the couch, looking more than a little rattled.
Stevie swallowed hard. He wanted to say something…to reassure Terry, to call him back. A primal, instinctive corner in his mind warned him not to.
He’s über-alpha. Let him come to terms with this. Or not. His heart ached at the truth that Terry might choose to file this experiment under the heading of ‘Never Happened’.
Terry scooped up his shirts and dragged them over his shoulders together. He pulled his leather jacket on over them, ran a hand over his sheath, looked back at Stevie, then averted his eyes. “Duty calls.” Terry took a step toward the door, then stopped and turned halfway back. “I…uh… Do you mind if I come back again…sometime?”
Stevie nearly choked in surprise. “Sure. Anytime,” he managed.
He nodded. In the next heartbeat, Terry was letting himself out of the apartment.
Stevie lay on the couch, his jeans at the top of his thighs, his shirt matted to his abdomen with jizz. Aftershocks wracked his body, and his head spun pleasantly.
God, that man is hot. He said he might come back. His heart leapt in excitement, and he smiled.
He probably won’t. That quickly, his smile melted away.
Stevie levered himself off the couch and dragged his jeans up. “Time to get cleaned up, Cinderella.”
Also from the Night Warriors series out this week...
MAHER MEN (Night Warriors- Warriors #5)
Paranormal erotic romance
$5.99 in ebook/$13.95 in print from Phaze Books
BLURB-The blue-eyed Maher men have always caused a stir. When Kord finds his mate, he doesn't know that the stone has a hand in destiny once again. The stone needs a suitable warrior for the König princess, and a mixing of the bloodlines alone will make the match.
Julia Farmer doesn't know she was bitten in childhood. She doesn't know she was transfused with Warrior blood. While she's not Blutjagdfrau, she shares the Warrior's drives, much to her father's dismay. There's instant attraction between Kord Maher and Julia, but when she hides the fact that she's a Warrior daughter from him, he ends up on the wrong side of the Rules of Sanction.
Shana has never taken chances. She never wanted excitement in her life. Then, her world was turned upside down. Vampires are real, and one vampire hunter seems intent on her safety--and on her. Bryant will not call a halt until Shana accepts his protection--and him--no matter what.
Adam is inflexible, abrasive, and full of himself. Jo is...completely unimpressed. Too bad, because Adam never backs down when he sees something he wants. Jo wants nothing more than to dump the warrior Kord assigned to her, but ditching one of the Maher trackers isn't as easy as one might believe. Adam Maher is one of the most infuriating men Jo has ever met. So, why can't she get him out of her mind?
Gabriel is Adam Maher's younger son. By all accounts, he's inherited the Maher hot blood. He printed at 17 and was refused. Then he made a pass at the wrong woman and found himself vilified in Hunter range. To top it all off, one of Adam's enemies has set his sights on destroying Adam by destroying his son. The beast doesn't know how effective his plan might be. The chosen bait to draw Gabriel in is the same protected who refused to be Gabe's mate a decade earlier, and his blood still hasn't cooled.
August 20th, 1952
“What is it?” Maman’s voice was a whispered plea.
Julia opened her eyes, stretching beneath the light spring quilt on her bed.
“You know what,” her father commented. “Stay here. Paul and Jack will go with me.”
That simply, Julia was wide awake. Jack was going somewhere with Father. They would take her along if she was fast enough. Father would take her with them. Father never denied her anything.
She slid from her bed and pulled her shoes on over her bare feet. She strode down the hall and out the back door, turning the knob with both of her tiny hands, then bolted across the lawn to the garage. She stumbled, her nightgown catching on her shoes; Julia lifted it and ran on. Father would demand she dress before they left, but if she took the time to dress first, they might be gone before she reached them.
Julia stopped in the doorway to the garage, looking around in confusion. Her father and brothers weren’t there. She couldn’t have missed them. All four cars were still inside.
She turned back to the house, confused. Where could they have gone this late at night?
She turned to the sound of the whisper, her brow furrowing at a dark outline disappearing into the tree line. Julia smiled. Jack was playing with her as he often did after her nap. Was it a game of tag, then?
She rushed into the trees, following the faint rustlings and movements from tree to tree until the tree house rose high above her. “Jack?” she called, looking up the slats nailed to the tree trunk.
There was no answer.
Julia looked around; Jack was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t ghost from her while she wore her amulet. She touched the disc to assure herself it was still there. No, he wasn’t ghosting, so he had to be teasing her. She scowled. Father didn’t allow the boys to tease her.
“Jack,” she demanded. “Show yourself, or I’ll tell Father.” Julia planted her fists on her hips.
Still, her brother didn’t show himself.
“Father will hear—” She stopped, taking a step back in surprise.
A man stepped from the trees, but it wasn’t Jack. “There you are, Julia,” he greeted her in a heavy accent she couldn’t place. “I’ve been looking for you.”
She shied from his offered hand.
The man chuckled. “Come now. Don’t you recognize me?”
Julia shook her head shyly. This man looked like a Warrior save his clothing, but it was no Warrior she knew. Who else would come here? Strangers didn’t come to their estates.
As if he read her thoughts, the man knelt down a few feet from her. “You needn’t be frightened. Could anyone harm you on Landwirt soil?”
She laughed at that, pressing her chubby fingers to her mouth. It was true. No one would dare harm her here—not while her father was Lord Farmer.
He smiled wider.
“Do you know Father?” she asked.
The man settled on the grass. “We have met each other many times.” He leaned closer to her. “I would ask your help, Julia,” he whispered in a conspiratorial tone.
“You need my help?” No one ever asked for Julia’s help. When she offered, people patted her head and sent her to play. “What kind of help?”
“I have lost my amulet.” His eyes were pained, much as Alan’s had been when he’d broken Maman’s favorite vase with his wooden practice blade.
Julia smiled. “I can get you one. Father has a whole drawer—”
“No!” He put up a calming hand as she startled. “Your Maman might see you. How would you explain your actions?”
She bit her lip, working at the problem and at a loss for an answer to it.
“I would be in even more trouble then,” he confided.
“Then how can I help?” she asked in confusion.
“If you give me your amulet...”
Julia fingered the metal disc over her chest uncertainly. “Father says—”
“Never to take it off?”
“Your Maman has told me you’ve lost yours before.”
Julia winced. She had lost it twice. Once, the chain broke while she was swimming. The other time, she lost it while she and Jack played in the woods.
“Did anything bad happen to you, Julia?”
“No,” she admitted.
“Do you think anything bad could happen here?”
“No.” That was said with more conviction. What could happen? Maman called this their sanctuary, and Jack said that meant it was their safe place.
“Was your father angry with you for losing your amulet?” He smiled a knowing smile at that.
Julia giggled. He knew Father well. Father was never angry with her.
“Will you help me, Julia?” His eyes were serious, hopeful.
She fingered the amulet. She’d never lied to Father. If she told him she lost the amulet—
“Julia,” he whispered.
She looked at the doll in his hand with a gasp of surprise. “Babette.”
“Yes. It is very like your Maman’s Babette, but this one has dark curls like you do and not golden like your Maman’s.”
Julia nodded, touching the doll’s beautiful pink dress.
“Trade with me,” he offered. “I will give you this Babette for your amulet.”
She nodded again, incapable of begging for the beautiful doll. It was even prettier than Maman’s Babette. Julia had longed to play with Maman’s doll for as long as she could remember. The man set the toy in her outstretched hands, and she hugged it to her chest.
“Julia,” Maman called. “Julia, where are you?”
“Quickly, Julia,” he urged her. “I must be well away before your Maman arrives.”
She pulled off the amulet and handed it to him. It slipped through his fingers and fell to the grass. Julia laughed, looking to him, intent on commenting on his clumsiness.
She went still, caught in the red glow of his eyes. Fangs sprouted in his mouth, and claws took the place of the fingernails on his hands.
Julia turned and ran, dropping the doll at the base of the tree and scrambling up the slats toward the tree house. Strictly speaking, she wasn’t allowed up there without Jack or Paul, but there were worse things in life than a broken arm.
“Julia,” Maman called again, annoyance in her tone.
A hand fisted in the back of her nightgown and yanked Julia from her perch. She screamed as she fell, kicking as fingers bit into her upper arms.
“Julia!” Maman was closer now, her voice panicked.
Julia screamed again at a sharp pain in her shoulder. Her body went leaden and her mind disconnected from the world around her. Memories danced in her mind: playing with Jack, riding on Father’s shoulders, cuddling in Maman’s arms when she was ill.
“No!” Maman screamed.
A shockwave coursed through her body, forcing her back. Maman fisted the front of Julia’s nightgown and dragged her forward again. Julia whimpered as her shoulder exploded in pain. Then Maman’s arms were around her, soothing her.
She forced her eyes open, trying to understand the warm liquid plastering her nightgown to her back and cooling in the night breeze. Julia shivered, the night suddenly colder than moments earlier.
Another shockwave forced her hard against Maman’s chest. Julia closed her eyes again as her shoulder throbbed, even breathing painful of a sudden.
“Release her,” the man’s voice growled.
“Never. Leave us,” Maman ordered. “My amulet will protect us both, as long as it touches her. Leave us or face my husband.”
The growling was louder, a fierce animal sound that made Julia shiver again.
“Hold to me, Julia,” Maman whispered. “You must not let go. Never let go.”
Julia fisted handfuls of Maman’s blouse, her hands trembling wildly. Why was it so cold?
“I said release her!”
“Never let go,” Maman repeated softly.
Then they were falling to the ground. Julia sobbed at a strange heavy thumping sound. It came again and again. She wrapped her legs around Maman’s waist.
“Julia,” the man whispered. “Come to me.”
She shook her head, holding to Maman.
You must not let go. Never let go.
“Julia.” His voice was calming, soothing. “Come to me, Julia.”
“Never let—” she gasped, her mind muddled.
“Julia.” His voice was sweet and pure.
She sighed, her muscles warm and relaxed. She was supposed to touch him, wasn’t she? Julia relaxed one fist, trying desperately to focus on reaching out to him.
A roar split the night, making her head ache.
Never let go!
She fisted Maman’s blouse, shaking her head. Julia gagged at a horrible smell, burying her face in Maman’s chest.
“Julia,” Jack choked. Was the smell too much for him, as well? His hands pulled at her.
“No!” she screamed, tightening her fists. “Maman said—”
“Julia, let go,” he ordered.
Jack forced her hands open, dragging Julia from Maman’s chest. She fought him, pleading for Maman to hold her. She grasped at Maman’s skirt as her oldest brother pulled her away. He placed his body between them, and Julia beat at his chest.
His hand traced her neck. He cursed, dropping an amulet over her head. Then Julia was moving, wrapped in Jack’s arms, sobbing into his chest and calling out for Maman.
“Jack!” Paul shouted. “Is she all right?”
“Call Damien. She needs a doctor.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I’ll take her.”
There was an uneasy moment of silence.
“Now, Paul,” he thundered.
Julia grasped at his shirt, trying to ask what he meant. Who needed a doctor? Why? Was Maman hurt?
A scream of rage seemed to shake the stars. Julia met Jack’s gaze, then everything went dark.
“A few more minutes,” Jack promised, though he was certain Julia couldn’t hear him. He touched her face, wincing at how cold her skin felt. He tucked his jacket around her, muttering a prayer that she would survive. If she didn’t, their father was as good as lost, and Jack would be Lord.
I am too young to be Lord. I don’t want it. Not now. Not this way. Certainly not because of the loss of his sister.
Damien met him at Julia’s door. “Is it true?” he asked urgently.
Jack didn’t answer immediately. He lifted his sister out of the car and headed for the cramped office in Damien’s home with the doctor at his heels.
“Is it true?” he asked again.
“Is what true?” Jack snapped. “That my mother is dead, and my father is in the throes of printing madness? That my sister is seriously injured? Yes to each of them, Damien.”
The doctor nodded, motioning him to a high table. Damien pulled back the jacket, wincing at the little girl bathed in her own blood and that of her mother. Julia was pale, even her lips nearly colorless. Her breaths came in shallow gasps of air.
Damien cut her nightgown away from the wound, turning on Jack with a stricken look. “My God! What did this? I mean, how could—”
“The beast fed, and the wound tore away. We will not lose her, Damien.”
He listened to her heart, grimacing. “Jack, I—”
“If we lose Julia, we lose my father,” Jack growled. I will not allow it.
“I cannot treat this effectively. It’s too late.”
“It can’t be.”
“The hospital is too far.”
“What can’t you do here?”
“She’s lost too much blood, Jack. This is a small clinic, and I’m not equipped to—”
Jack stripped off his shirt.
Damien shook his head in horror. “Warriors transfuse their own,” he squeaked. “You’re not—”
“Human,” he finished acidly. “She is my sister. We will match well enough.” Jack pulled a chair over and offered his arm.
The doctor hesitated. “What will this do to her?”
“I don’t care, as long as it saves her life.”
Damien stared at him, his mouth working as if he intended to argue. “Your blood—”
“I gave you an order, Damien.” The doctor was bound to obey. Jack prayed he’d obey. Julia didn’t have time for more arguments.
Damien nodded and set to work. He repaired the damage while the transfusion ran.
Jack stroked Julia’s hair, murmuring his assurances that she would live to run and swim with him again. He caught Damien’s hand, as the doctor reached for the needle in his arm. “Not until she’s strong enough. My body will replace what I’ve lost. You know that.”
Damien ran a shaking hand through his hair. “The damage is done,” he agreed.
By the time the needles were removed, Jack shook in exhaustion. “Will she survive?” His words were slurred, and his vision jumped and blurred.
“Blood rejection happens quickly,” he replied. “We’ll know within the hour.”
“Jee willing, there will be no reaction.”
August 21st, 1952
Robert opened his eyes to the harsh morning light. He swallowed, wincing at the raw ache in his throat. How many hours had he howled over Merilee’s grave? Probably until the sun was a gray line on the horizon.
He fisted a handful of the dirt in his trembling hand, then pressed his forehead to the freshly filled grave. Would that he had a lifetime to lie here and grieve, he would do so, but it was not to be. Robert and Merilee had six children, and he owed it to his wife to see them through this and everything else that came their way.
Robert pushed to his feet, stiff and aching. The walk to the house seemed to take ten times as long as it had the day before. Merilee no longer waited for him. What was there to rush for?
I failed her. I followed a false trail and left my family unprotected in the face of an enemy I grossly underestimated.
Paul looked up as he entered. He paled and dropped his gaze, then passed a glass of milk to Alan. He nodded Patrick toward his plate of eggs.
Robert touched Nikolaus’s hair, biting back tears. “Eat up, boys,” he offered in a hoarse voice. His own stomach twisted at the smell of food.
His gaze passed over then returned to the doll in the trash. Robert ambled over to it and picked it up, searching out his memories of the night before.
The doll had lay beneath the tree house in the clearing where he’d discovered Merilee’s body. It wasn’t a doll he’d seen before, certainly not one of the hundreds his daughter owned. Robert knew every one of those dolls by sight and name.
The truth stung him. “Damn that beast,” he growled. “He used—”
Robert turned to the table abruptly, scanning his gaze over his assembled children, his heart pounding. “Julia? Paul, where are Jack and Julia?”
Paul placed his fork next to his untouched plate. “With Damien.”
Robert dropped the doll, weaving on his feet as the china face shattered against the polished wood floor. “Oh... Oh, gods. I have to go, Paul.”
“Yes. You do,” his son informed him.
He hesitated long enough to kiss his younger sons goodbye, then sprinted for the garage.
Damien’s home and office were almost twenty miles away. That gave Robert ample time to analyze what went wrong.
He’d told Julia she was safe. He’d never told her what there was to fear in the world. He’d led her to believe nothing could harm her. He’d hidden their mortal enemies from her.
Robert sobbed at the depth of his errors...and the cost of them. It had been too easy for the beast. The damned thing had simply walked up to a four-year-old child who trusted implicitly that she was safe.
How long had it taken him to coax her amulet away from her? What lies had he used to convince Julia to give away her protection?
I never even explained how the amulet protected her. To Julia, it was nothing more than a prized possession that meant I love her.
Robert hadn’t questioned anything the previous night. He hadn’t had a truly logical thought from the moment he saw Merilee’s body until the moment he’d held that damned doll.
Now that he had a reason to search for answers, the answers seared him. The beast had used the doll. For whatever reason, Julia had taken off her amulet.
The beast fed. On Julia.
And killed Merilee with a tree branch, probably in an attempt to take Julia from her.
He pulled his car into the slot next to Jack’s, trying to ignore the tang of human blood seeping from his son’s vehicle. In a heartbeat, he was bolting through the door and into the treatment area. Robert went still at the sight of them.
Jack sat in a chair, bare-chested, his shirt crumpled at his feet, his head pillowed on his crossed arms next to Julia’s hip. Sweat coated Julia’s face, and a thick bandage enveloped her shoulder. A light blanket covered her to the chest, and she was very still.
Too still. Julia is never still, even in sleep.
Robert staggered to her, touching Julia’s face with a dirt-caked hand. A fever raged in her. “Damien,” he thundered.
Jack startled, training a weary gaze on his father. Robert’s breath caught in his throat at how drawn his son was, shaking...pale. He glanced at Julia and then back to his son. Fevering or not, Julia looked better than her oldest brother did. “Jack?” What have I missed? I know Jack wasn’t injured. None of my sons were.
His son averted his gaze, his jaw tightening.
“What have you done, Jack?”
Damien rushed in and laid a hand on Julia’s throat. He shook his head, then shot Jack a look of pure misery. “I think your Jee might have failed you.”
Robert grasped his son by the back of the neck, considering murder. “What did you do?” he demanded.
“She would have died in my arms,” Jack pleaded. “I couldn’t let that happen.”
“She needed blood. It couldn’t wait. It was her only chance.”
“Yours?” Robert asked, feeling faint.
“Yes. Mine. It was mine or death.” His voice was sure in conviction.
Robert nodded, releasing Jack and turning back to his daughter with a clearer mind to the situation. “There is another possibility.”
Damien looked up in surprise, a new bag of IV fluids in his hand. “Robert?”
“Check her wound.”
“But only last night—”
“Check it,” Robert repeated carefully.
Damien set the IV solution on the bedside table, eased Julia to her side, and started cutting and peeling away blood-stained bandages. He stared at her shoulder, barely breathing.
The urge to reach across the bed and shake him was strong. Robert tapped it down and forced a calm voice. “Damien?”
His emotions rioted. Robert wasn’t sure if he should pray that she was simply ill in the aftermath of the attack or that Jack’s blood had caused some of his healing to pass to her, no matter what it might mean in years to come.
“Well on its way to being healed.” The doctor let loose a nervous laugh. “At this rate, there may not even be a scar. It’s a miracle, Robert.”
“Krankheit,” Jack grumbled. He winced, most likely in the realization of what he’d probably brought down on their heads.
Robert nodded his agreement. “I’ll call Carrick. We have to know.”
His son didn’t meet his gaze. “And if I have somehow managed to curse her?”
“Then she will be Blutjadgfrau.” Just the thought of it made Robert shiver in apprehension. “But she will be alive, Jack.”
A hand stroked at her hair. Julia groaned. Her entire body felt sore and feverish.
“Julia?” her father called. “Julia, please open your eyes.”
She forced her eyelids up, trying to focus. Without success. Julia licked her dry lips.
“Juice.” Talking hurt, and she coughed in the effort to. “Please.” Maman says to always say please.
A cup touched her lips. It held water, but even water tasted sweet and cold. It soothed her abused throat. Julia drank deeply, until her stomach complained. The cup retreated, and her father wiped her face with a cool cloth.
“Better?” he asked.
She nodded, and her stomach clenched. “Feel sick.”
“I imagine you do.”
“Maman,” she requested. Maman always held her when Julia was hurt or wasn’t feeling well. Julia couldn’t remember ever feeling this bad before, and she wanted Maman.
Father didn’t answer.
“Maman,” she repeated.
“Do you remember why you’re here, Julia?”
Her memories were muddled, fractured images that didn’t make sense in conjunction with each other. “A man. A man who knew you. I ran from him to the tree house, but I fell...I think. I— It hurt.”
“Do you remember anything about the man?” he asked gently.
“Dark... Like a Warrior. He was a stranger, but he knew me. He knew all of us.”
Her father seemed to glow in anger, an aura that surrounded him. She’d heard Maman and her brothers talk about Blutjagd before, but Julia had never seen it. She hadn’t known you could see it.
He glared at her, and his jaw tightened. Julia edged away from him on the bed. Father had never been angry with her before, but she suspected he was now.
He grasped her by the waist and lifted Julia from the bed, cradling her to his chest. She tensed for a moment, but Father didn’t seem angry anymore. His chest shook in sobs, and his tears splashed on her cheek. For a long time, he didn’t speak. Father rocked her, humming the lullaby Maman sang to her every night.
Julia sank to his chest, barely noting the words wrenched from his lips. He wove the tale of an old enemy who’d killed Maman and injured Julia. He pleaded with her not to risk herself again.
She had no idea how long Father kept talking. Sleep won out all too soon.
“Was that wise?” Jack asked solemnly.
“I will not allow Julia to feel responsible for her mother’s death. It isn’t true, you know. I never told her what dangers there were. She didn’t know, and that is my fault. All of this is my doing.”
Jack nodded. Even if it wasn’t true, on some level, any Warrior father would believe himself guilty for allowing his wife and children to be harmed or killed. “What will you tell her?”
“What I already have.” Robert sighed. “And we have to tell her what we are and what we fight. Julia can never remove her amulet now.”
“Will you tell her why?”
Robert tensed, his Blutjagd burning fiercely again.
“You have to,” Jack opined. “Julia has to know the risks she—”
“Perhaps someday,” Robert conceded.
“Do you wish to terrify her?” he demanded. “The beast fed, Jack. It fed on her.”
“Can you tell a baby that she was fodder for a demon?”
His gut twisted at the thought of saying the words to Julia. “No.” Jack chanced a searching look at his father. “Have you reached the Lord Armen?”
Robert nodded. “The Stone assures us that the changes are not what we feared. It isn’t like a beast giving his blood. Julia may be stronger than the average woman, faster, more sensitive to the beasts. In fact, she may become a sensitive, for all we know. But she won’t be cursed.”
Jack sighed in relief.
“Your gamble paid off. I owe you your sister’s life.”
It was the highest honor a Warrior could pay another, owing someone the life of his precious daughter. Jack just wished he felt worthy of it.