When Locke and Blade must work together to solve crimes, but will dislike turn to attraction in the heat of fighting their enemies?
Christopher Locke is a man with a tarnished reputation. When he's transferred to Waterford Station to serve as inspector, he meets Jonathan Blade, his new partner. Jonathan thinks Christopher is a brute. Chris thinks Jonathan is a snob. Both think the other is more than attractive, which might be more dangerous than the enemies they must face.
This title has been previously published.
Inspector Christopher Locke reined in his mount and stared up at the large estate of Waterford sitting on a hill in the distance. A knot of dread sat in his belly. For nearly one hundred and fifty years, the large manor had housed the patrol station for this district in all its incarnations. Countless men and women sworn to the duty of the One God, to be the peacekeepers of their world, had lived and died here.
At thirty-one, this was Locke’s third assignment; not a good showing. Most inspectors stayed in one place their entire careers, but not him. He hoped this would be the last time circumstances would force him to change. Already his reputation followed him like a lame dog—dodgy at best, frightening if believed, and not nearly half of it true. That was the funny thing about reputations. They clung to you like damp on an early spring morning, like snowflakes on your eyelashes, like scum to the edges of a pond.
His fist tightened and so did his legs. His mount danced to the side, eager to find a warm stall and dry hay. Locke wasn’t nearly as eager to face his new chief inspector or his new patroller crew. They’d no doubt heard of him and formed their own opinions.
He squared his shoulders and exhaled.
And why shouldn’t they? He looked every inch the part of the brute, large and muscled, the ragged scar on his chin cutting across his bottom lip, and silver-blue eyes the color of ice. His dark hair blew wild around his head in the brisk autumn wind.
“Easy, Lady Jane.” He relaxed, patted the sturdy chestnut on the neck, and she calmed.
Locke reached under his cloak, pulled out his transfer papers and then smoothed the crumpled envelope, giving them one last read. Ire burned in his throat at the terse words, just short of a full dismissal, but thankfully his former chief inspector had been careful not to spell out the exact nature of the charges, for everyone’s sake. Only Locke had taken the brunt of the burden.
His anger threatened to erupt, but he swallowed down the bile, tasting it on the back of his throat.
He knew that bitter taste well—injustice. He’d been accused, investigated, brought before the chief and in the end, given a rough sort of justice. Not near enough, his enemies in the patrol had claimed. A transfer with a caution, to remain on his record like the fresh echo of wine spilled on fine linen, and a cut in pay. His rank remained the same because, in these dark times, the patrol needed every trained inspector they could get. Even a man such as him.
He didn’t care about the money. The patrol paid sparsely for putting their lives on the line, giving them room and board at the station. For the patrollers, it was an honor to serve their God and their fellow men. Despite all he’d been through, Locke still held that honor precious.
“On we go, Lady.” He squeezed her sides with his legs, and she moved down the narrow lane leading away from the carriage road that ran the fifteen miles between the cities of Dunaway and Forbes. Interspersed along it were hamlets, villages and estates…and the station.
The district Waterford served, partly rural, partly citified, had enough crime to keep the patrollers busy day and night. And with Lord Blackmoor’s crime syndicate spreading far and wide, it had stretched the patrol service as thin as frost.
Lady Jane and he had been together for a while now, and he was more than grateful his former chief had allowed him to take her with him to the new post. Responding to his nudge, she picked up her pace, perhaps sensing home. Locke had no such sense of excitement, only dread. Still, he straightened his back and cantered her across the stone-and-wood bridge over a boulder-strewn stream, white water rushing and roaring, and through the massive iron gates of the station.
Blue banners embroidered with the station’s mascot, a golden eagle, streamed from the tall spires of the gate, and a sense of honor and pride filled him. This place would be his home for the rest of his life or until he died in battle or became wounded beyond use.
It looked a grand building made of gray brick with multi-paned glass windows. Two stories tall with two wings jutting off to the sides and all of it topped with a black slate roof. A circular gravel court, large enough for a carriage to turn around in, stood in front of the massive carved doors. A pair of bronze eagles flanked them, wings open, talons gripping a craggy rock.
As he approached the entry, two addlers teleported in. A young groom, by the looks of his brown leather breeches and tall black boots, and a much older elf, dressed in black frock coat and knickers, tall white socks, and silver buckled shoes. By the wild blue hair on his head, Locke knew him to be an air elemental and, most likely, the keeper of the manor’s keys.
“Whoa, Lady!” Locke pulled her up and dismounted. The groom rushed forward to take her reins, and Locke tossed them to him. The little man almost came up to the stirrup, but he handled her well, so Locke turned away, content to let her go to her new home.
The small formal addler, his aged hands clasped in front, waited for him. The little man could have been one hundred years old or five hundred; it was hard to tell age, young or old, with addlers.
“Inspector Locke, I presume.” He gave Locke a curt nod.
“I am. And you are?” Locke bowed. He’d always treated addlers with courtesy and he’d do no less here. They were as much a part of the patrol service as those sworn to it.
“Zephyr, sir. Your things arrived this morning by transport. They await you in your room.” He turned and flicked his hand in the air, and the massive carved wood double doors of the estate swung open on well-oiled hinges.
Locke followed. He could have had an addler transport him, but he’d needed to bring the horse, so he’d ridden over. He’d been in no rush to get here.
The doors closed behind him with a solid thud, and Locke jumped at the sound. Zephyr didn’t react as he moved into the center of the entry.
The main hall soared up two stories, a rotunda with a balcony that ran its length and marble pillars supporting the gallery. A wide wood staircase front and center gave the place a sense of elegance. Gleaming wooden floors as far as he could see showed the upkeep here was first class. Patrollers took pride in their stations, as did the addlers who cleaned and served them.
Several stuffed eagles had places of honor around the walls, along with the paintings and tapestries all sporting the majestic bird. In between them, old blood weapons of all sorts gave the place a country manor feel. Other than for hunting, weapons hadn’t been used to defend the manor or against another human in nearly two hundred years.
“Your room first. You can refresh yourself and dress properly.” Zephyr gave him a quick up and down, his bushy blue eyebrows coming together.
Locke had worn riding clothes, not his uniform. “I hadn’t wanted to draw attention to myself.” He had no need to explain himself, not to this addler, or to any patroller less than his own rank, but under the elder elf’s scrutiny, he couldn’t help it.
“Wise. Lord Blackmoor’s men lurk all around. Pity to lose you before you even start.” Zephyr turned to the stairs, but Locke caught the man’s quick sneer.
So, his reputation had reached even here.
Locke climbed the stairs, taking in the place, then followed his guide to the north wing, where the inspectors were housed. Locke reckoned the patrollers would be in the south wing, dormitory-style.
They walked down a corridor lined with doors. Each door had a brass nameplate. Locke took note of them. Five in all. Six was a full complement, but only four had names on them.
“Your room, sir.” Zephyr halted and stepped aside.
The brass plate next to the door had his name etched in it.