Sloan Elliot Richardson was as deadly a male as they came. Born into a ruling clan of Lycans, he swore to avenge the deaths caused by his brother. He could afford to care for no one until his mission was complete. Yet, his heart was won by a young girl with the courage of warriors. Madison Lovell grew up obeying her instinct even when it led her into a dark barn to face a huge wolf. So when she heard that inner voice say he was the one for her, she knew she could let nothing stand in the way.
Pain! Terror! Despair!
The emotions pounded through her in spasms. Her breathing was labored as she lurched to a sitting position in bed.
She took deep, steadying breaths.
“It was just a dream,” she muttered.
Silver moonlight shone through her window, where she had left the curtains open. Grandma would have had a hissy fit if she was alive, was the errant thought that ran through her mind. “Sleeping in the moonlight was a sure-fire road to madness,” had been one of her favorite sayings from the ‘old country’.
Madison had no idea what the old country was nor did she care. Truth be told, everything they owned seemed old, so it must have come from the old country.
She allowed her mind to wander where it would, hoping that the images from her dream would surface. She knew better than to push as that was the most certain way to drive the dreams away.
“Something about the barn,” she murmured as the image came back.
The hollow creaking sound came to her then. Clear upon the silent night…
She padded on bare feet over to the window and looked down. Sure enough, the barn door was open.
It wasn’t the first time one of her dreams became reality, but it was the first time that it had happened in the middle of the night in such eerie circumstances. Her dreams were usually along the lines of where to find the missing pony and which blonde bimbo future-cheerleader-type would choose to make her their personal victim for the day.
She briefly considered waking her dad and decided just as quickly against it.
Not only was he sure to be beyond exhaustion after pulling fences, she was sure that whoever had been given responsibility for locking up the barn would face a brutal tongue lashing and possible firing. Good help was hard to come by and she had no desire to pull someone else’s weight if his anger got the better of him.
She would check on the animals, lock up and everything would be right as rain.
She was nine, she could handle it! Hadn’t she been handling it since her mamma died two years ago? It was just her and her papa now and they looked out for each other.
Her chin lifted and she adopted a warrior stance as she went to handle it.
It was easy to make her way through the house in silence. Easier still to cross the lawn to the barn in the bright light of the moon.
She stepped within and stood silently, waiting for her eyes to adjust. The windows high up in the walls let in just enough light to make out the shapes of the animals, but she needed to be sure they were all fine, first, and that none were missing.
She was nine, but she was not stupid. A thief could have left the door open.
She checked the horses first. They whickered a welcome and waited expectantly. “Sorry gals, got no apples today.”
Then the cows…
Then the sheep…
Then the pigs…
Everyone was fine.
Just as she was about to leave, though, instinct made her turn to the darkest corner of the barn where the light could not touch.
She narrowed her eyes.
Was there something there?
Why would the animals remain so calm if there was an intruder?
She felt something then. Almost as though a voice had given her a gentle mental nudge. All is well here, go to sleep…
Then the wind shifted and slammed the barn door shut.
Not at the sound—but because the wind had filtered into the barn and she smelled…
Her eyes widened further until she was sure she looked very much like a deer in the headlights of a car.
“Really? You wanna try that Jedi ‘all is well’ crap with me? Do you know who I am?” Her voice sounded cold and grown up, both of which she should have been grateful for. Instead, she felt rather like she could kick herself for not knowing when to shut up.
The darkness shifted into the form of a wolf.
Are you kidding me? Wolf? He’s the size of a small pony!
His dark fur seemed to absorb all the light that fell onto it. His eyes were bottomless pools of darkness. When he stood, his face was level with hers.
“My apologies, Lady.” His voice was a warm growl. “I wish you no harm. I merely sought shelter from my enemies.”
She cocked her head to one side, studying him closely. He seemed to rest most of his weight on three of his legs. She smelled the actinic scent of blood again.
“You’re hurt?” she said.
“A mere scratch,” he growled, ignoring the blood that pooled under him and the faint dizziness.
“Men and animals are much the same,” she muttered and walked to where they kept the medical supplies.
If wolves could frown, then that was the expression that crossed his face.
“How do you know I am a man?” he asked.
“I didn’t.” She smiled as she set down the bandages and antiseptics.
She gently touched his fur, marveling at its softness. He lay down so she could have access to his cuts. She found the wounds—one deep cut on his flank and another shallower one on his left leg.
“I am afraid I will have to sew these shut,” she said. The deeper one caused her to shudder. It gushed a frightening amount of blood.
“You can do this?” he growled doubtfully, looking at her small hands.
“I am nine,” she informed him haughtily. “I can do this…”
She stilled the panic in her heart and threaded the needle. There was no one else to help him and he needed it. No one else would understand that he was not an animal to be put down…but something else entirely.
It felt like hours before the wolf’s wounds were closed.
Dawn was beginning to break when she patted the last bandage into place and said, “That should do it.”
“I am ever in your debt, lady,” he said in his raspy voice. “Should you ever have need, I will be there.”
She smiled sadly at him and stroked a hand down his neck.
“I think I shall be here,” she said, “should you ever have need of me again…”
Now that she was closer, she could see his eyes were not black as she had first thought, but a deep mossy green.
She looked into his eyes and time faded for an instant…
“We will meet again...” She smiled once more. “I’ll leave the barn door unlocked. Just leave before the sun comes up,” she said, knowing he needed rest after losing as much blood as he had. She poured water into a clean bowl and left it in front of him. She had done all she could.
Maybe there was one thing more.
“Can you see into my mind?” she asked cautiously.
“Yes, but I’d only do so now with your permission.”
“You have it,” she said, “There is a place…safe…no one goes there…”
He looked into her mind as she let the image stand out. A tiny path led from the end of their property to a hidden glade and another smaller path led to a tiny cave. It was an easy path. One that he could follow even in his injured state.
He nodded to show he understood.
He watched until she left.
Then he let out a low growl which sounded very much like disagreement. Meet again? What he had done was forbidden! It was against the code to be seen…and let the witness live…
He growled low in his throat again. It was against the code to harm an innocent, too.
He had allowed himself to break just one tonight and let the little gypsy tend to his wounds. One of the wounds was dire. If not for her appearing in the barn when she did, he would have bled to death.
He shook his head slightly. What an odd child…He felt as though each stitch had hurt her more than it had him. He searched his memory and found he could not remember a time when anyone had been that tender in caring for him.
His scowl deepened. The directions she had given him to a place of safety were even more of a life-saver. How could he ever repay her?
“It is time,” the older man said to the younger.
Nothing could be seen of either in their long black cloaks with the hoods pulled up.
“That my father had lived to see this day,” the younger murmured.
No other words were spoken as they ghosted the rest of the way to the old manor house. It may have been old, but the wards placed around it were strong and tuned for their kind.
It had taken a long time to gather the intelligence of how many, where and what types of wards there were. The combination of man-made security systems and old world wardings were formidable enough to prevent an army from entering.
Sloan Elliot Richardson was not an army.
He was more.
He resented the insistence of his old mentor to accompany him. He would rather have done this alone, but he understood that the old man needed closure as much as he did.
Maybe more so…
His mentor had lost a brother when Sloan lost a father.
The two skirted obstacles in the dark and had made it close to the front door when an ear-piercing shriek ripped through the night.
Sloan leapt the last few yards to the door and slammed his shoulder and all his considerable telekinetic power against it.
The door shattered.
Lights blazed on, though none of the creatures that met his charge needed them.
Time seemed to slow as he met the first blood drinker’s attack. He had enough time to note the blonde good looks and the litheness that spoke of a member of Stefano’s elite, before they were joined in battle.
He dodged a blow that a mortal would never have seen coming and reached into his belt for a stake. He came up under the guard of the Vamp and thrust upward.
As dust flew, he met a second attacker and employed a similar move, but this one fell to the floor when the stake pierced his heart. He realized this opponent was a younger one, not undead long enough to simply become dust when killed.
By then, Gregori was inside as well.
The Vamps drew back, wary now that their first charge had not gone as intended.
The sound of someone clapping made everyone look up.
The man who stood on the landing was gorgeous in a way that men could easily hate and women more easily lust for.
Hair black as night fell to his collar and framed a face that must have been chiseled by the gods themselves. His body boasted rippling muscles, lips made for kissing and eyes a deep and mossy green…
The taller and younger of the two cloaked men below lifted his hands and drew back the hood.
The confusion of the creatures in the room was palpable as the face revealed was the exact replica of the man above.
“Brother,” acknowledged the one below.
The one above inclined his head marginally in acknowledgment.
Another figure joined the man on the landing.
If he could be termed gorgeous, there were not words to describe the female.
Long golden hair cascaded down her back and framed a delicate heart-shaped face. Her eyes were slightly tilted at the edges, her cheekbones a photographers dream, and her lips perfect cupid’s bows. Her full breasts, slender waist and rounded hips were shown to advantage in a clinging, black silk gown.
Her blue eyes were colder than arctic winds, though, and robbed her otherwise sultry appearance of any warmth.
“He is your brother no longer, worm.” Her voice was even colder than her eyes.
She paused a beat. “I thought you would have realized the futility of action against us by now…”
Sloan felt the curiosity in the words.
He knew enough of the Vampire to know she would never show such emotion openly. But from what he knew of her he also understood that she was always coldly tactical and would never join battle unless she knew she would win.
How futile his actions must seem to her.
“Were your union itself not an abomination…” His voice matched hers for coldness. “…I would still be honor bound to destroy one of my own who has broken as many rules as Cian has.”
Cian looked down at his brother and smiled.
“And who died and left you to enforce the rules, brother?” He was openly mocking.
“Our father,” Sloan returned.
Cian’s face morphed from smug coolness to open shock.
Sloan’s mind added the look to the other evidence he had gathered and nodded toward the female at Cian’s side.
“It seems your lover has not been totally forthcoming in her dealings with you,” he drawled. He had to clamp down on his emotions as he continued. “Our father was fatally wounded in an attack on the Deeps fifteen years ago. He passed the mantle to me before he died.”
Cian’s moss green eyes heated with an emotion too strong for mere anger.
The death of their father was enough to grant Sloan, as only remaining recognized heir, the position of leader. However, passing on the mantle meant that their father had also bequeathed to Sloan all his powers.
Sloan and Cian had always been fairly evenly matched, though Cian, as elder, had won most of their childhood contests. Sloan’s powers, however, were multiplied exponentially now that he had the full power of the mantle. The passing on of the mantle comprised the decision and the ceremony. Fifteen years ago, bleeding on the floor of a barn, he had only had the decision of his father as he died on the forest floor. After the little gypsy had helped him, he had gone to the elders of the clans and placed his claim before them. They had performed the ceremony and granted him the right to his revenge.
“Badly played, love.” Cian’s murmured words to the female at his side brought a swift blush to her face and Sloan found himself reassessing the balance of power in their relationship.
“Stefano,” murmured the female, her fair features suffused with color.
A third figure appeared on the landing.
This one was much larger than any of the others.
He was the kind of male you would immediately expect to be cast in the role of Viking warrior were he an actor. He was a little over six and a half feet tall, muscled and blonde.
Stefano was a legend in their world. Some said he actually was a Viking and none had ever dared ask his age. He was a formidable warrior and had been a trainer for as long as anyone remembered. As a mercenary for hire, he made his own rules. He chose his own men and always chose those who resembled him. The one employer who had dared question his choices had been found in pieces.
Cian looked from the female at his side to Stefano and nodded once.
“Fare thee well, brother.” Cian’s voice was mocking as he and the female stepped back.
“Really not according to plan,” Sloan growled to Gregori.
Gregori lifted his hands and finally removed his hood. His grey eyes surveyed the scene and gazed at the score of immortal warriors. His long hair, black with a few strands of gray, was pulled back in a warrior’s tail.
“Is it ever?” he sighed.
At Sloan’s murmur, the light fixtures exploded and left them in darkness. Though they could all see in the dark, he was willing to bet his life that the Vampires had less practice fighting in it.
He and Gregori turned in unison so that they stood back to back as they met the tide of warriors.
All the while, the rage burned in him, howling for the blood of his brother and that vixen. They had been ready and waiting! Somehow, they had learned of their plan and had anticipated them.
Had he not revealed his newer powers, his brother would have been ready to challenge him. Had Cian forced him to change while embattled, Sloan could have gained all of his powers. One of the things that made the mantle such a potent power was its ability to allow the user to absorb the strength and vitality of any Lycan they chose. It was also why only the most trusted were ever allowed to have both the mantle and the position of leader. He cursed himself for not seeing that getting to the doors had been too easy.
Then there was no more thought as the lethal blades of the warrior vampires came at them. Sloan called on his telekinetic powers again. The paneled wood of the walls shattered and the rain of fist-sized splinters flew around him and Gregori, straight into the first line of them.
Sloan spared a glance upward. The landing was clear. The warriors were mere distractions to allow the escape of their employers. He was sure the advancing throng did not see themselves as ‘mere’ anything after winning countless victories.
But then they had never done battle against a leader of the Regis Lycans. Sloan moved and wherever he darted, death followed. Gregori may have moved slower but death was no less swift. In the heat of battle, the two Lycans were forced apart. The older vamps evaporated into dust while some of the younger ones shriveled into dried up husks that littered the floor.
“I don’t see Stefano here, do you?” Gregori’s voice came from the opposite end of the hall.
“No,” Sloan replied then murmured words of magic.
A pale orb of light rested in the palm of his hand. He murmured again and it flew to hover above them, casting enough light to see the hall and the still empty landing.
“Shall we go after them?” Gregori asked.
“No,” Sloan said. “They are long gone by now…”