"For the extinction of the beasts that walk the night, we will give our life's blood and our lives. Such is the curse we were born to. Such is the duty we swear to. Such are the lives we lead."
Unknown to humans, Night Warriors hunt the night, saving them from vampire-like creatures called beasts. When Corwyn Hunter saves Anna from the mad elder Veriel, he is irresistibly drawn to her as mate, but there is more to Anna than there seems. Veriel has fixated on her, claiming Anna is his wife, a situation she is at a loss to explain. Is Veriel truly mad or does he have a claim on Anna and her unborn child?
Whichever side ultimately claims Anna's child will rise the victor. It is a battle neither side intends to lose, no matter the cost.
The warriors have avoided training a female for 1500 years, but the stone will not be denied. It is time for a change in the Warrior ranks.
Anna snapped awake, willing her heart to slow. This arousal was maddening. Every night, it was the same thing--or rather a similar thing. The man was always the same, though the encounters were always different--and stunningly real for dreams. She shuddered as she recalled how interactive the dreams were. If she didn't find something pleasing--and that is strange for a wet dream, isn't it?--it changed to something pleasing almost immediately.
The man in the dream was beyond handsome to downright sinful. His medium brown hair was longer than Anna typically liked, and his gray eyes glowed silver in the dim candlelight or firelight that was a staple in the dreams. Anna's head didn't reach his shoulder; at five feet five, that would make him well over six feet tall.
His age was impossible to gauge. At times, he looked like he was eighteen; at others, he seemed close to thirty. His body was perfect: strong and broad-shouldered, with sparse dark curls over a well-muscled chest and endowed well enough to keep any woman happy, she was sure. There was an intriguing scar on his chest, just above the right nipple, and a red tattoo on his shoulder, some sort of a symbol or glyph that made no sense to Anna but drew her hands and mouth like a magnet.
"Geliebte. Regana," she whispered into the dark room.
Of all things he whispered to her while he made her his own, both in lightly accented English and in several smooth, foreign tongues, spoken as if he'd been born to them, those two words assaulted her over and over. They melted her, and Anna had no idea what they meant, only that they were spoken with tenderness and passion.
All told, the situation was driving her insane. Anna woke every night, feeling the comfortable aches of having accepted a lover but still aching for him as if she hadn't--which of course, she hadn't.
Anna groaned as she realized that that, more than anything, drove her to accept Matt's invitation out. Matt Collins wasn't typically a man she would go out with on a dare, but he was funny and attractive, just the kind of man to help her get rid of this pent-up frustration. If he was a little too full of himself, all the better. That just meant Anna would have no problem at all convincing Matt to engage in something hot and mind-blowing that would cure her of this aching need. Twenty-four was far too young to be committed, she decided.
* * * *
Corwyn heard Colin coming and glanced at his watch in shock. Two hours had passed while he read and reread his father's notes. It was obvious that Veriel had some need for or interest in the woman, but there was no clue what it was in his father's observations.
"Still here?" Colin questioned. "Sitting down on the job while I'm off hunting," he teased. "You're more like Stephen every day."
"Actually, I'm working on a problem for Father. Your hunt was successful." It wasn't a question. Corwyn knew a beast died in Hunter range, and Colin still had the faint smell of it on him.
"Just a low-level named Belanger. Is Father home or gone again on one of his secret forays?" Colin dropped into the chair opposite the desk and smiled at him.
Corwyn felt his jaw tighten reflexively, and Colin's smile disappeared.
"He met Veriel in battle two days ago. He followed a trail--a problem he was working on, and the beast didn't want his interference."
"Impossible. We would have sensed it," he raged.
"He was outside our range. In Maher, actually. Kord brought his notebook and weapon to me tonight after you left."
Colin went a shade of pale Corwyn had never seen on him before. "Did Veriel feed?" he asked woodenly.
"No. Calvin sensed Jonas's distress and sent Veriel to ground with the help of Kord. It was good that they were together and sunrise was fast approaching, or we could have lost more. You know Veriel has never lost to a single Warrior."
Colin nodded uncertainly but with an easing of his muscles.
Corwyn understood his upset. On the rare occasion a Warrior was killed by an elder, feeding was always a concern. While any turned beast could access an unprotected human's thoughts, it took an elder to read the thoughts of a Warrior. If the elder fed, all their safe houses, protected professionals, and strategies were forfeit, especially if it was the house lord who fell; they would have had to start from scratch. For that reason, more than any other, the houses shared information only when it was absolutely necessary. At least if someone was lost, he couldn't betray everything.
Elders rarely came within miles of Warriors. They fed, took their pleasures, and went to ground, moving on before reprisals could come. Only once in fifteen hundred years had an elder been killed, by the infamous Pauwel first Lord Crossbearer, but the elders were new then and unaccustomed to their powers. Regardless, they avoided the Warriors for fear of their lives and sent turned to keep the Warriors busy--except for Veriel.
Veriel was an enigma. He was The Mad Deceiver who'd released the beasts from their imprisonment within the Stone and turned his back on his life as a Warrior to go beast in the process. He was known as 'The Destroyer of Lives.' Unlike the other elders, he'd often sought out confrontation with the Warriors, especially the early Warriors of Hunter. For a time, it seemed that he was trying to exterminate the house completely. He was vicious and thorough, and more than once, Veriel had fed on Warriors.
Veriel had even done the most foolish thing imaginable, turned a Warrior and almost cost himself his life in the bargain. While all elders turned humans as a distraction to the Warriors, Veriel trained his turned vigorously to do the most damage they could. It was rare to find a beast turned by Veriel who was less than a high-level. He simply did not permit any less. When a Warrior died, it was often Veriel or one of his turned at work.
"Corwyn, with Father dead..." Colin began uncertainly.
He nodded stiffly and unsheathed his weapon, placing it on the desk more forcefully than was necessary. Colin stared at the seal in resignation. Crossed arrows superimposed over a bow and crested by the howling wolf head shined silver against the dark metal.
"I am Jager, now," Corwyn growled the ritual words.
Colin met his eyes and straightened his spine proudly. "My blade is yours, my duty at your whim. I stand, a Warrior of Hunter, yours to command." He rose to leave.
Corwyn smiled stiffly. For once, that overactive sense of duty was going to work in the older brother's favor. There wouldn't be an argument or balking Corwyn's place in things. It was Colin's duty to accept it, and he would do so with no scene--publicly, at least.
"Colin, send Stephen down here. I may as well finish this now."
"What will you do after that, Corwyn?" he asked quietly.
"Solve this mystery of Father's, if I can."
"But what if Veriel takes your life, too?" Colin protested.
"Then you'll hold the seal sooner than you counted on."
"Can't it wait? Shouldn't you start your family as a safeguard?" This was the Colin he knew and sometimes loved. This was the Warrior who would try Corwyn's patience.
"This can't wait, but I swear to keep my eyes open for a mate while I work on it," he promised grimly.
Corwyn had never put much thought into his duty to marry and produce heirs until now. He'd always thought there would be more time.
Unlike Kord, few Warriors married younger than thirty. In the early days, they routinely married as soon after being blood sealed as they could arrange, but that had fallen out of practice as the bloodlines had grown.
Worse, most protecteds were professionals they needed and not suited to wandering around after a Warrior. Now every woman, bait and saved, would have to be evaluated as a potential mate. Corwyn grimaced at the thought of it.