After a year-long depression following the murder of her fiancé, Siobhan Whelan stands on a bridge, tormented by unending nightmares, one step away from jumping. Only the kindness of a seductive stranger brings her back down to earth. But the handsome stranger is more than meets the eye, and soon Voni finds herself thrust into a strange new world.
For seven hundred years, Malakai Vadim has shouldered the mantle of Guardian Warrior. But a chance encounter with the tormented beauty brings him face to face with his destiny. His nemesis, Dmitrius Konstantin, has been feeding Voni’s grief through nightmares, wanting her and her untapped powers for his own. As Kai learns of his foe’s deadly interest, he must solve the riddle of Voni’s tortured dreams while holding his growing desire for her at bay.
Too bad the enemy Rogue Warriors have other plans. Now, along with fellow Guardian Eamon McClearon, Kai must venture into the In-Between, the enemy’s powerbase, to save her soul as well as his own. But can his love be strong enough to save them both?
Iasi, Moldavia, 1342 Crows screeched hungrily overhead, impatient as they waited for the last few combatants to bring the latest bloody campaign to a close. Voivode Malakai Gregori Vadim, Crown Prince of the Moldavian province of Iasi, blinked through the red veil as blood splashed across his visor, his sword biting deep into the nameless opponent. The man’s armor gave little protection, peeling away to reveal hewn flesh and shattered bone. Crimson froth bubbled up between the man’s lips, his eyes glazing and his soul fleeing to join those of his companions as the empty shell collapsed in a heap. Kai knelt down to attend to the young man who had called out for aid. The boy had seen too few winters to be on this field. Vacant eyes stared back at him. He heaved a tired sigh as he regained his feet. He took the slight reprieve to survey the field before him. Bodies littered the plains and spilled into the waters of the Dnister, posed in various states of dead or dying. The groans and wails of those yet to start their journey to the afterlife mingled in cacophonous harmony with the clang of steel and the cries of the carrion birds that circled above. His father, the king, would be watching from afar, confident in his son’s ability to defeat any enemy. Long had he battled alone, the curse of being the oldest son, his younger brothers barely out of swaddling clothes. His breath flowed effortlessly, echoing within the chamber of his helm. The invading Tatars underestimated the spirit and ferocity with which his army defended their homes, their families, and their faith. His enemy had hoped for an easy victory. What they got was a massacre. “You fight bravely, young one.” Kai swung his blood-stained great sword level with the source of the voice off his left shoulder. His blade whistled, passing through nothing. The words had an odd intonation, making his foe an unknown foreigner. “But, why do you fight?” He whipped his head around, searching frantically for his latest challenger. A quick feint to his right, and Kai slammed his left elbow back, hard and fast, hoping to connect with his vaporous foe. He was rewarded with a satisfying crunch and the whoosh of expelled air. Spinning again, he found himself eye to eye and sword to sword with a warrior garbed in a coat of plates unfamiliar to him. At first glance, he saw no metal. Instead, deep red leather and intricately woven golden ropes formed large panels placed in carefully measured tiers down the length of his body. Two separate pieces attached at the shoulder, offering little protection to the arms. His gilded helmet, while bowled at the crown, flared at its base, adorned with an ornate antennaelike horseshoe of metal in the center of the forehead. Everything gleamed in the midday sun. Beneath the short visor, oddly slanted brown eyes peered out above a hideous metal grimace. With their blades locked, Kai risked a look at the slender, strangely water-stained weapon. Its slight curve spoke of Eastern origins, but the unchanged width gave him pause. “Well done, my brother.” The words escaped through the narrow mouth slit, still shrouding the man in mystery. “I have no brother here,” Kai growled, increasing the pressure against this arrogant man’s blade. Perhaps he would be fortunate and, with enough force, break the spindly weapon in twain. The eyes before him widened in surprise. “Then why do you fight, if not for your brethren?” Smooth as smoke flowing over glass, his opponent circled to his right, his sword still locked with Kai’s. The movement of his feet barely stirred the blood-soaked earth beneath them. The question rang through Kai’s mind. Why did he fight? What kind of query was that? He fought because that was what he did. It was who he was. Voivode. Warlord. General. Fighter. Protector. His first battle had been at age twelve, standing alongside his father as his shield bearer. The stench of the cold winter morning, blood and entrails, vomit and shit, burned the back of his throat, and the sounds of scraping steel and strangled screams scarred his memory. “Do you fight for conquest?” asked the demon across from him. Kai initiated a quick disengage and renewed his attack. He swung his heavy broad sword, arcing the edge with lethal accuracy toward the oddly clad warrior’s chest. The man parried the blade with only a breath of effort, gracefully sidestepping the obvious assault. “Do you fight for power?” He continued the interrogation, launching himself at Kai in a flurry of strikes. Kai staggered under the ferocity of the barrage, backpedaling yet blocking every blow. The man was quick, his light blade blurring as it flew at his head over and over again. If he could put the smug bastard on his ass, he would have some questions of his own to ask. Once again, Kai swung, closed distance, and the blades clashed into a lock. “Perhaps, love?” The mocking tone set Kai’s teeth on edge. Giving in to his anger, he head-butted the man, gaining the upper hand. His mysterious opponent stumbled, landing on his back in surprise as Kai raised his blade to deliver the final blow. And halted, the edge of his sword a scant breath away from the fallen man’s neck. Kai’s muscles burned and shook as air rushed frantically in and out of his lungs, yet he held off his lethal slice. All the incessant questions had wormed into his mind. Who was he and why was he here? This was not his fight. He was not a Turk. Never one to kill without just cause, Kai had to discover the reason for his presence on the field. “Why are you here?” Kai turned the words back to the speaker. His fallen opponent reached a hand into the steel snarl of his face guard and removed it with one swift movement. The face beneath was unlike any Kai had ever seen before. Slanted almond eyes of deep brown rested in a chiseled face the color of late autumn wheat, a touch of gold still visible. Thin lips broke into a smile, revealing straight white teeth and a hint of blood. “Why, I am here for you,” he replied, extending his hand. Kai lowered his blade and stretched his arm down to aid the man. “Perhaps it would be best if I were to introduce myself to you,” he said, rising agilely to his booted feet. He adjusted his armor before continuing, deftly sheathing his long, graceful blade on his hip with a flick of his wrist and a resounding clack. “My name is Tashiharo Makamuro, Samurai in the service of Minamoto no Yoritomo and Guardian Warrior.” Upon completion, he bowed deeply before looking back at Kai. Kai sized up the man. He was not as tall as he had originally guessed, an illusion created by the massive and impressive armor. As he stood still, power rolled off him in waves, tangible and electric. “That is quite a title,” Kai quipped. “I am Voivode Malakai Gregori Vadim.” He lifted off his helmet and returned the gesture with a dip of his head that exposed his neck. “I am honored to meet you. But you have yet to answer my question,” he pressed. In one smooth movement, he placed the helm under his arm. Raising his gaze, he locked eyes with Kai. “Why do you fight?” “Why is it so important to you?” Kai growled. The man’s tenacity was beginning to grate on his nerves. Tashiharo’s eyes showed no hint of his intentions. “Please. It is important.” Puzzled, but wishing to end the interrogation, he answered without thought. “I fight to protect.” Kai marveled as the man’s stoic features appeared to soften ever so slightly. “Then I have chosen wisely,” he sighed. Kai felt as if he had somehow stepped into the middle of an ongoing conversation. “And just what is that supposed to mean?” “It means, my friend,” he said, smiling enigmatically, removing his right gauntlet. “That your life is about to change. Forever.” Tashiharo grasped Kai’s cheek with his bare hand. The power behind the light touch ripped a howl from Kai the instant before he lost consciousness.