With renovations of his old Gothic church almost complete, Justin prepares for the grand opening of his gallery. Justin feels safer than he has in a long time, but it’s shattered when he’s attacked and beaten in his own home. David finds Justin and leaves him unwanted gifts, tormenting him, Justin’s no longer safe, day or night. His dreams of warm strong arms and dark wings are his only comfort, offering him an illogical security through the night.
Gargoyle Cullen sits his post as he has for centuries, guarding the souls of those who enter the church. Awake for the first time in this age of technology, he notices the new owner with curiosity and a possessiveness he’s never known before.
Will Justin finally find peace, wrapped in dark wings and the beating of a Stone Heart?
Justin didn’t hear her leave, but he knew she couldn’t stay. Her husband didn’t like the fact that she’d decided to work for him, knowing she risked becoming a target for David’s wrath. Whenever she came to work, she ran the risk of facing the lunatic. So far, he’d left her alone. She’d never actually had a run in with him, but she’d come close today.
Before he’d agreed to let her work in the gallery, Justin had made a deal with her. If she ever came upon David there, no matter what he was doing to Justin, she needed to run, get away, and call the police. In that order. He’d never been so happy that she’d kept her part of the bargain and stayed safe. He’d never have forgiven himself if she’d gotten hurt.
Justin stopped at the top of the stairs and struggled to catch his breath, clutching his painful ribs. He stumbled into the bedroom, to his dresser. He pulled his prescription out of his pocket, took out a couple of pills, swallowed them without water and pulled his pajama bottoms from the top drawer. He ever so slowly forced himself to go to the bathroom and painfully relieved himself, not surprised when he saw blood in the toilet, the result of his bruised kidneys. “Damn.” He groaned and closed his eyes. He sat there for a few minutes, resting his head on his hands against the sink vanity beside the toilet. His ribs hurt so much it was an effort just to breathe, but the pain meds were starting to kick in so he willed himself to make it back to his bedroom and to his bed.
The sun slowly set outside his window and the shadows had lengthened along the wall. He stood uncertainly in the center of the room, as exhaustion finally overcame him; he couldn’t force his body to take one more step. The medication was making him feel lightheaded and loopy. He realized he wouldn’t make it.
“Should’ve let Tracy help me to bed,” Justin mumbled to himself.
Something in his mind told him to hold on, just a little longer, and everything would be okay. As the last rays of the sun gave way to twilight, his body began to sway and his knees buckled. His eyes closed and he felt himself falling to the floor, thinking, Oh, this is gonna hurt.
To his surprise, he never hit the floor. Warm arms wrapped around him. For a second his mind shrieked, fearing David had hidden here from the police. But the arms holding him were tender and kind, they held him protectively. David was incapable of being gentle or caring. Justin’s mind had already passed the point of no return and it was too much trouble to force coherent logical thought. Someone picked him up and carried him to his bed.
“What happened to you? Who did this to you?” A deep rich voice, with just a touch of anger, questioned.
Justin frowned slightly, he didn’t want that soft voice to have such a deadly edge. He wanted and needed to feel wrapped in strong loving arms—cared for and protected, not afraid.
“It doesn’t matter. You’re here. I’m safe now.” Justin tried to smile, but winced instead and tears flowed from his closed eyes. Tentative fingers carefully caressed the bruises on his face, gently outlining the swollen purple discoloration around his eyes and stroked his hair.
“You have a fever. Are you in pain?” the voice asked gently.
“Nope. No more pain—good meds. I’m just hallucinating, but you’re a nice delusion.” Justin snuggled deeper into the velvety arms. “What’s your name?”
“I don’t know. You haven’t named me yet,” the voice purred softly.
“Oh, then you’re my handsome gargoyle, watching out for me and protecting me. I see. I thought of a name for you earlier today.” Justin yawned and whimpered as the deep breath forced his ribs to move.
“What’s my name then, little one?” The gargoyle stroked Justin’s hair. It seemed to be the only place on him that wasn’t bruised.
“I’ll call you Cullen.” Justin struggled to finish his thought, his head rocking a bit as he nuzzled into the chest of the gargoyle that held him. “Means handsome, which you are.” Justin drifted off, his mind finally fading into unconsciousness.
* * * *
“Who attacked him?” Bob asked, climbing in the window, his cloven hooves clacking on the hardwood.
“He passed out before he could tell me. There are so many scents. I can’t tell which to hunt.” Cullen snarled and wrapped his wings around Justin, completely hiding them both from sight.
“Is he going to be okay?” Bob put a comforting hand on Cullen’s shoulder.
“I don’t know. His body’s pretty beaten up and he’s running a fever. He thinks I’m a hallucination.”
“He’s strong. He’ll pull through.” Bob sighed, hoping he was right. He didn’t know how much damage a man could take and still heal. They watched people all the time but didn’t normally have a real relationship with them. Humans were usually blind to their kind. They’d see them but not really believe they were real, living beings. “I’ll go down and search the rest of the building. Maybe if the fight took place here, I can get a scent to follow.” Bob trotted out the door. The sound of his hooves faded as he moved down the hallway.
Bob found the rooms downstairs disrupted; they’d yet to be cleaned since the attack. In both the gallery and the kitchen, chairs had been toppled, blood spatters crisscrossed the floor and along the wall, as well as the footprints of many different people coming and going, filling the rooms with their unknown scents. There were so many that Bob could barely differentiate Justin’s scent from all the others. He sighed and headed back up to the bedroom.
“The fight took place downstairs, but there are so many scents down there. I’ve no idea who all those people were. I could probably make a couple of good guesses. Maybe I can get Draco and Snout to follow the most likely ones, and then we can check them out when Justin’s stronger?”
“Fine, you deal with it. I’m not moving from his side tonight.” Cullen growled. “I can’t, he needs someone here to watch over him in case he gets worse. He shouldn’t be alone like this.”
“Okay. We’ll be back soon.”
“Good hunting, my friend.” Cullen peeked at him over his wing and then tucked his head back beneath to nuzzle Justin’s hair.
Bob went downstairs. He opened the side door and whistled. Two enormous beasts bounded into the room. They were about the size of small horses. Both had rows of vicious looking teeth, but Snout’s large tongue lolled out of his mouth like that of a big puppy. Draco had spikes on his tail, which he held curled over his back. “Tonight we hunt, boys. Someone hurt Justin. Can you find who did it?”
Draco and Snout began sniffing around the floor and walls, moving first from the gallery into the kitchen and then back to the gallery, repeating their actions a couple of times before returning to the kitchen. Draco caught a scent first; he snarled and bounded out the door. Within seconds he was airborne and had disappeared into the night. Snout snuffled around a bit more, concentrating on the wall and the floor before he let out a hunting howl. Then, with his nose to the ground, he dashed out the door into the shadows of the night. Bob ran after Snout, his little legs amazingly able to keep up with the large dog-like creature, both of them disappearing into the darkness.