There was a time when men believed in honor more than anything else.
Chivalry was the rule of the day.
In the continuing series of The Nightwatchers, Skord Shorner seeks to recover magical relics that he once lost in 1816. Only when they are locked safely away from humanity can he rejoin the vampiric agency he once loved and thereby regain his honor.
When Skord is ordered to work with an unknown Irish woman, to accomplish this task, suspicions arise.
Who is Chalyce Duncan? What secrets is she hiding and why is she more important to the agency than some of its most experienced members?
Lies are compounded when a cagey, murderous vampire enters into the search for the relics.
It's now a race between good and evil; right and wrong.
Skord must find the artifacts he lost before sinister minions of darkness use them for evil purposes.
Surrounded by vampires who want to see him dead, the hero must rely on his cunning and experience to keep himself alive and recover what he lost, so long ago.
Rating: Limited sexual scenes, 90% action-adventure
Book 3 of a series
Release date: May 29, 2020
Publisher: Candace Sams
Print pages: 260
Content advisory: Some sexual content. Rated PG. Content heavy with Action/Adventure Romantic Elements
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Behind the book
A very old vampire helped the allies win WWII. Now, in modern Europe, he finds that someone escaped the war; someone who should have been imprisoned for his crimes.
But going off mission to capture a Nazi war criminal could cost everything. Even another, beloved agent's life.
The Nightwatchers: Skord, Book 3
The code of Chivalry…
For centuries he’d existed by these vows: Fear the Almighty, stay humble. Serve those who lived by codes of valor. Protect the weak and defenseless. Give comfort to widows and orphans. Refrain from knowingly giving offense. Live by honor, for glory and to a greater good. Despise reward for doing what is right. Fight for the welfare of all. Obey those in authority. Denounce unfairness, meanness and deceit. Never lose hope. Always speak the truth. Persevere until a job is done. Honor all women. Never refuse a challenge from an equal. Never turn one’s back on a foe.
There were times in his life he’d broken a few of these promises. The one having to do with honoring those in authority was a particular challenge. Still, he did his best.
Throughout history, these codes of chivalry were the only things in life that mattered. Without them, people sunk into a bottomless pit of despair and chaos. Without a common sense of decency, humankind became nothing but a floundering mass; meandering through decades with no hope of making the world a better place.
Equality, humility and respect.
When others turned away from these tenants, evil ruled. Fear replaced sanity. Heartache supplanted joy.
While others may deem the pledges unfashionable, he attempted to honor them. He yearned to see good come from such efforts. Deep down he feared that, no matter what he or anyone else did, mankind was its own worst enemy. No one believed in anything now except pleasing themselves.
There might be a handful still holding to the old codes. His observance of them was the reason he was being summoned by an ancient associate. He had a chance to right a wrong. He must take up the challenge or be deemed unworthy. This, above all, was what he most feared.
Thor’s Hammer Pub
Some weeks later
Skord Shorner, formerly known as Skord Proust and a hundred other names in history, wiped down the custom-built oak bar in order to lock up for the evening and make his way home. As he worked at the mindless task, he thought about nothing but the damned wand. There was only one immediate and overpowering emotion that welled within his chest whenever that instrument was mentioned… dishonor.
He’d once been an esteemed council member of the secret vampire organization named The Nightwatchers. Because he’d lost that damned magical object known as Merlin’s Wand, he’d left the agency in disgrace. That same humiliation still followed him to present day Ireland, where he now owned Thor’s Hammer Pub and others like it across Europe. Instead of fighting terrorists, drug dealers, and thieves bent on obtaining relics with dangerous powers, he now catered to vampires and unwitting human patrons alike who happened into his drinking establishment.
His hand stopped the circular cleaning motion as his mind drifted to the past and the night he’d lost the artifact. He’d been given an order a child could follow. All he had to do was take the wand to a vault and safely lock it away.
But others had known when and where the wand was to be moved. They attacked him, left him for dead and stole the artifact. Now, these many centuries later, it was out in the world where who knew what evil entity could find and abuse it—all because he couldn’t keep his damned hands off a woman.
He threw the soft polishing cloth across the room, where it hit a far wall and fell harmlessly to the clean wooden floor.
Almost three weeks ago, Fergus MacArtan—head of The Nightwatchers agency council—had approached him with news that the wand had resurfaced.
He saw this information as a chance to redeem himself and undo a mistake in the year 1816. If MacArtan’s information panned out, he could restore the wand to the agency’s control and finally lock it away. A meeting had been arranged for tomorrow night to discuss the information gleaned about the relic’s location, and how to get it back.
In the wrong hands, it could reveal that vampires existed in the world, and ultimately, that The Nightwatchers, as an entire agency, also existed. This news wouldn’t be met with awe and wonder. Humans feared what they didn’t understand and knowing their nature as he did, he was sure his kind and any humans working with vampires would be hunted.
He prayed MacArtan wasn’t using some dead-end bit of trivia to lure him back into the agency. He’d told the man a thousand times that he wouldn’t return until he recovered the wand.
“This should have been over centuries ago,” he whispered to himself in German.
He’d personally used all the means at his disposal to search for the artifact, but his leads were always dead-ends. That was why he was obligated to accept MacArtan’s help now and work with a vampire agent of Fergus’s choice.
His thoughts drifted to that agent.
Her name was Chalyce Duncan. They’d met three weeks ago, when she’d sauntered through the front door with Fergus. Oddly, she’d kept her face hidden under the hood of a long cloak so he wasn’t able to see her. He had the impression the little minx was going to prove difficult but hadn’t endeared himself by insinuating MacArtan always chose Irish agents, like her, to accompany anyone on missions. The insinuation was that the Irish always came first and always would with the agency’s supervisors. She, in turn, defended her boss and her race by calling him a German autocrat. Afterward, she’d stormed out of the pub.
Fergus hadn’t been the least bit insulted. The man had heard him make that same statement often when he’d been with the agency. Chalyce wouldn’t have known his sarcasm was a long-standing joke.
If vampires had the ability to read minds, he might have avoided pissing the woman off with his sharp remarks. But that was fictional attribute humankind ascribed to his kind. Mind-reading vampires just didn’t exist. Or weren’t supposed to. Though this ability might have solved many problems in the world, hearing every thought in someone else’s head would soon drive a body crazy.
No, that was one power vampires didn’t need if it meant a lot of blood-driven entities would be walking around the planet crazed by reading millions of thoughts they could not control. All this considered, the ability to know what another person was thinking could have saved thousands of lives.
His memories drifted back to another decade and his job at that time. Despite Chalyce Duncan’s first impression of him as being autocratic, she couldn’t have said that of him had she known him then.
He’d been the only German supplying the agency and the Allies with covert information during WWII; even though he’d officially quit the organization long before the war ever started. During those years, almost all of the agents—vampire and human—were Irish. That was how the jest concerning race and mission assignment had started.
Still, his caustic comments concerning Fergus and The Nightwatchers hadn’t been amusing where Miss Duncan was concerned.
Not a good way to begin a working relationship.
He’d later had second thoughts about acting so disrespectful in her presence. It was his intention to apologize so that, if the wand could be found, Chalyce and he could form a partnership firm enough to safely retrieve it.
Fergus wanted her on the mission. He wanted to retrieve the wand as a matter of self-respect. Fergus, on the other hand, wanted him to get the relic back so he’d rejoin the agency. And that was the summation of the entire situation so far.
Glancing around to make one last check of the room, he picked up the keys to his custom-made motorcycle and headed toward the back alley and his reserved parking space. He set the alarm, locked the back door and was a full fifty yards away when the world behind him shattered.
An explosion, the kind that reminded him of those he’d experienced during World War II, knocked him to the ground. Had he been human, the strength of the blast would have killed him.
From his sprawled position on the pavement, he glanced back at the remains of the rear half of his pub.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” he blurted in German.
He hadn’t lived so many centuries by assuming anything. This was no coincidence. Someone wanted him dead. Either their timing was off or he’d been lucky. A vampire could be killed in such a blast…if he was decapitated.
The sound of police sirens filled the air. He thanked God there was no one on the street that had seen him or who’d been in the way of the blast. It was three o’clock in the morning and that fact had saved lives. Again, the timing of the event wasn’t lost on him. If there was one vampire in the world who could read minds, it was the same one who’d likely ordered this explosion.
He quickly got to his feet, ran to his motorcycle and headed out of town. There was no ready explanation he could give the police when he knew the explosion had been caused by a bomb and not some gas leak. His experience in such matters led him to this summation.
Once they investigated, the local law enforcement agencies would know it was no accident. It was better if the authorities believed he was safely in his apartment and had no knowledge of the incident.
He stopped at the end of the block when another explosion took off the roof of his building, and half of the one next to it. By now, both structures on either side of his were in flames.
Anger surged through him.
He knew the neighboring business owners though they didn’t know he was a vampire. They were hardworking people who’d put every bit of their savings into their businesses. The ensuing fire that engulfed Thor’s Pub was quickly burning everything nearby to cinders. There would be nothing left to salvage even if the fire department arrived soon.
It was one thing to want him dead or to warn him off looking for the wand as he assumed this explosion was meant to accomplish. But it was quite another matter to destroy the hard work of others.
There was no doubt in his mind; Regar knew he was supposed to meet MacArtan tomorrow night and begin the business of searching for the object―a magical device that could actually steal souls.
He sped out of town to avoid contact with the police until a story could be contrived. But he almost laid the cycle on the ground when he saw the talisman chained to his left handlebar. He swerved to the side of the road in surprise and outrage.
When he finally regained control of the bike, brought it to a stop and shut off the engine, he stared at the round disc dangling there liked the warning it was meant to be. He easily broke the gold chain from which the talisman hung and gazed down at it.
It was a ten-sided, red coin with a pretentious gold R in the center and another superimposed beneath. His supernatural vision, even in the dimmest light, wasn’t wrong. He’d been left a calling card. The culprit was, indeed, who he’d suspected.
He closed his fist around the coin and swore. As ready as The Nightwatchers organization was to stand between the world’s innocents and its cutthroats, Regar was equally determined to stand in the agency’s way.
There had been occasions where other vampires had stolen such coins and used them to implicate Regar. But he didn’t believe this was one of those instances.
Three weeks earlier, MacArtan had suggested that Regar might find out about the wand’s reappearance. Connecting the dots, everything pointed to what looked like the beginning of a race between the forces of light and dark to find that damned, cursed artifact.
If only I hadn’t lost it in the first place.
His anger over his negligence grew exponentially.
He stared at the coin again and pondered how best to quickly get in touch with MacArtan. Since he wasn’t actually an agent, his communication with the organization had been cut but for one general phone number he infrequently called. All other numbers were now changed quite often. This was done to keep someone, unscrupulous or innocent, from getting them. Old friends could not help him in that matter.
The approaching sound of sirens reminded him of the necessity to be elsewhere. He slipped the coin into the pocket of his leather duster, started the engine again, and immediately heard the sound of other motorcycles on the road behind him.
Glancing over his shoulder, he caught the foul odor of decaying flesh. As far away as they were, he smelled the stench of death on those who approached.
Realizing rogues wouldn’t be aware of the agency’s existence unless Regar told them, his outrage grew. Their sudden appearance could be no coincidence. Clearly, Fergus MacArtan’s arch nemesis would risk using even the unpredictable vermin of the vampire world to get what he wanted. The bastard had employed rogues before. The cannibals of the undead could do Regar’s dirty work while he hid in the shadows, playing his games.
Skord quickly pulled away as at least two dozen motorcycles appeared from behind. He knew he couldn’t deal with so many flesh-eating vermin alone. They knew it too.
The cowards were making sure there were enough of them to take him down. Their lust for vampire meat―not just blood―was what had changed them into the putrefying semblances of real creatures of the night.
Oh, they could walk about after sunset looking like humans. In that respect they were like any other vampire. But once they changed into their killing personae there was no disguising what they were.
In short, and on most occasions when humans were present, rogues never appeared as the cannibal vampires they really were. When walking about cities or towns as they seldom did these days, humans seeing them might comment on how alarmingly pale and emaciated these passersby were. Once spotted and stared at, the rogues would make short work of hiding themselves again.
When hunting other vampires out on the moors or in some remote area, however, those of the rogue world looked like walking zombies, bent on eating vampire flesh.
Yes, it was for good reason that humans seldom ever witnessed these deviants of the vampire world. Any poor non-vampire who witnessed such atrocities was likely to never be seen again. They could and had part of the rogue menu. Fortunately, this sad and rare circumstance usually only occurred when a solitary vampire could not be hunted for sustenance.
Where a vampire would no longer kill a human for fear of discovery, rogues would. If they got hungry enough.
This was what made them so extremely dangerous.
The writing this night was well and truly on the wall. He had been ambushed, and in a way that wasn’t normally attributable to any rogue or any group of them. They weren’t known to be that bright. It was as if eating vampiric flesh had destroyed their common sense.
Whether it was Regar who had sent them or not, he now couldn’t get back to his apartment. Even if he did, they’d get in and he’d be trapped there. The menacing parasites chasing him would simply take down the doors or walls to get to him, regardless of who might hear the chaos.
There was only one safe place. He had to get to the nearest Nightwatcher safe house―Greenwood.
Because of his size, he could secret his beloved, newly fashioned Claymore beneath his leather duster. He now felt the weight of it, but still couldn’t defend himself against the approaching hoard. It seemed as though the entire cannibal vampire world had shown up to tear him apart.
At a speed that would have knocked most humans off the bike, he rode into the darkness and out of Dublin, thankful that at least the bastards hadn’t attacked him in town where innocent people would have been slaughtered.
He rode southeast toward Greenwood and safety.
Half an hour later, the sound of the bikes faded in the distance. His cycle was imminently more powerful than anything his pursuers rode. Built specifically for speed and a man of his immense size, it could move almost as fast as a vampire could run. Riding it saved him the energy of having to put his own super strength to use.
He smiled when he glanced back over his shoulder and could neither see nor hear the rogues.
Sadly, his relief was short-lived. On the road ahead, he now saw why they’d appeared to give up the chase.
At a speed exceeding what a vehicle could drive, he hit a carefully placed oil-slick and could do nothing more than lay his bike on its side and reach for his concealed Claymore at the same time. He skidded down the well-oiled lane on his back even as his bike slid with him.
About seventy meters ahead was another group of rogues with swords, and crossbows. He saw their ghoulish, gray-green faces and smell their putrid aroma like a bad wind from an old fish factory. It was their likeness that was now the stereo-type of all vampires, simply because the very few humans to have seen them and lived to tell about it reported that rogues were what all vampires looked like.
Rogues sightings, as few as they’d been, were what had spawned the vampire legends that some people believed.
Uninjured but winded from his fall and the resulting slide, he bolted to his feet knowing his bike was useless. He was far outnumbered.
He was now on foot and would have to remain that way until he reached Greenwood.
He’d never known them to be so calculating. But with Regar guiding them, that ancient entity’s cunning was now theirs.
With his sword drawn, Skord ran southeast and heard the pack following. Unable to maneuver their bikes through the gorse and growth on the hillsides, they were forced to pursue on foot. Sadly, there was nothing a rogue loved more than a blood chase that allowed their prey to work up a good sweat. Groups of rogues loved the fear they induced into their hunted victims. They believed it made the flesh of their meal taste better.
No matter where he went, they’d sniff him out like a pack of dogs hunting a stag. But he had strength and experience on his side. He hadn’t lived as long as he had by not learning a thing or two about outwitting enemies.
He ran across the moonlit landscape and into the hillsides where even Irishmen didn’t go at night. Still, he could get to Greenwood much quicker using that route.
He considered the rogues might shift into animal form and hunt him by that means. Even as he thought it, his fear grew. He now heard the beating of wings behind him.
Taking a stance on a high rock, he swung a sword so massive that only a few could wield it. Concealing such a weapon within his duster was only possible because of his much greater height and overall size.
As the rogues came nearer, he easily lopped the head off one in bat form, then another. He heard the howling of the others as they sensed the deaths of their comrades. That was when he knew the rest of the pack not yet shifted would come for him.
He cursed and realized he’d have to shapeshift as well. As strong and as fast as he was, he couldn’t outrun a sky filled with hungry rogue bats determined to eat him.
His mind kept crying out that the precision of this attack wasn’t normal. There were more than enough to chase him down without shapeshifting. But he surmised that killing him quickly would deprive them of the chance to hunt and season him with the adrenaline a good run provided.
Angry about his ever-present and injudicious complacency where rogues were concerned, he vowed to learn a lasting lesson from this night.
Assuming he survived to do so.
He knelt down and shifted into bat form, felt his clothing fall away, and flew toward Greenwood. His only chance was getting to the walls of the gate before the rogues did.
Chalyce Duncan stood on a balcony overlooking the moonlit gardens. Night in the Irish countryside was breathtaking. Of all the agency safe houses, where most human and vampire employees of The Nightwatchers organization dwelled, Greenwood was the loveliest. It was a castle-like structure situated in a pastoral setting, about an hour from Dublin. Around the structure, stood a high stone wall but it didn’t detract from the gardens or the lovely water features on the grounds. She especially adored the white roses on the premises. They’d been propagated by an agency gardener, particularly for this safe house. She so favored them that the staff always made sure she had a dozen fresh stems in her room when she visited. To add to the ambiance, the breeze was cool and refreshing; the evening perfect.
Her hosts, Sean and Morgan Reilly, were as delightful a couple as a guest could hope for. She and Morgan had formed a strong bond right off.
According to Fergus, the married couple were two of the best agents to have ever been with the organization. Watching them together, she understood why. It didn’t take any special powers to see that Sean and Morgan were desperately in love, and she couldn’t have been happier for them.
Sean seemed especially euphoric since her last visit. He’d lived a very lonely life before Morgan came along. The way the story went, Morgan had been a police officer in Los Angeles, had been shot on duty and was dying. Sean had changed her so that she could join the agency as its newest vampiric operative.
The tale was entirely too romantic. She smiled just thinking about how the Reilly’s had met and how much they respected one another.
They made a great team.
She smiled contentedly and swirled the warm blood in her goblet counterclockwise, as was her habit before drinking. Human guards walked the grounds, and she wondered which particular man or woman had been the donor for her current meal.
Each human in the agency volunteered blood so it was never necessary to take it by force. Even independent vampires of the world―those who didn’t know anything about the agency’s existence―no longer took blood. Not if they wanted to keep their existence a secret. No…those days were far behind them.
Vampires of the world could easily find sustenance at any blood bank nowadays. And there was no need to even steal that.
Blood was unfit for human consumption if it became too warm, too cold, or its use date expired. But what wasn’t fit for humans in hospitals was certainly good enough for her race.
Since the human agents of the organization voluntarily supplied a pint of their life source every six weeks or so, the vampire agents reciprocated by protecting them with the zeal of parents defending children.
When a passing human guard smilingly looked up at her and waved, she waved back and actually sensed his vulnerability.
Perhaps, someday, that guard would choose to become a vampire. The agency allowed this when the prospective changeling had proven him or herself trustworthy. For now, he was as any other citizen of the world. And she knew she’d give her life to protect him, even as he protected her as she slept during the daylight hours.
That was the trust formed between the vampire and human agents. It had been that way since the agency was formed, to work for mankind’s benefit, many years ago. The mutual pledge between the humans and vampires of the organization had kept entire populations from being decimated. She was proud to say she’d had a hand in keeping drugs, weapons, and terrorists from killing thousands of innocents.
Folkloric accounts to the contrary, digging her fangs into unsuspecting victims had never appealed to her. Unlike young vampires, she no longer needed as much blood and could actually appear human in several ways.
As an ancient, she could take in small amounts of food and even stay awake during the daylight hours. She could even venture outside in the daytime if the sky was extremely overcast and no sun broke through the clouds. There were many such days in Ireland and England, but it served her purposes to keep her ancient status concealed. There were only a few in the agency who knew her advanced age. Becoming an ancient usually happened at the thousand-year mark or thereabouts.
Vampires living that long could even mask their more prolific powers from other vampires. She chose to do so at least until this mission was over. Assuming Skord Shorner was going to be allowed to work with her out of deference to his past service to the organization, she had no intention of letting him know she was so old.
No one knew exactly why long-lived vampires evolved into eating food and going out in daylight again. It was suspected that this was nature’s way of protecting those of their kind who were wise and cagey enough to survive. She reckoned that, like the strongest bulls in the herds, ancient vampires were necessary to teach the younger ones how to exist in the world. Especially since, if most humans knew of them, the undead would certainly be hunted. That was one reason she felt so protective of the human agents who accepted her kind. They’d shown great trust. She, in turn, did all she could to make sure they stayed safe. They were the most vulnerable of the agency’s assets.
She’d decided to keep psychic guard up so Sean and Morgan wouldn’t know she was an ancient. Fergus MacArtan knew the reason for this ruse but no one else would for the time being.
Especially not Skord Shorner.
Fergus disliked her subterfuge and had lectured her about it at length. The need to get the wand back into safe keeping, return Skord to the fold, and reclaim her kin, was the only reason she accepted a partner. Since how the mission was devised served MacArtan’s purpose, she was forced to accept the situation. And since Skord was the one Fergus chose to help her find the wand, she’d live with the mandate.
On their first meeting, the huge German’s arrogance hadn’t appealed to her at all, but she didn’t have to like him. All she had to do was work with him long enough to recover the wand and its accompanying handles, then get back to Dun Sidhe―her own safe house within the organization.
Skord saw the safe house lights from kilometers away. He flew straight for the front gates so the guards could be alerted to the presence of a shapeshifted vampire in distress.
Larger than normal and making as much noise as he could so that any specialized equipment within the compound would pick up his night voice, he flew as hard as he could.
Evidently, his quickly devised plan worked, the outer perimeter alarm sounded and guards ran toward the coming cloud of bats. Some of the rogues were already landing, changing back into their hunting personae and running toward the walls itself. They weren’t stupid enough to land within the compound, but he’d still never seen such masses attack the perimeter of a protected agency abode. Either they were starving or Regar had directed them to act as they were.
Confounded by them breaking so many of their own traditions and creeds of pack mentality—even at Regar’s probable direction—Skord prepared to land within the compound itself. Like all safe houses, Greenwood had been built for protection, even in the unlikely event the guards failed. But his landing within the walls was to prevent the very thing that was about to happen.
To his horror, the guards opened the gate and several of them, vampire and human alike, rushed forward to heed his vocalized call for help.
He saw some of the rogues, who were shapeshifting back into their human-like forms, rush over the hillside from the road and toward the gate. Two guards standing outside the gate went down as they were attacked. Rogues from above shapeshifted right over the top of the human protectors and landed on the men, knocking them to the ground.
Worse, several more rogues appeared on the roadway, riding motorcycles toward the entrance.
He feared the attackers would actually assault the main structure. This was a scenario that was absolutely unheard of in his memory.
Both dumbfounded and enraged, he did as the rogues had and shifted before even landing. He hit the ground on his feet but behind the gate guards—who were valiantly attempting to fight off the hordes of nude rogues.
He realized that the guards were trying their best to get back inside the compound and ran to their aid just as other snarling cannibals arrived on their motorcycles.
One human guards raised a hand-held crossbow and aimed it at a rogue nearby. “Get inside, sir. I’ll watch your back,” the man yelled.
“The hell you will!” Skord quickly responded and pushed the human guard, a man vaguely familiar to him from previous visits, behind his own body.
The silver arrow sent toward the guard hit him and passed through the upper part of his left shoulder. Even with the pain of the silver eating at his flesh, he had the strength to drag that guard and others behind the walls. He hit an inside switch marked as a way to open and close the gates. The massive wrought iron accesses closed. He and the guards fought the remainder of the rogues still within the compound, killing three before the cannibals in their midst retreated. Many who’d flown inside the perimeter quickly withdrew into the night sky. Some of the attackers chose to scale the walls, retrieve their motorcycles and speed away. Their actions indicated they’d craved the chase rather than his demise. It appeared that, once the gates were closed, there was no motivation left for them to remain within the compound itself.
The way the events played out, Skord was now sure they never meant to eat him at all. They wouldn’t taint their meat by shooting silver into it. But having failed in killing him, they had no stomach to fight the other vampire and human inhabitants of the castle who were now rushing the walls and gate in an effort to secure the grounds.
Gripping his bleeding shoulder, he helped the guards who’d been knocked down, back to their feet.
“Is everyone all right?” he asked.
When they acknowledged, he finally felt enough battle excitement drain away so that pain took its place. He sunk to one knee just as his best friends, Sean and Morgan Reilly, ran from the main house.
“Shaggin’ hell! You do like to make a damned entrance!” Sean blurted.
Smiling at the sound of Sean’s familiar Irish brogue, Skord simply nodded and let them lead him inside. He shook his head in confusion and spoke in his native German, knowing Sean could understand what was being said. “I should have flown straight into the hills, Sean. I’m sorry. I didn’t think the bastards would actually attack Greenwood.”
“That’s insane,” Sean replied, “they’d have chased you into the morning and you’d have all burned alive. I’ve never seen rogues so intent on anything. That I know of, none have ever attacked a safe house. They weren’t even acting rational!”
“They were lucid enough to have a plan, if only a crude one based on numbers,” Skord retorted. “They took out the pub tonight just as I was leaving. There was a blast that sounded like C-4. They’ve been chasing me ever since.”
Sean shook his head in amazement. “I heard Fergus had a lead on Merlin’s Wand and asked you to go after it. That you’ve been chased almost to hell is no coincidence.”
Skord shook his head. “No…all this definitely has something to do with the recovery of that artifact. You heard correctly. Fergus and an agent he assigned to the mission were supposed to meet me tomorrow night and finalize the plans to find that damned wand. I’ll let you take a guess what’s going on, but I’d sure as hell like to know more about that agent.”
“You think she might have leaked information? That the explosion or the rogues were her doing?” Sean asked.
“I’d never accuse an agent. But I don’t know her. I’ve never heard of her. And there’s one more thing.”
“One of Regar’s calling cards was chained to my bike. The rogues laid down an oil patch as if they knew the route I’d take, the direction I’d travel, and that I’d use my motorcycle to flee. That’s why I had to shapeshift and fly the rest of the way. My bike is lying in the middle of a road about six kilometers north of here. My latest Claymore is out on the moors somewhere. At one point, I think there were fifty of them after me.”
Sean stared at him. “They don’t travel in numbers like that. At least, they never have before.”
“None of this makes any sense,” Skord complained. “Regar is apparently hiring rogues to take out the competition for the wand. We might have a spy in our ranks, which is why I asked about Chalyce Duncan. I know damned well that you, Morgan, and Fergus didn’t contact Regar!”
“But he’d never lower himself to work with rogues,” Sean stated.
Skord let the matter drop when two women approached. One of them was Sean’s American partner and wife, Morgan. The other was a beautiful girl with long, golden-red loose curls that sifted around her shoulders. Her cobalt blue eyes immediately captured his attention. Her tiny body was as tight as it was sweetly proportioned. This unknown treat was currently wearing the typical Nightwatcher uniform consisting of black leather pants and high black boots. To the ensemble she’d added a snug-fitting sweater. He openly stared at the lovely vision walking toward him.
“You act like you’ve never seen her before,” Sean remarked as he nudged his friend in the ribs and switched back to English.
Skord dropped his German long enough to ask, “Who is she?”
“Skord…that’s Chalyce Duncan.”
“Sean, she was wearing a damned cloak and hood when she and Fergus showed up at my pub. I’ve never actually seen her face. She made damned sure of that!” He quietly relayed then tried not to wince at the pain caused by his arrow wound. “If I could borrow some clothes, I’d appreciate it.”
“I’ll see what we have in your size though we may be hard-pressed to find anything in a triple X…including a shirt for those guns you call biceps,” Sean joked. “Let’s worry about that when the time comes. Right now, we need to take care of your shoulder. You’re lucky the arrow didn’t lodge. As it is, you’re going to be in a world of pain for the rest of the night.”
Well aware of the fact that Morgan tactfully kept her eyes on his face and off his nude body, Skord pinned his attention on the other female vampire who pointedly stared at him while guards shouted about securing the perimeter for the rest of the night. It was no surprise to anyone that, when vampires shapeshifted, they lost their clothing. It didn’t shift with them.
Without thinking on the matter further, he turned his attention to the woman he’d only barely met, and who had kept her face hidden from him during that occasion. “I’m surprised to see you at Greenwood…Miss Duncan.”
Making no courtesy attempt to put her stare elsewhere as Morgan had, Skord saw Chalyce taking blatant stock of his body. He recognized pure desire in her blue gaze. Pride in his physique filtered to the front of his brain, but he squashed it with professional bearing. The woman had surely been in situations where shapeshifted partners appeared nude before her, but he’d have never known it by the way she lustily stared. In other circumstances he’d have considered her pointed gawk a compliment. Right now, however, his anger at having been chased, and having lost his bike and his favorite new sword were uppermost in his mind. Her ogling wasn’t winning points.
“Excuse me…Miss Duncan…my eyes are in my face. If you’re going to talk to me, look into them,” he told her. Then he softly swore in German as she purposely took her time to raise her gaze from his crotch. It was a pity someone couldn’t find a way to shapeshift clothing when vampires took another form. But as that hadn’t happened, he’d have to endure the indignity that came with his having landed naked.
“You’re still standing here offering your body like a dockside whore, so I’m looking,” she easily quipped. “I don’t see you rushing to put anything on. You’ve the speed of a very strong vampire and could have already been dressed by now. But there you stand…waving your goods for all to see.”
The anger he’d previously felt at the rogues and his situation was now directed straight at her. He’d only heard her speak briefly on their first meeting. But that accent hadn’t been so striking then. From his acquaintance with those of her race, the thickening of a brogue usually happened when Irish men or women were emotionally charged about something. Apparently, in this instance, his nudity was giving her an easy way to goad while satisfying some voyeuristic pleasure. It didn’t help matters that Sean was trying not to laugh and Morgan wasn’t even trying to stifle her mirth.
His embarrassment grew.
He took a bold step toward Chalyce and looked down into her face. “I’ve had to run for my life all the way from Dublin…Miss Duncan. I don’t take kindly to my situation being the butt of a joke.”
“I assure you, Mr. Shorner…there’s nothing amusing about your…butt,” she smartly returned.
He put his hands on his hips as that smooth reply brought on a conciliatory, albeit smiling expression from both Sean and Morgan. Aware now that others in the compound were staring at him, he frowned and walked away saying, “I’ll be in a guest room, Sean. I’d appreciate it if you’d send up blood, clothing and anyone who can help me mend this wound!”
Chalyce watched him knowing she’d just put a bigger wedge in a relationship that hadn’t begun well. They’d insulted each other in his pub several weeks ago, and apparently, that surliness still existed. She turned to her hosts. “I’d better go after him. Sure’n he’s in a rage over my gawking. If you’ll have someone bring that blood, I’ll tend his wound.”
“Um, I’m not sure he’ll let you,” Morgan advised. “He’s a bit upset.”
“He and I have to work together. Those are Fergus’s orders. I’ll go up and apologize before he gets it into his German, dictatorial head to hold a grudge,” she tactlessly offered.
Sean ran a hand over his face and offered his opinion. “Let us know if you need anything, Chalyce. Skord is very powerful. It’s likely that wound will heal on its own, but we’re lucky enough now to have a couple of medics on the staff who can look it over. Morgan and I had better help secure the perimeter before dawn. I’ll also let Fergus know what happened.”
Chalyce smiled and nodded, then walked away to join her reluctant partner-to-be.
“What’s between the two of them?” Morgan quietly asked after Chalyce left. “Seems like there’s a lot more irritation there than necessary. Skord’s usually so easy-going.”
Sean shrugged. “Bad start for both of them. Much like you and I had, remember?” He lifted a hand to touch her cheek.
“Yeah, but look at us now,” she said as she leaned forward and briefly kissed him.
“Meet you in bed later,” he softly murmured as she walked away to presumably check the southern part of the compound.
Chalyce heard the shower running long before she approached Skord’s door. One of the household staff had told her where his room was, but she could have sensed his presence and differentiated between it and those of the other residents. His aura seemed different than anyone else’s.
When her soft knock on the door went unnoticed, she knocked again but more loudly. A staff member was walking toward the room with several fresh bottles of blood. Taking them, she dismissed the employee and walked right into Skord’s chosen quarters. There was something wrong when a vampire of his reputation hadn’t heard even the slight sound of her knocking.
She put the bottles on a nightstand, then stood outside the bathroom door. Sounds of movement told her he was still able to get about by himself, but the sense that all was not right began to grow. “Skord?” she called out.
“Is there a reason you’re in my room?” he asked as he opened the bathroom door, wearing a large white bath towel around the lower part of his body.
When she saw how pale he’d become, she unceremoniously wrapped an arm about his waist without being invited to. “Get into bed. That wound is worse than you let on.”
When he did this without arguing, she knew he was in a great deal of pain. She handed him a blood bottle and watched him uncork it and put it to his lips. As he drank, she checked the wound. The jagged hole, only about an inch in diameter, didn’t look all that serious. But as soon as he’d swallowed his first mouthful of blood, it began to openly bleed. The wound wasn’t closing as it should. The blood he drank was only going to his stomach, forcing more out the open wound.
She quickly moved to the bathroom and began to search for the first aid kit; a requirement in all safe house accommodations. It was meant more for humans, but its contents might help stop Skord’s bleeding. The minor bandaging within it could stem the loss of any more blood, or she’d have to give him some of her own. That was a situation far too intimate to contemplate. “I’ll need to apply direct pressure,” she called out.
“What you need to do…is leave. This isn’t your problem.”
Ignoring him, she found the kit and went back into the bedroom. There, she began to make a compression bandage for both the entrance and exit wounds. The bleeding began to subside when she pressed down on them. Still, she could tell he was in pain and wasn’t about to admit it. The paleness of his skin and the dull gleam in his eyes confirmed his agony.
“I’m sorry about looking you over as if you were a pint of warm blood,” she abruptly apologized.
“I suppose you couldn’t help yourself. I’m told I’m a fine figure of a man.”
Noting the joking boastfulness in his tone, she smiled. “You are.”
He made no retort. She knew he had to be in even more pain.
She moved away for a second. “I can solve your problem…I mean…I can give you some of my blood.”
Skord shook his head. “It’s not that serious. I’ve had much worse.”
She pushed up her sweater sleeve on her left wrist. “Just a little. That’s all it would take.”
Without his permission, she sat on the side of the bed and stared at him.
Finishing off the first bottle of blood, he reached for another. Having had enough of his stubbornness, she lifted her left forearm, ran the thumbnail of her opposite hand down the inside of it, and opened up a slit almost six inches long.
“Drink before it heals,” she commanded. “It’s just a little. We’re going to be partners, after all. You’d do it for me…wouldn’t you?”
Lifting one hand, he begrudgingly took her arm and brought it to his lips. Chalyce heard his moan of satisfaction as he drank. She experienced the sensation of a great and old strength as his lips gently took her blood. The next moment, his free arm came around her body and he pulled her forward. Intense warmth engulfed her as he drank and held her against his chest. She’d never experienced anything like his strength, even though she’d offered healing blood to many.
This was different. This blood-taking was more powerful and entrancing.
His blue eyes began to glow in the vampire way.
She’d only meant to offer help but he was about to take a great deal more.
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