CALLE J. BROOKES WRITING PARANORMAL AS
BECAUSE I HAVE MORE STORIES TO TELL.
He would become a killer of innocents tonight. Theodoric Sebastos, great seer of the Dardaptoan vampires, did not stop to ask how he knew. Six hundred years told him.
He had foretold many things in his lifetime. This was no different. While his physical eyesight was weak for his Kind, his inner gift of foresight was the strongest his Kind had ever seen.
This place was exactly where he was supposed to be at this exact time in his life.
The male at his side was also to be there. For a moment, Theo tried to read his closest friend’s future. The darkness Theo saw didn’t surprise him; he had so rarely seen the fates of those closest to him. Short glimpses, usually. Impressions.
“Things change for us tonight,” Theo felt compelled to warn.
“Let’s get it over with, then. No sense waiting.” Aodhan instructed the pet wolf that had been his companion for more than a century to stay by the van. To guard.
The wolf understood they hunted tonight.
The two males started to the largest bungalow in the middle of the three that sat along one corner of their greatest human enemy’s compound.
This piece of land was surrounded by Colorado wilderness, not yet touched by the approaching winter’s snow.
Aodhan was determined, as the greatest Dardaptoan warrior always was.
Theo agreed that it was best to meet their future head-on tonight. He kept pace with the warrior easily, though he did not fully see where it was he ran.
Theo was over six hundred and forty years old. He was a strong warrior in his own right. His limited sight was barely a hindrance to him at all. Now.
He had other senses with which to see.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do, Aodhan?”
“Vengeance is needed for what their family has done.” Aodhan’s tone was hushed as they moved toward the small house shared by three human sisters. “Am I looking forward to killing Taniss’s granddaughters as much as Cormac is? No. But I have lost far fewer relatives to this war than he. The council has ruled before in ways I don’t favor. They demand Taniss blood. Taniss blood will be spilled. It’s my job to see the court’s orders carried out. Just as it is yours.”
Theo knew how the council of judgement worked for his people.
He had headed it for four hundred years, after all. He headed the court—Aodhan carried out its orders. They had done so for centuries. They would do so for centuries more.
The heads of each of the Houses of Dardanos, or families, had ruled with a six-vote margin. Four grandchildren of Leo Taniss would die tonight; one for each decade that Leo Taniss had been hunting and slaughtering Dardaptoans.
It was a fair ruling.
Archaic by human standards, but they weren’t human. Four Taniss deaths were but a small price to pay for the nineteen hundred deaths that could be attributed to Leo Taniss.
But that it was four young females they had found—Cormac and Rydere hunted two cousins nearby—sickened Theo.
Females were to be protected at all costs.
Not slaughtered where they stood.
And if the Taniss grandchildren were innocent of their grandfather’s sins—if their fathers were, that was—then this was a crime against these females themselves.
And the council had been wrong.
Theo’s breath caught when another vision hit him.
“There will be a struggle. Several. Of many Kinds.” Theo fought the nausea his visions always brought. The darkening of his physical sight temporarily. He followed the shadow that was the other male until they were just outside the door of the house they had staked out for several hours. “There will be a war coming. We must be prepared.”
“Aren’t we always? Let’s get this over with, Theo. Put it behind us and prepare for this war that you say approaches.”
He could scent young females on the air. Four of them were stronger scents—three scents were older, as if the three were not there. That reconciled with what reconnaissance they had. The four strong scents were the two he and Aodhan would find inside and the two that lived in the other small houses nearby. Females.
Sweet, young, innocent, vulnerable females.
He thought of his own sisters, Keranna and Bronwen. If it were them hunted like this…he would kill to protect them. Without hesitation.
These young human females were innocents.
Innocents who would die because, as the judge of his people, he had decreed the punishment final and just. To take from his enemies their children. To make Leo Taniss’s sons feel the pain the Dardaptoans had endured for forty years.
He’d felt sick as he’d given that ruling. As he’d sentenced four humans to die for crimes not even their own.
Killing four innocent females, no older than thirty years, would never seem just to him.
The occupants of this home were two lone females. Humans. Sisters. Theo had no war with these females but knew they must be viewed only as means to an end. Sacrifices.
How was it that Rydere, their king, had put it? War is cruelty, and cruelty is war. Sacrifices must be made. Theo understood that probably better than most.
The door was unlocked, something he had not expected. Still, these girls lived on their grandfather’s property, complete with security fences surrounding the entire fifteen hundred acres. There were armed guards patrolling those fences. Why would these girls feel the need to lock their doors?
Only monsters preyed on females so innocent.
Theo prayed for guidance from his goddess. She was the goddess of love and innocence; she would not condone such actions if she watched.
But Theo knew more of the goddess than most. She had not been able to help their people for a long time now. She was far too weak.
If they were going to save the Dardaptoan people during this new war, it would not be with the goddess’s help.
But they had a more immediate problem.
They had to finish with their human enemy before they could go on to their immortal.
No more would Leo Taniss be allowed to hunt and kill Theo’s Kind. No more would Theo’s friends and companions, his colleagues and neighbors, be tracked like vermin and exterminated. It ended tonight.
Theo knew this without his precognitive confirmation.
His footfalls were silent as he used the vague shadows and light he could still see to guide him into the home. It was a warm place; he easily sensed that. The three occupants loved each other. The house smelled like females, sugary and tantalizing. One scent was more alluring than the others, and he wondered at it while breathing her in. Sweet.
Females were so sweet. His fangs lengthened as he scented her.
A female scream split the air, followed quickly by the sound of a scuffle. One sister called out for the other to run. So much terror in her tone. Theo felt sick to hear it.
Hopefully, Aodhan would at least be gentle as he killed her.
Theo’s own quarry was near. He felt her presence, heard her footsteps as she hurried down the stairs. To her sister’s aid. Instead of away, toward safety. Poor little love; she had no idea what she was running toward.
He stepped into a hallway, certain he was on the right path. And he just waited for her.
A shadow crossed his field of vision. He feinted left, blocking her as she tried to run past him. She swung at him, calling for her sister. Calling for help. Her fear echoed through his heart.
He had come to kill her.
Theo wrapped his hands around slim arms and pulled his prey close. Until he could just see her. He would look at her and keep her image in his mind throughout the rest of his life—this innocent he’d come to kill.
As a reminder of how his people’s laws still had a long way to come. As a reminder of how he had failed this little thing in front of him.
Just as a reminder that he should not ever allow himself to turn into a monster that killed innocents.
And then he saw the green of her eyes. The delicate face with the sweet bow mouth.
A face he had seen in his dreams many years past.
Theo could bring her image to his memory so easily. But now, even with his low vision, he did not have to. Because she was finally in his arms.
She had green eyes unlike any he had ever seen, a slim body with sweet curves, and a red-gold halo of hair around a delicate face. Her lips were soft and rose in color. She was beautiful. She was his, and he had found her.
His. This female was his.
His Rajni. His mate. The female he had waited more than six hundred and forty years to find.
Now he had found her.
He ignored her struggling; no human female would ever be strong enough to defend herself against a Dardaptoan male, even a half-blind one. “Shh, my dearest little love. I will not harm you this night. You will be safe with me.”
His words had the opposite effect of what he had intended. She struggled harder, until he feared she would hurt herself. A small whispered word had her stilling against him, paralyzed. She could still see him and feel him, but she could not move to fight. Her limp body practically fell into his arms.
He would follow his king’s orders to bring this female back to their city, but he would harm her no more than that.
He would love her for the rest of her life. That her human lifetime had only a fraction of years compared to his mattered little. He would cherish the days they did have together. The way his goddess no doubt had meant.
She whimpered when he lifted her, and he hugged her close. She smelled like gardenias and chocolate. His female liked chocolate. He would remember that. He curled one hand in her hair, pulling her gently toward him. “It will be ok. Don’t be frightened. I’ll explain everything soon.”
He carried her outside.
Michaela Taniss heard the men talking, knew there were two of them, and that they also had her sister Mallory—but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t move her head to look at any of them. She couldn’t move her limbs, either.
He’d drugged her with some sort of paralytic. That was why she couldn’t move now.
His hand was hot on her spine as he carried her; occasionally, he ran his fingers over her hair and down her back. He was so gentle about it.
That gentleness terrified her.
Mallory cursed and yelled. Mickey wanted to tell her to be quiet, not to anger their captors, but she couldn’t. Mallory sounded mad, but Mickey knew her sister was just as terrified. Mallory was tied, her hands bound, but her sister could walk. Could move and talk. Mickey still couldn’t. One thousand questions continued to run through Mickey’s mind, but no answers were coming.
The men had a van waiting.
No…She couldn’t get in that van. She knew the statistics from the criminal law classes she’d taken in law school just eighteen months earlier. Once a woman got into an abductor’s vehicle, her chances of survival diminished. Quickly.
Most who were killed were killed within the first twenty-four hours. She didn’t want to end up in a body dump along a lonely highway.
Mickey fought against the strange paralysis that held her. She couldn’t get in that van. She couldn’t. Her eyes met her sister’s, and she saw the same fear in Mallory’s eyes.
A whimper escaped. “Please…”
The man carrying her tightened his arms around her. His hand ran over her hair again. So gentle. Mickey felt shivers shake her body, the only movement she was capable of.
She felt his lips move against her cheek when he spoke. “I will not hurt you, never hurt you. You must believe that. You will be safe with me. Nothing will hurt you.”
Somehow, she found her voice. “Let us go, then.”
“I am afraid we cannot do that, my little love. You have to come with us now. It’s the will of the goddess.”
He sounded so sincere, even though she didn’t understand what he was talking about.
Mickey blinked as the other man slid the back doors to the van open. He slung her sister over his broad shoulder. Mallory yelled out and cursed. He laughed. He actually laughed.
He didn’t seem to even notice how Mallory kicked and fought him. Strong. Mallory wouldn’t stand a chance against him. Tears slid from Mickey’s eyes.
Her sister didn’t deserve to be a victim again.
A surge of strength that surprised even Mickey flooded her body. She couldn’t just lie there while some man hurt her sister again.
Her right hand lashed out. Her nails raked across her captor’s face. He cursed, but he didn’t loosen his hold on her. His arm wrapped around both hers, and he held her in place.
The big man grabbed a rope from somewhere. He wrapped it around Mallory’s arms, binding them to her sides, and then worked the rope down around Mallory’s waist and knees.
Mickey watched her sister struggle, though the dim interior light allowed her to see very little detail around her. Her glasses were still on the bathroom sink, too. She’d been removing her contacts when Mallory had screamed. He tied off the rope, then slid into the driver’s seat. Mallory was left against the van’s large side panel.
The man holding Mickey was a more cautious type. He settled into the bench seat in the back after placing Mickey in the far corner. He even slipped the seatbelt around her waist. Her arms were still numb, but she was starting to regain feeling. His hands were hot when he adjusted the belt around her.
His tenderness and care scared her more than the other man’s callous attitude. She didn’t even want to think about what he would want from her in exchange for his kindness.
“Aodhan, we are ready. Let us get out of this place.”
His voice was steady, calming, but Mickey still shivered. Still felt the tears trailing down her cheeks. They lived on the family property, their home behind eight-foot-tall stone gates, manned by security teams, cameras, and dogs. They were protected. They were supposed to have been safe.
Her brother and uncle ensured that. Her brother Rand took his position as head of security very seriously and spent countless hours checking and double-checking. He’d taken her and Mallory’s safety very seriously, and had since Mallory had been attacked and raped when she and Rand were only twenty-one, and Mickey sixteen.
He would find them. Rand would not stop until he had her and Mallory home again. Rand would find them.
The goddess Kennera had watched over her followers, the beings she had created ten thousand years ago, for every one of those days. Those days that she could. Over the last one thousand years, the goddess of Dardaptoans had grown far weaker than she wanted to admit.
But it was time she did just that.
Kennera was dying. Her powers faded each decade, just a little more.
She’d been confined in a castle for three thousand years, captive of the other deities because of her own foolishness all those millennia ago.
How she wished she could go back and redo the actions that had led to where she was.
“Girl.” The wolf god’s voice came through the barrier separating her from him. It always did just before he went to sleep each night. Just after she would first awaken.
Kennera ignored him like she had for millennia. Tonight was not for him.
But the creator of the Lupoiux would one day have to be faced. She was preparing for that now.
“Girl. You cannot ignore me forever.” The wolf god tried to get her attention again.
She was known as the Girl Goddess. Mostly at the Lupoiux god’s doing. His taunts. His words had somehow managed to erase the name her mother had given her from the record books. Just a few of her people knew her now.
Only because they had great foresight, or insight into the past. They knew of her.
She watched the greatest of those prognosticators now.
Theodoric Sebastos looked very much like her brother Estacles had. Or at least, she believed so. It had been more than eleven thousand five hundred years since her brother had died, after all.
Theo was a good soul. One of the best. The kindest.
But the actions she saw him taking now were…not.
Kennera leaned over the sieve, a boiling sphere of her tears and power, and watched the tall, strong male.
He had a young human female in his arms.
She was slight, taller than the average human female, Kennera thought.
But quiet and young.
Kennera could feel the woman’s terror calling out to her, even though she never heard the hearts of humans.
Kennera watched as Theo lifted the girl into the van. There were other males nearby. Good ones.
Ones Kennera admired and trusted and favored. Yet, what they were doing…it was wrong.
So very, very wrong.
Her people, her Kind, would never do this.
Kennera reached out a hand toward the sphere and sent comfort to the young female.
She jerked her hand back, singed, as she felt the girl’s very soul against her own.
It couldn’t be.
She touched the girl again.
Kennera pulled her power around her shoulders and watched.
Her fear, and that of her fierier sister, was heavy on the air as the van traveled toward the city he’d lived in for five hundred years now. Theo touched a finger to the scratches on his cheek. His female had spirit that her quietness hid.
He resisted the urge to run his hands over her again, to shape her body with his fingers so that he would remember the feel of her always. She had not felt very substantial beneath his hands, by any means. She was of average height for a human female, he had sensed that, but she was narrow of build. So fragile, his female. He would have to take care of her.
He hated that she feared him; it would take them some time to know one another enough that her fear dissipated.
She still shivered, her fear and shock making her even more susceptible to the cold. He cursed himself for not considering. Why had he not brought a blanket for her? He should have; it mattered little that they had planned to kill the females once they arrived back at the hotel.
He should have thought of how frightened and cold she would have been on the journey. They had at least a hundred-mile drive to get her back to his home. That was a long time for her to be so cold.
He pulled his dark wine-red vestis over his head. It was long-sleeved and insulated, perfect for the cold weather. He slipped the shoulder belt to one side and maneuvered his female’s arms through the garment. He felt around her shoulders until he’d gathered all of her hair in his hand. He moved it free of the low V-neck of the garment. “There now, my little love. This shall keep the cold from you. I am sorry; we have no blankets to wrap you in.”
“Let us go,” his female’s sister said from her position behind Aodhan’s seat.
“Not going to happen.” Aodhan told her, his voice surprisingly cheerful and determined as he turned up the van’s heat. Aodhan’s female was close enough to one of the vents, and she should be warm enough now.
“What is this about? Why did you do this? Our family has plenty of money for ransom. Just let us go. At least, let Mickey go. I’ll stay. Just let her go. Please.”
The older sister’s words hurt him to hear.
Theo was a family male, with three younger siblings of his own who he loved and protected. He would do anything for his siblings, especially his younger sisters. “Aodhan, just drive. We need to get them back to the hotel quickly. Their young cousin will find them missing in the morning. She is on her way down here now, but I do not know where she is at yet.”
“I see.” Aodhan stepped on the gas, and the van shot forward. Theo heard another whimper escape his female, and it tore at his heart. He wrapped his arm over her shoulder and pulled her toward him. He dropped a kiss on the hair that smelled like gardenias.
“Do not be afraid. We will not hurt you. Either of you. Ever.”
The driver kept whistling, and that scared her, but the tender touches from the man beside her frightened her beyond anything. She tried to think, to reason why they could have done what they were doing, but other than the ransom demand that Mallory was trying to convince them to make, she couldn’t think of why they would risk coming on to the family property to target them.
The risk just didn’t seem worth it. That told her one thing—this wasn’t random. She and Mallory had been chosen for a definite reason.
The man continued to touch her gently for the remainder of the drive. Little brushes of her hair, mostly. He squeezed her hand a few times. Cupped her cheek.
He brushed his thumb over her lip once.
The van stopped, and the driver climbed out. The side door opened. Mickey squinted against the sudden light. Nothing she saw made sense.
There was a valet waiting to take the van.
They had brought her and Mallory to a hotel.
The driver pulled Mallory from the van and over his shoulder, his hand cupping Mallory’s butt. He continued to whistle, and the cheerfulness of his tune sent shivers down Mickey’s back.
The man beside her felt around almost blindly until his hand landed on the seatbelt latch. He pulled the restraint off of her, then stood. Hot hands went under her arms, and he pulled her up. He was over a foot taller than she was, at least. The coat he’d put on her fell down to her knees and acted like a bit of a barrier between her skin and his.
The van was a large one, and Mickey could easily stand upright. The man couldn’t. He had to bend his head a bit to avoid bumping the top. He had to be close to seven feet tall.
His friend was even taller.
Mickey wasn’t sure how long her knees would hold her, but she forced herself to stay upright. She wouldn’t fall down before this man.
He lifted her, easy to do in the large van, and handed her out to the driver like a large sack of potatoes. Mickey looked around for Mallory immediately; her sister was propped up against a stone pillar—pleading with the valet to help them. The valet just ignored her sister.
Mickey stared at the driver. The man was huge, well over seven feet tall, and heavily muscled. A monster, though Mickey had to admit he was very handsome, with dark, chestnut brown hair and a strong, chiseled face. They both were beautiful men, though the man who’d taken her wasn’t arrogant. The giant grinned down at her as he held her. He was truly frightening, even if his hands were far gentler on her than they’d been on her sister.
Mallory was cursing the man, demanding he put Mickey down. But he ignored Mallory. He handed Mickey back to the other man as easily as if she were a small child. He even patted her on the head once.
The man who’d taken her growled at him.
The giant started whistling again.
These men were incredibly strong. In the light from the portico, Mickey got her first good look at the man who had taken her from her home. His hair was light brown, almost golden. He was very tall, though not as tall as his friend. He was muscled, but much leaner than the other man, too.
He was far more handsome.
But it was his eyes that stunned her. They were almost orange, the color of fresh fruit. She’d never seen eyes on a living being that color before, except once. The cat she’d had as a teenager had had eyes just like his. And just like that cat, this man’s eyes were sightless.
She’d been kidnapped by a blind man.