Saturday, 25 June 2011

Hearts of Warriors Ch. 04 Teaser

Chapter Four

Mac rolled over onto his back with a groan and threw an arm across his eyes. His body felt heavy and sluggish, lack of sleep being the main cause of his tiredness. He had needed to complete an errand after leaving Lily the night before, and then he’d simply been unable to stop himself from going into her room and watching her sleep.

The need to see her had almost been a compulsion and there was something quite unnerving about it. No one had managed to get under his skin the way she had, not for a very long time. The last time he’d opened himself up to someone, his entire world had changed. Sorrow and anguish had been carved into his soul before being replaced by a cold, brutal determination.

It was the latter emotion that had kept him going for the last fifteen hundred years. But as he’d watched Lily sleep last night, he’d found himself wondering just what he’d been missing by closing himself off.

He’d shaped himself into the perfect vampire, ruthless and cold. He’d assigned himself a personal mission; one frowned upon by his people even though they understood the need for it. He’d set himself up to be the judge and executioner of the vampires who crossed over.

Not only had he taken on the task, but he’d done so with relish. At each encounter, he saw Maria’s face and little Sophia’s torn body. With each vampire he killed, he avenged his family’s deaths and fed a darkness that had grown steadily within him as the years rolled on. Like the vampires he hunted, he too had been just as consumed by the need to kill. It was only because he limited himself to vampires which had crossed over that he could justify his actions and stop himself from crossing over too.

The Vampire Council had let him go his own way, unofficially sanctioning his actions as long as he continued to limit himself to kills they’d deemed appropriate. He’d always managed to toe the line but he’d been forced to be sneaky about it. When he’d run out of obvious targets, he’d started hunting the ones who were about to turn.

He could always tell who was about to lose their grip on sanity long before they even knew. The humane thing would have been to guide them away from the destructive path they were on, but he did nothing to help. Instead, he’d stalked them, shadowed their every move until they snapped. Then he’d swooped in and dispensed his justice.

He’d been so close to crossing over and had been at the breaking point when Demetri had found him and given him a nobler task. He’d often wondered if his friend had known how lost he’d become and had invited him to lead the Praetorians to ‘save’ him as he should have been saving the vampires he waited to turn.

Demetri had been there centuries ago when Mac had given up and allowed his feral side to take control. Instead of putting him down, his friend had kicked the shit out of him until the pain had been so intense, it broke through the haze of insanity that had consumed him.

When reason finally returned, Demetri had kicked the shit out of him even harder and told him in no uncertain terms that he’d take Mac’s head the next time he allowed himself to turn. It had been a painful lesson, one that left him broken and covered in blood. It had taken him almost a full day to completely heal from the beating. When Demetri made a point, he sure as hell made it.

Three times now the Ancient had saved his life. He owed Demetri a debt he doubted he’d ever be able to fully repay. Demetri must have seen something in him worth saving, though Mac still had no idea what it was his friend saw. Losing his family had damaged him beyond repair. He just wasn’t capable of tenderness any more, not the kind that someone like Lily deserved.

She’d been brought up in a warm, loving environment, was adored and cherished by all around her. She was used to being pampered like a princess and he was used to being on his own, closed off and remote. No one was more surprised than he was by his own unexpected behaviour the night before. Lily had slipped under his guard for a moment, made him start thinking about being mated, about sharing a life with her… even when he was so wrong for her in every way.

Lily fought like a true warrior, all graceful lines and deadly precision. She was tough and resilient, a woman to be admired. But hiding beneath that tough exterior was a confused girl who hid a vulnerability that was shocking in its intensity when it surfaced.

He hadn’t been prepared for it the night before. He hadn’t been prepared for his reaction to it. One look into her tear-stained face and his barriers had started to crumble. The need to protect her, to wipe those tears from her eyes had almost been a physical ache.

Maybe he could give her tenderness once in a while but it wasn’t who he was. He wasn’t suddenly going to change for her no matter how much he wished he could. He’d been honed in pain and spent his life doling out pain and ultimately death. He was a killer and there was no escaping that fact.

Lily might think that was what she wanted in a mate but he knew being with him would destroy her in the long run. She was currently running from her father because she couldn’t cope with the type of dominant male he was. He had no doubt she loved Andrei, adored him even, but she chafed at the restraints he imposed on her.

She would wilt under the control Mac would force on her if he accepted her as his.

With a loud snarl into the silent room, Mac pushed himself out of bed and strode naked into the bathroom. Last night had been a mistake. For Lily’s sake she had to understand that. He was not the mate she needed and he couldn’t damage someone as vibrant as her. He would make sure she understood that when she woke up.

* * * *

The scent of lilac woke Lily and she tensed instantly. Had she released her hold on her scent? Her eyes flew open and her head turned to the bedside table, following the sweet fragrance. Sitting in an exquisitely cut glass vase was a bouquet of lilacs. The tension slowly eased from her body.

“Lilacs are a pretty flower.”

She squeaked and sat up, her startled gaze flying to her bedroom door. It was closed but Karn leaned against it, his arms crossed over his chest, his expression so neutral it looked as if he’d donned a blank mask.

He was big and imposing, his expression slightly frightening as he stood in her room and watched her so intently. She had no trouble understanding his message. He was letting her know that he knew who she was. Had Mac told him?

“Fuck!” she groaned as memories of the night before flooded into her tired mind. Mac! She’d told him everything! She’d tried to seduce him with sexy lingerie and, God forbid, she’d taken his blood. Could it get any worse? Even Karn knowing her identity paled in comparison to what Mac was likely to say to her when she saw him.

“My thoughts exactly,” Karn agreed as he pushed off from the door and moved towards her closet and drawers. He pulled out clothes with quick, economical movements, raising an eyebrow at her as he dangled her lacy underwear by a finger.

She blushed scarlet and he laughed. “Oh the hidden depths,” he chuckled as he tossed the garments on the bed. “You’ve got ten minutes to get ready. Meet me outside.” He turned for the door.

“Is he sending me home?” Lily managed to keep her voice calm and composed. Inside she was anxious, wondering if Mac had sent his number two to do the dirty work. It wasn’t his style to delegate unpleasant tasks but it was something he might do if he was fighting the mating pull.

“Get dressed, Ruminskey.” The door closed behind Karn, leaving her none the wiser.

Cursing under her breath, she got up and took a quick shower. She was dressed and on her way downstairs within her time limit. It was never wise to keep Karn waiting. She’d learned that pretty quickly during her initial training. He hadn’t told her to pack so that had to mean Mac hadn’t issued that instruction – yet.

She found Karn outside, waiting beside a Jeep. Without a word, he got into the driver’s side and waited until she’d walked around the vehicle and climbed in. He started the car and pulled off down the dirt road leading away from the compound. Lily’s anxiety ratcheted up a notch.

“Where are we going?” She was annoyed that some of her fear leaked into her voice. Displaying fear to Karn was like bathing in blood and telling him he wasn’t allowed to lick you. Not that she’d ever done that, but she could imagine how he’d react if she had.

His gaze snapped to hers for a moment and then he looked away. “You’ll see when we get there.”

“Karn, I swear if you’re taking me back to the pack, I will fight you every step of the way! If that’s what Mac has ordered you to do then you’d better just tell me now and stop the car because I’m not going.”

The utter conviction in her voice brought his gaze back to her. “I’m not taking you back to the pack,” he finally said and there was anger in his voice. “Just so you know, I do not agree with Mac’s decision. Not even a tiny bit. If I had my way I’d been dumping your ass back with your Daddy and to hell with you, Ruminskey.” He snarled when he used her name.

His hostility cut her to the quick. She really liked Karn, respected him immensely. He’d always treated her fairly, their relationship being more like a mentorship, a strong friendship. Experiencing his displeasure hurt. His quiet calm was gone and in its place was rejection and disapproval.

All Karn saw when he looked at her now was a Vârcolac. He didn’t see her any more, just as no one ever looked past the label that hung over all of them.

Lily wanted to scream in frustration. Instead, she lowered her head and clutched her hands tightly in her lap. She mourned the loss of respect and friendship she had felt from the man at her side. She cursed herself, hating what she was with every fibre of her being. She didn’t want to be different. She just wanted to be herself.

The silence in the car was oppressive. Fury roiled off Karn in waves when she tested his emotions. Tears threatened and she had to swallow hard to contain them. She’d never felt so alone before, so unsure. She reached out to the one person she could always rely on.


“Lily? Where the fuck are you? Do you have any idea the trouble you’re in? Dad is ready to kill something. The whole pack is in an uproar. What are you playing at?” Her brother’s strong mental voice was filled with anger but also relief at hearing from her. It threatened more tears which she had to swallow again to contain.

“I miss you too, little bro,” she answered, managing to include the mental image of a smile in her words.

He was silent for a moment and then she felt a strong surge of love, the equivalent of one of Kal’s mental hugs. “What’s wrong, Lila?” His use of his pet name told her he at least had forgiven her. “You sound so sad.”

Lily sighed softly and closed her eyes, shutting Karn out completely. “I found my mate, Kal, but it’s complicated. I had to pretend I was someone else and my secret is out. Understandably some people I like a lot are pretty pissed at me right now.”

“Do you need me to come get you, Lila? I won’t tell anyone where you are if you don’t want me to. Are you sure this male is your mate and not just a way to try and escape the compound? I know you’ve always found it hard being confined here, but you know it’s just because they worry about us so much. Dad loves you so much he’s just scared something bad will happen.”

Lily smiled as she listened to her brother. He was an Alpha to his very core even though he had no pack to call his own. Protecting people came easily to him. He formed his own opinions and made his own judgement calls as quickly and as naturally as breathing. She knew she could trust him with her every secret and he’d never betray her. He accepted what she told him because he knew she would never lie to him.

“I don’t know where I’m heading at the moment,” she finally answered. “I am safe, though. Apart from needing a hug I’m doing okay. He is my mate, Kal. I’ve known that for twelve years now. I can’t explain it all right now but if you go to Annie and tell her I said ‘Mac’ she will explain everything. I think she’ll tell you if she believes we’ve spoken and I’ve agreed to it.”

More warmth travelled down their mental bond, so much love and assurance from Kallum that a tear did escape her closed eyes. Thankfully, it was on the cheek farthest away from Karn’s view so a slight turn of her head was enough to conceal her weakness.

“Will you contact Mom and Dad; let them know you’re okay? They’re worried about you, Lila. We all are. I feel so much better now you’ve contacted me.”

“I will later today. I intended to when I got up this morning. Annie’s already had words with me about it.” She could sense his curiosity about Rhianna’s involvement in this.

He appeared to be slowly digesting the new information. “Fine. I’ll talk to Annie. I don’t know what part she’s playing in all this but Caleb is pretty pissed about your disappearance. If she’s helping you he will not be happy about it.”

“I know, Kal. I didn’t deliberately drag her into this, it just sort of happened. I was just as shocked to see her as she was to see me. I don’t want to cause any issues between them.”

She felt Kal sigh and then a mental shrug washed over her. “It’s Annie’s call,” he admitted. “I’m going to go try and track her down now. Lila, you keep in touch with me, okay? No more suppressing your mental voice. That’s been the worst part, not knowing if you were alive or dead.”

She couldn’t stop the gasp that escaped her. Annie had mentioned her father’s concerns, but she’d never once suspected that her silence would have Kallum thinking something bad had happened to her. “Kal, I’m so sorry! I never dreamed you’d think something so awful. I just assumed you’d know that I was hiding from Mom and Dad’s anger.”

A muffled snort sounded in her head. “I did, Lila, at first, but then I never expected you would trust me so little you’d shut me out too. When I didn’t hear from you I started to think the worst.”

“Kal! It’s not that I didn’t trust you! I didn’t want to put you in the position of having to lie to Mom and Dad. Forgive me, please. I never meant to hurt you like that.” Pain rippled through her. It was harsh and crippling. She couldn’t bear the thought of ever having Kal doubt her.

His warm laughter danced through their bond and she could picture his gorgeous face easily. His brown eyes would be dancing with laughter, his lips curling in a smile that stopped most of the hearts of the unattached females in the pack.

“When have I ever been able to stay mad at you, Lila? You wrap me around your little finger and you know it. Of course I forgive you. Just keep in touch and let me know if you need me to come get you. I’ll deal with Mom and Dad, so don’t worry about that. I hope Mac’s worth it. I’m assuming his name is Mac, as that’s the codeword you’ve given me for Annie.”

Mac’s face came to mind, the memory of his deep voice gently soothing her the night before. Lily could almost taste his essence in her mouth, could almost feel the pleasure exploding deep within her as she’d tasted him.

“Lily!” Kallum’s shocked interjection startled her and made her realise she’d been projecting some pretty intimate emotions down their bond. “I get the message,” he laughed softly. “He’s definitely worth it. Now turn down the eroticism! That is just way too icky, sister mine!”

“Sorry, Kal,” she blushed, keeping her head turned away from Karn so he couldn’t see her reddened face. “I’ll talk to you later.”

She felt her brother recede from her mind after blowing her a quick kiss. Her lips quirked in a smile and she let out a quiet sigh. She always felt better after talking to Kal. He didn’t piss about or point fingers in blame. If something happened that he didn’t like, he dealt with it and moved on.

She may be the older of the two but Kal was the one who was the sturdy rock. He’d tempered a lot of her wildness in her younger years but he’d also known how to let out his own wild side when he felt they could get away with it.

All the Vârcolac had close interpersonal connections with their siblings as well as with each other. They were different from the rest of the pack, a new species coming into life. It had been inevitable that they would group together and become somewhat separate from everyone else. It didn’t mean they loved their pack any less or felt superior to them, it just meant they were more closely linked.

It had given Lily an added layer of comfort as she’d grown up. They were a mini-pack within the greater pack. She’d felt safe within her group of peers and was more than willing to give up any position of being their leader despite being the eldest. Kal had taken that position as if it was his right. He was Alpha and no one challenged him about it.

The structure was simple. Kal was Alpha, Lily was his protector. Some things were hard to shake, and taking care of her baby brother was one of them. She had his back without ever being asked. She’d kicked a young male’s ass many a time when they’d teased Kal as he grew up. He’d been shy and uncertain in his younger years. Once his Alpha tendencies had kicked in she hadn’t been required to protect him any more, but until that time a few wolves had received the blunt edge of her fury.

Dara and Cassia were their main soldiers. They had a lot of their father in them. Alexei had been a Council enforcer for the vampires before he’d met their mother. He was used to taking care of business as was Cedar in her role of Beta with the pack. Both their children had grown with that same fierce protectiveness. Their stunning looks and easy charm fooled most people. They were excellent at ferreting out information from their wolf counterparts.

Liam… God love him, Liam was their heart. Everyone adored the quiet, auburn-haired man, it was simply impossible not to love him. He’d grown huge like his father, was the spitting image of Nors, who had to be the biggest vampire Lily had ever seen.

Liam looked scary and intimidating but he had his mother’s personality. He was so empathic that the feelings of others had become a burden to him. To solve that problem, he kept himself withdrawn from most of the pack. He lived almost completely within the boundaries of their mini-pack. They were able to shield their emotions so much better than others, that it was easier for Liam to relate to them.

His empathy and fierce love was probably what had kept most of them from rebelling against the constraints placed on them for so long. Being confined to the pack had been hard on all of them except Liam. He didn’t want to leave and by default didn’t want his support network to crumble either. He’d automatically soothed any discord and discontent they’d felt as they grew older.

They had always known what Liam had been doing, but no one had minded. Liam needed them and when one of their own had a need, the others were always there.

Where Liam went, Elina was never far behind. They were cousins but their bond appeared to be almost a sibling bond. Elina had set herself up as Liam’s personal protector, just as Lily had done with Kallum.

She had Freya’s haunting beauty but Dayton’s deep blue eyes. Her dark brown hair was streaked with reds and golds like her mother’s but she also had an inch-wide streak of silver hair that framed her face.

Elina hadn’t been born with the silver in her hair and no one had been able to explain why the moment she hit puberty she’d suddenly taken on Dayton’s colouring. She’d suffered no personal loss like her father so there was no reason for the colour to bleach from her hair but it had.

On the rare occasions when even the emotions of the mini-pack were too much for Liam to bear, Elina was the only person he could stand to be around apart from his parents. They would vanish into the forest together, sometimes for hours. When they came back, Liam was always so much more balanced.

Kothari was the outsider. He was one of them and yet he wasn’t. Maybe it was because he was born of a Vârcolac and a member of the triumvirate, and that had set him slightly apart. There was an aloofness to Kothi that the rest of them couldn’t fully breach. He mingled with them, was included in the wayward scrapes they’d gotten up to, yet he was always just that little bit apart. It didn’t make them love him any less, they just respected his boundaries.

No one knew why conception was so unpredictable with the Vampire/Were mated couples. Various ideas had been tossed around and some tests done on blood samples, but there was still no rhyme or reason behind it. The truth was the matings were just too new that it could be centuries before any pattern started to develop to explain it all.

Lily closed her eyes and rested her head back against the seat. She wondered what side of the coin she and Mac would fall on. Would they have a child straight away or would she have to wait to know the joy of being a mother? It didn’t cross her mind to consider that Mac may reject her.

He belonged to her and there was no escaping that fact. It might not be an easy thing getting him to accept her as his mate but he would eventually, as long as Karn wasn’t taking her back to the pack. He’d said he wasn’t and he’d never lied to her before. But then, he’d always believed she’d never lied to him too. Maybe Karn was paying her back; maybe he was lying to her to keep her docile while he delivered her up to her father.

She didn’t even want to go down that road. If Karn was being a sneaky bastard she would not be pleased about it. Talking with Kal, feeling the strength of their mini-pack around her had hardened Lily’s resolve. She was not going home. She didn’t care what she had to do to stop that happening. Karn was in for a very nasty surprise if he thought differently.

To be continued...of course LOL

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Hearts of Warriors Ch. 03 Teaser

Chapter Three

Mac rounded the desk to meet his queen with a pensive expression on his face. “You’re early, Annie,” he remarked, shielding Andrea to give her time to collect herself. He bent down to brush his lips against the redhead’s cheek.

“Well, I’m certainly glad I didn’t arrive ten minutes later,” Rhianna smiled, unable to curb her teasing. She’d never seen Mac so flustered, but then he’d never met Liliana Rose Romanov before. She had a thousand questions flying around inside her head but she kept silent, waiting to see how this was going to play out.

“Andrea Ruminskey, meet Rhianna Armand.”

Lily had slid from the desk, her expression already under control. She had even managed to slow her heartbeat. She watched Rhianna’s face carefully, waiting for the redhead to announce her true identity.

“A pleasure to meet you, Andrea,” the other woman answered, her expression giving nothing away to the male watching them both. Of course she wasn’t ready to leave it at that.

“Nice play on the name, Lily. I don’t think it’s going to mollify your father much, though. He is rather irate at the moment, which is why Caleb couldn’t be here. Your little note was more of a red rag to a bull than an appeasement for your disappearance.”

Rhianna always managed to make her feel like she was five years old again. She didn’t do it unkindly and was always supportive and caring, but she still managed to reduce her to a defensive child. Lily straightened her shoulders and tilted her chin up.

“I’m sorry Dad’s upset, Annie, I really am. I don’t want to cause the family any grief, but I need to live my own life, and disappearing seemed to be the only way. Do you know I’m a month shy of my thirtieth birthday and I haven’t even been kissed by a male? I can’t breathe at the compound without Dad getting a written report about it.”

“You could have spoken to Rafe, Liliana, or even to me if you didn’t want to discuss anything that personal with him.” Rhianna’s mental tone was still kind but there was a hint of reproof in it. “We could have spoken to your father on your behalf.”

“The only person Dad listens to is Mom and you know that. Sure, Rafe could have Commanded him but he won’t impose his will on a member of his pack if it’s a family matter. If Mom couldn’t convince Dad to unbend, no one could have.”
Lily could hear a whiny tone creeping into her mental voice and she worked to tamp it down. She was a grown woman and shouldn’t need to justify her actions to anyone.

Rhianna didn’t answer her immediately, turning instead to Mac as if she hadn’t just been having a private conversation. “So is Andrea one of these new recruits you were telling me about, Mac?”

“She is,” he replied looking down at the woman who was now standing at his side and appeared to be fascinated with his queen. He needed to speak to Rhianna alone.

“Ruminskey, go find Karn and tell him to assemble the rest of your team. We will be out shortly.” It was clearly a dismissal but she turned her head to glare at him as if he’d done something wrong before she moved to the door.

“Are you going to tell him, Annie?” Lily asked the question as she closed the door behind her, irritation lacing her mental voice at being dismissed so summarily.

“Can you give me one exceptional reason why I shouldn’t?”

Lily swallowed hard, turning to look back at the closed door. Mac was behind that wood, seconds away from learning her true identity. If he found out who she was before he learned to love her there would be no hope for them. His sense of duty was too strong. He would push her away before she could convince him they were meant to be together.

“He’s my mate, Annie,” she whispered mentally.

Silence greeted her words for a long moment. Then a deep surge of warmth enveloped her, and the fear that had been slowly building deep within her began to ease.

“Okay, Lily darling, I will keep your secret. Now go do as you were instructed so I can do what I need to before Caleb comes looking for me. He would not be as inclined as I am. Be quick about it.”

Rhianna watched Mac carefully after Lily left, seeing his eyes drawn reluctantly to the closed door. When Lily had disappeared and all attempts to find her had failed, the redhead had realized with dismay that the Vârcolac could suppress the bond she’d made with them at birth. All this time she’d assumed that it was because Lily had been too far away for her to sense. Learning now that the missing girl had simply been in the heart of the Praetorian compound was a shock.

Finding her in a compromising position with Mac of all people had been downright staggering! The questions she had were overwhelming; Lily’s confession that she intended to mate with Mac posed a huge problem and was now giving her the biggest headache ever.

The Armand-Hanlon compound was in total uproar over the disappearance of one of their own. Andrei was practically homicidal, kept in check only by Loretta and Alexei working together. Twice Rafe had stepped in and Commanded him to calm down. Once he’d removed his edict, though, Andrei had become worse. The Alpha had eventually stopped.

Granted, the Ancient vampire was trying hard, managing to hold onto his temper most of the time with only a few lapses requiring intervention. Loretta was concerned for her daughter, but appeared to empathise with her too. They all wanted Lily brought home, but if she was unhappy with her life they knew she wouldn’t stay.

Andrei appeared unable to understand that he was forcing his child into this course of action. She was his little girl, his baby, and he couldn’t believe that she would run away from him. He’d insisted than an outside influence had to responsible for her leaving. And now, with the shocking announcement that Mac was Lily’s mate…!

Rhianna suppressed a shudder and turned to look at the mate in question. Mac was good, one of the best, but could he survive a direct assault from Andrei? The Ancient would blame Mac even though it wasn’t his fault. There was no fighting the mating pull. And it looked as though Mac was not even aware that he was Lily’s mate. He was frowning at the door with a perplexed expression on his face.

What a mess! And here she was, right bang in the middle of it. Caleb was leaning more towards Andrei’s point of view. His overprotective streak was in full on mode, his need to protect the hybrid children his sole priority. He loved Lily as if she was his own and he wanted her home. If he knew Lily was with the Praetorians he’d march her straight back to the compound, which would just be a disaster.

So she was going to have to keep this quiet from her mate. Keeping secrets from Caleb was not something she relished doing. If their positions were reversed she’d be livid if he kept this from her. And there was the thorny issue of what Mac would do when he finally discovered Lily’s true identity. He’d be furious with Lily for deceiving him. Hell, he’d be furious with her for keeping Lily’s identity a secret too.

And what would all this mean for the Praetorians as a group? They were supposed to be a shadowy organisation, their charges ignorant of their presence. Now one of those charges was among them, fighting by their side. When all this came out in the wash there would be hell to pay and she’d end up being the one paying.

Rhianna couldn’t halt the weary sigh that escaped her. It drew Mac’s attention from the door.

“It wasn’t what it looked like,” he said quickly, his tone defensive.

“So you weren’t just about to lock lips with that attractive lady perched so temptingly on your desk, Mac? I must have read the scene all wrong.”

He cursed and ran a hand through his hair, frustration riding his body hard. “That was a mistake, Annie. One I won’t be repeating. Ruminskey is a potential Praetorian and nothing more. The whole point of meeting with her was to knock any amorous notions out of her head.”

Rhianna’s lips quirked. “I see you managed to do that successfully.”

“Fuck! Annie, will you just let it drop?” It was a testament to how rattled he was that he didn’t moderate how he spoke to her. Usually he was unfailingly polite, respectful with a touch of old school gallantry.

“If she’s affecting you this badly then maybe you shouldn’t fight it so hard,” she mused. “Sometimes forbidden fruit takes on a more tempting taste because you deny yourself.”

His eyes swung to meet hers and he blinked slowly. “You’re encouraging me? I would have thought you’d be warning me away from the girl.” The raw disbelief in his voice was almost comical.

“You need to make a decision one way or the other and stick to it, Mac. You can’t be distracted by a woman to the point it clouds your better judgement. And now, that I’ve done my “Dear Abbey” moment, can we get to the point of why I’m here so I can go visit my family?”

Mac pulled himself together, nodding sharply as he eagerly strode towards the door. He probably had no idea just how fast he was moving, heading towards the woman who was shattering his self-control as no one had ever done before.

Despite the complete mess and its inevitable fallout, Rhianna couldn’t help but smile. Mac was most definitely Lily’s mate even if he was currently clueless. The way he hurried from the room made that more than evident.

He was a good match for her. Lily was wild and untamed, feisty and so reckless at times it was scary. She needed a tough male who could curb her excesses while appreciating her inner strength and allowing her the freedom she needed to be herself. Somehow they would find a way to convince Andrei of this, though it wasn’t going to be an easy task.

Lily was standing at attention with the other four candidates when they stepped outside the house. Mac’s eyes automatically sought her out though she remained staring ahead as if oblivious to his gaze.

Rhianna glided down the steps and approached the first of the candidates. She smiled at the male, introducing herself and holding out her hand. Her words were inconsequential, asking about the tough training, what personal growth he felt he’d achieved since becoming a candidate.

Deep within his mind, the vampire queen sifted easily through his memories, finding his mind refreshingly open and honest. He was a good man for a vampire, his crueller nature not as evident as in most of their kind. She released his hand and moved on.

She repeated the process with the others, giving her blessing as each met her stringent assessment. They were all proud to be Praetorians; they were all willing to die to protect the Vârcolac.

Rhianna finally reached Lily and took her hand as she had the others so as not to show any different treatment.

“You need to talk to your father, Lily darling,” she sighed softly. “Half of the problem is you’ve closed off all mental communication with your family and friends. I obviously should have made my own link to you a lot deeper,” she added dryly, sensing the younger woman’s chagrin at her subtle rebuke.

“As it is, I’m only able to speak through your blocks now because of Anakatrine’s power and the fact that I’m close enough to see you. You know they can’t track you through your mental link. Let them know you’re safe and well.”

Lily adored Rhianna and hated to disappoint her in anyway. She’d known when she suppressed her link to Annie that the vampire queen would be unhappy. While she did regret it, she knew she would do it again. Despite Annie’s championship of the Vârcolac, the redhead had other claims on her loyalty. It would have been wrong to put her in an awkward position.

“I don’t want to disobey anyone, Annie. You know Dad will order me to come home, and I don’t want to be in the position of refusing his order. It would break his heart.”

“It would be the lesser of two evils, Lily. He doesn’t know if you’re alive or dead, and that’s making him homicidal. You know how your father gets sometimes. At least this way he’ll know you’re safe. It will calm him down a little.

You’ve chosen your path, little one. I think your choice of Mac as a mate is a perfect one. You keep claiming you’re a grown woman, so start behaving like one. Be firm with your father but hold your ground. If you want Mac you need to fight for him. But be warned, keeping secrets from your mate will only bring you tears in the end.”

Lily stared deeply into her eyes, squeezing her hand tightly. “Will Caleb be very angry with you, Annie?” She’d correctly read the other woman’s unease.

“I expect so. Still, it’s been a quarter of a century since our last big fight so I dare say we’re overdue.” Rhianna kept her tone light, instinctively soothing the younger woman because she knew she’d feel bad about causing any potential conflict with Caleb.

Lily lips twitched in a small smile, warmth and love engulfing her in a strong mental hug. “You approve of Mac.” She was elated Annie was blessing her choice of mate.

“When I told him twenty-five years ago he would be happy again one day, I had no idea at the time that you would be the cause of that happiness. I love Mac very much, Lily. Not as much as I adore you but almost. I couldn’t be happier to give my blessing to your mating. But it’s your parents’ blessing you really need, and to gain that you need to talk to them.”

Lily almost rolled her eyes in resignation but managed to contain herself. She knew she couldn’t avoid it much longer. It wasn’t going to be easy facing her father’s wrath but she had to do it. She sighed mentally. “Yes, Annie.”

Rhianna dropped her hand and smiled, giving her a quick wink before she turned back to Mac who was silently watching her test the candidates. There was tension in his stance and she knew why. She’d spent a little too much time with Lily and he was concerned she’d found some deception.

“As always you find the very best of our people to entrust our loved ones to,” she smiled as she reached him.

His tension melted away and he leaned down to brush her cheek with his lips. “Thank you for gracing us with your presence, Annie.”

He was once more in control, the same old Mac she was used to seeing. Did that mean he had made his decision and it wasn’t Lily? She almost snorted in laughter. If he had, then good luck with that one. There was no way in hell Lily would ever let him get away.

“I should come more often, Mac. I keep forgetting how beautiful it is up here in the mountains. You could do with making your home a bit more appealing though. All the wood is just… oh, never mind. It’s your house, not mine.” She smiled again and turned to flick her eyes once more down the line of new Praetorians.

“Well, I must be going before Caleb reaches the compound and finds me AWOL. He’ll be calling out the Praetorians to track me down. I love him dearly but he’s such hard work at times.” Her voice was full of laughter as she waved over her shoulder, vanishing into trees an instant later.

“She’s amazing,” Brandon muttered under his breath, his expression full of hero-worship when Lily turned to glance at him. He was one of the new recruits and the one she liked the most. He was a bit on the wild side, so their personalities were in sync.

She smiled. “She is that,” she answered just as quietly.

Her gaze shifted to Mac who was staring intently at her. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Was he imagining their almost-kiss in his study? She sure as hell was and had a knot of frustration in the pit of her stomach. It had been wonderful to see Annie once her initial fear of discovery had passed, but she couldn’t help but wish the redhead had arrived five minutes later so she would know what it felt like to kiss her mate.

“Karn, break out the alcohol,” Mac said tearing his gaze from Andrea’s and turning to survey the rest of them. “You have tomorrow off so get the partying done tonight to celebrate your acceptance into the Praetorians. The day after tomorrow the real training starts.”

He strode away without a backward glance, disappearing into the house and to the sanctuary of his private rooms. He had made his decision. Andrea Ruminskey was a Praetorian now which made her off limits. His moment of madness was over. It would never happen again.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Hearts of Warriors Ch. 02 Teaser

Chapter Two

Mackenzie watched the woman step forward, his dark gaze analysing the way she appeared to flow across the ground. Toned muscles rippled with strength, her movements fluid and graceful. He felt need claw at his gut, hard and relentless as he imagined other situations a body that tantalising could move in. It was unwelcome and irritating because Ruminskey still had that almost-smile on her face, as if she were reading his mind.

He felt his irritation ratchet up and fought to contain it. He was a firm believer that fighting in anger led to a man’s downfall, particularly when you were simply training. In a fight, you need to stay clear-headed at all times, to analyse your opponent’s weaknesses and strike at them. Allowing emotions to get in the way led to mistakes that caused serious injuries, maybe even death.

So he pushed down his irritation and watched the brunette carefully, trying to work out if there were any little tell tale signs he could exploit while they sparred. He wasn’t expecting to see much until they began sparring, but he’d be a fool not to begin his assessment immediately.

He turned away from her and let his gaze travel over the others. “Confidence in your abilities is commendable,” he informed them, his voice low and cold. “Overconfidence is a death sentence. You’ve made it this far but you still have two hurdles to get through. The first will be hand-to-hand combat with me. The second will come after I am satisfied you’re worthy to be here.”

His gaze turned back to Ruminskey who was standing at attention, her deep brown eyes riveted to his face. There was a question in her gaze as if she itched to ask what the second thing was. He had no intention of telling any of them what their last hurdle would be before they became Praetorians. Some of them may fail this stage and secrecy was paramount.

“Follow me,” he said, turning on his heel and striding around the large house towards the back.

Lily had to bite down the urge to sigh with pleasure as she watched Mac walk away. Her expression appeared impassive but her body was humming with excitement. Her greedy gaze took in his strong back and narrow waist, but it was his thick thighs and taut ass which caused her the most pain. Lord, could a man look any hotter? The urge to sink her teeth into his delectable flesh was almost overpowering.

‘Concentrate, Lily,” she mentally shook herself. If she became distracted by thoughts of hot sweaty bodies writhing together she was seriously going to get her ass kicked by Mac and destroy any hope of joining the Praetorians. She had to contain her lustful thoughts until the time was more appropriate.

As if she had the first clue about what to do with him anyway. Oh, she knew the whole concept about sex and mating; hell, growing up in a Were compound was an eye-opening experience. Wolves were very sensual creatures and she’d gotten many an eyeful of some very interesting things once she was older.

She knew all about lust and how wild and untamed it was between mates. She just didn’t have any first-hand experience because her father had kept all men at bay from the moment she was old enough to be interested in the opposite sex.

Not that she’d wanted any of her pack mates. Not after she’d seen Mac in the forest all those years ago. From that moment onwards he’d been all she’d thought about, her every fantasy. And she’d had lots of fantasies!

Despite her lack of experience, Lily was confident in her own abilities. She was half Were and half vampire. Both species were incredibly sensual creatures in their own right. Combined they had to be spectacular and she had no doubts she’d be a very fast learner in the bedroom.

“Whenever you’re ready, Ruminskey!”

Mac’s sharp words brought her out of her reverie and she realised she was still rooted to the spot ogling his backside like a teenager. She hid the flush which threatened to cross her cheeks and headed off after him, beginning one of her many mental exercises to focus her attention on what was to come.

Behind the large house, the trees had been felled to create a huge open area. The ground was rough and hard and it was clear this was where a lot of fighting occurred. Some tree trunks had been placed together to the side, creating a natural seating area. The others had followed the two of them and one of Mac’s men signalled to the other candidates to sit.

The Praetorians placed themselves strategically close to the house and the candidates. They appeared relaxed but Lily wasn’t fooled. These vampires were lethal. One wrong move by any of the new recruits and they would act without mercy.

Mackenzie stopped and turned to watch Ruminskey come to a halt a few feet in front of him. He was in control of his emotions once more, ignoring her womanly curves completely and sizing her up for her fighting abilities. The reports he’d had about her said she was fast. That point had been stressed, so he knew to be extra vigilant.

“We train in weapons as well as our natural abilities,” he informed the entire group, although his gaze was locked with his opponent’s. “You can use anything in that chest over there at any time.”

Lily’s gaze flicked to the chest that was being opened, having just been carried from the house by one of the Praetorians. She tried not to show her excitement. The Vârcolac had claws rather than the wicked talons vampires could produce. With that in mind, Gard had made sure they’d all been trained with knives and swords to protect themselves and keep vampires at arm’s length. She excelled in both and she knew Mac would assume she would be a novice in that area like any typical vampire.

A blur of movement out of the corner of her eye was the only warning she received as she was distracted by the chest. She moved instinctively, dropping down rather than stepping to either side. She knew she didn’t have time to avoid him completely and he would most likely expect her to back away.

She used Mac’s forward momentum against him, punching up hard into his solar plexus and sending him flying over her head. She came up and spun around, her eyes never leaving him as he twisted agilely in the air and landed facing her, instantly at the ready.

A muscle twitched at the side of his mouth, the only indication he was impressed with the speed of her defensive move. “Never become distracted when facing an opponent,” he said, giving her fellow recruits a running commentary as he began to circle to the left.

“Distraction means not only failing to protect your charges but also your impending death. You must always know where your enemy is as all times.”

He nodded slightly at Lily and she felt a rush of pleasure wash through her. She’d impressed him, her mate, and it made her wolf howl with glee that their male respected their abilities. Another blur and a hand slammed painfully into her breast bone, sending her flying backwards.

“Fuck!” she hissed through clenched teeth, landing on her back but rolling instantly to the right and coming back up before Mac could launch himself at her again. She was furious with herself for being caught napping like that.

“Try helping me rather than rolling over on your back in submission,” she derided her wolf, her eyes flashing with annoyance. Her wolf growled and crouched down low, eyeing their male with irritation. He was a sneaky one but they were sneakier. He didn’t know just what was about to hit him.

Mac’s lips curled in a slight smile, watching the irritation in Ruminskey’s eyes as he landed a blow. She really didn’t like that at all. He’d been surprised when she’d countered his first attack so easily, sure she was distracted enough that he’d land his first blow.

He wondered what she’d been thinking of that allowed his second blow to connect. He’d naturally pulled his punch. Breaking her sternum wasn’t the goal today but he’d packed enough of his strength into it to ensure it hurt – a lot.

He watched the irritation fade from her eyes to be replaced by calm thoughtfulness. He was impressed by how quickly she regrouped. Perhaps she was as good as his men reported her to be. He was instantly on alert.

When she moved, she was so fast, so graceful that for a fraction of a second he could only stare at her in amazement. He braced for her attack, watching alertly to gauge where she was going to try and catch him off guard. She was almost on him when she suddenly veered away, catching him by surprise.

That split second of inattention was all Lily needed. Her gaze locked with Mac’s and she saw the almost imperceptible widening of his eyes. She blurred as if moving left, watched his head tilt in that direction to track her. Her fist slammed down hard as she immediately countered her movement, catching him on the side of his face. Her other fist hit him in the sternum in the exact place he’d caught her a moment before.

She was over his head, flying gracefully through the air and out of arm’s reach a nanosecond after her blows had landed.

A startled gasp resounded from the spectators as Mac slowly shook his head and turned around to face the woman who had just done the impossible. No one had ever sucker punched the head of the Praetorians in that manner. Sure, he took the odd hit now and then when sparring, but Ruminskey had just made him look like a clumsy novice.

While he could acknowledge that she lived up to her impressive file, there was no way he’d let her get away with making him look foolish, even if that’s how he’d behaved. His attraction to her had knocked him off balance and he’d tempered his initial blow because she was female. He was furious with himself for making such a rookie mistake.

“Never underestimate your opponent.” His tone was factual, calm, and steady. It masked the lethal anger he was battling deep down. “And always learn from your mistakes.”

Lily read the intent in his eyes but managed to keep her expression impassive. He was pissed and that meant this sparring match was about to get ugly. She would have to be at full strength to avoid being hurt, but she couldn’t do that without Mac realising there was something different about her. An Elder at her supposed age simply could not beat someone as old as Mac.

“Crap, this is going to hurt, girl,” she told her wolf with a sigh. “You need to follow my lead. Don’t get pissed and try to shift.” She took a deep breath and felt for her animal’s agreement.

She could hold her other half by sheer force of personality but she liked sharing equally with her wolf. She believed that was what made her so good when it came to fighting, her respect for her wolf and acceptance of her duality.

Mac attacked before she got her animal’s full agreement and she hissed as she was suddenly overcome by a thing of sheer beauty. Even as she dodged away from the vampire he was flowing through the air, all sleek muscles, deadly speed, and bone-crushing accuracy. Talons raked down her left cheek, slicing into her neck and hitting her collarbone.

“Sweet Jesus!” she groaned not even trying to counterattack, deciding to use her speed to get away from him before he could touch her again. Her face and neck ached and she could feel her blood flowing under her top and over the curve of her breast.

“You concentrate on keeping our scent masked while I work on healing,” she told her wolf. She usually healed as quickly as vampires did but she wanted to make sure that nothing gave her away, so she split her concentration to ensure the wounds closed as quickly as they should.

Her eyes glittered as she kept her gaze locked on Mac’s face. His expression was impassive but she could have sworn she saw his nostrils flare slightly, as if the scent of her blood was a weakness to him. Pity she couldn’t let it flow longer and keep him off balance. Still, it would dry on her skin and hopefully tease him mercilessly.

So the gloves were off? Fire raced through her, adrenaline making her body coil with expectation. He’d drawn first blood but he would not get away with it. She would have the scent of his before their sparring session was over.

She smiled a slow, lazy smile full of respect and also a hint of amusement. She already knew Mac didn’t like it when she smiled. He’d be pissed that she was amused by his little nail session on her skin.

“Have we finished pissing about?” she asked tauntingly. “Let’s do it then, Mackenzie. I was starting to get bored with your little love taps.” She crooked a finger at him insultingly. “Come and get me.”

To very much be continued...hehehehehe!