Thorne, out of ancient Britain in AD 11, stood outside a vile-smelling dive, a real shithole, somewhere in El Paso One, Mortal Earth. He took deep breaths trying to calm the hell down so that he didn’t draw his sword, go back inside, and impale a beefy-looking mortal who was more innocent than guilty in this little flirtation drama.
He whipped his Droid Ascender from the pocket of his jeans, a sweet interdimensional piece of technology that allowed him to call home. He all but punched the screen. Shit, his hand trembled. He had so much adrenaline and testosterone flooding his system that, yeah, he was shaking like a drunk off a bender.
The phone rang several times. “Pick up, pick up, pick up.”
Finally, Alison’s voice came on the line. “Sorry. Had to get out of Endelle’s office before I answered.”
“Okay, good.” In the past three weeks since he’d left Second Earth, he’d grown dependent on Alison for a couple of reasons. She helped him keep his head screwed on straight, and she kept him informed on that little detail called the war against Commander Greaves.
He was about to launch into his current dilemma, as in what to do about his woman who was making moves on another man, when Alison cut him off. “Thorne, there’s something you’ve got to know right away, and it’s bad.”
His body stilled. Alison wasn’t given to drama of any kind. From the day of her ascension over a year ago, she’d been an equalizing force among the Warriors of the Blood and especially with Endelle, serving as she did as the scorpion queen’s executive assistant.
His hearing became focused, laser-like, on exactly what Alison would say next. He took another deep breath. “Let me have it.”
“It’s been all over the news for the past hour. In three days, Greaves is conducting a spectacle-grade military review that will last four, maybe six hours. Rumors are that he’s marching an army of two hundred thousand troops, his ‘Ascender Liberation Army,’ down the Moscow Two avenue.”
Thorne’s lips parted because he needed to keep breathing, but he wasn’t sure his lungs were working.
Greaves had just upped the stakes at the same moment that Thorne had gone AWOL to chase after a woman who wanted nothing to do with him.
“Are you there?” Alison asked.
“Thorne, did you hear what I said?”
“Yes. Processing. Shit.” He shook his head—like Alison could see that. “This is a completely illegal maneuver. COPASS can’t let this slide, not this time. ‘No entity shall engage in a public display of military prowess.’ The rules are clear.”
“Marcus has been on the phone nonstop to the international COPASS HQ in Prague. Every answer he’s been given goes something like, The committee has the Commander’s request for permits under review. But we all know what that means.”
“Exactly. I hate to ask this, but can you come home? This news has all of the High Administrators still aligned with Endelle jumpy. Three shifted their alliance to Greaves just because of the announcement. Three.”
He turned back to face the run-down building, which blared some lively Mexican music: trumpets, guitars, and a quick beat.
Marguerite, his woman, his vampire bond-mate, was in there, getting one huge motherfucker of a Mexican all worked up with her long, blood-red nails and short platinum hair.
He’d followed her to Mortal Earth because he’d had no choice in the matter. Much to his surprise the goddamn breh-hedden had hit him flush in the jaw and torn all his good sense from its usual strong footings. All the warriors had thought the breh-hedden was a myth; then Alison had shown up and knocked Kerrick on his ass—Kerrick, the one who had vowed never to marry again. Three other warriors had followed, like dominoes: Marcus, Medichi, and just a few weeks ago Jean-Pierre.
Now it was his turn.
And Greaves had decided this was the hour to let the world know that he’d built an army worthy of victory, and was getting ready to launch his takeover bid of both Second Earth and Mortal Earth.
He turned again, to once more face away from the bar. He felt the call of his world, of Second Earth, and of something more, something vast that had begun pulsing in the center of his brain. He lived with two aches now, the heavy pounding in his head and the stiff pulsing in his groin.
He was a man torn, now more than ever, because of the implied threat of a spectacle-based military review. Damn, there’d be fireworks and massive orchestral music as well as hundreds of DNA-altered swans and geese. Second Earth lived for spectacle and Greaves knew it. The damn thing was genius.
He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think. Alison, thank God, had fallen silent, giving him space, the usual. She’d been a counselor before she ascended. She knew how to let a moment breathe.
Finally, he said, “I’m going to do everything I can to move things along here. But I can’t leave Marguerite right now and it isn’t just because of the breh-hedden. Because she’s obsidian flame, Greaves wants her dead. She’s unprotected if I just take off. You know Endelle was counting on her emerging power to make a difference in the war. At the very least, I need to bring her home with me.”
“You’re right,” Alison said, some of the tension leaving her voice. “I’d gotten so wrapped up in this review, I’d forgotten about Marguerite’s power. Don’t worry. I’ll talk it over with Marcus. He’ll understand. More than anyone, he’ll understand.” Marcus was four thousand years old and had only recently returned to Second Earth and to the Warriors of the Blood after a two-hundred-year absence, his own form of desertion.
Yeah, if anyone would understand all the dilemmas facing Thorne, Marcus would.
“I’d better go,” he said.
“I almost forgot, what did you call for?”
“Nothing. I mean, I’ll work it out.” He laughed as he pushed a hand through his hair and all but dislodged his cadroen. “I may be calling you later. I’ve got a situation in El Paso Two.”
Alison’s voice dropped. “Oh, shit, Endelle just walked into my office. Gotta go.”
The line went dead.
A military spectacle review. Jesus H. Christ.
He returned his phone to his jeans. He lowered his chin and went back into the bar. He sure could use a drink right about now, but for this ride he’d stopped with the Ketel One. Everything was coming to a head fast and he needed to see things just as they were, not through a vodka haze. Still, it sure didn’t help that Marguerite was flashing a smile at that goddamn good-looking Mexican.
He drew his mist in tight. He was good at creating the preternatural disguise that kept him invisible to anyone around him, especially here on Mortal Earth. Anyone, of course, except Marguerite. She could see him even though she’d been ignoring him all night. By now she was used to his hovering presence—he’d been dogging her heels from the first night he’d touched down on Mortal Earth.
They’d argued plenty, but this was the worst she’d been, sitting as close as she was to her current prey on a tall stool. It looked as though she’d made up her mind that tonight was the night.
He took up his former station, leaning against the wall, close to the door. He crossed his arms over his chest. His biceps flexed involuntarily. His nostrils flared. His breathing was still pretty uneven, especially since even at this distance he could smell her rose scent, rich red roses. It was the one sure sign that this woman was meant for him.
Yet he had no real claim on Marguerite, even though they’d been lovers for over a century. She’d broken with him, needing to go her own way, because she’d been locked up in a convent for the last hundred years. Her parents had consigned her to the Convent in Prescott Two in hopes of getting her to conform to their fanatical religious beliefs. She’d survived the ordeal by sustaining the hope that one day she’d be free to live however she wanted to live. So as soon as he’d liberated her, she’d hopped down to Mortal Earth and started a new life away from Second, away from the war, away from him.
The problem was that she’d ended their relationship at the exact moment the breh-hedden had kicked in.
What a nightmare the breh-hedden had proved to be. Marguerite was his breh, his bond-mate, the woman meant for him. She even carried a decadent rose scent that only he could detect. The urge to be near her, to protect her, to be joined to her in every way possible had overruled his common sense and even his duty as the leader of the Warriors of the Blood. That she also carried the red variety of obsidian flame power was just one more reason he’d felt compelled to follow her to Mortal Earth. Somehow he had to convince her to return with him to Second. So here he was, his back pinned to a goddamn wall in a stinking bar, and without a single clue as to how to convince her to come back with him.
He stared at the new Marguerite. She was as beautiful as ever, an almost perfectly oval face, strong arched brows, and large brown eyes, eyes he’d looked into ten thousand times while making love to her. She used to have really long straight brown hair that he would hold wrapped around his forearm when he took her from behind. Now she had short platinum-blond hair, white-blond, and blood-red fingernails about an inch long.
She sipped a very crimson cosmo, her current favorite drink, the same color as the lights flashing in his head. She had her elbow on the bar, her long nails flicking the feathered spikes of her hair.
The bastard next to her had his left knee about a millimeter away from hers. His eyelids lazed low.
Shit. Thorne knew exactly what that look meant: that the only thought running through the bastard’s head would be just how soon he could get this woman on her back, or settled on his h*ps and riding him hard. He shuddered through a few more deep breaths.
He wasn’t entirely to blame. The breh-hedden had him hooked in deep, forcing him to look at Marguerite not just as a woman but as his mate, his f**king mate. His mind swirled with a variety of impulses that kept shouting things like Use your fists and beat the shit out of that a**hole or worse, Use your sword and take the smile off his face permanently.