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by Brenna Lyons
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: "For the extinction of the beasts that walk the night, we will give our life's blood and our lives. Such is the curse that we were born to. Such is the duty we swear to. Such are the lives we lead." Unknown to humans, Night Warriors hunt the night, saving them from vampire-like creatures called beasts. When Corwyn Hunter saves Anna from the mad elder Veriel, he is irresistibly drawn to her as mate, but there is more to Anna than there seems. Veriel has fixated on her, claiming Anna is his wife, a situation she is at a loss to explain. Is Veriel truly mad or does he have a claim on Anna and her unborn child? Whichever side ultimately claims Anna's child will rise the victor. It is a battle neither side intends to lose, no matter the cost. The warriors have avoided training a female for 1500 years, but the stone will not be denied. It is time for a change in the Warrior ranks.
eBook Publisher: Phaze, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: May 2009
52 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [553 KB]
Reading time: 335-470 min.
"What do you mean, dead? What the hell happened?" Corwyn Hunter demanded in two parts anger and one part fear.
At twenty-eight, he would be the youngest house lord in centuries. In the beginning, when people died young and there were less Cursed Warriors, it wasn't unusual for a man to become house lord at twenty, or gods forbid, sixteen like Andris Lord Crossbearer had.
But now? In this century? His father Jonas had only been Lord Hunter for six years, having taken his place at a respectable fifty-five, when old Grandfather Carter died.
Honor demanded that he not admit it, but Corwyn wasn't ready for this. Stone lord, yes. He was ready for that. Carrick Armen, the Lord Swordbearer, was ancient, and Corwyn had been born with the blood mark of Syth. When Carrick died, the Stone would pass into Corwyn's care, and every Warrior knew that. He had been trained for that task since he was in diapers, lectured on the importance of his place until Corwyn felt he might go mad from it.
But, house lord? No. He hadn't been prepared to be the oldest living Warrior of Haus Jäger for many years to come.
Kord Maher sighed harshly. "It was Veriel. You know that beast has never left a Warrior alive. Your father couldn't just walk away because it was Veriel. Honor demanded more from him than that."
"No," he affirmed in a sick voice, "he couldn't do that." With no older brothers or uncles, that left Corwyn in the hot seat. "What the hell was Jonas doing there? Why was he in your range, Kord? And without informing us he was going?"
"Or us that he was coming into our range?"
Corwyn winced. That was a major breach of trust with the Mahers. One did not poach on the range of another house. Jonas must have felt strongly about what he was doing.
"I don't have all the facts yet. I do know that he was protecting a young woman from your range. When she left, he followed."
"Protecting? She has his blessing? Which woman was it?"
His mind worked furiously. If one of their protected thought she was responsible for a Warrior's death, she would be distraught. Corwyn's first priority should be putting the woman's mind at ease. Warriors knew the risk they took, and she wouldn't be protected if they weren't all willing to accept that risk on her behalf.
Kord reached into the inside pocket of his long, black leather jacket and drew out a notebook. "She wasn't under his blessing. I'd say he was using her as bait, but that wouldn't be accurate. He wasn't hunting Veriel, per se. Jonas seemed to realize that the beast had formed a fixation on the woman and was trying to figure out why. Why her and for what reason? If Veriel simply wanted to take her, he would have taken her."
Corwyn nodded in understanding. "Is that Jonas's notebook?" He put out his hand, sure that he was right.
Kord passed it over. "Her name is Anna Louise Jameson. She's a bookkeeper for a small electronics repair company. Jonas has quite a bit of information about her. He hadn't reached any conclusions yet about why Veriel would fixate on her, though."
Corwyn nodded uncertainly this time. "If my father felt it was that important, I'll check into it. Will you stay for dinner, Kord?"
He shook his head sadly. "I wish I could, but my lord calls. He allowed me to bring you the notebook, because he felt it might be of importance, but you know my grandfather."
Kord shrugged, and a wide smile sent shards of light through his midnight blue eyes. His shaggy black hair was like a dark mane around his narrow face. He rose to leave with a clap of support on Corwyn's shoulder, off to return to his lord with his senses open to the night for a possible kill on the way.
Yes, Corwyn knew Jason Lord Maher better than he needed to. He knew him well enough to know that, while the physical appearance a young Warrior kept was not something he needed permission for, Kord most likely took abuse, verbally or in trial by the old bastard, for balking his grandfather's will. Lord Maher was of the old school that included all of the house lords--except Hunter, now that Corwyn was her lord.
Corwyn sighed. It came in cycles, he supposed. Every few centuries it changed from a harsher regime to more autonomy and self-responsibility then back again, a never-ending pendulum. Corwyn was glad the change was coming. It couldn't come fast enough for his tastes, but for now, the old ways were still enforced in most of the world.
In the other ranges, trials of young Warriors often ended in scars to teach them a lesson and involved pitting neighboring Warriors against each other, as he and Kord had often been pitted against each other as teens and young adults. Corwyn fingered the scar under his chin that Jason Lord Maher had gifted him--with Carter's permission, of course--bitterly.
The old ways were barbaric. There were better ways to train young Warriors. Luckily, Corwyn's rise to power meant that his own children could be trained the way he wished he had been, if he ever found a woman who would accept this life and want to stay with him despite it.
Corwyn was the oldest of three.
At nineteen, Stephen was the youngest and most like Corwyn: intelligent, cool-headed, and introspective. Still, Stephen lacked the drive of a truly great Warrior. Research and problem solving were more his forte than brute battle, though as a Cursed Warrior, he had the skills and used them well. Despite Stephen's blood and his training, he lacked a bit of the heart--the pride, perhaps, in what they accomplished. He was also sloppy in his ghosting, and no amount of trial seemed to break him of it.
Twenty-three-year-old Colin, on the other hand, was a veritable throwback to the outgoing regime. Hot-headed and mired in duty, honor, and glory, he was Stephen's opposite in every way.
Their constant rivalry was proof enough of that. Like the pups they were often compared to when their curse was new, it wasn't unusual to see Colin and Stephen tussling about.
The three brothers were outwardly similar, with their black hair and deep brown eyes. Jonas always said that was the mark of a true Cursed Warrior, but it was clear that the old prejudices about the Maher blue eyes still held root in many of the older Warriors.
To Corwyn's mind, the color of a man's eyes was immaterial when compared to his curse and skill. Mahers had those in abundance. The fires of battle and of love ran deep in them. Though only three years older than Corwyn, Kord had been mated for nine years and had a son, Lewis, by his mate, Julia.
His mind wandered back to his own brothers. Corwyn was the tallest at almost six and a half feet and was broad-shouldered, like most Warriors were.
Colin was shorter, barely topping six feet--short for a Warrior--and stocky. Somehow, the picture of an angry ape came to mind when Colin was in full Blutjagd, the blood lust that drove the kill.
Stephen looked the bookworm he aspired to be as much as a Warrior could. He was just shy of Corwyn's height but lean and wiry. Stephen moved like the wind in battle. At times, blades seemed to move right through him as he ducked them. His speed made him little more than a dark blur in the face of beasts.
Still, they looked like nothing less than brothers, with features so similar that, with them separated, the occasional Warrior couldn't tell them apart at a distance in their full-Warrior wear: jeans, armored boots, black T-shirt and/or black long-sleeved button-down shirt, a long black leather coat, and weapons belt. With their ability to mask their appearance from humans in general, few found it necessary to resort to any other form of clothing in their lives.
Outside, they were alike. Inside, it was amazing that they had been sired by the same man and pushed from the same womb.
And now, his brothers owed him duty as their new lord. Corwyn hissed in annoyance. It wasn't going to go smoothly. He sighed as he removed his own blade from its sheath and sheathed his father's blade--my blade now. He glanced at the lord's seal of Jäger in its hilt as he slid it home.
"I'll tell them in a few minutes," he decided. In the meantime, Corwyn opened the notebook and started to read what his father had discovered about Anna Jameson.
* * * *
Anna snapped awake, willing her heart to slow. This arousal was maddening. Every night, it was the same thing--or rather a similar thing. The man was always the same, though the encounters were always different--and stunningly real for dreams. She shuddered as she recalled how interactive the dreams were. If she didn't find something pleasing--and that is strange for a wet dream, isn't it?--it changed to something pleasing almost immediately.
The man in the dream was beyond handsome to downright sinful. His medium brown hair was longer than Anna typically liked, and his gray eyes glowed silver in the dim candlelight or firelight that was a staple in the dreams. Anna's head didn't reach his shoulder; at five feet five, that would make him well over six feet tall.
His age was impossible to gauge. At times, he looked like he was eighteen; at others, he seemed close to thirty. His body was perfect: strong and broad-shouldered, with sparse dark curls over a well-muscled chest and endowed well enough to keep any woman happy, she was sure. There was an intriguing scar on his chest, just above the right nipple, and a red tattoo on his shoulder, some sort of a symbol or glyph that made no sense to Anna but drew her hands and mouth like a magnet.
"Geliebte. Regana," she whispered into the dark room.
Of all things he whispered to her while he made her his own, both in lightly accented English and in several smooth, foreign tongues, spoken as if he'd been born to them, those two words assaulted her over and over. They melted her, and Anna had no idea what they meant, only that they were spoken with tenderness and passion.
All told, the situation was driving her insane. Anna woke every night, feeling the comfortable aches of having accepted a lover but still aching for him as if she hadn't--which of course, she hadn't.
Anna groaned as she realized that that, more than anything, drove her to accept Matt's invitation out. Matt Collins wasn't typically a man she would go out with on a dare, but he was funny and attractive, just the kind of man to help her get rid of this pent-up frustration. If he was a little too full of himself, all the better. That just meant Anna would have no problem at all convincing Matt to engage in something hot and mind-blowing that would cure her of this aching need. Twenty-four was far too young to be committed, she decided.
* * * *
Corwyn heard Colin coming and glanced at his watch in shock. Two hours had passed while he read and reread his father's notes. It was obvious that Veriel had some need for or interest in the woman, but there was no clue what it was in his father's observations.
"Still here?" Colin questioned. "Sitting down on the job while I'm off hunting," he teased. "You're more like Stephen every day."
"Actually, I'm working on a problem for Father. Your hunt was successful." It wasn't a question. Corwyn knew a beast died in Hunter range, and Colin still had the faint smell of it on him.
"Just a low-level named Belanger. Is Father home or gone again on one of his secret forays?" Colin dropped into the chair opposite the desk and smiled at him.
Corwyn felt his jaw tighten reflexively, and Colin's smile disappeared.
"He met Veriel in battle two days ago. He followed a trail--a problem he was working on, and the beast didn't want his interference."
"Impossible. We would have sensed it," he raged.
"He was outside our range. In Maher, actually. Kord brought his notebook and weapon to me tonight after you left."
Colin went a shade of pale Corwyn had never seen on him before. "Did Veriel feed?" he asked woodenly.
"No. Calvin sensed Jonas's distress and sent Veriel to ground with the help of Kord. It was good that they were together and sunrise was fast approaching, or we could have lost more. You know Veriel has never lost to a single Warrior."
Colin nodded uncertainly but with an easing of his muscles.
Corwyn understood his upset. On the rare occasion that a Warrior was killed by an elder, feeding was always a concern. While any turned beast could access an unprotected human's thoughts, it took an elder to read the thoughts of a Warrior. If the elder fed, all their safe houses, protected professionals, and strategies were forfeit, especially if it was the house lord who fell; they would have had to start from scratch. For that reason, more than any other, the houses shared information only when it was absolutely necessary. At least, if someone was lost, he couldn't betray everything.
Elders rarely came within miles of Warriors. They fed, took their pleasures, and went to ground, moving on before reprisals could come. Only once in fifteen hundred years had an elder been killed, by the infamous Pauwel first Lord Crossbearer, but the elders were new then and unaccustomed to their powers. Regardless, they avoided the Warriors for fear of their lives and sent turned to keep the Warriors busy--except for Veriel.
Veriel was an enigma. He was The Mad Deceiver who'd released the beasts from their imprisonment within the Stone and turned his back on his life as a Warrior to go beast in the process. He was known as 'The Destroyer of Lives.' Unlike the other elders, he'd often sought out confrontation with the Warriors, especially the early Warriors of Hunter. For a time, it seemed that he was trying to exterminate the house completely. He was vicious and thorough, and more than once, Veriel had fed on Warriors.
Veriel had even done the most foolish thing imaginable, turned a Warrior and almost cost himself his life in the bargain. While all elders turned humans as a distraction to the Warriors, Veriel trained his turned vigorously to do the most damage they could. It was rare to find a beast turned by Veriel who was less than a high-level. He simply did not permit any less. When a Warrior died, it was often Veriel or one of his turned at work.
"Corwyn, with Father dead..." Colin began uncertainly.
He nodded stiffly and unsheathed his weapon, placing it on the desk more forcefully than was necessary. Colin stared at the seal in resignation. Crossed arrows superimposed over a bow and crested by the howling wolf head shined silver against the dark metal.
"I am Jäger, now," Corwyn growled the ritual words.
Colin met his eyes and straightened his spine proudly. "My blade is yours, my duty at your whim. I stand, a Warrior of Hunter, yours to command." He rose to leave.
Corwyn smiled stiffly. For once, that overactive sense of duty was going to work in the older brother's favor. There wouldn't be an argument or balking Corwyn's place in things. It was Colin's duty to accept it, and he would do so with no scene--publicly, at least.
"Colin, send Stephen down here. I may as well finish this now."
"What will you do after that, Corwyn?" he asked quietly.
"Solve this mystery of Father's, if I can."
"But what if Veriel takes your life, too?" Colin protested.
"Then you'll hold the seal sooner than you counted on."
"Can't it wait? Shouldn't you start your family as a safeguard?" This was the Colin he knew and sometimes loved. This was the Warrior that would try Corwyn's patience.
"This can't wait, but I swear to keep my eyes open for a mate while I work on it," he promised grimly.
Corwyn had never put much thought into his duty to marry and produce heirs until now. He'd always thought there would be more time.
Unlike Kord, few Warriors married younger than thirty. In the early days, they routinely married as soon after being blood sealed as they could arrange, but that had fallen out of practice as the bloodlines had grown.
Worse, most protecteds were professionals they needed and not suited to wandering around after a Warrior. Now every woman, bait and saved, would have to be evaluated as a potential mate. Corwyn grimaced at the thought of it.