“Ah…damn,” Piper Marmande said as she squeezed her partner Kendal Richoux’s hand. She’d been in labor for a couple of hours, and while she wasn’t tired, she was in pain.
“A couple more big pushes, my lady, and you should be done,” the Genesis Clan’s healer said as she smiled up at her.
“That’s what you said about a half an hour and fifteen pushes ago, so your assessment doesn’t mean—”
“It’s not wrong this time.” Kendal interrupted her before her pain overtook her mouth and senses. “You’re doing great, my love, so just a couple more.”
“Don’t try to sweet-talk me, you big ox,” she said, squeezing Kendal’s hand again as the pain of another contraction started. “It won’t make me forget that you got me pregnant, and with my luck, this kid will be as big as you.”
“Not right away, my lady,” the healer said, and Piper figured she was either trying to be helpful or entertain Kendal when her love tried and failed to suppress her chuckle.
“Ah, shit…shit, this hurts.” She sat up a little, and Kendal moved with her so she used Kendal as a backrest and pushed with all her strength. She felt a sudden rush of sensation, and then the pain stopped.
“It’s a girl,” the healer said loudly, followed by a baby’s cry.
“And she’s as beautiful as her mother,” Kendal said as the healer held her up. From the obvious emotion in Kendal’s voice, Piper knew she’d fallen instantly in love with their child as much as she had.
“You’re sweet, since I doubt I look anything remotely resembling beautiful right now,” Piper said as she watched Kendal’s gazing face soften.
“Don’t argue with me when it comes to that, my love,” Kendal said, kissing the side of her neck. “You’ve been nothing but beautiful from the day we decided on this child. I’d take ten more if Aphrodite sees fit to bless us again.”
“Bite your tongue, for a few months anyway. I’d like to see my feet again before I even think of letting you anywhere near me with any glowing orbs,” she said and laughed.
After she and Kendal had worked to keep the only weapon Aphrodite had ever forged from her brother Ares, the goddess had fulfilled a long-kept promise to two souls who’d sacrificed themselves in her honor. So instead of releasing the power of Ares into the world, the Sea Serpent Sword had served another purpose, and she and Kendal as well as their closest friends Morgaine and Lenore had accepted her gift. The goddess had given her word that the babies she and Lenore carried held the essence of those two long-ago lovers, but only an essence.
When they accepted her offer, Aphrodite had made the baby possible through the power of the sword with the promise that it was as much Kendal’s as it was hers. So they’d made love, and that one night had resulted in the child that the healer very lovingly cleaned up before handing her over. It had been an interesting nine months, but like their time after Kendal had mixed the elixir of life for her, Kendal had taken a break from her duties as a slayer for the Genesis Clan so she could spoil Piper as the pregnancy progressed.
“For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve enjoyed the gift of immortality because I’ve witnessed the world changing and evolving,” Kendal said as she moved to allow the healers to finish. “I’ve been a silent witness to all the wonders of man through the ages, but you and our daughter are the closest things to miracles I’ve ever been given.”
Kendal and the group of elder immortals who were thousands of years old had served silently through time to keep mankind safe from the monsters they believed existed only in fairy tales. Kendal was their greatest slayer and had battled vampires and every other evil Piper had no clue existed, but as her partner she was devoted and kind.
“You are the same to me, warrior mine.” She watched the healer hand the baby to Kendal, whokissedher forehead before handing her to Piper. The healers left the room, so Kendal lowered the sheet covering her upper body and placed the baby on her naked chest.
Kendal smiled as she held the baby’s hand and nodded. “We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?”
“We have, and I love you more each day.”
Piper had never imagined herself as a wife and mother, but her life had certainly changed when Kendal came into it under the pretext of buying their family business against her and her grandfather’s wishes. She’d despised Kendal at first, but the relationship that had started out as adversarial had turned into the greatest treasure she could’ve imagined.
The Genesis Clan’s greatest slayer had begun her life as Asra of the house of Raad and had lived many lifetimes before meeting her true mate. Piper was young by comparison, but her time as an immortal had been foretold far before Kendal found her. The elixir of life that had granted them all immortality had failed to change Piper’s eyes to the pale blue all the immortals created by the Genesis Clan shared.
Piper’s had stayed the vibrant green of her birth, but the elixir had awoken her sight that could see far into the future. She was still working to perfect that gift, but she’d already been graced with the picture of Kendal holding their baby with a wide, proud smile. Kendal, or Asra, as she thought of her now, had certainly left the path of solitude with the new family she surrounded herself with. They had both been somewhat broken when they met, but together they’d healed.
“So what will we call you?” Piper asked as she lifted the baby to count her fingers and toes, making the baby shiver but not cry. “Have any ideas, my warrior?”
“We narrowed it down to a few, but now that I see her, none of them fit.” Kendal sat next to her and laid her hand on the baby’s back. The small beauty had yet to open her eyes, but she saw a little of Kendal and her own features in the baby’s face. She followed the healer’s instructions and cradled her and placed her nipple in her mouth.
“In honor of Aphrodite, how about something Greek?” She tickled the baby’s cheek and smiled when she latched on to her nipple.
“Considering where this little one has waited, how about Hali? It’s Greek and means the sea.”
“Hali Richoux, welcome to our lives,” she said, and the baby finally opened her eyes, which were the same pale blue as Kendal’s.
“Wow,” Kendal said, making the baby let go and look up at her.
“Does this mean she’s like us?”
“I honestly don’t know. This is my first baby,” Kendal said, seemingly delighted with the infant. “I don’t think the goddess would’ve gifted us with this beauty if she didn’t envision a multitude of happy years.”
“Is that your way of telling me not to worry about it?”
“She’s gorgeous, my love, and she’s ours—yours and mine. All we can do is love her for as long as we can before she flexes her wings and flies out of our nest.”
“I love you, and you’re right.”
“I believe I’ve mentioned that before,” Kendal said, and she pinched her for the jibe.
“Okay, know-it-all. Go get my grandparents so they can start spoiling.”
“Cuidado,” Oscar Petchel yelled as his workers moved a large stone where the ground-penetrating radar had showed a void. He’d warned everyone to be careful to try to preserve the stone filled with what looked like Mayan hieroglyphics.
Oscar had done a masterful job of hiding the dig from the Costa Rican government and the university where he headed the archeology department. He’d gone deep into the rain forest out of Monte Verde, not really expecting to find anything since he’d been responsible for all the major digs in Costa Rica for the last twenty years. After meeting with Alejandro Garza at his father, Sebastian’s, request, he’d traveled to the site on the map Alejandro had provided, surprised to find a rather large complex.
His father, from Oscar’s earliest memories, had one foot in the past, and he’d preached that’s what had made him good at his job. Sebastian had a doctorate in Mesoamerican studies, but like all his male descendants, he was brought up to be a faithful believer of the Order of Fuego. Oscar had been the first to break the chain of following blindly something he considered preposterous.
“Slowly put it down,” his assistant Pauline Chevalier said in a very accented Spanish. French was her first language, but she knew enough Spanish for the workers and students to understand her. Pauline had moved from France to study with him and had become a quick convert to the Order of Fuego after a dinner with his father and Alejandro.
The ground under the stone was moist, but that wasn’t surprising since they were in the middle of the jungle during the rainy season. Trying to get into the void would be tricky, so he waved the workers away. They backed up gladly, considering they’d already lost five workers provided by Alejandro’s Order after they’d gotten into the first chamber they’d discovered.
“Where do you think the trigger is?” Pauline asked.
“Last time, it was located just where we entered the empty chamber. I’m beginning to think this place has been picked clean, but that doesn’t explain the deadly booby traps. Why go to all that trouble to protect an empty room?”
“Maybe they’re not empty.” Pauline glanced back at what they’d already dug up.
“When a room has four walls and nothing in it, that defines empty.” He knew that was true, but this place—it had a different feel to it. The Mayans had a certain fingerprint, as it were, and this site was almost perfect—almost.
He walked back to the first room they’d uncovered. “Let’s see if we missed something. Tell one of those guys to bring the small radar.”
“We’ve already checked every wall.”
“Did you do the floor?” He climbed down the ladder one of the men had built, already knowing the answer.
That’s what didn’t fit here. The Mayans weren’t really deep diggers. They mined obsidian glass and jade, they buried their dead, but mostly they were builders. Their traditions were to touch their sky gods, not dwell in the earth.
“You think it goes lower than this?” Pauline climbed down and stood next to him.
He studied the stone walls for anything he might’ve missed, but that was unlikely considering how much he prided himself on his thoroughness. Just then, the worker came down with the equipment that was the size of the backpack and broke the silence.
“Start in the middle and see if you can find anything to justify bringing the bigger one down.”
It took forty minutes for the worker to methodically scan the floor of a space that made no sense to him. Nothing in it gave a hint as to why it was there at all. That also made him wonder if this wasn’t Mayan or Incan. The Maya were storytellers. Blank walls weren’t their norm.
“Come back once you have the results.” He dismissed the short man of Mayan descent, wanting to be alone with his thoughts.
“We’re already pretty deep, so why would you think there’s anything lower than this?” Pauline asked.
He understood her need to know, but she hadn’t learned how to keep her mouth shut when he was trying to concentrate. “You’ve been with me long enough to be able to look at the glyphs and decipher the Mayan language. We’re at the southern region of Mesoamerica but still in Mayan territory.”
“We haven’t found any glyphs in here.”
“We found some outside.”
“We did,” she said, sitting next to him.
He nodded before lowering himself to the stone floor. “So tell me a story, then.”
“Even you can’t read the tablets covering these rooms. None of them are even close to the known Mayan written language.”
“Exactly.” He pointed to each wall and the ceiling. “The Mayan kings were fanatical about recording their history. They wouldn’t have left all this blank space.”
“So someone from that time period replicated an entire city as a hoax?” She laughed, as if knowing, like he did, that would be entirely far-fetched.
“It’s the whole chicken-and-egg debate.” As soon as he finished they heard a scream, followed by total commotion outside. The men had to have set off another trap by rushing. If they lost any more men, the others probably wouldn’t stick around much longer.
“What’s happening?” Pauline jumped up and headed for the stairs.
“Perhaps we need some more answers before we continue.” Alejandro would have to show more cards than he had, because the other mystery was how his men were dying. The bodies they’d had to dispose of on the old altar at Alejandro’s direction showed no signs of any trauma, but each and every one’s frozen expression showed abject terror. No one else would venture inside until he and Pauline had descended the ladder carefully, but even then, he saw no sign of anything deadly enough to kill five men.
“Señor Petchel,” one of the men yelled.
He reached the top of the steps in time to watch a large number of snakes come out of the dirt where they’d just removed the stone. They were the biggest pythons he’d ever seen and appeared to be coming from the chamber he knew in his gut was there.
“Dios mio,” he said, genuflecting like the nuns had taught him as a small boy in school. “What the hell is this?”
“Congratulations, old friend,” Kendal said to Morgaine after she’d left Piper to watch the baby take a nap. It wasn’t until Piper had given birth that they’d been told that Lenore had also gone into labor and given birth to another girl.
“I don’t think either of us was planning for this,” Morgaine said, though she was smiling like she couldn’t contain her joy. “But this should be fun.”
“What name did you two decide on?”
“Lenore thought it should be Greek, so we went with Anastasia.”
She laughed and hugged Morgaine. They’d been friends and sporadic lovers, but their fight with the traitorous elder Julius had made Morgaine realize that Lenore was her true mate. Morgaine had been truly surprised that the woman who’d made her whole was someone who’d been in her life for thousands of years. Aphrodite had blessed that love by giving them one of the souls trapped in the Sea Serpent Sword.
“Great minds must think alike, so Anastasia and Hali will share a birthday.”
“Two girls?” Morgaine asked, pulling a little away from her and shaking her head. “Are we ready for this?”
“Not really, since I’ve been alive forever but have very little experience with children, much less babies.”
“You’ll find that it’s a lot like all those battle strategies you’re so good at,” Bruik, the Genesis Clan’s most senior seer, said as he joined them. “Your life will be very regimented for a while, but enjoy it. I’m ancient as well, but I was able to experience fatherhood before the elixir.”
Bruik had traveled back with them to help Piper with her newfound ability to see into the future. It had been Bruik who’d foreseen her finding Piper and awakening that part of her mind she’d never experienced before. With his patient tutelage, Piper’s vision was becoming clearer and easier to access.
“Will you stay on?” Kendal asked, grasping his offered arm for the greeting she would’ve given one of her fellow soldiers when she served in the pharaoh’s forces. Like her, that’s the region Bruik was from, but he had already lived many lifetimes before her birth.
“Rolla requested I stay, but that’s what I wanted, especially when Piper told me we were returning to New Orleans. I’ve read of your time here and was looking forward to seeing your history come to life with Charlie as my guide. He’s never ventured far and had done a masterful job of writing your history.”
Charlie had started his life with Kendal after she’d bought him from the slave auction blocks, but his chains had come off once he’d reached her home, only then Charlie had known her as Jacques St. Louis. Kendal had given him the elixir so he could avenge his family after her brother Henri had slaughtered them.
It had taken years, but Charlie had used her father’s sword to kill Henri and give them both the justice they sought.
“Charlie would love nothing better, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you please. Piper would appreciate you staying close.”
“Piper, as you know, is hard to say no to, so I accept your invitation.” When he smiled, he, in a way, reminded her of her father. “But now, Asra, you need to welcome the sun with your mate. You too, Morgaine. Don’t keep them waiting.”
“Have you seen the babies?” Morgaine asked him.
“Don’t worry yet.” He took Morgaine’s hand and shook it. “Time will only tell what those eyes will bring.”
His answer saved Kendal from asking the same thing. She was well aware of how they were able to bring these children to life but was wary of their futures. Gifts from the gods weren’t commonplace, but Aphrodite had told them to have faith, so she would do just that.
“Have you seen them as adults?” she asked out of curiosity.
“They’ll be beautiful and accomplished women, Asra. Each will have a mind, heart, and spirit of her own. Those who gave their lives to the goddess will be only an echo in their essence, but a very faint echo. They might grow up to love each other, but they might not. No one deserves the burden of someone’s past from birth.”
“Thank you for your honesty, but I have a date with a beautiful woman and our daughter.”
“Did you read it?” Lowe Carey asked her pack leader, Convel Lupo. They’d settled outside of New Orleans and had managed to stay out of the sight of the Genesis Clan, even though their most talented slayer lived less than five miles from them.
Convel got some kind of thrill from hunting on Kendal’s property. Lowe thought it was risky, especially when Kendal had returned, but Oakgrove had gone dark for a while, though now it was definitely populated with a full staff that liked to patrol every bit of the acreage Kendal owned. That had cut the thrill, so Convel had thought of moving them, but Lowe feared what could come from settling somewhere more populated.
“Not yet,” Convel said as she stared out the window. “I’m trying to figure out how he knew we were here.”
The scroll one of their pack delivered from the great Rolla himself had made her shiver when her pack mate had handed it over, but she tried not to show fear. His seal was for Convel to break, but Lowe figured she would’ve forgiven her for reading it. “Do you think it could’ve been Kendal?”
“She wasn’t here long enough to figure it out.” Convel spoke sharply and rubbed the top of her right hand. The scar would never disappear or fade, and it was a constant reminder of Kendal’s skills. The battle had been fierce, she’d heard, and Convel had never forgiven Kendal for marking her.
“Please, love, read it. If you need to move us, we have to start planning.” She pressed against Convel’s back and put her arms around her waist. The greatest honor of her life was when Convel had picked her as her mate—only death would sever the bond.
“Go on and open it. Let’s see what the bastard wants. They usually can’t be bothered with the rabble.”
“The seal is yours to break.” She reached for the scroll and handed it over.
“You’re as superstitious as you are beautiful.” Convel kissed her forehead but did what she asked and broke the seal, then dropped into her desk chair and unrolled it.
“Do you want me to read it?”
“Come sit with me.” Convel pushed back some and invited her to sit on her lap.
She readily joined Convel and kissed her. The act would help her steady herself if the news was bad. “You are my life, and I’ll destroy anyone who tries to harm you.”
“Rolla very seldom starts with that kind of threat, love.” Convel held the scroll up so they could read it together.
Greetings to Convel Lupo and her family.
I extend a hand of peace to you and your pack. Asra recently informed me of your presence, so I’d like to request that you stay now that Asra has returned. Her family will be settling back in the city, so we need to set a meeting.
You may pick the location, but Charlie says you are quite familiar with the grounds of Oakgrove. Perhaps you will consider coming to her home under a banner of truce—a truce that could extend for as long as both sides honor it.
Convel held it up long enough for both of them to reread it three times. “This is good, don’t you think?”
The scroll fell from Convel’s fingers, and she closed her eyes. “This is strange is what it is. Rolla commands killers who do just that. Peace offerings aren’t his style at all.”
“Then why this?”
“The old codes are still honored. If he invited us, then he can’t destroy our family without consequences.”
“If they know we’re here, couldn’t he have ordered that already?” She asked because she was tired of living with old fears. “Maybe we should at least hear what he has in mind.”
“Maybe we’ll get some answers as to what happened at Oakgrove all those months ago before Kendal disappeared for a time. We both witnessed it, but I still haven’t figured it out.”
“Let’s accept only if Onai, Sepf, Varg, and Zaylz agree. They’re our family, and they believe in you.”
“Don’t worry so much, love, and we’ll go. Write a response and send it with Varg. Have him go back to wherever Rolla’s lackey found him.”
“Are you sure you want to send Varg? He’s still young and doesn’t yet control his hunger very well, especially now.”
“Who do you suggest then?”
“Let me go for you, or better yet, we could go together.” She kissed Convel again and finished by nipping gently at her bottom lip.
“We’ll go together, but not now,” Convel said as she slipped her hand in her jeans. “Now all I want is you.”
Lowe felt alive when Convel touched her like this, and she gladly gave herself over to the passion between them. “You have all of me.”
Those were the last words they shared for the rest of the afternoon after Convel laid her down on the desk. Rolla’s truce was important, but not as important as this.
Kendal carried Piper outside to the spot where they’d shared lunch under the large oaks months before. They’d made love under the trees at Oakgrove like they had that first night in Napa, when they’d brought legend to fulfillment after Piper made the tattoo she’d been given by Aphrodite hundreds of years before reappear on her skin. Piper had said seeing the stars above them reminded her of the night she knew without a doubt that she belonged to Kendal as much as Kendal belonged to her.
She remembered Piper’s hesitation that night before putting her hand on her lower abdomen, because if the dragon tattoo had stayed dormant, Kendal wasn’t her true mate. That same hesitancy hadn’t occurred to her after she knew who Piper was to her. The mate to her mark had appeared on Piper’s chest, proving her right. Their reward was the baby the healer carried out for them.
“Thank you,” Piper said when the young woman handed her the baby. She waited until they were alone before she leaned back against her and exposed the baby’s face to the warm predawn air. “Are you as deliriously happy as I am?”
“Every day I’ve spent with you has made me feel that way. Our road will be long, and we’ll enjoy each step because we’ll walk it together.” She kissed the side of Piper’s neck and sensed the first ray of light break across the horizon.
“If anyone I know deserves a child to carry on her blood, baby, it’s you.”
The sky was pink, so she kissed Piper again and reached into her pocket for the old amulet that had been hers as a child. It was one of the only things she’d taken with her that night she’d followed Morgaine out of the bloodbath her brother had made of their father’s house. She’d kept it because her father had placed it on her while he was alive, then asked the gods to bless her with a long and happy life. Now she’d ask the same for her and Piper’s child.
She stood and unwrapped the blanket, placed the amulet on Hali’s chest, and lifted her over her head. The baby shivered a bit but didn’t cry.
“I am Asra of the house of Raad,” she said in her native tongue. “Bless our child and have the gods watch over her so her days will be filled with love, joy, and peace. Father, carry my words into the heavens and make it so. Hali is of your blood, your line, and your courage. Guide her as you have me.”
She carefully wrapped Hali up again and gave her back to Piper so she could hold both of them. Piper glanced back at her with tears in her eyes, but they didn’t need to say anything else. Once the sun was up, Piper closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had to test these healing powers, so I have to say they’re pretty amazing.” She stood up and stretched.
“I’ve never had a complaint about them,” she said, taking Hali back so Piper could raise her arms toward the sun. “If you’ve finished your sun worship for the moment, let’s join everyone for breakfast.”
The baby woke up as if understanding the word, so they sat back down so Piper could feed her. “What now, my warrior?”
“Our battles are done for now, my love, so we get on with the business of building boats.”
“Pops will be thrilled.”
“We might get years of peace since I made that truce with Vadoma. Hopefully she’ll keep her minions in line, but even so it’ll be years before she gains anywhere as much power as Ora.”
“I don’t see Vadoma as a problem going forward,” Piper said as the baby latched onto her nipple and suckled enthusiastically. “She might be something right out of my nightmares, but she’ll keep her word and your truce.”
“Then what do you see as a problem?”
“I’m not sure about that yet, but Rolla will probably tell us when he arrives tomorrow.” Piper handed Hali over for her to burp after she explained that was what she was supposed to be doing. “I thought you read those books I gave you?”
“I did, but having her here has short-circuited my brain, so be patient with me, my love.” Hali let out a burp that belied her size. “Why do you think Rolla is coming? There’s usually a bit of fanfare before he graces anyone with his company.”
“You’re going to have to trust me. He’s coming, and it’s not a social call.” She took the baby back and finished feeding her. “Something’s not right in the world, though I can’t quite figure out what that is.”
“Believe me, there’s always something not right in the world, but we don’t necessarily always have to be the ones who fix it.”
“That I can agree with, but he wants to talk to you, and I don’t sense that urge is negotiable.”
Kendal cradled her and Hali and sighed. “It never is.”
Rolla stood in the window of a high-end hotel, the Piquant, in New Orleans, and stared down at the streetcar rumbling by. He didn’t come to the United States often, but the young country had intrigued him enough that he’d been present when George Washington was sworn in as the first president.
Those had been trying times, not because of a revolution that had given birth to a nation, but because so many of those they’d tried to keep a rein on had found a new frontier to try to conquer. A great number of people who had lain dead on the battlefield had lost their lives not to British aggression, but to the hunger or rage of some beast with very little or no soul.
“Have you sent word we’re coming?” Rawney Lumas asked. Her dark skin and hair really set off her pale-blue eyes. Rawney was a distant relative of Vadoma, the new queen of the vampires, and they both had learned the craft of magic from the Gypsy women who’d raised them. Granted, Rawney was much older than Vadoma, so the power of her spells and potions would take Vadoma many more years to perfect, but she still respected Vadoma’s talents.
“Convel had been put on notice, but I wanted to give Asra and Piper some more time, considering the baby has just arrived.” He joined her at the dining table in his suite and accepted the cup of tea she’d brewed for him. “I never did ask you what you thought about the child brought forth by the sword.”
She glanced at him and smiled. “The gods of old were so important at one time, but it’s good to know they’re still perched on their mountain looking down on us. That they showed Asra favor doesn’t surprise me, but I would’ve thought it would’ve been the god of war who tried to seduce her.”
“Do you think she would’ve been swayed?” The tea was bitter but not excessively so, so he sipped it slowly and felt his mind relax. Only Rawney had the ability to alter the mind of a Genesis Clan immortal, but never for evil intent.
“I’ve met Asra on only a few occasions, but Morgaine chose well. Asra has a true spirit, so the only way a dark force could sway her would be to save someone she loves. Julius didn’t understand that, and it cost him his life,” she said of the traitorous elder who’d tried to unleash the Sea Serpent Sword’s dark half.
“The other thing I didn’t think possible was her truce with Vadoma. Do you think it’ll hold?”
“Vadoma is no fool, and nothing like Ora. The first queen was partially mad before the sickness, and immortality didn’t improve her state of mind. Knowing that, it should be easy to guess the truce will hold.”
“How do you know for sure?” He drank the last of his tea and his entire body felt heavy.
“My job is to wield what power I have to do your bidding. The spells I cast are for protection and to bury things that shouldn’t be found.” Rawney’s voice wove around him like smoke from a fire, and his eyelids were suddenly too heavy to stay open. “Relax your mind, Rolla, so you may see and remember.”
Rawney spoke softly and caught Rolla’s cup before it fell to the floor. He’d asked for the state he was in, but he responded better when he didn’t see it coming. She signaled for the young man guarding their leader to carry him to the bedroom and lay him down.
“Is he all right, ma’am?” the guard asked.
“He’s perfectly fine. Bring Bruik in when he arrives.” She unbuttoned Rolla’s shirt, took a few things out of her bag, and started applying three different infused oils in a swirl pattern to his chest as she uttered the incantations softly.
Once Bruik arrived and laid his hands on Rolla’s head, they would both share the seer’s gift. Bruik would have to take him back, before they could go forward into an unknown future.
The world was so different than it’d been in the early years of her life, and it still amazed her that man went searching for things better off buried. Not everything could be controlled, no matter how much you wished it or how much power it could bring you.
“Are we ready to begin?” Bruik asked when he came in.
“Not really, but we must, old friend.”
“We found it close to the property line, sire,” one of the men Rolla had sent told Kendal after he and some of the others had driven her out to the mutilated carcass of a deer.
From the scraps and the bloating of the head it was only a few days old. The wounds and how it was killed concerned her because very few things were able to rip something so savagely, and the outskirts of New Orleans weren’t known for active lion packs or wolves. At least not the kind of wolves found in nature.
“Have you found any others?” Kendal removed the new, very plain Sea Serpent Sword and twirled it from hand to hand for a few minutes to help her think.
“I have the men looking now, but we might have an active pack in the area,” the man said.
“Call the house and make sure everyone is vigilant. If you’re right it’ll be my turn to go hunting, and I’ll be happy to get a new pelt to wipe my feet on once I find these fools.” Werewolves, like vampires, usually hunted and lived in groups, but the weres were after more than their victim’s blood. She didn’t want any of that near her family.
She nodded and poured gasoline over the deer, then lit it on fire to do away with the scent. “I’ll walk back, so let me know if you find anything else.”
The trees and brush had reclaimed what had once been the tobacco fields she loved working in and growing along with the vegetables that fed the residents of Oakgrove. She wished her old friend Lola had lived to see the baby and thought about how badly Lola would’ve spoiled Hali.
“Problems?” Charlie asked. He rode up on one of the horses from the stables and had Kendal’s favorite, Ruda, following behind.
“Have you seen any strange kills on the property? Any animal that appeared mauled?”
“Nothing like that, but I usually stick to the trails when I’m exercising the horses.” Charlie glanced back at the spot burning and sat up straighter in his saddle. “What do you think did that?”
“It’s not something we’ve ever seen here before, but unless I’m wrong, we’ve got some new and different kind of neighbors.” She mounted Ruda and led them to the fence line that surrounded the property.
“I thought vampires weren’t into animals.” Charlie rode next to her while the trail was wide enough.
“It’s time for you to venture out, my friend,” she said as she dismounted when they reached the fence line and started walking alongside it. There had to be some sign of how they’d gotten in. “If you choose, I’ll start training you to be a slayer. You can eventually work on your own, or you can serve with me and Morgaine.”
“She and Lenore won’t eventually leave?” His riding pants and form-fitting shirt made him appear as if he were waiting to do a photo shoot for the cover of a fashion magazine.
“Not for years, since we’ve made a pact to keep the babies together for as long as everyone is agreeable. They’re unique in how they got here, so I think it’ll help to have someone who understands that position better than any of us.” She stopped and put her hands on his shoulder. “You did well in the fight against my brother, but this isn’t something someone can force you into.”
“The only reason I drank from your cup, Asra, was to avenge my family.”
“We have that in common.”
“That I know, and I’m sorry you had to wait much longer than me to rid the world of your father’s killers. You gave me my freedom all those years ago, along with my dignity, and I loved you like a brother for it.” He moved closer and hugged her. “I never thought I’d ever sense the kind of belonging I had when I was a boy growing up with my parents, but you proved me wrong and encouraged my relationship with Celia.”
“I know you miss her still,” she said, guessing that Charlie was planning to refuse her offer.
“I have for a very long time, and my misery is what’s kept me locked up here. Driving your father’s sword through Henri’s rotten heart finally brought me peace, and even though you aren’t my brother,” he said, making air quotes, “you’re my family. I want to serve with you and venture outside these gates at your side.”
“Thank you, Charlie, and I’ve always considered you the brother I never had.”
“Everyone you brought here loved you, Asra. You have no idea how much we feared the unknown when we finally got off those pits of hell we sailed in, only to be dragged toward you with our heads full of the stories those men who worked the blocks told us. When they led me to that platform, I wished and prayed to die like those who didn’t make the crossing. You and Lola were waiting, and all I felt was hate.”
“No one could blame you for that, my friend, and I wish I could say it was the only time in my life I’d seen that kind of brutality, but I’d be lying. The world’s changed, according to the scholars, but we know better.” She sighed and continued their walk. “There’s always someone willing to put us all in chains if we give them the opportunity. I am so sorry all that happened to you. Words aren’t much, but I did the best I could.”
“Jacques,” he said with his perfect French and smiled. “Like I said, I don’t think you ever realized how much everyone you saved loved and respected you. None of them were blind or deaf as to what happened to those not lucky enough to stand on those blocks the days you weren’t there. We loved you because we wanted to, not because we were forced to.”
“Until Piper came into my life, this is where I felt the most at home. You and your family, along with Lola and the others, made me happy.”
“You’re still my family now, so tell me, brother, what killed that deer?”
“There,” she said, finding a part of the fence cut away. The hole was low to the ground and had a few strands of fur along the top. “We’ve got a family of werewolves close by, and they’ve got to know whose land they’re hunting on.”
“Seriously?” Charlie said, rubbing the strands between his fingers. “I need to read more books from the list Lenore gave me.”
She chuckled and called for a crew to ride the fence and make repairs. “She’d love to hear you say that.”
“So how do we kill them?”
“Not everything deserves killing, so let’s see who they are before we call the taxidermist.”
Oscar jumped down from the helicopter to the opulent grounds of the Garza estate. Alejandro was the current heir since his father had disappeared eight years earlier on a dig somewhere in Asia. His father had told him the story, but he hadn’t paid attention, not as fascinated with the Garza legacy as Sebastian was.
He smoothed his shirt down and followed the servant who’d stood by to meet him. “Bienvenido, Dr. Petchel,” the man said, leading him toward the back of the house.
The view of the mountains was spectacular, but he figured that on particularly cloudy days the coffee plants and everything else that lined the mountainside wouldn’t be visible since they were so high up. The house was magnificent, but it was also remote. Alejandro and his family obviously valued their privacy.
“Señor Garza is waiting for you on the deck on the edge.”
Alejandro was standing on a wooden platform with no sides, wearing a thick leather glove that stopped just short of his elbow. He whistled loudly, and a hawk flew up from the slope below him. Standing so far out along the edge was probably an attempt to show Oscar how fearless he was.
“There’s something special about these birds in flight, don’t you think?” Alejandro asked, handing his pet to one of the handlers. “This is one of the offspring of my father’s favorite hunter.”
“They don’t hunt anymore except to take the meat from your hand. The only freedom they have left is flight, but they’ll never venture too far, or they’ll get no more steak from their master.” Oscar was tired of playing these games, and he wasn’t in the mood to fawn like everyone else in Alejandro’s life did. The second stone had been removed, and the pythons had killed another six of his crew.
“You know I tolerate your disrespect only because of your father, but tread carefully unless you can fly like my hawk.” The glove came off a finger at a time, and Alejandro walked away as if he expected to be followed.
“Either you give me more information or you can find someone else to dig for you, and you can forget that it’ll be my father. We lost more men today to the most bizarre thing I’ve ever witnessed.” He waved the servant off, along with the drink he offered. “The first five died for nothing because that’s exactly what we found—nothing.”
“The information you gathered is what’s important to me. Our search will end only when we find what we’ve been after for centuries, and you’ll be leading that search, Dr. Petchel.” Alejandro spoke softly and drained whatever liquor was in his glass. “We’ve come too far to allow anyone to jeopardize our ultimate goal. Either you keep digging, or—”
“What, you’ll kill me?” he asked and laughed. It was like Alejandro had watched too many movies.
“You don’t think many have died in our pursuit? Those men gladly gave their lives to the order, and plenty more are waiting to take their place. Honor your commitments, or I won’t kill just you. I’ll have your entire family killed, along with the French slut who’s dying to get you into bed.” Alejandro accepted another drink and appeared as calm as if they were talking about baseball scores. “Don’t try my patience or my word. You won’t care for the outcome.”
“Then give me something to try to save some lives before we go forward. The mounds out there are most probably pyramids, but the interesting pieces that don’t fit are the stones with different hieroglyphics that aren’t Mayan or Incan.”
“One of my men told me about the snakes in the first chamber that killed the men who went down first.” Alejandro waved him to a chair, and this time he accepted the drink. He was surprised when he tasted his favorite scotch. “Do you believe in magic, Doctor, or what some call witchcraft?”
“Even in the Mayan times the powerful shamans were nothing more than talented magicians. They convinced their royals of their power, but it was all based on sleight of hand and nothing more.” He wanted to curse his father for getting him into this situation, especially for not telling him there was no out. “The events at the site are strange, but I haven’t seen anything that can’t be explained scientifically.”
“You’re so much like your father was in the beginning when he had the same arguments with my father. Open your eyes, Oscar, before something you can’t explain plucks them from your skull.”
“How does that help me?” This was a complete waste of his time.
“The places I will send you are under the protective spells of an organization called the Genesis Clan, or so we believe. That’s who’s mentioned in the early writings of the Order of Fuego. The key to breaking them has to be in the glyphs, but up to now no one’s been able to decipher them. There’s no Rosetta Stone for this.”
“Then, with your blessing, I want to head back to the university and research them before anyone else dies needlessly.”
“You have a week, and then back to the jungle.”
Oscar nodded, then left without another word. The helicopter was ready to depart, and only when he was out of sight did one of the back doors open. Pauline came out and kissed Alejandro’s cheek.
“Is he going to be a problem?” he asked.
“He’s simply worried about the lives we lost. Oscar has a soft heart but a brilliant mind. If anyone can come close to breaking the code in these stones, it’s him.”
“My apologies if you heard me earlier when your name came up.”
She bowed her head slightly and smiled. “We may not have spent much time together, but I haven’t forgotten your love for me. France was a dead end, so I appreciate you letting me come home, Father. You and the order are all I have left now that my mother is dead, and I’ll serve you as faithfully as she did.”
“Good, so go back and do everything you need in order to keep Petchel in line.”
“He’ll probably never fully convert, but he’ll be useful.”
He stood and kissed both of Pauline’s cheeks. “Good, and his reward will be to fly off my perch out back along with his father. It’ll give my birds something to feast on that’s not from my hand,” he said, remembering Oscar’s insult. “He’ll learn the hard way that no hunter can be totally tamed.”
Piper sat outside on the balcony and held Hali as she stared unseeingly at the levee that banked the river across the road. She let her mind wander like Bruik had taught her and did her best to put order to the thoughts that came like a mudslide, in that it was a jumbled mess with a lot of images to process. She concentrated on Hali’s breath against her neck and smiled despite her semi-conscious state.
“That bitch has much to pay for” was the one statement that caught her attention, so she closed her eyes and tried to pinpoint that one thing by peeling away the rest of the noise. Bruik’s instruction was that all her insights were like walking through a mansion with a multitude of rooms. Each room had a separate conversation going on, so if one was of more interest than the others, she should sit there and listen while trying to drown out the rest of the din.
With time and practice, he promised she would hear only the noise of the thousand things when she wanted to. When he sat to let his mind wander he always had a particular destination in mind. She knew instinctively that the statement was about Kendal, but the woman who said it stayed in the shadows. This wasn’t a sight from the future—this had already happened, and all Piper could see was the large, straight scar on the back of the woman’s hand.
“Who are you?” she said as she sat in her mind’s eye and tried to gather more information.
Macedonia, 142 BC, The Korab Mountain Range
Erik Wolver rode up the steep incline he was on as fast as the horse could handle the terrain. Once the ground leveled off some, he dismounted and let the horse loose to graze where he wanted. The only thought in her mind was how far the days of the pharaoh’s forces were behind her. Wolver was a good alter ego for Asra as she traveled to do the Clan’s bidding.
The flat sands of Egypt were only a memory now as she looked out at the valley with sporadic signs of fire from the people living and trying to make their way here. Snow mixed with ice crunched under her boots as she tried to find a way to start her mission. Up to now she had used her skills only to hunt Ora’s fledglings who’d become a nuisance, but this was a different scenario she couldn’t quite believe existed.
Men and women who could shape-shift into a wolf in a way defied even her imagination, but Morgaine had assured her they did in fact exist and were terrorizing the villages along this area. It wouldn’t be long before someone tried to keep them away from their livestock and they’d acquire a taste for human blood.
“So where are you?” She leaned against a tree and decided to wait for the upcoming night.
It took three days, but she stood between a cave entrance and the four unnaturally large wolves trying to make it inside. At the sight of her, they lowered their heads and bared their fangs, but they stood their ground. Erik knew these were the only ones at the moment, since she’d explored their den.
“From the blood on your muzzle, I can see you’ve taken the life of something that doesn’t belong to you,” she said as she stood with her sword ready. “I don’t want to hurt you, so take your family and leave. You’ll find plenty of game away from here for your survival.”
She spoke hoping there’d be some kind of recognition, but her experience with young vampires had taught her that the thirst trumped everything and everyone. One of the wolves started to make its way to the right, but she kept her eyes on the other three. It didn’t take long for the aggressor to get behind her, but she still didn’t move her head.
Patience made her wait until she heard the crunch of ice before swinging the sword down and up, catching a paw and slicing through it. The blood sprayed her face, and the other three moved a step back when their pack mate lay wounded at her feet. “All you need to do is move on,” she said as the wounded were started to shift back. The tall woman held her hand against her chest and glared at her.
“Who are you?” she asked in German. “I want to know your name, which will make sucking your eyes out of your skull all the more enjoyable.”
Another one of the pack grew brave and came forward, snapping its jaws as if trying to intimidate her. “What I’m asking isn’t hard, so think about it before you lose someone you care about.” She spread her feet a little and tightened the grip on her sword. The one she was using was coated in silver for the occasion.
“Do you honestly think you can defeat all of us?”
“All of you are outcast from the true pack leader, Queen Beldar. I spoke to your queen before traveling here. She gave me permission to kill every one of you if I wished. She has no use for your disobedience.”
“You know nothing,” the wounded woman yelled as Erik moved toward the closest wolf with her sword ready for a killing blow. “Wait,” the woman screamed louder. She then spoke some kind of language that sounded inhuman and guttural. After hearing her, the other three shifted and stood naked before Erik.
“Start out in the morning and never return here. Start on the path you were meant to run, and Beldar will welcome you home. Your mother misses you.” She took a small jar from her bag and gave it to one of the young men. “Convel, use that, or the silver will eventually poison your blood. The salve will stop it, but it won’t do anything for the scar it’ll leave.”
“This won’t end here.”
“If you want, next time I’ll sink my blade through your heart and leave the job of redeeming your family name to your sister.”
Oakgrove, Present Day
Piper opened her eyes when she felt the baby move, and she hoped Kendal would come back soon. Erik Wolver seemed to be a persona Kendal had used over more than one lifetime and had more than “his” share of tales to tell.
“At least your mom didn’t have some sex scene in this vision,” she said to Hali, who was awake and puckering her lips at her. “You are so beautiful.”
Hali favored Kendal more in coloring and eye color, but Piper could see herself in this child she’d been dreaming about from the first night she’d been conceived. She’d known for months it’d be a girl, but Hali’s future had stayed a dark mystery to her no matter how many times she’d wanted to catch a glimpse of it.
She thought of her own parents and how different her life would be if they’d lived. Pain, though, got you to where you needed to be to recognize true happiness. That’s what Kendal had given her, she’d thought, when she’d wiped out their debt, but in reality they could be penniless and she’d still feel the same. She heard something in the distance and made out Kendal and Charlie galloping toward the house.
“Look, Hali.” She held the baby up and set her on her lap. “With that sword and her comfort in the saddle, you can see that soldier in shining armor beaming through.”
“What did you say, sweetheart?” Piper’s grandmother, Molly, asked as she came out and took the baby into her arms.
“I was saying that it’s not hard to see the pharaoh’s elite soldier if you look that way.” She pointed to the right.
“She does inspire you to either become a writer or just kiss her senseless,” Molly joked.
“If you were five years younger, I’d worry about you,” Piper said, kissing Molly and then Hali. “Will you two behave until I get back?”
“Are you sure you should be riding so soon?”
“The sunrise made it like it never happened. These healing powers make me want to fill up the bedrooms in the house, but for now I’m going with that kissing-her-senseless idea you had.” She waved and headed down before Kendal dismounted.
“Charlie,” she heard Kendal say before he made it out of the front drive. “Make sure those guys take their patrol seriously. I don’t want my family harmed.”
“I’ll let you know if we find anything. Good morning, Mama,” Charlie said when she stepped outside. “Congratulations, and I can’t wait to meet her.”
“We’ll all have dinner tonight, and you can fight my grandparents for her, Uncle Charlie.” She held her hand over her eyes to cut the glare and smiled up at Kendal. “You’re using a saddle today? Is there room up there for me?”
Kendal dismounted and removed Ruda’s saddle before lifting her up. They headed for the gate and the levee, which was now one of the areas their new staff was patrolling and making off-limits to any outsiders. Ruda made quick work of the slope, and Kendal held her as she headed for the clump of trees that went all the way to the waterline.
She fell into Kendal’s arms and followed her to the most secluded spot Kendal had carved out for them. “Did you find anything?” she asked as Kendal spread Ruda’s blanket out.
“We might have a wolf problem,” Kendal said, sitting with her back against a big willow.
“That makes sense.” She straddled Kendal’s legs. “I had another waking dream about Erik Wolver and his many exploits.”
“You’re not pinching me, so it couldn’t have been too bad,” Kendal joked.
“You’re hilarious, but no. You were in the mountains, and you fought a big wolf and cut her. The wound caused her to shift to human form, and you warned her to move on. Even though she’s a werewolf, you scarred her. We’ll get into how I’ve only seen that in a movie later.”
“Convel Lupo is who you’re talking about, and I was sent to hunt her and a few of the weres who’d left with her. They’d broken from their leader because she showed too much restraint when it came to respected territorial boundaries. If you saw her, it’s probably who hunted down a deer on our property after cutting through the fence.”
“Is she dangerous?”
“She doesn’t like me very much, but she knows better than to challenge me again.”
“She actually hates you, and I can’t understand it,” she said, unbuttoning her shirt. “I find you utterly adorable.”
“It’s good to know you aren’t bored with me yet.” Kendal glanced down as Piper started on her shirt next.
“I loved being pregnant, but I’m glad to have the body you’re used to seeing back and to not have anything between us.” She leaned closer and hummed when they met skin to skin. “I will never get enough of you.”
“You are the main reason I’d love to have the ability to dream, but not sleeping means I’ll enjoy every moment of my life with you.” Kendal placed her hand on her ass and picked her up so she could kiss her.
“That’s mighty sappy of you, baby.” Her crotch pressed against Kendal’s abdomen, and she held on to maintain the pressure.
“No one but you believes I’m capable of it.” The way Kendal kissed her always made her feel possessed. It was as if Kendal needed her to realize how much she wanted her, and for the first time in her life she felt wanted and incredibly sexy. No one could fake that kind of response over and over again.
“We aren’t going to be surprised by one of Rolla’s people, are we?” She ran her hand up Kendal’s hair from her neckline and moved her head closer so she could kiss her again.
“Do you need me to touch you?” Kendal tightened her hold on her ass, and Piper sucked in her bottom lip.
“I want you to put your mouth on me and make love to me,” she said, hissing when Kendal laid her back and sucked in a nipple. “Shit.”
“Sorry. Too hard?” Kendal laid her down and stretched out next to her.
“No. Not too hard, so take your pants off and let me feel you.”
Kendal stripped for her, then helped her take off her jeans. She loved seeing Kendal standing naked with the sun shining through the trees, appearing as if she could conquer the world as easily as she had her heart. The emotion that swamped her at times when she saw the way other people looked at Kendal had a way of disappearing when Kendal’s eyes met hers. No matter the years that stretched out before them, Kendal would be hers forever.
“You’re beautiful no matter what. At least I’ve thought so from that very first day when you sat screaming at me.” Kendal touched her, never really lingering in one spot. She seemed to want to revisit every inch of her, and the calluses on her hands from thousands of years of wielding a sword raised goose bumps wherever she touched. “I love you with all my heart.”
“I love you, but I can’t wait anymore.” She spread her legs as Kendal hovered over her with a ravenous expression.
Kendal twirled her tongue around each nipple slowly until both of them were hard and dark pink, but she resisted when she put her hand behind her neck to keep her in place. “Slow down, my love,” Kendal said, coming back up to kiss her.
“That’s a hard demand.” She reached down and touched herself, wanting to get her fingers wet. “See what you do to me.” Kendal closed her eyes when she painted Kendal’s lips with her wetness before allowing her to suck her fingers in. “You make me wet…you make me crave you…and you make me want to beg to be fucked.”
She reached down again and circled her nipples, this time getting the result she wanted when Kendal sucked each one hard enough to make her hips buck up. She’d had other people in her life, but not one of them had ever made her this crazy for their touch. The only answer that made sense to her was that she’d never been in love. That was very true now with Kendal, who fueled every fantasy she’d had from the first time they’d gotten naked together.
“You never have to beg me for that, mon amour.” Kendal moved down her body and used two fingers to open her up, but then she only looked down on her.
“Is something different after the baby?” She began to close her legs in reflex when the old fears that the elixir hadn’t really worked on her came back. No matter how many times the elders had told her she was as immortal as they were, the fact that her eyes were still green haunted her.
“No, but I missed seeing you like this.” Kendal dragged her tongue from her opening slowly over her clit. “I missed the taste of you and how wet you get for me.” Kendal repeated the move with her fingers positioned to keep her open. “That you want me this much makes me hard and crazy.”
“God, when you talk—” She didn’t finish her thought when Kendal flicked her tongue rapidly over her clit and slammed two fingers inside her. “Shit,” she said again, but this time Kendal knew not to stop. The way Kendal filled her made her wish she had the patience to make it last, but she could already feel the tightness in her belly as the orgasm started to burn through her as fast as Kendal’s tongue moved over her clit.
She put her feet on the blanket and thrust her hips into Kendal’s mouth and fingers, wanting everything Kendal was offering.
“Oh God, don’t stop. Don’t fucking stop,” she said, her voice strangled and oxygen-deprived. “Ah,” she said as she reached that place only Kendal had brought her to.
The last thing she saw before she closed her eyes was a few birds startled out of the high branches as she screamed Kendal’s name when she came. The sensation of the orgasm made tears run down into her hair, but Kendal seemed to understand that their appearance had nothing to do with sadness or a problem as she moved up and held her. That innate knowledge was one of the best things of being in love.
“I love you,” Kendal said softly as she strengthened her hold.
“You certainly know how.” She kissed Kendal’s collarbone and moved so she was lying on top of her. “And you’re certainly good at it.”
“Thank you, love. It’s always my honor to touch you.” Kendal smiled, seemingly content to stay just like they were, but she wanted her content for other reasons.
“It’s no wonder my grandparents love you almost as much as I do.” She ran her fingers along the curve of Kendal’s cheek and almost cried again at the way Kendal looked at her. “Almost, since I want to be the only one who gets to touch you like this.”
“I’m yours, Piper, forever. Never think otherwise.” Kendal rolled them over, and she went willingly.
She reached down when Kendal kissed her and found what she knew was waiting, smiling at the wet hardness she found. They had to break their kiss so she could reach comfortably, but this was all the proof she needed that Kendal did indeed belong to her.
“I want you,” she said, moving the pad of her wet fingers over Kendal’s steel-hard clit. The military training Kendal had received all those years ago helped her with that cool-and-in-control façade she displayed in every aspect of her life except here. Piper had a way of making her lose that tight hold and let go, and she knew she had done it again when Kendal brought her hips down hard. “And I want all of you.”
The way she stroked her with no gentleness made Kendal flare her nostrils, but when she smiled, probably too smugly, Kendal held herself up with one hand and touched her. After the orgasm she’d had she shouldn’t be this turned on, but she was ready again, and it was a good thing Kendal was so damn strong.
“I can wait, baby,” she said, and Kendal smiled and pinched her clit hard enough to make her almost come.
“Can you?” Kendal tugged up and down.
She put her feet on Kendal’s ass and shook her head, trying desperately not to lose complete concentration as she touched Kendal in return. “I can’t, please,” she said, her voice pitching lower as her need grew again. “Please, baby, keep going.”
Something about making love like this and seeing Kendal’s strength on full display really turned her on, and she kept her eyes open to see Kendal go over the edge. She followed right after her and wrapped her arms and legs around Kendal when she fell into her.
“You think we’ll be okay?” The question came out without permission, but Kendal didn’t move.
“We’ll be fine, and nothing will come between us,” Kendal said, kissing the side of her breast. “Your waking dreams have the ability to be changed, so no matter what comes, we’ll take care of it.”
“When you say it like that, I believe you.”
“Good, but you don’t have time to worry about anything.” Kendal raised her head and slipped her tongue into her mouth. “Not for the rest of the afternoon anyway.”