Excerpt for The Dark Order of the Dragon Collection by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Dark Order of the Dragon

Sampler Collection





By

Sandra Bischoff














All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by means mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording or otherwise without prior permission from the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events or persons, living or dead are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names or featured names are assumed to be the property of their respective owners and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or in part, mechanically or electronically, constitutes a copyright violation.

 

Published in the United States of America in October 2016; Copyright 2016 by Sandra Bischoff

 

The right of Authors Name to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with The Copyright, Designs and Patent Act of 1988.

 

Published by Sandra Bischoff

 

 

Copyright 2016 © Sandra Bischoff

Language: English








The coach pulled onto the main drive through Central Park. The only sound to be heard was the steady clomp of the mare’s hooves on the pavement. An eerie silence settled over the park, no crickets or cars humming by, just dead quiet.

Everything had gone just the way he planned. Dinner was magnificent. The chef at Aureole never let him down. He went above and beyond tonight, hiding Giovanna’s engagement ring in their dessert. The happiness on her face would be etched in his memory forever.

Her bright blue eyes gazed up into his face and beamed. Giovanna held her left hand between them. Moonlight glinted off the diamond ring.

She kissed his cheek.

Jared, I still can’t believe you did this. You have no idea what this means to me, to us…” Her words trailed off.

The coach slowed and came to a halt. A sensation of déjà vu slithered up Jared’s spine. Cold dread planted itself in his gut. Jared wrapped his arm tighter around Giovanna’s shoulders needing to feel her warmth against his body.

Jared was about to ask what the problem was when the driver jumped to the ground. He was quickly joined by three more tall, dark and gruesome men.

Giovanna gripped his arm. “Jared, what’s going on? Who are these people?”

Jared slipped his gun from the holster under his arm and pressed it into Giovanna’s shaking hands. "Whatever you do, shoot first and ask questions later. You hear me?”

You’re scaring me.” She tried to give the gun back to him.

Just do what I’m telling you, G. Trust me.” At her nod, he removed two daggers from their sheaths at the small of his back and opened the carriage door.

The second his feet hit the pavement they began to circle. Jared’s eyes shifted quickly, keeping them in his sights. This was not what he intended when he set out to make Giovanna’s graduation night one she’d remember.

Do you honestly think you can take on all of us?” the driver scoffed.

I can damn well try. Did you think I’d sit there and let you get away with murder? Do what you want with me but let her go. She knows nothing about this.”

Poor delusional human. The three life forces here are exceptionally strong and will sustain all of us for weeks. We’re not about to let any of you go.”

Jared’s blood ran cold. Three? That could only mean…

He met Giovanna’s terrified gaze.  Her hand on her stomach told him all he needed to know.

Two of the vampires lunged at him. The other two headed for the carriage.

NO!”

One of them climbed into the carriage and easily removed the gun from her grasp. Giovanna’s blood curdling scream tore through the night air. She struggled to get away, clambering over the back of the carriage.

Jared sliced through the arm of the one holding him and stabbed the other. The shocked vamp vanished in a burst of light.

He headed for the carriage only to be tackled from behind. Hitting the ground Jared's attacker sunk his fangs into his shoulder.  Jared snapped his head backward hissing from the pain. He struggled and strained to break free.

When Giovanna’s attackers were done with her they came for him. Sweat and blood soaked his clothes. Gasping for breath he stared at her, limp body draped over the side of the coach.

"Giovanna..."

The driver loomed over him and grabbed his chin with a gloved hand, forcing Jared to meet yellow glowing eyes.

"Touching, to call for her with your dying breath. I can assure you though, she's not impressed."


Jared sat up gasping for air. A fine mist of perspiration covered his skin and the sheets were entwined around his legs. His eyes darted around the room. He couldn’t catch his breath. With a shaking hand, he reached for the prescription vial beside the bed. Just one pill, to take the edge off. As soon as he lifted it, Jared realized there would be no chemical relief for him today. The bottle was empty. The medication never helped in the first place.

He had been downing Xanax like M&M's since he returned home last week. It was only common sense he’d finally run out of his prescription long before the next refill was due. He threw the bottle across the room, shattering it on the far wall. The sound of plastic raining down on the floor was little consolation for his present state. His shaking hands covered his face and he breathed deeply to calm down. Yeah like just breathing worked. The only thing that helped was getting as far away from here as possible. Even then it may not be far enough.

Fifteen years. He couldn’t believe fifteen years went by in the blink of an eye. It felt like it was only yesterday when the Conservatorship forced him to leave. Yet here he was back in New York for some untold reason. The Elders insisted he return, but kept mum on why.

“I must be insane.”

Jared untangled the sheet from around him and swung his legs out of the bed. He focused on the door to the adjoining bathroom, but the panic attack clouded his vision. Ever since the renegade vampires had killed G, he’d suffered them randomly. Since he’d come home, they were out of control. When they began, all he needed to do was focus in on an object and regulate his breathing. Not any more though. None of those techniques worked.

He pushed to his feet, and his legs buckled. The only thing keeping him off the floor was his hand on the headboard. Jared took a deep breath before he shoved off and propelled his wobbly legs toward the bathroom.

It only took a few minutes but felt like he spent hours on the trek through the door to lean on the bathroom sink.

Turning on the water, he splashed his face a few times before glancing at his reflection. Man, he looked like hell. Blue eyes sunk in his face, shabby-sheik blonde hair standing on end, as if he took a seat in an electric chair. Maybe he had and didn’t know it.

The bad news didn’t stop there -oh no. He had a few days’ worth of beard growth, but it had grown in patchy. Yeah this would get his ass thrown in Belleview. It was where he felt he belonged. The dreams were killing him.

Jared let go of the sides of the pedestal sink and held up his hands. At least they stopped shaking and he could stand without fear of falling over now. There had to be more to the panic attacks, it couldn’t just be from coming home.

Grabbing a towel, Jared dried off his face and headed back to the room. Darkness engulfed him except for the sunlight falling across the disheveled bed through a gap in the blackout curtains. When he returned a few days ago it had been a light and airy space. In a matter of hours, he morphed it into a cave. This was where he spent most of his time. Staying in this room saved him from the memories the town held.

He pulled a black karate uniform out of his suitcase. Funny, he still hadn’t taken the time to unpack. Living out of duffel bags and suitcases had become a way of life for him. He didn’t want to stay here, didn’t want to put his name to a deed. The Conservatorship, a council of humans who served the vampire King Xavier Dragoni, made it impossible for him to turn his back on his responsibilities. They put this home in his name effectively ending the exile they originally imposed on him when Giovanna died.

Sitting on the bed his gaze wandered over the mahogany furnishings. More darkness, all he had in his life, darkness. Honestly, he preferred it that way. It kept people out of his face most days. On others, he was at least civil.

He pulled on the uniform tying it with a black belt and rose frowning.

“This shit just can’t go on.”

Crossing the room he grabbed the blackout drapes and pulled them off the window. He squinted blinking a few times as his vision adjusted. The sun warmed his skin. Surveying the landscape, he already knew his destination, the gym built off the back of the house. The meditation and control would do him good. He felt the overwhelming need to beat the crap out of someone or something and there was a large punching bag with his name on it waiting for an ass kicking.

Jared headed downstairs and took the detour through the kitchen. His housekeeper, Sam was dicing carrots for the evening meal. She tossed him an apple from the basket in front of her. She had an odd sixth-sense of knowing what he needed.

Sam had been a second mother to him since his arrival in New Orleans. When he got to the address his father had given him, she was there and waiting. Living with her was strange, like he had finally come home. She made him feel he actually belonged somewhere.

For the time he lived in New Orleans, Sam never even blinked an eye at the strange hours he kept. She guided him back to life after the loss of Giovanna and gave him the mother’s touch he needed. Not that his mother had been lacking in any way. He loved her beyond anything else, but Sam was different. She was the only one who he felt completely comfortable with, the only one he could open up to and be himself. She knew all of his fears and dreams and never discouraged him. Fortunately, she was protective of him like a mother bear to her cub. Her loyalty to him was unquestionable. He didn’t know how he would have survived without her, which was why he’d brought her here with him.

“Enjoy your workout, Jared. I’ll send Casey out when dinner is ready. I’m not letting you leave tonight before eating. Your tux has been pressed and is hanging in your walk in. The car will arrive around eight for the benefit. I won’t have you being the last one there. Now go.” She shooed him out the door. Her black hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Her steel grey eyes dared him to spar with her. Jared knew he could never win any argument with her.

He chuckled and rubbed the apple on the front of his Do Bok. “Yes Ma’am!” Jared gave her a mock salute before opening the slider onto the patio and jogging across the yard.



“Hell no." Alex stared at the sheet of paper in her hand. This couldn’t be happening to her, not again. It was the third time in a month her boss, Gene, pulled this crap on her.

“He can’t be serious.” She scoffed at the absurdity of the new assignment in her hand.

She glared over the wall of her cubicle at the pimple-faced red-headed mail boy. He gulped and shuffled around a few envelopes, escaping to the next cubicle. It wasn’t the kid’s fault, but he was the messenger and they always got the bad end of the stick throughout history. God, she needed to strangle someone. Alex ran a hand through her hair, pulling the long chestnut mass out of her eyes.

Alex pushed out her chair and crushed the paper in her hand, intending to throw it in the circular file. She paused and sighed. No, it would be better to give the SOB a piece of her mind for a change. Standing, she stalked to the glass enclosed office at the end of the hall.

“You have got to be kidding me. You’re not serious about this are you?” She threw the paper on the desk next to his laptop.

Gene O’Hanlon didn’t lift his attention from the keyboard. “Get the door would you?” He kept typing. When she didn’t move, he glanced at her over his glasses. “Alex, I’m not going to get into this with an audience. Close the door.”

Alex kicked the door shut. The glass walls vibrated, and a few sheets of paper slipped free from the overstuffed bookshelf behind him. She folded her arms across her chest and glared.

Gene leaned back in his worn black leather office chair. He removed his glasses and placed them on the scuffed oak desktop, rubbing his eyes with his other hand. The man appeared to be tired and completely drained. She felt a twinge of guilt for storming into his office until he leveled those harsh green eyes on her.

“Alex, everyone here has to pay their dues. How would it look if I played favorites with stories, huh?”

“Problem is, Gene, I paid and then some. You know it.”

“The assignment stays.” He linked his hands behind his head leaning back in his chair.

The gray hair at his temples stuck out in a way reminiscent of the Nutty Professor. He jerked his chin toward the chairs in front of his desk. Alex gave him one more hostile glare before she complied and sat across from him, crossing her long slender legs and leaning back.

“This is a puff piece for your gossip column, Gene. You know it, and I know it. Why are you saddling me with this?”

“This is hardly a puff piece, Alex.”

“I don’t do publicity. I do serious investigative reporting. There’s nothing serious about a millionaire hot shot in Orange County. From what I can see, he never worked a hard day in his life. Mommy and Daddy probably left him a real nice trust fund.” Yeah, while I’m forced to scrape nickels together to make a Chelsea rent payment. Gotta love NewYork.

Gene pushed a folder toward her and flipped open the cover. “Like I said this is not a puff piece, Alex. Look at him. You can’t tell me that you don’t recognize Jared Bonatelli.”

“No, Gene. I’ve never seen him before. Why should I recognize him?” Her gaze roamed over the photo. The way Bonatelli gazed into the camera mesmerized her.

Gene continued. “It’s been a while, years in fact, since he was major news. But this kid,” He tapped his eraser on the photo. “This millionaire is hardly a spoiled brat. He’s been through, shall we say, the supernatural ranks.”

Alex frowned, eyeing Gene. “Supernatural?” She laughed. “What the hell do you mean? Is he a Warlock? Does he go ghost hunting? Or better yet is he one of those people who claim they were abducted by aliens? Come on, it reeks of publicity stunt.”

Picking up the file Alex flipped through the pages. Bonatelli’s life seemed pretty straight forward a little rich boy who grew up in a prominent Italian family and attended college abroad with straight A’s likely bought for the right price.

She came to the last page in the file. It was an old article from a small New Jersey newspaper. Time had yellowed the paper, but the print quality wasn’t what drew her in.

“Are you serious? Vampires? The reporter actually claims vampires killed Bonatelli’s fiancé.”

She was ready to toss the folder back on the desk when she read the byline. Alex stared at the paper, shocked. The man in front of her raised a brow in silence.

“You? You reported this? How? What? I don’t get it.”

“Apparently.”

Gene stood and walked over to the windows of his office overlooking Central Park. He folded his arms across his chest and stared at the barren treetops. “I’d just landed a job in a small town paper reporting on the daily trash. Who was I to expect a job at Newsday or the Wall Street Journal fresh out of college? You have to work your way up to the big leagues.”

He pointed at the park. “It all happened right down there. I saw it all. They had no idea I was there, but I was. The girl’s life was sucked out of her. I saw the kid try to save her. He wasn’t surprised when they appeared, not like I was. He fought them off like a pro; he’d definitely done it before. When it appeared they were going to kill him, another one appeared out of nowhere. Poof.” Gene swung back toward her. “I never saw the new guy touch them. They all just vanished in a big flash of light the moment he spotted them. It wasn’t enough to save the girl, though. After the attack Bonatelli vanished off the face of the earth. I’m telling you, Alex. Everything in the article is real. I saw it. I lived it.”

Alex stared at him in silence. The whole thing was unbelievable. What Gene told her was a plot for a novel or insane tabloid articles not something a respectable news source reported.

She tapped a fingernail on the manila folder in her lap, trying to find the right way to tell him the story was insane. Unfortunately, he seemed to believe everything he said.

“Gene, are you sure you saw it happen? I mean, it could be you saw an everyday mugging gone bad? You obviously weren’t close enough to see them clearly; they would have known you were there. And if it happened, why in the world are you assigning me a dead story?”

He walked over and sat on the edge of his desk in front of her. Gene lifted the folder from her lap and flipped it open to the picture. He removed the photo, holding it up for her to see. “Because, Alex, he’s back. Returned from God knows where. I want you to find out why they brought him here.”

Gene handed her back the folder. “Bonatelli is supposed to attend a fundraiser hosted by an old and powerful family. They are royalty in their country. Your invitation and their background info are in the yellow envelope. Any credentials you may need to get in are there, as well.”

“Yeah right,” she laughed. “Me hanging out with royalty, you’ve gone off the deep end.”

He raised his hand to silence her. “Also, a dress has been ordered for you and will be delivered to your cubicle by the end of the day.”

Alex blinked. She couldn’t even begin to think of how to react to everything he’d laid out in front of her. When she regained her composure, Alex took a deep breath and let out an undignified snort. “They,” she paused. “I think you need to lay off the liquid lunches, Gene. Ok boss man, I’ll bite. Who in the world are ‘they’?”

Gene’s face held no trace of humor whatsoever, “They, my dear, happen to be the things nightmares are made of.”



Sweat ran in rivulets down his forehead and into his closed eyes. He savored the burn from his most recent work out and made no move to wipe the sweat away. Jared gave up his uniform, opting for black sweat pants and bare feet. He’d been confined and claustrophobic in the uniform. He needed freedom when he moved. And man could he move. With every punch, kick, and block, he flowed across the room like quicksilver. He never felt stronger or fuller of life than right now. Sure, he’d had fulfilling workouts in the past, but none of them equaled the total sense of invincibility washing over him.

Kneeling on the floor with his hands resting on his thighs, Jared took a deep, steadying breath and eased into a peaceful meditation. Sweat continued to slowly make its way south over his chest. He felt each individual drop take its journey down his body to be absorbed by the waistband of his sweats. He rolled his head back and around, loosening the taut muscles in his neck before resting his chin on his chest. His shoulders relaxed next, then his upper torso. The tight pull from a scarred over bite mark on his shoulder reminded him of his greatest loss, Giovanna.

Absently, he reached up and touched the puckered surface of the scar.

Things had been so different back then. Fresh out of college with a chip on his shoulder, Jared thought he could take on the world. Until, he lost the one thing he loved more than life itself.


The sirens on the ambulance stopped as it pulled up behind the carriage. Two men climbed out of the cab and headed toward them. Jared held Giovanna’s limp form close. He kissed the top of her head, letting his tears fall on her blood streaked cheek.

One of the paramedics touched his shoulder. “Jared, I’m sorry man, but I have to do my job here. Don’t worry. I’ll take real good care of G for you. I won’t let anything happen to her.”

Jared lifted his eyes from Giovanna’s serene face, ready to shove the man away until he realized it was his brother. “You do, Tony, and it will be the last thing you ever do.”

Listen bro, let me and Carlos take care of her. I called Dad, and I’m sure he already notified everyone. We can’t leave her out in the open like this. You can trust me. I’ll make sure she gets where she has to go safely.”

Jared watched, heartbroken as Tony lifted her from the carriage onto the waiting stretcher. True to his word, his brother was gentle and careful with her. When the ambulance pulled away, and he was left alone, he fell to his knees clutching her shawl in agony.


The tension in Jared’s body slowly faded with the memory. He couldn’t believe after all of this time it still affected him so much. Thank the gods above for the people who had shown him life was still worth living.

The sun set well over an hour ago, but Jared hadn’t bothered turning on the fluorescent lights. The full moon gleamed off the polished hardwood through the floor length windows, illuminating the room.

A shadow passed across the floor in front of him. Anyone else would assume it was an owl flying past the window or a cloud obscuring the moon. Except it moved too quickly. The untrained eye would have missed it, but not Jared.

Jared listened. The weight of the silence in the room was deafening. He focused on the darkened corners of the room. There was a presence here, and it was definitely vampire. He could feel its aura. He possessed a sixth sense for them.

The creak of leather allowed him to pinpoint the location of his intruder. Jared slowly wrapped his fingers around the wooden staff resting on the floor before him and waited.

Come to Papa, asshole.

The air in the room stirred. Jared smirked as a leather duster slid into view on the floor in front of him. His attacker was trying to throw him off. Did they honestly think he would fall for such a lame trick…again? He took nothing for what it seemed when dealing with vampires. No, Jared relied on his honed senses to keep his head on his shoulders when faced with a fight.

A breeze brushed over his arms. He brought his weapon up on his left side, blocking his attacker’s strike. The wooden staffs cracked together. Jared swung around keeping their weapons locked together until he fell into a ready stance.

The vampire backed up a step and twirled the staff at his side. He circled around slowly, just out of striking distance. Jared kept a wary eye trained on the male; the pointed end of his staff aimed at his assailant’s chest.

Before he could blink, the vamp advanced and drove him back. Jared met each advancing blow with a block. He sensed the wall at his back and launched to the side, rolling away before he was cornered. He made a full sweep of the floor with his staff, catching his opponent’s foot and knocking him onto the ground. Taking advantage of the momentary lapse, Jared grabbed the other man’s weapon, breaking his hold and pinning him to the floor.

“Yield.” Jared towered over the vampire and leaned into the staff on his attacker’s neck.

His assailant let out a raspy laugh. He grabbed Jared’s leg and pulled it out from under him. He landed on his ass. The staff clattered to the ground. The vamp spun away from him but not before giving Jared a knock on the back of the head with his staff. Snarling, Jared retrieved his weapon and prepared for the next attack.

“I’m too easy on you, Copil.” The vampire chuckled. “If you were one of the King’s men you’d be dust by now. You fight like an infant.”

God he hated the nickname - Copil. Zephyr had given it to him when he was a child, and unfortunately, it had stuck. It was funny. One Romanian word made him feel like the unsure gangly kid he had once been. One who couldn’t land any of his strikes correctly. He guessed his struggle to learn how to fight was why the vamp had decided to train him personally. He couldn’t think of any other reason.

“Go to hell, Z.” Jared cursed himself. He was giving Z the reaction he wanted.

Never let them know they’ve gotten to you, rule number one in his training program. Jared always had trouble hiding his frustration. He’d always been a hothead. It was one of his major flaws.

Jared twirled the staff before him trying to find an opening, but damn it if Zephyr didn’t give him a clear shot.

Zephyr’s teeth gleamed in the dimly lit gym. He raised his hand and crooked two fingers, beckoning Jared to continue. The vampire sank into a defensive stance, his staff close to his side. “Come on, Copil. At this rate, I’ll be dust in the wind before we’re through here and you’ll be late.”

He forgot about the dreaded gala. Jared glanced at the clock and made a face. Z hated attending anything where he had to dress up. It was probably why he decided to take his irritation out on Jared.

Zephyr landed a solid blow to Jared’s gut with the blunt end of his Bo. He doubled over and gasped for air. His staff clattered to the floor. He glared at the vamp, wanting to wipe the smirk off the asshole’s face.

He was tired of being a test dummy.

Jared opened his hand, and the staff jumped off the floor into his palm. He swung around and advanced toward Zephyr landing blow after blow. To his credit, he met each hit and parried with the same intensity. Zephyr flipped into battle mode, gone was the humor in his eyes. He spun away, but Jared was right there delivering a blow to his side. The force of it cracked the wood. Zephyr staggered.

Jared threw down his weapon and lunged for Zephyr. The two of them landed on the hard wood floor with a grunt. He pinned the vampire down and wrapped an arm around his neck.

“Impressive. I knew you had it in you, just needed a trigger.”

Jared had a few seconds to enjoy the taste of victory. “Ow!” He yanked his arm away from Zephyr’s neck. Blood dripped down his arm from a pair of puncture wounds. “You bit me. What the hell Z?”

Zephyr rolled to his feet, laughing. “You use what you got, Copil. Someday you might remember it.”

Jared headed for the towel draped over the chair. “You friggin bit me, Z. Somehow I think biting falls outside the rules.” He wound the towel around the bite mark.

Zephyr retrieved their weapons.

“There are no rules in battle, Jared. Quit pissing and moaning. If this was real, you would’ve been dead a while ago, Copil. Be glad it was me and not someone else sneaking up on you.” Zephyr walked over to him. “Let me see it.” Jared pulled the towel off and held it up. The blood had already stopped, but Z’s fangs left a deep impression in his flesh. “Ah, it’s only a scratch; tell me that you haven’t had worse. I’ve seen the marks after you’ve donated. Thought the last female would’ve bled you dry.”

Jared yanked his arm away and shook his head. “She would have if I didn’t offer her something else instead.” He smirked. “But seriously, keep the canines to yourself next time.” He pulled on a t-shirt, slipped his feet into a pair of Nikes, and tossed the towel in a hamper.

“Don’t worry. You’re not my type. I like a little more flesh and curves on my meal. Catch my drift? Besides,” Zephyr licked Jared’s blood from the corner of his mouth. “You’re a little too gamy for my taste.”

“Gee thanks, Z.”

“Anytime.”

Zephyr retrieved his coat and slapped a large palm on Jared’s back. “Come on, let’s get you presentable for this thing. I may be going under duress, but I need my date to at least appear half ass decent.” Zephyr shoved Jared toward the door.

“I am not your date, blood sucker. I’m doing my family a favor. Hell, I don’t even want to be there. Do you know what it’s like having all these match making mommas and blood thirsty vamps ogling you like a piece of meat?” He stopped and glanced at Zephyr.

The vampire stood at a head taller than him. His yellow eyes mirrored the amused expression playing at the corners of his mouth. Tonight he wore his black hair slicked back into a tight ponytail at the base of his skull. His goatee was neatly trimmed. Not a damn hair out of place after their fight.

“And you’re preaching to the choir why?”

“Forget I said anything.”

Jared pivoted and walked across the lawn to the main house. Zephyr’s low rumbling laughter followed him.



What do you mean he’s back?”

Absinthe crossed the room before her informant could blink. Her voice, low and lethal, belied the fury consuming her. Hand closing around his throat she lifted him off the floor. She hissed, baring her fangs.

The human dangled, grasping at her fingers, fighting desperately to get free of her hold. Absinthe tightened her grip. His struggles slowed, and she finally let go, watching him fall into a crumpled heap at her feet.

The pathetic excuse for a human pulled to his knees and kissed the toes of her black leather boots. “Forgive me, Highness. I meant no disrespect,” he croaked.

He blathered apology after apology, slobbering over her boot until Absinthe couldn’t stand it anymore. Letting out an aggravated growl, she kicked him in the chest, sending him skidding across the stone floor.

She paced. Jared wasn’t supposed to return from New Orleans. Her First in Command, Ian, swore he would dispose of the insolent wretch. His return threw her entire plan in the fire. It was only a matter of time before everyone discovered the truth.

“Highness, please, hear me out.”

Whirling back to him, Absinthe kept her anger at bay long enough to find out what he knew. After, all bets were off. She couldn’t let him leave. He had proven a liability by whining like a bitch over a simple choking. Who was to say he wouldn’t spill who she was just as easily?

“The one you sought has most definitely returned. Last night he was in The Final Resting Place. I saw him with… oh what was his name again... -Len...-Lar…no, Lance. But after an hour, when Lance left him for more suitable company, he walked out. I lost his trail somewhere around Central Park West. I’m sorry, Highness. I truly am.”

Absinthe rolled her eyes and rubbed her temples with her fingertips. This was why she never relied on humans to work for her. They had no backbone and sniveled far too much.

However, there was no other way she could have kept track of Jared over the years. If any vampire, loyal to her or not, had come within fifty yards of the Conservator he’d sense them. So far he didn’t know why he had the power to sense vampires. It was her job to finish things and make sure he never did.

Jared had to die. There was no other option. Her life, everything she’d wanted and worked for depended on it.

“Absinthe.”

The deep masculine bellow coming from the hallway startled her.

Her hand shot up, silencing the human. She did not need to deal with her father at the moment. The man's timing was impeccable, as always. With a flick of her wrist, two leather-clad sentries stepped forward. They were Matrix-like in appearance. Their skin was pale. Their black hair was slicked back into tight ponytails at the base of their skulls. Black wraparound sunglasses hid their eyes.

Absinthe inclined her chin and spoke directly into their minds. Take the human to the antechamber. I will be along shortly. Make sure he is comfortable. The vampires smirked in understanding, flashing a bit of fang. They bowed before each of them roughly grabbed the human by his arms and vanished.

“Absinthe! Where in the devil are you child?”

The King entered the main sitting room from the hall. She watched him scan the antique furnishings, passing over her more than once. When he finally acknowledged her presence by the fireplace, Absinthe braced for yet another grueling encounter with her father.

“Ah, there you are daughter.”

Xavier slowed. He closed the distance, admiring his only child. Her long blonde hair fell in waves over her shoulders, a mass of spun gold. The color of it matched her eyes. She had her mother’s rosebud colored lips, currently scowling at him. Her skin was milky perfection with high regal cheekbones and the petite nose of her heritage. Her brow rose when he took her hand and placed a gentle kiss on her fingertips. Xavier didn’t miss the curl of her lip when she pulled her hand out of his grasp.

There was once a time when she ran to him with her hopes, dreams and problems. Now he was lucky to receive a seething glare. When had things gone so wrong between them? His brow wrinkled. He thought back to the exact moment things changed.

It was roughly a century ago…

The ink had dried on a decree stating, any half-breed was to be destroyed on birth to preserve the purity of their race. His wife, Queen Allura, begged him not to press the issue. She told him that it was a foolish endeavor. It would one day be the cause of ultimate pain for all of them. Xavier waved off her concerns. The ruling remained. In hindsight, he should have listened to her. If only he had the ability of the shifters to go back in time.

The Conservators had come to him and petitioned for repeal, but Xavier could not be swayed. They told him the higher powers were not pleased, and there would be consequences. Xavier laughed at them. The gods could do their worst. This was his Kingdom. His world and the rest could be damned.

Oracles for the goddess Semiramis paid him a visit. They foretold of great horrors and pain between the human and vampire realms. Xavier scoffed and motioned for his guards. He was King, his word was law.

The high oracle stepped forward.

For the way you’ve treated not only us, but the humans and your people as well, you will have the greatest pain visited upon you. Your kingdom shall be torn from within your house, by your own decree. You will never know a minute of peace. Your people will destroy themselves. Torment shall continue until the birth of the first son from a first son. Born both of Vampire and the gods, he will bring forth the healing of this Kingdom. So we say. So it shall be.” When she finished, the Oracles gathered together and vanished from his throne room without another word.

He sat staring at the floor in disbelief. How could his home be the cause of his down fall? The thought was preposterous. The Oracles didn’t know what they were saying. He’d never allow such a thing. In fact, he’d kill the one who tried.

The cries of a newborn infant filled the air of the palace. His gaze rose to meet the tear-filled eyes of his wife. She came to him, holding a small, wailing bundle in her arms. His heart leapt into his throat. Memories of his daughter’s birth ran through his head.

My husband, may I present to you your grandson.” She held the bundle out to him. Tears rolled down her face.

Xavier took the child carefully and gently moved the blanket from his face. He was overwhelmed by emotion. His skin was soft and light. Tiny veins throbbed beneath the surface of his skin pounding with his little heart. His lips were pursed together. He blinked and stared at Xavier. The wave of pride fell away. Xavier recalled the words he had put into law. His blood froze. This child, this beautiful baby was not a pure vampire. Absinthe had conceived the child with her human Conservator.

Now he understood why the Queen was in such a state. He held a child he must destroy or break his own law. How could he? He now understood what the Oracles foretold he would be the one to destroy his home.

Letting out a sigh of remorse, Xavier stood and inclined his head toward the guard on the right of the throne. He handed the bundle to him. Clearing his throat, his voice cracked. “Take this half-breed to be destroyed. I’ll not have my home sullied with the presence of this abomination.”

Allura lunged. Her fists pounded against his chest. She screamed, pleading for the life of the child.

The guard pivoted on his heel and left to do the King’s bidding. Xavier held Allura tight against him when she tried to give chase.

You’ll not interfere. This is the way it must be,” he whispered in her ear.

The Queen leveled a steely glare at him and pulled away. “Neither Absinthe nor I will forgive you for this.” When he reached to comfort her, she slapped his hand away and stepped off the dais. “Do not touch me. I want no part of a man who kills his progeny.”

She lifted her chin and left, walking down the hall to her daughter’s chamber. The next sound he heard was his daughter’s horrifying scream.

The King fell back onto his throne and buried his face in his hands. “The gods have mercy on all of us for what I’ve done. I have destroyed everything.”


“Father?”

Absinthe’s voice broke through the haze of memory. Xavier blinked, refocusing on her face. She inspected him with mild curiosity.

“Was there something you needed, father?”

Xavier Dragoni frowned at her indifferent tone. “As a matter of fact, there was.”

Absinthe watched him walk toward the pair of high back leather wing chairs set near the blazing hearth. Standing before the dancing flames, Xavier was an imposing vision. Roughly six feet eight and two hundred and fifty pounds, the King was a wall of immovable muscle. Tonight he wore a white silk button down shirt and black jeans with black leather boots. His light brown hair was cut short. His azure blue eyes glowed in the firelight. He shared her cheekbones and complexion, but the similarities ended there. He motioned for her to sit with him.

Absinthe’s black steel-heeled boots clicked across the stone floor. She lowered into one of the leather chairs and crossed her long legs. She inspected her nails, sparing him only a glance.

“So what is this all about? I am a busy woman after all. I don’t have time for games with you or the help.” She stressed the last part, knowing her father would ignore it.

And of course, he did.

“Absinthe, you have a responsibility to this family, to this kingdom. Tonight you will be fulfilling it. You will attend the fundraiser at the Museum of Natural History as our representative. It is not optional. I have made time for other functions in the past. You will go in my stead this time. Important heads of state and leaders of the community are attending tonight all of whom we need as allies, especially in times like these.”

“And if I don’t?” She challenged. “Honestly, Father, they are humans. They are cattle. Why make nice? They’ll stab us in the heart whenever they have the chance.”

“Then you will be cut off.” He leveled his gaze on her, his voice steady. “I have had enough of your hostility. I’m not going to put up with it any longer. Times are changing, Absinthe. In order to survive peacefully, we must do things we don’t like. Take your station seriously or you will have to leave.

“You’d throw your own blood on the streets? The heir to the throne? All for the sake of playing nice with humans?” She pushed out of the chair. Absinthe stood toe to toe with him. “Who will replace me, Father, one of your many bastards? I’m sure there are more than a few with all the screwing around you’ve done all these centuries. What a wonderful way to honor mother’s memory.”

The back of his hand collided with her cheek. The slap echoed in the vacant hall. “You will not speak of your mother. I was always faithful to her.” Tears welled up in her eyes, but she fought them back. Absinthe slowly swung back to face him.

Absinthe raised her chin a little higher. A trickle of blood seeped from the corner of her mouth where one of her fangs had sliced through her lip. Rather than wipe it off Absinthe’s tongue darted out and licked it away. Her cheek throbbed, but she made no move to cover it. Let him see what he had done.

“Hold your vile tongue when you address me or I’ll have it cut out and feed it to the beasts in the courtyard. Daughter or not, you will show me the proper respect.” She watched a tic in her father’s jaw.

Xavier knew she was lashing out. To hear his indiscretions thrown in his face made him realize he hadn’t been as discreet as he thought. He let out a snarl and stalked to the fireplace, resting his hand on the mantle watching the flames.

“Don’t worry, Father. I won’t sully your pristine castle a moment longer. I’ll be gone before daybreak. But mark my words, you will live to regret what you’ve done. I will make sure of it.”

Without so much as a backward glance, Absinthe walked out of the great hall and out of his life. She would never again allow herself to feel anything but disgust and contempt for her father.

Correction, the King. He lost whatever respect she had for him the day he created the abomination who is Jared Bonatelli.

She teleported away from the island and spared a glance back at the crumbling castle.

The fog rolled in concealing the eastern wing of her ancestral home. Absinthe felt a lonely tug of her heart. She needed to put her plans into motion quickly. The ways of the old were as extinct as their forefathers. It was high time she stepped up and waged war on the humans and the King who wanted to protect them instead of his people.









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Beyond

Time





A Dark Order of the Dragon Novel



One




Cornwall, NY ~ Present day


The pale blue Victorian mansion belonging to the new crown Prince of the Dark Order stood silhouetted against the fading pink, orange and blue of sunset. The moon in all her glory had begun its ascent in the eastern sky across the Hudson River. Two men made their way across the great expanse of lawn stretching between the home and the hill that ran down to the river itself. Dressed in sweatpants and t-shirts, it would appear they were headed to the gym for a work out. A glint of moonlight off a metal blade put that idea to rest.

“Explain again why I have to do this?”

Zephyr rolled his amber eyes. “What part of protecting the heir to the throne didn’t you get the first time? There are many out there who want him dead. You, god forbid, are his first in command. His right hand, so to speak. It’s your duty.”

Lance tested the weight of the blade in his hand and frowned. A sword definitely was not his choice of weapon, never had been. He preferred to do things hands-on fangs-to-throat. To feel the snap of bone and cartilage, taste his victim’s blood flooding his mouth. There was nothing quite like it.

“I just don’t understand the need for it. I’m a shifter. My wolf can handle anything. Swordplay isn’t my style.” He stabbed the tip of his blade into the grass. He had his powers. They should be enough. They’d saved him before.

Zephyr growled, but didn’t lower his own sword. He advanced blade slicing through the air a fraction of an inch from Lance’s nose. “There may be a time when the wolf fails to appear. What will you do? If you possess no other skills, Jared is left unprotected. Should he fend for himself then?”

Lance jumped back, landing in a crouch. His lip curled, the snarl exposing his long fangs. “Jared has nothing to worry about.”

“Then prove it.” Zephyr pulled Lance’s sword free and tossed it to him. “Attack me.”

Catching the sword in one hand, Lance rose circling his opponent. He was never one to shy away from a challenge, especially when his ability to protect his charge was questioned. His eyes narrowed, assessing Zephyr for a weakness. Unfortunately for him, the man didn’t seem to have one. The power the vampire possessed was beyond his understanding. He never met another vamp like him, which spoke volumes in their world.

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

Zephyr smirked. “Consider me a dog with a bone. Now try to take it away. Woof, woof.”

“What is wrong with all of you? I’m a wolf, not a dog.” A growl rumbled from Lance’s throat as he advanced. The clang of steel rang in the darkness from his vigorous onslaught pushing Zephyr back. The only problem was, while he put everything he had into each and every swing, the vampire wasn’t even breaking a sweat. At one point, the bastard had the nerve to yawn.

Lance huffed with his next swing and lost his balance. The momentum made him miss his target completely. He stumbled past Zephyr. If losing his balance wasn’t humiliating enough, Zephyr brought the broadside of his sword down across Lance’s backside, smacking him just hard enough so he landed face first on the lawn. Spitting out a mouthful of grass, he lay there for a few moments. He couldn’t land a good strike, not one.

What the hell is wrong with me?

“I can answer for you, if you’d like.” Zephyr placed his sword on his shoulder watching Lance collect himself.

“Would you quit reading my thoughts? It’s friggin’ irritating as hell.” He pushed himself up and grabbed his blade before walking off toward the patio. “Besides, you cheat.” He dropped onto a lounge chair and wiped the sweat from his brow with a towel. Downing a bottle of water, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand sighing.

“I never cheat. It’s your skill that’s lacking. Your father must be turning in his grave.” Zephyr sat on the wall across from Lance shaking his head. “I can’t believe you are his blood. Lancelot would be devastated.”

“Hey, leave the sperm donor out of this. It’s not like he’s here to train me or anything.” Leaning back on the lounge, he stared at the stars. “Just because he fathered me doesn’t mean I have his ability.”

“Obviously.” Zephyr scoffed. “And that’s why I’m here, Lance. I want to make you the same indestructible warrior he was. Jared deserves no less.”

Lance glared. “You don’t think I know that? Hell, why don’t you do it then?”

“It’s not my destiny, it’s yours. I’m only here to make sure things turn out as they are meant to be.”

“Well that just sucks.”

“I agree.” Zephyr slapped his hands on his knees. “But not as much as the next few hours are going to suck for you.”

Lance stared at him. “Hours?”

“Yes. Hours.” Zephyr stood, picked up his blade, and headed back out onto the lawn. When he faced Lance, he wore an evil smile and crooked his finger. “Let’s go, I don’t have all night.”

Lance groaned. “With any luck, the sun will come up and roast you.”

“You couldn’t be so lucky. Now, get your hairy ass off that chair, you have work to do.”


Camelot ~ 530 AD


Elizabeth sat on the edge of the stone window ledge. Her feet curled underneath her, she stared out past the great moat and green fields below. Her soft leather shoes had been discarded long ago and sat forgotten on the cold stone floor beneath her. The open window offered hardly any protection from the moist air blowing outside. Wind whipped the strawberry blonde strands of hair which escaped from the braid around her face. Absently, she brushed it back tucking it behind her ear. Her eyes never turned away from the muted grey horizon.

Early-morning dew collected on the fields, giving them an eerie glow. The land below looked like the home of the Fae. The same Fae who called to her each night. They enticed her with visions of hazel eyes from another place and time. Those visions brought her to this abandoned tower room in the early hours before the rest of the castle awoke to go about their day. In these stolen minutes she found her solace. At this hour, there was no one questioning where she had been. No one berating her for unladylike behavior. Here, she was completely alone.

Elizabeth hugged her knees. The hem of her sleeping tunic inched up, baring her toes to the cool air. Gooseflesh erupted over the length of her arm. She pulled the blanket draped across her shoulders a little tighter, unwilling to leave her perch. The moisture in the air collected on her lashes, making them heavy. A yawn threatened, but she fought it off, not wanting to break the spell. Only a few moments more. . .

“My lady?”

Nay! Not yet. They can’t have found me. I only need another moment or two.

A soft knock on the door made her jump. “My lady, please. The King found your solar empty and has ordered his men to search the castle for you.”

Lady Elizabeth blinked and the magic of the morn was lost. It didn’t surprise her. Every day she searched the horizon for something or someone, but it remained beyond her reach. Her shoulders sagged a sigh escaping her lips. She climbed down from the ledge. When her feet met the floor she shivered and slipped them inside the cold leather shoes. She made haste toward the door. Pulling it open, she glanced in either direction before dragging her startled maid inside and closing it silently. She held her finger to her lips, urging the girl into silence. Footsteps sounded in the passageway.

Elizabeth stood with her ear against the wooden door, listening to the deep voice on the other side. “She has to be here somewhere. Find her and return her to the King. I shall take the battlements whilst the rest of you search indoors.”

Sir Bohrs de Ganis was the first to speak. “Aye Galahad, we’ll have her safe and sound in no time.” The rest of the men chimed in with their approval. Their voices dissipated, each heading off to search a different part of the castle.

Leaning against the door, she closed her eyes and let out the breath she held. Why did having a moment to oneself entail so much havoc? After a few seconds, she lifted her gaze to meet her maid’s. Elizabeth cringed at the disappointed look Beatrix gave her. Not only was she in trouble, she dragged the poor girl down with her. “Beatrix, I’m sorry. I never meant. . . .” Her words died on her lips. There was no way she could make this right. Their only option was to return to her solar and await punishment for disobeying the King’s order to stay within its walls.

“M’lady, if I may?” Bea’s frown softened. Elizabeth nodded slowly, waiting for her friend to chastise her. “The King is simply concerned for your welfare. He wouldn’t want any harm to befall his foster child. Mayhap if you just explain-”

“Nay, I cannot tell him or anyone else why I sneak away. They would consider me mad.” She began to pace. “No one would understand. The Fae or some other being within the forest calls to me. I hear it in my dreams, yet when I try to search for it, whatever it may be eludes me.”

“I think you need more rest, M’lady.” Bea moved closer and placed a gentle hand on her arm. “Let us get you back to your chamber. It would be better if we arrived there first, don’t you think?”

Again, she nodded and allowed her maid to lead her into the passageway. They hadn’t made it more than a few steps before they met Sir Galahad. He leaned casually against the wall, arms folded across his chest. Elizabeth inclined her chin in silent challenge waiting. His piercing blue eyes assessed her in the dim light.

When she thought he would scold her for leading them on a wild goose chase, he offered her his arm. “Lady Elizabeth, I do believe you are late to break your fast. Allow me to escort you back to your chamber so you may dress appropriately before we attend the King in his solar.”

He gave no sign of anger or annoyance as she took his arm. Surprisingly, he leaned down to whisper in her ear, “I’ll not impart your secret. We all deserve a little adventure in our lives. No harm was done.” Galahad straightened. He led their small party from the sanctuary she found in the abandoned tower room to her chamber. Her maid followed silently behind them, smiling.

Two



A lone grey wolf sat on the bank of the Hudson River, tongue lolling from a canine smile. His eyes were half closed, relaxed, yet he was completely in tune with the surroundings ears twitching at any given sound. The water sloshed in a quiet rhythm, succeeding in pulling a yawn out of him. He snapped his jaws and whined. The sound was lost in the breeze as the wolf lay his head on a pair of large paws. Hazel eyes gazed up at the silvery light filtering over the water from the full moon. The wolf let out a tired breath.

Another long night of training was behind him, and he relished this time to finally rest and regroup. Every muscle in his body, both human and wolf, ached from the abuse Zephyr put him through. The vampire was relentless. Lance considered himself lucky they were on the same side. He’d hate to see what would happen to the enemy at the hands of his teacher. A shudder ran through him at the thought.

Now he needed to take full advantage of the others being forced behind steel shutters for the day, another perk of being a shifter. He wasn’t relegated to live in the dark. He could come and go as he pleased at all hours day or night, never having to worry about dying because of it. Unfortunately he wasn’t the only one in the house with that ability.

For six long months he kept Jared’s secret. His best friend could walk in daylight. Jared defied the natural laws of being a vampire. It could have been because he was part god. Who actually knew? It was yet another thing that pissed Lance off. He had absolutely no reprieve from the constant nagging and harassment about his failures.

Maybe that was why he was in tune with being what he was, a wolf -a lone wolf.

Once upon a time he relished the solitude this life granted, but something changed. He became more restless, and it drove him to this spot night after night. Why here? He honestly had no clue. Where ever this restless energy came from, it had the power to lure him to the water for the last few months.

A whisper on the breeze made him sit up and stare into the early-morning fog beginning to roll in over the Hudson. It swirled giving him glimpses of another time and place familiar to him. Green fields stretched over a foreign countryside surrounding the golden walls of a distant castle. He saw the hazy image of a dragon embellished banner flapping in the wind. The vision shattered moments before it became clear.

Lance found himself reaching out to touch the fragments of the broken vision. He stared at what was now an outstretched hand rather than a paw. When had he changed back? He couldn’t remember. “What the…?” He stared at his hand like it was completely foreign to him, turning it over a few times. Leaning over the riverbank, he glanced at the water seeing his human reflection.

“Christian, what are you doing out here?”

His head swung around to meet the stormy grey gaze of Semiramis, the Goddess who became his foster mother when his real one walked out. Only a child at the time, he still felt the pain, still saw himself running after her as she drove away leaving him in the middle of Bourbon street. Puffy-eyed and near hyperventilating from sobbing Sam comforted him. She gave him a home, food, and more love than he could ever hope for, never asking for anything in return.


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