As Battle King of the Undying, Quinn Donovan has the most powerful magic on the planet. Yet, he has waited an eternity to find his lifebond: the one woman destined to be his mate. The moment he meets Haven, he senses she is his. His instincts scream to protect the woman and the boy she guards, and to claim her as his own. But Haven is mortal, and for them to be united, she must become one of the Undying.
Roaring power rumbled through Atlantis. Clear, shimmering pools sloshed out of their banks. Crystalline rock fragmented from under perfect mountain waterfalls. Magic of Theron’s caliber, bellowing with anger in the water realm, was a rare occurrence.
She fought the instinct to wilt. Like all pixies of the Avalon realm, her powers had limits. She’d just moved the Undying people on the Gaia realm two thousand years into the future at the behest of Oberon. Destroying one realm while saving another would hinder her cause.
“Laila!” The anguished roar again shook the snowcapped mountains.
She balled her miniature fists, but she knew better than to aggravate Theron further. His power had grown more than even Oberon had predicted. The move had saved many lives, even if the needed action angered Theron.
The next bellow shook the air surrounding her. This time the tip of the eastern mountains started to crumble. Laila blanched. She kept forgetting Theron and his human had reached full maturity.
Laila spread her dragonfly wings, beating them with a blur of speed to carry her up the mountain pass at a rapid pace. It seemed like only yesterday Theron had been a tiny blip of light in the dark pool that had created the essence of the first Undying power source. Fifty-five hundred Gaia, or Earth years, did go by rather quickly when one wasn’t watching.
“Do stop,” Laila said in soft tones as she came upon Theron, who stood next to the Pool of Sight amidst glistening rainbow grotto crystals. “You’ll sink Atlantis.”
A deep animal growl emanating from the altered human trembled the ground as the man housing Theron turned on her. Mercury orbs of glowing light were in place of his irises. His lip curled into a snarl. His large, perfect body was strung tight as if prepared for battle. “What did you do?”
Many millennia had passed since Laila feared for her life. Maybe making a creature so strong hadn’t been the smartest of ideas… but necessity often had one taking risks they normally wouldn’t. Theron was first. His loyalty to her had been unbreakable, but did not extend beyond a mass time teleportation of his people.
“Protected them,” she proclaimed.
He pointed at the Pool of Sight, shimmering inside a pure white marble basin. Images of his people flicked across the water as time on Gaia flashed by. Minutes in Atlantis moved like hours on Gaia. “They are lost! They cannot perform their duty. What have you done?”
“Now, Theron.” Laila flapped her wings to move her wee size up to eye level with the great power in front of her. “My sister tried to pull a fast one. I had to react, or they’d all be dead.”
The mercury swirl of Theron’s eyes burned hot. “Send us back!”
“I can’t,” she said. “Cadeyrn turned out better than either of us hoped. Have faith. I put him where he should find his reward. He will be stronger.”
Theron’s eyes flicked to the pool. An image of a young woman flashed across the water. Soft elven features graced the woman’s face. Her hair was a rich auburn, hanging in loose waves down to her hips. His eyes narrowed on the image in the water. She was worried. There was a boy of his kind with her. Theron’s mighty essence stretched beyond barriers he should not have been able to cross to get a feel on the woman—Cadeyrn’s lifebond.
His glowing eyes returned to Laila. “I cannot complete my task without Cadeyrn. Pray he comes successfully to his bond to life.”
Laila shrank down in size under Theron’s angry stare. His eyes bore into her as if he could already have her diminutive heart in his hand. If anything happened to Cadeyrn, no matter how tiny she was, she knew Theron would find a way to bathe in her blood.
Gaia Realm, Chicago Illinois
Haven Killian paced the emergency exam room. Once again, Bastian had another of his debilitating headaches. The headaches always came after a fight with another boy. She paused by the bed where he lay in a blissful drug-induced sleep. Pain medication had given needed relief fifteen minutes ago, leaving her to wait for the doctor. She leaned down, touched a kiss to his brow, and lightly cupped the side of his face.
“Oh, my Bastian,” she murmured. “How are we ever going to survive this?”
Part of her knew he was one of them. One of those beings who appeared like a human on the outside, but wasn’t exactly one on the inside. Nor did he resemble anything else in the lore her grandfather had taught her. Marcus Killian, her grandfather, was the leader of a secret organization called the Black Rose. Two thousand years ago, a powerful being known simply as Cadeyrn, had created the organization as a sort of supernatural police force.
Intuition told her help existed somewhere for the boy. He couldn’t be one of the nightmares from the stories her grandfather had told her of the creatures out there. Bastian was a sweet and thoughtful boy. At fourteen, he was more considerate than most adults she knew. Even so, he couldn’t help his overly aggressive reaction to violence toward someone Bastian perceived as an innocent. With eerie predictability, monstrous headaches assailed him after a fight. The administrators of the school wouldn’t—couldn’t—understand. Bastian never fought without being provoked.
She’d had no time to find out what triggered him, but it was usually because another boy had a heinous plan for one of the girls in Bastian’s class. While she understood those boys were more than likely only saying the crude words that boys sometimes said, the power growing inside of Bastian hadn’t gotten the memo. She was running out of options for his education. This was the third school in as many months from which he’d been expelled.
An archaic organization run by her grandfather hunting her didn’t help anything. She was supposed to have married her grandfather’s choice in heir. Leadership of the Black Rose would go to her husband. According to her upbringing, an arranged marriage wouldn’t be an issue if the supplied groom was someone she could respect and trust. The darkly terrifying Mason was neither. He could make the ground shake. The monster of a man claimed he was Bastian’s uncle. Mason claimed his rough treatment of Bastian was his duty. Haven didn’t believe either.
When she watched Mason strike Bastian for dropping a pencil, she’d known her existence as a pampered granddaughter of a rich man was over. That same night Haven had cleaned out her personal accounts. She and Bastian had fled the mansion Grandfather used as both a home and headquarters to his global organization that fought against the nastier creatures of the world. Three years of hopping from town to town, school to school, she’d somehow ended up back in Chicago.
The person she needed to help Bastian was rumored to live here. Every clue and every utterance of a shadowy, massive power had led to this city. He masqueraded as a real-estate mogul and entertainment entrepreneur. No matter what she had to do, she would find this Quinn Donovan. There must be a way to make him help Bastian. Bastian couldn’t end up like the dark monster, Mason.
A light knock at the door disrupted her thoughts. A cracking voice asked, “Ms. Killian?”
She jerked her head around. “Dr. Livingston. Have you been able to find out anything else?”
The middle aged, balding doctor came into the room. He pulled the door closed, sat down on a rolling stool, and clasped his hands together. “I understand you’ve declined blood work and any kind of scan. I might be able to help with his headaches, but I am going to be bluntly honest. Sudden behavior changes. Sudden unexplained pain. Those are pointing at a tumor. I can’t do any more for him if you won’t allow me.”
“We can’t afford those tests.” She didn’t lie, but money was not the reason she refused to have them done. Bastian would become a scientist’s next experiment if a doctor looked inside of him. “Is there anything else you can do for him without running some kind of scan?”
Doctor Livingston pulled off his glasses, then rubbed at his temples before putting them back on. “I can put you in contact with an organization that gives donations to many families like yours. It’s possible to get all of his medical expenses paid for, but you have to fill out the paper work.”
Haven closed her eyes and dragged breath into her lungs. “All right,” she lied. This emergency room could never be used again. “If you could get me the forms, I’ll fill them out.”
The doctor smiled as he stood. “We’ll find a way to take care of him, Ms. Killian.”
She smiled as she nodded. Once he was gone, she pulled on a coat so old it no longer battled the cold and slung her tattered purse over her shoulder. She grabbed Bastian’s coat and leaned close to his ear. “You have to wake him up so we can get out of here, but don’t hurt him.” She rarely talked to the strange power she could feel growing inside of him, but it was sometimes useful when they needed to run.
Bastian groaned, and when his eyes opened, they were flashing molten mercury. Bastian shook his head several times and ground his teeth together. “What’s going on?”
“They want to run more tests,” she whispered. “We have to go.”
Bastian swung his long legs over the edge of the bed. He was already over six feet tall. Even at seven inches shorter than him, she moved close to help him walk while he was still groggy. He staggered a few steps. His eyes glowed, but when he blinked, everything was normal. Haven poked her head out into the hall and then acted as if she was helping Bastian get to the restroom just outside the exam room. A nurse smiled at them before going into another patient’s room.
Bastian hunched over as they slipped down the hall and out the door where ambulances brought people in. They ran around the side of the building and waited while Bastian put his coat on. When no one followed them after five minutes, Haven let out a breath.
The snow was falling again.
Bastian put a hand to his stomach. “Can we get something to eat?”
Haven gave him a look, because it seemed all the boy ever did was eat. Bastian ate more than four grown men could eat together, but he didn’t seem to gain any weight. She moved in closer to Bastian as frigid winds picked up. The air was ugly cold, even for February. Bastian could go without a coat if she’d let him. She opened her purse. There was just enough money inside that they could stop at a diner on the way back to the shoddy motel they were staying in. “But only one meal, okay?”
Bastian hugged her tight. “Sounds good. What did the doctor say?”
She wrinkled her nose as they headed for the main road that led them to a string of buildings with various stages of failing businesses. “Testing.”
“What harm could it do?” He hooked his arm around her, helping to ward off the cold seeping into her bones.
“They could find out you’re not human,” she whispered. “I have an interview at Fantasia tomorrow. I’ll get the job and—”
“What reason would he have to help us,” Bastian said with a growl.
“Because he just has to,” she said, knowing the answer wasn’t good, but she didn’t have another one. Running from one thing to the next and eluding creatures who seemed to be able to pick up her scent like a bloodhound wasn’t getting easier. “That woman said he would help if we offered him payment.”
“And what if his expected payment is baby’s blood?” Bastian pressed as they turned onto the sidewalk on the main drag.
“Nothing eats baby’s blood.” She shuddered with the heebie-jeebies. “That’s just wrong.”
“I get stronger every day,” Bastian said with confidence. “Soon I’ll be able to protect you from Mason.”
Haven hugged him tight but didn’t say anything. Bastian’s power was like a cup of water to Lake Michigan when compared to Mason. She encouraged Bastian’s protective side to keep him from walking down a darker path. She didn’t have the knowledge to teach Bastian how to control the power. The Black Rose was closer to finding them. If every grand and pompous claim Grandfather had made about the new creatures was true, she could not figure out why he wanted Mason to lead. There was a streak of evil in him wide enough to make the devil run for cover.
“There,” she said when they got closer to the diner. “We’ll get dinner and then get back to the motel.”
“Right,” he said. “And Haven?”
She looked up at him. “Yeah?”
His jaw went tight as he turned his gaze from her. “I’m sorry I got kicked out of school again. I know how important getting an education is to you.”
She patted his chest. “It’s all right. Your school didn’t like our lack of permanent address anyway. We’ll find a better one.”
He linked his arm with hers and walked toward the diner entrance. “Let’s get you out of the cold. I don’t want you turning into an ice cube.”
She followed him inside, sending a silent prayer skyward that Quinn Donovan would be able to help Bastian. He was her last hope.
* * * *
“You know, we’ve been in this time for fifty years. You’d think you’d have figured out how to get control of the Black Rose already.”
Quinn Donovan gave Nikon a sharp look. It had taken him half a century to get into a position to take back the Black Rose. He didn’t want to hurt humans in the process. His people had also needed to gain the knowledge to survive this time without drawing attention from the public. “Shut up. I didn’t ask you anything.”
The wolf shrugged and then spoke directly into his mind again, “You seem to be getting comfortable in this time, and I wanted to remind you of your task.”
“I know my responsibilities. You don’t have to remind me of anything.”
The large black wolf and his mate, a smaller white wolf, followed Donovan through pulsing sound that vibrated through the nightclub he’d owned for the last forty years. The wild animals didn’t faze the patrons or employees. The wolves were expected and half of the draw in coming to one of Donovan’s establishments. They wanted to see if they could catch a glimpse of both man and beasts. The clubs provided him the money he’d needed to start investing in property in and around Chicago. He’d managed to work himself into being a respected billionaire. Money wasn’t something he cared about, but in this strange time and place, it was the only common language. Wealth helped to cover up a hell of a lot of trouble.
Once again, he’d be able to regain control over the Black Rose, an organization he began over two thousand years prior to build a bridge between his people and the humans. When the Book of Avalon had been stolen, the Undying had lost their purpose during the missing centuries from Earth’s timeline. They’d landed in a time where humans were making great technological advances. Humans, for all their faults and frailties, always made progress, though most civilizations seemed to have taken a big hit about the time Donovan had lost the book to Kyros.
He shook his head as he walked into his office. He settled his warrior’s frame into a soft, black leather executive chair and watched the security system monitors. Nikon curled up on a soft rug in front of a large sofa while Medea snuggled in next to him with her head tucked under Nikon’s chin. Nikon had bonded to Donovan at birth as a lifelong companion. Medea was a recent addition. Her charge had perished when the whole of the Undying Nation had suddenly and irrevocably been moved from somewhere around 100 BC to the middle of the twentieth century. She’d taken a liking to Nikon and never left. Their breed was not of this world but of Ashina, Wolf World, and they had been given by Laila to his clan of people to aid them with their fight against darkness.
Donovan had to admit, he liked this time more than his own, but he shuddered when he thought of how old he could be. If he’d already lived over two millennia before he lost the book, and another two had passed since then, he could be old indeed. He shook his head and decided not to think about his true age. He was already weary of his task, but he couldn’t give up. His people needed him and so did humans. They were depending on him to fix the mistake.
If losing the book could be fixed.
“You’re spinning your thoughts again. Just accept that you’re older than dirt, and get over yourself.” The cadence of Medea’s voice was sensual sweet and never a burden when she suddenly came into his mind, even when she was purposefully being annoying.
Donovan had just shot a glare over his shoulder at the white wolf when the door burst open.
“Sir,” a wobbly voice said, and Donovan cringed. He hated the lack of manhood these male humans had.
He bared teeth at Medea before he turned to his employee. “Can I help you?”
The man’s brown eyes went wide, and he backed up a pace. “You said to notify you at once if anything happened in the alley. I was just coming back from my break when I heard a scream.”
Donovan didn’t bother to stop the low growl that rumbled from his massive chest. His eyes flicked to the screen, but even in this world of technology, there were still threats better picked up by ancient methods. He closed his eyes for a moment to let his vast power stretch out, scanning the area outside the club. The fading presence of life was faint. “Call an ambulance,” he commanded before he took off through the club, Nikon following closely behind him. Medea would not follow, not while she carried a litter of Ashina wolves. He couldn’t hide his now glowing eyes as he stepped out into the chilled air and sniffed. Kyros had been there. The cold stain of an evil presence lingered along with the foul stench. Shadows cloaked him as he walked down the dim alley. He didn’t like knowing this was where his employees came on their breaks. He’d have to change the conditions of their outside area. They depended on him for their safety.
He let out a slow, guarded breath. Perhaps he could kill Kyros, let his brothers find the book, and regain the Black Rose.
He’d lived too long, seen too much. Others could take over and make sure what needed to be done was done. The loss of the book wasn’t only his folly, but he knew deep in his soul only he could end Kyros, if any of them could.
His brother, Wolf, could take command of the Black Rose once Donovan controlled it again, and then he’d go on his last hunt. Too many innocent lives were lost to Kyros’s obsession with his attempts to create a scenario where Donovan would turn to evil. Donovan would kill Kyros, or die trying. Kyros had the mastery of illusion matched by none, and was the reason he was so damn difficult to track. Then Donovan would simply let himself rest. His body and soul so greatly needed an eternal sleep. His time drew to a close.
He reached the alley’s dead end. A woman had been horribly mutilated and was stuffed into a garbage bag filled with her own blood. Donovan didn’t react. He never reacted. If he did, he’d lose more of his soul than he already had. There wasn’t anything that could be done for her other than put her out of the misery Kyros had inflicted on her. For a moment, he considered calling Riordan, his other brother and a healer, but discarded the thought as blood pooled at his feet. She’d lost too much.
He closed his eyes and filled her mind with warmth and feelings of safety. There was no reason to make her fear impending death. His hand trembled for a moment before he placed it on her. A whisper of words commanded her mind into one last sleep. Donovan sat down next to the dying woman as the whir of sirens broke silence in the distance. His presence would be the last she felt in this realm. When she was gone, he lightly stroked a war-calloused hand down her bloody bottle-blond hair, his head bowed in a silent prayer to whatever god she was going home to.
She’d been alone in the world, a streetwalker trying to make enough money to live. No one would mourn her death, no one would even notice she was gone but him, but he’d keep her close to his heart. She deserved it—all life did.
When the ambulance and police arrived, he was sitting next to the body with his hand shaking as he stroked her hair again, knowing this was the only kind gesture she’d gotten from anyone—even from before her death. He was mute as they collected her body and processed evidence in the alley and on him. He slowly stood up as detectives asked him questions. He didn’t bother to wash off the blood before he led them through the club and to his security room. As expected, there was nothing on the videos but a blur of light and horrible screaming from the woman as she was tortured. Detectives started to leave one by one. One whispered to another, “Another burial for the city to pay for.”
Donovan’s jaw twitched. He knew the girl’s name. He knew everything about her from the brief moment his mind had touched hers. “I will pay for her.” Then he rose up from his chair, cowering all the men left in the room, and directed them out with one look. The wolves circled around him and pressed up against his legs as he grieved for a woman society had thrown away. Donovan remained standing with his head bowed. When he finished remembering the woman no one else would, he’d go on what he hoped to be his last hunt.
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