Greetings, all! If you’ve come to this site by way of the Blog Hop, then you’re on the right track. If you didn’t, I highly suggest you hit the banner above and get yourself some blog hop goodness! Seriously, there’s some great stuff being offered this round, and you know you want a Kindle Paperwhite, right??? My contribution to the main prize was a download of my Keira book Redemption, but play with me on the blog by telling me your favorite Halloween tradition and I’ll sweeten it by giving one commenter the choice of my backlist!
Okay, now onto the writing stuff… Here’s the first chapter of Gardens of Stone, a book I’m working on in fits and spurts while I finish up a few projects. It’ll probably be the next “new” book on the horizon for me, after I finish Shoot to Thrill and Duck & Run up. Hope you enjoy!
Most fables begin with “once upon a time.” Since this is no fable, I shall dispense of such frivolity and simply speak what I have witnessed to be the truth…
The Adar Llwch Gwin whirled in the air above the battlefield, their great wings slicing through the air. They numbered seven, and lived only to obey their sworn command on this day…to kill the first man to enter the field of battle. They neither knew nor cared who that man would be, only that their mission was fulfilled.
Beneath them, men massed on the edges of the great meadow, hidden in copses and behind hedgerows, their hatred all but wafting into the heavens. But none had yet lifted a weapon, so were safe from the Adar.
And then, from one eyeblink to the next, their mission had a focus. A man strode forward, gesturing wildly with his sword, bidding his men to follow him.
As one, the seven beasts swooped from the sky, deadly talons outstretched. They tore the man limb from limb as he wailed and screeched at them to stop, to cease as he ordered, as their owner.
But the Adar paid him no mind, and destroyed the man who had been their master, then perched on that bloodstained ground, awaiting new direction.
The men who had followed their master fled, the clank of their sword and armor loud in the gloaming. And still the birds stood, emotionless as stone, as they would until a new Lord claimed them.
The opposition held, muttering amongst themselves, until a man exited the forest, sword strapped to his back, hands held out in supplication. Behind him walked a mage, one whom the Adar knew by bloodline. He was Merlin, kin to the Fae mistress who had first created, and then gifted the Adar to her husband.
The man leading Merlin halted and spoke to them, as if he understood their sentience. And mayhap he must, if the magician stood by his side. And then the Lord, Arthur by name, gifted them with something they’d never even dreamed. Human form, the ability to put voice to their cognizance, and a noble mission clearer than they’d ever known…to search for, find and guard the Grail…
Gavin pressed a splayed palm against his wounded shoulder and gritted his teeth. This was not how he’d expected to be animated from his prison of stone.
The vandal who’d fainted as soon as he’d become skin and bone—and a griffin at that—laid at this feet. He’d shifted just seconds after the reanimation, but his defacer was already out cold.
The night swirled, dark and mysterious around them, the Ivy League college campus silent in the summer’s night.
He glanced left, then right, nothing catching his preternatural senses. The human who’d known the exact words to say, in the exact ancient dialect and accent, was alone.
His stomach roared with hunger now that his perimeter had been cleared. He ignored it for the moment, choosing instead to focus on the human form sprawled across the concrete stairs. He’d need sustenance in the very near future, but could “deal”, as the current generation said, for the time being. Right now he needed to know why his human sentinel, of all people, would attempt to bring him back whilst taking a slice of his shoulder. It made no sense, and he was a great lover of making sense of things.
He bent, securing the vandal in his arms, surprised by the slight weight. He focused on the child’s face and cursed foully. Their sentinels were supposed to be prepared, to have immediate shelter, food and clothing available until the Adar could reach Haven.
As he straightened, he heard the whisper of cloth against leather, smelled the unmistakable scent of gunmetal and cursed silently once again. Campus security…the very last thing he needed.
He took a deep breath, willing his shift even as he turned. By the time he faced the policeman…policewoman, his senses corrected, and one he knew all too well…he’d fully shifted, his sentinel cradled in his front claws. He screamed in the face of the stunned female and lifted himself on mighty wings.
Layla O’Neal stood, shell shocked and flatfooted, for the first time in her life. She had not just seen a naked, incredibly hot man morph into a gigantic eagle, had she? One who’d then flown away, holding a child in his claws? No freakin’ way.
She’d no sooner had the thought than her feet were in motion, Glock drawn as she gave chase. She had no idea what she’d seen, but it sure as hell wasn’t what she’d thought. What she did know was that something was seriously hinky, and it was her job to figure it the hell out, and fast.
The flying beast—that’s all she would think of it as—was still in her line of sight, but not by much, as multi-story brick buildings and spires hid him—it—for too-long seconds. And in those seconds that stretched into minutes as she searched, her mind tried to justify exactly who and what she’d seen. Because before it had flown away, it had looked exactly like the griffin guarding the doors to the School of Finance. Oh, hell no.
She pushed the thought away as she became more and more winded, her gaze jerking from above to the brick buildings creating a familiar maze and back again, searching for a threat, her nightstick banging against her hip with each step.
She rounded the corner, and instead of the griffin she’d fixed in her mind, the naked man stood again, guarding a clump of clothing she could barely make out as the child she’d seen earlier.
Bringing her Glock to bear, she set him in her sights cleanly. Maybe a little too cleanly, because she could see…everything. Including a penetrating amber gaze that caught her eyes like a sci-fi tractor beam.
And then “everything” began to weave. Naked guy went down as if in slow motion, falling first to his knees, then to his hands, and still he maintained eye contact, as if that were the only thing keeping him alive. “Protect the sentinel,” he rasped, and then fell face-down onto the dirty brick without another sound.
Layla blew out a holy-crap breath and edged forward, her Glock still at the ready. Naked guy didn’t even twitch, and neither did the child behind him. She stopped and lowered her weapon enough to take in the whole scene and considered her action.
Walking a beat in Four Corners had nothing on this when it came to violence, but on the weird scale, it was way up there. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t call on Boston PD for this one, but since it had been on campus property, they had first dibs, unless the child was harmed. Somehow she didn’t get that feeling, and not just from naked guy’s last words. It was more the way he handled himself, as if the child was precious, rather than a commodity. Harsh, yes, but in real life, a realism.
So instead, she’d fire up her Taser and keep it at the ready while she examined the child.
Then, and only then, would she call in Rick the Prick, her “back up” for this evening’s shift. Sometimes it was better, safer, to go solo than to follow protocol and call for reinforcements. Rick, on a good day, would seriously consider ventilating this perp. On a bad day…all hell would break loose. At this point, her curiosity was piqued enough to make her want answers more than an uncertain collar, especially when her Taser could take him down in about two seconds flat.
She holstered the Glock and armed the Taser, then got close enough to naked guy to prod him with her nightstick. Nothing. Edging around him, she kept the stun gun aimed at his back. If he got all frisky, then he’d have a hell of a wake-up call coming.
She dropped into a squat next to the child, checking for a pulse at the carotid. Rapid as all get out, but strong. And then her patient began to move, swimming to the surface of consciousness.
Layla made a decision she hoped she wouldn’t regret and pulled the child away from the perp. As she did, his hand closed around her ankle in an iron grip. “No harm.” His voice boomed, coming from everywhere, from nowhere, especially since he was still face-down on the bricks. Freaked her the hell out even as it echoed through every cell in her body.
“No harm,” she agreed, pushing the child behind her back as she tried to extricate her foot and aim the Taser at the same time.
The bundle at her back came to sudden, screeching life, clawing at the hand holding the Taser. “Not the Guardian,” a boy’s voice sobbed. “My fault, all my fault.”
Layla wrenched her hand away from the suddenly active “victim” and squared her back against a wall, her ankle still firmly grasped by the “Guardian”.
After five years of being a street cop, handling this should have come easily, but it was so damned surreal that she couldn’t quite wrap her mind around it. So instead she moved the Taser from one target to the next and wished like hell she’d called in Rick.
The victim crawled to naked guy and pulled his head into his lap. “Please don’t go back, please don’t go back. We need you.”
“Shush, child,” that voice came again, seeping through Layla like good single-malt. Her ankle was suddenly freed, and she quickly stood, moving away from the weirdness that had become her life over the past two minutes.
“On your feet, mister,” she ordered, Taser still aimed for the sweet spot in the high muscles of his shoulder. If she had to shoot, the barbs would penetrate high and low and create a wicked-ass arc for the electricity to travel through.
“Stand down, warrior, while I tend the Sentinel.” Tall, dark and crazy pushed away from the child, taking care to shield his goodies while he settled into a crouch.
Layla was relieved on a base level, even as she pushed away the command in his voice. This whole thing might be weird as hell, but she was glad her initial feeling of him not being a perv had been confirmed. Sorta. It didn’t stop her from keeping her aim true, though. This would play out long before Rick could get here.
I really enjoyed this one, more than I thought I would, to be honest. Both Elise and Levi were normal folks, with pretty normal problems, which was a really nice change from some of the heroes and heroines I’ve read about recently.
The sex is super-hot, but even more compelling was the emotional component. I *felt* the emotions of these characters, ached for them, laughed with them. Moreso than any book I’ve read recently, so I’ll definitely be looking for more of Kelly’s books.
My only quibble was with the Epilogue, which I felt was kinda cheesy, given the really contemporary tone of the book, and the introduction of characters from seemingly out of nowhere. But those are pretty minor, and didn’t really detract from the overall excellence of the book.