By Brenna Lyons
The blue-eyed Maher men have always caused a stir. When Kord finds his mate, he doesn't know that the stone has a hand in destiny once again. The stone needs a suitable warrior for the König princess, and a mixing of the bloodlines alone will make the match.
Julia Farmer doesn't know she was bitten in childhood. She doesn't know she was transfused with Warrior blood. While she's not Blutjagdfrau, she shares the Warrior's drives, much to her father's dismay. There's instant attraction between Kord Maher and Julia, but when she hides the fact that she's a Warrior daughter from him, he ends up on the wrong side of the Rules of Sanction.
Shana has never taken chances. She never wanted excitement in her life. Then, her world was turned upside down. Vampires are real, and one vampire hunter seems intent on her safety--and on her. Bryant will not call a halt until Shana accepts his protection--and him--no matter what.
Adam is inflexible, abrasive, and full of himself. Jo is...completely unimpressed. Too bad, because Adam never backs down when he sees something he wants. Jo wants nothing more than to dump the warrior Kord assigned to her, but ditching one of the Maher trackers isn't as easy as one might believe. Adam Maher is one of the most infuriating men Jo has ever met. So, why can't she get him out of her mind?
Gabriel is Adam Maher's younger son. By all accounts, he's inherited the Maher hot blood. He printed at 17 and was refused. Then he made a pass at the wrong woman and found himself vilified in Hunter range. To top it all off, one of Adam's enemies has set his sights on destroying Adam by destroying his son. The beast doesn't know how effective his plan might be. The chosen bait to draw Gabriel in is the same protected who refused to be Gabe's mate a decade earlier, and his blood still hasn't cooled.
August 20th, 1952
“What is it?” Maman’s voice was a whispered plea.
Julia opened her eyes, stretching beneath the light spring quilt on her bed.
“You know what,” her father commented. “Stay here. Paul and Jack will go with me.”
That simply, Julia was wide awake. Jack was going somewhere with Father. They would take her along if she was fast enough. Father would take her with them. Father never denied her anything.
She slid from her bed and pulled her shoes on over her bare feet. She strode down the hall and out the back door, turning the knob with both of her tiny hands, then bolted across the lawn to the garage. She stumbled, her nightgown catching on her shoes; Julia lifted it and ran on. Father would demand she dress before they left, but if she took the time to dress first, they might be gone before she reached them.
Julia stopped in the doorway to the garage, looking around in confusion. Her father and brothers weren’t there. She couldn’t have missed them. All four cars were still inside.
She turned back to the house, confused. Where could they have gone this late at night?
She turned to the sound of the whisper, her brow furrowing at a dark outline disappearing into the tree line. Julia smiled. Jack was playing with her as he often did after her nap. Was it a game of tag, then?
She rushed into the trees, following the faint rustlings and movements from tree to tree until the tree house rose high above her. “Jack?” she called, looking up the slats nailed to the tree trunk.
There was no answer.
Julia looked around; Jack was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t ghost from her while she wore her amulet. She touched the disc to assure herself it was still there. No, he wasn’t ghosting, so he had to be teasing her. She scowled. Father didn’t allow the boys to tease her.
“Jack,” she demanded. “Show yourself, or I’ll tell Father.” Julia planted her fists on her hips.
Still, her brother didn’t show himself.
“Father will hear—” She stopped, taking a step back in surprise.
A man stepped from the trees, but it wasn’t Jack. “There you are, Julia,” he greeted her in a heavy accent she couldn’t place. “I’ve been looking for you.”
She shied from his offered hand.
The man chuckled. “Come now. Don’t you recognize me?”
Julia shook her head shyly. This man looked like a Warrior save his clothing, but it was no Warrior she knew. Who else would come here? Strangers didn’t come to their estates.
As if he read her thoughts, the man knelt down a few feet from her. “You needn’t be frightened. Could anyone harm you on Landwirt soil?”
She laughed at that, pressing her chubby fingers to her mouth. It was true. No one would dare harm her here—not while her father was Lord Farmer.
He smiled wider.
“Do you know Father?” she asked.
The man settled on the grass. “We have met each other many times.” He leaned closer to her. “I would ask your help, Julia,” he whispered in a conspiratorial tone.
“You need my help?” No one ever asked for Julia’s help. When she offered, people patted her head and sent her to play. “What kind of help?”
“I have lost my amulet.” His eyes were pained, much as Alan’s had been when he’d broken Maman’s favorite vase with his wooden practice blade.
Julia smiled. “I can get you one. Father has a whole drawer—”
“No!” He put up a calming hand as she startled. “Your Maman might see you. How would you explain your actions?”
She bit her lip, working at the problem and at a loss for an answer to it.
“I would be in even more trouble then,” he confided.
“Then how can I help?” she asked in confusion.
“If you give me your amulet...”
Julia fingered the metal disc over her chest uncertainly. “Father says—”
“Never to take it off?”
“Your Maman has told me you’ve lost yours before.”
Julia winced. She had lost it twice. Once, the chain broke while she was swimming. The other time, she lost it while she and Jack played in the woods.
“Did anything bad happen to you, Julia?”
“No,” she admitted.
“Do you think anything bad could happen here?”
“No.” That was said with more conviction. What could happen? Maman called this their sanctuary, and Jack said that meant it was their safe place.
“Was your father angry with you for losing your amulet?” He smiled a knowing smile at that.
Julia giggled. He knew Father well. Father was never angry with her.
“Will you help me, Julia?” His eyes were serious, hopeful.
She fingered the amulet. She’d never lied to Father. If she told him she lost the amulet—
“Julia,” he whispered.
She looked at the doll in his hand with a gasp of surprise. “Babette.”
“Yes. It is very like your Maman’s Babette, but this one has dark curls like you do and not golden like your Maman’s.”
Julia nodded, touching the doll’s beautiful pink dress.
“Trade with me,” he offered. “I will give you this Babette for your amulet.”
She nodded again, incapable of begging for the beautiful doll. It was even prettier than Maman’s Babette. Julia had longed to play with Maman’s doll for as long as she could remember. The man set the toy in her outstretched hands, and she hugged it to her chest.
“Julia,” Maman called. “Julia, where are you?”
“Quickly, Julia,” he urged her. “I must be well away before your Maman arrives.”
She pulled off the amulet and handed it to him. It slipped through his fingers and fell to the grass. Julia laughed, looking to him, intent on commenting on his clumsiness.
She went still, caught in the red glow of his eyes. Fangs sprouted in his mouth, and claws took the place of the fingernails on his hands.
Julia turned and ran, dropping the doll at the base of the tree and scrambling up the slats toward the tree house. Strictly speaking, she wasn’t allowed up there without Jack or Paul, but there were worse things in life than a broken arm.
“Julia,” Maman called again, annoyance in her tone.
A hand fisted in the back of her nightgown and yanked Julia from her perch. She screamed as she fell, kicking as fingers bit into her upper arms.
“Julia!” Maman was closer now, her voice panicked.
Julia screamed again at a sharp pain in her shoulder. Her body went leaden and her mind disconnected from the world around her. Memories danced in her mind: playing with Jack, riding on Father’s shoulders, cuddling in Maman’s arms when she was ill.
“No!” Maman screamed.
A shockwave coursed through her body, forcing her back. Maman fisted the front of Julia’s nightgown and dragged her forward again. Julia whimpered as her shoulder exploded in pain. Then Maman’s arms were around her, soothing her.
She forced her eyes open, trying to understand the warm liquid plastering her nightgown to her back and cooling in the night breeze. Julia shivered, the night suddenly colder than moments earlier.
Another shockwave forced her hard against Maman’s chest. Julia closed her eyes again as her shoulder throbbed, even breathing painful of a sudden.
“Release her,” the man’s voice growled.
“Never. Leave us,” Maman ordered. “My amulet will protect us both, as long as it touches her. Leave us or face my husband.”
The growling was louder, a fierce animal sound that made Julia shiver again.
“Hold to me, Julia,” Maman whispered. “You must not let go. Never let go.”
Julia fisted handfuls of Maman’s blouse, her hands trembling wildly. Why was it so cold?
“I said release her!”
“Never let go,” Maman repeated softly.
Then they were falling to the ground. Julia sobbed at a strange heavy thumping sound. It came again and again. She wrapped her legs around Maman’s waist.
“Julia,” the man whispered. “Come to me.”
She shook her head, holding to Maman.
You must not let go. Never let go.
“Julia.” His voice was calming, soothing. “Come to me, Julia.”
“Never let—” she gasped, her mind muddled.
“Julia.” His voice was sweet and pure.
She sighed, her muscles warm and relaxed. She was supposed to touch him, wasn’t she? Julia relaxed one fist, trying desperately to focus on reaching out to him.
A roar split the night, making her head ache.
Never let go!
She fisted Maman’s blouse, shaking her head. Julia gagged at a horrible smell, burying her face in Maman’s chest.
“Julia,” Jack choked. Was the smell too much for him, as well? His hands pulled at her.
“No!” she screamed, tightening her fists. “Maman said—”
“Julia, let go,” he ordered.
Jack forced her hands open, dragging Julia from Maman’s chest. She fought him, pleading for Maman to hold her. She grasped at Maman’s skirt as her oldest brother pulled her away. He placed his body between them, and Julia beat at his chest.
His hand traced her neck. He cursed, dropping an amulet over her head. Then Julia was moving, wrapped in Jack’s arms, sobbing into his chest and calling out for Maman.
“Jack!” Paul shouted. “Is she all right?”
“Call Damien. She needs a doctor.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I’ll take her.”
There was an uneasy moment of silence.
“Now, Paul,” he thundered.
Julia grasped at his shirt, trying to ask what he meant. Who needed a doctor? Why? Was Maman hurt?
A scream of rage seemed to shake the stars. Julia met Jack’s gaze, then everything went dark.
“A few more minutes,” Jack promised, though he was certain Julia couldn’t hear him. He touched her face, wincing at how cold her skin felt. He tucked his jacket around her, muttering a prayer that she would survive. If she didn’t, their father was as good as lost, and Jack would be Lord.
I am too young to be Lord. I don’t want it. Not now. Not this way. Certainly not because of the loss of his sister.
Damien met him at Julia’s door. “Is it true?” he asked urgently.
Jack didn’t answer immediately. He lifted his sister out of the car and headed for the cramped office in Damien’s home with the doctor at his heels.
“Is it true?” he asked again.
“Is what true?” Jack snapped. “That my mother is dead, and my father is in the throes of printing madness? That my sister is seriously injured? Yes to each of them, Damien.”
The doctor nodded, motioning him to a high table. Damien pulled back the jacket, wincing at the little girl bathed in her own blood and that of her mother. Julia was pale, even her lips nearly colorless. Her breaths came in shallow gasps of air.
Damien cut her nightgown away from the wound, turning on Jack with a stricken look. “My God! What did this? I mean, how could—”
“The beast fed, and the wound tore away. We will not lose her, Damien.”
He listened to her heart, grimacing. “Jack, I—”
“If we lose Julia, we lose my father,” Jack growled. I will not allow it.
“I cannot treat this effectively. It’s too late.”
“It can’t be.”
“The hospital is too far.”
“What can’t you do here?”
“She’s lost too much blood, Jack. This is a small clinic, and I’m not equipped to—”
Jack stripped off his shirt.
Damien shook his head in horror. “Warriors transfuse their own,” he squeaked. “You’re not—”
“Human,” he finished acidly. “She is my sister. We will match well enough.” Jack pulled a chair over and offered his arm.
The doctor hesitated. “What will this do to her?”
“I don’t care, as long as it saves her life.”
Damien stared at him, his mouth working as if he intended to argue. “Your blood—”
“I gave you an order, Damien.” The doctor was bound to obey. Jack prayed he’d obey. Julia didn’t have time for more arguments.
Damien nodded and set to work. He repaired the damage while the transfusion ran.
Jack stroked Julia’s hair, murmuring his assurances that she would live to run and swim with him again. He caught Damien’s hand, as the doctor reached for the needle in his arm. “Not until she’s strong enough. My body will replace what I’ve lost. You know that.”
Damien ran a shaking hand through his hair. “The damage is done,” he agreed.
By the time the needles were removed, Jack shook in exhaustion. “Will she survive?” His words were slurred, and his vision jumped and blurred.
“Blood rejection happens quickly,” he replied. “We’ll know within the hour.”
“Jee willing, there will be no reaction.”
August 21st, 1952
Robert opened his eyes to the harsh morning light. He swallowed, wincing at the raw ache in his throat. How many hours had he howled over Merilee’s grave? Probably until the sun was a gray line on the horizon.
He fisted a handful of the dirt in his trembling hand, then pressed his forehead to the freshly filled grave. Would that he had a lifetime to lie here and grieve, he would do so, but it was not to be. Robert and Merilee had six children, and he owed it to his wife to see them through this and everything else that came their way.
Robert pushed to his feet, stiff and aching. The walk to the house seemed to take ten times as long as it had the day before. Merilee no longer waited for him. What was there to rush for?
I failed her. I followed a false trail and left my family unprotected in the face of an enemy I grossly underestimated.
Paul looked up as he entered. He paled and dropped his gaze, then passed a glass of milk to Alan. He nodded Patrick toward his plate of eggs.
Robert touched Nikolaus’s hair, biting back tears. “Eat up, boys,” he offered in a hoarse voice. His own stomach twisted at the smell of food.
His gaze passed over then returned to the doll in the trash. Robert ambled over to it and picked it up, searching out his memories of the night before.
The doll had lay beneath the tree house in the clearing where he’d discovered Merilee’s body. It wasn’t a doll he’d seen before, certainly not one of the hundreds his daughter owned. Robert knew every one of those dolls by sight and name.
The truth stung him. “Damn that beast,” he growled. “He used—”
Robert turned to the table abruptly, scanning his gaze over his assembled children, his heart pounding. “Julia? Paul, where are Jack and Julia?”
Paul placed his fork next to his untouched plate. “With Damien.”
Robert dropped the doll, weaving on his feet as the china face shattered against the polished wood floor. “Oh... Oh, gods. I have to go, Paul.”
“Yes. You do,” his son informed him.
He hesitated long enough to kiss his younger sons goodbye, then sprinted for the garage.
Damien’s home and office were almost twenty miles away. That gave Robert ample time to analyze what went wrong.
He’d told Julia she was safe. He’d never told her what there was to fear in the world. He’d led her to believe nothing could harm her. He’d hidden their mortal enemies from her.
Robert sobbed at the depth of his errors...and the cost of them. It had been too easy for the beast. The damned thing had simply walked up to a four-year-old child who trusted implicitly that she was safe.
How long had it taken him to coax her amulet away from her? What lies had he used to convince Julia to give away her protection?
I never even explained how the amulet protected her. To Julia, it was nothing more than a prized possession that meant I love her.
Robert hadn’t questioned anything the previous night. He hadn’t had a truly logical thought from the moment he saw Merilee’s body until the moment he’d held that damned doll.
Now that he had a reason to search for answers, the answers seared him. The beast had used the doll. For whatever reason, Julia had taken off her amulet.
The beast fed. On Julia.
And killed Merilee with a tree branch, probably in an attempt to take Julia from her.
He pulled his car into the slot next to Jack’s, trying to ignore the tang of human blood seeping from his son’s vehicle. In a heartbeat, he was bolting through the door and into the treatment area. Robert went still at the sight of them.
Jack sat in a chair, bare-chested, his shirt crumpled at his feet, his head pillowed on his crossed arms next to Julia’s hip. Sweat coated Julia’s face, and a thick bandage enveloped her shoulder. A light blanket covered her to the chest, and she was very still.
Too still. Julia is never still, even in sleep.
Robert staggered to her, touching Julia’s face with a dirt-caked hand. A fever raged in her. “Damien,” he thundered.
Jack startled, training a weary gaze on his father. Robert’s breath caught in his throat at how drawn his son was, shaking...pale. He glanced at Julia and then back to his son. Fevering or not, Julia looked better than her oldest brother did. “Jack?” What have I missed? I know Jack wasn’t injured. None of my sons were.
His son averted his gaze, his jaw tightening.
“What have you done, Jack?”
Damien rushed in and laid a hand on Julia’s throat. He shook his head, then shot Jack a look of pure misery. “I think your Jee might have failed you.”
Robert grasped his son by the back of the neck, considering murder. “What did you do?” he demanded.
“She would have died in my arms,” Jack pleaded. “I couldn’t let that happen.”
“She needed blood. It couldn’t wait. It was her only chance.”
“Yours?” Robert asked, feeling faint.
“Yes. Mine. It was mine or death.” His voice was sure in conviction.
Robert nodded, releasing Jack and turning back to his daughter with a clearer mind to the situation. “There is another possibility.”
Damien looked up in surprise, a new bag of IV fluids in his hand. “Robert?”
“Check her wound.”
“But only last night—”
“Check it,” Robert repeated carefully.
Damien set the IV solution on the bedside table, eased Julia to her side, and started cutting and peeling away blood-stained bandages. He stared at her shoulder, barely breathing.
The urge to reach across the bed and shake him was strong. Robert tapped it down and forced a calm voice. “Damien?”
His emotions rioted. Robert wasn’t sure if he should pray that she was simply ill in the aftermath of the attack or that Jack’s blood had caused some of his healing to pass to her, no matter what it might mean in years to come.
“Well on its way to being healed.” The doctor let loose a nervous laugh. “At this rate, there may not even be a scar. It’s a miracle, Robert.”
“Krankheit,” Jack grumbled. He winced, most likely in the realization of what he’d probably brought down on their heads.
Robert nodded his agreement. “I’ll call Carrick. We have to know.”
His son didn’t meet his gaze. “And if I have somehow managed to curse her?”
“Then she will be Blutjadgfrau.” Just the thought of it made Robert shiver in apprehension. “But she will be alive, Jack.”
A hand stroked at her hair. Julia groaned. Her entire body felt sore and feverish.
“Julia?” her father called. “Julia, please open your eyes.”
She forced her eyelids up, trying to focus. Without success. Julia licked her dry lips.
“Juice.” Talking hurt, and she coughed in the effort to. “Please.” Maman says to always say please.
A cup touched her lips. It held water, but even water tasted sweet and cold. It soothed her abused throat. Julia drank deeply, until her stomach complained. The cup retreated, and her father wiped her face with a cool cloth.
“Better?” he asked.
She nodded, and her stomach clenched. “Feel sick.”
“I imagine you do.”
“Maman,” she requested. Maman always held her when Julia was hurt or wasn’t feeling well. Julia couldn’t remember ever feeling this bad before, and she wanted Maman.
Father didn’t answer.
“Maman,” she repeated.
“Do you remember why you’re here, Julia?”
Her memories were muddled, fractured images that didn’t make sense in conjunction with each other. “A man. A man who knew you. I ran from him to the tree house, but I fell...I think. I— It hurt.”
“Do you remember anything about the man?” he asked gently.
“Dark... Like a Warrior. He was a stranger, but he knew me. He knew all of us.”
Her father seemed to glow in anger, an aura that surrounded him. She’d heard Maman and her brothers talk about Blutjagd before, but Julia had never seen it. She hadn’t known you could see it.
He glared at her, and his jaw tightened. Julia edged away from him on the bed. Father had never been angry with her before, but she suspected he was now.
He grasped her by the waist and lifted Julia from the bed, cradling her to his chest. She tensed for a moment, but Father didn’t seem angry anymore. His chest shook in sobs, and his tears splashed on her cheek. For a long time, he didn’t speak. Father rocked her, humming the lullaby Maman sang to her every night.
Julia sank to his chest, barely noting the words wrenched from his lips. He wove the tale of an old enemy who’d killed Maman and injured Julia. He pleaded with her not to risk herself again.
She had no idea how long Father kept talking. Sleep won out all too soon.
“Was that wise?” Jack asked solemnly.
“I will not allow Julia to feel responsible for her mother’s death. It isn’t true, you know. I never told her what dangers there were. She didn’t know, and that is my fault. All of this is my doing.”
Jack nodded. Even if it wasn’t true, on some level, any Warrior father would believe himself guilty for allowing his wife and children to be harmed or killed. “What will you tell her?”
“What I already have.” Robert sighed. “And we have to tell her what we are and what we fight. Julia can never remove her amulet now.”
“Will you tell her why?”
Robert tensed, his Blutjagd burning fiercely again.
“You have to,” Jack opined. “Julia has to know the risks she—”
“Perhaps someday,” Robert conceded.
“Do you wish to terrify her?” he demanded. “The beast fed, Jack. It fed on her.”
“Can you tell a baby that she was fodder for a demon?”
His gut twisted at the thought of saying the words to Julia. “No.” Jack chanced a searching look at his father. “Have you reached the Lord Armen?”
Robert nodded. “The Stone assures us that the changes are not what we feared. It isn’t like a beast giving his blood. Julia may be stronger than the average woman, faster, more sensitive to the beasts. In fact, she may become a sensitive, for all we know. But she won’t be cursed.”
Jack sighed in relief.
“Your gamble paid off. I owe you your sister’s life.”
It was the highest honor a Warrior could pay another, owing someone the life of his precious daughter. Jack just wished he felt worthy of it.