In Darkness Reborn (Paladin Series #3)by Alexis Morgan
Alexis Morgan continues her red-hot paranormal series with a mysterious warrior and his forbidden love for a woman who's allegiance lies with his sworn enemy. . . .
Once a warrior for the Others, Barak q'Young is caught between two worlds -- exiled from his homeland, and a pariah among his enemies, the Paladins. While hunting a betrayer who's/b>/i>… See more details below
Alexis Morgan continues her red-hot paranormal series with a mysterious warrior and his forbidden love for a woman who's allegiance lies with his sworn enemy. . . .
Once a warrior for the Others, Barak q'Young is caught between two worlds -- exiled from his homeland, and a pariah among his enemies, the Paladins. While hunting a betrayer who's selling the precious blue gems that light the Others' world, Barak must aid geologist Lacey Sebastian in her research for the Paladins. Barak is instantly drawn to the fiery, beautiful woman, but Lacey initially despises the enemy intruder. Soon she sees beyond his violent past, though, finding the dark warrior intriguing -- and extremely sexy.
Though neither can resist the passion that blazes between them, Barak is torn between loyalties, hiding a secret gift that could prove useful to Lacey's research, at the sacrifice of his own people. But when Lacey is kidnapped and held hostage, Barak realizes he will do anything to save her . . . even risk his own life.
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"Get that goddamned freak out of here!"
The injured Paladin could barely speak, but there was no mistaking the venom in his words. Ignoring the tirade, Barak quietly picked up a tray of sterile instruments and put it away. After arranging the equipment exactly the way Dr. Young preferred it, he walked past the man and deliberately made eye contact, taking a warrior's pride in knowing he wasn't the one who'd blinked first.
The patient had been conscious for just over an hour and had been cursing Barak the whole time. Paladins were never easy patients, but having one of their mortal enemies near made them worse. Barak hated the Paladins enough to take pleasure in seeing his enemy chained down while he walked free. Drawing a deep breath, he savored the sweet taste of the man's fury.
When he'd entered this world, he'd fully expected to die at the end of a Paladin's sword. That hadn't happened, leaving him alone in this confusing place. Since he could not defeat his enemy in combat, he would at least irritate them with his continued presence in their midst.
Dr. Laurel Young stood concentrating on the machines that monitored the Paladin's progress. Judging from the frown line between her eyebrows, she wasn't pleased.
Knowing the request that was coming, Barak started for the door.
The guards manning the lobby desk looked up, preventing him from slamming his fist against the wall. Any such action on his part would be reported to Dr. Neal, the local head of Research, who in turn would pass along the information to the Regents. For now, they tolerated Barak's continued existence, as long as he did not become too much of a problem. For Laurel's sake, he behaved most of the time.
It was for Dr. Young's sake that he had walked out of the lab; he owed her that much. Roiling with anger, he decided to work it off in the gym.
He pushed the elevator button, still marveling at the conveniences that humans took for granted. Their casual use of power appalled him at times. They had no idea how blessed they were. Or how wasteful.
When the elevator doors slid open, a pair of the building guards immediately moved to one side of the elevator, as if to make room for him. More likely they were avoiding any possible contact.
He forced a small smile, acknowledging their false courtesy. As they traveled in uncomfortable silence, he wondered if he was wrong to assume everyone had a hidden agenda. Maybe they had problems of their own and meant no slight. But until he better understood these humans and how their minds worked, he could only rely on his instincts, and it was safer to assume they were the enemy than to be stabbed in the back by a false friend.
Several seconds later, he escaped the close confines of the elevator. Pausing outside the locker room, he reached out with his senses to see if anyone was inside. The gods were with him; the whole place was empty. Inside, he stripped down and pulled on the shorts he kept in his assigned locker. After tying back his shoulder-length hair, he entered the gym.
He closed his eyes, searching for the silence deep within to let go of the day's frustrations. Moving slowly at first, he lost himself in the ha'kai, the "death dance" of his people. Through its familiar rhythms, he could almost imagine himself back home. The origin of the dance was lost in antiquity, but those who learned its graceful, lethal maneuvers kept the practice alive in his world. Here, in this land of too much light, it was an unknown art. There was so much confusion in this new life that he drew comfort from bringing this one little part of his world with him. His peace was short-lived as four Paladins came swaggering into the gym. They dropped their weapons cases on the tiled floor and drew their swords.
The closest one groused, "Hell, nobody told me that they let that gray- haired bastard roam free. Hey, Roy, I thought Seattle had a leash law."
Raucous laughter rang out as the biggest one said, "Maybe we should call Animal Control and have them haul it off to the pound with all the other flea-bitten dogs."
Barak finished a last twirl and lunge before acknowledging the intruders' presence. As he picked up a towel and wiped his face, he smiled, relishing the chance to teach them some respect for his kind.
"Better the dogs for company than two-legged cowards. Or do you consider four against one to be honorable?" he sneered.
Their response was immediate and predictable. The biggest one took a step toward Barak. "Listen here, asshole, I wouldn't go around calling other people cowards. The only reason you're still alive is that nitwit Dr. Young took pity and let you hide behind her skirts."
That did it -- they'd crossed the line by treating Laurel Young with disrespect. Before, he would have settled for running them in circles without doing any real damage. Now he would demand payment in pain and blood. And if word of their taunts got back to Devlin Bane, they'd be lucky if they lost but one life each.
He calmly crossed the room to the rack of swords used for practice. After rejecting several, he settled for the one that came closest to the feel of his own, which had been lost to him.
The biggest Paladin stood a few steps ahead of the others, no doubt planning on challenging Barak first.
Barak took a couple of practice swings with the sword before touching the blade to his forehead to signal his readiness to fight. Judging from his opponent's stance, the young fool depended on size rather than skill to win fights. That might work when it came to fists, but he would soon learn the error of his ways.
Barak held his sword at the ready and used his other hand to encourage his opponent to attack. "Shall we dance, Paladin? Have you any skill with that sword, or is it only for decoration?"
Roy's face flushed with anger. "I'm ready whenever you are."
The other Paladins arranged themselves along the wall, calling out their encouragement. "That's it, Roy. Teach him to respect his betters!"
Just as Barak expected, the young Paladin lunged forward, using his weapon with graceless power. If his blow had actually connected, it might well have taken Barak's head off. Roy stumbled past, fighting to regain his balance. It didn't take much longer for Barak to have young Roy pinned against the wall, the point of his sword at the boy's throat. The flash of fear in Roy's eyes was sweet.
"What was that about teaching me respect for my betters?" Barak crowded closer. "I'm listening."
When Roy didn't respond, Barak indulged his anger with a flick of his wrist, slashing a shallow but painful cut down the side of Roy's face. To give the boy credit, he stood his ground, ignoring both the pain and the blood dripping down his cheek.
Barak leaned in close, letting Roy see his full rage. His lips drew back, baring his teeth. "If I ever hear another disrespectful word out of your mouth regarding Dr. Young, I will take great pride in slicing you into tiny little pieces. Then I'll report you to Devlin Bane and Blake Trahern and let them finish the job. Do I make myself clear?"
Roy nodded very slowly. The two scariest Paladins in Seattle, Devlin and his friend Trahern were the stuff of legends. Maybe Roy and his friends hadn't yet heard that Dr. Young and Bane were mates, but it wasn't Barak's job to inform them. It was enough that he defended her honor.
"Get out of here." He'd turned his back to the rest of the pack, saying without words that he considered them to be of no real threat. "And the next time you see me, I suggest you walk away. Better yet, run."
Another voice entered into the conversation. "Is there a problem?" "
Nothing I can't handle." Barak stepped away from Roy and picked up a towel to wipe the tip of his sword. "I was just teaching young Roy here that size doesn't always determine the winner."
Devlin Bane made Roy look a bit on the small side. "Really? I've never found it to be a handicap." He sauntered over to the sword rack and picked one at random, then eyed Roy, obviously taking the younger man's measure. "Let's see, there are two of us and four of you. What do you think, Barak? Would it be unfair odds?"
Barak considered the matter. "Maybe if we promised to use only our weaker hands."
Devlin's grin was pure danger as he switched the sword to his off hand. "I like it."
Barak did the same and moved to stand next to his mortal enemy. "We shouldn't hurt them too badly, though. I don't feel like mopping blood up off the floor."
"Fair enough." Devlin turned to Roy's companions, who looked as if they were about to make a dash for the door. "Come on, gentlemen, pick up your weapons. I've got just enough time to show you how it's done in the real world."
Barak watched their exhausted opponents stumble out of the gym, glad to escape with only their pride bruised. Bane hadn't asked what had caused the initial confrontation, probably assuming Barak's presence alone had been enough to trigger a Paladin's inborn need to fight. Barak didn't tell him any different.
"Were you looking for me?" Barak kept his voice neutral and his eyes focused on his sword.
"Laurel said you were probably up here." Bane returned his borrowed weapon to the rack with more force than was necessary. Clearly his temper still simmered just shy of a full boil.
"She shouldn't send you to check on me." Though it was just like her to do so.
"And you hate that." As a physician and Handler, Laurel Young took a deep personal interest in all her charges, even one who was her lover's lifelong enemy.
Devlin Bane shrugged. "How I feel about it doesn't matter."
Barak understood the Paladin's obvious frustration. People of his own world and the Paladins' world were born to hate each other. Unfortunately, Laurel Young didn't accept the normal way of things. Since Barak and Devlin both cared about her, they were forced to set that hatred aside and find some common ground. Sparring in the gym fit that need. If they couldn't kill each other for real, they could draw satisfaction from pretending to.
"Do you require further practice?" The skirmish with the younger Paladins had whetted Barak's own appetite for violence. Exchanging blows with Bane would help him burn out some of his own temper.
Devlin stood at the weapons rack, picking up swords at random and testing their weight in his hand. "Knives or swords?"
And so the dance began.
In his past life, he and Devlin Bane had been mortal enemies, sworn to kill each other upon sight in the endless war that had been fought as long as memory served. In Barak's youth, he'd sworn the vows of hatred along with all of his generation. Over the years that had followed, their numbers had dwindled as death had claimed many and insanity even more.
When he'd gone looking for answers to the great madness, he'd found nothing but locked doors and accusations of cowardice. He'd argued long and hard that he didn't mind the idea of dying; he'd merely wanted to know the why of it all. Finally, he'd quit asking, quit fighting, quit everything.
Like so many from his world, he'd sought to end his pain with an honorable death at the end of a Paladin's sword. Instead, he'd found and saved a human woman who'd been pursued by one of her own kind, a man who had reeked of cowardice and greed. Laurel Young had offered Barak her healer's touch, then her friendship. To his amazement, even the strongest of the Paladins had been unwilling to refuse her the gift of Barak's life.
But that didn't mean they liked the idea.
With a powerful lunge, Devlin's sword came uncomfortably close to Barak's throat. Barak danced back out of the way and grinned at his opponent. "Is that the best you have to offer?"
"Go to hell." Bane charged again, this time whacking Barak across the back with a blow that would leave bruises.
The pain faded quickly in the triumph of using one of his favorite ha'kai movements to drop Bane to the mat with a satisfying thud, followed by a string of curses after Bane could draw enough breath to speak. Barak offered him a hand up that was rudely ignored. He backed away, giving the Paladin a chance to rejoin the battle.
"You've got to quit," Bane growled.
"Why should I, when I am winning?"
This time it was Barak who hit the floor. Even a practice blade looked sharp when held at his throat. "Not quit this. You've got to quit working with Laurel."
As Bane backed away, Barak wiped blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. He was in no mood to be ordered around by a Paladin, not even one who had stood between Barak and certain death. He slowly climbed to his feet and brought his sword back up into fighting position.
"I won't quit just because you don't want me near your woman." He backed up his vow with a flurry of thrusts that Bane met with a renewed attack of his own.
"I've never liked you being near her, you stupid bastard. That hasn't changed."
"So what has?" Then a sick feeling settled deep inside him. If the newest members of the Paladins were talking about Laurel, perhaps others were as well.
He stepped back and dropped the point of his sword in surrender. At least Bane was breathing as hard as he was. When it came to fighting the best, a draw was nothing to be ashamed of.
"Does she know that people are talking?" Barak asked. He hoped not, knowing she would feel obligated to rush to his defense. When he'd been wounded and bleeding out his life's blood, it had been one thing. Now that he was whole again, he didn't need her to fight his battles for him.
"She probably suspects, but so far no one has had the balls to say something directly to her." They both knew that Bane would kill anyone who dared to hurt Laurel, and that Barak would help him.
"I will leave immediately." His sword felt twice as heavy as he carried it back to the rack. "It shouldn't take me long to pack."
Bane caught Barak's arm as he headed for the locker room. Barak shook his hand off but waited to see what he had to say.
"She'd only make me drag you right back here, kicking and screaming."
"Make up your mind. First you say that I have to leave; now you're telling me I must stay."
Unless he was mistaken, there was a certain amount of sympathy in Bane's eyes. "I'm working on a plan. The only way she'll let you go is if she believes that you'll be happier with the move."
That was unlikely when Laurel was the only real friend he had, but for her sake he'd be willing to dissemble a bit. Barak nodded slowly. "Tell me about this plan."
"Explain to me again how this came about."
Dr. Laurel Young glared at the two of them with her hands on her hips. Barak drew some comfort from knowing that most of her temper was aimed directly at Devlin, not him. She was right to question her lover's motives in finding Barak a new position within the Regents' organization. As far as she knew, Barak was perfectly content to work in her lab. Now, with no warning at all, Devlin -- hardly Barak's biggest fan -- was claiming that Barak wanted nothing more out of life than the opportunity to work in the Geology Department.
She rounded on Barak when Devlin started repeating himself. "You've never said anything about this before."
Keeping his eyes firmly on Laurel, Barak did his best to look both innocent and sincere. "I never thought it would be possible. But when we were in St. Louis helping out Trahern, Devlin learned that the study of stone has been a special interest of mine. Until we knew for certain that the transfer would work out, I didn't want to say anything."
Bane didn't know exactly how special that interest really was, and that was a secret Barak planned on taking to his grave.
"If you're sure..."
Her easy acceptance of his transfer told him all too clearly how difficult having him around had become for her. He wanted to shake her for not having told him, but that would ruin his and Devlin's carefully laid plan.
"I'm sure, Laurel." He stepped forward to take her hand, ignoring the waves of disapproval coming from Devlin. "I need to feel useful. You have given me time to learn the ways of this world, but my value in the lab is limited. It's time for me to make my own way, and this is how I can best be of service."
She narrowed her eyes. After a long look at her lover, as if to warn him not to say anything, she pulled Barak close for a hug. Barak knew he shouldn't prolong the embrace, but it had been so long since anyone had been willing to hold him....
Rather than test Bane's patience, Barak broke off the hug and put a small distance between himself and Laurel. When he saw the small tear trailing down her cheek, he allowed himself the small privilege of wiping it away with the pad of his thumb.
"There's no call for tears, Laurel. It's not like I'm going far. The Geology Department is located in the Seattle Underground, not far from Devlin's office."
Devlin pushed himself back into the conversation. "Yeah, and let me tell you that we're all thrilled, knowing he'll be so close by. Trahern's already planning a tea party in Barak's honor, and Brenna has him practicing drinking out of tiny cups with his pinky held out."
The image of the cold-eyed Trahern serving tea and scones had Laurel smiling again -- no doubt the effect Devlin had been aiming for. Neither he nor Barak could tolerate seeing her unhappy.
"Well, at least you'll be in good company." This time her smile was more genuine. "You know that you'll always be welcome back here with me."
Not if Bane had anything to say about it -- but Barak left that unsaid.
"Like hell he's coming here!"
Penn Sebastian gave his shopping basket a shove, sending it careening into the brick wall. The new dent barely showed, and Lacey wondered how much more abuse it could take before her brother had to go scrounging for another one.
"I didn't have any say in the matter, Penn." Hot tempers were the status quo among Paladins, but lately Penn's had been worse than usual. Ever since his sword hand had been badly damaged in a vicious battle, he'd become more and more volatile.
Penn crossed his arms over his chest and blocked her way into the Center. "So why are you getting saddled with this low-life Other?"
Though Lacey agreed with Penn, she reined in her own temper. If Penn got busted for fighting one more time, the Regents might confine him to quarters or, worse yet, decide that he was too unstable to continue on as a Paladin. And his kind didn't retire to enjoy their old age: a Paladin either died in combat or he was chained to a steel slab and executed.
"Evidently he wasn't working out in the medical lab. According to Devlin Bane, this Other of his has a special interest in geology. In exchange for major funding increases, my department head agreed to take him on as a lab assistant on a trial basis."
According to her boss, the Other was actually to be treated as an equal by everyone, but she wasn't about to tell Penn that. The whole idea made her absolutely furious; she could just imagine how her brother would react.
"Meaning what? That for a few bucks, Bane keeps Barak from sniffing around his girlfriend? Instead, the scum will be hitting on my sister." Penn clearly wasn't going to back down anytime soon.
"It's more than a few bucks, and I can use the help. Toting all that equipment around isn't easy, especially on the steeper slopes." She smiled with a confidence she didn't really feel. "I'll make sure he knows I have a big, bad Paladin for a brother. That should scare him into behaving."
"Not anymore." Penn tried without success to flex his right hand. "I couldn't hold a sword long enough to scare anybody."
The doctors had warned Penn there was no guarantee that he'd ever get full motion back in his hand. An Other had come close to severing Penn's hand completely, and the recovery process had been slow and painful. She couldn't remember the last time Penn had been really happy.
"You're not helpless, Penn. If you were, they wouldn't trust you to guard the Center." That much was true, but holding a gun or rifle wasn't the same as being able to fight with a sword. Until he could handle a blade, Penn couldn't protect the barrier in the tunnels down below the city and the surrounding area. The desire to serve near the barrier beat strongly in the heart of every Paladin, and Penn could feel the fluctuations in the beautifully colored sheet of energy that separated their world from dark madness on the other side. Until he could do the job he was born to do, Penn would be a miserable man.
"Well, I've got to get inside or I'll be late for work." She would have given her brother a quick hug, but he was in his usual disguise of a derelict living on the streets. If she got too close, some of that grime and stink he worked so hard to perfect would get on her clothes.
He grinned. "What? No sisterly kiss for me before I let you pass? How about a hug?"
She laughed and held up her hands, backing away. "No way, bro. Not unless you're willing to pay my cleaning bill."
"All right, I'll let you get inside." Then he turned serious again. "But if this Barak fellow gives you any trouble at all, I want to be the first to know. Even if I can't handle a sword, his kind isn't immune to bullets. I'd be glad to remind him of that fact."
After keying in the security code, she stepped into the dim interior of the Center. Leaning against the cool tiled wall, she waited for her pulse to slow down. It was hard enough to deal with her own frustrations without having to take on Penn's as well.
Her boss had warned her not to walk into the meeting with a chip on her shoulder. Somehow she was supposed to hide her feelings from her boss, Devlin Bane, and the Other himself. How could she, when she hated and despised everything about the Others and the havoc they caused whenever the barrier went down?
At least Dr. Louis had given her some warning. He'd called her at home last night to break the news, knowing if he'd waited until she'd reported to work, she would likely have walked right out again. It had taken her a solid hour to unclench her teeth. How was she supposed to work side by side with one of the monsters that had not only killed her brother twice but had nearly crippled him as well?
Was any amount of money worth the constant uproar over a monster in their midst? Why didn't someone just skewer the Other and be done with it? She'd be glad to provide the sword.
Lacey pushed herself away from the wall and started the long walk down to her office, reminding herself each step of the way of all the badly needed equipment this Barak's presence could bring. Though Dr. Louis would hang onto most of the money for his own pet projects, the small fraction he'd promised her would be a welcome addition to her funding.
Once she'd been sure that she could be civil, she had tried without success to call Laurel Young, hoping to talk to her about Barak. She'd email the Handler later to see if she'd be willing to answer a few questions over lunch in the next couple of days.
Until Laurel had forced Devlin Bane to spare Barak's life, she'd been well respected. Now there were grumblings about the Handler, and maybe that was why they'd found a new spot for the Other. The Geology Department was certainly less high profile than the medical branch of Research.
Lacey checked the time. If she hurried, she could record the latest readings from Mount St. Helens before reporting to her boss's office for the official meeting. Focusing on work might keep her calm enough to make it through the day.
On the other hand, maybe she'd do everyone a favor and kill the Other herself.
Copyright © 2007 by Patricia L. Pritchard
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