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Immortals: The Calling
By Jennifer Ashley
Dorchester Publishing Copyright © 2007 Jennifer Ashley
All right reserved.
Chapter One Four weeks later
Amber Silverthorne fell onto her back, stunned, as the man in the black leather coat crashed into the warehouse and started to beat off the demon.
The candles marking Amber's circle scattered, splattering wax across the dirty floor. The magic she'd invoked sputtered and died. Her terror at the demon's sudden appearance changed to amazement at the tall man facing her, a look of grim glee on his face, a huge silver sword in his grip.
He held the sword almost negligently, as though it weighed nothing, and as soon as the demon came at him, he swung it, slicing the blade across the demon's pristine suit. He laughed as the demon retreated, snarling.
The man's long black hair was bound in a tail at his nape and again halfway down his back, keeping it well out of the way of the fight. His face was nowhere near as handsome as that of the demon he fought, being more hard and square. A warrior's face matching a warrior's body.
The warrior and the demon were evenly matched in strength, speed, and agility. Each focused tightly on the other, the demon's black eyes sparkling with fury. The man's eyes were black too, like wells of darkness. The warrior chopped downward withthe sword, and the demon spun away, black blood flying from a wound and splashing Amber's skin like acid.
Amber scrambled to sit up and gather her crystals to her, chanting furiously to re-form protective magic around her like a bubble. The man in black leather and the demon fought hand to hand, the man's sword swinging in wide, deadly arcs, the demon fighting back with the steel pole with which he'd tried to murder Amber.
"Immortal," he hissed.
The man gritted his teeth in a smile. "Good guess. What gave it away?"
"Who Called you?"
The silver sword went straight for the demon's throat. "No one. I happened to be passing."
Amber took her concentration from the crystals for a split second. Happened to be passing? A deserted warehouse between the tracks and the docks of Seattle? With a sword?
But good thing he was. There was nothing to distinguish this place from the other run-down buildings in the neighborhood, except that here, Amber's sister had died. Now, four weeks later, the police tape was long gone, the warehouse deserted, forensics and fingerprint takers finished. But no suspects had surfaced, and Amber refused to let Detective Jack Simon and the Seattle Police file away Susan's murder as an "unexplained paranormal death." So tonight she had gathered her supplies and come to conduct her own investigation.
The demon danced away from the warrior's sword, moving with the deadly speed of his kind. Undeterred, the warrior shifted his weight to one foot and kicked, catching the demon high on the shoulder.
Was the man here because of Susan? A boyfriend Amber didn't know about? Detective Simon had let her look at the notebook he'd found next to Susan. It had contained notes in a script Amber couldn't read, but she could feel how it tingled with evil. Susan had known damn well better than to mess with demons and death magic, but the evidence indicated she had done so anyway, and it had likely killed her.
Amber had cast a circle for her protection, calling on the element of Earth, to which her magic had the greatest affinity, to guard her. She'd used quartz crystals to enhance the vibrations left over from the murder so she might scry what had happened, plus salt to outline her circle and connect with the bones of the earth beneath the warehouse.
Not three minutes into the ritual, the demon had walked through the front door and tried to kill her.
She'd fought, futilely because demons were stronger than any mortal. This demon had seemed to radiate even more strength and evil than the demons who ran clubs in downtown Seattle, where foolish humans went to be seduced. He'd easily thrown down her protections and had been ready to bash out her brains when the warrior had come crashing in.
Amber focused her energy on the crystals, trying to find her center and shut out the death match happening five feet from her. Despite his wound, the demon easily whirled away and struck the warrior with his pole, landing a blow across the fine-fitting leather coat. The coat ripped, and the iron bar dug into the man's shoulders.
The warrior used the impact to bring his large fist around and catch the demon on the side of his head with a roundhouse punch. While the demon staggered, the warrior shrugged off his ripped coat and continued the fight in a T-shirt that molded to every muscle.
"Who are you?" he demanded of the demon.
To Amber's surprise, the demon chuckled. "That stays my secret."
"When I cut off your head, maybe I'll fish it out of your brain."
"I will not die this day, Immortal."
The man tossed his sword from hand to hand and gave the demon a contemptuous look. "You sound like a reject from a bad movie. How do you know about Immortals?"
"I know you seek one."
The declaration wiped the smile from the man's face. He snarled in fury and launched himself at the demon for an all-out attack. A dark cloud of death magic issued from the demon's hands, slick and foul like tar. It caught the man in the side and sent him shooting backward until he slammed high into a wall.
Amber winced, but the warrior sprang off the wall and easily landed on his feet. He lifted his sword straight out in front of him and bellowed, "Go!"
The sword shifted from a long blade into a five-foot snake, its mouth open, fangs gleaming. It flew through the air as though shot from a bow and sank its teeth into the demon's upflung arm.
The demon tried to shake it off, but the snake clung, biting deep. It must have been poisonous, but would its venom harm a demon? The demon flailed and cursed, his attempts to dislodge the snake sending him straight toward Amber and her circle. The demon slammed into the blue nimbus of magic, but Amber's protective bubble held, the shield glowing red where he struck it.
The demon's back and shoulders pressed the bubble as he looked up to find the warrior glaring down at him. The warrior's biceps were thick, a V of sweat plastering his T-shirt to well-honed muscles. He grabbed the snake by the tail, and it became a sword again, its tip slicing through the demon's silk shirt and into his chest.
The demon wrenched himself backward over the bubble, sliding down the other side. The man leapt after him, rolling across the shield an inch from Amber's head. The demon went down, and the warrior stood over him, sword point once more at the demon's chest. The man held the huge hilt in both hands, ready to shove the blade in.
"Tell me what you know," he commanded, voice hard. The demon smirked. "About Tain?"
The warrior's eyes sent sparks into the dark. "What the hell do you know about Tain?"
"If you kill me, Immortal, you'll never know."
"Then I'll flay off every inch of your hide. Tell me what you know, and I'll be nice and kill you quick-er."
The demon laughed. He lolled his head back, his handsome mouth opening while his silky hair fanned across the warehouse floor. "Wouldn't you love to know what I mean?" He pointed at Amber. "Ask her."
The man glanced to where Amber sat under the faintly glowing shield, her mouth open. His face took on a look of absolute fury, and he spun back to the demon and rammed the sword through the demon's body.
Except the demon wasn't there. He dissolved into mist and vanished, his laughter ringing through the empty room, and then was gone.
The warrior stared in stunned silence at the space where the demon had lain. A few tendrils of mist lingered on the blank floor, dissipating in the cool breeze that blew through the warehouse.
Snarling in frustration, the warrior flung his sword across the floor, where it spun and rang and sparked into the darkness. Face drawn with fury, he balled his fist and punched a nearby steel girder. The metal groaned under the onslaught, but the man backed away, none the worse for wear.
Amber kept her protective bubble in place as the warrior stormed after his sword. He'd driven off the demon, but there was nothing to tell her he wasn't just as dangerous. The demon had called him an "immortal," and the only immortals she knew about were vampires. He didn't look like a vampire, but then again he might be some kind of super-vamp she'd never seen. When dealing with wielders of death magic, you couldn't be too careful.
He reached down and picked up his sword. His jeans fitted easily over his thighs, showing trim hips and one gorgeous ass. As soon as he touched the sword's hilt, it turned into a snake again and wrapped itself lovingly around his wrist. The snake lifted its head and looked at Amber, unblinking obsidian eyes fixing on her. It tested her scent with its tongue, then puffed its neck into a hood shape she recognized.
She choked out, "That-is a cobra."
"Yes." The man spoke a word to the snake, and it deflated and slithered up the man's arm. The cobra coiled around his bicep and morphed into a snake-shaped silver armlet that shone softly in the moonlight.
"Is it gone?"
"No." The man touched the armlet, and she heard a faint metallic ring. "He'll come when he's called."
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't call him, then."
He grinned tightly, then immediately lost the smile. In the split second before he closed his expression, she saw incredible weariness-grief and tiredness that went beyond anything she understood. He looked fairly young, about thirty, but his eyes held the strain of someone who had watched ages pass.
The heels of his square-toed black boots clicked on the floor as he walked to her. When he sank down to study her, she finally got a view of his whole physique.
Strong. Big. The feeble adjectives welled up in her mind, but they kept her from blurting out, Would you look at those thighs. He was built like a wrestler, though not quite as bulked. His T-shirt stretched over tight, honed muscle, the neckline showing a dusting of black curls and an inviting sliver of chest. His hands were brown and sinewy, and a large silver ring she hadn't noticed before adorned the middle finger of his right hand.
His belt was of the finest alligator, and his jeans stretched enticingly over his groin. His face was hard and strong, cheekbones broad, his jaw square, nose broken more than once, black hair pulled back from a sharply defined brow.
His eyes arrested her. Cool darkness, a depth beyond anything she'd ever seen. Amber had some experience with otherworldly creatures-vampires with seductive eyes and werewolves with a golden gaze that trapped you before you could even think to run. But this man's eyes were different. She sensed something both ancient and as new as yesterday, a wisdom mixed with insatiable curiosity.
In spite of the spatter of black demon blood on his shirt and arms, he was utterly comfortable and unaware of his delectable looks.
"You like hiding behind that thing?" he asked, peering through the shield.
"Better safe than sorry, I always say."
He made a snatching motion at the bubble and it instantly dissolved, the light bleeding down into the salt outline before vanishing.
"Crap," she said softly. She wouldn't have time to charge the stones to raise another defensive barrier before he could strike. She was, as the phrase went, a sitting duck. No one should have been able to crack her shield like that.
"Your spells can't hurt me," he said, resting his hands on his knees. "And I won't hurt you, so don't strain yourself while I ask you questions."
She let her fear fan her anger. "Who the hell are you?"
"More important, who are you, and why are you brain-dead enough to summon a demon? Especially one of that caliber?"
"I didn't summon him."
He flicked his finger over her stones. "I see a circle. A chalice and knife, candles, salt, incense, stones. And when I came in, there was a demon. What, you wanted to cast his horoscope?"
"If you knew anything about witchcraft, you'd see this is a circle for protection only," Amber said.
"Which you just happened to cast in a warehouse in the middle of the night in a neighborhood of feral vampires. Not to mention rats, snakes, rabid dogs, and humans who'd roll you for a nickel." He leaned closer. "Why aren't you home tucked up in bed?"
"Why do you want to know?"
A corner of his mouth moved in impatience. "Just tell me."
"Tell me who you are, first."
He nodded once, as though her request was fair. "You can call me Adrian."
"Is that your name?"
"Can you be more specific? Like what is an Immortal? Are you a vampire?"
He shook his head. "Sweetheart, I'm what vampires fear. When vampires tell each other scary stories, they're about me."
"I see. You're not full of yourself or anything."
To her surprise, he chuckled. The smile made his eyes crinkle, softening them into something almost human. "I'm not a being of death magic, if that's what you're worried about. I'm definitely about life magic, like you. Which is why I want to know why you're messing with death magic. This whole place reeks of it."
"You can sense it too?"
"Sense it? I can't breathe without inhaling a shitload of it. Do you have a car?"
The abruptness of the question made her jump. "Yes. Why?"
He rose to his feet with lithe grace. "I say we blow this joint and get some coffee and talk. That's what Seattle's known for, right? Coffee?"
"I hate coffee," Amber said automatically. A drawback living in twenty-first-century America, never mind Seattle. She was forever explaining she didn't like the taste and earning incredulous looks from her coffee-saturated friends.
"I'll buy you tea. Come on." He reached down a broad hand to help her to her feet.
"Aren't you afraid I'll turn you into a toad?"
"I'll risk it."
She studied him a while longer, wondering why she even considered trusting him. He was a fine specimen of a man, yes, but she'd learned the hard way that looks could disguise any amount of badness. He should not have been able to break her circle without wielding powerful magic himself, but he did not feel like a demon, and she would have heard about any witch that strong.
His words about Seattle's coffee signaled that he was new in town, but why he should rush to this warehouse in the nick of time to save her was beyond her understanding. "Happened to be passing," my ass.
While he waited, she felt a small push on her mind, a light fog that relaxed her the slightest bit. Was it from the backwash of magic? Or was he a telepath? Either way, she wanted to know more about him.
"All right," she answered. "I think we definitely need to talk."
Like a gentleman, he helped her gather her accoutrements into the carved sandalwood box she'd inherited from her mother; then he snatched up his torn leather coat, swirled it around his shoulders, and led her out into the night.
"Cobras eat toads, I bet," the young woman said. Her car, a Honda showing the wear and tear of living in a rainy climate, waited for them calmly in the warehouse's empty, gravel-strewn parking lot.
"Don't give him ideas." Adrian slung the box into the back seat and held open the driver's-side door to let her in.
She gave him a startled look with her incredible eyes but climbed in and started the car. Instead of speeding off and leaving him stranded, she waited for him to get himself into the passenger seat and strap on a seat belt. He'd touched her mind a little, calming her and making her trust him-at least long enough for him to pry information out of her.
"Does your snake understand me?" she asked as she pulled away from the warehouse.
"Every word. At least that's what he tells me."
She gave him another startled look with eyes he wanted to get to know better. "He can talk?"
"Sometimes he never stops talking," Adrian said dryly. "You pick the place. Somewhere you like. You know the town better than I do, and I'll sit here and think about sampling Seattle's coffee."
Without answering, she pulled out onto a little-trafficked road, and he leaned against the window and contemplated her. Her long, slim fingers gripped the wheel as she sat upright and focused her gaze rigidly in front of her. He could feel the intensity of her, her fear, her anger-emotions she was not comfortable with. He sensed that these emotions hadn't plagued her much in her young life, and now she struggled to deal with them.
She had no taint of death magic on her. Some witches became seduced by it, the same way humans let demons or vampires seduce them in the back rooms of clubs in cities all across the world. It was a heady rush to command the sticky power of death magic, but it ultimately killed the witch who tried it. No witch was strong enough. But this woman seemed clean and free of it, a fact that had saved her life. Adrian would have killed her if he'd thought the death magic in the warehouse had come from her.
Excerpted from Immortals: The Calling by Jennifer Ashley Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Ashley. Excerpted by permission.
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