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New York City, July 18, 2009
Sam Rose was in a really lousy mood, until she saw the memo on her desk. "Party tonight at seven at Rupert Hemmer's. Bring stilettos and wear red."
She slowly smiled. Great, she shot back in an e-mail to her boss. I haven't been to a good party in ages.
It was three in the afternoon and she had just come into work, but she wasn't late. Evil played at night, which meant she worked at night, because her job was hunting down the bad guys and doing them in. In fact, she'd been hunting evil since she was twelve years oldsince the day her mother had been murdered.
It was ancient history now. Sam could think about Laura as she'd last seen her, even recalling her pale lifeless face, without a pang of sorrow or sadness. She'd learned long ago how to turn off any impending compassion. No Slayer could get the job done if he or she started feeling sorry for evil's victims. Laura's death had been Fate. Every Rose woman had a destiny, and hers was to be a Slayer.
That day, the need to vanquish evil had been branded into her soul. Now Sam looked forward to the night. Others feared the shadowsas they should; she thrilled when the moon rose. Others feared the sound of heavy breathing behind them; she relished evil daring to pursue her. Let it try! She hunted with a vengeanceliterally.
Nick Forrester had recruited her into the Historical Crimes Unit at CDA almost a year ago, ending her years of cruising as a vigilante. The Center for Demonic Activity was a clandestine government agency founded by Thomas Jefferson, who'd established the agency shortly after his presidency had begun. He'd believed then, as was believed now, that the public couldn't handle the truth.
Sam agreed. If the public ever knew that evil was a race ruled by the great Satan and intent on destroying humanity, chaos would ensue. It was hard enough saving the day as it was, without everyone running around in a state of abject fear and mass hysteria. It was definitely better that the public thought crime was simply out of control and society in a state of impending anarchy. Sometimes, listening to the news anchors and the accompanying social commentary, Sam would laugh at their politically correct theories.
Now, thinking about her boss's memo, Sam was thoughtful. Rupert Hemmer was a middle-aged developer who was on his fourth or fifth trophy wife; he was the city's most notorious billionaire. She recalled reading or hearing something about a big bash for his wife's birthday. But Nick didn't travel in those circles, and he did not do parties. This was not a social occasion. And that meant Hemmer's party had bad vibes attached to it. Hemmer, as rich and powerful as he was, might even be one of the bad guys. In any case, he was not your ordinary guy and his guests wouldn't be ordinary, either. Sam was gleeful. Tonight promised to be fun.
Sam made the mistake of glancing at the tear-off calendar on her desk and all glee vanished. She smiled grimly at the date. In four more days, it would be her birthday.
Last year, they'd all been together. This year, her sister, Tabby, and her cousin, Brie, were gone.
Abruptly, Sam brought her PC out of sleep mode. She refused to acknowledge the pang that went through her. Of course she missed Tabby and Brie. She missed their best friend, Allie, too. Allie was a Healer and Tabby was a witch, and Brie had her own gifts. They'd fought to protect and defend civilians together for years, because that was what Rose women had been doing for generations. Now she worked alone. And that was just fine. Brie and Tabby had met their destiny in the past, as had Allie. In truth, as smart as Brie had been, she'd been a bit of a klutz, and Tabby's spells had been erratic. Sam had always had to keep one eye on them while fighting off their enemies, especially after Allie had left them. Now, she could focus on evil and the Innocent. It was so much simpler.
The bottom line was that a Slayer was meant to live alone, fight alone, and eventually, die alone. And that was as it should be.
So she'd spend her birthday alone. Who cared? She'd pick up a hottie and before she even knew it, the day would have passed. Sam flipped the calendar over and Tabby's photograph faced her. It was Sam's favorite picture of her sister. Tabby wore her pearls, reminding her of how gentle and classic her sister had been.
Tabby remained gentle and classic, she reminded herselfjust in another time.
She turned the photo over and started to do a search within HCU's immense database on Rupert Hemmer. As she did, someone rapped on her open door. Sam felt his power without seeing who it was and was annoyed as she looked up.
MacGregor grinned. "What happened to you last night? Only one kill and two escapes?"
"Get lost," she said. He'd brought down five full demons last night.
"Boy toy must have worn you out."
"He sure did," she lied. Everyone knew she was a very liberated woman. She used men the way a playboy used women, and why not? She liked and needed sex. Except, she'd been off her game for a few months now. Her sex drive had been lacking. She was almost ready to wonder about it. "And you can't stand it, can you?"
"You'll come around," MacGregor said with his usual arrogance. He'd been coming on to her ever since she'd begun working at HCU. "Sooner or later, you'll figure out what you're missing, Sam."
"You're too old for me." She shrugged. He was probably thirty to her almost twenty-eight.
He laughed and walked away as a young, dark-haired woman poked her head into her office. "Got a moment?"
Sam leaned back in her desk chair. "Sure." She considered Kit Mars somewhat of a friend, now that Tabby, Allie and Brie were gone. Kit was her own age, and as fervent about the war on evil as she was. She'd been recruited out of the NYPD Vice Unit, and even though she was still officially a rookie at the agency, she was tough and sharp and good to have around in the middle of the night. Once in a while, they even had a drink together.
Kit sauntered in, a newspaper in her hand. As usual, she didn't wear any makeup. She really didn't have toshe had striking, handsome features. She slapped the New York Times down on Sam's desk, then glanced at the down-turned calendar and photograph. Sam felt as if she'd been caught red-handed in a crime.
Kit hesitated. "It's okay to miss your sister."
Sam grimaced and put the photo back in its proper position and place. "What are you, a mind reader now?" She spoke calmly.
"I don't have to read your mind to know how hard it is to lose a sibling."
"I didn't lose a sibling. Tabby's alive and well, somewhere in medieval Scotland, making magic with her Highlander." The moment Sam spoke, she was sorry for her sharp words. Kit's twin sister had died in her arms in Jerusalem when they were only eighteen.
"Yes, she is," Kit said seriously. "But she's not here, is she?"
Sam stiffened. "Do you really want to get on my case?"
Kit winced. "No, I don't, but I know how close you were. I still miss Kelly. I was just trying to be kind."
Sam inhaled. "Okay. Be kind. But take my advice. Kind and caring won't get the demons dead. It will get you dead."
Kit grimaced. "I'm working on it," she finally said.
Sam couldn't read minds, but she knew Kit was thinking she was a real hard-ass. "Good. That will make Papa Nick proud. So, what's this?" Sam pulled the newspaper forward. Her eyes widened at the sight of Rupert Hemmer's photograph on the front page and then she was thoroughly diverted by the accompanying headline. Hemmer Acquires Rare Celtic Manuscript For 212 Million.
Sam dragged the paper forward, her excitement instantaneous. There had been an auction at Sotheby's the night before, and Hemmer had bought a page from a centuries-old Celtic manuscript, believed to be the oldest written Celtic text ever discovered. Sam cried out as she kept reading. Historians claimed the page was part of an ancient and holy book called the Duisean, which had been enshrined in a monastery on the island of Iona in medieval times. Some historians thought that the shrine had been guarded by a secret brotherhood of pagan warrior knights, and that the book had been the key to their power in the medieval world.
Sam looked up, her pulse racing. She happened to know that the Duisean existed. In fact, parts of it were believed to be floating around the present time. As for the secret warrior society, it existed, too. She was smiling now. "Did you get an invite to Hemmer's tonight?"
Kit nodded. "Yeah, I did. And I'd already seen this earlier today, but I didn't read it or notice the bit about the Duisean. Now it's starting to make sense. Sam, he had the page transported to his penthouse last night in an armored vehicle. He has an extensive art collection there, and apparently he keeps it in an impregnable vault."
So that was why they were going to the Hemmers'. Locating whatever they could from the ancient book was on HCU's master agenda. Sam stared at Kit as she sat down in a chair facing the desk.
Nick probably knew more about the secret brotherhood than any other person living in modern times. Last year, Brie had been abducted by a medieval Highlander who had been turned to evil. Brie had also worked at CDA and Nick was notoriously obsessed with not "losing" agents in time. He'd chosen Sam to go back to help him find Brie. When she and Nick had brought her cousin back to New York, Brie had been thoroughly debriefed. The warriors called themselves Masters; at HCU, they'd been dubbed the Masters of Time.
Of course, Brie had gone back to Aidan of Awe anyway, having fallen in love with him even before helping him return to the Brotherhood. But HCU had gained lots of new information to play withincluding the possibility that the missing Duisean might be in New York City, and in the hands of a great demon.
Sam's excitement increased. She believed in the Duisean. The Rose women had their own book, the Book of Roses, which contained all the magic and wisdom entrusted to them by higher powers, and passed down through the generations. The Book was now in Tabby's keeping it was always in the keeping of a Rose witch. One of the Highlanders had come for it, to bring it back to her. Why wouldn't the Masters of Time have a book of power? They were a warrior society sworn to protect Innocence, and they needed warrior powers to do so. It just made sense.
"Is Hemmer evil?" Sam asked flatly. Finding the Duiseanand making sure it did not fall into the wrong handswas a priority.
"I wondered that myself. I already checked, and there is a file on him. It's flagged for possible demonic connections."
"That could make him anythingthe real deal, a mixed breed or possessed." Sam wet her lips. "But it doesn't matter. He can't have any part of the Duisean. Shit." It began to dawn on her how dangerous a demon or a half demon could become, if armed with power meant for the good guys.
"It might not be authentic, Sam," Kit pointed out.
"Yeah. We need to see it up close and personal." She was wry. "Where are the near-immortals when you need one?"
Kit ignored that. "Getting into that vault is almost impossible and it won't happen tonight," she said. "No one goes into that vault without Hemmer, and he's very picky about who he invites for a viewing."
Sam deliberately folded her arms and crossed her long, sculpted legs. Her idea of a great day was competing in a triathlon. She also ran marathons, kick-boxed, biked and skied. She was wearing her usual denim miniskirt, this one gray and frayed, with a studded belt and midcalf, high-heeled tan boots, despite the heat. She wagged her booted foot at Kit.
"I agree," Kit said, grinning. "You're the most likely candidate to persuade him to take you into the vault."
Based on his memo, Nick obviously thought so, too. In spite of his new wife, Hemmer was notorious for his infidelities. Tonight, he'd be toast.
"No one is persuading Hemmer of anything tonight," Nick Forrester said, walking into their midst. He was a tall, good-looking man and a legend in the agencyfor his conquests, both demonic and not, and because of the rumors that he'd been around for decades, although he appeared to be in his late thirties. He was controlling, which was annoying, but damned good at organizing and directing the war on eviland he'd die for any of his agents. Sam hated to admit it, but she liked him. And she respected him immensely.
He was also impossibly sexist. He glanced at Sam's legs, but she was used to it. She expected men to look at her. "Tonight is strictly surveillance," he told them. "I don't know if the page is the real deal yet and we don't know just how tainted Hemmer is. I want photos, ladies, lots and lots of photos, so Big Mama can make up architectural and mechanical plans. And while you're at it, you can bring me a swab of Hemmer's DNA." He smiled at Sam. "Just pique Hemmer's interestfor now."
"No problem," Sam said, standing. Sometimes tainted humans had the barest percentage of demonic blood, but it was enough to make their evil frightening. "Are you coming to play, too?"
"Not a good idea. Hemmer and I have never met, so let's just say the timing isn't right."
The easier for Nick to catch Hemmer by surprise, Sam thought.
"I want a word with you," Nick said to Sam.
Without having to be told, Kit picked up the newspaper and left.
Nick stared, his blue eyes piercing. "Maclean is on the guest list."
Sam worked really hard to keep her facial muscles frozen.
"Give it up," he said. "You want Lover Boy, and we both know it."
Not only didn't she want Maclean, she couldn't stand him. Sam followed Nick down the hall and into his office, aware of a new tension riddling her body and the fact that her fists were clenched. Instantly she loosened them. The only thing she wanted in regards to Maclean was payback. Because he was a son of a bitch.
"Take off the dress."
She seethed, standing with him in a fancy salon in his fancy Scottish mansion. "You are an unbelievable bastard."
He laughed. "I've heard it a thousand times. What's wrong? Are ye afraid of the bright lights?"