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Authors: Christina Dodd

Tags: #paranormal romance

Into the Shadow (8 page)

BOOK: Into the Shadow
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‘‘Why shouldn’t they be?’’ Warlord smiled his expression of composed amusement. ‘‘They’ve transported two shipments through the mountains with no trouble at all. It’s obvious the government crackdown has worked, and the rogue mercenaries are under control.’’

‘‘Of course.’’ Magnus slapped his forehead in mocking dismay. ‘‘I should have known.’’

Warlord was coolly confident. ‘‘When I came here fifteen years ago, I was a seventeen-year-old driven from his home by fear and guilt, sure of his damnation. Today we’re going to liberate the entire payroll for the Khalistan government officials.’’

‘‘Ye’ve come up in the world.’’

‘‘Yes. But have you seen the soldier who’s using the binoculars? The one with the bolts in his ears?’’

Magnus had. The guy was tall, burly, with a face that looked as if it had stopped a freight train. He wore earrings—earrings that looked not so much like jewelry, but like machinery. ‘‘Aye. I wonder who he’s looking for.’’

‘‘He’s looking for us.’’

‘‘So he’s one of the new mercenaries?’’

‘‘Good assumption.’’ In a long, slow breath, Warlord pulled the air into his lungs. ‘‘I don’t like the smell of him. He’s . . . sour.’’

‘‘Ye’ve got the nose for trouble.’’ And now Magnus knew why. ‘‘Shall we take care of him?’’

Warlord watched the big man. ‘‘No. That odor . . . it’s barely a hint on the air. But it reminds me of something; I can’t remember what . . . a danger to us.’’ His black eyes grew unfocused. He seemed to be looking inward. ‘‘Something’s coming . . . but it’s not here yet . . ."

‘‘Yer instincts are talking to ye, then?’’

‘‘Yes.’’ The word was barely a whisper on Warlord’s lips.

‘‘It’s good to see ye have yer concentration back,’’ Magnus said.

Slowly Warlord turned his head and stared.

‘‘You do have your concentration back, don’t you?’’ Magnus asked anxiously. ‘‘Now that you have the woman in your tent?’’

Warlord’s voice was level. ‘‘Have the profits dropped?’’

‘‘No.’’

‘‘Have the trades been untended?’’

‘‘No.’’

‘‘Then what’s your complaint?’’

‘‘Ye’re still a wee bit distracted, and in our business that’s asking for trouble.’’ Magnus knew that with one swipe of a claw Warlord could cut out his heart. But he had a duty to the men, and to Warlord himself, and the words needed to be spoken. ‘‘Now that ye know she’s safe, ye can put yer heart where it belongs—in the making of the money.’’

‘‘Your savings are safe in Switzerland. And don’t worry—my heart is just where it always was, cooking in hell.’’ Warlord drew another breath deep into his lungs. His head snapped up. Without any care at all he stood. ‘‘Follow the plan. Lead the men. I’ve got to go.’’

‘‘But . . . you . . . we . . .’’ Magnus could barely stammer his dismay.

Warlord leaned over, grabbed the front of Magnus’s shirt, and lifted him to eye level.
‘‘Don’t
fail me.’’

In a single bound Warlord slid from man to panther.

Chapter Ten
Hurry. Hurry.

He would know. He would find her.

Hurry
...

What was that?

Karen skidded to a halt. She turned.

The path stretched behind her, empty, rocky.

She looked around, yet saw nothing but the line of the Himalayas etched against the sky, jagged, pristine, indifferent. She listened, yet heard nothing but the ever-present wind, the thunder of a distant waterfall, the brief scream of a hawk overhead.

She’d been walking for a half hour, and she’d been nervous every minute.

But she was being ridiculous, granting Warlord powers no mere man could possess. He was gone from the camp. Unless he’d arrived back the very minute Karen left, she had a good chance of escaping.

She might not like the mountains, but she knew how to run, and she knew how to hide.

So she needed to
hurry
.

The path was no more than a slice of soft stone among the granite, but as long as it took her in the opposite direction from the warlord’s camp, she would follow.

She turned back with renewed intent, walking briskly between giant stones and through a high mountain meadow. The path dipped . . . she heard the soft sound of a footfall . . . she swung around again.

Nothing was there.

She scanned the meadow.

Nothing.

A movement caught her eye. But when she looked at the place she saw only the shadow of a high and distant cloud.

Nevertheless . . . she would have sworn that some
thing
moved through the grass after her.

Impossible. It must be the wind that rippled through the flowers.

Yet the hair stood up on the back of her neck.

She would have sworn someone—or something—was watching her.

She turned back to her journey, walked around a corner, and skidded to a stop.

‘‘Oh, help,’’ she whispered.

The path skittered along a cliff above and a two-hundred-foot chasm below, and narrowed to only six inches of crumbling rock. Below, the raging river chewed at the stones, licking away at the support, and this crossing made the terrifying jump from the warlord’s tent look simple.

When it came to heights, she was a coward. She knew it. Her father had taunted her often enough. And usually she handled her fear . . . but not today. Not when she was escaping a madman’s clutches. Not when she was imagining a pursuit that wasn’t there.

Taking a deep breath, she put her back against the cliff and inched forward, one foot after the other, eyes determinedly forward and staring across the chasm to the opposite cliff. She took deep, slow breaths, warding off hyperventilation. The cool breeze chilled the sheen of sweat on her face. She didn’t want to faint. No, God, please, don’t faint, because there was always a chance she’d live through the fall and suffer for days and nights of never-ending agony . . . like her mother. . . .

Worse, fear made her hallucinate.

She thought someone stood in front of her on the path. Someone who breathed hot breath on her neck.

With infinite care she turned her head to the side.

Warlord stood there, fierce and furious, staring into her eyes.

No. Oh, no.
It wasn’t possible. How did he find her so quickly?

‘‘You would face
this
. . . rather than me?’’ he asked.

‘‘What do you think?’’ Her insolence was instinctive—and misplaced.

For deep in his eyes that red flared, and he said, ‘‘I think you’ve made a terrible mistake.’’ He grabbed her.

For a long, bitter moment she thought he was going to throw her into thin air, and she was going to die. Die as she had died every night in her nightmares.

Instead he twirled her around, shoved her back to the meadow, and manhandled her to the ground, face-first. Her cheek crushed the green grass, and her eyes filled with disappointed tears.

But not for long. She breathed deeply, got control.

Karen Sonnet did not cry. She did not complain. She did not whine.

She had failed to escape. She would take whatever punishment he handed out—and when she got the chance, she would run again.

He picked her up and moved her around as if she weighed nothing, pulling her arms behind her and snapping cold metal around her wrists.

Handcuffs.

Setting her on her feet, he shoved her up the path she’d so recently descended. Karen knew rebellion, fear . . . and a mortifying relief that she didn’t have to continue down that narrow, dangerous, fracturing track.

What did that say about her? She would rather not know. ‘‘Listen,’’ she said.

‘‘When we get back.’’ Warlord walked so closely behind her his heat and rage seared her skin. He held her arms, controlling her firmly.

‘‘I don’t want to get back.’’

‘‘Too damned bad.’’ He walked a little too quickly for her, bumping the backs of her legs with his, making her stumble.

‘‘It’s ridiculous to think you want me enough to commit a crime.’’

‘‘I would never have thought you were a stupid woman.’’

She flung herself off the edge of the path and around to face him. ‘‘I am not stupid.’’

He spanned her waist with his hands, lifted her, and brought her close enough for their faces to touch. ‘‘What do
you
call a woman who doesn’t recognize a man in rut when she sees him?’’

She took a long, terrified breath as she fell into the flames in his dark eyes. ‘‘Men may be animals, but they do not rut.’’

‘‘How many men have you slept with? One? Did you pick out the most anemic dweeb in your high school to perform the deed?’’

‘‘College!’’ she gasped, because she thought the dweeb was less dweeby if he was older.

Then Warlord laughed, a husky purr of lethal amusement, and she knew she’d made a mistake. ‘‘Of course,’’ he said. ‘‘No glorious rush of adolescent hormones for you. You waited the proper amount of time, picked your man, and fucked him without an ounce of passion.’’

‘‘That’s not true!’’

He wrapped one arm around her waist, brought her close against his chest, and slowly but surely let her slide down his body. ‘‘It’s not true
now
. . . is it, Karen?’’

Her mouth went dry with fear . . . and desire.

Damn him.
She had told herself so many times that the soft emotions and strong passions no longer survived within her soul, and he made her feel them
all
.

He held her long enough for her to feel the heat of his erection. Then he turned her by the shoulders and marched her ahead of him again.

The walk back seemed to go too quickly, and each moment her tension increased.

Was he going to hurt her? Beat her? Kill her?

They reached his tent, and the narrow wooden bridge she’d searched for was now in place from the path to the tent. He shoved her across without a single care for her fear and hesitation, through the slit in the tent, and rolled her under the tapestry.

She heard Mingma’s glad cry of, ‘‘Oh, miss!’’ as she hurried toward her.

Warlord held out his hand in a
stop
gesture.

Mingma skidded to a halt.

‘‘Tomorrow, make sure you fix this seam in the tent.’’ He motioned her out.

She backed toward the door, her gaze on him, her expression fearful. She stopped at the entrance, put her hands together prayerfully, and begged him with her eyes.

That, more than anything, sent a chill through Karen’s veins.

‘‘I won’t kill her.’’

His harsh tone made Karen flinch.

As if that were the best she could hope for, Mingma bowed her head and slipped from the tent, leaving Karen alone with a warlord.

Her handcuffed hands were an insurmountable handicap, but Karen struggled to her knees, unwilling to loll on the floor like a helpless slave.

But when she would have stood, he pressed his hand to the top of her head and held her in place. He pulled a long, shiny blade from his belt, stepped behind her . . .

She closed her eyes in the anticipation of pain . . . and suddenly her hands were free.

He pulled her arms from her coat and tossed it aside.

For a second the memory of the icon slipped through her mind.

The Madonna was safe.

Then she pulled her hands to the front and stared at them, then stared harder, trying to believe the proof before her own eyes.

The cold metal on her wrists wasn’t steel, as she thought, but gold, not handcuffs, but wide and ornate gold bracelets. ‘‘What is this?’’

He dangled before her eyes a cut rope, the rope that had connected the bracelets.

Still she gaped at the jewelry that wrapped her wrists so closely. The gleaming gold had been worked, decorated with tiny beads of gold that all together formed a panther on the prowl. In front of the great cat was the crescent moon, also created by a series of tiny gold beads. They were stunning, unique, barbaric—and she couldn’t figure out how to remove them.

She tried to slip a finger between the metal and her wrist; the bracelets were tapered to fit close against her skin. She scratched at the seam, searching for a clasp; it was hidden by some clever device.

He watched, his mouth curled in a half smile. ‘‘They’re beautiful, aren’t they?’’

‘‘How do I get them
off
?’’

‘‘You don’t.’’

‘‘What?’’

‘‘Once they’re locked, they can’t be removed by anything but a jeweler with shears strong enough to cut them loose.’’ He picked up one of her wrists and traced the panther. ‘‘See this? This is me. And see this?’’ He ran his finger over the moon. ‘‘That is you. This marks you as my possession, and if you run away again, everyone in this part of the world will bring you back to me.’’

She thought, then stammered, ‘‘B-but that makes them slave bracelets.’’

‘‘Exactly.’’

Still she stared at the exquisite ornaments on her wrists, trying to comprehend more than just the words. . . .

When she did, rage blasted through her.

Without a thought to the consequences, guided by instinct and blinding rage, she launched herself at him.

She caught him by surprise, too, punching him in the solar plexus, knocking the breath from his lungs while at the same time using one wrist ornament in a punch hard enough to drive the outline of the prowling panther into his cheek.

Blood splattered. He staggered backward.

‘‘I am not a fucking decoration. I am not a thing you possess.’’ She propelled herself up off the floor in a side kick that would have made her jujitsu master proud. A kick that should have hit Warlord’s face and put him into a coma.

Yet it never landed.

Her first attack had caught him by surprise, but she wasn’t the only one who knew self-defense.

He swerved down and to the side.

Her kick went over his head. She landed off balance.

He pushed her feet out from underneath her.

She hit the floor hard.

He flew through the air toward her.

Still moving, she rolled toward him.

And he missed.

Almost.

She tried to stand.

He caught one gold-covered wrist and jerked her back down.

With her last gasp she brought the other bracelet toward the back of his head.

He caught her arm, stopping her inches from her goal.

Just like that, he had her.

He used his weight and size ruthlessly, straddling her hips, pressing her wrists over her head. Leaning close to her face, he stared into her eyes. Blood dripped onto her cheek from the cuts she’d made with the bracelet. She didn’t turn her head quickly enough, and a few drops splattered onto her lips.

His body weighed her down.

His blood colored her face.

She couldn’t stand it. With a quick motion she wiped her cheek on the carpet, licked the blood from her lips.

Its coppery taste stung the tissues of her mouth. Then—

The first grenade flew from his hand in a beautiful arc through the bright blue Tibetan sky, right into the convoy, and landed in the lead Jeep. The little pissant of a driver screamed; then the explosion rocked the pass and blew the Chinese general into a million pieces of—

As abruptly as she’d left, she landed back on the floor of Warlord’s tent. She sucked in a long gasp of air. Looked around wildly. Asked, ‘‘What was that?’’

Warlord held her just as he had before she . . . before she what? Flew into a memory? His memory?

And he didn’t know—because it hadn’t happened.
What she’d seen was impossible.

‘‘ ‘What was that?’ ’’ he mocked. ‘‘My blood in your mouth, my body mastering yours— what do you think? You
are
a decoration. You
are
my possession. And it’s time that I showed you what that means.’’

Still winded, she gasped harshly and managed, ‘‘At least I’ve marked you, too.’’

BOOK: Into the Shadow
2.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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