Paladin (Graven Gods 1)
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2016 Angela Knight
Available Electronic File Formats:
Amazon Kindle, Mobi/PRC, Adobe PDF, Epub
195 Independence Drive
Roebuck, SC 29376
Editor: Margaret Riley
Copy Editor: Pat Sager
Line Editor: Emilie Pitt
Cover Artist: Fiona Jayde
This ebook file contains adult language and sexually explicit love scenes which some may find offensive and which is not appropriate for a young audience. Angela Knight’s e-books are for sale to adults, only, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.
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Struggling novelist Summer St. Clare can’t remember her murdered mother’s face, or most of her childhood before the age of twelve. The only constant in her life is Paladin, once her imaginary childhood friend, now the handsome detective of her urban fantasy series.
There’s nothing imaginary about Paladin now. Hot, seductive and dangerous, Paladin blurs the line between fantasy and reality. The passion Summer experiences in his arms makes her question what’s real -- or whether she cares.
Someone else believes in Paladin, and he wants Summer dead. Her confusion mounts when she fights off five attackers with a display of dazzling martial arts skills she doesn’t remember acquiring. As she searches for answers and runs for her life, her dream lover becomes more real with every kiss.
This book is dedicated to my critique partner Joey Hill and editor Shelby Morgen. It’s a lot of work to check a 70,000 word book for errors, characterization, and plot problems. If this book is at all readable, Margaret and Joey get a lot of credit. Any errors are mine.
I’d also like to thank my artist buddy, Fiona Jayde, for her hard work on the cover.
Last but definitely not least, I’d like to thank you, my readers, for picking up my first foray into self-publishing. I’ve written a lot of books, but this is the first I’ve done solo (though with a little help from my friends). I hope you enjoy it!
Paladin kissed me, deep and desperate, as he often did when he returned. It poisoned him, the job he’d taken on because some subconscious need of humanity demanded justice. Demanded balance against the vicious and the murderous and the uncaring.
I slid out of sleep as his lips teased mine. Moaning, I tasted his magic, a current rushing from his mouth to mine. Light flowed into me on the thrust of his tongue.
His kiss tasted of ozone, an electric glitter that lit the darkness behind my closed lids as he spilled power into me. Power and the copper penny tang of blood.
They’ve bled him
, I thought, with a stab of pain.
They’ve hurt him
. And if they hurt him, he could have died. I’d rather die myself.
“Shhhh.” He soothed me, fingers seeking nipples drawn tight by his kiss. Light spilled from his hands, pouring from his skin into mine, turning my fear into need. His fingers traced over my ribs, trailing sweet neural sparks that built need into desire. Pleasure rushed in with the magic, flowing along my nerves, flushing out the last of the fear with the warm tidal rise of delight.
My pussy grew slick as I arched into his hard strength. He pinched my nipple harder, making me suck in a desperate breath. “Did he hurt you?” I gasped. “I can taste the blood.”
“Hardly. The blood is his. It would take more than Gerald Moss to lay so much as a spark on me.”
“The usual. He was just another acolyte of Valak’s. Not particularly challenging to track down, or to eliminate once I found him. I don’t want to talk about it. You’ll remember it later anyway, whether I want you to or not. The spell won’t hold much longer.” His voice dropped to the soft growl that made my pussy even wetter. “And we have more interesting things to do now.”
“Yes. God, yes!”
He smiled at my eagerness, the expression lightening the darkness in his eyes as I squirmed under his hands. He seemed to know every synapse in my body and how to stir each one to pleasure, taking a wicked delight in the process. I loved his touch, loved surrendering to him and climbing the heights he could drive me to.
The thought that I could’ve lost him tonight…
“Shhhh,” he repeated. “It didn’t happen. It won’t happen.”
And I believed him as he stroked me with tender brushes of his fingertips over the curve of my waist and hips and breasts. He kissed me in the path of those caresses, slowly, as if savoring the taste of my skin.
Hypnotized, I watched him, panting and dizzied. My hands tangled in the cool silk of his hair, threading among the curls, sliding down to the warm strength of his shoulder, thick and smooth under my fingers.
His hand slipped between my legs, finding me already slick and tight. He slid a teasing finger deep, thrusting as his thumb danced over the erect nub of my clit. With a groan, I spread my thighs, giving myself up to him. Pleasure floated up in long spirals like sparks from a candle flame, swirling with the smoky delight as strong fingers tugged with delicate care.
“That’s it,” he breathed. “You know what I want. Come for me.”
His thumb strummed with the perfect pressure at just the right spot. My hand curled into a fist as I rolled my hips to meet his clever fingers. The orgasm took me, grabbed me hard and dragged me up as I cried out with the intensity of it, burning so sweet and merciless.
Something else rose from the depths of my brain, a wash of hot power that bowed my spine, making me scream, building to a roiling geyser of magic surging down my shoulders to burst from my fingers in stinging sparks.
Above me, Paladin’s eyes widened in alarm. “No, Summer, not yet! He’ll sense…”
But he was too late. I had no control at all as the magic exploded through the barriers I hadn’t even known were there. It burst from my very pores like steam under pressure, lighting up the darkness…
* * *
Light woke me, color shimmering beyond my closed eyelids.
I opened my eyes to find sparks dancing in the dark. Flashes of cobalt blue, cyan and turquoise orbited my fingertips as my right hand curled, palm up on the quilt. I smiled in muzzy wonder at the floating fireworks as I lay on my side, sleep drunk.
Dreaming. Gotta be dreaming
Yeah, that’s right. I’d been dreaming about making love to Paladin.
It was a hell of an improvement over the clawed, furry hand I’d once seen grope its way over the edge of the mattress. I’d woken from that particular nightmare standing all the way out in the hall, heart thundering so hard my ears pulsed with sheer animal terror.
My dreams could be fanged, nasty bitches. Even Paladin couldn’t keep them away.
But this time the sparks didn’t vanish when the fog of sleep lifted. I raised my hand, watching dancing light trailing after my fingers.
What the hell is that
, I thought, charmed and bewildered.
No, you might get a lone spark from scuffing your feet across the carpet, not this flashing comet tail in the dark.
I rolled out of bed, watching my hand trail glitter. As I straightened, a roil of energy poured from the base of my brain, making gooseflesh rise on the back of my neck with the power rolling across my shoulders and down my arms. I spread fizzing fingers, and the sparks spun out of my hand into a ball that floated weightlessly above my palm. It felt as warm as summer sunlight. The blue tattoo on my palm glowed, sparks floating lazily upward toward the ball of light.
Weirdest dream ever
Because that’s what it had to be.
There’s no such thing as magic
. Yeah, all the armchair physics I’d read insisted that when you got to the quantum level -- even deeper than neutrons, electrons and protons, down among the quarks and elemental forces -- weird shit happened. But out here where we humans live, magic was impossible.
Yet that globe of sparks still orbited over my palm, stubbornly existing.
I glanced around the bedroom. Nope, no Tinkerbell. No Paladin either, since he was just as fictional as Tink. Nothing more than the voice of my writer’s subconscious.
As I gazed at the globe in hypnotized wonder, something happened. My awareness seemed to expand beyond the limits of my body, and I could feel the big Victorian house around me -- the creaking floorboards covered by worn Persian carpets, the circling sweep of narrow stairs, the elderly kitchen and stately dining room, the bedrooms with all their antiques. At the very top of the house lay the long, high-ceilinged dojo that made up the third floor. Must have been a ballroom or attic once, a hundred and fifty years ago when the house was new.
What had it been like when my family lived here, before tragedy took them and stole my memory?
I shook off the pain, blinking dry, open eyes and frowned at the sparks tumbling over my palm as if caught in an invisible snow globe. I felt awake, not that that meant a damned thing, given my dreams. So why were sparks fizzing above my hand?
Summer, what are you doing
?” The female voice had a purring growl vibrating in its psychic depths. Definitely not Paladin’s rumble. “
You’re going to draw his attention
Hair rose on the back of my neck as an icy exhalation of terror blew away my wonder. My hands started to shake, my mouth flooding with the brassy taste of adrenaline as I scanned for the source of the fear.
. I could feel it out there in the city somewhere. Impossibly old, swollen like a tick with stolen magic and other people’s blood. It wanted to kill me. Rip my soul apart like cotton candy.
The way it killed my mother
I blinked, and it wasn’t sparks floating over my right hand, but an acetylene blue fireball. My palm felt singed as if I held my fingers over a griddle. My left hand burned too, violet and hot.
Something ran up the stairs in thumping bounds. I whirled toward the sound, instinctively backing away.
The bedroom door slammed open so hard it bounced against the wall. I screamed as glowing eyes shot across the floor toward me. I tried to dodge, but the thing slammed into my shins. I staggered and almost fell on my ass. Pain slashed my ankles. The fireball winked out.
The room flooded with illumination as both bedside lamps and the ceiling light flashed on, though I hadn’t touched the switches. The ink-black shape yowled, sounding panicked, and pain raked my skin again.
“Oh Jesus, cat!”
She had both forepaws wrapped around my ankle, needle claws dug deep as she howled a cycling wail of terror. “Calliope! Get off!” I hopped, glad I hadn’t obeyed my first impulse and kicked her across the room. The furry little psycho refused to let go. She lifted her head, clinging to my leg stubbornly as she stared into the distance, her clutch going oddly protective. Her wail dropped into a deep basso growl that sounded like something a hell of a lot bigger than a house cat.
“Damn it, beast!” I reached down and peeled her off my ankle as she spat kitty curses. Writhing in my hold, she hissed at me, ears flattened to her skull, blue eyes crazed. Every long black hair on her body bushed, making her look twice her normal size. “Calliope, calm down!”