Read The Golden Bell Online

Authors: Autumn Dawn

Tags: #General Fiction, #scifi, #shapeshifter, #paranormal, #slipstream, #adventure, #action

The Golden Bell

 

The Golden Bell

 

by

Autumn Dawn

 

 

SMASHWORDS EDITION

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

PUBLISHED BY:

Autumn Dawn on Smashwords

 

The Golden Bell

Copyright © 2010 by Autumn Dawn

www.autumndawnbooks.com

 

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the
rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication
may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the
prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above
publisher of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author
acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various
products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used
without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not
authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark
owners.

* * * * *

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

It hurt. Rain glanced over her shoulder,
crouched on the gritty alley floor. The fall had skinned her palms
and knees, and the wounds stung. But they were coming; she could
hear them over the sounds of midnight traffic, though she didn’t
try to peer into the glare of streetlights. She ran.

Breathless, trembling with adrenaline and
exhaustion, she forced herself into a stumbling lope. Her
sweat-soaked jeans and t-shirt had turned clammy, adding to the
misery. She would have loved to ditch her ragged jacket and pack,
but didn’t dare; they comprised all of her worldly goods, and she
needed them in the chill London fog.

Scaling the chain link fence at the end of
the alley was easy, evading the snarling Doberman who went for her
throat was not. With no time for regret, she gave it a hearty kick,
sprinted across the lawn and jumped, grabbing the top of the ornate
stone fence. She swung her legs up and slipped over, barely making
it before the dog sunk teeth into her.

Another empty alley.

Stink rose to assault her nostrils, and she
groaned. Thanks, Fido. If she didn’t watch it, her hunters would
smell her coming. To add insult to injury, she started to sneeze.
Great. Wonderful time for canine allergies to strike.

Trying to catch her breath, she moved
cautiously down the white-lit brick canyon, praying she’d lost
them. She sneezed again, tried to muffle it. She was so tired. The
next time she fell, she might not get up.

Listening, straining her preternaturally keen
ears to catch any noise, she searched for sounds of pursuit.
Finding none, she slowly relaxed and sank against the chilly wall,
ignoring the trash at her feet. She’d made it.

Suddenly light exploded into the alley.
Deafened by the shouts of men and barking dogs, blinded by the
sudden glow, Rain saw death coming and despaired.

 

“Wake up!”

A slap accompanied the brutal voice, jerking
Rain from the comfort of darkness. Moaning, she pried open her eyes
and blinked at the murky cell. She didn’t remember coming there,
but she did recall being jabbed with something. Cuffs bound her
wrists behind her, and her rear was planted on a hard wooden chair.
Did they mean to question her? The word torture flitted across her
mind, and she shuddered. Please, God, no!

Her tormenter, a scarred blighter in working
class clothes, took a narrow-eyed look at her and glanced at the
other man in the cell, an older gentleman in a suit. What hair he
had left was iron gray, perfectly matching the winter coldness in
his faded blue eyes. He looked her over and smiled without humor.
“Rain, is it? Daughter of Rian Miller?”

She shivered. “Who are you?”

The smile-that-wasn’t curved his lips again.
“Taught you some unusual things, didn’t he? Lock picking,
shooting…how to run and how to hide.”

Nervous now, she felt the cold sweat start
again. Her father had been dead for a year; killed by the very
people she now suspected held her, but few people had really known
him, known what he was. These people were not so blissfully
ignorant.

By the chill satisfaction in his eyes, he was
enjoying her torment. “I have a few questions for you, my dear.
Rory!”

A tall, dark man entered at his command,
favoring the gent with a cold look. “I’m not deaf, Trent.”

“Mr. Trent,” the scarred one said
aggressively, stepping toward him.

Mr. Trent held up his hand, stopping his
goon. To Rory he said, “Question her.”

Rory sent a cold look her way. “Question is
all I’ll do. I’m getting bloody sick of your games, Mr. Trent.”

“Strive to remember what happens when you
fail me,” Mr. Trent said coldly, “and remember who gets hurt.”

His lip curled, but Rory turned to Rain.
Softening a little, he asked gently, “What’s your name, love?”

Rain hadn’t lived twenty-two years without
seeing some good-looking men. This one, however, put them all to
shame. Black hair, deep green eyes and a face to make an angel weep
were temptation enough, but there was something more, something she
couldn’t place. Did he wear cologne? That had to be it, for a scent
of tempting power hung about him, though she’d never known a
fragrance to addle her so. Just breathing it made her tired blood
stir, and the longer he stood by her, the worse the sensation
became. Sex in a bottle, her muddled brain exclaimed, trying dimly
for a warning, but whatever it was telling her became lost in his
eyes.

The goon said something to Mr. Trent. The
haze she was under dulled their words, but she thought she heard
the goon say, “This one’s got it bad.”

Rory smirked at her, but the scent messed
with her perceptions, because her heart insisted it was an
expression of sympathy. “I don’t think we’ll be needing these, will
we?” he said, moving slowly around her to touch her cuffs. She felt
a key slide into the cuffs and they fell away, granting her blessed
freedom. Rubbing her aching arms, she felt gratitude swell. “Thank
you.”

Rory looked her over. “What’s a sweet thing
like you done to get yourself in this mess? Don’t you have mates
who will be looking for you?”

In the background, she could hear the goon
telling Mr. Trent, “I’ll bet he asks for this one when he’s done.
She’d be a looker if she cleaned up, and our Rory does like to have
his fun before you dispose of them.”

She heard, but the words meant nothing. So
long as she could smell Rory, feel the thunder in her blood from
breathing him in, nothing else mattered. “Friends…no, I have no
friends.”

Rory frowned. “How can that be? A nice girl
like you must have lots of friends. What about your father’s mates?
Won’t they help you?”

She thought, very willing to tell him
everything she knew. “I…I haven’t seen anyone since my father
died.”

He smiled comfortingly. “But you know where
they are, right? Those mates of his?” He glanced at Trent, then
moved closer to whisper in her ear, “I can help you. Tell me where
to find your father’s friends, and I can help them find you.”

The touch of his mouth against her ear sent
shockwaves down her spine. Longing seized her. Just let him touch
her…

“Like animals for him, I hear. Scream and
scratch while he’s riding him, and beg for more, they say. Makes me
wish I were the charmer. Lucky bloke.”

“Shut up! And make sure that recorder is
working. We want to get every name.”

Blocking her view of the men with his body,
Rory hunched down to her level, tracing the skin of her face with
one finger. “Tell me the names, sweetheart. Tell me how to find
them.”

It was too much. Breathless, desperate to
please him, she opened her mouth. “My father’s cousin used to live
in…”

An enormous blast shook the cell,
obliterating her words. Screaming, she threw her hands up and
ducked her head, instinctively protecting her face. Dust clogged
the air and Rory cursed as soldiers in black burst into the room,
killing the goon and capturing Mr. Trent.

She didn’t spare a thought for Trent, but
instantly got in front of Rory, protecting him with her body. She
didn’t care what happened to her, but she had to save him.

A tall man strode through the dust, and
everything stilled. He radiated command, powerful as the desert
sun. Not all of his size was in his legs, either; those powerful
shoulders gave her pause. His long blond hair was tied back, and
though it was too murky to tell the color of his eyes, the
expression in them chilled her.

But those eyes were not fixed on her. “Hello,
Rory.” Cold menace vibrated in every word.

“Fallon. Fancy meeting you here,” Rory said
flippantly. “Come to shoot the breeze, or is this business?”

Fallon looked at Rain, and she quickly inched
back. Rory was directly behind her, but she wasn’t taking chances.
“Leave him alone!” she warned the stranger.

Rory laughed. “Feisty, ain’t she? What can I
do, mate? Your women all love me.”

“Move out of the way, Rain,” Fallon ordered
her calmly.

Beyond the point of wondering how he knew her
name and why he was here, she tensed to fight. “No! You won’t touch
him! He was trying to help me.” She saw one of the soldiers inching
to her left, but was too distracted by the menace in front of her
to do anything.

Slowly, Fallon’s eyes lifted to Rory. “How
many women has it been now, Rory? How many of us have you helped to
kill?”

“He’s a liar,” Rory told her soothingly, when
she shot him a quick look. “Don’t worry over it, love.”

She relaxed and glared at Fallon. “I won’t
listen to you.” There was a game afoot, though she was oblivious to
its rules. Somehow she was at the center, though why was elusive.
Caring was elusive. In close proximity with Rory’s scent teasing
her nose, it just didn’t matter.

But Rory’s distraction had proved fatal. With
a sudden roar, the soldier who’d shifted to their left charged,
taking Rain down in a flying tackle. Shots were fired, but she was
so tangled up she couldn’t see. Twisting, the soldier managed to
land on the bottom, taking the brunt of the fall, and as they
landed, she saw Rory jerk. His gun discharged, the bullet striking
stone, and he toppled to the floor on his back.

Rain began to scream.

 

Fallon’s jaw clenched as he watched two of
his men trying to subdue the wild woman. Taking Rory down had taken
precious time, and they couldn’t allow this. Pity she hadn’t seen
the gun at her head, threatening her life, but he wasn’t surprised
at her fury. The charmer’s pheromone was a dangerous thing, and
she’d already been in his power when they’d arrived. A nap would do
her a lot of good.

Striding to her side, he evaded her kicking
foot and applied pressure to her carotid artery. In seconds she
collapsed like a doll.

“Bring her,” he ordered his men. They had to
get to the choppers in a hurry, before the Cult figured out their
bird had flown and sent reinforcements. They wouldn’t like losing
an informant, though to his knowledge the Cult had already killed
most of her friends and family, thanks to her cousin’s unwilling
help. Fallon was determined that the Black Charmers wouldn’t get
another shot at her, even if he had to shift her off-world.

His fellow Haunts, as humans had labeled them
long ago, closed in around him and their precious cargo. Females of
their species were well protected, and not a man there approved of
what had almost happened to her. Rory was Trent’s deviant son, and
he’d had a bargain with his father. He’d used his sexual pheromones
and suggestive abilities, effective only on female Haunt, to
question the women. The names of other Haunt were coaxed from her,
his father went on a killing spree, and Rory used the women until
he tired of them. The bodies were disposed of when he’d
finished.

It was reason enough to take a man’s life,
and Fallon had enjoyed doing it.

They made it to the choppers, thankful that
the blast had taken out the portion of Trent’s estate that had
housed his troops. Fallon’s men picked off the remaining snipers.
They needed no night goggles to pierce the inky night, and all of
them were expert marksman.

Fallon glanced at Trent and the girl. Trent
would be questioned and disposed of like the carrion he was, and
Fallon had to find a safe place for the girl. Off-world was best,
but he didn’t know how much she knew, or even if she’d be willing
to use the gate. It was going to take time to settle her, and there
was only one place he would have leisure to do that.

 

Rain woke in the chopper, but was wise enough
to stay silent. She couldn’t have said much over the chopper’s
blades, anyway, but she kept her mouth shut until they’d landed and
herded her toward a sleek private jet. Dawn was beginning to
lighten the horizon and a chill breeze had kicked up when she
demanded, “Where are we going?”

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