Read Warrior's Heart: Iron Portal Series (Paranormal Romance) Online
Authors: Laurie London
Copyright 2015, Laurie London
All rights reserved.
Cover Design: Patricia Schmitt (Pickyme)
Edited by: Kim Nadelson, Megan Stevens
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Books in the Iron Portal Series
Can be read as standalones. No cliffhangers. *
(Rickert and Neyla)
(Asher and Olivia)
(Vince and Zara)
(Toryn and Keely)
Zara Kane is leading a double life. By day, she’s a respected antiquities expert at a college library. But by night, she’s a thief, stealing back artifacts that belong to her homeland.
When Zara learns that a man she once loved—who abandoned her when she needed him the most—has been wrongly imprisoned, she must use her para-ability Talent to orchestrate a daring escape.
Vince Crawford is a damaged man. After years of torture and suffering, the beautiful boy with the sparkling brown eyes is gone, replaced by a jaded ex-con hell-bent on revenge. He isn’t afraid of anything…
But when the woman he’s never stopped loving and the son he never knew are threatened by a ruthless enemy who knows they’re his greatest weakness, Vince will stop at nothing to keep them safe…even if it costs him his life.
for him at dusk, three dark silhouettes against the setting sun.
Although there were other prisoners here, Vince Crawford knew
was the reason for their arrival. He was always the reason.
An icy wind blew along the railroad tracks, bending and snapping the fir boughs like arms waving at him, mocking his imminent departure. Because the only place he was going was back to the Institute.
The men stopped at the overseer’s truck, where Palmer stood in the back of the bed, lording over the place. Anyone who dared to interrupt him and his prisoners had better have a damn good reason. It didn’t take long until he was gesturing wildly and pointing in this direction.
Vince cursed. Just once, he’d like to be wrong. Was that too much to ask? Figures they’d come for him
he’d put in a full day’s work.
The other prisoners around him talked in hushed tones, wondering whom they’d come for and why. Logically, Vince knew they could be here for any of them. He wasn’t the only Talent who had refused to join the army and been incarcerated here.
But it didn’t matter what the Pacifican army did to him, he would never use his special abilities to help them.
Keetch leaned on his shovel and sneered at the new guy on their crew, a skinny kid with a pasty white complexion. “What’d you do this time, Chaddie boy? Sneak an extra piece of toast at breakfast? Refuse to take your meds?”
Chad’s eyes widened and he swallowed nervously, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “I…I didn’t do anything.” He hadn’t yet figured out that Keetch was a bullshitter and you had to just roll with it.
The kid couldn’t be more than seventeen or eighteen years old, the same age Vince was when he arrived at the Institute’s prison ten years ago. He’d never forget that cold, dark day when everything had changed—his family destroyed, the future he’d dreamed of shattered.
“If he hadn’t taken his meds,” Vince said, “do you think they’d have waited this long to retrieve him?”
“True dat,” Keetch said, grinning. “If he hadn’t, he’d have fire-breathed all over your ass by now.” He opened his mouth and exhaled loudly, pretending to expel flames. Several others laughed.
“I’m not a Fire-Talent,” Chad mumbled under his breath, keeping his eyes downcast.
Sean paused in front of them, a railroad tie balanced twig-like across his broad shoulders. He was an ox of a man, and despite the crappy weather, shirtless. “It takes more than one missed dose of Impedio for a Talent’s abilities to return. If Chad’s dosage is commensurate with ours, I’d say it would take a full five or six days for it to be completely out of his system.”
Keetch saluted him. “Thanks for the science lesson, professor.”
Sean didn’t earn the moniker for nothing, although
would’ve been more accurate. Before coming here, the guy had been a brilliant software developer.
Vince glanced over at the truck where Palmer and the guards were still talking. Maybe they’d come for some other reason. Or for someone else. He didn’t want to think what was in store for him back at the Institute if they were here for him. He’d been down that road enough times to know it wouldn’t be pleasant.
As he shoveled more gravel, he fantasized for the billionth time about taking out the guards and escaping. One or two of them, he could easily handle. He didn’t spar with a makeshift heavy bag and do hundreds of pushups every day for nothing. But that would still leave the third guard, Palmer, and Palmer’s guys—a couple of worthless bastards who smelled like sauerkraut and were, at the moment, trying to hide their flask. Despite their incompetence, even
could press a button on a comm device, and then the whole Pacifican army would be after him.
The chain around his ankle clanked loudly, a reminder that attempting to escape would be fruitless anyway. Because even if he did manage to break free and make it into the woods, the canines would quickly track him down. A fact he knew all too well.
He continued shoveling, trying to ignore the scraping, grinding noise of rocks on metal. No matter how many weeks they worked on this railway line, that sound grated on his every last nerve.
The Pacifican government had commissioned a new high-speed rail line connecting New Seattle to British Columbia and beyond. Although it had been many years since the big earthquake destroyed much of the infrastructure, they were only just now getting around to replacing these damaged lines. In the aftermath, crime and looting had been a rampant problem, so martial law had been invoked. It had never been lifted—well, officially it had, but things hadn’t changed much.
Because the tremors had caused something else to happen.
Something that the Pacifican army was eager to take advantage of.
New secret portals had opened up between Pacifica and Cascadia, a medieval-like world long-rumored to be filled with magic. The army claimed they needed a big show of force in order to keep the invaders out. But it was just an excuse for why they needed to keep up a large military presence.
Most of the public bought into the lies and propaganda. But not everyone.
Vince continued to work like a machine, pausing only to wipe the sweat from his eyes. Thing was, they
machines to do this shit, but the Institute preferred manual labor. Paid for their upkeep, they were told.
When Chad suddenly stopped raking, Vince looked up. The kid’s eyes were like saucers, staring at something over Vince’s shoulder. And then he heard the crunch of boots on the gravel behind him.
come for him. It sucked being right about these things.
He didn’t bother to turn around. And they sure as hell didn’t dispense any courtesy.
Electricity snapped in the air a split second before he felt the shock. Dropping the shovel, he twisted and groaned as the current sizzled through him, all the muscles in his body going rigid. The moment it stopped, strong hands grabbed him by the hair and wrenched his head back, knocking him off-balance.
“Hey bitches,” Keetch yelled from the other side of the gravel pile. “Take it easy on him.”
Sean dropped a railroad tie and it landed with a thud. “Yeah, he’s not going anywhere.”
“Back off,” one of the guards ordered. “Both of you.”
The guard behind Vince held tight as a second one snapped a steel cuff around his neck. The third guard unlocked the shackles at his ankles. He felt like a rabid dog being subdued by animal control.
“Let’s go. No funny business this time.” The tallest one gave the chain a jerk and laughed when Vince stumbled.
Son. Of. A. Bitch.
Vince fell to his knees, and in the process, his hands brushed against the length of chain. It was long. Long enough to do some serious damage. The jolt of electricity may have weakened his body, but not his will.
From his crouched position, he could easily launch himself at the guard, cling to his back like a scrappy MMA fighter with nothing to lose, and wrap this chain around his neck. But just before his hands closed around the links, he caught a glimpse of Sean shaking his head.
“Don’t do it,” the big man mouthed. “You’ll just make it worse.”
His nostrils flared with a deep, roiling anger as he considered the injustice of it all. Government-sanctioned kidnappings. Imprisonment. Torture. The wrongful death of a good man whose only crime was trying to protect his son.
Sean was right—it would be foolish to make a move now—but one day, he would have his revenge.
The guard shoved him forward. “Let’s go. Can’t keep the doctor waiting.”
At the mention of the doctor, Vince gritted his teeth. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Dobrynin, Vince’s father would still be alive.
Loose gravel crunched underfoot as he was marched past the other prisoners. Chad looked terrified, as if they might take him next. Sean and Keetch both scowled. A few of the others looked relieved that they weren’t the ones being hauled back to the Institute. Palmer stood nearby, holding the leash of his guard dog and grinning like a damn jack-o’-lantern with that gap-toothed smile of his.
The transport van hovered on the narrow two-lane road that cut through the heavily forested area. The guards shoved him into the back and clipped the chain to the ceiling. He tried to sit on the bench seat, but the collar tightened around his neck and he gasped for breath.
“Hey fellas, if you don’t want me to hang myself on the way back, you might want to loosen my leash.”
The tall guard, the one whose neck and head looked like a giant thumb, pointed to the mesh wire that covered the windows. “Hold onto that.” Then he slammed the door.
And wouldn’t you know it? They took every corner hard. He should’ve gone with his gut and choked that sonofabitch when he had the chance.
tale air filled
the windowless interrogation room. A stainless steel hospital gurney, positioned strategically in the corner, was a chilling reminder of what would happen if Vince didn’t cooperate.
As he sat in one of the chairs, he sucked at the skin of his knuckles, torn and bruised from hanging onto the mesh wire in the transport van. Each passing minute felt like an hour. He was tired from working all day, not to mention hungry. And he had to piss like a goddamn racehorse.
He was on the verge of taking a leak in the corner when the door finally swung open. The old doctor walked in, slightly stooped and smoothing down a stray piece of his thin comb over.
Yeah. Like that was fooling anyone.
Vince clenched his fists under the table. If given the chance, he’d kill the vile bastard with his bare hands. He hated the doctor more than anyone else on the planet.
And the man knew it.
“Hello, Vincent.” A loud screech filled the air as Dr. Dobrynin pulled out the other metal chair. But instead of sitting, he tossed a large black portfolio on the table and leaned toward Vince in an obvious attempt to emphasize his position of power.
? Vince was getting tired of this absurd routine and continued to pick at his knuckles. He’d already told the doctor everything he was
“Let’s have a little chat, shall we?”
As if on cue, the three guards from earlier entered the room. The thumb-headed one was pushing a cart filled with various medical implements and syringes. With a nod from the doctor, the other two guards came at Vince, grabbing at his arms and legs.
“What the hell! You’re not even giving me a chance to talk first?”
“You and me?” Dr. Dobrynin stirred his finger in a tight circle. “We’re done playing games, Vincent.”
Oh, how he loathed the old man’s use of the word
—as if they were a collective, working toward the same goal. The only thing he shared with the doctor was a mutual hatred of each other.
Vince managed to elbow one of the guards in the jaw, sending him sailing across the room. He kicked another one in the balls. But in the end, the three men overpowered him, and he was soon strapped to the gurney with an IV needle shoved into his vein.
Amber liquid filled the transparent tube and flooded into his system. Almost instantly, his head began to spin and his whole body went numb.
“Oh dear, Vincent,” the doctor tsked, his bushy eyebrows lifting with mock concern. “I see you’ve wet yourself.”
“That’s…what…happens when you…have to piss…and someone…shoots you full of drugs.” A feeling of euphoria washed over him. “What…what have you given me?”
“My newest concoction. I think you’re going to like it. Produces quite a high.”
No shit. If he weren’t tethered to the gurney, he would’ve stretched out his arms and twirled around the room like a damn fairy princess.
There was a rustle of papers and Dr. Dobrynin produced one of Vince’s drawings. It was a landscape scene of a girl facing away—a beautiful, enchanting girl. She was looking wistfully at the mountains in the background.
Vince grinned widely, unable to help himself. “She’s gorgeous, isn’t she?”
Stop. No. Don’t think of her.
Instead, he fixated his gaze on a collection of cobwebs in the far corner. What if a large spider crawled out and—
“Many years ago,” Dr. Dobrynin said, “you found a portal in these mountains. We learned of your Talent when you bragged to one of your friends, whose father happened to be a high-ranking army official. Remember that?”
I wasn’t bragging
, he thought. Or had he just spoken those words aloud? He couldn’t tell.
“Yeah, and if that friend were here right now, you wanna know what I’d do? I’d shove my fist down his throat and rip out his tongue.”
The doctor pulled his lips tightly to his teeth as if he’d just smelled sour milk. “You people—you
—harbor such violence in your souls. Now, I’m going to ask you again, Vincent. Where is this portal you found when you were a teenager?”
He felt the sting of a slap on his cheek. The question. Oh yeah, about the portal.
The truth was on the tip of his tongue, dying to come out.
Have. To. Resist.
Dr. Dobrynin thrust a finger at the drawing. “Where is this? Where did you draw it and when?”
“In my bedroom. In Granite Falls. When I…was seventeen.”
The doctor made an exasperated sound and flicked the picture with his stubby middle finger. “The mountain. I want to know where
Deep breath. Don’t…tell…him.
The doctor leaned forward eagerly. His eyes widened, and he licked the corners of his mouth as if he were watching porn. “And how did you get there?”
The doctor’s face twisted with excitement. “Yes, yes! And where is this portal?”
Vince turned his head away. He didn’t want to look at the drawing any longer. He couldn’t. It hurt too damn much. He’d been asked these questions countless times before and had refused to answer them. He wasn’t about to do so today. But the combination of the truth serum and actual physical evidence about what he knew was making it harder to lie this time.