Dark Embrace
Book #1 The Rose Trilogy
The Masters Of Time

On Sale August 26, 2008

Chapter Two (Part One)

Castle Awe, Scotland – November 1502

Sex no longer mattered to him.

Like the best wine drunk far too often, it could not be appreciated. Pleasure escaped him now.

But he moved harder, faster, into the woman, not seeking release, even though a release was inevitable. Instead, he used her for his own ends, taking power, euphoric, until she lay unmoving and silent beneath him.

Aidan held himself over the woman, breathing hard. He had experienced the powerful ecstasy of La Puissance thousands of times, a climax that combined raging power with sexual release. When he had first begun to hunt Moray after Ian’s murder, he’d taken power to assure himself of victory over the deamhan he was now sworn to kill. But Moray had vanished in time, fleeing him. And Aidan had needed more power to chase him.

Power was addictive. He lusted for it now. Unfortunately, the lust for power was terribly arousing. Other wise he would not even bother with the sexual act.

Still consumed with a sense of invincibility, he moved away from the woman. He stood and leaned against the wall, arching back, savagely relishing the power coursing through his muscles. It even throbbed in his bones.

No one could defeat him now—not man, not beast, not deamhan and not even a god. Not even his demonic father. His father had returned to murder Ian, when a beheading would destroy most deamhanain. There were Masters who believed Moray immortal. Others said he had returned with otherworldly help. Aidan had dated to demand answers upon Iona. MacNeil had told him Moray’s return was written, but that no deamhan was immortal, no matter how it might appear.

Ian’s image seared his mind, as hot as a firebrand. He welcomed the pain.

“Is she alive?” The other woman gasped, kneeling half-naked beside the Innocent.

He barely glanced at the lush redhead, who was flushed with her own pleasure. He’d left the Innocent alive, although barely. “Aye. Tend her.”

Anna Marie took the limp woman in her arms, but she was staring at him with glittering eyes. Most women feared his desire. Having lurked in her mind on several occasions, he knew that she both feared and desired his passion—all of it. Now, she said, “Do you want me again?”

He’d found her in Paris in the mid-eighteenth century. She was the courtesan of a prince. She enjoyed the hours in his bed and understood his need to take her far more than pleasure from her and other, even simultaneously. Her presence was convenient, especially because he never slept and there was one certain way for him to pass the long, dark hours of the night.

He hadn’t slept in sixty-six years.

Sleeping only brought nightmares.

He bared his teeth at her with absolute indifference, and felt nothing when their bodies were joined except for the lust for power and revenge. He would avenge Ian, even if it took an eternity to do so.

“Nay.” Naked, his body still hard and huge, he stalked from the chamber, and as he did so, he heard her moan.

He didn’t care. He didn’t need her or the other one now. He had enough power to destroy his father—if he could find him. For Moray had vanished into time sixty-six years ago, and Aidan had been hunting him ever since.

It was time to hunt now.

A pair of chambermaids was hurrying down the hall. A glance at the single, barred window at the hall’s east end showed him that the sun was high. He’d been with the women since the previous day at dusk. The maids looked at him and froze in their tracks, terrified and mesmerized at once. Ignoring them, he was about to enter the east tower room when he felt a huge power approaching, fierce and determined and white.

He roiled with anger, instantly aware of the intruder’s identity. He turned to face his half brother Malcolm, the man who had unearthed him from Awe’s rubble instead of allowing him to die.

He would never forgive him for it.

Malcolm of Dunroch came up the stairs and the hall’s far end, a large, powerful man in a leine and dark-green-and-black plaid, wearing both long and short swords, his muddy boots indicating a long, hard ride. Dirt flecked his bare thighs. His face was flushed with anger. “Ye canna march on Inverness with the rebels,” he said harshly striding up the hall. He gave Aidan’s naked body a quick, dismissive glance.

“Do ye nay march on Inverness with Donald Dubh an’ Lachlan Maclean, yer cousin?” he mocked, knowing Malcolm was too busy saving Innocence to bother with political intrigues. Politics didn’t interest him, either, but feeding and horsing his four thousand men did.

And destroying the Campbell was something he could still do for his son.

Malcolm’s face hardened. “Ye’ll hang with the traitors when they’re defeated,” he said tersely, legs braced as if to bar his way.

“Good,” Aidan said softly, meaning it. He wasn’t afraid of death. He looked forward to it—as long as Ian was avenged first.

Malcolm seized his arm, “’Twas not yer fault. Ye have yer destiny to return to, Aidan.”

“Yer nay welcome here. Get out,” Aidan roared, shrugging him off. He whirled, entering the tower room and slamming the door closed behind him.

His damned brother was wrong. He had failed to keep his son safe. He had saved hundreds of Innocents, but not his own son; he would never forgive himself for it. He steeled himself against the anguish, but too late.

From the door’s other side, he heard Malcolm’s every silent thought. I willna let ye die an’ I willna give up on ye. Nor will I be leavin’ Awe soon.

Furious with his brother, hating him for refusing to lose faith, Aidan threw the bolt down on the door. Inside it was dark and cold. No fire burned in the stone hearth and every small arrow slit had long since been nailed closed with shutters, so the darkness was complete.

Eventually Malcolm would leave. He always did, as there was always a deamhan to vanquish, an Innocent to save. Malcolm served the gods as if his vows were his life, and with his wife at his side. But Malcolm was not a deamhan’s son. He was the son of the great Master, Brogan Mor, and a Master himself—as well as the laird of the Macleans of south Moll and Coll. They had nothing in common.

Malcom had been raised at Dunroch by his father and then, after Brogan Mor’s death in battle, by his uncle, Black Royce, to be chief of Clan Gillean. Aidan had been sent as an infant into a nobleman’s foster care, for his mother had retired to an abbey to spend the rest of her life there. Malcolm had often gone to visit Lady Margaret at the abbey, ever the dutiful son. His calls had been welcome. Aidan had met his mother but once, when he was a Master, and she had not been able to look at him. He had quickly left her to her prayers and repentance.

He had grown up an outside; his brother had been the next great laird, a Master whose vows were his life.

Aidan had forsaken his vows the day of Ian’s murder.

If Moray’s return was fated, the gods, apparently, had written his son’s death, as well. He hated the gods passionately and he cursed them now—as he did every single day of his life.

He felt Malcolm leaving the hall, going below, and his mind began to ease. His senses intensified impossibly. Tonight, he thought, he would find and destroy Moray.

Tonight, he would tear Moray’s throat out with his teeth. Then he would feed his heart to the wolves.

And he gave into the wolf, a savage and ruthless beast he could barely control, an animal intent on mayhem and death. He lifted his face toward the moon and howled. Outside, he felt the pack gathering and begin to howl in return, lusting for blood and death. He quieted, leaving the wolves to their eerie, savage chorus. He was ready now.

He walked to the centre of the circular room and sank to the floor, where he sat cross-legged on the cold, hard stone.

More than six decades had passed since his son’s murder. His demonic father could be in any time, in any place. Moray clearly thought himself the victor in their privy war, but he was wrong. Their war would never end, not until one or both of them was vanquished. He didn’t care, which it was—as long as Moray went to the fires of hell with him.

He began sifting through the sands of time, in the future and the past, through the deserts and mountains, villages and cities, searching for Moray’s evil power.

Hours passed. He strained through time, evil everywhere, a long, painstaking process. The moon rose. He did not need to see it to know. The hairs on his nape prickled, like hackles rising. But the blackest power he was hunting eluded him.

He could not give up. He growled in frustration.

And through the hours of the day and then the night, Innocence wept for salvation. He heard every single cry for aid, for his senses were not just attuned to evil but to its helpless prey. Men, women and children begged him to rescue them from destruction and death.

He would not recall the last time he had protected Innocence. It was before his son had died.

He ignored their cries now.

He did not care who died.

********************

Part Two -- Added August 8, 2008

TABBY UNLOCKED THE DOOR FOR HER, giving her a smile.  Isn't it great to be home?" she asked.

Brie didn't smile back.  She stepped into her loft, wearing the clothes Tabby had brought her-an oversized sweatshirt embroidered with a blue-and-gold dragon and her comfy loose-fit jeans.  She'd spent another full day at Five, under close observation, and she was champing at the bit.  She had been taken off all sedation and the anti-anxiety medication, so once again she could think clearly.  Aidan was no longer being tortured, and he was
no longer crushed by stone.  She couldn't feel anything from him at all.

God, was he even alive?

She was adept at blocking out human emotion, for it was a necessity in order to get through each and every day.  But she hadn't been able to block his torment at all.  His emotions had consumed her as no one's ever had before, even across centuries. What, exactly, did the fact that she felt him so powerfully across time mean?

Everything was meant to be, and every Rose woman knew it.

Brie shivered as Tabby's cell phone rang.  Brie shit and locked the door, going to her workstation on the far side of the loft.  She sat down at her PC, which remained in sleep mode.  He could not be dead.

Tabby came over.  "That was Sam.  She's talked to every contact and snitch she knows.  It looks like you're right.  He's not here."

Brie whirled her chair to face her. “How could I empathize across time?”

Tabby clasped her shoulder, their gazes locking. “You must really love him, Brie. It’s the only explanation I can think of.”

Her heart lurched. Her crush had been so safe and silly, until now. Loving him was terrifying, because he would never love her back—even if their paths crossed. “It’s just a crush,” Brie whispered, turning her back to her PC. She was praying that there was another reason for her amazing empathy.

But now she stared at her computer’s wallpaper, the ruins of a castle on Loch Awe. Nick had asked her is the name Aidan of Awe was familiar. Her heart thundered. It felt so right. She’d put up the wallpaper after meeting Aidan…and there was no such thing as coincidence.

This past year she had been tempted to go through HCU’s immense historical database, looking for a mention of him, but it was against the rules to use the system for personal objects and she hadn’t done so. She hit a button and CDA’s site filled her screen. She began to log on, a process that required three passwords. She had something to go on now. And what did Nick know about Aidan, exactly?

If HCU had anything on him, by now, Nick was on it.

Brie was still amazed that she hadn’t been fired.

“What are you going to do?” Tabby asked. “He’s not here, Brie, and we can’t time travel”

Brie bit her lip and punched in a search for Aidan of Awe. As the search began, shifted restlessly, and then she cried out, getting a hit.

Tabby peered over her shoulder.

The message on her screen was glaring. Aidan of Awe—Level Four—Access Denied.

“There’s a file on him?” Tabby exclaimed.

“I’m only Level Three,” Brie cried in frustration.

“Maybe that’s not our Aidan,” Tabby cried.

Brie stared at the flashing message. “It’s him. I know it. Damn Nick,” she cried.

Tabby started. “Brie, you’re exhausted. You absorbed so much pain, you need to rest. Leave the search to Forrester. He’s certainly on this.”

“I can’t,” Brie said. She was afraid to ask Nick what was in that file—he was so intimidating—but she had to try.

“Can I make you something to eat?” Tabby asked.

Brie didn’t care, even though Tabby was a great cook. As Tabby went into her kitchen, separated from the loft only by the kitchen counter, she went for her favorite online research library. She had part of his name to go on now. As she went to her medieval-Scotland virtual bookshelf, she dialled Nick. It went right to voicemail.

Brie pulled the first of two hundred and thirteen volumes, and as she typed in the words Aidan of Awe in the search box, she said, “Nick, it’s Brie. Please call me at home. Thanks.”

Her search yielded zero results, and she pulled the next volume and repeated the search. On her fourth search, a sudden nausea began, and Brie cried out. The floor tilted wildly, accompanied by a terrible feeling of dread.

And the vision began.

She gripped the arms of the desk chair tightly; no longer aware of her surroundings, entirely focused on what she meant to see. Aidan was lying on his back. He was barelegged, wearing high boots and clad in a leine and black coat, the latter pinned to one shoulder and belted. His hands were folded atop the belt, which held two huge swords. The image sharpened. He was asleep, his eyes closed, his face relaxed, at peace. The necklace he wore became apparent, as if her mind’s eye had zoomed in on it. A fang, capped with gold, lay against the hollow of his collarbone.

He turned into stone, becoming an effigy atop a tomb.

She sprang to her feet, crying out.

Tabby was hovering over her. “What did you see?”

Brie hardly heard her. She could not have seen what she had! Her premonitions were never wrong. She looked at Tabby, aghast. “I saw him in stone effigy, atop a medieval tomb.”

Tabby took her hand. “Brie, he’s from the fifteenth century,” she said carefully.

“So what? Allie is still alive, isn’t she? And he was alive the other day!” she cried. And her grandmother’s ring began pinching her.

Brie had been wearing Sarah’s garnet ring since she was thirteen. Sarah had always claimed it would protect her and enhance her gifts. She twisted it nervously, aware of the desperation surfing. Tabby said, “Honey, he is alive, somewhere, farther in the past. But we can’t time-travel like they do.”

Brie stared at her. She wanted him to be alive right then and there. “My visions are a tool. They’re meant to help others. Why did I have that vision?” she cried.

“I don’t know. Brie, would you please rest? And eat?” Tabby returned to the kitchen, and then set a sizzling plate before her. Brie had been hungry earlier; now, she had no appetite.

“I’m going to go,” Tabby said. “I haven’t been home in three days. The neighbor’s been taking care of the cats and the plants. And I really need a shower.”

Brie stood to hug her. Tabby looked as if she was on her way to take tea at Buckingham Palace. “I’m fine. Thank you for everything.”

When Tabby was gone, Brie—almost desperate—went on to her next search, and the words Aidan of Awe produced a result. She froze in sheer disbelief. Then, her heart leaping painfully in her chest, she hit the enter key. She quickly skimmed down the first page and began to read.

In December 1436, Aidan the Wolf of Awe, a Highlander with no clan, sacked a stronghold of the Earl of Morey at Elgin, leaving no one alive.

She breathed hard and read the rest of the page.

However, Moray escaped the Wolf’s wrath intact, to take up his position at court as Defender of the Realm for King James, the same position he had enjoyed ten years earlier. But when James was murdered at Perth the following February, Moray was slain with his king. The Wolf of Awe proceeded to spend the next nineteen years ruthlessly destroying the families and holdings of Moray’s three powerful sons, the earls of Feith, Balkirk and Denveld. Retribution came from Argyll, and in 1458 Castle Awe was burned to the ground. Although the Wolf spent twenty years rebuilding his stronghold, he forfeited his other holding, his title and earldom (Lismore) to King James II. He remained universally distrusted and feared until his demise. In 1502, after his mercenary role in the MacDonald uprising, the Royal Lieutenant of the North, the powerful Frasier chief, accused him of treason. Badly wounded from an escape attempt, he was publicly hanged at Urquhart.

Brie couldn’t see the page, for her vision suddenly blurred. The terrible Wolf of Awe could not be her Aidan. Her Aidan was a Master of Time, sworn to protect Innocence through the ages, a mighty hero defending mankind from evil, upholding God. And Aidan could not hang. He would simply vanish into the future of the past.

Except he had been badly hurt.

She started to cry, but wiped the tears away. She read the next sentences.

His tomb had been carefully restored at the ruins of Castle Awe on Lock Awe. To this day, it remains a popular tourist attraction.

She was so upset she was shaking. She looked at the plate Tabby had set down before her and wanted to wretch. Picking the plate up, she carried it to the kitchen, set it down and leaned hard on the counter. What did all this mean?

If she went to Loch Awe now, would she find the tomb and effigy she’d seen in her vision?

The Wolf of Awe had been hanged. He was cruel, and mercenary. Surely he was not the same man.

But in her vision of him, she had seen her Aidan before he’d turned into stone. He’d worn a wolf’s fang.

Good humans were possessed every single day and then they committed unspeakably evil acts.

Brie moaned. Had Aidan become the Wolf of Awe? Was it somehow possible?

Her head exploded with pain. Brie stepped behind the counter into her kitchen, opening the refrigerator to chug a glass of wine. She was shaking like a leaf. What had happened to him?

Brie slammed the refrigerator door closed. She had to know what was in the Level Four file. She grabbed her purse and keys and stormed from the loft. If Nick wasn’t at his office, she’d wait.

*****************
Part Three Added September 1st, 2008

STILL DEVASTATED BY THE IDEA that Aidan had become the Wolf of Awe, Brie hurried down the block.  Dusk was approaching and she knew she had better not be caught outside. The city wasn’t safe after dark and although the mayor’s curfew was voluntary, very few of the city’s denizens disobeyed it.  Every shop on the street had already closed, except for the grocery store on the corner, and they were pulling their blinds.           

She started to run.  She couldn’t recall ever being this upset, not even when Allie had vanished into time last year.  But she had known that Allie’s journey to the past was her Fate, she’d even seen the golden Highlander coming for her.  This was entirely different.

The Book, handed down from generation to generation of the Rose woman, was very clear on the matter of Fate.  It could never be defied by a mortal.  Only the gods could rewrite it—and they never entirely did.

But sometimes events happened that were not in The Game Plan, and the Gods corrected things when they went awry.  Eventually, what was meant to be would happen.         

Brie prayed that the historian she’d read had gotten all his facts wrong, or that her vision was wrong.  She began to think that maybe she’d better go to Scotland and check out the tomb there, but she was really afraid of what she’d find.  And why was her grandmother’s ring bothering her?  It had always fit perfectly, but now it was pinching her.        

Brie stared at the ring.  “This is meant to happen, isn’t it?” she murmured.            

Her grandmother had passed away a decade ago, at the ripe old age of 102. She’d been in full of possession of her faculties’ right up until she’d taken her last breath. When she passed away in her sleep, Brie had somehow known her time had come and spent the night at her grandmother’s Bedford, New York, house. Sarah Rose had died smiling, and Brie often felt her presence.

She felt her now. “I mean, I could have felt all that pain and anguish last year of the year before—but I felt it now, for a reason.  He needs me. I’m supposed to help him.” She thought about her crush.  Had she become infatuated with him so she could help him? “Why else would I feel him so strongly?”            

She felt her grandmother’s benevolence.  If Sarah approved, Brie was on the right path, she thought.  That only made her more determined to get into that Level Four file.   

A shadow fell across the pavement directly in front of her.            

Her heart seemed to stop with alarm.  In a moment the sun would be vanishing beneath the horizon and the city would be lost in the gloom of the night.  She’d never make it all the way to CDA.

A teenage boy stood in front of her, smiling maliciously.

He was pale, pimply and wore a long black cloak, marking him as a member of gangs who reputedly burned “witches” at the stake.

Brie breathed.  “Get lost!” she cried, even though she was terrified.  “It’s light out!”

“Not for much longer!” he snickered.

She tensed as three more teenage boys barred her way, all of them ghostly white, their lips nearly purple, wearing the same long black cloaks, as if they’d come from the Dark Ages.

She knew all about the ongoing investigation into these gang members at CDA.  The “sub-demons,” or subs, as they were often called, were human, with normal DNA and very real identities.  They were missing boys and girls, belonging to distraught family members, but, robbed of their souls, they were pure evil.

Brie whirled to run, and faced two more leering teens in black hoods and cloaks.  She was in big trouble.  She prayed that Tabby and Sam would sense it and come to her rescue.  And simultaneously, she thought about Aidan, it was instinct.  It he was near, he had the power to save her.

"She’s fat and ugly,” one boy said.  “Let’s find someone else.”

Brie didn’t want to die, but she didn’t want anyone else to die, either.  She glanced back over her shoulder at the setting sun and cried out.  The sky was mauve now, the sun out of sight.  In another moment or so, dusk would become night and she would be killed.

Brie tried to run.

They let her.  She ran as hard and fast as she could, across the empty street, aware of them laughing with malicious glee.  Hope began when she didn’t hear their footsteps behind her.  She was going to make it.  She didn’t know why they’d let her and she didn’t care.            

Suddenly three different boys appeared in front of her and barred her way, grinning.  She tripped, crashing into them, but was seized from behind and pulled ruthlessly up against a lean and young male body.  They had only let her go to torture her.

She fought wildly, writhing, her mind exploding into shards of terror.  Her captor jerked on her so hard that something inside her snapped.  Brie screamed in pain and fear.

The boy holding her laughed.  The pimply-face blond boy held a knife and he hooked it into her jeans, jamming it through the denim. She felt blinded by her terror.  The steel met the sensitive flesh of her belly.  He said, “Witch.  You’re a real one, ain’t you?  You reek of witchcraft!”

“No!” Brie begged.  But she didn’t dare struggle now.

The boy glanced past her.  His face paled and his eyes widened with alarm.            

A low, long, very menacing growl sounded.

It was otherworldly.

Shaking, Brie looked behind her.

A huge wolf with blazing blue eyes crouched behind her and the boy, his hackles raised.  Wolves did not exist in New York City.  This one was oversized, demonic.  Brie felt his huge black power.

And in that split second of utter comprehension before it leapt, she met eyes that were human.

The Wolf of Awe had heard her.

The wolf snarled and leapt—at her.

She screamed, glimpsing enraged blue eyes, expecting the beast to land on her, dragging her down and mauling her to death.  As her heart burst in terror, the beast somehow twisted and landed only on her captor, and she spun aside.  The wolf ripped the sub’s throat out and then, with a bestial roar, turned to one of the other boys.

They had guns and they started firing at the wolf as it drove another teen to the ground, savagely ripping him apart the way dogs shred stuffed toys.  Brie was frozen in horror, but only for a single breath.  She turned to run.

But as she did, the wolf raised his head, bleeding from its shoulder and its chest.  It looked right at Brie with eerily human eyes.  Brie backed up, terrified.  It leapt at one of the other boys and she did not think twice.  As the sub-demon screamed, she fled.

She ran up the block as hard and as fast as she could, acutely aware of the snarling wolf behind her on the city street, making sounds she wished she could not hear.  She somehow unlocked the front door of her building and ran inside.  She didn’t even think to lock that door or use the elevator.  She ran up the three flights of stairs to her loft and somehow unlocked her door, her hand shaking as if with Parkinson’s disease.  Slamming the door closed, she speed-dialled Nick.  Tears blinding her, she spoke before she could even answer.

"I think he’s here.  He’s shot.  He needs medical help, Nick!” She wept into the phone.

“Don’t move,” Nick said, and the line went dead. 

She dropped the phone, images of the vicious wolf as it destroyed the boys filling her mind.  Subs or not, they were human.  Sometimes, souls could be reclaimed when evil was exorcized.

Instead of calling Tabby and Sam, she silently begged them to hurry to her.  And then she went still, paralyzed.

A huge power filled her loft behind her. 

Brie began to shake uncontrollably.  Slowly, she turned.

Aidan of Awe stood there.


Dark Embrace

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