Book #3 The Rose Trilogy
The Masters Of Time®
On Sale July 28, 2009
New York City, July 18, 2009
SAM ROSE WAS in a really lousy mood, until she saw the memo on her desk. “Party tonight at seven at Rupert Hemmer’s. Bring stilettos and wear red.”
She slowly smiled. Great, she shot back in an e-mail to her boss. I haven’t been to a good party in ages.
It was three in the afternoon and she had just come into work, but she wasn’t late. Evil played at night, which meant she worked at night, because her job was hunting down the bad guys and doing them in. In fact, she’d been hunting evil since she was twelve years old—since the day her mother had been murdered.
It was ancient history now. Sam could think about Laura as she’d last seen her, even recalling her pale lifeless face, without a pang of sorrow or sadness. She’d learned long ago how to turn off any impending compassion. No Slayer could get the job done if he or she started feeling sorry for evil’s victims. Laura’s death had been Fate. Every Rose woman had a destiny, and hers was to be a Slayer.
That day, the need to vanquish evil had been branded into her soul. Now Sam looked forward to the night. Others feared the shadows—as they should; she thrilled when the moon rose. Others feared the sound of heavy breathing behind them; she relished evil daring to pursue her. Let it try! She hunted with a vengeance—literally.
Nick Forrester had recruited her into the Historical Crimes Unit at CDA almost a year ago, ending her years of cruising as a vigilante. The Center for Demonic Activity was a clandestine government agency founded by Thomas Jefferson, who’d established the agency shortly after his presidency had begun. He’d believed then, as was believed now, that the public couldn’t handle the truth.
Sam agreed. If the public ever knew that evil was a race ruled by the great Satan and intent on destroying humanity, chaos would ensue. It was hard enough saving the day as it was, without everyone running around in a state of abject fear and mass hysteria. It was definitely better that the public thought crime was simply out of control and society in a state of impending anarchy. Sometimes, listening to the news anchors and the accompanying social commentary, Sam would laugh at their politically correct theories.
Now, thinking about her boss’s memo, Sam was thoughtful. Rupert Hemmer was a middle-aged developer who was on his fourth or fifth trophy wife; he was the city’s most notorious billionaire. She recalled reading or hearing something about a big bash for his wife’s birthday. But Nick didn’t travel in those circles, and he did not do parties. This was not a social occasion. And that meant Hemmer’s party had bad vibes attached to it. Hemmer, as rich and powerful as he was, might even be one of the bad guys. In any case, he was not your ordinary guy and his guests wouldn’t be ordinary, either. Sam was gleeful. Tonight promised to be fun.
Sam made the mistake of glancing at the tear-off calendar on her desk and all glee vanished. She smiled grimly at the date. In four more days, it would be her birthday.
Last year, they’d all been together. This year, her sister, Tabby, and her cousin, Brie, were gone.
Abruptly, Sam brought her PC out of sleep mode. She refused to acknowledge the pang that went through her. Of course she missed Tabby and Brie. She missed their best friend, Allie, too. Allie was a Healer and Tabby was a witch, and Brie had her own gifts. They’d fought to protect and defend civilians together for years, because that was what Rose women had been doing for generations. Now she worked alone. And that was just fine. Brie and Tabby had met their destiny in the past, as had Allie. In truth, as smart as Brie had been, she’d been a bit of a klutz, and Tabby’s spells had been erratic. Sam had always had to keep one eye on them while fighting off their enemies, especially after Allie had left them. Now, she could focus on evil and the Innocent. It was so much simpler.
The bottom line was that a Slayer was meant to live alone, fight alone, and eventually, die alone. And that was as it should be.
So she’d spend her birthday alone. Who cared? She’d pick up a hottie and before she even knew it, the day would have passed. Sam flipped the calendar over and Tabby’s photograph faced her. It was Sam’s favorite picture of her sister. Tabby wore her pearls, reminding her of how gentle and classic her sister had been.
Tabby remained gentle and classic, she reminded herself—just in another time.
She turned the photo over and started to do a search within HCU’s immense database on Rupert Hemmer. As she did, someone rapped on her open door. Sam felt his power without seeing who it was and was annoyed as she looked up.
MacGregor grinned. “What happened to you last night? Only one kill and two escapes?”
“Get lost,” she said. He’d brought down five full demons last night.
“Boy toy must have worn you out.”
“He sure did,” she lied. Everyone knew she was a very liberated woman. She used men the way a playboy used women, and why not? She liked and needed sex. Except, she’d been off her game for a few months now. Her sex drive had been lacking. She was almost ready to wonder about it. “And you can’t stand it, can you?”
“You’ll come around,” MacGregor said with his usual arrogance. He’d been coming on to her ever since she’d begun working at HCU. “Sooner or later, you’ll figure out what you’re missing, Sam.”
“You’re too old for me.” She shrugged. He was probably thirty to her almost twenty-eight.
He laughed and walked away as a young, dark-haired woman poked her head into her office. “Got a moment?”
Sam leaned back in her desk chair. “Sure.” She considered Kit Mars somewhat of a friend, now that Tabby, Allie and Brie were gone. Kit was her own age, and as fervent about the war on evil as she was. She’d been recruited out of the NYPD Vice Unit, and even though she was still officially a rookie at the agency, she was tough and sharp and good to have around in the middle of the night. Once in a while, they even had a drink together.
Kit sauntered in, a newspaper in her hand. As usual, she didn’t wear any makeup. She really didn’t have to—she had striking, handsome features. She slapped the New York Times down on Sam’s desk, and then glanced at the downturned calendar and photograph. Sam felt as if she’d been caught red-handed in a crime.
Kit hesitated. “It’s okay to miss your sister.”
Sam grimaced and put the photo back in its proper position and place. “What are you, a mind reader now?” She spoke calmly.
“I don’t have to read your mind to know how hard it is to lose a sibling.”
“I didn’t lose a sibling. Tabby’s alive and well, somewhere in medieval Scotland, making magic with her Highlander.” The moment Sam spoke, she was sorry for her sharp words. Kit’s twin sister had died in her arms in Jerusalem when they were only eighteen.
“Yes, she is,” Kit said seriously. “But she’s not here, is she?”
Sam stiffened. “Do you really want to get on my case?”
Kit winced. “No, I don’t, but I know how close you were. I still miss Kelly. I was just trying to be kind.”
Sam inhaled. “Okay. Be kind. But take my advice. Kind and caring won’t get the demons dead. It will get you dead.”
Kit grimaced. “I’m working on it,” she finally said.
Sam couldn’t read minds, but she knew Kit was thinking she was a real hard-ass. “Good. That will make Papa Nick proud. So, what’s this?” Sam pulled the newspaper forward. Her eyes widened at the sight of Rupert Hemmer’s photograph on the front page and then she was thoroughly diverted by the accompanying headline. Hemmer Acquires Rare Celtic Manuscript For 212 Million.
Sam dragged the paper forward, her excitement instantaneous. There had been an auction at Sotheby’s the night before, and Hemmer had bought a page from a centuries old Celtic manuscript, believed to be the oldest written Celtic text ever discovered. Sam cried out as she kept reading. Historians claimed the page was part of an ancient and holy book called the Duisean, which had been enshrined in a monastery on the island of Iona in medieval times. Some historians thought that the shrine had been guarded by a secret brotherhood of pagan warrior knights, and that the book had been the key to their power in the medieval world.
Sam looked up, her pulse racing. She happened to know that the Duisean existed. In fact, parts of it were believed to be floating around the present time. As for the secret warrior society, it existed, too. She was smiling now. “Did you get an invite to Hemmer’s tonight?”
Kit nodded. “Yeah, I did. And I’d already seen this earlier today, but I didn’t read it or notice the bit about the Duisean. Now it’s starting to make sense. Sam, he had the page transported to his penthouse last night in an armored vehicle. He has an extensive art collection there, and apparently he keeps it in an impregnable vault.”
So that was why they were going to the Hemmers’. Locating whatever they could from the ancient book was on HCU’s master agenda. Sam stared at Kit as she sat down in a chair facing the desk.
Nick probably knew more about the secret brotherhood than any other person living in modern times. Last year, Brie had been abducted by a medieval Highlander who had been turned to evil. Brie had also worked at CDA and Nick was notoriously obsessed with not “losing” agents in time. He’d chosen Sam to go back to help him find Brie. When she and Nick had brought her cousin back to New York, Brie had been thoroughly debriefed. The warriors called themselves Masters; at HCU, they’d been dubbed the Masters of Time.
Of course, Brie had gone back to Aidan of Awe anyway, having fallen in love with him even before helping him return to the Brotherhood. But HCU had gained lots of new information to play with—including the possibility that the missing Duisean might be in New York City, and in the hands of a great demon.
Sam’s excitement increased. She believed in the Duisean. The Rose women had their own book, the Book of Roses, which contained all the magic and wisdom entrusted to them by higher powers, and passed down through the generations. The Book was now in Tabby’s keeping—it was always in the keeping of a Rose witch. One of the Highlanders had come for it, to bring it back to her. Why wouldn’t the Masters of Time have a book of power? They were a warrior society sworn to protect Innocence, and they needed warrior powers to do so. It just made sense. “Is Hemmer evil?” Sam asked flatly. Finding the Duisean—and making sure it did not fall into the wrong hands—was a priority.
“I wondered that myself. I already checked, and there is a file on him. It’s flagged for possible demonic connections.”
“That could make him anything—the real deal, a mixed breed or possessed.” Sam wet her lips. “But it doesn’t matter. He can’t have any part of the Duisean. Shit.” It began to dawn on her how dangerous a demon or a half demon could become, if armed with power meant for the good guys.
“It might not be authentic, Sam,” Kit pointed out.
“Yeah. We need to see it up close and personal.” She was wry. “Where are the near-immortals when you need one?”
Kit ignored that. “Getting into that vault is almost impossible and it won’t happen tonight,” she said. “No one goes into that vault without Hemmer, and he’s very picky about who he invites for a viewing.”
Sam deliberately folded her arms and crossed her long, sculpted legs. Her idea of a great day was competing in a triathlon. She also ran marathons, kick-boxed, biked and skied. She was wearing her usual denim miniskirt, this one gray and frayed, with a studded belt and midcalf, high-heeled tan boots, despite the heat. She wagged her booted foot at Kit.
“I agree,” Kit said, grinning. “You’re the most likely candidate to persuade him to take you into the vault.”
Based on his memo, Nick obviously thought so, too. In spite of his new wife, Hemmer was notorious for his infidelities. Tonight, he’d be toast.
“No one is persuading Hemmer of anything tonight,” Nick Forrester said, walking into their midst. He was a tall, good-looking man and a legend in the agency—for his conquests, both demonic and not, and because of the rumors that he’d been around for decades, although he appeared to be in his late thirties. He was controlling, which was annoying, but damned good at organizing and directing the war on evil—and he’d die for any of his agents. Sam hated to admit it, but she liked him. And she respected him immensely.
He was also impossibly sexist. He glanced at Sam’s legs, but she was used to it. She expected men to look at her. “Tonight is strictly surveillance,” he told them. “I don’t know if the page is the real deal yet and we don’t know just how tainted Hemmer is. I want photos, ladies, lots and lots of photos, so Big Mama can make up architectural and mechanical plans. And while you’re at it, you can bring me a swab of Hemmer’s DNA.” He smiled at Sam. “Just pique Hemmer’s interest—for now.”
“No problem,” Sam said, standing. Sometimes tainted humans had the barest percentage of demonic blood, but it was enough to make their evil frightening. “Are you coming to play, too?”
“Not a good idea. Hemmer and I have never met, so let’s just say the timing isn’t right.”
The easier for Nick to catch Hemmer by surprise, Sam thought.
“I want a word with you,” Nick said to Sam.
Without having to be told, Kit picked up the newspaper and left.
Nick stared, his blue eyes piercing. “Maclean is on the guest list.”
Sam worked really hard to keep her facial muscles frozen.
“Give it up,” he said. “You want Lover Boy, and we both know it.”
NOT ONLY DIDN’T SHE want Maclean, she couldn’t stand him. Sam followed Nick down the hall and into his office, aware of a new tension riddling her body and the fact that her fists were clenched. Instantly she loosened them. The only thing she wanted in regards to Maclean was payback. Because he was a son of a bitch.
“Take off the dress.”
She seethed, standing with him in a fancy salon in his fancy Scottish mansion. “You are an unbelievable bastard.”
He laughed. “I’ve heard it a thousand times. What’swrong? Are ye afraid of the bright lights?”
She didn’t have a drop of cellulite on her body. Sam lifted the spaghetti straps of her silk dress and let it pool at her feet. “Take a good, long look—because it’s your last one.”
Oh, had he looked.
Last December, she’d gone to Loch Awe to bargain with Ian Maclean. He was Aidan of Awe’s son, and as such, he had all kinds of extraordinary powers—including the power to leap through time. She had needed a way to find her sister, shortly after a Highlander had appeared in New York and taken Tabby back in time with him. But the moment she’d walked into Maclean’s ancient mansion, his every innuendo had been sexual. She had expected it.
The first time she’d met him, she’d been with Brie, who’d needed his help. She’d pegged him then as an arrogant, oversexed playboy. She hadn’t been wrong. He was wealthy, mouthwateringly sexy, and powerful—and he knew it. That day, they’d met for no more than five minutes, but he’d looked at her like he couldn’t wait to rip off her clothes and do just about everything sexual a man could do to a woman.
But he’d left her standing on the street corner, alone, taking Brie back in time without her. Sam did not like being left out of the real action, and she had been furious.
When Tabby had vanished into time with Guy Macleod, she’d been determined to go after her. So she had gone to Scotland prepared to offer Maclean a deal—but not her body. She wasn’t going to be one of a hundred women he used. She’d be the one to say yes or no. But he’d turned the encounter into another sexual contest. When she’d met his challenge and dropped the dress, he’d looked at every inch of her body with an arrogant certainty—as if he knew he’d win one day. As if he could wait. As if she couldn’t. And then he’d walked out on her.
He had walked out on her.
Not only that, he’d left her standing stark naked in his salon, the doors wide open, and all of his guests had seen her.
It was hard not to spit with rage, even now. Men did not walk out on her. Men drooled over her body, most of which was muscle. Men gaped when they saw her face, with her long-lashed blue eyes, her small straight nose, the high cheekbones and strong jaw. But Maclean had been mocking. Who did he think he was?
Sam believed in payback. She held her grudges for life.
This was war—even if he was one of the good guys—and she was going to win.
But although his power was huge and white, and he was Aidan of Awe’s son, his loyalties were not clear. Sam did know one thing. He was most definitely loyal to himself.
She was very doubtful that he was a part of the Brotherhood. He was too selfish.
“Why is he on Hemmer’s guest list?”
Nick shoved a fat file at her. “Happy reading.”
Sam started. “He’s on file.”
“You know Big Mama,” Nick said, referring to the agency’s supercomputer. “Maclean is on the ADR list.”
That was automatic data retrieval. When Big Mama flagged a person deemed corruptible, she automatically began to build a file, retrieving data from all possible sources at a set time every day. Because Ian was Aidan of Awe’s son, and Aidan had turned to evil for decades before being redeemed, he would have been flagged immediately. His status as corruptible could only be changed by an administrator.
“Are you going to admit you’re ready to pull that short, spiky mess out by its roots?” Nick was somewhat amused.
I don’t pull hair and you know it. I’m thinking of using my Frisbee,” she said. That toy had teeth that could sever a man’s head from his body with a gentle toss, much less anything else she might want to sever.
“You’re not doing a good job of guarding your thoughts,” Nick commented, sitting down on the edge of his desk. “And I hate to tell you, kid, you put your hand between his legs and he isn’t going to quiver with fear.” Nick started laughing.
Sam tensed, hoping he hadn’t had a visual of her standing naked in Maclean’s fancy Highland salon. “If I ever put my hand there, he’s going to be really, really sorry,” Sam snapped.
Nick’s amusement vanished and he folded his arms across his chest. His biceps bulged beneath the sleeves of his dark T-shirt. “I have never seen you so pissed off.”
“Guess I’m mostly human,” she quipped.
He ignored that. “He is not aligned with the good guys. He is not a Master, Sam,” he warned.
“Somehow, I didn’t think so,” she said wryly. But her heart was beating a bit too swiftly, the way it did before battle—or during sex.
“He doesn’t play by the rules. But you know that, don’t you?”
Sam decided that Nick probably knew everything. “I don’t play by the rules, either.”
He smiled. “That’s why I’m so proud of you.” He became serious again. “I have no evidence that he’s turned. I look forward to meeting him and deciding for myself. But you are almost out of control, Sam. Anger will weaken you. He’ll make mincemeat out of you if you don’t get a grip.”
Sam was furious. “I’m not angry—I simply can’t stand the sonuvabitch. He’s an unbelievable jerk. He makes you look like a saint. I did underestimate him, I’ll admit it. I thought he’d be putty in my hands. Well, I won’t underestimate him again and I won’t ever ask him to make a deal.” She added, “And I won’t lose.”
Nick nodded, a gleam in his eyes. “I wonder why he suddenly bought property here.”
She felt herself still. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“He’s living here?”
“Bought an eighteen-million-dollar home, right on Park Avenue.” Nick smiled at her.
Sam was shocked. Why would he come to New York? She walked over to a window and stared down at the pedestrians and traffic on Hudson Street. “When did this happen?”
“Last January. A month or so after your little visit to Loch Awe.”
“His deciding to live here has nothing to do with me,” Sam said without thinking.
“I didn’t say it did.” Nick eyed the folder. “That is interesting reading, by the way.”
Sam folded her arms, her instincts going into overdrive. When she’d arrived at his home on Loch Awe, he’d been expecting her. How was that possible?
“I was wonderin’ how long it would take ye to find me.” He was amused
She smiled coldly. “In your dreams.”
He had poured her champagne, ignoring his other guests and his Playboy centerfold girlfriend. “Welcome to my lair.”
“Your father was the wolf.”
“Like father, like son,” he murmured, his gaze dipping to her cleavage.
“In the mood for a proposition?”
“I’ve been in the mood since we first met.”
There’s no way he’d come to New York to pursue her. No woman would ever be worth that kind of effort for him and she was sure of it. He’d come to town for other reasons. The Duisean? She wouldn’t put it past him.
“You’re an amazingly striking and terribly seductive woman,” Nick said thoughtfully. “And you know it. Coupled with that is your power as a Slayer.”
Sam stared at her boss. “Keep up the flattery and I might become frightened.”
He grinned. “Nothing scares you, Sam.”
He was right.
Nick added, “I can’t write off his arrival in New York as a coincidence. He’s dangerous and ruthless.” Nick picked up the folder. “But you’re dangerous and ruthless, too.”
Her interest was piqued. “So he’s my objective.”
“If he has the wrong intentions, I’m counting on you to neutralize him.”
“Goody.” She fingered the folder. “What’s in there?”
“Some interesting coincidences.”
“I’m a Rose. According to our Wisdom, there’s no such thing.”
Nick smiled. “I know. He’s been flagged by our agency, but he’s also on Scotland Yard’s watch list. Do you recall the theft of that van Gogh in Milan two years ago?”
“No, I don’t.”
“The painting just vanished into thin air in the middle of a working day. According to a clerk there, no one from the public was inside the gallery that morning and no alarms went off. But Maclean had been a visitor earlier in the week.”
Sam paced thoughtfully, tingling with some excitement. “He leapt into the gallery and leapt out with the painting. Gee, I wonder if it survived traveling at the speed of light.”
“Guess who is rumored to now have it?” Sam waited and Nick said, “Hemmer.”
Sam started. “Okay. So that explains the guest list. He stole the painting, sold it to Hemmer, and now they’re best buds.”
“He’s best buddies with various other wealthy art collectors around the world.” Nick was wry. “And he’s linked to five international art dealers, who have suffered the combined loss of eight masterpieces in the past decade. Several of his other friends are reputed to be in possession of those stolen works of art now.”
Sam stared at Nick. Maclean was using his powers to steal. So this was how he’d acquired his wealth—and his Park Avenue address. And then the comprehension was instant and blazing. “You don’t think he’s here to hold Hemmer’s hand.”
“I don’t think he’s here to hold Hemmer’s hand.”
“He’s going to steal the page,” Sam said softly.
Nick stood. “And I bet you’ll do anything to get in his way, won’t you?”
Sam slowly smiled. “Oh, yeah,” she said, with relish.
His stare hardened. “Do not let him out of your sight tonight.”
“There’s nothing like a woman scorned,” Nick suddenly grinned. “I’m sort of glad he pissed you off.”
“I’m not pissed off. And I hate to tell you, I wasn’t scorned. But, Nick? I’m better than the cliché. I don’t get mad, I get even—and then some.”
"I’m counting on it.”