Dark Victory
Book #2 The Rose Trilogy
The Masters Of Time

On Sale March 2009

dark victory coverCHAPTER ONE

The Present
New York City
December 7, 2008

IT HAD BEEN a really quiet weekend. Tabby wasn’t sure what to make of that as she and her sister and a friend stood in line to pass through a security checkpoint at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her sister, Sam, had even gotten off early enough last night to go out to dinner. Tabby couldn’t recall the last time the two of them had been able to go out and have a few drinks and a great meal. It made her uneasy. She was waiting for the ax to fall.

Something huge was going to happen.

She was a Rose, and while she didn’t have the Sight like her cousin, Brie, she could feel the premonition in her bones

“It is weird,” Sam said, as they filed toward the security inspector. “There were only four friggin’ pleasure crimes yesterday. Not that I’m complaining. But it was Saturday night.”

Although they were sisters, they were as different as night and day. Sam was hard and edgy, while Tabby was soft and classic. Two years younger than Tabby, Sam wore short, spiky platinum hair, had an Angelina Jolie body and the face to go with it. Tabby was used to the attention her sister always received. Every male they passed, young or old, gave her a second glance—male radar gone haywire. Tabby didn’t mind. She knew she was conservative and old-fashioned. Although it was Sunday, she wore a wool skirt, a cashmere V-neck and pearls. She didn’t even own a pair of jeans.

Sam was being gawked at now. The tall, young male turned his gaze to Tabby next, giving her the once-over. Tabby was used to that, too. She was an attractive woman; her sister simply overshadowed her.

“There was not one Rampage, not in any of the five boroughs,” Sam said. “I mean, it’s noon and I haven’t even been called in on a case.”

Tabby knew that her warrior sister, who was an agent at HCU, was bored. Sam was at her best when she was hunting on the city streets. But the Rampages were terrible crimes. Innocent victims were burned, medieval style, at the stake. As eerie as the sudden decline in violence was, she should not be complaining.

“Why are you so uptight? I saw who you met up with at Trenza,” Kit said to Sam, smiling. “She was with Young, Dark and Hot.”

“Very young, very hot and very, very good.” Sam smiled.

“I don’t know why they never have friends,” Kit complained, but she winked at Tabby. She was slim, fair and dark-haired. Tabby had never seen her wear a stitch of makeup—she didn’t have to. Her siren’s face and sensuously buff body hid a brilliant intensity and resolve. Like Sam, her first love was the war on evil. She was one of the most serious and determined women Tabby had ever met, but Tabby didn’t blame her. Her twin sister had died in Jerusalem in Kit’s arms, the victim of demonic violence. Sometimes Tabby thought she might still be mourning

Kelly. Kit worked at HCU, too—it was how she’d met Sam.

But Sam said, “He had a friend. You cut out before you could meet him.”

Kit shrugged negligently. “Had to hit the gym and take care of the bod.”

Sam snorted.

Tabby wasn’t sure if Kit was as old-fashioned as she was, or if she was simply too obsessed with work to get involved, but she had known Kit for about a year, and she was pretty certain Kit was as celibate as she was. The joke was a front and they all knew it. It was okay—they both lived vicariously through Sam. A stranger might be appalled by the way Sam used men, but Tabby was proud of her. She was a powerful and gorgeous woman; she was the one to say yes or no; she was the one who did the dumping. Sam would never have her heart broken. She would be spared that.

Tabby was relieved when the slight aching in her breast did not suddenly pierce through her heart and soul. The divorce no longer hurt. The betrayals no longer hurt. It was almost two years since she’d learned the extent of her ex-husband’s lies and adultery. She’d given him all of her love, and she’d meant every word of their marriage vows. It was the kind of woman she was. He hadn’t meant one damned word.

She intended to learn from her mistakes. Randall hadn’t been the love of her life after all. He had been a Wall Street investor—a high roller and a player. He’d cheated on her from start to finish, and to make the cliché just perfect, she’d been the last to find out. She was never going near that charismatic macho type again.

But sometimes, especially recently, she wished she was a bit more like her sister when it came to men. She did not want to even think that she might be lonely or that she needed the kind of intimacy she wasn’t sure she’d ever have again, but the evenings were getting harder and harder to deal with. She’d started dating again, being really careful to go out with intellectuals and artists, but it felt as if she was simply going through the motions. And maybe she was. When it came to dating and sex, she was the exact opposite of her sister. If she wasn’t in love, it wasn’t happening. She didn’t turn on easily, either. Maybe love and passion weren’t in the cards for her. She was twenty-nine already, and beginning to think she’d better focus on her Destiny as a Rose woman.

“You know, I wish you’d let me set you up with the new guy at CDA,” Sam said.

Tabby smiled a bit grimly at her. She’d met MacGregor once, when he and Sam had been leaving the Center for Demonic Activity Agency together. “Definitely not,” she said, meaning it. The agent had had macho written all over him.

“Let her explore the Beta side of life,” Kit said, her eyes wide with innocence. “Who knows? Maybe she’ll find a match made in some kind of odd, metro heaven.”

Tabby felt a pang, but she smiled brightly and said, “That’s the plan.”

Kit sobered and touched her arm. “I’m sorry. I never met Randall and I shouldn’t tease you for going out with his polar opposite.

”It’s okay,” Tabby said. She smiled firmly. “What’s meant to be is meant to be. Maybe the love of my life is a poet with a Ph.D.”

Sam choked. “Over my dead body.” Then she looked closely at Tabby. “Are you okay?”

Sam always knew when something was really wrong. “It’s still hard.”

“Yeah, it is,” Sam said, and they both knew they were referring to their cousin, Brie. Kit probably knew it, too, but she pretended not to hear them, moving as the line progressed.

The Rose women were special. Each had her own Destiny, tied into the war on evil. For generations, the Rose women had been using their unusual powers to aid and abet good. It had only been three months since Brie had left them to redeem the Wolf of Awe. The year before, their best friend Allie had also vanished. Although Allie wasn’t related to them, they had become friends with her as children. That had been Fate, too—it turned out that she was a powerful Healer. Each woman had gone to embrace her Destiny in the past, because it had been time to do so. That was how the universe worked. It was a fundamental Wisdom in the Book of Roses, which had been passed down through the generations of Rose women.

Tabby missed them both, sometimes terribly, but she was also happy for them because Allie and Brie were hardly alone in the Middle Ages. Their Destinies had included powerful, nearly immortal partners—Highlanders who battled at their sides, as driven and committed as they were to the war on evil. But their absence had left a gaping hole in their lives. Sam had helped fill the void by going to work at HCU, the Historic Crimes Unit of CDA, a clandestine government agency dedicated to fighting the evil preying on society. Sam’s boss, Nick Forrester, ran HCU with an iron fist but he could be counted on to back them up. And so could Kit. But it wasn’t the same without Allie and Brie.

There was no defying Destiny. Tabby’s Destiny was magic. Every generation of Rose women had a Slayer, a Healer and a Witch. She had been practicing her craft since she was fourteen—the year her mother had died, the victim of a demonic pleasure crime. There was one big fat problem, though. Rose women usually came into their powers very, very swiftly once their Destiny was made known. Apparently, Tabby was the exception to that rule. Although she’d been practicing magic since adolescence, her powers were still erratic and, once in a while, too weak to do any good. It simply didn’t make any sense.

But as the Book of Roses said, there was a reason for everything.

Kit said, “After the gym, I went back to HCU. I was digging around in some older case files. That last Rampage has been bothering me. There were only three in the gang.”

“They were doped up on a drug we’ve never seen before,” Sam said quietly.

HCU’s jurisdiction was the past—all past demonic activity, even if centuries old. Because so many of today’s demons came from previous centuries, HCU’s agents worked closely with CDA. Rarely could a present-day crime be solved without HCU’s expertise. Tabby had already heard about last week’s Rampage. A couple had been burned at the stake in one of Manhattan’s most posh neighborhoods. These terrible murders were usually committed between midnight and dawn, with an entire gang present. But it had only been 8:00 p.m. and only three gang members had been there, two males and a female. Were they becoming bolder? Had it even been a genuine Rampage?

The press had dubbed the crimes “witch burnings,” a label Tabby particularly disliked, because the victims were average men, women and children of all ages, races, sizes and shapes. But then, evil rarely discriminated—except, of course, when it came to pleasure crimes. Then the most innocent and beautiful were chosen. The witch burnings had instilled so much fear into the general public that no one seemed to care that seventy percent of all murders were still pleasure crimes. What was really scary was how vicious the gangs of possessed kids had become.

They’d once been ghetto gang members or normal kids gone missing. Evil preyed on them, seducing these gang members, offering them power in return for their souls, and then directing them to commit violence, brutality, bestiality and anarchy. The possessed gangs were out of control, ruling the city streets through fear and might. Gang warfare was no longer “in.” Now the gangs often worked together to hunt down civilians, cruelly and sadistically. Very few “normal” gangs remained in the country now.

“Something’s been bothering me about the Rampages, across the board,” Kit said. “I feel like I’ve missed a really glaring clue.”

“I’ll go back to HCU with you,” Sam decided, “and we can check it out.”

They had reached the security checkpoint. Tabby smiled at the guard as Sam flipped her government ID. Sam’s messenger bag was loaded with weapons, and she carried a stiletto up her sleeve and a Beretta in a shoulder holster. She would never make it through the checkpoint. Kit flipped a similar ID. Although they were government issued, neither Kit nor Sam were Feds, as the IDs claimed. But CDA was so clandestine that only the top levels of the CIA, the FBI and the Secret Service worked with its agents.

As they passed through the checkpoint, Sam and Kit were both so thoughtful that Tabby had the feeling they were ready to cut out on their plans for the afternoon. She would have to wander around the exhibit by herself, and return alone to the loft she shared with Sam. She’d float around it in the same solitude she did every night—except when shewas out with some sweet guy she had no real interest in. It was lonely—Sam was almost never there—but she’d deal the sameway she always did. She’d outline tomorrow’s curriculum, and then work on her spells.

“So which way to the Wisdom of the Celts?” Sam asked.

Tabby smiled back, relieved. Sam knew she needed company. “Up those stairs,” she said, nodding.

The huge front hall was terribly crowded. Every New Yorker knew that visiting the Met on the weekend was a really dumb idea. They started across the granite floored hall, dwarfed by the columns and arches, before going up the broad staircase to the first level of exhibits.

There was no line.

They exchanged looks as they approached the glass displays. Tabby said, “This is too weird. There should have been a half-hour wait, at least.”

Kit murmured, “It’s an exhibit on medieval Ireland. If you ask me, medieval Scotland and Ireland are peas in the same pod.”

Allie and Brie were in medieval Scotland, with Highlanders who belonged to a secret society dedicated to the protection of Innocence. “Are you saying that you think we’re meant to go in here? That the exhibit is related to the Brotherhood?”

“The earliest Scots came from Dalriada—which is Ireland.”

Tabby barely heard them. She realized her heart was thundering as she left them debating the odd lack of a line and walked over to a large glass display case. Inside, there were numerous artifacts and objects. She vaguely saw a large sword with an intricately designed hilt, and a pair of daggers, a brooch and a cup. But her gaze was drawn to the necklace there, instead.

A terrible tension filled her as she stared at the gold chain and the pendant hanging from it. It was a talisman in the shape of an open palm, a pale stone glittering from the palm’s center.

Tabby’s pulse skittered wildly in her throat. When she touched the hollow of her collarbone, where she wore pearls and a small key on a chain, her skin there felt far too warm. She felt a bit dizzy, faint.

“Are you all right?” Sam asked.

“I feel odd,” Tabby said, realizing she was perspiring. She leaned forward to read about the amulet.

It was dated to the early thirteenth century, but had been found in 1932 among the ruins of Melvaig Castle in the north-eastern Highlands of Scotland. It had somehow survived the legendary battle of An Tùir-Tara, which meant the Burning Tower. On June 19, 1550, a terrible fire had destroyed the central tower of Melvaig Castle. Most historians could not decide on the cause of the inferno, because no weapons or other signs of a battle had been found. A blaze that extensive should have been caused by medieval warfare. The most common hypothesis was that the fire was the result of treachery, the kind so often seen in the ongoing clan war between the MacDougalls of Skye and their blood enemies, the Macleods of Loch Gairloch. That bloody and bitter clan feud seemed to have originated in 1201, when a fire set by the MacDougalls razed the Macleod stronghold at Blayde to the ground, destroying the Macleod chief, William the Lion. Very few survivors were left, but amongst them was Macleod’s fourteen-year-old son.

Tabby reeled. The words blurred before her eyes. She could not breathe; she started to choke on the lack of air.

The Macleods of Loch Gairloch….

His fourteen-year-old son….

She finally breathed, gulping in air. Were the Macleods important somehow? Did she know the clan? Had they been a part of Rose history? Why did that boy seem important to her? She almost felt as if the clan name rang a bell, as if she needed to reach out to that boy. Yet she did not know anyone named Macleod. Her family came from Narne, in the western Highlands.

But she remained shaken. She could almost see a fourteen-year-old boy, covered in blood and choking on grief and guilt. And suddenly so much conflicting emotion consumed her that she could not breathe at all.

Tabby went still.

She could see the inferno.

The sky was pitch-black, and an entire castle was ablaze. There was dread, fury.

The images shifted. The sky was a brilliant robin’s-egg blue.

Only a soaring tower burned….

The terrible emotions intensified. Tabby cried out, rocked by the rage and anguish, the fear, the horror, and even the love.

And there was evil, too.

“What’s wrong?” Sam asked urgently. “You need to sit down!”

Tabby barely heard her sister. Tabby did not have the power to sense evil, but evil was beckoning her now. It wanted her. Tabby strained to see, horrified and mesmerized at once. And from the raging inferno on that sunny summer day, a dark fog came, slithering over the blazing tower, consuming it. Slowly the dark mists began shape-shifting into a woman—a faceless woman cloaked in swirling black.

“Tabby, damn it!”

The evil woman beckoned. Tabby couldn’t see her face but she knew she was smiling the cold, lustful smile of pure evil. Then she realized that she was afraid.

Tabby blinked. The darkly cloaked woman became clearer. Night-black hair spilled over her cloak, framing her pale beautiful face. She somehow knew this woman—a black witch or a demon. It was déjà vu. Yet they’d never met.

The woman started to drift away. She opened her eyes—or her eyes were already open and only now could she see what was in front of her. She clung to Sam’s strong arms. Her sister was pale and staring at her with alarm.

“Evil,” she whispered dryly.

She felt Sam’s disbelief. “But you can’t sense evil. I can, and there’s no evil here, Tabby.”

There was so much evil. “It’s here. I’m sensing it now. It’s a woman.”

“She’s as white as a sheet. She’s going to faint—she needs to lie down and get her feet elevated,” Kit said quickly.

Tabby then saw Kit beside Sam, the display and the amulet behind them. She stared at the bright gold palm. “I’m okay,” she said harshly.

“I didn’t feel any evil,” Sam said quietly. “Is it coming from the talisman?”

Tabby wet her lips, no longer dizzy but still a bit weak. What had just happened? She’d just felt a huge and threatening black force. And it had wanted her?

Her gaze moved to the glowing white stone in the palm’s center. It winked at her and she was stunned to feel its holy power. “It has white light. The amulet is for good, not evil. It has powerful magic.”

“It has to, to survive a fire. Gold melts,” Kit said flatly.

Tabby trembled. “I think I had a vision.” And what about her reaction to the fourteen-year-old boy who had survived Blayde’s destruction in the thirteenth century?

Tabby tensed. She felt as if she could almost see that boy. When she’d read those words, she’d felt his grief and guilt.

Sam’s dark blue eyes widened. “You don’t have the Sight, either!”

“It felt like déjà vu.” She wet her dry lips again. “There was a witch—or a female demon. I know her.” She corrected herself.

“I knew her. And the survivor of the first fire, I might know him, too.”

“What first fire?” Sam demanded.

Tabby realized she needed to sit down. “The clans started warring after 1201—it says so right on the plaque, Sam.” She glanced around for a bench. There was one across the hall, but she didn’t want to leave the display.

A brief silence fell, in which they all considered what had just happened. Kit said, “I get good vibes from the pendant. Maybe I can dig up something at HCU on it, and on these two clans.”

“My gut is telling me that we should see what we can find out about An Tùir-Tara.” Sam stared closely at Tabby. “Ring any more bells?”

Tabby stared at her sister. Whatever had happened at An Tùir-Tara had been frightening and horrible. What was Sam thinking? She looked far too grim—as if she knew more than she’d let on.

“Want me to dig into the destruction of Blayde, too?” Sam asked quietly.

Tabby became chilled—and even more sick. The boy’s grief felt as if it was a part of her. Had she been there? She thought about reincarnation. The Book of Roses had one mention of past lives, in a Wisdom that had clearly been read over and over again. Tabby didn’t disbelieve in past lives, but she didn’t believe, exactly, either. “Are you thinking I was there? Either at Blayde, or at An Tùir-Tara in 1550?”

“I don’t know,” Sam said matter-of-factly. She was oddly poker-faced. What was going on with her?

“Maybe Mom was there, or Grandma Sara, or another ancestor,” Sam said. “Maybe it was you, in a different life, although I’m not really into reincarnation. Or maybe you are coming into the power to sense evil—to feel across time the way Brie did.” Sam shrugged. “It can’t hurt to check it out. You’re obviously involved with this amulet, in one way or another.”

Tabby was silent now. The Book of Roses was very clear about Fate and the fact that there was no such thing as coincidence.

“I hate to jinx ourselves, but I’ve been waiting for something bad to happen all day. I just thought it would be really bad—you know, like vampires from a Buffy episode stepping out of the TV and coming to life in our living rooms,” Kit said, eyes wide.

Tabby couldn’t smile.

“We need vampires like we need a hole in the head. Don’t give the demons any ideas,” Sam said, amused. Then she and Kit exchanged conspiratorial looks.

Kit was more of a Hunter than a Slayer, and not half as impatient as Sam. She didn’t mind spending days poring through HCU’s amazing database, while Sam couldn’t sit still for very long—or stay off the street for very long. “What are you two planning?” Tabby asked with some trepidation.

Sam put her arm around her. “You’re still really pale. I think we should take you home and start checking this out. Tomorrow would be a better time to visit here, anyway.”

Tabby knew Sam was worried about her. She stared past her sister at the pendant. The little white stone was glowing now. “I’m fine.”

“What does that mean? We can’t leave you here, not when you almost fainted,” Sam said. “You seemed to go back in time while standing right here with us. I don’t like it, not one bit.”

Sam was never this protective of her. They were a team of equals, backing each other up in crisis after crisis. They fought demons together almost nightly. Tabby straightened and took a deep breath, deciding not to worry about her sister’s odd behavior now. She needed to think about that boy and that demon-witch. “I’m staying. I have to stay.” When Sam’s eyes widened, she said firmly, as if to one of her first-graders, “I am fine. I’m not going to break like fine china. I am going to get some water and then I am going to sit down by this amulet and think—and feel.”

Sam finally said, “I am not liking this very much.”

Tabby stared closely. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Sam’s expression became bland. “We don’t keep secrets, Tab.”

Kit said, “She should stay here, Sam. We were meant to be here today. This is the first time she’s ever felt evil—and by God, she felt it across time. This is a medieval Celtic exhibit. Melvaig is in the Highlands.”

Kit thought the exhibit related to the Highlanders who were fighting this war with them—but from medieval times, Tabby thought, surprised. She didn’t buy that. This was about a suffering boy and a woman with lots of black power. And it was about that amulet.

But why did everything feel so familiar?

Sam was grim. “That was spoken like a Rose,” she said to Kit.

“Hanging around you two, I feel like a Rose sometimes,” she quipped, her eyes sparkling.

“You know I can hold my own when it counts,” Tabby said, which was true.

“Okay,” Sam said, shrugging. “You’re a big girl and this is obviously in the Big Game Plan. Don’t know what got into me.”

Tabby walked back with them as far as the closest water fountain. She preferred Giuliani Water to the bottled stuff, anyway. When Sam and Kit were gone and she’d had a drink, she hurried back to the exhibit.

The closer she got to the glass case with the amulet, the stranger she began to feel. Dizzy, expectant, nervous, afraid… and angered.

She paused before the bright gold palm, light-headed and tense, uneasy. She’d been waiting for the sky to fall and it was falling now—this was it, she thought anxiously. The white moonstone blinked merrily at her. She remained aware of the boy and the woman with black power, of all the emotions that were somehow associated with the amulet, or An Tùir-Tara, or Blayde and the warring clans. Just as she had the odd notion that the amulet was protecting her from getting too close to emotions that might be dangerous for her—or a life that might be dangerous for her—so much grief consumed Tabby that she cried out.

It sent her right down to her knees.

It was the kind of grief she’d never felt in her life. It resonated with so much male warrior power and so much rage. On her hands and knees, Tabby somehow looked up.

A Highlander towered over her. He was a huge and muscular man, dark of complexion and hair, his face a mask of fury. His face was blistered, burned and bleeding. She recoiled in fear. He was holding a long sword, his knuckles blistered and bloody, too, and a red-and-black plaid was pinned to one shoulder. Otherwise he was clad in a short-sleeved tunic that hit mid-thigh, and it was charred and sooty. She inhaled—his arms and thighs were also burned and bloody!

His enraged and anguished blue eyes locked with hers.

In his grief, the Highlander looked ready to commit murder.

Uncertain if he was real or not, she somehow got up and reached for his hand. Her fingers grazed his.

Her heart leaped as they made contact for one split second.

And then he vanished.

Tabby reeled backward, her fingers burning from the heat of his hands, until she leaned against the case. Her heart was pounding with explosive force. She somehow saw a Met security officer begin to hurry toward her, but she couldn’t move off the display. She was shaken to the very core of her soul, his blue eyes engraved in her mind. Finally, she whispered, “Come back. Let me help you.”

The security officer grabbed her arm. “You can’t lean on the case, miss. Are you all right?”

Tabby barely heard him. She pulled away, rushing to the nearest bench, where she collapsed. She inhaled her mind racing. She had to cast a spell to bring him back to her while he was still close, before he vanished into time. She had to help him.

Tabby closed her eyes. Beginning to perspire, focused as never before, she murmured, “Come to me, Highlander, come to me now. Come to my healing power. Come to me, Highlander.”

She knew she had to help him. Somehow, it was the most important moment of her life.

Tabby waited.

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