Lone Pine, California
Just Outside Death Valley
Through the open window of his home, Bodin of Hammersham, leader of the U.S. weres, watched the child of his blood even as his blood ran cold. Outside, the air was hot but the early evening wind carried a slight promise of rain. Yards away, Bodin’s wife, Nicole, stood protectively close to The Boy, deliberately keeping the gathering crowd from getting too close. Nicole’s shadowed eyes were filled with regret and indecision.
Bodin felt regret, too, but indecisiveness was a luxury he couldn’t afford.
Oblivious to the intense emotions of those around him, The Boy attacked the trunk of a towering tree with the small wooden sword Nicole had given him. His dirt-stained face, cheeks still clinging to baby fat, twisted into a scowl. Though his lips were peeled back to show off imaginary fangs—the real ones wouldn’t emerge for years—their absence couldn’t disguise the fact that The Boy was going to be a formidable warrior. To anyone who took the time to look, his power was as plain as his half-breed status. As obvious as his tawny hair, hazel eyes, and bowed legs, each knee scabbed and bruised from his ceaseless play.
Carelessly, The Boy tossed his sword aside and ran up a small, rocky hill. He’d been at the compound for less than twenty-four hours, yet he navigated the rough, multi-leveled terrain easily, inviting the pack’s young ones to play with him without hesitation or shame. If those children and their parents eyed him with disdain or suspicion, he didn’t seem to notice or care. But he should.
Because they were right to be disdainful. As a tawny half-breed, The Boy looked different from the far darker creatures surrounding him. He represented everything Bodin and his pack stood against—dilution of pure werewolf blood. The weakening of a powerful bloodline.
Unfortunately, the pack was right to be suspicious. More worrisome was the fact they were becoming envious. Covetous. Wondering if this half-breed was the kind of half-breed detailed in the Legend of Wolves. The kind whose life might extend far beyond the centuries-long lifespan of an average wolf.
The kind that by his inherent power could grant another being immortality.
The Boy was Bodin’s own grandson, yet even Bodin had felt the lure of such a promise. That moment of hesitation. The temptation to ask the question: What if? What if he had the power to defeat death? What if he could live forever, rule forever, ensuring his clan’s peaceful, productive survival?
But with that thought came another. Rather than just survive, the pack could prosper. Live an eternity with those they loved. Never grow old. Never grow weak.
Defeat. Conquer. Dominate death just as they did their inferiors in life.
And that was the devil’s plan right there.
The seed of temptation that grew into something more. Something personal. Something desperate. Something that would eat at a person’s soul until everything else became disposable.
Then it would spread.
Because temptation was a greedy bitch. It didn’t stay the course, but rather stretched out its vile grip like a spider’s web, catching all in its path, until the disposer inevitably became the disposed.
A gift like immortality could produce no other result.
Yes, Bodin knew well about temptation. Just as he knew what had to be.
It was a blessing, really—The Boy’s ignorance. Far worse to suffer for even one second the agonizing knowledge of your destiny. That in order to help what you loved survive, you had to destroy it.
Turning away from the window, Bodin schooled his expression into one of resolve. With the return of his daughter, Camille, and her son, The Boy, Bodin had to protect what was his, what had always been his, and what would continue to be his even after he died. Rule and power. Balance. Family. Pride. Endurance.
Not one of them was discretionary.
Bodin unlocked the hidden drawer in his desk and withdrew a piece of paper worn thin by centuries of handling. It was the only known record of the Legend of Wolves. Handed down by Bodin’s forefathers. Tattered and incomplete. But there was enough writing visible for Bodin to know he was doing the right thing.
Protect the wolf whose ancestry none can see.
Protect the one who can gift immortality.
Cast him out before you let him be found.
He’ll drive hell’s demons back underground.
His…will give eternal life to a… ther
But only if he’s gifted his…
Obserwować Demonie Krawcy.
Two of the lines had faded in parts and were indecipherable. Nonetheless, Bodin read the last line of print out loud. “Obserwować Demonie Krawcy.”
Watch The Demon Tailors.
It was his pack’s destiny.
Someday—if Bodin was right—it would eventually be his.
He strode back to the window and looked once more at The Boy.
“We must find the vampires who took Camille in. Make certain they won’t talk. But first …” To his trusted advisor, Franco, Bodin ordered, “Bring The Boy to me.”
* * *
Auvergne Region France
Damn dragons had a morbid sense of the dramatic, Bodin thought, even as he led the young vampire forward, her petite shadow dwarfed by his own. His charge huddled closer to him as they walked, the flickering torches on the weathered stone walls of the inner castle doing little to reassure her—or him, for that matter.
The Girl looked like a fairy, with her pale skin and silver hair emphasizing the frailty of her small build. She held Bodin’s hand, her grip tightening with each step they took. Her eyes were huge, her gaze skipping around her as she tried to make sense of the dark, strange place he’d brought her to. When shadows at the front of the huge hall shifted and morphed into individual figures illuminated by the nearby fire blazing in the hearth, pain shot through his chest. Ruthless, the pain reminded him of all he’d lost during almost four centuries of life.
Today, once again, he would be compelled to abandon something he could have loved. In the short time he’d known her, The Girl had come to mean so much to him. He knew it was because in some ways, despite the fact they looked as different as night and day, she reminded him of The Boy.
He’d done what he’d had to in order to save The Boy. And although he hadn’t been able to save The Girl’s parents, he’d saved her; if not from the sun, then from the crazed weres who’d thought they were doing what Bodin wanted. She would always be his responsibility, but with her had come an inescapable realization—if Bodin continued to hold the werewolf race above all others, his pack would not survive. The time for Otherborn unity had arrived. That was what The Girl had taught him. That was why they were here.
Metal clanked from the armor of the Draci guards as they marched beside them. A cloaked figure, features indecipherable, kept pace gracefully, its strides so smooth it almost appeared to be floating. Bodin narrowed his eyes, automatically sniffing in an attempt to detect the creature’s race, but the smell of the Draci was too overwhelming.
The Girl shivered and he tugged her cloak closer around her. Mentally, he cursed the Draci for adhering to the old ways and using this cold, damp castle for the tribe’s important ceremonies. He knew, even from the brief time they’d spent together, that although The Girl was nocturnal, she preferred to leave her lights on and was still prone to nightmares. After Bodin left, she’d likely cry herself to sleep. But leave her he would.
A handful of dragon-shifters stood to the sides of the room, watching him with clear distrust. The alliance between their tribe and his European packs had only recently been forged. If he was going to win these dragons over—if he was finally going to facilitate a modicum of peace between his and theirs—he had to go through with giving them The Girl.
The Draci were a powerful, ancient race that populated Europe in small numbers, but those numbers were dwindling fast due to the difficulty their females had giving birth. Their queen was almost twenty, with two-thirds of her life gone, and yearned for a child of her own before she died.
Bodin sensed The Girl’s gaze on him and looked down. The smile she shot him reminded him not of The Boy this time, but of Camille. His darling girl. She used to smile constantly, but he couldn’t remember the last time she had. He’d taken her smile away when he’d cast out his own blood. His grandson.
He stopped their forward movement, then crouched in front of The Girl and stared into her eyes. Without saying anything, he nodded. Her smile trembled, but she raised her chin and slipped her hand from his.
She was like Camille in that way, too. Brave.
She knew what needed to be done.
Without hesitation, she stepped closer to the Draci.
Their leader, Lacrosse, ignored her and focused his attention on Bodin. Like werewolves, dragon-shifters looked completely human until they shifted. Then they were the ultimate example of inhuman. Fire-breathing versions of the demons Bodin and his pack were sworn to keep in Hell. His duty was one of the reasons for keeping peace with the dragons now. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer, particularly if you might need them to defeat a greater, stronger enemy one day.
“You’re looking well,” Lacrosse boomed out in a voice designed to carry. “Well, but old. We’ve heard rumors that you found the one to prove your legend true, but if that’s the case, your patience is far greater than mine.”
At Lacrosse’s words, The Girl’s gaze once more found Bodin and he silently cursed. He never discussed the legend with outsiders, but some in his pack had. He felt The Girl’s curiosity and something else… If she weren’t so young, he’d think she was trying to read his mind, but that was impossible. As he now knew, vampires couldn’t access their powers until after puberty. But he admired her for trying.
In the face of Bodin’s silence, Lacrosse finally looked down at The Girl. He studied her for several seconds, his expression grim, before reaching out to pat her head. Though she automatically flinched back and kept her gaze on Bodin, she didn’t retreat.
A Draci female standing next to Lacrosse stepped forward and held out her hand, which The Girl ignored. Eventually, when Bodin refused to acknowledge The Girl’s gaze, she took the female’s hand and let herself be led away.
And although Bodin waited…
Although he hoped to see her turn and smile at him once more…
In fact, she never looked back.
When she was out of sight, he shifted his gaze back to Lacrosse, who offered him a goblet of wine. Bodin raised the goblet. “To the peaceful coexistence of our people from here forth.”
Bodin hesitated only a second before drinking the wine. Lacrosse wouldn’t have poisoned it. If he’d wanted him dead, he’d have done the more dramatic thing and burned the flesh from Bodin’s bones while The Girl watched.
Still, the spicy wine tumbled down his throat like jagged rocks. Swiping his hand across his mouth, Bodin nodded at Lacrosse much the same way he had The Girl. He turned to leave, but Lacrosse’s voice stopped him.
“As I was saying, you’re looking old, Bodin. If you’ve proved the legend true, I’d think you’d have instituted the change by now.”
Bodin had trained himself well against such prodding, but the Draci were the last individuals he’d expected to have suspicions. They were such an isolated group. Thousands of miles from the States. How could they…
Bodin turned around to stare directly into Lacrosse’s gaze. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“He’s talking about your grandson,” a voice whispered from the small crowd. Bodin searched for the speaker. His eyes automatically fell on the cloaked figure, but he couldn’t be certain this had been the one who’d spoken.
“The only grandson I have is a bastard werebeast whom I disavowed. I have no idea where he is and I certainly don’t care. You can bet if he were part of the legend, neither of those would be the case.”
Without bothering to nod again, he left, storming away even as his mind warred with images of The Boy and The Girl. Both vulnerable. Both trusting. Both his, in some way. And both gone from him.
They’d be better off for it.
Hopefully, so would the world.