Charon slowed his car as he pulled off the main road into a strategically hidden drive. He eased his charcoal gray CL65 AMG Mercedes cautiously over the dirt road until he came to the rock-lined parking area behind the pub he owned.
He put the car in park and shut off the engine. For several minutes Charon sat silently, contemplating the previous hours.
The game had changed.
Charon released a long breath as he rubbed through the hole in his shirt where he’d been injured. During the entire drive from MacLeod Castle to his little corner of Scotland, he’d thought over the encounter that took place at Wallace Mansion.
So many times he’d battled evil, but always he and the other Warriors came out on top. With every battle, however, it seemed the danger continued to escalate.
As did the chances of their deaths.
For over six hundred years, he’d lived without fear of death. He was a Warrior. With a primeval god inside him that not only gave him immortality, but power as well, there wasn’t much that could harm him.
Anyone could take a Warrior’s head and end their life. If they ever discovered who was a Warrior. And if they could best a Warrior in combat.
Charon and the others kept what they were a safely guarded secret. Still, that didn’t stop the unease that plagued him ever since discovering a new evil had taken over.
“How many more?” he murmured to himself. “Were Deirdre and Declan no’ enough to fight and vanquish?”
In his heart, Charon knew there couldn’t be good without evil, but he was tired of fighting, weary of always looking over his shoulder, wondering when the next strike would come.
It was made worse because he’d had four centuries of peace. All because Declan had brought Deirdre forward in time.
Charon, like the rest at MacLeod Castle, had worried about when Deirdre would finally show up and unleash her evil once more. The MacLeods had even sent Warriors forward into the future as well, with the help of the Druids.
Charon hadn’t been one to travel through time, and for him those four centuries had been paradise. Pure, unadulterated bliss.
It was easy to push aside the monster he’d become while locked in Deirdre’s prison deep in her mountain of Cairn Toul. He even managed to get through several days at a time without calling to mind what Deirdre forced him to do to his father.
In the end, however, Charon had to face the fact that he was still the same monster.
Better clothes, money, and owning most of the small town of Ferness hadn’t changed anything. They were a shell to cover the man he really was. A brute. A beast.
Charon pulled his key from the ignition and opened the car door. He stepped out of the Mercedes and inhaled the fresh, clean air around him.
He’d taken a chance in returning to Ferness after escaping Deirdre’s prison, but it was his home. Too many decades had passed for anyone to remember him when he came wandering up those centuries ago, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they did.
There was nowhere else he’d wanted to go. It hadn’t taken long to begin transforming Ferness into a prospering town. He lived among the mortals without them ever knowing anything.
Until a year ago when Ian Kerr walked into Ferness with his Druid, Danielle. Charon had known trouble would follow, but there was no way he could turn away a fellow Warrior.
And just as he expected, trouble had come. He hadn’t hesitated in transforming into a Warrior to protect his people and help Ian defend Dani.
He could still remember the way his men had gaped at him for a moment before diving into the battle. No one had spoken about seeing him or Ian change into their Warrior forms.
Maybe that was for the best. His men who had survived that awful night stayed by his side, which was all he could really ask for.
Charon gazed at the building before him. The inn dated back to the twelfth century, and had held up well, thanks to his constant care. The first floor had been transformed into a pub. Above that on the second floor was his office, and on the third floor, his home.
The inn wasn’t his only acquisition. He’d bought several properties around town, but his major investment was land. He owned hundreds of acres around Ferness. It kept people from settling, but its beauty brought in tourists by the busload, which equaled profits to everyone in the small Highland town.
Charon put his hand in a pocket of his jeans and drew out the small bullet he’d recovered from the battle. The slug itself was nothing special, but the red liquid in the small see-through chamber was the unique part.
The liquid was blood, but not just any blood. It was drough blood. One drop from the blood of Druids who gave their soul to Satan to practice black magic could kill a Warrior.
That was bad enough. Declan Wallace first used the X90 bullets a year ago. They wreaked unimaginable damage, keeping the Warriors from getting close to their enemies, where they could use their strength, speed, and deadly claws.
With the death of Declan, Charon had assumed knowledge of the X90s would fade into oblivion. But somehow Jason Wallace, Declan’s cousin, had not only managed to manufacture the X90s again, but also made them more powerful.
It wasn’t just the X90s, as Charon himself had learned. He’d taken the blade meant for Arran. The instant the dagger tore through his skin, he’d felt the sting of drough blood.
There had been an inferno inside him that ate away at his bones and shredded his insides. The soul-crushing, gut-wrenching agony had been too much to bear. He’d known he was going to die.
Many times he’d craved death, but as it sat staring at him, Charon realized he wasn’t ready to die. He wanted to live, if for no other reason than to kill Jason Wallace.
Charon looked down at the cut in his ruined navy pullover and flattened his lips. It was the other Warriors, the ones he’d kept his distance from who had saved him.
No one knew how or why another Warrior’s blood could counteract drough blood, but it did. They used their blood to help him hang on to life until they could reach MacLeod Castle and Sonya, a Druid who had amazing healing magic that could help him.
He owed her a debt that could never be repaid. Just as he owed Phelan, Arran, and the others for saving him.
Charon wasn’t the only one disturbed by the turn of events with the drough blood. Phelan’s blood, that could heal anything and anyone of any affliction, had no effect on Charon’s wound.
He’d seen Phelan’s worried frown. But Phelan departed MacLeod Castle before Charon had a chance to speak with him. Neither felt they belonged with the Warriors at the castle, which had formed a tight friendship between them.
It was an odd friendship, one neither Warrior could have seen coming, but they were bound together. And not just because they were immortal.
Charon knew Phelan would eventually show up to discuss what might have gone wrong when Charon hadn’t been healed by his blood. He wanted answers to give to Phelan, but what could he say when the power of the gods within them couldn’t help?
He ran a hand down his face and turned away from his building. There was too much on his mind for him to face those within. Especially Laura with her pale green eyes, eyes that pierced him to his very soul.
Charon walked down the hill, following the path he’d worn over the years. It meandered through the thick forest, dozens of other paths branching off along the way. He had many trails he’d used over the centuries, but there was only one place he wanted to be right now.
He came to the sixth fork in the path and turned left. Another three hundred yards and he halted, his gaze taking in the valley below him. It lay nearly untouched by time. Beautiful and serene.
The trees stretched high into the sky, their thick limbs heavy with leaves. Even now he could hear them rustle as a breeze swept through the dense foliage. The sun broke through the clouds, its rays shining brightly on the small loch. The water dazzled like golden fairy wings with the reflection of light.
This was his haven, his sanctuary.
The one place he could let down his guard and allow the horrors of the world he lived in to show.
* * *
Laura Black watched Charon from the offices on the second story. She’d rushed to the window when she heard his car pull up. The instant the tires crunched on the gravel, she’d known it was him.
Even as she knew she shouldn’t, she stared. Through the windshield she could make out his strong jaw and the chocolate-colored locks of his hair that fell just past his chin.
She knew from her many hours of covertly observing him every contour of his face, from his razor-sharp cheekbones to his high forehead and square chin. She knew how his lips could look soft and inviting when he wanted something, but if he was angry, they were hard and thin as he pressed them together.
In the two years from working closely with Charon, she’d seen all his emotions. None had made her stomach knot like the one on his face now.
The way he looked at the inn as if he were in another time or place made her skin tingle with some emotion she could neither name, nor explain.
Her mouth went dry when his tall, muscular frame unfolded with liquid grace from the car. She never tired of looking at him. He was utterly virile, wonderfully male.
Completely, wickedly gorgeous.
His dark, seductive eyes, which she had seen promise other women sin and satisfaction, now appeared haunted. Troubled.
Her gaze raked over his frame that lounged nonchalantly against his car with one ankle crossed over the other. He wore his jeans low on his hips, as if they had been custom-made to show off every wonderful angle of his trim hips, firm butt, and long legs.
Laura bit her lip as her eyes traveled up from his narrow waist to the wide V made by his impressive chest and shoulders. She might not be able to touch him, but she knew every inch of his upper body from watching him move huge barrels of whisky.
In the summer he’d remove his shirt while working, and that’s when it took every ounce of her willpower not to ogle his striking body and honed sinew like some love-struck teenager.
As drawn in to his body as she always was, Laura didn’t miss the way his jaw was clenched. He stood strung tight as a bow, so tense he appeared as if he might crack into a million pieces at any second.
There were many secrets her box had, and she respected them. Yet, she found she wanted to go to him and wrap her arms around him. To give him the comfort it seemed he so desperately needed.
It was silly. Charon didn’t need anyone. At least not usually. This was the first time she’d seen him look so … ravaged … by whatever ate at him.
He was rarely alone. If one of the men about town wasn’t with him wanting something, there was a beautiful woman on his arm. Women flocked to him, but then who could resist such confidence and carnal sexuality combined into one man?
Thankfully, he didn’t bring the women back to his rooms. It was one of his own rules. No woman he dated had ever seen his office, much less his home or the inside of his bedroom.
Laura didn’t know why he kept to that rule, only that it saved her from having to see women with that pleasured look on their faces as she came into work.
She was used to the Charon who always had answers, the Charon who fixed any and all problems. The Charon who nothing seemed to affect.
But he was affected now. That much was obvious, and it worried her, settling into her chest in a tight knot.
She wished she didn’t care about him—or long for him. But she did. At night when she closed her eyes, it was his arms, his eyes … his body that held her captive, his mouth that kissed her into oblivion.
If there had even been a hint he was interested in her, she’d have let him know her interest. Charon, however, was her employer and friend. Nothing else would come of the longing, the … need she had for him.
Laura narrowed her eyes and turned her head to try to see what it was he pulled from his pocket. It was small and he studied it as if it held the answers of the world.
All the while, he rubbed his chest where it appeared his shirt had been cut. Concern spiked through her that he might be injured.
The only thing that stopped her from rushing down to him was that she didn’t see any blood on his hands.
She put her hand on the window when he turned his head to the woods. As if hearing some silent call, Charon pushed away from the car and started toward the forest.
His strides were quick as they ate up the ground. Long after he disappeared into the thick trees, she stood there, thinking of him, wanting him. She knew that look upon his face. He always went into the forest when he was unsettled.
Laura turned away from the window. He could be out there for hours. Still, she’d seen the tear in his shirt. She hurried into his office, where he kept spare shirts for when he had to break up fights in the bar.
There had been a time she hadn’t wanted to walk into his office. It was so very … male. So Charon. She loved the dark furniture, the gray walls, and all the wood, but it made her take notice of her handsome employer when she couldn’t afford to.
This time she ignored the desk and large leather chair and pulled open a drawer in the filing cabinet. She took the shirt on top and draped it over her shoulder as she headed to the small half kitchen near her desk.
Just a few minutes before, she’d put on water for tea, which she now poured in a large carafe and added tea bags. She dunked the bags three times, then added one teaspoon of sugar before screwing on the top.
She unlatched the sliding glass door that opened onto the second-floor deck and stepped outside. Laura positioned Charon’s shirt near the top step on the railing, and then set the carafe on the small table in case he came back sooner than she expected.
Once inside the office, she closed the door and found herself looking through the dense trees for a glimpse of Charon.
It was the ringing of the office phone that took her away.
Copyright © 2013 by Donna Grant