Soul of a Guardian

scroll down for excerpt                 Book 16 in the Heart & Soul series

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Revolutions…broken loyalties, betrayal and death.

The Guardians…only they hold the knowledge to take back what has
been lost, but they’ve been hunted until only one remains standing.

The Daamen trader…can he capture and keep the heart of the woman
who is such a mystery?

Or will the Soul of a Guardian be consumed in the final destruction?

 

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Laughing to himself, he opened the door to the room and walked in, clicking it shut behind him while glancing around. Hmmm, he remembered this room from a previous visit, though truth be told most tavern rooms were the same. Big bed, small table with two chairs, a bedside table holding a lamp, and a door into a private bathroom.
Reaching for his vest, he started to take it off when a sound caught his attention. Hands on the lapels of his vest, he cocked his head to one side and listened.
Nothing. With a shrug he started to pull the vest back over his shoulders only to hear a whisper of sound again. Frowning, he dropped the vest onto the table and turned to the window. Drawing back the curtains, he peered out of the window into the night beyond. Lights lit up the streets and as usual it was still busy.
Straightening up, he drew the curtains shut and rolled his shoulders while stepping back.
This time there was a soft moan. He froze. No doubt about it, that moan came from… He glanced over to the door in the side of the room. A whisper of sound and then a sigh. Someone was hiding in the bathroom.
His first thought was that it could very well be a tavern wench who’d been smacked around a bit by an overzealous patron, and one thing a Daamen hated was to see a wench hurt.
“Hello?” He started across the room. “Is there someone in there?”
Silence met this and he frowned. Mayhap ’twasn’t a wench. Someone else?
A wet rattle of breath sounded, a sigh, and then silence.
Alarm shot through Heddam. Someone was hurt. In several long strides he was at the bathroom door and placing his hand on the doorknob. “Whoever is in there, I’m not going to hurt you, all right? You sound hurt. I’m coming in.”
“Go away.” The voice was definitely female. “This room is taken.”
As though he was going to believe that. Swinging the door open, he walked in and then came to a complete stop, his shocked gaze taking in the scene before him.
A wench was lying on the floor, her eyes open and staring sightlessly up at the wall. Blood was pooling under her and slipping down the drain in the floor beside her hip. Dressed in a plain gown that came down to her calves, her feet shod in flat slippers, she had several cuts and scrapes on her.
And she was very dead.
The wench crouched on the floor beside her had tears glittering in her eyes and a laser in her hands, the barrel pointed directly up at Heddam. A small pack was at her feet. Dressed similar to the dead wench, she had blood on the side of her gown but didn’t seem injured.
But what struck Heddam the most was the tear-shaped topaz kyrat in each wench’s forehead. The topaz of the dead wench was dull, but the living wench’s was darkly bright.
The second shock of the night was realizing that he was facing two Guardians, and outside the tavern were the Aora soldiers hunting them.
The laser didn’t waver, her hold steady as she stood slowly. Curly brown hair fell around her shoulders, and once she was standing he could see that she appeared slim beneath the shapeless gown, with a hungry look about her as though she hadn’t eaten for days, but her stance was as steady as her aim.
“Easy, lass.” Heddam held his hands up shoulder height, palms out. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“And I can’t allow you to call the soldiers, either,” she said. “So that creates a dilemma, doesn’t it?” Stepping over the dead Guardian, she moved forward slowly. “Step back into the room and keep your mouth shut, or I’ll shoot.”
Cautiously he did as bidden, moving until he was standing in the middle of the room and she’d exited the bathroom. In the brighter light he could see the blood staining her side. Concerned, he said quietly, “You’re hurt.”
“Put your hands on your head and drop to your knees.”
“Lass, you’re in no danger from me.”
“Do it.” Tears no longer made her eyes glitter. Now she sounded in control, sure of her decisions.
Placing his hands atop his head, Heddam was about to obey when he heard voices coming along the corridor. Voices complaining loudly.
“I can’t believe the soldiers are searching the rooms! Think they can just come in here and search, kicking us out and -”
“As long as you’ve paid me, you’ll get laid tonight,” a tavern wench’s voice responded coarsely.
A door banging sounded further down the corridor and Heddam looked from the closed door to where the Guardian stood. She didn’t look frightened but she did look a little desperate. Noticing him watching her, she backed towards the window, reached out with one hand and pulled the curtains back before glancing quickly over her shoulder. Whatever she saw out there obviously wasn’t what she wanted to see.
Heddam remained still, studying her. She looked back at him as the sound of complaining voices and doors banging open continued.
Danger was drawing closer with every minute that passed. Danger to this wench. Heddam looked her directly in the eyes and took a deep breath.
“Lass,” he said quietly. “Aora soldiers are coming closer and they’re going to find you.”
“Yes,” she replied. “So you better leave.”
That caught him by surprise. “What?”
“Those soldiers are after me, trader, not you.” She gestured to the door with the laser barrel. “Get out before it turns nasty.”
The wench wasn’t going to hold him hostage. She wasn’t going to use him as a bargaining tool. Heddam couldn’t believe it. Or mayhap she just hadn’t thought of it.
Almost as though she knew what he was thinking, she gave a wry smile. “Those soldiers will do whatever it takes to kill me, trader. Keeping you in here with me will only wind up with you hurt or dead.”
“They won’t.” He lowered his hands. “’Twould bring the wrath of the IPC down on them and they don’t want that.”
“Trust me, they’ll sacrifice one or two of their own soldiers to the IPC just to get me.” She gestured once more to the door. “Get out now before they come in.”
“What are you going to do?” It was a foolish question. What could she do?
“Hide.”
“In this room? Lass, ’tis nowhere to hide. They’ll find your dead friend in the bathroom and they’ll tear this room apart looking for you.” And somehow he just couldn’t stand the thought of it.
“I’ll fight.” The topaz jewel caught the light as she angled her head at the sound of voices coming even closer. The soldiers were closing in. They could only be a room or two away. “It won’t be the first time.” A slightly self-deprecating smile quirked the corner of her lush lips, though she didn’t have any humour in her eyes. “Might be the last though.”
“You’ll die and you know it,” Heddam stated bluntly, the thought of it making his skin crawl. Standing by and watching her get shot was not something he could stomach.
“I don’t want you hurt.” She looked at Heddam. “Get the hell out now while you still can do so in one piece.”
And leave her to die. Heddam shook his head. A Daamen never allowed a wench to be hurt if he could help it, and he wasn’t about to allow this one to get hurt. Especially when she gave him a safe way out.
Crossing to the door, he said, “Take your gown off and get into bed.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Laying his ear against the door, he listened. Soldiers were entering the room next to them. A thump on the wall separating the rooms made him straighten and swing away quickly.
Passing the wench with the laser now held at her side, he stopped at the bed and yanked the covers back. “Quickly. Take your gown off and get into the bed.”
“Are you out of your mind?” She stared at him.
Toeing off his boots, he sat down. “If you move quickly, we can pretend we’re in bed together. I can hide you beneath me; they won’t see your face.” He looked at her levelly. “I won’t rape you, lass, ’tis a promise.”
“I know you won’t.” A frown creasing her brow, she glanced from the door back to him. “You’re a Daamen.”
“Then you know you can trust me.”
She shook her head. “No. If the soldiers do come in and find you with me—”
“You might be wanted by the Aora soldiers, but under the IPC laws you’re not a criminal. In fact, as far as they’re concerned you’re Aora’s problem, not theirs. Even if they get game enough to actually come in and find you in my bed, I’m not breaking any law.” Heddam frowned as boots sounded in the room beside them. “’Tis your only chance to get out of this alive, lass, so make haste.”
For several seconds she just stared at him, her hand clenching tight around the laser. Her gaze flickered from him to the bed and back to the door several times before she cursed softly and moved fast. She didn’t bother to run around the bed, simply ran to it and scrambled over the top. Up on her knees, she jerked the shapeless gown over her head to reveal a support garment and panties. Plopping down on the bed, she kicked off her slippers and slid beneath the covers that Heddam held up. The laser she thrust under the covers, close to her side.
He slid in beside her and yanked the covers up to their waists. Without wasting a second he rolled on top of her, nudging her thighs apart and keeping the weight of his upper body off her by balancing on his elbows.
“What the -” she began, startled.
“We’re supposed to be making love.” Heddam settled himself quickly in the cradle of her hips. “Don’t panic. I’m dressed, you’re dressed.” Sort of. His hand skimmed up her side, his thumb unwittingly brushing against the swell of her breast. The lace of her support garment felt soft rather than scratchy, and he was surprised he could even notice that right now.
She stiffened.
“Trust me,” he said and gave her a reassuring smile.
Her thickly lashed eyes, which he could see now were a soft, deep, doe-eyed brown, narrowed slightly. “I appreciate your help, trader, but keep your hands to yourself.”
The wench’s warning tickled his humour, but now wasn’t the time to indulge in testing the waters. “Under other circumstances I’d accept that challenge, lass, but right now I’m more intent on keeping you hidden.”
A hard pounding on the door stopped anything else she might say and Heddam gave her one warning look before he glanced over his shoulder at the door. The head of the bed was near the window, the foot of it facing the door. If all went as planned the soldiers wouldn’t get a good glimpse of the wench.
Which reminded him… He quickly brushed the thick fringe of brown hair down over the topaz on her forehead. Their eyes met for several seconds before he looked back over his shoulder and roared, “Who the hell is there?”
“We’ve permission to search these rooms!” A voice called back. “Open up!”

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copyright Angela Verdenius