Monday, November 12, 2012

Teaser - Bodyguards, Chapter 5

With this last teaser chapter, I'm glad to announce the release of Bodyguards! If you'd like to read more, the book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, my website, and soon more ebook stores!
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CHAPTER FIVE
QuickSilver




The instant Vivien unwrapped her birthday present, her entire world shifted on its axis.

Brad’s story still made no sense. The magic he had performed for her was still beyond anything she could comprehend. She was still scared and confused.

The difference was that now she believed him.

She’d been meaning to ask him what his tattoo meant from the first time she had noticed it. Now that she’d found an exact replica of that strange symbol where no one but Anabel could have hidden it, she had all the proof she needed: the link between the strange stories he was telling her and her real life, the one in which Anabel had taken care of her since she’d been five and her parents had died.

“What...” She gulped. Her throat felt too tight, too dry. Her eyes went back and forth between the pendant in her hand and the elegant lines on Brad’s skin. If she had laid the pendant against his wrist, it would have only been a little smaller than his tattoo. “What is this a symbol of?”

“It depends who wears it,” Brad said with a small smile. “On my skin, it’s a symbol of the oath I swore as a QuickSilver guard, a reminder that I’ll give my life if need be to protect the true king or queen. And when you wear it, it’ll be a symbol of what you are. The heir to a long tradition of rulers. The person who takes care of Foh’Ran—” He reached into her hand to follow one spiral of the pendant with a fingertip. “—of those who channel the Quickening—” He brushed against a second spiral. “—and of the vampires.”

His finger followed the last spiral, ending where he had started. As he pulled away, his fingertips brushed against Vivien’s. She shuddered, and the pendant fell from her hand. Brad caught it before it could tumble to the floor and offered it back to her in his open palm.

“I can’t be a...a ruler,” she murmured, crossing her arms over her chest so she wouldn’t be tempted to take the pendant again. She didn’t want it or anything it symbolized. She didn’t want to be part of this strange world where people were kidnapped or killed in broad daylight. “I don’t want to be a ruler.” Her voice was firming up with her resolve. “I just want to live here and be me. You can tell that to your king.”

Brad looked crestfallen. He got back to his feet, his hand still extended in front of him. “Vivien, this is you. You can’t just push it away like this.”

“Why not?” she challenged. “How can I pretend to be a ruler when I know nothing about your world or its people? I can’t do magic. I’m not a...a vampire. I’m just a college girl.”

“You’re a lot more than that.” Brad’s gaze was burning with the same intensity as when he had first told her about his oath, back at his apartment. “And what about Anabel? Are you just going to leave her in Rhuinn’s hands?”

Guilt flashed through Vivien. How could she have forgotten Anabel?

“How am I supposed to help her?” she protested. “I don’t even know where she is. You said you don’t know either.”

“But we can find out,” Brad said urgently. “We can go to Foh’Ran, find out where she is, and find a way to free her.”

“Why don’t you go and do that? You and your brother. I’d be of no use to you.”

He shook his head. “We swore to protect you, not her. We aren’t going anywhere without you.” He hesitated for a second before he added, “Aedan and I... We’re not as strong here as we would be in Foh’Ran. I can use the Quickening to make it more difficult for Rhuinn’s guards to come into this house, but you’ve seen how it didn’t stop them before. Any shield I build here will fail eventually; that’s the nature of this world. Come with us back to Foh’Ran, and we’ll get Anabel back.”

“But I can’t!” Vivien folded his fingers over the pendant. “My life is here. We’ve got that presentation tomorrow. Finals are in a month.”

“Anabel could be dead already.”

Vivien had never been sucker-punched before. As she struggled to find her breath, she imagined it felt a bit like this.

“Time passes faster in Foh’Ran than it does here,” Brad continued, stone-faced. “Every minute we argue here, five minutes pass there. If she was taken two hours ago, she’s already been there for ten hours. Rhuinn is not a pleasant man. If he wants her to tell him everything that ever happened to you, from how many times you skinned your knees while growing up to how many years you studied fencing, she will tell him. It’s only a matter of time. And when he has what he wants from her...”

He let the sentence hang between them. The men downstairs, whoever they had been, had had no qualms about hitting Anabel, however old or frail she might be. She was the only family Vivien had, and someone might be hurting her at that very moment because of Vivien. She swallowed back the tears that stung her eyes.

“Should I... Should I pack a bag?” she asked, looking at the ruined room around her rather than at Brad’s cold eyes; he resembled his brother more in that moment than he had before. “How long will we be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he said more softly now. “But it’s best to assume you won’t be back. Or at least not for a while.”

That last part was clearly an afterthought. It made it harder to believe she’d be back at all.

The strangest feeling took over Vivien, and she felt like she was watching herself as she left Anabel’s room and entered her own. She dug the duffel bag she had once used to carry her fencing gear out of the closet and set it on her bed. She picked up clothes from the floor and threw them in, not really searching for anything in particular, merely filling the bag.

She put her MP3 player in there. She’d have taken her computer, too, if it hadn’t been destroyed. The thought gave her pause; she wouldn’t be able to keep in contact with her friends from that other place, would she? There’d be no one there she knew other than Brad—other than the man she’d had a crush on for so long and who had rejected her that very morning. She grabbed a few favorite books from her shelves, too; at least she’d have something to do.

The entire time, she was aware of Brad’s presence just outside her room. He watched her without a word, offering no advice about what she should pack. Was that place cold? Should she take a coat? Would she need sunscreen? She was beginning to resent him, both for the bad news and for his silence. When she pushed past him to go to the bathroom across the hall, she gave him a hard look. He stopped her with a brush of his fingers against her arm.

“I know you’re upset,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry the life you knew is about to change forever. But don’t be mad at us. We didn’t decide to send you to this world, or to hide the truth from you, or to bring you back to make sure you wouldn’t plot to take over the throne. Aedan and I are the only ones you can count on right now. Being mad at us won’t make your life any easier.”

He retreated to the top of the staircase; she had a feeling that, if she hadn’t run out from under his nose before, he would have given her even more space. Troubled, she entered the bathroom and transferred her necessities to the bag. She didn’t know what that other place was like, but she doubted she’d find her favorite shampoo there.

She finally closed the bag. The sound of the zipper had never seemed so final. Before leaving, she took a deep breath and looked at herself in the mirror. With flyaways that had escaped from her ponytail framing her face every which way, she looked nothing like the princess and potential ruler Brad claimed she was. She raised a hand to comb her hair behind her ears, but froze when she saw the dried blood still staining her fingers.

Anabel’s blood.

In her search for her present and then in her packing, she had forgotten all about the blood on her hand. Shaking hard, she turned on the water in the sink and washed her fingers, rubbing frantically until her skin felt raw and no more pink swirled down the drain. After she shut off the water again, she pressed her wet hands to her face and took another look at herself. The panic lingering in her eyes made her look even less like a ruler than a moment earlier. Maybe all that king needed was to see her to decide she wasn’t a threat to him.

She dried her face and hands, picked up her bag, and finally left the bathroom. When she reached Brad in the hallway, she didn’t say anything, but he smiled softly when he took the bag from her and swung the strap over his shoulder. He led the way back down to the kitchen. As they reached the bottom of the staircase, Vivien tried very hard not to look toward the front room.

When Brad gestured toward the door the same way he had when summoning his magic earlier, Vivien held her breath, expecting another show of lights. But while the doorway did glow, the effect was much more subtle, as though sunlight were pouring in on a bright summer day. She could still see through.

Aedan was standing in the driveway, apparently ready to come in. He nodded once, his gaze directed at Brad when he said, “Thirty.” He then walked through the doorway, but rather than entering the house, he disappeared in a flash of light. Vivien gasped. Even after what Brad had showed her, she could barely believe what was going on. Was this what that other man had done in the front room?

“Where... What happened? Where is he? Thirty what?”

Brad offered her a small smile. “Thirty seconds. He went ahead to check that the shields on the castle are still secure.” His lips moved silently for a few seconds, then he held his hand out to Vivien. “Are you ready to go back home?”

“I am home,” she protested, but even to her own ears the words sounded weak.

She took his hand, clinging to the very tips of his fingers, and let him pull her into the light. 

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