Those damn vampires didn’t help. She’d set wards on the complex—a kind of magical burglar alarm, designed so that nobody but Caroline could sense them when they activated. But they never went off, and the vampires never came back. She kept checking, but the place remained empty of all but its ghosts.
While Galahad’s home was full of him.
She knew he was after something. This felt almost like a feral kind of courtship, as if he were staking his claim on her.
But he’d said he didn’t want her in terms that left no room for romantic illusions. So what the hell kind of game was he playing? And what should she do about it?
Because he was definitely getting to her—and not just with the impressive sex. Hot as he was, that wouldn’t have done such a good job of chipping away at her mental barriers.
No, what got her the most was the lazy, drifting time just after he’d taken her and just before sunrise, when they lay in bed together watching the dragons play. That was when he’d tell her about the places he’d been, the times he’d seen, the amazing events he’d witnessed. Hearing the reality behind the legend never failed to enthrall her. It quickly became hard to remember why she needed to keep her distance.
Sunset on the fourth day found them nicely settled into their routine. She sat in bed polishing off a breakfast steak under Galahad’s watchful eye—he said she needed the protein—while he did his evening sword exercises.
Chewing a piece of sinfully tender filet mignon, she watched him parry invisible attacks, sword flashing, his big, naked body moving with a dancer’s grace.
The psychic buzz of her wards activating made her sit up an instant before the vision fell on her like an anvil.
Four of them held the naked girl spread across the altar. Over them stood a blond woman who held a snaking knife in one hand and the grail in the other. The blonde’s face was twisted with savage anticipation that matched the black eagerness in the eyes of her followers. Caroline could feel their hunger to see blood spill. She froze, a scream clawing at her throat, unable to move or think as the poisonous images poured into her consciousness.
Then it was over, and the vision’s hold snapped. Caroline flung herself out of bed so fast she fell on the floor. “Galahad!” Sick horror clawed at her as she scrambled to her feet, but she had no time for emotion now. “They’re back!”
He stopped and lowered his sword. “The cultists?”
“Yeah. They’ve captured somebody. They’re getting ready to sacrifice her on that damned altar.”
His handsome face went cold. “Armor us up and open a gate. Let’s see what’s going on.”
A gesture called their mail around them. Then carefully, she opened a gate just large enough to give them a view of the sacrificial chamber.
Just as her vision had predicted. Four cultists held the naked girl across the altar as the blond priestess lifted her knife. Galahad cursed softly. “I don’t like this, but it doesn’t look like we’ve got time to play it safe.”
“I don’t need much time,” Caroline reminded him in a low voice. “Soren gave me that spell, remember? Keep them from killing the girl, and I’ll do the rest. It’ll take me sixty seconds, tops, to do the chant.”
“Can you do it from here?”
She hesitated, her eyes locked on the struggling girl. “I don’t think the gate could handle the energy flow.”
“Yeah, I figured.” Galahad drew his sword and prepared to leap. “Sixty seconds is all you get, Caroline. If you can’t pull it off, they’re going to be all over us.”
She took a deep breath and expanded the gate to full size.
The girl screamed and bucked in her captors’ hands as the blond female priest drew the point of the knife down her chest, just barely drawing blood.
“Go.” Galahad growled.
Taking a deep, desperate breath, Caroline charged through the gate, aware even as she leaped that he had plunged in after her.
She emerged into Realspace at a dead run, Galahad roaring his war-cry at her heels. The vampires jerked toward them. Carline’s full attention locked on the grail, she started chanting the first words of Soren’s spell.
Black triumph flashed over the priestess’s face. “Yes!” The blonde bared her teeth, threw the knife aside, and conjured a power blast.
Shit, the cultists had been expecting them. Caroline had to break off the chant to call a shield.
But even as the priestess’s blast bounced off her magical barrier, something hit her hard from behind in a magical assault that sent agony slicing into her skull.
Caroline spun, ready to defend herself, but Galahad was already charging the three armored vampires who’d hit her from behind. She started to send a blast toward the nearest of them, but another spell hit her like a fastball pitch to the skull. The world pinwheeled as she went flying.
Caroline hit the stone floor with a teeth-rattling jolt. Struggling to rise, she lifted her head to see a ring of vampires closing in on her. Their hands glowed and smoked with magic. Desperately, she turned to look for the grail. If she could just hit it…
But even as she spotted the gleam of gold in the priestess’s hand, the cultists opened fire.
GALAHAD saw Caroline go down under a hail of power blasts and roared a denial. Surrounded by vampire warriors, there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to save her. Fear clutched at his chest with burning fists. He sent the nearest bastard’s head flying with a single stroke of his sword and lunged toward her. Sensing something else coming toward him, he thrust his sword up in a parry. His frenzy gave him strength, and he knocked the vampire’s blade aside, then buried his own in the man’s chest so hard his victim’s feet left the ground. Jerking his sword free, he ducked, avoiding another vampire’s wild swing.
But there were just too damn many of them, and he knew it. At least thirty armored vampire warriors had gated in behind them the minute he and Caroline had entered. Even he wasn’t good enough to take them all.
They’d been royally suckered.
Somebody dove for his legs. Galahad dodged aside, but a second warrior slammed into his hips, knocking him hard to the ground. He tried to roll away, swinging and kicking, but two of them landed on top of him. “That’s it, fucker, you’re done!” somebody sneered.
“I’m going to rip out your hearts, you whoreson bastards!” he roared, but then more of them piled on, crushing the air from his lungs. Brutal fingers clamped over his sword arm while others grabbed his left wrist. He felt his helmet being pulled off, but there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. The steel rim raked the side of his face with a vicious sting. Hot blood rolled. He managed to choke in a breath. It smelled of old blood and rank bodies.
A female hand reached in and wrapped around his face. Before he could sink his fangs into her palm, she shot a blast into his head. Fire ripped along his nerves and the world went white.
GALAHAD came to naked, hanging in midair. Caroline was cursing steadily, viciously. For a moment, he felt a spurt of joy that she was still alive.
Then he opened his eyes and sucked in a breath.
She’d taken the girl’s place on the altar. They’d stripped her of her armor—and apparently her powers, because one of the bastards was fondling her breast, and she hadn’t fried him.
But she badly wanted to. That was evident from the rage and terror ringing in her voice. “Get your stinking hands off me!”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” The blond woman smirked down at her as the other vampires laughed. She held Geirolf’s Grail in one hand and a dagger in the other.
“You’ve got very pretty tits, witch.” She hefted the knife, grinning. “At least for the moment.”
Furiously, Galahad fought the spell holding him, but he couldn’t move at all. He knew they’d left him alive only so he could take Caroline’s place on the altar when they’d finished with her.
The original victim lay bound and gagged on the floor off to one side. Evidently they were saving her for dessert.
The priestess bent over Caroline with the knife, crooning obscene threats the way another woman might promise pleasures to a lover.
Galahad’s desperate, bitter gaze fastened on the grail. They’d been so damn close. If only she’d been able to complete Soren’s spell. Hell, if only he could work magic…