Christine Warren

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Hard Breaker

Ivy Beckett has a special gift. She can hear voices, feel events, and receive messages from great distances. Which is also a curse. The moment her family is killed by the servants of the Darkness, she knows it. And the only way to fight these evil forces is to align her powers with a Guardian. A legendary warrior of stone who strikes fear in her heart―and fire in her soul...

Baen is a fierce and powerful gargoyle who has sworn to protect all humans from the Darkness. But when this mighty winged warrior swoops down to rescue Ivy from the jaws of death, he is drawn into a battle that is more dangerous―and more intimate―than he ever bargained for. The beautiful, gifted Ivy touches something deep within him, an all-consuming passion that puts both their lives at risk. Can he conquer the armies of evil itself... without losing the woman he loves?

 

Stone Cold Lover

Read an Excerpt

The first rush of breath filled his lungs and went to his head like the strongest liquor, making Baen momentarily dizzy with the intoxicating sensation of awareness. He hadn't felt anything like it in three hundred years.

Fast on the heels of that first inhalation, his living senses came shrieking back to life. The muffled impressions that had been all he could perceive during the long ages of sleep went instantly sharp, as if a hand had passed across the glass of a window and wiped away the fog of steam that obscured the view. He could hear, see, touch, and smell the world around him again, even taste the dust and rot of stale air in the abandoned place that surrounded him. He breathed it in and along with it came a trace of something fresh and sweet and entirely out of place. Something that reminded him of …

Orange rinds.

"What's the matter, pumpkin?" A woman's voice cut through the lingering traces of sleep, sharp with taunting sarcasm. "Aren't you a fan of blessed and consecrated silver? Me, I just adore the stuff."

So did Baen, come to think of it, but that wasn't important at the moment. The woman was in danger, the kind of danger he had been born to expunge from existence. Nothing else needed to be fought with a weapon dedicated to the Light.

He was moving before his mind even finished registering her scent, let alone her words. Talons bit into heavy stone as he launched himself from his sleeping place nestled just beneath the apex of the church's peaked and leaky roof. He dove down across the space of a deserted street, savoring for an instant the sensation of his wings spreading to catch his weight as they helped him land in an agile, predatory crouch. He had soared into a narrow alley between the orange-scented female and three demon-infested male humans who threatened her.

Hard Breaker

All four of them made noises of shock, the demons at a higher pitch than the woman at his back, Baen noted with grim satisfaction. He also noticed the way the demons' first instinct was to back warily away from him, and he curled his lip at their cowardice. These were lesser creatures of the Darkness, the kind he had battled and destroyed countless times over the centuries. They existed as mere thralls to the Seven, the scourge he truly existed to face. These offered him little real challenge.

"Back. Away," he growled, his long unused voice low and rough like the snarl of a huge animal, which was what he was. At least part of him. He knew it, and he used it to his advantage.

He drew back his lips to expose the glinting length of razor-sharp fangs and let his long, curved talons click against the stone of the cobbles like the warning rattle of a snake about to strike. A small shift of heavy muscle balanced him perfectly for combat, and the leathery skin of his wings rustled as they quivered like the flicking tail of an angry lion. Everything about him conveyed menace and power barely leashed.

After all this time imprisoned in sleep, he really, really wanted to unleash it.

The tallest of the demon males gave him the opportunity.

It launched itself forward in a desperate surge, claws protruding from bloody stumps where human fingers used to be. It raked them at his face, aiming for his eyes, but Guardian skin in its natural form was almost as hard as the stone it resembled. The weapons failed to penetrate, but the attack had brought the creature too close. It survived for less than ten more seconds.

Baen's own claws were just as sharp as the demon's, but the human body hosting the foul creature was infinitely more fragile. A hard thrust ripped through mortal flesh, broke bones, and allowed his fingers to close around the heart that maintained the vessel's function. He ripped it out in a smooth, savage motion and watched the body collapse like a rag doll that had lost its stuffing.

Immediately, he heard noises like someone vomiting coming from several feet farther down the alley, but he had no time to admonish the woman for moving from the protection of his back. He would just have to keep the demons too busy to turn on her.

The two remaining creatures flew at him together, probably hoping to confuse him with simultaneous attacks. Did they think he had been summoned yesterday?

He let them come, stretching his arms out to catch them in his huge hands and then using their own momentum to add to the force as he slammed them together. It didn't really do them much damage, but it brought Baen a significant amount of satisfaction.

It also distracted them momentarily. Lower demons like these were basically stupid, animalistic creatures who operated on the basest levels of instinct. Whatever threatened them or caused them pain, they would turn on, despite what their original mission might have been. And that was exactly what happened. They wasted valuable seconds swiping at each other following their collision, giving Baen the opportunity to alter his grip on them and quickly twist his wrists, breaking their necks with nearly simultaneous cracking sounds.

More vomiting, and he turned his head to sweep his gaze around the alley in the direction from which the sound came. To his surprise, his eyes spied not a female form but another male one, this one doubled over as it emptied the contents of its stomach onto the floor of the alley.

"Guardian."

The feminine voice came from behind him, right where he had thought the woman had been. Apparently, she had not moved as he had assumed during his brief altercation, but had remained in place while he dispatched her attackers.

He looked back toward the vomiting male and frowned. He had never seen a demon overcome by human sickness before, but he would not tolerate even a potential threat to the woman.

Hard Breaker

Baen did not waste time analyzing that unfamiliar surge of protective instinct, but instead turned to dispatch this last little problem.

"Guardian, wait."

The woman stepped forward and reached out, her fingertips just brushing the edge of one wing. The jolt of energy that surged through him at the brief contact nearly made him rock back on his heels. He had experienced nothing like it in all his long centuries of existence.

"He's not possessed," the woman explained when he turned to look at her. "He's human. Actually he's a Warden. I was trying to get him someplace safe when the demons attacked us."

Her voice both surprised and intrigued him. He would have expected something lighter and sweeter to come from this small, slender creature, something to match her citrusy scent. Instead, she sounded more like vanilla or clove, dark and rich. He looked closer, his keen vision having no trouble picking her out in the dark.

"A Warden?"

His voice rumbled between them, naturally deep and roughened from disuse. Another human might have found it menacing, but this female did not so much as flinch.

"Yes. Is he yours?"

"Mine?"

"His?"

The last question, uttered in an indefinable style somewhere between a squeak and a groan drew both Baen's and the woman's attention to the male figure still hunched over a puddle of vomit farther down the alley. His expression still looked somewhat queasy, if you asked Baen.

"Did you summon him, Martin?" the female demanded, frowning at the other human. "You didn't tell me you were personal Warden to a Guardian! Don't you think that's the kind of information you should have shared?"

"But I'm not! I swear," Martin protested. "No one in my family has ever been assigned to a Guardian. Not in our entire history. I've no idea how to do a proper summoning."

Baen pushed away his initial surprise to examine the situation. He felt no particular connection to the scrawny male called Martin, and he certainly hadn't been introduced to him at the end of his last Warden's life. In fact, the last time he had been introduced to a new Warden had been a very long time ago indeed, if his instincts were correct.

"What is your full name?" he demanded of the human, just to be certain.

"P-P-Pickering," the man stammered. "M-Martin Louis Pickering. Why?"

Baen ignored the question and looked back at the woman. "My last Warden was from the house of Beauclerk. Henry Fitzallen Beauclerk."

She made a face indicating a good deal of displeasure. "Damn. It would have made things a hell of a lot simpler."

Martin finally straightened up from his bent-over position. The hands he had braced on his thighs during his bout of sickness trembled visibly until he pressed them to his stomach. The obvious sign of fear, or at least intense discomfort, inspired no sympathy in Baen. It only served to highlight the human's weakness, and weakness was something all Guardians disdained.

"W-why are we still standing around here?" Martin asked. "What if more of those things show up?"

Baen curled his lip. "An army of ‘those things' could show up and prove no more of a challenge than the three I have already dispatched."

Hard Breaker

"So you're really one of them, then? A G-Guardian?"

The human's stutter was beginning to irritate Baen. He scowled. "Obviously."

Martin turned to the female and thrust a pointed finger in Baen's direction. "Then I want him to take me to Paris. He can protect me a lot better than you can."

The woman nodded, her expression serious. "You're right. He can. Besides, I'm all on my own here. The only contacts I have are anonymous and in hiding." She turned her attention to Baen. "But I know there are Wardens in France, a good number of them. I made sure some of them got there. They need to know about you as soon as possible. You have to go to Paris with Martin. The Guild has been searching for the Guardians for a very long time."

That news made Baen frown. The Guild had to search for his kind? They were supposed to know exactly where he and his brethren slept at all times. After all, they were the ones who put them to sleep, and the Guild members were nothing if not meticulous recordkeepers.

Something must be very, very wrong.

At the moment, however, Baen had one very particular reason for not liking the citrus-scented female's suggestion that he leave her side and escort Martin to the Guild headquarters.

"I cannot travel to Paris with this male," he said, folding his wings and crossing his arms over his chest.

"Why not?" Martin asked, his tone petulant. It only added to Baen's disdain for him.

"Why not?" the female echoed, looking unintimidated by his size or determined stance.

"Because Martin is not my Warden," Baen informed her, his eyes narrowing as certainty and satisfaction filled him. "You are."

***
Copyright © 2017 by Christine Warren.

End of Excerpt

Hard Breaker is Book 6 in Christine's Gargoyles series.
Read an excerpt from Book 1 in the series.