Rocked By Love
When Kylie Kramer is attacked as she hunts for information on her friend's death, she's stunned to find that someone has been out to protect her all along. Strong, wild, and unbelievably sexy, she's unable to resist the man who saves her life. And when she sees his true nature, she's even more drawn to him...
The strongest of the gargoyles, Dag is used to swooping in to save the day, then returning just as quickly to his stony slumber. But the burning desire he feels for the woman he rescues proves too difficult to resist, and with her life in danger, Dag cannot simply turn away. As evil stirs, Dag and Kylie will join together to fight their demons... and to succumb to passion...
+ “The strong chemistry between the leads; a multitude of well-drawn, unique secondary characters; and a gritty urban setting make this a winning read. Though part of a series, Warren excels at making her complex world accessible to new readers.”
— Fresh Fiction
+ “If you like reading paranormal with steam to spare, delivered in a hip, fresh voice, then Rocked By Love will be right up your (dangerous and spooky) alley.”
+ “A fun and significant addition to this series.”
— Bridget Keown, RT BOOKReviews awarding Rocked By Love 4 Stars!
Read the whole review.
Tsores zaynen far dem mentshn vi zhaver far ayzn.
Troubles are to man what rust is to iron.
Eleven fifty-eight P.M. Two minutes since the last time she’d looked.
Kylie gave in to the impulse to stick her tongue out at her phone while her foot jiggled relentlessly under the table. She had to beat back her impatience with a mental stick, but the specter of disappointment had started to polish a weapon of its own, one more the size of a cricket bat. As much as she would prefer to continue her lovely sail down Denial, after an hour and twenty-eight minutes, even she might be forced to admit defeat.
She’d been stood up.
“Stood up” was the most convenient term. She had arranged to meet a person of the opposite sex in a social setting at a designated time and place, but said person had failed to honor this agreement and had not shown up. In most cases, this would count as being stood up. However, in Kylie’s case, she had no romantic interest in her missing acquaintance, and she felt more disappointment and curiosity than embarrassment at the situation.
Besides, at least she’d gotten a really good slice of pie out of her time spent waiting. Cherry streusel. Yum.
So she didn’t feel the same way she would have if an actual date had failed to show, even though she’d had more riding on this meeting than the possibility of sexual attraction. She’d worked for months to create this opportunity, and she couldn’t deny her disappointment in seeing it come to nothing, whatever it should have been called.
What term did you use to describe a covert meeting with a complete stranger that had nothing to do with sex or romance and everything to do with the exchange of secret information? And just to be clear, a “deep throating” was so off the table.
She set her phone down and reached for her cola. By now, the glass held nearly as much water as soda. The melted ice smothered the effervescent carbonation until she was left with little more than sweet, flavorless syrup. Maybe she should try making herself drink coffee again, though that would have been just as disgusting by now. Cold or watered down didn’t really lean heavily to one side or the other. Tonight just didn’t seem to be her night.
Kylie brushed off the negative thoughts. She’d never been the kind of girl to indulge in melancholy. She considered herself what her paternal grandmother had called a vilde chaya, a wild child. She was the kind of girl who saw what she wanted and went after it, doing whatever it took, even fighting dirty—or, especially fighting dirty—until she achieved her goal. Her goal now was to find a new way to track down her “date” and make sure that this time he couldn’t ignore her.
Kylie hated being ignored.
Not that it happened often. Even her parents, who found her surprising, unpredictable, and wholly indecipherable, had trouble ignoring her. Of course, she’d made it easier for them when she’d moved to another state, but still. If Abraham Kramer and Constance Harding-Kramer couldn’t manage to put Kylie completely out of their heads, some schlub with the vainglorious online handle of DrkMsgr sure as shudden wasn’t going to do it either.
It had taken her months to find the stranger in the infinite space of the Internet, and she’d invested weeks more in grooming the connection. She’d chatted and swapped stories, offered advice and told jokes, slowly building their cyber connection behind her own mask as Wile E. Koyote. She’d felt perfectly comfortable in doing whatever she could to make that faceless presence trust her, because the information he had was just that important. He could change everything for her; she knew it.
Kylie felt a little bad about drawing in the stranger while harboring an ulterior motive, but not enough to shrug off the missed meeting. Yes, she had every intention of using this other person for her own purposes, but it wasn’t like she was some kind of modern ax murderer, relying on the Internet to lure her victims to their doom. The person she was meeting would have walked away from their encounter unharmed, unhit-on, and perfectly safe. All Kylie wanted from him was information.
All she wanted was the truth about Bran.
The rhythmic jiggling of her foot stuttered, pausing for a moment before resuming its hummingbirdlike flutter. The thought of him still hit her every time.
A year after Bran Powe had gone missing, Kylie had thought she’d come to terms with loss. She wasn’t stupid; she knew that when people disappeared for so many months at a stretch, they weren’t just out for a breath of fresh air. Something bad must have happened to keep him away from his friends and family. But even so, getting the call from his sister, Wynn, and hearing his death confirmed had hit Kylie like a physical blow.
Bran had been her closest pal since her freshman year of college. While the second of two spectacularly failed dates had made it clear that romance would never work for them, friendship came as easily as breathing. She honestly thought of him as the brother she’d never had, no matter how tired that cliché was. Losing him had felt like losing a tiny little piece of herself, and Kylie hated to lose even more than she hated being ignored.
For that reason (and because sitting still for a seven-minute yoga meditation was beyond her, let alone sitting the seven days of a shiva) she had spent the last six months obsessed with finding out the truth. She couldn’t care less if she sounded melodramatic or halfway to crazytown; she knew there was more to Bran’s story than anyone was willing to tell her. She knew darn well that nothing she did could bring her friend back, but she could at least find out what had really happened to him. As much as she loved his family, his sister Wynn’s telephoned explanation that “they think he had a heart problem we didn’t know about” was not cutting it with her.
Sure, Kylie knew that kind of thing happened all the time, but not this time. She didn’t believe a word of it. Why, she couldn’t quite say. Maybe she had heard something in Wynn’s voice, or maybe the intuition she had learned not to ignore had sounded the alarm. She couldn’t be certain, but either way, she knew there had to be more to the story.
She had dedicated the last six months to trying to find that “more.” She’d pushed aside her work, her hobbies, her family and friends in pursuit of the truth, immersing herself in the world she knew better than anyone—the data.
Despite her legitimate professional accomplishments and the applications she had developed that left her financially set for life at the tender age of twenty-three, Kylie still considered herself a hacker at heart. If a fact existed in bits and bytes anywhere in the world, she could uncover it. Between the skills she’d learned and the talent that had always lurked inside her, she knew she could find anything, so she had begun by breaking into Bran’s personal computer and online accounts and setting herself on the trail of the truth.
Tonight was supposed to have been a big leap forward. It would have been, if DrkMsgr had bothered to show up. She was convinced that he knew something about her friend, no matter how coyly he had danced around the subject. His knowledge of some deeper meaning behind the strange terms in Bran’s files—words like “Guardian,” “Warden,” “nocturni,” and “the Seven”—had to be more than coincidence.
Kylie certainly didn’t understand the references in Bran’s journal entries and encrypted files. And why did an archaeology grad student need to encrypt his computer files, anyway? Especially when they made almost less sense to an outsider once the code was broken.
She had read through every word she could find, and all she’d gotten from his ramblings had been a massive headache and the vague impression that she’d just sorted through the background notes of an author’s proposed series of horror novels. It had looked to her like Bran had been collecting information on demons. It was meshuga.
Part of her wanted to laugh at the crazy idea, but most of her couldn’t manage the sound. Kylie didn’t believe in demons, any more than she believed in heaven or hell or little cherubs with diapers and medieval weaponry being responsible for people falling in love. And it wasn’t just because of her Jewish heritage. Heck, she only had that on one side of the family, but she still had trouble believing in anything she couldn’t see and analyze and code into ones and zeros.
The little voice inside her head got a slap upside its own when it tried to remind her of all the things about herself that she couldn’t explain so easily. About the way she didn’t just read code, she felt it, as if it ran through her bloodstream in microscopic green digits alongside the red and white cells. About the way she occasionally caught sight of her reflection in a monitor and her eyes looked more green than brown, glowing with the light of an obsolete DOS system command screen. She wasn’t the issue here; this was all about Bran.
Kylie looked at her phone and sighed. Twelve-fifteen. Damn it. If the stranger wasn’t here by now, he wasn’t coming, but if he thought no-showing would put an end to their association, he had another think coming. As soon as she got home and got back online, she would make that abundantly clear.
Frustrated, but glad to finally be moving again, Kylie dug out her wallet and left enough cash to cover her slowly nursed drinks and her single slice of pie. Then she added a supergenerous tip for the waitress who hadn’t even tried to hurry her along in all the time she’d hogged the corner booth. No need for both of them to leave tonight’s encounter dissatisfied.
The cool March air bit through her jacket and raised gooseflesh on her arms as she exited the mostly empty diner and began the brisk walk home. Her town house occupied the borderlands between Boston’s Back Bay and Fenway, within spitting distance of her old stomping grounds around the university—a sound investment, or so her accountant had assured her when she’d purchased it eighteen months before.
At the moment all she cared about was that it wasn’t too far from the meeting place to walk, because trying to catch a cab at this time of night in this neighborhood would be like waiting for the messiah. She didn’t have six or seven thousand years to spare at the moment.
And besides, she’d been sitting still too long, bouncing foot aside. Even when she worked, she spent as much time out of her computer chair as in it. Kylie preferred to be in motion, given the choice. Tonight, she’d hoof it.
Sure it was late, and she had at least a dozen blocks to go, but in a city this size, the streets were never really empty, and Kylie had lived in the area long enough not to blink at the idea of making the short trip alone. She’d done it a hundred times before, and would do it hundreds more in the future.
She may have grown up in Connecticut, but since coming to Boston for college at the age of sixteen, Kylie had gone native in every way except for the accent. She still said “Baw-stun” instead of “Bah-stun,” but aside from that, this city was her adopted hometown.
Leftover snow crunched under her feet as she cut across a small green square, her quick steps one short hop away from a jog. While the streets had been cleared days ago, the paths around the statue at the center of this minipark still sported patches of the icy white stuff. Apparently the gargoylelike hunk of granite that anchored the space didn’t merit enough visitors for a thorough snowblower crew, and even in March, snow lingered. The piles of gray and white frost seemed determined to remind everyone in New England that the danger of the harsh winter hadn’t completely passed, no matter what the calendar said.
As often happened during a Boston springtime, the weather today had run the gamut through all four seasons, starting with the frigid bite of winter, thawing to a morning spring and jumping to a midday summer. Now, the late night felt more like autumn, with a chilly breeze and the faint whiff of decay in the air.
Maybe if that thought had lingered for another couple of seconds—decay? Really?—Kylie would have realized how out of place it really was and been ready for the blow. Her luck wasn’t that good, though, and her mind had already turned its focus on getting home and back online to see what had happened to DrkMsgr that made him bail on their meeting. When she sat in front of a keyboard, Kylie could see things most people missed, but in the real world, she occasionally overlooked the big picture.
Like the one where two ski-masked muggers converged on her from the sides and struck her hard enough to send her to the frozen ground with a grunt of surprise. They’d knocked out too much of her wind for her to manage a scream.
For a minute she honestly could not understand what was happening. It wasn’t that she was naïve or anything, but she’d lived in Boston for almost seven years, and she’d never so much as had her pocket picked. And she was still in the Back Bay, for Pete’s sake, one of the ritziest areas of the city. How on earth was she being attacked by a couple of escapees from a gangster movie?
Those thoughts flitted through her head in the space of half a second. Then a kick to her side sent the last gasp of breath choking out of her lungs, and the last functioning neuron in her brain snapped off with what she swore was a muffled squeak. Emese meisse—true story.
It sounded a little like the lab assistant character from The Muppets.
Come to think of it, she felt kind of like the victim of some weird experiment as her vision narrowed down to black. It almost appeared as if a vacuum had switched on, sucking her peripheral vision away, then pulling the central field in after it. She was left with nothing but blackness for a split second before the fireworks began, little sparks snapping and popping in the darkness.
Huh, hadn’t she read about that happening in cases of severe oxygen deprivation? Too bad. Dying was so not on her to-do list for tonight, or really any night for the next eighty years.
Her lungs burned, every muscle in her chest straining for air. Still blinded, she could only feel her surroundings. Even her hearing had been compromised by the rushing of blood in her skull. Hard hands gripped her arms and jerked her from the ground. Unprepared for the movement, her head snapped backward, and her neck muscles screamed a protest. Funny how her attackers didn’t seem to hear.
“… her out of … wants to see … someone … fast.”
Snippets of voices, male and menacing, sliced through the static in her senses. Fingers dug into her flesh and jerked, trying to propel her forward. Her legs buckled, sending her back to her knees, and curses rained down on her head.
“… go! Now!”
Shouts and chaos took over then, an impression of movement and confusion. Kylie felt an actual drop of rain ping off her shoulder. No, wait; that felt more like hail, solid and hard and stinging even through her wool jacket.
The next shriek came wordlessly but pulsed with fear and panic. Oddly enough, it didn’t come from her, even though her own chest had finally begun to ease, allowing her to gulp down a much-needed lungful of oxygen. No, girly though it had seemed, something told her the sound had come from at least one of her attackers.
What the heck?
It took a minute for her to realize that the roaring in her head had become an actual roaring, the kind that echoed through the night air and attracted attention from neighbors and passersby. Kylie had about two seconds to wonder where it came from before a different set of hands closed around her, and this time she didn’t fall.
Dag burst forth from his sleeping prison, bits of stone dropping in his wake like explosive shrapnel. What woke him he could not say, but instinct drove him straight from slumber to battle. His senses screamed at him to defeat, to destroy, to defend. Nothing in his surroundings registered but for a small female figure kneeling on the cold, hard ground while two human males attempted to drag her off into the darkness.
He would not have it.
His wings pumped the air, the huge, membranous spans catching the currents and sending the last remnants of sleep scurrying into the night. Already he felt strength and power heating his muscles, stretching his features into a fanged snarl and snapping his claws together in a definite threat. Not that the warning would do his enemies any good. Dag was a warrior too long denied a purpose.
Tonight, none would escape his wrath.
A battle roar shattered the hush of darkness. He took one long moment to savor the thrill of the fight, stretching into the sky before plummeting like an eagle onto his prey.
The humans screamed in terror, and Dag relished the sound. His talons dug into one man’s shoulder, tearing through flesh and bringing hot, red blood pumping to the surface. One whiff was all it took for Dag to catch the taint. His enemy was not a simple human; his blood carried the insidious rot of the Darkness. Nocturni.
Knowing he faced his ancestral foe brought a fresh surge of rage and satisfaction. Perhaps this was why he had woken, perhaps he now faced the opening salvo of the war all of his kind knew to be inevitable. If that were the case, Dag intended to bring about a swift and brutal victory.
Using his rear claws, he shifted his grip on the demon’s minion and gave one sharp jerk, breaking its neck with careless ease. His hands caught the second man before he could drag the female more than an inch from his fallen cohort. One talon, long and sharp as a dagger, pierced the vulnerable human flesh, stopping its black heart. When the second nocturni dropped to the ground, the female let out a cry, swaying on her knees as if about to fall.
Swooping in, Dag caught her in his powerful grip, but this time he tempered his strength, careful to keep his claws from biting through cloth and into flesh. Two powerful beats of his wings lifted them high into the sky over a city glistening with light and movement. He needed to move away from here swiftly before the noise of the brief skirmish drew more humans to the site. His kind had been summoned into this world to battle the nocturnis and their demonic masters, but they attempted to remain unseen whenever possible.
He glanced around quickly, noting both familiar and unfamiliar landmarks below him. He knew not how long he had slept since his last waking, but he could see that many years had passed him by. The small settlement he remembered had been called a city by its inhabitants even then, but it had paled in comparison to the older and larger European capitals he had known. Now, though, it appeared to have grown into itself, stretching much farther than the boundaries in his memories.
It took a moment to orient himself, but he recognized the closest building as the home of his former Warden. He did not doubt that the man had by now passed into the next world, but at least by sighting it, Dag knew where he was. He had not been moved in more than three hundred years.
The trip to reach the rooftop of the four-story mansion of the Houghton family could barely be called a flight. He hovered a moment over his old landing spot before recoiling in disgust. The detritus and building debris he might have ignored, but the sharp, sulfurous stink of tar could not be borne. He needed another spot to land out of sight of humans, and quickly, judging by the rate at which the rigidity of shock and fear had begun to leach from his human burden. She would not remain quiescent long.
Dag glanced around, his gaze finding a familiar sight in the crowded skyline. A church spire rose into the night, the open archways of its belfry providing an easy entrance and exit as well as an excellent vantage point from which to observe those passing below. He could reach it in moments and slip himself and his human charge inside before the chances of being seen became too dangerous.
Changing direction with a twitch of his wings, he covered the distance of more than a mile in seconds. He had to draw up and hover for a moment in order to set the human female safely on the floor inside the bell tower, because his full wingspan would never fit through the arched openings. With his rear claws free, he dug them into the stone of the portal and perched long enough to furl the appendages before hopping in after her.
Half a second after her feet touched the floor, her bottom followed. Her grunt nearly echoed in the cavern of the church bell, but she made no other sound, just stared up at him with wide, dark eyes.
Dag returned her gaze, finally taking notice of how tiny the female actually was. Oh, he had known she weighed so little he had barely noticed as he lifted her from the ground and flew her to safety; but he was a warrior, strong and hardened by battle. He could have flown a military tank that short distance.
No, the human wasn’t simply light, she was little. He couldn’t remember the last time he had encountered a human so small unless it was a child. This female, though, appeared fully grown, with mature curves visible even through her heavy garments. Still, the top of her head had barely reached his collarbone before she collapsed, even though he stood among the shortest of his kind. He doubted the human could boast so much as five feet of height. He literally was twice her size, but somehow she didn’t appear to be afraid of him.
In fact, if he were forced to label the expression on her unexpectedly strong features, he would have to say she looked fascinated. She barely blinked, her gaze devouring him in long, thirsty gulps.
Those dark eyes dominated her face, wide and heavily lashed, tilted just the slightest bit at the corners. Her brows, too, were heavy, but gracefully arched and almost black against her fair skin. Her nose suited her face, strong and straight but not too large for femininity. It perched above a cupid’s bow of a mouth now half open in astonishment. Her chin dipped toward her chest, a rounded point that indicated a mischievous and determined nature.
Overall, her face gave the impression of a lively spirit and a strong will, the type of human who spoke definitely and often. Thankfully, for the moment she remained silent, but he wondered how long that would last.
He’d grown accustomed through the centuries to attracting human attention, but mostly those who saw him felt either revulsion or terror at his appearance. Of all his brethren, his natural form appeared the least like those they were summoned to protect. His short, thick legs and arched back made him as comfortable moving on four limbs as on two, and his flat nostrils, heavy brow, and forward-thrusting jaw gave him a bestial, almost apelike visage. Add in the wings, the fangs, and the razor-sharp talons, and humans either loathed him or feared him. Mostly, he cared not which way they leaned.
But this female didn’t try to scamper away the moment he gazed on her, and Dag found himself unsure of what that meant. How was he to act in a situation he had never before encountered?
He chose to glower, but then, he almost always chose to glower. Settling back on his heels, he pressed his knuckles against the floor between his feet and ruffled his wings just to remind her of what he was. What he could do to her if he decided to name her an enemy.
“Now, human, I have saved you from the Order’s attack dogs. You owe me a debt. To repay the value of your life, you will reveal to me if you are my Warden and what latest threat the Seven have brought from the Darkness. I am a Guardian, and I will do my duty to keep the Demons at bay.”
If anything, the female went even more still. She seemed almost to stop breathing, and her dark eyes opened so far the whites shone in the dim moonlight. Her jaw fell another full inch, a look of utter shock suffusing her features.
“Warden?” she repeated in that unexpected rasp. “The Order, the Seven, the Darkness, a Guardian.” She shook her head and scrambled suddenly to her knees, leaning forward to stare at him intently. “How do you know those terms? What do they mean to you?”
Dag felt his brows knit together as he stared down at the tiny human. “They mean everything. I am a Guardian of the Light, sworn to protect your world from the evil of the Seven Demons of the Darkness, and if you do not know this, then you cannot be my Warden. But if you are not, then tell me how I was summoned from my sleeping?”
“Sure, sure, absolutely. Just as soon as you tell me which rabbit hole I fell down, because all of a sudden I have the feeling that I am very late to the party.”