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A vampires embrace, p.20
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       A Vampire's Embrace, p.20

         Part #2 of Blood Rose Time Travel series by Caris Roane
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  He took Holly’s hand and guided her through the crowd, pulling her tight as needed. They both levitated. Maybe it was the tense nature of the situation, but she tracked with him as though they’d been battle partners for years.

  The closer they got to the entrance, however, the less he seemed able to focus. A familiar confusion set in. He called a halt and backed up several feet until the sensation lessened.

  Holly’s voice entered his mind. Do you feel that? It’s like my head is full of spider webs.

  Oregis whispered. “What the hell is this?”

  Holly lowered her voice. “A spell. Give me a sec. I think I can work up an antidote.”

  “Good,” Rez said. “Because my instincts tell me this is the gate to Underworld.”

  “Or Hell,” Oregis added.

  ~ ~ ~

  Holly lifted her nose and flared her nostrils. As close as they were to the tunnel, the air was now oppressive.

  She opened her nostrils and let the scent in, breaking it apart until she could see each aspect of the spell.

  As suspected, something chemical was being pumped into the air to alter the perceptions of those nearby.

  She pathed to Rez. There’s a fae-based drug in the air.

  He slid his arm around her waist again. How do you want to handle this?

  I know I can make an antidote. I’ll slip into the time-path, head to my workroom then be back in just a couple of minutes. But you two behave.

  She didn’t wait for him to approve her plan. She knew what she needed to do and she would work as fast as she could.

  The trip was so quick back to her workroom, she had to take a moment to collect her thoughts. When she stepped into the present once more, she was fully aware she was now tracking time with Rez and Oregis.

  She continued to process the layers of the drug-spell as she gathered her ingredients for the antidote. She used her mortar and pestle and ground down each herb, root and spice. Dipping her finger in, she caught a few grains on her tongue and waited.

  As she held the original air-permeating drug in her head, the antidote began to work. She watched it dispel the effects and knew she had it.

  To the mortar, she added a simple compound that helped shape the mixture into a thin wafer. She created a much smaller version for Oregis.

  She didn’t hang back to do clean-up. There wasn’t time. The antidote had a short shelf-life and she didn’t want to leave the men in that part of the black market for very long.

  She slid her wafer on her tongue and with the other two on a piece of foil in her hand, she returned. Still within the time-path, she found Oregis and Rez bent over a case of what turned out to be a bunch of cheap watches.

  She rolled her eyes.

  Now, how to get back to the present without drawing too much attention to herself.

  She waited for a moment, and noticed a nearby crowd of half-drunk shifters and trolls that appeared to be passing through. She took up a position behind them and stepped into the present near Rez.

  “I’m back.”

  He glanced at her, rose up and quickly shot an arm around her waist.

  “See anything you like?”

  Rez grinned. “Just you.”

  “Good answer.” She offered a smile. “I’ve got something for you, Sweetheart. Open wide.” Drug use was pervasive in the black market.

  She plucked the larger wafer off the foil.

  He parted his lips and she placed it on his tongue.

  She glanced at Oregis. “You, too, Handsome, or did you think I would leave you out?”

  Oregis grinned. “I like you like this.”

  Holly chuckled. She’d always been fond of Oregis.

  He parted his lips and took the wafer. “Spicy with a kick.”

  “You two ready to party?” It seemed like the right question.

  “Hell, yeah.”

  Rez turned her in the direction of the tunnel and her heart slipped into a new gear. She knew with every fae instinct she possessed, she was heading into Underworld.

  Chapter Twelve

  The trip through the tunnel took longer than Rez expected, though less than three minutes. Because of Holly’s focus and increased power, he estimated the distance they traveled to be at eight maybe ten miles through barren caves and always moving on an incline. Underworld it would seem was high in the mountains, yet still in a cave system.

  The entrance was unguarded probably because of the spell Lanarae had put in place.

  Sweet Goddess, Holly murmured within his mind as the three of them stepped into the present.

  The tunnel had led into a massive cavern that had been sculpted into a palace of crystal beauty. Rez had never seen so many crystals in one location, of all colors. It must have cost a fortune.

  But it was a vile juxtaposition to the sight of at least two dozen realm and human captives, caged within glass enclosures that lined opposite sides of the cavern. Glittering crystals of varying hues, also adorned the enclosures.

  Because of decades battling the Invictus, Rez thought he knew the extent of evil his fellow realm persons could inflict on each other. But here was a place so low, so full of the basest pursuits, he wasn’t sure he could take it.

  Only the wealthiest of either the Nine Realms or the earth world would be able to afford the merchandise being sold or perhaps auctioned here tonight.

  There were even gremlins in a few of the crystal-adorned cages.

  Oregis murmured, “So that’s where they go. Sold into slavery. By all the elf-lords in hell –”

  Holly leaned closer to Rez. “I don’t know if I can handle what I’m seeing. This is an auction, isn’t it?”

  “Looks like it.”

  Worse were the well-shod, jewel-emblazoned assholes, with their flutes of champagne and smug smiles, ready to bid.

  Applause erupted spontaneously at the opposite end of the sloped space. With hundreds of people present, their small party wouldn’t be noticed. Not even a gremlin perched on Rez’s shoulder incited much interest. This crowd had seen and done it all. Bastards.

  “Why is everyone clapping?” Holly asked.

  “My guess is the bidding’s about to start.”

  When Cruce and Lanarae suddenly appeared on what was a platform at least fifty feet away, he instinctively gripped Holly harder. He felt her draw in a deep calming breath but he sensed her nerves. No amount of meditative breathing was going to help.

  So much despair.

  Her words inside his head brought his gaze back to the glass cages. She was right. Several of the captives he could see nearby were either slumped with the burden of their situation or had been drugged into a submissive stupor.

  He could see a number of them on his left, but the crowd was too thick to allow him a view of the captives on the other side. Of those he could see, none were Isobel.

  Degradation was the order of the day since each captive was completely naked. The wealthy would want to know exactly what they were getting.

  He hated that Holly had to see any of this. I wish I could take you out of here.

  We’ve figured out the general location, so that’s something. But more importantly, we need to find Isobel. I’m hoping like anything she’s not here.

  Rez pathed, As a reminder, she has wavy brown hair like mine, light blue eyes, dimple in her chin. But you saw her in the vision, right?

  I did. Trust me, I would know her if I saw her.

  Good. His heart was in his throat. He didn’t know what he would do if he found Isobel caged up like any of the captives here.

  Oregis thumped Rez’s head. “We’ve got four toughs heading our way.”

  “I thought we’d have some time.”

  Holly remained quiet, though he swore he could hear her heartrate increase.

  Rez glanced around. Oregis was right. Four big shifters in black suits and ear-pieces were converging on them.

  When he glanced back at the podium, he saw that Cruce’s gaze was fixed on Holly. He’d probably
sharpened his vampire vision and brought her into focus. Cruce smiled and leaned down to whisper something to Lanarae.

  The dark fae’s gaze followed his line of sight until she, too, was looking at Holly.

  Rez spoke aloud. “We’re made. But like hell I’m leaving until I’ve disrupted some of this travesty.”

  He wound up his battle power and aimed his hands at the crystal ceiling. He fired a long, sustained blast that traveled the length of the ceiling and sent a shower of red, clear and black crystals over all the guests.

  Women screamed, men dove for cover. He grabbed Holly’s arm and pulled her to the right. Oregis hung onto his hair. Smart move by the gremlin.

  Holly’s voice entered his mind. You want us in the time-path?

  Take us in.

  He could sense Holly’s time-pathing vibration. Just as three of the shifters reached them, they’d moved inside and were safe.

  Oregis leaned against Rez’s head. “Talk about the nick of time. That shifter was going to grab my neck. One twist and I’d be dead.”

  “Your warning saved us.”

  “Why aren’t we leaving? We’re not supposed to stay in the continuum, right?”

  Rez turned toward Holly, but her eyes had glazed over. “Holly?”

  No response.

  ~ ~ ~

  Holly didn’t know what to do. Rez’s mother was right in front of her, in the time-path.

  Marion pathed, Blink, Holly. Blink.

  She forced her eye-lids down once.

  The ghost continued, I don’t have a lot of time. You need to take Rez out of here. Now. His daughter is in one of the glass cages over to your right. Don’t look. I don’t want my son to see her. There’s no way he could handle this.

  Holly felt frozen with fear. She knew if she made the wrong move and Rez saw Isobel, he’d lose it. What father, even a warrior like Rez, would have enough self-control to remain calm.

  Now, listen to me. You’re going to have to be very brave and rescue Isobel without the aid of my son. You must return in an hour to Isobel’s cell not far from Lanarae’s workshop. Cruce and Lanarae will have taken her there by then and put her back in her shackles. Do not bring Rez with you. Do you understand?

  Holly nodded. Marion smiled then simply faded away.

  Rez shook her shoulders. “Holly? What’s wrong. I’ve been calling to you and you haven’t responded. Are you okay?”

  She blinked some more and his face came into view. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m fine, but I’m overwhelmed by what Cruce and Lanarae have done to innocent humans and realm-folk.” While she spoke, she slowly pivoted so that she was facing the glass case to her right. The guests had dropped to their knees to avoid the crystals and appeared as if frozen in place because of the time-path. Rez moved with her which put his back to the same enclosure.

  There she was, a young woman with wavy brown hair. Though she was emaciated, the resemblance to her father was unmistakable. On either side of her, the ghosts remained, two watchful, protective sentinels. Tears streamed down her face.

  Marion’s voice was once more inside her head, almost a shout. Leave now.

  She saw it as well, that Rez had started to turn around, no doubt to catch sight of what she was looking at.

  She pictured his home in Boylbury. As before, the time-path took them straight to his house. She stepped into the present, turned and ran for the bathroom. She slammed the door shut, then locked it.

  She had to be alone.

  She had to think.

  Having the ghost give her instructions, then making sure Rez didn’t see his daughter, had affected her profoundly. So had seeing all the captives. They had no worth at all except the pleasure they would provide those who purchased them.

  She dropped to sit on the cool tile floor. She slid her stilettos off, minding the pretty red bows on the back of each.

  Taking a deep breath, she leaned her head against the wall.

  She felt as though everything she’d experienced over the past two nights converged in this moment and that her life would never be the same again.

  She was a blood rose and part of her would always be given to taking care of her vampire mate, whoever that proved to be.

  Her thoughts turned to Rez and her eyes flooded with tears. She couldn’t believe how much she’d grown to care for him in such a short space of time. Love had come to her unexpectedly. She had no doubt that Rez was the one she wanted, no other mastyr would do. But he’d made it clear repeatedly he had nothing to give her.

  Like Isobel had done, she covered her face with her hands and sobbed.

  ~ ~ ~

  “She’s a woman.” Oregis levitated in the air. “Of course, she would be upset. I could use a drink myself. Got any thimbles around here?”

  Rez had appropriate glasses for gremlins. He found one and poured him a scotch.

  Oregis took his mini-tumbler, sipped, pursed his lips and groaned. “My favorite thing next to my wife’s honey-glide. I think it’s the best thing earthlings make.”

  He could barely hear the gremlin. His entire being was tuned into the painful sobs coming from the bathroom. He grew very still. He didn’t even breathe.

  “Why did you go into statue mode? She needs a release, is all. Sometimes females have to bellow.”

  He ignored Oregis. There was something he needed to understand. Holly had been right with him until the very end, in the time-path. He wondered suddenly if she’d had a vision.

  He broke his stillness and went to the door. He knocked gently. “Was it a vision, Holly?”

  “No.” He heard her blow her nose. “I’m sorry. It was all the captives. I’ll be all right. Just … just give me a minute.”

  “Okay.” He didn’t believe her. Not entirely, though she had every reason to be distraught over the nature of Underworld.

  He was shaken himself.

  He returned to the small table by the fireplace and this time poured himself a drink.

  Oregis scratched one of his long, pointed ears. “I don’t know if I was much help.”

  “What are you talking about? You saved our asses in there. I didn’t see the shifters coming. I was too focused on Cruce and seeing if Isobel was among the captives. No, you did good tonight.”

  “Guess I did.” He lifted his small tumbler. “Here’s to me.”

  Rez’s lips curved as he held up his own glass. “Here’s to you.”

  He took a hefty swig. He didn’t know which was worse, though, seeing the depravity in the crystal-encased cavern or hearing his woman weep.

  Sweet Goddess, did he just mentally think of Holly as his woman?

  A few minutes later, she emerged and looked as lovely as ever. Her eyes were a little damp and she’d lost some of her make-up. Otherwise, her fae healing had no doubt eased what should have been a pink nose and red-rimmed eyes.

  He set his glass down and went to her. He did the only thing that made sense. He took her in his arms and held her.

  “Thank you for going out there with me. You have a lot of courage.”

  “You do, Holly.” Oregis came around behind her. He made a circle with his thumb and forefinger then ran his other finger through it. To Rez’s mind, he pathed, She needs a good lay. That’ll make her feel better.

  Rez scowled at him, but Oregis only grinned then glanced at his watch. “I gotta go, Mastyr. I gave up part of date night and promised my missus I’d see her at ten. It’s almost on the hour now. But I’ll be back later.” He waved good-bye and flew to the stairs then disappeared.

  Rez heard the clicks and knew Oregis had left the house. He suspected his foreman gremlin was giving them some space.

  Just as well. He held a distressed fae in his arms and he still didn’t know what to do for her.

  ~ ~ ~

  Holly adjusted her arms to hold Rez tighter still. He responded with a deep breath as he swept one arm down her back to her waist and pulled her even closer.

  Her heart swelled. She’d never felt this be
fore, so much … love. She didn’t know how it had happened. But every event had built, one on top of the other, to create this mountain of feeling she had for the man.

  He wasn’t like anything she’d thought. He was a man of duty and sacrifice who served his world in a way that brought him no honor from his fellow warriors. He was kind and tender. Loving, just as he was in this moment, embracing her because he knew she was upset.

  He didn’t say anything either, perhaps knowing words weren’t necessary.

  As she held him, so many things came to mind, even her father asking if she was bored. Never in a thousand years could she have predicted her life would move this direction, toward a warrior vampire and his long-lost daughter.

  Or toward love or the ability to time-path or being a blood rose. She had become so much more than she’d ever imagined. She was helping in ways that seemed to matter and for that she felt humbled and grateful. She believed in service in the same way Rez took care of the vulnerable eastern villages in Tannisford.

  “What is it, Holly?”

  His voice was the deep, rich timbre she’d come to love. Because of the sharing of blood, and the way her sensitive fae vibrations could read him, it was as though she’d known him a lifetime.

  Her spirit had never been more settled in her life. He was what she wanted, but whether he could make the shift, she didn’t know. His losses had been profound.

  She drew back and met his gaze. She didn’t answer his question. Instead, she kissed him.

  ~ ~ ~

  The last thing Rez had expected was to feel Holly’s lips against his.

  He found himself in an odd place. He wasn’t sure what to do, or how far to take this. Holly had just been through another tough situation that involved him hand-blasting the ceiling of a cave and their small team nearly attacked by shifters.

  Now she clung to him, rubbed his shoulders and his back and was making some cooing noises. Was she into this? Did she want to have sex with him?

  The real question was why was he hesitating?

  He drew back and searched her eyes. “All I want to know right now is if you’re okay.”

  She let out a deep sigh. “No. Yes. Sort. I don’t know. Rez, none of this was what I thought it would be. Even holding you like this, I don’t know.”

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