HERE IT IS! The FIRST Chapter of ASSASSIN: A Dragon Guard Paladin Story - JUST FOR YOU!!!
ASSASSIN is part of the HEARTS UNLEASHED ANTHOLOGY! COMING OCTOBER 12th!
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“You wouldn’t be sneakin’ out to check out the nightlife in the small town of Valentine, Tx, now, would you?”
“No, not me,” Creed lied, spinning on his heels, trying to act casually even as he felt like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“Let me guess, you fell asleep in jeans and boots then found yourself out here sleepwalking. Is that it?” Raising his eyebrows and crossing his arms over his chest, Gunnar, the Viking Healer, stood and stared with a gleam in his eye and a smirk on his face.
“Would you believe me if I said yes?”
“Not if I was blind, deaf, mute and standing on my head.” Leaning against the wall of the garage attached to the cabin Owen MacAllen and his lovely wife, Barbara had given them to stay in, he chuckled, “Since we’re both about two days younger than dirt and have pretty much seen it all, how about you just tell me what’s goin’ on? It’ll save us both a lot of time.”
Following the man, his friend, the one he’d known longer than most into the kitchen, the Leader of the Paladins sighed, “You’ll just laugh if I tell you. Hell, it’s so far outta character, I’m pretty sure I need to go see that little Witch mated to one of Owen’s boys to have my head examined.”
“Hey!” Gunnar griped, making a show of furrowing his eyebrows and acting put out. “Like I wasn’t a Healer before she was even a twinkle in her daddy’s cauldron?” Slapping himself in the chest with his fists. “You think I can’t mess with your mind better than a Celtic conjurer you’ve known for five minutes?”
“I’m not saying she’s better. I’m saying by talking to Brynn, I wouldn’t have to deal with a load of bull crap and three centuries of jokes at my expense.”
“Oh, so you want my professional advice for free?” The Viking chuckled.
“No, I’d really just like to go to bed and forget all this ever happened.”
“Aww, come on. Don’t be that way.” Holding out his hands, palms up, he shrugged and poured on his old world Norse accent, “Try me, Lad. I swear to be fair and keep the commentary to a minimum.”
Shaking his head and running his hand through his long curls, Creed mumbled, “I know, I’m gonna regret this, but here goes.” Looking Gunnar right in the eye, he hurriedly admitted, “I’m going to that new bar J.D., one of Owen’s boys told us about.” Snapping his fingers, he huffed, “What was the name?”
“Yeah, Rodeo,” Creed nodded. “I know it’s stupid, and I’m old enough to know better. But…”
“But we haven’t been off the Isle of Skye in over a decade unless we were saving the world or rescuing some poor soul. You’re here now. Why not live it up? The meetings with Owen and the Sampson Wolves didn’t take near as long as we expected. I get it. You’re not getting any younger…”
“And neither are you.”
“That was rude, you’re at least a week older than I am.” Gunnar rolled his eyes, going right back to what he was saying. “You want to have some fun before it’s back to Scotland and back to work?”
“You got it in one.”
“I usually do.”
“And you’re so humble about it.”
“Hey, look, humility never was my thing. I leave that to you and the others. I paid my dues,” Gunnar laughed, opening the refrigerator, and getting out a bottle of water. “Seriously though, I think you should go. You haven’t had a night on the town in this century.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Damned near,” Gunnar insisted. “And you can catch up with Bonnie and Maggie Sampson. It’s been years since you guys did any more than say hi and bye at some meeting or another. We used to get into some real trouble with those twin Alphas back in the day.”
Chuckling even as he began to feel older by the minute, Creed sighed, “I forgot it had been that long.” Looking back up, he shook his head, “I’m pretty sure the last time I actually spoke to either one was at their parents’ wake. The Shifter world lost two of their finest on that day.”
“Damn straight,” Gunnar agreed, drinking almost the entire bottle of water in one gulp. Making a shooing motion with his free hand, he added, “So, go on. Tell which ever twin’s working I said hi. Kick your heels up, Old Man. Show the young’uns how it’s done. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get lucky. The Great Goddess knows it’s been years since you got laid.”
“You just had to go there, didn’t you? You almost made it through a whole conversation without bringing up my sex life,” Creed groaned.
“Or the lack thereof,” Gunnar barked with laughter.
“You are not funny. Not funny at all.”
“Sure, I am.” Holding up his thumb and finger as if he might squeeze them together, the Viking squinted his eyes and looked through the opening. “At least a little bit. Maybe not Don Rickles hilarious, but still worth a laugh or two.”
“Not even a snicker.”
“Okay, prove me wrong,” Gunnar suggested, back in the fridge, getting out the ham, cheese, lettuce, mayo, and mustard even though it was almost ten at night. “How long has it been since you had a date?” Holding up his index finger as he set everything on the table, he kept going when Creed tried to answer. “And I don’t mean, talking to the lady who rings up the steaks at the grocery.”
“I don’t do the shopping. Mac has the groceries delivered.”
Going on as if he hadn’t spoken, Gunnar added, “Or the girl who delivers the pizzas or the Thai takeout, I’m talkin’ about a real date. One where you got dressed up, picked her up at her front door, and took her to nice restaurant.”
One hand in the air and the other draped across his stomach, the Viking pretended to ballroom dance. Creed laughed out loud as all six-foot-ten of insane Viking twirled and spun around the kitchen, singing his next words. “Drinks at a classy lounge with a nice band and maybe some dancing, huh? Riddle me that big bad Paladin Leader. How long has it been?”
“Okay, I give. It’s been at least a decade…”
“More like three, but who’s counting?”
“Apparently, you are,” Creed groused. “But I could ask you the same thing.”
“Nope, no, you can’t,” Gunnar finally stopped dancing and shook his head. “’Cause I’m not the one sneaking out in the middle of the night like a randy teenager.”
“I was not…”
“Oh, really, you weren’t?”
Pausing, it was hard to hide his shock. For the first time in his very long life, Creed didn’t know how to express what he needed to say. Usually, the right words, the correct sentiment, the perfect tone – it was all just there. It was part of who he was – decisive, fair, quick to action, always putting the fate of Dragonkin, mankind, and all other beings of the Light before all else.
But this time…
“Okay, how about I just tell you what I’m feeling and…”
“You? Creed Mathers? You want to talk about feelings?”
“No,” he flatly answered. “But I think I need to.”
Pulling out a chair and plopping down, Gunnar pushed back his long blond hair. Pushing everything he’d just gotten from the refrigerator to the side, he laid his palms on the table and exhaled slowly.
“What are you doing?” Creed asked, unable to fathom what his Brethren was up to.
“I’m preparing myself from some earth-shattering news.”
“Yeah, it’s got to be,” Gunnar nodded furiously. “You’ve never said, ‘I think’ and damn sure never said, ‘You needed to tell me anything’. So, I’m thinkin’ earth-shattering about sums it up.”
“And that’s why I keep you around,” Creed snickered.
“No,” Gunnar went from nodding to shaking his head. Poking himself in his chest with his thumb, he went on, “I stay because we’re a team and I took an oath. It’s got nothing to do with you, Dude.”
“Okay, we’ll just go with that for now. We both know the truth, you’d be lost without me, but I’ll let you hold onto your delusion for now.”
“Well, thank you so much,” Gunnar groaned sarcastically.
“You’re welcome so very much.”
Leaning back in his chair, Creed crossed his feet at his ankles and his arms over his chest. “I want to find my Mate.”
“And? And? And that’s it?”
Shrugging and starting to make his sandwich, Gunnar nodded, “Yep, that’s it. If you want to find your Mate, then go find her.”
“Because it’s just that easy?”
“Nope, I didn’t say it was easy.” Slowly shaking his head as he spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread, Gunnar continued, “It’s not gonna be, but if you don’t ever get your ass out there, you’ll never find her, right?”
“I mean, all you ever do is work. The only women you’ve been around for as long as I can remember are Bonnie and Maggie Sampson, the Ancient One, Sydney Kavanaugh, and the Mates of two of our Brethren.” Opening his eyes wide and scowling, the Healer kept right on going, “It’s no wonder you haven’t found the one the Universe made for you. I mean, what were you thinking? That she would just come knocking on the door of your office.”
“Oh, yeah, she can’t do that,” Gunnar stressed the last word as he stopped building his sandwich, lifted his head, and opened his eyes as wide as they would go. “Because our base, the place where all the Paladins – those of us who haven’t found our Mates and have been given permission to reside elsewhere – live in a very secret place, magically hidden from everyone without the mystical mojo to find us, and/or the Dragon blood to get through all the wards.” Tilting his head to the side and nodding like his neck wasn’t quite right, he added, “Did I get it right? Can I have a gold star?”
“But you believe the old adage about not finding your Mate in a bar or a coffee shop?”
“Oh. My. Great. Goddess. It was your mom and she said you would find your Mate in your Clan during worship. She said the woman the Universe made for you would be demur and sweet and never utter a cross word.”
“How did you…?”
“Because that’s what my mother said to me about three hundred years ago.” Snapping his fingers, the Healer scoffed, “Get over it. We’re old. Times have changed.”
“Yes, they have, but I…”
Holding up his index finger and moving it back and forth, Gunnar growled, “If you say, ‘I haven’t’ then I will be forced to throw my sandwich at you and I am really hungry.”
“You’re always hungry.”
“Yes, I am, and do you know why that is?”
“No, enlighten me, oh, wise one.”
“Well, thank you for recognizing my unofficial title. I’m always hungry because I have the proper appetite for love and lust and…”
“Have never met a woman you couldn’t charm the panties off of.”
“I resemble that statement,” Gunnar laughed. “Now, have you been feeling any signs of the Mating Call? Has that Old Dragon King, Alastair, woken up and told you to get your groove on?”
“Would I be sitting here and talking to you if it had?” Shaking his head, Creed huffed, “And as far as Alastair is concerned, well, it’s just that…”
Barking with laughter and slapping the table, Gunnar wheezed, “He told you to get out there and find your Mate. I bet the old guy even told you to have a little fun while you were at it.”
“Yes, I did,” the Dragon King with whom Creed shared his soul adamantly agreed. “Go on, tell Gunnar that I agree with him and you need to get off your arse and find our Mate. Do it, lad. Don’t make me get tough with you.”
Pulling from his memory and his heritage, Creed put on his best Scottish brogue and repeated, “Aye, I agree with ye, Gunnar. This daft eejit needs to get off his arse and get to lookin’.”
“I don’t sound like that.”
“Yes, you do.
“Well, I’m more distinguished.”
“In real talk, that means older.”
Refusing to continue arguing with Alastair while Gunnar was laughing so hard Creed thought the Healer might actually fall off his chair, the Paladin Leader was just about throw out a witty comeback when another of their Dragon Brethren appeared in the kitchen. “What the hell’s so funny and why wasn’t I invited to the party?” The Demi-God and golden Dragon, Kayne grinned from ear-to-ear. “I thought we were going to Rodeo. You left Max and I sitting in the truck for nearly thirty minutes.
Patting Kayne on the shoulder, Creed apologized, “I’m really sorry, man. Gunnar came down and caught me sneaking out, then he had to give me a speech about women, and well you know how much of a gasbag he is.”
“I do,” the Demi-God snickered. “There were times, when we were all younger and in training, I used to pray for Gunnar and Maddox to shut the hell up so I could get some sleep.” Pointing at the Healer who was already shaking his head and trying to object, Kayne kept right on going, “Those two could argue over the time of day in a room of clocks. It was never ending.”
“Yeah, I know,” Creed nodded, loving that he finally had some backup, and that Gunnar was opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish blowing bubbles. “I was there. I was the one ripping at the hem of my shirts to have something to stuff in my ears.”
“Y’all are wrong,” Gunnar pouted, even as the twinkle in his eyes got brighter. “So, wrong. I was the life of the party.”
“Okay, whatever you say,” Creed snickered. “As the resident life of the party, you wanna come with us?”
“Nope, I’m gonna enjoy my sandwich and catch-up on rugby. Owen’s youngest son… umm… umm….” Snapping his finger, the Healer whooped, Heath. That’s his name, Heath. Anyway, he’s a tech guru. I said that since I’d been here in Valentine, I’d missed all the games and bingo-bango, he hooked me up.”
“Oh, hell no,” Gunnar readily disagreed. “I’m not havin’ that crap. You need to get out there and find your lady love.”
“Lady love, huh?” Kayne slapped Creed on the back. “That’s great, I highly recommend Mated life. There’s nothing like it. Pearl and I are…”
“So happy, blissfully in love and what was it you said?” the Healer teased, raising his eyebrows so high they were almost at his hairline. “Oh, yeah, you don’t even remember what life was like before you two met.” Opening his mouth and pointing at the back of his throat as he pretended to gag, he added, in between made-up retching sounds, “Goddess help us. Ain’t love grand.”
“Okay, okay, we’re outta here,” Kayne snickered, grabbing Creed by the arm and tugging him towards the back door. “I wouldn’t want to bore the consummate bachelor with anymore tales of my Mated bliss.”
“Yeah, you do that,” Gunnar laughed out loud, walking the other way out the kitchen with a sandwich big enough to feed and army, a huge bag of chips and three beers.
Outside and in the truck, Creed thought he’d escaped anymore conversations about his love life, when Max Prentice, the King of the Big Cats looked over his shoulder and asked, “You ready for some fun?”
“I guess, just thought we better go see Bonnie and Maggie’s new place while we’re here.”
“Oh, is that all it is?”
“Yeah, what else would it be?” Creed asked, immediately adding, “What do you two know that I don’t?”
“Nothing really,” Max automatically answered right before Kayne chuckled, “Just a feeling.”
Narrowing his eyes and looking between the King and the Demi-God, Creed shook his head and groaned, “You do know that I’m usually the one who knows what’s going to happen before it does, right?”
“Yes, mi amigo,” Max chuckled, his Latin accent getting deeper along with his laughter. “We are well aware of your mental acumen.”
“But this time, you need to buckle up, Buttercup. Things are about to get interesting.”