Dark Crusade, excerpt

Dark Crusade, excerpt

Chapter One

Her heartbeat gave her away–too fast, too erratic, too telling. Fear. She was coated in it.

But where?

Kerr Vik scanned the dark tavern, searching for the source of the emotions he sensed…felt.

Only one being would be so immersed in fear by the appearance of the Jagers and their mercenaries. The ones they hunted…a witch.

His gaze shot to the others. Marina, the Jager leader, placed one fingertip to her temple and closed her eyes. With a frown, she dropped her hand and raised her eyelids. “I know this is the place. I’ve sensed magic here before.”

She spun; the gold threads sewn through her tunic caught in the light adding an ethereal quality to her movements as she leapt in front of the tavern’s owner and placed the sharp tip of a dagger against his throat. “You say there are no witches here?” she asked.

The owner, a sturdy man with dark hair and a steady gaze, stared straight ahead. “You said yourself, there was no power coming from my tavern. Perhaps a witch was here and left. People don’t tend to stay here too long.”

Kerr stepped over a bench on his way to the back of the room. The fear was growing. It wrapped around him like a noose and tugged him deeper into the room, past the tavern owner and Marina.

The Jager leader ignored him, but the man she had pinned, jerked. “There is nothing in there for you.”

Kerr stopped, his hand resting on the top of an iron bound ale barrel. Inside the cask, he heard a gasp and felt the fear begin to pulse. He had found her.

# # #

Heather Moore held her breath. Her hands, sweaty from fear, pressed against the rough wood surrounding her. She had no idea what was happening, where she was or why she had agreed to hide inside a musty barrel. There had been something about the light in the man’s eyes she’d encountered as she stepped through the portal–joy turning to horror as the sounds of horses and men stomping outside thrust him into some kind of panicked action.

He’d urged her into the barrel, warned her to hold her tongue and her powers, then plopped the lid on top of her.

She’d sat, her knees curled to her chest, her forehead resting on her kneecaps while people stomped inside. Voices threatened the man who had hidden her, insisted they had sensed a witch inside his tavern.

Heather had pulled her knees a little closer to her chest at their tone when they said the word, witch. She had no idea why they searched for one, but every fiber of survival instinct she possessed told her it was for nothing pleasant.

The lid to her hidey hole edged to the side, letting in light and cool air. Heather held her breath, bit her lip and waited–readied herself to ignore the man’s warnings and blast whoever held that lid with as much energy as she could muster.

Except she couldn’t–as she tried to draw power from the room, she realized her resources were drained, perhaps from her journey through the portal.

She was stuck…no magic…and nowhere to hide.

# # #

His gaze on the tavern owner and Marina, Kerr waited. The witch inside the barrel was going nowhere. But the tavern owner…

As the thought formed in his head, the lid under his hand shifted. Whoever was inside wanted to come out.

Kerr turned his body, instinctively blocking Marina, his charge, from whatever danger waited inside the barrel and jerked off the lid.

A pair of brown eyes, wide with desperation, stared back at him.

The witch. He’d found her.

Elation flooded over him then like a slap a new emotion struck. Surprise. Shock.

A witch, but not any witch. Not a nameless body he knew nothing of, could turn over to the Jagers with little thought to her destiny.

No damn it. This witch he knew.

Heather. How had she found him?

“Did you find her?” Marina’s dagger dug into the tavern owner’s neck; blood dribbled down his dark skin onto his tunic. The man’s gaze stayed steady, but defeat was written across his face.

Kerr plopped the lid back onto the barrel and turned. “Thievery.”

Both Marina and the tavern owner frowned. “What?” Marina asked.

“A barrel full of elfin silk. We’ve caught a thief.”

Marina pursed her lips, her gaze shooting to the tavern owner. His brows lowered in confusion for one brief second, then he smoothed his forehead and lowered his gaze to his hands. “I’m just a stopping place, a middle man. No real money in it for me, but I can offer you free drinks if you keep my secret from the government. Or at least give me a day or two to get the goods out of my place.”

Marina cursed. “Silk?” She stepped away from the man, her dagger still held in front of her. Again she closed her eyes, after a second she cursed again. “Nothing.” She rammed her knife into its scabbard and stared at the tavern owner. “I know a witch was here. If you want to keep your…” She gestured toward the back where Kerr stood. “…secret, next time you won’t let her escape so thoroughly.” She stepped close to the man and placed one finger over his heart. “Understand?”

The tavern owner’s face was meek, his gaze dropped, but Kerr could see his posture…stiff and unyielding…as he muttered an agreement.

Without a word to anyone, Marina strode from the room. Kerr hesitated, his hand back on the barrel, but as the remaining Jagers flowed from the room, he dropped his hand and followed. Heather would wait. She’d have to. She had no more options for leaving Gunngar than he did.

-o0o-

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