Home > Hero's Haven (Dark Protectors #11)

Hero's Haven (Dark Protectors #11)
Author: Rebecca Zanetti

Chapter One

It was time to die.

Thank all the gods.

Quade Kayrs had spent lifetimes—too many to fathom—fulfilling his duty. Even when this world so far from home had changed from monotonous to pure hell for centuries upon centuries, he had done his job. Oh, he had died many times in this horrendous place. From the flashing fire to the freezing cold to the hungry creatures, many times the life had slid from his body. But as a vampire-demon hybrid, he returned to live again each time.

Until now.

He sat in his cave, the rock ice-cold against his back, watching the lick of fire at the entryway. The weak flames sputtered and died. No more fire after a millennium of burning. The world trembled, finally giving up the fight. Ready to die along with him. The sky cracked wide open outside, revealing the other world, the one he was bound to keep trapped. His enemy was there somewhere; Quade could only hope that bastard would blow up along with him.

There was no way to guarantee that fact, but Quade had done his best. If the next life gave points for suffering in this one, he was going to be a freaking god.

Not that he cared.

He had stopped caring about anything but duty so long ago. He could barely remember himself, much less anybody else. Once, there had been brothers he trusted and loved. On his home world, their bones had to have been crushed to dust by now. Even though time moved faster in this hell, they could not possibly still be alive after all these centuries.

Shutting his eyes, he let his body go limp. No more fighting. No more pain. No more anything.

He smiled, his lips cracking from the rare movement. Finally. It was over. The freezing chill washed over him, while the ground started to shake as the world prepared to explode into nothingness. Shards of frozen rock fell, cutting his legs. He did not twitch. Pain was a companion, nothing to acknowledge. The walls shook. Something howled in the far distance, something not of this world. How many worlds would crumble with this one—destruction spreading like the ripples of water from a rock across a pond? He and his brothers had played such a game in his childhood.

His childhood.

Images of his existence before this place flashed before his eyes. His brothers. His friends. The life he had once enjoyed.

Ah. It was good to let go. Would he see them again? Hope was beyond him, so he let it, too, slide away. He exhaled slowly, the arctic air ripping through his lungs.

“Um, hello?” A soft voice had him forcing his eyes back open.

He blinked. She was a vision in the corner of the cave. Sun-kissed blond hair; one green eye and one black; tiny stature. “You,” he rumbled. When had he last imagined her? So long ago he could not count. An idea filtered through the fog in his brain. Before, she had looked like a demoness. Maybe that had been wrong. “Are you an angel?”

She looked around the darkening cave, her eyes wide. “Angel? No. My name is Haven.” Her shoulders slumped. “You’re not real.”

“You’re not real, either,” he returned, chuckling for the first time in eons. Funny. Nothing was real. Her name fit her, because for so long, the image of her had been his only haven. “You have not come for a while.”

“No.” Another creature screeched far away, and she jumped. “I’ve, ah, been taking new medication. It has worked so far.” She rubbed her arms and shivered. “I shouldn’t be here.”

He struggled to keep his eyes open. “Nobody should be here.” Soon, the angel would disappear like before. That was all right. Though why was he imaging her in such odd clothing? Blue pants, white shirt, tall boots? “Where is your proper dress?” His imagination was odd.

Lightning cracked across the sky, propelling her toward him. “We have to get out of here.”

He laughed. Full-on belly laugh. This was a good way to die. “Right. My mind wants out.” His body was done.

Then she touched him, grasping his arm.

He jolted, his body electrified. What the hell? He slapped a hand over hers, feeling warmth. In the few times she had come to him through the years, the female had never touched him. Her hand felt real and fragile beneath his. So far, dying was lovely. As was she. He smiled. “You are taking me home?”

More rocks dropped, one slicing her forehead. Blood welled, and she cried out.

He blinked. She could feel pain? The beast at his core, the one long dormant, stretched awake at the fresh scent of her blood. “I do not understand.”

She grabbed his other arm and tugged. “We have to go. Now.”

He shook his head. “Nowhere to go.” Once, there were portals to other places, ones he had ignored and purposely kept closed, to do his duty. But as his world began to die, he had searched for them; they were gone. That made sense, really. If this place was to go, it would be better if it failed to take others with it. “Sit with me.” He might as well take comfort in his imagination as he left the world.

She pulled harder and then smacked him across the face. “Dude. We have to go. Now.” Frantic, she looked wildly around. Then she settled, her eyes closing and her breath evening out. “I can do this.” She opened her eyes, and those intriguing orbs focused on him. “Please. Trust me.”

Beautiful. His last view was going to be of beauty. He liked that. “As you wish.” He pushed to his feet, his bones creaking.

She took his hand and led him to the edge of the cave, staring down the jagged cliff.

He looked down as well. Maybe this was how the end would come. All right.

She tightened her hold. “Ready?”

He nodded. Then, keeping her hand, he jumped toward death.

* * * *

Haven Daly sat up in the bed, screaming silently. A trick she’d learned at way too young an age. Her heart thundered, and sweat prickled over her skin. She gasped, trying to breathe, letting the panic roll through her because she couldn’t beat it. All she could do was let it take her and then pick up the pieces afterward.

She pounded her palms against her closed eyes. No, no, no. She rocked back and forth, trying to slow her breathing. Not again. Not the nightmares again.

Something wet her hand, and she slowly lowered it to see blood. Ouch. She frowned, gingerly probing the cut above her eye. The rock in the cave had cut her. That was impossible. It was only a dream. Had she somehow self-harmed during the dream? That was a new one. But it was the only thing that made sense.

Man, she missed her cat. She’d left him with an elderly neighbor in Portland because she wasn’t sure how long she’d be running.

This time her dreams had been different. Something had pulled her in opposite directions, and she’d had to fight to follow Quade’s voice. What had tried to force her to go another way this time?

Dreams sucked.

Just as her breathing leveled out, the urge to flee north took her. Not again. Her legs trembling, she stood on the clean motel carpet and tried to fight the compulsion. Dawn had yet to arrive outside, but she’d slept with the bathroom light on, as usual, so she could see.

For months, she’d been drawn north, ending up in a small Idaho town in this quaint motel for several nights. She was on the run, so that suited her purposes fine. Wallace was a sweet town with a rich heritage of mining and construction, and the people had been kind to her all week. The waitresses at the motel had learned how to make her coffee and had nicely given her a cupcake yesterday for her birthday. Even strangers on the street said hello, for no other reason than to be polite.

It was a nice place to be drawn to. Even as she had the thought, she began dressing in faded jeans, a long-sleeved white shirt, and her brown boots. After using the facilities, she pulled her long hair into a ponytail and quickly packed.

When the compulsion took her, it won. Every time.

She checked out of the hotel and ran for her battered Jeep, her boots slipping on the snow. Sparkling Christmas lights twinkled from the surrounding trees, looking cheerful despite the winter storm blasting around and the wind cutting into her. Putting the heat on full force, she drove away from Wallace and back onto I-90, once again having no clue where she was going. But she was done fighting, so she just drove, peering into the swirling mass of snow. Reaching Kingston, she pulled off, driving past a still closed restaurant called the Snake Pit, and then along a winding river.

Where was she going this time?

She’d been taking her medication, the new stuff, as well as several herbal supplements. For a short time, they had helped curb her craziness.

Unfortunately, she’d learned early on that crazy always won. The last shrink, the one in Oregon, had diagnosed her with a bizarre delusional disorder. At one time or another through her life, she’d been diagnosed with many a mental illness. Nothing had cured her, so she’d accepted there was no cure. She’d done better in Oregon, painting consistently enough that the local gallery had offered her a show. Looked like it had been a success. She’d had to leave before the big night and hadn’t attended. However, her bank account, the one in Texas, was now a little fatter. That was nice.

The wind increased in power and the snow fell so thickly she couldn’t see beyond the headlights. She slowed on the icy river road. Closed for the season cabins and locked guardrails protecting empty private camping areas lined the river road, while trees covered the other side. Cottonwoods, pines, and spruces, all blanketed in snow.

Where was she going?

She rubbed the cut above her eyelid. It had stopped bleeding; it must not be too deep. The dream delusion had been stronger than ever before. This time, she’d touched him. The wounded and angry man. Quade. He’d told her his name on her second visit. Why had her imagination named him Quade? She’d never known a Quade. Why was she seeing him again? It didn’t make sense.

Things rarely did.

Almost on its own, the Jeep turned down a road with public access to the river for rafters. A wide, icy parking area lay empty as the snow billowed all around.

Sighing, she parked the vehicle and stepped out, watching the clouds lighten across the river as dawn arrived. Cold blasted her and the snow hit her hard. Shivering, she reached in the back seat for her down jacket, shrugging into it and zipping quickly. Her gloves were in her pocket, and she drew them on before walking toward the river. Was she supposed to look in the dark blue, freezing water?

   
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