Enduring nightmares and unexplained loss of time, Cianne is sinking deeper into madness. With her marriage to Whodai looming, she can’t help questioning if she made the right decision when she agreed to be his wife. No matter how handsome or nice Whodai seems to be, she doesn’t love him. But the Guardian is devoted to her and her family. All she needs to do is say…yes, one more time.
Whodai wants Cianne dependent but not broken. He’s worked too hard to gain her trust and he refuses to let anyone, including his mother or the twins, ruin his happily ever after with his Queen. But tying up loose ends and silencing those who might threaten his end game must be handled properly.
A union of convenience, threats of a civil war, and failed attempts on her life are weights Cianne must bear. Justifiably paranoid, and with no one left to confide in, her only companion is the unholy disembodied voice who taunts her every move, in the Battle for the Halo.
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The Present, May 6th
Missing over 11 months
Cipher launched from one rooftop to another, undeterred by the snow and ice that covered them and landed solidly on the balls of his feet. He gracefully slid just a few inches, and while still in motion he crouched down, pushed a button on the device in his ear, and pushed the hood of his white camouflage suit off his head.
“Should I engage?” Cipher asked in a low whisper.
“Are you sure he’s still there?” Caleb questioned.
It was up to Cipher to find Tristan Bertram, the White Lion and rightful mate to the Halo. He could find anyone anywhere. Being a half-breed or Breed, it was expected that if he had any abilities at all, they would be greatly muted. Cipher’s abilities were substantial in every way. He wielded a multitude of heightened senses and other gifts that overshadowed some of the strongest full-blooded Coesen.
Well, all but three. He suspected he wouldn’t hold a candle to the Halo. Plus, Caleb Scott, who wasn’t a Coesen, was a bit of an enigma. One minute, Cipher felt they were evenly matched, but then Caleb did something well beyond Cipher’s capabilities.
He wondered if Caleb liked to keep him guessing.
Cipher also found it difficult to track Soahn Tristan Bertram. Every time he had a bead on him, the man disappeared before he was able to make contact. Cipher wasn’t sure how Tristan kept one step ahead of him but he welcomed the challenge.
“I am certain.” Cipher stealthily reached for the edge of the roof then pushed off with his feet, dangled, then dropped to the snow-covered ground four stories down with a soft crunch. He listened while Caleb spoke to someone on his end.
“We don’t know how he’s been able to detect you yet. It would probably be best if you put some distance between you and him or you’ll be hunting him down again,” Caleb instructed.
Yeah, I should steer clear, Cipher thought.
“Besides, the last time you encountered each other, you were trying to gut him with a blade,” Caleb said.
Cipher thought back to when he first laid eyes on Tristan Bertram at Caleb’s cabin. With no knowledge of Tristan’s identity, Cipher’s main objective was to keep Caleb safe. That day he felt Tristan was a threat to his objective and he reacted. To his surprise, Tristan not only dodged his attack but responded in turn, by throwing one of Cipher’s knives back at him. It took all of Cipher’s skill to avoid his own blade.
That happened months ago and now he was in this winter wonderland tracking his King.
“I have someone else in mind but I need you ready if he runs again,” Caleb said, then disconnected.
I’ll be ready.
Later that night
Zeta peered at the nondescript building. The only reasons she knew it was a pub was the sign above the door and the roar from the patrons that echoed into the white haze outside where she stood.
The Ice Cave, per the ice-covered sign, was a basic one-story structure at the edge of what the residents referred to as a town. Several other buildings littered the landscape but were just as basic. Most looked as if they doubled as businesses and homes.
Conversation in the native language stalled as Zeta pushed opened the heavy door. The patrons ogled her as she stood in the doorway and scanned her surroundings. It could be because of the lightweight wool coat and pink pom-pom hat she wore. Her attire wasn’t the kind of gear the residentswore in this frigid climate but she wasn’t like them.
Zeta scanned the curious faces, finding who she was searching for instantly. Of course, the man sat at the bar in the darkest corner, alone. She could tell by the way he ignored her entrance that this man wasn’t like the locals either.
After closing the bone chilling cold out by shutting the door, Zeta stomped her snow-covered legs free of the caked-on white powder. The patrons, mostly men, seemed to settle back into their usual habits, dismissing her presence or purpose.
Zeta appreciated the privacy as she made her way to the large bar in the rear of the building. She settled near the loner, leaving only the space of a stool between them. The bartender, a husky man with large hands and thick curly hair, looked at her with a questioning glare.
“Anything that’ll warm me up,” she told him, speaking his language as a native would.
The bartender raised a brow as he gave her a good once over. He then frowned. Zeta recognized that look. She reached inside the breast of her coat and pulled out a thin wallet. She flipped it open as the Bartender leaned over the counter toward her. He peered at the well-crafted fake ID for a few seconds, looked at her again, then shrugged.
“Anything to eat?” he grunted.
Zeta shook her head. She watched the barkeep walk away then turned her attention to the sole reason she was in this place. As she regarded him, she realized he hadn’t spoken a word or moved a muscle since her entrance.
It wasn’t humanly possible to be that still.
As if on cue, the man coughed, shifted in his seat, then lifted his glass up to his thickly bearded face. She assumed he somehow managed to find his lips because she saw his throat moving.
Zeta offered him a silent greeting, a nod, but she couldn’t tell if he saw her because of the dark glasses that framed his face. The beard and sunglasses covered so much of him that she still wasn’t sure if this was Tristan.
The bearded man didn’t acknowledge her greeting but he did silently drink the remainder of the dark liquid inside his mug. When he was done, he slowly pulled money from his pocket and placed it on the well-worn wooden bar.
Zeta watched him out the corners of her eyes. His hair was long, which made it difficult to see his face, and he wore loose fitting clothing that left everything to the imagination. Yet, she determined that he was the right height.
As the man lifted his jacket and swung it around his back, the bartender placed Zeta’s drink in front of her. She nodded at the bartender then looked over at the bearded man. “I’m looking for a friend of mine who I think came through here,” she said to him as he continued to wrap up. “I was wondering if you might know him.”
The bearded man didn’t so much as glance at her as he finished putting on his winter coverings.
“Jackdon't do much talking.” A man seated at a table behind her offered. He stood and made his way over to where she sat.
Jack, is it?
Zeta flicked the nosy stranger a glance. She noticed his appreciative glare when she initially walked inside the establishment. It was times like these that she wished she looked less pixie and more Amazonian.
The stranger, a sloppy-muscular man with a neater beard than her target and at least two feet taller than her, stepped up behind Jack. “Doya, Jack?” He patted Jack’s back hard enough to drive him forward.
It would take more than that to unbalance Tristan, Zeta thought as she watched the bearded man, Jack, right himself.
“Sam, you leave Jack be now. I don’t want none of your shit tonight.” The bartender’s gaze fell on Zeta. “Leave the girl be too.”
“Thanks,” Zeta told the bartender, “but I don’t think Sam is going to be any trouble tonight. Are you, Sam?” Zeta looked at him.
Sam flashed her a coy smile.
Jack moved around Sam without acknowledging her interest in him while Zeta’s new husky admirer slid up between the stool she sat on and the one next to her. Her focus remained on Jack, and when she moved to get up a heavy hand pressed down on her shoulder. Zeta didn’t hesitate or look at Sam when she grabbed hold of his hand and twisted it.
Sam shrieked as he tried to relieve the pain in his arm by turning in the direction of his twisted wrist. The move caused Zeta to apply more pressure, ultimately driving Sam to his knees. Every patron in the pub watched as he screamed out in agony. Every patron except Jack, because he was on his way toward the door.
Still watching Jack’s back as he moved further away, Zeta raised her leg and placed her foot inches from Sam’s nose. “Do we have a problem, Sam?” Zeta asked, peering at the door that Jack left through and slowly closed behind him.
The Bartender snickered when Sam only grimaced.
His failure to answer in a timely manner was a mistake. Zeta moved her foot so fast that no one in the bar saw what happened, but they did hear Sam screech. Sam’s broken nose spouted blood that drizzled onto the old wooden floor.
Zeta turned her full attention to Sam. “Do we have a problem?”
“No problem,” Sam panted out. When Zeta released his hand, Sam cursed as he fell against the side panel of the bar, rubbing his uninjured but sore arm.
Zeta moved as slow as she could manage to the door. She pulled on the door handle and stepped into the frigid night air.
Bearded Jack was gone.
She spun on her heels and pushed the bar door open and strolled back inside. Zeta walked up to the bar and placed a fifty-dollar bill next to the glass meant for her.
She turned to leave when the bartender cleared his throat. Zeta stopped and looked back over her shoulder, ignoring the patron’s whispers about her.
“Your ID says you’re from America,” the bartender said in English. Zeta nodded. “I rarely get to practice my English. Anyway, uh…Jack, the fella who just left. That’s not his name but it’s what we call him cause he only drinks Jack Daniels,” the bartender said, as he slid the bill off the bar and placed it in his pocket. “He hardly comes around here, and when he does it ain’t for conversation. I sense he’s a good fella, just had some bad luck.” The bartender shrugged. “Guess we all had our share. He stays at Elmer’s old cabin. If you head north toward the mountains, you’ll eventually see it.”
The bartender looked down at Sam and chuckled. “No young lady, thank you.” He laughed louder as she walked away.