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Brenda Joyce is a New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 novels and novellas, including the popular and critically acclaimed de Warenne Dynasty Saga, a series of novels set in Regency and Victorian England. She lives on a ranch in Arizona with her dogs, broodmares and the year’s current crop of foals. If she isn’t on the back of a reining horse, she can be found madly at work in her office, penning her latest romance novel.
New York City
December 7, 2008
It had been a really quiet weekend. Tabby wasn't sure what to make of that as she and her sister and a friend stood in line to pass through a security checkpoint at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her sister, Sam, had even gotten off early enough last night to go out to dinner. Tabby couldn't recall the last time the two of them had been able to go out and have a few drinks and a great meal. It made her uneasy. She was waiting for the ax to fall.
Something huge was going to happen.
She was a Rose, and while she didn't have the Sight like her cousin, Brie, she could feel the premonition in her bones.
"It is weird," Sam said, as they filed toward the security inspector. "There were only four friggin' pleasure crimes yesterday. Not that I'm complaining. But it was Saturday night."
Although they were sisters, they were as different as night and day. Sam was hard and edgy, while Tabby was soft and classic. Two years younger than Tabby, Sam wore short, spiky platinum hair, had an Angelina Jolie body and the face to go with it. Tabby was used to the attention her sister always received. Every male they passed, young or old, gave her a second glancemale radar gone haywire. Tabby didn't mind. She knew she was conservative and old-fashioned. Although it was Sunday, she wore a wool skirt, a cashmere V-neck and pearls. She didn't even own a pair of jeans.
Sam was being gawked at now. The tall, young male turned his gaze to Tabby next, giving her the once-over. Tabby was used to that, too. She was an attractive woman; her sister simply overshadowed her.
"There was not one Rampage, not in any of the five boroughs," Sam said. "I mean, it's noon and I haven't even been called in on a case."
Tabby knew that her warrior sister, who was an agent at HCU, was bored. Sam was at her best when she was hunting on the city streets. But the Rampages were terrible crimes. Innocent victims were burned, medieval style, at the stake. As eerie as the sudden decline in violence was, she should not be complaining.
"Why are you so uptight? I saw who you met up with at Trenza," Kit said to Sam, smiling. "She was with Young, Dark and Hot."
"Very young, very hot and very, very good." Sam smiled.
"I don't know why they never have friends," Kit complained, but she winked at Tabby. She was slim, fair and dark-haired. Tabby had never seen her wear a stitch of makeupshe didn't have to. Her siren's face and sensuously buff body hid a brilliant intensity and resolve. Like Sam, her first love was the war on evil. She was one of the most serious and determined women Tabby had ever met, but Tabby didn' t blame her. Her twin sister had died in Jerusalem in Kit's arms, the victim of demonic violence. Sometimes Tabby thought she might still be mourning Kelly. Kit worked at HCU, tooit was how she'd met Sam.
But Sam said, "He had a friend. You cut out before you could meet him."
Kit shrugged negligently. "Had to hit the gym and take care of the bod."
Tabby wasn't sure if Kit was as old-fashioned as she was, or if she was simply too obsessed with work to get involved, but she had known Kit for about a year, and she was pretty certain Kit was as celibate as she was. The joke was a front and they all knew it. It was okaythey both lived vicariously through Sam. A stranger might be appalled by the way Sam used men, but Tabby was proud of her. She was a powerful and gorgeous woman; she was the one to say yes or no; she was the one who did the dumping. Sam would never have her heart broken. She would be spared that.
Tabby was relieved when the slight aching in her breast did not suddenly pierce through her heart and soul. The divorce no longer hurt. The betrayals no longer hurt. It was almost two years since she'd learned the extent of her ex-husband's lies and adultery. She'd given him all of her love, and she'd meant every word of their marriage vows. It was the kind of woman she was. He hadn't meant one damned word.
She intended to learn from her mistakes. Randall hadn't been the love of her life after all. He had been a Wall Street investora high roller and a player. He'd cheated on her from start to finish, and to make the cliché just perfect, she'd been the last to find out. She was never going near that charismatic macho type again.
But sometimes, especially recently, she wished she was a bit more like her sister when it came to men. She did not want to even think that she might be lonely or that she needed the kind of intimacy she wasn't sure she'd ever have again, but the evenings were getting harder and harder to deal with. She'd started dating again, being really careful to go out with intellectuals and artists, but it felt as if she was simply going through the motions. And maybe she was. When it came to dating and sex, she was the exact opposite of her sister. If she wasn't in love, it wasn't happening. She didn't turn on easily, either. Maybe love and passion weren't in the cards for her. She was twenty-nine already, and beginning to think she'd better focus on her Destiny as a Rose woman.
"You know, I wish you'd let me set you up with the new guy at CDA," Sam said.
Tabby smiled a bit grimly at her. She'd met MacGregor once, when he and Sam had been leaving the Center for Demonic Activity Agency together. "Definitely not," she said, meaning it. The agent had had macho written all over him.
"Let her explore the Beta side of life," Kit said, her eyes wide with innocence. "Who knows? Maybe she'll find a match made in some kind of odd, metro heaven."
Tabby felt a pang, but she smiled brightly and said, "That's the plan."
Kit sobered and touched her arm. "I'm sorry. I never met Randall and I shouldn't tease you for going out with his polar opposite."
"It's okay," Tabby said. She smiled firmly. "What's meant to be is meant to be. Maybe the love of my life is a poet with a Ph.D."
Sam choked. "Over my dead body." Then she looked closely at Tabby. "Are you okay?"
Sam always knew when something was really wrong. "It's still hard."
"Yeah, it is," Sam said, and they both knew they were referring to their cousin, Brie. Kit probably knew it, too, but she pretended not to hear them, moving as the line progressed.
The Rose women were special. Each had her own Destiny, tied into the war on evil. For generations, the Rose women had been using their unusual powers to aid and abet good. It had only been three months since Brie had left them to redeem the Wolf of Awe. The year before, their best friend Allie had also vanished. Although Allie wasn't related to them, they had become friends with her as children. That had been Fate, too it turned out that she was a powerful Healer. Each woman had gone to embrace her Destiny in the past, because it had been time to do so. That was how the universe worked. It was a fundamental Wisdom in the Book of Roses, which had been passed down through the generations of Rose women.
Tabby missed them both, sometimes terribly, but she was also happy for them because Allie and Brie were hardly alone in the Middle Ages. Their Destinies had included powerful, nearly immortal partnersHighlanders who battled at their sides, as driven and committed as they were to the war on evil. But their absence had left a gaping hole in their lives. Sam had helped fill the void by going to work at HCU, the Historic Crimes Unit of CDA, a clandestine government agency dedicated to fighting the evil preying on society. Sam's boss, Nick Forrester, ran HCU with an iron fist but he could be counted on to back them up. And so could Kit. But it wasn't the same without Allie and Brie.
There was no defying Destiny. Tabby's Destiny was magic. Every generation of Rose women had a Slayer, a Healer and a Witch. She had been practicing her craft since she was fourteenthe year her mother had died, the victim of a demonic pleasure crime. There was one big fat problem, though. Rose women usually came into their powers very, very swiftly once their Destiny was made known. Apparently, Tabby was the exception to that rule. Although she'd been practicing magic since adolescence, her powers were still erratic and, once in a while, too weak to do any good. It simply didn't make any sense.
But as the Book of Roses said, there was a reason for everything.
Kit said, "After the gym, I went back to HCU. I was digging around in some older case files. That last Rampage has been bothering me. There were only three in the gang."
"They were doped up on a drug we've never seen before," Sam said quietly.
HCU's jurisdiction was the pastall past demonic activity, even if centuries old. Because so many of today's demons came from previous centuries, HCU's agents worked closely with CDA. Rarely could a present-day crime be solved without HCU's expertise. Tabby had already heard about last week's Rampage. A couple had been burned at the stake in one of Manhattan's most posh neighborhoods. These terrible murders were usually committed between midnight and dawn, with an entire gang present. But it had only been 8:00 p.m. and only three gang members had been there, two males and a female. Were they becoming bolder? Had it even been a genuine Rampage?
The press had dubbed the crimes "witch burnings," a label Tabby particularly disliked, because the victims were average men, women and children of all ages, races, sizes and shapes. But then, evil rarely discriminatedexcept, of course, when it came to pleasure crimes. Then the most innocent and beautiful were chosen. The witch burnings had instilled so much fear into the general public that no one seemed to care that seventy percent of all murders were still pleasure crimes. What was really scary was how vicious the gangs of possessed kids had become.
They'd once been ghetto gang members or normal kids gone missing. Evil preyed on them, seducing these gang members, offering them power in return for their souls, and then directing them to commit violence, brutality, bestiality and anarchy. The possessed gangs were out of control, ruling the city streets through fear and might. Gang warfare was no longer "in." Now the gangs often worked together to hunt down civilians, cruelly and sadistically. Very few "normal" gangs remained in the country now.
"Something's been bothering me about the Rampages, across the board," Kit said. "I feel like I've missed a really glaring clue."
"I'll go back to HCU with you," Sam decided, "and we can check it out."
They had reached the security checkpoint. Tabby smiled at the guard as Sam flipped her government ID. Sam's messenger bag was loaded with weapons, and she carried a stiletto up her sleeve and a Beretta in a shoulder holster. She would never make it through the checkpoint. Kit flipped a similar ID. Although they were government issued, neither Kit nor Sam were Feds, as the IDs claimed. But CDA was so clandestine that only the top levels of the CIA, the FBI and the Secret Service worked with its agents.
As they passed through the checkpoint, Sam and Kit were both so thoughtful that Tabby had the feeling they were ready to cut out on their plans for the afternoon. She would have to wander around the exhibit by herself, and return alone to the loft she shared with Sam. She'd float around it in the same solitude she did every nightexcept when she was out with some sweet guy she had no real interest in. It was lonelySam was almost never therebut she'd deal the same way she always did. She'd outline tomorrow's curriculum, and then work on her spells.
"So which way to the Wisdom of the Celts?" Sam asked.
Tabby smiled back, relieved. Sam knew she needed company. "Up those stairs," she said, nodding.
The huge front hall was terribly crowded. Every New Yorker knew that visiting the Met on the weekend was a really dumb idea. They started across the granite floored hall, dwarfed by the columns and arches, before going up the broad staircase to the first level of exhibits.
There was no line.
They exchanged looks as they approached the glass displays. Tabby said, "This is too weird. There should have been a half-hour wait, at least."
Kit murmured, "It's an exhibit on medieval Ireland. If you ask me, medieval Scotland and Ireland are peas in the same pod."
Allie and Brie were in medieval Scotland, with Highlanders who belonged to a secret society dedicated to the protection of Innocence. "Are you saying that you think we're meant to go in here? That the exhibit is related to the Brotherhood?"
"The earliest Scots came from Dalriadawhich is Ireland."
Tabby barely heard them. She realized her heart was thundering as she left them debating the odd lack of a line and walked over to a large glass display case. Inside, there were numerous artifacts and objects. She vaguely saw a large sword with an intricately designed hilt, and a pair of daggers, a brooch and a cup. But her gaze was drawn to the necklace there, instead.
A terrible tension filled her as she stared at the gold chain and the pendant hanging from it. It was a talisman in the shape of an open palm, a pale stone glittering from the palm's center.
Tabby's pulse skittered wildly in her throat. When she touched the hollow of her collarbone, where she wore pearls and a small key on a chain, her skin there felt far too warm. She felt a bit dizzy, faint.
"Are you all right?" Sam asked.
"I feel odd," Tabby said, realizing she was perspiring. She leaned forward to read about the amulet.
It was dated to the early thirteenth century, but had been found in 1932 among the ruins of Melvaig Castle in the northeastern Highlands of Scotland. It had somehow survived the legendary battle of An Tùir-Tara, which meant the Burning Tower.