April in Atlantis: A Poseidon's Warriors paranormal romance novel
Florida, the midst of a battle, March 1st…
For April's first-ever mission as the newest of Poseidon's Warriors, she walked through the portal from Atlantis straight into hell.
Or, at least, it felt like hell. Actually, it was someplace called Florida. But it was as hot as any of the nine levels of hell, and she, Denal, and the palace guards who had come with them had materialized directly on a roof top overlooking a huge battle.
April was glad the sound of the fighting masked the sound she must have made when she swallowed, hard. She looked to her team leader and was proud of how steady her voice was. “How do we know who's on our side?”
Denal glanced back over his shoulder at her and laughed. “They’re the ones who're not trying to kill us."
April heard a shout and saw Jake--one of her new team who'd been assigned to this mission earlier--waving at them from across the courtyard of the giant stone building to where she and the others stood on a structure like an old castle keep.
“About time you joined the party!"
Denal didn’t answer him, but grinned and leapt off the roof. landing on his feet in the middle of a group of fierce combatants. The palace guards, who were not part of the elite group of Poseidon's Warriors, but strong fighters, all, followed him down to join the fight, but April stayed where she was. Her specialty was the bow, and it was a distance weapon. She took a deep breath and started doing what she did best, although this time she aimed her arrows at living targets instead of wooden ones. She flinched every time one of her arrows struck a man.
By the fourth, she no longer flinched, but set her jaw and continued searching out any of the humans who were threatening members of her team or the innocent children and even adults who scurried around below, trying to hide. She scanned the courtyard, but most of the fighting was hand-to-hand—many of the attackers must be shifters, from their battle tactics. When she glanced back down at the staircase leading up to her position, two large and heavily muscled men were battling the Atlantean guards, clearly intent on getting to her. She narrowed her eyes and pulled two arrows from her quiver, snapped them against her leg once for luck, and drew both once.
She'd fired two at once successfully many, many times before, on targets and on game birds, and she had it in mind to teach these shifters a lesson. Denal had told them the context of this raid. A group of rogue shifters planned to force the Transition onto unsuspecting humans against their wishes and without their consent. Even if any of the humans survived the horribly dangerous first shift, the person they'd become would be changed forever—considered to have been murdered, under human law.
Not that April gave much of a crap about human law. But for once, this one had right on its side. Nobody deserved to be Transitioned against her will. She shuddered at the idea of being compelled to turn into an animal once a month, like it or no. Not for her. She preferred controlling her own life, thank Poseidon.
Four more shifters suddenly charged the group at the base of the stairs, and two of them hurled their bodies over the men there, landing halfway up the stairs. April aimed both her arrows, but before she could release them another shifter bounded up from the side of the staircase, clearing the first two and placing his body between them and April, with his back to her. He laughed and motioned to the shifters to come for him but didn't try to threaten April in any way.
Huh. He must be on her side.
Well, that pissed her off.
"I don't need your help," she called out. "Get out of my way. You're blocking my shot."
"And from what I've seen, lass, you're death herself with that bow, but I'm too much of a gentleman to allow you to take them on all alone," he returned, with a deep, honey-rough Scottish burr to his voice that sent unwelcome tingles through her body.
When he turned to look at her, the tingles turned into lightning strikes. He was beautiful. Not in a perfect, untouchable, man-in-a-painting way, but in a seriously hot, totally masculine, virile, primal, oh dear Goddess kind of way.
He also had one blue eye and one green eye, both of which widened noticeably when he looked at her.
And he was still blocking her shot.
The shifters took advantage of his momentary distraction and lunged forward.
"Duck!" April shouted, pulling her bow string, and the Scot immediately dropped. April aimed, breathed, and released, all in the space of a single beat of her heart.
The Scot stood and watched the shifters fall off the stairs to crash onto the ground below, and then he whistled.
"Nice shot, Red."
Two more of the shifters made it to the stairs and rushed them before April could shoot the man for the "Red" comment, but this time the Scot took them out so fast that she didn't see what weapon he used, only that their throats were cut.
And that they were dead. Like the two she'd slain.
The sight of the blood and the slashed throats suddenly sliced through April's fierce bravado like a hot knife through a mound of Atlantean butter. She'd killed a man.
Several lay dead in the courtyard with her arrows in them.
The sound and motion of the battle went silent in her brain, drowned out by the ringing in her head. She'd killed.
She was a killer.
A killer who was finding it hard to breathe.
She fell back against the stone wall, throwing her bow to the ground, and tried to suck air into her burning lungs, finally succeeding just as the Scot ran up the stairs and stopped in front of her.
"Are you all right then, lass? A battle can be a fearsome thing for one as young as you, no matter how courageous and skilled you are. My sister—"
"Don't," she cut him off, before inhaling and exhaling deeply, desperately fighting the very real threat of hyperventilation.
"Don’t call me lass. Or Red. Or compare me to your sister. I'm one of Poseidon's Warriors, and my job is to protect your pathetic human ass. So, don't condescend—"
He held up his hands, and those fascinating eyes of his warmed. "No condescension here. I'm Pine. You saved my life. Thank you."
"I—" she began hotly, but then stopped. He'd thanked her. He'd thanked her? The whirl in her mind couldn't keep up with any of this. "You're welcome," she muttered, but then the wicked grin that instantly lit up his face told her that she'd fallen into some kind of trap.
"I saved your life, too," he said smugly. "You should at least tell me your name."
She looked at him for a long moment and then glanced over his shoulder to be sure nobody else was trying to sneak up and kill them. "April," she finally said, only because he had kind of done so, even if she hadn't needed him to. "Now get out of my way. We have a battle to win."
His sharp eyes narrowed, and she had the feeling that he missed nothing, and in fact had been continually scanning their surroundings. "Of course, lass. But first, you owe me a forfeit, don't you think?"
That seductively wicked smile slowly spread across his face. "I'll settle for a kiss."
Her mouth fell open, and then she snapped it shut. "Settle for this."
And then she punched him right in his beautiful mouth.
* * *
An hour or so later, after the battle was over and the innocents saved, and after Pine reported in to Interpol and gave them a well-deserved amount of shit for showing up late to the party, he was finally ready to find the airport and get the hell out of this hot, humid place and back to his beloved Scottish highlands.
But first he sought out a moment with the Atlantean leader, who was standing by the river alone.
When Pine was still a good dozen feet behind Denal, the warrior, without ever turning around, motioned for him to come ahead. Perhaps Atlanteans had eyes in the back of their heads. They certainly fought like they had special powers. And Pine had to admit that the ice daggers some of them had wielded to such deadly effect had impressed even him.
"Pine. I've heard how you backed up my team, and I saw you with April. Thanks for that." Denal turned his head and pinned Pine with a flat stare.
"You don't seem very happy for someone who just won a battle," Pine said.
"Should I? There will just be another one. And then another, and another. You humans have a special talent for trying to get yourselves killed," Denal said, face and tone bleak. "What purpose in the repetition? At least the Fae kill for power and position. You seem to kill just because it's Thursday."
"I prefer Mondays myself," Pine said mildly. "Annoying day, really. Why not kill a few people for something to do while the coffee brews?"
A glimpse of a smile crossed the Atlantean's face but was quickly gone. "Perhaps not you. You were here for the same reason we were. But how many times can we rescue people so determined to destroy each other?"
Pine sighed, no longer in the mood to jolly Denal out of his dark mood. "As many times as it takes, I guess. I have a sworn duty, too, but it's to my people. I'm only here to fulfill a promise to a friend who's recuperating from two broken legs in a Swiss hospital right now."
"Friends." Denal nodded, his eyes staring far into the distance. "I remember having friends."
Pine had no idea how to respond to that, so he said nothing.
"You were right to live up to your promise. You're okay, for a wolf shifter." Denal held out his hand. "Thank you for your part in this and for protecting my warrior."
Pine shook his head and the man's hand simultaneously. "I did nothing she couldn't have done herself, and she let me know that quite…forcefully." He laughed and rubbed his chin. "I imagine I'll have a fat lip for a few days to remind me."
Denal grinned. "She's tough. She's had to be. And now she's mine."
Oh, I don't think so, my friend, Pine thought, but he let nothing show on his face. "You're together, then?"
The Atlantean looked startled. "What? No. No. She's on my team, I mean. One of Denal's Deadbeats." The laugh that followed was bitter. "Just another misfit."
Pine scanned the area outside the compound and caught a glimpse of blazing red hair. "No," he said quietly. "Not a misfit. She's a warrior, dangerous and deadly, and she deserves our respect." He heard the hint of warning in his voice and wondered what was wrong with him. Had he just threatened this man?
He turned it over in his mind. Realized that yes, he damn well had.
April deserved better.
Denal, meanwhile, was staring at him through narrowed eyes and Pine realized that he may well have just unforgivably insulted one of Poseidon's elite warriors.
He thought back to April's reaction to his request for a kiss and amended the thought. He may well have just unforgivably insulted one of Poseidon's elite warriors, again.
"What is it you want?" Denal asked, blunt and to the point.
Fine. Pine could do the same. "Your King Conlan has been asking for a treaty or at least for our working relationship to be more formalized. I'd like to officially request an ambassador – April."
Shock flared briefly in the man's eyes. "April? She's a warrior, not an ambassador."
"Have you ever met a wolf shifter? Any ambassador would have to be a warrior."
Denal bent and picked up a stone and then skimmed it into the river before he spoke. "No. I added her to my team because she wanted to fight. Also, she's possibly the worst negotiator I've ever met; she thinks a truce means she took the other guy's head off before he could open his mouth."
Pine smiled. "This just gets better and better."
But Denal started shaking his head before Pine even finished the sentence. "No. Final answer."
Pine had never liked the term 'prince of Europe' but he knew how to use the power that had put him in that place. He spoke quietly but with no room for dispute. "Tell your king that it's her or no one."
He turned to go, but Denal's mocking voice stopped him. "Are you asking as the 'werewolf prince of Europe' or as the man whose eyes keep following her around like a lovesick puppy?"
Pine's muscles tensed; everything in him wanted to turn and lunge at the man, beat him until he showed his belly in fear and submission. But he wasn't a street fighter anymore.
He was the werewolf prince of Europe.
"Talk to your king," he said, finally, and then strode off toward the waiting car that would take him to the airport.
When he walked through the open compound gate to cross through to the parking lot, the first person he saw was April, in conversation with two men and a woman. He told himself not to stop, not even to look at her, but he found his steps slowing as he approached her. When she turned and stared at him with those enormous, lovely brown eyes, he stumbled to a stop, transfixed.
Her lush lips curved in a sardonic smile. "You wanted something, Wolf?"
"You know who I am, then."
"We told her," one of the Atlanteans said, a puzzled expression on his face as he took in the tension between April and Pine. "Thanks for your help on this one, man."
Pine shook the outstretched hand and nodded to the others, while his awareness of April pulsed in his veins like a fever. "Same to you. I'm off now, back home."
April rolled her eyes. "Maybe you can find some damsel in distress to rescue who actually needs your help."
He turned to her and had to deliberately shove his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching out to touch her luminous skin. How did a warrior look like a princess in a Renaissance painting, albeit one wearing leathers and a bow? He knew better than to ask her; she'd probably break his arm.
He found himself smiling at the thought. "Or maybe I'll find someone to rescue me," he told her. "I'll see you soon, in Scotland, April. Maybe you can teach me that nifty Atlantean trick with the ice daggers."
He only enjoyed her widening eyes for a second before he turned to go. The temptation to kiss her was too strong, and he'd probably lose his bollocks if he took that liberty.
He'd only gone a few paces when she called his name.
"Hey, Pine, why don't I teach you a nifty human trick, instead?"
He knew better--he knew better, but he turned around anyway, compelled by an internal demand to look at her face just once more.
She stood next to the shimmering oval of the Atlantean magic doorway, smiling at him while her companions walked through it.
Then she gave him a two-handed salute, only using one finger on each hand.
She was still smiling when she vanished through the portal.
Pine threw back his head and laughed. Damn, but she was magnificent.
"Oh, April," he murmured. "I have many more human tricks to teach you, and I can't wait, lass."
In an hour, he was on his private jet and heading out over the Atlantic, and he made himself a vow: If you don't show up in Scotland by the end of the week, I'll be going to Atlantis after you.