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Book 3: Chained Hearts
Todd and Nick Ruger are alive and on the run in the Yellowknife Protectorate, but maybe not for long. After narrowly escaping New Colorado, where they were implicated in the assassination of Chancellor Shaffer, they’re running out of steam: Todd is gravely ill and Nick’s injured. Just when it seems like the harsh winter will get the best of them, they find refuge with a doctor in the isolated town of Elk’s Ridge.
On the surface, Elk’s Ridge seems the ideal place to rebuild their lives. Nick begins training as the doctor’s apprentice, and Todd works in a lumberyard until they’re recovered enough to return to their duties as Sentries. They make friends, forge a new life, and most importantly, there’s no sign of anyone from New Colorado.
They should have known it was too good to be true. Victor Raleigh, the new Vice Chancellor of New Colorado, knows all about Nick’s psychic abilities, and he wants them in his corner. When Nick is betrayed and captured, Todd sees no alternative but to head back to the war zone to rescue him. But will Nick be the same man Todd loves after Raleigh’s pet psychic vampire is through with him?
ITS tongue slipped inside Nick’s tunic, slithered over his pecs, teasing at his nipple before sliding up and forcing between his lips. Oily bitterness dripped down the back of his throat.
Not yours. He didn’t want this. Not yours.
Nick jolted awake.
Sitting up, he gulped in large breaths, trying desperately to vanquish the images dredged up from his mind to invade his sleep. Something reached across his chest and pressed against his sternum, startling him enough he jerked away from the touch, gasping softly.
It slid across his jaw, leaving a wet, slimy trail over his cheek.
“N’kky.” Todd’s voice was rough and slurred. Todd shifted beside him, pushing up on one elbow. Exhaling a loud, shaky breath, he stretched his other arm farther across Nick’s chest. “Juss me. Stay. Shhh,” he mumbled, tightening his grip so Nick was pulled back against Todd’s chest, his lips soft on the back of Nick’s neck, and his warm breath blowing over Nick’s skin as he talked. “What’s a matter?” Todd’s words ran together enough it took Nick a few seconds to work out what he’d said.
“I… a dream… Todd.” Nick turned so he could face his mate. “Nightmare. Really bad.”
Nick was pulled even more tightly against Todd. “Another one?” he exhaled.
“What if the kelbit had a mate? There had to be more than one, right? What if it wants some sort of revenge?”
Todd squinted at him. The moon was barely a quarter full and set low in the sky. It was stuffy inside the wagon and still nice enough they often slept outside, though, realistically, they probably only had a few more weeks before weather forced them inside every night. They were moving farther north every day. He rubbed at his neck before wiping at his eyes, and shook his head. “Huh?”
When Todd scooted away, Nick couldn’t help reaching out and grabbing hold of his arm. “Don’t leave, please.”
Todd stopped, turned, and looked Nick up and down, then reached out and brushed two fingers through Nick’s bangs. “Shush. I’m not going anywhere, just to the wagon.” He stretched far enough to reach the water barrel and cups hanging off the back of the wagon. Todd always chose to camp somewhere close to a stream or pond; somewhere they could get fresh water. They were far enough north that at this time of year, early fall, the streams and rivers cooled down at night, and the water was pleasantly cold. The barrel was emptied and refilled nightly.
After opening the spout, Todd poured water into one of the tin cups and slid across the ground until he was beside Nick. “Here, drink this.”
Nick didn’t realize how thirsty he was until the cool water slipped down his throat. He had to admit it tasted good and did make him feel a bit better. He emptied the cup and held it against his knee, hands shaking. “They reproduce somehow, right? What if the one we killed had a mate?”
“Why do you think that?” Todd filled a second cup of water for himself, downed half, left the rest in the cup, and set it off to the side.
“It could, right?”
“I suppose. You read the same information I did, Nick. They mate and reproduce when they’re in their natural form, not when they have a host.”
“And they mate for life.” Nick drew in a few shaky breaths.
“Nick.” Todd sighed, took Nick’s cup, refilled it, and pressed it back into Nick’s hands. “We have no proof there was a mate. And if there was, I have no idea how it’d—”
“She. It would be a she.”
Todd rubbed the skin under his eyes. “I have no idea how she’d track us.”
“Todd, there’s… every time I sleep… it’s there… she’s there. Right along with him and how he was all over me. I can still feel that tongue and everything it did, every touch….”
Todd scooted closer and held Nick’s face in both hands. “Nick. Nicky… shush… stop. Nothing is here. We’ve seen no sign of anything following us. You and I check every day. You’ve been with me.” Todd slid one hand down to Nick’s shoulder and urged him to lean forward. He lifted Nick’s shirt and peeled away the bandage over his scapula. “Let me see.” Nick felt how Todd pulled in a breath and let out a long sigh. “It’s still not healing well.”
Nick shivered when Todd’s fingers gently touched his skin. He turned his head as far as he could, trying to see over his shoulder. Todd chuckled soft and low, leaned in, and brushed a light kiss over the back of Nick’s neck between his slave collar and where his hair curled up.
“It’s like what I dream is worse than what actually happened.”
“You’re my boy, and I’m never leaving you alone and vulnerable like that again. Anything will have to go through me first. Even if she is following us, we’ll deal with her, just like we dealt with him.” Todd patted the bandage back into place. “In the morning, when there is better light, I’ll clean that again, scrub it good, and re-bandage it. I think it might be getting infected again.”
That probably explained why Nick hadn’t been feeling so well for the last day and a half. After rolling his shoulder a few times, Nick stretched his arm up and around in a circle. “I wish the stupid thing would get better already.”
“There is still some of that antiseptic cream the doctor gave me before we left the estate. We’ll look for more when we stop to stock up on supplies.” Nick felt the movement of Todd’s lips against his skin as he talked. Todd inched close enough that his legs bracketed Nick’s. Todd wound his arms around Nick’s waist and pulled Nick flush against his chest. Nick let out a long, slow breath when his head was tipped to the side, and Todd licked slow, luxurious trails along Nick’s throat.
Nick reached back and felt along the covered wound with his fingertips. “It’s starting to hurt more.”
Todd moved his hands to roam lightly over Nick’s shoulder and pressed his lips more urgently against the skin of his neck. “And not letting you sleep well either, I bet.”
He moved his tongue and lips in soothing strokes up and down Nick’s neck, and he lightly massaged over Nick’s back, shoulders, and arms. Nick’s eyes drifted closed, and he relaxed back and sank against the warmth and muscle of Todd’s body.
Tongue oozed over his jaw, along his lips. It forced its way inside. Nick jerked away. It was Todd’s face he saw, not the kelbit’s. The long tongue, dripping with oily venom, was coming out of Todd’s mouth. Nick was stunned and confused. This shouldn’t be happening, wasn’t real, his mind screamed. Still, the scene played on. Todd’s face split into a manic grin; then his lips curled into a snarl. His face morphed into Shaffer’s, then into the kelbit’s. Nick lashed out, connected with the hideous face, and knocked the head away from the body. Todd’s head rolled away, eyes staring up. Cut off its head. Sever spinal cord. Todd’s eyes blinked, and the bodiless head rolled back and forth a few times while it laughed.
“Nick!” Hands Nick immediately knew were Todd’s gripped his shoulders, turned him, and shook him—hard. Nick blinked and rubbed at his eyes. Todd’s hands dropped away, and he lifted one to rub at his jaw while sliding it side to side. “Ow. Christ, who taught you to hit so hard?”
“I… you… I didn’t mean… Todd, I’m sorry.” He’d hit Todd? His mate. His master. The thought made his stomach turn and his eyes sting. Yet, nearly every night since killing the kelbit, Nick relived driving a knife into the creature’s neck and severing a head wearing Todd’s face, seeing it roll away, eyes open and staring up. Each nightly show his subconscious put on was ten times worse than his final fight with the kelbit and even more frightening. Nick shuddered.
“Nicky, come on… come here.” Todd pulled him close again. “Stop this. It’s okay. We’re okay. Tell me about them, everything.”
Nick sighed, straightened, and leaned away from Todd far enough to look out at the trees for a minute. He nodded slowly. “They’re always the same. The kelbit comes after me, just like it did at the Chancellor’s Estate, but then it gets worse. I can’t get away, and what it does… it goes a lot further. There are two in my dreams, and the one still alive is pissed we killed her mate. Then….” His voice cracked, and he shivered again. “Then I have to kill it—kill you. I can see that thing’s head with your face on it coming off the body and rolling away. Watching me, always watching me.”
Todd rubbed his hand up and down Nick’s spine. It felt good, and Nick relaxed into the strength of Todd’s hand and the gentleness of his touch. “Nicky, you have to let it go. For me, please?”
Nick wound his arms around Todd’s middle, swallowed down his fear and memories, nodded, and nestled against him, hanging on tight and relaxing when Todd pressed his arms in close, holding him just as tightly. “I’m trying. It doesn’t want to let go of me.”
Elizabeth Noble started telling stories before she actually knew how to write, and her family was very happy when she learned to put words on a page. Those words turned into fan fiction that turned into a genuine love of M/M romance fiction. Being able to share her works with Dreamspinner is really a dream come true. She has a real love for all things sci-fi, futuristic, and supernatural and a bit of an unnatural interest in a super-volcano in Wyoming.
Elizabeth has three grown children and is now happily owned by an adorable mixed breed canine princess named Rosie, and two cats, Murphy and Yeti. She lives in her native northeast Ohio, the perfect place for gardening, winter and summer sports (go Tribe!). When she’s not writing she’s working as a veterinary nurse, so don’t be surprised to see her men with a pet or three who are a very big part of their lives.