Three Kings for Sarah
Three powerful warriors are called on to play the Three Kings for a dying Spanish girl. Shapeshifter Duncan must work with his ex-lover Gedeon, the vampire who once betrayed him. When the mysterious dream-walker Xiu comes out of the shadows, all of them know they are being manipulated.
Instead of a girl, they find a woman who is dying, protecting the Earth from an otherworldly creature. Trapped in Sarah’s dream world without powers, the three men will have to convince her to return with them—by any means necessary.
Gedeon, Xiu and Duncan will need more than just battle skills to work out their issues before Epiphany and not all of them are aware that Sarah is not the only one who’s being seduced…
Inside Scoop: An intense adrenaline rush can make you fight or…well, yes, just that! Be prepared to stumble over two alpha males blowing off steam in a very hot way.
Reader Advisory: This story has graphic sexual language and scenes—no closed bedroom doors (or other rooms) here!
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“Tell me again why the fuck I’m here, out in the snow, freezing my ass off, dressed up like a fucking
wise man.” Duncan grunted, trying to find a dry rock to step on, to keep the ridiculous jeweled
slippers from getting any more soaked than they already were.
“You’re a wolf. Wolves don’t freeze their asses off in the snow.” His beta Sam cleared his throat and
looped his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans while staring at the ground.
Sam’s lips twitched and Duncan narrowed his eyes. Yeah, he was fidgeting like a little boy in the
sumptuous robes. And? No man ought to be wearing them anyway! Right? He should have made
his beta accompany him dressed up like a camel…or maybe a mule. It would have shown him
not to laugh at his alpha.
“And the reason you’re here is still the same as it was five minutes ago—to save your sister’s cute
hide from being stripped raw by the Elders Council,” Sam pointed out.
“Cute hide? My ass! That crazy bitch is going to pay for this! What sane woman breaks the peace
between werewolves and wizards just because she wants a faster way to change her hair color
than going to a hairdresser?” Duncan hissed. “She stole the most frigging powerful magic
stone in the world, so she didn’t have to dye her goddamn hair for the New Year’s party!”
“Well, you have to admit that, in spite of not making the best choice, she had a point with—”
Duncan’s furious snarl froze the smirk on Sam’s face. With a deadpan face, Sam lifted both hands and stepped back.
“If you attack me, you’ll destroy those rich robes and—”
A low chuckle from the shadows had them both spinning to their left with all their senses on alert.
“I see things are never going to change with you both, pups.”
“Gedeon!” Duncan’s claws and canines extended, and he released a low, rumbling growl as he recognized the newcomer. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
The vampire gave Duncan a lazy once-over before answering with lifted brows. “I thought I was Ged to you, and I’d venture I’m here for the same reason as you, pup.”
Duncan’s growls increased as he took in the vampire’s clothing, so similar to Duncan’s own. “Why. Are. You. Here?”
Gedeon crossed his arms. “I’m paying an old debt.”
“That’s none of your business, pup.”
Duncan clenched his jaw and adjusted his cuffs with a frown. He wanted to forget the pathetic, love-struck youngster who once was ready to follow Gedeon to the end of the world. Time had passed. Still, seeing Gedeon—as handsome as ever and floating two feet above the snow-covered ground, while Duncan’s feet were soaking and freezing—didn’t make him feel like the powerful and respected alpha of one of the strongest packs in Europe, which was what he was now.
He shut his lids briefly, evoking his mate’s sweet, soft voice as she’d whispered naughty promises in his mind. His real destined mate, the elusive, mysterious woman he could only see and talk with in dreams. Soon, he’d find her and make sure she’d stay at his side forever. Usually, just the memory of her laughter made him feel calmer but this time, it didn’t work. Exasperated, he glared again at Gedeon. “If not the why, could Your Highness at least honor us and reveal the what?” he asked, not trying to subdue his sarcastic tone.
“I’m here to play one of the three kings for Samgar’s goddaughter. She’s dying, and he wanted to give her a special present before she passes,” Gedeon explained, studying Duncan closely but without giving away the slightest clue regarding Gedeon’s thoughts or intentions.
Duncan’s eyes narrowed to two grim slits. He hadn’t trusted Samgar’s ulterior motives an inch before, yet he could almost taste the treachery now. As one of the first vampires, Samgar represented his community in the Elders Council. Astonishingly, he’d interceded on behalf of Duncan and his pack in front of the Council. Some events were too strange to be good and this probably was one of them. And concerning Gedeon… He’d already betrayed Duncan once. He wasn’t about to give him the opportunity to do so again.
“I’m finished here; let’s go,” he informed Sam, turning around.
His beta’s hand on his arm stopped him. “Alpha, we must stay.”
“No, we must not. I don’t trust him.” Duncan nodded toward Ged. “I don’t trust Samgar, either. Although I agreed to this humiliating plan in exchange for the council’s leniency toward my sister, we are talking about something else altogether now. I’m not going to walk into a trap with my eyes closed.”
“The Elders Council ordered you to come here, not Samgar. If we don’t stay, your sister is the one who will have to pay for her acts, and I doubt the next punishment will be as benevolent as this one.”
“I didn’t know you’d be here, Duncan,” Gedeon stated stiffly. “But I already suspected there had to be something more going on. Samgar is not one to waste the opportunity to earn a big debt from someone like me, and this favor doesn’t match what I owe him by far.”
“Samgar saved my life…and…the life of…a loved one.” Gedeon spoke hesitantly, as if he didn’t want to say too much.
With his hands on his hips, Duncan nodded slowly. There was nothing else to ask about, nothing else he wanted to find out.
“What’s your reason for being here, shadow-walker?”
Duncan’s ex-lover’s words made him raise his head in alarm.
Gedeon, though, stood motionless, serenely inspecting the darkness looming between the large oaks.
“Freedom.” A calm, dark voice surrounded them and, as if out of thin air, a tall, dark-skinned Native American emerged with fluid, feline-like movements from the shadows. He looked like an Indian—a Native American—but his flesh was more golden brown, as if perhaps he had Spanish heritage.
“You’re the one called Montezuma’s Warrior.” Gedeon’s statement contained a hint of respect.
Duncan tensed even more. Gedeon rarely showed his respect openly to an unknown warrior before he’d fought with him. Duncan too had heard of this immortal, a rare breed of shadow-walker and dream-walker. As a child, he’d been captured by a shaman and sold to the emperor during the famines. He was not only a fierce, powerful adversary you had to take into account in battle, but it was also said that he followed his own strict code of honor—a warrior’s ethic that, as Duncan had been told, not all of the shadow-walker’s masters were able to appreciate.
“You’re a good observer, vampire. Not everybody recognizes my two natures and, therefore, who I am,” the ancient warrior acknowledged, his steady voice as unreadable as his face.
“Montezuma? We aren’t talking about the Aztec’s emperor, are we?” Sam gawked from the man to Gedeon and back in an almost ridiculous manner, although his slightly spread legs gave away that he was as prepared to fight as Duncan was. “Why have I never heard about you?”
“Does Death Walker ring a bell, pup?” Gedeon asked wryly.
“Yeah, that’s one way to put it,” Duncan muttered. “Nothing personal, Death Walker, but it doesn’t bode well for us that Samgar has recruited experienced warriors to play the three kings for a sick kid.”
“And not just any three warriors, either,” Gedeon added broodingly.
“Do you think it is a trap?” Duncan was already sure it was, but he wanted to know the others’ opinions.
Instead of answering, Gedeon glanced to the shadow-walker. “Is your master the one offering you freedom, or did Samgar buy you and then make the offer?”
The dark face didn’t show any emotion when he answered. “He paid for me. And yes, he’s the one who has offered freedom if this mission goes well.”
“Mission? So he told you why we’re here?” With arms crossed, Duncan regarded the shadow-walker and the large, suspicious-looking sack he carried.
“He just ordered me to be here the second of January at 7:00 p.m., dressed in this costume.”
“Why’d you call it a mission?”
“Because nobody pays that much for a weapon like me just so I can deliver some gifts to a girl. In addition,
Samgar has promised to reward me afterward with my freedom.”
“Do your orders include instructions to get rid of us?” Gedeon inquired in his usual calm manner.
Duncan listened carefully, wondering why someone would call himself a weapon.
The shadow-walker raised a brow. “Would I tell you if they did?”
“Yes, you would. Nevertheless, I’d realize if you lied,” Gedeon said softly, his extended fangs reflecting the light in the darkness.
“Maybe…or maybe not.” The shadow-walker’s mouth twitched almost imperceptibly. “However, no, I’ve no orders to kill you, at least not yet.”
“What about you, Duncan?” Gedeon asked.
“He never mentioned anything related to violence. I didn’t even guess who my companions would be in this ridiculous assignment.”
“My life, his freedom and your sister in exchange for an insignificant favor,” Gedeon said. “Too good to be true. I suppose we ought to be prepared for whatever awaits us in there.” He stared at the empty hospital entrance, where a lone skinny Christmas tree blinked rather cheerlessly.
“Are you trying to tell me we might have to fight in these sissy clothes?” Duncan grunted, looking down at his pompous robes.
“Feeling vulnerable, darling?” Gedeon turned to Duncan, lifting a brow.
“Feeling sexy, sweetheart?” Duncan replied dryly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Aren’t you already familiar with how vampires usually like to play both sides, pup?” Gedeon murmured suggestively, giving him a wink. “And yes, if you want to know. Wearing knives over my bare skin always makes me feel sexy.”
Duncan blinked, flabbergasted, struggling not to let memories of his former lover’s bare white skin conquer his mind. “Since when do vampires like you make jokes?”
“Since I’m the only vampire like me…I suppose you’re never going to find out.”
Gedeon glanced at the shadow-walker, although not before Duncan could identify something akin to sadness flashing through the vampire’s eyes. “By the way, my name’s Gedeon—Ged, if you’re going to battle at my side. The alpha pup is Duncan and that’s his beta, Sam. What’s your name? I can’t imagine calling you Death Walker each time I have to ask you to kick someone’s ass.”
Gedeon glanced at him with upraised brows. “Any objection to my calling you Xiu?”
Xiucatl shrugged. “I don’t mind what you call me, as long as you mind the way you call me.”
* * * * *
Duncan wasn’t the only one with his mouth set in a hard line when they waited in front of the elevator. They had detected strong magical wards protecting the building, plus the inside of the hospital was crowded by otherkin, most of them nightbreeds. Duncan had already counted six guards and several hospital staff members who were fey and night-walkers. Too many security measures to protect just a kid.
“I’d prefer to take the stairs,” he muttered between clenched teeth when the red numbers showed that the door was about to open.
“Me too.” Gedeon nodded. “You and Sam take the lead. You’ll need to shift if we’re attacked. Xiu and I’ll bring up the rear.”
Duncan’s alpha instincts rebelled against the orders; nevertheless, Gedeon was right. In case of a confrontation, being able to see someone approach from the front would give them more time to change. They were good fighters in human form, although, in uneven battles their chances would be higher as wolves. Duncan turned to the stairs; the rest followed without objection.
The guards beside the stairs lowered their gazes. They didn’t retreat yet Duncan could smell a slight hint of fear. Not surprising—the four of them had to make a hell of a picture. He was six foot three and, as his sister loved to say, built like a brick shithouse. He was used to people staring at him while they stumbled out of his path. Sam was almost the same height, his shoulders even broader than Duncan’s were. Xiu and Gedeon were no less impressive. Their bodies were lean and athletic, with a natural elegance in their movements; nevertheless, they exuded danger from every pore. The shadow-walker was not just taller than Duncan was by at least two inches, but the darkness surrounding him shouted “predator” loud and clear. Regarding Gedeon… Duncan sighed. Ged was simply striking, with a face Michelangelo could have sculpted. However, in spite of all his handsomeness, people didn’t require a second glimpse to recognize that he was dangerous. Duncan still remembered their first encounter—Ged had reminded Duncan of an avenging angel, and that’s how he always thought of the man… As an amazingly stunning and deadly creature.
They found a pair of guards at each level, though nobody addressed the four warriors. When they reached the third floor, Gedeon stopped.
“We need to go out, cross this wing and take the stairs at the right to the top floor,” he said.
Frowning, Duncan turned to Ged. “Well-prepared, aren’t we?”
Gedeon shrugged. “You don’t get as old as I am by going blind into dark alleys.”
Duncan cringed. He should have done the same—readied better for this situation. It shouldn’t have been too difficult to find the building’s blueprint and take a quick look at them. Who said you didn’t need to be old to be wise? I’m dressed like a fucking wise man and acting like a dim-witted greenhorn. “Okay, let’s do it,” he decided, opening the door to check an empty hallway.
A ball rolled out of a room. A giggling little girl followed after the ball, her black curls bouncing around her cute, heart-shaped face.
As soon as she noticed their presence, her sky-blue eyes went wide. She whirled hastily around to disappear again inside her room.
Bending down, Duncan picked up the shiny, pink rubber ball. A muscle in his jaw twitched as he stared at the childish scrawls covering it. He didn’t like this. He hadn’t wanted to scare the child, but worst of all, he worried about all the kids there might be on this floor, who could be exposed to the danger surrounding him. The chances that the hospital could become a battlefield tonight were rather high. Before he could ask the others to take an alternative route to reach Samgar’s goddaughter, the little girl returned, pulling with her a scrawny boy, two or three years older than her. He had a bandage over his bald head and huge purple circles under his eyes. Duncan could smell the boy’s illness, the toxins in his bony body, and could even feel the boy’s pain. Duncan sucked air into his lungs, trying to control the growing sickness in his stomach.
“See, I told you they were here,” whispered the girl, half hidden behind the boy, who was staring slack-jawed at them.
“You’re the three wise men Sarah told us about!” the boy murmured in awe. “You really came to bring her gifts!”
Exchanging a glance with the others, all of whom seemed as astounded as he was, Duncan scratched his neck. “Ah…who’s…Sarah?”
The girl rose on her tiptoes and put her hands over her mouth to whisper in the boy’s ear. “They’re a bit dumb, aren’t they? You sure they’re wise men?”
“Little imp.” Gedeon chuckled softly.
Duncan struggled to keep a straight face, and Sam, standing at Duncan’s side, scrutinized the tiles on the floor.
“Hush! Of course they are,” murmured the boy, obviously not as convinced as before.
“Well, kids, you should go back to your rooms so we can go see Sarah,” Gedeon suggested.
“You don’t have presents for us?” asked the girl with an adorable pout.
Xiu stepped past Duncan and he tensed, prepared to defend the children if the shadow-walker so much as coughed at them.
“Of course we have, little one. What’s your name?” Xiu crouched down in front of her, ignoring Duncan’s low, almost imperceptible growls.
“Kelly,” she answered with a finger in her mouth.
“Wow! I have just the right gift for you.”
Xiu stuck his hand into the large sack he carried, which Duncan had assumed was full of weapons, and brought out a rag doll with curly blue hair.
“Her name is Kelly too. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence,” Xiu told the child.
The girl’s eyes went from big to enormous, while she eagerly nodded.
“Don’t you think this dolly is just for you?”
The girl nodded, absolutely hypnotized by the lovely doll.
“Well then, I suppose it’s yours,” said Xiu with a slight smile.
Duncan stared, thunderstruck, at the man who seemed to have usurped the dark warrior’s place.
The girl nodded again but didn’t move, and the boy gave her a delicate push.
“Take it, Kelly!”
The girl shyly stretched out her tiny arms to take her doll. She embraced it tightly, smiling with joy.
“Well, Thomas, I think it’s your turn now,” Gedeon commented with a wink.
“You know my name!” the boy cried, obviously amazed.
“We’re the wise men, remember? We not only know your name but also how good you’ve been this year,” explained Xiu.
“And you’ve been really good. Very few people succeed at being as brave as you’ve been—and you even protected your mother from your real pain.” Gedeon praised the child, his eyes slightly red, his face suddenly paler than was normal…even for a vampire.
Duncan gave the vampire a concerned look. Long ago, Duncan had discovered Gedeon’s ability to navigate in other people’s
memories and to feel them as if they were happening to him.
“Let’s see if we brought one of these videogames…” Gedeon glanced at Xiu.
The shadow-walker gave a small nod. “Maybe a football game?” Xiu’s arm disappeared completely inside the huge sac. When he finally took out a thin plastic pack, he held it under the boy’s nose with a victorious grin.
“Yeah!” the boy exclaimed, throwing himself at Xiu and wrapping tiny arms around his neck.
Xiu stared wide eyed toward Gedeon, as if asking for help.
Before the men could do anything else, the boy released the shadow-walker and ran across the hallway, shouting for everyone to hear.
“Sarah’s wise men are here! Sarah’s wise men are here! And they’ve brought gifts!”
The uproar started immediately. From the corner of his eye, Duncan noticed how his companions stood there as paralyzed as he was, while the hallway filled with pouncing, running and chattering children of all ages. It was almost a relief to find out he wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what to do. Two nurses and some mothers came out, regarding the men with warm smiles.
A young woman clapped her hands and spoke loudly. “Everybody to his or her rooms! The three kings are going to visit you in your rooms. If you don’t wait there, you don’t get presents.”
In seconds the hallway was empty again, except for Kelly, Thomas and the lingering echo of delight.
The girl approached Xiu with a brilliant smile, whispered a “Thank you!” and, standing on her tiptoes, she raised up enough to give him a kiss. Next, she neared Gedeon, pulled at his sleeves until he crouched down and then rewarded him with another peck on his cheek. She repeated the process with Duncan and Sam. Nobody spoke. When the kids reached their room door, they turned one last time.
“Could you save the best present for Sarah?” asked little Kelly, her tone filled with hope. “She’s so good with us, and she really, really needs something special.”
“What present would you like for her?” asked Xiu softly.
She kept silent for a moment, tapping her little index finger on her slightly pursed lips.
“Someone to protect her,” she decided finally, “We’ve got our moms and dads but she’s so alone…” Suddenly, a bright smile appeared on her cute face. “She’s going to be thrilled when you go to see her. She’s always telling us stories about you. Tell her I think she’s right. Santa’s great but I like you guys better.” She put one hand around her mouth and whispered. “He’s not as good looking as you are but don’t tell him I said so.” Raising her voice again, she continued, clearly excited. “I have a fantastic idea! You could come again next year and bring Santa with you too!” With a loud, smacking sound, she kissed the air and waved before she disappeared into her room.
“It seems as if you’re going to have to play the role of the three wise men for all these children—not just Sarah,” said Sam slowly, touching the damp trail left on his cheek.
Duncan frowned. Had his man been crying? He followed Sam’s gaze through the long hallway with its sixteen open doors, where every now and then, a child’s short hair appeared in the doorway, reminding the men nobody had forgotten their presence.
“I hope you brought enough toys for everybody,” Sam added.
Xiu nodded, staring straight forward with an expressionless face. “Who’s this Sarah person?”
“It’s strange but it’s almost as if she isn’t a person. The kids see her as real, although, when I touch inside the kids’ minds
this Sarah feels more like…a ghost.” Gedeon’s voice came out low, thoughtful.
“A ghost?” Sam glanced at Xiu with wide eyes.
“Yes. I’ve checked some of the other kids too. Everyone knows and loves her, although, the feeling I get concerning her is always the same—ethereal…as if she isn’t physically here with them.”
Sam shuddered visibly at the shadow-walker’s words. Duncan could understand the reaction.
“There’s something else.” Gedeon seemed hesitant. “All of them assume Sarah is on the top floor.”