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Alys knew what her guardian would do next, and scrambled on top of Beau, shielding him with her body.

“No.” He tried to throw her off, and then went still as she jerked twice. He looked into her widened eyes. “Alys.”

More shots erupted, and Beau saw Simone duck behind an outcropping as Leeds returned fire, running as he did to disappear into the second passage.

“Get him,” Alys whispered as she collapsed. “Shield…jewels…somehow…”

Chapter 19

Beau eased Alys back into Simone’s arms. “Hold on, love.” To Simone, he said, “Stay with her.”

The Frenchwoman nodded and looked back at her companion. “Christian, give me your jacket.”

Beau followed the eerie glow of the water spatter Leeds had left behind through another, narrow passage in the rock. As he emerged on the surface behind the bone pile, he drew his copper dagger. A weapon fired, but the bullet he expected in his heart skimmed his shoulder and buried itself in the bones with an explosion of white splinters.

Leeds stood with his back against a spindly pine, his gun drooping from his blackened hands. “You can do nothing to me, vampire.” He coughed, spraying blood from his slack mouth as he slid down the tree’s trunk. “I am the one true immortal now.”

Beau sheathed his dagger, closing the gap between them and kicking away the weapon Leeds could no longer use. “You’re a fool. A dead fool.”

“No, you heard her. The legends are true.” Leeds clutched at the hilt of Beau’s sword. “Bury me,” he pleaded. “I will rise again from my grave to walk the night. I will make you my second. You can have as many…” His forehead wrinkled. “…women as you…like.…” He slumped over, convulsing violently before his body went slack.

Beau reached down to pry open the corpse’s fist. The emeralds had burned through his flesh to the bone, and now glittered with a strange, rapidly intensifying light.

They’re not emeralds.

Vines ripped themselves out of his way as Beau raced back into the tunnel. He found Simone with Alys’s head on her lap, and Christian holding her limp hand.

The sight of her, so still, stopped him as nothing else could. “Alys.” He knelt beside her body and placed his hand on her cool, damp brow. As he bent to kiss her lips, the shallowness of her breath sent a wave of despair crashing over his heart.

“Beau.” Her eyelids lifted a fraction.

“Robert is dead, and I have the gems,” he told her quickly. “I will put them back in the spring.”

She turned her head from side to side.

“What must I do with them?” He saw her lips move, and bent to put his ear next to them. But she did not speak again, nor did she take another breath. “Alys. Alys.”

“Beau.” Christian gripped his shoulder, and nodded at the other side of the cave. A shimmer of gold sparkled on the opposite ledge, growing brighter and more dense-looking until it formed itself into a solid figure.

Golden armor covered nearly all of Cristophe’s body, and when he spoke, his voice rang like a thousand bells. “I warned you of this, boy.”

“You bastard.” Beau got to his feet, and strode to the edge of the water. “You and your scheming. You’ve killed her.” He was shouting now. “God damn you. God damn you to hell.”

“My strength is almost gone with my body. It took the last of it to come here now. I failed heaven, and your brothers, and the last of my kin.” Cristophe closed his eyes, but his lids turned transparent. “Forgive me.”

Beau reached out with his talent, seizing what was left of Cristophe’s flesh and using it to drag the smith across the water. He held him suspended as he showed him the jewels. “Alys said these will explode, and their power will destroy everything around us for miles. Millions will die. Tell me how to stop it.”

“It is too late now,” Cristophe said as his head disappeared and reappeared. “Good-bye, my son.”

Beau heard Alys’s voice in his head. Shield them.

With a roar he thrust the gems into the center of Cristophe’s body. Pain engulfed his arm as the shimmering light burned into his flesh. He gritted his teeth and held his fist in place until the smith’s body began to solidify around his wrist. Spreading his burning fingers, Beau released the gems, and yanked back his arm. Cristophe looked down at the crater in his abdomen, watching as his flesh grew solid and closed over the diamonds. He lifted his face, and the light in his eyes changed from gold to green.

“Into the mouth of the water, my son,” Cristophe whispered. “Hurry.”

Beau pushed the smith through the air to the back of the cave, and released him just above the source of the spring. Cristophe’s form radiated thin beams of green light as he sank beneath the surface.

As the water began to boil, Beau lifted Alys’s body into his arms. “Run as fast as you can,” he told the other women. “Don’t look back. Don’t stop for anything.”

“We won’t make it in time.” Simone glanced at Christian, who nodded. “No, I think we will stay here,” she said kindly, “with you and our sister.”

As the light from the fissure grew brighter, the women flanked him and Alys, encircling them with their arms. Beau blinked back tears of sorrow and gratitude as he pressed a kiss to Simone’s brow, and the top of Christian’s head, and finally Alys’s sweet lips.

The light grew blinding, until it filled his eyes with brilliant emerald, set in shining gold. The air seemed to ripple, once, twice, and then without any sound at all lifted him from his feet, sending him soaring in a fountain of light into the night sky and scattering him among the stars.

“Excuse me. Miss? Excuse me.”

Jayr looked up from the body of the dead tresora to see a young mortal couple standing by the gate. Both were dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and the male was taking photos of her with a digital camera.

The female smiled. “Sorry to interrupt your performance, but, um, we were hoping to get some tickets for the next show?”

Jayr stood up and surveyed the area. Through the smoke she could see the figures of her warriors and Lucan’s moving across the field, checking bodies and collecting weapons. Harlech appeared driving their largest cart and called out for the men to bring the dead.

“God, it looks so real,” the young man gushed, snapping away merrily. “What battle are you reenacting? Hey.”

Jayr used her strength and ability to pluck the digital camera from his hand and pull it through the fence before he could blink. “We don’t allow photographs in the park.”

The mortal stared at the gaping hole she had punched through the chain links. “Sure, okay.”

She erased the images he had taken of her and the Kyn from the memory card before she handed the camera back to him.

As she turned her back on them, she heard the woman ask, “What about tickets?”

Byrne appeared before Jayr, and yanked her off her feet to hold her tightly against him. Over her head he said, “This was a rehearsal, lass, not a performance.” He paused to kiss Jayr soundly on the lips. “We are also in the midst of renovating the Realm, so tickets are not currently on sale. We will be reopening in a few weeks with bigger and better shows, and hope to see you at one of them.” He swung Jayr around and began to stride off with her, calling back, “Have a nice day.”

She buried her face against his strong neck. “I can no longer be immortal. You just scared the life out of me.”

“You should have known better,” he chided, setting her down. “’Twas you who insisted I take all those bloody anger management classes on the computer.” He brushed the hair back from her face. “Lucan is coming. Try not to puke when he takes all the credit for our victory.”

“I assisted with your ambush, helped you corral the traitors in the keep, and devoted much effort to keeping them busy until my men arrived.” Dressed in assassin’s black, Lucan walked out of a swirl of smoke. “Thus I deserve most of the credit.”

“You dinnae even get dirty,” Byrne pointed out.

“One of the few benefits of my talent.” Lucan held up a bare hand before he took a pair of leather gloves from his jacket and slipped them on. “My garrison will aid with the disposals. Shall we—”

A sudden and enormous flare of bright green from the west interrupted him, and made them all shield their eyes. Although there was no sound from the eruption of light, a moment later the ground trembled beneath their feet.

“What in God’s name was that?” Jayr gripped Byrne’s hand as the shaking died away.

“It’s near where Beau’s woman has her encampment.” Byrne watched the horizon as the glow spread and settled. “They must have finally found those wretched baubles.”

Lucan glanced at him. “Were they using explosives to search for them?”

“However they’ve done it, it doesnae look good.” The big Scotsman flagged one of the warriors passing by them, and gave him orders to assemble a team of trackers. “Have Farlae and Rainer take the lead.”

“I will have the lead in my Ferrari,” Lucan told him.

“That fancy auto of yours won’t take kindly to the marshland, my lord,” Byrne said. “No reason for you to trouble yourself. Leave it to the lads.”

“No reason?” The former assassin’s voice grew icy. “Christian is still out there somewhere.”

Byrne shrugged. “Aye, but you needn’t trouble yourself. If she yet lives, they’ll find the lass.”

Before Jayr could intervene, Lucan reached out, grabbing a handful of Byrne’s tunic and using it to jerk the big man closer. “That lass is the closest thing to a daughter that I shall ever have. She gave up her mortal life to protect me, Samantha, and my entire jardin. So, no, you ignorant behemoth, I will not leave it to the lads.”

“As you say, my lord.” Byrne glanced down at his fist and, when Lucan released him, looked almost pleased. “We’ve a stable of fast horses. Do you still ride?”

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