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Heart of a Warrior

Author(s): Theodora Lane

Nicodemus has trained to kill vampires since being orphaned at sixteen, and he’s very good at it. Nights spent slaying bloodsuckers, along with some comedic commentary from his enchanted lizard sidekick, Cho, make Nic very happy. He’s used to being a loner because being with him could get a woman killed, but if there are virgins to be rescued, Nic's your man.

When a group of evil vampires meet for dinner and drinks at a midnight party, virgins may be on the menu, but Fiona never expects to find herself one of the party favors. She’s never needed a man to rescue her, and she’s never been impressed by manly muscles and heroic deeds…until Nic walks in and definitely gets the job done. She’s awestruck to meet a man who can hold his own alongside her fighting skills and feisty attitude. And he's getting under her skin, making her hot, and making her rethink her "no sex before marriage" policy. Because, yeah, Fiona is a virgin, and she's not giving it away to just anyone.

These unlikely comrades in arms might just rescue each other, if the vampires don't kill them first.


Heart of a Warrior by Theodora Lane - excerpt

Chapter One
Fiona groaned softly and forced her eyelids open. The glare from the light made her head hurt, and pain surfaced like a sledgehammer to her brain. She closed her watering eyes, turned her head away from the light, and tried again. Good, eyes open. Next, she struggled to focus, and for a few minutes she saw multiples of everything.
What the hell?
The last thing she remembered was winning both the staff and sword competition at her dojo and beating that big ass who thought that because she was a woman and small, he could take her. Afterward, she’d met Beth, her best friend, at a bar to celebrate and then drove home. She’d gotten out of her car and then…
Fiona’s eyes finally focused. A young girl, no more than thirteen or fourteen, was lying asleep next to her. Completely naked. She blinked to clear her vision. Turning her head, she saw two other girls, both looking younger than eighteen years old, naked and asleep. No wait, she told herself. Not asleep. Unconscious.
Shit, what the hell is going on? She shivered. Running her hands over her tummy and up to her breasts, the sick realization hit her. She was naked too.
This can’t be good. Someone is going to have to answer a few questions.
She forced her head toward the light. Voices, some talking, some lowered, and others urging someone on, echoed in the chamber.
Across the room, a young couple was having sex on a stone table. The young man lay on top of a bored-looking, long-legged blonde. Fiona’s gaze traveled over the other people in the room.
What the hell? A toga party?
Everyone was either naked or dressed as ancient Romans. Besides the couple on the table, there were two naked men, four men dressed in togas, and two in what looked like Roman gladiator costumes.
Is this some stupid fraternity prank? I am going to kick someone’s ass for this.
She focused on the couple on the table again. He’d pulled the woman on top of him, and she was riding him like a cowgirl as he bucked his hips. Several of the men stood around the table encouraging them.
Fiona’s eyes widened as her gaze swept around the room. A man leaning against the wall jerked off the man next to him.
The woman riding the young guy began to moan, softly at first, and then louder. Fiona jerked her gaze back to them. An orgasm, Fiona thought, but it sounded fake. Way too When Harry Met Sally. Way too much thrashing. The young man groaned as he came. He grabbed her wrists, rolled her over, and straddled her. Jerking her hair to the side, he exposed her neck.
The woman struggled. “Get off me, you bastard!”
“Shut up, bitch.”
He pinned her arms on either side of her under his knees. He opened his mouth, and his canine teeth grew very, very long. Using his hand to hold her head to the side, he lowered his mouth to her neck and licked her throat.
“Don’t! I didn’t say you could!” She tried to buck him off, but he had her pinned. The guy laughed and then sank his teeth into her neck.
Fiona blinked. Rubbed her eyes. Blinked again.
The man was lapping—no, slurping up the blood flowing from the bite. A few minutes later, he raised his head, his chin bloody, and licked the blood that had escaped him from her neck and shoulders. Then he stood, fists raised, to applause. The woman sat up, rubbing her throat. The marks on her neck were gone. Crawling off the table, she huddled against the wall with her arms wrapped around her naked body as she glared at everyone around her.
This is no frat party. This just got serious.
She had to get out of there, and if she had to take a few of these assholes out when she did, so be it. They did not know who they were fucking with.
The girl beside her moaned. Fiona turned her head and cursed. There were three young girls to think about. Desperate for some way to get herself and the girls out of there, she looked around at the other people.
I need a plan. Then I kick ass and forget about taking names.
Some of the men, the ones dressed like gladiators and the ones with togas, wore swords.
I must be living right.
Rising onto her elbow, she looked at one of the guards. He’d been watching the entertainment, cheering the guy on. Now, he checked out the naked girls. She caught his eye, smiled, and tossed her head like she’d seen Beth do a thousand times at the bar. He grinned at her and approached.
Shit, it works! Her brain raced. She had his attention, but now she needed him closer so she could get her hands on that sword. It hung at his side, nearly reaching the floor, but was all wrong for the Roman costume. Fuck historical accuracy. Its longer length would be a definite advantage against the shorter swords the others carried.
The young girls were waking. One of them began to whimper. Another sat up and looked around, bewildered. Realizing she was naked, she tried to cover herself with her arms and hands. Frightened eyes looked to Fiona. Children’s eyes.
“Where are we?” one of them asked as she rolled over and stared around the room.
“Shh. Keep your voice down. I don’t know, but don’t worry, I’m going to get us out of here.”
The little girl nodded. Another sniffed and asked, “How? You’re naked.”
Fiona smirked. “Naked or not, I’ve got a few moves.” Whoever these people were, they’d picked the wrong girl for their games. A girl with a black belt. A girl who was a master swordsman. A girl with an attitude.
“Stay behind me, whatever happens.” Fiona’s voice was a whisper. They nodded, eyes wild with fear. As they clung to each other for comfort, the youngest girl wept softly.
The guard sauntered over to Fiona. She glanced up at him. He wasn’t wearing anything under that short skirt, and she could see straight up to his package.
Fiona cocked one leg over the other and ran her hand over her bare hip in a caress. It was the best imitation of Princess Leia she could manage. As she looked up his skirt, unimpressed by what she saw, she had to stop herself from saying, “You’re a little short for a storm trooper.”
“You’re a forward bitch, for a virgin.” He grinned down at her, not bothering to hide his fangs.
Fangs? Shit.
She swallowed and said, “Some virgins aren’t too keen on staying that way, if you get my meaning.” Inside, she groaned. Did I really just say ‘keen’?
He looked around to see if anyone was watching and knelt next to her, taking a lock of her hair in his fingers. She spotted the small knife on the other side of his belt. She’d go for it first.
“Do we get to pick?” She ran her hand over his bent knee and gave it a squeeze. It was warm. For some reason, she’d expected it to be cold. The urge to jerk her hand away almost overpowered her, but she willed herself to keep it resting on his leg.
“No, you don’t, and I don’t get to fuck you. You belong to Ivan, and I don’t mess with anything that belongs to that control freak.” He jerked his head to point Ivan out. Then he turned back to her. “He’s initiating his apprentice, and at the end of the ceremony, you’ll be dead. Like all the others.”
Fiona eyed the man he’d mentioned. He looked about forty, well-built, good-looking. He leaned against the wall with arms folded, waiting for whatever they had planned to begin. She watched as he reached behind him and yanked down on his toga.
“I’m Vlad’s apprentice.” The gladiator’s eyes strayed to the young girls huddled against the wall. “I’m going to get her.” He pointed to one of the young girls. As he grinned, Fiona couldn’t stop staring at the long teeth in his mouth.
This is not a normal man. Her mind added everything she had seen together and made the connection. Then, not believing the answer, she ran it through again.
Vampires? Ohshitohshitohshit.
Fiona plastered her grin on her face and held his gaze. Her hand reached for the blade. Please, she prayed, for once let the movies be right.
She slipped the knife from its sheath. Took a breath. She plunged it into his chest where his heart should be located.
He looked down for a second, dismay on his face, and then disappeared in a puff of smoke. His sword clattered to the ground.
“Shit!” She slapped her hand over her mouth, but it was too late. One of the girls started to keen, loud and high. It wavered in the air for a second, and then became a full-fledged, hair-raising, bloodcurdling scream.
Everyone in the room turned toward them. So much for sneaking out.
It’s now or never. Fiona grasped the pommel of the long sword with two hands and stood, lifting it in front of her. She took her fighting stance.
“Get behind me, now!” she commanded the girls over her shoulder. They scrambled to their feet and against the wall.
It was completely insane, but it felt totally right. Not the naked part, of course. That was creepy, and oddly, she felt both vulnerable and excited.
Thoughts of possible paths crossed her mind. Fiona didn’t know whether some unknown force or God’s grace had brought her, of all people, to this place, but she knew she was meant to be here and to fight.
She meant to win.
A Roman guard advanced on Fiona, his shorter sword drawn. She held her ground, waiting for him to make the first move. The girls were a silent mass behind her, their eyes wide in terror.
The vampire held his sword like a baseball bat, ready to swing if she threw one past home plate. She grinned. He didn’t have a clue how to handle the weapon. It was meant for stabbing, not swinging. Fiona stepped forward and spun to gather speed and momentum. Using both hands, she swung the longer, heavier sword. Both the guard’s arm holding the sword and his head were lopped off in one smooth motion.
Thank God the sword was razor sharp. The man disappeared in a puff. The metal sword fell.
Shit, that’s freaky. Fiona made a promise to God that she’d go to church, any church, if she could just get them all out of there alive.
An older vampire grabbed one of the younger naked men by the arm, put a sword in his hand, and pushed him toward her.
She focused on the next man, telling herself these were not real people. Killing them didn’t count.
“Come to mama,” she muttered. Two down, six more to go.
He was smarter than the first but still untrained. The swords must have been for show, not used as actual weapons. He moved toward her, his sword at waist height and to the side. Another mistake. She feinted left. He moved his arm out to block her blade. Twisting at the last minute, she swung from the other direction at his unprotected side.
The blade struck him in the chest. Fiona felt it sink in past real bone and tissue. Before she could shudder, he was gone. Another mound of dust. It almost wasn’t fair.
Fiona began edging her way to the stairs. The girls, like some mutant spider with three heads, six arms, and six legs, scurried behind her.
“Vlad! Romero! Ivan! Get that bitch!” The older vamp, who Fiona figured for their leader, waved his hand at them, directing the action.
The remaining vampires pulled their swords and advanced. Between Fiona and the exit was a wall of cold steel and, aw shit, sharp teeth. Their long canines kept their mouths from closing. Their eyes were cold, but she could see the hunger in them. These toga guys held their swords as if they knew what they were doing.
Okay, so it’s a fair fight now. She let go of the sword with one hand and held out the other, motioning for them to come at her with a wiggle of her fingers.
“Bring it on, you bastards.”
She swung the sword using her wrists in a lazy circle, like a batter taking a practice swing before the pitch.
— • —
The black velvet curtain closed behind Nicodemus. He stood in the wide hallway where fifteen minutes before, he’d entered the chamber of the Council of Twelve to receive his latest assignment.
As always, the same old man, dressed in a plain black suit, waited in the hall. In the palm of his translucent-skinned hand sat a sleek, green lizard about nine inches long, its tail wrapped around the old man’s thin wrist.
“Thanks for watching Cho. He gets into trouble if I leave him alone.” Nicodemus held out his hand, palm up. The sleek lizard jumped across, skittered up his arm to ride on his shoulder, and curled its tail around his neck.
The color of Cho’s skin turned in a rapid gradation from dull green to matte black to match Nicodemus’ clothing.
Cho spoke to Nicodemus, the only human who could hear him. “It’s because I get so damned bored with no one to talk to.”
“You have the attention span of a gnat,” Nicodemus answered with his thoughts.
“Now, you’re making me hungry, Nic. It’s my high intellect; I crave stimulation.”
“The only thing you crave is food, Cho. We have some work to do tonight.”
“I knew it! The Council of Twelve wouldn’t drag you here unless they needed your skills. Same as last time?”
“Yeah, find the virgins. Kill the vampires. Rescue the virgins.” Nic sighed. Same old thing.
“Yeesh, virgins! All those young girls passing out, weeping uncontrollably. We get to kill, right?”
A quick flick of Cho’s tail signaled his excitement.
“Sure, and if we’re lucky, we’ll be outnumbered.”
Nic stepped out into the night, hit the remote, unlocked his black Jag, and slid into the driver’s seat. Turning the key, he gunned the motor and drove down the alley to the street, where he stopped and slipped the gear into neutral.
“Where to?”
“Not sure yet. They gave me an orb again. Why can’t they just tell me where the fuck the vampires are?”
“Adds to the mystique, Nic.”
“Fuck mystique. I hate these things.”
He pulled a small, blue orb from his pocket, and as he stared, it glowed brighter. Images formed in his mind.
Darkness. The moon was hidden by a cloud. As the cloud moved, rows of tombstones and large crypts emerged. Another cloud slipped across the moon, and it was dark again.
Nic dropped the orb on the passenger seat next to his sword and rubbed his eyes to force away the headache the orbs always gave him.
“Why is it vampires always use cemeteries?” Nic asked Cho aloud. “Is it their lack of imagination?”
“Maybe it’s because they’re close to home. Everyone knows commuting sucks. Get it? Vampires? Suck?”
“I get it, Cho.” Nic rolled his eyes. Of all the talking enchanted lizards in the world, why did he get stuck with the one with the bad jokes?
The lizard’s tongue flicked against Nic’s neck in a soundless version of a raspberry.
“And I just thought it was the creepy atmosphere. All those dead bodies.” Nic shrugged.
“Hurry up Nic. If we don’t make it in time, the virgins will be dead meat. Literally.”
“Cute pun, Cho. Dead meat. I get it. We’ll make it, buddy, and take out all the big, nasty vampires.” Nic edged the car’s speed up, but only to five miles over the limit. Being stopped by the cops with a four-foot sword leaning against the front seat would not be good.
“Don’t forget all those naked, helpless, grateful virgins. I emphasize naked and grateful, Nic.”
“Forget it, Cho. This is strictly business. Take it from me, women are nothing but trouble. All they want to do is use you, tear your heart out, and leave you bleeding.”
“It’s not always going to be like before, Nic.”
“Right. Someday my princess will come?”
“Yes. When she does, will you let her save you?”
“Save me? From what?” he grumbled.
“Maybe yourself.”
Nic was silent. He hated when the lizard got all philosophical on him. Hated it more when the damn lizard was right. But this time, Cho was wrong. No princess waited for him. Besides, she’d have to be crazy to hook up with a vampire killer, and he’d sworn he wouldn’t let that happen. Being with him could get a girl killed.
His gut and his grip on the wheel tightened at the thought of losing anyone else he loved to those blood-sucking bastards.
“Bet it’s the last place we look.” Cho loved to bet, but Nic was no sucker.
The car came up to the first cemetery, and he slowed as they passed the locked gates. Beyond them, a wide expanse of lawn was dotted with small markers in hundreds of rows.
“This won’t do. No mausoleums, no crypts.” He shook his head and laughed. “You were right, buddy, it’s the last place we look.”
“Can I still win that bet?”
“No, sorry. I never bet with lizards. They’re notorious cheaters.”
“Bite me.”
Nic eased the Jag onto the expressway, floored it, and headed east.
After a short drive, Nic pulled up to the next cemetery. A guard stood at the open gates. Not normal. A sure sign of vampires.
He let the car roll up to the entrance, and the guard approached, holding a clipboard. After slipping a knife from his boot sheath, Nic thrust the blade into the guard’s chest as he leaned into the window. The vamp disappeared, and the clipboard clattered to the ground. Nic drove through the gates, down the winding road, and up to a long line of vehicles.
“Town Cars? Vampires in Lincolns?” Nic shook his head.
“Dealer plates. Makes sense.”
“I always suspected those dealerships were just a front.”
“Sure, the financing there usually sucks.”
“Good one, Cho.”
Nic got out with Cho riding his shoulder, strapped on his sword, and walked toward the crypt. A bare-chested guard, teeth bared, came up to him.
“Hey, man, this is a private party.”
Without breaking stride, Nic pulled his sword, decapitated him with a casual swing, and sheathed it. Reaching the door, he pulled it open.
The sound of steel-on-steel met him.
He paused for a second and then headed down several steps without a sound. No guards were posted at the bottom.
“Time to go to work, Cho.”
“On my way, Nic.”
The lizard leaped off his shoulder and onto the wall. In moments, Cho had blended into the gray stone walls. He skittered down to the opening and disappeared around the corner. “Shit! You’re not going to believe this, Nic!”
“What’s going on?”
“Get down here now! You’re not going to believe this.”
When Nic got to the bottom of the stairs, he froze.
It was turmoil. Three vampires in togas were attacking a naked, sword-wielding woman. Gloriously naked. She fought like a hellcat, blocking their thrusts, spinning around to attack, her full breasts bouncing with each swing and each block. Her body glistened with a fine sheen of sweat. Her muscles corded as they strained, her dark hair flew wild around her head, and her eyes glowed as if they were on fire.
“God, Cho, I’m in love.”
“Forget it, she’s mine. I saw her first!”
“Out of my way, I have work to do.”
“Go get ’em, Nic. That is, if she leaves any for you.”
Nic stepped into the room.
“Son of a bitch! There’s more than one! Vlad! Ivan! Romero!” An older vampire waved his arms about wildly.
The woman froze for a moment, her brows furrowed as she took Nic in, perhaps trying to decide if he was here to help or hurt her. He winked at her, and her eyebrows shot up.
Nic locked his gaze on the woman’s sweat-streaked face. The corner of her mouth rose in the barest hint of a smile. He nodded once. It was as if they were so finely tuned to each other they needed only the merest nod, the blink of an eye, or the curl of a lip to communicate.
She gave him a nod of her head.
He gave his best slow, lopsided, dead-sexy grin.
They began their attack. The two fighters advanced, closing ranks with the three vampires between them. Swords sang as they cut the cold damp air in the crypt. Steel rang with each blocked blow. The three vampires, fighting for their lives, stood back-to-back in the center of the room, swords swinging and slashing.
One of the vampires stepped out of the shadows and darted up the stairs. The vamp she fought saw it and yelled, “Ivan, you bast—” but it was all he got out. Her sword, whistling through the air, sliced the creature’s head from his neck.
Nic swallowed hard.
“Damn, she’s good.”
“You weren’t scared for her, were you?”
The lizard was right; he’d feared for her, but she’d held her nerve and her position even as the big vampire was on top of her. Then, light and graceful as any dancer, she ducked, spun, and took the monster out.
Now she watched him. Time to finish it.
“Christ, what man could work with those bodacious breasts staring him in the face?”
“What lizard could work?”
“Lizards and women don’t mix, Cho.”
“I like this girl, Nic. She’s got attitude.”
“But what is she doing here?”
“She’s naked. Must be a virgin.”
“She looks a little old for a virgin.”
“Maybe she’s a princess.”
Nic might have heard a small lizard chortle if he’d continued to listen. He didn’t want to think about Cho’s last comment right now. There was a little matter of a sword-carrying vampire to deal with, and he was holding his own against Nic.
As Nic tested the creature’s skill, he realized the vampire’s sword work was much better than the others.
“He knows how to fight.”
“That’s okay, it just makes it more fun, right?”
“Oh yeah, a blast.”
He slashed at Nic and their swords met. Nic swung. The vamp blocked. Nic upped the intensity of his attack as he hammered the vampire with swing after swing. It was all the undead thing could do to keep its sword up.
Nic advanced. The vamp backed away until it hit one of the tables. Unable to go any farther, it charged, yelling what sounded like an old Spanish battle cry. Nic had to fall back for more room.
Their swords clashed, and the ringing of steel echoed. They parted, circling each other.
The bastard was strong, but not strong enough. Focusing on his adversary’s face, Nic watched its eyes.
The creature attacked again. Swords met, steel screaming against steel. Parted and met again as the fighters circled. Swinging in tight arcs and rapid rhythms. Separating. Advancing to meet each other. Their swords locked. Both leaned in, straining to overpower the other.
Nic stepped back and let his opponent’s sword slide down his, dropping the tip of his sword to the left. The vamp’s sword slid along it, unbalancing him. Nic stepped to the side and, putting his shoulders into it, pushed the vampire’s sword away. His opponent staggered out of reach but regained its footing.
“Who sent you?” The vampire circled, looking for an opportunity to strike.
“The last vampire I killed. He said to tell you he’d see you in hell.” Nic laughed, feinted, and drew the vamp’s arm out in a swing that missed. Nic stepped to the inside. The point of his sword found its chest. The vampire didn’t disappear, but hung on the tip of the sword. Nic, teeth gritted, inched forward, pushing the blade deeper.
Holding his sword with both hands at chest height, Nic tightened his grip as the vampire slid toward him on the blade of the sword. Deadly, white fangs neared. Powerful hands reached for him, and black eyes blazed with hatred.
The vampire disappeared. Its weapon clattered to the ground.
Sheathing the great sword, Nic turned and faced the woman.
Putting her hands on her hips, she tilted her head to the side in question. “Some rescue. What took you so long?”
“Crosstown traffic’s a bear this time of night.” Nic gave her a shrug. Damn, she was only about five feet five, but every inch was packed with sexy female energy.
“Right. Hope you don’t mind, but I had to start without you.” She waved her hand at the room.
“That’s all right, as long as we finish together.” He couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“Well…” She raised an eyebrow. “Was it good for you?”
“Hell, I don’t smoke, but I think I need a cigarette,” he drawled.
“Kiss her, Nic, or I will.”
“Shut up, Cho, and let me handle this.”
Fiona turned her back on him and went over to the girls. “Party’s over. Get dressed, girls.”
Nic looked at her and frowned.
“When did she take over this operation?”
“When she was kicking vampire ass, is my guess.”
After leading the girls back to the pile of clothing, she put down the sword. Sifting through the heap, she pulled out jeans and a T-shirt, and then she held up shreds of what might have once been underwear. She tossed them to the side with a disgusted sigh.
Nic watched, biting back his moan as she slipped the jeans over her firm ass, hiding it from his sight.
“Nic. Hey, Nic. Snap out of it, Nic.”
She paused, her head tilted as if she’d heard something.
She shook her head and then helped one of the girls get her clothes on. Once dressed, the girl gave her a hug. The others waited for their turn. Seemed they all needed a hug right about then. Sniffling, they looked at her with gratitude and admiration. Like she was some sort of hero.
“Let’s go home, girls.” She herded them across the room to the stairs where Nic leaned against the wall.
Cho reclaimed his place on Nic’s shoulder and returned to his natural green color. Nic watched the girls go up the stairs, still in a tight huddle.
The woman of his dreams moved to his side and looked up into Nic’s eyes as he towered above her. Reaching out her hand as if to touch his face, she dropped it to pet the lizard riding on his broad shoulder.
“Cute lizard.” She smirked and headed up the steps.
“Ha. Ha. Ha. She said I was cute!”
“Shut up, Cho.”

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ISBN (Print):
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-62916-000-9
Genre: Paranormal
Date Published: 11/30/2036
Publisher: Taliesin Publishing

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