Hard Breaker (Gargoyles #6) by Christine Warren
Book Review Here.
Synopsis: From New York Times bestselling author Christine Warren comes the sixth book in her red-hot romance series in which even the most beastly gargoyle is able to win the heart of a beautiful human woman.
Ivy Beckett has a special gift. She can hear voices, feel events, and receive messages from great distances. Which is also a curse. The moment her family is killed by the servants of the Darkness, she knows it. And the only way to fight these evil forces is to align her powers with a Guardian. A legendary warrior of stone who strikes fear in her heart―and fire in her soul…
Baen is a fierce and powerful gargoyle who has sworn to protect all humans from the Darkness. But when this mighty winged warrior swoops down to rescue Ivy from the jaws of death, he is drawn into a battle that is more dangerous―and more intimate―than he ever bargained for. The beautiful, gifted Ivy touches something deep within him, an all-consuming passion that puts both their lives at risk. Can he conquer the armies of evil itself . . . without losing the woman he loves?
CHRISTINE WARREN is the author of Stone Cold Lover and Heart of Stone, as well as the Novels of the Others, including New York Times Bestsellers Big Bad Wolf, Walk on the Wild Side, and One Bite with a Stranger. Born and raised in coastal New England, Christine Warren now lives as a transplant in the Pacific Northwest. When not writing (as if that ever happens), she enjoys horseback riding, playing with her pets, identifying dogs from photos of their underbellies, and most of all reading things someone else had to agonize over.
“Soars with fun, witty characters and nonstop action.” —Publishers Weekly on Stone Cold Lover
Don’t miss the other books in the Gargoyle series:
Book #1: Heart of Stone
Book #2: Stone Cold Lover
Book #3: Hard as a Rock
Book #4: Rocked by Love
Book #5: Hard to Handle
Ivy felt a surge of satisfaction. Well, adrenaline, really, but whatever.
“Perfect.” She got to her feet and pitched her voice back to where it could just be overheard— significantly louder, but still natural. Also, a bit wheedling. “Let’s get out of here, Marty. You promised me dinner in a proper restaurant, not a pub, and I’m also famished.”
Martin rose awkwardly, sending their glasses to wobbling again. “Lead on, then, darling. Wherever you like.”
She forced a giggle. She hated to giggle. “Oh, you’re such a pudding. But now I’ve got to decide. Hm, Judy told me about this café . . .”
Her mouth continued to babble, spewing nonsense she pulled off the top of her head as she led the way through the crowd— steering well clear of Teddy and his mates— and out the front door. Turning onto the pavement, she kept up the patter until they had stepped well away from the pub en route to the tube station. Even then, though she let the inane drivel dry up, she continued to clasp Martin’s hand in hers and lean into him. They hadn’t been the only ones to leave the pub and the streets continued to bustle with both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It was important to keep up appearances all the way through this journey.
“Okay, stage two,” she said softly as they strode toward the Underground station. “I have a bag at Left Luggage in King’s Cross that we’ll need to pick up. It has more information you’ll need to look over for your time with Paul, some snacks, and cash and new identification for you hidden in the lining. I’ll show you where. We’re on the last train tonight, but we should have plenty of time to make it, so don’t worry about that.”
He nodded, but his gaze was glued to the pavement in front of them. Poor guy really didn’t have the right temperament for all this cloak- and- dagger stuff. But then again, she hadn’t thought she did, either, and look at her now— practically an expert, and armed on top of it.
Under her anorak and tight jeans, a custom-made dagger rode in a sheath at the small of her back. And oddly enough, she knew how to use it. Over the last several months, she hadn’t had much choice but to learn, until these days, it felt so comfortable, she almost forgot it was there.
Until moments like this, that is, when the hair on the back of her neck began to stand up and her senses put her on high alert.
“Bollocks,” she muttered. Faking another giggle, she turned playfully into Martin’s side and pretended to bury her face in his shoulder. In reality, she used the opportunity to take a look at the area behind them. She had felt confident that there had been no nocturnis in the pub with them who might try to follow, but she should have paid a bit more attention to Teddy and his band of happy hooligans. Three of them had exited the bar after Ivy and Martin and now trailed sixty or seventy feet behind them.
Normally, Ivy would have considered such an event no more than a slight bother, but something about their posture niggled at the back of her mind. The aggression she would have expected, but for some reason their stance struck her as more menacing than it ought to be.
Damn it, they didn’t have time for this shit. Or even if they did, Ivy just didn’t have the patience. Even worse, she knew they were coming up on the narrow cross street they would have to traverse to get to the tube. She’d researched the route. The cross street was largely home to a few small businesses that would have closed down by six o’clock, a couple of daytime shops, at least one vacant building, and a church that had been abandoned a few years ago due to lack of funds available to repair a roof with more holes than tiles remaining. It was a quiet block, and quiet meant fewer people, which meant more opportunity for Teddy et al to try something stupid.
“What’s wrong?” Martin asked nervously as she turned back and casually picked up the pace of their walk. “What’s the matter? Is it nocturnis? Have they found me?”
The last question emerged on a squeak, and Ivy winced. She laughed loudly to cover up his blunder. “Oh, you!” she cried, then lowered her voice. “No, Martin. And you need to stay calm. How about you tell me more about yourself? What’s your main talent? I don’t think you told me that.”
By talent, she was referring to the magical ability that made up the most basic requirement of becoming a Warden. All members of the Guild needed to possess a talent— demonstrate the ability to wield magic—in order to be considered for admission. With luck, Martin’s would have some utility in a fight.
“What? Talent? Oh, er, I’m a dowser. Water dowser.
Oh, yeah, because a nice, deep aquifer was just what they needed right now.
“No reason,” she gritted out, fingers itching for the hilt of her knife. “No reason at all.”
Which was when she glanced over her shoulder and saw a dark shadow coalesce around Teddy and his friends. A shadow that swirled and twisted and then seemed to disappear. Inside the three men.
“What is it? What’s wrong.”
There went the panic again, creeping back into Martin’s voice at the least opportune of moments. Impatient, Ivy shook her head and urged him to walk a little faster. Not that it was likely to do them much good. “Nothing. Let’s just concentrate on getting to the station, shall we?”
She could hear her accent beginning to fray at the edges, her natural American pronunciation creeping in here and there, but right now that counted as the least of their worries. Much higher on the list was the fact that they were being followed down a now deserted street by three large, loutish men who hadn’t liked her to begin with and who now appeared to have fallen under demonic influence if not outright possession.
You know, one of these days one of her plans was going to have to go utterly smoothly, right? Just the law of large numbers made it inevitable, didn’t it? Well, today would have been a really good day for that to happen.
Instinct had her increasing her pace yet again until she found herself half a step from jogging down the pavement, tugging Martin along by her side.
“Hang on, then,” he protested, pulling against her grip and trying to actually slow her pace. The idiot. “If nothing’s wrong, why are you suddenly running?”
“I think that’s down to us, mate,” a voice snarled, closer behind them than it should have been. Their pursuers had moved fast, faster than normal.
Faster than was natural.
An instant later, something hit Ivy from the side, hard. The impact sent her staggering into the alley that opened up between two buildings at the side of the street. She stumbled into heavy darkness, away from the abandoned Gothic church across the way, away from the sight of anyone else who might wander onto the nearby pavement. To her credit, though, she managed to maintain her grip on Martin in spite of that, so she pulled him into the shadows beside her.
Perfect. Now they could be in deep shit together.
The hit had come as a surprise, but the three shapes rapidly closing in behind her, driving her and Martin deeper into the alley, did not. Ivy’s hand had moved at the first moment of contact with her attacker, fingers closing around the hilt of her dagger and tugging it out of concealment in a smooth, practiced motion. Now, she held it in front of her as she used her grip on her companion to swing him out of the way behind her, placing him between her and the brick building wall.
“Ooh, you’ve brought along a toy, have you?” Teddy asked, grinning as he stalked forward, herding them away from the street and the potential of being seen by passersby. “Want to play, then, do you, luvie? I like a good game now and then.”
Ivy flicked her gaze among the three looming figures. She recognized all of them from the group gathered around the bar earlier, the ones who had witnessed Teddy hitting on her and her subsequent rejection of him. They had laughed at the time and gone right back to drinking, already half- pissed when the whole thing began. Was it too much for her to hope that she had been mistaken? That this was just a garden- variety assault and maybe potential rape fueled by alcohol and wounded machismo? Because frankly, that would be a relief compared to the alternative.
“Yeh, we like to play,” the second lad hissed as he stepped forward until Ivy could see his face in the dim light of the alleyway. “We especially like to play with his sort.” He bared his teeth, and his eyes lit up with malice.
And Ivy didn’t mean that metaphorically. His eyes actually lit up. As in, started glowing. With a sick, rusty- red light that reminded her of old blood and dried scabs.
And very much indicative of demonic influence.
Yay. She’d been right. It wasn’t really her these three were after. They wanted Martin. They wanted the Warden.
Well, they weren’t going to get him. Not until they got past her.
“I’m ready to go, boys.” She took a step forward and flashed a toothy smile of her own. “And you know the rules. White makes the first move.”
Ivy struck with a feint toward Teddy, who stood closest to her, directly ahead. When instinct had him leaping back out of the way of her blade, she spun backward
to her left and landed a heel- first kick directly to the sternum of hissy boy. He grunted and stumbled back in surprise, but bachelor number three was already on the move. He closed in on Ivy from the left and grabbed her around her upper body, effectively pinning her biceps to her sides. She’d been expecting the move and countered by thrusting the dagger in a short, upward dig that buried it deep in number three’s thigh.
“Go, Martin!” she shouted above Three’s scream. “Get to the station! Lost Luggage under your name! Now!”
All of her attackers howled in protest. Three’s cry was still tinged with pain. It gave her a warm surge of satisfaction, even though it rendered her nearly deaf in her left ear, the one closest to his mouth. Jerking the knife back, she freed it from the man’s leg and went limp in his grip, relaxing her muscles until she slid straight out of his arms to the floor of the alley.
Even as she hit the cobbles, she was already moving. She braced one hand, shifted her weight, and swung one leg around, aiming a heavy kick at the knee of the grabby Three’s wounded leg. He crumpled with a heavy grunt.
Teddy and number two rushed in to take his place, converging on Ivy before she could manage a glimpse to see if Martin had followed her directions. If he hadn’t, he was either dumber than he looked, or part possum and his nervous system had shut down from fear. Neither option would keep him alive, though, and as skilled as she had become in hand- to- hand combat after her years of self- defense classes back in New York and her training since taking on her rescue work in England, one human woman against three demonically influenced men didn’t offer her very good odds.
Chances were she wouldn’t leave this alley under her own power. Hell, she’d be lucky if she didn’t leave it in a coroner’s van. Which meant Martin had better be halfway down the steps to the tube already.
She ducked away from a swipe of Teddy’s outstretched hand, trying not to get distracted by the way the skin of his fingertips had split to allow the emergence of glistening black claws that dripped some sort of dark, stinking fluid. The smell of decayed flesh and filthy swamp water suddenly filled the alley, and Ivy had to fight back the urge to gag.
Oh, yeah. She’d say this officially went beyond the realm of demonic influence. Hell, this went beyond possession. Somehow, demons had not just taken over these men’s’ bodies, they had used the energy of the human bodies to allow them to fully manifest into the human world.
In case anyone wondered, that was a really, really bad thing. Something Ivy wouldn’t have thought possible six months ago.
But then again, six months ago, the world hadn’t quite started coming to an end yet. Today, anything was possible.
With that cheery thought filling her mind, she swung her dagger in a wide arc that managed to catch opponent number two in the side, opening up a wound that audibly sizzled and began to ooze something much darker and slimier than blood. It didn’t smell like blood, either. The ichor reeked of the same foulness that hung around the venom dripping from Teddy’s claws.
Seriously, it was becoming a real challenge not to puke. What she wouldn’t give for a nice, stiff breeze right about then to dissipate some of the stink.
Two— Thing Two, Ivy decided to call him— hissed, his corrupt red gaze flicking between her and her blade with manic hatred. It made her smile in spite of the nausea.
“What’s the matter, pumpkin?” she taunted him. “ Aren’t you a fan of blessed and consecrated silver? Me, I just adore the stuff.”
She demonstrated those feelings with another quick slash of her arm, a motion that sliced through the jacket and shirt Teddy wore and into the flesh of his shoulder. She wasn’t particularly aiming for the brachial plexus nerve or a major artery, but she wasn’t going to cry if he started to bleed out or lost the use of his arm.
He screamed, but Ivy just continued her stroke and caught Thing Two across the cheek, just millimeters away from his left eye. Hm, close call, that. What a shame.
“Bitch!” the demon howled.
Ivy blew him a kiss. “Aw, love you, too, snookums.”
Her mother had always told her that her smart mouth would get her into trouble one day. Somehow Ivy didn’t think this particular trouble was what she’d had in mind. You know, the whole “ripped apart by demons in a deserted alley” thing. Dorothy probably hadn’t seen that one coming.
One would hope.
By now, Thing Three was back on his feet, and Ivy knew she was seriously fucked. Three against one. Three demons against one, with no backup on the way. Working alone was one of the keys to protecting the Wardens people like her assisted. Now, it looked like she was going to die alone.
“Sorry, Uncle George,” she muttered, putting her back to the alley wall and keeping her gaze on the man-shaped creatures in front of her. They had realized her predicament just as clearly as she had, and now they were toying with her, watching her with evil, hungry gazes. Not the kind of hunger that would scare most women alone in an alley, but the kind of hunger that scared American turkeys in the middle of November.
“Sorry, Jamie,” Ivy added. “But on the bright side, looks like I’ll be seeing you both again soon.”
Thing Two snapped its jaws at her, jaws that it then unhinged to make room for the second row of pointed teeth that appeared to be growing behind the first, human set.
“Very, very soon.”
Holding her dagger in front of her and carefully balancing her weight on the balls of her feet, Ivy prepared to die fighting.
Oddly enough, that’s not what happened.
One minute, she stared down the face of the Grim Reaper and the next, reality went sideways. Instead of the front of three demons clearly prepared to feast on her living flesh, she felt a rush of cool air, heard a pavement- shaking roar, and found herself staring into a wide barrier the color of dark, aged granite.
She blinked, then shook her head and blinked again. The view didn’t change. Gradually her brain caught up with her corneas, and she realized that what had looked like a barrier of solid stone was actually a pair of wings. Huge wings, each easily twelve or thirteen feet from base to tip, leathery and membranous like a bat’s.
And they were attached to the broadest, most muscular back she had ever seen. A back that could only conceivably belong to one of two things:
Or a Guardian.
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