Go HERE on my website to read Chapter 1 of ATLANTIS BETRAYED. Go ahead, you know you wanna. :) OK, are you back? Great!!
Now just take a peek below at chapter 2 -- this is an exclusive excerpt never seen anywhere else1
Christophe soared through the air in mist form, circling the Tower of London as he had many times before, but this time with the goal of finding a way inside, instead of admiring the exterior. He recognized the irony of planning to steal William the Conqueror’s sword, famously and prophetically named Vanquish, from the tower whose construction old Will had first begun. Technically, he didn’t need the sword, and Prince Conlan probably wouldn’t like it if he took it—interfering with sovereign possessions and so forth—but just taking the Siren from the sword’s jeweled hilt seemed like a waste of opportunity.
Not that he had much need for what rumor claimed was a ceremonial-only, badly balanced sword. His own, left in Atlantis this trip, was utilitarian, simple and deadly; undecorated except for the single emerald on its pommel. A line from an old nursery tale flitted through his mind, though perhaps in a different form than he’d heard as a child.
The better to fight evil with, my dear.
But, after all, why not? Calculating the ways and means of how he might remove the entire sword from one of the most fortified locations in the world made for an amusing way to pass the time. An endeavor that didn’t bore him.
Passing over the main gate and the long-unused moat, he floated over the bridge where millions of tourists crossed into the Tower grounds every year. He could have taken the easy route and made his way in as a tourist during the day, except first, he didn’t like crowds of smelly humans, and second, when had he ever done things the easy way? Not to mention that asking himself rhetorical questions was probably one of the unpaved steps on the road to insanity. Not far up from talking to pigeons.
The pale yellow brick glowed in the night air, resonating with the quiet dignity of walls that had stood sentinel, indifferent and stoic, as the tempests of humans had ebbed and flowed over the centuries. If walls could talk, as the old saying went, these would offer a history lesson on power—or a cautionary tale for those in search of it.
Somewhat like the ancient tales of Atlantis herself.
Floating over the spot where the Duke of Wellington’s statue had been before somebody decided to banish it to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich—ha, the fleeting nature of fame, Duke, old boy—he examined the exterior windows of the Waterloo Barracks, opposite to the scaffolding and white stone of the White Tower. A flicker of light glinted off a gargoyle as it . . . moved.
Either imagination or adrenaline was working overtime, because Christophe was sure that the gargoyle had moved an inch or two. He approached it, still suspended as mist, only to find exactly what he should have expected: there was no way the gargoyle had moved since somebody put its butt-ugly self there in the first place.
He must be having hallucinations.
It was adrenaline. The excitement of doing something different for a change, instead of the same old same old. He’d had enough of killing vampires and smiting shape-shifters to last a lifetime. And Atlantis was no better. It was getting crowded in the palace, with all of his fellow warriors finding women. Not temporary women, either. No, these were keeper women, the long-term, asphyxiate-a-guy kind of women.
No, thank you. Not for him. He was going to steal the Siren, the enormous aquamarine that graced Vanquish’s hilt, and take it back to Atlantis so it could be reattached to Poseidon’s Trident, where it belonged. Hand that sucker straight over to Alaric. Or better yet, instead of to the high priest in person, to one of his minions, so there would be no repeat of Alaric’s most recent lecture: Why Christophe Was Wasting His Magical Abilities by Refusing to Join the Priesthood, Part 784.
He didn’t want to be a priest. He wanted some fun. Like this job. It was a heist, pure and simple. Fun.
The jewels were housed on the first floor, with nobody but the Tower Guard, various electronic devices, and the Yeomen Warders to protect them. Of the three, only the Yeomen Warders concerned him at all. The shape-shifters in that group were rumored to be pretty damn tough, and no few of them claimed to be descended from the shape-shifters who’d been among the original Warders back in 1485.
Of course, back then, shifters weren’t roaming around in broad daylight, with everybody knowing who and what they were. Vamps, either, for that matter, but the past decade-plus had brought big changes to the world.
Mostly for the worse.
The Tower Guard was part of the Queen’s Guard, according to the handy tour guide a tourist had conveniently left on a bench for Christophe to find. They didn’t live in the Tower, but the Warders still did, unfortunately. If only everybody trusted their electronics these days. Atlantean magic wreaked holy hells on electricity.
The thought of powerful Brennan, locked in that electric cage with Tiernan, flashed through his mind, and his mood soured. Sometimes the electricity won.
Christophe eyed a tiny crack in the casement of a third-floor window on the tower, just to the left of the main doors. Not even a large insect could fit through that crack.
Mist, however, could get in just fine.
* * *
Fiona had timed out the midnight-to-eight A.M. shift patterns of the Tower Guard and the Yeoman Warders on multiple occasions over the past several weeks. One thing was certain: the men and women, human and shifter alike, who guarded the Jewel House, were serious, dedicated professionals. No mere thief would get anywhere near those jewels.
Good thing she was no mere thief. She was world class.
Stealing onto the grounds had been child’s play, but breaching the Waterloo Barracks and the Jewel House would be a little trickier. She knew her . . . talent would keep them from seeing her, but shadowing only completely fooled living eyes and cameras. Motion detectors made for trickier adventures.
From her position leaning against a tree in the courtyard at an angle to the main doors, she saw the team of two stride around the corner of the building exactly on time. Two A.M. on the dot; one could set her clock on the punctuality of the guards. These were two enormous, burly men, probably shifters, having a lovely conversation about rugby or something else vital to England’s national stature.
She slowly leaned farther back into the rough bark of the tree, concentrating fiercely. Shifters were tougher to hide from than humans—she’d have to bend air as well as light, and the shifters’ minds were not as easily amenable to clouding.
Ribbons of silken moonlight danced through the air surrounding Fiona and the tree, circling her with nearly imperceptible shadings of dappled light. A spill of liquid darkness spread over her—through her—so gradually that only the keenest observer would have felt even a tingle of awareness. Light and the very air itself bent to her will as Fiona focused on dispersing her scent and disappearing from view.
The shorter of the guards stopped suddenly, his body tensing and leaning forward in the unmistakable sign of alert. He held up a hand, and his partner whirled to face the direction from which they’d come and settled into the same wary crouch. Precision back-to-back stance; these were no decorative guards put in place to amuse and delight tourists with their furry hats. These were the guardians of the dark hours between dusk and dawn, and their honor stood guard with them. For a shifter to lose face over the theft of a jewel under his care would be a gut-wrenching, soul-deadening failure.
For an instant sympathy encouraged hesitation in her mind, but she forced herself to visualize the rebuilding of Wolf Hall as a headquarters for the United Kingdom shifters. More than one hundred million euros of public money had been thrown into the project thus far, with much more to come. Now that the family of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, were rumored to have been shifters, the press were tantalized, and even Hollywood had come to call. Anyone who questioned the extravagant expenditure was drowned out in the usual British religion of celeb worship.
Shape-shifters with ties to royalty: the new rock stars.
Fiona clamped down on her mental wanderings when indignation made her focus waver for a split second. The taller guard lifted his nose into the wind and leaned forward, staring into the shadows around her tree. His sense of smell wouldn’t be nearly as keen in this form as when he was a wolf, but still better than that of any human.
Deeper. She sent her mental command arrowing ever more deeply into her own brain, until she felt the almost audible click that signaled total control of her Gift. Air and light bent to her will in the space surrounding her. The scent of her body dispersed into the vestigial odors of the millions of tourists who crossed this courtyard. Her image vanished, hidden by the shadows caressing her. Even the sound of her heartbeat and breath floated away, broken up and scattered with the obedient winds. To any of the guards’ five senses, she simply did not exist, so long as she didn’t get close enough to touch.
Damn the luck, though. Her Gift had no control over the sixth. Intuition. Hunches. The peripheral senses of shifters who trusted their own instincts—they’d come near to unveiling her more than once in the past. Her lips quirked at the idea of how unhappy Hopkins would be if her outrageous streak of good fortune chose now to desert her.
She caught her breath and tightened her hand on the grip of her tranq gun as the shifter took a step toward her. There was no possible way she could outrun a wolf, not even one in human guise. It was the matter of a moment, anyway, for the more powerful shifters to transform, and these looked anything but weak.
The guard with his back to her glanced over his shoulder at his partner. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” the one with the nose said. “Nothing. Something. Maybe.”
The first one snorted out a laugh. “Thanks for clearing that up.”
“I don’t know. But whatever it is—”
The sharp sound of pebbles clattering to the ground interrupted him, and Fiona and the guards all turned their attention to the sky. Or, more specifically, to the roof of the building, from where the pebble shower had originated.
“Maybe a bird?”
“That was no bird.” The guard lowered his gaze and aimed one long last stare at the tree where Fiona stood—perfectly still, perfectly silent—with her gun at the ready. “But maybe what I thought I sensed over by the tree was.”
“Or maybe we’ve got vamps playing games,” the other one snarled, as he turned sharply on his heel and started running back the way they’d come. “I warned those freaks the last time they tried to hang out here—”
“Bloodsuckers don’t listen to warnings.”
Neither do ninjas, Fiona added silently, as the pair vanished behind the building, presumably making for the particular side door that was the guards’ preferred entrance. But with just a bit of luck, they’d call in for replacements who might choose a different door. The main entrance not thirty feet away from her, for example.
It took her fewer than ten seconds to make her way to the side of the double wooden doors and plaster her body up against the wall. Another ten seconds and the sound of pounding feet approached, and the doors swung open, spilling out a new pair of guards. This time, they were both human, but their reflexes were almost shifter-quick.
Fiona wasted no time in ducking under the arm of one guard to enter the building, seconds before he yanked the door closed. Still shadowed, she slowly stood, careful not to move until she’d scanned the area for further guards, either human or shifter. Glowing carriage lamps with modern bulbs lit up the dark hallway, their illumination dimmed for night but still bright enough for their light to pounce on any unwanted visitor.
It was a familiar sight and one she’d toured often enough, usually with guests from elsewhere. A left turn would take her to the Hall of Monarchs with its various and sundry thrones and coats of arms. Glorious, but not really what she was after tonight. Nor was the cinema room with its video of Elizabeth II’s coronation, or Processional Way, with its walls of shining maces, or even the Temporal Sword of Justice. No, Fiona wanted a jewel from a quite different sword and it was in the Treasury. The jewel part of the Crown Jewels.
One jewel in particular.
And all she had to do was liberate William the Conqueror’s sword to take it.
[Excerpt of ATLANTIS BETRAYED, by Alyssa Day, out Sept. 7!]