Friday, August 29, 2014

Another taste of "Oath of Service" in Love Bites. Look for it on Tuesday, Sept. 2. Here's the Amazon Kindle link...

The Table Chamber’s massive carved oak door swung silently wide. Percival, Marrok and Cador stalked out, still in their bloodied armor. None of them said a word as they strode past. Morgana had never been so thoroughly ignored. “Percival!”

He kept walking, refusing to even give her a glance. Only Marrok looked back at her. His expression was so cold, the sick knots in her stomach tightened even more. If even ‘Rok was that pissed, she was in serious trouble. Because of his issues with anger management, the knight usually cultivated a deliberately sunny attitude, or at least the pretense of one.

Arthur’s deep voice rumbled from inside the chamber. “Step in, Morgana. And close the door.” Judging by that icy tone, he was in one of his Pendragon rages.

Merlin’s balls, this is going to be nasty. Swallowing, she obeyed.

Entering the great circular chamber, she found Arthur sitting in his seat at the Round Table, the muscles of his jaw working, his black eyes cold and narrow with rage. She took her usual seat at the massive gleaming circular table with its chairs carved with images of knights and ladies. She straightened her shoulders and refused to cower.

He stared at her through an uncomfortable, weighted silence. Arthur wasn’t a tall man, but he had a thickly muscled build that made him look lethally intimidating. Black hair fell to his shoulders, and a short, dark beard framed his wide mouth. “What the fuck did you think you were doing?”

“I hate to mention this, but we’re equals now, Arthur. As Liege of the Majae, I don’t answer to you.” She was responsible for assigning witches to teams, just as the former king directed which vampires worked with whom on what. Both of them had recently been reelected by their respective constituencies yet again; she’d lost count of the number of times it had been now.

“You answer to me if you almost get three of my men killed,” Arthur growled. “To say nothing of the two girls you almost got eaten."

She lifted a brow. "You've never had a mission go off the rails, Arthur?"

He snorted. "You know better than that. Everybody's had missions go off the rails. Which is why you analyze where you fucked up and determine how to avoid it the next time. In this case, I strongly suspect it has something to do with Percival's calling you on your sexual arousal in that fucking bar."

Mortified heat flooded her face. "That had nothing to do with it."

"Bullshit.” He sat forward in his chair, hunching his massive shoulders. “You got your arse on your shoulders, decided you had a point to prove, and stranded your team in that alley. They lost fifteen crucial minutes contacting the next team on call, waiting while Caroline retraced the steps you'd already taken, then gated them all to the scene. It's pure luck you and those girls weren't halfway down that dragon's throat by the time they got there."

Morgana glared at him, refusing to be cowed…or admit he had a point. "If I'd taken the men with me, they might have been the ones on the receiving end of the teeth."

"That's their damned job, Morgana! Besides which, I'll remind you that they rescued you."

"After I brought the dragon down! If we'd all gated there first, the killer would have done exactly what he did when I arrived—go airborne. What the hell was the team going to do with him flying around three hundred feet over their heads? I had to shift and go after it, which is what I knew I was going to have to do to start with! Kel had told me if I could stall the dragon for a half hour, he’d be able to come help me fry the bastard."

"Yeah, assuming you could survive that long. Given the fucker was twice your size, I seriously doubt you’d have been able to make it a half hour. Face it—you and those girls would have ended up eaten if the team hadn’t arrived when they did."

"I had it handled, Arthur!"

"Bullshit! You had no business playing Lone Ranger with the scaly bastard.” His face turned grim. “Especially not today. Your judgment has always sucked on February third.” He smiled, but it had the quality of a grimace. “Not that I blame you. Mordred could warp anybody.”

She blew out a breath, staring sightlessly at one of the tapestries that lined the chamber. This one depicted battling knights fighting with sword and shield. “Yeah, but I should be over it by now. I thought I was, dammit. I thought I’d banished my ghosts, but I’m still having nightmares.”

“Kiddo, unlike mortals, we never forget a fuckin’ thing. Makes it tough to get objective distance.” He drummed his fingers on Excalibur’s hilt where the big sword hung at his hip. “Which is why these post-mortems are so important, even if they do sting like a motherfucker. You should have called in more backup, not left the backup you had cooling their heels on Mortal Earth."

Really, what could she say to that? He was right. "All right, maybe I miscalculated. I'll remind you, it's not like I make a habit of it. It won't happen again."

Arthur was silent so long, Morgana had to look at him again. She found him studying her with such calculation in his dark eyes, she instantly had to wonder what the hell he was thinking. "Unfortunately,” he said at last, “I don't think that's the case."

"What do you mean by that?" She glared at him.

Being Arthur, he didn’t look away. "I mean it's going to happen again unless you address the root cause of this mess: the sexual tension between you and your team that's interfering with your ability to assess situations coolly and unemotionally."

"My sex life is not your business, Arthur."

"I will repeat: it is when it interferes with the mission. You're arrogant, Morgana. You have a deadly habit of underestimating your foes and overestimating yourself." His ebony eyes narrowed in a calculating expression she didn't like a bit. "Your team might be just the ones to give you the lesson in humility you so desperately need."

She gritted her teeth. "All I need from those three is their sword arms."

"And if you mean to keep them, you'll offer Percival your Oath of Service.”

Morgana stared at him in horrified shock for a heartbeat before she thought to wipe the reaction from her face. “If you think I’ll willingly become the next thing to Percival's sex slave for the next year, you've taken too many blows to the head.”

Arthur studied her, and she suddenly remembered why he’d been England’s greatest king. He knew how to read people with an accuracy that was terrifying. “You’re afraid you’re going to fall in love with him.”

Her heart seemed to stop beating as the shot sank home with a sniper’s unerring accuracy. She forced a scornful laugh. “That’s absurd.”

His deep voice lowered to a dark male purr. “So you’re telling me you feel nothing at the thought of being bound hand and foot while he rides you like a mare?”

"You're being crude, Arthur. It doesn't suit you." As Morgana’s mouth went dry, she looked away before she remembered herself and jerked her eyes back to his. She couldn’t afford to show him any weakness at all.

"And you didn't answer the question." There was an unyielding note in his voice that told her she'd better damned well answer.

Panic stung her. Oh, God, what was the question? She mentally rewound the conversation. “No, there's nothing sexual between Percival and me.”

Arthur lifted a brow as one corner of his mouth quirked. “Vampires have a keen sense of smell.”

Morgana felt herself blush scarlet as she realized what he meant. He’d smelled the arousal that had flooded her sex from the moment he’d mentioned giving Percival her Oath. She gritted her teeth. “You can be quite the bastard, Arthur.”

“Yes, and you’d do well to keep that in mind. Because if you refuse to offer Percival your Oath, I’m going to reassign his team. You’ll need to pick which of your witches to assign to them. You’ll be with Lamorak and Baldulf.”

Morgana jolted. “No! They wouldn’t be able to…” At the last moment, she managed to bite the sentence off. Arthur didn’t need to know why she needed the team so desperately. If he ever guessed she could become a greater danger than some of the monsters they fought—that she only trusted Percival and his team to control her…

He frowned. “Lamorak and Baldulf are Knights of the Round Table, Morgana. They’re hardly second-stringers.”

“That’s not the issue. I’ve spent centuries learning to work with Percival and his team. We're so good at reading each other's minds in combat, we're practically Truebonded. I wouldn’t be as effective with anyone else.”

“Unfortunately, at the moment you’re not effective at all. You and Percival and his boys have too much baggage. It’s getting in the way of doing the job. One way or the other, I'm putting a stop to it before you get somebody killed.”

She stared at him, barely breathing. His black gaze was unwavering, fierce. It was his King Arthur face, the expression that said you’d better damned well do what he wanted, or you’d regret it.

He means it. Her stomach sank. She was going to lose them if she didn’t do something.

“All right, you high-handed bastard.” Morgana rose to her feet and glared across the Round Table at him. “I’ll offer Percival my damned Oath.”

Maddeningly unruffled, Arthur lounged back in his chair. “He has to accept it, or the deal’s off, and you go to Lamorak and Baldulf.”

“Fine. I’ll convince him.” She spun on her heel and stalked out.

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