As written by the scribes and
entombed in the Church Archives:
TO DATE, the Church has recognized five types of Elemental beings:
1) Earth, being the rarest and least-often born. Only two known in all of Church history.
2) Air, being the second rarest.
5) Fire, being the most prevalent, destructive, and volatile of all the beings.
No other information is contained in the archive as to their purpose or powers.
July 12, 2216—
Present, burned-out abandoned building, New York City
THE DISTANT crunch of tires on gravel should’ve been alarming, but it wasn’t. They’d been on the run practically from the moment they’d left Evan and Adel in France. I hope they’re all right. Jude was the eternal worrier. He hadn’t had a chance to contact them, to see if they were being hunted as well. At first there just wasn’t time—they’d needed to stay ahead of their pursuers. Now time had run out. As he lay, broken and bleeding, he prayed Evan was okay, but exhaustion overrode everything else, and he felt too tired to really care.
Jude’s mind wandered aimlessly in a numb haze; he’d expended way too much energy in the firestorm that destroyed the building above him in his efforts to destroy the demons that had attacked him. He thought of Finton—last time he’d seen him, the little sprite had swung his sword and decapitated a vile-looking creature that’d kept coming even without its head. It must’ve been some sort of zombie. Fin had been defending the entrance, but he’d eventually fallen to their greater numbers. Usually there were only a couple demons attacking, but this time they just kept on coming. Jude couldn’t remember where Skye had gotten to; he prayed the little gryphon gargoyle was okay. Evan would have his hide if either one of them had been hurt. So tired. It was becoming a mantra, going round and round in his weary mind.
If only I could pass out. Jude felt as though he was waiting for something—maybe death. That particular entity must be having a busy night, since he hasn’t come to collect my soul yet. Jude closed his eyes and groaned as something sharp poked him in the back from the rubble beneath him. His senses registered the pain, yet he was so far beyond mere sensation that Jude’s mind could barely acknowledge it.
A decidedly masculine voice floated through the fog of Jude’s thoughts. It was deep and warm. It made him want to curl up into it and sleep for an eternity. Is this the voice of death? A familiar sing-song warble and the sound of flapping wings accompanied the voice and made him want to smile. Ah, my Skye. Good. He’s okay. Jude would know Skye’s song anywhere. He was here, somewhere close by.
“Come on, you beautiful bird. This place isn’t safe for a gargoyle. You’re too young to be on your own.” The man’s voice crooned softly. Even in his less-than-stellar condition, the velvety sound of it touched something deep inside Jude. “Oh God!” the voice shouted. Jude would’ve winced if he could’ve moved. He felt a hand touch his arm and forehead. “What happened?” That touch, so warm and gentle—he felt bathed in the heat of it.
The urge for this person to possess him, the desire to touch and fuck was primal. A basic instinctual part of himself reached for this other man blindly. He wanted to whimper and rub himself against those fingers, but that would take too much effort, although the aching need to do so hurt almost more than his battered body. Jude wanted to answer the voice, but instead he forced open his eyes. He wanted to see the face that belonged to such a melodic voice. His gaze latched onto the most beautiful brown-black eyes Jude had ever seen. He reached up with one hand and touched the man before him. He sighed as peace overwhelmed him for but the fleetest second before darkness closed around him.
“NO!” NICOLAS Daemarkus screamed. The gryphon gargoyle perched nearby screeched, rising up on his haunches, flapping his wings furiously.
Fate was truly a bitch. How could that fickle woman play with him like this? Nico thought to himself.
He had questioned the urge to follow the gargoyle when he’d first seen it circling the abandoned building, but gargoyles were so rare these days and the creature was small and clearly unable to defend itself. Now he couldn’t be happier for following his instincts and the gargoyle, but he’d also never been more distraught over his discovery, all at the same time.
The man he knelt beside was a mess of wounds and infection, blood, and dirt. For all that… he looked incredibly beautiful and fragile to Nico. The man’s temperature was cool to the touch, but all humans tended to feel cool to Nico. Still, for a human, he’s too warm, probably feverish. He brushed long red hair out of the man’s face, wishing those beautiful green eyes would open again.
“My poor little human, what’s happened to you?” Nico practically whimpered with distress, something he hadn’t done in centuries, as nothing touched his heart anymore.
Nico knew he needed to get the man to safety. To call the burned-out building hazardous was an understatement. The structure barely held itself together, still smoldering in places. He didn’t know if he dared pick up his beautiful human—he might have broken bones or internal injuries, which could be made worse by Nico’s interference. He trembled with indecision, but he saw no other way. He had to get help for him and there’d be none if they remained here. He carefully ran his hands along thin arms and legs. Nothing was obviously broken.
Nico growled, decision made. He gently slid his arms beneath the man and drew him against his chest. He could feel the bones poking from under practically translucent skin—far too thin, but again his mind registered the bones weren’t broken. Thin, Nico knew how to fix. Now, if he could just get the man to safety and get him to open his eyes. The steady fluttering heartbeat reassured him his prize was very much alive, and Nico intended him to stay that way.
The gryphon gargoyle flew out of what had once been a third-story window after glancing out and seeing no one below. Nico followed, clutching his precious cargo securely, tight against his chest to keep from jostling him. He landed on the ground with the gentle grace and ease of a dancer stepping from one room into the next. He sprinted to the car, where he strapped the guy into the passenger’s seat. Nico couldn’t resist the urge to nuzzle his passenger’s neck as he secured the seatbelt. He smelled wonderful: like burning cedar in a fireplace, and spice, overlaid with strong male musk. The scent spoke to Nico, confirming what he’d known on sight. This man belonged to him—well, he did if he survived.
“Easy, little one,” Nico whispered more to himself than to his unconscious passenger. His instincts were screaming to take and claim him, but the human was in no condition to satisfy the flaming lust flowing through Nico’s veins like molten lava. He adjusted himself, trying to relieve the strain on the raging erection that pressed against the zipper of his black dress pants. His protective instinct was the only thing keeping him from ravaging the guy on the spot. He’d protect this man, even from himself.
“Don’t give up on me.” He couldn’t resist the briefest brushing of his mouth against plush red lips. His human was handsome, his skin soft and pale as alabaster, with just a smattering of freckles across his high cheekbones and nose. Nico straightened and closed the car door, then ran around to the driver’s side.
Pulling out onto the street and heading as quickly toward home as he could, Nico was never so glad that traffic became nearly nonexistent after dark, thanks to the mandates of the Church. Even here in the heart of New York City, people were careful about moving around after the sun went down—not that the night would ever hold any dangers for him. He hit a button on the dashboard of the car and called his brother.
“Hey, Nico, what’s up?”
“I need a favor. A friend has gotten hurt. I’m taking him home to the penthouse. Can you meet us there?”
“Sure, Nico, but maybe a hospital would be a better choice?”
“No!” Nico growled. “This is personal, Doc. Please—”
“Okay, Nico. I’m on my way.”
“Thanks, Doc. I owe ya.”
“Yeah—so what else is new, bro.”
Nico hung up and glanced at his passenger, reaching out and touching his face with a shaking hand. “Please—hold on.”
IT WAS quiet, warm. Jude couldn’t remember the last time he’d truly felt warm. Where was he? Evan and Adel? No, he’d left them in France months ago. Jude struggled through the haze surrounding his thoughts, trying to bring himself to consciousness.
“You’re safe, little one.”
Damn, that voice. It definitely had him struggling to wake up. That deep bass reached out and stroked Jude’s soul with every syllable. A vision of brown-black eyes reflecting concern and worry filled his memory. He had to see those eyes again. The bed dipped as someone sat next to him. Yes, it had to be a bed. It felt too good to be anything else.
“Come on—open those beautiful eyes for me.”
Jude wanted to obey the pleading sound in that voice. A warm hand engulfed his, and he felt lips caress his knuckles. That did it. A deep breath and Jude forced his eyes open.
“That’s it. Come on back.”
“Bright.” Jude squinted and mumbled in a voice so raw it was barely recognizable as his own. His hand was momentarily laid upon the blankets. The bed moved, and the rustle of fabric and dimming of the light signaled someone had drawn the curtains. Jude blinked rapidly, trying to focus his eyes and thoughts. The warm hands returned, engulfing his once more.
“Yes. Where?” Jude glanced around the room, then back at his host, meeting those amazing eyes. The man’s hair was long and black, flowing like glossy silk to a point just beyond his shoulders… and damn, didn’t he have just a fabulously broad chest and wide shoulders? His host was drop-dead gorgeous—the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome, the kind that made Jude want to scream, “Take me home, Daddy.” And here he was, laid out, looking like hell, and barely able to pull together the energy required to speak to this ministering angel.
He vaguely noted he was in a large bedroom, which was comforting. It was a peaceful room, and for some reason, it had a strange calming effect on him. Even though he knew he should’ve been at the very least nervous, having awakened in a strange place, but he wasn’t. He felt safe. Jude gave himself a mental shake. He couldn’t afford to feel safe anywhere, especially in unfamiliar surroundings with an unknown number of people who could be hostile. Although there was one who he didn’t wish to remain a stranger for long.
“You’re in my home. I found you and brought you here and had you looked at by a doctor.”
“No doctors!” Jude struggled to sit up, instantly awake, panic overtaking him. There wasn’t a human doctor alive who’d consider him normal in any sense of the word. His body screamed in protest as he forced himself past the pain, trying to make his body obey him. Strong hands stopped him and gently pressed him back into the mattress.
“Shhh… it’s okay. You’re safe here. Relax. Rest.”
“No doctors!” Jude tried again, but it was futile to fight against the strength that held him down in the bed. The internal heat was building with his rising adrenaline. Jude closed his eyes and worked to control his emotions and the rising heat.
“Okay, no doctors. Calm down before your fever spikes. I can feel your temperature rising with your agitation.”
“Please—no doctors. They’ll kill me. I can’t—” Jude opened his eyes to plead with the gorgeous man.
“Shhh… no one will hurt you. What’s your name?”
“Jude… Jude Jamison.”
“Okay, Jude. I’m Nicolas Daemarkus. Friends call me Nico. You’re in my home. No one will hurt you here.” Nico brushed Jude’s hair back, tucking the errant strands behind his ear. Jude wanted to believe him, and he thought Nico probably did believe it, but he had no idea how powerful the people hunting Jude were. Jude relaxed into the pillows. He really had no choice. He wasn’t strong enough to leave. Exhaustion had quickly overwhelmed his momentary surge of adrenaline-fueled strength.
“You have a very devout guardian. I haven’t seen his kind awake in many decades,” Nico said softly. “He sleeps now, of course, but refuses to leave your side. He appeared on the balcony the night I brought you here.”
Jude found Skye curled up on the blankets by his side, secure in his stone sleep. Evan was going to kill him for letting Skye reveal himself like this. Jude moaned softly and ran a hand over Skye’s sleeping marble form.
“What have you done? Skye, protect yourself, you silly bird,” Jude mumbled.
“He’s in no danger here. He knows I’m no threat to him or you.”
“And why is that? Why do you welcome and care for a stranger with a pet gargoyle? For all you know, the Bishop’s Service is after me, and police officers from that division will soon be knocking on your door. You could be putting a price on your head by helping me.” Jude’s strength was gone; depression and helplessness flowed through him. He couldn’t fight anymore. He was beaten down, with no way to return to France, to his friends.
“That’s true, although the Church tries to avoid my kind as much as possible.” Nico chuckled.
“Well, that may not last long with me being here.” Jude hissed as he moved a hip and a searing pain shot through his back. Nico reached for Jude, helped him to arrange himself more comfortably, and held a glass of water with a bent straw so he could drink.
“Why would the Earth Elemental bestow one of its guardians on you?” Nico asked, cocking an eyebrow at Jude.
“How do you know about the Earth Elemental?” Jude tried to smile, but his cracked lips smarted, turning it into more of a grimace. Evan would cringe at anyone who referred to him as an Elemental, even though it was the truth.
“Word of the Elemental’s discovery has spread like wildfire. The paranormal community is a small one, but you also mumble in your sleep. The awakening of the gargoyles of Notre Dame was felt throughout the community by those sensitive to the ebb and flow of magic. A person with a gargoyle guardian is someone who could only be favored by the Elemental.”
Awakening gargoyles from their hibernation was just one of the powers Evan held as a Maker—which was his preferred title, if he was forced to acknowledge one. “The Earth Elemental… Evan… is my friend. I was given Skye before I met him. Later Evan gave me his blessing to keep the little gargoyle. We each had our calling to attend to and went our separate ways in France. He bid Skye and another, who I fear is lost, to watch over me. Or left me to watch over them, depending on how you look at it.”
“Gargoyles are hard to lose. I bet the other one shows up yet. It’s good to have strong friends.” Nico placed the water glass on the nightstand and picked Jude’s hand up again. Jude felt a bit uneasy, holding hands with Nico—it felt very intimate. But he also didn’t want to let go.
“Yes. Evan’s very strong.” Jude chuckled but ended up coughing more than laughing. “But Adel’s stronger.”
“I’m not safe to be around. Skye is the only one who’s safe for me to be near. I can’t hurt him—at least, I can’t hurt him when he sleeps.”
“That remains to be seen. Rest now. We can talk more later. When you wake, I’ll bring you something to eat.”
Jude hadn’t realized he was struggling to keep his eyes open. Somehow Nico’s voice made everything all right, even though he knew it wasn’t. Nico’s hand comforted him—he didn’t feel so alone. It might be okay to not be alone, at least for a little while.
HOURS LATER, Skye’s soft song awoke Jude. The little gryphon swayed to his own music as he crooned, his eyes closed. He gave a sharp chirp when he realized Jude was awake and began to purr and rub against him, eliciting a smile and a bit of a laugh. The room was dark other than the glow from the fireplace in the corner.
“Are you hungry?” Nico’s voice from the door startled Jude. A dark outline changed into Nico walking into the room. Jude realized from the rattle of china that he was carrying a dish-laden tray.
“I think I could eat.” Jude pushed himself up, stifling a groan as his arms and ribs protested the move, leaning against a multitude of pillows between his back and the black metalwork headboard for support.
Nico set the tray on the nightstand. “Here, let me help you.” He straightened the slipping pillows and carefully drew Jude back against them, then turned on a dim lamp next to the bed.
“Why?” Jude shook his head in confusion. After all the sleep, he was finally able to begin to think clearly and couldn’t figure out why this—admittedly, ruggedly handsome—man continued to help him.
“Why what?” Nico sat beside him on the edge of the bed. He pulled a napkin from the tray and tucked the edge into the neck of Jude’s T-shirt, his fingers lingering on Jude’s throat for a brief moment before picking up the tray and laying it across Jude’s lap.
“Why are you helping me?” Jude mumbled.
“Because you’re special.” Nico looked at the tray, not meeting Jude’s eyes. There was something else, something the man wasn’t telling him. But it wasn’t a good idea to force a gift horse, especially when you couldn’t move out of the way if it decided to give you a good swift kick in the ass.
“There’s nothing special about me.” Jude turned away from the smiling man, trying not to get angry at his host. It wasn’t his fault—he didn’t know Jude’s fire was volatile and at times uncontrollable.
“There is, but you don’t have to tell me. I don’t mind. I can wait until you trust me. I’m just glad I found you.” Nico pointed to a bowl of soup. “Now eat. You are way too thin. Do I need to feed him as well or will he hunt on his own?” Nico looked at the little gryphon curled against Jude’s side.
Jude watched a range of emotions flow through Nico’s eyes as he glanced at Skye—jealousy, anger, longing, need—none of which made any sense to him until those same eyes focused on Jude. Then he saw the desire and lust, a hunger aimed at him, burning brightly through them before they gave way to a more peaceful glow of compassion and kindness.
“Skye will hunt if he needs to, but he likes table scraps when he can get them. If you leave the window open during the night, he’ll come and go as he pleases.” Jude sipped at the chicken noodle soup hesitantly at first, but when the rich broth hit his stomach, it elicited a ravenous growl, and Jude inhaled the meal like the starving man he resembled.
“Where is your friend the Elemental, Evan? Does he know someone’s trying to kill you?” Nico seemed upset, but Jude wasn’t sure why.
“It’s been awhile since I last contacted him. He’s in France… or was. He is negotiating with the Vatican to stop the killing of the gargoyles and trying to ensure the attempts on his life stop as well. Evan wasn’t thrilled with the idea of going to Rome in the first place, and he refused to go without me. But the Pope insisted I return to Rome, and once there he assigned me to a new investigation. I had to return to the US. I haven’t had access to a computer to check on him since.” Jude pushed the tray back, feeling stuffed and lethargic. He was talking too much, giving away secrets like they were normal conversation to a pretty face—no, a gorgeous wet dream, drool-worthy, and totally masculine face. He just couldn’t seem to guard his tongue around this man. He felt too safe and content… something he couldn’t afford to feel.
“Okay, if you decide you want to try and contact him, you can use mine—when you’re better. Right now I’m just glad I’m able to help you.” Nico took the tray and set it on the nightstand. He scooted closer and picked up Jude’s hand. “Whether you contact your friend or not, I’ll be here to help you.”
“I-I’m sorry—I….” Jude stuttered, relaxing back into the pillows as his eyes began to lose focus, exhaustion once again pressing to the fore.
“Shh…. There’s nothing to be sorry for. You’re perfectly safe and you need to rest, mein feuer.” Nico brushed Jude’s hair back from his face and helped him ease down beneath the blankets.
“You don’t understand. By helping me… just by being here, I’ve put you in danger. There are people—the Bishop’s Service—” Jude rambled, trying to get his mind to focus. He wanted to warn Nico, but he wasn’t having any of it.
“Rest now. You can tell me later who’s after you. Nobody will touch you here. I won’t let them, mein feuer.” Nico stroked Jude’s face.
“What does that mean?” Jude mumbled as sleep began take him.
“Mein feuer?” Nico asked and Jude nodded, struggling to keep his eyes open.
Nico leaned in and nuzzled Jude’s cheek, drawing a deep breath, and he whispered in his ear, “My fire.”
“You have no idea….” Jude chuckled sarcastically. “No place is safe for me, Nico. No one’s safe around me. If I thought they could actually end it, I’d go to the Bishop’s Service myself, but all they can do is torture me as they try to kill me, and when that doesn’t work, they’ll use me against Evan.”
“Enough talk about killing. The Church can’t reach you here. They have no power over me, so there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“They have power over everyone. But they aren’t the only reason you aren’t safe. I’m a danger to you as well.” Jude sighed, his eyes closing against his will.
“No, not to me,” Nico assured him.
“I am—” Jude insisted.
“Just rest,” Nico whispered as Skye began to softly sing, lulling Jude back to sleep.
“Not safe,” Jude mumbled in his sleep.
Nico rubbed small soothing circles on the back of Jude’s hand. “Sleep. For now, just rest.”
“HE’S RIGHT, Nico. The Church won’t stop just because they fear us,” Doc said from the doorway. “There are those who they employ who are suicidal enough to go against us. If they attack in large enough numbers, they can overwhelm even you, big brother.”
“I know. But for now, he’s safe. He needs to rest and eat. He needs to get his strength back so I can tell him about us, and I can claim my mate. Right now, that’s my priority. I need to get him healthy, then we can deal with the rest.” Nico growled, turning to glare at Doc. Nico fought to control his natural urge to drop into a protective crouch between his brother and his mate.
“Easy, Nico. I’m not after your man,” Doc said softly, not moving an inch from the doorway.
“I know, little bro. It’s just he’s so weak, and I can’t claim him like I need to until he’s stronger. I can’t hurt him. My instincts are riding me hard.” With a last reluctant glance at Jude, Nico led the way out of the bedroom and into the living room, putting some space between his brother and his mate. Motioning for Doc to have a seat, Nico paced around the room.
“Are you sure he’s the one? I mean, humans are so fragile, and he may not survive if you were ever to lose control.” Doc sat on the loveseat across from the fireplace, then crossed his legs, and laced his hands together in his lap.
“Don’t you think I’ve thought of that! He’s been here all of four days. It’s insane, but—he calls to me. Everything about him pulls at me and it’s getting stronger every damn day.” Nico ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “The irony is he thinks he’s the dangerous one and will hurt me.” Nico dropped into a chair across from his brother. “It’s all I can do to just sit there, to be content holding his hand or helping him move about the bed. Every second I’m touching him, I have to be conscious and in control so I don’t burn him.” Nico struggled not to yell, knowing his little mate slept fitfully just down the hall.
“Okay, breathe, Nico. Calm down.”
“Yes—I know—I’m trying.” Nico met Doc’s eyes. “It’s just… you didn’t see the place where I found him.”
“So tell me.”
Nico rose again and strode to the tall glass french doors that led to the large stone balcony. He stared out into the night, not really seeing it. “It started when I was sitting on the balcony just after sundown. I’d been sipping coffee and considering going out for the night. I was about to leave when I saw the gargoyle flying around, over that tenement building that’s been smoldering. You remember the one—it had gone up in flames the day before and you accused me of causing the fire.” Nico half-smiled at his brother.
“I remember. It was a strange fire. According to the news, there were no accelerants and no explosives, yet the upper two floors of the building were blown clear off, while the rest simply smoldered but never really caught fire.” Doc frowned and tipped his head to the side in consideration.
Nico nodded. “The gargoyle was such a small one, and I figured he had to be pretty young and defenseless. I wondered what he was doing there by himself, just circling the building. I was afraid he’d attract attention to himself if he kept it up, so I went to see what the deal was and if I could keep him from revealing himself and being hunted.”
“Yeah, I’d probably have done the same.” Doc smiled at Skye, who’d followed them from Jude’s room and was now perched on the balcony, peering out into the night.
“So I get to the building, and even though it’s still kind of smoldering, it looks more like ground zero of some kind of explosion rather than a place that’s been set on fire. Even with the kind of power we put out, that place had its top blown off—the flames licking at the edges were secondary to the explosion.” Nico paced across the living room floor agitatedly.
“You know the newspaper quoted the fire marshal saying that whatever caused the explosion, the temperature was so high it basically vaporized the upper two floors, and there was hardly any rubble, just ash. But when the fire department arrived, it was only slightly smoldering and no major fires were found—the building was practically cool to the touch. They didn’t even go in because they were afraid the structure was too weak, and the building had been abandoned shortly after the war and was unused.”
Nico nodded. “That explains why they never found him.”
“Nico, with temps high enough to vaporize the upper floors, I’m sure they felt if anyone had been in the building they’d be dead.”
“I get that. It’s just really strange. I’d never seen anything like it.”
“So you get there, the place is ground zero… then what?” Doc prompted Nico to continue.
“I’m calling to the little guy, trying to get him to come down so I can bring him here to roost. I follow him up to the top floor, and that’s where I found Jude. He’s lying in one of the rooms on a pile of rubble and the gargoyle’s standing guard. The instant his scent hit me, I knew who he was.”
“So you just grabbed him and put him in the car and called me.” Doc laughed, putting a hand to his face. Nico felt his face warm as a blush colored his cheeks. Doc snorted his amusement, getting away from him as Nico tried to ignore his brother’s behavior.
“He’s so beautiful,” Nico spoke more to himself than Doc as he gazed off into space, picturing Jude lying in his bed.
“Nico, this is reality. He’s human. That makes him fragile and a liability.”
“He’s my mate, Nero!” Nico stood and, in two steps, was leaning over his brother, his arms braced on the back of the chair.
Doc put up his hands, palms out in a placating submissive gesture. “I know, Nico. Please—you know I hate it when you call me Nero. And get a breath mint, man—you forget to take care of yourself while worrying about him? Consider brushing your teeth.” He hissed in annoyance as Nico stood and stumbled a step or two away. “Look, if you intend to keep him, I’d say stock up on burn cream and really try to never ever lose control or you will kill him. Be ready—there will be those that may not accept a human into our world so easily.”
“I know,” Nico mumbled, dejectedly shaking his head. He turned to head back to his bedroom, paused at the door, and gazed in at his mate, sleeping in the oversized dark mahogany canopy bed. Nico returned to his mate’s side, Doc following him into the room. “You’re sure he’s just human? I mean, would Fate be that cruel to give me a mate who I can’t ever truly be with, a mate who can’t take the heat?”
“I’m sorry, Nico. His scent is purely human. Although… he does seem to run a little warmer in temperature than your average human, but he isn’t well and they run fevers to kill infection in their bodies. From what I can see, he’s all human.” Doc put a hand on his shoulder.