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Shadow's End

(The ninth book in the Elder Races series)

A novel by Thea Harrison

ONE

With one blunt forefinger, Graydon tapped out a text on his smartphone.

We can’t put off meeting any longer. I can’t explain why in a text, but we’re running out of time. I need . . .

He paused as an onslaught of emotion cascaded through him.

I need to see you.

I need to touch your cheek, clasp your hand.

I need to look into your eyes, your beautiful eyes.

I need to know the precious light inside you has not died.

That was when the vision hit him.

He was used to having visions. He’d had them his entire, very long life. The Gaelic had many words and terms for such a thing. An Da Shealladh or “the two sights” was one of the most famous of them.

When he was tired to the point of distraction, or hungry to the point of feeling hollow, he saw images of places he had not yet seen or things he had not yet done, and he knew he would see those places, and he would do those things. Eventually.

The vision rolled over him as inescapably as if he had plunged into a vast ocean and water had closed over his head.

Over the last two hundred years, the scene had become familiar. He had seen it so many times. It held a scent of danger, smoky like gunpowder and sharp as a stiletto.

White, like snow, blanketed the ground near a dark, tempestuous shore. The white was broken by rocks as black as midnight. Nearby, a behemoth of a building crouched atop a sprawling bluff like a huge predator. When he looked down, he saw bright scarlet blooming on the white ground, like roses opening to the sun.

Only the scarlet wasn’t flowers, but blood.

His blood, dripping between his fingers.

“Uncle Gray?”

The boy’s voice penetrated the images, and the vision snapped.

It didn’t fully dissipate but lingered at the edge of his mind, ready to surge back the moment he became too tired, hungry or careless.

Frustrated, he shoved it aside through sheer force of will. He was on the clock and didn’t have time for this shit. He didn’t care if the vision returned later, just as long as he could focus on his real surroundings for now. He could wrestle with his inner demons when he was on his own time.

As he fought to clear his head, a solid, prosaic reality settled into place around him.

He wore combat boots, jeans and a leather jacket, and he had an assault rifle slung over one shoulder. Beside him stood a young, curious dragon in human form.

Graydon’s assault rifle was a just-in-case accessory, since the most important duty he had that night was watching the boy. If something outlandish did occur, any action he took would be purely defensive.

They stood at the top of Cuelebre Tower at night. The Tower was in the heart of the Wyr demesne, eighty stories of financial and political dominance stamped onto the New York landscape. The air felt frigid and bracing, and fluffy white snowflakes were beginning to drift and eddy on a fitful breeze.

No other building in the immediate vicinity was as tall as Cuelebre Tower. Some people claimed that was the hubris of Dragos Cuelebre, the Lord of the Wyr, multibillionaire and head of Cuelebre Enterprises.

Along with the other six sentinels, Graydon knew better. While Dragos had pride enough in spades, the relative height of his Tower didn’t have anything to do with it.

Between avian Wyr and the occasional helicopter, the Tower rooftop saw a lot of traffic. Dragos’s decision to bribe the city council into keeping the surrounding buildings shorter had been based on security considerations, pure and simple.

As Liam Cuelebre, Dragos’s son and Prince of the Wyr, stared up at Graydon, he realized he hadn’t responded to the boy. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, what is it, sport?”

The wind ruffled Liam’s dark blond hair. His wide, dark violet gaze was so like his mother’s. “Is everything okay?”

Graydon had been standing frozen for too long, and while Liam might appear to be a sunny-natured, ordinary boy, he had been born a mere nine months ago and there was nothing ordinary about him.

Physically he appeared to be a tall, handsome twelve-year-old, but that was the result of the Powerful dragon in him straining to become fully grown.

In his human form, Liam was bigger and stronger than any normal twelve-year-old. In his Wyr form, his dragon was already twice the size of any of the gryphons—and the gryphons were some of the largest Wyr in the world. Graydon’s Wyr form was easily the size of an SUV, a massive, muscled blend of eagle and lion.

In terms of sheer strength, Liam could also overpower any of the sentinels, although that didn’t mean the boy could take any of them in a fight, since the sentinels had age, cunning and experience on their side. Not that any of them fought Liam in anything other than a carefully controlled training exercise.

Intellectually, the boy’s reading was at college level, his math skills were off the charts, and the gods only knew how good his truthsense was, or any of his other senses, for that matter. Sweet-natured as he was, much of him remained a mystery.

So Graydon ruffled Liam’s hair affectionately and told him a version of the truth. “Sorry, I got lost in thought. Everything’s as normal as can be. Wanna listen in for a minute?”

The boy’s gaze sparked with interest. “Sure.”

Graydon said into his mic, “Watch your language, folks. I’m putting a guest on the line for a few minutes.”

Even though the security detail’s channel was encrypted, hackers were a constant concern, and nobody used real names over the comm link. Still, everyone knew the identity of Graydon’s visitor.

Alexander, the pegasus, was the other sentinel on duty that night. His rich, warm voice came down the comm link. He sounded amused. “Roger that.”

Graydon removed his headset and handed it to Liam. “If you just hold it up to your ear, I’ll be able to hear it too.”

His eyes wide with fascination, Liam nodded. He held the headset up to listen to the security detail.

Propping one booted foot on a railing, Graydon crossed his arms over his knee and surveyed the surrounding area as events unfolded like clockwork. He nodded to himself in satisfaction. He liked an evening that held no surprises.

All the rooftops of the neighboring buildings had been checked and cleared, and the last team member had settled into place. Eighty stories below, on the ground, a crowd of paparazzi had formed along the sidewalk that bordered the front steps of the Tower. Legally, the sidewalk was as close to Cuelebre Towers as the paparazzi were allowed to get without an express invitation to a press conference.

Graydon’s smartphone buzzed in the front pocket of his jeans, a short vibration that indicated he had received a text message or an email. He ignored it for the moment, as he gave the rooftops of the surrounding buildings one last, narrow-eyed check.

Three blocks away a sleek, black limousine turned a corner. Dragos and Pia were arriving right on time. The limo pulled to a smooth stop at the front steps of the Tower.

Hugh, a gargoyle Wyr who alternated between acting as Liam’s bodyguard and a member of Pia’s personal security team, stepped forward to open the rear door. Bending slightly, he held out a hand in invitation.

Slender female fingers grasped Hugh’s. Graydon might be eighty stories away, but his sharp gryphon’s eyes picked up the brilliant flash of diamond on the woman’s ring finger.

First Pia’s long slender legs emerged, then the woman herself appeared as she climbed out of the car, her gleaming pale blond hair piled high on her head. She wore a silver sequined dress and a luxurious-looking white faux fur stole, and she shone like a slender pillar of white fire in the night.

Immediately following Pia’s exit, her husband Dragos poured out of the limo, nearly seven feet tall and three hundred pounds of hard, muscled male, the most lethal Wyr predator in the world.

The white shirt of his tux emphasized his dark bronze skin, straight black hair and piercing gold eyes. Several of the paparazzi took a step back, their instincts telling them that danger walked in their midst. They were the smart ones of the bunch.

Their instinctive caution didn’t stop them from doing their jobs. Lights exploded from cameras all around the couple, and Dragos turned his face away. His expression looked hard and bored. He hated having his picture taken.

Pia and Dragos climbed the steps and disappeared from Graydon’s sight as they stepped into the building. The paparazzi’s attention splintered. Individuals wandered in different directions, several talking on cell phones. With a near silent, collective sigh, the security detail outside relaxed.

Alexander said, “Stand down. That’s a wrap for the night.”

Graydon held out his hand for the headset, and Liam handed it over.

“Nice work, everybody,” Graydon said into the mic. “The kitchen will be serving a late supper for the next hour. Chef said there would be prime rib in the cafeteria for people who pulled security duty tonight.”

A flurry of good nights came down the link.

Liam grinned at him. “One of these days I’m gonna be on one of those details.”

“Yeah?” Graydon returned his grin. “One of these days, you might be leading one.”

“Cool.” Liam fell into step beside him as he strode across the rooftop, heading ...