Warrior's Heart. A Two-Natured London Novel.

Chapter One

“Wake up, sleepyhead!” The cheerful command was followed by the swift removal of Jasper’s duvet, leaving him feeling cold and exposed in his nakedness. That didn’t stop him from shooting out of the bed and punching his brother Jeremy in the shoulder.

“Fuck off, Jem, you twat!” Jasper sat back down and rubbed his face to banish the last remains of his sleep.

“Now, now, Jas, is that any way to address your little brother?” Jeremy asked good-naturedly, not even massaging his shoulder, the show-off. Jasper had given it a good punch, but the idiot had deserved it. You didn’t wake a sleeping vampire and not pay for it. “It’s your night off, remember. You can’t spend it sleeping.”

“I can do what I bloody well want,” Jas growled, still annoyed at the interrupted sleep. “I’m over three and a half centuries old. I need my constitutional.”

Jeremy snorted. “Well, Papa Bear – or should I say bare,” he added with a grin, shooting a meaningful glance down at Jas’s naked torso, “those of us who aren’t quite that old are heading to Sudden Death, and you are coming with us.”

Jasper would have punched harder if he had known Jeremy was here on such errand. “Like hell I am.” Sudden Death was the most popular night club in London among the two-natured kind, vampires and shifters alike, but Jas was yet to see the appeal. Most warriors of the Crimson Circle went there regularly, but Jas had been there maybe twice during its existence, and hadn’t frequented any of the other joints that had enjoyed the warriors’ patronage before that club either. He didn’t get the attraction of loud music, overcrowded dance floors and rubbing shoulders with shifter pups and vampires barely out of their fulfilment. Now, get him into a pub – a proper English affair such as he remembered from his youth – with a pint of whatever was on tap, and he was happy.

“Can’t we go to the Crown instead?”

“Nope. Zach feels like dancing tonight,” Jem said, going to Jas’s wardrobe and pulling it open. While he rummaged through the contents – and good luck with that – Jas resigned himself to his fate. Zacharias Hamilton, the Second Son of Alexander Hamilton, Lord Foley, the leader of the Crimson Circle, loved Sudden Death, its atmosphere, its music, the dancing and the booze. But most of all, he loved the women and there were plenty of those to be had there. And they all loved him back. He was a force of nature when it came to partying so Jas might as well head to the shower.

“There’s nothing in your wardrobe but leather and jeans,” Jeremy complained.

“If I can’t go in jeans and a tee, I’m not going,” Jas said emphatically, closing the bathroom door behind him, but to no avail. Before he turned on the shower, he heard Jeremy say something about finding clothes from his own closet.

***

“Are you done primping yet?” Jeremy’s voice called through the bathroom door ten minutes later. With a grunt to the affirmative, Jasper finished drying himself. He shot a glance to the mirror to make sure his face was clean, the sum total of his preparations for the night. His gaze fell on the tattoo circling his right bicep, a thorn wreath inked in deep red, the mark of a full-fledged Circle warrior. He was proud of it. He had other tattoos too — his left shoulder and upper arm were covered in black tribal swirls — but on his right arm there was only this one.

Hanging the towel to dry, he turned his back to the mirror. He didn’t have to worry about shaving or having his hair fashionably coiffed. He kept stubble shadowing his chin and shaved his hair so short it was almost impossible to tell its colour. He scarcely remembered it himself, but it had to be dark brown, if his eyebrows and chest hair were any indicators. He had looked the same for centuries, long before it became fashionable among human males to shave their heads more diligently than their faces when they wanted to conceal their receding hairlines or look tough. He saw no reason to change.

Jasper wasn’t exactly balding — he was a vampire after all — but his hairline had begun to recede before his promise was fulfilled when he was twenty-nine. Using Might, the energy surrounding all living that only the two-natured races were able to access, he had been able to correct some minor details. He had reset his nose he had broken as a lad and again as a soldier for the king, but it hadn’t seemed important to make his hair grow back. Just as he hadn’t seen a point in removing the thick scar that ran horizontally across the right side of his head above the ear. It was a memento from the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 when a Highlander had tried to take the top of his head off with his claymore.

It had been a killing blow; the only reason Jas was alive today was Foley. He had found Jas after the battle, lying bloodied and dying on the field, and had saved his life with his ability to heal. Then he had moved Jas to his own camp, the vampire division of the troops fighting for William of Orange.

Saving his human life hadn’t been the only thing Foley had done for him. He had told Jas that he had promise in him — the vampire variation of the two-natured gene, as modern science called it — and had offered to fulfil it — trigger it so that Jas would become vampire instead of remaining human. Jas hadn’t hesitated. There may not have been any vampires in the village where he grew up, and he hadn’t encountered many during his career as a soldier either, but the near-death experience had convinced him that there were great advantages to being a vampire. He had even asked Foley to test Jem for the promise. Together, the brothers had been made vampires and they had pledged their allegiance to Foley and the Crimson Circle.

With their newly acquired vampire handicap of being unable to operate in daylight for the first century or two, they couldn’t have continued as soldiers for the crown anyway. But the Circle more than made up for the loss of profession, offering them plenty of chances to fight during the night. Moreover, the brothers had proven to be strong in Might despite being human-born. It had taken them less than a century to win the sun, opening a way for them to become full-fledged Circle warriors.

Jas exited the bathroom in his birthday suit and shot a disgusted glance at Jem who was standing right outside. “What’s the rush, little brother?” Jasper was three years older than Jeremy and he liked to bring it up every now and then. Or, you know, like every day.

Jas actually liked having Jem around, even on evenings when he was being more annoying than normal. He was the only family he had left, including the progeny of their human siblings; the last one of those had died about a century ago. They had their warrior brothers of course, but it wasn’t the same as having one’s blood relations around.

That didn’t mean they always had to be nice to each other though.

Jas’s glowering made Jem only grin wider. The bastard was enjoying this. He was holding a black silk shirt from a hanger and he pushed it towards Jas. “You can wear this.”

The shirt wasn’t much different from those which men had worn in Jas’s youth, but times had changed. “No way am I wearing that. I’ll look like a sad, clueless rocker, especially if I wear it with leather jeans.”

“So wear denim instead. Or, you know, proper trousers. I’m sure there’s a pair somewhere in your wardrobe.” Jem himself was wearing black suit trousers and a white dress shirt with its top buttons open and sleeves rolled up to the elbows so that some chest hair and muscular, sinewy arms were showing. He was even wearing shiny leather shoes.

They looked much alike, but Jeremy had always taken greater interest in his looks. His full, dark brown hair didn’t show signs of receding, and he had shaved carefully so that his strong angular jaw, much like Jas’s own, was perfectly visible instead of hiding behind the stubble. Prominent nose — magically mended like Jas’s — stark brows and puppy brown eyes that always regarded the world with enjoyment made him look if not handsome then manly. Jas wasn’t sure the same could be said about him. And the only thing he truly enjoyed was fighting.

Grumpy old bear, Jem always called him, and he was probably right.

Since Jas had already pulled the leather jeans on, he wasn’t about to change. “Jeans don’t go so well with kickers.”

Jem rolled his eyes. “Then put on trainers.”

Jas wasn’t sure what was considered appropriate footwear for a nightclub and he didn’t really care. “Just give me the bloody shirt.”

He snatched the shirt from Jeremy and put it on. At least it wasn’t one of those pseudo-historical shirts with ruffles and billowing sleeves and only strings with which to tie it closed at the throat that were so popular among human men who pretended to be vampires. What was with that shit anyway? They never got it right.

The shirt was rather close fitted and it didn’t hang all the way to his knees like the shirts of his youth; in modern eyes, it would have made the shirt look like a dress. It didn’t look half bad, actually. Of course, tight as it was, he wouldn’t be able to flex his biceps for fear of tearing the fabric. Or lift his arms up even.

“Leave the top buttons open,” Jeremy instructed him. “And don’t tuck it in.” Sighing in annoyance, Jas stopped what he was doing, leaving the shirt tails hanging loose.

“Let’s just go so we can get this over with.” And even though he wanted to put on his combat boots, he took out a pair of black trainers and wore them instead. Who cared whether they suited the outfit or not. He contemplated putting on a long leather coat too, to ward off the late February chill, but they were driving and the coat would be a nuisance inside the club. He was a vampire; he could handle a bit of cold.

They met the rest of their group in the grand hall of the Crimson Manor, a rambling Elizabethan building Foley had built at the end of the sixteenth century to replace the earlier medieval castle the Circle had called their home. The place was large, opulent, and thanks to modern refurbishing, very comfortable. Jas remembered when times were different.

The grand hall was made to impress anyone entering the place for the first time: it was huge, with dark oak wainscoting, a high painted ceiling, stone floor, and gilded leather tapestry. Long hallways led to three wings of the manor and a grand staircase to upper floors. In the enormous fireplace on one wall a fire was always lit and the warriors gathered around it when they were on their way out or returning home.

Of the two men waiting for the brothers, Zach Hamilton was more striking. He was over six and half feet tall with a body full of lean, well-defined muscles. He resembled his father in size and colours, and like him was also so handsome as to be beautiful. In addition, Zach had his mother’s curling hair, deep dimples and laughing blue eyes that made him look like a fallen angel, mischievous and deadly.

“Look who deigned to join us,” Zach hailed Jasper with a grin when the brothers reached the fireplace. “I feared I’d have to come and fetch you myself.”

Jas greeted Jem’s patrol partner with a grunt, feeling that Zach’s comment didn’t deserve stronger acknowledgement. Zach was dressed in his usual party gear — something tight-fitting to emphasize his body — as if it mattered what he was wearing. He could dress in a hessian sack and the ladies would still fall in his feet.

Not that Jas cared. He hadn’t tried to make ladies swoon in more years than he cared to count. Not since Gwendolyn.

“Do I have to go without breakfast?”

“Hey, if you’d gotten up with the rest of the house, you’d have had your breakfast,” Nicholas Fortier, Jas’s patrol partner and the fourth man of their group, pointed out. Nick was a century younger than Jas, but he was vampire-born and thus strong in Might. He was slightly bigger than Jas as a result of his purer blood, but not as huge as Alexander’s progeny. He had russet hair that was always cut in the latest fashion, and blue eyes that had retained their innocent look despite centuries of fighting for the Circle; the man himself was far from innocent. They got along well even though Nick was more sociable than Jas. They balanced each other out.

“It’s my night off!” Didn’t anybody bloody respect that anymore?

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. We’ll stop to buy you something on the way,” Zach promised.

By the door, the warriors on duty that night were preparing to head out, led by Gabriel Hamilton, Foley’s First Son. While not much bigger than the more leanly built Zach and Alexander, he was huge compared to most of the warriors, at least six foot eight tall and carrying over three hundred pounds of muscle and heavyset bones. Dressed in the customary fighting gear of the Circle warriors, a sleeveless leather jerkin — Kevlar-lined these days — soft leather jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt and combat boots, he looked frightening, even with the Hamilton handicap of an overly handsome face. Gabe compensated for his looks with long black hair bound in a tight queue in the style of warriors past, and cold, black eyes.

Jas didn’t have the mass of his leader, who could claim vampire blood in his ancestry going back for generations. He was a shorter five foot eleven tall and weighed less than 250 pounds, but that had made him a huge man back when he was still human. Well, he hadn’t had that kind of bulk back then, not with the food they ate when he was growing up. Nowadays, with a solid protein intake and steady workout regimen, not to mention the benefits of having had his promise fulfilled, he didn’t look half bad. And he was a good warrior.

He wished he was heading out on a patrol too. Five teams of four warriors were heading to London, namely to the City, the square mile at the heart of the town with its swarming businesses that kept the country running during the day. During the night, something else did the running.

Renegade vampires had begun to show up some three centuries ago, targeting proper vampires, but the Sentient War raging among the two-natured races had prevented the Circle from tackling the issue in its infancy. It had allowed the dissidence to grow, and renegades were a menace now.

Jas didn’t know why their enemy chose to hang out in the City. London was a huge place — had been larger than the City’s walls already three centuries ago — yet the square mile of the City was where the Circle warriors patrolled and with good results too. It was as if renegades were tethered to the place.

As the last of the warriors disappeared through the door, Jas sighed. “Let’s go then. I’m driving.” The faster they got to the club, the faster he could get home.

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