Cover Art by Brittany Chavez and Steele Walston




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Valor

A Greystone Novel

Book One

Smashwords Edition


ISBN 9780983707820

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Copyright 2011 Taylor Longford

http://www.taylorlongford.com/


Cover Art by Brittany Chavez and Steele Walston


Electronic Book Publication June 2011


This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Taylor Longford.


Warning: Any unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission.


This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The names, characters, places and incidents are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.


VALOR


A GREYSTONE NOVEL


Book One


by

Taylor Longford


Dedication

For Star


Trademarks

Hallmark: Hallmark Licensing Inc.

Jedi Knights: Lucas Licensing Ltd.

Jeep Cherokee: CHRYSLER LLC LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY

M&M’s: Mars, Incorporated CORPORATION

Monty Python: Python (Monty) Pictures Ltd.

Subaru: Fuji Jukogyo Kabushiki Kaisha TA Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.

Top Gear: The British Broadcasting Corporation


Table of Contents


Valor's Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Epilogue

About The Author


Valor’s Prologue


The first thing you should know about gargoyles is that we’re incredibly patient. But you might have already guessed that.

Perhaps less obvious is the fact that our hearing is exceptional. Which is probably a good thing when you consider how long we were stuck between those walls in York. Because, although we couldn’t see anything except for the pile of gray stones we were facing, at least we could hear. So by the time we were finally unearthed, we weren’t entirely lost in the twenty-first century. We’d been able to keep up with the times by listening to the various occupants who had come and gone over the hundreds of years we were trapped in the house built against the old Roman walls.

After the printing press started churning out books and newspapers, reading aloud became a relatively common pastime and helped to keep us informed. Eventually, the radio was invented, which hugely expanded our knowledge of the world as well as sports. And it didn’t seem too long after that that the television came along, although I think we all preferred the radio. The radio just seemed more articulate.

In addition to excellent hearing, gargoyles have extraordinarily good instincts. We can tell if someone is good or bad just by getting close to them. Don’t ask me to explain how it works; I can’t. But we can sense good and evil just like we can sense cold and heat. As a result, we’re quick to make friends and we don’t waste any time making enemies.

Finally, you might like to know that gargoyles are territorial by nature. We look after our own and are driven by instinct to protect the home and hearth and the people we consider to be our family and friends. So, it’s hardly surprising that when I found myself face-to-face with a girl of approximately my own age for the first time in eight hundred years, my first instinct was to protect her.

But let me go back to the beginning.

And let me make it clear that it was all Havoc’s fault.

We were trying to avoid a particularly nasty gang of harpies. It was late afternoon and they’d run us to ground in front of the old Roman wall. I was for attacking and taking our chances. So was Dare and most of the pack. But Havoc convinced us to make the change—to take on our stone forms—arguing that the harpies could do us no harm as long as we were solid stone. He thought it would be funny as hell to see the harpies’ faces when they realized they couldn’t have us and couldn’t hurt us. Havoc has always had a warped sense of humor.

Unfortunately, harpies have a sense of humor as well.

They thought it would be equally hilarious to imprison us far from the sun’s rays and leave us there to rot. At least I think that’s the term they used. ‘Course we weren’t going to rot or even erode. Instead we were going to wait for as long as it took the sun to find us again. And I can tell you it was a damn long wait.

Harpies are as ugly as sin, which is probably being unkind to sin. What could I possibly say about harpies that wouldn’t make you hate them the way I do? Okay. They make adequate mothers, tending their young until they fly at the age of five. But it’s a wonder they ever have any young, when you take their looks into consideration.

At any rate, there was a small, deserted croft built against the Roman wall and we ducked inside so no humans would witness our transformation. As the afternoon sunlight slanted through the hut’s small windows, we used its energy to make the change to stone. The harpies were right on our heels. They walled us in using large blocks of gray rock while chuckling the whole time, as if it was the best time they’d ever had in their lives. Then the wicked creatures left us there.

We realized we were probably going to be trapped in our stone forms until the walls crumbled down around us but, as I mentioned, gargoyles are patient. We knew one day those walls would crumble. And when the sunlight finally speared through a weathered crack and fell on us, we’d come to life ready to start up where we’d left off. The waiting would suck but, on the upside, we figured there was a good chance the harpy race would die out while we were waiting…and we’d be free to live out our lives in peace.

As the centuries passed, the croft changed hands many times. Although we couldn’t see anything while we were trapped between the walls, it was clear the original hut experienced many renovations and additions. Rarely did we hear mention of harpies anymore, or gargoyles for that matter. Although we’d occasionally hear vague references to them on the television, they no longer seemed to be a part of everyday life. Instead, they seemed to have been assigned to some hazy past that smacked of myth and legend.

Then the quiet man came. He was probably only quiet because he was alone and had no one to talk to. But it was clear he was doing something to our house. We could hear him stripping away parts of the building. The creaks and cracks reverberated through the walls and we assumed the house was going through another renovation.

Fortunately, he left the television on whenever he was home and he was home most of the time, so we were glad to have him. Eventually, he worked his way to the back of the house where he did something none of the previous residents had ever done. He tapped on the stone wall that stood between us and the sun’s light.


Chapter One


It was five days before Halloween and I’d gotten my driver’s license exactly one week earlier. We had the day off school and I’d made plans to hang out with my friends, Whitney and Mim. That was before the step-Greg called and told me about an important shipment he’d sent to the house. He wanted to be sure there was someone home when the delivery was made. Since my mom had just left for California, it meant I had to hang around to make sure the packages arrived safe and sound.

More than slightly annoyed, I sat on the hood of my green Jeep Cherokee inside the garage. The doors were open and I looked out on the pine forest that surrounded my home in the foothills outside Denver. The morning was sunny and mild but that wasn’t too unusual for October.

Hooligan had followed me out of the house but wasted no time galloping off into the woods to harass the local rabbit population. Hooligan’s my Irish wolfhound. Not that he looks like a wolf; he’s not nearly that good looking. Picture a greyhound on steroids having a bad hair day and you’ll have a good idea of what Hooli looks like. Wolfhounds aren’t the most handsome breed of dog, just the biggest. They’re huge. They’re tall and lanky and supposedly can bring down a deer when they want to. Thankfully, Hooligan likes his dinner in a bowl so the deer that visit our three acres come and go in peace.

My mom got Hooligan for me two years ago when he was a puppy. He was supposed to protect me when she was out of town on business. I figured he made an adequate guard dog. He liked Mim and Whitney, was wary of most males and hated the neighbor in particular. That made him a good judge of character in my book.

My phone vibrated inside the pocket of my hoodie and I pulled it out. I answered a text from Mim and spent some time browsing through cheap apps for my phone. After downloading the latest free game, I bought a travel app that tracks the location of your phone and shows its position on a map. When I started the app, it displayed a map of the town I live in. A round, red target symbol flashed at the approximate location of my house.

I figured the program would come in handy for the trip to Portland Mim and I were planning when school got out for the summer. Not that I thought we’d actually be allowed to go, but sometimes you just have to plan for the best.

I was supposed to call Greg the moment his shipment arrived, regardless of the hour. I glanced at my watch. Ten o’clock in Colorado made it five o’clock in England. I couldn’t help but wish I were in England. If I were, I’d have taken a train to Oxford to see my cousins.

The sound of a chainsaw snarling to life put my teeth on edge. The neighbor had started cutting trees a few weeks ago. At first, my mom and I assumed he was just thinning the forest around his house. My biology teacher, Mr. Kincaid, figured the forest around Pine Grove could do with some serious thinning. But it soon became obvious that the neighbor planned to remove all the trees on his lot. He’d started at his back door and had taken down every single tree that stood between his house and our property line. Then he moved downhill.

I gritted my teeth. If the next-door tree-slayer had wanted a damn lawn, why hadn’t he bought a home in the city?

It wasn’t the revving of the chainsaw that bothered me; it was the sound of the wood ripping as the trees fell. I’m not a tree hugger or anything. Mr. K. is one of my favorite teachers and if he says two out of three trees around my home need to go, I’m good with that. But clear cutting three acres for no apparent reason just seemed like wholesale murder to me.

A stiff breeze growled through the branches of the lodgepole pines. The forest sounded angry. Or at least damn irritated.

A blue and white delivery van bounced up the long, steep driveway toward the house and I checked to make sure all of my hair was tucked into my blue slouch cap, just in case the driver happened to be cute. My hair is red. Dark red and thick. Thankfully, my eyebrows and lashes are darker and tamer. But trying to get a comb through my hair is like trying plow a field of scrub oak. Mim knitted the cap for my birthday and I wear it all the time. It’s easier than trying to make my hair behave.

The driver was disappointingly middle aged. The shorts were a bad fashion choice for a man with his knees. Maybe he thought his designer sunglasses balanced the look he had going. Sadly, the glasses fell a bit short of getting the job done.

I left my phone on the Jeep’s hood and got to my feet while the driver strolled around the side of his vehicle and opened the rear doors. “No school today?” he asked, his jaw working around a big wad of pink gum.

Four day weekend,” I answered. “We’re off Monday as well.”

Must be nice,” he grunted. He used a dolly to move a tall wooden crate inside the empty garage bay where my mother normally parks her car. “I gotta get me a job as a teacher.”

The teachers don’t get any time off. Friday and Monday are in-service days.”

Then I gotta get me a job as a student,” he chuckled as if he found himself extremely entertaining.

Where are the others?” I asked, eyeing the van’s interior through the open doors.

He stopped chewing his gum long enough to ask, “Others?”

My stepfather told me to expect three crates.”

He checked his electronic clipboard and shrugged. “He must have sent them in separate shipments. Maybe the other two will make it tomorrow.”

I lifted my chin in a slight nod. I hoped Greg didn’t expect me to wait at home again tomorrow.

I didn’t like Greg despite his charm and charisma, which he laid on thick for my mother but spread a little more thinly for me. I didn’t approve of his questionable business practices. There were rules and regulations set in place for the removal of antiquities from the UK and Greg didn’t appear to follow any of them. My mother didn’t seem to realize what was going on; she was too busy with her job.

I signed the driver’s electronic clipboard.

Name?” he asked without looking at my signature.

MacKenzie,” I answered. My handwriting wasn’t that bad; he could have taken a look and figured it out.

Last name,” he corrected me.

Campbell.”

The driver returned to the van, backed up and steered the vehicle down the driveway, leaving me alone with the wooden packing crate. Wondering what national treasure Greg had deprived the British of this time, I headed for the giant red tool chest at the far end of the garage.

Technically, the tool chest belonged to my father but he didn’t have room for it in his garage in Denver. So after the divorce, he left it behind with us. The thing was massive and almost as tall as me. I love my dad but he tends to overdo everything. He can’t do anything small. It always has to be big.

I pulled out several drawers before I found a claw-foot hammer. With my hand wrapped around the hammer’s red handle, I returned to the wooden crate.

Because the crate was so tall, each side was made up of two square wooden panels. I inserted the tapered end of the claw foot beneath one of the top panels and pried the side open a half-inch, then worked my way down its length. When I was done there, I grabbed a step stool from a hook on the garage wall and worked on the top of the panel then moved to the other side and pried away. Finished with the stepstool, I shoved it out of the way with my foot. Before I could work on the bottom of the panel, however, the entire square of wood came loose from the crate. I yelped as it smacked the garage floor with a sharp bang.

A sigh of relief rushed from my chest when I realized nothing was broken.

I eyed the contents of the crate. Although swathed in several layers of bubble wrap, it appeared to be some kind of stone sculpture. Bubble wrap! I could have killed the step-person for transporting it so carelessly. And I didn’t even know what it was yet! But whatever it was, it was bound to be valuable or Greg wouldn’t have…appropriated it. And, considering how anxious he was about its safe delivery, it was probably something quite a bit more valuable than usual. Hopefully it wasn’t anything as important as a winged victory or a venus de milo, nothing that would send the International Police breathing down our necks.

Stretching my arms upward, I tugged the plastic bubble wrap apart along a seam, reached inside to the next layer and pulled that apart as well. With a sharp gasp on my lips, I took a swift step backward.

And stared.

I was looking at a statue of a young male. From beneath the shadow of a sharply jutting brow, two eyes gazed intently out at me. Several strands of hair fell across his left eye and I couldn’t help but marvel at the skill required to chisel the impossibly slender strands out of solid rock. Looking closer, I saw that each eyelash was carved with the same incredible precision—out of the smoothest gray stone I’d ever set eyes on.

If my mom had been there, she could have told me what kind of stone had been used to create the amazing sculpture. She’s a geological engineer and she knows her rocks. But it would have been hard to grow up in my home without the occasional geology lesson, and the fine-grained stone looked like a flint or chalcedony to me.

At that point, I’d pulled away enough bubble wrap to expose the statue’s upper body. His shoulders were wide and stretched with muscle, his arms cut with a lean strength unlike anything I’d ever seen on any of the jocks at school. It didn’t look like the sort of physique that had been developed through long hours in the weight room. Instead, it looked like the sort of raw power that was earned from a hard life full of physical demand. His arms were crossed over his chest and he wore a slight scowl on his face, the intensity of his gaze making me feel like he was watching me.

A shiver traveled down my spine but it wasn’t because I was creeped out. It was more like a shiver of excitement, like the way you feel when you know something good is about to happen—like a Christmas morning feeling or a first kiss feeling. Not that I’d ever been kissed but you get what I mean. With a soft snort, I shook off the strange sensation and returned my attention to the job at hand.

After I’d worked more of the bubble wrap away from the statue’s shoulders, I could see the beginning of wings spreading out behind him. Apparently, the sculpture was some kind of angel, though probably the avenging sort if his expression was anything to go by. But his wings weren’t feathered or shaped like the sort of wings normally associated with angels. Instead they were like the wings of a bat, with flat spans of thin stone stretched between narrow spines.

He was magnificent, though. And not only as a work of art. I’d thought the yearbook editor, Josh Saxon, was good looking. But Josh had nothing on this guy. I’d never seen a more beautiful creature in my lifetime. With my finger, I traced a vein that tracked the length of his forearm then reached up to the delicately carved strands of hair that fell across his face. For some reason, I felt compelled to brush them out of his eyes. Satisfied that the strands were indeed stone, and they weren’t going to budge in this lifetime, I stepped back with my hands on my hips and raked my gaze over the fabulous sculpture.

I didn’t know how old the sculpture was but I’d have given anything to travel back to the time when guys looked like he did. “They don’t make guys like you anymore,” I murmured, and lifted my face to meet his stern gaze.

It was dark inside the windowless garage, even with the lights on, and I wanted a better look at Greg’s stolen treasure, so I put my hip against the crate and tried to angle the opened side toward the sun. The box was heavy and it didn’t budge much.

Hooligan reappeared and took an unexpected interest in the sculpture. He lifted his front paws to its shoulders and looked it in the eye before giving a soft bark. I was surprised. Hooli’s usually pretty dignified. He doesn’t like to do anything that makes him look silly.

Out of the way, boy,” I said, ready to start work on the bottom panel. I didn’t make much headway this time; the nails seemed determined to hang on, so I headed back to the tool chest for something a little more substantial. I was pretty sure I’d seen a crowbar in one of the drawers before. Naturally, it was in the last drawer I pulled out, which just happened to be the top one.

Unfortunately, as I reached for the heavy bar of metal, the tool chest tilted toward me. Too late, I realized I shouldn’t have pulled out all the drawers; the chest had overbalanced. I tried to back peddle out of harm’s way but wasn’t fast enough. The chest crashed down on me, taking me to the floor. My head hit the concrete so hard I’m surprised I didn’t crack my skull. I was probably only saved from permanent brain damage by the thick wad of hair stuffed into my knitted hat.

Have you ever tried to get out from under two tons of red tool chest? In case you’re wondering, it can’t be done. After like a dozen attempts to free myself, I started to panic. All ten of the open drawers had slammed into me as I fell and I hurt in too many places to count. My ribs ached horribly but my main concern was my right ankle. It felt like the bones were going to snap unless I got out from under the weight of the chest. I needed help but I’d left my phone on the hood of my car.

Hooligan licked my face, his troubled whine telling me that I had his full sympathy, for all the good that would do me. He turned and barked at the crate that held the statue. “Don’t bark at the damn statue,” I moaned. “Get the phone, Hooligan.”

He looked at me and tilted his head inquiringly.

The phone Hooligan! It’s on my car.”

He turned and barked at the crate again.

Clearly, Hooligan didn’t have much potential as a rescue dog. I lay there panting, trapped against the chilly concrete, trying to come up with a plan. I figured Mim might eventually wonder why I wasn’t answering her calls and text messages, but she didn’t have a car so she couldn’t just run over to check on me. My mother wouldn’t be home for ten days, but she’d probably send somebody to the house when she couldn’t reach me on the phone later tonight. I just hoped she’d try Whitney or Mim first, before she called the police because the incident would probably be reported in the local newspaper. And everyone at school reads the “police calls” column when they want a good laugh.

The prospect was just too horrifying to even think about.

Although it hurt to breathe, I wasn’t going to suffocate before help arrived—but by the time it did, my ankle might be broken. When the sun went down, the temperatures might drop and hypothermia wasn’t out of the question despite the fact that we were having a mild October. Of course, I might be able to count on Hooligan to stay close and keep me warm. On the other hand, if he got hungry he might be forced to eat me.

With another troubled whine, he licked my face and wagged his tail. Okay, I was overreacting. Hooligan wasn’t gonna eat me.

Other than the tree-slayer next door, the nearest neighbor was about four acres away and wasn’t likely to hear my screams for help. Tree-slayer would probably hear me if I waited for a pause in the chain sawing, but the thought of having to deal with him made my skin crawl.

Trying for calm, I looked around. The tools had fallen from the chest and were scattered across the concrete floor of the garage, the crowbar just out of reach. It was a fairly long piece of metal. If I could jam it between the floor and the tool chest…

I strained my hand toward the crowbar and tried to get my fingers around it. No luck. I found the claw foot hammer beside my shoulder and tried to use it to drag the crowbar closer. But I couldn’t reach the curved end of the crowbar and all I managed to do was slide the straight end around on the floor.

With a groan, I stopped struggling and tried to decide what to attempt next. When the distant snarl of the chain saw puttered to a stop, I knew it was my best chance to call for help. Still, I hesitated, tears of pain and frustration wetting my eyelashes.

Hooligan lifted his huge head and barked again, then gave up his vigil at my side and loped off toward the front of the garage.

With my hand wrapped around the hammer’s red handle, I prayed for help and hesitated a little longer. Eventually, I took a deep breath and got ready to shout.

Hang on,” growled a young male voice. “I’ve got you.”

A large hand caught the upper edge of the tool chest. Then the chest was back on its wheels. It bounced a little and traveled a few feet before coming to a halt. Strong hands gripped my waist and lifted me to my feet but I couldn’t see my rescuer’s face because my knitted hat had slipped forward, blocking my vision. Reaching up, I shoved the hat back…and looked up into astonishingly blue eyes that were filled with concern.


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