Hard to Handle

By: Christine Warren

I saved the best for last.

To Josh. He won’t ever read it, but he’s family, and family spreads the love.

(Don’t worry, David. Someone else has you on her dedication list.)

The Beginning

Once upon a time when the world was young and magic lived, a tenuous balance existed between the Light and the Darkness. The Light created and the Darkness destroyed. The Light illuminated and the Darkness obscured. The Light gave and the Darkness seized.

But in all things, the Darkness grew discontented. It sent its servants among the inhabitants of the earth to sway humanity into its thrall. It gathered power to itself, but the more it gained, the more it wanted.

It shaped itself into the form of Seven Demons, creatures of pure evil that existed only to feed on the souls of humanity. Glutted with strength, they would join together and devour the Light itself.

Humanity quaked. Against the powers of the Darkness, most had no defenses. Only those gifted with the ability to wield the energy of magic could affect the Darkness and its servants. These few joined together as Wardens, forming a Guild to stand against evil, but even they lacked the strength for victory. They needed a weapon of immense power, something that could only be granted by the Light itself. Joining their magic, they performed a spell of summoning and brought forth the Guardians.

Seven warriors answered the summoning, created by the Light to be its champions. Enormous, immortal figures, winged and powerful, descended from the skies. Each wielded a weapon in hand, but also possessed fangs and claws to tear apart their enemies. They became the Guardians of humanity and fought a long and bloody war against the Demons of the Darkness.

Blood spilled and the earth trembled, but at the end of the struggle, the Guardians of the Light prevailed. They tore the Seven Demons apart and cast them from the mortal plane into prisons prepared by the Wardens. Their duty finished, they stood among the humans as warriors without a war, inhuman, alien, and powerful. The Wardens of the Guild felt the Guardians had no place on the mortal plane and used their magic to send the immortal warriors into slumber. Encased in skins of stone, they slept through ages of men until once again, the Darkness threatened to break free into the world of humans.

The Guardians once again completed their task of ridding the human world of the threat from the Demons, and once again they were sent to slumber by the Wardens. They woke, they fought, and they slept. Time after time after time.

Eventually, the first Guardians lost any interest in protecting humanity. They had no connection to the people they defended, spent no time with them, and knew little of their characters or their customs. After several cycles, a time came when the Wardens summoned the Guardians to defend them from a new threat, but the Guardians did not wake. They failed to respond to the humans’ need, and it looked as if the mortal world would fall to the Darkness.

The Guild despaired. Until one day, a woman of power—one who had magic of her own—appeared and ignored the Wardens’ attempts to dismiss her. She knew the danger to humanity was great and that the Guardians represented the only hope for her people to survive. So she knelt at the feet of the statue of a Guardian and she prayed for him to awaken and defend her. The Wardens scoffed and berated her, but her pleas worked. The Guardian responded to her as if to a summons and woke from his magical slumber. He claimed the woman as his Warden and his mate and once again took up arms against the Darkness.

One by one, more women of power appeared and woke the Guardians, becoming their helpers and their mates. The supernatural warriors defeated the forces of Darkness, but once the threat was vanquished, they refused to return to sleep and be parted from their mates. Instead, they remained among the humans, giving up their immortality to live out their days with their partners. New Guardians were summoned, and the legends recorded that any who came after retained the right to find a human mate and to forfeit their position to remain at her side.

Chapter One

Michael Drummond was a man blessed with sisters, though there were times—much like the present—when he wished his parents had perhaps done a little less blessing and a little more sinning. Prophylactically speaking. But like the good Irish Catholics they were, Madelaine and Stephen Drummond had brought five healthy children into the world—four beautiful, independent girls and one sadly outnumbered boy, wedged smack into the middle and with no hope of escape.