Authors: Elisabeth Staab
Copyright Â© 2013 by Elisabeth Staab
Cover and internal design Â© 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Jodi Welter
Cover photo Â© Yuri Arcurs/Alamy, Kirsty Pargeter/Shutterstock
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Dedicated to all the vampire lovers. Thank you for spending time with mine.
Tyra let out a warning growl. Someone was touching her.
She pried her eyes open but couldn't see a thing. A whole lot of bright and blurry invaded her senses. She was lying down, while someone stood over her. Calloused fingers brushed her face. A fellow vampire would have spoken up and identified themselves right then. This was a bad sign.
A very bad sign.
Fueled by adrenaline and fear and strength she wasn't sure she had in her, Tyra launched herself, fangs bared, at the threat. She may have been half human, but she let the royal, feral blood of her vampire ancestors take the lead. Lying down with someone over her meant she was in enemy hands. No way was anybody cutting her chest open to take out her heart. Clawing and scraping against a tile floor, she pulled a heavy body beneath her.
A soft, flannel shirt tangled in her grasp. Stubble scraped under her hand. A male gasped when her fangs sank cleanly into the warm skin of his throat.
Thick, smoky blood hit her tongue.
“Tyra, are you okay?”
That voice. Things were so fuzzy, but she could swear she knew it from somewhere. Her first instinct had been to drain the man, enough to immobilize him at least. She realized he wasn't fighting back. His body had gone still beneath her, save for the tentative tap of fingertips on her shoulder.
Something familiar in the taste on her tongue and the touch on her skin gave her pause. Why was he asking if she was all right? Confusion warred with the hum of fresh plasma hitting her system.
Unbelievably, his head tipped back to give her easier access. “If you need to feed, Tyra, go ahead.”
Please, Tyraâ¦ Please feed from me
“Oh my God. Oh my
.” Her head snapped up so fast she almostâalmostâforgot to lick closed his wound. “Anton.”
The voice. The smoky, almost piney taste of blood. She remembered now. Tyra clapped her hands over her face.
“It's me, yeah. Is something wrong with your eyes? Can I call someone? What can I do to help?” Those warm fingers of his were brushing her face again.
For one infinitely dangerous moment she forgot everything. Allowed his hand to linger as his fingers slid comfortably into the grooves between hers.
She shook her head, and pulled back, rubbing the collected grit from her puffy eyes. “I'll be fine.” Her vision was already clearing. Thanks to his blood. Like the blood she'd drunk from him right before she'd passed out.
Another rub of her eyes and a few hard blinks, and finally she could match a real face with the memory: His strong, square jaw had a heavy dusting of stubble that would be a beard soon if he didn't shave. Short, soft-looking hair and a strong nose with a slight bump like maybe he'd broken it before. Wow. Those eyes. Sharp and steel gray, but amazingly kind, consideringâ¦
Holy crap, she was still on top of himâ¦ and he was aroused.
Instantly Tyra shot into the air. First to the bed she'd been lying on and then up to standing, so fast it was like she was in one of those pinball machines she'd seen once in a pizza parlor. Anton ejected himself in the opposite direction like he, too, had realized their awkward physical situation. Metal scraped on linoleum when he pulled out the desk chair to sit down.
He stared at her in the way she imagined a hungry, stray dog would: leery but hopeful. “You're sure you're okay?” His knees bounced nervously. One hand dabbed at the bite on his neck, checking for residual blood or something.
Heat crept up the back of Tyra's neck, and she swiped a hand across her lips. It came away with a trace of crimson. “Fine,” she said. “Confusedâ¦” She took in the metal desk and the dingy, chipped linoleum floor. “This is your room.” Anton had been a resident at the shelter in Ash Falls, Virginia, where Tyra volunteered. Just another homeless human with amnesia, they'd thought at first. Not even close.
He swallowed hard. His eyelids drooped for a moment, but he took a deep breath and repositioned in his seat. Trying to make himself look taller? “You passed out. The chances of someone finding you were way lower here than in your office.” He blinked and lifted one shoulder awkwardly. “More comfortable, too, maybe.”
Sweaty, shoulder-length curls clung to her face and neck. She pushed them away with an impatient hand. Her heart pounded wildly, almost painfully. To hope that his intentions were truly good was so dangerous. “You're a wizard. I remember you telling me that before Iâ” The abhorrent realization hit that she'd drunk blood from a wizard not once but twice nowâ¦
Only it hadn't been the least bit disgusting. That unique woodsy flavor had actually been sort ofâ¦ nice. “Your species and mine have been at war for centuries. I'm the vampire king's sister. This can't be happening.”
Anton blew out a breath. “I'm not evil. I promise you. The wizard clan sent me to kidnap you because they want to study your unique powers. I refused, though, Tyra. I couldn't do that to you. I was tortured and cast out for my trouble. You remember that part, right? I've kept you safe this whole time while you were unconscious.”
. That alone was enough to make her brain do the whole pop-bang-fizz business. The idea of a wizard promising safety to a vampire was like a drug dealer promising his profits would go to cancer research.
Without warning, he jumped up from his chair. “We should get you out of here now that you're awake. It isn't safe. We need to get you back to your kind. You can teleport, right? That's one of your powers? Or I can help you sneak out the backâ”
“Wait a second.”
Fingers combed through her damp hair. Elevated body temperature was a sign of suspended animation.
Dark shadows lingered underneath Anton's gray eyes, and he needed a great deal of effort to hold himself up. He was worn out. Keyed up. She would bet he was running on fumes.
“I've been in torpor,” she said. “How long?”
On the desk lay a stack of those little two-packs of saltine crackers. The kind that came from the salad bars of restaurants. Or in this case, probably the shelter dining hall. He scratched his head, then picked each one up and counted as he slapped them back onto the desk. “Oneâ¦ twoâ¦ threeâ¦ fourâ¦ fiveâ¦ sixâ¦ sevenâ¦ eightâ¦ nineâ¦ Ten days.”
Tyra squeezed her eyes shut.
He pointed to the crackers. “I brought some back for you every day from the dining hall at dinner. Stupid, but it made me feel like I was doing something for you. Other than thatâand taking a pissâI didn't go anywhere. Didn't want to leave you alone.”
Holy cow. He'd watched over her all that time. She didn't know quite what to say to that. An odd warmth bloomed in her chest.
His body snapped to attention again. “Seriously, though. We should get you out of here.”
Something about that rubbed her the wrong way. She didn't take orders well even when she was
to, and the utter confusion of this whole situation made her feel vulnerable.
“Look, I appreciate you keeping an eye out, but I can take care of myself.” She straightened and sighed quietly. “I'm not really sure what I should even do about you. I should kill you, you know. Just because of what you are. At the very least, I should erase your memory.” Even as she said that, the words tasted sour on her tongue.
Tyra had to hand it to him; he didn't back down. In fact, he took a step closer. “You could go that way,” he said. His lips pressed together. “I was hoping maybe I could help your side out. Help you put my father out of business.”
She nearly swallowed her own tongue. Anton wasn't just born of an enemy race to the vampires; he was the son of their leader.
That's right, Tyra. He might as well be the son of Satan.
Was he suggesting what it sounded like? Tyra wondered at the way his jaw squared. The clench of his fingers and the glint of fire in his steely, narrowed eyes. “You'd really do that? You'd help kill your own father?”
With another step forward, Anton pulled aside the collar of his shirt. He stretched it wide to reveal an angry scar across his collarbone that had only recently healed over. “Tortured and cast out. Remember, Tyra?” His voice was a rough whisper. “My father did this.”
She reached to brush her finger over the long ridge of puckered skin that disappeared under the bunched fabric of his shirt. A subtle buzz in her blood told her that her powers were coming back online. No time like the present to flex her ability to read emotions.
Just then Anton opened his mouth to speak, but she didn't get the chance to hear what he was about to say. The air stirred around them, followed by the quiet open and close of the door. Anton, incredibly, sidled in front of her. Guarding her, even though what had just entered could have easily taken him down.
“Dammit to Hell, Siddoh!” Thad brushed a hand over his hair. “You need to work with me here, or I am going to set
to your ass. Don't think I won't.”
He almost welcomed the opportunity. His blood and adrenaline had been on a hard boil for over a week now since his half sister and best friend had gone missing. He was exhausted; his teeth and body ached; and his nerves were so far beyond frayed they would've blown away in a stiff breeze.
Across the room, Siddoh sagged against one of the built-in bookshelves that lined Thad's office walls. His second in command sniffed and looked around like just being in the king's study offended him. And maybe it did. In the wake of Thad's parents' death, everything was getting overhauled. The creamy beige carpet Thad's father put in had been replaced so recently with something plush and navy blue that the smell of factory chemicals from the padding still hung in the air. Furniture from Pottery Barn had taken the place of the late king's more elegant furnishings.
For his own sanity, Thad had needed to make this room his own.
“No. I'm not gonna look. You don't fucking tell me to look.
need to tap someone to take over for the next forty-eight hours right fucking now, or I will do it for you.” Blood rushed in Thad's ears. He envisioned the heat rolling off of his body in a wave. Lee, his best friend and first in command, had disappeared before he could help Thad learn to get a handle on his fire ability. Still, Thad had found this mental exercise helped keep things at bay when his emotions were spiraling out of control. Right now, he was really on the verge.
“I'm still in charge of the fighters while Lee is out, Thad,” Siddoh snarled.
Thad let out the world's longest breath and then crossed his arms over his chest. Even in battle, Siddoh was known to be pretty damn easygoing. But Siddoh and Tyra had been in an awkward on-again, off-again relationship for a number of years, and Thad didn't know how much of this was fueled by old ties. The older male's hair was disheveled, and there were lines around his eyes.
“Last I checked, I'm still king, which makes me in charge of everything. Including you.”
Siddoh shifted uncomfortably and grunted.
“Siddoh, you look like shit,” Thad murmured. “I know this is about getting Tyra back home, but if there's still a snowball's chance of that, everybody's gotta be strong. The troops see you fraying around the edges, morale is gonna drop. You know that.”
“You can't talk like she's already dead, Thad.” Siddoh's typically jovial voice was quiet.
“Siddoh.” Thad softened his tone as well. He had to tread carefully here. “You've gotta know I want them to come home more than anyone. Ty's my sister, for fuck's sake.” Thad lowered himself into an overstuffed microsuede chair, leaning forward onto his legs and pounding his balled-up hands against his forehead. “I'm all about the power of positive thinking, but we're coming up on two weeks.”
Siddoh shook his head hard enough that, even from where Thad sat, he heard stuff crack in Siddoh's neck. “She isn't gone. She is not gone. I would know. I would feel it.”
Thad was afraid to hope. An unexpected sting pressed behind his eyes at the thought of losing two more that he loved.
shit was the big downside to getting a handle on his rage. Thad had fought hard to jump into his role as king, to be taken seriously despite being so young. And it wasn't like he and Siddoh had ever been buddies. Ragged nerves, hot vampire blood, and awkward emotions made for a bad combo any day of the week.
He inspected the new egg-and-dart molding on the ceiling, waiting for the sensation to pass. “We have to be prepared, Siddoh.”
“I would know, Thad. Just because we never mated doesn't mean she wasn't important to me, and we drank from each other plenty in the last twenty-five years. Just like when your parentsâ”
Thad pushed to his feet. “My parents were mated for a century before my father died. You cannot make a comparison there.”
A loud sound of someone clearing their throat broke into the room. Isabel, Thad's queen, stood in the doorway next to an albino half-vampire. Agnessa. His missing guard's former mate. The cloying scent of Agnessa's gardenia perfume clogged Thad's nostrils.
“Hey, Agnessa. Hey, Isabel.”
Agnessa blinked, eyelids shuttering over her crimson eyes in a way that gave Thad the urge to twitch a little. He couldn't believe he'd once let that female lure him into bed.
Isabel shot Thad the look. “I found her wandering the halls, so I offered to escort her.”