Authors: Aline Hunter
To the readers, who make my career possible and keep asking for more. Also, special thanks to my editor for taking a chance. Of course, none of this would be possible without the love and support of friends and family. Thank you for putting up with me when I’m on deadline and vanish for days at a time.
New Orleans, 1981
Push harder. Don’t think. Run faster.
Hail and rain burrowed into the softness of Arden Moran’s cheeks. She barreled across the landscape, dodging everything in her path, each of her ragged exhales accompanied by the quiet staccato patter of her bounding feet. The warning from her sources had come too late. The skirmish between the Thymeria human faction and the vampyren would be over in minutes.
Focus. Not much time.
Unnatural balance—a gift from her bastard of a father—kept her from skittering when the worn rubber soles of her boots lost traction. She stayed in constant motion, arms extended as she ran from rooftop to rooftop. Her destination was directly ahead. She recognized the abandoned buildings framed by the flickering flashes of water.
She pushed harder, her muscles pulsing, heart hammering.
The scent of salt and ocean couldn’t overcome the metallic bitterness of blood wafting through the air. The fight had started. For all she knew, everything was already over.
No, damn it!
Never breaking stride, she unsheathed the daggers holstered at her hips and propelled herself off the roof. The ground rushed up to greet her. Rain-drenched asphalt absorbed her landing. She slid free of her coat and lifted her arms, going to a fighting position, glaring at the cause of the devastation around her.
Four newly-turned vampyren trapped in the throes of bloodlust feasted on their prey. Wet gurgles and slurps clashed with the peaceful sound of water lapping against the wooden landing. Her own morbid and repulsive appetite surfaced and her stomach churned.
No. Back off.
Closing her eyes, she forced herself to remember why she had come. She tried to suffocate the hunger gnawing her insides. The one person in the world she cared for was in danger. She hadn’t come to feast on the dead.
She’d come to destroy them.
The fire in her abdomen and the dryness in her throat eased.
Opening her eyes, she swept her gaze over the creatures she’d come to obliterate. She wound through the victims with ravaged throats and glossed-over eyes and chose her first target. The vampyren experiencing the newfound hunger of the damned didn’t notice her. They were blind to everything but the buffet of corpses around them.
She snagged a handful of the closest vampyren’s hair and sank her silver blade into the creature’s throat. Two swift thrusts and a yank removed the newly-turned blood drinker’s head. Her astute sense of hearing faded, her vision going blurry. Killing didn’t come easy. It shouldn’t bother her to take a life after all this time, but it did.
She tried to smother her emotions.
Stop being weak.
The remaining three, gorging on blood, didn’t notice their fallen comrade, their faces obscured by tangled, dirty hair. Each one met the same fate at the end of her blade and was sent to the ever after in the same efficient manner. After the last body landed on blood-spattered ground, her resentment and outrage surfaced.
She scanned the area.
The master vampyren in charge had departed, leaving behind newly-turned creatures to feast on the human soldiers dispatched by the Thymeria. Fury made her entire body shake.
That particular vampire race was as ruthless and bloodthirsty as vampyren. Both were immortal. Both ingested blood to survive. Some were born and some were made. However, ultimately, they were the same creatures. They shared the same characteristics. Like a dog related to a wolf, some didn’t mind appearing domesticated.
She immediately chastised herself.
At least the vampyren are honest.
The loathsome creatures she killed embraced their nature. When hungry, they found a target and did what was necessary to ensure longevity. Simple and matter-of-fact. Whereas the Thymeria hid behind lies, making false promises to the humans they controlled.
They wanted power over blood-drinking races. Period.
What better way to achieve a cause than to destroy the enemy?
She weaved through the bodies surrounding her. The scent of blood was heavy and brought on the goddamned hunger. A spike of pain shot through her gut, the itchiness in her throat returning. She was too close to death to ignore it. There had been no time to sate her thirst beforehand. With difficulty, she pushed back her hunger. Now wasn’t the time. If she drank from the bodies, she’d be no better than those she’d killed.
Only vampyren feed from the dead.
Glimpsing a flash of bright red hair, she froze. Long locks blanketed the blacktop near the water—beautiful corkscrew curls almost out of view. Arden’s heart throbbed, a dead weight sinking to the pit of her stomach.
Harsh words from the past returned to haunt her, her own voice echoing loudly in her head. She’d believed honesty would be best. She hadn’t thought that, instead of bringing her friend closer, she’d push away the person who’d mattered most.
The Thymeria will be the end of you, Portia.
They’ll never change you.
They never keep their promises.
To them, you’re all disposable.
“Arden, is that you?” At first, Arden thought she was stuck in the past. Then she heard the soft utterance of her name once more. “
Finally. I’ve found her. She’s here.
Her best friend’s voice had always been soft, even in anger.
Arden ran to the side of the girl she’d known since she was thirteen—the friend she’d sworn to protect—and quickly assessed the damage to Portia’s torso. Claws had torn through the muscle, bone, and tissue directly over her heart.
“It’s you,” Portia wheezed, her hazel irises dull, the light within fading. “You came.”
Arden reached for her friend’s hand. “I told you I would.”
I told you if you ever needed me, I’d be there.
“Yes.” Portia sighed and closed her eyes. “You did.”
Even if it’s too late.
An invisible hand tugged at her heart. “I’m sorry.”
Orphaned at ten when her mother had passed away, Arden had been recruited by the Thymeria at age twelve. But she wasn’t like the other children molded to kill vampyren. She was something different—something unique. When she turned eighteen, she transitioned, becoming one of them. For Arden, escape had been a blessing. Unfortunately, things hadn’t gone as she’d hoped. Portia refused to go, as determined as ever to remain. Despite Arden’s pleas, Portia had held steadfast, believing one day she’d become an immortal.
It’s easy for you
, Portia had said.
You’ll live forever
The young woman felt being reborn as a vampire meant a second chance at life. She wanted to start over from scratch, refusing to consider anything else.
Determined to convince Portia to leave the Thymeria human faction, Arden had returned in an attempt to change her friend. She’d done enough research and knew everything involved. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been strong enough. If not for the regenerative properties in Arden’s blood, Portia would have bled out and died.
Her gaze drifted over the massive wound in Portia’s torso, and for the first time in her life, Arden regretted parting ways with the Thymeria.
“It’s all right.” Portia squeezed Arden’s fingers. “What’s done is done.”
“No, it’s not.” She shook her head, meeting her friend’s pain-filled eyes. “Not yet.”
Releasing Portia’s hand, Arden ran her fingers over the young woman’s bloodied face.
“I’m scared.” Portia’s voice was weak, the words slurred.
“I know. It’s okay,” Arden whispered and brushed a strand of red hair away from her friend’s clammy forehead. Portia had always been afraid of death.
Pushing the thought aside, she rested her palm against the woman’s cheek. It was easier to access memories by touch and she needed to make sure she got all the information she needed.
Memories snaked into her head.
Happier times came first, followed by Portia’s heartbreaks and loss. Each image was connected by feeling, dousing the memory with grief or joy. Finally, Arden came to the face of the master vampyren who’d dealt the vicious blow that ended Portia’s too-short life. She saw him pull back to strike, felt Portia’s terror…
The memory slipped from her, going dark.
Arden gazed down at her friend. Portia’s eyes were open but her soul was gone. Nothing remained by an empty shell. She struggled to see through tears and put her fingers over Portia’s lashes, sliding her lids closed.
“A life for a life.” Arden skimmed the tips of her fingers along the wet stands of hair at Portia’s temple. “I give you my word.”
She moved Portia’s remains to a safe distance—determined to give her a decent burial—and returned to the alley to remove the traces of battle, destruction and the needless loss of life. After the scene was adequately clean, she piled the bodies into a morbid kindling tepee and doused them with gasoline. The simple addition of a match started an impressive blaze, the stench of burning flesh drifting to her nose.
This was what waited for mortals who flirted with the promise of eternal life.
Immortality. What bullshit
In the end, when the entire world crumbled, there was only one absolute certainty.
She gazed at the smoke rising into the sky.
Mortal or immortal, bodies burned just the same.
New Orleans, Present Day
Wolfe Trevlian’s gaze darted over the preternatural patrons standing at the bar or seated at tables. Greyson’s Pub was a great place to conduct business as an immortal. The location in the grittier part of the city meant humans stayed the fuck away. Those who frequented the establishment knew Greyson didn’t tolerate any shit. One slipup and someone might not leave the building alive.
They didn’t call the place The Slaughter House for nothing.
His bad mood soured as the minutes ticked by, each slower than the last. His attention drifted to the entrance. The only door to the bar remained firmly closed, meaning his liaison kept eating away at the clock. He didn’t have time for this shit. Waiting, waiting and then waiting some damn more. If the meeting weren’t so important, he’d have ditched fifteen minutes ago.
Goddamn you, Adam
he thought, downing the remnants of his Hennessy
. Find your woman and get your ass back here. There’s only so much bullshit I can stand. I’m already tired of cleaning up your mess.
Coming home to take his cousin’s place—even if only temporarily—hadn’t been easy. Wolfe had left New Orleans two decades ago and vowed never to return. Bad memories lingered in the Big Easy. Memories best left alone.
Like those of Deidre Varmour.
“Wolfe? What in the hell are you doing here?”
Sinking back in the booth, Wolfe lifted his head and gazed up. Up until now, things had gone smoothly. Still, he never knew when the shit might hit the fan. He identified the male asking the question and relaxed.
Thank Christ for small favors.
“I’m just taking care of business,” he replied.
Motioning to the empty space on either side of his large body, Wolfe grinned when Greyson—the owner of The Slaughter House—took a seat. The older werewolf returned Wolfe’s smile and flagged down a waitress. He ordered another round of Hennessy and a shot of Jack before relaxing into the old, cushioned leather. Even at a century old, the elder lycae didn’t look a day over thirty. The gray peppering his short, dark hair seemed out of place.
“Everyone has extra business since Adam left,” Greyson said, steely silver eyes nearly metallic when he added, “Not that I blame him for making the decision to go. It’s about time.”
“You’ve met Kassia?”
“Once.” He nodded and smiled. “She wasn’t happy to be here. She gave Adam hell.”
Wolfe wasn’t surprised by Greyson’s reaction to Adam’s female. Kassia Lambert was the embodiment of what the lycae looked for in a mate—smart, loyal and impossibly beautiful.
If only all males were so lucky.
Adam had fucked things up good and proper by pushing the girl away, but he’d finally pulled his head out of his ass. It was time to stop worrying about Kassia’s age and claim her, something Adam had explained when he’d asked Wolfe to take over the pack during his absence.
“So what’s brought you to my neck of the woods?” Greyson kept the tone light and casual. “Good food? Good liquor? Or something else?”
The waitress returned and Wolfe reached for his glass of Hennessy. He took a generous swallow and savored the flavor of the beverage. “I’m smoothing things over with the vampyren
,” he drawled sarcastically. “His royal highness has decided to listen to what I have to say.”