Midnight Reckoning

( 34 )

Overview

Two separate worlds . . .
One passion that binds them

Wild and passionate by nature, Lyra Black is not just any werewolf. She's the future leader of the powerful pack of the Thorn-if she can stay alive long enough to inherit the title.

One of the Cait Sith bloodline of vampire cat-shifters, Jaden Harrison has no interest in the wars plaguing the world of night. But when he rescues Lyra from a violent attack, ...

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Midnight Reckoning

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Overview

Two separate worlds . . .
One passion that binds them

Wild and passionate by nature, Lyra Black is not just any werewolf. She's the future leader of the powerful pack of the Thorn-if she can stay alive long enough to inherit the title.

One of the Cait Sith bloodline of vampire cat-shifters, Jaden Harrison has no interest in the wars plaguing the world of night. But when he rescues Lyra from a violent attack, they're both captured by an insatiable desire that threatens to overwhelm them and bind them together for eternity . . . just as ancient enemies prepare to strike. And when they do, the Thorn and the Cait Sith-and Lyra and Jaden's love-may never recover from the deadly blow . . .

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Editorial Reviews

BittenByParanormalRomance.com
"[Dark Awakening] grabs you from the first page and the next thing you know you've been reading for several hours immersed in Lily and Ty's world. I adored this story, was sorry it ended so soon and have put the next in the series on my wishlist already. Fans of the paranormal romance, urban fantasy and vampire genres should put this on their wishlist."
FreshFiction.com
"Kendra Leigh Castle has set the stage for a phenomenal new vampire series which will take the paranormal genre by storm. DARK AWAKENING has one of the most interesting and well-thought out vampire hierarchies that I have encountered in a vampire novel. Vampire novels just don't get any better than this!"
Romantic Times
"Castle's world-building is superb and leaves readers wanting more."
RT Magazine - RT Book Reviews
"4 1/2 Stars. HOT. Power acquisition and consolidation are driving the action in this exciting series as the vampires of the Cait-Sith bloodline strive to break free of their former masters. Intriguing characters add a well-rounded feel to this tale that is also packed with treachery and drama. Pick it up today!"
You Gotta Read Reviews
"I am always thrilled when I find a new spin on the vampire mystique, and Dark Awakening certainly fits the bill. An amazing story of ancient dynasties, class divisions, curses and blood feuds, this book has opened new and exciting views into vampire worlds...The problem with such a new and detailed book is there is so much information I want to impart, but the most important thing I can say is READ THIS BOOK."
RT Magazine
4 1/2 Stars. HOT. Power acquisition and consolidation are driving the action in this exciting series as the vampires of the Cait-Sith bloodline strive to break free of their former masters. Intriguing characters add a well-rounded feel to this tale that is also packed with treachery and drama. Pick it up today!
RT Book Reviews
Romantic Times on DARK AWAKENING
"Castle's world-building is superb and leaves readers wanting more."
USAToday.com on Midnight Reckoning
"Castle demonstrates considerable skill in crafting a tale that offers readers a conflict-ridden forbidden love interlaced with political intrigue and betrayal . . . The author's world-building is intricate and cohesive . . . plenty of action . . . I like Castle's voice and look forward to reading more of her work."
You Gotta Read Reviews on DARK AWAKENING
"I am always thrilled when I find a new spin on the vampire mystique, and Dark Awakening certainly fits the bill. An amazing story of ancient dynasties, class divisions, curses and blood feuds, this book has opened new and exciting views into vampire worlds...The problem with such a new and detailed book is there is so much information I want to impart, but the most important thing I can say is READ THIS BOOK."
BittenByParanormalRomance.com on DARK AWAKENING
"[Dark Awakening] grabs you from the first page and the next thing you know you've been reading for several hours immersed in Lily and Ty's world. I adored this story, was sorry it ended so soon and have put the next in the series on my wishlist already. Fans of the paranormal romance, urban fantasy and vampire genres should put this on their wishlist."
RT Book Reviews on DARK AWAKENING
"Rising star Castle is sure to please with an exciting new series. Passion and loyalty collide as the hero is forced to re-evaluate the choices that have driven his life."
FreshFiction.com on DARK AWAKENING
"Kendra Leigh Castle has set the stage for a phenomenal new vampire series which will take the paranormal genre by storm. DARK AWAKENING has one of the most interesting and well-thought out vampire hierarchies that I have encountered in a vampire novel. Vampire novels just don't get any better than this!"
From the Publisher
"Castle demonstrates considerable skill in crafting a tale that offers readers a conflict-ridden forbidden love interlaced with political intrigue and betrayal . . . The author's world-building is intricate and cohesive . . . plenty of action . . . I like Castle's voice and look forward to reading more of her work."—USAToday.com on Midnight Reckoning

"Castle's world-building is superb and leaves readers wanting more."—Romantic Times on DARK AWAKENING

"4 1/2 Stars. HOT. Power acquisition and consolidation are driving the action in this exciting series as the vampires of the Cait-Sith bloodline strive to break free of their former masters. Intriguing characters add a well-rounded feel to this tale that is also packed with treachery and drama. Pick it up today!"—RT Magazine, RT Book Reviews

"Rising star Castle is sure to please with an exciting new series. Passion and loyalty collide as the hero is forced to re-evaluate the choices that have driven his life."—RT Book Reviews on DARK AWAKENING

"[Dark Awakening] grabs you from the first page and the next thing you know you've been reading for several hours immersed in Lily and Ty's world. I adored this story, was sorry it ended so soon and have put the next in the series on my wishlist already. Fans of the paranormal romance, urban fantasy and vampire genres should put this on their wishlist."
BittenByParanormalRomance.com on DARK AWAKENING

"I am always thrilled when I find a new spin on the vampire mystique, and Dark Awakening certainly fits the bill. An amazing story of ancient dynasties, class divisions, curses and blood feuds, this book has opened new and exciting views into vampire worlds...The problem with such a new and detailed book is there is so much information I want to impart, but the most important thing I can say is READ THIS BOOK."—You Gotta Read Reviews on DARK AWAKENING

"Kendra Leigh Castle has set the stage for a phenomenal new vampire series which will take the paranormal genre by storm. DARK AWAKENING has one of the most interesting and well-thought out vampire hierarchies that I have encountered in a vampire novel. Vampire novels just don't get any better than this!"—FreshFiction.com on DARK AWAKENING

RT Magazine - RT Book Reviews
"4 1/2 Stars. HOT. Power acquisition and consolidation are driving the action in this exciting series as the vampires of the Cait-Sith bloodline strive to break free of their former masters. Intriguing characters add a well-rounded feel to this tale that is also packed with treachery and drama. Pick it up today!"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781609418380
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/1/2012
  • Series: Dark Dynasties Series , #2
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 458,633
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Kendra Leigh Castle is the author of four previous paranormal romance novels: Call of the Highland Moon, Dark Highland Fire, Wild Highland Magic, and Dark Awakening. Midnight Reckoning is the second book in her Dark Dynasties series. She lives in Maryland with her husband, their three children, three high-maintenance dogs, and one enormous Siberian cat.

You can learn more at:

KendraLeighCastle.com

Twitter @KendraLCastle

Facebook.com/kendraleighcastle

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Read an Excerpt

Midnight Reckoning


By Castle, Kendra Leigh

Forever

Copyright © 2012 Castle, Kendra Leigh
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781609418380

chapter ONE

Tipton, Massachusetts

ON A NIGHT when only the thinnest sliver of a crescent moon rode the sky, at a time when even the most adventurous humans had fallen into bed and succumbed to sleep, a solitary cat padded in and out of pooled shadow as he made his way across the deserted square in the middle of town. He was large, the size of a bobcat, with sleek fur the color of jet. His coat shimmered as he moved, gleaming in the dull glow of streetlights in between shadows, and he moved with speed and grace, if not purpose. Eyes that burned like blue embers stayed focused on the path ahead of him.

The cat had gone by several names in his long life. For more than a century now, he had been simply Jaden, or even more simply, “cat.” If pressed, he would answer to either, and neither if he could get away with it.

Tonight, in the night’s seductive and silent embrace, Jaden answered to no one but himself.

Jaden took his time as he made his way through town, savoring the stillness of the blessed lack of humanity with all its noise and emotion and complication. He paused in front of the darkened windows of a beauty salon, letting his gaze drift over the sign that read, CHARMED, I’M SURE, and then lifted his head higher to catch the scent of air that was heavy with moisture and ripe with the promise of rain. Jaden could sense that summer was making its way to this little corner of New England, while aware that even in early May the frost could arrive on any given night to give the season’s fresh blooms a deadly kiss.

Deadly kisses, Jaden thought, lashing his tail. Yeah, he knew all about those. When you were a vampire, especially a lowly shape-shifting cat of a vampire, deadly kisses were sort of your stock in trade.

Damn it. So much for a late-night walk to clear his head.

The shift came as easily as breathing to him, and in a single heartbeat Jaden stood on two feet instead of four, his clothes firmly in place by some magic he had never understood but always appreciated. He stuffed his hands deeply into the pockets of his coat and continued on down the street, glaring at the ground in front of him as he moved. Though he’d spent years seething silently at the Ptolemy, his highblood masters who had treated “pets” like him with little mercy and even less respect, these days he didn’t seem to have much anger for anyone but himself.

Jaden now had what he’d always thought he wanted: friends, a home, and most important, his freedom. The Ptolemy were not gone, but they were cowed for the time being, and his kind, the much-maligned Cait Sith, had been chosen for an incredible honor. They were to be the foundation for the rebirth of a dynasty of highbloods that had vanished ages ago but had now resurfaced in the form of a single mortal woman who carried the blood.

The seven months since Jaden had helped that woman, Lily, make a stand against the Ptolemy had passed like nothing. And though it had been considerably less time since the Vampiric Council had given Lily’s plan its grudging blessing, Jaden was now really and truly free. Whether it had been a wise decision, Jaden couldn’t say. The Cait Sith were an unruly lot at best.

But he was grateful, as were the rest, which had to count for something.

Jaden rubbed at his collarbone without really being aware that he was doing it. There, beneath layers of clothing, was his mark, the symbol of his bloodline. Until recently, the mark had been a coiling knot of black cats. But a drink of Lily’s powerful blood had changed it, adding the pentagram and snake of the Lilim. It meant new abilities he was still exploring, newfound standing in a world where he had always been beneath notice. It should have meant hope, Jaden knew. After all, for the first time in his long life, he was not a pariah. He could be his own master. It should be everything. And yet…

The empty places inside him still ached like open wounds. Something was missing. He just wished he knew what it was.

A soft breath of wind ruffled through his hair, and Jaden caught a whiff of something both familiar and unfamiliar.

Then he heard the voices.

“There’s no place to run to now, is there?” That was a gravelly male voice, reeking of self-satisfaction. Its owner gave a low and vicious chuckle. “You’re going to have to accept me. I’ve caught you. It’s my right.”

A female voice responded, and a pleasant shiver rippled through Jaden’s body at the low, melodious sound of it.

“You have no rights with me. And chasing me down like prey isn’t going to get you what you want.”

He was almost certain he’d heard that voice before, though he couldn’t place it. What Jaden could place, however, was the scent that had his hackles rising and the adrenaline flooding his system.

Werewolves.

Jaden’s lips curled, and he had to fight the instinctive urge to hiss. Not only were the wolves vilified by vampires as savages, banned from their cities under penalty of death, but the smell of their musk caused a physical reaction in him that was difficult to control. He had two options: fight or flight. It was less trouble to run. But this was his territory now, vampire territory. And these wolves had a hell of a lot of nerve coming into it.

Jaden was moving before he could think better of it. His feet made no sound on the pavement as he headed for the parking lot behind the building. And as he slipped into shadow, he listened.

“You can make this easy or hard, honey. But you’re going to have me one way or the other. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

A low growl from the female. A warning. “I’m not about to take a backseat to some social-climbing stray. I don’t want a mate.”

The male’s voice went thick and rough, as though he was fighting a losing battle with the beast within. “My family is plenty good enough to mate with an Alpha. You should be glad it’s me, Lyra. I won’t be as rough as some. And you and I both know there’s no way the pack is ever going to have a female Alpha. There’s too much at stake to let the weak lead.”

Lyra… The pieces clicked into place, and Jaden’s stomach sank like a stone.

He did know her. And that brief meeting had put him in one of the fouler moods of his unnatural life.

Memories surfaced of a Chicago safe house, full of vampires in hiding, in trouble, or on the run. And on the occasion he remembered, it had also been a hiding place for a female werewolf with a sharp tongue and a nasty attitude. Rogan, the owner of the safe house, had mentioned something about Lyra being a future Alpha… right after Jaden had demanded she leave the room.

Lyra had gone, though she hadn’t taken the slight quietly. And now, she was here, in the seat of the Lilim. It was almost inconceivable. Jaden wondered briefly if Lyra hadn’t hunted him here to finish their brief altercation with blood. That would be like a werewolf, brutish and nonsensical. But no, Jaden realized as she and the male who was accosting her came into view. Lyra seemed to have bigger problems than any grudge she bore him.

Jaden kept to the shadows, melting into darkness as effectively as he did in his feline form. He now had a clear view of a tall, over-muscled Neanderthal who was wearing the expected smug sneer. A predator. Being one himself, Jaden had gotten very good at identifying others. Lyra he saw only from behind, but he would have known her anywhere. Long, lean, and tall, with a wild tangle of dark hair shot through with platinum and tumbling halfway down her back. He let his eyes skim the length of her, suddenly apprehensive… hoping that his reaction to her the last time had been some kind of sick fluke. It had been easy enough to dismiss then. Being under constant threat of annihilation could do strange things to a man. But he knew it had fueled his anger at her presence in the safe house.

And now, just as before, the sight of her sent desire cascading through him in a wild rush like no other woman had provoked in him.

Jaden’s sudden arousal mingled with a punch of bloodlust, creating a tangled mix of wants and needs that had his breath beginning to hitch in his chest. He moved slowly, walking the increasingly fine edge between man and beast as he struggled to stay concealed. He remembered more than just his brief meeting with her, no matter how he’d tried to block it all out. He’d had dreams… bodies tangled together, biting, clawing… licking…

Appalled, Jaden told himself he couldn’t truly want a werewolf. Apart from being forbidden by both races, it was just wrong. Wasn’t he screwed up enough?

It was a relief when the Neanderthal provided a distraction from his thoughts. The male moved like lightning, and far more gracefully than his bulky form would suggest. A hand shot out, snatching something from around Lyra’s neck. The werewolf dangled the item in front of her, and Jaden could see it was a silver pendant hanging from a leather cord. She tried to snatch the pendant back, but the male held it high above his head like a schoolyard bully.

“How dare you?”

“It’s just an old necklace,” he said with a smirk. “If you want it that badly, come and get it.”

Jaden could hear the helpless outrage in her voice when she spoke.

“My father—”

“Isn’t here right now, is he? No one is.” The Neanderthal shifted, crooked a finger at her. His stance said he knew he’d won. “I’ve got a hotel room. Or we can do it right here. Your choice.”

His grin was foul. She seemed to think so too.

“Like hell, Mark.”

Lyra’s muscles tensed. She was going to run. What choice did she have? But the other man knew it. And while she might be fast, there was no way she would be able to match his strength.

Jaden hissed out a breath through gritted teeth. He was no hero. He might be nothing more than a lowblood vampire, a gutter cat with a gift for the hunt, but even among his kind, there were unspoken rules. And something in Lyra’s voice, the hopeless outrage of someone railing against a fate they knew was inevitable, struck a chord deep within him. He had spent centuries being pushed and pulled by forces he couldn’t fight. No one had ever given a damn what he had wanted, not from the first.

Gods help him with what he was about to get tangled up in.

Lyra spun, leaping away with a startling amount of grace. The man she’d called Mark lunged almost as quickly. His hand caught in all the glorious hair, fisting so that her head snapped back. Jaden heard her pained cry, heard the man’s roar of victory. Then Mark’s hands were on her, grabbing, tearing…

One look at Lyra’s eyes, wild and afraid, and nothing on earth could have prevented Jaden from stepping in. He sprang from the shadows with a vicious snarl, fury hazing the darkness with bloodred. He landed directly in front of the grappling pair, fangs elongated and bared. The shock of his appearance gave Lyra the opening he’d hoped for. She twisted away, but not quickly enough. Mark took her down with a quick clout to the side of the head before whipping back around. Jaden watched, an odd twist of pain in his chest, as Lyra gave a single, shocked sob and collapsed to her knees.

Still, Jaden had gotten part of what he wanted. Lyra could no longer be used as a shield.

Recognition dawned in Mark’s eyes a split-second before the instinctive hatred did.

Then another set of fangs were bared. Eyes flashed hot gold. The werewolf gave a guttural growl and reached for Jaden, long claws already extended from his fingertips. Jaden hissed as he stepped out of reach and waited for his chance. Jaden knew from experience that a wolf would always go for brute force over finesse. And against a vampire, it was almost always the wolf’s downfall.

This time was no different.

Mark lunged, swiped. Jaden ducked easily and extended claws of his own, drawing first blood across the vulnerable belly. The thin ribbons of blood darkening his opponent’s T-shirt seemed to incense his adversary, and he launched himself at Jaden only to find himself with a face full of asphalt. Unable to control himself, Jaden laughed, though it sounded nasty and hollow to his own ears.

“Hmm. I think someone’s going home alone tonight.”

Face bloodied, the werewolf dragged himself off the ground and growled at his tormentor.

“Get out of here, bloodsucker. This is wolf business.”

“Really? Looks like garden-variety jackassery to me,” Jaden said, watching Lyra out of the corner of his eye. She had shifted to a sitting position, and was holding her head in her hands staying very still. How badly she was hurt, Jaden didn’t know. It was so like a wolf to try to win a woman by damaging her. Regardless, it was time to run this bastard off and give Lyra what care she needed.

He tried to ignore the way his heart began to stutter in his chest at the thought.

“Leave now,” Jaden said, his voice soft, deadly. “Or I kill you.”

Mark snorted. “Skinny piece of shit bloodsucker like you? I don’t think—”

His words were cut off abruptly by two kicks, one to his gut and one across his thick head. At that, he went down like a ton of bricks with only a soft grunt for a response. This time, he stayed down. Jaden glared down at him for a moment, only barely denying himself the extra kick he wanted to give the wolf for good measure. But the stupid bastard should feel lousy enough when he awakened facedown in the parking lot in the morning. Although it might be momentarily satisfying, killing him would be nothing more than a messy waste of time.

And despite his disturbing interest in Lyra, Jaden had no interest in getting the Lilim into a pissing match with whatever scruffy pack of werewolves this loser belonged to.

Satisfied that they were now, for all practical purposes, alone, Jaden moved to Lyra’s side and crouched down beside her. A light, intoxicating scent drifted from her, making his mouth water. Apples, he remembered. Sweet, tart apples, with something earthier beneath. Strangely enough, he felt no urge to run, to hiss and spit. He realized now it was a good thing he hadn’t gotten this close the last time. He might have done something really stupid.

Though he supposed his current actions qualified.

“Lyra?” he asked, trying to keep his voice low and soothing. He wasn’t sure how successful he was… he was way out of practice at damage control. Usually, he was the damage. “Are you all right? Do you need a doctor?” Wolves were self-healers, he knew, but it could take a while, which was dangerous when the wound was severe.

She said nothing, moved not a muscle, and Jaden’s concern deepened. He reached for her, momentarily overcome by the urge to make even the simplest physical connection. But his hand stilled in midair when she finally lifted her head to look at him. And whatever he’d expected to see—fear, confusion, even a little gratitude—none of it was in evidence as he looked into Lyra’s burning, furious eyes glowing fire-bright in the dark.

“Don’t even think about touching me, cat,” she said. “I can take care of myself.”

chapter TWO

AND SHE’D THOUGHT her night couldn’t get any worse.

Lyra Black glared into the face of her would-be savior. He looked comically surprised that she wasn’t already batting her eyes and breathlessly thanking him. That was what all vamps expected: mindless adoration. And thanks to their talents with manipulating human minds, they tended to get it. Especially vamps as pretty as this one, she thought, seeing big, almost innocent blue eyes set in a face made for sin. Fortunately, werewolves were immune to the bloodsuckers’ brand of “charm.”

Not that this one had tried very hard the last time they’d met. Of all the vamps who could have interfered tonight, did it have to be him?

He drew back his hand as though she’d burned him. Lyra felt a fleeting instant of shame when his expression, so open and filled with what appeared to be genuine concern, shifted into a narrow-eyed glare. But it was no more than he deserved, she reminded herself. When she’d been holed up at that rat-infested vampire safe house all those months ago, he’d all but announced she was unfit to be in the same room with him. She’d quickly gathered that the other people in residence were his refugee friends—some other cat vamp and a human woman who’d seemed nice enough, despite her questionable taste in companions, as Lyra remembered.

But this one. This one was a Grade A, certified cat vamp asshole.

Knowing it made it easier to say what she needed to, easier to look into those big baby blues and tell him where to go, and she was glad. Because a non-vamp who looked as good as he did might have tempted her to trouble, and the gods knew she had enough of that in her life already.

“I can see you’re as sweet as ever,” he muttered, getting to his feet in a single graceful movement that left Lyra, normally so confident, feeling awkward as she regained her own footing.

Stupid vampires.

“Yeah, I have a lot of reason to be sweet to you,” she sniffed. “First throwing me out of your super secret vampire meeting because I’m not the right species, and now cold-cocking some idiot I could have taken out myself.” She crossed her arms over her chest, disconcerted by the way his eyes darted to her breasts and then away. She could almost think—but that was stupid. Vamps didn’t check weres out. They took them out, and that was always going to be the way of it.

Still, beholden to her own morbid curiosity, she shifted so that her folded arms pushed her breasts up and together, displaying them attractively beneath her cami. Sure enough, his eyes flickered back and then away a couple more times, as though he wanted not to look but couldn’t quite help himself. Lyra tipped her head to regard him, stunned to realize that not only was her erstwhile savior most definitely checking her out, he was flushed. His nostrils flared ever so slightly, as though he were scenting something. Prey, maybe.

And when she caught his eye again, he looked both miserable and so hungry it took her breath away. Lyra let her arms fall back to her sides, suddenly very uncomfortable with the game she’d just played. Every lesson she’d ever learned, everything she’d been taught by her pack, filled her head at once, admonishing her.

To toy with a vamp, even a lone and seemingly well-intentioned one like this, was to play with fire. Nothing would ever come from mixing wolves and vampires but blood. And more often than not, fair or not, it was the wolves who would shed most of it.

It was small consolation, but the vampire looked just as uncomfortable as she felt all of a sudden. He turned his head to look down at Mark sprawled out on the pavement, sleeping the sleep of the deservedly unconscious. She watched the sharp flicker of his movement and felt a momentary pang of… something… as she allowed herself the barest of moments to take in the lithe perfection of his form encased in slim-fitting black jeans, scuffed black boots, and a high-collared military-style coat. His chin-length hair was black as night and tucked behind his ears, making his features that much more sharply appealing.

He could have been a sullen young rock star instead of a centuries-old vampire. And Lyra found, with no small amount of horror, that her mouth watered either way.

“You could have taken him, huh?” The vamp prodded Mark’s prone body with the toe of his boot, and Lyra finally remembered his name. Actually, she remembered the human woman saying it in a tone usually reserved for small and badly behaving children, which nearly brought a smile to her face.

“Yes, I could have, Jaden,” she said, enjoying the startle it gave him to hear his name fall from her lips. A strange name for one as old as he must be, she decided. Very modern. But he’d probably renamed himself at some point. Lyra had heard they did that, living so long they got sick of the name they were born with. She might… but then again, she enjoyed being the only Lyra she knew.

“Guess I did make an impression that night,” he remarked. “Since you feel the need to bitch me out, by name, instead of thanking me. But there was no way you were going to take this guy down. I was watching. It was over the second he got his fist in your hair.”

Whatever oddball fantasy she had been entertaining about him up to this point crumbled into dust. Just another arrogant vamp, Lyra decided. It didn’t matter that he was right, that she knew he was right about Mark. What mattered was that he and the rest of his ilk had no respect for either her or her kind.

“I would have found a way,” she growled, stepping closer to Jaden. “I don’t need some cat vamp rescuer who expects me to lick his paws for gracing me with his presence.”

His brows lifted, mocking her subtly. He knew she’d needed him… needed someone, anyway… and that was the thing Lyra hated most. She was already considered unfit to lead because of her sex. Her entire life had been about projecting strength, about watching what the males of the pack did and then doing it better. To have to be rescued from a single wolf who’d caught her off guard was humiliating. The only silver lining that she could see was that the story of it would never reach her pack. Or Mark’s, Lyra thought, shooting another glance at his unconscious form and barely restraining herself from curling her lip at the sight. She wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t want word of this encounter getting out.

“I’ll take that as your thank-you, I guess,” Jaden said, “since it’s obviously all I’m going to get.”

“Take it however you want,” Lyra replied. “As long as you take it and go. I’m not interested in chatting right now and lucky for you, not in the mood for cat chasing either. But I might change my mind.” When her words seemed to amuse him for some perverse reason, Lyra narrowed her eyes and added, “Go away.”

She thought, and hoped, he would leave now that his heroics were finished. Instead, he surprised her by lingering. And she surprised herself by not turning and walking away, which is what she knew she should have done. Now that she had stepped closer to him, she was unable to avoid his scent. He smelled unmistakably of vampire, the faint whiff of some rare and ancient spice that Lyra doubted he could even smell himself, just as she’d been told (snarled at, more like) on several memorable occasions that her breed stank of wild animal musk. She had never seen anyone but a vamp react to her as though she’d rolled in garbage, and she certainly saw nothing wrong with the wolf scent.

But Jaden wasn’t reacting normally to her, wasn’t cringing and backing off as though she had some dread disease. He simply acted… interested. And it had affected her, Lyra realized, because she didn’t find him to be an assault on her senses either. He smelled good to her. Really good. Good enough to make her want to roll over on her back and—

She took a quick step back, sucking in a breath as she realized what was happening to her. Her skin had warmed, her heart rate had increased, and she was greedily drinking in Jaden’s vampire musk. Beneath her shirt, her nipples had pebbled into tight little buds, and it had nothing to do with the cold. Her sex was swollen and slick already, demanding she accept him, bare her neck to him, get him behind her and let him… let him…

Lyra exhaled harshly and stared at Jaden as though he were the Hellhound himself, a mythical beast come to drag her to the underworld for her disloyalty to the pack. He watched her steadily, his eyes still blue but grown decidedly more feline. The pupils were long, dilated, the irises a glowing blaze of blue. And she knew she was in trouble when he took two steps toward her, closing the distance until he was only inches from her, his breath fanning her face.

Only pride kept her from backing away again. Lyra stood her ground, even when those unusual eyes dropped to her lips. She licked them nervously, saw his jaw tighten. She decided it was not to her advantage that Jaden was only perhaps an inch taller than she. She’d always hated the way the males of her kind used their height and brawn to try to intimidate her, though at five feet eight she was tall for a woman. But she saw now that there had been one good thing. When those men had tried to move in on her, their mouths hadn’t been so very close, so evenly matched with the position of her own. If Jaden leaned in just a bit, he would have her.

Lyra couldn’t let that happen. But the thought of it was so much more tempting than it should have been. Her skin tingled pleasurably. Her fingers flexed, itching to grab him by the shoulders, the hair, and plunge.

“You’re something,” he said softly, his British accent doing terrible, forbidden things to the muscles deep in her belly. “Telling me where to go on my own territory. You shouldn’t even be here, Lyra. You know the wolves are banned from our cities, and this place belongs to the Lilim now. So this is twice I’ve met you when I’d be well within my rights to tear you apart for crossing the line.”

It was a threat, but she knew instinctively it wasn’t a real one. Killing her was the last thing on Jaden’s mind, just as fighting him was the last thing on hers. Still, she knew the reality of the situation would intrude soon enough, and at that point she was going to have to get away from him, no matter what it took. Sure enough, his next words set her already frayed nerves on edge.

He tilted his head, putting her in mind of a curious and not altogether benevolent cat.

“What are you up to, here? First it was hiding in that safe house in Chicago, and now you’ve turned up in a small town in Massachusetts that just happens to be the home of the newest vampire dynasty. What are you looking for?” He drew even closer. “Spying so you can run back and tell your leader what a dynasty full of cats looks like, are you? Or were you thinking we wouldn’t notice if you holed up here for a while? What are you running from, Lyra?”

Lyra swallowed with a dry click, and the words wouldn’t come. He would think what he would think, she knew. It didn’t matter what she said. His kind didn’t understand hers, and never would. And he would never understand the desperation she’d been grappling with, looking for ideas, or even scraps of ideas, that might save her.

It was a shame she couldn’t have stayed, seen more. She’d really hoped to find a way to see Lily, without Lily seeing her, of course, and study how a woman with so much power and responsibility conducted herself. Was there some secret to the way she walked, moved, talked? Why had they allowed her to claim so much so easily, with no males fighting for dominance? The whispers she’d heard of the human woman’s ascendance to the upper echelons of vampire society had been true. But as insane as it had sounded to all the wolves who had heard the rumors, Lyra now knew the rest was true as well. This was now a dynasty of Cait Sith, the vampire cat-shifters, no matter the new name they had taken. And if there was a more poisonous relationship than the one between that bloodline and her kind, she’d never heard of it.

There would be no help for her here, not now that her presence had been discovered by both a Cait and one of her many unwanted suitors. If Mark had sniffed her out, others would too. They were getting better at it, especially with the Proving so close at hand. So she would run again. Run home, this time, where she would have to begin preparations in earnest. Alone.

Defiantly, Lyra raised her chin and glared into Jaden’s searching eyes. “Where I go and what I do are none of your business,” she said. “But you’re welcome to your territory. There’s nothing here I want.”

She started to spin away, and as she did caught the dangerous flash of his eyes too late. His hand closed around her arm, and Lyra could feel the incredible, tightly controlled strength in his grip. He pulled her back hard, and she wound up plastered against him. For a brief, heated instant their bodies connected, and she could feel every hard knot of muscle in his long, lean form. Her body wanted to curve against it, fitting itself so that they were fused together, two pieces formed to connect with the other.

Jaden pressed his mouth to her ear, and she could feel the briefest rub of his head against her hair, like a cat marking a possession with its scent. She tried to struggle: she was no man’s to possess, and certainly not his! But with the slightest flex of deceptively strong muscle, she was forced to be still.

“You didn’t answer my question, Lyra. What are you running from?” he breathed against her ear. Such a simple question from a stranger, and still she felt herself tremble with the need to pour it out to him, to plead for help from a man who would doubtless laugh at her before turning away. It was the stress, she knew. The knowledge of what was building against her back at home, from both within the pack and without.

Finally, she found the strength to wrench away from him, and this time he let her go. She bared her teeth and growled at him, the only warning Lyra could give now since words had failed her. Fear, anger, and helpless lust tangled together inside her, threatening to push her back toward Jaden and make her do something she would later regret. And he was so still, standing there watching her, as poised and inscrutable as the sphinx with his eyes glowing like blue flames. But she could feel his want, the beast half of her sensing it and demanding she respond.

There was only one response she could give that she wouldn’t regret.

“Stay away from me, cat,” she snapped, her voice rough as it began to morph into a wolf’s snarl. “I have enough problems.”

She turned from him, surprised by how hard it was to leave him standing there. She was losing it, Lyra feared. Losing it from the pressure of being hunted, ridiculed, and discounted for so long. But it would be over soon, one way or another.

Lyra took off at a sprint, her muscles coiling and responding like a well-oiled machine. Her heeled black boots were no impediment to speed. She didn’t give a damn how she looked, running away from him. He was nothing to her. Just like any vampire. She felt her limbs burn and change, pulling her toward the ground and into a four-legged lope, clothing vanishing as fur bristled over her skin. As the wolf, she could breathe again. Never looking back, Lyra raced away from where Jaden stood watching and let the seductive embrace of the night be her freedom, if only for a little while.

It was time to go home.

Jaden watched the wolf, her silvery fur the color of smoke, vanish around the corner and into the darkness. Lyra was as long limbed and graceful in this form as she was in the other, the very picture of deadly beauty. And she was beautiful, even if his nature stood in dangerous opposition to her own.

There were a few drawn-out moments when he didn’t trust himself to move, worried that he’d wind up chasing after the wolf. He had no doubt now that Lyra was still in some sort of trouble, still running, and that the unfortunate suitor lying on the ground was only a piece of the problem.

“It’s no concern of mine,” he said out loud, hoping the sound of his own voice would bring him back to reality and lift whatever spell he’d fallen under. But nothing was going to remove the memory of how Lyra had felt against him, as if she’d been burned into his skin. Silently, he cursed himself for having touched her. Impulse control wasn’t an area where he usually failed. But something about Lyra Black—yes, that had been her last name, he remembered—had made it impossible to resist. Her hair had been like silk against his cheek, and the scent of her skin…

“Enough,” he growled, and turned his head away from the direction she had gone. She had let it go, walked away. He needed to do the same. Jaden didn’t know where this interest in the ornery she-wolf had come from, but he knew nothing good could possibly come of it. Time to get out of here. The sun would be up before long, and at that point he could brood about it in his dreams and hopefully wake up refreshed and past this madness.

He was just turning to go when his eyes caught a glint of something. Inside him, some voice of self-preservation began screaming at him to leave it, to just keep going. Although he had ample control over most of his impulses, curiosity, like all cats eventually discovered, had often been his downfall. Jaden walked to the locket, glittering atop its length of broken chain, and picked it up.

Jaden let it dangle from his fist for a moment, examining what Mark had torn from Lyra’s neck. What caught his eye first was the stone; it was large, about the size of a silver dollar, and worn so long that the surface was perfectly smooth. The shimmering silver-blue was familiar to him: moonstone. The gem was set into a larger disc of white gold that framed the stone in scrollwork. The design put him in mind of his years spent in Scotland. Not a particularly feminine piece, but strong, and for no reason Jaden could really pinpoint it seemed to him that it suited the woman who had left it behind.

Lyra would no doubt be angry when she discovered her talisman had been forgotten. Before he could think better of it, Jaden closed his hand around the pendant and pocketed it, feeling the faint hum of power given off by the moonstone. He’d been around long enough to know that a powerful artifact such as this should be treated with respect.

She was going to want it back. Perhaps he could send it to her, if he could discover where she was from. Or maybe she would come find him, though Jaden didn’t think that was likely. Lyra had made it very clear that she didn’t want to see him again, and considering his reaction to her, maybe that was best.

No, definitely that was best, he qualified, stroking a thumb over the stone before removing his hand from his pocket and setting off in the opposite direction from Lyra, heading back toward the mansion. Not really home, but a fine place to stay… for now. He would sleep, Jaden decided, and figure out what to do with the she-wolf’s pendant when he awoke. Until then, he would put her out of his mind. His life was troubled enough. He didn’t need to fixate on an unimportant woman who would as soon tear his head off as look at him.

But he dreamed of her eyes.

And of the wild, uncontrollable hunger of beasts in the dark.

chapter THREE

LYRA AWAKENED around noon, sprawled on her bed with the blankets and sheets twisted around her waist. Her head was turned to the side as she lay on her stomach, her arms curled beneath the pillow her head rested on. For a brief instant, she was pleased to greet the day, late though she was. It was justified: yesterday had been spent in a car as she’d headed home, and the night before that had taken a lot out of her.

But as she recalled, for the millionth time, what exactly that late night had involved, her pleasure at the warm spring sunlight died.

Her necklace had been on the ground. And she would bet, she’d just bet that vampire bastard had picked it up.

Lyra gave an irritated little groan and buried her face in her pillow. One hand went instinctively to her throat, hoping against hope to feel the smooth metal of her mother’s talisman. But no. Her birthright, a symbol of her position and full of warm memories of her mother, was back in Massachusetts, probably displayed prominently in Jaden’s bedroom or coffin or whatever vamps like him used for a sleep space. And once her father realized she’d lost it, she was in for an ass-kicking of epic proportions.

A soft knock at her door had her cringing. He was checking on her. Of course he was. Dorien Black seemed to think his only child was headed right over the edge of the Cliffs of Insanity, especially once he’d figured out she’d thrown her hat in the ring for the Proving. She knew he was waiting for her to back off and withdraw, to either find a mate who would fight in her stead or to throw her support behind one of the other “viable” candidates. Like her cousin.

Lyra gritted her teeth. Her father had made it very clear, along with just about everyone else in the pack, that she’d thrown a major wrench in the works by refusing to step back. Too damn bad. The way she figured it, the position was hers to lose. And if things kept going so badly, she knew she very well might. But nothing worth fighting for was easy.

His voice, warm, familiar, and still beloved despite everything, came through a crack he opened in the door.

“Lyra? You feeling all right, kiddo?”

“I’m fine, Dad,” Lyra said, clearing her throat when she heard how ragged her voice sounded. “You might as well come in.”

The door opened, and Dorien walked in to sit at the edge of her bed while Lyra scooted up into a sitting position and pulled her knees into her chest. In that moment, she felt like she was eight years old again, waiting to be scolded for misbehaving… likely for fighting with the boys again. Remembering that she’d usually won brought a soft smile to her face, but it was gone as quickly as it had come.

She was not a child anymore. She was twenty-three, and the ensuing years had been etched onto Dorien’s handsome face. He was still larger than life to her… but no longer infallible. And she would be caught in the ancient, and very sticky, web of werewolf succession unless she figured out a way to tear free. To prove that worthiness didn’t always go hand in hand with a massive male body.

So far, she wasn’t exactly doing a bang-up job.

Dorien’s eyes, the same burnished gold as her own, searched her face.

“So? You plan on telling me where you were this time?” he finally asked, his voice gruff.

Lyra tried for a smile, but she only half succeeded. “Do I ever?”

Instead of finding it funny, Dorien heaved a sigh so long-suffering that Lyra felt the prickle of guilt. This was partially his fault, she reminded herself. As much as she loved him, he would never take a stand for her and buck tradition. He was a Black, and he was in far too deep to go against what that name meant. And it definitely did not mean training your daughters as warriors.

“At least you don’t stink of vampires this time,” he said. “I hope you were smart enough, after all we talked about, not to risk so much again.”

Now it was Lyra’s turn to sigh, but the sound was far more irritated coming from her. “You talked,” she pointed out. “Every time I tried, you cut me off. Do you honestly think I would have holed up at a vampire safe house if I’d felt I had any other choice? I needed to get out of here, to get away from all the macho BS. Guys I’ve known my whole life were just about taking one another’s heads off to get near me, Dad! I’m not stupid. They weren’t nearly as interested back before I hit twenty-two and could be mated.”

“You’re a beautiful girl—er, woman, Lyra,” Dorien said, patting her awkwardly. “There’s no chance they didn’t notice before.”

She snorted. “Whatever. Explain to me why I had to go away to college to get a date.”

“You’re very confident, sweetheart. You can be a little intimidating.”

That made Lyra grin. “You mean I’m bitchy. Sweet, Dad.”

He chuckled. “No, confident. With a sharp tongue sometimes. You get both from me, so I’m not calling it anything but good.” His humor, which she’d always loved, subsided far too quickly.

“It wouldn’t hurt you to give them a chance, Lyra. They’re not boys anymore. But you’ve managed to send them running in the other direction all on your own; they all think you’ve lost your damned mind.”

Lyra dug her fingers into her hair and glowered at her father. “Oh yes. I want to fight in the Proving, so obviously I’m nuts. I’d like a shot at my birthright, but going for it makes me a weak, stupid little she-wolf. You do realize how sexist you sound, right? I’m actually surprised you haven’t tried to shove an arranged marriage down my throat.”

She saw the mulish expression and knew immediately that he’d thought about it. She growled and threw her head back in exasperation.

“Seriously? You really think I’d go for that?”

“No, which is why it hasn’t happened. In some packs, it would have happened as soon as you were of age, so consider yourself lucky. I want you to be able to choose, but you’re not making it easy.”

Lyra tried hard not to bristle. She loved her father dearly. But once she’d hit her twenty-second year and all hell had broken loose where male werewolves were concerned, it seemed like every conversation had turned into a battle. He wouldn’t get off her case until she had done what was expected of her. Yet there was no way she could in good conscience do what was expected of her.

“I’m a grown woman,” she said, trying to keep the bitterness from her voice. “You’re lucky I haven’t run. I’ve heard of that happening in some of the other packs too.”

But not often, Lyra thought as her father’s eyes reflected the misery he felt she was putting him through. It wasn’t often that an Alpha male had only a single, female child. A strong male son would still have had to go through a Proving, but he would have been trained, prepared, and generally accepted as his father’s Second even before he had to go through the motions. But a daughter… in a patriarchal system like the wolves’, there was no place for a female Alpha.

Especially when the males were mostly built like linebackers and would sometimes fight to the death to become Alpha.

“If you’d wanted to leave, you would have left already,” Dorien said. He sighed again, this time wistfully. “I’d almost rather you’d chosen that, Lyra, instead of the mess you’ve gotten yourself into. But you can’t leave the Thorn any more than I can. This is your place, just like it is mine.”

She hated that he was right, but he knew her better than anyone. She loved Silver Falls, loved the forest and the hidden clearings, the sound of the running waters deep in the trees. She loved the way the town and the surrounding landscape wore each season, and the way it felt to run on four legs here when the moon was high.

Moreover, she loved her pack. They were her blood, true relations or no. A number of the women had had a hand in raising her after her mother was killed, women she could still go to with problems when her crusty father just wouldn’t do. Most of the pack loved her, as well, Lyra knew.

Even if a lot of them now thought she must be crazy, suicidal, or both.

She looked down, plucking at the comforter. “I don’t want to go, Dad.”

“Then stay here! You keep running off the way you do, you’re going to get hurt. I try to keep things sane here, Lyra. The Thorn have worked very hard at not being the savages our kind is seen as. But some of your suitors are going to use any means to get at you, and you know that!”

She rolled her eyes, recognizing the riff from so many of their arguments lately. “Dad, I’ve got suitors from every pack in the eastern US sniffing at my heels. Some of whom, I will have you know, have gotten plenty aggressive on our own territory. And off of it,” she added, thinking of Mark. His pack was neighbor to her own, and the two groups congregated from time to time. She hoped she wouldn’t have to see him again, but the chances of that sort of luck were slim to none.

Dorien’s expression turned thunderous as his protective instinct kicked in. “Who—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lyra interjected, cutting him off. Dorien’s face said that it damn well did matter, but Lyra didn’t really want to get into it. Instead, she continued, “I have no intention of picking up some stray loser who wants me just because I’m an Alpha’s daughter, Dad. I don’t like being the way in. Especially because when it comes to being your Second, I’m the best candidate this pack has. I learned from you, even if you weren’t trying to teach me.”

Dorien reached out, tucking a wild curl behind her ear with a tenderness that made Lyra want to weep. She knew this was killing him. But if she didn’t step up, Eric would surely become the new Alpha to the pack. If her father was traditional with welcome little dashes of forward thinking—a little old-fashioned but beloved—her cousin was conservative with a capital “C,” an authoritarian puritan isolationist with a massive stick up his ass. Sideways.

Not only would he not move the Thorn forward, he seemed destined to push the pack back at least a hundred years. It was something Lyra couldn’t bear to endure. Not when she had so many ideas to bring the Thorn into the twenty-first century… even if they came kicking and screaming. It was adapt or die out. Sadly, with the pack shrinking in recent years, the latter had begun to be whispered about as a possibility.

There would have to be a female Alpha somewhere eventually, she reasoned. A new voice, a new point of view. Why not here?

Why not her?

Her father seemed to have plenty of ideas on that subject himself.

“I’m asking you one last time, Lyra. Step back. There’s no shame in withdrawing from the Proving. Hell, I don’t even know if the other males will consent to fight you.”

“They have to,” Lyra replied. “I looked it up in the histories. I’m to be treated just like the male candidates.”

Dorien’s brows went up. “I don’t recall that in the histories, though it’s been a while since I had to look to them. When was this?”

Lyra felt her shoulders beginning to hunch defensively and forced herself to straighten. “In 1759. Pack of the Broken Arrow. There was a female wolf in that Proving.”

“And?”

“And… well, she didn’t succeed, but she made it pretty far.”

He zeroed in immediately on what she wasn’t saying. “How was she treated when she fell, then?”

“Um. I… I think it was something like being torn apart by the remaining candidates once she’d fallen.” Lyra mumbled it as quickly as she could, but Dorien’s sharp intake of breath indicated he’d heard her just fine.

“Damn it, Lyra!” he snapped, his patience for her obviously already exhausted for the day. “This can’t end well. You’ll get that, or worse, especially with your cousin likely to lead the pack! I’m not going to be able to save you either. Do you understand that? No one will!”

Lyra did understand, better than he knew. She thought of Mark, the determination in his eyes, his strength. A single wolf, and she couldn’t even manage him. No amount of bravado was going to make up for her limitations in strength and size, and Lyra knew it. But there had to be a way. Jaden appeared in her mind’s eye, taking Mark out in a series of quick moves that looked effortless. It wasn’t exactly inspiring, considering she couldn’t move like a vampire and likely never would. But Jaden had used something other than raw power to win, and that was encouraging… if she could find a way to emulate it.

Lyra was tough. No one in the pack would argue that. But she hadn’t been trained to fight like the males. She’d had to pick that up herself. Dorien’s refusal to teach her still cut deep.

“I’ll figure it out. I always do,” Lyra said. What else could she say? She had no plan, and she certainly had no one willing to help her. But every time she considered backing down from what seemed an increasingly untenable position, she thought of the silent, humorless figure of her cousin. His stark view of right and wrong, his unnerving ability to quote whole passages from the histories of any given year and then apply it to a given situation made her nervous, to say the least. Hell, he made a lot of people nervous. To be born without a sense of humor wasn’t normal. And then there were the things Simon had told her he’d heard about him. If even a small amount of those rumors were true, her quiet, creepy cousin had plenty of ugliness lurking just beneath the surface.

Eric Black had always put her hackles up. But as it stood, he would be Second unless she found a way to stop it. And he would be the ruin of the pack.

Dorien dragged a hand through russet-colored waves of hair only slightly touched with gray and looked upward, as though the mystical wolf gods themselves might descend from on high to help with his unruly daughter.

“I know it seems unfair to you,” he said, and Lyra could hear the way he tried to modulate his tone, to hide the fear and anger running beneath them. “But like it or not, we survive through strength and ferocity. The vampires have it in for us, and half the damned time we have it in for each other. The pack looks to the Alpha to be the strongest of all. You’re plenty strong, and very clever, Lyra. But physically, you couldn’t take down even the larger males in our own pack. That matters.”

“I could learn if you’d train me properly. Any human would think this is bullshit. They treat their women as equals,” Lyra snapped, hating the old argument, the one that always seemed to poison their conversations anymore.

“The humans don’t have to live by fang and claw the way we do!” Dorien snarled. “And my training you wouldn’t have done a bit of good. You versus a two-hundred-pound wolf, each of you fighting the same, is never going to come out in your favor. Never.”

“You don’t know that,” Lyra snapped. Dorien dug his fingers into his hair and looked like he wanted to bite something.

“Damn it, Lyra, why can’t you just accept the way things are instead of fighting so hard?” He stopped, closed his eyes, and collected himself. It was an action Lyra had seen plenty of times when she was the subject of his discussion. She knew he was counting to ten so he didn’t blow. Sure enough, when his eyes opened, his voice had softened, though it was thick with emotion.

“You’ve never seen a Proving, sweetheart. You think you can be ready for it, but no one ever is. All you’ll have is your wits and brute strength. You’ve got the first in spades, but the other…” He trailed off for a moment.

“I already lost your mother. Don’t you leave me too.”

It hurt her. And it made Lyra angry, because he knew it hurt her, even though he meant it. When she focused on the latter, Lyra managed to cool off a little. But as far as bending, she just couldn’t.

“Female or not, tradition or not, Alpha is my birthright,” she said quietly. “It’s in my blood. If I give up, the Thorn will get Eric. You know it, Dad.”

Dorien exhaled loudly through his nose. He looked at her, and the bleakness in his eyes brought on a fresh wave of guilt despite her best efforts. “You haven’t heard a word I said, have you? You can’t win. Rules are rules, and if Eric wins the Proving I’ll take him. He’s a Black, and he’s got the strength to prove it. I know he’s a bit… dour. It’s hard to believe he’s my brother’s boy sometimes… Gerik would be sad, I think, to know how he came up with Mara’s family. But I can work with him, mold him—”

“He’s a waste of a werewolf, and there’ll be no changing him,” Lyra burst out. “He’s so obsessed with rules that he can’t see the benefit of change. He wants everything to stay the same, harsh punishment for anyone who bucks the system… and besides that, he’s twisted.”

Dorien looked at her sharply. “You don’t know that. I’ve heard whisperings, same as you, Lyra, but there’s never been any proof.”

“By the time you have proof that he enjoys hunting human women in his spare time, the humans will be on our doorstep,” Lyra snapped. “And if you want to talk about running off, he’s made himself pretty scarce lately too. So the solution is to hand him the pack on a silver platter? At least I still care, even if I’ve had to put my life on hold because of these stupid traditions!”

“I didn’t make the Thorn; I only keep it, Lyra. You’ve heard it for enough years to know how it works. Eric will win the Proving on his own merits or not,” Dorien said, rising from the bed. “And as for you, better a life on hold than over.”

He headed for the door, but Lyra’s question stopped him in his tracks. She knew Dorien had been hoping that her signing up for the Proving had been a stunt, a way of expressing her anger with pack tradition when it came to the relentless marginalizing of their women. So she decided to let him know she meant it.

No matter what.

“Do you plan to try and stop me from competing?” she asked. A simple question, but a loaded one. Lyra tensed in anticipation of his answer. A great deal rode on this. And if he said yes, then she knew she might have no options but leaving. The very idea was like a knife in her heart. Still, if she couldn’t be free to choose her destiny here, then life was too short to stay encased in amber.

His shoulders slumped, making Dorien look every one of his forty-five years.

“No,” he said without turning around. “I won’t stop you, Lyra. Just know that if you do this, I won’t be able to save you. No matter what happens. At the Proving, I have to be Alpha first and a father second. I must uphold the law. Some traditions really can’t be broken.”

“I’m going to prove I can do this,” Lyra replied, feeling a little desperate to gain even a bit of support. He was her father. It would mean everything to know he was rooting for her, if only silently. “Have some faith in me. Just a little. Please?” she asked.

He turned his head to the side, and the small smile he gave her was sad.

“It’s not about faith,” he said. Then he left the room without another word. Lyra watched him go, watched the door shut behind him, and then put her head in her hands and closed her eyes.

“Yes, it is.”

chapter FOUR

JADEN? WHAT ARE YOU DOING in here all by yourself? Hiding?”

Jaden looked up, startled by the warm female voice that cut smoothly through the silence he’d been sitting in for the better part of an hour. His first thought was to hide the necklace he’d been toying with, but it was already too late for that. He’d assumed no one would bother him, since apart from the fact that he wasn’t known for being a particularly friendly cat, this was one of the rooms in the mansion that hadn’t been renovated yet. No television, and nothing of interest except for some hideous floral furniture, meant solitude. Usually.

He should have known better.

“Uh-oh. You’re brooding,” Lily said, narrowing her eyes when she leaned into the room to look at him.

“I’m not brooding,” Jaden grumbled, curling his fingers around the pendant and pulling it in toward his body. “Your husband broods. I’m just… thinking.”

She raised her eyebrows at the necklace disappearing into his fist, but didn’t seem inclined to say anything about it. Yet. Instead, she walked in, settled herself on the ugly couch across from his chair, and smiled at him. That smile went a long way toward smoothing his ruffled fur, Jaden had to admit. And of course, she knew it would.

He wasn’t at all sure he liked how quickly she’d figured him out.

“Deflection, hmm? Interesting. Yes, Ty broods. But he’s usually got a good reason for it. And it’s fun to tease him out of his moods.” She cocked her head. “You’re cute, Jaden, but I don’t think the methods that work with Ty are really appropriate for this situation, so you’re going to have to just tell me what’s wrong.”

It would be so easy to lean on her, Jaden thought. He’d liked her from the start, and the ever-increasing numbers of Cait Sith showing up on her doorstep to become a part of her dynasty seemed to agree. In the past, there were a few moments when Jaden had wished she’d been meant for him, that he’d been the one sent to find her. Lily was a beauty, and as strong as they came. But she and Ty were perfectly matched, and Jaden had never seen his old friend so disgustingly happy.

He was glad for them. He should be happy here too, but instead he felt a gnawing ache in his gut. Why couldn’t he just be happy?

Lily frowned suddenly as something occurred to her. “It’s not the Ptolemy again, is it? I’ve got Ty recruiting more guards, but it’s a slower process than I’d like, and the Council seems determined not to help.”

“They’re not helping because they would like you, and all of us, to go away. We don’t belong in the club, Lily. It’s easier for them if the Lilim are smothered in their infancy while they’re turning a blind eye.”

Lily swore softly, making Jaden smile. Such a sweet thing shouldn’t have such a foul vocabulary. He was sure that he and Ty had been bad influences.

“You’re right. I know you’re right,” Lily said, shaking her head. “I didn’t think this would be easy, but I never imagined that the Council would be so…”

“Hostile?” Jaden supplied. “These are men and women who’ve actively participated in the suppression of mixed bloods for centuries. They may not go out of their way to hurt us—most of them—but they certainly won’t help us if we’re sinking.” He leaned back and looked at Lily. She looked very young, and very vulnerable, in that moment. It made him wish he hadn’t just used his dagger on that traitor Nero’s head.

He should have taken Arsinöe that night, and saved all of them this trouble. Whatever Ptolemy might have taken her place, there would be no threat anywhere near as great as the ancient queen. Arsinöe’s grudge wasn’t about her dynasty’s liberated slaves anymore. She’d been humiliated. And she would make the Lilim pay until she was satisfied.

Lily rubbed one hand restlessly over the frayed fabric on the arm of the couch.

“Well, whatever anyone thinks, if we catch any more Ptolemy slinking around here, I swear I’m dragging Arsinöe’s ass before the Council. I may be new, but that doesn’t mean she gets to pick off my people because she’s angry and down a few hundred slaves.”

“I’ve been out looking nights,” Jaden said, “and I haven’t seen anything. It’s been a month since the last sighting. Maybe they’ve knocked it off.”

But he didn’t believe it, and he saw Lily didn’t either.

“I wish you’d stick closer to the house and not go wandering around alone,” Lily said. “I worry.”

He understood her concern, and it touched him. But Ptolemy scouts would keep circling Tipton like the vultures they were, and Cait Sith would keep disappearing, one by one. At some point, there would be another confrontation. He just hoped it wasn’t soon. Lily, powerful though she was, wasn’t ready. And Jaden, though he hadn’t said anything to anyone, was concerned that he’d escaped one prison only to find himself in a more comfortable one of his own making.

The scars they’d left him with were never going to be enough. Was there a list of defectors to be hauled back or destroyed? He would guess there was. Arsinöe was focused about her grudges. And Jaden was quite sure that the Ptolemy queen wanted his death.

It would likely get a lot messier before things settled down.

“I can take care of myself, Lily. You shouldn’t worry. But for what it’s worth, I appreciate the sentiment.”

“I’d rather know you were safe than appreciative,” Lily said, then heaved a frustrated sigh. “I swear the Council wants to see me and Arsinöe in some kind of steel-cage death match and just solve it that way. Two-thousand-year-old bitch.”

Jaden couldn’t help his smile. “I’d pay to see it. My money would be on you.”

“I wish I was as confident about that,” she said with a wry smile. “I never thought this would be easy, but… well, it’s definitely not easy. Anyway, enough of my complaining. I’m glad this isn’t about the Ptolemy.” She tucked her hair behind her ear, and Jaden could actually feel her honing in on him. Inwardly, he cursed. She was like a dog with a bone over things she wanted, or wanted to know.

It was funny when he wasn’t the target.

“Okay, you’ve stumped me. What is it? What’s making you look like you’re staring into the face of impending doom?” She drew the last word out dramatically, trying to soften him up, Jaden knew. But it wasn’t going to work.

“Nothing.” He hedged. “Since when does me wanting to be by myself mean anything’s wrong?”

“Jaden,” Lily said, angling her head at him, “I know you. You have degrees of unapproachable, and you’ve been way above baseline for two nights running. Does this have something to do with that necklace you’re doing a lousy job of hiding?”

Jaden felt his jaw tighten, his muscles tense. She knew. Of course she knew; this was Lily. But how could he talk about it when he didn’t even understand exactly how he felt?

“I’m not hiding it. It’s just… something I found.”

“Uh-huh.” Lily considered him, and he fought the urge to squirm under the scrutiny. She was an unnervingly perceptive creature, and becoming a vampire only seemed to have intensified the fact. “Can I see it?”

“No.”

“Did you find it in the house?”

“No.”

Lily exhaled loudly, her patience with him finally strained. “James Dennis Harrison,” she said irritably. “Just tell me where you got the damned necklace or I’ll come over there and get it. And don’t think I can’t do it.”

Jaden cringed at the sound of his given name and rued the day she’d wheedled it out of him. He’d left that name behind with his old life. Its stodginess had never suited him anyway.

“I don’t remember where I picked it up. Off the ground, I suppose,” Jaden said, his voice taking on a growly edge. When Lily simply arched one slim brow, he hunched reflexively, feeling like a child who’d been caught doing something naughty. She tapped long fingernails on the arm of the couch and waited silently. Jaden was slightly ashamed at how quickly he broke.

“Oh, for the love of—I helped a woman out of a tight spot last night. This got left behind, and I picked it up. Happy now?”

Her knowing smile was almost worse than the prying.

“Oh,” she said. “It’s that kind of brooding. Never mind, then.” She stood, surprising him. He’d figured she would stick around to harass him for a while longer. He found it a sign of how twisted he’d become when he realized he didn’t actually feel like being left alone after all.

“What kind of brooding?” Jaden asked, puzzled. “Do you think you might enlighten me before you wander off? Because I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here.”

Lily rolled her eyes, hand on her hip, looking for a moment like an irritated teenager. “Jaden. Helping out humans isn’t a habit of yours, not that I’ve noticed. So you save this woman, she drops a necklace, I find you sitting up here mooning over it, and you think your rotten mood is… mysterious to me?”

He opened his mouth to give her a smart reply, but nothing came. Instead, he had to settle for a chagrined, “Well, but—”

“Ah, there you are. I was looking for both of you.”

Jaden took one look at Ty MacGillivray’s long, rangy form striding in the door and had to bite back a groan. Instead of solitude, he now had a party. If he decided to stick around Tipton for much longer… and that was still a big if in his mind… he was really going to have to get his own place.

Naturally, Ty didn’t seem bothered at all by the extra company. Being with Lily had changed him from the solitary, humorless man he’d been for so long, consumed only with survival and staying indispensible to the Ptolemy queen. His natural intensity had remained, but Lily had softened him and brought out a good humor and playfulness that still amazed Jaden.



Continues...

Excerpted from Midnight Reckoning by Castle, Kendra Leigh Copyright © 2012 by Castle, Kendra Leigh. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 34 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 25, 2012

    A werewolf and a vampire and . . . a relationship? Oh my!

    Originally reviewed on my blog: SIK Book Reviews.

    This novel is the sequel to Dark Awakening, but it doesn't really feel like it is when reading it. It surprised me because its focus is on two new characters...both of which were in the first book, but they weren't main characters. I have mixed feelings about this. I don't like it because, as a reader, I get attached to the characters in the book and if there is a sequel, I expect to see more from the characters from the first book. So, it disappoints me a bit. However, I also like it because I do prefer stand-alone books. I appreciate the new story through the focus of new characters. But, it just doesn't feel like a sequel to me. Why not just write a new stand-alone book?

    I enjoyed the story of the two new characters, Jaden and Lyra. The story starts off slow and there isn't much action throughout the book. There seemed to be more of a focus on the relationship of the two characters than action-packed adventure. Don't get me wrong, I like romance...a story is never as good if it is without a love story. But, I also like action and adventure. Especially when it is a paranormal novel about vampires and werewolves! Nonetheless, I still did enjoy the story and seeing the odd relationship between a vampire and a werewolf develop in its interesting way.

    I loved both main characters in this novel. Jaden is a vampire who has a long history of nothing ever going his way. He has had a lot of hurts in his past. I liked Jaden even in the first novel when we didn't really know much about him. I don't know what it was, but Castle caught my interest with him when I didn't think that he would have his own story. She probably planned it that way and bravo to her, because I wanted to know more about this character. Lyra is a werewolf, who is very independent and doesn't like to accept help from anyone. She is a very strong character on the outside, but we find out later that she also has a soft side that is nice to see. I also enjoyed her character. I very much enjoyed how Jaden and Lyra interact throughout the novel. Their witty banter leading up to their relationship was lovely to read.

    Castle's writing is excellent in this novel as well as the first. I have no complaints. Her creativity is refreshing. She has the ability to grab the reader and really make one care about the characters she is telling the story about.

    Overall, I would recommend this novel to paranormal romance fans. The basically non-existence of the characters from the first novel is bothersome, though. They don't even make an appearance until the 4th chapter and then they are gone until the end of the novel. But, the new characters are just as loveable. I liked the surprising twist at the end...I didn't see it coming at all! I like to be surprised. :) I also found the ending of the book to be a bit abrupt. I did not expect it to end when it did. I'm interested to read the next book in this series to see what or who will be the focus of the story, but I feel that the story between Jaden and Lyra is incomplete. So, I hope there is more about their story in the third book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Even Better than the First book

    Midnight Reckoning
    Also Posted at Under the Covers Book Blog

    I have been so excited to finally read the second installment of Castle's Dark Dynasties series. Dark Awakening blew me away and I had no doubt Midnight Reckoning would do the same. This book takes place about seven months after Lily took a stand against Ptolemy and began her own dynasty. Most of the Cait Sith have come to join the Lillim and still free to chose or do what they please.

    Jaden Harrison, a hot, intense cat/vamp (Tynan's friend) finds himself lost and not knowing what do with his new found freedom. But as faith would have it, Jaden will choose to protect a female wolf from an attacker. A female wolf he's met at the safe house a few months back. Attempting to do the right thing, Jaden goes above and beyond to help; not only from her current attacker but to help with her long life dream to become an Alpha of her clan.

    Lyra Black is the daughter of the Alpha Male for the Thorn Wolf pack. Refusing to be taken as anyone's mate, at 23, Lyra is at an age to fight for the Alpha position of her clan. It is her birthright to do so. Wanting this dream to come true, Lyra accepts Jaden's help to train for the life and death competition and finds love in the process.

    This book is without a doubt one of the best PNR books I've read. Ms. Castle has given us a story filled with suspense, humor, betrayals, action, lots of hot scenes with great sexual build up and of course, romance.
    I again find my stomach full of butterflies in anticipation of the next book! I highly recommend this series!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Great Read

    She has taken the night world and reved it u! I love her world building and her strong charachters. Great ploits and twists.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2014

    Jet update

    Slight appearnce change: he has some stuble growing into a beard with the connected moustache
    Age:18
    Crush:none

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2014

    Laurel

    (May I join)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2014

    Andrew bio update

    Name andrew age rp 18 rl 15 eyes smokey blue short dark brown hair samurai personality wary and calm

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2014

    Harvey

    Uh....

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2014

    Katie's bio update

    Name: Lady Katherine, but call me Katie, seriously, I hate being called Katherine. Age: 18, Personality: Fun-loving, adventurous, easy to get along with (most of the time.) can be argumentitive and stubborn when angry, which isn't often. Apperance: Dark blond, shoulder length hair, chocolate colored eyes. Crush: I don't know. Weapons of choice: Bow and arrows and throwing daggers, a bunch of them.( I get a new one every year, I'm 18. Do the math. :P) Likes: Laughing, the ocean, climbing trees, annoying people I don't like. Dislikes: sour lemonade. Other: I'm single, my favorite subject is history, and this face: >:o is wierd.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2014

    The Assassin

    *Gets escorted into a cell in the dungeon and sets against the back wall.*

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    J

    &#8471

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    Salem

    Yawned*

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2014

    Mistletoe

    Oh thanks.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    Pierce

    The teenage boy carries his belt of throwing daggers watching the princess

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    The peasant

    Looked at the scribe, then around the castle.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Queen Emma and Princess Liv and Prince Luke

    THE ROYAL FAMILY

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Princess Cassia

    You both may be king and queen of Fael, but please advertise. I am your only daughter.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 23, 2013

    Great Read

    I have fallen in love with this series, and these characters. The dynamic between the vampire, and his student wolf is both hot, and intense. Once I started it, I had a hard time putting it down until I was finished. Kendra is a great writer, and I look forward to more of this series in the future.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2013

    Loved this second instalment even more than i liked the first

    Loved the story of Lyra and Jaden, a werewolf and vampire love story that had a "Romeo and Juliet" style to it but with a much better ending. Loved, loved, loved.it.

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  • Posted February 20, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Werewolf & Vampire Equals Awesome!

    A deliciously intriguing plot, a fantastic cast of characters and a steamy romance, makes Midnight Reckoning one hard book to put down. I was totally consumed by this story as soon as I read the first paragraph. And page after page Castle delivered exceptional world-building and characters I grew to adore. She has a way with words, and strings them together so eloquently I could picture everything, from smells, to beautifully painted skies. Each word was chosen with care, and reminded me of the ever talented Gena Showalter’s writing style (think Lords of the Underworld). So what makes Midnight Reckoning worthy of your undivided attention? EVERYTHING.

    The story itself was fascinating. I did not read the first book in the series so it took a few pages in for me to understand the whole Dynasty aspect of the vampires. Who controlled whom, what each Dynasty was known for, how they all interacted as a society. Reading the first book, Dark Awakening, might be best for those of you who like back-story or reading a series in order. In my opinion Midnight Reckoning can work as a stand-alone title; however, it might just take a minute to process the entire world (although this should not deter you from reading it). The story also has some of my other favorite elements, such as betrayal, an unsuspecting enemy, and character’s who will do anything to rise above their circumstances. As soon as you hit around page 100, you can expect nonstop action and an intense emotional connection to the characters. A fantastic novel with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end.



    Full review at Mother/Gamer/Writer

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  • Posted February 1, 2012

    Fantastic Read!!!

    I really have fallen in love with this series!!! I hope there are more to the series.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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