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Whoever said that revenge was a dish best served cold obviously never had a taste for it, because all Raine Spenser could feel was heatfever warm and searing through her veinsand it felt good. Better, in fact, than anything had felt in a long time, as if her life had finally been given purpose after so many draining months of weakness. Who cared if she was acting on visceral emotion rather than coolheaded logic? Her thirst for vengeance was an infusion of power ripping through her system, setting her on fire, and she liked it. A lot.
The May rain came down in a lazy, endless pour, drenching the city of Paris to its bones, the howling wind driving the cold drops against her face, and yet, she burned, aching with the need to catch her prey and make him pay for his sins. And for a woman like Raine, she was more than capable of dealing out a devil's load of violence.
Unique among the ancient clansnonhuman races whose existence had been kept secret from the majority of humans for thousands of yearsRaine was a woman from two worlds: that of the Deschanel vampires and the Alacea psychics. Her parents had given Raine a childhood that was full of love, laughter and acceptance, and though they'd always done their best to protect her, she refused to make them a part of this.
This had to be her fight, and whatever happened, she would see it through to the end.
The young woman who had been raised in her parents' caring home, gone to university, then traveled the world as an environmentalist seemed another person now. One Raine hardly knew or understood. After being kidnapped at the beginning of the year and held prisoner for nearly a month, the hope that had once burned within her had been transformed into something distorted and dark. But then, these were grim times for all the ancient clans and the crossbreed knew she wasn't alone.
A war unlike anything that had come before was upon the world, though most of the humans continued on with their carefree existence, blithely unaware, believing the nightmares closing in on them were nothing more than mere figments of their imagination. But the nightmares were all too real, and if they weren't stopped, life for the humans and the clans alike was never going to be the same again.
Monsters once imprisoned had found escape, and now the men and women who had helped save Raine's life just months before were caught in the middle of a battle of epic proportions against a vile race known as the Casus. Immortal creatures that had been imprisoned for their gruesome crimes against humanity and the other clans more than a thousand years ago, the Casus had finally found a means of escape from the metaphysical prison called Meridian that held them. And although they could only escape one or two at a time, their numbers were steadily growing. But the most frightening part was that they were working to bring about "the flood," when all of their brethren would escape Meridian in a mass exodus, wreaking their vengeance upon the world.
And that's where the Watchmen came in.
An organization of shape-shifters whose job it was to watch over those clans who had survived the centuries, the Watchmen were the ones meant to ensure tran-quility and peace. Though they lived in every corner of the world, it was a small unit of shifters from Colorado who had first begun the fight against the Casus. They were now established at a new compound in England called Harrow House, which was where Raine had been staying since last February, after they'd freed her from the madman who'd been determined to use her psychic powers to aid the Casus in their quest for freedom.
But while their fight was a righteous one, Raine wasn't working with the Watchmen or their allies. She had her own agendaone she planned to carry out with deadly purpose, no matter the consequences.
Tonight, she was a predator. And she was on the hunt.
Peering around the corner of a thick, weathered building made of ancient granite, Raine could see her prey lurking in the distant shadows, his tall form hidden at the far end of a narrow alley. He was one of the escaped Casus shades, living within the body of a human host, the man's spirit destroyed so that the monster might wear his skin. Despite the rain, she was close enough to scent him, his sweaty stench overriding the wet stone-and-wood smells of the city, and she could sense his sadistic craving for pain and flesh. For that reason alone, she would have been justified in killing him, preventing him from taking another human life. But she had other reasons, as well. The Casus who lurked at the far end of that alley had committed unforgivable sins against Raine's family, and she wanted his destruction so badly she could taste it.
She might have been raised to abhor violence, but she wasn't worried about carrying out this creature's murder. Not when her motivation was so strong. After all, her mental powers had made it possible to see inside his mind. To see his past. To see visions of the cruel suffering he'd inflicted on others, before his imprisonment, as well as the carnage he'd carried out since his escape. He was pure, incarnate evil, and she wanted his death even more than she wanted her next breath. Even more than she wanted to survive.
Still, there were times when she was frightened by the ways in which she'd changed, wishing she could just go back home and forget the past months had ever happened. But her life had been irrevocably altered during the weeks of her captivity, to the point that she could not shake this seething need for revenge that had found life within her. And now that she'd given in to it, the darkness continued to spread through her a little more each day, her hatred bringing her a renewed surge of purpose and power. Instead of wasting away into nothing, her body had begun to heal itself, until she'd been ready to leave the safety of Harrow House the week before and head out on her own.
And now this bastard is mine, she thought, masking her scent as she slinked deeper into the shadows of the alleyway and released the razor-sharp talons on her fingertips. Her fangs dropped hard and fast as she gave herself over to that slick burn of rage firing through her and became one with the night.
She was a shadow. A wraith. And before this monster saw the dawn, she would be the one who delivered him into hell. She'd taken one of the prized Dark Markers from the Watchmen before she'd left their compound for just that purpose, knowing the ancient cross was the only weapon that would truly be able to destroy the Casus's soul.
Crouching down low, Raine gave free rein to her Deschanel senses, soaking in the sensory perceptions like a lung drawing oxygen from the air. The heavy beat of the monster's pulse filled her head as she started to go in for the kill, when a group of tourists suddenly came laughing down the street, ignorant of the danger they courted as they stumbled past the entrance to the alley. Her prey looked after them, contemplating their deaths, then shook his head and prowled toward the nightclub across the street, where he intended to choose his next victim. Though the ones ruling over the Casus had originally banned the monsters from human feedings, the Watchmen believed the restrictions had recently been lifted, considering the number of kills they suspected were taking place in cities all over the world.
The Casus had begun feeding for strength, which meant they were readying themselves for the next phase of the war.
Raine waited until the male had gone through the front doors of the club before retracting her talons and fangs and following him inside. Though she tried to get a clearer read on him, his thoughts came to her in disjointed fragments, but then, that was the best she could manage these days. Even though she was physically growing stronger, her mental abilities remained frustrat-ingly shaky, still a far cry from what they'd been before she was kidnapped from the South American jungle where she'd been working and forced into those brutal, abusive weeks of captivity. Her body had mended from the ordeal, but her powers had not.
While most of the men in the club were dressed in black leather or denim, the women seemed to have chosen as little clothing as possible. Covered in faded jeans and a tight gray sweater, with her long blond hair buried beneath a black cap, Raine was clearly out of place, so she kept to the edges of the crowd as much as possible. Loud, pulsing music that seemed more computerized than instrumental battered against her sensitive eardrums, the acrid stench of sweat, alcohol and cigarette smoke assailing her highly developed sense of smell. As the chaos of the club closed in on her, scraping against her nerves, she struggled to follow the Casus's scent, but it was impossible.
Fearing she'd lost him, she came to a stop, searching the crowd with narrowed eyes, and it was then that she caught it. Not a mental warning, like something she might pick up with her Alacea powers. No, this was too physical, like a chill moving over the surface of her body, alerting the predator within her to nearby danger.
Someone was watching her, his searing gaze pressing against her skin, and she shuddered as if there'd been actual contact, her face burning as her pulse sped up in response. It wasn't that she couldn't stand to be touched, like many women who had suffered what she'd been through. But she still shunned any physical contact with others, wary of the memories that might claw their way back into her consciousness.
Wondering if the Casus she was following had been working with another, though she'd seen nothing to support that possibility in his thoughts, Raine shoved her way to the far side of the room. She pressed her back against the safety of a wall as she searched for the source of this newest threat, her intuition warning her that something was coming, drawing steadily closer. As a group of girls who looked far too young to be clubbing swayed by in a flurry of drunken giggles, she started to move along with them, using them as cover, until a warm, unforgettable scent washed over her. Reeling with shock, she stopped at the edge of the crowd, a low groan on her lips.
It can't be him, she thought, breathless, her pulse stuttering as that mouthwatering scent filled her head. It would have been impossible for him to find me .
But, somehow, the impossible had happened, because she knew exactly who stood behind her, his scent imprinted on her brain like a tattoo inked into tender skin.
Turning around, Raine came face-to-face with Seth McConnell, the tall, human male who continued to haunt her dreams whenever she dared to sleep. She stood frozen in place, the Casus she'd been hunting forgotten as she helplessly lost herself in the human's rough, masculine details. She wouldn't have thought it possible, but he was even more stunning than she remembered, the sharp tension around those dark green eyes and hard mouth lending a rugged edge to his sensual beauty that looked incredibly good on him. The stark cut of muscle beneath all that dark, golden skin was even more defined than before, as if he'd been pushing his body unbearably hard since she'd last seen him, nearly a month ago, and it suited him. Better than she cared to admit.
Yeah, he was built, and undeniably gorgeousbut he made her feel things she had no business feeling. Not for a man who had done the things that he'd done. Which meant he was off-limits as a friend, and most definitely as a lover.
Still, she couldn't deny that McConnell was seriously easy on the eyes, if a woman liked her men a little hard-looking, with a scintillating air of danger. And though it chafed to admit it, she was obviously one of those women. She loved the way his ripped body looked wrapped up in a black shirt and jeans, his feet covered in heavy black boots. Loved the way his cheekbones cut beneath his skin, his chin strong and square, with an arrogant jaw. She'd been told by his Watchmen friends that he'd worn his short, sun-bleached hair a good bit longer until the beginning of the year, and she could easily imagine him looking right at home on some sandy California beach with a surfboard under his arm, heading out into the crashing waves, if it weren't for that predatory look in his eyes. Despite his outrageous good looks, there was simply no mistaking McConnell for anything other than what he was: a soldier with a bad-ass attitude who could cut down anything that stood in his way, whether it was human or something more.
And vampires had always been his specialty.
While the group of girls staggered away, leaving Raine behind, he took a step closer, crowding in on her, those piercing eyes watching her like a hawk. She sensed that he was judging her reaction, waiting to see if she would flinch from his nearness, like she always had in the past.
But not this time. Tonight, she was too angry to be afraid, her emotions in chaos, and she lifted her chin higher, glaring up at him. From one instant to the next, the heat in his eyes changed, becoming softer, hotterbut while the heat was familiar, those green eyes were now burning with something Raine had never seen in the human before. For a fraction of a second, his gaze dipped to her mouth as she licked her bottom lip, and something inside her flickered with a strange, forgotten kind of awareness, as if parts of her psyche that had long been buried in darkness were slowly fighting their way back into the light. Her pulse raced.not with fury, but with something that felt impossibly like arousal, even while a sliver of uneasiness crept through her system, coiling coldly in her stomach.
Can't forget that he's a killer. Can't forget what he's done. All the bloodshed. All the pain.
Yes, when they'd first met, she'd been able to see what had happened to his family all those years ago, gleaning more than a few pertinent, painful glimpses of his memories. She could understand his rage.