Shadow Risingby Kendra Leigh Castle
Ancient Secrets, Dark Passions . . .
As one of the Grigori, a noble vampire dynasty shrouded in mystery, Ariane has spent her life hidden away in the desert. Like all of her kind, she is a watcher, fated to observe, forbidden to act. Yet when her best friend Sammael vanishes, she defies all rules and flees her safe haven to bring him home.
A/b>… See more details below
Ancient Secrets, Dark Passions . . .
As one of the Grigori, a noble vampire dynasty shrouded in mystery, Ariane has spent her life hidden away in the desert. Like all of her kind, she is a watcher, fated to observe, forbidden to act. Yet when her best friend Sammael vanishes, she defies all rules and flees her safe haven to bring him home.
A shape-shifting assassin for the House of Shadows, Damien Tremaine is hired to locate Sammael. His hunt for the wayward Grigori leads him to Ariane, the rogue vamp who stands between him and his bounty. Damien never lets emotion interfere with his work, but a single touch from the sexy, beguiling vampire shatters his self-control. Drawn together by their common goal, they begin an alliance of necessity that soon becomes one of desire. But when the secret at the dark heart of the Grigori comes to light, Damien and Ariane must make a choice that could bind them eternally . . . or tear them--and everything they care about--apart. 85000 words
4.5 Stars, HOT! Castle rejuvenates the paranormal genre with her singular take on the vampire mythos. She skillfully combines multilayered characters with a plot that's part thriller, part paranormal fantasy and all exciting fiction. And the hot and sensual love scenes don't hurt, either! Even though this is book three in the Dark Dynasties series, new readers will be enthralled."RT Book Reviews"
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"
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"
Castle put a fresh spin to her vampire series that I hadn't seen before. The world building was superb and I found myself captivated from the very first page. I HIGHLY recommend this one and found this to be a total and complete book seduction. Yay! I've got another author to add to my ever growing list of favorites. I am so looking forward to the sequel."SeducedByABook.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!"FreshFiction.com on DARK AWAKENING
Read an Excerpt
By Kendra Leigh Castle
ForeverCopyright © 2012 Kendra Leigh Castle
All right reserved.
She stood at the floor-length window, staring out at the rolling ocean of sand that had been her home since before her memories began. Not a breath of wind moved the gossamer curtains that she’d drawn back, though she had opened the window wide in hopes that some air might clear her head.
No such luck. All she’d found was the crescent moon hanging above the same beautiful and barren landscape that she looked upon every night. Nothing changed here. Nothing except her. Not that the implications of what she was about to do didn’t make her heart ache. But she had no choice.
Life eternal notwithstanding, this place would kill her, or at least the best part of her, if she stayed much longer.
“Ariane, please look at me.”
With a soft sigh, Ariane turned away from the window and looked at the man who had entered the shadowed room. She had lit but a single candle, not wanting the harshness of the light, and it played over his concerned face, over features that were as hard and beautiful as chiseled stone.
Sariel. There was a time when she would have been honored by a visit from him. And to her chamber, no less. He had been the leader of her dynasty since it began, or so she understood, and his word among the Grigori was law. Ariane respected him, deeply. But Sariel was content with all the things that made her restless. He could accept that her dearest friend had vanished without a trace, where her every waking moment had become a nightmare of worry and dark imaginings. And she knew that while he cared, while some effort was being put into finding the missing Grigori, he didn’t remotely understand what a loss Sam was to her.
“I appreciate your concern, Sariel. But I’m fine. I didn’t expect to be chosen,” Ariane said, hoping that she was concealing her bitterness well. To have been passed over was bad enough. But to have been pushed aside for Oren, to have seen the blaze of vicious triumph on her rival’s face… it hurt in a way no wound ever had. And in her training, she’d been cut plenty.
Sariel approached, shutting the door behind him. To anyone else, even their own kind, Ariane knew he would have been incredibly intimidating. The men of the Grigori dynasty of vampires, particularly the ancient ones, all stood nearly seven feet tall, broad-chested and well muscled, with skin like pale marble. But in the dim light, he looked so like Sam that she could feel nothing but the same dull ache she had felt for a month now, ever since they’d all realized Sam was not simply traveling, but gone.
Sariel’s face belonged on a statue carved by a Renaissance master, but his beauty, like all Grigoris’ beauty, was cold. His white hair, the same shade as all ancient ones had, was an oddly attractive contrast to a youthful face. It fell to his shoulders with nary a wave to mar the gleam of it. His eyes glowed a deep and striking violet, a shade they all shared, in the dim light.
“I know you had your hopes up, Ariane,” he said, his normally sonorous voice soft. “You don’t have to pretend you didn’t. If it helps, you were strongly considered. But the others felt that, ultimately, Oren was the better choice.” He paused. “If Sammael can be found, he will be. I realize he is important to you, as he is to us all.”
The better choice. Simply because she had not been handpicked by the elders, because the circumstances of her turning had been borne of emotion instead of reason. No matter how hard she worked, how lethal she became, she would be seen as a mistake. The weakest among them. And Oren, above all, had orchestrated her being shunned for it.
The Grigori were taught that hate was a wasted emotion. But for Oren, who excelled at the art of subtle humiliation, Ariane feared she felt something very close to it. And now he had bested her again, finally taking from her something she desperately wanted.
“Yes, Sam is important to all of us,” Ariane said, trying to choose her words carefully as she turned back toward the window, the beckoning night. “But of everyone here, I am closest to him, Sariel. I think you know that. I don’t understand why we’re sending only one of our own to search for him when he could be hurt out there. He could be dead.”
It was her greatest fear, and Sariel was as dismissive as she’d expected him to be. He simply didn’t give in to his emotions. She didn’t really expect a vampire like Sariel to understand how much a simple friendship meant to her. He seemed above such things, beyond them. He was strong, unlike her; she was weakened by her attachments and her most private dreams. In those dreams, which she had never shared with a soul, she was happy, fulfilled, even loved—and far away from here.
A palace, however opulent, could still be a prison.
“Ariane,” Sariel said, affecting the air of a parent lecturing a willful child, “your concern is admirable, but if Sammael is still alive, he shouldn’t be difficult to find. We are adept at seeking as well as watching, as you know.” He paused. “Tell me, little one, is this about my brother? Or is it about your desire to get beyond these walls?”
Anger roiled deep within her at his suggestion. Of course she wanted to get beyond these walls! But her own needs paled in comparison to Sam’s… wherever he was.
Finally, she managed to speak, her voice steady only through the strongest effort.
“Sariel, I swear that I’m only concerned about Sam. But since you brought it up, you’re obviously aware of how stifling my situation is. In all these hundreds of years, I’ve been out exactly once. Once, when I have worked harder than anyone to show my worth. Do you know how that feels?” She waved her hand before he could answer. “No, of course you don’t. If you want to go out into the world, you go. But I…” She trailed off, wanting to make him understand how she felt about her life. “I can only sit here. Wander the grounds. Try to enjoy the little bits of life that the humans who are brought here carry with them before they’re taken back.”
“The palace is huge, as are the grounds,” Sariel pointed out. “Everything you could want to do is here or could be brought here. We’re not beholden to the same rules as the others. It’s why this place is hidden, why we are hidden. You know that. The vampires accept us as their own, and it’s important that they continue to do so. The less they know about us, the better.”
“But we are vampires,” Ariane snapped, exasperated by the same old conversation. “Aren’t we? We don’t walk in the day. We drink the blood of humans to survive. We are the same!”
“Yes and no,” Sariel replied, his expression guarded. “We carry a responsibility the others do not. We are the oldest by far, though that, too, must stay hidden. Especially now, when things have begun to shift. We are watchers, d’akara. We do not interfere. Sammael understood this. The others understand this. But you…”
He trailed off, letting Ariane finish the thought herself. And how could she not? She’d heard the words enough times, even when she wasn’t supposed to.
You’re not ready. You’ll never be ready. You’re different.
“I may not have been chosen,” Ariane said, trying to keep all anger from her voice, her face, “but that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of carrying out our duties. The duties I have trained for alongside everyone else. I’m ready, Sariel.”
She’d promised herself she wouldn’t beg. And yet here she was again. Sariel’s indulgent smile made her want to scream.
“Of course you are. One day soon, perhaps. Though, it isn’t just up to me. Given the circumstances of your turning, there is concern about your ability to refrain from intervening.”
“That was hundreds of years ago,” Ariane interjected, a snap in her voice she couldn’t cover. “I’m being punished because I was upset when I was turned?”
Sariel’s eyes darkened. “Upset is the wrong word, as you well remember. A traumatic siring will linger, Ariane, sometimes forever. Do you really think you could stand by and watch what happened to you and your family? Even your sire could not and succumbed to weakness.”
Sariel held up a hand to stop her. “You already know I will not tell you who he is. He asked that the shame remain his own. It’s best for both of you. For all of us.”
Ariane stiffened, even as her stomach twisted into knots the way it always did when she had a conversation like this… and there had been many. She remembered so little of her siring, and only flashes of what had come before. Those brief glimpses of horror were bad enough. There had been blood, smoke, hideous laughter… beloved voices raised in tormented screams. Then strong arms, a hushed voice. Darkness.
Most of her mortal life remained a mystery to her. Her memories began in earnest at the weeks she’d spent confined to her chambers, weeping so long and hard that the tears had turned to blood. Weeping without truly knowing why. And there was no one to give her even a piece of her mortal past. Only the ancient ones knew who her sire was, and they kept their silence on the matter.
Sometimes she wondered if they’d killed him for what he’d done.
“We have all felt it, the desire to shape things to our will instead of watching events unfold,” Sariel lectured her, his tone soft and condescending in the way only an ancient one could manage. “But that is not our place. We must detach from instinct, leave our humanity behind us. Living as we do and trying to exist any other way is madness. Yet even now, Ariane, all these years later, I still see you struggle with what you were.”
“But Sam said—”
“His name is Sammael, d’akara. Show his name the respect it deserves.”
Ariane’s mouth snapped shut at the steely command. It was worthless to argue with him, and she should have known better. He demanded respect, but he called her d’akara, “little one,” as though she were a child. She was fast and strong. She could speak a multitude of languages, debate music and philosophy and art. She could fight more nimbly than most of her blood sisters and brothers. And she had learned these things for… what? To sit here and rot because she had feelings?
No. Not this time.
“Sammael, then,” Ariane allowed, trying not to say it through gritted teeth. “He said it was important to remember how to feel for the mortals. To not just watch but to be able to understand. He’s an ancient one too. Do you disagree?”
Sariel’s expression shifted quickly from insincere warmth to genuine displeasure. “Sammael has an… unnatural affinity for the humans. Always has. I’ve indulged him, but humanity is like a troop of bellicose monkeys. Understanding them is simple enough. It was a defective design, I’ve always thought,” he said with a small, cold smile.
Ariane never knew what to make of him when he said things like that. It was as if he had never been human, though more likely it had just been so long that he had no recollection of what it was like.
Sariel waved his hand dismissively. “In any case, Ariane, this is not an appropriate first mission for you. It’s too delicate a situation, and time is of the essence. One day,” he continued, stepping closer, his eyes glowing softly in a way that might almost be called warm, “I will make sure you get your chance to keep our watch. You have my word on this, d’akara.”
She stayed still, though his nearness had begun to make her uncomfortable. The visit itself was highly unusual. Sariel’s interest in her well-being was even more so. She couldn’t recall him ever paying much attention to her… though Sammael’s disappearance, and her connection to him, seemed to have remedied that in spades. She should have enjoyed it. And yet somehow it provoked nothing but a faint revulsion.
Another sign she was finally ready to go.
As though he’d sensed the direction of her thoughts, Sariel murmured, “I have no idea why your beauty has escaped my notice for so long. All these centuries, and you and I have never truly spoken.”
“That’s true,” Ariane agreed with a small nod, self-consciously tucking a lock of long, silvery blond hair behind her ear. Her hair was pale even for a Grigori, almost as silver as an ancient one’s. She’d always thought it made her more of a spectacle than beautiful… but the way Sariel’s eyes tracked the motion of her hand through her hair made her wonder if she’d been wrong about her appeal among her own kind.
She hoped he didn’t reach for her. What would she do then? Running was always an option, but a very poor one when your pursuer was a seven-foot-tall vampire.
To her relief, Sariel seemed to realize that his sudden attentions had surprised her. He came no closer, but the keen interest in his gaze was unmistakable.
“I would like to see you, Ariane. To spend some time with you. Tomorrow night, perhaps? We should get to know one another, after all this time.”
It was all she could do not to sob with relief. “Of course,” she replied, and even managed a small, demure smile. “I would enjoy that.”
It seemed to satisfy Sariel, and he nodded.
“Good. I’ll send someone for you then.” He turned and strode to the door, but stopped just before leaving, looking back at her. “Don’t worry about Sammael, d’akara. If he lives, he’ll be found, and he would not be so easily killed. Trust me… I’ve known him a great deal longer than you have.”
Ariane nodded. “Then I’ll just keep hoping for the best,” she said.
When the door shut and Sariel was finally gone, she expelled a long, shaky breath, her legs going wobbly. She bent at the waist, placing her hands on her knees and breathing deeply, trying to regain her balance. The visit had rattled her, even more than she’d thought. Why had he really come? Was he worried that she might do exactly what she was planning? And if he was, had he seen that he was right?
She didn’t think so. Whatever Sariel had come looking for, whatever he had seen, nothing had changed. For once she had a choice, and she chose to act. It was terrifying, yes.
But Ariane had faith it would also be freeing.
When she thought enough time had passed, Ariane moved to the bed and pulled a small beaded satchel from beneath the mattress. In it was the handful of things that held any importance for her. A sorry commentary on a life that had lasted so long and yet meant so little to anyone. She slung the long, thin strap of the satchel across her body, then moved to the window, her diaphanous skirt swirling gracefully about her legs.
She flipped a small latch, and the two panes of glass swung outward, revealing a gateway to the night. Ariane paused for only a moment, steeling herself. She had no desire to look back, to take in the pretty room that had been her safe haven for so long. It would be too easy to lose her nerve, and she would need all of that and more if she really wanted to find her friend. Not to mention evading her own capture. The Grigori did not take kindly to deserters. If she ever returned here, she doubted Sariel would be inviting her to his chambers again.
Not in the short space of time before she vanished forever.
No. That isn’t going to happen. I can do this. And if finding Sam doesn’t sway them, then I’ll stay gone and stay on my own. Make a real life. Somehow.
Reassured, Ariane stepped onto the slim window ledge, glad that her room faced the desert and not the courtyard. Her only witness was the moon. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and summoned the gift that she had so rarely been able to use. She felt them rise from her back, sliding through her flesh as easily as water flowing from a stream. Her wings.
Ariane extended them, allowing herself only a moment to turn her head and admire the way they shimmered in blues, lavenders, silvers—twilight colors. And gods but it felt good to free them, to free this part of herself. She lifted her hands to her sides, like a child balancing on a beam or a dancer poised to begin.
Then she leaped into the darkness and, in a flutter of wings, was gone.
DAMIEN TREMAINE LEANED A HIP against the Master Shade’s desk, made a show of examining the snifter of brandy in his hand for a moment longer, and then cocked an eyebrow at the man who’d been his employer for a good two hundred years now.
“A Grigori,” he repeated, knowing he hadn’t misheard his boss and wondering exactly how that could be.
Drake nodded, and the look on his face indicated he wasn’t really in the mood for Damien’s pithy commentary this evening. Which was a pity, since of all the things people said he was full of, pithy commentary was one of the few he could admit to and enjoy.
“Yes, a Grigori. And before you start bitching about how creepy they are, I’d like to reiterate that this is an opportunity I’ve been waiting for since I started this operation.”
Damien snorted. “Mmm. A thousand years without a single request from their dynasty for spying, killing, or general dirty work. That’s a hell of a snub. Why do you want to bother with them again? And for the record, yes, I do think they’re creepy. Bloody big buggers too. The combination isn’t one I fancy getting involved with. Can you imagine what their women look like? If they even have women. Or maybe some of the ones wandering around are women, and you just can’t tell.”
He grimaced at the thought, then downed half the brandy in a single swallow. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as a pint of O-negative would have been, but he did enjoy the taste, and the memories. Well, some of the memories.
“Why do you always feed me the shit brandy and think I won’t notice, Drake?”
“You’re wrong. I’m well aware you’ll notice, Damien. And your reaction never ceases to amuse me. Now, to answer your question, new avenues of business are always good. And you, of all people, should appreciate that, since the fact that you opened one saved your ass not too long ago.”
Damien gave Drake a humorless smirk and then tossed back the rest of the brandy, figuring he might as well enjoy the buzz if he couldn’t enjoy the flavor. Gods knew the pleasure of his own little triumph had long since worn off, which was unfortunate as hell. But that was what happened when you lived on adrenaline. Each rush was somehow inferior to the last and became exponentially shorter.
The emotional numbness he had grown to feel between jobs was a strange blessing, but he had come to appreciate it.
Alistair Drake watched him from behind his monstrosity of a desk with eyes so midnight blue they were nearly black. His long fingers were folded in front of him, his sharp-featured face betraying no emotion other than the sort of low-level annoyance the man always seemed to exhibit. In his charcoal-gray suit, Drake could have passed for a young executive, with his eternal air of deadly seriousness indicating he held a position of some power.
One would never have guessed he was a master thief and assassin, and the head of a tightly run network of purveyors of exactly the same sort of work he himself had long plied as a trade. A powerful vampire indeed. A man to be feared.
Or he would have been, if Damien hadn’t ceased to be afraid of anything. One had to care about the future to be afraid, and he’d learned long ago to live in the moment. There was little worth worrying over in the long term, especially now that he looked to be gainfully employed for whatever remained of his increasingly long life. Apparently there was a lot to be said for helping the heiress to a long-dead vampire dynasty… even if his aid hadn’t been given entirely willingly. And to his surprise, he’d actually come to enjoy the vampires he’d met and reconnected with through Lily MacGillivray, ruler of the reborn Lilim.
Of course, it hadn’t hurt his standing with Drake that these friends were all very powerful vampires—Vlad Dracul; Ty MacGillivray, Lily’s husband; Jaden, who’d gotten himself involved with a bunch of werewolves and managed to work it to his and the Lilim’s advantage. The wolves of the Thorn didn’t seem a bad sort, if you could get past the doggy smell.
“So are you going to take the job or not, Damien?” Drake said, leaning back slightly, his entire affect one of cool disinterest. It was an act, Damien knew, and a good one. But they’d known one another too long. Drake needed the best for a delicate job like this. And despite the missteps that had led to his involvement with the Lilim, Damien was still considered such.
Damien sighed, put his glass down on one of the many stacks of paper covering the expansive desk, and gave a careless shrug.
“Might as well. It’ll be interesting, if nothing else.”
Drake’s lips quirked. “Yes, when you find the mark, you can make him answer all your burning questions about Grigori women.” He picked up a slim folder in front of him and handed it to Damien. Curious, Damien opened it and skimmed the single sheet of paper within. Clipped to it was a 4 x 5 photograph of three humans smiling in a crowd. Behind them, circled in white in case the person looking at the photo was blind, was a white-haired giant making his way through the sea of people. The Grigori in the shot was only in profile, but Damien figured he’d be easy enough to recognize—it wasn’t as though one ran across these oddities of the vampire world all the time.
Damien looked up and met Drake’s inscrutable gaze. “This isn’t much to go on. The leadership wants this Sammael found, but they don’t want it known they’re looking for him. They don’t want me to touch him, if possible. I’m to call them the instant he’s discovered, and they suggest”—he paused, rechecking the instructions—“some very interesting methods of restraining him should I need to. This is going to take a little shopping to find these materials, but beyond that, this looks like average bounty hunter type work.”
“Despite the odd customers, it is,” Drake replied. “Except that the information we’ll get out of this is worth a great deal. Look, we already know what it takes to shut one of these giants down. And I have a feeling there’s a lot more. This is only cut- and-dried on the surface.”
Damien nodded. “Obviously. They wouldn’t have come to us otherwise. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.” He grinned. “And I’ll hope like hell I don’t have to go head-to-head with this Sammael. I’d rather not give him a chance to crush me—you know the stories about what they can do.”
“After seeing the one who walked in here asking about the contract, I believe those stories,” Drake said. “It’s one thing to see a Grigori from a distance. But gods, they’re big bastards close up. Never smile either. This one had eyes like a serial killer, except that they were purple.”
“Oh, you’d hire one in a heartbeat if you could find one desperate enough to come to you,” Damien scoffed, and Drake chuckled.
“Damn right I would. He wouldn’t even have to sneak around to get the job done. Who’s going to say no to a vamp who looks like he might rip your limbs off for fun?”
“So speaking of bounty hunting,” Damien said, turning the subject to one of his favorite matters, “what is the bounty? And more importantly, what’s my cut?”
Drake’s eyes lit up. This was, Damien knew, one of his favorite subjects as well. It was one of the reasons the two of them got on fairly well, despite some glaring personality differences.
“Oh, you’ll like this. If you succeed, you get something of your very own. And before you start gloating, I get one just like it, only a bit bigger. He left both here… for incentive.” Drake leaned over to remove something from a desk drawer, and then deposited a diamond the size of a Grigori’s fist in the middle of the desk.
Damien’s eyes widened. “Holy hell. They do want this done right.”
“Have a look,” Drake said. “But drop it on the floor and I’ll kick your head in.”
Gingerly, Damien picked up the polished and cut diamond, feeling the weight of it. Every facet danced with light, as the stone was as clear as water. It was a moment before Damien realized that its light was coming from within it, and that it was casting rippling patterns on the walls and ceiling as though it were actually made of water.
“What is this thing?”
“This Titus tells me it’s a piece of something called the Star of Atlantis.”
Damien’s eyebrows lifted. He’d heard and seen plenty of stranger things, but jewels from lost cities weren’t an area of his expertise. “Oh? And you believe it?”
“A diamond’s a diamond.” Drake shrugged. “They can name it whatever they want. But as you can see, it’s not exactly a regular diamond. You know what something like this is worth normally—hell of a lot more with that extra something thrown in.”
Damien looked into the stone, watching the light dance. He felt a strange sense of calm steal over him, a soothing sensation of floating, drifting. For a moment, all the trappings of his life were revealed as meaningless and were replaced with the simple truth, the incredible beauty, of lights in the water.
He had to have it.
“Is there anything else I need to know? I’d like to get started.”
Drake held out his hand, a knowing smile on his face, and Damien reluctantly parted with the stone. He watched it, feeling a tug of longing as it vanished back into its drawer. Peace, contentment—two things he had longed for in his heart of hearts for many years before giving up on ever finding them. And yet it seemed that they could come from something so simple, so extravagant, as an ancient bit of stone. Who knew?
Damien shifted uncomfortably, trying to push aside this new hunger. He didn’t like to want things too much. Whenever he’d really wanted something, it had gone to shit in a hurry. It was how he’d ended up a vampire in the first place.
“You’ll find a list of places to search on the sheet,” Drake said, “as well as some potential contacts. Titus felt you would be more successful at getting information out of these individuals than any of them would.”
Surprise flooded him, another emotion he wasn’t used to feeling. “He actually asked for me?”
Drake nodded. “Specifically. I did warn him you were an awful pain in the ass, but he insisted. They do seem to keep their eyes on things.”
“Watchers,” Damien said, his lip curling even though his vanity was pleasantly flattered. “Some call them that. It’s creepy, Drake. I mean it.”
“Yeah, well, they’re rich and creepy. We deal with plenty of that, and more. You’ll manage. Now go on, I know it’ll take you hours to pack.”
Damien smirked, gave a little bow. “At your service, as always, my lord.”
Drake rolled his eyes. “Spare me the noble rogue routine, Damien. I’ll bet most of your ancestors were beheaded by the rabble, if they were anything like you.”
“Maybe a few,” Damien replied, then turned to go. Drake knew him too well. It really was going to take him hours to pack. He liked to be prepared for any eventuality, and a love of dressing well had always been one of his weaknesses. Hadn’t his father railed at him for running up ridiculous debts at the tailor’s? And at the club, of course. And at a number of other places around town. But when one was the “spare” bit of the old adage “heir and a spare,” Damien had always figured one might as well be pretty and useless, rather than just useless. He had been utterly debauched, but in style.
And that was a long time ago, Damien thought, his smile fading as his hand closed around the doorknob. He was heir to as little now as he had been then. The Lord of Nothing. And he continued to behave accordingly. Damien grimaced at the sudden shift in mood. He really shouldn’t drink; it always made him maudlin.
“Oh, one more thing,” Drake said, prompting Damien to pause and look back at his employer. “I can’t believe I nearly forgot, considering. There was something about a woman.”
Damien did his best leer. “Oh? Do tell.”
Drake laughed. “Nothing very promising, I’m afraid, but information you should have. Titus indicated that you may run across one of their women who has taken it upon herself to look for this Sammael personally.”
“Huh. I didn’t think the Grigori simply took it upon themselves to do anything.”
“Yeah, well, he didn’t sound happy about it. If you should meet her, he insists that you not help her, and that you let me know where you’ve sighted her. I’ll relay the information.”
“At which point things will end badly for the Grigori revolutionary,” Damien said. “Got it. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell her apart from a male Grigori. If I can, we’re golden. I don’t work well with others anyway.”
“Don’t I know it.” Drake waved him off, his attention returning to the piles of work before him, folders full of jobs, dossiers on his own men and women. “Go on. Make nefarious plans. Agonize over wardrobe choices. Whatever you do to get ready. And keep me posted this time, damn it.”
“Don’t I always?”
Damien tossed an arrogant wave over one shoulder and let himself out, happy to leave Drake to the tedium of paperwork. The adrenaline had begun to flow again, provoked by the promise of a new adventure. For all that had happened in his life—in both of his lives—he’d never quite lost the simple joy of the hunt. And if there was the potential for feminine distraction? Even better, though he seriously doubted this Grigori interloper would interest him. Still, pure curiosity had him anticipating meeting her… and besting her.
Yes, Damien thought with a predatory smile, it was high time he got back to work.
SHE HAD BEEN in the world a month.
It was hard to believe sometimes, Ariane thought as she scanned the dimly lit club, searching for a familiar face and sipping at her chocolate martini. There were nights when this all still seemed like a dream. And then there were other nights, like tonight, when it was her old life that was hard to believe in. Out here, everything was busy, bright, vibrant… alive. It made the Grigori compound seem dead and airless by comparison.
Pity, then, that this world she was so fascinated by continued to be so hard for her to live in. But she would keep trying. And at some point, hopefully soon, she would be able to stop second-guessing her every step, action, word. She would belong here. Because even if she found Sam, Ariane already knew she was never going back.
Conversation ebbed and flowed around her, and thankfully no one seemed very interested in the small, dark-haired woman perched on a stool at the bar. She reached up to surreptitiously adjust her wig, which was itchy and sweaty and completely uncomfortable. It was also necessary. Ariane had a fleeting and wonderful vision of taking it off later and giving her poor head a good scratch. She’d known her coloring and looks were unusual. What she hadn’t realized was that in the human world, her idea of “unusual” was actually “unheard of.” She didn’t blend in. Not even among vampires, who she’d quickly realized didn’t exactly welcome her presence. Was it because her bloodline kept so much to themselves? Were they considered snobs? Ariane had no idea, and no one else seemed inclined to tell her. They were too busy giving her a wide berth. It was just another reason to be appalled at how isolated she’d been. And after a month away from home, she had found plenty of reasons. She wanted to drink in everything, experience everything. But so far, most of what she’d done was simply watch. Even the vampires were full of a life and emotion that was far beyond anything she’d experienced in her long years in the desert.
Could she become like them? In time, maybe. If they could accept her. In time…
Ariane took another sip of her drink, enjoying both the chocolate flavor and the mild buzz she was getting. Actually, she was enjoying the city itself, as much as she could given the circumstances. Charlotte, North Carolina, was the last place Sam had been seen—that much she’d gleaned from Sariel before he’d turned her down for the mission to find him—so this was where she’d headed. Thus far, she hadn’t found out anything to make her leave. Actually, she hadn’t found out much of anything at all. And that was a problem. Hopefully tonight would change that, if the kind Empusa she’d met the other evening had been telling the truth. If so, there was a man who frequented this place who might be able to help her.
She certainly hoped so. The city might be lovely, but she wasn’t here for a vacation. Sam was out there somewhere; she knew it. And she needed to catch a break, because the longer he stayed gone, the greater the chance that he wasn’t coming back.
The lights in the cocktail lounge cast a dim blue glow over the expanse of mahogany bar. A jazz trio filled the space with a warm, down-tempo tune from a raised platform at the other end of the room, and people chatted at the bar, at high, skinny tables scattered about the space, and in large, comfortable booths lining the walls. Waitresses and waiters glided through every few minutes, dressed smartly in black. Ariane watched them all, seeing not a single vampire. But she was patient. And finally, about ten-thirty, one appeared.
Ariane had just ordered another drink to nurse when, from the corner of her eye, she saw movement by the door. She turned her head, curious, and at this point fairly certain that the man she sought wasn’t going to show. But instead of another couple or a knot of young mortals just starting their evening, she saw… him.
He strode in as though he owned the place, moving with predatory grace. Ariane took in the broad shoulders, the sandy hair spiked up a bit in the front, the pressed jeans and well-cut sport coat, worn over an open-collared white button-down shirt. Everything about him marked him as the type she was growing used to seeing, a young blueblood with old money—everything except for the subtle signs only another vampire would pick up on when recognizing one of their own. He was just a little too pale, a little too graceful… and more than a little too beautiful to be mortal. When he turned his head to look at the jazz trio, Ariane let her eyes skim over his profile, enjoying the view.
Of all the new pleasures she’d discovered outside the desert, watching the seemingly endless variety of male vampires was one of her favorites. As she’d so often been reminded, the Grigori wanted only warriors. She was used to big, muscular men who would have looked right at home swinging a sword or an axe. She’d never realized that it was only the Grigori who had such a narrow preference in type. This man was more how she might have envisioned the handsome princes in the fairy tales she sometimes read. Then his cool blue eyes, which had been scanning the room, settled on Ariane, and she realized something else about this particular vampire: he was dangerous.
In the instant their gazes met, she saw nothing but cold calculation. He was looking for something or someone, and it wasn’t her. All the lovely warmth she’d experienced upon sighting him vanished… and yet she still couldn’t look away.
Neither, it seemed, could he. His eyes darted away and then returned, catching and holding her gaze. Ariane didn’t know why she kept staring back. She’d known right away that this wasn’t the man she was looking for, who’d been described to her as slight and dark-haired. Another random vampire wasn’t going to do her any good, especially not one who looked as though he’d just as soon shove a dagger through your neck as speak to you. But something compelled her. And as she watched one of his slim brows arch, giving him a quizzical look that did little to soften her initial impression of him, those frigid eyes seemed to warm just a little.
She felt her cheeks flush and, utterly disconcerted by her reaction, turned her head away. She frowned at her drink, taking in a deep breath. She might be sheltered, but she was smarter than this. Her body’s needs had no place in what she was doing here. Gods knew she’d put them off for this long. What was a few months, even years more?
The thought was suddenly, painfully depressing.
She was about to down the rest of her martini to console herself when a warm, sensual voice sounded very close to her ear, accompanied by a faint tickle of breath that had every nerve ending in her body vibrating in anticipation of the lightest touch.
Dangerous. Oh yes, he was. And Ariane wondered just how hard his kind of danger was going to be to resist.
Damien walked into Shades of Blue with the intention of finding Thomas Manon, getting the man to buy him a drink, throttling some information out of him if necessary, and then finding a willing woman to blow off some steam with for whatever was left of the night.
Unfortunately, and in keeping with Damien’s recent run of bad luck, Manon was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a quick scan of the room revealed a bunch of insipid mortals, a mediocre jazz trio, and a great set of legs on a vamp perched at the bar. He might have admired them in passing and then kept looking for Manon, except for the fact that the vamp they belonged to was staring at him.
Not just staring at him either. It was more like she was imagining what it would be like to lap him up like a bowl of cream.
Maybe, Damien thought as she blushed prettily and turned away, tonight wouldn’t wind up being a total bust if Manon decided not to show after all. He made his way over and leaned in, catching a seductive whiff of flowers and moonlight before he murmured his introduction.
“Evening, kitten. Care for some company? I can’t bear to see such a lovely thing sitting all alone.”
When she turned her head to look at him, Damien noticed two things immediately: one, what had seemed beautiful from across the room was absolutely exquisite up close, and two, she had eyes the color of Scottish heather. The combination could mean only one thing.
“Fuck me,” he blurted. “You’re the Grigori woman?”
Those amazing eyes narrowed. When she spoke, her voice was faintly musical, with a hint of an accent he couldn’t place.
“I have no idea who you are or what you’re talking about,” she said stiffly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m… waiting for someone.”
Then Damien watched, incredulous, as she turned her back, dismissing him without another word. He was used to all manner of poor treatment (and quite a bit of good, as well, depending on the nature of the job), but being summarily dismissed by some slip of a woman, particularly one who he already knew planned to interfere with his work, was not something he intended to tolerate.
Besides… he wanted another look at that face of hers.
A hard glare, with a bit of a bellicose mental push, sent the man occupying the stool next to her bolting away. Damien slid easily onto the warm stool with a smile, signaled the bartender, and ordered a dirty martini. He knew she knew he was there. Her discomfort was palpable, and Damien wasn’t ashamed to enjoy it. He’d learned long ago that being noticed was far better than being overlooked, no matter how you got the attention.
Finally, just as the bartender set down the drink in front of Damien, she spoke again. Her tone was clipped.
“Why are you still here?” she asked. “I believe I told you I’m busy, and I’m not interested in your advances. Please leave me alone.”
Her speech was a little awkward and formal, a bit like the couple of male Grigori he’d run into over the years. He hadn’t found them nearly as charming, though. Intrigued, he decided to play with her to see what more he could discover. “Ah, you may not want my company, but you don’t have much choice in the matter right now. Best to try and enjoy it. After all, it could be worse. I could just get up, walk away, and call in the cavalry. They want you back, and they’re looking for you. I’m in a position to know, being a Shade.” He tilted his head, saw her shoulders stiffen, and smiled. Being a cat-shifter had earned him no love in his long life, but becoming a Shade had at least gotten him some healthy respect.
“By the way,” he continued conversationally when she said nothing, “is that a wig you’re wearing? It’s bloody horrible.”
As a method of getting her to look at him again, the combination of a thinly veiled threat and an insult worked like a charm. As a way of endearing himself to her, not so much. Still, Damien felt another fascinating punch of desire as he got to take in the Grigori woman’s face up close. She jerked her head to the side to glare at him, those brilliant amethyst eyes reflecting both anger and fear. Damien ignored both for the time being, allowing himself to peruse her delicate features: the aquiline nose with a stubborn little point at the tip, the pink rosebud lips, finely arched brows, and long, dark lashes. Her face was a perfect oval, set off by high cheekbones, and the emotions it reflected were as transparent as glass.
In some odd way, Damien found her reaction to him refreshing. In his line of work, honesty, in any form, was a novelty.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but if you won’t leave, then I will.” She started to rise, but Damien’s hand shot out to catch her arm, squeezing just enough to make it uncomfortable.
He leaned in so that only she could hear him. “I don’t think so, love. Fortunately for you, I’m in a giving mood this evening. Entertain me for a bit and I may decide to let you go… for now. What do you say?”
Damien watched her go through outrage, uncertainty, and finally a cautious sort of resignation. Such a face, he thought wonderingly. She must be a terrible liar. And that had to be a problem for her, since who could help but look at her all the time? What else had he ever seen that was quite so worth looking at?
It was an unbidden thought, and disturbing. Damien brushed it aside and concentrated on the matter at hand. He’d seen plenty worth looking at, he reminded himself firmly. Particularly in the female department. And women like this, obvious innocents, had never been his cup of tea. Too much damned work for too little payoff.
Slowly, the tension beneath his hand eased, and the woman sank back down onto her stool. Damien released her reluctantly. His hand tingled where he’d touched her. For a moment, her awkwardness vanished, and the woman looking back at him was every bit as cold and ancient as her dynasty mark proclaimed her to be.
He wondered fleetingly if playing with a Grigori this way was wise, then brushed it aside. He’d lived for centuries doing just as he liked, and it had served him well enough. Why stop now?
“I’ll stay. For now. But I’m not going to entertain you… cat.” Her gaze dropped to the concealed top of Damien’s right collarbone. There, beneath his shirt, was the mark of his bloodline, a trio of entwined black cats fashioned into a Celtic circle. It branded him as Cait Sith, a cat-shifter.
And without looking at it, she shouldn’t have been able to tell so quickly.
“How did you know?” Damien asked.
The woman shrugged, a dainty lift of shoulders exposed by the sleeveless little black dress she wore. The movement made him look below her neck, which he instantly knew he shouldn’t have done. He could stay distracted for weeks by the wonders showcased by that dress. With some effort, he dragged his eyes back up to meet hers.
“I’m good at indentifying who’s who,” she said, her tone defensive. “I studied.”
“Really. And what identified me?”
She turned her head to glare into her drink. “Does it matter? You’re just going to make fun of me, whatever I say.”
The accusation startled him… more because she was probably right. And for whatever reason, the knowledge bothered him.
“I won’t. I’m genuinely curious.”
She didn’t even look at him. “I doubt that. You’re just bored. Go away.”
Damien watched her face, seeing the frustration likely borne of fumbling her way through modern vampire society without a lifeline for at least a couple of weeks, and something in him softened. He didn’t bother to try and analyze it, but his voice sounded strange to his own ears as he sought to reassure her.
“I’m not leaving until you tell me. But I’m happy to drag this out if you’d rather.”
She looked up at him through long, dark lashes with such world-weariness that he had to fight back the urge to pull her into his lap and nuzzle her. The idea had some merit, actually… but Damien was pretty sure that would just put them back at square one. The longer they looked at one another, the more Damien had the unnerving sensation that she was sizing him up, judging him by some measure he couldn’t begin to guess at. The intensity of her focus on him was as pleasurable to Damien as a caress. To his shock, he had to swallow back an inadvertent purr. He didn’t purr for anyone. Anyone. And certainly not for something as cheap as a little attention.
At last, she relented with a sigh. “It’s your eyes, for one thing. The pupils do some interesting things in the light. They’re very feline, if you look close enough. But mostly it was just the way you move. I’d read about it, but the words didn’t really do you justice.”
He lifted his brows, surprised by the simple honesty of her answer. “Oh?”
She nodded, obviously an eager student of a subject Damien was inclined to find ridiculously flattering. He didn’t think any woman had ever remarked on the way he moved before… out of bed, that was.
“Yes,” she said. “Very graceful, very sinuous. Very…” She trailed off, and it seemed she’d been about to say a lot more than she’d intended. Damien watched her pale cheeks flush again.
“Well. It’s unique anyway. So…” She looked a bit at a loss, grabbed the martini she’d been nursing, and took a large gulp. Then she looked at him over the rim of the glass, eyes glittering in the dim light, and Damien found himself momentarily lost again. All vampires were beautiful. It actually got boring after a while. But this one was damned near a work of art. Sculptors would have carved her likeness on temples; famed poets would have composed masterpieces extolling her beauty and then drank themselves to death over her. He could imagine it easily.
Except that she acted like she’d been locked in a closet for the last five hundred years.
The swig of alcohol seemed to bolster her a bit. Damien picked up the glass beside his elbow and sipped, intensely interested in what she might say next.
“Are you sure it’s all right to talk about these things here?” she asked quietly. “Out in the open?”
Damien glanced around and smirked. “Relax, kitten. It’s just us and the mortals, and mortals tend to be incredibly stupid as a general rule. They’re not paying attention.”
Her eyes swept the room, which was bustling with life. He was surprised by the regret he saw reflected in them.
“I don’t know any mortals,” she said.
“You’re not missing anything, trust me,” Damien said. “They’re as wretched now as they ever were.”
“I wouldn’t know,” she murmured, more to herself than to him, it seemed. Still, the comment was impossible to ignore, and raised even more questions about this woman when Damien thought he’d answered the only important one—whether Grigori women were anything like the men. Based on this one, he’d give that a resounding no.
“Let me guess,” Damien said, playing with his glass. “You were raised in a convent, where your innocence was stolen by a vampire masquerading as a priest or monk or something.”
She blinked and gave him a strange look. “No.”
Damien slouched a little and frowned. That had been his best guess. Disheartened, he tried again. “Noblewoman in the Dark Ages tucked away by your father as leverage for an alliance? Kept from court to maintain your innocence, not to mention your maidenhead?”
Now she looked slightly scandalized. “No. Why does it—”
“No!” She said it sharply enough to turn a few heads in their direction. He watched her realize it, blow out an exasperated breath, and then lean in closer to speak so no one else could hear.
“Stop guessing. You’re only getting more insulting and not any closer to being right. My past is none of your business.”
“Damn it.” Damien drummed his fingertips on the bar. “And you’re sure you weren’t a nun?”
She gave an irritated little growl that he found incredibly entertaining. Grigori or no, she was far easier to get a rise out of than any vamp he’d met. No wonder she’d taken off. Being the only interesting person in a sea of uptight and boring had to be crazy-making.
Though right now, he seemed to fall into that category for her as well.
“Why do you care? Why are you even still here?” she asked. “If you’re not going to turn me in, I’d think a Shade would have better—well, maybe not better, but other—things to do.”
His lips curved up into a smile. “I do, in fact. I’m looking for your missing blood brother, Sammael.”
The news didn’t go over well, if the angry flash of her fangs was any indication.
“You waste your time. We take care of our own. The Grigori don’t need outside help.”
Damien chuckled softly. “Don’t you qualify too? You’re not exactly authorized to be running around playing detective, are you?” He didn’t wait for an answer. It was as plain as day on her lovely face. It surprised him. Grigori did not defect, they didn’t disobey the leadership, and they didn’t just get something in their heads and go act on it. It was hard to imagine this nervous and slightly awkward beauty being a “fight the power” type. Still, he was well aware that looks could be deceiving.
“No need to worry, kitten. If Sammael is out there to be found, I’ll find him. The pay’s too good to fail.”
“Who’s paying you to interfere? Another dynasty?”
Damien gave a short, sharp laugh. “Sariel, by way of some hulking lackey who was sent to work the deal.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Impossible,” she hissed when she’d collected herself enough to speak. “They sent Oren. Why would they need you?”
“That’s easy. Because I’m the best,” Damien replied, enjoying her outrage while he took another sip of his martini. “This Oren must be pretty worthless, since I haven’t seen him. Oh, and before you accuse me of lying about all this”—he held up a finger when she opened her mouth to speak—“I’ve got a dossier of information provided by your leader, as well as some Atlantean diamond being dangled as a prize. Besides, how else would I have known about you?”
She didn’t seem to have an answer for that. Her frown deepened, and her lips pursed ever so slightly. Damien was possessed of the sudden, intense urge to lean over, take her full bottom lip into his mouth, and suckle it. His body stirred in response. Damned if he wasn’t getting hard for her already.
“A hired thug,” she finally said. “I don’t even know what to say. If the ancient ones needed more help, there were plenty of our own who would have answered the call.” The disgust written so clearly across her face pricked at Damien’s pride more sharply than it had any right to. It surprised him and, like most things that caught him off guard, sparked his temper.
“Like you?” Damien asked, letting his contempt show through. “Yes, I can see you’ve got it all under control. Your situational awareness is awe-inspiring. What could they have been thinking, leaving you behind?”
He knew the instant the words were out of his mouth that he shouldn’t have said them. Years of working among thieves and killers had sharpened his tongue and shortened his fuse, but none of his associates ever paid much attention. They were all like that. The Grigori woman, however, reacted as though he’d slapped her in the face. She inhaled sharply, sitting up straighter. And though she still wore her innocence like some invisible mantle, Damien saw he’d misjudged a bit about her spine.
There was more to this one than looking like some delicate, ethereal flower. And he was busy royally screwing up any chance he might have had at getting his hands on her in any meaningful way. He was charming, damn it! She was supposed to notice!
Of course, she might have if his mouth hadn’t gotten in the way.
She motioned to the bartender, who brought her a check that she glanced at quickly before slipping a few bills out of the slim black clutch resting on the bar. Damien watched, feeling an unfamiliar hunger when she managed a brilliant smile for the bartender, who all but melted in return. Damien’s lips thinned. So she’d smile for a worthless mortal, but not for him…
She appeared to be collecting herself to say something, and when she finally turned her attention back to him, Damien saw he’d been right: There was absolutely nothing delicate about the wounded fury that blazed at him. There was plenty of power beneath the pretty trappings, too, easily seen now that her control had slipped just a little. The question was whether she really knew how to use it. He’d never met a vampire who’d seemed quite so innocent at first blush, so sheltered.
It was a puzzle he couldn’t begin to figure out, and one he knew he’d be turning over in his mind long after she walked away from him… which she seemed in a hurry to do.
“You think you’ll find Sam because they’re paying you. But I know I’m going to find him, because I actually care.” Her voice quivered slightly, but there was steel in her eyes.
Another first for him: strong emotion from a Grigori. Interesting.
“Kitten, I hate to tell you this, but caring doesn’t count for much. It tends to be more hindrance than help.” Damien heard the sound of regret in his own voice and immediately tried to pull it back, lock that part of himself back down. Sympathy, empathy… they had no place in his life. In any vampire’s life. He was telling her the truth, even if she didn’t want to hear it.
“Don’t call me that. I’m not a kitten, and I’m not your pet,” she snapped. “It doesn’t matter what you think about it. I wouldn’t expect a man like you to understand.”
It stung him, another surprise, and an unpleasant one. A man like him? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Damien watched her rise, feeling a little like she’d just slid a sharp blade between his shoulders. The pain was just as sharp, and just as unexpected.
He caught her hand in his before he could think better of it, rising to stand only inches from her. Her skin was cool and silken, and Damien pulled her closer. She was surprised into compliance, and Damien used the momentary advantage to move in, murmuring directly into her ear.
The desire that made him shiver at her nearness was nonsensical. He knew it. But Damien could no more fight the sudden attraction than he could just let her walk away. And once again, he found himself using that gentle, unfamiliar tone.
“Wait,” he said softly. “Don’t go storming off. You… surprise me. Grigori aren’t exactly known for their deep emotional attachment to one another, you know.”
He could feel the tension thrumming through her, but she made no move to break away from him. She turned her head slightly to respond, and Damien knew that to an outsider, the two of them looked like lovers, about to go home and do unspeakable things to one another.
I wish, he thought. Instead, he now had the very sharp point of a small dagger biting insistently into his abdomen.
“You know nothing about my kind,” she said, “and you underestimate me. Try and turn me in if you want, Mr….”
“Damien,” he said, amused again at her formality. “Damien Tremaine. It’s not ‘Mr.’ anything. And if you make me bleed on my new shirt, I’m going to be very put out.”
“Damien, then,” she continued. “You can try to turn me in, but they won’t catch me. This is too important. I don’t know what’s going on, but I intend to find out… whether or not you try to get in my way.”
“I believe you can count on that… kitten. And next time we meet, I’ll be stealing that terrible wig.”
She pulled back just enough for him to see her eyes flash angrily as she yanked her hand out of his. He caught just a glimpse of silver as she slipped the dagger back into… gods above and below, was that a garter?
“My name is Ariane, not kitten,” she hissed. “You won’t find me so amusing if our paths cross again. Good night.”
With that warning, she spun on one sexy, spindly high heel and clipped away on those long legs of hers. Damien watched her go, hungrily taking in every tight little swish of her ass as she headed out the door. He wasn’t alone either. There wasn’t a man in the place who wasn’t drooling into his lap over her.
Bemused and frustrated, Damien settled back onto the bar stool to finish his martini. Her scent lingered around him like a ghost. Ariane, he thought. A pretty little kitten with intriguingly sharp claws. He looked forward to “getting in her way,” as she put it. She might want to avoid him, but he planned to show her just how tenacious he could be when he wanted something.
He wanted to win.
And right now, he wanted her.
SHE’D HOPED to sleep him off.
Two nights after her initial encounter with Damien Tremaine, Ariane finally had to admit it wasn’t working. Between her fruitless search for Thomas Manon, who seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth, and restless dreams full of a slim, sandy-haired devil whose mouth she had an unholy fixation on, nothing was going the way it was supposed to. And she’d thought she’d planned for setbacks.
With a frustrated sigh, Ariane adjusted the wig on her head, then stepped back to take a good look at the picture she presented. A little severe, she decided, looking critically at the violet-eyed wraith staring back at her. She’d really prefer another dress like the one she’d borrowed the other night. The black leggings, black V-neck tunic, and black boots were supposedly stylish, but with her coloring and the wig from hell—and damn that obnoxious vamp for being right about it—she looked a little… pale. Still, the dark color kept her less noticeable. She needed to be able to blend in.
As though that was going to happen.
With an angry little huff of breath, Ariane dragged the hated wig off her head and threw it across the room. She felt an unexpected surge of pleasure. Sure, throwing things was childish, and she’d probably messed up the stupid thing beyond what she could repair, but…
Just getting angry and expressing it had felt good. It was a luxury she’d never before had.
“Enough,” she muttered, deciding the wig was staying on the floor. Either she’d find a better one, or she’d just walk around au naturel. It wasn’t like she’d been so successful at going incognito anyway.
A quiet knock at the door sounded just as she’d dug her fingers into her hair, freeing it from the tight coil she’d flattened against her head and sending the platinum locks tumbling around her shoulders.
“Ari? You in there?”
The husky voice was both familiar and welcome, spurring Ariane into action. She moved quickly across the small room to answer it. She opened the door a crack and peered out, her face brightening as soon as she saw the petite brunette waiting at the threshold.
“Elena! Come in!”
Elena Santiago, the vampire who ran this safe house for some other vampire called Strickland, one of the more successful lowblood power brokers in the city, lounged against the door frame. Her exotic beauty—waist-length waves of rich chocolate hair, café au lait skin, and curves that could stop traffic—was a convenient cover for a woman who was as tough as the claws she could extend without warning. Ariane undid the heavy chain that provided a small—very small—barrier to anyone trying to barge in uninvited. Even as inexperienced as she was, she understood that the chain was more of a psychological reassurance than anything. It wouldn’t do a thing to slow a determined vampire. Elena’s eyes, a striking pale green and decidedly feline, widened as the door opened the rest of the way.
Elena blinked and shook herself slightly. “No. No, it’s just… the hair. It caught me off guard. I guess I sort of forgot that the wig was a wig…” She trailed off for a moment, her eyes skimming over every pale wave. “Damn. For a bloodline that’s so big on keeping to itself, the Grigori have an awful lot of ‘look at me’ going on.”
Ariane shrugged, uncomfortable with the scrutiny. “It’s not on purpose. Believe me.” She stepped aside to allow Elena entrance.
Elena sauntered in, and Ariane watched her with a mixture of pleasure and trepidation. The Cait Sith with the sultry smile and the ferocious temper was already as close a female friend as she’d had in her life… not that that was saying much. Within days, she’d been simply “Ari” to Elena, who shared random tidbits of gossip gathered from the ever-changing residents of the safe house and was a veritable encyclopedia of tips to help Ariane avoid getting killed whenever she walked out the door.
Ariane had a bad feeling this visit was going to involve more lecture than gossip. Sure enough, as soon as she’d shut the door, Elena spun on one heel to look at her with a stern expression.
“Doesn’t matter what you look like anyway. You shouldn’t be so friendly, Ari,” Elena said. “I told you not to unlock anything until after you’d gotten a look at who’s on the other side of the door. This building is full of sketchy vamps in hiding for one reason or another. See that window?” she asked, jerking her head in the direction of a single, small rectangle letting in the light and sound of the city beyond.
Excerpted from Shadow Rising by Kendra Leigh Castle Copyright © 2012 by Kendra Leigh Castle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Kendra Leigh Castle is the author of five previous paranormal romance novels: Call of the Highland Moon, Dark Highland Fire, Wild Highland Magic, Dark Awakening, and Midnight Reckoning. SHADOW RISING is the third 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.
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