Read an Excerpt
The Demon's Desire
A Hearts of the Fallen Novel
By Kendra Leigh Castle, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Kendra Leigh Castle
All rights reserved.
"He's at it again."
Dru raised her eyes from her work — or whatever you called it when you spent ten minutes decorating the letter O with a mustache and top hat — to fix her visitor with a baleful look.
"He who? My brother?"
Vivi offered her an apologetic half smile from where she stood in the arched doorway to Dru's office. Unfortunately, that was all the answer Dru needed. It was never Justin. The vampire king was as reliable in marriage as he was about everything else, and none of Justin's annoying quirks or habits seemed to faze Vivi. Nice for them. In this case, though, not so much for her. She knew what Vivi wanted.
Dru propped her chin on her fist and sighed. "Meresin."
"Meresin," Vivi agreed. She lightly shifted her weight from foot to foot, full of restless energy. Dru didn't doubt that Vivi would rather be fixing this herself instead of running for help. But Vivi had been a vampire hunter before falling for Justin, and her methods — which tended to involve lethal force and sharp objects — wouldn't be a lot of use with an ornery fallen angel.
Vivi tucked a lock of ebony hair behind her ear. "There are a couple of things on fire. Again."
"Damn it." Dru sighed, letting her pen drop to the desk with an angry little snap. "By things you mean people, right?"
"No." She chewed her lip. "Okay, maybe. Justin's managed to keep it from turning into a riot — so far, anyway — but you know how Meresin gets when people start in on him. It's like poking an angry tiger with a stick."
"More like licking your finger and purposely sticking it into an electrical socket." Dru stood with a groan, wishing she could be more grateful for the opportunity to stretch her legs. Her city had been through enough lately. It didn't need to be filled with smoke on top of everything else.
She shook her head, a pale blond lock of hair falling into her face. "I've been alive for two thousand years, and I'm still amazed at how dumb people can get once they figure very little can kill them anymore."
Vivi finally grinned, the smile lighting up her fair, heart-shaped face. "Death just gets a lot more creative when you're a vampire."
Dru snorted. "Being fried by an angry fallen angel is definitely creative. Come on. Bring me to Mr. Happy. I'm sure he'll be thrilled to see me."
She fell into step beside Vivi as the two of them made their way through the stone halls of the palace that was the heart of Terra Noctem. The underground city of vampires and other night creatures, magically protected and carved from the walls and floor of a massive cave, had been forced to move from what had become a comfortable spot beneath Washington, DC, only a month ago, after nearly being overrun by demons. Relocation with the aid of ancient spells was complicated, but it had been periodically necessary since the beginning. There had been a time, centuries ago, when every move the city made had been an adventure to Dru. Now, the process was just annoying. More paperwork, more upheaval, dealing with vamps who found new ways to get into trouble aboveground ... not to mention she was still handling the aftermath back in DC. They'd left a burned-out husk of a building where a luxe vampire/human nightclub had once been, and even vampire royalty had to deal with insurance companies.
She'd gotten comfortable in DC, the thing Dru had told herself over and over not to do. And here she was again, at loose ends and starting from scratch — literally — this time beneath the charming little beach town of Mirage, Florida. The beach club that would be their income and entertainment aboveground, her people's way of contributing to and blending in with the human society that would be sustaining them in more ways than one, was still in the planning stages, though things were coming together nicely. She'd only been up there once this entire month, to check out the site she'd purchased. That was bad news. Of the two of them, Justin was the workaholic.
All work and no play made her bitchy.
"Where are the rest of them?" Dru asked. "I think it's awfully suspicious that the mighty Fallen all vanish into thin air every time Meresin turns into a lightning rod. I'm the last person who should be trying to talk him down."
"That's funny, because Justin thinks you're the only person who ought to be trying to talk him down," Vivi replied. The enormous wooden doors at the end of the hall swung open as they approached, revealing the dark and glittering gem of a city just beyond.
Dru smirked ruefully at Vivi. "That's because my brother likes to torment me."
"True. But he also thinks Meresin listens to you." Vivi was nearly running to keep up with Dru's long stride.
Dru rolled her eyes. "He listens to the sound of my voice, at least. Then he runs. But all things considered, I guess that's close enough."
She forced herself to slow down so that Vivi didn't have to sprint. At five foot ten, Dru stood more than a head taller than her sister-in-law, and that was without the heels she favored. Even with the obvious height difference, though, she was prone to forgetting just how much longer her stride was. Probably because she was normally too busy being entertained by Vivi's quick wit to notice. Her brother had gotten a good one.
Together, they walked down the steps that radiated outward from the palace doors in a semicircle, descending to the wide cobblestone street. The palace sat at the head of High Street, the main thoroughfare of Terra Noctem. The tall, gothic structure was carved into the pale and glittering stone wall of the cave that protected them, set slightly higher than the rest of the buildings so that from any of the windows, one could look out and see the city spread before them. It was a place of power, both for Justin and for the Necromancium, the council of night races that governed them all. It was also home when Dru wanted it to be. She had rooms there and used them often enough. But she had a cozier place out in the city that she preferred, a place that was hers alone.
The alone part of the equation had begun to wear on her lately. It was probably time to take a lover again. She just couldn't quite bring herself to begin the process of looking. She also doubted there was anyone out there right now who would appeal. Not when she was uncomfortably fixated on someone already. Someone completely unsuitable, who she should really get over and forget about ... though that would be a lot easier if she didn't keep getting called in to talk him down.
"Hmm?" She realized that Vivi was looking uncharacteristically embarrassed. Dru knew that look. And really, she'd been waiting for the question.
"You might as well ask. It's not like the whole city hasn't heard about it."
"Oh," Vivi said. She hesitated for a few seconds, then continued, "You and Meresin ...is that really true?"
Dru sighed. Only a few people had actually seen what happened, but the story just wouldn't die. "It was a kiss. One kiss. Once." In public. That'll teach me, she thought.
Vivi looked both amused and impressed. "Wow. Kissing. That ...doesn't sound like Meresin."
Dru smirked despite herself, remembering the look on his face in the split second before he'd realized what she was up to. "Trust me, it wasn't his idea. He was in charge of making sure Ember didn't go anywhere one night, back before she and Raum officially got together, and she asked me if I'd work up a distraction so she could get out of here," Dru said, referring to her beautiful half-demon friend who was now mated to Raum of the Fallen — which, she thought smugly, might not have happened half so fast if she hadn't given Ember a hand. "The distraction worked really, really well. Which is probably why he's never forgiven me."
Vivi's soft laugh was full of sympathy. "I don't think he forgives anyone for anything, if that makes you feel any better."
She arched an eyebrow. "Who says I feel bad about it? He's the one with the problem."
That wasn't exactly true, but it sounded good. A single, meaningless kiss shouldn't still matter to anyone. It wouldn't still matter, if she could forget the feel of him, or the taste of him. The quiet, forbidding fallen angel who hated everyone and everything had yielded to her, just for a moment, and she'd been able to feel just how much passion and need he had walled up inside himself. The hunger in him had seemed violent, fathomless.
She couldn't let it go. And Meresin didn't seem to be able to, either, though she suspected his reasons were nothing like hers. Still, Dru found herself looking for him more often than she ought to, eyes seeking the only renegade Fallen who shunned even the most basic interactions, instead skulking in the shadows of the city, angry at the world.
Yeah, it was time to find a lover, she thought as her cheeks heated. Because this fixation was going nowhere fast.
It only took minutes to reach the crowd that had gathered in the circular plaza at the center of High Street. Rising above the mass of shouting vampires was an ornate fountain, a white marble relic from ancient Rome, featuring a winged goddess, her arms stretching to the heavens, the ripples in her draped gown created by such a skilled hand that she seemed ready to rise against the wind. At the moment, she looked like she wanted very much to get the hell away from what was quickly becoming an angry mob. Beneath her, water flashed and danced as it flowed into a pool currently hidden from view. But Dru could hear splashing. And earsplitting wailing.
"Keep him away from me! Keep that freak away! He belongs back in Hell!"
Dru snorted. Vampires could be such babies.
Heads turned at Dru and Vivi's approach, and Dru could hear her brother's deep, commanding voice as he tried to keep order.
"Meresin, enough! If you were trying to teach him a lesson, he's learned it! And if you're trying to kill him, you're going to have to go through me, so I suggest you calm down!"
There was a flash of violet light and another screech. It seemed that someone had really set Meresin off today.
Dru kept her head high as she strode through the crowd, which parted without a word from her. She could feel the energy rippling through the gathered vampires, though, and it was bad. Fangs were bared, and there was a lot of hissing. When the renegade Fallen had come to Terra Noctem nearly two years ago looking for sanctuary, most had found uneasy acceptance and even a degree of celebrity. They were beautiful, powerful, if not universally personable, and had proven useful enough that there was no real appetite for protesting their presence. Even their leader, Leviathan, who was not truly a fallen angel and was possibly the biggest enigma of the group, engendered no protest. But Meresin ... Meresin was a different story.
Dru worried that her people had finally reached their breaking point with him.
When she emerged into the area that had cleared around the fountain, she immediately saw the source of the wailing — a soaked vampire trying to haul himself out of the red-tinted water. Something had sliced through his shirt, leaving a long red gash across his chest. The water had stained much of his white button-down shirt pink. His brown hair stood completely on end, still smoking. Nearby, another vamp was sprawled on the cobblestones, smoke rising lazily from his pale skin. He twitched weakly and moaned.
The vamp in the fountain caught sight of her and flopped around like a hooked fish, unable to regain his footing. Dru recognized him and cringed inwardly. She'd had to personally haul him out of human bars more than once for causing trouble. He wasn't worth an angry mob, but it figured that he'd be the person to finally cause one.
"Dru!" he cried, flailing. "Dru, help me! He's going to kill me! That crazy freak finally lost it!"
She made no move to help him out of the water. "With no help from you, I'm sure, Bob."
"My name is Razer," Bob shouted, throwing himself over the edge of the pool. "And I didn't say anything! You can't prove it! But even if I did," he panted, hanging half in and half out of the fountain before sliding slowly onto the ground, "it's no reason to try to kill me!"
"If I'd been trying to kill you, you'd already be dead."
The silky voice was soft and deadly. Dru would have known it anywhere. She heard it even in her sleep. Steeling herself, she faced the man who had become the bane of her existence.
He waited a few feet away. Seeing him, being this close, sent a punch of heat through her system the way it always did, and she struggled to keep her expression neutral. With his ebony wings outstretched, his tall, lithe form clad all in black, he looked more like some vengeful Roman god than any kind of angel. His coal-black hair was short, spiky, a marked contrast to his ivory skin. There was nothing soft about him. Meresin was all sharp edges and angles, beautiful and forbidding. His eyes tilted up at the corners, lending him a hint of the exotic among his brothers. The irises were a shade of violet Dru had never seen before, and thought she never would again. Unlike his brothers, he carried no weapon. He was the weapon. Lightning, the same color as his eyes, crackled and flickered in his cupped palms, coiling up his arms.
His eyes locked with hers. A muscle in his cheek twitched, and he jerked his head to the side before she could even try to decipher his expression.
"Drusilla," he said. Always so formal when forced to interact. She sighed.
"Meresin. I think this is about enough, don't you?"
She took a step toward him. Immediately his body tensed, shoulders hunching the way they always did when she got near him, as though he were preparing for an attack. It was as frustrating and infuriating as ever.
"Damn it, Meresin. I'm not going to bite you," she snapped. "Just stop, take a deep breath, and tell me what's going on before these people try to tear you into tiny pieces."
It was apparently the wrong thing to say, but then, she hadn't quite figured out what the right thing to say to him was, whatever the circumstances. His eyes narrowed, glowing menacingly.
"They could try."
"Oh, they're going to," she replied. "See, you may not have noticed, but vampires don't really enjoy being electrocuted. Strangely, you keep doing it anyway."
"If some of them learned to keep their opinions to themselves, they wouldn't need to worry."
Dru raised her eyebrows. "Oh, I see. What are you, the psychotic Miss Manners of Terra Noctem? People say stupid, insulting things all the time. Ignore it, and you'll feel better." Justin helped the vampire who'd been face down get back on his feet. When the unfortunate vamp smiled weakly, smoke coiled from his mouth. Her brother shot Meresin a glare that promised doom.
Returning her focus to Meresin, she was startled by the bleak, wounded expression in his eyes. It vanished as quickly as it had come, replaced by a snarl as he whirled on the vamps who had slowly, tentatively begun to close in on him. His wings flared, and his hands flexed into claws that shimmered with beautiful impending death.
"You don't understand," he hissed, and it took Dru a moment to realize that he was still talking to her. "You have no idea what it's like for me."
It shouldn't have tugged at her heart the way it did. She shouldn't try to hear anything but his anger — what good would that do? He wasn't interested in letting anyone in, least of all her. But it didn't matter how many ways she tried to tell herself that he was a bad idea. Possibly the worst idea in a long life that had seen its fair share. To her, what he said sounded like a plea. He really thought that no one gave a damn about him. And it was true.
Dru closed the distance between them with the kind of speed no human was capable of, laying a hand on his arm. She could feel the muscles quivering with tension beneath her palm, the startling warmth of his skin such a contrast to the coolness of her own. He sucked in a breath and tried to jerk away, but she clamped her fingers around his wrist. There was a choked sound in the back of his throat, so soft it was barely audible. His violet eyes were wild as they stared into hers.
"Get a handle on it," she said softly. "I know you can. Whatever those two idiots said, they can't hurt you. They're not worth this. Lock it down."
Excerpted from The Demon's Desire by Kendra Leigh Castle, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2013 Kendra Leigh Castle. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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