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No spells could protect her from Nicholai, the potent, mysterious seducer. No potions could assuage the longing he'd awakened in her. In his lair, Mari wasn't sure she wanted ...
No spells could protect her from Nicholai, the potent, mysterious seducer. No potions could assuage the longing he'd awakened in her. In his lair, Mari wasn't sure she wanted protection until she discovered Nicholai's dark intention. Could she believe the enemy she'd come to love meant to destroy her? And would it matter when Nicholai discovered she—and her blood—were her coven's secret weapon?
For a second, as he lost himself in the heady scents of humanity, in the hunger rising within him, in the energy throbbing at his core, he could almost forget why he came to The Chamber, New York City's premier Goth bar.
He circled the dance floor, his attention focused on a beautiful woman with long dark curls. Her lips curved with the promise of seduction as she raised her arms high above her head and gyrated her hips, moving in rhythm to the pounding drums.
Nicholai's gaze traveled down the length of her slim, tanned throat to her exquisite bare shoulders. She dipped her head and a vein pulsed in the narrow channel along her neck. Hunger stirred within him—rising, demanding release. He pushed it down. Not yet.
She shot him a slanted look; her shining emerald-green eyes held his gaze. Her bright red lips a slash of blood across the paleness of her face. Fire blazed through him. She smiled—a come-hither twist to her lips that had his feet moving toward her. Even as his mind said no.
This wasn't why he was here. No matter how badly he wanted—
"You're in luck." Darby's voice stopped his progression toward the floor. She rubbed her taut stomach against his backside, her hot breath whispering in his ear.
Her heat, her smell, moved through him, stoking the fire already stirring in his blood. Yes, luck would be with him tonight, he thought, as his gaze locked on the emerald-green eyes of the woman across the floor.
Darby clutched his shoulders, her nails digging in as she ground her hips against him in time to the throbbing music. She leaned close and whispered behind his ear. "There are at least three of them here."
Nicholai clamped his teeth together and sucked in a deep breath. Three witches to choose from. Three witches to bring to their knees. Excellent.
He pivoted and faced her, grabbing her around the waist. She wound her arms around his neck. He caught a subtle hint of gardenias and pulled her close as his hunger sharpened. The roar of her blood rushing through her veins tormented him.
Soon. Until the witch threat was eliminated, he would be completely dependent on her. And while Darby was scrumptious, he couldn't help longing for something a little dif-ferent.
Over her shoulder, he sought eyes of emerald-green, but she wasn't there. Darby would have to do. He guided her across the dance floor and beyond the curtains behind the stage. Enveloped by heavy black fabric, they were alone. His fangs dropped, sharpening. "Tell me what you've learned."
"I will," she crooned. "But you can't feed. The witches will sense you and we can't let them know you're here. Not until we know how strong they are."
Her sweet, ripe skin, so warm and moist, beckoned him. He reached with his tongue and took a small taste. Damn. Irritated, he pulled away, pushing his hunger down once more.
"Have you learned how they've taken out my clan?" he barked, then clenched his fists in a feeble attempt to rein in his mounting rage. "Have you found where they are holding Marcos?"
"Let's go," Darby insisted. "You need to feed. We can come back."
"I'm not going anywhere." Impatient, he pushed aside the curtains, his vampire's gaze searching the room for the aura of a witch, but he saw nothing. "You said the witches are here."
She peeked around him. "They are."
"Then they're shielding themselves."
Darby stepped back into the shadows. "We need to stay on guard." A slight tremble shook her lips. "They're very powerful."
She was afraid. What was wrong with her? He'd lived over two hundred years facing down torch-wielding mobs, hunters, demons and slayers. Did she think he would cower before a trio of girls?
"Not more powerful than me." He grabbed her by the arms and pulled her up against him. "No one has ever been able to penetrate my shields."
He buried his head beneath her thick mane of black hair and pierced her soft olive skin. Her surprised cry quickly turned to a desire-laden moan. Warm blood filled his mouth and sluiced down his throat. Renewed strength surged through him and he focused on shielding them not only from prying eyes, but from any extraordinary senses in the room.
As he drank, he swept his hands up and down Darby's body, caressing the softness of her breasts, the firm roundness of her ass. He coaxed her closer and closer to the edge of ecstasy. He could hear it in the racing of her heartbeat, smell it in the subtle shift of her scent. He pushed his hand against the juncture between her thighs and within seconds sent her hurdling over the edge.
Her blood, warm and sweet, chased the tension from his body. His senses dimmed. The roar of the music all but disappeared. The smell of sweat, smoke and Darby's passion ebbed and all he was left with was a thick cottony cloud of nothingness.
He fought against the void, reaching for the noise, the warmth, for Darby, but his fingers grasped only darkness, emptiness nothing. Fear enveloped him within its cold grasp. He knew what was coming. He'd experienced the cloud before, mostly during his daytime rest, during his most unguarded moments. He tried to block it, to stop what was coming. But couldn't.
Nicholai. Help me! Marcos's voice seared through his mind, reminding him of his failure. Reminding him of all he'd lost. Hurry before the bitch comes back!
Nicholai wrenched back from Darby, shaking the fog from his mind. Noise from the club came rushing back, knocking him off balance. Pain pierced his temples. The shrill ping of steel strings, the hammering of the drums, the roar of the crowd, overloaded and overwhelmed his senses. Hissing in torment, he pressed his palms against his ears, bending forward until his equilibrium stabilized.
This had to stop. He had to find Marcos.
As the nausea passed, he wiped the remnants of Darby's sweet drink from his mouth and his fangs receded into his gums. Darby swayed toward him, pale. Too pale. Damn! He'd taken more than he should have. It wasn't that long ago, he would have been strong enough to sever Marcos's connection. He would have been able to keep in control. But now.
He pulled Darby out from beyond the curtains and helped her to a table. Pushing through the crowd, he went to the bar and ordered her a tall glass of orange juice. He brought her the drink and sat close to her, resting his palm on the inside of her thigh, monitoring her heartbeat, making sure she was going to be okay. He couldn't lose anyone else. Especially not her.
"You okay?" he asked.
She glanced at him, her eyes wide and vulnerable, and nodded. But he could see he had frightened her.
He was an ass. He couldn't continue like this. He'd promised Marcos, he'd promised all of them, he'd never go back to the essence. Not after what had happened before. But he couldn't continue like this. He had to have the strength to do what needed to be done. He had to find Marcos and the rest of his missing brethren.
"That's them," Darby said under her breath.
Nicholai's senses spiked to razor-sharp intensity as the woman with the emerald-green eyes sashayed onto the floor with her friends. Why was he surprised? Of all the beautiful women in the room, she was the one he'd been drawn to. Had she planned it that way? Was she powerful enough to overtake even him?
Without demon essence in his system, he could no longer be sure.
Though they'd tried in the past, there had never been a witch strong enough to overpower a vampire, let alone capture damn near an entire clan. Whatever weapon they had, he would find it. He would stop them.
Nicholai watched the witch with the emerald eyes, the way her body moved, the laughter flashing across her features and once more felt lust heating his blood. He loathed her. Her kind disgusted him, and yet, he couldn't stop wanting her. Was that how she'd captured Marcos? By using her tight curvy body as a snare?
The women laughed and danced as if the room revolved around them. And to some extent it did. People parted, making room for them. Every eye, male and female, was riveted on their shapely forms. Bitterness burned in his throat.
"I followed them here from the institute," Darby said, finishing her juice.
Color was back in her face. Relief flickered through him. He lightly touched her cheek with a pang of guilt. He had to regain control before he lost everyone.
"Are you sure you want to go after the witches?" she asked, fear lingering in the depths of her black eyes, though now her fear was for him. She was no longer sure of him. She was losing faith.
He leaned forward and looked her square in the eyes. "I won't leave Marcos and the others. I will get them back no matter what I have to do. Now, tell me what you've learned."
"The Institute of Vindecare was formed to hide witches from persecution during the days when witches were being burned at the stake."
"As they deserved to be," Nicholai gritted. "Demon's whores. All of them."
"Nevertheless, now its sole purpose seems to be to train them, to broaden their skills."
"And to kill vampires." He growled deep in his throat as he watched the women leave the dance floor and settle at a table near the far end of the bar. Each one was young and beautiful, but the one with the long, dark brown curls and wide green eyes was the witch he couldn't tear his gaze from.
"We don't know how they're doing this. We should leave. Start over somewhere else." The anguish in Darby's eyes implored him even as Marcos's tortured cries still echoed through his head. Not only would he find and rescue his brethren, he would find the weapon the witches were using against them, and make sure they could never do this again.
"My clan is my family. They depend on me. I won't let them down."
"But going after the witches alone? We don't know how they're doing it. We should wait. Watch." She reached for him, begging with her outstretched hand, angering him further.
He didn't have time nor use for fear. Rage seethed inside him. He stood and turned toward the arrogant bitches that had taken so much from him. The urge to destroy surged through him. He took a step toward them then forced himself to stop. To wait. To be smart. Be patient. Plan their downfall.
"Nicholai." Darby touched his hand.
He stiffened, wrestling his emotions under control. "I won't go without my clan. I wouldn't leave you, I won't leave them."
She clutched his hand for a long moment then nodded, released him and gestured toward the women. "Sheila Johnson, the tall blonde, is the one who's been at the institute the longest. She's your best bet to find out what they're up to. The redhead, Ally McNair, is strong and ambitious but undisciplined."
"And the brunette?"
"I don't have anything on her. She must be new."
He looked back at Darby, one eyebrow raised.
"My sources are good but they can't know everything."
"She's the one I want."
"Bring the car out front, then come back in and wait for me."
She rose and squeezed his shoulder. "Be safe."
He didn't say anything as she left. He returned to the bar and ordered himself a drink, standing as close to the witch's table as he dared. Darby had her ways of getting information, and he had his. These women held the answers he needed to what was happening to his clan. He would find out the truth of where their power came from, and he would rescue his brethren.
No matter what he had to do.
And if he had to take out a few witches in the process? All the better. He hated witches with their muttered chanting and intense eyes. He especially hated eyes of emerald-green.
Once he found his brethren, he'd pluck those gems right out of her pretty head and keep them as souvenirs.
The witch turned toward him and a cold calm settled through his bones. He stared into her deep green eyes and gave her his sexiest, drop-'em-dead smile then leaned back against the bar and waited.
I'm coming, Marcos.