A PROMISE BROKEN
Rowan Harper sacrificed her blood and her soul to keep her friend, Aleksei, alive—and in the process, broke a bond of sacred trust with her lover, Gabriel.
But her act of heroism wasn’t enough to stop the evil bent on tearing the world asunder.
Newly turned vampires are slaughtering innocents, and those lurking in the darkness are threatening the people Rowan loves.
She may be Gabriel’s Promise, but it’s looking more and more like Rowan will belong to the demon of the Dark Realm instead. Time is of the essence and with her soul already tainted, will Rowan be forced to break the ties she’s forged with Gabriel? Which of the two rivals will stand beside her as she faces the end of the world?...
“This series is highly recommended.” --Library Journal
“Wicked fun not to be missed!” —USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Zanetti
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A Vampire's Hunger
By Carla Susan Smith
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Carla Susan Smith
All rights reserved.
The candle was as thick and as long as Ryiel's forearm. After lighting it, he placed it in the iron sconce on the stone wall, where the flame made a game of chasing shadows. In truth, the vampire had no need of artificial illumination to help him with his task, but he enjoyed the ambience the candlelight afforded. And this room, with its multitude of fixtures, had been made for light. Once it had reverberated with prayers to a deity now long forgotten, and every now and then, when the wind found a way in through an open window or an unattended door, Ryiel fancied he heard the ghostly echo of chanting voices.
"Doubtful," Stavros told him. The vampire's raised brow invited clarification. "There's no evidence of a fireplace or any other type of heat source," the sentinel explained, "and as cold as it is this high up the mountain, it would have taken them all day to recite the Lord's Prayer with chattering teeth."
"Enough bodies in a single chamber would surely generate sufficient warmth."
"You're a vampire," the sentinel pointed out. "You can't feel how cold it actually is."
"How cold is it?"
For a moment Stavros thought he was being teased, that Ryiel was actually making a joke. But there was no hidden humor lurking in the vampire's expression, only mild curiosity. The sentinel ran a hand over his bald head. "Too cold to be reciting prayers with chattering teeth." He paused and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Nah, I'd bet my last silver coin they were a silent order. Most of these religious groups are, you know."
"And your reasoning for such an astute observation?"
"If you can't speak, then you can't complain."
"What would they have to complain about, surrounded by such magnificence?" The spread of Ryiel's arms was meant to encompass not only the room, but the mountain itself.
Stavros grinned. "You mean apart from the freeze-your-balls-off cold? Lack of female companionship would be high on my list. I imagine any number of them probably went bat-shit crazy if all they could fuck was each other."
"That has never seemed to bother you," Ryiel pointed out.
"True, but I'm not a human male." Stavros gave the vampire a knowing look. "They have a lot of insecurities, especially when it comes to fornicating."
Ryiel gave his sentinel a curious stare. Stavros was not usually so talkative, which made him the perfect guardian for a vampire who preferred to keep himself isolated as much as possible from the rest of the world. "So you prefer women?" he asked, deciding to indulge the sentinel for however long he chose to be loquacious.
"Given a choice? Absolutely."
One of the first things Stavros had done upon their arrival was to establish contact with the closest village to the abandoned monastery. It was a humble settlement, located a few thousand feet down the mountainside, and tucked away in a hidden valley Ryiel doubted few outsiders knew existed. The population numbered almost a thousand, and as if to compensate for the apparently low procreation rate, longevity was impressive.
The village elders had welcomed the sentinel. He estimated the group, made up of both sexes, to have an average age of a hundred and fifty years, with no frailty, either physical or mental, detected amongst them. But though they treated Stavros with great respect, they politely refused to consider his request, asking that he return at dusk, and bring his master with him. They might be insulated from the modern world, but they knew the manner of creature who sought to walk among them.
Ryiel found the entire village waiting for him. Dressed in their finest clothes, they were all eager for a chance to glimpse the silver-eyed vampire who had chosen to be a part of their community. He did not disappoint. Wearing dark pants tucked into boots boasting a mirror shine, he came bare-chested, as was his fashion. Long hair, black as a raven's wing, shimmered in the moonlight. It hung in a single, thick braid between the livid scars marring each shoulder blade. He presented himself to the elders, waiting as they noted the glyphs tattooed on his chest before he addressed them. They showed neither alarm nor surprise at hearing the vampire speak to them in their own tongue, and they invited him to sit and share a pipe with them. After receiving his personal assurance his needs required no human sacrifice, the villagers were more than happy to provide for him and his sentinel.
It was agreed the elders would choose the female for the vampire to feed from when so needed, and he in turn would keep their secret and protect them from the outside world. Stavros negotiated the terms of his own compact. The village would have the use of his broad back and strong legs for spring planting and the subsequent harvest. And after the first year, when the annual yield was considerably more than anticipated, the villagers realized the vampire who lived high above them on the mountain was not the only supernatural being in their midst. The sentinel had gifts of his own. Gifts that were of the earth. Gifts he chose to share. Because of his generosity, Stavros was also offered a female, but his needs were satisfied a little more frequently, and in a much different way. And it definitely stopped him from going bat-shit crazy.
The elders knew nothing about those who had built the temple. For reasons of their own, the occupants had chosen to keep to themselves. Whether or not they were silent remained unknown. Ryiel had never understood the compulsion of such a restriction, but he had stopped looking for reasons to explain human behavior long ago. Still, the choice to remain mute was something that had always puzzled him. Tongues were designed to be used in many ways, and it was not the nature of human beings to remain silent. So why embrace such an unnatural constraint of one's free will? He did not know, but then he was certain there were aspects of vampire life that would be just as bewildering to human comprehension.
It had taken only a few centuries for the vampire to conclude that any endeavor to bring the human race to its knees was a futile one. Although the petition to the Dark Realm by the lesser beasts for a superior predator had been granted with the most spectacular interpretation of their wish, it was not enough. Relying on physical supremacy, the lesser beasts had, through no fault of their own, dismissed certain traits possessed by those they wished to subjugate — the most unexpected being the human will to survive.
And there was another factor. Breeding for most animals occurred at a designated time within the arc of the seasons. Human beings were bound by no such constraints. Their ability to reproduce at any time, coupled with self-imposed restrictions from the vampires themselves, hampered any effort to use population control as a way to hold the species in check. No matter how many humans were dispatched, their ranks did not thin. Frustrated, the leader of the Original Vampires had turned to Ryiel, the most learned of them all, seeking an answer. Ryiel had steeled himself before responding, anticipating Gabriel's reaction to his proposal.
"We must completely eradicate an entire generation," he said. "It is the only way to curb them. Take those not yet old enough to procreate, and severely limit the ability of those left behind."
It was barbaric.
It was brutal.
It was brilliant.
And it was never going to happen.
Gabriel's own edict that the young should not be harmed effectively tied the vampires' hands, turning them into mice on a wheel that went around and around, arriving nowhere. The only difference was that the mice had no idea their journey was a pointless one.
The other miscalculation of the lesser beasts had been the number of humans that could be turned into vampires. The more humans they killed, the fewer were found with the necessary dormant gene. It was almost as if nature itself was conspiring against them, burying the latent code so deep within the human DNA, it became almost impossible to detect. Of those that were turned, fewer than half survived the transition, and less than half of those made it through the perilous first year.
Realizing the impossible situation that presented itself, Gabriel had called his brothers together and sought to redefine their role in the world. If vampires were to survive, they had to adapt to change. They owed it to those they had turned as well as those who had called them into being. And they owed it to themselves.
It was a sobering reminder that the reason for vampires' existence was to prevent domination by a race now grown so arrogant it no longer saw the necessity of sharing resources with those it considered of lesser worth. A species whose greatest threat came from itself. If the risk of extinction did not also include the destruction of every other living, breathing creature, the rest of the food chain would have been perfectly willing to stand back and let the human race destroy itself. But the concept of codependency had been a gift from the Creator, and who were they to question His design?
And so the role of hunter and prey was reassessed. Vampires would still hunt humans, only now they would concentrate on those who were capable of doing the greatest harm. For Ryiel, this new attitude brought a certain freedom that allowed him to take a step back and view the world and its inhabitants in a different light. But though the light was brighter, what was revealed pleased him little. So he sequestered himself with his treasure in this place deep inside the Himalayas.
Now every room in the abandoned monastery, save those necessary for the preparation of meals, bathing, and sleeping, had been altered for the sole purpose of holding the contents of what had once been the greatest scholarly resource in the known world. The Library at Alexandria. Human history said the library had burned. And it had. More than once. But the last time it was set ablaze, Ryiel had felt compelled to take action. Recognizing the ferocity of the impending inferno, he had swept through the impressive building, gathering as many scrolls as he could, and transporting them to a place of safety. The irony did not escape him that his preternatural speed might have contributed to the spread of the flames.
No one knew how many scrolls were in the library. Some reports put the number as low as 40,000, others as high as 400,000. Ryiel wondered if modern human historians would be surprised to know that 400,000 was a conservative estimate. The library had contained three times that number, and most of the scrolls were now in his possession. Except it wasn't just human knowledge Ryiel had been saving. Hidden within the scrolls were others. Neither papyrus nor parchment, these were of a different medium and unknown to man. Meant to last through the ages, they were already ancient when the library was nothing but the musings of a Macedonian general.
These other scrolls were the historical accounts of Ryiel's kind, recording not only the lives of the Original Vampires, but also detailing what they once had been. As revealing as the tattoos each Original bore on his body, these archaic writings served as an invaluable source of information ... if one knew how to read them.
Ryiel had taken it upon himself to rescue and preserve as much of the contents of the library as he possibly could, and now he perused the writings for another reason. He was searching for a key — one that would show him how to nullify a deal made with a demon. It was a tedious task, but somewhere in the back of his mind he carried a hazy recollection of having read such an incantation. A law that would invalidate any agreement made with a denizen of the Dark Realm.
A sudden dip of the candle flame told Ryiel he was no longer alone. "I'm not in the habit of talking to myself, Katja, so eavesdropping is a waste of time."
The disgraced female vampire, made by him in a moment of weakness, was now his prisoner. Obsessed with Gabriel, she had refused to accept that he would always be bonded to Rowan, who was both the love of his life and also his Promise. Katja's method of dealing with rejection had been to try to kill her rival, and she might have succeeded if not for the timely intervention of the angel Sebastian, who'd spirited Rowan away before anyone else could intervene. It was the only reason Katja's head was still attached to her elegant neck. Now she stepped through the stone arch, carrying the next batch of scrolls Ryiel had requested. Dressed in baggy jeans and an oversized T-shirt, she put the scrolls on the table.
"I don't need to eavesdrop," she told him in a sulky tone. "I can hear you snoring even when I'm not in my cell."
Ryiel grunted. He knew his sentinel and the prisoner were physically intimate. Stavros had confessed it was nice to bed a female and not worry about accidentally breaking a rib. Ryiel supposed it was a combination of curiosity, frustration, and boredom that made Katja return to the sentinel's bed.
He had no idea whether the female vampire knew how close she had come to her own demise at his hands. Had she succeeded in taking Rowan's life, he would have been left with no choice but to take her head. She seemed to accept the conditions of her punishment with no complaint, and Ryiel had taken advantage of her quick mind to catalog the Alexandria scrolls he had yet to sort. She knew what he was looking for, and he took measures to ensure she did not sabotage his efforts to find an answer to Rowan's problem. She had not done so. Yet. He sighed. The workings of the female mind, either human or vampire, were complicated. He had no doubt Katja's feelings for Gabriel were still strong, but whether she wanted to fuck him or kill him he couldn't say.
Probably both. At the same time.
"Do you have another list?" She held out her hand. The ligature marks on her wrist, though fading, were still livid against the paleness of her skin.
He found a piece of paper and handed it to her, his fingers closing around her wrist as she took it from him. "What happened?"
"I tried to give your sentinel the ultimate sexual experience."
"In what way?"
"By slipping a knife between his ribs as he was coming." She shrugged and rubbed her wrist as he released it. "He didn't appreciate my efforts."
Stavros might have to be more careful when having sex with one of the women from the village, but he never had to worry that any of them wanted to kill him in the act. Ryiel suspected the female vampire would have to submit to a pat-down along with a body-cavity search before being allowed to slip between his sentinel's sheets from now on. He dismissed her and returned to his task.
The papyrus was an ancient text, and an extraordinary amount of care was required to unroll it and explore its secrets. Last read by scholars who had perished almost two centuries before, the words seemed to jump off the page. Ryiel stared at the script with a glazed look in his eyes until his mind rearranged the formation of lines and symbols to form a language he was familiar with. It was not what he was looking for. But as he began to carefully roll up the document, marks on the lower edge of the papyrus caught his eye.
Written in an entirely different language, the words made no sense in the context of the scroll. It was like coming across a copy of Hamlet's soliloquy written in Shakespeare's own hand, only to find he'd also included the opening lines to A Christmas Carol.
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub, Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that, For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come ...
It made absolutely no sense at all ... unless you were an Original Vampire.
Opening the scroll once more, Ryiel anchored each corner with one of the many polished stones he used as paperweights. The line of misplaced script was a directive on how to release the hidden writing contained within. Recognizing the presence of one who could unlock their knowledge, the glyphs and symbols now began to pulse and glow with a life of their own, impatient to reveal their secrets.
A soft click and Ryiel's fangs slid smoothly past his lower lip. He held his wrist to his mouth and broke the skin, piercing the vein closest to the surface. Blood welled up, and he turned his arm so it would drip onto the ancient papyrus. There was a mild hiss as the liquid quickly spread across the surface, covering the original lettering with a thick, crimson flow. Static electricity pulled at his long hair, making it stand out until it resembled the exotic headdress of a Mayan god. A strange odor filled the air, something Ryiel had not smelled in a long time — a peculiar sweetness coupled with the underlying scent of decay. It was the perfume of corruption, and it sealed all such writings.
Excerpted from A Vampire's Hunger by Carla Susan Smith. Copyright © 2016 Carla Susan Smith. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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