Once a broken girl known as Sorrow, Holly Chang now prowls the shadowy gray underground of the city for the angels. But it’s not her winged allies who make her a wanted woman—it’s the unknown power coursing through her veins. Brutalized by an insane archangel, she was left with the bloodlust of a vampire, the ability to mesmerize her prey, and a poisonous bite.
Now, someone has put a bounty on her head…
Venom is one of the Seven, Archangel Raphael’s private guard, and he’s as infuriating as he is seductive. A centuries-old vampire, his fangs dispense a poison deadlier than Holly’s. But even if Venom can protect Holly from those hunting her, he might not be able to save himself—because the strange, violent power inside Holly is awakening…
No one is safe.
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh is passionate about writing. Though she’s traveled as far afield as the deserts of China, the temples of Japan, and the frozen landscapes of Antarctica, it is the journey of the imagination that fascinates her the most. She’s beyond delighted to be able to follow her dream as a writer.
She is the author of the Guild Hunter series which includes most recently, Archangel’s Heart. She is also the author of the Psy-Changeling novels including Silver Silence, Allegiance of Honor, Shards of Hope, and Shield of Winter.
Read an Excerpt
Holly hugged her sister good-bye one final time, her heart aching. "Shoo," she said when Mia hesitated at the entrance to the security line. "You'll be late for your flight if you don't get going."
Mia sank her teeth into the fullness of her lower lip, her chin-length bob gleaming obsidian under the white fluorescent lighting inside the terminal building. "I miss home already."
"You'll be fine." Though Holly was going to miss her elder sister-and best friend-desperately, she took Mia's face in her hands, met eyes as brown as hers had once been, and said, "You're the smartest person I've ever known. You'll knock this out of the park." Her newly minted doctor sister had been offered a prestigious residency at Massachusetts General in Boston.
"I'll be so far from everyone."
Holly didn't point out that her sister's new base of operation was only a few hours' drive from New York, less at the speeds Holly liked driving. She knew what it was to be homesick. She'd felt that way in the vibrant city her family called home when she'd isolated herself from them for several long months in the aftermath of the attack that had changed her into a being who wasn't human, but who wasn't vampire, either.
Thankfully, she'd gotten over that stupidity-and her family loved her enough to forgive her. Of course, her mother reminded her of it every chance she got, but that was par for the course. Daphne Chang also reminded Holly of the time she'd snuck out of the house at seventeen, only to have to call home for help after her asshole date abandoned her on a dark street in Queens.
Holly still had to keep some secrets from her parents, her younger brothers, and Mia, but those secrets were for their protection: mortals didn't need to know about a bloodborn archangel. As far as Holly's parents and siblings were concerned, it was a deranged mortal who'd abducted her friends and her, and who'd infected her with a dangerous virus. An angel had saved her by attempting to turn her into a vampire, but the transition hadn't gone smoothly because of the virus in her blood.
They had no reason not to believe the story.
"I'll drive up and see you anytime you feel alone," she said to Mia, this sister of hers who'd loved her with unflinching stubbornness even when Holly didn't-couldn't-love herself. "Just call."
"I love you, Hollster." Another crushing hug, Mia's body a sweep of soft, womanly curves.
Holly, in contrast, was still hoping her breasts would grow a little bigger if she wished hard enough. In the silverlining department, at least she didn't have to waste money on bras. "Love you more, Mimi," she said through a throat that had gone thick. Not because Mia was heading off on a new adventure, but because Holly was horrifyingly aware of how life could change without warning, how a person could be laughing and living one instant and, in the next, be a bloodsoaked corpse.
She had a serious psychological problem letting those she loved out of her sight. Which was why she forced herself to release Mia; she wasn't about to steal Mia's dreams because of her own nightmares. "Go." Putting her hands on the soft gray of Mia's cardigan, she gave her sister a little push.
"I'm gonna hold you to your promise!" Mia called over her shoulder as she finally tugged her little roll-onboard case in between the ropes that led to the screening area.
That area was visible through the glass, so Holly stood and watched until Mia made it through-all the while fighting her impulse to jump the barriers and wrench her sister back to where Holly could watch over her, protect her. Smiling a little nervously, Holly's eldest sibling waved one last time from the other side, and then she was gone, lost in the stream of travelers heading out of a city Holly loved and hated in equal measure.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!
"Ashwini, I swear to God . . ." Holly muttered as she scrambled for her phone.
That was not the ringtone she'd programmed.
Managing to cut off the annoyingly cheerful chipmunk singing at last, she put the phone to her ear as she headed out of the terminal. "Tell your wife I'm going to murder her the next time I see her."
Janvier laughed, as if threats against his beloved Ashwini weren't the least unusual. "You are still at the airport, Hollyberry?" he drawled in that lazy Cajun accent of his that fooled the unwary into thinking he wasn't paying attention to the world.
"Cut that out." It came out a snarled order. "And add Viper Face to the list of my future murder victims." Venom had given her that ridiculous nickname after she insisted on being addressed as Sorrow. The latter name had fit her at the time, but looking back, she could see she'd been acting a little dramatic.
So sue her. She'd been kidnapped and brutalized by a violently powerful and deeply insane archangel, her life suddenly a miasma of terror and blinding grief. She'd been only twenty-three at the time-and she'd had soul-shredding nightmares night after night. Waking to find herself curled up in a silent, fear-drenched ball on the floor of her closet had become a daily occurrence. As if her subconscious believed that the red-eyed monster wouldn't find her there.
He did, of course.
Because he lived in Holly's tainted blood.
She was allowed a few dramatics.
And it wasn't as if Venom could talk. "Yes," she muttered. "I'm at the airport. Just about to head back to Manhattan."
"I need you to do a pickup at the private airfield."
Holly froze midstep. "Oh, hell no." She knew exactly who was flying back into New York today. "That's your job."
"Alas, I am stuck in traffic," Janvier said. "A truck spilled chickens all over the road in front of me."
"Ha ha. I'm hanging up now."
"But this is no laughing matter, 'tite Hollyberry," was the aggravating response, followed by the sound of a window being lowered. Indignant chicken squawks filled the line seconds later. "See? Janvier does not lie. I am surrounded by frustrated drivers on every side, with no way out, but you are only ten minutes away. Do the pickup."
"Is that an order?" Janvier and Ashwini were Holly's official bosses as of seven months ago, when the entire team in charge of her training-and sanity-had pronounced that she'd gained sufficient and stable control over the twisted, poisonous power that marked her as the Archangel Uram's creation.
Pride curled her toes at the memory of that day-Holly tried to focus on the trust the team was showing in her, not on how she remained on a leash nonetheless. Thanks to Ash's and Janvier's willingness to utilize her ability to make friends with those who lived in the shadows, she was now part of the small but efficient team that kept an eye on the murky gray underground of New York, a place far from the power-drenched environs of Archangel Tower.
Before her life broke apart in a spray of blood and fear and anguish, Holly hadn't known there was a hierarchy in the immortal world. She'd seen the angels who soared high above the skyscrapers and the vampires who stalked the streets as all the same: dangerously strong and hauntingly beautiful. These days, she knew two-hundred-year-old vamps who were homeless addicts with less to their name than Holly, and understood that when a being lived too long, he or she could forget any concept of humanity or empathy.
For many, torture and sex alone, often entwined, held any pleasure.
"Oui," Janvier said in reply to her edgy question. "It is an order. See, I am acting bosslike."
Holly's lips twitched despite herself. "Fine, I'll go pick up Poison."
"Play nice-no putting a cunja on him."
Holly stuck out her tongue at her phone before she hung up. A little boy wearing a tiny blue and yellow backpack saw her, stuck out his own tongue with a giggle. Holly winked. Looking over his shoulder, he waved at her.
She waved back.
That sweet kid, he didn't know that she was the creation of a murderous psychopath, that she had horrific urges inside her that caused her to break out in a cold sweat. He saw only a small-boned Chinese American woman in skinny black jeans decorated with appliqud black roses on the left calf and thigh, her top a floaty orange silk, and her ankle boots a shining black with small gold buckles.
That ordinary woman's rainbow-streaked black hair was pulled back in a sleek ponytail, her face framed by blunt black bangs, and her nails painted in a wild mix of colors.
The only thing that made her stand out in a city overrun with the stylistically adventurous was the acid green that had taken over the light brown of her irises. The shade had been darker before, nearer to the vivid green of the archangel who'd used her as a human toy, but the acidic lightness had come in firmly over the past year and settled.
When strangers spotted Holly's eyes, they automatically assumed she was wearing contacts. It fit their impression of a woman who looked as if she'd been dropped in a vat of color.
Maybe a touch quirky or peculiar, but human. Normal.
Holly ached to be that normal human woman every single day. But in the four years since she'd been stripped naked and forced to watch her friends be dismembered alive, her throat torn and raw from her screams, she'd gotten over the first four stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.
Acceptance . . . well, that was going to take a hell of a lot more time, she thought as she slid into the Tower vehicle she'd been assigned. When Janvier had first told her she'd get a vehicle as part of her job as his and Ash's apprentice, she'd glumly expected a sedate sedan, but she should've remembered the kind of people who worked for the Archangel Raphael.
None were the sedan type.
Holly's car was a sleek black thing that looked like an arrow in flight. It wasn't new by any stretch of the imagination and had more than a few dents and scratches-all the better to fit the environs she prowled in the shadowy corners of the city. The tires were good, but not so good anyone would bother to steal them, and the radio only got about five stations.
Holly loved her ride with the passion of a thousand suns.
Inside this car, she could be free, could fly.
No leash. No blood that craved the monstrous. No flashfire memories of a rust red hand stroking her hair as he told her to "Drink, girl," in a gentle voice that belied the carnage in which she knelt broken and beaten.
Today, she raced in and out of traffic with bare inches to spare as she made her way to the airfield that handled the Tower's private fleet. It wasn't the safest way to drive, but Holly was very careful not to put anyone else in danger. Only herself.
Yes, she needed therapy.
But Holly wasn't suicidal. Not any longer. Her head was plenty messed up, but never would she hurt her family by making that irrevocable choice. Her mom and dad, Mia, her younger brothers, had suffered more than enough in the immediate days and weeks after the slaughter, and in her months of confused, angry, scared silence.
It was Janvier who'd made her understand what she was throwing away.
"I will miss my sisters my entire vampiric existence," he'd said to her as they sat on the grass after a sparring session that had left Holly's body a screaming ache. "I have a big family that loves me so, but to grow up with another, ah, 'tite Holly, that is a different bond." A sheen in eyes the shade of bayou moss that her deadly boss made no effort to hide. "Amelie and Jšelle . . . they live here." His fist on his heart. "Always they will stay safe within."
His gaze had gone to his wife, who was practicing a martial arts kata with cool hunter dedication. "And my dangerous cher, my Ashblade, she yet grieves for her brother and sister." As he'd risen to go tease Ash into a kiss, the Guild Hunter's fingers sinking into the chestnut brown of his hair, the copper strands within it glinting in the sunlight, Holly had felt understanding kick her. Hard.
Mia would be gone forever one day.
Alvin and Wesley would be gone.
Her parents would be gone.
She would never get back that time.
Holly had caught the subway home an hour later-to be greeted with tears and hugs and her favorite meal-followed by a grilling so intense it had threatened to set her hair on fire.
It was a memory she hoarded against the unknown future.
Zipping into a parking spot outside the airfield building located at the end of a long and deserted private road, she got out and showed her Tower ID to the guard. He gave her the hard eye regardless and pressed his finger to the receiver in his ear after muttering her name into the microphone on his collar.
Whatever he heard back had him nodding. "You're cleared." A faint curve to his lips. "Nice outfit. I didn't know the Tower let five-year-olds drive."
Eyes narrowed, Holly pulled out her best sincere tone. "Did you get your suit at Slick Vampires Are Us? Asking for a friend."
Smile wiped off, the vampire just looked at her, unblinking. Holly stared back, not about to be intimidated, even if he was at least five hundred years old according to the internal chronometer she'd developed over the past year.
A tingle ran behind her eyes.
Though backing down was against her personal religion, Holly lowered her eyelids and took a deep breath. When she lifted them back up, the vampire was smirking. Gritting her teeth and refraining from pointing out that she'd been a second away from mesmerizing him into clucking like a chicken, she carried on inside. It was a relatively small area with a glass wall that looked out onto the airfield.
Air traffic control was high above in their own little aerie.
That had always struck Holly as funny: angels flew wherever they wished, but if they traveled in an airplane, they needed to obey the rules of airspace. Not that the man she was here to pick up had wings. Venom was a vampire. One of the Seven, Raphael's private guard. That, unfortunately, also meant he was far, far stronger than he should've been for his three hundred and fifty or so years of age.