Lord Navarre Casteel wakes from a long sleep to find the vampire city he rules forever changed and his future in the hands of a mysterious beauty who offers her life for his. Fiery-haired Cat survives his feeding, fueling Navarre’s body and mind—as well as his suspicion that she is one of the Forbidden—a lethal mix of vampire and human blood. Yet that doesn’t stop the throb of Navarre’s desire, the feeling that she is destined to be his mate, to hell with consequences. . . .
A solitary fighter sworn to protect the children in her charge, Cat never expects to feel so much for Navarre in the face of his savage feeding. Which is why his offer of protection is nearly her undoing. For how can she let down her guard when she has always walked alone? But Cat has never faced an enemy like the one she faces now, never felt such a powerful need to surrender to the force of love . . .
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Beneath the Night
The Cities Below
By Jen Colly
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Jen Colly
All rights reserved.
Peace. He didn't care for the word, didn't believe in its existence. The concept seemed possible, and certainly desired, but he'd yet to witness it in his own life. Even when Balinese had been under Lord Navarre's rule, the city prospering and harmonious, Devlin Savard had not been at peace. Savard glanced over his shoulder for the second time tonight. Something had him on edge. He scanned the tree line at his back. Nothing.
From where he stood, high on a hillside, the impressive château below him seemed somehow benign. Yet it concealed the entrance to Balinese, a vast underground city of vampires. The forest surrounding the château took it a step further, cloaking the stone structure from any who might wander near.
Winter was well on the way, and though snow had yet to fall, it would come soon enough. The château had been sealed and prepped months ago, and only in the last few weeks had the chill of the night permeated the ground and seeped into the city below.
Savard cocked his head slightly. A low ripple of energy in the air sent his senses on high alert, rousing survival instincts that had refused to fade over time. Someone, or something, approached.
He curled his fingers around the hilt of his sword, but then the shift in energy became substantial and settled at his right side. Heavy, like waves on the ocean. Then, though the air around him was already cold, a chilled patch of air pushed toward him.
"Report," Savard commanded. Keir dropped out of his invisible Spirit form and appeared at Savard's right.
"You're damn hard to sneak up on," Keir said, and then suddenly thinking better of his words, he raised his hands in mock surrender. "Not that I was sneaking."
Savard nodded, but said nothing. It was best others didn't know how Savard's talents worked, especially when he knew of no other who possessed a similar gift. In Spirit, Keir moved with a certain high-energy fluidity, something Savard had yet to encounter in another vampire, and was easily recognizable.
Finally glancing at the man who had joined him, Savard asked, "What did you find?"
"Nothing," Keir said, supremely confident in his own abilities.
Savard simply nodded.
"I give you the same answer every night. Seven years of nothing. You're not paying me to say 'nothing' to you every night." Keir scratched his chin, the goatee darkening his already sinister look. "You bought my loyalty."
Keir cracked a grin. "Yeah, you have."
"Perhaps." Savard looked over his shoulder, once again peering deep into the forest, but still finding nothing amiss. "One day your answer will change."
"And when it does?"
"Then everything will change," Savard said, his tone even, expectant.
Savard would have been a fool to not at least attempt to buy Keir's loyalty, and so far it had paid off. The man was an ace in his pocket. While Savard's own ability to travel in Spirit was extensive, Keir's was unsurpassed.
Since the phenomenon of traveling in Spirit only seemed to surface when a vampire was caught in a fight-or-flight situation, Guardians tended to be the most likely to possess the ability. The species had lived in peace for centuries, and few had experienced even a small taste of taking Spirit. Once the trick of walking in Spirit was learned, it was simple to duplicate, though most couldn't advance beyond several feet in this invisible form. Some grew physically ill should they pass through an object. The process also seemed to deplete the body so extensively that most vampires needed to feed soon after traveling in Spirit.
Not only could Keir travel great distances and pass through multiple structures with ease, he could linger in Spirit for nearly an hour. Invisible and undetectable, he was the perfect spy. Having Keir on his side had been useful, and on occasion, life-saving.
"Same time again tomorrow?" Savard asked.
Keir shook his head, smiling just a little. "And again and again."
The radio at Savard's hip popped with static and Steffen's voice came through, sounding hollow as it floated away on the chilled night breeze. "Several animals were just spooked."
Savard searched the edge of the forest surrounding the château and saw nothing. Whatever movement Steffen noted had settled back into the safety of the trees. He gripped the radio in his hand, brought it to his lips. "Where?"
"North forest. Deer."
The north forest was at his left, the château his right. A call concerning the north forest made him nervous. The entrance to the château, the gate, faced north. In the recent past, his Gatekeepers had occasionally reported the night going silent, or animals fleeing the woods. They'd come to associate these signs with the presence of demons.
"Damn it. If the deer are moving at this hour, then something deep in the forest disturbed them," Savard said as he switched radio channels. "Briona! I have Keir. I need two more Guardians at the gate. Now!"
"Already on their way!" the cheeky little half-Irish dispatcher yelled. "Move your arse, m'lord."
Savard broke into a run, Keir at his side, racing down the hill toward the château. The disturbance warranted an investigation. If demons had made their way onto the property yet again, his Guardians would engage, but it was near dawn and he risked the sun, and their lives.
He checked his watch. They'd have a tight timeline to work within, but thanks to Briona, they'd have a chance. A few years ago, Briona had barged into his office and promised she was the answer to problems he didn't know he had. She'd been right. Briona was a technical genius. Whatever it was she did in that little room surrounded by buttons and wires, she did well. She'd boosted his Guardians' response time, increased overall efficiency, created a number system for different high-priority zones in the city, and became adept at predicting situations and reactions.
Briona listened to all Guardian radio chatter, often making the call for backup before a Guardian could ask for help. She'd saved lives, and she'd been on top of this situation as well. No doubt the men Savard trusted at his side would already be waiting for him.
The door to the château was in sight. His Gatekeepers, Steffen and Ivan, stood guarding the entrance to Balinese. As Savard and Keir approached, Osric and Titus emerged from the château. No one spoke. Steffen simply pointed to the forest where he'd seen the deer in flight.
Savard nodded to his Guardians, and they vanished, as did he. Moving effortlessly up the hillside, speeding toward the woods, Savard floated unseen, like a ghost over the grass. He couldn't see his men, nor they him.
Titus would hold the west. He was young, but the extent of his abilities so great that his careless and cocky attitude was rarely a hindrance. When Titus put a man down, he stayed down.
Osric was a recluse, his main goal to hide the rippled burn scar that ran from high on his cheek down the side of his face and neck, disappearing beneath his shirt collar. He only emerged from his home as a Guardian, and he served his city well. Osric would take the east.
And Keir? As a former assassin, he'd have the north well in hand. Savard's personal bodyguard was without question an exceedingly capable Guardian.
Savard took the southern position, cutting off the direct path to Balinese. He would stay in Spirit. An observer. As lord, he was not to engage in combat unless necessary.
Traveling in Spirit had definite advantages, one of which was speed. Savard easily raced over the dense forest floor, through trees. His passing startled only a few small rodents.
In a clearing just ahead, nearly a dozen men sat in a circle and focused on their leader with eyes glowing red in the dark. Demons.
Attacking a group while in Spirit was underhanded, and in most cases, a guaranteed win. The expertise in this sort of warfare belonged to the assassin. Without making so much as a whisper of sound, his men surrounded the demons and waited for Keir's command.
Savard kept his distance from the demons, as would the others, until signaled. He had no problem holding his Spirit this night, and Titus never wavered, but Osric couldn't linger in this state for much longer. They needed to attack soon.
What does Keir wait for?
Then Savard felt a ripple as the assassin passed near, or maybe through, his Spirit. It was Keir's way of pinpointing their locations, confirming they were in position. Seconds passed. Still, Keir waited.
"We enter through the front gate at dawn. Only two guard the door," one of the demons said, its red eyes glimmering oddly in the night. "Even if we catch them in the middle of switching shifts and their numbers are doubled, it'll be easy to get by such a small group."
Grunts followed, acknowledging their leader.
Suddenly the blond demon sat tall and rigid, its eerie red eyes searching the surrounding trees. "I feel ..." Several other demons stilled, shared glances. The man in charge finished the sentence. "Like the night air has changed."
"It has, demon," Keir said, his body still invisible, his distorted words floating through the cold night, everywhere and nowhere.
The assassin appeared behind the blond demon. Keir's wild, curly hair and goatee lent him a wickedly sinister look. And that smile of his. That nasty gotcha smile. In one quick, clean motion, Keir sliced the demon's throat, then disappeared again.
Demons scrambled to their feet, drawing swords. Osric dropped from Spirit first, drove his shoulder into the nearest demon like a linebacker, and knocked it to the ground. He ignored the downed demon, bent on sinking his sword into the next, much larger foe.
Titus appeared beside the demon Osric had just knocked down. Flipping his grip on the hilt of his sword, Titus took only a moment to jab the blade through the fallen demon's chest, barely sparing it a glance. Ducking under the sweeping blade of an approaching demon, he spun to catch it across the torso, then left it incapacitated on the ground to search for a more active target.
Keir was surrounded, but he seemed to like it that way, taunting those red-eyed creatures. He'd leave himself open to their attack, then move with an uncanny speed to slice through major arteries left and right, weakening those he didn't have time to kill.
Titus took on two, using anything at his disposal, be it sword, elbow, hilt, or head. The vicious physicality of his fighting style made Savard wonder why the young vampire never brought his teeth out to play.
Savard scanned the scene before him, desperate to remain in the here and now, to be mentally present for his Guardians. The chaos of swords hitting in repetition, of men grunting and yelling in the throes of battle messed with Savard's head, threatened to throw his mind back to a different time and place. Making a sincere effort to block the sounds, he focused on movement instead. Short, contained blows from his Guardians suggested everything was well in hand.
Then a demon broke away from the center of the battle and threaded through the melee, its sights set on Osric. The Guardian's sole focus was on the big bastard he was trying to take down. He didn't see the demon coming.
Savard, still in Spirit, moved to intercept. He appeared, sword drawn and braced for impact. Clotheslined, its head nearly severed, the demon never saw Savard.
Now visible, Savard turned to fight anyone left standing. Only two demons remained, each engaged with a Guardian and fighting for their lives. Keir stalked through the battlefield, checked the downed bodies for signs of life, but suddenly he stopped, stood motionless. Savard felt it too. The telltale tingle at the back of his neck signaled the rising of the sun.
Savard assessed their now-urgent situation. Osric had taken down his demon. Titus battled the last. Weapons lost, the two were face-to-face, throwing punches, wrestling for higher ground.
Keir was on the move before Savard could say a word. Knife bared, Keir came up behind the last demon and sank his blade deep into its back.
Titus shot Keir an angry glare. "What gives?"
"We don't have time for this. Not anymore." Keir stepped back and the demon slipped off his blade, crumpled to the ground.
"He's right," Savard said, sending a short nod in Keir's direction. "Drag the bodies east, outside the tree line."
Osric and Titus shared a concerned glance, but it was Titus who spoke. "You want them to burn in the sun? Let their ash become part of our earth, their evil seep into our lands?"
"Do you know how long it will take the four of us to drag twelve men back to the city, remove their heads, encase them in coffins, and bury them deep?" Savard didn't wait for an answer. He grabbed a demon's ankle and began hauling it through the forest. "We have no other options, no time to appease an ancient superstition, and it doesn't take long for demons to come back after they've been killed. I, for one, prefer them as ash and dust."
The four men hauled the bodies, and the occasional detached head, out into the open. Vampires didn't care to admit they shared several base similarities with demons, but they did. One of which was their inability to dwell in sunlight. Direct exposure would cause cells to destroy themselves, slowly at first, but once the chain reaction began, the body would combust.
A few demons still lived. Barely. The sun would finish what the Guardians had begun.
When the last demon was dropped at the east edge of the forest, Savard turned to his men. "Get home. Now."
Titus vanished, as did Keir, but Osric ran. After holding his Spirit for so long initially, Osric had nothing left to give. Damn it. He'd never make it back before the sun claimed him.
Savard didn't know Osric's story, or how he'd gained those burn scars, but being vampire there were only two possibilities: trapped by a fire below ground or burned in the sun. If Savard didn't help him, then the final moments of Osric's life would be spent burning, reliving the fear, the pain he'd already suffered to a point of leaving him crippled inside and out.
There was no decision to make. Savard couldn't allow Osric to die this way, even if it meant exposing one of his unknown abilities.
Savard disappeared into Spirit and was at Osric's side in seconds. He released his Spirit, became corporeal just long enough to take hold of Osric's arm and drag the Guardian into Spirit with him. He raced home, speeding through the trees and down the hillside, Osric in tow.
They made the shelter of Balinese just before the sun brightened the east sky. Once inside, Osric stumbled as he fell haphazardly out of Spirit. Savard appeared a dozen feet away from him. They shared a glance, and for a moment Savard thought Osric would say something, point out the impossible feat. The marred Guardian only nodded, a quick and silent thank-you. Then all four were on the move again, headed through the kitchen, down the back stairs, into the cellar, and through the door to Balinese.
When their feet touched the corridor that encircled the city, the men scattered. Each went a separate way, never saying a word, and acting as if the entire event had never happened. Unless Savard decided the skirmish would go on public record, it hadn't happened. He trusted these men, and his Gatekeepers, to keep quiet and never acknowledge the incident unless directed otherwise.
If the citizens of Balinese knew how many demons had been found above ground on their land, or how many had entered the city, they'd never sleep. Unless a citizen witnessed a demon, any encounters the Guardians had with demons never officially occurred.
Savard walked alone now, taking the back route to his home. He needed to clean up. Black demon blood had spattered across his face, dotted his shirt. Thankfully, these exterior corridors in Balinese tended to be empty, lit only by sconces hung high on the wall.
"M'lord?" Briona chimed through the radio.
Savard scanned the corridor. Empty. "We're clear. Go ahead."
"Bravo, then, you lived." She took a breath, then pushed on as if his survival was expected and his response unnecessary. "You wanted notification if anyone was scheduled to enter the royal storage. Why am I still doin' this? Isn't this Soren's job, since, I don't know, he has the keys to the room?"
"It is. I'm just overcautious when it comes to safeguarding Navarre's possessions. What is Soren having removed?"
"He just sent two Guardians to collect a golden birdcage." There was a pause, but Savard knew better than to think Briona was finished talking. "We've a birdcage?"
"No. We do not. The Casteel family was gifted with the large golden cage from a Chinese ambassador in the late 1600s, along with an assortment of birds. Did you fail history class?"
"Nah, slept through it. Want me to send a couple extra Guardians up to help?"
"No, I'm sure they can handle it. Make sure Soren has them log out the cage when they return the keys to him. Thank you, Briona."
"And now I'm your wee secretary," she mumbled before the radio died. Savard shook his head, almost entirely certain she'd left the radio channel open a second longer on purpose.
Excerpted from Beneath the Night by Jen Colly. Copyright © 2017 Jen Colly. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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