The enemy may have changed, but the battle between good and evil burns hotter than ever.
There is only one thing more precious to vampire Tarak than his newfound freedom after five centuries of captivity, and that's the promise of revenge. At last, he can destroy Riven, the merman who has drained his power in order to make himself king. But at the very moment when justice is a fang's breadth away, Tarak's quest is complicated by the beautiful mermaid princess who kept him sane and fed during his ordeal.
Waverly hoped that once Tarak escaped, he'd return to his own kind and enjoy the rest of his immortal life. She also hoped she might one day stop dreaming about the darkly handsome vampire. Instead, Tarak's return draws Waverly into an unlikely alliance - and a passion that eclipses all her fantasies.
Hatred for Riven has sustained Tarak this long. But only Waverly's love can give him the strength to claim eternity with her....
Contains mature themes.
Release date: August 20, 2019
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 256
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Beware the Darkness
The massive castle sprawled along the remote cliffs of the Himalayan Range, offering a tangible symbol of the power that had been acquired by the King of Vampires. The thick stones and soaring turrets provided an impregnable fortress, as if the dozens of powerful vampires weren’t enough to frighten away any potential intruder. Plus, there were layers of fey magic that hid it from the eyes of humans.
The Anasso, however, hadn’t been satisfied. He’d insisted on digging a honeycomb of tunnels beneath the castle that led into the mountain, providing easy escape if they were ever attacked.
At the time, Tarak had applauded his master’s paranoia. Since gathering the vampires beneath his rule, the Anasso had been forced to defend himself against countless assassins. After all, not every vampire was happy to be hauled out of the dark ages and into a unified species that worked together. For centuries, the clans had warred for dominance; it wasn’t easy to become allies.
Plus, the thought of a vampire nation was enough to scare the shit out of every other demon. Many of them were anxious to get rid of the Anasso in the hopes that the vampires would fracture and retreat to their barbaric habit of killing each other. Trolls, orcs, goblins, and other fey creatures had all tried to eliminate the Anasso.
It would make anyone jumpy.
Now, however, Tarak wished he’d paid more attention to his instincts, which had wondered if the Anasso’s retreat from his enemies was excessive. Or at least he should have listened to the warnings offered by Chiron.
Hadn’t the young male proven to be a devoted servant? His loyalty had been unwavering since Tarak had found him hidden in a cave.
Of course, his own loyalty had been equally unwavering.
Tarak had brought his clan to the Anasso because he fiercely believed in what the male was trying to accomplish. How could they survive in the ever-changing world if they didn’t organize into a cohesive force? Squabbling over petty insults or constant power grabs only weakened them.
He didn’t want to accept that the male he’d willingly chosen as his master was addicted to feeding on prey with opium and alcohol in their system. Every vampire knew that tainted blood would eventually drive them mad, right? The Anasso would never risk everything by indulging in such a dangerous habit.
So he’d ignored the pleas from Chiron. And even his own unease when his master had started to reveal hints of instability. Then Chiron had challenged Tarak to enter the deepest tunnels and see the truth for himself. He’d refused. He wasn’t going to betray the trust the Anasso had placed in him.
But tonight had changed everything.
During the evening feast, he’d witnessed the master slipping out a side door, then returning with a hectic glitter in his eyes and an unsteadiness in his steps that had made Tarak’s gut twist with dread.
Waiting for his clansmen to seek out their beds as dawn crested the horizon, Tarak silently moved through the dining hall. There’d been a tense few seconds when a lovely imp had suddenly appeared from the shadows. She’d been most insistent that he share the day in her bed. Not an unusual occurrence. Although Tarak didn’t possess the outrageous vanity of most vampires, he knew females found his strong barbarian features, with his smoldering, faintly slanted dark eyes and long ebony hair, a source of fascination. Now, however, he found the female’s attention more a source of annoyance than pleasure.
Firmly sending her on her way, Tarak waited until he was alone before he stepped through the hidden door that had been used by the Anasso.
Now his heavy boots crunched on the packed dirt as he followed the passage that headed down at a sharp angle. He’d assumed that he’d been in most of the tunnels that ran like a maze beneath the castle, but he quickly realized he was headed in an opposite direction from the public catacombs. This passage was leading him toward the nearby village, not the mountain.
His sense of dread only intensified. A part of him wanted to turn around. He could seek his bed like his brothers and continue to exist in blissful ignorance. Why not? They were on the cusp of peace for the first time in history.
His feet, however refused to listen to the urging of his heart. Crunch, crunch, crunch. They continued forward, even when the pungent stench of unwashed humans and demons polluted the air. Tarak gagged. The odor was laced with putrid illness that seemed to seep into his very skin.
How was it possible that the smell hadn’t permeated the entire lair? It would surely take magic to contain the stench to this area.
The question was driven from his mind as he rounded a corner. Skidding to a halt, he instinctively bared his fangs in revulsion. On one side, the stone wall had a gaping opening that revealed the pit below.
Tarak gagged again, but he forced himself to move toward the edge of the floor and peer down. He could easily see through the gloom, making out the groups of captives, a dozen humans who were huddled in a mass of misery in one corner. In another corner, there was an iron cage filled with naked fairies. And on the far side of the cramped chamber there were four pureblooded Weres chained to the wall with silver shackles.
The sight hit Tarak like a punch to the gut. His faithful clansman, Chiron, had been right. The Anasso was addicted to tainted blood.
It was only a matter of time before he went completely insane.
He started forward, only to halt. There was nothing he could do to help the pathetic prisoners until after he’d confronted his master. Pivoting on his heel, Tarak hurried back up the passageway. The sooner he could expose the Anasso, the sooner they could choose a new leader and continue with their plans for the future.
Lost in his grim thoughts, Tarak was impervious to the chill that crawled through the air. The lair was filled with vampires. There were always chills. Sometimes the walls would be coated with ice. No doubt that explained why so many vampires preferred to have their own lairs.
It wasn’t until he felt the tremors beneath his feet that he recognized who’d entered the passage. He stopped, his spine stiffening as he watched a shadowed form stroll toward him.
The king was a large male with bluntly carved features and piercing eyes. He also had legendary vampire powers that had allowed him to claim the throne. Tarak had never encountered another demon who could equal him in raw dominance. Well, maybe Styx. The younger male continued to acquire power with every passing year. But Styx was as devoted to the Anasso as Tarak.
The poor bastard was going to be devastated when he learned the nasty secret their master had been hiding.
The Anasso halted, blocking the passage with his large body. An intentional attempt at intimidation?
“Tarak.” The male’s voice echoed down the tunnel. “It’s late. You should be in your quarters.”
Tarak felt a treacherous urge to turn and walk away. Just leave the lair and start over.
It would be the easiest solution.
And the most cowardly, a voice warned in the back of his mind.
The vampires who were depending on the Anasso to lead them into a new future deserved to know the truth. No matter how much it might hurt.
“I had a mission that could not wait,” he admitted.
“A mission? That sounds ominous.” The older male’s tone was mocking, but Tarak didn’t miss the fact his words were slurred.
“Yes,” he agreed.
The Anasso’s brows snapped together as he easily sensed Tarak’s tension. “This is a private passage.”
Tarak met the male’s penetrating gaze without flinching. “Why would you need a private passage?”
The Anasso shrugged. “There are occasions a clan chief prefers to speak with me without revealing his presence. I need to assure him that the negotiations will remain confidential.”
The smooth explanation made sense. There had been many chiefs who’d accepted the rule of the Anasso but were reluctant to bend the knee in public. The one thing all vampires had in common was their arrogance.
None of them wanted to appear weak.
But Tarak had already seen the real reason for the tunnel. And he was done pretending this male could continue his reign as king.
“No more lies,” he said in a harsh voice. “We both know what is at the bottom of this tunnel.”
There was a tremor beneath Tarak’s feet. “Be careful, my friend. We have been together a very long time.”
Tarak clenched his hands as pain lanced through his heart. “We have. Which makes this all the more difficult.”
“Why?” The Anasso stepped toward Tarak, his power crawling over him with a tangible force. “Nothing has changed.”
Was he jesting? If so, it wasn’t amusing.
“You have made choices that have put us all in danger,” Tarak growled.
The Anasso made a sound of impatience. “Trust me, there is no danger. I can quit whenever I choose.”
“You sound like a human who is attempting to excuse his overindulgences.”
There was a tense silence as the temperature in the tunnel dropped to a level just above glacial.
“I never thought of you as a prude, Tarak.”
“It is not prudish to know you are rotting your mind and putting at risk everything we have struggled to achieve.”
“It is a harmless means of easing the burdens I must carry.”
Tarak hissed, angered by the older vampire’s utter lack of remorse.
“It is a weakness.” Tarak flicked a gaze over the Anasso’s rumpled robe that was still stained from the earlier feast. Even his long hair was tousled, as if he’d been running his fingers through it. Not at all the flawless warrior who’d conquered thousands of vampires. A deep sadness settled in the center of his heart. “And you were the one to claim that any vulnerability must be destroyed.”
“Is that what you intend to do? Destroy me?”
Was it? Tarak grimaced. He supposed that was the inevitable conclusion to this confrontation.
“I intend to lay your sins in front of the clan.”
The Anasso stepped forward. “No.”
“It is not your decision,” Tarak informed his master, his chin tilting to a defiant angle.
The Anasso curled back his lips to reveal his massive fangs. “I cannot allow you to ruin all I have worked to achieve.”
Tarak frowned. He suddenly realized just how blind he had been. “Do you not mean all we have worked to achieve?”
“Of course.” The male waved away Tarak’s words with a sharp jerk of his hand. “What do you desire from me?”
“I told you,” Tarak snapped. “I intend to reveal your secrets to the clan.”
“I asked what you desire.” The Anasso stepped close enough that his power washed over Tarak like a tidal wave. “A position within the clan? Perhaps your own throne? I could name you as my prince.” His voice lowered to a hypnotic purr. “Or perhaps you prefer riches. I have endless wealth. Just name your price.”
Tarak’s nose flared with disgust. “Your brain truly is rotted if you believe I can be bribed.”
Anger flared through the Anasso’s eyes before he was attempting to regain control of his temper.
“There is no one above temptation, my son,” he said, tiny quakes running beneath Tarak’s feet. “Unless you pretend to be a saint.”
If Tarak had been thinking clearly, he would have recognized that the Anasso had just offered him an ultimatum. Accept his offer of wealth and power or suffer the consequences. Tarak, however, was too consumed with his tangled emotions.
Anger. Betrayal. And a gut-deep grief.
“I am no saint,” Tarak protested, although he was too focused on his clan to enjoy the same hedonistic pleasures of many demons. His only indulgence was his cellar of fine, aged whiskey. It was for the taste, not to get drunk. A vampire’s metabolism was too fast for the alcohol to affect them—unless they drank it straight from the vein of an intoxicated prey. “But my mind is unclouded and capable of seeing what you refuse to admit.”
The older male made a sound of disgust. “And what is that?”
“You are sick.”
“Sick and weak.” Dust filtered from the ceiling as the tremors the Anasso was creating spread through the tunnel. “Such words could be considered treason.”
“They are the truth.”
The Anasso clicked his tongue, holding out his hand. “I am offering you the opportunity to forget what you have seen and walk away, my son. There is no need for any trouble between us.”
Tarak refused to back down. Once upon a time he’d have been honored to be called son by this male. It was a sign of honor. Now it just made him sad.
“You know I cannot.”
A fleck of blood dribbled down the Anasso’s chin. He was too muddled to realize he’d cut his lip with his own fang.
“A pity.” The hand he’d been holding out was suddenly slashing through the air.
Tarak frowned. The Anasso hadn’t tried to hit him. It was more like he was giving a signal to some unseen onlooker. “What are you doing?”
“The easiest solution would be to kill you,” the Anasso threatened.
Tarak shrugged. “I do not fear death,” he said. “I’ve endured it once before.”
Vampires had no memory of their lives before they were turned from human to demon, but Tarak presumed that he’d realized the end was near as his sire had sucked the last of the blood from his body.
An unmistakable madness glowed in the ancient vampire’s eyes. “We all fear death. Even immortals. Some contain their dread behind a pretense of bloated courage.” He released an ugly laugh. “A few prefer to forget the looming specter of becoming a pile of ash with my little entertainments.”
Tarak curled his lips, revealing his fangs. Not as a threat, but as a display of disgust. “Another excuse?”
Fury radiated from the Anasso. “An explanation.”
There was the echo of heavy footsteps crunching against the rock floor. Tarak couldn’t determine how many demons were approaching, but there were more than one.
“Your guards will never agree to kill me,” Tarak assured his companion, feeling more relieved than alarmed by the sound. “Not when I tell them what I have discovered.”
The large male appeared indifferent to the threat. Was it because he was teetering on the edge of insanity? Or because he was convinced that he had nothing to fear from Tarak?
“I have a wide variety of servants,” he said in mocking tones. “These are a few of my most loyal warriors, and I assure you that they will do exactly what I tell them to.”
Tarak felt his first stab of fear as a foul scent suddenly laced the air.
“Trolls?” he rasped, staring at the Anasso in disbelief.
No self-respecting vampire would have dealings with trolls or orcs or goblins. It was an unspoken rule.
The Anasso shrugged, indifferent to Tarak’s incredulity. “Mongrels,” he clarified. “I’ve discovered that they come in quite handy on occasion.”
Tarak shook his head. Why hadn’t he listened to Chiron? The younger vampire had been able to see far more clearly than the rest of them. He’d known that the Anasso had fallen into a darkness so deep there was no hope of salvation.
“Pet trolls. Yet another secret, my king?” he rasped. “Do you use them to kill off those who might threaten your place on the throne? A throne, I might add, that you created for yourself?”
His words touched a nerve. The Anasso gave a low snarl, his hands clenching before he managed to regain command of his composure.
“That was my first intention, I will admit,” he drawled. “But I suddenly realize that you have more value alive. At least for now.”
Tarak narrowed his gaze. Being torn into pieces by a pack of trolls wasn’t the end he’d envisioned for himself, but he was fairly sure that was preferable to whatever the Anasso had planned.
“What do you intend to do with me?”
The Anasso lifted a hand, smoothing it down his robe as if he was completely unaware that it was a stained, rumpled mess.
“Several years ago I became beholden to a stranger,” he murmured. “I will not bore you with the details.”
The Anasso smiled as the first troll appeared around the corner of the tunnel.
“And you, my friend, are about to pay that debt,” the Anasso said, gesturing for the lumbering troll to approach.
The creature wasn’t as large as a full-bred troll, but he was still over seven feet tall, with a bulky body and skin that was as tough as steel. He also had razor-sharp tusks that jutted from his lower jaw. The Anasso spoke in a low voice to the beast as three more trolls crowded behind Tarak. The stench made him gag, but he forced himself to conjure a pretense of calm indifference. Even when the Anasso sent him a taunting smile.
“First, however, my guards have insisted on having their fun. A pity, Tarak. You should have made a better choice.”
The first blow came from behind Tarak. A fist that shattered his ribs. Then a club smashed in the side of his skull.
From then on it was a ferocious avalanche of pain that lasted an eternity.
The demon hotel in the depths of the Florida Everglades was a sprawling structure with two long wings surrounded by lush gardens. A week ago, it had been hidden behind a thick layer of magic, but the spell had been broken, and the demon guests had been encouraged to leave the premises.
At the time, Chiron’s only thought had been to have some time alone with Lilah. After all, when a vampire finally located his true mate, it was a time of celebration. And since Chiron was quite convinced that his beautiful witch, Lilah, was the most special mate since the beginning of mates, the celebration had to be something spectacular.
Unfortunately, the best-laid plans of mice and vampires tended to go to hell. And even as Chiron had shooed away the guests and sent Ulric—his faithful Were guard—to track down his master who’d just escaped his prison, he’d realized that any hope of a private oasis was a fantasy.
And, as if to emphasize the fact that the honeymoon was on hold, the King of the Vampires had arrived a half hour ago, demanding a full account of the unfolding disaster.
Now they stood in the middle of the vast lobby of the hotel. Styx, the current Anasso, the formal title for king, stood well over six feet, with stark Aztec features. His hair was long and as dark as midnight. Currently he had it pulled into a braid that was threaded with turquoise medallions. And as usual, his massive frame was covered from head to toe in leather. Oh, and he had a sword the size of a shovel strapped across his back.
Chiron had dark hair as well, but he kept his neatly trimmed. He also preferred to wear designer suits that were tailored to fit his slender frame. He was a wealthy owner of a chain of hotels, spas, and casinos called Dreamscape Resorts, which catered to humans. He sold sophistication and luxury, so that was the façade he’d adopted over the years.
Beside him was Lilah, his new mate. She was a foot shorter than Chiron with a . . .
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