Salvatore Giuliani is not a happy werewolf. It's his duty as leader to track down the pureblood females who can keep his people from extinction. But the moment he catches scent of Harley, a pureblood held by a pack of mangy curs, his savage need for her obliterates all other instincts. And the only thing worse than being captured is finding that beautiful, independent Harley defiantly refuses to become his mate.
Harley has been taught to distrust all Weres, especially their arrogant king. She won't be used for breeding or bonded against her will, not even to a man who makes every nerve tingle with awareness. Yet Salvatore is her key to saving the family she never knew she had-if she dares to succumb to his dark, predatory desire, and face a vicious enemy sworn to destroy them both . . .
Release date: March 12, 2010
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 384
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Beyond the Darkness
As a matter of fact, it was swerving toward downright shitty.
It was bad enough to regain consciousness to discover he was stretched out in a dark, nasty tunnel that was currently ruining his Gucci suit, and that he had no clear memory of how he had gotten there.
But to open his eyes and use the perfect night vision of his werewolf heritage to discover a three-foot gargoyle with stunted horns, ugly gray features, and delicate wings in shades of blue and gold and crimson hovering over him was enough to ruin a perfectly horrible mood.
“Wake up,” Levet hissed, his French accent pronounced and his wings fluttering in fear. “Wake up, you mangy dog or I’ll have you spayed.”
“Call me a dog again and be assured you’ll soon be chopped into bits of gravel and paving my driveway,” Salvatore growled, his head throbbing in time to his heartbeat.
What the hell had happened?
The last thing he remembered, he’d been in a remote cabin north of St. Louis to meet with Duncan, a cur who’d promised information regarding his traitor of a pack leader, and the next he was waking up with Levet buzzing over him like an oversized, extremely ugly butterfly.
God Almighty. When Salvatore got out of the tunnel, he was going to track down Jagr and cut out his heart for sticking him with the annoying Levet. Damned vampire.
“You will not be doing anything unless you get up and move,” the gargoyle warned. “Shake your tail, King of Slugs.”
Ignoring the grinding pain in his joints, Salvatore rose to his feet and smoothed back his shoulder-length raven hair. He didn’t bother knocking the dirt from his silk suit. It was going in the nearest fire.
Along with gargoyle.
“Where are we?”
“In some nasty tunnel.”
“A brilliant deduction. What would I do without you?”
“Look, Cujo, all I know is that one minute we were in a cabin with an extremely dead Duncan, and the next I was being dropped on my head by a gorgeous but très ill-mannered woman.” Bizarrely, the gargoyle rubbed his butt rather than his head. Of course, his skull was far too thick to harm. “That female is fortunate that I did not turn her into a beaver.”
“It had to have been a spell. Was the woman a witch?”
“Non. A demon, but…”
“She is a mongrel.”
Salvatore shrugged. It was common among the demon world to interbreed.
“Her power is.”
Salvatore frowned. He might want to choke the gargoyle, but the tiny demon possessed the ability to sense magic that Salvatore couldn’t.
A chill inched down Salvatore’s spine and he cast a swift glance up and down the tunnel. In the distance he could sense the approach of his curs and a vampire. The cavalry rushing to the rescue. His attention, however, was focused on searching for any hint of the jinn.
A pure-blooded jinn was a cruel, unpredictable creature who could manipulate nature. They could call lightning, turn wind into a lethal force, and lay flat an entire city with an earthquake. They could also disappear into a wisp of smoke. Thankfully, they rarely took an interest in the world and preferred to remain isolated.
He shuddered. They might not possess the power of a full-fledged jinn, but their inability to control their volatile energy made them even more dangerous.
“Jinn have been forbidden to breed with other demons.”
Levet snorted. “There are many things forbidden in this world.”
“The Commission must be told,” Salvatore muttered, referring to the cryptic Oracles who were the ultimate leaders of the demon world. He reached into his pocket, coming up empty. “Cristo.”
“My cell phone is gone.”
“Fine.” Levet threw his hands in the air. “We will send a memo. For now we need to get out of here.”
“Relax, gargoyle. Help is on the way.”
With a frown, Levet sniffed the air. “Your curs.”
“And a leech.”
Levet sniffed again. “Tane.”
Expecting Jagr, Salvatore’s brows snapped together. One vampire was as bad as another, but Tane’s reputation for killing first and asking questions later didn’t exactly warm the cockles of a Were’s heart.
Whatever the hell a cockle was.
“The Charon?” he demanded. Charons were assassins who hunted down rogue vampires. God only knew what they did to lesser demons. And in a vampire’s mind, every demon was lesser.
“An arrogant, condescending donkey,” Levet muttered.
Salvatore rolled his eyes. “Jackass, you idiot, not donkey.”
Levet waved a dismissive hand. “It is my theory that the taller the demon, the larger his conceit and the smaller his…”
“Continue, gargoyle,” a cold voice cut through the dark, abruptly lowering the temperature in the tunnel. “I find your theory fascinating.”
With a flutter of his wings, Levet dashed behind Salvatore. As if he was stupid enough to think Salvatore would keep him from certain death.
“Dio, get away from me, you pest,” Salvatore growled, swiping a hand at the gargoyle even as his gaze was warily focused on the vampire rounding the corner of the tunnel.
He was worth focusing on.
Although not as large as many of his brothers, the vampire was dangerously muscular, with the golden skin of his Polynesian ancestors, thick black hair shaved on the sides, and a long Mohawk that fell past his shoulders. His face was that of a predator, lean and hard with faintly slanted honey eyes. At the moment he was wearing nothing more than a pair of khaki shorts, obviously not sharing Salvatore’s own fondness for designer clothes.
Of course, the big dagger he was holding in his hands made sure that no one was going to question his taste in fashion.
Not if they wanted to live.
There was the sound of footsteps and four of his curs came into sight, the largest of them rushing forward to drop to his knees and press his bald head to the ground in front of Salvatore’s feet.
“Sire, are you harmed?” Hess demanded.
“Only my pride.” Salvatore returned his attention to the vampire as Hess rose to his feet and towered at his side. “I remember nothing after entering the cabin and finding Duncan dead. No, wait. There was a voice, then…” He shook his head in aggravation as his memory went blank. “Damn. Did you follow us?”
Tane absently stroked the hilt of his dagger. “When we found the cabin empty, Jagr assumed you were in trouble. Since your clueless crew seemed incapable of forming a singular coherent thought, I agreed to come in search of you.”
Not surprising. Unlike purebloods who were born from full Weres, the curs were humans who had been bitten and transformed into werewolves. Hess and the other curs were excellent killers. Which was why he kept them as guards. Using their brains, however…well, he did the thinking for them. It solved any number of problems.
“So what happened to our captors?”
“We’ve been gaining on you over the past half hour.” Tane shrugged. “They obviously preferred escape over keeping their hostages.”
“You never caught sight of them?”
“No. A cur escaped through a side tunnel a mile back, and the demon simply disappeared.” Frustration flashed through the honey eyes. Salvatore could sympathize. He was anxious for a bit of blood and violence himself. “There’re only a handful of demons capable of vanishing into thin air.”
“The gargoyle thinks it’s a jinn mongrel.”
“Hey, the gargoyle has a name.” Stepping from behind Salvatore, Levet planted his hands on his hips. “And I do not think, I know.”
Tane narrowed his eyes. “How can you be certain?”
“I had a slight misunderstanding with a jinn a few centuries ago. He zapped off one of my wings. It took years to grow back.”
Tane was supremely unimpressed. “And that’s somehow relevant?”
“Before the demon dropped me and did her disappearing act, she left a little present.” Turning around, Levet revealed the perfectly shaped handprint that had been branded onto his butt. Salvtore’s laughter echoed through the tunnel, and the gargoyle turned to stab him with a wounded glare. “It is not amusing.”
“That still doesn’t prove it was a jinn,” Tane pointed out, his own lips twitching with amusement.
“Being struck by lightning is not a sensation you easily forget.”
Tane instinctively glanced over his shoulder. No demon in his right mind wanted to cross paths with a jinn.
“How do you know it isn’t a full jinn?”
Levet grimaced. “I am still alive.”
The vampire turned to Salvatore. “The Commission must be warned.”
“This is Were business. It’s your duty.”
“I can’t lose the trail of the cur,” Salvatore smoothly pointed out. Ah. There was nothing better than getting the upper hand with a leech. “He’s proven a danger to more than just Weres. I’m sure the Commission would agree that my duty is to put an end to the traitors.”
A blast of frigid air filled the tunnel. Salvatore smiled, releasing his own energy to counter the chill with a prickling heat.
The curs stirred uneasily, reacting to the power play between two dangerous predators. Salvatore never allowed his gaze to stray from Tane. Few Weres could best a vampire, but Salvatore wasn’t just a Were. He was king. He wasn’t going to back down from any demon.
At last, Tane snapped his fangs in Salvatore’s direction and stepped back. Salvatore could only assume that the vampire had been ordered to keep the bloodshed to a minimum.
“This will not be forgotten, dog,” Tane warned, turning on his heel and silently disappearing down the tunnel.
“Good riddance, leech.”
Waiting long enough to make sure the vampire didn’t have a change of heart and return to rip out his throat, Salvatore turned back to his waiting curs to discover them battling back their urge to shift.
He grimaced. As a pureblood, he had the ability to control his shifts unless it was a full moon. Curs, on the other hand, were at the mercy of their emotions.
With a shudder, Hess at last gained control and sucked in a deep breath.
Salvatore didn’t hesitate. “We follow the cur.”
Hess clenched his meaty hands at his side. “It’s too dangerous. The jinn…” His words broke off in a squeal as Salvatore’s power once again reached out, striking the cur like the lash of a whip.
“Hess, on how many occasions have I told you that if I want your opinion I’ll ask for it?” Salvatore drawled.
The cur lowered his head. “Forgive me, sire.”
“The cringing cretin is not entirely wrong.” Levet waddled forward, his long tail twitching. “It had to have been the demon who killed Duncan and knocked both of us out.”
“No one is asking you to join us, gargoyle,” Salvatore snapped.
“Sacre bleu. I am not going to be left alone in these tunnels.”
“Then chase after the vampire.”
The damned gargoyle refused to budge, a sly amusement entering the gray eyes.
“Darcy would not be pleased if something was to happen to me. And if Darcy is not happy, then Styx is not happy.”
Salvatore snapped his teeth. Darcy was one of the female purebloods he’d been searching for over the past thirty years, and while he didn’t have the least fear of her, she’d recently mated with the King of Vampires.
Styx he did fear.
Hey, he wasn’t stupid.
Muttering a curse, Salvatore led the way down the tunnel, his already pissy mood plunging to foul.
“Get in my way and I’ll chop you up and feed you to the vultures. Understood, gargoyle?”
He sensed his curs falling into step behind him, with Levet bringing up the rear.
“Mangy dogs can smooch my posterior,” the gargoyle muttered.
“A jinn is not the only creature capable of ripping off a wing,” Salvatore warned.
A blessed silence filled the dark tunnel, and at last able to concentrate on the faint trail of cur, Salvatore quickened his pace.
It was moments like this that he regretted leaving Italy.
In his elegant lair near Rome, no one dared treat him as anything other than Master of the Universe. His word was law, and his underlings scrambled to do his bidding. Best of all, there were no filthy vampires or stunted gargoyles.
Unfortunately, he’d had no choice in the matter.
The Weres were becoming extinct. Pure-blooded females could no longer control their shifts during pregnancy, and more often than not lost their babies before they could be born. Even the bite of Weres was losing its potency. A new cur had not been created in years.
Salvatore had to act, and after years of research, his very expensive scientists had at last managed to alter the DNA of four female pureblood babies so they could not shift.
They were a miracle. Born to save the Weres.
Until they had been stolen from the nursery.
He growled low in his throat, his anger still a potent force even after thirty years. He had wasted far too much time searching through Europe before he at last traveled to America and managed to stumble across two of the female Weres. Unfortunately Darcy was in the hands of Styx, while Regan had proven to be infertile.
During his trip to Hannibal, however, he’d managed to discover that the babies had at some point been in the hands of Caine, a cur with a death wish who’d convinced himself that he would be capable of using the blood of the females to turn common curs into Weres. Moron.
Salvatore had been in a cabin to meet with one of Caine’s pack who’d promised to reveal the traitor’s location, when he and Levet had been knocked unconscious and kidnapped.
It had to have been Caine who attacked him.
Now the bastard was leaving a trail straight to his lair.
A smile curved Salvatore’s lips. He intended to savor ripping out the traitor’s throat.
A near half hour passed as Salvatore weaved his way through the winding tunnel, his steps slowing as he tilted back his head to sniff the air.
The scent of cur was still strong, but he was beginning to pick up the distant scent of other curs, and…pure-blood.
Coming to a sharp halt, Salvatore savored the rich vanilla aroma that filled his senses.
He loved the smell of women. Hell, he loved women.
But this was different.
It was intoxicating.
“Cristo,” he breathed, his blood racing, an odd tightness coiling through his body, slowly draining his strength.
Almost as if…
No. It wasn’t possible.
There hadn’t been a true Were mating for centuries.
“Curs,” Levet said, moving to his side. “And a female pureblood.”
“Si,” Salvatore muttered, distracted.
“You think it’s a trap?”
Salvatore swallowed a grim laugh. Hell, he hoped it was a trap. The alternative was enough to send any intelligent Were howling into the night.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
He moved forward, sensing the end of the tunnel just yards in front of him.
“Salvatore?” Levet tugged on his pants.
Salvatore shook him off. “What?”
“You smell funny. Mon Dieu, are you…”
With blinding speed, Salvatore grasped the gargoyle by one stunted horn and yanked him off his feet to glare into his ugly face. Until that moment, he hadn’t noticed the musky scent that clung to his skin.
“One more word and you lose that tongue,” he snarled.
“Do not screw with me.”
“I do not intend to screw with anyone.” The gargoyle curled his lips in a mocking smile. “I am not the one in heat.”
Hess appeared beside Salvatore, halting his urge to rip off the gargoyle’s head.
“Sire?” the cur demanded, his thick brow furrowed.
“Take Max and the other curs and keep guard on the rear. I don’t want anyone sneaking up on us,” he commanded.
It was unlikely the cur would recognize Salvatore’s disturbing reaction to the female’s scent. Hess hadn’t even been transformed when the last mating had happened. Not to mention the fact that he was as thick as a stump. But Levet was certainly annoying enough to let the cat out of the bag.
Waiting for the curs to grudgingly shift back, he gave the gargoyle a shake before dropping him onto the ground.
“You—not another word.”
Regaining his balance, Levet glanced upward, his wings fluttering and his tail twitching.
“Um. Actually, I have two words,” he muttered. Then, without warning, he was charging forward, ramming directly into Salvatore and sending him flying backwards. “CAVE-IN!!!”
Momentarily stunned, Salvatore watched in horror as the low ceiling abruptly gave way, sending an avalanche of dirt and stone into the tunnel.
Because of Levet’s swift action, he had avoided the worst of the landslide, but rising to his feet he was in no mood for gratitude. Hard to believe this hideous day had just gotten worse.
Moving to the wall of debris that blocked the tunnel, he sent out his sense to find his curs.
“Hess?” he shouted.
Levet coughed at the cloud of dust that filled the air. “Are they…?”
“They’re injured, but alive,” Salvatore said, able to pick up the heartbeats of his pack, although they were currently unconscious. “Can we dig our way through to them?”
“It would take hours, and we risk bringing even more down on our heads.”
Of course. Why the hell would it be easy?
The gargoyle shook the dirt off his wings. “The tunnel is clear behind them. Once they recover they should be able to find a way out.”
He was right. Hess might have a brain the size of a walnut, but he was as tenacious as a pit bull. Once he realized he wouldn’t be able to reach Salvatore, he would lead the others back to the cabin and return overland to dig them out.
Unfortunately, it would take hours.
Turning, he glanced toward the stone wall that marked the end of the tunnel.
Whatever exit the cur had used to get out of the tunnel was now buried beneath the rubble.
“Which is more than I can say for us,” he muttered.
“Bah.” With a flagrant disregard to the thin sliver of ceiling that hadn’t yet fallen on their heads, Levet gingerly climbed up the side of the tunnel. “I am a gargoyle.”
Salvatore sucked in a sharp breath. A ton of rock and dirt falling on his head wouldn’t kill him.
Being buried alive with Levet? That would be the end.
If he had to rip out his own heart with his bare hands.
“I’m painfully aware of who and what you are.”
“I can smell the night.” Levet paused and glanced over his shoulder. “Are you coming, or what?”
With no other legitimate options, Salvatore awkwardly scrambled behind the gargoyle, his pride as tattered as his Italian leather shoes.
“Damn lump of stone,” he breathed. “Jagr should rot in hell for sticking me with you.”
Nearly flicking Salvatore’s nose with the tip of his tail, Levet continued upward, sniffing the air. He paused as he reached the edge of the ceiling, his hands testing the seemingly smooth rock until he abruptly shoved upward, revealing the cleverly hidden door.
Levet disappeared through the narrow opening and Salvatore was swift to follow, grasping the edge of the hole and pulling himself out of the tunnel.
He crawled through the dew-dampened grass, heading away from the opening before at last rising to his feet and sucking in the fresh air.
Weres weren’t like most demons who enjoyed being hidden in damp, moldy caves and tunnels for centuries on end. A Were needed open space to run and hunt.
With a shudder, Salvatore glanced around the thick trees that surrounded him, his senses reaching out to make certain there was no immediate threat.
“Ta-da.” With a flutter of his wings, Levet landed directly in front of Salvatore, his expression smug. “Shove it up your ear, oh ye of little faith. Hey…where are you going?”
Brushing past the annoying pest, Salvatore was weaving his way through the trees.
“To kill me a cur.”
“Wait, we can’t go alone,” Levet protested, his tiny legs pumping to keep pace. “Besides, it is almost dawn.”
“I just want to find his lair before he manages to cover his trail. I’m not losing him again.”
“And that is all? You promise you will not do anything stupid until we have front up?”
“Back up, you fool.” The sweet scent of vanilla invaded Salvatore’s senses, clouding his mind and stealing his waning strength. “Now be quiet.”
At a glance, Harley was the spitting image of a Barbie doll.
She stood barely over five feet, her body was slender, her heart-shaped face was delicately carved with large hazel eyes that were thickly lashed, and her golden blond hair that tumbled past her shoulders gave her the image of a fragile angel. She also looked far younger than her thirty years.
Anyone, however, stupid enough to dismiss her as harmless usually ended up injured.
She was not only a full-blooded Were, but she took her training in combat skills to a level that Navy SEALS would envy.
She was working out in the full-scale gym when Caine returned to the vast colonial home. She continued lifting the weights that would crush most men as she absently listened to his bitter tirade about the ineptitude of his cur pack and the injustice of a world that contained Salvatore Giuliani, the King of Weres.
At last, Harley moved to take a swig of bottled water and wiped the sweat coating her face. She glanced toward Caine, who leaned negligently against the far wall, his jeans and muscle shirt filthy, his short blond hair tousled. Not that his bedraggled appearance dimmed his surfer good looks. Even beneath the fluorescent lights that made everyone appear like death warmed over, his tanned skin glowed with a rich bronze and his blue eyes shimmered like the finest sapphires.
He was gorgeous. And he knew it.
Harley’s lips twisted. Her relationship with Caine was complicated.
The cur had been her guardian since she was a baby, but while he’d protected her and kept her in considerable luxury, she’d never truly trusted him.
And the feeling was entirely mutual.
Caine allowed her to roam the house and the surrounding lands with seeming freedom, but she knew she was under constant surveillance. And God knew, she was never allowed to travel away from the estate without two or three of Caine’s pet curs. Caine claimed he was concerned for her safety, but Harley wasn’t stupid. She knew his motives were far more selfish.
It might have been tempting to escape her golden cage, save for the knowledge that a lone wolf, even a pureblood, rarely survived. Weres were by nature predators, and there were any number of demons that would be eager to rid the world of a Were if they could catch one without a pack’s protection.
Besides, there was always the fear that the King of Weres was out there somewhere, anxious to kill her as he had her three sisters. Caine might be determined to use her for his own purpose, but at least that purpose meant he had to keep her alive.
Tossing aside the towel, Harley sent her companion a mocking smile.
“Let me see if I have this straight. You went to Hannibal because Sadie created some mysterious mess that you had to clean up after, and while you were there, you brilliantly decided to kidnap the King of Weres, only to drop him like a hot potato when you were nearly caught by a vampire and pack of curs?”
Caine pushed away from the wall and prowled forward, his gaze skimming over her tight spandex shorts and sports bra. The cur was nothing if not predictable. He’d been trying to seduce her for years.
“You have it in a perfect little nutshell, sweet Harley.” He halted directly before her, toying with her ponytail that had fallen over her shoulder. “Do you want a reward?”
“And your pet jinn?”
“Slipped from her leash. She’ll be back.” His smile was taunting. “Like you, she has nowhere else to go.”
Harley jerked from his touch. Bastard.
“So now you’ve lost half your pack and your demon, and you’ve left behind a trail that will lead the pissed off King of Weres and his angry posse directly to this lair.”
Caine shrugged. “I’ll call for one of the local witches. My trail will be long gone by the time the almighty Salvatore manages to get out.”
“Get out of where?”
“I collapsed the tunnel on top of them.”
“God. Are you even barely sane?”
“Once they manage to heal enough to dig out of the rubble, they’ll discover the entrance has been completely blocked. They will have no choice but to turn back.”
“You’re pretty damned cocky for a cur who has just pissed off your royal master.”
“I don’t have a master,” Caine snarled, revealing a glimpse of resentment at being a lowly cur instead of a full Were, before he smoothed out his expression. “And besides, the prophecies have spoken. I’m destined to transform the curs into purebloods. Nothing can happen to me.”
Harley snorted. Caine wasn’t a complete loon. He managed to control his large pack that he had spread throughout the Midwest with an iron hand. He was a Harvard trained scientist who made a fortune with his black market drugs. He regularly kicked her ass at Scrabble.
But at some point in his very long life, he claimed he’d been visited by an ancient pureblood who had given him a vision. Harley didn’t pretend to understand it. Something about seeing his blood run pure.
Being a scientist, he naturally assumed this miracle would be performed in a lab, which was why he kept Harley as his permanent houseguest. He thought by studying her blood he could find the answers he sought. Moronic, of course. Visions were the stuff of mist and magic, not glass beakers and microscopes.
“Look, if you want to get yourself killed because of your delusions of grandeur, I don’t give a shit.” She narrowed her eyes. “But I’m not going to be happy if you put me in the firing line.”
Caine stepped forward, reaching to trail his fingers over her shoulder. His touch was warm, experienced. She shook him off.
A woman would have to be dead not to find Caine attractive, but Harley needed more than simple lust. She needed…hell, she didn’t know what she needed, only that she hadn’t yet found it.
Besides, her skin was suddenly feeling hypersensitive. As if it had been rubbed raw by sandpaper.
“Would I ever put you in danger, sweet Harley?” Caine goaded.
“In a heartbeat, if it meant saving your own hide.”
“Perhaps.” His gaze dipped downward, studying her sports bra. “I need a shower. Why don’t you join me?”
“In your dreams.”
“Every night. Do you want to know what we’re doing?”
“I’d rather yank out your tongue and eat it for dinner.”
With a laugh, he snapped his teeth near her nose. “Naughty Were. You know how it makes me hard when you threaten violence.”
Spinning on her heel, Harley headed for the door. “You’d better make that a cold shower or you won’t have to worry about Salvatore Giuliani slicing off your balls. I’ll already have them dangling from my rear view mirror.”
She tuned out Caine’s low laugh as she headed toward the front of the house.
It was late and she was tired, but she ignored the carved wooden staircas. . .
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