The Sylvermyst have a reputation as sinister cousins to the fey, and none are more mysterious than Ariyal and his tribe. To save his people from banishment, he sold himself to the evil Morgana. Finally free, he faces a new challenge: Jaelyn, an elite vampire warrior sent to capture him. By rights, he should kill her on sight. Yet he cannot bring himself to hurt her—or to resist her . . .
Jaelyn is stunningly beautiful, utterly lethal—and always alone. Until Ariyal. From their first encounter, she knows that what's between them is more dangerous than simple lust. And as they unite to thwart a terrifying prophecy that will mean the end of his clan and of the world they know, she will risk everything to fulfill her destiny by his side.
Release date: May 26, 2011
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 384
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Bound by Darkness
But the looming end of the world truly did make for strange bedfellows, and with the potential return of the Dark Lord from the hell dimension where he’d been banished centuries ago, both the Anasso of the Vampires and the King of the Werewolves had little option but to try and work together.
Well, the phrase “work together” might be a generous description of their uneasy truce, Styx acknowledged, leaning his six-foot-five frame against the walnut desk in his fellow vampire Santiago’s office. Dressed in his usual assortment of black leather pants, shit-kicker boots, and silk shirt that stretched over his massive shoulders, he looked exactly what he was: the badass leader of the vampire clans. But it was the grim power etched into the Aztec beauty of his face and the ruthless intelligence in his dark eyes that made wise demons shudder in fear. Styx was more than an oversized bully. He was cunning and patient and capable of compromise when necessary.
Which was the only reason he was standing in the same room with a damned dog.
The tiny turquoise ornaments threaded through the braid that hung nearly to the back of his knees tinkled as he gave a rueful shake of his head, his gaze keeping careful track of his companion.
As much as he hated to admit it, Salvatore fit the elegant office—with its slate-gray carpet and the museum-quality French Impressionist paintings that were hung on the paneled walls and carefully preserved behind glass cases—far better than he did.
The bastard always managed to look every inch the king with his dark hair slicked back in a tail and his muscular body clothed in a charcoal-gray suit that no doubt cost more than the gross national income of several small countries. Like Styx, however, there was no mistaking the brutal authority in Salvatore’s dark, Latin features and golden eyes.
He ruled a savage race that would quite literally rip apart and eat a weak king. It gave a whole new meaning to “Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.”
The Were paused to study the bank of high-tech monitors and surveillance equipment that would give Homeland Security wet dreams, his gaze lingering on the monitor that revealed a pair of near-identical female Weres with blond hair and green eyes seated at a table several levels below them.
“You’re certain that this place is safe?”
Styx snorted. The fact that he was mated to the Were sister of Salvatore’s mate did nothing to ease the tension between them. Not after the bastard had done his best to kidnap Darcy from Styx.
Of course, he did have a small (very small) amount of sympathy for Salvatore’s predicament. At the time his Weres were facing extinction, and in an effort to save his people he had genetically altered four Were female pups. After they were stolen the king had sworn to retrieve them. It was his bad luck that Darcy and another of the females, Regan, had both chosen to mate with vampires, although his frustrated fury had been eased when he had found a third sister, Harley, and she’d managed to bring back the ancient mating urges that had been lost to the Weres for centuries.
“Be happy that Santiago isn’t around,” he warned. Although the club that catered to the demons scattered around the Illinois countryside was technically owned by Viper, clan chief of Chicago, it was Santiago’s pride and joy. “He would take your lack of faith in his security as a personal insult. And an unhappy vampire is never good.”
“I could say the same thing about a happy vampire,” Salvatore drawled, turning to flash Styx a mocking grin.
“You were the one who asked for this meeting.”
The dog shrugged. “Harley misses her sister.”
Styx believed him. Although it had only been three weeks since Salvatore and Harley had left Chicago for St. Louis, the two sisters had become nearly inseparable since they’d been reunited. But he was also certain that he hadn’t been asked along for his sparkling personality.
“And the reunion of our mates offers the opportunity for us to speak without alerting the world to our meeting?”
Salvatore shrugged. “I prefer not to attract any pesky curiosity.”
“You have information?”
“No, only questions.”
“Shit.” Styx grimaced. “I was afraid you were going to say that. What’s your question?”
“Have your Ravens managed to track down Caine and Cassandra?”
Styx tensed at the unexpected question. It was no secret that Cassandra was the last of the missing Were sisters who’d been unexpectedly located in the caves of a demon lord. And who was now on the run with a cur who’d been magically transformed into a full-blooded Were while rescuing the female. The movement of his personal bodyguards, however, was classified information.
“What makes you think I’m looking for them?”
Salvatore arched a taunting brow. “Just because I’m beautiful it doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”
“It does, however, mean you’re a pain in the ass.”
Styx curled back his lips to reveal his massive fangs. “Increasingly hungry.”
There was a prickle of danger as the power of the two alphas swirled through the air. The frigid blast of vampire slammed against the raw heat of Were, promising a violent explosion if released.
Then, with a low growl, Salvatore was leashing his wolf, the mocking smile returning to his lips.
“I know that Darcy is anxious to meet her missing sister, and since the demon world is well aware you are firmly wrapped around her finger it was a logical assumption that you would have your goons on the hunt.”
Styx nodded, hoping for Salvatore’s sake it had been an educated guess. He was prepared to work with the Weres to prevent the end of the world, but he’d be damned if the lice-infested bastards were going to have spies in his camp.
“Just as you have released the hounds?” he demanded.
There was a short pause before Salvatore gave a grudging nod of his head, no more happy to share intel than Styx.
“I’ll admit that I sent Hess and a few of my trusted lieutenants to have a chat with Caine.”
“And they claim that he and Cassandra have vanished into thin air.” The lean face hardened with annoyance. “If I didn’t know they were the finest trackers in existence I would have had them skinned for either being incompetent or liars.”
“And you want to know if my Ravens have had any more success?”
“Hess speaks the truth,” Styx admitted, referring to Salvatore’s right-hand man. “Jagr was able to track Caine to a lair outside Chicago, and while he couldn’t enter the house past the hexes the cur has placed around the yard, all signs are that they simply disappeared.”
Salvatore cursed, not bothering to pester Styx with stupid questions. Jagr was Styx’s finest Raven and if he said the trail ended, it ended.
“Magic?” he instead asked.
“The trail was too cold to say for certain.”
Salvatore returned to his pacing. “Dammit.”
“I take it that Harley isn’t going to be pleased with the news?” he taunted, pleased to be able to point out that Salvatore was equally at the mercy of his mate.
“No more pleased than Darcy.” The Were shook his head, his body tense. “But it’s not just being able to return Cassandra to her sisters. Or even discovering what the hell turned Caine from a mangy cur to a pureblooded Were.”
“What’s troubling you?”
“What isn’t?” His humorless laughter echoed through the office. “Nasty creatures that we thought were gone from the world forever are crawling out of the woodwork.” The Were glared at Styx as if it were entirely his fault that the streets were suddenly overrun with demons that were supposed to have been banished. Including the damned Sylvermyst (evil cousins to the fey), who made a grand entrance just a few weeks ago and promptly caused Tane’s rescue of Laylah and her child to go to hell. “And it seems like every week there’s a new plot to return the Dark Lord.”
Styx pushed away from the desk, savage anger racing through him. “Some of them coming too damned close for comfort.”
“Exactly.” Salvatore waved a slander hand. “And we have the babies that supposedly fulfill some stupid mysterious prophecy.”
The words of the foretelling flared through Styx’s mind. He’d devoted the past weeks to discovering everything he could of the prophecy. And most importantly, trying to discover what the hell it might mean.
“Don’t be so dismissive, Were,” he growled. “I’m old enough to know the dangers of ignoring such potent warnings.”
“Trust me, leech, I’m not dismissive.” The gold eyes suddenly glowed with his inner wolf. “Not after that demon lord nearly managed to destroy my people. All the omens point to the barriers between dimensions thinning, which is precisely why I’m so concerned for Cassandra.”
Styx’s lips twisted, realizing Salvatore’s mind had followed his own path. And that they’d both been chasing down the female Were for the same purpose.
A Were with a brain. Hell, the world truly was going insane.
“Because she’s a prophet.” It was a statement, not a question.
Salvatore dipped his head in agreement. “The first true prophet in centuries. Her disappearance at this time can’t be a coincidence.”
“No.” Styx curled his hands at his side. The implication of her absence was already giving him nightmares. “She would be a priceless weapon to whoever has access to her powers.”
“We need your Hunter. She’s the only one with the skill to find Cassandra.”
Styx hissed at the mention of the missing vampire. For all her youth, Jaelyn was the finest Hunter to have been trained in the past century. Unfortunately, she’d been kidnapped three weeks ago by Ariyal, a Sylvermyst prince.
Damn his black heart.
“Jaelyn’s still missing.”
“That’s our guess, but we have no way of knowing for certain.”
They both paused as they silently accepted that Jaelyn could be dead. Just another casualty in the increasingly dangerous war.
Salvatore stepped forward, his face hard with concern.
“Something wicked this way comes, vampire,” he warned, “and we had damned well better be prepared.”
Styx nodded. For the rare moment they were in perfect agreement.
Morgana le Fey might be dead, but her opulent palace on the isle of Avalon remained intact.
Okay, not fully intact.
More than one room was on the wrong side of tattered. And the grand throne room had been blown to hell, but the vast harems had escaped the majority of the damage during Morgana’s last, great battle.
A damned shame.
Not just because the sprawling rooms designed with mosaic tiles, marble fountains, and domed ceilings looked like something from a cheesy Arabian Nights film set (although that was reason enough to burn the gaudy piece of crap to the ground) but because Ariyal had spent more centuries than he cared to remember in the harem trapped as a slave.
It had been a well-guarded secret that a handful of Sylvermyst had turned their backs on their master, the Dark Lord. They’d bargained with Morgana le Fey to keep them hidden among the mists of Avalon in return for them satisfying her insatiable lust for men and pain.
Not necessarily in that order.
Unfortunately Ariyal had been a favorite of the sadistic bitch.
She’d been fascinated by the metallic sheen of his bronzed eyes and his long chestnut hair. But it’d been the lean, chiseled muscles of his body that she’d devoted hours to exploring. And torturing.
With a low growl he shook off the unpleasant memories.
Instead he concentrated on the female who was currently enjoying the nasty surprises hidden among the velvet divans and exquisite tapestries.
Well, maybe enjoyment wasn’t what she was feeling, he acknowledged in amusement, watching as she slowly came awake to discover she was chained to the wall by silver shackles.
Jaelyn, the vampire pain-in-his-ass, let loose a string of foul curses, not seeming to appreciate that he’d carefully protected her skin with leather to keep the silver from searing her flesh, or that he’d chosen one of the rooms that was specifically built to protect bloodsuckers from the small amount of sunlight that filtered through the surrounding mists.
In fact, it looked like the only thing she was in the mood to appreciate was ripping out his throat with her pearly-white fangs.
A treacherous heat raced through his body.
He told himself it was a predictable reaction.
She was stunning, even if she was a leech.
Tall and athletically slender, she was a mixture of races that combined into an exotic beauty.
Glossy black hair that spoke of the Far East was contained in a tight braid that hung down her back. The Asian influence was echoed in the shape of her eyes, although they were a dark shade of blue that revealed a European heritage. Her skin was as pale as alabaster and so perfectly smooth that he ached to brush his fingers over it.
From head to toe. And back again.
Add in the black spandex that clung to her slender curves and the sawed-off shotgun that he’d been smart enough to take off her long before they’d stepped through the portal, and she was a custom-made fantasy.
Yep, there wasn’t a man alive (or maybe even dead) who wouldn’t give his right nut to get between those long slender legs.
But Ariyal hadn’t been able to completely forget that shocking awareness that had jolted to life during his brief incarceration at the hands of this female.
Hell, her merest touch had made him go up in flames.
And it pissed him off.
Unlike most of his brethren, he didn’t allow his passions to rule his life.
He ruled his passions.
A grim reminder that didn’t do a damned thing to stop the heat that scorched through his blood as her indigo gaze skimmed over his lean body, which he’d left bare except for a loose pair of dojo pants.
His gut tightened and his cock hardened. From a mere glance.
What the hell would happen if he spread her across the nearby bed and ...
The vampire stiffened, no doubt sensing his explosive desire. Then, with a visible effort, she narrowed those magnificent eyes and wrapped herself in a frigid composure.
“You.” The word was coated in ice.
She stood proudly, acting as if she didn’t notice she was currently chained to the wall.
“Why did you kidnap me?”
He shrugged, not about to admit the truth.
He didn’t have a goddamned clue why he’d grabbed hold of her as he escaped through the portal that had brought them from the frozen caves of Siberia to this hidden island. He only knew his reaction to the female was dark and primal and dangerously possessive.
“You held me captive,” he instead drawled. “Fair is fair.”
“As if a Sylvermyst would know the meaning of fair.”
His smile held no apology. “Haven’t you heard the old saying that ‘all’s fair in love and war’?” He allowed his gaze to lower to the enticing curve of her breasts, lust jolting through him at her revealing shiver. “We could no doubt add a few more activities to the list.”
“What’s wrong, poppet? Are you afraid I intend to have my evil way with you?” He deliberately paused. “Or hopeful?”
“You at least got the evil part right.”
He stepped close enough to be teased by her seductive musk that was at such odds with her image of a cold, ruthless hunter.
But then, everything about this female was ... complex.
“You know, there’s no reason for the two of us to be enemies.”
“Nothing beyond the fact that I was hired by the Oracles to capture you.” Her smile was frigid. “Oh yeah, and your psycho attempts to kill two helpless children.”
“Helpless?” Frustration flared through him. “Those abominations are the vessels of the Dark Lord and if Tearloch manages to use the child to resurrect the master then you can blame yourself for unleashing hell.”
She ignored his warning. Just as she’d ignored it in the Siberian cave when he’d done his best to put an end to the danger.
He’d been prepared to do what was necessary, but because of the damned vampires, one of the babies had been stolen by his clan brother Tearloch, along with the mage. Now he had to pray he could track them down before they could resurrect the Dark Lord and rip open the veils that held back the hordes of hell.
“I’m not being paid to save the world. I’m being paid to hand your ass over to the Commission.”
Ariyal frowned at the unwelcome reminder.
The Commission was a collection of Oracles who were the big cheeses of the demon world. It was always bad news when they decided you were worthy of their notice.
Especially if they were willing to pay the exorbitant fee to hire a vampire Hunter to collect him.
“Don’t know. Don’t care. It’s just a job.”
He leaned forward until they were nose to nose. “It feels a lot more personal than just a job.”
For a breathless moment raw hunger flared through her eyes, making his body clench with anticipation. Oh, hell yes. Then, just as swiftly, the glimpse of emotion was gone.
“Get over yourself.”
“I’d rather be over you.”
Ariyal shivered at the sharp chill that suddenly blasted through the air.
Dammit. One minute the woman had him drowning in lust and the next she could give a fire pixie frostbite.
“Fine.” He stepped back, his smile tight with annoyance. “I hope you’re comfortable, poppet. You’re here to stay.”
Her wary glance skimmed around the room that was ornately decorated in shades of gold and ivory.
“Where is here?”
She hissed in shock. “Impossible.”
“Such a dangerous word.”
“The mists are impenetrable.” Her cold arrogance remained, but there was a hint of wariness in her eyes. “Unless they were destroyed by the death of Morgana le Fey?”
His lips twisted in a humorless smile. “They survived, but I didn’t waste centuries as the bitch’s sex slave just looking beautiful. I discovered a secret exit centuries ago.”
She studied him in silence and Ariyal hid a sudden grimace. A Hunter had any number of skills. They were reputedly stronger and faster than the average vampire, as well as able to shroud themselves so deeply in shadows that they were all but invisible.
More impressive, they were walking, talking lie detectors. Supposedly no demon could deceive them.
Like he needed that kind of headache.
Christ. He should have left her in Siberia.
“If you knew how to escape the island, then why didn’t you?” she demanded.
“Because I couldn’t rescue my brothers without alerting the guards.”
“So you stayed?”
He frowned, puzzled by her curiosity. “I wasn’t leaving them behind. Does that surprise you?”
An unreadable emotion rippled over her beautiful face before it was swiftly wiped away.
“Sylvermysts aren’t renowned for their generous hearts or noble natures. As Tearloch proved.”
Ariyal couldn’t argue.
Sylvermyst had a long, well-earned reputation for their cruel natures and hunger for violence, but he’d be damned if he allowed a cold-hearted leech to judge him.
Not after everything he’d sacrificed to save his people.
“Tearloch’s frightened and ... confused,” he admitted. “Once I track him down I’ll convince him of the error of his ways.”
“You mean, he’ll do as you want or you’ll kill him?”
“Ah, you understand me so well, poppet.”
“I understand that you’re a bastard who is out to save your own worthless skin,” she charged.
“Good. Then I don’t have to convince you that I will happily leave you here to rot unless you agree to do exactly as I say.”
A frigid smile curved her lips. “Don’t be a moron. If I disappear the Anasso will send out a dozen warriors to search for me.”
“He can send out a hundred if he wants. They’ll never be able to sense you behind the mists.” His gaze lingered on her lush, full lips, easily imagining the pleasure they could bring a man. With a growl, he took an instinctive step closer, ignoring the danger. “Face it, poppet, they already assume you’re dead.”
“Then they’ll hunt you down and execute you. There’s nowhere you can go they won’t find you.”
He grasped her chin, staring down at the eyes that had lost their ice to flash with indigo fire. His gut twisted with need.
“I spent centuries in the harem of Morgana le Fey. Leeches don’t scare me.”
“What does scare you?”
Ignoring the fangs that could rip out his throat with one swipe, not to mention the claws that could dig through solid concrete, Ariyal leaned forward and claimed her mouth in a kiss of pure possession.
Jaelyn was never taken by surprise.
She was a Hunter. A vigilant, razor-sharp warrior with such superior skills that she’d been taken by the Addonexus (the vampire equivalent of black ops) mere weeks after she’d been turned.
And even with her natural skills, she’d still been trained for years before being allowed to leave the secret compound.
Tracking, weapons, martial arts, psychological warfare, and the latest tech (including being able to hack into a military-grade computer system) had been drilled into her with brutal efficiency over the past fifty years.
But this damned Sylvermyst had kept her flat-footed and constantly one step behind him.
She wanted to believe it was some mystic fey crap.
After all, a vampire’s one vulnerability was magic, and since it was believed that the Sylvermyst had been banished along with their master, the Dark Lord, she’d never been taught what sort of nefarious tricks Ariyal might be hiding behind his too-pretty face.
It would explain how he’d managed to escape from an iron-lined cell after she’d captured him. And how he could catch her off guard to yank her through a portal and bring her to this godforsaken island.
And how he could claim her lips in a kiss that shut down her brain, as well as most of her higher motor skills.
His mouth was deliciously warm, demanding a response, and for a crazed moment she allowed the blinding pleasure to sear through her, the tips of her toes curling in her boots. It was only when she was actually swaying toward the hard temptation of his body that she was wrenched out of the strange spell.
Oh ... shit.
This wasn’t a spell.
It was good, old-fashioned lust that had sizzled between them since that first, jolting touch. Or perhaps it had been from the moment she’d caught his rich, earthy scent that was a combination of herbs and pure male power.
Not that the when or how mattered.
She might not have been trained to deal with dark fey magic, but she’d sure the hell been drilled in controlling her baser instincts.
Nothing like being skinned alive a few times to teach a young vampire to keep her mind on business.
With a low hiss, she jerked her head to the side, her fangs snapping toward his throat.
Ariyal cursed as he leaped backward, his stunning bronze eyes widening as he realized how easily she could have ripped open his flesh.
“Find someone else to play with, fairy,” she warned, eying him with a proud defiance despite the fact she was currently chained to the stupid wall. And oh yeah, that she had nearly melted into a puddle of need beneath his kiss. “I bite.”
“Sylvermyst,” he corrected, his gaze lingering on her swollen lips. “And I bite back.”
The thought of his perfect white teeth clamping onto her neck sent a dangerous thrill down her spine. Freaking fey. She clenched her hands at her sides, allowing her nails to slice into her palm. Pain was the swiftest means to regain command of her body.
“What do you intend to do with me?”
He smiled with wicked amusement at the ice edging her words.
“That depends on you.”
She narrowed her gaze. “You think I’ll barter for my freedom?”
He reached to run a slender finger down the curve of her neck.
“We’re about to discover, aren’t we?”
“Stop that,” she growled, baring her fangs.
“You don’t like to be touched?”
“I like it just fine.” She flicked a dismissive gaze over his indecently beautiful face. “Just not by you.”
“Lie,” he breathed, gently mocking her own ability to read the deceptions of others.
Her lips thinned. “Tell me what you want from me.” “What I want?” The bronze eyes darkened with raw desire. “I want that hard, sculpted body spread naked on my bed so I can taste every perfect inch.”
Her nails dug deeper, the blood running down her palm. “Never.”
“Fine.” His low voice brushed over her sensitive skin like a caress. “Then I’ll be naked and you can use those lovely lips to wrap around my ...”
“Is your bargain that I trade sex for my release?” she sharply interrupted.
His gaze briefly shifted down to the small curve of her breasts outlined by the tight spandex.
“Oh, I intend to give you release.” His gaze lifted to meet her frigid stare. “But you’ll have to earn your freedom.”
She snorted. “Do males of all species possess a juvenile need to use sexual innuendoes rather than rational conversation when they’re in the company of women?”
“Those weren’t innuendoes, poppet,” he drawled. “They were a promise.”
She forced herself to meet his taunting gaze with a cold indifference that she could only wish was genuine. Dammit, she was a Hunter, not a wilting virgin who was terrified of a man’s touch. Even if it did make her shiver with need.
Her duty was to use whatever method necessary to get free and complete her mission.
“I asked a specific question. Will you allow me to leave if I give you sex?”
He stilled, caught off guard by her blunt demand. “And if I say yes?”
“It’s against the rules. But ...”
“Hunters aren’t permitted to be intimate with their prey.”
“Sensible, I suppose.” He folded his arms over his broad chest, acting like he was more curious than excited by her proposal. Rude, conceited fairy. “What if I weren’t your prey?”
“Intimacy is generally discouraged.”
His unnerving gaze searched her icy expression, as if sensing the dark, punishing memories that fluttered at the edge of her mind.
“Sex is an unnecessary distraction at best and a lethal mistake at worse.”
He tilted his head to the side at her practiced words, the light from the candles glowing with a rich shade of chestnut in the loose strands of his hair. Jaelyn clenched her teeth, struck by a sharp need to run her fingers through the satin length.
His lip curled into a slow, wicked smile. “I can scent your hunger.”
“Of course you can. It’s been days since I fed.” Her arctic dismissal salved her pride, but it did nothing to disguise her body’s annoying response. “Although, I’m more likely to die of boredom than starvation if you don’t release me soon. Are we going to bargain or not?”
Ariyal chuckled, not deceived for a moment. Bastard.
He shook his head, his gaze taking a slow, intimate survey of her rigid body.
“When I claim you as my lover, Jaelyn, you won’t be able to hide behind the pretense that it’s to fulfill some damned bargain.”
His silky warning slid through her like warm honey, melting another layer of her icy defenses. Ah, it would be so easy to close her eyes and imagine his slender fingers skimming over her naked skin, his muscled body pressing her into the nearby mattress as his mouth sought those erogenous spots she tried to pretend didn’t exist.
Worse, she couldn’t deny the realization that she was disappointed. . . disappointed ... that he didn’t intend to trade the use . . .
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