Beautiful Cassandra is a were, a prophet both vulnerable and defiant, blessed with visions that portend the fate of the world. A rare and delicate creature, Cassie must be protected at all costs. Enter Caine, a powerful cur turned pure-blooded were whose recent tangles with a demon lord have left him in serious need of redemption. Caine is duty-bound to keep Cassie out of danger—and that means resisting his potent urge to seduce her . . .
As Cassie's mysterious visions lead them in and out of danger, Caine believes he has found his true mate, the woman with whom he is bound for all eternity. Cassie is both charmed and frightened by Caine's magnetism, and unsure if he—or her feelings for him—can be trusted. But Cassie can't afford to doubt Caine now. A deadly enemy bent on destruction is closer than they realize—and only they can keep chaos from ruling the world . . .
Release date: October 24, 2011
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 384
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Fear the Darkness
Not only was he the King of all Vampires, but at six foot five of pure muscle with the stark beauty of his Aztec ancestors, he was one of the most powerful demons in the world.
He could command the most luxurious lair in the area with a dozen servants eager to do his bidding. But he wanted his trip to Nevada to be as discreet as it was brief, so ignoring the protests of his companion, he’d chosen to spend the day waiting for his meeting with the local clan chief in the forgotten caves.
And, if he were honest with himself, it was a relief not to be stuck with the formal ceremony his position demanded. He was a fierce predator, not a damned politician, and the need to play nice gave him a rash.
Besides, it was always a pleasure to yank Viper’s chain.
Styx made a brief survey of the empty desert that surrounded them, absently knocking the dust from his leather pants, which were tucked in to a pair of heavy boots. A black T-shirt was stretched over his massive chest with a tiny amulet threaded on a leather strip wrapped around his thick neck. That was his only jewelry besides the polished turquoise stones that were threaded through the dark, braided hair that hung to the back of his knees.
His dark eyes glowed with a golden light of power in the thickening dusk as he at last turned toward his companion, barely hiding his smile. Unlike him, Viper, the clan chief of Chicago, had no love for “roughing it.”
Dressed in a black velvet coat that reached his knees with a frilled white satin shirt and black slacks, he looked like he was on his way to the nearest ballroom. An impression only emphasized by his long hair the pale silver of moonlight, which was left free to flow down his back, and his eyes the startling darkness of midnight.
Styx was raw, savage power.
Viper was an exquisite fallen angel who was no less lethal.
With a pointed glance toward the Las Vegas skyline that glowed like a distant jewel, Viper met Styx’s gaze with a sour grimace. “The next time you want me to join you on a road trip, Styx, feel free to lose my number.”
Styx arched a dark brow. “I thought everyone loved Vegas.”
“Which was why I agreed to this little excursion.” Viper tugged at his lace cuffs, managing to look immaculate despite his hours in the dusty cavern. “You failed to mention I was going to be staying in a damned mine instead of the penthouse suite at the Bellagio.”
“We’ve stayed in worse places.”
“Worse?” Viper pointed toward the rotting boards that did a half-ass job of covering the entrance to the tunnel. “It was filthy, it smelled of bat shit, and the temperature was a few degrees less than the surface of the sun. I’ve visited hell dimensions that I enjoyed more than that godforsaken inferno.”
Styx snorted. The two vampires had been friends for centuries, a remarkable feat considering they were both alphas. But over the past months their bonds had grown even closer as they’d been forced to confront the increasingly dangerous world.
The Dark Lord—or Dark Prince or master or a hundred other names he’d been called over the centuries—had been effectively banished from this dimension long ago and kept in his prison by the Phoenix, a powerful spirit who was being protected by the vampires. But he refused to take his imprisonment gracefully.
Over the past months he’d become increasingly relentless in his pursuit of smashing through the veils that separated the worlds, not only allowing his return, but giving a free pass to every creature that inhabited the numerous hells.
Only a few days ago the bastard had nearly succeeded.
Using one of the twin babies he’d created to use as a vessel for his grand resurrection, he’d transformed from a formless mist into a young, humanlike female. It’d been creepy as hell to see the ultimate of all evil looking like a pretty cheerleader.
Thankfully, Jaelyn had managed to drain the Dark Lord before he could pass through the Veil, but Styx knew it was only a temporary reprieve.
Until the Dark Lord was destroyed, there would be no peace.
Which was why he was standing in the middle of the desert with a pissed-off Viper instead of waking in the arms of his beautiful mate.
“You’re becoming as soft as a dew fairy in your old age,” he mocked.
“I didn’t become clan chief to rut in the dirt like some animal.”
Viper glanced toward the distant glow of lights. “Are you at least going to tell me why we couldn’t stay in one of the hundreds of hotels just a few miles away?”
Styx turned to scan the seemingly empty landscape. Not that it was truly empty. At his feet a lizard crawled over a rock oblivious to the owl hunting in silence overhead, or the snake that was coiled only a few feet away. More distantly a coyote was on the trail of a jackrabbit.
The typical sights and sounds of the desert. His only interest, however, was making sure there were no nasty surprises hidden in the shadows.
“I prefer not to attract unwanted attention to our presence in Nevada,” he explained. “Something that would be impossible with you in a casino.”
“All I want is a warm shower, fresh clothes, and a ticket to the Donnie and Marie show.”
“Do I have stupid tattooed on my forehead?” Styx turned to stab his friend with a knowing gaze. “The last time you were in Vegas you nearly bankrupted the Flamingo and ended up banned from returning to the city by the clan chief.”
A reminiscent smile tugged at Viper’s lips. “Can I help it if I had a streak of luck at the craps table? Or that Roke is a humorless prig?”
The distant hum of a motorcycle sliced through the thick night air. “Speaking of Roke,” Styx murmured.
Viper muttered a curse as he moved to stand at Styx’s side. “That’s who we’re meeting with?”
“Yes.” Styx narrowed his gaze. “Do you promise to behave?”
“No, but I promise I won’t kill him unless he—”
“Shit.” Viper folded his arms over his chest. “This had better be important.”
“Would I have left Darcy if it weren’t?” he demanded, the mere mention of his mate sending a tiny pang of longing through his heart. Over the past months the beautiful female Were had become his very reason for living.
With a throaty roar of power, Roke brought his turbine to a halt and, sliding off the elegant machine, he crossed to stand before them.
Dressed in black jeans, a leather jacket, and moccasin boots that reached his knees, he was not as tall as Styx, although they shared the same bronzed skin and dark hair that brushed his broad shoulders. His features were lean with the high cheekbones of his Native American bloodlines and a proud nose. His brow was wide and his lips generously full. But it was his eyes that captured and held attention.
Silver in color, they were so pale they appeared almost white, the shocking paleness emphasized by the rim of pure black that circled them. They were eyes that seemed to pierce through a person to lay bare their very soul.
Not always the most comfortable sensation.
Especially for those who didn’t particularly want their soul laid bare.
Which was . . . yeah, pretty much everyone.
“Styx.” Offering a low bow, Roke’s movements were liquid smooth as he slowly straightened and with stunning swiftness hurled a dagger to stick in the ground not an inch from Viper’s expensive leather shoes. “Viper.”
Viper growled, giving a wave of his hand to dislodge the dirt around Roke’s feet. All vampires could manipulate the soil, a necessary skill to protect them from the sun or to hide the corpses of their prey, but Viper was particularly skilled, and in less than a blink of an eye, Roke was buried up to his waist.
“Are you two done playing?” Styx demanded, his icy power biting through the air.
The clan chief of Nevada climbed out of the sandpit and dusted off his jeans, his expression as inscrutable as ever. “For now.”
Viper made a sound of impatience. “Why are we here?”
Styx nodded toward their companion. “Roke has something he believes we should see.”
“His collection of blow-up dolls?”
“Christ. Enough.” Styx bared his massive fangs in warning. He didn’t know what the hell had gone down between the two clan chiefs in the past and right now he couldn’t care less. He didn’t have time for their bullshit. “Roke, show me.”
In utter silence the three vampires ghosted through the darkness, moving with a speed that made them all but invisible.
They were nearing a line of rugged hills when Viper made a sound of impatience. “As much as I adore running through the barren desert, do we have an eventual destination?” he muttered.
On cue, Roke came to a sharp halt, pointing toward the desert floor just in front of them. “There.”
Viper rolled his eyes. “Man of few words.”
“Preferable to one who doesn’t know when to shut it,” Roke countered.
“Agreed,” Styx said dryly, shifting so he could study the ground where Roke was pointing. It took a long moment to recognize that the lines etched into the dry dirt were more than just the scribblings from some human. “Oh . . . shit.”
“What the hell?” Viper tilted back his head as he caught the lingering scent. “I smell pureblooded Were.”
“Cassandra,” Styx said, easily recognizing the scent of his mate’s twin sister, who had recently been revealed as a powerful prophet.
“And Caine,” Viper added. “Why would they be in the middle of the Mojave Desert?”
Now that was a hell of a question.
The pair of pureblooded Weres had been missing for weeks, despite Styx’s best efforts to locate them. An unbelievable feat considering he possessed the best trackers in the world. Of course, if the rumors were true, then the two Weres were already beyond his reach.
Which made any clue as to how she’d been captured or how to retrieve her from her current prison priceless.
“I’m more concerned with what they left behind,” he admitted, prowling around the edges of the strange symbols.
Viper frowned. “An etching?”
Styx shook his head. “It looks more like a hieroglyph.”
“A prophecy,” Roke said with a quiet confidence.
Styx turned to study the clan chief with a searching gaze. “Can you decipher it?”
“Yes, it’s a warning.”
Viper frowned. “You’re a seer?”
Roke shook his head, his gaze trained on the lines etched into the ground. “There’s only one prophet. But I was sired by a wisewoman who taught me to read the signs left by our forefathers.”
Of course. Styx abruptly understood precisely why he was standing in the middle of a desert. “So now we know why Cassandra chose to travel to Nevada,” he said wryly.
“Why?” Viper demanded.
He pointed toward Roke. “Because it was the one place to make certain her message would be understood.”
Viper snorted. “She could have sent a text and saved us a trip.”
Styx’s attention never wavered from the silent Roke. It was impossible to judge how the vampire felt about being pulled into the battle against the Dark Lord.
But then, he no doubt realized that it wasn’t a choice. Styx wasn’t the head of a damned democracy. He led his people by cunning and brute force when necessary.
“How did you discover this?”
“A cur stumbled across it two nights ago,” Roke promptly answered. “There are no Were packs in the area so he came to me with the information.”
“How many others did he tell?”
Roke instantly understood Styx’s concern. “None, but it’s been here at least two, maybe even three weeks.” He grimaced. “It’s impossible to know how many others have seen it.”
A pity, but there was nothing to be done, Styx silently conceded. “Could anyone else interpret it?”
Roke paused before giving a shake of his head. “Doubtful.”
Viper crouched down, studying the desert floor with a frown. “What does it say?”
Roke moved forward, careful not to disturb the marks as he pointed toward the strange etching closest to them. “This is the symbol for the Alpha and the Omega.”
Styx froze at the familiar words.
“The children,” he murmured, speaking of the twin babies that had been found by the half-Jinn mongrel, Laylah. She hadn’t known that they were the babies mentioned in the prophecies. Or that they’d been created by the Dark Lord so he could use them as vessels for his eventual resurrection. “What about them?”
Roke traced the symbol in the air. “Here they are joined.”
Styx nodded. When Laylah had found the children they’d been wrapped in the same stasis spell and she’d assumed there was only one child.
“And then they were separated.” Roke pointed toward the second etching. “The Omega is lost to the mists.”
Viper muttered a low curse. Styx didn’t blame him.
They’d struggled to protect the children, but while Laylah and Tane had managed to rescue the boy child and named him Maluhia, the girl child had been taken through the barriers between dimensions and used by the Dark Lord in his attempt to return to this world.
Styx shifted his attention to the last symbol. “What’s this?”
“The children reunited.”
Hissing in disbelief, Styx turned to meet Roke’s steady gaze, the pale silver eyes even more eerie than usual. “Reunited?”
“‘The Alpha and Omega shall be torn asunder and through the Mists reunited,’” the clan chief of Nevada murmured, quoting the Sylvermyst prophecy.
“Maluhia,” Viper breathed, his expression grim. “Cassandra was warning us that the baby is in danger.”
“Shit.” Styx shoved his hand in his pocket to yank out his cell phone, his sense of furious urgency frustrated by the realization there was no service. He needed to get back to civilization. Now. Grasping the startled Roke by the upper arm, he headed back across the desert at a blinding speed. “You’re coming with us.”
The Forum Shops in Caesars Palace were a wonderland for any female, let alone one who had spent the past thirty years secluded from the world.
Beneath the ceilings that were painted to resemble a blue sky, the elegant stores wound their way past fountains that were intended to transport shoppers back to Roman days. Glass display cases were filled with the sort of temptations designed to make a woman drool.
With a wry smile, Caine stepped behind his dazzled companion to wrap his arms around her waist, tugging her back flat against his chest. He could only wish Cassie would look at him with that same wistful longing, he ruefully acknowledged.
Or perhaps not, he swiftly corrected as his body hardened with a familiar, brutal need.
Since discovering Cassie being held prisoner in the cave of a demon lord weeks ago, Caine had done his best to play the role of knight in shining armor.
Although possessing the natural strength of a pureblooded Were, Cassie had not only been altered in the womb not to shift, but she was as innocent as a babe and twice as vulnerable.
Add in the fact she was the first true prophet born in centuries, and currently being hunted by every demon loyal to the Dark Lord, and she was a disaster waiting to happen.
She desperately needed a protector.
And since Caine, once a mere cur, had died and been resurrected as a pureblooded Were in her arms, he’d assumed that protecting Cassie was the reason the fates had returned him to this world instead of leaving him to rot in his well-deserved hell.
Unfortunately, his miraculous return to life hadn’t included a sainthood and he remained a fully functioning male with all the usual weaknesses.
Including a rampaging lust toward the tiny female currently wrapped in his arms.
As always completely impervious to his torment, Cassie breathed a soft sigh of wonder. “Oh . . .”
“Cassie.” Bending down, he spoke directly in her ear. “Cassie, listen to me.”
She tilted back her head to meet his narrowed gaze and Caine briefly forgot how to breathe.
Holy shit, but she was beautiful.
Her hair was pale, closer to silver than blond, and pulled into a ponytail that fell to her waist. Her skin was a perfect alabaster, smooth and silken. Her eyes were an astonishing green, the color of spring grass and flecked with gold.
Her face was heart-shaped with delicate features that gave her an air of fragility that was only emphasized by her slender body. Of course, beneath her jeans and casual sweatshirt, she possessed the lean muscles of all pureblooded Weres.
“What?” she prompted when he continued to gawk at her in mindless appreciation.
He sucked in a deep breath, savoring the warm scent of lavender that clung to her skin. “You promised me that you would blend.”
She wiggled from his grasp and darted toward the nearest store to press her face against the window. “Mmm.”
Caine rolled his eyes. “I knew this was a mistake.”
“There’s so many,” she murmured as he moved to stand beside her. “How do you choose?”
“We’ll go into a store, pick out a few of your favorite clothes and try them on—”
Without waiting for him to finish, Cassie was darting through the open doorway. Caine was swiftly on her heels, but with immaculate timing a buxom nymph with dark hair and brown eyes pretended to stumble and landed against his chest.
Instinctively, his hands reached to grasp her shoulders, his sapphire blue eyes narrowed with irritation.
Once upon a time he had appreciated beautiful females tossing themselves into his arms. Even though he’d been a mere cur, his short blond hair that fell across his brow and tanned, surfer good looks ensured he had more than his fair share of babes. And it didn’t hurt that his body was chiseled muscles beneath the low riding jeans and muscle shirt.
And oh yeah, he’d made an obscene fortune cranking out prescription drugs from his private lab.
Now it took every ounce of willpower to politely set aside the damned nymph and not toss her into the line of sleek metallic mannequins showing off the latest designer swimwear.
“Didn’t we meet in . . .” she began, but Caine wasn’t listening as he swept past her and headed straight toward the tiny blonde who was fingering a pretty white sundress with black polka dots.
He had barely reached her side when her hands grasped the bottom of her sweatshirt and began pulling it over her head.
“I want to try it on.”
“Holy shit.” He grabbed her hands, yanking the sweatshirt back into place. “Wait.”
She frowned in confusion. “But you said—”
“Yeah, I know what I said,” he muttered. When was he going to learn she took every word quite literally?
“Did I do something wrong?”
“Never.” He brushed a finger over her pale cheek. Christ, she was so unbearably innocent. “Why don’t you show me what you like and I’ll pick out the right size?”
“You can do that just by looking?”
His lips twisted in a dry smile. “It’s a gift.”
“A well-practiced gift?”
He stilled, regarding her in surprise. Despite the fact they’d been constant companions over the past weeks, Cassie rarely seemed aware of his presence, let alone the fact that he was a red-blooded male.
Not that he took it personally. She was plagued by her visions of the future and too often impervious to the world around her.
“Are you truly interested?” he husked.
She flashed him a dimpled smile. “Perhaps.”
He swallowed a growl, his body once again hard and aching. She was going to have a raving lunatic on her hands before this was over.
“Better than nothing.” He motioned toward the hovering saleslady, indicating he wanted one of the sundresses, before steering Cassie toward the khaki shorts and pretty summer tops. “Now, let’s choose a few sensible outfits before we move on.”
Within an hour they had a reasonable pile of clothes for both of them and a bill that would make most men shudder in horror.
Caine, however, didn’t so much as flinch as he gathered the packages and headed out of the store. They had left Missouri with nothing more than the clothes on their backs after Cassie had offered her warning to Laylah. Tonight he intended to enjoy a hot shower, clean clothes, good food, and a soft bed. In that order.
In silence they wandered down the wide passageway, occasionally halting for Cassie to peer into the windows. For the moment, Caine was content to allow her to behave as a normal female. It was all too rare that she was able to put aside the burden of her visions.
And as long as he didn’t detect any danger lurking . . .
His brain closed down as his searching gaze was snared by the sight of lace and ribbons and feminine temptation spread in front of a shop window.
Instinct alone had him herding Cassie through the door and into the hushed atmosphere of the exclusive store.
“What are you doing?” she asked in confusion.
“We did your shopping, now it’s my turn,” he informed her, moving toward a table that held a pile of satin teddies with matching thongs.
Oh . . . hell.
Cassie halted at his side, her expression puzzled. “Here?”
“Absolutely.” Dropping his packages, Caine reached for a scarlet teddy, holding up the fragile garment for her inspection. “What do you think?”
“Tiny.” There was a faint hint of dimples. “I don’t think it will fit you.”
Heat blasted through him at the vivid image of Cassie wearing the lacy lingerie and spread across his bed, that same almost-smile teasing at her lips.
“We’ll take one of each color,” he croaked toward the saleswoman.
“They’re not very practical,” Cassie protested.
“Practical is the last thing you should be when you’re wearing fine lingerie.”
Expecting an argument, Caine was caught off guard when she reached to gently stroke a finger over the shimmering fabric.
“I suppose they will be comfortable to sleep in.”
Caine’s fantasy abruptly altered to reality—a reality in which Cassie slept like a baby in one bed while he tossed and turned in another.
Did he really need to add in a skimpy bit of lace to add to his torture?
“For one of us,” he wryly admitted.
Predictably, she didn’t have a clue why he was suddenly questioning his own sanity. “What?”
He headed toward the discreet sales desk at the back of the store, pulling his wallet from his pocket.
“I’m an idiot.”
Cassie wandered through the casino, watching the humans as they stood mesmerized by the flashing lights and spinning wheels of the slot machines. The air was filled with their tangled emotions—the hope, the greed, the rare jolt of joy, and the far more common desperation.
She was fascinated, even as she was saddened by their frantic attempts to grasp . . . something.
Money? Sex? Happiness?
Without thought, she reached to grab Caine’s hand, needing the steady sense of security he offered. He squeezed her fingers, tugging her closer to his hard body as a group of drunken revelers stumbled past.
“As much as I enjoy civilization, are you going to tell me what we’re doing here?” he murmured, the scent of soap and shampoo from his recent shower doing nothing to disguise the warm, wicked tang of his wolf.
For reasons that Cassie didn’t understand, a rash of excitement prickled over her skin, making her want to strip off her new sundress and rub against the male at her side.
Of course she didn’t give in to the impulse.
She was slowly learning that there were all sorts of stupid rules and regulations that had to be followed when surrounded by mortals. And taking off her clothing seemed to be at the top of the list.
Instead she turned her thoughts to his question, heaving a faint sigh. “I’ll tell you when I know,” she said.
She shrugged. “It is what it is.”
“That doesn’t mean I have to like it,” he muttered with a grimace.
She came to an abrupt halt, turning to meet his rueful expression. Despite the chronic distractions that clouded her mind, she knew that she didn’t always appreciate this man as she should.
Who else would have saved her from a fate worse than death, and then stayed at her side as she had led him from one random place to another, compelled by the visions that consumed her to the point of oblivion?
No one, that was who, a voice whispered in the back of her mind. No one but Caine.
With a frown of concern, Caine reached to cup her cheek in his hand, his warm touch her only anchor to this world. “Cassie?” he prompted.
“I’m sorry,” she said abruptly, her gaze skimming over his lean, finely chiseled features. He truly was a beautiful male with his pale hair shimmering like gold beneath the bright lights and his eyes as brilliant as sapphires. It was no wonder she could smell the desire coming from the numerous women staring at him with hungry eyes. “I haven’t been fair to you.”
His thumb pressed against her lips as he gave a shake of his head. “Don’t.”
She grasped his wrist, tugging his hand from her face. She had to speak now. Who knew how long her brief clarity would last?
“I become . . . lost in my visions and I have never truly stopped to consider what you’ve sacrificed to keep me safe.” Her fingers absently caressed the skin of his inner wrist, feeling the leap of his pulse at her soft touch. “Without you . . .”
His eyes darkened with a heat that Cassie felt to the tips of her toes.
“This isn’t necessary,” he growled.
Distantly she could hear the clanging noise of the machines and the deafening buzz of a hundred conversations, but in this moment she was aware of nothing beyond the man standing in front of her and the steady sapphire gaze that a woman could drown in.
“No, let me say this,” she pleaded.
His lips tightened, but he was smarter than the average Were. He knew better than to try and halt a determined female. “Okay.”
“For as long as I can remember I’ve been a prisoner.” She shivered, battling back the grim memory of the past thirty years. “I was not only held hostage by the demon lord, but also my knowledge that I could never survive on my own.”
He didn’t bother to protest. They both knew that she wouldn’t last a day without him. “That’s something you’re never going to have to worry about,” he gruffly promised.
She stepped closer, the sizzling power of his wolf calling to her most primitive instincts. Although she couldn’t shift, her beast still crawled beneath her skin, relishing the delectable male who had earned her trust. Something she would never have believed possible just a few weeks ago.
“If it wasn’t for you I would still be in that cave.”
“Don’t make me into a hero, Cassie.” He scowled. “We both know I started out as the villain of the piece.”
Her lips twitched. She might not be worldly, but she knew that Caine was far more comfortable with his bad-boy image. And from what he’d confessed, he deserved the reputation.
But as far as she was concerned, he’d always be her champion.
“If you were a villain, then you wouldn’t be here with me,” she pointed out softly.
He snorted, running a searing gaze down her slender curves shown to advantage by the dress. “Have you looked in the mirror?” he demanded. “There isn’t a red-blooded male who wouldn’t kill to share a hotel room with you.”
She ignored his ridiculous words, tilting her head to study him with a curious gaze. “Why do you stay?”
“I just told you.”
Her fingers tightened on his wrist, annoyed by his flippant tone. “I’m unfamiliar with the world, but I’m not stupid, Caine.”
He arched a golden brow. “I never thought you were.”
“I’ve seen how the females watch you.”
“Really?” Something dark and predatory flashed through his eyes. “And how’s that?”
She glanced toward the gaggle of women who pretended to watch the roulette table while they were sneaking looks of longing in Caine’s direction. For no reason at all, she felt the sudden urge to bare her teeth at them. Or maybe she would yank out a few handfuls of their overbleached hair.
“They would be eager to share their bodies with you,” sh. . .
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