New, deadly enemies of the Vampire Huntress join forces with the old in the battle that will lead to the Armageddon in The Wicked, the eighth installment in L. A. Banks's hot Vampire Huntress series
Damali and Carlos have finally tied the knot, but there is no happily ever after on the horizon.
Cain, the son of Eve and the new chairman of the Vampire Council, is amassing an army of creatures like no one has ever seen before. But while a band of human scientists are conducting secret experiments, they open the dimension that holds Cain and release him into the human world, bigger and badder than ever.
Her family slaughtered, Damali heads for hell to serve justice and faces off with a nemisis the likes of which she has never encountered. Carlos doesn't take his wife's disappearance lightly and races against time to get Damali back...only to learn that his wife might be pregnant. The question: is the child his or the Chairman's?
Release date: February 6, 2007
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 400
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L. A. Banks
La Paz, Mexico
Total contentment wafted through Carlos as he sat on a kitchen stool in their honeymoon villa, watching Damali bop around the kitchen. He leaned on his elbows on the wide butcher-block island and smiled. She looked so thoroughly happy and so in her element, buzzing around trying to fix their last private supper, he could only shake his head.
The last of the sun was bringing gold and rose-orange light in with the beach breeze from the decks and open windows, dappling the white rooms and Damali's beautiful brown skin. This was sanctuary; the Light had provided a few hallowed days of drama cease-fire and obligation so he could enjoy his new wife. It was a time that he thought would only happen when Hell froze over. Jesus.
He silently wondered what their life together would be like with children. After the way they'd been at it for four glorious days and nights, the result was imminent. He smiled and briefly closed his eyes just thinking about it.
Oh, yeah, this was a very personal gift from On High. He'd be reverent forever. The way Damali flitted from the counter to the refrigerator to the stove almost choked him up—the sight of it filled him up so. One day her belly would be heavy and loaded with a life they'd created. One day there would be a tiny little face with big brown eyes watching them tease each other and laugh. . . . He just wondered if what they'd make would have fangs or wings or both. He didn't care, as long as he'd made it with her. God apparently did answer prayers.
Pineapple and papaya that he was supposed to be peeling sat waiting for him, but try as he might, he couldn't focus on the fruit while he gazed at her. He was just glad that they were on the same wavelength about not wanting to go out for this last honeymoon meal together. Going back to their waiting Guardian team that was family had definitely lost its appeal, too. Although kidnapping her or stopping time to keep life at bay wasn't an option, there was something so private and so profoundly peaceful about this time that he'd tuck it away to savor it beyond the grave. He loved her. Period. End of story.
"You don't have to do this, you know," he finally said in a pleasant, mellow tone, just loving the way her white tank top fit her and the way her sheer white sarong hung low on her hips. He watched her unfettered breasts bounce as she moved. He wondered if she had on underwear. There was no visible line of a barrier, and the mystery of it all added to the excitement of watching her work. Did life get any better than this?
"I know," she said in a cheerful voice, seeming oblivious to his thoughts; then she stopped to kiss the bridge of his nose across the counter dividing them and went back to her disorganized puttering.
"But you're a vegetarian—you don't even eat steak." He laughed and poured them both another glass of merlot as a diversion, to give his hands something to do, rather than grabbing her.
"So? I know how to cook one, though."
Carlos raised an eyebrow. "Uh . . . you don't really have to cook it all that much for me . . . just a flash on both sides, and—"
"Yeah, yeah, I know . . . leave it running blood." Damali sucked her teeth. "I still don't see how you can go there with beef, but I'm not gonna start."
They both laughed.
"What can I say?" Carlos ran his tongue over the slight hint of fangs that had begun to crest just from the sound of her voice. "Baby, I don't want anything green on my plate, and you don't have to put a bunch of mushrooms and onions and stuff on the steak," he added in protest when she began making him a side salad. "You do the tabouli and hummus, and pita, and rice and beans and all that . . . just—"
"Carlos," she fussed. "You're still mostly human and need to eat a balanced meal. Vegetables are good for you."
He sighed. "Then go light on the garlic, okay?" His smile widened when she waved her hand at him. "I know all the blood-cleansing properties and what the health food digests say, but truth be told, it still gives me wicked heartburn," he said, laughing hard as she frowned. "Not everything came out of the sunlight straight, and if you smother that steak with that marinade you're concocting, you might as well drag me back to the family house on a livery tonight." He arched an eyebrow again and gave her a sly smile as he began peeling the fruit she'd shoved toward him. "I had other plans . . . but, uh, whatever you fix, I'll eat."
She set the small bowl of marinade down hard and chuckled. "Flash it, two seconds on each side—no salt, no pepper, no nothing?"
"Au naturel works best for me . . . you know that." He glimpsed her from the corner of his eye, and was rewarded by her brilliant smile.
"Fine." She moved to the counter and sipped her wine, keeping the butcher block between them, and then turned back to the stove.
As she moved about, all he could envision was the way her white wings would slowly unfold from her shoulders at the height of making love. Her satiny smooth legs peeked out from the sarong each time she pivoted to get something out of the cabinets or the fridge, and her bare feet sounded like a soft sigh. Thank you, God. . . . She was his wife. He could get used to the institution, for sure.
He burst out laughing as she pulled the steak out of the broiler, lifted it with a fork and a droll expression, then eased it onto a plate—her eyes saying yuck.
"Now do I act like that when I hand you a piece of fruit?" he asked, cutting off a juicy hunk of pineapple and feeding it to her over the counter.
"Fruit doesn't run blood, Carlos."
"Oh, no? Then what's this?" he said, leaning in toward her and kissing the juice off her chin, totally ignoring the steak between them. "The fruit is bleeding . . . just 'cause it's sweet and almost clear doesn't mean it's not—"
"Oh, man! You are ruining pineapple for me forever!" she squealed, wiping her chin with the back of her hand.
"Then come over here and sit down and let me make it up to you. Gimme that terrible image . . . and let me work with it," he said, his laughter becoming a low rumble in his chest. "Sun's going down, too . . . sheeit. I'll make pineapple your passion again before the night's over."
"Eat your dinner," she argued, playfully escaping his grasp but coming to sit beside him on a blond oak stool. "I went to all this trouble, the least you could do is taste it."
"All right, all right," he said resignedly, pulling her into his lap. He kissed her slowly and then looked at her. "I do appreciate everything you've done for me, baby." Closing his eyes, he leaned his forehead against hers. "Bless this food and the one who prepared it. Thank you, God."
They sat that way for a moment, her fingers stroking his hair, bare legs and bare feet touching, arms about each other in a loose embrace.
"I still can't believe we're married," she whispered as her mouth swept his temple. "You're my husband."
"Say it again," he murmured against her ear with his eyes still closed. "I love to hear you say that."
"You're my husband," she whispered and nipped his ear. "You're my sexy . . . wonderful, forever husband," she said against his throat, making his embrace tighter as she dotted each word with a kiss. "My . . . husband," she said over his lips, and then pulled back. "So eat."
He smiled and opened his eyes, then took her mouth hard.
"The steak!" she squealed, laughing as he stood up, toppled the stool, and started walking away from the kitchen with her in his arms.
"Oh . . . the steak?" he said, teasing her. "Oh, yes, the bloody steak." He looked at her, making her shake her head and laugh harder. "Decisions, decisions. My wife, or the steak—the steak, or my wife? Her now and microwaved beef later, or the steak now and her reheated later? I don't know, D . . . what should I do?"
"In four days and nights, you've practically starved me," she groaned, still giggling. "Just let me get a little bite of something," she said, laughing harder as he tilted his head to offer her his throat. "I mean something that I can digest, Carlos. Remember food? I'm hungry."
"Ah . . . the lady says she needs human nourishment for stamina. Okay." He paced back to the kitchen, plopped her down on the counter, and stood in front of their plates, one hand on her thigh.
She swallowed a smile, the possessive move to keep her where he'd set her down not lost on her at all. With a mischievous grin, he began feeding her sections of pita dipped in hummus and seemed to revel in the way she slowly cut his steak and offered him a bite of it on his fork. This was heaven. She loved when he got that devastated expression in his eyes. But he shook his head.
"Why not?" She pouted, disappointed that he wouldn't try the steak, and she looked at him hard then at the cut meat, wondering what was wrong with it.
He smiled wider. "Take it off the silver and feed it to me au naturel . . . use your fingers."
"Oh," she said with a grin.
"Now that's good," he said in a sensual rumble, pulling the juicy meat from her fingers and sucking her index finger and thumb. "Way better. I think I'm developing an allergy to silver."
"Stop lying, man," she said, cutting him another hunk of steak. "Your eyes are glowing silver."
He knew they had to be; his tattoos were burning up.
"Do tell? I wonder why." He took another bite of steak from her graceful fingers and chewed it slowly as he brought her plate over to feed her more of her vegetarian selections. But he almost dropped the plate as she captured his thumb and drew it into her mouth in a pulsing suckle.
"You're starting to sweat silver, too," she said with an impish grin.
"Might go solid gold on you tonight if you keep that up," he said as he kissed between her breasts. "So you better bust a good grub now, 'cause there's no telling how long I'ma keep you hostage in the other room."
"Is that a threat, Mr. Rivera? 'Cause you know I brought my blade."
"It's a promise, Mrs. Rivera," he murmured against her warm shoulder. "Keep messing with me, hear."
"Well since you're talking possible all-out war . . ." she murmured, giving him another piece of steak and allowing a bit of the juice to drip on her thigh.
He looked at the red splatter on her leg, bent slowly to lick it while still looking up at her. "All-out battle—hard down, no negotiating . . . taking no prisoners tonight."
"Do tell?" she said, chuckling low and sensually as he came up to claim her mouth, cresting a hint of fang. "But I have to eat my salad first." She glimpsed him with a teasing smile, grabbed her salad bowl, and ate very slowly, munching the greens casually. "You're not allergic to balsamic vinaigrette dressing, are you?"
"Right about through here, you could take a bath in it, and it wouldn't bother me none." He winked at her as she ate a little faster.
"What just got into you?" she said, smiling through bites. "Like, a minute ago, you were all cool, and then all of a sudden—dang."
"I was watching you from behind," he sheepishly admitted, "and then . . . hey, spontaneous combustion. What can I say?"
She shook her head and kissed him quickly, getting salad dressing on his mouth. "There, at least I feel better knowing you got close to a salad. What am I gonna do with you?"
He pulled back a bit and sipped his wine, smiling, but no longer even interested in the steak. "I have several suggestions about what you can do with me, but the real question is, how are we gonna do this in the family house?" he asked with a smirk, then took another generous sip of wine.
"Very, very quietly . . . sneaky . . . vamp stealth."
He laughed and gave her a sip of wine from his glass. But it was the strangest thing . . . the later it got and the more he stared at her, the more the sudden testosterone rush slammed him. Yes he loved her, always wanted her, but damn, he was feeling something way past desire. And whatever was suddenly blasting through his system had an after-kick to it that was no joke. While Damali hummed and made a funny face at him, he could feel something summoning pure molten silver to his surface, and at the same time, his old days on a throne were calling out his libido at knock-his-head-back levels. Maybe she'd spiked his steak with some Queen's Council aphrodisiac, because he hadn't felt like this since she'd ripened the first time while he was all vamp.
"Don't ignore me by eating steak. You know I'm telling the truth, and we can't be going back to the house hooting and hollering, Carlos—so stop looking at me like that. And it's gonna be tight while we move the team around from place to place, so you'd better get all that out of your system tonight," she said, laughing at his slight scowl.
"Yep, quiet," she said, briefly pressing her fingers to her lips and giggling. "Silent scream."
"Hmmm . . ." For a moment he just stared at her, wondering if he could take her to the point where a climax hit her so hard and fast that no sound would exit her throat. Maybe he'd been going about this all wrong, dragging it out? Carlos tilted his head and pressed one finger to his lips, studying her windpipe, then shook it off, making her laugh harder.
Yeah, it was their last honeymoon night and all, but he had to chill. This didn't make no kinda sense and was quickly about to border on insane, if he tried what was currently running through his head. Midflight she'd freak, and where the hell did that come from anyway? No. He took a deep breath, willed his hands not to tremble or quick-snatch her, and forced a smile. Shit.
Carlos kept his expression neutral and his tone light, but he was two seconds from battle bulking on Damali and wasn't even sure if he could pleasure-infuse the bite, he needed her so badly. If he made love to her in this condition, he knew he might actually hurt her, all fun and games aside. No.
"Vamp stealth only, then, huh? Girl, you know I can roll up on you like pure mist," he said, playing off his discomfort, "but uh, I don't think after I materialize, you're gonna be quiet, regardless."
He'd made her giggle so hard she set down her salad, losing interest in it. "You talk so much trash, Carlos Rivera."
"Husband, Carlos Rivera," he said, correcting her with a brief kiss. "And you love it, 'cause you know I can back it up."
"That ain't no lie," she said, her smile fading as her gaze went down his body with her hands. His skin was starting to swirl with energy colors beneath the coppery, golden tan the sun had kissed on it. She allowed her fingertips to trace down his stone-cut chest over his permanent brand of her fist clutching an Isis blade, and then slowly down his torso, almost willing his nylon black-and-white Oakland Raiders basketball shorts to disappear. When he obliged the thought and dropped his shorts away in one lithe move, she laughed and shook her head. "You need to stop."
"I'm supposed to give my wife what she wants, right?" he said, laughing in pain as he took her mouth.
She came out of the kiss serious and breathless. "You've always given me what I wanted, Carlos—you." Her arms wrapped around his neck as her legs wrapped around his waist. Whatever had set him off like this turned her on to no end. "That's all I ever wanted from you . . . was you."
This time there was no playfulness in her tone, or his kiss. As he stalked through the villa with her in his arms, she could feel his body changing and bulking to near battle proportions. The transformation was slightly unnerving, but she rationalized the fleeting nervousness away as a last-night-alone-throw-down-jones. However, the way he dropped her in the center of the bed and looked down at her like she was dinner, fangs fully crested, she briefly hesitated. Even his tattoo was different. It had gone silver, then gold, and was now white-hot, light, and smoking. She wouldn't even look down at the other one. Did she say silent scream? Probably.
He didn't need to tell her; it was brace herself now or never. Shame on her if she wasn't ready. Seeing that message blazing in his eyes oddly got her there in a heartbeat, though. For the first time since they'd been together, it was obvious that he was in no frame of mind to take his time with slow torture. Her man had immediate plunder in his sights and had started breathing hard without her touching him. Devastating.
"Baby, you all right?" she asked quietly, staring up at solid silver in his eyes that had began to turn gold at the edges of his irises.
He shook his head and then immediately blanketed her, not even waiting for her to pull off her clothes.
Copyright © 2007 by Leslie Esdaile Banks. All rights reserved.
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