Read the first 10 chapters of
Caressed by the Edge of Darkness
(Rulers of Darkness #5)
Hardened by centuries of torture, former blood slave, Gabriel Erhard, is driven by an insatiable need to destroy his enemies. Violence darkens his battered soul, leaving no place for mercy in his world. Gabriel’s only desire is vengeance—until he finds her.
Seized by vampires, bound as a slave, and placed on the auction block, Jordan Culver is instantly entranced by the dangerous male who claims her. Jordan’s new captor vows to set her free, but his haunted gaze burns with savage desire and his wicked kiss makes her crave his touch and...complete surrender.
While Gabriel battles his enemies, he will break every sacred law to achieve his ultimate goal—uniting the Outcast Society and creating a new vampire Clan. But the distracting human with mesmerizing violet eyes jeopardizes his plans. With every soft whisper she evokes his tormented memories, tests his sanity and challenges his every boundary. Can Jordan help him overcome the miseries of his past and find a future with her? Or will he lose what remains of his soul and become a true beast?
“Gabriel, don’t! Shit.”
Gannon’s words barely carried over the gun fire and chaos, but they didn’t stop his king from charging into the fray.
Going for his Glock, Gannon slammed the van door closed. Rounding the vehicle, he pounded his fist along the side. “Get them to the safe house. Silvie will be there. Go!”
Without hesitation or question, the driver sped off, tires screeching. The pungent scent of burnt rubber mingled with the fragrance of sea air, gun powder, blood, and death.
Just another Saturday night, Gannon thought as he sprinted across the cement dock after his friend.
Joining his soldiers, Gabriel Erhard, King of the Tapfer Clan, crashed into battle, armed with only a pair of daggers and a set of throwing stars.
Naturally, Gabriel brought blades to a gun fight. Gannon knew his king and mentor was a Maniac, but he wasn’t sure if he should tag on Homicidal or Suicidal to the beginning of the title. There was one thing for certain, Gabriel was crazed and impossibly graceful as he fought. Slicing, cutting, stabbing, dodging bullets and hurling stars, gliding through the carnage with deadly elegance. He made murder and mayhem beautiful, like a true artist.
Gannon emptied a clip and loaded another as he barreled into the boathouse along with their soldiers. Boras’ guards were retreating, but they had no chance or hope of escape. None would survive, Gabriel’s orders. Not that anyone cared or would dare question their new king. As Clan leader, Gabriel’s word was law.
Gannon snarled as a bullet grazed his right shoulder, ruining his favorite leather jacket.
He fired back, taking down three more of Boras’ lackeys. More bullets whistled past him as he fought to reach Gabriel’s side. With a storm of gunfire surrounding them, Gabriel continued to strike, his gaze fixed on Pavlo who, according to their intel, was the commanding officer of this pack of slave traders.
Pavlo turned, abandoning his men. He ran toward the back of the boathouse. In a blink, Gabriel was in front of the cowardly vampire, blocking his escape. Unleashing an Earth shattering roar that drowned the thunder of the gun fight, Gabriel grabbed Pavlo by the throat. The weaker vampire struggled, scratching at Gabriel’s leather clad hand as he was lifted off his feet.
Silence slowly rolled over the waterfront like fog as the last of their enemies fell. Limbs, weapons, and shell casings scattered the floor of the weathered boathouse.
Gannon reloaded, but didn’t advance. He remained as if stuck in cement boots. The Tapfer soldiers did the same. Gabriel’s demon had joined the party, making their king as volatile as a nuclear missile. Ready to detonate at any moment.
As his current target of frustration, Pavlo was experiencing Gabriel’s violence full force. The commanding officer flew through the air and bounced off the side of an old fishing boat. The sound of cracking bones hissed through the air as Pavlo rolled over bodies, his broken limbs flailed until he tumbled to a stop at Gabriel’s boots.
Gannon wanted to ask if anyone had seen their king move, but he kept his mouth shut.
Gripping a dagger in each hand, Gabriel slammed the blades into Pavlo’s shoulders like meat hooks and hauled him through puddles of blood. The commander’s flesh and muscle tore as he thrashed helpless against Gabriel’s strength and fury.
Kicking open the door labeled “Manager’s Office,” Gabriel threw the vampire inside sending him crashing against the cinder block wall.
Gannon holstered his gun and followed his king. “Find the security room. I want every recording. And take anything you find that could be of value. Plant the bombs, we’ll destroy what’s left,” Gannon instructed the soldiers.
The sound of sirens rang in the distance. Mortals would be here shortly. Gannon hoped Gabriel would be quick with his interrogation. They needed to torch the place and split.
Gannon stepped into the office and closed the door. Gabriel towered over Pavlo, who was now bleeding like a sieve. Gabriel pulled the daggers free, wiped the blood on the guard’s shirt before returning the blades to their sheaths, which were strapped to his forearms and hidden by the sleeves of his tailored black jacket. With gentle fingers, Gabriel drew a photo from his inside, breast pocket. A chill raced down Gannon’s spine. The woman’s image had triggered Gabriel’s savage, relentless rampage and decision to destroy Boras.
He shoved the image in Pavlo’s face. “This female, where is she?”
Gabriel pressed his boot into one of the vampire’s mangled shoulders. “I know she was here.”
Gannon frowned. What made Gabriel believe the woman had been here? There hadn’t been an empty cell when they freed the mortals and when questioned, all the slaves had said they hadn’t seen her. Then again, the guards might not have kept her with the rest of the humans.
He bit back a weary sigh. Gabriel was tipping over the edge of madness and there was nothing Gannon could do to stop him. So, he would join him. He didn’t mind. Shit, he’d follow Gabriel into the Devil’s domain, no questions asked.
Gabriel had been infatuated with Jordan Culver, the mortal woman in question, ever since he’d found her photograph at the first slave warehouse they’d raided. He’d spared no expense to locate her, convinced that she would be Boras’ next victim. Gabriel wanted to protect her and save her from the torment that no doubt awaited her if she fell into their enemy’s hands, but Boras’ men had gotten to her first.
After her abduction, Gabriel snapped. Over the past four months, they’d raided half a dozen slave warehouses, burned nearly every one of Boras’ clubs and attacked the depraved vampire’s allies, dismantling all of their businesses, claiming their territory. Still, they discovered no new information.
“Where is she?” Gabriel commanded.
Pavlo’s voice was a harsh hiss, “Fuck you.”
Gannon rolled his eyes as Gabriel slammed his foot down on the guard’s shoulder again. Pavlo yelped in agony.
“Where is she?” Gabriel roared.
The weaker vampire’s head lolled back. “She was m-moved,” he croaked, choking on blood.
Gannon’s heart jumped with a twinge of hope. He was as desperate as Gabriel to find the woman, but for an entirely different reason. Gabriel wouldn’t admit it, but he wanted the human female. No. Wanted wasn’t a strong enough word. Gabriel craved her. Never had he seen his boss so twisted up over a woman. And there was the little fact that Gabriel had endured the torment to become a Chieftain so that he would have the power and authority to shut down the mortal slave trade for good, a move that ignited a war amongst the Outcast Society.
Gannon took a step forward. “When and to where?”
More blood dripped from Pavlo’s lips as he laughed and shook his head.
“Talk!” Gabriel demanded.
The vampire didn’t answer, earning him a vicious left hook.
Gannon’s fingers twitched for his gun. He wanted to plant a bullet between the bastard’s eyes, but they had to rescue the female. “Share or die. Where is she?”
The guard laughed, spitting blood. “You’ll never find her.” Then the corners of his mouth lifted with a taunting smile. Gannon whispered a curse and stepped back.
“Wrong answer,” Gabriel rasped past his fangs as a blade dropped from its sheath into his palm. With an effortless swipe, he decapitated the commanding officer. Blood spouted like a fountain, and Gannon took another step back. He inwardly groaned. Oh, shit.
She was here and they’ve taken her from me!
It sank into Gabriel’s bones, invaded his heart, and threatened to obliterate what remained of his soul. The sensation was nothing new. It had been his constant companion of late, drawing his demon to the surface. Fury heated his blood and honed his vision, turning his crystal green eyes obsidian. Red flames sparked within his gaze; his lethal fangs glinted in the darkness. Demonic shadows sharpened the harsh lines of his face.
This was to be a routine raid: infiltrate, rescue the humans, kill the guards, and demolish the building. He hadn’t intended to fight, but as he helped the human’s into the van, Gabriel had caught Jordan’s soft jasmine scent on the breeze. The light fragrance whispered to him, summoned the darkness within him. His demon uncontrollable, Gabriel drew his daggers and charged into battle. Slicing through his enemies with cold, calculating precision, consumed with the need to find her, free her. To have her.
Gabriel stroked the pad of his leather covered thumb over her photo before he tucked it safely away, restoring the image to its resting place over his heart. The delicate paper settled and pressed against his slave brand, the sensation intensifying his anger.
Gannon’s shoulders quaked with an exasperated sigh, “Pavlo must’ve been lying.”
Normally, Gabriel would agree but—he took in a deep breath—he could smell her. The scent was faint, but he knew she’d been here, in this very room, locked away. Kept from the general population.
Like he had been.
As a mortal man, the Madame had feared exposing him to other humans that possibly carried disease, worried that he may develop attachments to others, finding loyalty, developing relationships and hope.
Alone. He’d always been alone. Until the Madame came to him…until she changed him…until humans had been brought to him…locked in the cell with him…
Gabriel’s fury erupted, the memories fueling his rage. He lashed out. Wooden desks and chairs disintegrated as they collided with the cinder block wall. Shreds of paper cascaded through the air like confetti as he tore apart filing cabinets. Finally, with nothing more to destroy, Gabriel unleashed an unholy roar, shattering the windows. Glass exploded, shards shot out like shrapnel. Pieces landed on the tips of Gannon’s boots and tore at Gabriel’s jacket.
Gannon remained silent and unmoving.
Gabriel’s wide shoulders shook as he struggled to suck in calming breaths. Air hissed past his fangs. Closing his eyes, he focused on the soothing sounds of the night and the ocean. Waves softly broke against the rocks below the windows. The salted air mixed with the sweet scent of jasmine, burning his heaving lungs. Oh, how he loved it. The darkness within him cherished the torment her scent inflicted upon him.
“God damn it!” Gabriel rasped. He was going mad.
Gannon muttered a tired curse of his own. “We’ve had our eye on this place for days. If the girl had been here, we’d have known.”
“Her scent,” Gabriel whispered, briefly closing his eyes as he inhaled her soft fragrance again. “It is light, but I’ve no doubt she was here.” He could feel it in his bones.
“The men are collecting the security tapes as we speak, but…Shit, man.” Gannon rubbed the back of his neck, his gaze dropped to the floor. “We’ve been searching for the girl for months and nothing has turned up. I hate to say this, but don’t you think it’s time you let her go?”
Gabriel scoffed. Did Gannon really think he hadn’t tried to forget about the mortal female? He hated how she plagued his thoughts, ignited his need, his hunger, his rage. She was a rare beauty, tempting beyond imagination, but obsessing over her was insanity at its finest. As the days had turned into weeks and weeks became months, he knew only by divine grace would he find her alive. He’d prayed to any deity that would listen to grant her a quick, painless death. And despite how futile it was, every raid, every attack on Boras’ territory, every reconnaissance mission, he allowed himself to hope, like a dumb bastard, that they’d find her. That he would be able to take her in his arms and release her from the hell she endured. Yet, every attempt produced empty results and the guilt had devoured him, the sorrow haunted him, and self-loathing settled even more deeply into his soul. He’d failed to protect her, just as he’d failed his tribe and wife all those centuries ago.
But Jordan is alive. She was here.
His hand flattened over his chest, his palm pressing against Jordan’s photo.
Gannon lifted his gaze, paused on Gabriel’s hand, and then met his king’s harsh stare. “I want to find the girl too, but we’ve been chasing a ghost. You’ve tried harder and much longer than anyone else ever would. There’s only so much you can do.”
“She resided on my territory, Gannon. She was one of my subjects. Boras had no right to enter my domain without permission let alone take what belongs to me,” Gabriel harshly explained.
The Outcast Society didn’t adhere to vampire law set forth by the Clans, but they did live by a straight code and Boras’ transgression demanded war.
Raiding the waterfront had been a tactical move, another nail in his enemy’s coffin. The boathouse had been a waystation for Boras’ slave trade, a place to hold his inventory until he could arrange an auction. The vampire relied on his sales to fund his businesses and support his meager army. Gabriel was systematically destroying him by freeing his slaves, burning every club and property Boras owned. Even the twisted vampire’s allies were abandoning him. Defecting, they came to Gabriel. Some pledged their never ending loyalty to the first Chieftain of the Outcast Society while others begged him for mercy. He had none.
“I understand. His blatant disregard for the code and disrespect for your territory must be dealt with.” Gannon took a deep breath as if summoning the courage to proceed. “I also understand the need to end the slave trade, but, fuck, you’ve started a new Clan and a war.”
“I did what was necessary.”
The Outcasts Society needed to be united. They needed order, law, and protection from cruel, corrupted vampires such as Boras, who would use them, and the Red Order witches that would hunt them to extinction. Gabriel knew creating a Clan and becoming King was the only way to gain enough power, authority, respect, and support to accomplish his goals: destroy Boras and his like, outlaw human slavery, unite, bring peace and honor to the Outcasts. He’d do all within his power to elevate the Tapfer Clan to the level of the old Clans.
“Ever since you found her picture in that empty cell, you’ve been infatuated with her,” Gannon continued. “Hell, you purchased a record label after you learned she was a gifted singer and even flew to Denver yourself to sign her.”
Gabriel’s anger kindled and he snapped, “Say it, Gannon.” He knew where this conversation was headed. Gannon had remained silent for far too long regarding his obsession with the girl.
Gannon released a string of curses. He scrubbed his face with his hands then met Gabriel’s gaze once more. “I’m worried about you, man. It’s as if she has you under some kind of spell. You’ve been miserable and I can’t stand watching you torment yourself over her.”
“And?” Gabriel insisted when Gannon fell abruptly silent.
Gannon sighed. “In the 150 plus years I’ve known you you’ve hated humans.”
Gabriel’s hands curled into fists at his sides. Yes, it was no secret he loathed mortals. They were selfish, greedy, petty, weak creatures. Torturing himself over an insignificant human was beneath him, it didn’t make sense. They were fleeting beings, never worth developing an attachment to. He’d spent too much time, energy, and man power hunting her. Why? He didn’t know her. He owed her nothing. She was just like any other nameless mortal.
Focusing on his mission—destroying his enemies—was paramount. Running Boras to ground, uniting and strengthening the Outcasts and building his Clan had to come first.
Even if he did find Jordan, there was no telling what condition she’d be in. Humans were fragile and Jordan was small, delicate. He’d seen countless mortals like her who’d been taken from the realm of light and imprisoned in the darkness. Beautiful females were repeatedly raped and bled to the point of death until their souls perished, leaving them hollow vessels—a twisted vampire’s favorite play thing. Jordan’s fate would be no different, unless he found her.
Mine, the vampire within him snarled.
His demon side had never craved a specific female. Hell, it couldn’t care less if he ever took a woman to his bed. It existed only for blood and death. But it wanted her.
Gabriel shook his head, confused by the driving, desperate need to hold her. To lose himself in her bright violet eyes. To be entranced by her angelic voice and hypnotized by her dance. To feel her. To possess her. Claim her.
He massaged his temples, a pathetic attempt at trying to ease some of the tension that coiled within him.
For fuck’s sake.
Gabriel didn’t know how to respond to Gannon. He knew he couldn’t leave her to her fate and he loathed to acknowledge her situation was alarmingly similar to his own. But, she was mortal, and he cared nothing for their ilk. He used them, taking advantage of their repulsive nature. From around the globe they flocked to his city, Las Vegas, where he preyed on their sins. None were innocent, but…Jordan’s vibrant eyes had been honest, her words true, and despite her past, she was kindhearted. Someone like her didn’t stand a chance in the slave trade.
Gabriel imagined Jordan locked in a cell, shackles cutting into her delicate flesh, her battered body trembling. He cringed thinking of her chained naked to a male’s bed. Her beautiful face streaked with tears, her limbs covered with dark bruises from greedy hands. Her neck and wrists gnawed raw by jagged fangs. He knew her cries of pain would be ignored and her pleas for mercy would be mocked. After four months, there was likely nothing left of her.
Gabriel silently begged the Graces yet again for Jordan to be a fighter. Only a warrior could survive such torment.
You’ll never find her. Pavlo’s words drifted through his thoughts.
Gabriel cursed. “I need to do this.”
Gannon nodded and Gabriel was relieved his friend accepted his answer. He couldn’t explain, there were no words that could describe the unbearable ache that constricted his chest and heated his blood every time he thought of her.
“We should head out,” Gannon suggested after a long silence.
Dawn was quickly approaching. Gabriel should be pleased their raid had been successful. They’d dealt Boras yet another blow, but the victory was hollow.
“Come on, man, we need to get out of here. The mortals are getting too close for comfort,” Gannon stressed, referencing the sirens that were drawing near.
Gabriel nodded and turned toward the exit. The instant his frame moved from the moonlight, the room brightened. Pavlo’s blood gleamed beneath the shimmering rays, the pool of crimson soaking the discarded papers. A single, plain post card caught his attention. Something tugged at the edge of his memory, drawing him forward. Gabriel knelt, brushed aside slivers of wood and glass shards to grab the card. Despite being removed from the blood, the stain continued to spread, revealing elegantly scrolled letters.
Gabriel’s heart slammed to a stop, the air in his lungs painfully punched out as his brain struggled to process what he’d found. Stunned, he traced the numbers and words with trembling fingers. He hadn’t seen an invitation like this since his time spent as a slave. It was an ancient trick to conceal messages, a paper specially treated to share its secrets only when smeared with vampire blood.
“Find something good?” Gannon asked.
Gabriel stood motionless. The Graces had finally shone their light of fortune upon him.
Unbelievable. He shuddered. He had been about to leave and burn the boathouse to the ground. God, the thought twisted his gut. This card was the key to finding her and he’d almost destroyed it. He’d almost lost Jordan forever.
Gabriel turned the card in his hand to show Gannon the slowly fading words as the blood began to disappear.
Gannon frowned. “What the hell is that?”
The corners of Gabriel’s lips slowly lifted into a smile. “An invitation.” He tucked the once again blank, pristine white card into his pocket with Jordan’s photo.
“An invite?” Gannon arched a brow and chuckled, “Our presence has been formally requested?”
“Tomorrow next, Boras’ head Slave Handler, Ross Klein, will be holding an auction on Mukwa territory where, and I quote, ‘an exotic, burgundy haired beauty with striking eyes will be the featured prize.’ What do you think,” Gabriel cracked his leather-clad knuckles, “should we crash their party?”
Gannon chuckled again. “I think we must. After all, we were invited and it would be rude not to attend.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Gabriel agreed as he removed the dagger strapped to his thigh. Pressing a hidden button with his thumb, a pen sized bomb ejected from the blade’s hilt. Gabriel tossed it to the corner of the office then replaced the dagger. “Time to go.”
Gannon followed his king; together they joined the soldiers and climbed into the awaiting blacked out SUVs.
Gabriel nodded at his explosives expert. Instantly, the building fell. Wood planks shot out in every direction. Destroyed. The boom obliterated the stillness of the waterfront.
A dangerous calm settled over him as they drove away, leaving the former slave house engulfed in flames. The invitation had revealed much more than just a time, date and location for the next slave auction. It exposed Boras’ secret. The card was the vampire’s death certificate.
Destroy, the demon gleefully hissed.
Yes, Gabriel would take tremendous pleasure in destroying his enemy and all of his allies.
He absently brushed his hand over his chest, his fingers skipping past the slave brand on his left pectoral before tracing the outline of the invitation and the edge of Jordan’s photo.
He’d have her. In less than forty-eight hours, she’d be his. Gabriel’s eyes darkened, and the tips of his fangs sharpened; excited anticipation charged his body.
The vampire within him growled low, Mine.
Silvie knelt beside the last cot situated in the back corner of the room. Her dark hair fell across her shoulders as she reached out and gently placed her palm on the frightened; young woman’s brow. “You’re safe here,” Silvie whispered.
The girl nervously swallowed then nodded. Silvie drew the blanket up to her chin and smiled. “Sleep now and dream happily.” Her soft, lulling voice disguised the magical command, and the young woman’s eyes slowly drifted closed.
Silvie would see to it the girl remembered nothing of her capture or captivity. She would remove her memories, just as she had with the other mortals rescued from the slave trade this night.
A golden, shimmering light began to radiate from Silvie’s hand as she used her gift to shift through the girl’s mind. Erasing the terror was easy, constructing new memories to explain and fill in the gap of days, weeks and, in some cases, months was the tricky part. She searched the young woman’s mind for a reason she might have suddenly left home without a word to family or friends. Fortunately, the girl had an ex-boyfriend Silvie could pin it on.
After fabricating the new memories, she settled the woman into a deep, healing sleep, as she had with the others.
Silvie straightened her spine and drew trembling fingers through her own hair, pulling it up and away from her face. Using a little magic, she tied it up into a messy bun atop her head.
This had been a long night. No, scratch that. It had been a long four months. She’d done everything within her power to help the new Tapfer Clan. She was exhausted. Drained. She needed to rest, to replenish her magic, but she didn’t have time. Everything was happening so fast. She wished the world would stop spinning long enough for her to catch her breath and gain her bearings.
Her shoulders sank as she released a heavy sigh.
“High Priestess,” Kate whispered from behind her.
Silvie turned to face her childhood friend and fellow Shaw witch. “They’re all sleeping.”
Kate glanced around the cot filled room, the humans peacefully dreaming, their minds and bodies recovering. Tomorrow, they would wake with no recollection of their internment or the fanged demons that tormented them and be free to return to the realm of light that belonged to the mortals.
“You’ve done amazing work, my lady,” Kate praised.
Silvie pushed herself to her feet. “We should go downstairs, the soldiers will return any minute. Some may need medical attention.”
Kate gave a determined nod and hurried from the room.
Silvie took in a deep breath, steeling herself for Gannon’s arrival. Despite her efforts to ignore her attraction to the handsome vampire, being near him always put her on edge. Ever since they met over half a year ago at Sire Dimitri and Queen Kerstyn’s wedding, Silvie had battled the dangerous emotions he invoked within her. Living with his Clan the last four months had only drawn them closer together. They’d spent hours talking and laughing, savoring every moment of quiet and peace between the war and destruction that surrounded them. She’d fallen hard for the vampire, but love was a luxury she couldn’t indulge. Yet, his sandalwood scent, hazel gaze, and seductive smile made her heart pound while his carefree charm and undying loyalty made her soul long for something that could never be.
As a Shaw Priestess, she would remain chaste, and as the niece of the tribe’s Shaman, her fate and future had already been decided. But the knowledge did nothing to stave off her dreams and fantasies. If things were different, if laws could be rewritten…She was a fool to hope. Everything would play out as it should, and she would be powerless to stop it.
Squaring her shoulders, she turned toward the exit. With a simple thought the door to the temporary infirmary closed gently behind her. The sounds of arriving soldiers filled the downstairs halls. The scent of blood and gun powder assaulted her as she descended into the harried chaos. The vampires disarmed before heading across the hall to be inspected by the Shaw witches for injury. If they needed treatment, they were directed to the kitchen, if not they headed to the garage for debriefing and then to the basement to rest safely away from the sun. Dawn was approaching. Only the older and more powerful vampires possessed the strength to function during daylight hours.
Everything seemed to be under control, but Silvie could feel the underlying sense of urgency rippling through the air. She knew the cause; she’d foreseen the raid and knew what Gabriel would find.
“My lady,” an all too familiar voice called out over the din.
She suppressed a pleasurable shudder and turned to face the vampire of her fantasies. “Good evening, Sir Knight.”
Gannon paused a moment before smiling, “I doubt I’ll ever get used to that.”
“You’re a Black Knight and heir to the Tapfer throne. You’ll grow accustomed to the titles and formality,” she assured him.
He shrugged. “I suppose, but those are two things I never thought would happen. Hell, I guess you can never say never.”
Silvie forced a smile. She and Never were old acquaintances.
“I hope you’re prepared to pay up.” Gannon threw his arms wide. “Look your fill,” he said as he began to slowly spin around.
Silvie unabashedly devoured his six foot two, muscled frame with her gaze. His face was smudged with soot, but the grime did nothing to detract from his classic features. His square hard jaw line, high prominent cheek bones, and smooth tan skin was a beautiful testament to his father’s Cherokee heritage, while his bewitching hazel eyes, thin nose, and pure black hair revealed his mother’s Shaw decent.
“No bullet wounds. No blood,” he declared. “And it’s time collect.”
She reached forward and poked her finger through the tear at his shoulder. “Your jacket is ruined, none the less,” she teasingly tsked.
“An unfortunate tragedy,” Gannon replied with a nonchalant shrug.
Silvie’s shoulders fell with an exaggerated sigh. “Fine, I concede defeat. You’ll have your chocolate chip cookies.”
“Yes, with M&Ms,” she confirmed.
Gannon pumped his fist in triumph and she forced another smile. She would bake the cookies and someone else would deliver them.
She swallowed the lump of sadness that suddenly formed in her throat. “Well, I was on my way to help Kate with the wounded,” she said, brushing past him.
Gannon frowned and grabbed her wrist. He pulled her into the nearby shadows of the unused dining room. Her skin burned from his touch and she yearned to feel that delicious heat all over her body. Not going to happen, she sternly reminded herself.
Without releasing her, Gannon stepped forward, closing the distance between them. Her breath caught when he licked his lips. She knew he wouldn’t kiss her, but damn, she would love to be kissed by him. Slowly. Deeply. Her knees weakened at the thought and her body swayed toward his. Her breasts brushed his hard chest and even through their clothing she could feel his heat. Gannon steadied her by placing his hands on her shoulders.
“You good?” he asked, his voice a rough whisper.
Silvie blinked in confusion, her mind a haze of repressed romantic desires. Would he wrap his arms around her?
“Are you feeling okay?”
Concern flickered in his eyes. Why concern? Her brain finally shifted back into gear. Because he thinks you almost fainted just now, she chided herself.
“Yeah.” She shook her head. “I’m fine, just a little tired.”
Gannon cupped her face. The tender act made her heart ache. “You should rest. You’ve been working too hard.”
On impulse, Silvie rubbed her cheek against his palm, and he began to stroke his thumbs along the lines of her cheekbones. She wanted to melt against him, to fall into his arms, surrender to his strength and passion. She hated to pull away, knowing this was likely the last time she’d ever feel his touch. Silvie felt the sting of tears fill her eyes as his hands fell to his sides. Casting her gaze to the floor, she hoped he hadn’t seen the sadness cross her face. She swallowed hard and prayed her voice wouldn’t waiver when she spoke. She had to tell him she was leaving. Tonight was the last night she’d be able to lend him and Gabriel aid. Her uncle and, more importantly, her tribe needed her to return. She couldn’t delay anymore.
“Thank you for your kindness,” she whispered, still unable to meet his gaze.
An uncomfortable moment of silence ticked by and then another. Silvie struggled to resist the urge to peer into his thoughts. She rarely used her gift and unskilled as she was with it, he’d be able to sense her presence in his mind.
Finally, as if he made a decision, Gannon released a heavy sigh. “You should head back to Las Vegas with the others,” he said. “Our next mission will be much too dangerous for you. Gabriel and I are only taking our ten best soldiers.”
“Mission?” she absently asked, still dazed.
“Yes. Gabriel believes he’s discovered the whereabouts of an auction house. We’ve already made arrangements with our allies in Minnesota. We’ll have a runway for the jets and a safe house set up. We leave at nightfall. It’ll be a quick turnaround trip.” He paused to glance down the hall and probed their surroundings with his sense. Once satisfied no one would hear his words, he continued, “Gabriel thinks the girl, Jordan, might be at the auction house. For Gabriel’s sake, I hope…” He shook his head. “We’ll return to Las Vegas after the mission.”
Snapping back into action, Silvie exclaimed, “Oh, that’s right.” She’d had a vision of Gabriel and the human girl. Unfortunately, the Fates hadn’t been clear as to whether or not Jordan would survive long enough to be rescued. Her life line was fading quickly.
She raised her gaze. Gannon was studying her now. “You’ve seen something.”
As if on cue, her pupils dilated and constricted, then dilated and shrank again as the images revealed themselves to her once more.
“Anything I should know?” he asked his tone sharp.
“Take heart, knight. The female your King seeks will be there.”
Gannon visibly relaxed, his muscles uncoiling as the tension eased. “Good.”
She gave a nervous smile in response. It was great that Gabriel had finally located the woman, no one deserved such treatment, but Silvie knew what was to come. The “New Area,” as her uncle called it, a new beginning for not just vampires, but for shape-shifters and witches, especially the Shaw Tribe. Their Shaman, the most powerful witch and their tribe leader, was retiring. After innumerable centuries of reincarnation, he would finally join his loved ones in the next place—provided Silvie preformed her duty.
She would. She was determined. She wouldn’t fail him or let her tribe down. She would serve her purpose.
With that thought, Silvie straightened her shoulders and summoned her courage. She was the Shaw High Priestess. She wouldn’t allow her emotions and desires to cloud her judgment or hold her back. It was time to face her destiny.
“I will not be joining the Tapfer Clan in Las Vegas.”
Gannon’s brow creased. “Why?”
Using a glamour spell, she masked her expression with calm indifference. “My uncle, our Shaman, is very ill, and I’ve been summoned by my tribe. I must return. I spoke with your King earlier this evening, before the raid, and explained everything. Unfortunately, I will be unable to help with the woman you speak of or her memories.”
“How long will you be gone?”
His earnest tone tugged at Silvie’s heart, but her magic concealed her sadness. “It is unclear, but Kate will stay with your Clan as long as she is able.”
Kate was a young priestess. She studied vigorously and had made magnificent strides, but her skills were limited. She didn’t possess power over the mind, though, in the young witch’s defense, only a handful of Shaw ever developed that gift. Kate could help with the wounded, make potions, and provide incantations. She was an asset the Tapfer Clan appreciated.
“Do you anticipate being sequestered?” Gannon asked.
“Yes.” Silvie saw no reason not to be honest with the vampire. “When the ceremony begins, Kate will have to return to the tribe. All Shaw Priestesses must participate.”
The Sequester was an ancient tradition. The Shaman and the tribe’s Priestesses would enter the Shaw Temple and stay until the Shaman was reborn. But this time, the Shaman would not be reincarnated. His magic and memories would transfer to Silvie.
She cringed, imagining the madness she would soon endure. She prayed she would be strong enough to wrest control of the magic and knowledge gifted to her. A tremor of fear rattled her bones. Nothing like plunging directly into the deep end, she thought.
“When are you leaving?”
“Tonight, after I see to the soldiers.”
Gannon’s jaw clenched. “I see.”
“Your Clan has honored me the last four months with your open acceptance of my Tribe’s aid. The Shaw and Tapfer alliance is new, but strong. And your hospitality‒”
He shook his head, “Stop.” The word a whispered command. “You don’t have to be diplomatic with me. Just be yourself.”
Silvie blinked in surprise then dropped her gaze once more.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “Is something wrong?”
Had Gannon sensed her trepidation despite her spell? “Everything is how it should be,” Silvie replied. “As the High Priestess, it is my duty—”
His low growl vibrated the shadows surrounding them as Gannon crowded her, trapping her. His hands braced against the wall on either side of her shoulders. “My mother was a Shaw witch. I know the rules.”
Silvie took in a deep breath, settling her rising nerves and excitement. Her glamor remained steady. “Then you know I must take my leave,” she snapped, her voice fringed with annoyance.
He leaned in closer and she balled her fists at her sides to prevent herself from grabbing his leather jacket and pulling him against her.
Gannon’s lips twitched with a smile. “I also know there’s something you’re not telling me and that’s fine. I understand. Just know if you’re in trouble or need help with anything, you can call me. If you need a place to crash, you don’t have to ask.”
“You have to know. These last four months have been the most exciting and impactful of my life. It’s not because Gabriel has formed a new Clan. It’s not because I’m a blood-bastard, outcast turned Black Knight and King’s Second. It’s because of you.”
“You shouldn’t say things like that,” she whispered, still unable to catch her breath.
“Why not?” he challenged. “It’s the truth.”
Silvie inwardly groaned. She wanted to tell him the last few months had meant nothing to her, that she didn’t have feelings for him. But she couldn’t force the words past her lips. She couldn’t lie to him.
“The time we’ve spent together has been special and I will cherish the memories. But it’s time I return to my Tribe.”
Lightly gripping her chin, Gannon titled her face up. His eyes burned with longing. No man had ever looked at her with such need. It made her pulse skip, her body heat, and—sweet heaven—she wished she weren’t a priestess. Silvie’s spell shattered, revealing her desire, her need, and her dark gaze silently begged him to touch her.
“Forget about the bet and the cookies, but remember what I said, Silvie. If you need anything, I’m here.”
Gannon softly brushed her lips with his, stifling her protest. Her breath froze in her lungs as a fire storm swept through her. His mouth was warm, his kiss firm and…it was over too quickly. He took a step back. Then another. The distance chilled her to the core.
He drew in an unsteady breath and exhaled slowly. Need radiated from him. His eyes had turned black, his fangs extended, and his body vibrated with chained desire. The vampire wanted her as much as she wanted him. And like her, he was struggling to hold back.
Gannon closed his eyes and shook his head hard. When he met her gaze again, all signs of his demon had vanished. Hard hazel eyes bore into her and his voice was even, calm. “On behalf of the Tapfer Clan, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Shaw Tribe. We will be forever grateful for the Shaw’s willingness to aid our cause. Your services in particular, High Priestess, will be missed. Take care during your travels and, please, extend our well wishes to your Shaman.”
Silvie choked on all the words she wanted to say as she watched Gannon turn down the hall to join the soldiers.
Gabriel’s growl made the room tremble. His fangs sharpened. His eyes were consumed by pure darkness as he watched the boathouse’s security footage. Malice rolled off him in waves. Wrath thickened the air.
Jordan had been at the slave house that night.
If he and his men had arrived only minutes sooner, she’d be in his arms now.
Instead, he was left to study the video of her incarceration. According to the time stamp, Jordan had been kept at the boathouse for two days. She’d been chained to the radiator in the Manager’s Office. The guards fed her crumbs and only gave her sips of water. Gabriel was relieved the vampires had paid her little attention. He wouldn’t be able to handle seeing her beaten…or worse.
Using what little strength she had, Jordan fought the vampires when they came for her tonight. She kicked and swung her fists as they carried her from the office and out to a small row boat. They’d bound her wrists with rope and used a bandana as a gag while they loaded her into the feeble vessel along with a handful of other captive humans. Black cloth bags were placed on all of their heads, but Jordan continued to struggle. Pride welled within his chest when she head-butted one vampire, sending him crashing into the water.
Gabriel saw his convoy arrive an instant later. He watched his soldiers infiltrate the boathouse and usher the remaining slaves to the safety of the awaiting vans. He’d been questioning the mortals when he caught her scent.
The breeze had carried her soft jasmine perfume. The tantalizing aroma ignited his rage and sparked his need, sending him over the edge. He saw himself turn, his beast unleashed. He barreled into battle, blades drawn.
In the far corner of the video’s frame, he watched Jordan. Her hair violently whipped on the wind as she wrestled the guards until finally the sack was placed over her head and then…she was gone. The boat escaped across the bay. Taking her from him.
Had Boras planned on moving his more valuable inventory tonight or had he been rushed into action after learning Gabriel’s soldiers had discovered the boathouse?
It didn’t matter, just so long as Boras didn’t cancel the auction for the following night. Gabriel knew it was likely his last chance to rescue Jordan before she was sold to only the Graces knew who.
After watching the video for the seventh time, Gabriel slammed the laptop closed. Barely resisting the urge to throw the computer across the room, he bit out a series of curses. Every viewing intensified his wrath and heightened the conflicting, roiling emotions within him.
He hated feeling.
Cold. Distant. He was a heartless bastard. And he liked it. He knew no other way to be. Detachment equaled survival. Emotions equaled weakness.
So why did he care what happened to the little mortal? Human slavery amongst the Outcast Society was common, the tradition that’d been kept for ages. He’d never permitted the practice within his territory, but a number of his allies kept bleeders. The mortals were willing to share their blood in exchange for pleasure, riches, and security. Gabriel intended to allow the custom of free bleeders to continue after he united the Outcasts. Not every vampire preferred to feed from a bag like he did.
In his opinion, blood banks were one of the human’s greatest institutions.
“Fuck,” he snarled when he noticed he’d been stroking her photo through the material of his jacket.
Gabriel’s gaze flickered to the fire in the small hearth; its flames jumped as they rapaciously devoured the wood. He should burn the goddamn picture and forget about the mortal.
Muttering another heated oath, he shoved to his feet and stalked to his duffle bag. He tore open the zipper and pulled out the glass flask of Silver Moon. Taking a swig of the glowing liquor, he savored the burn.
He’d tried to destroy her photo. He’d held it over greedy fames numerous times…but he could never bring himself to let it go. How could he destroy something so beautiful? If he burned the picture, if he forgot about her, he’d destroy a truly gorgeous soul and that didn’t sit well with his conscience.
Despite losing all those she’d loved, being passed through the system, alternating between living on the street and in foster homes, Jordan retained her kind heart and gentle manner. She’d never had anyone to protect her, to shield her from the horrors of the world, and now, she was in Hell. Gabriel refused to leave her there.
He took another drink, then slipped his hand into his breast pocket and removed the photo.
His breath hitched in his chest, as it did every time he gazed at the picture. Jordan was looking over her shoulder, brushing aside her long, dark cherry red hair. Her violet eyes were electric. Glowing. Radiant. But, damn, the image didn’t even come close to presenting or preserving her true beauty.
The night they’d met, he’d been struck. Gabriel had dragged Gannon to Denver to see her perform. Their reconnaissance had discovered Jordan was an amazing singer. The plan: approach her with a record deal and take her back to Las Vegas with them. Never could he have anticipated the affect she’d have on him.
Closing his eyes, Gabriel surrendered to the memory of that night. Jordan had been mesmerizing and impeccably graceful. She’d held the audience enthralled, Gabriel included, as she sang and swayed to the music. He’d been in awe, utterly speechless as he’d watched her. So completely consumed by her performance he hadn’t noticed Boras’ lackeys lurking in the shadows of the bar.
After the show, Gabriel joined her backstage. Her eyes were warm yet sharp as she studied him—the record executive looking for a rock opera singer. Not wanting to intimidate her, he’d given her his business card and asked that she contact him. As he turned to leave, Jordan had reached out and grabbed his hand. The touch had been innocent, but it ignited his lust. She’d felt the electricity spark between them. Her luscious jasmine scent laced with desire, and it took every ounce of Gabriel’s self-control to keep from shoving her against the wall and shamelessly claiming her then and there for all to see. For a moment, he hadn’t cared that she was mortal, that she was so easily breakable. He’d wanted her.
Gabriel opened his eyes and tucked the picture back in his pocket.
He’d ignored his insane reaction to her and gone back to wait with Gannon. He should’ve stayed in the hall while she collected her things from the dressing room. He should’ve escorted her to her car. But he hadn’t done either and Boras’ men had taken her. Just like tonight at the boathouse.
If only I’d arrived sooner. The words played again and again, a never-ending loop through his mind.
“God damn it.”
Gabriel tossed back the flask and took a long draw. He wiped the back of his hand over his mouth and replaced the cap. He needed to clear his head and drinking wasn’t going to help, though it did wonders taking the edge off. His muscles relaxed and his irritating emotions had blissfully faded. He took mental inventory—analytical, cold, controlled—perfect. Focused. Normal.
A knock sounded on the study door and was quickly followed by Gannon’s voice, “My king?”
“Enter,” Gabriel called to his Second.
Gannon stepped in and closed the door behind him. Gabriel noticed the hard lines of worry and disappointment that streaked the younger vampire’s face.
“You’ve spoken with the High Priestess,” Gabriel observed.
Gannon silently responded with a curt nod.
Gabriel walked back to his desk and reclaimed his seat. “Her departure is sudden, but not unexpected. The Shaman has been ill for some time.” When Gannon remained quiet, Gabriel’s gaze dropped to his friend’s hands. Changing the subject, he asked, “Is that the map I requested?”
“Yes. Cooper’s territory boarders the Mukwa Tribe’s.” Gannon unfolded the map and handed it to his king.
“Has he responded to our request?”
“Cooper has agreed to allow us use of his land. Here,” Gannon pointed to an X, “is where we’ll land and keep the jets. There is an empty cabin at the edge of the clearing we may use as a base. He said the border is roughly thirty minutes from the landing site. All-terrain vehicles will be awaiting us.”
Gabriel reviewed the map. Gannon had circled the location of the auction house. A small lake separated Cooper’s territory from the shifter’s.
“Have you selected the soldiers accompanying us?”
Gannon nodded and listed off the ten vampires he’d chosen.
“Did you make it clear that there is to be no killing on shifter territory?”
The shifter packs remained neutral while the vampire factions battled for dominance. Spilling blood on their property was to incite war.
“They are aware,” he stated. “I’ve spoken with the pilots; the jets will be prepared and ready to depart at sunset.”
“Good.” Gabriel leaned back in his chair. “I’ve asked the doctor to join us,” he said, referring to the newest member of their Clan. Scott Fredrick had been a surgeon and hunter until he was changed by a nameless vampire twelve years ago. He’d heard of Gabriel’s mission and vowed his fealty. “Scott’s expertise might be of use.”
Gabriel knew Jordan suffered from malnutrition and dehydration, but the security footage provided no other information. There was no telling what kind of injuries she might have sustained.
“What of Kate?” Gannon asked. “If the surgeon isn’t able to help, we could use a Shaw witch.”
“She is a gifted healer, but her defense and attack abilities are lacking. This mission will be too dangerous to have her tagging along. She’ll return to Las Vegas with the soldiers.”
Kate’s skills were impressive for one so young, but her magic couldn’t compare to the High Priestess. And Silvie wouldn’t be in Vegas awaiting them. She wouldn’t be available to assist Jordan and scrub her memories. A conundrum Gabriel would have to work out later. Right now, he needed to refine his plan to slip in and out of the enemy camp undetected. Zero bloodshed seemed impossible. Rescuing Jordan, an unattainable dream.
“Kate can help us,” Gabriel mused.
“A changeling potion.” Boras would never see him coming. “Before retiring for the day, will you place the order? We’ll need enough for two people.”
Gannon’s brow furrowed. “Only two?”
“You and I will enter the auction house, to not raise suspicion. Traditionally, there is a viewing room where perspective bidders can get a glimpse of the merchandise before they’re placed on the block. The woman should be there.”
“And if not?”
She better be there, Gabriel finished to himself. If not…No, he wouldn’t entertain the possibility. “We’ll leave.”
“Do you plan to bid on her or is this going to be a smash and grab mission?” Gannon inquired.
“To keep the peace, I’ll bid.” Gabriel gritted his teeth, hating the words. When he’d gained his freedom, he’d vowed never to participate in the foul slave trade in any capacity. Now, he didn’t have a choice. He’d pay anything to have the woman. The realization was jarring. “I’ll win.”
“What if things go south?”
“While I’m viewing the stock I want you to case the place.”
Gannon nodded. He’d do the usual sweep: count the guards, weapons, exits, etc.
Gabriel continued, “The soldiers will wait at the border. The auction house will be within sight. If shit goes down, we’ll have back up close by.”
“And if we’re followed, we can dispatch the guards on Cooper’s land,” Gannon added. “Do you think there’s a chance Boras will be there?”
Gabriel shrugged. “It’s possible.” If he saw Boras, he’d kill the prick and risk war with the bear shifters—no fucks given.
“What about the Mukwa? Do you think they know what Boras is doing?”
“Another possibility,” he conceded. “ Hell, for all we know, this could be a trap.”
Gannon rolled his eyes and groaned. “The thought has crossed my mind.”
Gabriel’s shoulders rolled again. “It doesn’t matter.” Nothing was going to keep him from rescuing Jordan.
The storm howled, splintering the calm night. Wind whipped, snapping through the trees. The brilliant rays of the moon cast an enchanting glow over the ice covered landscape. Gabriel stood still in the shadows of the forest. His gaze sharp, he analyzed the surrounding area. A frozen lake separated him from his prey—and the woman they had taken from him.
Death whispered encouragements in his ear, exciting his demon. Unfortunately, killing his enemies wasn’t on the agenda for the evening…but plans could change. His gloved fingers flexed, stretching the leather. He was eager to feel bones snap under his grasp and hear the satisfying crack.
Gannon came to stand beside him. “Ready?”
Gabriel rolled his wide shoulders and cocked his head to the side, loosening his muscles. He was more than ready. His blood thrummed with anticipation. God, he’d never been so keyed up in his life. He’d craved movement. Action. Caged by the sun, he’d had no choice but to wait out the day. The suspense had grown stronger with every passing hour. Gabriel had paced the study of the safe-house, reviewing their plan again and again. There could be no holes, no mistakes. Only success. When the damned musical clock played down to the last hour, he showered and donned a fresh black suit. Sitting on the edge of his desk, his arms crossed and his leather clad hands balled in tight fists, he’d watched the last minutes tick by with a hard, predatory stare.
With the rise of the moon, Gabriel, Gannon, and their soldiers boarded the private jets. To Gabriel, the three hour flight had been an eternity and the thirty minute drive to the border of Mukwa territory tested his sanity. He now teetered on the edge of madness. With the auction house in sight, he ruthlessly battled the urge to kill, to dominate, to claim what was his.
His torment would end tonight. By rescuing the mortal woman, he’d free himself of this crazed obsession and all the unwanted emotions that came with it. He’d save Jordan, find a way to replace her hateful memories, and be done with her. The blessed numbness of an emotionless existence would return, and he’d continue until he’d achieved his endgame.
Gabriel’s eyes flickered. A cruel smile touched his lips as he studied the crescent moon. “It’s time.”
Gannon unscrewed the lid of the small jar he held. The neon purple liquid bubbled and fizzed. “Do we sip it or—” His words ended with a dry heave. “God, it reeks.”
Gabriel took the jar and downed half the potion. Handing it back to Gannon he replied, “It doesn’t taste nearly as bad as it smells.”
Gannon frowned down at the purple sludge. “Down the hatch.” He plugged his nose and finished the witch’s brew. Sputtering and coughing, he cursed.
“It tastes a thousand times worse,” Gabriel added with a dark laugh.
Gannon shot him a deadly glare and flipped him off.
Gabriel chuckled. He’d used changeling potion in the past and knew it would be foul. He could’ve warned Gannon, but where was the fun it that?
The magic worked in seconds. Gannon’s black hair lightened, his hazel eyes turned brown, and the sharp lines of his face became round. His Second was completely unrecognizable.
“Holy hell,” Gannon gasped between coughs. “Twinsies.”
Sharing the potion meant they’d look the same. To hide their similarities, Gabriel pulled a black and white paisley bandana from his suit pocket. He tied it around his face then grabbed his fedora from its resting place atop the hood of the white Hummer.
Smiling, Gabriel said, “Maybe you should chew on some bark, it might help with the aftertaste.”
Gannon glanced toward the trees in contemplation and roughly cleared his throat.
Gabriel bit back another laugh. “Come on. Our enemies won’t wait forever, and we’ve got a deadline.”
They had to be smart with their time. The magic would only last a handful of hours. If the potion wore off too soon, they’d be screwed. Boras’ men would execute them on sight.
Gannon grinned, “Nice get up. You look like a character from Grand Theft Auto.”
Ignoring the accurate observation, Gabriel went over the plan again, “We’ll check in. Keep your eyes open. Note every exit, every guard, and every weapon. I’ll inspect the viewing room to confirm the woman is here.”
All signs of humor vanished from Gannon’s eyes. Focused, he added, “We’ll meet at our seats. You’ll bet. You’ll win. I’ll come back to the Hummer and wait. The men are stationed along the tree line of the lake ready to provide cover fire or back up, if needed. Once you’re clear, we’ll converge and roll out.”
“Unless shit goes down,” Gabriel finished.
Gannon nodded. “You’ve got the tracker?”
In unison, they peeled back the leather glove of their right hands, revealing the tracking bracelets they wore. If they or their men came under attack, they could tap the tracker, sending vibrations to everyone in Morse code. Constant communication was key on such a deadly mission.
“You sure you want to handle the exchange alone?” Gannon asked for the fifth time that night. “I don’t feel right leaving you in the enemy camp.”
Gabriel’s stiff nod and hard stare told Gannon not to broach the subject again. “Be here. Be ready.” With that, he turned and stepped from the safety of the trees. Gannon fell in step beside him, their footfalls leaving no trace on the snow dusted ice of the frozen lake.
The quaint tri-level farm house outwardly betrayed nothing of its purpose, but the line of expensive vehicles and posted guards clearly stated this was no ordinary home.
Mimicking other attendees, Gabriel silently presented the sentries with the invitation he’d found. After spraying the card with a light mist of vampire blood, the men stepped aside and permitted them entry.
The interior of the home boasted no signs of its country roots, remodeled with an open floor plan and a sleek, ultra-modern design. The walls, floors, and furnishings were a combination of stark white, deep black, and stainless steel. Soft lighting and thick black full length curtains over all the windows provided a false sense of warmth. The kitchen, located to the right, had been transformed into a full service bar, complete with a tiered blood fountain. A grand staircase constructed of metal and glass stood proudly in the center of the great room. Gabriel scanned the area, noting every vampire in attendance. He’d expected to see Boras’ closest, strongest allies, and he wasn’t disappointed, but there were a number present that he hadn’t anticipated. Anyone who he hadn’t killed or imprisoned that possessed even a crumb of power was here tonight. Several noteworthy men and women sat at the bar. Each had sworn to remain neutral until the end of the war—they’d support and vow loyalty to the victor—but attending Boras’ party didn’t fall under the “neutral” category.
He mentally added them to his To Be Destroyed list and turned his attention to the guards.
Two men defended a door tucked behind the bar. Another pair stood before a darkened hallway, while a set were posted at the bottom and top of the stairs. They appeared unarmed, but Gabriel wasn’t convinced. Shifter territory was neutral, but Boras wasn’t known to follow vampire law, which explained his Outcast status. He’d once been an aristocrat of the Validus Clan, but had been banished centuries ago.
The clicking of stiletto heels drew Gabriel’s attention back to the barred hallway.
“Good evening, “a platinum blonde woman, with dramatic make-up, called out as she approached the newcomers. “I’m Christina, but, please call me X-Tina. I’ll be your hostess for the evening.” She tapped the screen of the iPad she carried then asked, “May I see your invitation?”
Gabriel handed it over. The hostess pricked her finger with the tip of one fang. Two droplets of blood hit the white card before her wound healed. She studied the hidden contents for a moment then smiled. “Your name, sir?”
She gave Gabriel a wink and typed his name on the registry. “Very good, sir, and welcome. We are glad you accepted our invitation, Mr. Shadow.”
Gabriel took the key card she offered and handed it to Gannon after she explained it would grant access to their private suite.
“May I interest you gentlemen in a drink before the event? It will begin promptly at ten.”
“Thank you, but no. My attendant would like to get settled, and I’m interested in touring the viewing room,” Gabriel evenly replied.
“Certainty.” She turned toward Gannon and pointed to the stairs. “Your suite is located on the second floor. Go up, turn right, and your room will be the third on the left.” Returning her attention to Gabriel, she added, “Mr. Shadow, please, follow me.”
Gabriel glanced toward Gannon, giving him a silent command to start inventory: exits, guards, weapons, then turned and followed X-Tina past the bar to the door at the back of the kitchen.
She waved the guards aside and pushed open the door, revealing the holding room. The scent of fear and anguish was palpable. He could taste the slave’s hopelessness as he stepped through the threshold and was greeted by harsh fluorescent lights, which brightened the room to a painful degree.
White walls. White floors. Everything appeared so…sterile. Glass separated each cell, every mortal placed in their own display case. Men and women cowered in corners, using their crisp white robes to cover their nakedness. Some humans rushed forward and beat on the glass with bruised fists. A few shouted enraged curses, others begged for freedom and mercy.
Sadistic vampires in attendance would be drawn to defiant mortals—to break them—while the seriously depraved would prey on the weak—taking pleasure from their torment. The only freedom or mercy they could ever hope to receive was a sudden death. Painless. Quick. He doubted any would be so lucky.
Clasping his hands behind his back, Gabriel kept his gaze level, quickly glancing from cell to cell. Not trusting himself, he avoided eye contact with the mortals. He could feel his grip on his demon slipping with every step. The aisle grew shorter with no sign of Jordan. He tried to pick up her unique scent, but the repulsive odor of the human’s mixed emotions clouded the air.
“See any you like?” the hostess asked. “Our collection is extensive.” She paused in front of a male. He shouted curses at her and struck the glass. X-Tina smiled and playfully pressed her lips against the barrier, leaving behind a glittering red lipstick smudge.
Gabriel’s jaw clenched. He ruthlessly resisted the urge to rip the hostess’ head from her shoulders. Madame Sideth had teased him in a similar fashion. She’d blown kisses at him and cooed to him as if he were an adorable puppy in a pet shop window. And when she took her sexual pleasure from him, she’d whisper endearments to him. Sweet. Revolting.
Shaking away the skin crawling, degrading memories, he continued down the aisle.
“Are you searching for something in particular?” X-Tina asked.
He answered with a nonchalant shrug despite the ice that snaked through his veins. Only six cells remained. Were they keeping her somewhere else? At the boathouse, she’d been held separate from the other slaves.
Anxiety crept through his chest as he recalled watching Jordan’s struggle with the guards the night before. She was valuable, but troublesome slaves weren’t tolerated. If they’d beaten her, she wouldn’t be auction ready.
Gabriel felt his demon struggle against its chains as their shared disquiet mounted. Unsettling questions skated through his mind. What if Jordan wasn’t here? Had Boras arranged a private sale? Or had he decided to keep Jordan for himself? Gabriel passed a woman with red hair. She stood in the corner, her arms wrapped around her middle, her eyes downcast. Was she the woman mentioned in the invitation? She was attractive, but not an exotic beauty and her light brown eyes weren’t striking. No, she wasn’t the featured prize. So where the hell was Jordan?
The hostess twirled in front of him, halting his steps. “Male or female?” Smiling, she reached out to place a hand on his chest. Gabriel pinned her with a cutting glare. She snapped her hand back. He enjoyed her momentary spike of terror.
“Female,” he responded.
His bored tone caused her to frown, but she maintained her carefree manner and continued, “Blonde, brunette, redhead. Tall, short. Thin or thick. We don’t discriminate and can offer any woman you like. If none here interest you, you can place an order, and we’ll send you an email notification when we’ve found a mortal that fits your needs.”
Gabriel’s fingers locked into fists at his sides. The hostess didn’t realize how close to death she was. If killing her wouldn’t blow the mission and start a fresh war with the shifters, he’d remove her black heart with his bare hands.
X-Tina tossed him a teasing glance over her shoulder and said, “You strike me as the kind of man accustomed to the best...of everything.” She giggled when he gave a stiff nod. “Allow me to show you the best.”
Remaining silent, Gabriel followed her around the corner of the last cell.
“I sense you’re a serious buyer,” she purred as they approached a thick, red curtain. “This room is reserved for V.I.P.s only.” The hostess brushed the material aside and invited him in with a wink.
Gabriel’s lungs froze. His rib cage turned to stone. The scent was faint, but unmistakable. It sweetly beckoned him, drawing him deep into the gently lit room. Ten glass cells, as stark white as the others, circled a pair of black velvet settees and a metal coffee table topped with multiple vials of blood.
Samples. Ten samples to be exact.
Jordan was being kept in the Tasting Den. A snarl built in his throat. His vision sharped, consumed by demonic black. His fangs lengthened behind the bandana. How many had tried her blood?
Kill them all, the vampire demanded.
X-Tina shifted nervously beside him, feeling the malice he radiated. “Mr. Shadow?”
Sensing danger, the humans scurried to their corners. Their eyes wide, five men and four women watched him wearily. Despite their terror colored expressions, all were exceptionally beautiful, but there was one who captured his attention—the only mortal who didn’t watch him as if he were a starved lion and they were injured gazelles.
The female lay on her side, the too large white robe billowed around her petite frame. Her long, silken, deep burgundy hair fell across her brow. The strands concealed the fine features of her face, but Gabriel knew it was her. Jordan.
He’d found her.
Instinct propelled him forward.
A maelstrom of emotions swept through his chest, nearly knocking him to his knees. Relief, joy, guilt, hate, and fury battled within him until Gabriel could no longer discern one from the other. The distortion of emotion an anomaly that made his heart ache. He welcomed the unfamiliar pain.
Noting his interest in the female slave, X-Tina spun and waved her fingers toward Jordan’s cell. Striking a game show model’s pose, she exclaimed, “Isn’t she a gem? Truly, one of the most exotic I’ve seen in my hundred and twenty years in the business.”
Ignoring the hostess prattle, Gabriel used his senses to gauge Jordan’s health. Her breaths were shallow and her pulse… disturbingly slow.
His eyes narrowed, studying her slim figure hidden by the robe. Her hipbone jutted out, her shoulders were hard angles. She’d lost weight. Bruises speckled her arms and undoubtedly marred the rest of her tender flesh. Tiny cuts graced her knuckles.
Little scrapper, he thought, holding back a grin.
He wished he could see her face. That she would wake so he could drown in her deep violet eyes. He yearned to brush her luxurious hair aside, to feel it slip through his fingers as he memorized the graceful arch of her brows, the peaks of her cheekbones, and the round stubbornness of her chin.
Only a fragile piece of glass separated him from the woman he craved.
Gabriel sucked in one measured breath. Then another and another as he battled to maintain control. His body taunt as a bowstring, he precariously balanced on the edge, a whisper away from crashing into chaos. From shattering the partition. From taking Jordan in his arms. From slaughtering every disgusting vampire here, flooding the picture perfect farm house with blood.
Focus, damn it. He shook his head, breaking the murderous trance. Stick to the plan. Endgame: rescue the woman and replace her memories then be done with her. Return to a drama free, emotionless existence and destroy my enemies.
Calm, Gabriel kept his voice bland, “When will this one be placed on the block?”
“Number Fifteen will go last tonight.”
He arched a brow. “And the others?” he asked, gesturing to the surrounding cells.
X-Tina shook her head. “They will be included in upcoming auctions, but we like to give our V.I.P.s a preview. Number Fifteen is gorgeous and extremely talented. Her singing voice is divine, and her dancing is purely sensual.”
Her voice is heaven and her dancing is hypnotic, he wanted to correct, instead he drawled, “Artistic abilities, though appreciated, are of little importance.”
X-Tina’s expression softened as if she discovered a secret. “If traditional entertainment doesn’t interest you, then perhaps this will.” She dropped her voice to a sultry whisper. “This exotic beauty is untried.”
Gabriel bit back a violent curse. A virgin. His stomach knotted. The things they’d do to her...The torture. The humiliation. His throat constricted painfully as he tried to swallow.
“Imagine taking her.”
Against his will, his body responded, hardening. He didn’t give a shit if she were untouched, he’d desired her. He’d fantasized wrapping her hair around his fist, her long legs locked around his hips as he pounded within her. She’d cry out his name as she came. Dear lord, he’d envisioned claiming her again and again, in every position he could think of. But he didn’t want to want her. Hell, he’d forsaken sleep to escape his dreams of Jordan on her knees, gazing up at him, her eyes bright with need. Her plump lips wrapped around his—Gabriel’s fangs sharpened in his mouth, slicing his tongue. The tang of blood and sudden pain was a needed shock to his system.
X-Tina’s eyes darkened as she ran her gaze over his body. “A male like you must have women committing murder to be in your bed.”
Gabriel conceded with a single nod. Countless vampire beauties competed for his attentions, but none ever died. He preferred to take multiple women to his bed and loathed the idea of such senseless bloodshed. He satisfied them all, leaving them begging for more, but one night was all he shared. He refused to screw the same woman twice. No attachments. Always complete control. After the Madame, he’d never allow a woman to have power of him.
She ran her tongue over her top lip. “And instinct tells me your brand of fucking is too intense for a mortal.”
Again, he remained silent. He hadn’t lain with a human since his days as a mortal.
“Do you seek a pleasure slave? One you can share?” The scent of her lust thickened the air. “This one,” she pointed to Jordan, “will serve well. She is spirited and her taste…” her words died on a moan. She flashed him a mischievous smile and danced away, coming to a stop beside the metal table. “Would you like to sample her sweet, sweet blood?” she asked.
Gabriel stood unyielding, his wide shoulders squared. His fists tightened at his sides as he once again reminded himself, I can’t rip her throat out. Not yet.
“No. Thank you,” he grated. If he ever tasted Jordan’s blood—huge fucking if—the mortal would have to freely offer her vein to him.
X-Tina pouted and replaced the vial. “Number Fifteen is our featured prize for the evening. Many have expressed interest in her. If she is to your liking, I suggest you bid aggressively.”
Every twisted fucker in attendance would bid on the exotic, talented, virgin beauty. Driving up the price, nothing short of a king’s ransom. He’d expected to pay top dollar for the mortal, but he hadn’t anticipated bank rolling Boras’ army.
Gabriel’s lips peeled back from his fangs. Buying Jordan’s freedom meant paying for his enemy’s mercenaries and weapons. Shit.
Returning his gaze to Jordan, the roiling darkness within him instantly calmed. He was grudgingly thankful of his disguises. The bandana hid his snarl, the fedora shaded the murderous glint.
Staying true to his nonchalant air, Gabriel flicked his gaze around the room, scanning the surrounding cells. “This one doesn’t seem as fresh as the others.”
The hostess shrugged. “Number Fifteen has been with us for a few months,” she answered.
“I find it difficult to believe Boras would hold on to such a prize for so long without good reason.”
“Innocent gems like Number Fifteen are exceedingly rare.” A glimmer of dark pleasure crossed X-Tina’s features then vanished. “She’s appeared at previous auctions, but her reserve has yet to be met.”
Gabriel nodded and glanced back to Jordan, pretending to accept the hostess’ explanation, but he’d seen the revealing spark of bloodlust in her eyes. He knew all the tricks of the trade. X-Tina and the guards planned to kill whoever won Jordan. The hostess had accidentally betrayed her game and Gabriel would capitalize on her slip.
“Is she defective?”
The hostess vehemently shook her head. “No. Nothing of the sort.”
He gave a disbelieving scoff and waved a hand toward Jordan’s cell. X-Tina’s eyes widened as she deduced his meaning. He suspected they’d drugged Jordan to make her more manageable, but he required confirmation. They could have doped her because of an injury or illness and wanted to make her ailments less noticeable.
“As I mentioned before, she’s spirited.” The hostess feigned a sad sigh. “She sleeps now because we’ve been forced to sedate her. She’s a fighter, and we wouldn’t want her harming herself.”
“Understandable,” he conceded, “But you claim she is a gifted singer and dancer. That she is defiant. Yet, she is obviously heavily medicated, making it difficult to judge her worth.” Swinging his attention back to the hostess he challenged, “Am I to take you at your word?”
“Mr. Shadow, allow me to assure you that we never falsely advertise. We pride ourselves on our product.” She straightened her shoulders. “A video of her performance will be played for our guests.”
“Good. I look forward to it.”
“Excellent,” she exclaimed. “You will not be disappointed.”
Casting Jordan one last glance, Gabriel turned and clasped his hands behind his back. “Thank you for your time.”
“My pleasure,” the hostess purred. “I will escort you to your suite.”
Brushing past her, he said, “That isn’t necessary.” The violent tension within him built as the distance between him and Jordan grew. As he exited the Tasting Den, Gabriel whispered a vow to his mortal, “We will meet again in the purchasing room.”
Gabriel shoved open the door to his suite as a bell rang, beckoning the attendees to take their seats. The room was dark with black walls and mahogany flooring. Gannon sat in one of the eight luxurious leather recliners situated in front of a wall of tinted glass, which provided a private viewing of the auction floor. A stage flooded by bright lights rested in what Gabriel assumed was a circle of suites.
Gannon turned in his seat. “The show is about to start. Is it worth watching?”
Gabriel nodded. “She’s here.”
The tension that tightened Gannon’s shoulders eased. “Good.” He held up a thin booklet. “I didn’t see her listed in the brochure and was beginning to sweat.” He thumbed through the pages as Gabriel claimed a seat beside him. “This is some sick crap. They’ve set it up like a menu. Photos paired with summaries of the mortal’s backgrounds and skill sets.” He growled. “There are taste descriptions like you’d find when shopping for wine or scotch. And the Lead Slave Handler, Ross Klein, makes recommendations for what type of slave the mortal would best serve as: labor, entertainment, bleeding—it goes on and on. They also include a preview of future auctions.” Gannon cursed. “There’s even a ‘buy now’ option with a phone number. Major credit cards are accepted.” Sensing his king’s fraying control, Gannon wisely snapped his mouth shut and tossed the program into the trash bin beside his chair.
After a too tense moment, he gave Gabriel a brotherly punch in the shoulder and smiled. “Hey, we’ve found her.” Promptly changing the subject, Gannon said, “I counted four exit doors on the main floor and there are only windows on the second and third. If necessary, I suggest we jump, tuck, and roll. Guards number thirty plus, hard to determine the exact total. I saw no weapons, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t packin’.”
The lights shining on the stage dimmed, and a cheery chime played. X-Tina entered the room and crossed to the stage. A deceivingly sweet smile curved her lips as she declared the auction open.
Gabriel leaned back in his chair, forcing himself to relax.
“Here we go,” Gannon whispered.
After a short tutorial, explaining how bidders could use the electronic tablet provided to place their bids, X-Tina summoned the guards to bring the first slave to the block. Excitement sparkled in the hostess’ eyes when Number One appeared. The mortal man’s legs shook as he stood on the stage with his head bowed. After a brief description of the man’s skills, his robe was removed, revealing his nakedness, and the bidding began.
Memories Gabriel had buried long ago began to rise. He’d been dragged to the auction block. Chains had chewed at his wrists, snaked up his arms, and wrapped around his neck. Shackles gnawed at his ankles. Blood and filth clung to his cold flesh. Vampires stood in groups, their soulless black eyes boring into him. The demons had been intrigued by his warrior’s spirit and the females had gasped in delight when he’d been stripped bare. His strength, vitality, and cursed ‘beauty’ had enchanted the evil creatures and provoked a vicious bidding war.
Gabriel watched in a daze as one by one the humans were paraded out on to the stage. Every time the hostess gleefully shouted, “Sold,” a sharp chill sliced through him like an executioner’s blade. He didn’t know how much more he could withstand. His control was unraveling by the millisecond, his rage boiling. Gabriel’s muscles strained and his fingers dug into the arms of the chair. Every cell in his body demanded action and his vampire clamored for the blood of his enemies. He forced himself to be still.
Gannon mumbled curse after curse. “God, this is disgusting.”
Gabriel remained silent while Number Fourteen was hauled off the stage. His mortal was next. Anticipation spiked his pulse when Gannon handed him the tablet. The screen instantly illuminated with a photo and description of Jordan.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a special prize for your bidding pleasure this evening,” X-Tina announced.
On cue, the side door opened. Gabriel’s heart slammed to a stop.
Jordan dangled between two large guards. Each had a hand wrapped around her upper arm.
“We’ve saved the best for last,” the hostess said as they joined her on the block. She motioned to the man on Jordan’s right. He released his hold and came to stand beside X-Tina, who smiled and wrapped an arm around his waist. “Mr. Klein is our Lead Slave Handler. He is the one who discovered this little diamond. Thank you, Mr. Klein.”
“My pleasure, I assure you,” he replied, a twisted smile distorting his lips.
Feral desires tore through Gabriel’s chest—a dangerous, combustible combination of rage, hate, and possessiveness. He wanted to crash through the glass, tear out the hostess’ throat. Behead the guard. Rip Klein’s dead heart from his chest and shove it down his throat. Then he’d slaughter the audience with no regard to the shifter’s neutral territory.
Gabriel hadn’t noticed he’d shot to his feet or that he’d charged the window, but someone was holding him back. Snarling, he spun and struck out. His fist a fraction of a centimeter from connecting with Gannon’s face, he pulled his punch back.
“Easy, man,” Gannon growled, his eyes going black. His vampire rising to meet the threat. “We can’t blow our cover.”
Heavy breaths hissed past Gabriel’s fangs as he reined in his demon. Fuck. Where was his famed control? He never lost his shit, but when it came to the tiny human… So close now. Focus. Rescue the mortal and end this crazy emotional crap.
Releasing him, Gannon asked, “You good?”
Gabriel nodded and reclaimed his seat. “Solid.”
Gannon picked the tablet off the floor and handed it back to Gabriel before sitting down and turning his wary gaze back to the auction floor.
Closing his eyes, Gabriel counted ten measured breaths. Keep it together. It would all be over soon and his life would return to normal.
His mind clear, his emotions calm, he opened his eyes.
Jordan swayed, but the remaining guard held her upright. Her brow pinched as the guard tilted her head toward the light, displaying the delicate, sensual features of her face. Perfectly arched eyebrows, a thin nose with a button tip, sharp cheekbones, and her chapped lips were so alluring and plump. Directly under the light, her dark hair shimmered with rays of red, gold, and hues of deep purple. Its long length curled wantonly around her slender frame, a striking contrast to the white robe she wore. She’d soon be stripped bare like the others. He could almost hear the deranged vampires in the audience lick their lips at the prospect.
“Number Fifteen is an exceptional beauty. Her hair, thick and soft as silk, is naturally colored.” X-Tina twirled a lock between her fingers. “Her skin is smooth and unmarred, with the exception of two tattoos.” The guard grabbed Jordan’s hands and turned them out for the spectators to view. “True” and “Honest” were scribed in flowing, black, cursive across the inside of her wrists.
The hostess cupped Jordan’s chin and gave her head a little shake. Jordan’s eyes fluttered open. She tried to pull away, but was too weak.
“As you can see, her eyes are unique and flash with defiance.” X-Tina giggled. “For those of you interested in a spirited slave, look no further. She is perfect.”
Gabriel growled knowing she meant, “For those of you looking for a slave to beat, torture, and rape into submission, she’s the one.”
“Number Fifteen is more than just a pretty face. She is also a talented singer.”
The tablet in his hands lit up once more and the video X-Tina had promised began to play. Jordan sat on a stool, center stage of the bar where she frequently preformed in Denver. The music started, and her glorious, haunting voice rang out. The song started slow, the tempo picking up until she was on her feet swaying to the beat. Enchanting. Gabriel’s heart clenched.
When the song ended, the screen returned to Jordan’s profile.
“Impressive,” X-Tina said clapping.
Klein stepped behind Jordan and untied the waistband of the robe. With a light tug, the garment fell.
Gabriel’s eyes flashed demonic black. Gannon’s arm shot out across his king’s chest. They both knew Gabriel could easily shake free, but he remained in his seat. Grinding his teeth, his jaw locked, Gabriel bit back an outraged roar.
He gave his Second a tight nod. As much as he wanted to commit murder and ignite chaos, he would stay in his seat.
Gannon leaned back.
Gabriel should be grateful Jordan wasn’t naked, but the white lingerie she wore left little to the imagination. Lace covered her luscious breasts. The baby doll design revealed the creamy flesh of her trim stomach, accentuated her round hips, and the lace panties…The handler’s goal was to tantalize the audience, tease the perverse blood-suckers. The winner would have the privilege of stripping her, the prize of Jordan’s body for his or her eyes only.
Klein moved back to his post beside X-Tina, but his gaze remained on Jordan. Gabriel read the lust in the vampire’s eyes and the Slave Handler just moved up to number one on his hit list.
“Lovely,” the hostess sighed. “Number Fifteen is an owner’s dream and,” her lips turned up in a greedy smile, “she is untouched.” She paused for emphasis, allowing the meaning of her words to sink in. “Yes. She is a virginal beauty. To validate our claim, a physical conducted by a medical professional will be provided, if the winner so choses.”
Gannon muttered a litany of curses then finally groaned, “We might as well gift wrap crates of weapons for Boras.”
Gabriel didn’t respond. Focused on Jordan, his mind sharp, analytical, he waited.
X-Tina’s smile brightened. “The bidding will open at $50,000.”
The bright lights of Hell burned. Too tired to keep her head raised, her face dipped forward, her hair slipped over her like a veil. For a blissful moment, she escaped the harsh blaze that illuminated the auction block. But, as always, her relief was short lived. A cold, heavy hand gripped her chin and forced her face back up.
Jordan tried to protest, her sluggish brain formed a scathing curse, but she was unable to speak. The drugs had stolen her voice and taken control of her body. Her limbs were heavy as stone, and her chest felt like an iron cage around her lungs. God, it hurt to breathe. If it weren’t for the guard’s hold, she’d crash to the ground, unable to move her arms to break her fall. Yeah, she’d face plant, like she usually did when tossed back into her glass cell.
The vampire shifted, turning her around, making sure everyone was able to view the merchandise, her nearly nude body. She’d felt mortified the first few times she’d been put on display, now it was routine.
Jordan’s legs trembled, and her knees gave out. The guard uttered an oath as he caught her. The hostess gave a light laugh and made some sweet comment regarding humans and their frailty. Naturally, X-Tina didn’t mention the drugs pumping like poison through her veins. Jordan didn’t know what they kept shooting her with. Whatever it was, the drug was strong and, sadly, lacked a pleasurable high. It left her mind fractured and her body numb. Catatonic. Exhausted.
She’d lost track of how long she’d been in Hell. Weeks. Months. Years. It didn’t matter. She could feel the end drawing closer every second. The vampires kept her on the edge of life and death, and Jordan didn’t know how much longer she could endure. Hunger gnawed at her gut. Her lips were cracked, her mouth dry, and her throat burned from dehydration. Cruel shivers continuously plagued her. She clenched her jaw, trying to keep her teeth from chattering even now. It did little good. Damn, her body ached, every muscle sore from the endless cold.
If deprivation and exposure didn’t kill her, the drugs eventually would. Jordan found some peace in knowing she may fall asleep any minute and never wake up. She could sense Death was coming to call. Should she greet the specter with open arms or continue to fight?
Fight for what? Freedom? She would’ve laughed if she could. Hope was such a dangerous emotion it should be a sin. If she were smart, she’d give Death a kiss when he came to collect, but she would never surrender. She was a warrior. And there was also Erhard. The blond male. Her captor’s enemy. The Outcast blood bastard turned Clan Chieftain and his relentless attacks on the slave traders. He’d been at the boathouse the night they moved her, she’d seen him…hadn’t she?
Jordan tried to focus, but her head swam as she drifted in and out of consciousness. She attempted to shake herself awake, but her body remained unresponsive, leaving her defenseless against the shadowed memories of her captivity. The horrors she’d witnessed turned to nightmares, attacking every time she fell into the darkness.
She relived helplessly watching the guards brutally beat, rape, and kill her cellmates, while she remained relatively uninjured, constantly reminded that she was their “golden bitch.” She was the prized slave, the one who would bring Boras unimaginable riches. With enough money, he could buy an army to dominate his enemy.
Still, the guards easily forgot to feed and water their “pet” properly and, when she wasn’t drugged, Jordan had fought them with all the strength that remained in her frail body. Never showing her captors fear. She refused to grant the fuckers the pleasure.
Her mother and aunt had been pillars of strength, teaching her to never bow. After their deaths, she’d been forced into the system and lived on the streets. If you were weak, you were prey. “Vampires and shape-shifters aren’t the only demons that exist, baby girl,” Aunt Meg would say. “Humans can be just as dangerous. Remember, demons are in us all.”
Her aunt had been a hunter—dispatching rogue vampires and shape-shifters. Living as a drifter, she traveled from city to city, state to state, killing those that threatened humans. She’d made it her mission to teach Jordan how to defend herself; skills Jordan had used countless times. And after killing two of her vampire guards, they’d begun drugging her, keeping her on the brink of death. Too dazed to cause trouble, but alive enough to garner the interest of buyers. Ending the demon’s lives had given her a tiny taste of revenge and she wanted more. But her actions had also drawn the attention of the head Slave Handler, Ross Klein.
“I admire your grit,” he had whispered after dosing her for the first time. “No slave has ever killed one let alone two of my men. You’ll pay for your crime. You have my word. When the war is over, you’ll be mine, and I’ll teach you your place, human.” He licked her ear. “I’ll break you.”
Jordan struggled to wake up, but couldn’t stop the memories from crashing over her. The Slave Handler had become fixated on her. He couldn’t torture her physically, so he made her watch as he tormented others. When it came time to brand the new slaves, he’d make sure Jordan had a front row seat. Their cries of agony echoed through her mind. The stench of burning flesh made her heave. But it was witnessing what he did to the women deemed unworthy of the auction block that sent her into a blind rage.
He’d throw the female into the glass cell beside hers. Pinning Jordan with his black demon gaze, Klein would rape them. The more the women struggled, screamed, and cried, the harsher and crueler he became, deriving pleasure from their suffering. He’d sink his fangs into their necks as he came, drinking them until they teetered on the edge of death. Then, he’d use a blade to slit their throats. Dropping their bodies, he left them to bleed out as he straightened his clothes. Fangs dripping, he’d press his palms against the glass divide and say, “They’re all poor substitutes for you.”
Jordan viciously slammed back to consciousness, her mind beating back the horrific nightmare. Her body violently jerked the need to kill her enemy thundered through her. She tried to pull away from the guard, but her limbs refused to respond. Her heart began to pound, her lungs burned as they desperately worked to draw in more oxygen. The brightness stung her eyes as she blinked, desperate to bring the auction room into focus. Blacked out mirrors stared at her, concealing the identities of the bidders.
The guard who held her tightened his grip. An unintelligible mumble escaped her lips.
She felt the vampire’s eyes on her. Every one of them. God, it was sickening.
“Hold her steady.”
Her body stiffened at the sound of Klein’s voice. Blinking, she brought him into focus. He moved to her side. His fingers snaked out and dug into her upper arm.
“Behave,” Klein hissed. His breath whispered over her ear.
Bile rose in her throat. She would have puked if it weren’t for the drugs.
“500,000 dollars,” the hostess called out.
Focusing on her breathing, Jordan tried to clear her head. She could feel the drug’s effects beginning to fade. They wouldn’t dose her in front of the clients.
Jordan opened her mouth to scream, but only silence feel from her lips. The exertion caused the world to begin to sway. Her heavy lids drifted shut, the lights becoming unbearably bright again.
The hostess’ voice grew louder and louder, announcing the bids, the price driving higher and higher. A disturbing sense of pride fluttered in Jordan’s chest when the amount tipped over a million.
The shrill, excited sing-song lilt of X-Tina’s voice made Jordan’s skin crawl. Did she really have to sound so damn cheerful?
“To ensure confidentiality, the final paperwork and transactions will be conducted individually. We will go in order of auction number, one through fifteen. An attendant will come to your suite and escort you to the purchasing room.”
Jordan felt the robe slip over her shoulders. She was shuffled between the guard and Ross as they dressed her. Then, Klein’s bruising hands circled her upper arm once more, and she was carried from the platform.
“Thank you for coming. I hope everyone enjoyed themselves. Please, if you didn’t win or if the selection wasn’t to your liking, join us next month. You can find upcoming auction information in the program provided.”
X-Tina’s voice slowly faded into the background as Jordan was hauled down a flight of stairs, back to the Tasting Den. Her head bounced as the world flash by in a blur of color and movement.
“Damn, Klein, how much did you give her?” the guard on her left asked. “She’s a lump.” He grunted in response and the other vampire chuckled. “The bidders didn’t seem to mind. Hell, she brought in the largest purse in auction history.”
Klein growled low. Was he jealous? The thought made her stomach knot. Ross wanted to make her his own. Jordan would die before she ever submitted to that demon.
The sound of the glass cell door gliding open hissed in her ears.
“Leave us,” Klein demanded.
The guard released her arm. Panic spiked her blood. No! She was alone with him and paralyzed.
Klein’s hand slipped over her throat while the other roughly groped her breasts. “The bidders liked what they saw.” He pressed his hips against hers and groaned. “But no matter how much they pay, they’ll never have you.”
Jordan struggled against the drug, willing her body to life in vain. She couldn’t even form a fist. God, she wanted to hit the bastard. She wanted to drive a blade through his heart. And she would. Before Death claimed her, she’d send the Slave Handler to Hell.
Klein licked her cheek. Jordan thought she’d be sick, but the sedative wouldn’t allow her to heave. He whispered, “You’re mine.”
Rage stole her breath. Swallowing hard, she forced her lips to move. Her voice scratched her throat, “N-Never.”
Klein chuckled and released his hold. Jordan’s knees buckled and she crashed to the floor. She felt no pain and, for a second, was thankful for the drugs.
“Ross,” the hostess called as she entered the hall leading to the cells. “Every purchased slave must be bathed and readied. Drug them if necessary. I don’t want any problems.”
The clicking of X-Tina’s stilettoes grew louder as she approached. Ross nudged Jordan with the tip of his boot, rolling her over to her back. “Can you believe the asshole who bid on her?”
Jordan squinted up at the vampire pair.
“1.3 million,” X-Tina whistled, “It’s a record. The boss will be pleased. Boras needs some good news after the boathouse raid.” She sighed. “That was a close call. We almost lost our top shelf inventory.”
Jordan concentrated, straining to hear their whispers. Squinting, she read their lips.
The boathouse? The attack? Were they talking about Erhard? The tall, blond, sex god she’d met the night of her abduction. She would never forget him, always fantasized about him. He’d worn power like a second skin. After they started drugging her, she’d begun to believe he was a character designed by her brain to help process the terrible things that had happened that night. But as she sank deeper into the demon’s realm of darkness, she learned Erhard was more than a record executive looking to sign new talent. He was a vampire. And they had a common enemy.
“Erhard has united the East Coast under his rule,” X-Tina grumbled. “All that remains for Boras is the North West.”
Yes! They were discussing Erhard, and she’d been right. He was responsible for the attack on the boathouse. Jordan wanted to shout in triumph; instead, a pained moan escaped her lips.
The hostess’s gaze dropped to her, and she smiled, revealing her fangs. “But if we keep selling her, Boras will be able to buy allies.”
“Have you heard the Shaw are withdrawing? They’re returning and gathering for the Sequester. Erhard won’t have the witch’s help any longer.” Klein’s lips contorted with a snarl. “I’ve heard plans that by month’s end, we’ll strike Erhard. The bastard won’t see it coming.”
X-Tina’s eyes leapt with glee. “Good. I hope the cur burns.” Her smile widened. “And we’ll win the war with this bitch.” Her gaze snapped to Ross. “If you can manage to keep her alive. Make sure she is fed and watered. She’s too thin. We can’t afford for her to lose her curves.” Her sharp gaze slipped over Jordan’s body, calculating. “And ease up on the poison. She’s a level above looking like a cracked out whore. My reputation is built on providing the best. Our high end clientele will not be disappointed.”
“While we kept her at the waystation, she had a forty-eight hour reprieve. That could be why she looks…so haggard. Withdrawal,” Klein mused.
“Be that as it may, I want her dosage lowered.”
“She’ll have to be kept in restraints.”
The hostess shrugged. “As long as they don’t cause too much bruising, that’ll be fine.”
Jordan could sense Klein’s irritation. He knew the best way to keep Jordan under control was to keep her on the edge of consciousness.
“What will we do with the bidder?”
The hostess gave a carefree wave. “Same as before. Collect the money, and then kill him.”
Gabriel accessed the small room. The hostess stood just inside the door to the left, clutching an iPad to her chest, the two guards that had escorted him to the Purchasing Office, lingered at the threshold. Jordan wasn’t there. Shocker. Her absence only confirmed what he already suspected—they planned to kill him and take his money. A malicious smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Gabriel had a plan of his own.
X-Tina smiled. “Mr. Shadow, welcome—”
He held up his hand. “Where is she?”
The hostess flinched. “We are having the girl bathed and readied. She will be presented to you once the payment is complete.”
Lies. Jordan was likely locked in her cell, cold, hungry, and drifting in and out of consciousness. The image stirred his demon and rekindled his anger. Gabriel felt the familiar shift, his eyes darkened to obsidian and his fangs lengthened. The hostess recoiled.
“Before the bidding, you mentioned a medical examination would be offered,” he said, his voice roughened.
“Yes, but payment must—”
He shook his head. “Let me be clear, Madame, there will be no payment until the girl is brought forward and medically inspected.”
X-Tina’s eyes narrowed. She squared her shoulders. “Do you feel the slave was falsely advertised? By my word and that of my sire, Boras, the girl is untried.”
Gabriel barely managed to maintain control. Boras. Just hearing the vile bastard’s name set him on the edge of madness.
Kill him, the vampire hissed.
I swear I will, he growled.
“Now,” she chimed, “the preferred method of payment is direct transfer.”
Gabriel clasped his hands behind his back and slowly walked around the room as he regained his indifferent calm. “I don’t doubt she is a virgin, but the fact remains the girl isn’t a fresh captive,” he explained, pausing beside the window.
Exit strategy. The glass was dual pained, but the snow dusted ground was only two stories below, the frozen lake approximately fifty yards away. All he had to do was make it across the lake with Jordan, meet Gannon, and they’d be ghosts. Memories of his own escape centuries ago flashed through his mind like streaks of lightning. Tension coiled around his spine; this night was too similar.
Shaking his head, he mentally put himself in check then continued, “It is her health that concerns me. $1.3 million is a sizable investment, and I would like to ensure my money is well spent.”
“Naturally,” she agreed with an easy smile. “Guards, will you please inform the Handler that Number Fifteen’s buyer would like a medical examination conducted?” They nodded and turned to leave.
Gabriel shook his head. “You don’t understand. I would like the girl and your physician brought to this room.”
“Here?” She glanced around the confined space.
“Yes, here. I insist on being present during the physical.”
Her tone turned hard. “We take pride in our stock and go to great lengths to ensure their health.”
Gabriel moved with shocking speed, the hostess swallowed a scream.
“In the Tasting Den, the girl was sedated to the point that she could scarcely breathe,” he said, his voice eerily calm, his polite façade belying his lethal capability.
She sputtered, “Yes, Mr. Shadow,” then removed a cell phone from her blazer pocket and pressed speed dial. “Please bring Number Fifteen to the Purchasing Room. The buyer would like to witness the physical examination.” She ended the call without waiting for a response. “Mr. Klein, the Slave Handler, is also our resident physician.”
Doubtful. “Thank you.”
She forced a smile. “We strive to please our customers.”
The soft click of a door sounded down the hall and was quickly followed by the heavy thud of boots. Three newcomers would be joining the party. More to fight. More fun to be had.
Loosening his control on his senses, Gabriel inhaled deeply and was nearly taken to his knees, thunderstruck by the heavenly, exotic of blooming jasmine scent. Jordan. The sublime fragrance grew stronger as the group drew closer. Gabriel willed his body not to react, though need already pulsed through him like an electrical current.
The guards filed into the cramped room, creating a perimeter, while the vampire that disrobed and held Jordan on the auction platform, escorted her to the center. His arm was wrapped tightly around her waist, her back pressed against his chest. Gabriel’s newly found and maddening sense of protection and possessiveness unleashed his demon.
Kill, it whispered.
Gabriel ignored the beast. As much as he desperately wanted to end the vampire’s immortality, he couldn’t kill him. Not here. He’d have to incapacitate the guards and hostess: break their bones, slice an artery, or snap their necks. None of which would kill a vampire but they’d be down for a few days at the most and likely an hour at the least.
“Thank you for your prompt response, Mr. Klein,” X-Tina greeted. “Mr. Shadow has voiced some concerns regarding the slave’s health.”
Klein met Gabriel’s gaze with a hard glare. “The girl is fit for purchase.”
Gabriel almost laughed at the vampire’s curt tone. Jordan seemed to be a bit more lucid. Her eyes were a bit cloudy. Yet a spark of defiance made her violet gaze glow. There was a pink tint to her cheeks, possible signs of a blush or a recent slap. Her wrists were bound with silk rope.
“As previously stated, Mr. Shadow, the girl has caused some disturbances,” the hostess replied, noticing how he stared at the restraints.
How much harm could such a small mortal female cause?
“Your reasons don’t concern me, the fact that she can’t stand on her own and her eyes are still unfocused is…disturbing.”
Jordan stirred at the sound of Gabriel’s voice. Her glassy stare locked on him. She tried to twist out of Klein’s hold. His arm tightened around her middle, causing a whimper to escape her lips.
“Temporary side-effects,” Klein insisted.
Gabriel bit back a growl, his anger rising, his patience thinning. “When was the last time she was dosed?”
In an effort to abate the tension, the hostess stepped forward, placing herself between Gabriel and the Slave Handler. “She was sedated just before the auction.”
Gabriel arched a brow. “Should I be concerned about withdrawals?”
“She’ll be fine,” Klein snarled.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Gabriel snapped.
“Please, gentlemen,” X-Tina sighed, her exasperation emphasized by the lines on her face. It was clear she wanted to finish the deal, collect his money, and kill him.
Gabriel smirked as he felt his facial features begin to shift. The magic was fading. Time to exit.
“Let’s start the physical.” The hostess set her iPad on the desk. She turned and reached for the straps of the skimpy lingerie Jordan still wore.
Gabriel grabbed the female vampire’s wrist. “That won’t be necessary.” He didn’t give the hostess a chance to scream. As quick as lightning, Gabriel snapped her neck. “I’ll the take the girl as is.”
When Jordan heard Klein’s blood chilling growl, awareness plowed into her, overwhelming her delicate senses. The lights were blinding, and she had to will her eyes to focus while the sounds of cracking bones and pained moans assaulted her ears. Her instincts recognized what her brain couldn’t seem to process, a fight had broken out.
As her vision cleared, Jordan swallowed a scream. The hostess lie in a heap on the floor, bodies of guards with their necks twisted and bone extending from distorted limbs were piled high, blocking the door.
This wasn’t just a fight. She was in the middle of a battle and, thanks to Klein, whose arm was like a steal band around her waist, she had the privilege of being front and center.
The nauseating sound of crushing vertebra drew Jordan’s gaze to the dark figure in the corner. He held a guard off the ground, his large, black leather clad hand wrapped around the weaker vampire’s throat. The guard’s neck snapped, his head flopped to the side when the figure released him.
Had he done all this?
Ross slowly retreated until the heel of his boots hit the wall. Jordan could feel the chill of the winter storm seeping past the glass of the window behind them.
“Who the fuck are you?” Ross demanded.
The figure slowly turned. His perfectly black tailored suit with matching back shirt and tie were a striking contrast to the white walls. The black paisley bandana concealed his face, the fedora he wore cast shadows over his features. Though she couldn’t see his eyes, she felt his burning gaze.
Oh, god. Was he the man who’d purchased her?
The dark male rolled his wide shoulders, ready and waiting for his next opponent. The distant pounding of boots splintered the strained silence that filled the room. Jordan recognized the sound. More guards.
“Who are you, asshole? Who do you work for?” Ross commanded.
“Give me the girl.”
His deep, rough voice brushed over her. Calming. Soothing. Enthralling. Jordan began to tremble.
Me. He wants me. Fear, hope, and…excitement quickened her pulse. She knew it was foolish to think this new vampire would be any better than the slave traders, but she now had the element of surprise on her side and a chance to escape. Ross would never share that she had killed two of his men. The dark figure was dangerous, but he would underestimate her like all the others. Jordan just needed to survive the moment and Ross was using her as a human shield. If the mysterious vampire attacked, she’d be a goner.
“You haven’t paid,” Ross sneered. He tightened his grip around her waist.
Jordan gasped in pain, and the dark figure growled low, “Careful.”
Ross laughed. “Worried I might injure the little mortal?” His hand slipped around her throat, his fingers bruising. “I can break her neck if I want.” Ross nipped at the tip of her ear.
Jordan cringed and craned her neck, trying to turn away, but he held her firm. Using the only play open to her, Jordan turned toward Ross and sank her teeth into his cheek.
With a vicious roar, he shoved her away. Jordan fell hard to her knees, landing beside the hostess. She tried to stand, but her legs wouldn’t support her. God damn it, the drugs were still in her system.
“Bitch!” Ross seethed. Grabbing her by the hair, he drew her up. “You’ll pay for that.”
Jordan spit his blood in his face and smiled when Ross’s eyes turned pure black with rage.
“Your death won’t be easy,” he hissed.
Jordan struggled for freedom, but her limbs remained useless.
Guards began to bang on the door. It wouldn’t be long until they busted in, sweeping the bodies aside. They would swarm the small office, kill the dark vampire, and Ross would punish her.
“Enough,” the figure commanded, his voice deathly controlled.
Jordan was spun around, her back hitting Klein’ chest once more. His arm snaked around her middle, his fingers digging into her hip while his other hand continued to grip her hair.
The dark figure tore off the bandana, the fabric floated down to cover the face of his last victim. His long, gloved fingers gently pinched the brim of his hat. With a nonchalant air and smooth movement, he flipped the fedora from his head, tumbled it down his arm and carefully sat it on the desk.
Jordan sucked in a painful breath, her eyes going wide, her mouth falling open, her mind went numb. It couldn’t be him. He couldn’t be here. Not really. She must’ve finally lost it. Her mind must have finally cracked. She blinked once, twice, three times, and he remained there, standing just a grasp away.
He was even more stunning than she remembered. Strands of blond hair fell across his brow and framed the hard, sculpted lines of his face: perfectly square jawline, full lips, and defined cheekbones. Crystal green eyes, threaded with shards of obsidian, locked on her. His gaze was mesmerizing, beautifully dangerous. Entranced, Jordan reached for him. The tips of her fingers tingled. She wanted to touch him. She needed to touch him, to feel him, to make certain he was real, that he wasn’t just a figment of her imagination.
“Gabriel Erhard,” Ross snarled.
Gabriel? Yes, yes! This was the man that had come to her show. This was the man who made her heart skip. The man that had offered her a record contract. No, not a man. He was the vampire that attacked Boras’ territories and freed the slaves. He had been at the boathouse. He had been her only hope for escape. And he was here.
“Give me the girl.”
The pounding on the door intensified, the guards would be in any moment.
“All those raids on my warehouses,” Ross chuckled. “All the slaves you released.” His fingers squeezed around her throat. Jordan gasped for air. Her lungs began to burn. She clawed at his hand, her nails scratching, drawing blood. Still, Ross held her. “Have you been searching for her?”
The black slivers that swirled in Gabriel’s eyes devoured the gentle green and bled into the white until his gaze was consumed by wrathful darkness. Demon eyes. His lips pulled from his long, razor sharp fangs.
Ross growled, “She’s mine, Erhard!”
The door splintered, the bodies of the incapacitated guards were shoved aside as vampires rushed in, filling the room, surrounding Gabriel.
Ross pressed his lips against her temple and whispered, “You’ll never have her.”
His grip on her throat eased as he swung her around. Glass shattered and rained down upon them, nicking her cheek, her arms, and her legs. They were falling. Jordan managed to suck in enough air to scream.
They landed with a hard tumble. Snow chilled her skin, and the cold instantly seeped into her bones. Ross popped to his feet. Repositioning her, he hooked an arm around her waist again and pinned her to his side. Her body jerked, and she felt her ribs crack as he pulled her closer and began to run.
Guns fired. Shrieks of agony rang out. Then came an unholy roar of a true beast.
Jordan struggled, squirming desperately to break free of Ross’ grasp.
“Stop.” He gave her a rough shake. With a pop, her shoulder dislocated. Jordan bit back a cry of pain and continued to fight.
Ross paused beside the frozen water’s edge. Looking back, he cursed. Gabriel jumped from the window, landing gracefully on his feet. His gaze locked on his target.
Ross spun around and sprinted across the lake, the ice crunching beneath his heavy boots. Jordan thrashed against his side. She was slowly regaining control of her limbs. Kicking back, she nailed Ross behind the knee. He stumbled, his grip on her loosening. Jordan kicked again. Ross fell hard, the jarring force flung her from his hold. Jordan felt her body fly through the air. She hit the ice, her head smacked. She bounced and slid. Her ears rang, and the world around her blurred.
Fingers wrapped around her wrist. Ross yanked on her injured arm, pulling her up. Pain flared in her skull, and a scream tore from her throat when Ross tossed her over his shoulder. Blood trickled down her brow, droplets clung to her lashes.
Ross began to run even faster. Jordan’s head lolled. Through the blood she could see Gabriel. He was gaining on them.
“I’ll kill you before he can have you,” Ross hissed.
Hurdling over fallen trees and jagged rocks, Ross began to weave through the forest. Branches scraped at her arms and legs. She continued to fight. Her wrists still bound, she laced her fingers together and beat at his back. Darkness began to settle over her. The chill in her bones spread until her body became completely numb. Pain lanced through her head with every jarring step Ross took. Her ribs cracked and bruised, she could hardly manage to draw a breath to scream.
Gabriel raced across the ice and darted into the trees.
Behind them the piercing sound of a siren reverberated through the night as Boras’ men gave chase. Gabriel’s soldiers awaited them in the forest just beyond the lake. Ross hadn’t seemed to notice the two he’d passed.
Jordan’s scream sliced through him. He could feel her agony and scent her fear. Blood rolled down her brow to drip in a steady stream from her chin. Still, she fought for her freedom. Fought for her life. But how much more could his little human withstand?
Gabriel’s speed increased with every step. His demon controlling him. His instincts demanding he punish the lesser vampire. He drew his dagger and he swung. Gabriel felt flesh tear and hot blood coat his gloved hand as Klein’s back bowed. Another swipe of the blade and Ross lurched forward, crashing to his knees. Still, he held Jordan. Dragging her down his torso, he wrapped his hands around her throat.
Gabriel drew his arm back, the bloodied steel glistening in the moonlight. Ready for the kill. His gaze fixed on Klein’s jugular.
Jordan’s strangled cry snatched his gaze to her. Terror flashed in her eyes.
“Come closer and I’ll snap her neck.”
Gabriel roared, “Release her.”
Ross laughed, his fingers tightening around Jordan’s throat. “Only when she’s dead.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, her body tensed, preparing for the end.
Gabriel moved so fast, he became a flash.
The sound of cracking bones echoed through the silent, still forest. Klein’shands slipped from her neck. His body fell backward, Gabriel’s dagger buried between his shoulder blades, his neck broken.
Jordan swayed forward. Gabriel caught her before she hit the snow. Twisting with her, he sat and brought her across his lap. His arms protectively enveloping her.
Gabriel gently cradled the back of her head, his other arm wrapped around her lower back, his long fingers gripping her hip. Snow began to drift from the dark, clear sky. Large violet eyes peered up at him, tiny flakes caught on her lashes, dusted along her cheek bones, and settled on her lips. Jordan was beauty, pure and true.
Releasing a heavy, thankful sigh, he whispered, “You’re safe now.” Closing his eyes, he blocked out the sound of gun fire that echoed in the distance and focused his energy entirely on the woman in his arms, allowing himself to savor this precious, fleeting moment of peace.
Jordan’s fingers trembled as she reverently caressed the line of his jaw. His eyes snapped open, startled by the riotous heat her bone chilling touch sent pulsing through him.
“I remember you.” Her teeth chattered and her breath wheezed. “Y-you were there.”
He smoothed her matted hair away from her face. “We’ve met once before, sweet.”
Her voice roughened and scratchy, Jordan continued, “Y-yes. At the bar, but I sa-saw you.” Her chest violently constricted and coughs rattled her slight frame.
Gabriel’s brow furrowed. The pain, blood loss, and trauma must be causing her confusion. She needed medical attention. Now. Scott was waiting with the jets. The former surgeon would be able to help her, if Gabriel could get her to him in time.
Carefully, he shifted her and removed his jacket. Enfolding her in its warmth, he then tore at his shirt. He needed to stop her bleeding. Using his hands and teeth, he shred the material and wrapped the strips around her head then used his tie to secure the makeshift tourniquet. Straining his senses, he listened for the sound of the Hummer’s engine. Turning his head to the East, he scanned the tree line. Gannon wasn’t far.
“At the b-boathouse.”
Her words drew his eyes back to her. Had she seen him during the raid? Unlikely. She’d been battling the guards when he arrived. Surely she’d been too preoccupied to notice him.
Brushing aside her claim, he replied, “Save your strength.”
“Y-you said m-my name.” Her fingertips lightly skipped over his lips, and Gabriel beat back the urge to snatch her hand and press a kiss to each delicate tip. “I saw your lips move.”
Stunned, unable to respond, Gabriel pulled her closer and began to rock with her. Lulling her. Had she heard his demonic war cry? Had she seen him crazed with the need to find her and maddened by bloodlust? Good god, the poor girl had to think he was a monster after what she’d witnessed.
Gabriel gently caught her wrist and felt something tug hard in chest when she laced her fingers with his. “Don’t fear me, love. I won’t hurt you.”
She kissed his leather covered knuckles. He felt something within him spark to life and quickly doused it. Whatever it was, it was foreign, and his self-preservation instinct demanded he crush everything he didn’t understand.
Jordan’s distressed moan spurred him into action. Slipping his hand from her hip, he felt her shoulder, dislocated from Klein’s rough handling. Gabriel cast a lethal glare toward the incapacitated vampire. He’d take immense pleasure in killing the bastard. He knew better than most the kinds of horrors Klein likely meted out to the mortals in his care. A swift death was too good for the Slave Handler, and Gabriel had some questions he hoped Klein would be unwilling to answer. During the auction he’d noticed the crest embroidered on the vampire’s coat, the Slave Handler was an officer in Boras’ army. He might be useful.
Gripping Jordan’s arm, Gabriel murmured a quick apology before popping it back into place. She barely whimpered with pain and he admired her strength.
“So brave. So strong.” He stroked her shoulder trying to ease some of the discomfort.
Jordan buried her face in the hollow of his neck, curling her body around him, seeking the heat that radiated from his bare chest. “You’re s-so warm.”
“Shh, now,” he softly whispered. With smooth movements, Gabriel scooped an arm under her legs and stood.
She licked her lips, the tip of her tongue accidently flicked over his skin. A tremor of lust swept through him. So not the time for that, asshole.
She stammered, “Am I dying?”
Dying? The question bitch slapped him back to reality. No. She can’t die. Not when he’d just found her. He’d get her to Scott and she’d be fine. But what if mortal medicine couldn’t help her?
Tightening his arms around her, he carried her through the snow. He pressed his lips to her cold cheek. “Be still, love. I’ve got you.”
Gabriel softly hummed a lullaby to the shivering, injured, unconscious woman he cradled in his arms. His suit jacket was wrapped around her shoulders, concealing the white lingerie she wore that was soaked from blood and melted snow, the delicate material translucent. Her head tucked against his neck, he pressed her tightly against his chest providing, what warmth he could. Careful to keep his steps light and his movements smooth, he gracefully trekked through the snow with his precious bundle.
Gannon gaped, shock rounded his eyes. He’d been staring like a moron since he found the couple. Gabriel’s blond hair was mussed from the chase. His ruthless gaze softened as he stared down at the woman. Tiny flecks of ice threaded her burgundy hair like a halo and caught on her lashes. She was an ethereal beauty in his arms. The scent of blood spiced the winter air and crimson speckled the snow at Gabriel’s feet.
The vampire king and his bride, Gannon thought as he watched them. A scene straight from a dark fairytale.
“Collect the Slave Handler,” Gabriel order the men as he brushed past Gannon.
The soldiers snapped into action, raced into the forest, and promptly returned with Klein’s body.
Gannon’s surprise doubled when he noted the vampire’s head was twisted unnaturally to the side and the dagger that was buried between his shoulder blades and not his heart. “You let him live?”
Gabriel opened the back door of the Hummer and laid Jordan across the bench seat. “For questioning,” he replied, his voice thick and jagged as gravel. “He wears an Officer’s badge.”
“Sorry I couldn’t get here sooner. Subduing the guards that followed you across the border took longer than expected.”
Gabriel grunted in response then climbed into the backseat beside the mortal. He reached forward and cranked up the heat. “Let’s hit it.”
Gannon nodded and shrugged out of his own suit jacket. He tossed it to Gabriel, who promptly draped it over Jordan’s exposed legs. Turning to address the soldiers Gannon commanded, “Roll out.”
Their men loaded the incapacitated vampire into an awaiting SUV and the convoy pulled into formation: one in front and the other behind the king’s vehicle.
Gannon slipped behind the Hummer’s steering wheel.
“Holy f—” Gannon’s curse died as he slapped a hand over his mouth, hiding his fangs. He held his breath, terrified of losing control. The girl’s blood smelled…delicious. The aroma filled the Hummer making the spacious vehicle feel as confining as a coffin. Her blood was everywhere. Crimson darkened her hair, soaked the improvised tourniquet around her head, and smeared Gabriel’s chest. Gannon felt his eyes shift, his vampire rising, responding to the taunting, sweet scent.
Gabriel’s deep, aggressive growl snapped Gannon from his trance, and he slammed the Hummer into gear, plowing through the snow. “She’s bleeding out.”
Gabriel didn’t respond. With gentle fingers, he brushed aside the snow dampened and blood streaked hair from Jordan’s too pale face. The leather pad of his thumb adoringly stroked her blue hued lips.
When they reached the highway, Gannon glanced over his shoulder and asked, “Should we take her to a hospital?”
“We can’t risk running into Boras’ supporters.”
“But she’s…in really bad shape.”
“We’ll stick to the plan,” Gabriel insisted, his tone flat. “When we get back to the jets, Scott will see to her. He can call ahead to have the compound’s O.R. readied if necessary.”
Gannon bit his tongue, halting his reply. He hoped the tiny mortal could hold on until they reached Las Vegas, but instinct told him only a miracle would save her. He couldn’t bring himself to contemplate the consequences of her death. His king was already walking the edge of sanity.
Jordan hadn’t regained consciousness, and she’d lost an alarming amount of blood. Her pulse was faint, almost non-existent. Thankfully, her shivers were beginning to subside, her flesh warming. But her body was battered from abuse and weakened from lack of nourishment. She was a fighter, but there was only so much a human could endure.
Gabriel had to believe Scott could help her. What other choice did he have? The surgeon needed to keep her stable until they reached the Tapfer compound. There, Scott had a top notch medical facility and, if necessary, Kate could use her magic to help mend Jordan’s wounds. The witch wasn’t strong enough to save Jordan on her own, but he had faith in Kate and Scott as a team.
And if Jordan is marked by Death?
A snarl ripped from his chest. His arms tightened around her, bringing her closer to him as if he could shield her from the shrouded wraith.
His vampire instinct commanded, Protect.
When the vehicles entered the clearing, the other SUVs roared toward the jets. The soldiers quickly piled out and began working on loading. The captives were filed onto the awaiting plane, bound and gagged. Most remained incapacitated, their injuries slow to heal.
The Hummer jerked to a stop in front of the small cottage they’d used as a temporary base. A tiny pained moan slipped from Jordan’s lips, eliciting a growl from Gabriel. Gannon glanced over his shoulder and muttered a sheepish apology.
Gabriel shoved open the vehicle’s door and carried Jordan through the snow, hugging her firmly to his blood stained chest. With a swift kick, the cottage door banged open.
He bellowed, summoning Scott as he swept through the room, rushing to the dining table situated before the cold hearth. He glanced at the blackened fireplace, as much as he wanted to light a raging fire to help warm her, he couldn’t. The enemy was on their heels, and he didn’t need to send them smoke signals.
Stroking her hair, Gabriel whispered, “Come on, Jordan. Stay with me.”
She instantly began to tremble at the loss of his body heat. Gabriel tucked the jackets more tightly around her, but he knew the thin material would do little. He needed to get her on the jet; there he had a private stateroom with a large bed and blankets. He could make her comfortable.
“Damn it, where the hell is Scott?”
Jordan flinched at Gabriel’s hard tone, though she remained unconscious. He smoothed his hand across her brow. “Shh, love,” he quietly cooed in her ear.
“Here!” a voice called from just outside. “I’m here.” Scott rushed into the cottage, his medical bag in one hand while he brushed the snow from his pea-coat with the other. “My deepest apologies, Your Highness, I was caught by a soldier who needed assistance.”
Gabriel straightened. Scott paused, his eyes fixed on the mortal. Shock and the spark of familiarity flashed in Scott’s soft brown eyes before he schooled his features with a clinical grace. But Gabriel had noticed the vicious chill that shook the shorter vampire’s thin frame.
His own gaze sharpened on the surgeon. Scott knew Jordan. How?
“What do we have?” Scott calmly approached the table and removed the blanketed jackets from Jordan’s frail body, revealing her blood stained nighty. His gaze swept her from head to toe, missing nothing.
Gabriel wanted to snatch the discarded cover back. He wanted to shield Jordan from Scott and Gannon. The drenched material revealed everything and Jordan deserved privacy. Respect. But the doctor had to do his job. “Be quick. We haven’t much time,” he stonily stated.
“Yes, Majesty.” Scott cleared his throat. “How did she sustain these injuries?” With light fingers, he touched the dark purple and blue bruises at her throat left by Klein’s hands.
After some agonizing questioning, Gabriel would see to it the Slave Handler experienced a slow death. “She took a tumble. Hit her head on some ice. Her shoulder was dislocated, but I popped it back in place.” Gabriel didn’t bother listing the obvious: she was malnourished, cuts and bruises marred her soft skin, frostbite had begun to color the tips of her fingers and toes, and Jordan was pale as the white teddy she wore. “She’s been kept sedated.”
Scott nodded. “Do you know what they used and for how long?”
Gabriel shook his head. While Jordan had been kept at the boathouse, never once did a guard approach her with a needle or force a pill down her throat, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t laced the little water or food they’d given her. He also didn’t know when the doses began.
“Your guess is better than mine, but we can find out,” Gabriel replied with a quick glance to Gannon, who nodded in silent understanding. As soon as Klein healed enough to speak, they’d have an answer.
“Either way, I’ll run a tox screen when we get to the compound.” Scott began to remove the makeshift tourniquet. Gently pressing his fingers to her skull, he noted, “The bone is cracked and the swelling…When did she lose consciousness?”
“She’s been out for roughly forty minutes.”
“And she hasn’t woken?” the surgeon asked. “Not once?”
Scott continued. His hands moved down her neck to her chest. He inspected her sternum and cracked ribs. He studied her injured shoulder. “Torn muscle and tendon.” Using his fingers, he pressed into her abdomen and frowned. “Trauma to her organs or infection…it’s difficult to say, but what I feel wasn’t caused by her recent fall. Bruises mare both of her sides as if she’d been kicked.”
Gabriel shifted closer to the table. His hand searching for hers. He laced their fingers together. “Continue,” he said when Scott’s composure waivered.
“I should do an internal exam in the event she’s been…”
Gannon muffled his curse with a cough as black bled into the whites of Gabriel’s eyes. X-Tina had insisted Jordan was a virgin, but slave traders weren’t known for their honesty and were notorious for their cruelty.
“Agreed.” Gabriel gave Jordan’s hand a squeeze before stepping over to join Gannon.
They turned their backs as Scott made quick work with his medical bag.
By the sweet Graces, please no, Gabriel silently pleaded. He sucked in a breath, closed his eyes, and through sheer will he remained still, blocking out the sound of stretching medical gloves, shifting limbs and fabric, the clinking of metal. Gabriel focused on Jordan’s slow but steady, hypnotic heartbeat.
An eternity later, the doctor repacked his bag. Gabriel swung around. Scott was covering Jordan with the jackets once more.
The surgeon didn’t meet Gabriel’s gaze. “There are no signs of force.” He removed his gloves and reached for a fresh set. “She needs a transfusion and liquids. Her shoulder was set well, but will likely need surgery to repair the muscle and tendons. The swelling in her lower abdomen is concerning and will need to be examined further.” Once again inspecting her head wound, Scott mumbled an oath. “We can’t confirm what drugs she’s been given and her skull fracture…The damage…” Shaking his head, Scott peeled off the gloves and angrily threw them into his medical bag. “It’s a miracle she’s still alive. Her injuries are extensive. If we were at the compound, I could help her, but in her condition...”
Scott didn’t have to finish, Gabriel understood. Jordan wouldn’t survive the night. Failure burned his blood like poison.
Meeting his king’s ruthless stare, Scott stammered, “Your Highness, the girl needs to be taken to the E.R.”
Gabriel growled. “It’s too much of a risk. We are outnumbered—”
“Please, Majesty, forgive me, but every moment is precious. I understand you and the soldiers cannot stay, but I can take her. If Sir Cooper is willing to provide an escort and protection, I will remain with the girl and see to it she receives the best care.”
Leave Jordan behind? He’d come to the goddman frozen tundra to rescue her, to take her home. “She stays with me.”
Scott clenched his jaw, restraining his protest, but the surgeon couldn’t hide the desperation in his eyes. He quickly dropped his gaze to the floor, and guilt pierced Gabriel’s chest. He knew he was being a selfish bastard.
“I can clean her wound, give her some antibiotics, and something for the pain” Scott said. “I’ll call the compound and have the O.R. set up, but we must be prepared for the worst.”
No. The Reaper would not collect Jordan’s soul this night. Gabriel knew what he had to do. A quiet numbness washed over him then. Ripping off the black leather glove from his right hand, Gabriel lifted his wrist to his mouth and savagely tore open his flesh with his fangs. Willing the wound to remain open, blood flowed from the hideous gash. Thick droplets hit the dry, cracked floors of the old cottage, the wood greedily soaking in the crimson pools.
Gently cupping her chin with his left hand, Gabriel used his thumb to part her lips. Cursing every god he could name, Gabriel pressed his wrist to Jordan’s mouth.
Scott rushed forward, alarm coloring his face. Reaching out, his voice spiked with panic, he gasped, “My king, what are you doing?”
In his peripheral, Gabriel saw Gannon block the surgeon. He restrained him with a strong hand pressed against his chest. Scott choked on his protests, his gaze locked on Gabriel and the mortal woman. Though Gannon said nothing, he could sense his Second’s concern.
“Relax, I’m not going to change her,” Gabriel said for his audience’s benefit.
Never again would he force the curse of bloodlust and immortality upon anyone. He shoved aside the memories of that rainy night he’d been left raw and broken and focused on the woman.
He would give Jordan just enough to keep her alive until they reached his compound. But, damn, her lips felt amazing against his wrist. When she stirred her tongue hesitantly stroking him, he ground his teeth, holding back a pleasured snarl. She was responding to his blood. Good sign.
Jordan caressed him with a long sweep of her tongue, and a hard shiver raced down his spine. She wants more. Tentatively, she sucked on him and he nearly fell to his knees. Too damn good. The darkness within him thrust to the fore. The curse was strong in his blood. With a few more pulls from his vein, he could turn her. His mouth went dry as the image of Jordan smiling at him, tiny perfect white fangs teasing her lips as she reclined nude in his bed flashed through his mind.
The sound of her heartbeat grew stronger; it drummed in his ears. Color rose to her cheeks, the chill of her flesh faded as bruises and insignificant cuts vanished. When she drew in her first deep breath, Gabriel pulled away, his wound instantly healing.
Gannon released the surgeon, who dashed to the table.
Loathing the red stain on her lips, Gabriel brushed his leather covered thumb over her mouth, clearing away the blood. “We’ve delayed long enough.”
“Your Highness, the girl—”
“She’ll survive until we reach Vegas,” Gabriel stated. Ignoring Scott’s concern, he turned to Gannon. “We leave now.”
Gannon nodded and stepped forward. He offered his king the discarded black glove. Gabriel accepted it and slipped the leather back on. Gathering Jordan in is arms once more; he took her from the cottage to the awaiting plane. Scott trailed on his heels. Gabriel laid her on the bed in his stateroom. He gently tucked the comforter under her chin, ensuring her warmth.
“Majesty,” Scott beckoned. He remained just outside the door, his frame filling the narrow hallway.
The surgeon’s voice riled Gabriel. The weaker vampire had been useless. In a flash, Gabriel wrapped his fingers around Scott’s throat, pulled him into the room and pinned him against the polished maple wardrobe. “I suggest you pray to whatever god you worship that either you or Kate can save the woman.” He increased the pressure. “If she dies, you’ll meet the sun.” Scott’s fear misted the air. “How do you know Jordan Culver?”
Jordan came awake with a groan. The sound was raw, it scratched her dry throat. God, her head pounded, and she ached all over, especially her stomach. Pain was nothing new to her and the cold…She was warm. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, she was warm and she was in a bed?
Panic bloomed in her chest at the realization. She tried to remember what happened, but the last thing she could recall was Ross slapping her awake and dragging her to the purchasing room. There’d been a fight...and the rest was a fog. But she was free. Wasn’t she? Or had she been sold?
Jordan cracked open her eyelids and squinted into the darkness. Light crept into the room from an open door. Her vision was blurry, but her other senses were strong, and she had the vague inclination that she was on a plane. Rough vibrations rattled her bones. The humming of powerful engines made her ears ring, but the sound was forgotten as the soft scent of winter and man had her turning her head into the pillow. She trembled, recognizing the scent.
Was she hallucinating? Had the drugs permanently turned her brain to mush?
Memories flashed through her mind like lightning. A tall, menacing figure dressed in black. Shattered glass. Snow. Pain as she hit the ice. Dizziness. The pressure of fingers wrapped around her throat. Gasping for air. Then he was holding her. The ruggedly beautiful blond male with diamond green eyes. His lips had brushed her cheek, Be still, love. I’ve got you.
Closing her eyes, twin tears slipped down to her chin. Please don’t let this be a dream.
Swallowing hard, she tried to call out his name, but no sound came from her lips. Opening her eyes, Jordan pressed her palms into the mattress and strained to lift herself.
She stilled. Her heart pounded. No one had called her “J” since she was a child.
A figure stepped from the room of light and paused in the threshold. Those gentle eyes, the soft reddish brown hair and that familiar, concerned frown. No. Impossible.
Jordan bit her lip. Concentrating, she forced herself up onto trembling arms. Her stomach rolled in protest of the movement and she fell to the side. Her head fell over the edge of the bed, her abdomen painfully contracted. The pounding in her head morphed into a violent hammering, and her vision dimmed. She felt the blackness of oblivion tug at the periphery of her mind. Her shoulders shook as dry heaves burned her throat.
“J!” The man lunged for her, crossing the narrow chamber in a flash. His grip on her shoulders was light as he sat her up, laying her back against the pillows.
No. No! She wanted to scream. This had to be a dream or some cruel hallucination. Wake up. This isn’t real. Come on, wake up!
Unable to hold back her despair and outrage, she began to sob. She’d snapped, her mind shattered. Ross had finally broken her.
“Please, Jordan, stop crying. You’re safe.”
Shaking her head, she closed her eyes. She couldn’t bear to stare at the doctor’s face. He wasn’t here. He couldn’t be. Scott was dead.
His fingers pressed into the pulse at her wrist. “Jordan, you’re—”
“L-leave.” The word was torn from her, hoarse and pathetic.
He pressed his palm to her brow, then her cheek. “Have some water.”
She sensed the cool liquid, perceived the glass he offered her, but didn’t reach for it. “Not r-real.”
“Oh, Jordan.” His sigh filled with sadness…and regret? “Please, open your eyes. Look at me.”
She shook her head again, gritting her teeth against the pain that shot through her skull.
Lowering himself to the bed, Scott sat on the edge.
Gaining control of her tears, she squeaked, “Dead.”
“No. Well, not entirely.” She heard him take in a deep breath. “I’m a vampire.”
Vampire? Jordan’s eyes popped open, and she studied the face of the man she once knew, noting the subtle changes. His gaze was sharper, his skin perfectly smooth, his breathing falsely rhythmic, and his aura was touched by darkness. Could this be true?
He smiled, revealing a set of canines too sharp to belong to a human. “Yeah. It’s me.”
Jordan reached out and brushed her fingers along his shoulder. “I’m real,” he said, answering her questioning gaze. “God, J, I’m so sorry. I had no idea—” His words died with an anguished expression. “You’re here now. Safe.”
Scott offered her the water again. She nodded, and he held the glass to her lips. After a few sips, she turned her face away. She was thirsty enough to down gallons, but her current condition wouldn’t allow it.
Wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand, she asked, “Where am I?”
“On a jet. We’re heading to Nevada.” He placed the water on the nightstand. “I’m so sorry, J. I should have kept tabs on you. I should’ve been there for you when Meg passed.”
“What h-happened to you?” Her voice cracked. “You vanished.”
Scott ran a hand through his short hair. “About twelve years ago, I had a lead on a vampire den. I went to scout ahead of the other hunters. I was discovered. Beaten.”
Jordan set a trembling hand on his knee, silently encouraging him to continue.
“One slit his wrist, proclaiming the best revenge against a hunter wasn’t death. I was too weak to fight him.” His eyes closed, he released a shuddering sigh. “Days later, your aunt found me…after the transformation. Meg hid me from the hunters. From you. I knew I couldn’t stay. So, for three years I traveled, learning all I could about vampire society. The Clans. The Laws. The Outcasts: vampires banished from the old Clans in Europe and blood bastards—like me.”
Jordan blinked. Besides the basics, she hadn’t known much about vampires but through her captivity, she’d picked up pieces of an entire world hidden in the darkness.
“Somewhere along the way, I’d heard Meg was sick. I didn’t realize…I would’ve come back for you both if I’d known it was so serious. I could’ve helped. I could’ve taken you in.”
She squeezed his knee. “I know you cared for my aunt.”
“I loved Meg. That’s why I thought it was for the best I stay away. I learned of her passing too late and by the time I found you, you were seventeen, living your life. You didn’t need a vampire hanging around. But I could’ve protected you. I could’ve brought you with me to Erhard’s territory—”
“Erhard?” The name fell from her lips on a harsh, excited whisper.
Scott cleared his throat. “Yes. This is his jet. We are heading to his compound.”
Questions whirled like a hurricane in her mind. Are you a member of his Clan? What’s he like? Do you know why he came to the bar? Did he really want to sign me, or did he know I was a target? Was he trying to protect me? Is it true he’s started a war amongst the vampires? Sharp, shooting pains splintered her skull as her thoughts raced. She wanted to know everything about the male.
“Relax, J, you’re getting worked up.”
Did he know I was taken? Had Erhard searched for me? She’d been moved so many times, taken from one prison to another, from one auction house to another. Whispers of raids and destruction always followed. Did he come for me? He’d bid on her and won the auction. He’d been willing to pay 1.3 million to have her.
Jordan sucked in a shocked gasp. Her cracked ribs jabbed into her lung and she cried out. Doubling over, she wrapped her arms around her middle. Jordan’s vision brimmed with blackness. Blinking back tears, she saw Scott filling a syringe. Terror swept through her.
She screamed, No needles. Please, no more needles, except no sound came out. She tried again, but a harsh groan was all that rose from her throat. On some level, she knew her fear was irrational. Scott had been like a father figure to her once. He wouldn’t hurt her, but…Ross had held her down…forced a syringe into her vein.
“Doctor!” That voice. Low. Strong. Powerful. “What the f—”
“My king, she’s seizing.”
Was she? Jordan’s mind had disengaged from her body. She was on the verge of checking out of the conscious world when his scent invaded her nose. She felt warm, gentle, large hands wrap around her upper arms and then…he was there. Rich, blond hair fell over his brow, casting shadows over his bright, clear, green eyes. His stern jaw was set, and his lips were pressed in a hard thin line.
Jordan’s eyes drifted closed. Her last thought as she was swept away: I’ll kiss away his frown.
“What happened?” Gabriel demanded. He’d been gone less than five minutes, leaving Scott to watch over her while he had a chat with the pilot. They weren’t far, approximately another forty-five minutes until they landed in the Nevada desert.
“I think it’s withdrawals,” Scott said.
Sadly, Gabriel wasn’t surprised.
“At first, I thought it was the pain. I readied some morphine. She saw the needle and…” Scott ran shaking hands through his hair.
Gabriel’s blood flashed ice-cold. “She regained consciousness.” He’d given the doctor specific orders: monitor the mortal’s vitals, provide pain killers as needed, and notify him the instant she woke. Scott had done the first, attempted the second before she passed out, and failed the last.
I should’ve been the one Jordan saw when she opened her eyes.
Scott’s shoulders straightened, his chin tilted with defiance. “Yes.”
Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. Did the surgeon disapprove of his king’s interest in the mortal? “Don’t allow your past relationship with the girl to cloud your judgment,” Gabriel warned.
“Your Highness, you have my word. I’ll treat her better than if she were of my own blood.”
Gabriel regarded the other vampire for a long moment before muttering, “Good” and dismissing him. Scott bowed his head and turned for the door. He paused, his hand on the knob, and cast a determined look toward Jordan, then closed the door behind him.
Jordan stirred, drawing Gabriel’s rapt attention. Her head shifted on the pillow. Her face pressed against the black sheets. She took in a shuddered breath as if she were trying to sniff the material. On her exhale, tension uncoiled from her body, and she was still once more.
Gabriel scrubbed a hand down his face. She’d awakened, indicating progress. But the pink that had tinted her cheeks after he’d given her blood had vanished, the ugly ring of bruises around her throat were glaring, and her flesh was ghostly pale, the blue of her veins visible. Her hair, a knotted mass of curls, spread out across the pillows. Dried blood matted her hair and streaked down her hollow cheeks. She was beautiful. Stunning, in a damsel-in-distress-but-still-can-kick-your-ass kind of way. Jordan was a scrapper, but she also needed protection, and he had a driving need to be the one doing the protecting.
Wasn’t that the underlying reason he’d gone after her? Yes, he wanted to spare her the torment of being enslaved. Yes, he wanted to end the vile trade and bury Boras. But this unnatural possessive trait she triggered within him was marrow deep, which meant he had to let her go. He’d see her well and have her memories scrubbed. Then, Gannon would make sure she was settled. His Second would offer her a record contract or help her achieve her goal of owning and operating her own yoga studio. Whatever she wanted, she’d have.
But, at this rate, she is going to die.
Shoving the dark thought aside, Gabriel resumed his post—kneeling beside the bed—and grabbed the damp cloth he’d brought in with him. Gently, he wiped the blood from her brow, temples, and cheeks, revealing smooth, creamy skin.
A tiny moan parted her lips when he softly trailed his gloved knuckles along her jaw. He snapped his hand back, terrified he’d hurt her.
Jordan frowned and turned her head toward him as if seeking his touch. When it didn’t return, low, panicked whimpers pushed past her lips, and she began to thrash.
Her confused, pained struggle made his chest clench. “Easy, Jordan, you’re okay. Please, sweet,” he beseeched, “your injuries…”
She fell silent and still. Then she opened her eyes. Her gaze was glossy and unfocused as she blinked. “Erhard?”
Her whiskey voice was the best sound in the world. “Yeah, I’m here.”
“Is…is this real?”
“Yes, Jordan, you’re safe.”
Her expression softened, and she sighed, “With you.”
Gabriel’s brow furrowed and that spark he’d snuffed earlier returned. “Yes,” he said, though her words hadn’t been a question.
Jordan reached toward him and he stared at her seeking fingers. He wanted to take her hand, to clasp it to his chest, to feel that body-rocking electric shock that shot through him every time she touched him. But he flinched away and her hand fell back to the mattress.
Clearing her throat, she asked, “Scott. Was he here?”
“He’s just outside. Would you like me to get him?”
Jordan shook her head then pressed her palms flat on the mattress. Using what strength she had, she shoved herself upright. The blankets fell away, exposing her tattered negligee and more.
Gabriel cursed and caught her before she tumbled over the edge of the bed. Taking great care, he closed his arms around her slender waist. She whimpered from the sudden jolt. Worried his touch added to her pain, Gabriel set Jordan against the pillows then abruptly released her. Before he could pull away, her tiny hand settled on his chest, and he was thankful to Gannon for convincing him to wash and redress. Gabriel hadn’t wanted to leave Jordan’s side, but she didn’t need to wake to a bare chested vampire covered in blood.
Her nails scraped the material of his fresh button up. Her fingers began to explore his pectoral and his shoulder. His shirt offered little protection from her touch and its effect. Despite the chill that graced Jordan’s fingers, her caress seared him. Gabriel considered pulling away, but the thought was fleeting. Jordan captured him with her hold-me-forever gaze.
She cupped his face. His lips parted, his breath shortened, and he lowered himself down to sit beside her. God, she made his blood burn. She also confused the hell out of him. Gabriel wanted to take her in his arms again, to hold her. To reassure himself that she was truly here with him, that this wasn’t a dream. She was alive. He wanted to rain kisses over her face and hands…to comfort her? Ridiculous. He wasn’t the comforting type.
Jordan’s hands slipped back to his neck, her fingers locking together, cupping his nape. She pulled herself up and brushed a trembling kiss against his lips. The caress was soft, tender—he’d never known anything sweeter. Gabriel almost groaned as the rush of desire heated his body. The urge to take control, to deepen the kiss was primal.
Yet he held back and somehow found the strength to ease away.
Her eyes were still closed, as if she were savoring his taste. Her lips were slightly parted, their perfect bow shape pouting for more and when she breathlessly whispered, “Erhard,” Gabriel knew a dark moment of near uncontrollable lust.
“Yes,” he said, his voice scratching his dry throat.
Her lashes fluttered open, and Jordan released his nape to sweep stray strands of hair from his eyes. She swayed, and he caught her to him. The thin material of her teddy pressed tightly over the swell of her breasts. Her pearled nipples strained against the material and abraded him with every shuddered breath she took. He swallowed a groan and pressed her even closer. Fuck, she felt amazing, and he was a letch for wanting her.
She’s on Death’s doorstep and you’re copping a feel.
He eased his hold, circled her wrists, and brought her arms down. He dismissed the sense of bereavement that swept through him at the loss of contact. He definitely didn’t acknowledge the disappointment that flickered across her face.
“We’ll land shortly and—”
Jordan reached up and twirled a lock of his hair around her index finger. His words caught in his throat.
“Your eyes…they’re beautiful…so warm.”
Gabriel felt a smile tug at his lips. “You’re the first to say such.”
Her eyelids drooped, but she resisted the lure of sleep. “Impossible.”
“Cold is how my gaze is often described.”
She shook her head and cringed. Her body stiffened all over from the pain.
Humor gone, he insisted, “You need to rest.”
“Tell me honest,” she gasped and grimaced. “How bad am I?”
“We’ll get you patched up.”
She swallowed hard then gave a short laugh. Sadness touched her eyes. “Okay, coach, but I’ll need more than a few Band-Aids. Not sure I can just walk this off.”
Gabriel couldn’t stop his smile.
Jordan’s gaze dropped to his mouth, and he sucked in a breath. His lips still tingled from her kiss and, god help him, he wanted to taste her. Claim her luscious mouth, deeply. As if reading his mind, her little tongue swept over her upper lip.
She’s human. Fragile. Don’t forget.
He laid her against the pillows once more, but she continued to fight sleep. “Please, Jordan, rest.” When he stood, she raised her hand to catch his, but missed.
Her breathless plea struck him like lightning. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Jordan’s eyes drifted closed then fluttered open. “Erhard?”
On impulse, he reached out and squeezed her hand. “Gabriel, you may call me Gabriel.”
Her eyes closed again. As she slipped into sleep, she sighed his name, and something within him clicked into place. The spark grew into a flame.
Gabriel carried an unconscious Jordan through the medical faculty’s entrance. A nurse immediately rounded the front desk and rushed forward. She offered to take the mortal from him. Gabriel refused to hand her over. “What room?”
“Your Highness, with respect, Dr. Fredrick ordered scans,” she stated. “We need to determine—”
“What room?” he snarled.
The nurse paled, if that were possible for a vampire. “Four,” she squeaked.
Gabriel turned and headed down the hall. He shouldered open the door, nearly knocking a shocked Kate to the floor. He gruffly greeted the Shaw witch with an apology while he eased Jordan down on the operating table. Scott burst through the door an instant later with a line of nurses behind him, they all narrowly missed running into Kate. The witch didn’t flinch.
Gabriel reluctantly stepped back, allowing the medical team to take over. He spared a glance at Kate. The witch’s eyes were wide, her gaze fixed on the mortal’s ashen face. Kate’s hands shook as she brought them up to her chest, her fingers locking together as if in prayer.
“Oh, Fates,” she gasped, her words heavy with sorrow.
His brow furrowed. “Kate?”
Silently, she started forward. Instinctively, Gabriel moved to intercept her. Kate’s steps stuttered, her trance shattered. She swayed, but Gabriel caught her before she tumbled.
The sudden movement drew a nurse’s attention. “Are you all right, dear?”
Kate pressed a shaking hand to her temple and shook her head.
“Your Highness, will you take her to the front desk? She should be seen.”
“I’m fine,” Kate said when Gabriel wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Truly,” she added as they entered the hall.
“You’re certain? Your face is stark white and, a moment ago, you nearly fainted.”
She pulled away from him. “Thank you, Majesty, for your concern, but I am well.”
Gabriel folded his arms over his chest. His eyes narrowed as the witch began to pace. Something about Jordan had rattled the calm Shaw healer. Kate’s small hands still shook and her breathing quickened. She paused a moment, and her gaze snapped to the closed door of room four. She began to nibble on her bottom lip. The witch’s nervousness was palpable, her silence unbearable.
“What is it?”
Kate cringed and spun around to face him. Her eyes widened, her pulse spiked with fear. Gabriel instantly regretted his harsh tone. He hadn’t meant to snap at the girl. Running a hand through his hair, he mumbled a curse. God, the mortal’s condition had him on edge and Kate’s unease wasn’t helping.
“I-I’m sorry, Your Majesty, but…I…” She dropped her stare to the floor. “The human…she…the damage is too great…”
A long forgotten emotion clawed up Gabriel’s spine: dread. Keeping his expression blank, his voice even, he asked, “What did you see?”
Though Kate’s voice trembled and broke, her words were unmistakable and sliced him like an axe to the gut. “I-I saw the shroud,” Kate explained. “Like mist, it clings to her. I’ve never seen something so terrifying…or so beautiful.”
Marked. He staggered, his back hit the wall. Closing his eyes, Gabriel shut the chaos of the world away, his senses focusing on the human in the operating room. He heard the determination in the surgeon’s voice as Scott ordered his team, but despite his skills, Jordan’s heart was slowing. Her lungs struggled to draw breath and she continued to lose blood.
He’d failed Jordan, just as he’d failed his tribe, his wife, and his closest friend, Dimitri. If he’d found Jordan sooner, she’d be happy and healthy now. And if he hadn’t extended the hunt, he and his men would’ve been able to save their village. He could’ve saved his wife from torment, rape, and murder. If he’d protected Dimitri’s mate…
Gabriel’s fingers locked into fists at his sides. He heard Jordan’s pulse stutter, and his vampire tore free of his chains. A raw roar ripped from his throat, his fists collided with the thick block wall. The building shook, lights flickered, and plaster rained from the ceiling.
He whirled around and pinned the witch with a threatening stare. “I won’t lose her.”
Kate blinked tears from her eyes then wiped at her face with the back of her hand. “I’m sorry, Majesty, but mortal methods and medicine can’t help her and magic...won’t save her.”
His demon snarled. In a blur of movement, Gabriel had Kate trapped between him and the wall. His claws ripped through his gloves and sliced into the stone on either side her shoulders.
“Won’t but not unable.” His words hissed past his fangs. “Are your gifts not strong enough? Could your High Priestess save my human?”
Kate shook her head. “No. Shaw magic has its limits and every witch is bound by sacred laws that can’t be broken. Please, you must understand, once a being has been marked by Death, they are beyond our reach.” Her eyes sparkled with terror as she met his demon’s black gaze. “I’m terribly sorry. Nothing can be done.”
With a low growl, Gabriel forced himself away from the witch. Turning his back to her, he cast a glance to the operating room’s doors. There had to be a way to save Jordan. “My blood,” he rasped. “It healed her cuts, faded her bruises, and heated her flesh.”
“The curse within your veins is powerful—greater than most—but that is dark magic.” Kate’s entire frame trembled as she resumed her pacing.
“I can give her more. In small doses,” he added.
“A temporary fix.” Her steps quickened. “The next full moon is in ten days. Females rarely survive the transformation, but with your blood—”
“No.” Gabriel’s fists clenched, his claws cut into his palms. Blood seeped between his fingers and dripped from his knuckles. “I’d rather watch her draw her last breath than damn her for eternity.”
“There is no other way.”
A sly smile curled his lips as an eerie calm settled over him, quieting his demon. His fangs retracted, his sight returned to normal, and his claws disappeared. His torn flesh instantly healed. “There is always another way.” He peeled the ruined leather gloves from his hands and tossed them into a nearby waste basket. “Reach out to your High Priestess.”
Kate’s expression was doubtful. “Magic can only do so much.”
“In my experience, laws can be bent. Some require hard work and imagination, but nothing is impossible. As I said, there is always another way.”
“Majesty, the tribe is preparing for the Sequester. It could be days before I’m able to contact the High Priestess. Right now, time is the girl’s greatest enemy.”
A dark mirthless chuckle shook his wide shoulders. “When is time not a mortal’s enemy?” Without another word to the witch, Gabriel punched open the swinging doors of the hospital room.
The nurses jumped in fear, their startled gasps quickly morphed into a chorus of protests. Scott spared his king a glance before returning his attention to the x-rays he’d been studying.
“Everyone, except Dr. Fredrick, get out.”
The medical team cast questioning looks to the surgeon then began to file out. Kate slipped past them, the door swung closed behind her.
Scott cursed and tore his medical mask off. “What the hell? I’ve work to do, and I don’t need this bull—”
Gabriel’s eyes narrowed, their color flickered green to black. “Careful, doctor.”
The surgeon pulled his gloves off and threw them in a waste container. “Every second counts. She is slipping away as we speak.”
Ignoring Scott’s tantrum, Gabriel stalked over to Jordan. She lay nude on the metal table, the negligee cut free of her body. Dark, angry bruises and red glaring cuts marred her delicate flesh. Her pelvic bones were hard lines, her damaged ribcage clearly visible.
His demon’s enraged howl for vengeance echoed his own dark, murderous desires.
Kill, the vampire chanted ratcheting up his need to mete out death, to claim retribution, to watch life’s light fade from his enemy’s eyes.
Gabriel’s vision shifted, his fangs sharpened in his mouth, and his hands began to shake from the intensity of his rage. He couldn’t allow the demon to surface. Not now. At the moment, Jordan’s life was all that mattered. Yes, he realized he was placing the mortal’s health before his mission. He knew he should be interrogating Boras’ guards, but he didn’t care. Jordan needed him.
Gabriel inhaled, taking her soothing jasmine scent deep into his lungs and as he exhaled he wrested control of his body, forcing his beast back. Her effect on him was mystifying and strangely comforting. Something to be analyzed later.
“My king, I must operate,” Scott insisted.
The surgeon’s words snapped Gabriel into action. Kate and Scott were right, time was not on Jordan’s side. She needed more of his blood. But not here. He didn’t want to chance her waking up on the operating table, frightening her further.
“Thank you, Scott, but that won’t be necessary.”
“You can’t be serious,” the surgeon scoffed.
Kate stepped forward. “I’m afraid, Dr. Fredrick, at this point your skills will do more harm than good.”
“There is nothing you can do for her,” Kate asserted.
“I have to try.”
Gabriel began working on the buttons of his shirt. “I’ll not subject her to more torture or mutilation.”
Scott sputtered, “What are you doing?” When Gabriel pulled the shirt free, the surgeon groaned, “Be easy with her.”
Gabriel rolled his eyes. He was being more than gentle. His touch was light and his movements smooth as he carefully dressed Jordan in his shirt. The material swallowed her fragile frame, and again, Gabriel was struck by a wave of an unidentifiable emotion. Something about Jordan wearing his clothes, his scent on her flesh…Shaking his head, he took her up in his arms.
Scott rushed to block the door. “Please, my king, what do you plan?”
Gabriel met the weaker vampire’s gaze. “You question me.”
“Apologies, but she is—”
“In my charge.”
The doctor opened his mouth to argue but snapped it shut as Gabriel’s eyes darkened to demonic black once more. “Wise decision,” the king growled.
Kate placed a hand on Scott’s arm and drew him aside. “There is nothing you can do. Trust me, His Majesty was right to put an end to your work. Not even my magic can save her.” Kate’s gaze drifted to Jordan. “She wears the shroud of Death even now.”
Scott’s sharp denial was cutting.
Gabriel tucked Jordan’s head under his chin and pressed her tightly to his chest, the chill of her flesh was biting. As he stalked past Scott, he said, “I’ll call on you within the hour. Be available.” With a swift kick, the doors banged open, and Gabriel carried his precious treasure from the operating room to the secret underground tunnels that ran beneath his compound. The subterranean passages provided the vampires in his employ protection during the daylight hours and housed the barracks for his small army.
About a mile down the main tunnel, he slipped into a hidden alcove, typed his security code into a pin pad then pressed his palm to the security screen. The bullet-proof door slid open, permitting him access to the stairs that led to the mansion above. Gabriel shoved open a secret panel and stepped into the dark foyer of the home. Instinct told him the house was deserted.
Jordan’s pulse began to fade as he crossed the polished marble floor to the grand staircase. Her heart hesitated. Gabriel’s stopped. “Come on, Jordan, stay with me.” With a single bound, Gabriel lunged to the second floor landing.
Her heart paused then rebounded and a desperate plea tore from his throat. He brushed his lips over her brow, his words rasped against her ear, “Hold on, sweet.”
Gabriel kicked open the door to the room adjoining his. Candles softly lit the space, fresh linens adorned the large four poster bed, and heat blasted through the vents. Fresh flowers decorated the night stand and dresser. A silver tray with a decanter of water and glasses rested on the mahogany desk to the left of the bed.
For a moment he contemplated laying her down, slitting his wrist, and filling a glass for her to drink from. Allowing her to take directly from his vein was dangerous. He’d managed to fight his vampire instincts earlier, but—
A hard gasp escaped her lips, her lungs expanded to the max as she strained to breathe. Her heart struggled and…he could feel Death’s presence. The Specter had come.
Gabriel palmed the back of her head, his fingers tunneled through the silken tangle of her hair. His knees gave out and he sank to the edge of the bed. Draping Jordan across his lap, he slashed at his throat, slicing open his artery with his claws.
Jordan’s heart seized.
“No!” The pained, guttural roar echoed through the empty mansion and shook the compound with the force of an earthquake.
He pressed her parted lips to the wound. His entire body trembled as he silently begged the Graces to have mercy on the mortal in his arms. His blood rapidly filled her mouth and slipped down her throat. Her body viciously convulsed against him as her heart violently slammed against her ribs.
Gabriel buried his face in her hair and inhaled, her luscious scent grounding him. Just enough. Give her just enough. She stirred in his arms, pressing her body closer to his, seeking heat, comfort. Her mouth moved over his throat, her tongue flicked over his skin, drawing a yearning moan from him. She shifted on his lap, her hip rubbing against his sudden erection.
Turn her. Protect her. Claim her, the vampire whispered.
She’s not mine.
Gabriel gripped the back of her neck; carefully, he drew her away from his throat and willed his wound to heal. Twisting his body, he laid her on the bed then stood. The dark finger prints around her neck faded, her skin brightened, and her cheeks flushed. The sound of mending bone and tissue was faint compared to the turbulent pounding of her heart. Health and strength flowed over her. His blood had healed her and, for the first time, Gabriel was thankful for his curse.
Only a temporary fix. Unless he changed Jordan, like he had Kerstyn, she would die.
A chill sliced down his spine as the memory of that rainy night surfaced. Lightning had ripped at the sky, thunder drowned Kerstyn’s last desperate gasp for breath as Gabriel’s fangs sank into her throat. Then and now, his stomach rolled in revulsion. He’d never enjoyed feeding directly from the source and avoided it as much as possible. But it had to be done. Kerstyn had been shot, and Gabriel had to drain what precious blood remained in her body for the transformation to work. He’d told Kerstyn to fight Death so that she may be strong in her next life as he broke the vow he’d made when he’d been changed against his will centuries before. He’d sworn never to subject another to this hateful eternity.
He refused to be a beast that took what it craved: blood, death. He’d once believed living by such a code set him apart, gave him honor. But that night he’d been an animal, a true monster from the depths of Hell. That night, he surrendered his pride and what little nobility he possessed. That night he’d forced immortality onto a dying woman because he’d failed to protect her. He’d made her into a vampire and Dimitri…had thanked him. “I will forever be in your debt.” Gabriel had responded, “No, Sire. It is I who am indebted to you.” Gabriel suffered no illusions; the price of freedom could never be repaid.
Gabriel scrubbed his face with his hands and whispered a curse. Fate really was a cruel, sadistic bitch. Here he stood, gazing upon another young woman, facing the same decision. Could he change Jordan? Would he be able to commit such a sin against her? If he continued to feed her his blood a little at a time, she’d live, but she’d be a vampire nonetheless, her survival dependent on him or another.
His demon let out a resentful growl and Gabriel tensed; both loathed the thought of another male providing for her, feeding her. Jordan’s lips on another’s wrist or throat, taking his blood…
But he couldn’t keep her. His life was turbulent at best. Since he became King and began uniting the Outcasts, he’d had a bounty on his head. Sooner or later, his enemies would launch a successful attack. Having a mortal hanging around was a liability. Especially one that dominated his thoughts and tormented his dreams.
Gabriel shook his head. He would let Jordan go, but first he needed to find a way to save her. He held on to the hope that Silvie would be able to help, and if his blood couldn’t heal Jordan, could Dimitri’s? As a pureblood vampire, Dimitri’s curse was the strongest.
Jordan’s body was heavy. Her heart struggled to beat.
Was she dying? She gasped for breath. His scent hit her like a shot, filled her lungs, and spread heat through her body.
The vampire’s lips brushed her brow. “Hold on, sweet.” Oh, god, that sexy, sexy voice. Deep and rough.
Gabriel’s arms tightened around her as he sat on the edge of the bed.
She wasn’t dying; she was drifting in and out of the most erotic dream she’d ever had. He held her immobile, pressing her mouth to a gash in his throat. His blood slipped over her tongue and down her throat. She knew this was wrong but, damn, his taste…ecstasy. A decadent dessert.
Jordan shifted, fitting herself more firmly against his naked chest. He felt so good and she wanted to be closer. Skin to skin. She wiggled her hips; waves of excitement resonated through her when she felt his erection. Long and thick, it throbbed against her. She flicked her tongue over his wound then sucked hard, drawing more of his blood into her mouth and sighed.
Gabriel cupped her nape and pulled her away. Jordan tried to protest, but no words came. He laid her on the bed. For a moment, she woke fully and peered up at her dark angel. His face was shadowed and his brilliant eyes glowed. He gazed down upon her and she watched his brow crease with a frown as his thoughts seemed to grow distant. Then he turned from the bed.
Her lips parted as she attempted to call his name, but darkness clouded her vision and she felt her mind float back into the twilight realm of dreams. In her fantasy, he hadn’t pulled her away from his throat and she’d wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him captive. Gabriel shifted her on his lap and she straddled him, his hard length nestled against her core. His hands framed her hips as she began to rock against him. His blood continued to flow, and she increased the pressure on his vein. His cock twitched with her every swallow.
Whispers danced around the room as consciousness tugged at her. She fought against the allure, not wanting to wake up. Gabriel’s hands were now roaming her back. He bunched the material of…whatever she was wearing, and exposed her shoulder. His tongue skipped over her skin, causing her to shudder. Then his lips pulled back from his long, lethal fangs and…
Consciousness teamed with self-preservation and shattered her erotic illusion. She wasn’t in her cell. No, she was in a strange bedroom, and she wasn’t alone. Hushed voices drifted through the room, both male, but one was powerful. Intimidating. Gabriel.
“Do you understand, doctor?”
Scott quickly replied, “Yes, my king. It will be administered only if necessary.”
Then came a woman’s voice, her words were gentle, but firm. “My spell will ensure no one will use it without your consent or knowledge,” she promised.
“And I’ll see that it is safely locked away,” Scott added.
She heard the shuffling of multiple footsteps and more muffled words before a door softly closed.
“I apologize if we woke you,” Gabriel said, his luxurious, velvet voice filling the room and Jordan shivered. They were in a bedroom. Alone.
Jordan searched the candlelit room for the hero of her erotic dreams. Gabriel leaned against a set of double doors, his shoulders nearly spanning their width. His dark golden hair was tousled. His intense green eyes were shadowed. He folded his arms over his wide, bare chest. He gripped a gray t-shirt in one fist, the material covering his left pectoral. Pity, the vampire didn’t provide her with an unobstructed view of his roped muscled torso. His black slacks teased her imagination with how low they hung on his hips. Gabriel’s lips curled up at the edges with a cocky smile. She blinked, unable to believe she was gazing at her darkest, sexiest, fantasy brought to life.
On some level, it occurred to her that she should be embarrassed since she was staring at him like an idiot. Her tongue practically hanging out, her eyes probably wide and round, like a love struck cartoon character, but she didn’t care. Hell, if he didn’t want women drooling over him then he should wear a freakin’ shirt.
A disappointed groan deflated her chest when he slipped the gray material over his head. Could he read her thoughts? She’d heard old, strong vampires had power of the mind and after he’d taken out the guards at the auction house, she knew he must be among the elite.
“How do you feel?” he asked once the shirt was in place.
Jordan’s eyes closed. Every cell in her body hummed with delicious vibrations triggered by the rich baritone in his voice.
He sounded closer. Opening her eyes, she gasped. She hadn’t heard him move, hadn’t perceived any shift in the air around her like she’d been taught to sense by her aunt. Gabriel stood an arm’s length from the side of the bed. Her fingers trembled as she contemplated reaching out. Would he let her touch him? Would he move closer? Sink down on the bed beside her?
Gabriel’s tranquil green eyes flickered with shadows of darkness. Dangerous. Exciting. She’d been raised and trained as a hunter and knew the signs of a vampire attack: their fangs would lengthen, their claws sharpen, and their eyes would become as black as the pits of Hell—empty and soulless. But not this vampire. Gabriel’s eyes shimmered with lust. The knowledge sent heat spiraling through her, setting her every nerve ending on fire. This powerful alpha wanted her, and his blatant desire awakened a craving deep within her.
Clearing his throat, Gabriel dropped his gaze to the floor. “Do you need anything?”
Jordan’s lips parted, ready to respond, when he turned away from her to pour her a glass of water. Had he sensed her thirst?
She flashed him a smile when he returned, offering it to her. She took a sip.
“Are you hungry?” he asked next.
A wave of nausea rolled through her stomach at the mere thought of food. Strange. She should be starving. “No.”
Of their own accord, her eyes shifted to the pulse at Gabriel’s throat. Her tongue darted out to wet her suddenly too dry lips. What she wanted, she couldn’t have.
Whoa. Had she just thought of taking his blood? That dream had really gotten her going.
“A bath, then?” he offered.
She sighed, “Yes.” It’d been so long since she’d had the privilege to lounge in a tub. When she’d first been captured, she was bathed with the other humans: lined up, stripped, and hosed off. After she’d revealed her strength and skill as a hunter, she’d been drugged and received rough sponge baths twice a week from a cruel, ham-fisted female vampire.
“I’ll start the water.”
Jordan watched him cross to a door to the right of the bed. He disappeared and the sound of rushing water quickly followed. Sucking in a breath, Jordan pushed herself up to a sitting position. The room spun, but she didn’t topple over like she had on the plane. Awesome. She also noted she no longer wore the baby doll lingerie either. Thank god. Turning her head, she sniffed at her shoulder and smiled as Gabriel’s scent tickled her nose. She was wearing one of his shirts.
With some light shifting, she slipped her legs off the mattress. Totally prepared to hit the floor, she gave it to faith and forced herself up. Her knees were weak, her entire body shook, but she remained standing. Closing her eyes, she drew in one steadying breath after another until the sharp pain in her head subsided.
Her eyes snapped opened. Gabriel stood in the doorway of the bathroom. His brows locked together with concern. Jordan took one step. Two. Three. Then her legs gave out. Gabriel scooped her up in his arms.
She blinked in shock. “Wow, you’re fast.”
He grunted in response as he carried her into the oversized bathroom. She whistled low. “I bet my entire apartment could fit in this room.”
Gabriel set her on the edge of the tub before turning to the cupboards lining one of the walls. He began to rummage through their contents, searching for something.
Steam rose from the water and Jordan couldn’t resist dipping her fingers into the warmth. Bad idea. She tumbled and fully anticipated to meet the water. A large hand gripped her shoulder and pulled her upright.
“Can’t leave you for a second.” Though Gabriel’s tone was sharp, his eyes sparkled with amusement.
“Sorry, I haven’t recovered my balance yet.”
He shrugged then tossed two pink discs in the water. They instantly began to fizz and the room filled with the scent of midnight blooming jasmine. The water foamed over; billowing clouds of bubbles took shape.
Gabriel reached over and turned the faucet off. “I should give you some privacy, but I’m afraid of leaving you alone.”
She smiled. “I promise to stay in the shallow end.”
That earned her a chuckle. “See that you do. I’ll be right back. Try not to slip or drown in my absence. I’d hate to have spent so much energy saving you only to have you perish from an accident in my home.”
How is a girl supposed to respond to that? She shrugged. He’s a sweetheart.
Jordan’s fingers trembled as she unsuccessfully worked the buttons of the shirt. This was going to take forever. After another futile moment ticked by, frustration got the best of her. Gripping the material with both hands, Jordan tore it apart. Buttons flew like tiny missiles, some pinged off the mirror over the double sinks while others bounced and rolled across the floor.
Once free of the shirt, she scooted her bottom back and gingerly slipped into the welcoming heat of the water. “Oh, yes,” she sighed, her eyes closing. This was exactly what she needed. She sank deeper under the bubbles and rested her head on the rim. The warmth eased her aches and twinges and chased away the cold that had seemed permanently settled in her bones.
“Good. You survived while I was gone.”
Jordan’s eyelids snapped open. “Y-you’re back already?” Did she just squeak like a mouse?
The edge of his lips twitched, but he didn’t smile.
She cleared her throat and eased into a sitting position. Stretching her arms wide, she drew a mass of bubbles to her chest to conceal her breasts. “Not going to lie, it was touch and go there for a minute.”
Again, he resisted a smile. Why? He’d be beyond gorgeous if he smiled.
Gabriel set a way too large black robe on the counter then headed back to the wall of cupboards to pull out a stack of fluffy white towels. After placing the pile beside the tub, he said, “That should be everything you need. I’ll remain in the room to grant you privacy.”
“No.” The force of her tone even caught her off guard, and the panic that had laced that one word struck her like a blow to the gut.
“Sorry.” She flashed her best I’m-fine smile. “For the last few days…weeks? Damn, it could’ve been months, I’ve been locked away. Isolated. I missed having someone to talk to.”
Anger flashed in Gabriel’s eyes but vanished as quickly as it appeared. He gave her a tight nod then crossed to the counter. Leaning against the granite edge, he folded his arms over his wide chest.
“You’re staying?” she asked, trying her hardest to hold back her surprise.
“Warning, I’m not one for chatting.”
“A man of few words, uh? I like that.” Jordan smiled then dipped below the water’s surface. Slicking her matted hair back, she reached for the bottle of shampoo. Her fingers still trembled. She cursed when the bottle slipped from her grip and banged to the floor. Gabriel abandoned his post to retrieve it.
Studying her hands, she curled and uncurled her fingers. Was it the shock of the night’s experiences, the remnants of adrenaline? Or was it withdrawals? How long ago was her last dose?
“What time is it?”
“Just past past eight.”
Her eyes went wide. “In the morning?”
He answered with a nod.
“Shouldn’t you be dreaming of nocturnal rainbows and blood fountains right now?”
Gabriel arched a single golden brow. “Nocturnal rainbows?”
“Yeah, or…whatever vampires like.”
“Such as unicorns.”
Jordan gaped. Had the rough and gruff vampire made a joke?
“The sun doesn’t rule us all,” he added with a shrug.
“In other words, you’re old and very strong.”
Again, a silent nod was her answer. How interesting, she thought. Her aunt had explained that powerful vampires could resist the call of the sun. Rumor was some could even walk under its rays without becoming as crispy and chard as burnt fried chicken. Could he chill on the beach and not burst into flame?
Gabriel offered her the shampoo. This time, Jordan reached for it with both hands, but still couldn’t hold on to it. The bottle dropped into the tub and water splashed across Gabriel’s shirt. “Sorry. My hands won’t stop shaking.”
He dipped his arm into the water and retrieved the bottle. “Would you like me to help you?”
Heat stung her cheeks. His hands in her hair? Oh, yes. Lord, please! A simple touch could lead to so much more. Did she want more? Was she ready for more? Never had she been so completely attracted to a man. Her interest in the opposite sex normally rated next to her love for oral surgery—seriously low. But Gabriel Erhard, the Chief of the misfit Outcast Society, was no ordinary guy a girl would meet walking in the mall. He was a warrior to the bone: lethal, powerful, and sexy as sin. His dangerous aura and I’ll-protect-you-from-everything-but-me gaze called to her wild, base instincts. She wanted him with a ferocity she’d never known existed inside her. Since the night they’d met at the bar, she’d been infatuated with him, and while she languished away in Hell, her desire to see him, to hear his voice, to feel his touch one more time was torturous. Gabriel Erhard, the enemy of her enemy, the male who dared to break the laws of his society to save the humans and bring peace to the realm of darkness, was a man she’d fight to possess.
Jordan mentally shook herself. She’d never been the brazen type and short of throwing her naked body at him, she wasn’t sure how to seduce the big, bad vampire. Was he single? Did he find her attractive? She’d seen the desire in his eyes earlier, she’s felt his erection—hadn’t she?—when she drank his blood.
That had been a dream. Jordan’s brows pinched into a frown, and she began nibbling on her bottom lip. That hadn’t happened. Right? Her hopes dwindled as she realized she’d likely imagined his reaction to her when he placed her on the bed.
At the sound of his forceful voice, she violently flinched, sending water cascading over the side.
“Are you feeling well?”
She met his gaze, and the concern she saw there made her heart melt. “I just got lost in here,” she tapped her temple, “and I’m not used to having company.”
Gabriel’s eyes flickered black with rage then return to their serene, normal green. “You’re here now, and you’ll never experience that again.” He went to his knees beside the tub. “Turn around. I’ll wash your hair.”
Mouth suddenly dry, Jordan gave a silent nod of her own. She turned in the water and dunked her head under again. When she came back up, Gabriel was ready. His large hands worked the shampoo into her matted hair. His touch was so light, so gentle, and welcome. Her eyes drifted closed and she swore she heard purring, from him or her?
Clearing his throat, he asked, “Why were you quarantined?”
Jordan tensed. She preferred to keep her skills as a hunter secret, a deadly surprise. Should she tell him she’d fought her captors, tried multiple times to escape and killed two of her guards? The result: solitary confinement and sedation. Would Gabriel view her as a threat? Could she trust him? Up to this point, he hadn’t given her any reason to doubt him and Scott could’ve already told him about her past. Keep it short or give detail?
“I didn’t mean to pry—”
“No. It’s okay.” She took in a breath, tried not to fidget, and failed. She ran her fingers through the bubbles.
“Is it safe to assume you don’t play well with others?”
His bland tone made her smile, and instantly, her nerves and doubt dissolved. “Something like that.”
She chewed on her bottom lip. “Well, Scott may have already mentioned this but, I grew up with hunters. Until my aunt passed, I lived as one.” Her throat grew tight, her eyes suddenly burned with unshed tears. Shaking her head, she continued, “Anyway, I took down two guards and that landed me in some deep crap.”
She sheepishly nodded. “You know, ended them.”
Gabriel whistled low. “All on your own?”
She wondered, Was he impressed? “Yeah, after I ditched my last foster home I had to rely on my training. I got to say, my skills would put Buffy to shame.”
“Little scrapper,” he chuckled.
“Living on the streets, I have to stand up for yourself and the other children. They needed someone to look out for them.”
He picked up the hand-held shower head, flipped the water on and rinsed her hair. “May I…ask a personal question?”
She shrugged, granting her permission. She wasn’t all that shy and she was enjoying the banter.
“Why have you not…been with a man?”
Jordan stiffened. She hadn’t expected that question. “Growing up the way I did I’ve seen my fair share of users. Teen girls were often taken advantage of. Some would trade their bodies for money, food, shelter. Others fell for the game young men like to play. Too many of my friends found themselves pregnant, alone and heart broken. With no family and not even a high school education, they have few prospects. I wasn’t going to be another statistic. I was focused, driven. I worked hard to get my GED and I busted to earn money and scholarships to pay for college.”
“There was never anyone you trusted?”
“The last couple of years I’ve dated and had a few boyfriends, but none made me feel…I don’t know. They just weren’t...” Like you, she wanted to say. Gabriel was unlike any man she’d ever met.
“Worthy,” he offered.
He started with the conditioner, lathering it on layer after layer to ease the mass of tangles. A tiny moan parted her lips when his fingers began to massage her scalp. His hands moved lower, kneading the tight muscles of her neck. Nothing had ever felt so amazing.
“Tilt your head back.” His rough voice was shiver inducing.
Jordan complied and he rinsed her hair clean. She sensed him shift behind her. His head dipped down, his cool breath fanned over the heated, slick skin of her neck. Gabriel’s long fingers smoothly stroked through her hair. “Like silk.”
Her eyes fluttered open. His fingers brushed her throat, gently skipped over her pulse. Desire shot through her, making her toes curl.
He grumbled in response and moved to his feet. Jordan spun and—Oh, god—his gaze burned. Deep black flickered with shimmering green. Was he just as affected as she was?
“Relax and soak as long as you like.” He exhaled a deep breath, his eyes returning to their natural color. “This room adjoins mine. I’ll be just a shout away.”
He was leaving? But she hadn’t asked any of her questions. She’d been too caught up, savoring his touch, her brain had stopped working. Damn it. Get your head in the game, Jordan.
“Wait.” She shifted and lunged for his hand, water sloshing over the side to slap the floor. Her fingers laced around his wrist. He could’ve easily pulled out of her weak grasp, but he froze and slowly pivoted. His gaze fell to her hand, his expression hard, and the muscle along his jaw ticked.
Jordan tightened her grip and his eyes snapped back to her. Was he angry? She released him and settled back in the water. Her legs could barely support her, yet she’d shot through the water like a torpedo to stop him. Where had the energy and strength come from?
Silence thickened the air.
Jordan nervously cleared her throat and said, “Please, stay. I’ve so many questions.” When he didn’t respond, she added, “I’d like us to talk and…I don’t want to be alone right now.”
Gabriel’s wide shoulders tensed, his chest rose and fell with a heavy sigh. “I’ll stay.”
The hard edge of his voice caused her to have second thoughts, but she wouldn’t back down. She had to know. The questions had been slowly driving her mad, circling on an endless loop as she sat alone in her cell. Now that she had the mysterious male within reach, all she could think of was brushing her fingers up his arms and over his shoulders. What would he taste like?
Focus! Jordan opened her mouth then closed it. Opened it again and said nothing. Where to start? Why did you come to the bar? Did you know I was a target? After I was taken, did you search for me or was my rescue a happy accident? She dropped her gaze to the bubbles and nervously began to draw designs in the foam.
As if reading her mind, Gabriel grunted. “We didn’t meet by chance. I knew you were on my enemy’s list.”
Jordan swallowed hard. One fear confirmed and one question answered. She’d had a feeling the Slave Handlers had been tracking her for a while before they’d made their move. If she’d been paying attention, as she’d been taught, she would’ve seen them coming.
“What was your plan? I mean, was the music bit legit?”
“You needn’t doubt my motives.”
“So, you own a record label and fully intended on signing me?”
He gave a short nod.
Okay, seems this vamp is on the straight. “Did you know I was going to be taken that night?”
Gabriel’s gaze shifted to the side then quickly returned. “No.”
He’d been blinded by her beauty and awestruck by her voice. His uncharacteristic and maddening obsession had impaired his judgment. Jordan’s capture, her imprisonment, torture, and impending death was his fault. But he’d make it right. Gabriel would find a way to cross her off the shadowy Specter’s most wanted list and, if possible, he’d rid her of her nightmarish memories.
“If I’d known they planned to take you that night, I wouldn’t have left you alone,” he declared.
Her pupils dilated, a blush rushed to her cheeks. “In the hall, you mean?”
Gabriel responded with another simple nod. He didn’t know how to answer that question without revealing too much. That night, he’d denied his instincts and fought the need to pin her to the wall, to kiss her, to take her. If he’d surrendered to his dark desires and ignored his no humans policy, he’d have been with her. Boras’ men wouldn’t have dared to strike in his presence. But he’d disregarded the primal whisper that begged him to touch her. I have her now, that’s what matters.
Jordan stared at his mouth. Was she thinking of the moment they’d shared that night? Had she wanted to know his kiss as much as he craved to know hers? Would she have let him push her against the wall?
She ran her tongue over her top lip before drawing on her bottom lip with her teeth.
Damn. How could such a simple action be so unbearably sexy?
“I thought about you,” she confessed, her words breathy. “In the beginning, I wondered if you’d been a part of my abduction. As time passed I started to question if you were even real. Maybe I’d dreamed you up to help cope with…Then I heard rumors. Your name was spoken like a curse by the guards. And the slave houses were destroyed.”
She traced her fingers through the fragrant foam, drawing little designs once more. Gabriel remained perfectly still as he waited silently for her to continue. Jordan was perceptive, and he knew where her thoughts were heading. But Gabriel wasn’t going to volunteer information.
“In the purchasing room, Klein, the lead Slave Handler, he asked if you’d been searching for me.” She boldly met his stare. “Were you?”
I was obsessed with finding you. “With every raid, I hoped to find you.”
She swallowed hard. “Last night, did you release any other humans?”
He shook his head. “The security was tight. We had to go in undercover,” he explained.
Jordan inched toward the edge of the tub, her fingers gripped the rim. The bubbles gathered around her, concealing her breasts, her trim waist, and rounded hips. Her eyes narrowed as she slowly looked him up and down—studying him—her gaze burning him straight to his soul.
“Jordan, I’m no hero. Don’t confuse me with being a chivalrous knight.”
Her tempting lips curled with a sweet smile. “I know. I just want the truth,” she replied.
Gabriel knelt beside the tub. His voice dropped an octave as he stated, “You know the truth.”
Jordan’s eyes rounded with understanding. “That night, you came to the bar to protect me.”
He bit back a menacing growl, hating his failure. “Yes.”
You belong to me. Gabriel’s head snapped back as if he’d been slapped. Jordan didn’t belong to him. Hell, she didn’t even belong with him. She was mortal, a being meant for the light, and he was steeped in darkness.
He briefly closed his eyes, savoring the sound of her honeyed voice whispering his name. He’d dreamed of her sighing his name as he kissed her, calling out his name as he brought her to orgasm. His blood heated to a dangerous degree as his gaze roamed her face, drinking in every detail. Jordan was so close. He could grip her upper arms and draw her against him. He could lay claim to her luscious lips. Inhaling deeply, he scented her desire and shuddered. Yes, she’d let him kiss her, and he’d have her moaning, begging for more.
Gabriel shook his head. What the hell was he thinking? She’s human and so easily breakable. Every caress would have to be tempered, every kiss reserved, every thrust controlled. He could never have more with Jordan. The fantasies had to end.
He tugged a hand through his hair. There was no point in torturing himself. He’d accomplished his goal: rescue the mortal. Jordan was safe. It was time for his life to return to normal. First thing, he had to end his monkish ways. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had sex, not that any of his bed partners were ever memorable. He shared pleasure with countless, nameless women. His recent lack of sex must be why Jordan was having such an effect on him. Once back in the city, he’d find an eager vampiress or two.
“I’ll leave you to your bath.”
Gabriel shifted and began to stand when Jordan’s hands settled atop his shoulders. His body became immobile, his limbs heavy as boulders. He couldn’t pull way even if he’d wanted to, and he knew he should want to break free of her hold.
He leaned into her touch.
“Please, wait. One more question.”
He sighed, trying to appear exasperated. “What is it?”
“Did you know I was going to be at the auction house?”
He reluctantly provided the truth and muttered a curse when she smiled. Jordan was beautiful, but when she smiled, her violet eyes brightened, and Gabriel’s thoughts turned hazy.
“You infiltrated your enemy’s camp to rescue me.”
Her breathless whisper sent shock waves through his system, igniting his blood and stiffening his cock. Damn it.
Gabriel gave her a quick nod in response. He would’ve pulled away then, but Jordan’s arms wound around his neck, and she tugged his head down. Their lips met. Automatically, Gabriel’s entire frame tensed. The pressure of her lips was gentle and innocent at first, but this wasn’t like the chaste kiss they’d shared on the plane. Jordan thrust her tongue into his mouth and…god damn, she was delicious, like fresh berries. He should pull away. He should make her stop. End this now, he told himself. But her kiss was electrifying, and he was completely enraptured.
More. Just a little more.
“Yes,” she sighed. Had he spoken aloud?
Her fingers dug into his shoulders, and she raised herself out of the water. His breath slammed from his chest when Jordan pressed her wet body against him. Soft, full breasts crushed against his solid pectorals.
Gabriel’s hands fisted at his sides. He couldn’t touch her. Shouldn’t touch her. He’d lose control. He’d pull her from the tub, pin her to the floor and drive his cock into her. Oh, fuck. His entire frame shook from the thought.
Jordan deepened the kiss, dancing her tongue along his. Demanding more, she began to rub against him. Her stiffened nipples abraded him despite his shirt. She moaned, and he felt the vibration all the way down to his hardened shaft.
He should stop this. Jordan was mortal, injured, and weak.
Gabriel took command of the kiss, twining their tongues together again and again. Licking. Sucking. He’d kiss her until she could only gasp his name, delirious from pleasure.
Her fingers tunneled through his hair, tugging. “Mmm. More.”
God, her voice, her lips, her taste—drugging. Maddening.
“P-Please,” she gasped, mindless.
Gabriel’s control shattered. More. Yes, he’d give her more. His woman didn’t need to beg. Gabriel released his fists, his fingers greedy for the feel of her silken hair, to feel the weight of her breasts in his palms, and to explore the silken heat between her thighs.
His ears twitched, was that a knock on the bedroom door?
“My king!” Gannon called.
Gabriel wrenched away from her. Panting, he shot to his feet. Anger incinerated his lust, but it did nothing to stop his gaze from roaming over her. Jordan’s skin was flushed, glowing. Her pouting, alluring lips were swollen. She gazed up at him, her eyes hooded, their violet depths darkened with desire.
He spun around before his eyes dropped to her exposed breasts. He ran shaking hands through his hair. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he rasped, his voice rougher than he’d like. God, the little mortal had him trembling in his boots.
He snapped, “Fuck, Gannon, I’ll be right there.” Keeping his gaze averted, Gabriel grabbed a towel and thrust it at Jordan. “Here. Dry off.”
She mumbled a thank you and stood. Gabriel crossed to the counter and snatched the robe. He handed it to her and ground his teeth as he silently waited for her to secure the oversized garment around her waist.
Without a word, he turned back to her, scooped her up and carried her from the bathroom to the bed. He set her down and quickly backed away, not trusting himself. He was tempted to join her, to reclaim her lips, to bury his cock and fangs deep in her, to show her just how dishonorable he was. He’d told her he was no knight, no savior. And too powerful. Mortals are off limits.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he repeated, flashing his fangs.
Jordan straightened her shoulders and met his hard gaze with challenge. “Why?”
Gabriel tilted her chin up with an index finger. “I’m a beast, Jordan. A vampire.”
She swallowed hard, but didn’t glance away. “I know.”
“You shouldn’t test my control.”
“You could’ve stopped me.” Her lips curled with a seductive smile that set fire to his blood. “But we both know you liked it.”
Damn, she was bold. He liked it. None of his lovers would ever dare speak to him that way. Then again, they were all vampires and understood his strength, his capability and respected his title. Her teasing was refreshing, but not welcome.
“Fact, I could crush you.” He drew his finger from her chin up her jaw line. She shivered when he lightly tickled her ear. Her breath hitched when he skimmed his fingers down her neck. Her pulse leapt beneath his caress. “You’re so very…mortal.”
Jordan’s vivid gaze shimmered with desire. Her need called to him, her pulse beckoned him to have a taste. His vampire stirred, restless, and his hunger for her sharpened along with his anger. He shouldn’t be here. He should be down in the dungeon interrogating Boras’ guards and slowly killing the Slave Handler. He shouldn’t be kissing the human, and he definitely shouldn’t be touching her or threatening her as he was now.
Dousing the flames she ignited within him, Gabriel dropped his hand and stepped away from the bed. Pinning her with a cold stare, he snapped, “Don’t do that again.” He turned his back to her and went for the door. As he stepped out into the hall, Gabriel heard her whisper, “I can’t and won’t make any guarantees.”