Located on the Mississippi River midway between
Chicago and St. Louis
Mother Nature never intended for vamps and Weres to live in peace. And she sure the hell never intended them to enjoy the sort of you're-my-bestest-pal bromances that were the current flavor of the month among humans. A damned good thing considering that just being in the same territory tended to send the two predatory species into a homicidal rage.
But the looming end of the world truly did make for strange bedfellows, and with the potential return of the Dark Lord from the hell dimension where he'd been banished centuries ago, both the Anasso of the Vampires and the King of the Werewolves had little option but to try and work together.
Well, the phrase “work together” might be a generous description of their uneasy truce, Styx acknowledged, leaning his six-foot-five frame against the walnut desk in his fellow vampire Santiago's office. Dressed in his usual assortment of black leather pants, shit-kicker boots, and silk shirt that stretched over his massive shoulders, he looked exactly what he was: the badass leader of the vampire clans. But it was the grim power etched into the Aztec beauty of his face and the ruthless intelligence in his dark eyes that made wise demons shudder in fear. Styx was more than an oversized bully. He was cunning and patient and capable of compromise when necessary.
Which was the only reason he was standing in the same room with a damned dog.
The tiny turquoise ornaments threaded through the braid that hung nearly to the back of his knees tinkled as he gave a rueful shake of his head, his gaze keeping careful track of his companion.
As much as he hated to admit it, Salvatore fit the elegant officeâwith its slate-gray carpet and the museum-quality French Impressionist paintings that were hung on the paneled walls and carefully preserved behind glass casesâfar better than he did.
The bastard always managed to look every inch the king with his dark hair slicked back in a tail and his muscular body clothed in a charcoal-gray suit that no doubt cost more than the gross national income of several small countries. Like Styx, however, there was no mistaking the brutal authority in Salvatore's dark, Latin features and golden eyes.
He ruled a savage race that would quite literally rip apart and eat a weak king. It gave a whole new meaning to “Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.”
The Were paused to study the bank of high-tech monitors and surveillance equipment that would give Homeland Security wet dreams, his gaze lingering on the monitor that revealed a pair of near-identical female Weres with blond hair and green eyes seated at a table several levels below them.
“You're certain that this place is safe?”
Styx snorted. The fact that he was mated to the Were sister of Salvatore's mate did nothing to ease the tension between them. Not after the bastard had done his best to kidnap Darcy from Styx.
Of course, he did have a small (very small) amount of sympathy for Salvatore's predicament. At the time his Weres were facing extinction, and in an effort to save his people he had genetically altered four Were female pups. After they were stolen the king had sworn to retrieve them. It was his bad luck that Darcy and another of the females, Regan, had both chosen to mate with vampires, although his frustrated fury had been eased when he had found a third sister, Harley, and she'd managed to bring back the ancient mating urges that had been lost to the Weres for centuries.
“Be happy that Santiago isn't around,” he warned. Although the club that catered to the demons scattered around the Illinois countryside was technically owned by Viper, clan chief of Chicago, it was Santiago's pride and joy. “He would take your lack of faith in his security as a personal insult. And an unhappy vampire is never good.”
“I could say the same thing about a happy vampire,” Salvatore drawled, turning to flash Styx a mocking grin.
“You were the one who asked for this meeting.”
The dog shrugged. “Harley misses her sister.”
Styx believed him. Although it had only been three weeks since Salvatore and Harley had left Chicago for St. Louis, the two sisters had become nearly inseparable since they'd been reunited. But he was also certain that he hadn't been asked along for his sparkling personality.
“And the reunion of our mates offers the opportunity for us to speak without alerting the world to our meeting?”
Salvatore shrugged. “I prefer not to attract any pesky curiosity.”
“You have information?”
“No, only questions.”
“Shit.” Styx grimaced. “I was afraid you were going to say that. What's your question?”
“Have your Ravens managed to track down Caine and Cassandra?”
Styx tensed at the unexpected question. It was no secret that Cassandra was the last of the missing Were sisters who'd been unexpectedly located in the caves of a demon lord. And who was now on the run with a cur who'd been magically transformed into a full-blooded Were while rescuing the female. The movement of his personal bodyguards, however, was classified information.
“What makes you think I'm looking for them?”
Salvatore arched a taunting brow. “Just because I'm beautiful it doesn't mean I'm stupid.”
“It does, however, mean you're a pain in the ass.”
Styx curled back his lips to reveal his massive fangs. “Increasingly hungry.”
There was a prickle of danger as the power of the two alphas swirled through the air. The frigid blast of vampire slammed against the raw heat of Were, promising a violent explosion if released.
Then, with a low growl, Salvatore was leashing his wolf, the mocking smile returning to his lips.
“I know that Darcy is anxious to meet her missing sister, and since the demon world is well aware you are firmly wrapped around her finger it was a logical assumption that you would have your goons on the hunt.”
Styx nodded, hoping for Salvatore's sake it had been an educated guess. He was prepared to work with the Weres to prevent the end of the world, but he'd be damned if the lice-infested bastards were going to have spies in his camp.
“Just as you have released the hounds?” he demanded.
There was a short pause before Salvatore gave a grudging nod of his head, no more happy to share intel than Styx.
“I'll admit that I sent Hess and a few of my trusted lieutenants to have a chat with Caine.”
“And they claim that he and Cassandra have vanished into thin air.” The lean face hardened with annoyance. “If I didn't know they were the finest trackers in existence I would have had them skinned for either being incompetent or liars.”
“And you want to know if my Ravens have had any more success?”
“Hess speaks the truth,” Styx admitted, referring to Salvatore's right-hand man. “Jagr was able to track Caine to a lair outside Chicago, and while he couldn't enter the house past the hexes the cur has placed around the yard, all signs are that they simply disappeared.”
Salvatore cursed, not bothering to pester Styx with stupid questions. Jagr was Styx's finest Raven and if he said the trail ended, it ended.
“Magic?” he instead asked.
“The trail was too cold to say for certain.”
Salvatore returned to his pacing. “Dammit.”
“I take it that Harley isn't going to be pleased with the news?” he taunted, pleased to be able to point out that Salvatore was equally at the mercy of his mate.
“No more pleased than Darcy.” The Were shook his head, his body tense. “But it's not just being able to return Cassandra to her sisters. Or even discovering what the hell turned Caine from a mangy cur to a pureblooded Were.”
“What's troubling you?”
“What isn't?” His humorless laughter echoed through the office. “Nasty creatures that we thought were gone from the world forever are crawling out of the woodwork.” The Were glared at Styx as if it were entirely his fault that the streets were suddenly overrun with demons that were supposed to have been banished. Including the damned Sylvermyst (evil cousins to the fey), who made a grand entrance just a few weeks ago and promptly caused Tane's rescue of Laylah and her child to go to hell. “And it seems like every week there's a new plot to return the Dark Lord.”
Styx pushed away from the desk, savage anger racing through him. “Some of them coming too damned close for comfort.”
“Exactly.” Salvatore waved a slander hand. “And we have the babies that supposedly fulfill some stupid mysterious prophecy.”
The words of the foretelling flared through Styx's mind. He'd devoted the past weeks to discovering everything he could of the prophecy. And most importantly, trying to discover what the hell it might mean.
“Don't be so dismissive, Were,” he growled. “I'm old enough to know the dangers of ignoring such potent warnings.”
“Trust me, leech, I'm not dismissive.” The gold eyes suddenly glowed with his inner wolf. “Not after that demon lord nearly managed to destroy my people. All the omens point to the barriers between dimensions thinning, which is precisely why I'm so concerned for Cassandra.”
Styx's lips twisted, realizing Salvatore's mind had followed his own path. And that they'd both been chasing down the female Were for the same purpose.
A Were with a brain. Hell, the world truly was going insane.
“Because she's a prophet.” It was a statement, not a question.
Salvatore dipped his head in agreement. “The first true prophet in centuries. Her disappearance at this time can't be a coincidence.”
“No.” Styx curled his hands at his side. The implication of her absence was already giving him nightmares. “She would be a priceless weapon to whoever has access to her powers.”
“We need your Hunter. She's the only one with the skill to find Cassandra.”
Styx hissed at the mention of the missing vampire. For all her youth, Jaelyn was the finest Hunter to have been trained in the past century. Unfortunately, she'd been kidnapped three weeks ago by Ariyal, a Sylvermyst prince.
Damn his black heart.
“Jaelyn's still missing.”
“That's our guess, but we have no way of knowing for certain.”
They both paused as they silently accepted that Jaelyn could be dead. Just another casualty in the increasingly dangerous war.
Salvatore stepped forward, his face hard with concern.
“Something wicked this way comes, vampire,” he warned, “and we had damned well better be prepared.”
Styx nodded. For the rare moment they were in perfect agreement.
Morgana le Fey might be dead, but her opulent palace on the isle of Avalon remained intact.
More than one room was on the wrong side of tattered. And the grand throne room had been blown to hell, but the vast harems had escaped the majority of the damage during Morgana's last, great battle.
A damned shame.
Not just because the sprawling rooms designed with mosaic tiles, marble fountains, and domed ceilings looked like something from a cheesy
film set (although that was reason enough to burn the gaudy piece of crap to the ground) but because Ariyal had spent more centuries than he cared to remember in the harem trapped as a slave.
It had been a well-guarded secret that a handful of Sylvermyst had turned their backs on their master, the Dark Lord. They'd bargained with Morgana le Fey to keep them hidden among the mists of Avalon in return for them satisfying her insatiable lust for men and pain.
Not necessarily in that order.
Unfortunately Ariyal had been a favorite of the sadistic bitch.
She'd been fascinated by the metallic sheen of his bronzed eyes and his long chestnut hair. But it'd been the lean, chiseled muscles of his body that she'd devoted hours to exploring. And torturing.
With a low growl he shook off the unpleasant memories.
Instead he concentrated on the female who was currently enjoying the nasty surprises hidden among the velvet divans and exquisite tapestries.
Well, maybe enjoyment wasn't what she was feeling, he acknowledged in amusement, watching as she slowly came awake to discover she was chained to the wall by silver shackles.
Jaelyn, the vampire pain-in-his-ass, let loose a string of foul curses, not seeming to appreciate that he'd carefully protected her skin with leather to keep the silver from searing her flesh, or that he'd chosen one of the rooms that was specifically built to protect bloodsuckers from the small amount of sunlight that filtered through the surrounding mists.