Authors: D.B. Reynolds
Table of Contents
Look what people are saying about D.B. Reynolds’s VAMPIRES IN AMERICA
“Did I mention that the sizzling sex factor in this book is reaching the combustible stage? It is a wonder my Kindle didn’t burn up.”
—La Deetda Reads on DECEPTION
“It’s the brilliance of her characters and the staying power of the world she has created that always keeps me coming back for more.”
—KTRT Book Reviews on DECEPTION
“D.B. Reynolds has outdone herself with this exhilarating story; and VINCENT is a worthy addition to Reynolds’s always excellent Vampires in America series.”
“Terrific writing, strong characters and world building, excellent storylines all help make Vampires in America a must read. Aden is one of the best so far.” A TOP BOOK OF THE YEAR!
—On Top Down Under Book Reviews
“In one of the most compelling vampire books I’ve read in a while, Reynolds blends an excellent mix of paranormal elements, suspense and combustible attraction.”
—RT Book Reviews on LUCAS
“Remarkably fresh and stunningly beautiful! Sophia is as enchanting as she is dangerous!”
“Move over Raphael, there’s a new Lord in town.”
—Bitten by Paranormal Romance on JABRIL
Also by D.B. Reynolds from ImaJinn Books
Vampires In America
Vampires in America: THE VAMPIRE WARS
The Cyn and Raphael Novellas
Vampires in America: The Vampire Wars
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.
PO BOX 300921
Memphis, TN 38130
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-688-8
Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-669-7
ImaJinn Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.
Copyright © 2015 by D.B. Reynolds
Published in the United States of America.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
ImaJinn Books was founded by Linda Kichline.
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Cover design: Debra Dixon
Interior design: Hank Smith
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To all of my little people, some of whom aren’t so little anymore, and some who won’t be reading this until they’re much older!
Andrew, Xander, Jack, Blake, Zara, and Kristopher
Evan, Kate, Ian, and Leah
Love you all.
“We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes
until we are acquainted with their designs.”
The Art of War
Nice, France . . . six months earlier
“THIS IS YOUR plan, Mathilde?” Christian Duvall didn’t look at his Sire when he asked the question. He didn’t want her to understand yet just how troubled he was by what she’d revealed to him.
“It is,” she answered. There was more than a touch of pride putting a shine on her usual arrogance.
Christian looked up and met her crystal blue eyes. He’d never seen eyes that color before or since meeting Mathilde, and he’d often wondered if she used some of her considerable power to augment their pristine beauty. She was vain enough to do it, but it seemed like a waste of energy, even for someone as self-centered as Mathilde.
“It seems . . . unnecessarily risky,” he said finally. “Why not simply grant permission to those of your children who wish to challenge for a territory of their own in North America?”
Mathilde’s gaze narrowed. “I’m not doing this for them. I want to see that arrogant bastard brought low. I want to see his face when I claim his territory for myself.”
“You mean Raphael.”
“Of course I mean Raphael. Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve said?”
Christian smiled to take the edge off her temper. He was still a favorite of hers, although not perhaps for much longer. Certainly not once he told her what he really thought about this misbegotten scheme of hers.
“I’ve listened to every word.” Christian crossed his arms over his chest, eyeing her thoughtfully. “You seem quite confident you’ll succeed.”
“Because I am. Not even Raphael can stand against so many of us.”
“If you fail, he will kill you.”
“I shall be certain not to fail then,” she said, laughing as she placed a dainty hand on his forearm. “How could I do otherwise with you by my side?”
Christian stared down at her. “But I will not be by your side, my lady,” he said gently.
Mathilde’s eyes sparked with power, a blue fire there and gone so quickly, he almost missed it before her gaze shuttered and she smiled. “Of course you will, my Christian. I would not leave you behind on such a momentous undertaking.”
He wasn’t fooled. He’d known Mathilde too long to miss the calculating cruelty behind that charming smile. He very carefully gathered his power, keeping it buried beneath his shields, but ready on a moment’s notice. He didn’t want to provoke her, but he’d long ago grown too powerful for her to command him.
“You don’t understand,” he said patiently. “I will not undertake this fool’s errand with you. It is a bad plan, but even more, it goes against everything that it means to be Vampire. We fight for what we want. We do not use untrustworthy magical devices or an army to hold our opponent captive while pretending to issue a challenge. This is trickery, not victory. And it will not work. Do you think Raphael has no allies? No loyal children of his own to fight against you?”
“And do you take me for a fool who has not considered such things?” she snapped, then smoothed the anger from her expression, like shedding a mask. “You will anchor the power circle to hold him prisoner,” she ordered calmly. “And when the North American West is mine, you may name your prize.”
Christian shook his head. “You’re not hearing me, Mathilde. I
join you in this.”
Mathilde stared at him, the skin over her fine cheekbones stretching taut as she fought to contain the rage she could feel bubbling beneath her skin. But she wouldn’t fight him directly. He was too powerful, and she might lose. It was the same reason she was resorting to such underhanded tactics with Raphael.
“I am your Sire,” she ground out. “You are mine to command.”
“You are my Sire,” Christian agreed quietly. “But I have not been yours to command for a very long time.”
Her power brushed over his skin, probing. It was an unpleasant, un
feeling. But her probing clearly argued against any attempt to force his compliance, because once again, her expression went from furious to charming in the blink of an eye.
“Very well, you may assist in taking North America’s Southern Territory instead. Vincent is still consolidating his power in Mexico, and with Raphael neutralized, Anthony will be badly weakened. Hubert intends to challenge for the South. He will help me subdue Raphael initially, before departing for Texas, where I’ve promised him my help in staking his claim. You bring far more power to his cause than I intended to offer, but this will ensure his cooperation in taking Raphael down, so perhaps it’s for the best.”
Christian eyed Mathilde, his expression carefully blank. He didn’t dispute her orders; he didn’t say anything. He had every intention of journeying to Texas. He even intended to challenge Anthony’s hold over the South. But not on behalf of fucking Hubert. He was going to claim the South for himself, and he’d kill Hubert or anyone else who tried to stop him.
That was the vampire way.
Malibu, CA . . . present day
THE HEAVY STEEL gate rolled back on nearly silent wheels, and Christian lowered the back window of the Lincoln he’d hired to drive him from the airport. He’d considered renting a car and driving himself. Maybe something sporty, with a convertible top and a responsive engine. He loved fast cars, and he’d never driven up the California coast. It was supposed to be spectacular. Though perhaps not so much at night.
The lack of scenery wasn’t what had changed his mind, however. It was the desire to impress, to be taken seriously by the very powerful and very dangerous vampire lord he was about to meet. He’d been a little surprised that Raphael had agreed to meet him so quickly, given Mathilde’s underhanded attack. She’d actually succeeded in the kidnapping part of her plan, but unfortunately for her, she hadn’t been able to hold him. And Raphael’s revenge had been terrible, just as Christian had warned her it would be. It wasn’t only Mathilde who’d paid the ultimate price, but every one of the master vampires she’d assembled for her so-called power circle.
Malibu’s wet ocean air drifted in through the open window, carrying a fresh, briny scent as Christian studied the expansive estate. The turn off Pacific Coast Highway had taken them through an established grove of trees before they reached the main entrance. As they rolled past the gate, the road curved and dropped several feet to reveal the main residence.
The big house had clean, modern lines, with balconies on every level. A large swimming pool shone a brilliant blue to one side, and a combination of security and landscape lighting illuminated every exterior inch of the building. The town car rolled to a stop by a broad set of stairs with glass inset doors at the top.
Christian climbed out of the car, then waited as a pair of vampires came to escort him. They were dressed in black combat-style clothing, hulking and silent as they scanned his person with two different detection devices. They didn’t pat him down as they might have a human, however. One didn’t touch a vampire as powerful as Christian without his permission—something he wasn’t about to give to two vampires he didn’t know or trust.
The two guards finished their scan, but didn’t step away immediately. One of them was muttering into a wireless communication device, obviously checking in with his superior. It was plain that Raphael took his security seriously, and Christian had no doubt that Raphael’s people were hyper-vigilant about this visit, given his own ties to Mathilde. He hadn’t been part of the Hawaii operation, but he
Mathilde’s child, and he’d originally come to this continent at the invitation of Enrique, the now dead Lord of Mexico who’d conspired with Mathilde against his fellow North American lords.
Christian wouldn’t go down without a fight if that was Raphael’s intent, but he didn’t think the Western Lord had agreed to this visit just so he could kill him.
Christian still didn’t know the precise details of what had gone down in Hawaii, although he’d heard wild rumors about the role of Raphael’s mate in his ultimate victory. But regardless of the specifics, there was no question of the outcome. Mathilde was dead, and while he’d experienced a momentary pang of loss in the moment she died—a response hardwired into him since she was his Sire—his overwhelming reaction had been one of relief. He’d already been in Texas by then, already making his own plans. Christian was a powerful vampire, and it spoke to Anthony’s weakness that he’d been able to cross into the Southern Territory without raising any red flags on the vampire lord’s radar. He’d been in the territory for months, had purchased properties within a few miles of Anthony’s estate in Houston, and had even visited the estate incognito during a large gathering. In his mind, that meant the Southern lord was unaware of his presence, which made him too weak to rule.
Since then, of course, Anthony had announced his decision to abdicate, which opened the territory to an official challenge. Christian hadn’t met with Anthony yet, but he’d been to a couple of social affairs on the estate. Everything he saw told him Anthony’s hold on the territory was fragile. If he hadn’t abdicated already, Christian would have challenged him outright. But he had, and Christian had felt it wise, given his connection to Mathilde, to initiate contact with Raphael to make nice with his future allies.
The guard completed the check-in with his superior, then stepped back, clearing a path for Christian to proceed up the stairs, albeit with the two guards flanking him.
“Is there somewhere my driver can wait?” Christian asked.
The guard immediately signaled yet another black-clad vampire who ran around the car and exchanged a few words with the driver, who drove smoothly away from the front entrance and parked near a multi-bay garage on the other side of the courtyard.
“This way,” the guard told Christian, and all three of them—Christian and his two escorts—proceeded smartly up the stairs and into a marble-floored foyer. A huge crystal chandelier sparkled brightly over a grand staircase directly in front of him. His escorts didn’t pause, but steered him straight for the stairs, and up to the second floor. They turned right, then left, down a thickly-carpeted hallway, passing several closed doors.
But Christian didn’t so much as glance away from their destination. He knew exactly where they were going. He could feel Raphael’s tremendous power simmering up ahead, like a giant beast curled in its lair. He kept his own power carefully tamped down, not permitting even a spark to leak through his shields. He didn’t want the smallest hint of a provocation when he stood before Raphael.
His escorts stopped in front of a pair of huge, black walnut doors, big enough to have stood in the grandest cathedral back home in France. The wood was beautifully carved, with elegant bronze inlays depicting a shadowy garden. It was a fantastic work of art, and Christian wondered if Raphael had found the doors in an ancient building and brought them to Malibu, or if he’d had them created just for this purpose. Did he have such an artist among his vampire children? That would be a treasure indeed.
The doors whispered open as soon as they’d come to a full stop. One of his escorts nodded at the huge vampire standing in the now-open doorway, then, without a word, the two guards started back the way they’d come. Christian barely registered their departure, his attention focused entirely on the sizeable Japanese vampire blocking entrance to the room. The vamp was close to seven feet of muscle and attitude, and every ounce of that attitude was saying he didn’t trust Christian at all.
Christian couldn’t blame him, but he wasn’t going to tremble before him either. “I believe Lord Raphael is expecting me,” he said calmly, meeting the big vampire’s cold, black eyes.
The gatekeeper’s only reaction was to rake those eyes over Christian from head to toe, before meeting his gaze head-on once again with an unfriendly glare. Someone, perhaps Raphael, must have given a telepathic order at that point, because the huge vampire uttered a soft grunt and stood aside in silent invitation to enter.
Christian gave a slight tilt of his head in acknowledgment, then walked past the door guard and into the room where Raphael waited.
It was an office of sorts, though not many could afford the view visible beyond the wall of windows framing the desk. The moon rode low in the sky, sheening the black ocean with a silvery light and creating the perfect celestial backdrop for Raphael. Christian’s first thought was just how wealthy the Western Vampire Lord had to be to afford such an estate, but then he remembered that Raphael had claimed this property hundreds of years before it had become the favorite playground of the rich and famous. And the thought of all those centuries that Raphael had survived was even more daunting than any consideration of his wealth.
As Christian approached the desk, he passed an entire wall of shelves, filled floor to ceiling with books. He itched to get closer, to take a look at the volumes stacked there. Some appeared to be newer titles, but many of them had the look of ancient tomes, and on the very top shelves were what appeared to be actual scrolls.
He sighed inwardly, cautioning himself to pay attention to the 8000-pound gorilla sitting behind his desk, rather than lusting after his books.
This was not to suggest that Raphael resembled a gorilla. Most of the older vampires were good-looking. That seemed to go hand in hand with the vampire symbiote, part of its natural survival strategy. Something to make vampires more attractive to their prey, and thus better predators, which then extended the life of the symbiote. But Christian had met enough vampires over the years to recognize when the symbiote had been given more to work with from the very beginning. Raphael was one of those. He’d probably been beautiful as a human long before he’d become a vampire. Add in the power and charisma fairly radiating from him, and there probably wasn’t a human alive who would want to resist his seduction.
On the other hand, given the stunning woman standing next to Raphael, her green eyes glaring hatred at Christian, he doubted the vampire lord went hunting for blood prey at all anymore.
The woman had to be Raphael’s mate, Cynthia Leighton. Rumor ran rife all over the South that she’d been the one who took out Lord Jabril not so long ago. By all accounts, Jabril had been a sociopath who murdered and raped at will, and no one still alive seemed to mourn his death. But that only made it even more impressive that Leighton had defeated him. It also explained Raphael’s unusual role as the power behind the throne in the South.
Normally, when a vampire lord was assassinated, the vampire who killed him became the next lord. But as a human, Leighton couldn’t rule even if she’d wanted to. So when she’d killed Jabril, it had left the territory wide open to a potential bloodbath of challenges as vampires vied to become the next lord. It had also made her a target for those who wanted to make absolutely certain that their path to the throne was clear. Hence Raphael’s decision to step in and establish Anthony as Lord of the South, with the full weight of his enormous power behind him.
With Raphael doing everything he could to establish a stable North American alliance, he wouldn’t have wanted an unstable South on his border. But more importantly, by quietly and firmly settling the question of succession, it protected Leighton from anyone who thought to take the South by assassinating her.
Seeing Raphael and Leighton together now, noting the body language between them, Christian had a feeling it was Raphael’s desire to protect his mate that had dictated his actions.
But what Christian would really like to know was why Anthony was leaving. Why now? And how much did Raphael have to do with it? He doubted he was going to get those answers tonight, however. It was highly unlikely that the Western Lord would volunteer the information himself, and his people were notoriously close-lipped about their lord’s business.
He came to a stop in front of the wide desk. “Lord Raphael,” he said, tipping just slightly into a bow from the waist in recognition of Raphael’s position as Lord of the West . . . and a scary, fucking vampire lord.
“Christian Duvall,” Raphael acknowledged, the silver gleam of his eyes hinting at his power. “My mate, Cynthia Leighton,” he said, touching the woman’s leg briefly.
“My lady,” Christian said politely, despite the hostility radiating from her every pore.
No one introduced the two other vampires standing to Raphael’s right, but Christian had done his research before coming here, and didn’t need an introduction. The black vampire was Jared Lincoln, Raphael’s lieutenant. And standing next to him was Juro, who was Raphael’s longtime security chief. He was also an identical copy to the huge vampire who’d admitted Christian to the room, and who now stood guarding the door—or blocking it, depending on one’s perspective.
“Gentlemen,” Christian said, ignoring the fact that they were both eyeing him with only slightly less hostility than Leighton was.
“Are you here about Mathilde, Christian?” Raphael asked, getting right to the point. “She was your Sire, I believe.”
“She was, my lord. But as you know, she was not universally beloved among her people.”
“Why would I know that?”
Christian regarded him for a moment. “You spent time in her court. It was long before I was turned, but Mathilde spoke of you often.”
“In nothing but the most glowing terms, I’m sure,” Raphael said dryly.
Christian permitted himself a small smile. “Not exactly, my lord. Your rejection of her advances were, in part, what drove her to undertake such a reckless invasion.”
“You were privy to her plans?”
He nodded. “She wanted me to anchor the power circle which was intended to imprison you. I declined.”
“Why?” Cynthia Leighton demanded. “Were you afraid she’d lose?”
Christian switched his attention to her. “The probability of Mathilde’s victory, or lack of it, had no bearing on my decision. Although I did warn her that her plan was likely to fail.”
“But you didn’t bother to warn anyone else,” she said bitterly.
He regarded her quizzically. “It is not the vampire way, my lady. We live by a single rule . . . you keep what you win. And winning means challenging your opponent and besting him. I did not endorse Mathilde’s decision to resort to trickery against Lord Raphael, but she was my Sire. My duty was to maintain her confidence, whether or not I approved of her plans. On the other hand, I owed no allegiance to Lord Raphael. It was his burden to survive Mathilde’s plot, no matter how underhanded or ill-conceived.”
He nodded in Raphael’s direction. “Your mate understands, my lady, even if you do not.”
His words didn’t have the hoped-for effect on the woman. If anything, she seemed even angrier than before. He saw Raphael’s hand stroke the back of her thigh in a move both possessive and soothing. Although the gesture didn’t seem to cool her anger any more than Christian’s explanation had. She was every bit as fierce as the rumors had painted her.