Authors: Coreene Callahan
ALSO BY COREENE CALLAHAN
Fury of Fire
Fury of Ice
Fury of Seduction
Fury of Desire
Fury of Fate: A Dragonfury Short Story
ARRIORS OF THE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Coreene Callahan
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Kerrie Robertson
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014952312
For Kallie Lane—thank you for always being there to steady me when I stumble.
Silence echoed, oozing from dark corners in the underground passageway. Beady eyes flashed red, watching him from dense shadows. Hunkered down behind a burnt-out Humvee, Venom grimaced and rechecked his position. Hemmed in underground. Alone without backup. And oh, yea
h . . .
rats, a whole platoon of the furry little freaks.
Terrific. Just perfect. An ugly accompaniment to an already bad night.
Swallowing his distaste, he pivoted around the back bumper and, keeping low, brushed past the wrecked SUV. He slid to a stop halfway up the dank corridor. His combat boots scuffed against cracked concrete. Uneven sound ricocheted, breaking through the silence. The rat pack scurrying along the side wall scattered, squeaking as though he’d stepped on one. Super. Another complaint to add to the pile. The disease-ridden collection of disgusting had just given away his position. Now the enemy knew exactly where he was, which left him wishing Wick would show up. Goddamn his best friend. Of all the nights for the male to leave him to his own devices. Stifling a snarl, he fired up mind-speak, sent out a mental ping, and waited. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Thre
e . . .
Not surprising. He might as well put hope away. Shelve expectation too. Wick wasn’t coming. Was no doubt well occupied playing—
The rapid staccato of gunfire cracked through the quiet.
Finger curled around the trigger, Venom dodged right. Bullets flew over his head toward the Humvee. Metal ricocheted off metal. Sparks flew, lighting up the darkness as violent sound exploded around him. Teeth clenched, he pressed the butt of the Heckler & Koch to his shoulder and, leveling the weapon, changed course.
Practice made his movements efficient.
Experience sent him down an eastbound tunnel.
He needed to reacquire the target. And fast. Before the enemy regrouped and found reinforcements. One shooter was manageable. Half a dozen, however? Not great odds. So yeah, it was now or never. Time to take the male out, then relieve him of his extra ammo. Restocking would help. KO’ing the prick playing hide-and-seek in the subterranean labyrinth would be even better. Combat boots crunching over broken glass, Venom hugged the wall, rechecked his sightline, and wheeled around the next corner.
Footfalls echoed, pinging off hard surfaces.
Venom swallowed a growl. Smart move. Better strategy. With the corridor narrowing up ahead, the reason behind the male’s retreat wasn’t rocket science. Practicality at its best—a maneuver based in evasive tactics and rooted in the bottleneck at the far end of the tunnel. A trap, no doubt. A pretty good one too. Not that Venom cared. Eliminating the enemy, ensuring none remained, was job one. Paramount to not only the mission, but his peace of mind. So, screw it. Ambush or not, he’d walk straight into it, hope he caught a break and got out alive. Weapon at the ready, he swung into another dark hallway and—
Movement flashed in his periphery.
Venom reacted. A sideways shift, and he dodged the fist. A hard jab sent the handgun in the enemy’s hand flying. The Beretta rotated end over end in mid-air. He grabbed the bastard by the throat and palmed the hilt of his hunting knife. Steel zinged against leather as he pulled the weapon free and struck. The razor-sharp blade met skin, slashing across the male’s carotid. Arterial spray arced through the air an
d . . .
Another enemy solider dead. Next level achieved an
d . . .
Venom took his thumbs off the Xbox controls and, with a satisfied grunt, slid into a slouch against the couch back. Leather hissed in protest. Boredom slithered in, igniting a firestorm of discontent in the center of his chest. Swallowing a curse, he tipped his head back, letting it fall against the backrest, and stared at the seventy-two-inch TV through his lashes. Huge. Expensive. The best of the best. The flat screen screamed
look at me
, dominating an entire wall in his bedroom, standing alongside every video game known to mankind. The extravagance should’ve embarrassed him. It made him angry instead. But not for the usual reasons. He hadn’t lost. Or gotten turfed by one of his Nightfury buddies in a high-octane war game. Venom huffed. Hell, getting his ass kicked in a round of imaginary combat sounded fantastic right about now.
It would’ve, after all, solved the greater problem.
Maybe even banished the buzz of unhappiness. Relieved him of the restlessness too—the sharp slash of isolation, the abyss called loneliness threatening to swallow him whole.
Fiddling with the gaming toggles, Venom frowned at the controller. Jesus. Labeling it like that—laying it on the line—made him feel like a pansy. Like a needy male without the wherewithal to look after himself. Like an asshole too, for wishing Wick was with him instead of across the hall, spending time with J. J.—the female his best friend not only loved, but had mated almost three weeks ago. He swallowed past the tight knot in his throat. Talk about selfish. Twisted with an extra helping of inappropriate too. Particularly since he was happy for Wick. Well okay, at least half of the time. The other half, he ended up mired in another emotion altogether. One in which the little green monster pumped envy through his veins, leaving a bad taste in his mouth and callouses on his heart.
God, it was so screwed up. A total seesaw. One that left him thrilled for Wick and J. J. one minute and jealous the next.
Rubbing his hand over his jaw, Venom tossed the controller. Its black body somersaulted. As it tumbled through the air, he stacked his bare feet on the beanbag chair doubling as a coffee table and reached for his drink. Clear liquid sloshed against the rim of the tumbler. Ice cubes clinked, sending the scent of hard alcohol into his airspace. The acrid smell singed the insides of his nostrils. Venom ignored the burn and watched the controller slide to a stop instead. It bumped into the arm of the sectional. He raised the glass and downed another mouthful.
Jägermeister. Straight up. Three shots strong.
He needed it tonight. Wanted to blunt his senses with the only thing that ever got him drunk. His curse—a terrible claim to fame—he knew. Beer didn’t do it for him. Neither did wine or whiskey. Only
would get him where he wanted to g
o . . .
flat-out hammered with an extra helping of smashed. The reality of it burned with every ounce of rotgut he threw back. Then again, he hadn’t barricaded himself behind his bedroom door seeking comfort. Or sat his ass down to KO an imaginary enemy via video game intent on feeling sorry for himself either. He’d locked himself away to face facts.
The first one was simple.
He should be thankful. Grateful something—
, no matter how bad it tasted—blurred the lines, bringing the promise of oblivion. He needed the break, a way to stop his mind from churning and his heart from hurting. So yeah. A drunken stupor delivered by a bellyful of what amounted to moonshine sounded about right. Nothing else could supplant the toxic swill swimming through his veins. Not that he lamented his noxious nature. The pros of being a venomous dragon always outweighed the cons. Venom snorted, the sound half laugh, half despair, and marveled at the irony.
Another jam-up. More emotional dichotomy. Polar opposites that went something like: proud of his abilities—and the heritage that drove them—one moment, tired of all the bullshit the next.
Same story, different decade.
Anyone who touched him too long suffered the consequences—blood poisoning by way of the toxins entwined in his dragon DNA. In his blood. On his skin. Buried deep in his muscles. Which meant prolonged physical contact with anyone wasn’t a good idea. Females included. A pang tightened his chest. It was intolerable. Completely unfair. He loved sex—the heat, the pleasure, the alluring sounds a female made while he stroked deep and she begged for more. He craved the connection. Liked the closeness. Enjoyed the taunt and tease an
d . . .
m . . .
the taste of the fairer sex, so sweet on his tongue, never failed to enthrall him.
Too bad none of the encounters ever lasted long.
Most couldn’t endure his touch—the deadly effect of his skin—for more than forty minutes at a time. So he never stuck around. Or stayed the night. Never got to hold a female in the aftermath or experience the benefits that kind of intimacy wrought. Get in. Get out. Give each female all the pleasure she could handle before he took his own between her thighs. And yet, despite the contact, he still felt alone. Isolated from normal, neck-deep in deadly and not-good-enough. No doubt part of the reason he was so jealous of Wick and the other mated Nightfury warriors. He wanted what his brothers-in-arms possessed—a female to call his own. Someone to come home to after a night spent fighting the Razorback assholes he called enemy.
Someone he couldn’t hurt with his touch. No matter how much time he spent with her.
With a sigh, Venom drained his glass, then reached for the chilled bottle sitting on the side table. Without looking, he poured himself another glass. Jägermeister sloshed against cut crystal. He took another pull and, sliding lower on the seat cushions, glanced at the vaulted ceiling. Two stories above him, winged angels took flight across the cupola. Painted by Wick, the fresco was a masterpiece, a testament to his friend’s skill with a brush. Not that Venom had known it until recently.
He huffed at the absurdity. Sixty years spent in close quarters with the male, and he hadn’t guessed. Or suspected a thing. His friend had kept that tidbit locked down tight, refusing to share anything about himself—all artist stuff included—until J. J. started hanging his paintings in her music room two weeks ago. Now Wick’s art infused the space, bringing color and life to pale walls above the pile of instruments he kept buying for his mate.
Hell, she’d even hung a couple of canvases over Venom’s fireplace across the room.
Turning his head, he eyed the paintings. After a minute spent staring, he swirled the ice in his glass and pushed off the couch. Unsteady from all the booze, Venom swayed on his feet. His vision blurred for a second. He blinked. His eyes came back into focus a second before he put himself in gear. Skirting the long arm of the sectional, he strode across the room. Hardwood chilled the soles of his bare feet. Tall bookcases streamed past in the periphery. Gaze glued to the artwork, Venom barely noticed. The books were par for the course, a product of his decision to make the library inside Black Diamond—the lair he shared with the other Nightfury warriors—his bedroom five years ago.
A fantastic decision.
He loved stories of all kinds. Textbooks and treatises too. Throw in a few ancient tomes for the fun of it an
d . . .
yeah. Pure heaven. Thanks to Daimler—the Nightfury’s go-to guy—the library boasted more than its fair share of reading material. Everything he needed shelved in a large space that epitomized elegance. Dark wood. Pale walls and a river rock–clad fireplace. The incredible fresco looking down on the whole. But the pièce de résistance? The spiral staircase leading to a narrow walkway twelve feet above ground level. Two stories of absolute perfection. Each leather-bound volume just a hop, skip, and jump away from the king-size bed sitting in the center of the room.
His escape. His favorite spot, a refuge far from the perils of the world.
But not right now.
Tonight, he couldn’t tear his gaze from the paintings. Precise lines. Painstaking detail. Swirling color—the muted tones of winter in Prague. Gorgeous. Every brushstroke of it. But for one thing: Despite the beauty of city streets and snowfall, the paintings reminded him too much of home. Of past abuse and present anguish. Of painful memories wrapped in a night he didn’t want to remember, but couldn’t forget. His conscience wouldn’t let him. Guilt laid the blame on thick, reminding him of what he’d don
e . . .
His sire lay dead. Murdered by Venom’s own hand.
Recall made his stomach clench. The need for oblivion forced him to raise his glass. Cold liquid washed into his mouth. Venom swallowed hard. And then again. Once. Twice. A third time, draining the glass dry, accepting the burn, reveling in the discomfort as the alcohol hit the bottom of his stomach. He deserved the pain. Couldn’t atone for his past, never mind hope for absolution. Wishing and wanting never changed the facts. And some things—no matter how necessary the action—couldn’t be forgiven.
“Goddamn it.” Venom set the tumbler down on the mantle. Crystal thumped against stone. Ice rattled. Glass cracked, the sound harsh in the silence as he palmed the back of his head. He pulled down. Taut muscle squawked, protesting the stretch as agony streamed up his spine. “I need to get the hell out of here.”
An excellent plan.
The best, really, but for one thing.
He wasn’t supposed to leave the lair. Not tonight. Which sucke
d . . .
in major ways. Not that it mattered. He couldn’t argue with the logic behind the lockdown. Bastian was right. All of his brothers-in-arms needed the occasional night off fighting rotation. Rest. Relax. Recharge. The routine did a body good, even though it had taken time for him and his comrades to realize it.