Authors: Jeaniene Frost,Sharie Kohler
Praise for the authors and their scorching
“Frost’s dazzling blend of urban fantasy action and passionate relationships makes her a true phenomenon.”
“A gutsy heroine to cheer for and a smoldering hero to die for. An unforgettable story!”
—Kresley Cole, #1
New York Times
“Shayla Black has given voice to a unique, powerful blend of the paranormal and dark forces of man. A world not to be missed.”
New York Times
“As Black turns up the heat on her characters, readers are treated to passionate danger and potential treachery. A page-turner!”
“Sharie Kohler will grab you by the throat and hold you enthralled.”
New York Times
“A riveting plot steeped with sultry sexual tension and unforgettable love scenes.”
—Kresley Cole, #1
New York Times
Haunted by Your Touch
is also available as an eBook
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Pocket Star Books
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Night’s Darkest Embrace
Copyright © 2010 by Jeaniene Frost
Copyright © 2010 by Sharie Kohler
Copyright © 2010 by Shelley Bradley, LLC
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
First Pocket Star Books paperback edition November 2010
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Cover design by Juliana Kolesova
Cover illustration by Gene Mollica
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ISBN 978-1-4391-6679-6 (ebook)
The sun’s rays slipped further behind the Bed Bath & Beyond sign across the parking lot. Soon it would be dark. All I had to do was
be stupid until dark, less than ten minutes from now.
I wasn’t going to make it.
Shoppers drove in and out of the complex. If they noticed me, they chose to mind their own business instead of asking why I was pacing like a crazy person in the back of the parking lot by a Dumpster. If my father were here, he’d urge me to follow their example and mind my own business, too. But the raspberry shimmer in front of the Dumpster called to me. Even the wafting stench of garbage wasn’t enough to slow my pulse as I stared at it. This had to be the smelliest gateway this side of the Mississippi, but I was looking at the only known entrance into Nocturna.
For a few more minutes, anyway. The gateway was only active between dusk and dark.
The shimmer in front of the Dumpster started to fade even as the lights in the parking lot turned on, signaling the arrival of evening. If I let the gateway disappear, I’d do the same thing I’d done every night for the past month—go back to my apartment and try not to think about what lay on the other side of that fading raspberry veil.
Don’t go back there, Mara. Please
My father’s plea replayed in my mind, but it wouldn’t sway me this time. There were worse things than danger. Like guilt, or doing nothing and risking more people you loved being picked off.
I backed up several feet before flinging myself toward the Dumpster. Only the faintest haze remained in front of it now. My sneakers thudded on the pavement as I picked up speed, running right at the center of the smelly container, streamlining my body into a dive…
I barreled not into the metal Dumpster but into Nocturna, making it through the gateway before the veil closed into itself. I rolled when I hit the earth, the putrid stench of garbage
instantly replaced with a heady, wood-smoke-scented air. Darkness also replaced the previous glow from the parking lot lights. It was always night in Nocturna. A few blinks later and my eyes adjusted, revealing a man on horseback galloping toward me.
“Back again, eh, Mara?” a familiar voice called out when the rider drew near enough for me to see the silver streak in his otherwise dark hair.
I brushed myself off as I stood. My backpack shifted with my movements but I shoved it into place, adjusting the straps until they were straight. Landing on my ass inside another dimension tended to jostle things.
“You’re the best patrolman here, Jack, you know that?” I replied, not bothering to answer his question. Obviously I was back or we wouldn’t be talking. “Most of the others don’t find out if anyone’s crossed over unless the person yells for them to give ’em a ride.”
“People can pop up anywhere along the barrier, and that runs for miles,” Jack said, still with an undercurrent of amusement. “And you said you weren’t coming back the last time I saw you.”
I didn’t look at him but continued to brush my jeans, as though getting every last bit of dirt
from them was extremely important. “Can’t a girl change her mind without getting hassled? I missed this place—”
“Horseshit,” Jack interrupted, even as his mount snorted in what sounded like agreement. “You still think you can find the Pureblood who took Gloria, but you need to let go of that fantasy and get on with your life.”
I stiffened, my head snapping up to meet Jack’s blue gaze. “I am getting on with my life,” I said, biting off every word.
Jack shook his head in a way that reminded me of my father. The two men even looked a little alike, with their lightly lined faces and wiry frames. Plus, Jack had never made a single pass at me, which was why I trusted him enough to stay at his place when I came here.
“Suit yourself,” he grunted. “I’m not your baby-sitter. You’re too old for one now, anyway. Go on. You can use my cabin to freshen up.”
I thought I heard Jack add, “Like usual,” but I chose to ignore that. Now that I was here, a feeling of peace washed over me. Maybe it was because traveling through dimensions was my birthright as a partial demon. Or because I’d determined to let nothing stop me on this trip. That
wouldn’t be easy—or safe—but I was old enough now that most of the Purebloods weren’t interested in me. Twenty-two was almost middle-aged to them. They only liked children or, at most, older teenagers.
Like Gloria had been.
And my half sister now was
That, more than the guilt over Gloria that was so familiar as to feel normal, was why I’d had to break my promise and come back. An overheard conversation between my little sister and her friend about Nocturna had been enough to convince me that I couldn’t stay away. I was the only living eyewitness. If I never came back to search for the Pureblood who’d taken Gloria, maybe next time it would be my sister who was doomed to die a horrible death. Damned if I’d let that happen, no matter my father’s fears.
By the time I followed the line of mounted lanterns that took me to Jack’s cabin, I was convinced that I’d made the right decision. I went inside the small lodge, noting that Jack had added a few more crossbows to his weapons cache, but aside from that, nothing else had changed. The mirror Jack used for shaving looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the last time I’d wiped it, and his floor probably hadn’t been swept since then,
either. If I didn’t stay here occasionally, the dirt would be up to Jack’s waist.
I pumped some water from the spigot and cleared away the dust from the mirror, frowning a little once I saw my reflection. Dirt smudged my cheek and I had bits of leaves in my hair. That wouldn’t do.
A few more pumps of the spigot and I washed off the remaining traces of dirt from my face, using my fingers to comb bits from the forest floor out of my hair. At least I thought I got it all out; the dried leaves matched the deep brown color of my hair, so a few stragglers might have remained. Then I shrugged out of my backpack and took off my jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers to put on the long denim skirt, boots, and blouse that I’d folded up inside. The other clothes were more comfortable, but a little glimpse of cleavage or a flash of leg went a long way toward getting reluctant residents of Nocturna to spill information. Once I was finished, I put on my gun belt and then my leather jacket, giving my reflection another critical glance.
Lipstick would help, but I’d forgotten to slip some into my backpack. Lucky for me, my mouth was naturally full and reddish, so that, along with
a clean face and somewhat tamed hair, would just have to do.
Multiple lights glowed in the distance as I left the lantern-strewn path and approached Nocturna’s version of a metropolis. When I first came here, I thought it looked like a cross between the Victorian era and the Wild West. Tethered horses and carriages lined the narrow streets instead of cars, with candlelight the only brightness against the perpetual darkness. Music floated out from different bands, merging together to form a profusion of sounds that dulled out the laughter, shouts, and occasional gunshots from the town’s many occupants.
And at the end of the mini-city, set apart from the grid of bars, whorehouses, hotels, and pawnshops, was Bonecrushers. Skulls lit up like jack-o’-lanterns illuminated the front of the bar, a warning that those seeking tamer fun should look elsewhere.
If only Gloria and I had heeded that warning several years ago, but to us, Bonecrushers had looked more exciting than frightening. Add that to the “You’re not scared, are you?” challenge
from our dates, and nothing would’ve stopped us from walking through those doors.