Authors: Dana Marie Bell
To Mom, who only heard half of a racy conversation between her kids and turned it that much raunchier. (Dildos, lesbians and supplements? And you say Memom has a dirty mind!)
To Dad, who introduced me to Kahlua and eggnog during the holidays. Yum!
To Dusty, who encourages breeding among my plot bunnies. When I tell him the bunnies need to go back in the hutch and wait their turns, he laughs. Then he puts a new bunny in the hutch and waits for the fun to begin. Love you, sweetheart.
And to all the readers who wrote to me after my surgery to wish me a speedy recovery, thank you. You guys are the best.
New York City, 100 years ago…
Jaden Blackthorn shivered in the darkness, his eyes glued to the cat spitting and hissing in the corner of the alleyway. Damn, he was
hungry. But the thought of feeding from a human, of doing what
asked him to do, turned his stomach. Jaden couldn’t kill that way.
He just couldn’t.
They’d laughed at him, the poor little half-breed who’d refused to feed, refused to fight. Refused to kill. Then they’d kicked his ass out into the night and wished him a quick death. It was the best he could hope for, too, because he was an abomination now, something to be feared, someone to be hunted. He could never go home again. He was what his Sire called
He was death.
A crimson tear slid down his cheek. The end was near. If he didn’t feed soon he would be left with only two choices. Sit in the sun and die, or let go, let the creature within control him and feed until some knight of the so-called White Court found him and put him out of his misery.
He almost wished one of them would. He was adrift, lost in a world that had never accepted him from the day of his birth. His white father had abandoned his Seneca mother before he was ever born, his mother passing away when he was only ten years old. He’d grown up in one of the state run orphanages, lived there for six years before he was turned out. He’d slowly worked his way across the state before finally landing in New York City at the age of twenty, only to find things were far worse than he’d ever imagined they would be. He’d managed to eke out a living before he’d met his Sire, but it had been hungry work, and bleak.
His Sire had taken him, turned him against his will and offered him a place, a way to belong, something he’d never before had. Jaden had been tempted by his dark promises that he would never be alone again. He couldn’t deny that. But the price of belonging to his new “family” was higher than Jaden was willing to pay.
He could still hear his Sire’s voice in his head. “When you’re hungry enough, you will be back.”
No. He wouldn’t. Not ever.
He could hear the cat’s heartbeat, terror making it race. He couldn’t wait much longer or the poor creature would suffer even more than it was already going to. He didn’t want to kill the creature, but what choice did he have? His Sire had told him the only way he could feed was to kill his prey.
Damn it to hell and back again. Jaden
cats. This one was just as dirty, scared and hungry as he was. He stared into the green eyes, willing the creature to calm down, trying to ease its fears before he was forced to fight it.
His newly sensitive ears picked up the sound of laughter at the end of the alley. He ducked back into the shadows, praying whoever it was wouldn’t see him in all his dirty glory.
The cat meowed, the sound pitiful and starved, curious now that the predator in Jaden was no longer focused on it.
One of the pair of footsteps paused. “Father? Would you excuse me for a moment?”
The voice belonged to one of the rich types who sometimes slummed in this neighborhood. He could tell by the smooth voice, rich as cream, deep and full of confidence. The idiot was going to get himself killed if he wasn’t careful. Jaden bit back the bout of hysterical laughter. He pushed back even farther into the shadows, his back hitting the harsh bricks, their pinprick unevenness scratching him through the thin material of his cotton shirt. His eyes darkened to deepest black, the whites all but gone. He could feel the flames of his hunger dancing inside his pupils.
Please. Please don’t come down this alley.
The heartbeat of the man was strong, the barest hint of blood tickling Jaden’s nostrils. The man had cut himself at some point during the day and cleaned the wound, washing off the blood, but not enough.
Not nearly enough.
The rich, tangy scent called to him in a way the poor cat never could. There was something there, something different. Something he’d never scented before that had saliva pooling in his mouth. He battled his hunger, desperate to hold off the inevitable.
Why hadn’t he fed off the cat? Some stranger’s life was in danger because he had been too pathetic to even kill a cat.
“Here, kitty kitty.”
Jaden blinked, stunned. The man was calling…to the cat?
“It’s all right, little one. I won’t hurt you.”
Jaden shuddered. The man’s voice nearly had him walking out of the shadows and into his light. The promise of safety in that voice was almost his undoing.
The scent of the man’s blood would mean his death.
“Go away,” he whispered, barely aware he’d spoken. He closed his eyes tight. “Please go away.” God, his teeth ached.
The sound of the man’s footfalls stopped. “Who is there?” Wariness had entered that rich voice.
Jaden didn’t understand why he was compelled to answer, but he did. “Nightmares. Go away.”
“Come out where I can see you.”
Jaden smiled. If he came out the man would never leave this alley. “No.”
“I will not hurt you.”
At that Jaden laughed. “No. But I might hurt you, and I do not want to do that.”
“I doubt you could hurt me, little one.”
His fangs descended. That tantalizing scent of blood was closer now. How had the man approached without Jaden hearing it? “I am not a little one.”
I am a monster.
“No, I can see that.”
Jaden gasped, his head rapping against the brick wall. There, in front of him, was one of the most beautiful men he’d ever seen. Blond hair framed a face sculpted by the angels themselves. Strong, masculine, the expression full of compassion, it was a face meant to grace the most elegant dining rooms. Jaden felt small and ugly by comparison. The man’s shoulders were wide, his hands strong, the fingers lean. Those fingers reached up and tipped up Jaden’s chin, taking in every nuance of his face. The black, inhuman eyes, the fangs, the dirt and the bloody tears all proclaimed Jaden’s inhumanity. His long black hair was matted with filth and he stank to high heaven. By all rights the man should be reeling in horror and disgust.
Jaden was startled to realize the man before him was only a few inches taller than he. His scent, that incredible bloody scent… He ripped his face away, hiding his fangs behind his arm. “Get away.”
The man shook his head, something strange sparking in those steely gray eyes. “No. You need help.”
The hunger was out of control. Jaden’s entire being hurt. He was going to kill this man if he didn’t leave
“I don’t need help.”
A soft hand cupped his cheek. “Yes, you do. I know exactly what you need.”
Oh, God, that was the hand the man had cut. Jaden could smell it, see the little seam where the blood had formed a scab. All he had to do was reach out and… “Go
away.” Please, dear God, go away.
He could feel the tears start up again.
He was going to kill this man. Then he was going to kill himself.
He closed his eyes and prepared himself for a dying man’s feast.
When he opened them again the blond was gently pushing his head away from his neck. “That’s enough for now, my friend.”
Jaden blinked. The hunger was gone. The feral need to kill had abated. The man…the man was still alive. Jaden licked his lips and moaned.
The man tasted delicious. Almost effervescent. Definitely not human. “Who are you?”
The man smiled. “Duncan Malmayne, at your service.” And he bowed,
to Jaden Blackthorne, ex-Black Court vampire and unwanted half-breed, with all the grace he would show to a visiting prince.
Duncan laughed and offered his hand to the small cat Jaden had attempted to feed from. “Hello to you too, young madam.”
Duncan’s eyes gleamed, silver sparks dancing in their depths. His skin gleamed under the shadowed moon. His ears, now that Jaden looked closely, were delicately pointed. Silver danced along his skin. “I am Duncan Malmayne, Seelie Sidhe lord and heir to the Malmayne Clan.”
White Court. Seelie meant White Court. That was the first thing his Sire had pounded into his head, to avoid the White Court like the very plague. They hunted his kind, killed them with glee. “Why?”
The man tilted his head. “Why what?”
“Why feed me?”
Why save me? I’m not worth it.
“Because you did everything in your power to send me away.
tried to save
at the expense of your own life.”
“I’m vampire.” Evil. Born and bred, it was in his blood now. He would never be free of the taint.
“Truly?” Duncan’s eyes widened comically, the oval pupils proving once and for all that he was far from human. “I had no clue.”
The laughter in his voice made mockery of that which had filled his Sire’s. That laughter had been cold and cruel. Duncan Malmayne’s laughter drew Jaden in, made him smile. Made him warm for the first time in weeks. “Thank you for…” He swallowed hard. He couldn’t even bring himself to say it.
Duncan Malmayne’s laughter subsided. There was no pity in his gaze, only understanding. “You’ve been abandoned?”
Jaden nodded. He still was not sure if what ran through him was relief or rage that his sire had discarded him two weeks ago.
“How old are you?”
Duncan shook his head. “No. How
Oh. “A month, my lord.” Something about Malmayne demanded the honorific from him.
Malmayne’s jaw clenched. “Have you petitioned the Gray Court for admittance?”
Court?” What was the Gray Court? His Sire had never mentioned that there were more than two Courts, the White and the Black. It was death to even approach the White Court, but Jaden couldn’t bring himself to embrace the pure evil the Black Court embodied.
Court? A place where a vampire like him, reviled by both Seelie and Unseelie, might find a place to belong? Was it possible?
“I thought not.” Malmayne put his hand on Jaden’s filthy sleeve. “Come with me.” Fear shot through Jaden. Was Malmayne going to kill him now? “I’ll explain things to you, help you find your way. When you’re ready to leave, you’ll be able to take care of yourself. I promise nothing will happen to you in my care.” He knelt and picked up the mewling cat, cuddling the creature close and scratching behind its filthy ear.
Jaden’s heart pounded. Something about the way Malmayne touched the cat, despite its dirt, made him long for something he couldn’t name. “Why are you doing this?”
For the first time, the Sidhe seemed uncertain. “I’m not sure. But there’s something about you. I cannot leave you here to die.” The uncertainty fled, leaving behind determination. “So you will come with me and live.” He held out his hand.
Jaden didn’t hesitate. He took Duncan Malmayne’s hand, knowing his life would never be the same again.
Nebraska, present day and just after Halloween…
Moira watched her family disappear into the distance, the only home she’d ever known nothing more than a dollhouse on the horizon. The tall man beside her hadn’t given her much of an option about leaving. She’d found herself bundled into his limo before she could blink.
Of course, she’d still been reeling from the incredible kiss he’d placed on her lips just moments before she found herself in the vehicle and on her way. Something within her had responded to the stranger, something that kept her from fighting his Claim on her.
What was up with that?
went with the flow. She always followed her own path. She was a leader, not a follower, and damn proud of it. So why had she followed like a meek little lamb while this man bundled her up and drove away?
Why did it bother her so much that they’d left Jaden Blackthorn behind?
She turned to the stunning blond sitting next to her. His charcoal gray suit was much darker than the silver gray of his eyes. His blond hair was slightly longer than was fashionable, brushing the tops of his shoulders. His lips were full and pink, calling her for another taste. With the way his body filled out that suit she bet he was massive everywhere. He had the face of an angel and the body of a warrior. Despite the suit he managed to trip every he-man fantasy she’d ever had, and then some.
“Do you know who I am?”
She rolled her eyes. She might be just this side of blond but she was far from the stereotype. “Duncan Malmayne, new lord of Clan Malmayne. You’re a five-hundred-year-old Sidhe who is blood bonded to Jaden Blackthorn, the vampire who kidnapped Ruby. Your sister was a psychotic bitch and your father—”