Authors: Jeaniene Frost
A Night Prince Novel
To Tage, Kimberly, Candace, and Carol,
for all that you do and for the great ladies that you are.
efore anyone else, I must thank God. Apart from Your grace, Jesus, I have nothing. Additional thanks go to the usual suspects: my wonderful editor, Erika Tsang, and all of the other great people at Avon Books; my hardworking agent, Nancy Yost; my marvelous husband, Matthew; my loving family; my supportive friends; and last, but not at all least, the fabulous readers of the Night Prince series. I couldn’t do this without you!
his wasn’t the first time I’d woken up as a captive. It wasn’t even the second. I so needed to reevaluate my life choices.
From past experience, I knew not to snap my eyes open or alter my breathing. Instead, I took inventory while pretending I was still unconscious. Headache, no surprise, but other than that I felt okay. My arms were tied behind my back. The thickness around my hands was gloves, tightness around my ankles, restraints. Uncomfortable gag in my mouth, self-explanatory.
Once I was done taking stock of my physical condition, I moved on to my surroundings. The pitch and roll beneath me had to be waves, which meant I was on a boat. Some of my captors were topside, from the voices, but one of them was in the room with me. He didn’t say a word, but after years of living with a vampire, I’d become adept at picking up the barely perceptible sounds they made.
So when I opened my eyes, my gaze landed unerringly on the black-haired vampire across the room. The only surprise he showed was to blink.
“Didn’t expect you to be up already,” he drawled.
I glanced down at my gag and back at him, raising a brow.
He translated the silent message. “Do I need to tell you that screaming is useless?”
I rolled my eyes. What was this, amateur day? He smiled before rising from the opposite berth. “I thought not.”
During the short time it took him to cross the room and remove my gag, I gleaned as much about him as possible, too. The vampire looked to be around my age, but with his scar-free skin, short haircut, clean-shaven face, and average build, I judged him to be less than a hundred in undead years. Vamps older than that tended to have more wear and tear on their skin and they usually scorned modern hairstyles. But the most telling aspect was his gaze. Really old vampires had a certain . . . weight in their stares, as if the passing centuries had left a tangible heaviness. My nameless captor didn’t have that, and if I was lucky, neither did anyone else on this boat.
Young vampires were easier to kill.
“Water,” I said once the gag was removed. Between that and the aftereffects from being drugged, my mouth was so dry that my tongue felt like a wadded-up sock.
The vampire disappeared and then returned with a can of Coke. I gulped at it when the vampire held it to my lips, which meant that I let out an extended burp when I stopped swallowing. If that burp happened to be aimed in my captor’s face, well, it wasn’t my fault. I was tied up.
“Charming,” he said dryly.
“I lost my concern for social niceties when you shot my friend up with liquid silver,” I replied in an even tone. “Speaking of, I want to see him.”
The vampire’s mouth quirked. “You’re not in a position to make demands, but yes, he’s still alive.”
“You don’t want to take me to him, fine,” I said, thinking fast. “I assume you know I pick up psychic impressions from touch, so take these gloves off and let me touch you. Then I’ll know if you’re telling the truth.”
The vampire chuckled, a brighter green swarming in the peat-moss color of his eyes. “Touch me? Don’t you mean use that deadly electrical whip you can manifest to cut me in half?”
I stiffened. How did he know about that? Most of the people who’d seen me wield that power were dead.
“That’s why these rubber gloves are duct-taped onto you,” he went on, unperturbed. “Just in case.”
“What’s your name again?” I asked, glad I sounded casual.
Those wide lips stretched further. “Call me Hannibal.”
I smiled back. “Okay, Hannibal, what do you want me to do? Use my abilities to find one of your enemies? Tell you if someone is betraying you? Or read the past from an object?”
Hannibal laughed, and though it was more Dr. Evil caliber than chilling, it was still foreboding enough to creep me out.
“I don’t want you to do anything, little bird. I’m merely the delivery boy. I don’t even know who I’m delivering you to. All I know is you’re worth three times as much alive, but if you try anything, dead is still a good payday for me.”
Hannibal gave me a cheery wave before leaving the room. I said nothing, trying to think of a way out of my predicament. I was
going to let myself be delivered to some unknown baddie. I’d find a way out of this if it killed me.
Four weeks earlier
stood under a waterfall of flames. Vermilion and gold spilled over me, twining through my hair, separating into rivulets along my body before sliding between my fingers to fall at my feet. The flames were so dense that I couldn’t see through them, reducing my world to a glowing arena of sunset-colored hues. Being engulfed this way should have killed me, but I was unharmed. I wasn’t even afraid. A strange sense of longing filled me instead. I kept trying to catch one of the flames but I never succeeded. Fire might cover me from head to toe, yet it still managed to evade my grasp.
“Leila,” a voice called, too faintly for me to discern who it was. “Leave before it’s too late.”
Logic urged me to do what the nameless person said, but I didn’t want to. The flames didn’t seem to want me to go, either. They kept gliding over me, caressing instead of burning my flesh.
I thought in defiance. They wouldn’t hurt me.
“Leila,” that voice said again, more emphatically. “
“No,” I replied, and tried to clasp the fire to me again. As usual, those brightly lit bands slipped from my hands, but this time, their lustrous color darkened. When they landed at my feet, they looked like ribbons made of tar. Then the waterfall above me abruptly dissipated, leaving me naked and shivering in the sudden, overwhelming blackness.
Fear turned my insides to ice. The voice was right. Something bad was about to happen . . .
I didn’t have time to run before fire lit up the darkness again. It didn’t spill gently over me like it had before, but crashed into me from all sides. Pain ravaged me as the flames attacked me with all their devastating power, charring and burning every inch they touched.
“Why?” I cried, betrayal second only to the agony I felt.
“I warned you,” that unknown voice replied, safe outside of the wall of fire. “You didn’t listen.”
Then I didn’t hear anything but my own screams as the fire pitilessly continued to annihilate me.
In my head the word was howled in anguish; in reality, it left my lips in a whisper. It was enough to wake me up, though, and I jerked away in horror until I realized I was covered in sheets, not flames. The only fire was safely contained in the hearth on the other side of the room.
It took several deep breaths to shake off the aftereffects of the nightmare. After a minute, my heart quit thudding and settled into a more normal rhythm. With a stab of dismay, I saw that the bed was empty. Now I wouldn’t have to admit I’d had the same nightmare again, but I didn’t like that more and more frequently, I went to sleep alone and woke up that way, too.
If I were superstitious, I’d worry that the recurring dream was an omen, but when I got warnings about the future, they didn’t come as vague metaphors in my sleep. They
to come as merciless reenactments where I had a full sensory experience of whatever was going to happen, but I hadn’t had one of those in weeks. I’d long wished that I didn’t pull impressions—and images of worst sins—through a single touch, but now that I needed the ability, it was on vacation.
That thought chased me out from under the covers. I swung my legs over the side of the mattress and stepped off the raised dais that made the large, curtained bed look even more impressive. Then I went straight to the fireplace and knelt in front of it. Most of the flames had died down during the night, but the collapsed logs still smoldered. I pushed the grate aside, held my hand over a log for a second, and then plunged it straight into the crumbling wood.
The stab of pain made me gasp with relief until I realized it only came from one finger. The rest of my hand felt fine despite being immersed up to the wrist in the hotly glowing embers. I waited another few moments to be sure and then pulled it out. Aside from a splinter jutting from my index finger and a decade-old scar, my hand was unmarred, not a hair singed on it.
Damn. Six weeks later, and it
hadn’t worn off yet.
Some women caught venereal diseases from their boyfriends. That was mild in comparison to what mine had given me—an immunity to fire that inexplicably also blocked my ability to psychically discern information through touch. Of course, I shouldn’t be too surprised. Dating the unofficial Prince of Darkness was bound to have consequences.