Nicole growled. “That’s not true. He’s lying. That bastard.”
Hunter nodded. “His crusade is starting to drown out the vampire-rights groups. There’s a growing call to exterminate us. The human poacher in the prey room said as much.”
Nicole’s lips pursed, and for a long time, she just watched as the reporter asked Charles more questions before moving on to state representatives who were apparently considering expanded measures to “reduce the vampire population,” which included targeting clans, open hunting seasons in all federal and state forests, and Vampire Strike Force sweeps through city slums and sewers. If what the Stake Reaper said was true and Baddon’s intel was good, it looked like the government was already working to reduce the vampire population… but they were doing it secretly, right under civilians’ noses.
“We can’t fight that kind of targeting for long,” Riker said. “If they have the ability to destroy our wards, they’ll locate the clan eventually.”
Nicole blew out a long breath. “What if we go a different route? What if we sabotage Chuck with Daedalus’s own practices?”
“I’m not sure I follow,” Hunter said.
Nicole grinned. “We leak Daedalus’s practices to the media.”
“No one will believe you,” Riker said. “You’re a vampire. They’ll say you’re making stuff up, and no one will blame them.”
“But I have records,” she said. “Remember the files we stole from the lab? Grant and I still haven’t gone through all of them, but we’ve got a lot of information I’m sure the media would love and the public would find horrifying. Breeding experiments, dissection of conscious vampires, cruel death trials… If we can make the public aware, maybe we can generate some sympathy.”
Hunter eyed the female, who until just three months ago had been human. And, as the CEO of Daedalus, vampire enemy number one. Now she was the clan’s doctor and a huge asset to the vampire race.
“Do it,” he said. “Let’s stir up some shit.”
Nicole grinned, but Riker’s expression remained battle-hard. “There’s something else,” he said, and Hunter went cold. “Rasha knows some things she shouldn’t know, and she claims she has dirt on pretty much everyone close to you.”
Rike bared his teeth. “She knows about Katina’s past and Aiden’s… indiscretion with females. And she somehow dug up details about Myne’s captivity by the humans.”
Nicole frowned. “Who has Myne told? You said he hasn’t even talked to you about it.”
“Exactly,” Riker said. “He hasn’t told anyone. Which means she got the info from Daedalus.”
As disturbing as the news was, there was an upside. “ShadowSpawn must have someone on the inside,” Hunter said. “Which means we might not have a spy in our midst.”
“How so?” Nicole asked.
Riker turned to her. “You remember the midwife we borrowed from ShadowSpawn?”
“How can I forget?” Nicole said wryly. “Daedalus captured her, and she’s the reason you kidnapped me.”
Unfortunately, even with Nicole’s help with the rescue plan, they’d been too late, and Neriya had died in a Daedalus lab.
“ShadowSpawn knew she’d been captured,” Hunter said. “And we didn’t tell them. We knew they either had a spy in our clan or one inside Daedalus. This new information could confirm the Daedalus theory.”
Riker nodded. “It’s good news. And who knows, maybe Rasha can actually be of use if she can help us strike at the humans from inside.”
Maybe. But Hunter wasn’t going to count on her for anything. And he definitely wasn’t going to trust her.
What a great way to kick off a forced mating.
Hunter inhaled deeply as he stood inside the ceremonial teepee outside MoonBound clan’s headquarters. Myne and Baddon had accompanied him to perform the ritual necessary to summon his totem animal, and as blood from their cuts ran down his chest, he wondered if they even suspected the true reason he’d come.
He wasn’t here to have a chat with his spirit bear. No, he was here to talk up the demon who had created the vampire species. A demon who had long ago made clear that if anyone spoke of the truth of their origins to another vampire who wasn’t an Original or a first- or second-generation vampire, he’d destroy their entire race.
Message received, and even though Hunter hated doing it, hated pretending he believed the absurd story about the raven and the crow, he’d spent his entire life quashing rumors that even hinted at a demonic hand in vampire creation.
Smoke from the fire in the center of the teepee swirled all around Hunter, wrapping him in tingling warmth as he opened himself up to the spirit world. A mist of gray clouded his mind, and a great pressure swelled under his breastbone, until it felt as if he was going to collapse in on himself.
“Samnult,” he called out the moment before the pressure became unbearable. “Yo, Sam, you around?”
A blast of heat seared his back. “You’re late.”
Wheeling around, Hunter stared at the being who had appeared in his tent. No human appearance for the demon today. Nope, his gunmetal skin was spiderwebbed with pulsing crimson veins. His twisted, blackened horns jutted a good eighteen inches into the air, and filthy claws tipped his freakishly long fingers.
“Only by a night,” Hunter said. “Why does it matter?”
Samnult snarled, his chapped, scaly lips revealing a mouthful of sharp gray teeth. “You don’t get to question me. I’m your god.”
“You’re our breeder,” Hunter bit out. “Not the same thing.” Arrogant ass.
The demon’s claws struck Hunter across the chest, adding four more ragged gashes, from his left shoulder to his right hip.
Pain screamed through him, but he clenched his teeth and managed not to strike out in retaliation.
“Do you want to go through the trials or not?” Sam growled. “It makes no difference to me. I’m more than happy to take the firstborn child from your mating.”
Hunter inhaled deeply, forcing himself to remain calm. If the demon decided he didn’t want to let Hunter take the tests, Hunter was screwed. Time to suck up.
But only a little.
“I want this. I was hoping we could do it after the full moon.” Mainly, he wanted more time to make sure Rasha would be on board with taking the demon’s test with him. He couldn’t do it alone, and Hunter couldn’t risk Rasha’s refusal.
Hunter stared. “No? Just… no?”
Sam casually picked at his teeth with those sharp, black-tipped claws. “You hard of hearing?”
“Fuck,” he muttered.
Hunter wanted to punch Sam in his ugly face.
The demon flicked tooth crap onto the ground. Disgusting. “Remember, you can take either twin with you.”
Aylin would definitely be the more pleasant traveling companion, but he needed Rasha’s fighting skills. Besides, Rasha would likely be more willing to fight for her own child. “When we first spoke, you said they’ll both be the death of me,” Hunter said carefully. “But one will choose to save me. What does that mean?”
“That’s for you to figure out.”
Were all demons so cryptic? What ass**les. “Can you give me a hint about which one will save me?”
“I’d look at which has more to lose if you die. Or if you live.” Sam shrugged. “But then, you may not have a choice. If I were Aylin, I’d tell you to take a hike. She’s not the one who will give birth to your firstborn.”
That was along the lines of Hunter’s thoughts. “So when do you want this to happen?”
“Day after tomorrow. There’s a portal near Lake Chelan. You and the female will meet me there.” Hunter quickly calculated the drive time, but Samnult dashed his hopes of hopping in the Rover by adding, “You’ll go on foot.”
Great. An added element of danger. “We’ll have to leave tomorrow.”
“Then you’d better get ready.”
“How will I know where to go?”
Samnult moved in a blur to slap his palm on Hunter’s forehead. A throbbing rattle banged around in Hunter’s skull. “You’ll feel it.”
The demon stepped back, flashed a grin full of sharp teeth, and disappeared, leaving Hunter with a vague awareness of the portal in the distance, a pounding headache, and a sinking sense of doom in his gut.
He’d made a deal with a demon, and now he had to go make another.
Aylin found the lab exactly where Hunter said it would be. She’d gone back to her own room following dinner, but now, after ten minutes of restless pacing, she decided to see if Nicole was working.
The pretty, strawberry-blond female was in the lab, bent over a rack of test tubes. When Nicole saw Aylin enter, she grinned. “It’s good to see you again. We didn’t get to talk much at dinner. How are you doing? Is your room okay? Everyone treating you well? Can I possibly bombard you with more questions?”
The other female’s concern for her welfare left Aylin momentarily flustered. “Ah, yeah. Everything is wonderful.” Her smile faltered. “Too wonderful, I think.”
Nicole gave Aylin a troubled look. “You don’t want to go back to ShadowSpawn, now, do you?”
A shiny, sharp scalpel on a tray next to a microscope caught Aylin’s eye, and out of habit, she nearly swiped it to stash under her mattress. But she wasn’t at ShadowSpawn, didn’t need to squirrel away items simply to have things to call her own. Still, the temptation had her flexing her fingers until she moved past the table. “Would you want to go back?”
Nicole didn’t need to answer that, and they both knew it. “Maybe you can stay. Hunter could negotiate with your father to let you move here. Or you could mate one of the clan members.”
“Those are good ideas.” Aylin meandered through the lab, marveling at the equipment and furniture. The “lab” Nicole had used back at ShadowSpawn was little more than a cobwebby closet. “But none of it is possible.”
Aylin considered whether or not to tell Nicole the truth about her betrothal to Tseeveyo. She was so ashamed to have been mated off that way, without her consent and to a monster whose brutality was legend. But Nicole had been nothing but supportive from the moment they’d met, had never treated her like an enemy. Maybe it was time Aylin finally confided in someone as a friend.
A friend. Something she’d never had. “My father already arranged a mate for me. I’m to be given to him after Hunter and Rasha are mated.”
Nicole sank down on a rolling stool and invited Aylin to do the same.
Even though restless energy vibrated through every cell in her body, Aylin pulled up a seat next to the other female.
“Who is he?” Nicole asked.
“He’s a clan chief.”
From what Aylin could tell, no one was like Hunter. “Like my father.”
“Oh, Jesus.” Nicole reached out and took Aylin’s hand. “I’m so sorry.”
The other female’s pity was exactly the reason Aylin hadn’t wanted to tell anyone, but at the same time, Nicole’s kindness made her eyes sting with gratitude. “Can we keep this between us? I don’t care if you confide in Riker, but I’d rather no one else knew.”
“Of course.” Nicole gave Aylin’s hand a gentle squeeze and then released her. “But isn’t there any way you can get out of it?”
Fat chance of that. Aylin had lain awake many nights thinking about it, and she’d come up with far too few options. “There might be a couple of ways, but one is iffy, and the other is too dangerous.”
“After seeing what you had to deal with at ShadowSpawn, I think I’d be willing to try anything.” Nicole placed her hands protectively over her belly, and Aylin wondered if she even realized what she was doing. “What’s the dangerous idea?”
“MoonBound could offer me sanctuary,” Aylin said. “The problem is that my father might not honor it, and even if he did, Rasha could revoke my sanctuary status once she’s mated to Hunter.”
“Rasha wouldn’t do that.” Nicole frowned. “Would she?”
“I doubt it,” Aylin said, but she wasn’t so sure. Rasha would do anything to protect her status as First Female, and if that meant getting rid of Aylin, she wouldn’t hesitate, sister or not. “But you never know with her, and if my father didn’t honor sanctuary or Rasha revoked it, my father would be very… unforgiving. He might even kill me.”
“Son of a bitch.” Nicole’s eyes flashed silver fire, and Aylin suddenly wondered what color they’d been when she was human. “What if we mate you to a MoonBound male?”
Aylin appreciated Nicole’s outrage, but it wasn’t that simple. “Without breaking off my betrothal to the NightShade clan chief first?” She laughed bitterly. “Then both ShadowSpawn and NightShade would wage war against MoonBound until my mate was dead. At the mating feast with Tseeveyo, I’d be forced to drink my wine out of a bowl made from my dead mate’s skull.”
“Yeah.” Clans that followed the Way of the Raven had such wonderful traditions.
“Okay, so what’s the iffy way?” Nicole asked.
Aylin’s cheeks heated. “I… ah… lose my virginity and have my first, um…”READ MORE >>