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Wild, uncontrollable, and powerful, the lion-shifting Rakshasa were hunted down by vicious rival vampires who feared their dark, magical abilities. Somehow one survived, and now, after centuries of hiding, Tasmin Singh reemerges as fierce and fearless as ever at the door of the Lilim queen, seeking answers . . . and sanctuary.
The human best friend to a vampire queen, Bay Harper traded her quiet, comfortable life for a world filled with immortal assassins, warring werewolves . . . and this hauntingly sexy shifter. Only Bay’s gentle touch can subdue Tasmin’s inner demons, even as he brings out a passion and sensuality she never imagined she could feel. But when a bloody struggle threatens to tear them apart, can Bay risk everything on her faith in him-or will his dark side be stronger than even their all-consuming desire?
Table of Contents
A Preview of Dark Awakening
A Preview of Midnight Reckoning
A Preview of Shadow Rising
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THE DARK DYNASTIES
Known Bloodlines of the United States
LEADER: Queen Arsinöe
ORIGIN: Ancient Egypt and the goddess Sekhmet
STRONGHOLDS: Cities of the Eastern US, concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic
ABILITIES: Lightning speed
THE CAIT SITH
LEADER: Lily Quinn MacGillivray
ORIGIN: A Celtic line originating with the Fae
STRONGHOLDS: United with the reborn Lilim in the Northern United States
ABILITIES: Can take the form of a cat
LEADER: Vlad Dracul
ORIGIN: The goddess Nyx
STRONGHOLDS: Cities of the Northern US and Chicago (shared with the Empusae)
ABILITIES: Can take the form of a bat
LEADER: Sammael; assumed leadership upon defeat of Sariel
ORIGIN: Fallen angels
STRONGHOLDS: The deserts of the West
ABILITIES: Winged flight
LEADER: Mormo, the Empusa
ORIGIN: The goddess Hecate
STRONGHOLDS: Southern United States; Chicago (shared with the Dracul)
ABILITIES: Can take the form of smoke
THE REBORN LILIM
LEADER: Lily Quinn MacGillivray
ORIGIN: Lilith, the first vampire, now merged with the blood of the Cait Sith
STRONGHOLDS: Northern United States
ABILITIES: Lethal bursts of psychic energy; can take the form of a cat
LEADER: None. Before their near extinction there were many prides, each self-governing. Now only Tasmin Singh remains.
ORIGIN: Unknown, but often attributed to the god Brahma
ABILITIES: Illusion; can take the form of a lion
Six months later
DON'T LOOK AT ME THAT WAY, Grimm. We're getting there."
The big black Newfoundland gave her another lingering, mournful look before heaving a long-suffering sigh and facing forward again. Bay Harper smirked as she continued trimming his forelegs. Grimm might be put out now, but once they were back home, the big baby would be looking for cookies and affection in short order.
Thankfully, he was not a grudge holder. She had a few clients that were… but she didn't have to live with them.
Bay worked, humming along with the music she played in the shop, glad she'd cleared her schedule for the afternoon so she could take it easy and work on her own dog. She hadn't realized quite how much she'd needed a break, however small. To say her life was full these days didn't even begin to cover it.
She guessed that was what happened when your best friend turned into a super-powerful vampire and needed you for moral support. Not that she had anyone with similar experiences to compare with.
"Crap," Bay murmured as her last conversation with Lily flitted through her mind. "I need to vacuum again. Lily's coming over for a movie night tomorrow."
Grimm gave a slight wag of his bushy tail at the mention of Lily's name, despite the indignities he was currently suffering, and Bay smiled. The Newf might not be sure about everyone—and everything—currently residing at the Bonner mansion, but the owner was one of his favorite people.
That made two of them. And since this was the first time in weeks Lily hadn't found a reason to cancel on her, she'd be damned if the night would be anything less than perfect. Just like old times.
Bay's smile faltered as her thoughts drifted to what was becoming well-worn territory, despite all her best efforts.
So things are different. So what? Everything changes. Change isn't always bad, Bay chided herself. And there was no question that Lily MacGillivray, once Lily Quinn, had changed since discovering she was the sole heiress of an ancient vampire bloodline.
Bay had managed to get used to the basics quickly enough. She'd ogled enough fake vampires in movies that Lily's fangs and inability to sunbathe were expected, even if they'd been slightly weird at first. But… the physical stuff was where the similarities between what she'd expected and what she'd gotten ended. Her friend, the shy professor, had stepped into a world full of cold, often cruel beings who seemed to enjoy shedding one another's blood almost as much as that of humans. They were beautiful, all of them, Bay thought. And clannish. And arrogant. And some of them had lived so long as to be downright terrifying.
Lily seemed to like them, Bay reminded herself, so the cat-shifting vampires of the Lilim had to have some redeeming qualities. Lily's husband, Ty, for instance. He was undeniably gorgeous. He'd also made a concerted effort to be friendly, which was definitely something he didn't do for everyone. The man was three hundred years old, and Bay had gotten enough of his story to know that most of those years had been rough. She just wished she could forget that he'd also been a killer, and that even now, he would never look at snuffing out a life with the same horror she did. He wasn't… well, human. None of the preternaturally beautiful men now prowling the streets of Tipton after dark were. And lucky her, a lot of them seemed interested in the pretty little blonde who hung out with their queen.
She had tried, very hard, to come off as intimidating. So far, she'd failed miserably. It didn't surprise her. Not when she'd been told for years that she looked like Tinker Bell.
Lily had teased her once or twice about the prospect of expanding her dating pool. Maybe she'd expected that Bay, with her love of ghost hunting and fondness for creepy movies, would jump at the chance to date an honest-to-God vampire. But the reality was so much darker than fantasy. Besides, Bay had noticed that a lot of the vamps she'd met were the usual bad ideas, just with sharper teeth and more baggage. She tried to like them, for Lily's sake. She even managed it sometimes.
But actively seeking an eternity in some kind of blood-soaked darkness? No.
"Enough," Bay muttered to herself. Lily was still Lily, and that was all that mattered. Her best friend was kind, loyal, funny, gifted with a spine of steel. And she still loved a good action-adventure flick featuring superheroes in spandex, which was exactly what Bay had planned. Not everything had changed.
Bay brushed absently at a big glob of black fur that had attached itself to the front of her Scooby-Doo scrubs and blew a curly lock of blond hair that had escaped her ponytail out of her face. She worked quickly, focused as she drew sections of fur through her fingers and snipped with the shears. Grimm was, for the moment, incredibly soft, smelling faintly of the sugar cookie–scented conditioner she'd used.
"Good boy," she praised him quietly. She hadn't bothered to tether him, knowing that he'd soon flop down on the table with a sigh and nap while she finished him up. For a dog that had been largely neglected for his first year before he'd come into rescue, Grimm had given her his trust quickly and completely. She figured spoiling the crap out of him probably had something to do with it. He made Bay wonder why she'd waited so long to get a dog of her own. He was a hell of a lot more rewarding than any of her boyfriends had been.
In the front of the shop, the bell above the front door jingled merrily as someone wandered in. Bay barely registered the sound, knowing it was either someone stopping by to make an appointment or to pick up something from the small selection of grooming supplies she carried. Shelby, the college student she had working the front desk part-time, could handle it.
Grimm turned his head again, but this time his deep-set eyes were focused on the doorway. An odd sound blended with the music, making Bay pause and tilt her head. It took her a minute to figure out what it was… and when she did, it surprised her.
She'd never heard Grimm growl before, not once in the six months she'd had him.
But he was sure doing it now.
"It's okay, big guy," she said, stroking a soothing hand down his side. His eyes never left the empty doorway. It was as though she wasn't even there.
There was a crash, a high-pitched yelp from the front. Bay's heart leaped into her throat as she clenched her fist around the grooming shears, a million terrible images flickering through her mind at once.
It's the middle of the damned day nobody robs a store in the middle of the day it has to be a psycho oh God what if he has a gun oh God oh God oh God…
Grimm threw back his head and bayed, then launched himself off of the table.
"Grimm, no!" she shouted, but he'd hit the ground running, vanishing quickly out the door. Bay chased after him, the only terrified thought in her head that if someone had come in armed, they would absolutely shoot a dog that plenty of casual observers likened to a bear. If she just got robbed, Bay didn't care… She would rather lose the money than lose the dog.
Bay sprinted out the doorway and around the corner, then skidded to a halt in the small waiting area. Grimm had stopped barking, but moved quickly to place himself between her and the man on the floor, using his big, warm body as a barricade.
"Bay," Shelby breathed as she hurried around the counter to join her, the pink streaks in her dark hair matching the shade staining her cheeks. "He just stumbled in here and passed out! Do you think he's a druggie or something?"
Bay was silent for a moment, staring at the figure of a man spread-eagled in a wild scatter of shampoo bottles in the middle of the room. He'd taken out her new display in his fall. Even the quickest glance told her he was likely way too young for a heart attack, but then again, weirder things had happened.
The thought of him dying on her floor while she gawked lit a fire under her.
"We may need to call nine-one-one," Bay said. She pushed around Grimm with effort, rushing to the man's side and crouching down. He was on his stomach, and only his profile was visible. She knew instantly she'd never seen him before.
Grimm joined her, pressing against her shoulder as he leaned down to give the man a wary sniff. His tail, always an indicator of his mood, was a stiff flag behind him. The dog gave a low, unhappy moan.
Bay leaned closer, inhaling. No booze—all she caught was an intriguing hint of spice that was very… male. Good cologne, she guessed, then pushed the thought away. Seeing a hint of movement, the unmistakable rhythm of breathing, sent relief coursing through her along with a whole lot of adrenaline. He wasn't dead. A junkie, maybe, though he didn't have that look about him.
Or maybe he's just sick.
Her eyes flickered over his face again, just quickly enough for her to register that he was far from sickly looking. Actually, he was gorgeous.
"Sir?" she asked loudly, shaking him by the shoulders. "Sir, can you hear me?"
A soft groan indicated he was coming to… she hoped.
"Sir, if you can hear me, I'm calling an ambulance right now. We'll get you some help."
Bay gestured to Shelby, who headed back for the counter, and the phone. Bay had only begun to turn her head back toward the man when he shot to his feet in a scatter of shampoo bottles, moving so quickly she barely knew what was happening. There was a whisper of air against her cheek, and then he was on his feet, backing away from where she crouched. His hand was at his temple, and he winced as though his head hurt.
Bay rose quickly to her feet, a protective hand on her dog as he once again put himself between her and the stranger with a volley of deep, threatening barks.
The man's eyes moved quickly from the dog to the mess, and then to the two women staring at him wide-eyed. He spat a word in a language Bay didn't understand, then held out one hand as the other fell away from his temple.
"Please… a moment. I'm not going to hurt you."
His voice was silken, a warm tenor no less commanding for its softness. His accent was a blend, faintly British but with an exotic lilt.
"You need to leave," Shelby said, her voice shaking.
"Shelby," Bay said softly, a gentle reproach. Whatever was wrong here, freaking out on their part was not going to help it. When she turned her head to look at her friend, however, she could see something was very wrong. Shelby had gone sheet-white, her dark eyes huge as she stared at the man's face.
"Shelby," she said more sharply, hoping to draw her attention away. The look on her friend's face wasn't one she'd ever seen before… or ever wanted to see again.
"His… eyes…," Shelby whispered.
Bay turned her head sharply to look at him, and when his eyes locked with hers, she finally understood.
The guy who'd just wrecked her shampoo display wasn't human. Not even close.
His eyes were a bright, burning gold, more akin to molten metal than the more muted shades she'd seen among the werewolves who stayed with Lily's dynasty. They were intense, mesmerizing. He stared at her for an instant that felt much longer than it truly was, and in her head she heard his voice as clearly as if he'd been speaking in her ear. It was far too intimate, and still it made her shiver.
Be still. I would speak with you.
His gaze returned to Shelby, who was fumbling now with the phone. Bay heard Shelby's terrified, sobbing breaths even out instantly, heard the phone being clicked off, and then the gentle creak of the stool behind the counter as the girl settled herself on it. She said nothing.
"So you're a vampire," Bay said quietly, adrenaline still pumping hard and fast through her veins. Only Grimm's reassuring presence kept her from running out the door, the urge to flee an instinct that her rational mind knew would make no difference. If he wanted to catch her, he would. She should have known what he was as soon as he'd gotten up—no human could move so fast.
"I don't know how you're out in the middle of the afternoon, but whatever you came in here for, I can't help you."
Bay was glad her voice sounded so steady, considering her legs felt like Jell-O.
The man said nothing, his expression guarded. And despite herself, despite knowing she was in the presence of a creature who had just thralled her employee into a happy stupor, a creature who was out during the day when there was no earthly way he should be, Bay felt the vampire's physical appeal slam into her like a fist.
They're all beautiful. You're used to it, she told herself, furious at the way her heartbeat quickened. And a treacherous little voice in the back of her mind responded, They may all be beautiful… but not like this.
Those remarkable eyes, deep set and almond shaped, watched her steadily from beneath a pair of dark, slashing brows. His nose was strong, his lips tantalizingly full, and his square jaw was covered in a light growth of stubble. The vampire's hair, wavy and black as sin, was cut short enough not to fall into his eyes but long enough to tousle, and Bay had to tear her eyes away when her fingers curled reflexively into her palm, itching to run her fingers through it, over every inch of this stranger's tanned and gold-dusted skin.
It was Grimm's soft growl that finally sliced through her haze. She blinked rapidly and shook her head, making sure not to meet the vampire's eyes again. Lily had been very clear about how to protect herself from the less well-behaved members of the species, and Bay was glad for it. Poor Shelby was going to be in her own little world until this guy left, and then, Bay knew, the girl wouldn't remember any of this. A heavy thrall could really do a number on a person.
She didn't want her own brain messed with to boot.
Finally, he spoke.
"You're close friends with the ruler of the Lilim, aren't you?" he asked. "Lily MacGillivray. And you're Bailey Harper. This is the information I was given."
"Given by who?" Bay asked, fighting back the fresh sliver of fear working its way down her spine. He'd said he had no intention of hurting them, but still… vampires didn't come looking for her. Especially not day-walking vampires with wild eyes and problems staying conscious.
He moved to pick up a pair of sunglasses on the floor, and she was struck again by his natural grace. It shouldn't have surprised her. The majority of the vampires now in Tipton had started as Cait Sith, cat-shifters, before joining Lily's dynasty. The lot of them had grace and beauty in spades. But there was something different here, something more. And she hated herself a little as her eyes crawled over the lithe, muscular frame that even his light jacket and loose jeans couldn't disguise.
Bay gritted her teeth and inhaled, trying to center herself.
The vampire slid his sunglasses on. It was a small relief, but she'd take it, even though knowing he was watching her from behind them was still unnerving. He regarded her silently for a moment, studying her so intently that Bay felt a hot flush creeping into her cheeks. Finally, he spoke, and managed to surprise her.
"I… apologize," he said, his brows drawing together slightly as he looked down at the mess he'd made by falling. "We'll start over. My name is Tasmin Singh. I can walk in the light because it is a gift of my line. And I'm looking for your friend because…" He trailed off for a moment, then looked away.
"It is a long story."
"Something to do with you passing out in the middle of my store?" Bay asked. His features tightened for an instant before his expression cleared again.
"Perhaps. I slept far longer than is natural, and I still seem to be… adjusting. That should pass in time. I came here because I seek answers. The queen of the Lilim will know those who can find them. Of this I am certain."
Bay's eyebrows rose at the cryptic response. There was something off about him, something she couldn't even put her finger on that went beyond the obvious weirdness. Sadly, it didn't make him any less fascinating to her.
"Okay," she said, drawing the word out. "Well, Tasmin, you, um, would have done better just waiting until nightfall and knocking on Lily's door. Whoever told you where to find me could have told you where to find her." She tilted her head at him. "Why didn't you just go there? You can see I'm no vamp. I'm just a dog groomer."
She thought she caught the faintest hint of a smile, if only for a moment. It turned his lips soft, sultry, and she felt a knot of pleasure coil deep in her belly.
No. No no no. She liked things that were quirky, odd, and even weird. Things. Not guys. Because every time she was drawn to one of those qualities in a guy, it ended up biting her in the ass. And this particular guy looked about as safe as a wounded tiger.
"I see. You've attracted quite a noble beast as a guardian."
She stroked her hand over Grimm's back, unsure of whether Tasmin was giving her a compliment or just being sarcastic. Grimm leaned into her harder and growled at the vampire again. The sound was soft, but it was a clear warning.
"He is noble," Bay said flatly. "More than most people manage to be. And he's an excellent judge of character."
Tasmin inclined his head slightly, any trace of a smile gone. "Of that I have no doubt. Beasts often are. That he has chosen you speaks well of you."
She blinked. "Oh. I… thanks." She tried to shrug off the pleasure she felt at the simple praise. It didn't matter what this strange, gorgeous vampire thought of her.
"That still doesn't explain why you came in here."
"The sun is still high. I had some time. And I wondered what sort of mortal would be considered such a friend to a powerful queen. I'm still not sure whether your relationship means I should expect to find her wise, or a reckless fool." He considered her. "In any case, you're not what I expected."
Bay's eyes narrowed. She knew she was considered a curiosity among the vampires here, a mortal with no apparent interest in anything Lily could offer her except friendship. But she didn't appreciate being gawked at like a sideshow freak by some outsider.
"Well," she said stiffly, "what you see is what you get. I'm not that interesting. Now if you don't mind, I've got some things to do before I close up for the day, and I need my help back."
She turned her head to look at Shelby, who was thumbing idly through a magazine, a dreamy expression on her face. Seeing how deep the thrall still was unsettled her.
"Shouldn't that have worn off by now?" Bay asked.
"It will wear off when I decide it does."
Bay looked sharply at him. "That's not how it works."
"It is how I work."
The matter-of-fact arrogance in his statement finally sparked her temper. She pushed aside any lingering fear and walked quickly around Grimm, striding right up to Tasmin. Despite the sunglasses, she saw his surprise, and had to fight back a thin smile. No doubt he'd expected the puny mortal to cower and grovel. But that wasn't how she worked.
Bay came to a stop only a foot away from him and glared up into his impassive face. Being so close, and this time with him aware and looking down at her, left her momentarily off-balance. He was just the right height—maybe five feet ten—to fit herself against, tall enough to wind herself around, short enough to reach if she rose up on her toes to press her mouth to his…
The scent of him was stronger now, intoxicating. And fending off another hot punch of desire only made her angrier. She never let men make her uncomfortable… It was a point of pride with her. So why couldn't she find her footing with this one?
"Listen," she snapped. "I don't know what you are or what's wrong with you, but if you want to find out what the Lilim are like, I suggest you head in that direction. I'm sure you'll get an answer to your questions one way or another… if you can make it through the werewolves to ask. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got better things to do than satisfy your curiosity."
She started to turn and felt his hand clamp on her wrist, not hard, but with a controlled strength that she knew could shatter bones if he wanted. Her fury was a dull roar in her ears as she whipped her head around.
But the words died in her throat at his expression, the lips pulled back to reveal gleaming fangs. It was the snarl of a creature not remotely human, a killer. And the voice that came from his throat was nothing like the sensual purr of before.
In an instant, he'd become everything she was afraid of.
"You dare chastise me, human?" The words sounded like they'd been dragged through gravel and oil, oozing up from deep in his chest.
Then he cried out, his head snapping back, his body arching as though an electric current had just passed through his body. The sunglasses clattered to the floor again, and Grimm barked just behind her, though it sounded oddly far off. Tasmin's eyes met hers again, and the amount of pain and fear she saw in that instant left her reeling. His hand tightened on her wrist before going lax.
"Help me," he breathed.
She just managed to get her arms around him to break his fall, sinking slowly to the floor with Tasmin in her arms. Whatever this man needed, she knew, it was more than just answers.
But right this second he needed help. He needed her.
Even though she cursed herself for it, even though she'd declared vampire problems off limits to herself, Bay knew she was in big trouble. Her compassion had always been as much her strength as it had been her Achilles' heel.
And this time, whichever it turned out to be, she wasn't going to be able to just walk away.
HE DIDN'T AWAKEN FULLY until the sun went down.
Tasmin inhaled deeply as consciousness returned, grateful to be surfacing from the dreams that had plagued him ever since he'd emerged from the cave. He felt warmth, softness, a strange sense of comfort… and relief as he emerged fully from the smoke-filled visions he could only ever half remember. His sleep, once restful, now left him with an aching hunger nothing seemed to be able to fill, his head pounding with an anger that seemed to come from nowhere, directed at nothing and yet as deep and endless as the ocean.
And yet right this moment, he felt… good.
Maybe someone had finally put him out of his misery. Then again, he'd never had that kind of luck.
Tasmin kept his eyes closed, rummaging around in his murky memories for where he might have ended up this time. For a moment, he felt a cold twist of fear when he couldn't come up with anything. The blank spaces in the days that had passed since he'd left the forest yawned like bottomless chasms… some rimmed with blood. He'd grown to dread those empty patches in his memory more than anything else. But then images drifted up from the depths, and he remembered. Pieces, anyway.
Shampoo bottles. A woman's gentle hands. Barking.
Tasmin opened his eyes and found himself staring into a furry black face only inches from his own.
He hissed in a breath and sat upright, startled. The big black dog rose to its feet from where it had been sitting and watching him, and gave a soft wuff.
"Easy," Tasmin said softly, a command that did nothing to diminish the wariness he saw in the creature's deep-set eyes. It was hard to blame him.
Tasmin looked around, keeping half an eye on the animal while he got his bearings. He had been lying on a large, overstuffed couch, where someone—no, he corrected himself, Bailey
- On Sale
- Jan 29, 2013
- Page Count
- 400 pages