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As one of the Grigori, a noble vampire dynasty shrouded in mystery, Ariane has spent her life hidden away in the desert. Like all of her kind, she is a watcher, fated to observe, forbidden to act. Yet when her best friend Sammael vanishes, she defies all rules and flees her safe haven to bring him home.
A shape-shifting assassin for the House of Shadows, Damien Tremaine is hired to locate Sammael. His hunt for the wayward Grigori leads him to Ariane, the rogue vamp who stands between him and his bounty. Damien never lets emotion interfere with his work, but a single touch from the sexy, beguiling vampire shatters his self-control. Drawn together by their common goal, they begin an alliance of necessity that soon becomes one of desire. But when the secret at the dark heart of the Grigori comes to light, Damien and Ariane must make a choice that could bind them eternally . . . or tear them-and everything they care about-apart.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Immortal Craving
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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
STRONGHOLDS: The deserts of the West
ABILITIES: Flight is rumored due to their mark, but no proof
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
She stood at the floor-length window, staring out at the rolling ocean of sand that had been her home since before her memories began. Not a breath of wind moved the gossamer curtains that she'd drawn back, though she had opened the window wide in hopes that some air might clear her head.
No such luck. All she'd found was the crescent moon hanging above the same beautiful and barren landscape that she looked upon every night. Nothing changed here. Nothing except her. Not that the implications of what she was about to do didn't make her heart ache. But she had no choice.
Life eternal notwithstanding, this place would kill her, or at least the best part of her, if she stayed much longer.
"Ariane, please look at me."
With a soft sigh, Ariane turned away from the window and looked at the man who had entered the shadowed room. She had lit but a single candle, not wanting the harshness of the light, and it played over his concerned face, over features that were as hard and beautiful as chiseled stone.
Sariel. There was a time when she would have been honored by a visit from him. And to her chamber, no less. He had been the leader of her dynasty since it began, or so she understood, and his word among the Grigori was law. Ariane respected him, deeply. But Sariel was content with all the things that made her restless. He could accept that her dearest friend had vanished without a trace, where her every waking moment had become a nightmare of worry and dark imaginings. And she knew that while he cared, while some effort was being put into finding the missing Grigori, he didn't remotely understand what a loss Sam was to her.
"I appreciate your concern, Sariel. But I'm fine. I didn't expect to be chosen," Ariane said, hoping that she was concealing her bitterness well. To have been passed over was bad enough. But to have been pushed aside for Oren, to have seen the blaze of vicious triumph on her rival's face… it hurt in a way no wound ever had. And in her training, she'd been cut plenty.
Sariel approached, shutting the door behind him. To anyone else, even their own kind, Ariane knew he would have been incredibly intimidating. The men of the Grigori dynasty of vampires, particularly the ancient ones, all stood nearly seven feet tall, broad-chested and well muscled, with skin like pale marble. But in the dim light, he looked so like Sam that she could feel nothing but the same dull ache she had felt for a month now, ever since they'd all realized Sam was not simply traveling, but gone.
Sariel's face belonged on a statue carved by a Renaissance master, but his beauty, like all Grigoris' beauty, was cold. His white hair, the same shade as all ancient ones had, was an oddly attractive contrast to a youthful face. It fell to his shoulders with nary a wave to mar the gleam of it. His eyes glowed a deep and striking violet, a shade they all shared, in the dim light.
"I know you had your hopes up, Ariane," he said, his normally sonorous voice soft. "You don't have to pretend you didn't. If it helps, you were strongly considered. But the others felt that, ultimately, Oren was the better choice." He paused. "If Sammael can be found, he will be. I realize he is important to you, as he is to us all."
The better choice. Simply because she had not been handpicked by the elders, because the circumstances of her turning had been borne of emotion instead of reason. No matter how hard she worked, how lethal she became, she would be seen as a mistake. The weakest among them. And Oren, above all, had orchestrated her being shunned for it.
The Grigori were taught that hate was a wasted emotion. But for Oren, who excelled at the art of subtle humiliation, Ariane feared she felt something very close to it. And now he had bested her again, finally taking from her something she desperately wanted.
"Yes, Sam is important to all of us," Ariane said, trying to choose her words carefully as she turned back toward the window, the beckoning night. "But of everyone here, I am closest to him, Sariel. I think you know that. I don't understand why we're sending only one of our own to search for him when he could be hurt out there. He could be dead."
It was her greatest fear, and Sariel was as dismissive as she'd expected him to be. He simply didn't give in to his emotions. She didn't really expect a vampire like Sariel to understand how much a simple friendship meant to her. He seemed above such things, beyond them. He was strong, unlike her; she was weakened by her attachments and her most private dreams. In those dreams, which she had never shared with a soul, she was happy, fulfilled, even loved—and far away from here.
A palace, however opulent, could still be a prison.
"Ariane," Sariel said, affecting the air of a parent lecturing a willful child, "your concern is admirable, but if Sammael is still alive, he shouldn't be difficult to find. We are adept at seeking as well as watching, as you know." He paused. "Tell me, little one, is this about my brother? Or is it about your desire to get beyond these walls?"
Anger roiled deep within her at his suggestion. Of course she wanted to get beyond these walls! But her own needs paled in comparison to Sam's… wherever he was.
Finally, she managed to speak, her voice steady only through the strongest effort.
"Sariel, I swear that I'm only concerned about Sam. But since you brought it up, you're obviously aware of how stifling my situation is. In all these hundreds of years, I've been out exactly once. Once, when I have worked harder than anyone to show my worth. Do you know how that feels?" She waved her hand before he could answer. "No, of course you don't. If you want to go out into the world, you go. But I…" She trailed off, wanting to make him understand how she felt about her life. "I can only sit here. Wander the grounds. Try to enjoy the little bits of life that the humans who are brought here carry with them before they're taken back."
"The palace is huge, as are the grounds," Sariel pointed out. "Everything you could want to do is here or could be brought here. We're not beholden to the same rules as the others. It's why this place is hidden, why we are hidden. You know that. The vampires accept us as their own, and it's important that they continue to do so. The less they know about us, the better."
"But we are vampires," Ariane snapped, exasperated by the same old conversation. "Aren't we? We don't walk in the day. We drink the blood of humans to survive. We are the same!"
"Yes and no," Sariel replied, his expression guarded. "We carry a responsibility the others do not. We are the oldest by far, though that, too, must stay hidden. Especially now, when things have begun to shift. We are watchers, d'akara. We do not interfere. Sammael understood this. The others understand this. But you…"
He trailed off, letting Ariane finish the thought herself. And how could she not? She'd heard the words enough times, even when she wasn't supposed to.
You're not ready. You'll never be ready. You're different.
"I may not have been chosen," Ariane said, trying to keep all anger from her voice, her face, "but that doesn't mean I'm incapable of carrying out our duties. The duties I have trained for alongside everyone else. I'm ready, Sariel."
She'd promised herself she wouldn't beg. And yet here she was again. Sariel's indulgent smile made her want to scream.
"Of course you are. One day soon, perhaps. Though, it isn't just up to me. Given the circumstances of your turning, there is concern about your ability to refrain from intervening."
"That was hundreds of years ago," Ariane interjected, a snap in her voice she couldn't cover. "I'm being punished because I was upset when I was turned?"
Sariel's eyes darkened. "Upset is the wrong word, as you well remember. A traumatic siring will linger, Ariane, sometimes forever. Do you really think you could stand by and watch what happened to you and your family? Even your sire could not and succumbed to weakness."
Sariel held up a hand to stop her. "You already know I will not tell you who he is. He asked that the shame remain his own. It's best for both of you. For all of us."
Ariane stiffened, even as her stomach twisted into knots the way it always did when she had a conversation like this… and there had been many. She remembered so little of her siring, and only flashes of what had come before. Those brief glimpses of horror were bad enough. There had been blood, smoke, hideous laughter… beloved voices raised in tormented screams. Then strong arms, a hushed voice. Darkness.
Most of her mortal life remained a mystery to her. Her memories began in earnest at the weeks she'd spent confined to her chambers, weeping so long and hard that the tears had turned to blood. Weeping without truly knowing why. And there was no one to give her even a piece of her mortal past. Only the ancient ones knew who her sire was, and they kept their silence on the matter.
Sometimes she wondered if they'd killed him for what he'd done.
"We have all felt it, the desire to shape things to our will instead of watching events unfold," Sariel lectured her, his tone soft and condescending in the way only an ancient one could manage. "But that is not our place. We must detach from instinct, leave our humanity behind us. Living as we do and trying to exist any other way is madness. Yet even now, Ariane, all these years later, I still see you struggle with what you were."
"But Sam said—"
"His name is Sammael, d'akara. Show his name the respect it deserves."
Ariane's mouth snapped shut at the steely command. It was worthless to argue with him, and she should have known better. He demanded respect, but he called her d'akara, "little one," as though she were a child. She was fast and strong. She could speak a multitude of languages, debate music and philosophy and art. She could fight more nimbly than most of her blood sisters and brothers. And she had learned these things for… what? To sit here and rot because she had feelings?
No. Not this time.
"Sammael, then," Ariane allowed, trying not to say it through gritted teeth. "He said it was important to remember how to feel for the mortals. To not just watch but to be able to understand. He's an ancient one too. Do you disagree?"
Sariel's expression shifted quickly from insincere warmth to genuine displeasure. "Sammael has an… unnatural affinity for the humans. Always has. I've indulged him, but humanity is like a troop of bellicose monkeys. Understanding them is simple enough. It was a defective design, I've always thought," he said with a small, cold smile.
Ariane never knew what to make of him when he said things like that. It was as if he had never been human, though more likely it had just been so long that he had no recollection of what it was like.
Sariel waved his hand dismissively. "In any case, Ariane, this is not an appropriate first mission for you. It's too delicate a situation, and time is of the essence. One day," he continued, stepping closer, his eyes glowing softly in a way that might almost be called warm, "I will make sure you get your chance to keep our watch. You have my word on this, d'akara."
She stayed still, though his nearness had begun to make her uncomfortable. The visit itself was highly unusual. Sariel's interest in her well-being was even more so. She couldn't recall him ever paying much attention to her… though Sammael's disappearance, and her connection to him, seemed to have remedied that in spades. She should have enjoyed it. And yet somehow it provoked nothing but a faint revulsion.
Another sign she was finally ready to go.
As though he'd sensed the direction of her thoughts, Sariel murmured, "I have no idea why your beauty has escaped my notice for so long. All these centuries, and you and I have never truly spoken."
"That's true," Ariane agreed with a small nod, self-consciously tucking a lock of long, silvery blond hair behind her ear. Her hair was pale even for a Grigori, almost as silver as an ancient one's. She'd always thought it made her more of a spectacle than beautiful… but the way Sariel's eyes tracked the motion of her hand through her hair made her wonder if she'd been wrong about her appeal among her own kind.
She hoped he didn't reach for her. What would she do then? Running was always an option, but a very poor one when your pursuer was a seven-foot-tall vampire.
To her relief, Sariel seemed to realize that his sudden attentions had surprised her. He came no closer, but the keen interest in his gaze was unmistakable.
"I would like to see you, Ariane. To spend some time with you. Tomorrow night, perhaps? We should get to know one another, after all this time."
It was all she could do not to sob with relief. "Of course," she replied, and even managed a small, demure smile. "I would enjoy that."
It seemed to satisfy Sariel, and he nodded.
"Good. I'll send someone for you then." He turned and strode to the door, but stopped just before leaving, looking back at her. "Don't worry about Sammael, d'akara. If he lives, he'll be found, and he would not be so easily killed. Trust me… I've known him a great deal longer than you have."
Ariane nodded. "Then I'll just keep hoping for the best," she said.
When the door shut and Sariel was finally gone, she expelled a long, shaky breath, her legs going wobbly. She bent at the waist, placing her hands on her knees and breathing deeply, trying to regain her balance. The visit had rattled her, even more than she'd thought. Why had he really come? Was he worried that she might do exactly what she was planning? And if he was, had he seen that he was right?
She didn't think so. Whatever Sariel had come looking for, whatever he had seen, nothing had changed. For once she had a choice, and she chose to act. It was terrifying, yes.
But Ariane had faith it would also be freeing.
When she thought enough time had passed, Ariane moved to the bed and pulled a small beaded satchel from beneath the mattress. In it was the handful of things that held any importance for her. A sorry commentary on a life that had lasted so long and yet meant so little to anyone. She slung the long, thin strap of the satchel across her body, then moved to the window, her diaphanous skirt swirling gracefully about her legs.
She flipped a small latch, and the two panes of glass swung outward, revealing a gateway to the night. Ariane paused for only a moment, steeling herself. She had no desire to look back, to take in the pretty room that had been her safe haven for so long. It would be too easy to lose her nerve, and she would need all of that and more if she really wanted to find her friend. Not to mention evading her own capture. The Grigori did not take kindly to deserters. If she ever returned here, she doubted Sariel would be inviting her to his chambers again.
Not in the short space of time before she vanished forever.
No. That isn't going to happen. I can do this. And if finding Sam doesn't sway them, then I'll stay gone and stay on my own. Make a real life. Somehow.
Reassured, Ariane stepped onto the slim window ledge, glad that her room faced the desert and not the courtyard. Her only witness was the moon. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and summoned the gift that she had so rarely been able to use. She felt them rise from her back, sliding through her flesh as easily as water flowing from a stream. Her wings.
Ariane extended them, allowing herself only a moment to turn her head and admire the way they shimmered in blues, lavenders, silvers—twilight colors. And gods but it felt good to free them, to free this part of herself. She lifted her hands to her sides, like a child balancing on a beam or a dancer poised to begin.
Then she leaped into the darkness and, in a flutter of wings, was gone.
DAMIEN TREMAINE LEANED A HIP against the Master Shade's desk, made a show of examining the snifter of brandy in his hand for a moment longer, and then cocked an eyebrow at the man who'd been his employer for a good two hundred years now.
"A Grigori," he repeated, knowing he hadn't misheard his boss and wondering exactly how that could be.
Drake nodded, and the look on his face indicated he wasn't really in the mood for Damien's pithy commentary this evening. Which was a pity, since of all the things people said he was full of, pithy commentary was one of the few he could admit to and enjoy.
"Yes, a Grigori. And before you start bitching about how creepy they are, I'd like to reiterate that this is an opportunity I've been waiting for since I started this operation."
Damien snorted. "Mmm. A thousand years without a single request from their dynasty for spying, killing, or general dirty work. That's a hell of a snub. Why do you want to bother with them again? And for the record, yes, I do think they're creepy. Bloody big buggers too. The combination isn't one I fancy getting involved with. Can you imagine what their women look like? If they even have women. Or maybe some of the ones wandering around are women, and you just can't tell."
He grimaced at the thought, then downed half the brandy in a single swallow. It wasn't nearly as satisfying as a pint of O-negative would have been, but he did enjoy the taste, and the memories. Well, some of the memories.
"Why do you always feed me the shit brandy and think I won't notice, Drake?"
"You're wrong. I'm well aware you'll notice, Damien. And your reaction never ceases to amuse me. Now, to answer your question, new avenues of business are always good. And you, of all people, should appreciate that, since the fact that you opened one saved your ass not too long ago."
Damien gave Drake a humorless smirk and then tossed back the rest of the brandy, figuring he might as well enjoy the buzz if he couldn't enjoy the flavor. Gods knew the pleasure of his own little triumph had long since worn off, which was unfortunate as hell. But that was what happened when you lived on adrenaline. Each rush was somehow inferior to the last and became exponentially shorter.
The emotional numbness he had grown to feel between jobs was a strange blessing, but he had come to appreciate it.
Alistair Drake watched him from behind his monstrosity of a desk with eyes so midnight blue they were nearly black. His long fingers were folded in front of him, his sharp-featured face betraying no emotion other than the sort of low-level annoyance the man always seemed to exhibit. In his charcoal-gray suit, Drake could have passed for a young executive, with his eternal air of deadly seriousness indicating he held a position of some power.
One would never have guessed he was a master thief and assassin, and the head of a tightly run network of purveyors of exactly the same sort of work he himself had long plied as a trade. A powerful vampire indeed. A man to be feared.
Or he would have been, if Damien hadn't ceased to be afraid of anything. One had to care about the future to be afraid, and he'd learned long ago to live in the moment. There was little worth worrying over in the long term, especially now that he looked to be gainfully employed for whatever remained of his increasingly long life. Apparently there was a lot to be said for helping the heiress to a long-dead vampire dynasty… even if his aid hadn't been given entirely willingly. And to his surprise, he'd actually come to enjoy the vampires he'd met and reconnected with through Lily MacGillivray, ruler of the reborn Lilim.
Of course, it hadn't hurt his standing with Drake that these friends were all very powerful vampires—Vlad Dracul; Ty MacGillivray, Lily's husband; Jaden, who'd gotten himself involved with a bunch of werewolves and managed to work it to his and the Lilim's advantage. The wolves of the Thorn didn't seem a bad sort, if you could get past the doggy smell.
"So are you going to take the job or not, Damien?" Drake said, leaning back slightly, his entire affect one of cool disinterest. It was an act, Damien knew, and a good one. But they'd known one another too long. Drake needed the best for a delicate job like this. And despite the missteps that had led to his involvement with the Lilim, Damien was still considered such.
Damien sighed, put his glass down on one of the many stacks of paper covering the expansive desk, and gave a careless shrug.
"Might as well. It'll be interesting, if nothing else."
Drake's lips quirked. "Yes, when you find the mark, you can make him answer all your burning questions about Grigori women." He picked up a slim folder in front of him and handed it to Damien. Curious, Damien opened it and skimmed the single sheet of paper within. Clipped to it was a 4 x 5 photograph of three humans smiling in a crowd. Behind them, circled in white in case the person looking at the photo was blind, was a white-haired giant making his way through the sea of people. The Grigori in the shot was only in profile, but Damien figured he'd be easy enough to recognize—it wasn't as though one ran across these oddities of the vampire world all the time.
Damien looked up and met Drake's inscrutable gaze. "This isn't much to go on. The leadership wants this Sammael found, but they don't want it known they're looking for him. They don't want me to touch him, if possible. I'm to call them the instant he's discovered, and they suggest"—he paused, rechecking the instructions—"some very interesting methods of restraining him should I need to. This is going to take a little shopping to find these materials, but beyond that, this looks like average bounty hunter type work."
"Despite the odd customers, it is," Drake replied. "Except that the information we'll get out of this is worth a great deal. Look, we already know what it takes to shut one of these giants down. And I have a feeling there's a lot more. This is only cut- and-dried on the surface."
Damien nodded. "Obviously. They wouldn't have come to us otherwise. I'll keep my eyes and ears open." He grinned. "And I'll hope like hell I don't have to go head-to-head with this Sammael. I'd rather not give him a chance to crush me—you know the stories about what they can do."
"After seeing the one who walked in here asking about the contract, I believe those stories," Drake said. "It's one thing to see a Grigori from a distance. But gods, they're big bastards close up. Never smile either. This one had eyes like a serial killer, except that they were purple."
"Oh, you'd hire one in a heartbeat if you could find one desperate enough to come to you," Damien scoffed, and Drake chuckled.
"Damn right I would. He wouldn't even have to sneak around to get the job done. Who's going to say no to a vamp who looks like he might rip your limbs off for fun?"
"So speaking of bounty hunting," Damien said, turning the subject to one of his favorite matters, "what is the bounty? And more importantly, what's my cut?"
Drake's eyes lit up. This was, Damien knew, one of his favorite subjects as well. It was one of the reasons the two of them got on fairly well, despite some glaring personality differences.
"Oh, you'll like this. If you succeed, you get something of your very own. And before you start gloating, I get one just like it, only a bit bigger. He left both here… for incentive." Drake leaned over to remove something from a desk drawer, and then deposited a diamond the size of a Grigori's fist in the middle of the desk.
Damien's eyes widened. "Holy hell. They do want this done right."
"Have a look," Drake said. "But drop it on the floor and I'll kick your head in."
- On Sale
- Jul 31, 2012
- Page Count
- 368 pages