By Larissa Ione
Read by Ava Camille Edwards
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As the only female Seminus demon ever born, master assassin Sinead Donnelly is used to being treated like an outcast. She spent decades enslaved, and now vows she’ll die before she’ll relinquish her freedom again. Then Sin’s innate ability to kill her enemies goes awry: She creates a lethal new werewolf virus that sparks a firestorm of panic and violence.
Half-werewolf, half-vampire Conall Dearghul is charged with bringing in Sin to face punishment for the plague. And she’s no stranger: He’s bound to her by blood, and the one sexual encounter they shared has left him hungering for her raw sensuality. Worse, Sin is the underworld’s most wanted and Con soon learns he’s the only one who can help her . . . and that saving her life might mean sacrificing his own.
ALSO BY LARISSA IONE
"There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls."
"You damnedpire motherfucker!"
Con barked out a laugh at Luc's shouted insult, even as he hit the snow hard enough to shatter a human man's thigh bones. But Con was a dhampire, a rare cross between a werewolf and a vampire, and he was made of stronger stuff. As a werewolf, Luc was equally strong, but he wasn't nearly as fast, as Con had proven by hot-loading out of the helicopter before Luc had even tugged his ski goggles down over his eyes.
Con hopped his skis twice to pull himself out of the snowpack that still glazed the peaks of the Swiss Alps, and then he was zigzagging down the mountain. The sky was clear and blue, and here above the timberline, the silence was broken only by the soft whoop-whoop of the helo blades and the swish of his Rossignols as they cut the fresh powder.
The lulling quiet lasted only until Luc hit the snow and hurled insults at Con again.
The helo sounds faded as the pilot, who had called them all kinds of insane but had agreed—for quadruple his usual fee for heli-skiing—to bring them up higher on the mountain, hauled ass out of there. The dude had nearly stroked out when Con told him to hover at thirty feet instead of the inches he normally held at when letting human skiers off the bird.
But no, Con didn't do anything the easy way, or even the same way twice. The last time he and Luc had heli-skied, the drop had been shorter.
And the risk of avalanche had been far, far less.
The powder was thick on top of an unstable snowpack, the slope steep, and the effort it took for Con to navigate it all would have him trembling with exhaustion by the time they reached the Harrowgate in the valley miles below.
Ahead, the mountain face became a sheer cliff, and he leaped, catching air under his skis. The ground was impossibly far beneath him and scattered with boulders, but the wind was in his face, the scent of pine was in his lungs, and adrenaline was pumping hotly through his body.
This was the best way to live—or die, depending on how he landed.
Sometimes, he didn't really care either way.
He came down hard in an explosion of snow and nearly took a header, but he caught himself just before he hit a patch of wind-loaded crust that would have sent him flying.
Behind him, he heard Luc's skis scratching out turns… and then came the sounds of something more ominous.
Con turned in time to see Luc leap off a snowcapped boulder, but behind him, a giant sheet of snow had begun to crack and slide, an avalanche being born.
"Luc!" Heart pounding painfully against his ribs, Con tucked and pointed his skis down the hill, angled toward Luc and a massive boulder stabbing out of the side of the mountain. Luc couldn't see the potential shelter, was too close to the leading edge of the slab of white death coming at him.
Luc, never one for delicate maneuvers anyway, left finesse behind as he shot straight down the slope, barreling through drifts like an oil tanker through thirty-foot seas, but shit, he wasn't going to make it. The avalanche behind him was gaining, and though Con could veer to the left and avoid it, he headed straight into its path.
The wind seared his face as he gained speed, getting closer to Luc… closer to the rock… closer to the fucking wall of ice and snow. They had one shot at this, and his mind shut down, taking him to a place of calm as he hit Luc at the last second, knocking them both off their feet and into the boulder as the monster wave of snow rolled over them.
Con landed on top of Luc, gripped his shoulders hard as he turned his face away from the assault of frozen chunks that broke apart against the rock. The noise was deafening, the rumble so fierce that it vibrated Con's body and seemed to shock his heart into a new, frenzied rhythm.
Sixty seconds later, he lifted his head. Excellent. They were still alive.
"Get the hell off me, you damned pervert," Luc muttered.
Con eased himself off the werewolf and brushed snow out of the gap between his jacket and his neck. "Nice way to thank a guy who saved your miserable life."
Luc sat up and patted himself down, as if checking to see whether he was missing any parts. "Fuck," he breathed. "This means I owe you."
"Damned straight." Con lifted his leg and discovered that one boot had snapped out of its binding, but thankfully, he had a ski leash, so the ski hadn't gone anywhere. "I can't wait to cash in."
"You'd better not make me do something stupid. Like run with the bulls." Luc dug inside one of his jacket pockets and pulled out a flask. "Naked."
Con grimaced. "Trust me, I have no desire to see your pale, bare ass." He snatched the flask from Luc and took a swig, relishing the burn of the rum as it slid down his throat. "But I wouldn't mind seeing you trampled by bulls. You're an asshole."
"Ditto." Luc grabbed the liquor away and took a deep pull. "You ready to go?"
Con snapped his boot into the binding. "Yep."
"What are we gonna do after this?"
A flare of regret jerked in Con's gut. Eidolon had sent all warg hospital employees into isolation to keep them from contracting the virus that was attacking the werewolf population, and Luc was going stir-crazy. Though Con and Luc had never been friends, exactly—they'd gotten their introduction in a bar fight with each other—they were paramedic partners and they hung out together occasionally, mainly to see who could beat who at whatever they did.
But ever since Luc had gone into isolation, he'd been even more eager to do crazy shit. Con was always game, but he did have a job, and he was working more than ever to make up for Luc's absence.
"I gotta work. But we'll go skydiving next week."
Luc nodded, and though his expression was as stony as ever, Con didn't miss the flash of disappointment in the guy's dark hazel eyes.
"When's the last time you got laid? When you were in Egypt? That Guardian chick?" Con shoved to his feet. "You need a woman."
Luc snorted. "Women are a pain in the ass," he said, and wasn't that the truth.
In fact, the biggest pain in the ass female he'd ever met was responsible for the very epidemic that was killing wargs. And Doc E had requested—well, ordered—a meeting with Con this afternoon, and he had a sickening feeling that the pain in the ass female, aka Sin, was going to be there.
Fuck. Once more, Con grabbed the flask from Luc, put it to his lips, and finished it off. Then he punched down the mountain.
Oh, yeah. Rum and adrenaline mixed well. Much, much better than he and Sin ever would.
Sin had been summoned.
Here she was, the freaking head of an assassin den, master of more than three dozen highly skilled killers, and she'd been summoned like some lowlife imp to an audience with her brother.
The great demon doctor.
She'd already given him her blood, her DNA, her pee, her spinal fluid… whatever samples the doctor wanted for his research, she'd handed over. Sin was, after all, responsible for the disease that was wiping out the werewolf race.
What a claim to fame.
A couple of days ago, she'd even come into Underworld General to channel her power into an infected male in an attempt to kill the virus, but if anything, she'd only accelerated its spread.
And she hadn't thought it could get any worse.
Sin muttered to herself as she traversed UG's dark hallways on the way to Eidolon's office. Her boots clacked on black stone floors that were unusually in need of a good sweeping, and the echo bounced in eerie vibrations off the gray walls. She trailed a finger over the writing on said walls—protective antiviolence spells scrawled in blood. She had to give credit to her brothers for that; the hospital serviced nearly all species of demons, many of which were mortal enemies.
She rounded a corner to enter the administrative area, only to curse fiercely. Wraith, the only one of her four brothers with blond hair and blue eyes—neither of which were original parts—stood in the doorway as though he'd been waiting for her. His arms were folded over his broad chest, the dermoire on his right arm blending in with his T-shirt's Celtic print—Celtic print that was cleverly designed to form the words "Fuck off."
"Well, if it isn't Typhoid Mary."
"Read your shirt." She pushed past him to enter the office, missing a step when she saw not only Eidolon, MD, but also Conall, SOB.
Great. When she'd last seen the vampire-werewolf a few weeks ago, they'd parted on shitty terms. He'd assumed the worst of her, threatened her, had been an utterly unlikable ass. Oh, sure, she'd led him to believe she'd intentionally started the epidemic that was killing his warg relatives, but if he hadn't been such a jerk, she might have told him the truth.
Not that the truth was much better.
"Sin." Eidolon remained at his desk, his espresso eyes bloodshot and framed by dark circles. His short, nearly black hair was mussed, probably from repeated rakes of his fingers. He pretty much looked like hell itself had beaten the crap out of him. "Sit."
The command ruffled her feathers, but she hooked a chair with her foot, yanked it as far from Conall as possible, and planted her ass. "What now? I don't have any blood left, and if you think you're getting a stool sample, you can—"
"I don't need a stool sample," Eidolon interrupted. "I need your help."
She felt Con's silver eyes boring into her like drill bits, and to her annoyance, her body flushed with warmth as though remembering another drilling he'd given her. That was so not happening again. "Look, you should know that the Assassin Guild has been flooded with requests for hits on wargs. I don't know if the sudden surge is related, but I figured I'd tell you."
Wraith's sharp gaze cut to Eidolon. "I've heard the same thing. Word on the street is that some of the other were-species are worried that the wolves will transmit the disease to them, so they're being a little… proactive."
Both Eidolon and Con uttered the same raw curse.
Sin settled back in her chair and forced herself to stay calm, when all she wanted to do was scream at this disaster she'd created. "You said you needed my help. What kind?"
Eidolon reached for the water bottle on his desk and took a swig before speaking. "Thanks to Harrowgates and the ability to travel instantaneously, the virus has now made its way to every continent except Antarctica. The death toll is climbing. The disease has a one hundred percent mortality rate, a practically nonexistent incubation period, and no victim has lived longer than seventy-two hours after infection. Basically, by the time a patient arrives, we don't have a lot of time for treatment."
Jesus. It was worse than she'd thought. "Haven't you made any progress at all?"
"A little." Leather squeaked as Eidolon leaned back in his chair. "We've discovered a half-dozen wargs who were exposed but didn't contract the infection. The R-XR is trying to determine what makes them immune."
The U.S. Army's paranormal unit was involved now? And Eidolon was working with them? She'd known that their brother Shade's mate, Runa, used to be a member, and that Runa's brother Arik still was, but holy crap—it just didn't feel right for the government to be involved in any way with Underworld General.
Especially not a military unit that killed, captured, and experimented on demons.
Then again, UG had several strong ties to The Aegis, a civilian demon-slaying organization—hell, Eidolon was even mated to an Aegis Guardian—and so far, the association had benefitted both UG and The Aegis.
"So I'm here, why? Are you in need of assassination services, or what?" She threw that out just to get a reaction from her uptight, always-in-control brother, but to her surprise, it was Con who made the noise.
"You're here because wargs are dying, and it's your fault," he growled, a hint of an odd British-ish accent tweaking his words. It happened when he got all pissy, and it was strangely… hot.
But she still didn't like him, and she wrenched her head around to peg him with a glare. Which might have been a good plan if he hadn't looked so damned good in his black paramedic uniform, which set off his deeply tanned skin and sun-streaked blond hair so beautifully. Toss in those shimmering silver eyes, and there was no glaring at him. Only admiring.
"Why are you even here?" she snapped, more irritated by her reaction to him than anything. "I didn't think the disease affected dhampires."
"I'm on the Warg Council. I'm keeping them informed."
"Well, good for you."
Eidolon cleared his throat imperiously. "Actually, you're both here for a reason. Sin, it's time that we put some serious effort into working with your gift. We've got to determine a way to use it to treat the disease."
"We tried that before. My 'gift' kills. It doesn't cure." Her "gift" was something she'd really like to give right back to her Seminus father. Too bad he was dead.
"Yeah, well, technically, you shouldn't exist, so I'm not ready to write off the impossible."
Oh, she loved the reminders about how she was a freak of nature, the only female Seminus demon to ever have been born. A Smurfette, as Wraith liked to call her.
"So what's your plan?"
"Can you use your gift to determine what kind of disease resides inside a body? If you touch someone who is ill, can you tell what they are sick with?"
"Sort of. I can feel the arrangement of the virus or bacteria or whatever. And once I learn it, I can replicate that specific disease." She shot Conall a smirk. "Khileshi cockfire is a favorite."
Wraith laughed. Conall paled. Eidolon looked at her like she was responsible for every case of the excruciating, dick-shriveling venereal disease he'd ever treated. The guy was so freaking uptight he probably starched his freaking underwear.
"As disturbing as that is," Eidolon said flatly, "it's exactly what I wanted to hear."
There was a tap at the door, and Lore strode past Wraith, who was still playing doorjamb sentinel. Lore held a folder in his leather-gloved hand, and Sin didn't think she'd ever get used to seeing her twin brother in scrubs. "I read the R-XR's initial report on the immune wargs, and something jumped out at me. The wargs who didn't catch SF after being exposed were born wargs. So I examined the bodies in our morgue and ran some tests. I know not every warg that's been infected has come through the hospital, but the ones who have? Turned wargs."
Sin frowned. "SF?"
"Sin Fever," Wraith chimed in a little too enthusiastically.
Sin Fever? They'd named the fucking disease after her? Bastards.
E flipped excitedly through the folder Lore gave him. "Just when I thought we'd never find a link between the victims. I'll call the R-XR and let them know. Excellent work, Lore."
Despite the grim subject matter, Sin couldn't help but be thrilled that her brother, who had, as an assassin, known nothing but killing and loneliness until just weeks ago, was now mated, happy, and working in the hospital—the morgue, where his death-touch couldn't accidentally kill anyone.
"Wait," Sin said. "How can you tell the difference between turned and born werewolves?"
"Born wargs usually have a birthmark somewhere on their bodies, but we can't always go by that." Before Sin could ask why, Eidolon finished. "Outcasts are required to have them removed, and some turned wargs have them artificially applied, so we have to perform genetic testing to determine if they're born or turned."
Huh. Who would have thunk it? "So, what was it you wanted with me?"
Eidolon looked up from the paperwork, and the circles under his eyes seemed to have lightened a little. "About that… see, that's why I called Con to this meeting."
Bracing his muscular forearms on his knees, Con leaned forward in his chair. When he spoke, his fangs flashed as fiercely as his eyes. "What are you saying?"
"Your weekly blood tests for SF have been coming back negative," Eidolon said. "Until yesterday."
"What? I have the disease?" Con exploded out of his chair, but Eidolon held up his hands in a stay-calm motion.
"Not exactly. It's in your blood. Your body isn't attacking it, nor is it attacking you, and you aren't producing antibodies. But when we introduced Sin's blood to the mix in the lab, your white blood cells and hers joined forces to attack the virus."
Sin's skin prickled with foreboding. Eidolon was dancing around something. "Skip the buildup and backstory. Bottom line, what do you want from us?"
"I need Con to feed from you," he said with uncharacteristic awkwardness. "And I need it to happen now."
I need Con to feed from you.
Con cursed softly. "As much as I'd like to help you out, Doc, I can't do what you're asking." Yeah, he'd tasted Sin's blood before—and it had been damned good—but that was exactly why he couldn't do it again. He'd been addicted to a female's blood before, and he would never allow it to happen again.
"I get that she's not your favorite person—"
"He said he can't do it," Lore interrupted. "Let it go."
Eidolon tapped a pencil on his desk, the dull thud of the eraser on wood punctuating his words. "Unfortunately, there's no 'let it go' option. This might be our only shot at an immediate solution."
"I don't understand," Sin said. "What do you mean, a solution?"
Eidolon spun one of the papers around to show Sin and Con where he'd scrawled a lengthy column of numbers. "I can't inject the amount of Sin's blood required to destroy the virus into Conall without killing him. He needs to ingest it. As a dhampire, he has a double-chambered stomach, the second chamber working the way a vampire's works—to deliver a victim's blood almost directly into the vampire's bloodstream. So if my calculations are correct, a normal feeding will allow him to take in enough blood to start attacking the virus. Once that's done—"
"I can monitor his blood to learn how the virus is killed and then use my power to try to destroy it myself," Sin finished.
"Exactly." Eidolon grinned. "You really should be working here instead of as an assassin."
At some point, Sin had produced a throwing knife and was now flipping it between her fingers, and Con had a feeling the speed directly related to her level of agitation. The sucker was whirling like a helicopter blade. "Bite me."
Eidolon gestured to Conall. "That'll be his job."
"No," Con said grimly. "It won't. There has to be another way."
"I agree." Sin rose to her feet, her blue-black hair swishing angrily around her waist. "I don't let anyone fang me."
You let me, you little liar. Hot, little liar. Man, Con wanted to call her out on exactly how she'd let him, but at least two of her brothers in the room were a little on the overprotective side, and the other didn't need an excuse to kill things. Come to think of it, none of them needed an excuse.
Neither did Con.
"If there was any other way," Eidolon said, "I'd find it. But there's not." He wadded up a sheet of paper and tossed it at the overflowing garbage can in the corner. "You have the virus—it's just not attacking you, and I don't know why yet. It's a slightly different strain from what's attacking the wargs… it's adapted to your species, but it might be trying to mutate into something that can attack you, which is why we need to eliminate it as soon as possible. As for the wargs… that's what was so weird about the blood samples the R-XR took. It was as if the uninfected wargs were a different species and unable to catch the virus."
"You mean like how horses don't catch measles from humans," Sin said, and Eidolon nodded.
"Exactly. I still don't know what would make born wargs so different from turneds." The frustration in Eidolon's voice was echoed in his expression as he turned to Con. "And you, even with your vampire status, you're somehow more closely related to turned wargs than born ones."
A tremor of unease went through Con. That was just one of the dhampire race's dirty little secrets, but it was one he was going to have to share with the doctor. Anything to help get this damned epidemic stopped. Well, not anything. He'd leave out the minor details. Though he supposed he didn't owe his people the courtesy of keeping their secrets, since they'd all but exiled him. Oh, they kept track of him because, ultimately, he was too valuable to completely throw away, but he'd shamed them, and they were happy to punish him for it.
"Dhampires aren't exactly born this way."
Eidolon scowled. "What do you mean?"
Con leaned forward and braced his forearms on his thighs. "I mean that when we hit our late teens, our fangs come in, we start craving blood… and then we get sick. On the first night of the full moon after our fangs have fully developed, we have to be bitten by a warg or we'll die."
"Interesting," Eidolon murmured. "So dhampires are basically turned werewolves who drink blood. Guess that explains why you ended up with a form of the virus, but there's something else to consider."
Con didn't like his tone. Not at all. "What else?"
Eidolon paused as though searching his brain for the right words, and Con's gut hollowed out. "The virus inside you isn't likely to want to only attack you. It wants out."
"So what you're saying," Con ground out, "is that I'm a carrier. I could have infected people."
"Unfortunately, yes. The disease seems to be transmitted via both direct and indirect contact, as well as by air, but as an asymptomatic carrier, you might transmit it differently. I tested your saliva, and it's definitely present. We need to run tests to be sure, but since Luc hasn't come down with the virus, you probably aren't breathing it out or passing it on by casual touch. But you need to avoid intimate contact with werewolves and other dhampires."
Oh, bloody hell. How many females had Con fed from and slept with in the last month? His mind raced as he counted and eliminated those who weren't werewolves. Only one had been a warg… a turned warg. And ironically, a female who he'd avoided sleeping with for years because he cared about her, and she deserved better than a one-off with him.
Shit. "Hold on, Doc." Con dug his cell from his pocket, dialed, and Yasashiku, a member of the Warg Council, answered on the second ring.
"Con. You're missing the meeting. Valko's about to have a freaking puppy. Where are you?"
"I'm at work. I'll be there as soon as I can." Moving toward a corner, he lowered his voice. "Have you heard from Nashiki lately?"
Yasashiku's silence made Con suddenly, achingly, aware of the pounding sound of his heartbeat in his ears. "You didn't hear?"
"Hear what?" Don't say it. Don't. Fucking. Say it.
"She caught the virus," Yas said, his faint Japanese accent thickening with emotion. "She died last night."
Con didn't even reply. Numbly, he closed the phone. He'd done his share of killing in his thousand years of life, some of it justified, some not. But there was something truly obscene about killing someone with pleasure. Especially because, years ago, he'd saved Nashiki's life after she'd been attacked by a pride of lion-shifters, and though he didn't normally keep in contact with his patients, she'd been special, bubbly and bright, one of the few people he'd met in his life who never let anything get them down.
So he'd saved her… only to kill her.
Sure, there was no proof that he had given the virus to the gorgeous, honey-skinned warg, who hadn't deserved how he'd screwed her while fantasizing about Sin, let alone how he'd given her a disease that had turned her organs to mush. No proof at all, but the timing was right, given the time frame from onset to death.
Crimson washed over his vision as both nausea that he'd killed an innocent female and anger that the person ultimately responsible was right there in the room with him collided. This had to end, and at this point, the risks of repeated feedings from Sin were the least of his concerns.
Especially since all of the risk would be Sin's.
- "The third book in Ione's supercharged Demonica series ignites on the first page and never looks back."—4 1/2 stars, RT Book Reviews on Passion Unleashed
- Ione has a true gift for imbuing her characters with dark-edged passion. . . a top notch read."—4 stars, RT Book Reviews on Desire Unchained
- "The author's hard-edged style infuses the story with darkness while taking it to sizzling heights."—4 stars, RT Book Reviews on Pleasure Unbound
- "Wicked...Decadently Sinful...Prepare to be burned."—Gena Showalter, New York Times bestselling author on Desire Unchained
- On Sale
- Sep 1, 2010
- Hachette Audio