Malkom had never been so astounded in his everlasting life.
On his way down the mountain, he'd caught this female's ex"uisite scent and had recognized what she was to him - the woman he'd never expected for himself.
With his horns flaring and his loins stirring to mate her, he'd leapt down from on high, then torn through the bone forest. But as he'd closed in on her, he'd also scented the demons surrounding her. While he'd slaughtered them, his heart had begun to beat, his lungs drawing breath, for the first time in centuries.
She was her. His. Fate had given him a foreign female with hair like night and emerald-green eyes. Her skin was flawless, as pale as a vampire's, though she had no fangs. She was some kind of immortal, but he didn't know what.
And her scent. She smelled as he'd always imagined a woman should. Not like those hardened, hollow-eyed demonesses who'd reeked of the males that'd used them.
Now the reasons Malkom had never had a female no longer affected him. This woman was perfect, her scent was tantalizing to him, and she was his.
What use had he for a female? The "uestion no longer mattered. I claim what's mine.
She was beckoning him, clearly recognizing him as her male. She seeks what I have to give her.
Yet now he was battle-maddened, barely clinging to the last of his control. Demonic thoughts of slaking his lust on this fine creature warred with the vampiric urge to drink her down. He could almost feel his fangs planted into the creamy flesh of her bared thigh.
She moistened her lips and subtly eased her legs open, giving him a glimpse of the dark pink silk betwixt her legs.
Thought fled. He roared and leapt for her.
Just before he was upon her, pain erupted. He gazed down at his side in disbelief. She was jerking a spear up between them, slipped under his chainmail and between his ribs. Her eyes fierce, she buried it deeper.
Tricked. Rage seethed. Losing control. She needed to flee from him. "Cotha," he gritted between clenched teeth. Run.
This being hadn't even noticed the spear, hadn't registered the pain until she'd shoved it farther into his side.
He'd just continued staring at her with a look of consuming hunger. His desire for her had been so strong it was palpable, making her dizzy.
Now, with his claws digging into his palms until blood streamed from them, he gazed from her face down to the injury, then back up. His eyes boring into hers, he again grated, "Cotha."
"I-I don't know Demonish." Ah, gods, only a few phrases! What was he telling her?
He threw back his head and bellowed, "Cotha!"
Eyes wide, she dropped the spear and scrambled to her feet. Ducking away, she fled deeper into the forest. She could absolutely believe this male would put her head on a pike.
Within moments, she heard him behind her and tossed a glance over her shoulder, gasping at what she saw. He was changing. Through the swirling dust, she spied his upper fangs shooting longer, narrower.
A vampire's fangs. A vampiric demon. And he appeared to be mindless.
She charged up an incline, winding around the lava-filled boulders, fear making her "uick. His strength would be unnatural. He'd break her like a matchstick. Sweating, salt stinging her eyes, she shoved her forearm over her face -
Suddenly, he was on the path ahead of her. With a cry, she whirled and dashed for a side trail. After one turn, she realized the path ended in a narrow ledge that tapered out over a fiery ravine.
When he prowled closer, she backed onto the crumbling ledge, chancing a drop that could kill her. My powers, gods, I need my powers....
He crouched low and edged toward her, seeming to be in pain, but not from his spear wound. Though injured, he remained hard.
This wasn't how she'd planned her mission! Not trapped on a finger of rock above a blazing chasm. Not staring into the black eyes of a demonic fiend with razor-sharp fangs. ...
And the unmistakable need to breed with her.
As he loomed closer, threatening pain with every unconscious flex of his corded muscles, she retreated even farther. Rocks plunged below her. Carrow peered down at the smoke churning from the depths. Would she actually jump to escape him?
No one would ever know where she'd met her end.
When he shoved his hand into his pants to adjust himself, the swollen head of his shaft jutted past the waist. Her lips parted in astonishment.
His erection looked to be visibly throbbing, the tip beading. He absently ran his palm over the uncovered crown, then froze. Slowly, he turned his hand over to see his seed glistening there.
When he dragged his gaze from his palm and faced her again, he looked even more determined to reach her, his onyx-colored eyes burning with intent. And in that second, everything became clear to her.
He would be determined. He'd clearly never seen his seed before this night.
Ah, great Hekate, she was his mate.
Though a male demon could experience orgasms, he couldn't produce semen until he'd found his female. He couldn't release it until the first time he claimed her. With this first hint of seed, he would believe she was his demon mate.
As well as his vampire Bride. An unmatched vampire male didn't draw breaths and had no heartbeat or sexual ability until he'd encountered his female and become blooded.
No wonder he'd appeared bewildered by his breaths. He'd pounded his fist over his chest, over his heart.
Because she'd made it beat.
Had the Order known this would happen? That she'd be his Bride and his mate? How could they have? It seemed impossible. So why did she feel double-crossed?
"Alton, ara," he commanded.
Her Demonish was terrible, but she thought he was commanding his female to come - or to heel?
"Not until you calm yourself!"
She shook her head, miming that she would jump, hanging a leg over.
With a roar, he lunged to one side to punch a boulder in frustration. It cracked wide like an egg.
His strength. He could break her bones with a touch.
She'd heard tales of vampires pursuing their females. They were unstoppable. And she knew that the demon males of some species could be lashed by a breeding drive so strong it made them crazed. Even if they knew they faced certain death following that drive, they couldn't resist it.
He was definitely in the midst of that haze right now.
Would she jump? Rather than have this brute rutting on her? Though his postcoital high might be like happiness, fueling her with enough power to escape him, the demon would tear her with his size. Would she even be conscious to draw the power from him?
Again he eased closer, and again she dangled her leg from the edge -
The outer layer of rock gave way under her foot.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Val Hall, the Valkyrie stronghold
"Nix, I'm not leaving until I get the info you promised," Mariketa the Awaited told the mad soothsayer dancing around the room. "So let's start at the beginning."
Nix the Ever-Knowing, better known as Nucking Futs Nix, cried, "Let's start from the end! It's coming soon, you know." She twirled in circles, her long black braids flying out, resembling copter rotors. She looked like a stoned supermodel, high on runway power, rather than a three-thousand-year-old Valkyrie oracle. Her baby-doll T-shirt said Carpe Noctem.
The dozen or so other Valkyrie gathered with them in the great room watched the proceedings intently - they had a stake in Mariketa's "uest to find Carrow as well. At least one of their own had been abducted mere miles away from where Carrow had been taken.
So many stolen. Myriad creatures from all corners of the Lore had gone missing, including other witches, one as young as seven. They were rumored to have been captured by the henchmen of an unknown entity, and none of them could be found. The House of Witches, the fey trackers, the powerful Sorceri, none of them could locate their own.
Inhaling for patience, Mari said, "You have to have seen something."
Nix frowned over her shoulder. "Have to have I?" Spinning, spinning.
"Nix, stop it!"
The soothsayer slowed to a standstill, casting Mari a hurt look. Then she flounced to an easy chair.
Extracting info from the soothsayer proved difficult at times. At all times. And Mari had heard that Nix hadn't even been lucid for the last two weeks. But Mari had to try - she was beside herself with worry about her best friend.
To search for Carrow, Mari had used all the power she could draw on without risking a mystical backlash. Then she'd called on all thirty-seven covens of the Wiccae to scry. Even with so many talented witches searching, no one could find a trace of Carrow. All they could say was that she was in grave danger.
Thanks for the tip, bitches.
So Mari had gone to the most powerful and famous oracle in the Lore. Her Valkyrie friend. "I got a call that you had information. Nix? Valkyrie!"
"Hmm?" She languidly gazed up. "Then tell me something about Carrow, something that no one else knows."
Tests? Mari felt her heart sinking. Nix loved to play people. In a small voice, she said, "I thought we were friends."
Nix's golden eyes flashed playfully. "You are indeed my favorite Wiccan-type person."
"Then why are you making me jump through hoops like everyone else?"
"Not hoops - scent."
"Your revealing a secret about Carrow is like giving a scent to a bloodhound. I need something to point me in the right direction."
Things no one knew? Where to start?
Though Carrow was a daughter of Bacchus - not literally - and an impulsive hellion, she was also wicked smart. Folks never saw that coming. Also a shocker? There was a method, and a purpose, to her madness. She didn't raise hell for hell's sake.
Carrow's most guarded secret? It breaks her heart every day that her parents don't return her calls.
They hadn't called for years. Mari had once walked in on Carrow sobbing over the loss.
Mari gazed around at the Valkyrie, uncomfortable divulging anything private about Carrow. For all these females knew, her best friend had an enviable life - friends, money, parties.
Only Mari and their mentor, Elianna, knew the pain Carrow carried. The party-girl witch who always had a smile on her face was rarely happy. "Very well, Valkyrie. Carrow has an emotion-based power source. She feeds off happiness specifically, but she can't seem to, uh, generate it herself. She's always thinking about how to find more. Like someone on a diet will always think about food."
Nix s"uinted at the ceiling. "Carrow is in an environment that she hates worse than anything."
"The woods?" Mari cried. "She can't stand the outdoors!"
"And yet personal preferences rarely figure in my visions, favorite Wiccan-type person."
"Tell me, Nix, why was she taken there? Who took her? Has anything like this happened before?" Nix had been around for three thousand years. She'd seen a lot. "Have Loreans ever been abducted like this?"
"Yes," the soothsayer answered, adding in a whisper, "by the Order."
"Care to extrapolate?"
"Tell me who they are!" No answer. "Is it the military?"
Nix narrowed her eyes at Mari. "Define military."
"You know, soldiers, army, et cetera."
Nix s"uinted again. "Define army."
"At least tell me if they're human!"
"Define - "
"Shut it, Nix!" She pinched her forehead, then gazed up at the soothsayer. "I can't stand the thought of Carrow out there away from the coven." What if she was somewhere alone and friendless? Because Carrow's childhood had been so seriously screwed up, she didn't handle being alone well.
The soothsayer chuckled. "Ah, Nixie plays. The Order, also known as the Deceivers, the Summoners, the Collectors, and the Mortals Who Walk on Two Legs, except I made up that last part."
"What do they want?"
"They want all the freaks dead. Funny. I don't feel like a freak. Unless le freak, c'est chic?" She shrugged. "To be fair, they only rise up whenever immortals do."
"Man, if there's one thing Carrow hates, it's being punished for a crime she didn't commit." Luckily, that didn't happen often, as Carrow perpetrated more than her share of crimes. Her last offense? Stealing a cop's horse to ride into Pat O'Brien's. Carrow's defense? She'd needed an accessory.
Mari had once asked Carrow why she so readily got into trouble with the law - the public indecency and intoxication, the vandalism, and so on. After all, Carrow could harvest power without jail time. "Is it just to get back at your parents?"
Carrow had answered, "At first, yes. Now it's just tradition. ..."
When Nix said nothing, Mari grew still. "Immortals haven't risen up, right, Valkyrie?"
"Have we not?" She frowned. "I'll have to check my inbox. But I'm fairly certain we were going to, maybe, just a jot. Like against industrial polluters and people who take candy from babies. Those who drive slow in the left-hand lane and men who wear Members Only jackets, naturally."
Mari gaped at the other Valkyrie. Not all of them looked surprised. A couple raised their chins. "Have you all gone as crazy as Nix?"
Though few in the Lore dared to cross her, if anyone would, it'd be her half sisters.
Nix continued, "Things came to a head with this Order a few years back when they overestimated their firearmy might, and made an incursion against us. Even with their technology, all were massacred. 'Not to be borne!' they said. So now they study us for weaknesses. I can't fault them, really. If humans presented any kind of mystery, we'd probably vivisect them as well."
Vivisect? Mari swallowed. Dissecting while the subject was still alive. Her voice broke when she asked, "How do I get to Carrow?" When Nix merely shrugged, Mari vowed, "I'll go to the mirror, Nix."
Mari was a captromancer. She could travel through mirrors, could touch them to focus her powers, and could gaze into them to divine secrets. Slight problem with the latter. Though she could commune with a mirror and have Carrow's location in seconds, Mari would likely entrance herself into a mystical coma, possibly forever.
Nix "uirked a brow. "And what would you tell your overprotective Lykae husband? If he found out your intentions, he'd spank you."
Bowen would, in fact, go ballistic if he got a single werewolf whiff of this. He'd never allow it - even though the Lykae had begun to fear that one of their own had been snared by the people who'd taken Carrow.
"Because we are friends, I am offering my services as a surrogate spankee." Nix said this playfully, but she rubbed her forehead as if it ached.
Mari studied her expression, realizing that Nix looked tired. "I won't go to the mirror if you give me something I can use."
Suddenly Nix tensed. When her amber eyes began to glow, the other Valkyrie eased forward, awaiting whatever foresight - or insight - Nix was about to divulge.
"They're on an island, undetectable by our kind," she said. "It can't be seen by boat or plane, nor located on any map. To find it, you have to look for something else. To reach it, you have to uncover the key."
Riddles now? "The key? What is it?" Mari demanded.
"Where? Why? When?"
"The key is a who. Not a what."
"Then who is it?" Mari said. Oh, gods, please tell me.
"Don't remember." Over Mari's sputtering, she said, "I recall he's an immortal male. Filled with evil. Obsessed with something as intangible as smoke. Find him, reach the island." She rose. "I have much to do, young Mariketa. And I can't tell you anything more, because I know nothing else." Gazing at the ceiling, she tapped her chin with a claw-tipped finger. "Ooh, oooh, except for the fact that Carrow is soon to die!"