find the vampire city he rules forever changed and his future in the
hands of a mysterious beauty who offers her life for his.
Fiery-haired Cat survives his feeding, fueling Navarre’s body and
mind—as well as his suspicion that she is one of the Forbidden—a
lethal mix of vampire and human blood. Yet that doesn’t stop the
throb of Navarre’s desire, the feeling that she is destined to be
his mate, to hell with consequences. . . .
children in her charge, Cat never expects to feel so much for Navarre
in the face of his savage feeding. Which is why his offer of
protection is nearly her undoing. For how can she let down her guard
when she has always walked alone? But Cat has never faced an enemy
like the one she faces now, never felt such a powerful need to
surrender to the force of love . . .
Peace. He didn’t care for the word, didn’t believe in its existence. The
concept seemed possible, and certainly desired, but he’d yet to witness it
in his own life. Even when Balinese had been under Lord Navarre’s rule,
the city prospering and harmonious, Devlin Savard had not been at peace.
Savard glanced over his shoulder for the second time tonight. Something
had him on edge. He scanned the tree line at his back. Nothing.
From where he stood, high on a hillside, the impressive château below him
seemed somehow benign. Yet it concealed the entrance to Balinese, a vast
underground city of vampires. The forest surrounding the château took it a
step further, cloaking the stone structure from any who might wander near.
Winter was well on the way, and though snow had yet to fall, it would
come soon enough. The château had been sealed and prepped months ago,
and only in the last few weeks had the chill of the night permeated the
ground and seeped into the city below.
Savard cocked his head slightly. A low ripple of energy in the air sent
his senses on high alert, rousing survival instincts that had refused to fade
over time. Someone, or something, approached.
He curled his fingers around the hilt of his sword, but then the shift in
energy became substantial and settled at his right side. Heavy, like waves
on the ocean. Then, though the air around him was already cold, a chilled
patch of air pushed toward him.
“Report,” Savard commanded. Keir dropped out of his invisible Spirit
form and appeared at Savard’s right.
“You’re damn hard to sneak up on,” Keir said, and then suddenly
thinking better of his words, he raised his hands in mock surrender. “Not
that I was sneaking.”
Savard nodded, but said nothing. It was best others didn’t know how
Savard’s talents worked, especially when he knew of no other who possessed
a similar gift. In Spirit, Keir moved with a certain high-energy fluidity,
something Savard had yet to encounter in another vampire, and was
Finally glancing at the man who had joined him, Savard asked,
“What did you find?”
“Nothing,” Keir said, supremely confident in his own abilities.
Savard simply nodded.
“I give you the same answer every night. Seven years of nothing. You’re
not paying me to say ‘nothing’ to you every night.” Keir scratched his chin,
the goatee darkening his already sinister look. “You bought my loyalty.”
Keir cracked a grin. “Yeah, you have.”
“Perhaps.” Savard looked over his shoulder, once again peering deep into
the forest, but still finding nothing amiss. “One day your answer will change.”
“And when it does?”
“Then everything will change,” Savard said, his tone even, expectant.
Savard would have been a fool to not at least attempt to buy Keir’s loyalty,
and so far it had paid off. The man was an ace in his pocket. While Savard’s
own ability to travel in Spirit was extensive, Keir’s was unsurpassed.
Since the phenomenon of traveling in Spirit only seemed to surface
when a vampire was caught in a fight-or-flight situation, Guardians tended
to be the most likely to possess the ability. The species had lived in peace
for centuries, and few had experienced even a small taste of taking Spirit.
Once the trick of walking in Spirit was learned, it was simple to duplicate,
though most couldn’t advance beyond several feet in this invisible form.
Some grew physically ill should they pass through an object. The process
also seemed to deplete the body so extensively that most vampires needed
to feed soon after traveling in Spirit.
Not only could Keir travel great distances and pass through multiple
structures with ease, he could linger in Spirit for nearly an hour. Invisible
and undetectable, he was the perfect spy. Having Keir on his side had been
useful, and on occasion, life-saving.
“Same time again tomorrow?” Savard asked.
Keir shook his head, smiling just a little. “And again and again.”
The radio at Savard’s hip popped with static and Steffen’s voice came
through, sounding hollow as it floated away on the chilled night breeze.
“Several animals were just spooked.”
Savard searched the edge of the forest surrounding the château and
saw nothing. Whatever movement Steffen noted had settled back into
the safety of the trees. He gripped the radio in his hand, brought it to
his lips. “Where?”
“North forest. Deer.”
The north forest was at his left, the château his right. A call concerning
the north forest made him nervous. The entrance to the château, the gate,
faced north. In the recent past, his Gatekeepers had occasionally reported
the night going silent, or animals fleeing the woods. They’d come to
associate these signs with the presence of demons.
“Damn it. If the deer are moving at this hour, then something deep in
the forest disturbed them,” Savard said as he switched radio channels.
“Briona! I have Keir. I need two more Guardians at the gate. Now!”
“Already on their way!” the cheeky little half-Irish dispatcher yelled.
“Move your arse, m’lord.”
Savard broke into a run, Keir at his side, racing down the hill toward
the château. The disturbance warranted an investigation. If demons had
made their way onto the property yet again, his Guardians would engage,
but it was near dawn and he risked the sun, and their lives.
He checked his watch. They’d have a tight timeline to work within, but
thanks to Briona, they’d have a chance. A few years ago, Briona had barged
into his office and promised she was the answer to problems he didn’t know
he had. She’d been right. Briona was a technical genius. Whatever it was
she did in that little room surrounded by buttons and wires, she did well.
She’d boosted his Guardians’ response time, increased overall efficiency,
created a number system for different high-priority zones in the city, and
became adept at predicting situations and reactions.
Briona listened to all Guardian radio chatter, often making the call for
backup before a Guardian could ask for help. She’d saved lives, and she’d
been on top of this situation as well. No doubt the men Savard trusted at
his side would already be waiting for him.
The door to the château was in sight. His Gatekeepers, Steffen and Ivan,
stood guarding the entrance to Balinese. As Savard and Keir approached,
Osric and Titus emerged from the château. No one spoke. Steffen simply
pointed to the forest where he’d seen the deer in flight.
Savard nodded to his Guardians, and they vanished, as did he. Moving
effortlessly up the hillside, speeding toward the woods, Savard floated
unseen, like a ghost over the grass. He couldn’t see his men, nor they him.
Titus would hold the west. He was young, but the extent of his abilities
so great that his careless and cocky attitude was rarely a hindrance. When
Titus put a man down, he stayed down.
Osric was a recluse, his main goal to hide the rippled burn scar that ran
from high on his cheek down the side of his face and neck, disappearing
beneath his shirt collar. He only emerged from his home as a Guardian,
and he served his city well. Osric would take the east.
And Keir? As a former assassin, he’d have the north well in hand. Savard’s
personal bodyguard was without question an exceedingly capable Guardian.
Savard took the southern position, cutting off the direct path to Balinese.
He would stay in Spirit. An observer. As lord, he was not to engage in
combat unless necessary.
Traveling in Spirit had definite advantages, one of which was speed.
Savard easily raced over the dense forest floor, through trees. His passing
startled only a few small rodents.
In a clearing just ahead, nearly a dozen men sat in a circle and focused
on their leader with eyes glowing red in the dark. Demons.
Attacking a group while in Spirit was underhanded, and in most cases,
a guaranteed win. The expertise in this sort of warfare belonged to
the assassin. Without making so much as a whisper of sound, his men
surrounded the demons and waited for Keir’s command.
Savard kept his distance from the demons, as would the others, until
signaled. He had no problem holding his Spirit this night, and Titus never
wavered, but Osric couldn’t linger in this state for much longer. They
needed to attack soon.
What does Keir wait for?
Then Savard felt a ripple as the assassin passed near, or maybe through,
his Spirit. It was Keir’s way of pinpointing their locations, confirming they
were in position. Seconds passed. Still, Keir waited.
“We enter through the front gate at dawn. Only two guard the door,”
one of the demons said, its red eyes glimmering oddly in the night. “Even
if we catch them in the middle of switching shifts and their numbers are
doubled, it’ll be easy to get by such a small group.”
Grunts followed, acknowledging their leader.
Suddenly the blond demon sat tall and rigid, its eerie red eyes searching
the surrounding trees. “I feel…”
Several other demons stilled, shared glances. The man in charge finished
the sentence. “Like the night air has changed.”
“It has, demon,” Keir said, his body still invisible, his distorted words
floating through the cold night, everywhere and nowhere.
The assassin appeared behind the blond demon. Keir’s wild, curly hair
and goatee lent him a wickedly sinister look. And that smile of his. That
nasty gotcha smile. In one quick, clean motion, Keir sliced the demon’s
throat, then disappeared again.
Demons scrambled to their feet, drawing swords. Osric dropped from
Spirit first, drove his shoulder into the nearest demon like a linebacker,
and knocked it to the ground. He ignored the downed demon, bent on
sinking his sword into the next, much larger foe.
Titus appeared beside the demon Osric had just knocked down. Flipping
his grip on the hilt of his sword, Titus took only a moment to jab the blade
through the fallen demon’s chest, barely sparing it a glance. Ducking
under the sweeping blade of an approaching demon, he spun to catch it
across the torso, then left it incapacitated on the ground to search for a
more active target.
Keir was surrounded, but he seemed to like it that way, taunting those
red-eyed creatures. He’d leave himself open to their attack, then move with
an uncanny speed to slice through major arteries left and right, weakening
those he didn’t have time to kill.
Titus took on two, using anything at his disposal, be it sword, elbow,
hilt, or head. The vicious physicality of his fighting style made Savard
wonder why the young vampire never brought his teeth out to play.
Savard scanned the scene before him, desperate to remain in the here
and now, to be mentally present for his Guardians. The chaos of swords
hitting in repetition, of men grunting and yelling in the throes of battle
messed with Savard’s head, threatened to throw his mind back to a different
time and place. Making a sincere effort to block the sounds, he focused on
movement instead. Short, contained blows from his Guardians suggested
everything was well in hand.
Then a demon broke away from the center of the battle and threaded
through the melee, its sights set on Osric. The Guardian’s sole focus was on
the big bastard he was trying to take down. He didn’t see the demon coming.
Savard, still in Spirit, moved to intercept. He appeared, sword drawn
and braced for impact. Clotheslined, its head nearly severed, the demon
never saw Savard.
Now visible, Savard turned to fight anyone left standing. Only two
demons remained, each engaged with a Guardian and fighting for their
lives. Keir stalked through the battlefield, checked the downed bodies for
signs of life, but suddenly he stopped, stood motionless. Savard felt it too.
The telltale tingle at the back of his neck signaled the rising of the sun.
Savard assessed their now-urgent situation. Osric had taken down his
demon. Titus battled the last. Weapons lost, the two were face-to-face,
throwing punches, wrestling for higher ground.
Keir was on the move before Savard could say a word. Knife bared,
Keir came up behind the last demon and sank his blade deep into its back.
Titus shot Keir an angry glare. “What gives?”
“We don’t have time for this. Not anymore.” Keir stepped back and the
demon slipped off his blade, crumpled to the ground.
“He’s right,” Savard said, sending a short nod in Keir’s direction. “Drag
the bodies east, outside the tree line.”
Osric and Titus shared a concerned glance, but it was Titus who spoke.
“You want them to burn in the sun? Let their ash become part of our earth,
their evil seep into our lands?”
“Do you know how long it will take the four of us to drag twelve men
back to the city, remove their heads, encase them in coffins, and bury them
deep?” Savard didn’t wait for an answer. He grabbed a demon’s ankle and
began hauling it through the forest. “We have no other options, no time
to appease an ancient superstition, and it doesn’t take long for demons to
come back after they’ve been killed. I, for one, prefer them as ash and dust.”
The four men hauled the bodies, and the occasional detached head,
out into the open. Vampires didn’t care to admit they shared several base
similarities with demons, but they did. One of which was their inability to
dwell in sunlight. Direct exposure would cause cells to destroy themselves,
slowly at first, but once the chain reaction began, the body would combust.
A few demons still lived. Barely. The sun would finish what the
Guardians had begun.
When the last demon was dropped at the east edge of the forest, Savard
turned to his men. “Get home. Now.”
Titus vanished, as did Keir, but Osric ran. After holding his Spirit for
so long initially, Osric had nothing left to give. Damn it. He’d never make
it back before the sun claimed him.
Savard didn’t know Osric’s story, or how he’d gained those burn scars,
but being vampire there were only two possibilities: trapped by a fire
below ground or burned in the sun. If Savard didn’t help him, then the
final moments of Osric’s life would be spent burning, reliving the fear, the
pain he’d already suffered to a point of leaving him crippled inside and out.
There was no decision to make. Savard couldn’t allow Osric to die this
way, even if it meant exposing one of his unknown abilities.
Savard disappeared into Spirit and was at Osric’s side in seconds. He
released his Spirit, became corporeal just long enough to take hold of
Osric’s arm and drag the Guardian into Spirit with him. He raced home,
speeding through the trees and down the hillside, Osric in tow.
They made the shelter of Balinese just before the sun brightened the
east sky. Once inside, Osric stumbled as he fell haphazardly out of Spirit.
Savard appeared a dozen feet away from him. They shared a glance, and
for a moment Savard thought Osric would say something, point out the
impossible feat. The marred Guardian only nodded, a quick and silent thankyou.
Then all four were on the move again, headed through the kitchen,
down the back stairs, into the cellar, and through the door to Balinese.
When their feet touched the corridor that encircled the city, the men
scattered. Each went a separate way, never saying a word, and acting as if
the entire event had never happened. Unless Savard decided the skirmish
would go on public record, it hadn’t happened. He trusted these men, and
his Gatekeepers, to keep quiet and never acknowledge the incident unless
If the citizens of Balinese knew how many demons had been found
above ground on their land, or how many had entered the city, they’d never
sleep. Unless a citizen witnessed a demon, any encounters the Guardians
had with demons never officially occurred.
Savard walked alone now, taking the back route to his home. He needed
to clean up. Black demon blood had spattered across his face, dotted his
shirt. Thankfully, these exterior corridors in Balinese tended to be empty,
lit only by sconces hung high on the wall.
“M’lord?” Briona chimed through the radio.
Savard scanned the corridor. Empty. “We’re clear. Go ahead.”
“Bravo, then, you lived.” She took a breath, then pushed on as if
his survival was expected and his response unnecessary. “You wanted
notification if anyone was scheduled to enter the royal storage. Why am
I still doin’ this? Isn’t this Soren’s job, since, I don’t know, he has the
keys to the room?”
“It is. I’m just overcautious when it comes to safeguarding Navarre’s
possessions. What is Soren having removed?”
“He just sent two Guardians to collect a golden birdcage.” There was a
pause, but Savard knew better than to think Briona was finished talking.
“We’ve a birdcage?”
“No. We do not. The Casteel family was gifted with the large golden cage
from a Chinese ambassador in the late 1600s, along with an assortment
of birds. Did you fail history class?”
“Nah, slept through it. Want me to send a couple extra Guardians up to help?”
“No, I’m sure they can handle it. Make sure Soren has them log out the
cage when they return the keys to him. Thank you, Briona.”
“And now I’m your wee secretary,” she mumbled before the radio died.
Savard shook his head, almost entirely certain she’d left the radio channel
open a second longer on purpose.
He continued past the corridor leading to his home and stopped a good
four feet before the next. Taking Spirit once more, he floated up through
the ceiling. When in the room above, a large attic with angled ceilings, he
released his Spirit. This was the royal storage, and the Guardians would
be here any moment.
Treasures from all over Europe had been covered, hidden from view,
while others lay exposed, collecting layers of dust. A gold, jewel-encrusted
urn half the size of a man glinted in the dim light seeping from beneath the
door. A golden yellow chaise in Greek styling was half hidden beneath a
sheet, the craftsmanship elaborate. Yes, he grew nervous when Guardians
were scheduled to enter this room, but theft was not his fear, nor was the
handling of such priceless artifacts.
He’d have given his life to protect what was beyond the row of five
large French curio cabinets in the corner of the attic. Savard slipped into
Spirit long enough to move through a curio, and once inside the makeshift
seclusion, returned to his true form. Here, easily hidden behind the towering
cabinets, was the most priceless treasure in Balinese.
Navarre Casteel, the true lord of Balinese, lay motionless on a small
bed, trapped in a deep healing sleep. Not waking, not dying.
Navarre had fallen in the demon attack nearly seven years ago. A demon’s
blade had pierced his chest, and from what they could tell, nicked his heart.
Navarre had slipped into a healing sleep, his body shutting down to repair
from the inside out. After that point, nothing could be done to help him.
Their lord would have to heal on his own, or not at all.
Every day since, Savard expected his lord’s death, even planned for
the loss. It never happened. Months had passed. Years. Seven years of
Savard blamed himself. He never should have set foot inside Balinese.
Decades ago Lord Navarre had taken him in, and the people of Balinese
had hatefully labeled Savard “the stray.” They’d watched him, judged him,
from the moment he’d stepped foot inside their grand home. While the
people of the city suspected he did not belong in their rich and secluded
world, Savard knew for a fact that he did not. Navarre seemed not to
notice. Or care.
Months into his tentative stay, Navarre had placed him in command of
the city’s Guardians. Savard had objected, along with Navarre’s council,
but the lord would not be swayed.
Savard had reluctantly taken the position, and for the first time in his
life buckled his sword to his hip with a great deal of trepidation. Becoming
captain to such a great lord and legendary city had felt wrong.
Every night Lord Navarre had proudly said, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Savard’s consistent response? “It’s only a matter of time before I’m gone.”
Navarre would nod, and they’d move on with life. The same conversation
repeated. At first once a day, then as time went on, once a month. After
five years Navarre had stopped triggering the conversation altogether,
never believing his captain had any intention of leaving.
Leaving was no longer an option. He had a responsibility, not just to
Navarre, but to the city Navarre loved. Savard had done everything in his
power to keep the city functioning smoothly, and to keep threats away.
But if Navarre died? If his friend left this world, then there was no reason
to care for the things Navarre had held dear, and Savard couldn’t live
surrounded by memories of yet another massive failure.
The padlock outside the door rattled, the heavy hinge laid back against
the door. Then the large wooden slide latch was moved, wood scraping
wood, until the handle hit the end of its range with a solid thud.
Savard knelt beside the bed and took his lord’s lifeless hand in both of
his, ready to weather the brief intrusion, prepared to Spirit Navarre away
should it become necessary.
The hinges on the thick door creaked as it opened. The Guardians
stepped inside, flipped on the lights. Boots scuffed the uneven floorboards
beneath their feet, and long, purposeful strides quickly carried them deeper
inside the room.
“There it is,” Dyre said, his young, smooth voice trapped in the low
ceiling of the attic. “It doesn’t appear heavy, only awkward.”
“Why are we putting an empty birdcage outside the dining hall?” Cat
said, suspicion bleeding through her tone.
The presence of these two was unexpected. As arena Guardians, Titus
and Graydon often drew the short straw, being sent on random missions
that sometimes involved moving furniture. Not today. Somehow Dyre and
Cat had taken their place.
“Don’t ask, just do,” Dyre said.
“Ugh.” She exaggerated the guttural sound. “I hate your motto. It’s stupid.”
“It’s not my motto,” Dyre said, the effort of sliding wooden furniture
across the floor temporarily halting his speech. “And you seem to like it
just fine when you’re the one barking orders.”
“Fair enough,” she said, relenting.
Savard smiled slightly, shaking his head. In public those two barely spoke
a word to each other, and after the parade of Guardian partners Cat had
gone through, he never would have thought Dyre would be the one she’d
accept. But then, Dyre was one of the few able to bring her unpredictable
temper down to at least a simmer.
“Here, take this end,” Dyre directed. “I’ll go down the stairs backward.”
“You think I can’t go backward?” Cat snapped at him, instantly geared
up for a fight, offended her partner might find her lacking.
“No,” he said calmly, his tone hinting at simple honesty. “I
think you’re short.”
If Cat gave him a response, Savard didn’t hear it. Boots scuffled across
the floor, the lights went out and the door closed, the bolt slid home, and the
padlock clunked into place. The room was left in silence once again. Savard
peeked through a crack between the dressers to make certain they’d left.
Turning Navarre’s hand over, Savard pressed his fingertips to his lord’s
exposed inner wrist. As he did with each visit, Savard searched for a pulse,
craved confirmation that Navarre still lived. Beneath his fingers, the
normally slow, lurching rhythm of Navarre’s pulse seemed to have sped
- Not rapid or racing, but simply stronger. This could be his body’s last
surge of energy before death. Savard looked at Navarre’s face, fearing it
might be the last time.
Navarre, still deep in a healing sleep, turned his face slightly toward
the door. He wasn’t dying. He was waking.
“Oh, God. It’s her.” Jaw slack, Savard sank back onto his heels.
He shoved his hair off his face. How had he not seen this connection?
When Cat had first arrived on the night of the attack, he hadn’t known
what to do with her. He’d put her in one of Navarre’s extra homes. That
home was on the floor beneath this attic, not terribly far from where
Navarre lay sleeping.
Most vampires could recognize the beckoning call of their fated mate.
Supposedly, though he’d never seen it happen, the presence of your mate
could even negate the deadly call of the sun. Her proximity was most likely
the only reason Navarre still clung to life. Cat must be his mate. If so, then
she was the key to Navarre’s awakening. Ironically, her continued presence
in the city was contingent upon Navarre allowing her to stay once he woke.
Plans quickly took form now that Savard at long last had a clear solution.
If Navarre’s condition was going to change, it would happen tonight. He
would make it happen tonight.
While this new development should bring elation, Savard’s skin crawled
with a morbid anticipation. Something unstoppable was happening in the
world around him, a life-altering force headed his way. He’d felt this same
unease the night he’d become lord, an awareness that he balanced at the top
of a mountain and would soon fall. He just didn’t know in which direction
rebelled against reading assignments throughout her school years. Now
she prefers reading books in a series, which has led her to writing
her first paranormal romance series: The Cities Below. She will write
about anything that catches her fancy, though truth be told, her
weaknesses are pirates and vampires. She lives in Ohio with her
supportive husband, two kids, one big fluffy dog, and four rescued