SHE HAS A BODY MADE FOR TEMPTATION...
AND A KISS TO DIE FOR.
The war between otherworlders and humans changed Earth beyond recognition. It also saved Bride McKells's life. Before, the gorgeous vampire was a target for every fanatic with a stake and a crucifix. Now, she's free to roam the streets -- and desperate to find others of her kind. One man claims to have the answers she seeks. Devyn, King of the Targons, is a warrior and a womanizer, and he makes no secret of how much he wants Bride -- and how dangerous he could be to her in every way.
An avid collector of women, Devyn easily seduces human and otherworlder alike. Until now. Not only does Bride resist him, but she leaves Devyn feeling something entirely new...a bone-deep need bordering on obsession. Her blood is the key to curing a vicious alien disease, but helping Bride uncover her origins will compel her to choose between electrifying passion and a destiny that could tear her from Devyn's side forever.
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June 28, 2009
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Excerpt from Seduce the Darkness by Gena Showalter
Bride McKells meandered along the crowded street in the pulsing heart of New Chicago, moonlight and multihued shop lights blending together to create a sparkling canvas of dream and shadow. Chaos and calm. Red brick buildings stretched at her sides, each fairly new, no clear, breakable glass or blink-and-it's-inflames wood in sight. A shame. She loved peeking into shops and imagining owning whatever was being sold just as much as she loved the smell of pine.
Neither of which she would be enjoying anytime soon. Windows were now made of dark "shield armor," and wood was scarce.
After the human-alien war, everything had had to be rebuilt for strength and durability, even while resources had been limited, the world a shell of its former self. Good-bye extraneous use of pretty glass and sweetly fragranced timber. Now, almost eighty years later -- eighty years in which Bride had barely aged -- everything was comprised of unattractive, dirt-scented stone.
Not a bad smell, but when paired with the reeking public...Ugh. Every day it worsened. Perfumes and body odor, flowery laundry soaps and car exhaust. And food. Oh, God, the food, the spices. Her too-sensitive nose wrinkled in distaste. McBean burgers, fried chicken, and the ever-popular syn-milk...the list could go on and on. Mind on the task at hand, or you'll puke. Already bile rose in her throat, burning.
Deep breath in, hold...hold...deep breath out. Men and women, both human and nonhuman, bustled in every direction, some in a mad rush to reach their destination, some as unhurried as her. Only difference was, they were shopping for clothes and shoes. Bride was looking for her next meal: warm blood from a live, jugular tap.
Unfortunately, tonight's buffet was lacking. As usual. All those smells...Back to that already, are we? The bile threatened to spill over.
She supposed, to a human, finding a tasty meal among this stretch would be the equivalent of picking between oversalted pasta, the charred nibblets left in the bottom of an oven, or stale toast seasoned with week-old mayonnaise. Again, ugh. But hungry as she was, weak as she was becoming, she needed to feed. Soon. No matter how crappy the buffet.
Lately, though, she couldn't eat indiscriminately without severe consequences. Most blood -- human or otherworlder, it didn't matter -- now left her writhing in a dirty alley, vomiting and moaning in pain for hours. Why, she didn't know. She only knew it had started about a month ago and had yet to abate.
If she'd known another vampire, she would've asked what was going on. But did she know another vampire? Nooo. Except for movies and books, she'd never even seen another of her kind.
She hated -- hated! -- not understanding her own body.
Just one bloodsucker. That's all I need. Were they dead? Was she the last? Her earliest memories were of herself, alone, always alone, walking the streets of New Chicago, just like she was doing now, the words "Bride McKells" tattooed on the inside of her wrist, lost, hungry, starving actually, stumbling and finally falling against the pavement.
A human male had scooped her up without a word -- intentions unknown, even now -- and Bride's gaze had locked on the vein fluttering along the column of his neck. Her mouth had watered, her teeth had sharpened, and the next thing she'd known, she'd bitten him, gulping back every drop of crimson nectar she could. He had collapsed, but she hadn't released her hold on him. He had spasmed and gasped and fought, but still she'd maintained her grip. Only when he had stilled, his vein as dry as an empty cup, had she moved away.
Her strength -- instantly restored. Her eyesight -- unbelievably perfect. Her hearing -- exponentially better. Her sense of smell -- too strong, sickening, but filterable. Her touch -- ultra sensitive.
Her guilt -- raging.
She'd been a child in mind and body, perhaps no more than eight human years, starving, tired, desperate, and feeling utterly abandoned. Yet even with her limited understanding she'd known, beyond any doubt, that she'd just wrongly killed a man. And sadly, he hadn't been the last. Several years had passed before she'd learned to control her urges, to disengage before swallowing that final, life-taking gulp.
Now, nearly a century later, she should have been a wrinkled hag, doddering and senile, but she looked twenty-one and was stronger than ever. The peoplearound her had aged, of course; most had even died. A few years ago, she'd had to fake her own death and come back as someone else. She could have traveled somewhere else, but hadn't. The only person she'd ever loved was here, somewhere. So here Bride would stay.
"Hey," a male suddenly said, keeping pace beside her.
Startled, she flicked him a glance and sized him up in less than a second. Sandy-colored hair, brown eyes. Young, probably early twenties. Several inches taller than her. Clean shaven. Looked about as dangerous as a stuffed animal. But if he was anything like her, he sewed razors into his shirtsleeves and pant pockets, proving just how deceiving looks could be.
"Sorry to rush at you like that. 'Cause I know it's uncool to approach a woman who's alone at night, but I'm not creepy or anything," he added, palms raised as if that proved his innocence. "I swear."
She quickened her steps, preferring a murderer to the sales pitch she suspected was coming. "Sorry, I'm broke." And sadly, that was the truth.
"I'm not selling anything," he said. "Swear to God!"
"All salesman say that -- right before they reveal an item I just can't live without." That never changed, no matter the era or season.
"Okay, maybe I am trying to sell you something, but it's not what you think. Honest."
It never was. She sucked in a breath, preparing to use her voice voodoo and compel him to leave, when she caught the vaguest hint of grilled chicken, cloned of course, and white rice. Nothing else. No spices. No other scents to clutter up her nose and burn her belly.
Bride cast him another quick but assessing glance. Clearly, he was fresh from an enzyme shower, not a speck of dirt on him. His heartbeat was strong, his energy levels high. The moisture in her mouth increased.
Maybe she'd be able to keep him down.
The thought was heady. Appearances are deceptive, remember? Maybe he'd make her sicker than ever. Only one way to find out. She softened her expression. "So what are you trying to sell me, hmm?"
"Well...me. Only, I'm available free of charge." Twin pink circles painted his cheeks, and his pulse kicked up another notch. Desire wafted from him, barely discernible, but there all the same. "I, uh, noticed you back at Sid's and thought I'd introduce myself."
"I wasn't at Sid's tonight." Last night, sure. It was her favorite hangout, a local bar that catered to sensitives -- otherworlders who were as overwhelmed by smells as she was. No perfumes were allowed. No illegal cigarette smoke.
She was a regular, and the otherworldly patrons assumed she was a human with a fetish. Yeah, that made them leery of her, but she let them assume it. While humans and aliens might cohabitate, that didn't mean they were comfortable with each other yet. But better to be feared than hunted. If nothing else, old vampire movies had taught her that.
"I know you weren't there tonight, but I saw you yesterday and then again as I was walking out tonight and you were, uh, passing by. So I ran after you," he admitted with a self-deprecating grin. "Impulse. Gets me every time. I'm Tom, by the way."
Points to Tom for being brave enough to approach her. She hadn't been asked on a date in months and had begun to think something was wrong with her. But...wait. She hadn't noticed him last night and wondered why he hadn't approached her then, if he'd been interested in her. Why now? Because she was on her own,seemingly helpless?
So suspicious! "What are you doing hanging out at Sid's? You're not the usual patron."
His cheeks reddened again.
Ah. Trying to nail otherworlder ass. Should have known. A classic pastime for today's youth. No wonder his scent was so unassuming. He'd picked up a sensitivebefore and knew how to go about it. "And you decided to come after me, huh?"
"Well, yeah. I'd really like to get to know you."
"Get to know you." Code for "fuck your brains out and never call you," perhaps. God, when had she become so cynical? Since her last boyfriend had dumped her for being moody and secretive, and her rebound hadn't called her, she supposed. "Why didn't you try and get to know me last night? Since you noticed me, I mean."
He swallowed, even missed a step and tripped forward. Thankfully he righted himself before he fell. "I was there with someone else and couldn't get away. But she was just a friend, honest."
Just a friend. Right. And I wouldn't like to nibble on your carotid.
Bride twisted to the side to avoid slamming into a woman in a hurry, a woman whose heels clacked faster and faster against the pavement in a booming rhythm that made her cringe. After a decent meal, she would be able to control the volume in her ears.
Her gaze slid back to Tom. Why not? she thought. He was young, but he probably wouldn't put up a fight when she came at him with fangs bared. He might actually like it. Kids were kinky these days. Of course, that would mean avoiding him for the rest of his life.
She could erase the memory of her eating habits from his mind if she only drank from him once. But if she were to go to him for a second helping, his mind would begin to build an immunity against her "forget me" suggestions. He would remember her and what she'd done, and word about what she was would leak. Spread. That's why she'd never been able to drink from her boyfriends, and why she'd had to sneak away every night from her only live-in to find a meal. That's also why he'd considered her secretive and ultimately booted her from his life.
Eating from the same buffet was a mistake she'd made few times before the war, and each time she had been chased by cross-holding, holy-water-throwing, stakewielding fanatics. Ironically enough, the war had saved her, wiping out the very people who'd wanted her dead.
"I'm thirsty," she said. "Wanna get to know me over a drink?" Funny, Bride. Very funny.
"Hell, yeah!" His eyes darkened, those chocolate irises overshadowed by the dilation of his pupils. "Anything you want, anywhere you want it."
If he only knew..."Great. I -- " A familiar scent suddenly drifted to her nose, and she stilled. Frowned.
Tom noticed and backtracked, his smile fading. "Everything okay?"
Bride closed her eyes as she inhaled again, sorting through the sea of fragrances and locking in on one. Slowly she exhaled, then inhaled again. Sure enough. There it was.
It was a fragrance she'd encountered only a few times the past two decades, a blend of aged pine and smooth morning sky. A fragrance that belonged to her childhood friend, Aleaha Love, a girl -- woman now -- she hadn't seen in sixteen years. A friend she had wept for, missed, needed, and never stopped searching for.
Finally, blessedly, Aleaha was nearby. Had to be.
"Sorry. Maybe we'll do that drink later." Despite Tom's protests, despite her growing hunger, Bride leapt into a sprint, dodging people, shoving them out of the way when necessary. Her heart slammed against her ribs, as fast and hard as the high heels she still heard drumming inside her head, and sparked a burning pain in her chest. Calm down. You know better.
"Hey," someone snapped.
"Watch it," another growled.
At one time, she and Aleaha had been inseparable, relying on each other for survival. Bride had protected and provided for the girl, and Aleaha had staved off the loneliness. Because Bride was a vampire and Aleaha a shapeshifter, both of them had feared being captured, studied. Tortured. Didn't help that they'd been poor and dirty, as disposable as garbage. They'd had to live in the shadows.
One day several policemen had chased them for sneaking inside the homes of the rich and stealing food. Bride had hidden the younger girl, leading the cops away from her. But when she'd returned, there'd been no sign of Aleaha. Not there, not anywhere.
Now Bride's gaze swung left and right, scanning the masses for any hint of her friend. Not that she expected to see her. One touch, and Aleaha could assume the identity of anyone, her appearance becoming theirs. Where are you, Leah Leah? Swiftly Bride breathed in and out, the scent of pine and sky intensifying. She was on the right path.
Excitement pounded through her, and the burning in her chest increased. The few times she'd encountered her friend's scent, it had never been this potent, and she'd soon lost the trail. Was this the day she'd meet with success?
So many times she'd imagined presenting Aleaha with all the things they'd dreamed about but Bride had been unable to give her. Fancy clothes, soft shoes, and so much food the girl's stomach would burst. She'd imagined whispering and laughing in the dark with the only person who knew what she was but loved her anyway. Just like they'd used to do.
She'd imagined showing Aleaha the new tricks she'd earned, the different abilities that had revealed themselves, one by one, springing from a place deep inside her. A place protected by thorns and fire, so that she couldn't get past it to see what else lurked there. But she'd tried, oh, had she tried. Many times. And every time, the pain had almost killed her. Finally, she'd given up and now left that turbulent place inside her alone.
Unless she experienced any emotion too strongly, that is. Then the thorns and fire sprang up on their own. Too much pleasure brought pain (not that it detoured her). Too much pain brought more pain. Too much sadness, too much anger, too much happiness -- pain, pain, pain. Which is why you need to, what? Calm down. Being incapacitated held no appeal.
Aleaha's wonderful smell was so strong now, she discerned two scents wrapped together, both somehow familiar...she was almost upon the source...but there was no longer any women in sight. Was Aleaha guised as a male? Where could she -- Bride crashed into a solid, unmoving wall of muscle, air gushing from her parted lips. She stumbled backward, hit someone else and bounced forward, nailing the wall of muscle and brawn yet again.
That second time, her knees gave out and she tumbled to her ass. As she sat there, panting, she realized Aleaha's scent was now all over her. Had she truly found her? Bride's excitement became as hot as fire in her veins.
The man -- Aleaha? -- turned, his lips curled into an annoyed frown. Down, down he gazed, a lock of dark hair falling over his forehead. When he spotted her, his yes widened and his frown lifted into a what-have-wehere grin. Bride's excitement drained, as did the burning. There was no recognition in that gaze, no ethereal outline of Aleaha beneath that face. But what a beautiful face it was.
Bride, always a lover of art, experienced a wave of feminine appreciation. His eyes were bright amber, honey mixed in cinnamon and fused by fire, surrounded by decadent black lashes. His skin looked as if it had been dipped in a pot of opalescent glitter. That glittery skin should have made him appear weak, girly. It didn't. It somehow added to his I'll-kill-anyone-anytimeanywhere- and-laugh-while-doing-it air.
Clearly, he was an otherworlder. Though which race, she didn't know. Whichever one, she had to wonder if they were all like him: perfection wrapped in dazzling and sprinkled with every woman's fantasy. What would his blood taste like? Would she be able to keep him down? Her mouth watered, and her fangs elongated.
He had a wonderfully sloped nose, sharp cheekbones, and a stubborn jaw. His dark brows were slashes of menace, yet tempting all the same. His lips...a portal to heaven, surely. They were lush and pink and promised unimaginable pleasures without saying a word. He knew it, too. He radiated utter confidence, absolute strength, and that I'll-do-anything wildness.
As she stared up at him, his smile took on a wicked edge, knowing and sure. He was nothing like shy but horny Tom, the boy-man she'd just abandoned. Dressed completely in black, this man seemed every inch the night warrior. Ready to slash your throat without a moment's notice.
In his case, looks were not deceiving. Without a doubt, he was dangerous.
"Well, well. Aren't you a pretty thing?" he said, offering her a hand. That voice...deep and raspy and just roused from bed, as perfect as his face and body.
As people buzzed beside them -- the females staring at him in openmouthed wonder, the males giving him a wide berth -- Bride tentatively accepted his aid. His warm fingers curled around her wrist, and he easily hefted her up.
When she gained her bearings, she realized he'd tugged her forward so that they were only a few inches apart. He did not release her hand. Her smaller height placed her gaze right at the steady pulse in his neck, and her mouth once again watered.
Concentrate. Bride raised her chin and forced herself to look him in the eye. "You smell like my friend Aleaha Love. Do you know her?" Wait. What if she'd changed her name? He could have been with her and not even known it.
"I smell like a woman, hmm?"
At least he didn't sound insulted. Merely amused. "Yes."
"Well, you smell like sex." He leaned down as if he intended to share a secret with her, moonlight caressing him as though it couldn't help itself. Maybe it couldn't. "The dirtiest kind of sex, at that. Which just happens to be my favorite." His thumb traced her palm.
A shiver slid the length of her spine. He was flirting with her, and wickedly so. Though she had no desire to flirt back -- really -- she forced herself to say, "Wow. Already we have something in common." One thing she knew about men. They were more likely to help a woman if they thought they'd get something in return. "That's my favorite kind, too."
That put a surprised sparkle in his amber eyes. "Isn't this just my lucky day, then?"
"You never answered my question. Do you know Aleaha Love?"
"I know many women, but their names escape me right now. I so want to solve this mystery and become your hero. Perhaps your friend and I use the same perfume."
"She doesn't wear perfume, and I doubt you do, either." Even though so much time had passed since Bride had seen Aleaha, she knew her friend would never douse herself in any kind of body spray. Aleaha had to be as desperate to find Bride as Bride was to find Aleaha. She couldn't believe otherwise. Aleaha was the one person who would never have walked away from her willingly. They'd become family, relied on each other.
"Perhaps, then, it's a coincidence that we smell the same."
"Perhaps." Her shoulders slumped. He could very well be a shape-shifter like Aleaha, and all shape-shifters could very well produce the same fragrance.
"I didn't expect you to agree. Darling, coincidences don't just happen. We need to put our heads together and think up some kind of explanation for this extraordinary occurrence. I do my best thinking in bed. You?"
She laughed; she just couldn't help herself. The man was incorrigible. "Another thing we have in common. Thinking in bed. Alone." Letting him assume a little some-some was possible was one thing. Outright agreeing to it was another.
"Alone." He tsked under his tongue. "Now that's just silly." His gaze fell to her mouth, and his pupils dilated. "What race are you, darling?"
She felt what little warmth resided in her cheeks drain away and finally tugged her hand from his. Had he seen her staring at his pulse? Had he sensed the growing hunger in her? "I'm human. What race are you?"
"Targon." He chuckled, the most erotic chuckle she'd ever heard. "But seriously, pet. What race are you?"
"I'm human," she insisted, then returned to the only subject that mattered. "My friend. You smell like her." Bride had heard of Targons. They were a warrior race -- big surprise -- and all of them possessed brown hair and eyes. Or so she'd heard. If that was true, Aleaha wasn't a Targon. She had green eyes. "Why?"
One of his brows arched, and she feared he meant to rebuke her again. Then he shrugged as though he didn't care what they discussed. "I've just left a female's bed. Two females, actually. But neither used the name Aleaha, I don't think. Someone shouted 'Oh God' several times, but that's not helpful to you, is it? Anyway, I digress. I'm ninety percent certain I'd remember your name, if you were so inclined to give it."
She wondered how she'd laughed at his flirtation a moment ago. The man was frustration incarnate. "Think back. Are you sure you didn't cry out their names in the heat of passion?"
"I'm sure. But I can describe their birthmarks and wax preferences. Hair and eye color would be a bit harder, since I wasn't paying attention to that area."
Disappointed, Bride shook her head. Having him describe his partners wouldn't do any good, since Aleaha could look like a thousand different people. "Did you stop and eat anywhere afterward? Maybe rub up against the person sitting next to you?"
"No and no. Now, your name," he continued smoothly. "I hinted before, but you didn't give it to me. I guess I'll have to be direct. Tell me."
"I'm Bride." Damn it. Why had she given him her real name? Why hadn't she told him Amy, her new identity? "Can you take me to the women? I'd like to see them for myself."
"So persistent. I like that. By the way, my name is Devyn. Not that you asked." His lips edged into a frown, but another spark ignited in his eyes. This one, if she wasn't mistaken, was of curiosity. "Why didn't you ask for it?"
"Because I didn't care to know it." So much for flirting for the info. "Now. Can you. Take me. To the. Women?" Careful, or your irritation with him will drive him away.
His frown intensified, but then, so did his curiosity. "Yes. I can. Will I? No. I won't. So let's discuss something else. Like why you didn't care to know my name. In case you haven't noticed, I'm gorgeous. Everyone wants to know my name. Everyone."
Great. He was one of those. Conceited, narcissistic. Too bad he'd already used up her patience. There'd be no pandering to his ego.
She reached up and fisted his shirt. It was soft, almost as if it were made from cotton rather than the synthetic blends most people were now forced to wear. He must be wealthy.