Dark Realm 3: Darkness Burning
HarperCollins Avon Red
Genre: Dark Urban Fantasy
Format: Trade Paperback
On Sale: June 23, 2009
Beware the place where darkness rules and bloodlust is the ultimate aphrodisiac…
An apocalyptic storm has transformed New Orleans into a city of lawless terror—and Mikaela Jones is standing in the center of the nightmare. A beautiful, courageous journalist with a mysterious past, she sees monsters prowling all around her. But the gravest peril of all awaits Mikaela when she is taken captive by a mesmerizing male who is not mortal—a breathtaking creature who arouses the fire in her blood, making her burn for the exquisite erotic ecstasy of total surrender.
For seven centuries Alex Broussard has been waiting for the chance to free himself from the threat of the matriarchal undead society that seeks his destruction. And now, finally, that time is at hand—until the opportunity is ruined by the stunning, innocent, human interloper Alex is compelled to rescue from certain doom. Now they are joined, for good or ill, as they give in to the burning need that neither can resist—risking everything to experience the ultimate sensual release as the darkness rises all around them.
Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.
Being an uncrowned prince of the Undead might get you laid but doesn’t win you friends. Instead, you stay on the down low, hiding in plain sight from enemies who’ll kill you just because you exist. Not an easy task when you still have a duty to protect the innocent and demolish the misbehaving.
Which was why when Alexander Broussard crept deeper into a dark, dank alleyway just outside the French Quarter, only half his mind stayed with the prey he’d tracked for nearly a mile. The other half wondered whether this was just another demon hunt or the opening salvo of “the great battle to come.”
Although aware lack of focus could land him in deep shit, an odd restlessness gripped him. His destiny awaited him, or so he’d been told for as long as he could remember—but that promise was as unproven as the protective amulet he wore on a slender cord around his neck. Unproven, untested—would the moment ever come?
Perhaps he’d messed the whole thing up. Made a misstep that would cause all their carefully laid plans to fall like dominoes. After all, he wasn’t the one who’d seen what lay in store for the future. Simon, his mentor, teacher, and his friend, had that angle all wrapped up and wasn’t sharing what he knew, afraid he’d somehow change the course set before them all.
Time, even repeated, never moved forward quite the same. Or so Simon often said.
Missteps, mistakes…Alex prayed he hadn’t already made things worse.
Concern for his unborn child ate away at his gut. That neither the baby’s mother nor her lover wanted him around sat heavy on his conscience. He’d used them both for his own ends. Their seduction had been necessary, part of the bigger plan, but that didn’t matter. Leaving them trapped, dependent on the mercurial Inanna’s mercy, undermined his resolve.
Nothing he could do about it now. But soon, all the players would gather at Ardeal, the place “beyond the forest”—named for their last kingdom on Earth. A little more patience and he’d have it all—the girl, the power, and the bloody damn crown.
That was the future he wanted, the one he’d waited for these seven centuries.
In the meantime, he’d keep his head down and follow the scent of any trouble that might complicate his quest. Like the sharp, musty odor he’d trailed beyond the Quarter into the meanest streets of New Orleans—dangerous before the flood, infinitely more deadly now.
A heavy footpad rasped on grit, dragging his thoughts back to the danger lurking in the shadows. Alex’s body tightened. He crouched, shifting his weight to the balls of his feet, getting ready to make his move—but where was the bastard?
He forced himself to concentrate, directing his senses to search for a darker shadow in the pitch blackness, sniffing the humid breeze to catch the scent of the beast.
A steamy breath gusted against the back of his neck.
Alex leapt to the side, took a single running step and planted his foot on the wall of the alley, climbed up, then somersaulted to land behind the creature.
Only it had disappeared again. Now the cagey beast hunted him.
Alex’s lips stretched into a feral grin. His teeth slid deeper from his gums, curving over his lower lip. Adrenaline seared his veins. His heart rate surged. At last, he’d found a challenge to refocus him—if only for the moment.
A low, grating snarl gave him a second’s warning. He whirled to meet the massive creature as it launched from the ground ten feet away.
Alex thrust up his arms, slamming the beast in the jaw to deflect a vicious bite, but was carried to the ground by the force of its ballistic velocity.
The cord fastened around his neck broke when the wolf’s serrated canine scraped the base of his throat. Alex ignored the scratch and the blood soaking into his shirt collar, but noted where the amulet landed. He wrapped his hands around the creature’s thickly muscled neck and squeezed.
The beast screamed as loud as a Hellhound, forcing air past constricted vocal chords that gusted in steaming clouds above Alex’s face and was scented with its doggy breath and echoes of its last meal. Sausage perhaps. Shrimp or crawfish, for sure. No hint of human.
Alex ground his heels in the gritty muck beneath him, straining with his thighs to roll over, but never got the leverage he needed to put the creature on its back and knock it out quickly.
Instead, he held tight, shoving the wolf’s head and snapping jaws as far from his face as he could, until at last the chokehold did its job. The beast deflated like a balloon, landing limply against Alex’s body.
He pushed it away and climbed to his feet, immediately searching the ground for the amulet. With only minutes to spare before the wolf revived, he needed to retrieve the precious stone and flee. Without the proper weapon to finish the were-creature or a silver linked collar to capture it, he could spend hours battling the beast. Although the fact griped his ass, he’d have to kill him another day. No one could come prepared for every unearthly contingency.
At least he’d confirmed his suspicions after reading the reports of packs of wild dogs roaming the streets that Ruby left on his desk back at the station house. Werewolves had infiltrated New Orleans.
Just another breed of scavenger descending on the city at its most vulnerable.
Alex caught a glimpse of the shiny, round stone wedged between a box and a trash bin and knelt to retrieve it.
At the first sounds of a scuffle from the other end of the alleyway, Alex ducked low, peering into the darkness, waiting to determine whether the combatants were human before deciding to enter the fray. Too far away to tell at first, Alex tamped down his impatience, glancing back to assure himself the wolf still slept, then stared ahead, waiting.
A heavy hand fell on his shoulder, and Alex inhaled a familiar scent. Father.
“How many times have I told you not to come to a fight without the proper weapon,” Rene Broussard whispered in his Cajun-laced accent, an ironic note in his voice.
“Who said I meant to kill him?” Alex replied dryly, looking over his shoulder.
Rene grunted and knelt beside him behind the bin.
“Why are you here, Rene?” Alex asked, careful as always not to signal their relationship should anyone be listening.
“Makin’ sure you aren’t so pumped up with your own self-importance you get yourself killed.”
“How long have I been patrolling?”
“Thirty or so years less than me, mon fils.”
Alex’s lips stretched into a rueful grin. While Simon had honed his otherworldly skills, his father had been there to remind him he’d been born of a vampire and a human man. His teachings and the example he set inside their small, tightly knit family unit had been just as important to keep him grounded, reminding him constantly of his duty to humanity as well as feeding a yearning for something he could never truly have.
“We should go,” Rene said, lifting his chin toward the ruckus beginning at the other end of the alley. “Not our fight. Not your time.”
Alex speared one more glance into the darkness. “Let’s wait a minute or two, just to make sure.”
Rene gave him a short nod and hunkered down beside him, his hand still pressing down on his son’s shoulder.
Alex didn’t fight the cautionary hold. A male Born vampire couldn’t be too sure whether a fight erupting so near was an inconvenient coincidence or all about him.
The profound silence struck Mikaela Jones first. Other than her own booted heels clapping on the pavement, the sounds she associated with The Crescent City had vanished along with most of its inhabitants.
Instead of the blare of blues and tinny Cajun music from the bars along the street and the voices of people laughing and shouting as they ambled by barhopping in the late night hours, a muffled hush blanketed the city. A watchful, pregnant quiet like the breathless, relieved lull after the powerful storm—the day before water consumed life as she’d known it.
The inky, thick shadows at the edges of the streets also creeped her out. Without power, alleys and deep doorways were impenetrable to the gaze and could hide many creatures of the night—street thugs, looters, gangbangers. She carried a hardened leather blackjack deep in her jacket pocket—her weapon of choice should anything jump out from the pockets of darkness.
She’d worn her weathered, leather jacket despite the muggy heat just for that purpose, needing not only storage for her weapon and tools of her trade, but comfort. The jacket was the first piece of clothing she’d bought with her first paycheck. Not the nicest item in her closet now, but familiar. A little worn, but resilient, just like her.
As the silence and darkness closed around her, she reminded herself why she’d decided this excursion was such a peachy idea. Reports of the crime-ridden streets—the wanton attacks and rampant looting—were known. Every major news organization had descended like locusts on a killing field to cover the tragedy and the painful recovery.
But other whispers had reached her ears. Less newsworthy, but definitely more intriguing, made more believable by the fantastic events of the past days.
Whispers said magic was in the air. Monsters were on the loose. Perhaps the dreams that plagued her had a basis in reality.
Miki turned up her coat collar to ward against the prickling disquiet lifting the fine hairs on the back of her neck, concentrating instead on the details she needed for the next piece she’d write describing life in the aftermath of the great storm.
Like the twinkling stars she’d never seen above New Orleans’ light-polluted streets that speckled the damp, cobbled pavement, resembling muted fireflies. Or the unchanged aroma of sewage emanating from the grates beneath her feet, ripened by the added odor of the contaminants swirling in the black waters covering large portions of the city, and carried on the breeze.
Twin beams flashed as a vehicle turned onto her street.
Miki trotted to an alleyway to avoid the National Guard patrol rolling by in a camouflaged Hummer. Being caught breaking curfew might make an interesting story, but she didn’t want to waste hours cooling her heels, or worse, being evicted from the city.
She turned the corner and pressed her back against the wall of a brick arcade, waiting for the vehicle to pass when muffled sounds came from behind her. For a second, she froze.
Low, heated murmurs. The scrape of a zipper and the rustle of clothing. Soft laughter cut off by a deep moan.
Someone enjoyed the anonymous shadows.
Curious, she crept closer, edging along the wall, her eyes adjusting slowly to the near-pitch darkness until she spotted a couple further along the opposite side of the alley. The man stood with his back against the wall, a woman nuzzling the side of his neck as he groaned. Metal glinted from his opened zipper, and Miki guessed where the woman’s hand roamed.
She nearly groaned. The urgent sounds tightened her already restless body.
Deciding she’d leave them to their tryst, she edged backward, hoping the patrol had passed, when something rushed by her so quickly she saw only a blurred, grayish streak. The man’s next moan was cut short by a shout. The woman cursed.
Miki froze until sounds of a fight erupted, nearly making her leap back into the street. At first, she didn’t see anything. Then a dull explosion where the woman had stood illuminated another blur of movement too fast for her gaze to follow. A second gray figure streaking to the right had her narrowing her eyes to peer into the gloom. Fists connected with flesh, and were followed by another burst of light. Fiery ash settled to the ground.
A battle ensued, but one unlike anything she could have imagined.
Excitement started a slow, heavy thrum pounding in her chest. Had she found what she sought? Then a footstep scraped behind her.
Too late to run, she gasped when a strong arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her back against a wall of solid muscle. With her arm clamped to her side, she couldn’t reach for her blackjack. Acting on instinct, she lifted her foot and slammed her heel onto her assailant’s foot.
A soft chuckle in her ear turned her fear into panic, and she struggled against his hold, wriggling hard, jabbing elbows at steel-plated ribs. The man behind her didn’t budge. He simply tightened his arm until she slumped against him, panting breathlessly within his embrace.
So she couldn’t beat him in a fight. Thinking fast, she relaxed in his hold. “Not gonna ask me what a nice girl—”
“Nice girls don’t walk alone after dark,” he told her, his voice deep and silky.
The thought occurred that only a truly attractive man could muster a voice like that. A ridiculous thing to note given her circumstance. Her rising panic made thinking hard. “That’s rather sexist,” she blurted out and nearly groaned at her inane comment.
His hand slid inside her jacket and slowly up her belly to clasp her left breast. “Your heart’s beating so strong, I’m thinking you’re scared.”
“Duh,” she gritted out, trying to stretch away from his grasp. She gave up when soft laughter stirred the hair beside her ear. “Look, just let me go. I have some money—”
“I don’t want money.” His nose trailed along her neck, pushing past her collar.
“Guess not,” she said weakly, a shiver working its way up her spine. “You know, I haven’t washed in a couple days. No water.”
“Liar.” His soft, warm tongue lapped the side of her throat. “I taste soap.”
Miki nearly wilted in his arms, which set alarm bells ringing. How could she be turned on by a man who appeared bent on molesting her? “Um…my name’s Sarah.”
“Don’t think so, but Sarah’s pretty. I like the tat.”
She bit her lip as he mouthed the tiny sickle-shaped moon and stars behind her ear. “You can see that? It’s pretty dark…”
“Shush. It’ll be over quick. I just need a taste.”
“Taste?” Her voice tightened to a shrill squeak as his lips slid down, and his cheek nuzzled the edge of her jaw. When teeth pierced her neck, her knees buckled. The sharp sting of the bite faded in seconds. “What the hell?” she said, her voice oddly breathless.
A murmur, sounding like a sexy reassurance rumbled against her skin, calming her. His mouth began sucking, drawing on the wound.
Miki felt dizzy, faint…and incredibly, instantly aroused.
His hips pressed against her ass, making her aware of the thick, hard ridge of his cock. His hand cupped her breast and squeezed, shaping its fullness with his broad palm.
Her fear faded, overwhelmed by his sensual assault and the tingling awareness sweeping downward from where he sipped at her neck, winding tightly inside her belly and releasing a trickle of desire that dampened her cotton panties.
The attack continuing just feet away didn’t seem nearly as important as her arousal bloomed, spiking higher along with the nipple he rubbed.
“Alex, isn’t it?” came a masculine voice tinged with amusement.
Alex growled against her neck, eliciting another shiver of a different sort. Miki would have told the other man to beat it, but she was nearly boneless, nearly there.
Alex’s teeth slid gently from her neck, his tongue licked the wounds he’d made. One hand squeezed her breast and the other patted her butt. “Sorry, sweetheart. Another time.” To the man, hovering at his elbow, he said, “Malcolm, you’re a dead man.”