Bestselling Author Delilah Devlin
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No Tender Mercy

No Tender Mercy

Who says The Apocalypse has to be the end of good times?

For Diego Salazar, the career his father had insisted was his destiny turned out to be the perfect preparation for the End of Times. The Army made him a warrior—and then it turned him into a monster.

As second-in-command of Fort Davis, deep in the New Frontier, his days have been spent hunting for other monsters and then spending their free time doing what comes naturally for vampires. Humans serve two purposes, and he’s fine with that—until his unit accepts a ragtag bunch of survivors and brings them inside the military camp. Now, the one thing he thought would never happen to him—finding one woman who holds his interest longer than a night—happens in an instant of sudden, searing lust, and he quickly makes sure everyone knows he’s claiming her for his own.

For Ramona Jeffers, the repeating message going out over the airwaves, inviting refugees to come to a safe haven at Fort Davis, is a beacon of hope. The leader of a small group of survivors that has been searching for refuge, she’s weary from constantly scavaging for food and shelter and always watching over her shoulder for the dangers that hide in the darkness. When she arrives at Fort Davis and discovers that vampires are in charge, she sees her hopes crumbling before her eyes.

But the vampires there offer the refugees a deal—their labor and their blood, if they will give it—in exchange for a safe place for them and their families.

Knowing they may be risking everything, Ramona and her small “tribe” agree, not knowing that others are watching and waiting to take everything they have…

Read an Excerpt

Diego Salazar strode through the Operations Building, needing to get outside, needing the night air to revive him. He felt edgy, bordering on reckless. Deadly emotions—for anyone around him, that was. Worse, he was bored.

He passed the Comms room but didn’t glance inside. Kate McKinnon was manning the radio, flipping through channels, trying to find other survivors, who’d been like her—needful of rescue and protection. Since arriving at the post, she’d found her calling; Diego didn’t feel the same sense of urgency about finding lost souls in the wilderness. Hadn’t he offered enough to mankind?

He kept moving, walking swiftly past the Ops conference room, where his best friend, Ty Bennett, was giving the nightly briefing to the roving patrol. Same ole-same ole: watch for breaks in the fences, report any signs of infiltration, make sure no vampires abused their hosts, blah-blah-blah. He pushed through the exit, stepped outside, and took a deep breath.

Instantly, he felt alive, alert. Freed by the darkness. His glance shot upward.

Moonlight glowed silver behind a black cloud, the only illumination in an otherwise dark sky. Although meager, the moonlight bathed his face, giving him calm as well as a surge of energy.

Diego stared at the sky, admiring how the moon’s rays backlit the thinner wisps of cloud cover then disappeared completely behind the thick tufts of charcoal gray. Clouds that rarely held rain. He had always loved looking at the night sky. When he’d been younger, he’d owned a telescope and had spent many late nights searching for the objects on Messier’s list of astronomical objects, trying to tick them off because finding them all would’ve proven to himself that his future held more than his father had already decided. In this endless night, he missed seeing the stars, a result of the nuclear winter. Before the world had gone to shit, he’d taken for granted the glorious sight of the Milky Way stretched across the sky. What he wouldn’t give for a glimpse of that majesty…

Glimpses of a starry sky had been few and far between for years now.

Feeling tense again, Diego patted his jacket pockets, found his pack, and shook out a cigarette. Once it was lit, he took long drags off the cigarette, pulling until the glowing ring reached the filter. He didn’t like wasting a millimeter of a smoke because, soon, the stash he’d squirreled away over months of supply heists would be gone. Smoking was the one last guilty pleasure he allowed himself. A middle finger thrust straight into the air at life. Once upon a time, he’d denied himself this particular sin because he’d cared about his health. However, dying of cancer was no longer a concern—one good thing that had come of the decision he’d made in the final days before The Apocalypse had created an eternal night.

The career his father had insisted was his destiny as a Salazar had turned out to be the perfect preparation for the End of Times. The Army had made him a warrior—and then it had turned him into a monster so that he could fight other monsters.

He dropped the cigarette then ground it beneath the heel of his boot. He was sure Ty, the elected commander of this regiment, although they no longer used their military titles, would soon be looking for his sitrep. While no longer part of the U.S. Army, they had to maintain the same discipline and order. Without rules, they could quickly devolve. Their altered natures already tempted them to push against the bounds of civilized behavior. More than one of their unit had had to be “put down” when they’d surrendered to their darker appetites.

When the keys to the fortress had been handed to them as the Army abandoned this western post, they’d decided to continue their mission. Partially to protect innocents trapped in this wasteland but mostly to give themselves a purpose so they’d stay on the narrower path. They were the last outpost in the New Frontier. While the civilian populations had congregated for safety in the eastern cities, they’d remained to protect any last vestiges of human populations from the wolves and the human predators that roamed the West.

Just a couple of weeks ago, they’d left the safety of their post to rescue stragglers to the south from a ranch near Tierney, Texas. Kate, a few of her ranch hands, and three families had accepted their offer of shelter. Kate was now Ty’s woman. She’d brought horses and a breeding pair of cattle to begin a new herd inside the fence. How they’d feed the animals was still to be determined. The sky remained filled with dark clouds, and the grass within the fort’s boundaries was sparse and withered. At least, the rabbits the mess unit bred in cages had vegetable scraps from the indoor greenhouse they kept lit in a helicopter hangar, powered by the wind. No humans would die from lack of food here. In addition to the rabbits and vegetables they grew, they had a storage warehouse full of old rations. The hope was that the skies would clear enough to let sunshine pierce the gray clouds so that, one day, life could return to a semblance of normal for the humans. Then they could grow gardens and raise livestock in greater abundance to survive until civilization returned.

Neither Ty nor Diego ignored the thought that sunshine would likely spell the end of the vampires when humans no longer needed their protection.

The vampires outside the post’s fences weren’t winning any popularity contests. As feral as the wolves, their indiscriminate killing kept the humans inside from fully trusting the soldiers, even those who had remained human and understood why some of their brothers had been turned; they were all treated with suspicion by the refugees.

For now, the turned soldiers and the humans shared a symbiotic relationship. The living fed the vampires. The vampires provided their superior senses, speed, and strength to keep the humans alive.

Which reminded him that he needed to eat. His stomach felt hollow, which made his mood dark. Until he was replenished, he’d snap out of irritation at the slightest provocation. He strode toward the mess hall. A room to the side of the cafeteria was kept for feedings. Human guards supervised the vampires’ meals to ensure the safety of those who volunteered their blood.

He wondered who’d be available. Ty was fortunate to have his own blood whore, although Diego would never call her that in front of him. Kate provided some of his friend’s needs, but Ty still needed other donors so he didn’t sap her strength.

The families from Sanctuary Ranch had been leery of the arrangement at first, and since Ty had promised that no one would be forced to provide for them, they’d been slow to volunteer.

Until they’d learned from the human soldiers that there was pleasure in giving. At first, the males had volunteered, “sacrificing” for their families. Then one husband had brought his wife, and they’d shared the pleasure. Now, all three families and the single men and women, mostly Kate’s wranglers, donated regularly. Only the children were left completely off-limits. A rule that was strictly enforced. If a vampire were to drink from a child, death was the penalty.

The “blood mess” door was open, and light from a gas lantern beckoned. When he stepped inside, he found a lone female sitting in an armchair, a book opened on her lap. She glanced up as he entered, and a pretty blush crept up from her neck to fill her cheeks.

She was a plain woman—full hips, small breasts, hair neither blond nor brown. Late thirties, he’d have guessed, but knowing the hardships she’d faced to survive, she could be younger.

Already, her heart thudded loudly.

The guard was asleep with his head thrown back and his mouth open. Diego would make sure his squad leader handled that problem, but he liked that they wouldn’t have a witness for now.

“Melissa, isn’t it?” he asked softly.

She nodded, glanced quickly at the still sleeping guard then back at Diego. Was she afraid?

When she tilted her head toward the doorway, he understood. She wanted a little something more in return for her “gift.”

His mouth stretched into a smile, and he held out his hand to help her up from her chair. The moment her warm fingers slid across his skin, he started getting hard.

She’d showered. Her hair and body smelled like strawberries. Her blond-brown hair gleamed in the golden light, but he led her through the doorway into the darkened cafeteria.

“I haven’t seen you here before,” he said.

“It’s my first time,” she whispered.

He chuckled to put her at ease. “A virgin?”

“Hardly, but…yes.”

“I’ll be gentle.”

Her fingers pressed against his, and her pulse sped. “You don’t have to be.”

Diego grinned in the dark.

Sometimes, he enjoyed being the apex predator. Who said The Apocalypse couldn’t be fun?