Excerpt for Dark Vengeance, NightWalkers #2 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Dark Vengeance

A NightWalkers Novel

#2

NIKKI LANDIS












Copyright 2017 Nikki Landis


Smashwords Edition


This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



Table of Contents

Preface

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six

Chapter Twenty Seven

Chapter Twenty Eight

Chapter Twenty Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty One

Chapter Thirty Two

Chapter Thirty Three

Chapter Thirty Four

Chapter Thirty Five

Silver Moon Sample

Also by Nikki Landis

About the Author



Preface


Death is not final.

In our last moments on this earth we come face to face with the possibility that it was all a terrible lie. Our years of living, for better or for worse, dictate the reality of where we move on. Heaven? Hell? Nothing? What if everything just ends?

What if it doesn’t?

We are preached at and warned from the moment we can draw breath. Make good choices. Live a good life. Treat others how you are supposed to be treated, treat others as you would like to be treated. Give back to society. Choose words that bring friendship instead of words that spread pain.

Religion preaches that we need forgiveness. We are fallible. Sinners from birth. Doomed unless we accept the truth. Invite God into your heart and spread word of your salvation. Follow the commandments, read the bible, go to church every Sunday. How can you be a good person if you don’t follow all the rules?

What if it was all made up?

What if every thought, every rule, every dictate was just the idea of someone else? A person who wanted nothing more than to laugh at the idea that we are gullible and easily influenced creatures of habit and pathetic yearning? Would it change your mind? Would you do what you wanted to do, what you do anyway, without guilt?

But wait…

If that is all true, then where does that leave us? Where do we go when we die? If we knew for sure that nothing awaited us, that nothing we did mattered in this life, that no repercussions and no rewards awaited us in the next life, what would you do?

As I draw in my final breath I cling to the thought that life must have some sort of purpose. I can’t accept anything else. I can’t believe I will fade to dust and this is it. I can’t conceive or wrap my head around the idea that my soul will suddenly perish…and nothing will happen.

No.

Death is not final…




Part One




Chapter One


Vampyre are real. They exist. In the deepest darkest dungeons, the hidden alcoves and creepy corridors of the night, and in your nightmares, both conscious and unconscious. They lurk, cloaked in shadow and mystery, waiting for the moment of total surprise.

They feed. They suck. They pierce the thin layers of epidermis, straight down to the artery. In giddy excitement they yearn for the rich flow of crimson euphoria to burst upon their tongue. Like sharks in a feeding frenzy they circle their prey, singularly focused on their yearning.

Vampyre crave the bitter metallic taste of human blood. Its scent drives them wild, almost in desperation to consume until they are sated. A burning need that propels and drives their raging thirst.

Cursed to walk the endless night they hunt for their next victim, fangs of simultaneous death and pleasure ready to sink into your quivering flesh. An aphrodisiac of intense desire and total abandonment of your will. Your senses come alive, driven by the sudden flash of liquid heat and an orgasmic burst of undeniable ecstasy.

But it is a lie. You will die. You are already dying and in a few minutes you will know your doom is forever sealed. The ease and peaceful blanket of the compulsion will pull you into a sordid embrace, force you under a false sense of security, until you are released or bled dry.

Every last drop of your blood gone.

Consumed. Brittle. Emaciated.

It is this precise moment that the shocking and brutal truth awakens your tingling senses. You scream. You fall to the ground. You clutch with desperate fingers at the torn and jagged edges of your carotid artery, but nothing will stop the final beats of your shocked and empty heart.

You have been depleted.

I have seen the creatures of darkness that own the night. I have witnessed the horror and awe of their power, of a super human strength and agility, of eyes that burn in fiery haze, and the vicious monster always lurking within. I have walked among them, lifted my arms in supplication, and I have surrendered my will, all in the name of love.

My life is not my own. I have given it over, willingly, to the man who is the father of my unborn child. I fell in love with him almost instantly, the second he saved my life from a terrible fate. If not for him, I would have perished, numerous times, before now.

Andre.

A NightWalker.

Vampyre.

It was Andre who appeared in my apartment on that fateful night, when the Boraggio brothers had put a hit on my life. Andre who ended the pitiful existence of two evil men. I would have been attacked and killed for witnessing a murder and the men who committed the horrendous crime. My mother’s murder.

And then I was almost killed again. A car bomb, beneath my new car, the very next day.

Andre saved me again.

In a flash of secrecy in the dead of night he whisked me away, to the underground catacombs of St. Martin’s Cathedral, where the lair of the vampyre brethren had been hidden for centuries. Andre petitioned the council for the right to protect me. Fighting for the chance to save me, he was nearly refused.

I met Diana that night. The woman who attacked me on multiple occasions, almost succeeding in her attempt to destroy me. Andre had defeated her but it cost him. Both of us actually. I nearly died again, to save him from such deep wounds that without my blood he could have perished. The cost of giving so much of my blood had robbed me to the point of near death.

We had broken up twice during that time. The first because Andre insisted it was the only way to save me. He had been deceived. It was a lie. The second time was our pride.

Out of the despair and agony of separation we had found each other again. One amazing night, desperate to unite us, Andre had made love to me and then bonded my soul to his. From that love and commitment I became pregnant. Only six weeks later did I find out when I awakened to terrible morning sickness.

Andre does not know about the pregnancy. He knows nothing of where I am or how I am doing. For weeks I have been trying to reach him from a burner cell phone in a frightened attempt to locate him and meet. I hear nothing. I know nothing.

The last time we separated I had asked him to compel me to forget. If I could not live with the man I loved, then I did not want to remember him at all. It was too painful. He thought for weeks it had worked. I lit a candle by my bedside every night but he did not return to me. Not once.

Then the morning of a gorgeous sunrise he contacted me. Through our shared bond I knew the danger he warned me was coming. Death. It sought me. In revenge Cristo hunted me. Andre’s sire, a man as close to him as his own father, had betrayed him.

And now he wanted me.

It had been weeks now of running, moving from city to city, hotel to hotel, always on the go, never settling for more than a few days at a time. At first I contemplated running away alone but I could never leave Michael. Now that I was pregnant, I needed him more than ever.

Michael did not understand. He was not a part of that world and I did not want him to be. Danger and death accompanied me wherever I went. My eyes darted constantly into the shadows. I was never safe. I never would be, until Andre returned to me.

“Mare, honey, won’t you please tell me what is going on? Don’t you think we have run long enough?” He made yet another attempt to find out the truth.

“No,” I insisted, “not until I hear from Andre.”

That was my one hope. My lifeline. Andre had broken through the supposed compulsion, which never took place, even as he thought it did, to warn me.

I was in terrible danger.

Running for weeks had not lessened that danger.

For that few fleeting seconds, through the bond, I had felt everything. Andre’s deep and abiding love. His fierce protectiveness. His desire and need for me. His determination to bring us back together.

The overwhelming strength of his love and emotion had forced me to my knees that morning. Standing on my fifth floor balcony, overlooking the city skyline, I had watched the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. My hands on my lower belly, excited and scared about the news of my pregnancy, I had stood in awe, desperate to feel my connection to him.

A connection so strong and undeniable it owned me.

The bond.

I had not felt it since.

The bond had protected me when I almost died saving Andre after Diana’s attack. The bond had refused to give in to the compulsion, keeping us together, even when we did not comprehend. The bond had created a new life within me. And it was the bond, strong and unbreakable inside me, that kept me and the baby alive each day.

“Mare, please,” Michael begged, his eyes falling on my belly. “Whatever is happening, I can handle it.”

Of course he could. The point was not whether he could handle the existence of NightWalkers, it was the danger and certain death that accompanied the knowledge. “I cannot tell you Michael.”

He sighed. “I hate this. Where is Andre? How the hell could he knock up my sister and walk way? I’ll kill his dumb ass.”

The corners of my mouth twitched. Michael would do no such thing. I had heard this exact statement at least fifty times now. “Oh stop. I need you as much as I need Andre.”

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, look where that got you.”

I rubbed my belly affectionately. “With someone new to love. Isn’t it wonderful?”

His eyes softened and landed on my stomach. “Yes. I can’t wait to teach him how to play ball.” Michael was a huge sports nut. Anything from football to baseball to soccer. He also loved extreme sports. In his spare time he fought MMA and boxed. I was, unfortunately, quite used to seeing him injured and in a hospital bed.

Our mother used to cringe at his exploits.

“My perfect little son,” I whispered, and then he kicked me.

Strong and healthy, with a fierce personality like his father, I already knew much about my unborn child. At twelve weeks I should be only beginning to show and feel the baby but I was similar to twenty weeks or more in my gestational size and the baby’s growth and movement.

“Oh,” I gasped when he kicked again.

“What is it?” Michael jumped up, placing his hand on my stomach.

Another kick, this one larger than the last two. “Wow.” Michael’s eyes widened. “Does that hurt?”

I shook my head as tears sprang to my eyes. “No, it’s wonderful.”

He noticed the tears. “Are you alright?”

“Oh Michael, I’m so afraid. I just want Andre.”

“I know,” he whispered as he hugged me close against his side. “He’ll come. If I know anything, its Andre loves you. Whatever is happening, he will come for you.”

“When?” I asked, as my hands smoothed over my belly.

“When he can. He would be here now if he could. I’m certain of it.”

So was I. That was the problem. Where was Andre?

I wish I knew.


Chapter Two


I own the night. I am the darkness. I am the horror of a twisted reality, the rhythmic pulse of a rapid heartbeat, the taut muscular flesh of a monster, and the sudden bump you hear in the night. Hiding in the shadows like a cobra about to strike, I will launch forward and attack when you are most unaware.

I am a cold blooded killer, sent to defile you, ready to rip your mortal flesh to shreds. If you are lucky I will drain you dry before I end your pitiful existence quickly. Born and bred for destruction, forever linked to the monster who rages within, a savage who survives on the blood of mortal man, I will use my thousand years of experience to lure you. Under a false sense of security you will give me what I desire and you will not resist. I will woo you as a long lost lover, my seduction complete, and then you will die.

I have taken hundreds before you and I will drain hundreds more. You are but a body, a means to satiate my hunger, and I do not care what form of resistance you conjure. I will have my way. I will drink. I will pierce your artery and I will feed until nothing of you remains.

My only thought and my only desire is my need. I must feed. I must fill the holes inside me, empty and lost, with the bitter crimson metallic fluid that makes up my existence.

Blood.

My singular drive and focus. A never ending cycle of feeding and killing, I do not care whose life I take. I do not care whose neck I pierce. I do not care if they fight or scream or beg. Nothing deters me from my goal. Nothing and no one can stop me.

The monster inside me is angry. He lurks within, pacing like a caged lion. I rage against this body that confines me. I rage against the knowledge that I am forever cursed and doomed to walk the night. I rage against the agony and torture of the loss that consumes me, second only to my insatiable thirst.

I rage and I howl, I fight and I claw, I sneer and I battle, at the savage being I have become.

I loved once.

I had a name once.

I cared about humanity. I cared about my fate. I cared about the prospect of redeeming my soul.

And then everything was ripped away…

My love, my mate and my child, my entire reason for living, are dead. My unborn son. My beautiful darling Mare. Lost to me forever.

Murdered.

I will have my revenge. I will rip Cristo to shreds. He will regret the day he took what is mine. He will regret the moment we met. He will fear my name. He will fear the hour of my dark vengeance. Only then will I seek the ultimate death. Only then will I be free…

My name used to be Andre.

A name that I remembered. A name that will now only cause terror.

I used to have a purpose. I used to share a bond. I used to love.

Now I am primal.

I rage! I destroy! I hunger!

I hunt.

I will hunt you.

And you will not survive…


Chapter Three


The darkness of the night enshrouds me, a gentle loving embrace, a cocoon of protection, as if the cool ebony air had physical arms that could reach out and hold me near. I close my eyes, a gentle breeze caressing my face. I know a moment of peace and surrender, of heat and swift yearning, of sacrifice and long suffering. The feelings are as much my own as the darkness and the wind. They are lovers. They meet each night, touching and arousing, kissing and pleasing, a passionate longing to make love for hours, until the dawn rises to separate.

I understood that longing. I lived for the moment my lover would return to me. The second our lips would meet in a fire that consumes even as it brings warmth. A match that lights, blazing high on the current of lust and desire. The minute our fingers would glide over taut flesh, lingering on the smooth muscle and heated skin, aching to feel my lover’s touch.

We were like the wind and the darkness, my Andre and me. We met in the secret of night. Made love in the hours of early morn. Hid in the safety of each other’s arms, locked our eyes, and buried our souls in the cavern of two lonely hearts, until our bodies had come alive with passion. We defied the light and the sunrise. We refused to separate, to conform, and to be anything other than what we needed to be.

What we were always meant to be.

And then we bonded.

I remembered every detail. The gentleness of Andre’s touch. The kisses that drove me wild. The friction of our body heat and the lingering scent of sweat and desire. The perfect plunge of pleasure and the ecstasy of his strong embrace. Every second our bodies joined, I had imprinted on my heart and in my head. The memories never left me. They surfaced almost every hour.

My heart clenched.

Where was Andre? His absence did not make sense. If he knew I was in danger, if he warned me, why was I still running? Why had he not returned to me?

Through the bond we could sense and find each other. He described to me about the uniting of our souls, how this bond defied logic and sense, how it combined our flesh. We were one. One heart that functioned for two. One mind that reasoned for two. One set of lungs that breathed for the two beings that lived only for one another.

And now the two had become three.

I opened the link, searching again for his presence. Nothing. I had been searching for weeks. Whenever I was alone I opened that connection and sent my love in waves toward him. I never heard a response. I never felt anything. I never received an acknowledgment or proof of his existence.

I was frightened.

In front of Michael I remained strong. I pretended that everything was fine but I was worried. Panic erupted in my chest. Was he dead? Had Cristo killed him? Had I lost my love and my soulmate?

As unsure as I was, I did not doubt that he was alive. The bond held strong. Nothing broke or interrupted the continuous feeling of warmth, security, and love that radiated within me. If Andre was dead or destroyed, would I know? Wouldn’t I feel it?

My little son kicked inside my womb. Instinctively my hands rose in protection, sliding over my rounded belly. “Andre,” I whispered, agonized, “return to me. Please.”

Tears filled my eyes, spilling down my cheeks. I did not have the heart to brush them away.

“Mare, don’t cry alone. Don’t do that when I am here.” Michael was behind me. His voice broke the silence. When I turned, his eyes held not only concern but worry.

“Michael.” My shoulders slumped forward and I began to cry harder.

Michael’s arms surrounded me. My brother was built like a professional wrestler, wide and stocky, full of solid muscle. Growing up in the Bronx, he had learned young how to defend both of us. “There now,” he soothed, “everything happens as it should.”

I began to sob with his words, remembering the last time he said that exact phrase, when Andre had left me, broken up with me, and I thought my life was over.

Time had not changed the course I was on.

Pain radiated in my chest. My heart aching with the thought that I might never see him again. How did I raise a son on my own?

I knew nothing of the being my child would become. Immortal for certain but would he feed as vampyre or as a human? Would he live a long life? Would he have a soul, or was it lost to him because of his father’s immortality? How did I provide blood for his sustenance without encouraging him to pierce the necks of humans?

“Nothing is simple anymore Michael.”

“I know honey.” He took a deep breath and released it. He was struggling to comfort me without betraying his anger and frustration. “I wish it was.” He hugged me tighter. “It could be. If you opened up to me.”

“I can’t,” I whispered. Dare I tell him the truth? What would he think?

“We don’t have the luxury of excuses or denial any longer Mare. You must tell me what is going on. There’s no other choice.”

“Once you know you will disagree.”

“See? That’s enough of an answer to convince me that I need to know everything.” He leaned back and tilted my chin up so our eyes met. “I’m not letting this go. You need to tell me. Now.”

“You won’t believe me.”

“I bet I do,” he disagreed.

“Michael.”

“Mare.” He was not letting it go this time.

His weather blown face, years of fishing on the crab boats and extreme sports aging him, was tired. I realized for the first time the toll my silence was taking on him.

“Andre is a vampire.”

There. I said it. Out loud. For the first time in my life, to anyone other than myself.

Silence.

“A vampire?”

Michael sounded way too calm.

I nodded. “Yes.” My eyes searched his for a confirmation or denial. Something. Some kind of reaction.

Michael laughed. Hard. He burst out laughing, clutching his sides, and shaking his head. I think he might be crazy. Maybe I pushed him over the edge.

“That,” he gasped, hardly able to hold in his mirth, “is the most amazing and outlandish thing I have ever heard.” He kept laughing, shaking his head again. “And it makes total and complete sense.”

“You believe me?” I asked, doubtful.

“Of course. My sister falls in love with a vampire and is having his baby. It makes perfect sense.” The humor left his eyes replaced by a cold and calculating look. “If he comes near you at all, I will have to kill him.”

No idle threat this time. He meant every word. “You can’t really kill a vampire Michael.”

He let go of me and began to pace the room. “That’s a lie. There are ways. I’ll find out and I’ll make sure he never hurts you ever again.”

What in the world was he talking about?

“Michael, I think mom actually did drop you on your head too many times as a baby.” I folded my arms across my chest but I did not have the same look of displeasure as I had intended. My belly was far too big.

He smirked. “A vampire seduced my sister.” The look died on his face replaced with rage. “He left you, alone, pregnant with his child. The man is immortal Mare. If he wanted to be here, if he cared, if he wanted to be a father to this child, he would be here Mare.”

Devastation ripped through me. Was Michael right? Had Andre sent me away, only to have me removed from his immediate hunting grounds and out of his way? Did he ever love me at all? Or had I been seduced, used, and left behind? Sent away? Discarded and forgotten, shoved aside as he found someone else? Did he want another lover?

I sank to my knees without realizing it. “Michael?”

I could hardly breathe. My chest felt tight, like it might explode. Spots danced on the peripheral of my vision. Little white lights danced and zipped around as an icy chill ran down my spine followed by a flash of liquid heat.

“I can’t breathe,” I whispered, as he ran to me, catching me before I hit my head.

“Shhh, calm down Mare. I’m sorry honey, relax.” He cradled my head and then managed a tight lipped smile. “You must breathe for my little man in there. He needs you. We both need you.” His voice faltered as my eyes fluttered.

“Michael,” I whispered, “we have to find him.”

I never heard his reply. The stress and shock of his words and the very idea that Andre could leave me, left me weak and drained. I retreated, into the corridors of my mind, where pain, doubt, and hurt could not reach me.

I did not want to consider any of those ideas were true.

I took a deep breath and released it, numb, as sleep carried me away.


Chapter Four


Crouching, all of his senses on high alert, Andre turned his head and listened. A heartbeat had caught his attention, faint, like the sound of a small deer. Growling low in his throat, excited by the prospect of such adventurous prey, he stalked the sound in the quiet night.

No other noises, even the occasional car or voices from the numerous bars below, were noticed. He honed in on that one perfect sound. The high frequency, fast, like the flap of a hummingbird’s wings, called to him. Moving with a stealth that would frighten humans, he crept along the roof of adjoining apartment buildings. The sound became stronger with every step he took.

He was close.

Stopping, as if to survey his surroundings, he raised his head. There was a scent on the wind. Pure. Rose petals. Coconut.

Female.

His libido was aroused along with his senses. No ordinary woman. No everyday scent. She was unique. Special. He instantly wanted to find her, torn between the sweet sound of the innocent heartbeat and the seductive scent of pleasurable woman.

Andre’s fangs distended as he ran his tongue over them. Whoever this female was, he wanted her. He laughed lightly, the monster within echoing a sardonic sound that would have caused fear in any human foolish enough to come close. He had not wanted a female in a long time. Months.

In the back of his mind lingered a memory.

Andre had loved. He had been loved in return. A perfect night of lovemaking, of a woman so beautiful she stole the breath from his body, and an experience of connection so strong his entire frame shook with the memory.

Dark hair, with red highlights, long and silky, fell to her waist. Delicate cheekbones, a beguiling smile, and lips as red as a rose. Her eyes. Such beautiful and haunting eyes. They searched for him, reached out to him, and claimed him in the night, no matter how far he tried to run. And her figure. Curvy. Hourglass. Perfect.

Who was this mystery woman?

Mare. His eyes widened. He remembered.

Andre remembered.

With a cry he fell to his knees, as a heartrending pain and anguish grabbed hold of him, nearly forcing him to rip his beating heart from his chest in an attempt to stop feeling. His beloved Mare. Pregnant. She carried his son. Oh the joy that burst through his chest. The depth of love and desire, of completeness and passion. His reason for living. His Mare.

And then Andre had another memory.

The precise moment that Cristo told him of her death and suffering. He had sliced her throat open, watching the lifeblood ooze out of her, dripping to the ground, as she died a slow and painful death. He bragged. He laughed in triumph when Andre roared and broke free of the guards.

No death blow had landed, not that day. The beast within him, chained and controlled before that moment, had burst forth in unparalleled anger and vengeance. Cristo had been shocked at his reaction, certain he would subdue Andre easily. The monster killed everyone in the room instantly, leaving only Cristo, in mere seconds.

Andre wanted to kill him but stopped, knowing his revenge had to be carefully planned. Sironi burst into the forgotten chambers, calling for Cristo’s arrest but he escaped. Chaos ensued. Dozens of vampyre brethren were injured, several more killed.

It was anarchy.

For weeks Andre searched for Cristo but was unable to locate him. During those weeks of solitude he refused to meet with Sironi, heartbroken and devastated. Instead, he walked the night. A shadow in darkness. He fed. He hunted. And slowly he became the recluse and ravaging raging monster of his nightmares.

Mare.

His heart lurched painfully.

Rage filled his whole body. The beast within, hungry and hurting, caged and wild, wanted unleashed. It had been this way for months now. Whenever Andre remembered Mare the devastation of her death consumed him, and he gave himself over to his monster, letting the creature rule him until coherent thought no longer existed.

The beast was insatiable. Dangerous and reckless. Thirsty and lost. Nothing of Andre had remained behind for long weeks afterward.

He had searched Mare’s apartment, but found no trace of her or Michael. Desperate, he searched for her all over the city but there was no sign of the siblings. They had simply vanished.

Or they were taken.

It was then Andre realized Cristo had told the truth. His Mare was gone. His son was gone. His life, his reason for living, his very heart had been ripped from him.

As he gazed up at the moon his entire body trembled with emotion. He had to rein it in. Sironi warned him more human deaths would cause suspicion. Andre would be imprisoned if he did not gain control. Forced into a life he neither desired nor could control, he promised to obey the law of the cinque dei.

Last week he had been issued the ultimatum. Cease his murderous ways or end up in the dungeons, or worse yet, a coffin. Desiccated and alone, he would seek the remainder of his days a mere shadow of the great soldier and man he once was. It did not matter if the men he killed were murderers, thieves, and rapists. The police would come after him, putting the entire existence of his kind at risk.

With reluctance he passed into the dark night, hunter and vigilante, hoping to forget the painful monotony of his existence. No amount of endless parties, piercing multiple necks, or women throwing themselves at him, had caught his attention. He wanted nothing. He desired no one.

Months had passed. He never noticed. Time was fleeting to a vampire. The decades and centuries as quick as days. His kind were immortal; unchanging, never aging, beautiful and deceptive. Their ability to beguile humans, to pull them under compulsion, was driven by the need to survive. Pure instinct.

Thirst drove all desire. Thirst ruled his body and his mind.

Thirst ruled the beast within.

Survival was thirst, thirst was blood, blood was survival.

A never ending cycle.

He was a machine, a monster conjured from the pits of Hell, cursed to walk the night in endless pursuit of human blood. Metallic and bitter, pulsating, hot and rich; blood was the life force of all humanity.

The curse of the vampyre.

For all eternity.

Andre inhaled a deep breath and released it. Neither the scent of the woman who called to him nor the intriguing heartbeat had vanished. His feet led him forward of their own accord. He could not stop his reaction any more than he could stop the sun from rising.

Andre was led to the fifth floor of an apartment building. He paid little heed to the décor, the familiar balcony, or the whispered voice inside.

In the blink of an eye, he was standing in a bedroom. A single taper candle lit the dark room, eerily similar to vanilla candles he remembered from his past. A woman lay on her back, her pregnant belly swelling as she cradled it. A sense of desperation clung to her. A hint of fear, uncertainty, and…

Joy.

She was happy. She wanted this child. The innocent and beguiling heartbeat, the one that sounded like a fawn, filled the room. He sank to his knees. A man was at her bedside but he paid him little attention. Andre’s entire being was focused on that singular beautiful perfect noise.

She must have sensed him. The young woman sat up, her eyes wide and searching. Clear icy blue eyes, strong and intelligent, met his direct gaze.

He sucked in a breath. Such beauty.

He ran to her. Was this real?

“Andre?”

Her slim hand raised, caressing his cheek, and he shuddered. His whole frame stiffened, fighting for control, unsure of the waves of emotion that kept crashing over him like the surf against the shore. He knew this woman, had been intimate with her, had shown her patience and kindness, had stood beside her and protected her with his life.

He loved her.

He loved Mare.

Andre pulled back as if burned, his entire frame unsteady. He stumbled backward, his worst fear realized. He had finally lost his mind. Completely.

Devoid of his usual grace, he fell flat on his ass.

None of this was real. Cristo was tormenting him somehow.

With a roar he ran toward her, arms outstretched, his claws extending from his bare hands. Whatever foul demon had been conjured, whatever creature had taken the form of his beloved Mare, would die a gruesome death this night. He would rip the specter to shreds. Nothing would remain of the imposter of his beloved.

Andre would end this being once and for all,

Whatever it took.


Chapter Five


Michael launched his body toward me at the precise moment Andre ran for me. I screamed, terrified of the monster that transformed my beloved into a blood thirsty beast. One moment I was the happiest woman on earth, and the next scrambling across the bed, my hands clutching my belly, afraid he was going to kill me.

I slid off, my legs caught in the comforter, and fell. Screaming again, this time in agony as my ankle twisted, I buried my head in the side of the bed and burst into tears.

Silence.

I was afraid to look up. Was Michael dead? Had Andre killed him?

“Mare?” The surprised and anguished voice was close beside me.

I dare not look up but continued crying.

“Mare, mio tesoro, mio cuore.” The words echoed in my head.

Was he alive? Was he really here?

Strong arms enveloped me, pulling me close against his chest. “My Mare.”

I raised my head as his lips met mine. I had forgotten how his kiss made me melt. Months of separation had caused unending anguish in both of our hearts but no longer.

“Andre. You’re here. You’re alive,” I blubbered through my tears.

“I thought you were dead. Cristo told me he murdered you. I…” His voice broke off painfully. “My son grows strong in your womb. He’s so happy.” Tears glistened in Andre’s eyes. “I can sense what he is feeling.” His hand lowered to my belly in awe when our son kicked him. “Mare, did you feel that?”

I smiled. “All the time. He kicks often.”

Mio tesoro, I love you.” His lips lowered to mine again as he held me tighter, one hand still resting on my belly. “My beloved and my son. I’m so happy you are both alive.” He kissed me again. “Ti amo, my Mare.”

“I love you too, Andre.”

“Well, now that’s settled, what the hell are you going to do about it?” Michael’s angry voice interrupted us.

Andre cringed. “Never let her go,” he answered, holding me tighter. “She’s the love of my life Michael.”

“Do you even have a life?” He stood, staring Andre down. “How are you going to provide for my sister and nephew?”

“Michael, sit down,” I ordered, but he ignored me.

“No way, Mare. He’s going to answer my questions.”

I rolled my eyes.

“In any and every way, Michael. She’s my whole life. I’m not leaving her, not ever,” he promised as he turned back to me. “Not ever Mare,” his voice caught, “I died without you.”

“Oh Andre,” I whispered, “I died too.”

His lips met mine swiftly. My fingers brushed the stubble on his cheek, hardly believing he was here. Andre was beside me. Alive.

My heart was overjoyed. Tears filled my eyes and spilled over as Andre’s eyes locked on mine.

“Do not cry mio cuore, I am here. Forever,” he reassured me.

“I’ll make sure of that.” Michael folded his arms across his chest. “Vampire or not, I’ll kill you if you ever hurt her again.”

Andre’s lips twitched. “I should be careful.”

Michael smiled. “Damn straight. I’m a scary guy.”

I shook my head. “I forgot how annoying it was to have you both in the same room together.”

Andre cradled me close against his chest. “Get used to it. We are going to live together from here on out.”

Shocked, I stared at him. “Really?”

“He knows. Michael is your brother. He’s family.” He winked at me.

“Oh, Andre.” I buried my head in his neck. “Thank you.”

“Just where are we going to live? I’m not sleeping in a coffin.”

Andre burst out laughing. “None of us do but there are plenty in the catacombs to choose from.”

Michael scowled. “I prefer to live in luxury. My new house is sitting empty right now.” He turned to me and scowled. “And I miss it.”

“Oh Michael, does it matter as long as we are together?” I sent him a pleading look as his eyes narrowed.

“Fine, I’ll give this new place…” He frowned. “Where the hell are we going to live?”

“In several places. We have plenty to choose from,” I answered with a grin. The penthouse was only one option.

Andre chuckled. “We certainly do.” He pressed a quick kiss against my lips. “How is your ankle? Can you walk?”

I stood with Andre’s help and applied pressure. It hurt but I had only twisted it, nothing more. “Not terribly.”

He scooped me up, holding my body close. “I’m not risking it. I’ll carry you.”

“All the way to the church?”

He looked offended. “I’m still a NightWalker Mare.”

Oops. I had forgotten. Sometimes all I saw was the gorgeous man in front of me.

I giggled. “You act like you are immortal or something.”

He smiled softly. “All that matters is you, mio cuore. Only you and my son.”

My smiled faded. “You matter too.”

“Of course,” he answered with a tight smile but the look did not extend to his eyes.

“What is it?” I asked, searching for any sign of distress.

He leaned down and kissed me, his lips lingering against mine. “Nothing.” He nuzzled my cheek. “Ti amo molto,” he breathed, “Sei la mia anima gemella.”

“I know.” I lay my head on his shoulder and yawned. “What was the rest of that?”

“Yeah,” Michael added, “what language is that? Italian?”

Andre laughed lightly. “I prefer to speak my endearments in my native tongue. Yes, it means I love you very much. You are my soulmate.”

“Andre, I have never loved any man but you.”

“I know. Sleep, mia bella. I will awaken you once we are home.”

Home.

Doesn’t that have the loveliest sound?


Chapter Six


Andre could not tear his eyes from Mare’s sleeping face. Her long dark lashes rested against her rosy hued cheeks. He had memorized every detail of her angelic face months ago when they first met. Her hand rested lightly against his chest, the long pink nails delicate but strong. Like his Mare.

His heart swelled within his chest. Such love and happiness, it threatened to consume him entirely. Whether it was luck or fate, he was reunited with his love, and nothing was going to stop him from being with her. Andre cared nothing for laws or traditions, nothing but his mate and the bond.

Danger.

Andre stiffened and clutched Mare close to his side. Who would dare to take her from him?

Danger.

Andre’s senses came alive. He whipped his head toward the window in her bedroom. A noise had caught his attention. It shouted at him, causing his skin to hum and buzz. Shivers of anticipation ran along his body. If only he was alone, he might have enjoyed the upcoming skirmish. With Mare in his arms, growing larger with child every day, he was anxious.

The baby. His son. She was progressing quickly in her pregnancy. Too quickly.

Danger.

Andre held her tighter, unaware of how his eyes turned crimson with the impending threat.

“Dude, your eyes are red.”

Michael’s voice brought him back to the present. There were two souls in this room that needed protecting, three if he counted his unborn son. Andre lowered his voice and gestured for Michael to come closer.

“We have company, and not the friendly sort. We need to lose them, preferably without drawing too much attention. No one knows I have reconnected with Mare. I plan on keeping the secret as long as I can.”

Michael nodded. “What do you need me to do?”

Danger. Closer now.

“I’m going to the roof.”

Michael looked at him like he was crazy. “What about Mare?”

Andre lowered his head and placed a soft kiss on her lips, laying her on the bed. “Protect her with your life. Do you have a gun?”

He nodded. “Of course.”

“Don’t be afraid to use it. No one should be coming in this room but me.”

Their eyes met and Michael nodded. “Shit. Hurry up.”

Danger.

Andre smiled. “I’m not leaving Mare any longer than I have to, so be ready to leave when I return.”

Michael huffed in agitation. “Yeah, I think I got that part.”

A crash sounded out in the hallway. Too late.

“Change of plans. Shoot anyone who sets foot in this room. Lock the door behind me and aim that pistol toward the window if anyone tries to come through.”

Michael cursed a string of words that would have impressed the most dedicated scholar of foul language. Andre chuckled quietly, crouching as the beast within surged forward, ready to defend his mate to the death. His nails extended into sharp claws, his eyes burned a bright crimson, his fangs sharpened into lethal points. He turned, moving stealthily through the bedroom and into the front area of Mare’s apartment.

Someone was trying to break into the front door. The knob rattled and then silenced.

Andre smelled perfume. A strange scent, one he did not recognize. Female. Sweat. Too much floral odor overlapping other scents, layers of smell that made him gag. Andre cleared his throat and then cringed. He had been louder than he wanted.

The female was not vampyre but something about her was unique. Different. Unpleasant. A sickly sweet smell that turned his stomach, reminiscent of cinnamon.

A sudden explosion obliterated the front door, sending wooden pieces of debris flying in all directions. Several large splinters lodged in Andre’s torso but he yanked them out, impatient, and growling in anger.

Before he could react, a dozen men engaged him, shooting darts into his thigh. He roared, the beast within him taking charge as he lashed out, instantly killing the first few bold enough to attack him. His claws slashed across the forearms and then chest of the older man closest to him. He spun, his fangs sinking into the throat of another, ripping into the flesh, before he threw him to the side.

The next was foolish enough to fire his gun. The bullet grazed Andre’s shoulder as he reached forward and snapped the young fool’s neck. He took down three more, leaving a pile of carnage in his wake as he appeared before the woman with the undesirable scent.

“That’s the fastest anyone has ever taken Guild members down. I’m impressed, Andre.” She watched him with a knowing smile lingering on her lips as he dropped to his knees, shaking his head.

“What did you do to me?” He yelled, fighting off the effects of the drug.

“The only poison that works on your kind, full blooded vampyre. Surely, you have heard of it,” she chided, treating him as if he was an imbecile.

Sangue Debolezza,” he spat, his head becoming heavy. Blood Weakness.

“Yes, in large doses it can kill, but,” she paused and laughed lightly, “in small doses it is quite effective in subduing your intended target. The paralysis wears off in hours but there are other, more disturbing side effects, if one is exposed repeatedly for long durations.”

“I will not be caught by surprise again,” he growled in response. Andre was losing this battle. He would pass out soon. The poison was working its way through his blood stream, causing him to tremble. He clenched his shaking hands so she would not see them.

“Oh, I think you will. The Guild has plans for you.” She approached and ran a long sharp nail down the side of his cheek. “I have need of your abilities and connections.”

Andre leaned his head back and laughed, long and hard. “If you think I will give you anything, you are mistaken.”

“I think you’ll cooperate, especially since it is the only way to save your mate and son.”

Andre leapt to his feet, his hands around her throat in seconds. “Touch her, harm her in any way, and I will invent new ways to torture you.”

She stiffened. “Perhaps but you need me.”

“Never. I have no use for the Guild.”

“Then Mare will die, before she gives birth, and you will have nothing Andre.”

He tightened his hold on her neck. “You lie.” He stumbled, his hold weakening. The drug was taking a toll, even as he fought it.

“Andre?” Mare’s voice was behind him.

He spun, in front of her in only seconds. “Run, Mare. Take Michael and get out. I’ll find you.” He wobbled and sank to the ground, landing on his back.

“Andre!” She screamed, reaching for him.

“Do not trust the Guild,” he gasped, pain seizing his body as his organs clenched. Every part of his body was shutting down. “Run.” He reached for her as her hand clasped his. “Sei tutto per me.”

“Andre, I don’t know what that means.” She placed his hand on her stomach as his son kicked inside her womb.

Ti amo molto, my Mare.” His head rolled to the side as his eyes fluttered.

He could fight the Sangue Debolezza no longer.

As he felt the blackness of night close around his consciousness, Andre hoped Michael was smart enough to help them escape. He had no idea where they would be taken or when he would awaken.

Andre could only hope they did not harm his mate in any way.

If they did, he would unleash the fires of Hell upon the entire Guild.

None would escape his wrath.


Chapter Seven


I held onto Andre’s hand as he passed out, tears filling my eyes. What was happening? Who were these people? Why did he tell me to run?

I leaned over and placed a kiss on his cheek, brushing the hair off his forehead. His dark curls had grown long, almost to his eyes. Stubble covered his strong jawline. He was so handsome.

God, I loved this man.

“Do not worry, Mare. He will recover in a few hours.”

I looked up, wary of her intentions. “Harm him and I will find a way to kill you, slowly and painfully,” I threatened. No one was separating us ever again. I meant every word.

She laughed loudly. “I do like your spirit. He has chosen wisely. A perfect match.”

“What do you want?” I demanded, ignoring her words.

“A chance to plead our case. Nothing more,” she insisted, “but perhaps you have some questions of your own. We have a physician, one who specializes in dhampir pregnancies.”

Dhampir?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” she laughed lightly, shaking her head, “your half breed child, of course.”

Startled, I met her perusal. “Fine, I’ll come with you but so does Andre and my brother Michael. No harm befalls any of us. Swear it.”

Several menacing looking guards surrounded her. “I have the means to inflict any amount of harm I wish. If I meant to hurt you, it would have been done already.”

“I still want your word,” I insisted. I knew vampyre were beholden to their word. Few broke their oath. In the dealings I had seen with Andre and his brethren, vampyre kept their word when asked.

She looked amused. “I see you know more about our kind than I originally thought.” She paused and gestured to her guards as they picked up Andre. “Fine. I give my word and my oath. No harm will befall you as long as you are my guest. Fair enough?”

I nodded. “You are a dhampir, aren’t you?”

She winked at me. “Of course.”

Michael helped me to stand. “You sure you know what you are doing?” He whispered.

I grabbed his hand and followed the dhampir out into the hallway, stepping through the damaged doorway and then exiting the building without saying another word. I needed answers. Real answers. Andre may not like it, but I had a right to find out what was going on and what to expect.

He would get over his displeasure.


***


The Guild resided in a glass skyscraper in the heart of the city. Unlike the cathedral of Saint Martin, where the vampyre gathered each night below among the catacombs, the Guild had taken residence in full view. A direct contradiction to the vampyre brethren, the council, and the cinque dei; the building screamed modern convenience and luxury. Sleek lines and cool colors, it had a sterile and clean environment.

Michael and I followed the group through the front doors, Andre in front of us on a stretcher – which made him seem more injured than captured – to a tall elevator. Also made of glass, it raised high up in the air. High enough to make me dizzy, I leaned against Michael as he steadied me.

The dhampir woman turned to us. “I suppose I should introduce myself now. I’m Selene.”

Michael grumbled under his breath. “Yeah.”

“Selene, what’s with the strong perfume?” I asked, sneezing. Whatever she was wearing, it was way over the top.

She laughed, tossing her shoulder length blonde hair over her shoulder. “It’s a mask.”

Michael gave her a dubious frown. “I’d say it doesn’t work.”

She winked at him. “It’s not for humans.”

“Oh,” I gasped, “it masks your real scent, from vampyre, right?”

“Yes, exactly. I don’t like to be taken by surprise. This helps prevent that.”

Michael arched a brow. “I would think you cause more trouble than receive.”

She sauntered up to him, all five foot ten inches of her, and thrust her breasts in his face. “I’d give you a lot of trouble.”

My brother blushed, clearing his throat. “No, thanks. I’m pretty sure I don’t need that particular kind of mess.”

She laughed hard at that, shaking her head. “I wish all human males were this much fun.”

Selene was exactly my brother’s type. Tall, curvy, and sassy. He liked to date independent women with confidence who could handle themselves. I had been told those exact words more than once. I guess the fact she was dhampir was enough to cool any interest.

“Where is Andre?” I asked as the elevator opened.

“He’s being kept in observation until he awakens. I can’t have him killing the whole facility searching for you.” She turned to me, gesturing ahead. “I have a couple of rooms that are connected. You may stay there as long as you are my guests.”

Michael stopped, grabbing my hand and pulling me close. “You mentioned a doctor. When can we see him?” We, not me. My overprotective brother at work.

She smiled. “I made the appointment for eleven, but you are welcome to go sooner.”

My stomach growled. “I could use some breakfast first. I’m starving.” The baby did a flop and my stomach wobbled.

Michael grinned. “My nephew is hungry.”

“He’s always hungry,” I supplied, realizing at that moment how true my words were. I was hungry more and more, my appetite increasing but I was not gaining any weight. Trying not to dwell on my thoughts, I smiled at Selene. “I really need to eat.”


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