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Midnight bite, p.6

Midnight Bite, page 6

 

Midnight Bite
 


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  No, no way. She did not have fangs.

  Lark removed her hand.

  And screamed.

  CHAPTER SIX

  New Year’s Resolution Number Six: Embrace change. Time for a new you.

  When Lark came running down the stairs, Devereaux waved away the guards who immediately stepped forward.

  Salvatore coughed. “Uh, yeah, she doesn’t sound happy. Doesn’t look happy, either.”

  No, she didn’t. Devereaux smiled at her, anyway. He was pleased to see that she’d dressed—putting on jeans, a sweater, and sneakers he’d had bought for her. Since she wasn’t still clad in the gown, he wouldn’t have to kill the vamps around him.

  For a moment, he didn’t think she’d stop her frantic run. He was fully prepared for her to rush straight into his arms. He even had his arms open and ready for her.

  But she came to a staggering stop on the bottom stair. “For a minute, I thought I had fangs.”

  Salvatore coughed again.

  Devereaux spared the chief of his guards—and his best friend—a quelling glare. The guy was not going to screw this up for him.

  “But then they were gone.” Her words tumbled out quickly. “I think I’m having a breakdown.”

  Not exactly. “We should go into the dining hall. There’s a breakfast feast waiting for you.” He took her hand.

  She pulled it away. “I thought I had fangs.”

  Carefully, his fingers lifted to her mouth. He traced over her soft lips. “I don’t see any fangs.”

  Her lips parted.

  Her eyes smoldered.

  No fangs, but he did see desire. Lark didn’t get it. Soon, she wouldn’t be able to control her hunger. Desire would be all that she knew. Sleeping Beauty had woken up, and there was no turning back now.

  “I just see you,” he whispered. “Beautiful, perfect you.”

  But Lark shook her head. “You’re seeing the wrong thing.”

  No, he was seeing her.

  She skirted around him. Headed for the massive front doors.

  From the corner of his eye, he saw Salvatore tense.

  “I’m getting out of here,” Lark declared. “Thanks for the breakfast offer, but, I’m good. I mean…vamps don’t even eat breakfast, so I don’t know what you’ve—”

  “The breakfast was made for you. Chocolate chip muffins. Biscuits and gravy. Bacon. All of your favorite things.” Because he’d wanted to tempt her.

  She spun on her heel and frowned at him. “How do you know what my favorite things are?”

  Because when he’d found her last night, he’d sent men to interview her friends. While she’d been sleeping, he’d been learning every single thing that he could about her. With just a little compulsion, her human friends had revealed everything they knew. Of course, he’d already known plenty about her. All the big secrets. When it came to Lark, Devereaux was a bit of an expert. Something he would not be revealing to her anytime soon.

  Before he could speak, Devereaux saw understanding flare in her gorgeous, emerald eyes. “Holy shit. You…you like, vamp stalked me or something.”

  Once more, Salvatore coughed.

  Lark glanced his way. “Are you sick? I didn’t think vampires got sick, but that cough doesn’t sound good.” She appeared genuinely worried. About a vampire. “I’d tell you to get some Vitamin C, but I know you can’t drink orange juice so…”

  Salvatore smiled at her. “Don’t worry. I’ll get a drink soon.” His blue eyes twinkled.

  “You are not talking about orange juice,” she accused.

  Salvatore stepped toward her. He was as tall as Devereaux, with broad shoulders and a grin that came frequently. The grin was a mask, though, because the guy was one of the deadliest and most dangerous bastards that Devereaux had ever encountered.

  That was why they were friends.

  “Not orange juice,” Salvatore agreed. “Something a little…spicier.”

  She squeezed her eyes closed. “I’m in a vamp den, and I’m hallucinating that I have fangs.”

  Not hallucinating.

  Lark’s long, thick lashes lifted as she declared, “I’m going home. It’s been real interesting, but the party is over.”

  Devereaux let her take two steps before he warned her, “Shifters will be waiting at your place. The protection you had before is gone. I told you this already. You’re fair game.”

  Her shoulders stiffened. “What protection?”

  He motioned to Salvatore and the others. This wasn’t a conversation Devereaux wanted to have with so many other vamps present. They slid silently away, and he advanced on his prey. His hand rose and curled around her shoulder. “What do you know about your father?”

  She looked back at him. “He didn’t want me.”

  Devereaux stiffened.

  “He lied to my mother. Betrayed her. When he found out that she was pregnant with me, he vanished. Just ran away.”

  So many lies.

  And he was going to tell her more. He’d known that, from the beginning, yet now Devereaux found that he was hesitant to trick her. Yes, he had to get her to do what he wanted but…

  I don’t want to lie to her. She’s been hurt enough.

  If she’d just be his queen, he’d make sure she never hurt again.

  But what if I’m the one hurting her? The thought—sudden and cold—cut right through him.

  “Dev?” Lark turned to fully face him. Her hand rose and pressed to his chest, right near his heart. A heart that beat faster when she touched him. “What’s wrong?”

  “He didn’t leave you.” His voice was gruff as Devereaux added, “He got a deal for you. Every paranormal was supposed to stay the hell away from you. No touching at all. Until you were twenty-six.”

  She blinked. Her hand fell from him and pressed to her side. To the scars he knew were there.

  “The shifters who attacked you must have been mad from hunger and captivity. They broke the accord—”

  “My mother is the one who tortured them. They thought I was doing the same.” She shook her head, and he could practically see her mind spinning. “When I was sixteen and my mother was attacked by the coyotes—they circled me. They were snarling and growling as I crouched over her body. I-I was trying to protect her. I’d gotten to the scene too late. She’d called me. Asked me to come. Told me that I had to prove myself.” Her breath came faster. “I hadn’t been on a hunt in years. By the time I found her, it was too late. She was barely alive. I covered her, and the shifters didn’t come any closer. I stayed with my body over hers until dawn. They left when the sun rose.”

  He ached for the pain she felt. Devereaux could hear the grief in her voice.

  “She whispered that I should have killed them all.” Her lips trembled. “Then she died in my arms. It was just the two of us. My father was gone. Always gone. I don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”

  Devereaux didn’t speak.

  “I don’t get why he’d work out any kind of deal for me. Especially when he never wanted me—”

  “Don’t be so sure of that,” Devereaux cut in. “Your mother didn’t always deal in truth. Not when it came to monsters.”

  Her eyes widened. Oh, hell. He’d just said the wrong thing.

  “My father was a human,” Lark said flatly.

  Was that what her mother had told her?

  “He wasn’t a monster.”

  It sounded as if Lark was trying to convince herself of that fact. Devereaux pressed his lips together. He just didn’t want to hurt her anymore.

  “I’m leaving, Dev. Get out of my way. Look, I appreciate the help you gave me. And since I gave you my blood, let’s just call it even, all right?”

  His eyes narrowed. “You don’t barter your blood with anyone else. Not ever.” If another vamp so much as tried to bite her—

  She glanced upward with a roll of her eyes. “Yeah, well, that wasn’t exactly on my to-do list, so no worries there.”

  He didn’t get out of her way. “
Your father made a deal with the paranormals. None of us could touch you, not until your twenty-sixth birthday. He wanted you to have a chance to decide for yourself just what sort of life you’d have.”

  Now she frowned at him. “Not saying I buy this story…”

  “Have I lied to you so far?” A very careful question. Because he was already twisting the truth. But sometimes, white lies were for the best.

  Her suspicious—and very cute—frown deepened. “How would he have convinced all the monsters to go along with him?”

  “He paid.” A brutal truth. “In blood. Because that’s how much you matter to him.”

  “Wait!” Now her lips had parted and surprise flashed on her face. “You just said…matter. Not mattered. As in, present tense.”

  Shit.

  “My father is alive?”

  A grim nod. Alive-ish. That didn’t truly count as a lie, did it? More like, semantics.

  “You know where he is?”

  And Devereaux saw his opening. His chance. He gave her a kind smile. “For the right price, I would even take you to him.”

  “That price…it had better not be my blood.”

  As much as he loved that delicious treat… “No, sweetheart. You want to find him? Fine. Then marry me, and I’ll take you to your father.”

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  New Year’s Resolution Number Seven: Go a little wild. You only live once.

  The vamp prince must think she was the most desperate woman on the face of the earth.

  Marry me, and I’ll take you to your father.

  To the father who’d vanished from her life when she’d been a baby? To the man who hadn’t made one single appearance in the last two and a half decades? Thanks, but no thanks.

  She peered through the blinds in her apartment. She’d hauled butt away from the freaking mansion that the vamp prince lived in. And by hauled butt—well, she’d gotten a team of vamps to drive her home. Devereaux had obviously been pissed that she’d rejected what had to be the most un-romantic marriage proposal in history, and he’d insisted that she take the vamp guards with her when she left him. Those vamps were currently stationed outside of her apartment building. Clouds were heavy in the sky, and she expected snow to start falling any moment, but the vamps didn’t seem to mind the cold.

  They were too busy guarding her. Protecting her from the paranormal threats that Devereaux had said would be closing in on her. And the threats had certainly closed in on her last night. First Charles and then the furry truck driver. Lark nibbled on her lower lip as she kept peering below. Staying in a vamp den hadn’t seemed like the best plan ever, but being on her own—with monsters closing in—yeah, that was a lose-lose situation, too. So maybe she was grateful for the vamp guards. They could stay for a while. At least until she could figure out what in the hell was happening. And the only way to do that…

  Call in some help. Some very much needed help. She grabbed a piece of chalk from a drawer in the kitchen and hurried into the narrow den. After drawing in a deep breath, she knelt and very carefully sketched out the ancient symbols on her scraped and dented floor. Then, because she knew this kind of summons required a sacrifice, Lark reached for a small pocket knife and sliced her palm. The blood dripped into the middle of the symbols and—

  “I hate being summoned. Like I’m not doing anything but sitting on my ass. Like it’s okay to interrupt every single thing that is happening in my life. Because you know, the underworld is all shits and giggles, and it’s fine and dandy to interrupt the all-powerful—”

  “Noren.”

  He stopped his tirade. His shoulders stiffened, and the hellhound turned toward her. He was in full human form, and his long, blond hair hung over a face that was really far too perfect. She’d always thought it was a cruel trick that a hellhound looked like an angel. A fallen angel, maybe?

  He shoved back his hair with one powerful hand, and his golden gaze swept over her. “Someone grew up.”

  Noren had been one of her…mistakes. When she’d been twelve, she’d watched as her mother summoned him. As long as he stayed within the confines of the chalk drawn for the spell, he was no threat. Magic—and a hunter’s blood—would hold him in the prison. Her mother had intended to force information from Noren. She’d vowed to keep him prisoner for as long as it took. And as she’d waited for him to talk, her mother had burned him with a red-hot poker. Turned out, a hellhound’s skin was particularly susceptible to the fires found in the mortal realm.

  Lark had hated the smell of burning flesh. And she’d hated the way he’d clamped his lips together and refused to make a sound. She’d known that he’d suffer and die without sharing anything with her mother. A needless death. So, at the first opportunity, Lark had erased part of the chalk. She’d freed him.

  Her hand fell to her side. Her mother had not been pleased.

  “Lark, Lark, Lark…” Noren smiled at her, then his gaze fell to the floor around him. The chalk prison. His nostrils flared and she knew he was inhaling the scent of her blood. “Playing your mother’s game now, are you?”

  “I had to use the blood in order to summon you.” Deliberately, she approached the circle. With her right shoe—a shoe that she’d gotten from Devereaux—she erased part of the markings. “But I’m not holding you captive. I just wanted to ask you a few questions.”

  He didn’t move. “And you thought I would answer these questions…because my heart is so full of goodness?”

  Ha. Not likely. “I saved you once, so I thought you might want to even the score.”

  His smile slowly faded away. A sigh slipped from his lips. “Happy birthday, Lark.”

  A chill skated down her spine. “How do you know today is my birthday?”

  “All kinds of secrets drift down to my world. Isn’t that why you wanted to ask me questions? Because you thought I could tell you all the dark and dangerous things you’ve always wanted to know?”

  Don’t show fear. That was supposed to be the number one rule when dealing with a hellhound. But even if you didn’t show the fear, the hellhounds could smell terror. It was their favorite scent. “Why are the paranormals hunting me now?”

  He crept closer to the edge of the containment marks, closer to the space her foot had just erased. “Because the agreement is over. You’re twenty-six, and all bets are off. Some will want you dead. Some will want you hurt. And some…” His golden stare drifted over her. “Some will just want you. Better pick your allies very, very carefully.”

  She backed up a step. Then two more. “Who is my father? Where is he?”

  Noren slipped out of containment. Rolled back his shoulders. “Sweet freedom.” Claws stretched from his fingertips. Long, razor-sharp, black claws. “Notice any new changes in yourself, dear Lark? Increased strength? Speed?”

  She hadn’t noticed the strength yet, but the speed—definitely. “Hunter powers finally kicking in?” Her voice held a hopeful edge.

  Noren shook his head. “Try again. This time, think more of your father’s side.”

  Before, she’d asked who her father was. Now, with her heart racing, she whispered, “What is he?”

  Noren bounded toward her. His fingers closed around her shoulders, and he yanked her up against him. “Lark, Lark, Lark. I sure have always enjoyed the smell of your fear.” His golden eyes were glowing. His head lowered toward hers—

  Two things happened at once.

  Item one…Her front door flew inward. Literally just burst off its hinges and flew across the room. Devereaux filled the doorway, looking pissed as all hell and ever so deadly.

  Item two…Even as Lark’s head turned toward the doorway—and Devereaux—she shoved her hands against Noren’s chest. Her shove sent him hurtling across the room and thudding into her wall. His body knocked through the sheetrock and white dust fluttered around him.

  “Super strength,” Noren muttered as he stumbled to his feet and dusted himself off. “Check.”

  In the next instant, Devereaux was in
front of the hellhound. “What are you doing here?”

  She bounded to Devereaux’s side.

  Noren glanced over at her. Smirked. “Lark summoned me. Guess her taste isn’t for cold vamp corpses. She likes the hotter beasts, and you don’t get hotter than a hellhound.”

  Devereaux’s fist slammed into the hound’s jaw. Once more, Noren flew into her wall. Dent number two.

  “Stop!” Lark cried. “I need to get the deposit back on this place when I move!”

  Noren laughed.

  “I’m being serious, hellhound!”

  Devereaux caught her hand in his. His face was carved into hard, angry lines as he demanded, “You summoned him? After I told you how much danger the paranormals posed to you?”

  Noren was on his feet once again. And dusting off his shoulders. “Lark and I—we go way back. In her time of need, she wanted someone she could trust.”

  A growl built in Devereaux’s throat. His enraged gaze stayed on her face. “You have a…past with this hellhound?”

  She nodded.

  Devereaux’s fangs were out. If possible, the rage in his eyes flared even hotter.

  Was he jealous? Or just having a freak-out? Maybe both? “Settle down,” she ordered him, amazed that her voice sounded semi-calm and in control. “I saved him once so he owed me. I wanted more intel and summoning Noren seemed like a good plan.”

  “Summoning him is never a good plan,” Devereaux snapped back. “And he’s not contained. The last time he was free—the bastard terrorized the East Coast.”

  Uh, oh. Her gaze cut to Noren.

  He winked at her. “Yep, dear Lark, that was your doing, too. But in my defense—I mean, in our defense—I only terrorized the assholes who deserved it. You don’t play with the darkness without giving up a pound or two of flesh.”

  Devereaux’s hold tightened on her. “You freed him before?”

  The temperature in the room seemed to heat up. “I owe her.” Suddenly, all of the mockery was gone from Noren’s face and voice. “If Lark wants to choose a different ally, if she wants to tell your royal assholeness to step aside, then I’ll be her guard.”

 
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