Authors: Elisa Paige
By Elisa Paige
It wasn’t that she feared death. She just despised losing.
Genetically engineered warrior Sephti would go to any lengths to destroy the fae that made her their killing machine. Finally escaping servitude, she has meticulously planned revenge against her former masters, and time is running out. The last thing she needs is to be taken captive by a man who hates the fae as much as she does—and thinks she’s one of them.
Sephti learns her captor is Koda, an ancient Native American guardian determined to save his people from annihilation by the fae. Though he seems to loathe everything about Sephti, she can’t help but notice his incredible strength and powerful sensual allure.
As their distrust turns to desire, Sephti and Koda become allies. Their love will have to withstand their enemies’ supernatural onslaught—and Sephti’s planned suicide mission against the fae…
I feel as though it was just last week I was attending 2010 conferences and telling authors and readers who were wondering what was next for Carina Press, “we’ve only been publishing books for four months, give us time” and now, here it is, a year later. Carina Press has been bringing you quality romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and more for over twelve months. This just boggles my mind.
But though we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary (with champagne and chocolate, of course) we’re not slowing down. Every week brings something new for us, and we continue to look for ways to grow, expand and improve. This summer, we’ll continue to bring you new genres, new authors and new niches—and we plan to publish the unexpected for years to come.
So whether you’re reading this in the middle of a summer heat wave, looking to escape from the hot summer nights and sultry afternoons, or whether you’re reading this in the dead of winter, searching for a respite from the cold, months after I’ve written it, you can be assured that our promise to take you on new adventures, bring you great stories and discover new talent remains the same.
We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected]. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.
Executive Editor, Carina Press
I am grateful to so many people.
Thank you to my editor, Melissa Johnson, for your enthusiasm, insight and guidance.
Thank you to all the generous individuals who read the beta drafts: my big brother, Bob, whose faith and humor are an inspiration; JB and Suzanne, who always remember to tell me what I’m doing right; and Kelly, who never fails to make time for friends. As well, thank you to my parents for your support…even if you do wish I’d write something “normal.”
Thank you to Craig Bennight, a twelve-year Dallas Police veteran, for his insights into a darker, scarier version of the city than the one I inhabit. Any mistakes are solely my own.
Another huge thank you to Angela James for giving a new author an incredible opportunity. Enormous thanks to the cover artist, Frauke Spanuth, and to Aideen O’Leary-Chung for her talented cover art direction. Thank you, too, to the truckload of behind-the-scenes Carina folks I’ve not yet met.
Thank you to Abby for being my first and most jubilantly ecstatic celebrant. You give my life purpose, Sweet Pea.
And my most heartfelt thanks to readers and reviewers for spending time with my imaginary friends!
In all things, for Abby. When you’re old enough to read your mom’s books, I really, really hope you enjoy them!
Cloaked by shadows and driven by my instincts to remain unseen, I watched the massacre unfold on a charming residential street in Dallas.
My initial elation at locating the immortals I’d tracked for three weeks morphed into mind-numbing panic at finding them under siege. Then my brain registered what my eyes were seeing and relief swept through me. The vampires who lived in the small Dallas house, the ones I so desperately needed to ally with, were beating the living hell out of the psychotic immortals attacking them.
Having driven myself to the limits of physical endurance, I leaned heavily against a large oak and took a rare moment to enjoy the one-sided fight. Hope warred with exhaustion as I let myself wonder if those I’d tracked across four states could provide the help I so badly needed.
Like any war veteran would, I watched the battle with a critical eye. The attackers’ tattoos and clothes confirmed the same pattern I’d noticed in Atlanta and New Orleans—these newly made vampires originated from the lowest ranks of human gang members and criminals. Fighting with the mindless ferocity of rabid animals, they depended upon their numbers to succeed when their pathetic skills could not. I curled my lip with disdain. Their clumsiness was an affront to the bloody art of war.
Watching the defenders fight, however, brought my heart to my throat. Like killer angels, their movements were sure, lethal and exquisitely beautiful. I stood mesmerized with admiration as a handsome dark-haired immortal—the one called James—tore through three changelings with astonishing grace and economy of motion. A lovely female named Evie fought by his side, moving with him like they were partners in a graceful, deadly dance. There was an odd blue glow limning her slim form, as if some kind of energy sought to escape her hold.
While the strangely silent battle spilled from the tidy front yard onto the sidewalk, I reached into the pocket of my black leather jacket and winced to feel just a handful of jelly beans left. I’d need way more sugar than this before the night was done. My hypermetabolism burned calories like a hummingbird in flight and I’d been going full-out for far too long.
Standing there under the tree, seeing from their lethality that the immortals whose aid I sought were even more dangerous than I’d dared to dream, I felt an unaccustomed smile stretch my lips. Only having more candy on hand could’ve made the moment better—there’s nothing like always being a few hours from starvation to establish priorities.
Without warning, the street lights popped, plunging the quaint neighborhood into pools of impenetrable darkness. Alarmed, I shoved away from the tree. Vampires could see at night as well as I could, but it wasn’t to confuse the defenders that the sodium bulbs had been killed.
It was to give entree to new attackers, the genuinely nasty kind that can’t tolerate light.
Extending my senses, I probed the deepest shadows as the hair at my neck stood up. Sure enough, low-slung forms seethed out from under parked cars and thick shrubs. Grinding my teeth with rising fury, I counted twenty bodach taking form and padding out into the night. The size and shape of black bears, the creatures were eyeless, furred, fae inventions—a ghastly outcome of supernatural genetic experimentation. The vile beasts’ serrated teeth more closely resembled a shark’s than any land animal’s and their two-inch claws carried a flesh-melting toxin that acted on contact.
Until recently bodach couldn’t harm vampires, since only vampire teeth and blades made of ehrlindriel metal could penetrate the immortals’ skin. But until recently the bastard fae hadn’t been capping bodach teeth and claws—a gruesome process of applying red-hot, liquid ehrlindriel that almost made me pity the creatures that survived the experience.
Four bodach passed me without even a sideways glance, their charnel-house stench making me wish my senses were not so acute. Like many of the nastier fae creations, bodach avoided my kind. Honor among killer mutants, I supposed. An extension of professional courtesy.
I shrugged internally, trying to convince myself I was indifferent to my appalling heritage. As usual, I didn’t believe my own lie.
Popping a couple of jelly beans in my mouth, I chewed and swallowed quickly. While the vampire-on-vampire fight was all but over, I knew the bodach would time their attack for when my immortals thought all their enemies were dead.
But I’d be
if I’d lose my one chance at redemption.
Stepping from beneath the oak tree, I allowed myself to be seen long enough for my potential allies to notice. The six vampires whirled toward me, baring their fangs and crouching, battle-ready.
“Look to the shadows!” I called.
The handsome male lifted an aristocratic brow. “We know the bodach are there, but they cannot hurt us.”
I laughed humorlessly. “These can.”
Before he could respond, I shaded my form again, grinning at the vampires’ astonishment when I disappeared.
Unsheathing my long black daggers—an assassin’s finest tools—I glided invisibly on silent feet toward the gathering bodach. Like night itself, I flowed through the beasts, scything them before me. So what that they’d left me alone—I bore a special hatred for the things and had no compunctions about the slaughter.
As their cries of pain and the acrid scent of their yellow, viscous blood filled my head, my stomach twisted into a knot and my pulse sped up. Trying to slow my suddenly accelerating breathing even as the pace of my deadly attack increased, I knew I’d be in trouble if I lost control now. I had to get a grip. But fighting and staying unseen burned through my waning energy at a ridiculous rate and I was already weary. My mental shields faltered under the primitive rage growing within me, turning my vision red as fury pounded in my brain. All I could think about was the desperate need to ally with these vampires, how
hinged upon it and how the damn bodach were trying to destroy them.
A roaring sound filled my head and I felt my form solidify. Visible to both the immortals and the creatures who, until now, didn’t know what was killing them, I blacked out.
Waking up after one of these episodes never failed to surprise me since the berserker frenzies were hard-wired into my brain to ensure total destruction. Mine and those I set about to kill.
Genetically programmed to be implacable killing machines, the fae used my kind for one-way missions—they figured they made us, they could make more. Because bitterns live very short, brutally violent lives, the geneticists get a lot of practice.
I’m the one exception.
I’ve awakened countless times, bleeding and surrounded by corpses, but without a clue why they had to die. Every single death weighed heavily on me, both fueling my hatred for what I was and for those who’d made me this way.
Only one thing could put a stop to the insanity. The vampires I’d tracked held the key.
Slowly regaining awareness and forcing my brain to function, I realized I was lying on a familiar carpeted surface that smelled of dusty concrete and unoccupied space. It should’ve worried me that I was inexplicably back in my Dallas hiding place—a long-deserted highrise office building—but my head hurt too much to bother. It felt like I’d broken a couple of ribs and my left shoulder thudded with the residual ache I knew came after a dislocation was popped back into place. I wondered who’d fixed it, grateful it’d been done while I was out because it meant I couldn’t remember the agony now. I also had to wonder how they’d managed it, since the feral me wouldn’t have been the least cooperative.
Hunger twisted my gut. I’d need to consume major calories soon or my body would shut down in a last-ditch effort to save itself. Minor pains and twinges in a dozen places rounded out the internal inventory, but nothing I wouldn’t heal from in a day or two, courtesy of supernatural bioengineering.
“Open your eyes, fae,” a male voice snarled. “I know you’re awake.”
Keeping my lids stubbornly closed, I snarled back, “I’m not fae.”
There was the sense of swift, violent motion and I flung myself into a roll, rocketing to my feet in one fluid move. Crouched and ready, I glared into furious black eyes topping well over six feet of solid muscle. The man’s tawny skin, proud cheekbones and long midnight hair gathered at his nape pegged him for Native American, but I had no idea which nation. With a long gash down one cheek and another across his flat belly, he looked more than a little beaten up and I was pretty sure I’d done the honors during my blackout. That he survived the experience said a lot about his fighting skills, and despite myself I was impressed.
Like any predator’s, my instincts concentrated on the man’s piercing eyes. Secondary to this but also critical were facial expression, body language and muscle tension, shifting of weight, gestures, tone of voice…even heart rate and respiration. Gauging threat and intent was as natural to me as breathing. And just as effortless.
But this guy confused me. On the surface, he was pissed and extraordinarily hostile. Underneath…he was like quicksilver.
As I watched, the man closed half of the twenty feet between us. I was so intrigued by his deadly grace and the mystery he presented I forgot that he posed a threat. There was something very sensual about him, from his lush lips to his square jaw and the strength evident in every line of his body. He was masculine beauty personified, as if a master sculptor had chiseled his perfect form from living stone, then breathed life and warmth and carnal sexuality into him.
Again halving the distance between us until he stood just five feet away, the man gave me a perplexed look, as if he couldn’t understand why I’d allowed him so close. Dimly, I kinda wondered that myself, even as I noticed he was wearing what had been a nice white dress shirt before it got sliced up and splattered with blood—his, not mine, by the scent of it. His faded jeans showed evidence of an energetic fight, what with the torn-out pocket and the eight-inch slice running down the front of a taut thigh. Even battered, his clothes hugged his lithe, athletic frame in ways I shouldn’t have noticed. Especially when it was the enormous knife in his right hand that ought to have caught my eye first.
Not to mention the fact that he gave every appearance of knowing how to use it and really, really wanting to.
With my sharp denial still ringing on the air between us—nothing pisses me off like being called
—the man’s lip curled as his gaze deliberately tracked across my features. Cursing my own carelessness, I slammed back into place the glamour that kept hidden my pointed ears, silver eyes, small sharp teeth and alabaster skin. I had their ethereally lithe build, although I was bustier than the average fae female and four inches shorter than their usual six-foot height. Even my shoulder-length hair and the way it trapped light in its blue-black depths screamed
and I had a feeling he could hear my impossibly fast heartbeat.
The guy smirked. “Looks like a fae, stinks like a fae…” Before he finished the thought, he had a hand around my throat, lifting me without effort over his head. I never even saw him move. “Then it’s a fucking fae.”
Fury churned through my veins and I faded into shadow, but his grip remained impossibly locked around my neck, all but strangling me. I couldn’t figure out how he was holding me when my form was as insubstantial as mist. Clearly, the guy wasn’t human. His speed, strength and the fact he could grab me made that much clear. Otherwise, all I could figure out was that he wasn’t vampire, so he was of no use to my plans. He had my attention, however, not only for his stunning looks but because he was currently throttling the life out of me. For the first time in a very long while, I was concerned.
It wasn’t that I feared death. I despised losing.
“Don’t ever…call me…that…again,” I rasped past the constriction of his grip. Glaring down at the enigmatic jackass, I pressed the garrote I’d slipped from my innocent-looking bracelet against his throat. “Now get your…damn hands…off me.”
“Clever.” His eyes flared with rage. “I thought I got all your weapons.”
I barked a laugh, fighting off the panic and fury that being restrained always awakened in me. The last thing I needed was another berserker frenzy. Sucking in a much needed breath of air, I wheezed, “Bet you’re…asking…yourself…what else you…overlooked.”
A muscle leapt in his jaw and I could see him calculating whether or not I’d slice his head off with the thin ehrlindriel wire. Something in my face must have given him an unwelcome answer because I was suddenly sailing through the air.
My reflexes are catlike—genetic engineering at its best, that’s me—but I was injured, starving and exhausted. I had the unhelpful thought that if I hadn’t been such an idiot and pushed myself so hard the last few weeks, this fight would be going very differently.
I slammed into the far wall and kinda slid down it to collapse on the dirty carpet, my head snapping back and pain bouncing around inside my skull. I wasn’t pleased to note that he’d snagged my garrote before tossing me like a rag doll, and despite my bluster I was now unarmed.
“Something’s changed,” he said in a perplexed, angry tone as he stood over me.
I just looked at him, waiting for my ears to stop ringing and idly wondering if I had a concussion. Again.
His hostile eyes bored into me. “Why are you talking now when you refused to before?”
I tried not to wince. “Before?”
“Don’t be a wise-ass. You were insane, attacking everything that moved.”
Dreading the answer but having to ask anyway, I whispered, “Did I kill anybody?”
He went still. “You don’t know?”
Lifting my left hand to eye level, I gingerly worked the fingers, not surprised when the last two wouldn’t bend. My voice strained, I pressed, “Except for the bodach, did anyone die?”
The guy considered me and I had the sudden conviction that his keen eyes missed nothing. “No. But not for lack of your trying.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding and sensed his awareness of my immense relief.
His eyes narrowed. “Are you going to answer my question?”