Authors: Cynthia Eden
Once Bitten, Twice Burned
Burn for Me
Angel of Darkness
Angel in Chains
Never Cry Wolf
The Wolf Within
I'll Be Slaying You
Hotter After Midnight
And read more from Cynthia Eden in these collections:
Howl for It
The Naughty List
Belong to the Night
When He Was Bad
Everlasting Bad Boys
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
I need to offer a round of thanks to so many people.
First, my readersâthank you for all of the support that you have given to me. You are absolutely incredible.
To Eden's Agentsâwhat would I do without you? You're all amazing!
For my fabulous editor, Esi Sogahâthank you for your wonderful editorial insight. Working with you has been a pleasure.
lease stop, Daddy. Please!” The little girl twisted and struggled desperately against the thick straps that held her down on the cold, metal table.
“Now, Cassie, be a good girl and don't fight.” Her father loomed above her, wearing his white lab coat. He had a mask over his face, and all she could see were his glittering eyes. “This is going to make you stronger. Don't you want to be stronger?”
He was going to put the medicine in her again. She could see the needle. It glinted under the bright light. So long and sharp.
“I-I don't want to be stronger,” she whispered. She wanted out of that room. Away from him.
Far, far away.
“There are monsters in the world, Cassie. We have to stop them.” His voice had hardened. His voice was always hard and cold.
He looked like a monster. With the light all around him. With the white mask over his face. White gloves on his hands.
Tears leaked down her cheeks as he pushed the needle into her arm.
She screamed. It felt like fire was pouring into her veins. Her body started to thrash and jerk on the table.
He sighed. “That's why I had to use the straps. I couldn't have you hurting yourself.”
Her screams grew louder.
“Don't worry. We only have a few more weeks of injections to go.”
She kept screaming. She couldn't stop. She was
Her head banged against the table. Over and over. Black dots danced before her eyes.
“Once the transformation is complete, you'll be our weapon. So perfectly cloaked in a child's innocence.”
Her screams stopped. She choked, trying to pull in a breath, but she couldn't get air. Her gaze flew around the small lab. Her daddy's lab. He usually made her stay out of the lab. But he'd brought her in todayâeven when she'd begged to go outside.
He was staring down at her. His eyes . . . looked worried. He never looked that way.
“Breathe, Cassie,” his voice snapped.
Machines started to beep around her.
“The dose was too high!” her father yelled.
The light seemed to be fading.
He'd injected her with something else. She had just made out the glint of a needle before it was shoved into her arm.
“Her heart has stopped beating.” A woman's voice. A nurse. Mrs. May. She sometimes gave Cassie lollipops when her father wasn't looking. Mrs. May had always seemed so nice.
But she had strapped her down minutes before. Usually, one of the men would strap her down. Not sweet Mrs. May. Not . . .
“Cassie!” She couldn't see her father anymore, but at least the fire had stopped burning her body. She didn't feel the fire anymore. Didn't feel anything.
Cassie heard nothing more.
Cassie sucked in a desperate breath. Then she screamed because she
“She's back! Dammit, she's back!”
That was . . . Daddy's voice. She tried to see him, but the light above her was too bright. So Cassie looked down . . . and saw the blood that covered her body. “Dad . . . dy?”
Then he was there. Lowering his face toward hers. “It's going to be all right, sweetheart. I took care of you.”
She'd never seen him smile like that before.
“You're going to be so strong now. So strong . . .”
She didn't feel strong.
“You'll change the world. You'll
change the world . . .
Cassie could only lay there and feel the wet warmth of her blood. The straps cut her, but they didn't hurt nearly as bad as . . . as the stitches that her father was putting into her skin.
But Cassie didn't cry out again. There was no point. Daddy wasn't going to let her go.
She turned her head. More nurses were around her. Mrs. May even brushed a soft, gloved hand over her cheek.
Cassie held her body as still as she could and wished, so very badly, that her father hadn't brought her back.
Because in those few moments, she'd enjoyed death.
Cassie crept quietly down the hallway. Someone new had been brought into the facility. She'd heard the raised voices. The thud of footsteps.
Her daddy had said that his program was growing.
Her daddy scared her.
When she saw him leaving the room at the end of the hall, she ducked back into the shadows. He passed her flanked by two big men with guns, and he never looked her way.
Her hands were shaking so she balled them into fists. Then, her bare feet making no sound, Cassie slipped down the hallway.
She opened the door to the last room, but no one was inside. Stairs were in the corner. Stairs leading down below.
Cassie bit her lip. She wasn't supposed to be there. Her daddy had said . . .
Daddy's bad. He hurt me.
She went down the stairs. Then she saw him.
Big, dark. In a . . . cage?
His head jerked up, and he spun toward her. “Who are you?” the man in the cage demanded. His voice scared her. It was like an animal's rumbling growl.
But she crept closer to him.
He stiffened as his dark gaze raked over her. “Why is there blood on you?”
“He killed me.” She understood exactly what had happened. And what
happen. “He's going to kill you, too.”
The man came toward the heavy bars that separated them. “Do you want to help me, little girl?”
“Go back upstairs. See if you can find a key to open the cage andâ”
Her fisted hand opened. She'd already taken the key.
Sometimes, her daddy didn't realize how smart she really was.
She put the key in the lock. Heard the
“I don't want him to kill anyone else.” Soft, sad.
The man came out of the cage. He bent before her. Stared into her eyes. “Who are you?” he asked again.
His eyes were so dark. Just like the darkness that had claimed her when she died.
“Cassie . . . Cassandra.”
“Come with me, Cassandra. We're both getting out of here.” His fingers wrapped around hers.
His hand felt too warm.
“I want to get out,” she whispered, nodding quickly. “Please, help me.”
His fingers tightened around hers. “I will.”
She heard the thud of footsteps, coming down the stairs.
“Cassie!” Her father's shout. “Cassie . . .
what have you done
?” He was there. He wasn't alone. More men with guns. Always . . . the guns.
“Shoot him,” her father ordered as he glared at the man beside Cassie.
“No!” she yelled.
But they didn't listen to her. They never did. Bullets flew by her. They thudded into the body of the man who'd been caged.
Hard hands reached for her and yanked her away from him even as his body fell.
“No!” She kicked and twisted and clawed, but she couldn't get back to him. “Stop!”
“Move away. The fire's coming . . .” Her father's words. Heavy with an edge that sounded like he was excited. His smile made her stomach twist.
Her eyes returned to the manâdead now. Just like she'd been on her daddy's table.
“Don't worry,” her father told her, finally glancing her way. “He'll come back, too.”
A few minutes later, the man's body began to burn right in front of her eyes. Fire raced across his skin.
“I told you, Cassie,” her father said as he stroked her hair. “Monsters are real.”
The man continued to burn.
He was right. There was a monster in the room. But it wasn't the man who was starting to rise to his feetâeven as he burned. No, Cassie knew the real monster was the man smiling and hugging her.
And one day, she would stop him.
t was hard for Cassandra Armstrong to love a man who didn't remember her.
It was even harder to walk into the seediest paranormal bar that existed on the backstreets of Chicago and discover said man in the arms of some trashy vamp.
Cassie's eyes narrowed as she stared at Dante. He was in the back corner, probably trying to hide in the shadows, except the guy wasn't exactly the type to blend well.
Too big. Too dangerous. Too sexy.
And that vamp had her fangs way too close to his throat for Cassie's peace of mind.
Cassie shoved her way through the crowd, muttering apologies as she bumped into the various paranormal beingsâand the humansâwho filled Taboo. A few years ago, the paranormals had stopped pretending they didn't exist and gotten wild with their coming out party. Since then, clubs like Taboo had popped up in all the major cities in the U.S. and around the world.
Dante stood against the back wall. The vampire, a woman with long red hair and a way-too-short skirt, had her hands all over him. Blood-red nails, of course. Typical. The redhead was arching up on her toes and putting her mouth close to Dante's neck.
“Okay. You're just going to need to get away from him,” Cassie snapped as she closed in on them.
The vampire froze.
Dante tilted his head to the side and glanced curiously over at Cassie. Was there any recognition in his dark gaze?
Of course not. To him, she could have been any stranger off the street.
Don't let it hurt. Don't.
Dante couldn't help what he was.
But he could get the hell away from that trashy vamp.
The vampire spun toward Cassie and hissed.
Wait. Hissed, really? Cassie barely controlled an eye roll. “Get lost,” the vamp told her, baring her fangs. “He's mine.”
Cassie's hands were clenched into fists, and it took all of her self-control not to swing out at the chick. “No, he's not.” Said very definitely. She looked past the vampire. “Dante, we need to leave.”
That's right. I know your name. Why oh why can't you know something about me? Anything?
But that was the way it always was for them.
Cassie kept holding Dante's gaze. “Trust me on this. You don't want her sinking those fangs into you.”
His blood was special, and rather addictive to vampires. If the redhead got one sip, she wouldn't be backing away from him anytime soon.
Then I'd have to stake her. Oh, what a pity.
“Dante, we canâ” Cassie's words ended in a gasp.
The vampire had lunged forward and wrapped her hand around Cassie's throat. With that one hand, the vampire lifted her off her feet. “Maybe I'll just sink my fangs into you, bitch.” Then she leaned her head in close to Cassie and whispered, “Because no one gets between me and my meal.”
“Y-you . . . don't . . . want . . .” Cassie tried to choke out the words but it was hard to speak, um, what with the vamp actually
her and all. She was trying to tell the redhead . . .
You don't want to put your fangs in me. That would be a huge mistake.
But the vamp wasn't giving her the time to talk.
“Let her go.” Dante's voice. Cold. Flat. And as deliciously deep as she remembered.
The vampire's eyes narrowed as she stared at Cassie with a mix of disgust and rage. “You're right. We don't need her. We don'tâ”
“I said . . .
let her go.
” The threat in Dante's voice had goose bumps rising on Cassie's arms. “And I meant do it
The vamp dropped her.
Cassie landed on her ass.
Figured. She'd never been the graceful type.
The redhead turned toward Dante. “Ready to leave?” she purred to him.
Purring. Hissing. The vamp was so annoying.
“You leave.” Dante sent her a look that could have frozen a desert. “I'm not done here.”
“And I'm not your fucking meal,” he added, a touch of heat whipping through his words.
So he had heard that part. Cassie had thought his enhanced hearing would pick it up.
The redhead glared at Dante, then at Cassie. There was a promise of retribution in the vamp's eyes.
Ah, yes, another day, another enemy. Cassie swallowed and rose slowly to her feet.
“I'll see you again,” the vampire murmured. The words were directed at Cassie, and they sure sounded like a threat.
Wonderful. As if she needed any more threats in her life.
Then the vampire was gone. Probably off to find another meal.
“Who are you?” His voice was a low rumble of sound, one that sent a few more shivers dancing over her skin. Maybe some peopleâokay,
peopleâwould find that deep rumble scary.
To her, it was sexy. Because of Dante, she'd always had a thing for men with deep voices.
She squared her shoulders and stared up at him. “Did you burn again?” She'd seen him just a few months before in New Orleans.
He'd saved her life then. Had actually seemed to remember her . . .
But there was no recognition on his face now.
She stared up at him. Those high cheekbones, that square jaw. The firm lips that she'd never seen smile, despite all of her attempts to make him happy. His eyes were dark, so dark they appeared almost as black as the thick hair that hung a little too long and grazed the back of his shirt.
Those eyes were watchful, guarded, as they swept over her. “Burn?” Dante repeated carefully.
In the next second, he lunged forwardâhis move faster than the vamp's had been. His handâbig, strong, hotâwrapped around her arm and pulled her close against his chest. “Now just how the hell would you know about that?”
Cassie wasn't as tall as the redhead. Not even close. She was barely skirting five foot five, so she had to tilt her head back to hold his gaze. Dante was at least six foot three, and the guy was built along some very muscled dimensions.
His hold tightened. “Answer me.”
His fingers seemed to heat even more, and she knew his power was coursing through his blood. If she wasn't careful, he might burn her. Just how much control would he have then?
“Please.” Cassie kept her voice even with an extreme effort. “I'm not here to hurt you.” No, she was there to beg for his help. If he'd remembered her, even a little, that begging would have gone over much better.
Since he seemed to not know her at all . . .
His gaze swept over face, then . . . narrowed on her mouth. His left hand lifted, and his index finger reached out and lightly touched her lower lip.
Cassie stopped breathing. Her body was far too tuned to his. The man had pretty much ruined her for any other guy.
Not that Dante was a man. He was much, much more.
That was the name he'd been given during his captivity. A captivity that she had been a part of.
His finger lightly grazed across her bottom lip. Just that touch had her nipples tightening and her whole body aching for him. But it wasn't the time. Definitely not the place. She had a mission to complete.
His head bent toward her, and Cassie wondered if Dante was about to kiss her. She even arched up to meet him halfway.
But he shook his head, and his hand fell back to his side. So much for the moment.
Cassie cleared her throat. “The burn must be fresh. Your memory usually comes back within a week or so after your rising.”
His face seemed to turn to stone.
was the keyword. Dante had been through so much in the last few years that his memory was a very brittle thing. So was his sanity, a situation that made him a walking, talking nightmare for many.
“You must have been attacked,” she whispered. Attacked . . . and killed. Because death was the only wayâ
He lifted her up and tossed her over his shoulder.
Cassie yelped, totally not expecting that move. She shoved her hands against his assâum, a very nice assâand pushed herself up so she could see around her.
Some of the club's patrons were looking at her, amusement on their faces. They weren't exactly the kind to help a lady in distress. The redheaded vampire was staring her way.
her way, rather.
And Dante was stalking away with her, his grip on her legs unbreakable.
Okay, so that was one way to get his attention.
She heard the sound of shattering wood. Had he just smashed a door? Sounded like he had. Cassie tried to crane around and see where they were going. It looked like they were headed inside some kind of back room. Stacks of boxes and bottles of alcohol lined the shelves.
“Get the hell out of here!” Dante's snarled order.
Three bodies ran past her, fast.
The world spun a bit, and Cassie found herself sprawled on top of a wooden table. Dante held one of her wrists in each of his hands as he stood between her legs.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“My name won't matter to you.” She barely breathed the words. “If you rose recentlyâ”
“C-Cassie Armstrong. Cassandra . . .”
His eyelids flickered. “Cassandra.” He said her name as if he were tasting it.
Please, remember me.
There had been so many times over the years, when she was sure that he did remember her, but then the tortures would start again. Torture and death.
He'd lose the memory of her, and she'd have to try so hard to get close to him again. To
An endless cycle that left her hurting inside.
“I've dreamed about you,” he whispered. His hold was an unbreakable grip on her wrists.
At his confession, her heartbeat picked up and hope blossomed inside of her. Finally, finally, he'dâ
“In my dreams”âa muscle flexed along his jawâ“you kill me, Cassie Armstrong.”
“I told you. I'm not here to hurt you.”
killed me before, haven't you?”
Cassie knew she had to be careful. She wasn't like him. Dante could die, again and again, but he would just come back from each death.
He'd rise from the ashes and be born again.
While she would justâwell, die. There would be no coming back for her.
With a thought, he could incinerate her. The heat that warmed her skin could turn into a blazing inferno at any second.
“Last night, I dreamed about you.” His words were a low growl as he leaned closer to her.
The noise from the bar drifted into the room. The blaring beat of music. The scents of sex, blood, and booze.
“You stared right at me, then you stabbed me.”
His bad memories weren't going to make things any easier.
“So maybe you should tell me why I shouldn't just pay you back for that right now.” His breath blew lightly over the sensitive skin of her neck. “And end
She shook her head, sending her long hair sliding over her shoulders. “Please . . .”
“Oh, I like it when you beg.”
Actually, he did. But that was another story.
“So you've had dreams.” Cassie started talking, fast, because she had seen him incinerate a man before. She didn't want that same fate. “Well, I'm your key. I know you. Every dark spot in your mind? I can shine the light and show youâ”
His mouth was just inches from hers. Inches? More like
inch. “What are you going to show me?”
“Everything,” she whispered, promised. “I can tell you the secrets of your life. I can tell you
you are, if you'll just trust me.”
His gaze searched hers. Some people thought that his eyes were just darkâmirroring his black soul, but they were wrong. There were flecks of gold hidden in his eyes. You just had to look hard and deep enough to see them.
“Why should I trust a woman who's killed me before?”
“Because I've saved you, too.” She'd risked so much to save him. “Believe it or not, you actually
“I don't believe it.”
Her lips trembled.
His gaze dropped once more to her mouth.
“Dante . . .”
He kissed her.
She hadn't been expecting the move, and when his lips closed over hers, shock froze her for a moment. Then she realizedâ
Her lips parted eagerly for him, and the wall that she'd built to hold back her need for him started to fracture. His tongue pushed into her mouth. Not sampling, but taking, and it was just like she remembered. He kissed her, she wanted. Lust tore through her, and her wrists twisted in his grip because she wanted to touch him.
His head lifted. His eyes blazed down at her, the gold starting to heat. “I remember . . . your mouth. Your taste.”
She'd never been able to forget his kiss. He'd been the first man that she ever kissed. The first to make her feel like she belonged to someone.
A someone who sometimes seemed to hate her.
“You can trust me,” she whispered, desperate to make him believe her.
He gave a hard shake of his head. “No, that's the last thing I can do.” He moved away from her, leaping back.
For an instant, she didn't move. His eyes were on her, sweeping from the top of her hair down to her small sandals. He seemed confused. Yeah, well, so was she.
Don't kiss me and jerk away.
She didn't have the damn plague.
“I woke up a week ago,” he told her quietly, his voice still making her ache. “In an alley that had been scorched. I was naked, and there were ashes all around me.”
Her heart beat faster as she straightened on the table. “What happened to me?” he demanded.