“Please! Don’t kill him!” Keira McDonough’s scream, high and desperate, rang out across the crowded chamber.
Her cry cut through the noise as easily as the silver blade that had just sliced into his chest. The blade that had stopped right at Alerac O’Neill’s heart.
The men around him hesitated. No, these were not men. They were monsters. Vampires, hiding behind the guise of mere mortals. They wanted his blood. Both to drink it and to see it staining the stone floor beneath his feet as he died.
Perhaps that dark wish was only fair, considering the fact that he wanted their blood, too. And I’ll have it. Alerac wouldn’t meet death without taking those bastards with him.
But then she was there. Keira blond hair whirled around her pale face as she shoved her way through the throng of vampires. They growled and flashed their fangs at her, but Keira didn’t stop. She didn’t fear the vampires gathered there.
“Lorcan…” She stared—her eyes wide and so damn blue that it almost hurt to look into them—at the man who’d just thrust that silver knife into Alerac’s chest. “Don’t do this. Please, I’m begging you!”
Keira should never beg. Especially not for his life.
Among her kind, she was a princess. A treasure. One that he’d tried to take.
“Don’t,” Alerac gritted out the word even as smoke rose from his chest. “Don’t you beg him for anything.” The silver blade burned, destroyed—that was its purpose. It was a weapon meant to be used against his kind.
Another monster, hiding under the guise of a man.
Only his beast was far more vicious than most could imagine.
Keira’s lips trembled, and she shot a quick glance his way before focusing on Lorcan once more. “I’ll take his punishment.”
The great room became dead silent. Every eye turned to Keira. Every eye, every ear, every fang.
“No,” Alerac shoved the word out. “You can’t!”
And he was shoved down to his knees. The knife was jerked from his chest and instead put to his throat.
Lorcan turned his head and pinned Keira in his sights. “His punishment is death. He came here, he used you, in order to get into our midst. To attack us from within.” Lorcan Teague’s voice cracked with fury.
The other vamps backed up in the face of his rage because Lorcan was the ruler. The leader of the vamp clan. A clan that Alerac had sworn to destroy.
He wanted these vamps to be nothing more than ash in the wind.
Except for her. Keira isn’t like the others.
He’d learned that lesson too late.
The silver blade burned and cut along Alerac’s throat. He wanted to tell Keira that Lorcan’s words were a lie, that he hadn’t been using her.
Only Lorcan wasn’t lying. Why bother with a lie when the truth was just as brutal?
Alerac’s plan had been simple enough, back in the beginning. Keira McDonough was the weak link in the vampire clan. The human who hadn’t turned, not completely. She’d been born to the blood, but her transformation to full vampire hadn’t occurred yet. He’d watched her from afar, because that was the only way to watch her.
The vampire princess. Locked away in her tower. Precious to her clan, so very valuable because of what she represented.
She’d been locked away, but he’d always been good at picking locks. Getting to her side had been easy enough.
So had seducing her.
Keira had been his instrument of revenge. He’d hoped to use her to get killing close to Lorcan.
Only now, Lorcan was the one with the knife.
“I-I’ve started turning.” Her voice was hushed. The room was filled—easily—with at least twenty vampires. All men. Female blood born vampires were incredibly rare.
That was why they held such value.
“When,” Lorcan demanded.
Lorcan yanked the knife away from Alerac’s throat and grabbed Keira. The vampire pulled her close, caught her chin in his hand, and tilted her face back so that he could stare into her eyes.
Alerac knew why Lorcan gazed so deeply into Keira’s eyes. If Keira were truly turning, then gold should be spreading in her gaze.
The gold will be there. Alerac had already seen it for himself. His hands clenched as he pulled at the silver manacles that bound him. He no longer felt the burn on his wrists or ankles. Right then, rage was all he could feel. He wanted Lorcan’s hands off Keira. He knew the vamp lusted for her—but you won’t have her. Not now. Not ever.
“You are turning,” Lorcan said as he held Keira’s chin. Then he cast a hard, suspicious stare at Alerac. “Have you fed for the first time?” His features—frozen forever in a mask of youth that made him look as if he’d barely passed his twenty-fifth year—were hard with tension.
“Y-yes.” Her stark whisper. “I’ve fed.” Her gaze darted to Alerac.
She took my blood. The blood of a werewolf.
First, she’d given him her body. Trusted him as she had no other. He’d seduced her slowly, day by day. Week by week.
He’d taken her body. Deepened the connection between them.
Then she’d bit him. His blood had been the first that she ever tasted.
In turn, Alerac had taken her blood and discovered a rush of power that he’d never anticipated.
Lorcan’s jaw locked. He lunged toward Alerac once more.
Alerac smiled at the bastard.
Aye, my blood, in her.
“He used you, Keira!” Lorcan snarled. Alerac’s blood dripped from the knife gripped in Lorcan’s left hand. “And yet you would give your life for him? Why?” His thundering voice echoed through the chamber.
The other vampires shifted nervously. When Lorcan was this enraged, people died. It was an understood fact.
Everyone there knew the pattern. Lorcan’s love of blood and death was too well documented.
“Why?” Another bellow from Lorcan when Keira didn’t answer quickly enough.
Alerac saw the faint movement of her throat as she swallowed. “Because I love him,” Keira said softly, but with certainty.
Alerac’s smile faded. Keira wasn’t supposed to love him. He wasn’t worthy of her love.
Now it was Lorcan who smiled. He shook his dark head. “You can’t die for him, Keira. You have too much value to us.”
That was right. Alerac eased out the breath that had frozen in his lungs. Keira couldn’t, wouldn’t die. Lorcan could continue his torture tactics, but he wouldn’t be able to hurt Alerac for much longer. Alerac’s pack was coming. They’d be there before—
“But you can take his punishment,” Lorcan continued, all of the anger suddenly gone from his voice. Flat and cold, he said, “After all, you were the one to bring him in to our clan. A dog, walking among gods.”
“You’re no god,” Alerac shouted at him. Lorcan was nothing, a blood drinker who lived off the fear he stirred. The werewolves were the truly powerful beings—both man and beast. Power and savagery in one dangerous package. And they didn’t have to feed off others in order to survive.
Lorcan’s dark eyes narrowed. “One hundred years. That’s the penalty for treason in our clan. Imprisonment. Starvation. For one hundred years.”
No, no, that wouldn’t happen to Keira. His men were planning to attack the compound. They’d save Keira long before she suffered even a single night’s pain.
Keira eased closer to Alerac. Her skin seemed to become even paler as she gazed at him. They’d sliced him, cutting into his body with that silver knife for hours, and they’d kept him manacled with silver so that he wouldn’t be able to transform into the body of his wolf.
No transformation meant no healing.
They thought they were making him weak.
They were wrong. He was the alpha of his pack. There was no weakness.
Keira’s hand lifted. Her palm brushed against his cheek.
He’d had her under him, in bed, that very night. He’d given in to his need one more time. Made a desperate mistake.
Lorcan had found them.
Now Lorcan thought to make Keira pay?
“Don’t,” Alerac ordered her. The word was a growl from his beast.
Her hand dropped.
Her smile broke the heart that he shouldn’t have. “I won’t let you die.” Her chin lifted. Her bright stare cut toward Lorcan. “I will take the punishment, but you have to promise me that Alerac lives.” Her voice grew louder. All watched her with wide eyes. “No matter what else happens, he lives.”
“Why?” Lorcan’s lips were still twisted into a sly smile. “By the time you are free, he will be long dead.”
Because werewolves weren’t immortal, not like vampires. Not like their sworn enemies.
A battle that had raged for so long.
“Swear it, Lorcan,” Keira pushed, her voice even stronger now. “Vow it to me on the blood.”
Lorcan’s gaze returned to Alerac. Smug vampire. “I vow it,” he agreed easily enough.
Keira’s shoulders slumped. She glanced back at Alerac once more. Then she bent before him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and bringing her lips close to his ear. “I know you did not love me,” she whispered, her mouth brushing against him. “But I loved you.” Then she pulled back. Looked deep into his eyes.
The first time he’d seen her, he’d thought she was a dream.
A beautiful, perfect dream—a temptation.
Her lips pressed lightly against his.
“Take her,” Lorcan ordered, voice booming.
Other vampires rushed to obey.
Keira was hauled back.
He stared up at her, desperate. Alerac wanted to tell her that help was coming, it was just hours away. Hours? Or minutes? During the torture, he’d lost track of time, and Alerac wasn’t sure how long it would be before dawn arrived.
But if he told her about the others, then all of the vampires would be alerted to his plan. His men wouldn’t have the element of surprise on their side. He had to protect his pack.
An alpha’s job was always to protect the pack.
Shackles were put around Keira’s wrists.
He leapt to his feet with a roar, ignoring the silver and the vampires who tried to subdue him. The power of his beast beat within him. The sight of Keira, bound, enraged him. Not her. No one could hurt her. No one would hurt her.
The manacles broke from the walls. He lunged toward Lorcan.
But vampires could move fast, so very fast. Before Alerac could reach him, Lorcan’s bloody knife was at Keira’s delicate throat.
“If she loses her head, she will die easily enough.” Lorcan’s Irish brogue whispered through the words. A brogue that he picked up, and dropped, seemingly at will. Lorcan was centuries old. Some tales said that he’d been born a Viking and had journeyed to Ireland long ago, bringing hell with him. “Do you want her death on you?” Lorcan asked as he studied Alerac. “Seems so pointless, especially when we worked out a deal.”
There was no fear in Keira’s eyes. “Imprisonment won’t kill me. It will hurt. I will suffer.” She swallowed and pulled in a deep breath. “But I won’t die.”
And you won’t be imprisoned. My men will have you free by dawn.
“All of this…because I killed a few of your dogs?” Lorcan’s knife nicked Keira’s throat. Her blood trickled down in a dark red line. “They should have known better than to tangle with me.”
Vampires reached for Alerac. He threw out his chains, catching them across their faces. Snapping bones. Fighting. He couldn’t attack Lorcan, not while he held that knife at Keira’s throat, but he could go after the others. “They were my family!” The rage came then, building, swelling within him. The vampires had taken away what he valued, now it was his turn to destroy them. To wipe out their stronghold. To end their blood reign.
Because of Keira, his men now knew how to get inside the vampire’s keep. With the light of dawn, they’d attack. The timing had been deliberate. Vampires were weakest during the day. The vampires would be weak, but the wolves would be at full strength. How long is it until dawn?
“They were family,” Lorcan dismissed, a sneer twisting his face, “and now they’re rotting in the ground.”
Keira tensed. Then she spun around, moving fast—far faster than Lorcan had obviously anticipated. Vampire speed. Now that Keira was turning, she was coming into her vampire powers.
In a flash, she grabbed the knife from Lorcan, and she shoved it into his chest.
But silver wouldn’t kill a vampire.
It would just make him hurt.
The other vampires swarmed around Alerac.
“Two hundred years!” Lorcan cried out. “You just attacked…your leader…”
“If I had my way,” Keira said, as she stood before Lorcan, not backing down a bit, “you’d be dead.”
Lorcan yanked out the knife. Tossed it to the floor.
Eight vampires held down Alerac.
“Keira?” The voice, stunned, male, came from the open doorway.
Keira’s head turned at the call.
No, not now!
But, with his incredibly poor timing, Keira’s twin brother had just appeared. Ryan stood in the doorway, his hands fisted at his sides. His hair was as golden as his sister’s. His eyes as blue.
“Keira, what have you done?” Betrayal was on Ryan’s face. Rage.
The vampires had all turned on Keira. While she—
She chose me.
His nails lengthened into claws as the beast pushed for freedom. The wolf within him was desperate to protect his mate.