Authors: Lara Adrian
To my readers, with deep appreciation for all the enthusiasm and support you’ve shown for my books.
Thank you so much!
And to my husband, my true north, and proof positive that “happily ever after” really does exist outside the written page.
You’ll always be my hero!
With thanks to my agent and everyone at Bantam Dell for the continued belief in me, and for the wonderful attention given to each of my books. Thanks also to my copyeditors, proofreaders, and other folks working behind the scenes. (Hi, Destiny and Jeremy!)
Big hugs to my writer pals for tolerating prolonged bouts of radio silence on my end, yet still being available for last-minute sanity checks and encouragement. Thank you especially to Kayla Gray, Jaci Burton, Larissa Ione, and Stephanie Tyler for simply being awesome.
Additional gratitude goes out to three immensely talented bands whose music brought much of this story to life in my imagination. Inspiration (and a continuing daily addiction) is due to the artistry of Collide, H.I.M., and Black Lab.
he walked among them undetected, just another afternoon rush-hour commuter trudging through the fresh February snowfall on her way to the train station. No one paid any mind at all to the petite female in the hooded oversized parka, her scarf concealing her face to just below her eyes, which watched the crowds of human pedestrians with keen interest. Too keen, she knew, but she couldn’t help it.
She was anxious being out among them, and impatient to find her prey.
Her head rang with the pound of rock music blaring in through the tiny earbuds of a portable MP3 player. It wasn’t hers. It had belonged to her teenage son—to Camden. Sweet Cam, who’d died just four months ago, a victim of the underworld war that Elise herself was now a part of as well. He was the reason she was here, prowling Boston’s crowded streets with a dagger in her coat pocket and a titanium-edged blade strapped to her thigh.
More than ever now, Camden was the reason she lived.
His death could not go unavenged.
Elise crossed at a traffic light and moved up the road toward the station. She could see people talking as she passed them, their lips moving silently, their words—more important, their thoughts—drowned out by the aggressive lyrics, screaming guitars, and pulsing throb of bass that filled her ears and vibrated in her bones. She didn’t know precisely what she was listening to, nor did it matter. All she needed was the noise, played loud enough and long enough to get her into place for the hunt.
She entered the building, just one more person in a river of moving humanity. Harsh light spilled down from fluorescent tubes in the ceiling. The odor of street filth and dampness and too many bodies assailed her nose through her scarf. Elise walked farther inside, coming to a slow pause in the center of the station. Forced to divide around her, the flowing crowd passed on either side, many bumping into her, jostling her in their haste to make the next train. More than one glared as they passed, mouthing obscenities over her abrupt halt in the middle of their path.
God, how she despised all of this contact, but it was necessary. She took a steadying breath, then reached into her pocket and turned off the music. The din of the station rushed upon her like a wave, engulfing her with the racket of voices, shuffling feet, the traffic outside, and the metallic grate and rumble of the incoming train. But these noises were nothing compared to the others that swamped her now.
Ugly thoughts, bad intentions, secret sins, open hatreds—all of it churned around her like a black tempest, human corruption seeking her out and hammering into her senses. It staggered her, as always, that first rush of ill wind nearly overwhelming her. Elise swayed on her feet. She fought the nausea that rose within her and tried her best to weather the psychic assault.
—Such a bitch, I hope they fire her ass—
—Goddamn hick tourists, why don’t you go back where you belong—
—Idiot! Outta my way, or I’ll friggin’ knock you flat—
—So what if she’s my wife’s sister? Not like she wasn’t after me all this time—
Elise’s breath was coming faster with each second, a headache blooming in her temples. The voices in her mind blended into ceaseless, almost indistinguishable chatter, but she held on, bracing herself as the train arrived and its doors opened to let a new sea of people pour out onto the platform. They spilled around her, more voices added to the cacophony that was shredding her from the inside.
—Panhandling losers ought to put the same effort into getting a damn job—
—I swear, he puts his hand on me one more time, I’ma kill the sumbitch—
—Run, cattle! Run back to your pens! Pathetic creatures, my Master is right, you do deserve to be enslaved—
Elise’s eyes snapped wide. Her blood turned to ice in her veins the instant the words registered in her mind. This was the one voice she waited to hear.
The one she came here to hunt.
She didn’t know the name of her prey, or even what he looked like, but she knew what he was: a Minion. Like the others of his kind, he had been human once, but now he was something less than that. His humanity had been bled away by the one he called Master, a powerful vampire and the leader of the Rogues. It was because of them—the Rogues and the evil one guiding them in a growing war within the vampire race—that Elise’s only son was dead.
After being widowed five years ago, Camden was all she’d had left, all that mattered in her life. With his loss, she’d found a new purpose. An unwavering resolve. It was that resolve she leaned upon now, commanding her feet to move through the thick crowd, searching for the one she’d make pay for Camden’s death this time.
Her head spun with the continued bombardment of painful, ugly thoughts, but finally she managed to single out the Minion. He stalked ahead of her by several yards, his head covered by a black knit cap, his body draped in a tattered, faded green camouflage jacket. Animosity poured out of him like acid. His corruption was so total, Elise could taste it like bile in the back of her throat. And she had no choice but to stick close to him, waiting for her chance to make her move.
The Minion exited the station and headed up the sidewalk at a fast clip. Elise followed, her fingers wrapped tightly around the dagger in her pocket. Outside with fewer people, the psychic blare had lessened, but the pain of overload in the station was still present, boring into her skull like a steel spike. Elise kept her eyes trained on her quarry, picking up her speed as he ducked into a business off the street. She came up to the glass door and peered past the painted FedEx logo to see the Minion waiting in line for the counter.
“Excuse me, miss,” someone said from behind her, startling her with the sound of a true voice, and not the buzz of words that were still filling her head. “You going inside or what, lady?”
The man behind her pushed open the door as he said it, holding it for her expectantly. She hadn’t intended to go in, but now everyone was looking at her—the Minion included—and it would draw more attention to herself if she refused. Elise strode into the brightly lit business and immediately feigned interest in a display of shipping boxes in the front window.
From her periphery, she watched as the Minion waited his turn in line. He was edgy and violent-minded, his thoughts berating the customers ahead of him. Finally he approached the counter, ignoring the clerk’s greeting.
“Pickup for Raines.”
The attendant typed something into a computer, then hesitated a second. “Hang on.” He headed to a back room, only to return a moment later shaking his head. “It hasn’t arrived yet. Sorry ’bout that.”
Fury rolled off the Minion, tightening like a vise around Elise’s temples. “What do you mean, ‘it hasn’t arrived’?”
“Most of New York got hit with a big snowstorm last night, so a lot of today’s shipments have been delayed—”
“This shit’s supposed to be guaranteed,” the Minion snarled.
“Yeah, it is. You can get your money back, but you have to fill out a claim—”
“Fuck the claim, you moron! I need that package. Now!”
My Master will have my ass if I don’t turn up with this delivery, and if my ass goes in a sling, I’m going to come back here and rip your goddamn lungs out.