Authors: Lora Leigh
Tags: #Paranormal romance, #Fiction
Praise for the authors of
“Lora Leigh delivers on all counts.”
Romance Reviews Today
“Erotic, fast-paced, funny, and hard-hitting.”
“The incredible Leigh pushes the traditional envelope.”
RT Book Reviews
“Alyssa Day creates an amazing and astonishing world.”
—Christine Feehan, #1
New York Times
“Hot, fast-paced action.”
San Francisco Book Review
“An epic thrill ride.”
Romance Reviews Today
“Meljean Brook has brilliantly defined the new genre of steampunk romance. I loved it!”
—Jayne Ann Krentz,
New York Times
“Smart, sexy, breathtaking, and downright addicting.”
New York Times
“Lucy Monroe is one of my favorite indulgences.”
—Christine Feehan, #1
New York Times
“Enthralling from beginning to end.”
“[A] sexy, stay-up-all-night read.”
RT Book Reviews
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2013 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
“The Devil’s Due” by Lora Leigh copyright © 2013 by Christina Simmons.
“The Curse of the Black Swan” by Alyssa Day copyright © 2013 by Alesia Holliday.
“Salvage” by Meljean Brook copyright © 2013 by Melissa Khan.
“Ecstasy Under the Moon” by Lucy Monroe copyright © 2013 by Lilles Slawik.
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Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
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Berkley Sensation trade paperback edition ISBN: 978-0-425-25331-1
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62248-3
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Berkley Sensation trade paperback edition / July 2013
Cover art by S. Miroque.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
THE DEVIL’S DUE
In loving memory of the greatest aunt a niece could have. Dorothy “Sugar Babe” Few Lucas. You are missed. Not just for your laughter, your witty replies, and generous spirit. You are missed, just because you were you.
I love you, Aunt Sugie.
here was Death, and she faded into the shadows.
There was Slaughter, and he disappeared as dust into the wind.
There was the Lyon, who sought vengeance in the darkness, then found the light of love.
There was the Jaguar, who was the darkness, but found the heart that saved his soul.
There were so many.
There were all who knew vengeance, who knew retribution, and they succumbed to the greatest weakness man or beast could ever know.
They succumbed to the hearts they should have never possessed.
And now, the forces of man’s greatest ally and his most cherished creator have looked down upon a heart that all have claimed to be black, to be without mercy or compassion, and felt Himself soften.
For mercy resides in quantities that are vast while compassion slices His soul with each act of justice he’s forced to mete out.
The one they call “Devil.” The one they say is the darkest of all Breeds created.
The one his creator has guided to ensure his hand had dealt the blow of justice needed to ensure the existence of the Breeds. The one for whom his creator has planned the most cherished of all gifts.
The Lyon now guides his Pride.
Slaughter now slays only the demons that risk his love.
The Jaguar now prowls only the darkness of his own lair while the bogeyman of the Breeds, the warrior Warrant, is the champion of love.
Each has received the truest gift of all, that gift of love.
Now the Devil will receive his as well.
The creator lifted his hand, his smile gentle, compassion and mercy guiding his actions as he brought revelations, hid from the Devil’s enemies those secrets that would have harmed the coming gift, and laid in place each emotion, each hunger, each separate hormone and cell, the qualities needed to ensure a match none could have expected.
A priceless, unending love.
It’s now time to give the Devil his due.
arrett O’Sullivan stared at the tiny—too, too tiny—form of the child that his best friend had followed him into hell to save.
A little scrap of flesh and bones that was all of nine years of age, but he swore she could be barely four if she was a day.
Now Jorn Langer, the friend who had uncovered the secret of these labs, the secret of this child, lay on the cement floor next to her, his blood staining the icy stone below.
God, it was so cold.
Barrett could feel the chill surrounding him seeping into his soul, into that place within his heart, within his consciousness, that brought the realization that once again, his life was changing.
Surrounded by that cold, his naked child lay, her skin nearly blue. The wealth of long, Irish red ringlets cascaded on the floor around her to mix with the blood of her rescuer. Irish cream flesh shadowed by the tint of freezing blue glistened beneath the ringlets.
Echoing screams, shouted orders, bestial growls and animalistic snarls were like a hellish symphony invading the lab where Jorn’s greatest battle had been fought. The battle to save the child Barrett hadn’t even known existed until days before.
“Fuck me, Bar,” Jorn whispered weakly, his accent thickened by pain as thick Norse white blond lashes lifted to stare up at Barrett blearily. “I’m gonna die, lad. Helluva way to go.”
“The hell you are.” Kneeling quickly, Barrett checked the wound to his chest and knew his friend wasn’t lying. He was dying.
God help him. This man was as much his brother as any blood could be, and he was dying.
“Don’t you die on me, Jorn,” he whispered, suddenly desperate.
All their lives it had been Jorn who had gotten Barrett’s ass out of trouble, and who had gotten his ass into trouble. This was the man who had watched over him, laughed with him, fought with him.
“Got no choice, boyo,” Jorn wheezed, his ruddy face pale now, the blood spilling too quickly from his chest.
“Your daughter, Bar.” Jorn nodded to the child next to him.
Her breathing was slow and easy, but she was so stiff with cold.
Barrett all but tore his jacket off and quickly wrapped it around the girl’s nude body, wondering why he hadn’t done so the moment he stepped into the room.
She lay against Jorn’s bleeding chest, her weight so slight she couldn’t have increased the rate of blood loss, but still, Barrett moved to lift her from her resting place.
“No!” Jorn’s arm tightened around her slight form. “Not yet. Let me hold this little angel for a moment. She reminds me of Khileen. My sweet, little Khileen.”
His daughter. She was barely five, and she was the light of Jorn’s life.
They both stared at the fall of hair. There was so much hair and so little child.
“Hide her,” Jorn whispered, turning back to Barrett. “Remember the file I found, Bar. Don’t let anyone know. They can’t know she’s yours and Kella’s. Swear it, Bar.”
“I swear it.”
No one could know. It would mean more than just his and his wife, Kella’s, life. It could mean their child’s as well. A child created from the sperm and ova he and his wife had given at a fertility clinic in the hopes of a child that Kella would carry. A child she would nurture within her body and one they would raise from first birth.
Yet, as he stared at the child Jorn held close, Barrett realized no love could be greater than the love he felt for this child, at this moment.
Damn, his hands were shaking, he realized as he reached out to brush her hair back from her face.
Blinking fiercely at the tears that would have fallen, his gaze moved to Jorn’s once again.
“Kella’s lass,” Jorn whispered, his accent thicker now as death neared. “She’s her wee miniature, Bar.”
“How do I hide her child?” Desperation began to fill him. “Fuck you, Bar. Don’t you leave me to protect this child and Khileen alone. Don’t you do this to me.”
Jorn’s rakish smile tugged at his pale lips. “I wish . . .”
“No, God, Jorn, don’t you do this.” How the fuck was he supposed to do what he had to do without Jorn’s help?
“Stick closest to the truth,” Jorn was wheezing now. “Found her here. Contact Lyons in the US. Virginia. Meet. Show him the truth. He’ll give you the care of her.”
The other man struggled for breath as a trail of blood began to seep from his nostrils. “Tell no one but Lyons.”
Jorn suddenly gripped the sleeve of Barrett’s jacket. “Swear it. Not even Kella can know. None but Lyons can know the truth.”
“None but Lyons,” Barrett agreed, knowing it was a secret he would have to break. There were no secrets from Kella, from his heart. What he knew, his Kella always knew.
“What Kella knows, she’ll tell my lovely Jess. Jess will tell her momma—” He began coughing, blood spraying from between his parted lips.
“I’ll hold the secret, Jorn. No one will threaten my child.”
“My Khi,” Jorn wheezed again, his blue eyes desperate and filled with such aching sadness and fury that for a moment, Barrett was certain sheer will would hold his friend to earth.
Then his eyes closed.
“I swear Khileen as well, Jorn. I’ll protect her as I would protect my own. I swear it.”
A tear slipped free—how could it not, now?—this was his dearest friend, the brother he’d never known until Jorn came into his life.
A peaceful expression filled Jorn’s face then. “Aye then, I can go now,” he whispered. “I can go.”
“Jorn, please God, not yet—”
And just that quickly—
Barrett clenched his teeth, baring them in a snarl of naked agony before quickly gathering his daughter to his chest and rising to his feet.
He and Jorn had practiced this escape a million times over the past days. Getting in, getting the child, then getting out. They’d practiced getting out together, and they’d practiced escaping alone.
Had Jorn somehow known they’d never escape together?
Holding his daughter close to the warmth of his body, Barrett ran quickly for the other side of the room and the steel wall. Once there, he quickly pressed his hand against the Genetics Council symbol emblazoned on the wall and waited impatiently for the entire wall to move and reveal the hidden exit.
Sliding through the narrow opening, he pressed his hand against the matching emblem on the other side, waited for the door to close, then rushed through the hidden tunnel.
All the while, the child he carried slept deeply, untouched by the horror that echoed in blood-curdling screams on the other side of the room. Or the snarls and animalistic fury that caused them. All that mattered was getting his child out of there, and hiding her. Hiding her secret.
A recessive Wolf Breed.
Perfect human looks, straight, perfectly human canines, her animal genetics so deeply recessed that even the most advanced genetic testing hadn’t picked up the fact that she was a creature of science rather than of nature.
The files Jorn had found had been stamped
TOP SECRET, SINGLE COPY
. There were no duplicates. Hopefully, there were truly no other copies, no other information to label her as a Breed rather than a human.
As far as the world would know, she was the daughter of Kella’s cousin. Orphaned, alone in the world, and now adopted by the O’Sullivans.
His and Kella’s.
Rushing into the dreary rain and fog that surrounded the underground labs, Barrett ran to the ground-hugging all-terrain vehicle he and Jorn had hidden the night before.
The armored Sergeants Dragoon sat low to the ground. It was built for speed and agility, with minimal onboard weapons. It was parked exactly where they had left it, buried beneath the natural hearty evergreen boughs of the Lawson’s Cypress they’d covered it with.
Throwing open the back passenger door and hurriedly lifting the seat to reveal the padded hiding space beneath, Barrett placed his daughter inside before replacing the cover. Closing the door quietly, he moved to the driver’s seat, slid inside and started the vehicle.
Before pulling out, his gaze slid to the hidden back entrance of the labs and for the briefest moment, he could have sworn he saw Jorn.
Just as quickly, the shadow of his friend was gone, the fog parting to reveal the straggled growth of a bare tree instead.
It wasn’t Jorn.
His boyhood friend was gone forever.
* * *
The young woman standing next to him bore most of his weight, her strength all that kept him on his feet.
“I’m dyin’, lass. Let me go in peace,” he whispered, regret piercing him as he stared into the wild neon color of those incredible amber eyes. This wee lass who had risked her own life, her own secrets, to tell him of the child they had ordered to be terminated. The child of the man he owed so much to.
And now he’d done gone and done it, as his wee Khileen was wont to say. Aye, he’d done gone and done it. For good this time.
God, the pain was hell. His chest felt as though it were split open, his heart exposed, a raw gaping wound and now exposed to air.
“I can’t do that,” she whispered, all but dragging him along a worn path until he stumbled, nearly taking her to the ground with him.
Suddenly, stronger, broader hands caught him, dragging him into a sheltering darkness before laying him out on a padded floor.
Jorn stared around at the Breeds—he knew they were Breeds. Breeds unlike any he’d ever seen before. These Breeds, they were the stuff of rumor, of horrifying tales of slow, agonizing deaths. They were the ones whose genetics had never fully progressed past the animal state.
“Nephilim,” he whispered.
Men who were animals.
Animals who were men.
There was no true description of these men. The myth of the Breed Nephilim was that they were the product of experiments gone awry that the Genetics Council had studied, experimented upon, then lost control of.
They were crouched around him as he felt whatever they had dragged him into suddenly moving. Lifting?
“Why?” he whispered, directing his question to the one he knew was the leader. There were such legends of these creatures. Greater even than those of the winged breeds in the Americas that groups of soldiers and scientists hunted with such dedication.
One of the creatures gripped his arm, turned it palm outward, while another pushed an old-fashioned syringe into the vein. He could feel the burn of whatever medication was shot into his system as it began to speed through his veins. He tracked it. Through his arm, his shoulder—
“What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” he rasped, directing his question to the leader as he crouched at Jorn’s side.
, he thought again. The true terror of the Breeds.
In Europe, the Nephilim were spoken of with the same fear as vampires and werewolves had been in centuries past.
Pale, his face marked with the stripes of a white tiger, his white blond hair flowing to his shoulders, their leader gave a mocking snort as he nodded to Jorn’s side. “She would leave me no peace should I allow you to die.”
Jorn turned his head slowly to the wee lass that had dragged him from the labs.
Barely five three, tawny brown hair, long, thick matching lashes with sharp cheekbones, lips formed nearly like a cat’s, and her eyes—
And so young. So tiny. Surely no more in age than his wee Khileen.
“Why?” he asked her now as he felt himself drifting, lifting, becoming light as air.
“Because I’m yours,” she whispered, her eyes glowing like amber fire. “And you are all I can claim as mine. How could I allow death to take you in such a way?”
What could she possibly mean? God, he needed to know what she meant. He needed to know—
Agony pierced his chest, his guts. It lifted his body as a scream tore from him as the jagged, serrated teeth of death’s demon bit deep and shredded his insides like a dog shredded meat from a bone. The pain was horrifying. Brutal.
Darkness closed around him.
He prayed death took him.
Katie at 16
She was all wild Irish red hair, big emerald eyes and soft peaches-and-cream skin.
Many Irish girls were now freckled, as their American counterparts were. The world was much smaller than it had ever been, and pure Irish blood was all but nonexistent.
As Devil Black watched Katie Sullivan maneuver through the obstacles set up on the training course, admiration surged through him.
Sixteen years old and pure human, yet she could outrun, outclimb and outlast a third of the young Breed females on the course with her.
Mary Katherine “Katie” O’Sullivan was the reason he’d been called to the Breed Protection Network’s training center by the center’s operator, Gilliam Finneghea. A former American special forces soldier and United Nations undercover intelligence officer, Gilliam had not just trained some of the top covert agents the United Nations have ever employed, but he had also gone against some of the best, and had come out of each battle alive.
Sometimes only barely living, but alive.
Jonas would have sworn nothing could really impress Gilliam, because the man had already seen the best.