Stryke harbors a love so secret, not even the powerful vampire he’s bonded to knows about him. When a sadistic demoness targets Stryke for breeding, she uncovers his bond and orders a hit on his female. Stryke’s carefully laid plans dissolve under brutal beatings and imprisonment and he’s left to languish. Scraping his last threads of energy together, he escapes the underworld to save her. But the cunning vampire rescued herself and would rather shove a blade in Stryke’s heart than claim it.
A vampire’s duty…
Uptight vampire Zoey Chevalier lost her mate years ago, but her duty protecting her species keeps her going, Lately, she’s been coming unraveled and fantasizing about a male she’s never met. She’s alone and going crazy, and hiding her instability from her team. When several underworld lackeys capture her, she fights her way into the arms of her dream male. Stryke’s a mortal enemy with an absurd story about their connection, and he dredges up hopes and dreams that died with her mate. She’ll lose her livelihood if she succumbs to her attraction. And if he can’t convince her to accept their bond, he’ll once again be at the mercy of the underworld.
Stryke stared at the roof of the cave he was being tortured in and almost laughed. Why, yes, it was possible to get fucked to death.
Stryke puffed out a breath and suppressed the following groan. He hadn’t been tortured like this in… Well, in the underworld, it was like picking which day he polished his horns. Last Thursday? Friday? At least as a second-tier demon, he could control something like horn maintenance.
The demon bitch, Hypna rolled off him onto the gritty floor of her cavern. “You don’t disappoint, do you,” she purred in a garbled voice that was as unsexy as she was. Although by underworld standards, she was an eight.
And yes, he disappointed himself all the time, but no need to dredge up regrets. His personal mission—the female vampire suffered for—always came first.
Hypna stood and stretched. He couldn’t do the same. Blood ran in rivulets down his arms and torso where her claws had gouged him. Sex with Hypna wasn’t an erotic experience, it was a special form of hell in the underworld. It’d take a while for his poisoned penis to dwindle. Stryke didn’t orgasm, a rare ability that could get him killed if Hypna discovered his treachery. But he faked it, made all the grunts and faces, even went as far as calling her name. He should win one of those human acting awards. Pretending to enjoy sex with Hypna was like getting ecstatic about getting his skin getting flayed off in one inch strips.
He’d had to fuck demons before, even pure-bloods like Hypna, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, but she was the first who actually had a reason beyond her inherent evilness. A reason that he would do everything in his power to circumvent.
Hypna’s horns wrapped themselves around her head and smoothed down her back. One of the fantasies that kept him going was cutting off her horns and shanking her with them. Their turgid purple hue reminded him of a flaccid cock, the way his would be if she didn’t stab him with those damn things and infuse a libidinous chemical into his bloodstream.
Fuck, he hated her. He hated all the pure-bloods. And most second-tiers. Some might assume he’d have an affinity for the weaker demons like himself, those who can claim humans or vampires, and the odd shifter or two, in their heritage. They’d be wrong. At least he wasn’t chattel for the rulers of their kind to with what they will. With his powers, he was the often fought over, the prized servant of the thirteen members of the Circle.
He shifted his glare from Hypna’s skanky features to the cave walls. Who would’ve thought he’d miss his former boss, Rancor. The male had been as cruel as they came, but the glee he took in violence had often distracted him, allowing Stryke much more time to himself.
His fellow second-tier demon, and sort of friend, Fyra totally owed him. If he hadn’t helped free her so she and her vampire behemoth could kill their boss, Rancor, Stryke wouldn’t be in this situation. Rancor had loved lording his control of Stryke over Hypna. But Rancor was dead so control of Stryke had gotten transferred to another one of the thirteen who ruled the underworld—and she’d been waiting for him with claws extended.
Stryke clasped one hand over an oozing wound in his flank and willed himself to heal. At times like these, he couldn’t allow himself to remember why he stayed. If any of the demons roaming the underworld caught wind of the reason, his vampire would have a gigantic target painted on her. As if she didn’t already have one because of who she was, but this would be different. This would include inducing maximum amounts of pain to torment Stryke.
Hypna spun to gaze down at him broken on the cavern floor. This was his nightly routine for the last month since Rancor had been killed. Get mutilated by Hypna as she fucked him in hopes of begetting his child.
Over his dead body. And even then, she wasn’t getting his seed. Thanks to the bond he harbored for another—the vampire who remained oblivious to it. If he hadn’t had that bond, he’d have killed himself or died trying to kill Hypna by now. No one was bringing his child into the world to be used for personal gain. Definitely not to be used by a parent. History didn’t need to repeat itself.
She pushed her black hair out of her face, her lips curled in a sneer. “I bet your dad was a better fuck.”
He almost laughed, but he wasn’t stupid. His healing had barely begun and a pissed off Hypna was much more brutal than a turned on Hypna.
“His claws were bigger than mine,” Stryke rasped. Enduring Hypna’s attentions in stoic silence wasn’t possible but his voice needed as much healing as his body.
“More than his claws,” she scoffed and planted her hands on her bare hips. Her claws fanned out at her waist.
Yeah, she was right, but his father had had purer demon blood, and came equipped with the size and ferocity that went with it. Stryke’s diluted blood ranked him at second-tier—powerful enough to be useful to the Circle of Thirteen. But he was still an energy demon, and a powerful one at that.
The only good thing his father’s deception of the Circle had done for Stryke. They coveted his power, yet underestimated him since his sire had been outed as just another second-tier. Apparently, the diluted blood went farther back than his sire had let on.
Hypna cocked her head while staring at Stryke with ultimate superiority. “I can believe you came from him, though.”
The sugar-sweetness in her voice stalled his healing efforts. Why was she taunting him with his sire? He stared at Hypna, waiting to see where she was going with her comment while he used the extra moments to heal. Blood had slowed to a trickle and the pain was beginning to ebb.
She squatted, giving Stryke a view he’d endured too many times. “He thought he was so—damn—powerful.”
Because he had been. Stryke swallowed before he provoked her into her own power demonstration.
“Until we gutted him.” Her black eyes twinkled as she straightened. “He also thought he was clever. Does that sound familiar, Stryke?”
Cold washed through him. His aches and pains dulled, but a well of blood gushed out of his wounds as his heart hammered.
Rage sparked in her gaze. “I’ve been fucking you for a month. My fertile season is almost over, yet I have no child in my belly. Why is that?”
Stryke forced his breathing to remain even. If she knew of his deception, there was reason to bluster about with lies.
She eyed his mangled privates. “You’ve been holding out on me and I have to ask myself why. No—how? How could a second-tier,” she spat the word, “not spill his seed when he’s been injected with my venom? Hmm? How, Stryke? Do you know what answer I came up with?”
By now, he was well enough to struggle into a sitting position, but he stayed frozen in place. She might suspect how, but she couldn’t really know.
“An energy demon who can’t climax. Who could Stryke be holding out for? Who could he have bonded?” Hypna circled around him until she blocked the only exit to the hole-in-the-wall cave. “What females has Stryke been around? Fyra’s taken, but I never saw you lusting after her like Rancor.”
Stryke’s heart pounded. Hypna was a dead demon walking if she determined the female Stryke had bonded himself to. His mind ran through plans. He could shoot a hand out and send a charge through Hypna’s body that would incapacitate her. “Incapacitate to decapitate” had been his sire’s motto. It just became Stryke’s.
But she stayed out of reach. She feared his powers enough to be wary, wanted to possess them and the baby was the key.
He could transport himself to the human realm. It’d confirm for Hypna that he was bonded to someone in the earthly realm, but he could find his female and protect her.
“Ah, ah, ah.” Hypna extended a hand toward him, fingers spread.
Roots sprouted from the floor and dug into his skin. He roared in pain as a hundred needle-like protrusions pierced him and burrowed into his muscle. The agony alone almost made him try to leave, but he had to know if Hypna was bluffing.
A cloudy purple horn flexed over her head and angled toward him.
His eyes widened and he envisioned the house owned by the human who had agreed to host Stryke whenever necessary.
Nothing happened. Dammit, he was too weak yet to transport.
As soon as Hypna speared him with a horn, he’d zap her and wrestle against his restraints.
“What’s wrong, Stryke? Afraid I’ll find out about your bond to another and kill her?” Her throaty laugh preceded her kneeling toward him.
He wriggled his wrist, stretching to reach her toe, but the roots held him in place. His energy had no effect on the roots. They were inert, lifeless, only controlled by Hypna’s power.
“Do you know what happened the last time I was in the human realm? My prime vampire host was killed right before I’d almost terminated the vampire bitch I was fighting. My host was staked from behind and I was sent back to the underworld, but do you know what I remember?”
Stryke’s breath came out in pants. Searing pain wracked his body, but it paled compared to the terror racing through him. She knew. Fucking Hypna knew who he was protecting.
“I remember,” her horn inched closer, “the smell of brimstone and it made me ask—What fool demon would save a vampire wench?” A cruel smile stretched her lips. “What? No denial?”
The sharp tip of her horn stabbed through the skin of his chest. Stryke sent all his remaining energy into her horn. Hypna went rigid before releasing a startled shriek and flying back from the force of his shock.
He renewed his struggles, but the edges of his vision went blurry. He was undoing all the healing progress his body had made.
“Nice try, second-tier,” she snarled and jumped up. She stormed back and towered over him. “You wait here while I go release you from her bond. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I send her your regard when I cut off her head.”
Stryke fought unconsciousness, but a last surge of energy spread through him. The binds weakened and he let out a bellow.
Hypna punted him in the skull and blackness claimed him.
The night was young. The sun had just set and Freemont’s nightlife was out roaring their engines. That’s probably about as far as they’d get with the temps dipping into the twenties. Zoey wandered along the sidewalk that had been cleared of snow, having parked a couple of blocks from the convenience store.
She sipped on a red Gatorade as she walked. The night was still young and it was her first drink. In her backpack, she had two more, orange and electric blue.
Her team always teased her for her habit, and she just grinned right back. Letting them think her guzzling electrolyte juice was a quirk and not her life’s necessity was in everyone’s best interest.
If they discovered her secret, her position on the TriSpecies Synod would be threatened. She couldn’t lose her spot, not that she’d wanted to be a part of her people’s government at first, but once her bony ass was plopped onto the board of vampires, shifters, and a fellow hybrid, well, it’d given her broken heart a reason to live.
Her phone vibrated and she glanced at the screen. Her mouth quirked at the oddly formal message.
“The Synod requests Zohana Chevalier’s presence.”
The Synod would have to wait. Zoey texted a reply that she was in the middle of a task and she’d be there in an hour.
Her partner Demetrius would cover for her, like she’d done for him countless times. It wasn’t like her errand was top secret. She was low on Gatorade and chips. Electrolytes and straight up sodium with a side of fat. Back when she was younger, her blood disorder was a challenge to handle and she’d eaten more ham than inhumanly possible. A few stolen salt blocks and some pissed off cows got her through the worst of it. Then modern times brought processed food, packed with sodium. A girl could only drink so much pickle juice. When Gatorade had been developed, she’d died and gone to heaven. The drink made it so much easier to keep her health issue a secret from those closest to her.
Ironically, living was so much less difficult now, but her reason for living had been stolen.
Mitchell’s laughing brown eyes flashed through her mind.
Tears pricked the back of her eyes. She blinked them back. It’d be a useless loss of salt from her body. Mitchell was gone and every day, the crippling pain was a tiny bit less. She no longer broke down into soul-shattering sobs when she remembered him. It only took five years to get to this point.
She readjusted her backpack and tossed her empty container into the recycling bin, then entered the convenience store.
“Hey, Zoey,” the teenaged cashier greeted. “Exciting night?”
Zoey smiled. “Always.”
The young girl thought Zoey was some biker chick from the way she dressed in all black and leather pants, but never questioned where Zoey parked her bike. Zoey would lie if she did—she didn’t have one. The severe bun Zoey wore her long hair in wouldn’t play nice with a bike helmet. Not that she needed one, but people questioned someone who could walk away from getting their head smeared across the pavement.
Zoey selected her items and brought them to the counter.
The cashier clucked as she rang them up. “I wish I could eat like this and have your body.”
Zoey would kill not to be dependent on anything more than blood, but she smiled and said her standard, “It’s not all for me.”
Even she saw the “bullshit” in the girl’s eyes.
Zoey packed her items away in her pack and strode out of the store. She was a block away from where she’d inconspicuously parked her black SUV when prickles danced along her nape. She didn’t slow, but reassessed where she’d stashed her weapons. Two side arms in a holster under her leather jacket. One tucked into her waistband at the small of her back. No knives. She’d waited to run her errand before she strapped those on. Humans lost their shit when they saw someone walking around armed with guns and knives and the occasional wooden stake.
She tossed her bag into the SUV and discreetly finished arming herself before wandering into the alley she’d parked by. The parking spot had been chosen because one, she’d never parked here before. Routine left openings for vampires with grudges against their government, shifters who still hated vampires no matter how integrated they’d become, and the rising threat of demons that could hide in human hosts. And two, this spot had several escape routes and a handy dark alley for fighting without drawing attention.
The deeper into the alley she went, the less light from street lamps was able to reach her, the better it was to conceal fighting. Faint sounds of footsteps crunching on gavel reached her.
Zoey spun with a knife on her left hand and a gun in her right.
A tall form marched in her direction. A female vampire from the smell of her. The vampire’s rich scent of pure, strong bloodlines flooded Zoey. Ah, a prime vampire. The trace of brimstone in the smell curled around Zoey.
Oh…shit. She was alone, facing a possessed prime vampire.
“So, you’re the one he wants.” The vampire’s voice resonated with the timber of a powerful demon.
Zoey recognized the vampire. They’d grown up not far from each other, though Zoey hadn’t dealt much with her. Doriana had been a mousy, quiet thing. Why would she turn her body over to a demon? And which demon?
Zoey ran through the list of thirteen. She’d learned the names from Fyra, but they had yet to learn who’d taken Rancor’s spot. The thirteen always hid inside a host, would never demean themselves to bond to a vampire so they could walk freely in this realm. If they even considered it, the possibility that what gets killed in this realm stays in this realm stops them. Cowards.
Zoey dragged in a deep breath to filter through her senses. She knew this demon. She’d been the one in Morgana when that rabid bitch had almost bested Zoey.
“We meet again,” Zoey said. And who was the demon talking about? Who wanted Zoey?
The vampire stopped and her black eyes swept Zoey’s body in disdain. “That’s what gets him off, huh?”
Zoey shook her head. Had the female or the demon lost her damn mind? “Who the hell are you talking about?”
“As if you don’t know. As if a romance between a vampire and demon would escape our notice.”
Demons were evil and crazy, but could they be genuinely nuts? Zoey needed to at least find out what demon she dealt with to report back to her team. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“Look at these.” The vampire palmed her breasts and looked down with a frown. “My real breasts are much larger, but even this female’s bust is a handful more than yours.”
Zoey bristled at the insult. “There’s nothing wrong with an athletic build. And since you possessed Morgana the last time we met, you heard her taunts about my mate being dead.”
She was about to say There’s no male after me, but the words died. The sense of anticipation she’d been stricken with for weeks couldn’t have anything to do with what the insane demon was talking about. Maybe she’d just been widowed so long, she was in a lonely, perpetual state of wishful thinking.
Zoey turned her attention to gathering data. Fyra had named the Circle demon who’d possessed Morgana. Hypna.
Surprise brightened Doriana’s demon-black eyes. The female was present in body only, Hypna had full control. “You don’t know?”
Dread laced through Zoey. That question coming from a demon wasn’t the start to a good day. More footsteps resonated in the night and the smell of brimstone grew thicker. Were the demon’s second-tiers coming after Zoey?
“You don’t know.” Hypna threw her head back and laughed. Her laughter died and she met Zoey’s gaze with a Cheshire smile. “This will be fun.”
No, it won’t. Zoey raised her gun and shot Hypna between the eyes. The vampire’s eyes lost focus and she dropped backward to the ground. Zoey cursed herself at not packing a stake to dust the vampire with, but she jumped on the fallen vampire and starting sawing at her neck.
The footsteps grew faster as Hypna’s minions rushed to her aid.
Damn vertebrae. Decapitating a vampire would be so much easier if they didn’t have spines. Zoey sucked in a breath to smell her attackers. Human sweat and sulfur. No other vampires. Zoey made a mental note to inform her team that another broker had set-up in the area to lure humans into being hosts for second-tier demons.
As they approached, three of them lumbering down the alley to block her in, she was grateful second-tiers weren’t strong enough to inhibit vampires, much less the more powerful and lucrative primes. She could deal with them in multiples.
“Don’t worry, vampire. We’re not going to kill you,” one male said.
“Just play with you for a while.
Cops would be showing up soon at the sound of the first gunshot, so Zoey made her next shots count.
Bam, bam, bam. Three head shots followed by a cloud of copper-tinged air. There. No more demons to trouble her.
She holstered her gun to use both hands to saw the prime female’s neck. She couldn’t be allowed to heal and keeping hosting one of the thirteen.
The groan of a portal to the underworld echoed off the brick buildings around her. The demons were getting sucked back home. She hacked harder. Stealing Hypna’s host was worth flirting with the sucking chasm that was opening under the bodies of the three humans, but if Zoey didn’t move fast, she’d be taken down, too. She was far enough away from the second-tier’s portals, but right on top of Hypna’s.
The vacuum of the portal tugged on her clothing. Zoey gritted her teeth and tensed all her muscles to resist the force. Her body slid an inch toward the ink-black opening.
With a holler, she chopped through the bone and shoved herself backward as far as she could.
She was out of the way of the humans’ already closing portal, but the vibrations of the portal sucking Hypna back into the underworld had Zoey scrambling until she hit a wall. Debris was kicked up with the force of the portal, trash flew in front Zoey and the creak of the Dumpster next to her was deafening. Her only instinct was to get as far away as fast as possible.
Until she bumped into another Dumpster. The pull on her feet dragged her toward the portal.
Her stomach twisted. She clawed against the ground, but her fingernails did little to gain traction.
She kicked, but it only propelled her toward the portal.
She only needed to last a few more seconds and the chasm would close, but as she scraped across the pavement, every second felt like a minute.
Frantically, she wrestled a knife free and slammed it into the pavement. The scrape of metal across cement curdled her ear drums.
Nothing was working.
The lumbering screech of a Dumpster made her look up. It was rolling right for her, to get sucked into the underworld with her.
Her last thought before she face-planted with the giant trash receptacle was, He’s here.