For the most important person in any writer's life… you, the reader. Thank you for taking this trip into the Dark-Hunter realm with me.
For the entire team at SMP for all the hard work you guys do on my books. I have no idea what I'd d without you, and I don't want to find out.
For Monique, who definitely needs an award for going above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you. And for Merrilee, who had no idea what she was getting herself into.
Most of all, I want to thank all the readers and fans who visit the Dark-Hunter.com bbs and loops. You guys are always a joy to see. To my RBL women, who never fail to entertain and inspire. And to my personal friends, who give me encouragement and strength when I need it most: Janet, Brynna, Lo, Carl, Loretta, and Christine.
And last, but most definitely not least, my family, and that includes my brother Steve, who wanted to be named. I love all of you. Thank you so much for making my life what it is and for taking this journey with me.
He [the ravyn] is the warrior's bird of battle, exults in slaughter and carnage…— BEOWULF
The air whispered with psychic electricity. It was a sensation that could only be felt by a particular nonhuman sect or by humans with highly developed senses.
Ravyn Kontis was most definitely not human. He’d been born into the world of nocturnal predators who commanded the hidden magicks of the earth—who ruled its darker arts—and he had died as one of their toughest warriors…
By the hand of his own brother.
Now Ravyn walked the earth as something else. Something soulless. Something ferocious and even deadlier than what he’d been before. There was no heart left inside him. No pity or compassion. Nothing but a pain so deep, so profound, that it lacerated what little humanity he had until there was nothing left but a beast so feral that he knew it would never be tamed again.
Leaning his head back, he roared the cry of the angry beast that snarled inside him. The stench of death encircled him just as the blood of his enemies coated every inch of his human flesh. It dripped from his hair and his fingertips in slick rivulets that dappled the battle-trampled earth at his feet.
Still it wasn’t enough to appease the rage that lived inside him.
Vengeance was a dish best served cold…
He’d foolishly expected it to ease some of the crippling grief that haunted him. It hadn’t. It only left him even colder than the betrayal that had caused his death.
Ravyn winced as he saw Isabeau’s beautiful face in his mind. Even though she’d been fully human, they had been chosen as mates. Thinking that she loved him, he’d trusted her with the secret of his world.
And how had she repaid him? She’d told the humans of his small clan of brethren and they had attacked the women and children while he and the men had been out on patrol.
No one had been left alive.
The males of his clan had returned to find the smoldering remains of their village… the scattered bodies of their children and women.
They had turned on him then, not that he blamed them. It was the only time in his life he hadn’t fought back. At least not until his last breath had come.
As it had rattled in his chest, his fetid rage had taken root and grown into a monster, feeding the darkest part of his nonhuman being. His human soul had screamed out for vengeance against those who had destroyed his people. The anguished cry of both man and beast had echoed in the sacred temple of Artemis far away on Mount Olympus—so loud and demanding, it had summoned the goddess herself to him. And there in the faint light of the waning moon, he’d taken her bargain and sold his soul to her for the one chance to return the favor to Isabeau and her people.
They were dead now, by his hand… all of them. Just as he was. Just as his family had been.
It was over…
Ravyn laughed bitterly at that thought as he clenched his bloodied fists. No, it wasn’t over. It was only beginning.
BOY EATEN BY KILLER MOTHS.
Susan Michaels groaned as she read the headline for her latest story. She knew better than to read the rest of the article, but something inside her just wanted to feel kicked this afternoon. God forbid that she ever took pride in her work again…
Bred in a lab in South America, these top secret moths are the next generation of military assassins. They are genetically engineered to think their way into an enemy’s lair where they bite the neck of the target and infect them with a concentrated poison that is completely undetectable and that will render the victim dead within an hour.
Now they have escaped the lab and were last seen heading north, straight for the central U.S. Be on guard. They could be in your neighborhood within the month…
Dear Lord, it was worse than she’d imagined.
Her hands shaking in anger, she got up from her desk and headed straight into Leo Kirby’s office. As usual, he was online, reading some poor slob’s blog and making copious notes.
Leo was a short, lean man with long black hair that he always wore in a ponytail. He also had a goatee, cold gray eyes that never laughed, and a strange spiderweb tattoo on his left hand. He was dressed in a baggy black T-shirt and jeans, with a giant Starbucks travel mug at his elbow while he worked. In his mid-thirties, he’d be cute if he wasn’t so damned annoying.
“Killer moths?” she asked.
He looked up from his notepad and shrugged. “You said we were going to have a moth invasion. I just had Joanie rewrite the story to make it more marketable.”
She gaped in total astonishment. “Joanie? You had Joanie rewrite the story? The woman who wears tinfoil in her bra so that the people with x-ray vision can’t see her breasts? That Joanie?”
He didn’t flinch or miss a beat. “Yeah, she’s my best writer.”
Talk about insult to injury… “I thought I was your best writer, Leo.”
Sighing heavily, he swiveled his chair to face her. “You would be if you had any imagination whatsoever.” He held his hands up dramatically as if to illustrate his point. “C’mon, Sue, embrace your inner child. Embrace the absurd that lives amongst us. Think Ibsen.” He put his hands down and gave another weary sigh. “But no, you never do, do you? I send you out to investigate the bat boy who lives in the old church belfry and you come back with a story about moths infesting the rafters. What the hell is that?”
She gave him a droll stare as she crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s called reality, Leo. Reality. You should stop shrooming long enough to try it.”
He snorted at that before he flipped to a blank sheet of paper on his notepad. He set it beside his coffee.
“Screw reality. It don’t feed my dog. It don’t make my Porsche payments. It don’t get me laid. Bullshit does that… and I like it that way.”
She rolled her eyes at his beaming face. “You are such a toad.”
He paused as if an idea had struck him. He reached for his pad, where he quickly scribbled something. “‘Employee Kisses Toady Boss to Discover an Ancient Immortal Prince’… better yet, a god. Yeah, an ancient god”—he gestured at her with his pen—“a Greek god who’s been cursed to live as a sex slave to women… I like it. Can you imagine? Women all over the country will be kissing their bosses to test the theory.” Then he looked back at her with a wicked grin. “Shall we try the experiment and see if it works?”
She screwed her face up at him in disgust. “Hell, no. And that wasn’t a come-on, Leo. Trust me, even with a thousand kisses you’d still be a toad.”
He was totally undaunted, mostly because the two of them had been teasing each other this way since they attended college together. “I still think we should give it a try.” He wagged his eyebrows at her.
Susan let out a long, exasperated breath. “You know, I would bring you up on sexual harassment charges, but that would imply that you have actually had sex in your lifetime, and I intend to maintain that you are a prime example of what happens to people when they’re too sexually frustrated.”
That brought another glassy look to his eyes before he scribbled again. “‘Sexually Frustrated Boss Turns into Screaming Lunatic. Disembowels Woman Who Excites Him.’”
Susan groaned deep in her throat. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was threatening her, but that would involve actual action on his part, and Leo was nothing if not a complete delegator. His maxim had always been why do it yourself when you can hire or bully someone else to do it for you.
“Leo! Stop turning everything into a cheesy headline.” And before he could respond, she quickly added, “I know, I know. Cheesy headlines pay for your Porsche.”
Disgusted, she rubbed at the sudden pain she felt behind her right eye.
“Look, Sue,” he said as if he felt an uncharacteristic wave of sympathy for her. “I know how hard these last couple of years have been for you, okay? But you’re not an investigative reporter anymore.”
Her chest tightened at his words. Words she didn’t really need to hear, since they haunted her every minute of every day. Two and a half years ago, she’d been one of the foremost investigative reporters in the country. Her former boss had nicknamed her Hound Dog Sue because she could sniff a story from a mile away and then run it to ground and bring it home.
And in one moment of gross stupidity, her whole world had come crumbling down around her. She’d been so hungry that she’d run headlong into a setup that had completely destroyed her reputation.
It’d almost cost her her life.
She rubbed at the scar on her wrist as she forced herself not to remember that awful night in November—the only time in her life when she’d actually been weak. She’d come to her senses, and then vowed to never let anyone make her feel that powerless again. No matter what, this was her life and she was going to live it on her own terms.
But for Leo, whom she’d met in college when they’d worked on the staff of the campus paper together, she’d have never worked in journalism again. Not that working for the Daily Inquisitor could ever be construed as true journalism, but at least it allowed her to pay off some of her gargantuan debt and court costs. And though she hated her job, it kept her fed and off the street. For that she owed the little toad.
Leo tore off a sheet of paper and slid it toward her.
“What’s this?” she asked as she took it from his desk.
“It’s a Web address. There’s some college kid who goes by the name Dark Angel who claims she’s working for the undead.”
She stared at him. Oh, yeah… her life was definitely a lemon and she wanted her money back—with interest. “A vampire?”
“Not exactly. She says he’s an immortal shapeshifting warrior who annoys the hell out of her. She’s local, so I want you to check it out and see what else she has to say. Then report everything back to me.”
Oh, this couldn’t be happening to her, and yet that old internal voice in her head was already laughing at her. “Shapeshifter, huh? Is this before or after she drops acid?”
Leo made an irritated noise. “Why don’t you at least try to get into the spirit of the job? You know, it’s really not bad at all. In fact, it’s actually highly entertaining. Live a little, Sue. Let go of the venom. Enjoy it.”
Enjoy it… enjoy being a laughingstock after she’d been working for the Washington Post … yeah. It was hard to Carpe Crap when what she really wanted to do was get her reputation back.
But those days were over. She’d never be a real reporter again.
This was it. Her life. Joy, oh joy—the bad-luck fairy had really screwed her over.
No, she thought as her chest tightened again, that wasn’t true. She’d screwed herself over and she knew it. Heartsick, she turned around and headed back to her desk as she looked at the blog address in her hand.
It’s stupid. Don’t do it. Don’t even go to the site…
But before long, she did, and there it was… a black page with some hand-drawn Gothic artwork on a Web site called deadjournal.com. But her absolute favorite part had to be the header that read: “Musings from the Dark and Twisted Mind of a Damned College Student.”
The girl, Dark Angel, was certainly that. Her entries showed the typical angst of an average student… who was seriously delusional and in need of years of therapy from between the walls of a padded room.
JUNE 3, 2006, 06:45 a.m.
Someone please shoot me. Please. I really can’t stress the “please” part enough. So here I was trying to study for my test tomorrow. Note the word “trying.” So here I am engrossed in the complexities of Babylonian Math, which isn’t really engrossing, to say the least, when all of a sudden my cell phone rings and scares the total shit out of me because the house is even more silent than a tomb—and trust me, I’ve been in enough tombs and crypts to know this for a fact.
At first I stupidly thought it was my father harassing me, until I looked closer at the number and no. Not him. Those who’ve been reading my journal know that it’s my boss, ‘cause who else would call me at this ungodly hour and think that I have no life whatsoever except to serve his every whim and need? Really, take my advice and never work for an immortal. They have no respect whatsoever for those of us with finite lives.
5:30 in the morning, there he is. Calling to tell me that he’s just killed off a bunch of undead people (okay, vampires, but I really hate to use that word ‘cause it draws out all sorts of lunatic weirdos who want to know how they, too, can become vampires and where to find the ones I know, which wouldn’t do anything but get you killed, but back to my original thought) and that I need to pick him up since it’s about to be dawn and he can’t make it home before the sun turns him into grilled toast. You know this isn’t the way to motivate me, since a grilled toast boss = one happy Dark Angel.
Now here’s where I tirade against the fact that if he were just a regular shapeshifter, I wouldn’t have to go get him. He’d be able to get home without help. He could just teleport himself into the house, but back when he made the bargain to become immortal, that ability was taken from him, along with the one that allows him to travel through time and the ability to walk as a man in daylight. And why was this taken from him? One reason. To make my life a living hell of servitude, that’s why.
Oh, and I have to bring him clothes since he’ll most likely be in cat form at Pike’s Market, which is the only way he can be in daylight and not be a crispy critter (really). So when he switches back into human form he’ll be naked and will need clothing—yes, for those with gutter-bent minds, he’s a buff god in theory, but since I’ve known him all my life it’s like seeing your brother naked—can we say “ew”?!