Read Shadowflame Online

Authors: Dianne Sylvan

Tags: #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Fiction

Shadowflame

BOOK: Shadowflame
5.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

PRAISE FOR QUEEN OF SHADOWS

“Sylvan’s powerful debut is packed with startling action, sensual romance, and delightfully nerdy vampires . . . [Her] compelling take on vampirism, her endearing characters, and a complex, unabashedly feminist plot will have readers hungry for a sequel.”


Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

 


Queen of Shadows
pulled me in . . . Dianne Sylvan’s rich, dark, sexy reimagined Austin is filled with people I want to visit again and again . . . Sylvan’s got voice, doesn’t miss a beat, and rocks it all the way to the last note. Sit down. Shut up. And enjoy the show. It’s intense, dark, sexy, with just the right touch of humor. Looking for a new addiction? Go no further.”

—Devon Monk, author of
Dead Iron

“Grabbed me on the first page and didn’t let go. Miranda, the heroine, is vulnerable and gutsy, with magical abilities even she doesn’t suspect. Vampire David Solomon is as powerful and heroic as he is deliciously seductive. Dianne Sylvan has created an original take on vampires that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’ll be looking for her next book with great anticipation. She’s a skilled and talented storyteller who definitively knows how to deliver one hell of a book!”

—Angela Knight,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Master of Shadows

 

“Dianne Sylvan is an incredibly talented writer. She draws the reader not only into the story but into the very marrow of someone who is starting to question [her] grip on reality. If you aren’t familiar with the Austin area, you will be once you turn that last page . . .
Queen of Shadows
concludes with a great flourish, leaving the reader euphoric.”


Sacramento Book Review

“It’s not hard for me to pinpoint why
Queen of Shadows
works so well for me. There [are] three reasons, actually. One, Miranda doesn’t just suddenly overcome her fears. Two, David is honest about who he is [and] what he has done, and doesn’t expect anything more from Miranda than a safe recovery. And three, the soul mate/destined-for-oneanother principle works here in a believable way.”


Night Owl Reviews

 

“Well written . . . The relationship between the empath and the vampire makes for a strong Shadow World thriller that will enthrall the audience with a sense of awe, as supernatural Austin comes across [as] realistic through the filters of the flawed lead protagonists.”


Alternative Worlds

“My favorite book of 2010 so far . . . Moving, well written, suspenseful, and sensual, this is a novel you won’t want to miss.”


Fantasy Literature

“Miranda’s character is a treat as she moves from victim to self-possessed, capable heroine . . . The supporting characters are equally well developed, providing a sense of weight and history to this thoroughly entertaining take on paranormal romance.”


Monsters and Critics

“Plucked at my heartstrings in a smooth rhythm of fear, mistrust, and love . . . Watching the romance between Miranda and David develop was a treat. Watching Miranda become a true warrior woman was the icing on the cake.”


Bitten by Books

 


Queen of Shadows
will make the reader feel. Feel the emotions of the characters and their own emotions . . . a perfect 10. Highly recommended.”


Romance Reviews Today

Ace Books by Dianne Sylvan

QUEEN OF SHADOWS
SHADOWFLAME

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,
South Africa

 

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination 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.

 

SHADOWFLAME

 

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

 

PRINTING HISTORY
Ace mass-market edition / August 2011

 

Copyright © 2011 by Dianne Sylvan.

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

 

ISBN : 978-1-101-52927-0

 

ACE
Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

 

 

http://us.penguingroup.com

To Red, who opened the first door, and to Meredith, who opened the second

PART ONE

Exile from Eden

One

Autumn that year came in like a lion and devoured the last few straggling moments of an endless, scorching summer. Storms swept through central Texas and scoured the world clean of dust and dried grass. The entire city seemed to come alive once the burden of heat was lifted.

The nights were already chilly the first week of October when the last known member of the Blackthorn gang sprinted in terror through the streets of Austin, searching for someone, anyone, who would shelter him.

Door after door slammed in his face. No one in the Shadow World was stupid enough to take him in . . . not tonight. Bars closed early, windows went dark, and the wind’s icy fingers snatched all hope of escape from the city’s empty streets. Only a fool would look outside tonight. Only a fool would get involved.

The Signet was on the hunt.

Desperate, he ran for the heavily populated areas of downtown, hoping to get lost in the mortal crowd, unaware that across the city his low body temperature and preternatural speed were being tracked by a bank of computers that sent out his coordinates every five seconds. There was nowhere he could go now without a target flashing on his every move.

“Status report.”

Faith’s voice was fierce even through the digital ether.
“Rabbit is approaching the eastern corner of Fifth and Trinity. Move to intercept?”

From her perch atop the restaurant across the intersection, the Queen of the Southern United States watched the streets with her eyes narrowed, sweeping the area with her senses. She stood with one foot up on the low wall around the roof’s perimeter and held her hair back out of her face with one hand. Her breath came in smoky clouds, slow and calm, as she waited, patient, unhurried.

Human traffic was high even for a Thursday. Their quarry had no doubt come this way precisely for that reason, believing that the Elite wouldn’t want to cause a scene.

“Hold your position,” she replied into her com just as a thin shape darted around the corner, weaving his way among the people on the sidewalk, trying not to look like he was on the run.

He crossed Trinity against the light, narrowly avoiding a bus, intent on reaching the side nearest her, which was far less busy, darker, and located conveniently near an underground access point. She let him cross and waited.

Finally, when he thought he might be safe and slowed his pace, she vaulted over the side of the building. The air rushed past her for two stories, and she twisted in midair to land, her boots striking the pavement solidly.

She straightened, tossing her hair back over her shoulders, the wind catching her coat and whipping it back to expose her throat. When the rabbit saw what was around her neck he froze and went ghostly white.

He spun around to run back the way he had come, but he was surrounded. Behind him Faith crossed her arms and smiled.

He faced Miranda an inch away from panic.

“Would you like to beg?” she asked.

Mindless survival instinct gripped him and he threw himself at her, snarling.

She laughed, stepped to the side, and caught him in the face with a fist. He landed sprawling with an animal cry of fear and pain and scrambled back to his feet, trying to gain some kind of advantage when there was none to gain. He took a swing at her, and she blocked it easily, twisting to punch him in the gut and again in the head.

He stumbled but didn’t fall; he was no weakling, though it clearly surprised him that she wasn’t either. Obviously he hadn’t listened to the whispers that had rolled slowly through the Shadow World like an oncoming storm for the past three months . . . or he’d heard the stories and dismissed them, as no mere woman could be so strong.

He was learning differently now. She ducked another hit, this one more reckless. His fear was beginning to show.

She liked that.

She spun around and kicked him in the head, and he went down but immediately forced himself back to his feet despite the blood flowing from his nose and mouth. He was clearly dazed, but desperation drove him to try again and again, only to be beaten back by a laughing Queen who hadn’t even broken a sweat.

There were humans nearby, approaching from the east. Distractedly she bent her will toward them and gave them a mental nudge to turn left instead of right. By the time they realized they were headed in the wrong direction, there would be nothing to see.

She moved closer to the rabbit until she was only a few feet from him, allowing her power to swell around her. He let out a whimper and fell back.

“Kneel before your Queen,” she hissed.

He dropped to his knees, sobbing incoherently in her shadow.

“A fine display from a man who killed two of my Elite during the war,” she said. “You were a key player in the gang, Jackson. We know who you are and have a list of your crimes. You’ve eluded capture this long only because you hid like a coward while your friends died in your place. But not anymore.”

At the sound of her sword being drawn from its sheath, Jackson fell down on his elbows, clapping his hands over the back of his neck. Now he decided to beg; he blamed the others in the gang, especially Ariana and Bethany Blackthorn, for forcing him to kill. He wasn’t responsible, they were; he was only following orders.

She’d heard it all a dozen times in the last few months, and she knew every time, as she did now, that it was a lie.

“You disappoint me,” she told him. “Worse? You bore me.” She kicked him again, this time in the side, so he instinctively moved his arms down to protect his stomach and left his neck exposed. With a single graceful swing she beheaded him and leapt back in time to avoid the gush of blood that bathed the sidewalk scarlet as his body toppled over.

Dark, grim satisfaction warmed her as the body twitched into stillness. The head had landed faceup, its eyes gaping open in shock, mouth slack.

She leaned down, seized the edge of Jackson’s jacket, and used it to wipe her sword before sheathing the blade. She would need to clean it thoroughly when she got home; Sophie had taught her never to let a blade go to rest still bloodied . . . not to mention that the sword itself had once belonged to Sophie, and Miranda could practically hear the diminutive vampire’s acerbic voice every time she was tempted not to treat the weapon with the respect it was due.

She looked up at Faith, who was smiling ferally. “Cleanup on aisle three,” Miranda said.

Faith gestured to the rest of her team. They knew the procedure: Take the body and the head up on the roof of a nearby building where it would be exposed to the sun at dawn but not likely found by any passing mortal. Tap into the hydrant nearby to spray off the blood. Hopefully after tonight it would be the last time they’d have to go through the routine for a while.

She stood watching for a moment while they worked, and Faith joined her. “You’re getting disturbingly good at this kind of thing,” the Second said quietly. “I’m still not used to seeing it.”

Miranda smiled. “What’s even more disturbing is that I’m not disturbed at all.”

Faith shrugged. “I recall you saying that first night: This is your work now.”

The Queen thought back to the battle at the Haven and the long night of cleanup and casualties that had followed. Faith had wanted her to go and rest. She had declined and instead stepped into her role without hesitation, organizing the Elite to burn the dead and patch up the wounded, leaving the Prime to restore the network and deal with the damage to the building itself. It had been nearly sunrise before either of them had stood still.

“Where is our Lord and Master tonight?” Faith asked. “Shouldn’t he have been out here, too?”

“No,” the Queen replied, eyes on Jackson’s headless corpse as two Elite maneuvered it onto a plastic sheet to carry it away. “He had an appointment. It’s best if I handle this anyway—I want my presence known.”

“I think you’ve succeeded there.” Faith nodded toward the scene. “We’ve got this if you need to go.”

“Good. I’ll see you back at the Haven. Have the night’s final report on the server before you code off shift.”

Faith bowed to her, as did the others. Miranda nodded, then turned and walked off into the darkness.

 

The standoff took place in a back corner booth at Kerbey Lane Café.

A woman with a shaved head and multiple facial piercings stared down a blue-eyed man in a long black coat as he drank a Corona with lime and she ate a plate of black bean nachos. Around them the café bustled as always, the patrons blessedly ignorant of what might be unfolding among them.

They could have been any two people—albeit an odd couple—on a date getting to know each other over Tex-Mex.

“So . . . you’re a vampire.”

He gave her a measured nod.

“And you’re officially the most badass vampire in Texas.”

“The Southern United States, yes.”

Kat stared at him hard, and he couldn’t help but be impressed; she wasn’t afraid of him, at least not yet. Most humans could feel something of what he was, and it made them uneasy. Either she couldn’t feel it, which made her as dumb as a bag of hammers, or she was strong enough to stand her ground.

His money was on the latter.

He knew he could terrify her if he wanted to. All he had to do was let his shielding slip or will his eyes to silver or his teeth to extend. He could fix her with a certain facial expression—that of a panther watching a deer from a tree overhead—and she would instinctively seek an escape, any escape.

He didn’t do any of those things. This was too important for such childish play.

For the first time in a long time, David Solomon had something to prove besides how frightening he was.

“You turned my best friend into a vampire,” Kat said, her stare unwavering. “Why should I have anything to do with you?”

“Because you care about her,” he replied reasonably, “and you know that I’m not going away.”

“I know this story,” she told him. “Hot mysterious guy sweeps in right when she needs someone, isolates her from her life, pulls her into something dangerous. You know how those things end up? In bruises and hotline phone calls. Restraining orders. Best friends with concealed handgun permits showing up at the guy’s house and shooting his balls off.”

He looked down at her messenger bag. “Let me guess . . . a Sig P232?”

“Not the point, Count Pretty Boy.” Her eyes narrowed. “Although, if I shot your balls off, would they grow back?”

David smiled. “I think you and I are going to get along fine, Kat.”

“Speak for yourself. Tell me what makes you the kind of guy that deserves Miranda.”

“I don’t,” he said. “But she and I are bonded and will be so until our death. Nothing can change that now. She’s stuck with me . . . and so are you, if you want to keep her friendship, and I sincerely hope you do.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s going to need you. In some ways she’s as old as I am, but in others still so young . . . she still has ties to the mortal world that she wants to hold on to. Whether that proves possible will depend on the kind of support she gets from that world, namely you.”

“Then you’re saying I’ll help keep her human.”

“No.” He sat forward, holding her gaze. “She isn’t human, Kat. She never will be again. One day she’ll watch you grow old and die, and she’ll stay the same, ageless, eternal, until someone murders us both. What she is, is your friend, and the fact that she wants to stay your friend despite the pain inherent in loving a mortal speaks very highly of you. You should be honored.”

Kat nodded slowly, almost smiling. “So should you.”

“I am.”

She nodded again, and then said, “You’re buying, right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Then let’s talk about dessert.”

 

Five minutes before curtain—just as her agent, Denise, was about to have a coronary—Miranda Grey strode into the club with her hair tangled from the wind and her eyes bright with the thrill of the hunt.

She could hear the crowd on the far side of the stage, one low murmur of three hundred voices, their collective expectation a living thing crawling up the walls. She took the flight of metal stairs up to the wings with a grin on her face and drank in their emotions on a single deep breath.

She gave Denise a thumbs-up. Denise made a foreheadwiping motion of exasperated relief in return. Flipping her hair back and shrugging her coat into the tech’s hands, Miranda turned toward the stage manager and nodded.

A hush fell as the house lights lowered and the spotlight trained on the mike and the single object behind it: her guitar, on a stand, gleaming black.

Applause erupted when they saw it.

Miranda smiled and walked out into the light.

 

There were three things that Miranda wanted after every show: blood, chocolate, and a hot shower.

Before she could have any of those, however, she had to get backstage and run the press gauntlet, then somehow sneak out the back to either drive herself or wait for Harlan to take her somewhere more private to hunt.

There were a great many vehicles at the Signet’s disposal, but the one the Prime favored was the Town Car that Harlan piloted through the city streets; if he and the Queen needed to be in separate places or ran on different schedules, as often happened these days, they had to coordinate Harlan’s trips or, as she preferred, she had to bring her own car into town.

Although David had serious misgivings about her being alone in the city, Miranda loved her car, and she loved taking the winding road that led up to the Haven through the Hill Country. She liked being independent. So most nights after she was finished at her gig and had found herself someone for dinner, she slid behind the wheel of her little silver Toyota and took Loop 360 out of town.

She was almost ready to escape the club’s heat and noise when Denise knocked on the dressing room door and said, “Hey, do you have a minute?”

“Sure,” Miranda called, double-checking that the mirror was still covered with a towel. “What’s up?” she asked, gathering her sweaty hair back out of her face and securing it with a stretchy band.

BOOK: Shadowflame
5.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

It Stings So Sweet by Draven, Stephanie
Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein
Prince of Spies by Bianca D'Arc
Forget-Me-Not Bride by Margaret Pemberton