Authors: Jory Strong
Table of Contents
Praise for Jory Strong and her novels
“If other erotic romances are just dessert, then this book is a seven-course meal—plus dessert! . . . Beautifully written.”
—Just Erotic Romance Reviews
“Never a dull moment within this blazing read . . . Be prepared to be in a constant state of arousal.”—
Fallen Angel Reviews
“A beautiful, passionate story . . . Tender, loving, erotic, and consuming.”
“The passion is going to blow your darn mind . . . This is truly an excellent out of this world tale that drew me in and kept me enthralled from beginning to end.”—
Dark Angel Reviews
“A phenomenal and spellbinding read. Jory Strong has once again created a story you will be unable to put down . . . from an author whose imagination seemingly knows no bounds.”
The Romance Studio
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
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.
Copyright © 2009 by Valerie Christenson.
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BERKLEY® SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Berkley Sensation trade paperback edition / August 2009
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Spider-touched / Jory Strong.—Berkley Sensation trade paperback ed.
eISBN : 978-1-101-10184-1
For my aunt Hazel,
who got me hooked on romance stories
THE city was straight out of Araña’s nightmare. A reclaimed port rising from the devastation wrought by The Last War and the anarchy that followed when the supernaturals emerged from hiding.
Pain lanced through her chest in a spasm at the sight of it. An echoed emotion, the blending of reality and the demon vision she’d walked in ten years earlier, on the day she’d climbed onto Erik and Matthew’s boat to avoid the mob hunting her.
Oakland. She’d had no name for the city then, but its image had haunted her for years. Now, as she knocked aside the moisture gathering at the corners of her eyes, she wanted to claim it was the cold ocean breeze causing the tearing, but she knew otherwise.
A gruff male voice cut across her thoughts. “Stop daydreaming, girl,” Matthew said. “Free the jib and ready about.”
Araña did as ordered, freeing the line from its cleat as Erik took up the slack and the
turned away from Oakland, a short reprieve even as the wind drew them deeper into the bay.
Emotion closed her throat as her eyes traveled over Erik, taking in the gaunt appearance of his features, the excess of clothing he required to keep warm. There’d be no cure in this city. No healer who could change the course of the wasting disease and restore him to health.
She wished she could turn aside the future she knew was waiting, the death to come, but her gift was useless except to bring pain and suffering.
Their eyes met, warm brown irises to the solid black of hers, and she saw only what she always saw—confidence, intelligence . . . love.
“That’s San Francisco,” Matthew said, drawing her attention away from Erik by pointing out the city across the bay from Oakland. “Vampires rule there, and only a fool deals with them directly.”
Erik’s laugh was soft, weak, but heartfelt all the same. “And the desperate. There was a time when we were forced to deal with them, until we worked our way into Thierry’s good graces and he mediated.”
Matthew grunted but didn’t reply. Araña smiled, remembering the old bookseller who’d visited them shortly after they’d taken her in.
The sails fluttered as the wind shifted. “Ready about,” Matthew said, and she automatically reached for the jib line, pulling it in when Erik loosened his.
They swung around, once again facing Oakland, steadily working their way deeper into the bay and then into the channel. They were operating under sail rather than using the
’s motor because its heavy throb would draw attention to them and reveal the speed the engine was capable of when needed.
Guardsmen in camouflage-patterned uniforms patrolled the docks along with the heavily armed private security forces stationed on container ships. The sight of them tightened Araña’s stomach to the point of pain.
There was safety in the waters she called home, in the boat towns formed when crafts of all shapes and descriptions were tethered together on a calm sea.
There was safety in the small armed settlements held in land surrounded by packs of werewolves. But here . . .
Matthew and Erik were wanted men, though their days of piracy had ended shortly after she arrived in their lives. Not that they’d given up thievery.
She’d learned from the best and felt no guilt over the jobs she’d accompanied them on. Why would she?
It was hard to find evil in the deed when they earned their money helping one rich man steal from another while the vast majority struggled to survive in a land forever changed by war and plague and the emergence of the supernaturals.
In the books that were Erik’s passion, there were stories of a United States where civil rights prevailed, opportunity abounded, and humans lived in ignorance of the unseen. There were pictures bearing little resemblance to the places that now existed. Towering, gleaming cities turned to burned-out rubble and hollowed-out sanctuaries for the lawless as well as the desperate, most of it slowly being reclaimed by the forests.
Where human civilization made a stand, its nature was determined by those in power, all of them wealthy, all of them beyond the daily struggle for food and shelter. But whether those places were controlled by the religious—as the settlement where she’d spent the first twelve years of her life had been—or by politicians backed by guardsmen and police, they held only the daylight hours. The night belonged to the predators—natural and supernatural alike.
Araña’s eyes settled on Erik again. Only pride and the stimulants coursing through his system gave him the strength to help with the jib. He was in no condition to walk long distances.
“What part of the city is the healer in?” she asked as they neared the dock, her throat tightening on the words as the emotion of her long-ago vision surged from the past, washing over her in an agonizing wave to remind her that only death waited in this city called Oakland.
“The Church has influence here,” Matthew said. “There’s a section set aside for humans born with
. The healer will live there. Best go ahead and put your glove on.”
Araña reached for the fingerless glove she was never without and slipped it over her left hand, hiding the brand burned into her flesh by a now dead clergyman. Her gaze flicked to Matthew. The hard set of his features hid his worry, but she knew it was there, just as she knew something inside him would die with Erik.
They turned into the wind. “Drop the jib,” he said.
Araña lowered the triangular staysail then went to the front of the boat to gather and stow it in a waterproof bag. The mainsail followed and she secured it to the boom, their momentum carrying them close enough to throw a line to a thick-necked man who pulled them into an unoccupied slip.
“Pay at the end of the dock,” he said when the boat was secure. “If you bring trouble here, the boat gets impounded along with everything on board.”
He left without waiting for acknowledgment. Araña climbed from the boat and turned to offer her hand to Erik as Matthew waited, allowing Erik his pride but there to aid him onto the finger pier all the same.