Authors: Sara Humphreys
Copyright © 2013 by Sara Humphreys
Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Jamie Warren
Cover photography by Stephen Youll
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“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.”
For my husband, Will.
White light pulsed and flickered through the club in time with the gritty dance music. The crowd of writhing bodies throbbed with the unmistakable energy of lust as they clamored for a connection—any connection. Hands wandered, looks were cast, and figures melded together, almost becoming one.
Maybe living like a human wouldn’t be that bad.
Marianna leaned back in the horseshoe-shaped VIP booth and watched the humans as they danced. The scene before her flickered rapidly between darkness to blinding, artificial light as the strobes flared. She observed couples as they disappeared into the crowd, losing themselves in the music, the sex in the air, and in the moment.
No conversations. Eyes closed.
No past. Bodies touching.
No future. Hips swaying.
She sipped her champagne and crossed her bare legs as she witnessed the mating rituals that they participated in with relentless energy. They spent their lives looking for someone to ease the loneliness, with no idea who or what they were looking for. No predestined mate. No clan. No telepathy. No shapeshifting. No powers of visualization. Aging and eventually dying.
On second thought, living like a human was going to suck.
Marianna shuddered and took a swig of her champagne. As a pure-blooded Amoveo female from the Bear Clan, she should have found her mate by now, or he should’ve found her, but he hadn’t. Having past her thirtieth birthday, she could already feel her Amoveo abilities waning, and if she didn’t find her mate soon, they would disappear altogether, and she would have to live, for all intents and purposes, as a human.
Mateless. Powerless. Alone.
Yup, she thought, sighing heavily, it was going to suck.
The bass beat vibrated the tabletop beneath her fingers. Hayden sat next to her with his arm draped behind her, wearing his usual air of irritating arrogance. She wanted to tell him where he could stick it, but instead, opted for ignoring him as much as possible.
He hated this place—most Amoveo did because it was owned and operated by vampires—but of course, that’s exactly why she came here. Up until tonight, hanging out at The Coven had been a surefire way to keep Hayden and the rest of the Amoveo out of her hair. Apparently, his desire to try and get her to mate with him overrode his innate disgust of vampires.
“I have to admit, Hayden,” she said over the music. “I’m more than a little surprised that you came to The Coven tonight.”
Marianna glanced at him over the rim of her glass and offered him a tight smile. She could still connect with any Amoveo telepathically, but didn’t necessarily want to. She didn’t care for being next to him in the booth, so the last thing she wanted to do was invite him into her head.
“You practically live here now.” He drained the rest of his scotch. “Although I can’t fathom why.”
He didn’t look at her, but leveled his dark eyes at the humans who passed by their table. Marianna noticed how hard and unforgiving his features were. Hatred and contempt oozed off him like bad cologne and stuck in her throat. She knew most women found him handsome, but she thought he was far too much of an asshole to be attractive.
Hayden was a self-entitled tool who rode his father’s coattails with obnoxious ease and made no secret that he wanted her for himself. He wasn’t her predestined mate, and he knew it as well as she did, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Unfortunately.
“Olivia is my friend, Hayden. If I’m going to go clubbing in the city, then I may as well go someplace where I’m friends with the owner.” She narrowed her eyes and struggled to keep her voice even. She didn’t want to fight with him. She just wanted him to go away. “I like sitting at the VIP booth and doing a bit of people-watching.”
? She’s a vampire,” he said with contempt. “Vampires are dirty, disgusting creatures. They drink the blood of humans, which makes them no better than humans. In fact, it makes them worse and puts them far below us on the evolutionary chain. If it weren’t for you, I would never step foot in a place like this.”
At that moment, a young human girl with dark, heavy eye makeup sauntered by the table and gave Hayden what was surely her most seductive look. Clad in a tiny black dress, fishnets, and several tattoos, she looked like a regular here at The Coven. She ran one hand through her long dark hair and winked at Hayden as she swayed to the music.
Hayden promptly looked away and inched closer to Marianna. The girl shot him a dirty look and turned her attentions to another clubgoer who had almost as many tattoos as she did. Moments later, they were absorbed into the dancing mob.
“As for your
,” he sneered, “I could do without it. I may as well be at a farm watching pigs wallow in mud.”
Olivia’s voice touched her mind gently, and Marianna suppressed a grin. She scanned the club and found Olivia behind the bar with her two bartenders—both vamps. Her bright red hair made her easy to spot in the sea of black. Olivia was the owner of the club, the head of this all-female vampire coven, and one of Marianna’s best friends.
He’s not my friend, and you know it, but I’m thrilled that he’s squirming,
Marianna thought back with a smirk.
soon. It will annoy him and hopefully get him to leave
He’s not bad looking, but you obviously loathe him, and you already told me he’s not your mate, so why even bother?
Olivia continued to make drinks and tend customers without missing a beat.
Let’s just say it’s politics
. She gripped her champagne flute and gave a slanted glance toward Hayden.
started. However, I’m getting tired of playing nice. Now be a good friend. Get your ass over here, and flash him your fangs.
Olivia’s laughter jingled along her mind.
Now, come on. If any of my human customers got wind of my wiles, we’d have a serious problem on our hands. I don’t feel like fending off silver, crosses, garlic, and wooden stakes—that’s so last millennium.
couldn’t hurt vampires?
can’t, but Hollywood keeps perpetuating the myth. I really don’t care for garlic, and it takes forever to get rid of the stench
. She threw a wink from behind the bar.
I’ll be over in a second.
Another song erupted loudly, and the startled look on Hayden’s face made Marianna want to bust out laughing. If he insisted on chasing her, then she was going to make it as uncomfortable for him as possible.
“I love this freaking song!” Marianna raised her arms in the air. “I think it’s just about time to dance.”
“I don’t think so.” He grabbed her arm and yanked her toward him, preventing her from leaving. “Aren’t you almost finished with your champagne?” He shouted over the music and looked at his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes.
“Oh dear, I hope you’re not leaving yet.” Olivia’s voice cut into their conversation, and Marianna smothered a giggle when she saw the look of surprise flicker briefly over Hayden’s face.
“Hey, Olivia,” Marianna said with a big smile as she tugged her arm free of Hayden’s grasp. “The club is packed tonight, so thanks again for hooking me up with the VIP booth. I would tell you that you don’t always have to give me VIP status, but I’d be lying. However, as much as I adore it, I don’t want to wear out my welcome.”
“Anything for you, Marianna. You know that,” she replied without taking her emerald green eyes off of Hayden. Olivia folded her arms over her chest, and her lips lifted at the corners. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”
“Hayden,” he bit out. He kept a neutral expression on his face, but his energy signature—the spiritual fingerprint that all Amoveo had—pulsed with nerves and fear in the air around her.
Marianna arched one eyebrow and touched her mind to Olivia’s.
he’s afraid of you.
Marianna had expected him to be uncomfortable. To climb up on his high-horse of superiority and look down his nose at Olivia, but never, in a million years, did she think he was
ass, and call me Sally.
A smile spread across Olivia’s face.
didn’t want to do anything to draw attention to yourself.
Marianna rubbed her thumb along the edge of the champagne flute as she surveyed the humans who brushed by the table. Clad in her Armani suit, Olivia may as well have been wearing a sign that said, “I own this place and could buy you free drinks if I wanted to.”
Don’t worry. I’m just going to see how easily his buttons are pushed.
Her voice dropped low as it wafted along Marianna’s mind.
Besides, I don’t like the way he put his hands on you. This guy isn’t just a dick; he’s violent. I can see it in him as clearly as I can see his hideous taste in clothing. No man—Amoveo or otherwise—should be caught dead wearing a T-shirt like that. He looks like a
Marianna almost spit out her mouthful of champagne on the last comment.
“Where the hell is the waitress?” Hayden flicked his cold gaze back to Olivia and slid his glass across the table. “I need another Scotch.”
In a blur of inhuman speed, Olivia leaned on the table with both hands and got right in Hayden’s face. “I’m sorry,” she said innocently. “I couldn’t hear you over the music. What did you say?”
They all knew that was bullshit. Olivia’s hearing was better than any Amoveo’s. Members of the Fox Clan had extremely acute hearing—the best of all ten clans—but not better than a vampire. She was just messing with Hayden, and he knew it.
“A Scotch,” he seethed. “On the rocks.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like something with a little more
?” Olivia’s green eyes flicked down to Hayden’s throat, which worked as he swallowed. “Our signature drink is very popular.” Her grin broadened. “The Bloody Mary.”
Hayden’s lip curled in disgust, and sweat broke out on his brow. “Scotch.”
“Of course.” Olivia sighed and pushed herself off the table, while keeping her attention on Hayden. “I suppose there’s no accounting for taste, but who am I to argue with the customer?” She flashed her fangs so quickly that Marianna almost missed it. However, based on Hayden’s pasty complexion, he didn’t. “I’ll be right back,” she said with a wink.
Hayden’s energy signature calmed down as Olivia increased the distance between them and went behind the bar to collect his drink. Marianna studied him more closely and scolded herself for not seeing it before. She wondered how many other shifters were afraid of vampires like Hayden was. It made sense. Most prejudice was rooted in fear, wasn’t it?
“It’s time to go, Marianna.” Hayden threw a wad of cash on the table. “This place is making me sick to my stomach.”
“You’re welcome to leave anytime you like, but I’m not going anywhere.” He tried telepathy again, but she held up a mental barrier to prevent it and was certain that bothered him more than the ear-shattering music. “Besides, Olivia will be back soon with your Scotch.”
“I ordered another just to get her the hell away from me. I can’t abide the stench of vampires.” He looked at his watch again, and she suppressed a smirk. Vampires didn’t smell bad. Maybe he was smelling his own fear? “It’s well after midnight, and we still haven’t discussed the subject at hand.”
“There’s nothing left to discuss.” She sighed without looking at him. “You aren’t my mate, and I’m not yours, so I don’t know what else there is to talk about.”
“Marianna,” he growled. “This isn’t just about us.”
She let out a short laugh and shook her head. “There is no
“You still haven’t declared your allegiance to the Purists,” he said, ignoring her last comment. “My father is losing patience. You are a high-ranking member of the Bear Clan and served on the Council before it dissolved. I don’t understand what the holdup is.” He waved at Susie, the only human waitress at the club, but she failed to see it, which increased his level of aggravation. “Since you’re obviously not siding with your brother and the rest of those human-loving traitors—”
“Don’t,” she ground out. Marianna leveled a deadly glare at him. The space suddenly felt too small, and if she didn’t get control over her emotions, she was going to shift into her Kodiak bear form and tear off his head off right there in the middle of the club. “Don’t you dare say a bad word about Dante. He is
a traitor, and you can tell your father that I said as much.” Her dark eyes narrowed. “We may be part of the same clan, Hayden, but that doesn’t mean much these days, now does it?”
“Really?” Hayden let out a harsh laugh. “Your brother is mated to a half-breed freak. He and the others like him are breeding human weakness into our race.” He grabbed her upper arm, pulled her close, and growled into her ear. “Your father knew this and tried to wipe them out. He’s dead because of the hybrids and the other Amoveo who have the nerve to call themselves Loyalists. How can you consider soiling the Coltari name any further?”