Read When Twilight Burns Online

Authors: Colleen Gleason

Tags: #Fiction/Romance/Paranormal

When Twilight Burns

BOOK: When Twilight Burns
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Second Edition.

When Twilight Burns
© 2008, 2014 Colleen Gleason

All rights reserved.

 

Ebook ISBN: 9781931419543

Print ISBN: 9781931419598

This book was previously published by The Penguin Group.

 

Cover design: Damon Za

Ebook formatting: Typesetter

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

For Linda,

for all those mornings and afternoons on the phone. Every day.

And in memory of my grandmother, Laura Genevieve.

+ Prologue +

Wherein Our Heroine Has a Rude Awakening

Victoria opened her eyes.

A ring of faces looked down at her: Max, his face shadowed but sharp-eyed; Sebastian, golden-haired and tense; Wayren, near the foot of the bed, her pale oval face tight. Ylito and Hannever stood above Victoria's head, frozen and watchful. She knew from the pattern on the stone walls behind them that she was in the Consilium, the secret, subterranean space belonging to the Venators. The vampire hunters—of which she was the leader.

“What—” Her head felt soupy and her eyelids heavy, and suddenly she remembered. “Beauregard!”

As memory sliced through the fuzziness, she tried to pull up, but her ankles and one of her wrists were caught fast. Someone's—Max's—fingers tightened around her left arm, keeping it pinned to the bed beneath her, and before she could react with the anger and confusion erupting inside her, a splash of water caught her over the face.

The cold seeped down into her hair and over the warm skin of her neck, and she jerked beneath her restraints.

“Why did you do that?” she said, glaring up at Ylito, who'd tipped the vial over her face. She raised her free arm, near Sebastian, to brush some of the water from her eye.

No one answered…yet, something in the room had changed. Eased. Sebastian glanced at Wayren, who was looking at Ylito over Victoria.

“Is it possible?” asked the ringlet-haired man.

“I don't know how it can be, Ylito,” Wayren replied.

The tightness in her dear friend's face had softened, and her countenance had taken on more of that serene look Victoria was used to seeing.

What was happening?

And then the realization of a searing pain in her neck, and the memory flash of shadows and blood, and long, sleek fangs brought it all back to her.

Beauregard
…
she'd been with Beauregard, the master vampire
…
his cold and warm mouth on hers, his teeth sliding into her flesh…the brush of skin against skin…the rusty taste of blood
…
on her lips. Pooling, rich and heavy, on her tongue. Filling her throat. His hands, smooth and sure…everywhere.

He'd bitten her, fed on her. Had she drunk his blood? Oh…
God
…

Her heart was racing now, and she wanted to struggle, to whip off Max's firm hold on her arm, to sit up and demand to know what had happened. But the others were talking, above her, around her, as if she wasn't there.

For a moment, Victoria was afraid to know.

And then, Wayren was touching her, smoothing her hands down over Victoria's face, her wounded throat. Light and warm and sure, the pressure was soothing, spreading relief through her body. As she touched her, Wayren hummed a chantlike prayer deep in the back of her throat, and Victoria felt the vibrations coming through Wayren's fingertips, rippling through her body.

“The two
vis bullae
.”

Max's quiet voice broke into the charged silence. He stepped back, releasing Victoria's wrist and, she noticed for the first time, the stake that rested on the table next to him.

Dear God, he'd been ready to stake her. They'd feared Beauregard had turned her.

Her mouth dried and she swiveled toward him, but Max was looking intently at Wayren. “She wears two of them, does she not?” he asked.

And then she realized what had happened, even as they discussed the situation above her head, above her prone body: it was only because of the two holy strength amulets that she wore, the badges of her Venator calling to hunt vampires, that she'd been saved from becoming one of the very undead that she vowed to destroy.

A chill wave rushed over her and Victoria closed her eyes, the conversation around her becoming a distorted buzz. When she looked again, she found herself caught by Sebastian's dark amber gaze. He was looking down at her, a frozen expression on his handsome face.

It took her a moment to remember what had happened, and for the anger at his betrayal to bubble up inside her aching body: he'd stolen from the Consilium, from the Venators.

Her sometime lover, sometime enemy had deceived her in even more ways than she had expected.

He was a Venator. Born of the Gardella family tree.

A Venator who had disdained his calling for years because of loyalty to his great-great-great-grandfather, Beauregard. One of the most powerful of vampires.

Her fury abated slightly as another scrap of memory slipped into place:
Sebastian, thrusting himself between her and Beauregard, shouting at her to leave, even as she shoved a stake meant for Beauregard into Sebastian's shoulder
…
and the blood, blood that wasn't supposed to be there…

She saw the crusty bloom even now on his sweat-stained shirt.

And then another memory consumed her, a dark liquid one
…of heavy, deep pleasure…lush shadows and dangerous pleasure and heat…hands, and lips, and tongue…And Sebastian, again, his face pale and desperate, pleading with Beauregard for her release.

And her own laugh, welling up from deep inside her, husky and low. Derisive. Dismissive.

And then the handsome face of Sebastian's grandfather bending to hers, his fangs sleek and lethal, his lips warm and cold.

Oh God.

“What about Beauregard?” she said suddenly, her voice commanding their attention. She sat up, and the room hardly dipped at all.

“He's dead,” Max said flatly, his face still in shadow.

A modicum of relief seeped through her body, and she looked at Sebastian. From the expression on his face, she realized he'd done the impossible:
he'd
killed the six-hundred-year-old vampire who had been his grandfather.

She reached for his hand and his fingers closed around hers. She squeezed them: in thanks and apology.

“Will you join us again, now?” she asked in the strong, demanding voice of
Summa
Gardella, the leader of the Venators.

“I will.”

And then, with belated horror, she remembered: Max.

Victoria turned once more and their eyes met. The studiously flat expression there told her all she needed to know. Sebastian might be taking his rightful place within the ranks of the Venators, but Max no longer could. He'd given up his Venator powers in order to destroy the thrall Lilith the Dark, Queen of the Vampires, had held over him.

+ One +

Two Dogs Circling

“Lilith won't know
I've severed her hold on me until she tries to exert it,” Max said. Exhaustion trembled in his muscles, and he swore he could feel his eyes sinking more deeply into their sockets.

The last time he'd felt so bruised and empty had been after the battle with Nedas, Lilith's son, last fall. Max had been forced to execute Eustacia, his mentor and Victoria's great-aunt. Eustacia was one of the most powerful Venators who ever lived. She'd ordered Max to sacrifice her so he could get close enough to Nedas to destroy him and the powerful, demonic obelisk in his possession.

It had been the hardest thing he'd ever done.

Now, here he was, ready to leave the Venators permanently.

Only an hour had passed since Victoria awakened from her ordeal, and he and Wayren had slipped away to her library here in the Consilium, the subterranean headquarters of the Venators, in order to discuss his future.

They'd left Sebastian Vioget simpering over a pale-visaged, hollow-cheeked Victoria.

It was just as well, for that was quite obviously the way the wind blew. Although Max had had a moment of perverse satisfaction when he realized Vioget hadn't known Victoria wore two
vis bullae.

“But once Lilith realizes I'm free, she'll consider it a betrayal,” he said, returning to the conversation.

“And she won't rest until she finds you,” Wayren replied in her even voice. She looked at him with her cool blue-gray eyes, reality shining there. “Her fury will know no bounds.”

“How fortunate I am to be the object of such passion.” Max tasted bitterness.

At that moment, there was a knock at the door and Vioget came in without waiting for invitation.

Max glanced up, not bothering to hide the flash of animosity in his face. Still flecked with blood, dirt, and debris from his battle to rescue Victoria from Beauregard's lair, Vioget looked weary and uncharacteristically out of sorts. Max supposed that was only to be expected, after having been stabbed in the shoulder by the stake meant for a vampire. And by his lover, too.

Max's lips twitched. Victoria with one
vis bulla
was stronger than any man—but wearing two, her strength would be superhuman. Vioget had to be in pain, even being a Venator.

Despite the fact that Vioget had called Beauregard “Grandfather,” the man was also a born Venator. Vioget's father had descended from Beauregard's mortal son, many generations after the vampire had been turned undead. And his mother had apparently carried some measure of Gardella blood in her, which had passed on to Vioget in an ironic turn: the grandson of a vampire was called to be a slayer of the undead.

“So sorry to interrupt,” Sebastian said in dulcet tones that didn't match his disheveled appearance. He barely glanced at Max, turning pointedly to Wayren.

She sat not behind her desk, but in a cushioned chair, dressed as always like a medieval chatelaine in a long, loose gown with pointed sleeves that brushed the floor. This night, the bulk of her pale blonde hair hung in two thick braids, with two finger-slim ones hanging from her temples. She wore no jewelry or adornment except for the braided leather girdle at her waist, upon which hung a ring of keys.

“I have a matter of some urgency which I must discuss with you,” Vioget continued.

“I imagine you do. Beauregard's death at your hand probably won't be well received by his undead compatriots,” Max replied pleasantly. “Especially since for the last decade you've fairly lived among them. You may actually need to bestir yourself to slay a few more in order to protect your hide.”

He and Vioget had known each other for more than fifteen years, long before either even knew that vampires existed. The animosity between them had been put aside for the few hours it took to rescue Victoria, but Max saw no reason to hide his antipathy for Vioget and his years of denying his calling as a Venator. Cowardice or selfishness—Max wasn't sure which one had driven the man—but it didn't matter to him.

BOOK: When Twilight Burns
11.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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