No one would call vampire Colin Ames-Beaumont kind, but they would call him unnaturally beautiful. For two centuries his tainted blood has kept him isolated from other vampires, sustained only by his beauty and vanity—bitter comforts, since a curse has erased his mirror reflection, replacing it with a terrifying glimpse of Chaos.
Savi Murray’s insatiable curiosity had gotten her into trouble before, but she’d always escaped unscathed. Then came Colin. In the midst of Heaven, he gave her a taste of ecstasy—and of Chaos. Deadly creatures from that realm herald the return of an imprisoned nosferatu horde, and Colin and Savi’s bond is their only protection—and their only passion…
“A read that goes down hot and sweet– utterly unique–and one hell of a ride.” –Marjorie M. Liu
“The fourth book in Meljean Brook’s Guardian series turns up the heat without losing any of the danger or biblically tinged lore. A-” –Entertainment Weekly
The Story So Far
Are you starting with this book? Do you want a series refresher before starting the next? Catch up on The Story So Far in the Guardian series primer.
READ AN EXCERPT
After a terrifying encounter with a nosferatu, Savi must rely upon the one vampire she knows she cannot trust…
WARNING: INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR DEMON ANGEL
Colin rested his hand against the small of Savitri’s back as he guided her past a long line of clubbers. As an act of courtesy, it proved a masochistic one; beneath his palm, the gentle curve of her spine moved in rhythm with her steps, the beat of the music from inside. Matched the need throbbing within him.
He ground his teeth together, urged her forward a little more quickly. How could he be so desperate to feed? He’d taken enough for two days from the last blonde alone.
“It was popular before, but not like this,” Savitri murmured.
Colin glanced at the queue; mostly human, but a few vampires waited as well. A growl rose unbidden in his throat. He didn’t want her here, he didn’t want to be here–yet he’d been unable to refuse her request.
And she hadn’t even flattered him.
His gaze dropped to her neck; her short hair left it deliciously exposed. He should mark her as his. Protect her from the vampires here and the others inside. Inhale her, drink her, sink into her–
He swallowed thickly and forced the territorial hunger aside. What he wanted to do to her could not be considered protection.
“It’s morbid fascination,” he finally replied.
She sighed, and her lashes swept down against her cheeks. The investigators–and the press–had linked Polidori’s to last year’s ritual murders; burning it had been determined a cult’s symbolic way of beginning its quest for immortality.
All lies, of course; Colin had helped fabricate them. But the story had entertained the public for months, and many of the people standing outside had only come because of the club’s connection with death. Her friends’ deaths.
“And I spent a sordid amount of money on it,” he added. “I can’t fault them for recognizing my unparalleled taste, and flocking here to revel in it.”
Her lips curved into a smile, and she slanted a glance up at him. “Was it truly that much? Lilith claims you are the cheapest bastard she’s ever known.”
Pleased with himself for turning her thoughts from her grief, he said, “Agent Milton has a demon’s tongue. I am not cheap, my sweet Savitri. I’ve an eternal retirement; I budget wisely.”
Her throaty laughter pulled at already tight nerves along his skin. Her hip bumped against his leg as they rounded the corner to the entrance; her fragrance wafted around her. In her heels, she stood only a few inches shorter than he. So easy just to bend and press his mouth against…
He dropped his hand from her waist, clenched it into a fist. This was bloody ridiculous. A fruity perfume, and he had as much control as an adolescent pulling himself off on his sheets.
A huge vampire guarded the entrance and ran the guest list; he towered over Colin by his bald head, outweighed him by half. His muscles bulged through the tight black t-shirt. An intimidating presence, and one most vampires respected; but then, they were often fooled by appearances. Colin had deliberately chosen him for his resemblance in size and baldness to the nosferatu–but though the vampire was strong, Colin could have torn him in two with little effort. It was one of the advantages of Colin’s transformation with nosferatu blood, instead of an exchange with another vampire.
And the taint Michael’s sword had left in his blood had generated the other differences.
The bouncer’s eyes widened–Colin usually didn’t use the front entrance–and he quickly unhooked the velvet rope. “Mr. Ames-Beaumont.”
The urge to dash inside, to find the nearest willing body and glut was almost overwhelming. “Mr. Varney, this is Miss Savitri Murray. She should be on the short list.”
Her chin tilted up, her gaze leveled on Varney’s features. It was difficult to tell human from vampire, but Castleford would have taught her to recognize the signs: the careful placement of the lips during speech; the slight perspiration in heated rooms or warm nights; abnormal respiration and reflexes. “What’s the short list?”
“Full access, miss, including Mr. Ames-Beaumont’s personal suite. No charge.” There was more, but Varney didn’t mention that any vampire who tried to drink from someone on that list would receive a visit from Colin. It hadn’t happened yet; there were very few people this side of the Atlantic to whom he’d give anything for free, and Lilith and Castleford were the only other names listed.
A vampire would have to be a blithering idiot to attack them.
“Except for tonight.” Colin led her forward, and descended the stairs. “You’ll pay the cover and for your drinks.” An auburn-haired beauty was going up; she glanced at him, then froze with her foot in the air and watched as he passed. “Do you know the Guardians’ sign language?”
“No,” Savi said, and looked back over her shoulder. “I hope she doesn’t fall.”
He suppressed his laughter with difficulty, and said in Hindi, “I’ll walk with you to the bar; then I must leave you alone for a few minutes. Because you came in with me, you’ll be a curiosity to the vampires inside. They may approach you. Don’t ask them questions, don’t talk to them.”
“Why? Isn’t the point of all this that I’m seen?”
“You’ll be seen, sweet Savitri.” But he didn’t want them to have any more of her than that.
And hopefully, once he’d fed, his need for more would also fade.
It was inelegant, perhaps even ill-mannered, but Savi eschewed the straw and gulped straight from the glass. Lime and salt, sour and sweet. And cold–she couldn’t get enough of it.
Delayed reaction from the flight? Her breath fogged the inside of the tumbler. Heat from the mass of bodies?
Perhaps he’d been too stingy to pay for air conditioners.
She fished out a cube of ice, sucked it into her mouth. The bartender glanced at her. Another vampire. Colin had been right; they’d all watched as he’d taken her hand and led her through the club. As he’d dropped a quick kiss onto her forehead.
Like a little girl. A little sister. She’d known what it was: a display of protection. Because Hugh had saved Colin’s sister, the vampire felt obligated to guard Hugh’s adopted sister in return. She should have been grateful. Perhaps she would have, if she didn’t feel so restless, as if she’d suddenly been caged.
It was a familiar feeling, but it usually didn’t make her angry.
She crushed the ice between her teeth. Why was it so fucking hot in here?
She lifted her hand and gestured for another, asked for a water to accompany it. The wounds on her palm had almost completely healed over; only a lingering stiffness remained. She examined the thin pink lines on her fingers. The blood sped healing–is that what allowed them immortality? Accelerated regeneration or cell replication, with no degradation over time?
But wouldn’t their hair grow more quickly if it was replication? Did it simply keep existing cells in perfect repair, not speed the manufacture of new ones?
Why did it only heal humans when applied topically, or through a transfusion? And why was it safe? A transfusion would temporarily give a human some strength and healing ability, but it didn’t last. Only through ingestion was there a danger–blessing?–of transformation.
Was it the act of taking it in and the choice to drink that provided the power, or the blood itself? Before Michael could transform a human to a Guardian, the human had to agree to the change; she’d heard the same was true of a vampire–the transformation didn’t take well if it wasn’t voluntary. Could blood recognize choice and free will?
The bloodlust supposedly did–except for the free will of the vampire it controlled.
She felt Colin before she saw him; he stood next to her, leaning gracefully against the bar. His expression was unreadable, his gaze hooded. Even in the dim lighting, she could see the slight flush on his skin.
She’d seen it before.
Lifting her glass, she took another long drink. Licked the salt from the rim, from her lips, and forced a bright smile. “The redhead on the stairs?”
His mouth tightened, but he gave a slow nod.
She arched a brow. “You must lose a lot of clients if the ones you feed from leave bleeding.”
“She wasn’t. And I don’t often feed here; I prefer the hunt. Pursuit offers a challenge.” He looked away from her toward the dance floor, his mouth pulled down in a grimace of distaste. “When it is readily available, it is merely scavenging.”
Her chest squeezed painfully. She’d not only been available; she’d thrown herself at him. “So the aristocrat surveys the unwashed masses, and finds them lacking,” she murmured.
And she was just a brown little girl.
“They have use during revolutions, but there is no rebellion here. Only a mess of conformity.” His gaze met hers again. “But I do not care if they bathe, Savitri, as long as they bleed.”
The glass was slick with condensation; she wiped her palm across her forehead, hoping to ease the heat with cold and wet. “I thought, because of–” She paused, switched to Hindi. He probably didn’t want anyone to overhear that he couldn’t create other vampires. Surely his impotency embarrassed someone like him, and she wouldn’t prick his vanity again. “Because of your incapability, that you couldn’t heal me. I was wrong.”
He contained his emotions too well to interpret his response. “Yes. You also believed Castleford when he confirmed your assumption that I was gay.”
It had been easier; a woman had little defense against a face like that–except to believe it couldn’t be hers. But she’d been mistaken in that, too. Gloriously mistaken, until it had turned into something…painful.
“Did she tell you what you wanted to hear?”
A mocking smile. “She screamed it.”
She nodded, drained her glass. “I’m going to go dance.” Sweat out some of the heat boiling within her. Feel someone’s touch on her skin.
Anyone’s but his.
She’d known better.
Before her family had been destroyed by a few bullets, Savi had been surrounded by stories–her mother had loved them. Both surgeons, her parents had limited time dedicated to Savi and her brother. But in those rare evenings when her mother had been home, fairy tales and fables had been standard bedtime fare.
The music drowned out the voices of the men dancing with her, but she could still hear her mother’s voice clearly–one of the advantages of a memory like hers.
…and the girl came across a cobra curled up against the freezing night air. The cobra begged her to stop and carry him in her pocket until the sun rose in the morning, but she refused. “You will bite me,” she said. But the cobra promised not to. “I will die here; if you save me, I will treat you as a friend.” The girl was too soft-hearted to let him freeze, and so she picked him up and put him in her pocket. She’d taken not two steps before she felt his fangs against her breast. “Why?” she cried, her voice weak from the poison. “You said you would not!”
“It is my nature,” the cobra replied, “And you knew what I was.”
Cold hands clasped her hips, pulled her back to gyrate against her. Vampire, but not Colin’s hands. His were warm. He could walk in the sun. He was beautiful and charming.
She’d thought if she offered her blood to him, she wouldn’t be hurt by it.
She should have known better.
Frigid fingers drifted beneath her shirt, along the curve of her waist. It felt fantastic. Her skin was tight, burning, and his hand trailed over her stomach like a block of ice. His cold form rocked against her back. His erection. Perhaps he could cool her from inside, make her forget…
But no–that was one of the drawbacks of her memory. Her mother’s screams, forever captured. Her brother’s tortured, bubbling breaths. Her father’s silence.
And Colin’s fangs buried in her throat, desolation and horror tearing through her mind as her body shuddered beneath his.
He’d done it to teach her a lesson–and by god, she had learned. Her brain had gotten the message.
Her body had not.
She was on fire. Alcohol hadn’t dulled it, water hadn’t doused it. She hated being drunk; she couldn’t think.
A shiver wracked her when his fingers slid higher. Her nipples drew tight beneath the silk.
“You’re so hot,” came the rough voice behind her.
Like a demon. Averaging 106.7 degrees Fahrenheit, 41.5 degrees Celsius, 314.65 degrees Kelvin. Or did he mean it in that you’re-sexy-come-home-with-me way? Didn’t he have a partner to share blood and a bed with? Perhaps he was one of those vampires whose partner had been killed by the nosferatu.
Vampires didn’t drink from humans, not unless they intended to transform them. If that was what he offered, why not take him up on it? She was going to eventually anyway.
He could turn her, and she would live forever.
Clammy lips touched the back of her neck. Cold, wet–like the nosferatu. Oh, god. This wasn’t what she’d promised Nani. She ripped out of his grasp, staggered forward.
Colin caught her. He hadn’t been there a moment before; she was certain of it. She’d seen him at his table, where he’d spent the whole of the night. Watching her.
She hadn’t known he could move so quickly.
His arm circled her waist, his chest hard and warm against hers. He didn’t look at her, but over her head. His jaw clenched in a tight line.
Behind her, the vampire babbled incoherently.
“He didn’t do anything,” Savi said quickly. She’d seen that expression on Hugh’s face once, when Lilith had come home with a knife wound across her chest after a fight with a vampire. Had Lilith not already killed it, Savi was certain Hugh would have left the house and not come back until he’d done the same.
But this vampire didn’t deserve to pay for her mistake, her stupidity, her drunkenness. How to convince Colin?
Trying not to slur, she said, “Your lips are beautiful.”
He flinched, and lowered his gaze. “You bloody foolish chit. You think to manipulate me?” he said through gritted teeth, but his eyes softened as he searched her features, as he inhaled her breath. “Christ. You’re completely foxed.”
“Deep in my cups,” she agreed, nodding.
He blinked. After a long moment, a smile teased the corners of his mouth. “Sweet Savitri–what have you been reading?”
She needed to stop looking at him; surely he was worse for her brain than alcohol. But the firm curves of his upper lip were extraordinary–the dip in the center looked as wide as her forefinger. She reached up to test it.
“I had a phase about five years ago. I read about lords and ladies. Waltzes. Did you waltz?” The faint stubble was rough against her fingertip; a perfect fit.
Colin gripped her wrist, pulled it away and slid his hand down to clasp his palm against hers. “Yes.” His other hand settled over her hip. “Toss him out,” he said to someone behind her. “Clear them all out.”
And he swept her off her feet.
She didn’t know how he did it; though past closing time, dancers still bumped and ground across the floor–yet he twirled her through them without touching a single person. She couldn’t keep up or match his steps; he lowered his forearm to cradle her bottom. Then he lifted her against him and glided.
“Oh my god,” she said. Lights and colors whirled around her.
“Focus on my beautiful lips, Savitri, lest you become dizzy.”
“And cast up my accounts?”
“Yes,” he said, laughing; how could she not to look at his mouth when he did that? At his elongated incisors, the sharp white line of his teeth. But safer than looking at his eyes and risk seeing the wholehearted, almost boyish delight that had so captivated her in Caelum.
The sound of his amusement rumbled through her, combined with the heavy beat of the music. He wore cologne, a masculine fragrance so light she’d not detected it before. Notes of orange and papaya and sandalwood. She buried her face in his neck, wrapped her thighs around his lean hips.
“Oh my god.” His cock was thick and hard beneath his trousers, nestled between her legs. Another perfect fit; she remembered all too well how perfect.
She could come just from this.
“It didn’t work,” he said in Hindi. He sounded almost apologetic.
She was burning, burning. Just like Polidori’s. “What didn’t?”
“The woman from the stairwell. Acting the ass at the bar, that you would put distance between us. It seems I can protect you from everyone but myself.”
Her body went rigid; her eyes flew open. I don’t always have control.He’d tried to regain it by feeding, but that had been hours ago. How thin was it now? Her heart pounded. “You were lying at the bar?”
“No. But a gentleman can tell the truth without being cruel, if he wishes it.” He slowed next to his table, and eased down onto the sofa without letting her go. Her knees sank into the cushions. His arm across her lower back trapped her hips against his. “Do not mistake me for a kind man, Savitri.”
She wouldn’t. Not again.
“What are you going to do?” She pushed at his chest.
“Taste you.” He cupped her jaw. His thumb smoothed across her cheek. “Only your mouth, and only if you agree.”
Tension coiled through her stomach, arousal and fear. And heat. He was a fever inside her, a sickness. “What if I don’t?”
“I’ll carry you to my suite and do it there.” The apology dropped from his tone. He’d set his course; he would follow it. “I don’t intend to take your blood, Savi. I simply want–need–to taste you.” His chest rose and fell beneath her hand. “I think I will die if I do not.”
She wouldn’t believe that; only poets and horny teenagers did. But her gaze dropped to his lips. “Just a kiss?”
“Yes.” With gentle pressure, he urged her nearer. “A sword lies behind the wall panel; the spring is two inches above the sofa, one foot in.”
A strange offer. Did he think she would need it? But if he lost that much control, she’d have no possibility of defense.
She’d had a better chance against the nosferatu.
Her palms slid over his shoulders, up to curve around the back of his neck. Her fingers buried in the hair at his nape. So thick and soft.
“This must be because I’m drunk,” she whispered as she lowered her mouth to his. “I know better.”
So did he.
Surely nothing good would come of this. He’d measured his desire against his sense for hours. In the end, he was simply too selfish a creature; no matter how heavy the consequences, his need outweighed them.
Her scent had tormented him. Distance hadn’t helped. He’d watched her on the dance floor, as she sat at the bar and drank with an unquenchable thirst that seemed to equal his own, alternating between alcohol and water as if searching for anything to give her ease.
Her skin burned through the silk of her shirt. Whatever she’d been searching for, she apparently hadn’t found it.
Terrible and frightening had been the moment when he’d taken the woman from the stairs, and realized his hunger had not abated–when he’d realized Savitri had caused it, and was likely the solution. But she was no different from any other woman: they were all without flavor but for their blood.
Her lips pressed tentatively against his, and his stomach hollowed in relief. He was hard, aching for her, but there was nothing magical in this. Just a kiss, something he’d experienced thousands of times with thousands of women.
Just her fragrance, tickling at a memory and creating an involuntary response. It must be.
Her mouth opened, and she swept her tongue between his lips.
And he tasted her. Sweet. Warm and mellow. And a darker, richer essence.
He held himself still, disbelieving. Pleasure spilled through him, thick and heated. Not the same as bloodlust, but as powerful.
She drew his lower lip between her teeth. He wanted to beg her to return to a deeper kiss, but didn’t trust himself to speak, to move.
Don’t frighten her. Don’t let her stop.
He released her, dug his hands into the sofa cushions.
Her tongue sought his, stroking. A moan rose in his throat. Her slight weight was a delicious pressure against his rigid shaft, and she moved in time with her kiss.
How? Why? Chocolate, fries, apples and cinnamon, lime and salt–he could not taste them, nothing but that incredible sweet flavor, the heat of her mouth.
With each rock of her hips the ache of his cock became more exquisite, more unbearable. She suckled softly on his tongue. Yes, Savi–don’t stop. Don’t–
Bloody hell, he was going to spend. Right here, with this slip of a girl atop him. Astounded, he opened his eyes, met her velvet brown gaze.
She’d been watching him, gauging his response. Surprise and knowledge filled her psychic scent before she lowered her lids and began devouring his mouth, tasting and licking.
His heart raced. Her fingers tugged on his hair, and she sank deeper, deeper. She worked him over as easily as he had Fia, or any of the other women he’d fed from that evening…for the past two centuries. He couldn’t stop her–didn’t want to stop her, but she couldn’t do this to him, couldn’t, not without–
She bit his tongue; blood flowed into his mouth. His own, but it mixed with her flavor and flashed through him, a bolt of lightning arcing along his veins. He stiffened, panted into her lips.
She raised her head, her gaze narrowed on his face, triumph and pleasure chasing across her expression. Incredulous, he couldn’t muster the slightest embarrassment, though it was impossible for her not to realize what was happening; her sex pressed against him. She couldn’t mistake the ecstasy that shook him. He could feel the heat of her, but the wet was his own.
Good God. She’d made him come in his pants.
And she’d done it with a single kiss.
His chest heaved, and he stared at her lips. Moist and swollen. He could smell her arousal beneath that ever-present peach scent; she’d be moist and swollen everywhere.
If someone didn’t come and save her in the next few moments, she would be in his suite and in his bed. He’d taste every inch, just to see if it was only her mouth, or all of her.
He was going to eat her up.