Western New York State, Present Day
The whole “life is a highway” metaphor was so ubiquitous, so overused, so threadbare and torn-patched, that as Nyx sat in the passenger side of a ten-year-old station wagon, and stared at the moonlit asphalt trail cutting through brush and bramble in western New York State, she wasn’t thinking a damn thing about how similar the course of roads and lives could be: You could get sweet-sailing easy declines of coasting. Bad, bumpy, rough patches that rattled your teeth. Uphill hauls that you thought would never end. Bored stretches between far-apart exits.
And then there were the obstacles, the ones that came from out of nowhere and carried you so far off your planned trip that you ended up in a completely different place.
Some of these, both in the analogy and in fact, had four legs and a kid named Bambi.
“Watch out!” she yelled as she clapped a hand on the steering wheel and took control.
Too late. Over the screeching of tires, the impact was sickeningly soft, the kind of thing that happened when steel hit flesh, and her sister’s response was to cover her eyes and tuck in her knees.
Not helpful considering Posie was the one with the access to the brake pedal. But also completely in character.
The station wagon, being an inanimate object set into motion, had no brain of its own, but plenty of motivation from the sixty-two miles an hour they’d been going. As such, the old Volvo went bucking bronco as they left the rural byway, its stiff, cumbersome body heaving into a series of hill-and-dale dance moves that had Nyx hitting her head on the padded roof even though she was belted in.
The headlights strobed what was in front of the car, the beams point-and-shooting in whatever direction and angle the front grille happened to be thrown in. For the most part, there was just a leafy morass of bushes, the green, spongy territory a far better outcome than she would have predicted.
That all changed.
Like a creature rising out of the depths of a lake, something brown, thick, and vertical was teased in the verdant light show, disappearing and reappearing as the shafts of illumination willy’d-their-nilly around. Oh, shit. It was a tree. And not only was the arboreal hard-stop an immovable object, it was as if a steel crank-chain ran between its thick trunk and the undercarriage of the station wagon. If you’d steered for a collision course, you couldn’t have done a better job. Inevitable covered it.
Nyx’s only thought was for her sister. Posie was braced in the driver’s seat, her arms straight out, fingers splayed, like she was going to try to push the tree away—
The impact was like being punched all over the body, and there must have been a crunch of metal meeting wood, but with the airbags deploying and the ringing in Nyx’s ears, she couldn’t hear much. Couldn’t breathe well. Couldn’t seem to see.
Hissing. Dripping. Burned rubber and something chemical.
Someone was coughing. Her? She couldn’t be sure. “Posie?”
“I’m okay, I’m okay . . .”
Nyx rubbed her stinging eyes and coughed. Fumbling for the door, she popped the release and shoved hard against some kind of resistance. “I’m coming around to help you.”
Assuming she could get out of the damn car.
Putting her shoulder into the effort, she forced the door through something fluffy and green, and the payback was that the bush barged in, expanding into the car like a dog that wanted to sniff around.
She fell out of her seat and rolled onto the scruff. All-four’ing it for a spell, she managed to get up onto her feet and steady herself on the roof as she went around to the driver’s side. Peeling open Posie’s door, she released the seat belt.
“I got you,” she grunted as she dragged her sister out.
Propping Posie against the car, she cleared the blond hair back from those soft features. No blood. No glass in the perfect skin. Nose was still straight as a pin.
“You’re okay,” Nyx announced. “What about the deer?”
Nyx kept the curses to herself. They were about ten miles from home, and what mattered was whether the car was drivable. No offense to Mother Nature and animal-lovers anywhere, but that four-legged scourge of the interstate was low on her list of priorities.
Stumbling to the front, she shook her head at the damage. A good two feet of the hood—and, therefore, engine—was compressed around a trunk that had all the flexibility of an I beam, and she was hardly an automotive expert, but that had to be incompatible with vroom-vroom, home safe.
“Shit,” she breathed.
“What about the deer?”
Closing her eyes, she reminded herself about the birth order. She was the older, responsible one, black-haired and brusque like their father had been. Posie was the blond, good-hearted youngest, who had all the warmth and sunny nature that their mahmen had possessed.
And the middle?
She couldn’t go down the Janelle rabbit hole right now.
Back over at her open door, Nyx leaned in and moved the deflated airbag out of the way. Where was her phone? She’d put it in a cupholder after she’d texted their grandfather as they’d left Hannaford. Great. Nowhere to be found—
Bracing her hand on the seat, she went down into the wheel well.
And got a palm full of bad news.
The screen was cracked and the unit dark. When she tried to fire the thing up, it was a no go. Straightening, she looked over the ruined hood. “Posie, where is your—”
“What?” Her sister was focused on the road that was a good fifty yards away, her stick-straight hair tangled down her back. “Huh?”
“Your phone. Where is it?”
Posie glanced over her shoulder. “I left it at home. You had yours, so I just, you know.”
“You need to dematerialize back to the farmhouse. Tell grandfather to bring the tow truck and—”
“I’m not leaving here until we take care of that deer.” “Posie, there are too many humans around here and—”
“It’s suffering!” Tears glistened. “And just because it’s an animal doesn’t mean its life doesn’t matter.”
“Fuck the deer.” Nyx glared across the steaming mess. “We need to solve this problem now—”
“I’m not leaving until—”
“—because we have two hundred dollars of groceries melting in the back. We can’t afford to lose a week’s worth of—”
“—we take care of that poor animal.”
Nyx swung her eyes away from her sister, the crash, the crap she had to fix so goddamn Posie could continue to give her heart out to the world and worry about things other than how to pay the rent, keep food on the table, and make sure they had such exotic luxuries as electricity and running water.
When she trusted herself to look back without hurling a bunch of be-practical f-bombs at her fricking sister, she saw absolutely no change in Posie’s resolve. And this was the problem. A sweet nature, yes. That annoying, bleeding-heart, emphatic bullcrap, yes. Iron will? When it came it down to it, boatloads.
That female was not budging on the deer thing. Nyx threw up her hands and cursed—loudly.
Back in the car. Opening the glove box. Taking out the nine millimeter handgun she kept there for emergencies.
As she came around the rear of the station wagon, she eyed the reusable grocery bags. They were crammed up against the bench seat as a result of the crash, and it was a good news/bad news situation. Anything breakable was done for, but at least the cold items were clois- tered together, united in a fight against the eighty-degree August night.
“Oh, thank you, Nyx.” Posie clasped her hands under her chin like she was doing a devotional. “We’ll help the—wait, what are you doing with the gun?”
Nyx didn’t stop as she passed by, so Posie grabbed her arm. “Why do you have the gun?”
“What do you think I’m going to do to the damn thing? Give it CPR?”
“No! We need to help it—”
Nyx put her face into her sister’s and spoke in a dead tone. “If it’s suffering, I’m going to put it down. It’s the right thing to do. That is the way I will help that animal.”
Posie’s hands went to her face, pressing into cheeks that had gone pale. “It’s my fault. I hit the deer.”
“It was an accident.” Nyx turned her sister around to face the station wagon. “Stay here and don’t look. I’ll take care of it.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt the—”
“You’re the last person on the planet who’d intentionally hurt anything. Now stay the hell here.”
The sound of Posie softly crying escorted Nyx back toward the road. Following the tire gouges in the dirt and the ruined foliage, she found the deer about fifteen feet away from where they’d veered off—
Nyx stopped dead in her tracks. Blinked a couple of times. Considered vomiting.
It wasn’t a deer.
Those were arms. And legs. Thin ones, granted, and covered with mud-colored clothes that were in rags. But nothing about what had been struck was animal in nature. Worse? The scent of the blood that had been spilled was not human.
It was a vampire.
They’d hit one of their own.
Nyx ran over to the body, put the gun away, and knelt down. “Are you okay?”
Dumbass question. But the sound of her voice roused the injured, a horrific and horrified face turning up to her.
It was a male. A pretrans male. And oh, God, the whites of both his eyes had gone red, although she couldn’t tell whether it was because of the blood running down his face or some kind of internal brain injury. What was clear? He was dying.
“Help . . . me . . .” The thin reedy voice was interrupted by weak coughing. “Out of . . . prison . . . hide me . . .”
“Nyx?” Posie called out. “What’s happening?”
For a split second, Nyx couldn’t think. No, that was a lie. She was thinking, just not about the car, the groceries, the kid who was dying, or her hysterical sister.
“Where,” Nyx said urgently. “Where’s the camp?”
Maybe after all these years . . . she could find out where Janelle had been taken.
This had to be Fate.
- • •
According to the history that had been explained to the Jackal, “Hungry Like the Wolf ” was a musical “single” released in 1982 in the US by the British “new wave” sensation Duran Duran. The video, evidently work- ing off an Indiana Jones theme—whatever that was—was put into heavy rotation on “MTV,” and that “television airplay” shot the song onto the Billboard charts and kept it there for months.
As he whispered through one of the prison camp’s countless subterranean tunnels, he heard the song and revisited its identifying tidbits like he was rereading a book he had memorized. But that was the nature of information down here. The mind yearned and churned for input, yet there was rarely anything new. Thus one had to replay things, just as his fellow inmate had to replay the song on that “cassette” tape player.
Moving along, the Jackal was of the shadows as he tracked the tinny refrain echoing off the damp stone walls. He recalled that he had been told of the “video.” Simon Le Bon, evidently the lead singer, had been garbed in a pale linen suit and had gone through many crowded streets in a tropical locale. After which he had proceeded into the jungle, and into a river . . . all the while being pursued by a beautiful woman—or was it the other way around?
’Lo, the drama and intrigue.
And how he missed the outside world.
One hundred years after his incarceration, the world above, the freedom, the fresh air . . . were like the garbled sound of that song: dulled by time’s passing and a lack of real-time refresh.
The Jackal made a turn and entered the block of cells he had long been assigned to. The barred cages they were relegated to dwell in were set at intervals into the rock, although the gates to each remained open. With the guards prowling around, monsters in the dark, there was no need to lock anything. No one dared to leave.
Death would be a blessing compared to what the Command would do to you if you tried to escape.
The source of the ghostly song, now nearing the end of its run, was three cells down, and he stopped in the archway of the prisoner in question. “You get caught with that, they’re going to—”
“Do what? Throw my ass in jail?”
The male who spoke was reclining on his pallet, his huge body in a relaxed sprawl, nothing but a cloth tied around his hips hiding his sex. Unblinking, yellow eyes stared upward from the horizontal, and the sly smile showed long, sharp fangs.
Lucan was a laconic sonofabitch, slightly evil and maybe untrustworthy. But compared to so many of the others, he was a prince of a guy. “Just watching out for you.” The Jackal nodded at the silver-and- black cassette player that was tucked into the male’s side. “And your little
“Everyone’s at the Hive, including the guards.” “You roll the dice too much, my friend.”
“And you, Jackal, are too much of a rule abider.”
As the song came to the end, Lucan hit the rewind button, and there was a whirring sound. Then the soft music started up again.
“What are you going to do when that tape breaks?”
The male with the alter ego shrugged. “I have it now. That’s all that matters.”
Wolven were a tricky, dangerous subspecies, and that was true whether they were loose to roam the night up above or stuck down here in prison. But the Command had a solution for keeping the male’s other side in check—and it happened to be the same thing used for all prisoners. A heavy collar of steel was locked around the male’s thick throat, preventing him from dematerializing or changing.
“Better run along, Jackal.” One of those yellow eyes winked. “Don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Just turn that thing down. I don’t want to have to rescue you.” “Who’s asking you to.”
“Burdens of conscience.”
“I wouldn’t know about that.”
“Lucky you. Life is a lot more complicated with them.”
Leaving his comrade behind, he continued on, passing by his own cell and hooking up with the main thoroughfare. As he closed in on the Hive, the density of the air increased, the scents of the prison population thick in his sinuses, the murmuring of hushed voices registering in his ears—
The first of the screams sizzled through the hush, pricking the hairs at the nape of his neck, tightening the powerful muscles of his shoulders.
As he arrived at the great open area, his eyes peered over the thousand scruffy heads, to the three bloodstained tree trunks that had been cemented into the raised stone ledge down in front. The prisoner who was strapped to the center post was writhing against the chains that held him in place, his bloodshot eyes wide with terror at the woven bas- ket at his feet.
Something inside the basket was moving.
A pair of guards in clean black uniforms stood on either side of the accused, their faces set with the kind of deadly calm that a person should truly fear. It meant they didn’t value life in the slightest. Whether a prisoner lived or died was of no concern to them. They did their jobs, and went to their quarters at the end of their shifts secure in the knowledge that, whatever pain they’d caused, whatever destruction, whatever harm, had been done in the line of duty.
No matter the depravity, their consciences were clear.
Something that stupid wolf needed to consider as he flouted the fucking rules like he did.
The ragged, grungy crowd was abuzz with adrenaline, bodies banging into each other as heads turned and talked and then refocused, eager for the show. These little “corrections” were given out by the Command on a regular basis, part bloodthirsty exhibition, part behavioral modification.
If you’d asked any of the prisoners, male or female, they would have said they hated these regular public tortures, but they’d be lying—at least partially so. In the crushing boredom and soul-numbing hopeless- ness down here, they were breaks in the monotony.
A theatrical show that was everyone’s favorite program. Then again, it wasn’t like there was much else on Broadway.
Unlike the rest of the prisoners, the Jackal shifted his eyes to one side of the ledge. He sensed that the Command was attending in person tonight—or perhaps it was today. He didn’t know whether it was light or dark outside.
The presence of their leader was unusual and he wondered if anyone else noticed. Probably not. The Command was keeping themselves hidden, but they liked these displays of their power.
As the lid on the basket was lifted by one of the guards, the Jackal closed his eyes. The piercing scream that echoed around the Hive made the marrow of his bones ache. And then came the scent of fresh blood.
He had to get the fuck out of here. He was dying on the inside: He had no faith left. No love. No hope that anything would ever change.
But it would take a miracle to free him, and if his life had taught him anything, those never happened on earth. And rarely, if ever, up in the Fade, either.
As the crowd began to chant, and all he could smell was that blood, he wheeled away from the spectacle and stumbled back into the main tunnel. Even in his despair, and in spite of the countless males and females packed into the cave, he could feel the eyes that followed his departure.
The Command watched him and him alone. Always.
'Utterly absorbing and deliciously erotic' Angela Knight
'Hot, sexy, unique, intriguingly wicked' Christine Feehan
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sinner brings another hot adventure of true love and ultimate sacrifice
The location of the glymera's notorious prison camp was lost after the raids. When a freak accident provides Nyx clues to where her sister may still be doing time, she becomes determined to find the secret subterranean labyrinth. Embarking on a journey under the earth, she learns a terrible truth- and meets a male who changes everything, forever.
The Jackal has been in the camp for so long, he cannot recall anything of the freedom he once knew. Trapped by circumstances out of his control, he helps Nyx because he cannot help himself. After she discovers what happened to her sister, getting her back out becomes a deadly mission for them both.
United by a passion they can't deny, they work together on an escape plan for Nyx- even though their destiny is to be forever apart. And as the Black Dagger Brotherhood is called upon for help, and Rhage discovers he has a half-brother who's falsely imprisoned, a devious warden plots the deaths of them all... even the Brothers.
Find out why readers are OBSESSED with JR Ward
'Insanely good! . . . Intensely romantic and straight up flipping steamy, violent and gruesome, heartbreaking and deep. Her addictive writing tells a story like none other' Goodreads reviewer
'I can't get enough of these sexy, tough, intriguing vampires' Amazon reviewer
'Emotional by epic proportions' Kobo reviewer
'The Black Dagger Brotherhood is a twisting, often surprising, but always awesome read' Amazon reviewer
'A must read' Goodreads reviewer
'The story had me captivated the whole way' Kobo reviewer
'Each and every character is compelling' Amazon reviewer