Coming June 13th
Whatever else he was, she had to admit he had guts. She wouldn't want to be shut up in a room with an angry Kyn either. While his pixie heritage might have protected him from being turned into a vampire, it did bugger all to protect him from being dead.
The only vampire warioress in existence Vixen has spent most of her life proving herself in a man's world, but she's never been able to squash some very feminine thoughts where fellow warrior Kalen is concerned. Kalen however, has sworn off love, preferring to deal in lust instead.
But a passionate encounter blows their carefully constructed indifference to each other and when Vixen is kidnapped will they be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to give their love a chance?
He fucking hated balls. Pain in the ass court functions filled with simpering nobles who couldn’t find their asses with both hands and a map. He especially hated balls where he stood on the sidelines as his lady wife danced with every one of the assholes besides him.
It had pissed him off so much, he’d taken her dance card and changed a few names to his… only she’d fucked off, leaving the ball before their first dance to come home.
Kalen Sauveterre stormed through the door to his wife’s rooms, his mood so foul that the wood crashed into the wall and rebounded, just barely avoiding hitting him as he strode through it.
“Astra! Where the hell are you?” he growled, finding the sitting area empty. Before he could walk into her bedroom, she appeared in the doorway, a vision of slender loveliness in pink silk, her almost-white blonde hair a cloud around her shoulders.
For a moment he allowed his gaze to wash over her. He tried to conjure some of the emotions he’d once felt for her—the feelings he’d had when they’d married and before they’d had Naeva—but there was nothing. No feeling, no emotion, no nothing. It had all been leeched away in the months of arguments since their daughter’s birth. Months in which it seemed he could do nothing right, in which it seemed Astra would rather he didn’t exist, never mind not touch her.
“What do you want, Kalen?” she pouted, the sulky expression covering what he could have sworn was panic. He had to be wrong though… what did she have to panic about?
“What was that about? Leaving like that?” he demanded, keeping his hands in closed fists at his sides. Anything to keep the rage boiling in his veins to himself so as not to scare her. Astra was a noblewoman, not a warrior like he was, and he knew the darker side of his nature scared her. So he tried to minimize her exposure to it.
She shrugged, her expression becoming even more moody, which pissed him off and he stepped forward.
“For fuck’s sake, Astra, you know better than to travel alone. What if the rogues had caught you? One driver isn’t enough to protect you.”
“Oh god, this again?” She sneered dismissively, looking down her nose at him. Somehow, even though he was noble-born and she wasn’t, she always made him feel he was beneath her because he was a warrior. “The way you talk, you’d think there were rogues hiding around every damn corner. You’re paranoid, Kalen. You should go and get your head checked.”
He bit back his growl, just the corner of his lip twitching as he kept his reply to himself. If she knew what he and the other warriors faced every night on patrol, it would scare the ever-loving crap out of her and every other civilian. The fact that they lived practically cheek to cheek with the scourge that preyed on their race… they’d go running in fear and never leave their fortified houses.
“So why did you leave?” he asked, trying to bring the conversation back on topic before she could get onto the subject of his supposed paranoia.
He knew what she was getting at… that he was mad, or slipping into blood-rage. All male kyn were at risk, but warriors, given they were so close to the rogue vampires they hunted, were even more so. If she could get him diagnosed as blood-mad, she could live the life she’d always wanted… that of a noble lady… but without the pesky encumbrance of an actual husband. He was fairly sure she prayed each night when he went out on patrol, not for his safe return like most women would have, but for the rogues to kill him and make her into a widow.
“I was bored,” she said with a sniff, not moving from the door.
His eyes narrowed as he registered her stance. It almost seemed as though she was guarding the door. But from what? Him? He almost snorted at the thought. He hadn’t been invited to her bed for months, forced to feed from one of the blood-women supplied to the warriors. It wasn’t the same as being balls and fang-deep in his beloved wife, though… a pale imitation of the bond he’d thought he had with Astra.
“Bored? You missed our dances. I would have made sure you weren’t bored.”
He stepped to the side nonchalantly, testing her reactions. She moved subtly to block him. Yeah, she didn’t want him getting into her bedroom. Why? He took a slow breath, tasting the air for any hint of a male in the room behind her, but it came up clean. The only two scents in here were his and hers.
She sniffed, leaning against the doorframe to study her nails. “Really? You bore me all the time, Kalen. I’m afraid I prefer the more…” her gaze raked over his tall form, the court clothes not able to disguise his warrior’s physique. “Intellectual man, shall we say? Not a dinosaur of a warrior.”
Anger boiled over, the snarl escaping Kalen’s lips before he could stop it. “Really? Well, tough shit. I’m still your husband, rather than one of those limp-wristed assholes.”
“Yeah, you are.” She picked at one of her nails. “For now.”
The red at the corners of his vision crept inward. “For now? What the fuck does that mean?”
In a surge of movement, he pushed past her and into the bedroom beyond, her slender frame no match for his warrior’s bulk. Instantly his gaze fell on the open trunk by the bed, half filled with her dresses.
“You’re leaving me?” he demanded, turning on her. Fury filtered through his veins, deepening his voice and making his jaw ache as his fangs tried to descend.
“You can go,” he said, accepting the inevitable. They’d been over for months, but he’d refused to accept it. “But you’re not taking Naeva. My daughter stays with me.”
He stared her down, resolute on the fact he would keep their baby. She was the one good thing that had come out of their marriage and he would ensure that she was cared for and raised as befit her station as a kyn noble.
Astra laughed, one eyebrow raised. “Ohh, you poor darling,” her voice dropped to saccharine venom. “You really think a savage of a warrior could have sired a child, let alone a daughter? No, Kalen, you didn’t. She’s not yours. She never was.”
Men were assholes, pure and simple.
Vixen grunted, flat on her back on the weight bench, and shoved the barbell up as though she were a pneumatic lifting machine in overdrive. Anything to avoid answering the smug piece of shit male posing on the other side of the gym.
“Com’on, blondie,” Kalen Sauveterre smirked, flexing his arms and looking over his shoulder at her. “You know you wanna take a peek.”
Vixen just grunted and threw an extra couple of plates onto the barbell before sliding under it again. Kalen was a perpetual pain in her ass. All. The. Time. The blond, muscled, handsome poster boy for the kyn warrior “brotherhood,” he’d been on her case since the moment she’d joined their ranks.
She’d been so pleased and triumphant the day she’d walked in here, right into the warriors’ training compound like she owned the place. And that day, she’d thought she did. After years, the elder council had finally conceded that, even though she was female, she had been born with the warriors’ marks over her face and body, which meant she belonged with the other warriors, fighting the rogues. Had she been male, she’d have been accepted without question and sent to the training compound when she’d come of age instead of having to fight for years to be recognized.
She’d thought her fight was over once she’d walked through those doors. It hadn’t been. Instead, she’d just faced a new fight… to gain the trust and respect of the males she worked with. Males just as strong and fast as she was. They weren’t the scrawny men she was used to who hid behind words, but big, brawny warriors. Men she finally had to look up to rather than down on.
And they weren’t impressed about having a woman amongst them for the first time. Most had given her a wide berth, silently weighing her up and trying to avoid being partnered with her. This had meant she’d spent the first month as a warrior tagging along with another pair until finally one, Feral, had thrown her weapons at her and told her she’d better not get him or herself killed. Since that day, she and the big, shaven-headed warrior had been patrol partners, and the rest of the warriors had followed in accepting her.
All besides Kalen Sauveterre. As blue-blooded as their warrior king, Marak, he was the son of a lord and heir to a noble title. Like her, he was an anomaly. Warriors’ marks rarely showed up amongst the nobility, but that didn’t seem to matter to him, or create a sense of kinship. Instead, he’d taken to needling her from the moment she’d arrived.
The normal shit-talking crap she’d have knocked seven shades of shit out of any other guy for. Trying that with a warrior though was a sure-fire way to, if not get her ass handed to her on a plate, at least get herself a going over that would make hunting the rogues uncomfortable for a while as she healed. The normal crap most men spouted about her—being too weak or that women shouldn’t be warriors—didn’t bother her.
Kalen’s flirty, snarky comments did.
They reached in and got right under her armor. She was used to being the outcast and men seeing her as a freak… usually only talking to her on a dare or to find out what being with a warrior would be like… so there was no way that a male like Sauveterre, with his impeccable breeding and good looks, would be interested in her.
“Blondie?” He never used her name. Fuck knew why. “It’s not nice to ignore a guy. Don’t you know we have delicate egos?”
She almost snorted at that. If Kalen’s ego was delicate enough to be damaged by her ignoring him, he’d have been done for years ago.
“Leave her alone, K,” a deep voice growled, a shadow falling over Vixen as the newcomer blotted out the light. “Can’t you see she’s busy working out. Which you should be doing, instead of posing in that mirror.”
She squinted up to find Marak, their monarch, looking down at her. Like her, he was an oddity, born both the heir to the throne and a warrior, his marks dark against his skin as he stood by the bench, spotting her until she’d finished her set.
“You shouldn’t let him needle you. He’s just looking for a reaction,” Marak said gruffly, hands under the bar to help her get the last inch as her muscles screamed blue murder at her.
“Yeah. Because he’s an asshole.”
She ignored the snort from the other side of the room, deliberately not watching as Kalen sauntered past them on the way to the showers.
“Not arguing with you on that one.” The corner of Marak’s lip quirked as he racked the bar and offered her a hand to help her up. “Vixen, I need a favor.”
She paused, hand halfway to her water bottle, and looked up at him. Not only was Marak the leader of the warrior brotherhood, but he was also the kyn monarch. He didn’t need to ask. He could just order her and they both knew it. So the fact he was asking… that was big.
“Sure. What do you need?” She grabbed her water bottle, slugging some back as she wiped the back of her neck with the small towel she always brought into the gym to wipe herself and the benches down. She hated to get onto a sticky bench and refused to leave them that way, unlike some heathens who used the place. Men were utter pigs.
Marak looked uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot before he realized she was watching him and his expression smoothed out. “Well, the wedding next week? You’ll be there?”
She grinned instantly. All the warriors knew that Marak had finally found his bond-mate, and about the merry dance she’d led him on. It was practically legend, or would be soon.
“Yeah, wouldn’t miss it.”
“Good. Will you be a bridesmaid?”
Every cell in Vixen’s body froze.
“Beg pardon?” She laughed a little, wariness filling her voice. “It sounded like you just asked me to be a bridesmaid…”
Marak folded his arms over his broad chest. “I did.”
She blinked. “Err… have you looked at me recently? Not being funny, sire, but I’m not exactly bridesmaid material. And besides, shouldn’t that be Maria’s decision?”
The big kyn shook his head and then paused, frowning. “Well, yes, traditionally, but I said I wanted to ensure her safety and would arrange a bodyguard.”
Vixen’s eyes widened with surprise. “And you escaped with your life?”
She couldn’t imagine the determined queen-to-be, a woman who, despite being only half-kyn, had been determined to take on the rogues before Marak had claimed her as his own, being told anything, much less what bridesmaids she would have.
Marak snorted, amusement flaring in his eyes. “Persuasion, you could say—”
She held her hand up suddenly, cutting him off. “Yeah, that’s all I need to know about that.”
There was a snigger from the other side of the room and she tensed, thinking Kalen had come back. Instead, familiar grunts and groans joined the sound of a weight machine getting pummelled. Feral, her patrol partner, seemed to be working off some aggression.
“Yeah, no problem.” She couldn’t help her smile at the relief that spread over Marak’s face.
“Thanks, Vix. You’re a lifesaver,” he said. “I know it’s just from the Ravensford estate and she’ll be escorted by the Ravensford knights all the way… but you know what knights are like. I’ll be far happier knowing there’s at least one of my guys in there too.”
She was forced to bite back her smile as a sense of pride filled her. He’d called her one of “his guys,” not “the female warrior.” She had to agree with his point about knights, though. There was a definite and centuries-old rivalry between the two branches.
All warriors trained hard to keep up their speed and reactions, constantly learning and practicing new forms. It was necessary, a matter of survival. Rogue vampires were fast as hell, and thanks to the madness in their veins, stronger than their kyn counterparts. A slow warrior was a dead warrior.
It wasn’t the same with knights, though, not that Vixen had seen. Once you were a knight, sword across the shoulders and all that, you were always a knight. No one took that away from you, even when you got too old and slow to raise the sword.
“I was going to stick Feral in a dress just for the hell of it, but he’d only sulk.” Marak’s expression turned wicked, his chatter revealing how nervous he was. Marak had never been chatty. He was more the silent, brooding type. Until he’d met Maria. Vixen liked the change. It suited him.
She chuckled. “No, he’d definitely sulk. Then I’d have to put up with his moods for weeks. Where do I have to be and when?”
She looked like a damn gorilla in a dress.
Vixen looked down at herself and suppressed a grimace. Primed and preened to within an inch of her life, she didn’t even recognize herself in the mirror. Normally she made sure her face was clean and her hair was tied back, so to see herself made up with her blonde hair caught up in a stylish mess of curls on top of her head was startling.
Her lips formed a soft pout, and she watched in fascination as the reflection mimicked her. No, it had to be a mistake. The slender beauty in the mirror couldn’t be her. There had to be an enchantment spell on the mirror… She leaned forward to study her face, finding the tiny scar at the corner of her lips that hadn’t quite been covered with makeup. She couldn’t get over how amazing her eyes looked… like a cat’s, all mysterious and exotic.
She blinked and leaned back, careful not to move her feet. Her normal leathers had been replaced with a fitted sheath dress and skyscraper heels. She took a tiny step to the side and instantly had to readjust her balance. A groan left her lips. There was no way she was walking in the things without face-planting.
She cast a glance over her shoulder and studied the other bridesmaids surreptitiously. They giggled as they helped each other get ready, obviously close friends. Tiny and dark-haired, they were all seneschal girls. Maria, the bride had been born half-kyn, so she’d refused to adhere to tradition and have kyn noblewomen from the main families as her attendants. Instead, she’d chosen from the seneschal families. Vixen had to admit it was a clever move, even if she herself stuck out like a sore thumb.
Even worse, the dress was pink. Of course it was. It even had a large bow right on her ass. She grumbled to herself, twisting and turning to look at her backside in the mirror. They might as well have slapped a “wide load” sticker on her.
She suppressed a sigh. She’d never feared anything. She was Vixen, big, scary kyn warrior. She spent her nights hunting and killing rogue vampires, and she was damn good at it. Just last week her patrol had topped the leader board for the most kills for the third week in a row.
What was being a bridesmaid compared to that? A dress, some flowers and following the bride up the aisle to make sure she didn’t break a nail. It couldn’t be that hard, right?
Wrong, dead wrong. Moments to go and she shook with nerves, panic rising. She looked ridiculous. She’d thought she was clever, avoiding the dress fittings for training. Boring as they’d been, the reason behind them was now crystal clear.
Her dress didn’t fit.
The pink silk was stretched tightly across her bust, so tight she could hardly breathe. She couldn’t take a deep breath, in case the delicate lacings across her back—already stretched to the limit—ripped. The dressmaker was no help. Annoyed at having to work without a dress fitting, she’d ordered Vixen not to breathe. Vixen didn’t know if that was to not breathe deeply, or not breathe at all. Not breathing was the best option. The neckline was so low one movement the wrong way and her breasts would spill out over the top.
She cursed under her breath as she looked around the small antechamber. Just off the main hall of the court where the ceremony was to take place, it followed the rest of the building in its style. Heavy wood paneling covered half the walls while ornamental plaster carvings covered the rest. The symbols of ancient kyn families surrounded them as the bride prepared to walk up the aisle. Like a lot of vampire buildings, there wasn’t even a damn window she could wriggle out.
As soon as the idea of escape occurred, she dismissed it. She couldn’t run out on the wedding of the king. It just wasn’t done. She didn’t give a damn about protocol, but if she didn’t show, Marak would track her down and bust her ass for it.
She straightened her back. She was a kyn warrior, and warriors did not run from anything. She didn’t run from anything. Even if her knees shook under her skirt.
“Now… you look amazing.”
As if Vixen’s thoughts had conjured her up, Maria appeared at her elbow like a genie out of a bottle. A genie in a full wedding gown with veil and tiara.
Vixen resisted the urge to tug on the dress again as she turned to face the bride. Yanking it up until it felt more secure reduced the risk of her breasts falling out, but it meant the spilt up her thigh would rise indecently high. Pulling it down to solve that gave her the fall-out problem again. Catch-22.
“I don’t. I look ridiculous.” She gave in to temptation and went through the whole pull up, pull down routine again. “Like a damn gorilla in a dress.”
“What are you talking about? You don’t look like a gorilla at all. You’re stunning.” Maria’s gaze made a quick assessment of Vixen’s dress. Slim-fitting, it molded to every curve she had. A fact she was uncomfortably aware of.
She wore tight clothing on patrol, but that was work gear. Somehow, skin-tight leather pants with a skinny-fit tee didn’t seem quite as bad as her cleavage, or the entire length of her leg on display.
“You can see my underwear,” Vixen muttered, tugging at the dress again, nearer to a panic attack than she’d ever been in her life.
“Don’t be stupid. It’s perfectly decent. You’re just used to hiding yourself away down in the compound… Leave it. You’ll crease the silk.” Maria swatted at Vixen’s hands, her impatience obvious.
Perhaps she could still make a break for it, Vixen pondered as the bride moved off to speak to another bridesmaid. Already, Maria had adopted the role of hostess, a skill she’d need as Marak’s queen. Hope filled Vixen—Maria would understand…
Nope. She steeled herself, forcing her spine to straighten. She was a warrior, not used to being pulled about and tarted up as she had been this morning, by beauticians and hairdressers, but she would do this.
“Feral would still have looked better in this.”
She was careful to keep her muttering under her breath. Kyn hearing was acute. The last thing she needed was everyone to find out she felt like a complete and utter idiot.
“What was that?” Maria appeared at Vixen’s side again, but her attention was diverted as the door opened and a tall figure appeared.
In a heartbeat, Vixen was all attention, her body tensed and readied for an attack. She knew how much some people wanted to make sure this wedding didn’t go through, for Marak not to marry. As she recognized the man who stepped into the room, she relaxed marginally, silent understanding passing between warrior and knight.
“Are you ready, sweetheart? They’re all waiting for you out there… Marak’s like a cat on a hot tin roof.” Garen Ravensford crossed the room to his daughter, and Vixen could see the pride sparkling in his eyes as he took in her appearance. “You look wonderful, honey. Beautiful. Just like your mother did. She would have been so proud of you.”
Vixen turned away with a lump in her throat, uncomfortable at trespassing on a tender moment between father and daughter. Despite having fallen in love with a human, Garen had stood by her and the two half-kyn daughters she’d borne him. It was an old scandal—one of the most eligible lords in the court had married a human for love. It had nearly cost Garen his title. A match between a kyn and a human? Unheard of.
If she had been converted, it would have been a different matter. Occasionally though some humans couldn’t be converted. No one knew why. The scientists thought it might have to do with a strain of paranormal DNA in their genetic makeup, something not human in their family tree, that stopped the conversion. Regardless of the pressure on him, Garen stood by his mortal wife until she died, and Vixen admired him for that.
Her own father had been a different matter. He’d seen the warriors’ marks across the face and body of his newborn daughter and had walked out, leaving Vixen and her mother to fend for themselves.
“Yes, I’m ready… is everyone else? Do y’all have your bouquets?” Maria asked, twisting and turning to check as Garen lifted her veil to draw it down over her face. Vixen lifted her bouquet and waggled it in with the rest, adding her voice to the chorus from the assembled bridesmaids.
The panic left Maria’s face as her father drew her hand onto his arm and led her toward the door. The bridesmaids fell into the order they’d had drilled into them by the wedding coordinator and followed her. Vixen brought up the rear, her hand closing around the handle of her bouquet and the stiletto hidden there. Just in case. Bridesmaid for the day, protector for life.
The moment of truth was upon her. Vixen took a deep breath before stepping through the door. All eyes in the hall swung toward them. Vixen bit the inside of her lip, wishing she was somewhere—anywhere—other than here. If a rogue burst into the hall right now, she’d kiss it, before kicking its ass.
Feral should’ve worn the dress. She fixed her gaze on Maria’s slender figure, concentrated on putting one step in front of the other, and ignored the crowded room around her as she followed the queen-to-be up the aisle.
Mina was born and raised in the East Farthing of Middle Earth (otherwise known as the Midlands, England) and spend her childhood learning all the sorts of things generally required of a professional adventurer. Able to ride, box, shoot, make and read maps, make chainmail and use a broadsword (with varying degrees of efficiency) she was disgusted to find that adventuring is not considered a suitable occupation these days.
So, instead of slaying dragons and hunting vampires and the like, Mina spends her days writing about hot shifters, government conspiracies and vampire lords with more than their fair share of RAWR. Turns out wanna-be adventurers have quite the turn of imagination after all...
(But she keeps that sword sharp, just in case the writing career is just a dream and she really *is* an adventurer.)
The boring part: A full time author and cover artist, Mina can usually be found hunched over a keyboard or graphics tablet, frantically trying to get the images and words in her head out and onto the screen before they drive her mad. She's addicted to coffee and would like to be addicted to chocolate, but unfortunately chocolate dislikes her.