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He Hungers For Her Body…
Zer is no angel—well, not anymore. He’s explored every flavor of sin imaginable, drinking in the pleasures of humanity. But now he must find the woman who carries his salvation in her very blood…a woman like Nessa St. James.
And Her Soul
Nessa has considered the bargain the Fallen offer. Anything she wants in exchange for accepting Zer’s bond? No way. Not her. Not when she finds out about the mind-blowing ritual involved, and the marks of surrender that will ink her skin. But with a serial killer to stop and centuries of experience on his side, this is one job Zer’s going to nail.
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Zer made the run to G2’s, coming into the club from the roof because he had energy to burn and he got off on the sheer physical pleasure of pounding across the rooftops, leaping the empty spaces between the buildings. Beautiful thing about all that space was that you just never knew when your foot might slip. If only it was that easy to finally bite it. Put an end to millennia of emptiness. To the suspicion that maybe, just maybe, you’d been exiled from the Heavens because you weren’t good enough and not because of a well- engineered setup.
Security met him as soon as his boot hit the rooftop, of course—because Zer’s lieutenant, Brends, wasn’t an idiot, and the male looked after his own with the tenacity of a starving hound—but the patrol recognized his face even before he snarled the password. Everyone knew who Zer was. The sire. The one who was supposed to lead the Fallen out of this shit storm and back to glory. Never mind that he was at least a thousand years overdue.
Two males, one on his left and the other flanking his right. If they’d wanted to take him out, they’d missed their chance. He’d been vulnerable when his boot hit the edge, but now he was on solid ground.
Leather duster flying around him, he took the stairs down to the club floor, taking out his frustration and his restless energy on the anonymous stairwell with the stark linoleum and aseptic guardrails. Moving silently downward, his shadow gliding over the steps before him, he considered what he’d learned in the last week.
The nightly fights against the rogues preying on the human population of M City were only the tip of the iceberg. The desire to drink human emotions was worse than any drug. The rogues were Fallen who either no longer could or would control their urge to drink human emotions. Lost to that dark hunger, they rampaged out of control, insane and indulging in sprees of violence as they drank their human victims to death.
Worse, Cuthah, the corrupt Dominion who’d engineered the Fallen’s exile from the Heavens, was clearly massing the army he’d threatened to raise. Sure, the motherfucker had flat out said as much during his last heart-to-heart with the Fallen, but Zer had hoped—for longer than he should have— that Cuthah had merely been grandstanding, doing a little posturing because the male had been on the losing end of the fight and was looking to save face.
No such luck.
Maybe Zer should have just let the rogues do their thing. The Heavens might have evicted the Dominions’ asses, but they hadn’t put out a kill order. Not yet. Some of the Fallen still fought for redemption. The others gave in to the soul thirst and became rogues. Fuck if he knew why he fought, though, other than that he was, like it or not, still the leader of the Fallen three thousand years after their disastrous Fall from grace, and he’d never walked away from a fight.
Plus, Zer and his brothers might be debauched sensualists who enjoyed more than their fair share of earthy pleasures, but they did not kill innocents. Seduce, yes, murder, no.
The humans grinding on the crowded dance floor gave him a wide berth when he strode into the club.
He planted himself in the club’s private banquette and then propped his feet on the table. His seat in his world. He was king here and everyone—human and Fallen—knew it.
The gaping avenue in the dancing crowd closed up once he was safely stowed in the banquette, the music kicking up in volume to match the drug-induced euphoria of the crowd. Sin and sex. His humans stank of both vices. Like the addict he was, he opened his senses, drinking down the delicious cocktail. Unable to experience emotion themselves, the Fallen depended on the humans around them to provide it. There were a few ways to tap into that emotion, but the best was sex. And Zer was hungry for it.
“You find the females on the list?” Nael, one of Zer’s lieutenants, didn’t waste time with meet-and-greet. The leather- clad Fallen dropped into the seat across from Zer.
A female deposited a tray of bottles and glasses at the table, running her eyes down the hard muscles of Zer’s forearms. The interest was automatic, as was the revulsion when her gaze hit the black ink on his wrists and she realized what he was. Not a Goblin-lover, that human, although clearly she was willing to take her paycheck and work the club floor. Her loss. She’d have made more from Zer in one night than she had at her job in a week.
He spared her departing ass a quick glance. The female moved quickly but sleekly, the muscles in her thighs tightening with each stride. She’d have been a hot ride, he thought regretfully. Able to keep up. Ride him half the night and then some.
He’d have liked to taste her.
Unfortunately, with the thirst riding him hard, one taste wouldn’t have been enough. He’d have taken another. And another. Until he killed her, and he wasn’t going rogue. Not tonight.
“I haven’t looked.” He’d been too busy killing rogues and hanging on to the shreds of his sanity. Without removing his feet from the table, Zer reached out a long arm and snagged a bottle. Popping the top, he poured himself a shot of well- iced Armadale.
“Soon,” Nael suggested. “We get to them first, before Cuthah does, and we’re one up on him if they’re really soul mates and not just bond mates.”
G2’s was full of would-be bond mates—humans who were more than willing to temporarily trade their souls to the Fallen in exchange for a favor. One favor for one soul. Catch was, the larger favor, the longer the bond lasted. That wasn’t Zer’s problem.
No, his problem was that, when the Archangel Michael had exiled the Dominions, stripping them of their wings and their emotions and condemning them to a near-eternity on Earth as Goblins, he’d also dangled the promise of redemption. If a Goblin found his soul mate. One soul mate for each Fallen angel, or so Michael had sworn—one human woman who could redeem her predestined mate and restore his wings. It had taken three thousand years to find the first soul mate and Zer wasn’t happy with the odds of finding more.
Michael’s henchman Cuthah had already killed off every potential soul mate he could lay hands on to prevent the Fallen from regaining access to the Heavens; these four had to be next on his list. “We’ve got names, so they shouldn’t be that hard to find.” Truth. The only real question was to whom these females would belong. Wrapping his fingers around the slowly warming sides of his glass, Zer sprawled back in his chair, his eyes moving with deadly interest over the writhing crowd below them.
Most of the club’s dancers were human. The hired ones paid with a weekly check were sliding sweat-slicked bodies along the steel-and-glass poles, flashing wicked, almost-there leather thongs and bracelets of diamonds on their wrists and ankles as they moved. The music was a primal beat that penetrated the dancing crowd like a lover, and, wherever Zer looked, he saw the telltale possessive flare in the guests’ eyes as they eyed the wicked choices on offer.
G2’s only rule was pleasure. But the currency of the realm was spiritual. You wanted the Fallen’s favor, you paid for it.
With part of your soul. At G2’s a night of unforgettable pleasure could be the ritual sealing a dangerous bargain: the granting of a Goblin favor, anything a human might wish for, in exchange for a piece of that human’s soul.
Surprisingly, all too many of the dancers there were ready to make that bargain. For the Fallen, it was the best way to slake the inevitable soul thirst.
Spreading out the crumpled page, Zer didn’t need to read the words to know what they said. This hit list he knew by heart. Four names. Four potential soul mates. Recon the females, do a little search-and-forcible-retrieval. Once he had these females secured in G2’s, he’d let his brothers do the picking and choosing. Match themselves up to their soul mates.
It would have been simpler if they could just choose a couple of tonight’s dancers from the club floor. Those females wanted to be here, wanted what the Fallen had to offer. Maybe, these four would, too. Maybe, they’d be just as easy to seduce and wouldn’t have any issue with offering themselves up, body and soul, for a little one-on-one with the Fallen if the price was right. No way to know unless he went after them.
“Find an address for me.”
With a curt nod, Nael took a handheld from the pocket of his duster. The military-grade casing was an invitation to drive a Humvee over the ruggedized hardware. Like the brother, nothing short of nuclear holocaust would crack that case. Pretty as hell but Teflon strong. Nael had no issues with who or what he was now, and that made him Zer’s right hand.
There was the click of ice cubes and computer keys as Nael did his thing. After a few long minutes, he looked up.
“You need more than that for a start? Besides, she’s close at hand. She must not be the clubbing type, or we’d have seen her in here.”
Did you just look at your soul mate and know? Long experience told Zer that nothing ever was that easy. The out clause on Michael’s sentence came with a lengthy list of caveats and restrictions. No way Michael had made it as easy as accidentally bumping into a female on the sidewalk. Or a dance floor.
They’d learned that when Brends found the first of them.
And, truth be told, he didn’t envy Brends his soul mate; that was an emotional ball-and-chain, and Zer didn’t do bondage. Not unless—a hard smile creased his face—he got to be on top. Domination was bred deep into his genes, and, whether Brends admitted it or not, he’d put his heart and soul into the hands of a human female.
Zer turned his glass in his hand, the damp-beaded glass reflecting the unholy glow of his eyes back to him. Damned beast.
Nael eyed him. “You want me to find another female?”
Nael would, too. God, the brother loved the Internet, databases, and a clever hack job. In this case, breaking code and violating at least a dozen human privacy laws to get the information Zer needed.
“No.” It really didn’t matter where he started. “Which one you got?”
“One Dr. Nessa St. James. Assistant professor at M City’s finest university. Up for tenure this year and—get this—specializes in genetics and biblical studies. The human who developed the pee-on-a-stick DNA testing kit.” Nael waggled his eyebrows.
Nessa St. James’s life was about to do a 180. Zer hadn’t expected to find the next soul mate gyrating on his club floor, but a teacher? Hell, his boys would chew her up and spit her out before breakfast. She’d require hand-holding, and he did not do hand-holding. Ever.
“She’s one of the top geneticists in the world, Zer.” Nael flipped the handheld around so Zer could squint at the small screen.
Ignoring the screen, he stared at Nael, and Nael stared back. The good doctor was on Cuthah’s list—which marked her as a potential soul mate—and she had the skills to unravel Cuthah’s little biological bomb. Cuthah had claimed the soul mates bore the equivalent of a biological bar code— a little hey-look-at-me in their DNA. While Zer wasn’t sure he believed Cuthah’s claim, he still needed to check it out. Yeah, opportunity was knocking here.
“We should get her,” Nael pointed out, as if waltzing into a university and plucking out the particular human they required was just a walk in the proverbial park.
“She’ll have a price.” All he had to do, Zer decided, was find out what she wanted. What she coveted. Money could fix anything. He’d buy up her lab, cut off her grant funding. Then, because he was feeling mean, mean and thirstier than hell, he’d cut off her library card. She wouldn’t get whatever it was she wanted from her life until she gave him what he wanted.
“You want me to juice you up?” Nael looked like he knew precisely how thirsty Zer was. Brother wouldn’t have made an offer he didn’t mean, though, and that was just one of the reasons Zer valued the male. Nael had his back. No matter what. If Zer went rogue and needed a helping hand with a blade to end it all, Nael would do it and wouldn’t ask questions, either.
So Nael would seduce a human female and let Zer sip the woman’s soul if that’s what it took to make sure his sire left G2’s at full strength. Christ. It wasn’t as if the dancers minded. Hell, that was why they were there, doing the bumpand- grind on this particular dance floor. They wanted to be chosen, wanted to win that lottery ticket. Zer resented the desperate need coiling through him, but there was no avoiding it. He had to drink, soon, and he didn’t trust himself to do the seducing.
“Yeah.” He jerked his head in a too-quick nod. He wanted to say something else, acknowledge what the brother was doing for him, but what was the point? They both knew Zer hung on by his fingertips and that the whole fucking mess would come crashing down when he let go.
“I love takeout.” A slow, heated smile curled the edges of Nael’s mouth, but Zer couldn’t help noticing that it didn’t reach his eyes. Brother knew he was pimping, and even for his sire, it had to sting. He’d find a way to repay his brother.
Beside him, Nael was running a discriminating eye over the dancers, like a housewife at a farmer’s market. Too old, too stale, not right. He finally settled on a kitten-eyed blonde who looked like she hadn’t done innocent since grade school. When Nael shot her that long, slow smile of his, she came gliding across the dance floor as if there was some sort of chain connecting her to Nael. Her hips writhed sensuously, never losing the throbbing beat of the music, and Zer would have staked his immortal soul that she felt that pulse straight down to her pussy.
Nael didn’t bother with chatting the female up about the weather, just gave her the once-over and reached for her, wrapping his large hands around her corseted waist. When he kissed her, a deep, openmouthed, wet kiss, Zer felt the shock of her pleasure straight down to his own toes. She hadn’t believed it could be like this.
She broke off the kiss long enough to ask, “He watching?” She gestured toward Zer, and he stared back at her.
“Yeah.” Nael nipped at her mouth with his, his fingers pressing through her hair to find a sensitive spot on her scalp that made her purr. “You don’t mind that. You just come on over here and tell me what you want.”
When he pulled the female down onto his lap, her pale legs straddled him as if he was her favorite ride.
“Kiss me,” she answered. The dark flush of arousal colored her skin. She smelled of expensive perfume and even more expensive beauty lotions. A consumer. Those shoes she was wrapping around his brother’s back were five-inch heels, reducing her walk to a careful, sensual shimmy. The straps crisscrossed her ankles, snaking up to her bare knees like a lover’s tongue. They sure as hell didn’t reach anywhere near the microscopic leather skirt that stopped just south of her ass. Nael’s hands smoothed the fabric away. He whispered a throaty question. Asking permission to go further.
The female meant nothing to either of them but a temporary way to stave off the hunger riding them. Nael touched her, because Zer didn’t trust himself anymore. He couldn’t give her the care, the pleasure that she wanted. That she deserved for giving herself to satisfy their carnal hungers. He was so damn thirsty for the taste of her soul, he’d have drained her dry.
He wasn’t that kind of killer. Not yet.
Had Michael known what he’d condemned the Fallen to? That question tormented him, but it didn’t stop him from drinking, sucking down the taste of the female’s soul like she was water and he was dying in the desert. Stale water, yeah, but water nonetheless. He could feel the power flowing through him, the sick ecstasy of feeling, even if they were secondhand emotions. The female coming apart in Nael’s arms thought she’d died and gone to heaven, but she had no clue.
Zer had been to the Heavens. He knew what she was really missing out on and what a faint substitute the bliss Nael could shower on her was. The Heavens were worth fighting for, worth protecting even if they didn’t want the protection of the likes of him. He’d stop Cuthah no matter what he had to do, because for once in his too-long life he was going to make the right call. Was going to win the battle that mattered.
This was a race to get to the next soul mate first, winner take all.
If Nessa St. James was fortunate, the Fallen would get there first.