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Blood Red Kiss
 


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Blood Red Kiss


  Praise for #1 New York Times bestselling author

  KRESLEY COLE

  and the IMMORTALS AFTER DARK series

  “When it comes to creating adversarial protagonists who must overcome enormous emotional and deadly obstacles to get their HEA, no one does it better than Cole!”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “Sexy, funny, twisted, and all the wonderful things that make this series a favorite amongst readers.”

  —Harlequin Junkie

  “Emotionally compelling . . . equally adventuresome and romantic.”

  —Single Titles

  “Packed full of dry, sarcastic humor, crazy violent scenes and super-sexy times . . . there is a reason Kresley Cole is one of my favorite authors.”

  —Parajunkee

  Praise for New York Times bestselling author

  LARISSA IONE

  and the MOONBOUND CLAN VAMPIRE series

  “Exceptionally entertaining. . . . Ione kicks off a new vampire series [and] does what she does best: paranormal romance with a sexy and dangerous bite!”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “A great series by a fantastic author.”

  —Heroes and Heartbreakers

  “Larissa Ione never fails to deliver solid and engaging storytelling, transporting the reader into a world of action-packed dark and gritty goodness. . . . Readers who enjoy escaping into a captivating and seductive PNR world will definitely enjoy the MoonBound Clan Vampire series.”

  —Fiction Vixen

  “Absolutely spellbinding in every way possible.”

  —Single Titles

  Praise for New York Times bestselling author

  GENA SHOWALTER

  and the OTHERWORLD ASSASSINS series

  “Showalter kicks off her new Otherworld Assassins series, addressing her signature themes: inner darkness, inner light, and the battles between good and evil waged both between people and within individuals’ souls. . . . Her fans will be eager to follow her into new adventures.”

  —Booklist

  “Fast-paced, intense paranormal romance that offers original, dynamic characters, vivid, compelling worldbuilding, and a powerful ‘love prevails’ narrative.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “I love this world that Gena Showalter has slowly built in the Alien Huntress series. . . . It’s easy to root for these characters as they fight and battle their way to overcoming the odds and defeating their enemies. This is the classic Gena Showalter storytelling that I fell in love with years ago.”

  —Fiction Vixen

  “Settle back and enjoy this truly fantastic read!”

  —RT Book Reviews

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  CONTENTS

  The Warlord Wants Forever

  By Kresley Cole

  Epigraph

  Excerpted from The Living Book of Lore

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  The Origin of the Valkyries

  Letter to the Reader

  An Immortals after Dark (IAD) Q&A

  ‘A Hunger Like No Other’ Excerpt

  A Day in the Life of Blood Red Kiss

  Forsaken by Night

  By Larissa Ione

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Dark Swan

  By Gena Showalter

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  About Kresley Cole, Larissa Ione and Gena Showalter

  THE WARLORD WANTS FOREVER

  Kresley Cole

  “I want to know the rules of the game. So I can dominate it.”

  —NIKOLAI WROTH, VAMPIRE GENERAL, FORMER HUMAN WARLORD

  “No one possesses me, except in their fantasies. I’ll kill you as easily as kiss you.”

  —MYST THE COVETED, CONSIDERED THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL VALKYRIE

  Excerpted from

  The Living Book of Lore

  The Lore

  “. . . non-human sentient creatures united in one stratum, secret from man’s.”

  • Most are immortal and can regenerate from injuries, killed only by mystical fire or beheading.

  • Their eyes change with intense emotion to a breed-specific color.

  The Valkyries

  “When a maiden warrior screams for courage as she dies in battle, Wóden and Freya heed her call. The two gods strike her with lightning, rescuing her to their hall and preserving her courage forever in the form of the maiden’s immortal Valkyrie daughter.”

  • They take sustenance from the electrical energy of the earth. Their emotions can spark lightning.

  • They possess supernatural strength, speed, and senses.

  The Vampires

  • Two warring factions, the Horde and the Forbearer Army.

  • Each adult male seeks his Bride, his eternal wife, and walks as the living dead until he finds her.

  • A Bride will render his body fully alive, giving him breath and making his heart beat, a process known as blooding.

  • Tracing is teleporting, the vampires’ means of travel. A vampire can only trace to destinations he’s previously been or to those he can see.

  • The Fallen are vampires who have killed by drinking a victim to death. Distinguished by their red eyes.

  The Horde

  “In the first chaos of the Lore, a brotherhood of vampires relied on their cold nature, worship of logic, and absence of mercy to rule. They sprang from the harsh steppes of Dacia and migrated to Russia, though some say a secret enclave, the Daci, live in Dacia still.”

  • The Fallen comprise their ranks.

  The Forbearers

  “ . . . his crown stolen, Kristoff, the rightful Horde king, stalked the battlefields of antiquity seeking the strongest, most valiant human warriors as they died, earning him the name of Gravewalker. He offered eternal life in exchange for eternal fealty to him and his growing army.”

  • An army of vampires consisting of turned humans, who do not drink blood directly from the flesh.

  The Accession

  “And a time shall come when all immortal beings in the Lore, from the Valkyries, vampire, Lykae, and demon factions to the witches, shifters, fey, and sirens . . . must fight and destroy each other.”

  • A kind of mystical checks-and-balances system for an ever-growing
population of immortals.

  • Occurs every five hundred years. Or right now . . .

  1

  Mount Oblak Castle, Russia

  FIVE YEARS AGO

  If the overgrown vampire didn’t stop staring at her, even his talent with a sword wouldn’t keep his head upon his shoulders.

  The thought made Myst, an immortal known as the Coveted One, grin as she watched two vampire armies battle from her cell window. She leapt up to the sill, curling up and resting her forehead against the reinforced bars.

  The poor warlord with his broad shoulders and jet-black hair was about to join a legion of other males—the ones whose last sight had been her smiling face.

  She tilted her head when he ducked and ran through an enemy. He was a big male, at least six and a half feet tall, but surprisingly fast.

  She knew fighting and liked his style. Dirty. He’d cut with his sword then strike out with his fist, or dodge a thrust then throw an elbow.

  What she wouldn’t give to be down there fighting. In the middle. Against both sides. Against him.

  She fought dirtier.

  His attention continued to stray toward her; once he’d even killed while his gaze was still on her. She’d blown him a kiss, sincerely, choosing to see it as a tribute.

  He found time to glance back even as he thundered orders to the army of rebel vampires. His strategy was brilliant, she grudgingly admitted, even though some of his men used firearms.

  Loreans scorned human weapons like these. Guns could only kill humans, which was beyond unsporting.

  Yet pesky bullets—aside from ruining couture—hurt. They could immobilize an immortal for precious seconds, long enough for a dirty fighter to take a foe’s head. Used enough times, they could help take an “untakable” castle like Ivo the Cruel’s.

  Ivo. Her jailer and tormentor.

  Myst hardly cared that he was about to have his ass handed to him. Her situation wouldn’t change, because these rebels, turned humans known as the Forbearers, were still vampires.

  A blood foe is a blood foe is a blood foe. . . .

  An explosion rocked the castle, then another. And another. Debris rained from the dungeon ceiling. In neighboring cells, low beings—those who made up the creature-feature underbelly of the Lore—howled.

  With each blast, their wails increased in volume, until . . . the battle was over.

  Silence. An aftershock here and there. A muted whimper.

  The defense of this castle was no more.

  Invading rebels searched for enemies, but Ivo and his men weren’t fight-to-the-death sorts. They’d probably teleported. He who fights and runs away, lives to run away another day. Ha.

  The sound of heavy footsteps echoed inside the dungeon. Someone was making his way down the corridor, directly to her cell. . . .

  The warlord appeared on the other side of the bars.

  From her perch in the window, she examined him. He had thick, straight black hair that hung over his face in careless sections, as if he’d sheared them off with a blade. Some hanks were kept from his field of vision with those small ravel plaits like the berserkers used to wear. His body was powerful, his muscles swollen from use.

  She wanted to purr—central casting had just sent her a fierce warlord!

  “Come down from there, woman.” Deep voice. Russian accent, moneyed, aristocratic.

  “Or what? You’ll lock me away in a dungeon?”

  “I might free you.”

  She was at the bars before he’d had time to lower his gaze from the window. Had his squared jaw slackened a touch? She listened for a quickening of his heart, but he had no heartbeat whatsoever.

  So the vampire was single?

  His eyes were clear of the red haze that marked bloodlust, which meant he had never drunk a being to death. But then a Forbearer never took blood straight from the flesh.

  Even after beholding her face up close, he didn’t immediately shove the key into the lock to free her. Yet his lips parted, exposing his fangs for her to see. His were kind of sexy—not too prominent or even much longer than a human’s canines.

  When she saw the short, splendid scar that passed down both of his lips, her lightning struck just outside. Scars, any external evidence of pain, attracted Myst. Pain forged strength. Strength begat electricity. This one could give it to her.

  He might even be missing an eye under a thick hank of hair.

  She stifled a throaty moan as her hand shot out to brush his hair back. But he was quick, catching her wrist. When she curled one finger in a beckoning gesture, he released her, allowing her to reach forward. She brushed his hair back, revealing a hard-planed, masculine face covered with grit and ash from the battle.

  He was still in possession of both of his eyes, and they were intense. Flinty gray.

  She dropped her hand and gripped the bars, lazily stroking them as her gaze dipped to his mouth again. She was surprised by how carnal she found it, especially since the vampire could use it to hurt her.

  The gold chain she’d worn around her waist for millennia now felt heavy on her.

  “What are you?” he asked in his pleasingly low voice.

  She realized his accent was actually Estonian, not Russian. The general was from neighboring Estonia, which made him a kind of Nordic Russian (though she doubted he would appreciate that description). She frowned at his question and pulled back her hair to reveal her pointed ear. “Nothing?” She parted her lips and tapped her tongue against her small, dormant fangs. No recognition.

  Rumors in the Lore held that King Kristoff and his Forbearers knew little of their fellow immortals. The male before her was an army leader, a general most likely, and he hadn’t a clue she was a Valkyrie.

  An enemy.

  Killing these Forbearers would be easy for her and her sisters. Too easy. Like being your own secret Santa.

  Myst had just confirmed rumors of asses and elbows—and this army’s inability to differentiate between the two.

  “What are you?” Nikolai demanded again, surprised his voice was steady.

  When he’d seen this female in the light, he’d felt like exhaling a stunned breath—if his kind respired.

  Flawless skin, coral lips, flame-red hair. The eyes that flickered over him were an impossible green.

  She was strikingly lovely, with a beauty only hinted at from a distance. On the battlefield, he’d been recklessly drawn to her.

  Though she clearly expected him to recognize her kind, he could determine only that she wasn’t human. Her ears said fey, but she also had the smallest fangs.

  “Free me,” the creature said.

  “Swear fealty to my king, and I will.”

  The way she held the bars was suggestive; everything about her was . . . suggestive. “I can’t do that, but you’ve no right to keep me here.”

  His brother Murdoch passed by, raised his eyebrows at Nikolai’s discovery, and muttered in Estonian, “Sweet Christ.” Then he walked on.

  Why was Nikolai unable to do the same? “What are you?” He wasn’t used to his questions going unanswered. “And what’s your name?”

  Another stroke of the bars. “What do you want it to be?”

  He scowled. “Are you a vampire?”

  “Not the last time I checked.” Her voice was sensual. He couldn’t place her drawling accent.

  “Are you innocent of malice against us?”

  She gave a dismissive wave. “Oh, good gods, no. I love to kill leeches.”

  “Then rot in here.” As if she could kill a vampire. She was scarcely over five feet tall and delicately built—aside from the generous breasts showcased in her tight shirt.

  When he turned to go, she called after him, “I smell smoke. Ivo the Cruel burned his records before he fled, didn’t he?”

  Nikolai stilled, clenching his fists because he’d have to return. “Correct,” he grated at the cell once more.

  “And this new king’s army is full of Forbearers—turned humans?” she asked.
I’ll bet you chose to attack this particular Horde stronghold—over the four others, including the royal seat—because you needed Oblak’s records.”

  How did she know their agenda so well?

  Nikolai could plan battles and sieges—he’d earned his rank by this victory alone—but he knew nothing of this new world that would help to advance the army. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one.

  “The blind leading the blind,” King Kristoff had muttered when they’d found the records reduced to a smoldering heap of ash.

  “You think to bargain for your freedom?” Nikolai said. “If you do happen to have information, I can torture you for it.”

  “I wouldn’t recommend that,” she said with a laugh. “I dislike torture and grow sulky under pincers.”

  The things in the other cells, many of which he never could have imagined, howled at that.

  “Now, let’s not quarrel, vampire. Free me, and we’ll go to your room and talk.” She offered her graceful hand to him. A smudge of ash was stark against her alabaster skin.

  “I don’t think so.”

  “You’ll call for me. You’ll be lonely in your new quarters and will feel out of sorts. I could let you pet my hair until you fall asleep.”

  He drew in closer to ask in all seriousness, “You’re mad, aren’t you?”

  “As—a—hatter,” she murmured back.

  He felt a hint of sympathy for the creature. “How long have you been in here?”

  “For four long . . . interminable . . . days.”

  He glowered.

  “Which is why I want you to take me with you. I don’t eat much.”

  The dungeon erupted with laughter again.

  “Don’t hold your breath, female.”

  “Certainly not like you, Forbearer.”

  “How did you know what I am? And who we are?”

  “I know everything.”

  If true, she had a wealth they lacked.

  “Leave her,” Murdoch called at the gateway of the dungeon. His brows were drawn, no doubt in puzzlement at his brother’s interest.

  Nikolai had never pursued women. When he’d been human, they’d either come to him or he’d gone without. He’d had no time during the war. As a vampire, he had no such need. Not until he could find his Bride.

 
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