Harlequin Nocturne December 2013 Bundle

By: Susan Krinard

NIGHTMASTER

Susan Krinard





Dear Reader,

It’s a time of peace between vampires—Opiri—and humans. But according to the Treaty, convicted criminals of the human Enclave must be sent as “serfs” to the vampire Citadel of Erebus, there to become the property of a Bloodmaster or Bloodlord.

Trinity is sent to Erebus with a shipment of so-called criminals…but as a spy, not a slave. And soon she finds herself belonging to one of the most powerful and dangerous Opiri in the Citadel: Ares, who is incapable of love. Or is he?

I hope you enjoy the second book in my Nightsiders series.

Susan Krinard




Chapter 1

Trinity Ward waited with the other dozen convicts, her wrists aching from the grip of the padded cuffs that kept her hands locked together at her waist.

Not that she would have fought to escape. This was where she was supposed to be, among these poor, lost souls whose punishment was to be more terrible than mere imprisonment. Or even death.

They were condemned to a life of blood slavery to some Nightsider master in the Opir city of Erebus—an existence of unending servitude—until they were too old to provide blood or serve in any other capacity.

But these living offerings around Trinity, men and women who had committed only the most minor crimes, were not old. Some were in their late teens; the eldest couldn’t have been more than fifty. If not for the Treaty and the need to maintain the Armistice, they might have lived normal lives, sentenced by the Courts to jail time, probation and reparations.

Except that there were only two jails in the Enclave, and they were nearly empty. Crime had dropped to levels unknown in all of human history. Dropped so far that the bloodsuckers were growing restless.

“What did you do?” a young woman standing next to Trinity asked in a surprisingly calm voice.

Trinity met her gaze. She knew what the woman saw: normal human eyes, not the catlike pupils of a half human, half Nightsider dhampir. In a way, the contact lenses were like shields, not only concealing Trinity’s identity, but also helping her keep her distance from those around her.

Distance, Trinity thought, shouldn’t be a problem. She had been chosen for this assignment because she was known as the most unflappable, most controlled operative in all of Aegis. The one without close friends or lovers, because she wanted it that way.

Still, it was hard looking at this woman’s face, knowing she hadn’t earned the fate that awaited her. None of these people had.

“I didn’t pay my taxes,” Trinity whispered. “You?”

The woman’s brown eyes filled with tears. “I stole a pair of earrings. They weren’t expensive at all, but I hadn’t had something pretty like that in—” She broke off, her calm dissolving in grief and fear.

“I’m sorry,” Trinity said, awkwardly touching the woman’s arm.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for my daughter,” the woman said, wiping her eyes on her forearm. “She’s going to stay with my parents now. They’ll take good care of her. But I—”

She didn’t have to finish. Trinity knew what it was like to lose family. Not that she’d ever really had one. Her Nightsider father, whom she didn’t remember, had been killed at the end of the War when Enclave soldiers had found him in possession of Trinity’s mother and their daughter, treating both as prisoners rather than anything a human would call a “family.”

Trinity’s mother had taken her back to the Enclave. But there had never been another father. And Trinity had grown up half vampire in a world of humans who feared and hated the part of her that made her so different, so much faster and stronger and keener of vision, able to see in the dark and with teeth made for drinking blood.

Something most dhampires would rather die than sink to.

“My name is Trinity,” she said to her companion.

“Rachel,” the woman said, raising her bound wrists. “I can’t shake your hand.”

Suddenly they both laughed, the laughter of people without hope. Trinity wasn’t completely faking it. She knew her odds of coming out of this alive and free were minimal, but that wasn’t what she feared. She had to obtain the necessary information and get word out of Erebus. If this was to be her last assignment, she intended to make it count.

“Attention,” the soldier at the front of the column shouted, his helmet reflecting the sunlight. “You’ll be boarding the ferry now. When we reach the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, you will board a transport to the border of the Zone, where we will proceed on foot to the transfer point.” He scanned the small gathering, his eyes—and his feelings—hidden behind his visor. “Any disruption or attempt to escape will be met with force.”

He glanced at his fellow soldiers flanking the crooked line of dozen convicts and moved closer. “Stay alive,” he said in a soft voice obviously meant only for the prisoners. “There’s always a chance things will change. If we ever beat the bloodsuckers—”

“Sergeant!” one of the other soldiers said. “Ferry’s ready to board.”

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