(Book 12 in the Immortals After Dark series)
A novel by Kresley Cole
To Swede—a good sport, a great guy, and a remarkable husband. As I’m writing this, it’s four in the morning Deadline Standard Time, and you’re still at the desk with me. How can I surprise you with a dedication when you refuse to desert the command center?
Thank you so much to my editor, Lauren McKenna, and my publisher, Louise Burke, both fantastic ladies who continually inspire me.
A special thanks to the Production team at Gallery Books—and to Nancy Tonik, for her patience with my “unique” way of doing copy edits and my eccentric attachment schemes.
Much love and many thanks to my incredible agent, Robin Rue.
Finally, thank you to my readers, for taking this leap with me and for all your wonderful support!
EXCERPTED FROM THE IMMORTALS’
• Most are immortal and can regenerate from injuries. The stronger breeds can only be killed by mystical fire or beheading.
• Their eyes change with intense emotion, often to a breed-specific color.
• Each adult male seeks his
• A Bride will render his body fully alive, giving him breath and making his heart beat, a process known as
• Two vampire armies continue to war: the Horde, which is mostly comprised of the Fallen, and the Forbearers, a legion of turned humans, who do not drink blood directly from the flesh.
• They take sustenance from the electrical energy of the earth, sharing it in one collective power, and give it back with their emotions in the form of lightning.
• Without training, most can be mesmerized by shining objects.
• Some beings can turn a human or even other Lore creatures into their kind through differing means, but the catalyst for change is always death, and success is not guaranteed.
• A kind of mystical checks-and-balances system for an ever-growing population of immortals.
• Occurs every five hundred years. Or right now. . .
RUSSIAN WINTER, IN AGES LONG PAST
What fresh humiliation does this day bring?” Ivana the Bold asked her son, Lothaire, as guards escorted them to the vampire known as Stefanovich—the king of the Vampire Horde.
And Lothaire’s father.
Though only nine, Lothaire could tell his mother’s tone held a trace of recklessness. “And why wake you?” she demanded of him, as if he could explain his father’s rash ways.
The summons had come at noon, well past his bedtime. “I know not, Mother,” he mumbled as he adjusted his clothing. He’d had only seconds to dress.
“I grow weary of this treatment. One day he will push me too far and rue it.”
Lothaire had overheard her complaining to his uncle Fyodor about the king’s “tirades and dalliances, his increasingly bizarre behavior.” She’d softly confessed, “I threw away my love on your brother, am naught but an ill- treated mistress in this realm, though I was heir to the throne in Dacia.”
Fyodor had tried to comfort her, but she’d said, “I knew I only had so long with him before his heart stopped its beating. Now I question whether he has a heart at all.”
Today her ice-blue eyes were ablaze with a dangerous light. “I was meant for better than this.” With each of her steps, the furs that spilled over her shoulders swayed back and forth. The skirts of her scarlet gown rustled, a pleasing sound he always associated with her. “And you, my prince, were as well.”
She called him “prince,” but Lothaire wasn’t one. At least, not in this kingdom. He was merely Stefanovich’s bastard, one in a long line of them.
They followed the two guards up winding stairs to the king’s private suites. The walls were gilded with gold and moist with cold. Outside a blizzard pounded the castle.
Sconces lit the way, but nothing could alleviate the gloom of these echoing corridors.
Lothaire shivered, longing to be back in his warm bed with his new puppy dozing over his legs.
Once they reached the anteroom outside of Stefanovich’s chambers and the guards began opening the groaning gold doors, Ivana smoothed her hands over her elaborate white-blond braids and lifted her chin. Not for the first time, Lothaire thought she looked like an angel of yore.
Inside, lining the back wall, was a soaring window of jet glass inlaid with symbols of the dark arts. The stained glass kept out the faint sunlight visible through the storm and made a fearsome backdrop for the king’s chair.
Not that the towering vampire needed anything more to make him fearsome. His build was more like a demon’s, his shoulders broader than a carrying plank, his fists like anvils.
“Ah, Ivana Daciano deigns to obey a summons,” Stefanovich called from the head of his long dining table. Every night his eyes seemed to grow redder, their crimson glow standing out against the sand-colored hair that fell