This book is dedicated to strays, and to the generous hearts who bring them in from the cold.
AUTHOR’S NOTE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I don’t know about you guys, but I love a bad boy, especially one who lives by his own code of honor. Dez is one of those guys—except he went off the rails a while back and broke the heart of the woman who was, and will always be, his soul mate. What’s more, Reese Montana—a former bounty hunter who is a badass in her own right—isn’t the kind to forgive and forget. So when they’re reunited, major sparks fly.
Please join me now as these two butt heads, lock lips, and try to figure each other out while racing to discover the secret of the serpent bloodline, and kicking some serious ass in the process.
For new readers and fans alike, there’s a glossary and list of characters at the back of the book. I hope you’ll check it out.
To explore the Nightkeepers’ online world and sign up for Nightkeeper News, please visit www.JessicaAndersen.com. Also, you can friend me on Facebook to get a look at my oh so Freudian typos and other authorial misadventures!
My heartfelt thanks to Deidre Knight, Claire Zion, Kara Welsh, Kerry Donovan, and others too numerous to name for helping me bring these books to life; to J. R. Ward for being my sounding board; to Suz Brockmann for being a mentor and an inspiration; to Sally Hinkle Russell for reminding me to keep my eyes up and my heels down; and to my family, friends, and many e-friends for always being there for a laugh or (cyber) hug.
And thank you, dear reader, for picking up Reese and Dez’s story. I hope you love it as much as I do—I’m not much of a weeper, but the ending of this one gets me every time.
Jessica (aka Doc Jess)
Bound by blood and magic, the Nightkeepers must defend mankind from the rise of terrible demons. In order to reach their full powers, they must find and bond with their gods-destined mates . . . who aren’t always who or what they seem.
With their ancient enemy reincarnated in the form of a brutal mage named Iago, their gods trapped in the sky by the destruction of a critical Mayan ruin, and people disappearing mysteriously, the magi need all hands on deck. So when one of their own—a powerful and dangerous mage named Mendez—vanishes without a trace, the Nightkeepers’ king does the only thing he can think of . . .
Ten years ago
Reese Montana had survived her parents’ divorce, a grabby-fingered stepfather, and hitting the gang- infested streets at fifteen. She had survived—barely—being targeted by the leader of one of those gangs, and had turned police informant to help bring him down. But now, at nineteen, she was sick of surviving. She wanted to live. And, damn it, she wanted to do it with the man who was squared off opposite her in the main room of their shared two-bedroom, looking like she’d just gut-shot him.
“Reese,” he grated. “Don’t do this.”
Mendez meant it as an order, but it came out more like a plea. His pale hazel eyes slid from hers, but he didn’t move, just stood there—six seven worth of wide-shouldered, rawboned energy wearing jeans and a leather jacket he shouldn’t have been able to afford, with an angular face that hadn’t been carded in years, though he’d only just turned twenty-one.
His big body vibrated with the same tension that ran through hers—the need to fight, to kick ass, to burn off the heat that had been growing between them for months now. But although he would fight for her, fight with her, he wouldn’t fight her. His control, like his protection, had been his promise. And she was sick of both.
“Sorry. I’ve had it with your timetable.” She kept her voice dead level, knowing that if she got shrill and snippy—or worse, let him sense her nerves—he would find a way to put her back in the “little sister” box inside his rock-hard head. But she wasn’t his sister, hadn’t ever been.
Closing the distance between them, she splayed her hand on his chest as she had often done in their early days together, when they had huddled in abandoned squats, sharing body heat and vigilance. His heartbeat was fast against her palm, his chest a solid wall of muscle.
Heat pooled alongside her nerves, and her stomach gave a little flutter. She knew his body completely, yet she didn’t. The shared-warmth cuddles had ended a year ago when they’d finally started making enough to get into an official flop with actual utilities, a signed lease, and the locks he’d installed on the insides of both their bedroom doors. And she was sick of that, too. More, she was afraid that if she didn’t do something, he was going to decompress. He’d been driving himself too hard lately, straying way too close to the line between right and wrong. The thought of him going all the way over that line scared her worse than the idea of being rejected.
“Don’t push me, Reese.” His words vibrated against her palm, setting up resonant quivers inside her. “Not—” He bit it off, but she heard it anyway: Not now.
“Why not now?” She wasn’t quite brave enough to wrap her arms around his neck, though she badly wanted to, had envisioned herself doing just that when she’d played it out over and over again in her head. Instead, she shifted to grip the edges of his leather, leaving a scant inch of space between their bodies. “We’ve got jobs and a place of our own.”
Outside it was night-black and pissing rain, cold and hard-edged with the chill of early fall. The sharp drops hammered against the room’s single window, but inside the apartment they were warm and dry.
He shook his head. “It’s not enough.”
“This is what we’ve got. This is our life.” She tightened her fingers on his jacket, willing him to listen to her, to really hear her this time. “Maybe in a perfect world things would’ve been different. You wouldn’t have been raised by your crazy-assed godfather. My dad wouldn’t have left, or my mom would’ve believed me rather than Number Two. But that’s not the way it happened. We got through it. We made this.” Her gesture encompassed the two of them and the space around them. The three-room apartment, with its crappy flooring, Salvation Army decor, and Febreze-defying funky smell, still felt like heaven to her.
His look labeled it a dump. “You deserve better.” But then his eyes softened and his voice dropped an octave. “Damn it, Reese, you deserve the dream. We both do.”
But the fantasy of escaping to a place with wide-open skies had been just talk, a story she would tell when he fell silent. She hadn’t grown up like him, didn’t know the things he did, so she’d taken a picture that was burned into her brain and turned it into an imaginary world. For her, it had been a way to avoid the reality of growling stomachs, frozen toes, and constant vigilance. For him, it had become a goal. “Someday I’ll give you a palace,” he would say. But she wasn’t a princess and she didn’t want him to surround her with stone walls and armed guards. Which was exactly what he would do if he got the chance.
He’d been just three when his parents and baby sister died in a horrible fire, and he still had nightmares