Chapter 1


The bright flash of blue light cleared from Kyden’s eyes as the intense, suffocating wind caused by teleportation from the Otherworld began to fade. The alternate universe parallel to Earth, or the Earthworld, as it’s known to supernaturals, could be accessed by any supernatural at the gateway of the runes of Saint Andrews Castle in Scotland, or a much faster way, through a doorway located in the Otherworld’s castle, a portal designed by the original witch, Gwendolen, who signed the treaty of allegiance with Earth’s supernaturals, who sought a more peaceful life.

Kyden looked about at the suburban, tree-lined street. He noted that the Earthworld was vastly different from the Otherworld—even their smells. Plus, the sheer size of Earth astounded him, as the Otherworld was a speck of a planet as small as Vatican City with its population of eight hundred.

A light breeze brushed across Kyden, and the sword strapped to his bare back banged against his skin, reminding him of the job he had to do tonight. He surveyed the street, noting the eerie silence. At night most humans in the Earthworld slept. Nighttime in the Otherworld was when everyone awakened, including the Council’s Guard, as this is when they hunted killers.

Energy stayed at Kyden’s back, keeping the portal to the Otherworld open for his return home. Moving forward, he stepped out of the shadows that had kept him hidden through teleportation.

The wretched scent of garbage forced his breathing to go shallow as he strode beneath the light post, focusing on the red-brick bungalow and the vampire sitting on the steps wearing a grim expression. To the vamp’s right, Kyden noticed a werewolf, who he’d worked with before on cases in Salt Lake City. Dressed in army pants and a black sleeveless T-shirt, the lean, athletic werewolf tracker Alazar looked lethal.

Kyden stepped onto the curb, nodding his head at Alazar. “Good to see you again.”

The wolf’s amber eyes blazed as he raked a hand through his dark hair. “Not under these circumstances, believe me. It’s a bad case.”

Kyden’s muscles flexed in anticipation as he turned to the detective, offering his hand. “Detective Myles?”

The vamp nodded and rose, returning the handshake. “Thanks for coming so quickly.” His pale blue eyes were alert, his thin lips pulled into a straight line. “The scene has been cleansed. We’re ready to move ahead.” Which meant that the vampires in the Council’s Guard had erased memories and implanted new ones in the minds of any human police called to the scene and any witnesses who’d seen or heard the murder.

Each member of the Council’s Guard played an important role. Werewolves depended on their heightened sense of scent to track killers. Vampires used their mind-altering abilities to glamour minds. Witches used magic to assist guardians when needed. And guardians hunted and destroyed murderers.

While the Otherworld suspected that the highest levels of Earth’s mortal government knew of supernaturals’ existence, they also assumed those officials knew that the Otherworld destroyed any supernatural threats. Kyden remained unsure if the government knew that the Council’s supernaturals had infiltrated all major cities’ police departments to keep on top of their crimes. Though he believed it didn’t matter much if they did, the system worked to keep mortals safe, as well as to keep the truth about supernaturals a secret from the human population.

The last thing the Otherworld needed was trouble that mirrored the history of the Salem witch trails, which was when Earth’s supernaturals realized they needed a change or they would be annihilated. The treaty to keep the secret of supernaturals’ existence from the population safeguarded against that tragedy ever happening again.

History had proven that mortals couldn’t cope with the existence of supernaturals. Secrecy was the only way to ensure that the supernatural races thrived.

Those dark memories tainted Kyden’s mind as he glanced to the house with the cherry-red door, not seeing or hearing any movement inside, indicating that only the dead remained. Biting back the urge to make assumptions, he turned to Myles. “Anything I need to know about the case?”

“It’s unusual, to say the least,” Myles replied briskly.

Kyden’s adrenaline spiked, rushing like rich energy through his veins. “All right. Show me what we got.”

Myles trotted up the steps and entered the house, and Kyden followed behind Alazar. He crossed the threshold, and as the all-consuming scent of death filled his nostrils, he coughed to rid his lungs of it.

Once past the dining room, Kyden entered the living room, finding wood paneling on the walls, an old unused fireplace, and Victorian-inspired furniture. No threat remained, so he turned to the dead mortal lying on the floor near the glass coffee table.

Bite marks littered the human’s body and blood coated her flesh, peeking through her torn clothing. Now understanding Alazar and Myles’s dismay, he frowned at the woman who was lying flat on her back with her eyes wide open. “Christ, she died violently.”

Before anyone could reply, a sweet soft voice carried through the room. “Sorry I’m late.”

Kyden glanced over his shoulder, discovering the Council’s Earth Witch, Haven, entering the living room. Typically bubbly, with big, bouncy brown curls and pansy-blue eyes, she shuddered at the dead body. “Okay, that is disturbing on every level.”

Kyden agreed with her.

Blinking away from the victim, Haven scanned the room and then color swept across her cheeks when she looked at Kyden. “Oh, buddy, you are so dead for leaving Nexi behind.”

He sighed in understanding.

His lover would raise hell when she realized he’d gone on an assignment without her—again. But Kyden held no regrets; he wanted her to be safe in the Otherworld. While he might love her beyond anything he thought himself capable of, Nexi had a flaw: She put others’ safety above her own.

Perhaps some would think that was an honorable trait, but it had become a serious pain in Kyden’s ass. He wanted the woman he cherished above all else to stay far away from danger, even if she disagreed with him on that point.

“Oh, look,” Haven mused with a beaming smile. “He’s lost in the shit-storm he knows is coming his way.”

Pulling back from his thoughts and realizing everyone was watching him, he nodded Haven on. “Yes, I’m well aware she’ll be pissed. Please show me what happened here.”

“On it.” In her cute, bouncy way, Haven settled over the body, her expression becoming pinched as she stared at the corpse.

Kyden folded his arms, torn by Haven’s appearance tonight. He cared for Haven deeply—feeling almost brotherly toward her—and she wasn’t cut out for the violence she saw working for the Council. Her soul was too sweet, too soft, and too gentle. Yet her abilities were an asset to the Otherworld. She helped them catch killers in record time. But more often than not, Haven closed her eyes when faced with gruesome deaths, which was exactly what she did now.

Eyes shut, she raised her hands high above her, calling on her Earth magic to reenact the crime. The witch’s raw energy brushed over Kyden’s flesh, raising goose bumps, as the vision from the past was brought into the present.

To those who didn’t know better, the vision appeared much like a replay on a sports channel, but this was more of a parallel reality. Haven’s magic tapped into a moment of time, bringing the horrific event back in front of them, almost as if they were now part of those minutes the death had unfolded.

The air became thicker and prickled at Kyden’s skin seconds before the vision solidified, the bodies in the room turning from apparitions to dimensional figures, like a 3-D movie. He hadn’t taken any guesses as to what had happened to the victim, though when the vampire appeared to stalk the woman, it surprised him that only one vamp had inflicted her wounds.

With fangs exposed, the vampire circled the young terrified woman. Then, with a feral growl, he lunged, attacking the woman with wicked wildness. Instant awareness settled deep into Kyden. “He’s newly awakened,” he offered.

“Appears so,” Myles agreed gruffly.

A vampire suffering bloodlust from rebirth was clear-cut—so crazed for blood the new vamp acted more animalistic than human. Typically when vampires awakened, their sires would give them the bagged blood in the amounts they needed to regain control. This vampire had been left alone with no idea of how to feed properly.

Kyden’s jaw tightened as the vamp bit the victim, trying to locate a vein, and missed many times in the process. Thrashing out in agony and fighting for her life, the woman shrieked, reflecting both shock and pain. Her attempt to free herself was useless. A hungry, uneducated vampire was the most dangerous of all.

Done with the disgusting scene, Kyden broke away from the mortal and scanned the room, noticing a witch standing near the staircase. She frowned at the vampire killing the woman, and then not a second later she exited the house.

“Alazar, track the witch,” Kyden ordered, snapping his focus back to the vampire. He didn’t know who the witch was, or if she had any involvement in this killing, but she needed to be questioned.

Kyden heard Alazar’s deep sniff behind him, as he was clearly catching the scents in the room, and then the front door opened. Kyden stayed focused on the killer brutally ending this poor woman’s life.

And soon the victim’s eyes went black and lifeless.

Then the vision froze.

Haven opened her eyes but didn’t look to the dead woman as she gestured toward the vamp with a flick of her hand. “He’s all yours.”

Kyden moved closer and studied the rabid vampire. This ability was why the Council cherished Haven, and why the secret of her gifts was highly protected. While the werewolf trackers could locate scents and follow them, identifying the killer right away made the investigation part of the job quicker. There weren’t any mistaken identities or long interrogations anymore.

He stared into the vampire’s young brown eyes, his adrenaline evaporating—nothing about hunting this kid appealed to him. Whoever sired him had abandoned him, leaving him with no understanding of how to control his bloodlust. Pushing away his disdain, Kyden memorized the vamp’s features for later and then said to Haven, “Done.”

She gave a tight smile and headed for the front door, and the vision instantly faded, returning to the quiet living room with the mortal still lying dead on the floor. “Be safe,” she called, right before the door slammed shut behind her.

The sword at Kyden’s back rested heavy against his skin, nearly calling for the blood of the vampire who had killed an innocent. Not yet.“Why would a vampire turn a kid this young?” he asked Myles. “Then leave him to fend for himself?”

“Offering immortality is a gift,” Myles replied in a disgusted voice. “A vampire is proud of those who share his bloodline. Turning a mortal, then walking away”—he shook his head slowly—“something isn’t right about all this.”

Kyden’s instincts agreed.

Before he could say as much, Alazar reentered the room and said, “The witch’s scent vanished.”

Puzzled by what he saw here tonight, and now even more perplexed by Alazar’s statement, Kyden asked, “What do you mean ‘vanished’?”

Alazar shrugged, his raised brows reflecting his deep-rooted surprise. “The second I hit outside, the scent was just gone. But I’ve caught the vamp’s trail.”

Scents didn’t simply vanish—there had to be more behind that—but Kyden also knew that without knowing who the witch was or being able to track her, she would be impossible to find.

He ran a hand across the back of his neck, easing the tension in his taut muscles, and replied, “Not much we can do there, so let’s go with what we’ve got.” He drew his sword from his back, slamming the blade down into the woman’s stomach.

The magic conjured on his sword by the witches in the Otherworld dripped with bright blue light, pouring into the victim’s body as a gentle hum filled the room. Before his eyes, her wounds stitched back together. Instead of the fang marks littering her body, she now had a deep slit on her neck with a pool of blood beneath her.

Cruel as it was that her loved ones would never know what had truly happened to her, it kept the Otherworld and the supernatural community safe. This magic was part of the reason the Earthworld agreed to the treaty—Otherworldly creatures possessed abilities that could cover up crimes, making them appear human in nature.

“We off to hunt, then?” Alazar asked.

Kyden stared with a heavy heart at the woman lying dead at his feet. He hungered for revenge for her. Two innocent lives were lost tonight, stirring the razor-sharp urgency to find the one responsible for creating the new vampire and leaving him with no help.

The blood was on the sire’s hands.

He nodded. “Let’s go.”

* * *

Hot irritation burned like a blast of Fire magic through Nexi as her feet connected with the grass below. She snapped her eyes open the split second the raw energy from the portal vanished. Dressed in her typical female guardian gear of a brown leather bra and kilt, with a scabbard across her shoulder that held her sword on her back, she nearly stepped forward but then noticed Haven approaching. Heady amusement nearly stole her irritation, but that emotion didn’t belong to her. It belonged to Haven.

More important, it belonged to their soul-bond.

A deep connection gifted these two witches belonging to the same coven. The link was a sensitive one, allowing for emotions to be shared, making them closer. Nexi often wondered if that’s why the bond existed—it made the ties to a coven that much tighter.

As Nexi caught sight of Haven’s smile, she grumbled, “This is so not funny.”

“Yeah, it kinda is.” The softness in her voice was just so Haven, as was the warmth in her stare. “I told Kyden he was dead for leaving you behind.”

Dead is an understatement.” Nexi shook her head in pure frustration, gazing around the tree-lined street. When silence greeted her, she added, “You think he’d know better than to piss a woman off who carries a sword and damn well knows how to use it.”

Haven snorted a laugh. “Apparently not.”

Nexi sighed, cooling the irritation inside. Anger would get her nowhere with Kyden, and would only put him on alert. “That caveman needs to get some sense smacked into him.”

Haven gave a leveled look. “He’s just worried about you.”

“I get that—and appreciate it,” Nexi replied with a bit of bite. “But being worried and shielding me completely are two totally different things.”

Sadness reached Haven’s eyes, leaving Nexi wondering if her soul-sister agreed with Kyden. Maybe Haven wanted Nexi away from the danger as well. It’s not that Nexi didn’t understand why Kyden’s macho behavior had increased this past month, because, well, she did.

While Kyden had a typical upbringing in his supernatural life, Nexi’s life had more of a dramatic flair. Twenty-five years ago, the power-hungry vampire, Lazarus, wanted to return Earth to the time when vampires were hunters instead of feeding off bagged blood or willing humans. To do this, he killed Nexi’s birth mother, Tillie, for the power within her blood—a task only obtained by drinking a witch to death. A large portion, or even half, of a witch’s blood wouldn’t have any effect, but to drain a witch to her last breath resulted in a transfer of powers.

When the power wasn’t enough for him to succeed in his takeover of the Council to rule the Otherworld, he went into hiding to avoid being hunted by the Council for his crimes. It was at that time that Nexi’s birth father, Drake, sent her into the Earthworld to live among humans for protection.

Then Lazarus devised his plan to return for Nexi to steal her unique power.

He and his pack of werewolves almost killed Nexi and Kyden in the process.

Yet there was one thing Lazarus never counted on: Nexi.

He certainly didn’t see it coming when she ended his life—since her magic, as both guardian and witch, proved stronger than the vampire jacked up on Tillie’s magic.

She sighed at her thoughts and added to Haven, “I get that Kyden’s . . . sensitive . . . about it all, but he needs to stop protecting me.” Since that night with Lazarus, she hadn’t looked back. Of course, Kyden wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye with her on that point. With her witch magic now centered in soul, and with six months of guardian fighting behind her, she’d never been stronger—something that Kyden was choosing to ignore, and the reason why he hadn’t taken her out on an assignment yet.

Haven placed a comforting hand on Nexi’s arm and a dose of balmy love seeped into the bond. “Perhaps the problem is you’re both just guardians who want to protect what they feel is most important to them.”

Nexi pondered the thought and realized that Haven wasn’t wrong—Nexi felt obligated now to protect innocent lives. Kyden, while holding the same type of duty, likely wanted only to protect her. Maybe that was the problem in itself—was it too much to ask to have Kyden’s support of her and her capabilities as a warrior? “Perhaps,” she agreed, when a sudden meow snapped her head down. A familiar furry face looked up to her. “Not you again,” she muttered.

Twice now, the black fluffy kitten with the orange-tipped tail had found her in the Earthworld. Both times had been when Nexi went shopping. She began to think the kitty was following her.

Another loud—very impatient—meow had Nexi picking her up. She stared into the kitten’s bright green eyes. “Why won’t you leave me alone?” The kitten purred as Nexi scratched under the kitten’s chin. “And how in the hell are you able to find me all the time?”

Each time the kitten showed up Nexi had been in different cities. She wondered if the magical energy she sensed oozing from the kitten had something to do with it. Maybe she was a werecat with tracking abilities, but that didn’t explain why the kitten kept wanting to find her.

“No wonder she won’t leave you alone,” Haven said, patting the kitten on the head. “She’s a familiar.”

Nexi scrunched her nose, never having heard that term before, but not surprised she hadn’t, either. Until six months ago she never knew supernaturals were real and weren’t just characters in scary stories told to children around a campfire.

She’d parted her lips to ask more about the familiar when the front door of the house opened, revealing her luscious, sexy guardian—all male and muscles. Dressed in the guardian gear of a brown leather kilt and scabbard across his bare chest, her heart fluttered in the way it always did when he drew near. The raw heat between them called her forward.

Intent not to lose her chance to join the assignment, she placed the kitten in Haven’s arms. “Take her home for me, ’kay? She is clearlynever going to leave me alone, so I better accept she’s mine. I’ll come get her later.”

Haven’s eyes widened, a sense of horror roaring through their bond. “But if you bring her into the Otherworld, that means you’re keeping her, and if you leave her, she’ll—”

“I’ll be back soon. Promise.” Nexi dropped a peck on Haven’s cheek, then spun on her heels and ran—her sword banging on her back with each step as she made it across the street.

The vampire standing on the porch with Kyden noticed Nexi first. She’d never met him before, but that wasn’t a shock, either. The Council’s Guard was made up of hundreds of supernaturals. Though she recognized the tracker next to the vampire: Alazar. They’d worked together when they were hunting down Lazarus.

Kyden still hadn’t spotted her and said to the vampire, “I’ll get in touch if anything develops and I need you further on this case.”

The vampire nodded, taking his cellphone out from his pocket and then striding down the street, presumably to call in the murder to the human police so they could arrive and process the crime in the mortal way.

Arms crossed, and with a glare firmly fixed on her face, Nexi said, “We. You do mean if we need him on the case, right?”

Kyden stiffened before he turned around. His light brown hair hung messily over his forehead, and his tanned skin gleamed under the light coming from the porch light. Standing a good two heads above her, he pressed all her on buttons. This man was gorgeous—perhaps not classically beautiful, but rougher and edgier. Honed cheekbones, perfect lips, squared chin, he had that charm that bedazzled women. His light emerald eyes that always sent heat through her blazed in a way that might scare a weaker guardian. “You don’t need to be here. Go home.”

“Wow. Aren’t I the luckiest gal in the world?” she retorted with a loud snort. “You are such a romantic.”

Alazar laughed.

Kyden didn’t.

His frown was fierce as he crossed his arms over his squared chest. Nexi boldly inspected his delicious high pecs, noting how she wouldn’t mind tracing her tongue over them. She slowly lifted her eyes when he added in a steely voice, “We’ve got this handled. There is no reason for you to be here.” One determined brow lifted. “Besides, as the Elite Guardian, it is in my right to force you to go home.”

Nexi sighed, refusing to lose the staring contest. This issue between them wouldn’t go away. She knew that, and she also knew she had to lay the smack down soon. Yes, only three months had passed since Lazarus had nearly killed them, but enough was enough. If the Council thought she was ready to return to her job, then she was.

’Nuff said.

Ignoring Kyden’s dismay, she turned to Alazar. “What do we have?”

“Newly made vampire gone rogue,” Alazar replied, glancing between her and Kyden.

She responded to his clear unease with a smirk. “Well, now, don’t you know, rogue vampires are my specialty.”

A specialty she suspected Kyden wished she didn’t have. He might want her safe and protected in the Otherworld, but she needed a damn purpose to keep moving forward. Most of all, she needed to stop thinking of everyone she lost at the hands of an evil vampire and wishing she could somehow bring them back.

Six months ago, after her mortal family had been murdered, she’d left her human life behind to work for the Council’s Guard—which was fine and she accepted it. But Kyden needed to accept it, too.

“Are we going, then?” Alazar asked tightly, staring solely at the guardian in front of Nexi, exuding irritation.

She’d had enough of Kyden’s protectiveness. “Which way?” Alazar pointed to the left, and Nexi started walking. “See, this is us going.”

Kyden cursed.

She held back her chuckle and then embraced the silence that fell between them as they strode along Salt Lake City’s dark and dreary streets. Alazar eventually punched forward, leading the way, still in human form, sniffing the air. The only time a werewolf tracker shifted into his fur was when the scent was weak. Since Alazar hadn’t, that meant there was a good chance they’d find this vampire.

This part of the city was likely full of activity during daylight hours, but being two in the morning, the roads were almost empty, with only a few cars passing. Nexi decided then and there that she preferred the quiet. It meant innocent humans were safe. Though if a mortal were to pass by them right now, the human’s eye wouldn’t see the leather kilts and swords on their backs, they’d see typical earthly clothes. Only supernaturals saw their true forms due to a magical glamour placed on their clothing.

With each and every step, she shoved the rest of the annoyance away. Kyden might object to her being there, but he wasn’t stopping it, either. And she knew part of his objection was because she was so new to his world. She had been living as a human just a short time ago. Nexi had already had one vampire targeting her because of her uniqueness and the rich power in her blood. And it was more than likely she’d probably have to face that all over again.

Alazar darted down a few more streets before he finally stopped. He pointed to a building on his right. “The vamp’s scent is strong in there. I suspect he’s inside.”

Nexi looked at the Starbucks that had been long closed for the night. “He’s inside the coffee shop?”

“I believe so.” Alazar angled his head back and took a deep sniff of the dry air. “But I suspect that”—he looked to the sidewalk—“he’s in a basement. His scent is beneath us.”

Kyden groaned.

Nexi understood completely—if they entered the building, the alarms would sound. Mortal cops getting into the mix of a vampire in the throes of bloodlust was bad news.

“He must’ve gotten in somehow without setting off the security system,” Kyden said, voice tight, indicating that his annoyance at Nexi remained. “Let’s find out where and go in the same way.”

“Awesome plan,” Nexi said, disregarding Kyden’s gruffness. She wouldn’t tiptoe around this problem anymore.

Kyden’s long-suffering sigh slid through the dark night.

Alazar’s mouth twitched, clearly hiding his smile. “Call me if you need anything.” He retreated down the street in the opposite direction.

Nexi turned to Kyden and grinned, eyeing her sexy beast of a man, spotting the flares of irritation in his bedroom eyes. She knew he wasn’t angry with her but was fearful of losing her. Her heart warmed, of course it did, but even if their love was strong and solid, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t do her job.

“Ready?” she asked.

“I’m not sure how I can manage to both love and hate your willfulness, but that seems to be the case.” Kyden’s mouth flattened. “Let’s go.”

She blew him a kiss for that one.

Leading the way, he headed around the coffee shop and Nexi stayed right at his side. She couldn’t see any doors ajar. Nothing stood out to her as an entrance point. Moving farther toward the back of the building, Kyden approached the alleyway, and the stench of death hit tenfold.

He grunted. “It appears we’ll have more victims.”

“Unless there is a morgue nearby, I’m guessing you’re right.” She breathed shallowly to avoid the pungent aroma, scanning the back alleyway with the large garbage cans. A small parking lot was to her left, but the area was too dark to spot any threats. Not being able to see their killer left them in a precarious position and at a great disadvantage. Unease traveled through her, but she shoved the insecurity away.

Kyden cautiously stepped deeper into the alleyway before he squatted, dragging his finger across the ground. That’s when she noticed black liquid shining along the pavement. When he raised his finger, blood dripped off the tip, and he shook his head. “This vamp is reckless, messy.”

She didn’t argue with that, focusing on the trail of blood. Only a few steps forward, she discovered a small broken window located at the back of the coffee shop. Now it was her turn to grunt. “I’ll never begin to understand why vampires don’t just use the damn door like regular people.”

Kyden nodded in agreement. “In we go?”

“After you, my gallant hero.” She waved her hand for him to precede her.

He rolled his eyes at her dramatics before he knelt in front of the window, brushing away the remaining blood-covered glass shards. Then he angled his shoulders, placing one in first, and then eased the other through the small space before dropping down onto the basement floor.

“Come on,” he said, calling her forward.

Helping Nexi through the window, he gently pulled her down onto the concrete floor and her nipples puckered as she slid down his chest. He groaned. “Another reason for you not to join me on assignments. It’s . . . distracting.”

“Hey!” she blasted back, understanding the heat blazing in his features. His touch always ignited a similar burn. “It’s not my fault. Blame whatever idiot decided that female guardians should be half naked.”

“Now, that”—Kyden pressed her tight against him, revealing his tempting erection—“is not something I’ll ever complain about.”

Just as she allowed his heat to consume her, a low growl spun her around, and a loud splatter hit the wall in nearly the same second. A dull bulb glowed, giving off a little light at the back of the basement. The wretched metallic scent of blood and death became overwhelming.

Then she saw something that at one time in her life would have horrified her.

Near the boxes of coffee supplies the vampire sat, hidden within the shadows. The light in the room silhouetted him, and Nexi didn’t wait—she approached, with Kyden one step ahead of her. When her vision adjusted to the darkness, her fists clenched and heady adrenaline spiked her heart rate.

Three humans, all dead, with their skin covered with endless fang marks and blood strewn everywhere. So captivated in his kills, and overwhelmed by bloodlust, the vamp hadn’t even noticed their arrival.

Not good.

The gravity of the truth washed over her, and she wondered if maybe that’s why Kyden was in such a mood earlier. The vampire was young—eighteen years old at most—and killing anyone so young wasn’t something guardians liked to do, but in these situations there were no other options.

Though it may be cruel, there was nothing they could do to help him. Once bloodlust took a vampire to the point that he no longer had his humanity, his mind would be consumed by one need—to feed—and there was no coming back from that. The vampire would never get enough blood to sate him.

Her thoughts were only confirmed when the vamp continued to bite the woman repeatedly, not caring that she was already dead. He was searching for a vein while squeezing her body to pump the blood into his mouth, struggling to find a big enough vein that would give him his fix.

Kyden’s shoulders stiffened. “Release her.”

Dark eyes cut to them, and the vamp dropped the woman to the ground, her body a heavy weight, slamming her head against the floor. He leaned forward, bringing his face out of the shadows, snarling, with blood dripping off his fangs.

In hope of possibly saving this kid, Nexi thought it wise to add, “Stay right where you are. Think. Calm down. We’re here to help you.”

The second her mouth closed, a rush of wind tore past her. Then Kyden was on his back with the vampire on top of him, fangs snapping about wildly. Vamps had one advantage over guardians—speed. Which meant guardians often had to use the element of surprise to catch and kill them, though newly made vampires were just a bit faster and stronger. Kyden gripped the vamp’s face as the kid attempted to make a chew toy out of him.

A fury like no other overtook Nexi. Sometimes things were complicated. Other things were very simple. Touch the love of her life, and die.

She lunged forward, wrapping her fingers into the vamp’s hair and yanking him off Kyden. Fighting against the strength of the vampire, she straddled him and pushed her hands against his chest, groaning against the sheer strength he possessed.

The vampire bounced up, shoving her off him just as Kyden appeared. Plowing into the vamp, he got him on the ground and pushed a knee to the vampire’s chest. Bucking wildly and with fangs snapping violently, the kid glared with eyes so dark that Nexi swore he was the Devil. Nothing human lived in this vampire anymore. He growled feral and vicious, throwing Kyden off him with a speed that sent her lover airborne.

Lost in a frenzy to kill or be killed, the vampire snarled, standing in the corner of the room near the cleaning supplies. Confidence and purpose had Nexi charging forward, tackling the vamp to the ground by the waist. No more pissing around—she yelled, “This isn’t working.” They couldn’t reason with this vampire. “Kill him, will you?”

A blink of an eye later, Kyden roared, “Off.”

She lurched backward, falling ass-first to the ground, landing with a crash. A human might flinch in pain, but the guardian magic didn’t only make Nexi stronger, it also gave her a higher level of pain tolerance. As quickly as she’d hit the floor she was back on her feet, much more graceful than she would have been before Kyden’s intensive guardian training when she first returned to the Otherworld.

With a swoosh, Kyden’s sword hit the base of the vampire’s neck. Then the kid’s head hit the floor, along with a loud splatter of blood from a well-fed vampire.

Perhaps the old her would’ve been horrified to witness such a ghastly death, but there were two ways to kill a vampire: cut off his head or burn him to ash. The shock value was lessened, since she knew his death had saved more innocent lives. Yet as she looked at the deceased humans around him, it didn’t seem enough of a reward. Too many lives had already been lost. “That was certainly unusual,” she said to Kyden, breathless. “I’ve never seen a vampire so lost in bloodlust before.”

Bent at his knees and catching his breath, Kyden arched a curious brow at her.

She rolled her eyes. “Or I should say, ‘So that’s what a vampire lost in bloodlust looks like’?” True enough, she hadn’t been on that many cases yet, either. Her fight so far had been with Lazarus and all those who supported him. Even if Nexi had killed more supernaturals than she could count on two hands, none had been newly made and in the throes of bloodlust.

“Yes, that’s what bloodlust looks like.” Kyden straightened, the beads of sweat dripping along his chest glistening against the light. “And it’s about the worst I’ve ever seen bloodlust consume a vamp. I can’t imagine who would leave him in this state. It’s strange.”

“Tragic is what it is,” she retorted.

She also couldn’t push away the fact that tonight’s assignment had led them back to Salt Lake City. The last time Salt Lake City had trouble, Lazarus was involved. Cold worry etched her bones, and she wondered if there was a possible connection.

Reaching for her sword, she moved toward the victims and then placed the sword’s tip gently into their stomachs to change their wounds. She always felt like a bag of shit for doing it. Even though she understood it protected supernaturals and their existence, it was a terrible thing that the victims’ loved ones never knew what really happened to them—and in the mortal world the killers were never caught. At least the guardians obtained their justice; she’d have to find comfort in that.

Once the fang marks became gunshots, she turned to Kyden, seeing that the vampire was now gone, as was all his blood. While the magic in their swords altered wounds on humans, if the blade was used on a supernatural, the magic made the body vanish, remnants of blood included. The Otherworld didn’t bury their dead killed by enemies, nor did they celebrate their life. They got revenge for a life taken.

Pulled by the fierceness between them, she approached. The light in the room showed off one side of his face, but that visible eye held a piercing soul that stole the air from her lungs. “Will the Council go after the vampire who turned him?” she asked.

Kyden stepped out of the shadows and both eyes blazed at her, igniting heat in her loins and wonderment over the conversation ahead. “It would be impossible to track him or her down.” Without looking away, he backed up to the window they’d entered through, waving her before him.

In no time, she was outside with Kyden next to her. The night air brushed her skin and the silence drifted around them. She couldn’t resist moving closer to him, his heat simply calling to her. He might be angry, but he happened to look off-the-charts hot that way.

He dipped his head, his warm minty breath brushing across her face. “Now, then, dare to tell me why you came tonight when I never ordered it?”

As the Elite Guardian, Kyden did have authority over her. In those terms, she never should have showed up at the scene. But she knew if she didn’t push this matter, he’d always keep her out, coming up with one excuse or another.

She smiled sensually. “What can I say? Watching you fight is the best kind of foreplay.”

“Ah, so that’s why you did this?” One brow arched. “Need some excitement, do you?”

“Of course.” She grinned, blinking innocently at him and wiggling against the growing hardness resting against her belly. “I thought it might make for a fun night.”

The arousal in his eyes was replacing the hard edge. “I’ll hold you to that, you know.” A deep flush crept over his cheeks, hinting at sexual promise. “If your plan was to start something tonight, I expect it to be finished later.”

She stood on her tiptoes, dropping a quick kiss on his lips. “Whatcha waiting for? Let’s finish it now.”

That’s all she got out before his lips crushed against hers, stealing the world from around her. When Kyden touched her, time stopped. His kisses possessed her soul and she experienced the burn of each one right down to her toes. It wasn’t just a joining of lips, but a joining of passion that she’d never believe existed if she hadn’t experienced it herself. Apart, they were Nexi and Kyden. Together, they were something different, something stronger, something that created a fire that could never be extinguished.

By the time he broke away, they were both breathing heavily.

“That, Álainn”—the nickname, meaning beautiful in Gaelic, a language passed along from the older generation in the Otherworld, fueled the need swelling inside her, especially because he had a way of purring the word—“would be in your immediate future, if I wasn’t someone who actually followed protocol. Tonight needs to be reported to the Council.”

“See, and that’s why your Goody Two-shoes way”—she stepped back, forcing some cooler air between them—“sucks.”

Kyden’s devilish grin—a smile that belonged to a man so arrogant from knowing his worth—slowly spread across his face. “Yet I’m not the one who is often in trouble with the Council, am I, darlin’?”

She accepted the jab—she was a bit of a rule breaker and didn’t possess a filter when it came to her mouth. “I would follow the rules if they made sense. And, might I add, weren’t made up from some caveman beating his chest to protect what he calls mine.”

He dropped his chin, brought his eyes level to hers, and a tightness appeared in his features, igniting a fierce heat in her belly. “You do realize that any other guardian would be punished for showing up like you did tonight.” His voice was far too husky to be taken seriously.

She rubbed herself against his hard length pressing so deliciously against her in a tempting offer. “Oh, I’m not worried. I can give the one who dishes out the punishments sexy times. Doesn’t that exclude me from such punishments?”

“No, Álainn.” Intensity crossed Kyden’s expression, causing Nexi to wonder how she could get him to break the rules just for tonight, as he added, “It means my punishments can be more creative.”