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Shades of Wicked, Page 1

Jeaniene Frost




  Dedication

  To all the readers who asked—

  and asked, and asked—

  when Ian would finally get his own book.

  *grins*

  The answer is NOW. I hope you love it.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Dedication

  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

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  Coming Summer 2019

  About the Author

  Praise for Jeaniene Frost

  By Jeaniene Frost

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Chapter 1

  This had better be the right whorehouse.

  It didn’t look like the seedier brothels I’d recently been to. This three-story structure could pass as the meeting place for an elite social club. Despite its unexpected prettiness, if I had to wade through another flesh-fest only to turn up empty-handed again, I wouldn’t be responsible for what I did to my quarry when I finally found him.

  To vent my aggravation over weeks of fruitless searching, I kicked the door open. Politeness had been wasted at the last several establishments anyway. No smart proprietor willingly gave up a well-paying client, and I’ll say one thing for the bordello-loving vampire I was after: He obviously paid well.

  To my surprise, I didn’t see anyone in the elegant foyer. Brothels usually had several prostitutes lingering around the entryway to welcome new customers. I was further surprised when I didn’t hear sounds of carnal activity coming from the upper floors of the house. I pulled out my mobile and checked the GPS pin. Yes, this was the right place. What’s more, it certainly smelled like sex, once you got past the choking scents of various perfumes and colognes.

  But where was everyone?

  Faint vibrations in the floor made me stride toward the hallway. Ah, so the party must be downstairs. I followed the strongest scents of perfume until I found a staircase that descended two floors. It ended at a locked door that I also kicked in. No point in being dainty now.

  Noise blasted out. The basement must have been soundproofed for me to miss it before. Now, I wished I couldn’t hear what was going on. A boisterous chorus assaulted my ears, repeating over and over. Thunder and Blazes, the favorite opening song of the former Barnum and Bailey circus.

  And I had walked into a circus, I saw now, although one without any real animals. About a dozen naked women and men frolicked on the ground, doing woefully inadequate impressions of the creatures their full body paint represented. No work ethic, I thought when three faux lions appeared more interested in petting each other than in more realistic fights for dominance, and don’t get me started on how they ignored the two faux gazelles that walked by them.

  The dozen or so prostitutes dressed in clown suits showed more dedication for their roles. They emerged from a fake car in the far corner of the room, some falling forward in rolling somersaults once they exited, some tripping each other with comedic exaggeration, and some blowing up balloons into explicit body parts that they then graphically connected.

  An eruption of fireworks yanked my attention to the other side of the room. They were going off around what looked like a throne, haloing its occupant in a blaze of sparks, fire and smoke. The mini pyrotechnic display was so bright, I couldn’t make out the enthroned person’s face, but when he called out, “Act Eight will now begin!” I heard a distinct English accent.

  Then the smoke cleared enough to show a tall man wearing a blue circus-ringleader jacket. The smoke still concealed him from the waist down, but I didn’t need to see more to know I’d finally found my target. The vampire who’d blazed a trail through a dozen whorehouses in only two weeks had a face as beautiful as an angel’s, not to mention that his fire-and-umber hair was as distinctive as his looks. When he got off the throne, revealing he wore nothing beneath the ringleader jacket, I realized those weren’t Ian’s only notable attributes.

  For a moment, I stared. What vampire in his right mind would pierce himself with silver there?

  I was the only one shocked by the silver piercing through the tip of Ian’s cock. Everyone else stopped what they were doing and rushed toward him. Even the glitter-covered acrobats leapt from their swinging perches near the ceiling, gracefully landing near the pile of limbs that now formed around the red-headed vampire.

  It wasn’t enough that I had to be burdened with a vampire so mentally deficient that he’d willingly given himself a case of perpetual cock burn. He also had to be depraved enough to indulge in carnival-themed orgies. I wasn’t about to find out what the rest of Act Eight entailed. I made my way to the growing flesh pile and began flinging people aside, taking care not to throw them too hard. Their heartbeats meant they were human, so they couldn’t heal the way my kind could.

  “What’s this?” Ian asked in an annoyed manner when I reached the bottom of the bodies. Then he let out an appreciative noise when I yanked him up with none of the care I’d shown the other people.

  “Why, hallo, my strong blonde sweeting.” Now he didn’t sound annoyed at all. “Are you the surprise I was promised?”

  Why not let him believe that? “Sure,” I said. “Surprise.” And I grabbed him by the cock. I had one more thing to verify before I went any further.

  Ian chuckled. “That’s the spirit, poppet.”

  I dropped to my knees. I wasn’t about to do what he thought. Still, this act allowed me to zero in on my goal with the least amount of resistance from him. Once I got a good look at the smoke-colored brands near the base of Ian’s groin, I released him. Only one demon branded people with these particular markings, and it was the same demon I’d been after for thousands of years.

  “Ian,” I said as I straightened. “Say good-bye. We’re leaving.”

  He laughed outright. “I don’t think so. You might be lovely, but two’s lonely, while a dozen is a party.”

  I gave a disparaging look around. “No great loss. The clowns were fine, but none of your faux animals fought each other or even attempted to jump through the fire rings.”

  At that, he gave the animal-painted prostitutes an accusing look. “You didn’t, did you?” Then, his eyes suddenly narrowed as he looked back at me. “Wait a moment. I know you.”

  We’d only officially met once before, so I hadn’t thought he’d remember me. Someone with his tendencies had to have crossed paths with vast numbers of blonde women.

  “Veritas, Law Guardian for the vampire council,” I confirmed. Then my hands landed on his shoulders. “And as I said, you are coming
with me.”

  His eyes changed from their natural vivid turquoise into glowing, vampiric emerald. “Leave it to a Law Guardian to try and ruin a perfectly good orgy. Sorry, luv, I’m not going anywhere. Now, take your hands from me before I remove them.”

  He couldn’t mean that. Merely striking a Law Guardian was enough to garner a death sentence, if the council was in a testy mood. Only the vampire council itself was above us in undead society. That’s why I ignored his threat and tightened my grip.

  “There’s no need for empty threats—”

  The next thing I knew, I was thrown several meters away. I blinked, more startled by his quickness than by his reckless disregard for the punishment his actions merited.

  “No need?” he repeated, contempt edging his tone now. “I remember the last time I saw you. I’d say your complicity in the murder of my friend’s daughter more than qualifies as a need.”

  She isn’t dead.

  The words rang in my mind, a comfort I drew on whenever I thought back on that awful day. But if Ian didn’t know that the child’s supposed execution had been nothing more than a clever ruse . . .

  “That was the council’s decision, not mine,” I said, my voice roughening from the memory. I’d nearly lost my position as Law Guardian arguing against the girl’s execution, but fear and bigotry had made the council unmovable. At least they hadn’t succeeded in taking her life as they’d intended to.

  Ian snorted. “Sleep better telling yourself that, do you? You make my sins look forgivable, and that takes some doing.”

  “Enough.” How dare he judge me? “Now, come.”

  His brows rose, as if he couldn’t believe I’d spoken to him the same way some people called their dogs. Well, if he insisted on acting like a beast, I’d treat him like one.

  “All of you, leave,” Ian said to the prostitutes, who’d been watching us with more boredom than interest. They’d probably thought our exchange was more role-playing. “My compliments for the day’s entertainment, but now it’s over. Go,” he stressed when some of them hung back instead of joining the ones that began to file out the door.

  I bit back a disbelieving laugh. “Are you getting them out of the way because you’re intending to fight me?”

  Ian flashed a smile that increased the intensity of his unusual beauty. “You must not have done your research if you thought I’d come willingly.”

  The silver from his piercing must have gotten into his bloodstream and damaged his brain. That was the only explanation. “I’m more than four thousand years older than you.”

  “Really?” he said with mock surprise. “Here I was thinking you didn’t look a day over twenty, little Guardian.”

  I’d been older than that when I was changed into a vampire, but his guess was a common mistake. People put far too much emphasis on appearances. “Is ‘little Guardian’ supposed to be insulting? If so, do better.”

  “Not being insulting,” he replied in an easygoing tone. “But if you’re half my weight, I’d be surprised.”

  Yes, I currently looked more delicate than formidable. Even if that were true, it wouldn’t help him. With age came strength, and I had thousands of years on him. “Stand down, Ian, and I won’t punish you for attacking me.”

  “Why don’t you try begging me to stand down?” he suggested. “Make your plea interesting enough, and I might consider it.”

  I was done negotiating. I plowed into Ian hard enough to shatter the bones in his upper body. To my surprise, he did nothing to block the blow. Instead, he flung me upward with a strength he should never have had. I hit the ceiling with such force, I went all the way through. For a stunned moment, I stared at him through the hole my body made in the floor.

  “Stop now and perhaps you’re the one who won’t get punished,” he said in a pleasant tone.

  I suppressed the urge to immediately charge him again. Never underestimate an opponent twice, if you’re lucky enough to survive the first time. My vampire sire, Tenoch, had taught me that. Following Tenoch’s advice had saved my life many times, so I pushed back my urge to retaliate.

  Ian was wrong—I had done my research on him. It hadn’t revealed anything unusual except for a voracious sexual appetite, an open disdain for rules, and a penchant for collecting the rare and expensive. My previous assault should have left him on the ground, not whistling along to that awful circus tune while looking more bored than concerned.

  Maybe his unusual strength came from the demon brands? They did more than act as a leash between Ian and the demon who’d seared them onto him. Over time, those brands would also endow Ian with some of that demon’s strength and power. Ian had only been branded for a few weeks though. Not nearly long enough for him to manifest parts of the demon’s strength or abilities.

  I’d find out his secret later. Right now, I needed to take him down, and thankfully, I had some surprises for him, too.

  I gave Ian a level look. “My turn.”

  His smile grew into a grin. “Come and get me, little Guardian.”

  Chapter 2

  I didn’t jump down through the hole above him, which was what he would have expected. Instead, I made a new hole in the floor on the other side of the room. Ian leapt back to avoid my instant grab, then kicked me during the split second my back was turned. I sprawled forward, but even as he pounced, I spun away, leaving him to hit the floor instead of me. Then I jumped onto his back and clamped my legs around him to hold on.

  He began to buck at once. I tightened my grip until his ribs broke. He didn’t slow. I began to whack the back of his head, using strength I normally kept dormant.

  His head rocked from the blows, though he still bucked hard enough to throw us both around the room. Those demon brands might not be the source of his bewildering strength, but they must be causing him to heal even faster than a vampire’s normal swift regeneration. Soon, I was gripping him just to keep from being thrown off. Then he began to fly, smashing me against the walls, the ceiling, and the floor, all while bucking like a crazed, rabid bronco.

  My bones began to break and my head rang after being repeatedly bashed against various hard surfaces. If he were anyone else, I would kill him, but I needed Ian alive. And cooperative. Maybe his brains hitting the floor would help with that last part.

  I whacked his skull even harder to force him to the ground and hold him there. It took a lot of effort, which was why I kept punching his head while shoving his body against the carpet. I couldn’t allow him to get enough leverage to start flying again. If he did, I might have to reveal powers I’d rather he not know about and . . . wait. What was that sound?

  I stopped hitting Ian to listen more closely. It almost sounded like . . . no. He couldn’t be.

  “Are you laughing at me?”

  He was, and now his chuckles sounded louder since they were no longer competing with the noise from our fight. I also realized that the long, hard object I’d felt near my foot was not a concealed weapon. He wasn’t just amused by my attempts to beat his skull open—he was aroused by them!

  “Your bouncing up and down on my back plus all this rough chafing is really doing the trick,” Ian said, still chuckling. “Soon, I’ll have to pay you along with the rest of the whores. In fact, if you take requests, a bit more effort on your downstroke, luv—”

  I threw a punch that should have sent my fist all the way through his head. His neck bent at the last second while the back of his body surged up. Too late, I realized the trap. My fist ended up flying past his head while the rest of me was catapulted off him.

  Before I could regroup, he leapt on top of me. In the next instant, he was holding me down, and I felt the distinct burn of silver stabbing me between the ribs.

  Damn him! He’d managed to goad me into recklessly acting without thinking again. If my legs hadn’t been pinned by his, I might have kicked myself for being so stupid.

  “Don’t move,” Ian said in a conversational tone. “I don’t want to kill you, but I will if you forc
e me.”

  “Where did you get that knife?” I hadn’t been so distracted before that I’d forgotten to frisk him.

  “From my jacket.”

  “Liar. I felt you for weapons when I was on top of you.”

  “Was that what you were doing?” His lips twitched. “Thought you were feeling around for something more interesting.”

  At my contemptuous look, he shrugged and said, “You didn’t feel the knife before because it was only a small silver ball a few moments ago.”

  My eyes widened. “You’re admitting to a Law Guardian that you used magic to transform a silver ball into a knife?”

  “Did I forget that using magic is a death sentence for vampires?” Ian used his free hand to mime clutching a strand of pearls. “And so is striking a Law Guardian. Dear me, I’ve condemned myself twice! Please, have mercy!”

  “Now you’re begging?” I let out a soft snort. “Don’t bother. I’m still going to punish you for what you’ve done.”

  He laughed. “I have a knife in your heart and you’re still threatening me? I don’t know whether to keep laughing at you for your delusion or applaud you for your optimism.”

  “If you’d listen instead, you could learn how to prevent Dagon from taking possession of your soul in two years.”

  Nothing in his expression changed, though suddenly, I felt as if I were staring at a different person. A hard, dangerous one that I’d vastly underestimated. Then Ian flashed another carefree smile at me—and shoved that silver knife deeper.

  I gasped when it pierced my heart. Ian tutted as if I was a child who’d merely stubbed my toe. “I warned you not to test me. Now, tell me what you know about my deal with Dagon.”

  Silver twisting through the heart was one of the few ways to kill a vampire. It felt as if hot lava was being poured into me. Ian hadn’t twisted the blade, but the majority of my physical strength left me. Despite that, I kept my reply steady.

  “I know I’m your only chance of escaping the deal you made with Dagon. If he’s dead, he can’t collect your soul.”

  Ian let out a scoff. “If Dagon could be killed, I’d have done it myself decades ago.”