The Rogue’s Curse is Book 5 of the Cursed Blood series. Please be warned – this excerpt includes huge spoilers for Book 4, as well as some fairly graphic action-adventure violence.
At this time tomorrow, Paris Rossignol intended to be drinking the world’s most expensive bourbon from Carrigan Shea’s bloody skull. Enough was enough, and the bastard had enjoyed his last sunset on this territory.
Fury boiled in his veins, nearly bursting through his skin. Like the rest of his comrades, he’d fed until his belly nearly burst, leaving several generous veravin in need of medical attention. His senses were so acute that they were nearly disorienting, reminding him of being a brand-new vampire with no way to deal with the sheer sensory overload. He smelled everything, from car exhaust to gunpowder to long-decayed trash in a trashbin several blocks away. The noise of cars rumbling along the downtown streets, blasting music and podcasts and petty late-night arguments, was enough to deafen him, forcing him to bring his focus to a narrow point: Carrigan Shea.
Several stories beneath Paris’s high perch, the self-proclaimed vampire king of Atlanta held court in his modern castle of brick and glass. His court reveled and drank their last drops, blissfully unaware that death awaited.
Death awaited in the form of the Guillotine, the deadly team he had assembled from their new court. It seemed an appropriate enough name for Shea’s fate. Cut the head off swiftly and let the body die. Or at the very least, let the body fall to pieces in the severing of a Covenant which would leave them vulnerable to being picked off one by one.
From a distance came a series of rhythmic clicks that formed a distinctive signal. That was Nikko, crouching on the roof of the nearby MARTA station. They didn’t dare use verbal communication, knowing that Shea had vampire guards on the ground just below them.
A long pause, then another unique pattern. Sasha and Kristina, on the ground a block away.
A third. Safira, with her rifle and her deadly aim several floors below him.
A fourth. Jonas Wynn and Thomas Moon, in a car circling the block.
Finally came Dominic’s signal, from just a foot away. Wait for my mark, his signal said.
Paris looked up and met his friend’s gleaming crimson eyes. Tailored suits had been exchanged for black tactical clothing, complete with body armor and armored collars to protect their throats. Veins pulsed along Dom’s temples, his eyes unnaturally bright from over-feeding. The sight conjured memories of dark times, when they had converged on a tiny village in the dead of night and wrung secrets out of a doomed dhampir hunter.
Alistair had wanted to help with tonight’s mission, but Paris had left him in charge of protecting Julian and the girls. Olivia and her sister were back at the compound, along with Shoshanna and Rachel. As much as Alistair had wanted to be part of the action, he took his responsibility to Shoshanna seriously, and had agreed to keep them safe in their new headquarters nearly fifteen miles away.
Before they departed, his old friend had clapped him on the back, then drew him into a tight embrace, kissing his brow. That familiar brush of lips against skin had ignited something in him; desperation and hunger and even a bit of anger.
“Come back to us,” Alistair had told him, lips moving against his skin.
You belong to another, he’d thought. Then he realized what he’d heard, what Alistair said, and the yawning gap between. Not come back to me, but to us, as if to remind Paris that he was excluded from us, that he was not a part of this beautiful unity that Alistair now had.
Once Paris was gone, his former lover would return to Shoshanna’s embrace, knowing fate itself was pleased with him, so pleased that the mysterious old creature had given him the love of his life. It was where he belonged, and Paris had no right to be bitter when his friend was so damned happy, but here he was. He would never breathe a word of it to Alistair, but his envy sometimes clawed up his throat and choked all the decency out of him.
“I will,” Paris had said, letting his better nature take control. “The house is yours for the night. Keep an eye on the kids.”
A light chuckle followed, but there was real fear in Alistair’s eyes. Much to his dismay, Julian Alcott was also forced to stay behind. Such was the burden of a court Elder. If Julian died, their newly formed Covenant would shatter, putting all of them at risk. That would only compound the problem of Shea’s bloodthirsty vampires, and so he was banished to his office with Alistair and several new vampires to watch over him.
Dominic nudged Paris, raised his dark brows, then nodded. It was time.
With a slight nod, Paris took out his own signal. Olivia, clever as ever, had purchased the dog training clickers for them after Karina fretted for days about sending a quiet signal.
He squeezed the little button. Four quick clicks, a pause, then two slow clicks.
A quiet whoomp sounded from below them. A split second later, the brick building shuddered as a massive shell slammed into it. Shards of brick exploded out of a hole in the wall. Two more shots left the brick building looking like something had taken a bite out of it. There was a clatter from below as Safira changed weapons. With the next two shots, huge plumes of toxic wood smoke poured from the jagged holes.
Paris and Dominic yanked helmets over their faces, then launched themselves from the edge of the nearby office building, soaring through the night to tumble onto the roof of the former Atlanta Constitution building, the building he had drunkenly dubbed Chez Shea.
Chaos was erupting already, with furious shouts and pained screams pouring from the shattered walls. Another well-placed shot from Safira cracked the tinted glass walls of Shea’s penthouse. Paris didn’t wait for the next shot; he eyeballed the spider-webbing cracks and kicked at the center. Glass rained to the concrete, and he plowed through the jagged opening.
The tinted visor of his helmet obscured colors, but it was easier to focus on movement without the heightened awareness of every shade and tint. Half a dozen men waited inside the penthouse, already firing directly at the door as Paris and Dominic entered. Their shots bounced uselessly off his body armor, and he took two down easily with headshots that left bloody craters where slicked-back hair once sat. Dom took another three, and they cornered the sixth as he ran for the door. They swiped the key on his belt, then set off a wood smoke grenade before descending into the building.
They’d done their best to reconstruct the layout of Chez Shea based on Sasha and Kristina’s recollections. Unfortunately, two cursed amnesiacs who’d been kept in cages weren’t the best source of information, and they’d had to fill in the blanks.
Given that Shea wasn’t in his penthouse, he was either in his ‘club’ or his throne room. Paris didn’t know whether to be disgusted or begrudgingly impressed at the idea of a throne room. The club was their next stop, and Paris hoped to God and the infant Jesus Christ that Shea was there so he could kill the bastard in front of his people.
Down they went.
Floor seven. Someone bellowed get out, get out, someone’s here! Two vampires burst into the stairwell and went flying back when he and Dominic opened fire.
Floor six, where music blared over the sounds of shouts and screams. His blood roared in his ears as he burst through the door into a huge, open hall. A figure blurred toward him, and he lowered his head, caught them around the waist, and slammed them into the floor hard enough to break through the concrete. He left the writhing vampire and plowed through the crowd, following that distinct scent.
He knew that smell now. It had been all over Kristina Arensberg when she escaped. It had been in her blood, in her hair, in every cell of her. Even a month later, with her bond broken, he swore he could smell it and wondered how it didn’t drive Sasha mad.
“Protect the king!” a woman screamed.
Three figures in cocktail dresses and suits stepped into his path. He squeezed off three shots, dropping two while the third dodged and tried to cut around him. The other went flying as Dominic hurled him onto an upper level. That upper level was where he kept prisoners, where Sasha and Kristina had been held. He knew there were probably humans there waiting to be served up for dinner, but that was someone else’s problem tonight.
Two impacts slammed into the back of his thigh. Ducking behind a pillar, he dug his fingers into the oozing wounds and pried out the bullets. Acidic burning radiated through his veins, but he pressed on, tossing vampires aside and cutting a swath through the crowd.
Toward the back of the club, where a human woman lay prone across a long banquet table, a cluster of vampires was wrapped around a raised dais, creating a live shield. Shea’s scent was stronger here, pulling him in like a fish on a line.
“Down,” Dominic ordered in Italian.
Paris ducked, and Dominic opened fire, exploding another wood smoke grenade in their midst. Pained cries rang out as Shea’s protectors peeled away like unfurling rose petals, trying to escape the acrid smoke.
And there he was, rising up from the huddled, cursing vampires. Dark hair mussed, eyes burning red and furious. His scent cut through the smoke and overwhelmed Paris with its intensity. Shea was old and powerful, without a doubt. “Get out of my way,” he snarled.
Paris raised his gun, pulled the trigger, and fired into empty air.
A fist slammed into his back, sending lightning up his spine. The pain was fleeting, but the sheer terror was not. Shea was far stronger than he anticipated. An iron vise of a grip closed on his elbow and squeezed, forcing Paris to drop his gun just as the joint gave way with a sickening crack.
He whipped around in time to catch a fist that shattered the visor of his helmet. With a growl, he yanked it off and swung it like a bludgeon, clipping Shea across the brow. The man reeled, and Paris got in another solid hit to the back of his head before Shea kicked him away. He tossed the useless helmet away and rose to face the vampire usurper. He liked it better this way, no modern gear or weapons, just brute force.
Shea’s face was feverish red, his eyes streaming tears from the wood smoke. Glaring at him with burning red eyes, Shea shrugged off an expensive jacket and tossed it aside. He was bigger than Paris had expected, with a broad chest and thick arms that would have been well-suited to a broadsword.
“This is my fucking house,” Shea snarled, swiping at the blood trickling from his split brow. Paris fought to regain his balance, batting away Shea’s vicious swipes. He stole a glance over his shoulder and saw Dominic fending off Shea’s bodyguards. In the back of the club he caught the glint of Kristina’s golden hair streaming from under her mask.
This was the plan. They kept everyone off his back while he took down Shea. He was three hundred years old, and he wasn’t going to tuck tail and run because of a cocky shitweasel like Carrigan Shea, even if he was realizing he was on the wrong side of the David and Goliath equation.
With a growl, he grabbed an injector from the holster on his thigh and seethed, “Fuck your house. This is my fucking city.”
Shea feinted toward him, and Paris leaped straight up in the air, caught the railing of the upper level, then hurtled downward again as Shea looked up. He slammed an injector full of Shieldsmen wood toxin into Shea’s neck.
Suck on that, asshole!
The older vampire roared in pain, then caught Paris by the arm and slung him over his head like a sack of gain.
His back cracked against the hard stone floor, and he felt as if his entire body had been crushed to powder. Even worse, the plastic injector rattled to the floor, and still, Shea was on his feet.
Impossible. That was the witch-approved poison from the Shieldsmen and should have knocked him flat.
“Nice try,” Shea said, brushing idly at his neck. “I got a taste for your sweet little wood poison after I met little Kristina. Did you think you’d put me down with a needle and some pine sap?”
Paris drew a knife, painfully getting to his feet and swiping at Shea. He caught the man across the cheek, the chest, and then his blade stopped short as Shea grabbed it with his bare hand. Blood poured from his slashed palm, but he twisted the knife out of Paris’s grasp and threw it across the room.
The smell of his blood was powerful, frightening even. That was a smell that would have warned vulnerable prey to run from the encroaching predator.
For all his bluster, Shea was moving slower now, veins bulging on his temples and neck. Sweat poured from his brow. The poison was having more of an effect than his bravado would have shown.
They tussled in a whirlwind of bone-cracking blows. He vaguely heard male voices telling them to move; Shea’s men and his both, trying to help them by shooting the other, but he ignored it. Shots rang out around them and alarms screamed. A female voice came over a loudspeaker telling people to evacuate to the MARTA station. He vaguely heard a much closer voice saying intercept them at the MARTA station.
That was someone else’s problem. Shea was his.
Paris drove a wooden stake into Shea’s gut, and he was rewarded with a satisfying roar of pain. It left him open to take a blow to the face that certainly cracked his jaw, but he didn’t care.
He was winning. Painful and slow, but he was winning, dammit, and if he dropped dead, he wouldn’t care as long as Shea’s head hit the ground before his.
After landing another hard blow and a second dose of wood poison via Shea’s thigh, he shattered the other man’s knee and sent him to the ground. While Shea struggled to get up, Paris pounced on his back. Wrapping his arms around the other man’s head, he prepared to take the kill, glorious and messy. His screaming subjects weren’t here to see, but that didn’t matter. As the first vertebra gave way, Shea let out an inhuman roar and shoved himself upward, launching them both into the air.
His momentum crushed Paris against the ceiling, and Shea somehow flipped them around in the air to slam Paris onto the ground when they hit. He lost his grip, and Shea hurled him against the nearest wall. He crumpled in a boneless heap, but still, he managed to get up. Everything hurt, but he was so close. It was almost over.
Shea grabbed his throat and slammed him against the wall. Plaster crumbled around him. “This was your city. It’s mine now,” he said, his voice rough and cracking. His skin was corpse-pale with two feverish spots of red on his cheeks. If Paris could just survive a few minutes longer, Shea would be out.
Carrigan Shea hadn’t gotten that message, apparently.
His head tilted, and he drove one fist straight through Paris’s body armor and into his belly. There were no words for the pain as the other man’s hand slithered up inside his ribcage, invading and violating inside him. He retched, but still Shea drove his hand deeper, scraping against bone and viscera. Blood soaked his white shirt. “Who should I send your heart and your head to, Mr. Rossignol?”
“Fuck you,” he bit out, slamming his face into Shea’s brow.
Unfazed by the blood streaming in his eyes, Shea spat in back in his face and laughed. “If you are the best that remains of Alazan’s court, I have nothing to worry about, do I?”
“Paris!” someone screamed.
“I want you to know that every drop of blood spilled after this is on your head, boy,” Shea said. “You are weak and incapable, too stupid to kneel when you had a chanec. You don’t deserve to be a vampire, but what would anyone expect from one of Alazan’s brood? Toothless and weak, just like your coward king.” His fist tightened inside Paris’s chest, and he felt a distinct sensation of bursting, of something spilling inside of him that should not have been spilled. Shock rolled through him, and his body went ice cold. Instinctively, he grabbed Shea’s arms to hold himself up. With one limp hand, he tried to find another weapon, but his fingers found only empty holsters.
The building shuddered with a series of explosions from below. Shea’s head whipped around, and someone shouted, “Sir!” from across the room. Gunfire rang out, and a slug ripped through Shea’s cheek, exploding from the other side in a spray of blood and bone.
Despite the gory ruin of his face, Shea grinned. “Kristina, was that you, love?”
Another shot rang out, but Shea was already on the move. He yanked his hand free of Paris’s chest and let him fall to the ground in a bloody heap. He choked up a gout of blood, trying in vain to get to his feet. His vision blurred as men converged on Shea and ushered him out a back door.
He fell, vision going dark.
When he opened his eyes, he was wandering down a long, winding corridor with only a guttering torch in one hand. The flickering light slithered along the walls, which seemed to shimmer with movement. In the distance, claws clacked on cold stone floors. Voices rang out from all around, mocking him. When he spun to look around, there was no one around, no doors nor windows, but still he heard them laughing.
Eyes blinked open further down the seemingly endless corridor, eerie silver-blue. A figure coalesced in the shadows and lunged for him. Massive jaws opened to reveal gleaming silver teeth. He cowered, trying to shield his face. Razor-sharp talons slashed at his arms, at his face, at his-
“Paris, get up,” Dominic swore. “You have to stay awake. The building is going to blow soon and we can’t afford any more trouble.”
He opened his eyes and stared up at his old friend, who was battered and bloody. Deep slashes marked Paris’s arms, marking the defensive wounds from his dream. The cloying smell of decay turned his stomach.
“Any trace of it?” he croaked.
“It just got you this time,” Dom said, offering his hand. “Come on.”
Then he grabbed Dom’s arm and hauled himself up, realizing that Shea had nearly scraped him out. Dom handed him a vial of blood, which he swallowed in one gulp. The quick burst of energy firing along his synapses didn’t do much, but the thought that it might was enough to get him moving. “Where is he?” he rasped, trying to catch his balance on shaky fawn legs.
“He’s gone,” Dom said. “Come on.”
Paris growled and lurched toward the back corner of the club, where Shea had fled. “We have to find him and-“
“He’s gone,” Dom said sharply, pulling him back. “We have to get out, or else we-” Gunfire rang out, abruptly cutting off his voice as his head whipped around. Blood burst from his temple, and the light went out in his friend’s brilliant eyes. He stared in horror as Dom fell in a clumsy heap, fingers twitching. The helmet, the goddamned helmet, lay at his side, blood spattered on the visor.
In a rush, Sasha bolted for them. “We have to go,” he said. “It’s over.”
He could only stare at Dominic, with his handsome face mangled on one side. His carefully groomed beard was ruined. It wasn’t right.
What the hell was he going to tell Rachel? And Julian?
He’d failed. How could-
Dom’s finger twitched, and a low groan rumbled in his chest.
Desperate, wild hope spiraled through Paris as he knelt at Dom’s side. “Help me. I have to get him out of here. He has to go home. He needs Rachel. She’ll take care of him,” he said blankly.
“Paris, he-“ Sasha stared down at him, then nodded. “Okay.”
He and Sasha struggled to get Dominic up, slinging one limp arm over his shoulders, supporting his friend’s dead weight.
Not dead. Not fucking dead.
Kristina ran down a flight of stairs from the upper level with two humans in tow. “Stay close to me or I have to leave you,” she said. Her eyes fell on Paris, and a flicker of concern crossed her pretty features. “We have to go. Safira cut us a path. This way. Sasha, take the rear,” she said. After reloading her gun, she beckoned for them to follow.
Paris was barely aware of anything except the excruciating pain in his chest and the impossibly heavy body of his old friend, one of his best friends, the one who’d always had his back. As he followed, he heard Kristina speaking quietly. Jonas, get us out.
Outside the large open area that served as Shea’s club was a line of small offices. Smoke billowed from one of them, and he could hear the wail of sirens from beyond. Following Kristina’s lead, they rushed for the gaping hole in the side of the building. The stench of acrid wood toxin was sickening, but he pressed on. Kristina guided one of the humans to climb on her back like a child, then climbed out the window. With her hostage screaming the entire time, Kristina dropped floor by floor, deftly catching window ledges until she could hit the ground without shattering her legs. Sasha followed her lead.
Paris grabbed Dominic, tossed him over his shoulder, and climbed out. He made it down one floor, and the building shuddered with another explosion. Goddamn hunters were way too good at blowing things up. He lost his grip and fell, instinctively wrapping himself around Dominic before they hit the ground.
The world went white, and then mercifully dark.
Finally, a chance to rest.
Someone screamed in the dark void.
Why were they being so loud?
“What the fuck is that?” a woman cried out. Lovely numb silence sharpened into a thousand sharp points, a nightmare kaleidoscope of broken glass and screams.
Gunshots rang out. Something inhuman screeched, and he felt a tug at his heart, as if it was on a string.
Paris lifted his head. His limbs didn’t seem to be attached anymore, and it seemed as if all his blood was on the concrete around him rather than in his veins. That didn’t seem right.
The tug came again, and he smelled something that brought him entirely into awareness. The familiar stench of rot and decay forced him to open his eyes. Kristina Arensberg was swiping with a glinting silver blade at a massive, winged beast made of pure shadow. A thousand tendrils of gray and black slithered along its form, forming sinew along its spindly, sharp-jointed legs.
A massive, winged beast made of pure shadow stalked toward Kristina, who backed away with wide red eyes. The sight of it, that familiar stench of decay, brought him out of his daze. “Hey, you ugly fuck,” he shouted in French. The creature whirled on him and roared, baring its mouth full of black-dripping fangs.
Someone hauled him into the back of a truck, and he could barely hold back a whimper. How many bones were there in his body? It seemed as if three or four might not be shattered.
Kristina recoiled, one hand clapped to her cheek as it poured blood. Fighting through the haze that tried to pull him under, Paris tugged on that thread to the beast, to his nightmare. “Leave her alone,” he ordered. It pulled back, and he felt the distinct bleeding sensation as it drew from him again. His vision faltered as its eyes brightened. His whole body lurched, and he murmured, “I can’t. I’m sorry I failed you.”
Come back to me.
And all went quiet.