MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Sasha Ivanov was a killer.
At least, she had been. In another life. Now, her existence was devoted to frivolity. Revelry. Pleasure. Oh, the pleasure. Drinking, dancing, touching, kissing, heated words and touches … She’d been a devoted servant of her coven for far too long and she was finally free of responsibility and living her life. On her terms. Free of obligation and attachment.
The deep bass echoing through the club thumped in her chest, a pleasant pulse that vibrated outward through her limbs. Her tongue flicked out to close the punctures on the throat of the male she’d latched onto and she rocked back on her heels before turning away. The male—a shifter who obviously thought he was the shit—reached out and grabbed her arm to turn her so her back pressed against his chest as he thrust his hips, grinding against her ass in time to the music.
He dipped his head to hers and said, “Baby, that was intense.”
Eh. She’d had better. The shifter’s hands wandered from Sasha’s torso, around to her stomach and down her thighs. He gave another thrust of his hips and his erection pressed against her ass. Again, not all that impressive. He’d already given her what she wanted. Sasha wasn’t interested in his body or anything else.
“I need a drink.”
The shifter spun Sasha around in his arms so she faced him. A spark lit behind his eyes, revealing a glimpse of his animal nature. He tilted his neck to one side, a brash invitation as he lowered his head to hers. “I’ve got what you need, baby. Take as much as you want.”
Ugh. She fought the urge to roll her eyes. She’d had her fill of this male, thank you very much. He cupped the back of her neck with his palm to urge her closer. Idiot. She could drink him dry and leave him for dead in the middle of the dance floor without even batting a lash. And if he didn’t quit trying to force her to his throat, she might do just that. Sasha braced her palms against his chest and pushed away with enough force to let him know she meant business.
“Unless you’ve got Jose Cuervo running through your veins, you don’t, in fact, have what I need.” Sasha stepped back. “Go find some other ass to grind against. I’ll catch up with you later.” Try never. Sasha kept her thoughts to herself as she turned and left the shifter on the dance floor. She didn’t know his name, and frankly, she wasn’t interested in learning it.
Sasha collapsed onto the bar with dramatic flair to emphasize her words. It was still early, only two in the morning, and she was nowhere close to calling it a night. The L.A. club scene never slowed down—especially in the supernatural world. It’s not like there was a shortage of entertainment, but she’d grown restless of the party scene and of males like the shifter she’d left out on the floor who thought they were special because they’d managed to hook up with one of a handful of vampires in existence. The thrill was gone. It had lost its appeal months ago. Sasha needed something new to excite her.
“Have another drink.” Ani, the sylph who tended bar at Onyx—one of three exclusively supernatural bars in the city—had become Sasha’s closest friend. Ani’s carefree, wild streak appealed to Sasha. She was always up for anything, any time.
“Ugh. My eyes are floating.”
Sasha had been guzzling cocktails for most of the night and had glutted herself on enough blood to keep her sated for at least a week. Thanks to her supernatural metabolism, the alcohol burned out of her system before she could reap its benefits. The blood, on the other hand, gave her a nice buzz that left her feeling pleasantly lightheaded. Even with all the feels, Sasha couldn’t drink another drop. She could find someone to fuck or go to another club or hit a quiet bar or two, but what was the point? She didn’t have the energy to kick anyone out of her bed at sunrise and she wasn’t going to find any entertainment anywhere else that was better or worse than what she could find at Onyx. Gods, she was restless.
“I’m so tired of this scene. There’s got to be something more entertaining than drinking, dancing, and hooking up.”
Ani gave her a wry smile. “Are you telling me you’re tired of gorgeous males throwing themselves at you every night?”
Huh. She guessed she was. Sasha had always been the quiet one. Reserved. Responsible. Dead serious in her role as head of security for her coven and then later, co-ruler. When her maker, Saeed, had left on his quest to find his mate, it had been Sasha’s breaking point. For too long she’d put others’ needs and happiness before hers. Not anymore. She’d decided it was time to be selfish. To live her life for herself. She had a lot of time to make up for, damn it. She refused to live with any more regrets.
Sasha didn’t reply to Ani’s teasing question. She just didn’t have the energy. She loved the club scene. Enjoyed being a carefree party-girl. But the thrill was sort of gone. She’d jumped from one rut to another and it was time once again for a change.
Ani let out a long-suffering sigh. “Gods, you’re hard to please.” She followed up the comment with her trademark snarky smile. “I’m off in an hour. If you don’t think it’ll kill you to wait, someone told me about an underground scene that’s picking up a ton of traction. We could go check it out.”
Sounded promising. “What kind of underground scene?”
Ani grinned. “Supernatural Thunderdome.”
Sasha snorted. “Like a fight club? I thought that sort of thing quit being edgy when MMA went mainstream.”
Ani slid a shot, a Stella, and the cocktail she’d just mixed across the bar to the waitress, who loaded it all on her tray. “Please. No one cares about a bunch of humans knocking each other around. This is like MMA on steroids. Fight to the death.”
High stakes for sure. But as creatures who could take a ton of damage without feeling so much as a pinch, Sasha figured it wouldn’t be worth it without raising the stakes. No doubt the atmosphere would be wild and dangerous. She needed something to shake her out of her comfort zone. Something to get the blood pumping in her veins. Something that made her feel a little unsafe.
“Good.” Ani grabbed a shot glass and artfully poured three levels of different liquors into the glass before sliding it toward Sasha. “Tastes just like an oatmeal cookie.”
Sasha downed the shot. It was okay. A little too sweet, but it did taste a lot like an oatmeal cookie. “Not too bad.”
“Go dance and kill some time,” Ani said with a laugh. “We’ll be out of here in an hour.”
Sasha pushed away from the bar and turned toward the dance floor. No sign of the shifter she’d blown off, which was good. Rather than hit the dance floor, though, Sasha headed for the door.
The sidewalk was almost as crowded as the inside of the club. Eager partygoers lined up down the street, waiting for an opportunity to be let inside. At the corner, a guy with a guitar belted out his version of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” nodding as passersby dropped bills or coins into his open guitar case. At the opposite end of the block, a couple of hookers fought over something. Thanks to her supernatural hearing, Sasha could have easily eavesdropped, but really, why bother?
The affairs of humans didn’t interest her. They never had. Even as a dhampir, Sasha had kept herself separate from humans, careful not to form any entanglements. They were too fragile, their lives too short. Survival had been more important than bothering herself with the rest of the world. Even now, she was an endangered species.
Maybe she wasn’t so different from the humans after all. A few centuries ago, when the Sortiari had waged war on the vampires in their misguided quest to manipulate Fate, the vampire race had nearly been eradicated. If not for Mikhail Aristov—the last true vampire—surviving the attacks, the dhampir race would have died off as well. The two races were symbiotic. They needed one another to thrive. When Mikhail finally found his mate and ascended to power, he was able to turn dhampirs into vampires and to replenish their ranks. Sasha was one of ten vampires currently inhabiting the planet. To say their resurgence was tenuous was a bit of an understatement. Especially when rumors circulated that the berserkers who had once been under the Sortiari’s control had broken free of their bonds and continued the Sortiari’s abandoned quest to obliterate the vampire and dhampir races.
Her existence was far more fragile than she wanted to admit.
And yet, Sasha went out night after night, blatantly flaunting what she was. She drank from the throats of others in the public view, her fangs extended and lips stained crimson. She enjoyed the curious stares, the wonder, the whispered words, and even the fear she instilled in those around her. Sasha lived her life without restraints. Without shame. Without a single thought as to how her brazen actions would affect those in hers and other covens.
Wow. She really had become a selfish bitch. Then again, the soulless had little reason to worry about things like selflessness, duty, or love.
“Ready to roll?”
She turned to find Ani standing at the edge of the sidewalk a few feet away. She’d been so lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t realized she’d managed to whittle an entire hour away on the street.
“Ready.” Yep, Sasha was totally selfish. Soulless. And she didn’t see her attitude changing any time soon.
* * *
Adrenaline coursed through Ewan Brún’s veins. His heart thundered in his chest and his skin tightened on his frame. Power surged through him, anxious for an outlet to release its fury on and he was more than ready to free that power on the poor bastard who was about to fall beneath the weight of his fists.
A berserker didn’t need a weapon to be deadly. Ewan himself was a weapon.
“If Gregor or any of the others find out what you’re up to, you’ll get more than a sound beating.”
Ewan glanced at Drew, and let out a derisive snort at his cousin’s words of warning. When in the grips of full battle rage, a berserker warlord was nearly invincible. The only creature who stood a chance at an equal fight was another berserker. “You’re probably right.” Ian Gregor, the self-proclaimed king of their clan, didn’t approve of any activities that fell outside of his agenda. Gregor was consumed with his need for vengeance. And he expected every single male who answered to him to be as equally consumed.
Unfortunately, Ewan had lost interest in their leader’s vendetta years ago.
“That’s why no one’s going to find out.” Ewan trusted Drew. He wouldn’t utter a word about his extracurricular activities.
Beyond the confines of the tiny room they occupied, the raucous cheers of the crowd reached a crescendo. Looked like a winner in the current fight was about to be determined, which meant some miserable son of a bitch was about to take a dirt nap. Ewan didn’t subscribe to any particular religious belief. God … gods … a higher power … He didn’t believe in any of it. Nature made them what they were and when they kissed their asses good-bye, all that awaited them was nothingness.
Bleak? Maybe. But Ewan’s soul was shrouded in bleak darkness.
Tonight was about blowing off some steam and walking away with some cash. The supernatural fighting arena wasn’t for the faint of heart. If you entered into its confines you were either confident you’d win, or you had a death wish. Ewan wasn’t interested in dying. Nor did he doubt his ability to win. He’d take a hefty purse with tonight’s win, and after he gave Drew a small cut—after all, familial obligation was only part of earning his loyalty—Ewan would add it to his stash and be one step closer to his goal.
And not the bullshit version of freedom Gregor had promised them. For centuries they’d been indentured to the Sortiari. The so-called guardians of fate had promised Gregor his revenge if he swore allegiance and fought their war for them. He’d gladly accepted the Sortiari’s shackles—bringing what was left of their race with him—only to find the Sortiari’s promises were as fickle as Fate itself. They’d done the Sortiari’s bidding for centuries until Gregor decided they’d been slaves long enough. The revolt had been quiet and free of violence. No doubt, the director of the Sortiari, Trenton McAlister, didn’t want the word to get out that his guard dogs had broken their leashes. Still, rather than gift his brethren with their freedom, Gregor had replaced their collars with shackles of his own making. Each and every remaining member of their clan had pledged his undying loyalty to their clan and their leader. Gregor demanded nothing less.
“You keep winning, Gregor’s going to know something’s up without either one of us telling him. Word’s going to spread. And then what?”
Ewan turned his attention from the roar of the crowd to look at Drew. “Fuck Gregor.”
“Big talk, cousin.” Drew gave a sad shake of his head. “But if he finds out what you’re up to, he’ll make you watch as he guts you.”
Probably, but neither pain nor Gregor’s wrath frightened Ewan anymore.
“I keep winning, and I’ll finally have enough money to live my life on my own terms. We both will.”
Indentured servitude to the Sortiari hadn’t exactly been a lucrative gig. Now free of their so-called protection, the berserkers lived in poverty. Squatting wherever they could find shelter and practically begging for scraps in order to feed themselves. Every spare cent they had went to Gregor to fund his ridiculous vendetta. There were rumors Gregor sat on a small fortune that he refused to share in order to make their lives better. It was rarely talked about, however. No one dared to incite their leader’s infamous wrath.
Ewan didn’t give a shit about whatever money Gregor did or didn’t have. He was on the path to independence and there was no turning back.
“Who am I fighting tonight?” Ewan usually gave little thought to who he’d go up against. Berserkers sat at the top of the supernatural food chain. That he’d come out the victor was practically guaranteed. His mind was restless tonight, though. His nerves stretched taut as a tingle of anticipation raced down his spine. And he didn’t like it one fucking bit.
“Fae,” Drew replied with disinterest. “Not sure what kind.”
At least his opponent would give Ewan a challenge. Shifters and werewolves were strong, but he’d yet to find one stronger than him. Magic wielders were certainly tricky, but without their magic lacked the physicality necessary to overpower him. Fae, in most instances, possessed both magic and strength. They could be both quick and nimble. Ewan’s prize money wouldn’t be easily won tonight. He liked that.
“At least it’ll be interesting.” When the crowd was entertained, it raised the stakes. More money changed hands, which meant more cash in Ewan’s pockets.
Drew chuckled. “You’ve got that right.”
Ewan did little to prepare himself for the fight. No wraps to cover his knuckles, no protection of any kind. Why bother? He healed almost instantaneously and he didn’t feel pain in the same way other creatures did. As far as the supernatural world was concerned, he was a freak of nature. Beyond their comprehension. Feared. Reviled.
And he liked it that way.
Beyond the confines of the room, the crowd broke out into another round of chaotic cheers that refused to wind down. Ewan brought his gaze up to meet Drew’s and held it for a moment. A renewed rush of adrenaline raced through his bloodstream, triggering his body’s natural response to the impending fight. A resiliency that made him nearly indestructible.
“Looks like you’re on.”
Ewan bucked his chin in acknowledgment. “Looks like it.”
Drew’s lips spread into a wry grin. “Well, what are you waitin’ for? Get out there and kick a little ass.”
He’d do more than that. Ewan headed for the door. Drew held out his fist and Ewan knocked it with his own. He didn’t know if the fight would be over quickly, but he did know it would end with him coming out on top.
Ewan walked up the incline of a narrow concrete tunnel that led from the basement of the building to the ground floor where the fights were being held this particular night. The location changed regularly. Each building was protected by magic to deter humans, and likewise reinforced with darker magic to shield them from supernatural authorities who might be interested in shutting them down. Those wards weren’t as foolproof, however, which was why secrecy was key. Ewan didn’t care about getting busted. He hated to admit it, but his only concern was Gregor finding out. He took his beatings in the battle arena. He wasn’t interested in facing off with the most infamous berserker warlord to ever live.
Pomp and circumstance didn’t exist in this place. There were no flashy introductions, no grand entrances. No posturing and crowing for the bloodthirsty crowd. They simply dragged the dead from the arena, lauded the victor, and moved on to the next fight.
Ewan wasn’t a hero. Never had been. He was a killer, plain and simple. And it was time to go out there and show the eager crowd exactly what he was capable of.
A surge of electric anticipation raced through Sasha’s veins. It tightened her stomach and caused her heart to pick up its pace with every step she took toward the arena. Ani led the way, winding a path through the shoulder-to-shoulder packed crowd so they could get a front-row view of the action. The L.A. club scene—supernatural clubs included—was tame in comparison to the world they’d just immersed themselves in.
The very atmosphere was charged with violence. Heavy with it. Magic thickened the air to the point that it pressed in on Sasha’s lungs, making it difficult to breathe. A diverse variety of supernatural creatures were present, but Sasha was certain she was the only vampire in the building. Curious eyes followed her, some brazen in their admiration, others narrowed with suspicion or outright aggression. Sasha didn’t cower from their open stares. Instead, she met them look for look, her head held high, her demeanor proud. She invited their lust, their hatred, and even their fear. She enjoyed the attention almost as much as she enjoyed the thrill of this new and dangerous place.
Ani turned back to look at Sasha and grinned. “Well, whaddya think?”
“I’m definitely not bored.” They’d barely walked through the door, and already Sasha knew she’d be back.
“Hell yeah, you’re not.” Ani grabbed Sasha’s hand and pulled her close as they reached the webbed silver fence that formed the cage of the battle arena. “Buckle up, Buttercup. Because shit’s about to get real.”
A new match was about to begin. The crowd cheered, agitated and eager for violence. The scent of blood from the previous fight reached Sasha’s nostrils and she inhaled deeply as her own thirst was awakened. She welcomed the dry burn at the back of her throat and the gentle throb of her fangs in her gums. The discomfort kept her on edge and some small masochistic part of her liked it.
Self-destructive? Maybe. But Sasha no longer possessed the depth of emotion necessary to care.
A willowy female with waist-length, blush pink hair wandered through the crowd, a tray balanced perfectly on her palm. It was laden with champagne flutes filled nearly to the rim with a seemingly thick liquid that swirled like molten gold. Ani plucked two flutes from the tray and handed one to Sasha.
“Faery wine,” she remarked. Her full lips spread into an indulgent smile. “It’s illegal to serve to even supernaturals. It can be highly addictive if you drink too much. But it gives you one hell of a buzz.”
“Nice.” One of Sasha’s biggest complaints with drinking alcohol was the fact that it had no effect on her. For once, she wouldn’t have to drink blood to experience a pleasant high. She brought the glass to her lips. The faery wine smelled like flower nectar. Sweet. Floral. Heady. She took a tentative sip and her eyes drifted shut for an indulgent moment.
“It’s the tits, right?” Ani said with a grin.
Sasha took another drink, deeper this time, before letting out a soft chuckle. The wine slid smoothly down her throat to settle as a warm glow in the pit of her stomach. Its effects were almost instantaneous as a giddy lightheadedness settled over her. Sasha swayed on her feet and her friend leaned in to steady her. Laughter bubbled up Sasha’s throat and refused to stop.
“It’s totally the tits!” Sasha’s hand came up to cover her mouth. “Oops! Am I shouting?” Her voice boomed in her ears and she took another deep drink from her flute before crumbling into another round of silly laughter.
“Okaaaaay. I’m thinking no more than one of these for you tonight.” Ani brought her own glass to her lips and sipped. The faery liquor didn’t seem to have the same effect on her and Sasha wrinkled her nose.
Gods, she was a little embarrassed she was such a lightweight!
“Only one? Come on, I have to build up a tolerance!” Was she still shouting? Were her words slurred? She really couldn’t tell. Another round of giddy laughter threatened, and Sasha swallowed it down. She didn’t want to come off as an innocent newb. She was a badass vampire, damn it! She had to at least pretend she had her shit together.
“Take it easy, Tiger.” Ani wrapped her arms around Sasha’s waist to keep her upright. “One’s enough, trust me. You’re going to have one hell of a hangover in the morning.”
Sasha responded with spluttering laughter. “I’m a vampire! I won’t be up in the morning!”
Ani rolled her eyes. “Morning, evening, whatever. When you wake up, you’re going to feel like you’ve been hit by a truck.”
Sasha had never had a hangover before. Cool. “Bring it on! I’m ready to be hung over!” She pumped her fist in celebration.
Ani chuckled. “Uh-huh. We’ll see how you feel about it tomorrow.”
The crowd broke out into rowdy cheers, signaling the start of a new match. Sasha’s gaze was drawn to the caged arena and her breath stalled in her chest as she waited for the competitors to enter. Anticipation danced up her spine, a sensation unlike anything she’d ever felt. A side effect of the faery wine? Or something more?
A tall, muscular fae entered the arena first. Most of faery kind wore their hair long, but this male had clipped his short. The style accentuated his otherworldly features, elongating the square line of his jaw and making his cheekbones appear sharper, as though they protruded from his face. Sasha took him in from the fine points of his ears, past his broad shoulders and too-narrow torso, to his sturdy thighs and bare feet that were planted firmly on the concrete floor. If she had to judge by appearance alone, she would consider the fae quite formidable. Whoever faced him in the arena certainly had his or her work cut out for them.
The second competitor entered the arena and in unison, the crowd went deathly silent. Still considerably buzzed, Sasha was slow to react, taking her time before she pulled her attention from the fae to the competitor that had caused such a dramatic stir. A delicious scent hit Sasha’s nostrils, awakening each one of her senses, and sobering her in an instant. Dry heat ignited in her throat, the thirst so intense that it rivaled what she felt upon her turning. Her secondary fangs punched down from her gums, throbbing almost painfully.
Dear gods. If she didn’t find the source of that delicious smell, she’d go out of her mind.
“Sasha? Are you okay?”
Ani’s words barely registered. Sasha’s eyes went wide as a second male entered the arena. Tall, broad, impossibly thick with muscle. He’d yet to fight but sweat already glistened on his bare chest and shoulders that were lightly dusted with freckles. Her gaze wandered past the ridges of his abs to where a pair of loose workout pants hung from his hips. He stood rooted firmly to the floor, his feet bare as well. His toes flexed against the concrete floor and even that simple act exhibited more strength than Sasha thought possible. She dragged her eyes back up the length of his body to settle on his face. Hard. Rugged. His square jaw was rough with light auburn stubble, the exact same shade as the mop of hair on his head. His expression was cut from stone. Serious. Deadly. Void of any hint of emotion. Her eyes met his, and his golden brown irises went dark as night, causing Sasha’s breath to stall in her chest as an inexplicable force slammed into her.
“Sasha?” Ani gave her a rough shake. “What’s going on? Talk to me!”
Sasha drew in a gasping breath as her soul was returned, filling her body close to bursting. She clutched at her chest as though to banish the sensation. How was this possible? Her soul had been returned to her! By the terrifying male who’d stepped into the arena.
“Sasha, come on! You’re scaring me.”
She gave a violent shake of her head as though somehow she could wake herself from this nightmare. Words formed and died on her tongue. How could this have happened? How was it even possible? His scent … so inviting and delicious. It shouldn’t have been so. He should have smelled like death, and rot, and …
Sasha took a deep breath to calm the tremor in her voice. “I … I’m okay.” She couldn’t tell Ani what had just happened. She couldn’t tell anyone. She gave a nervous laugh that she hoped didn’t sound too fake. “That wine hit me a little hard, that’s all.”
Ani’s brow furrowed as she gave Sasha a look. “Are you sure that’s all? You looked pretty damned shaken up.”
Sasha offered up a weak smile in response. “I’m fine.” Truth be told, she couldn’t be further from fine. She’d left fine about ten miles back and had entered into holy-shit-I’m-so-fucked territory. A low murmur spread through the crowd and by slow degrees elevated to an excited roar. Sasha’s gaze slid back to the dangerous male and she swallowed against the insistent burn of thirst in her throat.
She’d been tethered.
By a berserker.
* * *
Ewan stretched his head from side to side and his neck cracked. He brought his arms high above his head and swung them down. Out in front of him, and behind. His muscles were warm, his body loose. The anticipation of the coming fight vibrated through him but no longer caused him to tense. Instead, he relaxed into a fighting stance and let out a slow, even breath. Completely unflappable.
The crowd had gone silent upon his entrance into the arena. He was used to it. The supernatural community feared his kind and rightfully so. They were hardened killers, each and every one. Genetically designed for battle, predisposed to violence. He felt more at home in this arena than he’d felt anywhere in a long damned time.
Including the company of his own brethren.
A female’s voice caught his attention and Ewan scanned the crowd. At the far end of the arena at the edge of the silver cage that kept them contained within its confines, he spotted her. His gut knotted as a strange thrill chased through him. She wobbled on her feet and another female helped to steady her. Who was she? And why did he suddenly feel as though he were about to be tossed ass over teakettle?
Without warning, the battle master’s voice rang out to signal the start of the fight. “Choose your weapons!”
He opened a large case that contained two of each weapon: daggers, machetes, short swords, knives, silver cords, and iron maces. The fae stepped forward, his moss-green gaze hard as he chose two delicate daggers. Light and easy to wield with razor sharp blades and pointed tips guaranteed to do a little damage. Ewan grinned as the fae spun the daggers artfully in his grip, giving the crowd something to cheer about. The battle master turned to him and offered up the case for Ewan to choose a weapon. He simply stared back and shook his head.
The crowd quieted for a moment as the realization spread that he’d refused any weapon with which to kill or defend himself with. The quiet was short-lived as everyone present hollered and shouted their approval. Ewan had just guaranteed them all a grand finale to tonight’s fights. Their entertainment meant more money in his pockets. He was happy to oblige. Besides, choosing a weapon would only give him more of an advantage in an already unfair fight.
The battle master closed the case and stepped out of the arena. Anticipation thickened the air and Ewan’s attention wandered back to the female who watched the goings-on with wide eyes. Her dark hair cascaded over one shoulder, polished mahogany against the pale backdrop of her bare skin. He couldn’t bring himself to look away. He wanted her.
Ewan’s opponent capitalized on his momentary distraction and went after him, landing a solid blow to Ewan’s jaw. He reeled backward and the fae advanced, spinning as his leg came around in a roundhouse kick that connected with Ewan’s chest.
Motherfucker. He blew out a forceful breath to clear the cobwebs from his head. The bastard had gotten lucky, but Ewan wouldn’t be caught off guard again. He put the female to the back of his mind. She was inconsequential, a distraction he couldn’t afford. There was too much at stake—his reputation, for starters—and he wasn’t about to lose face. Ewan was here for one reason and one reason only: money. And he wasn’t going to earn a penny if he didn’t keep his head in the gods-damned game.
The fae came at him once again, but this time Ewan was ready. Anger and aggression turned to power. It flooded his limbs, his muscles, and centered his focus. Nothing mattered but the fight. The female who’d drawn his attention faded to the back of his mind as well as the bloodthirsty crowd that cheered them on. His surroundings blurred until nothing remained but him and his opponent. His vision shifted from full-color to shades of black, white, and gray. His senses sharpened. Every minute motion made by the fae translated into sound, allowing Ewan to anticipate his movements at the exact moment he executed them. It made Ewan’s reaction time instantaneous—as though he knew what his opponent would do before he did it.
Ewan blocked a wide sweep of the fae’s arm, knocking the dagger from his grip, and countered with a jab to the male’s face. The fae took several stumbling steps back but recovered quickly and retrieved the discarded dagger in a graceful blur of speed as he rushed at Ewan once again. He was certainly formidable. Strong, quick, surefooted. Ewan still couldn’t determine what faction of fae the male happen to be, but it didn’t really matter. Whether he was elemental or one of the powerful bean sidhe, he’d beat the bastard either way.
The fae’s lip curled into a sneer. “I’m going to do the world a favor by making sure there’s one less berserker in the world.”
Big talk. Ewan expected nothing less. What the fae didn’t realize was that Ewan couldn’t be fazed. It was impossible to get into a berserker’s head. Ewan grinned as he easily swept aside another attempted blow aimed at his throat with his right hand and followed up with a sharp left uppercut. His fist connected with the male’s chin, whose head whipped back. The fae recovered quickly, showcasing his quick reflexes, and swiped at the blood that trickled from his nose.
Big mistake, you fastidious bastard.
His opponent’s vanity worked to Ewan’s advantage. Usually, he liked to drag out a fight. Give the crowd a good show and encourage money to change hands. For some reason though, Ewan felt the urge to end this quickly. As though his time tonight would be better spent elsewhere. He knew of nothing a berserker enjoyed more than fighting. His curiosity burned, only adding to his impatience.
“Going to do the world a favor, are you?” He didn’t usually engage with his opponents. Tonight had him all kinds of thrown off. “Well then, you’d better get the fuck on with it.” Ewan’s taunting words were enough to spur the fae to action. He’d been playing coy before, holding back, prolonging the fight, perhaps for the same reasons Ewan did. Now though, the fae unleashed his fury on Ewan in a blur of movement that required every ounce of his concentration and skill to defend against. The male was a warrior. A fighter worthy of Ewan. Finally.
It was almost a shame he had to kill him.
Another surge of power shot through Ewan, this one more intense than the first. The prospect of an evenly matched fight ignited his bloodlust and triggered the battle rage that stirred fear in the hearts of immortals and fueled the legends of humankind. His body moved as though on autopilot, no longer in his control. Ewan gave himself over to instinct and shut his mind down completely. The crowd outside of the silver cage went wild and he knew how he looked to them. Eyes black as night, with inky tendrils bleeding out onto his cheeks. Muscles bulging, veins engorged and standing out on his flesh, pulled tight over his frame. His lips pulled back into a snarl to reveal his teeth as he let out a roar that vibrated his vocal cords. The fight would be over soon. The fae would be dead. And Ewan would have virtually no memory as to how any of it happened.
He entered another state of awareness. One where he merely existed, shrouded in shadow. His body moved, his arms and legs swept out, to kick, parry, and jab. His breath left his chest as he took a blow, and then another. He felt nothing. Yet, he fought. He raged. And he decimated his opponent.
Ewan dragged in a sharp breath as he came back into himself. He stood over the broken and bleeding body of the fae, the daggers still clutched in his fists. A supernatural creature was hard to kill. With nothing more than his fists, he’d beaten the fae bloody and ripped his head from his spine. Perhaps it was a blessing that he had no recollection of what he’d done.
The crowd went deathly silent once again before breaking out into wild shouts and cheers. Some cursed his very existence and that of every berserker on the planet, while others celebrated his victory as cash exchanged hands. Ewan’s breath sawed in and out of his chest. His shoulders dropped as his fist relaxed at his sides. The sensation of his skin tightening on his frame abated with every exhaled breath and color bled into his vision to banish the shades of gray.
The battle master approached. The male’s fear burned Ewan’s nostrils and he let out a rueful snort. The world was afraid of him, and rightly so. He was a fucking monster. “The victor!” The battle master reached out with a tentative hand and gently took Ewan’s wrist before raising his arm in the air. Just as quickly, he released his hold and took several cautious steps back. Ewan paid it no mind. He was used to fear. He’d been on the receiving end of it his entire life.
His gaze scanned the crowd before he even realized what he was looking for. His eyes found her, and Ewan went still. Her dark, haunting beauty called to him and he was helpless not to answer. The web of silver that constructed the dome began to slowly rise from the battle arena. Brave supernaturals flooded the concrete floor, eager to congratulate him and perhaps gain a powerful ally. He paid them no mind, pushing his way past the bodies that stood between him and the female. Her gaze locked with his and her full lips parted to reveal the razor sharp points of her fangs.
Ewan nearly tripped on his own feet. By all rights, he was required to kill her on sight. Gregor would accept nothing less. To let her live would be the ultimate betrayal, one that would cost Ewan his life. But with every step he took to close the distance between them, Ewan knew that he wouldn’t kill her. Couldn’t.
Within seconds he stood before her. Close enough to touch. He breathed in deeply of her sweet cinnamon scent and held it in his lungs before letting it out in a slow, measured breath that did nothing to temper the white hot lust that overtook him.
“Your name, vampire.” He barked out the demand without an ounce of pleasantry. He stood face to face with a mortal enemy and all he could think of doing was running his nose along the creamy flesh of her throat in order to savor her delicious scent.
The vampire bucked her chin defiantly as she squared her shoulders and further closed the gap between them. Brave. Fierce. Seductive. “Sasha Ivanov. And your name … berserker…?” She let the question hang but Ewan didn’t miss the challenge in her tone. One delicate brow arched over her eye and he fought the urge to smile.
It appeared as though he would have one more secret to keep from their leader. Because he’d be damned if he raised so much as a finger against her. She fascinated him. And he was no longer interested in playing by Gregor’s rules.
Copyright © 2017 Kate Baxter.