Beneath the Night (The Cities Below, book 3)
Sometimes survival means surrendering everything . . .
Lord Navarre Casteel wakes from a long sleep to find the vampire city he rules forever changed and his future in the hands of a mysterious beauty who offers her life for his. Fiery-haired Cat survives his feeding, fueling Navarre’s body and mind—as well as his suspicion that she is one of the Forbidden—a lethal mix of vampire and human blood. Yet that doesn’t stop the throb of Navarre’s desire, the feeling that she is destined to be his mate, to hell with consequences. . . .
A solitary fighter sworn to protect the children in her charge, Cat never expects to feel so much for Navarre in the face of his savage feeding. Which is why his offer of protection is nearly her undoing. For how can she let down her guard when she has always walked alone? But Cat has never faced an enemy like the one she faces now, never felt such a powerful need to surrender to the force of love . . .
He’d have given his life to protect what was beyond the row of five large French curio cabinets in the corner of the attic. Savard slipped into Spirit long enough to move through a curio, and once inside the makeshift seclusion, returned to his true form. Here, easily hidden behind the towering cabinets, was the most priceless treasure in Balinese.
Navarre Casteel, the true lord of Balinese, lay motionless on a small bed, trapped in a deep healing sleep. Not waking, not dying.
Navarre had fallen in the demon attack nearly seven years ago. A demon’s blade had pierced his chest, and from what they could tell, nicked his heart. Navarre had slipped into a healing sleep, his body shutting down to repair from the inside out. After that point, nothing could be done to help him. Their lord would have to heal on his own, or not at all.
Every day since, Savard expected his lord’s death, even planned for the loss. It never happened. Months had passed. Years. Seven years of total stillness.
The padlock outside the door rattled, the heavy hinge laid back against the door. Then the large wooden slide latch was moved, wood scraping wood, until the handle hit the end of its range with a solid thud.
Savard knelt beside the bed and took his lord’s lifeless hand in both of his, ready to weather the brief intrusion, prepared to Spirit Navarre away should it become necessary.
The hinges on the thick door creaked as it opened. The Guardians stepped inside, flipped on the lights. Boots scuffed the uneven floorboards beneath their feet, and long, purposeful strides quickly carried them deeper inside the room.
“There it is,” Dyre said, his young, smooth voice trapped in the low ceiling of the attic. “It doesn’t appear heavy, only awkward.”
“Why are we putting an empty birdcage outside the dining hall?” Cat said, suspicion bleeding through her tone.
The presence of these two was unexpected. As arena Guardians, Titus and Graydon often drew the short straw, being sent on random missions that sometimes involved moving furniture. Not today. Somehow Dyre and Cat had taken their place.
“Don’t ask, just do,” Dyre said.
“Ugh.” She exaggerated the guttural sound. “I hate your motto. It’s stupid.”
“It’s not my motto,” Dyre said, the effort of sliding wooden furniture across the floor temporarily halting his speech. “And you seem to like it just fine when you’re the one barking orders.”
“Fair enough,” she said, relenting.
Savard smiled slightly, shaking his head. In public those two barely spoke a word to each other, and after the parade of Guardian partners Cat had gone through, he never would have thought Dyre would be the one she’d accept. But then, Dyre was one of the few able to bring her unpredictable temper down to at least a simmer.
“Here, take this end,” Dyre directed. “I’ll go down the stairs backward.”
“You think I can’t go backward?” Cat snapped at him, instantly geared up for a fight, offended her partner might find her lacking.
“No,” he said calmly, his tone hinting at simple honesty. “I think you’re short.”
If Cat gave him a response, Savard didn’t hear it. Boots scuffled across the floor, the lights went out and the door closed, the bolt slid home, and the padlock clunked into place. The room was left in silence once again. Savard peeked through a crack between the dressers to make certain they’d left.
Turning Navarre’s hand over, Savard pressed his fingertips to his lord’s exposed inner wrist. As he did with each visit, Savard searched for a pulse, craved confirmation that Navarre still lived. Beneath his fingers, the normally slow, lurching rhythm of Navarre’s pulse seemed to have sped up. Not rapid or racing, but simply stronger. This could be his body’s last surge of energy before death. Savard looked at Navarre’s face, fearing it might be the last time.
Navarre, still deep in a healing sleep, turned his face slightly toward the door. He wasn’t dying. He was waking.
“Oh, God. It’s her.” Jaw slack, Savard sank back onto his heels.
He shoved his hair off his face. How had he not seen this connection? When Cat had first arrived on the night of the attack, he hadn’t known what to do with her. He’d put her in one of Navarre’s extra homes. That home was on the floor beneath this attic, not terribly far from where Navarre lay sleeping.
Most vampires could recognize the beckoning call of their fated mate. Supposedly, though he’d never seen it happen, the presence of your mate could even negate the deadly call of the sun. Her proximity was most likely the only reason Navarre still clung to life. Cat must be his mate. If so, then she was the key to Navarre’s awakening. Ironically, her continued presence in the city was contingent upon Navarre allowing her to stay once he woke.
Plans quickly took form now that Savard at long last had a clear solution. If Navarre’s condition was going to change, it would happen tonight. He would make it happen tonight.
While this new development should bring elation, Savard’s skin crawled with a morbid anticipation. Something unstoppable was happening in the world around him, a life-altering force headed his way. He’d felt this same unease the night he’d become lord, an awareness that he balanced at the top of a mountain and would soon fall. He just didn’t know in which direction.