Harlequin Nocturne (August 6, 2013)
ISBN-13: 9780373885756 ♦ ISBN-10: 037388575X
4.5 STARS! “A complicated and fascinating mythology makes Daysider a fun read. Its fast-paced excitement will keep readers’ attention from beginning to end.” — RT Book Reviews
Human/vampire relations are in turmoil in a stunning new series by New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Susan Krinard
Tensions between human and vampire factions are escalating. Peace hangs in the balance. And like two ill-fated stars, Alexia Fox and Damon are destined to collide. She’s a seductive human operative on a mission to infiltrate an illegal vampire colony. He’s a vampire and represents everything she loathes-and all that she desires. Their attraction is scorching, immediate…and could explode like the fragile truce they’ve both been fighting independently to preserve. Now the world’s last hope hinges on their ability to work together. As enemies they are doomed, but as allies they just might save the world.
Read an Excerpt
San Francisco Enclave, West Coast Region
“It may be fatal,” the Director said.
Alexia laughed. “Since when hasn’t that been true of every mission?”
Aegis Director of Field Operations Wilson McAllister regarded her without a trace of amusement. “This isn’t funny, Alex,” he said. “We’re talking about violating our side of the treaty and striking deep into the Zone. Even the Mayor doesn’t know about it.”
“At least not officially,” Alexia said.
“Not officially enough to send someone to pull your ass out of the fire if you get caught.” The steel rims of McAllister’s glasses flashed as they caught the cold and sterile light from the overhead fixtures. “Your mission will be to learn everything you can about the Nightsiders’ illegal colony without doing anything to attract the Citadel’s attention. If you fail or are captured—”
“—Aegis will disavow any knowledge of our actions. I know the drill.” Alexia wandered to the window overlooking the glimmering waters of San Francisco Bay. From Aegis headquarters in the old Financial District she could see a heavily guarded convoy of trucks carrying agricultural products from the Central Valley into the City. The Treaty meant that the Nightsiders were supposed to leave such convoys alone.
Usually they did. But there were always the terrorists, the ones who wanted to start a new War. On both sides. And that was what her team would be sent in to try to prevent.
Alexia drifted back into memory, of the year the Nightsiders had first appeared. Not that they’d been her memories, not exactly. But she’d seen the archived news vids, the looks of bewilderment and fear on the newscasters’ faces when the first reports came in: horror stories of vampires arising seemingly out of nowhere, some emerging from decades or centuries or even millennia of sleep in sanctuaries built deep under the earth. No one knew—or at least the leaches weren’t telling—what had woken them, or why they had chosen that time to rise and claim the earth.
Ten years later-ten years of chaos and plague and terrible war, the time when Alexia’s mother gave birth to a half-vampire child—had led to the Treaty, and now most parts of the world were carefully divided into territories: vampire citadels and human enclaves, separated by the unclaimed regions known as the Zones.
Just outside the enclave that embraced San Francisco and the area once known as the East Bay, the Zone comprised an immense semicircular region that had once held thriving suburbs, now abandoned and slowly crumbling back to the earth. Beyond that lay the farmlands that produced sustenance for the enclaves, each surrounded by its own Zone and patrolled by special military forces whose job it was to keep Nightsiders out and human workers in.
And to the north, in the area once distinguished by its scenic fields of grapevines and boutique wineries, its rolling hills and towering redwoods, stood Erebus. The Citadel of Night.
Alexia remembered the images on the TV when the construction began. Very little had been known then, because the Zone had just been established, and rumor was more plentiful than fact. Human laborers, prisoners of war, had built by day, vampires by night. In a year the citadel—all black, gleaming, windowless towers and paradoxically Gothic ornamentation—was large enough to hold a population of ten thousand, and that was only on the surface. It was speculated that the underground portion of the city housed five thousand more. Today, the citadel was twice as big, with its own farms and fields to support its human inhabitants.
Slaves, Alexia thought with that deep-burning anger that never diminished. The prisoners, the cast-offs from the human enclaves. The damned.
She turned back to McAllister, who was leaning over his desk with an ominous frown on his lean brown face. His sudden formality wasn’t a good sign.
“You aren’t listening to me,” he said. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”
Alexia returned to stand before the desk, taking a formal stance that betrayed none of her emotions. “Yes, sir. More than up to it.”
He cleared his throat. “It’s only been a year since your brother was—”
“I haven’t forgotten, sir.”
“The Examiners say you may still harbor resentment against the Court for sentencing him to Deportation.”
Deportation. Such a nice way of putting it. “I know the Court weighed the evidence thoroughly, sir. It was a fair trial.”
The Director sighed and sank back into his chair. “Was it?”
Alexia knew it was another test, and one she had to pass. “The evidence was conclusive, sir.”
“Then you no longer believe it was self-defense?”
The same questions the shrinks had asked her, over and over again, ever since Joss had been sent to Erebus.
“Without the laws there would be chaos, and the Enclaves would die,” she said with perfect sincerity. “I blame the leaches, sir. Only them.”
“But do you blame them enough to lose your objectivity in an operation of such extreme delicacy? That is the question.”
“Have the Examiners suggested that’s the case, sir?”
McAllister smiled without pleasure. “If they had, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But the final decision rests with me. If I’m making a mistake—”
Alexia straightened, staring hard at the framed mission statement hung on the wall behind the Director’s chair. “You aren’t, sir. When do we go?”
McAllister made a show of shuffling a few folders on his desk and slid one of them across the desk. “Tomorrow. You and Michael will be the only team for the time being, and your mission will be to observe, and observe only.”
“Call Carter and study the report. There’ll be a briefing at 1100 hours.”
Before Alexia could salute, McAllister was back to his computer, typing away as if she had already left the room. She knew he preferred it that way. And so did she.
* * *
The person, whoever or whatever it might be, was coming closer.
Flashing the hand sign that meant he was about to circle around behind the approaching stranger, Michael left Alexia to watch and wait. It was morning—the third since they’d left the ferry—so Alexia knew the one they were about to meet couldn’t be a Nightsider. Silent as they were, even vampires couldn’t move very quietly bundled up in the kind of protective gear they had to wear in daylight.
No, this was either human or one of the others. And while the stranger was making no particular attempt to sneak up on them, his “noise” was about as loud as the sound of a feather landing on a down pillow. Humans just didn’t move like that, not even the most highly trained agents.
The one coming toward them could only be one thing: a Daysider. And whatever he or she intended …
He, Alexia decided, breathing slowly through her nostrils. Definitely male.
She checked the VS120 strapped to her pack and adjusted her grip on her assault rifle. He couldn’t be stupid enough to think he could just walk up to an Aegis operative and dispatch her after all but announcing his presence. Not that agent deaths on either side were acknowledged by the respective governments, but that hardly meant they didn’t happen. Enclave agents had been operating in and around the Zone too long not to have a very respectable reputation, even among vampires.
But if the Daysider wasn’t planning to attack …
All Alexia’s muscles tensed as the thicket of toyon bushes in front of her rustled, the slightest movement of leathery leaves that might have heralded the passage of a rabbit or some other small animal. She aimed the XM30.
The man who walked out from behind the bushes was tall, lithe, and yet imposing. That was the first thing Alexia noticed as she drew a bead on his chest directly over his heart. Then she looked up into his face, knowing that an enemy’s eyes—even a Daysider’s—would give him away before he made the slightest movement.
The Daysider looked back at her without a trace of concern. His features were quite extraordinary … that she had to admit, in spite of the situation. He was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen. Not beautiful like a woman, but in the perfect harmony of his features: the strong chin, straight nose, high cheekbones, expressive lips.
And his eyes. They were dark … not maroon like those of a Nightsider, but the deepest sapphire imaginable, the pupils almost swallowing up the blue. His short hair was not white, like most vampires’, but a hue somewhere between brown and gold, and his skin was deeply tanned.
Alexia swallowed. She had met her first Daysider at last, and he was so much … more than she had expected.
The Daysider glanced down at the assault rifle. “There is no need for that,” he said mildly.
His English was unaccented, bearing no hint of the ancient language all Nightsiders, whatever their origins, spoke amongst themselves. His voice was a pleasant baritone.
Alexia’s finger hovered over the trigger. “Put your hands up,” she said.
He did so, slowly and without alarm. “I am not here to hurt you,” he said.
She scanned him again the way she should have done the first time, looking for telltale bulges in his tan and brown uniform. She couldn’t detect any weapons, but if all she’d heard of Daysiders was true, they were just as good at concealing whatever they needed as the agents of Aegis.
“I am no threat to you,” he said.
Alexis didn’t even bother to reply. “On your knees. Hands clasped behind your head.”
He obeyed, each muscle working in such perfect harmony that suddenly he was on the ground without her having even noticed how he got there.
“You see,” he said in that same reasonable tone, “you have nothing to fear from me. It’s generally accepted that half-bloods are only a little inferior in strength and skill to my kind, so you seem to have the adva—”
The butt of a rifle slammed into the Daysider’s temple, and he slumped to the ground. Michael turned the gun around and aimed at the Daysider’s head. He was already stirring, only temporarily stunned by the blow.
“Are you crazy?” Michael demanded, glaring at Alexia. “Chatting with a Daysider as if he wouldn’t bite your throat out the second you blinked?”
Alexia knew she had no call to be angry with Michael. He was right. She’d let her curiosity about her first Daysider dangerously compromise her training. And her sense.
“Shoot him if he moves,” Michael said, crouching behind the enemy operative. He unfastened a pair of steel cuffs from his belt and bound the Daysider’s hands behind him. Then he rolled the other man over, patted him down, and removed a wicked-looking knife and a small pistol of a type unfamiliar to Alexia. He tossed them into the bushes, pushed the agent back onto his stomach and jabbed the muzzle of his XM30 into the Daysider’s spine.
“Sit up,” he said.
The Daysider rocked to his knees and blinked as a thin trickle of blood dripped into his left eye. In a few more seconds the bleeding had stopped, the small wound closed by the accelerated healing powers dhampires and Daysiders shared, and the agent was studying Alexia as if nothing had happened.
“That wasn’t necessary,” he said. “I have come to offer a truce.”
“A truce?” Michael spat. All the good nature he displayed at home, the charm that drew so many women to him—even the human ones—was lost in hatred. “You have the authority to make a truce for your masters?”
Not by the slightest flicker of expression did the Daysider acknowledge that Michael could sever his spine at any moment. “Not for Erebus,” he said. “For myself.”
Alexia stared into those remarkable sapphire eyes and had to fight off a shiver. “Explain,” she said harshly.
“We have both been sent on the same mission,” the Daysider said. “If your people were not aware of the colony, you would not be here, so close to the Citadel’s border. We both know that the settlement is illegal under the Armistice, but the Council have no desire to see new conflict break out between our peoples. They have assigned me to observe the colony for Erebus and gather information that will help them determine what should be done to prevent such hostilities.”
The Daysider was so straightforward compared with the average leach that a normal human might actually have been taken in by his story.
Michael wasn’t. “’Hostilities,’” he said mockingly. “Your leaders should have thought of that before you broke the Treaty.”
“They did not,” the Daysider said. “That is why it is necessary to—”
“Liar,” Michael snarled. “Freak. You were sent here to kill us.”
The Daysider tilted his head as if he were listening to Michael, but his gaze never left Alexia’s. “I had discretion to kill you if it would have served my mission, but you know as well as I that your unexpected deaths in the Zone would likely be coutnerproductive.” He paused. I think we all want the same thing, and that is to maintain the peace.”
Michael spat into the brown grass at his feet. “There will never be peace until every last one of you is—”
“Carter,” Alexia interrupted. Michael glanced at her, took a deep breath, and calmed down. She didn’t know what had gotten into him, but his uncharacteristic loss of control didn’t exactly make either one of them look strong in the eyes of the enemy.
She and Michael were at least going to have to act as if they were considering the truce the Daysider had offered. Just as she would continue to pretend she didn’t despise this leach even more than Michael did. And despise herself for feeling nearlyoverwhelmed by his sheer, undeniable masculine power.
His. She didn’t want to know anything more about him than she absolutely had to, but it was going to be damned inconvenient to keep thinking of him as “the Daysider.”
“What is your name?” she asked him.
He inclined his head as if to acknowledge her civility. “Damon,” he said.
Appropriate, coming as it did from the ancient Greek word for “demon.” But what interested her more was that he had no Sire-name to indicate which Bloodmaster or Bloodlord claimed his vassalage.
It was true, then, what Aegis taught … that Daysiders lived outside the strict hierarchy of Nightsider society. No one in the Enclaves was completely certain of how they had come into being. The ongoing question was whether or not they had “awakened” years ago along with the regular Nightsiders, or if they had been created since.
“I’m Agent Fox,” she said, “and this is Agent Carter.”
“Ms. Fox,” Damon said, arching a brow. Alexia wondered how close he was to comparing her to her animal namesake. What did he remind her of?
A leopard. Sleek and swift, well-defined muscle sliding under golden skin and mottled olive-brown uniform, dappled with shadow.
“Agent Fox,” she corrected him. “Let’s not waste any more time. What exactly are you proposing?”
Damon moved his shoulders as if he were stretching against the pull of the cuffs. It almost looked as if he could snap the reinforced steel like the thinnest plastic.
“I propose that we work together,” he said, “pool our skills and our knowledge. Learn what we can about the colony without engaging the colonists, and then go our separate ways.”
“That’s insane,” Michael burst out.
Alexia was inclined to agree. But she also wasn’t too blinded by hatred to see the possibilities inherent in Damon’s suggestion.
“Why would you encourage your enemies to learn more about a settlement founded by Nightsiders?” she asked him bluntly. “Wouldn’t that be against your handler’s best interests?”
“Since Aegis will eventually obtain the information in any case,” he said, “it is my judgment that our working together would be very much to the Citadel’s advantage.”
Michael spun to face Alexia. “Can’t you see he intends to lead us along the garden path and kill us at the end of it?” he said.
Alexia let his anger pass over her. “Why should we trust you?” she asked Damon.
The Daysider’s eyes, already so dark, grew darker still. “Your partner wants to destroy me,” he said. “I am in no position to stop him. There are two of you, and I am alone. Yet I am offering the truce because I know that the distraction of fighting each other will lose us valuable time.” He leaned forward. “You understand the delicacy of the situation. Even the smallest misstep—”
“Are you trying to tell us that your Council didn’t encourage this colony from the beginning?” Michael interrupted.
“And your masters don’t see this set-up as a way of getting a foothold in the Zone, or provoking a new war they think they can win?”
Damon blew out his breath in a brief sigh. “Your agency is well aware of the way my government is organized,” he said. “The the Expansionists have minority status at this time. I serve the Council as a whole, which wants to keep the balance just as it is.”
“So you say,” Alexia murmured.
The corner of his mouth quirked up. “If your agency believed the Expansionists were in ascendance, this new settlement would be the least of its concerns.”
He made perfect sense, Alexia thought. Too much sense, in fact.
She rose, keeping the rifle leveled at Damon’s head. “My partner and I will have to discuss this privately,” she said.
“Of course.” Damon shrugged his shoulders again. “It’s unlikely I’ll be going anywhere.”