Night Quest Cover Art

Nightsiders, Book 4

Night Quest


He’d loved a vampire once, only to have her murdered by vengeful Freebloods. Now to save his son, Garret Fox must look to another Freeblood for help. Garret knows the empathic vampire Artemis can’t deny his request once she reluctantly drinks his human blood. But although their connection runs deep, their attraction hot, Garret can never forget what Artemis truly is.

Sharing Garret’s thoughts and feelings has wreaked havoc on Artemis’s emotions. But when she discovers a malevolent force bent on destroying them, she finds herself drawn even closer to the human. Dare she ever hope to find a home with a man who hates her very kind if they can first survive the evil allied against them?

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Harlequin Nocturne
January 1, 2016

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Night Quest Audio Cover

Harlequin Books (February 9, 2016)
Narrated by: Carol Monda
Length: 9 hrs

Other Books in the Nightsiders

Holiday with a Vampire 4

Book 0.5


Book 1


Book 2

Book 3

Dark Journey

Book 5

Book 6

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Garret Fox knelt beside the footprints scattered in the dirt, tracing the smallest with his fingertip. They had paused here, the kidnappers, and the little person to whom the footprint belonged had briefly touched ground before being swept up again.

Still alive, Garret thought. He dragged his hand across his face, scraping against the four-day beard he hadn’t had time to shave off, and got to his feet. Fear for his son made him ignore the deep ache in his muscles, the rawness of blistered feet, the heavy autumn rains that penetrated his coat and pried icy fingers under his collar. He hardly noticed the sting of the scratches across his face and hands where branches from trees and bushes had scraped his skin.

Speed had been far more important to him than caution. He wasn’t interested in concealing his trail. Neither were the rogues ahead of him. They felt safe now, nearly two hundred miles away from the colony they had raided. Safe because they had left complete chaos in their wake, and every adult human or Nightsider had been needed to clean up the mess and protect the other children.

The rogues believed they had nothing to fear from a single human.

Garret adjusted his pack, reassured by the weight of the VS-134 rifle—the highly effective and notorious weapon known as the “Vampire Slayer,” strictly forbidden for use by any colonist except in cases of extreme emergency.

And that was why this had happened, Garret thought bitterly. Timon had paid for the colony’s philosophy of non-violence and indiscriminate acceptance of every potential settler. Garret had no compunction about using deadly force to save him.

If Roxana had been alive, she would have done the same. Timon was all he had left, the only thing in the world that gave meaning and purpose to what remained of his life.

I will get him back, Roxana, he promised.

He set out again, though dawn was still hours away. The moon was bright enough for him to see by, but he didn’t need to rely on it completely. He’d spent years not only honing his body and skills to fight enemy Nightsiders, but also in developing his senses of hearing and touch to help him move in darkness. The night would never be his element, but he had long ago reached a truce with it.

As darkness gave way to sunlight, he moved more quickly. As each day passed, the trail led him deeper into wild country that seemed to grow colder with every mile, far from any human Enclave, Nightsider Citadel or free colony.

Time and again, he lost the trail and then picked it up again, losing ground by night and gaining by day. Along the way he found the bodies of solitary humans drained of blood, their hollows shells cast aside, and he spoke a few brief words over the dead before he forced himself onward. His supply of dried foods shrank steadily, but he didn’t dare search for some isolated homestead or settlement to replenish his stores. He sought clean streams to fill his canteen, gathered edible greens, and trapped whatever game he could find.

At the end of the second week, his stomach hollow and his gait uneven with exhaustion, he knew he had fallen far behind. Still he drove himself on. He began to see more human settlements—not mixed colonies, like Avalon, but high-walled, paramilitary compounds with heavily-armed militias whose sole purpose seemed to be hunting down and killing rogue Freebloods. Garret avoided them, as he had avoided the less warlike settlements he passed.

Fifteen minutes from dawn on the first morning of the third week, near what used to be the city of Eugene, he heard the distant sound of a woman’s scream.

He didn’t pause to think. Dropping to his knees, he shrugged out of his pack and removed the components of the VS. With shaking hands he assembled the rifle and looped its strap over his shoulder. If the woman was being harassed by Nightsiders, the Vampire Slayer might be all that stood between her and an ugly death.

* * *

The sound of a twig snapping brought Artemis to attention. She grabbed her bow, her hunt unfinished, and ran toward the denser forest and one of the many refuges she had built for herself in the area she had chosen as her territory.

If it hadn’t been for her hunger, she might have been clear-headed enough to notice the humans before she ran into them. If there had been one less human, she might have taken them down before they trapped her.

But there were five, all armed with automatic rifles, and they had thrown the wire netting over her before she could do more than raise her hands. Each segment of the weighted net was razor-sharp, and though a thousand small cuts couldn’t kill an Opir, the damage would prevent her escape.

“You were right, Coleman,” one of the men said. “Never would have believed we’d find a female bloodsucker living alone out here.” He looked at the sky. “Just about sunrise. We might still get her back—“

“Why?” a younger man asked, holding his section of the net with thickly-gloved hands. “She ain’t no spy.”

“Dean’s right,” a third human said. “She wouldn’t be out here alone near sunrise if she was. She won’t have no useful intel. Might as well take care of it here.”

Artemis barely heard their voices. The wire burned wherever it touched her skin and sliced through her clothing, but she tried to focus on calculating her best means of escape. One of these humans would surely be careless enough to loosen his grip on the net, giving her a few moments to fight her way out. Blood loss might be great, but if she could grab even one of these monsters ….

“Watch out!” the first male said as she lunged toward the loosest part of the net.

“Burn her!”

Something jabbed against Artemis’s neck, and a paralyzing shock jolted her nerves and froze her muscles. She felt her useless body being dragged across the ground and through the snow, the wires cutting deeper as the humans found a bare patch of earth far from any hint of shade.

The sky had grown pale in the east. The sun was minutes away from rising, and her body ignored every command her brain tried to send it. She was aware of increasing pain as the humans jostled the net and anchored it to the ground, driving stakes into the earth to pin its edges so tight and close that she wouldn’t find even the smallest opening.

Still, she tried. The paralysis broke, and she flung herself up and against the stinging web, cutting what remained of her clothes to ribbons and shredding the skin of her hands while the guttural laughter of the humans echoed inside her skull.

Then they stepped back, denying her what little shelter their shadows might provide, and watched the first rays of the sun strike her bleeding fingers.

She didn’t intend to scream. She fought it with all the discipline and self-control she had learned both in the Citadel and as an exile in the wilderness.

But her own cry deafened even the laughter of the humans, and the last thing she saw was the bright hair of a man with green eyes, set aflame by the rising sun.

* * *

For a few fleeting seconds, Garret considered the possibility of leaving the Opir woman to her fate. There were five men, all carrying modified assault rifles and numerous knives and bladed weapons. It would be impossible to approach them without being seen.

He’d faced similar odds before, and met them head on. But he had expected a human woman, not a Freeblood. For all he knew, the female might be among the most vicious rogues in this patch of wilderness, as bad as those who had taken his son.

And if anything were to happen to him now, there would be no one to look for Timon. No one to save him from whatever fate the rogues intended for him.

But the militiamen were torturing the woman, and that was far beyond the pale of what Garret could accept. He had no doubt of what Roxana would have done if she were here.

Kneeling behind a screen of shrubs, Garret separated the VS into its component parts and returned them to his pack. Raising his hands above his head, he walked out into the clearing. Almost as one, the militiamen lifted their rifles and pointed them at his chest.

“Human,” Garret said in his mildest voice, trying to ignore the muffled moans of the Opir woman in the net. “Peace.”

Two of the men lowered their rifles. The others held steady. The eldest of the bunch, grizzled and scarred, stepped forward.

“Who are you?” he demanded, his hand on the butt of his hunting knife.

“My name is Garret Fox,” Garret said. “I’m looking for my son, who was taken by rogue bloodsuckers.” He glanced at the Freeblood in the net. “Have you seen any children in the area?”

The leader looked at his comrades. They shook their heads.

“We ain’t seen no kids outside our compound,” he said, his eyes narrow with suspicion. “Or any bloodsuckers except this one.” He kicked at the body curled up on the ground, and Garret fought the instinct to stop him. “Your son, you said? Where you from?”

Garret estimated that he had no more than a few minutes before the sun was high enough to kill the Nightsider woman. He didn’t have time for conversation.

“South,” he said. “I’ve traveled a long way.”

“Looks like it,” one of the younger men said. His eyes were small and cruel. “If bloodsuckers took your kid, he’s probably dead.”

“Shut up, Dean,” the grizzled man said. “How’d it happen?”

“We were out hunting,” Garret said, staying as vague as possible. “Maybe this female knows something. Will you let me question her before you kill her?”

There were murmurs of protest, but the leader silenced them with a wave of his hand.

“Get her out of the sun,” he ordered his men. He met Garret’s eyes. “You got five minutes. Here.” He tossed a shock stick to Garret, who snatched it out of the air. “Use this if she don’t cooperate.”

Garret edged closer to the leader as the other men dragged the net into the scant shade of a nearly leafless bush. “She probably won’t respond to more pain,” he said. “Let me tell her that you’ll give her a quick death if she cooperates.”

“Why should she believe you?”

“I was the interrogator in my compound,” Garret said. “Even with them, persuasion can be effective.”

“Why should I give her a quick death?”

“I didn’t say you had to keep my promise.”

The grizzled man bared his teeth in a grin. “Five minutes, like I said.”

“Thanks.” Garret turned toward the net, but the leader grabbed his arm with a callused hand.

“You got guts to travel out here by yourself,” he said, “and you look like a good fighter. You married?”

The grief was almost as fresh now as it had been four years ago. “No,” he said.

“Then you might be welcome to join us if you decide not to go back south again.”

“After I find my son, I may take you up on your offer.”

“My name’s Claude Delacroix. Find the old town of Melford, and wait by the bridge over the creek. Someone’ll find you and bring you to the compound.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Garret pulled free, firmly but politely. “If you can keep your men away, I’d appreciate it.”

“Will do.” Delacroix gestured to his crew, cast Garret another assessing look, and followed them.

Well aware that the militiamen were watching every move he made, Garret crouched by the net. The Opir woman’s pale skin was striped everywhere with narrow lacerations, her jacket and pants were little more than scraps of fabric held together by a few threads, and the hand tucked half under her chest was blistered and red. Her hair, a rich shade of ivory, was just long enough to cover her face.

No matter what she was or what she might have done, Garret thought, she didn’t deserve this.

“Listen to me,” he said, leaning as close to the net as he dared. “I can help you get out of here, but you’ll have to do exactly as I say.”

Slowly she lifted her head. Her eyes were dark amethyst, unexpectedly and extraordinarily beautiful. Her body was slender and her face was delicate and fine-boned, but there was nothing weak in either. The defiance in her eyes told him that anyone who made the mistake of thinking her fragile would quickly regret their assumption.

“I heard what was said,” she said. “You are lying.”

The misery in her voice cut straight through Garret like the razor wires that cut her body. “Where I come from,” he said, “we don’t leave people to be tortured to death.”

“People?” she said with a brief, hoarse laugh. “Is that what you think I am, human? A person?’”

They obviously don’t think so,” he said, tilting his head toward the militiamen.

“You wish to interrogate me, but I have nothing to tell you.”

“Do you live in this area?”

Her full lips remained stubbornly closed.

“You don’t know anything about a pack of rogues with a human child?” Garret asked.


“I know his kidnappers came this way, but I lost their trail. You must have sensed them.”

“I did not.”

“Where is the rest of your pack?”

“There is none.” She coughed, turning her face away. “If you have any of your supposed human mercy in you, let me have the quick death the other humans will never give me.”

“Is that what you want?” he asked. “To die?”

“I cannot help you. Why would you offer me any other alternative?”

He glanced over the top of the net. The militiamen were muttering among themselves. Garret’s five minutes were almost up.

“You have two choices,” he said. “Trust me, or force me to hand you over to them. And I don’t want your death on my conscience.”

She tried to brush her hair out of her face, but the movement cracked the burned skin of her hand, and her expressive eyes blurred with pain. “What do you want me to do?”

“What’s your name?”

“If it matters . . . Artemis.”

He showed her the shock stick. “Artemis, you’ll have to pretend I’m using this on you. Be convincing. I’ll flip the net back. You come out, grab me, and drag me into the woods.”

“You do not believe I’ll kill you?” she asked with obvious astonishment.

“Will you?”

“They will shoot both of us.”

“It’s possible. But I think I’ve persuaded them to believe that I’m one of them.”

“Yes. You are human.”

Garret held her gaze. “I hope you’ll choose to live.”

With another quick glance at the militiamen, Garret raised his voice in a harsh question and pretended to jab the stick into the net. The Opir woman began to convulse very convincingly, and as she did Garret grabbed two of the weights with his gloved hands and flung the net back over itself, leaving a narrow gap at the bottom.

Artemis was injured and in great discomfort, but she moved very fast, scrambling out from under the net, grabbing him by the shoulders, and half dragging him toward the woods. He dropped the shock stick. Sunlight struck her, and she swallowed a cry. The weakness of her grip told Garret that she wouldn’t be able to keep up the pretence for long, so he made a show of helplessness, struggling as if she had complete control of him.

A bullet whizzed past his ear when they were still a few yards from the woods’ edge. Garret shouted and raised one hand in a plea as the woman continued to tug at him, her fingers beginning to slip from his coat.

“A little farther,” Garret said. “Once we’re inside the woods, run.”

Artemis stumbled, and Garret twisted to push her toward the trees. The militiamen were jogging after them now, deadly silent and ready to shoot. Garret and the Freeblood reached the shade, and she staggered, her breath sawing in her throat.

“Go!” Garret said.

“They’ll kill you,” she said hoarsely, refusing to move.

“For being an idiot and allowing you to escape? I don’t think so.”

She didn’t have time to answer, for the men were almost on top of them. Artemis grabbed him around the neck and dragged him deeper into the shadows. He could have escaped easily, but he played along, gasping for air and digging his heels into the dirt.

“Come no closer!” she shouted. “I will kill him!”

Chapter 2

The militiamen slowed to a walk. Delacroix signaled a halt. He met Garret’s gaze.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but I can’t let her escape.” He lifted his rifle and aimed at the center of the woman’s forehead.

“She knows where my son is!” Garret rasped. “Let her go, please!”

Delacroix hesitated. “Your son is no more important than the people this bloodsucker will kill.”

“I will release him if you give me five more minutes before you follow me,” Artemis said.

Bending his head toward the man next to him, Delacroix spoke in a low voice, listened to his comrades and nodded.

“Five minutes,” he said, checking his watch.

Without warning, Artemis released Garret, pushing him toward the men, and sprang into a run. Almost immediately the militiamen started after her.

“Wait,” Garret said. “I thought you said—”

Delacroix signaled a halt. “You think we’d keep a promise to one of them?” he asked. “Don’t you want the info you say she has?”

“Yes, of course,” Garret said, rubbing his throat as he got to his feet. “But if you go into those woods after her, she’ll have the advantage.”

Two of the men aimed their rifles at him. “Who are you?” Delacroix asked again.

“A former serf from the Citadel of Erebus,” Garret said. “Do you know what that’s like? Any of you?”

The men exchanged glances. One lowered his gaze. Another spat.

“This is my fault,” Garret said. “Give me one of your weapons and I’ll get her myself.”

“She’ll have even more of an advantage over one hunter,” Delacroix said. “Why aren’t you carrying a gun?”

The VS seemed to burn a hole through Garret’s pack and into his coat. “I had one,” he began, “but—”

“Take off your pack,” Delacroix said.


“You’re hiding something, and I want to know what it is.”

Garret lunged at Delacroix, grabbed the man’s rifle in both hands, yanked it away and slammed the butt into the leader’s face. Without slowing, he struck the next man in the neck and then reversed the rifle.

Two of the others began to shoot, but Garret had already moved out of their path. He shot one of the men in the hand, forcing him to drop his rifle. The youngest one yelled and charged at Garret wildly. His heedless rage gave Garret the chance to kick the weapon out of the boy’s grip before he could pull the trigger.

But another rifleman and the one he’d struck in the neck were almost on top of him. Someone flashed by him, a small figure who took the two men down so quickly that Garret couldn’t see how she’d done it. He didn’t take time to think it over. Shrugging out of his pack, he uncoiled the rope hanging from the metal frame and cut it into five lengths. By the time he turned back, all the militiamen were on the ground—alive, but weaponless and either unconscious or disabled.

He met Artemis’s gaze briefly and knelt beside Delacroix, who was moaning as he began to wake up. Garret rolled him over and tied his hands securely. The Opir woman helped him with the other men, her face and body shielded by an oversize hooded daycoat that was thick enough to protect her from the worst of the sun. She wore equally heavy gloves. Garret could only assume that she had kept the day clothes close by in case she was caught out of the woods after dawn.

He checked on each of the men when he was finished. Two of them were already struggling and cursing, while Delacroix and his second-in-command were bleary-eyed and disoriented. The youngest glared at Garret with undisguised hatred.

“Listen to me,” Garret said, crouching in front of him. “I’m going to set you free. You go back to your colony and tell them to come fetch their people.”

The boy pulled hard against the ropes around his wrists. “You gonna leave them out here for the rogues to eat?” he demanded.

Garret glanced at Artemis. “Are there any other Opiri in the area?” he asked.


“You believe her?” the boy said, his face twisted in amazement.

“No Opiri are going to attack you in sunlight. Your people should be able to return with plenty of time to spare before dark.”

“Traitor!” the boy spat, tears running down his cheeks. “We’ll hunt you down.”

Garret moved behind the boy and cut through the ropes. “Take your pack,” he said, “and go.”

For a moment he thought the boy would stay and try to fight, but even he had enough sense to realize he didn’t have a chance. He grabbed the pack and ran off, his pace much too fast to maintain for more than a few minutes.

“You will pay for this,” Delacroix said, his words a little slurred. “We kill sucker-lovers around here.”

Garret ignored him. He gathered up the weapons and backed away until he was in the woods again. Artemis went with him. He noticed that she was carrying a bow in one hand and a quiver full of arrows in the other.

“Thank you,” Garret said roughly, trying to adjust the rifles’ straps so that he could carry them all at once to a place where the militiamen wouldn’t find them. “You can go.”

“You saved my life at the risk of your own,” Artemis said, her eyes reflecting crimson under the hood of her coat.

“I told you—”

“That you would not leave someone to be tortured,” she said. “But I still do not understand why you would turn against your own kind to help one of mine.”

Anger and grief clogged Garret’s throat and tore at his heart. “I knew an Opir who did the same for us.”

Her brows drew down and her lips parted as if she were about to ask how such a thing could be possible.

And then she collapsed.

* * *

Artemis woke to pain. Tiny filaments of agony circled her limbs and waist, her chest and neck. And her hands…

“Easy,” the human said as she tried to sit up. He eased her back down to the bed of fallen leaves on which she’d been lying.

Instinctively she resisted, irrational panic flooding her body. But he refused to let her up, and she realized that he was strong enough to impose his will.

Human or not, he was dangerous. She had seen him fight. He moved almost as fast as an Opir.

“You’re already healing,” he said, his brows knitting in a frown, “but if you push yourself, you’ll slow it down. We don’t want to stay here any longer than we have to.”

She disregarded the “we” and compelled herself to relax. “Where are the men?” she asked, casting about for their rank scents.

“It’s only been a few hours.” He glanced over his shoulder, and for the first time Artemis saw that they were far into the forest under a thick canopy of cottonwoods, protected on two sides by boulders that stood beside a small creek. She realized that she was wearing unfamiliar clothes that were much too large for her, carrying the oddly pleasant smell of the human who had saved her. Her daycoat and gloves lay neatly folded within reach; her knives, bow and quiver were farther away. It would take some effort to get them.

She might have just enough strength to surprise the human, grab her things and run.

“You don’t have to be afraid of me,” the man said, his eyes tracking her gaze.

“I am not afraid of you…human.”

“My name is Garret Fox,” he said, seemingly indifferent to her mockery.

“There is no need for you to stay,” she said. “It would be best if you did not.”

“Why? Are you planning on attacking me when my back is turned?”

The question seemed hostile, but his face was impassive. Too impassive to be credible. “If you believed that,” she said, “you would never have brought me here.”

“That’s right,” he said, dropping back into a crouch. “Saving my life just to kill me wouldn’t make much sense.”

She began to formulate an answer, but all at once she found herself lost in the extraordinary green of his eyes, like the moss clinging to the sides of the boulders. His dark red hair brushed the back of his collar, as if he hadn’t cut it in some time, and there was a shadow of darker hair on his jaw and upper lip. His features were strong but not coarse, his mouth mobile but decisive.

By human standards he was very attractive. And Opiri appreciated human beauty well enough to seek out serfs that bore the same qualities this man exemplified, such as his lean, fit body, broad shoulders and easy grace.

Artemis had never owned such a serf. She had never owned a serf at all, though she had been strong enough to stake out her own Household in Oceanus, if that had been her intent.

Now, in a haze of pain and caught in the snare of this human’s gaze, she wondered what it would have been like to own a man like this. What it might have been like if he were her Favorite, and they—

The man jerked away, and she realized that she had been touching his hand with her raw fingertips. His reaction had been so violent that she expected to see distaste on his face, but there was only confusion, as if he had been taken unaware by more than just the touch itself.

Artemis, too, was bewildered. Her fingertips tingled, and a series of small shocks ran through her arms and deep into the core of her body. Physical sensations she hadn’t experienced in many, many years.

And through that touch she felt something else. Something that she thought she’d been rid of for a very long time. An emotional aura flared briefly around Garret Fox, as red as his hair, fed by all the anger and passion his expression concealed.

The aura vanished quickly, but her shock lingered. The ability she had worked so hard to erase—the ability to sense and feel the emotions of others—had returned with a vengeance, and a human had reawakened it.

But how could that be possible, when her brief dealings with her own kind since her exile had had no effect at all?

Fight it, she told herself. If it takes hold again…

“Lie still,” Garret said, as if nothing had happened. “And keep that hand covered.”

She lifted her chin, hoping that he hadn’t noticed her bewilderment. “I am not accustomed to taking orders from your kind.”

“Call it a suggestion, then.” He cocked his head. “Why did you come back for me?”

“Do I not owe you my life?”

“Most of your kind wouldn’t feel bound by a debt to a human.”

“You said another Opir had helped you.”

Artemis could hear the steady rhythm of his heartbeat break and then resume at a slightly faster pace. “She was a remarkable person,” he said.

She. “What was her name?” Artemis said, trying and failing to control her curiosity.

“Roxana.” He shifted his weight and looked away. “Which Citadel did you come from?”

“Why does it matter?” she asked. “Do you plan to interrogate me now, where you will not be interrupted by my untimely death?”

“You are an exile, aren’t you?”

She wondered why he had chosen that word when he might as easily have called her a “rogue bloodsucker.” It was how he had spoken of her to the other humans. And how most humans thought of Freebloods, or Opiri in general.

Opiri. Nightsiders. Vampires.

“What else would I be?” she asked.

Her supposedly rhetorical question provoked a raised eyebrow and a keen look. She knew what was going through his mind: the same thing that was going through hers, but in reverse.

Both sides in the ongoing conflict between humans and Opiri had scouts and spies in the vast, supposedly uninhabited areas between human and Opir settlements, usually known as “Zones.” Most of the human colonies’ scouts and agents were mixed-breed Opiri, called dhampires. But a few pure-blood humans were skilled enough to survive in the Zones, even against Nightsider opponents.

Garret could easily be one such human. But he was too far from the nearest human Enclave to be one of their scouts, and she would bet her life—again—that he didn’t work for any of the militias.

“I am not an operative for any Citadel,” she said, answering his unfinished question.

“I believe you,” he said. “You were alone when those men found you?”

“I told you I was.”

“You also said you knew nothing about a human boy in this area.”

“I do not.” She hesitated. “This boy is your son?”

“Timon,” he said.

“I am sorry,” she said, realizing that she truly meant it. “I would help you if I could.”

He met her gaze. “You can.”

Alarmed by thoughts of what he might ask of her, she forgot her pain. “I am leaving,” she said, propping herself up on her elbows. “Do not try to stop me.”

“You aren’t going anywhere,” he said, getting to his feet.

“I may be injured,” she said, “but you appear to be unarmed except for a hunting knife, and even now I am stronger than any human.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it. Sit down, before you—”

Artemis climbed to her knees. Agony like a spear of sunlight drilled into her skull. Her mouth was dry, though she suspected that Garret must have given her water. She swayed, and all at once he was beside her, supporting her, holding her. He was warm and solid, and she could hear the steady beat of his pulse, the throbbing of his blood in his veins. The shock she had experienced earlier returned with his touch, a raw electric current that attacked her mind and body as if she had literally been struck by lightning.

“I said you weren’t going anywhere,” he said, gripping her more tightly when she tried to jerk away. He eased her down to the ground. “You’ll need blood or you won’t fully recover.”

His matter-of-fact statement gave her a very different kind of shock. Humans didn’t despise Opiri only because of their attempt to conquer the world but also because the very idea of feeding on blood was an abomination to their kind.

He did not offer you his blood, she thought wryly. But where else did he think she would get it, in her condition?

“Wherever you lived,” she said, “it must be very unlike the human compounds in this area.”

He pulled his pack close so that he could reach inside, and she caught a glimpse of a rifle stock, a kind she didn’t recognize. It wasn’t one of the weapons he’d gathered from the militiamen, then hidden. Apparently he wasn’t unarmed, after all.

“I assume the local militias kill every Nightsider they find,” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “They consider it their divine purpose to hunt down as many Opiri as possible. Do you find that strange?”

“The militia compounds see packs of vicious predators, and the rogues only a source of food. An eye for an eye.”

Now she heard in his voice what she’d sensed in his mind and seen in his aura: simmering anger fed by a deep fear that was not for himself.

Don’t think about his feelings, she reminded herself. Don’t let them get inside you again.

But she knew it wasn’t that simple. Her shields had fallen, and she had to build them back up again. As quickly as possible.

“What was it that your famous peacemaker once said?” she asked, forcing herself to remain calm. “‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.’”

His laugh reflected his obvious surprise at her knowledge of human philosophers. “Very clever,” he said. “Most Opiri don’t have much interest in human wisdom. Are you one of those rare Nightsiders who see humans as more than barbarians, killers like the militiamen or potential serfs?”

“How else should I regard them?”

“Forgive me for my foolish question. Tell me—why don’t you live with other exiles?”

“It is not in the nature of Freebloods to live in packs,” she said.

He searched through his pack, and the scent of his skin—his blood—drifted toward her. “Not in the Citadels,” he said.

“And how do you know so much about our lives inside the Citadels?”

“Inside the Citadels or out,” he said, “Freebloods spend most of their time struggling constantly for dominance, so they can build Households of their own. That’s the entire basis for their existence.”

“It is not the basis for my existence,” she said.

“Because you don’t want to fight?” He withdrew a wrapped object from his pack. “Somehow, I don’t think you live apart because you’re afraid of being killed by your own kind.”

“I am not.”

“Then there’s something else about your fellow Freebloods that you don’t like. Do you hunt humans?”

The direct question startled her. “No,” she said, without thinking.

“That would explain it, then.” He opened the package to reveal several strips of dried meat, and Artemis’s stomach clenched with hunger. “I knew you were different when I first met you.”

“How would you know that?”


The same kind of instinct, she wondered, that had made her trust him so quickly? “And if you had determined that I was like every other Freeblood,” she asked, “would you have let me die?”

His very green eyes met hers. “But you aren’t,” he said. “I’ve met Opiri who didn’t believe in living on human blood on principle, and others who just didn’t believe in taking it by force. Which type are you?”

He spoke, Artemis thought, as if he had engaged in long, philosophical discussions with other Opiri, and that idea was flatly ridiculous. Wasn’t it?

“Many Freeblood exiles do not know how to live without human blood,” she said. “But most do not kill.”

Garret offered her a piece of jerky. “Too bad the ones who don’t kill can’t—or won’t—stop the ones who do.”

She pushed the offered food away. “Are you so certain they have not tried?”

“Have you?” he said, searching her eyes.

“I want what is best for my—” She broke off and took a deep breath. She had no reason to tell him what she had attempted and failed to achieve in Oceanus. He would never believe it was possible.

“You hate us, just like the militiamen do,” she said, covering her confusion with anger.

Us is a very big word,” he said. “I don’t hate you.”

He was right, she realized. She couldn’t sense any personal hostility from him. To the contrary, he was intrigued by her, genuinely interested in knowing more about her life. She was afraid to look any further.

“I am still a Freeblood,” she said.

“But you’re no rogue,” he said, setting the knife down on a flat rock beside him.

She was almost tempted to let him go on thinking that she was superior to her own people. Different, as he claimed. She found that she wanted his good opinion.

But if she let herself believe that she was better than the rest, she would betray her own principles. Freebloods only needed to be shown, guided, by one who had seen a little way beyond the bars of the prison they so blindly accepted as the limit of their lives.

Guided not by emotion, but by rationality. She didn’t need her unwanted empathic ability to tell her that Garret was controlling feelings that might have paralyzed him if he set them free. In that, they were frighteningly alike.

“Where do you come from?” she asked. “From all you have said, it cannot be anything like the local compounds.”

“I live alone.”

“Without the protection of your own kind?” she asked. “Is that how you lost your son?”

Her cruel question had been meant to provoke an unguarded response—any response that would help her understand him—but all it did was open her mind to the ache of his sadness.

“It is my fault,” Garret said quietly.

The red aura flared around him again, and Artemis covered her face. It made no difference. She wasn’t seeing it with her eyes but with her heart. And now all she could feel was his pain, his sorrow, his terrible sense of loss.

She had known loss, too. But nothing like this. Not since she had been human herself.

“I am sorry,” she said, dropping her hands from her face. “Have I convinced you that I know nothing of this abduction?”

Staring at the dried strip of meat he still held in one hand, he gave a ragged sigh. “Yes,” he said.

His simple answer almost made her doubt his honesty. But the “talent” she’d tried to bury insisted otherwise.

If she was wrong…

A fresh stab of hunger caught her unaware, and she sank back to the ground with a gasp. Garret set down his scanty meal and leaned over her.

“You’ve spent too much time talking and not enough resting,” he said.

“And whose fault is that?” she whispered.

“I should have been more careful.”

She did her best not to notice the concern in his voice, his worried frown, the compassion he should not feel for one like her. Whoever and whatever he was, son or no son, she had to get away from him. The temptation to feed was terrifyingly strong in the wake of her injuries. If she should hurt him…

“You should continue your search,” she said, turning her face away, “and I must return to my shelter to collect my things and move on before the other humans find me.”

He ran his hand up and down his left sleeve. “Your physical state is obviously deteriorating. How far do you expect to get this time?”

“Far enough.”

“And then?”

Shivering with animal desires she could barely contain, Artemis moved to gather her things. “I am going. Do not follow me.”

“It won’t work.” His footsteps were almost silent as he moved behind her. “In a few minutes you’re going to collapse.”

“Then what do you suggest?” she asked, spinning to face him. “I see no other—”

“I obviously didn’t make myself clear,” he said. He pushed up his left sleeve. “I’m offering an alternative.”