Lover Unleashed (Black Dagger Brotherhood 9) - Page 1

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  • PROLOGUE

    1761, OLD COUNTRY

    Xcor saw his father killed when he was but five years past his transition.

    It happened afore his very eyes, and yet even with the proximity, he could not fathom what transpired.

    The night began as any other, darkness falling over a landscape of forest and cave, clouds above providing coverage from the moonlight for him and those who traveled upon horseback with him. His group of soldiers was six strong: Throe, Zypher, the three cousins, and himself. And then there was his father.

    The Bloodletter.

    Formerly of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

    What brought them out into this evening was that which called them to service after every sun fall: They were looking for lessers, those soulless weapons of the Omega that saw fit to slaughter the vampire race. And they found them. Often.

    But the seven of them were no Brotherhood.

    In opposition to that lauded, secretive group of warriors, this band of bastards led by the Bloodletter were naught more than soldiers: No ceremonies. No worship from the civilian populace. No lore or laudations. Their bloodlines might have been aristocratic, but they had each been forsaken by their families, born with defects or begotten outside of sanctified matings.

    They would ne'er be but expendable flesh within the larger war for survival.

    That all being true, however, they were the elite of the soldiers, the most vicious, the strongest of shoulder, those who had proven themselves over time to the hardest taskmaster in the race: Xcor's father. Handpicked and chosen wisely, these males were deadly against the enemy and codeless when it came to vampire society. Codeless when it came to killing as well: It mattered not whether the prey was slayer or human or animal or wolfen. Blood would flow.

    They had taken one vow and one vow only: His sire was their lord and no other. Where he went, they did, and that was that. So much simpler than the Brotherhood's elaborate shite - even if Xcor had been a candidate by bloodline, he'd have had no interest in being a Brother. He cared naught for glory, as it held not a patch on the sweet release of murder. Better to leave such useless tradition and wasted ritual to those who refused to wield naught but a black dagger.

    He would use whatever weapon there was.

    And his father was the same.

    The clamoring of hooves slowed and then faded into silence as the fighters came out of the forest and upon an enclave of oaks and brush. The smoke from home hearths drifted over on the breeze, but there was other confirmation that the small town they had searched for had finally presented itself: High above, on a piercing cliff, a fortified castle sat perched like an eagle, its foundation as talons locked into the rock.

    Humans. Warring with each other.

    How boring.

    And yet one had to respect the construction. Mayhap, if Xcor e'er settled down, he would massacre the dynasty therein and assume that stronghold. Far more efficient to poach than erect.

    "To the village," his father commanded. "Onward to the amusements."

    Word had it that there were lessers therein, the pale beasts mixing and mingling with the villagers who had carved out plots of land and planted stone houses under the shadows of the castle. This was typical of the Society's recruiting strategy: Infiltrate a town, take over the males one by one, slaughter or sell off the women and children, abscond with weapons and horses, move along to the next in greater number.

    Xcor was of like mind with the enemy in this respect: When he was finished fighting, he always took whatever he could in the manner of assets before heading off for the next battle. Night by night the Bloodletter and his soldiers worked their way through what the humans called England, and when they reached the tip of the Scots territory, they would turn and hasten themselves back downward, moving south, south, south till the heel of Italy forced them to turn about. And then it was a case of going through those many miles yet anew. And again. And again.

    "We leave our provisions herein," Xcor pronounced, pointing to a thicktrunked tree that had fallen over a creek.

    Whilst the transfer of their modest supplies was made, there was naught but the sound of creaking leather and the occasional snort from the stallions. When all was stowed under the flank of the downed oak, they remounted and gathered their high-bred horses - which were the only things of value other than the weapons that they possessed. Xcor did not see the usefulness in objects of beauty or comfort - those were naught but weight that bore you down. A strong horse and a well-balanced dagger? Those were priceless.

    As the seven of them rode unto the village, they made no effort to mute the pounding of their steeds' hooves. There were no war cries, however. Such was wasted energy, as their enemy needed little invitation to come forth and greet them.

    In manner of welcome, a human or two peeked out of doors and then quickly locked themselves back in their abodes. Xcor ignored them. Instead, he scanned the squat stone houses and the center square and the fortified trading shops, searching for a bipedal form that was as pale as a ghost and stank like a corpse coated in treacle.

    His father rode up to him and smiled with a vicious edge. "Mayhap afterward we shall enjoy the fruits of the gardens herein."

    "Mayhap," Xcor murmured as his stallion tossed its head. Verily, he wasn't much interested in bedding females or forcing males to submit, but his sire was not one to be denied even in whims of leisure.

    Using hand signals, Xcor directed three of their band to the left, where there was a small structure with a cross atop its peaked roof. He and the others would take the right. His father would do what he pleased. As always.

    Forcing the stallions to remain at a walk was a chore that challenged even the stoutest of arms, but he was used to the tug-of-war and sat solidly in his saddle. With grim purpose, his eyes penetrated the shadows thrown by the moonlight, seeking, probing -

    The group of slayers that stepped free from the lee of the smithy had weapons aplenty.

    "Five," Zypher growled. "Blessed be this night."

    "Three," Xcor cut in. "Two are but humans as yet - although killing that pair ... 'twill be a pleasure as well."

    "Which shall you take, m'lord?" his brother-in-arms said, with a deference that had been earned, not granted as part of some birthright.

    "The humans," Xcor said, shifting forward and bracing for the moment he gave his stallion its head. "If there are other lessers about, that shall draw them out further."

    Spurring on his great beast and melding into his saddle, he smiled as the lessers stood their ground in their chain mail and weaponries. The two humans beside them were not going to remain as steadfast, however. Although the pair were likewise kitted for fighting, they would turn and run at the first flash of fangs, spooking like plow horses from a cannon blast.

    Which was why he abruptly bore off to the right no more than three strides into the gallop. Behind the farrier's cottage, he hauled up on the reins and threw himself free of his steed. His stallion was a wild cur, but was obedient when it came to a dismount and would await -

    A human female burst forth from the back door, her white nightgown a brilliant streak in the darkness as she scrambled to find footing in the mud. The instant she saw him, she froze in terror.

    Logical response: He was twice her size, if not three times as large, and dressed not for sleep, as she was, but for war. As her hand rose to her throat, he sniffed the air and caught her scent. Mmm, mayhap his father had a point about enjoying the garden ...

    As the thought occurred, he let out a low growl that galvanized her feet into a panicked run, and at the sight of her fleeing, the predator in him came to the fore. With bloodthirst curling in his gut, he was reminded that it had been a matter of weeks since he'd fed from a member of his species, and though this lass was but human, she could well suffice for tonight.

    Unfortunately, there was no time for the diversion the now - although his father would surely catch her afterward. If Xcor needed some blood to tide him over, he would get it from this woman, or another.

    Turning his back on her escape, he planted his feet and unsheathed his weapon of choice: Although daggers had their doing, he preferred the scythe, long handled and modified for a holster that strapped upon his back. He was an expert at wielding the heavy weight, and he smiled whilst he worked the vicious, curved blade in the wind, waiting to play net to the pair of fish who were sure to swim -

    Ah, yes, how good it was to be right.

    Just after a bright light and a popping sound broke out from the main thoroughfare, the two humans came screaming around behind the smithy as if they were being pursued by marauders.