Genevieve Drake is on a dangerous mission—to find the soul collector, Lethe, and enter the deepest, darkest level of the underworld, where no one has ever gone into and returned. But nothing can prevent her from going after the precious treasure Lethe stole from her.
Genevieve endures challenge after challenge against demon spawn and foul creatures while there, and each triumph strengthens her Vessel power, leading toward full awakening, at which time she will become invincible against the hosts of darkness. But when an old enemy makes a surprising appearance, she is tested to the point of breaking and risks remaining in this dark abyss forever.
When Prince Bamal finally reveals their secret weapon, will Genevieve have the strength to survive? Even more, when her guardian angel, Thomas, reveals his sinister secret, will she finally fall into darkness and forsake the fate of the world for her broken heart.
Each book in The Vessel Trilogy is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1: Forged in Fire
Book #2: Sealed in Sin
Book #3: Bound in Black
About the Author
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Prickling of needles under my skin — the unwelcome sensation that meant only one thing. Demons. Once upon a time, it had filled me with tremulous dread. But not anymore.
I waltzed into The Dungeon — the whips-and-chains Goth club owned and managed by Dommiel, high demon of New Orleans — completely indifferent to his red-eyed minions lurking within. Though they were human in appearance, I could feel their sinister aura the second I stepped into the murky den.
As one of the Flamma, a host of either the Light or Dark with supernatural powers, I had the ability to cast illusion, to disguise who I was — a Vessel of Light. With a simple thought, I could've dimmed the effervescent white glow beaming off my skin — my underlight — which always burned brighter in the vicinity of demons. I could've come here incognito. I could've cast illusion to hide the twenty-seven-inch, razor-sharp katana sheathed at my hip. I could've refrained from alarming my leather-and-leash audience currently giving me death stares. But I didn't.
I wanted every piece of shit here to know I could do damage, if necessary. Every minute wasted was another minute I couldn't reach my destination, another minute lost in finding Jude. My protector, my love ... my husband.
No longer hiding my identity, I stalked through the darkened bar like I owned the place. A bulky bartender cut me off before I headed up the stairs, keeping a few steps back.
"Can I help you?" he asked, deep scowl in place.
I inhaled and blew out a calming breath, restraining from showing him the damage a Vessel coming into her power could do.
"Yeah. You can get the fuck out of my way before I sever your head. Or you can escort me to Dommiel. Your choice."
His face slackened from fierce bouncer to shocked idiot. Hesitantly, he sloped off in front of me toward the stairwell. Smart move. I followed, my right hand wrapped around the hilt of my sword in case anyone decided my bad attitude needed an adjustment.
Pulse-pounding, bone-grinding music vibrated the entire second floor. Dancers, if you could call them that, melded together in one mass of moving limbs. A few couples and trios needed to find a private corner before their make-out sessions morphed into an all-out orgy.
The bartender stopped in front of Dommiel's throne. A massive dragon's head — openmouthed and fierce fanged — hung above the oversized wood-carved chair like a crown. The first time I'd been here, I assumed the head was a magnificent work of art by a local New Orleans sculptor. Because dragons aren't real, right? Now I knew better. The beast's head was cut from a high demon's spawn, probably killed in battle against one of the Flamma of Light, someone on my team. Even now, after the head was severed and stuffed, a low vibration of eerie energy swirled in the air. I hadn't detected this before. But back in September, I wasn't the Vessel I was now. My Vessel Sense, VS, amplified every day, detecting any demon within a one-mile radius. Not only that, my fist and blade packed major force. Still, I knew I hadn't experienced full awakening. Kat, my mentor and friend and the only female hunter I'd met, told me that I'd know when I experienced my awakening. It would be like falling in love. And I definitely knew what that felt like ... as well as the tragic heartbreak when that love was ripped from my arms.
I clenched my jaw, willing away those thoughts, and focused on the task at hand.
Dommiel sprawled atop his throne with the latest blonde propped on his lap. With a clean-shaved head and wearing his usual attire — black slacks and white button-down with silver cuff links — he was a contradiction in appearance. If he hadn't pierced every part of his face — lip, lids, nose, tongue, and the entire cartilage of both ears — he'd be hot. Metal-face didn't turn me on, but some girls were into that. For example, the buxom woman now whispering in his ear, pressing against him with her ample cleavage pouring out of a red patent leather corset. Dommiel cupped her breast with the one hand he had, brushing his thumb casually along the exposed skin above the too-tight casing. He turned his head when I approached.
His groupies didn't move, though tension rippled in the air. Dommiel's familiar — a black-eyed raven — perched on the dragon's head and watched me. For a second, I wished I'd brought Mira. The white hawk that I'd created the day Jude was taken away had become my pale shadow wherever I went these days. But I didn't want any of these freaks trying to hurt her in this confined space. Before her creation, when I was steeped in a well of grief from losing Jude, I hadn't known Vessels could create spawn of Light. If demons could beget creatures of darkness, then it made sense I'd have the power to create one of light. Only, no Vessel had ever done it before. George, the commander of the Dominus Daemonum — the Masters of Demons — said it was because no Vessel before me had ever come so close to her awakening.
When I glanced up at the beady-eyed bird, I wondered what it would do if I'd brought Mira with me and let her poke out one of those evil eyes. I suppose it would've started a shit storm, and that wasn't why I'd come here.
Standing tall, hands at my sides, I said to Dommiel, "I come in peace."
He considered me for about five seconds. "If this is peace, I'd hate to see war."
"Yes. You would."
In our past dealings, Dommiel had used his sardonic tongue to cut me and keep me in line. I waited for his next smart-ass remark, but something in his gaze told me he recognized this visit was different. I hadn't come to threaten or coerce him into doing my bidding. I had a genuine offer of partnership — one I never thought to present to a high demon.
With a heavy sigh, he squeezed his blonde's breast still cupped in his hand, then gave her a quick deep-throated kiss before pushing her off his lap. He stood, revealing the silver hook on the stump of his other arm, which had been concealed till now.
"This better be good, Vessel." He stepped in front of me, leading me past a guard and down a dark hallway. "I haven't had a taste of her yet and was quite looking forward to it."
"It looked to me like you just got a taste."
He shot me a piercing look over his shoulder. "Okay. Let me rephrase. I haven't yet fucked her until she can't talk or walk. And I was about to take off that edge when you showed up."
"Too much information, Dommiel."
He led me down some narrow stairs, then gestured aside another guard outside his office. I'd been here before to negotiate a sort of truce and mutual business offer on my last visit. This time, I came to offer much more. Jude wouldn't approve. But I'd do anything and everything to get him back. Selling a small piece of my soul was no hardship if it meant I'd have the chance to save my love from eternal hell.
Dommiel sank into the chair behind his wooden office desk. The furniture seemed out of place. Beyond these walls, mind-blasting music pounded through the club and demons writhed among humans, tempting them to fall farther into their den of sin. But here, in this average-looking office with a comfortable sofa and a low-lit lamp casting a warm hue on the walls, I could've been standing in a normal office building, not a demon's lair.
Resting his hook-hand and arm on the desk, he gestured palm up with the other. "So what do you want? Another favor? More intel? I'm all out of favors, and I know nothing new."
Taking a seat on the edge of the sofa, I shifted the katana so that it didn't poke me in the hip. I paused, staring at my laced fingers hanging between my knees, my wedding band glinting in the light. I searched for the right words that would persuade him.
"I need your help," was all I could think to say.
A dumbfounded demon is funny to behold. If I didn't have so much anxiety churning my guts into a pool of acid, I would've laughed.
"Wait a minute," he said. "Your asshole boyfriend storms into my place and practically slits my throat for looking at you the wrong way. He then cuts my hand off so I'm stuck with this fucking thing for the rest of my immortal life." He thrust his sharp hook in the air for effect. "And then, you and your bitch of a hunter friend —"
"Whoever ... the two of you blackmail me into offering up information that could've put my head on a platter or gotten me sent to the deepest level of torturous hell. And now ... now you want my help? Damn, woman. You have some serious balls."
A normal person would've flinched and cowered from the wave of heated rage seething from the high demon across the desk, but all I could feel was elation.
"That's where I want to go."
"Where? What are you talking about?"
"I need you to take me to hell. To find the soul eater Lethe. I need to go to Erebus."
Soul collectors, also known as soul eaters or rivers of the underworld, kept their captives in Erebus — the darkest pit of hell. These five supernatural creatures served neither the Flamma of Light or the Dark, only themselves. Jude had bargained with Acheron once. They were reasoning monsters, but monsters all the same. And there was no way in or out of Erebus but through one of them. I needed Lethe. She was the one to take Jude. She was my best link in finding him.
Dommiel stared at me, speechless, obviously trying to decide whether I was serious or insane. I was probably both.
"Lethe?" he asked. "Why would you need to find her?"
I heaved out a heavy breath, my fingers linked tight and squeezing. "She has Jude. And I'm going after him, and I'm bringing him back."
Dommiel tilted his head, expression still and grave. "So ... the rumors are true. The almighty hunter is gone."
He shrugged one shoulder. "Demons talk."
I frowned, hating that demons were talking about ... Wait a minute. "How the hell are demons spreading rumors?" There's no way George or any of the Dominus Daemonum would tell a demon where Jude was. Unless one of them was a traitor. Who was spreading rumors?
Ignoring my question, he turned another on me. "How did the hunter let himself get taken by Lethe? He's too crafty for that. Was he tricked?"
Anger burned hot in my belly. Yes. He'd been tricked, but I hadn't come here to give Dommiel a lifeline of information. He stood and rounded the desk toward the door. "Well, my sweet Vessel, it seems our meeting is over."
I rose to my feet. "I'm not done."
"There's nothing you can say to persuade me to help the bane of my existence escape from hell, just so he can return and lord over my domain, then abuse me further." He wiggled his hooked hand in the air and spun toward the door.
"Hear me out, Dommiel ... please."
My pleading tone stopped him halfway across the room. His shoulders stiffened, then he turned, his hand on his hip. "Fine. What are you prepared to offer? And it better be good."
I reached inside my leather jacket and pulled from the inner pocket a raven's black plume. The very one Dommiel had given me. I held it up for him to see.
"This wasn't from your pet raven, was it? This was one of yours, whenever you transformed. Wasn't it?"
Dommiel's heavy gaze shifted to mine. He nodded slowly. I'd known it all along. The last time I'd needed his help, I had to coax him into giving me information. Well, coax is too kind. It was more like blackmail. He gave me information about the whereabouts of certain demon lords. In return, I assured him that Jude would protect his right to rule in New Orleans. But I knew this was different. First of all, Jude was no longer here, so I didn't have that bargaining chip, and I also knew that Dommiel would prefer the hunter who chopped off his hand to be rotting in hell more than anywhere else. But I also had insight that Dommiel didn't have.
He sucked his lower lip into his mouth, his teeth tapping the silver stud, making a ticking sound. Nervous habit, apparently.
He eyed the feather in my hand, a curious expression in place. "What do you plan to do with the gift I gave you? Burn it in a cauldron and put a spell on me? It doesn't work that way."
"I'm not a witch, Dommiel."
"That remains to be seen," he scoffed. "I don't know what your plans are, but there are reasons all hosts of heaven and hell steer clear of Lethe. If she ensnares you, you will forget everything ... everyone. You won't even know who you are anymore, much less anything that mattered to you before."
A lump swelled in my throat. "So I've been told."
"So if Lethe took Jude, then you've lost him forever. Even if you found him, he won't know who you are. He won't care that you've come to save him, because there'll be nothing to save him from. She'll have wiped his mind clean of memories long ago."
"Goddamn it, Dommiel! I'm not asking for your opinion on Lethe and her prisoners. I'm asking you to help me find her."
He stepped back, watching my hand, which I'd wrapped around the hilt of my katana. My aggression amplified tenfold every time I thought of Jude being kept captive in that dark, forbidding abyss. When helpless anger overwhelmed me, my hand always went to the sword, wanting to maim and destroy, wanting someone to pay for what had been done to Jude, for what had been taken from me.
"Are you okay?" Dommiel snapped me from my reverie. His thoughtful expression looked almost like sympathy.
I straightened with my chin in the air. "I've been told she lurks around the deepest levels of hell, and I can't trust anyone else to take me there. No one who actually knows how to get there."
He laughed, propping his hand on his hip. "You trust me?"
"I'm willing to." I held up the plume again. "I'm offering a blood vow. To seal our deal."
A blood vow was a truce I'd learned about a month ago when we had to meet with Prince Bamal, high demon of New York, and his men. The only way a Flamma of Light and Dark could parlay without fearing that death and mayhem would break out between the parties was to agree to a truce using a blood vow. The two leaders of the gathering would seal their blood onto an object while casting a particular spell, Sanguis Promissionem. There was no way to betray the blood bond, even if one wanted to.
After vehement protests on George's part and guilt-laden coercion on mine, George had instructed me how to cast the spell. He couldn't help me get into hell and find Lethe, and he had no other plan to get me there. Eventually, he had to succumb to my strategy of bonding to Dommiel with the blood vow. There was no other way. I could sift into hell where I'd been before, the Black Forest, but I'd been told this dark woodland stretched on forever in the underworld. I could search for eternity and still never find Lethe, and so never find Jude. I needed an insider — a demon.
Dommiel shook his head slowly back and forth as he bit his lip again, the metal stud clinking against his teeth. "I can't believe you're serious."
"This isn't a temporary deal, Dommiel. I'm offering you a permanent truce. More than that. I'm offering ... friendship."
"You and me? Friends?" He snorted. "The irony is laughable."
"Yeah," I agreed. "But I'm not laughing. I'm dead serious."
"I see that. And why would I want to be friends with the Vessel of Light who proclaims to be the one who will turn the tide of the coming war against my own kind? If you haven't noticed, I'm a demon."
Everyone knew the Great War between heaven and hell was coming, the one to be waged on earth for dominion over this world and all its inhabitants.
"It never escaped my attention. But since you bring up the coming war, let me say this. The war won't be decided in a day, a week, or even a month. We all know that this war will last many years, even with my power on the side of Light. And there will be many casualties. I'm willing to offer you protection. Both from Flamma of Light — hunters, sentinels and even angels — as well as the high demons on your side who will fight you for dominion over New Orleans."
Dommiel's lips tightened into a line. The silver stud in his bottom lip stood straight out.
"Do you know how attractive this city will become to the high demons looking for new territory when all hell breaks loose?" I asked with a laugh. "Literally?"
"So what? I've got plenty of men here to protect my domain."
Excerpted from "Bound in Black"
Copyright © 2015 July.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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