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Embrace the DarknessEmbrace the Darkness

Guardians of Eternity
Book 2

November 2007
Zebra Paranormal
ISBN-10: 0821779370
ISBN-13: 978-0821779378

Lady Shay is the last of her kind.  Half human, half Shalott, her blood is a precious aphrodisiac to vampires, who consider it more precious than gold.  Though Shalotts are renowned assassins, a curse held over Shay lands her on the slave auction block, where her fate is uncertain...

Viper, the beguiling chief of a deadly vampire clan, can't explain his longing to possess the beautiful Shalott who once saved his life, but now he is free to do anything he wants with her.  Strangely, while he desires both Shay's blood and body, he wants her to surrender willingly.

A hidden evil has been stalking Shay since she left the slave market with Viper.  It is an evil that endangers the very existence of Viper's kind, and there's no reason he should court such danger just to protect a Shalott.  But the love he feels for Shay is enough to make him willing to go to hell and back if it means spending an eternity with her in his arms...

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Reviews

Romance Junkies"I sat and consumed EMBRACE THE DARKNESS in one sitting.  I fell in love with Viper in WHEN DARKNESS COMES and was thrilled to learn that he had his own story.  Viper was totally bewitching to me.  His sense of honor is different than most of the vampires I have read about, creating in me an instant fascination.  Then, add in his complete respect and longing for Shay and I could have swooned.  Shay's prickly yet vulnerable characterization makes her a worthy heroine to Viper.  She saved his life in the first Guardians of Eternity installment and I found myself intrigued with her slavery and curse.  Fighting the evil that was trying to surround Shay, Viper and she made a great team.

I hope that readers will become as enchanted with EMBRACE THE DARKNESS as I am.  Since EMBRACE THE DARKNESS is the second in the series, I would recommend reading WHEN DARKNESS COMES first.  I didn't want to miss any of the action and was better able to understand the back story for having read the first book.  I am also ecstatic to announce that the third book of the series, DARKNESS EVERLASTING, Styx's story, will release in May.  It does without saying that I am a Guardian of Eternity fangirl for life!"  --Romance Junkies

"TOP PICK!  Hugely talented Ivy is back for round two in her captivating Guardians of Eternity trilogy.  Powerful and enigmatic Viper was a show-stopper in book one, so having him take center stage is no surprise.  Ivy creates such vivid and complex characters, their emotional struggles feel real even though their exploits are supernatural.  A true gift to the genre!" --Jill M. Smith, RT

"Not to be missed...Ivy is definitely an author with huge potential in the paranormal genre," --RT (Top Pick)

"Alexandra Ivy is already in a league of her own." -- Lynn Viehl

 


Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

The auction-house on the outskirts of Chicago didn't look like a cesspit.

Behind the iron fences the elegant brick structure sprawled over the landscape with a visible arrogance. The rooms were large with vaulted ceilings that boasted beautiful murals and elegant chandeliers. And on the advice of a professional they had been decorated with thick ivory carpets, glossy dark paneling, and hand carved furniture.

The overall atmosphere was the sort of quiet hush that only money could buy. Lots and lots of money.

It was the sort of swanky place that should be peddling rare paintings, priceless jewels, and museum artifacts.

Instead it was no more than a flesh market. A sewer where demons were sold like so much meat.

There was nothing pleasant about the slave trade. Not even when the trade was demons rather than humans. It was a sordid business that attracted every decadent, demented, slime ball in the country.

They came for all sorts of pathetic reasons.

Those who bought demons for mercenaries or body guards. Those who lusted after the more exotic sex slaves. Those who believed the blood of demons could bring them magic or eternal life.

And those who purchased demons to be released into their private lands and hunted like wild animals.

The bidders were men and women without conscience or morals. Only enough money to sate their twisted pleasures.

And at the top of the dung heap was the owner of the auction-house, Evor. He was one of the lesser trolls who made his living upon the misery of others with a smile on his face.

Someday Shay intended to kill Evor.

Unfortunately it would not be today.

Or rather tonight.

Attired in ridiculous harem pants and a tiny sequined top that revealed far more than it concealed, she paced the cramped cell behind the auction rooms. Her long raven black hair had been pulled to a braid that hung nearly to her waist. Better to reveal her slanted golden eyes, the delicate cast to her features, and the bronzed skin that marked her as something other than human.

Less than two months before she had been a slave to a coven of witches who intended to bring Armageddon to all demons. At the time she had thought anything was preferable to being their toady as she helplessly watched their evil plotting.

Hell, it's tough to top genocide.

It was only when she had been forced back to the power of Evor that she understood that death was not always the worst fate.

The grave was really nothing compared to what waited for her beyond the door.

Without thought Shay struck out with her foot, sending the lone table sailing through the air to crash against the iron bars with astonishing force.

From behind her came a heavy sigh that had her spinning to regard the small gargoyle hiding behind a chair in the far corner.

Levet wasn't much of a gargoyle.

Oh, he possessed the traditional grotesque features. Thick grey skin, reptilian eyes, horns, and cloven hoofs. He even possessed a long tail he polished and pampered with great pride. Unfortunately, despite his frightening appearance he was barely three feet tall and worse, as far as he was concerned, he possessed a pair of delicate, gossamer wings that would have been more fitting on a sprite or fairy than a lethal creature of the dark.

As if to add to his humiliation his powers were unpredictable under the best of circumstances, and his courage more often than not missing in action.

It was little wonder he had been voted out of the Gargoyle Guild and forced to fend for himself. They claimed he was an embarrassment to the entire community, and not one had stepped forward when he had been captured and made a slave by Evor.

Shay had taken the pathetic creature under her protection the moment she had been forced back to the auction house. Not only because she possessed a regrettable tendency to leap to the defense of anyone weaker than herself, but because she knew that it aggravated Evor to have his favorite whipping boy taken away.

The troll might hold the curse that bound her, but if he pressed her far enough she would be willing to kill him, even if it meant an end to her own life.

"Cherie, did the chair do something I did not see or were you just attempting to teach it a lesson?" Levet demanded, his voice low and laced with a lilting French accent.

Not at all the sort of thing to improve his status among the gargoyles.

Shay smiled wryly. "I was imagining it was Evor."

"Strange, they do not greatly resemble one another."

"I have a good imagination."

"Ah." He gave a ridiculous wiggle of his thick brow. "In that case I do not suppose you are imagining I'm Brad Pitt?"

Shay smiled wryly. "I'm good, but not that good, gargoyle."< o:p>

"A pity."

Her brief amusement faded. "No, the pity is that it was a table and not Evor smashed to pieces."

"A delightful notion, but a mere dream." The grey eyes slowly narrowed.

"Unless you intend to be stupid?"

Shay deliberately widened her eyes. "Who me?"

"Mon dieu," the demon growled. "You intend to fight him."

"I can't fight him. Not as long as I remain held by the curse."

"As if that has ever halted you." Levet tossed aside the pillow to reveal his tail furiously twitching about his hoofs. A sure sign of distress. "You can't kill him, but that never keeps you from trying to kick his fat troll ass."

"It passes the time."

"And leaves you screaming in agony for hours." He abruptly shuddered.

"Cherie, I can't bear seeing you like that. Not again. It's insane to battle against fate."

Shay grimaced. As part of the curse she was punished for any attempt to harm her master. The searing pain that gripped her body could leave her gasping on the ground or even passed out for hours. Lately, however, the punishment had become so brutal she feared that each time she pressed her luck it might be the last time.

She gave a tug on her braid. A gesture that revealed the frustration that smoldered just below the surface.

"You think I should just give in? Accept defeat?"

"What choice do you have? What choice do any of us have? Not all the fighting in the world can change the fact we belong…" Levet rubbed one of his stunted horns. "How do you say…lock, stock and jug…"

"Barrel."

"Ah yes, barrel to Evor. And that he can do whatever he wants with us."

Shay gritted her teeth as she turned to glare at the iron bars that held her captive. "Shit. I hate this. I hate Evor. I hate this cell. I hate those pathetic demons up there waiting to bid on me. I almost wish I had let those witches bring an end to all of us."

"You will get no arguments from me, my sweet Shay," Levet agreed with a sigh.

Shay closed her eyes. Dammit. She hadn't meant the words. She was tired and frustrated, but she was no coward. Just the fact she had survived the past century proved that.

"No," she muttered. "No."

Levet gave a flap of his wings. "And why not? We are trapped here like rats in a maze until we can be sold to the highest bidder. What could be worse?"

Shay smiled without humor. "Allowing fate to win."

"What?"

"So far fate or destiny or fortune or whatever the hell you want to call it has done nothing but crap on us," Shay growled. "I'm not going to just give in and allow it to thumb its nose at me as I slink into my grave. One of these days I'm going to have an opportunity to spit fate in its face. That's what keeps me fighting."

There was a long silence before the gargoyle moved to stand near enough that he could rub his head on her leg. It was an unconscious gesture.

A quest for reassurance that he would rather die than admit.

"I am uncertain I have ever heard such an inelegant speech, but I believe you. If anyone can get away from Evor, it's you."

Absently Shay shifted the horn poking into her thigh. "I'll come back for you, Levet, that much I promise."

"Well, well, isn't this touching?" Abruptly appearing before the iron bars of the cell Evor smiled to reveal his pointed teeth. "Beauty and the Beast."

With a smooth motion Shay had pressed Levet behind her and turned to regard her captor.

A sneer touched her face as the troll stepped into the cell and locked the door behind him. Evor easily passed for human. An incredibly ugly human.

He was a short, pudgy man with a round, squishy face and heavy jowls.

His hair was little more than tufts of stray strands that he carefully combed over his head. And his small black eyes had a tendency to flash red when he was annoyed.

The eyes he hid behind black framed glasses.

The thickly fleshed body he hid behind an obscenely expensive tailored suit.

Only the teeth marked him for the troll he was.

That and his utter lack of morals.

"Screw you, Evor," Shay muttered.

The nasty smile widened. "You wish."

Shay narrowed her gaze. The troll had been trying to get into her bed since gaining control of her curse. The only thing that had halted him from forcing her had been the knowledge she was quite willing to kill the both of them to prevent such a horror.

"I'll walk through the fires of hell before I let you touch me."

Fury rippled over the pudgy features before the oily smile returned.

"Someday, my beauty, you'll be happy to be spread beneath me. We all have our breaking point. Eventually you'll reach yours."

"Not in this lifetime."

His tongue flicked out in an obscene motion. "So proud. So powerful.

I shall enjoy pouring my seed into you. But not yet. There is still money to be made from you. And money always comes first." Lifting his hand he revealed the heavy iron shackles that he had hid behind his body. "Will you put these on or do I need to call for the boys?"

Shay crossed her arms over her chest. She might only be half Shalott, but she possessed all the strength and agility of her ancestors. They were not the favorite assassins of the demon-world without cause.

"After all these years you still think those goons can hurt me?"

"Oh, I have no intention of having them hurt you. I should hate to have you damaged before the bidding." Very deliberately his gaze shifted to where Levet was cowering behind her legs. "I merely wish them to encourage your good behavior."

The gargoyle gave a low moan. "Shay?"

Shit.

She battled back the instinctive urge to punch the pointed teeth down his throat. It would only put her on the ground in agony. Worse, it would leave Levet at the mercy of the hulking mountain trolls Evor used as protection.

They would take great delight in torturing the poor gargoyle.

As far as she knew their only pleasure was giving pain to others.

Freaking trolls.

"Fine." She held out her arms with a furious scowl.

"A wise choice." Keeping a wary eye on her, Evor pressed the shackles over her wrists and locked them shut. "I knew you would understand the situation once it was properly explained."

Shay hissed as the iron bit into her skin. She could feel her power draining and her flesh chaffing beneath the iron. It was her one certain Achilles heel.

"All I understand is that someday I'm going to kill you."

He gave a jerk on the chain that draped between the shackles. "Behave yourself, bitch, or your little friend pays the consequences. Got it?"

Shay battled back the sickness that clutched at her stomach.

Once again she was going to be placed on the stage and sold off to the highest bidder. She would be utterly at the mercy of some stranger who could do whatever he pleased with her.

And there wasn't a damn thing she could do to stop it.

"Yeah, I got it. Let's just get this over with."

Evor opened his mouth to make a smart ass comment only to snap the fish lips shut when he caught sight of her expression. She was close enough to the edge that he was wary of pushing her over.

Which only proved that he wasn't quite as stupid as he looked.

In silence they left the cell and climbed the narrow stairs to the back of the stage. Evor paused only long enough to lock her shackles to a pole anchored in the floor before moving toward the closed curtains and slipping through them to face the crowd.

Alone in the darkness Shay sucked in a deep breath and tried to ignore the rumblings of the crowd just beyond the curtain.

Even without being able to see the potential bidders she could feel the presence of the gathering demons and humans. She could smell the stench of their sweat. Feel the smoldering impatience. Taste the depraved lust in the air.

She abruptly frowned. There was something else. Something that was subtly laced through it all.

A sense of decaying evil that sent a chill of horror over her skin.

It was vague. As if the being was not truly in the room in full form.

More like a looming, intangible presence. An echo of foulness that made her stomach clench in fear.

Swallowing back her instinctive scream she closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep, steadying breath. In the distance she heard Evor loudly clear his throat to command attention.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, demons and fairies, dead and undead…it is time for our main attraction. Our piece de resistance. An item so rare, so extraordinary that only those who possess a golden token may remain," he dramatically announced. "The rest may retire to our reception rooms where you will be offered your choice of refreshment."

Despite the lingering certainty she had just been brushed by some malignant gaze Shay managed a disgusted grimace. Evor was always a pompous blow-hard. Tonight, however, he put even the cheesiest ring-master to shame.

"Gather close, my friends," Evor commanded as the dregs of bidders were forced to leave the room. To be granted a golden ticket a person or demon had to carry at least $50,000 in cash on them. The slave trade rarely accepted checks or credit cards. Go figure. "You will not wish to miss your first glimpse of my precious treasure. Do not fear, I have ensured that she is properly chained. She will offer no danger. No danger beyond her perilous charm. She will not rip your heart from your chest, but I do not promise she will not steal it with her beauty."

"Shut your mouth and open the curtain," a voice growled.

"You are impatient?" Evor demanded, his tone edged with anger. He didn't like his well practiced act interrupted.

"I don't have all night. Get on with it."

"Ah, a premature…bidder, a pity. Let us hope for your sake that it is not an affliction that taints your performance in other areas," Evor sneered, pausing to allow the roar of coarse laughter to fade. "Now where was I? Oh yes. My prize. My most beloved slave. Demons and ghouls, allow me to introduce you to Lady Shay…the last Shalott to walk our world."

With a dramatic motion the curtain disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving Shay exposed to the near two dozen men and demons.

Deliberately she lowered her gaze as she heard the gasps echo through the room. It was humiliating enough to smell their rabid hunger. She didn't need to see it written on their faces.

"Is this a trick?" a dark voice demanded in disbelief. Hardly surprising. As far as Shay knew she truly was the last Shalott remaining in the world.

"No trick, no illusion."

"As if I'd take your word for it, troll. I want proof."

"Proof? Very well." There was a moment pause as Evor searched the crowd. "You there, come forward," he commanded.

Shay tensed as she felt the cold chill that warned her it was a vampire approaching. Her blood was more precious than gold to the undead. An aphrodisiac that they would kill to procure.

With her attention focused on the tall, gaunt vampire Shay barely noticed when Evor grabbed her arm and used a knife to slice through the skin of her forearm. Hissing softly the vamp leaned downward to lick the welling blood. His entire body shivered as he lifted his head to regard her with stark hunger.

"There is human blood, but she is genuine Shalott," he rasped.

With a smooth motion Evor had placed his pudgy form between the vamp and Shay, shooing the predator away with a wave of his hand. Reluctantly the undead creature left the stage, no doubt sensing the impending riot if he gave into his impulse to sink his teeth into her and drain her dry.

Evor waited until the stage was cleared before moving to stand behind his podium. He grasped his gavel and lifted it over his head.

Ridiculous twit.

"Satisfied? Good." Evor smacked the gavel onto the podium. "The bidding starts at 50,000 dollars. Remember, gentlemen, cash only."

"55,000."

"60,000."

"61,000."

Shay's gaze once again dropped to her feet as the voices called out their bids. Soon enough she would be forced to confront her new master.

She didn't want to watch as they wrangled over her like a pack of dogs

slavering over a juicy bone.

"100,000 dollars." A shrill voice shouted from the back of the room.

A sly smile touched Evor's thin lips. "A most generous bid, my good sir. Anyone else? No? Going once…Going twice…"

"500,000."

A sharp silence filled the room. Without even realizing what she was doing Shay lifted her head to stare into the crowd jamming the auction floor.

There was something about that silky dark voice. Something…familiar.

"Step forward," Evor demanded, his eyes shimmering red. "Step forward and offer your name."

There was a stir as the crowd parted. From the back shadows a tall, elegant form glided forward.

A hushed whisper spread through the room as the muted light revealed the hauntingly beautiful face and satin curtain of silver hair that fell down his back.

It took only a glance to realize he was a vampire.

No human could so closely resemble an angel that had fallen from heaven.

And fallen recently. Or move with such liquid grace. Or cause the demons to back away in wary fear.

Shay's breath caught in her throat. Not at his stunning beauty, or powerful presence, or even the flamboyant velvet cloak that shrouded his slender form.

It was the fact that she knew this vampire.

He had been at her side when they had battled the coven of witches weeks ago. And more importantly, he had been at her side when she had saved his life.

And now he was here bidding on her like she was no more than a piece of property.

Damn his rotten soul to hell.

***

Viper had been in the world for centuries. He had witnessed rise and fall of empires. He had seduced the most beautiful women in the world.

He had taken the blood of kings, czars, and Pharaohs.

He had even changed the course of history at times.

Now he was sated, jaded, and magnificently bored.

He no longer struggled to broaden his power base. He didn't involve himself in battles with demons or humans. He didn't form alliances or

interfere in politics.

His only concern was ensuring the safety of his clan and keeping his business profitable enough to allow him the luxurious lifestyle he had grown accustomed to.

But somehow the Shalott demon had managed the impossible.

She had managed to linger in his thoughts long after she had disappeared.

For weeks she had haunted his memories and even invaded his dreams. She was like a thorn that had lodged beneath his skin and refused to be removed.

A realization that he wasn't sure pleased or annoyed him as he had scoured the streets of Chicago in search of the woman.

Glancing at his latest acquisition, he didn't have to wonder if Shay was pleased or annoyed. Even in the muted light it was obvious her glorious golden eyes were flashing with fury.

Clearly she failed to fully appreciate the honor he was bestowing upon her.

His lips twitched with amusement before he was returning his attention to the troll standing behind the podium.

"You may call me Viper," he informed the lesser demon with cold dislike.

The red eyes briefly widened. It was a name that inspired fear throughout Chicago. "Of course. Forgive me for not recognizing you, sir. You…ah…" He swallowed heavily. "You have the cash upon you?"

With a motion too swift for most eyes Viper had reached beneath his cloak and tossed a large packet onto the stairs leading to the stage.

"I do."

With a flourish Evor banged the gavel on the podium. "Sold."

There was a low hiss from the Shalott, but before Viper could give her the proper attention, there was the sound of a low cursing and a small, wiry human was pushing his way through the crowd.

"Wait. The bidding is not yet closed," the stranger charged.

Viper narrowed his gaze. He might have laughed at the absurdity of the scrawny man attempting to bull his way through towering demons, but he didn't miss the scent of sour desperation that clouded about him, or the blackness that darkened his soul.

This was a man who had been touched by evil.

The troll, Evor, frowned as he regarded the man, clearly unimpressed by the cheap, baggy suit and second hand shoes. "You wish to continue?"

"Yes."

"You have the cash upon you?"

The man swiped a hand over the sweat clinging to his bald head. "Not upon me but I can easily have it to you…"

"Cash and carry only," Evor growled, his gavel once again hitting the podium.

"No. I will get you the money."

"The bidding is over."

"Wait. You must wait. I…"

"Get out before I have you thrown out."

"No." Without warning the man was racing up the stairs with a knife in his hand. "The demon is mine."

As quick as the man was, Viper had already moved to place himself between the stranger and his Shalott. The man gave a low growl before turning and stalking toward the troll. Easier prey than a determined vampire. But then again, most things were.

"Now, now. There is no need to become unreasonable." Evor hastily gestured toward the hulking bodyguards at the edge of the stage. "You knew the rules when you came."

With lumbering motions the mountain trolls moved forward, their hulking size and skin as thick as tree-bark making them near impossible to kill.

Viper folded his arms over his chest. His attention remained on the demented human, but he couldn't deny that he was disturbingly aware of the Shalott behind him.

It was in the sweet scent of her blood. The warmth of her skin. And the shimmering energy that swirled about her.

His entire body reacted to her proximity. It was as if he had stepped close to a smoldering fire that offered a promise of heat he had long forgotten.

Unfortunately his attention was forced to remain on the seeming madman waving the knife in a threatening motion. There was something decidedly strange in the human's determination. A stark panic that was out of place.

He would be an idiot to underestimate the danger of the sudden stand-off.

"Stay back," the small man squeaked.

The trolls continued forward until Viper lifted a slender hand. "I would not come close to the knife. It is hexed."

"Hexed?" Evor's face hardened with fury. "Magical artifacts are forbidden. The punishment is death."

"You think a pathetic troll and his goons can frighten me?" The intruder lifted his knife to point it directly at Evor's face. "I came here for the Shalott and I'm not leaving without it. I'll kill you all if I have to."

"You may try," Viper drawled.

The man spun about to confront him. "I have no fight with you, vampire."

"You are attempting to steal my demon."

"I'll pay you. Whatever you want."

"Whatever?" Viper flicked a brow upward. "A generous, if rather foolhardy bargain."

"What is your price?"

Viper pretended to consider a moment. "Nothing you could offer."

That sour desperation thickened in the air. "How do you know? My employer is very rich…very powerful."

Ah. Now they were getting somewhere.

"Employer. So you are merely an envoy?"

The man nodded, his eyes burning like coals in their sunken sockets.

"Yes."

"And your employer will no doubt be quite disappointed to learn you have failed in your task to gain the Shalott?"

The pale skin became a sickly grey. Viper suspected that the sense of darkness he could detect was directly related to the mysterious employer.

"He will kill me."

"Then you are in quite a quandary, my friend, because I have no intention of allowing you to leave the room with my prize."

"What do you care?"

Viper's smile was cold. "Surely you must know that Shalott blood is an aphrodisiac for vampires? It is a most rare treat that has been denied us for too long."

"You intend to drain her?"

"That is none of your concern. She is mine. Bought and paid for."

He heard a strangled curse from behind him, along with the rattle of chains. His beauty was clearly unhappy with his response and anxious to prove her displeasure by ripping him limb from limb.

A tiny flicker of excitement raced through him.

Blood of the saints, but he liked his women dangerous.

 

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