No Rest for the Wicked Read online
For Bretaigne E. Black, college teammate, instigator of toga
wedding showers, organizer of "wine & sign" book signings,
and dear, dear friend.
Don't know what I'd do without my Bebs.
My deepest thanks go out to three amazing ladies and very talented authors: Gena Showalter for all her incredible support, Caro Carson for always being there for me in a pinch, and Barbara Ankrum for her eagle-eyed critiques and encouragement. And thank you to Richard, my wonderful husband, for confirming the times of sunrises and sunsets all over the globe and for verifying the travel and transportation logistics in this book.
Blachmount Manor, Estonia
Two of my brothers are dead, Sebastian Wroth thought, staring up from the floor as he fought to keep from writhing in pain. Or half-dead.
All he knew was that they'd returned from the battlefront. . . wrong.
Every soldier came back changed by the horrors of war - he himself had - but Sebastian's brothers were altered.
Nikolai, the eldest, and Murdoch, the next eldest, had finally returned home from the Estonian-Russian border. Though Sebastian could hardly believe it, they must have left behind the war that still raged between the two countries.
An angry storm boiled, lashed inland from the nearby Baltic Sea, and out from the torrents of rain, the two strode into Blachmount Manor. Their soaked hats and coats stayed on. The door remained open behind them.
They stood motionless, stunned.
Before them, spread throughout the main hall, was the carnage that used to be their family. Four sisters and their father were dying of plague. Sebastian and their youngest brother Conrad lay battered and stabbed among them. Sebastian was still conscious. Mercifully, the rest weren't, not even Conrad, though he still hissed with pain.
Nikolai had dispatched Sebastian and Conrad home to protect them mere weeks ago. Now all were dying.
The Wroths' ancestral home of Blachmount had proved too tempting a lure to marauding bands of Russian soldiers. Last night, the soldiers had attacked, seeking the rumored riches here as well as the food stores. While defending Blachmount against dozens of them, Sebastian and Conrad had been beaten and then stabbed through the gut - but not killed. Nor had the rest of the family been injured by them. Sebastian and Conrad had held the soldiers off just long enough for them to realize the home was plague-stricken.
The invaders had run, leaving their swords where they'd plunged them. . .
As Nikolai stood over Sebastian, water dripped from his long coat and mingled with Sebastian's congealing blood on the floor. He cast Sebastian a look so raw that for a moment Sebastian thought that he was disgusted with him and Conrad for their failure - as disgusted as Sebastian himself was.
And Nikolai didn't understand the half of it.
Sebastian knew better, though, knew Nikolai would shoulder this burden as he had all others. Sebastian had always been closest to his oldest brother, and he could almost hear Nikolai's thoughts as though they were his own: How could I expect to defend a country, when I could not protect my own flesh and blood?
Sadly, their country of Estonia had fared no better than this family. Russian soldiers had stolen harvests in the spring, then salted and scorched the earth. No grain could be coaxed from the soil, and the countryside starved. Weak and gaunt, the people had easily succumbed when plague broke out.
After recovering from their shock, Nikolai and Murdoch drew away and conferred in harsh whispers, pointing at their sisters and father as they debated something.
They did not seem to be discussing Conrad, unconscious on the floor, or Sebastian himself. Had the younger brothers' fates already been decided?
Even in his delirium, Sebastian understood that somehow the two had been changed - changed into something his fevered mind could scarcely comprehend. Their teeth were different - their canines were longer, and the brothers seemed to bare them in fury and dread. Their eyes were fully black, yet they glowed in the shadowy hall.
As a boy, Sebastian had listened to his grandfather's tales of fanged devils that lived in the nearby marshes.
They could disappear into thin air and reappear at will, traveling easily that way, and now, through the still-open doorway, Sebastian spied no sweat-slicked horses outside, tethered in haste.
They were baby snatchers and blood drinkers who fed on humans as if they were cattle. Or, worse, they turned humans into their kind.
Sebastian knew his brothers were now among those cursed demons - and he feared they sought to damn their entire family as well.
"Do not do this thing," Sebastian whispered.
Nikolai heard him from too far across the room and strode to him. Kneeling beside him, he asked, "You know what we are now?"
Sebastian nodded weakly, staring up in disbelief at Nikolai's black irises. Between gasping breaths, he said, "And I suspect that. . . I know what you contemplate. "
"We will turn you and the family as we were turned. "
"I will not have this for me," Sebastian said. "I do not want it. "
"You must, brother," Nikolai murmured. Were his eerie eyes glinting? "Otherwise you die tonight. "
"Good," Sebastian rasped. "Life has long been wearying. And now with the girls dying - "
"We will try to turn them as well. "
"You will not dare!" Sebastian roared.
Murdoch cast a look askance at Nikolai, but Nikolai shook his head. "Lift him up. " He made his voice like steel, the same tone he had used as a general in the army. "He will drink. "
Though Sebastian struggled, spitting curses, Murdoch raised him to a sitting position. A sudden rush of blood pooled from Sebastian's stomach wound. Nikolai flinched at the sight but bit his wrist open.
"Respect my will in this, Nikolai," Sebastian grated, his words desperate. He used his last reserves of strength to clench Nikolai's arm and hold his wrist away. "Do not force this on us. Living isn't everything. " They'd often argued this point. Nikolai had always held survival sacred; Sebastian believed that death was better than living in dishonor.
Nikolai was silent, his jet eyes flicking over Sebastian's face as he considered. Then he finally answered, "I can't. . . I won't watch you die. " His tone was low and harsh, and he seemed barely able to maintain control of his emotions.
"You do this for yourself," Sebastian said, his voice losing power. "Not for us. You curse us to salve your conscience. "
He could not let Nikolai's blood reach his lips. "No. . . damn you, no!"
But they pried his mouth open, dripped the hot blood inside, and forced his jaw shut until he swallowed it.
They were still holding him down when he took his last breath and his sight went dark.
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart.
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
- W. H. Auden
Castle Gornyi, Russia
F or the second time in her life, Kaderin the Coldhearted hesitated to kill a vampire.
In the last instant of a silent, lethal swing, she stayed her sword an inch above the neck of her prey - because she'd found him holding his head in his hands.
She saw his big body tense. As a vampire, he could easily trace away, disappearing. Instead, he raised his face to gaze at her with dark gray eyes, the color of a storm about to be unleashed. Surprisingly, they were clear of the red that marked a vampire's bloodlust, which meant he had never drunk a being to death. Yet.