Possessed by the Fallen
When his lover learned his darkest secret, she betrayed the elite vampire agent…
Now the beautiful fey Jessica Lark is back in Jack Anderson’s life. With the fate of a royal wedding and a high-stakes mission depending on his complete attention, Jack has no room for distraction. Especially the sort this temptress poses. A fey spy who also seems to be guarding dangerous secrets that aren’t her own.
The two agents don’t know if they can trust one another. But if they hope to unravel a dark plot and fight an evil queen, they’ll have to try. Their undeniable attraction might just save them…but first they’ll have to travel through a portal to a hidden, treacherous fairy-tale kingdom.
“Enemy agents are coming to kill you,” Jack Anderson said, sarcasm leaking into his tone. “Do you think you might want some help with that?”
“Don’t exaggerate. It’s nothing I can’t handle.” Jessica Lark sat behind her desk. At the moment she was glad to have the heavy piece of furniture between her and Jack. If she touched him or smelled the clean, spicy scent of his skin, she would surely lose her nerve. Whether as a lover or as an operative, Jack was a formidable presence.
He was darkly handsome in a way that made women stop and turn, the blue of his eyes like an arctic sky, pure and wild. With wings and a flaming sword, he might have been the Archangel Michael—but Jack would have mocked the comparison. He was a vampire of the Company of the Dead, a covert agent, and pure sin between the sheets.READ MORE
And Lark was about to betray him. She was afraid, but beneath the trepidation a hot ball of grief hovered in her chest. She missed Jack already. She’d made the basic mistake of falling in love with her mark.
Her expression must have betrayed her nerves. Jack leaned forward, his hands on the desk. Those eyes of his, so icy cool with everyone else, were warm with concern. “Are you sure you don’t want my help? You’re the lead on this. It’s your call, but if you think they’re coming here tonight, you need backup.”
“This is only a burglary, so no big deal. I have an alarm system,” she said lightly.
“Alarms don’t help if you’re here alone and the thieves have weapons. I know you’re tough, but you’re only one agent.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know if my information is good. You’re worrying over something that probably won’t happen.”
His grimace said she was an idiot, and he was right. She was absolutely certain she was about to get a visit from the bad guys, but bringing them down single-handed would be a redemption of sorts. An apology for what she was about to do, and maybe proof that Lark of the Light Fey wasn’t altogether a traitor.
She pushed back from her desk, crossing to an armoire against the wall. Her Manhattan design atelier was huge—wood floors, cutting tables and bare brick walls with high arched windows to let in the light. Now those windows looked out on the glamour of the New York nightscape that sparkled like a fantasy through the darkness. This was Lark’s kingdom, and she was its queen of fashion and beauty. Any one of her clothing designs fetched a ransom. Starlets and royalty came knocking at her door.
And so did creatures from the Night World. Jack was by far the most civilized among them, but there were others. She’d warded her private office so that no one could see or hear anything extraordinary, not even her assistant right outside the door. Lark was well prepared for sudden upsets.
“Lark, listen.” Jack shoved his hands in his pockets. He was wearing a gray flannel suit, the artful cut of his jacket hiding his many weapons. “Let me stay tonight.”
“You’ll spook them if they come, and waste your time if they don’t.”
“I’ll do surveillance from a safe distance. If nothing happens, we’ll go for a drink and call it a night.”
Lark paused, tempted. She fingered the handle of the armoire, wishing she could change her mind. It would be so easy to agree, and let everything stay the same. She’d be safe, Jack would remain her lover, and she’d keep this glamorous life a little longer. Her masters in the Light Court, the ones who’d sent her to spy on Jack, would be none the wiser. Sometimes orders could be dodged, at least for a while.
But she was a double agent. Behind the masks of fashion queen and playboy, she and Jack worked for the Company. And behind that mask, she worked for her own people. She was weaving a very tangled web—but then she was a fey. Tangled webs were their favorite thing.
She opened the armoire door, sticking to her plan. If she failed now, she condemned her entire race. What was a single love affair weighed against that? Selfishness. Weakness. Cowardice. Lark swallowed down burning regret.
“I’ll be fine. I have something I need you to do.” She pulled a dress box from the armoire and walked it over to her desk.
“What’s this?” Jack asked.
Lark lifted the lid. Inside was a nest of blue tissue paper, and beneath it a glittering confection of white satin and lace. It was the masterpiece of the collection she’d been commissioned to create for the royal wedding, and as a designer it was her personal best. She touched the garment lightly, feeling a surge of pride. “It’s Princess Amelie’s wedding dress, sewn with the Marcari diamonds. This is what the enemy agents are after. Between the gems and the dress itself, it’s worth a fortune.”
A fortune the enemy would use for much worse crimes than theft. Every diamond would fund countless deaths. Lark put a hand on Jack’s sleeve. “I need you to get it away from here. Make sure Amelie wears it on her wedding day.”
Jack gave her an incredulous look. “So you want me to save the dress and leave you here to face the thieves?”
Lark slipped the lid back on the box, feeling a flush of dismay creeping up her cheeks. It would be so much easier if he didn’t care. “Yes. You save the dress. They can’t steal what’s not here.”
Jack slipped an arm around her waist. “Forget the gown. Amelie has a palace full of dresses. I’ve got only you.”
She turned, bracing her palms against his chest, putting a few inches between them. “I’m not covered with a significant portion of the crown jewels.”
Undeterred, he bent forward, his lips brushing her cheek. “I’d like to see that,” he said, voice intimate and teasing. “Just the diamonds. Nothing else but skin.”
“Promise me you’ll take the dress. Give me your word.” Don’t kiss me. I can’t bear it if you kiss me.
His brows furrowed. “I’ll take it, if it’s that important to you.”
“It is. It’s Princess Amelie’s wedding. Whatever else happens, she deserves a perfect dress for it.”
That was absolutely true, as was the fact someone would try to steal the gown and its jewels tonight. Preventing the theft—and the crimes that would flow from the stolen fortune—was her last act as a Company agent, and one she had to complete. Hopefully it would salve the guilt to come.
“I give you my word,” Jack said, obviously confused.
“Good.” If he gave his word, he would do it, regardless of whatever horrible thing she did next. There was something to be said for the old, proud vampires and their sense of honor.
Jack took her arms, turning her to face him. “You’re shivering. What’s gotten into you?”
She froze, her head bowed, not able to answer right away. She was desperately trying to keep her mission front and center in her mind. Her people were weak, at a time when their darkest enemy threatened to return. The Light Fey needed a weapon—and Jack was the most powerful vampire walking the earth. Lark’s mission was to find and harness that source of strength.
But whatever made Jack unique was a secret he guarded closely. Two years in his bed had given her only the smallest of clues, and she’d run out of time and options.
He was looking at her as if she was the most precious creature on the planet.
“You’re different from anyone I’ve ever known,” she finally said. “You’re different from other vampires.”
“I don’t know about that,” he said quickly. But it was true.
Lark looked up into his face. His brows were drawn together. Tension was creeping into his expression—an awareness something was seriously wrong. Regret plunged through her, stiletto-sharp. Beneath Jack’s power and courage, beneath the physical beauty and astonishing strength, was the kindest heart she knew. I love you, but my people are dying. Our children don’t live to see their first name day, and I was the one chosen to help. Forgive me for this.
She slid the spelled dagger from her sleeve, and with a quick, upward thrust she drove it into his abdomen. She was strong, but it took all her force to pierce the hard wall of his abdomen. Their cries mingled for a horrible moment—his filled with surprise, hers with grief.
It wasn’t a fatal blow—not to a vampire—but the magic in the blade would rip away every secret he possessed. Lark looked into his eyes, and knew her mistake with mounting dread.
Secrets, once revealed, can’t be unlearned.
Kingdom of Marcari
February, nine months later
“It’s time you came in, Jack.”
Jack Anderson gripped the cell phone, but he didn’t respond to the gritty voice telling him to give up almost a year of surveillance work. He’d wait a beat before disobeying orders, even if he’d already made up his mind. Somehow, it seemed more polite.
Silence only made the narrow backstreet that much lonelier despite the quitting-time rush on the neighboring roads. Sunset had flamed out, and now the February dusk seeped into the stone and wrought iron of Marcari’s ancient capital. Jack welcomed the growing darkness, his vampire’s mind sharpening as the night breezes rose. “I’m close to figuring out exactly what the Dark Fey are plotting. Crashing the royal wedding is just their opening number.”
“Maybe,” said the commander of La Compagnie des Morts, “but I need you here. Now. Tonight. We’ve got intelligence you’re going to want to look at.”
Jack grunted. “Is there a connection to my investigation?”
“What else? I don’t call in undercover agents just to spoil their fun.”
Jack leaned against the wall, a shadow melting into shadows. The moment he set foot on the Headquarters compound, everyone would know he was still walking the earth. “There’s a difference between having a look and coming in off a case. I’ve spent too long on this. Besides, everyone believes I’m dead.”
“So? They’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
“I’m tired of surprises.”
Last spring had been bad for Jack. First his lover had stabbed him, and a week later he’d nearly burned to death in a fiery car crash arranged by extremely determined assassins. He’d used the opportunity—and some skills he liked to keep to himself—to drop off the grid and start hunting the hunters. But that had meant cutting himself off from anyone who mattered, and there was no way he was letting that sacrifice swirl down the drain.
The commander seemed to read his thoughts. “I’m not asking this lightly. This is about the Company.”
Jack wanted details. “Is there anything you can tell me?”
“Yes, come straight to my office. My counterparts in administration have called a general meeting and everyone else will be in the auditorium talking policy. That will give you and I a chance to meet undisturbed and undetected. You’ll be gone before anyone knows you’re here.”
“And?” Jack prodded.
The commander’s voice dropped low. “There’s a threat close to home and it needs your expertise. Fast and silent. Even you’ll agree that what I’ve got trumps your mission.”
“There are other qualified agents. Get Sam Ralston on it.”
“Stop arguing and get your undead arse in here tonight. You’re pushing your luck with me.” The line went dead.
A blinding flash of anger surged through Jack. He swore, stuffing the phone into his pocket and struggling for calm. A fit of temper might as well have been a spark among gunpowder. Strong emotion made Jack’s self-control falter.
Without warning, his body burned with tingling waves of raw power. It climbed as his mood darkened, seeming to feed off wounded pride and rage. Jack sucked in a breath of cold air and leaned his head against the bricks, reasserting mastery. In the deepening shadows, he could see arcs of blue static crawling over the bare skin of his palms. It was the mark of the curse that bound him to demonkind. He curled his fingers, hiding the web of light. Hiding the evidence of what he really was—and the destructive power that implied.
Jack’s head pounded as he reeled the power back into his core. It felt like dragging barbed wire through his flesh. The raw force of his abilities was as brutal as a keg of explosives—and about as useless, unless he intended mass destruction. But that’s why they call it a curse, and not a bonus gift from the superpower catalog.
The blue fire finally winked out, and Jack slumped against the bricks, his muscles rubbery as they unclenched. The pain receded slowly, leaving a faint nausea in its wake. He’d won. His control was still stronger. A flicker of pride stirred, soon drowned in plain old relief. His secret was safe for another night.
After nine centuries, he wondered if the iron control he relied on was all that remained of his humanity. When that went, the taint of the Fallen would take him over—an unthinkable end. Demons made the worst vampires look as cuddly as shar-pei puppies.
Jack’s symptoms were getting worse.
With that happy thought, Jack started walking, his footfalls silent. The winding road between the buildings was typical of Marcari’s old quarter, hardly wide enough for two cars to pass without locking side mirrors. Light spilled from a café ahead, and he instinctively moved out of the glow. After spending so long as a spy, invisibility had become a habit. And yet, he felt the telltale tug on his consciousness that said someone had seen him and was interested.
Jack slowed. There was no sound or scent, nor did a casual glance reveal movement in the darkness. That meant his shadow belonged to the fey. Only they could touch another’s mind with such delicacy.
Tired of being stalked, he stopped and spun on his heel. The psychic touch withdrew as suddenly as a hand snatched away. “What do you want?” he snapped.
His words hung in the darkness. Dusk had deepened to night, and a faint drizzle made the cobbled street glisten. The pungent smoke of French cigarettes wafted from the crowd at the café door along with bursts of jazz from the sound system. For a long moment, Jack waited for a reply.
And then a piece of the shadows seemed to grow more solid, separating itself into a denser blackness. It wasn’t exactly movement, but was enough to catch Jack’s eye. His tail was using a glamour, one of the fey spells that tricked the senses. Such magic could make a person look, sound or smell like someone else or disappear altogether. “And people wonder why I don’t trust your kind,” he growled.
The darkness shifted until he saw a slender figure on the opposite side of the narrow road. Even without the benefit of detail, there was no doubt it was female. The curves were just right by Jack’s standard, full despite her lithe frame. Memory tugged, aching to color in features the shadows erased—but the person he wanted to see was lost to him forever.
“Trust is a slippery creature,” the woman’s voice said. There was something achingly familiar in that silvery, feminine softness—like a dream that lingered on waking.
The voice came again. “Will your friends trust you when they find out you’re still alive, Jack?”
It can’t be her. But vampire hearing didn’t lie, and ghosts didn’t haunt the undead.
Jack’s first reaction was shock, a sheer incredulity that Jessica Lark was alive. He staggered forward a step as if jerked on a leash. He wasn’t a creature given to emotion, but his heart ached as if it had suffered a terrible blow. And then a second reaction slammed home—anger. “You tried to kill me.”
“No, I didn’t. You’re a vampire. A knife to the gut would never kill you.” She stirred, the darkness still washing out detail, but Jack could see enough now to be sure it was Lark. “But everyone believes you died when you wrecked your Porsche. Or rather, when a gunman helped you wreck it.” She added the last bit more softly, as if she actually cared.
“I survived.” His words came automatically, almost devoid of feeling. Seeing Lark, hearing her, was too much. Every possible emotion was making a log jam in his gut. As if he was going to overload, Jack’s fingers began to shake. “I survived, but not all the shooters did. The body they found was one of theirs.”
“And no one noticed they had the wrong vampire?”
“My servant identified the remains and immediately went into witness protection. I owe him a big favor.”
She made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a whispered curse. The scent of her fear found Jack, giving him a twinge of satisfaction. She’d seen his demon side, and she knew she’d crossed him. She had every reason to tremble.
But vengeance wasn’t all he hungered for. What he felt was infinitely more complex, and simple revenge wasn’t going to satisfy him. He took two more steps, shock robbing his movements of grace.
“Jack?” she said cautiously, pulling her trench coat closer.
He raised his arms, his first instinct to touch her. She swayed forward, but the moment dissolved once her gaze flickered across his face. Whatever she saw there stopped her cold.
Jack let his arms fall. “How do I know it’s really you?”
Her full lips twitched. “Do you think I’m a warty goblin out to trick you into kissing me?”
“Your design studio burned the night you stabbed me,” he said, keeping his voice even. “I thought you died.”
She moved a step deeper into the shadows, keeping distance between them. “I almost did. It’s taken me until now to recover. Whoever tried to kill you got to me first. There was more than a simple robbery that night.” She lifted her chin as if daring him to doubt her. “Go ahead and say it. I should have let you stay.”
“Instead of sticking a knife in me?” This time, he let his anger show. “Don’t bother asking forgiveness for that one.”
Her head bowed, graceful as a flower. “I won’t.”
“Good. It’ll save us both time.”
Silence fell. Jack could hear his own breathing, harsh with emotion, but Lark remained immobile as a mouse beneath a hawk’s shadow. After a long time, Jack found composure enough to go on. “But you survived.”
“I like to defy expectations,” she said, lifting her gaze. Her eyes held a trace of rebellion. It was a look he knew too well.
“Why didn’t I know you were still alive?” he demanded softly.
They were within a few paces of each other now. He could see the mass of her hair falling past her shoulders. Old memories prompted him to touch it, to feel the soft mahogany waves spring beneath his fingers. His hand reached out to her almost of its own accord.
She held up a hand, palm out. “Stop, Jack. Stop where you are.”
“Why?” He reluctantly obeyed, his fingers closing on nothing. He could smell her anxiety, sharp and tantalizing, but he could also sense her desire. Her clash of emotions resonated through him, at once delicious and heartbreaking.
“You know why.” Her voice was barely more than a whisper.
Because you’re afraid of me. Because you know I don’t trust you. He clenched his jaw, rejecting everything but the urge to touch her. He’d loved her, loathed her, thought her dead, and now she was inches away. Faster than thought, his hand cupped her cheek. It was like silk, cool from the night air but beneath that perfect surface, life beat hot and red.
He felt her flinch, but pretended he hadn’t. Right then, denying logic or even a decent sense of self-preservation, he needed her the way mortals needed breath. “Just this once, tell me the truth.”
But he didn’t give her a chance to speak. For a delirious instant, desire trumped his wrath. His free hand closed on her shoulder, pinning her against the rough stone of the wall. Although she was strong enough, he moved too quickly for her to struggle. Her sigh came out in a warm rush, fanning his face. She was so alive.
Almost against his will, his mouth closed over hers. Now that he had her in his hands, Jack knew beyond a doubt she was Lark and no fey trick upon his senses. His body knew her—the exotic scent, the rhythm of her breath, the feel of her skin under his. No glamour was that precise. Jack remembered every intoxicating detail, even if he’d tried to scour her out of his soul. “I mourned for you.”
“And I for you.”
But her voice cracked on the words. He could feel her pulse, speeding with the rush of her panic. She’d seen the demon in him, and it terrified her. The sensation of it went straight to his sex, making him press closer. She struggled a moment, but it was barely for the span of one racing heartbeat. And then she surrendered—or stood her ground—fitting herself to him as if they’d never been apart. Her kiss told him everything he longed for.
As a human, Jack had thirsted in the desert, and she was sweeter than the taste of life-giving water. But poetry wasn’t uppermost in his thoughts. Lust and hunger uncoiled inside him, bringing out his fangs. He braced his arms on either side of her, his fingers digging into the wall. Stone and mortar crumbled in a shower of dust.
Her body arched under his, the movement showing her smooth, white throat. His tongue found the spot where her skin was warm and fragrant, tasting the beat of her heart through the thinnest veil of flesh. He pressed his mouth there, teasing with the points of his teeth. Her skin held the tang of fear, though still she refused to show it completely.
At the sharp intake of her breath, he broke away. His head was starting to spin with the need for blood, and he didn’t trust his self-control. There was too much anger in him to be completely safe.
Slowly, Lark’s eyes met his, the low light turning their rich brown color to black. Her voice was hoarse with lust and regret. “I disappeared after the fire because I was hiding from the men who tried to kill me. And you were dead, or so I thought. Fiery deaths were trending last season, in case you don’t remember.”
Jack drew back with a noise of disgust, sanity crawling back like a whipped dog. “It was nice of you to grieve, after the knife and all. Although you obviously knew I was walking the earth, or you wouldn’t be following me.”
The sudden widening of her eyes said he’d caught her out. “There were rumors in the Light Court that you were in Marcari, but I didn’t let my heart believe it until I saw you on the street a few days ago. I don’t know what to think about you anymore, Jack. Not after our last conversation.”
“Conversation,” he mocked. “That’s a polite description for stabbing your lover.”
She was shivering, but he knew better than to think it was just the cold. Our last conversation. The magic in the knife had ripped away his self-control, and Jack had let his demon side show. It was the only slip he’d ever made in his long life, but she’d learned his secret that night.
That discovery had been her mission, the game between them, and she’d won. He’d loved Lark as he’d never loved anyone in all his long centuries, but she had been nothing more than a spy in his bed.
What she’d learned was a danger to him. In purely practical terms, her death that same night had solved his problem, even as it left a world of unresolved pain. Now, he had to decide what to do about her sudden resurrection.
He cupped her face again—none too gently—his thumb stroking her cheekbone. “Who did you tell about me?” he asked.
“No one.” She pulled away.
“I find that hard to believe. You don’t go to such lengths and not follow through.”
“I was hospitalized. I couldn’t talk, just think. I decided I wouldn’t tell unless…”
Her eyes narrowed. “Unless I needed to.”
That meant she had leverage over him. Anger sparked, and his fingers curled into a fist. “That covers a lot of circumstances and a lot of convenient excuses.”
She shot him a sour look. “Believe what you like.”
“What about your orders from the Light Court?” A single spark of blue energy snaked across his hand.
“They were too busy healing my burns to ask questions.”
“So you stabbed me for no reason.”
“It’s not that simple, Jack. They were curious about the source of your strength and whether it was something they could replicate. Now I know it isn’t. I can afford to say nothing.”
Jack didn’t answer, but closed his hand over the spark. If she was telling the truth, she was picking and choosing the bits that suited her.
She slowly shook her head. “You’re changing.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
She put up both hands. Her back was against the wall, a whisper of space between them, but her expression wasn’t giving an inch. “You don’t see it, but there’s something going on with you. I overheard your conversation with the commander.”
Jack didn’t doubt she had. Fey ears were almost as good as a vampire’s. “So?”
“You’ve always been the perfect soldier, and right now you’re sailing close to the edge of subordination. Plus you’re sparking like a faulty coffeemaker. You’re losing ground to what’s inside you.”
He walked away a few steps. She was right, but putting distance between them was easier than framing a reply—especially when he had no good answers.
“How can I help you, Jack?” she asked, her voice suddenly soft with concern.
“You can’t,” he said, barely giving it a thought. Even if he wanted her help, a fey didn’t stand a chance against a demon. “No one can.”
“So I can’t help you and you can’t forgive me.”
“That’s about the size of it.” He kept moving, his eyes fixed on the glow from the café window. The gabble of music and voices seemed unnaturally loud in the darkness.
A long silence followed before Lark spoke again. “That doesn’t leave us anywhere to go.”
“Like you said—why waste our time.”
It was a goodbye. The realization hit him like an electric charge. He spun on his heel, turning toward the spot where she’d stood. There was nothing but empty wall and fresh gouges where he’d clawed the bricks like a feral beast.
She was gone.
The emptiness that followed hit Jack like a boot to the gut. The sound that came from Jack’s throat was a snarl of anger and need tangled together. He hadn’t found Lark just to lose her again like this.
Damn the commander’s orders. He had to look for her.COLLAPSE
The Reading Café wrote:
Ashwood’s story is action-packed and exciting from start to finish. Both Lark and Jack are likable characters whose chemistry feels real in spite of the supernatural nature of the novel.
Forgiveness isn’t shameful and we witness its healing effects on those who need it the most. Ms. Ashwood described spectacular action, you’ll practically lift up your own hand to guard against the flames of battle, but she’s created, more significantly, memorable characters with stunning counterparts who envelope you in swoon-worthy romance. Possessed by the Fallen is a perfect finale for an incredible series.