Held for months by the Abraxas Coven, Kamara Yamashito is beginning to lose her grip on reality. Nothing seems real anymore. Nothing feels right. She’s hearing things, a stranger’s voice in the back of her mind, a voice that promises salvation, but Kamara knows the truth.
No one can help her.
Nikolai never expected to survive the mission, let alone find his mate within the walls of the compound. Fierce, brave, and resilient, Kamara is everything he’s ever wanted, but freeing her from the coven is only the beginning.
The real fight will be finding a way to save her from herself.
“Not until you calm down.” He shook her roughly. “Focus, Kamara. Listen to me and focus.”
“I’m going to rip your fucking head off,” she screamed.
The man just laughed at her. “I’d like to see you try.” The humor vanished, and his breath fanned against her ear as he bent closer. “Close your eyes, Kamara. All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
The statement made no sense, but in her confusion, she finally forgot about her bloodlust. “What?”
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
He repeated it once, twice, a third time, and with each iteration, her pulse slowed and her breaths evened to a slow, deep rhythm.
“That’s good,” he encouraged. “You try.”
“All that we see or seem,” she whispered, “is but a dream within a dream.”
“Good, Kamara. Again.”
He had her repeat the mantra at least a dozen times before he finally released her head and relaxed his hold around her middle. “Better?”
She nodded. “Thank you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” A draft blew in through the thin crack of the window, brushing against her bare skin and causing her to tremble. “Um, why am I naked?”
“That was how we found you, and it seemed a little too invasive to try to dress you while you were unconscious.” As he spoke, the stranger released her, then removed the fleece, plaid blanket from the bed so that he could wrap it around her shoulders. “Roux brought up some clothes for you, but she said they’ll probably be too big.”
“I’ll make it work.” Holding the edges of the blanket, Kamara kept her back to him as she secured the fabric around her and took a deep breath to steady her nerves. “It was you, wasn’t it? You’re the one who saved me.”
Steeling herself, she finally turned to look at the man who had invaded her dreams for years, and gasped. After seeing him night after night while she slept, she thought she had memorized every detail of his features, but those illusions hadn’t prepared her for the reality.
High, prominent cheek bones complemented his angular jaw, and his straight, aristocratic nose turned up slightly at the tip. Thick eyebrows a shade darker than his golden hair framed eyes the color of smooth milk chocolate speckled with amber that shined in the sunlight.
He smiled as he watched her study him, his upper lip just a little fuller than the bottom. His fair, flawless skin beamed with radiance, and she couldn’t detect a single blemish, scar, or pore to mar its perfection.
Standing tall, his shoulders back, spine straight, he remained motionless while she continued to examine him. He wasn’t doing anything more than breathing, but there was something about the way he carried himself, with an air of refinement that she hadn’t seen since the Purge.
“I’m the one who found you, yes.” With one hand over his stomach, he bowed slightly at the waist. “I am Nikolai Diavolos.”
“Kamara Yamashito, but I guess you already know that.”
His smile brightened a degree. “I do, but it’s a pleasure to finally be properly introduced.”
She could say the same, but for significantly different reasons.
“I dreamed of you,” she whispered. Unwinding one arm from the blanket, she reached out hesitantly, skimming her fingertips along the curve of his jaw when he didn’t pull away. “How is that possible?”
Nikolai didn’t have an answer for her, but he doubted she was really looking for one. Her mind was a whirl of thoughts and questions, many with him at the center. It pleased him more than it should have, but he checked his emotions and minded his tongue. She didn’t yet know what she meant to him, who she was to him, and they had much more pressing things to discuss first.
Taking her hand, he pulled it away from his face and brushed a kiss over her knuckles. “Come, Kamara.” He motioned toward the bed. “Sit with me. Tell me what you can remember.”
He’d expected her to hesitate, but she simply adjusted the blanket around her and crawled onto the mattress, sitting in the middle of the bed with her legs crisscrossed. Confused by her easy compliance, Nikolai watched her for several heartbeats before joining her, easing down on the edge of the mattress to give her space.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Not much, I’m afraid. I remember a room with red chairs.”
The showing theaters in the cinema.
Nikolai had never made it inside one, but the scene Thea had described sickened him. Rows and rows of heavily sedated humans, all connected intravenously to blood bags and saline drips while old, black-and-white monster movies played on the big screen.
He’d never thought to question where the Coalition acquired the blood bags they distributed to the vampire regions. Naively, he’d assumed they’d come from donors, as had been the arrangement in Trinity Grove. Humans donated blood in exchanged for protection and resources. What the Abraxas coven had built made his skin crawl.
“What else?” he asked, relieved when his voice remained calm and even. “Do you know why you were in that white room?”
Her eyebrows drew together to form a shallow V over the bridge of her nose. “I was…I…” Trailing off, her brow smoothed and her eyes widened. Both hands flew to her neck. “I was attacked.” Her bottom lip trembled. “He bit me.”
Nikolai had guessed it would be something of that nature, but hearing it firsthand triggered something inside of him he’d never felt. Growing up, he’d willing accepted the brunt of their father’s abuse, placing himself between his younger siblings and the king as often as possible. When his brothers and sister had fled Trinity Grove to escape their father’s tyranny, he’d been relieved to see their suffering end.
That had been nearly a decade ago, and while he kept tabs on them, he hadn’t seen or spoken to them in all that time, afraid any contact would lead Elias to them.
His sister had begged him to come with them, but his place had been in Trinity Grove. Not only had he provided a distraction in his siblings’ absence, but he’d been the only person standing between Elias and those under his sovereignty.
While Nikolai had little influence over his father—given the opportunity, the king would just as soon see him dead—he could accurately say he knew Elias Diavolos better than anyone. The king was prideful and vain, desperate for power, and paranoid that someone would take that authority from him. It hadn’t been overly difficult for Nikolai to use that paranoia to maintain a semblance of balance and redirect his father’s ire.
Of course, it had been much easier before the Purge, when the need for secrecy about their kind had been paramount. After the spread of the virus, there had been nothing to temper Elias’ brutality, but still, Nikolai had stayed. He’d stayed because Trinity Grove was his home, because it was where his mother had lived and died. He’d stayed because, despite everything, he’d clung to the hope that things could get better.
Since the Purge, he’d seen all manner of atrocities that had both saddened and angered him, but he’d never felt the kind of blinding rage he did in that moment. Someone had hurt his mate, and when he found out who, they’d pay for their transgression in blood.
“Do you remember who attacked you?” His blood boiled, his heart pounded, and he couldn’t hold back the low growl that punctuated his words.
Kamara’s head snapped up, and she stared at him for several seconds, the strangest little smile playing over her thin lips. His conscience told him not to do it, that it was an invasion of privacy, especially since she didn’t yet know or understand that connection between them.
He had to know what she was thinking.
“His eyes are so dark when he’s pissed. I’m not scared, though. Why am I not scared?” She tilted her head one way, then the other, still studying him. “I feel safe with him. Which, of course, is batshit crazy. I don’t even know this guy. Still…”
Nikolai couldn’t resist. Gently, he reached toward her, watching her for any adverse reaction, and pressed his palm to her cheek. His fingertips brushed against her hairline, while the heel of his hand cradled her jaw, and it scared him a little how utterly tiny she was compared to him.
“I’m sorry if I frightened you,” he said, more in control of his emotions now. “I would never hurt you, cara mia.”
“I know.” She leaned into his hand and sighed. “It doesn’t make any sense, but I feel it.” With another heavy sigh, she sat up straight, forcing him to drop his hand. “To answer your question, I don’t know who attacked me. I know it was a male, but I couldn’t tell you what he looked like.” She ducked her head, peeking up at him through impossibly long lashes. “I’m sorry.”
“None of that.” Selfishly, he didn’t like that she hid her face from him. Slipping a knuckle under her chin, he tilted her head up and smiled. “None of this is your fault. Don’t ever be sorry.”
“I remember something else.”
Nikolai pulled his hand back again and fisted it at his side. He had no right to touch her, and he needed to stop being so careless. “What do you remember?”
“He was there. The guy that attacked me. He was in the white room, and I could hear him talking to me. I knew it was him, because his voice scared me.”
Breathing deeply through his nose, Nikolai waited until he was sure he could speak calmly before replying. “What did he say, Kamara?”
“I can’t remember exactly, but it was something about me being too fragile. He said…” She stared at some point over his shoulder, her eyes glazed, her focus on something only she could see. “He said I’d heal. He said when I woke up I’d be more durable.” Her gaze flew to Nikolai, and her lower lip began to quiver again. “What does that mean? Does that mean—”
Throwing the blanket off, she scrambled off the bed and ran toward the attached bathroom.
“No, no, no. This can’t be happening.”
His heart broke at the anguished tone of her thoughts. Gathering the blanket, he carried it into the bathroom, stopping just inside the doorway. He didn’t want to intrude, but he needed to be close to her, to be there if she needed him.
Standing naked in front of the mirror, Kamara gripped the edges of the pedestal sink as she tilted her head back and opened her mouth to examine her long, pointed canines.
“He did this to me. Why would he do this? Why didn’t he just kill me? I can’t be a…a…”
“Vampire,” Nikolai supplied aloud. Moving to stand behind her, he draped the blanket over her thin shoulders. “Your senses are heightened. Your emotions are erratic. Up one minute, down the next. It feels like someone poured gasoline down your throat and lit a match.”
Meeting his gaze in the mirror, she nodded slowly. “Look at me.”
“I am.” He couldn’t stop looking at her. “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Nikolai snorted. “It’ll grow back, cara mia. Besides, you wear it well.”
“That’s Italian, right? ‘Cara mia?’” She arched an eyebrow at him in the mirror, and a knowing smirk lifted one side her mouth. “Are you going to tell me what it means?”
He hadn’t intended to say it, hadn’t even realized he’d used the endearment until she’d called it to his attention. It was just so easy to be around her that he forgot to be guarded. It was too late to take it back, even if he wanted to, and he wouldn’t lie to her.
She continued to stare at him with that cute little smile, but she let the subject drop. “How fast will my hair grow back?”
Nikolai laughed. “You were held prisoner for months. You were attacked and almost died, which led to you becoming a vampire, and you’re worried about your hair?”
Kamara shrugged. “It’s the only thing I have control over.” Some of her bravado faded, and she sagged back against his chest. “I can’t remember most of my time with the coven, which I think is probably a blessing. Being this volatile rage monster sucks, but it’s better than being dead, right?”
“You won’t be a rage monster forever.” He placed his hands over the blanket on her upper arms and rubbed gently. “You can do this, Kamara, and I’ll help you.”