Epilogue


Twenty months later...

Oh... the agony. This training was going to kill him. Sure, he wanted to get into the Brotherhood, or at least be one of their soldiers, but how could anyone survive this?

As time was finally called, the new pretransition candidate sagged because the class on hand-to-hand was finally over. But he didn't dare show any more weakness than that.

Like all the trainees he was terrified and in awe of their teacher, a great, scarred warrior, a full member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Rumors abounded about the male: that he ate lessers after he killed them; that he murdered females for sport; that his scars were his doing just because he liked pain...

That he'd killed recruits for making mistakes.

"Hit the showers," the warrior said, his deep voice filling the gym. "Bus is waiting for you. We start tomorrow, four sharp. So sleep up good tonight."

The trainee ran out with the others and was grateful to hit the showers. God... At least the rest of his class were just as relieved and sore. They were all like cows at this point, just standing under the spray, barely blinking, stupid from exhaustion.

Thank the good Virgin, he wouldn't have to go back onto those godforsaken blue mats for another sixteen hours.

Except as he went to put on his street clothes, he realized he'd forgotten his sweatshirt. With a cringe he shot down the hall and sneaked back into the gym...

The trainee stopped dead.

The teacher was across the way, shirtless and sparring with a punching bag, his nipple rings flashing as he danced around his target. Dear Virgin in the Fade ... He bore the marks of a blood slave, and scars ran all the way down his back. But, man, he could move. He had incredible strength and agility and power. Deadly. Very deadly. Totally deadly.

The trainee knew he should leave, but he was unable to look away. He'd never seen anything snap out so fast or strike so hard as the males fists. Obviously, the rumors about the instructor were all true. He was a flat-out killer.

With a metal clank, a door opened at the other end of the gym, and the sound of a newborn's cries echoed up into the high ceiling. The warrior stopped in midpunch and wheeled around as a lovely female carrying a young in a pink blanket came over to him. His face softened, positively melted.

"Sorry to bother you," the female said over the wailing. "But she wants her daddy."

The warrior kissed the female as he took the small young into his heavy arms, cradling the newborn against his bare chest. The baby girl reached her tiny hands up and around his neck, then settled into his skin, calming instantly.

The warrior turned and looked across the mats, pegging the new trainee with a level stare. "Bus is coming soon, son. You better hurry."

Then he winked, and he turned away, putting his hand on the female's waist, pulling her close to him, kissing her again on the mouth.

The recruit stared at the warrior's back, seeing what had been hidden by all that vicious movement. Over some of his scars there were two names in the Old Language in his skin, one on top of the other.

Bella... And Nalla.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood Series is on fire....

"Best new series I've read in years! Now here's a band of

brothers who know how to show a girl a good time."

¡ªLisa Gardner

"The Brotherhood is the hottest collection of

studs in romance, and I can't wait for the next one! "

¡ªAngela Knight

"A fabulous treat for romance readers!"

¡ªNicole Jordan

"An awesome, instantly addictive debut novel.

Dark fantasy lovers, you just got served."

¡ªLynn Viehl

Read on for a sneak peek at the fourth

book in the series....

LOVER REVEALED

Butch O'Neal is a fighter by nature. A hard-living ex-homicide cop, he's the only human ever to be allowed into the inner circle of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. And he wants to go even deeper into the vampire world, into the war with the Lessers. If he can't have the female vampire he loves, then at least he can fight side by side with the Brothers...

Fate curses him with the very thing he wants. When Butch sacrifices himself to save a vampire from the slayers, he falls prey to the darkest force in the war. Butch is left for dead, and the Brotherhood calls on Marissa to bring him back, but even her love may not be enough to save him...

P.S. Don't miss the first two books in the series, Dark Lover and Lover Eternal.

Oh, dear Virgin in the Fade, Marissa thought.

Butch hadn't showed at First Meal. And no one had seen him or Vishous. Two hours... he was two hours late for meeting with her.

When she heard someone approach, she turned around.

It was Vishous, not Butch, who came into the room. The Brother was wearing black leathers and heavy black boots, but he had on a fine white shirt. Turnbull & Asser. She recognized the cut. Something told her he'd put it on just to see her.

"Tell me he is alive," she said. "Save my life right here and now, and tell me he is alive."

Vishous nodded. "He's alive."

Her knees buckled in relief. "But he isn't coming, is he?"

"No. Tomorrow night. You'll see him then."

As they stared at each other, Vishous stood in the doorway, overwhelming her even though he was across the room. He was a dangerous male, she thought, and not because of the tattoos beside his eye and the goatee and that warrior body. He was cold to the core, and someone that removed was capable of anything.

In the heavy silence, she feared both him and the news he brought.

"Where is he?" she asked.

"He's okay."

"Then why isn't he here?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "I want you to tell me what's happened."

"Just a quick fight."

A. Quick. Fight. "I want to see him."

"Like I said, he's not here."

"Is he at my brother's?"

"No."

"And you're not going to tell me where, are you?"

"He's going to call you in a little bit."

"Was it with the lessers?" All Vishous did was continue to stare at her, and panic kicked her heart into overdrive. She couldn't bear for Butch to be involved in this war. Look what had already been done to him. "Tell me. Goddamn it, tell me, you smug bastard."

Only silence. Which of course answered the question. And also suggested that Vishous didn't care whether she had a good opinion of him.

Marissa gathered up her skirts and marched over to the Brother. She had to crane her neck to meet him in the eye. God, he was so much bigger than Butch. And those eyes, those diamond white eyes with the midnight blue lines around the irises. Cold. So very cold.

"I don't want Butch fighting."

One black eyebrow cocked. "Not your call."

"It's too dangerous for him."

"If he is an asset, and he's willing, he'll be used."

"I don't like the Brotherhood at this moment," she blurted out.

She started to go past him, and his hand shot out, grabbing her arm and jerking her close, holding her though not hurting her. His glittering eyes went over her face and her neck.

"You know, you really are the great beauty of the species, aren't you."

"No... no, I am not."

"Yeah, you are." Vishous's voice got lower and lower, softer, until she wasn't sure whether she was hearing it or he was in her mind. "Butch would be a wise choice for you, female. He'd take good care of you, if you'd let him. Will you, Marissa? Or are you just playing him?"

Those diamond eyes hypnotized her, and she felt his thumb go over her wrist. As it stroked back and forth, her heart rate gradually slowed to the lazy rhythm. She swayed.

"Answer my question, Marissa."

"What... what did you ask?"

"Will you let him be your mate?" Vishous leaned down, his mouth at her ear. "Will you let him take you?"

"Yes..." she breathed, aware that they were talking about sex, but too seduced in the moment not to reply. "I will take him within me."

That hard hand loosened, then stroked her arm, moving over her skin warmly, strongly. He looked down at where he was touching her, an expression of deep concentration on his face. "Good. That's good. The two of you are beautiful together. A fucking inspiration. But I want you to remember something. You hurt him again, and I will consider you my enemy. We clear?"

The male turned on his heel and stalked out of the room.

Butch paced around the mansion's library, feeling caged by the bookcases full of leather-bound classics. They reminded him of all he hadn't read, all that literary culture bullshit he'd never been a part of, all the higher education he hadn't had.

Street smarts were his deal, and he'd always thought that was enough.

Except now he wished he was a fricking Rhodes Scholar.

With a curse, he forced himself to chill by the fireplace. Looking into the flames, he fiddled with the collar of his silk shirt. Smoothed the jacket of his Prada suit. Checked his shoes to make sure there were no scuffs on the Gucci loafers. He wanted to be perfect for his female. After all the misunderstandings and... the other thing, he prayed they finally had a shot at a future.

So he wanted to at least look as if he were worthy of her.

The smell of an ocean breeze drifted into the room, and Butch closed his eyes, dragging the fragrance down deep into his lungs. He had to brace himself as he turned around.

Oh, Christ, she's beautiful.

Marissa appeared in the doorway like an angel, and his mind momentarily seized up, seeing her not as real, but as a figment of his obsession. Her pale yellow gown and her hip-length blond hair seemed like a divine aura and her body became the apparition of beauty he'd seen in his dreams... and his nightmares. As she looked across the room at him, his pathetic, racing heart transformed her into a vision right out of his Catholic childhood: the Madonna of salvation and love. And he, her unworthy servant.

"Hello, Butch." Her voice was soft, gentle. Devastating.

"Marissa." This woman... this vampire... was everything he'd ever wanted and nothing he'd dared ask for. Too good for him on his very best day.

And so help him God, he wanted her.

Yet as she came into the room, he ditched the hearts-and-flowers stuff. Jesus, look at how weak she was. She moved slowly, as if she couldn't feel her legs, and she was terribly pale, nearly transparent from a lack of energy.

Her words, too, were as thin as breath. "Butch... we need to talk."

He inhaled as he nodded. "I know what you're going to say."

"You do?"

"Yeah." He started across the room toward her, arms out. "Don't you know I would do anything for¡ª"

"Don't come any closer." She shuffled backward, bouncing up against a panel of matching bloodred volumes. "You've got to stay away from me."

He dropped his hands. "You need to feed, don't you?"

Her eyes widened. "Yes. How did you¡ª"

"It's all right, baby." He smiled a little, aware of a blast of heat flaring in his body. "It's very all right."

"So you know what I've got to do? And you do not... mind?"

He shook his head. "I'm fine with it. More than fine."

"Oh, thank God." She lurched over to a sofa and sat down as if her knees had given way. "I was so afraid you'd be offended. It'll be hard on me as well, but it's the only safe way. And I can't wait any longer. It has to be tonight."

This time, when he came closer, she let him. He knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his. God, they were cold. He rubbed them back and forth in his palms, warming them.

"Come on," he said, aware of a thick anticipation. "Let's go."

A curious expression crossed her face. "You want to watch?"

He stilled their mingled hands. "Watch?"

"I, ah... I'm not sure that's a good idea. You can get a little protective¡ª"

"Wait¡ªwatch?" He became aware of a sinking feeling in his gut. Like someone had popped the stoppers on a number of his internal organs. "What are you talking about, watch?"

"When I'm with the male who lets me take his vein."

Abruptly, Marissa recoiled, giving him a good idea of what the expression on his face must be like. Yeah, or maybe she was reacting to the fact that he'd started to growl.

Butch jacked up to his feet. "The hell you're using another man. You have me."

"Butch, I can't feed from you. I'll take too—Where are you going?"

He stalked across the room, shut the double doors, and locked them in together. As he came back at her, he tossed his jacket onto the floor and ripped open his shirt so that the buttons popped off. Falling to his knees in front of her, he tilted back his head and offered his throat, himself, to her.

"Use me."

There was a long silence as their stares warred. Then her scent, that gorgeous clean fragrance, intensified until it flooded the room. Her body began to shake, her mouth opening. As her fangs unsheathed, he got an instant erection.

"Oh... yeah," he said in a dark voice. "Drink from me. I need to feed you."

"No," she moaned, tears glowing in her pale blue eyes.

She made a move to get up, but he launched at her, taking her by the shoulders, holding her down on the couch. He moved himself between her legs, bringing their bodies together. She trembled against him and pushed at him and he kept her close... until suddenly she was gripping the two halves of his shirt. And pulling him in tight.

"That's right, baby," he growled. "You grab on to me. Let me feel those fangs get into me deep. I want it."

He palmed the back of her head and brought her mouth to his throat. An arc of pure sexual power exploded between them, and they both began to pant, her breath and tears hot on his skin.

But then she seemed to come to her senses. She struggled hard, and he did his best to keep her in place, even though he knew he was going to lose the fight against her soon. As he was just a human, she was physically stronger than he, even though he outweighed her.

"Marissa, please, take me," he groaned, his voice hoarse from the struggle and now the begging.

"No..."

His heart broke as she sobbed, but he didn't let her go. He couldn't. "Take what's inside of me. I know I'm not good enough, but take me anyway."

"Don't make me do this."

"I have to." God, he felt like crying with her.

"Butch..." Her body bucked, strained against his. "I can't hold back... for much longer... Let me go... before I hurt you."

"Never."

It happened so fast. His name shot out of her on a yell and then he felt a searing blaze of pain at the side of his throat.

Her fangs sinking into his jugular.

"Oh... God... yes... !" He loosened his grip, cradling her as she latched onto his neck. He called out her name as he felt a powerful, erotic draw on his vein. Pleasure swamped him, sparks flowing all through his body as if he were orgasming.

This was so the way it had to be. He needed her to take from him so she could live¡ª

Marissa broke the contact abruptly and dematerialized right out of his arms.

He fell headfirst into the empty air where she'd been, face-planting into the sofa cushions. He shoved himself up and spun around.

"Marissa! Marissa!"

He threw himself at the door and clawed at the lock, but couldn't budge it. And then he heard her broken, desperate voice on the other side.

"I'll kill you... God help me, I'll kill you... I want you too much."

He pounded on the door. "Let me out!"

"I'm sorry¡ª" Her voice cracked then grew strong, and he feared her resolve more than anything else. "I'm so sorry. I'll come to you afterwards. After it is done."

"Marissa, don't do this¡ª"

"I love you."

He beat at the wood with his fists. "I don't care if I die!"

The lock sprang free, and he burst into the front hall. The vestibule's door was just easing shut. He ran for it flat-out.

But by the time he got out into the courtyard, she was gone.

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