Warrior, lover…savior. A winged avenger with chocolate feathers and lavender eyes haunts Tamar Ridgeway’s dreams—her erotic escape after surviving a horrible plane crash and enduring years of painful physical therapy. But fantasy becomes terrifying reality when she’s attacked by a mythical creature from her darkest nightmares. Now her sexy warrior is vowing to save her, whether she wants his protection or not.
Nicolai Abioud, judge and executioner of the hippogryph, is stunned when the woman he rescues is the same who submits to him nightly in his dreams…and a replica of his dead wife. He’s fascinated by her beauty and spirit, consumed by the craving to touch…to take. Yet he lost his one true bondmate five-hundred years ago. And falling for a human—no matter how beautiful—is a foolish risk. But the choice to love may be snatched away. Danger is closing in. They must conquer their enemy and fears. Or be doomed to lose the love of a millennium.
Dusk bullied its way across the skyline, the rolling bank of gray and black clouds forcing daylight to pick up its ball and go home.
Nicolai Abioud studied the fast-moving mass as several stories beneath him the denizens of the dark stirred and crept out of their hiding places, ready to go about their business of the encroaching night. The rundown five-story building he crouched on top of probably hosted all manner of illicit activities. Drug addicts and prostitutes peered out of windows as jagged as their souls, scouting the dirty, garbage-littered streets for patrolling cops or predators more vicious then they.
He was such a predator.
Only he had bigger prey to bag.
He scanned the obsidian alleys, his raptor’s eyes sighting even the smallest scurry. Below, a scantily clad woman led an old man down the passageway. As she maneuvered him behind the large dumpster, she glanced toward the sky as if sensing the hunter who perched above her.
Even if she could spot Nico, her concern would’ve been misplaced. Her wariness was better reserved for the other who stalked these streets.
He didn’t glance over his shoulder as the low, sandpaper-over-gravel voice echoed inside his head. The heavy strokes of wings against air had reached his ears several moments ago.
“Yes?” he asked aloud. The prostitute had finished her transaction and was headed toward the mouth of the alley. Either she had a blue-ribbon-talented mouth or the man had a two-second fuse. Nicolai was betting on the latter.
“There’s no sign of him,” Lukas Gallo reported along the telepathic link they shared. “Maybe he’s moved on.”
“No.” Nicolai met the steady, ice-blue gaze of his second-in-command and one of the three males he led. Tonight Lukas hunted with him. The other two warriors—Adon Laskaris and Dorian Zarides—searched for traces of their prey on the east side of the city. Together the three males formed the krinos, the select, highly trained fighting unit that served under the Dimios, their people’s executioner. Or Nicolai.
On the rooftop, Lukas’ obsidian plumage, wings and body seemed to swallow the shades around him, a worm hole sucking the shadows into his huge bulk. Only his arctic gaze and the distinctive three white stripes across his back relieved the midnight feathers, equestrian hindquarters and tail.
"This is prime hunting ground for him. He’s not finished,” Nicolai murmured.
A sigh whispered down their connection. “We were almost too late to cover up his last kill. Even Evander wouldn’t risk the exposure another would bring.”
“No?” Nicolai arched his eyebrow. “He’s a rogue, Lukas. By the very definition, he doesn’t give a fuck about rules. And he damn sure doesn’t care if he reveals us to the human world. It’s a game to him,” he rasped, returning his gaze to the streets that grew more active, teemed with more people…more quarry for the kill. “Us. Them. We’re all pawns in this screwed up version of Clue to which only he knows the rules.”
Lukas remained silent at the words that sounded bitter to Nicolai’s own ears. Evander Agnew, the latest of his people to go rogue. Over the last four months, he’d cut a bloody trail through Europe and now here to North America. The kills had been spread out and Nicolai, Lukas, Adon and Dorian had worked swiftly to cover them up. But Evander didn’t show any signs of stopping. The humans had no idea a monster out of their mythical lore—and their worst nightmares—had been unleashed on them.
And Nicolai had trained the sadistic bastard.
As the Dimios, the race’s judge, jury and executioner, it fell to Nicolai to hunt Evander and bring him down just as Nicolai had done all other rogues who’d gone off the proverbial reservation.
Hunting his brethren, executing them and preserving the secrecy of his people’s existence were Nicolai’s responsibilities—had been for eight-hundred years. As long as the hippogryph had been in existence, they had those who’d gone rogue for one reason or another—resentment over the restrictions governing their exposure to the world, exile or bloodlust.
Whether they were angry, power hungry or deranged, he’d pursued them all. Yes, he experienced regret over some of the punishments, but it had never been personal.
Until Evander—an elite warrior Nicolai had trained and a trusted soldier he’d commanded—betrayed him by preying on the weak and defenseless.
Until four months ago when Evander had started his rampage with the murder of Nicolai’s best friend.
Grief writhed in his gut like snakes on a Gorgon’s head. Nicolai, Lukas, Adon, Dorian—they accepted their deaths were possible every time they pursued a rogue and engaged in battle. But Bastien hadn’t signed up for that. He’d been a healer, not a warrior. Yet Evander had targeted Bastien because he’d been Nicolai’s friend. Just to hurt Nicolai, Evander had stolen the life of a good man.
For that the betrayer would die. If Nicolai had to track him for the rest of his existence, he would destroy this rogue.
"Nico, let me take this one,” Lukas urged. “You’re too personally involved—”
“Forget it,” Nicolai snapped. A loud crack rent the air and he glanced down, startled his black talons had stabbed the edge of the roof. Fine fissures zigzagged over the railing and chunks of cement littered the ground. Lifting his head, he met Lukas’ censorious gaze. Juveniles half-shifted as they learned to dominate their beast. For an adult—especially a nine-hundred-year-old warrior—to do so meant a loss of control. Dangerous for one whose duty required he discipline not just himself but an entire race of people. “Forget it,” he repeated, voice grim. He eyed his second-in-command until Lukas lowered his sleek black head, a sign of the male’s submission. “We hunt here tonight. And we’ll keep on until we find the demented bastard and take him out.”
The cold, grim words echoed in the night air as Nicolai leaped onto the high narrow ledge, landing in a crouch. He splayed his fingers on the rough concrete, maintaining his balance as he reexamined the murky expanse of sky. The dense blanket of pollution hid the twinkle of stars and obscured the moon’s pearlescent glow. A shaft of longing for the clean, fresh air of his home pierced him. If he breathed deep, he could almost taste the rain-scented breeze that blew over the private peninsula off the Washington state coast. There the stars glittered like bright diamonds scattered across a velvet cloth by a celestial hand.
As different from this place as shit from shine.
“Lukas.” Nicolai squinted at a sizeable, dingy cloud sailing at a slightly faster clip than the others. Something about the odd shape…and when the moon’s beam struck it…
“That’s him,” he growled. Not waiting for Lukas’ reply, he dove off the ledge, arms outstretched, head thrown back. Magic sizzled from the soles of his feet, blazed a path up his legs, thighs, to his gut and chest and shot to his shoulder blades and legs. It consumed him. Bone snapped and popped, muscle and tendon contorted. His head rounded and formed a large, high-arched beak and shaggy crest as feathers sprouted along his arms and back. Two pairs of legs—the front pair talon-tipped and the back hoofed—stretched and kicked as his wings beat hard one, twice, and the hippogryph’s powerful, magnificent body climbed high into air. At the same time he cast a gyges, the magical net rendering him invisible to the human eye.
Beside him, Lukas’ black half-eagle-half-stallion beast appeared and together they streaked through the sky after their prey.
“Stay back,” Nicolai ordered through the telepathic link. Lukas’ head snapped to the side, his arctic blue eyes glittering with shock and growing anger. Before the other hippogryph could voice an objection, Nicolai growled, “Don’t interfere. That’s an order.”