Death Defying ONLY
a Dark Desires novel by Nina Croft
Captain Tannis of the starship El Cazador is part snake, part human, and—according to some—all bitch. She is one job away from her lifelong goal—to achieve the immortality she craves. The assignment: protecting the most powerful man in the Universe.
After five hundred years, Callum Meridian, founding member of the Collective, is bored out of his mind. Until he realizes he’s physically changing—into what, he isn’t sure. Callum is determined to discover the truth, but his own people will stop at nothing to prevent it from coming out.
With a coup brewing and the crew of El Cazador close to tossing him off the ship, Callum turns to Tannis. Sparks fly as they work together to make it out alive. But can Callum really trust the one woman hell bent on using him? Defying death has never been more dangerous, more sexy, or more fun.
Title: Death Defying
Series: Dark Desires, #3
Author: Nina Croft
Genre: Accessible Science Fiction
Length: 312 pages
Release Date: February 2014
Imprint: Select Otherworld
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
The Dark Desires series by Nina Croft
Book 1: Break Out
Book 2: Deadly Pursuit
Book 3: Death Defying – you are here
Book 4: Temporal Shift
An Excerpt from:
by Nina Croft
Copyright © 2014 by Nina Croft. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Tannis lay in the darkness, every muscle locked rigid as she waited for the guard to pass. Instead, he halted outside her door. Her heart stuttered to a standstill, and then started a rapid beat that threatened to explode from her chest.
Oh, God, oh, God.
She pressed her fist to her mouth so hard she tasted the metallic sweetness of her own blood.
No one had been near her in a week. She’d known what that meant. However much she hated the experiments, the alternative was far worse.
The harsh rasp of her breath sounded loud in her ears. She wanted desperately to hide. But there was nowhere to go. The cell she had lived in for the last fourteen years was a mere ten feet by ten feet, with bare white walls and only a small cot bed for furniture.
She had two choices. Submit or fight. Not really choices at all. Sliding her hand beneath the thin mattress, she fumbled for the makeshift knife, wrapping her trembling fingers around the
FiFteen years ago…
The hulking figure of Grady, one of her guards, stood
silhouetted in the doorway. Then he flicked the switch on his belt and light flooded the small room. Tannis’s grip tightened around the knife and she swung her legs off the cot and sat up. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe he hadn’t come to tell her…
But he wouldn’t meet her gaze as he stepped inside and the door shut behind him. “Get your things together. You ship out in the morning.”
As her worst fears were confirmed, nausea rose up, hot and acrid in the back of her throat. She must have made a noise because he shifted uncomfortably, guilt flickering across his face. She hated all the guards. Some were pure evil, but to her mind, Grady’s sort were the worst—they knew they did wrong but still continued.
“I…” He shrugged. “I can’t help—it’s more than my job’s worth.”
In a flash, a tidal wave of black rage drowned out her fear. His job. Her life. No competition.
She gritted her teeth against the need to leap at him, tear him
with her nails, sink her teeth into his flesh. But he’d just put her in restraints if she did, and tonight she needed to be free. The long years had taught her to hide her feelings, to keep the rage and terror locked tight inside.
He turned to go and she pushed herself up off the bed and took a step toward him, hiding the hand with the knife at her side. She couldn’t let him leave.
He turned back a question in his eyes and she stretched her lips in the semblance of a smile. “Don’t go.”
Grady wanted her; she had seen him watching with his pale, protuberant eyes. She had to use that, however repugnant.
One chance, that’s all she would have. Tomorrow, they would
send her to the Meridian mines, and a slow and agonizing death. It seemed like all her life, she’d lived with that fear hanging over her. She’d known that once her usefulness was over, once they had learned what they could from her particular genetic mix, they would dispose of her like so much trash. And at eighteen, she wasn’t ready to die. She wanted to live so badly, she could taste the need like acid on her tongue.
She had the knife and perhaps another weapon. They regularly drained the venom from the glands at the base of her incisors, but nobody had been near her in days. All she had to do was get close enough.
She would do this, or die trying. As she accepted that, her fears calmed, her mind cleared and went to a peaceful place where the world seemed to slow down.
Taking the few steps toward him, she came to a halt only inches away, and gazed up into his fat, ugly face. “Please, Grady. Don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
Shock flared in his eyes, but he was definitely listening.
“Just hold me,” she whispered. “Tomorrow it’s over. I’m going to die, and I’ve never even kissed a man.”
Jesus, would he actual believe this crap? Hysterical laughter rose up in her throat as his face softened. The stupid oaf was probably deluding himself into believing he was doing her a favor. For a minute, he appeared undecided, and Tannis held her breath. Then he gave a slight nod.
Relief made her limp.
She took the last step, which brought her flush against him. So close that the scent of hot, acrid sweat and of his body flooded her nostrils. Swallowing her revulsion, she lifted her hand to curl around his neck. He was a good six inches taller, and she had to tug him down in order to reach his throat. She pressed her lips to his skin, and his hands came around her. Panic clawed at her insides, and every cell of her being fought the urge to tear free.
Parting her lips, she tasted the saltiness of his skin, and almost gagged. Instead, she bit down hard, her incisors piercing his flesh, his hot blood flooding her mouth. He tried to back away, but she wrapped her arm tight around his neck and clung, as the venom pumped into his system.
As the first spasm hit his body, she brought up the knife, her hand slippery with sweat, and stabbed him in the neck. She hit the jugular and blood spurted from the wound, blinding her for a moment.
Blinking, she stepped back as he fell to his knees, then crashed to the floor. She stood staring down as a final spasm shook his body and finally, he lay still.
Tannis backed away, snatching the sheet from the bed and scrubbing her face while she waited to feel some sort of exhilaration. Instead, all she felt was numb.
The thick cloying scent of blood was heavy on the air and suddenly she doubled over and fell to her knees, retching. After a minute, she swiped her hand across her mouth, and then sat while she considered her next move. Killing Grady was the easy part. Now, she had to get out of her cell, then off the research station, and she had no clue how. Maybe stow away on a ship. But in the back of her mind, she knew she was kidding herself. She would never get off this place alive; they would kill her first. But better that than the mines.
Pushing herself to her feet, she crossed the room to study the body. The knife was still lodged deep in his throat, and she reached down and tugged it free, wiping the blade on his shirt before slipping it into her pocket.
The doors were controlled by hand prints. Grady was big, but she was strong, and she dragged the body across the room. He was a dead weight; she almost smiled at the thought as she maneuvered him into position, leaning him against the wall so she could press his palm to the panel. For a moment, nothing happened, then the
door slid open with a hiss, and she allowed Grady to slump to the tiled floor.
Out in the corridor, all was quiet. Despair threatened to swamp her as she stood glancing both ways. She needed to get to the docking bay, but she had no clue which direction to take.
Tannis jumped at the sound of the low voice. Had she been discovered already? She could see no one, but then he spoke again.
The voice came from another of the cells that lined the corridor. She edged forward and peered through the grill in the center of the door. A man stood on the other side, and she gasped. He was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, with high cheekbones and dark eyes, midnight black hair that hung loose to his shoulders. But lines of exhaustion etched his face, and his long, lean body propped against the wall as though the effort to stand was too much
He stared at her through the grill. “Hey snake-girl—you’ve killed the guard?”
She frowned. “How did you know?”
He breathed in deeply, then licked his lips. “I can smell the blood.”
A shudder ran through her at the hunger in his eyes, and she made to turn away.
She hesitated, and he spoke quickly. “You’ll never get off this place on your own. They’ll kill you if you try. But I can help you— trust me.”
“I don’t think so. And how? How can you help me?”
“I have a ship. I can get us both away. Get me out of this cell, and I promise I’ll get you out of this shithole.”
She glanced down the corridor, her feet itching to run. But
what choice did she have? On her own, she would fail. But could she put her trust in a stranger? There was a darkness and hunger in his eyes, something not quite human, but despite that, she sensed no evil. Then he smiled and the darkness vanished. She bit her lip and nodded.
The cell looked the same as hers, presumably with the same security. She just hoped that Grady had access. “I’ll be right back,” she muttered.
Back in her own cell, she stood looking down at Grady; his open eyes stared back, bulging with shock.
He was too big. No way could she drag his body all that way. Taking the knife from her pocket, she crouched down beside him. The blade slid easily through the flesh but stuck at the bone, and she gritted her teeth and sawed. Finally, the she wrenched hand free and lifted it up gingerly.
She made to stand up, but something caught her eye and she crouched again. Grady’s shirt bore the company’s insignia, and she ripped it off. One day, if she got away, she was going to make them pay for what they’d done to her. To her sister. This would serve as a reminder, and she shoved the scrap of material in her pocket.
Back at the stranger’s cell, she peered inside. Relief flared in his eyes—he’d thought her gone. She lifted the severed hand to show him, then pressed it palm down to the panel. The door slid open and she let out her breath. Maybe there was a small chance she would get out of here after all, and a first flicker of hope awoke inside her.
The man stood just inside the door. She was tall, but he was far taller. His nostrils flared, and at the last moment, her mind screamed at her to run. Too late.
Faster than she could follow, he reached for her, his fingers biting into her shoulders. She had no time to struggle, just the impression of vast, inhuman strength as he hauled her into the
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. Then he turned her in his arms and
dragged her against him with an arm wrapped around her below her breasts. His cool breath shivered across her skin, as his teeth sank into her throat.
No pain, just a rhythmic tugging that pulled at places deep inside her. The life was draining from her body as he fed voraciously, his hunger an almost palpable thing. Darkness grew behind her eyes, the light faded to a pinprick, then nothing.
When she came to, she was moving. It took her a second to realize she was clasped in somebody’s arms, held against a rock- hard body. Blinking open her heavy lids, she looked straight up into the handsome face of the blood-sucking monster. Instinctively, she struggled, but his arms tightened around her, holding her easily, and she forced herself to relax. She wasn’t dead, and that was a surprise—she’d really thought it was over.
“You bit me,” she said, her tone accusing.
He glanced down. His eyes were no longer dark, but tinged with crimson. “Hey, I said I was sorry. I had to eat, or we weren’t going anywhere.” He studied her through narrowed eyes. “Dios, I hope you’re not the type to hold a grudge.”
“What are you?” she asked.
“I’m your worst nightmare, darling.” He grinned. “Actually, I’m a vampire, but I’m also the vampire who’s going to get you off this crap place.”
A vampire? She’d thought they were the stuff of legends. “Where are we going?”
“To my ship—if she’s still here. If not we’ll find another.”
He carried her in silence for a while and she closed her eyes.
The night had taken on a surreal quality, and she was filled with a sense of fatalism as though what would happen was now out of her hands. When he came to a halt, she opened her lids reluctantly.
“The Cazador’s still here.”
She heard the satisfaction in his voice and peered over his shoulder. Through the doorway, she could see a large open area that must be the docking bay. A space cruiser stood at the far side of the room, sleek and black with her name written in silver along the side. “El Cazador de la Sangre,” she murmured. “What does that mean?”
“The Blood Hunter.”
Her gaze flew to his face. “Oh.”
He flashed her a smile that revealed the tips of his razor sharp
fangs, and she shuddered, her hand lifting to touch the small wound at her neck.
Two guards came into view, patrolling the area in front of the ship. Her heart sank. How could they take on armed guards? They’d be cut down before they got anywhere close to the ship.
The vampire lowered her gently. For a second, her legs refused to hold her and she gripped on to his shirt as the room swam around her. “I feel woozy.”
“Blood-loss. I took a little too much, but you’ll be fine.”
He studied the ship and the guards, then turned back to her. “Can you walk?”
She pushed herself away from the wall, testing her legs and nodded.
“Okay. I want you to approach the guard on the left, distract him, and hopefully draw the other one closer.”
She glanced across at the heavily armed guard. “What if he shoots me?”
“He won’t—well probably not.” He reached across and ripped the shoulder of her dress, baring the curve of her breast. “Just to increase the odds. Now off you go.”
Tannis glared at him for a second, then shrugged. She limped onto the docking bay, doing her best to look pathetic—it wasn’t hard. Both guards swung around to face her. She didn’t recognize either man so hopefully they wouldn’t recognize her. At least they
made no move for their weapons.
“Help,” she whispered then crumpled gracelessly to the
floor. The guards hurried over. One crouched down next to her; the other hovered behind. There was a blur of movement. The standing guard vanished from her sight. Blood sprayed over her as the body was hurled across the room.
The second guard fumbled for his weapon but too slowly. He was yanked away before he could draw the pistol. Tannis rolled onto her feet, rubbing the blood from her face. The vampire had the man in a death grip, his fangs buried in the guard’s throat. She watched fascinated as he drank convulsively, his face a rigid mask, all signs of humanity obliterated.
He finally released his grip, and the body collapsed to the floor. Wiping his hand across his mouth, he grinned. “Let’s get out of here.”
She shivered. Was she right to put her life in the hands of such a creature? But then again, she hadn’t fared too well with humans up to now; why not try trusting the monsters instead? Could they really be any worse?
She nodded and took a step toward him, as more guards appeared in the open doorway.
“Shit,” he muttered, but he was still grinning. He was enjoying himself.
Was he totally crazy?
Reaching down he tugged the laser pistol from the holster at the dead guard’s waist and tossed it to her. Then he lunged for the second body, grabbed the pistol, and was shooting as he straightened.
Someone got off a shot. It flashed by and, behind her, the vampire cursed. Then the men were down.
Tannis stared at the weapon in her hand. She had absolutely no clue what to do with it. Then he was beside her. Grabbing her hand, he rearranged it so her finger rested on what she presumed
was the trigger.
“Just press that. Now let’s get out of here.
She took a step and a wave of weakness washed over her. She
swayed and the vampire swept her into his arms.
He grinned down at her. “What’s your name, sweetheart?” “Well it’s not ‘sweetheart’.” She shrugged. “I’m Tannis.”
He studied her for a moment, head cocked to one side.
“Tannis—it’s a good name for a snake-girl. So, Tannis”—he nodded toward his ship—“you want to be captain?”
She almost smiled at the idea. “Aren’t you the captain?”
“Dios, no—I’m the pilot—the captain has way too much responsibility.”
“So what happened to your last captain?”
“I guess he didn’t make it.” His grip tightened on her. “Crap. More incoming.” He leapt for the cover of a pillar and whirled around so his back was to the metal.
“Where will we go?” she asked.
“That depends on what you want to do. What do you want, Tannis?”
She didn’t have to think.“I want to be one of the Collective—I want to be immortal, and then I want to come back, and I want to destroy this place and everyone in it.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The first shot rang out. It must have caught him in the arm. He swore and the scent of scorched flesh filled her nostrils.
“You shoot. I’ll run.” And he set off racing toward the ship. Tannis peered over his shoulder to the doorway. It was crammed full of guards all drawing their weapons. Stretching out her arm, she screwed up her eyes and pressed her finger to the
trigger. And kept it pressed.
“Good shooting,” the vampire said. “But you can stop now.” She peeked through her lashes. Bodies littered the ground. He was running up the ramp.
They came to a halt at the top and he shifted her in his arms so he could reach out one hand and press it palm down to the panel. The double-doors slid open just as a movement behind her caught her gaze.
“How the hell many more are there?” He almost hurled her into the ship so she crashed to the floor, then dived in after her as a blast of laser shots slammed into the ramp where they’d been standing seconds ago. Tannis lay on her side, heart thundering as he crawled across the floor, shooting with one hand. The guards were close, already running onto the ramp.
They were going to die and she’d never felt more alive in her entire life.
Then the vampire slammed his fist on the panel and the doors closed with a hiss.
He glanced across as beneath her, the floor rumbled and the engines fired up. Wiping the blood from his face, he caught her gaze and cast her a wicked grin.
“Welcome to El Cazador, captain.”
At his words, a burst of laughter escaped her. The sound was strange—and she realized she couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed. But she was alive and she was a captain. For a second she lay on her back and giggled. Probably hysterics, but right now she didn’t care.
Finally, rolling onto her side, she watched as the vampire pulled himself to his feet and brushed himself down.
She took a deep breath. “So who are you?” “Ricardo Sanchez—Rico to my friends.” “And what do you want, Rico?”
“Hell, I just want to have fun.”