And so without further ado, here's our last sneak peek of SNF.
Luka & Caylie
6 Months Ago
Her eighteenth birthday was going to suck. She meant it in a literal sense, knowing she was only a few seconds away of having her throat sucked by a horribly aroused Caro male.
She leaned back against the club’s cold granite wall, indifferent to the hot, jerky breaths against her throat. Her sensitive ears picked up the second the sound of fangs flashed out, her skin prickling as the guy’s body over hers trembled in ill-suppressed excitement.
He was incredibly aroused and getting more so with each second that she let pass without moving away. Any moment now, he would be able to taste her in the most primal sense for all Caros, something similar to having public sex.
The other guests in the bar weren’t bothering to hide the fascination in their gazes. Caylie could feel their eyes feasting on her and this – this nameless guy – over her body. She knew what they were thinking. The Caylie Sonora everyone knew, once as untouchable as the sun, was no more. This Caylie was different and darker, the embodiment of all their forbidden desires.
Almost every guy in the club were panting, their fangs threatening to burst out the longer Caylie did nothing to prevent a nobody from mauling her in full view of everyone.
Her eyes shot wide open at the sound of that terribly beautiful name, her attention immediately drawn to the 3D TV screen mounted in one corner of the bar. As this was a Caro establishment, there was no need to pretend they were humans. They served drinks with blood, played music so loud human ears would have long started to bleed, and the TV tuned in to a Caro-owned network that required special wiring and coding to access.
“Officially endorsed by the Lyccan Council…strong contender for the Advisor position...maybe no longer an eligible bachelor by the end of the year?”
Something inside Caylie snapped as she heard the last juicy bit of rumor the reporter was delivering with relish.
The scene with the reporter faded, but he continued with a voiceover as the screen revealed a politely smiling Luka stepping out of his limousine. Young, dashing, powerful, and with a fucking overly made-up bitch at his side.
Caylie hissed in contempt. A nouveau riche upstart. Was that what he was into these days? Maybe this cheap bitch was so kinky that she made Caylie look boring?
Her heart shuddered with rage as the woman at his side tiptoed to blow into his ear, like it needed a tornado to get clean. Really? That was what he wanted? A cougar who liked to play porn-style janitor in public?
She waited for Luka to move away at the disgusting display of intimacy, but he did not. If anything, his smile actually widened.
Caylie’s blood went cold – an indication of fear for humans but for Caros it was a warning – a sign of the most devastating fury.
Even after so many months of crying, of going through a thousand what-if situations in her mind, Caylie still could not understand why he had left her, why Luka had to throw her away in such a publicly humiliating manner when normally even the thought of sneezing in public would have been loathsome for him.
And he had done it at her come-out ball no less, as if Luka wanted to give her every reason to hate him.
She pushed the guy away, no longer uncaring, no longer dead to the world.
Her eyes, glowing midnight black, flicked back to the screen, where Luka had started answering questions, his arm wrapped casually around the woman’s waist.
Her fingers curled, sharp nails almost slicing into the flesh of her palms.
Luka Georgiades was going to pay.
She would damn make sure of it.
Violet eyes turned to midnight black as he pictured his fingers encircling her slender neck before squeezing, punishing her for daring to let another man soil her skin with his touch. When he saw the guy’s mouth open, fangs glistening with saliva as they start to stretch out, his own fangs extended as a snarl rapidly made its way out of his throat.
Claws bit into his shoulders, the pain snatching him back from his murderous hallucinations just before he snapped and killed someone for good. He crashed back to reality with a gasp, the blackness in his eyes taking more than a moment to recede.
“Breathe,” Domenico Moretti urged him quietly. The werewolf prince’s gaze was concerned when he met Luka’s turbulent violet eyes.
“I told you,” Luka said in an uncharacteristically revealing tone as bitterness twisted his perfectly shaped lips into a grim smile. “I can’t handle being this close to her anymore.”
Domenico shook his head sharply. “That’s not true. You can and you will. I won’t lose one of my best allies to vampires just because you’re too fucking---”
“NO.” Luka’s head snapped back to the club, his eyes unerringly finding Caylie amidst the glittering backdrop. He had heard his name on the TV screen, knew what the report would be---
The sight of Caylie pushing off the guy panting above her should have relieved Luka, but it didn't. He could sense her hurt, welling inside her like it came from a bottomless pit. So much pain – was he the one who caused her all that?
That kind of pain didn’t kill, he reminded himself. But if he came back into her life, if he gave in to the temptation of claiming her, the kind of pain it could cause would be irrevocable. If he came back to her, sooner or later Caylie would die – in his own hands and there was no going back after that.
A uniformed guard suddenly blocked the way of my parents, heels clicking hard against the ground when they were about to open the doors leading into the Discipline Hall. The sound echoed in the enormous marbled hallway, and I tried not to shiver. Only this part of the Brethren was free from the gay and busy crowds that filled its magnificently vast and opulently decorated ballrooms every day. This was also the part that all the Caros painstakingly avoided. Once you crossed this hall, there was a chance you’d never come out alive of it.
The guard’s gaze lingered on me. I had a feeling he thought I deserved to be here, with how disgraceful I looked. My hair was a mess, my makeup ruined, and one strap of my sparkly flapper dress was torn, leaving it to rest limply against my bare arm.
Image to Caros was everything, and yet here I was---a living blasphemy of everything our race stood for.
“Our apologies, sir, madam, but only violators may enter.” The guard’s face was expressionless when he spoke.
Violators were just a misdeed away from traitors. Violators could be punished, reprimanded, or tortured but for traitors there was no hope, no stay for execution.
All eyes were suddenly on me – the violator.
Panic eclipsed every emotion I felt for one fraction of a second, but I managed to hold it back. I forced a smile. Caros were never supposed to show their real feelings – and especially not the kind that put us at a disadvantage.
“I’ll go alone.” This was what I wanted. This was what I told myself I would die trying to have – and now was the time to prove it.
I didn’t turn to catch one last look at my parents when the ten-foot-tall steel doors closed behind me, not even when I heard Catherine Sonora’s sharp intake of breath as I gently extricated my hand from her tight grasp. My mom might seem frail, a tiny society blonde who only knew how to spend money – but she was more than that. She was a fighter, but I had a feeling she’d break down if she knew how terrified I was at this moment.
The Discipline Hall was glaringly bright and intensely humid. Sunlight burned my skin here and there, with golden rays managing to sneak past the mosaic art that made up the hall’s ceiling, the rainbow shades of glass leaving stinging spots on my flesh.
The mosaic portrait was like something straight out of an urban fantasy book cover – an Armageddon scene depicted in the most elegant selection of colors. It was but a taste of how violators could be punished, of how Caros still insisted on finding grace and beauty even in the way they inflicted pain.
Our ancient artists had vividly painted with glass vampires dying in a pool of blood in one corner, a murder of vidanges nesting on top of pine trees as they feasted on human flesh, werewolves howling on a full moon atop scraggly mountains while Souris with their pastel-colored wings, the mortal kindred of angels, soared into the midnight sky.
And behind it all was our race, infamous for our standoffish stance in wars between non-human lines. Or at least that was so before it became obvious to everyone that an alliance was all that stood between our race and eventual annihilation.
My eyes were stinging by the time I stopped a small respectful distance away from the judge’s bench, which was twice as large as what you’d normally see in human courtrooms. I had to crane my neck all the way up just to meet the eyes of the reviewer.
Here was yet another expressionless Caro, dressed in Brethren’s judicial robes, hood down to reveal sleek black hair and piercing silver eyes. She was young, probably not more than a few years older, but that wasn’t what shocked me.
Age wasn’t a factor in our society. What made me stumble was the red rim around her left eye. I couldn’t believe someone like her existed and that she was one of our reviewers. I glanced at her eyes again, but the blood rim around her left eye was gone, making me wonder if the Discipline Hall was rigged to make its defendants hallucinate into telling the truth.
“State your case.”
Nails digging deep into my flesh in an effort to keep my voice from shaking, I recited from memory the lines that we were taught as children if we were ever taken as violators of our code. “My name is Caylie Sonora. I am eighteen years old, and I have been sent here in violation of Order #4 under Act 5.”
A minute pause before the reviewer glanced down at the documents she held in one hand. “Five counts of violation listed here – academic failure, inappropriate public behavior in human presence, irresponsible behavior in Caro society, invalid absence from Brethren general assemblies, and lastly – public intake of blood.”
The memory of that one last violation blanketed my gaze, with Brethren guards coming out of nowhere at the club. One second, I was striving hard not to move away, to let a stranger’s fangs sink into my neck, but the next thing I knew I was being arrested, so discreetly that no one – not even all the Caros who had been lost in the throes of liquor-induced pleasure – had known what was taking place under the loud throbbing beat of music.
The reviewer’s gaze met mine. “Plea or bargain, Ms. Sonora?”
“Guilty.” I was probably the only Caro to stand before the reviewer’s bench to say that. To plead guilty was to virtually sign away my life, to let the Brethren do as it will with me.
And yet the reviewer didn’t even bat an eyelash. She asked calmly, “Do you understand the consequences of your actions?”
I bowed my head. “Yes, Invisa.” That was a reviewer’s title in our language, and it was the only way to refer to them. We were prohibited from using their first names the moment they were appointed, a reminder that all their personal ties had to cease the moment they donned a reviewer’s robes.
“I apologize sincerely for it and I would gladly pay for whatever harm I had done our society.” I meant every word. My vendetta was exactly that – mine. If someone had been hurt other than him because of my actions, then so be it. It only meant I had to wait another lifetime to extract vengeance.
The reviewer murmured slowly, “There was no negative result of your actions that had been reported – but there could have been.” Her long nails, painted deep purple, tapped the desk. “I assume you know the standard corrective response for this would be rehabilitation under direct supervision of a Brethren official.”
“Yes, Invisa.” I tried not to hold my breath but couldn’t. This was what I had gambled my entire future for.
Her gaze went back to the documents she held in her hands. “But I have a feeling that if I do that then I would be playing right into your hands.”
I hastily tried to school my expression back into blandness, but it was too late. I had already betrayed myself. I could see it in the way her gaze narrowed.
She leaned back against her seat. “I’m going to ask you three questions – and if you were to answer me untruthfully I would know and there will be no bargain, no hope, no anything to save you from being thrown into the dungeons for fifty years.”
“I will speak the truth, Invisa.” My voice thankfully didn’t shake even as my knees started to feel weak. The weight of her stare was oppressive, as if she was already carving the truth out of my soul. She made me feel small, the way I was so scantily dressed, the way I had led my life for the past sixt months---so terribly unfit to bear our race’s name.
“Will you die for the Brethren?”
I didn’t hesitate to answer. “Yes.”
“Do you believe the Brethren’s decisions are always right?”
This time I paused before saying finally, “No.”
The reviewer smiled. It made her beautiful, but it also made her appear deadlier and I was starting to understand why someone so young had been chosen to hold one of the highest positions in our society.
“And if I were to let you choose who among the Brethren would be your rehabilitators---”
A gasp escaped. Never in my blackest dreams had I thought I would have a chance to choose.
Her smile became a mixture of sweetness and poison. “Who would you choose, Caylie Sonora?”
My eyes turned black as I answered very softly, “Luka Georgiades.”
Our gazes met, and that was when I saw it again, the red rim shining so brightly it was turned the iris of her left eye into a blood moon set in a silvery lake.
“So be it,” the reviewer said just as softly. “I shall order Luka Georgiades to be your rehabilitator, with orders not to leave your side until you have been set back in the right path. He is also to be informed that you have argued strongly against his endorsement---”
My head shot up.
“---but this review has overrode your preferences.”
One blink and she was gone.
Another blink and she stood right in front of me, her speed and the power that was coiled inside her causing me to stumble back in stunned realization. Dark. So, so dark. How could this be?
“Yes.” Her voice was a vicious caress in itself. “I am half-vampire, the only one in this world and I see things that nobody else sees. Your life and his life are forever entwined, but the bonds are twisted and tainted by my kind.”
This close, the red rim was disturbingly mesmerizing, tempting me to stare into it forever. It took all of my power to wrench my gaze away from the reviewer’s. “I don’t understand---”
“You’re not meant to just yet, but soon you will.” Another blink and she was back behind the judge’s bench.
I tried not to gasp again but failed. Just being that close to a half-vampire was enough to have me stagger back dizzily, like I had been strangled without knowing it.
“You are dismissed.” She stood in the center of the hall, more vampire than Caro even in her dauntingly sober reviewer’s robes.
Questions raced in my mind, but I knew that they wouldn’t be answered. I curtsied again before turning away on unsteady legs. As I reached for the door, the reviewer’s candy-coated voice once again reached me.
Call when there is no one to trust.
I froze, never expecting the reviewer to offer her help but when I looked back she was gone.