Book of the day … Dark Predator – A Dark series novel # 22 by Christine Feehan

Christine Feehan is my FAVORITE author!  This is also my top favorite series out of everything I have ever read.

With that said .. HELLOOOOOO DARK PREDATOR WOO HOOO!!

Christine Feehan delivers the most   startling novel yet in her “must-read” series (Night Owl Romance) as an immortal male   comes to the end of a long and violent journey—only to reach a far more   dangerous and inescapable threat…

As brutal as the undead he hunted, Zacarias De La Cruz   was a master executioner. Over the long, dark centuries, he plunged into so many   battles they blurred into an endless lifetime of evil that hardened the soul of   this merciless, ruthless and implacable dark predator.

Now his stark and savage journey is over. After a   thousand years in a gray world, he has accomplished everything he set out to do.   His brothers are safeguarded. Each has found a woman who completes them. And   they are at peace. For his brothers, Zacarias has walked the edge of madness, but with centuries   as a killing machine now left to the past and without a hunt to define him,   Zacarias wonders, for the first time in his life, who he really   is.

The answer awaits him back home in Peru , in the betrayal of a woman who   is readying her trap, in the vengeance of an old enemy, in the inevitable   consequences of a bloody family legacy, and in the deliverance of a lifemate he   never could have imagined.   

Chapter One

Smoke burned his lungs.   It rose around him in bellowing waves, fed by the numerous fires in the  surrounding rainforest.  It had been a  long, hard fought battle, but it was over and he was done.  Most of the main house was gone, but they’d  managed to save the homes of the people who served them.  Few lives were lost, but each one was  mourned—but not by him.  He stared at the  flames with hollow eyes.  He felt  nothing.  He looked on the faces of the  dead, honorable men who had served his family well, saw their weeping widows  and their crying children and he felt—nothing.

Zacarias De  La Cruz paused for just a moment surveying the battlefield.  Where before the rainforest had been lush,  trees rising to the clouds, home to wildlife, there was now flames reaching to  the heavens and black smoke stained the sky.   The scent of blood was overwhelming, the dead, mangled bodies staring  with sightless eyes at the dark sky.  The  sight didn’t move him.  He surveyed it  all—as if from a distance—with a pitiless gaze.

It didn’t matter where, or which  century, the scene was always the same and over the long dark years, he’d seen  so many battlefields he’d lost count.  So  much death.  So much brutality.  So much killing.  So much destruction.   And he was always right in the midst of it,  a whirling, dark predator, merciless, ruthless and implacable.

Blood and death was stamped into  his very bones.  He’d executed so many  enemies of his people over hundreds of centuries, he didn’t know how to exist  without the hunt—or the kill.  There was  no other way of life for him.  He was  pure predator and he’d recognized that fact a long time ago—as did anyone who  dared to come close to him.

He was a legendary Carpathian  hunter, from a species of people nearly extinct, living in a modern world,  holding to the old ways of honor and duty.   His kind ruled the night, slept during the day and needed blood to  survive.  Nearly immortal, they lived  long, lonely existences, color and emotion fading until only honor held them to  their chosen path of looking for the one woman who could complete them and  restore both color and emotion.  Many  gave up, killed while feeding to feel the rush—just to feel something—becoming  the vilest, most dangerous creature known—the vampire.  Every bit as brutal and violent as the  undead, Zacarias De La Cruz was a master at hunting them.

Blood ran steadily from numerous  wounds and the acid from poisonous blood burned all the way to his bones, but  he felt calm steal into him as he turned and walked quietly away.  Fires raged, but his brothers could put them  out.  The acid blood from the vampire  attack soaked into the groaning, protesting earth, but again, his brothers  would seek that vile poison out and eradicate it.

His stark, brutal journey was  over.  Finally.  Well over a thousand years of living in an  empty, gray world.  He had accomplished  everything he had set out to do.  His  brothers were safeguarded.  They each had  a woman who completed them.  They were  happy and healthy and he had eliminated the worst threat to them.  By the time their enemies grew in numbers  again, his brothers would be even stronger.   They no longer needed his direction or protection.  He was free.

“Zacarias!  You’re in need of healing.  Of blood.”

It was a  feminine voice.  Solange, lifemate to  Dominic, his oldest friend, with her pure royal blood, she would change their  lives for all time.  He was too damned  old, too set in his ways and oh, so tired, to ever make the kind of changes to  continue living in this century.  He had  become as obsolete as the medieval warriors of long ago.  The taste of freedom was metallic, coppery,  his blood flowing, the very essence of life.

“Zacarias,  please.”  There was a catch in her voice  that should have affected him—but it didn’t.   He didn’t feel as the others could.   There was no swaying him with pity or love or gentleness.  He had no kinder, gentler side.  He was a killer.  And his time was over.

Solange’s  blood was an incredible gift to their people, he recognized that even as he  rejected it.  Carpathians were vulnerable  during the hours of daylight—especially him.   The more the predator, the more the killer, the more the sunlight was an  enemy.  He was considered by most of his  people to be the Carpathian warrior who walked the edge of darkness, and he  knew it was true.  Solange’s blood had  given him that last and final reason to free him from his dark existence.

Zacarias  drew in another lungful of smoky air and continued walking away from them all  without looking back or acknowledging Solange’s offer.  He heard his brothers calling to him in  alarm, but he kept walking, picking up his pace.  Freedom was far away and he had to get  there.  He had known, as he’d ripped out  the heart of the last of the attacking vampires trying to destroy his family,  that there was only one place he wanted to go.   It made no sense, but that didn’t matter.  He was going.

“Zacarias,  stop.”

He looked  up as his brothers dropped from the sky, forming a solid wall in front of  him.  All four of them.  Riordan, the youngest.  Manolito, Nicolas and Rafael.  They were good men and he could almost feel  his love for them—so elusive—just out of reach.   They blocked his way, stopping him from his goal—and no  one—nothing—ever—was allowed to get between him and what he wanted.  A snarl rumbled in his chest.  The ground shook beneath their feet.  They exchanged an uneasy glance, fear  shimmering in their eyes.

That look  of such intense fear for their own brother should have given him pause, but he  felt—nothing.  He had taught these four  men their fighting skills, survival skills.   He had fought beside them for centuries.   Looked after them.  Led them.  Once even had memories of love for them.  Now that he had shrugged off the mantle of  responsibility—there was nothing.  Not  even those faint memories to sustain him.   He couldn’t remember love or laughter.   Only death and killing.

“Move.”  One word.   An order.  He expected them to  obey as everyone obeyed him.  He had  acquired wealth beyond imagining in his long years of living and in the last  few centuries he had not once had to buy his way into or out of something.  One word from him was all it took and the  world trembled and stepped aside for his wishes.

Reluctantly,  far too slow for his liking, they parted to allow him to stride through.

“Do not do  this, Zacarias,” Nicolas said.  “Don’t  go.”

“At least  heal your wounds,” Rafael added.

“And feed,”  Manolito pressured.  “You need to feed.”

He whirled  around and they fell back, fear sliding to terror in their eyes—and he knew  they had reason to be afraid.  The  centuries had shaped him—honed him into a violent, brutal predator—a killing  machine.  There were few to equal him in  the world.  And he walked the edge of  madness.  His brothers were great  hunters, but killing him would require their considerable skills and no  hesitation.  They all had lifemates.  They all had emotions.  They all loved him.  He felt nothing and he had the advantage.

He had already dismissed them, left  their world, the moment he’d turned his back and allowed himself the freedom to  let go of his responsibilities.  Yet  their faces, carved with deep lines of sorrow stayed him for a moment.

What would  it be like to feel sorrow so deeply?  To  feel love?  To feel.  In the old  days, he would have touched their minds and shared with them, but they all had  lifemates, and he didn’t dare take the chance of tainting one of them with the  darkness in him.  His soul was not just  in pieces.  He had killed too often,  distanced himself from all he had held dear in order to better protect those he  had loved.  When had he reached the point  when he could no longer safely touch their minds and share their memories?  It had been so long ago he could no longer remember.

“Zacarias,  do not do this,” Riordan, the youngest pleaded, his face twisted with that same  deep sorrow that was on each of his brothers’ faces.

They had  been his responsibility for far too long and he couldn’t just walk away without  giving them something.  He stood there a  moment, utterly alone, his head up, eyes blazing, long hair flowing around him  while blood dripped steadily down his chest and thighs.  “I give you my word that you will not have to  hunt me.”
It was all he had for them.  His word that he would not turn vampire.  He could rest and he was seeking that final  rest in his own way.  He turned away from  them—from the comprehension and relief on their faces and once again started  his journey.  He had far to go if he was  to get to his destination before dawn.
“Zacarias,” Nicolas called.  “Where do you go?”

The question gave him pause.  Where was he going?  The compulsion was strong—one impossible to  ignore.  He actually slowed his pace,  unsettled by the question.  Where did he  go?  Why was the need so strong in him,  when he felt nothing?  But there was something, a dark force driving  him.

Susu—home.”  He  whispered the word.  His voice carried on  the wind, that low tone resonating in the very earth beneath his feet.  “I am going home.”
“This is your home,” Nicolas stated  firmly.  “If you seek rest, we will respect  your decision, but stay here with us.   With your family.  This is your  home,” he reiterated.
Zacarias shook his head.  He was driven to leave Brazil.  He needed to be somewhere else and he had to  go now, while there was still time.  Eyes  as red as the flames, soul as black as the smoke, he shifted, reaching for the  form of the great harpy eagle.

Are  you going to the Carpathian Mountains? Nicolas demanded through their  telepathic link.  I will travel with you.

No.  I go home where I belong—alone.  I must do this thing alone.

Nicolas sent him warmth, wrapped  him up in it.  Kolasz arwa-arvoval – may you die with honor.  There was  sorrow in his voice, in his heart, but Zacarias, while he recognized it,  couldn’t echo the feeling, not even a small tinge.

Rafael spoke softly in his  mind.  Arwa-arvo olen isäntä, ekäm—honor keep you, my brother.

Kulkesz arwa-arvoval, ekäm—walk with honor, my brother, Manolito added.
Arwa-arvo olen gæidnod susu, ekäm—honor guide you home, my brother, Riordan said.

It had been long since he’d heard  the native tongue of his people.  They  spoke the languages and dialects of wherever they were.  They’d taken names as they’d moved from  country to country, even a surname, when Carpathians never had such names.  His world had altered so much over time.  Centuries of transformation, always adapting  to fit in, and yet never really changing when his world was all about  death.  At long last he was going home.

That simple statement meant  nothing—and everything.  He hadn’t had a  home in well over a thousand years.  He  was one of the oldest, certainly one of the deadliest.  Men like him had no home.  Few welcomed him to their fire, let alone  their hearth.  So what was home?  Why had he used that word?

His family had established ranches  in the countries they patrolled throughout the Amazon and the other rivers that  fed it.  Their range was spread out and  covered thousands of miles, making it difficult to patrol, but having  established a relationship with several human families, the various homes were  always prepared for their coming.  He was  going to one such home and he had to cover the long miles before dawn.

Their Peruvian ranch was situated  on the edge of the rainforest, a few miles away from where the rivers formed a  Y and dumped into the Amazon.   Even that  area was slowly changing over the years.   His family had appeared to come into the area with the Spaniards, made  up names, uncaring how they sounded as it mattered little to Carpathians what  they were called by others, unknowing they would spend centuries in the  area—that it would become more familiar to them than their homeland.

Zacarias looked down at the canopy  of the rainforest as he flew.  It too,  was disappearing, a slow, steady encroachment he didn’t understand.  There were so many things about modern times  he didn’t understand—and really—what did it matter?  It was no longer his world or his  problem.  The compulsion driving him  puzzled him more than the answers for the vanishing environments.  Little aroused his curiosity, yet this overwhelming  need to return to a place he’d been few times was disturbing on some  level.  Because the drive was a need and  he didn’t have needs.  It was  overwhelming and nothing overwhelmed him.

Small droplets of blood fell into  the misty clouds surrounding the emergents, the scattered trees rising above  the canopy itself.  Beneath him, he could  feel the fear of the animals as he passed.   Below him a band of Douroucoulis, very small night monkeys, leapt and  performed amazing acrobatics in the middle layers of branches as he came upon  them.  Some fed on fruit and insects  while others watched for predators.   Normally they would screech an alarm as soon as the harpy eagle was  spotted, yet as he passed over the family of monkeys they went completely and  eerily silent.

He knew it wasn’t the threat of the  large bird flying overhead that caused the forest to go so still.  The harpy eagle sat still in the branches,  often for long hours at a time and waited for the right meal.  He would rocket down with shocking speed and  snatch a sloth or monkey right off the trees, but he didn’t, as a rule, hunt in  flight.  The mammals hid, but snakes  lifted their heads at his passing.   Hundreds of dinner plate size spiders crawled along branches, migrating  in the direction he flew.  Insects rose  by the thousands at his passing.

Zacarias was used to the signs  marking the darkness in him.  Even as a  young Carpathian, he had been different.   His fighting ability was natural, bred into him, almost imprinted before  birth, his reflexes fast, his brain working quickly.  He had the ability to assess a situation with  lightning speed and come up with a battle plan instantly.  He killed without hesitation, even in his early  days, and his illusions were nearly impossible to detect.

Darkness went deep, a shadow on his  soul long before he’d lost his emotions and color—and he’d lost both far  earlier than others his age.  He  questioned everything.  Everyone.  But his loyalty to his prince and his people  was unswerving and that had earned him the undying hatred of his best friend.

He flew with strong wings, fast  through the night, ignoring the wounds and his need of blood.  As he crossed the border and dropped lower  into the canopy, he felt the pull of the compulsion grow.  He needed to be on his Peruvian ranch.  He simply—needed.  The forest stretched out under him, a dark  tangle of trees and flowers, the air heavy with moisture.  Mosses and vines hung like long, flowing  beards, reaching nearly to the watery pools, streams and creeks.  Tangled ferns vied for space, creeping over  long exposed roots on the dark floor beneath him.

The harpy eagle dropped through  branches covered with flowers, liana and all kinds of insects hidden in the  jumble of greenery.  Far below him he  heard the soft call of a treefrog calling a mate and then a courser, much more  grating sound adding to the chorus of frogs.   An almost electronic trilling joined the symphony as thousands of  different voices rose to a crescendo abruptly going silent in an unnatural,  spine-chilling alarm as the predator approached, then passed overhead.

The dark night sky turned to a soft  dove gray as dawn crept in, stealing away the night’s powerful reign.  The harpy eagle dropped from the canopy  spiraling down into the clearing where the ranch house was situated.  With his sharp vision he could see the river  running like a thick ribbon dividing the land.   Gentle slopes gave way to steep ridges, deep ravines cutting through the  forest.  Trees and vegetation snaked  across the rocky ground, a dark tangle of growth determined to reclaim what had  been taken.

Neat fences bisected the slopes and  as the bird flew over the ravines and valley, hundreds of cattle dotted the  grasslands.  As the shadow of the bird  passed over them, they lifted their heads in agitation, trembling, knocking  into one another as they turned back and forth trying to find the danger they  scented.

The eagle flew over several fields  and at least an acre of gardens, all tended well as Zacarias had come to  associate with the extended family who served him.  Everything was neat, kept in meticulous  repair, every chore done to their best ability. Pastures and fields gave way to  the large corrals where the horses whirled and tossed their heads uneasily as  he flew over them.  Below him, the ranch  was laid out before him like a perfect picture he could not appreciate.

As he approached the stable, a rush of heat slid through his veins. Deep inside the body of the bird, where he should have felt nothing at all, his heart gave an unfamiliar stutter. The strange fluttering nearly knocked him from the sky. Naturally wary, Zacarias didn’t trust what he didn’t understand. What could possibly send heat rushing through his very veins? He was exhausted from the long battle, the long flight, and the loss of blood. Hunger throbbed with each beat of his heart, clawing and raking for supremacy. Pain from the wounds he hadn’t bothered to heal ripped through him like an ever present jackhammer, drilling through his very bones.

Weeks earlier, he had been so close  to turning vampire, the need for relief from emptiness so strong in him, the  blackness of his soul without the least relief, that his reaction now made no  sense.  He was in worse shape.  Starving for blood.  More kills staining his soul.  Yet there was that strange reaction in the  vicinity of his heart, that heat pulsing through his veins in  anticipation.  A trick then?  A lure set by a vampire?  What was he missing?

 

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