February 26, 2012
My kiss can kill.
I used to be ordinary Samantha Day, but that’s changed. Now, after one dark kiss from a dangerous boy, I can steal someone’s soul…or their life. If I give in to the constant hunger inside me, I hurt anyone I kiss. If I don’t…I hurt myself.
Bishop is the one whose kiss I crave most, but if I kiss him, I’ll kill him. Then there’s another boy, one I can’t hurt. One whose kiss seems to miraculously quell my hunger. They’re both part of a team of angels and demons that’s joined forces in my city to fight a mysterious rising darkness, an evil that threatens everyone I know and love. I just wonder if I’ll be able to help Bishop-or if I’m just another part of the darkness he’s sworn to destroy….
“Gorgeous angels, suspense and romance…this book has everything I love.” –Richelle Mead on Dark Kiss
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*** WICKED KISS is also available as an Audiobook! ***
C h a p t e r 1
Crave used to be a prime hangout for dangerous monsters, but tonight I seemed to be the only one here.
A week ago, I lost my best friend in the whole world in this very club. Literally lost her, in a swirling black vortex that opened up and swallowed her whole, and took her…somewhere else. Somewhere horrible.
I didn’t know how yet, or when, but I clung to that small yet resilient hope that had taken firm root inside of me: I would find her.
Carly had loved this all-ages nightclub and came here every weekend like clockwork, dancing till the place closed down. If I shut my eyes I could still see her on the dance floor, the one place she could forget her problems and let the music become her entire world.
Damn, I missed her.
But I had to come back tonight. I couldn’t wait any longer.
There was somebody I had to find who used to hang out here a lot. Somebody I’d been searching the city for. Somebody who’d stolen something from me that I needed back before it was too late.
I had no real idea when “too late” was going to be. But I had a sick, gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that we were getting really close.
“You look way too serious, Sam,” Kelly said lightly from across the booth. “And you’re not even listening to anything we’re saying.”
“Sorry,” I began, my head still in a fog. I forced a smile to my lips and looked at Kelly and Sabrina—both blond, and perky- cheerleader types. I wasn’t blond, nor was I particularly perky or cheerful. But they were both good friends of mine, anyway.
Well, maybe good friends was pushing it. We usually ate lunch at the same table and we had gym class together. I think they liked me. That totally counted.
After their invite earlier today, I’d decided to join them here for a “girls’ night out.” At least, that’s what they thought it was. For me, it was an excuse to be here on the off chance I might find the boy who’d literally stolen my soul.
“Yeah,” Sabrina agreed. “Like, earth to Samantha. What’s up with you?”
“Nothing. I’m just a bit distracted tonight.”
Understatement, table for one.
Kelly took a sip of her Diet Coke, and eyed the remains of the nachos that sat on the table between us. There wasn’t much left, thanks to me– just a bit of cheesy sludge and a couple soggy tortilla chips. A single jalapeño pepper remained, lying there mournfully after the battle its friends had lost.
I couldn’t help it. I was really hungry tonight. And when I was hungry I needed to eat so my other cravings didn’t kick into overdrive.
Unfortunately, the plate of nachos hadn’t helped a bit.
“FYI, we were talking about Halloween,” Sabrina reminded me. “Do you know what you’re wearing to Noah Tyler’s party?”
“Noah’s having a party?” I asked absently, keeping my eyes on the club over her shoulder while still trying my best to appear attentive.
“Yeah. And he did tell me that he really wants you to be there.” She grinned. “I think somebody’s got a crush on you.”
It took me a moment to clue in to what she meant. I cringed at the thought, and also the vague realization that Noah had been checking me out lately. I’d tried to ignore it. “He doesn’t.”
She shrugged and the girls shared a knowing look. “Whatever you say. But you’re coming, right?”
“Wednesday night?” I forced a look of interest as well as a cheery smile though I felt anything but. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
I was definitely going to miss it. No question.
They discussed their costumes. I half-listened. The jalapeño pepper died a quick and painless death.
Then I stayed behind as a song came on that they got incredibly excited about and they made their way to the nearby dance floor. A sprinkle of colorful lights fell across their faces as they joined the swell of other kids dancing to the throbbing beat of the techno song—from a close bump and grind to a frenetic waving of arms and legs. I used to do a kind of uncomfortable shuffle thing when it came to dancing. I had always been hyperaware that somebody might be watching, judging, laughing. All of the above.
“Dance like nobody’s watching,” Carly always insisted.
“Did you see that embroidered on a cushion somewhere?”
She’d give me a grin. “Probably. But it’s still true. Gotta enjoy every moment because you never know when it’s going to be your last.”
The memory of the eternal optimism of Carly Kessler made my throat too thick to swallow down another gulp of my ginger ale. I returned my full focus to scanning the club, the entrance, the dance floor.
We’d been here for an hour. An hour to consume a plate of nachos, chat with a couple girls who generously tolerated my company, watch a couple hundred kids having a good time on a Saturday night, remembering that I used to be one of them, and to realize that this wasn’t getting me anywhere.
The scent in the air was intense and it made it increasingly hard to think. Not sweat or perfume—something else. Something deeper that slithered around me like a boa constrictor, squeezing painfully tight.
While I might look like a normal seventeen-year-old girl to anyone who didn’t know otherwise, without my soul I was now a “gray,” someone that had the ability to steal someone else’s soul through a kiss.
It was a mistake to come here. It’s only getting worse.
“Relax,” I commanded myself.
But it was hard to relax when you couldn’t let yourself breathe deeply. Shallow breathing was the best way to maintain control in a busy place like this. I’d come here to find a missing person, not to pick out a potential victim.
Finally, desperately needing to keep my mind off my unnatural, but growing hunger, I pushed away from the booth and moved toward the brass railing that surrounded the dance floor, and separated it from the seating area. I gripped the smooth, cold metal hard enough to make my knuckles turn white. After a few moments, my aching hunger finally eased off.
And then it spiked back up to maximum.
“Why are you here, Samantha?” His deep voice, edged with displeasure, came from right behind me.
I clutched the railing tighter and squeezed my eyes shut, trying not to breathe at all, but that was kind of impossible. Even soulless, voracious monsters like me needed oxygen.
When I inhaled this time, his familiar scent—warm, spicy and totally devastating—slid over me.
Finally, I forced myself to face him.
Bishop’s dark brows were drawn tightly over intense cobalt blue eyes. He towered over me—a full foot taller than my short five-two. Broad shoulders. Sinewy muscle rippled down his arms under his long-sleeve black T-shirt, which was drawn tight across his chest. His mahogany-colored hair was messy tonight. I had a sudden urge to slide my fingers through it and push it off his forehead. I clenched my hands into fists at my sides to keep from automatically reaching toward him.
“Why am I here?” I forced myself to say it casually. “Why wouldn’t I be? Crave’s a great place to hang out with friends.”
“You’re looking for Stephen.”
I shrugged a shoulder, tore my gaze away from his and studied the dance floor.
The way he said my name always made me shiver. Still, this time my gaze shot back to his with more annoyance than nonchalance. “I know you want me to stay home every night with the door locked, but I can’t do that. Besides, I haven’t heard from you in a few days. I figured I was on my own again.”
Bishop’s expression remained frustratingly neutral. “I’ve been looking for him.”
“Found him yet?”
His jaw tensed. “Believe me, you’d be the first to know if I had.”
“Well, if you haven’t found him, then it sounds like you need help. That’s why I’m here.”
He hissed out a sigh. “Seriously, Samantha. You need to go home and let me handle this.”
Hot anger ignited inside of me, helping me resist my automatic pull toward him. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Bishop’s brows were drawn together, but a smile now tugged at the corner of his lips. “Feisty tonight, aren’t we?”
“Samantha Day. Seventeen years old. Normally a realist who knows right from wrong, but is currently glaring at me like she wants to punch me in the stomach.”
“Good definition.” Something suddenly clicked for me. “You seem strangely okay tonight. What happened?”
The smile fell from his lips completely. “I’m not okay. But I’ve found another way to deal with my problem when I have to.”
“How? I didn’t think your particular problem came with a multiple choice solution.”
“Neither did I.”
He might look like a gorgeous eighteen-year-old boy, but Bishop was actually an angel who’d been sent here to Trinity to take care of the gray problem. But something went horribly wrong when he left Heaven. Another angel who wanted to sabotage his mission had made him a “fallen” angel—one with a soul. The soul was a punishment to those truly fallen. It wreaked havoc with their mental stability, causing them to go slowly insane. But it was also necessary for their ongoing survival. A soul to a fallen angel was a true double-edged sword. It messed up their minds, but without it they would perish.
I’d kissed Bishop once and taken part of his soul—it had been the most amazing and horrible kiss of my entire life. Now I instinctively wanted more. And part of him—like any gray’s victim—wanted to be kissed again.
Yeah. You could say it was a complicated relationship.
“Well, I’m glad,” I said. “I guess now I know why I haven’t seen you lately. If you don’t need me to help you find your sanity, then you can focus on the mission instead. Sooner it’s completed, the sooner you can find a permanent solution to your problem. Right?”
“You think that’s why I’ve stayed away? You don’t think it’s hard for me to be this close to you right now?” He leaned dangerously closer. “Remember, it’s not just you suffering here.”
My hunger level shot through the roof.
Oh, yes. I remembered.
When his hand closed on my wrist, a shiver of electricity zipped across my skin. My eyes snapped to his. “You really shouldn’t touch me if you don’t need to.”
The rest of the club seemed to fall away so there was only he and I left behind.
Right now, Bishop was too close and smelled way too good.
“I haven’t had any slipups since I last saw you,” I said, my voice strained. “I can control this until we find Stephen.”
“I know you’ve been on your best behavior.”
I looked up at him, confused. Then clarity dawned. “Wait. Are you saying you’ve been watching me the last few days?”
“It’s not always me. And it’s not all the time.”
I gaped at him, the thought that he’d been monitoring me made me feel like a potential shoplifter. “You don’t trust me.”
His brows drew together. “This isn’t about trust.”
“Sure it is.”
“If Stephen tries to contact you when you’re alone, then I need to know.”
I swallowed hard. “I’m worried you—or one of the others—is going to find him first and stick your dagger through his chest with no questions asked. One less gray to clean up later. But that can’t happen. I need him alive, so you need to back off.”
That painfully sexy smile touched his lips again as he studied me. “Yes, definitely feisty tonight.”
I snorted softly, but refused to let down my guard completely. “I need my soul back. I can’t live like this.”
The music shifted to a new song, even louder than the one before, if that was possible. The ground shook with the nearby dancers stomping on it. A waitress holding a tray of fried appetizers moved past us.
“Are you here alone?” I asked.
He glanced toward the far corner of the dark and noisy nightclub. “No. Brought some backup to help with the search while the others are out on regular patrol.”
I looked to see who it was and cringed at the sight. Someone tall and blond and familiar.
Kraven worked with Bishop to save the city from things like me. At first glance I would have guessed that Kraven was another angel.
Heaven and Hell worked together very occasionally on problems that threatened the integral balance of light and dark, good and evil.
Soul-eating monsters were just such a threat.
Kraven represented the dark side of the scale.
He was with a girl off in the corner and it was obvious that he was hitting on her. Heavily. He braced his hand over her shoulder, creating a partial cage she looked in no hurry to escape from. She grinned up at him as if in love. For all I knew, maybe she was.
As I watched him warily, wondering what his plans for that innocent—or not so innocent—girl were, he glanced over his shoulder at me. A cool smile curled the corner of his mouth.
“Yeah, he looks like he’s really helping the search,” I said with disdain. “If you’re searching for slutty girls.”
I chewed my bottom lip and looked up at him. “I’m surprised that out of the whole team you’d pick your demonic brother to spend the evening with.”
Bishop’s expression tightened.
When he finally released his hold on my wrist, I grabbed the front of his shirt before he could move away from me.
“Are you ever going to tell me more about the two of you?” I’d come up with no reasonable explanation of how one brother became an angel and the other a demon, despite the tiny breadcrumbs of info I’d collected along the way.
“There’s nothing to tell.”
“Yeah, right. How about you at least tell me the name you had when you were human? I know one thing for sure—it wasn’t Bishop.”
“Okay.” He eyed me. “It was Barbara.”
“And you still look like you want to punch me.”
“I’m barely restraining myself, actually.”
That smile returned to play at his lips. His gaze moved to the other side of the club and his expression grew grim again. “I need to talk to Roth. Wait here.”
Another team member. Another demon. Roth, however, made Kraven look like a friendly teddy bear. And Kraven was not a friendly teddy bear by anyone’s definition.
“I thought you wanted me to leave?” I said.
“I’ll take you home when we’re done here. Give me five minutes. Stephen’s dangerous and I don’t want you finding him by yourself.”
“I can handle him.”
Bishop returned my challenging look with one of his own. “Five minutes.”
I watched as he walked across the club to where tall, handsome and hateful Roth stood by the long bar that only sold nonalcoholic beverages and appetizers. The crowd of kids swelled to cut off my view of the two.
Even with Bishop gone, my hunger hadn’t faded one bit. Strange. I thought I’d get a chance to compose myself better.
Damn. I glanced over to see Colin Richards standing right next to me. He was poised directly in what I’d termed my “orbit of hunger.” Two feet or less. The danger zone.
“Colin,” I squeaked out. “Hey.”
I wasn’t romantically interested in Colin at all, but unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t mutual. He’d taken my rejection hard, especially when I showed very nonrejection behavior whenever he entered the orbit and I couldn’t control my hunger quite so well. Most people respected your personal space. Colin wasn’t one of them.
He swept his gaze over the short, black skirt and silver tank top I’d chosen to wear so I’d fit in with Kelly and Sabrina and the rest of the Saturday night crowd.
“You’ve kept a low profile this week,” he said. “Are you specifically avoiding me, or just generally being a bitch to everyone?”
I winced at his sharp words, but then I smelled the alcohol on his breath. So much for this being a booze-free club. Some kids tried to sneak it in, anyway. Colin was becoming well-known for drinking too much and getting into trouble. When he dated Carly over the summer, he’d made a bunch of vodka-fueled bad choices, including cheating on her at a pool party.
“Nice,” I said drily. “And maybe when you sober up, you won’t be such an ass.”
This earned me a humorless snort as he drained whatever was in his plastic cup. His gaze slid down the front of me again as if he was having trouble keeping his attention on my face. My cheeks grew warm at his blatant gaze.
“Who was that guy you were talking to?”
I blinked. “None of your business.”
“Again, none of your business.”
He was being very confrontational tonight, which made me sad. Colin was actually a really nice guy, despite some of the more epic mistakes he’d made in the past. And I knew I’d hurt him last week, so I wouldn’t hold this particular discussion against him in the future. This time, anyway.
Walk away, I told myself. But my feet refused to move. I fought my rising hunger with every ounce of strength I had. The more I fought, the colder I got until goose bumps broke out over my bare arms and I shivered, despite the club being at least eighty degrees. The cold was a side effect of not having a soul.
Colin leaned closer, which only made things worse. I didn’t smell the vodka on his breath anymore; what I smelled was warm, tempting and entirely edible. Less so than Bishop, but still more than anyone else in this club right now.
“Heard from Carly?” he asked.
That woke me up like a glass of cold water thrown in my face.
Colin, like almost everyone else, believed Carly had run away with a secret boyfriend and was off having a misguided, but romantic adventure.
“No,” I said softly. My eyes began to burn.
He snorted again. It was an unpleasant, mocking sound. “Look at you, all misty over Carly taking off with some guy. Feeling abandoned by your BFF? Poor Sam. Boo hoo.”
I gave him a careful look. “I know I hurt you—”
“Hurt me?” he scoffed. “Please. I’m over it.”
“Yeah, sure you are.” I studied him, uncertain how to deal with this problem. “Look, Colin, I’m sorry. Really. But it’s for the best. You don’t need to be near me right now. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you backed off before my friend gets back.”
“Jealous, is he?”
I’d had more than enough of this conversation and I needed him to step away from me now. “Leave me alone, Colin. I don’t like you. At all. Get it through your head, okay?”
I forced myself to look at the dance floor again.
“You’re such a liar.” His words slurred together, heavy with enough underlying pain to make me flinch. “Everything that comes out of your mouth is a damn lie. You liked me. I know you did. I saw it in your eyes. You think you can just walk away from something like that? That I’d let you?”
Let me? “I think you need to go—”
But before I could say another word, Colin grabbed hold of me and crushed his mouth against mine.
C h a p t e r 2
I tried to pull away from him, to shove against his chest as hard as I could.
But it was too late. The hunger that had swirled around me the entire time I’d been at Crave, which had intensified to an impossible to ignore level when Bishop was close to me, that waited patiently while Colin blurted out what was on his mind—
It spilled over.
The pounding dance music muted. The sparkling lights faded. The club disappeared. My rational thinking ceased. And my hunger took over.
This wasn’t a kiss with a drunk boy who liked me and was mad I didn’t like him in return. This was about feeding—that part of me that was missing a soul and was constantly trying to devour everyone else’s.
It was what I feared the most. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. But that was exactly what I was doing.
Feeding on Colin was so natural for me. In this mindless state, it was the most natural thing in the world—neither good nor bad. And with every bit of his soul I devoured, delicious warmth spread through me, chasing the horrible, endless cold away. My thoughts about hurting him vanished. I would feed until I was satisfied, and since I’d barely ever fed before, that would take a long time.
Someone grabbed my upper arm and painfully wrenched me away from Colin. Colin staggered back and dropped down into a nearby booth. Thin, black lines branched around his mouth and his skin was sickly pale. His eyes were glazed. His chest moved rapidly as he gasped for breath.
Haven’t taken it all. Just a piece…
The grip on my arm tightened and I turned to see that it was Kraven now in front of me, shaking his head.
“Honestly,” he said. “Can’t let you out of our sight for a minute, can we?”
“Let go of me!” I was working on instinct only, still possessed by the hunger. I stared at Colin. “I need more.”
“You need more?” Kraven grabbed my chin and forced me to look at him instead of Colin. “Try this.”
He kissed me hard, releasing my arm to slide his hands into my long hair. I automatically tried to feed, but there was nothing there. Regular demons like Kraven didn’t have souls. This was the proof. With no soul to feed from, this was just a kiss.
And yet, strangely enough, it still seemed to satisfy me. I wasn’t feeding, but my hunger began to ease a fraction at a time.
But then the kiss stopped. Abruptly.
“What the hell are you doing to her?” Bishop snarled.
He grabbed hold of Kraven and wrenched him away from me, slamming the demon hard against the wall.
Bishop’s eyes blazed bright blue. They did that sometimes. He’d told me it was a bit of celestial energy that rose up when he got emotional. Based on the current neon brightness, he was very emotional.
My head continued to clear, although not as rapidly as I’d have liked it to. I staggered back from them and landed in the booth across from the slowly recovering Colin. A quick sweep of the club showed that nobody was paying us any attention.
Neat trick that demons and angels had—they could cloak an area to gain a little privacy when problems arose.
Kraven shoved Bishop back from him. “Sorry, but your little girlfriend was in need of some help.”
“That was you helping?”
“Worked, didn’t it?”
I sent a look at Colin. My mind had now cleared completely and my control was back. Guilt and horror slammed through me at what I’d done. The black lines around Colin’s mouth had faded completely, but his eyes were still glazed. A gray’s victim seemed to go into a short-term trance while they were being fed upon. Since I’d experienced it from the victim’s side, I knew that it felt way better than it looked. Exciting, exhilarating, amazing—just like a good kiss should be.
But there was nothing good about this kiss. If I’d successfully taken all of Colin’s soul, I could have killed him. Or, if he was strong enough to survive it, he would become another gray, capable of hurting others.
Either thought scared the hell out of me.
My gaze shot to Bishop. “Colin kissed me. I—I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself after that.”
Colin shook his head as if to clear it. He glanced at me, and then at the two tall boys staring at him.
“What—?” he began.
“How do you feel?” Bishop asked him.
He scrubbed his hand over his forehead. “Um, okay, I think. What happened?”
Bishop grabbed the front of his shirt and yanked him out of the booth. “Don’t kiss her again. Ever. You hear me?”
Colin gaped at him. “Who are you?”
“You don’t want to know. Leave now.”
Bishop let him go and Colin staggered back, then glanced at me as if waiting for me to defend him. Instead, I forced myself to look down at my hands, which I’d clasped in my lap.
“Sorry,” he began. “I, uh, don’t know what I was thinking.”
Without any further argument, he slunk away from us and was swallowed by the rest of the crowded club.
“Your girlfriend’s a great kisser,” Kraven said drily. “Her tongue is like…wow. She doesn’t hold back. You’re really missing out with that pesky soul of yours.”
Bishop turned on the demon, his eyes flashing. “Stay away from Samantha or I’ll kill you.”
“This is the thanks I get for saving the day? She was going to suck that kid dry right here in the middle of the club. Besides, why are you mad at me? I think some of that angel attitude should be pointed in her direction. Or can gray-girl do no wrong in your eyes, even when she slips up? Or slips someone else the tongue?”
Bishop’s expression didn’t lose a fraction of its fury. “I think you do want me to kill you. Is that your goal?”
Kraven gave him a humorless smile. “Don’t know. How many times can one brother kill the other? Are you looking for some kind of Guinness World Record here?”
Kraven liked to mess with the minds of others, but I wasn’t in the mood for it now. He wasn’t helping anything by baiting Bishop like this.
“Why do you have to be like this?” I asked.
He finally spared a look in my direction. “Please. You should be thanking me for saving your pretty little ass a minute ago. Instead, I get vilified. Whether either of you wants to admit it or not, the kiss worked. It snapped you out of your monster madness.”
Bishop’s brows drew together as if he was considering this possibility. His gaze then hardened. “We’re leaving.”
Kraven saluted. “Yes, sir.”
I’d wanted to come here tonight so I could find some answers. I’d honestly thought I was in control of myself and my hunger.
But I’d hurt Colin, and if Kraven hadn’t stopped me I could have killed him.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to Bishop as I pushed myself up from the booth.
Bishop didn’t meet my eyes. “How much of that boy’s soul did you take?”
I couldn’t help but notice that he hadn’t replied to my “I’m sorry” with a breezy “it’s okay.” Couldn’t blame him for that.
I let out a shaky breath. “Not much.”
“Be careful. He’ll instinctively seek you out in the future so you can finish the job.”
“How do you know?” Kraven asked.
“Believe me, I know.”
I was definitely ready to leave. I’d done more than enough damage for one night. Stephen wasn’t here so there was no reason to hang out a moment longer. I wanted to run home and hide my face from the world, but instead I tried to stay calm and not let anyone see how devastated I was. I said a quick goodbye to Sabrina and Kelly, who’d thankfully missed all of my drama while they’d been busy dancing.
Roth caught up with us at the front door past a poster advertising Wednesday’s “Halloween Bash.” We exited the club and the cool, late-October air immediately chilled me. Stars sparkled in the clear, black sky and the moon, along with the parking lot floodlights, lit up the night around us. I ignored the cold, instead pulling my too-thin coat tighter around my shoulders.
Roth scanned the three of us silently trudging along the sidewalk. “Did I miss something?”
Bishop’s jaw tightened. “No.”
“Me and gray-girl just made out,” Kraven said.
Roth made a face. “Disgusting. Why would you want to kiss something like her?”
I expected no less from Roth. I was well aware that he despised me. Tonight only proved that I was in more trouble than I thought.
I scanned the night surrounding us, anything to take my attention off what had happened with Colin and Kraven.
“I’m taking you home,” Bishop said.
I took a deep breath and let it out. “To keep me out of trouble.”
At that moment I spotted something in the sky that grabbed my attention. I felt the color slowly drain from my face. “Can’t go home. Not yet.”
I pointed at the sky behind him where a familiar searchlight had just appeared in the distance—although I knew none of them could see it like I could. “Looks like you’re getting a new recruit.”