Authors: Kali Argent
DARK MOON RISING
Copyright © September 2016 by Kali Argent
Cover Art by Black Butterfly Designs
Published by Peccavi Press INC
eBook ISBN: 978-1-940637-28-0
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal, except for the case of brief quotations in reviews and articles. Criminal copyright infringement is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
After taking down a pack of Ravagers and narrowly escaping the Coalition, Corporal Thea Mendez wants a shower, food, and sleep, in no particular order. Instead, she’s tasked with leading her group of rebels through a dangerous stretch of the Deadlands—a thousand miles of deserted cities crawling with half-crazed werewolves.
Sergeant Rhys Lockwood has been a prisoner of his own pack for longer than he can remember. Everything that used to matter has faded, his life narrowed to only the earthen walls of his underground cell. With no end in sight and nothing left to fight for, he’s ready to give up when hope arrives in the most unexpected form.
The night calls, the darkness awaits, and no one is safe when the full moon rises. The Purge took everything from them. Together, they’ll find the courage to take it back.
To Laurie for going above and beyond the call of duty.
In the small town of Trinity Grove, Pennsylvania, Roux Jennings slept fitfully, her dreams filled with the loss she’d suffered, the pain she’d endured. While she knew she dreamed, she still felt the burn of the rope that cut into her wrists, binding her to the hunter green poles of the playground equipment.
Her heart ached when the Ravagers led Zerrik through the tall grass, seeing the blackness that filled his eyes, the blood and bruises that covered his emaciated body. She squirmed against the mattress, mewling softly when the Ravager with cold, soulless eyes dug his clawed finger into the gashes that ran down her flank, courtesy of a crazed and starving Zerrik.
She saw the female Ravager sitting astride her friend, Gabriel, her teeth ripping at his throat, his blood pooling in a slow-spreading circle on the tiled floor.
In her dream, he stared up at her, reached for her. “Roux.” His voice sounded wrong, muffled, too far away. “Roux,” he called again.
“Roux!” Strong arms surrounded her, holding her close to a warm, muscular chest as a familiar and welcomed scent filled her nose. “Roux, wake up. You’re dreaming. It’s just a dream.”
Deke’s voice washed through her, a soothing balm to her frayed nerves, but it wasn’t just a dream. It had happened. She’d seen it, lived it, and had the wounds to prove it. Gabriel had died in that creepy school, they’d all died, so many of the people she cared about gone.
Dwelling on their loss wouldn’t bring them back, and it didn’t help those who still lived. Curling closer to her mate, Roux breathed deeply, letting the sun warm her face.
Flipping her lids open, she sat up quickly, pushing the mass of dark curls out of her eyes. “What time is it?”
“Almost noon.” Gently, her mate, Captain Deke Collins, brushed her hair over one shoulder and tapped under her chin, urging her face up so he could claim her lips. “Don’t argue. You needed the rest.”
A haze of smoke hung thick and heavy beyond Deke’s bedroom window, the acrid stench seeping in through the tiny cracks around the frame, under doors, down the chimney. Around them, the town burned.
“You left,” she accused. Tugging at the collar of his fresh uniform shirt, she slid her gaze up his handsome face to the water droplets that still clung to the ends of his dark hair. “You showered.”
A satisfied grin stretched his lips. “I left you some hot water.” With a steady hand, he brushed his knuckles gently down her left side and over the curve of her hip. “Go ahead, kitten. I’ll get fresh bandages and some painkillers from the kitchen.”
“It looks worse than it is.”
The ragged cuts that ran from the bottom of her ribcage to the protrusion of her hipbone were shallow, superficial. More than actual pain, they itched and stung in that annoying way most healing wounds did. Being mated to a shifter had its perks, but supernatural healing wasn’t one of them.
With something trying to kill her every time she stepped out the door, claws and fangs, super strength and speed, would have been beneficial additions to her arsenal, but she didn’t want them. As a human, she was a member of a dying race, a weaker, more fragile species, or so she’d been told. She’d faced off with Ravagers and werewolves, and yet, she there she stood, still alive and still fighting.
“Tell me what’s going on first,” she demanded, not willing to let her mate distract her. “Did you search the town?”
Deke nodded. “Lynk and I searched from one end to the other and out past the woods to the state highway.”
She knew from the depths of his stare, the hard set of his jaw, but she had to ask, “Did you find anyone?”
The news didn’t surprise her, but it didn’t hurt any less to hear. “Do you think some of them made it out?”
“I do.” He drew her to him again, kissed her lips once more. “We found tracks in the woods, and tread marks on the side of the highway. Both good signs.”
“Tread marks? A car?” She pulled her legs under her and sat up a little straighter. “How?”
“I don’t have any answers, kitten. Some of the tracks in the mud looked like boots, though.” Tilting his head to the side, he indicated his own scuffed and worn combat boots that sat beside the door. “Just like those.”
“Possible. Or maybe all the Wardens weren’t as loyal to the royal family as we thought.”
“Elias Diavolos?” The reigning ruler of the surrounding region, and a murdering, psychopathic vampire. Roux hoped he’d died painfully in the fire that raged through his hilltop mansion. “Any signs of him?”
“The SUVs from the estate are gone. It’s a safe bet that he made it out, but I couldn’t say where he’d go.” A rough chuckle rumbled through his chest at her frustrated grunt. “It’s like I said, I don’t have any answers, not ones that will satisfy you anyway.”
He made it sound like she was unreasonable, when really, she just wanted to save the world, find their friends, and mount Elias Diavolos’ head on something pointy. Surely she didn’t ask for too much.
“Okay,” she relented, throwing the covers back to roll out of bed. “What’s our next move?”
“You’re going to shower, we’re going to bandage those cuts, and you need to eat.” Deke held his hand up to cut her off when Roux began to argue. “Brody and Lynk are gathering supplies. We’ll fit as much as we can in the cargo van and my truck, and we’ll be on our way to St. Louis before nightfall.”
In light of everything that had happened, or maybe because of it, Roux hesitated with her hand on the doorknob and cocked her head to the side. “Can we go by Abby’s place? I’ll be quick.” When Deke didn’t answer right away, she sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and rounded her shoulders. “I know it’s silly and sentimental, but I feel like the little things are important now, you know? Even if it’s just her favorite sweater.”
“I do know, and I think you’re right. The little things are important, Roux, maybe now more than ever.”
Stepping out of the midnight blue SUV at the Revenant compound in St. Louis, Missouri, Corporal Thea Mendez pulled her handgun from its holster and disengaged the safety. Her standard issue, black boots crunched over the gravel and debris littering the parking lot of the converted truck stop, her footfalls echoing eerily through the early morning. A chilled breeze swept across her nape, sending a shiver down her spine and raising the hair on her forearms.
“Are you sure this is the place?” Cade Novak rounded the front of the SUV, squinting against the yellow glare of the sun as shoved a hand roughly through his dark hair.
“This is the place.” Appearing on her right, his pale skin already blotched with pink from the sun, Lieutenant Zerrik Thorn arched an eyebrow at her from behind his customary sunglasses. “This doesn’t feel right.” The vampire held up the map Captain Collins had given them before their groups had separated in Pittsburgh, surveying the blue and orange squiggly lines. “The map says this is the place, but where is everyone?”
There should have been Revenant guards to greet them, or at the very least, some kind of security. Thea lifted her chin and sniffed at the air, but she scented no one except for the members of her party. She even caught Abby Dawson’s delicate floral scent from where the blonde sat waiting in the backseat of the SUV. From the building in front of her, though, she smelled only the musty stench of decay and ruin.
The front door of the rest stop hung from a single, rusted hinge, its metal frame twisted and bent. The large windows had been shattered some time ago judging by the layer of sand that coated the sill, and glass shards glinted in the sunlight from where they’d been scattered across the ground. Growing from the cracks in the pavement, tall weeds swayed in the breeze, and large potholes dotted the concrete throughout the lot, especially near the damaged gas pumps.
Thea agreed that something felt off about the place, but then again, she’d thought the same about the bunker near Pittsburgh they’d just left. Initially, the warehouse had appeared unremarkable from the outside, and it made sense that a truck stop on the side of the highway would be no different. On the other hand, the warehouse hadn’t caused a tingle at the base or her skull, nor had it knotted her stomach.
“Should we check it out?” she asked.
The next closest checkpoint was located in Kansas City, only a few hours’ drive, but they’d already driven through the night. Everyone was tired, hungry, and nursing wounds from their fray with the Ravagers. They’d been given clean clothes at the Pittsburg haven, but Thea would kill for a hot shower. Dirt, sweat, and dried blood coated her normally bronzed skin, darkening her hue to a dusky brown. She kept her hair back from her face, pulled into a high ponytail at her crown, but her scalp crawled and itched where drying blood crusted her inky locks.
Revenant members wouldn’t have abandoned the bunker without reason, and despite her misgivings, they needed to determine what had driven the guards from their post.
Pulling his own gun from its holster, Zerrik glanced at Cade and then back to the SUV. “Stay with Abby, but keep your eyes open. If you see anything, don’t be selfish. Share.” Once he had Cade’s agreement, he turned back to Thea. “Ready?”
Another gun, another pair of eyes, would be useful if they ran into trouble, but she agreed that someone should stay with Abby. Thea liked the woman well enough, but the human female couldn’t fight her way out of a wet paper bag. Though human himself, at least Cade had training, and he knew his way around an array of weapons. Plus, the guy had hero written all over him. If push came to shove, he’d do his part or die trying, and Thea couldn’t ask for more than that.
Chambering a round into her 9mm, she stared into the darkness beyond the broken windows, and nodded to Zerrik. “Let’s go.”
She took point, stepping over a pile of broken boards and empty soda cans as she entered the ransacked convenience store and squinted into the shadows. Breathing deeply through her flared nostrils, she exhaled slowly and called forth the beast that lurked within her.
She couldn’t feel her eyes shift to their feline counterpart, wouldn’t know without looking that her pupils had narrowed into vertical slits, or that the irises had lightened from a deep chocolate to a light, golden brown. The only evidence of any physical change was the way her vision suddenly cut through the darkness, illuminating even the deepest corners in shades of gray and green.
Metal shelves had been toppled, some laying on their sides, some facedown on the chipped flooring. More debris—broken ceiling tiles, light bulbs, drywall, discarded food wrappers—had been strewn from one side of the building to the other. The doors of the refrigerator cases hung open. A dented ice cream freezer stood up on its end. Behind the long, L-shaped counter, deep gouges cut through the Sheetrock.
Taking his sunglasses off, Zerrik placed them atop his head, the charcoal lenses creating a sharp silhouette against his silver-blond hair. “Stop that,” he ordered without looking at her. “Your eyes freak me out.”
Smirking, Thea blinked several times, shifting her eyes back to their normal human irises. She’d seen all she needed to know the place had been abandoned, likely several months ago. It did, however, amuse her that a vampire would take issue with a little thing like the eyes of a cougar staring back from a human face. He did survive by drinking blood, after all, and he thought her the the freak.
“Better?” she asked, batting her lashes at him. “You know you’re ridiculous, right?”
“Sticks and stones, love. Sticks and stones.”
The muscles in Zerrik’s back flexed beneath his ill-fitting shirt as he rolled his shoulders. The purple shadows under his ice-blue eyes worried her, as well as his unending restlessness. Hollowed cheeks, waxen pallor, his bones protruding at the joints, he looked like hell, but even in his weakened state, she didn’t trust anyone more than Zerrik to have her back.
Deke was off with his new mate, Roux, a high-spirited and stubborn human female, rescuing those he could from their former hometown of Trinity Grove. Thea considered it a fool’s errand, a suicide mission to trek back into enemy territory with the entire royal guard looking for them. If it could be done, the captain was the one to make it happen. With any luck, Deke and his group would catch up to them before sunset.
“Should we check out the back of the store?” Zerrik asked, lowering his arms so that his gun pointed toward the floor at a forty-five-degree angle.
Thea sniffed at the air again, sorting through the different offending odors, and shook her head. “There’s nothing here, Z.” She wanted sleep, a shower, and food, not necessarily in that order, but they wouldn’t find any help or relief in St. Louis. “Where’s the bunker in Kansas City?”
Holstering his weapon, Zerrik pulled the creased map from his back pocket and unfolded it, spreading it across the counter between the two cash registers. “Hmm, looks like an old hotel off Charlotte Street. It would only take us four, five hours tops, to get there.”
She’d known crossing through the Deadlands wouldn’t be a cakewalk, but she hadn’t realized how much time they’d be spending in werewolf-inhabited regions. Wild, dangerous, and cruel, most of the wolves were one meltdown away from going full-on Ravager. Thea didn’t trust them, never had, with one exception, and now, Gabriel was dead. He’d been a good man and a damn fine soldier, and they hadn’t even been able to give him a proper burial.
He deserved better. Everyone they’d lost deserved better, but their new reality didn’t lend itself to fairness or mercy. So, they did their best, helped those who required it, and righted what wrongs they could. Still, it wasn’t an easy job, and the Revenant lost more battles than they won. The new government—the Allied Races Coalition, a group composed of prominent vampire and shifter families—made sure of that.
“Where are the other bunkers between here and Olympus?”
Pressing his index finger to the map, Zerrik followed a thin blue line with a heavy scowl. “Kansas City, Denver, Billings, and Spokane.”
Thea understood the worry lines that married his brow. “That’s straight through Demon Alley.”
It was a lethal trek of Deadlands that stretched from central Missouri to western Colorado, and not many ventured into Demon Alley if they could avoid it. She knew from Deke that the Revenant bunkers had been established before the Purge, before the world had descended into chaos, back when everything still made a modicum of sense.
Now, with werewolves prowling the nine hundred or so miles of highway and surrounding area, it proved more difficult to move refugees across the country to Olympus, the safe haven hidden within the forests of Washington state. Unfortunately for everyone, the Revenant had neither the time nor the resources to relocate all of its checkpoints.
So many people, too many in Thea’s opinion, risked their lives to traverse the dangerous stretch of highway. Shifters, werewolves, vampires, and the occasional group of humans, all convinced that a better life waited on the other side of the desert, the promise worth the threat to life and limb. Maybe it was. Since Thea had never seen Olympus, she couldn’t say.
Light footsteps crunched against the gravel, approaching cautiously behind her, and she pivoted on the ball of her foot, lifting her gun to aim it directly at the intruder’s head.
Abby yelped, just a short moment of wide-eyed panic, before her expression settled into a mask of boredom. Tilting her head to the side, she studied Thea with shrewd, Barbie-blue eyes and released a sigh through her perfectly bow-shaped lips.
“I really wish people would stop pointing guns at my head.”
Lowering her weapon, Thea mirrored the blonde’s pose and shifted her gaze to the male standing just inside the doorway of the building. “Cade, you were supposed to stay with her.”
With his signature “fuck off” grin, Cade glanced down at Abby and lifted one shoulder in a negligent shrug. “She’s here. I’m here.”
“Okay, okay.” Flapping her hands around her face, Abby angled sideways, placing herself between Cade’s glower and Thea’s snarl. “Everyone put your dicks away.”
“Metaphorical, darling,” Abby interrupted. Patting her slender fingers against Thea’s elbow, she used her free hand to hoist up the oversized, white thermal sweater that bagged around her slender frame. “Now, as I was trying to say, there’s a garage out back, one of those big things that holds semi-trucks. Deke did say that this place was supposed to be bigger, care for more people.” She spared a casual glance at Cade before returning her attention to Thea. “If you two are finished glaring at each other, maybe it’s worth checking out.”
“Makes sense,” Zerrik agreed. “This place was here before the Purge, operational. The bunker would need to be hidden away from the masses.”
Dragging her narrowed gaze away from the human male, Thea checked over her shoulder, searching Zerrik’s face. “Underground?”
Replacing his sunglasses on the bridge of his aristocratic nose, Zerrik nodded. “That’s my guess.”
As a group, they made their way around the forsaken convenience store, and quietly, watchfully, crept across the back lot to the oversized garage. The orange, tin roof had faded to a muted, depressing yellow over the years, and the chain dangling from the open door had rusted with age and neglect.
A hundred yards from the entrance, Thea pulled up short, throwing her arm out to the side to halt Abby as well. “Stop,” she whispered, her nose and throat burning with the foul odor that emanated from the garage. “Go back. Everyone get back to the SUV.” Lifting her 9mm, she pointed it at the shadowed opening as she scissor-stepped back toward the abandoned store. “Now!” she shouted when no one moved.
Technically, Zerrik outranked her, but her senses were sharper, a fact they both knew and accepted. He never questioned her instincts, never tried to pull rank. Thankfully, this time proved no different. With a nod, Cade and Zerrik both raised their weapons, aiming the muzzles into the darkness beyond the massive sliding door. Following Thea’s lead, they kept his eyes trained on the garage as they backed away. They moved swiftly but cautiously, crossing the cracked and crumbling asphalt until they reached the edge of the covered island that housed the gas pumps.
“What happened?” His shoulders squared, Cade ushered Abby behind him as he released the magazine on his Glock, silently counted the number of copper-jacketed bullets, then slid it back into place. “What did you see?”
“It’s not what I saw.” Crossing the lot hadn’t dispelled the revolting scent. If anything, it seemed to grow stronger, slithering on the chilled breeze as it coiled around them. “It’s what I smelled.” It came from all sides now, surrounding them, saturating every inch of the parking lot. “It smelled like…like…”
“Death,” Zerrik supplied, his eyes flickering behind the polarized lenses, scanning the nearby trees and their multi-colored leaves. “It smells like death, and it’s getting closer.”
“We need to go,” Abby urged, curling both hands around Cade’s elbow to pull him toward the SUV. “We need to go right now.”
Thea didn’t consider herself a coward, didn’t spook easily, but she had to agree. “We have to warn the captain.”
“Deke can take care of himself,” Abby argued, still pulling on Cade’s arm.
Cade barely budged. “Yeah, he can, but if all goes as planned, he’s going to have civilians with him.”