The Forbidden - By L.A. Banks

ALL WAS still on level seven. A clawed hand held embryonic life within it. Golden green glowing eyes misted over black as they looked up to the vast expanse of nothingness that mimicked a vaulted ceiling. Trembling with anticipation, a shaky finger extended a hooked talon that prodded at the bloody mass of dormant life... life that could be molded into its own image. A hissing coo filled with gentle adoration warmed the small cluster of cells, making them glow red and begin to pulse.

"Oh, soon, my son," a passionate voice whispered. "Very, very soon."

Sydney, Australia...

Dread tightened Damali's chest as she watched Carlos's eyes. Visceral emptiness filled her, making her clutch her lower belly. His once-serene gaze now darted to her face, then to the faces of her teammates and to his surrounding environment like a man displaced and confused. The sensation was so overwhelming that it threatened to choke her heart to a standstill. Her man, once confident, suave, and smooth as black silk, had come up out of the unknown looking crazed and wild in the eye.

Suddenly she felt a strange sensation that fluttered in her womb. She pressed her hand against her abdomen.What was that ? But she had to shake off the weird feeling. Too many issues competed for her attention right now and the most immediate was Carlos.

The Light had brought him back, had actually reconstituted his form from the burnt vampire ash left by dawn, and now it seemed as though he didn't know where he was, how he'd gotten there, or whom he was with. Beyond all that they'd had to contend with, this was perhaps the most frightening experience of all: Carlos Rivera's mental state was in question-tears, screaming, ranting, fighting against the hold of friendly hands. Damali turned away for a moment and swallowed hard.

A head on a silver platter would be her bride price. Yeah. She and the chairman had unfinished business.

She reached out her hand to touch Carlos's face, and he jerked away from her, unsure if she were a mirage, a vampiric illusion, something evil and vile that would start his torture all over again. His fear rippled through her and rattled her bones. It sent a chill through her like a knife. It drew her mouth into a tight line as she fought not to scream. She saw what they had done. A head.The head of the bastard who'd done this , was the only acceptable answer to levy the debt paid in full.

Down in Hell they had a phrase: Fair exchange is no robbery. Then so be it. A head for a head, a mind for a mind... and an eye for an eye and a tooth for a fucking tooth-the chairman's fangs mounted on her wall mantel. This was war.

Damali could feel her eyes narrow to slits as her man tried to stand, and then tried to get away from her and her team. Oh, hell no. They'd raped his mind and stolen his dignity. And for that unforgivable offense, she'd blow the Vampire Council's doors off the damned hinges. In her mind's eye, she could see the pentagram-shaped table surrounded by dark thrones, and the chairman's smug expression. But Hell had no fury like a woman scorned. Her thoughts frayed and descended to the pit.

Fuck you, Mr. Chairman. This time, it's just me and you.

Carlos could feel his eyeballs roll backward beneath his lids as consciousness ebbed and flowed like a reluctant tide. One moment he had been sitting on the ground, naked, awed, and so profoundly moved that he couldn't speak, and in the next moment, he was being hurried away by many hands and clamoring voices all trying to get him into a vehicle and onto hallowed ground. Were it not for Damali's hand firmly holding his and her voice cutting through the melee, he would have tried to escape them all.

For the first time in his entire existence he truly feared he was losing his mind. Something was very wrong. He'd gone into the Light-more accurately, had been propelled into it, summoned by it, sucked toward a bright, indescribable iridescent wonder that had a pulse, a center, and held the heartbeat of the universe. Beings of unfathomable strength had hurled him forward, their silvery light sabers cutting at filaments of dark tendrils, holding him, burning him to ash. The heat was so intense that his bones had liquefied, his skin had blackened and crumbled away, his eyes had melted and had