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Darkness Unbound (Dark Angels) Mass Market Paperback – September 27, 2011

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About the Author

Keri Arthur, author of the New York Times bestselling Riley Jenson Guardian series, has now written more than twenty-five books. She’s received several nominations in the Best Contemporary Paranormal category of the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards and recently won RT’s Career Achievement Award for urban fantasy. She lives with her daughter in Melbourne, Australia.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

The house still smelled of death.

Two months had passed since Mom’s murder, but the air still echoed with her agony and I knew if I breathed deep enough, I’d catch the hint of old blood.

But at least there were no visible reminders. The Directorate’s cleanup team had done a good job of removing the evidence.

Bile rose up my throat, and I briefly closed my eyes. I’d seen her—­had seen what had been done to her—­and it haunted me every night in my dreams. But in many ways, those dreams were also responsible for me finally being able to walk through the front door today.

I’d done enough remembering, and shed enough tears. Now I wanted revenge, and that wasn’t going to happen if I waited for others to hunt down the killers. No, I needed to be a part of it. I needed to do something to help ease the ferocity of the dreams—­dreams that came from the guilty knowledge that I should have been there for her. That if I had, I might have been able to prevent this.

I drew in a deep breath that did little to steady the almost automatic wash of fury, and discovered something else. Her scent still lingered.

And not just her scent. Everything she’d been, and everything she’d done—­all her love and energy and compassion—­filled this place with a warmth that still radiated from the very walls.

For the first time since I’d scattered her ashes in the hills that she’d loved, I smiled.

She would never entirely be gone from this world. She’d done too much, and helped too many people, for her memory to be erased completely.

And that was one hell of a legacy.

Still, despite the echoes of the warmth and love that had once filled these rooms, I had no intention of keeping the house. Not when all I had to do was step into the kitchen to be reminded of everything that had happened.

I walked along the hallway, my boots echoing on the polished marble floor. Aside from the few items of furniture placed to give prospective buyers an idea of each room’s size and purpose, the house was empty. Mike—­who’d been Mom’s financial adviser and was still mine—­had made all the arrangements, talking to the real estate people on my behalf and shifting most of the furniture into storage so I could deal with it later. Only the items in the two safes remained untouched, and that was a task only I could handle—­although it was the one thing I’d been avoiding until now.

I drew in a shuddery breath, then slowly climbed the carpeted stairs. Once I reached the landing, I headed for Mom’s bedroom down at the far end of the hall. The air had a disused smell. Maybe the people employed to keep the house spotless until it sold hadn’t been as generous with the deodorizer up here.

But the soft hint of oranges and sunshine teased my nostrils as I walked into Mom’s bedroom, and just for a moment it felt like she was standing beside me.

Which was silly, because she’d long since moved on, but my fingers still twitched with the urge to reach for her.

I walked across the thick carpet and opened the double doors to her wardrobe. Her clothes had already been donated to charity, but somehow seeing this emptiness hit me in a way that the emptiness of the other rooms had not. I’d often played in here as a kid, dressing up in her silkiest gowns and smear- ing my face—­and no doubt said gowns—­with her makeup.

She’d never once been angry. She’d always laughed and joined the fun, even letting me do her face.

I swiped at the tear that appeared on my cheek and resolutely walked into the bathroom. Most people wouldn’t think of looking for a safe in an en suite, which is exactly why Mom had installed her second one here. This was where she’d stored her most precious jewelry.

I opened the double doors under the basin and ducked down. The safe was embedded in the wall and visible only because all of Mom’s makeup had been cleared away.

After typing in the code, I pressed my hand against the reader. Red light flickered across my fingertips; then there was a soft click as the safe opened.

I took a deep breath, then sat and pulled the door all the way open. Inside were all her favorite items, including the chunky jade bracelet she’d bought the last time she was in New Zealand, only a few weeks before her death. There was also a stack of microdrive photo disks and, finally, an envelope.

There was nothing written on the front of the envelope, but faint wisps of orange teased my nostrils as I flipped it over and slid a nail along the edge to open it. Inside was a folded piece of paper that smelled of Mom. I took another, somewhat shaky breath and opened it.

I’m sorry that I had to leave you in the dark, my darling daughter, it said, and I could almost imagine her saying the words as I read them. Could almost feel her warm breath stirring the hair near my cheek. But I was given little other choice. Besides, I saw my death long ago and knew it was the price I had to pay for having you. I never regretted my choice—­not then, and most certainly not now, when that death is at my doorstep. Don’t ever think I accepted my fate placidly. I didn’t. But the cosmos could show me no way out that didn’t also involve your death or Riley’s. Or worse, both of you. In the end, it just had to be.

Live long, love well, and I will see you in the next life. I love you always. Mom.

I closed my eyes against the sting of tears. Damn it, I wouldn’t cry again. I wouldn’t.

But my tear ducts weren’t taking any notice.

I swiped at the moisture, then sat back on my heels. Oddly enough, I almost felt better. At least now I knew why she’d refused to tell me what was going on. She’d seen my death—­and Riley’s—­if we’d intervened. And I would have intervened. I mean, she was my mother.

And as a result, I’d have died.

Her death still hurt—­would always hurt—­but a tiny weight seemed to have lifted from my soul.

I glanced down at the letter in my hand, smiling slightly as her scent spun around me, then folded it up again and tucked it into my pocket. That one piece of paper was worth more than anything else in her safe.

I scooped up the remainder of the jewels, but as I rose, awareness washed over me. Someone—­or something—­was in the house.

I was half werewolf, and my senses were keen. Though I hadn’t actually locked the front door, I doubted any humans could have entered without me hearing. Humans tended to walk heavily, even when they were trying to sneak, and with the house almost empty the sound would have echoed. But this invader was as silent as a ghost. And it wasn’t nonhuman, either, because in the midst of awareness came a wash of heat—­not body heat, but rather the heat of a powerful presence.

An Aedh.

And he was in spirit form rather than physical.

My pulse skipped, then raced. The last time I’d felt something like this, I’d been in the presence of my father. Of course, that meeting had ended when two Aedh priests had gate-­crashed the party in an effort to capture my father—­who’d fled and left me to fight the priests off alone. Needless to say, the odds had been on their side, and I’d been taken and tortured for information. And while my father might not have led me into the trap, he still bore some responsibility for it. It was him they wanted, not me.

Hell, everyone wanted him. The Directorate of Other Races, the vampire council, and the reapers.

And they all were intent on using me to get to him.

Which pissed me off no end, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. Especially given the deal I’d made with Madeline Hunter—­the woman who was not only in charge of the Directorate, but also one of the highest-­ranking members of the vampire council. Of course, she had managed to catch me at a vulnerable moment. She’d arrived uninvited as I said my final good-­bye to Mom, had heard my vow for vengeance, and had all but blackmailed me into becoming an adviser to the council. In exchange, they would throw their full resources behind finding Mom’s killer.

I hadn’t walked away from the deal yet—­not when finding Mom’s killer might well depend on the information the council could give me. They might be using me to get to my dad, but I sure as hell intended to return the favor.

Not that they’d given me a whole lot so far, but then I hadn’t done a whole lot for them, either.

Still, instinct said that would change quickly now that I’d set my sights on finding the killer.

Sometimes, having psychic skills like my mom totally sucked. Although I guess I had to be thankful that mine were nowhere near as strong as hers had been.

The sensation of power coming up from the floor below was growing stronger. Whoever it was, they were closing in fast. I needed help, and I needed it now. And the only person I could call on so quickly was the one person I was trying to avoid. Azriel—­the reaper who was linked to my Chi. I hadn’t heard or seen him since Mom’s death, and part of me had been hoping to keep it that way.

I should have known fate would have other ideas.

Of course, Azriel wasn’t just a reaper. He was a Mijai, a dark angel who hunted and killed the things that returned from the depths of hell—­or the dark path, as the reapers preferred to call it—­to steal from this world.

But what he hunted now wasn’t a soul-­stealer or even my soul.

He—­like everyone else—­was looking for my father.

And all because my father and his fellow Raziq—­ a secret subgroup of Aedh priests dedicated to finding a way of preventing demons from being summoned—­had created three keys that would override the magic controlling the gates, allowing them to be permanently closed. And if the gates of hell were permanently locked, no souls would be able to move on and be reborn. A good percentage of the babies currently born into this world contained reborn souls, so it was a possibility that terrified me. Because without a soul, they would be little more than lumps of flesh, incapable of thought, emotion, or feeling.

Of course, what could be closed could also be permanently opened, and I had no doubt there were those who would also welcome the hordes of hell being set free.

The one good thing that had come out of this mess so far was the fact that my father had apparently come to his senses late in the development of the keys. He’d arranged for them to be stolen and hidden, but he’d been caught in the process and punished by his fellow Raziq, and the people who’d hidden the keys had offed themselves before they could tell anyone where they were.

Hence everyone’s interest in me. I was currently the only link to my father and—­according to my father—­the only person capable of not only finding the keys, but also destroying them.

Although he had yet to explain just how.

Azriel, I thought silently, not wanting to alert whoever was approaching that I was calling for help. I knew from past experience that Azriel could hear thoughts as well as spoken words. If you’re out there, come fast. There’s an Aedh in the house and it could be my father.

He didn’t answer; nor did the heat of his presence sting the air. Either he had given up following me or something else was going on.

Which was typical. There was never a fucking reaper around when you wanted one. I took a deep breath that did little to calm the sudden flare of nerves, and said, “Whoever you are, reveal yourself.”

“That, as I have said before, is impossible, as I can no longer attain flesh.” The reply was measured, cultured, and very familiar.

Because it sounded like me. A male version of me.

My father.

“The last time you and I met, the Raziq came running. And that was your fault, by the way, not mine.” I crossed my arms and leaned back against the wall. The pose might appear casual, but every muscle quivered, ready to launch into action should the need arise. Not that I’d have any hope against a full Aedh—­I knew that from experience.

“I have taken precautions this time.” His cultured tones reverberated around the small room, and his presence—­or rather the energy of it—­was almost smothering. “They will not sense me in this house just yet.”

“Why not? What have you done this time that’s any different?”

He paused, as if considering his reply. “Because I was once a priest, I emit a certain type of energy. If I remain stationary for too long, they can trace me.”

Facts I knew, thanks to Azriel. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Wards have been set. They not only give misinformation as to my whereabouts, but they will prevent any beings such as myself from entering.”

Hence Azriel’s failure to appear. Reapers were energy beings, the same as the Aedh.

I didn’t bother asking how’d he’d actually set the wards when he couldn’t interact with this world, simply because he’d undoubtedly had his slaves do it. Or rather, his Razan, as the Aedh tended to call them. “And are you sure these wards will work?”

“Yes. I have no wish for you to be captured a second time.”

So he knew about that—­and it meant he was keeping a closer eye on me than I’d assumed. “So why are you here? What do you want?”

“I want what I have always wanted—­for you to find the keys.”

“And destroy them?”

“That goes without saying.”

Did it? I really wasn’t so sure. “You haven’t yet told me what will happen when the keys are destroyed, and I’d prefer to know that before I do anything rash.” Like endanger the very fabric of my world.

The heat of him drew closer. It spun around me—­an almost threatening presence that made my skin crawl. And it wasn’t just the sheer sense of power he was exuding, but the lack of any sense of humanity. This was a being who’d worn flesh rarely even when he was capable of it, and who had no love or understanding for those of us who did.

Which made his desire to find and destroy the keys even more puzzling. Why would he care what would happen to this world if the keys were used? He wouldn’t. Which meant something else was going on. Something he wasn’t telling me.

Although I wasn’t surprised that he was keeping secrets. That seemed to be par for the course for everyone searching for these damn keys.

“I am sure that when the keys are destroyed, everything will remain as it currently is.”

“But aren’t the keys now tuned to the power of the gates?”

Or the portals, as the reapers preferred to call them. Apparently there was only one gate into heaven or hell, with each gate consisting of three interlocked portals. Each portal had to be locked behind a soul before the next one opened. It was a system that prevented those in hell from escaping—­although it wasn’t infallible. Things still escaped when enough magic was used either in this world or the other.

“They are,” my father said. “Destroying them should sever the link, and the gates should remain intact.”

It was those shoulds that were worrying me. “You know,” I said slowly, “it seems that it would be a whole lot safer for everyone if these keys were to remain as they are—­indefinitely hidden.”

Energy surged, making the hairs along my arms and the back of my neck rise. “Do you honestly think the Raziq will let matters lie?”

“Honestly? No. But they can’t kill me if they need me to find the keys.”

“Then what about your friends? Such a move could place them in peril.”

“Not if I let the Raziq grab me. Once they realize I can’t help them, I’m guessing they’ll forget me and start concentrating on you again.” After all, he might not know where the keys actually were, but he had some general knowledge of where they’d been sent, and he knew what they’d been disguised as.

Although admittedly, handing myself over to the Raziq wasn’t at the top of my list. I’d barely survived their interrogation the last time.

The threat in the air was growing stronger. My father’s energy was so sharp and strong that it hit with almost physical force. Part of me wanted to cower, but the more stubborn part refused to give in.
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Product Details

  • Series: Dark Angels (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Dell; Original edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440245729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440245728
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Keri Arthur has been nominated in the Best Contemporary Paranormal category of the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Awards, and recently won RT's Career Achievement Award for Urban Fantasy. She lives with her daughter in Melbourne, Australia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By C. Thilmany TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 29, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Fans of the author's Riley Jensen series are going to be delighted to find that even though this series belongs to Risa, Riley and the gang are on hand to help out.

Last seen using her ability to go to the gray world in between the physical and passing over when Riley was dying over twenty years ago, Risa is asked by her mother to check out a client's young daughter who is in a coma. Risa is horrified to discover the child's soul had been torn out of her body and destroyed. If that doesn't qualify for a bad day, add finding that a reaper is following you and that a number of individuals are trying to kidnap Risa in the hopes of finding out where the father-she's-never-met might be.

Risa is half Helki wolf and half Aedh (a non-physical being that can take on a physical form). She's unable to shift into a wolf but carries all other wolf and Helki traits, including totally changing her features. And let's not forget the wolf's horny/free-spirited nature. "Uncle" Quinn had taught her how to use her Aedh abilities which include seeing reapers and shifting into energy. "Aunt" Riley taught her how to fight, although Risa readily admits she's not qualified to handle situations she ends up in between dealing with the soul stealer and the kidnappers. But honestly, she can't just leave things to Rhoan and the guardians to handle; Risa needs to be involved.

Everyone seems to have a different agenda when it comes to why they want to find her father and this dangerous aspect of the story carries forward into the next book. Instead of dealing with Jack at the Directorate, Risa is being forced to deal directly with Madeline Hunter, the woman who created it; although she'd prefer to avoid them all together.

Risa's best friends and roommates help her along the way.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Bielman @ Bad Bird Reads on December 10, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Summary
Being half werewolf and half Aedh, Risa Jones can enter the twilight realms between life and death and see the reapers, supernatural beings that collect the souls of the dead. But she soon makes a terrifying discovery: Some sinister force is stealing souls, preventing the dead from ever knowing the afterlife.

Reapers escort souls--not snatch them--but Risa is still unnerved when a reaper shadows her in search of someone Risa has never met: her own father, an Aedh priest, who is rumored to be tampering with the gates of hell for a dark purpose. With the help of her "aunt"--half-werewolf, half-vampire Riley Jenson--and an Aedh named Lucian who may have lost his wings but none of his sex appeal, Risa must pursue whatever shadowy practitioner of blood magic is seizing souls, and somehow stop her father . . . before all hell breaks loose.

The Good
Maybe something is wrong with me because I just couldn't get into this book but many seem to have liked it. But this is the good part of my review, so let's start with that.

We meet Risa as a baby and then child in the Riley Jenson series. I was super excited for Risa to have her own series because her character always interested me. She was a little freaky and adorable at the same time. And anyone who has read the Riley Jenson series knows that Arthur can write an amazing book. So suffice it to say, I had high hopes.

Risa is a one of a kind character when it comes to abilities. She is half werewolf and half Aedh. Though she can't change into a wolf, she has a whole other bag of tricks, like changing her facial features to resemble other people and becoming one with the air (having no physical form so no one can see, hear, or feel her).
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Book Obsession.. on October 1, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
There isn't anyone quite like Risa. Her mother, a lab created clone, is an extremely strong clairvoyant and also a very special kind of werewolf, able to shift facial structure. Her father is an Adeh, capable of becoming only mist, as well as several other perks. This mixed heritage has made Risa incredibly unique and powerful. Yet all she wants is to live a normal life. Yet, when her mother asks her to help out with a little girl whose soul has been stolen, Risa finds herself in the middle of a very dangerous plot. While she has trained with her guardian "aunt and uncle" nothing could have prepared her for what happens next.

If you are a fan of Keri Arthur's Riley Jenson books, then you won't want to miss this new spin off series. Favorites return, but the real focus is on Risa. However, don't be expecting her to be a Riley 2.0, as she is very much her own person. Yes, Risa is part wolf, but unlike Riley, she isn't chained as much by the sexual nature of her wolf side. In fact Risa is more Adeh than anything, making for a fresh new set of skills. She also is her mother's daughter, in that she has plenty of physic abilities. It would have been so easy to follow down the same path her "Aunt" Riley had with the directorate, but for the moment, Risa seems happier to live a normal life. Or, well that was the case until certain events were set into motion in this book. Now it looks like that normal life will be thing of the past, which is bad for Risa, but very entertaining for the reader.

There are two very sexy men that show up in Risa's life in Darkness Unbound. A sexually frustrated werewolf is an incredibly dangerous thing, so their arrival was just in time, since Risa's wolf side, while much milder than most, was starting to show the signs of neglect.
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