World Enough & Time: Cora’s Bond 6

ISBN: 978-1-68132-024-3

Book 6 of Cora’s Bond

NY Times bestselling author V. M. Black returns with the triumphant final book of the hit vampire serial!

Cora Shaw’s last tie to her old life is shattered when her best friend Lisette is captured by a vampire faction opposed to her fiancé Dorian Thorne. Even with the billionaire Dorian’s vast resources, can Lisette be found alive before Cora’s wedding date? And if she isn’t, how can Cora hope to face what is supposed to be the happiest day of her life?

But events take an abrupt turn for the deadly as all the different pieces of the puzzle come into abrupt and lethal focus. Finally, Cora knows what the vampire faction is planning—but it might be far too late for them all.

Reviews

This book is incredible! All of V.M.’s other books have been excellent, but this one is a triumph. It is full of rich description. If this is her trajectory then the stars will be her companions.

PMC

This woman can write! Detail, mystery and action along with drama and hot romance gives you the wow factor of 10 stars. I LOVE the book and I LOVED the series.

Sexy vampires-check! A fascinating menagerie of human and supernatural characters-check! Danger, abduction, murder, suspense and intrigue-check! Exquisite romance, undying love, a fealty for all time and beautiful sex-you betcha! This is hands down, one of the best serials I’ve ever read! Absolute perfection!

Excerpt

My gaze locked on my phone’s screen, which displayed the image of the curly-haired man from the video that Dorian’s bodyguards had sent to me last week. I stared at it so hard my eyes watered, willing the man’s slightly blurry features to assume some other shape. But they stayed stubbornly fixed—and all too sickeningly familiar.

The realization crept over me even as I tried to fight it off.

No. No, no, no, please, no.

I could hear my own heart in my ears, beating too loud, my breath coming too fast. Mutely, I looked up to meet Dorian’s concerned gaze, but his eyes seemed suddenly strangely far away, like I was looking at them through a tunnel as the ground dropped out from under my feet.

“It’s the Kyrioi. They have Lisette.” The voice was mine, speaking the words I didn’t want to believe but that had to be said.

Dorian crossed the space between us in two strides, before plucking the phone out of my nerveless fingers and bringing me abruptly back to myself. I swayed, grabbing the back of the nearest chair for support.

Not her. Not Lisette. Of all the things to happen, of all the people to be swept up into this—

“What is this?” he demanded, his brow furrowing at the picture on the phone.

“He’s the guy who left that note on my car.” My words tumbled over each other in my haste to explain. I didn’t want to be talking. I wanted to be doing. Dorian had to fix this. It was all my fault, our faults, and he was the only one who could make it right. “On Wednesday, when I went to the closing for my grandmother’s house, he left another threatening letter, remember? The bodyguards recorded it, and I asked for the video to be forwarded to your security team so you could find out who he is. And now he’s got Lisette.”

My best friend, kidnapped by Dorian’s enemies. All because of me.

It didn’t seem real. Nothing did. Not the soothing neutral bedroom that surrounded us. Not the news of Lisette’s disappearance. Not even Dorian. None of this could be happening—not to an ordinary girl from working-class Glen Burnie. Not to me.

Not to Lisette….

Dorian’s gaze took in my turmoil swiftly, but he shook his head. “You asked to have him checked out, and he was. The boy is a nobody. He’s not an agnate—or even another aether. He’s just a human.”

“Just a human?” I repeated, my hands curling reflexively into fists. “Lisette’s just a human! Which human is he? There are, what, seven billion in the world now? Who is he?”

“Does it matter? He does whatever his master bids him to, and finding him will get us no closer to whomever that is,” Dorian said dismissively.

I snatched my phone out of his hands and waved it at him. “It matters because he was the last person to be seen with Lisette at the bachelorette party. I didn’t recognize him then. He was just some guy talking to her in the bar. But I remember him now. He left the threat on my car, so that means he belongs to the Kyrioi. He’s got Lisette, which means that the Kyrioi have her, which means she was taken because of us—because of me.”

But Dorian just raised one of his black-winged eyebrows skeptically, without any

urgency in his expression. “Why would the Kyrioi have any interest in your friend?”

“To get at me?” I suggested. “To get at you? Does it even matter?”

“I don’t care about her,” he said flatly.

“But I do. Aren’t you upset that I’m upset?”

He certainly didn’t seem to be, and the significance of his indifference was a second, sickening shock. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have thought that I was something more to Dorian than what I did for him? I was indulged, yes, and loved, in his way, but as his cognate, not as myself. Not as a person whose feelings and desires were respected simply because they were mine.

“If upsetting me through you was what someone wanted, he would have done better to kill her outright,” Dorian said. “Agnates rarely do a thing without a reason, and I see no point in kidnapping your friend.”

I seized at the first thought that came to me. “Maybe it’s because you took Lucretia. So they’re going to take Lisette. Look, does it really matter why Lisette was kidnapped? We know that she was, and we know who did it. We have to save her!”

His frown only deepened. “An attempt to recover her seems to me the only possible advantage they could hope for by taking your friend. To use her as bait to lure the Adelphoi into a trap.”

“But you’re going to save her anyway, aren’t you?” I pressed. “She’s not a part of this. It isn’t her fight. She doesn’t deserve to be caught up in it all.”

“Do any of us deserve it?” Dorian retorted. “How about the twenty-five hundred humans who die every day to slake the thirst of the agnatic race? Do they deserve it? Are you honestly asking me, Cora Shaw, to risk everything we have left for the sake of one human, merely because she’s your friend?”

“Yes,” I said instantly.

Throwing Lisette away because she wasn’t of any significance—that was the coldly logical thing to do. But it was also the wrong thing, and not just because she was the closest thing to a sister that I had. I didn’t know how to explain to him that saving Lisette was made more important because she wasn’tcrucial to his plan.

I knew deep in my bones that Dorian’s Adelphoi needed to save her. They needed to do it for the same reason that a decent society had to try to save the most fragile of babies, the worst burn victims, and the sufferers of the rarest and most terrible diseases—and why people feel compelled to risk the living to retrieve the bodies of the dead.

Did any of those choices make sense, from the high mountaintop of the most remote logic? Of course not. But those were the decisions that represented the very best in humanity, its deepest capacity for compassion, for charity.

And I might not have witnessed the thousands of years of history that Dorian had seen, but I knew that the moment that people started weighing out greater and lesser goods, it was always a matter of the shortest time before they were committing the worst of evils in the same name. I couldn’t imagine that the Adelphoi, with all the darkness inside them, would be above that.

I couldn’t lay out any of those arguments then, not with fear swirling so thick in my head that it almost choked me. All I could do was square my shoulders and face down Dorian’s harsh reason with an even voice and a raised chin.

“Yes, we have to save her, or else the Adelphoi don’t stand for anything.”

Dorian frowned down at me. Gone was the teasing, gently challenging man who had asked me to trust him only minutes before. In his place was the icy Dorian I’d first met, the distant agnate with chilly depths that I’d never begin to understand.

I met his icy gaze steadily—not without fear, for I realized that I’d made the choice to tie myself to him, forever, whatever he might prove to be. Yet I met his gaze in spite of that and refused to flinch even as he stepped so close to me that our bodies almost touched, his eyes searching my face.

Finally, as if he’d made some discovery in his examination of my expression, Dorian gave a curt nod.

“I understand,” he said.

Did he really? Could he? I wasn’t sure, but I’d worry about it later: about both his initial refusal and his final capitulation. Right now what mattered was that he’d save Lisette—and, whether he knew it or not, his ideals.

“Thank you,” I breathed. “We have to go to the apartment—”

“No.” He cut me off. “There’s no point in it.”

I opened my mouth to retort before I realized that he was right. The apartment was the one place other than here at Dorian’s mansion that she was guaranteed not to be. Except….

“You’ll need to get her scent or whatever, won’t you?” I asked uncertainly. “For the…bloodhounds or whatever it is that you use.”

He smiled without humor. “For this? Djinn. As much as I loathe dealing with them, this is where they excel. I’ll handle it. Give me your phone.”

“For the djinn?” I asked even as I automatically handed it over.

“No. For her phone number, unless you know it by heart,” he said.

I shook my head. “But Christina called her already. She’s not answering.”

“I don’t intend to call her,” Dorian said, pocketing the phone. “I plan to find the current location of her phone—and failing that, the last location from which she called anyone.”

“Okay, so when you find it, I want to come, too,” I pressed.

“Not this time, Cora.”

His dismissive tone made me bristle.

“This time?” I repeated, my stomach knotting. “What time haveyou let me come with you? Not ever. Not once. Any time you do anything important, you pack me out of the way or lock me up, and then you go off and do your grown-up stuff while you expect me to sit and wait for you to come back. Lisette’s my friend! If anything was ever my business, this is.”

“You’ll slow me down,” he said bluntly, his eyes narrowing. “You’ll make me weak because I will be afraid for you. Do you want to feed your pride, or do you want to save your friend?”

I stepped back as if he’d slapped me. “That’s not fair.”

“Fair?” It was his turn to repeat what I had said, and the word turned ugly in his mouth. “I don’t care about fair. I care about true. Tell me that it’s not true, and I’ll take you along this instant.”

I wanted to argue with him—to lash out against not just him but his world that made me so powerless. But I knew it wouldn’t do any good, and more importantly, I’d just selfishly waste his time when he should be saving Lisette.

So I made myself nod, not trusting myself to speak. Not trusting any of the things I’d come to rely on in such a short time.

Dorian’s face softened then, and for the first time since I’d told him of Lisette’s kidnapping, I saw in his expression the echoes of the angel rising to whom I’d given so much. He reached out and caressed my jawline with the backs of his knuckles as he had so many times before, and I caught his hand and pressed it to my cheek.

“I’ll come back to you, Cora,” he said softly. “I’ll always come back to you.”

I nodded again and squeezed my eyes shut against everything I wanted to say. He moved silently, but I could feel the breath of air as he passed, and I heard the click as the door to my bedroom shut.

I let out my breath and flung myself into the nearest chair, wanting to scream, wanting to cry. Instead, I hugged a pillow silently against my chest with all of my strength, too aware of Dorian’s guards watching me silently through the hidden cameras.

When Dorian and I were apart, the guards kept me safe from anyone who might penetrate the mansion’s defenses, but their scrutiny also meant that unless I was in the bathroom, I was never truly alone. Even at the extremity of my grief and frustration, I didn’t want to shame myself or Dorian by throwing a fit in front of them. While I’d lost all dignity in front of them at least once before, now my awareness of them and the relationship that I had with them through Dorian checked my actions even as my mind teemed with a thousand thoughts that sent me deeper into my spiral of guilt.

Lisette. Oh, God, why Lisette? I’d made lists in my mind a thousand times of everything my relationship with Dorian might cost, but I’d never imagined that anyone else would pay the price. Especially not Lisette, who had done so much that was good and selfless and whom I wanted to protect more than anyone in the world. In a sudden bolt of white-hot fury, I wanted to somehow reach out through space and crush the hearts of those who wished her harm.

But that was impossible, and none of the things that were possible for me would do her any good. The realization was bitter, and it quickly quenched useless my anger. If anything, my role was to be as quiet and unobtrusive as I could, doing nothing and asking for nothing that might distract the people who would actually be able to help Lisette.

The important people. Because I didn’t fool myself for a moment that I mattered to the Adelphoi one bit more than any human did except in my role as Dorian’s cognate.

So I resolved to behave. To be the good, quiet girl until Dorian came home again.

A small, despairing part of me wondered if I would ever again be able to be mad or sad or happy without restraint, without wondering what it might make others think or say or do. But that thought was just an eddy in the river of fear that ran through me at the thought of what might have happened to Lisette.

Dorian’s comment about the Kyrioi killing Lisette outright echoed in my ears, and I hugged the pillow even harder, as if I could squeeze the thought from my mind. How did I know they hadn’t done that already? Everything was just a guess right now.

I couldn’t hold still any longer. I sprang to my feet…but then I just stood uncertainly, still clutching a throw pillow in one hand. There was nothing for me to do. With a huff of frustration, I tossed the pillow back onto the chair and began pacing the room. The minutes ticked by, piling up one after another. Outside my window, the dull shadows thrown by the shrouded sun slowly lengthened, but that was the only sign that time was passing. It felt like it must have been days already, but the sun still hadn’t set, and there was no word from Dorian.

Why wasn’t there any word from Dorian?

When the knock on my door finally came, I jumped, my heart thundering, and whirled to face it just as it flung open.

“Dorian!” My lips had already formed his name.

But it was Clarissa who was on the other side.

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