Grace Gladwell is a happy young teenager on a date with the handsome Johnny Dorsey. Their date is over, but Johnny wants to kiss her. Grace is happy, but reluctant- her father doesn't want her to do anything, but she lets herself be persuaded- only to meet her father's fist when she comes in the door. He hits her so hard that he knocks her into the fireplace, so hard that she bleeds from the head. While her father accuses her of faking, her mother screams at him for taking away her daughter.
Soon, Grace finds herself in another place, where a man she thinks is an angel (he calls himself a "Guide") tells her that she has someone she meets up with again and again. Grace wants to see this boy, and then we meet Christian. Christian is a mercenary raised by his father, a hot-tempered, violent man who is also a mercenary. He leads a band of men from their home in Lac Lemán. But he is a terrible and brutal man, taking out his rages on his own men, and even more often, on his own son.
He's so terrible that some of his men have pulled away from him to follow Christian instead. But when Christian's dog ruins his father's hunt, Christian's attempt to save the dog earns him a flogging- which he takes without complaint. This makes his father happy, but unsettles him at the same time, wondering what Christian will do when his father grows weak. For this reason, his father is of two minds about his son. He wants him strong and ruthless, but not so ruthless that Christian will seek to do away with him. But at the same time, he is disappointed that Christian doesn't do exactly that, so that he can beat Christian down while his son is still weaker, and have Christian as a devoted follower forever.
But that isn't going to happen. When Christian meets Grace, he at first thinks she is a malicious ghost sent to torment him, but she is soon able to make him feel differently. Christian soon comes to have feelings for Grace, and then to fall for her, hard. But he must keep Grace's presence a secret, for people will think him mad if he goes around talking to the air.
But Christian's father isn't the only one with designs on his son. Nim Wei, in the guise of a traveling minstrel, meets Christian and thinks he would make a fine Upyr, but he is devoted to Grace and won't even give her a second glance. To try and persuade the young man into seeing things her way, she hires him and his father, and their men, to be her bodyguards on a trip to Italy. Since Christian is determined to be faithful to Grace, his angel, he won't respond to her advances, and her attempts to try and control him mentally are rebuffed by the mere Presence of Grace. But when Christian's father divines her intent towards his son, to have him. Gregori looks at the effects of her sleeping with Christian's men, which has made them temporarily stronger and brought out conflicts between them, and bargains with her for the same for his own men- in exchange for turning Christian over to her for her use.
And when Grace disappears and his father's men kill his own men, who happen to be Christian's close friends, what will Christian, in his rage and despair, be forced into? How far will he go for revenge on his own father, and will he lose his soul in the process?
This is the prequel to a book I had previously read, Angel at Dawn, and even though it came out before Angel, I read it second, not realizing that Angel was a sequel book. As it is, it feels a bit unfinished at the end of the story. Grace and Christian don't have any kind of happily ever after, and the book ends on a rather downer note. And if you've read the Angel at Dawn review, or even the back of the book in the bookstore, you are going to know the ending to this book without me having to spoil it for you.
This book is wonderful at keeping up tension throughout the story. The conflict between Christian and his father is well done, with Christian wanting to be a dutiful son, but only up to a point, as he is waiting for his father to step down so he can still be a mercenary, but a less cruel and brutal one than his father is, and more honorable as well. It's significant that the mercenaries on his side are all around his own age, and those who support his father are all older as well. It's a very effective generational conflict on both sides, but even then, his father can't win against his son without cheating, And the brutality of his friend's deaths shows just how cruel and brutal his father is.
Aside from the downer ending, Christian survives the machinations of his father, and we know, from the Guide that Grace talks to that she and Christian will meet again. But when and where that is, that's the mystery in the book- which comes about in the sequel, Angel at Dawn. This is prime Emma Holly, hot lovemaking and really good story, all wrapped up with supernatural elements from the Upyr. Recommended.