As a vampire, Anna Strong has an immortal life...but now she’s running out of time.
Anna’s relationship with shape-shifter Daniel Frey has given her hope for a future with him and his son—especially when Frey proposes…
But just when Anna starts to think her life couldn’t be better, she must fly to France to be at the side of her dying mother. There she learns that not every vampire accepts her Chosen One status. And one such vamp is about to go rogue—by leading his followers in a fight to usurp humanity…
I pull the Jag into the parking lot and reluctantly shut off the engine. My business partners, David and Tracey, are already in the office. I know because I’m parked right next to David. He and Tracey have taken to driving together and I can tell where they spent the night by whose car is in the lot. This morning, it’s David’s big, yellow Humvee.
I should have been inside by now, too, kneedeep in tax reports. The notsofun side of a successful bountyhunting business. To make it worse, the sun is bouncing off the bay with the intensity only a cloudless San Diego spring day can generate. I want to be outside basking in itnot trapped inside, working.
But duty calls.
Halfheartedly, I drag myself up the path to the door.
Tracey looks up and smiles a greeting, but David frowns.
“You were supposed to be here an hour ago. We have to get this stuff to the tax attorney by noon.”
I slump in my chair. “Yeah, yeah. What do you want me to do?”
He hands me a fistful of receipts. “Sort these by date.”
I take the pile and spread the receipts on the desk. Mechanically, I sort.
“We’ve had a good year,” Tracey remarks, her eyes zeroing in on the bottom line of an income statement.
“Too good,” David grumbles. “And if we don’t get this tax stuff to the attorney by noon, what hard work giveth, the tax man will taketh away.”
“I hear you, David. Look. I’m sorting, I’m sorting.”
David drops his eyes back to the pile of paper on his side of our partners’ desk. Tracey has pulled a chair up so that they are seated side by side and it strikes me what a goodlooking couple they are. David, ex–football player, sixfootsix tall, still the same weight and shape as he was when he played for the Raiders. Tracey, excop, bundle of energy, her auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail. I can’t remember why I was skeptical of her when David first brought her on board. I had no reason to be. We even have the same fashion senseeach of us perennially dressed in jeans and Tshirts. That should have been enough to bond us in itself.
David looks up, catches me watching him. But instead of making some comment about how I’m not working, his expression shifts from irritation to sly mischief.
Uhoh. What now? I brace myself.
“So, Anna,” he says. “You went out of town last weekend.”
“Did you do anything special?” Tracey pipes in, batting her lashes.
What the I shift my gaze from Tracey to David, narrow my eyes. “Why don’t you tell me? And since when have my weekends been a topic of conversation? ”
David leans back in his chair and laces his fingers behind his head. “Since you started spending a lot of time with that friend of yours in Monument Valley. Is there something you want to share with us?”
“Like is it getting serious between you two?”
I frown, sifting several variations of “none of your fucking business” through my head until I come to the realization with a start. It is their fucking business. They are my partners and my friends. I turn that old frown upside down. “Yes.”
David almost slips backward off his chair. Scrambling to regain his balance, he grunts, “Wow. That’s a first. He’s not just a fuck buddy? You actually admit you have a serious relationship?”
Tracey leans forward, all big eyes and girlish enthusiasm. “Ooooh. Tell me about him. When will I meet him? What’s he like?”
I have to mull that over in my mind. There are more things I can’t say about him to my human business partners than I canlike the fact that he’s a shapeshifter, that his other form is panther, that his son is already manifesting his powers as a shapeshifter years ahead of the curve, that he’s saved my vampire ass more than once over the past year and a half I’ve known him.
I draw in a breath and meet Tracey’s gaze. “He’s generous, handsome, strong. Has tremendous endurance.” A wink to her here. “Has a fiveyearold son that I’m crazy about. And he loves me almost as much as I love him.”
I hear a gasp from David. “Holy fucking shit. You sound like a girl.”
“She is a girl, stupid,” Tracey snaps. “Jesus.” She turns to me. “He sounds wonderful. And I’m getting so jealous. When do I get to meet Mr. Wonderful?”
“In two weeks. His son has a school break the middle of March and they’re spending it here.”
“What’s his name?”
“Frey lives in Monument Valley now? And he has a son?” David asks, startled. “Since when?”
I forgot that David met Frey several months ago. They spent some time together at a local bar while I slipped out to attend to some vampire business. “He moved a while ago. I didn’t find out about his son myself until just recently.”
A white lie. Frey told me about his son the same time he distracted David so I could sneak away. I did just meet JohnJohn, though, right after Christmas.
“Wow, that’s so romantic,” Tracey says.
David sticks a finger in his open mouth and makes a gagging sound. “Jesus. Is this what I’m going to have to listen to in the office now? You two hardasses cooing like characters in a romance novel?”
I get out of my chair and cross to his side of the desk, leaning down so we’re eye level. “I have just three words for you,” I growl. “Gloria. Fucking. Estrella.”
“Who’s that?” Tracey asks.
Color floods up David’s neck.
I grin. “Ask him to tell you about her sometime,” I reply. “Now that’s a story out of a romance novel.”
David grows suddenly quiet, busying himself with a stack of papers he’s probably been through a dozen times.
“Who’s Gloria Estrella?” Tracey repeats. Then she stops. “Wait a minute. The Gloria Estrella?”
You can see the gleam of recognition spark in her eyes. “You told me you had dated a Gloria, but Gloria Estrella? She was your ex?”
“That was before you moved to San Diego and joined SDPD,” David blurts. “It’s been over for a long time!”
“You mean you missed the glamorous couple on the cover of People every other week?” I can’t believe I’m spouting off like this, but once started, the sarcasm pours forth. “The actress and the football player. They were news, baby!”
David shoots me a look that’s pure poison. “That’s enough, Anna. Unless you want me to enumerate your lessthanstellar relationships.”
But his tone is more hurt than angry and I’m suddenly flooded with guilt. It was unfair to bring Gloria into the conversation. Gloria Estrella was the big, stupid, “you are the love of my life” mistake every one of us makes at least once. David loved her to the depths of his soul, refusing to see what lay beneath the gleaming façade.
Yes, she was beautiful, a successful model and actress, but she was also vain, selfcentered and utterly without conscience. David is handsome, trusting, an ex–football player of some local renown. Perfect for Gloria to use as a camerafriendly public consort and since I was his partner and friend, perfect to use me to save her ass with the police when she screwed up. Which she did on more than one occasion. Big time. But it came to an end when I saw what she was doing to David. I made a bargain with her. I’d help get her out of yet another scrape (a very big one) if she promised to let David go. I did and remarkably, she’s kept her word.
It took David a long time to get over her.
And now, I’ve raised the specter again. Just when he and Tracey were beginning a relationship of their own. Tracey is an excop, almost as tough as I am, and just as streetsmart. She and David do make a good couple, and she’s more than a match for any of David’s exes, except maybe Gloria.
Tracey is about to start asking questions again, I can see it in the confused way she looks from David to me.
I made this mess; I’d better clean it up.
I wave a hand and laugh. “Foget it, Tracey. Gloria is old newsa joke between David and me. It was over a long time ago.”
I see David’s shoulders relax ever so slightly.
But so does Tracey. Her eyes tighten at the corners. “Are you sure?”
And then, as if stage directed to enter at precisely the right moment, the door to our office opens.
The three of us swivel toward it. I might be imagining it, but a wave of relief at the interruption is so palpable, our visitor seems to feel it, too. He pauses, hand on the door, his expression curious but detached.
“Am I interrupting?” Detective Harris says.
Shit. “When aren’t you interrupting?” I groan under my breath.
He comes in and closes the door behind him. He is smiling, but he’s a cop. A middleaged, builtlikeaboxer, craggyfaced bulldog of a cop. His smiles can’t be trusted. He was involved in the Gloria Estrella fiasco, which brings David’s shoulders up again. But we both know he isn’t here about that longclosed case.
Harris strides over to the visitor’s chair and pulls it up to the desk. He turns it around and straddles it backward, grinning. “Hope you all had a good holiday.”
Small talk? And now he’s grinning. Christ. This can’t be good. When no one follows up with the usual banalities about how good their holidays were, I pipe in. “What can we do for you?”
Harris ignores my question and directs one to Tracey. “How’s the bountyhunting business treating you, Officer Banker?”
“Exofficer,” Tracey spits back with the malevolence of a striking rattlesnake, her ferocity startling us all.
Jaw clenched, she adds, “As you well know since it was at your recommendation that I was granted disability retirement.”
I snap to attention at this unexpected bit of informationand at the heat in Tracey’s response. I’d assumed Tracey had agreed to retirement after an offduty scuffle with an armed bank robber resulted in a hero’s commendation and a back injury. Should have known after seeing Tracey in action with us that it hadn’t been her choice to retire from the force.
She’s on her feet now, gathering the tax papers we’d assembled and the sheaf of receipts I was working on and stuffing them into a large envelope with jabs that would do a boxer proud. “I’ll take these downtown,” she says, jaw tight. “Finish it there. See you later.”
And she’s gone . . . fairly flying out the door. David and I look at each other and then at Harris.
“Well. I don’t think she likes you very much,” David says.
Harris shifts in his chair. The fact that he didn’t jump to defend his actions with Tracey makes me think he might realize he acted precipitously in forcing her to retire. “I’m sorry she’s still so angry,” he says.
David shakes his head. “It’s not Anna and me you should be apologizing to. It’s Tracey.” He pushes back his chair and gets to his feet. “I’m going with her.” He’s looking at Harris, daring the detective to try to stop him.
Harris lifts his shoulders. “Tell her I didn’t mean to upset her,” he says quietly.
David mumbles something that sounds a lot like “right, you fucking jerk” and brushes past Harris.
Then it’s just the two of us alone in the office.
“I see your social skills haven’t improved.”
Then, since I think I’m going to need fortification, I get up and head for the coffeemaker in the corner. “Want coffee?”
If Harris hears the reluctance in my offer, he ignores it. He joins me at the credenza and takes a mug off the counter. He pours creamer and what looks like a quarter cup of sugar into it before swirling the mug until I think the contents are going to spill over the sides and onto the floor. They don’t.
I watch the performance with raised eyebrows. “Ever heard of a spoon?” I ask dryly.
He’s already tipped the mug to his lips, but he allows a smile. “Haven’t spilled a drop yet.”
We take our coffee back to the desk. This time he plops himself down in David’s chair. We drink for a couple of minutes until I can stand the staring contest no longer.
“Christ, Harris, are you ever going to tell me why you’re here? ”
He tilts his head back, draining his mug. “You can’t guess?”
Sure, I can guess. He’s been badgering me ever since the former chief of police, Warren Williams, was found murdered, burned to ashes, outside of Palm Springs several months ago. Of course, he doesn’t know that Williams was a vampire. But the details of his death and the unconventional forensic evidence found at the scene, twohundredyearold DNA to be precise, and the fact that Williams and I were known to have had a contentious relationship have elevated me to the top position in his list of “persons of interest.” No matter that there is not a shred of evidence to link me to the crime.
But I want him to bring it up so I stay quiet.
Finally, he does.
“It’s about Judith Williams.”
Not what I was expecting, though as bad luck would have it, I have knowledge of that Williams’ death, too. Warren Williams’ wife, also a vampire, met her own grisly end at the point of an arrow.
I feign innocence. “Chief Williams’ wife? Didn’t I read that she’d gone missing several months back?”
“You did. Is that all you know, what you read in the newspapers?”
Now I’ve been around long enough to know the cops don’t generally ask questions they haven’t already answeredat least to themselvesso I frame my reply around a question. “I thought the FBI had taken over the case?”
“They had, yes. But I was informed yesterday that they’re no longer pursuing it. Which means to us real cops that they hit a dead end. Decided to clear it off their books and throw it back to the locals.”
He pauses, watching me, as if waiting for some kind of response. You’d think he knew me well enough by now to know the odds he’ll get one are as infinitesimal as the odds we’ll ever share a bed. When I stare back at him, mouth clamped tightly shut, he finally gives up.
“So,” he says, picking up the conversation as if he’d never hesitated, “I’ve got all these reports from the FBI investigation. And I’m exercising due diligence by going over each and every one, and imagine my surprise when a familiar name pops up.” He gets up and walks back to the coffeemaker, casual as an old sweater, taking time to pour himself a second mug and going through the “sugar, cream, swirl and slosh” routine. Then he takes a breath and turns to face me with the smug expression of a movie detective about to expose the villain in a room full of suspects.
Only there’s no room full of suspects. Only me. I know what he’s going to say. Before he gets the chance, I figure I’ll pop his balloon. “It’s no biggie, Harris. Yes. I was in Monument Valley same time as Judith Williams. But I only saw her once. Ran into her at the lodge. She was with a man I’d never seen before. I was there with Daniel Frey visiting his son. We said hello to her, went our separate ways. End of story.”
I touch the tip of my nose. Nope. It’s not growing.
Harris puts his mug down on the credenza. “That’s what the report said. Funny thing, it’s just about word for word the same thing that you said about being in Palm Springs when Warren Williams was killed. And Daniel Frey was with you then, too.”
I eye him over the rim of my mug and snort. “My, that is a coincidence.”
I shouldn’t have pushed it with that last sarcastic remark. Harris’ patience explodes with the impact of a rock through a window. “There are a hell of a lot of coincidences with you, lady. I don’t believe in coincidences. The FBI may have dropped the case, but I won’t. Not ever. Get used to this face because I’ll be looking over your shoulder every minute until I figure out how you managed to be in the vicinity of not one, but two murders.” He pushes out of the chair. “There’s something not right about you. You’re a puzzle. I don’t like puzzles. But I’m damned good at solving them.”
He turns on his heels and storms out of the office. His threat, because that’s just what it was, trails behind him like a bitter wake.
I put my head against the back of the chair. Harris and I have a relationship that teetertotters up and down. Not too long ago, I thought we might be on our way to becoming if not exactly pals, at least tolerant of each other. Obviously I overestimated.
His words echo in my head. Something’s not quite right with me?
I get up and take our mugs back to the credenza.
A little overly dramatic but what a master of understatement. I’m vampire, for shit’s sake.
I’m surprised he didn’t ask me again about the mysterious twohundredyearold DNA found where Warren Williams’ was killed.
At least that’s one sleeping dog he didn’t kick.
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