Authors: Sierra Dean
I made the unfortunate decision to let my friends dictate who book 4 should be dedicated to, and as such the most ridiculous list of acknowledgments follows…
To my Keurig coffee brewer, and the makers of German Chocolate Cake coffee…you will never know how instrumental your role was in creating this book.
To Kevin Matté…you exist. You also bought me the Keurig, so I guess you’re all right.
To Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Because you’re a hell of a pitcher and one sexy dude. (Yes, I do realize how ridiculous it is that I’m a Tigers fan, Desmond is a Yankees fan, and Lucas owns the Red Sox.)
To Jessica McCarthy, who can never have enough of these books dedicated to her.
To Tegan Kenward, who took a twelve-hour train ride to be with me at my first ever paperback signing. You are a true friend, a wonderful girl and someone I am thrilled to have in my life.
For the fur babies: Sophie, the greatest dog in history. Willow, the most useless cat ever. And Ziggy, who is twice as ridiculous as the fictional Rio.
To the Castanedas. Angel—I love you because you were telling dad jokes before you were a dad. Bobbi—my favorite blonde friend! And Miss Liliana—Auntie might devour you whole by your chubby, adorable cheeks. Much love.
And last, but never least…and possibly the only serious dedication here: to my father, Rob MacLennan. I lost you when I was only thirteen, so you never got to see what I became. I like to think you’d be proud of me, though, knowing I chased my dream all the way.
Vampires can’t fly, but a grown man can if you throw him hard enough.
That was the hard truth vampire hunter Shane Hewitt learned when I chucked him off the top of the bleachers of the empty high school gym we were in. He bounced when he landed and slid with a squeal. I couldn’t tell if the sound was from him yowling in pain or from his face grinding on the polished hardwood.
I winced. Not very fitting of a deadly former assassin, but I felt a little bad. Shane had put up a good fight, but he was outmatched. I should have gone easier on him, but the fact of the matter was I wasn’t here to coddle him, I was here to help keep him alive. He clambered to his feet with all the grace of a geriatric elephant, moaning and groaning the whole time. When he was standing tallish again, I leapt from the top of the bleachers to the bottom row, landing steadily in my knee-high black-heeled boots.
“Do you know how I was able to do that?”
Next to me on the bleachers my human ward, Nolan Tate, timidly raised his hand. Nolan was about six feet tall and built like a college linebacker. Seeing him ask for permission to speak as though I were really a teacher was so endearing my heart swelled. Too bad my question was meant for Shane. I touched Nolan’s shoulder, and he put his hand down.
“Because you’re a freak of nature?” Shane growled.
I had to laugh because he was more spot-on than he realized. Shane thought I was a freak because it was unheard of for a Tribunal leader, one of the three most powerful members of the vampire council, to be personally helping a disrespected, no-rank, human bounty hunter. In reality, my freakishness ran much deeper. I was a vampire, sure, but that was only half the story. The other half was werewolf, making me one hell of an unnatural disaster.
Seeing as a mere handful of people knew about what I was—and Shane wasn’t one of them—I replied with, “Close, but not the answer I was looking for.”
Once upon a time I had been in Shane’s place. Lowest on the totem pole, getting zero respect from the council while they expected me to kill their rogues and obey their every whim. Since then I had become one of them, and now my own whims were those to be obeyed. It was sort of surreal what could come from beheading one bitchy blonde vampire.
Shane wiped a dribble of blood off his chin. If he wanted to live to see his thirty-third birthday, he was going to have to start listening to me more and sass-talking me less. I had a whole new appreciation of what a hardship it had been for my mentor, Francis Keats, to put up with me when I was a rash sixteen-year-old.
When Shane didn’t reply right away, Nolan shifted nervously beside me. He knew I had a notoriously short fuse and was even shorter on patience. Nolan seemed to appreciate my lessons, whereas Shane often acted as if he felt they were beneath him.
I cleared my throat and kept my voice calm like I had to in Tribunal sessions. “Shane. Tell me why I was able to throw you.”
“Because you’re stronger than me,” he admitted, staring at his scuffed motorcycle boots.
While it took cojones for him to say it, I had been hoping for a different response. “No, that’s not the reason. Why was I able to throw you?”
Nolan went to raise his hand again but appeared to think better of it and scratched his head as a halfhearted cover-up. My less-obliging student tromped over and sat beside me on the bleachers, rubbing his tender jaw.
“I didn’t see the second swing coming.”
“That’s the first part of it, yes. What else?” I sat down between Shane and Nolan, waiting for the former’s reply while the latter watched us in rapt silence. Nolan had been an incredible find in a bar full of would-be vampire hunters. He wasn’t much with the killer edge, but he had a survival instinct that was more finely tuned than anyone I’d ever met. I also loved him like a younger brother, and it made me especially protective of him.
“I don’t know.”
“Then you’re dead.
, Shane. I’m not doing this to be cruel, trust me. If I wanted to be cruel, you wouldn’t have gotten up at all.”
He stopped touching his face and took off his leather jacket. One of the studs had bitten into my hand when I punched him in the gut. I used to think the jacket was a prop to bolster his bad-boy image, but I was starting to see a defensive logic to it. Personally, I wore mine because it looked cool. Though recently it had taken an unfortunate swim with me, and the leather would never be the same.
Shane sighed a little too dramatically and cracked his knuckles. The fighting man’s thinking posture.
“Just give me a minute,” he grumbled as I tried to goad him into answering. Then—like the proverbial light bulb going off—his eyes widened, and I knew he’d figured it out. “When I went to counter the blow, I leaned back. You took advantage of my shifted balance and used it to throw me.”
I grinned at him. “Bang.”
“But if he didn’t see the second swing coming, how could he have prevented the counter?” Nolan asked.
“That’s simple.” My smile was loose and easy as I got to my feet and stood facing them. My fist darted out, and I stopped it a hairsbreadth away from Nolan’s nose. His eyes bugged, and I could feel his hot, quick breaths on my knuckles. “You have to
expect the second swing.”
When I pulled my hand away, he let out a small sigh. The squeaky-wheeled hum of the janitor’s cleaning cart echoed down the hall outside. I offered one of my hands to each of the men, and they both accepted, allowing me to pull them to their feet. We used to panic when we heard the janitor’s cart, until we realized he wore headphones and kept the volume on his Rod Stewart cassette cranked to insane levels. Since then we took our time leaving when we heard him approaching the gymnasium.
“Let’s call it a night,” I suggested. Sometimes when we left the gym, we’d go for practice hunts in the park, taking advantage of the warmer evenings associated with early spring. We were all glad to be rid of winter’s icy shackles, but tonight I didn’t feel like hunting with the boys. The other two members of the Tribunal were beginning to suspect something was amiss with my evening activities, and I didn’t want to push my luck. I still had my freedom, and they hadn’t put me back under the watchful eye of the council’s lowly wardens. I wanted to keep it that way.
You can only tempt fate so often before she turns around and bites you in the ass.
Getting out of the gym was significantly easier than getting in. To enter, we had to scale a chain-link fence and I—being the one with supernatural dexterity—had to shimmy up a drainpipe to a high window. Afterwards I could unlock the back door and let the boys in. It was a shame they kept locking it on us every time we came because it would save me a heck of a climb if they’d leave it open.
When we were back outside, Shane and Nolan made for the fence. They were quick and agile enough for humans, but they weren’t fighting humans in the wild. They were fighting monsters like me. I waited until they were over then drove my point home by grabbing the chain link one-handed and swinging myself up to the top beam of the fence. Then, without pausing to balance, I kicked off from the metal bar and landed deftly between them.
“Show off,” Shane muttered.
“Awesome,” was Nolan’s counter.
I didn’t get a chance to put in my two cents because my phone started to vibrate in my pocket, and a moment later Billy Idol’s voice was snarling the lyrics to “White Wedding”.
“Shit.” I bounced the phone from one palm to the other, trying to make the stupid touch screen do what I wanted. It was shiny and new and stupidly expensive, and it made me miss the hell out of my old, basic flip phone. “I’m late for my meeting with the fucking wedding planner.”
I was in hell.
In my twenty-three years, I had hunted vampires, chased errant fae and even decapitated a demon. But none of them could hold a candle to the horror I had to face tonight.
Or Miss Kimberly Kaitlyn Carlyle, as she introduced herself to me the first time. Her wrist was jangly with gold Tiffany bangles, and her nails were fake gel talons that gave me a shudder when they brushed against my skin.
your sweater,” she drawled, putting too much emphasis on her vowels and too much friendliness in her voice. She was lying.
I was wearing a sweater I’d pulled out of the back of my closet that had once belonged to my ex-boyfriend Gabriel Holbrook. It had holes in the sleeves and the yarn was pulling loose across the chest, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Three months earlier I’d watched Gabriel die, and it made it difficult to discard the earthly remnants of him.
But in this situation it helped me divine what kind of person Kimberly was, because the sweater was a piece of crap. Unless she thought I was wearing it in an ironically messy way, there was no way she would compliment for any reason other than sucking up.
Which—considering she was one of the highest paid wedding planners in New York—was exactly what she was trying to do. She wanted to please me because she wanted to make nice with the money. Not my money, since I didn’t have any to speak of, but the money associated with the man I was engaged to marry.
Lucas Rain. Billionaire, corporate head honcho, and the reason I had a massive, flawless diamond ring on my finger. A ring Kimberly kept sneaking glances at while she dangled her bracelets in my face.
Kimberly was one of those New York City girls who talked a lot but never really said anything.
“Secret,” she said, leaning close to me. We were both seated on plush divans in her too-bright, too-big, too-airy office. Her breath smelled like cinnamon chewing gum, and her nearness made me nervous and defensive. Where the hell was Lucas? He was fifteen minutes late, and I was ready to throttle him for leaving me alone with this woman. She said my name again, making the first
sound like a mosquito’s buzzing.
She had my attention.
“I said do you have a preference? Monique Lhuillier or Vera Wang?”
The only thing I knew about wedding dresses was that they were all white, tight and probably impossible to kill someone in.
Unless that someone was Kimberly, in which case I’d find a way.
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
“Well, we’ll schedule a trial at Kleinfeld. You might want something totally different.” She laughed as if this were the funniest idea in the world. “And you’ll want to have your mother there, I assume.”
My ears felt hot, and I had my hand balled into a fist without meaning to. “My mother…” I let my fist fall open and dazzled her with the gleaming rock. She was like a kitten looking at a laser pointer. “My mother is dead.” This was a lie, but since she’d pretended to like my hideous sweater I figured my lie made us even. The truth about my mother was too ugly for Kimberly and her taffeta-drenched world.