Four big names in paranormal-four adventures starring man's worst friend...
In these four original novellas, readers follow paranormal bodyguards into Lucifer's realm, where they'll encounter his fearsome four-legged pets; seek out a traitor in the midst of a guild of non-lethal vampire trackers, one who intends to eradicate the entire species of bloodsuckers; find out why the giant three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades has left the underworld for the real world; and embark on a perilous search for the kidnapped niece of a powerful vampire alongside her blind-and damn sexy-companion and a hellhound.
Angels' Judgment is about Sara, telling the story of how she became Guild Director...and how she met Deacon.
Unedited Advance Excerpt from Chapter One
Sara wasn’t used to feeling sorry for vampires. Her job, after all, was to bag, tag and transport them back to their masters, the angels. She was no fan of indentured servitude but it wasn’t as if the angels hid the price of immortality. Anyone who wanted to get Made had to serve the angels for a hundred years. Non-negotiable.
You didn’t want to bow and scrape for a century, you didn’t sign the Contract. Simple. Running out on the Contract after the angels delivered their part of the bargain? That just made you a welsher. And nobody liked a welsher.
However, this guy had worse problems than being returned home to a pissed off angel. “Can you talk?”
The vampire clamped a hand over his almost-decapitated neck and looked at her as if she was insane.
“Yeah, sorry.” She wondered how the hell he was still alive. Vampires weren’t true immortals—they could be killed by both humans and others of their kind. Cutting off the head was the most foolproof method but the majority of people didn’t go that way—it wasn’t as if the vamps were going to stand still for it. Shooting out the heart worked, so long as you then cut off the head while they were down. Or fire. That did the job.
But Sara was a tracker. Her job was to retrieve, not kill. “You need blood?”
The vampire looked hopeful.
“Suck it in,” she said. “You’re not dead. Means you’re a strong one. You’ll last till I can get you home.”
Ignoring the gurgled rejection, she crouched down to slide an arm around his back so she could drag him to his feet. She was only five-feet-three, and he was considerably taller. But she wasn’t bleeding out from her neck and she worked out seven days a week. Grunting as she got him up, she began to walk him to the car. He resisted.
“Need a hand?” A deep, quiet voice, aged whiskey and smoldering embers.
She didn’t know that voice. Neither did she know the body that moved out of the shadows. Six feet plus of solid, muscled male. Heavy across the shoulders, thick in the thighs, but with the liquid grace of a trained fighter. One she wouldn’t want to be up against in a fight. And she’d taken down vampires twice her size. “Yeah,” she said. “Just help me get him to the car. It’s parked at the curb.”
The stranger all but picked up the vampire—who was starting to make vaguely understandable sounds—and dumped him in the backseat. “Control-chip?”
She pulled her crossbow off her back and aimed it at the vamp. The poor guy scrambled back, pulling his feet completely into the vehicle. Rolling her eyes, she returned the crossbow to its previous position and withdrew a necklet from its spot hooked into the waistband of her black jeans, under her T-shirt. Reaching in, she paused. “Don’t try anything funny or I’ll shoot you for real.”
Slumping, the vampire let her clamp the circle of metal around his rapidly healing neck. The science behind the device’s effect on vampiric biology was complex, but the results clear—the vampire was now constrained from acting without a direct order from Sara. Helpful didn’t begin to describe the control-chip because even this injured, the vamp could probably rip off her head in two seconds flat.
Sara liked her head, thank you very much.
Crawling back out, she shut the door and looked up at the other hunter—and there was no doubt in her mind as to his vocation. “Sara.” She thrust out a hand.
He took it, but didn’t speak for a long time. She couldn’t bring herself to protest—something in those dark, dark green eyes held her in place. Power, she thought, there was an incredible sense of power in him. Then he spoke, and the decadent whiskey of his voice almost blinded her to his actual words.
“I’m Deacon. You’re much smaller than your reputation suggests.”
She wrenched back her hand. “Thanks. And don’t offer to help next time.”
Most men would’ve walked off, egos dented. Deacon simply stood there, watching her with those intense eyes. “It wasn’t a criticism.”
Why the hell was she still here? “I have to deliver Rodney to his master.”
“You have a rep.” He stepped closer, his eyes drifting to the strap that bisected her body. “You and your crossbow.”
Was that amusement she saw in that oh-so-serious face? “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. My bolts are made to carry the same properties as the necklets—it keeps me out of harm’s way until the target’s safely chipped, and given their ability to heal, it hardly hurts.”
“Yet you had a necklet.”
She took off the crossbow. “Move.” This close, all she could see was Deacon, his chest a mile wide. Maybe she was a little affected, but hey, she had a pulse. He was sexy as hell. That changed nothing. She was a hunter. And he might be Guild, but he was also an unknown. “My best friend loves them.” She didn’t get why, but then Ellie didn’t get the crossbow, so they were even. However, Sara had promised to try the things, since Ellie had tried the crossbow on her last hunt. “I asked you to move.”
He finally shifted back a few inches. Enough that she could pull open the passenger door and drop the crossbow inside. Rodney was almost completely healed, but he’d gotten blood all over the interior of the rental car. Damn. The Guild would cover the expenses, but she didn’t particularly want to ride around in that mess. “I have to deliver the package.”
“Let’s talk to him first.”
She closed the passenger door. “And why would we do that?”
“Aren’t you curious about who cut him?” He had ridiculously long lashes, she thought. Dark and silky and completely unfair on a man.
“Probably some vampire hate group.” She frowned. “Morons. Never occurs to them that they’re attacking someone’s husband, father, or brother.”
He kept staring at her. “What?” She rubbed at her face, glad her dark skin tone hid her stupidly hot reaction to this stranger. But no harm in looking, right?
“They told me you had brown skin, brown eyes, black hair.”
That sounded about right. “Who’s ‘they?’”
“I’ll tell you after we talk to the vampire.”
“Carrot and stick?” She narrowed her eyes. “I’m not a rabbit.”
His lips curved up a little at the corners. “For the sake of camaraderie.” Reaching into his battered leather jacket, he pulled out his Guild I.D.
Curious enough not to cut off her nose to spite her face, she jerked her head toward the car. “I’ll go into the front seat, take off the necklet.” Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view—vampires couldn’t speak while chipped. “You get into the back and make sure he doesn’t—”
“I won’t fit in the car.”
She took him in. It was all she could do not to ask him to strip naked so she could lick him from head to toe. “Okay,” she said, stuffing her suddenly energetic hormones back into storage. “New plan. I’ll get him to lower the window, and you put your arm around his neck while we talk.”
And that was what they did. Rodney was more than happy to chat once Sara introduced herself.
“You like to shoot people.” He made it sound as if she were a maniac. “With a bow and arrow!”
“You’re behind the times—I switched to a crossbow last year.” It was faster, but she kinda missed her specially designed bow. Maybe she’d go back to it. “And it doesn’t even hurt.”
She blinked. “How old are you?”
“I just turned three.” Vampires counted their age from the time of their Making.
Sara shook her head. “And you tried to run? Why would you do something so stupid?” His sire, Mr. Lacarre, was way past mad.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Sounded like a good idea at the time.”
Clearly, they weren’t dealing with the sharpest knife in the drawer. “Oooookay.” Her eyes met Deacon’s. Not a ripple in their night-shadow green depths, but she could’ve sworn he was holding back laughter. Biting off her own smile, she returned her attention to Rodney. “Simple question.”
“Oh, good.” The vampire grinned, showing both fangs, something the old ones never ever did. “I don’t like hard things.”
“Who cut you, Rod?”
He swallowed and blinked rapidly. “Nobody.”
“So you tried to decapitate yourself?”
“Yeah.” He nodded, which meant Deacon was holding on very lightly. Not that it mattered. Sara had her crossbow as insurance.
“Rodney.” She put all the menace she was capable of in that single word. “Don’t lie to me.”
He blinked again—and oh my God—he was going to cry. Now she felt like a bully. “Come on, Rod. Why are you scared?”
“Because…” She thought about what would scare a vampire that bad. “Was it an angel?” If it had been his sire, she couldn’t do anything about it except report the bastard to the Vampire Protection Authority. However, it was also possible the attack had been orchestrated by one of Lacarre’s enemies, in which case, the angel would take care of it himself.
“No.” Rodney sounded shocked enough to be telling the truth. “Of course not. The angels Make us. They don’t kill us.”
And the boy was living in la-la land. “So who else scares you that bad?” She caught Deacon’s eyes again at that moment and found her answer in their no longer amused depths. “A hunter.” Or someone Rodney had mistaken for a hunter. Because real hunters didn’t kill vampires.
Rodney started sniffling. “Please don’t hurt me. I didn’t do anything.”
“Hey.” Sara reached out and, ignoring his flinch, patted him on the shoulder. “I’m interested in collecting my retrieval fee. I only get half if you’re dead, so it doesn’t make sense for me to kill you.”
Rodney looked at her with hope a shiny gem in his eyes. “Really?”
“What about—” Lowering his voice, he pointed at the arm around his neck.
Deacon spoke for the first time. “I’m her boyfriend. I do what she says.”
She stared at him, but Rodney apparently found the claim highly reassuring. “Yeah, you’re the boss,” he said to Sara. “I can tell. My Mindy, she likes to be the boss, too. She told me I should run away and you know, we could go on like a cruise.”
Sara pressed a her finger over his lips. “Focus, Rodney. Tell me about the hunter who cut you.”
“He said all you hunters hate vampires.” Rodney’s voice got very small. “I didn’t know that. I know it’s your job to track us, but I didn’t think you hated us.”
“We don’t.” Sara wanted to pat him on the head. Jesus. “He was just being mean.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. What else did he say?”
“That vampires were the scum of the earth, and that the angels were being polluted by our presence.” He made a face. “I don’t know how that could be true since the angels Make us.”
Sara was so surprised by the sudden burst of sense that it took her a second to process it. “Yeah, that’s right. So he was lying. He say anything else?”
“No, he just got out his sword—
—and tried to cut off my head.” He sat back, recital finished.
“What did he look like?” Deacon asked.
Rodney jumped, as if he’d forgotten the danger at his back. “I couldn’t see. He was wearing a black mask, and black everything. But he was tall. And strong.”
That included half the hunters in the Guild. Sara tried to get more out of Rodney, but it was a bust. Neckleting him again, she drove to Lacarre’s, very aware of Deacon following on a big monster of a bike. He remained outside the gates while she went in to deliver Rodney.
Rodney’s master was waiting for him in the sitting area of his palatial home. “Go,” he ordered.
Sara removed the necklet and put it on the table for Lacarre to return to the Guild as Rodney shuffled off like a penitent schoolboy. Snapping his cream colored wings shut in anger, the angel picked up an envelope from the table. “A receipt confirming payment. I sent it through as soon as you called to say you had Rodney.”
Checking it quickly, she slid it into a pocket. “Thank you.”
“Ms. Haziz,” he said, scowling, “I’ll be frank with you. I never expected Rodney to attempt an escape. I’m not sure how to punish him.”
Sara wasn’t used to talking to angels for longer than it took to get the assignment. In most cases, she didn’t even see them then—they were way too important to consort with mere mortals. That’s what vampires were for. “You know a Mindy?”
Lacarre stilled. “Yes. She’s one of my most senior vampires.”
“Hmm, I see.” A nod. “I’ve been spending extra time with Rodney—he’s a child and I’m afraid he’ll get eaten up if I don’t teach him some skills.”
Sara wasn’t even going to ask how Rodney had gotten through the Candidate selection process. So many people wanted to be Made that it was anything but a slam dunk. “He’s no mastermind,” she said. “I think if you punish him too harshly, he’ll break.”
Mr. Lacarre nodded. “Very well, Guild Hunter. Thank you.” It was a dismissal.
Leaving Rodney with a master who was still irritated, albeit no longer furious, felt vaguely wrong. But the vampire had made his choice when he asked to be Made. Now he’d be somebody’s slave for the next ninety-seven years. As she walked out, her path crossed with that of a slender redhead. The woman was dressed in a daring scarlet suit that molded to her body like second skin. It made a statement.
She would’ve kept going but the redhead stopped her. “You brought Rodney back.”
Mindy. “It’s my job.”
The older vampire—much older from the sheer ease with which she faked humanity, all but gritted her teeth. “I didn’t expect him to survive this long—he can barely tie his shoelaces.”
“How did he get Made?” Sara asked, unable to swallow her curiosity any longer.
Mindy waved a hand. “He was fine bef—” She belatedly seemed to realize who she was talking to. “Goodbye, Guild Hunter.”
“Bye.” Interesting, Sara thought. Everyone knew—even if the knowledge had never actually been confirmed—that a tiny percentage of Candidates went insane after the transformation. This was the first time she’d seen an example of someone who’d been diminished instead.
Deacon wasn’t around when she got back into the rental car, but he’d found her again by the time she reached her hotel. She parked in the underground garage and got out to see him bringing that monster motorcycle to a stop beside her. “How did you get past security?”
He took off his helmet, unzipped his jacket and swung off the bike. Gorgeous male muscle. Oh, so touchable. Something very tight in her stomach wound even tighter. Dear God but the man was sex on legs.
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