Only 3 more days until THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE VAMPIRE is released!!
Monday afternoon, Dakota woke up before the sunwent down. He had barely slept after the run-in with Trixie, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the scent he’d detected at the cabin. It had been over fifty years since he’d been exposed to that pungent aroma. It was so faint at first that he wasn’t sure if he’d really smelled what he thought he did.
Eons ago they had been protectors for the humans but eventually their lust for gold took over and they abandoned humanity. As far as Dakota was concerned, gargoyles had no honor. Many in the supernatural world thought gargoyles were only a few years from extinc- tion. Hell, some folks already thought they were. And that would be fine with Dakota.
He might not have smelled that scent in decades but there was no mistaking it. That particular brand of stink had been burned into his brain with painful clarity. Hell, yes. A gargoyle had definitely been at the human’s cabin in the woods but the real question was why? Why would a gargoyle be hanging around a human after all this time, and why the hell was Trixie mixed up with it all?
He could go to the czars about his suspicion, but he didn’t want to cause a ruckus if he could avoid it. Especially since it was connected to whatever Trixie was hiding.
Right after Dakota had been turned, he and his maker were assigned a top secret mission to eliminate as many gargoyles as possible. They were considered a danger to the entire supernatural community. Driven by greed and their obsession with gold, they exhibited risky behavior. Some had even allowed themselves to be seen by humans with increasing frequency, and that wasn’t good for anyone. The top secret directive came straight from Emperor Zhao, and Dakota’s maker, Jonner, had told him he was never to speak of it. Ever. Then Jonner got dusted, the gargoyle activity basically died out, and Dakota got himself signed up as a sentry.
If that human girl was mixed up with gargoyles, she was in a heap of trouble. They were dangerous and had no honor. Gargoyles cared for no one other than themselves and for nothing other than finding their long lost gold.
Dakota locked his apartment door and made his way down to the basement of the building. He passed a few other tenants, all of them human, but none of them gave him more than a cursory nod of the head. New York was not the friendliest place; moments like this made him miss the warmth of Texas.
Luckily the laundry room was empty when he got there, and he was able to slip into the utility closet without any drama.
He didn’t bother turning on the light; he could see easily in the pitch-black space. As with all vampires, he had night vision. When humans saw nothing, his world was sepia-toned. He pressed the tile along the top edge of the wall and a moment later the secret door slid open, giving him access to the underground tunnel network that ran beneath the city.
Dakota flew through the narrow halls with ease. Patrol, as always, was due to start at sundown and he had to watch over his section of the city, but he needed to see Trixie first. He had to get her to trust him so that she would tell him what in the hell she was hiding. If a gargoyle was loitering in the area, then it was his duty as a sentry to put it down. His curiosity was driven by far more personal reasons.
The spunky vampire occupied his every waking thought, and now that he’d touched her, felt her smooth silky flesh beneath his—he wanted more. He was unreasonably drawn to her, and if he was gonna be honest with himself, he had been since his first day in the city. Hell, the gals he had dated during his time as a human were nothing like Trixie, and that’s why he liked her so much. The women of his era had been prim, proper, perfectly coiffed, and soft spoken. There was no challenge. No fire. Trixie was the exact opposite. She was…unexpected.
He rounded a sharp turn to the right, and a few min- utes later he arrived at the entrance to The Coven. The vampire-run nightclub operated out of an old church in Greenwich V illage, and even though the music wasn’ t to his taste, Dakota had to admit they ran a top-notch joint. He slipped in the entrance and made his way up the winding staircase to the door that led to the club office. He probably could have gone right in, but that still felt rude.
He rapped on the door, listening for any sign of Sadie. She was a member of Olivia’s coven, the owner of the nightclub, and mated to the werewolf prince, Killian Bane. She and Bane had been in Alaska for the past few weeks visiting the Werewolf Society territory and doing their duty as senators and interracial liaisons for the Presidium. They weren’t supposed to be back in New York for another week or so, but for all he knew, they’d come home early.
Vampires hookin’ up with werewolves. Vampires havin’ babies. And now there was a gargoyle in the area.
Weird damn coven.
“Come on in, Dakota.” Damien’s deep baritone came through the door before it slid open. He extended his hand and rose from the chair at the desk. “Hey, man. What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same question.” Dakota moved into the small cozy office as the panel slid shut, and then he shook Damien’s hand. “I thought you were the bouncer of this joint. The muscle.”
“I am.” Damien flashed a toothy white grin. “But Sadie has me run the show when she has to do her dip- lomat stuff in Alaska with Killian. I like it. It gives me a chance to exercise my brain and not just my brawn.”
“That’s a crazy thing, isn’t it?”
“What?” Damien winked. “That I’ve got brains?” “Nah, man. Sadie and Killian. I mean who would have thought that the heir to the Werewolf Society throne would be the bloodmate of a vampire? That’s some wild business.” Dakota headed for the door that led out to the club but paused for a moment and studied Damien carefully. “Next thing you know, Olivia will be welcoming gargoyles into her coven.”
“Now that is crazy.” Damien laughed and his massive shoulders shook with each deep chuckle. “Gargoyles? Come on, man. You know they’re practically extinct. Even if there are any left, they stay hidden in the shad- ows. No way. I think it’s safe to say there won’t be any gargoyles hanging around The Coven anytime soon. Besides, I heard they stink to high heaven.”
“Yeah, me too.” Dakota nodded and gave him a tight smile. “I best be gettin’ on my way or Shane will have my hide. He’s a bossy old son of a gun.”
“Hey.” Damien’s deep baritone stopped him in the doorway. Damn. He’d almost made a clean exit. “Why are you here anyway? The club isn’t open for the night yet. No bad guys to watch in there.”
“It’s not a guy I’m interested in.” He tilted his head in deference and grinned. “I won’t keep her but a minute or two.”
Dakota strode down the hall to the main room of the club without waiting for a response. Music, some- thing loud with a heavy bass beat, flowed through the cavernous space and bounced off the walls like it was trying to escape. It only took a second to find Trixie. She was behind the bar, exactly where he thought she’d be, and the woman was dancing like no one was watch- ing. Movement to his left captured his attention. It was the DJ, Justine. The tattooed and heavily pierced vamp was up on the DJ platform waving at him, but Dakota pressed a finger to his lips as he moved silently toward the bar. She gave him a thumbs-up and kept on with her business.
Trixie was singing along with the music and dancing as she stocked the top-shelf liquors. Her body—toned, curvy, and athletic—swayed hypnotically to the beat and Dakota found himself entranced. She was clad in a black tank top and skintight black jeans, and a series of colorful rubber bracelets adorned her wrists. Her hair, which had been pink and black yesterday, was now blond with streaks of bright blue and styled in her usual messy way. Like she’d just rolled outta bed. He had the urge to run his fingers through it.
In that moment, it was crystal clear why he found her so intriguing. The women of his day had been so perfectly coiffed, with not a hair out of place. What you saw was what you got. That’s how it was back then. Men were men. Women were women. Everyone knew their role and played it to perfection.
But Trixie… Well, this gal was another story altogether.
She looked like a tough girl, like she was ready for anything, but Dakota had long suspected she was noth- ing like the woman she pretended to be. Last night’s encounter had confirmed it. The role she’d assigned herself, the badass punk rock chick, was a cover for someone far more interesting. That was the woman he wanted to discover.
Dakota sidled up to the bar and stood silently, waiting for her to notice his presence. He wasn’t in a rush. He was having too much fun enjoying the show. Trixie bent down to grab two more bottles of booze, and when she stood up, he caught her eye in the mirror behind the bar.
The beat of the music pulsed insistently but neither of them moved.
Her pale amber gaze remained locked with his for several beats of the song. The house lights in the club dimmed, and at the same moment the lights above the dance floor flickered to life. Reds. Blues. Pinks. Greens—the space became awash in a kaleidoscope of colors, but Trixie stood out like a beacon, shining above everything else.
Then the house lights came on with a hollow click, the colors vanished, and the music fell silent. The moment broken, Trixie tore her gaze from his and shoved the bottles onto the shelf.
“AV is ready to roll,” Justine shouted from her perch. “Hey, Dakota. How’s it hangin’, gov?”
“Fine, thanks.” Dakota waved over his shoulder but kept his attention on Trixie. “Always a pleasure to see you, Miss Justine.”
“Right then.” Justine snorted with laughter. She flew down from her perch and headed for the office. “I’ll see you two in a bit. Need to take care of somethin’ b’fore the doors open.”
“What are you doing here?” Trixie looked at the large black watch strapped to her wrist before grab- bing the empty box. “Aren’t you supposed to be on patrol or something? Y’know, protecting the city from the rando supernatural freaks who don’t follow the Presidium’ s rules.”
“Hey, Dakota!” Maya’s perky voice drifted over his shoulder as she whisked past him and hopped behind the bar. She stood in front of Trixie, blocking her exit, and grabbed the edge of the box in Trixie’s hands. “I’ll take that out to the Dumpster. The sun just went down. Besides, that will give you time to chat with Dakota.”
“I got it,” Trixie said through clenched teeth. She tugged the box away and slipped around her fellow bar- tender. “And I don’t need to chat with him. He has to go to work, which is what we should be doing too. I already stocked the top shelf, but you can check the beer.”
“Fine,” Maya huffed. “Why are you so cranky?”
Trixie mumbled something incoherent and strode toward the bright red Exit sign at the end of the dark hallway.
“I’ll walk you out.” Dakota followed her to the back door that led to the alley and winked at Maya. “’Night, Maya.”
“Good night, Dakota,” she sang. Her knowing giggle faded as he strolled down the hallway after Trixie. “Good luck.”
That was weird. Why would Maya be wishin’ him good luck?
“Why are you following me?” Trixie sighed without looking back at him in the dark hallway. “Don’t you have a job to do? I mean one that doesn’t involve bug- ging me. Besides, Shane and Pete will have your ass if you aren’t out there by sundown,” she said, referring to the two other sentries.
“I’ll be out there soon enough.” Dakota swept past her and opened the door to the alley for her. He held it open and stepped back into the dimly lit alley so she could pass. “But there’ s somethin’ that’ s been naggin’ at me all day. Woke me out of a dead sleep, as a matter of fact.”
“Very funny.” Trixie rolled her eyes, but he didn’t miss the hint of a smile on her red lips as she swept past him and into the alley. “What is it?”
The door shut with a dull clank. Trixie tossed the box into the Dumpster before turning around and almost walking face-first into his chest. Dakota had moved in so he was only a couple of feet behind her, and a look of surprise flickered briefly over her face. She stumbled backward, but he linked his arms around her biceps in a blur of speed and tugged her compact curvy body against his before she could bump into the metal Dumpster.
He told himself that he’d done it only to stop her from hitting the dirty metal contraption, but that was a lie. He had been looking for any excuse to touch her again, to slide his hands over her and feel the comforting weight of her body against his. Last night in the woods, before the stench of gargoyle filled his head, he’d been dizzy and drunk on her. Touching her had reminded him of what it was like to be human, and that was flat-out nuts. He wasn’t human. Hadn’t been for over fifty years. Yet when he was with Trixie, well, that was all he could think about.
She made him feel like a man. A red-blooded, horny- as-hell man.
The warmth of her flesh beneath Dakota’s fingers stirred his blood, and the velvety feel of it made his fangs hum. In that instant, when the smooth silky skin of her arms whispered against his palms, every animal instinct inside him went on overdrive. Her scent, the one that conjured up cozy nights by a fire, curled around him in the cool fall air and had him pulling her closer still.
“Careful, darlin’,” he murmured, his thumb rushing along the curve of her bicep. “You almost hit that pretty little head.”
Her hands pressed against his chest, but to his sur- prise, she didn’t try to push him away. Those gorgeous eyes, the ones that reminded him of melted caramels, widened as her fingers curled around the lapels of his long leather coat. Hell, she was pulling him closer, almost imperceptibly. His gaze skittered over her heart-shaped face before quickly locking again on those hypnotic eyes framed perfectly by jagged wisps of bright blond hair with turquoise streaks.
For the first time since turning vamp, Dakota was swamped by lust. The kind that twisted his gut in knots and made his dick twitch. There ain’t nothin’ that makes a man feel more alive than white-hot desire. He hadn’t been with a woman since being turned. Didn’t seem right to get involved with someone when it had nowhere to go. Besides, before finding Trixie, the need for sex had paled in comparison to the desire for blood. Right this second, he’d give up live feeds for the rest of his existence for just one taste of her.
“What did I tell you about putting your hands on me?” Her voice was low and her meaning clear when she lifted her lip and revealed her fangs. “Let me go.”
Lord have mercy, he loved a woman with moxie. And this one had bushels of it.
“Apologies.” Dakota released her abruptly and took a step back, sticking his hands in the pockets of his coat. “Next time, I’ll let you bump your head.”
“Great.” Trixie squared her shoulders and gestured for him to move. “I’ve been walking around all on my own for the better part of four decades. I think I can handle it.”
Dakota was blocking the door back into the club, but he stayed right where he was. His head might be fogged by lust, but he’d be damned if he was gonna let her leave without answering his question.
Trixie folded her arms over her bosom. “You said you had a question,” she said, sighing. “What is it?”
“The birthday party.”
“Okay,” she said slowly, a look of confusion washing over her. “What about it?”
“Why weren’t you all full of sunshine and rainbows like everybody else?”
“What are you talking about?” She cracked her knuckles before settling her hands on her hips. “Is that why you’ re keeping me out here in this smelly alley? T o find out why I wasn’t wearing a party hat? Which by the way, you weren’t either.”
“The only hat I’ll put on my head is a Stetson.” He took one step toward her. “And we aren’t talkin’ about me, we’re talkin’ about you. See, my gut tells me that there was somethin’ about that party, about that little girl, that set you off and sent you runnin’ back to the woods.”
“You’re crazy,” she said through a weak laugh. Tilting her head, she met his challenging stare. She held her ground as he advanced. “I think you’re starting to see things, cowboy.”
“Oh, I see things, alright,” he murmured. “I see the way you are around Emily.” His voice dropped to almost a whisper and he stopped, his body mere inches from hers. “Even if no one else does.”
“What are you talking about? I love that little girl,” she whispered shakily. “She’s part of my family. The only family that I’ve ever really had.”
“Exactly and all the more reason for you to be giddy as all get-out for that sweet little baby’s birth- day. But you weren’t. And that got me thinkin’ about your secret visits out to that cabin in the woods. Why would you leave a family birthday party to go see some human woman?”
Dakota intentionally invaded Trixie’ s space but refrained from touching her, even though it was the one desire that burned brightest.
He lowered his voice to a whisper and searched her eyes for answers. “Who is Chelsea? Who is she to you?” Trixie’s eyes glimmered in the dim light of the alley and her full lower lip quivered. For a split second, Dakota thought she was going to cry—or maybe haul off and deck him—but she did neither. Instead she shook her head, then slipped around him in a blur and yanked open the door to the club.
Dakota loved a challenge. Hell, the chase was the best part.
Matching her speed, he spun around and whisked to the doorway. He braced his hands along the door frame on either side of Trixie, bringing his body to within an inch of hers. The two of them remained in a virtual standoff as the music from the club echoed down the hallway.
“Funny,” he said with a grin. “You don’t strike me as the kind of gal to tuck tail and run from a simple question.” “I’m not running. It’s time to open the club and your question isn’t simple. It’s nosy.” She leaned closer, pressing her breasts lightly against him. Then she bared her fangs in a gesture that may have been meant as a threat but to him was seductive as all get-out. Trixie’s gold-flecked eyes flashed defiantly, a slow smile spread- ing across her beautiful face. “And like I said before, my secrets are my own. Chelsea is someone I care about. If you care about me, or at least not pissing me off, then you’ll stay away from her. Let it go, Dakota.”
Before he could respond, she whisked down the hallway to the main floor of the club and went to the large double doors to open the place for the night.
As the humans spilled in and started spreading out onto the dance floor, Dakota leaned against the wall in the dimly lit hallway and kept his steady gaze on Trixie. The vulnerable woman—the one he saw peek out briefly from behind the confident, cocky spitfire facade—was gone. Tough as nails once again, she was slinging drinks and pretending he wasn’t there. But she couldn’t ignore him forever, not any more than he could ignore her—or the secret she was hiding.