CHAPTER 2: The Good, the Bad, and the Vampire

The Good, the Bad, and the Vampire” will be released in 3 more weeks!! Here’s another peek to wet your appetite! Missed Chapter One? No problem. You can read it here.

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Chapter Two

It had been decades since Dakota had attended a birthday party and never for a vampire-human hybrid toddler. The entire event only confirmed his feelings about New York City.

This place was crazy.

Give him the wild plains of Texas and wide-open spaces any day of the week. Before he’d been stationed here a couple of years ago, everyone he ever met raved to him about the Big Apple. Dakota hadn’t felt at home since he’d arrived and the vampire/human toddler didn’t exactly put him at ease.

Vampires having a baby? Now that was some crazy shit but crazy or not, it didn’t make it any less real. These city slickers weren’t exactly run of the mill vampires.

Emily, the tiny guest of honor, sat at the head of the shiny black dining table in a white high chair. She clapped with glee as Maya brought out the small pink and white birthday cake. There was a roomful of people, but Emily was the only one there who could actually eat the cake.

Maya placed it on the table in front of the child as the rest of the coven members broke into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday. Even Shane Quesada, Dakota’s fellow sentry and one of the most badass soldiers Dakota had ever met, was singing along. He stood behind his Bloodmate, Maya, with something that looked like a smile on his face. The guy rarely smiled and when he caught Dakota’s eye, his grin faltered briefly before he once again stared adoringly at the curly haired toddler.

Dakota studied the scene intently but stayed out of the way, leaning against the living room wall. They had all welcomed him, hell, they were friendly enough. But he still wasn’t one of them. Not really.

He’d watched most of his human family grow old and die. That had been difficult enough. But when Dakota lost his maker early on, he had learned the true meaning of grief. It wasn’t something he ever wanted to experience again.

He liked to keep moving, and in that respect being a sentry was a perfect fit. That and there was nothing he loved quite as much as a good fight, the smell of blood in the air, and the freedom to put down the bad guys.

Yup. It was the perfect job for him.

Although, hanging around this city-slicker coven of vampires could confuse a man. The more time he spent with them, the more he wanted to be a part of their family. They were a really weird family but a family all the same. Dakota stilled as Olivia hugged her little girl and when she kissed her rosy round cheek, a deep empty ache welled in his chest.

Damn it all.

The sudden and surprising swell of emotion swamped him and he quickly pulled another cinnamon lollipop out of the pocket of his long leather sentry coat. Dakota rolled the stick between his fingers before unwrapping it and popping it into his mouth. The spicy sweet taste of the candy tasted a little like blood but that’s not why he liked them. Sucking on that damn lollipop was the one remnant he held onto from his human life.

It let him recall what it felt like to be human.

The czars sat on either side of their daughter and Olivia’s secretary Suzie was snapping pictures of the festivities with her phone. Damien, a hulking brute of a vampire, hovered behind Suzie, like he usually did, and waved at Emily as he sang along.

Most little ones would be frightened by a guy like Damien, but not Emily. She beamed at him with pure adoration. Besides, Dakota thought with a wry grin, the dude was wearing one of those pointy party hats and at the moment he looked about as harmful as a teddy bear.

Dakota would be damned if he was going to put on a pink party hat. A cowboy hat, that he’d wear, but a pointy paper cone with sparkly ballerinas on it was not going on his head. No sir.

“Dakota? Catch.” Olivia’s sharp green-eyed gaze latched onto his as she tossed him one of the dreaded paper hats. “You must have missed yours when you came in.”

“Nope. I didn’t miss it. I know that as czar of this district, you’re my boss and all, but I’m gonna have to decline this particular request.” Dakota caught it with one hand. He tilted his head in deference to the czar and winked at Emily who rewarded him with a giggle. “Hats just aren’t my style,” he drawled. “Unless of course, it’s a Stetson.”

“My mistake, but don’t sweat it. It’s not an order and besides, we’re all off duty right now.” Olivia laughed, as Maya swept in and adjusted the bib around the little one’s neck. “Maybe for her birthday party next year, I’ll get a special cowboy birthday hat just for you.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Dakota dipped his head and pulled the lollipop out of his mouth. “That would be real nice.”

With a loud shriek, Emily smashed both of her pudgy little hands into the cake before giggling and eating the confection off her fingers. The entire group burst out laughing and Suzie snapped away capturing more photos.

Everyone was having a grand old time.

Well, almost everyone.

Dakota’s steady gaze shifted to the left and landed on the only individual in the room who wasn’t exuding the same goofy happiness as the rest. He’d sensed her uneasiness out in the hallway before he’d even rounded the corner.

Aside from being the only woman who’d caught his eye in over fifty years, she was also the one member of the coven that Dakota couldn’t figure out. That nagged at him. He was good at getting the bead on people, human, vamp, or otherwise, but not this one. Over the past couple of years, the pink haired spitfire of a woman had become a riddle he wanted to solve.

Trixie LaRoux sat on the arm of the overstuffed brown leather chair with an expression that Dakota couldn’t read. Her hair, which changed color as frequently as the wind blew, was currently streaked with variations of pink and black and was slicked back in a short stubby ponytail. Dressed in her usual ensemble of ripped up jeans, black combat boots, and a well-worn graphic t-shirt, she looked every bit the crazy punk rock wild woman most people thought she was.

When Dakota first met Trixie, he’d expected her to be crude and rude, but no matter how hard she tried to put out that image, she was neither. Under all of that heavy black eye makeup and pink hair was a woman doing her best to hide. Her edgy appearance and saucy language was a cover, a way to hide in plain sight.

But hide from what? Or whom?

And that was exactly what kept drawing Dakota in.

Perched on the arm of the chair, Trixie slowly swung her boot-clad feet, her pale brown eyes focused on Emily. Dakota noted an unmistakable air of sadness hidden behind a small smile. Why was she so damn melancholy? She loved Emily and the rest of the coven, so why was she acting more like she was at a funeral instead of a birthday party?

Trixie adjusted her position, her palms resting on either side of her thighs, but she froze when she caught him staring at her.

“What?” Trixie cracked her knuckles in a gesture she exhibited whenever she got nervous. She brushed at her shirt and pants. “Did Emily fling frosting on me or something?”

“No, ma’am. Just admiring a pretty lady, that’s all.” Dakota’s grin grew as her cheeks pinked. “Nothin’ wrong with that.”

“Right,” she scoffed. “I’m no lady.”

“I beg to differ,” he winked. “A tough one… but definitely a lady.”

Clearing her throat, she hopped off the chair and moved closer to her maker, as though seeking protection. Sticking her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, she nodded toward the table.

“Hey, Olivia. Why don’t you have Emily open some of her presents?”

Dakota pushed himself away from the wall and moved in closer, giving him a clearer view of Trixie. As they pulled one present after another over to the birthday girl, Trixie’s body language reeked of anxiety that grew more visible by the second. She folded her arms over her chest and nibbled on her thumb while Olivia and Doug helped their daughter open the pile of gifts. Trixie’s smile was strained and not the open genuine smile he witnessed over the past couple of years. He’d been studying her closely and he’d grown to know her smiles—and this was her fake one. The smile that hid her sadness.

Not so tough after all and definitely not so simple.

“I left a gift for Miss Emily too, it’s right there on the table.” Dakota tossed the lollipop stick in the small wastebasket in the corner. “It’s the one in the brown box. Just a little somethin’.”

“Thanks, man,” Doug said, without taking his eyes off his daughter. “You didn’t have to do that, but it’s appreciated.”

“Let’s see what our resident cowboy gave you.” Olivia dragged the box over. “It’s not pair of chaps or something, is it?”

“No, ma’am.” Dakota shook his head and let out a beleaguered sigh. “No chaps. She doesn’t have a horse and gettin’ her chaps now would be plain old silly. This isn’t as swell as a real horse, but I hope she’ll take a shine to it.”

“Swell?” Trixie said with a snort. “Dude, no one says ‘swell’ anymore.”

“I do.” He clasped his hands in front of him.

“Of course you do.” She rolled her eyes and muttered, “You probably say neat-o, too.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He winked at Trixie and suppressed a grin when she looked away. “Swell. Neat-o. All those words are great, and if you ask me, y’all should use ‘em more often.”

“As if.” Trixie rolled her eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind cowboy, but if you don’t update your verbiage, it won’t take long for people to figure out that something’s up with you. I mean what if Shane walked around talking like they did back in the olden days?”

“He kinda does,” Dakota said, with a wry smile in Shane’s direction. “No offense, Quesada.”

“None taken.” Shane shrugged as Maya snuggled into his embrace. “I’m well aware of my outdated vernacular.”

“Dude? You’re totally not helping.” Trixie made a face of derision. “Okay, cowboy, let’s put it this way. For the decade impaired, when you talk like that, it makes you sound like a real square, man.”

“Hell, no.” Dakota’s face fell and he straightened his back. “I ain’t no square, missy and you can bet your fine lookin’ bottom on that.”

Trixie flinched and an unreadable expression flickered over her features. Olivia intervened before she could respond.

“Are you two finished?” Olivia asked, looking between them with a thinly disguised smile. “I’d like to open Dakota’s gift for Emily, but without the banter.”

“By all means.” Dakota made a sweeping gesture with one hand as Emily, now seated in her mother’s lap, tugged at the box. “Like I was sayin’, it’s just a little something.”

When Olivia opened the simple brown box and pulled the present from within, a squeal of delight erupted from Emily. Her small pudgy hands immediately curled around the coffee-colored wooden horse but her reaction wasn’t the one that got to him. Amid the oohs and ahhs over his hand-carved creation. Trixie remained silent. Her brown-eyed gaze was fixed on Emily and her newfound prize. As the little girl hugged her present, the expression on Trixie’s face went from playful to sad in a split second.

“This is beautiful, Dakota,” Olivia said, admiring the hand crafted figure. “Did you make this?”

“I sure did,” he said, turning his attention back to Olivia. Pride filled him along with a touch of humility. “My daddy taught me how to carve wood and well, as y’all can imagine, I’ve had some years to perfect it. She’s too little for a real horse, so this one will have to do for now.”

“Thank you.” Olivia let out soft laugh as Emily pulled at the ribbon on the table. “But I mostly thank you for not getting her a real horse.”

“We both do,” Doug chimed in.

“Happy to do it.” Dakota nodded and slipped his hands in the pockets of his jacket. “If she takes a shine to it, I’m happy to make her more. Hell, I could wittle the girl her own herd of wild horses, if you think she’d like it. Every little girl should have horse of her own.”

Before Olivia could respond, Trixie headed for the door.

“I’m kinda beat, so I’ll see you guys later.” She curled her hand around the apartment door and tugged it open. Her gaze met his briefly just before slipped outside. “See you at The Coven after sundown.”

The Coven was their nightclub, where Trixie and Maya tended bar every night.

“Hey,” Maya called to her sister, flying to the door in a blur. “Why are you leaving? It’s Sunday and the one night the club is closed. You can’t tell me you’re going to sleep. Why don’t you and I have a good old sisters’ night? Shane is going out on patrol with Dakota and we could hang out and watch old movies.”

“No, thanks.” Trixie shook her head. She hugged Maya quickly before waving to the others. “I’m out. I’ll see you after sundown to open the club for Monday.”

“Where do you suppose she’s runnin’ off to?” Dakota murmured. “She’s been doin’ that a lot lately. Y’all notice that?”

“Trixie’s private life is her own,” Olivia said, with a sidelong glance in Dakota’s direction. “If you want to know where she’s going, then you’ll have to ask her.”

“I dare you,” Doug said with a snort of laughter.

“I second that.” Shane raised his hand before gathering Maya into his arms.

“You’re supposed to say I double dog dare you,” Maya giggled.

“What does a dog have to do with it?” Shane asked.

“Oh man, y’all are crazy,” Dakota sighed heavily and pointed at Shane as he headed toward the door. “And you make me sound hip.”

“You should go after her.”

Suzie’s soft hesitant voice cut through the teasing laughter in the room with more force than the shy young vampire surely intended. In the almost two years Dakota had been here, he’d probably only heard her speak twice and that was in response to direct questions. Suzie shuffled her feet nervously and tucked a long strand of pale blonde hair behind her ear.

“I—I mean if you wanted to.” Lifting one shoulder, she stared at the phone in her hand. “It….it would be okay. I had one of my visions, you know. It was fuzzy, like always, but anyway…you should go after her.”

Everyone shifted his or her attention to Dakota, but it was the knowing smile on Olivia’s face that gave him pause. The czar obviously knew he was attracted to Trixie and based on the look she exchanged with Doug, so did everyone else. Shit on a shingle. Why did he suddenly feel like he was on a freaking vampire dating game show?

“Thanks for the tip. I better be gettin’ out on patrol.”

Dakota tugged the door open and stilled when Trixie’s sweet spicy scent, an enticing mix of peppermint with a hint of whiskey, wafted by. Gripping the doorknob, he fought the urge to unsheath his fangs, a swell of longing rolling through him. Damn, that woman smelled like Christmas morning, and conjured up images of a cozy night by a fire. For a split second he remembered what it felt like to be human–warm and alive. But the sensation was gone as swiftly as it came.

His jaw clenched and a flicker of frustration shimmied up his back.

“Damn,” he whispered.

“Dakota? I think it would be wise for us to listen to Suzie.” Olivia kissed Emily’s head of red curls. “Why doesn’t Doug go out on patrol in your territory tonight? Just for a little while. That way, you can follow Trixie and make sure everything’s alright.”

“Good idea.” Doug rose from his chair and gave Dakota thumbs up. “I’ve got it covered, man.”

“Well,” Dakota began slowly, “I could check on her, y’know? Make sure she’s not gettin’ herself into any trouble.” Hands on his hips, he stared into the empty hall. “Suzie? Did you see somethin’ that worries you?”

“No,” she said in barely audible voice. “N-not exactly.”

“Fine then.” He squared his shoulders and nodded at the well-meaning, but meddlesome, coven. “Happy to oblige. Once I know she’s safe, I’ll be right back on duty.”

 

***

The door shut behind Dakota and the room fell silent, except for Emily’s high-pitched babbling.

“Suzie?” Olivia placed Emily on the floor and the little girl wasted no time playing with her new horse. “Is Trixie going to be okay?”

“Eventually, yes.” Suzie nodded, whispering, “Dakota is her Bloodmate.”

“I knew it!” Maya shouted.

“Interesting,” Shane murmured. He kissed the top of Maya’s head and smiled as he exchanged a knowing look with his lover. “I may not be a modern man but I do know what that poor bastard is about to go through. If you’ll all excuse me, I have something I need to take care of.”

“You’re not going to tell him that he’s her Bloodmate, are you?” Suzie asked quickly. “They should figure that out for themselves…I think.”

“No, I’m just going to give him some reassurance.”

Without another word, Shane whisked out of the apartment in a blur.

“Am I crazy,” Doug said slowly, “or is Quesada about to give Shelton advice on his love life?”

“You’re not crazy,” Olivia said with a chuckle. “But this coven sure as hell is.”

 

***

 

Dakota stood on top of the stone wall of The Cloisters garden and wrestled with whether or not he really should follow her. Trixie sure did act like she hated him, so how would she feel if she found him spying on her?

Trixie’s form grew smaller in the distance as she flew through the night sky. He had to make a freaking decision soon or her trail would vanish. Hands on his hips, he swore under his breath. He hated feeling so damn confused.

“I suspected I’d find you here.”

Shane’s voice cut through the night and pulled Dakota from his thoughts. He didn’t flinch but kept his gaze in the direction Trixie had flown off. It would be a bad move to let Quesada know that he’d actually been able to sneak up on him.

Damn, his infatuation with this woman was makin’ him crazy and sloppy.

“What are you talkin’ about, old man?” Dakota settled his hands on his hips and sliced a glance at Shane, who now stood on the wall beside him. “And what are you doin’ out here? That party is still goin’ strong.”

“I’ll overlook the insult about my age, given your current state.”

“What state would that be?”

“Let’s just say, you seem distracted lately.”

“You sayin’ that I’m not doin’ my job?” Dakota squared his shoulders. “Because if you’ll recall, I was the one who took down those two drifter vamps last month. Humans didn’t even get a whiff of the trouble they were causin’.”

“You misunderstand me,” Shane said with his typical calm. “I may be far older than you, Shelton, but it was not long ago that I was in your position.”

“What are you talkin’ about?” He shifted his stance, to get a better look at his partner.

“I was new here as well. An outsider.” He folded his hands in front of him, his expression calm but serious. “I know how odd and almost unnerving it can be to be around their family unit. It took some time for me to feel at ease here.”

“So it’s not just me?” Dakota ran one hand over his head and let out a sigh. “I’ve been a vamp for fifty years and I ain’t never seen another coven like theirs. I feel like that random friend of the family that grandma invited over for Christmas dinner, you know? I’m the guest who never left.”

“Yes.” He nodded and his mouth set in a firm line. “They’re all so close that it can be a difficult group to break into. Olivia and the others welcomed me but, like you, my instinct was to keep them all at a distance. It had been so many years since I’d had any kind of family, I had all but forgotten how to be a part of one.”

“What about Maya?” Dakota folded his arms over his chest and stared again out over the glittering water of the Hudson River. He didn’t want to give Shane any clue about his feelings for Trixie, especially when he wasn’t even sure about them himself. “I mean, she’s your Bloodmate, right? Didn’t you want to, well, not keep her at a distance.”

“On the contrary.” Shane let out something that almost sounded like a laugh. “I stayed away from her as much as possible but before long I found it…I found her…inescapable. I did not want to be drawn to her and I can assure you that the all-consuming urge to be near her was quite unsettling. I’d existed on this earth for almost four centuries, knowing exactly who I was and what my purpose was. And then I came here, to this city and this coven…to Maya.”

A gust of wind blew over them and with it came Trixie’s whiskey tinged scent. A surge of anxiety rushed through Dakota because it was growing weaker and if he didn’t get a move on, he could lose it all together.

“Not to be rude, Quesada, but is there a point anywhere in this little speech?” He pulled his leather gloves out of his coat pockets and tugged them on. “Trixie’s got a descent head start and I’ll never live it down if I lose her trail.”

“Yes.” Shane turned to him and slapped him on the arm. “The point is, don’t allow yourself to be a stubborn fool. Life, even for a vampire, can be full of surprises. And change is inevitable for all creatures.”

“Alright,” Dakota said slowly. “Thanks for the pep talk, gramps.”

“Anytime.” Shane hopped of the wall and strode toward the entrance to The Cloisters. “And one more thing, Shelton.”

“Yeah?”

“You can’t fight fate.”

As Shane disappeared through the doors, Dakota could swear that the son of a gun was laughing.

***

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Teaser Tuesday: Chapter 1 of “Vampires Never Cry Wolf”

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Being a responsible adult sucked ass.

Sadie let out a beleaguered sigh and folded her arms over her breasts while surveying the crowd with her heightened senses. The lights of the club pulsed and throbbed in time with the music. Beneath it all, she could feel the thrumming heartbeats of the humans, like a swarm of butterfly wings constantly rushing around her.

As a two-century-old vampire, Sadie had done a damn fine job of avoiding major responsibility. Until a year ago, her toughest choice had been what playlist to use at the nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights. However, with all of the recent changes to their little NYC-based coven, everyone’s roles had undergone serious adjustments.

Life had been simple and predictable.

That was then and this is now.

When Olivia, her maker and dearest friend, had offered to sell Sadie the nightclub, she’d thought it was a joke. Olivia loved this place and had busted her butt for twenty years to make The Coven one of the hottest dance clubs in Manhattan. Housed in an old church in Greenwich Village, The Coven had become the place to party for humans who liked to dress up like vampires-or what they thought vampires looked like. Little did they know the place was owned and operated by actual vampires.

Sadie had officially taken over the club about six months ago and was finally finding her groove. Olivia even admitted that Sadie was doing a hell of a job running the place. For a year, Olivia had tried to do it all-czar, nightclub owner, mother-but in the end she just couldn’t. Something had to go. Olivia had said she’d have to sell the club to strangers if Sadie didn’t buy it from her.

That was when shit got real.

Sadie scoffed audibly as she moved along the edge of the leather-clad crowd. No way in hell would she have let some stranger buy The Coven. Not only did the other girls in the family work here, but they all lived in apartments beneath the club. Nope. At that moment, Sadie had known it was time to nut up or shut up. She’d avoided being a real grown-up for more than two hundred years, but as with all creatures, time eventually caught up with her.

She was now an official grown-up, and as she’d suspected, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Making her way past the two VIP booths, one of which was empty for the first time in a long while, Sadie cast a look of longing at the DJ platform. At first she’d tried to manage the club and DJ, but it had simply been too much. Like Olivia, Sadie knew something had to give. Much to her chagrin, it had been the duties up on the platform.

The young vamp she’d hired from Los Angeles was one hell of a good spinner, bringing years of experience to the table. Not only that, but Justine was absolutely fucking gorgeous in a pierced-and-tattooed sort of way. The male portion of their human clientele had doubled since she took over and that, in turn, had pumped up the human female attendance. There was no denying that having a hot girl on the DJ platform helped the bottom line.

Sadie walked the floor of the busy nightclub and surveyed the writhing crowd of humans before giving Justine a nod of acknowledgment. Headphones around her neck, the DJ winked and pumped her fist in the air at the same moment the tune changed. A deep, pulsing beat rippled seductively through the club, which triggered some serious dirty dancing by the patrons. Sadie laughed and shook her head, knowing Justine loved watching the humans practically fuck each other on the dance floor.

That girl sure can spin her sexy little ass off. Trixie’s voice touched Sadie’s mind with wonderful familiarity. I haven’t seen a vampire girl with that many awesome tattoos in a long time. Please tell me we can keep her. She’s a badass.

You’re supposed to be worrying about the customers and serving wicked drinks. Not inspecting the new DJ. Sadie captured her sibling’s gaze and pointed toward the end of the bar. Meet me down there.

Now, you know me better than that. I can do both, sister. Trixie didn’t miss a beat and continued pouring shots for the three patrons seated in front of her. She’d been turned at the height of the NYC punk movement, and her spiky pink hair and leather getup made her look just like one of the club-goers. Sadie had been jealous when Olivia first brought Trixie into the fold. She’d never had to share her maker with anyone before, but she didn’t need long to see how awesome Trixie was. She was spunky, feisty, and swore like a sailor. Then again, so did Sadie, which was probably why they got along so well. She’s bringin’ ’em in alright. We’ve been jammin’ from open to close ever since she started.

Standing by the end of the mahogany bar, Sadie kept her sights on the two bartenders. A sense of pride filled her. Maya’s blond, innocent look was the perfect complement to Trixie’s punk-rock chic, and they were really good at keeping the drinks flowing. Sadie’s smile faltered when Maya caught her staring and then immediately made a beeline for her. Another sign of the times. Maya could no longer telepath with the rest of the coven.

Like Olivia, Maya had found her bloodmate and become a daywalker. Sadie didn’t begrudge her sibling the joy of feeling the sun on her skin or finding true love with Shane. But all of the bloodmate stuff would have been easier on the rest of the coven if they hadn’t lost the ability to telepath with each other.

All vampires could telepath with their siblings, maker, and progeny-unless they found a bloodmate. Then they could only telepath with their mate. There were pros and cons to everything, and the lack of telepathy was one of the cons.

Big time.

Sadie’s non-beating heart clenched in her chest and she looked away, worried her emotions were written all over her face. She desperately missed the intimate mental connections with Maya and Olivia-but especially Olivia. Not hearing Olivia’s voice in her mind crushed her soul a little bit every day. The deafening silence made Sadie feel alone for the first time in two hundred years.

She could still telepath with Trixie, Damien, and Suzie, the other members of the coven, but for how long? How long until the rest of them found bloodmates and Sadie was left alone?

“Hey.” Maya leaned both elbows on the bar and kept her voice low, pulling Sadie from her thoughts. Maya tucked one long strand of platinum-blond hair behind her ear. “Since it’s kind of quiet tonight, would it be okay if I split a little early? I’ll come back later and clean up so Trixie doesn’t have to do it all.”

“Let me guess,” Sadie said with a knowing look. “Shane wants you to go out on the end of his patrol with him tonight.”

Shane Quesada was Maya’s bloodmate and a sentry for the Presidium, the vampire government. He and two other sentries kept watch over the NYC area and reported directly to the czars. It was a sentry’s job to ensure the safety and good behavior of all supernatural citizens. Which, until about a year ago, had pretty much only meant vampires.

“Maybe.” Maya’s eyes twinkled. She gave a noncommittal shrug before glancing over her shoulder to the door, likely keeping an eye out for her man. She locked her blue eyes onto Sadie’s and put her hands together as if in prayer. “Pleeeeeeazzzee?”

“Oh, fine.” Sadie rolled her eyes and suppressed the laugh that threatened to bubble up. Since hooking up with Shane, Maya had gone from spoiled brat to thoughtful professional in the blink of an eye. She was settled and at peace in a way that Sadie both admired and envied. Sadie smoothed the lapels of her jacket and adjusted the lacy cuffs of her long white shirt, trying to look like a hard-ass. Wearing a suit was awful, but it was important to at least try to look like a grown-up. The lace shirt was her way of rebelling. How pathetic.

“But you better get back here after closing and help Trixie clean up the bar. I have a new cleaning crew coming at six in the morning to take care of the club and the bathrooms, but you know that the bar area is all you and Trixie.”

“Thank you so much.” Maya squealed with delight and clapped her hands. “You’re the best, Sadie.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Sadie shook her head and jutted both thumbs at her chest. “That’s me.”

You’re a sucker, that’s what you are. Trixie’s voice shot into her mind with a curt laugh. Cleaning glasses in the sink, Trixie looked at Sadie through the mirror above the bar. You’re the boss now, and you gotta learn to say no sometimes.

Really? I’ll remember that when you ask me for something. Sadie winked at her sibling, but when she looked back at Maya, her smile was gone. If the look on Maya’s face hadn’t been enough of a clue, the tingling from the scar on Sadie’s shoulder would have been. Oh fuck.

Aside from finding her bloodmate last year, Maya had discovered her gypsy heritage and a rather unique power. In addition to detecting the presence of wolves in the area, Maya had the innate ability to turn a werewolf into a human.

King Heinrich, the werewolf king, and pretty much everyone else had believed that Maya’s power to render a werewolf mortal lay in the emerald necklace that King Heinrich destroyed. They had all assumed that once the necklace was gone, so was the power to take the wolf.

Not so much.

As fate would have it, the power was inside Maya. Necklace or no necklace, the girl could turn the most ferocious of werewolves into mortal men if she so desired. The only reason the wolves hadn’t hunted Maya down and destroyed her was because one man-one wolf-kept her secret.

And at the moment, that wolf stood in the doorway of her club.

“It’s them.” Maya’s voice shook. Based on the tense vibe she was sending out, Sadie knew it could only be one thing. Maya’s violet-blue eyes were wide and fixed on the massive double doors of the club. “The wolves are-”

“Here,” Sadie said in a barely audible tone. “Damn it all. One of the things I used to love about New York City was its lack of werewolves. Truce or no truce, they make me nervous.”

“Well, our kind and theirs never have gotten along,” Maya said quietly. “You’re not the only vampire in the city who’s upset they’re setting up house here.”

Sadie rolled her left shoulder in an attempt to ease the weird tingling sensation she got every time Killian and his pack came around. The dark, circular scar on her left shoulder blade was left over from the night Olivia turned her, a memento from the attack that left her an orphan and a vivid reminder of all she had lost. She figured the tingling in the scar was her body’s way of telling her something-or someone-dangerous was in the area.

Someone like Killian Bane.

Killian, the werewolf prince and heir apparent, was the newest supernatural resident on the island of Manhattan. He was also the thorn in Sadie’s side, now standing in the vestibule like he owned the place. The guy had been making a habit of bringing his little pack to The Coven, and it was starting to grate on Sadie’s nerves. She’d never been a fan of wolves, due to an encounter right after she was turned, but this guy irked her more than most.

Vamps and werewolves had maintained a delicate peace for about two hundred years, and Sadie felt uncomfortable as hell that this guy-this wolf-knew Maya’s secret. With one word, he could bring a world of shit down on Maya and the entire coven-not to mention blow up the treaty. It almost felt like Killian was blackmailing them or something when he showed up every night at the club. Passive-aggressively reminding them, You’d better play nicely, or I’m telling my daddy what your little friend can do.

“But seriously? They’re here again?” Sadie gritted her teeth and glanced at the empty VIP booths. “You know, ever since these guys started coming to the club, the few vamp clients we had have stopped coming around. Darius and his crew haven’t been here for weeks.”

“Ah, those assholes hardly spent any money anyway,” Trixie said with a snort of derision. “I mean, they’d get maybe three bottles of blood between them. Not only that, but they don’t tip worth a shit, and if I had to get Darius’s hand off my ass one more time, I was gonna bite his ugly face off.” Trixie wiggled her eyebrows. “At least the wolf boy is hot.”

“Yeah, well, he still bugs me.” Sadie fought the urge to bare her fangs and instead plastered on the biggest, fakest smile she could muster. Killian’s sharp, brown-eyed gaze captured hers from across the club. He tilted his head in deference but made no move to come farther into the club. To her dismay, the instant those eyes met hers, her stomach flip-flopped as though a fucking nest of butterflies resided there. “I definitely need to go for a swim. It’s been too long and I need to blow off some steam.”

“Oh man.” Trixie shook her head and laughed while wiping a glass dry. “Are you still squatting at that rooftop pool on the west side? You better watch your ass, girl, or you’re gonna get busted and give some poor human a fucking heart attack. Finding a naked woman skinny-dipping is enough to send most folks over the edge.”

“Yeah,” Sadie said absently. “Swimming is the only thing that seems to calm my nerves lately. Besides, if anyone sees me, I’ll just glamour them and they won’t remember a thing.” She latched eyes with Killian again. “Jeez. After hanging around all these freaking werewolves, I’ll need to do about a hundred laps to relax.”

Killian’s grin widened and he leveled a challenging stare in her direction. Damn it. It was like the big jerk knew the effect he had on her. Sadie narrowed her eyes and clenched her teeth against the sensation. Holding his gaze, she barely noticed that Maya had moved next to her at the end of the bar.

“The arrogant SOB is waiting to be escorted to the table, even though he damn well knows where it is. What’s his deal anyway? They’ve taken over one or both of the VIP booths weekly for the past six months. He does know there are other clubs in the city, doesn’t he? Besides, the hotel he’s been living in has two bars. He has hundreds of other places to choose from,” Sadie groused.

“He does,” Maya said quietly. She waved to Killian quickly before grabbing two bottles of Cristal from the fridge and whipping up their usual order. “I guess they like coming to a club owned by supernaturals. The Coven is the only one in the city now, Sadie.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Sadie snagged a few drink menus off the bar. She knew what they would order; she gave them drink menus anyway just to pretend she didn’t. She glanced at David and Ivan. Killian’s two friends were nice enough, at least as far as wolves were concerned, but they still made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t just them, though. All werewolves set Sadie on edge. Maya and Trixie were different; they had been turned after the treaty was in place. They hadn’t seen what it was like when rogue wolves were around every corner and the bastards only had one thought on their furry minds-killing every vampire they could find. “I still don’t like him.”

Steeling her resolve, Sadie held the menus in front of her and strode over to Killian and his pack with the most confident air she could muster. This was her place, and she’d be damned if she was going to let an arrogant alpha werewolf and his cronies throw her off her game.

Ah-ah-ah. Trixie’s teasing tone slipped easily into her mind. Don’t start trouble with our resident werewolf royal. Besides, if you ask me, he’s coming here for more than the music or the constantly flowing Cristal.

I know exactly why he’s coming here. Sadie glanced at Maya and then to Trixie before moving past them. He’s keeping an eye on Maya. The son of a bitch probably reports back to his father and tells good old King Heinrich her every move.

Yeah, right. Trixie laughed. Keep telling yourself that. You and I both know that our furry friend clocks your every move when he’s in here. He can get overpriced champagne anywhere in this city, but he comes here to annoy you. I think he gets off on bugging the shit out of you, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re starting to enjoy it.

Trying to ignore Trixie’s commentary, Sadie stopped directly in front of Killian and tilted her head back to look him in the eye. He was just over six feet tall, broad shouldered and impeccably dressed as always. Unlike the club patrons, he was dressed more like a Wall Street tycoon than a club rat. The man exuded wealth and class. She had to admit that the devilishly handsome Killian Bane cut a striking figure.

The sidelong smile, the one that almost always curved up those firm-looking lips, made him look like he was up to something. His wavy brown hair brushed the edge of his jacket collar, and the crisply pressed white button-down was undone just enough to give her a glimpse of dark chest hair. Her gaze skittered over his perfectly chiseled jawline with the ever-present five-o’clock shadow until finally settling on those brilliant caramel-colored eyes.

Damn it. Sadie put on a tight smile. Butterflies. It felt like a damn swarm of them swirling in her belly, and she gripped the menus to keep her fangs from unsheathing. Why on earth am I attracted to him when I don’t even like him?

I knew it! Trixie’s victorious claim sliced into Sadie’s mind.

Sadie cursed and shut her mind off from Trixie’s laughter. Being around this wolf was making her crazy and sloppy. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d accidentally let her thoughts be exposed.

“I was beginning to wonder if you’d forgotten about me,” Killian said through a widening smile. Hands clasped in front of him, he bowed his head while holding her stare. He dropped his voice low, to a level that only another supernatural would hear above the noise of the club. “You don’t mind if my pack and I settle into one of the VIP booths again, do you?”

Sadie held her ground and glanced at David and Ivan. The two men stood about a foot behind Killian. Flanking him the way bodyguards would, they scanned the crowd with the same intensity she’d seen on the faces of Shane or the other sentries. She wasn’t stupid. These two wolves weren’t Killian’s pack members, not really. They were more like secret service for the heir to the Werewolf Society throne.

It made sense, didn’t it? The prince would surely have extra protection in a city that was run by vampires. But that’s what didn’t make any damn sense at all. Why would the werewolf prince be living here in a vampire-dominated city? Why not stay in Alaska or go to Canada where the wolves owned most of the territory?

The question that nagged at her the most? Why was Killian Bane frequenting her club week after week? They drank while they were here but not enough to get a werewolf hammered-a wolf’s tolerance for alcohol being notoriously high. They never danced. In fact, come to think of it, all they ever did was watch what was happening in the club. Once in a while, Killian would chat up a pretty girl or two, but only in passing.

The wolf was definitely up to something, and she’d bet her left fang it had to do with Maya. She flicked her gaze back to Killian, and a slow smile spread over her face. Come hell or high water, Sadie would figure out Killian’s game plan.

“Why would I mind?” Sadie said sweetly. She swept her left arm wide. “Follow me, gentlemen.”

Without glancing back, she led them around the dance floor full of heaving, grinding bodies and directly to the empty VIP booth. Above the odor of sweat and sex that flowed among the humans, Sadie could smell Killian’s earthy, woodsy scent and it was remarkably unsettling.

Unhooking the red velvet rope, she stood at the end of the curved red leather booth and waited for the three of them to settle in. Ivan and David slipped into the booth easily, and as usual, neither of them gave her more than a cursory “hello” and head nod. Well, weren’t they a couple of chatty Cathies?

As focused as the two men were, Sadie didn’t miss the fact that David had his sights set on Justine. She cast a glance over her shoulder just in time to catch the sexy wink her DJ shot back to the wolf. Sadie’s eyebrows flew up. She shifted her attention to David, who immediately looked away and cleared his throat.

Interesting.

When Sadie turned around, she found Killian Bane standing right in front of her. Instead of sitting with his friends, he’d sidled up to her at the end of the booth. His massive frame loomed over her, and he invaded her personal space with calculated precision. The son of a bitch was trying to get her to submit to his big, bad alpha wolf.

Not likely.

Meeting his challenge, she held her ground. The heat from his tall body wafted over her in thick waves, and to her surprise, the onslaught made her a bit dizzy. A werewolf’s body temperature was significantly higher than a human’s and they had a distinct scent, like wood burning on a cold winter night. Killian’s surrounded her like a thick cloud of smoke and had her head spinning.

Killian’s heartbeat thrummed strong and steady in his chest, and even with the thundering music pulsing around them through the club, Sadie could practically hear the pulsing flow of blood as it rushed through his veins. His blood called to her like a seductive siren song, willing her closer, tempting her with its forbidden power. Drinking from wolves was a big, fat no-no, and doing so could effectively break the delicate treaty between the two races.

Logically she knew that. Sure. What vampire didn’t? But bloodlust was anything except logical. It was carnal, primal, all consuming, and savage. It could turn even the most sedate vampire into a horrid, vicious creature-and that was something Sadie never allowed herself to forget.

Unfortunately for Sadie, she had tasted werewolf blood once before, and the two-hundred-year-old memory was still gut-wrenchingly fresh. Her fangs hummed as she recalled, with haunting clarity, the rush of energy she’d felt when that wolf’s blood had seared through her body.

Sharp. Intense. Powerful. Intoxicating.

Just like Killian.

Damn it all.

Before she could stop herself, Sadie took an involuntary step back. Killian countered, taking one step closer, and his lips tilted into a lopsided grin. Shit on a stick. How annoying. She blinked first in their little game of chicken, and the worst part was that Killian knew it. He folded his arms over his broad chest and cocked his head while studying her more closely than she cared for.

“You don’t like me much, do you?” Killian asked with mild amusement.

“You’re a customer, Mr. Bane.” Sadie kept her voice even. She placed the drink menus on the table and slid them toward the other two without looking away from Killian. “Your money is as green as anyone else’s.”

“True.” His eyes glittered with mischief, and she could tell he was trying to get her riled up. “But you didn’t answer my question.”

“Fine.” Sadie folded her arms, matching his stance and meeting his challenge. “Let’s just say I don’t trust you. Liking you has little to do with it.”

“I disagree.”

“Shocking.” Sadie rolled her eyes.

“Why?”

“Why, what?”

“Why don’t you trust me?”

“Are you kidding?” Sadie scoffed and placed her hands on her hips as she leaned closer. “Let’s see. Where do I start? You’re a werewolf, a royal one at that, and you know-” She stopped herself before mentioning Maya’s secret and cast a sidelong glance at Frick and Frack, who were staring at her with predatory gazes. “And, of all the clubs in this city, you come to the only one that’s owned and operated by vampires. You never dance and you barely drink, at least by werewolf standards. So, yes, I think it’s a little suspect that you keep coming here night after night. To be quite honest, I would like to know why.”

Silence hung between them for three beats of his heart, with only the surge of the music surrounding them. If he didn’t respond soon, she was gonna scream.

“Fine, you want to know why I drag Ivan and David here? Because they’re about as happy about it as you are.” Killian’s grin widened as he leaned closer. Sadie’s jaw clenched when his crisp scent wafted around her enticingly. Looking her square in the eyes, he whispered, “It’s you.”

Sadie blinked, like he’d just proposed marriage or something equally ridiculous.

“Me?” Her body hummed with anticipation, shock, and much to her dismay, a pure shot of lust. Of all the things this guy could have said, that response was nowhere in the litany of items she expected. Trixie’s teasing words drifted through her mind. “Y-you come here because of me?”

“Yup,” he murmured. Those glittering eyes skittered over her face. Sadie swallowed hard against the sudden surge of desire that had her fangs vibrating and clenched her thighs together at the unexpected rush of heat between her legs. For a second, just a second, he leaned even closer and she thought he was going to kiss her-which was both terrifying and intriguing. “Who else can teach me about running a nightclub in this city?”

Sadie’s mouth fell open, and Killian smiled broadly before stepping back and casually slipping into the VIP booth.

“What?” Sadie sputtered. She gaped at Killian, who was now leaning back in the booth with both arms stretched out over the back of the seat. “What are you talking about? I thought your family had some kind of handmade furniture business.”

“That’s my father’s business,” he responded abruptly. The cocky exterior wavered briefly, and if she didn’t know better, Sadie would swear she saw the eyes of a wounded little boy. It only lasted a split second, and then the wolf was back. “I’ve been looking to branch out on my own and try something new. In about a month, I’m going to be opening my own place. I thought Olivia would’ve told you.” He lifted one shoulder and flicked his gaze to the DJ stand before giving Justine a friendly wave.

“I knew that coming here and checking out the way you handle business with the humans would benefit me. And it has.” The smug smile on his face widened, and she wanted to give him a good punch in the nose. “My place will be different, but the customers are the same. I’ll cater to both humans and any supernaturals who might be interested in what we’re offering. I knew your expertise would be helpful…and it has been. I have to admit, it would be a hell of a win if I could get your DJ as well. Once we open, of course.”

Anger shimmied up Sadie’s back and now she really wanted to smack the smug, satisfied look off Killian’s face. A million different responses ran through her head, but she was so angry she could barely see straight…angry and embarrassed. Why hadn’t Olivia told her about this? And why, oh for the love of all that was holy, why had she assumed that he wanted her?

What. A. Dummy.

“Why?” He cocked his head to the side and his lips tilted. “What did you think I was talking about?”

“Nothing.” Sadie wrestled to compose herself and plastered a smile on her face. Before leaving, she said, “Trixie will be over with the bottle of Cristal shortly.”

“So you do know what I want?” Killian asked with more than a little innuendo. Sadie’s face heated with embarrassment. He saw right through her, which was more than a little annoying. “You just might be the woman of my dreams. Well, except for the vampire part.” He sighed and looked her up and down. “Unfortunately, that’s a deal breaker.”

“Yeah,” Sadie snorted. “A real bummer. And for the record, Your Highness, vampires don’t dream.”

“Really?” Killian’s brow flew up in surprise before his gaze slid over her in one slow, lazy stroke. “Now, that’s a damn shame.”

“Yes,” Sadie said sarcastically. “It’s a real tragedy. Right up there with world hunger.”

“Nah. It’s just that I’ve had some lovely dreams.” His eyes twinkled at her mischievously. “You give me a drink menu every time I show up just to make me think you don’t know what I want. Don’t you?”

“I just want to be sure you have plenty of options.” She scooped up the drink menus, and keeping her voice even, she murmured, “And I assure you I’m well aware of what you’re after, Mr. Bane.”

Without another word, and with Killian Bane’s stare drilling a hole in her back, Sadie strode to the bar. As she cut through the crowd, one voice stood out amid the cavalcade of sounds. “I’m counting on it.”

***

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