Yes, I am working on the other books in this series. 🙂
An e-mail saved to Matthias Hawthorne’s BlackBerry, dated eleven days prior.
To: Matthias Hawthorne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Rafael Collins <email@example.com>
Hey, cuz, just a quick note to let you know I got your voice mail. I’m sure you’re in the air heading out west by now, so I figured it’s easier to send your BlackBerry an e-mail. Glad to hear you’re healed up. She sounds like a dream, big guy. Lucky bastard. Had to dart her, huh? Good to hear Al’s still quick on the draw with that tranq pistol. Bet she’ll have some choice words for you and Tim when she wakes up! Yeah, wasn’t the best way to break the news to her about what she is, but what could you do? Not like you had a choice. Bartholomew’s going to have a holy cow when he hears the latest about her.
Listen, I’ll finish a few things up here, call the other Tribunal members, and meet you out in Y-stone in a couple of days. Tell Al to send the jet back to Atlanta for me, I’ll catch it there. I have to go up to Marietta anyway. I’ll leave the GT at my house and take a corporate car. Damn sure not leaving my new pony in the airport lot. Oh! You should FEEL how this car drives! It’s a SWEET ride, Matts.
And thanks for the warning. I’ll keep an eye out, but I don’t think those assholes would dare try something with me, especially not this soon after Mexico City. By the way, did you ever get an ID back on that fugly bastard’s head? I’d love a chance for a little payback. My shoulder’s still not one hundred percent where that fucker shot me. Maybe your girl could give me a taste and heal me up quick too? *wink* Haha, just kidding, big guy!
* * * *
Another e-mail saved to Hawthorne’s BlackBerry, dated five days prior.
To: Matthias Hawthorne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Travis Padrino <email@example.com>
Arrangements completed, no interference upon leaving YNP. RC to be returned to FL as requested via corporate courier once process complete. Death certificate will read heart attack, per instructions. Resource in Cody will contact Albert directly, if necessary, to coordinate neutralizing any official inquiries should they arise. However, I believe we have secured all possible information breaches in this matter. I will cc you, Albert, and Tim with the final report when it’s ready.
Again, sir, my condolences. He was a good man, and will be missed.
* * * *
A third e-mail, saved to Hawthorne’s BlackBerry, dated two days prior.
To: Matthias Hawthorne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CC: Albert Thompson <email@example.com>
CC: Tim Robertson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Travis Padrino <email@example.com>
Subject: Situation Report
Full report attached as file, summary below.
As a result of a daemon pulverem attack on Anastazia Proctor in the Tampa office, we have totally revamped security protocols and implemented stringent exclusionary measures, both at Tampa HQ and at the residential compound. DNA report on the head of the lupine “Other” killed by Matthias Hawthorne at Proctor’s residence is still pending. Preliminary reports link it to the one from the Mexico City incident a few months ago.
Initial interrogations of Caroline Abernathy indicate she worked through handlers to hire the daemon pulverem, and she is the one who murdered Rafael Collins in Yellowstone. She is securely in custody in London, under Tribunal control. Coordinating with Dame Agnew and Torvald Bartholomew on gathering further intelligence to locate and neutralize her handlers…
“What do you mean your grandfather’s coming to visit?” Anastazia Proctor threw back the covers, jumped out of bed, and paced the room. This was too much, too soon. “No more surprises. That’s what you said, you promised me!”
So much for no more surprises.
Matthias swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, Taz. I meant to tell you, but with everything that happened—”
She turned on him. “How old is he?”
Matthias shook his head. “I don’t remember exactly.”
He ran a hand through his sandy-brown hair. “At least eight hundred.” His voice sounded so quiet she almost couldn’t hear him, even with her super-duper whackadoo vampire hearing.
Taz held her head in her hands. She still struggled to come to grips with her new “lifestyle.” Learning she was a vampire and that her life had been a lie, falling in love with a vampire hunk who happened to be her boss, and unwittingly contributing to the death of her new fiancé’s handsome cousin because her powers made her lose self-control and go totally batshit—all within the space of less than two weeks—was a hell of a mind trip.
“Matthias, I can’t take any more surprises. I can’t! I want a normal freaking life. I don’t want to find out about eight-hundred-year-old grandfathers, or thousand-year-old aunts, or talking cats or…or…giraffes or whatever. I want my life back. I want to be a corporate lawyer with a normal fiancé, and I want this friggin’ feeling of my skin crawling off my body to go away!” She ran her hands up and down her arms as the sensation enveloped her again.
Matthias gathered her in his strong arms, folding her against his chest. “I know, cara. I’m sorry. I say that a lot, don’t I?” His voice always soothed her, a trace of what she now knew was a British accent.
She hugged him back. “It’s not your fault. Well, it is, but it’s not.” She thought for a moment, then pushed him away. “No, I take that back. It is your fault.”
“I swear there are no thousand-year-old aunts or talking giraffes.”
His playful half smile and incredibly deep, blue eyes melted her. Matthias Hawthorne looked like a handsome executive in his mid-forties, not a six-hundred-and-nine-year-old vampire.
She suspiciously eyed him. “You’re sure?”
“If you want, I’ll call Grandfather and ask him to wait a few days.”
Stepping away, she closed her eyes and rubbed her hands along her arms. She still felt like her skin was one size too small for her body and wondered if or when that sensation would go away, or if it was yet another side effect of what happened to her last week in Yellowstone.
She sighed. “I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter, does it?” Rafe had only been dead seven days, but it already felt like years. Will it ever get any easier?
She let Matthias coax her back to bed, but with the latest revelation, she wasn’t in the mood to do anything more than cuddle. Her dreams took her back to Yellowstone.
* * * *
For the past three nights, since Matthias coaxed her out of her catatonic state, Taz had dreamed about Rafe. She didn’t tell Matthias about the dreams. They were clear and haunting, more like memories, fully remembered upon awaking.
Tonight was no different.
Rafael Collins, Matthias’ younger cousin. He was only four hundred and fifty-two, but looked like he was in his mid-thirties. He had the same incredibly deep-blue eyes as his older cousin, but he was shorter, with a marathon runner’s build and short, dark wavy hair. A brooding, playful nature. Both cousins possessed the same melancholy air, their eyes careworn, aging them both. Yet when either man smiled, it lifted years from their face.
She relived their first meeting on the boardwalk at Midway Geyser Basin. Upon feeling Rafe’s mental probe, Taz had fearfully slammed down a strong wall in her thoughts, knocking him off his feet in the process. He’d been immediately impressed by her power.
“It’s okay,” he’d said. “I enjoy falling for beautiful women.”
She dreamed about Rafael flirting with her all day, sending her teasing mental messages that simultaneously attracted and terrified her. Terrified, because she felt like she’d known Rafe all her life, even though they’d just met.
And she dreamed about that afternoon, when Matthias ordered her to mentally take control of Rafael during another training exercise. Irritated at Rafe’s incessant flirting, she made him walk to her on the boardwalk in the geyser basin near Old Faithful. Then their kiss, hot and steamy, leaving her wanting more even though she felt guiltier than hell about it. Damn, if Matthias hadn’t interrupted them, they would have been standing there naked with their teeth buried in each others’ necks.
If Matthias kept her libido at a steady simmer, then Rafe took her straight to roiling boil.
Unlike the previous nights, this dream took a turn from memories into what part of her wished had happened, God help her.
In tonight’s dream, Taz physically went to Rafe’s cabin. She slipped into his bed, silently staring into his deep-blue eyes before making love to him. A dream so achingly real she felt his lips on hers and his hands caress her flesh, skimming down her bare back to her waist, rolling her hips against him.
The dream took her over completely. She heard his low, guttural moan of pleasure as his stiff shaft slowly slid into her, possessing her.
“I love you, Taz. I’m sorry I can’t be with you.”
She kissed him. As much as she wanted to hear his voice, she wanted this dream to play out, to replace what she couldn’t have, to displace her memory and shame of what she actually did—working a succubus number on him out of revenge at Matthias.
But in her dream…in her dream, Rafe could be hers.
And she was his.
* * * *
Once he was sure Taz was deeply asleep, Matthias carefully extricated himself from her arms and quietly went downstairs to his study. Locking the door behind him, he used the secure satellite line to make his call. He didn’t bother calculating London time.
Bartholomew answered on the second ring. “Matthias, it’s about time you called me back. I have received some disturbing reports.”
“Torvald, I am in no mood for your bullshit.”
“As head of the Tribunal, when I learn of an out-of-control woman who can not only incapacitate a room full of our kind but nearly kills one, I think your mood should not matter.”
Matthias pinched the bridge of his nose. “I received your message. What did you want?”
“I want to know what you plan on doing with her.”
“I’m going to marry her. You’ll get an invitation.”
“I’m glad you find this so amusing. I do not. She is very dangerous.”
Matthias tried to control his anger. “She’s a hell of a lot less dangerous than Caroline,” he spat. “Caroline murdered Rafael, don’t forget. And she hired daemon pulverem to help her. She nearly got Anastazia and myself both killed. So in the grand scheme of things, I trust Taz a hell of a lot more than I trust Caroline. I trust Anastazia with my life.”
“That might be well and good, but what happens when Anastazia decides to turn her powers against innocents?”
“That won’t happen.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I know her heart. She was only out of control because of how suddenly her repressed powers were triggered. She’s already recovering her self-control.”
“Frankly, Matthias, your opinion is worthless in this matter. You are in love with her and not the most objective regarding this matter.”
“She is my responsibility. She always has been, and she always will be.”
“I’m sure that will be great comfort to the loved ones of those she murders.”
What the hell is going on with him? Matthias didn’t know, but he was glad Bartholomew was across the pond and not in front of him in his West Central Florida study, or his hand would be around Bartholomew’s throat, giving him a taste of dangerous up close and personal. “Bartholomew, let me set you straight about something. Taz is not dangerous. She will not hurt someone. But be clear, if anyone dares try to hurt her again, I will kill them with my bare hands.”
Bartholomew fell silent. Matthias almost thought the call had dropped. “Hawthorne, you forget who you are talking to. You no longer have your cousin on the Tribunal to buffer your insolence.”
His rage blossomed. “That’s because that bitch murdered him, Bartholomew. If I get my hands on any of her cohorts, there will be hell to pay. I know perfectly well who I’m talking to. I suggest you don’t forget who you’re talking to.” Matthias hung up on him.
Damn, that felt good.
He despised dealing with Bartholomew on the best of days. He didn’t like him. He was arrogant and obnoxious and pretentious. As their Tribunal representative, Rafe had the honor of keeping in touch with the asshole. Head of the Tribunal, Bartholomew was now the only other member who knew about Taz. Once Matthias knew how powerful Taz was, they had to inform the Tribunal. That was standard procedure among all the Clans.
Matthias returned to their bedroom. Before climbing into bed, he stood for a moment, staring at Taz.
She was beautiful. Perfect rounded curves, unruly auburn hair, and hypnotic green eyes. He’d loved her from afar for ten years before meeting her in person only a few months earlier.
She softly moaned and shifted in her sleep. He knew she dreamed, but with her strong mental barrier in place, he couldn’t see what images haunted her.
Moving with deliberate care, he slowly pulled back the covers and climbed into bed, trying not to jostle her out of sleep but unable to avoid disturbing her. He froze when she softly moaned again, then carefully settled next to her, spooning his body against hers.
* * * *
This was a new aspect to her nightly mental wanderings. Deeply embedded in her dream, Taz made slow, passionate love to Rafe. At one point she thought she felt the earth move, and he looked up as if listening for something before he smiled at her.
“What was that?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing, baby girl. Don’t worry. It’s all good.” He kissed her again, absorbing her full attention.
Dreams are funny things. After making love, Rafe fell asleep next to her. Taz closed her eyes and let her mind drift.
Their dinner together alone, in Yellowstone, came to mind. Rafe had opened up to her and she realized they shared more of a connection than met the eye. Something she couldn’t put her finger on, though she suspected he did. He wouldn’t tell her, and she didn’t push him.
Now, she wished she had.
She loved Rafe. It was impossible to deny, just as it was impossible to ignore how he felt like a lost love come home to her. She had promised that night to give him a chance if there was ever one to give.
Unfortunately, they would never get that chance. Not in this life, anyway.
It was irrational, it was crazy—but as Albert and Matthias told her, the heart knows what it knows, and the soul always comes home.
Even though part of her knew she was still embedded in a dream, she opened her eyes and stared down at Rafe, studying his peaceful face. He’d had a “love ’em and leave ’em” reputation. Play and go, the irrepressible flirt. Alone with him at dinner, Taz saw the man in pain who was afraid to love again. He was sweet and kind, despite his flirty horndog façade. Taz was the first woman he’d loved since his wife, Cassandra, died. He’d let her into his mind and shown her the truth.
In her dream, she reached out and caressed Rafe’s cheek. This must be how she was dealing with things now that her freaky powers were awakening. It felt so real, like she was actually with him.
Taz would never admit it to Matthias, not in a million years, but part of her wished she’d slept with Rafe in real life before he died. Maybe if she’d gone to Rafe’s cabin in person, instead of doing the succubus number on him, Caroline wouldn’t have killed him. It would have meant losing the man she loved, but then again, didn’t that happen already? The other man she loved was dead before morning, and she considered it her fault.
Either way, she lost. Only Rafe paid with his life. Taz may not have killed him, but she still felt guilty.
As if sensing her thoughts, dream Rafe opened his eyes. “Sleep, baby girl. This isn’t good for you.” He pulled her snugly against him. She eventually closed her eyes.
“I love you, Rafe,” she whispered.
“It’s okay, Taz baby,” he said. “I love you, too. Now to go sleep.”
God, if only his voice didn’t sound so clear in her mind! Just like that damned disembodied voice she’d heard in Yellowstone.
Part of her wished Matthias hadn’t stopped her from dropping Caroline into Abyss Pool, wanting to make her the main ingredient in a hot spring full of vampire soup. Caroline deserved to die for killing Rafe.
Deserved to die for killing the man she loved.
Taz finally slept.