Gracie had just lost the one person that meant the most to her. Craig, the ancient vampire that had raised her. He wasn’t just a father figure. He was her best friend. Now, she had been shot too, but she would honor his final wishes, find Bancroft, the king of the vampires and go to him. She wasn’t a vampire. She was so much more. The problem was that Gracie trusted no one.
As soon as she was around him, Gracie knew that Clyde, an ancient vampire, was her mate, but she was in no hurry to tell him. She had to deal with Bancroft first. The one responsible for Craig’s death was plotting to kill them all.
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Kelly Roman was good at her job. As a forensic anthropologist, she could help the dead and help the families find closure. The one thing she hated about her job was her boss, Shamus Van. That man was out to sabotage everything she did. And when he brought in the new chief of police, Bancroft Dalton, to make her look bad, that was the last straw. She’d quit before they had a chance to fire her.
When Bancroft showed up at her front door, he asked to be invited in, and when he told her he couldn’t lie to her, it set off all kinds of bells and whistles in Kelly’s suspicions. It wasn’t the fact that he was a vampire that bothered her, it was the part about him not being able to lie to her. She knew shifters couldn’t lie to their mates. There was no way in hell she was letting a man barge into her life and take over….
Elizabeth Strickland, Lizzy, to her friends, found herself in a predicament. The last thing she remembered was attending her own bachelorette party, then waking up in a cave with six other women. They all had wounds, just like hers, only they were dead. Lizzy had awakened as a newborn vampire. She had no idea why they died, and she had lived, but she had wished every day that she had died with them.
Stanley Remy, better known as just Remy, was an old vampire and close friends with Bancroft, their leader. He had his own issues. He was being falsely charged with making baby vamps and leaving them to fend for themselves.
Lizzy just wanted the bodies of the other women found. Once they were, she had every intention of meeting the sun. What she didn’t need were two overbearing old vampires dictating to her what she could and couldn’t do. She had killed her maker, she wouldn’t hesitate to take them out if they didn’t let her be.
But then Remy gifted her with something she never thought she’d have again. To feel the sun without burning. She could have her life back. Maybe this mate thing wouldn’t be so bad after all.
If only it were that simple….
Donald had been in the room with the women for a while. He knew one of them was his mate, but their scents were so similar he couldn’t tell which one it was. He took the women home one at a time. CJ and Rachel were the last to leave. It was then that Donald knew which one was his mate. He didn’t know which one of them was taking it harder, either.
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Gracie watched the water flow over the dam. She’d been coming here to this spot for years now, and it was always different. Today there were families having a nice day in the warm sunshine with a picnic basket and all. There were dogs, too, playing with their masters and retrieving whatever it was they tossed for them to return. Small and big kids were chasing each other, some of them racing the clouds as well. When someone sat down beside her, she didn’t bother looking. She had an idea she knew just who it was. “Why anyone would want to eat out of doors is beyond me. Bugs and grass all over a person. And the food is forever cold. Even things that should not be.
Who would have believed that humans would eat a cold chicken leg?” She smiled at Craig. “What have you been doing since we spoke last? Have you gotten things on your end under control yet?” “I have. There are two shipments going out in the morning. Hopefully, they’ll end up where they’re supposed to be. Yesterday there was a big brew-ha-ha over some damaged merchandise that was sent to them by mistake, but they got it taken care of quickly.” He asked her about the trip that was being planned for next week. “I still can’t find anyone that is going. There is a flight plan made out for the company jet, but no names on the schedule. I’ll keep working on that.
I have about four days left to find the manifest of who is going.” “The boss would like you to pull yourself from the job site a few days earlier than we planned. He thinks that once things start falling apart around them, they’ll start looking harder at the people who were only just hired. You’ve been there how long now?” She told him. “Yes, well, I’ll see what he wants you to do. Getting fired might be hard for you. I’m hearing about how much you’ve contributed to the work there.” “It’s all right. Whatever is needed.” She looked out beyond where they were sitting at the families again. “Do you suppose there is a person out there for us, Craig? I don’t mean a family, but someone we can have some fun with and perhaps share a good bottle of wine with?”
“It’s doubtful to me that anyone would want an old queer vampire to share anything with them.” She laughed but kept watching the families. “Why are you asking? I’ve never heard you wish for bedpartners or even someone to share a meal with before. Are you getting too old for this, my dear?” “No. Goodness, no. And before you ask, no, I’m not bored either. I’m just being silly, I guess.” She saw that someone was setting up a few tables. Perhaps a party was going to be going on. Gracie loved birthday parties for the little ones. As she watched the people putting tablecloths on the long tables, she spoke to Craig without turning. “When I was a child, there was a kid in my class that was having a party. Everyone was invited, even me this time. But once at the house, I knew I’d only been invited because his mother had insisted everyone be there. The gift I had was cheap and not wrapped as well as the other things.
I never went to another one after that. Have you ever been to a child’s party, Craig?” A playpen was set up for a baby, and Gracie wished she was close enough to see the child. She’d bet it had pudgy little legs and fat cheeks. The cutest babies always seemed to be ready to explode with good humor and chubby legs. Turning to ask Craig if he heard her, she saw that he was gone. “Not nice, Craig.” Before she turned back to the scene below her, she saw that there was ash on her clothing. A great deal of it. Counting to fifty slowly so she could think, she knew it was important to get her ass in gear and out of there. Still seated, she took the briefcase Craig carried with him everywhere he went and shoved it up under her shirt.
Then she pulled out her weapon, checking to make sure it was loaded and ready to go. Reaching down to pretend to tie her shoes, she pulled out one of the extra clips and put it in her front pocket. Stretching and looking around, she stood up and made her way out of the area as quickly as she could without drawing attention to herself. It took her four hours to lose the tag she had on her. Then another hour for her to find the man and kill him. Before she could pull the trigger on her weapon to take him out, he shot her once in the shoulder. Christ, it had knocked her back on her ass, but she’d been able to get up and get rid of the bloodstain before anyone could get to it. Chemicals were forever on her for that very move.
Whoever he was working with, they’d prepared their shooter well. He didn’t have prints on his hands or anything that would tell him apart from every other male in the world. She did, however, take a bit of his blood in a vial and put it in her case. Knowing that going home would be a terrible move, she made her way to the safehouse she had set up. There she’d be able to get money, a list of contacts, as well as more weapons. Gracie would also be able to fix her wound and get a grip on herself. It wasn’t that she would freak out, but she needed to know who would kill an operative while sitting right next to another one. After pulling the bullet free of her shoulder and cleaning up the wound, she took a large bottle of whisky off the shelf and drank straight from the bottle. Sitting down in the kitchen, she opened Craig’s briefcase and was startled to see her name on an envelope.
Getting herself a glass, knowing that Craig would be looking down on her, upset that she was drinking from the bottle, she poured the liquid to the top and sat back down. Emptying out the rest of the things in the case, she set the letter aside. Her employment file was in his case, along with his own. She set those aside, wondering why he’d have them on his person. Then she looked at the map he had, as well as a few notes that had been written on it. Craig would never stoop to using GPS. He told her it was too easy to trace. She didn’t use it either. Nor even a cell phone. Putting the things in piles, Gracie put her hands over the case to see if he had hidden anything else in the thing that no one would be able to find without her kind of magic.
Finding the small piece of silver there, she knew without looking at the note with it that it was what had killed his lover. Contrary to what he said to people, Craig was a heterosexual and had had a very long and wonderful life with his wife Margaret before her death, before Gracie had even been born. Pulling the envelope to her, she opened it up carefully and laid not only the money to the side but what looked like a passport.
Opening the letter, she read what her only friend in the world had left her. “If you’re reading this, I’m dead. If I am, I hope you have the good sense not to call it to the office nor to let anyone else know. I’m dead—having others know will not bring me back no matter how much you’ll miss me.” She would too. More than she would anyone. Taking another drink from her glass, she refilled it as she continued. “You’ve more than likely gone over everything I have in this case before reading this letter. Good girl. I’ve taught you well. However, don’t let that go to your head. There are things afoot that you must now be made aware of. Like there is someone in the office looking for you. Through me. I do believe he will likely kill me to get to you.
Don’t go looking for him. If you do, you might as well sign your own death warrant. You’ll need to get yourself someplace safe for now.” She had to pause in her reading. Gracie knew he’d make sure she was safe, even after death. The man had a way about him that would make her pissed off at him one minute, then wondering how she’d ever lived without him. The living without him was hitting her very hard right now. “There is a man that I neither know nor have spoken to other than through our link. He is the king of all our kind. You must go to him. Don’t even think about telling me no. You will do it because I’m dead, if for no other reason than that. I cannot go to the afterlife wondering if you’re safe too.” Nodding to the letter, she said to him that she’d go. “Good for you, my dear child. His name is Bancroft Dalton. He is, by all accounts, a good man, as well as a man that gets things done.
You will go to him, and he will not only keep you safe, but he will make sure justice will be served for my death.” After reading the rest of his missive to her, she found out that she was his only heir. Not that she really was, but he told her she was his child, no matter that he didn’t sire her. After gathering up the other things he’d sent with her, she found the key he’d mentioned too. She’d be able to get in and out of the bank holding whatever he wanted her to have without anyone being the wiser. Gracie made plans to leave this place first thing in the morning. There was nothing here to indicate she’d been here at any time, but she would still destroy the place after she left.
Not a soul lived in the building but her, and even though she owned it, no one would ever be able to track down the rightful owner. She had learned a great deal from her friend, the vampire. Gracie took a long hot shower and figured out her plans for the next morning. Gathering up all the things she would need—guns, ammo, as well as her first aid kit— she put it all in her magical backpack. It would hold a car, and she’d be able to carry it if it came down to that. Studying the passport and gathering the money up with what Craig had given her, she ate a bowl of cereal that had expired three years ago dry and set up her bed. Tomorrow she’d be leaving this country forever.
There wasn’t any reason for her to return now that her friend was gone. By six the next morning, she was inside the vaults at the bank. The key she had opened one box that led her to three more. Taking all the money and gems out of them, she put them in the bag. Also, she was able to find Craig’s will, along with the deeds to all his properties. Not bothering to read them right now, she slipped out of the vault, then the bank, before anyone came into work. The second place she went to was an unmarked grave. There were no dates on it. Nothing to indicate that someone was buried beneath the large headstone.
She took out the bullet that had been left on the seat where Craig had been sitting and shoved it into the ground along with the little piece of silver. Putting her hand on top of the ivory stone, she felt the marker give under her fingers and pulled the last thing she needed with her. A thumb drive. It was updated daily and brought here under cover of darkness and vampire skills. She didn’t know what was on it but had been told no less than fifty times a day that she was to get it and take it with her if she needed to run. Today was the first time she’d been able to open the mechanism. More than likely because the magic knew Craig was gone. There were two cars for her to use. Gracie took the one that had fewer people lingering outside the building.
She didn’t recognize anyone as being operatives, but it made her no less careful of getting in and out. By the time she was pulling into the airport to get a flight out of the country, not only was the building she’d been in last night nothing but rubble but Craig’s place, as well as his desk at work, were destroyed. She never worked there often enough to have a desk, and Craig had already taken her file. The flight took off on time, and she settled down to sleep. Or at least pretended to do so. She was wearing enough of a disguise that no one would recognize her. And since she’d been getting magic from Craig, no one would be able to describe her the same way as the other patrons on the plane. She was a ghost.
What most of the people called her where she had worked. By the time the latest plane she was on landed at the airport in Columbus, Ohio, she’d been around the world three times. Getting off the plane at each stop made it easier for her to see if she was being followed. However, her shoulder was aching badly by then, and she was exhausted. Without any kind of driver’s license or even a photo identification, she wasn’t able to rent herself a car. But that was easy enough to work around. Stealing one of the cars from the lot, she was well on her way to the king’s house four days after Craig was murdered. The car, like the other things she’d used, would be destroyed when she got to the king. He’d better not be some blowhard, or she’d have to figure out a way to kick his ass. Settling into one of the empty buildings on the outskirts of town, she was ready for some sleep. Pulling out a sleeping bag as well as some clean clothing, Gracie closed her eyes and fell into a fitful sleep.
Gracie would do as the king wanted, but only so far. She wanted to take some of the money she’d saved up and buy an island. Someplace accessible either by flying in or taking a ship. After her years of service to her government, Gracie felt as if she deserved something nice. To not give a shit about anything else was her plan. ~*~ Bancroft hung up the phone. Craig Anderson had been killed five days ago. Not only had he been killed, but someone had gotten into his bank and taken everything he’d had stored in there. Bancroft hoped it was his friend, Gracie James, and not some random ass that had just happened to know where to look. When Kelly joined him in the office, she sat on his lap and asked him if he was all right.
“I am. We’re to have a visitor in the next few days. I don’t know anything about her other than her name. Grace James. I’m not entirely sure that is her real name either. She was a friend of someone that contacted me a month ago when he was having trouble at his work.” “The Anderson man.” He nodded. “You said he worked for the IBC. I don’t remember what you told me that meant.” “Identity-based cryptography. I’m not sure in what capacity he worked for them, but I know it was very hush-hush. The woman, as I said, I don’t know anything about. But she meant a great deal to the man, and he wanted me to protect her at all costs.” Kelly asked him if she worked there as well. “I don’t know. She might well have. When he called me, he told me there were some very unsavory people looking to get to Gracie—that’s what he called her. And if they got her, they’d not kill her but use her. Again, I haven’t any idea what that might mean.”
“More than likely, she’s magical. But not a vampire.” Bancroft told her he didn’t believe she was. “I guess we’ll find out when she arrives. Do you know when?” “That was her on the phone. She called to tell me she’d be at the restaurant in town at six tonight and that she’d see us there. I don’t think she’s all that trusting. If I were to bring anyone with me other than you, I can kiss her ass goodbye. I’m not sure what that means either, other than literally kissing it goodbye, but she said I was to go only with you.” Kelly asked him if he would. “Yes. I’m not sure why, but I feel like I can trust her to do what she says. The girl knows she can’t kill me, but she can put me in a world of hurt. I believe her. Also, and this is from Craig, Gracie is a good deal stronger than she looks, and I’m not to let her wallow in her own pain of losing him if I can help it. They were very close.” “All right. Do you think she’ll stay here?” Bancroft shrugged. “Does she need medical attention? Clothing? Money, or even a nice warm meal?”
After each question, he shrugged. When she smacked him on the chest, he told her once again that he knew nothing about her. The one and only thing he did know about her was that she needed to be protected. That it was for all mankind. However, he didn’t tell Kelly that. That would be just like telling her to go see the woman and get answers. By the time they were ready to go, he was no closer to getting information than he had been before. He’d not done any kind of search on either Craig or Gracie. But he did hear about the explosion of a building, as well as a stolen car at the local airport.
Nothing more than that was out there, but he had a feeling it was Gracie. At five-thirty, they were seated in the only sit-down restaurant in town. He noticed that Clyde and Brian were there as well but didn’t invite them to join them. Bancroft hoped that Gracie didn’t think they’d been asked to come here on his behalf. Talking to this woman was his top priority. He ordered a glass of wine from the waitress that came by, and Kelly asked for some juice. Looking around the place, he wondered why they’d not eaten here before. Taking a small sip of the wine, he noticed a small piece of paper was sticking out of the butter. He might not have noticed it at all, but when Kelly had cut into it, it stuck out. Pulling the note out, he read it. What surprised him the most was that it was written in the old language of the vampire. The second thing was that his waitress was Gracie.
She came back with a second basket of bread when he was trying to decide what to do now. “The room is on pause.” He looked around and was dismayed to see that Kelly was not moving either. “I don’t know her. I don’t know your ass either, but I was told you were a good man. I have to have a doctor see me as soon as possible. Only someone you trust. I was shot the day Craig was killed, and it’s not healing well.” “Can you heal yourself?” She told him she couldn’t but could heal others. Even so far as to bring them back from death. “I see. Actually, I don’t know what to think about that. Where are you staying?”
When she didn’t answer him, Bancroft put out his hand. “You don’t trust well, I was told. I will give you a sip of my blood so you can speak to me at any time.” I don’t need it. I don’t even need to touch you to be able to speak to you like this. His heart started racing when she did speak to him. “I’m not sure what else I might have gotten from Craig’s death, but enough to get me in and out of situations that aren’t of my making. I was human when I met him. A child. He took me in, trained me, and kept me out of trouble. I owe him my life and anything else he might have wanted from me. But he asked for nothing. I was told you could protect me.” “I can. I will.”
She nodded and stood up. “What happens now? Those others over there. I didn’t know they would be here.” She just smiled at him as the room began moving again. Gracie asked him if he was ready to order. After placing an order, he told Kelly what had happened. Just as he’d thought she would, she was pissy. Then she thought it was funny. He’d been out-magicked by a young woman. When their dinner was brought to them, not only was the meal perfect, but their waitress was different. He supposed she’d gotten what she wanted from him and would get back to him later. The man Brian is in trouble with his family. Nothing new, it sounds like, with the people you hang around with. He will need you to help him with money very soon, or he’ll go to prison. Not a good place for a vampire, I’m guessing. He told her it wasn’t. The other man, Clyde, he’s having a wonderful time staying at your home. However, he’s bored out of his mind and wishes you’d give him something to do.
He needs neither money nor anything else. He’s just a man used to having plenty to do all the time. The others in your household seem to be doing well. Are you going to go to my home? I’m assuming you know where it is by now. She told him she did but wasn’t going there just yet. She had two things to fix yet. Something I should be aware of? No. But the new queen of faeries needs someone to slap her around. She’s in over her head and is going to fail, she thinks. I don’t know how she thinks she will since she’s been taking care of the little people for some time now. Just hit her upside the head, and she’ll be fine. He said she’d hurt him if he did that. Yes, I suppose she would. I was going to ask if you’d do that when I was around, but that might distract me too much from my job.
Also, the man Ramon, he’s a physician. I’ll need him to look over my wound as soon as tomorrow. I’ll meet him at your home. There was no more communication from her for the rest of the night. He did have a splendid meal with Kelly, and the food was fantastic. His bill, he was told, was paid already, and he only needed to leave a tip. The note with his paid bill said he was to leave a good one or someone would take him to task. Bancroft was still laughing as they headed home. While he didn’t know anything about Gracie, nor what sort of trouble she might be in, he was looking forward to tangling with her. He had a feeling she was a hellcat like the women in the family. Kelly, too was happy to know she could hold her own with him. He was just too pleased to get upset about anything right now.