Rowan Summerwaite is no ordinary woman. Physical vessel to the Celtic Goddess Brigid and raised by the leader of the Vampire Nation, she’s a supercharged hunter with the power to slay any vampire who violates the age-old treaty.
A recent string of murders has her at odds with Las Vegas’s new Scion, the arrogant and powerful Clive Stewart. The killings have the mark of Vampire all over them, and Rowan warns Clive to keep his people in lineâ€”or she’ll mete out her own brand of justice.
Though her dealings with Clive are adversarial to say the least, Rowan is intensely aware of her attraction to him. But she can’t let it distract her from her dutyâ€”to find and battle the killer before more women die.
The follow up, BLADE TO THE KEEP, will take Rowan to the Keep where she’ll deal with old baggage and new issues. It’ll be out in December 2013 from Carina
In a handy bit of coincidence, by the time she’d finished arranging things, she’d reached Der Mitte, the casino/hotel run by the Vampire Nation. Oh, if those tourists only knew. Der Mitte meant “The Center” in German. It was the center of Vampire politics and jurisdiction in Las Vegas. The Scion ruled the local Vamps with an iron fist.
Once she’d stopped the Porsche, the valet rushed forward. When he saw who she was, he inclined his head slightly. Not quick enough for Rowan to miss the hatred and distrust in his eyes. Still, the awe tingeing the edges of that hatred was enough for her. The moment she got out, one of the Scion’s toadies rushed toward her with a sycophantic smile. Rowan didn’t return it.
There were times she wished she could be softer, but soft meant people took advantage or saw it as weak. She couldn’t afford to be anything but cold and hard. Even if it left her alone in bed at night.
Mr. Toadie’s smile edged into a smirk. “Mr. Stewart is ending a business call, Ms. Summerwaite. Please come with me and I’ll escort you up to his quarters. He appreciates your coming to see him this evening.”
She looked through him, dismissing any potential threat. “He should. I’m not an employee. He can’t just call me when he gets the urge to meet a Hunter face-to-face.” She didn’t wait to see the flinch the toadie gave when she used the H word.
There was a reason they flinched, a reason they all hated and feared not only Rowan but the Hunter Corporation. For centuries, the Vampires had marauded across the world, preying mercilessly on humans. It was, after all, their nature to do so. Until a group of priestesses, mages, holy men and women and other warriors stood together and waged war on the Vampires beneath the veil of secrecy while humans had no idea the paranormal not only existed but threatened to exterminate them.
Everywhere Vampires pushed, Hunters pushed back until there was no ground left. Vampires, however, would not have existed as long as they had without being pragmatic beings, and so they entered into negotiations with those Hunters and from that the treaty was forged and the Vampire Nation was born.
The Vampire Nation didn’t like Hunter Corp. and Hunters hated the Vampire Nation but as far as Rowan was concerned, neither could exist without the other. For better or worse.
Mr. Toadie kept his mouth shut as he led her into the private elevator to the top floor. When the doors opened, she had to admit she was impressed. Her penthouse was luxurious. This place was a freaking palace.
The last man to hold the position had lived in a mansion just outside the city. Just like him, the place had reeked of trying too hard.
By contrast, the new Scion had damned good taste and a whole lot of money. His quarters took up pretty much the entire top floor of the hotel. Lush white carpets alternated with Italian tile and Persian rugs. Antiques and expensive paintings dotted the place in an unobtrusive fashion. Yes, it was clear wealth ruled the space, but it wasn’t the kind of place most powerful Vamps had. It didn’t scream new money, it emanated with the surety of class.
Clive Stewart was old money. That much was obvious. She knew he’d had five centuries to amass capital, but money, even five-hundred-years’ worth, couldn’t buy class.
The Hunter Corporation had given her a dossier on Clive Stewart and she’d read it on the way back to Vegas from London.
She’d had a less-than-personable relationship with the last Scion. Oh, okay, so she staked him. Which made for a huge political problem for nearly eight months as she had to prove it was a defensible kill and that Jacques Martin had broken their laws.
The dossier was full of examples that told her the new Scion was capable of total ruthlessness. Other Vampires feared him and The Powers That Be admired his business sense and ability to keep his population in check. So much so that he’d been near the top of the Vampire Nation power structure for the last four-hundred-and-fifty years. Vampires respected and feared one thingâ€”power. If Clive Stewart had held that much for that long, he’d be a force to be reckoned with. She didn’t want to be impressed.
She stood, looking out the windows over the Strip, watching the fountains at the Bellagio. In the background she heard him come in.
“Ms. Summerwaite, thank you for coming to see me.”
She turned. Well. That was unexpected. Holy shit, the man was delicious. No. The Vampire was delicious. Tall and substantial, he wore his Armani suit well. His eyes were a brilliant green. A blunt jaw framed lips that looked absolutely lickable. He was a big man. Imposing. The accent was quite nice. Like caramel.
She gave herself a mental slap. Focus! He’s a Vampire and therefore off the menu.
“If I hadn’t come, you’d have pestered me endlessly until I did. Next time, ask instead of commanding me. I’m not one of your minions.”
His eyes flared for the briefest of moments but the mask never slipped otherwise. That little dig would have pushed a lesser man into a snit, but he wasn’t a lesser anything apparently.
“Would you like something to eat or drink?” He waved at a long bank of couches and she sat, crossing her legs. His control impressed her even as she began to wonder what it might take to make him lose it.
“No, thank you. I’d prefer you get to the point, Scion.”
He inclined his head and sat across from her. “Please, call me Clive. Since you’re newly returned and I’m here in charge now, I thought an introduction would be of use to us both. And I’d like to get some ground rules laid down. Just for safety’s sake.”
She raised a brow at his haughty tone. “You’d like to lay down ground rules? As far as I know, those are laid out in the treaty. I can retrieve a copy for you if you’re unfamiliar with it.”
“Ms. Summerwaite, I’m aware of the treaty’s tenets. I like to avoid murders on my watch. It costs me money. I don’t like that. There’s no need to be defensive.”
She realized then he was pushing her buttons too. She wasn’t sure if that irritated her more than it amused her.
“I’m pleased to hear that. I’d like to avoid murders on your watch too. My superiors’ll be relieved you plan to keep your people in line.”
“We both know what I meant. It’s your behavior I’m concerned with.”
“I obey the rules laid out in the treaty, Clive. Your people don’t. And when they don’t, I do my job.”
“And how does it feel that your job is killing people?” The taunt was delivered in a smooth, almost casual fashion. He watched her carefully, his body language deceptively relaxed. He was every bit the predator and she had no misconceptions about that. He’d be on her in a moment if she posed a real threat.
But he wasn’t the only predator in the room and she knew, as well as he did, that this little meeting was a show of dominance. She didn’t have a dick to take out to measure against his. But she wasn’t going to allow him to out-badass her either. Taking a calming breath, she put her hands on her knees and leaned forward. “As it happens, I like my job just fine. The dental plan is first-rate. My training started very early, I believe you know my first teacher. Let me simply reiterate this so we’re clear, because I completely agree that it’s important to be straightforward. I’m a Hunter. That means my job is to keep an eye on you all, and, if need be, kill Vampires who kill people. I don’t like Vampires who kill people. So when I have to slay them for breaking the treaty, I don’t need to go hug a teddy bear or talk to my therapist.”
“From where I sit, I come into town and find my people in utter disarray. An associate has been brutally murdered and you’re at the center of it. Surely you can understand my need to get things straight between us.” He looked so reasonable just then she wanted to smack him. But she wasn’t going to blink first.
She sighed, leaning back into the cushions. “Clive, Clive, Clive. Compared to being alive before electricity and all, I know I’m young. But I’m not new to this game. So let’s just cut the shit. You rolled into town and saw the mess Jacques made. I cleaned house for you people when you were too lazy to do it. Instead of thanks for identifying the Vampire who stole fifty million dollarsâ€”a Vampire who I hasten to add also killed multiple human beingsâ€”you pretend shock that I slayed him. You’re not werebunnies, you’re Vampires. You eat humans for pleasure, and not in the good way. I. Culled. The. Herd.” She shrugged.
His jaw tightened and a thrill ran through her that she’d affected him. Just as quickly, he forced himself to relax. Jacques would have popped a vein ten minutes ago but this one was made of far sterner stuff.
“I don’t need a rule breaker in my territory. My people don’t exist for you to make your reputation on. So we’re clear, Hunter, keep yourself in line or I’ll do it for you. I won’t abide any terrorizing of the Vampires here in Las Vegas.”
She stood but forced herself to do it slow. “I do my job. I obey the rules. I kill Vampires who don’t. Your associate Jacques didn’t. He violated the law and when he did, he stepped into my world. That’s the treaty your people worked out with the Hunter Corporation. You don’t like it, take it up with them. I didn’t make the rules, I simply enforce them. Me? I couldn’t possibly care less what you like or don’t like.” You uptight British asshole. “And as for you keeping me in line?” She looked him up and down very slowly. “The heat is making you delusional. I keep hearing what a big, bad tough guy you are, but that statement there is simply stupid.”
“You seem to have a problem with control, Ms. Summerwaite. Las Vegas is my town, I am in charge.” He held out his hands, oh-so-reasonably. “I want to be sure you don’t lose your temper and kill anyone else.”
She picked her bag up and turned, giving him her back. The message clear. Rowan Summerwaite didn’t fear him or his Nation. The minion who’d stood near the doors pretended he hadn’t heard the entire conversation and kept his eyes averted.
“Ms. Summerwaite.” His tone said he couldn’t quite believe she was walking out on him. She’d told him she wasn’t a minion and yet, he certainly liked to think so.
Turning to face him, she stayed where she was. “Yes, Scion?”
Fascinated, she watched as he unclenched his jaw. Apparently he’d never been disobeyed before. Well, she was all about bringing new experiences to those around her. A missionary of sorts even.
Idly, she wondered how much it would take to push him into developing a tic in his neck. With that ironclad control, it would be a huge undertaking but in the end, after she’d broken him, it would be a job well done. She kept her amusement inside, though, since they were playing a game of chicken like two fourteen-year-old boys.
“You have no reply?”
She raised one eyebrow at him. “To what? Your ever-so-manly threat to keep me in line? The accusation that I have control issues?”
If I had control problems, you’d be dust and I’d be covered in Vampire blood as I killed every fucking one of you people in this hotel right now. If I had anger management problems I’d have jammed the pointy toe of this lovely boot up your ass for being such a prick.
Instead of saying that, she simply smiled. “I do my job. Sometimes my job is to kill Vampires who break the treaty. That I manage to do so less often than is warranted by the treaty is a testament to my control.”
He straightened his tie but she caught the tightening of his fist for just a moment. “I’m not interested in sparring with you over this. I want to be clear about the rules here. These are my Vampires. You seem to like killing Vampires. This presents a problem. I don’t know if it’s your untouchable status that gives you the idea you have carte blanche.” He shrugged. “But I do not want to start off our relationship on the wrong foot.”
She nodded, so very understanding. “It works like this. Don’t kill humans. Don’t break the treaty. Be good Vampires and I won’t have to deal with you at all. That there is called a win-win situation.”
She moved into the hallway and the assistant called the elevator. When Rowan looked back over her shoulder, Clive stood in the doorway, watching her.
“I’m not stupid. You’re not stupid. There’s nothing more to discuss.” She got into the elevator and waved. “And this is my town. You can keep the Vampires, but stay away from my humans.”
The doors slid closed and she saw her own nearly feral smile reflected back at her.
Rhythmic, Rowan’s hand smoothed the stone over the edge of the sword. Over and over. The sound slithered down her spine, gathered in her teeth. The scent of the oil she’d use when done wafted up from the soft cloth on the table nearby.
Out the window the lights of the Strip illuminated the velvet dark, but not the souls of those who wandered the streets in a happy haze. Then again, she wasn’t in the soul saving business.
Satisfied when she dropped a strand of hair over the sword edge and it sliced effortlessly, she oiled the blade and sheathed it carefully.
She laced her boots and stood. In an economic motion, she grabbed the blade and sheath and strapped them to her back. The rig was custom made and fit her perfectly. It sat against her spine, unobtrusive enough that most people didn’t see it as she made her way through the city. If they saw it, it was usually too late for them anyway.
What most people did see was a redhead who stood at just six feet. Wary brown eyes and a hard set mouth. They definitely saw her body. Tall and battle hard, her frame attracted many an eye to the voluptuous curves and the long-as-sin legs. She wasn’t beautiful. Not by general standards. Her features weren’t perfect or symmetrical and freckles scattered over her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. But there was something magnetic about her just the same. Something that made people look twice and want to know her.
Rowan knew it was the blood in her veins. Blood not only running in her maternal line. Blood descended from the Celtic triple goddess Brigid, whose sacred tree was the inspiration for Rowan’s name. The goddess who manifested herself through Rowan’s body and soul. But also her father’s blood. It made her minor royalty and connected her to the Vampire Nation tracing back thousands of years. Blood that made her intelligent, calculating, and cruel when she needed to be. And bent on revenge.
She turned to look in the mirror. The skirt was damned short but would serve as a fine distraction. The wristbands she wore stored garrote wire. Her belt had small phials of holy water. Most importantly, her blade was created on a sacred forge with blessed steel and bore the holy cross along its edge. Her blade was made to kill Vampires. Just like she was.
It was time to hunt.