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Anna Strong's primitive vampire instincts are getting harder to control. And a new enemy wants to take advantage of that fact, for Anna has been chosen to shape the destiny of all vampires-and all humans. Excerpt. Ac Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Chapter One It's sweat. I wasn't sure at first. I haven't been vampire that long, but I sure as hell don't remember sweating since becoming one. Drops of moisture pool between my shoulder blades, soak my underarms, collect between my breasts, making a soggy mess of the blouse underneath my jacket. A new blouse. It's sweat, no doubt about it. I can't take my jacket off. I've got a .38 clipped to my belt. Might make the natives restless. Or excited. Shit. I glance over at my partner. He hasn't broken a sweat so it's not the room. Even if I didn't have a constitution that is impervious to ambient temperature, the air conditioner in this dump is cranked up to ice age. I start to squirm on the barstool, impatient to get out into the air. Impatient to escape. Escape? What? What the hell is happening? My temple throbs, like my head is in a vise. A vise that's being slowly tightened. Great. I swipe a hand across my forehead. It comes away wet. I sneak a look across at David to see if he's noticed. He hasn't. He's busy watching for the skip, Curly Tom, the reason we're stuck in this dive. I look around, too. But not for the skip. Something is wrong. I don't know what. David takes a break from skip alert and peers at me over the rim of his beer bottle. I feel his eyes on me like an irritating swarm of gnats buzzing around my head. I look up at him and bark, qWhat?q qYou're squirming like a worm in shit. You not happy to be here?q Like I should be? I'm burning up and my insides are quivering like a Jell-O shooter. Then there's Lance, tall, blond and sexy, waiting for me at home. No, I don't want to be here. I frown at David. qYou said we'd be done by ten. And yet, here we areqa€”I glance at my watcha€”qat eleven, in a place reeking of stale beer and ripe biker. Bumfuckville, David.q He drains the bottle and motions to the barkeep for another. qEyes on the prize, Anna. Twenty thou.q qSo where is he?q David swivels on the barstool, takes a slow, lazy look around. qDon't worry. He's coming.q qSo's Christmas. I want to go home.q It's my turn to read David's expression. Aggravation mingled with frustration. qWe've only been here an hour. What's your goddamned rush?q He leans back, his elbows on the bar, facing the door. qLet me guess. That scrawny model boyfriend of yours is waiting for you at the cottage. Am I right?q qLance is not scrawny.q qWhat's he weigh? One-seventy soaking wet? I don't know what you see in him. In a fight, he'd snap like a matchstick.q Oh, David. Would you be surprised. Lance is a vampire, like me, and if it came to a fight, he'd be the one doing the snapping. I force a smile. qHe's lean, David, not scrawny.q Comes from not consuming a carb in the last fifty years. qNot every man is a pituitary case like you.q A flash of irritation tightens the corners of his mouth. I immediately regret my snarky remark. David is big, true, but a former football player who's kept in shape. He's my partner and friend, and he didn't deserve the crack. I rub at my eyes with the palms of my hands. It's this damned headache. I have a headache now? How can a vampire get a headache? David swivels his stool away from me and focuses his attention back to the doora€”a deliberate cold shoulder. Not that I blame him. I don't try to mitigate his snit. Instead I focus on whatever the hell is going on in my body. The head ache has turned into an annoying hum and the stomach quiver into a clenched fist. Granted, I've been a vampire for less than a year, but I'm pretty sure we don't get the flu. Which is what this feels like. I rub at my eyes again and look around, trying to focus. This is a biker bara€”a real biker bara€”on the outskirts of Lakeside in east San Diego County. Run-down, no flashing neon beer signs in the windows to attract customers. No windows at all. No back door. Probably be in violation of a hundred fire codes if it wasn't classified as a qprivate club.q Sawdust crunches underfoot, absorbing spilled beer and the occasional body fluid. Some wise guy has tacked a Health Department rating code of qFq above the bar. Members wearing the colors of the local Angels' chapter slouch at the bar or shoot pool under the glare of a green-shaded light. The only reason David and I have been left unmolested and unchallenged is because we know the president of the club. We did him a favor a few years back and he's repaying the debt. He was only too happy to oblige. The guy we're after isn't a biker. He's a pain-in-the-ass wannabe who robbed and shot a dealer in L.A. and skipped bail. He's been hanging around the bar, bragging about his score, thinking it might gain him access to the club. Trouble is, the prez knows it's only a matter of time before the cops trace him here. He'd rather we get him first. Saves the club the trouble of dealing with Curly Tom himself. Good for us. Better for Curly Tom. With us, it's a payday and he'll end up in jail. With the club, it's self-preservation and he'll most likely end up in a shallow grave in the Anza-Borrego desert. I let my gaze sweep the room. No one seems to be paying us the slightest bit of attention. Most know why we're here. But I feela€”something. Anxiety. Apprehension. Dread. Why? Over this jerk, Curly Tom? Makes no sense. David and I are bounty hunters. We've done jobs like this a hundred times. We've faced tougher guys than this joker. And that was before I became vampire. Having superhuman strength and speed tends to boost one's confidence. So if I'm not experiencing this foreboding over Curly Tom, what is it? The humming in my head grows stronger. That's when it hits me. The last time I felt anything like this, a witch was behind it. A witch. The thought propels me off the barstool. The abrupt movement brings David to his feet, too. He looks around, right hand moving instinctively to touch the gun under his jacket. qIs he here? Do you see him?q I shake my head. qNo. He's not here.q I look around. But something is. Chapter Two David glances around to see how much attention we've attracted with my vault off the barstool. The noise level remains the same, and except for the biker next to David who got bumped when he leapt up, no one seems to have noticed. That guy is not happy. Beer drips off the elbow of his leather jacket. qHey, asshole.q David mumbles, qSorry, man, q and signals the barkeep for another round. The guy shoots off his stool, but when he's standing next to David, who is six inches taller and built like a tank, he shrugs and accepts the beer with a grudging nod. David waits for him to sit down, then turns his frown on me, qWhat's the matter with you?q I settle my butt back on the stool. If I told him what was the mattera€”that I think a witch might be trying to put a spell on mea€”I imagine the reaction would be the same if I told him his partner was a vampire. And had been for almost a year. Not an option. What is an option is for me to get the hell out of here and find out who, or what, is after me. Time to go on the offensive. qTen minutes, David. I'll give it ten more minutes. Then I'm gone.q He opens his mouth to object but snaps it closed again, his eyes on the guy who just pushed his way through the door. qThere he is.q Curly Tom isn't curly. He's bald and short and fat, about two hundred forty pounds on a five-ten frame. He's dressed in leathers that bear no markings. At least he's smart enough to know wearing Angels' colors uninitiated is a death sentence. He looks around the bar, a goofy smile on his face, as if waiting for an invitation to join one of the groups clustered at the bar or in the back by the pool table. No invitation is forthcoming. The barkeep leans over to David and whispers, qGet him and get the fuck out of here.q With bikers, gratitude only gets you so far. David slides off the stool and motions to the right. I go that way and he goes to the left. Before Curly Tom realizes what's happening, we've got him flanked. David takes his arm in a steel grip that makes the biker flinch. qLet's take a walk, q David says. Curly Tom's eyes widen, the smile falls from his face. He struggles to break David's hold but in a flash, I've got his other arm. When my fingers close around his forearm in a grip even stronger than David's, he yelps. qWho the fuck are you?q That makes the bikers closest to us look around. But they know what's going on. They tighten ranks, their backs to Curly Tom, and in an instant, he sees he's on his own. He starts to dance around, trying to shake us loose. When that fails, he unleashes a shit storm of invective that's as creative as it is ineffective. David and I hustle him outside. While Curly Tom continues his diatribe, David and I have a conversation of our own. qTold you he'd show up, q David says. qYeah, yeah. Can you get him downtown on your own?q qWhy? You going back inside?q When I don't answer, he says, qSee if you get lucky?q qFunny.q I push Curly Tom's head down and shove him into the backseat of the Ford Crown Vic we use for work. David snaps his cuffed wrist around a steel bar in the door and straightens to peer at me in the dim light of the parking lot. qHow will you get home?q qI'll call Lance.q qYou'll call Lance. And he'll have to drive all the way out here from Mission Beach to pick you up. Doesn't make sense, Anna, even for you.q His tone makes the thudding in my head worse and the knot in my stomach tighten. Whatever is wreaking havoc with my nervous system is here in this place, and I need to find out what it is. But David is not giving up without ...Which is what this feels like. I rub at my eyes again and look around, trying to focus. This is a biker bara€”a real biker bara€”on the outskirts of Lakeside in east San Diego County.

Author:Samar Dana
Publisher: - 2010-01-01


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