Craig's Heart

Craig's Heart

by N. J. Walters

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781640630178
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 07/31/2017
Series: Legacy Series , #7
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 150
Sales rank: 160,638
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Once upon a time N.J. had the idea that she would like to quit her job at the bookstore, sell everything she owned, leave her hometown, and write romance novels in a place where no one knew her. And she did. Two years later, she went back to the bookstore and her hometown and settled in for another seven years. One day she gave notice at her job on a Friday morning. On Sunday afternoon, she received a tentative acceptance for her first romance novel and life would never be the same.

N.J. Walters is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has always been a voracious reader, and now she spends her days writing novels of her own. Vampires, werewolves, dragons, time-travelers, seductive handymen, and next-door neighbors with smoldering good looks—all vie for her attention. It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to live it.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Craig Lawton pried his eyes open and reached for his phone, which was buried under the mess of papers, takeout containers and empty coffee mugs that littered his desk. The muscles in his back and neck protested and he swore under his breath. He knew who was calling but glanced at the Caller ID display just to be certain.

"Hey, Meredith." Meredith Striker was a ninety-year-old werewolf who looked more like a very hot thirty-five. She owned and ran Haven, a jazz/blues club in the heart of Wicker Park, Chicago. She was also a good friend.

"You sound tired. Are you taking care of yourself while your family is away?" Meredith's smooth sultry voice made him smile. She mothered everyone around her.

"I'm good." He pulled the phone away from his mouth while he yawned. "I stayed up late working last night and was taking a nap."

"I didn't mean to wake you." He could hear the concern in her voice and it warmed him.

"It's probably just as well." He really should shower and get something to eat.

"You fell asleep at your desk again, didn't you?" She already knew the answer to that question. She'd been a good friend for five years now and knew him well.

"I wanted to finish the coding on this latest game I'm developing. I worked out the couple of remaining glitches and sent off the final version last night." He rubbed his hand over his head. "Or maybe it was early this morning. Either way, it's done and out of my hands." He'd get royalties as well as an upfront payment once his latest fantasy quest game made it to market next year.

"I spent the rest of the day catching up on paperwork I'd put off to work on the game." Craig handled the investments for his family and some of his friends. It was time-consuming, but he enjoyed playing the stock market and making money.

"You need to take some time off. Have you thought about joining Quinn and Chrissten in Wolf Creek?"

Just the thought of him, a human, in the midst of a small community entirely made up of werewolves made him smile. "No. They need time to spend time alone with their father and I need some time to myself." He loved his half brother and sister, but it wasn't always easy being the only human among paranormal creatures. They tended to hover sometimes. Besides, they'd only discovered their father five years ago, and their relationship with him was still tenuous at best.

"I'm pushing, aren't I?" Meredith sighed. "I'll back off, I promise. It's just that I promised Chrissten I'd keep an eye on you while they were away."

Craig chuckled and leaned back in his leather desk chair. "Meredith, I just turned twenty-six, I'm not exactly a child." It both amused and annoyed him how they all treated him as though he was a kid because he was the youngest of the group.

"I know. I know." Music played in the background and Craig checked his watch. It was just after five in the evening so Haven was open for business. "Come to the club later," she coaxed. "Spend some time and get something to eat."

"Maybe." Craig stood and stretched and several bones in his neck and back made a popping sound. He swallowed back a groan. "I'm going to get a shower and something to eat. I may just go to bed after that."

Meredith laughed. "That might be for the best. If you change your mind we're just down the road."

"Thanks, Meredith." Craig ended the call and tucked his phone into his back pocket before staring at the mess that was his office. "Shit." He took off his wire-rimmed glasses and cleaned the lenses on the edge of his shirt. He'd really let the place go while he'd been working. With his siblings away it was easier to do because no one was checking on him every day.

Not that he truly minded. He loved his family, loved having them all under one roof, but he was glad they all had their own apartments in the building they jointly owned. He needed his own space.

First things first. Craig trudged out to the kitchen, grabbed a garbage bag and returned to the office. A pizza box, Chinese takeout cartons and several foam trays with leftovers he couldn't identify were pitched into the bag. Paper bags, napkins and half- used condiments followed. When he could see his desk once again, he shoved all the mugs together. There were eight of them. Some were empty and some were half-filled with cold coffee.

Sighing, Craig grabbed four of the mugs and the garbage bag and returned to the kitchen. One more trip and all the garbage was out of his workspace. He forced himself to put the mugs in the dishwasher, and after a quick glance at the coffee pot, he threw that in with the rest of the dishes. He hit the right buttons on the front of the machine and the dishwasher cycle started.

"Crap." He should have had his shower before he started the damn machine. He obviously needed to get some real sleep and not just catnap an hour or two at his desk. But with his siblings gone, he had the entire building to himself once the gallery on the ground floor closed up for the day, and he'd taken the time to get some real work done.

He looked around the kitchen and living room and noted the fine layer of dust that had settled over the furniture. It was definitely time to call in the cleaning service again. He did his best to keep things up, but at times like these, it was easier to call in the professionals.

"Shower. Food." These were what he needed. He walked down the short hallway, ignored his office and went into his bedroom. The bed was unmade, the hunter-green comforter half on the floor. He hadn't slept in the thing for a couple nights now. Once he got immersed in his work it took a lot to drag him away.

"It was worth it," he muttered as he emptied the pockets of his jeans before stripping them off and tossing them into the laundry hamper. His shirt followed. Clad only in boxers and sports socks, he padded into the bathroom and turned on the shower.

While the water heated, he studied himself in the mirror. His eyes were a bit bloodshot, but other than that he looked normal. His memory went back to his early days in Chicago. He'd been skinnier then. Leaner. A regular workout routine and sparring with his brother and brother-in-law had helped him bulk up some. It had been a matter of self-defense. They were both half-breed werewolves and much stronger than he'd ever be. It was build some muscle or get the crap beaten out of him in their training sessions. He'd opted to get stronger.

He tossed his glasses onto the vanity and stripped out of the rest of his clothes before stepping under the hot spray. He groaned when the water pounded his sore muscles. He leaned forward, pressing his hands against the tile, letting the heat ease the stiffness in his neck and shoulders.

When the water started to cool, he grabbed the soap and lathered his body from head to toe before rinsing. Then he gave his hair a quick wash. The water was almost cold by the time he turned it off. He grabbed a towel and ran it quickly over his body before wrapping it around his waist.

He shoved his glasses on and rubbed his heavily stubbled jaw, studying his reflection. He really needed to shave, but he needed food worse than he needed a smooth jaw. His stomach growled again as though in agreement. Still, if he decided to stop into Haven, he didn't want to look too disreputable.

Better to just get it done. He shoved in the stopper and filled the sink with water. He shaved quickly and managed to nick his jaw only once. Satisfied he looked better, he slapped some lotion on his skin, ignoring the slight burning sensation from the tiny cut.

Craig padded back to the bedroom and tossed the damp towel onto the hardwood floor. He pulled on clean boxer briefs, socks, jeans and a plain black T-shirt. He'd rather not have to get dressed and go out, but he also knew there was nothing edible left in his cupboards and he was starving. He almost left the towel on the floor, but at the last second, picked it up and carried it back into the bathroom to hang it over the rod to dry.

He grabbed his phone, wallet and keys off the dresser and stuffed them into his jeans pockets before heading for the front door. He pulled on a pair of boots and slipped on his leather jacket. Craig locked the door behind him and hurried down the stairs.

Haven was just down the road. He really should stop in and visit with Meredith and the rest of the crew. Or he could go see Damek. The fact that his best friend was a vampire still surprised him even after all this time. And not just any vampire, but an ancient, powerful one. Damek owned and ran Inhibitions — a club in the Fulton River District — and would be there tonight. He was there for a while every night.

Craig pushed open the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The crisp evening air filled his lungs as he locked up the building. It was only a little past six, but it was already dark. He missed the long days of summer.

He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket and strode down the road. There were coffee shops and restaurants aplenty. Something for everyone.

"Hey, Craig." Mr. Prentski was closing up his deli for the day.

"Hey, Mr. P. How's business?"

"Good." The older man studied him critically. "You don't look so good."

Craig laughed. "Working long hours. I'm getting something to eat and then heading back home to make an early night of it."

Mr. Prentski nodded. "That is good. Do you want to come home with me for supper? Mama is cooking."

Mrs. Prentski had to be almost eighty, but she was still spry and cooked like a dream. "Not tonight, but thanks."

The older man nodded. "Okay, but come by the deli tomorrow. I'll save some of Mama's pastries for you."

"It's a deal." Craig waved and kept walking down the sidewalk. The city was alive with people and lights and noise, but Wicker Park was a community and he was glad to be a part of it. Putting down roots here five years ago had been the right thing to do.

Craig nodded hello to several other folks he knew as he walked. Bean There was closed or he'd have stopped into the funky coffee shop for soup and a sandwich. He promised himself he'd come back for lunch tomorrow.

In the meantime, his stomach was beginning to complain rather loudly. Craig crossed at the light and headed up the sidewalk. Haven was only a few blocks away. Teague would be in the kitchen and would cook him up something delicious. Teague was a half-breed werewolf who looked more like a gang member or drug dealer than the amazing cook he was. Maybe he'd ask Teague to grill him up a steak with onions, mushrooms and fries on the side. Oh yeah. That was exactly what he wanted.

Foot traffic was getting lighter as the daytime crowd had all headed home and the evening patrons hadn't come out yet. Craig didn't mind. He enjoyed having the sidewalk almost all to himself. He could see the Haven sign in the distance and quickened his step. He was almost past the dark alleyway when he heard a whimper.

Craig stopped and went back a few steps, peering down the alley. The streetlights didn't penetrate very far, making it difficult to see anything. "Anyone there?" It was probably nothing more than a stray cat or dog searching for scraps. It was an unfortunate fact that every city had a problem with stray animals.

He squinted, wishing not for the first time that he had the enhanced senses of his siblings. They'd had the same mother but different fathers, and Craig was fully human while his brother and sister were part werewolf. "Hello."

He heard the whimpering sound again, but this time it sounded more human than animal. Cursing himself for a fool, he started down the alley. He really should go to Haven for help. Any one of the pack would come back with him to check this out. It was pure folly to go alone.

Still, he took another step into the darkness.

His eyes were adjusting a little better, but he couldn't see where the noise was coming from. "I won't hurt you," he promised.

A skittering sound caught his attention. It was coming from the far side of the dumpster on the left side. "Who's there?" He wished they'd say something.

Taking a deep breath, Craig inched carefully forward until he could see just beyond the dumpster. Curled up next to the nasty smelling metal was a small person. He couldn't tell if it was a woman or a kid. It was too dark to see what the person was wearing or to make out any details. He squinted again and took a step forward. "Hey."

A head came up and reddish-tinged eyes peered back at him. Crap. He was in big trouble. Whoever this person was, they were a paranormal creature of some kind. And if Craig was a betting man, he'd say she was a vampire, a young one, potentially unstable and very, very dangerous.

He backed up a step.

"Help me." It was a woman's voice and it stopped Craig in his tracks.

"What happened to you?" he asked.

She moaned and closed her eyes. "I don't know what's wrong with me." She panted heavily and Craig could sense her distress.

He reached into his pocket for his phone. "I know someone who can help you."

"No." She came to her feet in one fluid motion and jumped at him.

Craig was thrown back several feet and smashed into the wall behind him. His head cracked against the brick and he saw stars. Something liquid trickled down his collar and he knew he was bleeding. Not good.

The creature came toward him. No, not a creature, a woman with long dark hair tangled around her face.

"Everything will be okay. I promise." But Craig was no longer sure. He should have gone to Haven for help. Dealing with a vampire on his own, especially a young, unstable one wouldn't be wise for a werewolf, let alone a human.

She licked her lips, grabbed him by the shoulders and dragged him into the shadows by the dumpster. She was incredibly strong.

"Let me help you." Craig kept talking, trying to reach her human side before she was totally lost to the bloodlust. But it was too late.

Sharp fangs pierced his neck and strong arms held him. Not that he tried to pull away or struggle. That would only make her more determined to drain him dry, maybe even snap his neck. Physically, he was no match for her. Not yet. Maybe once she was drunk on his blood he could break away and make a run for it.

As she sucked his life's blood out of him, Craig prayed she wouldn't kill him. He wasn't ready to die.

*
So good. He tasted like the finest chocolate and red wine. And she was hungry, so very hungry. She feasted on him, gorging herself until she was almost ill. Only then did she pull back and look down at him. Kind blue eyes stared back at her from behind wire- rimmed glasses. He was wheezing, his skin pale, but he made no move to fight her.

She frowned and studied him more closely. The gash on his neck caught her eye and she gasped. It looked as though an animal had taken a bite out of him.

What had she done?

It all came flooding back to her. The attack. The pain. The several days of agony. The hunger that tormented her constantly, driving her outside even when she knew it wasn't safe for herself or anyone around her.

She was a monster. Just like the one who'd attacked her. And now she'd killed this man who'd only tried to help her. She could remember his voice, low and calm and filled with empathy.

She'd wanted to reach out to him but had panicked and attacked instead.

"What have I done?" Her voice sounded rusty. It had been days since she'd said more than a word or two. It had been difficult to form thoughts, let alone speak.

"Damek," he gasped. The man licked his lips and tried to speak again. She could hear his heartbeat slowing down and knew it would soon stop.

"Conserve your strength." A hospital. She needed to get him some help.

He grabbed her arm with surprising strength. "No time." He coughed once. "Call Damek. Phone." His eyelids fluttered closed and his heartbeat stuttered.

"No." She couldn't let this happen. Even now, after everything she'd done, he was trying to help her. But even more than that, he wasn't afraid of her. She'd smelled his fear briefly, but she'd sensed his determination as well. He truly had known what she was.

Maybe he had answers to the questions haunting her.

"You can't die. I won't let you." Not knowing if what she was doing was right or wrong, she bit into her wrist. All she knew was she couldn't let him die. Once the blood began to flow, she shoved it against his mouth just as his heart ceased to beat. "Drink," she commanded.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Craig's Heart"
by .
Copyright © 2014 N.J. Walters.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Craig's Heart 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OMG, this series was awesome. Love them. Lots of action and you can't help but love the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a shorter novel but I loved it. It brings closure to this part of the series. I loved the play between pain and redemption between our hero and herione and between the pack(s) and Vampires. A great addition.
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Pads in and sees mutantdust and lionfoot. She bowed her head to mutantdust (former leader of moutainclan) she began to open her mouth to speak but lionfoot put her tail up dor silence. The deputy walked to her small grown kit. She put her muzzles to her daughter's cheek. "May starclan light your way and brighten your path and meadowstone to guide you along the way" the proud mother whispers. Heartshadow licked her mother's ear before leaving. She turned to the elder and bow her head "may you help me through out my journey?" She inserts. Meadowstone stumbled to her paws and dipped her head. She paced to the warrior "always." She put her forehead to the young she-cat's forehead. Then gave her a lick on the cheek. Heartshadow loves meadowstone she didn't want to risk any chances for the former warrior to pass. She gave a small nod in reply. Mutantdust walked to his old apprentice and grinned and walked away. Clevertail padded in to see his clanmate about to leave. He walked to her and brushed his pelt with hers. A loud purr came from heartshadow she loved clevertail dearly since they were apprentices. They wrapped their tails together. How they played mossball in the nursery and slept by eachother's side. Heartshadow dropped her whiskers to a frown. Clevertail cleared his throat. And licked her chin. She purred and put muzzle to his chest. One last time before she went to moonstone. Clevertail smiled. Eveyrone chuckled bout their memories throughout their lifetime. Meadowstone went and licked her son's pelt. "Protect your kin while i'm gone my strong son... clevertail" she smiled. "Your brave and i am glade to call you my mother" he choked. Heartshadow saw lionfoot put her head on her paws. Deep in thought. ~ tell me what u think my name is harley and i will post one and two on res 1 and 2 bye!