Captain Tannis of the starship El Cazador is part snake, part human, and-according to some-all bitch. She is one job away from her lifelong goal-to achieve the immortality she craves. The assignment: protecting the most powerful man in the Universe.
After five hundred years, Callum Meridian, founding member of the Collective, is bored out of his mind. Until he realizes he's physically changing-into what, he isn't sure. Callum is determined to discover the truth, but his own people will stop at nothing to prevent it from coming out.
With a coup brewing and the crew of El Cazador close to tossing him off the ship, Callum turns to Tannis. Sparks fly as they work together to make it out alive. But can Callum really trust the one woman hell bent on using him? Defying death has never been more dangerous, more sexy, or more fun.
About the Author
Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia, which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of nine-to-five work. She's since then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary), and has settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain.
Read an Excerpt
A Blood Hunter Novel
By Nina Croft, Liz Pelletier, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Nina Croft
All rights reserved.
El Cazador, year: 3049
"You do know that this is probably a huge mistake?"
Tannis slammed her spoon down and glared at the crew seated around the dining table, her gaze finally settling on Skylar. "Yeah, I know. And you know how I know, because you've told me like a gazillion times."
Skylar, as usual, didn't seem in the least intimidated by the fierce look. Her inhuman violet eyes studied Tannis for a moment, and then she shrugged. "Well, even you have to admit that there's something extremely odd about the most powerful man in the known universe asking for our help."
"Maybe he's heard that we're the best," Rico drawled from beside her.
Skylar grinned. "Yeah, but the best at what? And why would he hear that?"
"Because we are?" He leaned in and kissed the side of her neck where Tannis could see the faint fang marks. As a member of the Collective, Skylar was tough, almost impossible to kill, but still it might be best to get the ship stocked with iron supplement if she planned to play around with Rico for any length of time.
And amazingly, it looked like that was the case. Tannis couldn't get her head around it — Rico in love. It was as though she'd slipped into some weird alternate dimension where nothing made sense.
But even Tannis had to admit that however much Skylar irritated her, she was perfect for Rico. Skylar stood her ground, didn't take any shit, and they looked good together. Rico's long, lean figure was dressed all in black with black knee-high boots, his shoulder-length hair pulled into a ponytail that showed off his perfect bone structure. Skylar matched him in a black jumpsuit, a laser pistol holstered at her waist, her blond hair cut military short, her violet eyes glowing. They sat close together, almost touching. It wasn't only a physical closeness, but a mental bond as well, and a small prick of some unrecognizable emotion stabbed Tannis in the middle.
She didn't want that sort of intimacy with anyone — it was the last thing she wanted — she hated to be touched. Many nights, she still woke up in a cold sweat as her subconscious relived those years in the research station. All the same, something ached inside her chest when she saw them together. She'd never imagined Rico would fall in love.
He was her friend, and she was glad for him, really, she was. That didn't mean she had to put up with watching them over the supper table.
"Yuk." The bloody ship was turning into some sort of love nest, and she wasn't sure she liked it. Actually, she knew she didn't like it. Everywhere she went, she tripped over some canoodling couple. Though at least Jon and Alex — the newlyweds — were out of the way. They'd been dropped off on Trakis Two to ensure the place was safe for The Blood Hunter's arrival.
Tannis pushed her plate away, reclined in her chair, and studied the pair opposite, allowing her upper lip to curl up in disdain.
Rico grinned at her expression. "I reckon the captain has a crush on our new client, and it's making her snarky."
"More snarky than usual you mean?" Skylar asked.
Tannis gritted her teeth. "Ha-ha."
"Why shouldn't she have a crush?" Daisy glanced up from her food. "After all, Callum Meridian is the most powerful man in the universe. And he has wings. How cool is that?"
Across the table, Skylar twitched as if she could feel the appendages sprouting from her own shoulders.
"I'd love wings," Daisy said dreamily, tucking a strand of dark green hair behind her ear.
Tannis picked up her spoon and played with her food. Of course, she didn't have a freaking crush on Callum Meridian. She might be a little intrigued, but that was only because she'd always had a fascination for the Collective, and he was the oldest and most powerful of their kind.
A shiver ran through her as an image of those glowing violet eyes flashed in her mind. They'd had a brief meeting just over a month ago where she'd acted like a tongue-tied moron and hardly said a word. Though there hadn't been much to say. He'd been in the process of attempting to kill them all, and she'd gazed at him like a starstruck teenager. But he'd been beautiful, so beautiful he'd made her ache.
But she didn't have a crush.
She was just restless, unable to shake the feeling that everything was changing. For fifteen years, she'd worked side by side with Rico. They'd watched each other's backs, even saved each other's lives on occasion. Other crew had come and gone, but they'd stayed together. He was her best friend, and now he had someone more important in his life.
She took a mouthful of food, but tasted nothing.
In her time as captain of El Cazador, she'd amassed a small fortune. This last job would give her enough to apply for the Meridian treatment and finally become one of the exalted Collective, immortal, never having to fear death.
And that would change things again. Her dream was finally within her grasp, and she couldn't understand why she felt so unsettled.
She'd put aside her plans for revenge, partly because getting the Meridian treatment was her priority. Once she achieved that, she would have time enough for everything else. But also because she'd realized, with Rico's help, that she couldn't allow hatred to control her life. That wasn't the person she wanted to be. Rico was old, he'd lived over fifteen hundred years, and while he wasn't always wise, he'd learned a lot about survival in that time, both mental as well as physical. He'd told her there was no point in living forever if you didn't enjoy it. He'd warned her about centering her whole life on revenge, because once you'd obtained it, you were left with nothing.
Janey strolled into the galley. Perfectly groomed as always, long red hair artfully styled, Janey would have made Tannis feel totally inept as a woman if she hadn't known that the ship's beautiful and brilliant tech expert actually had more issues with men than Tannis. The good looks were a mask she hid behind. She pulled out a chair, sank down, and then leaned toward Tannis.
"You know, Captain, I've been thinking."
"You have?" Why did she get the impression that whatever it was Janey had been thinking, she wasn't going to like it?
"Yes. I've been going over the intel, and I reckon this is probably a really bad idea."
This time, Tannis put her spoon down very slowly and looked around the table. Skylar's face held no expression. Rico was grinning.
"Okay," she said, keeping her tone even. "Time for a reality check. Who the hell is captain here?"
Janey answered. "You're the captain, Tannis."
Tannis would have felt better if the flicker of a smile hadn't accompanied her words
"Yes, I'm captain, and we've already agreed to do the job. My honor is at stake."
Someone sniggered, but she ignored the sound.
"It's just ..." Janey obviously didn't know when to shut up, but the glare Tannis shot her way did the trick. Her mouth snapped closed.
"I don't get it," Tannis said. "This job is going to pay good money. Hell, more than good — brilliant money."
"I didn't like him," Rico said. "Except the wings — I liked them a lot."
"He was trying to kill us — what was there to like?" Tannis ran a hand through her short hair. "And since when have we needed to 'like' our clients — as long as their money is good, who gives a fuck what they're like?"
"I don't trust him," Janey added.
"You weren't even there."
"I've been doing some research and something's not right. The whole thing is giving off bad vibes."
"Holy freaking Meridian. Give me a break."
Rico studied her for a moment, and then he nodded. "Okay. It's your call, but let's just be careful on this one."
Tannis frowned. Rico was never careful. Hell, he was totally reckless; the more dangerous a job, the more he was eager to jump right in. Maybe he was scared for Skylar. Maybe that's what being in love did for you, made you worried for the one you loved. Still, the strangeness of his behavior added to her unease as though there was something not quite right with her world.
"So have we heard from him?" Daisy asked. "Do we know where the rendezvous point is?"
"Not yet. He said someone would contact us nearer the time."
They were in orbit over Trakis Five, which in itself was enough to make everybody twitchy. Trakis Five was where the headquarters of the Collective was based, along with their own personal army — the Corps. Nobody wanted to mess with the Corps, and it was hard to forget that only weeks ago El Cazador had been on the run, with the Collective in deadly pursuit. Their differences had been resolved — sort of — but all the same, she guessed they'd all rather be a long way from this particular planet.
"Nearer what time?" Janey asked.
At their first and only meeting, Callum had indicated he was soon to make an announcement to the world about the nature of the Collective. Very few people were aware of the wing thing, or that the supposedly indestructible Collective could be destroyed. When the crew of El Cazador had threatened to expose their vulnerability, Callum reluctantly called off the Corps poised to kill them.
"Okay, we wait then," Rico said. "In the meantime, we have important things to do ... alone." He stood up and held out his hand to Skylar, who slid her palm into his and rose to her feet.
Sweet Jesus, Tannis had honestly never thought she'd see Rico holding hands. Yup, the world as she knew it was gone forever. She needed a drink.
At that moment, Skylar gave a small cry of pain, put her hand to head, and swayed. Rico caught her as her knees gave out.
Tannis jumped to her feet. "What's the matter?"
"How the hell should I know?" Rico sank down in his chair with Skylar in his arms. Her eyes were closed, as if she'd fainted, but behind the lids, they moved rapidly. Rico shifted her so she lay across his lap, and stroked his hand over her head, down her cheek.
"Sweetheart, wake up."
For a minute, it looked like she wouldn't respond, and then she blinked. Her violet eyes were dazed, but they cleared rapidly.
"That was Callum Meridian." Her voice filled with awe.
"Couldn't he have commed, like any normal person?" Janey asked.
But then Callum Meridian was hardly normal — and why comm when you shared a telepathic link with all the members of the Collective, including Skylar?
Tannis frowned. "I thought you had to let them in — that anyone who wanted to make contact had to ask first."
"Usually, that's true." She pinched the bridge of her nose, then shook her head. "He was so powerful. It was like being hit with a blaster shot at close range."
"Fucking bastard," Rico snarled. "What the hell would have happened if he'd pulled that stunt while you were doing something dangerous? He could have killed you."
"You know we're not that easy to kill."
"That's beside the fucking point."
"So what did he say?" Tannis tried to keep the excitement from her voice, but knew she'd failed when Rico shot her a dirty look.
"He wants us there now," Skylar replied.
"Down on the planet. He's transmitting a code to the ship to guide us in, and he wants us to be ready to take off fast."
"And did he say why?"
She shook her head.
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Rico muttered. "Arrogant bastard."
Janey jumped up from her place at the table. "Let's have a look at what's going on." She strolled across the room in her high heels and switched on one of the viewing screens. The monitor showed a large stadium filled with milling people. An empty podium stood at the front.
"Apparently, the Collective are about to make an announcement —"
"About bloody time."
"— and the whole world's listening."
A wave of excitement built inside her. This was it. "Let's get to the bridge," she ordered. "Make sure we're ready for that fast getaway." Her mind was already turning over the possibilities. Would he come on board? Why did they need to leave fast? What was he actually going to reveal to the world?
She paused in the doorway as Rico spoke her name. "Yes?"
It came to her then. Rico wasn't worried about Skylar. He was worried about her.
* * *
"We think you're making a big mistake."
Callum broke off the contact with Skylar and opened his eyes. After looking around the room, he had an urge to crawl under the table and sleep away the rest of this meeting. He'd long ago reached the conclusion that being the most powerful man in the whole universe was not all it was cracked up to be.
In fact, the job was a pile of shit.
Some days, he thought he might scream from the constant, petty-minded bureaucracy that was his life. But even in a never-ending string of boring, meeting-filled days, this one was pretty high up on his list of "times that make me wish I'd never encountered Meridian."
Yeah, he knew the Council thought it a mistake to go public with the changes the Collective were going through — they'd told him constantly for a month now.
He shoved back his chair, jumped to his feet, and paced the chamber, only turning to face his Council when he reached the far wall. He flexed his wings and every single one of them winced. Well, everyone except the colonel, who stood at the rear, leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest, a slight smile on his face.
What do you think? Is it a mistake? Callum spoke in his mind on a level that wouldn't be picked up by the others.
Probably. The colonel gave a small shrug. You're fighting a losing battle. They're afraid.
What about you? Callum asked. Are you afraid?
You ever been afraid?
The colonel wore the uniform of the Collective's private army, the Corps, a black jumpsuit with the violet insignia at his chest. He was the best soldier Callum had ever encountered, but he looked like a boy dressed up. He'd been eighteen when he'd taken the Meridian treatment, and while some people changed, the colonel hadn't aged at all in the years since. But while he hadn't been a boy in over three hundred years, he was still two hundred years younger than the rest of the Council. This small group was the first to have encountered Meridian over five hundred years ago when they'd crash-landed on Trakis Seven.
"I wish you wouldn't do that," Tyler mumbled.
It took Callum a moment to realize he meant the wing thing, and he flexed them again.
Tyler leaned back in his chair and winced again, this time from pain, because he'd amputated his own wings — an operation that needed to be repeated every few weeks as they simply regrew.
But Callum liked his wings and had no wish to cut them off. He'd practiced in private and now could fly short distances — how cool was that? Now the one month he'd given the Council to decide how to go about revealing the changes to the world had passed, he couldn't wait to go outside for a real fly.
He flexed them again just to piss the Council off a little more and caught a grin on the colonel's face. Then he sighed. He wanted their cooperation, and this probably wasn't the way to go about getting it.
But hell, the wings were great. He gave them one last little flap, bit back his smile at their sour expressions, and folded them neatly.
"We still believe it's in all our best interests to keep this under wraps," Tyler said.
"How long can we do that?" Callum stalked up to the table, placed his palms down on the smooth metal, and searched each face for some sign that they were breaking, but they were resolute as ever. Stubborn bloody bastards. "I'm done with skulking away."
"Well, do what we've done, and then you wouldn't need to skulk."
Callum's eyes narrowed. "No thank you. I'm not into self-mutilation."
They'd been locked in argument all day. Callum wanted to go public — let the world see what was happening. Whatever that was.
He was eager to find out.
Until they announced their changes, any research had to be clandestine, and he wanted a major push — put a shitload of money and every resource they could get their hands on to find out exactly what they were becoming. That meant research into Trakis Seven, as that was the only planet where Meridian had ever been found. But no one spent time on Trakis Seven unless they had to. The planet was lethal to anyone who hadn't had the Meridian treatment — those sentenced to the mines lasted anywhere between two weeks and two years, but eventually, they all died, and not a good death. And even those who had taken the treatment found the planet uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, it appeared he was the only one who wanted to know the truth. The rest of them would rather pretend the changes weren't happening.
They'd been shaken by Aiden's suicide. Hell, Callum had been shaken — despite the fact that Aiden had always been an asshole, and he was hardly going to miss the man.
But while the suicide had shocked them, that a motley bunch of misfit space pirates knew the truth terrified them. They'd gone all out to silence the crew of El Cazador and been furious that Callum had them in his grasp a month ago, but let them go free.
They claimed the Collective's wealth was based on the sale of Meridian and no one would be willing to pay the exorbitant prices if they knew they'd turn into something other than human. Personally, Callum thought they'd pay, but that was beside the point. Their financial security was no longer dependent on Meridian. They had expanded until they controlled half the known universe — the profitable half.
Excerpted from Death Defying by Nina Croft, Liz Pelletier, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2014 Nina Croft. 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.