When artist Brie Lark left her vampire ex and her straitjacket of a hometown to breathe free in New York City, she promised herself two things: she’d never go back to Meiers Corner, and no more vampires. The last thing she expected—or wanted—was to be sent back home on an assignment. But her boss at the FBI needs her undercover on a murder case, working with a black-haired, black-eyed giant god of a man who’s her idea of perfection, except for one thing—he’s a vampire.
FBI Special Agent Seb Rikare is an ancient vampire hardened by loss. He’s cut all emotions to protect himself and leads a deliberately steady, almost sterile life. The brash young woman forced to pose as his lover irritates him, with her jangling bracelets and colorful hair. But as much as she irritates him, he finds himself drawn to her lively spirit and he’s tempted to make fantasy a reality.
Each book in the Ancients series is STANDALONE:
* Night's Caress
* Night's Kiss
About the Author
I write wickedly fun romantic adventures and steamy paranormal romances, stories that crackle with action and love. Challenging, alpha men--and women not afraid of a challenge. Oh, do the sparks fly when he meets THE woman guaranteed to infuriate and inflame him most.
In real life I'm an author, a spouse and mother, a flutist, a computer geek, and a binge-TV-watcher of The Flash, Elementary, NCIS, and Wynonna Earp.
Read an Excerpt
Floodlights snapped on, carving the alley's secrets from the black night. Scurrying rodents, pooled filth — and a corpse, lying on the cold concrete, skin glowing almost white in the lights' harsh glare.
FBI special agent Seb Rikare knelt beside the victim and touched one forensic-gloved hand to the body's neck. No heartbeat, no rush of blood through veins. Still, he made a show of checking for a pulse. There were customs to be observed, after all. The humans from the police crime scene unit would expect it.
Two techs bustled behind him, taking pictures. They'd also dust for prints — and come up empty. The reason gaped, ugly and ragged, on the blue-white skin beside his fingers' light dents.
Twin puncture wounds.
Seb withdrew his hand. Half healed, bruising around them indicating suction. Body drained of blood. Though this was the first such killing in New York City, it was the seventh in the nation. He'd seen the reports. Seen, too, that the murders stitched a line eastward. Coming here.
He'd murmured a suggestion in local law enforcement ears, in case the worst should happen. Call the FBI for an assist. His precaution paid off.
Clutched in the corpse's hand was the damning tourism pamphlet.
Come to Meiers Corners. That small detail spelled big trouble.
A sharp-creased navy pant leg appeared next to where Seb crouched. A male said, "Done by one of ours?"
"Looks that way."
"My master won't be pleased."
"Your master better not find out, Klaus. Or we'll have bigger problems." Peeling off his gloves with precise snaps, Seb rose to his full height beside a model-perfect blond male, his six-foot-nine frame towering over model- boy's mere six-two.
"That's not my call to make. I am but a lowly attaché." The blond cast down modest eyes, seemingly humble, but the hint of a smug smile told a different story. "Lorenzo needs to know if there is a foreigner in his territory, hunting huma —"
"With this serial killer, things aren't quite so simple," Seb said, cutting Klaus off before he could blurt "hunting humans." Seb motioned to the techs to give them privacy. The two nodded and left the alley.
When Seb was sure no one was within hearing range, he turned a dark glare on the other male. Male, not man, because they were no longer strictly Homo sapiens. "Talking vampire business before mortals is careless."
Seb's kind was powerful, but even thousands of superhuman monsters didn't stand a chance against seven billion humans armed with nukes and fear.
Model-boy gave a negligent shrug. "You can just hypnotize them into forgetting."
Seb upped his glare with a growl. "The mind is a tricky thing. I prefer not to tamper if I don't have to."
Klaus only tsked. "You're a bit soft on them, aren't you?"
"And you discount them too easily."
The other male shrugged. "Well, this is Cadre territory. I have no choice but to tell Lorenzo. If there is a blood-crazed youngling here, my master must know."
The New York Cadre organized area vampires like a crime syndicate, but instead of racketeering and prostitution, the vampires traded in power and blood. Lorenzo was its head, and Klaus, despite his youth, was a top lieutenant, connected with the city's police and government.
Seb wasn't Cadre — he owed no vampire his allegiance. "You must keep this secret from him, Klaus. I insist."
"Why?" He glanced at the body, real puzzlement in his eyes. "Why such secrecy over a youngling's unfortunate indiscretion?"
"Indiscretion? For shit's sake, Klaus, a man's been murdered."
"A single dead human? It doesn't endanger our kind with exposure, and our patrols will find the youngling soon enough. We'll bring him into the fold. Teach him manners. Just make this impediment go away —"
"This isn't an impediment, it's a victim." Seb's temples throbbed. "And your carelessness has made you blind. No thirsty, frenzied youngling in the grip of bloodlust would have the control to plant that." He jabbed a finger at the trifold clutched in the victim's hand.
A pair of faint frown lines appeared between the blond's brows. "A tourist brochure? It is the dead man's. Tourists are common enough in New York."
"That's not a tourist, not according to his Brooklyn driver's license. Klaus, there have been six other murders exactly like this."
"With obvious fang marks, partially healed, so they're not fake. If anyone guesses vampire —"
"This is why you joined the FBI, isn't it? To erase our kind's tracks?"
"Yeah, I took care of it." Seb growled. He'd changed the electronic records to stab wounds, vic bled out, even though it rubbed him the wrong way to go against the Bureau's tenets.
But if vampires were vulnerable to disorganized mobs, they really couldn't withstand professional law enforcement hunting them.
As long as they could pass as humans, they were safe. If mortals penetrated the masquerade — the term describing vampires disguised as ordinary people, hiding among them in plain sight — worldwide bloodshed would erupt. Seb's ideals wouldn't mean squat. And, hell, in this case, knowing the real details would only have set law enforcement on the wrong trail.
"So, then." Klaus shrugged. "All's well that ends well, eh?"
"Except it's just started. Take a look at this." He snared a fresh glove from his pocket and used it to work the tourist pamphlet from the vic's tight fist.
"A deliberate trail of bread crumbs to Cadre territory from the Iowa Alliance."
Klaus's face paled. "An Alliance vampire, hunting in my master's territory? It would spark a war."
"It certainly spells trouble." Actually, it spelled e-x-t-i-n-c-t-i-o-n if those two powerhouses clashed. "That's why I told you to say nothing to your master."
The blond dug a clawed hand through his hair then winced. "I can double patrols to try to find the beast, but I can't keep this news from Lorenzo forever. And when he finds out ... Fuck, my master hates the Alliance."
"He and their leader have a past," Seb noted dryly.
"Lorenzo will attack Meiers Corners first and ask questions later, which will spark reprisals from the Alliance, which will light a fuse of vampire death from Iowa to New York."
"Vampires and humans." Seb's anger kindled at Klaus's all-too-typical point of view, considering ephemerals as blood sheep or less. "The real cost will be all the innocent lives caught in the crossfire." He snarled it, his sight bleeding red with temper.
Klaus stiffened. "My lord. I apologize. What do we do?"
Seb took bleak satisfaction that he'd finally gotten past the blond's mountainous ego and into the same area code as his brain. "You liaise with the officials here. The local police are among the best in the world. Let them work the crime scene. If there's any clue to the murderer's whereabouts, they will find it. Step up Cadre patrols, in case I'm wrong and it's simply a stray vampire. Between the two, if the killer can be found here in New York, he will be found."
"And this man?" Klaus gestured toward the body.
"Watch him. It's extremely unlikely that he will rise, but best not to take chances."
"The usual three days' watch?"
"That's just tradition. If he's really dead, you'll smell decay sooner than that. If not, watch him closely the evening of the third day."
"I will do so. Where are you going, my lord?"
"Tracking a blood-starved youngling is one thing. Digging out a clever vampire who's hiding is quite another. We need more information, and I'm going to the source — Meiers Corners."
"I tell you, Sera, I'm never going back to Meiers Corners." I spoke into my Bluetooth headset as I skimmed through the glass doors of 26 Federal Plaza, hitting the Broadway-side concrete concourse at the height of the lunchtime rush.
A pizza delivery guy ran toward me like a bullet. I dodged him then played do-si-do with a nanny shepherding three identically dressed little boys clutching brand-new balls.
One bright red ball slipped from chubby fingers, getting kicked away by oncoming traffic. The youngster's face clouded. Before his thunderstorm could burst, I twisted and lunged, my rainbow bracelets jingling like bells, and caught the ball on a bounce. Tossing it back to the nanny earned me the boy's bright grin, totally worth my getting knocked around by a pair of freight-train pedestrians. I pinballed off a couple traffic bollards before melding with the wonderful, harrowing, organic experience that is New York City foot traffic.
"Never, Brie?" The voice in my ear was warm and compassionate, my friend and, until I'd gotten my job with the FBI and moved, one of my roommates, Serendipity Braun Thorsson. "But it's Oktoberfest. And there's beer."
Practically a microbrewery on every corner. Settled by German immigrants in the 1800s a healthy distance west of Chicago, Meiers Corners had been artisanal before the word was chic. But while Chicago moved into the twenty-first century, the seven thousand souls in the Corners had stayed stubbornly old-world.
As I crossed the street, I admitted, "That's tempting. Not tempting enough."
She knew why I'd left the Corners. Cheating ex and stifling small town might be cliché, but add in the fact that the ex was a vampire? And the town was ambitiously folksy, to the point that my high-school job was making sculptures out of cheese and summer sausage? I was exhausted living with all that day in, day out. New York was the first place I could breathe. "Brie, I miss you." I winced. Temptation punch crowned by guilt KO, the specialty of every Meiers Corners matron. Sera must've learned it from her mother.
"Brie, I miss you."
I winced. Temptation punch crowned by guilt KO, the specialty of every Meiers Corners matron. Sera must've learned it from her mother.
"I miss you, too. Why don't you visit me here? We can take in a Broadway show, go dancing — Oh, shit."
"What's wrong?" Her voice went high, breathless.
I'd been heading for a hot dog cart near the corner and had just spotted a man standing in line. He stood unmoved by the bobbing masses, literally head and shoulders above the crowd.
Only one man I knew that stunningly tall — Special Agent Seb Rikare.
Or rather, not man. I guessed Rikare was a vampire.
"Brie?" Sera prompted.
"It's nothing. A ping on my asshole meter." My last boyfriend had been a vampire. It had not ended well, like a marshmallow Peeps party held in a microwave. I'd vowed never to get involved with another fanged male.
Naturally, Fate, who was a snarky bastard, molded the very next guy I met into my idea of perfection — gleaming black hair, granite jaw, bedroom eyes, and muscles like bowling balls, plus a brain that catapulted him to top agent with the FBI.
I'd have tapped that in a second except for the likelihood that, along with his shield, Rikare carried the extra-large V-size condoms in his wallet.
I wasn't absolutely sure about that. The vampire thing, not the condoms. Except for folklore and guesses, I didn't know a lot about them. Until April, when Sera met and married her mate, I wasn't even sure they were real. Even now, I only had superficial details. They were incredibly sexy. They couldn't be out in the sun for long. They could hypnotize most anything, unless that thing was immune. They had fangs and bit humans.
Bites were orgasmic.
Yeah, my ex and I — we didn't talk a lot, but I got that much from experience.
Seeing Rikare, towering over all the ordinary people, his unearthly beauty shining bright, sent a shaft of lust through me. Mr. Perfection was a temptation I could barely resist. I wanted to plaster myself to his impressive chest and offer my neck as craft brew on tap.
Traipsing down that path had led to tears. Traveling it a second time, expecting different results, was the very definition of insanity. So I'd been avoiding Rikare at all costs.
Under my breath, I muttered, "Damn it, I just want to grab a sandwich. I don't want to deal with him now."
I changed my destination midstride and midblock, nearly running into a bunch of red-faced, suit-wearing businessmen lurching out from a three- martini lunch.
Skirting the clusterfuck of suits, I dropped off the curb to dart through a lucky gap in traffic.
Just as an Audi convertible squealed around the corner — headed straight for me.
For just a moment, I was mad at myself. Damn it, I'd been so wrapped up in escaping Rikare I'd forgotten this wasn't safe-as-cotton-balls Meiers Corners. Then the heat from the Audi's grill billowed onto my skin like the snorts of an angry bull. I was about to be grievously injured — or worse.
Bright terror splashed through me. Time slowed as my brain went into overdrive. A spotlight seemed to halo the Audi, the day darkening around it. The car braked hard, and I pitched myself toward the far curb. In my heightened state, I could tell neither effort would be enough.
In my ear, Sera was yelling, "Brie, what's wrong, what's going on?" She sounded far away, muffled by the hammering of my heart in my ears.
A brick wall hit me, popping me into the air. I landed on concrete airbags. I expected to see the driver's alarmed face as I crashed into the Audi's windshield.
Shockingly, it was Rikare's stern face, mere inches away.
The car hadn't hit me. Rikare had, scooping me up. He rushed to the opposite curb, where he set me staggering on my feet.
In Meiers Corners, I'd have landed amid a sea of horrified faces, matronly expressions grim with censure. Here, no one was even paying attention. Perversely, I was disappointed.
"Thank you for the assist —"
"What was that?" Rikare's hand engulfed my elbow and urged me into motion, cutting off my thanks. Heat penetrated the thin fleece of my hoodie to raise goose bumps on my skin. His growl sounded right in my naked ear.
Some voices are like blue satin, some are like squeaky chalk. Rikare's was smooth whiskey with a bite. Like moonshine. Midnight moonshine.
His low words were accompanied by the soft touch of his breath, a warm caress that aroused the sensitive lobe of my ear and tousled the hair around it. Damn it, think of anything other than how sweet that touch of breath feels. I changed my hair color frequently in fits of artistic expression — maybe it was time to change up my candy-apple red streaked with caramel-brown to purple or green or the bronze of Rikare's skin — Damn it.
Then he hissed, "What the hell did you think you were doing?"
It drove home I'd behaved like a small-town noob. Embarrassment and anger at myself made me snap, "Crossing the street. Thank you for rescuing me. Now if you'll excuse me ..." I tugged my elbow out of his grip.
He straightened. It revealed a set of washboard abs just visible against a thin tee between the panels of an open leather jacket. My gaze rose. A truly spectacular chest jutted at my eye level, when at five-foot-eleven, my perspective was usually around a guy's receding hairline.
"Brie." Sera's voice squeaked in my ear. "What's happening? I heard a man. Is it a mugger?"
I startled. I'd forgotten I was on a call with her. I spun and walked away. "It's a guy I work with." In no way did I work with Rikare. I was in support, and he was in super-special-agent land.
"Is he sexy?" Sera breathed in my ear.
"Yeah. Like my ex was sexy." I sliced a glare over my shoulder at Rikare. It only managed to ricochet off his stony Punisher eyes and cliff of a jaw.
"You had some good times with Derek."
"And you're my friend?" I glanced back. Thankfully, Rikare wasn't following.
The instant I returned to my desk, my supervisor, Mr. Boosey, called me into his office.
"My one-month evaluation?" I tucked my backpack under my desk and trotted after him, hoping for a glowing report. Though currently working support, I wanted to get into forensic art or even become a visual information specialist. Boosey's glowing recommendation would go a long way toward that.
He didn't answer, heading into his office. Stomach dropping, I followed. He pointed me at his guest chair, then sat in his executive behemoth. Putting his desk between us, a distancing tactic.
That was a bad sign. My stomach began to churn.
"I need you to go to your hometown of" — he consulted his smartphone — "Meiers Corners. Tonight."
Yikes. Was he channeling Sera? "During Oktoberfest? Why?"
"I need you on an undercover operation."
Okay, I have to admit that sounded sexy. Brie Lark, undercover agent. "I'm interested. I'm no special agent, though."
"No, but you have specialized knowledge. Ties to the town. You've been specifically requested by the special agent in charge of this case, because he needs that knowledge and those ties."
"He?" An unpleasant suspicion arose.
"Yes. Special Agent Rikare." He motioned toward the doorway.
A frisson of awareness, like a cool ocean breeze on a sweltering day, raised tiny goose bumps on my flesh. I twisted in my chair.
Excerpted from "Night's Caress"
Copyright © 2017 Mary Hughes.
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.
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