evading (regent vampire lords book 4)

Evading
Regent Vampire Lords #4
Evading
Regent Vampire Lords #4
K.L. Kreig
K.L. Kreig
Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Author’s Note

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Epilogue

Musical inspirations for Evading:

Also by KL Kreig

Acknowledgments

About the Author

EVADING

A REGENT VAMPIRE LORDS NOVEL 4

Copyright

E
vading

Copyright © 2016 by K.L. Kreig

P
ublished by K.L
. Kreig

ePub: ISBN-13: 978-1-943443-10-9 ISBN-10: 1-943443-10-6

mobi: ISBN-13: 978-1-943443-09-3 ISBN-10: 1-943443-09-2

A
ll rights reserved
. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author.

T
his book is
a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

C
over Art by Yocla Designs

Editing by Nikki Busch Editing

P
ublished
in the United States of America.

T
o my Grandma Eleanor
. If you were still here, I’m not sure you would love my racy stories, but I know you would love my accomplishments. I feel your pride even from afar. Thank you for your influence in shaping my life.

Author’s Note

T
his book
certainly
can
be read as a standalone and still enjoyed. HOWEVER, this story does pick up in the middle of Mike and Giselle’s relationship, to a degree. For their entire backstory to make sense, it’s important to start with the three previous novels in the series,
Surrendering
,
Belonging
, and
Reawakening.

A
s this novel
takes place during and shortly after
Reawakening
, for continuity purposes in storytelling, I have lifted a paragraph or two, or in one case, an exact partial scene as written in
Reawakening
. In addition, there are some minor threads created for future stories, but you will not have to read
Evading
to keep up, as I will reintroduce them in the next book.

T
his story is
all about Mike and Giselle and how they finally find their way to each other and to their happily ever after.

H
ang on
. Grab some tissues. You’re in for a bumpy ride. I hope you enjoy reading their story as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Prologue

Giselle

B
lack death rained
down around her. Each diabolical soul released for banishment into an eternal pit of flames and suffering was a breath of fresh air she could take once again. She relished each lungful.

Ancestry was destroyed.

Families decimated.

Retribution delivered.

She was the punisher.

She was deliverance.

She was hate.

She was vengeance.

Sweet, sweet vengeance.

Unrelenting pain—finally
theirs
—warmed her insides, lighting her ablaze.

Each filament attached to her limbs was a lethal weapon of inexorable suffering they couldn’t escape. Saccharine lifeblood lifted to her nostrils. She took in the intoxicating, liberating scent.

Their bloodcurdling screams were music she wanted to savor for eternity.

Long sought after peace was finally within her grasp. It hung like mist in the air around her, cooling her overheated flesh.

She felt it.

She tasted it.

It’s all she thought about.

It’s all she knew.

It’s all she lived for.

It was finally hers and she would gladly serve her due penance for the devastation she’d just deluged.

1

One Hundred Twenty years earlier…

Giselle

T
he sweet
, fruity alcohol went down too well, too fast. It was her tenth, but it wasn’t enough. There wasn’t enough liquor in the world that could ease her suffering.

A slight tingle from the wine coursed through her bloodstream. That’s all she’d get. Imbibing didn’t do much for vampires, so she wasn’t really sure why she bothered. But she needed something to keep her mouth, her hands, and her mind distracted so she wouldn’t focus on events that had unfolded over the last day—events that would mean her own demise when Devon Fallinsworth, Midwest Regent Vampire Lord, caught up with her. And he would catch up with her…sooner rather than later, of that, she had no doubt.

That was okay, though. At least his justice would be swift. Merciful. Which was more than she’d been granted over the last five years. She’d accepted her fate. Looked forward to it, actually. Begged for it many a time over. Every time she was tied down. Every time she was violated. Every time those who were supposed to love her most broke her trust, using her body for their own selfish gain.

“This is your plight for what you are. Your penance. You took something from us and you will spend the rest of your days suffering for your pathetic existence.”

The same words were repeated every time she was bound and blindfolded, naked, in that small, filthy room that smelled of wet dirt, mold, and perversion.

Human or vampire, it didn’t matter. Bonded or single was irrelevant. Social status immaterial. They all were given a go, for the right price. Vampires were far rougher and liked to draw blood any way they could. Of course, many human males weren’t that different. It’s amazing how being completely at someone’s mercy draws out the beast that hovers and lurks inside all of us, regardless of species.

Her brothers, the stupid twats, thought a paltry piece of fabric that took away her sight created anonymity for the males they let desecrate her day after day. But she knew every one of her abusers. Take away one of the senses and the others sharpen considerably.

Hers could cut glass.

She may not have seen them with her own eyes, but just like our DNA is unique, so, too, are our scents, the rhythm of our breaths, the ridges of flesh in our fingertips. The second they walked into that dank room and laid a hand on her, every characteristic was cataloged and tucked away.

And after five long years, it was done.

The righting of wrongs had been equaled.

All the intricate preparations had finally come to fruition. Every painful detail executed with near perfection.

The torment that started with her second blooding at fifteen ended with her final blooding yesterday at age twenty. She’d had one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five days to pour over every aspect of her vengeance.

She found flaws. Fixed them.

Practiced, reassessed.

Repetition, repetition, repetition. Until every scenario was covered, every defect eliminated. When you lived with the enemy, you got to know them pretty fucking well. Every chink, every weakness, every habit, no matter how small, could mean the difference between victory and failure.

They all thought she was weak, helpless,
hopeless
. But she wasn’t. She was just fucking smarter than they were, biding her time until she could unleash the beast they’d created.

Giselle had been victorious, cutting down each offender with stealth and efficiency and no fucking mercy, starting with her two brothers. Every one of them was now rotting in a hell of their own making.

Except one.

Somehow, he’d known she was coming for him and had fled. She’d spent the last twenty-four hours hunting him so she could go to her grave with a clear conscience and no regrets, but he remained elusive.

And didn’t that figure? He was the most sadistic, evil bastard of them all. A weekly regular since day one, he delivered punishing blows and vicious agony. But he never left any visible marks behind. Instead, he left the worst kind of scars that never healed. And since he was vampire, he had countless days yet to deliver his special brand of pain to other innocents.

The worst of it was he was also her pappi’s best friend. He was supposed to love her like a daughter, not treat her like a whore. Like her brothers, he preached about “leading by example,” only no one ever suspected he was a vile, malevolent creature who preferred the screams and cries of an innocent to that of his own mate.

As long as she remained free, she’d track him. She’d find him. Then she’d end him, too. Only then, would she rest. She may go to hell for the retribution she’d unleashed, but she was not about to go down without dragging the bloody remains of every last one of those sick fucks that preyed on the young and weak. She’d drop them personally at Lucifer’s feet with a smile on her face and consummation pumping in her veins.

She threw back the cool wine, signaling for another when she felt
them
.

“Giselle Petrova?”

Her heart sank to her feet.
Shit
. Time was up.

The thought of fleeing briefly crossed her mind, but only so she could end what she’d started, not to escape punishment. Even if she did make an attempt, in her heart she knew she wouldn’t get far. Lord Devon wouldn’t send just any lunks to bring in a mass murderer. He’d send his best.

No. This was the end of the line for her. She sealed her fate with the first strike of her sword. And payment would be in the form of her own life. She’d been prepared for this outcome from the very beginning. At least, it would be on
her
terms, under her control. And she’d hold her head high until her last breath, proud that she’d rid the world of at least a few slivers of evil.

Breathing deeply, she stood, squaring her shoulders. “Yes.”

“Lord Devon has required your presence. Come with us.”

Her gaze swam over the two broad, handsome vampires who were clearly old and powerful. Definitely, more of a match than she could take. Standing, she allowed lefty to grab her elbow, and while his grip was firm, it wasn’t bruising.

Once outside, in the safety of the grove and away from humans, they flashed to a modern-day dungeon of sorts: packed dirt floors, crumbling stone walls, and cells with thick, wrought iron bars. Not much different than the way she’d lived.

They placed her in a dank, musty unit and closed the door, their faces remaining impassive. She was sure they used the same magic her brothers had to imprison her. A halfhearted attempt to escape proved that theory out.

This is was it, then—the end of a long, desolate road. In just a matter of hours, her existence would be no more. All that would remain of her were glorified stories of a heinous act no one would ever fully understand. She waited for sadness to drown her, but it never came. Instead, she felt a strange, calming peace settle in her bones.

Sliding down to the floor, Giselle leaned back against the cool rock and released a genuine sigh of relief. Yes, she was imprisoned and death loomed, yet she was actually smiling. Relishing in the fact she was
free
.

Tonight would be the first night in over five years she wouldn’t be raped and tortured. She wouldn’t be bound. She wouldn’t be in pain. She wouldn’t be belittled or bled or scourged. Her stomach wouldn’t cramp with hunger. She would actually be able to open her eyes and see something other than the color black.

She was free. Blessedly, truly free.

She wanted to bask in her newfound independence for every minute she had left, but the lethargy she’d been fighting began to win. The adrenaline, which had pumped her up over the last twenty-four hours took a nosedive, sending her crashing. Unable to keep her eyes open, she gave in to its pull.

This time, though, instead of the usual nightmares that plagued her, she dreamed of her mammi: a female Giselle had never known because she’d died while giving birth to her. Giselle’s lifetime of torment at the hand of her brothers was her punishment for taking both her parents’ lives. And for being female, she thought. Would a male have suffered her same fate? She didn’t think so.

The dream started out with Giselle as a little girl. She sat on a shaky, three-legged wooden stool, balanced on an uneven earth floor as her mammi stood behind brushing her blonde locks in languid, easy strokes, singing an unfamiliar tune. Her mammi stood for hours in that exact same spot, singing the exact same song, grooming her the exact same way. She brushed so long Giselle’s head started to hurt, but she begged her not to stop because each pull of the coarse brush was mystical, turning the strands into spun gold.


M
ammi
, what’s happening?” she asked, staring in awe at the heavy gild in her tiny hand.

“It’s magic, my darling. But it can only happen to those who are noble and pure.”

But that was wrong. Giselle wasn’t noble and pure; she was vile and hated. She didn’t know how she knew that…she just did.

“No, Mammi. You’re wrong. I’m not noble or pure.”

Her beautiful mammi leaned down to whisper, “Mammis are never wrong about what matters most, Giselle. I’m sorry I left.” Drops of disgrace chased down her face, one after the other, falling into a pool of water that rapidly swelled around her. Panicking, she looked back to her mammi for help, but she was gone. When Giselle glanced down again, the water now lapping at her waist wasn’t really water at all.

It was thick and scarlet and held the sins of men. It rose quick, like a tide, and threatened to drown her where she’d be eternally trapped in their unanswered, undeserving pleas for mercy.

Just as she was going under, the scene morphed. Now she stared at a vision of herself covered in blood and hate and violence. A gore-covered sword hung limply in her hand. Once-shiny gold locks were now caked with dirt and relief. Taking in the carnage all around her, her heart was equally dense and weightless.

Her mammi’s disembodied voice whispered, “You’ve made me proud.”

“But I killed your sons,” she replied on a sob.

“You righted wrongs, Giselle. There is honor in that.”

The cackle of unrepentant evil in the distance taunted her. “One got away.”

“Karma chases the perverse, though sometimes she needs an edge.”

T
he rattling
of the cell door woke her. Giselle jumped to her feet in defense, momentarily forgetting where she was. The vivid dream hung over her like a thick fog she couldn’t shake.

“Female, it’s time,” the handsome vampire chimed.

Blinking off the last remnants of the illusion, she simply nodded. Resigned to her fate, Giselle followed without a fight. Eyes forward, back straight. As they wound down hallways, marching toward her penance, though, she couldn’t stop hearing her mammi’s words.

“Karma chases the perverse, though sometimes she needs an edge.”

A flash of remorse fired hotly through her, but it wasn’t because of the lives she’d taken. It was because of the one she hadn’t.

Giselle had originally vowed to go to her grave silent. In her mind’s eye, she was justified in every casualty that sullied her hands, and she would not repent or defend or explain. No one deserved a fucking thing from her.

But what if Lord Devon was karma’s edge? What if he believed her story? What if
he
was the conduit to vet due justice since she wouldn’t be able to?

If she said nothing—
did
nothing—she would never know and Siobhan would win.

He couldn’t win. He couldn’t
live
. He didn’t deserve to take another breath while she was punished for righting evil wrongs. If she didn’t stop him or at least try, the realization that she’d failed would haunt her for all eternity. She couldn’t live with that.

She had to do this one last thing. As abhorrent as the thought was.

Mind made up, in her final words she’d humble and humiliate herself, revealing repulsions no one should ever hear. Relive degradation she could barely acknowledge had happened to
her
.

In her last breaths, Giselle would remain strong. She’d do it in hopes that the Midwest Regent Vampire Lord was as benevolent and fair as everyone said he was. And that he’d exact the justice she needed so she could finally rest in a peace she had more than earned.

2

Present

Giselle

W
hite-hot fire
bathed her back, her arms, her thighs. Each blow rained fresh hell on her anew, peeling the tender skin from her body until warm, sticky blood pooled beneath her kneeled form.

In debilitating agony, her eyes fell to the ground, the hallucination clawing at her until her mind was also raw.

No pool of warmth bathed her flesh.

No gore lined the hard surface underneath her knees.

Yet the pain remained.

Real. Pure. Unbearable.

She was helpless once again. Something she swore she would never be.

“Ah, I can see you’re confused, ma chérie,” that dark, repugnant voice crooned. It was him. Siobhan. The one who had escaped his punishment so long ago. Or was that just yesterday?

“Non. Not Siobhan, mon amour.” Something ran along her cheek, the tenderness of the act belying the sadistically malevolent tone. “Who am I, you ask? I’m everyone and no one. I’m the Messiah and the Dark One. I’m eternal light and everlasting blackness. And I’ll breathe the very life back into your worst fucking nightmares, Giselle.” Her drawn-out name sounded like poison on his spiked tongue, the ends piercing her flesh like a thousand needles. “You can’t run. You can’t hide. You can only endure. Now…let’s start again, shall we?”

This the time the pain centered in the very core of her being, a place she’d never let anyone willingly enter. She was being torn in two, but her physical flesh, nerves, muscles, and bones didn’t matter. They would heal. They would heal so they could be violated over and again. No…it was her soul that would be shredded beyond all recognition. It was her soul that would die black and shriveled and hollow.

She began to pray for darkness that would never come.

G
iselle jolted
from her nightmare drenched in a cold sweat, breathing ragged, heart racing. Phantom pain lingered on her flesh. Her screams still echoed in her ears. Her mind was cloudy, making her weak, vulnerable. Defenseless.

It’s not real. It’s not happening. You’re not there.

It was a dream. A horrible, hellish, insufferable dream.

You are fine.

You are fine.

Just fine.

Breathing deeply and slowly, Giselle willed her heart rate to slow. She’d let her guard down, something she never did, and she struggled to remember why. Why did she feel safe enough to let sleep take her under so hard?

She tried to move, but steely arms banded tightly, holding her still. Fear should have her on the defensive, but instinctively, she knew she was safe. Safer than she’d ever been. It was a foreign feeling her sleep-fogged brain still struggled to reconcile.

Before she could get her bearings, a baritone timbre rumbled sleepily in her ear, “Shhh, baby. I got you.”

That voice
. She recognized that deep, sexy voice. It was balm that soothed her scarred soul. It was the male she’d tried for the past year to forget. To ignore. To hate. To leave behind.

The same male who’d told her earlier tonight he loved her.

Loved. Her.

Her.

Giselle Petrova.

She still fought to wrap her head around it. How could Mike Thatcher possibly love her when he didn’t even know her? Not really. Didn’t he understand she was ruined, broken, scarred, stained, repulsive, coldhearted? Whatever word that best described the unlovable?

That was her. Unlovable.

She shouldn’t be here, leading him on. She should have left his ass the minute he said it and never looked back. No…what she should have done was twisted his balls until they snapped off and
then
left his ass and never looked back.

But she didn’t. She stayed. She willingly allowed him to carry her back to his bed, lay her down next to him, and hold her close. She remained silent when he stripped her down to her panties and kissed her hair. She lay perfectly still while he stroked her back and whispered sweet fucking nothings in her ear. She let herself be lulled into thinking this, this…
thing
…between them was a real possibility, when it wasn’t.

But did she leave? Even then?

Fuck no.

Here it was. Hours later. The middle of the night and here she still lay. In his house. Between his sheets. Wrapped in his arms. Everything inside her was speed melting underneath his warmth and affection when she needed to stay frozen, unaffected, and unattached instead. Unfortunately, around Mike Thatcher, it was becoming more arduous and precarious to accomplish.

He’d changed her in ways she didn’t like. In fact, she hated them. He made her soft. He made her care. The gorgeous asshole made her
feel
, goddammit. And removing the frigid barriers she’d erected caused old emotions to boil hot and closer to the surface than she was comfortable with. She could practically see the ashy singe on her skin from memories of ancient horrors.

Nothing good could come of what they were doing.

Nothing.

Both of them would get hurt.

Then why am I still here?

“Uh, uh. You’re not running, beautiful.” Mike tightened his hold as she tried to rise again, his tone now hard, unyielding, his grip bordering on pain.

She huffed and relaxed back into him, fully intent on leaving whenever the fuck she wanted. The fact she didn’t
really
want to leave pissed her off even more. She’d let this human burrow himself under her skin further than the teeth of a bur. A place she’d only allowed two others in her entire life to go, and it took them decades to break through the concrete her flesh had become. The detective had managed the same task in mere months.

“You do realize you can’t keep me here, asshole. Right?”

She was being a royal bitch when he’d been nothing but kind to her the last few days, but she couldn’t help it. Sarcasm was instinct. Giselle tried hard not remember how it had easily taken a back seat to the fun they’d been having.
Yes, fun
. They’d laughed, talked, traded light barbs, and worked in easy tandem as if they’d been doing it for years. He’d let her
feed
from him for Christ’s sake and he would never understand what it took for her to do that. And now that she had, how hard it was for her not to do it again. The scent of his blood howled her name. It belonged to her.

This time, though, would be for sheer indulgence versus voracious need. And
that
, more than just about anything, scared the hell out of her. She’d never once taken blood for pleasure. Not once.

Mike turned her toward him, framing her face with his large, manly human hands. They were calloused and thick and they felt so damn good on her icy skin, every touch evaporating that frigidness just a tiny bit more.

Damn him.

She needed to go.

She wanted to stay.

“Yeah, I realize you can pull your Houdini act and be gone in a flash, pun intended. But I want you to stay. I’m
asking
you to stay, Giselle.”

The need she heard, as though she was essential to his very being, halted her snide retort. They had camaraderie. They’d both been living life in the dark. In pain. Buried alive. Each breath full of toxic memories they wished would mercifully kill them, but hatefully wouldn’t.

Why was he the only male in her one hundred forty-one years who’d been able to lighten her baggage? Counteract the poison?

You know exactly why, Giselle. You just won’t acknowledge it.

“Please,” he urged, holding her stare. That was a word he used sparingly. Mike Thatcher didn’t beg for a damn thing. He took what he wanted and made no apologies for it. Ever. If he were any other way, she wouldn’t be tangled in his bed right now. She shouldn’t be anyway.

Holding her eyes, he lowered his head until his lips touched hers, tentatively, at first, seeking permission. They pressed harder, taking more, demanding it all. She gave it. Gave in. Gave out, whatever. She was weak. So very fucking weak when it came to him. His touch scrambled her brains, knocked into her barricades like an unrelenting battering ram. Shit was flying loose everywhere.

“Stay,” he demanded gruffly between light bites.

Mike’s intense want thundered through her body like a jet engine, fueling her own desire. While that feeling emanating from a male would have repulsed her in the past, she now found herself wondering what type of lover the detective would be if she could only allow herself to say yes. Gentle and loving? Rough and demanding? The perfect combination of dirty and sweet? The temptation to find out had grown to an almost unquenchable thirst she needed to assuage.

But she didn’t know how. She’d never done any of this before with a male.

Giselle’s sultry persona was just that. A guise, a front, a role she played. She was full of show and cocky declarations—and utter
bullshit
—because the truth was she hadn’t been intimate with a male since the day before her last blooding at age twenty. She’d never had free will growing up and, from the time Dev granted her amnesty she’d exercised her choice to abstain.

She’d never swayed on that decision until the obstinate detective came along, tempting her beyond all reason, popping her celibacy lock. He was the golden ticket. The key. She craved him on a weird, uncomfortable level she couldn’t ignore anymore.

Giselle had allowed Mike Thatcher to explore places on her that were pure and untouched, at least in the way he was doing it. She’d never been worshipped or given pleasure that was solely for her. Every graze of his fingers or nip of his dull teeth awakened her more, pulling womanly desires from the deep bogs within. She never knew it could be this way between a male and a female.

“Stay,” he cajoled again, convincingly dragging his tongue along the swell of her breasts before dipping further to suck a painfully peaked nipple. When one hand gently fisted her hair while the other tunneled down the back of her panties, she mentally caved. Her soul was starved for affection, her body weeping to be adored.

“Touch me.”
Make me forget
is really what she meant.

Drawing his hand around from her ass to the wet space between her thighs, she silently begged. He pulled back to make sure it was okay. He always did that, and as always, the sweet gesture made her fall into him, getting herself lost once again. And, as always, her answer was to slant her mouth over his, telling him with her body everything she couldn’t with words.

Once again, she let him stroke her, drive her up, take her over. She writhed in sweet pleasure underneath his magical fingers as they demanded she go places she’d never wanted to go before. Now, she couldn’t get enough of it. When he’d wrung everything she could give, her body just as sated as if she’d fed, he settled his front to her back and told her to sleep, not expecting anything in return. Even though his stiff, throbbing desire prodded between her cheeks, he made no move to take care of it or ask her to.

Just another thing about him to like. His selflessness.

God, this all felt good.
Too
good. Every last bit of it.

But what happened if he found out about her? About the blood on her hands and the wounds on her spirit? About the smears of sin that still felt smothering and base? What would he think of her then? How could he love her then?

Mother of all fucks.

Her head now buzzed for an entirely different reason. Giselle tried to relax. Tried shutting herself down, tried enjoying the warmth still deliciously humming through her veins, but a whirlwind of thoughts raced at warp speed, easily sweeping all the good away until all that remained were doubts.

What the fuck are you doing, Elle?

Blood just because?

Touch for pleasure?

Cuddling? Cud-dul-ing?

No. That wasn’t her.

That could
never
be her.

Could it?

No. No, it couldn’t. Jesus, she’d made the gravest of mistakes. She had her head so far in the goddamned clouds she was seeing promises that didn’t exist. Wanting a future she couldn’t have. Wanting a whole host of shit she didn’t want to want, but couldn’t stop wanting anyway.

Giselle was ruined. Tainted. Untold DNA stained her skin, her soul, her body both inside and out. She wasn’t fit to befriend someone, let alone be much, much more than that to this incredible male holding her.

Her icy exterior was turning slushy, and that was unacceptable. Hell, he’d worn down her sharp edges so much already she was actually here because she was doing Rom’s mate a favor. A
favor
, for the love of Christ. Giselle did
not
do favors. The foreign word tasted bitter on her tongue. She wanted to spit it out and grind it into the ground with a spiked heel.

She should have never allowed them to go this far. She’d made a huge mistake spending so much time with Mike, dropping her guard, letting him too close. She needed space to think, to breathe, to reevaluate.

Feeling clammy and panicky, she willed herself to the place of inner frozen calm she expertly tapped into until his breaths gradually softened to a slow, even cadence.

Then, when she knew he was fast asleep, she stealthily slipped out of bed and dressed. With one last longing glance she once again left her Fated behind, all the while lying to herself she was doing it to protect him from her when it was so obviously the other way around.

3

Mike

H
e’d woken
this morning and Giselle was gone. Classic. Totally expected, yet, soul crushing nonetheless. But surprisingly…he wasn’t mad at her. He was mad at himself. He
knew
he was moving too fast. He knew she might not be in the same place he was emotionally. Hell, she may
never
be. Maybe he was just a shiny new plaything to her and nothing more. But even as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t true. The feelings she had for him could not be hidden in her expressive eyes. She just couldn’t verbalize them. Therefore, he should have kept his big fucking mouth shut and maybe she’d still be here right now.

He got her message loud and clear. She apparently needed space, so he’d give it to her.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of your summoning, human?”

“You’re such a fucking prick, bloodsucker,” Mike muttered under his breath before stepping aside to let Renaldo enter his humble abode.

Fuck if he wanted him here, but fuck if he had any choice either. He may have decided not to contact Giselle directly when he woke to a cold and empty bed after begging her to stay in the middle of the night, but he never said he wouldn’t find out what the hell was going on with the woman he was in love with either.

The only way he knew how to do that was through Devon’s powerful lieutenant. By the way, Renaldo threatened to, let’s see,
personally cut out his shriveled-up heart after he first sucked his body dry of every single drop of blood,
several months back if he hurt Giselle, he had an inkling they were pretty close.

Which didn’t sit too well with him, by the way.

In fact, it didn’t fucking sit well at all.

“You know, along with superpowers, cat-like agility, and sound-of-light speed, us bloodsuckers have a very keen sense of hearing. Prick,” Ren declared without venom as he swaggered on by.

Mike couldn’t help it. He laughed. “Touché.”

“Where’s Giselle?”

“I was going to ask you the same. Beer?” he offered on his way to the fridge. He was never one to care about so-called rules when it came to imbibing. If he wanted a beer with breakfast, he’d have a fucking beer with breakfast.

“What the hell. Sure.”

Mike took two Bud heavies and popped the tops before handing a cold brew to the tall, broad vampire now leaning against his faded yellow kitchen wall. He didn’t like the way Ren was already scrutinizing him. Had he any self-preservation left in his weary body, he would be intimidated by his enormous size and bulk and perceptive stare. Alas, he’d lost that care years ago.

Except now…now he wondered if that still held true. If Giselle wanted him, he definitely had something to live for. And that’s what he aimed to find out right now.

“I know you didn’t ask me here to shoot the shit and play beer pong, so why the hell am I standing in your cracker box kitchen when I have better things to do?”

“So you haven’t talked to Giselle, then?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant instead of agitated.

“Why?”

Mike shrugged. “You two seem pretty tight.”

Ren regarded him for a few solid heartbeats. “Contrary to your beliefs, Detective, I am not her fucking secretary or her keeper. Giselle does what she wants when she wants. The only one she listens to is Dev,” the too-arrogant-for-his-pants vamp replied smoothly.

“Don’t I fucking know it,” Mike mumbled in agreement.

Ren took a healthy swallow from his bottle before asking, “What’d you do to piss her off?”

This was it. Do or die time. Should he confide his feelings about Giselle to Lord Devon’s second in command? If he did, would he end up watching his heart pulse its last few beats in Ren’s hand before he took his final dirt nap?

Turns out he didn’t need to say a word.

“Oh fuck. I know that look.” Ren started shaking his head. His face was impassive and that pissed Mike the hell off.

“What look?” he barked defensively.

“The ‘hopelessly devoted to you’ look, asshole. You went and fell in love with her, didn’t you?” Ren generally showed no emotion, unless it was impudence, but his tone bordered on challenge.

He didn’t know the nature of the relationship between Giselle and Ren, but he’d always secretly worried that Ren had more than “friendly” feelings toward
his
woman or they had some sort of past. Even though Ren had tried pushing them together not that long ago, he wouldn’t put anything past the blood drinker. Push Mike toward Giselle and then bury him six feet under for touching her sounded like just the justification the bloodsucker needed to slit his throat without ramifications.

Well, fuck that shit. Giselle belonged to
him
.

Mike straightened to his full height. At six foot two, he was a fairly tall guy but was still several inches shorter than Ren’s impressive six-six stature. Standing toe-to-toe with a species that could gut him and bury him faster than he could sing “The Star-Spangled Banner”
was not a smart move on anyone’s part, but especially his. It was no secret that Detective Mike Thatcher wasn’t a fan favorite of the plasma drinkers or vice versa. But fuck all if he cared. Giselle was his.
His
.

“Why? Do I have competition?”

He hated the fact he had to look up to this fucker as heavy silence thickened between the two. Insinuations, anger, and power shimmered in the air, nearly taking solid form. Then a broad grin formed on Ren’s lips and it stretched until the cocksucker was laughing. Hard and loud.

“What the hell is so funny, bloodsucker?” Mike spat.

That made Ren’s chortle pick up until he was nearly doubled over with some fucking joke that apparently only he could hear. Regret ate at his gut—why had he thought this was a good idea in the first place?

“Does she know how you feel?” the vamp finally asked when he’d gotten control of himself, taking an uninvited seat at the worn dining table like he planned to stick around for some lighthearted chitchat. The chair creaked when he let his large bulk relax into the rickety wood.

Trying to remain stoic, Mike didn’t answer, but rage still pulsed madly through him. The irritating sound of fingers drumming filled the silence. He wanted to cut those fingers off and feed them to his next-door neighbor’s dog, Fluff. Don’t be fooled by the name. Fluff was a rabid pit bull who would sooner tear into your calf muscle than scare you away with his equally vicious bark. His neighbor had a very sick sense of humor.

Ren was either a mind-fucking-reader or Mike was bad at hiding his emotions because Ren’s lips turned down before he said what could well be taken as sincere sympathy. “Well, there you go, human. That’s why you can’t find her.”

He didn’t want to ask. He didn’t want to continue this conversation at all, but the question was out before he could shove it back in. “What exactly does that mean?”

Ren nodded to the empty chair across from him. Mike only moved when the asshole raised one cocky brow that clearly said:
If you’re getting any information from me, you’ll sit your ass down.

Reluctantly, he slid into the seat, every muscle on red alert, and waited for the vamp who seemed to know Giselle better than anyone to respond. Jealousy burned him at that thought.

“You know I don’t really like you, right?” Ren said coolly.

“Good thing I don’t give a flying rat’s asshole what you like, vampire.”

Ignoring his insult, the jackass continued. “But Giselle does. And even I’m not daft enough that I can’t admit you’re good for her, so I’m going to let you in on a little four-one-one about our seductress, Detective. But if you tell her it came from me, I’ll deny it before I gut you.”

Taking a chance, Mike replied snarkily, “She’d kill you if you laid a hand on me.”

A cocky smirk curled the vamp’s lips. “She would try, which is the only reason I’m gifting you with this tidbit of intelligence.”

“I’m listening.”

Ren leaned forward on the table, crossing his bulky arms in front of him. He dropped his voice low as if there were others in the room who may overhear. “Giselle is more fragile than she appears to be.”

Mike waited for him to continue. To give him some
new
information on the female he was pining after like a damn lovesick fool, but the bloodsucker remained quiet, silently studying him for a reaction.

“That’s it? That’s your fucking revelation? That she’s wounded like we all are?” He leaned forward toward the vampire, mirroring his position. “Newsflash, asshole. I saw through her cocky bravado months ago.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

The smug bastard leaned back and finished his cocktail. “Beer me.”

“You’re fucking kidding me, right? There’s a convenience store down the road on your way out.” He nodded to his front door, giving the vamp a hint.

Ren chuckled and stood. Placing his massive mitts on the table, he hovered over Mike. The laminate creaked under his two hundred thirty-plus pounds of solid muscle. Mike didn’t lean back, even a fraction. “She’s running scared, but that means you’re getting to her. Getting close. Under her skin. In her head. And I have to tell you, human, no one gets to Elle. She gets to them.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know.”

“Don’t give up.”

“The fires of hell wouldn’t stop me,” he replied adamantly.

Nodding sharply, the vampire made his way toward the exit. Mike stayed seated, disgustedly marveling at how a large creature could move with such stealth and grace.

With the knob in his hand, Ren turned back. “Your future with her rests squarely on your shoulders, I’m afraid to say. Giselle never takes the easy road and it’s hard for her to accept what’s staring her in the goddamned face, so don’t blink. Don’t look away. Don’t give her a fucking inch or she’ll be gone. But most importantly, Detective, make her feel safe.” After a slight pause, he clarified, “To be clear, what I’m saying is
emotionally
safe. She’s been through more than your puny little human mind can possibly comprehend.”

Mike wanted to throw a punch in that smug bastard’s face and Ren knew it. But he wanted information more.

“What happened to her when she was taken by that sadistic bastard, Ren?” He hated to ask but needed to know. She’d been frosty cold before, but after her kidnapping by Xavier, she’d been different. Fragile. Like she’d turned to dry ice and one wrong touch would set a series of cracks and fissures into slow motion that he wouldn’t be able to stop. He was terrified he’d be forced to watch her helplessly shatter into pieces right before his eyes, her fragments scattered at his feet.

That’s part of the reason he asked the vampire here today. Giselle would never tell him. She was a damn vault, but he was working on breaking the lock. Bit by agonizing bit. If he could just get a little help, it would be so much easier.

Ren’s face sobered. “You know as much as I do.”

“I don’t know shit.”

“Exactly.”

He nodded, surprised Ren didn’t know and disappointed he was unable to learn anything new, except for possibly the depth that Giselle bled.
Huh
…guess he knew more about his woman than he gave himself credit for.

Mike was temporarily lost in his own thoughts when Ren added, “You weren’t really trying to take me on, were you?”

“And if I was?” He raised a mocking brow.

“Well, you are either the stupidest fucker I’ve met or the ballsiest. And if you’re going to pursue Elle, you’d better have balls forged of titanium and the patience of Job, my friend. You’re gonna need ’em both.”

“Already covered.” Ren was halfway out when Mike called, “One more thing, vampire. She’s not
your
seductress. She’s mine.”

With his index finger, Ren touched his temple and then pointed at Mike, a smirk on his face. “Touché.”

He could have sworn he saw a hint of respect in the powerful vampire’s eyes before he disappeared, leaving Mike to wonder if he was reading between the lines correctly. Was the overprotective Renaldo actually
encouraging
him to chase—and, more importantly,
catch
—Giselle? If he was, what exactly did that mean?

Deciding he wasn’t going to solve world hunger today or ever unravel the inner workings of a vampire’s complex mind, he went back to work on the pet project Giselle had asked for his help with—tracking down Sarah Hill’s lineage.

Buckling down, he contacted additional PDs and faxed pictures of the two missing women. He’d worked tirelessly for hours, all the while trying to forget how they sat on the couch next to each other and watched
The Late Show
or how she let him take her hand when they took a walk at dusk last night or how he taught her the finer art of making frozen fish sticks. He wasn’t successful blocking her from his thick head, but about an hour ago…he did hit pay dirt.

Marna Clark was age twenty when she went missing in Des Plains, Illinois in 1969. There were very few leads and her case quickly grew cold and was eventually forgotten in favor of the newest missing person. Hundreds of thousands of people go missing each year in the United States alone, and Marna quickly became a statistic, like so many others. Mike was able to get her parents’ names, number, and address. He’d called but there was no answer.

Fuck it. Des Plains was only an hour and fifteen minutes from Milwaukee and since there was no reason to stick around here, he grabbed his phone, packed an overnight bag, and headed to the garage. He’d sleep in a cheap motel close to their house and stop by the Clarks’ first thing in the morning. Talking to them in person would be better anyway. He could gauge their expressions and, more importantly, see their faces. Did either of them resemble Sarah? Did they have other children who did?

He didn’t really understand why Giselle was working on this project for Sarah since Giselle wasn’t really the warm and fuzzy type, but the reason didn’t matter. Even if she’d decided not to come back, he would continue on his own. He’d do it for Sarah. He’d do it to keep his goddamned mind from spinning and churning.

And he’d do it in hopes that Giselle would come to her fucking senses and return to him. This time for good. Because next time she walked through that door, he wasn’t letting her leave. Ever.