Avon
March 31, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-147430-9


Argeneau Family Tree
Notte Family Tree

Even vampires need a vacation. But Decker Argeneau's ends abruptly when he's asked to help hunt the group of rogue vampires targeting mortals -- one that might include a defector in his own family. Before he can worry about that, though, he's got to rescue the latest victim. It's all part of the job, including taking a bullet for a beautiful doctor.

Dr. Danielle McGill doesn't know if she can trust the man who just saved her life. There are too many questions, such as what is the secret organization he says he's part of, and why do his wounds hardly bleed? However, with her sister in the hands of some dangerous men, she doesn't have much choice but to trust him.

Except now Decker's talking about life mates and awakening a passion that's taking Dani beyond anything she's ever known. Being undead may not be half-bad...especially if it means spending forever with a man who would love her with his mind, body, and immortal soul.


Prologue

“What’s taking so long?”

Decker Argeneau Pimms glanced up from a very bored contemplation of his twiddling thumbs at that question from Garrett Mortimer.  He watched the fair-haired enforcer pace back and forth in front of him twice before saying, “I’m sure they’ll be done soon.”

When Mortimer merely grunted and continued to pace, Decker leaned his head back on the dark, leather couch and closed his eyes, trying to pretend he was somewhere else. The energy in the room was heavy with anxiety and he would have liked to leave. Unfortunately, this was his cottage. It was also supposed to be his vacation, but that had fallen by the wayside with one call. The third day of his vacation Lucian, his uncle, but more importantly the head of the Immortal Enforcers and his boss, had called with the news that there had been multiple reports of sightings in the area of mortals with bite marks. Two Immortal Enforcers were on their way north to find the culprit.  Could they stay with him? Would he help out with the search? Like an idiot, he’d said yes.

Decker grimaced to himself, but knew he hadn’t had much choice. His people—called vampires by some, though they preferred the name immortals—had survived for millennia by not drawing attention to themselves. Until about fifty years ago, that had meant moving often and living and hunting in the shadows of night, but the advent of blood banks had mitigated the risks considerably.  Able to purchase blood from an immortal run blood bank like a mortal bought steak at the grocery store, hunting became unnecessary. Finding this greatly reduced the risk of discovery, it wasn’t long before the North American Immortal Council outlawed biting non-life mate mortals except in cases of emergency. Most immortals adhered to the law without complaint. Unfortunately, some preferred the old ways, and risked exposing them all by feeding “off the hoof” as they called it.  Those who did had to be caught and stopped for the safety of the rest and it was enforcers like Decker and Garrett Mortimer who took on that job. 

Most of the time, Decker got a certain amount of satisfaction from protecting his people, as well as mortals, from rogue vampires.  However, this wasn’t one of those times. His vacation had been ruined for nothing.  They’d spent the last two weeks searching for a rogue immortal who had turned out not to be a rogue at all.

He opened his eyes and swiveled his head to peer at the supposed rogue sitting on the opposite end of the couch. A slender, red-haired man named Grant. Decker hadn’t bothered to find out if that was a first or last name. He’d been too annoyed once he’d realized that his vacation had been trashed--not to capture a rogue vampire--but because some paper pusher at the Argeneau blood bank had a quarrel with the man and had been deliberately losing and delaying his shipments of blood. It had forced Grant to feed off mortals between shipments.

Decker suspected the man wouldn’t be in trouble for his actions, since feeding on mortals in such emergencies was allowed. However, Grant looked as anxious as Mortimer, chewing viciously at his nails. Decker couldn’t blame him. Having to face Lucian Argeneau could be a pretty intimidating event. As the head of the Immortal Council, as well as leader of the Council Enforcers, Lucian was also one of the oldest living immortals around and, consequently, could be hard as stone.

“Maybe I should go up and see if everything is all right,” Mortimer muttered.

Decker shifted his attention back to the blond-haired man who was now standing in front of him. He shook his head. “Not a good idea, my friend.”

Mortimer frowned, grunted, and then continued his pacing, but his eyes kept shifting to the stairs at the end of the room. Decker knew it wouldn’t be long before the man couldn’t restrain himself anymore and went charging upstairs to be with Sam.  Decker understood that completely. He’d probably feel the same way if the woman were his life mate.

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes again, thinking that Mortimer’s finding Samantha was the only good thing that had come out of this hunt. One of their kind finding a life mate was always a happy event. It was just a shame that the woman came from a family where the parents had died and the three girls weren’t close to the few relatives left. It meant they were each other’s only family . . . and that Sam was reluctant to be turned. She would have to leave them behind in ten years to prevent anyone from catching on to the fact that she wasn’t aging. That decision was the reason she was presently upstairs being grilled by Lucian while Mortimer went slowly crazy, waiting to find out what his future held.

If Lucian decided that her not becoming one of them was fine and she posed no threat to their people, the two could be together. However, if he decided otherwise, Sam would either have to agree to the turn, or her memory would be wiped and she would not remember ever meeting the man presently pacing a hole into Decker’s basement carpet. Mortimer, however, would be left remembering everything, a love found and lost . . . and he would never again be able to go near her for fear of bringing back memories of their time together. It was a hell of thing to have to go through, and Decker sincerely hoped he was never faced with such a situation.

A low sound of frustration brought his eyes open again. Mortimer had stopped pacing and was now eyeing the stairs grimly. Afraid the man had reached the end of his patience and was about to do something he would later regret, Decker tried to distract him by asking, “What’s this I hear about a new Enforcer headquarters and you possibly running it?”

Mortimer tore his eyes from the ceiling and shrugged. “Now that Lucian has met his life mate, he’s finding it inconvenient to have us using his house as a home base when we’re working in the area. He decided a proper headquarters was the solution and has arranged for the purchase of a house not far from his place on the outskirts of Toronto . He offered the job of running it to me when he got here.”

Decker nodded, pretending he hadn’t overheard the entire conversation earlier. He then commented, “It will allow you to stay close to Sam.”

“Yes.” Mortimer sighed, and then frowned and added bitterly, “If we’re allowed to be together.”

Decker grunted, mentally kicking himself for not realizing this conversation would lead right back to Sam and what was going on upstairs. He was trying to come up with something else to talk about when he heard the sound of a chair scraping across the hardwood floor overhead. It was followed by the soft pad of footsteps. “It sounds like they’re done talking.”

“Thank God,” Mortimer muttered, but Decker couldn’t help but note that he didn’t appear relieved. If anything, the man was growing even tenser as he waited to hear his future.

Decker looked toward the stairs, watching as first Sam and then Lucian came into view. He didn’t bother looking to his uncle who was always stone-faced and hard to read. Instead, he focused on Sam, but she was as expressionless as the man behind her, a result of being a lawyer, he supposed. A poker face probably came in handy there, he thought, and read her mind. What he found was a muddle of both anger and relief. It seemed Lucian had been his usual heavy handed self, telling Sam point blank the punishment would be death should she ever betray their people and give their presence away. But he’d agreed to allow her to be Mortimer’s life mate without turning.

Decker also found that Lucian had managed to convince her to give notice at her law firm and come to work for the Enforcers. Decker found that surprising because he knew that until meeting Mortimer, her career at the prestigious law firm had been the focal point of her life. It seemed, however, she’d realized these last two weeks that she didn’t care for the fact that it had almost taken over her whole life, and while she wasn’t ready to give up her sisters, she was willing to give up her present position to find the time to make a life with Mortimer. It had helped that Lucian had told her there were a lot of legal issues that needed tending when they hunted down and exterminated rogues. People could not just disappear in today’s paper plagued world. Not even immortals.

“Sam’s agreed to work for us,” Lucian announced as he stepped off the stairs. “She’ll do what she can to help you organize the Enforcer headquarters, and handle any legal matters that come up on the job.”

Decker didn’t miss the relief that flashed across Mortimer’s face as he hurried to Sam and slipped his arm around her waist to draw her to his side.  Engrossed in each other, neither paid attention when Lucian moved to stand in front of Grant and glared grimly down at the red-haired immortal.

“I understand you’ve been having trouble getting your blood supply and have been forced to feed off of mortals?” he asked.

Grant nodded, fear plain on his face. When Lucian simply stared at the man, his gaze fixed, Decker was positive he was reading the immortal’s thoughts.  Apparently he was satisfied by what he found there, because he nodded and said, “Someone is already looking into the situation with the employee who was holding up your orders. I’ve also arranged for a generator to be delivered and installed so that your blood supply isn’t ruined every time the power goes out up here. That should keep you from having to feed off the locals in future.  But,” he added sharply. “if you have any further problems, you’re to call Mortimer at once.  I won’t forgive another incident like this.”

Grant cringed back into the cold leather cushion at the warning. “It wasn’t my fault.  I—“

“You forget I can read your mind,” Lucian interrupted grimly.  “Pride is the reason you didn’t contact someone about the problems you were having getting blood. That and the fact that you really prefer your meals warm and the situation gave you the perfect excuse to feed off the hoof.  If you really want to feed that way, you’d best move to Europe. It isn’t allowed here. The next time a situation like this comes up involving you, you’ll find yourself staked and baked.  Got it?“ 

“Y-yes sir,” Grant stammered.

Apparently satisfied that he’d made his point, Lucian glanced to Mortimer and then to Decker as he commented, “Fortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any clean up to do here.  Grant, at least, had the good sense to take his meals in a wide area, feeding as far north as Parry Sound and all the way down to Minden. It means he’s managed to avoid raising suspicion among the mortals, so you boys can gather your stuff and head—

“Excuse me,” Grant said timidly from the couch.

Lucian frowned and turned on the man.  “What?”

The red-head shrank under his glare and then stammered nervously, “I never fed in P-Parry Sound . . . or M-Minden.”

Lucian stared at him for a moment. “We had reports from other immortals who had spotted bite marks in Parry Sound, Burk’s Falls, Nobel, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Minden and Haliburton.

Grant shook his head.  “I never went further south than Bracebridge.  Gravenhurst, Minden and Haliburton weren’t me.  Neither is Parry Sound to the North.” He licked his lips and then suggested, “Perhaps I am not the only one who has been having trouble getting supplies.”

Another moment of silence passed as Lucian apparently read Grant again. Lucian cursed and turned to Decker saying, “It seems your work here isn’t done.  You’ll have to split up and check both the north and the south, but first contact Bastien to see who else gets supplies from the Argeneau blood bank and might be having similar problems to Grant.  We’ll check with them first.”

Decker raised an eyebrow at the mention of his cousin, Bastien Argeneau, the head of Argeneau Enterprises. His gaze slid toward the window where sunlight was visible on the horizon. “The sun’s rising, Bastien will have left the office and gone home by now.”

Lucian grimaced.  “Yes, and since meeting his life mate he’s started shutting off the ringer on the phone while they’re sleeping unless there’s an emergency call he’s waiting for.”  He thought for a minute and then glanced to Grant.  “Do you know any of the other immortals up here?”

“Not many I tend to keep to myself,” Grant said apologetically.

“Well you can stop that,” Lucian growled. “An immortal without family and friends is more likely to go rogue.”

“I have friends,” Grant said quickly, and then added reluctantly, “Well . . . one.  He lives just north of Minden and I visit him every couple of weeks.” Apparently afraid Lucian wouldn’t believe him, he added, “You can ask Nicholas.He’ll vouch for me.”

 “Nicholas?” Lucian asked sharply as Decker stiffened at the name. “Nicholas who?”

“Nicholas Argeneau,” Grant said, sounding bewildered that he would even need to ask. “I saw him on my way out there the last time I went. I told him I was headed to a friend’s. He’ll remember. He can tell you.”

Lucian had gone stock still and Mortimer muttered a curse. Decker himself, felt as if the blood in his veins had turned to mud and stopped moving. Everything in him had come to a screeching halt--his blood, his heart, even his thoughts as those words echoed in his head.

It was Sam who asked in a whisper, “What’s wrong? Who is this Nicholas Argeneau?”

“He’s a rogue who’s been evading us for nearly fifty years,” Mortimer growled.

“What?” Grant paled and shrank back into the cushions again as if afraid Lucian would reach out and throttle him. He started to babble, “I didn’t know Nicholas was rogue.  I moved up this way fifty years ago to escape the city and hadn’t heard.   I would have called Argeneau Enterprises at once if I’d known Nicholas was rogue.”

“Go home,” Lucian ordered grimly. When the man breathed out his relief and rushed eagerly for the stairs, he added, “And no more biting or I’ll come deal with you personally.”

A handful of breathless assurances of future good behavior drifted back to them as the man hurried up the steps.  They ended on the clack of the screen door slamming upstairs.

“So,” Mortimer said quietly into the silence that had fallen over the room. “What are we going to do about Nicholas?”

Decker’s gaze slid back to his uncle to find Lucian staring straight at him. His face was its usual expressionless mask as he answered, “We hunt him.”

 

Chapter One

 “Where the hell is he going?”  Decker muttered under his breath as he steered the SUV down the rutted dirt road to follow the white van ahead.

“Hell if I know,” Justin Bricker answered.

Decker glanced briefly to the younger immortal, his temporary partner for this hunt, but didn’t bother explaining that he’d been talking to himself. He returned his concentration to the road, squinting in an effort to see where he was going. While their kind could see in the dark better than mortals, even he was straining in the almost complete absence of light out here. It was a starless night and Decker had turned off the headlights several miles back to prevent being spotted by Nicholas.  The Enforcer Suvs had several moderations, an absence of driving lights that came on every time the vehicle was started was just one of them. 

“I didn’t expect it to be this easy to track him down,” Justin said suddenly.

Decker grunted, surprised by it himself.  Nicholas Argeneau had been rogue for a good fifty years during which time no one had even caught sight of the man. For it to have taken a mere day of showing his picture around to pick up his trail seemed too easy.  Way too easy.  It made Decker suspicious and wary.  Why hadn’t Nicholas erased the memories of the mortals he’d encountered?  He must have done that in the past to have remained off the radar, and yet suddenly he wasn’t doing so.  Instead, he appeared to have left a trail as clear as radioactive, green cookie crumbs.  

Justin cursed beside him and grabbed for the dashboard as the dirt lane came to an end and they followed the van off-road, bouncing over tall grass and bushes.

“Maybe he’s tired of running,” Justin suggested suddenly through gritted teeth, no doubt to keep from biting off his tongue as they jolted over the uneven trail.  “Maybe he wants to be caught.”

Decker didn’t respond.  He didn’t for a minute think Nicholas was giving up, and he didn’t know what was going on, but Justin Bricker’s constant need to talk was beginning to drive him crazy.  He had no idea how Mortimer, Justin’s usual partner, had taken it all these years. 

“He’s stopping.”

“I can see that,” Decker muttered between his teeth,  steering the SUV to the side of the road. He parked as far into the woods as he dare without risking getting stuck. Hoping it was far enough that their prey wouldn’t notice them, he then turned off the engine and ordered, “Watch him.”

Leaving the keys in the ignition to save time should Nicholas notice them and try to get away in the van, Decker crawled over the seat and all the way to the back of the SUV where the blood and weapons were.  He moved to the cooler first, retrieving a couple of bags of blood and tossing one over the seats into Bricker’s lap.  “Drink up.  You’ll need your strength.”

“I gather you don’t think he’s going to give up when he sees us, then?” Justin asked dryly and then slapped the bag to his mouth.

Decker snorted at the very suggestion. He waited for his own canine teeth to drop down, and slapped a bag of blood to the fangs with one hand as he reached with the other to unlock and flip open the nearest weapons case.  His eyes slid over the guns inside. While you weren’t likely to kill an immortal with a gun, you could slow them down and even temporarily incapacitate them . . . especially using bullets which were coated with the tranquilizer Bastien’s techie boys had developed.

“He’s getting out of the van,” Justin announced.

Decker glanced forward to see that Justin had already drained his bag and was shoving it in the small bag at his feet, one filled with fast food wrappers.  The man liked to eat as much as he liked to talk, Decker had noticed.  Shaking his head, he glanced past him to peer out the front windshield, but couldn’t see much over the seats.  Pulling his own now empty bag from his teeth, he asked, “What’s he doing?”

“Walking around to the back of the van. . . opening the door . . .he’s digging around inside, getting something--  I think he’s getting out weapons.” Justin glanced back, worry on his face as he asked, “Do you think he spotted us?”

Decker’s mouth tightened. He set aside the empty bag and turned back to the case before him. “Come pick your weapons.”

“Should we call Lucian or Mortimer?” Justin asked as he headed back to join him.

Decker considered the question as he chose two guns and a box of coated bullets. Lucian had sent them north as a mere precaution. He’d also sent Mortimer and Sam west for the same reason, but he and his life mate, Leigh, were searching the Haliburton area where Nicholas had actually been seen by Grant.  Decker suspected his uncle had expected to find him there, and hoped to be the one to get to him first. It meant both couples were far enough away that they weren’t going to be of any use at this point. He shook his head. “It would take at least an hour, possibly two for either of them to get here.  We’re on our own.”

Justin nodded slowly, and then transformed from the good-natured, slightly mischievous sidekick he usually acted, to the hunter he was. His shoulders straightened and his expression became grim as he began to select weapons from the case. 

Unwilling to risk Nicholas creeping up on them while they were distracted, Decker took his weapons and the box of bullets and made his way up front to the driver’s seat.  A glance showed that Nicholas now had a quiver full of arrows and a crossbow slung over his back, but was still digging around in the back of the van.  Looking for more weapons, Decker supposed, and kept an eye on him as he loaded his guns.  Nicholas was still busy in the back of the van when Justin rejoined him in the front of the SUV. 

“Now what?” Justin asked, eyeing the rogue.  “Try to creep up on him and get the drop?”

“Sounds good to me,” Decker muttered. He reached for the keys in the ignition and then thought better of it. If Nicholas became aware of their presence before they reached him, he might hop in the van and try to take off. If that happened, he didn’t want to be fumbling to get the keys in the ignition to give chase. Leaving them in the ignition, Decker reached up and shut off the SUV’s interior light so it wouldn’t come on when the door opened.  Fortunately, another modification performed on all their vehicles ensured there was no beeping to warn that the keys were still in the ignition and he was able to slip silently out of the vehicle even as Justin did. 

Afraid even a quiet click would give away their presence, Decker didn’t close the door all the way, but left it cracked open. Justin did the same and the two men moved cautiously forward, easing through the grass as silently as possible.  Neither man spoke, but halfway there Justin moved to the other side of the trail so that they were approaching from opposite sides.  It was the kind of thing Decker’s usual partner, Anders, would have done automatically, but he and Anders had worked together for decades.  Decker supposed he shouldn’t be surprised by Justin’s actions. This may be the first time he’d worked with him, but Justin had done this with Mortimer for years and knew what he was about.  Dropping his worry about the kid being able to handle himself, Decker turned his full attention to their quarry as they moved up silently on him.

They were both perhaps six feet away when Nicholas straightened and said, “It took you long enough to find your balls and approach.  I was starting to think I’d be standing here until dawn.”

Decker stilled, aware that Justin had as well. All three were silent and then Nicholas raised his hands and slowly turned.  As expected, time had little changed him, his dark hair was a little longer than Decker remembered, but his eyes were still silver-blue and he was still handsome with chiseled features that would make most women’s hearts flutter.  The only change was that the easy smile and charm he used to exude had been replaced by a cold, grim expression Decker was more used to seeing on Lucian’s face.  He also had a gun in each hand, both presently pointed skyward. 

“We were choosing and loading weapons,” Justin explained, apparently stung by the comment.

Nicholas nodded solemnly, but his gaze was on Decker as he said, “Must be hard to choose what to shoot your own blood with.”

Decker merely shrugged, but acknowledged to himself that this wasn’t easy for him. Nicholas was family . . . but he was also a rogue. “How long have you known we were following you?”

“Since the restaurant.  I waited a long time there for you,” he informed them and then added grimly, “I hope not too long.”

“What do you mean you waited a long time?” Decker asked suspiciously.  “How did you even know we were around?”

“Because I arranged it,” Nicholas said as if that should be obvious. “Why do you think I let Grant see me when we both happened to stop at the same gas station?”

“Are you saying you wanted us to come find you?” Decker asked.

“Yes.” His mouth twisted down when Decker didn’t hide his disbelief and he added, “When I saw Grant I realized that his seeing me might not be a bad thing so I walked over to say hello.  I knew that when he reported the sighting Lucian would send a couple teams up to hunt me.” Nicholas paused and then continued with displeasure, “I just didn’t realize you guys had gotten so lax in your job. You should have been able to track me down by the day before yesterday. I left a clear enough trail. And still, I had to wait for two days for you to show up.”

“Grant didn’t report the sighting. He didn’t know you were rogue.  It was only blind luck that he mentioned you this morning,” Justin explained, the defensive note to his words made Decker scowl. They had nothing to prove to the man.

Nicholas narrowed his eyes at this news, and then sighed and nodded. 

“Then I can’t blame you if these girls die,” he muttered unhappily and shook his head. “It will be my own fault for waiting.”

“What girls?” Decker asked.  “And why would you want to be found?”

“Because I got on to--and have been following—a nest of nasty rogues. By the time I spotted Grant I’d realized I was going to need help bringing them down.  Running into him at the gas station seemed almost fortuitous. At least, it did when I thought he’d turn my ass in,” he added bitterly and then berated himself. “I shouldn’t have counted on his reporting me, I should have called it in. Those girls would still be happy and oblivious otherwise.”  Nicholas paused and then said solemnly, “These are some really bad ones, Decker.”

“Aren’t all rogues bad?” Justin asked dubiously.

“I guess they are,” Nicholas said, a weary note to his voice, and then he continued, “But there’s bad, and then there’s real demon seed--slaughter the innocent, roll around in their blood for the hell of it and laugh while you’re doing it sickos.”

“Jesus,” Justin breathed.

 Decker eyed Nicholas narrowly. "Are you trying to tell me that you’re still hunting rogues even though you’re rogue now yourself? Why would you do that?”

“It’s hard to kick old habits,” Nicholas said bitterly. He shifted impatiently. “Now, I’ve explained enough.  We have to get moving before they start in on these two.”

“Just a minute,” Decker snapped as Nicholas lowered his hands and turned away to start up the side of the van.  “We’re not going anywhere, and who are these two girls you keep talking about?”

Nicholas glanced back over his shoulder to say, “They’re the two girls these rogues took from the grocery store parking lot before you guys showed up at the restaurant.  Once they grabbed the girls, I couldn’t wait anymore for back up.  Fortunately, you showed up just as I was heading out and followed. Now we can--”

“How do you know they took two girls at the grocery store?” Decker interrupted.  “The restaurant where we caught up to you is well away from—”

  “Jesus,” Nicholas interrupted impatiently.  “We don’t have time for this now.  Can’t you hear them screaming?”

Decker opened his mouth to insist that Nicholas explain, but paused as he became aware of the panicked shrieks coming from ahead.  Either it had just started or he’d been concentrating so hard on what Nicholas was saying he’d blocked it out.  He was hearing it now, though, and once heard those desperate, blood curdling screams couldn’t be ignored . . . nor could the cruel male laughter that nearly drowned it out.

“Shoot me in the back if you want to,” Nicholas snapped. “But I’ve seen what those bastards do and I can’t just stand here explaining while they cut up those women.” He then whirled and charged ahead, crashing into the trees.

“Do I shoot him?” Justin asked, his gun aimed at Nicholas’s quickly disappearing back.

Decker ground his teeth together and then shook his head as another scream resounded.  “Not yet,” he snapped and broke into a run after his cousin, aware that Bricker was hard on his heels.

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