Scanguards Vampires #6
Vampire bodyguard Quinn has lived the last 200 years as a playboy trying in vain to forget the only woman he has ever loved: his human wife Rose, who he believes to be dead.
But Rose is very much alive. Now a vampire herself, she has lived in hiding from Quinn all of these years, having faked her death to hide from him a terrible secret—one she knows would drive him to kill her.
When a powerful and evil vampire threatens to destroy Rose’s—and Quinn’s— only living descendent, she has no choice but to come out of hiding and ask for Quinn’s help. As Quinn struggles with the shock of Rose’s reappearance, and they reunite to battle a common foe, they rekindle the flames of their past. But will the passion that reignites between them be enough to overcome the secret that separates them?
With a look at the calendar, Rose Haverford sighed heavily. Even without reading the date, she would have known what day it was. Every year, she felt it as though it had been carved into her bones, her skull, and her flesh. Already days before, heaviness had started spreading in her heart, and melancholy had soured her disposition. But tonight, she felt the old bitterness well up in her again and move in like an unwelcome relative who would stay too long and stir up too many unpleasant memories.
Over the last two centuries, she’d learned to deal with it. Indeed, she’d found an outlet that helped her evict the painful recollections of the events that had shaped her life and made her into what she was today, what she would always be: a creature of the night, hungering for the blood of humans. A vampire.
Every year on the anniversary of her turning, Rose put pen to paper to write a letter she would never mail. The recipient was long dead, yet the loss was still as fresh and painful as ever.
Dearest Charlotte, she began the letter to her daughter.
Another year has passed and I miss you still. I’ve kept my promise to you even though I could never be the mother that you deserved. You would be very proud of your great-great-great-grandson Blake. He’s a smart young man, ambitious and well-educated, and he’ll one day make something of himself.
Rose groaned. Maybe she should cross out that last sentence. After all, she would only be lying to herself.
He’s a smart young man, well-educated, and . . . he’s arrogant and self-absorbed. When I established the trust fund for Blake to make his life easier, I never imagined he would use it to live a life of excess rather than draw on it to further his career and establish himself. But then, what do I know about men?
Nevertheless, he is my flesh and blood, and I’ve sworn to protect each and every one of my descendents. However, considering his lifestyle, our line might end with him. I don’t see him settling down and starting a family.
From my words you might think I don’t love him, my dearest daughter, but I do. It’s only . . .
She lifted her pen from the paper and heaved a sigh.
. . . he reminds me too much of your father, even though he looks nothing like him. Blake’s hair and complexion are dark, whereas Quinn had the fairest looks in all of England, so handsome, so charming.
And in the end, so deadly.
I wish you could have met your father, but I could never risk him knowing. You do understand, don’t you? He would have made you into one of us, and I couldn’t allow him to deprive you of a normal life, of the chance to have children and a family.
Rose pushed back an involuntary tear. She’d promised herself not to cry, not to wallow in self-pity, but whenever she thought of Quinn Ralston, the second son of the Marquess of Thornton, the man she’d loved with such passion, she couldn’t maintain the icy composure everybody knew her for. She’d been called the coldest vampire this side of the Mississippi. Yet hot blood ran in her veins, and her heart beat for the ones she loved, the family she’d lost, and her only living descendent, her great-great-great-great-grandson Blake.
Despite her misgivings about Blake’s lifestyle, she cared about him. Blood was thicker than water, and to her he was like a son, one who needed guidance.
I plan on following him to the West Coast shortly. My bags are packed. There’s nothing left here for me in Chicago since Blake decided to move to San—
With a loud bang, the French doors leading to her little garden behind her two-story house were thrown open with such force that the panes shattered, scattering shards of colored glass over the priceless rugs and furniture. But there was no time to concern herself with such trivial details. Without losing a second, Rose shoved the unfinished letter into a fashion magazine on the desk and glared at the intruder.
In burst the man she’d hoped never to see again. For once, she would have liked the rumor to be true that vampires couldn’t enter a home uninvited, but alas, this was only a fairy tale.
With eyes flashing red and fangs extended to show his intent, Keegan charged into her living room, his three thugs right behind him. Great, the asshole obviously counted on a fight and was stacking the deck. No surprise there. Why she had ever fooled herself that this man was anything but evil, she couldn’t recall now. But then, she’d slept with plenty of jerks in her long life, and Keegan was no exception. At least she’d finally seen his true character and made a quick exit, but apparently he wasn’t going to let her slip away so easily. She should have followed her instincts and left the night before.
Too late now.
His nostrils quivered as he stalked toward her. Pure fury shot from his eyes, eyes that were trained at her. She’d seen him look at others like this before, unfortunates who were now dead. Instinct urged her to retreat, but her pride dictated that she stand her ground. She had long ago stopped cowering to men; she wasn’t going to start again.
As fast as a bullet, his hand encircled her throat, and as tight as a hangman’s noose, he squeezed it, lifting her up.
“Where the fuck is it?” he pressed out from between clenched teeth, his vile breath ghosting over her face.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she managed to say with the limited supply of air he granted her.
He squeezed harder. “You lying whore!”
His other hand came up and slapped her hard across the cheek. The force of the impact whipped her head to the side. At once, she smelled her own blood as it ran down her nose, trickling over her mouth and chin. The sensation tickled just the way she imagined Chinese water torture felt like: annoying as hell. Yet she felt no pain. Too much adrenaline coursed through her veins, equally preventing her from feeling the fear that should drench her body from head to toe at the knowledge of what cruelties Keegan was capable of when he knew he’d been betrayed.
And he had been betrayed. By her.
His eyes drove into her as if he thought he could find the answer to his question there. She would have to disappoint his arrogant ass.
“Call me what you will,” she spat with barely any air left to breathe. It didn’t matter: vampires couldn’t suffocate. They might lose consciousness for a while, but death would have to be delivered by different means.
“I asked: where the FUCK is it?”
When she attempted to shake her head but couldn’t, his grip preventing her, he tossed a glance at his men. “Search the place!”
The three vampires, with more brawn than brain, firmly licked their chops at being ordered to tear her home apart. She didn’t care. She had planned on leaving it all behind anyway. Her real estate agent was going to put the place up for sale tomorrow. Looking at how the three thugs went about their search, it appeared that some major restoration would be necessary before her house would be suitable for viewing by any potential buyers.
“I don’t have it,” she lied.
Another blow broke her nose—she would have to set it before her restorative sleep to make sure it didn’t grow back crooked.
“I saw it on the security camera, you fucking bitch!” Keegan thundered.
Shit! She’d known that his office was wired, but what kind of freak had a camera hidden in his bedroom?
“You recorded us in bed? Fucking perv!”
The thought that tapes of their sexual encounters existed, sickened her. If she had any opportunity, she would go back there now and erase whatever he had recorded. But unfortunately, that plan was dead in the water.
“Oh, I’ll keep watching those tapes whenever I want to. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Rage boiled up in her. Without thinking, she jerked up her knee and kicked it into his nuts. Satisfaction flooded her as his hand around her neck loosened and he doubled over, his face contorted in pain. But her glee was short lived.
Witnessing their master’s predicament, two of his vampire minions instantly charged her. Despite her own speed and agility, they made mincemeat of her efforts to do a runner. Not that she had earnestly thought she stood a chance, but she had never been one to throw in the towel without trying.
By the time the goons had restrained her, bending her arms backwards and holding them in a decidedly uncomfortable position, Keegan had recovered from his temporary pain. She attempted a shrug. Seeing Keegan in pain had been worth it, even though she wished it had lasted longer.
Rose couldn’t bring herself to regret the action even though her erstwhile lover now looked even more pissed off than when he’d stormed into her home.
“Try that again, and you’ll end up at the end of my stake.”
She raised a mocking eyebrow. “Go ahead. Kill me.”
Clearly furious at her taunt, he pulled his stake and launched himself at her.
“But you’ll never find it. Because it isn’t here,” she added calmly, stopping him in his tracks.
“Where did you hide it?”
She let out a bitter laugh. “Do you really think I’m stupid enough to tell you? . . . Men.”
“I’ll make you,” Keegan threatened.
“I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve had a long enough life. I’m tired of it.”
In part, it was the truth. She’d had a long life, and she wasn’t afraid of dying. She’d died before. In fact, tonight was the anniversary of her death as a human and her rebirth as a vampire. But what wasn’t the truth—and what she could never let him guess—was that as much as she hated being a vampire, she wasn’t tired of this life, because she had a purpose.
“Everybody can be forced to talk.” He tossed a wild look around the room, scanning it, searching for something.
“Not I. You have nothing on me, Keegan. You should know that.”
“Even you have a weak spot. Even you, Rose.” The vein in his temple throbbed, attesting to his quick temper.
“If I did, you’d never know. I’m the coldest vampire this side of the Mississippi, don’t you know that? I don’t form emotional attachments. Go ahead, destroy my house. See if I care.”
She didn’t. As a human she’d grown up in wealth; as a young vampire she’d lived on nothing until she’d carved out an existence for herself and finally amassed more wealth than her parents had ever dreamt of. Yet material things meant nothing to her.
Keegan’s eyes narrowed as he swept the room once more with his searching gaze. When his eyes fell on the antique desk where she’d penned her letter only minutes earlier, he paused.
The desk was clean of clutter, except for two items: a fashion magazine and a pen.
He crossed the distance to it with the preternatural poise their species was graced with and picked up the ink pen. Its cap lay on the pristine surface of the desk.
“Been writing your memoires, have you?”
She tried for a nonchalant shrug. “Would you like a copy when I’m done?”
“And read what? The drivels of a whore who’s as cold in bed as a block of ice? A frozen turkey would have provided a more welcome hole for my dick.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she countered. “Your dick won’t even fill the cavity of a rabbit.”
A partial chuckle escaped one of the thugs, before he could stop himself. Big mistake, as it turned out: in vampire speed, Keegan leapt at the guy and plunged a stake into his chest, turning him to dust.
His eyes were glaring red when he turned back. “Anybody else have an opinion on that?”
Rose felt the two vampires who were still restraining her freeze at their boss’s question.
“Didn’t think so.” Keegan returned to the desk. “So where were we?”
He tapped his finger against his temple in mock thought. “Ah, I remember, we were discussing what you were using this pen for.” He motioned his hand to the otherwise empty desk. “Considering that I don’t see any unpaid bills here, I have to assume you weren’t writing checks.”
She lifted her chin and kept her face expressionless. Inside, she was shaking. But decades of having to lie and cheat, to bluff and pretend, had taught her how to keep her poker face. And how to change the subject.
“Maybe I was extolling the virtues of your minuscule dick by writing a poem about it.”
This time, her insult didn’t have the same effect. Keegan merely chuckled. “Nice try, Rose. But even you don’t beat a dead horse, and—” He turned and motioned to the spot where he’d only moments earlier killed his associate. “—we’ve already laid that subject to rest. But thanks for telling me that I’m on the right track.”
With horror, she watched as he rummaged through the desk, pulling out drawers and emptying them, tossing their contents to the ground. Bills, pens, and office supplies fell on the carpet. When the last tiny drawer and its contents tumbled to the floor, Keegan let out a frustrated huff.
“Fuck!” he cursed.
An involuntary sigh of relief escaped her tense lungs, so tiny she thought nobody had noticed, but Keegan’s head snapped to her. He tried to penetrate her with his look.
“It’s there, isn’t it? Your Achilles Heel.”
His head turned back to the desk and the only item that remained on it. “Of course.”
He picked up the magazine and shook it. From its pages, a single sheet of paper fluttered to the floor. He caught it before it reached the ground. “Gotcha.”
Rose’s heart sank.
With a triumphant grin, his eyes flew over the words she’d written, before he looked back at her, chuckling. “Well, well, Rose. Who would have thought that you had a heart? Had me fooled long enough.”
Then he pointed to the letter, snapping his fingers against it. She knew what was coming. He now had a means to force her. To use her love for her own flesh and blood against her.
“The way I see it, you have two choices: give me back what you’ve stolen from me and I let your little grandson live . . . ” He made a dramatic pause. “Don’t, and I’ll kill him.”
A helpless gurgle escaped her throat. Because of her, Blake would suffer. But she couldn’t sacrifice so many lives in exchange for just one, could she? If she gave Keegan what she’d taken from him, he would have the means to control so many lives and destroy those who opposed him. He would grow too powerful to defeat. She couldn’t allow that, not to save just one single life.
“I can’t be blackmailed. If you have to kill him, do it.” Her heart bled for Blake. Despite all his faults, he didn’t deserve this. He deserved a full life, a long and happy one.
Keegan’s eyes narrowed into small slits as he approached. He studied her, but she knew all he would see was her determination to fight him. Then he looked back at the letter, reading it again. When he looked up, he had a self-congratulatory smirk on his face.
“My apologies, Rose. I believe I didn’t use the right means to entice you. Let’s try this again, shall we?” His casual voice turned to ice with his next words. “If you don’t give it back to me, I’ll turn him.”
Her throat seized, robbing her of the ability to breathe. “No,” she managed to choke out.
He moved closer to her, dropping his voice to the same volume as hers. “Yes.”
“Don’t do this.”
Keegan smiled, and had she not known him so well, she would have thought it was out of kindness. “You hate your own species so much you want to save your great-great-whatever-grandson from becoming one of us. Then save him.”
She swallowed. There had to be another way. “It’s not here. I hid it.”
“We’ll go together.”
Quickly, she shook her head. “I’ve left strict instructions: if I don’t go to pick it up on my own, it will be destroyed.”
Keegan’s eyes flashed in obvious distrust. The cords in his neck strained as he fought for control. She held her ground and didn’t flinch.
“I give you two hours to retrieve it.”
Desperate to buy herself more time, she added another lie to her earlier one. “There are other . . . safety precautions I put in place. There are only certain times during which I have access.”
When Keegan narrowed his eyes, she added quickly, “Similar to a time-delay lock at a bank. I need at least twenty-four hours.”
Keegan let out an angry huff. “If you cheat me, I’ll find this Blake. And I’ll make his turning the most horrific event of his life. Do you understand me?”
Rose simply nodded.
“I’ll be watching you. You have twenty-four hours or I’m hunting down your boy.”
He ushered his two henchmen outside and disappeared into the night.
Trembling, her stance faltered. With her last ounce of strength, she reached the sofa and let herself fall onto it.
Tears freed themselves from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks like an avalanche. She couldn’t allow Blake to meet the same fate as her. She’d promised Charlotte and herself that her children and children’s children would lead normal lives. Nobody would be cursed to be a vampire. Never again.
“Where are you when I need you?” she cried out. “Quinn, you have to help me now. You owe me. He’s your flesh and blood too.”