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Kiss of Darkness

Shadowmen Series

Kiss of Darkness

Werewolf warriors sworn to protect two worlds, the Shadowmen band with their human allies in a desperate battle against the forces of evil. But when one of the comrades is injured, it is to a mortal woman’s healing magic they must turn….

When Sheriff Sam Sheridan is wounded in an encounter with the malevolent Dr. Cinatas and his Vladarian vampires, a dark infection courses through his blood, releasing inner demons he has long denied. Although guarded from further assault by his Shadowmen companions, Sam is forced to turn for healing to Emerald Linton — a woman he has always believed to be a New Age fake. Even worse, with his barriers brought low, Sam can no longer deny the desire he has long felt for the lovely Irishwoman.

Many years before, Emerald was unable to save the father of her child from the evil powers that had enslaved him. Now, as Sam reluctantly entrusts himself to her, those old fears and regrets become painfully fresh. Dare she use her magical abilities in an attempt to rescue Sam? And — as a searing passion flares between them — dare she entrust her heart again? Werewolf warriors sworn to protect two worlds, the Shadowmen band with their human allies in a desperate battle against the forces of evil. But when one of the comrades is injured, it is to a mortal woman’s healing magic they must turn…

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Book 3 in the Shadowmen series and it certainly didn’t disappoint! Continuing from the first two books in the series, Kiss of Darkness follows Emerald, the resident psychic as she battles to save Sam, her love interest. The story flows seamlessly from the previous book, Lure of a Wolf and picks up right where we left it. Emerald is my favourite character in the series. A good mix of good versus evil with a nice twist of erotica. A sexy, fast-paced must read book. I would love the write more in this review but I don’t want to spoil the story or give anything away. Go read the book and see for yourself! – Nici/BCF Reviews

starssmallstarssmallstarssmallstarssmall 4 Star Rating

In the first of back-to-back Shadowmen releases, St. Giles unleashes hell. With each successive chapter in this pulse-pounding series, the stakes increase. The lead protagonists have been snapping at each other since they met, and the author skillfully builds on that tension to up the sexual ante. St. Giles is on a roll! – Jill M. Smith with RT Book Reviews

5/5 Reviewer Top Pick!

This it the third book in Ms. St. Giles Shadowmen series.  In my opinion this series is one of the best.  It is definite a keeper.  The struggle between good and evil is told in a way that holds your attention.  I, for one, cannot wait for the next installment of this entertaining series.  You must read this series.  It is greatRobin with Night Owl Romance

5 Angel Review!

The suspenseful battle between good and evil throughout the story creates a fast-paced page-turner sure to magnetize and entertain not only the currents fans of Ms. St. Giles but will be sure to attract new ones, including this reviewer. ~ Reviewed by Bella at Fallen Angel Reviews

4.5 Stars!

The lives of several beloved characters hang in the balance while ruthlessly evil enemies continue their battle for domination of Earth in the enthralling third book of The Shadowmen series. Jennifer St. Giles has created an intriguingly fascinating and original world where each new set of circumstances is totally innovative and ingeniously depicted. Amelia Richard, Single

KISS OF DARKNESS by Jennifer St. Giles is a fantastically written paranormal thriller, fraught with danger and thrills from page one. Ms. St. Giles has a gift for building the tension in her stories, and her gift is evident throughout this one. Emerald and Sam are beautifully written characters, struggling to make something of their attraction while up against evil forces threatening their very existence. Their relationship is sensual and captivating in its intensity. This latest installment in the Shadowmen series is the best, and I eagerly await the next installment. ~ Paula Myers Fresh Fiction 3/16/09

Chapter One

“No!” Aragon yelled, leaping from his knees. Jared couldn’t die. Shifting into his were-form, Aragon had to save Jared or die trying.

Breathing hard, his fangs and claws clenched with frustration, he threw the full force of his massive were-form at Jared, desperately trying to free him from the Sacred Stones’ killing hold. But Aragon hit an invisible wall before reaching the powerful force that held Jared’s dying body captive.

“By Logos! Let him live!” Aragon cried, clawing at the barrier. The spirit wind gusted in response and slammed into him, throwing him back twenty feet. He sat up, dazed, shaking his head, finally realizing that it wasn’t his lack of might that was blocking him from Jared, but a force greater than any power he’d ever fought.

Before he could react, he heard a mortal woman screaming Jared’s name.

She appeared at the opening to the Sacred Stones, fighting the wind that had just thrown him as she plowed to the center where Jared hung in the air, twisting in agony.

Aragon started toward the mortal woman to rescue her from the same blast of power that had thrown him. What had dazed him would kill her. But she flung herself at Jared before he could stop her — and penetrated the barrier with ease. She wrapped her arms around Jared’s convulsing were-form.

Jared recoiled as she clung to him, desperate to save him; but the love pouring from her, one as powerful as the wind, had come too late.

Aragon watched in horror as Jared’s spirit separated from his body and rose toward the heavens. The mortal woman held Jared’s lifeless body to her and pressed her mouth to his. Her cry of pain ripped through Aragon like a knife, rendering his heart in two. He’d not only caused Jared’s death, but he, who’d sworn to protect the Elan, had just caused great sorrow to one of Logos’s chosen.

Instead of accepting Jared’s death, the woman pressed upon Jared’s heart hard with her hand and gave him the very breath from her lungs. Again and again she repeated the motions, refusing to give up, fighting with a valor worthy of any warrior. Then suddenly, Jared’s spirit came diving back down from the heavens, and his body shuddered back to life to feel the full force of the mortal woman’s love.

Jared was saved.

Aragon ran from the Sacred Stones, his soul burning from the pain and the damage he’d caused. To have sent his brother to his death, to have been so wrong about Jared, made Aragon unworthy of anything. It didn’t matter that love had saved Jared, that Jared had found salvation from the assassin’s poison corrupting him. That only proved how mistaken Aragon had been. He didn’t deserve to live, much less lead the Blood Hunters.

He’d had no choice but to leave the Guardian Forces. His fate should be far worse than the punishment decreed by Logos for such an act — to be exiled as a faded warrior, one whose spirit would remain trapped in time for eternity, having substance neither in the spirit world nor upon the mortal ground.

He didn’t know how much time he had before Logos stripped him of his warrior’s powers and threw him into the torturous void, but he knew there was one last thing he could do for his brethren: execute Pathos. The former Blood Hunter was a bane upon the mortal world and had shamed the honor of all Blood Hunters. It would be breaking Guardian Forces law to seek another’s death outside of battle. But Aragon had little doubt that he and Pathos would fight to the end, so bitter was the draught in Aragon’s soul.

In the spirit world a warrior’s honor became entwined with that of the man who trained him. If he fought well, he brought honor to the one who’d done the training. But if he were cowardly or traitorous, he shamed his mentor as well as himself. When Pathos had become purely evil, taking up with Heldon within two short days of being poisoned by a Tsara, one of Heldon’s spiritual assassins, the betrayal cut like a knife that went deeper as Pathos became leader of one of Heldon’s most vile vampyric rings — the Vladarian Order. Pathos had led them to slaughter the Elan in a bloody reign of death that still echoed in the nightmares of mortals. Now Pathos led the Vladarians on an even more destructive path by making the ravenous beasts into an organized and deadly force. The souls of all mortals, not just the chosen Elan, were now in danger.

Pathos must be stopped. And Aragon would be the warrior to do it.

The rising sun chased the night chill from the Tennessee mountain air, but left Dr. Annette Batista shivering as if she stood in an arctic void. Too cold inside to accept the sun’s warmth, and too isolated in her pain to rejoice with friends, she stood on Spirit Wind Mountain with her heart silently crying.

Around her, Emerald Linton, Sheriff Sam Sheridan, Erin Morgan, and Jared Hunter spoke softly, relieved that Jared had survived. But their tentative snatches of humor were tense; Jared’s near death, along with the cloud of evil hanging over them, weighed heavily on their hearts, etching lines of strain upon them all. For Annette it was worse.

The pain she constantly carried sharpened to an excruciating point at the Sacred Stones cresting the deserted mountain. In the six months that had passed since her sister disappeared from the ancient worship site, she’d learned nothing more about what might have happened to Stefanie. Nothing had surfaced anywhere despite the numerous searches, the posted flyers, and the half million in reward money offered. Stef had come to the mountain to hike with her coworkers and disappeared without a trace.

Amid the Druid-like pillars, Annette always felt as if she stood in an open doorway from this world to the next, at the threshold of a dark, vast void into which she wanted to jump to find her sister — even if the black abyss was bottomless. The morning mists lingering over the dew-dampened ground twisted eerily around her ankles, swirling about the Stones like lost spirits searching for a soul to hear their cries.

I’m here. Talk to me, Stefanie! she silently beseeched her sister. Where are you? What happened to you?

Fisting her hands, she squeezed her eyes shut against the brightness of the fresh day. She prayed for an answer with her whole being, just as she had many times before, but the Sacred Stones remained silent. She heard only the whispering kiss of a breeze, the voices of her friends, and the wrenching “what if” tearing her apart.

Stefanie had called the night before she’d disappeared and left a message for Annette to call her back; that she had something important to talk about. But Annette had been in surgery when the call came and didn’t get out until well after midnight. With patients in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit still to see before going home, Annette had put off returning Stef’s call until the morning. By then it had been too late. Stefanie was gone.

What if Annette had called just as soon as she’d left the OR that night? What if she hadn’t let her career take precedence over her family yet again? What if she had acted as fast with Stefanie as Erin had done this morning when Jared left? Would Stefanie still be alive?

Annette had no doubt that Erin’s love and quick response in rushing to the Sacred Stones had saved Jared Hunter. Though Annette had never seen Jared’s Blood Hunter — aka werewolf — form, she no longer doubted that he was who and what he claimed to be.

Nor did she doubt that there was a host of supernatural beings in the world. Since meeting Erin and Jared, she had learned that vampires were finding human victims at free health screenings offered by the Sno-Med Corporation and its twisted head, Dr. Cinatas — the very company Stefanie had worked for. A company whom Annette hadn’t questioned — she had even volunteered to help during their health expo last week.

God! She’d placed the blood of so many children into the hands of those monsters. She shivered again as a flood of pain and self-disgust washed over her.

“Please!” she prayed. “Please let me find Stef. Let me find something, anything.” Chest almost too tight to breathe, Annette slipped to her knees and pressed her palm into the leaf-strewn soil where Stef’s backpack had been found the day she disappeared. But all she could feel was the damp chill of the ground. Odds were that her sister’s body lay somewhere in the cold earth of the surrounding forest, somewhere close, but hidden.

Emerald had tried to keep her optimistic even though everyone else had given up hope of finding Stef alive. The volunteer searches had ended several months ago, and every time she spoke to the people in town, she could see the resignation in their eyes — if they spoke to her at all. Some avoided her, starting to turn down the grocery aisle before seeing her and quickly moving to the next, or crossing the street before reaching where she walked. They weren’t being cruel, but a tragedy hanging in limbo with no hope of closure was hard to face. She saw it in her nightmares and walked with it every day.

Yet she couldn’t seem to resign herself as completely as Sam. Twilight’s sheriff never sugarcoated anything and always pared truth down to the bone. He believed Stef was dead, and had believed it within days after she disappeared. He still did his job, though — ran a crime scene investigation of the area, personally searched every nook and cranny within miles, tracked down every story of a woman found or a body discovered that buzzed along the law enforcement’s national and international wires, and questioned every stranger or vagrant found within a hundred miles.

Blinking hard against her tears, she saw something shimmering in the sunlight next to her hand on the ground and gasped as she recognized the golden-bronze amulet as Jared’s. She reached for it. Before she even touched it, she could feel the warmth radiating from the metal into her fingertips. As she grasped it, a tingling shock danced from her toes to her scalp, and its heat went bone-deep into her hand, intensely comforting. With it clutched in her hand, she automatically brought the amulet to her chest and felt for the first time a fissure of warmth penetrating the cold that had imprisoned her for so long.

The ends of the chain dangled loose, their thick links broken. No wonder Jared had lost it. The amulet felt very important to her for some reason, and she was reluctant to give it back, but she knew from Erin how much Jared’s badge as a Blood Hunter in the spirit world meant to him. She started to call him, but her voice died in her throat.

Erin was just slipping Jared’s amulet over his head. It was impossible to miss, considering that’s all he wore besides a yellow towel wrapped around his waist. Annette wasn’t sure what the ins and outs of the spirit world were, but apparently either clothes and it or clothes and shape-shifting didn’t mix. Jared always ended up naked.

If Jared had his amulet, then whose amulet had she found? Had another Blood Hunter appeared?

Clutching the symbol in her fist, she rose to her feet and swept the area with a sharp, searching glance, seeing only Emerald, Sam, Erin, and Jared.

“Nette?” Emerald turned. The compassion and concern settling over her delicate features reached out to Annette just as they had many times over the past six months. Emerald had found Stefanie’s backpack that day and had called Annette, using the contact information Stefanie had carried in it. From then Annette’s life had been an unfolding horror. Now that Annette knew about Sno-Med, she’d have to start searching there for a reason for Stef’s disappearance. Thinking Stef had fallen prey to vampires made Annette ill. She shuddered again. If only she had called when she left the operating room that night…

“What is it, luv?” Emerald asked. “Something more is wrong today. I can feel it.”

Without thinking, without even really knowing why, Annette hid the amulet from sight, clutching it tightly in her palm. She cleared her throat and forced herself to take a deep breath.

“I’m okay. It’s nothing,” she answered, too raw to share how much she’d failed her sister. And even though keeping the amulet secret made little sense, especially considering how much Emerald and all of her new friends had done for her, she couldn’t share it just yet. And she didn’t want to take the chance that Jared might want to keep it. She’d prayed for an answer, and finding the amulet exactly where Stef’s backpack had been left seemed like a special message just for her.

“You canna give up hope on Stef. You just canna,” Emerald said. Her endearing Irish brogue always thickened with deep emotion. With the morning sun lighting her moon-blond hair and glinting in her green eyes, she appeared even more magical and elfin than ever. Her petite size and sprightly allure enhanced her mystical image as much as her talk of crystals and her visions of the future.

“It’s hard to hold on,” Annette said.

“I’m sorry. I wish I could see something more about Stef, but the Druids are silent. Yet the sense that she lives is with me.” Emerald moved closer, wrapping her arm across Annette’s shoulder and squeezing tight.

“Don’t tell her that,” Sam said under his breath as he too moved closer, his dark countenance as rugged as a mountain peak. He zeroed his arctic gaze on Emerald. “Can’t you see that all of this Druid and mystical bullshit about Stefanie being alive is only making it harder for her?”

The sparks that flew between Sam and Emerald had always been hot, but lately they’d been blistering. Emerald inhaled sharply, looking as if she was about to blow her gasket completely. And Annette couldn’t blame her. Sam had been a real bear lately, and nailing Emerald with a speeding ticket for rushing Erin to save Jared this morning hadn’t been one of his smoothest moves. She doubted Sam would file the ticket, but he’d been steaming mad, believing that Emerald had unnecessarily endangered everyone by not stopping when Sam caught up to her and letting him speed them to Spirit Wind Mountain. He was a macho guy who liked to be in charge, and Emerald was a woman who stood alone — no matter what.

“We’ll talk later,” Annette whispered to them both as she returned Emerald’s hug. “Now’s not the time.” She forced a tight smile, knowing that when later came, she’d delay talking again. Only once in the six months since Stef disappeared had Annette let go of the firm rein she held on her emotions. Giving in to them meant losing control and being vulnerable. The surgeon in her avoided the first, and the woman in her avoided the last — at all cost.

After a long, hard stare passed between the two, Emerald’s BlackBerry tinkled and Sam cursed.

“Do your clients ever take a breather?” he asked.

Emerald rolled her eyes. “Do you? You’re like a dragon who breathes nothing but fire, scorching everyone in his path twenty-four/seven.”

“Better than being the call girl of the twenty-first century.”

Ignoring Sam, Emerald turned away to type her response to whatever crisis one of her patients was in the midst of. Being an online sex therapist put her in high demand. It was the best way Emerald could be in America and continue to help the patients she’d been treating in her established practice in Ireland.

Annette left them to duke it out and joined Erin and Jared.

She’d met them only a few days ago, when Emerald brought them into her clinic for treatment. Since then, danger and a shared enemy had plowed through normal barriers, making her feel as if she had known them for years, but she still felt a little uncomfortable around them.

Maybe it was because the love and passion between the couple was so strong, it was like a bright light you couldn’t help but gaze upon, but couldn’t look directly at either. Or maybe, she thought, it was Jared’s all-knowing air. Could werewolves read minds? Could he see her darkest secrets? Did he know how she’d failed her sister? Did he know she had a Blood Hunter amulet hidden in her hand?

She’d learned the hard way that there was a whole lot more to Jared Hunter and his silent he-man-warrior manner than met the eye. Besides his werewolf strengths, like running and jumping with inhuman ability and healing from injuries rapidly, he could read faster than a speeding bullet and process information quicker than a data geek’s dream machine.

Then again, the all-knowing look could come from the fact that Jared’s spirit was a couple of thousand years old.

He would know whose amulet it was. She should tell him about it.

Annette held her tongue, refusing to give in to the niggling voice inside her head. If he could read her mind, then he’d have to be the one to out her. She didn’t breathe until he shifted his gaze at Sam’s approach.

“I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but we’ve got some major talking to do,” Sam said, joining them. “I can handle the FBI and the Arcadia Police Department, who are most likely parked in my office right now wanting answers about the fires at the Sno-Med clinic and research center. But this Vladarian vampires shit — masquerading as rich men, playing God with people’s lives, torturing them — ”

Something bad had happened to Sam in the past, something he’d left the Delta Force over. Something he never talked about. Annette and Emerald had pieced together that something had happened in Belize, that Sam had been blamed for something and nobody had believed the truth. Yesterday they’d gotten another clue in the mystery when he’d read one of the names off the list of Vladarian vampires Erin had compiled — Luis Vasquez.

“You realize that siding with us puts you on the wrong side of the law you serve,” Jared said.

“Yeah,” Sam replied. “But as I see it, there’s only one side to take. After being kidnapped and put on ice yesterday by Cinatas, I’d be a fool not to believe Erin’s story. Only I think Cinatas has murdered more people than the four she found drained of their blood in Manhattan. I’m still trying to absorb the fact that he’s feeding vampires with it, but I’m catching on fast.”

“Faster than I caught on,” Erin said. “I worked for Cinatas for three months thinking he was curing cancer with the specialized blood transfusions.” She visibly shuddered. “Instead I was helping vampires.”

“What I’m having a hard time facing is the number of rich, influential men that are on that list you gave us,” Annette told Erin, then shook her head. “Hell, let me rephrase that. Not men. Vampires pretending to be men.”

“Well, as I see it,” Sam said, “Cinatas, Ashoden ben Shashur, and the rest of those bloodsuckers are about to meet their judgment day.” He smiled hard at Jared. “We may be a two-man army, but if we’re smart and plan right, we’ll get the job done.”

Jared nodded.

“Make that a two-man, three-woman army,” Annette said. “Stefanie worked for Sno-Med. Now that we know what they are, I’m betting they’re behind whatever happened to my sister.”

“Jared and I will check it out. That I can promise you, but there’s no way you three are going to put yourselves in harm’s way,” Sam said. “Not while I’m alive.”

Erin rounded on Sam. “I’ve been framed for murder, chased, shot at, and kidnapped. I’m currently wanted by the FBI, and I’m prime food for vampires. I’m already in harm’s way, and I refuse to sit in a corner and twiddle my thumbs. I’m fighting back.”

“Count me in,” said Emerald. “We’ll meet at my place to plan. Sam, unless you’re interested in dying today, you’d best get over your bleedin’ self.”

Emerald didn’t wait around to hear Sam’s reply. She marched ahead down the path leading to the cars. This time it looked as if Sam was going pop his piston. All things considered, Annette thought it was pretty miraculous Emerald and Sam hadn’t done each other in by now.

She clutched the amulet tighter, pressing the warm metal deep into the flesh of her palm as she followed Emerald away from the Sacred Stones. A miracle, she prayed. She really needed a miracle.

Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik floated through Pathos’s state-of-the-art war room in Zion, the Austrian estate from which he directed the lives of his many offspring and collected data on every creature on earth and among the damned. His plan to rule both Heldon and Logos was taking shape nicely. Another century, and he just might clinch the prize.

Trouble was, he didn’t know if he could stand dealing with the Vladarian vampires for a hundred years more. As much as he needed them to gain the power he wanted, their petty infighting was becoming more and more tedious — and now they were showing signs of insolence. They needed to be taught another lesson. But doing so would set in motion things Pathos wasn’t ready to let happen yet. Since Pathos had led the Vladarians from being mindless beasts, they’d aligned themselves with different demon factions. To punish them now would lead to a war within the Fallen realm he wasn’t prepared to fight.

Pathos glanced over at Nyros. The red demon had been serving him for the past century and was quickly proving that the red were the most intelligent of Heldon’s demonic factions. The blue and green demons who’d served him prior to Nyros had been a disappointment. Pathos hoped that when the time came to take control of the Fallen realm, the red demons would side with him.

“Did I ever tell you about Amadeus, Nyros?”

“I don’t recall the name,” Nyros replied.

“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the genius composer of the serenade you’re listening to. In a single night I killed half of the existing Vladarians over him.”


“I’d forbidden the Vladarians to harm certain humans who had Elan blood. Amadeus was one of my protected.”

“I thought all Elan would be prey to one from the Fallen realm,” replied Nyros. “I’ve heard of how pleasurably exciting their blood can be. Makes me wish I drank blood.”

Pathos smiled indulgently. “When I first joined the Fallen, I too thought nothing of eliminating all Elan from the world. That was before I realized how necessary it was to have a number of them among the world’s masses, especially those of unique achievement. It took almost five hundred years before the world recovered from our mass annihilation of the Elan. The Dark Ages were a dreary time of few creature comforts, and I do so enjoy those. So, I started a list of Elans that were not to be touched and the world was ‘reborn.’ Amadeus was on that list. His musical genius was beyond compare.”

“What happened?”

“A number of Vladarians hated living under a were-being’s rule and one in particular hated me. Drakulya. Upon learning that I took great pleasure in Amadeus, Drakulya secretly had Franz von Walsegg commission a requiem mass from the composer. Amadeus never imagined he was composing his own funeral. Every night Drakulya drank Amadeus’s Elan blood a little at a time until Amadeus breathed his last. I found out too late. And that night I tortured half of the Vladarians into extinction. What do you think would happen were I to chastise the Vladarians like that again?”

Nyros shifted and settled his gaze on the floor.

“Come, I asked for the truth. Feel free to give me your opinion.”

“I think you’d have a war in hell. All I can say is that the red demons would fight for you rather than against you.”

“That would be a good choice for your faction to make, one with everlasting rewards. And you’re right about the war. I’ll have to come up with another way to bring the Vladarians back to heel, which is a shame. Extinction is such a simple solution.”

“I’m sure genius will strike you, Pathos. It always does.”

Pathos smiled. He liked having his ass kissed. “Perhaps by tonight I’ll have an answer. Plan on a guest for dinner. Make it special. Hire a full ensemble of classical musicians. Fly in a gourmet chef for each course and I want a case of Chateau Petrus’s finest reds here as well.”

“And roses for the lucky woman as well?”

Pathos couldn’t remember the last time a woman had interested him enough to share a meal or anything else with her. That was the trouble with long-term overindulgence — all pleasure faded. “Roses will be fine, but they’ll be for my son. It’s time Dr. Anthony Cinatas met his real father.”

“As you wish,” Nyros replied.

It always is, Pathos thought, utterly bored with his existence. With a sucking pop of air, Pathos left Austria for the United States to invite Cinatas for dinner.

Since moving to Twilight, Tennessee, Annette had come to the conclusion that the darkest hour wasn’t before dawn, but the creeping twilight that sneaks up and bites you in the ass at the end of the day. That’s when the gears of life in Appalachia ground to a screeching halt and small-town USA hunkered into its cozy homes, belonging places bulging at the seams with the essence of kinfolk — an elixir distilled from generations of shared history and love.

She didn’t have to smell the home-cooked meals on the tables or hear the conversation to feel her isolation. And it wasn’t hard to see how she’d ended up all alone in life either. She’d buried herself in schools and then in big metropolitan hospitals, where it had been easier to rev up on caffeine and pull another six hours than to have a relationship. Easier to work until she dropped for a few hours before starting the cycle again than to have any sort of personal life at all. Her drive had made her a good cardiac surgeon on the cutting edge of robotic medicine, but it had taken away everything else.

At thirty-five she could count on one hand the number of relationships she’d had and the number of years they’d lasted. Worse yet, she’d put the people she loved on hold, and now it was too late. Even after the sudden death of her parents two years ago, and her vow to bridge the gap between her and her sister, she hadn’t done it.

Habit had Annette walking through her empty cabin without turning on the lights as she came home from work. Though having the Blood Hunter amulet in her pocket kept her from feeling as alone as she usually did, she still went to her lounge chair on the back deck where the fireflies could keep her company.

Tonight, even her closest neighbors weren’t in. Annette had stopped by the Rankins’s place across the road before coming home. She’d been trying to reach Celeste Rankin all afternoon, ever since the woman’s blood work had come back from the lab with disturbing results. Surely there had to be some mistake. They’d have to redo the test, but Annette could assure the woman that she wasn’t pregnant and that she absolutely was not anemic. Quite the opposite. The lab had never seen such a high concentration of red blood cells, and said they would need to repeat the test before they could give Annette an “official” level. It was almost impossible that the lab report was right. Celeste’s polycythemia was so high that her blood was worse than sludge, making blood clots imminent and putting the woman practically at death’s door for an embolism or a stroke.

Annette owed Celeste and Rob Rankin a lot and felt bad that she hadn’t spoken to them in a while, not until Celeste had come in for a pregnancy test a few days ago. But the situation had been difficult. Celeste had been a friend of Stefanie’s, and Rob had worked at Sno-Med with Stef. When Stefanie went missing, the Rankins had spearheaded organizing the volunteers to search for her. When those searches ended, it had been hard for Annette to accept that Celeste and Rob had given up.

Almost as hard as the outcome of the meeting at Emerald’s this morning. The men had decided to wait, to keep the half-burned Sno-Med Center under surveillance until tomorrow, giving the various authorities time for their investigations before disturbing the area. Annette was more of the mind to get in there now and destroy any surviving patient records or blood samples from the health expo. She also wanted to see if any information about her sister was in the computer systems. Sam had pointed out that because of the fire, the place had no utilities, and one day to avoid running into the authorities wasn’t going to hurt.

So investigations would have to wait. After the meeting, Annette had gone to the clinic to see patients for the rest of the day, and she was tired. There’d been little sleep over the past few days. Make that months. She hadn’t slept well since Stefanie had disappeared.

Pulling out the Blood Hunter’s amulet, she let it rest in the palm of her hand a moment, studying the beautiful, almost iridescent quality of the metal and the intricacy of the twelve-point star engraved upon it. The thing had consumed every spare minute she’d had during the afternoon. Though the tingling sensation she’d had when first touching it was gone, the amulet had stayed warm, as if still being heated by a bright sun. Even after she’d stuck it in the refrigerator, its temperature didn’t change.

Then she’d worried about radiation, but a quick check with a gamma-detecting device from her old offices in Atlanta had ruled that out.

After that, she’d spent a lot of time thinking about how she might use the amulet herself. It had to belong to a warrior, a Blood Hunter like Jared, most likely. So how would a warrior be able to help her? She didn’t have a murdering doctor after her. She didn’t have vampires wanting to suck the life out of her. Jared would have said something if any of them had had the same special blood as Erin. So how could a warrior from the spirit world help her find Stef?

Or better yet: How could she find him?

Agitated, she sat up on the side of the lounge chair so abruptly that she lost her balance for a moment. As she caught herself on the edge of the chair, the heavy chain slipped from the amulet’s loop and fell to the deck.

Picking it up, Annette slid the necklace back in place and studied the ends of the chain. There were no broken links and no visible clasp. A jeweler would have to cut open a link and weld it back together. She held the amulet up in front of her, studying it in the fading light as she pressed the two broken ends together.

Suddenly a bright light blinded her and a jolt of energy shot through her, electrifying her nerves. The moment her vision cleared, her pulse raced. She felt different in an indescribable way, and the chain had fused itself together; the broken ends were now connected by seamless links.

How? What had happened?

As she stared at it, the disk grew warmer than ever before. Surprised, she pressed the metal to her cheek, testing it. But the temperature intensified so quickly she had to jerk it away fast. Seconds later she needed to use the hem of her lab coat to protect her fingers from the increasing heat of the disk.

The atmosphere about her changed, becoming charged with a strange energy that cracked like a whip snapping in the air. She jumped up from the chair. Her breath caught in her throat, and sweat beaded her brow. She was no longer alone. The sensation rippled down her spine and pumped into her heart like injected adrenalin, making the hair on her arms and at her nape stand on end.

Jerking around, she saw a large shadow across the yard, ten feet below and twenty yards from where she stood. Partially covered in mists, the hulking shape stood along the darkened tree line of tall pines and twisting oaks.

A second’s glance showed her that the amulet was scorching the hem of her lab coat. Were the shadow and the amulet connected? Was it a Blood Hunter like Jared? She moved a few steps closer, trying to peer through the mists and shadows.

What she saw was too large to be a man. At least, she thought so. She moved toward the railing, her heart hammering with expectation, but the shadow slipped deeper into a low-lying patch of thick fog on the forest’s edge, mingling into the mists.

“Who is it? Can you speak to me? Can you help me?” she called into the eerie silence, gripping the railing and biting her lip to stem the raw excitement racing along her nerves. Her breath lay trapped and burning in her lungs. “Please, can I see you?”

The shadow emerged from the mist and moved toward her now. His pace was slow, almost predatory. She took a step back, wishing like hell that she could see better, but night had fallen during her reverie, darkening the evening to an inky black. The fireflies had abandoned her.

Lightning streaked sharply across the night sky, revealing a wolf-man whose ferocity stole her breath. Blacker-than-black hair covered Incredible Hulk-sized muscles that bunched with menace as he stepped her way. He growled, low and deep, flashing what had to be fangs.

Good God! She backed away from the creature, becoming sharply aware of a sudden hunger filling the tense void between them. The beast’s primal lure snared her like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. The air pulsed with danger, but she couldn’t seem to move or look away. Heat radiated across the distance, almost scorching in its intensity.

Suddenly the creature charged toward her, moving faster than she thought anything could move. Whatever safe distance she thought she had up on her deck vanished in a second. She scrambled back, her scream locked in her throat as her pulse roared in her ears.

You’re dead, she thought.

Copyright © 2007 by Jenni Leigh Grizzle

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