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 часть  #7 серии  Anna Strong Chronicles

 

Crossroads
 

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Crossroads


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  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

  CHAPTER 22

  CHAPTER 23

  CHAPTER 24

  CHAPTER 25

  CHAPTER 26

  CHAPTER 27

  CHAPTER 28

  CHAPTER 29

  CHAPTER 30

  CHAPTER 31

  CHAPTER 32

  CHAPTER 33

  CHAPTER 34

  CHAPTER 35

  CHAPTER 36

  CHAPTER 37

  CHAPTER 38

  CHAPTER 39

  CHAPTER 40

  CHAPTER 41

  CHAPTER 42

  CHAPTER 43

  CHAPTER 44

  CHAPTER 45

  CHAPTER 46

  CHAPTER 47

  CHAPTER 48

  CHAPTER 49

  Ace Books by Jeanne C. Stein

  PRAISE FOR THE ANNA STRONG, VAMPIRE SERIES

  CHOSEN

  “With each book in the series, not only have Stein’s characters become stronger but so has her writing … hard-hitting urban fantasy with a hard-hitting female lead.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “I walked away from the book with a lot of thoughts and questions as well, and cannot wait to see where Anna’s adventures take her next … Chosen is an excellent book and probably the most enthralling book in the series thus far.”

  —Bitten by Books

  “From the opening chapter of this terrific series, Stein has sent her gutsy heroine on an uncharted journey filled with danger and bitter betrayal … In this pivotal but emotionally brutal book, skillful Stein reveals some critical answers and delivers some devastating blows. Like a fine wine, this series is improving with age. Brava!”

  —Romantic Times (4½ stars)

  RETRIBUTION

  “The fifth book in the exceptional first-person Anna Strong series is a powerful entry in an amazing saga.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Ms. Stein has a true gift in storytelling and continues to add exciting new elements to this well-built world. Retribution is an engrossing read with an action-packed story line and secondary characters that are every bit as intriguing as the heroine. This is a must-read for fans of the series!”

  —Darque Reviews

  LEGACY

  “Urban fantasy with true depth and flair!”

  —Romantic Times (4½ stars)

  “As riveting as the rest … one of my favorite urban fantasy series.”

  —Darque Reviews

  THE WATCHER

  “Action fills every page, making this a novel that flies by … Dynamic relationships blend [with] complex mysteries in this thriller.”

  —Huntress Book Reviews

  “An exciting, fast-paced novel … first-rate plotting.”

  —LoveVampires

  “Dazzles readers with action-packed paranormal adventure, love and friendship. With many wonderfully executed twists and turns, this author’s suspenseful writing will hold readers spellbound until the very end.”

  —Darque Reviews

  “Snappy action and plot twists that will hold readers’ interest to the last page.”

  —Monsters and Critics

  BLOOD DRIVE

  “A terrific tale of supernatural sleuthing … provides edge-ofyour-seat thrills and a high-octane emotional punch.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Once again Jeanne C. Stein delivers a jam-packed story full of mystery and intrigue that will keep you glued to the edge of your seat! Just like [with] the first book in the Anna Strong series, The Becoming, I could not put this book down even for a second. You will find yourself cheering Anna on as she goes after the bad guys. Jeanne C. Stein has given us a wonderful tough-as-nails heroine everyone will love!”

  —Night Owl Romance

  “Jeanne C. Stein takes on the vampire mythos in her own unique manner that makes for an enthralling vampire thriller. Readers of Laurell K. Hamilton, Tanya Huff and Charlaine Harris will thoroughly enjoy this fast-paced novel filled with several action scenes that come one after the other, making it hard for the readers to catch a breather.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “I loved this book … hugely enjoyable … an exciting read and everything any vampire-fantasy fan could hope for.”

  —LoveVampires

  “ A really great series. Anna’s strengths and weaknesses make for a very compelling character. Stein really puts you in [Anna’s] head as she fumbles her way through a new life and the heartbreaking choices she will have to make. [Stein] also introduces new supernatural characters and gives a glimpse into a secret underground organization. This is a pretty cool urban fantasy series that will appeal to fans of Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series.”

  —Vampire Genre

  THE BECOMING

  “This is a really, really good book. Anna is a great character, Stein’s plotting is adventurous and original, and I think most of my readers would have a great time with The Becoming.”

  —Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times bestselling author of

  the Sookie Stackhouse novels

  “A cross between MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series starring Betsy Taylor, and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. [Anna’s] a kick-butt bounty hunter—but vampires are a complete surprise to her. Full of interesting twists and turns that will leave readers guessing. The Becoming is a great addition to the TBR pile.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  “With plot twists, engaging characters and smart writing, this first installment in a new supernatural series has all the marks of a hit. Anna Strong lives up to her name: equally tenacious and vulnerable, she’s a heroine with the charm, savvy and intelligence that fans of Laurell K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison will be happy to root for … If this debut novel is any indication, Stein has a fine career ahead of her.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “In an almost Hitchcockian way, this story keeps you guessing, with new twists and turns coming almost every page. Anna is well named, strong in ways she does not even know. There is a strong element of surprise to it … Even if you don’t like vampire novels, you ought to give this one a shot.”

  —Huntress Book Reviews

  “A wonderful new vampire book … that will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

  —Fallen Angel Reviews

  Ace Books by Jeanne C. Stein

  THE BECOMING

  BLOOD DRIVE

  THE WATCHER

  LEGACY

  RETRIBUTION

  CHOSEN

  CROSSROADS

  THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

  (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Au
stralia

  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,

  South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  CROSSROADS

  An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

  PRINTING HISTORY

  Ace mass-market edition / September 2011

  Copyright © 2011 by Jeanne C. Stein.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  ISBN : 978-1-101-54361-0

  ACE

  Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  For the support of my family and friends, I thank you.

  For Phil—these last two books are as much yours as mine.

  CHAPTER 1

  IT’S NEVER A GOOD THING WHEN YOU’RE AWAKENED from a deep sleep by someone pounding on the front door.

  It’s worse when you stumble downstairs and see it’s a cop.

  A cop you recognize.

  My first impulse is to creep back upstairs and pretend I’m not home. But I know this cop. He’s probably already gone around back and checked the garage. Both my Jag and the Ford Crown Vic I use for work are parked inside. He knows I’m home.

  Crap.

  I pull open the door.

  “Detective Harris. What a surprise.”

  For a pain-in-the-ass cop, he’s not bad looking. Five-ten—probably one hundred eighty pounds. Dark hair touched at the temples with gray. Square jaw, serious eyes. Beneath that off-the-rack suit, a body I suspect is neither lean nor flabby. Carries himself like he was once an athlete—a boxer, maybe. Now he’s a fortysomething man fighting middle-age spread and from the looks of it, winning the battle.

  The suit tells me he’s not here on a social visit.

  He gives me the once-over. I’m barefoot, wearing a pair of running shorts and a tank top. As a vampire, I’m not bothered by the effects of ambient temperature so I could be wearing anything. Or the nothing I was wearing two seconds ago when I crawled out of bed.

  A bed still occupied, by the way.

  Harris purses his lips, glances away as if uncomfortable. “Sorry to disturb you so early. Would you like to run upstairs and put some clothes on? I can wait.”

  I pull the door open wider and motion him inside. He’s the one who appeared at the door at seven a.m. on a Sunday morning. Unannounced. I’m not exposing anything more than the joggers he sees every day on the street. I wave away the suggestion. “I’d rather put the coffee on.”

  He follows me to the kitchen. He watches silently as I go about filling the coffeemaker, grinding beans, setting the machine to brew. He still hasn’t said why he’s here. We’re not friends. Our paths have crossed a few times. Most recently, with the death a couple of months ago of the ex–police chief, Warren Williams, a vampire, too, though of course Harris doesn’t know that.

  Or that Williams was killed by another vampire.

  Could it just be a few weeks? Seems like much longer. Williams’ death set into motion a chain of events that changed my life.

  Forever.

  I’ve got my back to Harris and allow a smile. To a vampire, forever takes on a whole new meaning.

  Harris clears his throat. I turn, grab two mugs and join him at the table.

  He takes one of the mugs, says, “Thanks.”

  That’s it?

  I pause, waiting to see if he’s going to tell me the reason for this early morning visit. The bell on the coffeemaker chimes before he does. I take cream from the fridge and sugar from the counter, set out spoons and pour us each a cup of coffee before plunking myself down on a chair across from him.

  I take a sip, let the magic of caffeine awaken half-sleeping brain cells. Harris seems to be doing the same. He’s avoiding my eyes now. Concentrating on the mug in his hand with far more attention than he needs to.

  This is getting old.

  “Did you have a reason for stopping by unannounced at seven a.m., Harris? Or was my place closer than Dunkin’ Donuts?”

  When he looks up, there is a strange expression on his face. And I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of his expressions. Negative expressions, mostly. Anger, frustration, exasperation being the most common. This one is different. Hesitant. He’s got something on his mind and he doesn’t know how to bring it up.

  That’s certainly out of character.

  I wish I could worm my way into his head the way I can with vampires. But Harris is human and there is no psychic connection between vampires and humans. A design flaw for sure.

  Finally, whatever battle he’s been fighting is resolved. He sits up in his chair and pushes the cup aside.

  “I don’t know why I’m coming to you with this,” he says. “You always seem to be mixed up in cases you have no business being mixed up in. The child molester a while back, the murder investigation involving that model, the missing DEA agent. But you had the respect of Warren Williams, and he was a good man. You were one of the last people to see him alive.”

  My turn to fix my mug with a riveting gaze. Where is he going with this?

  “I know his wife believes you had something to do with his death,” Harris continues. “I don’t. But we just got the last of the forensic reports from his car. We found something—”

  He pauses, as if searching for the right word. After a moment, he shrugs. “Odd. We found something odd.”

  I wait, wondering. Williams was set on fire by another old-soul vampire. There would have been nothing left but ash.

  Wouldn’t there?

  I compose the question carefully. “What could you have found? I thought the body was completely burned.”

  “So did we. At first.” He pulls a sheet of paper from an inside jacket pocket and smoothes it open on the table. “But turns out, our CSI’s found something. DNA. And what they learned about that DNA has us baffled.”

  To keep the shock from registering on my face, I hoist my coffee mug and take a long pull. I don’t know much about DNA, but I do know about vampires. When a vampire is immolated, there’s nothing left to run tests on. Williams was identified by his badge and wedding ring.

  Finally, I lower the mug. “I don’t understand.” An understatement.

  Harris raises his eyebrows. “Neither do I. When a body is burned at high temperature, like cremation, there’s usually no testable nuclear DNA left. But in this case, three things were able to be determined by something called mitochondrial DNA found in a bone fragment fused on his ring. It was human. It was Williams’. It was over two hundred years old.”

  My hand tightens around the mug, a gesture not lost on Harris. He leans toward me.


  “The FBI lab is asking questions. Questions I can’t answer.”

  “And you think I can?”

  Evidently Harris can’t or won’t answer that question, either.

  My turn now to stall, my brain racing into overdrive, as I rearrange silverware, straighten the sugar bowl and creamer. I have no idea what I’m supposed to say to Harris. That Williams was indeed two hundred years old—a two-hundred-year-old vampire, to be exact—and he was killed by another vampire who was even older? That sitting across the table from him drinking coffee is yet another vampire? Not so old, but even stronger than either of them. One who had fought Williams many times and won. One who was kidnapped by Williams’ killer, and in turn, killed the bastard when he tried to rape me.

  I feel Harris watching, waiting. I throw out the only lame explanation I can think of. “Maybe there was someone else in the car.”

  Stupid.

  Harris doesn’t mock me, though. He simply says, “Someone two hundred years old?” A shake of the head. “The DNA belongs to Williams. There’s no doubt about that. The comparison sample was taken from a hairbrush found in his locker at SDPD. The big question isn’t who the DNA belongs to, but how it could be two hundred years old.”

 
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