Blood Bond (Anna Strong Chronicles #9), страница 1
PRAISE FOR THE ANNA STRONG, VAMPIRE SERIES
“Many unexpected twists and turns . . . Packed with action that is sure to chill readers to the bone.”
“Fast-paced . . . Fans of the series will be stunned by this powerful, twisting thriller.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Haunted offers true edge-of-your-seat drama . . . Buckle up, because megatalented Stein is heading into severely hazardous (and unputdownable) territory!”
—RT Book Reviews (4½ stars)
“Dynamic . . . Anna is what every urban fantasy heroine should be. A tough, gutsy, complex character who delivers what’s promised.”
“[Anna is] a badass, no-mercy kind of girl . . . If you want some kick-ass vampire in your life, this series is just for you!”
—Under the Covers Book Blog
“A kick-ass heroine readers will delight in . . . Crossroads will take readers on some twist[s] and turns that won’t let you put this book down until the very end, and then you will be hungry for the next installment.”
“[A] powerful novel . . . Stein continues to challenge her gutsy heroine, both emotionally and physically . . . Another for your must-read pile!”
—RT Book Reviews (4½ stars)
“I just love the character Anna. She has grown so much from the beginning, and I believe she is finally coming into her own in Crossroads . . . There were some surprises that I wasn’t expecting . . . Make no mistake, Anna is growing into what she could become, and it is good to see. If you love strong female leads, then this series is for you.”
—Night Owl Reviews (Top Pick)
“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.”
“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!”
—RT Book Reviews (4½ stars)
“The fifth book in the exceptional first-person Anna Strong series is a powerful entry in an amazing saga.”
—RT Book Reviews
“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!”
“Urban fantasy with true depth and flair!”
—RT Book Reviews (4½ stars)
“As riveting as the rest . . . One of my favorite urban fantasy series.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Snappy action and plot twists that will hold readers’ interest to the last page.”
—Monsters and Critics
“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 Reviews
“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
“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
“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.”
Ace Books by Jeanne C. Stein
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2013 by Jeanne C. Stein.
Excerpt from Cursed by S. J. Harper copyright © 2013 by Jeanne Stein and Lori James.
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.
Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62516-3
Ace mass-market edition / September 2013
Cover art by Cliff Nielsen.
Cover design by Judith Lagerman.
Interior text design by Kristin del Rosario.
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.
Praise For the Anna Strong, Vampire Series
Ace Books by Jeanne C. Stein
Special Preview of Cursed
To the readers who have taken Anna Strong into their hearts. I am so appreciative of your support. I hope you approve of this new chapter in her story.
Anna and I have come a long way—but there are people who have been with me from the very beginning, and I would like to acknowledge their contributions now.
First, my husband, Phil, and daughter, Jeanette—because you can never have too much love, support and encouragement.
My critique group (members past and present): Mario Acevedo, Margie and Tom Lawson, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Aaron Ritchey, Terry Wright, Tamra Monahan, Jeff Shelby, Sandy Meckstroth, Heidi Kuhn and Jim Cole—because no matter how hard you try to get it right the first time, you seldom do.
My editor, Jessica Wade at Ace Books, and my agent, Scott Miller from Trident Media—because you need people on your side who know what they’re doing.
All the good people at Ace, from Jesse Feldman to Rosanne Romanello, senior publicist—because you guys really make it happen.
The heart of the Hand Hotel Writers: Susan Smith, Vicki Law, Carol Berg, Cindi Myers, Marnie Kirstatter, Lynde Iozzo, our host Michael Stone and unofficial hostess Stella McDowell—because the creative energy that sparks off this group and the others who join us from time to time is unbelievable (to say nothing of the great food and the way we’ve come to think of the Hand as home).
Sisters in Crime and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers—because that’s how it all started for me.
I’m not even going to try to list all the wonderful friends and family who come to my signings, buy my books and just generally offer encouragement, because that would take a dozen more pages. Just know I love you all.
This is the end . . . and the beginning.
WHAT CAME BEFORE
SUDDENLY, MAX IS STANDING AT THE FOOT OF MY BED.
I sit up, rubbing my eyes. Did I fall asleep?
He smiles. “Hey.”
He’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He looks good. “Hey, yourself. When did they let you out of the hospital?”
“An hour ago. I was afraid you weren’t going to wake up in time.”
My head is fuzzy with sleep. I give it a shake and focus on Max. “You really look good. I just left Texas a few hours ago. You made a miraculous recovery.”
“In a way.” He takes a seat on the end of my bed. “I have something to tell you. And I don’t think I have much time.”
I smile. “Why not?”
“Oh, you know, places to go, people to see.”
“You realize Pablo is in custody.”
“Yes. But that’s not why I’m here.”
I prop myself up straighter against the headboard and try to concentrate. My brain isn’t cooperating. It seems to be trying to cut into my thoughts, to tell me something. I tell it to shut up, that I only want to listen to Max. I lean toward him. “Go on.”
He sighs. “First, I owe you an apology. I didn’t treat you very well when I found out you are a vampire. I was afraid of what it meant—to me. Stupid because it meant nothing. Not really. Above all, you are a good woman, Anna, and my biggest regret is that I realized it too late.”
I shrug. “You can make it up to me.”
He shakes his head. “No. Believe me, it’s too late. But there is someone else. Learn from me. You have a real chance at happiness now. Take it.”
My turn to shake my head. “If you mean Stephen—”
“No. Not Stephen. There is another. You know who it is.” He stops, tilts his head as if listening. He nods. “I only have a few more minutes. Don’t regret what happened in that hangar. I know you’ve been wondering whether you will always be stronger than vampire. You only need to want it. All the strength you need is within yourself. You are right about Culebra. He has found new meaning for his life with Adelita. He has found a way to make up for past mistakes. He has finally found peace. Make sure he understands he is not to blame for what happened to me. He needs to concentrate now on the future. Let the past die.”
I tilt my head. “But how did you know what I was thinking at the hospital? You were unconscious the entire time.”
“All the same, I heard your thoughts. Loud and clear. In fact, it was those thoughts that kept pulling me back when I was ready to let go.” He laughs. “Your will is too strong. I was relieved when they sent you home.”
“I don’t understand,” I say while my gut is saying, of course you do. You know.
“It was my time, Anna.”
Anger wells up, and with it, fear. Fear of losing a friend. Fear of losing Max. “No. I don’t want you to go.”
“It’s too late. It’s a tribute to your power that I was allowed to hang around this long. To say a proper good-bye. I’ll miss you, Anna.”
“No.” I lunge forward on the bed, reaching for his hand.
It slips through mine as though made of fog.
He smiles a slow, sweet smile and raises his hand in farewell.
And then before I can reach out again, he is gone.
* * *
FUNNY HOW SOME DREAMS ARE FLEETING AS SPRING snow while others stay with you long past waking. It’s been that way with the “dream” I had the night Max died. Only it wasn’t a dream, was it?
It’s all I think about on my way to Monument Valley. Max’s message to me is like a beacon drawing me to Daniel Frey. And when I get there . . .
I WISH I HAD A CAMERA. THE EXPRESSION ON DANIEL Frey’s handsome face when he opens the door and sees me standing on his porch in the middle of the day in the middle of Monument Valley is priceless. It’s a combination of surprise, delight, unease, trepidation and just plain confusion. It hikes his eyebrows, furrows his brow and turns a half frown, half grin into something that resembles a gargoyle’s grimace.
“Anna. What are you doing—?”
“Is John-John here?”
“No. He’s still at school.” A glance at his watch. “He won’t be home for another three hours.”
I push him into the living room, slam and lock the door and shove him down on the couch.
He grins up at me. “I take it you have a reason for surprising me like this?”
“Can you guess what it is?” My hands are busy unbuckling his belt, pulling at the top button of his jeans.
“You missed me?” It comes out in a hoarse whisper, his fingers tugging my blouse free, slipping it off my shoulders.
In another moment, he’s got my jeans unzipped and we’re both squirming—frantic to have nothing between us except heat and skin.
And then he’s inside me and neither of us speaks again for a long time.
* * *
FREY IS STROKING MY HAIR. I HAVE MY HEAD ON HIS chest, listening to the strong, steady beat of his heart.
I nestle closer. “This is right, isn’t it?”
His hand stills. He tilts my
I think back to that conversation—could it really have been only a few weeks ago? I shake my head and smile sadly. “John-John had just lost his mother. Staying with him, being a real father for the first time, starting a new life. That’s a lot of emotional upheaval in a very short time. I believed you missed me. I believed you wanted me. But I didn’t believe you were ready to love me.”
“And,” he reminds me, “there was Stephen.”
I nod. “Yes. There was Stephen.” A human I thought I could build a future with because he knew and accepted my true nature. But he was human, after all, and love was no competition for the lure of a public career that I could never, as vampire, be a part of.
I poke his chest with a finger. “And you were right. A match between a human and a vampire is doomed from the start.”
“Oh. So, I’m the consolation prize.”
I reach up and kiss him, urgently, passionately. When I pull back, we’re both breathless. “Does that feel like a consolation prize?”
He puts his arms around me and pulls me closer. “So, tell me, Anna, what really brought you here today?”
I slide my hand down his abdomen. “You mean besides this?”
He laughs. “Besides that.”
“Max?” He pulls back so he can see my face. “What does Max have to do with us?”
“He told me you were the one.”
His voice softens. “Before he died?”
Frey doesn’t laugh or express incredulity. In fact, his expression grows thoughtful. He and I have been through so much together—faced witches and skinwalkers and rogue creatures of every denomination. The idea that I may have been visited by a man who was once a lover, who was killed in front of me while saving the life of a young girl, who proved to be as strong and bravehearted as any human I ever knew, all this he accepts with a nod and a tightening of his arms around my shoulders.