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    Chapter 1

    I was alone in bed when I woke and I didn't expect that. Gavin's ring was back on my finger too, with a matching wedding band. He'd slipped the rings on my finger while I was still sleeping—the schmuck. Yeah, I still wanted to smack him around for being presumptuous, along with Wlodek and every stinking member of the Council. Of course, that would put me right back on the rogue hit list, so I just slapped a hand over my eyes and growled.

    "Nice growl. You're coming along very well." My hand slid off my face and I glared up at Tony.

    "What the hell are you doing in my bedroom?" I did a little more growling. If Gavin knew he was here, Tony might be a dead man. Well, vampire now, I guess.

    "Wlodek's downstairs having a big pow-wow with Gavin, René and the others so I sneaked in. You should have told me how great it is to be vampire. I love it." Tony's grin was huge as he stared down at me, and a lock of black hair threatened to fall into his clear, gray eyes. Tony looked younger—in his twenties younger—and a mischievous dimple showed in a very youthful-looking cheek. Anthony Hancock, newly turned vampire that he was, seemed to be enjoying his life away from the sun.

    "Tony, stop being a shithead," I grumbled, slapping a hand across my eyes again.

    "Hey, is that any way to talk to your new cousin?" he was still grinning; I opened a space between fingers just to check.

    "Who told you that?" I asked tiredly.

    "Well, René is Gavin's cousin—you said so yourself. And if I understand what René said, then Gavin managed to marry you while you were gone somewhere. We're cousins-in law, I guess." Tony reflected on that for a moment. "Just how does that work, baby? They can marry you off like that? Doesn't sound fair to me."

    "Welcome to the land of unfairness," I grumped, letting the hand slide off my face. "If you'll remove yourself from my bed," I made a motion with my hands (Tony had plopped down beside me and looked as if he were willing to stay there for a while), "I'll get up and get dressed." Tony ignored the hint and stayed where he was.

    "Who is that Kifirin guy? Did I hear right? He's a High Lord or something? From where?" Tony was full of questions and in a talkative mood. I wanted to slap a hand over his mouth, just to shut him up.

    "René is going to lock you up and throw away the key," I snapped. Unless he had the patience of a saint, that is.

    "Come on, give me some answers, I'm dying over here," the dimple was back and mocking laughter shone in his eyes. "Oops, already did that."

    "Tony, do not, and I repeat, do not start with the dead jokes."

    That made him laugh. "So where were you for three weeks?" he demanded. Just like that, we were back to business. I sat up on the bed and glared at Tony. How was he up so early? I still felt sluggish and wished coffee had some effect on me; I'd be drinking it if it did.

    "I was off-planet," I replied. "On Refizan."

    "You were not," he frowned at me. "And there's no such place as Refizan."

    "I was and there is," I denied his denial. "That's what the locals called the planet anyway; Karzac was from there."

    "Karzac? Lissa, are you delusional? Did that fight last night injure you somehow?" He reached out to touch my forehead. I batted his hand away.

    "Lissa is not injured," Karzac himself was suddenly in my room, causing Tony to jump. "I would know; I am a healer and physician for the Saa Thalarr," he informed Tony haughtily, a slight bit of anger showing in his green-gold eyes. The curmudgeonly physician side of him was present and in hurricane force. At least Karzac's hair was combed neatly, so he hadn't been treating patients in the last half hour. "I came by to let Lissa know that the six you managed to poison with her blood have now been healed; I and one of my associates have taken care of your little faux pas," Karzac glared accusingly at Tony. "I certainly hope you have learned something from this, young one."

    I was off the bed and hugging Karzac in a nanosecond. I might have been crying too, if my sniffles were any indication. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," I may have kissed Karzac, I was so happy.

    "Lissa, that is the least I can do; you saved Dragon and my planet," Karzac held me away from him.

    "I don't care," I wiped tears off my face. "I felt so awful about those men."

    "I know. I must go now." Karzac beamed and disappeared.

    "That was Karzac," I made a face at Tony. "I have to dress. Go away."

    "You really were off-planet?" Tony stood and followed me into my bathroom. I wasn't prepared to have a conversation about aliens with the former Director of the Joint NSA/Homeland Security Department. Mostly because I didn't really know anything.

    "I really was off-planet. Now go away before Gavin catches you in here. I'm not looking forward to hearing about your death a second time." I pointed toward the bathroom door.

    "You were upset about that, weren't you?" Tony was grinning again and not taking the hint. "Come on; admit it—you care about me."

    "Tony, Gavin will remove your head. I don't want that to happen. Shoo. Go away. Go have breakfast or dinner or whatever."

    "I already ate; you're the one who can't get up at the right time. Sunset was nearly an hour ago."

    "So, doing your usual, huh? Coming in and making my rising miserable, just because you can?" I had hands on my hips. I thought to look down at how I was dressed and sure enough, my ni**les were showing through my thin, stretchy pajama top. Tony hadn't failed to notice either.

    "Do I have to throw you out? Is that what you're waiting for?" I was truly grumpy, now; he'd made no pretense about staring at my br**sts. My cell phone rang; it was sitting on my bedside table so I stalked past Tony to snatch it up and answer. It was Winkler.

    "What the hell is going on? I just heard from Weldon that Hancock is a vampire now." Winkler wasn't wasting time on formal greetings.

    "News travels fast, I guess," I mumbled. Winkler heard—his hearing is as good as mine. "Do you want to talk to him?"

    "He's there?" Winkler asked. I didn't bother with an answer; I handed the phone to Tony.

    "Hancock here," Tony said. Honestly, that blunt Director of the Joint NSA/Homeland Security Department would never go away, even if he were a baby vamp.

    "Holy shit, they weren't lying," Winkler muttered.

    "No, not in the least," Tony acknowledged. "A vampire was helping me, Paul and Deryn with the terrorist investigation in Paris when my hotel was bombed. My femoral artery was severed and he knew I was dying. He saved me the only way he could."

    "Do you have a name for this vampire?" Winkler asked.

    "I'm not allowed to reveal the name of my sire. He has instructed me not to do so and I'll honor his wishes. If not for him, I'd be in a box headed back to the states."

    I was learning something, just by listening to Tony talk with Winkler. No wonder the vampire laws stated that death must be imminent to make a turn—the newly turned vampire was grateful for the intervention. It also brought up the fact that I hadn't been a good candidate in the vampire community's eyes; I had been in good health at the time and was particularly ungrateful for my turning.

    Leaving Tony to have his conversation with Winkler, I stalked into the bathroom, rounded the turn into my walk-in closet, grabbed some clothes and proceeded to dress quickly. While I combed my hair at the dressing table afterward, I noticed my face held a bit more color and my lips seemed a little rosier since returning from Refizan. I looked like my mother now—she'd been beautiful when she was young, with strawberry blonde hair that curled just a bit, sky-blue eyes with thick lashes and creamy skin that didn't require make-up. My mother only wore make-up after Howard Graham hit her in the face—to cover bruises. It was probably a good thing he was already dead. He wouldn't want to meet up with me after I'd become vampire. Sighing over the twists and turns in my life, I set the brush down and returned to my bedroom. Tony was still there, talking to Winkler.

    "They put Jennings in charge?" Tony didn't sound surprised—in fact, he sounded relieved. He was talking about Agent Bill Jennings, who'd been strictly by the book when I first met him. He'd loosened up during our travels across the U.S.

    "Yeah, he's already contacted me about the updates to the software." Uh-oh. I was being forced to hand Tony and Winkler some secret and obscure truths.

    "Both of you listen carefully," I came to stand next to Tony. "Winkler, the reason Gavin hung around so long when I was working for you was because he was watching you at the same time. The vampires were terrified of your software, Winkler. They thought it could be used to identify them and destroy the race." That statement brought complete silence from Winkler. I think he may have stopped breathing for a moment. "When you made the announcement that it didn't work and sold it to Tony," I went on, "that's when all of them relaxed their sphincters and Gavin hauled me off to the Council. If you want to live, you'll keep that information to yourselves."

    Winkler didn't speak for several seconds. Tony was shocked, I could tell. He might have been less surprised if I'd suddenly sprouted a second head. "Holy shit," Winkler muttered finally. Tony was wide-eyed and nodding at Winkler's assessment.

    "On another note," I said, changing the subject, "how are those babies doing, Winkler?" I wasn't going to ask about Kellee; she'd tried to kill me, with a little help from her dear old dad. Well, dear old departed dad, now.

    "They're coming along very well, a girl and a boy!" Winkler was as happy as could be over that. That little girl was already spoiled and she wasn't out of the womb yet. Kellee was six months along or better, I figured. Female werewolves weren't as rare as female vampires, but the males outnumbered them six to one, at least. That's how Gavin found us—Tony and me—talking to Winkler over the phone about his babies. They were due the end of October, according to Kellee's physician.

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