Blood Bond


EPILOGUE





NO ONE REALLY EVER GETS A HAPPILY EVER AFTER. I don't expect my story will be any different. There will always be conflict in the world-between mortal and immortal, between immortal and those who would challenge the way of things. I suppose that's why I am. It is my burden to keep the balance. Having Frey in my life, and John-John, lightens the burden. Having a family and friends, humans I care about, lightens the burden. I didn't choose this life, but I take comfort in the choices I do have. The choices I've made.

My name is Anna Strong.

I am vampire.

Special Preview of Cursed

Read on for a special preview of Jeanne C. Stein and Samantha Sommersby's first Fallen Siren novel

CURSED

by S. J. Harper

Coming from Roc in October 2013

Meet FBI agents Emma Monroe and Zack Armstrong. She's cursed. He's damned. Together, they make one hell of a team.

Emma Monroe is a Siren, cursed by the gods and bound to earth to atone for an ancient failure. She's had many names and many lives, but only one mission: redemption. Now that she works missing-persons cases for the FBI, it could be just a rescue away. Unless her new partner leads her astray.

Special Agent Zack Armstrong just transferred into the San Diego field office. He's a werewolf, doing his best to beat back the demons from his dark and dangerous past. As a former black ops sniper, he's taken enough lives. Now he's doing penance by saving them.

Emma and Zack's very first case draws them deep into the realm of the paranormal and forces them to use their own supernatural abilities. But that leaves each of them vulnerable, and there are lines partners should not cross. As secrets are revealed and more women go missing, one thing becomes clear: As they race to save the victims, Emma and Zack risk losing themselves.

Siren (noun)

1. One of three sisters ejected from Mount Olympus by Zeus and cursed by Demeter for failing to prevent Hades from kidnapping Persephone.

2. An immortal goddess bound to earth who, in search of her own salvation, saves others from peril.

3. A beautiful and powerful seductress capable of infiltrating the minds of others in order to extract truth or exert influence.

YOU'VE SEEN ONE DARK, RUGGED WEREWOLF, YOU'VE seen them all.

That's what I told myself the first time I laid eyes on Zack Armstrong. I was wrong. Dead wrong. And now it's come back to bite me in the ass.

I interrupt my best friend, Liz, in the middle of-something. I realize I lost the thread of our phone conversation the minute I spied Zack weaving his way through the maze of indistinct gray cubicles that make up the bull pen of the San Diego FBI field office. Save the hair and nine a.m. four-o'clock shadow, the man is all spit and polish. Tailored dark blue suit, starched white shirt, blue and gold silk tie and gleaming black shoes. The hair gives him a distinct edge-dark brown, slightly longer than regulation, no part. It's swept straight back, accentuating the lines of his square jaw.

I resist the urge to crawl under my desk. "I'll call you back later. New partner's here. I've got to go."

"Not until I hear the details. What's he look like?"

Liz is forever trying to play matchmaker. Ironically, I rely on her spellcasting to make sure a match will never happen.

I turn around and lower my voice a notch. "Remember the guy from South Carolina I told you about? The one I was partnered with on that missing-person case in Charleston last year?"

"Really?" New interest sparks in her voice. "He looks like him?"

"It is him," I say. "Which you'd think Johnson would have mentioned."

"So what's the problem? I'll tell you now what I told you then. You shouldn't write off the possibility of a good romp with a guy just because he goes furry a few days every month. Weres have amazing stamina. Hey, did I ever tell you about Walter?"

You name it, Liz has dated it. Being a witch with serious magical talent puts her in contact with a wide variety of supernaturals. A strong advocate for equal-opportunity love, she's currently dating a vampire.

But Walter the werewolf was decidedly not one of her success stories.

"Yeah, Liz. A few dozen times. The problem isn't Zack's nature."

"The FBI has rules about fraternization?"

"No." I wish they did. I wish it could be that easy. Not that getting involved with a partner is encouraged.

"What, then?"

My eyes squeeze shut. I shouldn't have given Zack Armstrong a second thought in the last thirteen months, seventeen days. But I have. I've thought of him often. Too often.

Gooseflesh appears on my arms; the hair on the back of my neck rises. A sense of dread washes over me. That's why he's here. This isn't a coincidence. It's a test the Olympians have their hands in. Or, more specifically, one particular Olympian. Demeter. I'm a Siren-one of three. We were banished by Zeus and cursed by Demeter thousands of years ago for failing to protect her daughter Persephone, for failing to rescue her before she was dragged by Hades to the Underworld. It's for this I atone. For this I pay.

And pay. And pay.

I'm tempted to make something up, but this is Liz. She deserves the truth. "I liked him. More than liked him."

Her tone turns serious. "You never mentioned that. This could be bad."

The understatement of the year. Guys I get into meaningful relationships with tend to end up dead, courtesy of my favorite vindictive goddess. Partnering with Zack Armstrong could prove exceedingly dangerous. Even lethal.

For him.

"I've got to go."

I click off, the sound of Liz's protests ringing in my ear, and concentrate on the familiar six-foot-plus werewolf coming toward me. Deputy Director Jimmy Johnson emerges from his office. "Here's the memo I promised you about your new partner. Better late than never."

He may be chronically behind with paperwork, but otherwise Johnson's tenacious about his job, a real pit bull. And, despite being only five foot six, he's one of the toughest guys I've ever met.

I snatch the sheet from his hand and drop it on my desk. "Why didn't you tell me it was Armstrong?"

"I thought I did." His look is quizzical, but it doesn't stay that way for long. "Zack! Good to see you again."

The two men greet each other with a hearty handshake.

"Good to see you again, Deputy Director." The Southern accent is smooth; the cadence of his voice is, as I remember, low and lilting. It was the first of many things that got to me about Zack Armstrong.

Johnson dives in without preamble. "Emma Monroe's your new partner. I don't have to waste time with introductions. What's it been, a year since you worked on that case together?"

"Just over," Zack answers, flashing a sideways glance in my direction.

What Johnson couldn't possibly know is that we share more than a past case. We both have secrets-supernatural powers we've managed to keep hidden from the bureau, the world and, as far as Zack is concerned, each other. Unbeknownst to him, I sensed what he is the instant we met. We never discussed it. He's never revealed it. But of course he wouldn't, not to an outsider.

And then there is the other secret we share. Zack and I slept together.

Once.

It was during our last night in Charleston. We'd celebrated wrapping up the case, indulging in a good meal and too much wine. The attraction had been building for weeks, the sexual tension as thick as the South Carolina air. I wish I could say that one thing led to another. That I was impulsively swept away. But I'm not impetuous when it comes to sex. I can't afford to be. The potential consequences are too high.

We agreed that we'd go our separate ways after. There would be no telephone calls. No texts. No emails. No contact. Period. With twenty-four hundred miles between us, it seemed safe.

Johnson startles me with a slap on the back. "Show him the ropes. He's all yours."

I offer my hand. "Good to see you again."

Zack takes it.

A woman can tell a lot about a man from his handshake. Zack's hasn't changed. It's confident, firm and friendly. It's the handshake of a man who has nothing to apologize for and no regrets.

Johnson is already on his way back to his office. Zack doesn't seem to notice. His eyes are on me.

"I'm pleased to be working with you again, Agent Monroe."

Is he? The handshake. The demeanor. Both seem genuine. But despite the old-world charm, I can't shake the feeling that something is off.

Maybe coming here isn't something he wanted at all. Maybe it's strictly a bureau-initiated transfer. Maybe he's merely worried about how I'm going to react. My curiosity has gone into overdrive. The possibilities ricochet through my mind like bullets in a steel barrel. I want to know how he feels. To taste the truth, whatever that may be. And I could. All it would take is lowering the dampening spell that keeps my powers in check. But giving in to temptation like this would be uncharacteristic. Using my gift comes at a price.

"I thought we'd moved past you calling me Agent Monroe," I say finally. "Emma or Monroe will do fine."

Zack releases my hand, then subtly breathes in my scent before stepping back to continue his appraisal. His gaze, now cool and calculating, sweeps the length of my body. He's searching for a reaction, sizing me up. He sees what I want him to see, what he saw when we worked together before: a no-nonsense professional who is dedicated, capable, all about the mission. Denying my powers and disguising my beauty have become second nature to me.

Over the centuries I've become an expert at concealment, at blending in. My dark hair may be long, but it's never loose. I use a simple band to pull it back; some days I wind it into a tight bun. I wear sunscreen. No mascara. No lipstick. No makeup. Period. Today's suit, like all of my suits, is black and tailored. The white cotton twill blouse is classic, conservative. I don't accessorize . I don't wear jewelry. I don't wear silk where a man can see it.

Zack's eyes, an intense dark brown ringed with gold, linger a fraction of a second too long on my collarbone. I can't help myself. For one fleeting moment, I remember the feel of his mouth there. Suddenly, I'm conscious of the rise and fall of my chest. My throat is dry. I push the memory aside. The last thing I need to be doing right now is dwelling on what happened in Charleston. I know I should say something. I just have no idea what. Zack breaks the ice.

"It's been a while," he says.

"Yeah. So, how are you?" Before he has a chance to answer, I add, "I should introduce you to the others."

Zack lifts his hand in the air and shouts out, "Zack Armstrong, new guy."

There's a collective "Hey, Zack."

He turns back to face me square on. "I'm itching to get started. What have you got for me?"

I take a step closer and lower my voice. "That's it? You have nothing else to say to me?"

He matches my tone. "I was hoping to postpone the awkward 'What are you doing here?' conversation for as long as possible. At least until lunch?"

Since I'm not anxious to go down that road, either, I gesture to the desk facing mine. "Have a seat. This one's yours."

When he sits, I check my reflection in the window behind him. The glamour I rely on is firmly in place. The lock on my powers under control. He shouldn't be able to see through the wholesome, plain-Jane façade to discover what's underneath, what's real. Thanks to Liz, no one should.

"You heard what the man said." He leans back in his chair and spreads his arms wide, giving me a glimpse of what I know to be a well-muscled chest under the fabric of his shirt. "I'm all yours." His look is serious, expectant. "What can I do?"

A thousand possibilities rush through my mind. Not one of them has anything to do with the case.

Focus, Emma.

I pull a sheet from the file and give Zack the rundown. "Amy Patterson has been missing for two weeks. She's thirty years old, an artist. She lives alone. We got the case this morning."

Zack pulls a pen and a small notebook from his inside coat pocket. "What kind of an artist?"

I quickly scan the report. "Painter, Expressionist, mixed media mostly."

"Kidnapping gone bad?" he speculates.

"Could be. She's successful. But there's no known family and, according to her manager, no request for ransom."

Zack sets the pen and notebook down, centering them deliberately on the empty desk. "Who reported her missing?"

"The manager, Bernadette Haskell. She's known Amy for years. Haskell owns the gallery in La Jolla where Amy's art is exclusively exhibited, and handles Amy's gallery bookings and commissions worldwide. I spoke to her earlier this morning. She said Amy rarely leaves her apartment. She both lives and works there. Plus, she has a huge show coming up in New York. And before you ask, yes, she called there to see if Amy might have gone ahead to check the space out." I shake my head. "She's not in New York, either."

His brow furrows. "Why is the FBI involved in a straightforward missing-person case? Shouldn't the local police be handling this?"

I nod. "They should. They are. But Haskell has a friend in the district attorney's office, and he's calling in a favor. The relationship between Haskell and Patterson was more than purely business. Over the years, Patterson became like a daughter to this woman. SDPD hasn't made much progress. Officially, we're just reviewing the casework."

"Unofficially?"

"The fact that she's missing hit the papers yesterday. The story is getting a fair amount of press. The DA wants us to close the case. It's an election year and he's out to win the hearts and minds of the voters. Something with this amount of visibility, if handled right, could cinch what is sure to be a close election."

"Politics as usual. Where do you want to start?"

"SDPD already covered the usual stuff. They checked the psych wards, hospitals and morgues. There haven't been any recent credit card charges or bank withdrawals."

"What about log-in access for things like email, social networks and other accounts?"

"Nothing for a couple weeks."

"I almost hate to ask, but could this be a publicity stunt of some kind?"

I remember the sense of urgency and concern in Haskell's voice when we spoke. "My gut says no, but I don't think we should rule anything out."

Zack nods.

"According to Haskell, it's not unusual for Amy to go incommunicado when she's finishing a project. But it's highly unusual that she'd up and leave town without telling her. And Patterson's car is still in the building's parking garage."

"I assume they checked local taxi and car services?"

"Yup. That turned up zip, too."

"No signs of a struggle in her apartment?"

I push back from my desk. "Not according to the police report. I haven't personally searched the place yet. It hasn't been declared a crime scene. No sign of foul play. Haskell said she couldn't get away from the gallery this morning. She's the only one there. But she'll give us the keys so we can check the place out on our own. She's expecting us."

He rises. "Want me to drive?"

"Sure. The Haskell Gallery is on Prospect Street. I can give you directions."

Zack follows me toward the elevator. "I know where Prospect is." He punches the call button. The doors slide open instantly. He holds them and waits, allowing me to enter first.

He did most of the driving in Charleston, which made sense. We were in his territory. San Diego is mine.

"You aren't one of those guys who pretends they know where they're going because they're too stubborn to take directions from a woman, are you?"

We face forward. The doors close.

"Do I look like one of those guys?"

The elevator makes its descent. Our reflections stare back at us in the polished steel of the panel doors. Zack's expression remains neutral.

"Looks can be deceiving. Sometimes you think you know a person, then you realize you don't really know them at all."

He nods. "I suppose that's true." There's a hint of sadness in his tone. Zack's shoulders tense-a reaction so brief I doubt he's even aware he reacted at all. "Everyone has secrets."

He makes his way toward the exit, and I wonder again what really brought him to San Diego. I wonder why he left his pack behind in South Carolina. I wonder if he's joined one here. Mostly I wonder if he's been wondering about me.

We walk through the foyer of the FBI building into the light of day. I pause, close my eyes and tilt my face up toward the sun. How many more days will pass? How many more women will I have to save? I silently recite the same words I do every time I go out on a new case. Redemption could be one rescue away.

"You coming, partner?"

Zack has passed me and is waiting next to one of the bureau's many black Chevy Suburbans parked near the entrance.

Before I can answer, a silver BMW convertible pulls into the lot. It whizzes by, making a sharp right turn and pulling up to the row of SUVs directly in front of Zack. The car's curves are sleek, its paint job gleaming. A woman steps out of the driver's side. Zack's eyes are glued to her. I can't blame him. Her long legs emerge first, toned and sporting a pair of expensive red heels that boldly accentuate her black-and-white dress. As she approaches Zack, she removes her dark designer sunglasses and the silk scarf covering her head. She's pretty, even-featured. Her makeup is meticulous. Long blonde hair spills out and hangs loose in waves that brush her shoulders.

The tension in Zack's body tells me the woman is more than a stranger stopping to ask for directions. He knows who she is and he's not happy to see her. His shoulders bunch; his mouth turns down. I can't quite make out what she says to him as she approaches, but his response is clear. He shakes his head and motions her away. The gesture is understated, discreet, but it carries with it a sense of finality. He looks past the woman, at me.

Her head turns, following his line of sight. Her eyes connect with mine briefly before she dons the glasses once again. The fraction of a second is all she needs to convey a warning. All I need to determine that she, too, is Were. One intent on marking her territory? I resist the urge to let my hand slide to my hip, where my gun rests securely in its holster. I choose instead to annoy her further by smiling and waving.

"You waiting for an invitation, Monroe?" Zack calls out before climbing into the Suburban and closing the door, effectively dismissing Miss Fancy Pants.

As I approach she turns on her heel. A confident toss of her head in Zack's direction says she's gotten her message across. Now that she's seen me, now that she's convinced I'm not a threat, she doesn't bother to spare me a second glance. By the time I reach the Suburban, she's returned to her car, climbed inside and fired up the engine. With a squeal of tires, she's gone.

But not before I notice the license plate. South Carolina. It's reflex to store the number away in the back of my mind.

I open the car door. "I get the feeling she doesn't like me."

Zack is waiting behind the wheel, hands at the ten- and two-o'clock positions, knuckles white. He avoids looking me in the eye. "She doesn't like the fact we slept together."

He says it casually.

"You told her we slept together?" I ask, sliding into the passenger seat.

His gaze meets me head-on. "Would you have preferred I lied?"

"She your girlfriend?"

He throws the car into reverse and steps on the gas. "Ex."

I wonder if the status came before or after the revelation. It doesn't matter. In the month we worked together I came to know Zack's moods well enough to interpret this one. With one single syllable, he's effectively closing the door on that subject.

It's okay.






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