Tricked

Dark Protectors/Reese Family Novella 2
October 25, 2016
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He Might Save Her

Former police psychologist Ronni Alexander had it all before a poison attacked her heart and gave her a death sentence. Now, on her last leg, she has an opportunity to live if she mates a vampire. A real vampire. One night of sex and a good bite, and she’d live forever with no more weaknesses. Well, except for the vampire whose dominance is over the top, and who has no clue how to deal with a modern woman who can take care of herself.

She Might Kill Him

Jared Reese, who has no intention of ever mating for anything other than convenience, agrees to help out his new sister in law by saving her friend’s life with a quick tussle in bed. The plan seems so simple. They’d mate, and he’d move on with his life and take risks as a modern pirate should. Except after one night with Ronni, one moment of her sighing his name, and he wants more than a mating of convenience. Now all he has to do is convince Ronni she wants the same thing. Good thing he’s up for
a good battle.

Other Books in the Dark Protectors/Reese Family Series

Ronni Alexander settled back into the cushiony sofa in her small loft outside of New York City and forced her expression into calm lines. “Thank you for the ride home.” Yeah, she’d meant the words as a dismissal.

Apparently Jared Reese didn’t know how to take a hint. “You’re more than welcome.” His voice was husky to the point of being gritty and settled along her skin like it wanted to stay. He stood in the center of her living room, making the area seem so much smaller than it normally appeared. He was the tallest, broadest, and most dangerous person she’d ever invited into her home, and the jewel colors around him only emphasized his darkness.

Black hair, black eyes, black leather jacket. But it wasn’t just the absence of color. It was the look in those eyes and the tension in that tight body.

She cleared her throat and moved to stand.

He waved her back down. “I’m not leaving until we discuss my offer.” He shrugged out of his jacket.

The play of muscle, raw and powerful, through his faded T-shirt caught her attention. She shook her head. “Not now. I’ll call you.”

His full lips twitched, and a sparkle lightened those eyes just enough to make them gleam like a predator hunting at night. “The offer is only good for the next hour or so.” He sat and the very faded denim across his thighs stretched. The man overwhelmed the oversized reading chair. “Not that you have much time left.”

She swallowed. “Can you tell how long?”

“No, but I can hear your heart beating with a stutter way too slowly.” He lowered his chin and studied her, his rugged face set in strong lines. “Even your lips are blue from lack of oxygen, Veronica.”

Only her grandmother back in Colombia used her full name—and usually when Ronni was in trouble. But at the moment, she had more important things to concentrate on while her brain still worked. If she died, she’d fail once again. Just like her father had said she would. She shook her head, banishing thoughts of her crappy childhood and the fact that he’d never see what she’d become, considering he’d died years ago. “Show me again,” she said softly, turning her attention back to the man inside her apartment.

Jared tilted his head to the side. “You have the oddest fascination, lady.”

She nodded. “Probably.”

He sighed and opened his mouth, allowing razor-sharp fangs to slide down.

She shivered, her gaze caught. “Amazing.”

He rolled his eyes, and the fangs disappeared. “Not really.”

Yes, really. Vampires existed. As in really, really, really existed. She rubbed her legs, trying to warm her freezing hands. “How don’t we humans know about you?”

“Don’t want you to,” he said, surveying the small apartment decorated with pumpkins, ghouls, and ghosts. “You’re a couple of seasons behind with the decor.”

Yeah, she should probably have her tree up. Christmas would arrive in about two weeks. “I know. I became ill around Halloween and haven’t taken the time to redecorate. No energy, to be honest. However, I love Halloween, so these decorations make me feel happy.” Her hands trembled. Heaviness settled on her shoulders, weakening her arms. She blinked and tried to keep her eyes open. “Our legends aren’t true, then. I mean, you can go into sunlight, right?”

“Yep.”

She tried to sit up straighter. “What if I staked you in the heart?”

“You’d just piss me off,” he said evenly.

Even though it wasn’t a threat, she caught an undercurrent of truth in the statement. Pissing him off would probably be a bad idea. “What can kill you?”

“Beheading.” He glanced at the snow falling outside the window, energy flowing from him. “I think full burning might work, but it’d have to be to the point of ashes, you know?”

“Of course,” she said with just a hint of bewilderment.

“Make a decision, Veronica.” His focus returned absolutely to her, power in his eyes and strength in every movement. How was he even real?

She tried to face him when all her defenses were just gone. “I have more questions.”

“Of course you do,” he muttered, wiping a hand across his eyes. “Fine. That’s fair. Ask away.”

What did one ask a vampire? What if she did accept his offer? “Do you have bags of blood in your refrigerator?”

He blinked. “God, no. Why?”

Oh, crap. So he fed on humans. Would he want to feed on her? “You want to ah, mate me, so you have blood?”

His brows drew down. “Huh?”

A shiver racked her.

“Sweetheart.” He stood and grabbed a blanket off the sofa to wrap around her. “You’re weakening.”

She’d been weakening for about two months. Her heart hitched at his kindness. His protection. What would it be like to truly be with a man like him? “That’s what happens when your heart slowly dies. Well, when a human heart dies. Do you have a heart?”

“Yes.” He sat back down, his elbows on his knees, his body leaning toward her. “Our anatomy is just like yours, except we have more chromosomal pairs that make us essentially immortal. Human to vampire is a lot like comparing plants to humans—on a chromosomal level.”

Fascinating and oh so very tempting. “Do you hunt humans for blood?”

His expression cleared. “Oh. I get it. No. We make our own blood and don’t need yours. Well, we do bite during battle or sex, but that’s more of survival and choice.”

Sex. Heat bloomed into her face. “Legends are really wrong.”

“Yep.” He rubbed his whiskered chin.

How had she missed such information? Leave it to Olly to discover the truth. “Will Olivia become a vampire?”

“No. Your friend and my brother plan to mate. Her chromosomal pairs will duplicate until she’s almost immortal, but that’s the only change.” He leaned forward even more, and his masculine scent settled all around her. “I’m offering you the same thing, Veronica. If we mate, you’ll become immortal and you won’t die from this disease.”

It wasn’t a disease. Yet it was going to kill her, without question. Probably within a week or so. What would immortality be like? Probably pretty freaking awesome. If nothing else, it’d give her time to hunt down the bastard who thought he’d killed her, finally proving her father wrong. She was strong, and she could survive in this world. Yet, she didn’t know this man. “Why are you offering?” She truly didn’t understand.

He shrugged. “Family is everything to us. My brother loves your best friend, and she’s heartbroken that you’re about to die. If you live, then maybe I’d see more of Chalton.”

Was that a glimmer of sweetness revealed in the badass? He obviously loved his brother. Tough guys understood loyalty, now didn’t they? As a psychologist, Ronni loved delving into motivations. “Olivia said that you and your brother haven’t talked in a long time.”

“We haven’t, and I want to change that.” He flattened a hand on his jeans. A big and broad hand. “It’s only been a century, but even so. I’ve missed him.”

A century? “How old are you?”

“Ah, I think about four hundred and twenty-seven?” He quirked his lip. “Maybe twenty-eight. Time runs together.”

He looked thirty, tops. She tried to grasp the new reality and studied his face. Way too rough to be called handsome, the hard ridges and planes created a wild beauty that matched the glint in his eyes. Straight nose, high cheekbones, masculine mouth.

A predator harder to catch than the wind.

She shook her head. Now she was becoming poetic. Yep. She was near death. “You said earlier that mating is forever.” She barely kept from stuttering on the word ‘mating.’

“It is.” He reached for her, enclosing her chilled hand in warmth.

Energy thrummed between them, heating her throughout. When was the last time she’d been warm? “But Olivia said it might not be?” What if the mating was just temporary? Ronni would take the immortality if it was that easy, wouldn’t she?

Jared shook his head. “It’s forever, Veronica. While there is a virus that has negated a mating bond well after one party has died, it hasn’t been tried in two living mates, and it won’t be in our case. Too dangerous, and I won’t allow it.”

Warning crept up her spine.

Every once in a while, his mask slipped. Oh, on the surface, he was calm and gentle…even reasonable.

Yet…a restless energy crackled from him. A force with strength she barely imagined but could sense. On a primitive level, she knew without question there was more to Jared Reese than he was letting her see. What exactly was a vampire?

He’d have her believe he was just another species.

So was the jaguar.

Even in her weakened state, her body hummed near him as if his primitive energy captured hers. “Since you’re so old, I’ll let the word ‘allowed’ pass. This time.” It took all her strength, mental and physical, to meet his gaze without blinking.

“Ah.” He didn’t move an inch but somehow seemed bigger. Stronger. More focused. “It’s good we’re having this chat.”

The entire world felt unsteady around her. “What do you want from me, Jared?”

It was the first time she’d used his name, and by the straightening of his body, he knew it. “Excuse me?”

“You’re offering me life and immortality. What do you want from me?” Favors were never free, and she had to know the full facts before agreeing. The way he looked at her kept her pinned in place. She was so out of her depth with him. “There has to be something.”

His expression revealed absolutely nothing. “All right. Here it is. Mating you gets me three things I want. One, I get to see more of my brother. Two, I get my mother and all other relatives off my back about finding a mate. Three, someday I get children.”

She leaned back into the sofa, her breath heating. “From me.”

His cheek creased. “Yeah. From you.”

So this was more than a one-night deal. “Wait a minute.”

He held up a hand. “I don’t mean tomorrow or even during this century. Five hundred years from now would be fine. But someday, I do want a family. As my mate, you’re pretty much the only one who can give me sons.”

“Or daughters,” she said almost automatically, her mind spinning.

“No.” He smiled now, transforming his face into raw beauty. “Vampires are male only. We’d have sons.”

Sons. Big, strong, dark little boys. Her damaged heart thumped. Strong and nearly immortal boys who she could adore forever. “What about love?” she asked, surprising herself.

“Even for humans, arranged marriages work out more than those founded by love,” he said evenly. “I want an agreement and you get to live. Take the deal.”

She came from a long line of passionate women, some still in Colombia, and others scattered across the world. Love meant something to them and to her. “You’ve never been in love,” she mused.

“Wrong.” He tightened his hold on her hand. “I did love a woman, a witch, and she mated somebody else two centuries ago.”

A witch? Seriously? Ronnie jerked her head. “Witches exist?”

“Yep. Another species. They use quantum physics to alter matter.”

Wow. Life was so different than she’d imagined. She’d find out more about witches later. How could any woman reject love from a man like this? The witch must be crazy. Even without love, an offer from a guy like Jared was tempting. He was sex and danger personified. “You think you won’t find it again. You might.”

He flipped his hand over and captured both of hers in a reassuring hold. “Nope. I’m not looking for love again, and that’s just fine with me. I like the thought of our arrangement.”

An arranged mating. She’d be giving up love but gaining life. A forever with Jared. Intrigue had her trying to concentrate. “I’m not ready to die,” she whispered, her chest compressing.

“Then don’t die.”

It was so simple for him, but she could barely think straight. Not enough oxygen was reaching her brain, and she knew it. “I need to rest before I make a decision.”

“Your head won’t be any clearer than it is right now,” Jared said, his face implacable.

“Okay.” She tugged her hands free to dig them into her hair. “Say we mate. Olivia says it’s sex with a bite and forever.” Sex. With Jared. With that body.

“Yes.”

“Then what? You take off, and we meet up again in about five hundred years?” She tried to ignore her clamoring body and concentrate on the facts. To have kids. Yeah. That kind of thing could be scheduled, probably. Just think what she could accomplish in five centuries.

“Well, not exactly. I’d set you up with a nice place and a monthly allowance, and you can do what you want.” He breathed out. “I’d visit periodically to see you and my family.”

Humor burst through her. Had he really just used the word allowance? “You’re kidding.” She grinned.

“No.”

She laughed, unable to help herself. “You want a mistress. Not a mate.”

“No, I don’t.” He frowned, his entire face angled in one way or another.

Intriguing. She could spend an entire century just deciphering his expressions. “Sure. You keep me in style and show up for a good lay once in a while. How convenient.”

His nostrils flared. “If we mate, we’re the only people we can have sex with. If either of us tries to get intimate with somebody else, the mating allergy kicks in, and it totally sucks. Think the worse attack of poison ivy imaginable.”

“Then there are requirements you want.” The idea of sex with him shot a welcomed energy through her body to pulse in her erogenous zones. Yet she was no man’s plaything, whether he saved her life or not. “I think you need to be a little clearer with your demands here.”

“I thought it was obvious.”

Truth be told, he did seem a little surprised by her response. She took a deep breath. “Here’s the deal. I want to live.”

“Good.” His expression smoothed out.

“But I’m not willing to be a mistress.” God, she wanted to live. To see the future. To have children. “I understand we can only have sex with each other, and I do like sex.” At least she’d used to like it. “I’m not a sure thing. Meaning, you have no rights to me.”

He studied her, energy radiating from him and brushing along her flesh. “First of all, no woman is ever a sure thing. Even during my time as a pirate on the high seas, I never forced a woman. Any and every time is your choice, and I would never force you. Ever.”

Her chest settled. “Good. We’re on the same page. And second?”

He leaned in, his nose nearly touching hers. “Second of all, if we mate, I have every right to you. Don’t you ever forget it.”

 

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Two weeks on the hunt, and now Theo Reese was dressed like a wanker from one of those popular spy movies. He tugged on the black bow tie and fully committed himself to killing the woman who’d forced him to wear a tuxedo. After chasing her through New York, London, Edinburgh, and now back to New York, he was more than ready to grip her slim neck in both his hands.

Then he’d squeeze until her stunning blue eyes bugged.

Maybe. Okay. He wouldn’t kill her. Even as pissed as he was, he’d never harm a woman. Well, probably. This one had taken subterfuge to a whole new level, so he would like to scare her a little. Plus, the woman was a witch, so it wasn’t like she couldn’t defend herself. Creating fire out of air was like breathing for her people.

Chatter and the clinking of glasses filled the opulent ballroom of New York’s most exclusive hotel. Women in long sparkling dresses and men in tuxedos milled around, drinking champagne and laughing. Christmas lights blinked green and red from trees placed in every corner.

Discreet waiters refilled glasses and offered canapés.

Theo sighed. He wanted a steak, damn it. Little mushrooms filled with green stuff would just make him hungrier.

Where the hell was she?

His contacts had said she’d be attending the fundraiser to save some otter in some forest somewhere, and he’d had to pretty much give up a kidney to get a ticket. A gold-encrusted ticket. He didn’t get it. Why not just save the money on tickets, clothes, food, and drink…and give it to the damn otters? Buy them all a new river and forest somewhere.

He caught a scent. Through the heavy perfumes and fragrant appetizers, a scent he knew well beckoned him. Woman, intrigue, and Irish bluebells from her native home.

Lifting his head, he followed his nose. Even for a vampire, he had enhanced senses.

Her laugh, tinkling and surprisingly deep, had him turning left.

Ah. There she was. He’d finally found the witch. His entire body tightened, and the blood rushed from his head right to his cock. From one little sighting of her. Fuck. Taking several deep breaths, he calmed his body and cleared his mind.

Ginny O’Toole wore a sapphire colored gown that matched her eyes perfectly. The bodice was old fashioned, glimmering with sparkles, and narrowed to an impossibly small waist. Her breasts were full, her hair naturally white-blonde, her skin flawless, and her stature petite. Three hundred years ago, she’d been too thin for popularity. Fifty years ago, she’d been the ideal woman. Now, in the day and age of curves and diversity, she stood out as almost unreal. As more of a doll than a real woman.

An air of fragility clung to her, in direct opposition to strong and fierce modern woman.

Yet men flocked to her, quick to give protection, just as much today as in the past. The morons didn’t realize that her pretty face masked a predator. One who used wiles and weakness to get what she wanted. False weakness. Oh, physically she lacked strength. But mentally, she was a manipulative bitch.

She was talking to a tall man who had his back to Theo. Short blond hair, wide shoulders, strong energy. Was that a shifter? Yeah. Feline. Probably lion.

Theo launched into motion, easily winding through the human throng, and reached them in seconds.

Ginny’s eyes widened and then her mask dropped back into place. “Theo.” She smiled, and if he couldn’t hear her hammering heartbeat, he would’ve been fooled into believing she was actually pleased to see him. Since she’d been running from him for weeks after hacking into the main computer at one of his family’s estates, he knew that to be a lie. “Theo Reese, please meet Jack Jacobson,” she said.

Jacobson turned and held out a hand. “It’s a pleasure.”

Theo shook his hand, lowering his chin. The shifter shaking his hand was an information broker by the name of Jackson McIntosh. They’d never done business, but Theo had seen dossiers on the guy. “Jack Jacobson?” he murmured, barely flashing his canines. “That’s a nice pseudonym.”

Jack nodded. “I like it.”

“Your business here is concluded,” Theo said, releasing Jacobson and grasping Ginny by the elbow. Her bones felt fragile beneath his hand, so he loosened his hold automatically.

She didn’t struggle, as if she could. Instead, her smile widened. “Actually, it is. Please get back to me with your answer soon, Jack.”

Heat rushed down Theo’s back. The woman thought he was so daft he wouldn’t figure out what she was trying to sell? He had an idea of what information she was looking to get rid of, and that ended right now. “There’s a chance your deal might be dead in the water,” he said evenly.

Jack’s green eyes twinkled. “Perhaps.” Then he sobered, his gaze moving to Theo’s hand. “Let her go.”

Jesus. The woman brought out the defender in everybody. Even criminal middlemen who were well known to broker anything—legal or illegal. “No,” Theo returned.

“You are so very sweet to worry about me.” Ginny patted Jack’s arm with her free hand. “Theo and I are old friends. No need for concern.”

Old friends, his ass. Theo didn’t bother to smile. If she wanted to play the polite game, she could damn well do it by herself. He didn’t play games. Ever.

Jack’s eyes narrowed. “You certain?”

“I am,” Ginny said softly. “Theo and I have some business to conduct as well. It was lovely to see you, Jack.”

Theo might just throw up. “Bye, Jack.”

The shifter nodded, gave him one hard look, and turned on his polished loafers. Seconds later, he’d disappeared into the throng.

Ginny sighed. “Kindly remove your hand.”

“Not a chance in hell,” Theo returned, drawing her nearer. “And I’m warning you. You try to create a scene, you cause any problem, and I’ll not care about collateral damage for once. You’re coming with me, and we’re retrieving the Benjamin file. Right now.”

Her eyes widened fully, and she planted a small hand against her bare upper chest. “The Benjamin file? What in the world is that?”

He barked out a laugh. Truly, he couldn’t help it. “Ginny, from day one, your act hasn’t worked on me, and you know it.” That was why she’d chosen his older brother to manipulate and use a century ago. Jared had fallen for her helpless act, thought he was in love, and had had his heart broken when she’d mated another male instead of him. Well, he’d thought it had been broken. Now that he’d found his true mate, he knew the difference. “So knock it off,” Theo finished.

“Theo,” Ginny whispered. “I truly do not know anything about a Benjamin file. What in the world is that?”

It was the computer file that detailed all of Theo’s family’s holdings and dealings…even the illegal ones. It could bring down and bankrupt his entire family, and most importantly, his Uncle Benjamin. Benny was a crazy thousand-year-old vampire who would easily cut off Theo’s head for losing the file. “I don’t have time for games. Where’s the flash drive?” he asked quietly.

She shrugged creamy shoulders. “You know I don’t understand computers.”

The woman could lie. Well. But Theo knew better. “You firebombed our entire system, and now that flash drive is the only record we have. It proves ownership of everything we have.” It also held files they’d used to blackmail others during the years, which was an acceptable way of doing business in the immortal world. He leaned down until his nose nearly touched hers. “I’m losing patience.”

Pink bloomed across her high cheekbones. “Really, Theo. Ownership records are easy to find these days. Obtain the title deeds in every place you own property. Stocks and businesses have records.”

He breathed out, his lungs heating. Many records had no paper trail, and she knew it. The blackmail info, and the family history, were both hidden on purpose. And even so, he didn’t have time to traverse the world looking for what legitimate documentation he could find. “Where’s the data?” Hopefully she’d been too busy running from him and trying to sell the files that she hadn’t had time to really go through them.

He had to get the Green Rock file before anybody else read it. The damn thing might result in his entire family being killed by their current allies. It’d also break his brother Chalton’s heart if he learned the truth. The Realm, his adopted family, would turn on him. “Tell me, Ginny. Now.”

The witch sighed. “I’m getting a headache. Would you please just stop stalking me?”

He barely kept from glaring at her. This close, he could see dark circles beneath her eyes. Beneath his hand, her arm trembled. Running from him had taken a toll on her. He tried to steel his heart against that fact, because she’d use it against him. “Let’s go to my hotel and have a nice meal.” Maybe if he got some food into her, the color would return to her pretty face. “We can talk about the file there.”

“No.” Her pink lips turned down in a pout.

“Does that look actually work on people?” he asked, truly curious.

Fire flashed in her intriguing eyes.

Ah, he’d gotten to her. “I guess it does.” He faulted his gender for being easy marks. Not once had he ever understood why she played at being so helpless. Why not be straight up? Hell, if he didn’t need to get that file back, he’d probably be an easy mark for her if she was honest with him for two whole seconds. “You don’t need games with beauty like yours, Ginny.”

Surprise, the genuine kind, tilted her lips. “I thought you hated the way I look.”

Right. Vampires always hated beauty. “No. I dislike the way you pretend to be something you’re not. The way you look is…good.” Unbelievably stunning, to be honest. But he couldn’t give her an inch, or he’d be letting his entire family down. And probably signing their death sentence. “So drop the act, would you?”

She shook her head as if she was in on a joke he couldn’t fathom. Regret darkened those blue eyes for just a second, enhancing the tired circles beneath them. “You only see what you want to see, Theo.”

What the hell did that mean? He leaned in. “Explain.”

Her slim shoulders went back. “I can’t. But you’re right. We do need to talk. Let’s go discuss this somewhere else.”

Good. She was finally going to work with him. He looked toward the nearest exit. “I agree. Let’s get out of here. Why are you caring about otters, anyway?”

She blinked. “Otters?”

He gestured around.

She laughed, the sound spontaneous and so sexy it hurt. “Oh, Theo. This is a fundraiser for Other Tracks. An international nonprofit that fights the sex trafficking of children across the globe? I donate every year.”

He straightened. Was she lying? “Oh.” That did seem a lot more important than otters. He studied her, fighting the urge to believe her. She was so damn good at tricking men. Right now, he had other worries. “Let’s go.”

She sighed, her shoulders hunching. “Very well.” Pivoting, she stumbled into him.

Pain flared through his arm. Heat rushed through his veins, and his head grew heavy. Gravity claimed him, and he started to fall.

“Sorry,” she whispered, helping him down to the floor and setting his back to the wall.

He blinked, his tongue thickening as he saw the small syringe in her hand. The last thought he had before passing completely out was to wonder where such a curve-hugging dress had pockets.

Then he was out.

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