The Civil War still rages, shifters and vampires are commonplace, and Calista Nichols is just trying to get her family by. When her sister discovers a cure for the shifters and vampires, she’s kidnapped by a Rebel faction. Calista has no choice but to accept the local Alpha’s help in getting her back.
But Kane Dupree has much more in mind than just helping out his lover. He has to reveal the secrets of his past and convince her to accept him as her mate. Can she take her place in his world? Or will his secrets drive them further apart?
Kane Dupree bounded up the back stairs of the Southern Star Hotel, taking them two and three at a time. The boss hadn’t even given him time to clean off the dust from the road before calling him here. Irritation ate at him. He wanted to find Calista, not drink and catch up with the others.
As he ran up the seven flights of stairs, he heard the steam-powered lift rising behind the wall next to him. He easily overtook it and shook his head. Modern convenience had a long way to go. Perhaps it was better for some to ride to the top floors than to climb the numerous steps—the sick or old or infirm. It was the able-bodied that confounded him. No amount of persuasion would force him into that tiny metal box. It went against his animal nature.
He reached the top of the stairwell on the sixth floor and walked into the hall, careful to scan the passageway for guests, before entering the maid’s closet on the far end. Inside, he counted seven panels over on the back wall and pushed his palm flat against a pear-shaped knot in the wood. The section of wall slid away, revealing another set of stairs. Taking a deep breath, he walked through, pausing only long enough to flip the lever that closed the opening behind him before starting up.
At the top he lifted another lever to open the wall and entered the library. The door swung shut behind him on its own. This was new. He raised an eyebrow at the man sitting in an armchair behind the huge mahogany desk.
“Pressure plates under the floor.” Phineas grinned.
Kane glanced around, a little nervous and cautious before he entered the room. Phineas’ new toys were sometimes dangerous and unpredictable.
An amused chuckle rose from one of the dark corners and Kane’s eyes narrowed. Alec. They were wary allies. The vampire rubbed him the wrong way and usually did it on purpose. Kane stalked forward, right to the window where he was silhouetted by the late afternoon glare. He was rewarded by Alec’s huff and bit back a grin. The vampire wouldn’t combust in the sunlight, but he’d blister like hell so he avoided it. He’d probably come to the hotel through the passages under the city.
Kane turned his back to the window and faced the room with his feet braced apart and arms crossed over his chest. He was not in the mood for business. After his last mission, he’d hoped for a little rest and relaxation and he knew just whose thighs he wanted to it between. They belonged to one feisty bounty hunter who refused to settle down. To be fair, she didn’t exactly know what he was. Or, more specifically, all that he was. Secrets and lies. Would he ever be free of them?
“Can we get on with it?” drawled the werepanther sitting in the corner. Kane and Nico were definitely on the same page.
“Of course.” Phineas rose and crossed the room to draw the curtains closed.
Alec came out of the shadows when he did.
“You take all the fun out of tormenting the vampire, Phin,” Kane complained.
Phineas snorted a laugh, but when he spoke his tone was dead serious. “This time I’m pretty sure y’all might act like adults. Trust me. You want to hear what he has to say.”
Kane arched an eyebrow and walked to the fancy sofa. He sat and waited for Alec to begin. This should be good. Not as good as Calista, but it was all he had to work with at the moment. Last he heard the other man was busy in the Old City infiltrating one of the rebel groups. The South refused to accept the war was over and some of the rebel forces still plotted and fought almost thirty-five years after the cease-fire.
“I got into General Tobias’ camp.”
Kane felt his eyebrows arching into his hairline and Alec laughed, the sound rueful and mocking.
“Don’t get excited or anything. I’m just another foot soldier.”
“I have a hard time believing that,” Kane answered. The vampire wasn’t really a friend, but he wasn’t an enemy either. They worked well together when they had to, and Kane had never known Alec not to get exactly the information they needed. Sometimes through skill, sometimes pure luck.
“A common foot soldier with uncanny hearing and an exceptional ability for sneaking around?” Alec grinned.
Kane snorted while Phin and Nico laughed. That about summed up Alec, but he was getting fed up with the drawing out of whatever revelation was coming.
“And? What have you found in your sneaking around down there?”
Alec immediately changed, his countenance going from good-natured indifference to deadly killer in an instant. “Do you know what your girl’s sister has been working on?”
Tension coiled through him, stiffening his limbs. He forced himself to relax, but it was difficult. He kept Calista and her sisters far away from this, the secret part of his existence. She thought he was just another bounty hunter and he’d agreed with his colleagues to keep it that way, which was a major problem all things considered. He wanted to claim her, make her his, but that would be impossible as long as such a deception lay between them. So he settled for an on again off again affair. That seemed to be as far as she was willing to go anyway. It rankled, but for the time being it was safer.
“No,” he answered Alec, not sure he wanted to know where this conversation was going. How could he know? He’d been gone several months.
Alec only nodded while seeming to collect his thoughts. The atmosphere in the room was heavy, tense, and Kane wished he’d just spit it out.
“She’s been looking for a cure for the plague, trying to stop the new mutations.”
That news didn’t really surprise him. Isadora was a brilliant scientist and if anyone could find a way to stop the plague’s return she would be the one. When it first appeared in the Middle Ages, people thought the worst of it was the widespread death toll. Within a generation or two they’d discovered its other strange effects when the children of survivors were born with odd new abilities and talents—many varieties of animal shifters and another, more dangerous, group, the ones cursed with long lives and a lust for blood.
“But what she found is a cure for us.”
Kane froze. A cure? For shifters and vampires? He didn’t need or even want a cure; he liked himself just fine the way he was. It took a few seconds before his brain kicked in and took over his emotional response. What would the rebels want with such a thing? Considering some of the positions weres and vamps held in both Armies he could see the advantage to one side or the other being deprived of its extrasensory abilities. If the rebels knew about the cure, they’d understand the benefit of having access to it.
Dread constricted his heart. He didn’t need to be here. He needed to be checking in on the Nichols sisters, seeing to their safety. Calista would go crazy over the suggestion she needed help taking care of her family, but she’d just have to get over it.
“Don’t worry,” Phin said. “We have guards watching them, but we thought you’d want this one.”
“Tell me everything,” he demanded of Alec, who narrowed his eyes at the order but didn’t hold back his response.
“Not much to tell. I overheard the general talking about it to his lieutenants, ordering them to get her and her research materials. So I arranged a family emergency and came up here. I need to get back soon, see if I can find out the rest of their plans.”
Kane looked at Phin. “And they’re safe?”
“Yes, of course, Kane. I made sure of that first.”
“Really? Do they know anything about this? Does Calista?”
The other man frowned. Kane knew the answer without hearing it and swore under his breath. Calista was more than capable of protecting her home from humans and maybe the weaker weres or very young vampires, but not from anyone seasoned or experienced. And without being fully informed she was left wide open. He glared around the room, meeting everyone’s gaze.
“She gets told. Everything.”
Nico and Phin immediately protested, but Alec was silent. He’d examine that curiosity later. Slashing his hand through the air, he turned to his boss.
“She has to be told. She can’t take the necessary steps to protect herself or her family if she isn’t.” As the regional Alpha, Kane understood all about protecting those you took responsibility for. “I know y’all don’t trust her, but you’re wrong about her.”
“You’d risk us all to prove that point? She’d turn any of us over, even you, for the right amount of money.”
Kane shook his head. “No. She wouldn’t.”
Phin frowned, but nodded. “Fine. But it’s on you if it backfires.”
“It won’t,” he assured everyone in the room, though Alec didn’t seem to need it. He walked to the exit but paused to look over his shoulder. “Anything else I should know?”
“Two weres and a vamp,” Alec answered curtly, and Kane took that to mean the men sent for Isadora. He nodded his thanks, then left to search out the woman who drove him crazy, the woman he was going to shock to hell when she learned the whole truth.