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Authors: Lauren Dane

Goddess With a Blade

BOOK: Goddess With a Blade
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Goddess with a Blade

By Lauren Dane

Rowan Summerwaite is no ordinary woman. Physical vessel to the Celtic Goddess Brigid and raised by the leader of the Vampire Nation, she’s a supercharged hunter with the power to slay any vampire who violates the age-old treaty.

A recent string of murders has her at odds with Las Vegas’s new Scion, the arrogant and powerful Clive Stewart. The killings have the mark of Vampire all over them, and Rowan warns Clive to keep his people in line—or she’ll mete out her own brand of justice.

Though her dealings with Clive are adversarial to say the least, Rowan is intensely aware of her attraction to him. But she can’t let it distract her from her duty—to find and battle the killer before more women die.

73,000 words

 

Dear Reader,

I feel as though it was just last week I was attending 2010 conferences and telling authors and readers who were wondering what was next for Carina Press, “we’ve only been publishing books for four months, give us time” and now, here it is, a year later. Carina Press has been bringing you quality romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and more for over twelve months. This just boggles my mind.

But though we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary (with champagne and chocolate, of course) we’re not slowing down. Every week brings something new for us, and we continue to look for ways to grow, expand and improve. This summer, we’ll continue to bring you new genres, new authors and new niches—and we plan to publish the unexpected for years to come.

So whether you’re reading this in the middle of a summer heat wave, looking to escape from the hot summer nights and sultry afternoons, or whether you’re reading this in the dead of winter, searching for a respite from the cold, months after I’ve written it, you can be assured that our promise to take you on new adventures, bring you great stories and discover new talent remains the same.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication/Acknowledgements

This book has been with me since I took my first trip to Las Vegas with some friends and we went to a show with fake vampires with fake other stuff. Big thanks go to my husband for being so supportive and for all the plotting help! You even got me to kill people in this one, LOL.

Margo Lipshultz spent a great deal of time and energy with me on the phone two years ago. Sadly, she couldn’t buy the book in the end, but her advice and enthusiasm about the project helped me revive it and gave me some great insight into how to make the book better.

Which brings me to Angela James. We all say books are special to us, and they are. But this one has been with me since 2006 in one guise or another. There are very few people I’d have trusted with it and Angie is one. And for good reason. Her edit notes went way above and beyond the call of duty. All the extra care and butt kicking she did made the book better. This is why I love her to pieces and why she’s a fabulous editor. Thank you for that, Angie.

Readers, you all make this possible—thank you for your continued support and love.

Chapter One

The Silver Chalice was vintage Vegas in deep reds and golds. Whatever it was, the place managed to carry off the Rat Pack feel but made it modern and clean while also seeming luxurious. Hunter Corporation owned the residence tower to the south of the main casino floor and hotel. A nice sideline and a way to have heavy security without being too obvious.

Outside the revolving glass doors, the air was still warm. The streets teemed with tourists. Rowan understood the allure of being lost, of choosing to be someone or something else even for just a few days.

Vegas was a big game of pretend for a lot of people. And why not? Most had a great time and didn’t go too far. Some stepped far enough out of line to have secrets to carry for the rest of their lives.

Some didn’t go home at all.

In the circular drive just outside the doors, her valet, David, waited next to her Porsche. Even vessels for goddesses had guilty pleasures. Some women liked shoes and Coach bags. Rowan loved fast cars. The sexy sound of the engine always charged her blood. Something about the power that lurked there beneath the hood intoxicated her.

David nodded as he opened the door. She slid inside, the leather smooth and supple against her back and legs.

“The Scion sent a call for you to come to his office,
Déesse.
” He called her
goddess
because he knew what she was. “He says he needs to see you tonight. He was informed that should you find it in your schedule, you’d return his call.” Efficient and not entirely humorless, David had served the Hunters his whole life as Rowan’s father had served the Vampires. She hoped it ended better for David.

“Always so urgent, these Vampires. You’d think with such long lives they’d be more relaxed.”
Arrogant bastard.
Not an unusual trait for a Vampire. They did arrogant like no other species she’d ever dealt with. She wondered if this one would be as pompous as the last one.

David hid a smile and stepped back as she made to pull away from the drive. “Be safe,
Déesse.
The policeman was also looking for you.”

She smiled at the mention of Jack.

“Thank you, David. Have a lovely evening.”

He inclined his head and she pulled away, maneuvering around the knot of drunken people being delivered into cabs and vans in the drive on her way out.

After she’d pulled safely out onto Las Vegas Boulevard without mowing down any civilians, Rowan called Jack.

“’Bout time you called back, Rowan.”

“I’m sure all you do all day is lay around and wait to hear from me.”

He snorted.

“What’s up?”

“What’s up? Gone for months and…” He sighed. “Listen, can you meet me for a drink? Come by the station, we can grab a bite or something.”

“Can it wait a few hours? I have a prior engagement but it shouldn’t take overlong.”

“I’m not gonna be here in two hours. I can come to your place or you can come to mine. Only I live in a townhouse a ways from town and you live in a swank apartment on the Strip. Personally I like your place better.”

She laughed, despite herself. “Fine. I’ll meet you at my apartment in two hours. I’ll instruct David to let you in if I’m late.”

“Fine. I’ll see you then.”

“Okay.” She hung up and called David to let him know Jack would be coming over. She didn’t need to tell him to keep Jack on the first floor. David was relentlessly efficient and she knew he always took care to keep the Hunter Corporation part of her life as secret as possible. Humans didn’t know about Hunter Corporation but for a few key people in G8 countries and those serving Hunter Corp. Jack thought she was a private investigator. It kept them both safer that way.

In a handy bit of coincidence, by the time she’d finished arranging things, she’d reached Die Mitte, the casino/hotel run by the Vampire Nation. Oh, if those tourists only knew. Die Mitte meant “The Center” in German. It was the center of Vampire politics and jurisdiction in Las Vegas. The Scion ruled the local Vamps with an iron fist.

Once she’d stopped the Porsche, the valet rushed forward. When he saw who she was, he inclined his head slightly. Not quick enough for Rowan to miss the hatred and distrust in his eyes. Still, the awe tingeing the edges of that hatred was enough for her. The moment she got out, one of the Scion’s toadies rushed toward her with a sycophantic smile. Rowan didn’t return it.

There were times she wished she could be softer, but soft meant people took advantage or saw it as weak. She couldn’t afford to be anything but cold and hard. Even if it left her alone in bed at night.

Mr. Toadie’s smile edged into a smirk. “Mr. Stewart is ending a business call, Ms. Summerwaite. Please come with me and I’ll escort you up to his quarters. He appreciates your coming to see him this evening.”

She looked through him, dismissing any potential threat. “He should. I’m not an employee. He can’t just call me when he gets the urge to meet a Hunter face-to-face.” She didn’t wait to see the flinch the toadie gave when she used the
H
word.

There was a reason they flinched, a reason they all hated and feared not only Rowan but the Hunter Corporation. For centuries, the Vampires had marauded across the world, preying mercilessly on humans. It was, after all, their nature to do so. Until a group of priestesses, mages, holy men and women and other warriors stood together and waged war on the Vampires beneath the veil of secrecy while humans had no idea the paranormal not only existed but threatened to exterminate them.

Everywhere Vampires pushed, Hunters pushed back until there was no ground left. Vampires, however, would not have existed as long as they had without being pragmatic beings, and so they entered into negotiations with those Hunters and from that the treaty was forged and the Vampire Nation was born.

The Vampire Nation didn’t like Hunter Corp. and Hunters hated the Vampire Nation but as far as Rowan was concerned, neither could exist without the other. For better or worse.

Mr. Toadie kept his mouth shut as he led her into the private elevator to the top floor. When the doors opened, she had to admit she was impressed. Her penthouse was luxurious.
This
place was a freaking palace.

The last man to hold the position had lived in a mansion just outside the city. Just like him, the place had reeked of trying too hard.

By contrast, the new Scion had damned good taste and a whole lot of money. His quarters took up pretty much the entire top floor of the hotel. Lush white carpets alternated with Italian tile and Persian rugs. Antiques and expensive paintings dotted the place in an unobtrusive fashion. Yes, it was clear wealth ruled the space, but it wasn’t the kind of place most powerful Vamps had. It didn’t scream new money, it emanated with the surety of class.

Clive Stewart was old money. That much was obvious. She knew he’d had five centuries to amass capital, but money, even five-hundred-years’ worth, couldn’t buy class.

The Hunter Corporation had given her a dossier on Clive Stewart and she’d read it on the way back to Vegas from London.

She’d had a less-than-personable relationship with the last Scion. Oh, okay, so she staked him. Which made for a huge political problem for nearly eight months as she had to prove it was a defensible kill and that Jacques Martin had broken their laws.

The dossier was full of examples that told her the new Scion was capable of total ruthlessness. Other Vampires feared him and
The Powers That Be
admired his business sense and ability to keep his population in check. So much so that he’d been near the top of the Vampire Nation power structure for the last four-hundred-and-fifty years. Vampires respected and feared one thing—power. If Clive Stewart had held that much for that long, he’d be a force to be reckoned with. She didn’t want to be impressed.

She stood, looking out the windows over the Strip, watching the fountains at the Bellagio. In the background she heard him come in.

“Ms. Summerwaite, thank you for coming to see me.”

She turned.
Well.
That was unexpected. Holy shit, the man was delicious. No. The
Vampire
was delicious. Tall and substantial, he wore his Armani suit well. His eyes were a brilliant green. A blunt jaw framed lips that looked absolutely lickable. He was a big man. Imposing. The accent was quite nice. Like caramel.

She gave herself a mental slap. Focus!
He’s a Vampire and therefore off the menu.

“If I hadn’t come, you’d have pestered me endlessly until I did. Next time, ask instead of commanding me. I’m not one of your minions.”

His eyes flared for the briefest of moments but the mask never slipped otherwise. That little dig would have pushed a lesser man into a snit, but he wasn’t a lesser anything apparently.

“Would you like something to eat or drink?” He waved at a long bank of couches and she sat, crossing her legs. His control impressed her even as she began to wonder what it might take to make him lose it.

“No, thank you. I’d prefer you get to the point, Scion.”

He inclined his head and sat across from her. “Please, call me Clive. Since you’re newly returned and I’m here in charge now, I thought an introduction would be of use to us both. And I’d like to get some ground rules laid down. Just for safety’s sake.”

She raised a brow at his haughty tone. “
You’d
like to lay down ground rules? As far as I know, those are laid out in the treaty. I can retrieve a copy for you if you’re unfamiliar with it.”

“Ms. Summerwaite, I’m aware of the treaty’s tenets. I like to avoid murders on my watch. It costs me money. I don’t like that. There’s no need to be defensive.”

She realized then
he
was pushing her buttons too. She wasn’t sure if that irritated her more than it amused her.

“I’m pleased to hear that. I’d like to avoid murders on your watch too. My superiors’ll be relieved you plan to keep your people in line.”

“We both know what I meant. It’s your behavior I’m concerned with.”

“I obey the
rules
laid out in the treaty, Clive. Your people don’t. And when they don’t, I do my job.”

“And how does it feel that your job is killing people?” The taunt was delivered in a smooth, almost casual fashion. He watched her carefully, his body language deceptively relaxed. He was every bit the predator and she had no misconceptions about that. He’d be on her in a moment if she posed a real threat.

But he wasn’t the only predator in the room and she knew, as well as he did, that this little meeting was a show of dominance. She didn’t have a dick to take out to measure against his. But she wasn’t going to allow him to out-badass her either. Taking a calming breath, she put her hands on her knees and leaned forward. “As it happens, I like my job just fine. The dental plan is first-rate. My training started very early, I believe you know my first teacher. Let me simply reiterate this so we’re clear, because I completely agree that it’s important to be straightforward. I’m a Hunter. That means my job is to keep an eye on you all, and, if need be, kill Vampires who kill people. I don’t like Vampires who kill people. So when I have to slay them for breaking the treaty, I don’t need to go hug a teddy bear or talk to my therapist.”

“From where I sit, I come into town and find my people in utter disarray. An associate has been brutally murdered and you’re at the center of it. Surely you can understand my need to get things straight between us.” He looked so reasonable just then she wanted to smack him. But she wasn’t going to blink first.

She sighed, leaning back into the cushions. “Clive, Clive, Clive. Compared to being alive before electricity and all, I know I’m young. But I’m not new to this game. So let’s just cut the shit. You rolled into town and saw the mess
Jacques
made. I cleaned house for you people when you were too lazy to do it. Instead of thanks for identifying the Vampire who stole fifty million dollars—a Vampire who I hasten to add also killed multiple human beings—you pretend shock that I slayed him. You’re not werebunnies, you’re Vampires. You eat humans for pleasure, and not in the good way. I. Culled. The. Herd.” She shrugged.

His jaw tightened and a thrill ran through her that she’d affected him. Just as quickly, he forced himself to relax. Jacques would have popped a vein ten minutes ago but this one was made of far sterner stuff.

“I don’t need a rule breaker in my territory. My people don’t exist for you to make your reputation on. So we’re clear, Hunter, keep yourself in line or I’ll do it for you. I won’t abide any terrorizing of the Vampires here in Las Vegas.”

She stood but forced herself to do it slow. “I do my job. I obey the rules. I kill Vampires who don’t. Your
associate
Jacques didn’t. He violated the law and when he did, he stepped into my world. That’s the treaty
your
people worked out with the Hunter Corporation. You don’t like it, take it up with them. I didn’t make the rules, I simply enforce them. Me? I couldn’t possibly care less what you like or don’t like.”
You uptight British asshole
. “And as for you keeping me in line?” She looked him up and down very slowly. “The heat is making you delusional. I keep hearing what a big, bad tough guy you are, but that statement there is simply stupid.”

“You seem to have a problem with control, Ms. Summerwaite. Las Vegas is my town, I am in charge.” He held out his hands, oh-so-reasonably. “I want to be sure you don’t lose your temper and kill anyone else.”

She picked her bag up and turned, giving him her back. The message clear. Rowan Summerwaite didn’t fear him or his Nation. The minion who’d stood near the doors pretended he hadn’t heard the entire conversation and kept his eyes averted.

“Ms. Summerwaite.” His tone said he couldn’t quite believe she was walking out on him. She’d told him she wasn’t a minion and yet, he certainly liked to think so.

Turning to face him, she stayed where she was. “Yes, Scion?”

Fascinated, she watched as he unclenched his jaw. Apparently he’d never been disobeyed before. Well, she was all about bringing new experiences to those around her. A missionary of sorts even.

BOOK: Goddess With a Blade
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