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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Meet the Coven Enforcers. Mysterious. Dangerous. They Live to Fight Dark Power.


Blood and Illusion
Coven Enforcers, #3
Ann Gimpel Books, LLC

Dream Shadow Press
68K words

Genre: Historical paranormal romance with an Old Western edge
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 Book Description:

Not all witches join the Coven. Fiercely independent, Isla heads up her own small band in the San Francisco area. She’s never needed help before, but dark sorcerers drive her and her group into hiding, trapping them.

Sam’s worked for the Coven as one of their enforcers forever. He’s been there so long, the Coven is the only mistress he knows. It’s a lonely life on the road thwarting wickedness and Black Magick with his guns, his magic, and his horse, but it’s been enough to satisfy him. Until now.

A group of witches is in deep trouble. They’re not part of the Coven, but Sam is sworn to protect all witches and he rides to their assistance with several of his brothers. Nothing prepares him for the outspoken spitfire who ends up riding double with him. She’s forthright, opinionated, and downright hostile, but he’s drawn to her self-sufficiency—and her undeniable beauty. Soon, Isla is all he can think about.

Dark forces are on the move. Protecting the woman he’s falling in love with is at the very top of Sam’s list. If they manage to survive, he’ll tame her. Claim her. Make her his.

 
Excerpt from Blood and Illusion:

…Isla huddled with six other witches in a basement beneath one of the warehouses lining San Francisco’s docks. Her hair hung in filthy strands. Grime caked beneath her nails, and she stank, but at least she was alive. Russian sorcerers—or at least sorcerers who spoke Russian—had killed four of her sisters before she’d dragged the rest of their small band to a defensible position and swathed them in layers and layers of magic.

It had been a short-term solution, but they hadn’t had any choice. Not really. Only problem was they had no easy way out. If they dismantled their spell, the sorcerers would find them in a trice. If they remained where they were, eventually they’d starve to death. She was far weaker than she’d been a week ago when they’d barricaded themselves into the underground room with its dirt floor and dirt walls. Small cutouts high on two walls coincided with ground level, and provided their only source of light.

In desperation, she’d used her power stone to call Hester Thorne, a witch who’d been instrumental drawing their group into a cohesive unit. Hester promised help, but it had yet to materialize. Breath steamed through Isla’s teeth as she bent forward and stirred the shallow pool she’d created from a broken pot made of crockery and water dripping down the walls. It took a while, but the water had finally grown deep enough to become a scrying instrument.

Weariness dogged her, and her vision blurred. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing them to focus next time she dragged her lids open. Thinking it might help, she pushed herself upright and walked around the six- by ten-foot room.

“What are you doing?” Kat eyed her balefully out of bloodshot blue eyes. “I was asleep.” Dirty blonde hair had been braided to keep it out of the way.

“Aye, and ye’ll be asleep permanently if ye’re not careful,” Isla shot back, the brogue from her native Scotland thicker than usual. It was one of the reasons she and Hester had bonded so tightly. Shared roots from Scotland’s Highlands and islands.

“Isla! Come look at your pool!” Rowan cried. Silver hair fell about her, dragging in the dirt, but her brown eyes were lit with hope.

Isla skidded to her knees and stared at the water’s surface. Nine men strutted down the rock-strewn sand fronting the ocean. Tall, rangy, hard-bodied and clad in leathers, it was obvious they were used to ruling the world. At first she thought they were a new passel of sorcerers, but she forced herself to look closer.

Not trusting her first take, she took a ragged breath. Maybe she wished for salvation from the room that was likely to become their crypt so desperately, she was imagining things, “What does it look like to you?” she asked Rowan.

The other woman turned to face her. “Help. That’s what it looks like. Those men are bleeding power, and it’s the good kind.”

The other women skittered across the floor, jostling one another to get close to the pool so they could see.

“Be careful!” Isla cautioned. “Else ye’ll tip the dish, and we might not live long enough for me to refill it.”

Her heart hammered against her ribs as she took in the men. One of them in particular caught her attention and held it. Long, blond hair spilled across his shoulders, and his eyes were a bright, turquoise blue. Strong bones carved his cheekbones into bas-relief, and his jaw was square, determined. Buff colored leathers covered him, and they were skintight, leaving virtually nothing to her imagination. Broad shoulders led to deeply muscled arms and narrow hips with a high, tight ass. Long legs disappeared into boots that laced to his knees.

Her throat grew dry. Many a year had passed since she’d experienced such an immediate reaction to a man, and it confused her.

Must be because I’m half-staved.

Och aye, and ye know better, the other half of her brain inserted dryly. Whoever he was, he was one gorgeous man.

Understanding slammed into her, and she was ashamed she hadn’t put two and two together immediately. “They must be the aid Hester promised.” She glanced at the other women.

Rowan lurched upright. “If that’s true, then we need to go outside and help them.”

Isla licked her chapped lips. “They’re not looking as if they need any help, but at least that way they won’t have to hunt for us, and mayhap we can leave this accursed place.”

“You’re the one with the strongest magic,” Kat pointed out. “And the only one who can project telepathy beyond the enchantment hiding us. See if they answer.”

Isla exhaled sharply. It was a reasonable suggestion, but not without risk. If she was wrong, and those men were actually allied with the dark, she’d have given away their position. Opened them to a certain death. Or worse, imprisonment at the hands of evil.

“I was in your mind,” Rowan said, her voice surprisingly gentle. “We’re as good as dead now. I say we chance it.”

“I was coming around to the same conclusion.” Isla breathed deeply to center herself and drew out her pink moonstone. Before she could think things to death, and her courage failed utterly, she linked to the stone and sent her magic thrumming outward. No need to make things fancy, so she settled on the shortest phrase imaginable.

“Are ye who Hester sent?”

Depending on the answer, she’d ask for proof and take things from there.

 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Warm Welcome to Michelle Pillow, NYT Bestselling Author

It's such a pleasure to have Michelle on my blog. Her writing is a treat, and her romances will stay with you long after you've closed the book. Oh, and did I mention that dragons loom large in her books too?

 
Find out more about Hunted By the Dragon!
Bounty hunter by trade. Dragon-shifter by birth. This alpha dragon is in need of a mate.
New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Michelle M. Pillow
Available wherever e-books are sold. Click here for buy links!
 Bounty hunter by trade, dragon-shifter by birth, Seanan came to Earth in search of a mate. Two years later, he finds himself crossing paths with a woman he suspects may be exactly what he's been looking for--too bad the frustrating female is the reason he's stranded on Earth in the first place.

A Dragon Lords Romance
 
 

 

 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dark, Dangerous, Magical Men Who LIVE to Annihilate Evil


Blood and Sorcery
Coven Enforcers, #2
By Ann Gimpel

Dream Shadow Press

Release Date: 8/1/16
Historical paranormal romance with a steampunk edge AMAZON US: http://tinyurl.com/zygdllj
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Coven Enforcers = Dark, Dangerous, Magical Men
Coven Witches bow to no one—least of all Enforcers.
Sparks ignite. Tempers run high. Passion explodes. Hot. Sweet. Impossible to ignore....

 

Book Description:

Joshua committed his life to fighting Black Magick. Not sure who he hates worse, dark sorcerers or the clerics who tortured and mutilated his family, he lives on the road with his horse and his magic, working as a Coven enforcer. Breana Giraud is the only woman he’s ever loved, and until very recently she was married to someone else.

Breana’s husband, Don, sold his soul to the devil, embracing dark practices. Along the way, he corrupted their daughter. While Breana could’ve turned him in to Coven justice without a second thought, she couldn’t bring herself to implicate her child. Still reeling from her daughter’s death at the hands of evil, and grateful her husband met the vicious end he deserved, she feels broken, damaged. The last thing on her mind is falling in love.

Joshua tries to hold back, give Breana room to mourn her losses, but if he has his way, she’ll become his wife. With Don dead, and the path to his heart’s true love finally clear, he’ll do anything he can to make her his. Even if it means fighting his way past the dark mages’ leader, who wants her for his own.

 
Excerpt from Blood and Sorcery:

Salt Lake City, Utah Territory

Breana Giraud bolted upright in her bed, the darkness around her shattering into fire-tinged motes of black. Heart thudding hard against her chest, throat constricted with fear, she reached for power, intent on shrouding herself in a protective spell. Goddamn her husband. He was at it again. It was like him to wait until she was sleeping—and she had to sleep sometime.

Once upon a time, she’d cared about Don—a witch with power to match her own. But he’d been seduced by the dark and become deeply entrenched in Black Magick. Shielding herself against him drained her, but she didn’t have any choice. Sucking air around the narrow place that used to be her throat, she sent magic spiraling outward. She didn’t sense him near, but the enchantment that just dragged her from a sound sleep had Don’s name—and sliminess—stamped all over it.

Her eyes snapped open. Don was dead.

Dead.

What the hell was happening to her?

He couldn’t harm her anymore, so why was his stench all over the room? It wasn’t even the bedroom they’d shared. She’d moved to the far end of the hall to escape the horrible memories that swamped her every time she thought about him.

Guess that didn’t work very well.

She pressed her tongue hard against her teeth and reached for her magic again. Surely she could summon a mage light. Simplest of spells, it required almost nothing in the way of power. Finally, after she was shaking and sweating with effort, a wavery blue light formed, casting the bedroom in eerie shadows. Breana urged her light to burn hotter, brighter. Her teeth were chattering, and she felt as if she’d never be warm again. Icy sweat dripped down her sides.

She tugged the heavy, wool blanket around her shuddering form, but it didn’t help so she dragged air hard into lungs that had nearly forgotten how to cooperate. And then did it again. And again, until she was able to clamp her jaws in a harsh, desperate line.

Her light flickered and brightened, and the ball of fear making it hard to breathe eased the slightest bit. Falling back asleep was laughable, so she dug her way out from under the covers and pulled a robe woven from soft, cream-colored wool over her linen nightdress. Sheepskin slippers came next.

At least the godawful chill that had permeated the air was dissipating, and the reek of evil along with it. Brimstone held a sulfur taint that burned the back of her throat and made her skin prickle with a million points of discomfort.

She blinked back tears as she made her way downstairs, her mage light bouncing over one shoulder. The dark had taken both her husband and her daughter, and robbed her of what had once been a warm and comfortable marriage. She hated Black Magick with a passion. Hated what it had almost done to her as she walked a tightrope between her husband’s demands and her responsibility to the Coven.

“Yeah, and I did a shitty job all the way round,” she muttered as she poured a cup of tepid coffee into a mug. It was bitter as all get out from sitting on the back of the woodstove since early the previous morning, but she gulped it down anyway, wanting the quick stimulation.

Too keyed up to sit, she wandered to a window and looked to the east. Dawn wasn’t far off, but the horizon was still dark. Days were growing longer, but it was still winter, and it might not get light until seven. She’d sent a meticulous letter to Coven headquarters in New York. Within it, she detailed her sins in not turning her husband and daughter over to Coven justice—once she fully understood their allegiance had shifted to dark power.

That letter had certainly arrived by now.

What would they do to her?

A snort of derision curled her mouth into a bitter smile. She knew what she’d do to someone in her position. Banish them from the Coven for starters. After that, it would be anyone’s guess, but the Coven wouldn’t be out of line demanding her life as punishment for shielding her family from what they deserved.

Not much she could do. About any of it. No. She needed to keep going, day by day, and let the wheel spin as it would. She’d find out soon enough. Certainly by this coming summer when most—if not all—of the Coven had relocated to Utah Territory. At least she’d given Luke and Abigail a good start by marrying them. Memories of that day—and their joy—kept her going through the hardest spots.

She plodded back to the stove and poured the last of the coffee into her cup before she opened the woodstove door and sent a jot of magic to stir the embers. Once they crackled merrily, she added chunks of wood and refilled the kettle on the back of the stove with water from the pump next to the sink. The chores were automatic, and they settled her nerves enough to dissect what had driven her awake.

Coven enforcers, a group of hard-bodied, sharp-eyed men, who kept witches on the straight and narrow, had seen to it that both Don and her daughter, Carolyn, met their end in mage fire, purging their souls of darkness. And they’d killed Alistair MacDuff, head of the Alchemical Council. She and Abigail had seen to the death of Alistair’s henchman before he, too, was dumped in the purification of mage fire.

“Guess we didn’t get them all,” she muttered as she ground coffee beans with a mortar and pestle.

“If them refers to who I think it does,” Joshua drawled from the kitchen doorway, “of course they’re not all dead. That fresh coffee I smell?”

Breana curved her mouth into a soft smile. “You know damn good and well it is. I drank the dregs from yesterday morning. Hang on till the water boils, and I’ll brew a fresh pot.”

“Don’t rush. I got time.” Joshua moved closer to the stove, extending his hands toward its warmth. Tight-fitting, buff-colored leathers, similar to what most Coven enforcers wore, hugged him like a second skin. Flame red hair hung loose to the middle of his back.

Breana turned to face him squarely and crossed her arms beneath her breasts. “Looks as if you got up in a hurry. Your hair’s not braided.”

 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dark, Dangerous, Magical Men Who LIVE to Annihilate Evil


Blood and Magic
Coven Enforcers, #1
By Ann Gimpel

Dream Shadow Press
#NewRelease

Release Date: 7/18/16
Genre: Historical paranormal romance with a steampunk edge AMAZON US: http://tinyurl.com/zygdllj
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Coven Enforcers = Dark, Dangerous, Magical Men
Coven Witches bow to no one—least of all Enforcers.
Sparks ignite. Tempers run high. Passion explodes. Hot. Sweet. Impossible to ignore....




Book Description

Magic didn’t just find Luke Caulfield. It chased him down, bludgeoned him, and has been dogging him ever since. Some lessons are harder than others, but Luke embraces danger, upping the ante to give it one better. An enforcer for the Coven, a large, established group of witches, his latest assignment is playing bodyguard to the daughter of Coven leaders.

Abigail Ruskin is chaperoning a spoiled twelve-year-old from New York to her parents’ home in Utah Territory when Luke gets on their stagecoach in Colorado. A powerful witch herself, Abigail senses Luke’s magic, but has no idea what he’s doing on her stagecoach. Stuck between the petulant child and Luke’s raw sexual energy, Abigail can’t wait for the trip to end.

Unpleasant truths surface about the child. While Abigail’s struggling with those, wraiths, wolves, and dark mages launch an attack. Luke’s so attracted to Abigail, she’s almost all he can think about, but he’s leery too. The child is just plain evil. Is Abigail in league with her? It might explain the odd attack that took out their driver and one of their horses. In over his head, he summons enforcer backup.

Will they help him save the woman he’s falling in love with, or demand her immediate execution?

 
Excerpt from Blood and Magic:

…Cursing her long skirts and cumbersome petticoats, Abigail used magic to skip the coach steps. Power blazed from her hands before she could see what she was aiming at. She was afraid if she took even a few seconds to hunt for a target, something would get her. Being dead wasn’t desirable, but it was better than the other things wraiths could do to her. Those turned her blood to ice chips.

With her booted feet planted firmly on the ground, Abigail finally got a good look at the wraiths. She drew magic from deep in the earth and sent it chasing after them when they jumped sideways to evade her magic. Insubstantial as tall, thin puffs of smoke, they had glowing charcoal eyes. Long, blood red claws graced what passed for hands. Binding their victims with fiery strands was a favorite trick—just before they sucked your soul right out of you, leaving a handy vessel for one of their masters to occupy. Wraiths used to feed only on the living, making them into new wraiths. They’d been bad enough then, but now they functioned as hired thugs for practitioners of the Black Arts. It lent them the ability to operate in broad daylight. Abigail wondered which group of sorcerers this crew worked for. The Alchemical Council? Black Magick?

Good God but there were a lot of them. Why? Surely they weren’t interested in the contents of the coach, which only carried mail and Carolyn’s substantial luggage. Ducking and spinning to escape being entwined in a blazing net, she thought about the girl’s steamer trunks. Abigail only helped pack two of them. The third had been locked and ready to go. Could that possibly be what the wraiths were after?

She shut off her thoughts so she could focus. The ragged sound of her own panting thrummed loud in her ears as she chucked one killing blow after another. Bolts of blue-white light flared from both hands. No point in running anything less than wide open. For each wraith she obliterated, three more showed up to take its place. Her chest ached from breathing sooty air and wraith stench.

Heat seared her back. Damnation! Her skirts were on fire. Abigail funneled magic behind her to quell the flames, but it didn’t work. Smoke stung her nostrils. Fire had already eaten a long gouge in one of her hands. If she dropped to the ground to deal with her burning clothes, the wraiths would pounce. Terror licked at her along with the flames.

In spite of her brave thoughts earlier, she didn’t want to die. Not here. And not like this. She cursed her corset. It was hard to get a decent breath. If she’d known she was going to have to fight—

“Keep after ’em,” Luke growled from behind her. “I have your dress under control.” She felt him drape something heavy around her shoulders—a lap robe he must’ve snatched from inside the coach—and press it close against her with his body. Gratitude wrapped warm tentacles around her. Having him right next to her made her already pounding heart do flip-flops, but she forced herself to focus on something other than all those rock-hard muscles jammed against her back.

“Are they all on this side of the coach?” she wheezed, still struggling to breathe. Between the smoke, her stays, and Luke’s body so near, it was a losing battle.

“Pretty much. Guess they want you more than me. Actually, they’ve been trying to get to the trunks up top.”

A discordant warning note sounded in the back of her mind. What the hell was in the girl’s luggage that would draw wraiths? Her back wasn’t hot anymore, so she assumed the fire was out.

That fire, maybe. The one inside me is just getting going…

She squirmed from more than the smoke and struggled not to turn around and press the front of herself against Luke. They had bigger problems than his undeniable charisma. Luke didn’t seem to be in a hurry to move away, though. He remained front to back with her, and she absorbed power flowing from him. Damn, but he was strong. What she wouldn’t give for that kind of magic.

It would help if I could breathe…

With difficulty, Abigail forced her mind away from Luke’s charms. “The driver?” She hadn’t been round to the front of the wagon to check.

“Dead.”

“Ever driven one of these things?”

“Concentrate on killing, woman. If we can’t get shut of the wraiths, ’twon’t matter a diddly damn.”

 

 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Step Right Up! Welcome to Rubicon International Where All the Agents are Shifters.


Lars,
Rubicon International, #2
By Ann Gimpel
Dream Shadow Press

63K words
Release Date: 6/28/16
Genre: Shifter Romantic Suspense AMAZON US: http://tinyurl.com/zygdllj
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Undercover Shifter Bad Boys = Alphas With Serious Attitude

Tumble Across the Rubicon Into the Death-Riddled World of International Espionage

 Book Description:

Tamara MacBride has a much bigger problem than hiding her shifter side from the world. By the skin of her teeth, and with a smattering of Irish luck, she manages to kill her sister’s murderer. Escaping from the scene of the crime is much harder than she anticipated. Just when she thinks she might be safe, her cab driver shrieks and slumps over the wheel.

An unknown assailant terminates Lars Kinsvogel’s target. Pleased by the outcome—after all dead is dead—he exchanges the glitz of Monte Carlo for a nearby airport, intent on collecting the private plane he left there. He’s no sooner arrived when a cab jumps the curb, and he races over to investigate. There’s not much he can do for the cabbie, but his passenger is still very much alive.

Trying to hustle Tamara out of the cab is tough. She’s frozen by fear, but when Lars lays out the rest of his plan to move her out of danger’s path, her temper flares. He can’t leave her alone in Monte Carlo. Can he convince her to trust him in time to save her life?

 
Excerpt from Lars:

Lars Kinsvogel sucked in an annoyed breath. Anxiety and greed thickened the air in Monte Carlo’s Place de Casino, and he stifled a choking sound. Damn his hypersensitive shifter senses. If it weren’t for them, the desperation hovering around him wouldn’t be quite so palpable. Casinos were always like this, though, a haven for the rash and reckless. What had likely begun as a harmless pastime turned into hardcore addiction for an unfortunate few, forcing them to return again and again despite diminishing returns.

Hope springs eternal. All the poor sods need is one more spin of the wheel, another hand of cards… Lars glanced up, right into the croupier’s beady gaze.

“Would monsieur like to place a bet?” The croupier grinned with all the warmth of a hammerhead shark, displaying a mouthful of bad teeth. What was it with the French and their aversion to dentistry? Lars shook his head and made shooing motions with one hand. He’d have to either join the baccarat game soon or move on, but he could get away with loitering for a few more minutes without drawing undue attention to himself.

His target, a powerfully built man with features revealing Chinese ancestry, had an arm slung around a striking brunette. Maybe she was one of the hookers who worked the casino circuit, or maybe she was a steady thing for the man.

Lars considered it and decided she could be both. Around five feet eight, she had a lush, curvy body, dark hair cut into a stylish bob that fell a few inches past her shoulders, and memorable eyes the color of a restless ocean. A short, black sheath hugged her like a second skin. Open nearly to her waist, it displayed half her full breasts. Even though Lars’ appraisal was surreptitious, he forced his gaze elsewhere. The woman was sex incarnate, and he didn’t need anything diverting him from his objective.

Jaret Chen pressed chips into his companion’s hand and urged her to pick a number. He gave one of her breasts a familiar squeeze, which earned him a smile, perfectly rouged lips stretching over impossibly straight teeth—and a slight shake of her head. Color stained her tanned skin. Lars realized he was looking at the woman again, wondering how her breasts would feel beneath his fingers. She seemed uncomfortable with Jaret’s frank exploration of her body, so she probably wasn’t a pro. For some unexplained reason, Lars felt relieved. The woman was too elegant to earn her living lying on her back.

He snorted to himself and studied the flashing display above the baccarat table. Maybe the woman wasn’t French. That might explain her perfect teeth—and her discomfort with having her body mauled in public. At least she held Jaret’s attention. So far the drug dealer hadn’t spared him so much as a sidelong glance. Lars had never met the man, but knew a great deal about him from an extensive dossier provided by Rubicon International. Deeply involved in the heroin trade from the Middle East, across the Mediterranean, and into Europe, Jaret was one of the principals in a large operation—and Lars’ current target.

He sized the man up. Maybe six feet, he had a barrel chest. Strongly muscled arms strained against the fabric of his cream-colored, silk dress shirt. His art deco tie had been loosened. Dark eyes, pronounced cheekbones, and straight dark hair cut short blended with his business attire. For all intents and purposes, he was indistinguishable from the phalanx of wealthy—and wannabe wealthy—men circulating through the casino. Lars glanced at his own cream-colored silk shirt and black linen pants. With the exception that his tie was still firmly knotted, he and Jaret were dressed as twins.

Guess neither of us wanted to stick out in anyone’s memory.

Lars glanced at his Rolex. Close to midnight and time to move on. He’d seen enough. Now it was a matter of figuring out where and when to strike. These things always went more smoothly when he was close to invisible. He melted into the crowd and made his way outside. The casino fronted the French Riviera, and Lars stood looking out at the Mediterranean for long moments. The water was quiet tonight, waves barely slapping the white sand beach. His cell phone, set on silent, vibrated against his hip, and he tugged it from a pocket to look at the display.

Private. Damn! Could be anyone.

Lars punched the answer icon, held the phone to his ear, and waited. No need to say anything until he knew who was on the other end.

“Are you somewhere you can talk?”

Lars inhaled sharply as Garen LeRochefort’s voice came through the phone’s speaker.

Another shifter, Garen had founded Rubicon International with Lars hundreds of years before. The mechanics of the spy game had changed drastically between the late seventeen hundreds and modern times, but the basics—kill or be killed—hadn’t altered much. Everyone who worked for Rubicon International was some type of shifter. Lars’ animal form was a mountain lion, Garen’s a wolf.

Lars loped farther down the beach until he cleared several couples engaged in deep, hungry kisses before responding. “What has happened?” Something must have, or Garen wouldn’t have risked contact.

“You need to leave.”

“But I have not—”

“Doesn’t matter,” Garen cut in. “I’ll explain when you’re back in the office on a fully encrypted line.”

Lars thought about his twin engine Piper Seneca waiting at the Nice airport, twenty-four kilometers from Monte Carlo. It gave him freedom to come and go, and was much cheaper to operate than the business class jets he also owned. “Maybe I could still—”

“No!” The one word thundered so loud, Lars moved the phone away from his ear. “Don’t even go back to your room.” Garen hesitated. “Old friend. Trust me on this.” The line went dead.

Lars stared at the iPhone’s display and dropped the device back into his pocket. He’d been compromised. He wasn’t certain quite how, and a part of him was curious as hell. He kept walking, swinging in a wide circle to head back toward the Hotel de Paris. Garen had said not to return to his room, but if he was careful, maybe he could learn something critical that would help their side.

Ja, forewarned is forearmed,” he muttered.

Keycard in hand, he let himself into a side door of the rambling old structure, got his bearings, and started cautiously up a stairwell. His suite was on the second floor, at the very end of the wing facing the Mediterranean. He’d always loved the old hotel with its thick, patterned carpets and antique lighting and furnishings. Staying next to the walls, he used a bit of shifter magic to cast a don’t look here spell. It wouldn’t keep someone determined from seeing him, but it didn’t require much magic, either.

He entered the second floor a few doors from his own and scanned the empty hallway, his senses on high alert. Midnight was early in Monte Carlo, a city where people frequently stayed up through dawn and slept the day away, so he fully expected to see other guests, but the hall was mercifully empty. He padded silently toward his door and examined it, wishing he’d set a trap. He inhaled, trying to sort scents, but there were too many to make sense of. He could leave, just walk away like Garen had almost ordered him to, but Lars had never been a coward, and he was more intrigued than frightened. He’d spent years worming his way out of dicey situations. This was just one more, and he was damned if he’d walk away from his things. Not unless he had to.

He took a deep breath, tugged his guaranteed-not-to-set-off-metal-detectors .32 caliber revolver from its ankle holster, and shoved the key card into the slot in the door. A tiny electric motor hummed before the deadbolt snicked out of the way. He turned the latch, kicked the door open, and pivoted from side to side, scanning the sitting room of his suite, gun at the ready. Lars waited in the doorway, barely breathing, and then he heard a muted click, followed by an unmistakable whirr, and knew.

A bomb.

He cursed in German, not knowing if he was more annoyed with the turn of events or with himself for not taking Garen’s advice and getting the hell out of there.

* * * *

Tamara MacBride pushed the betting chips back into Jaret’s hand. “Sure and I’m not feeling like wagering just now,” she murmured. “Why don’t you do it for me?”

He shot her an odd look. “But you like to gamble.”

You only think I do.

“Something we had for supper didn’t quite settle. Would you mind if I sat somewhere?” She swayed a bit on her feet to make her statement more realistic and sent a weak smile his way. In truth, she was a bit nauseated. Between sweat and greed, the air in the casino stank of humanity’s darker side. Expensive colognes added a queer edge, their rich scents intensifying as their owners’ anxiety rose. If she hadn’t been a shifter, she might not have noticed, at least not as much. So far, she’d done a decent job hiding what she was from Jaret. She aimed to keep things that way.

He ran a thick index finger down the bare skin between her breasts. “We could return to our rooms.”

She crinkled her face in what she hoped looked like an apology and did her best to ooze regret. “Better wait until my tummy settles.” He was arrogant enough, he had no idea how repulsive she found him. Thank all the bloody saints, she’d managed to keep any sexual activities between them tamped down to nothing because of his heroin habit. According to a bit of Internet research, she supposed he could probably get hard, but the drug suppressed orgasms. At least so far, he’d been much more interested in his next shot of dope and drifting into an opiate-induced dreamy void than in bothering her for sex.

Jaret returned his attention to the baccarat table. “I’ll just be over there.” She pointed to a row of padded Louis Fourteenth chairs with bowed legs. Jaret nodded absently. His pupils were very small, so he was still fully under the influence of his last shot. That meant she had at least a couple of hours before he’d need to leave the casino.

Tamara tottered to a chair on ridiculously high heels. They made her feet ache, but Jaret liked it when she dressed like a fancy woman and pleasing him was high on her list. She settled onto the plush seat and slipped her shoes off. A waiter stopped and arched an inquiring brow. Nodding pleasantly at him, she ordered club soda. Rubbing the bridge of her nose between two fingers, she made a grab for her courage. So far, her plan had gone off without a hitch. The only thing left was to finish things off.

The waiter handed her drink over, along with a bowl of salted nuts, and she set both on a nearby chair. The ebb and flow of noise in the crowded room eddied around her. A quick glance at Jaret reassured her that he was still deeply engrossed in gambling—his second favorite addiction, right after heroin. He didn’t care much for women, other than as window dressing and so the other men would see him as some sort of stud.