Original Paperback
May 2006

 

A TASTE OF DARKNESS

"Mackenzie Vampires" series, Book 3

Digital Re-issue
January 2012

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He’d lived a thousand years for this? Reinn Mackenzie was one ticked-off vampire.

Werewolves--furry pains in the butt. Werecats--sneaky whisker-twitching manipulators. Reinn hated them all. But most of all, he hated his job. Guardian of the Blood. What a crock.

The Mackenzie council, in its infinite stupidity, had ordered him to protect the purity of the clan’s bloodline. What purity? They were all just a bunch of bloodsuckers, for crying out loud. Besides, how could he destroy a clan member for mating with someone not on the council’s approved list when the very sight of a certain little werecat revved his engine?

Kisa Evans made it impossible for him to think about anything but the dangerous fantasy of freeing his own inner beast. No matter how he fought the desire to feel the soft heat of her throat beneath his lips, the craving only grew. Kisa might be the enemy, but he longed to show her the sensual pleasure to be found in...

A TASTE OF DARKNESS

 



 
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Werewolves--furry pains in the butt.

Werecats--sneaky whisker-twitching manipulators.

Werejerks--every freakin’ loser with a “were” in front of its name.

Reinn hated them all. But most of all, Reinn hated his job. Guardian of the Blood. What a crock.

He’d been a warrior in some form or another for most of his thousand years of existence. When he’d finally decided to walk away from that life, he’d bought a house and property in the Colorado Rockies, and then settled down to be alone. That was it. He. Wanted. To. Be. Alone. No friends, no emotional chains, no vulnerabilities.

Yeah, he was a cold bastard. But he was one cold bastard who was still alive. So how had the clan’s governing council rewarded him for surviving longer than any other Mackenzie? They’d made him the official clan exterminator. In other words, he was a glorified weed-whacker. He lopped off the head of any member of the almighty Mackenzie clan who was crazy enough to mate with a shape-shifter or demon. Dumbasses. Who’d want to do that?

He climbed off his bike--the classic Harley was the only possession he’d allowed himself to care for--and grabbed his pack. Reinn left the back scabbard that held his sword right where it was, strapped to his back. He didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about him toting a weapon into the inn. Not that he needed a weapon. He was the oldest and most powerful of the Mackenzie vampires. But the sword was a symbolic thing, a nod to the condemned allowing him to fight for his life. Stupid clan law. If you were going to kill, just do it and get out. He stared at the Woo Woo Inn.

The old Victorian mansion surrounded by forest looked spooky enough beneath a summer full moon, but Reinn knew from last year’s visit that what was inside was a lot weirder than what was outside.

The only ones who stayed at the inn were nonhuman entities, idiots who liked to pretend they were nonhuman entities, or humans who were paranormal junkies, the ones who hung on every UFO report or ghost sighting. Together they turned happenings at the inn into supernatural suckfests. Wouldn’t catch him dead here if he didn’t have a vampire to off.

He tried to push aside his distaste for the inn’s Amityville-wannabe commercialism and climbed the wooden steps of the old-fashioned wrap-around porch. Yanking the door open, he stepped inside.

Okay, if he had to stay here for a few days, he may as well find something good to say about the place. He thought about that as he headed for the small registration desk. The inn was air-conditioned. It felt great after the humid New Jersey night. And he’d have a chance to get caught up on things when he talked to Thrain and Cindy. Not that they were friends, because he didn’t have friends.

When he reached the desk, though, all positive thoughts vanished. The woman seated at the desk crossed her long legs, making her short tight black skirt ride high on her smooth thighs, and leaned toward him, assuring that he got an eye-popping visual where her black top gaped open. She ran her fingers through her long red hair as she smiled at him, a predatory smile mirrored in the gleam of her strange amber eyes. Sparkle Stardust, in the flesh. Bare flesh. Hell.

“Well, hello, gorgeous.” She slid her gaze the length of his body. “You have no idea how I’ve looked forward to seeing you again.” Emphasis on the word “seeing.” Sparkle was the kind of woman who could make a compliment sound threatening. “Ganymede, Trouble, and I have so many things planned for you.”

Ganymede. That would be the fat gray cat sitting on the desk staring at him with avid interest. So Trouble must be the brown dog wagging its tail as it watched from beside the desk. Woman, dog, and cat all had the same amber eyes, and they were all going to be tacks on his road to the quick completion of his job.

He’d seen first hand what kind of havoc the woman and cat could cause between them. What had Thrain called them? Cosmic troublemakers. If they were here, then bad things were going to happen. Great. Just great.

Reinn didn’t know anything about the dog, but if he was with the other two, then Trouble was probably a good name. “So you guys are using your real names this time?”

Sparkle blinked at him. “Of course. Sparkle Stardust is who I am.”

“Yo, Reinn, what brings you to Jersey?” Behind the good-old-boy fat-cat persona, something powerful and dangerous shone in the cat’s eyes. “Bet you didn’t know that all the shifters and demons in North America went on high alert as soon as word came down that the Guardian of the Blood was back from Australia. You scare them shitless.” Ganymede paused as if savoring the thought of scaring someone shitless. “And they don’t have a clue what your name is or what you look like because of that can’t-take-a-vampire’s-picture thing. All they know is you’re a ruthless killing machine. You’re the man!”

“Mmm. Powerful vampires are soooo sexy.” Sparkle’s sensual drawl hinted at where she’d like to direct all that power. “And you’re the biggest and baddest of all the Mackenzies. It makes me all tingly just thinking about you.”

“Every man makes you tingly.” Ganymede sent Reinn a belligerent stare. “Just remember, hotshot, that you might make her tingly, but I’m the only one who lights her fire.” He stood, stretched, and then sat down again. “Have to keep the old body limber. Oh, since the place is overrun with humans, I decided I’d better do the telepathy crap again. I thought about taking a different form this time, but cats are best for sneaking and spying. I live to sneak and spy.”

Ganymede yawned. He was probably ready for a nap after that tough stretching exercise.

Reinn searched for a believable reason for his presence here. “I had a few free weeks, so I decided to get some R&R.” Yeah, like he’d choose the Woo Woo Inn for a relaxing vacation. “So where’s Thrain and Cindy? And why are you here?”

Sparkle studied her nails. “Cindy and Thrain are in Scotland. They’re celebrating their first wedding anniversary by visiting Cindy’s dad and stepmom.”

Uh-oh. This didn’t sound good. “And?”

Sparkle didn’t answer. She seemed enthralled by the light shining off her nails.

“We told Cindy we’d run the place until she got back. Sparkle got someone to take care of her candy store in Texas while she’s here.” Ganymede watched a woman walk by eating a doughnut. “I could get down with a doughnut right now. When’s breakfast?” He stared at Sparkle until she looked away from her nails.

“What?” She looked from Reinn to Ganymede. “Oh, breakfast. I’ll check to see if Katie’s done once we get Reinn settled.”

Reinn glanced at his watch--9:00pm. He’d forgotten that everyone at the Woo Woo Inn slept during the day and played their supernatural games at night. So breakfast was after sunset and dinner was sometime in the early hours of the morning. Not that he cared. All Reinn wanted to do was go to his room, drop off his stuff, and then do some mingling.

“Look, no one knows my name, but just to be safe, call me Daniel...” He glanced at the painting of the Woo Woo Inn on the wall behind Sparkle. Wrapped in night shadows, it was one creepy house. “Night.”

“Oh, yesss.” Only Sparkle could make approval sound like an orgasm. “I like it. Daniel is a strong masculine name, and strong masculine men are incredibly arousing. What can I say about Night? It makes me think of hot sex in dark erotic places.”

“Oh brother.” Ganymede looked long-suffering.

Trouble just looked confused.

Sparkle stood and then stretched much like Ganymede had. “You’re in the Werecat room, second floor, turn left. You’ll find a brochure on your night table listing meals and activities. Right after breakfast everyone gathers in the parlor to talk about what happened the night before. Any questions?”

Reinn was suspicious. “Any particular reason you put me in the Werecat room?” He didn’t believe in coincidences.

Sparkle gazed at him from wide innocent eyes. Uh-huh. And he was supposed to believe a being whose sole purpose in life was to mess with people’s sex lives ever had an innocent moment? No chance.

“I always try to match guests with rooms that are symbolically significant to them. If I remember correctly, your job as the Guardian of the Blood is to keep members of your clan from getting it on with werecreatures and demons.” She shrugged. “The Demon, Werewolf, and Vampire rooms were taken.”

Made sense, but Reinn still didn’t trust her. But then, he didn’t trust anyone. “Right. Give me my key, and I’ll head on up to my room.”

Sparkle handed him a big old-fashioned key. He turned toward the stairs.

“Whoa there, bloodsucker.”

Reinn paused to look back at Ganymede.

“We’re having a big wedding in a week. A vampire and a werecat. Now I’m not saying you’re here to take off the groom’s head.” That’s exactly what he was saying. “But since we have lots of guests here who’re looking forward to that wedding, I’ll keep your sword nice and safe. You can pick it up when you leave. Oh, and if you try to do the job without your sword, you’ll have to answer to me.”

“And if I don’t give up my sword?”

Ganymede offered his version of a cat shrug. “You don’t stay at the inn.”

Reinn narrowed his gaze on Ganymede. The gloves were off. He didn’t for a minute underestimate the cat’s power. But he’d do what he had to do, and to hell with Ganymede, Sparkle, and Trouble. Without comment, he took off his back scabbard and handed it to Sparkle.

Tail wagging, and mouth open in a happy doggy grin, Trouble stood and trotted over to Reinn. He looked up and woofed.

“What’s with the dog?” Anything with sharp teeth that looked that happy made him suspicious.

Sparkle had returned to a contemplation of her nails. “Trouble doesn’t say much. We gave him to Thrain and Cindy as a wedding gift, and they’re the only ones he’s warmed up to. But he seems to like you. Strange.” She seemed to realize how that had come out, because she looked away from her nails to smile at him. A smile filled with wicked intent. “Not that you aren’t supremely lovable.”

“Sure.” He’d never been lovable. Never wanted to be lovable. And he’d bet Ganymede had ordered the dog to stick with him so he couldn’t take the head of the dumb vampire groom when no one was looking. The dog was a snitch, but no drooling pooch would stop him when he decided to make his move. “Will he keep quiet about who I am?”

Sparkle did her pouty act. “Cosmic troublemakers know how to keep their mouths shut.”

Yeah. Right. Rein climbed the stairs with Trouble beside him.

“When you were a baby vampire, did you--”

“I was never a baby vampire. I was born human.” Trouble’s voice in Reinn’s head was the voice of a little kid. Okay, a young cosmic troublemaker. He’d have to simplify his explanations. “Listen up, because I’m only going to say this once. I was human until I was twenty-eight years old and then I became vampire. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. That’s just the way things work in the Mackenzie clan. Got it so far?”

“No.” Trouble looked up at him from wide puzzled eyes.

“Good. I was a Viking until the clan decided to settle in Scotland. Then I became a Highlander. We took the clan name Mackenzie so we’d sort of fit in.”

“Did you?”

“Sometimes. Okay, not so much. But hey, we were vampires. Anyone gave us a hard time, we invited them to dinner. We just didn’t tell them they were bringing the drinks. Everything clear now?”

“Uh-uh.”

Reinn patted him on the head. “Give it a few years, kid, and it’ll all make sense.” Turning left, he searched for the Werecat room.

“Why do you want to kill Alan? He’s a vampire, but he’s nice to me. Julie feeds me under the table, and she’s going to marry him. She’s a shape-shifter. Don’t you like shape-shifters?”

“I don’t have anything against shape-shifters.” Besides wishing the earth would open and swallow them all. “But my clan has a law that shape-shifters and vampires can’t...marry each other. So I’m like a cop enforcing the law.” He didn’t want to confuse the kid, so he didn’t explain the blood thing.

“Wow, a cop. I’d like to be a cop when I grow up.” Trouble looked at him with hero-worship shining in his brown doggy eyes.

“Sure, kid.” Reinn was an anti-hero, but he wouldn’t tell Trouble that. Let the kid keep his illusions for a few more years. He knew what it was like to have those illusions stripped away too soon.

Reinn stopped in front of the Werecat room. He put the key in the lock and turned. Nothing happened. Putting down his pack, he fiddled with the key. He was just getting ready to use his power to open the damned door, when the sounds of voices stopped him. He’d have to wait until they went past.

As the voices drew nearer, he wrapped his mental shields around him. No being could touch his mind or even identify him as a vampire now. A thousand years of building his defenses, both psychic and physical, had made him untouchable when he chose to be.

In the Woo Woo Inn, you never knew who or what you’d meet. Reinn glanced at the three people who’d stopped to look at him--two women and a man. All werecats. He scowled at them.

“Need some help there? The guy who had that room before you always had trouble with the key.” One of the women smiled and moved to his side.

Warm. That was his first impression. Warm brown hair falling almost to her waist, large warm brown eyes, and a warm friendly smile. He’d bet that in her cat form she was a cute cuddly tabby.

“That’s okay, I’ll get it.” He didn’t trust warm and friendly from werecats. They were sly and untrustworthy in both human and cat form.

Her smile widened. “No you won’t, not for a while at least. Come on, let me try. I know exactly how to wiggle it.” She glanced at the man and woman who’d paused to watch. “Oh, and these two are Wendy and Jake, my sister and brother. We’re here for our sister’s wedding next Saturday.”

Wendy and Jake offered a friendly hi. Reinn smiled at them. No fangs this time. He shifted his attention back to Ms. Warm and Cuddly. “And you are?”

“I’m Kisa Evans.” She reached for the key, and he let her have it.

“Kisa? A little more exotic than Wendy and Jake.” So far so good. He got to meet the bride’s family right away.

Now all he had to do was meet the groom and separate his stupid head from his body if he didn’t agree to walk away from his werecat honey.

Reinn had only been Guardian of the Blood for about a year, and this was his first job. He’d thought he had a job in Australia, but when the groom heard that the Guardian of the Blood was in the country, he’d left his werebunny bride at the altar.

Reinn thought the council needed to get a life if they were all bent out of shape over a werebunny. He hadn’t seen any fanged bunnies lately, so he didn’t think the lop-eared bride was going to chomp down on a Mackenzie neck and suck his powers from him.

He didn’t expect to have any dealings with demons. Demons weren’t into loving relationships. Which was all good as far as he was concerned. A few random sexual encounters wouldn’t do a lot of damage. It was when the Mackenzie decided to get into a long-term relationship that the Guardian had to step in.

Luckily the previous Guardian was a vicious bastard, so Reinn didn’t have to build a scary rep. His predecessor had gotten his jollies by not only offing the guilty Mackenzie but also every shifter within a five-mile radius. He’d claimed the carnage was necessary so no shifters were left alive to ID him. He’d also believed in practice, practice, practice--whacking werecreatures wherever he found them. But that was okay, because the more the weres feared Reinn, the less whacking he’d have to do.

Kisa wiggled the key, and the door slid open with a muted click. “Mom was probably feeling exotic when she named me. Kisa means kitty in Russian. Mom loves cats.” She offered him a triumphant smile as she gestured toward the open door.

I just bet she does. “Sounds like you have a large...family.” He’d almost said litter.

“No kidding. Three sisters and four brothers. So what brought you to the Woo Woo Inn?” There was no suspicion in her eyes, just friendly curiosity.

By the time he finished with her family, she’d have a healthy dose of suspicion for everyone. Something about that thought didn’t amuse him as much as it should. “I’ve always had an interest in the paranormal, so when I read about this place I had to take a look.” A lie. He’d gotten an anonymous tip that Alan Mackenzie was going to break the clan law by marrying a werecat. He’d never met Alan, but he had to be really dumb not to know that the Guardian of the Blood would get wind of his marriage. The Mackenzie clan wasn’t that big, and news traveled fast.

Personally, he didn’t give a damn if the clan’s blood mixed with the blood of every freakin’ demon, werewhatever, or as yet undiscovered supernatural being sneaking around looking to improve their gene pool. But the clan didn’t ask for the opinions of its guardians before ordering them into battle. He’d been tempted to turn the council down, but then they would’ve set loose their hunters to destroy him. Mackenzies didn’t say no to their council.

“We’re gonna run, sis.” Jake speared Rein with the unblinking stare cats were so good at. “And your name is?” He waited for Reinn to plug in a name. Jake didn’t look quite as trusting as his sister.

“Daniel Night.” Reinn tried to ignore his usual reluctance to give away any part of himself, even a false name.

“Nice meeting you, Dan. See you downstairs, sis.” Jake nodded at Reinn before he and Wendy continued towards the staircase.

“Daniel, not Dan.” But they were already out of hearing range.

Kisa looked puzzled.

He offered her his friendly and nonthreatening smile. The one he’d had to practice in front of a mirror for three weeks before he got it right. “Sorry, I don’t like nicknames.” Nicknames suggested familiarity, like someone really knew you, was your buddy. He never wanted anyone to know him, and he wasn’t anyone’s buddy.

Kisa nodded, but her expression said she thought it was kind of weird. “Okay, Daniel, let me show you how to wiggle the key so the door opens.”

He leaned forward. Up close, her eyes had the same mysterious quality he’d noticed in the eyes of other werecats.

But somehow her eyes didn’t immediately make him think of sly and deceitful. They just made her look sexy. That he could even think a positive thought about any shifter made him uneasy.

Kisa pulled the door closed again so she could demonstrate even as she tried to maintain her cool. Wow, talk about a seriously sexy male. He was hot in a totally primitive way that made a woman want to do the tangled sheets tango with him. There was masculine and then there was the capital M kind. He was masculine with a huge gothic capital. Tall, dark, and so sensual it made her teeth hurt. Not like when you bit into something too sweet, but the kind of hurt you felt when you sank your teeth into hard-frozen ice cream. The potential for sweetness was there, but not until a lot of softening took place. But then, she’d never liked mushy ice cream.

He had to be about six two with broad shoulders and the promise of a bare body women would love. Just the thought of wrapping herself around that body as she slid her fingers across all that muscular expanse of smooth warm skin...

Stop it. She took a deep steadying breath. She was like a cat in heat. Oh, wait, she was a cat in heat. Kisa smiled at him while she tried not to whisper, “Meow.” She hated it when her cat nature intruded on her human self.

“I’m impressed.” He smiled, his full sensual mouth softening the blue eyes that had triggered her frozen dessert image.

She’d bet he hated the thick dark lashes that made his blue eyes a breathtaking wow. He didn’t seem like the kind of man who wanted to stand out in a crowd. Too bad. Even if he cut off the tangled glory of his long dark hair and wore contacts, his very being would make people--mostly women--turn for a second look.

“What do you do when you’re not planning a wedding?” His gaze was direct and his expression said he was just making polite conversation.

Kisa pushed aside her instinctive werecat mistrust of anyone who wasn’t family. This was 2006, and no one had killed her kind for decades. Except for a few rogues like the Mackenzie clan’s Guardian of the Blood. But Kisa, even at twenty-eight, had enhanced senses powerful enough to identify a vampire. Daniel was safe. Well, maybe not safe.

“I’m a food critic. I tell the public what’s hot and what’s not in the restaurant world.” Hot, definitely hot. It wasn’t just that he was a great-looking man, it was the feel of primal dominance rolling off him in waves. He’d always be king of the pride. Of course, she wasn’t a lion, so he wouldn’t be her king.

No one would ever be her king, or mate. The thought leeched some of her joy from the moment. In the rigid male-dominated culture of werecats, females could only mate with males more powerful than themselves. Kisa hadn’t found anyone who qualified yet. Probably never would. Dumb rule.

His smile never reached his eyes. “Interesting.”

The master of small talk. Not. “Watch while I unlock your door.” She moved the key in the lock slowly so he could memorize each twist. And when the lock clicked, she pushed the door open, pulled out the key, and handed it to him.

“Thanks.” He stilled, watching her from those cold blue eyes.

She resisted the urge to squirm. His stillness made her uneasy. It was the stillness of a cat right before it leaped onto its prey. That completely focused attention when danger vibes sang in the air and death circled the unwary.

But she wasn’t prey, would never be prey. “You might want to mention the lock to Sparkle.” She paused at the thought of the inn’s hostess. “Sparkle Stardust. Unusual name.” For an unusual woman.

His smile warmed just a bit. A woman would have to work hard for a sincere smile from him, but it’d be worth the effort.

“There’s power in a name. It can make people remember or forget you. Sparkle wants everyone to remember her. A lot.” His smile turned enigmatic. “I’ve been here before. And I guarantee no one forgets Sparkle Stardust.”

Hiding secrets? Could be. She didn’t want to know. “Maybe I’ll see you downstairs later tonight.” Because she had her own secret, and she’d bet hers trumped any he might have by a mile.

He nodded and then disappeared into his room. As he closed the door behind him, she held the memory of his cold eyes and sexy mouth. She wondered what it would take to make those eyes warm. Shrugging, she headed for the stairs.

Kisa had reached the bottom of the stairs when she heard the shouting. Curiosity--a sometimes unfortunate werecat trait--drew her to the kitchen. Katie the cook and Sparkle had faced off across the table with Ganymede as an interested observer.

Katie stood with hands on hips while her broom sort of hopped up and down behind her. Katie practiced Wicca, and Kisa thought Sparkle had better keep one eye on Katie’s attack broom.

“What’s wrong with bacon, sausage, steak, and eggs for breakfast? You’ve got lots of carnivores here. They want protein, so I’m giving them meat. I’ll have toast, muffins, bagles, cereal, and fruit for the ones who want something different.” Katie glared at Sparkle. “What’s wrong with that, boss lady?” The cook sounded ticked, and her broom bounced higher.

Sparkle’s expression said she was trying to explain the secrets of the universe to a five-year-old. “We’re feeding sensual beings here. Sausage and bacon are so not sensual foods. Did you make any oatmeal?”

Katie’s narrowed eyes signaled a potential-for-violence broom warning. “No one here eats it when I make it.”

“Well make it.” Sparkle was into bossy mode. “Oats encourage testosterone.”

“More than enough testosterone already in this place.” Katie was starting to breathe hard.

“Put walnuts in the oatmeal. The Romans thought they improved fertility.” Sparkle was ignoring all danger signals.

“Anything else?” The fewer words Katie used, the more frantic the broom became.

“Oh, lots.” Sparkle pulled out a list. A very long list. “No more fried foods or rich cream sauces. They make people feel sluggish, not sexy. And cut down on sugar, salt, saturated fat, and highly processed foods. They’re linked to frigidity, difficulty reaching orgasm, and lack of interest in sex. And--”

“I quit.” Katie ripped off her apron and threw it on the floor. She grabbed her broom just before it dived at Sparkle.

A lumbering bearded giant of a man interrupted whatever Katie had planned to say next. “Hey, cook, where’s the grub?” He looked past Katie at the stove. “Make sure you fry extra bacon and sausage for me. Don’t want to run out like yesterday.” Then he lumbered out of the kitchen.

“Ha!” Katie pointed dramatically at the doorway where the man had stood. “Tell him he can’t eat fried stuff.” Then she grabbed her purse and marched from the room.

Sparkle turned a bemused look on Ganymede and Kisa. “Okay, so maybe I should’ve left werebears off my list of sensual people.” She widened her eyes. “Did Katie just quit?”

“Um, I think so.” Kisa intended to store up lots of fat grams with this meal, because things didn’t look promising for future ones.

Ganymede panicked. “What’re we going to eat? Katie was a good cook.”

Sparkle grew quiet. Too quiet. “I’ll take over the cooking.”

Ganymede’s panic escalated. “But you don’t cook, sweetcheeks.”

Sparkle cast him an impatient glance. “Well, how hard can it be? And I’ll use all sensual foods. By the time I’m finished, the inn will be a seething caldron of sexual frenzy.”

“Oh, shit.” Ganymede’s input.

“I’ll fix my plate now.” Kisa’s input. And after she ate this plate, she’d come back for a second one to store in her room’s mini-fridge. Just in case.

Sparkle studied her perfect fuchsia nails. “I’ll have to get gloves before I cook my first meal. Chipped nail color puts me in a vile mood.”

Ganymede sidled up to Kisa. “Want to make a covert run to the nearest McDonald’s for me?”

Kisa sighed. Oh boy.

 

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