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Authors: Susan Sizemore

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PRAISE FOR THE PRIMAL PASSIONFROMNEW YORK TIMESANDUSA TODAYBESTSELLING AUTHORSUSAN SIZEMORE

DARK STRANGER

“Atmospheric and exciting,Dark Strangertakes the reader into a murky prison populated by frightening creatures, thwarted ambitions, and sizzling love.”

—BookPage

“A thrilling story of danger, diplomacy, and secrecy. Superior romantic adventure!”

—Romantic Times

“Aliens, vampires, adventures, and passion all wrapped up in a can’t-put-down thrill ride. I loved it!”

—Gena Showalter,New York Timesbestselling author ofSeduce the Darkness

“An underground prison world, and a man and a woman with dangerous secrets—and even more dangerous desires—launch readers into Sizemore’s futuristic. This story is sure to enthrall and entertain Sizemore’s fans once again.”

—Linnea Sinclair, RITA Award–winning author ofShades of Dark

PRIMAL INSTINCTSis also available as an eBook

PRIMAL NEEDS

“Sizemore pours on the passion and danger!”

—Romantic Times

“Susan Sizemore’svampire series just keeps getting better and better. . . .”

—Fallen Angel Reviews

PRIMAL DESIRES

“Sizemore’s expanding alternate world adds layers of complexity and sizzling passion to an already rich blend. . . . Outstanding reading!”

—Romantic Times

“A superb paranormal romantic suspense thriller. . . .”

—Genre Go Round Reviews

PRIMAL HEAT

“An intriguing alternate reality with absorbing characters and touches of humor makes this series one of the best and most consistently appealing around.”

—Romantic Times

“Passion, danger, and mystery fill the pages ofPrimal Heat . . .an intense and satisfying read.”

—Romance Reviews Today

“This world grows more fascinating as each new chapter unfolds.”

—Huntress Reviews

MASTER OF DARKNESS

“What a bad boy charmer! Definitely Sizemore’s most fun and original hero to date. . . . Once again, Sizemore serves up a terrific blend of edgy humor, passionate romance, and thrilling danger.”

—Romantic Times

“Great action, snappy dialogue, and powerful prose. . . . Susan Sizemore’sMaster of Darknessis engaging from beginning to incredible end.”

—A Romance Review

I HUNGER FOR YOU

“Sizemore’s sizzling series gets more intriguing. . . . Hot romance and intense passions fuel this book and make it a memorable read.”

—Romantic Times

“An alluring plot, page-turning excitement, and scrumptious romance.”

—Romance Reviews Today

I THIRST FOR YOU

“Passion, betrayal, and fast-paced action abound in this sizzling tale.”

—Library Journal

“Edge-of-your-seat thrills combine with hot romance and great vampire lore!”

—Romantic Times

“An action-packed, suspenseful roller-coaster ride that never slows!”

—Romance Reviews Today

I BURN FOR YOU

“With her new twist on ancient vampire lore, Sizemore creates an excellent and utterly engaging new world.I Burn for Youis sexy, exciting, and just plain thrilling. It’s the perfect start for a hot, new series.”

—Romantic Times

“I adoredI Burn for Youand really hope it’s the beginning of another wonderful vampire series from Ms. Sizemore.”

—Old Book Barn Gazette

“[A] sexy read laced with laughter, the first in a burning new series.”

—Booklist

“Sizemore’s hunky vamps can visit me anytime! I was so sorry to see this book end. This one is a must buy.”

—All About Romance

 

Also by Susan Sizemore

Dark Stranger

Primal Needs

Primal Desires

Primal Heat

Master of Darkness

Crave the Night

I Hunger for You

I Thirst for You

I Burn for You

Anthologies

The Shadows of Christmas Past(with Christine Feehan)

Moon Fever(with Maggie Shayne, Lori Handeland,and Caridad Piñiero)

 

 

The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

Pocket Star BooksA Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.1230 Avenue of the AmericasNew York, NY 10020www.SimonandSchuster.com

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2010 by Susan Sizemore

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

First Pocket Star Books paperback edition September 2010

POCKET STAR BOOKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or [email protected]

The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website atwww.simonspeakers.com.

Cover illustration by Gene Mollica

Manufactured in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN 978-1-4165-6214-6ISBN 978-1-4391-7695-5 (ebook)

 

For Micki Nuding

Acknowledgments

With thanks to Brenda Novak for sponsoring her annual auction to support diabetes research and Kea Barnica for her generous contribution.

Prologue

“Do you know the legend about the selkie? It’s not really legend but true, in a way.”

He wished the vampire would keep quiet. But the damned creature wouldn’t and always expected answers to its inane comments. And since they were working together, he had to put up with it.

He lowered the binoculars and glanced at the vampire called Dr. Stone standing in the shadows at the edge of the pine forest just up from the black rock beach. Heavy clouds scooted by overhead and it was close to sunset, yet the creature was still cautious about light. Odd. He’d been told that it took the drugs that gave it resistance to light.

“What legend? Selkies are creatures that canchange from human to seal shape.” They were waiting for one right now.

The wind off the water was cold. The raucous noise and fishy smell from the seals frolicking in the waves and on the isolated beach would have thrilled a nature lover. He wasn’t a nature lover. And standing there talking to a vampire while waiting for a slimy shapeshifter to emerge from the water made his skin crawl.

Of course the vampire knew this and was relishing his discomfort, though he pretended to merely be friendly, conversing to pass the time.

“According to mortal folktales, a selkie can be controlled by anyone who steals their sealskin. Without their animal skin, the selkie is trapped in human form and cannot return to the sea. Mortals generally get the details wrong when it comes to the supernatural, but those old Celtic grannies got some things right about the watery shapeshifters of the British Isles. Selkies are not all that high on the intelligence scale, or even on the food chain. It’s very easy to steal their sealskins.”

He turned to face the vampire. “What the devil does that mean? Shapeshifters are in either human form or animal form. Selkies do not have sealskins that can be taken off and stolen.”

“I know that. You know that.” The vampire came out of the woods. It moved so lightly past him that hecouldn’t hear any disturbance of the loose stones. The vampire’s gaze was fixed on a sleek dark body moving toward land through the surf as it spoke.

“Selkies—all shifters, really, but selkies more than most—are psychically vulnerable. If I had a dual nature, and probably dual DNA, I’d likely be half-crazed myself. Selkies are the only shifters that are at home on the land and in the water. They are very rare.”

“There are raptor shifters,” he reminded the vampire. “At home on land and in the air.”

“And they are even rarer than the selkies.” The vampire gave a low chuckle. “But I don’t know of any vampire that would willingly touch the mind of a wereeagle. We’re mammals, as are selkies. That’s why we’ve chosen to use a selkie to set our plan in motion.”

He’d thought it was because they knew what the seal creature did in its day job.

“Stop thinking of her as a thing,” the vampire told him. “Remember that you’re going to be her handler. Soon you’ll be as close as lovers.”

Chapter One

“You realize that the purpose of terrorism is theater,” Tobias Strahan said to the Clan leaders. “It’s not so much what our enemies have done to hurt us that they care about, but how we react to it that they’re counting on.”

Francesca Reynard smiled at the Prime’s superior tone. She wondered if the Matri Council was going to let him get away with lecturing them or if the commander of the Dark Angels was about to get his ears boxed. She waited in the council room to see what would happen next. She wasn’t supposed to be there and this wasn’t a conversation she was supposed to hear. A small rebellion, but she’d take any kind she could get.

Petty, aren’t you?

The telepathic voice in her head was Strahan’s, speaking even more arrogantly to her than he had to the respected Clan leaders.

Primes were supposed to be arrogant, and she normally found them easy to ignore.

But not this one.

It’s a hobby, she thought back at him.

Along with petulance and pride, but then everyone knows Flare Reynard’s hobbies.

She’d learned to accept the nickname and had earned the reputation that went with it.I am reputed to be bitchy, she pointed out, then raised the mental shields that kept polite vampires out of each other’s heads.

She saw the faintest of shrugs from him. Though she could ignore his mind, shewasfemale, so she couldn’t help but run her gaze appreciatively over the fine figure of an overgrown Prime that he was. He certainly was a big boy. Big hands, big feet, very tall. Muscular, with a tight ass and narrow waist in perfect proportion to his extra-wide shoulders. He was considered the best-looking Prime of his generation, but she liked that the perfection was slightly marred by ears that stuck out a little from a back view.

The Matris bridled and glared at the Prime; most were as offended as he’d intended for them to be.

But Lady Juanita Wolf laughed. “We’ve beeninvolved in deadly games with the hunters for generations,” she reminded Strahan.

“But they’ve never publicly attacked us before,” Lady Anjelica Reynard said. “Never set us up to be found out by the media.”

Strahan nodded. “We can’t afford to react in the classic manner. They’re counting on that. They want to post videos of your people on YouTube, to get news crews camped outside your homes. Because outing us is the best way to destroy us.”

“I can almost understand mortal vampire hunters attacking like this,” Lady Cassandra Crowe said. “But you haven’t convinced me that one of our own is a traitor, that information is being passed from inside our own community. There is absolutely no reason.”

“I think I know the reasons,” Strahan said.

“We’ve heard enough on the subject already,” Lady Serisa Shagal said firmly.

Los Angeles was Shagal territory, this was her Citadel, and she felt that the defense against the threat to her Clan should be hers to handle. But she had agreed to Strahan’s demand to cede emergency powers to the Dark Angels since the attacks were on all supernatural groups, not just Clan vampires. There had been arson and bombings committed against vampires and werefolk all over Southern California, including trouble at the medical clinic here in Los Angeles. The Angels were a multispecies special forces group whoanswered only to Strahan, who had formed his unit in anticipation of these sorts of attacks.

Francesca admired his confidence in the face of so many Clan Matris. He’d walked into their meeting, taken over, and convinced everyone to do things his way.

Francesca admired his ability to bully Matris but resented that he’d interrupted her own effort to save the day when her friend Sidonie Wolf faced execution for bonding with a werewolf member of the Dark Angels. Francesca and other vampire females had been attempting to start their own revolution as well as save Sid, but now Strahan’s power play had forced that effort to the sidelines. She did not admire him at all for interrupting her bid for freedom, even if he had achieved her objective of saving Sid.

He turned his head slightly, giving her a view of his sharp profile and hard expression. A woman couldn’t help but think of a male like that as tasty—even a woman like herself who hated the vanity and total jerkhood of the males of her species. Luckily, she’d had years of practice at ignoring the instincts that reared up in her as she watched this Prime. She’d paused to watch him lecture the Matris, not to get all tingly and warm.

It also helped that a squad of Primes came pouring in through the doorway. She stepped aside to give them plenty of room to get to their various Matris.

“The arrangements are all made,” Barak Shagal told his Matri and bondmate. “Everyone’s cars are waiting. Guards are placed, and the pilots of your private planes have been alerted.”

The plan was for all vampire females in California to be whisked away to safety, but Francesca had no intention of going back to the Clan Citadel in Idaho. She’d come to California with a purpose and wasn’t leaving until she’d accomplished it. She was glad she’d kept quiet and in the shadows. It made it easier for her to slip out the door before she could be noticed and called back.

Chapter Two

Where do you think you’re going?Tobias wondered as he saw Flare Reynard sneak away. Watching the sway of her hips as she walked was a joy. But the stiffness of her spine and proud lift of her head told him she wasn’t heading for her mother’s limo. She obviously had plans of her own.

But he was in charge here, and the thought of showing her that brought a brief smile to the hard line of his mouth.

“Brat,” he muttered under his breath.

He knew he should mention Flare’s leaving to Lady Anjelica and let the proper people take care of it, but he couldn’t resist tracking her down himself. Ifanyone needed a public lesson in discipline, it was the Clans’ most adored and spoiled female.

Finding Flare wouldn’t be difficult for a Prime of his skills. Even with her shields tightly drawn around her, he thought he could pick up the unique scent of her perfume, which had permeated his senses the moment he walked into the tense meeting. Or at least he could track her by the stunned looks she tended to leave on the faces of any Primes she encountered.

Tobias’s cell phone rang and he paused in the mansion’s entrance hallway to answer it. Personally, he preferred telepathy, but not every member of his Crew could communicate mind to mind, not to mention the regular mortals who needed to get hold of him. So, he carried a phone, an elaborate device with multiple functions—which interrupted him at inconvenient times and places, such as now. He stepped outdoors to the side of the wide staircase at the front of the house as he put the phone to his ear.

“How’s Joe?” was Dee McCoy’s first question.

“You could have called him and asked,” Tobias said to the mortal witch.

She snorted. “I can picture him standing in front of a firing squad as his phone rings and hearing, ‘Wait a moment while I take’—BANG!”

“Vampires don’t use firing squads. The Joe problem is settled, and his lady Sid will be joining theCrew. Set up orientation for her.”

“You got us a girl vampire?” It took a lot to impress Dee McCoy, and Tobias smiled at the awe in her voice.

“Yes, I’m good,” he said. “Also, the L.A. op has been authorized. The locals will be staying out of our way, and all is right in my world.”

“Except for Saffie . . .”

Tobias looked around as he waited for Dee to go on. Joe and Sid were standing near the bottom of the stairs and moved closer so he could talk to them once he was off the phone.

After a significant silence, Dee told him, “I’ve gotten a couple ofsipsfrom her that give me the impression she’s having some trouble at school.”

This wasn’t the time or place to ask for details, but he was grateful as always for the witch’s reminder that he had more important things to deal with than saving the world. “I’ll call Saffie as soon as I get the chance,” he said.

“Tonight,” Dee answered.

Tobias grunted and ended the call just as Sidonie Wolf said to Joe, “And there’s the Prime responsible for setting this whole mess in motion.”

She was talking about him. He gave her an acknowledging nod and walked past the couple, all the while shamelessly listening to the female vampire explaining to the werewolf the deeper game Tobiasplayed by reuniting the two of them.

I put their lives at risk in an effort to help the cause of female liberation, he thought. The supernatural world had to change before it was destroyed and he’d do whatever he had to to save everybody—vampire, werefolk, faefolk, the creatures even immortals had trouble accepting. Every sentient being deserved freedom and equality—except maybe ghosts, but they were ex-humans and not really any of his concern.

While his thoughts circled around the problems of his peoples, he circled alertly around the front of the mansion, aware of all movement. He noted the evacuation of Matris and other females by their concerned Primes, identifying who occupied each limo and the direction each car took as it left the gate. Neither Reynard female was among the exiting groups.

“Someone needs to shake some sense into that spoiled princess . . .”

Tobias paused to laugh at his response.I’ve already got one teenager to deal with, he reminded himself. Besides, Flare Reynard was no child. She was a dangerously beautiful female, and more than the scent of her perfume called to him.But she does that to any Prime with hot blood in his veins, he told himself.I want that glorious body beneath me in bed and the taste of her blood on my tongue. But I won’t let lust make me stupid like it has every other Primewho’s ever gone after her and failed. If I want her, I’ll have her.

Awareness made him turn, and he caught furtive movement out of the corner of his eye. He was standing in front of Flare before she reached the side door of the multicar garage.

“Flare, my dear,” he said with a blatantly false smile. “What are you doing here?” He leaned against the door, his arms crossed.

He expected an imperious order to get out of her way. Instead she looked puzzled. “Dear?”

She crossed her arms. He appreciated what this did for her breasts, and she obviously knew it. Primes were far too easy to seduce, which was why they were taught self-control, and the lessons from the crèche were reinforced by the Angels’ discipline and training. Which Tobias momentarily thought was a shame, because, damn! Flare was one fine female.

Francesca was delighted when Strahan’s gaze focused on her breasts. She knew he wouldn’t fall for this distraction for long, but she enjoyed the flutter of warmth caused by this Prime’s sexual interest.

She looked into his big brown eyes and said, “The Bat Signal is flashing. You need to go save Gotham now.”

“I appreciate the comparison to my favoritevigilante, but you can’t insult me and you’re not going anywhere but back to Idaho.”

She grinned at this challenge. “I don’t take orders from you.”

“The Matris would disagree. I am in charge of this territory.”

“I have an appointment at a secure facility.”

“I see you’re using this young Prime for tongue-sharpening practice,” her mother said, standing suddenly behind her.

Damn!She’d tried to leave the Citadel unnoticed and somehow she’d ended up the center of the attention of the very people she was trying most to avoid.

“Lady Francesca and I were merely exchanging pleasantries, Matri,” Strahan said to her mother.

“Yes. I know howpleasantshe can be at times.”

“She’s witty, ma’am, and sharply direct. As is proper for a vampire female.”

“What are you talking about, Strahan?” Francesca asked.

Lady Anjelica went on. “Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be?”

Francesca wasn’t sure who her mother was talking to, but Strahan picked up the conversational ball. “We all do. Let me escort both of you to your car.”

“That’s a good idea,” Anjelica said. She looped her arms through theirs and led them out of the shadow of the garage.

“I’m not going to the airport,” Francesca said when they reached her mother’s car. She threw an annoyed look at Strahan, waiting for his protest. She would have avoided the coming family argument if he hadn’t sneaked up on her by the garage.

But the protest didn’t come. Apparently he’d decided to let her mother deal with her.

The driver held open the passenger door for them.

Go ahead, wash your hands of me.She was annoyed at her resentment of the Prime’s attitude. Of course he was going to leave her to deal with her mother. He wanted her out of town and she couldn’t blame him for that. Shouldn’t, at least. She shook her head and made herself stop looking at tall, muscular, gorgeous, overconfident Tobias Strahan. Something about him brought out the most petulant part of her. She didn’t want to ignore him the way she normally did Primes. She wanted to—

Provoke the hell out of me until I kiss you senseless?

Francesca fought down the urge to laugh at his arrogance. Laugh. Not turn on him in scathing fury? Now, there was a new reaction for her to Primal arrogance.

I only deal in facts, ma’am. Arrogance is for the unsure.

Oh, do be quiet, Strahan. I’ve got more pressingbusiness than dealing with you.

But you would like to be kissed.

By the right person. I’m not dead, but I am picky.

Their telepathic conversation was so rapid, the driver had just finished opening the car door when her mother replied to her, “You most certainly are not going to the airport with me.”

Chapter Three

Expecting an argument, a stern command to return to the safety of the Citadel from the ruler of her Clan, Francesca was left with her mouth hanging open.

She wasn’t the only one.

Strahan said, “Lady Anjelica are you—”

“You heard me correctly,” Anjelica said. “My heir has accepted her duty to give the Clan children, and I am not getting in the way of her givingmegrandchildren. I’ll drop you off at the clinic, Flare.”

Francesca shot a triumphant look at Strahan, grinned at her mom, and got into the backseat. “Turkey baster, here I come,” she murmured happily—but a sudden wistfulness colored her mood.

She knew what was required. She knew the wayshe’d chosen. But being so close to Strahan’s potent masculinity reminded her that there was another way for a female to become pregnant. The sooner she was away from his pheromones, the better.

Tobias frowned at Lady Anjelica’s decision. “You are undermining my authority, Matri.”

“I know it seems that way, Prime, but the continuation of our species is imperative.”

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