Some secrets are dangerous. This Secret is deadly.
Secret McQueen, Book 1
For Secret McQueen, her life feels like the punch line for a terrible joke. Abandoned at birth by her werewolf mother, hired as a teen by the vampire council of New York City to kill rogues, Secret is a part of both worlds, but belongs to neither. At twenty-two, she has carved out as close to a normal life as a bounty hunter can.
When an enemy from her past returns with her death on his mind, she is forced to call on every ounce of her mixed heritage to save herself—and everyone else in the city she calls home. As if the fate of the world wasn’t enough to deal with, there’s Lucas Rain, King of the East Coast werewolves, who seems to believe he and Secret are fated to be together. Too bad Secret also feels a connection with Desmond, Lucas’s second-in-command…
This book contains a sarcastic, kick-ass bounty hunter; a metaphysical love triangle with two sexy werewolves; a demanding vampire council; and a spicy seasoning of sex and violence.
In the sullen hours before daylight, a thick dewy fog was settling over the deep green lawns of Central Park. A waning moon hung over the cityscape like a Cheshire cat’s looming smile. It was cold enough in the spring air that an exhaled breath became a cloud with a limited lifespan. With enough of those escaped breaths, one could trace the path of the breather as they moved through the park and into the night.
Along the edges of the famous Great Lawn, just inside a jagged forest with a dazzling array of buildings creating an illuminated backdrop on the darkened landscape, one such trail was moving with great speed through the half-naked, outstretched branches, the clouds short and anxious. Always mere inches ahead of these markers, a young woman was running for her life.
I was not the woman in question, although I was also running.
Like a fool, I’d believed I might be able to take a nice, quiet walk through Central Park that night, enjoying the heavy predawn stillness, which is almost never available in a city like New York. Typically the only solitude I’m allowed is during the brief allotments of hot water my shower provides me, and even then the pipes in my building rattle and bang whenever they’re in use. The shower is only quiet when the water runs cold.
Tonight I had wanted to be alone with the darkness before slipping away for my morning slumber, but that had been too much to hope for in the city that never sleeps. Even though a quiet night for me would involve getting harassed by a mugger or roughing up some drug addicts if they tried to scare rebellious schoolgirls, it still would have been preferable to what I was being forced to do now.
Too bad for me, and more specifically for the girl I was running after, she was being chased by something that wasn’t peaceful, quiet or even human.
Fear was radiating off her in waves that were so strong the thing after her would be able to find her regardless of how fast she ran or how well she hid. Fear had a cloying scent to it, not quite sweet, more like aged cloves and copper. I knew that because I could smell it too. And the feeling that accompanied it sent shivers reverberating through the base of my spine. There was a predator in me that related to what her assailant felt as he tracked her, the primal part deep down that could empathize with the frenzied vigor of collapsing victoriously on your terrified prey.
I could feel him too, and could finally recognize for certain that it was, indeed, a male. I wouldn’t go so far as to say man, because there wasn’t anything in him that resembled what he once had been. The shell he wore still looked human, but what was now inside that skin suit could not be described as anything other than monstrous.
All I could feel off him was his overpowering hunger. That coupled with the fact I hadn’t sensed from her any warning hints of anxiety escalating into fear. She hadn’t had time to worry. Instead she slipped immediately into a wild, blistering terror as she was chased at a perilous clip by his animal hunger. That instant fear was the only reason I was running at all. Because the girl was very human, and very vulnerable, and he had taken her by surprise, which was against the rules.
Even though the thing after her was without a shadow of a doubt dead, I knew if I wasn’t faster than him, the girl would soon be among their ranks. And once she was gone, his betrayal of the laws which governed the undead of the world would become my problem anyway, so a little preemptive interference was just saving myself and some vampire bureaucrats a lot of hassle.
At this point, I’d tell myself anything to justify the chase.
The girl broke free of the tree line and started making a wild, hobbling sprint across the Great Lawn. That was the first moment I realized I had actually passed him in our pursuit. I was still sprinting after them through the woods, holding out hope that his hunger would distract him from becoming aware I had joined his hunt. I could smell blood on the air and knew she must have cut herself somewhere in her escape.
As she limped across the field, I saw that one of her feet was bound in a broken stiletto and the other was dragging the mated shoe behind, strung to her only by an ankle strap. She was sobbing, choking out screams, and part of me swallowed those noises with deep pleasure. An animal hunger within wanted me to get to her first so I could rip her to shreds myself.
But that wouldn’t do. I had never killed a human, not a pure-blood human anyway, and I wouldn’t start tonight or any night, I hoped. I wasn’t an undead killing machine like he was. I was something else altogether, and while what I was certainly wasn’t any easier to believe in than vampires, it did allow me enough illusions of humanity to know killing people, at least those who didn’t have it coming, was wrong.
I felt like my chance was now or never, and I broke free of the trees, sprinting after her. I didn’t dodge the clever fingers of a branch sharpened by the storms of winter, and was clawed across the face with a painful swipe, but I just kept running. I ran until every muscle in my body burned and screamed, and then I ran faster. If I was human, I would have fallen down exhausted, vomited on the grass and lay defeated for an hour. But I was not human, and I could have completed a marathon at this pace if I needed to.
It took almost no time at all for me to catch up to her, but it felt like hours. He was out in the open now, following us both, and still I ran. I kept going until I reached her and grabbed her hard by the arm, dragging her behind me as I continued my pace. She was screaming and trying to shake free of me, unable to distinguish me from her actual attacker. As she clawed at me with surprising might for a girl of her slender build, I acknowledged there was only one way we were going to get out of this with her still alive.
I stopped running and slapped her hard and fast across the face. She replied with stunned silence, and we both stood staring at each other.
This girl looked so much like I would have if I had anything like a normal life. She was slender and petite, with blonde hair. But unlike me, she had an unnatural tan, acquired by spending hours in a light-box coffin, and she wore more makeup than I’d ever thought to own.
“You need to listen to me very carefully.” He was coming, and fast. I only had seconds. “I can save you from this. I can keep you alive.”
Terror vanished from her face and was replaced with the more frightening emotion of hope. I’d gotten through enough that she knew I meant to help her. Her grip tightened on my wrist as she began to come to terms with what I was saying. Her tear-filled eyes were wide and eager. Her earnest hopefulness made the bottom of my stomach lurch. It was my responsibility to keep this maladjusted socialite version of myself alive.
“But I need you to stay out of my way.”
I tried to loosen her grip, but she wouldn’t let go, and I could see him now, a blur of rage and energy heading straight at us.
“Let me go and you live. Let. Me. Go.” I shoved her off me with a little too much force.
She stumbled and collapsed, but understanding seemed to sink in at last.
“Now run away as fast as you can.”
She scrambled backwards and got to her feet. She shot me one last desperate look before she started to run again, and I had enough time to turn around before I was hit dead on by a vampire charging for me at full speed.
I was flattened to the ground, the wind knocked out of me with a painful hiss and a thrashing vampire with his bared fangs going straight for my throat.
Just another day at the office.
For the time being, at least, he seemed content to believe that I was a more than equal trade for the girl he’d been chasing. Who could blame him? As far as he knew, she and I were both warm-blooded girls out in the park alone, waiting to be somebody’s perfect victim. I may not have been bathed in the rich smell of fear, and my outfit was a far cry from her provocative dress, but when it came time for a blood-crazed vampire to feed, she and I might as well have been the same. All a vampire needed was a neck and a pulse.
The major problem with my current situation was that my gun was tucked into the back of my jeans, which meant, as a result of my being pinned down, it was now being crushed into the small of my back.
I needed to get on top of him. Oh, if I only had a nickel for every time that had been my solution for things.
His teeth grazed my collarbone, slicing the skin and jarring me out of my inappropriate musings. As luck would have it my intuition had been correct—he was a newborn and he was sloppy. A full-grown vampire would have tried to latch on at the first sight of blood, but this one didn’t even seem aware of what he’d done. Unfortunately, the open wound also meant there was the smell of fresh plasma sitting right under his nose, and his ignorance was short-lived.
He stopped snarling and, in a moment of bewildered stupidity, stared at the wound he had made as if he didn’t know how it had gotten there.
I took what might be the only opportunity I’d get and used his unguarded distraction to my advantage by punching him across his cheek as hard as my body would allow. That hit, if inflicted on a grown human male, would have broken his teeth out the other side of his face and turned the cartilage in his nose into pulp. As it was I heard the vampire’s jaw crack, and he sat back off me, blinking with mute surprise.
He snarled and made to dive at me again, but I’d had all the time I needed. My gun was drawn, armed and pressed against his forehead before he even had a chance to cross the miniscule distance between us. I scrambled to my feet, the gun still trained on him, not wanting to remain on the ground if this went south.
The vampire had to cross his eyes to get a look at what I had fixed on him, and it would have been comical except for what followed. He gave a short, hoarse laugh, a sound that should be uniquely human if not for the icy edge to it.
“Do you know what I am, little girl?”
To anyone else, this dismissal would have been unnerving. I wasn’t too concerned with his bravado, however. I was more interested in his reaction to my weapon. He wasn’t frightened of my gun in the least, and that would prove to be his undoing. It was why I used a gun in the first place—vampires didn’t see them as a serious threat and let their guard down. All it takes is turning one smug vampire’s head into a pulpy red mass before the rest realize how effective a gun can be for killing almost anything.
“Enlighten me.” I smiled with emphasized innocence, widening my brown eyes for a doe-eyed look that the vamps tended to love.
The truth was, as much as I’d like to kill him, I technically couldn’t. But if it came down to it, I wanted to be able to face the s**tstorm that would follow with as much useful information as possible. Since he was so new, there was a chance I might be able to pump him for a little information before I was forced to pull the trigger.
“I am your darkest nightmare. I am your death.”
Wow, someone had definitely given him the Introduction to Sounding Like a Poncy Asshole seminar before sending him out into the world. I rolled my eyes at his speech, which reeked like an old Lugosi movie.
“You’re a f**king baby,” I said, not even a hint of awed, cowering fear in my words.
That got his attention.
“I will rip your head off and bathe in your still-hot blood.” He didn’t sound as arrogant this time, but I had to give him credit for his continued efforts.
“No. You won’t.” I said it as matter-of-factly as one might say New York is a big city. “You’re what? Three days old, maybe? You’re not even a blip. You’re nothing. For all the vampire world cares, you might as well still have a pulse. Talk as big as you want, but I’m not the one who should be scared.”
He stood up and I tensed, my finger tightening on the trigger a fraction of an inch. His new position brought him to almost a foot taller than me, but I didn’t lower my weapon, and I didn’t back down. He saw now that I was well aware of what he was. Most people didn’t even believe in vampires, let alone utter their name with such nonchalance. He raised a brow at me and waited.
“Why don’t you ask me what I am?” I pressed the gun into his forehead harder.
He scoffed. “You are my dinner. Or perhaps I will turn you, bind you to me and have you every day until you wished you were dead.”
It was my turn to make a noise of disgusted annoyance and roll my eyes again. If he didn’t stop with this ridiculous, ostentatious performance, I was going to strain something.
“You wouldn’t know how to turn me even if you wanted to. You’re so young, you wouldn’t be able to stop. You’d drink too much and kill me before you could figure out which of your own arteries to open.” The sun would be up in a few hours, and though the night was still on my side, I didn’t particularly want to let this drag on much longer for either of us. “Now go ahead…ask who I am.”
He ignored me and tried to bat the gun away. I brought my knee up with a hard thrust and caught him in the groin, which was still excruciating even if you were undead, and replaced the gun at his temple when he collapsed. “Ask.”
I smacked him with the gun. “Ask.”
The part coming next was my favorite. It was a moment six years and many, many dead vampires in the making, and I never got tired of it.
“Who are you?” His voice was strained, though he would have his full strength back in an instant.
“My name is Secret McQueen.”
His eyes widened for the briefest of seconds, and I knew he recognized my name. It had an almost legendary status among the undead. Newborn vampires came to know it right away, because to be introduced, in person, to the owner of it, meant that you were dead. Well and truly dead. The forever kind, not the fun, false-immortality kind of death that vampires luxuriated in.
Knowing who I was, he understood I meant business.
“He told me about you.” And then, to my surprise, he smiled. “Oh, he will be so very pleased with me.”