Home > Guardian's Grace (Dark Protectors #12)

Guardian's Grace (Dark Protectors #12)
Author: Rebecca Zanetti

Chapter 1

The vampire was late.

Grace Cooper twirled the straw in her half-finished ginger whiskey and tried to ignore the skunk smell wafting through the bar. Rather, the smell of pot, which two kids were smoking in the back corner by the lone pool table, seemingly uncaring that recreational use of marijuana was illegal in bars in Colorado. None of the few folks ambitiously drinking in the place paid them any heed.

She discreetly wiped snow off her jeans from her tumble in the snow right outside the door. Her wrist ached, and she tried to ignore the pain. How bad was the injury? Not that she had time to find a doctor, anyway.

Darkness had descended outside along with a blistering snowstorm, and the wind howled against the few windows in an effort to sneak inside. Mother Nature had decided on a brutal end to January, which might explain why so few patrons had ventured through the storm for cheap booze and a stereo system from the early nineties that only played Bon Jovi songs. Renegade was currently blasting at a slightly slower speed than she remembered.

Why in the world had the vamp wanted to meet in this dump?

The bartender, a sixty-something man wearing a ripped T-shirt, snow pants, and thick boots, tipped back a couple of shots of tequila as he wiped down the bar, ignoring everyone unless they approached him for more alcohol.

This was the closest she would come to Denver, where she’d lived before going into a coma and then becoming an immortal mate. Well, kind of becoming one. She’d promised everyone, especially her sister, that she’d never return to Denver. But persistent questions kept her up at night; she had to know the truth. Flashes of memory and warning. She’d go mad if she didn’t find answers to the swirling vortex of questions in her brain. First, she had to survive for another week.

Grace turned her wrist, the healthy one, and read the time on her sports watch. She’d give Sebastian five more minutes.

The door opened, and wind blasted inside. A male wearing a baseball cap covered with snow kicked the door shut, looked around, and spotted her. He brushed snow off his long overcoat and strode toward her, his boots leaving a wet trail across the sawdust-covered floor. “Grace.”

He was thinner than he’d looked in his picture. “Sebastian.”

“I’m sorry I’m late.” He pulled out the wooden chair across from her small table and sat, his eyes an odd bluish hue. “I can explain.”

She held up her good hand, her temples starting to ache. “It doesn’t matter. Do you have it?” She had to help that little girl lying sick in bed in the nearest hospital. No child should have to fight cancer.

He kicked back. “Yeah, but I thought we could maybe come to another arrangement.” With the hat bill low over his face, and the bar so dark, it was difficult to judge his age. Or rather, what his age appeared to be, considering he’d supplied proof through email that he was over two hundred years old. “What’s the hurry? There’s a storm out there.” He spoke with a very slight lisp.

She tilted her head. The overcoat was odd. “Take off your hat.” Adrenaline started to hum through her veins.

His chest puffed out. “There you go. I knew we’d get along.” With a flourish, he whipped off the cap with black fingernails, revealing thick blond hair—and black eyeliner rimming his eyes.

She blinked once and then again, looking closer. Were those colored contacts? Like the ones kids wore for Halloween? Yep. “You have got to be kidding me.” How in the world had he fooled her? She’d asked for documentation, although records could be falsified. She began to stand.

He grasped her good wrist and tugged her down, leaning toward her. He smelled like cheap beer and even cheaper cologne. This close, he appeared to be in his early twenties. “I promise I’ll give you what you want. My blood is all yours after I take a taste of my own.” He opened his mouth, showing fangs.

Fake ones.

Anger snapped through her. “I can’t believe this.” Yes, she was a complete moron. The risks she’d taken for this meeting had kept her up for nights. She jerked free and started to stand.

The front door burst open, and a mammoth blond male strode inside just as a commotion sounded from the rear exit on the other side of the bar. The kids by the pool table snuffed out the pot, backing away and plastering themselves against the sole dartboard, their eyes wide and their chests sunken.

She stopped breathing. Damn it. Grabbing her bag, she moved toward the restroom behind her and the window she’d already scoped out—just in case this assignation went south.

“Grace?” The voice came from near the back exit. The low, dark, accented tenor stopped her cold.

She slowly turned, her body flashing to full-on panic mode. It couldn’t be. No, no, no, no, no.

Yep.

Adare stood there, the surprise on his face quickly banked. The fury in his impossibly black eyes, however, glittered harsh and bright.

She edged backward.

“Dinnae even think it.” In his anger, his Scottish brogue, the product of a distant time and place, broke free and strong. His black hair hung to his shoulders, dotted with snow that was quickly melting. For the raid, or whatever this was, he’d worn a jacket, cargo pants, and boots—all black and more than likely concealing various weapons.

“Holy shit,” Sebastian muttered, standing and turning.

Grace nodded. If she could shove Sebastian toward Adare, she might be able to—

Adare’s nostrils flared, and her body reacted, stopping her in her tracks. Then he started moving toward her, smooth and graceful, his six-foot-six height and broad chest making him look like the proverbial immovable object.

Sebastian swallowed loudly and backed to her side. “That guy is huge. Like huge, huge.” He looked toward her, one fluorescent blue contact falling out of his eye. “What have you gotten me into?”

The lump in her throat nearly choked her. “Nothing. You’re fine, but don’t go around pretending to be something you’re not. Trust me, Sebastian.”

“Freddy,” the kid croaked. “My name is Freddy. Not Sebastian. I thought that sounded more like a creature of the night.”

The huge blond guy’s mouth dropped open and then shut quickly.

Oh, this was so bad. She’d tried hard not to leave a trail. Fake name, fake email address, and she’d even moved around to use different library computers and IP addresses—in different towns. What kind of laws had she broken? As far as she knew, there weren’t prisons for immortals, so what did that leave? Death for treason?

Not that she wasn’t dying anyway.

The blond, his black eyes taking in the entire room, quickly stepped up to the bar and flashed a badge. “U.S. Government. We only want those two for federal crimes.”

“Whew,” one of the kids in the back sighed.

The bartender shrugged, still drying off a beer glass with a dirty towel. “Take ’em.”

Freddy lifted his hands. “I haven’t done anything. Really. The chick is nuts. She thought I was a vampire, and she wanted to buy blood, so I figured, why not? Freaky sex might be fun.”

“Shut. Up.” Adare manacled Freddy’s neck with one hand, cutting off all sound. Without taking his gaze off Grace, he flicked his wrist and tossed Freddy toward the blond. “Nick? Take him, please.”

The please, for some reason, sent shivers down Grace’s back. Her legs weakened, but she lifted her chin, facing Adare. It had been nearly three years since they’d crossed paths, and he appeared even better-looking than she remembered. Meaner and bigger, too. A pissed-off expression on him was normal, but this one was new. All heat and fury. “I’ll get going, too,” she said, taking another step back.

Nick caught Freddy and leaned to the side, holding the human like a rag doll. “Adare? Do you know this female?”

Adare slowly nodded, his focus stronger than any hold. “She’s my mate.”

“I am not,” she retorted.

“Yes. You. Are.” Adare’s face was as impenetrable as rock, even as the words rolled out with that brogue.

Nick’s light eyebrows rose. He looked around the bar and, apparently satisfied that nobody was going to attack, returned his focus to Adare. “What’s your mate doing trying to buy vampire blood in Colorado?” he whispered.

It sounded ridiculous. Heat spread up Grace’s chest to her face, causing her cheeks to pound.

Adare’s gaze followed the heat, making her even warmer. “We’re about to get an answer to that question.” He held out one broad hand, no leniency on his hard face. “Let’s do this somewhere else.”

It was an order, not a question.

“No.” She said it softly but with authority. The bond of their mating was almost gone, and he had no hold on her. He never would, which suited them both just fine. “This was obviously a mistake, so let’s just go our separate ways.”

His lids half-lowered, slowly and deliberately, the deadly predator at his core fully visible. Not many people disobeyed the dangerous hybrid, and a human female, one whose life he had saved, shouldn’t even have thought about it. But she was no longer his responsibility, and she was done being lost.

“Grace.” One word, said in that brogue, with a demand that was absolute.

If she could run, she would. Instead, her body froze, her heart thundering. “I know I goofed up here, and I won’t do it again.” The appeasing note in her voice ticked her off, but she wasn’t up to a physical struggle right now. This disastrous meeting had taken weeks to set up. “Let’s just forget this and move on.”

“Have you lost your mind?” He sounded more curious than angry.

Hope flared through her. “Yes, briefly. It happens.” He’d never wanted anything to do with her, so giving him an out should work nicely. A simple apology—she tried to sound sincere—although she wanted to kick him in the shin instead. He’d always been a jackass, but there was no doubt he’d win any physical fight. Even at her best, which she wasn’t close to right now, she couldn’t take him. It was doubtful anybody could. “This whole thing was a mistake, and I’m sorry.” She choked on the last word.

   
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