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Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang

Dark Ones Series, Book 7

Katie MacAlister

PROLOGUE

“He’s here.”

“Is he? Where? Let me see.”

The air moved behind me as Magda hurried over to peer around me. “Are you sure that’s him?”

I nudged aside the heavy blue tweed curtain, creating an infinitesimally small gap between curtain and window that allowed me to eye the man who stood on my front step. “It has to be. Just look at him.”

“I would if you moved your hand . . . Ah.” Magda had what I thought of as an opera singer’s voice, rich in timbre, and with a Spanish accent that managed to be simultaneously charming and sultry. “Well, it’s true he is wearing dark glasses. But lots of people wear those.”

“At night?” I asked.

She pursed her lips. “He doesn’t have long hair like Alec had.”

“No, but he’s got a widow’s peak. That screams vampire. So does the fedora he’s holding.”

“Bah. It’s just a hat.”

I pointed. “That is not just a hat. It’s leather and stylish, and all the vamps I’ve seen have worn something similar.”

“Hrmph. Lots of men wear hats like that. And long dusters.”

“Oh, come on! Who do you know who dresses like something out of a European male model’s agent portfolio, wears dark glasses and a hat, and positively reeks of sexy, smoldering danger?”

“Well . . .” Her face screwed up for a moment while she thought. “I just don’t know. Are you sure that’s the messenger?”

“Positive.”

“Hmm.” Magda’s chin rested on my shoulder as we huddled behind the curtain. “He could be a religious person trying to convert you. Or someone who ran out of gas and needs to use your phone. Or maybe he’s a spirit, and is lost, and needs you to help him find that place the spirits call heaven.”

“The Icelanders call it Ostri, and he’s not a spirit.”

“How do you know? Are you wearing your thingie?”

I lifted my hand. A small oval moonstone charm swung gently from a silver bracelet.

“OK, so he’s not a ghost. Why don’t you let him in and we’ll see who he is?”

“Are you kidding?” I asked, giving her a gimlet eye. “He’s a vampire! Don’t you know anything? You never invite a vampire into your home. Once you do, they can come in anytime they want!”

Her lips curled. “Unlike, oh, say, a normal man?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Why don’t you just ask Kristoff?” she asked, moving away, her tone dismissive.

I let the curtain drop to glare across the small living room at my friend. “You know full well I haven’t heard a single word from that particular man since that horrible time in Iceland when I ended up being his Beloved instead of Alec’s. He hates me because I took his dead girlfriend’s place. I couldn’t possibly ask him, even if I knew where to find him, and I don’t, so that point is completely moot.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Magda said, plunking herself down on my couch, waving a hand toward the archway that led to my kitchen. “He’s right here. You can ask him all you want.”

My jaw dropped as a shadow detached itself from the darkness of the room beyond, and a man stepped forward into the light. Eyes the color of purest teal practically glowed at me, causing my heart to leap in my chest until I thought it would burst right out of me.

“Pia,” Kristoff said in that wonderfully rich, Italian-accented voice that never failed to make me feel as if he were stroking my bare skin with velvet.

“How . . . how did you get here?” I stammered, my brain overwhelmed with the sight and scent and sound of him, right there, close enough to fling myself upon.

“You are my Beloved,” he said, and took a step toward me, the light from a nearby lamp casting a golden glow on him, shadowing the sharp planes of his face and the little cleft in his chin, burnishing the short, dark chocolate curls that kissed the tips of his ears, curls that I knew were as soft as satin. And his mouth-oh, that mouth with the lush, sensitive lips that could drive me insane with desire even now had me remembering the taste of him, the slightly sweet, slightly spicy taste that was so wholly unique to Kristoff. Instantly my legs threatened to turn to mush. I clutched the back of a chair to keep from melting into a giant puddle right there on the floor in front of him. “We are bound together for all eternity, Pia. I cannot be parted from you.”

“But . . .” My mind was pretty useless at this point, focused solely on remembering a million little intimate moments with him, but I forced it off those extremely pleasant memories and into some semblance of a working state. “But we have been parted. For almost two months.”

“Kristoff did not expect you to take the steps of Joining with him,” a man’s voice said behind me.

The messenger who had been on my doorstep now stood in the doorway. I blinked a couple of times as I realized that I’d seen him before. “You’re Andreas. You’re Kristoff’s brother.”

“He did not expect to have a Beloved,” Andreas continued, his face only slightly resembling that of the man whose memory had haunted my dreams.

“No more than I did, but you didn’t see me running away,” I said, turning back to Kristoff, intending to ask him why he hadn’t contacted me once in the two months since I’d saved his life, inadvertently restoring his soul, but before I could say more, he slipped back into the shadows.

“You are my Beloved,” he repeated as the darkness swallowed him up, the lyrical tones of his voice lingering in the air even as he disappeared from sight. “We are bound together.”

“Wait-” I said, starting forward.

Andreas grabbed my arm, saying with earnest intensity, “He did not expect you to save him.”

“I had to,” I tried to explain, but Andreas simply shook his head and walked out the door.

“I had no choice,” I said, my hands outstretched as I looked for someone to whom I could explain the situation. Magda sighed, set down her magazine, and stood up.

“Ray’s calling for me. I have to go now. We’ll be here soon, and then you and I can talk about it, OK?”

“You’re leaving me?” I asked, a sudden sense of panic filling me as she walked toward the dark kitchen. “You’re leaving me alone?”

She paused and shook her head, her lips curved in a gentle smile. “I’m not really here, Pia. It’s just a dream, nothing more.”

“But Kristoff was here,” I said, gesturing toward the door to my bedroom. “He was right there. I saw him.”

She said nothing, just gave me another little smile; then she, too, melted into nothing.

“I saw him!” I insisted to the now empty room. “Kristoff, I saw you. Kristoff?”

The echo of my voice was the only sound.

I wrapped my arms around myself and sank to my knees with a sob of pure misery as my heart cried out his name. Kristoff!

Pia?

His voice was soft in my head, soft and intimate and warm, the feel of it flooding my senses with the memory of him. It was enough to jerk me out of the dream, hot tears leaking from the corners of my eyes as consciousness returned, and with it the profound sense of loss that seemed to be my constant companion.

As my mind fought to free itself from the muzziness of the dream, I realized what had happened. I’d called out to Kristoff from the depths of my dream, and he’d answered. Although I knew that frequently Beloveds and their Dark Ones had the ability to mind-talk to each other, our parting was sufficiently heartbreaking to keep me from

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