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 Blood Bond

Anna Strong Chronicles - 9

by

Jeanne C. Stein

To the readers who have taken Anna Strong into their hearts. I am so appreciative of your support. I hope you approve of this new chapter in her story.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Anna and I have come a long way—but there are people who have been with me from the very beginning, and I would like to acknowledge their contributions now.

First, my husband, Phil, and daughter, Jeanette—because you can never have too much love, support and encouragement.

My critique group (members past and present): Mario Acevedo, Margie and Tom Lawson, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Aaron Ritchey, Terry Wright, Tamra Monahan, Jeff Shelby, Sandy Meckstroth, Heidi Kuhn and Jim Cole—because no matter how hard you try to get it right the first time, you seldom do.

My editor, Jessica Wade at Ace Books, and my agent, Scott Miller from Trident Media—because you need people on your side who know what they’re doing.

All the good people at Ace, from Jesse Feldman to Rosanne Romanello, senior publicist—because you guys really make it happen.

The heart of the Hand Hotel Writers: Susan Smith, Vicki Law, Carol Berg, Cindi Myers, Marnie Kirstatter, Lynde Iozzo, our host Michael Stone and unofficial hostess Stella McDowell—because the creative energy that sparks off this group and the others who join us from time to time is unbelievable (to say nothing of the great food and the way we’ve come to think of the Hand as home).

Sisters in Crime and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers—because that’s how it all started for me.

I’m not even going to try to list all the wonderful friends and family who come to my signings, buy my books and just generally offer encouragement, because that would take a dozen more pages. Just know I love you all.

This is the end . . . and the beginning.

PROLOGUE

WHAT CAME BEFORE

SUDDENLY, MAX IS STANDING AT THE FOOT OF MY BED.

I sit up, rubbing my eyes. Did I fall asleep?

He smiles. “Hey.”

He’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He looks good. “Hey, yourself. When did they let you out of the hospital?”

“An hour ago. I was afraid you weren’t going to wake up in time.”

My head is fuzzy with sleep. I give it a shake and focus on Max. “You really look good. I just left Texas a few hours ago. You made a miraculous recovery.”

“In a way.” He takes a seat on the end of my bed. “I have something to tell you. And I don’t think I have much time.”

I smile. “Why not?”

“Oh, you know, places to go, people to see.”

“You realize Pablo is in custody.”

“Yes. But that’s not why I’m here.”

I prop myself up straighter against the headboard and try to concentrate. My brain isn’t cooperating. It seems to be trying to cut into my thoughts, to tell me something. I tell it to shut up, that I only want to listen to Max. I lean toward him. “Go on.”

He sighs. “First, I owe you an apology. I didn’t treat you very well when I found out you are a vampire. I was afraid of what it meant—to me. Stupid because it meant nothing. Not really. Above all, you are a good woman, Anna, and my biggest regret is that I realized it too late.”

I shrug. “You can make it up to me.”

He shakes his head. “No. Believe me, it’s too late. But there is someone else. Learn from me. You have a real chance at happiness now. Take it.”

My turn to shake my head. “If you mean Stephen—”

“No. Not Stephen. There is another. You know who it is.” He stops, tilts his head as if listening. He nods. “I only have a few more minutes. Don’t regret what happened in that hangar. I know you’ve been wondering whether you will always be stronger than vampire. You only need to want it. All the strength you need is within yourself. You are right about Culebra. He has found new meaning for his life with Adelita. He has found a way to make up for past mistakes. He has finally found peace. Make sure he understands he is not to blame for what happened to me. He needs to concentrate now on the future. Let the past die.”

I tilt my head. “But how did you know what I was thinking at the hospital? You were unconscious the entire time.”

“All the same, I heard your thoughts. Loud and clear. In fact, it was those thoughts that kept pulling me back when I was ready to let go.” He laughs. “Your will is too strong. I was relieved when they sent you home.”

“I don’t understand,” I say while my gut is saying, of course you do. You know.

“It was my time, Anna.”

Anger wells up, and with it, fear. Fear of losing a friend. Fear of losing Max. “No. I don’t want you to go.”

“It’s too late. It’s a tribute to your power that I was allowed to hang around this long. To say a proper good-bye. I’ll miss you, Anna.”

“No.” I lunge forward on the bed, reaching for his hand.

It slips through mine as though made of fog.

He smiles a slow, sweet smile and raises his hand in farewell.

And then before I can reach out again, he is gone.

* * *

FUNNY HOW SOME DREAMS ARE FLEETING AS SPRING snow while others stay with you long past waking. It’s been that way with the “dream” I had the night Max died. Only it wasn’t a dream, was it?

It’s all I think about on my way to Monument Valley. Max’s message to me is like a beacon drawing me to Daniel Frey. And when I get there . . .

CHAPTER 1

JANUARY

I WISH I HAD A CAMERA. THE EXPRESSION ON DANIEL Frey’s handsome face when he opens the door and sees me standing on his porch in the middle of the day in the middle of Monument Valley is priceless. It’s a combination of surprise, delight, unease, trepidation and just plain confusion. It hikes his eyebrows, furrows his brow and turns a half frown, half grin into something that resembles a gargoyle’s

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