Nate Powell lived one full life as a world-class inventor before a disaster born of magic and science returned him to his prime—and turned him into a half-vampire, half-bloodhound abomination.
He’s finally stopped yearning for death, but he’s a long way from being excited about life—even if his newly virile body is very excited by the latest arrival to Iron Creek.
Diana is another creature that shouldn’t exist—a female bloodhound. While the males of Iron Creek accept her as a fellow warrior, Nate seems torn between a desire to study her and a need to protect her. Diana’s urges are a lot more carnal.
When they learn that a rogue hound is selling women across the border, Diana and Nate are chosen to infiltrate the vampires’ capital city. But before long their inner bloodhounds feel the mating pull—and a hound never outlives their mate for long. In a fight to keep each other alive, they could both end up worse than dead.
Read an Excerpt
For the first time in five years, Diana wasn’t the most dangerous person around.
She ducked a blow that would have connected with her jaw and growled as she plowed into Hunter’s midsection. He barely even flinched, his only reaction a low grunt. His fist swung around a second time, headed for her unprotected side.
She was faster, and she’d obviously have to use that to her advantage if she ever hoped to hold her own in a fight with another bloodhound. She spun away, narrowly escaping the blow, and danced back, panting.
This time he didn’t follow. Instead he braced his hands on his knees and watched her, eyes narrowed. “You’re a quick fucker, aren’t you? Suppose you’ve been doing this longer than I have, though.”
She eyed his muscled arms and shoulders and snorted out a laugh. “Being fast is the only way I can stay on my feet, you big ox.”
A rough laugh grated out of him. “Good. Keep being fast. My woman’ll give me the cold shoulder for a week if I land one of these punches on your smart mouth.”
Yes, Ophelia seemed to appreciate and respect the innate differences between men and women. “Just remind her I’m no lady. She’ll forgive you.”
“Not likely. Plenty of women here who aren’t exactly ladies, and I doubt she’d look kindly on me hitting any of them.”
Not even a woman who turned into a beast with the full moon. “Wilder won’t look kindly on us shirking our training because we’re afraid to bust a few lips and noses.”
“Oh, I’m not afraid to.” If anything, his eyes gleamed as he straightened. “Ophelia might be confused, but I’m sure as fuck. All these new instincts I’ve got are telling me one thing, plain and simple—you’re a bloodhound.”
She could sense it about him too, an overriding feeling that he was competition, another predator she had to best when it came to the inevitable hunt. “Then that’s what matters.”
“Mmm.” Without warning he spun again, one huge hand slamming toward her gut.
Too late to avoid it, so she took the punch and met it with one of her own, striking his jaw with her fist as the breath whooshed out of her lungs.
Boots scuffed on the dirt as the world spun around her—Wilder, identified by scent and even feel before he spoke. “That’s enough for today. Go wash up for supper, both of you.”
Sometimes, she felt like a child instead of a grown woman, but it was Wilder’s job to train them all, keep them alive. So she nodded and slapped Hunter on the back as she passed him. “Next time, I’m whooping your ass.”
Hunter grunted and rubbed his jaw. “Don’t let her knock you upside the head. She packs a wallop for a little thing.”
Diana took the porch steps two at time before turning to grin at him. “I’m not a little thing, remember? I’m a bloodhound.”
Inside the house was dark and cool, the electric lamps unlit in the waning sunlight. She felt her way down the hall, turned the corner and bumped into a wide chest. “Sorry—”
Large, careful hands caught her elbows. “Are you all right?”
“Nate.” A shiver raced up her spine. Awareness, different from the other hounds, but not quite like the vampires she’d fought and killed, either. “I’m just a little out of breath, that’s all.”
His mouth tugged down into a frown. “Hunter hit you.”
He must have been watching. “And I hit Hunter. It’s part of our training.”
If anything, his frown deepened. “He’s twice your size. At least.”
“I held my own.” She flexed her aching hand. “Got in a few good licks.”
“I suppose you did.” Nate took a step back, though his presence still filled the narrow hallway. “You don’t feel the same as them, you know.”
She’d seen photographs of him before, distinguished and silver-haired, nothing like the man who stood before her now. Everything about him was dark—his hair, his eyes, and especially the glower that clouded his face.
Even his words.
Diana shook herself. “You don’t feel the same as the others, either. But that’s not quite what you mean, is it?”
“No,” he acknowledged, and a hint of a smile broke through. “You’ll have to forgive me, Diana. I’ve never let manners get in the way of an intellectual puzzle.”
“Is that what I am?”
“Aren’t we both?”
She shrugged. “I really haven’t given it much thought.” In his case, perhaps she should have. He was at least part vampire, and she’d been created to fight them, kill them if necessary.
“Whereas I do nothing but think. I’m told it renders my conversation tedious at times, but I’m simply grateful I’ve regained the ability to think at all.”
“Tedious? Hmm.” It was the last word she’d have used to describe him, though she was honest enough to admit perhaps that had more to do with how much she enjoyed looking at him than anything else. “We’ll have to talk more, and I’ll let you know.”
He watched her as if he suspected she was joking. “I should think the hours you’ve been forced to spend with me thus far would have been trial enough. I almost feel guilty asking if you could find some time tomorrow to help me with the journals.”
Diana brushed aside the stab of pain that accompanied the mention of her mentor’s diaries. “Who better to help you make heads or tails of Doc’s research?”
Nate’s hand settled on her shoulder. “I’d understand if you found it too painful. Most of it I could work out on my own, given enough time.”
Was she so transparent? “I’m fine. Really, I’d be glad to help.”
“If you’re sure.” He squeezed her shoulder before letting his hand fall away. “I owe you a debt as it is. If you hadn’t helped me untangle some of his later entries, Satira and I wouldn’t have found the key to synthesizing the blood substitute.”
“I was glad to help.” But she’d said that already. Something about his proximity tied her tongue, left her silly and stammering, and she took a step back. Away. “I should get cleaned up. If I sit down at Caroline’s table like this, she’s liable to dump a pitcher of water over my head.”
His lips twitched into a half smile. “I believe Hunter and Ophelia are joining us for supper tonight as well, and we all know Ophelia has ideas about appropriate attire.”
The woman was serious about dressing for meals, and Diana sighed. She had precious few garments left that suited, and she resolved to do something about that very soon. Surely she could find a happy medium between menswear and lace and ribbons. “Then I’d better change as well.”
Nate cleared her path to the stairs. “I’ll see you at dinner, A—” He bit off the name with an embarrassed cough. “Diana.”
April. A word so foreign she barely recognized it as a name any longer, much less the one she’d possessed before her transformation. Did he think of her that way, as a weak and traumatized human, an unfortunate and unavoidable consequence of reading about her in Doc’s journals?
It could not stand. “Diana,” she said firmly as she brushed past him. “My name is Diana.”
* * *
The girl survived. Her name is April.
Sighing, Nate closed the first of Ephraim Phillips’s translated journals. He remembered Ephraim as a brilliant man turned bitter in his prime—but that prime had been so many years ago. Ephraim had already been in his fourth decade by the time Nate had joined the ranks of the Bloodhound Guild’s star inventors at seventeen.
It would have made the man almost eighty when he rescued a young woman savaged by a bloodhound’s crazed attack. April. A sweet name for the sweet girl described in the journals’ earliest entries.
No wonder Diana wanted it left dead in the past. Sweetness would get a bloodhound killed.
Boots thumped on the stairs, and Nate shoved the journal aside as Wilder appeared. “Morning, Nate.” He held up a large, insulated metal flask. “I brought you some coffee.”
Even closed, the container smelled of rich, freshly ground beans. Caroline’s doing, and one of the many ways the cook had enriched life at the bloodhound manor since Ophelia had hired her. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Wilder leaned one hip against the edge of the worktable. “Getting a head start on the day?”
He nodded. “I asked Diana to lend me a bit of her time, so I thought I should put my notes in order.”
“Are you any closer to figuring out what he was working on?”
“Hell, I’m still not sure it was any one thing.” Nate set his coffee aside, pulled out his own journal and flipped open to the last page. “There are times I think he was trying to break down the bloodhound formula into its component parts. Isolate each interaction. But that’s impossible, as alchemy isn’t an exact science. There’s a reason they call it magic.”
“I suppose the blood substitute is boon enough.” Wilder slid one leather-bound volume off the stack to be translated and flipped through it with a grunt.
“Yes, I’m grateful for it.” He wouldn’t miss the miserable mornings spent drinking from Hunter, the hound’s blood restoring life and vigor with a brutal force that left Hunter irritable and Nate dazed. Drunk, even. Something magical sizzled in Hunter’s blood, the same something that had clearly intrigued Ephraim about Diana’s. “I think it might be the least of what he discovered, though.”
Wilder quirked an eyebrow. “I’d expect no less from the man who created us in the first place.”
“Created you,” Nate agreed, tapping the stack of journals. “But he didn’t create Hunter or Diana.”
The hound’s gaze sharpened. “Is that what he did? Busied himself with studying what made her different?”
“It seems that way.” After a moment’s hesitation, he told Wilder his own greatest suspicion, the one that had nagged at him of late with increasing regularity. “I sometimes wonder if he hadn’t begun to experiment with some aspects of the formula. Ephraim would have been an old man, Wilder. Older than Diana has described him.”
“How old is old?”
“In his eighties at the time of his death—if he’d aged as he should have.” If Nate turned, he’d catch his reflection in polished steel. The reflection of a stranger—of a man he hadn’t been in twenty years or more. “Not everyone does these days.”
“No, they don’t, at that.” Wilder pulled out a stool and took a seat. “How have you been, Nate? Honestly?”
The first time they’d met, Wilder had been a young bloodhound fresh out of guild training. Though ten years Nate’s junior, Wilder possessed the world-weary air of a soldier, one who’d fought and nearly died before allowing his country to remake him into a new kind of warrior.
They’d become friends over those years, as Wilder came into his own and Nate left the prime of life behind. Then they’d parted ways, Wilder to patrol the border while Nate had come to Iron Creek and found a new purpose—training a bright young woman to use her mind in spite of the Guild’s lowly opinion on a woman’s place.
That girl had reunited them. Satira had charged into the Deadlands with Wilder at her heels and hauled Nate back from the brink of death. She’d also twined Wilder’s heart around her little finger…which meant that Nate’s friend of years past had a new allegiance now.
“Depends on who’s asking,” he said quietly. “The senior bloodhound of Iron Creek? Or the hound mated to Satira?”
“Come on now. You know full well there’s no separating the two.” Wilder leaned forward. “I’m asking as your friend.”
Nate scrubbed a hand across his face and sighed. “I’m better than I was, but perhaps not as recovered as I pretend to be.”
Wilder nodded, as if it was exactly what he’d expected to hear. “Is there anything I can do?”
Nate struggled for an acceptable answer. Of all the changes, he’d had the hardest time adjusting to his psychic abilities. Not every vampire possessed such, and those that did enjoyed—or suffered—varying degrees of ability. He’d heard tales of newborn creatures driven mad by the sudden influx of foreign sensory input.
After experiencing it for himself, he believed it. Being surrounded by the low murmur of others’ thoughts was disconcerting, especially when those thoughts seemed all but inescapable. But taking the powder substitute instead of blood had helped to dull those powers, another reason he was grateful to have it.
Nothing else would help but time. “Can you keep Satira from fretting herself sick?”
“I’ll do my best.” He shrugged. “She’s not quite as worried these days, anyway. You haven’t been alone so much.”
No, he hadn’t. Along with his weakened powers came a greater ability to tolerate the sunlight, and venturing upstairs enabled him to take part in day-to-day life again. But somehow he didn’t think that was what Wilder meant. “There’s nothing going on.”
Wilder shook his head. “I didn’t ask. I know better.”
Nate frowned, perversely irritated that he wasn’t being taken to task for the hours he spent alone with Diana. “You damn well should ask. Protecting her is your responsibility.”
“Of course it is. And if I thought her in danger of being hurt, trust me, I’d be asking. Possibly with my fists.”
He’d walked into the trap like a fool, but he supposed traps were Wilder’s specialty. “Diana is a kind young woman who’s trying to help me. I wouldn’t take advantage of that, no matter what notion Satira’s got in her head.”
Wilder avoided his gaze. “If advantage were to be taken, I’m not sure I’d assume it had to be by you.”
Well, that was a blow to the ego, not to mention an entirely unacceptable path for his thoughts to take. Bad enough that he noticed the sweetness of her smile or the lean muscle under her sleek curves. Worse to consider that she might welcome the attention.
How awkward it was to have stumbled into this trap, especially when he’d have to face her soon enough with all his masks in place. “I forget sometimes that you’re cleverer than you look.”
“Hmm, I guess I’ll have to take that as a compliment.” Wilder cocked his head as the basement door opened and someone stepped lightly onto the top stair. “And now I have to go.”
“Thank you for the coffee.” Nate managed to smile. “I won’t keep her too long this morning.”
“I wish you would.” Diana appeared at the bottom of the stairs, one hand on the wall separating the staircase from the rest of the room. “Otherwise, Hunter will be throwing me around the training yard some more.”
Now was as good a time as any to address that bit of idiocy. “Hunter’s a solid wall, Wilder. I’m not saying you need to go easy on her because she’s a woman—” though the Lord knew he’d like to say as much, even if it earned Diana’s ire, “—but not all hounds have the same strengths. Why not train her more with the advanced weapons instead?”
“What?” Diana’s brows drew together in a confused frown that quickly gave way to a stricken look. “I was joking, that’s all. I don’t need special treatment.”
Nate looked to Wilder for help, but the man raised both hands and backed away. “I’m running late. Diana, have a lovely morning. Nate…” He trailed off, shook his head and hurried up the stairs.
Traitor. Nate turned and fumbled for words to repair the damage he’d done. “I wasn’t suggesting special treatment, and I didn’t mean to offend. It just seems logical to train you with the weapons.”
“I have been training with them,” she said stiffly, surveying the table.
“The more complicated weapons,” he corrected. “It’s a compliment. Not all hounds can manage them. You have to be quick in combat to have any hope of deploying them as a defense.”
She levered herself up onto Wilder’s abandoned stool, bracing her hands on the wood between her thighs. “So it has nothing to do, really, with the fact that Hunter is—what was it? A wall?”
“Do I like watching him hit you? No.” Pouring his coffee from the flask Wilder had delivered into a mug gave him something to do, something to look at besides the way her pants fit her in all the right places, reminding him how young and virile his body was now. “I was arming bloodhounds before you were born, my girl, and not all of them are the size of Hunter. Different men have different skills.”
“I see. And what happens when I lose my very complicated gun and don’t know how to throw—or take—a punch?”
He flinched. “I concede the point.”
Diana lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “I need to learn better fighting techniques. It’s a practical fact, not Wilder’s opinion.” The corner of her mouth curved up in a smile. “But I appreciate your concern.”
Yes, concern. He’d pretend that was his investment in her. Simple concern, and not a proprietary interest in a woman young enough to be his daughter. “I’m an old man, set in my ways,” he said gruffly, then softened the words with a smile. “As Satira has undoubtedly confirmed.”
Instead of answering, Diana grinned. “What are we working on today?”
She had a wicked smile. Not sweet, but downright suggestive. Nate cleared his throat and reached for the stack of translated journals. “I wanted to go back to the beginning, if you’re comfortable with that. To discuss what happened in the first days after you woke up.”
Her amused expression faded. “I’ll tell you what I can, but I feel compelled to warn you…it isn’t much. My memory of the first few weeks is almost nonexistent.”
“I understand. Literally, as it turns out.” He opened the first journal before meeting her eyes. “Even my memories of being rescued by Satira and Wilder are somewhat fractured. Such changes are always traumatic.”
“Yes.” She looked away. “I spent the first few days looking for my husband.”
The journals spoke little of the man, who had been dead by the time Ephraim found them. Nate lowered his voice. “If this is too painful—”
Diana continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Harrison was a bull of a man, you know. Strong and obstinate. Doc told me he was dead, but I didn’t believe him. If anyone could have survived a bloodhound attack—should have, even—it was Harry. Not me.”
Undoubtedly that discrepancy had kindled the old doctor’s curiosity. “Ephraim once theorized that certain people have an affinity for the transformation. He never managed to prove it, nor could he isolate what made it take hold so strongly in some while others didn’t survive. But your experience is not without precedent.” Cold, scientific words, and shame burned in his gut at being cowardly enough to take refuge in them. “I’m sorry, Diana. It must have been terribly hard.”
No confirmation or denial, simply another shrug. “Harry would have wanted it to be me. He’d have given his life for mine—and perhaps he did. I don’t know. I never will.”
If Ephraim had known the truth, he hadn’t deemed it relevant. “May I ask you a few questions about your earliest experiences? I’d like to compare them to what I know of the typical bloodhound transformation.”
He swallowed and flipped open his own journal to the perfectly reasonable questions he’d scribbled down the night before. Each one had seemed pertinent then. Now, faced with an attractive woman and a guilty conscience, they mostly seemed…invasive.
Especially the first one. “Do you remember your initial experiences with the moons, full and new?”
“The new moon was first,” she murmured. “I spent it alone.”
A horrifying experience, one the Guild went to tremendous pains to avoid by employing experienced women whose entire purpose was to guide newly created bloodhounds through their first encounters with the three days of blind lust brought on by the new moon. “I’m sorry,” he said again, though the words were insufficient.
Diana rubbed her hands over her arms. “Don’t worry, it hasn’t happened since. What about you?”
He blinked. “Have I experienced a new moon, do you mean?”
“You’re half bloodhound, aren’t you?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Perhaps answering her questions would lessen his guilt over digging through the broken pieces of her past. Besides, it made for an excellent exercise in framing his own painful memories as a scientific curiosity. “As best I can tell, I lack some of the benefits and disadvantages common in both vampires and bloodhounds. At worst, the new moon causes me some mild irritation.”
“Irritation?” She repeated the word with a soft laugh. “It can’t be anything like it, then, because that’s surely not how I’d describe it. An empty ache, maybe. A hunger nothing will sate.”
Nothing coolly scientific about those words. Even strict discipline couldn’t keep him from imagining Diana, her dark eyes hot with lust, her brown hair wild about her shoulders as she rode him with an ardor that would take three days to burn itself out.
His cock strained against his trousers before he could fully banish the image. “No,” he bit out, fighting a rising blush. “I can’t say I’m familiar with the feeling.” Liar.
“Then you’re lucky,” she whispered. “Next question?”
He couldn’t manage to tear his gaze from hers to check the journal, so he made one up. “I assume your increased healing abilities took hold at once. What about your other senses?”
“As soon as I woke up.” She slid off the stool and wandered over to a shelf on the other side of the room. “Hearing, smell, sight. Even taste—you know, I was ravenous, ate all the time. I still do.”
It usually took weeks for the newly transformed hounds to come into the full power of their new strengths. “That must have been overwhelming.”
“It was months before I managed to get a handle on it.”
“Your increased strength as well?”
She seemed to be struggling for words. “Months before I felt human again.”
Not so different from Hunter, after all. Nate rose and circled the table to stand at her side. “Enough questions. You’ve indulged me far beyond any reasonable expectation.”
“So make it up to me.” She leaned one shoulder against the wall. “Show me something you designed. One of the weapons you think I should master.”
He studied her for a moment, trying to judge if she was sincere or simply humoring him. “Have you ever fired a crossbow?”
“No, but there’s a first time for everything.”
“Well, then.” He nodded toward the door that led to his private laboratory. “It’s an elegant weapon, and crossbow bolts can be customized with an impressive array of surprises. Fire, silver, acid…even sunlight, after a fashion.”
The smile she offered weakened his knees. “Enlighten me, Nathaniel Powell.”
For the first time he wondered if Wilder might be correct. Perhaps Diana was every bit the huntress Ephraim had named her. Perhaps he was the one in danger.
That was a thought to get his newly invigorated blood pumping through his old veins. He smiled, wide enough to show off his fangs. “It would be my pleasure.”