Possessed by an Immortal
Can a mother in jeopardy melt the heart of a jaded vampire?
After witnessing a murder, Bree Meadows is on the run with her young son. But the bad guys are in hot pursuit. Dropped in the middle of nowhere amid a torrential thunderstorm, things look pretty grim. To make matters worse, her son is in desperate need of medical attention.
Mark Winspear has been alone for too long. When the vampire senses a gorgeous female nearby, he discovers that her swift, selfless courage pulls at his instincts.The doctor has history with the same men who are after Bree—and he’s ready for revenge. Working together now, they discover an attraction that might save them both—if they’re lucky.
Don’t drown my boy!
Seawater soaked Bree up to the waist. When the rocky shore slammed into her knees, she wasn’t sure if she’d fallen or if the choppy waves had thrown her. Her arms automatically folded around the child sheltered against her chest. Jonathan whimpered, his voice achingly small in the darkness. She scrabbled forward, hauling him with her in a one-armed crawl until she reached a scruff of grass and ferns. It was hard going, half stumbling, half climbing as the shore rose sharply from the beach.
Bree tried to look behind her but from where she knelt, she couldn’t see the man below. For a fat, old, whiskery fishing guide, Bob was strong. And a coward. And cruel.READ MORE
Curse him! She clung there for a long moment, palms smarting from clambering over the sharp rocks. Vertigo seized her, the tug of the surf still haunting her blood and bones. It’s okay. We made it, at least for now. She cradled Jonathan, trying to give the four-year-old a comfort she didn’t feel.
They’d left the ocean below, but not water. Rain pounded against her back and shoulders, dripping through her hair and down her face to mix with tears and sweat. The only light came from the boat below, where Bob was turning the craft around. She was still panting, still needed to rest, but she couldn’t let the moment pass. Bree stood and wheeled around, instinctively pulling her coat closer around Jonathan.
“You promised to take me to town!” she screamed toward the bright light of the boat. It was a useless protest, but Brianna Meadows had never been the demure, silent type.
“Count yourself lucky!” Bob bellowed back. “I saw you to dry land.”
“They’ll kill us!”
“Better you than me. I’m sorry for your boy, but you’re nothing but trouble.”
He said something else, but the words shredded in the rain and wind. The motor roared as the boat picked up speed. It was a small, agile craft a shade too light for the brewing storm. She’d paid him well to get her to the mainland, where she could have found a bus going south. Instead, he’d dumped her ashore at the first hint of danger. Bob was used to tourists in pursuit of salmon. He wasn’t cut out for dodging villains with live ammunition.
Maybe she should have warned him. Maybe she should have gone to the police back at the beginning. But then again, some of them were on the wrong side, weren’t they?
You’re nothing but trouble. The old fishing guide wasn’t the first to say it.
Bree watched the light from the boat shrink to a blurry splotch on the rainy sea. Wind shushed through the massive cedar trees overhead, making her feel tiny. All of her efforts had been spent keeping Jonathan out of the freezing waves. She’d been hot with exertion when she’d crawled ashore, but now the knife-edged wind on her wet clothes made her shudder with cold.
At least Bob had waited for shallow water before he’d forced them out of the boat, but then he’d done it so fast she had no time to fight back. The thought triggered Bree’s fury all over again. How could you leave me here? How could you do this to my baby? She was literally at the end of the earth. The west end, with the Pacific Ocean gnawing at the rocks below.
She licked her lips, tasting salt and rain. She was a city girl. Her survival skills involved flashing a gold card at a five-star hotel. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out.”
Jonathan looked up at her from the shelter of her coat, his eyes dark shadows framed by curls of damp hair. He didn’t speak. He’d stopped talking months ago. It had been a call to a clinic that had given her away and started the chase all over again. Seeking help had clearly been a mistake, but what else could she have done?
Scraping wet hair from her cheeks, she tried to blink the scene into better focus. Bree took Jonathan’s hand and moved under the shelter of the trees, their thick, astringent scent enfolding her. The ground was soft with rotting needles, her feet silent. All she could hear was the drumming of the rain, weirdly amplified by an utter absence of light. Scalp prickling with nerves, Bree made a slow turn, barely able to see her hand in front of her face. She snuggled Jonathan closer, afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep him warm enough. Oh, please, I need a miracle!
No doubt she’d used up her stock of those long ago. Like when she’d escaped her pursuers in the Chicago airport. Or that incident in the Twin Cities. She was probably in miracle overdraft by now.
Except…as her eyes grew used to the gloom, she caught a faint glimmer of yellow light if she shifted a smidgen to her left.
Someone lived in this forsaken wilderness! But her enemies were clever, and she’d been fooled before into thinking she’d found safety. A walk through the woods could save her life, or lead her straight into the monster’s cave. As if sensing her indecision, Jonathan squirmed against her, letting out a weak whimper.
That was the problem with being a mother. Risk didn’t mean the same things when your baby was at stake. Bree would dare anything if it meant Jonathan lived through the night.
Mark Winspear listened to the sounds outside his cabin, hearing each rustle of branch and bird. The cabin was sparsely furnished, the only light an orange glow spilling from the cast-iron stove. The dark wood walls disappeared into the shadows, giving the impression of a cave. Mark tossed another log into the stove’s maw, watching as crimson sparks swirled. In a moment, fresh yellow flames licked at the wood. He settled back into his threadbare easy chair, letting the worn fabric embrace him.
The scene was domestic, even dull, but it was overdue. Out here, in the back of beyond, he could be what he was: a wild beast and solitary hunter. A vampire. Most of all, he could be alone. After five hundred years plus, he’d become less of a people person.
He willed his shoulders to relax, but his instincts forbade it. Tonight, something was different. His vampire hearing was on alert, the night birds and small furred creatures whispering of something new. An invader. Mark’s fingers gripped the ragged arms of the chair. Who dares to come here?
He rose, gliding to the cupboard beside the stove. He unlocked it using a key he hung around his neck. Inside, he kept a rifle and his pistol—a Browning Hi-Power—and a curved kukri knife. Logic said to take one of the guns, but it would be infinitely more satisfying to hunt as a vampire with fang and hunger, and not with human weapons. Still, there were other hunters who knew exactly how to kill his kind. As a compromise, he picked up the knife and relocked the cupboard.
He did not leave by the front door. Instead, he climbed the narrow staircase to the loft and raised the sash window. Clean, cold air rushed in on a gust of wind. Mark crouched by the sill, listening. He zeroed in on the disturbance within seconds. Footsteps. Human. Coming this way, no doubt drawn by the firelight in the cabin window.
Mark searched the darkness for any sign of movement. Feathery cedars, tall pine and thick fir trees blended their heady scents in the pounding rain. Enemies aplenty hunted him, many of them professionals. Trapping him here at the cabin, when he was alone, was a logical choice.
Whoever came would be the best—or they would be dinner. He worked for the Company, what his friend Faran Kenyon laughingly called an army of supernatural superspies. Kings and presidents called when their own experts failed. Solving kidnappings, thefts, smuggling and every other kind of nefarious plot was the bread-and-butter work of Company agents. Dr. Mark Winspear preferred healing people, but he had other skills that came in handy more often than he cared to admit.
In a single smooth move he was perched on the window frame, and then sprang to a nearby tree. The wet, rough bark scraped his palms as he moved from one tree to another, positioning himself for a view of the intruder. Where the limbs were too soft to bear his weight, he used his vampire abilities to fly silently from trunk to trunk. Branches snagged his hair and shoulders, dripping rivulets of rain down his neck. Mark ignored the discomfort and focused on the ground below.
Territorial instincts triggered a wave of hot anger. These were his hunting grounds. Whoever dared to enter would feel his wrath. He leaped, silent and agile as a cat, barely a branch crackling as he moved.
A rare smile played on Mark’s lips as he caught a whiff of warm blood. Warm female blood. It made his mouth water. Clever, to send a female assassin. No doubt she was a seductress, meant to disarm him. He knew better. Women killed just as easily, sometimes better, than their brothers.
Nice try. After a steady diet of black-tailed deer—well, he was ready for dessert.
Then he saw her, stumbling through the trees. She’d found the deer track that passed for a path and was making good progress, but she didn’t move like someone accustomed to the woods. He leaned a little farther, balancing in the perfect spot to peer between the branches. The hood of her coat was pulled up, so he could tell little outside the fact that she was tall for a woman, around five-nine. No flashlight. Obviously, she was trying to sneak up to the house.
Mark shifted his weight, poised to drop on top of the woman as she passed beneath his tree. Then shock rippled through him as he saw she was leading a small child by the hand. In his surprise, his foot nearly slipped. Who took a kid through the woods on a night like this?
A cougar stole through the brush a dozen yards behind. Adrenaline tightened his muscles. No! One rush and a spring, and the cat would have the child.
Mark dropped between the woman and the cat. His boots landed with a hollow thud on the needle-strewn path. The woman stumbled, letting out a yell of surprise. Mark rose, turning to see both her and the cougar. The cat padded backward a few steps, ears flattening.
A need to protect his domain flashed through Mark. He gave a warning growl, hoping the cat would turn and run. Compact and muscular, this male was nine feet from nose to tail-tip and as heavy as a grown man. Mark suspected it was also every bit as smart.
Except tonight. Instead of running, the cougar bared its fangs in a rattling hiss.
It was too much for the woman. She bolted, dragging the child with her, tripping and crashing as she went. The cat lunged forward, but Mark was there in an instant, crouched in its path. The cougar swiped a huge paw. Mark caught it before the massive claws touched his flesh. The cat strained against his grip, rearing up. Mark grabbed both front legs, struggling against the steel of its muscles and tendons. If he had been human, the cougar would have flayed him in a heartbeat.
With a roar, Mark thrust the cat away, the force of it making the creature slide and skitter into the brush.
“Not tonight,” he said evenly, using a touch of vampire compulsion. “This prey is mine.”
The cougar gave a long, slow blink, ears flat against its head. Mark waited. The moment stretched, the cat lashing the ground with its tail, its emerald eyes sizing Mark up, choosing whether or not to obey. Mark raised the knife, letting the cougar see it. The cougar hissed again, a nightmare of long, ivory fangs.
Go. I don’t want to kill you. The moment stretched, Mark still and silent, every muscle poised to strike.
At last the tension broke. With a disgusted swish of its tail, the cougar wheeled and stalked away, shoulders hunched with displeasure. Mark watched it go, relieved to avoid the fight. Good hunting, brother.
He retreated a step, then two, making sure the cat did not change its mind. At last, Mark turned and sprinted after the woman, dodging roots and low branches. She hadn’t gone far. Mark caught another wafting cloud of warm, human blood-scent, now spiced with extra fear.
She ran, too much like a doe fleeing through the woods. Mark’s instincts to chase and devour sparked and flared, roused by her slender, panicked form.
Mark grabbed the woman’s shoulder. She gasped, making the sound of someone too scared to scream. He spun her around, her feet slipping on the wet ground. His grip tightened as she started to fall, but she sprang back with another noise of pure terror, pushing the child behind her.
“Stop!” he commanded, putting a snap into the word.
She obeyed, hunched against the rain, face hidden by the hood except for a pale, pointed chin. Her feet were planted wide, as if to launch herself at him if he so much as twitched in the direction of her child. The cougar had nothing on a mother protecting her young.
“Please,” she demanded, voice shaking. She didn’t say what she pleaded for. There was no need. They both knew he could be a threat—he knew exactly how much.
Mark didn’t answer at once, but took the time to study her. She was wearing a tan trench coat with half the forest stuck to its sodden hem. Her boots were sturdy tan leather, scuffed and splotched with mud. The only other feature he could make out was her hands, long fingers ending in short, unpainted nails. Capable hands. They were half-curled, ready to lash out.
“Where’s the cat?” Her voice was nearly lost beneath the sound of the rain.
“I scared it off. What are you doing here?” he asked in turn, his voice deceptively soft. She smelled so good, his stomach tightened with desire and hunger.
“What does it matter to you?” she snapped back. “I mean, do you live here? Where’s the road to the nearest town?”
She was trying to sound brave, but he could hear her pulse racing with terror. To a predator, fear meant food. He barely resisted the urge to lick his lips. “You’re trespassing.”
“My bad. It’s kind of dark out.”
“A person doesn’t just take a wrong turn out here. The next house is miles away.”
“We walked up from the beach.”
That puzzled him. “You came by boat?”
He hadn’t heard a motor, but the pounding rain might have drowned it out. Still, something was very off. She was extremely wet, the skirts of her coat soaked through and stinking of saltwater, as if she’d waded to shore.
The child peered around her legs, his small white face pinched with cold. Mark felt a stab of anger. “You took your boy for a sail on a night like this?”
The woman’s chin lifted to a stubborn angle. “I made a mistake.”
“I’d say so.”
Mark was growing impatient, rain trickling down his collar. He’d been expecting assassins. He’d never met a professional killer with a child in tow, but such things weren’t impossible. Some would do anything to make a target drop his guard. All that fear he smelled didn’t make her innocent.
He lunged forward and yanked her hood back, wanting to see the woman’s face.
“Hey!” She blinked against the rain, her mouth opening in a startled gasp. It was a nice mouth, wide and soft and giving her features a vulnerable, unconventional beauty. Her face was more long than oval, framed by squiggling tendrils of rain-soaked hair.
“Who are you?” he demanded. She was lovely. Desire rose in a sudden heat, but this time it held more lust than appetite.
“Back off!” She crouched, wrapping her arms around the boy and scooping him onto her hip. The fiercely protective gesture put her body between Mark and the youngster. The swift, selfless courage pulled at his instincts. Whoever this woman was, she was magnificent.
But the child made no more sound than a ghost, and that silence dragged Mark’s attention away from the female. The boy has to be sick or exhausted. He’s cold and wet and it’s dark and his mother is frightened. Most kids would be crying by now. This one hasn’t made a peep.
“I apologize.” Mark frowned, his tone making the statement a lie. “Who are you?”
She backed away. “Bree. Who are you?”
“Mark. Is that your son?”
“Yes.” She shifted uncomfortably, rain trickling down her face. The moment dragged. “Is that your cabin?” she finally asked, her tone torn between need and reluctance. “It’s cold out here.”
Mark bristled, edgy. No one came to his property by accident—it was too far from civilization. Then again, his unexpected guests weren’t going to survive the night without shelter. Kill or protect. Food or willing flesh. Be the vampire, or be the healer. For centuries, the debate had worn on Mark, eventually driving him to his island retreat. He wasn’t a monster when there was no one to kill. He liked it that way. This woman was interrupting his peace.
Still, a good hunter never harmed a mother with fragile young. “Come inside. Your boy needs to get out of the rain.”
“Thank you.” The woman bowed her head, her expression a mix of relief and new worries. She didn’t trust him. Smart woman.
Mark took her elbow, steering her down the path rather than letting her walk behind him. He might be taking pity on the woman, but he still didn’t trust her. After climbing the wooden steps to the cabin and opening the door, he gave Bree a gentle push inside.
After shuffling forward a few steps, she stopped, reminding him of an automaton winding down. Water dripped from her clothes, puddling on the old, dark wood of the floor. She shivered with cold as she let the boy slide from her hip to stand clutching her thigh. He saw the child at least was dryer, as if she’d done her best to keep him out of the water.
Mark knelt to stoke the fire in the stove, keeping one eye on his visitor. The cast-iron door squeaked as he opened it, a blast of hot air lifting the hair from his face. Bree drifted closer, lured by the heat. Pressing himself to her side, the boy clung to her hand.
The firelight played on her skin, highlighting the gentle flare of her cheekbones. She unbuttoned her coat with her free hand, then pushed back her long, wet tangle of hair. The gesture was slow, almost listless. Bree was a woman at the limit of her strength.
“The fire feels so good,” she said softly. She lowered the khaki backpack she carried to the floor. It sagged into a damp heap.
Mark studied her, his curiosity every bit as hot as the fire. “How long were you out there?”
“I’m not sure. It felt like hours, but it couldn’t have been that long.”
“Where did you sail from?”
She didn’t reply, but stared into the burning core of the stove. A few wisps of hair were already drying, curling into pale waves.
Mark waited in the silence. He could use vampire power to compel the answer, but he chose to be patient. Something else had drawn his attention. Crouched before the stove, he was level with the boy. The child was good-looking, dark-haired, but thin. Mark caught his gaze just long enough to see a lively intelligence before the brown eyes shied away. Once again, Mark noticed that the boy never spoke. Was he simply afraid? Or was it more than that?
Dark circles ringed the child’s eyes. He was exhausted, thin and probably anemic. Mark had medical training, but any vampire could have diagnosed as much. The boy’s scent was wrong. “Your son is ill.”
Bree pulled the boy a fraction closer. “Jonathan’s just tired.” A look of chagrin flickered across her face, as if she hadn’t meant to give even that much away.
“I’m a doctor,” Mark said. “You’d better let me take a look.”
Bree looked at him sharply, her full lips parting as if to protest, then pressing into a tight line. “No.”
The refusal didn’t surprise him. The protective arm she had curled around the boy’s shoulders said everything, but Mark didn’t give in. “I might be able to help.”
“I’ve taken him to a G.P. already, and they sent me to a specialist.”
“They were no help.”
Mark offered a smile. “Whoever they were, I’m better.” Suddenly, illogically, it was important to prove it. It had become a challenge. Beware your pride. It would be easier to just send her on her way.
Her brow furrowed, as if she didn’t know how to reply. As Mark rose to his feet, Bree tilted her head slightly to watch his face. He was half a head taller, so he had to look down into her eyes.
Beneath the scent of woods and ocean, there was the warm, earthy smell of female, sweet as sun-warmed peaches. The cabin, with its shabby chair and dark shadows, seemed slightly shocked by the female presence. Or maybe that was just him. Somewhere in the past few minutes she’d morphed in his mind from food to mother to woman. It had been a long time since he’d thought about a mortal female that way. It was almost a novelty.
“First, let me take your coat,” he said, remembering he had once possessed a gentleman’s manners. He was fine with patients, but now the conversation felt painfully stilted. He never had guests, much less mortal ones. Vampires differed little from humans on the surface, but there were a thousand ways he might betray himself. For instance, it was a sustained effort to remember to breathe when he wasn’t talking.
As if sensing his unease, she clutched the collar of the garment for a moment, but then gave way with a sigh. “Thanks.”
She surrendered the wet trench coat silently, letting go of Jonathan’s hand just long enough to free the sleeve. Mark hung the garment on a peg close enough to the stove that it would dry.
“Come into the kitchen,” he said. “We can find you two something to eat.”
It was a mild deception. As he’d planned, the mention of food caught her attention.
“It’s been a long time since Jonathan had dinner,” she said.
“I’ll take care of that. It’ll be my pleasure.”
Her eyes flicked to his at the last word, imbuing it with extra meaning. Then, she looked away quickly, as if regretting that moment of connection.
Mark smiled to himself. He hadn’t lost his touch after all. “This way.”
Wordlessly, reluctantly, Bree followed him, Jonathan at her heels.
“Can I get you a drink?” he offered.
“I don’t drink.” She bit the words off as if he’d offended her. Fine. Whatever.
Mark turned on the overhead bulbs, washing the room in stark brightness. Bree followed, blinking at the bright light. Suddenly, she was in color. Her face was dusted with golden freckles, her eyes shifting between green and blue. A few strands of hair had dried around her face, morphing into long tawny ripples. He put her somewhere in her mid-twenties, younger than he’d first thought. Hers was a face meant for summer afternoons.
Mark washed his hands in the chipped enamel sink. Then he bent and lifted Jonathan to sit on the battered wooden table.
“What are you doing?” Bree demanded.
Mark ignored her. The boy inhaled, but didn’t protest. Mark bent to catch the child’s eye again, using a tiny push of compulsion to calm him. “Hello, Jonathan. How old are you?”
“Almost four,” Bree answered on his behalf.
Mark frowned. Now that there was good light, he could see the child’s pallor. “How long has he been sick?”
She looked about to protest, as if to say she’d already refused medical advice, but then surrender washed over her features. “Just after his third birthday, I noticed he couldn’t play for long without getting breathless. Then about five months ago, he stopped talking.”
“Off and on.”
“What other symptoms?”
“There have been no rashes or anything like that. He’s not in pain that I can tell.”
Now that they’d begun, her voice was brittle with worry. Mark wanted to reach over, brush the curve of her cheek in a gesture of comfort. The blood hunger leaped to life, drawing his eyes down the V-neck of her cotton sweater. He forced his gaze away. “Let’s get these wet clothes off him. They can dry while I do the exam.”
It was a good plan, but doomed to frustration. Mark had brought his doctor’s bag to the cabin, but it was meant for emergencies, not laboratory-level diagnoses. Some of Jonathan’s abdominal organs seemed to be tender, but it was hard to tell when the patient couldn’t speak. He asked many more questions, but Bree’s answers could only help so much.
“He needs tests. The nearest place that does that kind of work is in Redwood. I can arrange it if you want.” Mark watched her carefully. Her gaze lowered, but he could still see her weighing the odds, her son’s health against—what? “Is there a problem with insurance?”
For a moment, she looked as if she was in physical pain. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“How can I help?” The question came instantly to Mark’s lips, surprising him a little.
“I can see your son gets the treatment he needs.”
“That’s not your decision.” She sounded almost angry.
Mark’s temper stirred in reply. “Don’t the child’s needs come first?”
She cursed so softly, he almost missed it. “I need to think.” She scooped Jonathan into her arms and walked back to the front room, cradling him against her shoulder. The boy’s dark eyes watched Mark from over his mother’s back.
The sudden silence in the kitchen jarred. Mark stared at the litter of doctor’s instruments on the kitchen table and cursed. He was trying to help, but something wasn’t right. Too many questions crowded into his mind, and he had a feeling none of the answers were pleasant. Why involve yourself with their troubles? You were at peace with just the other beasts for company.
But the one human attribute that still plagued him was curiosity. Bree and her son obviously had a story, and he wanted to know what it was. With speed born of long practice, he tidied away his medical equipment. After that, he found some cans of tomato soup in the cupboards. He never had visitors, but kept a small stock of human food for emergencies. He probably should have offered food first, but he’d forgotten many of those small courtesies. Such were the hazards of living mostly among his own kind.
Mark returned to the sitting room, about to ask if he could make tea or coffee. Bree was slouched in his chair, Jonathan—now in dry clothes—asleep in the curve of her arm. Mark’s step hitched, caught for a moment by the peaceful tableau. Mother and child. It never got old.
She rose to her feet, a graceful unfolding of her long slender legs. Mark watched with appreciation until she brought his own Browning pistol into view, aiming straight for his chest.
A lightning glance saw the weapons cupboard standing open. She’d picked the lock. By all the fiery hells! Shock soured to bitterness. “So you are here to kill me.”
“Paranoid much?” He could hear fear in her voice. “Don’t flatter yourself. I don’t need to kill you. I just want your car keys and all your cash.”COLLAPSE
Possessed by an Immortal offers suspense, revenge, mad science, a beautiful relationship between mother and son, and alpha-induced swoons.