Louisiana Moon by Lani Rhea by Lani Rhea - Read Online

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Louisiana Moon - Lani Rhea

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http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/

I am dedicating Louisiana Moon to three special men and one young lady in my life. In February and March of 2011, I lost two dear cousins, Casey Compton and Mitchell Compton. And in May 2012, I lost my cousin, Sarah Cofer.  You three will forever be with me, and I love you. Their memories got me through the writing process of Louisiana Moon.

In December of 2011, my 22 year old brother, my hero, Cody Elliott, fell ill with AML leukemia. He fought hard and we thought he’d won. Five days before he passed on February 7th, 2012, I told him I wanted to dedicate this book to him; that I wanted the whole world to know he was my hero for being so brave. He smiled and nodded and said he would like that.  His beautiful smile and his determined nod will never leave me. And his voice will forever be etched in my soul.

However, heaven needed a hero and Cody was called home.  A piece of me went with him on that day.  He will never leave my heart, my soul and my thoughts for the rest of my days. With Cody’s passing, and with my promise, he helped me get through the edits to make this story possible. Good ride, cowboy. Good ride.

I love all four of you with all my heart. I’ll see you when my time comes, when I get where I’m going—home to heaven with you. Cody, never forget our sign language of ‘I love you’, because now you truly know how much I really did and still do. I love you, bubba.

Love,

Sissy

Acknowledgements

To all of you who believed in me and helped out when I needed it: Benjamin Russell, Bonni Sansom, Brindle Chase, Calisa Rhose, Christian Jenson, Elicia Stoll, Emily Clark, Heaven Leigh Eldeen, J.P. Archer, Jeannie Swint, Kallypso Masters, Katie Harper, Lauren Smith, Louisa Bacio and Toni Marlo.

OKRWA and The Preternaturals for the support.

Michele Page, my personal assistant, who is my rock. Cassiel Knight, my editor, for all of her wonderful hard work. And to Renee Rocco for the fantastic cover I’m so in love with!

To my family and friends—thanks for standing beside me.

To my kids and man…you’re all amazing and I love you!

1

Kris Knight shifted in her seat, resisting the urge to throw the vampire sitting across from her out of her office. As one of the best bounty hunters in the area, pissed-off vampires came with the territory.

She narrowed her eyes at the vampire glowering at her. She didn’t want jobs with the undead. Working for them was not in her nature and not her thing. But here he sat—the master vampire of Louisiana himself. Launders. She guessed because she refused his minions, he’d come to secure her services himself.

The undead man stroked his chin as he studied her.

She studied him in return.

His black hair parted to the side and slicked back exuded expensive pomade. Launders resembled an early nineteenth-century boss, the type who viewed the action, never getting their hands dirty. Light sparkled, catching her attention. She glanced at the teardrop stone piercing the center of his ebony satin tie. Matching blood-red links studded his wrist cuffs.

Launders appeared too small, too effeminate to be a master. Even so, looks were deceptive in the preternatural world. A big hulk of a newly-made vamp held only a fraction of the strength of a petite, porcelain doll of a master.

Not that she could say much on the subject of appearance. She hated her short stature and the constant ribbing about her breasts doubling as floatation devices. That thought pushed burning frustration through her veins. She crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly needing to hide from the master vampire. At least he didn’t know her secret strength and the power she carried inside. Some days she struggled to mask her abilities. This was not one of them.

What can I do for you? Or not do, she hoped.

I need you to locate an escapee who has information about Soulscape activity. His thicker Chicago accent bled through his southern twang.

Interesting. Not interesting enough to entice her to work for the cold-blooded bastard. Her standards weren’t bottomless pits. Besides, other jobs waited. Her punch card overflowed with clients. At the moment, they were her most vital concern. Not some master vampire’s problems.

Soulscapes, huh? Your minions didn’t mention those soul-sucking demons. The Soulscapes have been locked away for attempting to overthrow the Darkworld for several centuries now.

Behind her unwanted guest, the grandfather clock ticked off five minutes. Kris tilted in her Italian leather desk chair and crossed her Gucci leather boots on the corner of the wood desk.

Will you help? His top lip curled, showing fangs. Did Launders expect her to faint with fear or squeal with delight?

I’ll check my calendar. She’d dealt with several vampires in the past. Those encounters had never turned out well. This case—a no-brainer. She reached for her calendar, flipped through it as she pretended to look for an opening then closed the book.

He cocked his head. Launders’s white cheekbones sharpened against his hollowed skin. He looked starved. Hungry vamps were dangerous. She ignored the unsettling thought as she continued to stare at him.

From her peripheral, her laptop’s screensaver bounced a ping-pong wooden stake game and provided a momentary distraction. She glanced at the screen then back to him and cleared her throat.

I’ll pay you handsomely. Launders leaned to the side, next to the plant by the chair then smoothed the palm tree leaves with his fingers.

Her jaw clenched. She hoped he didn’t discover the gift beneath the plant.

His gaze traced the length of her throat as he licked his lips. Dinner bell fear tightened her muscles. She might have to fight him off if he decided to bite. Master vampire or not, she wanted him out of her office, pronto. She chewed her bottom lip.

He quirked a dark brow and shifted. Is there someone else who can take over for you to help me?

No.

The small burgundy office grew cold as his body absorbed the heat she needed. The bastard upped the ante. Damn. Vampires always stole body heat to wear their victims down so they could get what they wanted. Control. If only she’d put the crystal necklace on before he’d entered. Instead, the amulet lay hidden under her palm.

Shivering, she tugged her jacket tighter around her chest. Every battle instinct she possessed suggested something brewed.

A slip of a smile spread across his pale pink lips. When his honeyed vanilla vampire scent spewed thick and sweet into the air, she knew he tried to get a read on her. Bastard. Kris wanted to knock the smug expression off his face, but held fast.

She sat motionless, unblinking, as his mind’s probe pelted her mental fortress. No way would he break through to read her thoughts—she wouldn’t let him, and he wasn’t strong enough. Like a new fanger. She squinted. How odd. Launders wasn’t the first to try, nor would he be the last. She’d bet his undead life on it. The only preternaturals to break her steel trap were the eldest vampires.

I will not leave until you give me what I desire.

He rubbed his thumb over his fingertips. His shiny rings clicked together, echoing through the room. He wouldn’t scare a yes out of her with the threat of his fist.

I won’t help you. How many times do I have to repeat myself?

His jaw clenched as he swallowed. Why not? Focusing on her well-endowed chest, he licked his bottom lip. Not hunger. Something else. What did he hide?

Anger boiled as a warm flush suffused her face. She cleared her throat in disgust. Alive or dead, men never changed.

Tell me why you will not, Kristina?

The air between them pressurized, collapsing her lungs with a gnawing burn. She took shallow breaths to prevent herself from gagging on the sweet aroma behind the pressure.

I don’t want to be placed in the middle of whatever is going on between vampires and the Soulscapes. Your battle—your problem.

No one sought the Soulscapes. He should know this stuff. The creatures needed cement or rock to come alive. Spells protecting the steel rooms trapped them underground and would never collapse. And those boxes were scattered around various parts of the United States. She didn’t know every location, only a few in the northern states. Did she care to find the rest? No.

He bent his head to the right and flashed fangs. For your benefit, I suggest you get involved.

Kris lowered her chin, glaring into his blue starburst eyes, watching for the slightest movement. She shifted, curling her fingers around her business jacket’s pleats. How many more visits will it take for you to understand the word no?

His smile disappeared. "We never take no for an answer. Like the servants before me, I’ll ask again, in a nice way. If you refuse, I’ll make you say yes. He paused. Will you be kind and help me track down an escapee who holds information that could possibly start a war within the Darkworld?"

Her heart pounded at the threat and skipped a beat on the word war. What was he talking about?

He inspected her breasts again. You’re hot.

What?

Her blood pressure rose higher, further pissing her off. I suggest you focus on my face if you wish to continue this conversation.

His features hardened at her returned threat. Kris read the surprise in his eyes and didn’t look away. The undead asshole squirmed a bit.

Ah, she’d hit a nerve. Good. She’d push his buttons to make him leave.

He scooted to the edge of the seat. I meant your skin puts off more heat, energy, than anyone I’ve ever known. Launders sniffed the air.

The vampire better keep his distance. Her teeth clenched, and she lifted her chin. You’re an arrogant ass.

In a flash, he loomed over her, hands braced on the mahogany wood between them. You’d better watch your mouth when you speak to me or I’ll rip your—

A low, eerie snarl escaped her throat.

Launders backed off in an instant. His eyes narrowed. You’re a werewolf. Not a question. How did I not know? How old are you?

Her brows lifted. A new bloodsucker...not the master like she’d suspected. Hmm. Only the ancient ones sensed her energy signature. A lady never reveals her true age. You should be up to date on that. Let’s say I’ve been around long enough to see guys like you come and go.

His upper lip curled on a hiss.

Kris stood. Get out. Now.

She smoothed her gray pinstripe suit and rounded the desk. He’d pressed his luck long enough. One foot at a time, she stalked him.

Launders took cautious steps backward, his weight shifting from side-to-side. He held his hands at waist level in a calming gesture. Your reputation precedes you. You’re the best tracker in Louisiana. You’re the bounty hunter we need. We have sought your services for some time now. I’m not leaving.

What the hell are you talking about? She moved closer, filling the space he’d created and braced to lash out. Tell me what you’re referring to before I rip out your fucking heart.

He bowed. My master would love to meet with you. The puny wannabe straightened and smiled. At your earliest possible convenience, that is. He extended a business card.

Kris stared at the high gloss rectangle in his hand. Gold initials, R and L, scrolled across the black paper. Who was RL? She’d never known the head vampire’s full name—only his last.

Pursuing the wannabe, she grabbed his pointy elbow. Leave my office, she ordered. Her beast neared the verge of release. Her lips curled back from her teeth as her fingertips itched with the need to flex her claws into his skin.

But Mr. Launders wants to meet with you. He forced the card into her hand.

You can tell Mr. Launders— What’s your name?

Sparky, they call me Sparky. He flashed another smile, white and sharp. What a ridiculous name for a vampire. She thrust the card into his hand.

Well, you can tell Mr. Launders, Sparky, that he can shove his request up his ass. You have wasted enough of my time.

When he blinked rapidly, she knew her sneer had clearly revealed her building anger.

We will make it worth your while. This is a quarter of what we’re prepared to pay. Sparky pulled a huge wad of one-hundred dollar bills from inside his breast pocket. He extended his hand as if he expected her to snatch the bundle.

She could use the money for the Knight Lost Loves event, a charity supporting families who lost loved ones in tragic ways. For a while sorrow wedged deep in her chest for the victims in Hurricane Katrina as well as many other disasters. In many ways, she related to losing those closest to the heart.

Her parents had been brutally murdered.

The buzz was, Hunters, humans who lived to rid the earth of all preternaturals, were the ones to blame for their death. That, when they killed her parents, they made it seem as if vampires had done it. She didn’t believe that. She did however accept that vamps were the ones who were truly responsible. Damn Sparky and his master for the hesitation she gave the bundle of cash.

His presence caused her to think of a past she didn’t want to remember. She wanted, no wished, her parents were alive. Her throat thickened as she held her breath. Damn it. She couldn’t show weakness. Not right now. Not in front of the vampire. She shook the thoughts from her head. She’d raise the funds another way.

Kris shoved Sparky, and the money, out the door. Good night. After she shut the door in his face, she breathed a sigh of relief.

Sparky bellowed, I’ll have Mr. Launders contact you tomorrow!

Don’t bother! she yelled back.

The card slid under the door.

She left the paper on the floor and clomped to the desk. To relax, she closed her eyes and took in a deep, even breath. Then, as she exhaled, she cracked her neck to regain some sense of normalcy. She opened her eyes and flopped into the chair, taking the mouse in hand. To keep her mind sane, she’d check her email. There wouldn’t be anything upsetting in there.

A single message blinked from her former military friend, Josh Haskins. She hadn’t spoken to him in weeks. She clicked the email and read his note. We need to meet at noon at Alligator Alley. Your life may be in danger.

With disbelief, she re-read the words. Sure, she’d cuffed and collared many people and creatures in her career. No one liked her. No big surprise there. But death? It seemed, as of late, when Josh needed to talk, danger lurked in the shadows. Her spine prickled every time she thought of being in jeopardy. At the moment, danger rolled with the rising current.

Her risk level switched her personal safety scale to DEFCON 3. She glanced at the grandfather clock, which showed a tad past two in the morning. As she flipped off the laptop, she eyed her weapon. Staying up all night with the gun aimed at the bedroom door might be a good idea. Sure, she’d lose sleep. Not the first time. She’d stayed up many times worrying about the things that bumped in the night. The only places she felt most comfortable were her home and office.

As she left her office, she passed shadow boxes showcasing hundreds of bullets, the oldest dating back two centuries. Every client assumed Kris collected them as a weird hobby. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The two hundred and fifty-six had once been lodged inside her body.

As soon as she cleared the shadow boxes, she slid her gun from its holster and checked the firearm. Bullets would only slow a preternatural, unless pure silver or blessed by a priest, but any edge was better than none.

She scanned the building perimeter and sniffed the air. Her keen senses stretched past the parking lot, searching for the slightest odd scent. Detecting nothing, she made a beeline for her car.

Who posed a personal menace? Josh would not have demanded a meeting for a garden-variety threat. Settling behind the wheel of her gray Chevy Volt, she considered Sparky’s mention of the vicious Soulscapes.

She hadn’t run across Soulscapes in more years than she cared to count. Their last attempt at a hostile takeover earned them an enchanted banishment in the Darkworld purgatory. The most inhuman of preternaturals, their gift of inhabiting the inanimate and bringing it to life endangered anyone who didn’t take them seriously.

To her left, she squinted at the gargoyle perched on the corner of the tallest building. The statue didn’t move. Silly, Kris. Maybe she shouldn’t dwell on Soulscapes. Their brand of insidiousness would haunt her and give her nightmares.

2

In silence, Kris drove, allowing her mind to wander. The undead imposter’s meeting dredged painful, buried recollections. Spending time in the company of vampires without staking their dead asses left an empty hole. A space where memories flooded, dragging down her soul.

The death of her parents had caused a huge uproar with the Throne, thus ending her relationship with them and causing her to ignore the love and responsibility she had for her kind.

The remembrance of the night her parents died filled her thoughts. She gripped the steering wheel, her knuckles white as her fingernails cut into her palms. She’d withstand any pain over the loss of her parents. The emotional bond of her child-parent relationship now gone, she would never be able to share pivotal news with someone who cared. No news of wedded bliss, children—long talks of what to expect of life in general. They had been washed away because of vampires or Hunters, depending on who she believed.

Flashes of blood-splattered walls invaded and overpowered any soul demon concerns. Deep crimson slid from ceiling to floor, squishing beneath her feet. Gore lingered everywhere.

Kris blinked the red horrors from her concentration. In a couple of miles, she’d be home—her sanctuary. She’d be able to rinse the visions away with a steamy shower and maybe a shot of liquor or two. Or three.

The bombardment of images continued their haunting journey into her present. Her parents face down, their skin pasty white against the dark woven carpet. Not breathing. Not moving. Not living.

She raced to their sides. Hot tears streamed down her face and dripped onto the floor, mingling with their life’s blood.

Please wake up. She refocused in time to swerve her car into the oncoming lane. Suddenly all her senses crashed into full alert. Ripping the steering wheel around, she forced her car into the right lane. Her heartbeat pounded. Thank goodness, no one else drove at this hour.

She pulled onto the shoulder of Highway 23 and turned off the engine. Her gut clenched as she forced back bile. The acidic vomit crept into her mouth anyway.

Opening the door, she spat the bitterness onto the asphalt. As she slowly inhaled and exhaled, she regained control over her body.

One final memory. In her mother’s hand lay a torn piece of violet satin stained with her blood. This shred of evidence had proved at one point in time which vampire family was responsible. Only one flew that color on their crest flag. The Starga. Sometime later, she had been told they had no hand in the murders. To this day, she believed they did but covered their asses.

Kris started the engine and merged onto the roadway.

Fucking vampires.

She drove through the gates of her property. None too soon, the familiar and welcoming sight of her home appeared in the headlights. She parked underneath the carport and sucked in a much needed breath, trying to relax from the stressful day.

As she exited the vehicle, it took every bit of energy to shuffle toward the house. Exhausted, she tugged her bun undone and froze. Her muscles tensed as her body went on alert. She sniffed. An ocean breeze flicked her auburn curls, wrapping them around her face. Her hand rested on the doorknob while her other hand reached for her weapon and withdrew it from the snug holster at the small of her back. Anxious seconds ticked by before she placed the key in the lock. She turned the knob as quietly as a ghost. The door opened on well-oiled hinges.

An unexpected, familiar scent enveloped her like swarming bees. Not dangerous, not to her anyway, yet one she could live a thousand years without. The decadence of silken beaches and coconut—exotic, wild and sexy—waited on the other side. She recoiled. Damn it. She didn’t want to face him.

Hustling to remove her gray suit jacket, she laid the constricting garment on the porch and left the keys in the door. She stepped inside and kept her back to the entrance—the only safe exit. The living room was empty.

Kris investigated the two-thousand-square-foot floor plan of her one-level container home. She turned to the living room on the left, before her bedroom on the right. She scanned her room before closing the door and checked the spare to prevent an uninvited guest from circling behind.

With her .40 caliber held ready, she tiptoed through the living room, saving the kitchen and dining room for last. Her Gucci boots heels clicked on the high-glossed concrete floor.

Shit. She should have slipped them off at the door.

She paused to remove the boots, cringing in remorse at the upcoming impromptu reunion. A thousand words to say, if she were to ever see him again, had passed through her mind. Now, nothing came. Would tonight’s meeting hurt like their breakup?

The coconut scent lingered in every room. She’d have to scrub her house with bleach when their meeting ended. She