To Love and Serve by Caridad Pineiro by Caridad Pineiro - Read Online
To Love and Serve
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Summary

He lived alone for centuries until she came into his life …

Southern vampire Ryder Latimer had never expected to love again or to live again until FBI Agent Diana Reyes came into his life and made him believe it was possible to believe in the future.  When a mission goes horribly bad, Ryder risks his life to save his lover.  When he takes a bullet for her, he contaminates her with his blood, saving her life, but condemning her to a slow death as his vampire cells take over her body.

Since her father’s death years earlier, she had dedicated her life to protecting others ...

Diana Reyes’s father had died in her arms and since that date, she’s served others in order to obtain justice and keep the world safe.  When sexy Ryder Latimer saunters into her life, he challenges what she believed was meant to be her life.  There’s just one problem:   Now when she really believes in the possibility of happily-ever-after, her life is slipping away from her and Diana must decide whether to become a vampire in order to stay with the man she loves.

Published: Caridad Pineiro on
ISBN: 9781516365623
List price: $2.99
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To Love and Serve - Caridad Pineiro

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possible.

Chapter One

Manhattan, New York

He’d tracked the vampire all night, waiting for the perfect moment.

Finally, it was time to test the skills he’d learned in his slayer training.

The undead piece of crap was out late, braving the first hints of a rosy dawn as he held himself tight to the shadows in the alley behind the vampire hangout known as the Blood Bank.

The Slayer hurried after him, head hunched into the upturned collar of his leather jacket. The rest of his face was obscured by a baseball cap, brim pulled low in case there were any unexpected bystanders. His booted feet were nearly soundless on the cobblestones as he chased his prey.

Sensing his pursuit, the vampire stopped and turned, displaying a burst of glowing neon in his gaze and a hint of fang as he prepared for an attack. A snarl escaped the undead demon, along with a cat-like hiss.

The Slayer glanced around and, satisfied that they were alone in the dark space, he tilted his head upward and revealed his features.

The young vampire recognized him and retracted the demon he’d roused in defense, reverting to his human form. An easy-going, fangless smile erupted on his face as he said, Out late, aren’t you?

With a lightning-fast burst, the Slayer’s silver knife bit deep into the vampire’s throat, cutting through muscle and flesh until the blade snagged on bone, then skipped free to complete the slice.

Blood spurted against the wall behind the vampire. Eyes open in shock, hands grabbing at his throat, the demon stumbled back onto the brick and slowly crumpled to the ground as his undead life fled his body.

The Slayer waited until barely a pulse remained, reflected in the diminishing burble of blood from the deep gash in the vampire’s neck. It reminded him of one of those cheap desktop fountains intended to bring calm...but it brought him no relief. Surprisingly, the demon was still alive, his mouth moving soundlessly, body twitching and trembling weakly as a feeble gurgle escaped his ruined throat.

The Slayer bent and wiped his knife clean on the vampire’s pant leg. He had to take care of his tools, and the Buck hunting knife had been his father’s and his father’s before him. It had seen its share of action on vampire hunts in the woods behind their farm. Now it kept him company on his journey.

There was only one thing left to do to complete his mission. Reaching inside his jacket to the compartments sewn within, he secured the knife in its sheath and pulled out a small rubber mallet and a wooden stake. He’d crafted the killing instrument himself from fresh deadfall in Central Park.

After hours of careful carving with his Buck knife, the stake’s point was lethally sharp. When he raised it, the white ash gleamed like bone in a shaft of daylight that sneaked between two buildings to highlight the death scene.

God was surely on his side, he thought as the sun illuminated the vampire’s body. Wisps of smoke rose from where the rays touched the exposed undead skin. He almost hated putting the vermin out of its misery and for a moment considered letting the sun finish the job.

But he wanted the other undead to know they’d now become the hunted.

Bending, careful to avoid the river of blood wending toward the center of the alley so as to not leave footprint evidence, he placed the point of the stake directly above the vampire’s heart. With one powerful stroke he brought the mallet down, driving the wood through skin and muscle and into heart and spine. An eerie silence followed the final jerk of the vampire’s body. Its pale skin smoldered beneath the rays of the sun as the Slayer knelt there for long minutes, savoring his handiwork.

Immensely satisfied with his kill, he tucked the small mallet back inside his jacket beside a trio of freshly whittled stakes and strolled to the mouth of the alley. With a quick look to make sure the area was deserted, he yanked the brim of his cap low and hunched into the protection of his jacket collar.

The vampire’s immortal brethren would hopefully find his bloodied and sun-crisped body tonight when they gathered again at the Blood Bank, one of their favorite feeding holes. They would recognize the signs of a Slayer, and fear—just as they’d once made him fear.

With a spring in his step, he realized facing death made him feel more alive than he had in ages. Emboldened by the unexpected high of his first kill, he headed to his safe house.

Tonight he would pick another target. Tomorrow he would exact justice once more.

#

It had been months since Special Agent Diana Reyes had set foot in the New York Field Office of the FBI, her suspension courtesy of a combination of things: a botched raid two years ago that had cost several agents their lives, and violating a disciplinary order a few months back to help out her vampire friends.

The call this morning from her friend Jesus Hernandez, the Assistant Director in Charge, had been a surprise. Although Jesus had been in touch regularly to see how she was doing, Diana sensed this call was about a case. She didn’t want to be too hopeful, though, since she still had another two months to go before she could return to active duty. If she was still healthy enough to do so. Even after the aphaeresis treatment earlier that morning to curtail the vampire cells that had contaminated her body during the raid, she wasn’t feeling 100 percent.

Hell, she’d be happy feeling 50 percent. She supposed her illness was why her vampire lover, Ryder Latimer, hovered nearby. He was concerned that dragging her into any kind of case would tax her failing health even more.

She stepped out of the cab in front of the restaurant where she’d agreed to meet her ADIC.

Standing on the curb, she peered up at the rooftops along the hodgepodge of buildings. With dusk rapidly fading to night, only vague outlines were visible against the darkening sky. A water tank sat on one of the larger buildings. Satellite dishes kept company with the skeletal remnants of old television antennas.

She had no doubt Ryder was up there somewhere, watching her. His vamp presence beat against her heightened senses, making her angry. He’d sworn he wouldn’t follow her to this meeting. She could take care of herself.

I know, darlin’, but I had to know you’re okay, she heard in her head from the connection that had sprung up between them when she was contaminated.

Go home, Ryder, she shot back, but knew that he still hovered nearby. She would deal with him later. Right now she had other, more important things to handle inside the restaurant.

She liked Luigi’s. It was the kind of place that made you feel like you were at home and fed you food as good as your mama’s. Well, maybe if your mama was a 250-pound half-Calabrese, half- Sicilian chef named Luigi. The fourth Luigi, Diana recalled as she walked in.

Familiar smells made her stomach growl and had her wondering why it had been so long since she’d been here. Months, actually.

As Diana approached the podium, she embraced the buxom older woman standing behind it, the gatekeeper to the wonders of Luigi’s food. Mama Isabel. It’s been way too long.

Mama Isabel urged her away with a gentle push that was worthy of a Heisman Trophy winner and tsked loudly. "I can see. You are too thin, mia amica, but Papa Luigi will fix that right away."

I’m meeting—

Say no more, Diana. I can keep a secret. Isabel mimicked twisting a lock on her lips. The plump hostess slipped her arm through Diana’s and nearly dragged her to a table in the dimly lit area of the restaurant where her ADIC sat nursing a soda.

Diana dipped her head in greeting. It’s good to see you again.

Jesus rose and hugged her hard. Good to see you, too, Di. I’ve missed you.

Those phone calls just don’t cut it, do they? A voice alone couldn’t match the experience of being in the office, or seeing each other face-to-face.

When they sat, the waiter, a young man named Rocco, one of Mama Isabel’s brood of children, brought over menus. As he saw her, a huge grin blossomed on his face. Bella, it’s so good to see you. The usual?

The usual being shrimp scampi with roasted garlic. But lately, garlic hadn’t agreed with her. Maybe because of the vampire cells in her body. Glancing at Jesus, she asked, I don’t want to rush you. Do you need time to decide?

He raised a hand to wave off the menu Rocco offered him. I’m good. Chicken parm for me.

The same, Diana confirmed, then leaned close to Jesus, eager to hear why he’d called earlier that afternoon. What’s up?

I thought you didn’t want to rush. He picked up his glass and calmly sipped the soda.

Before she could answer, Rocco returned and plopped a basket brimming with slices of aromatic garlic bread in the middle of the intimately sized table. The smell was so powerful, Diana’s stomach clenched in complaint, forcing her to jerk back.

So I guess what they say is true? With a know-it-all smile, Jesus grabbed a piece of the bread and took a big, garlicky bite.

Diana narrowed her gaze and considered her friend and boss through half-slitted eyes. What’s that supposed to mean?

I’ve seen you at the Blood Bank and the Lair. I know what goes on there. I know who goes there.

Circular logic much? You’ve obviously been there, and garlic is clearly still your thing, she said as he snagged another slice of bread and gobbled it down.

He was a big man with a big appetite. Well over six feet, he had the build of a linebacker and thick muscles that strained the fabric of his dark blue suit and pristine white shirt. His mid- thirty-something skin was the color of rich coffee loaded with lots of milk, and showed only faint age lines. Thick dark hair waved around his head and was tousled, as if he’d dragged his fingers through it repeatedly.

I went with a friend to those clubs, he admitted, then brushed his hands free of errant bread crumbs.

A friend? A special kind of friend? Diana pressed, wondering who her by-the-book colleague could be meeting at such nasty vampire hangouts.

He leaned closer and said, Let’s just say I know what Ryder is. I know what you are.

Something lurked in his tones that didn’t sit quite well with her. I’m not what you think, but...

She paused as Rocco came over and laid in front of them plates piled with huge pieces of breaded cutlets smothered with red sauce and gooey melted mozzarella. Beside the cutlets, an Everest-like mound of spaghetti swam in more sauce.

"Mangia, bella." Rocco swept his gaze up and down her body, the hairy eyebrow that he arched afterward making a condemning statement before he walked away.

Another twenty pounds and you’d be perfect, Jesus kidded, reading the young man’s unspoken observation. Is the whole thin-as-a-rail thing part of being undead?

"Damn it. I’m not a vampire. I’m not even sure I want to be one," she hissed in a whisper only Jesus would hear.

He narrowed his gaze and considered her thoughtfully. You’re not sure, but you’re in love with one? You didn’t deny that part of it.

No, she hadn’t. Maybe because Jesus knew about the undead underworld into which she’d been pulled, and denying it would be futile. He’d visited the clubs, and at some point he obviously must have discovered their hidden secrets.

Ryder is a vampire and I love him, but it’s complicated.

Believe me, I understand, he said in a way that suggested whatever had led him to the vampire hangouts might also involve a woman. Possibly an undead woman.

Who is she? Diana asked.

Jesus scrunched his broad shoulders uneasily and reluctantly admitted, Her name is Michaela Ramirez, and she’s a dhampir.

Half-vamp, half-human. An unusual combo. She took hold of her knife and fork.

I guess I could say the same about you. Mind telling me what’s wrong with you? Are you sick? He grabbed his cutlery and began to carve into the immense cutlet on his plate.

I appreciate the concern, but you didn’t ask me here to discuss my health.

No, I didn’t, but just remember, I’m here if you need me. He reached into his jacket pocket. He palmed whatever was there and laid his hand flat on the table, hiding what it held.

With a wicked smile, she reached out and covered his hand with hers. Why, Jesus. I never knew you felt this way. With an eye-roll, he eased his hand away, and she felt the shape of a flash drive against her fingertips.

Cautiously, she tucked it beneath the edge of her napkin and palmed it without any prying eyes being the wiser. After surreptitiously dropping it into her pocket, she raised her fork, jabbed it into the pasta, and twirled together some strands of spaghetti. What do you want?

"I know I shouldn’t be asking this, but I need you to take a look at what’s on that thumb drive. Let me know if you think the trail’s gone cold. That’s it and nothing more. Nothing more."

Understood. She didn’t want to risk extending her suspension, or worse, by actually hitting the bricks to investigate. That would surely prompt the Office of Professional Responsibility to toss her right out of the FBI. She was too eager to go back to work to risk it now, even if her return would involve her being a keep-your-ass-in-the-chair desk jockey.

We miss you, he said. There are lots of cases where I could use your profiling expertise.

It’s my own fault. I should have turned the Escobar case over to you, but she was a friend. Diana slowly worked her way through the almost obscene amount of food on her plate.

I know, Di. Believe me, I tried my best to keep you on board. I’m still trying. Are you well enough to come back?

Diana considered his question as she dragged her fork through her pasta. In her thirty-two years of life, she’d already faced death more than she cared to consider. Her father. Several vampire friends. The agents who’d died on that winter night two years earlier. Her own death of sorts, on that same day—the day she’d been contaminated with Ryder’s blood.

She had only one answer.

It may kill me if I return to work, but then again, it will definitely kill me if I don’t.

With a brusque nod, Jesus gestured to her plate with his fork. Then eat. I want you to be as strong as possible before I pull you back into the fight.

Chapter Two

Diana hailed a cab almost as soon as she walked out the restaurant door, but she probably should have taken the subway. She’d hoped for a speedy trip home, but traffic was snarled all over the city.

For sure, Ryder would beat her home with his vamp speed, and maybe that was a good thing. The delay would give her the time she needed to cool her anger at his overprotectiveness, and his failure to respect her request that he not follow her to the meeting. But the delay also meant it would be that much longer before she could look at the thumb drive tucked into the pocket of her leather jacket.

Reaching in, she clutched the thumb drive in her hand and wondered which case Jesus needed her assistance with, although she could guess. Recent news reports warned that a serial killer was on the loose in New York. As she was a skilled profiler, that kind of case was right up her alley.

If she could ever get home. She leaned forward and peered through the windshield. A thick ribbon of red brake lights snaked uptown as far as she could see.

She plopped back against the bench seat and shut off the annoying spiel spewing from the combo television/pay station secured to the back of the cabbie’s seat. Hot air attacked her from all sides and she tapped on the glass partition to snare the driver’s attention so he would lower the heat, but he was too engaged in an animated conversation on the cell phone in some foreign language. She wished she had her badge so she could slap it on the partition and remind him of the various laws he was breaking with his non-stop cell phone use.

After opening her window as far as it would go, she leaned in toward the crisp chill of the fall night invading the cab.

Funny how things had changed in a matter of hours. She would have given anything to be this warm just this morning. Luckily, the treatments from Ryder’s human keeper, Melissa, had restored her body to its normal temperature, which seemed unbearably hot to her right now. She’d grown too used to the vampire’s chill that had taken over her still-human body.

Human. She really hoped Melissa would find a way to contain the cells slowly killing her.

Melissa’s family had watched over Ryder for centuries, protecting his home and taking care of his vampire needs. In Ryder’s case, that meant finding sources of blood to sustain his life, since he refused to give in to feeding on humans after his turning. Both Melissa and her dad had studied and researched his vampire cells in order to better understand how to control them. Maybe even figure out how to make Ryder human again.

With a lurch, the cab shot forward a few feet, then ground to a halt again. The fragrant aroma of flowers wafted on the night breeze, courtesy of the dozens of shops in New York’s floral district. The lush perfume reminded Diana of a Miami night for a moment. But her two cities couldn’t be any more different. While Miami was her home by birth, Manhattan was her home by choice.

She loved the constant activity of the city that always made her feel alive. Even at the witching hour a pulse of energy coursed along the streets and sidewalks, daring her to come out and play.

She wondered if that was thanks to the vampire’s life blood racing through her veins. But even before meeting Ryder four years earlier and her subsequent contamination during the botched raid, darkness had been a part of her for far too long.

It had taken all her willpower to lift herself from the seemingly bottomless abyss she’d fallen into after her father’s death. Endless binges of drinking and sex with nameless partners had been her escape from the pain of loss, but she’d lost herself during that wasted year, and almost hadn’t made it back. But somehow she’d marshaled her inner strength to climb out of that hole, straighten up, and make something of her life. To do the right thing, as she’d promised her father as he died in her arms.

It was why she’d chosen to join the FBI. And in all her years of service, she’d always done the right thing, no matter the cost. But she recognized that the darkness still lurked deep inside her, coiled like a deadly snake, just waiting to slither out once more. Especially during the last few years, thanks to her involvement in the vampire world. Which was why she was so