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aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold
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publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events
portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously.
on the prowl
Copyright © 2012 by Christine Warren.
All rights reserved.
For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York,
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / May 2012
St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth
Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Her feet hurt, but not half as much as her face.
Saskia Arcos stood in front of the elegant marble
fireplace, flanked by three imposing male figures,
and wished desperately that this quote-unquote happiest moment of her life had included a couple of
aspirin. Or maybe a morphine drip.
“We would like to thank all of you for joining
us tonight for this wonderful occasion,” her father
boomed over the low buzz of conversation and curiosity, holding his champagne glass up in front of
him like he’d just seized the banner in a well-fought
round of Capture the Flag. Though not a large man,
her father knew how to command a room. Imposing,
after all, had relatively little to do with size, as two
out of the three demonstrated clearly. “Joy like this
is meant to be shared with friends and community.
We are grateful to have each and every one of you
with us tonight to bear witness as we join our families
and our futures. To the happy couple!”
“The happy couple!”
The toast echoed through the high-ceilinged
ballroom, the rumble of hundreds of voices nearly
knocking Saskia back into the fire. Her own champagne sloshed in her glass as she swayed precariously.
A hard-muscled arm slipped around her waist to
The quiet murmur drifted down to her, and Saskia
looked up reflexively, straight into the gaze she’d
been avoiding all evening. Green eyes stared down
at her, their expression unreadable in spite of the
flecks of molten gold sparkling in their depths. Even
in the well-lit ballroom, Nicolas Preda’s face gave
away none of his feelings. Assuming, of course, that
he had any.
“I can only echo Gregor’s words and hope that
this union proves to be a long and fruitful one.” Stefan Preda’s deep voice had hoarsened slightly with
age, but the steel in it matched the resolve Saskia
could see behind his son’s calm mask. Neither man
was one to trifle with. The son stood a head taller
than the father, his shoulders wider and chest broader,
but the pattern card shone through in the set of the
jaw, the tilt of the head, and the glitter in the deep
She suppressed a shiver.
“To Nicolas and Saskia!” Stefan proclaimed.
Once again, the room repeated the words and
raised their glasses to the couple in front of them.
“I think that’s our cue.”
Confused as she was, Saskia knew better than to
frown in front of her father’s five hundred guests,
but she felt her smile freeze when the towering figure beside her shifted. His words penetrated her so-
ON THE PROWL
cial fog a split second before warm male lips settled
firmly over hers.
Nicolas was kissing her.
The stunning thought took longer than the kiss
itself. Before she had time to register the shock, the
pressure eased and Nicolas lifted his head, leaving
only a shadow of warmth behind. He turned back to
face the assembled company with a grin of cocky
male satisfaction. The arm he’d used to steady Saskia
remained curved possessively around her back. To
the guests, she supposed they looked exactly like a
young, happy, newly engaged couple ought to look—
him, tall and handsome in his custom tailored tuxedo,
with his shiny Italian shoes and his playboy good
looks; her, petite and delicate, in her apricot and gold
gown with topazes dangling from her ears and an
enormous diamond glinting on her finger. Tomorrow
morning, she had no doubt she would see their photo
on page one of the society section. She could picture
the caption now: Nicolas Preda (center), CEO of
Preda Industries, Inc., and Saskia Arcos, daughter
of wealthy European financier Gregor Arcos (l),
pose with their fathers, Arcos and Stefan Preda (r),
at their engagement party at the Royal Hotel, Preda’s newly acquired Manhattan property.
Readers across the city would ooh and ah over
the details of the extravagant party and the famous
and infamous guests. Everyone who was anyone in
Manhattan had been invited to the festivities, from
the mayor, to the heads of numerous Fortune 500
companies, to the leaders of Other society. The head
of the Council of Others had dined at the head table
along with the guests of honor and their families.
Saskia had barely managed a bite of tender lobster,
too distracted by the tension flowing just beneath the
veneer of good-natured civility. She knew exactly
what her father and Mr. Preda had hoped to achieve
tonight, but that hadn’t done much to calm her nervous stomach. All it had really done was make her
hyper-aware of her own part in the performance, one
in which she smiled constantly, nodded gracefully,
laughed becomingly, and tried desperately to look
comfortable beside the fiancé she hadn’t seen in approximately eighteen years. After all, her job tonight
was to convince everyone who saw her that two of the
oldest and most powerful of the aristocratic Tiguri
families had been firmly and permanently united as
they moved into the future from their new foothold
in North America. And she had to do it without uttering a word about the families’ relocation from
Europe, without looking anything other than bowled
over by love and good fortune, and without so much
as breaking a sweat.
Next to all that, the challenge of keeping a roomful of humans mixing in blissful ignorance with a
company teeming with supernatural Others felt like
a piece of cake. That part Saskia could have handled
in her sleep. It was Nicolas she couldn’t handle. She
couldn’t even think of where she could start that little project, and she refused to think about the fact
that it was one she’d be stuck working on for the
next seventy or eighty years. Thoughts like that were
not going to help settle her stomach.
Neither was the feel of Nicolas’s hand sliding from
ON THE PROWL
her waist to the small of her back as he turned her
toward the enormous double doors at the end of the
“Come on,” he murmured, leaning close to her ear,
his breath stirring the strands of strawberry blonde
hair that had managed to escape their elegant French
twist. “We’ve got to make nice with everyone leaving.
Saskia let him steer her through the crowd to take
up their positions close to the exit. He deposited their
drinks with a waiter along the way, and she found
herself simply drifting along in Nicolas’s wake as he
stationed himself alongside the flow of traffic and
began to share chuckles and hearty handshakes with
their departing guests. The man looked like a politician, all charm and smooth words and wide smiles.
With his expertly cut clothes and stylishly cut hair—a
mix of browns and golds that defied a color label—
Saskia couldn’t decide if that image frightened or
Most of the guests seemed content to let Saskia
get away with an exhausted smile and a murmured
“thank you for coming,” and she felt grateful for that.
She probably looked about as tired as she felt. They
left her with a press of the hand and another round of
congratulations, telling her what a lucky man Nicolas was to have her, or how she must be delighted to
have landed such a catch as him. Of course, she always nodded and agreed, no matter how ridiculous
they sounded. What was she supposed to do? Tell
them that it was actually her father who had landed
her fiancé, not her? That would go over nicely. So
she continued to smile and nod and murmur and
promised herself that when she finally crawled into
bed tonight she would do it accompanied by a dose
of painkillers so large, her liver would be begging
for mercy all night long.
“Thank you very much for inviting me to join
the festivities,” a voice rumbled, jerking Saskia’s
mind back into focus. “The Council, of course, was
pleased to be included, but I myself would have regretted had I missed being here.”
Saskia blinked and lifted her chin until she could
look up into a pair of startlingly golden eyes fixed in
a dark, handsome face. The eyes surprised her. She’d
never expected to see them so close to her own, let
alone feel them burning into her with such focused
intensity. After all, she might recognize the face of
Rafael De Santos on sight, but considering how
warily the Council of Others viewed those of her
kind, she hadn’t exactly pictured having a one-onone conversation with him.
“Ah, y-y-es,” she stammered, searching blindly
for the poise she’d had hammered into her by tutors
and nannies practically since birth. “Of course we’re
delighted you could come, Mr. De Santos. I hope this
is only the first of many occasions when we will
have the chance to get to know each other.”
She offered the tall, sinfully handsome man a
warm smile, the kind she’d been instructed to practice in her mirror until it looked completely natural
and unstudied, and blinked when he returned it with
one that glinted with feral power. Instinctively she
ON THE PROWL
shifted backward, and her shoulders brushed against
her fiancé’s jacket.
Nicolas looked down at her, his hand shifting to
her hip to steady her. His glance flicked from her
face to the man standing in front of her and Saskia
could see his gaze harden.
The Felix head of the Council nodded briefly.
“Preda. I was just telling your lovely fiancée how delighted I am to have gotten the chance to meet her
like this.” His golden eyes sparked as he ran them
over her creamy bare shoulders and the swell of her
breasts at her neckline. “However sadly late it might
Saskia gave a start. Was Rafael De Santos flirting
The hand on her hip tightened.
“We’re glad you came to wish us well,” Nicolas
growled. There was no other word for the low warning that rumbled through the words. “My mate and
I appreciate the support of the Council, especially
considering we’re both new to the city.”
That last part wasn’t precisely true. Both the Arcos and Preda families had kept houses in Manhattan for years and had visited the city frequently; they
just hadn’t made their primary homes in New York.
Now, however, things were changing. Saskia and
Nicolas’s engagement was just one more symbol of
that shifting dynamic. His terse tone symbolized that
other things, however, never changed.
De Santos shifted his gaze to Nicolas, and the
liquid gold cooled and hardened. “The Council has
never made a habit of coming between couples intent on marriage. Of course we support any decision
that brings you both personal happiness.”
And there it was. Saskia sighed inwardly. Without saying anything but the most polite of truths, her
fiancé and the head of the Council had managed to
each draw a line in the sand. The heaviness of the
subtext weighed down on her like Atlas’s globe.
Maybe she should check exactly how much aspirin
constituted an overdose.
“You’re very kind,” she jumped in, feeling the
hand at her hip tighten and Nicolas’s body draw up
with tension. This was not the place for a scene, and
since she’d been well trained to prevent such awkwardness, Saskia stepped in to soothe and deflect. It
was reflex. Or maybe instinct. “Nicolas and I are
delighted to have been able to share our big night
with such gracious company.”
She could see the awareness of her tactic in De
Santos’s eyes, could feel the way her fiancé’s stiff carriage indicated a struggle over whether or not to call
her on her interference, but damn it, she would not be
intimidated. Not tonight. This was a party. It was not
the time to rehash old enmity or to lay the foundation
for future generations of mistrust and hostility. They
could get back to all that in the morning.
Offering a determinedly steady hand, Saskia
smiled up at the head of the Council and wordlessly
dared him to contradict her implied dismissal. She
saw a flash of amusement behind his bland expression and held her breath for a moment.
ON THE PROWL
De Santos enveloped her hand in his much larger
one and raised it to his lips. “I find myself unexpectedly delighted as well, my dear. I would not have
missed this evening for the world.”
His lips brushed the backs of her fingers, and
Saskia blinked. In spite of years of instruction in etiquette and social rituals, in spite of finishing school
in Switzerland and one memorable tea at Windsor
Castle, she’d never had any man kiss her hand before. It should have looked and felt ridiculous, but
Rafael De Santos carried it off as if the custom hadn’t
died a century before. On him, the courtly act seemed
completely natural, even expected.
Before Saskia could decide how to respond, the
Felix had released her hand with a gentle squeeze,
nodded briefly to Nicolas, and blended back into the
crowd moving through the exit. Blowing out a discreet breath, she struggled to regain her equilibrium.
Rafael De Santos was a force of nature. She’d heard
stories about his potent charm and seductive wiles,
but she’d never expected to experience them for herself. No wonder women supposedly dropped at his
feet like autumn leaves. Saskia had zero interest in
the man yet even she had felt a brief tug of fascinated
attraction. The man should come with a warning
Nicolas shifted behind her, dragging her attention
back to the matter at hand. They still had a couple
hundred guests to farewell, and if she wanted to make
it home to her bed and her painkillers before lunchtime tomorrow she needed to keep herself focused.
Automatically she tilted her head back to offer her
fiancé a reassuring smile, but his expression made
her falter. His green eyes looked cool and distant and
flicked immediately away from her. His hand at her
hip withdrew, and his body canted subtly away as he
murmured something polite and benign to the senior
partner of a well-respected and ancient law firm. She
couldn’t quite shake the feeling that she’d been simultaneously rebuked and dismissed.
But for what?
“Great party. Thanks for the invite. Good luck,
and all that.”
This time, the voice that snapped her back to
awareness was female, unaccented, and slightly ill at
ease. Instinct and training pressed Saskia to fix that
“We’re so happy you were able to join us,” she
said, infusing her smile with extra warmth. She
didn’t immediately recognize the woman before her,
but something about the olive-skinned brunette tickled at the edge of Saskia’s subconscious. She usually
excelled at remembering names and faces. “Please
tell me you enjoyed yourself at least a little.”
The woman grinned in spite of her discomfort.
“Well, the champagne was first rate, and those stuffed
mushroom thingies they passed around before dinner tasted like an orgasm on a plate, so that’s something. More than I can usually expect from a work