Cade Maguire and his sister Maggie have a dog in their household that needs tending. Ann comes to them highly recommended. She's so focused on accruing funds for her education that she won't ask questions concerning her employers' unusual evening schedule.
Ann soon becomes embroiled in a dangerous, mythic world. Her bosses are far from normal. They have secrets that are thousands of years old, and one of those secrets has come back to haunt Cade. She finds herself in the middle in a vampire battleground that's fueled by revenge. Since she's now a member of the Darkstar household, there's a target on her back. For her, there's no place to run or hide. Death may be a sunset away.
Release date: October 26, 2018
Publisher: Candace Sams
Print pages: 236
Content advisory: Some sexual content/Action Adventure/Vampire Romance
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Behind the book
A woman set on achieving a life goal takes an extra job at an English estate. She is supposed to take care of an unruly dog but soon finds herself embroiled in an ancient vampiric battle.
“Hello, I’m from the Poopa Palooza. We’re the Pampered Pooch Dog Walking Service. If your dog needs walking, we do the work. And if your dog poops it, we scoop it!”
Cade Maguire simply stared for several long moments. If the ridiculous words hadn’t been enough to stupefy him, the woman’s appearance certainly did. He realized he was rudely gawking, but couldn’t help it.
In all his centuries of living, he’d never seen a more mesmerizing, perfect beauty. He prided himself on control in unusual situations and reminded himself of his reputation for conducting affairs with uncanny calm in the face of danger, but this woman’s sudden appearance at his front door had him utterly confounded.
“Uh…come in,” he murmured, then stood aside to let the tall beauty in.
“Is that the service?” Maggie called out from upstairs.
“Uh…yeah. It’s her,” Cade responded, barely turning his head in the direction of his younger sister’s voice.
“Just call me Ann,” the woman at the door instructed as she held out her hand in greeting. “I’m here to meet with Ms. Maggie Maguire.”
Cade took her firm grip in his. He noted the subtle way she squeezed his palm, as if she was willing to let her hand linger in his a second longer than necessary. He grinned and finally dragged his gaze away from her electric-blue eyes when he heard his sister leading her German Shepherd down the old staircase. “Maggie, this is…I’m sorry…what did you say your name was?”
“Ann,” she repeated, leaning forward slightly as she did so. “And you are?”
“Hello, hello!” Maggie called as she pulled the reluctant four-footed giant by his collar, down the stairs. “Ann…the ladies at my hair stylist’s shop had wonderful things to say about your way with animals. You came highly recommended.” She sighed, trying to pull Baron closer, but he sat at the bottom of the stairs and refused to budge. “As you can see, you’ll have your hands full.”
Ann smiled down at the dog. It tilted its head to one side and focused on her. Slowly kneeling, she stretched out one hand, palm up.
“Careful, Baron bites,” Cade warned.
Ann slowly shook her head in denial. “Not me he won’t.”
Cade stood back as his sister alarmingly dropped her pet’s leash. He tried to warn the kneeling woman again. “That’s not a good idea, Miss—”
“Foster. Just call me Ann,” she repeated, as she kept all her attention focused on the big animal before her. “Come on, boy. Let’s be friends.”
The dog growled.
“Maggie, maybe you’d better pick the leash up and give it to me,” Cade warned. “He’s going to bite her.”
“No, he won’t,” Ann insisted. “Just back away, please.”
Maggie pushed Cade back a few steps. “Let’s give Ann a chance,” she told him, then addressed the woman. “We’ve tried seven different dog services. He’s just a very sensitive creature. Aren’t you, my baby-waby,” she crooned to the massive, growling dog.
Cade took a deep breath as the growling became louder. He prepared himself to leap between the dog walker and his sister’s baby.
To his amazement, the dog walker tried a different tactic. She lowered her gaze, tilted her head, and began whining like a puppy.
Baron stopped growling immediately, and titled his head left then right. Finally assured the woman before him meant no harm to his family, he got up, walked over and began to sniff the stranger’s face.
Cade held his breath. If the dog bit her now, Ann’s lovely cheek would be lying on the floor. What was worse, Baron was close enough to take out the woman’s throat. If that happened, there would be hell to pay from the rest of his vampire colony. A dead human would bring unwanted attention. While he was good at hiding human remains, and had experience doing so for centuries, that consolation didn’t exactly quell his fear over a possible mauling.
Ann slowly brought her hands up and began to scratch behind Baron’s ears. The German Shepherd licked her face profusely. “Look…look what I have,” she told the now whimpering canine. Then, she slowly reached inside her jacket pocket and brought out a dog cookie.
Baron gently took it from her hand, gulped the treat down then began to bounce excitedly on the gray stone floor.
Ann scooped up the leash and encouraged him to play for a few seconds before giving a command. “Sit,” she loudly ordered.
Cade watched with growing surprise as the normally ill-tempered dog did as Ann asked, with perfect manners. Amazingly, the animal quietly sat gazing up at the dog walker with what could only be described as growing fondness in his expression.
Baron normally disliked everyone new, no matter how friendly the stranger acted. Whether they were likable or not, animal lovers or not, Baron seemed to find a way to intimidate all the guests of Darkstar Manor. As Ann stroked the dog and spoke calmly to him, Cade sensed a change in Baron’s attitude. No human had been able to soothe the dog’s unruly nature. Now, however, the animal shifted its gaze from Ann to him and he was actually able to sense the shepherd’s good-humored emotions.
For some strange reason, Cade got the impression the dog was finally satisfied with something. It was as if Baron had been perturbed with the world, but all was made right since the stranger’s arrival. Ann had only been there for a few minutes, but he sensed acceptance and even contentment from the household pet.
He turned his attention to his sister when a mental pathway between them opened. “I told you she had a good reputation with animals,” Maggie communicated.
He surreptitiously shook his head in denial. “It’s more than that, and you know it.”
Maggie slightly tilted her head in response then addressed Ann. “My dear, I’m so happy to finally meet someone that Baron won’t attack. You’ve no idea how unmanageable he can be. We’ve tried simply everything.”
Ann shrugged, petting Baron’s head with one hand. “He just had to understand I wasn’t competing or encroaching.”
“You’ve had special training with animals?” Cade asked as he boldly looked her over.
“No. I just try to see things from a pet’s view. I’m told I have a gift that way.”
Maggie stepped forward and picked up the leash. “Well, as far as I’m concerned,
you have the job. I’ll expect you every evening at six-thirty, but do call ahead just in
case. Our schedules are very changeable.”
Ann glanced from one to the other. “What about the rest of the day? Does Baron have anyone to walk or play with him then?”
“The rest of the day is covered,” Cade quickly remarked, then nodded toward Maggie. “Sis, if you’ll take Baron to the kitchen for his dinner, I’ll work out the finances with Ann.”
“Will do,” Maggie said with a broad smile. Before leaving, she turned to her brother, briefly pausing. Her back was to Ann. “Don’t eat her alive, Cade. I can sense your interest in digging into her history. She’s only human.”
Having no other choice but to ignore his sister’s mental comment, he let Maggie walk away with the dog.
While Maggie’s footsteps sounded her retreat toward the back of the manor, Cade motioned with one hand toward the study. “Shall we?”
Ann nodded. It was hard not to be sexually attracted to the man. There was more to Cade Maguire than just his alarmingly handsome features, and the athletic-looking body covered by tight jeans and a half-open work shirt. He seemed somehow different in a way she couldn’t describe. If one word had to be used to do so, dangerous just about covered it.
Her attention was diverted quickly enough as she entered the enormous study. She tried not to gasp at the elegance and the extreme display of wealth surrounding her. The foyer looked like many old English country estates. The study, however, was megalithic. Thousands of books lined shelves that dropped halfway down from a vaulted ceiling. She couldn’t guess the height, but the ceiling looked to be made of solid stone. Mounted high in the alcoves of the ceiling sat dozens of stone figures eerily looking down on them with gaping mouths full of teeth.
“Gargoyles,” she whispered, arching her neck to view the entire scene above her.
Cade gazed up in the direction she was now staring. “They’ve been there for centuries, but don’t let them intimidate you. To my sister and me, they’re just stone.”
Ann quickly dragged her gaze away from the winged monstrosities and back to her host. Somehow, he seemed to fit into the room. There was something Gothic, and even sinister about him. That combination both frightened and attracted her.
“It’s warm out this evening. Will you have something cool to drink?” he asked, motioning toward a small refrigerator.
“Water would be fine,” she responded, and sat in a nearby brown leather chair. While he poured her drink into a glass that looked like it was cut Irish crystal, she took the time to look him over more carefully. Recalling that first meeting in the foyer, when he’d stood next to his sister, Cade was at least a foot taller than Maggie. Maggie was several inches taller than she. That put him at a staggering six feet, six inches. His shoulders were very broad, as though he played some kind of sport, but his back vee’d down to a slender waist and hips as displayed by his tight shirt and jeans. Tall, black riding boots fixed him as both an outdoorsman and equestrian. At least, she surmised no one in their right mind would pay for such expense footwear if they weren’t using them for their intended purpose.
Then there was the long, shoulder-length hair. It was a medium brown that perfectly set off his strangely colored eyes. They were a golden hue that matched the whiskey he poured for himself.
“Cheers,” he said as he handed her a crystal glass of ice water.
She lifted her glass and gently clinked it to his. “To a successful relationship.”
He towered over her to the extent she almost stood to keep from feeling at a disadvantage. The momentary discomfort was over in an instant when he quickly sat in a chair opposite hers.
Cade regarded her from over the top of his glass. “Your references were in order and Baron seems to like you well enough. I suppose all that remains are the terms of your service, financially speaking.”
Ann watched as he sat his drink on the edge of the huge oak desk behind him and picked up a note pad and pen. His big, blunt hands scrawled out something on the paper before handing it to her.
“Will this be sufficient?”
She looked down at the figure on the paper. The amount he’d scrawled was six- hundred pounds per week. “My God! This is…my God!” she blurted again, then tried to regain her composure. “You can’t be serious!”
As her blue gaze lifted toward him, Cade picked his glass up, leaned forward and said, “I can assure you, Ann. The amount is negotiable.”
She took a quick sip of water and tried not to cough as it went down the wrong way. “I-I didn’t mean it wasn’t enough. Far from it!” She took a deep breath. “I couldn’t possibly accept this much. Not just for walking a dog,” she reluctantly told him, and tried to hand the paper back.
He ignored her outstretched hand. “You haven’t heard the terms yet.”
She saw the way those golden eyes gazed at her, and suddenly figured out exactly what it was that he was trying to negotiate.
She’d seen that look on men’s faces before, but never with so much intensity. She slowly withdrew her hand, then carefully put her glass on a nearby table and stood.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” she furiously asked. “What gives you the right to invite me here for a perfectly innocent reason, then turn the situation around and come on to me like this? Just because you’ve got money doesn’t mean you can buy every damned thing, Mister Maguire. I’m sure you think quite highly of yourself and your assets,” she bit out as she glanced down at his crotch, “but I can’t be bought.”
He threw the contents of his glass down his throat, stood and moved forward in one fluid motion. Placing his glass next to hers, he focused on the angry woman standing before him. They were inches apart and he could feel her heat radiating toward him. He’d never wanted a woman in his life as much as he wanted this exquisite creature. “My sister tells me you’re trying to make money so you can pursue your studies in archaeology. That’s a very expensive degree considering you probably won’t ever find work once you get it!” He slowly looked her over. “With what I’m offering, you could drop every other part-time job you have, including walking other people’s pets. That also means no more delivering pizzas in bad parts of town. No more clerking at a shop on the weekends. You could eventually even buy your own transportation or get yourself a much better flat. Your past job experience reveals you’d be willing to work at anything to get wherever it is you want to be. You’ve scrubbed toilets and cleaned windows. Washed cars and planted flowers. All so you could achieve your dream. So, think carefully, Miss Foster. If you accept my terms, you’ll have enough financial support that all you’d have to do is walk one damned dog—”
“And sleep with you,” she finished. “You want a whore, not a dog sitter.”
He could will her to do as he wished, but where would be the fun in that? “It isn’t the seamy picture you’d like to dramatically depict, Miss Foster. In fact, you could move into Darkstar Manor, have your own room and access to a car and driver. You’d be exceedingly well catered to and could come and go as you please. You could travel to London or anywhere else you prefer when your time is your own.”
“You don’t even know me,” she whispered. “All you know is what my references told you.”
“Makes you wonder what your former employers said about you, doesn’t it?” He crossed his arms over his chest.
She glared at him. “There was nothing in their comments that could have possibly led you to make this kind of offer. Nothing!”
“Oh no? They said you were very punctual and that you were always discreet with any familial information. They also said they could count on you to come and go from their homes without worrying about you stealing. They trusted you with their beloved pets. That says a lot about a person’s integrity. Especially since you’ve been doing this for three years and haven’t had one single complaint.”
“B-But why on Earth would any of that make you want to…to…”
“Hire you to take care of Baron and occasionally sleep with me?” he finished for her, then backed away and slowly sauntered to the desk. Once there, he sat on the edge and crossed his booted ankles.
“Y-Yes,” she responded.
“Let’s just say that I know from your application that you’re available, with no emotional ties, and that you could use the money. For my part, I could use the diversion and I can assure you…you’d be very well treated.”
She could only stand there; gaping at his effrontery. Who in the hell did this kind of thing? This was the single craziest situation that had ever happened in her entire life.
“Why don’t you carefully consider my offer before turning it down, Miss Foster?” He picked up a phone on his desk and punched a button. “Rogers, Miss Foster is ready to leave. Will you give her a lift back into town? Use the sedan?” He put the receiver down, pulled a file from his desk and walked to the study door. Once there, he waited for her to follow. “I know you came here by coach as your application relayed that was how you intended to arrive each day. So, I’ll offer better transport back to your flat.”
Ann didn’t hesitate. She didn’t even have the mental wherewithal at the moment to ask about the car, driver, or anything else. She simply got up and went to the front door, stupefied by his casual demeanor. The man acted as if he’d just offered her tea, not a job as a live-in lover. He’d done, so quickly, that she was barely prepared to believe the conversation had happened at all.
She barely remembered him giving the driver her address from the application file he’d pulled from his desk. She hardly recalled his blithe dismissal, or the ride back in the luxurious, ultra-expensive American car. She was only moderately aware of how her neighbors stared when she got out of the shiny black automobile and walked inside her tiny flat. Only after she stood inside her tiny flat, with the door closed and locked, did she feel as if there were any reality left in her world. The entire scenario began to take on an otherworldly aura, as if she’d been watching it on TV and not experiencing it. Well, so much for interviewing with the swank set. She firmly decided to never fill out an employment application for a wealthy family again, and would keep to her neighborhood jobs, where folks’ income didn’t provide for wildly eccentric behavior.
Even dismissing the event as some wealthy man’s delusion, it was a long time before she got to sleep that night. After she finally slumbered, her disturbing dream sequences included Cade Maguire striding up to her in his boots and tight jeans. A soft wind blew through his long hair, and his golden eyes seemed to gleam through a foggy mist that separated them. As the dream continued, he held his arms open wide as if he were waiting for her to come to him. Then the dream changed and he came to her totally nude. She could see the Titan-like muscles of his body and the thickness of his erection as it jutted from the brown curls between his thighs. She wanted to touch it and own him in a way that made her wet with need, but he faded in and out of reality the way people in dreams sometimes do. Finally, there was darkness and she was at rest.
The big man no longer taunted her with his smile and his body. The night moved on and she was one with it.
As time crept by, she imagined the scream she was hearing wasn’t real, but part of her earlier dream sequence. She shot out of bed, however, when the sirens outside her building removed all doubt about what was and wasn’t reality.
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