Fanged After Forty, Book 4

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Hailey Whitfield is fed up with being told what to do, when to do it, and how she should be going about it.

Don’t tell her how to live her life.

It’s time for Hailey to stand up and do what needs to be done. First up, saving her brother, if he can be saved. Next, complete the mating bond with Jax, the US vampire leader. After that, who knows? Maybe she’ll take on the world. Or at least the vampire council.

While she figures out what she’s going to do next, Hailey’s bond recovery agency, The Bond Girls, is thrown into a skip-trace that pulls at the heartstrings. What are the ladies supposed to do when the skip is being unfairly targeted?

They do what’s right, of course. Too bad it’s not so cut and dry. But Hailey is determined now. She’s the master of her destiny, and she’ll figure this out, too.

Chapter 1

My brother, the darling of my life, a diva in his own right, one of the most important people in my world, was shot four weeks ago. Four long, torturous weeks. I’d been right here every waking hour, not wanting to leave his side.

Since the shooting, which was the worst day of my life, he’d been comatose. Unable to move, unable to breathe on his own. As far as we knew, his mind could be barely more than mush.

According to the host of doctors working on his case the chances of Luke ever waking were slim to none. They’d run test after test, taken blood, mapped his mind, and every other imaginable procedure, and still come up with the same conclusion–there wasn’t much they could do. They’d long ago abandoned his fate to the power of prayer. They’d given up hope for his recovery.

My heart hadn’t beat since the night he’d been shot. I mean, it literally didn’t beat, ever, since I’m a vampire, but you know what I mean.

I wasn’t giving up on him. Ever.

Those doctors, while they were at the top of their respective fields, they didn’t know the resilience in my family. The sturdy foundation on which we were built. Also, they didn’t know I was a vampire who could breathe life into my brother. Well, drip blood, but that gets a little graphic… soooo, yeah. They had no idea.

I’d sat with Luke every day, rather every night, since days meant sunlight and sunlight meant burned to a crisp Hailey, and I’d grown rather accustomed to being uncrispy. Something I’d never had to worry about. Only recently, actually. Not until I’d been turned into a vampire. Insert hissing sound here.

Now, sunlight was a worry. Not something to send me into a panic. I could wear long sleeves and a hat and some major layers of sunscreen.

However, the sunlight wasn’t my only worry at the moment. Definitely, number one was my almost-dead brother, Luke. Then there was a council of elder vampires who had required my existence to be justified. Also the mating bond with the smoking hot neighbor who’d turned me. And even though he was a gorgeous neighbor, being forced to form a mating bond within the time frame the elders demanded was pushed too many of my defiant buttons. I couldn’t help but think that there was an ulterior motive on their part.

This girl was wavering, though. Not because the elders said I had to mate, but because the said potential mate, Jax was starting to worm his way into my heart. It helped that he was hot. You know, in case you didn’t hear me the first time. He was sizzling, smoking, and a bunch more synonyms that basically meant melt my panties off.

And my thoughts were rambling, again. A product of my mind trying to keep me sane while my brother was dying.

Back to reality and my near-constant panic. I took a breath, not that I needed to actually breathe, but I needed to do something. The hospital smelled like antiseptic and illness, the two things Luke hated most in the world. Another sob stuck in my throat as I reached out to take his hand again.

Having him laid up in a bed too big for him while he looked…less than normal was not going to be the last memory I had of him. He would never forgive me. I’d never forgive myself. It didn’t matter, ultimately, what the council said about turning Luke. I was doing it, and all the vampires in our crew suspected it. It was just a question of when and where.

I needed to make sure Jax was on board with it. To see if he’d have my back. The real test of a true mate.

Luke was gonna be mad as hell that I hadn’t called Jamie—the hairdresser who maintained the razor-sharp part Luke loved in his hair—to handle the overgrowth of his face and coif.

“Don’t worry, brother,” I whispered, swiping a few strands of hair from his forehead. I would see to it the moment he was out of here. And that was going to be sooner than anyone else could predict. Only I knew what I’d decided about when to do it.

Jax walked in and stood beside my chair. Not only was he tall enough to cast a shadow, but there weren’t many places he could go that I wouldn’t know.

We were connected as maker and prodigy, as to-be-bonded mates. I couldn’t even think about the mating bond while Luke was ill. Not any more than I did when my mind wandered. Actually doing it was on hold until my brother was awake and well again.

But if I was thinking about it, I wanted to believe I wasn’t so shallow as to have my decision affected by Jax’s blondish hair that was a half-inch too long, or the smoldering gaze, or the body that made my mouth water. I wanted to believe I would choose to complete the ritual that would bond us as mates forever because he was kind, cared about me and my family, and the disheartening effect of my brother’s near-death-ness.

“How is he?” Have I mentioned the voice? It was like a body-shiver bonus on top of the good looks.

I sighed, because, despite the involuntary trembling, there was sadness weighing me way down. “He’s the same. Minimal brain activity.” It hurt in my stomach to say those words. What if turning him didn’t bring his brain activity back?

“That’s an improvement, right?” His silky voice sounded hopeful. I hated to disappoint him.

Technically, it was. Minimal was a step up from none. Dr. Brain Scan had emphasized the word minimal and had said that if we were going to see real improvement, we would’ve seen it already. “The doctor is recommending we remove”—the words tasted bitter—“life support.”

“Oh, Hailey.” His hand dropped on my shoulder, but I didn’t want his pity. I wanted my brother to wake up, to throw his arms out, shimmy his shoulders and call me a ridiculous bi-otch for blubbering, which I hadn’t realized I was doing until Jax crouched in front of me and pulled me into a hug.

I couldn’t let him hug me. When he tried to comfort me, it felt like I was going to break down even more. Like I might come apart and there’d never be another way to get me back together.

“What do Ollie and your sisters say?” Jax asked after another attempt to comfort me.

I sure as hell couldn’t bother my parents with this, whether or not to take their sweet Lukey off of life support, because they wouldn’t survive having to make such a decision. They’d taken a hotel room nearby and had taken turns staying here with Luke. Twenty-four-seven. I’d had to compel the doctor to tell his staff not to tell them anything.

My older brother Ollie, on the other hand, would expect to be consulted, would expect a full dissertation that I wasn’t even slightly prepared to give. There was no point in discussing anything since I knew what I was going to do.

The twins, my parents’ late in life gifts to themselves and the youngest of our group, wouldn’t be able to stop crying long enough to make a decision.

Luke was the pin that held our family together. Luke was everyone’s favorite and nobody minded in the least because he was everyone’s favorite.

I’d already sent the girls back to their Broadway rehearsals. They hadn’t wanted to leave, but we talked them into it, promising to call the moment there was any news. I might have put a tiny thought that Luke would be okay. Because he would. One way or another.

It was me and Ollie. We’d be the ones to make any decisions, or at least it would’ve been if I planned to follow the human doctors’ orders. “Ollie is determined that Luke would choose to have time to heal,” Jax said.

I was inclined to agree, but Dr. Pull-the-Plug hadn’t been enthused by our faith in Luke’s ability to recover.

There was no way we could talk in here because I didn’t want Luke to overhear if that was possible. “C’mere.” I pulled Jax out of Luke’s room and led him to an unoccupied room down the hall.

He walked in behind me and shut the door, then smiled like I had just agreed to consummate the mating bond, or at least meant to have a tryst here in the hospital.

The snort that escaped my mouth was totally unintentional. “Down boy. We need to talk about my brother.”

Sucking in a shuddering breath, I weighed my words carefully. I didn’t know who Jax had brought with him or whether or not anyone from the vampire council was within earshot.

They had a habit of turning up when I least expected it and at the most inopportune times. Right now, what I had to say was not meant for their possible superhero auditory abilities. This was private. Plus, it was against vampire law and could result in my immediate termination.

“I have to turn him, Jax,” I whispered so only he could hear me.

He cocked a brow. Was that disapproval on his face? I couldn’t understand his resistance after what he’d done for me, turning me, a virtual stranger.

I was only asking to do the same thing for someone I’d loved literally for my entire life. “I can’t…” My voice broke. The words wouldn’t come. They were too hard, the thought too heartbreaking.

“Hailey—”

I held up a hand and shook my head, swallowing the tears of panic and pain. No way was I listening to him tell me it was against the rules. His suddenly being all about the vampire edicts seemed a bit over the top. “No, Jax. This is Luke.”

He nodded his head rapidly and grabbed my arms. “Yes! And he’s been valuable to the council.” It was a stretch, but I appreciated the effort. “If we ask, they’ll give permission. I’m sure we can convince them.”

I didn’t share his confidence in a council that wanted me either dead or forced into mating bond servitude—it wasn’t truly as bad as all that, but I had a point to make—and I wasn’t giving them the opportunity to use my brother to force my compliance. “Luke is running out of time.”

The council wasn’t the swiftest in their decision making process. I didn’t have that kind of patience. We should’ve asked them the moment he was shot. We should’ve sent an envoy.

Jax looked at me with eyes full of worry and pain. He was feeling my agony on top of his own. He was fond of my brother as well. “Hailey, I don’t want to take on the council, yet. I don’t think we’d win. Not now.”

Yet was such an intriguing and promising word. It gave me a spark of hope. It was not at all applicable in this situation. I wasn’t asking him to take on anyone. Also, rebelling against the council wasn’t something I had time to dissect right now. I filed it away for later. “Luke doesn’t have time for them to weigh his case for the pros and cons of creating a diva vampire.”

Among all the other reasons, I couldn’t take the chance they would go against him either. If they said no and I turned him anyway—and I would—it would be even worse than not asking for permission.

Jax squeezed my arms. “He needs more time to heal, Hailey.”

Normally, the way he said my name gave me tingles, warmth where warmth used to be, but saving Luke was too important to set my hormones free. “He’s out of time Jax. They’re going to take his life support away.” The doctors were pushing hard. I didn’t know how long I could compel them not to do it. And what if their higher-ups got involved? We couldn’t mind wash every doctor in the hospital… err, could we?

“Let’s at least get Dominic on board.” Dominic was Jax’s maker, a council member, and our best chance if we were going to help Luke through the appropriate channels.

His look-before-we-leap attitude was not one to be reckoned with on a normal day, but today wasn’t that day. Tomorrow wasn’t looking good either.

“No.” I shook my head decisively. “I’m doing it. Period. And I don’t care about the council or their rules.” Jax and I would deal with it or not, but no way was I letting Luke die. “You’re either in or you’re out.”

I sounded like one of those baddies in the old movies Cleo loved, but few things in my life had ever been so important to me, and I wasn’t waiting around for further argument. This was the end of the line.

Softening my face, I cupped Jax’s cheek. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I wish I could see another option.”

Whirling, and without so much as a backward glance, I walked out into the hallway and toward my brother’s room. As I approached, the door swung open and Ransom, Jax’s right hand and my brother’s new boy toy, walked out, wiping his mouth on a napkin. He was another who’d been here at the hospital pretty much every waking moment. Luke always had a room full of people who loved him dearly.

Ransom was about to pass me without so much as looking up. He seemed tense, almost jumpy. But there were more emotions knotted up inside him that I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

I laid a hand flat on his chest, prepared to go full-body tackle if necessary, though Ransom could soundly kick my ass. “What happened? What’s wrong?” The words tumbled out of me. “Is Luke okay?”

He shrugged. Ransom was another of those pretty vamps—dark hair, gray eyes, full lips, broad shoulders, tapered waist. Luke didn’t just like him. Luke was enchanted and Ransom, quietly as he did it, had been at Luke’s side since the shooting. As much as the wide windows in Luke’s room allowed.

He glanced at me. “I solved the problem you and Jax were arguing about.” He nodded toward the room. “He’s changing right now.”

Oh, my. We weren’t talking clothes.

“So we need to get him home before the doctors try testing him.”

The real power in being a vampire was in secrecy and in the way vamps could cover their tracks. Nobody truly knew we existed. No humans, anyway, and even most of the supernatural world thought we were extinct.

I wanted to be angry because Luke belonged to me. I was the resident vamp in the family, and I should’ve been the one who turned him, but I also couldn’t blame Ransom. His feelings for Luke were obvious. So, instead of anger, I chose gratitude. He’d saved Luke and that was enough for me. And it had taken the decision off my shoulders.

For better or worse, it was done.