Fanged After Forty, Book 3

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Forty and fanged.

That’s only half of who Hailey Whitfield is. She’s also a bounty hunter and the true mate to the vampire master who made her. The latter is something she isn’t sure she is ready for. She’d previously sworn off marriage. Never again. A true mating bond, though, seems like so much more than a marriage!

She has two months to figure out the bonding thing and she plans to put a pin in it for now. A more important mission had come up. Her friend and fellow bounty hunter, Chloe, is missing, and it’s up to the Bond Girls to bring her home.

The case takes a dangerous turn that sends Hailey and her team undercover to get an invite to the largest masquerade ball on the east coast.

Is it wrong to be excited about the ball and scared for her friend at the same time? Probably. But Hailey is taking the world by storm, one case at a time.

Excerpt

Chapter 1  

A few months ago, I was a woman who’d been stood up on my wedding day by a man who’d never made me a priority, never been honest, never been worthy of my time, but I’d been living a typically normal life. I’d gone to work, I’d come home, generally, I’d watched a little TV and had gone to bed with a man who’d slept soundly without so much as giving me a second glance. As far as self-esteem went, it’d been soul-crushing.  

In stark contrast, having a neighbor who had proposed a mating bond with me was a big boost in the how-I-viewed-myself department. I loved the idea of being someone’s forever, someone’s life partner in all things that mattered. I know, I know, when I started this new chapter in my life at the ripe old age of forty, I’d said I would never love again. 

Well, suck it up, buttercup. Things change. However, that didn’t mean I liked the fact that the vampire elders had put Jax and me on a ticking time clock to complete our bond. It crushed all the romance out of the whole meet my mate and fall in love thing. 

Really, how well could I get to know someone after a few months when those said months were filled with one crisis after another? We’d barely had a moment to breathe, much less bond.  

At least my future mate was hot with his shoulder-length strawberry-blond hair, big hazel eyes that changed colors depending on the color of his shirt and mood, and a body that could’ve made a grown woman weep with joy at just seeing him shift a shoulder or clench a muscle. Believe me, I’d had to resist the urge a few times. He had a way of wearing jeans that made me grateful I had eyes.  

Despite his bodily excellence, Jaxson Parsons was so much more than eye candy. He was a strong, fierce leader of the United States vampires and a compassionate friend. Friend, not lover, because we hadn’t yet done the deed if you know what I mean. You… you know what I mean, right? The deed. The big kahuna. Bumping uglies. Taking a trip to Pound Town. Knocking boots, checking the oil. Two-person push-ups, the no-pants dance.  

Oh, sorry. You did understand what I meant. Sex. 

The idea of mating with the beautiful brooding vampire from across the street, the guy who’d saved my life, the guy who looked at me like I used to look at dessert, wasn’t a completely unwelcome thought. At least, not when I was alone in my room in the dark of night fantasizing about it. About him. 

As far as fantasies went, rolling through the sheets with him was one of my faves, but knowing the choice was out of my hands was on the ugly side of overwhelming. 

During all this chaos, I’d also started a new business with my best friend, and that took up a significant amount of time. We were the Bond Girls Recovery Agency; skip tracers. Move over Dog, the Bond Girls were on the case. And we were good. Like, really good. We’d learned most of what we knew from Cleo, a seasoned bounty hunter who was happy to teach us everything she knew. Of course, a little magic and vampire speed helped too. 

I thought about all of this as I lay in the bed on the jet flying us home from Europe because Cleo had gone missing. Missing. Our mentor was MIA, and it was going to be on me, on the Bond Girls, to find her. 

As far as my new vampire status, time was on my side. Or would have been if I hadn’t wasted so much of it in Milan having to justify my existence to a council who blamed Jax for turning me without permission. Never mind I would’ve died from Zara draining me. They’d rather I have died.  

More wasted time in the air when I should’ve been sleeping, but couldn’t because…mating bond, missing friend. Sleeping wasn’t exactly something I was going to be able to manage until this was all handled, at least. The pull was still incredibly strong, though. This was the first time I’d been able to resist it.  

When the plane rolled to a stop on the tarmac, I rolled out of the bed, ready to face whatever I had to in order to get Cleo back.  

I followed Jax through the airport with my phone pinging notifications as if  I’d been out of touch for weeks, months even, rather than the hours I’d been in the air from Milan. We had to meet Luke and Kendra—they’d accompanied us to the council meeting—then we could be off to find Cleo. They were on the same flight but didn’t have to be confined to the light-tight rooms.  

I saw Kendra first. She was tall in her heeled boots and her hair was pulled back in a long cascade of ebony—she’d had a spa day in Milan that included a chemical refresh of her hair color—but since she was as close to Cleo as I was, her face was drawn with worry.  

“I did a spell on the plane.” She kept her voice low because we were in public. “I sensed Cleo, so I’m almost certain she’s alive.” 

 

A weight like a cinder block lifted from my chest. This was good news. Her spells were at least sixty percent how we found our skips and she was hardly ever wrong. “I have at least ten missed calls from Jordan and Tracy combined.”  

Tracy, Cleo’s daughter, had brought the abduction to our attention, and she was understandably frantic. Jordan, as Cleo’s boss and the possible reason she was abducted, was also understandably hysterical.  

Without Cleo, he was twenty percent down in terms of his workforce. And teeny tiny Jordan, who had Michael Jackson’s voice and Danny DeVito’s comb-over, needed his entire workforce to keep him solvent. Plus, I suspected he had a thing for Cleo. For her badassery, her class and her ability to shoot the wings off a fly in the dark just by hearing it flap its little wings. There was a lot for Jordan to admire about Cleo. A lot for all of us to admire, but he took it to ever-flirting extremes. 

Luke walked up to us, not quite as worried. He knew Cleo, but only in passing. “Come on,” I said. “We’ll drop you off on the way.”  

Nash and Grim—part of Jax’s creatures of the night team—were going to meet us at Jordan’s office, so off we went. Jax drove, because it was his car, and he didn’t mind driving, although as vampires, we could run like the wind, and it probably would’ve been faster than battling traffic. However, that kind of speed through a very busy city was a bit hard to explain to humans who chose to act as if witches and vampires and fae were the stuff of folklore, not living right under their noses.  

I texted Cleo’s daughter, Tracy, to let her know we were going straight to Jordan’s and then on to finding her mama.  

“Where are Paige and Ransom?” I asked as Jax navigated the streets of downtown Philadelphia, heading for Jordan’s. 

“Dealing with my kingdom,” he said. “Just normal stuff. Property rights disputes, a petition for a new club in Seattle. That sort of thing.”  

I touched his hand on the gearshift. “Thanks. I’m glad you’re here, helping with this.” He easily could’ve delegated finding Cleo to his subordinates or left it to me. It was my problem, not his.  

He cared because I did, and that meant a lot to me.  

By the time we arrived, Nash and Grim were stationed outside like trench-coat-wearing secret service agents. Except these guys had fangs and were cold to the touch. They didn’t care much for taking chances in the sunlight. Hence, our movements tended to be under cover of darkness. It gave us the element of surprise. The ability to sneak better than we could in daylight excursions. 

I walked inside and stared at Jordan, who had bitten his nails down to the knuckle. Not really, but you get the point. When his eyes met mine, he started talking in fast, high-pitched sentences. “Where have you been, little lady? Do I not have enough to worry about with Cleo missing? Then you take off, too? And no call, no email, no word whatsoever.” 

I would have interrupted and told him that I definitely informed him that I was going to be away by phone and email, but he hadn’t taken a breath yet.  

“I left you eleven voicemails,” he squeaked, his voice higher than normal thanks to his worry. 

It’d only been seven, but Jordan was prone to exaggeration. “I was ready to file a second missing person report.” 

He was on a roll. I hated to interrupt his tirade, but I had questions. “You filed a missing person on Cleo?” That meant cops would be involved, which would make finding her much harder because we would be limited about how involved we could be, or at least, how much we could let them know we were involved.  

He huffed out a breath, folded his arms, unfolded them and rubbed his hands over his hips then folded his arms again. “Well, no. But I wanted to. I just thought you might have a better chance of finding her. Your success rate is a hundred percent better than theirs.” 

I would’ve basked in the praise had Cleo not been missing. “Jordan?” 

“Yes, yes.” He fastened his fanny pack around his waist. I didn’t know what he kept in that thing. I’d never had the courage to ask, but he never left home without it—assuming, and I did, that the back room here doubled as his living space. He was going somewhere. It took a second for me to figure out he meant to go with us. 

“What are you doing?” I wasn’t as high-pitched as Jordan, but it had been a while since he’d gone out on the streets, although Cleo had repeatedly vouched for his greatness. Still, it worried me. Plus, he didn’t know how the Bond Girls had such a high success rate. And if he went with us, we’d have to act totally normal.  

“I’m coming along.” He cocked a brow. It was his version of a silent dare.  

“No, no. That’s a bad idea.” I didn’t know why. Gut feeling, maybe. And I trusted those a lot more than I trusted a hobbit to be helpful. Plus, the whole, we needed to be able to use our powers thing.  

“Hails, can I see you outside for a minute?” Kendra laid a hand on my shoulder, intervening before Jordan and I came to verbal or physical blows.  

The office wasn’t small but looked like it was because of the amount of furniture in the place. Chairs, tables, desks, all in such disarray that Kendra and I had to maneuver around because Nash, Grim, Jax, and Jordan were positioned in the empty spaces.  

I walked out first and the bell on the door jingled. I’d made Jordan put it on the door after the first time we walked in on him half naked so he’d know when we arrived, giving him time to put on a shirt and pants before he came out of the back room. I turned to Kendra as she asked, “What do we do?” 

“About what?” Like I said, I’d spent a few hours too many on a plane. My brain was fuzzy.  

“Jordan can’t go with us without finding out that you have a very specific skill set these days.” She made it sound like I was the guy from that movie. “He’ll know you’re… special, and he has no inside voice. No filter. He’ll tell everyone in a ten-mile radius just by breathing.” 

I nodded because her point was valid. Plus, I’d been thinking the same thing.  

“What do you want me to do? You know how he feels about Cleo.” Being left behind wasn’t an option for Jordan. He wouldn’t listen if we told him to stay. Pfft. We wouldn’t even be able to keep him semi-quiet. 

Moonlight glinted off of Kendra’s shiny hair as she sighed and tossed it behind her shoulders. “Maybe we should just tell him. Get it out in the open. Here. Now. Let him see it isn’t a big deal.” Her idea made sense. We could use his own walls to contain his enthusiasm about me. He was sure to freak out one way or another.  

You can’t tell him about vampires.” The voice came as a whisper inside my head, a sexy, low purr of a whisper that traveled down my body like a caress. Jax. He couldn’t read my mind or hear my thoughts, nor could I read his. However, we could send our thoughts to one another like telepathy. Another of those handy new skills for this amazing skillset was the hearing of a bat or a moth.  

“Jax says we can’t tell him about my personal… abilities,” I whispered.  

She did a full spin. “Oh, Jax says, does he?”  

Easily agitated, isn’t she?” Jax’s voice made my body vibrate, and I lip-twitched away a smile. I loved hearing him whisper like that. It was so dang sexy.  

I let my head wave from one side to the other, then crossed my arms and assumed an all-business face. No need to make her think I wasn’t taking her seriously. “He does.” 

“Well, maybe you could ask him what we should do here? How we should force Jordan to stay here.” 

You should tell him that Kendra’s a witch.” Holy catnip, this man had a way about him. A voice. A body. Intelligence. He was the full package. But no way was Kendra going along with that idea.  

Still, it was my duty as a vampire to protect the identity of my kind, because there were predators. The Salem witch trials ended a long time ago, but since that danged Buffy and those Winchester boys on TV, amateur fang hunters were everywhere. “Jax thinks we should tell Jordan about you.” 

“I hope you mean that you’re going to tell him that I cook a mean linguine alfredo, that I can ballroom dance, that I know the value of a dollar in ways that a lot of women don’t when it comes to buying designer shoes.” Her eyes flashed then went dark with the challenge. 

“Yes, Ken, I’m going to give Jordan the headlines from your Tinder profile.” I rolled my eyes and tapped one foot.  

“Listen, sister, just because you’re getting the goods from Count Hotpants doesn’t mean you should demean my online dating.” Now she was getting huffy, and we were so far off-topic I was going to need a tractor-trailer and a crane to bring us back around. And for goodness sake, he could hear us and was chuckling in my ear. Well chuckling in my mind via telepathy. 

“I’m not getting the goods from anyone.” Sweet holy hominy, getting the goods? I wished. 

Could be.” It was him again. And he knew we were talking about sweeping the proverbial chimney. And he wanted me to know we could be sleeping together. Thank goodness he couldn’t read my mind unless I let him. Cause then he’d know I’d be bright freaking red right now if I were still a human.  

“Hush.” 

Kendra’s head jerked up. “Did you just tell me to hush?” 

“No, I…” Lord. I couldn’t tell her he was listening. Although maybe she knew already. “I would never. What I’m saying is…” What the hell was I saying? “What I’m saying is…” I came out stronger, still didn’t have a big finish. “What I’m saying is that telling Jordan about vampires is dangerous, but letting him see you do a simple spell, maybe scry for Cleo’s location is enough to keep him watching you in case I give myself away.” 

Nice. Way to keep it focused on her.” I didn’t need the cheering section, but I didn’t mind the praise, even if it was in a whisper and only I could hear it. 

Kendra sighed, then threw her hands up, and growled. “Fine. We’ll tell him I’m a witch.” 

She turned and walked back inside. To myself—more to Jax—I muttered, “You’d better hope this works.” 

We walked inside. Jordan was still fumbling with his fanny pack and Nash and Grim were as focused as ever. Jax wore a smirk and ridiculously, even that was endearing on him. That wasn’t something I wanted to unpack right now, so I slipped it in with all my other Jax thoughts to be contemplated at a later time. 

I glanced at Jordan. He’d finally managed to fasten his belted bag around his waist and huffed an impatient sigh. “Why are we all just standing here?” 

Kendra had never been shy before about who she was. For those of us who knew about her, her powers were just a part of what made her the fun-loving, slightly eccentric, always beautiful woman she was. But she was looking at Jordan as if we were sending her in front of the firing squad. 

“Oh, fine.” Finally, she stepped forward. She took Jordan’s tiny shoulders in her hands and spun him to face her. “I’m going to tell you something.” He pulled his head back as if she’d just threatened to kill him. “And if you ever tell anyone, I will yank your ears off and use them to make tiny man soup before I shove you in the pot. You hear me?” 

He cocked an eyebrow, and the unflappable Jordan looked ever so slightly flapped. “I hear you.” This was the most solemn I’d ever seen him.  

Instead of explaining, Kendra took a piece of paper and wrote Cleo’s name in bold, black marker. Then she closed her eyes and waved one finger over the page so that the words rose off the page and into the air. The letters straightened into a line that formed an arrow and then pointed outside. “Let’s go.” 

Jordan stared hard. First at the arrow then at Kendra. He didn’t move more than a couple of inches and then only because Nash stepped around him and bumped Jordan’s shoulder. “What in sam blasted hell is going on?” Jordan yelped.  

I moved forward. “Jordan, you know that there are things in the world that happen that people think are unexplained?” He nodded but kept his gaze on the arrow that was scrunching then straightening as if telling us to get out the door. “Kendra is one of those unexplainable explanations.” 

Blinking rapidly, Jordan braced himself on a nearby chair with one hand and waved the other in the air as he spoke. “So you’re like that wizard kid in the movies? The one with the round glasses and the warthog?” 

His details were fuzzy, but I knew who he meant. Unfortunately, being compared to that kid was something that set Kendra’s hair on fire. She narrowed her gaze and stared hard at Jordan.  

A lesser, smaller man would have shriveled, but this guy lifted his chin. “What?” 

“Not at all like the kid.” Even though she kind of was.  

Her eyes flashed, and I shrugged at Jax whose smirk had flattened into a thin line that was still adorable.  

Jordan hadn’t stopped staring at Kendra. “Can you wiggle your nose to cook dinner?” 

“Why would I do that?” Her gaze pinched. 

“Can you grant me three wishes?” 

“That’s a genie, Einstein.” Every word he spoke deepened her frown.  

“Can you teleport? Transform into a dragon? Do you dine on the souls of little children?” He rattled off a couple more Hollywood versions of witchy powers. I had to bite back giggles at his reaction. He’d taken it like a pro.  

“Yes, you butthead. I breakfast on seven-year-olds or tiny little men with screechy voices.” She shrugged like the difference didn’t matter.  

I hid a smile behind my hand. “Maybe we should go. Cleo’s still missing.” 

Jordan nodded at me. “Yes, we should.” 

We drove to Cleo’s house because to scry for her location, we needed something of hers along with the city map I’d pilfered from under the counter in Jordan’s office. Jax drove me, and Jordan while Nash and Grim followed behind with Kendra. She’d ridden with them because leaving her in the back seat with Jordan wasn’t safe for him.  

When we arrived, Kendra stopped me at the door as I was about to put my key into the lock. “What about Tracy?” 

She wasn’t aware of the supernatural, and the fewer people who knew—it was bad enough we’d had to tell Jordan—the better. Jax took the key from my hand and looked inside the apartment. “She’s asleep on the sofa.” 

I nodded. “I’ll just run inside for a second.” 

It was all too easy to stay quiet, thanks to my preternatural powers, and soon came back out with a necklace of Cleo’s and handed it to Kendra. We didn’t have to be inside the apartment. The hallway would work. Heck, anywhere would work as long as we had an item of Cleo’s. Nash stood guard on one side, Grim on the other, as Kendra kneeled on the floor to work her magic with the map and necklace. Jordan chortled and giggled as the necklace pointed us to Cleo’s location.  

“I have got to learn how to do that.” Then he looked up at me. “This is how you catch them all, isn’t it?”  

I chuckled. No way was I telling him anything. “Sorry, Jordan. A girl has to have her secrets.” I smiled as we walked to the stairwell. There were some things he didn’t need to know. How we were going to manage to keep them from him, I had no clue.