Kildare, Ireland, present day
Quinn stepped off the helicopter, bending slightly as he hurried out from under the blades, shielding his eyes against the dust to look around. He’d thought Lucas Donlon was bullshitting when he’d talked about his Irish “castle.” Turns out he wasn’t. The damn vampire really did have a castle. A gray stone monstrosity, complete with a fucking turret clinging to one side of the two-story main building, and a wall around the whole thing—at least twelve feet high and crenellated, for fuck’s sake. As if anyone was going to be firing off arrows to repel invaders. The place had to be a few hundred years old, but the warm light spilling out from perfectly clear glass windows gave away the modernization inside.
He couldn’t fault Lucas for making improvements. Castles were drafty affairs, with vermin in the walls and bad plumbing. Quinn had never lived in a castle, but his mother had grown up in one, courtesy of his grandfather who’d been the head groundskeeper for a property that had been turned into an expensive hotel—a fate far more common to old castles than what Lucas had done to this one. It took serious money to upgrade an old building of this size. That Lucas had done so spoke to two things, only one of which mattered to Quinn. First was that Lucas Donlon had a lot of money. No surprise there. All vampire lords had money, especially the old ones. But, second, and most importantly to Quinn, the money and time that had gone into the renovation told him that this castle mattered to Lucas. He’d been up front with Quinn about that, and about his intention to reclaim his lands, no matter who became Lord of Ireland. Quinn had a feeling Lucas would have claimed it long ago, if not for the consideration of vampire politics that had been pressed on him by Raphael. Even his brief acquaintance with the two vampire lords had made it clear to Quinn that Raphael was someone—maybe the only one–whom Lucas listened to. Of course, Raphael was also the guy who’d blown vampire politics all to hell just a few days ago, when he’d flown into France and taken out Laurent Pierre, the Lord of Nice, along with every vampire who’d been sworn to him. Apparently, even Raphael threw politics out the window when someone tried to kill his people and blow up his house.
Ostensibly, Raphael’s French incursion had been designed to draw attention away from Quinn’s far more discreet arrival in Ireland. It had worked. No one had paid Quinn any mind when he’d flown into Dublin and then on to Kildare, even though he’d been traveling on Lucas’s private jet, which should have drawn at least a cursory notice. But the vampire grapevine had been buzzing like a Wall Street banker on a cocaine high, and all they’d been talking about was Raphael and France.
As the helicopter lifted off behind him, Quinn noticed a woman striding through the open gates and walking with purpose toward him and his cousin Garrick, who was the only vampire he’d brought along on this journey. The only person he trusted absolutely.
The approaching woman, also a vampire, headed straight for Quinn. He reacted as a vampire first, weighing her power against his own. It wasn’t a particularly aggressive move—that comparing of powers—it was simply the way things were done in the world of Vampire. Power was everything. Quinn had it. Most vampires, like the female approaching him, didn’t. But what she lacked in power, she made up for with a killer body and the unconscious seduction of a woman who knew her own appeal.
She was slightly above average height, dressed casually in skin-tight jeans over long legs, and a red sweater that hugged the swell of full breasts. She walked effortlessly over the uneven ground, despite a pair of high-heeled boots, and gave Quinn a smile of warm welcome.
“Lord Quinn,” she said, offering a slender hand. “I’m—”
“Imogen Cleary,” he said, meeting her eyes with a return smile. “Lucas’s . . . butler, I believe.”
“I’m flattered, my lord. As for the title, it’s somewhat dated in this day and age, I know. But it fits the task.” Her head tilted as her smile widened, and Quinn knew he was being charmed. It was no accident that Lucas’s only female staff member was the one greeting him. He grinned, deciding to play along. Who was he to spoil a good seduction?
“Quite the opposite, Ms. Cleary,” he said, raising her hand to his lips for a courtly kiss, and adding a touch of Irish lilt to his words. “A good butler is an invaluable asset, especially when combined with such beauty and grace.”
She blushed right on cue, betraying a genuine fluster. She could fake the charm, but not the heating of her skin.
“Tell me,” he said softly, stepping in close enough that she had to look up to meet his eyes, close enough that if she breathed too deeply, her breasts would brush his chest. “Does Lucas demand every moment of your nights, or are you free on occasion?”
“Lord Quinn,” she breathed, her fingers clenching against his. “I . . . yes. I mean, no. Lucas, that is, Lord Donlon is generous with my time.”
“Excellent,” Quinn crooned, holding on to her hand and steering them both toward the castle. “You’ll have to come visit me in Dublin, then. So I can return your . . . hospitality.” He layered so much sexual heat into that single word that her breath caught, and her heartbeat jumped.
She leaned into his side, pushing her breast against his arm, her head touching his shoulder. “I’d love that,” she murmured. “How long will you be staying with us. I don’t mean to pry,” she added instantly. “But I’d love to show you around Kildare. I have a small flat that I keep in town, for when I need . . . privacy.”
“Great.” His cousin’s dry voice interrupted what had been a perfect seduction, albeit not the one that the lovely Imogen had intended. “I’m Garrick, by the way.”
“Oh,” she said, sounding startled. She dropped Quinn’s hand and turned to greet Garrick, as if surprised to find him standing there. “Imogen Cleary,” she said, offering a businesslike handshake. “Lord Donlon’s—”
“Butler. Yeah, I heard. And I’m Lord Quinn’s lieutenant.”
“Of course. You’re both expected. Please, follow me.”
She took off for the castle’s open front door, while Quinn held back long enough to gain a semblance of privacy against vampire ears. “Nice cock blocking, cousin.”
“Please,” Garrick murmured, rolling his eyes. “You were playing her. She was trying to seduce you, and you beat her at her own game.”
“I would have let her win eventually.”
Garrick snorted. “I’m sure. Nice castle, yeah?”
“If you like that sort of thing.” Quinn looked up with a smile when they reached the waiting Imogen. She tried and failed to hold his gaze, her blush even more visible in the lighted doorway. “You’ve done wonders with this place, Imogen,” he said warmly.
“You’re very kind, my lord. But I only supervised.”
He brushed the back of his fingers over her cheek, feeling the heat of her flushed skin. “Lovely,” he murmured lazily.
“I’ll take it from here, Imogen,” a brisk male voice called.
Quinn raised his eyes slowly, as Imogen stepped back. He’d sensed the other vampire’s approach and knew this was Ronan Ivers, the vampire who handled Lucas’s business interests in Ireland. Quinn was sure those business interests were wide and varied, but that would change once he solidified his hold on the country. He didn’t mind Lucas’s claim on this modest plot of ancestral lands, but everything else would belong to Quinn once he was Lord of Ireland.
“Ronan. It’s good to meet you in person after all those phone calls.”
“A pleasure, Lord Quinn. And at least the phone lines are good over the Atlantic these days. Not so long ago, we might as well have been shouting into tin cans.”
Quinn’s gaze followed the sway of Imogen’s shapely hips as she hurried away, but he laughed gamely at Ronan’s comment about overseas communication. At 89 years old—32 human, 57 vampire—Quinn was young enough that he’d enjoyed modern tech for most of his life. Not so for Ronan, whose age had weighed on Quinn’s soul when he’d shaken the vampire’s hand. Ronan was at least 200 years old, and Quinn wondered idly how long he’d known Lucas. Hell, it was possible, maybe even likely, that Ronan was Lucas’s child. There was no question that Ronan’s allegiance was with Lucas, and not the recognized Lord of Ireland. But he didn’t ask for specifics. Vampires could be quite sensitive about their personal histories. It was always better to get to know a vampire well before digging too deeply.
“Was your flight . . . I won’t say good,” Ronan said, smiling. “It’s a long fucking way from America. But was it at least uneventful?”
Quinn laughed. He liked this vampire. “You’re right on both counts. We wanted to arrive in darkness, which meant flying too many miles in daylight. Not my first choice, but unavoidable given the distance.” He glanced over at Garrick, then stepped back to include him. “Ronan, this is my lieutenant, Garrick Owen. We appreciate Lord Donlon’s generosity in lending us his jet for the journey,” he continued while the two vampires shook hands. “Having a ride that’s properly outfitted for vampire passengers makes all the difference.”
Ronan grinned. “Lucas hates flying in daylight, as well.”
“I suspect we all do.” They walked a few steps in silence while Quinn studied the castle. “It’s completely renovated inside?” he asked lifting his chin at the structure.
“Top to bottom. It took for-fucking-ever, too. Every time we’d finish an upgrade, a better way of doing it would be invented, and we’d have to start all over again. This latest round should hold for more than a few years, minus a technology re-do every so often. But those at least don’t involve tearing out walls anymore.” He gestured toward the stairs. “We’ve plenty of hours left in the night. We’ll get you settled upstairs, then I’ve prepared a brief on the situation here. I’ll answer what questions I can, and find answers for those I can’t.”
Quinn and Garrick were ushered upstairs and into a sumptuous three-room suite—two bedrooms and a sitting room—that was worthy of a true Irish lord of old, an An Tierna. Apparently, Lucas Donlon had a direct bloodline to precisely that title. The castle and lands had been his grandfather’s over 200 years ago. Quinn didn’t know all the dirty details, but he knew Lucas hated his grandfather. He’d bought this place from a bankrupt cousin to make a point—that he was the direct heir, not some twice removed cousin—but he’d also done it in hopes that his grandfather would spend the rest of eternity spinning in his grave. Old hatreds died hard, and since this one had cost Lucas’s mother her life, he was determined to keep it very much alive.
“You plan to live this way, Q?” Garrick strolled in from the bedroom he’d chosen at random.
Quinn snorted. “Hell, no. I’m not gentry enough for a castle in the countryside, never mind one as old and titled as this. I’ll take the big city and good plumbing any day. Not to mention air conditioning and lights that don’t flicker every time it storms.”
“A good generator can fix that. You never did understand how things work.”
“I know enough to hire people who do. Why the hell do you think I became a lawyer?”
Garrick laughed. They both knew the real reason for Quinn’s career choice had been his compulsive need to control everything and everyone around him. It was good that he’d awakened as a powerful vampire. He’d never have tolerated being someone else’s flunky. He’d probably have walked into the sun first.
“Ronan seems like a decent sort,” Garrick said with deliberate casualness.
Quinn looked over and caught his cousin’s meaningful glance at an ornate table lamp. Ah. So, they were being monitored. Not entirely unexpected. He gave a smug smile and flicked a finger in the air, creating a short burst of power that wiped out every electronic device in their wing of the castle. It was an effort not to laugh out loud as curses traveled up the open stairway. Quinn thought he’d been quite considerate. He could have wiped the entire estate. He might be young in vampire years, but he was also powerful as hell.
There was enough moonlight through the windows that neither he nor Garrick felt the need to search out a flashlight. Or, for that matter, bring up the app on their cell phones. Because, of course, their own devices remained unaffected by Quinn’s zap of power. He and Lucas might be nominal allies, but that didn’t rule out a little friendly spying. Anticipating the possibility of electronic surveillance, they’d carefully shielded all their own sensitive gear before boarding Lucas’s jet in New York. Quinn might not know plumbing or HVAC, but he damn well understood power. And he’d never doubted that Lucas would do everything he could to spy on them, not only during the trip, but after they arrived in Ireland. Electronic surveillance was the easy part. The more difficult task would be ferreting out Lucas’s spies from among the Irish vampires Quinn would have to rely on as he built his power base from within the country. Lucas was Lord of the Plains back in the U.S., but he’d been born in Ireland and seemed determined to control her destiny. Or, at least, the destiny of the vampires living within her borders. Unfortunately for him, Quinn had no intention of sharing.
At the sound of a soft knock on their door, Garrick walked over and opened it to reveal Ronan Ivers.
“Sorry to disturb,” he said, handing over a flashlight. “We’ve had a power surge of some sort. You’ll want to check your phones and all. Bringing modern tech to these old places is always touch-and-go. I swear sometimes, I think it’s ghosts who dislike the changes.”
Quinn laughed on cue. “I was just telling Garrick that I preferred the city for those very reasons. Give me a new build with no ghosts any day.”
“Those can be hard to find, even in Dublin. We’re a country of ghosts.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“I’ll be waiting in the library whenever you’re ready. Go left at the bottom of the stairs. You can’t miss it.”
Quinn lifted his chin in acknowledgment. “A few minutes.”
Ronan gave a respectful nod and walked away.
Garrick waited until they heard his footsteps on the stairs before closing the door. “You think he suspects you were behind the power surge?” he murmured.
“Oh, he does more than suspect. He knows. But if he brings it up, he has to admit they were eavesdropping, which is a violation of traditional Irish guesting laws, if nothing else. And what’s he going to do about it, anyway? Challenge me?”
“Good point. Are you ready, my lord?”
Garrick’s use of the honorific wasn’t lost on Quinn. He drew a deep breath. Up until now, this entire venture had been theoretical. Sure, he’d met with Lucas and Raj, and then the incredibly powerful Raphael. And, yeah, he’d helped Raphael fend off a fucking helicopter gunship attack, after which they’d gone back to plotting the invasion of Ireland, because Raphael and the rest of the North American vampire lords had grown weary of fending off repeated European attacks on their soil. Rather than waiting for the next attack, they were bringing the battle to Europe in a strategy that would force the European vampire lords to defend their own territories instead of attacking North America. But Quinn knew that the larger plan was to change the European vamps’ strategy once and for all, by killing off the vampire lords who were pushing it.
Ireland was the vanguard of that strategy. Once Quinn seized the country by eliminating the current lord, Orren Sorley, Ireland would serve as a staging point for the North American invasion of Europe.
He met his cousin’s steady gaze with a short nod. “Let’s do this fucking thing.”
You want to read the rest of Quinn’s story? You can pre-order your copy of QUINN today!
For those of you who love audio, you’ll be happy to know that I spent part of this week “proof listening” the DECEPTION audio book! It shouldn’t be long now before its release.
And, with that, I’m going back to work. Shifter Planet 2 is rounding the final corner. (fingers crossed)
Have a wonderful week!