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Copyright 2007 Marly Chance All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Been there, bit that. Had the scars to prove it. Geez. Vampires. They
never played nice. Unlike what all the books and movies depicted, real
modern day vampires were a whole lot closer to bloodsucking mobster
families than some undead, ghoulish Draculas flitting around like bats.
Sure, vampires could be cool in a Sopranos sort of way, but to
Tamara, the reality was pretty harsh too. For one thing, modern
vamps were more likely to use a bat on somebody than to turn into
one. For another thing, “dangerous and surprising situations”
occurred with alarming regularity.

Like the one she was in now. She sure couldn’t see a happy ending in
her future. Tightening her hand on her glass of wine, Tamara took a
quick swallow to stall and then said, “And here I thought that
romance was dead. Explain to me again about how I’m supposed to
engage in a sex threesome for the good of my country and my fellow
vamps…because…I think I missed that part.”

Cheryl Turner, head of the high council and the greatly feared and
respected ruler for over thirty years, regarded her with cold eyes.
“Tamara, this is no time for your absurd sense of humor. The situation
is serious.”

Tamara brushed aside the automatic irritation she felt at the familiar
insult and set the glass down on the coffee table. She glared at the
two male vamps seated across from her and challenged them, “You
guys are in agreement on this?”

Dominic Garcione tapped one finger on the arm of the sofa but his lips
curved in the slightest hint of a smile. “Of course.”

He looked so calm, so controlled. That was the problem with Dominic.
He was the epitome of the self-contained, enigmatic vampire. He was
the head of the New York Garcione vampire family—very wealthy, very
powerful, and very Italian. Wearing that black designer suit with his
dark hair and dark eyes made him look like he could have stepped
straight out of a mob movie.

But Tamara knew he was no criminal. He was far deadlier than any
mobster had ever imagined. And the fact that he was every woman’s
darkest sexual fantasy didn’t do much for her nerves at the moment
either. She was going to have sex with this guy? Not. They were
uneasy old college friends at best. He irritated her to no end. With the
exception of one memorable occasion she was absolutely not going to
think about, she’d avoided his brand of trouble for good reason.

She switched her gaze to the third part of the equation, her other old
college buddy. Marc Devereaux was casually seated at the other end of
the sofa looking as if he didn’t have a care in this world. They might
have been talking about the weather rather than a threesome sex
power lock. His lazy posture and blond good looks were a direct
contrast to Dominic’s utter stillness and dark control. Only the intent
expression in those chocolate brown eyes gave any indication that he
was at all interested in the conversation.

He was a major charmer and she’d seen women from eighteen to
eighty turn to blushing confusion under that southern charm. Ha. The
reality was he was the head of the old Devereaux vampire family of
Baton Rouge, Louisiana. No matter how he hid his power under
charm, it was always there just under the surface. He was a deadly
predator the same as Dominic — you’d just never see this one coming.

Inwardly wincing at her word choice, she said, “Marc, I can’t believe
you’d consider this. I thought we were friends.”

Marc smiled and drawled, “Yes, cher, of course we’re friends. Ought
to make doing our duty downright enjoyable, don’t ya think?”

The words washed over her like warm molasses and she felt a blush
heating her face. Desperately striving for calm, she turned to the
woman who had set this whole thing in motion and said, “I want to
hear it again. Slowly and without all the vampire maneuvering, let’s-all-
be-badass crap. No lies. No manipulation.” She sighed. “You asked me
here for help and I came despite my better judgment. I knew it had to
be something major for you to issue that command disguised as an
invitation. Give me the facts.”

Cheryl’s patrician face transformed into an icy frown and she looked
remarkably like an irritated socialite disapproving the day’s menu.
“Vampire politics are tricky, my dear. Our national council maintains
control, but that control is built upon a delicate balance of power. As
you know, East Coast and West Coast vamps tend to be cliquish but
with the Jameson family coming to power in Vegas, things have
polarized further. The bottom line is we’re on the edge of a full scale
power war. Vanessa Jameson has formed a triad with Carlos Diaz out
of New Mexico and Phil Gaytes from Seattle.”

Tamara shook her head. “That’s crazy. When? I thought triads were

Cheryl nodded. “Three days ago. And yes, of course they are.
Alliances are one thing, but power sharing by more than two
individuals is forbidden because of the sheer amount of power
involved. They’ve broken the law and they’ll be sanctioned
economically under that current law. The real question is how to
control the power imbalance now.”

Tamara tried to think it through. From what she remembered of the
last interterritory meeting she’d attended long ago, Vanessa was a
power-hungry, corrupt, unpleasant woman. Thinking of her with three
times the amount of power she’d had back then was a scary thought.
Tamara figured Vanessa wasn’t the epitome of evil yet, but she was
sure working hard on it. And Vanessa had formed a triad? Triple
power? This was bad. Really bad.

And Phil Gaytes out of Seattle was in on the fun, too? Hearing that
name again brought the old familiar sense of betrayal. The hurt was
gone but some of the bitterness lingered. The irony of his union with
Vanessa brought a wry twist to her mouth.

Tamara picked up the wine glass again, figuring it would keep her
hands busy and cover the sudden surge of nerves. She could
practically hear metal bars slamming down to form a trap. “So the
council’s solution is for the East Coast to form a triad? Hey, I’m not
great at math, but doesn’t that turn one problem into two?”

Cheryl laughed politely, although it didn’t seem to hold much
amusement. “The council knows there’s no way to destroy the triad
without destroying three rulers of powerful families. Naturally, it
would be better if that can be avoided. It’s a slim possibility, but the
only chance at all at this point is a balance of power. You’ll form
another triad just as powerful to keep theirs in check. They’ll think
twice about their actions if there’s another triad out there who can act
with as much power—and just as ruthlessly.”

Tamara could see the logic in it but it was hardly an effective solution.
“You know, this reminds me of the nuclear arms race—each side
scrambling to have equal weapons and assuming that it keeps the
other side from using what they have. Basically, no one does anything
on the principle of…what’s it called? Assured mutual destruction. I
follow your logic. But forming triad after triad is a dangerous thing.
You think you have potential war now? Just wait until you have that
much power in the hands of a select few.”

Cheryl looked pleased. “Yes, you’ve grasped the problems. But the
council has instituted a new law. It goes into effect in less than twenty-
four hours. Anyone forming a triad after that point will receive a death
warrant. There will be no sanctions, no warnings and no arguments or
votes before the council.”

Her forehead betrayed the slightest hint of a wrinkle as she examined
her wineglass absently. “Basically, it’s the law we should have had in
place before now, but certain members dragged their feet for their
own questionable reasons. To be fair, only a few are born with the
power to serve as a connector. It wasn’t viewed as a pressing
problem. Now, things have changed. Any triad formed after this point
will be killed—and no one can quibble because ample warning has
been given.”

Tamara wasn’t surprised at the harshness of the rule. Vampire justice
wasn’t exactly gentle. There was another big question though. “Let
me ask you this… Who will you have as executioner of any rogue
triads? The law is no good if there’s no one powerful enough to
enforce it. A single vamp, even an experienced hunter, can’t defeat a
triad. You’d need…”

She froze. Here was the kicker. Yep. Mix vampires, sex, politics and
power—and death was sure to be in there somewhere. “You’d need
another triad to maintain control, keep Vanessa et al in check and
possibly hunt and execute the rogues. Hell.”

Weariness hit her. Things never changed. This was why she tried so
hard to stay out of vamp politics. It was ugly, nasty and brutal. And
not exactly good for your health either. “You want the three of us as
enforcers, right?”

Cheryl’s face showed no emotion at the accusation. Her voice was
calm and controlled. “Yes, the vote has already passed and approval
was given. The three of you would exterminate rogue triads or
exceptionally powerful lawbreakers for the council if needed.”

“Great. Just great.” Tamara rubbed one hand over her face. “Why
me? Dominic I can understand. Marc I can understand. They’re both
rulers, and they’re used to wielding power and
other…unpleasant…tasks. I’m not a ruler. I left politics and walked
away from the family here in DC years ago. It’s a well-known fact. I
don’t even attend political functions anymore, just the occasional

Dominic’s voice held a surprising amount of sympathy as he said
gently, “Cara, you’re the daughter of a council member—with great
power in your own right even though you’ve chosen not to lead. Your
family ties to the council and your sense of…fairness…and well-known
distaste for vampire politics make you ideal.”

Tamara closed her eyes. “Everyone knows how I feel about vamp
politics and senseless killing. If I kill, people will assume it was
because I had to. Not for petty political posturing or fun or profit, but
because I had to do it.” She opened her eyes and shook her head.
“Oh this is priceless. I’m to become an enforcer and killer because I
don’t like to kill. That’s so—”

Marc cut in, “Exactly. I’m sorry, cher, but the time for neutrality and
distance is past. There’s a war blowing our way and you have the
power to stop it. You were born with the ability to share power and
lead. Can you walk away this time?”

Tamara flashed him a look of resentment. “Do you understand what
this means? We’ll be the council’s enforcement squad, vampire cops.
And power sharing, forming a triad… Who knows if it will work? I’m
not talking about the threesome sex to lock the bond. I’m not some
cringing maiden. I’m talking about soul binding. We’re risking a damn
soul bond. Pardon me for feeling queasy. I like you both, but I don’t
want to love either of you. And I don’t want to be the damn council’s
killer cop either.”

Dominic placed his glass on the table beside him and leaned forward.
“Perhaps you have a better solution? Something to avert war and
chaos and death for hundreds of vampires and humans alike who
might get caught between warring families? Something that won’t
upset your little pseudo-human life?”

Oh hell. Trust Count Logica to cut to the root of the problem and insult
her at the same time. She drained the wine glass and placed it
carefully on the table. Then she stood. Looking at the three of them,
she felt a chilly sense of resignation combined with an overwhelming
betrayal. Vampires. They never played nice. Friends or family, it didn’t
matter. They were vamps first and foremost. She’d found that out so
vividly seven years ago that she’d walked away from almost all of it.
Now they were dragging her back. She wasn’t sure whom she disliked
more at the moment – them or herself.

She stared at the three of them. They were beautiful and deadly and
oh-so-patiently waiting for her answer. There was no way out, at least
at the moment. She’d learned politics the hard way from a very early
age. These three weren’t lying and the situation was a nightmare. And
the clock was ticking. The triad would have to be formed tonight.

They had her neatly boxed. And they knew damn well she couldn’t
walk away. She needed time to think, but there wasn’t time. She
turned her back to them, feeling a moment of bitter regret for the life
she might have had, her dream of a peaceful existence without
vampire complications. Some part of her was amazed her solitude had
lasted these years at all. She’d known it would come to this type of
decision eventually. She was who she was, and she was too powerful
to be left alone. Or rather, too useful to be left alone. She felt a door
closing inside herself as she struggled to accept the inevitable.

Now that the moment was here, she could only do the right thing.
Stalling wasn’t going to do her any good. Feeling her resolve harden,
she knew what she had to do. She squared her shoulders and turned
around. With an overly careless shrug, she said coldly, “Well, well.
Who knew? Looks like I’m more my mother’s daughter than I
thought. Better pray none of us live to regret that fact in the end.”

Pointing to Marc and then to Dominic, she said, “Clock’s ticking. You
and you, sex party at my house at eight. Bring your own body. Don’t
be late.”

She spun on her heel and walked across the room. She reached the
doorway just as she heard Cheryl’s voice say softly, “Wait… I wish
there was some other way… I…I…am sorry. And…thank

The words, coupled with the familiar nickname, hit her like a blow. She
paused and then said over her shoulder on the way out, “Don’t thank
me yet, Mother. You’ve always said disasters come in threes.”

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