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Carla Trystan is a half-breed vampire who has spent her entire life running from powerful Hunters—aliens from another world. She is also plagued by nightmares, hearing the same deep, dark voice say night after night, ‘If you wish to live, child, take my hand.’ When she finally meets the man behind the terrifying voice, it is to discover he is one of the aliens she has spent her life running from.

Azrael, an ancient Hunter for the Laizahlian Council, is sent to Earth to track down three rogues from their world. What he doesn’t expect is to run into his lifemate. Azrael senses there is more than vampire blood running through Carla’s veins. He suspects a Djinn is involved, placing them both in great danger.

Their journey will thrust them both into the Fae realm, where Carla must rise up and fight the cruel queen who means to take Azrael as her own.

“Fantastic! Denna hits the ground running with this tough as nails 100% on point realism, delivering one action packed hard hitting, nailbiting, block busting bombshell, keeping you riveted on a razors edge and frozen to your seat, wrapping this baby up sleek shiny and tight. Observing the arduous struggles and thrilling triumphs, stumbling through the dramatic twists and intricate turns, testing our characters in ways they could have never envisioned.” —Kaye (Amazon top 500 reviewer)

EXCERPT:

CHAPTER ONE

Carla rolled her eyes, fighting not to laugh when the first drunk walked through the door at two-fifteen AM. The bars were just closing after a busy Saturday night, the patrons in need of a little food to help soak up all the alcohol they’d guzzled. Most waitresses didn’t care for working the graveyard shift, though she didn’t mind. Happy drunks tended to leave decent tips. The mean ones were a little more difficult to handle, but she had a lot of experience.

The customer, an overweight man around forty years old, stumbled into the newspaper machine before he got his bearings and staggered over to the closest empty table, one designed to seat four. The sign at the door clearly said ‘Wait to be Seated’ but he’d obviously missed it. With plenty of empty tables, she’d let him stay put. Hopefully, he would be long gone before the rest of the crowd began to show up.

After filling a glass with ice water, Carla grabbed a menu and stepped toward the table, beer fumes and cigarette smoke assaulting her nose long before she reached him. She smiled as she stared down into his bloodshot blue eyes. “How ya doing tonight?” she asked, laughing inside. Another few hours and this same man would probably be hugging the toilet, heaving up the meal he was about to order.

“I’m good, darlin’, how ‘bout yourself?”

She smiled. “I’m okay.”

“Coffee to start there, sweetheart.” He stared at her chest for a moment, licking his lips.

Men, she thought, fighting not to roll her eyes, they all had one-track minds. Didn’t matter how old they were. “Cream?” she said, smirking.

“Uh, yeah, thanks. Sorry, had a little too much to drink, if you know what I mean?” He chuckled and took the menu she handed him.

Carla looked over her shoulder at Amber, the second waitress on duty at Manley’s Home Cooking. Amber laughed at something the cook said, both of them glancing toward her. “And so it begins,” Carla murmured to herself. “You ready for this?” she asked Amber with a wink, knowing the bar crowd would be showing up any minute.

“I was born ready,” Amber said, a petite five-foot-nothing blonde who’d been working at Manley’s for the past ten years. She, like Carla, preferred the graveyard shift, both of them night owls, but for different reasons. Amber worked nights because she wanted to be home during the day with her two teenage sons. She slept while they were in school and then worked while they slept. At thirteen and fifteen, they were old enough to stay home alone.

A momentary pain struck as Carla envisioned having a family of her own to take care of and love. She sighed, pushing the thought away. A dream, nothing more. It couldn’t happen for her.

More cars began to pull into their parking lot and she mentally prepared herself for the rush. The next hour flew by, Carla barely getting a table cleaned off before another customer sat down. Their first bar customer, the older gentleman who’d come in alone, was just getting up to leave when the first hint of oppressive energy flickered across her skin. “Oh, no,” she whispered, dreading what was coming. Damned monsters! How the hell did they keep finding her?

Carla might not be fully human, but she wasn’t like them either, the coldhearted bastards.

From many years of practice, she managed to keep her fear buried, ignoring the energy tickling across her skin, not quite painful, but close to it. She picked up a fresh pot of coffee and began to work her way slowly around the room, taking care to study each person. It didn’t take long to find the source. Typically, it would only be one man, the shapeshifters solitary creatures, but this time there were two. Great. Unlike most of those she’d faced before, who tended to like soft leather clothes, these two men were dressed in jeans and western-cut shirts, one in a solid dark blue color, almost a perfect match to his eyes. The other wore a striped green and white shirt, snap buttons up the front. She couldn’t see his eyes, his face turned away from her. Maybe they were starting to get smarter, trying to fit in.

Both men wore cowboy hats, not uncommon in this part of the country. Blue Shirt wore a black hat and black cowboy boots. Stripes wore a tan hat. She couldn’t see his feet beneath the table. Even without the typical neck to foot leather, they stood out like sore thumbs, at least to her.

When she stepped up to the table with a coffee pot, Stripes looked up, and any doubts she might have carried about their species evaporated. His eyes were bright yellow, more like a wolf’s than a person’s. Shapeshifters. Fuck. She dampened her own energy, firming up the mental wall around her thoughts, then breathed a sigh of relief when his gaze shifted to Amber, staying there.

Carla wasn’t worried about Amber. She rarely dated, and certainly never with guys like these two, what she would consider ‘players.’ She might warn off her friend anyway, just to be safe.

“Coffee, gentlemen?” Carla said, pleased when her voice didn’t crack. Her hand trembled a tiny bit when she poured the coffee, forgetting they hadn’t replied to her question. “I’m sorry, boys. I’m so used to people wanting coffee after the bars close. You want something else? I can take this away.”

“Coffee is fine, beautiful,” Stripes said, a hint of a smile forming on his sensuous mouth. The accent was one she’d heard before, causing a shiver to race down her spine.

“Cream with that?”

“No, thank you,” Blue Shirt said, his eyes narrowing slightly as he stared up at her. His deep voice had a musical quality she might have enjoyed if she hadn’t felt quite so terrified. He started to reach out to touch her hand, but she quickly lifted the pot of coffee out of reach.

“Careful,” she said, pretending to be concerned. “It’s hot. I’ll get you boys a menu and then Amber can get your order, okay?”

“Fine,” Stripes said. He turned back to his friend as she walked away.

They know! Need to run, Carla thought, her instinct for self-preservation screaming to put distance between them. Sneak out the back door. You don’t even need to go home first. Just drive.

And leave Amber here alone. She couldn’t do it. What would her boys do without their mother? She set the pot down on the burner and then walked through the double doors to the back room, shaking badly. “Get a grip, Carla.” She could do this. She’d done it before. Fooled them.

Carla picked up two menus and took them over, placing one in front of each guy. Before she could back away, Stripes reached out and took hold of her hand, his fingers brushing across the inside of her wrist, feeling for a pulse.

“What’s your name, young one? I feel as though we’ve met before.”

She froze, absolutely terrified, his skin much warmer than it should be. None of the other aliens from her past had ever touched her before. Carla pointed at her name tag with her free hand, twisting her hand free at the same time. He had to let go or risk causing a scene. “You boys live around here?” she asked, tipping her head to the side, pretending interest. “I don’t recognize the accent.”

“No,” Blue Shirt said, frowning as he tapped the table with his fingernails. Nails too long, the tips too sharp. “Our home is far away from here.”

“Yeah,” she replied, smiling. “Then I doubt we’ve ever met. I originally came from the Roseburg area. Been here in Bend for about five years now. You ever visited Roseburg? Maybe you saw me down there.” She didn’t like telling these men anything, but if they asked Amber, she wanted their stories to match. Amber probably wouldn’t say anything. She knew Carla liked her privacy, but better safe than sorry.

“Possible,” Blue Shirt said, “though I don’t believe so.”

Cara shrugged, then quickly moved on.

The two strangers stayed for more than an hour, for the most part ignoring Carla, though she could feel their oppressive energy battering at her mental shields. If she’d felt more confident in her abilities, she might have opened enough to let them hear a practiced mental speech, but again her instincts screamed it would be too risky with these two. Better to let them wonder why they couldn’t break inside her mind. Amber, on the other hand, didn’t seem to notice anything strange about them. She teased the two big men, but no more than she teased everyone who came in after a night of drinking.

Only these two hadn’t been drinking. There’d been no scent of alcohol or cigarettes on their person. No cologne or perfume. Only a clean wildness. The worst was when one like them came in smelling of blood. That meant they’d likely killed something . . . or someone.

She breathed a soft sigh of relief when they finally stood to pay for their dinners, neither of them glancing in her direction as they walked out the door. Even without the otherworld energy they exerted, she would have known they weren’t human. The skin was pulled too tight over their angular faces, the cheekbones too high, the strong jaws curving around to an almost pointed chin. Their eyes were set too far apart, a little too round for a human, not to mention the freaky yellow color. The blue-eyed one might have been able to pass for human if he’d cut the long silver and black hair, but not Stripes. They’d both been extremely tall, another giveaway, at least six-foot-four or five, their muscles testing the seams on those expensive western-cut shirts.

It wasn’t their size or their features that scared her though. She worried more about what had drawn them here. And why were two of them traveling together? They always came alone, or with one of the others . . .  an even scarier type of alien.

Carla sighed as they walked out the door. She would finish her shift tonight and then drive home and pack as fast as she could. There wasn’t much there, just her clothes and a few pictures and personal items she always carried with her. Toothbrush and hair dryer, a couple towels, a little food. At first light, she would run.

Again.

CHAPTER TWO

When the morning waitress didn’t show up for her shift at six, Amber told Carla to go ahead and leave. The missing waitress was a young girl, still in high school, so it wasn’t completely unheard of for them to miss a shift. Daylight was still an hour away, and Carla, feeling a little depressed, walked out the door. She liked it in Bend and had hoped to stick around for a few more years.

If only she could figure out how the monsters kept finding her. She’d become an expert at changing her looks. Her natural hair color was dark blonde, but she always changed it in each new city. Here in Bend, she’d dyed it purple, then shaved one side, keeping the rest in a high ponytail, going for a punk look. She wore dark brown contacts to hide her bright green eyes, using a lot of heavy black eyeliner while at work. The scarier aliens had blond hair and green eyes. Not for the first time, she wondered if they could somehow be related. Was that how they kept tracking her down?

Still wearing her work clothes, black slacks with a short-sleeved white t-shirt with Manley’s printed across the chest, she walked around the front of the building and across the short parking lot to the Big 5 next to the restaurant. Their boss made them park out back, afraid they might take up a spot reserved for customers. Ridiculous, since they shared a gigantic parking lot with several other stores, including Big 5 and J. C. Penney. There were no lights behind the Big 5, which usually didn’t bother her.

Tonight was different. She wished Amber was with her, even though it probably wouldn’t stop two powerful shapeshifters if they decided to cause trouble. And her gun was in the car, the boss refusing to let them bring one inside even with a concealed carry permit. Of course, he wasn’t the one who needed to walk outside while it was still pitch dark.

Carla stood at the corner of the Big 5, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. “Stop being such a big wuss,” she told herself, fishing in her purse for her car keys. A good car was the one convenience she splurged on, needing to feel confident it would get her out of town fast when necessary. Her Dodge Charger might not be a stand-out type like a Corvette or Mustang, but it still had a lot of horse power, the only important detail. She never kept one for more than two years before trading it in on a newer model. And she always paid cash. Not hard to do when she had so few expenses.

She chuckled to herself, still remembering the days of the horse and buggy, and couldn’t say she missed them. Horses were a pain in the butt, literally. Not that she couldn’t ride when it became necessary, though given a choice she preferred to drive cars.

There were several vehicles in the lot, including Amber’s silver Ford pickup. Carla hesitated when she noticed Cindy’s blue SUV, her parent’s car.

“That’s odd.” So where’s Cindy?

Undecided whether to go back inside and call Cindy’s parents, Carla stood outside the door of her Charger, biting at the side of her lip. She slipped her key in the lock and had just turned the key when she noticed a flash of light toward the back corner of the Big 5 lot. Part of her said to get in the car and drive while she still had the chance, but another part felt a compulsion to check it out. How could she ever forgive herself if she left and something terrible happened to the teenager.

“Shit,” she murmured, reaching for the glove box where she kept her gun.

Another flash of light followed by a loud crash, like someone had slammed the lid of a dumpster. Voices floated on the air, deep and angry, familiar voices with musical accents, though she couldn’t quite hear what they said. And then a high-pitched scream pierced the air, obviously female.

“Fuck!” someone growled.

“Goosebumps broke out on Carla’s arms as she chambered a round in her Glock nine-millimeter and flicked off the safety. She pocketed a second clip, hoping she wouldn’t need it, but would rather go in prepared for the worst. She’d had special ammunition made for her gun, the tips of her bullets made from silver, a safety precaution against shapeshifting aliens. Carla didn’t know if it would work against the scarier, green-eyed guys.

The gun felt good in her hand. Years of target practice had made her an excellent shot, even with a moving target. If worse came to worse, she would eat one of her own bullets. Only once during her long life had Carla witnessed what these monsters were capable of, but once had been enough. The man, if she could call him a man, had not only raped the poor young woman, which had been bad enough, but he’d altered his mouth and used sharp fangs to rip out her throat. If only she’d had her gun and special ammunition then.

Even after nearly a hundred years, the memory still haunted her. She’d vowed then to never let one catch her, not alive.

She caught the sound of dark laughter followed by a low growl. Trying to stay in the shadows next to the side of the building, Carla hoped to get close enough to see, or at least hear, what was going on.

Then a new voice floated out of the darkness, a deep, rich baritone, a hypnotic voice. And one she was very, very familiar with.

‘If you wish to live, take my hand.’

Terrified, Carla froze, afraid her heart might jump straight out of her chest. She stood there trembling, trying to convince herself it couldn’t be real, that she was safe in her own bed at home, simply locked in another nightmare. She stared down at the gun in her hand, the one item she’d never carried in the dream before.

And then the familiar deep voice returned. She listened as it wormed its way inside her, as though there was a compulsion behind it. “Let the female go, Benai. She doesn’t belong to you.”

“And she doesn’t belong to you either, Hunter. Turn around and walk away. You won’t like what happens next if you decide to stay.”

“You know I can’t do that. You’ve wounded the female. You and I both know what this means for her.”

Carla heard a soft whimpering and knew it must be Cindy. What had they done to her? But if the teenager still lived, then there was hope. Only seventeen, Cindy had her whole life before her. She hadn’t even begun to live yet, so excited about starting college at the University of Oregon this fall.

You could exchange places with her. Give them a different hostage.

Staying in the shadow of the building, she crept silently closer. At least one of the shapeshifters and Cindy were near the corner of the building, using a huge metal trash container to hide behind. She sensed the other one was out by Cindy’s SUV, but couldn’t see him. The third man was also hidden from view.

Where are you?

“Stay back, young one. I don’t need your help with these two. In fact, you should leave now. Go home. I’ll come for you there.”

Carla’s mouth went instantly dry, her wide eyes searching for the source of those words. He hadn’t spoken out loud, but straight into her mind, of that she felt certain. Holding the gun with both hands, she searched the lot again, unable to find him.

But she could feel him now, feel his oppressive energy, making it hard to breathe. It figured. Definitely one of the scarier blond-haired, green-eyed aliens. The prickly energy she’d picked up from the other two was nothing compared to this man.

Not a man. Not human. A dangerous thing.

“Go, Carla. We’ll discuss your clearly misinformed perception of our kind later.”

“Oh, my God,” she whispered. He knew her name, or the name that she’d been using for the past fifty or so years. Crap, now what should she do? The prickly energy from the other two increased, tickling almost painfully along her skin. They were getting ready to do something, maybe alter their forms. Then one of the guys stepped out from behind the trash bin, his arm wrapped around Cindy’s neck.

Fuck!

“You should leave while you still can, Hunter.”

Carla peeked around the corner, seeing the striped shirt of the yellow-eyed man. Stripes.

“Dawn is approaching,” Stripes added. “Can’t you feel it, the drain on your energy? It’ll only get worse. Let us leave, Hunter. It’s all we ask. I’ll even leave the girl behind. An added bonus. You’ll die if Raihim hits you with a second dose.”

Dose?

“You know I can’t let you leave, Benai. This is not the first human you’ve infected. My life is not important, but neither is yours. Come with me peacefully or die, the choice is yours.”

Stripes growled. At the same time, Carla caught movement out by Cindy’s SUV. She didn’t understand what they meant by ‘a second dose,’ but she didn’t care either. All that mattered was figuring out a way to get Cindy away from them. The one called Hunter appeared to be trying to stop them, so maybe he would be her friend. The enemy of my enemy type of thing. She’d figure out how he fit into her nightmare later.

Carla took a few deep breaths, trying to steady her nerves. She crouched low and began to move closer to the one holding Cindy, searching for a shot. They were fast, so very, very fast, but they couldn’t outrun a bullet. If only the teenager wasn’t in the way.

Then Cindy cried out in pain, helping Carla come to a decision. She pressed her sweating forehead to her shoulder for a second, took a deep breath, and then stepped out into the open. “Let the girl go, asshole.” The gun shook just the smallest amount. “The second one is out by the SUV,” she called to the one named Hunter. “He’s been trying to sneak in closer while you talk to this one.”

Carla kept her sight locked on Stripe’s shoulder, afraid to look any of them in the eye, afraid they might be able to mesmerize her. In her peripheral vision, she could see a tall dark shape, but didn’t dare turn to look closer. She felt his surprise, however, and maybe a hint of irritation that she hadn’t obeyed him. Too bad. “Let her go,” Carla said to Stripes.

“Well, well,” Stripes said, laughing. “Aren’t you the brave little waitress. I thought I sensed something different about you. So very afraid, you were. We were waiting for you to come out when this one arrived. And the Hunter, unfortunately for her.” He pressed his nose to Cindy’s neck and breathed in deep, his yellow eyes never leaving Carla’s face. “So sweet at this young age, don’t you think?”

Cindy began to openly sob. “Shoot h-him, Carla. S-shoot the b-bastards.” The teenager dropped, surprising the man as her body went suddenly limp and she slid to the ground. He fisted his hand in her long hair and jerked her up. Cindy screamed, trying her best to twist away.

“Be silent,” he growled, “before I break your damn neck.”

“Shit,” Carla hissed. He’d been too fast. She couldn’t get off a shot before he had Cindy back up again.

Then Stripes returned his attention to Carla, his partner stepping out into the open by the SUV. Their prickly, otherworldly energy slithered across her skin. “A gun can’t hurt us, pretty one. It’s too bad the Hunter decided to show up. The four of us could have had fun. You do realize that the Hunter won’t hesitate to kill you and this young female. You especially. You, like us, are not supposed to be here.”

Carla glanced toward the dark shape, but he didn’t reply, his attention focused on Stripes.

“Let the girl go free, Benai,” Hunter said. “If you and Raihim come in willingly, the Council could choose to let you live. Continue to fight me and you won’t need to worry about it. I’ll kill you myself.”

“How, Hunter? We both know you’re defenseless right now. You only live because I allow it,” Stripes all but growled, though Carla sensed fear behind it. He didn’t really believe this Hunter guy was defenseless. Smart man.

“You idiot female,” Blue Shirt directed toward Carla. “This is none of your concern. We might have let you go had you kept your nose out of this. Now you can die with the Hunter.”

Carla took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. “I don’t really care if you guys fight each other. Let my friend go and you three can have at it. She doesn’t have any part of this. Neither of us do.”

Stripes looked almost sad when he replied, “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, young one. I’m afraid you are both a very big part of this game now.” He nodded toward Hunter. “Shoot the vampire. It probably won’t kill him, but it’ll slow him down, especially right now.” He smiled. “And then you can come with us. We’ll protect you from him, and those like him. He is the dangerous one, not us.”

Vampire? she thought, shocked. I’ll have to mull that one over later . . . if I get out of this mess alive.

Carla snorted. “I don’t think so, asshole.” She kept her gun pointed at Stripes, though she remained careful to keep track of Blue Shirt in her peripheral vision. Her finger kept tightening on the trigger, and she had to remind herself to loosen it. “Let my friend go. Take me in her place.”

“No,” Hunter said, the sharp command making Carla jump. “You will not offer yourself in trade. I won’t allow it.”

Won’t allow it?

Stripes laughed. “I guess not.” He glanced down at the sobbing teenager and shrugged. “Go then,” he said, half laughing. “See how far she gets.” He backed a few inches away from Cindy, being careful not to leave Carla a shot.

“Come on,” she yelled to the sobbing girl. “Cindy, hurry!”

Cindy shook her head. “Can’t. Bastard broke my leg.”

Crap, she thought, only then noticing Cindy stood balanced on one leg. “Crawl then,” Carla hissed, waving her forward. If Cindy would drop now, she’d shoot that grin right off Stripes’ face. “Back away from her.”

Stripes held his hands up, his smirky grin widening. “What are you going to do, Hunter? Quite the dilemma for you, yes? Two supposed rogues, one infected human, and one . . . well, one I’m not quite sure about. She smells of vampire, and yet also human. I only wanted to take a closer look.”

“Did you bite the child?” Hunter said.

“I’m afraid, during all the excitement, I did. She tried to fight me. The broken leg was a bit of an unfortunate accident.”

“Liar,” Cindy snapped. “Y-you d-did it on purpose.”

“Not so, little female. I simply forgot how weak you humans are.”

Carla fingered the cell phone in her coat pocket, debating whether to try to call 911. Could they handle two shapeshifters and a vampire? Doubtful. She pulled out the phone, thumbing it on anyway. “I’m calling the police. You guys need to leave before they get here. All of you.”

“It would be best if you didn’t involve human authorities,” Hunter said.

“Why?” she asked, hesitating. And then she made a mistake and looked up into his eyes. Beautiful, bright green eyes.

Carla’s whole world crumbled, everything but the stranger disintegrating around her. “No,” she said, feeling as though she might fall. Or she was falling. His eyes appeared to glow, flashes of light shooting across the green irises. And then those flashes grew stronger and started to reach out for her. “No,” she whispered again.

“Forgive me,” Hunter said. “I would stop this if possible. I’d hoped it wouldn’t happen, not with the drug they injected me with a few minutes ago.”

She heard the other two laughing.

And Cindy screaming. And then she heard nothing more.

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