Ruled by instinct—bonded by blood.

A simple task—all Gideon had to do was find the guardian possessing the talisman he’d been sired to protect and keep them both safe until the first rays of dawn neutralized the power hidden within the pendant. Coupled with the fact he’s one of an elite band of vampires—enforcers, chosen for their superior fighting skills and unyielding fortitude—the mission should have been Gideon’s finest achievement. Except for the part where he’s been searching for five hundred years and the only thing he’s found is a loss of faith.

He didn’t count on stumbling upon the girl in the midst of a full moon. Or that the bond between them would be more than just a necklace—a sense of honor. Driven by desire, the only thing that burns hotter than their need to touch, and taste, and claim, is their mutual inability to mark each other as mates.

A simple task that’s quickly falling through his grasp. For how can a vampire truly bond with his mate if her very blood is poison?

“Hey, handsome. Want some company?”

The woman’s voice cut through the darkness, stopping Gideon mid-stride. He focused on the thin blonde off to his right. She leaned against a lamppost, her bleached hair teased out at the sides, her body barely hidden beneath a low-cut shirt, thigh-high skirt, and fishnets. Her four-inch heels gave her some much-needed height, and she obviously thought the smoking cigarette between her fingers added a certain class to her ensemble. But her makeup couldn’t hide the black smudges beneath her eyes or the way her hands shook slightly at her sides. If his guess was right, she was a few hours past her regular fix and well on her way to an early grave.

The woman took his idle interest as an invitation and moved toward him, her hips swaying seductively as she covered the short distance between them. The smoke from her cigarette followed her, a long, misty line that only emphasized the unsteadiness of her gait.

She smiled at him, stopping within reach, swiping her tongue across her lips. “It’s all right, sugar. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The thought made him chuckle. If she only had an idea of the monster that lurked beneath his skin. Her grin flourished, and she reached out, grazing a finger down his cheek before pulling her hand back in obvious shock.

Her eyes widened, and she took a quick step backward. “You’re cold…like death.”

A knowing smile worked his lips, and he cocked his head at her, nodding. “More like undead. Which is more than you’ll be if you don’t find another way to make a living.” He reached into his pocket and grabbed a bill, holding it out to her. “I suggest you use this to buy your way out of here, or your next john might be your last.”

The woman stared at him, her mouth slightly open. The cigarette fell from her hand, bouncing off the curb and into the street. Tiny embers scattered along the pavement, puffs of smoke fading into the night. She glanced down at the money, her lips twitching anxiously before she lunged forward and grabbed it, skirting a look up the street as she tucked it between her breasts. She gave Gideon a curt nod then backed away, colliding with the lamppost before turning and running for the alley at the end of the block.

Gideon sighed. Chances were the girl would use the money for another hit of crack, but he could hope.

Hope. What a fucking joke.

He’d given up on hope four hundred years ago and didn’t plan on altering his perception of the world, now. Hope was a weakness—one he couldn’t afford.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and continued down the street, ignoring the throngs of people gathered along the road. Usually, the place was deserted, but not tonight, not with the Day of the Dead festival only a couple of days away. What had started out as a two-day event had become a week-long celebration, especially in the cities that dotted the border. All-night parties and tours had replaced traditional ceremonies, and it seemed that everyone thrived on the active nightlife. Hell, bands played on every other corner, while fireworks echoed in the air, making it impossible to think, let alone continue his search.

His search… Another fucking joke.

Half a millennium, and he had yet to see even a passing glimmer of his talisman. He was beginning to think it was all just an elaborate ruse designed to induce insanity. As if being a vampire wasn’t bad enough… Having a fucking conscience coupled with a sense of duty made it an act of torture.

Anguish ate at his gut as he wove through the streets, avoiding everyone who looked remotely human. Hearing their hearts beat in his head only reminded him how different he was, how long it had been since he’d felt the warm rush of blood on his tongue as he drank his fill. It had been easy, at first. But over the centuries, the urge to kill had lessened until it had become an act of preservation only. Animals were his prey of choice and even then he never drank to the point of death.

Gideon swore under his breath and veered to his right. If he cut through the cemetery, he’d avoid the gathering of people leaving a nearby club. While crossing over holy ground would start to drain him, he considered it a blessing that he could walk on the stuff at all. A perk of being an enforcer, he supposed, though there weren’t many of those. And for the few minutes it would take to get to the empty field on the opposite side of the church, the slight burning sensation beneath his skin would be worth it, giving him a clear path to his small cabin nestled next to the fence bordering the graveyard. It would also virtually eliminate the chance of meeting any more hookers. He didn’t need to be reminded of yet another way he failed at being a man. How his cock rarely stirred, let alone made its presence known. He’d gone decades without the company of a woman, and he didn’t see an end in sight.

A raw cry pierced the stillness, echoing through the graveyard. He stopped, honing in on the sound as he considered his options. Either he continued forward and faced whatever scene was unfolding beyond the tombs, or he backtracked.

Gideon snarled and walked ahead. It would be a cold day in Hell before he shied away from a possible fight. There’d been a time when he’d fought an entire legion of men just to keep his skills sharp. Now… Didn’t matter, he simply wasn’t going to get involved. He’d just skulk by—pretend his gut didn’t twist at the thought of yet another innocent death. Humans didn’t seem to give a shit, so why should he?

He rounded the corner and cursed. Just his fucking luck. He’d stumbled upon a gang fight. And not just any gang.

Another unearthly howl rang through the air, drawing his attention to the animal pinned against the opposite side of the wrought-iron fence lining the cemetery’s border. It was small for a werewolf, its dark fur matted with blood. Its lips were drawn back in a snarl as it snapped at the vampires that materialized in front of it. The creatures merely laughed, jabbing at it before disappearing again, ghosting into view several feet away.

Gideon clenched his jaw. Lord knows he had no love lost for werewolves, but something about the animal called to him. He glanced at the sky. Though the moon appeared full, he knew a sliver of it was shaded black. Only a newly turned wolf would be bound to its influence.

The animal growled, catching one of the vampires across the chest as it wavered into view. The vampire screeched, morphing into its true form. The wolf seemed to sense the change, lowering its chest closer to the ground as it prepared to pounce.

Gideon sighed and phased forward, clearing the cemetery grounds and appearing in front of the beast a moment before the vampire struck. Gideon raised his arm, catching the man by the throat when he lunged at the canine. The vampire clutched at his neck, trying to force Gideon to release his death grip, but it was too late. Gideon snarled and twisted his hand, separating the vampire’s head from his shoulders. There was a moment of eerie silence before the body erupted in flames, spewing ash into the air. Sparks scattered across the ground, tumbling in the wind like tiny fireflies.

Gideon raised his head, not flinching when a dozen vampires shimmered into solid form, their eyes glowing red in the moonlight. A familiar scent wafted along the breeze, followed by a loud hissing sound. Another vampire phased into the center of the group, his long black hair flowing in the wind.

Gideon crossed his arms over his chest, sparing a quick glance back at the wolf. It crouched close to the stone, looking at him as if judging his response. He gave the creature a roll of his eyes. If he’d wanted it dead, he wouldn’t have intervened.

The man in center stepped forward, opening his arms in a dramatic flourish. “Well, well, well. Look who has decided to grace us with his presence. If it isn’t our own version of Blade.” The man nodded at the wolf. “What’s wrong? Get tired of fighting for the virtuous? You’re protecting werewolves now?”

Gideon grunted in forced patience. “The Blade references are getting old, Chico. And I fight whenever the feeling moves me.”

Chico laughed. “You? Fight? Perhaps a long time ago, but lately…” He tsked and shook his head. “Rumor has it that’s why you’ve ventured south of the border, compadre. You couldn’t handle the constant threat in your native land.”

“Maybe I just prefer the weather.”

Chico smiled and nodded at the gathering of men. “Did you hear that? Our mighty enforcer prefers the sun.”

A chorus of laughter trickled through the group as they stood gawking at him. Fuck, he hated these rogue gangs. Killing to survive was one thing, but these animals called it a sport. And there were groups in every city, it seemed. That was part of the reason he’d slipped over the Mexican border. He’d hoped to find a quiet place to brood while he waited for some unholy affirmation of his existence.

Chico moved closer, his eyes shining with excitement. “So, Blade, are you going to stand there and scowl at us, or are you going to go on your way, like a good little soldier?”

Gideon slanted half his mouth into a smile. “Just passing through.” He took a calculated step back, motioning to the wolf. “I’ll just take my friend here and leave.”

The smile faded from Chico’s face as he eyed the beast. “That bitch isn’t going anywhere. She killed two of my men. She owes me in blood.”

Gideon glanced at the animal still crouched near the tomb, wondering how he’d missed the fact it was a woman beneath the fur. Though, now that he looked at her, he noted the smaller frame and leaner body. How her snout was less pronounced while her coat seemed thicker, more lustrous.

His thoughts caught him off guard. Since when did he think of werewolf fur as lustrous? He cursed inwardly, focusing on the horde of undead.

He shrugged. “If you ask me, Chico, those vampires deserved to die. She’s still bound by the moon. Hell, she can’t be that experienced.”

“Maybe not, but she still killed them.” A cruel smile curved his mouth. “Don’t worry. I won’t kill her before she changes back.” He licked his lips, pausing on the long points of his fangs. “We’ll treat her real nice once that happens.”

A growl rumbled across the yard. Gideon looked behind him again. The wolf’s lips were pulled back, its long canines glowing in the darkness.

He chuckled then turned to Chico. “I’m hardly fluent in werewolf, but I’m fairly certain that was a no.”

Chico merely tilted his head. “Shame we’re not asking.”

Gideon narrowed his eyes and took two steps forward, opening his arms slightly to allow his long, leather coat to flow in the breeze. He punched his hands down, releasing the hidden stakes above his wrists. The air grew heavy around him as he pushed everything from his mind but the upcoming fight. A peace he hadn’t felt in centuries coursed through him, and he smiled at the coming battle.

Chico snarled and waved his men forward, watching as sets of vampires disappeared from within the circle. Gideon held his ground, waiting for the slight ripple that preceded the shift. He dodged to his right, staking the first vampire before he’d fully materialized. A shower of ash blew upward, followed by another when Gideon spun around, kicking the second vampire back through the air, impaling it on the wrought-iron fence just shy of the wolf. The vampire struggled to free itself before Gideon launched a stake through the air, hitting it square in the heart.

More vampires shimmered in and out of focus, but Gideon maintained his vigilance, slicing and stabbing with the ease of a seasoned killer. His body flowed through the movements, striking and retreating in a well-choreographed dance until half of Chico’s men had flamed into ashes, the final one exploding into a kaleidoscope of light.

Gideon stopped, his coat still billowing behind him in the wind as he crouched in front of the wolf. He looked up at Chico. Black smudges of dust and ash covered Gideon’s hands, but all he saw was the red glow of Chico’s eyes. The man hissed at him, baring his fangs as his face twisted into his vampire form. He took a step forward only to stop when Gideon tilted his head, raising one eyebrow in challenge. Anger radiated off the man as he stood there, glaring.

Gideon straightened, motioning to the wolf. “Is she really worth the other half of your army? Worth your life?”

Chico growled, his gaze never leaving the canine. His eyes glowed brighter, then he smiled, returning to his human form. “Go on. Have her. It’s not like you can do anything with her, or are those rumors wrong, too?” He erupted into a burst of laughter. “Just remember, Enforcer—you won’t always be around to protect her. When the next full moon rises, she’s mine.”

Gideon glared at the man as he and the rest of vampires disappeared into the night, nothing but the glowing remains of their brethren fluttering in the wind. Chico’s final words hung in the air, echoing through Gideon like an endless wave. Though he’d never admit it, the bastard was right. Gideon couldn’t save the world… Hell, he couldn’t even find a simple pendant.

He turned and studied the wolf. She stood on all fours, her tail straight out, her ears flat against her head. The edges of her lips twitched as she searched the darkness, looking for the next attack. Gideon sighed and stepped toward her, stopping when she bared her fangs and growled at him.

He shook his head, sheathing his weapons before crossing his arms over his chest. “Is that any way to thank me?” He tsked at her. “Put those damn fangs away, and for the love of God, if you so much as swat at me, I’ll carry you home by your tail.” He moved to his right, waving his hand at her. “Are you coming or not? The moon should be setting within the hour, and you’re in no condition to fend for yourself. You can hang at my place until your body heals.”

The wolf flicked its ears, tilting its head as it stared at him, deep brown eyes cutting through him. He felt a genuine smile lift his mouth as he knelt at her level.

“Look, I don’t like werewolves any more than you like vampires, but right now, I’m your only option, sweetheart. So swallow that pride and get your ass moving before the sun rises.”

A low whimper accompanied her first step, her back leg dragging across the dirt. Gideon glanced at her side, noting the increased patch of blood. The red was blacker than a pure human’s, with a dark scent that rivaled his. He watched her balance on three legs as she tried to will her body forward.

“Damnation.” He moved toward her, ignoring her breathy huff. He gave her a firm glare before circling his arms around her chest and rear then lifting her.

She gave a startled yip but didn’t fight him. Instead, her head fell against his shoulder as he shuffled her weight in his arms. Her thick fur tickled his skin, her rough breath scooting across his body, sending a strange jolt through his groin and hardening his cock in his pants.

Gideon clenched his jaw, willing his dick to stand down as he phased, covering the remaining distance to his lair in a matter of minutes. The wolf whimpered again, her body trembling in his arms before he gently placed her on the ground, holding her while she balanced her weight, finally letting go. She swayed on her feet, looking as if she was about to fall over. He waited. She shuffled forward, staring at the door then shifting her gaze to him. Wariness flashed in her eyes, but she didn’t back away when he moved forward and pushed open the door, allowing it to swing free.

His guest twitched her ears again, scenting the opening before shaking her head.

Gideon motioned inside. “I live alone.”

She turned and looked at him, tilting her head from side to side. Her lips curled, and she sneezed.

He chuckled then moved past her, stopping a few steps into the small stone cottage. “It’s not like I enjoy the smell of wet dog, either, but it is what it is. So get inside or stand in the doorway until you simply pass out. Either way, you’ll be spending the day here, so I suggest you stop stalling and hop up on the bed before the sun rises and you’re trapped, naked, in the doorway.”

Gideon resisted the smile that threatened when the wolf attempted to glare at him. The sides of its snout twisted as its fur wrinkled along the top. The animal glanced back at the open space and, for a moment, he thought it might try to run. Then the canine turned, its tongue lolling out of its mouth as it limped through the doorway. The moonlight distorted its shadow, making it appear infinitely long as it made its way across the floor and over to the bed shoved against the far wall. It was one of the few pieces of furniture Gideon had bothered with.

The animal stopped at the side, staring at the height before launching forward. She landed awkwardly, rocking the bed against the wall, sending a shrill, metallic clang through the air. Gideon cursed, watching as the wolf circled the mattress a few times before finally settling down. The sound of her breathing seemed loud in his usually still room, and he took a seat several feet away, staring at her as she attempted to get comfortable. He thought about tossing a blanket over her but decided against it. He doubted the animal would keep it on. He’d just wait until after she’d shifted back.

The wolf whimpered again, its paws twitching on the bed as it drifted off. The wound on its side looked as if it had stopped bleeding, though he knew the true healing wouldn’t occur until she changed forms. He sighed. What the hell had she been doing in the cemetery at night? If she was still bound to the moon, why hadn’t she stuck to the woods, where she’d have had the upper hand?

Her breathing deepened, and he shook his head. He wouldn’t get any answers while she was still a wolf, not that she’d likely tell him more once she had the ability. Still… Something about her held his attention. He rose and ventured over to the bed, noticing the way her whiskers fluttered as she slept. Her coat looked even thicker up close, and he remembered how soft it had felt against his fingers.

His cock jumped again, and he took a step back. Apparently, five hundred years of searching for something he doubted even existed had finally taken its toll. He’d lost his mind. There was no other way to explain a connection with a…a…werewolf. Hell, he didn’t even like dogs.

He turned and ambled to the chair, falling into it with a heavy sigh. Maybe it was the after-effects of the battle. He’d always gotten riled when he fought. Surely, this was nothing more than leftover adrenaline.

“Adrenaline. Right. Pumping through my system from my fucking withered heart.”

Whatever it was, it would pass with the setting sun…when his guest regained her strength and left him the way she’d found him—alone.

He leaned back, lost in thought when an ungodly shriek vibrated through the room. He transformed as he phased beside the bed, his stakes at the ready, his fangs bared as he snarled in defiance. He searched the small space, certain nothing could have gotten inside, but he wasn’t willing to put the girl’s life in jeopardy if he was wrong. While he couldn’t explain it, he felt a need to protect her.

He looked down at the bed. The wolf’s head drew back, its mouth opening on another cry as its body convulsed, limbs shaking violently at its sides. He relaxed and took a step away. Though he’d seen the transformation before, it had been with an experienced were and had happened instantaneously, like a ripple flowing down its body.

But not this.

The wolf writhed on the covers, twisting and turning as its fur slowly receded, exposing creamy-white skin over lean features. The tail shortened then disappeared on a swoosh, accentuating the curve of her ass as it wavered into view. Her muscles clenched and released, filling the room with gut wrenching pops and creaks as arms and legs altered to suit her human form. Her face was last to morph, the snout gradually giving way to high cheekbones and full, pink lips. Her eyes remained closed, concealing their true color, but he had a feeling they’d be the same deep brown of her wolf’s.

The girl sighed and rolled, tucking her hand under her head as she pulled her knees closer to her chest. Her long, chestnut hair fell across her face and shoulders, pooling on the sheets beneath her. It looked even softer than her fur, and he had the sudden urge to run his fingers through the strands, wrapping the ends around his fists. He wondered how it would look gathered behind her head as she stared up at him from beneath those dark lashes, her mouth slowly working the length of his shaft.

Gideon swore, clenching his hands as his cock hardened against the confines of the denim. Of all the times for his body to reawaken, now wasn’t the best option. Vampires and werewolves didn’t mix, for a number of reasons, all of which made much better sense than trying to lure her into his bed. Besides, judging on her experience tonight, it would take a miracle for her to welcome a vampire between her thighs, even if he had saved her life.

His gaze dropped to her side. The wound glared at him—a red, angry line across her pale skin. The sight roiled his stomach and he moved backward, bracing one hand against the wall as the room tilted beneath him. What the hell was going on? What sinister power did this runt of a girl have over him?

He shifted to the far side of the room, needing the distance to clear his head. It had to be the aftermath of the fight. He hadn’t killed rogue vampires in years. The backlash had to be what was straining his shaft against his jeans, not the girl. She was merely collateral damage in a war he’d spent his life fighting. A war he couldn’t win.

Gideon moved again, grabbing a blanket and tossing it over her. He didn’t need to stare at her perfectly sculpted ass, or the way her breasts peeked out at him from beneath her tousled hair. She was here to heal…period.

He collapsed in the chair again, palming his head in his hands. Now if only he could heal the empty feeling slowly eating away at him, all would be well.