Special Agent Bryan Walker is both excited and apprehensive when the director of the F.B.I.'s paranormal division chooses him to partner with vampire Viktor Karnov on a mission in Russia. Viktor is a legend within the ranks of the F.B.I., a perfectionist and a loner, and unimpressed with Bryan's lack of field experience. The two don't exactly hit it off on their first meeting, but after a forced trial run Viktor agrees to partner with Bryan.
In Moscow they face a cabal headed by Alexander Krychev that threatens to bring down President Petr Volstoy, a democratic leader who has reinstated civil rights for minorities, and whose lover is vampire, Louis Cadinot. Viktor and Krychev are old enemies, Krychev being responsible for Viktor's only failed mission, and the death of friends.
To add to the chaos, Viktor recognizes Bryan as his destined mate but fights the primal need to claim him because of the danger that surrounds them, and his pledge to bring Krychev to justice. However, sometimes Fate has its own way of stacking the deck, and making sure that no matter what the odds, the winner takes all.
A future Los Angeles, November 2037AD
Viktor Karnov stared at the file lying on his desk for several seconds before tapping it gently with his fingers. He had a feeling he wasn't going to be too thrilled with its contents. No doubt it was another 'request' to tackle the ongoing problem in Moscow. Another request he was going to refuse. Sighing, he flipped the file open then a soft chuckle escaped his lips as he read the cover note.
Dear Viktor, I know you will not be impressed with what is another attempt to involve you in the Waring/Krychev case, but if I actually get down on my knees and beg you to accept the case, would that make a difference?
You know firsthand what's at stake here, and I understand your reluctance to get involved again, but there is no one better qualified to take care of this. I know that, and you do, too, Viktor. I made a few phone calls searching for an agent to assist you,
Oh, for pity's sake!
and I have found one I think is eminently suitable to work with you. His name is Bryan Walker. I have included the access code so you can read his profile. He has worked with Daniel Vale in the past, one of the reasons I consider him suitable.
Please call and tell me you will accept the case. I am at my wits end trying to find the right person, and it has to be you. No one else has the temperament or the resources needed for dealing with Krychev's cabal, and you will at least have Petr Volstoy's full cooperation. His personal assistant is Louis Cadinot. Do you know him?
Anyway, please call me ASAP and put me out of my misery. You can have anything you want, within reason of course. I still have to explain expenditures to the brass.
Yours, in breathless anticipation, Maggie.
Viktor chuckled again then after closing the file he rose from his desk and strolled over to the window. He looked out at the night sky and mulled over what Maggie Verbohn, the director of the FBI's paranormal department was asking of him. Two decades ago a scandal had erupted involving collusion between the administrations of Russia and the United States. The media had gone mad, drawing up sides as to who was guilty, who should be held accountable and who should be forced to resign. In the end nothing had been proven, but the damage done to the dÃ©tente the two countries had been enjoying for several years was for a time insurmountable. Promises made but not kept were what Putin could not stomach.
Over the years Putin had grown old and feeble, and Petr Volstoy, a young and charismatic leader had taken over and had already survived a kidnapping and threats to his life. Under his regime the country had prospered, collaboration between Russia, Europe, and America along with civil rights for all minorities had been restored. And yet, there were still those who would see all of it undone.
During the Middle East War, certain groups of wealthy men seeking to profit from the chaos that had raged worldwide had been funneling away funds that were meant to bolster Russia's military. When the generals started complaining about the lack of sorely needed supplies for their troops, the Ministry of Security began a covert investigation into the cause. Viktor and his then partner Alicia Berghoff were successful in tracing the missing money to the doors of a cabal headed by Alexander Krychev. The seventeen members of Krychev's gang were soon rounded up by the secret police, but Krychev escaped and ordered hits on both Viktor and Alicia.
Viktor turned away from the window, a growl of anger mixed with sorrow escaping his throat as he remembered the moment when Alicia had died in his arms. They'd been betrayed by Justin Waring, a double agent employed by the FBI. Waring had informed the agency that he knew where Krychev was holed up and Viktor was tasked with either bringing him in or killing him. The FBI considered Krychev expendable now that his associates were behind bars. They just wanted all the loose ends tied up. But Krychev had no intentions of being captured. His immense wealth had afforded him a small army of mercenaries that both the FBI and Russian intelligence knew nothing of.
Alicia had died in the crossfire that had erupted when she, Viktor, and the few agents allotted them were ambushed by Krychev's mercenaries. Perhaps the only thing that had given Viktor any pleasure that night was the look of horror on Waring's face when Viktor's secret was revealed. Using his immense strength and invulnerability to bullet fire, he'd taken out several of Krychev's thugs before they realized quite what was happening. Despite this advantage, Alicia had been gunned down along with three of the field agents fighting with them. Waring and Krychev had disappeared during the conflict and Viktor was unable to search for them, his first duty being to get the two surviving agents to safety.
That was two years ago and the anger he'd experienced then had never really abated. Anger not just for Krychev and Waring's betrayal but for the bad intelligence he'd been given...and most of all, for himself. He had been foolish. He'd never trusted Justin Waring, had disliked the man while working with him at the Bureau. He still blamed himself for letting his guard down, for not using his powers as he should, and the result had been a failed operation and the deaths of four agents, one of whom he had considered a good friend as well as an excellent partner.
Alicia...Theirs had not been a romantic relationship. Alicia had known what and who he was, and if she'd been surprised in the beginning, she'd masked it very well. She'd been curious of course. Everyone who knew Viktor's story was, but she alone, had been the one he'd completely opened up to. After all, a story that involves several hundreds of years of existence is not quickly told. He could still see her gazing at him through those beautiful aquamarine eyes with seeming rapture as he told her but a few of his experiences before and after he was changed.
Sighing again, he returned to his desk and sat gazing around at the paneled walls of his study, lit by soft shaded lamps and the flickering glow from the fireplace; at the myriad books, the Chinese lacquer screen that filled one wall and the neatly aligned paintings on the other. He didn't want to go back to Russia, yet he knew he couldn't go on refusing Maggie's requests that he do so. She was right in that he was the one for the job, and not only because he spoke fluent Russian and knew the streets of Moscow like the back of his hand. He also had what were probably the best covert contacts in the city. If anyone knew where Waring and Krychev were hiding it would be his small group of confidants, Ivan Davidoff in particular. He doubted the criminals were in Moscow, but it was the place to start.
With a resigned shrug he picked up his cell phone and punched in Maggie Verbohn's number.
"Yes. It's me, and yes, I will do as you have asked."
"Oh, thank God. You're a lifesaver!"
"Laying it on a bit thick, aren't you?"
"Maybe, but I've just received a communication from Hans in Berlin. His people have been hearing chatter about Krychev's whereabouts."
"Oh, yes? Then you might not need me after all."
"Don't start." Maggie sounded tense. "This involves Petr Volstoy...an assassination attempt is in the works."
"What's that got to do with Krychev? He's a thief not an assassin."
"If Hans' source is correct, and he's checking on that even as we speak, Krychev has aspirations of being the next President of Russia."
Viktor laughed. "He always has believed in his own self-worth, even when the entire world condemned him. How d'you suppose he can convince the people to elect him after almost ruining Russia's military might?"
Maggie snorted in an unladylike fashion. "There won't be an election, Viktor. A military takeover is more like it once Petr is out of the way."
"Mmm...risky, but then he's taken risks all his life. So, is he in Moscow?"
"We're still double-checking on that. Have you looked at Agent Walker's profile?"
"I don't need a partner, Maggie. Is he human?"
"Yes, but he's worked with Daniel Vale, as I mentioned in my begging letter, so he knows the score."
"The score. The fact that I am vampire, you mean."
"Yes, that. I've spoken with Special Agent Walker and he told me he and Daniel were friends and worked well together. My only problem with him is he hasn't been in the field a lot. Mostly administration and liaison with other agents and informants. But he is highly intelligent and very fit. For the last six months he has been undergoing our most strenuous field training program and he just recently transferred to LA from DC...so if you like you could arrange a meeting--"
Viktor groaned. "Maggie, I'd much rather work alone."
"Viktor, I know you don't necessarily fall under the same rules as my human agents, but the Bureau doesn't like agents working on their own. Please just talk to him. If you don't think he'll work out, we'll find someone else. Okay?"
"It's not okay, as you well know, but I will meet with this..."
"Agent Walker, and make an assessment as to his capabilities. But by your own admission he is not experienced in the field. Has he at least been trained in arms?"
"Weren't you listening? Six months training in arms and unarmed combat, as are all our agents."
"But no actual experience."
"Yes, as a matter of fact. A recent covert mission in Boston. It was successful, and the field commander assured me Agent Walker had been efficient and obeyed orders without question." Maggie sighed. "Come on, Viktor, please. Don't start rejecting him before you've even spoken to the man."
Victor paused just long enough to set Maggie's nerves on edge, then he said, "Very well then. I will contact him and arrange to meet."
"And quickly, Viktor. Here's his phone number."
He memorized it immediately. "I'll do it right now."
"Thank you, Viktor. I think I may sleep a little easier tonight."
"I'm glad I have my uses."
Viktor picked up the file again and flipped through it until he found the access code for Agent Walker's profile. Turning on his laptop he typed in the URL for the government site very few even in top positions had access to. Agent Walker's confidential profile appeared on the screen and Viktor gave a little hum of appreciation as the agent's handsome face stared back at him. As with all profile photographs there was no smile on Walker's face, yet there was just a hint of amusement in his eyes and a sensuousness to his lower lip.
Viktor was aware of an unwelcome throb in his groin.
Oh, no...that can never happen.
"Special Agent Bryan Walker," Viktor muttered. "Twenty-eight, six feet, one hundred and eighty pounds, blond hair, blue eyes. Origin, Durham, North Carolina. Attended UNC, majored in science, cultural studies, literature, speaks German, Russian, French, Flemish, and Spanish. Huh, quite the scholar."
And quite the whole succulent human package.
He scanned the rest of the profile then picked up his cell and punched in the number Maggie had given him.
"Hello?" Walker sounded a trifle groggy.
"Did I awaken you?"
"Awaken me?" Walker chuckled. "No. Who's this?"
There was a short, sharp intake of breath then "Oh, hi, Agent Karnov. Director Verbohn said you might call me."
"And here I am, calling you. Are you available to meet with me?"
"Just name the time and place."
"In about a half hour at my house."
"You have other plans?"
"No, no. You just took me by...uh, I mean, sure. Your house?"
Viktor rattled off the address of his home in Beverly Hills. "Take a left at the third light on Beverly Boulevard. Do you drink, Agent Walker?"
"Huh? Oh, not when I'm driving."
"Very good. I'll see you in a half hour then."
"Right. I'm looking forward to meeting you, Agent Karnov."
Viktor ended the call. I wonder if you'll still be saying that after we meet.
Bryan made the left turn off Beverly Boulevard as directed and slowed his 2037 Ford Mustang to a crawl as he scanned the address numbers on each house he passed.
"Classy neighborhood. Bit like Georgetown. There it is..."
He pulled up onto the driveway and his nerves kicked in as he climbed out of his car. Meeting someone like Viktor Karnov didn't happen every day, even in his line of work, and Karnov was something of a legend. Not everyone knew he was vampire, but many agents knew of his exploits over the five years he'd been with the Bureau and how many criminals and spies he'd stopped in their tracks. His only failure that Bryan knew of was letting Alexander Krychev and Justin Waring escape. And Bryan knew that event probably stuck in Karnov's craw...especially as it had resulted in the death of his partner, Alicia Berghoff. Through the grapevine he'd heard they had been very tight.
That had to have hurt...
He paused at the imposing oak door, took a deep breath then rang the bell. It was swung open almost immediately and Bryan came face to face with Viktor Karnov. He tried not to stare, but God, it was difficult not to. The man was in a word, sensational. Tall, with long dark hair that fell in waves to his wide shoulders. His face was near perfection; sharply chiseled aristocratic features softened only by the fullness of his mouth and a carefully trimmed goatee.
For a long moment the two men stared at each other, Bryan for his part, just a little lost for words. Then Karnov stepped back. "Please come in, Agent Walker."
Bryan extended his hand. "Thanks. Glad to finally meet you." An involuntary shiver ran down his spine when his hand was taken in Karnov's. The vampire's skin was cool and sensual to the touch and Bryan hoped his own palm wasn't damp from nerves.
"I would offer you a glass of wine but as you said, you are driving."
Karnov's smile was just the slightest bit predatory and made Bryan's skin prickle with...what, he wasn't sure. Excitement, anticipation, fear? Bryan stared into the vampire's emerald green eyes and tried to ignore the pulse of desire in his groin. It wasn't easy...
"Uh, maybe one won't hurt..." Give me something to hold. He looked around the living room while Karnov busied himself pouring the wine. "Nice place, Agent Karnov. Have you lived here long?"
"Two years. And perhaps we should be on a first name basis, do you agree, Bryan? Agent this and agent that is so clumsy if we are to work together."
"Oh, sure." He took the glass the vampire offered him. "Thanks, Viktor."
"Come sit by the fire."
Bryan followed him trying not to zero in on Viktor's ass, which was another sensational part of the man's anatomy. He couldn't resist imagining what he'd look like naked. Pretty spectacular he'd bet.
And...yeah, don't forget he can read your mind, so keep it clean.
He wondered how old Viktor had been when he was changed. He looked to be in his late twenties, maybe thirty. It was hard to believe he was hundreds of years old.
They sat facing each other on opposite sides of the fireplace. "I guess you want to ask me about my experience with the Bureau."
"Or lack of same."
"Director Verbohn informed me that you do not have much field experience." Viktor circled the rim of his glass with his forefinger, his expression impassive. "You do realize that should we undertake this operation together we will be very much exposed, that confrontation with the enemy will be almost unavoidable, and that your life will be in danger almost every hour of the day."
"I am aware of that," Bryan replied evenly, hiding his irritation. "Before I transferred from DC to Los Angeles I underwent six months extensive field training. It was pretty punishing, but I endured it because this is what I want to do, and before I could qualify I had to show I was physically capable. I also went on a covert operation in Boston which was successful, but hey, if you feel I'm not up to the job then let me prove to you that I am."
"And how do you propose you do that?" Viktor didn't look too impressed with Bryan's outburst. "The proof will come when you are faced with real murderers, not programmed holograms, but men trained in killing who will give you no quarter, no mercy. I have worked with agents who were skilled fighters and yet who lost their lives in combat."
"I've known some of those men," Bryan snapped, putting his wineglass down on a small table at his side. "Some I regarded as friends. There are always risks involved. As I mentioned previously I have already seen that firsthand. I completely understand this will not be a cakewalk."
Viktor smiled. "Do you really?"
"Yes." The vampire's condescending tone was getting on Bryan's nerves. He might be hot but he's already proving himself to be all kinds of an asshole. "I also understand that you are considered the best field agent there is. Even among the vampires engaged in tactical operations it is said you have no equal. My friend Daniel Vale always spoke of you with admiration. I didn't expect you to be quite so arrogant, however."
Viktor paused in the act of taking a sip of his wine and leveled a piercing stare at Bryan. The corners of his mouth twitched. "You are a man who speaks his mind I see. I am glad you are not intimidated by me."
"Should I be?" Bryan kept his voice low to mask the irritation he still felt. "The way I see it, we'll be working together. I can't afford to be cowed by your attitude. If you are not happy with the prospect of us being partners, I suggest you let the director know that and give her the opportunity of finding someone else who just might meet with your approval."
Viktor shrugged. "I have already been upfront with the director about not wanting a partner for this mission, but she insisted, and I bowed to her wish. She also reminded me of the Bureau's policies on that matter."
"I am sorry if you consider me an inconvenience..."
Viktor stood abruptly. "Director Verbohn wants me to take care of this situation as quickly as possible. Meet me tomorrow at six p.m. at the World Gymnasium on Melrose. You will show me what your training has done for you. I will then make a decision as to whether you come with me or not on this mission. Is that acceptable, or am I still being too arrogant?"
Bryan stood also. "Yes, to both questions. I'll see you at six. Thanks for the wine. Good night."
The vampire walked him to the door. "Drive carefully, Special Agent Walker," he murmured.
"Oh, we're back to that are we?" Bryan's smile was rueful as he walked to his car.
Guess I pissed him off as much as he did me. Son of a bitch is a jerk. Gorgeous and sexy as hell...but a jerk nevertheless.
Any fantasies he'd entertained about getting to know the vampire on a more intimate level were going to remain just that...fantasies.